Boomers: What to do with all the extra years we have gained in the past century?

In the past one hundred years, Americans have witnessed the greatest increase in life expectancy and longevity in human history. In 1935, when Social Security became a government program and established the retirement age at 65, the life expectancy for American men was 60 and for women, 64. Those born in the early twentieth century were not expected to live past age 65, and most didn’t. Life expectancy in the United States increased a full 20 years between 1930 and 2010. The average American today who lives to be age 65 is expected to survive well past 80.

U.S. Life Expectancy at Birth, 1930–2010
Birth Year   Both Sexes   Male   Female
2010   78.7   76.2   81.1
2000   77.0   74.3   79.7
1990   75.4   71.8   78.8
1980   73.7   70.0   77.4
1970   70.8   67.1   74.7
1960   69.7   66.6   73.1
1950   68.2   65.6   71.1
1940   62.9   60.8   65.2
1930   59.7   58.1   61.6
(Source: National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics Reports, http://www.cdc.gov/nchs)

It is difficult for most of us to fully comprehend how much the average life span has increased, even just in our own lifetime. The average lifespan for a man born in 1900 was only 48 years and 52 for women. It may help to recall how young most of our great-grandparents and grandparents were when they died. The dilemma becomes, what to do after we stop working full-time?

From the recent data, it sounds like binge drinking of alcohol is gaining popularity among Americans over 65. Now there’s something to do! Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more alcoholic drinks at one sitting. For this study, data was collected on nearly 11,000 U.S. adults 65 and older who took part in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health between 2015 and 2017. Of those, 10.6% had binged in the past month, the study found. That was up from previous studies. Between 2005 and 2014, between 7.7% and 9% of older Americans were binge drinkers. Blacks and people with less than a high school education were more likely to do so, researchers found.

Another bit of data which came out last year from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showed that suicide rates for women 45 to 64 increased nearly 60% between 2000 and 2016. For men of the same age the suicide rate increased almost 37% over that time. Overall, suicide rates in the U.S. increased 30% between 2000 and 2016. A separate CDC analysis released this month found that suicides have risen in almost every state.

My new”Sky Garden”

It seems safe to say that many of us aren’t finding positive ways to enjoy our “golden years.” I think this is partially because we were never taught what to do with ourselves beyond working all day. In fact we never learned to value “not working” in productive, positive ways. The learning curve has been a little steep for me, and I worked freelance for a decade before we moved here to retire. How to love and value non-moneymaking tasks.

I have learned from Mike the value of having a few strong avocations like cooking, gardening, photography and other forms of creativity, but first I had to let go of those early lessons in extreme “productivity.” It is really OK to enjoy your day and do what you love. No one is watching and judging you. Do what makes you happy perhaps for the first time in your life! Experiment. Mess up sometimes. That is how we learn the most about what gets us going.

Learn how to take advantage of that extra decade or two you have available to you for the first time in human history!

This and many other lessons are available in my book:

Find Your Reason to Be Here: The Search for Meaning in Midlife

After changing just about everything in my own life around age 50, I spent ten years studying the psychology of midlife change. In order to pass that learning on to my readers, I wrote this book. I had no idea back in 2004, when my own midlife mayhem began, that I was experiencing a perfectly normal and even healthy response to so many midlife challenges. I soon learned: Midlife is a new rite of passage for the human race, beginning with boomers. If you are willing to take some risks, you can change just about everything. However, some serious soul surgery and personal change will be required.

If you would like a paper copy please contact me at: MidlifeCrisisQueen@gmail.com

Advertisements

Boomers: Why or Why Didn’t We Go To College?

One thing I never want to happen, but I know does, is that potential new friends here may decide we cannot relate because I spent so much time at the university. To tell you the truth, this discrepancy never even occurs to me.

My own observation about boomers and college:

Those who didn’t go to college often wish they had had the chance.

Those who did go sometimes wonder why they bothered.

How many boomers went to college anyway? Census data estimates that 28.8 percent of Baby Boomers have earned a Bachelor’s degree or higher, while another 28.9 percent have attended some college classes.

It seems family views and monetary pressures were the largest influence on why many of us attended college. Because my Dad was a professor, everyone in my family got free tuition at Colorado College. We all went there at some time including my Mom.

I guess I always assumed that those who didn’t go to college didn’t want to, but I see now how parental encouragement or total non-encouragement played an important role. Mike’s father didn’t offer any support or encouragement. It was the old, “the Navy training was good enough for me, so it’s good enough for you!” And this was during the Vietnam War! I also learned from Mike that a lot of us learn more easily from doing, not listening to some long-winded professor. Some of us are physical and visual learners.

Overjoyed at college graduation… back when I had all the answers!

I was raised by a college professor and a teacher. I was totally brain-washed that college is good for you. My Dad and Mom were the first kids in their family to go to college, and I would have to say it was “very, very good to them.” It was also a career-maker for me, and I truly appreciate that fact, but that isn’t where I learned the most important lessons in my life. Not even close. In the end, I attended graduate school for a specific career.

I think we learn our most important lessons by living our lives and paying close attention to what works for us, and what doesn’t. What careers or work environments bring out the best in us? What jobs feed on our own natural abilities and talents? Unfortunately I had to wait until I quit work altogether to learn the most about my natural interests and talents.

Gardening: An old friend who has come in handy in retirement!

Ask yourself today: What would you do if you had all the time in the world? What activities make you lose touch with time and place and take you away to your own great place in your head? Now I only do what gets me going and I have the time to observe exactly what that is. For me now it is gardening, anything with vivid colors, photography, cooking, yoga….

What are you doing this Summer Solstice?

The word “solstice” is derived from the Latin words “sol+systere,” meaning “when the sun stands still.”  This year the Summer Solstice is on June 21st, 5:54 PM EST, which makes it the longest day of 2019. Following this solstice, the days will get shorter and the nights longer. As one who worships the sun, I see this solstice as a time to reflect on personal growth and the meaning of our seasons, a time of cleansing and renewal, love and personal growth. This is the moment when there is the most light available to us. In terms of consciousness, this is when we can be most present to ourselves and who we hope to be — the Sun represents the light of all life and consciousness.

Many traditions throughout time have celebrated the solstices — Ancient Egypt, the Aztecs of Mexico, Chinese, indigenous peoples of the Americas, and Europeans. Western civilizations have for centuries celebrated this first day of summer, often called midsummer or St. John’s Day. The Chinese mark the day by honoring Li, the Chinese Goddess of Light. Throughout history, with so much light showered down upon the Earth, it was seen as one of the most powerful days of the year for spiritual growth and healing.

Summer Solstice Stone Hedge

To this day, revellers still gather at Stonehenge to see the sun rise. The Heel Stone and Slaughter Stone, set outside the main circle, align with the rising sun.  And many of the ancient traditions continue – Bonfires are still lit to celebrate the Sun at its height of power and to ask the Sun not to withdraw into winter darkness.

In North America, many Native American tribes held ritual dances to honor the sun. The Sioux were known to hold one of the most spectacular rituals- The Sun Dance. Usually performed during the June solstice, preparations for the Sun Dance included cutting and raising a tree that would be considered a visible connection between the heavens and Earth, and setting up teepees in a circle to represent the cosmos. Participants abstained from food and drink during the dance itself. Their bodies were decorated in the symbolic colors of red (sunset), blue (sky), yellow (lightning), white (light), and black (night).

Why not create your own rituals this year, with an intention to create new ways to re-connect with Nature and improve your life? Bring light and love into this world in your own positive and creative ways.

“Both the Winter and the Summer Solstices are expressions of love. They show us the opposition of light and dark, expansion and contraction, that characterize our experiences in the Earth school so that we can recognize our options as we move through our lives.” – Gary Zukav

Wishing you abundance and light this Summer Solstice!


The Wonder of True Friends

I just started reading a wonderful memoir. The way I found it is even more interesting. I had been thinking about how much I love this song by the Dixie Chicks. Take a listen. It’s well worth your while…

I found a way to explore northern Thailand as a college student in spring 1974!

Yep, “taking the long way” is a great description of my life. I have always been quite independent and, as one close friend in Salt Lake observed, ‘zealous’. When I focused on something new, I could usually make it happen, in spite of the fact I rarely had any money. As you might guess, in the midst of all of that, I have had only a few true friends, because I was always taking off to some other state or foreign country for a new adventure. When I decided it was time to go do something different, I simply did it. How many relationships can keep up with that lifestyle?

But back to the amazing memoir: “Let’s Take The Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship” by Gail Caldwell. Since I loved the title “Taking the Long Way” I looked it up and found it had been already “taken” by Gail Caldwell’s book. Then I had to find out more, so I checked it out of my local library.

This is a well-written memoir by a Pulitzer Prize winning former chief book critic for the Boston Globe. How’s that for credentials? And yes, it is a wonder to read. Here Gail eulogizes the kind of close, true friendship that one rarely finds in one lifetime. What are the chances of finding that one true friend who practically knows what you are thinking and what you may say next? She also beautifully describes the way so many of us writer, introvert-types jealously protect our independence and solitude. Gail begins by defining herself as “a gregarious hermit” and then wonders how she finally met “someone for whom I wouldn’t mind breaking my monkish ways.” Ah, don’t we all know that fine line between loving our freedom and yet deciding to let one worthy friend into our life.

Friend in Chinese

I found this memoir particularly poignant because I only have a few true friends in my life right now. Only one friend made the effort to stay in touch emotionally when we moved down here five years ago, and Mike is the friend of a lifetime for me. What does that mean? For me it means absolute trust that this friend loves and respects me, to the extent that we can easily disagree and argue, but love and loyalty is always solidly beneath. That bottomless loyalty is the greatest prize in my life. I need to know that this is someone who would never betray or doubt our intimate life together, and will certainly be there at the end of my life if possible.

A Brief Lesson in Garden Love & Plant Diversity

I was raised by Dr. Jack L. Carter, a well-known botanist in this area, best know for his books “Trees and Shrubs of Colorado” and “Trees and Shrubs of New Mexico.” I never wanted to be a botanist. My interests ran more towards Asian history in college, after a few months living in Thailand at age 19. But as it turns out, my new garden at 7,000 feet, is where I now go to find meaning, happiness, comfort and solace.

This catmint took two years to start looking this big and happy!

I love everything about going out to visit my plants each morning. I want to see what’s blooming, what’s thinking about it, and which plant needs some help from me to be happier with their placement in the garden.

I have had gardens all over Boulder, Fort Collins and Loveland Colorado. From this I have learned that all gardens take time to develop and grow in their own way. Only start a garden if you have a few years to watch it develop of its own accord. You need to learn the native plants in your area and gain the awareness of which critters eat what. I spent a couple years walking around La Veta before I started my own garden. There you can quickly see what may survive constant deer nibbling, plus rabbits, etc. I have also incorporated a number of native plants from our surrounding acreage. Some just turn up in the garden and I let them stay. Others I have transplanted.

This spring we have a abundance of this plant along the county roads and just about everywhere, which is curious because I don’t remember seeing a lot of it before this year. After consultation with my favorite botanist friend Jan, we decided it is called Penstemon augustifolius.

From the very beginning I knew I wanted to bring some Penstemon strictus into my new garden, common name Rocky Mountain Penstemon. I had great experiences growing ihem in my Loveland garden a number of years ago.

My garden in Loveland was my primary solace in the spring of 2001 when my marriage fell apart. I started a garden because I love growing things around me and I knew even then that:

Action is the greatest antidote to despair.

Eighteen years later I will share with you an essential insight into how life works. When life seems meaningless, find some part of your life that you can transform. I have transformed ugly screened-in porches into beautiful sun rooms and empty lots into native plant gardens. Find a way to make something beautiful around you. Do it today!

Beauty is the garden where hope grows!

Sky Gardening – June 2019!

We all need distractions from the news and our lives in general, so how about some photos of my favorite plants? I know gardening is my favorite form of distraction, how about you? Since I wrote to you about gardening here at the beginning of May, we have received over two inches of moisture, some of it unfortunately as SNOW, but most of my new plants just said, “What, me worry?” and continued on because they are so sturdy and well-matched to this 7,000′ foothills environment.

One plant that is totally thriving is my catmint! Instead of delaying it’s bloom time, it’s saying, “Hey, look how tough I am!”

I see the Cholla cactus I started from a baby a few years ago is also looking happy. Some ask me why I would plant a cacti in or near my garden.

The answer is that when this starts blooming in a few years it could look like this! They are everywhere along I-25 between the New Mexico border and Colorado Springs. Watch them bloom in July!

I go out every morning to see how my garden grows, if the weather is sunny and it’s not blowing like hell out there. Rasta always accompanies me. His job is peeing on the plants or lying in the sun.

I still need to find a place for this BEAUTIFUL Columbine, our magnificent state flower!

Until then I’ll just keep dabbling in my sky garden. This place gives me so much JOY!

The BIG Decision: Retirement Options

Should I stay or I should I go? — The Clash

For many, the decision of how to handle the freedom from having a specific job in a specific place can be daunting. For one thing, most of us have never faced such freedom. Most of us have lived where our job was for decades and made do. Perhaps we came to love our home, our neighbors or our general situation. Perhaps we dislike major life changes. That wasn’t us. Mike and I had been thinking about getting out of the city for decades when the opportunity arose to do just that.

Home Sweet Home before the move

That is not to say the choice was simple. There are so many factors to consider. Closeness to family and friends, expenses, how much we like or dislike the unhealthy aspects of city life. Besides the unhealthy air for someone with COPD, I discovered as we thought about it, that I did not want to spend another minute sitting at stoplights when I had so little life left. I hate wasting time! Yes, the decision probably won’t be easy, but it must be made either way.

My own uncertainty five years ago at this time, as we prepared our lovely suburban home for sale, did create great stress in my life. About this time the end of May 2014 we had a buyer set up for mid-June, but no place to move to in Walsenburg! Yikes! Remember, once you make that tough decision, you need to accept all the major stressors that come your way after that. And we were also preparing to build a new home in a rural area where good workers are hard to find.

Our view today!

Yes, I remember it all just like it was yesterday. At the time it often felt like too much to bear. And yet, the rewards have been so worth it. Now I’m certain we made the right choice for us, but there were many times I doubted every decision we made. So much easier to stay in the same home and hope for the best, but then you will never know the rewards of moving on and choosing something completely different!

In the summer of 2014, Mike and I sold our nice house in Fort Collins to move temporarily into an old miner’s home in Walsenburg, while constructing a passive solar home near the top of Navajo Ranch Estates west of Walsenburg Colorado. To learn more about downsizing to a tiny town and then living in the Colorado countryside, consider reading my book: A Memoir of Retirement: From Suburbia to Solar in Southern Colorado available from Amazon or directly from me at: MidlifeCrisisQueen@gmail.com