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.

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.

Puzzle, a near-perfect midlife movie!

If the best measure of the perfect story is to show realistically how the main character can change and grow, than this is the perfect product. I’m happy to see more films recently focused on introvert loners who blossom out into the world in a beautiful way, and this is one of those. We all have unique skills we may not know we have, this is that story.

Puzzle_(2018_film)Agnes (played by Kelly Macdonald) has had no opportunities to develop herself or her unique skills. She is a middle-aged housewife with no self-confidence living in a small town. She is devoted to her church and her husband and grown sons’ needs, hardly ever noticing her own. That is until she realizes how much she loves doing jigsaw puzzles. So she makes a trip into New York City to buy new puzzles, completely out of her comfort zone. While there she happens to see a sign requesting a puzzle pardner. Agnes is a true introvert, not comfortable with strangers, but she loves doing puzzles so much she takes a chance and meets up with Robert (played by Irrfan Khan).

They eventually enjoy many deep, intellectual conversations as Robert keeps encouraging Agnes to become her full Self, brilliant as she is. As he does her priorities change. She discovers the rebel within who soon becomes angry and assertive, discovering and caring most about her own needs for the first time in her life.

Who knew there is a national and world jigsaw puzzle competition? Who knew that “puzzles are a way to control the chaos of the randomness of the world.”

An appropriate sidelight: “Kelly Macdonald’s career began while she was working as a barmaid in Glasgow. She saw a leaflet advertising an open casting session for Trainspotting and decided to audition, winning the part of Diane…”

LOVED this great quote from Wikipedia about this film:

 “They [the puzzlers] fall in love out of their mutual respect and for the ability to see countless random events in their lives taking the shape of a perfect picture similar to the fragments of a jigsaw puzzle. This is due to their realization that at the end of the day there are only right choices no matter how many wrong pieces might have been fit into wrong places. This helps them to discover their inner selves…”  Wikipedia on Puzzle (2018)

How we steal the bright side from ourselves everyday: Try some cognitive reframing

reframing your life

The most fortunate are those who have a wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder and even ecstasy. — ABRAHAM MASLOW

Although I learned this psychological tool decades ago, I am always re-learning its usefulness in my own life. What is cognitive reframing? Here’s a definition from an article by social worker Amy Morin:

“Reframing is a technique used in therapy to help create a different way of looking at a situation, person, or relationship by changing its meaning. Also referred to as cognitive reframing, it’s a strategy therapists often use to help clients look at situations from a slightly different perspective.”

I have found that choosing a “different perspective” can also be the opposite of what I automatically go to in my own mind.

The point is that we can and do choose how we see ourselves and our lives everyday. 

If we were raised with a critical or negative view of ourselves and how the world works, the way we will see our lives may be destined to be critical or negative, but that is not the only way to see ourselves. That is not the only reality behind our circumstances.

Here is an example from my own life:

In my present life I may tend to focus on all of the difficult challenges Mike and I have faced since we decided that we needed to leave Fort Collins behind for many good reasons. I may choose to focus on how much money we left on the table by selling our Fort Collins home before prices went way up up there, how expensive and stressful it was to build down here in a rural area, etc, making me critical of our past decisions. Or, I may choose to see exactly how fortunate I have been in spite of many tough misfortunes in the past few decades; to be here now, retired comfortably and happily, and most importantly together!

In addition there are the greater misfortunes of Mike’s horrible experience with CFS for decades, my inability to find another job in libraries at age 49, my traumatic head injury at age 53, and many more difficulties that just come up as we age. Considering all of these factors, we are more than fortunate. How can we be anything but filled with GRATITUDE that we made it to this soft place to fall in this beautiful place?

That is how reframing works, and it can be used in all parts of your life on a daily basis…

laura and rasta on insulation 2014 (2)

leading to overwhelming feelings of gratitude, a feeling we could all use more of!

Colorado Rocky Mountain High!

You belong somewhere you feel free…

New Rules for Retirement: Do it NOW!

No one gets out of this alive. With retirement, you have more time to do the things you love, but the extra time is wasted unless you use it productively and actually live your dreams. Make that phone call to let someone know you are thinking of them. Better yet, go visit. Mend fences, hug, show appreciation, be kind to people. Don’t be complacent; you never know when the people you thought would be there forever will be gone.

Money is overrated. Money is a tool. To see it as anything else is folly. Yes, we all need some, but money is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Spend wisely and then let it go.

Time is your most valuable asset. You only get so much, and that is it. You can’t hoard it. You can’t get it back. You can’t turn back the clock. The best you can do is to start investing your time wisely.

Stop searching for happiness. The only place you can be happy is in the present. Stop chasing tomorrow and fully experience happiness today.

Your bucket list is crap. Putting things on a bucket list can be just another way of deferring your aspirations. Sure, go ahead and make a list but remember: Life goes on while you are busy making other plans.

Comfort is overrated. Keep pushing yourself and trying new things. Challenge yourself to more growth, not less. If you get disabled in one area, develop other ones!

Go with your feelings. No need to justify anything you want to do. It is OK to do things solely because you want to. Take dance lessons. Learn to play the zither. Who cares about the critics?

You are responsible. You get to choose how you respond to everything. Yes, everything. Your response to anything is a choice. You get to choose what matters. You didn’t get this far to keep jumping through other people’s hoops. Don’t forget the importance of yourself.

You can’t make others happy. You can listen. You can be kind. You can smile. You can respect. You can offer assistance. You can contribute tools, but everyone is responsible for their own happiness.

past better not bitterLet it go. Everyone has regrets, but don’t live a life of sorrow. The past is gone; find a way to come to terms with it. If you need to call up those from your past, do it and get it over with. Today is all we really have.

Stop complaining. Most people don’t care about your problems; some are happy you have them. Complaining only serves to keep negatives at the center of your life.

Your aspirations mean nothing if you don’t make an effort to realize them. Take action to get the things you want TODAY.

Ambition can be a killer. I hate to break it to you, but you aren’t going to be No. 1 in everything you do. Breathe, and be satisfied, with the act of living today. Don’t let blind ambition cause you to lose sight of what is important. Savour all of life’s moments, even the bad ones, because you only get so many and you may wish you had paid more attention.

Take care of yourself. You aren’t much use to yourself or anyone else if you don’t. Looking out for your health and happiness is not the same as being selfish. This is fundamental.

It is OK to fail. Failure is part of life. Failure teaches us valuable lessons. In fact, we learn more from our failures than our successes.

You don’t have to wait for an apology to forgive. We have all been wronged at one time or another. Waiting for an apology from someone who may never offer one is a waste of life. Who cares? Hell, if this is a gray area and it’s possible the other person is waiting for an apology from you, apologize first. What does it matter? Life is too precious to play those kind of games.

Negativity wastes life. Being positive and optimistic in the present has a favorable impact on the future. Yes, bad things happen, but so do good ones. Remember, what you focus on grows.

Be curious. See both sides. Stubbornness is not strength. When given new information, intelligent people research it further. Is it true? Spend the time to read, develop and evolve your opinions. We grow when we can admit we are wrong. Your life stagnates when you are wrong, but you refuse to admit it.