Winter Solstice 2020

Tomorrow, Monday the 21st will be the darkest day of our year. This is the day with the fewest hours of daylight, marking the start of astronomical winter. After this solstice, days will begin getting longer and nights shorter as spring approaches.

The word solstice is derived from the Latin word sol (“sun”) and sistere (“to stand still”), because at the solstices, the Sun appears to stand still. The seasonal movement of the Sun’s daily path (as seen from Earth) pauses at a northern or southern limit before reversing direction.

The Winter Solstice in Human History

The winter solstice was a special moment in the annual cycle for most ancient cultures back to the neolithic. Astronomical events were often used to guide activities, such as the sowing of crops and the monitoring of winter food reserves. Many cultural mythologies and traditions are derived from this.

This is attested to by physical remains in the layouts of some ancient archaeological sites, such as Stonehenge in England and ceremonial structures in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon. The primary axis of these monuments seem to have been carefully aligned on a sight-line pointing to the winter solstice sunrise and the winter solstice sunset at Stonehenge.

In the midst of gathering darkness, light becomes ever more valued…

The winter solstice was immensely important, because the Ancient ones were economically dependent on monitoring the progress of the seasons. Starvation was common during the first months of the winter, January to April (northern hemisphere) or July to October (southern hemisphere), also known as “the famine months.” In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast, before deep winter began. Most domestic animals were slaughtered because they could not be fed during the winter, so it was the only time of year when a plentiful supply of fresh meat was available. The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready to drink at this time.

For me, this Winter Solstice has even more meaning, following one of the worst years in American history. This Solstice gives me hope that next year will be so much better in so many important ways! 🙂

Photos of building passive solar in Colorado in the winter: Deck the roof, not the halls!

My intuition told me to go back and look at some previous photos from six years ago, when we were building our passive solar home in the foothills of southern Colorado. Sure enough, December 17th six years ago was the day we put decking on our roof.

Unless you’ve built something yourself, you may not appreciate the idea of “drying in” your structure, but this is major, especially in the middle of winter in Colorado.

I remember when we drove up here, there were workmen all over the top of our house in very cold weather, working their asses off! Our contractor brought all his friends over to work on a Saturday to get this done. What was amazing was how comfortable they all seemed up on that roof! A snow storm came in later that day…

But the roof got covered and we were halfway to being dried in.

We got so excited about the smallest progress back then, after taking five months just to get approval from the county and our slab poured properly for passive solar heating! They forgot the insulation for the slab at first, but Mike got on them for that!

The windows came next! It was finally looking & feeling like a home!

But there were still a million more details to work out…

but we got her done and moved in on the first of August 2015.

Then we rested while staring out at our spectacular view, for months, none stop! We cannot get enough of this even years later. The silence is magnificent!

Surprise! I’m looking forward to Christmas!

This is the time of year I usually post my “I’m beginning to dread a lot about Christmas” post. Once those ubiquitous commercials begin, I start complaining. But this year feels different. I’m anxious to get our tree cut (from our own land!) and decorated, and I’ve ordered just a few small, special gifts online. I wonder why…

I think it’s because of the tough past few years. I know I was too depressed last Christmas to decorate the tree. My health has been a constant concern for a few years now. When you’ve been consistently healthy for most of your life up until around age 60, and then you keep having serious new ailments turn up, it’s disconcerting to say the least. The one I fought the hardest was going on fulltime oxygen. I simply could not believe it, and I also didn’t want to! It’s terribly cumbersome, expensive and irritating. Try fixing dinner while trailing around an O2 tube. But I did somehow adjust after a couple bad falls and much difficult breathing convinced me.

Funny how illness may help one appreciate things in whole new ways. When you are no longer so certain that you will be here for Christmas next year, you see things differently. Now I want to enjoy every little detail. Oxygen tube or not, I want to be present for every moment now.

Feel Gratitude While You Can!

Today I feel like I am seeing my world with new eyes. I am so glad to wake up this morning in such a beautiful place. In fact, I’m grateful to wake up at all! In a world full of death and grief, I do not find it at all difficult to isolate and wait for better days.

I have a warm, safe home with astounding mountains and cloudscapes outside my door!

On television I hear how difficult these times are for others, how different their lives have become. But when I look at my own life I see bright sun in the morning pouring through my windows, warming my home and my heart. I have plenty of time to enjoy the lovely silence, my avocations and my relationships with my family and friends.

When I see clearly, which is much more often since I got rid of my cataracts, I feel so much gratitude for it all!

Glow with gratitude and see how awe and joy make their home in you.

“Make yourself useful!” A post for overly responsible boomers

Two themes have been competing in my brain for decades:

Do we need to “make ourselves useful” all the time? Or is it OK to simply relax and enjoy our lives?

Let me begin by acknowledging that I was brainwashed as a child that everything we do should be “useful.” Laziness was not allowed, and laziness was very broadly defined. Pursuits like games, art, music, cinema, anything that was simply pleasurable and not academically motivated was a waste of time. Productivity was key, but only certain types of productivity. Now I find some of these same strict definitions among my fellow Boomers, who are having trouble getting comfortable with aging, illness and retirement.

First of all, I have studied the psychology of American boomers for years. One conclusion I came to is that we have been identified unfairly as an extremely self-centered and irresponsible generation. The boomers I know are now taking care of their parents if they are still alive, environmentally aware and responsible, and feel a strong need to feel useful in this world. That flower child, druggy image does not stick. Perhaps we are more self-aware than our parents, and more aware of our impact on this planet, but totally irresponsible, no.

Speaking for myself, I grapple daily with guilt over my own idleness even though I also struggle with hypoxia and the long-term affects of a traumatic brain injury. Besides the usual, “Why me?” questions, I feel lazy if I cannot complete at least a few household chores every day. Guilt feels like a permanent companion to my illnesses. Luckily my husband Mike is the direct opposite of my inner critic. He encourages me to feel good about simply still being here, and helps me make the most of it. He keeps our vehicles and home running smoothly…

while encouraging me to focus on hobbies that give me pleasure like photography,

gardening,

cooking and writing this blog.

Mike also understands my struggle with every day guilt, partially because he was not raised that way. He believes that retirement should be joyful and guilt-free. He believes we earned it “after slaving away our entire working life!” I can learn a lot from him.

What it looks & feels like to be SNOWED IN in the Colorado Foothills west of Walsenburg

As many of you already know, I am pretty obsessed with weather watching! I have been reporting daily precipitation to COCORAHS and the Weather Service since the Fort Collins Spring Creek flood in July 1997.

But last night was a lifetime record for me!

This morning I looked out at 23 inches of snow, and it’s still coming down!

Mike went out at 7 AM to measure it for me…

and get our overflowing rain gauge. Yep, 1.23 inches of precipitation!

Yep, it’s really 25 inches total!

Needless to say, Rasta and I have decided to stay in today…

The storm is over and the Juncos are HUNGRY!

Doo doo doo lookin’ out my back door

How realistic are our memories of early adulthood?

Now to answer the question: Were we always this stupid, from my last post? The answer is, we were much dumber in high school and college. I have medical proof!

I’ve been reading a FASCINATING BOOK called “The Body” by Bill Bryson. So many new and interesting facts about this crazy body we call home. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT!

For example, one of his most memorable moments while researching this book, was when an English surgeon peeled back a sliver of skin a millimeter thick from the arm of a cadaver for him and said:

“That is where all your skin color is. That’s all that race is – a sliver of epidermis.”

But the section on the brain was even more interesting! Brains have always interested me. But then when I got a couple brain injuries, I became even more focused on learning more about how they work.

OK, so here’s why we did some really stupid things in our teens and early twenties and now remember them far too fondly:

“The brain takes a long time to form completely. A teenager’s brain is only about 80% finished…[and] a region of the forebrain associated with pleasure, grows its largest size in one’s teenage years. At the same time, the body produces dopamine, the neurotransmitter that conveys pleasure, more than it ever will again.”

I knew before that our frontal lobe isn’t fully developed until our twenties, thus less impulse-control, but I have never heard that our teens and twenties were our best chance to experience extreme pleasure. Now, as we age, do you ever wonder if your memory is playing tricks on you? Could those early memories be real? This finding suggests our memories of the best sex in our life in our teens and twenties could be correct! Who knew?

This explains a lot. Memories can be so uncertain and unclear. They can also be manipulated and change through time. So find ways to enjoy your memories, but don’t count on them all being correct.

How to cheer yourself up!

Here it is 2020 World Mental Health Day in the midst of too many good reasons to feel bad. Mental health is one of the most neglected areas of public health. Close to 1 billion people are living with a mental disorder, 3 million people die every year from the harmful use of alcohol and one person dies every 40 seconds by suicide. And now, billions of people around the world have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is having a further impact on people’s mental health.

Five Warning Signs of Mental Illness

Long-lasting sadness or irritability.

Extremely high and low moods.

Excessive fear, worry, or anxiety.

Social withdrawal.

Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits.

Unfortunately, I have plenty of experience with these signs, but that also means I have experience in dealing with them successfully. After years of depression, five years of great counseling in my thirties, and a degree in counseling psychology, I have learned how to take better care of my own mental health. That is not to say I don’t have my down days, especially under the present circumstances!

Here are some ways I have learned to combat the blues:

Never underestimate the power of finding a GREAT therapist. I know it isn’t easy shopping for the best therapist for you when you feel bad, but trust your feelings in selecting the right person to help you over this difficult time in your life.

Mental health days have been important to me throughout my life. While in therapy and feeling deeply sad about understanding my past, my therapist encouraged me to take a day off now and then to be with my feelings. This was essential in helping me feel better. I was severely co-dependent at that time. I remember one day I said to my therapist I felt bad about feeling sorry for myself. She quickly responded with:

“At least you are feeling something for yourself!”

Then, when you start feeling better, start taking mental health days to celebrate feeling better! A few times I needed to call in and say: “I’m feeling too good to come to work today!” No not really, but that’s the way I felt… I remember one day I went out and bought myself some great new furniture. Now, every time I look at that dresser, I remember how great it made me feel to give myself a nice gift.

These days I have been trying a new affirmation out. Every morning when I wake up the first thing I see is my little sign across the room that says:

Today I’m going to love my life!

I find that when I focus on what I am grateful for, I truly have so many reasons to love my life. Consider the fact that we are alive in a great country at one of the BEST times in human history. At least you weren’t born in the 17th century, when “life was nasty, short and brutal.” Today many Americans have the opportunity to live long, pain-free lives. We have the benefits of medicine and science helping us to improve our lives and the lives of others. LUCKY US! We truly do have good reasons to love our lives, and if we don’t we are quite free to change them! This is what I learned from my own midlife crisis. Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.

If none of this works, try chocolate. It works for me!

You’ve got to go crazy sometimes, or you might go crazy!

The history of human use of psychoactive plants: See “The Stoned Ages” and learn more!

Have you ever thought you would like to learn more about the history of the use of psychoactive plants and botanicals in world history? I just saw a GREAT film about this on the History Channel this week!

Here’s few fun facts from this documentary:

From the beginning of the human race to the present, the human race has been using plants to feel better. From early man (& women), the Egyptians, and the Mayans (Pre-Columbian societies) there has been a constant search for medicinal plants. For example, the Mayans were quite familiar with plants in their environment. They regularly used tobacco in enemas, (bowel is blood rich) and ritual practices. Another example, their use of a solution with ayahuasca done in the presence of a Shaman. It’s purpose was to create a heightened perception of reality, creating a visionary state where one might commune with the gods. They believed these plant rituals gave them a unique gateway to the spiritual realm and the substances used were sacred tools to help them connect. They also used performance enhancing drugs in sports and many other pharmaceutical products.

The Ancient Greeks, especially the philosophers, used pharmaceuticals to create altered states, have out-of-body experiences and to journey to other worlds to meet their gods. Mushrooms and ergot (barley fungus) were used with no moral stigma, with the full realization that plants can heal and harm us. Drugs were about pleasure in the right circumstances and context, not about right and wrong. They felt, if the people were using plants to experience a union with God, what did they need with organized religion?

The Age of Religious Judgment: The Christians

After the Romans were converted to Christianity, their use of psychotropic substances became illegal. Early Christian history shows anxiety and suspicion when it came to pleasures of the body. According to them, faith in Christ is the only road to salvation, therefore an interest in alternative realities became a problem. The sense of puritanical self-denial was an important part of early Christian views. Denial of the pleasures of the body was essential in conversion to Christian spirituality, and this became the dominant value system in the West.

The Age of Discovery

Exploration of new worlds led to the discovery of new psychotropic substances, for example tobacco and cannibis. Since most drugs come from plants, international travel led to a confluence of drug products transferred to Europe in the early modern world. In addition, with the introduction of tobacco to the New World, came a new way to administer drugs, by smoking them… What did the term “patent medicines” mean in the 1800s in the USA? It meant they didn’t need to tell you what was in them. “Medicines” like morphine, cocaine, heroin, and aspirin.

Drink your Coca-Cola and you’ll feel so much better!

How has our society defined some psychoactive plants as “medicines” through the ages, and others as bad for you? Learn more by watching this documentary:

Today I’m Going To Love My Life!

I’ve been overwhelmed lately with the idiocy we call American politics. We all go somewhere different to get our “news” and then we spout whatever misinformation we hear wherever. It sounds to me like we have too much free time and too many sources of information and misinformation, and the Internet is responsible for most of this. On top of that we have the worst wildfires in American history and hurricanes coming on shore like never before.

What I hate to see is all of the hatefulness that Trump has succeeded in spreading throughout our country, one that in fact we all love and want to be better. Most of us just want a better country with less death and destruction. Can we all agree on that at least?

To combat this anxiety and hatefulness I am pulling way back from watching the news. In addition, I have been trying a new affirmation out. Every morning when I wake up the first thing I see is my little sign across the room that says:

Today I’m going to love my life!

I find that when I focus this way, I truly have so many reasons to love my life. Politics do not need to consume us. Consider the fact that you are alive in a wonderful country at a glorious time in history. One of my favorite quotes from the 17th century was that “life was nasty, short and brutal.”

Today many Americans have the opportunity to live long, happy and healthy lives. Sure some of us cannot breathe without the assistance of supplementary O2 (like me!) but at least we can access those resources. We have the benefits of science helping us to improve our lives and the lives of others. LUCKY US!

I don’t know about you, but when I look around me, I find so many reasons to love my life. I feel so much gratitude for it all! I feel I have had the proper circumstances to get a good education and then make the kind of choices that have made my life great. Self-improvement has been so important to me, as well as learning that blaming and shaming others for my own faults is toxic. Self -responsibility has been key for me to create the kind of life I can love.

To tell the truth, I never would have imagined that I would end up here in this safe and beautiful (but smoky today!) place with a life I can love.

I can only wish you all the same success.