Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Play or Stay

Lebanon Township has come a very long way over the last fifty plus years. There was a land rush back in the late sixties and early seventies which turned our agrarian township into a residential success. While still a third-tier suburb, Apple Valley continues a tradition of solid sensible growth that has made it an ideal place to raise our kids.

We’ve been here for forty plus years. That’s longer than my childhood back in the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul. Sharon and I are still in the same home we bought back in 1977 for $49,500 and were just glad we could afford the monthly payments. It’s the only home our kids ever knew growing up.

When Sharon and I first moved to Apple Valley, Cedar Avenue was a two-lane blacktop roadway that could easily handle the daily traffic of our infant suburb. It edged alongside the bones of the old Eaton’s Ranch.

Years earlier, that abode to ranching in the 40s was the site of many high school hayrides and bonfire soirees. For my Cretin chums and me it was beyond the end of nowhere and about as far from Saint Paul as any of us had ever ventured.

By the early 1980s, Eaton’s Ranch was one of the last standing vestiges of old Lebanon Township as it was called back then. That farmstead along with a few others were all the buildings that remained of the pioneering years of the community. 

Back then, new urbanism was all the rage among city planners.

Eventually the intersection of Cedar Avenue and 42nd Street became the core from which retail and now multi-family housing spread out. It’s called TOD, transit-orientated development, and it seems to have caught on in a big way downtown.

Back then, I was on the Apple Valley Planning Commission and we were approached by one of the first stay-in-place developers. The idea was that a person or couple could rent a senior apartment, then, when the time came, move into assisted living on the same campus and into finally into memory care. Three moves with little distance traveled.  Interesting idea I thought but not for me.

Forty years later, there are a lot of folks who have come to embrace the idea. Many of our friends are at that stage in their lives where a decision will have to be made soon about where to live until… In years past, it usually came down to stay at home or move into a nursing home when you couldn’t maintain your residence or failing health left you in need of medical assistance. . We have a number of friends who have opted for over fifty-five or senior specific housing. They all seem to enjoy the newfound comradery, social aspects, and security of their new homes.

At this stage in their lives, these friends and neighbors are shifting over to an easier lifestyle. They’ve found someone else to do the shoveling, cut the grass and rake the leaves. In other words, an HOA or management company to do the heavy lifting.

The options for housing styles are almost endless. There are senior apartments, condominiums, cooperative buildings, ‘stay-in-place’ residences and a host of other hybrids to feed the growing hunger for new living options.

Dell Webb made a name for himself with some of the first senior housing developments in the country. The Coachella Valley alone has several huge communities centered around golf courses. Sharon’s brother lives in ‘The Villages’ in Florida which is the largest retirement community in the country; 140,000 residents and growing.

Despite all those housing choices offered to seniors, Sharon and I have opted to stay in place. Apple Valley was a good place for the kids to grow up and for us to grow old. Sharon has her art gallery on the walls and hallway. I have my office, my writing space, and a porch for my quiet time.

Our home is a reflection of our lives; ever changing, adapting, and evolving. It’s our nest, our cocoon and a place to reflect on a life well lived.

It’s our grandchildren’s second home and a wonderful gathering spot for friends. It is us and we are happy here. Isn’t that what it’s all about as this stage in our lives?

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Dying for Company

Palm Springs as a ghost town was something few of us had ever seen. Yet by early March of this year, downtown was virtually empty of people and cars. It was like some classic B movie scene from the apocalypse.

I knew this season in the desert was going to be different because of the pandemic. It began last March when California gradually began enacting many of their restrictions to contain the virus. By mid-March, for all intensive purposes, Palm Springs had completely shut down. The restrictions continued throughout the summer and now into the fall.

Snowbirds and Canadians, our always reliable winter visitors, have slowed to a mere trickle of what they used to be. Canadian medical rules have made travel to the United States a challenging venture and getting sick here is frightening to our Northern neighbors. For those who did venture south, golfing provided a respite from the many other activities that had been canceled.

Vacation rentals, usually a major part in our real estate activities, have slowed down considerably from years past. Large gatherings are either forbidden or strongly discouraged. The old ideas of coming to the desert from out-of-town to party have taken on a whole new meaning.

Last Spring, restaurant dining had all but disappeared. It’s gotten better but indoor dining is limited and outdoor dining doesn’t fare much better. With outdoor heaters to ward of the desert night chills, they can still squeeze them in, as long as the packing is practicing social distancing.

Hotels were closed for three and four months this summer and only recently have begun the long arduous process of rehiring staff and advertising their presence in the desert. Chains like Marriott and Double Tree and the Ritz have fared better than most Mom and Pop establishments.

Like many restaurants, most coffee shops offer large outdoor patios so their traffic has been redirected but not curtail too much. Indoor dining is very restricted.

Libraries no longer offer any place to sit and browse the racks. Books, movies, CDs, DVDs and magazines are still available for check-out but the long admired ambiance of our libraries as social gathering spots for the locals has gone the way of COVID.

On the flipside, bike shops are doing a booming business. Like most shops around the country, Palm Springs Cyclery has enjoyed increased foot traffic and week long waits for mechanical work. Oldsters who have been on a bicycle for years are rediscovering the joys of two wheel travel. Many of them are opting for E-Bikes (motorized bicycles) to glide over the few hills we have in town.

Another bright spot in a very dismal market is our local real estate. Hard to believe but the pandemic has created ideal conditions for a dramatic spike in home sales throughout the Coachella Valley. With so many people working from home, and realizing that home can be anywhere, the desert is looking more attractive than ever.

Seven months into the pandemic, the number of pending sales of single-family homes and condominiums was up 56 percent and 42 percent, respectively, over the same period last year. It would seem the virus is causing a lot of folks to want to get out of densely populated cities and escape to less crowded areas of the country.

This season is very much about working with what one has.

If the library is limiting its book take-out, I’ve always got ‘Better World Books’ and their cheap books to buy online. Sharon and I aren’t using our social membership at the Saguaro Hotel for swimming and working out, so now we use our favorite walking spot: the berm between Smoke Tree Stables and the wash.

I have my mountain trails to plod along and my elevated hikes taking me to the top. We both have bicycles, the peddling kind, not electric, to tour our local neighbor-hoods. It’s forced exercise of the very best kind. So I guess we’ll just wait it out and enjoy the amenities we have all around us.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020


It started out simply enough last spring. We were leaving Palm Springs because it had all but completely shut down due to the virus. Now we were heading home for much of the same thing back in Minnesota. (Featured in my blog The Great Escape)

The year was turning out to be different than any other we had experienced before. The summer would be unlike any other. (Detailed in my blog 'In the Year of the Pandemic')

It would include new routines like discovering the peace and serenity of a woodland waltz. The flowers were just beginning to bud and the air was warming up. It was a glorious time to be walking in the woods. (I wrote about it in my blog 'A Walk in the Woods')

Unlike Sharon who was quite comfortable being sequestered in our house this summer because of COVID-19, I was chomping at the bit to ‘get out of Dodge.’ LA Fitness was off limits as were restaurants, the library, and other past social gathering spots. Most of all, I missed my cerebral salons with chosen friends.

As it turned out the best part of that adjusted summer was reacquainting myself with old friends and solidifying friendships with new ones. I called them my ‘coffee and chat’ sessions. Sharon had another name for them: ‘Playdates.’

On my first unofficial C & C, one of my friends and I discovered the solitude of a lakeside pavilion looking over still waters in the crisp early morning air. It was the perfect peaceful setting for great coffee, a tasty snack, and thoughtful, insightful, challenging conversations. The surroundings were spectacular too.

For my other friends, the outdoor settings varied from parks, patios, porches, shelters and other drafty spots with plenty of air circulation and room for our camp chairs spread apart. It worked like a charm so much so that most of us agreed it was a pleasant alternative to the traditional nosey, crowded coffee shops of the past.

Sharon whimsically called them my playdates. I preferred to call them as cerebral salons, catch-up sessions, strengthening the bonds of friendship, or just plain playing it safe in the era of Covid-19. It was enjoying several hours of easy discussion, settling world events, contemplation, soul-sharing thoughts, and sharing the warmth of true friendship. Well-earned reminiscing challenged entrenched thinking, clarifying the past, filling in the memory gap.

My playdates:


My porch


Jenson Lake Shelter


My patio


Dunn Brothers patio


The Monument



Schultz Lake

Sadly, the playdates ended with the arrival of fall and my exit for the West Coast. Unfortunately, I don’t have the same setup in Palm Springs as I do in Minnesota. The friends are fewer there and the settings not as diverse.

Nevertheless, I’m trying to replicate some of what I captured last summer when the early morning sun warmed our camping spots and added to the serenity of our friendship. I can’t wait to get back to that warmth of true friendship once again.

True wealth comes in good health and friendships. I am a very wealthy person.