Author Archives: Jeff Smith

Journaling and Joy

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Ashley Schmitz reads to Kären Madsen 11-26-19 (4)

It’s hard to say exactly why the friendship blossomed – their obsession with journaling or something more fundamental, joy in each other’s company. Regardless of the reason, the friendship between 21-year-old Ashley Schmitz and Monarch Meadows resident Kären (pronounced Caron) Madsen has deepened over the past year.

Now 86, Kären has been journaling since she was 12. The shelves in her apartment are jammed with journals, some leather-bound others paperback. “I discovered she also does a journal,” says Kären, referring to Ashley. “Because I’m now blind, I can’t really write anything pretty. I have a lot of empty journals that I saved for pretty writing, but I can’t do it anymore.”

Kären gave her blank journals to Ashley, when macular degeneration took her remaining vision, after a 16-year progression. Ashley was a Monarch Meadows caregiver at the time.

“I remember coming in here and she wanted me to read from her journals,” Ashley recounts. “That’s where the reading started – she wanted to remember things that she’d once written.”

Ashley’s an on-call staffer at Monarch Meadows now while she pursues a degree in psychology at Minnesota State University at Mankato. She still finds time to visit Kären frequently, where their reading has evolved to poetry – one of the sources of joy in Kären’s life.

During our visit, Ashley was reading Lewis Carroll’s The Walrus and the Carpenter. The poetry of Sylvia Plath is also among Kären’s favorites, as are talking books from the Library of Congress. “I’ve read Eleanor Roosevelt’s autobiography,” Kären reports.

“I learn a lot from Kären,” says Ashley. “It’s really awesome when I can use my resources to help her have some joy. Sometimes a poem will jar a memory, or she’ll think of a song. Luckily I can find the lyrics or other poems on my phone.”

Monarch Meadows senior living community in North Mankato offers 86 one-and-two-bedroom assisted living apartments and 12 care suites, providing 24-hour continuous senior care. Monarch is known for its Wednesday, Breakfast in the Meadow, welcoming family members and visitors to stop by for a warm breakfast.

Trudy’s Treat

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Judy-Trudy (1)

The Iowa corn harvest was in for the most part. Time for Activities Director Judy Wallace to relive some good times with her friend Trudy Woudstra at Fieldcrest Senior Living in Sheldon. At 87, Trudy has earned a reputation as a resident cheerleader during her more than four years at Fieldcrest. Judy appreciates the moral support, as does the rest of the staff.

“It’s the socializing after breakfast that gets folks going in the morning,” says Judy. And Trudy owns up to a mealtime maneuver that has helped her diet. “I’ve been putting my dessert in a man’s scooter basket, and I think he likes it,” Trudy confesses. “I have a family wedding coming up in May and I hope my dress still fits me.”

Trudy has six kids, 18 grandchildren and a whole lot of great grandchildren. It’s a granddaughter getting married. While her recovery from a fall contributed to the initial decision to move to Fieldcrest, Trudy didn’t resist.

“My kids thought it was best that I move here,” Trudy says, recalling the time after her hospitalization and therapy. “And they thought I should give up my car too.”  But she doesn’t feel isolated, since Fieldcrest has a bus that provides transportation just about anywhere.

She’s also glad that Fieldcrest offers weekly church services in which she participates. In fact, Trudy says, the recipient of her re-appropriated dessert gifts often does devotions, “and he does a good job,” she says.  

Fieldcrest Assisted Living offers 69 one and two bedroom apartments for seniors who value a variety of ways to spread joy, and want access to personal care and supportive services. We also offer 12 memory care suites that provide a long term option for seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

Sibling Nomads, Bonded by Humor

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Leonard & Juanita blog and FB

Laughter comes easy for Garnette Gardens residents Juanita Horn and her younger brother Leonard Eller, especially considering the life challenges they’ve experienced. She is 92 and he’s 88, born near Redwood Falls on the Lower Sioux Reservation, to a mother who was half Native American and a father who had immigrated from Germany. There were seven kids in the family.

All those facts contributed to the challenge, growing up in the aftermath of the Great Depression. During the lead-up to World War II, cultural distrust also was present. Juanita recounts stories of tension and discrimination because of her German-born father, who came to the U.S. when he was three. It was enough to compel her to leave the reservation.

Leonard and his wife Catie moved to Garnette Gardens in 2006. She died last March, in memory care, at the age of 100. “There couldn’t be a better place to be,” Leonard says of his 12 years at Garnette Gardens. That follows a nomadic pattern in earlier years, where he and Catie lived in Fairbanks, Alaska and several Minnesota locations.

Juanita also had multiple moves, to Texas, Arizona, Oregon and Florida before she and her late husband Dick settled back to Minnesota. Before his retirement he was a merchant sea captain. Juanita would occasionally accompany him on voyages to exotic destinations, as an honorary member of the crew. Juanita eventually rented her own Garnette Gardens apartment last May, on the other side of the building from Leonard. In addition to his companionship, Garnette’s shuttle bus was a selling point in Juanita making the move. “Besides, this is a beautiful place,” Juanita says.

With twinkles in their eyes, the siblings agree that humor has been a constant companion in their colorful lives. “I’ve always had humor,” remarks Juanita. “It’s been part of me all my life. I’ve never been really down.”

“We’ve been through some tough stuff you know?” says Leonard. “But you try to keep your humor and your common sense above everything else.”

Assisted Living at Garnette Gardens makes a lot of common sense. The community offers 61 one and two bedroom apartments for seniors who value their independence, but want access to personal care and supportive services. We also offer 16 memory care suites that provide a long term option for seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Care Suites round out the options, offering a temporary option for people recovering from surgery or illness or where enhanced assisted living services are necessary.

Community Connections

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Becky and Cally for web

Cally Endres (right) fielded the call at Windmill Ponds in Alexandria. It came from the nearby Community Behavioral Health Hospital (CBHH), operated by the Minnesota Department of Human Services, the first of six such hospitals in the state. They were inquiring whether Windmill Ponds had excess capacity to supply meals from its kitchen.

Cally had recently joined Windmill Ponds as the Culinary Manager. It was a perfect match for her skill-set, as her formal education was in Dietetics. That call began a nearly two-year service relationship, for Windmill Ponds to provide three meals and two snacks, each day, for the CBHH. Cally was recently promoted to Business Office Manager for Windmill Ponds, but carefully monitors the relationship, along with her successor in the kitchen, Becky Sheggeby (left).

“We take pride in the quality of our food for residents,” says Cally. “We enjoy being able to meet the needs for another location as well. This relationship helps us accomplish our goal to be more closely connected with the community.”

Windmill Ponds is in a quiet neighborhood on the east side of Alexandria. It offers 65 one-and-two-bedroom apartments, designed for seniors who want an active lifestyle with access to the care they need.

Want to learn more about Windmill Ponds? Cally’s direct number is 320-815-3279. She also might share a favorite recipe.

We’re Good

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Welcome plant - blog

Listening plays a big role in the selection of a senior living community, as a Twin Cities East Metro resident learned when she visited Vista Prairie at River Heights in South St. Paul.

We’ll call her “Mary.” After that initial visit, the family decided to leave a deposit on an apartment. When her River Heights hosts asked if she wanted to sample some other potential locations before making a commitment, Mary responded, “No, we’re good.”

Was it the quiet neighborhood, or the friendly staff that convinced her so quickly? While those probably contributed, it was more likely two other factors –

– this flowerpot that the staff had prepared for Mary to take with her. During an initial phone interview, Mary had commented that she’s an avid gardener.

– that her cat (and best friend) Toby could move in with her.

“She is pretty sad about the transition as she misses her screened in porch where she and Toby shared time together,” reflected River Heights’ Danielle Lloyd. “Well, Toby is now welcome here at River Heights. We’re a pet friendly community.”

Well done, Vista Prairie staff and congratulations, Mary, on your good discernment skills! The gardens at River Heights and several fellow gardeners welcomed you when you moved in recently. We think River Heights will fill you with joy, in addition to Toby, who sits right beside you on the terrace, watching the leaves change color.

Want to learn more about River Heights? Call Danielle at 651-326-6501.