Earth Day 2019: What is the “State of the Air” Where You Breathe?

Although we may rarely think about the “state of the air” where we live, what we breathe in and out everyday does have a gigantic impact on our long-term health. And as the annual “State of the Air Report” comes out from the American Lung Association this Wednesday, let’s focus on your oxygen for just a few minutes.

Unfortunately, this is when most of us tune out. We say to ourselves, “I don’t smoke so I’ll be fine.” WRONG. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, refers to a group of diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing-related problems. COPD makes breathing difficult for the 16 million Americans who have this disease. Millions more people suffer from COPD, but have not been diagnosed and are not being treated. Go check your state for deaths from COPD:

There are times when I’m certain those around me hear my severe coughing and think, “Geez, why doesn’t she quit smoking?” I have never smoked cigarettes and yet now, at age 64, COPD dominates my life. And incidentally, 20% of Americans with COPD never smoked. Sometimes when others ask me if I smoked, I am tempted to respond with, “No, but I did breathe…”

I have had reoccurring bouts of bronchitis for decades, don’t know why except that I have lived in some very polluted cities like Seattle, Salt Lake City and Boulder, not to mention Bangkok, Taipei and various places in China. I can no longer tolerate much air pollution at all. I just cough, permanently .

Go check out your county for air pollution levels!

When you can’t breathe, nothing else matters!


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What makes us who we are today?

I was struck the other day by this quote from Dr. Phillip McGraw. In my opinion, “Dr. Phil” is a wise man disguised as a TV personality.

“What I’m doing now is a culmination of everything I’ve ever done”

I have been in the midst of a “career” change for the past few years, since moving out into the Colorado countryside. I know, how can you change careers when you are already retired? But in some ways this change is more important to me than anything I did back when I was struggling to make a living.

That quote from Dr. Phil made me start thinking about the lifetime of influences that have brought me to this exact moment in time. I never gave much thought to the major influence my father has had on my interests until now. He has been an influential botanist, president of the National Association of Biology Teachers at one time, and author of some important books like “Trees and Shrubs of Colorado.” So, is that why I love living in nature and gardening at 7,000 feet with native plants now?

My Mom became a master of plant photography and Photoshop to assist my Dad in his book production. They together created “Common Southwestern Native Plants,” a lovely identification guide. Oh, maybe that is why I have recently decided to focus my future energies on photography.

The West Peak from the La Veta Public Library, 4/18/19

I believe we sometimes try to make our lives more complex than they really are. Look around you? What is influencing your world view right now? What is so close you almost don’t see it? Is that what you should turn your attention to right now, while you still can?

After a lifetime of living in cities, how has country life changed me and my interests?

The winter view from our south-facing windows

The changes are so gradual that at first you don’t notice them. After we completed our passive solar home in 2015, it took months for us to truly relax. While it was being built it felt more like the workmen owned it instead of us! Then, after we moved in, it felt like an expensive foothills retreat. I kept waiting for the manager to arrive and kick us out. But it did finally get finished, and then we rested.

Construction in mid-winter 2014-15

I would say it took at least a year to totally accept that this was our new home. It didn’t feel like anywhere I had ever lived before. The lack of neighbors and the absolute silence took my breathe away. When we first started building I felt like we lived so far out in the country, but after a year or so, it all felt so normal to not be around others.

The Final Product!

How did this new lifestyle change me over the next few years? I slowly learned what true relaxation is all about. I noticed that I stopped feeling so fearful all the time, a feeling I hadn’t even noticed before. The calm and quiet made me realize that our bodies feel the need to be ever vigilant in cities. All of that traffic, noise, over-crowding, and just being around other people constantly, causes us to be ever attentive to who knows what might happen next. Yes, we do still watch the news, which I’m not sure is good for us, but it feels millions of miles away!

I would say retiring to the countryside is particularly pleasant because we don’t need to worry about getting to work and all the stresses of being at work. Certainly, no one is go to fire us. Then the “problem” becomes:

How will I fill my time in a way that satisfies me?

Mike has been a master at solving this problem. He has been waiting his whole life to have the time to pursue various motorcycle and art projects. I have had to learn the fine art of doing nothing, after a lifetime of forced “productiveness.” Now I’m ready to pursue a few new avocations more seriously, like gardening and photography.

My commute to town

One of the best parts of our life now? After a lifetime of moving from place to place constantly, I now know that we will never move again. This is the end of the road for us. and what a lovely end it is!

If you would like to learn more about this challenging transition from my perspective, please consider purchasing my book: A Memoir of Retirement: From Suburbia to Solar in Southern Colorado.

“Miracle Messages” helps the homeless reconnect with loved ones

Miracle Messages helps “local partner sites engage their homeless neighbors in conversation and offer to help them record short Miracle Messages (video, audio, or text messages) to their loved ones. Then, our trained digital detectives attempt to deliver the Miracle Message and facilitate a reunion.”

Please allow me to explain how important this work can be. My disabled brother John had been homeless or close to it for years, with little or no contact with his family. In 2010, after he disappeared from Durango, we did not hear from him for a few years. I decided to set up a missing persons report at NamUs to reassure us that if his body was found we would be notified. Instead, a wonderful Forest Ranger down near Sedona Arizona saw my listing and talked John into contacting us. Since then we have reconnected in an amazing and life-changing way for all of us, his children, my elderly parents, my sister and me.

I imagine pride or shame cause many homeless people to avoid contact with people from their past. It is so important that they know that sometimes family and friends still love them and miss them terribly. Please donate as much as you can to this worthy cause because:

A trip up north to the land of cities

For my birthday this year, I decided to go up to Fort Collins and Denver to spend time with family and friends. I had a wonderful time feeling special! But I am always shocked by the culture shock of returning to city life. The first thing I always notice is how bad the air begins to smell just north of Pueblo, because the air does not “smell” down here. That is also where the highway driving suddenly switches from a casual, comfortable feel to what I call “Get the hell out of my way!” driving. Luckily we missed any major traffic jams up north, but the only way I can explain it, from the perspective of one who never sits at stop lights or feels truly threatened by two-way traffic, is the roads are INTENSE up there! The cars are so close together on the roads and it feels scary.

The other culture shock for me is that up there we see so many young people! We don’t have a lot of them down here. The average age in our county, down by the New Mexico border, is around 54. Everything feels a lot more rushed and modern up there. There are of course hundreds of restaurants and shopping options compared to our county, where you can count the total restaurants on ten fingers.

Yes, we moved from one of the riches counties in Colorado to one of the poorest five years ago. My Dad (age 90) asked me how I was feeling now about that choice while we were up there and I had to think. As he pointed out, I had never lived in a place like this before. I have been cursed my whole life with the ability to see both sides of everything, and that can be truly exhausting. However, after a few days up north, I have to say I love not smelling the air or hearing traffic all the time. Our solar foothills home was the perfect temperature when we got here with no heat running the whole time we were gone. It felt wonderful to just walk in the door!

Sitting in my bed this morning and gazing out at the Spanish Peaks and the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, that’s a tough act to follow. The silence down here is perfection for me now.

BIRTHDAY JOY and how to get some!

Some might say celebrating turning 64 is crazy. What can be great about being 64? Number one, I made it this far without losing too many parts or major skills. There’s something to celebrate! Second, my Mom (who is 85!) is thrilled. And finally, we already have social security and Medicare is coming soon, hopefully before Trump kills off our Obamacare.

But in my case I have found a number of other things to celebrate. For one, the guy who has been making everybody miserable around here has finally sold his house and moved away! YES! And it’s almost springtime in the Rockies too! My tiny perennials are showing signs of new life after a cold, windy winter.

In the meantime, I feel complete gratitude for the sun coming back our way for another spring and summer. It doesn’t take much to make me happy, especially when I live in a solar home!

“What’s it like to move to the Colorado countryside to build solar?”

A Memoir of Retirement: From Suburbia to Solar in Southern Colorado by Laura Lee Carter, M.A. Librarianship, History and Transpersonal Counseling, is a book that attempts to answer that question…

In June 2014 we packed up or got rid of most of our worldly goods, sold our nice house in suburbia (Fort Collins) and took off to stay in an old miner’s cabin, while we built a direct-gain passive solar home with spectacular views of the Sangre de Cristos, west of Walsenburg, Colorado…

This drives me nuts about my own culture!

I cannot stand the way we act like drinking alcohol is so fun and funny. I should admit up front that alcohol is not and has never been my own drug of choice. I just don’t see how this killer of those who partake and those who get murdered by drunks, is so accepted and the source of so many laughs.

“Excessive alcohol use led to around 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost (YPLL) each year in the United States from 2006 – 2010, shortening the lives of those who died by an average of 30 years. Further, excessive drinking was responsible for 1 in 10 deaths among working-age adults aged 20-64 years. The economic costs of excessive alcohol consumption in 2010 were estimated at $249 billion, or $2.05 a drink.” 

CDC Fact Sheet on Alcohol Use and Your Health

Somehow I don’t find the death of millions funny. Where did we get the idea that this nasty habit is fine and even funny, especially when we have recently determined that it also causes cancer:

The CDC’s Long-Term Health Risks from Alcohol Use:

Over time, alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems including:

    • High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems.6,16

    • Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon.6,17

    • Learning and memory problems, including dementia and poor school performance.6,18

    • Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.6,19

  • Social problems, including lost productivity, family problems, and unemployment.6,20,21

  • Alcohol dependence, or alcoholism.5

Yes, alcohol use is fine, normal and completely socially acceptable while the use of THC in marijuana is still considered a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act, a federal law which states that THC has no medicinal value and high potential for abuse just like other Schedule I drugs like heroin and cocaine.

deaths from alcohol vs marijuana

So glad that alcohol is so medicinal and holds no risk of addiction! If THC is so deadly, how come millions aren’t dying from its use? It has been in use for centuries all around the world. 

Today THC is regularly prescribed in Israel and other countries for a number of serious illnesses. Israeli research over the past ten years has led to a rediscovery of our endocannabinoid system, the largest receptor system in the human body. As it turns out, our brain produces its own cannabinoids — compounds that stimulate the body’s receptor system.

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health believe these compounds could alleviate dozens of illnesses, including schizophrenia, diabetes, cancer and multiple sclerosis, to name a few.

Over 60% of Americans want to legalize THC now.  WTF?