Archive for September, 2009

I’m not going to drive because I failed the driving test!

Some time in June or July, after I had been leaving home and going places for a while, I began to wonder whether I would want a car. Would it be an asset? Since I couldn’t think of many places I would want to go or many reasons why I would need a car, I never got very far in thinking about it. By the time I asked Ernie how much an acceptable used car would cost, we had already lost enough from our savings to pay for a new car; so I didn’t like the idea of spending much money.

While I was still dithering about a car, my sons and other people encouraged me first to get a driver’s license, then decide whether I needed a car.

I have not driven in fifteen years. The last car I drove was a 1986 Subaru. When we moved to Charlestown, back to Maryland from our remote home in West Virginia, there was no reason for me to get a Maryland license. My WV license expired in 2002. And in 1999, Ernie had sold the Subaru because at Charlestown, we weren’t using it much.

Although I can (and have) paid Charlestown Transportation to have drivers take me wherever I want to go, and come bring me home, I usually have to plan such rides, or wait until a driver is available for a same-day request. I can’t leave Charlestown spontaneously, and there are times when I desperately want to get away from here. With continuing encouragement from my family and others, I decided to investigate getting a driver’s license.

On July 17th, I e-mailed to the Maryland MVA for information and learned that, if I could provide a certified copy of my West Virginia driving record, and acceptable documentation of my identity, age, and residence, and if I took the driving tests, I could get a license.

Next, I contacted the West Virginia MVA and sent them a bunch of documents (I’ve changed my name more than once!) with a check for $6.00. A week later, I received my driving record. Now all I needed was a car to practice driving.

One morning, in the swimming pool, I impulsively asked a man who swims at the same time I do and who was obviously hale and hearty, if he would like to help me get a driver’s license. Talk about brass! We’d only spoken a few times. But he said, “How about early Saturday morning?”  Good Neighbor Sam to the rescue! I was astounded.

After the first driving session, on our campus with no traffic and empty parking lots, he asked if I wanted to do it again the next Saturday. And we did it.

By this time, mid-August, it was clear to me that I needed more practice parallel parking than I could expect my good neighbor to provide. Also, I was having an ongoing e-mail exchange with the MVA about the process. I realized that I had to find a certified driving instructor whom I could pay for enough practice, and I had to find someone with a car to take me to the MVA for testing. Luckily, I found Elite Driving School,


which offered exactly the services I needed—individual behind-the-wheel instruction and an instructor who would take me for testing, wait for me, and bring me back to the school. Sounded great.

I scheduled my test with the MVA. Then I scheduled and paid for two hours of driving practice plus the trip to and from the MVA—all to be done on the same day, so that I had only to pay Charlestown for one round-trip to Elite. By this time, I had only a week before my driving record from WV would become invalid. It had to get done on the scheduled day—September 2nd—two days before the WV record was no good.

What I got that day, instead of two hours of practice, was about 45 minutes of practice, before the instructor said we had to head for the MVA to be in time for my appointment there—where we waited for an hour. An hour in which I could have been practicing. I knew I wasn’t ready to parallel park, and I failed to do so. The examiner, however, told my driving instructor that I knew how to handle a car. I could drive.

Well, back at Elite, I told my story to the school owner and asked him what he thought was a reasonable accommodation, since I would have to have more practice and another trip to the MVA because I had not received the two hours of practice I had paid for.

Next day he e-mailed me that he had contacted the MVA about my situation and learned that it was illegal for me to practice driving without a learner’s permit. (Although the MVA had clearly written to me that I could be tested without a learner’s permit. And he had allowed me to practice with his instructor already.) Consequently, he wrote, he could not allow me to drive one of his cars.

Thanks to the prudence of my good neighbor, I asked the MVA for confirmation. But meanwhile, Good Neighbor said that he’d had an idea of how he could teach me to parallel park in our parking lot. So, early Saturday morning, he did.

Then I got this response from the MVA.

Effective October 1, 2008, applicants must hold a valid learner’s permit prior to the behind-the-wheel driver education training and driving on Maryland highways.”

So……… I added up the costs of being driven to the MVA to get a learner’s permit, paying for the permit, getting more instruction and practice, going back to the MVA for testing, which would require one or two more Charlestown round-trips, and paying for the license. That total would pay for Charlestown drivers taking me to a LOT of places. Not to mention the time and effort involved for me.

And why, exactly, do I need to drive?

So, for now at least, I won’t be driving.


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Every year in our conference center Charlestown holds an exhibition called Fruits of Our Labor. The purpose is to acquaint all residents with the opportunities available for them to participate in resident-led activities.  Groups showcase their activities and accomplishments and try to recruit new members. There are more than 200 resident-created and run groups at Charlestown, and over 90 of them had tables at Fruits of Our Labor this year.

A few weeks ago I agreed to take responsibility for arranging the display of the Nature Trail Committee, of which I am a member. The woman who has been making this display for the past 15 years decided it was time for her to resign that responsibility. She still did the display of the Chess Club, though.

Fortunately, she had accumulated good materials over the years, including a very large, mounted photograph of the Nature Trail, and an exact replica of one of the covered bridges that cross Herbert’s Run, the stream that courses along the trail, through the woods. The scale model was made in the Wood Shop here 15 years ago by a now-deceased resident. She also had small cardboard boxes she had constructed to hold plant materials, wood chips from the actual trail that she had sterilized, rocks and pieces of bark, as well as strips of wood such as those that line the trail. She even had a photograph of a stream that she had covered in clear plastic to give the illusion of water. My job was to collect plant materials to represent the trail and to arrange the display.

The display was to be set up on Wednesday for the exhibition on Thursday. With rain forecast for late Tuesday and Wednesday, I went down to the trail Tuesday morning and filled a large bag with fern fronds, cuttings of various green plants, and soil in which to place these materials. Concerned about keeping them presentable until Thursday, I decided to wrap them in a damp bath towel that I placed in a plastic bag.

Tuesday night I had an anxiety attack. What happens to plant material kept in a warm, humid environment? It rots. What if my collection was already decaying inside the towel? What if it was pouring rain on Thursday morning, making it impossible for me to replace it?

To my relief, almost all my cuttings looked just fine Wednesday morning, but, wanting some color, some blooms, and hoping to find some mushrooms or toadstools, I went out with my bag and tools early that morning. Instead of going back to the trail, where nothing was blooming, I walked around the campus, surreptitiously cutting small bits. I scraped moss off some rocks, and I even found three mushrooms.

By then it was time to head for the Conference Center to set up the display with the help of the Nature Trail Committee chairman, Carol Rexford. Boy, was I glad to have her there, as I had never been to one of these exhibitions and had some trepidation about my ability to create an attractive display—one that lived up to the much-acclaimed ones created by my predecessor. With lots of materials to work with, Carol and I collaborated in deciding where to put what, and we were pleased with our result, shown below.


All the space we had was half a meeting table, about 3’ X 4’, and we needed to have handouts and signup sheets on that space.

Here are some details. First, the stream flowing under the bridge. The small stones were from my collection, used in flower arranging.


Another view of the bridge and stream:


The other side of the bridge:


The fungi I found, and the moss:


Here’s Carol, seated at our table:


Although we did not win the Best of Show prize, we got a lot of compliments. At the end of the event, Carol and I dismantled our display and took everything to her apartment for storage.

Doing this job gave me a chance to get to know Carol, which I appreciate. She does fine watercolor art and ink drawings. She’s been investigating meditation practice for healing. Among other interests we share, we both have grandsons who are in their junior year at McDonogh School. About my dissatisfaction with living at Charlestown and my desire to help bring about some changes, she wrote me this message:

“Wow, good for you–……and I’m behind you all the way to try and make some changes here. I met a new neighbor on my hall yesterday–……she feels the way you do–kinda in shock with all the “old people” here–I told her there was change coming and to search out us 70 somethings ……..”

So I’m very glad to be getting to know Carol.

But is this (Fruits of Our Labor) how I want to be spending my time?


By all my experimenting with things I can do at Charlestown, I’m finding out what I DON’T want to do, but I’m still trying to find what I DO want to do, that my body will allow me to do.

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Lots has been going on here, which I will probably write about eventually. In the meantime, I’ll show you some details of the “recovery improvisation”—some far-out “patchwork.”





I’m just going on, no plan; but now I am motivated to finish this piece, to be finished with it.

I started working on this project in May, after weeks of not being able to stitch at all,  not knowing what I was doing. I still don’t.

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