Wintergreens and Legends

December 17, 2018

Homes are often decorated with greenery and ribbons during December, regardless of religious beliefs. Below are some winter plants brought indoors for their scent and aesthetic appeal.

HOLLY – Romans and early Christians believed that holly had pro- tective powers and therefore used as a charm throughout household rooms. Think of the seasonal hymn, “Deck the halls with boughs of holly…”

IVY – Ivy is an ancient symbol of love. In the Middle Ages, the English began twining pliable ivy around berry-laden holly arrangements perhaps to soften the look. Strangely enough, ivy was designated as female and holly as male, so the two plants together symbolized light-hearted gender rivalry.

LAUREL – Ancient Romans believed that the gods of growth and rejuvenation took refuge in greenery, and they often brought trees indoors during winter. By offering the gods shelter and protection, people hoped to share the life-affirming powers.

Laurels were plentiful and can grow up to 50 feet tall in their native Mediterranean climate.

EVERGREENS – Indoor greenery reminded Greeks and Romans of nature’s vitality, and they suspected this fragrant, hardy tree had magical survival capabilities because it remained green no matter how tough the winter. The Victorian era appreciated lavish arrangements of ivy, laurel, bay, hemlock, and yew, particularly at Christmas. Evergreen trees as part of a Christmas celebration date back to Martin Luther in the 16th century. He was supposedly in a snowy forest on Christmas Eve when the stars suggested how the first Christmas sky might have looked. He carried home a snow-covered fir tree to share the experience with his children and they dressed it with candles, to represent starlight. A writer in the Alsace region of France documented in 1605 that apples, wafers, sweets, paper roses and gold foil were used to decorate Christmas fir trees.

Carol Holmes: Just Imagine Knit

December 3, 2018

Imagine all those stories you’ve heard and read about throughout your life – what do they all have in common? Passion. The hero of the story always searches for their calling. Some want to save lives. Others want to find great love. For Carol Holmes, it was simple: spreading joy through the art of knitting.

When Carol let me into her Sterling Court apartment, one of her neighbors, Marge, was making her way out with a bag of yarn. Carol had many more bags – all filled with a variety of colors and textures.

“I’m a knitting instructor,” Carol explains. She had given some yarn to Marge, so that she can knit too. For Carol, knitting wasn’t just her chosen profession; she loved the art form wholeheartedly. But once upon a time, Carol’s life revolved around something completely different.

Sitting comfortably on her couch, Carol tells the first stretch of her story. For 25 years, she made a very successful career for herself as a regional and national sales manager for companies such as ACS Communications, Sprint, and Samsung. But as she entered her 60s, Carol started to really think about her life and what she wanted to do with the rest of it.

This is where knitting gets introduced. “I had an amazing instructor from Sweden,” Carol shares with a big grin. “She opened my eyes to the world of knitting.”

Carol dove into her newfound love: she knitted anything that her mind imagined. Bringing out a thick blue binder, Carol flipped through photos of her work. It was evident how much progress she’s made throughout the years. None of her pieces looked conventional – each piece was unique, drawing a map of her imagination. When we reach a photo of a young boy cocooned in an afghan, she says it was one of her twin grandsons, Alek. “He’s 6 years old here, he’s 17 now.” Carol laughs at the photo, recalling how much Alek loved the afghan. “You should see that thing now, it’s completely worn out!” She has many people to knit for in her very creative and supportive family, including her sons Mark and Chris, daughters-in-law Liz and Melanie, and two more grandsons Max and Asher.

One day, as she was knitting her new creation, Carol came back to the question: what does she want to do for the rest of her life? “The answer was in my hands.” She started a knitting business that quickly grew to include all ages and various sectors including Vi Retirement Community, public and private schools, adult community centers and more.

Sadly, Carol’s business had to be on the back burner when she was diagnosed with cancer. But she remains optimistic. As she recovers, Carol continues to spread the same joy she found with knitting. She invites her neighbors, like Marge, to let her teach them how to knit. She indicates the many bags of yarn in her apartment. “I have plenty to share.”

Before Carol and I part ways, she gives me a warm hug and offers to teach me how to knit. She hands me a business card. In colorful letters are the words that have become her motto: Just Imagine Knit.

Marian Atcheson: A Long Legacy in San Mateo

November 9, 2018

On a sunny afternoon, I met Marian Atcheson and her daughter, Catherine, and we had a wonderful time walking down memory lane spanning several generations. Marian first joined Sterling Court a year ago, but only became a full-time resident 2 months ago. She has been an active community member of San Mateo for almost 6 decades!

Our conversation began with her sharing that her great-grandfather had emigrated from Germany and became a rancher in Mertzon, Texas. Her dad, one of three children, graduated from MIT and then returned to Mertzon to run the family ranch – and this is where Marian’s story starts. From a young age, she was raised to be an independent girl. At just 5 years old, she told me the story of how she would walk a mile every day to a bus stop, then ride 16 miles to school, and then have to wait with the janitor in the basement for school to open. Early on she learned how to ride horses, and relayed a story about a time she was riding bareback with a friend and her horse was bitten by a rattlesnake and took off at a full gallop. She hung on for dear life and somehow managed to stay aboard and uninjured, although the horse later died.

After graduating from the Hockaday School in Dallas, Marian went to Pine Manor College in Boston to study art. There, she went on a blind date with a Stanford graduate who was attending Harvard Law School, and although subsequent dating interrupted her studies, it turned into a 30-year marriage. Dave and Marian moved to California, and she has been here ever since. They had 3 wonderful children – Catherine, whom I had the pleasure of meeting, is a scientist living in Alameda; Jim, an engineer who went back to the Texas family ranch and still runs it today; and Carol, a 6-foot-tall fashion model who lives in Paris. Together there are 4 grandchildren, 2 close-by in Alameda and 2 in Paris. Marian is 5’11” and her husband was 6’7”, and Marian was quick to share that not only is her younger daughter 6’ tall, but her son is 6’4” and her two grandsons are over 6’8”!

When Marian first came to San Mateo she was a stay-at-home mom, and then got into the travel business, working at Town & Country Travel in San Mateo for 30 years. She specialized in honeymoon travel and traveled all around the world – with a particular love of Europe. “You name it, I was there,” was Marian’s response to my question of where she went.

Marian was also a pivotal force behind the Decorators’ Show House, a much anticipated annual event designed to raise money for the Coyote Point Museum in San Mateo. For several years, Marian served as the president and chairman of the board of the Coyote Point Auxiliary, which hosts this prestigious event. Marian has deep roots here and still has her lovely home just a few blocks away in San Mateo Park.

After her 30-year marriage, she had a 31-year relationship with a wonderful man, Dick Seward, who passed away two years ago. Recently, she decided that taking care of the San Mateo Park property was just too much. When asked why she selected Sterling Court for the next chapter in her life, location was clearly a factor – having spent the past 60 years in this great town. She also expressed how important it is being with other like-minded people and living a life with a sense of community.

You may find Marian hovering over a crossword puzzle, playing bridge or dominoes, or at one of the lectures. And, if you have a favorite book, do let her know, as reading is a favorite pastime.

Keep Your Brain Fit: The Benefits of Exercising Your Mental Dexterity

October 22, 2018

Keeping your body in shape is important. Everyone from your neighbor to your doctor can tell you that physical fitness is key to a long, healthy life. But what about your mental fitness? Are you keeping your brain in shape?

While good physical health can help prevent diabetes and heart problems, it doesn’t account for other diseases common in the elderly like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States, with 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 65 suffering from it. While there is no cure for the debilitating disease, there are ways to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and/or dementia as you age.

This is where mental dexterity comes into play. Over the years, studies have suggested that having a greater cognitive reserve correlates with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. So, how do you keep your brain in shape?

Enjoy the simple things

Being mentally fit isn’t the same as hitting the gym to achieve physical fitness. You don’t have to take a bunch of intelligence tests or study calculus to keep your brain sharp. Much like walking can help get the blood pumping, there are plenty of simple activities you can do every day to ensure you don’t neglect your mind.

1. Read a book: Especially with the temperature starting to drop, you may want to skip sitting out in the courtyard and opt to stay inside. You can get your mind working by simply reading a book or a newspaper. Enjoy from the comfort of your own home or check something out from Sterling Court’s own library.

2. Hang out with your neighbors: The mind-body connection isn’t a myth. A great way to exercise both your mind and body is by socializing with your peers – take a walk with the Sterling Walkers or with some friends around the courtyard.

3. Play some games: Whether you’re figuring out the crossword in the Sunday newspaper or playing dominoes with your next door neighbor, you’re keeping your mind sharp by playing games. Sterling Court offers so many game times with classics like Bingo and Rummikub that you’ll never be bored. You can even play some Wii to exercise not only your wit, but your body!

4. Try out some new recipes: With Sterling Court’s gorgeous rental apartments being equipped with kitchens, it’s easy to release your inner Julia Child and whip up something new. Studies show that trying out new foods can help increase your brain’s vitality. In fact, just doing something new in general goes a long way for mental dexterity.

5. Be positive: You’ve likely already heard this one, but it’s still worth repeating. A nice positive attitude can increase your mental proficiency. So breathe, smile, and focus on the good things in life.

A healthy brain leads to a healthier life. While it’s not a cure, ensuring that you keep an active mind can only benefit you.


October 17, 2018

It is thought that flamingos, along with other long-legged wading birds like herons and storks, originated about 30 million years ago before many other avian orders had evolved. Fossils show that flamingos have not had any significant changes in their evolution since then. The earliest flamingo fossils were found in Sweden, which predated the fossils of herons found in England and North America as well as storks in England and France by five million years. Fossilized flamingo footprints, estimated to be seven million years old, were also found in the Andes Mountains. There are five species of flamingos. All the species live in tropical and subtropical climates. There are two subspecies of the greater flamingo (the largest of the flamingo that has deep, pink-colored wings) and the Caribbean flamingo (slightly smaller than the greater flamingo and is crimson or vermilion). The lesser flamingo is the smallest of flamingos with color that is brighter than greater flamingos. The Chilean flamingo is slightly smaller than the Caribbean flamingo and has gray legs with pink at the joints. The Andean flamingo has yellow legs and feet and a red spot between the nostrils. The James’s flamingo has all black feathers, including the secondary feathers that are usually red in other species. The word flamingo comes from the Latin word flama for flame and is based on the Portuguese word flamengo for “flame-colored.” The color in their feathers is due to eating carotenoid pigments in their food such as the shells of crustaceans and algae. A flamingo that is pale pink or nearly white may be ill.

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850 N. El Camino Real San Mateo, CA 94401 Phone: (650) 344-8200 Fax: (650) 344-7395

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