‘A better choice’ is coming to Key Peninsula

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer (right) and Eric Blegen, executive director of The Mustard Seed Project, were among the participants at a groundbreaking for the organization’s assisted-living and memory care community. Besides some honorary shoveling, Kilmer spoke to a crowd of about 100 about the importance of caring for older adults.

After seven years of planning, fund-raising, designing and studying, the Key Peninsula area of west Pierce County has about one year to go until it has its first assisted-living and memory care communities.

The long-anticipated arrival grew closer Oct. 23 with a ceremonial groundbreaking at the five-acre site where construction of the homes is expected to be complete in late 2022, according to The Mustard Seed Project, a non-profit organization that is spearheading the facility as part of its social services for older adults on the peninsula.

The multi-million dollar project is being funded by a $7.8 million Rural  Development Community Facilities loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and $5.7 million from Pierce County, the state, private foundations and individual donors.

Like many other peninsula residents, Bill Roes looks forward to the day the homes open.

“When someone loses their spouse or caregiver, options evaporate and they’re forced to leave the Key Peninsula because there are no assisted-living options here,” said Roes, a physician in the area for three decades. “Now, that’s about to change” through Mustard Seed’s efforts, giving “us and our elders a better choice.”

Recent Census statistics place the peninsula’s population at approximately 17,000, and 43 percent of the residents are between the ages of 50 and 80-plus. Relatively low home prices in the rural area have attracted retirees over the years.

The Mustard Seed Project, whose office on 154th Avenue Court Northwest in Lakebay is across the street from the site of the new housing, has worked on the concept of the latter with the Green House Project, a national, Maryland-based non-profit that specializes in alternatives to traditional senior-care settings. The result will be a “longhouse” of three small homes, each with 10 private bedroom/studios. Each home will have its own entrance and a shared hearth, kitchen, and dining area. Two homes will provide assisted living, the third memory care. The surrounding grounds will include walking paths.

While Mustard Seed will own the property, the homes will be operated by Concepts in Community Living, which has other small, rural senior housing facilities in the Northwest—four in Washington. Another 13 are in Oregon, where the company’s headquarters are.

The Green House Project has gained national attention for the healthy environments of its eldercare communities, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, when they logged significantly lower infection and death rates than traditional nursing homes, according to Green House.

Design work on the Key Peninsula project, the first for Green House in western Washington and the second statewide, has involved Rice Fergus Miller Architects of Bremerton and Korsmo Construction of Tacoma. Korsmo also is the construction contractor.

More than 100 people attended the project’s groundbreaking ceremony in October, braving rainy weather to mark the occasion and listen to speakers. Among them were U. S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, who spoke about the importance of caring for older adults, and Edie Morgan, Mustard Seed’s founder and first executive director. Refreshments for the crowd were provided by Gig Harbor Kiwanis, and musical entertainment was by the South Sound Strummers.

Besides housing, the Mustard Seed Project supports seniors on the peninsula with programs for transportation, information, health and wellness, and community education.


Independent movie theaters are back but cautious

It was, in a way, like coming home again. That’s how I felt on the recent afternoon I spent watching the Aretha Franklin biopic “Respect” at the Crest Cinema.

It was the first time I had gone out to see a movie since the pandemic began. The snack bar staff seemed almost giddy to take my ticket and serve me the kind of warm, buttery, overpriced popcorn you get only at a movie house. The seats were cushy. The screen seemed massive. Even the previews delighted me. And when the film began running through the Queen of Soul’s repertoire, the sound system — and the buzz of joy in the two-thirds-full theater — was something I could never replicate at home.

Since early 2021, with COVID-19 precautions observed, Seattleites have been able to visit chain cineplexes for a communal experience of viewing the latest Marvel action extravaganzas and other Hollywood releases on a giant screen. But for the true cinephile willing to brave mingling with strangers in an indoor setting for a couple hours, despite the pandemic surges, something essential to our local movie landscape has been missing–the array of art house options, those non-commercial cinemas specializing in experimental, foreign, local, documentary, or curated classic fare, including a bevy of niche and cultural film festivals.

These venues — more invested in art and community than big business — tend to be not for profit, with smaller staffs and fewer resources than the commercial movie chains. That has meant a longer road when it comes to transitioning back to in-person screenings. But they are starting to reopen their doors to the flick fans who have sorely missed them. Spaces in Seattle range from the intimate, two-screen Northwest Film Forum on Capitol Hill and the cozy-quirky Grand Illusion in the University District, to single-screen neighborhood faves like The Beacon in Columbia City and Central Cinema in the Central District, and the historic Egyptian Theatre, the largest venue in SIFF Cinema’s mini-indie-empire.

In Pierce County, fans of such moviegoing fare can get their fix again at Grand Cinema in Tacoma. It’s been the home of independent, international, and local feature-length and short films and the Tacoma Film Festival since its start in 1995 as a private business (it was called Grand Tacoma Theater then) and its rechristening in 1997 as a non-profit, largely volunteer-run organization.

Since reopening to audiences during the pandemic, the theater has required patrons to wear masks and, effective Sept. 3, to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination. For further COVID safety, all seating in the intimate settings is reserved. Seats next to, in front of and behind a ticket buyer and their group are blocked off once a seat is reserved. Online ticket purchases are recommended. In addition, seating per auditorium is limited to 50 to 60 people until 100 percent capacity is restored.

Grand Cinema officials expressed gratitude for the patience, “understanding” and support of its customers.

On Sept. 30, the Egyptian in Seattle resumed screenings with DocFest, a 13-film documentary festival. And on Oct. 1, the SIFF Cinema Film Center, nestled in Seattle Center, also began welcoming patrons. (SIFF’s two-plex facility in the Uptown neighborhood is undergoing some physical upgrades and is expected to reopen a bit later.)

“People still want that feeling of being in a theater, that good sound system, that broad and expansive cinematography,” said Beth Barrett, artistic director of SIFF Cinema’s three-theater operation.

SIFF has been selling only 50 percent of potential tickets — for the Egyptian that’s half of its 520 seats, and for the more compact SIFF Film Center, half of its 90 seats. And “we’re requiring vaccination cards, presented either digitally or in person,” Barrett noted. “We don’t expect people to be back in droves right away, but we want the moviegoing experience to be as safe as possible for our staff and audiences.”

The Grand Illusion, billed as Seattle’s oldest continuously running movie theater and completely staffed by volunteers, was preparing in late September for the return of patrons in its jewel box space. In December, in a hopeful sign of normality during the winter holidays, it’s planning its annual presentation of the holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” on 35 millimeter.

The Grand Illusion is mandating either proof of vaccination or proof of a COVID test within 48 hours of showtime. Its reduced-seating policy cuts capacity to just 35 patrons, making screenings seem almost private.

In-person film festivals have returned. In October, they included the Tacoma Film Festival. The Northwest Film Forum is project jazz films until Nov. 7 as part of the Earshot Jazz Festival, and SIFF will be a host of the Romanian Film Festival Nov. 12-21. The Seattle International Film Festival, entirely online in 2021, is projected to return to theaters in the spring of 2022 with about 90 films — less than half the usual 200-plus.

Theaters are proceeding with the kind of caution that every responsible arts purveyor exercises, given the vagaries of the highly transmissible delta variant and the specter of other COVID permutations on the horizon. And because pandemic shifts and COVID requirements can change with little warning, it’s a good idea to check with the venue before heading out.

Though the pandemic and accompanying economic stresses and uncertainties have made this a challenging time for independent cinema outlets, there have been bright spots in the long hiatus from public screenings. For instance, thanks to relief funding and other financial support, SIFF Cinema and other organizations have used the downtime to upgrade facilities. And some have banded together to share resources and foster more collaboration.

Ironically, the pandemic has also given indie venues new access to the mainstream movie pipeline.

“All those big Hollywood films that were supposed to come out in 2020? Most of them never did,” Barrett said. She pointed out that commercial cineplexes will be eager over the next year to catch up with the backlog of delayed, mega-budget action releases (“The Matrix: Four,” “Top Gun: Maverick,” and the latest James Bond film, “No Time to Die”). That will give independent cinemas opportunities to nab the first runs of critically touted but less flashy, or more offbeat, studio fare.

As for competing with big new releases showing up on major streaming sites like Netflix, Disney+ and Prime Video, local venue operators aren’t too worried about competition with the in-person experiences they can provide.

“I think we’re going to get some great films this year and in 2022,” said Barrett. “The majority of the films we’ll show aren’t streaming currently, so there’s that great possibility of discovering something here you wouldn’t otherwise see. We’ll show movies you won’t find in a Netflix block.”


Grand Cinema, a non-profit independent movie theater in Tacoma, has been limiting seating capacity and selling only reserved-seating tickets as a safety measure during the pandemic.
Pandemic has people embracing technology-related services

How much have people 60 and older started or increased using technology and digital tools in order to deal with the pandemic? That’s a question that was put to 615 Americans by Senior List, an online (seniorlist.com) research team that provides consumer information for older adults. Here’s some of what was learned:

  • The use of grocery delivery or on-demand meal delivery like DoorDash has nearly doubled since the pandemic began, rising from 12 percent to 23 percent.
  • The 60-plus crowd is into TikTok, watching more of the videos than before the pandemic.
  • About 15 percent of older men use the Internet to trade stocks; 2 percent of women do.
  • COVID-19 was the biggest reason (61 percent) for increasing their use of digital or online tools.
  • 15 percent of the survey respondents said adapting to new technologies was “extremely” or “very” challenging.

Compared to their lives pre-pandemic, older adults are more likely now to engage in 13 online activities Senior List asked about, including work, shopping, and communication.

Home-delivered groceries is one way older adults have adapted to the pandemic with the help of technology.
A ‘scary, exhilarating’ dream come true

Well, that’s one way to make a dream come true.

Dennis Cobourn, 82, went skydiving thanks to the “Livin’ the Dream” program at Solstice Senior Living at Point Defiance, the Tacoma community where he lives. The program helps residents fill their bucket list at any age.

When Cobourn shared his lifelong ambition to skydive, the wheels (or is that wings?) were set in motion. And on Aug. 17, he took the plunge.

“It was scary, exciting and exhilarating. I’m so glad I did it,” Cobourn said after jumping out of a plane while strapped to a professional skydiver who guided him on the way down.

He was joined for the sky-high adventure at Skydive Kapowsin in Shelton by Solstice administrator Lisa Meinecke, who also counted skydiving as a personal item on her own bucket list.

“There was no chickening out for them. They were in all the way,” said Joelle Nyman, director of vibrant-life services at Solstice at Point Defiance. In Cobourn’s case, “age has never stopped him,” she added.

Cobourn, who loves rock and roll music and sports cars, is a longtime aviation buff. He graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in aerospace engineering. He went on to work on space launch vehicles for General Dynamics in San Diego and Boeing 737 and 747 aircrafts in Seattle. Later, he worked as a utilities engineer in Vancouver, Wash. and Bremerton.

For his skydiving experience, Cobourn did a tandem jump—attached back-to-front with a harness to a qualified instructor. Some pre-jump training on the ground covered the gear they’d be using, how they’d jump from the plane, and techniques for freefalling and landing.

In tandem jumps, the duo typically freefalls for a minute, reaching a speed of 120 miles per hour before opening the parachute at an altitude of about 5,000 feet. The rest of the descent takes four to six minutes, according to Skydive Kapowsin.

Cobourn is now in the company of other octogenarians and up who’ve skydived. The oldest tandem jumper on record, according to Guinness Book of World Records, is Al Blaschke of Texas, who was 103 for his leap in 2020—which wasn’t his first. He also jumped when he was 100. The previous recordholder was a 102-year-old woman, who did it in 2018.

The oldest solo jumper was 80-year-old Dilys Price of Wales, in 2018. She died in 2020.

Strapped to the front of a professional skydiver, Dennis Cobourn takes the plunge he always wanted to do.