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!

Leaving the city behind for a new, rural lifestyle – My Colorado experience

Six years after leaving the suburbs of Fort Collins (50 miles from the Wyoming border), for a new lifestyle west of Walsenburg (50 miles from the New Mexico border), I feel I have a good sense of what that kind of major change feels like.

The first thing you must do if you are considering a similar change is to let go of any romantic, idealized illusions you may have about finding pastoral perfection.

Think of this move as a complete ‘leap of faith” That’s what it felt like to me! And in case you didn’t get the memo yet, in this lifetime, perfection is a mirage… I didn’t have any delusions of grandeur, I was just plain scared. What if I hated it??? It was definitely a precipitous move on my part. I just didn’t know what to expect. On the other hand, Mike was certain this was the right move for us. So we did it anyway, with all of my anxieties and fears fully intact…

When we arrived in Walsenburg with our full-to-the-brim U-haul truck , we moved into an ancient miner’s cabin, the only ‘decent’ rental in Walsenburg or La Veta in June 2014, and yes, it was as dirty and disgusting as it sounds. Then we started to work on finding an architect and a blueprint for the passive solar home we had been planning in our heads for years. We had already bought a few acres of land twelve miles west of town on a hill overlooking the Spanish Peaks. But because there was only one building inspector for the WHOLE COUNTY…

it took over five months just to get a proper heat-absorbing slab on our land.

But after ONLY eight more months, our 1,400 square foot passive solar home was completed! Building in this rural area is DIFFICULT and agonizingly slow! Did this surprise us? Somewhat. Timing was the source of much of our frustration and stress.

Our view of the Spanish Peaks the day they put up our roof!

But we (and our relationship!) survived, and the final product was as close to perfection as I have ever experienced. We joked around about the following cartoon before we moved down here:

But, as it turns out, this is actually true for us. For months after we moved in we would sit and stare at the mountains right outside our windows, drinking in complete silence and serenity every time we looked out.

It felt like we had moved into a deluxe foothills retreat as nice as anywhere we had ever stayed before. Almost daily I experienced inexplicable fear that the resort management would be coming around soon to kick us out!

With Mount Mestas to the west.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Looking for a lot more details about my rural Colorado experience? Check out my memoir here!

Send me an e-mail and I’ll give you a great price on a copy of your own: MidlifeCrisisQueen@gmail.com

Building a Southern Colorado Foothills Garden From Nothing – Summer Solstice 2020

So we have been living in rural southern Colorado for six years now, after a precipitous (on my part!) move down south from our nice home in suburban Fort Collins in June 2014. It took over a year to build our passive solar home here, because building in this rural area is DIFFICULT and agonizingly slow! Then came the garden…

Here is where we started out in 2015. Empty ground, which quickly turned into volunteer sunflowers and weeds in our first year here.

Four years later we are here.

The reason my garden is named after my brother John is because he came up from Arizona for a few years in a row to help us finish the hardscaping. He was here when we laid concrete out there. He was here the next May to help Mike lay out the stone walls…

John & Mike (above) finally laid down the gravel last May. Mike has also put his heart and soul into this project! And I should add, none of us have good backs in our mid-60s!

What a satisfying achievement though!

Through a few years of testing out a number of different native xeriscape plants, I have narrowed my selection down to those that actually survive the winters here and that terrible wind we get regularly.

Lavender and Spanish Peaks 2018.

Now I know what type of lavender luxuriates in this climate…

I also know Penstemons LOVE it here, as well as many kinds of birds, lizards, beetles, and butterflies!

A native Showy Four O’clock, Blue Mist Spirea, Yarrow, Red Knight Knautia and Catmint thrive here!

There have certainly been a number of frustrating moments in this process, but I love my garden now. It gives me GREAT and continuous JOY, especially in the spring & summer months…

BEAUTY IS THE GARDEN WHERE HOPE GROWS!

Pandemic leads to increasing interest in rural living… and I know why!

AS soon as this worldwide pandemic hit, I thought to myself, we could not be in a better place to sit this one out. This has turned out to be so true! First of all, we do not normally see other people all that much. We have a few acres around our home and rarely need to go into town, which is only a few thousand people strong (Walsenburg, CO), and as it turns out, we only have one case of Covid-19 so far in our entire county.

We started building a passive solar home in 2014, with a 180 degree view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains

Officials have severely limited the number of people who can come into our county and if anyone turns up with the virus, they are immediately transferred to a county north of us for treatment. We do not have the proper facilities to treat such a serious illness here. This has all been great considering I am now over 65 and have severe lung disease.

So yesterday I read a real estate article that states:

“Rural demand is much stronger right now than urban demand, and that’s a flip from where it’s been for the longest time, where everybody wanted to live in the city. We’ll see how it comes back, but there seems to be a profound, psychological change among consumers who are looking for houses.” 

My May 2019 garden looking towards the snow-capped Spanish Peaks

We moved down here to southern Colorado for many reasons, and a pandemic was not one of them. We were sick and tired of sitting in traffic up in Fort Collins and hearing traffic noise CONSTANTLY!

I figured I only had so many years to live, and I didn’t want to spend one more minute of that time sitting in TRAFFIC!

We found we loved the clean air, the natural silence, native plants and wildlife here in this pinon juniper woodland area. At first I thought I might find the lack of people here difficult, but that simply was not so. I found a few friends out here and others in town.

I also gravitated to a few new hobbies like landscape photography and native plants gardening. All in all this has been a great choice for our retirement…and to sit out an international pandemic!

We have fallen in love with living in tune with the sun and seasons, waking up each day amazed to find ourselves in such a beautiful, quiet, natural place…

Are you ready to follow your dreams of country living? Go read my memoir to help YOU decide!

Please feel free to contact me: MidlifeCrisisQueen@gmail.com

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In 2018, 1.5 million Americans attempted suicide

U.S. suicide rates have risen in recent years, while rates in other nations continue to fall. Our suicide rate increased 33 percent from 1999 through 2017, and this rate has increased more sharply since 2006. Suicide ranks are now the fourth leading cause of death for people ages 35 to 54, and the second for 10- to 34-year-olds. It remains the 10th leading cause of American deaths overall. Suicides have increased most sharply in rural communities (like mine), where loss of farming and manufacturing jobs has led to economic declines over the past quarter century.

What can we learn about why our suicide rate continues to climb? According to the American Psychological Association (APA) The reasons for why suicide rates rise or fall is challenging, in part because the causes of suicide are complex:

“Suicide risk factors include health factors such as depression, substance use problems, serious mental illness and serious physical health conditions including pain, environmental factors such as access to lethal means and stressful life events including divorce, unemployment, relationship problems or financial crisis and historical factors including previous suicide attempts, a family history of suicide and a history of childhood abuse or trauma.”

“At the individual level, there is never a single cause of suicide. There are always multiple risk factors,” says Christine Moutier, MD, chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “That confluence of multiple risk factors makes it a trickier business to explain a population-level rise.”

What can you do about this?

Those who have attempted suicide say,

“All I wanted was for one person to see my pain and say something kind.”

Any intervention can prevent suicide. I remember back in 2004, when I was divorcing (loss of 75% of my income!), I lost my job and then career, and I could find not one more job in any area at age 49. I set up an appointment with our Unitarian minister just to talk and I told her, “I just need one thing to go right!” Because it felt like everything was going to shit.

I learned two important lessons from this breakdown to breakthrough moment in my life. Action is the greatest antidote to despair and suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary predicament. The action I took, although it seemed a bit crazy at the time, was to start my own offline dating service. This led to meeting lots of others who were feeling lost and confused in the middle of their lives. Eventually it led to meeting Mike, my midlife best friend and lover. He then helped me begin a new career as a writer, which led to my blog “Midlife Crisis Queen” and my books.

If you are feeling lost and depressed start anywhere. Make your mess your message and spread the word, all is not lost just because you feel unhappy right now!

And remember, You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take!

Why NOT to write a book these days!

I have to say this list is my best reason NOT to write anymore books:

The best-selling books of the past decade:

1. E. L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey (2011) – 15.2 million copies
2. E. L. James, Fifty Shades Darker (2011) – 10.4 million copies
3. E. L. James, Fifty Shades Freed (2012) – 9.3 million copies
4. Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games (2008) – 8.7 million copies
5. Kathryn Stockett, The Help (2009) – 8.7 million copies
6. Paula Hawkins, The Girl on The Train (2015) – 8.2 million copies
7. Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl (2012) – 8.1 million copies
8. John Green, The Fault in Our Stars (2012) – 8 million copies
9. Stieg Larsson, The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo (2008) – 7.9 million copies
10. Veronica Roth, Divergent (2011) – 6.6 million copies

The American appetite for intelligent, well-researched literature is small and getting smaller. Almost no one reads actual books anymore, except for soft porn with a little S & M thrown in, or futuristic action thrillers. The only two books I enjoyed from this list were “The Help” and “The Fault in our Stars.”

According to the article “Reading habits in the U.S. – Statistics & Facts” “On average, Americans aged 20 to 34 spend less than seven minutes per day reading. Although the time spent reading increases in the older generations, the general trend is worrying…While more modern forms of entertainment such as watching television, browsing the internet, and video gaming have all become major pastimes for Americans, traditional forms of entertainment such as reading books or magazines seem to be on the decline.”

Being an academic librarian for 25 years I find I am so “old school” on this topic. I assumed that Americans read to improve their minds and learn about the lives of others, not to find something fun to masturbate to. As usual, I came to the “party” too late to write books that some would read to improve their understanding of midlife change, or how one might use psychology to live a better life past age 50. Silly me.

My last book is a memoir about the breakdowns and breakthroughs of searching for a whole new life in rural Colorado in a solar home:

“Finding the perfect perch for solar exposure was a top priority, but finding a place with pristine mountain views was also essential. In 2014 they sold their nice suburban home in Fort Collins, Colorado and headed south to build on their lot with spectacular views of the Spanish Peaks in the foothills west of Walsenburg. Here I share our unique experience, building passive solar from the footers up.”

To be honest, I had my doubts about writing all of my books. I wasn’t so out of touch as to doubt the interest of Americans in reading anything anymore except their own ratings on social media and posting more selfies! I now see that our interest in only following the websites that don’t require much reading or critical thinking and support our own personal biases, have brought us to this sad state of American politics.

I’m not afraid to admit our future scares me if alternative facts, outright lies, ignorance is bliss, and anti-intelligent rhetoric has become the American way. I appreciate my excellent education everyday. At one point I was a scholar of Chinese history, so I have seen how attacks on the best minds of our country can destroy ALL OF OUR FREEDOMS.

Go check out the “Cultural Revolution” in modern Chinese history if you want to learn how that worked out!

Believe me, we don’t want to go there!

So glad to see the end of that decade!

For me, the 2000 teens were a time of great changes. I started in 2010 with a few books published, a popular and well-read blog named “Midlife Crisis Queen” and lots of optimism for the future.

I was (and am still) recovering from a traumatic brain injury from a bike wreck in 2008. At the time I had no idea what BIG changes were in store for me, or how difficult those changes would be.

Mike’s job got sent to China in 2011 and there went most of our income, so he entered an Obama era program that would support us while he returned to school for retraining.


Wash Day in the Tomebamba River in central Cuenca Ecuador!

Soon after that we began looking into some pretty wild alternative futures including a move to Cuenca Ecuador! I spent a week there in September of 2013 and decided against it.

So then we were off to southern Colorado in search of a few acres of high desert land with a mountain view to build our passive solar dream home.

One thing led to another and by June 2014 we had fixed up and sold our nice suburban home in South Fort Collins and moved into an ancient mining cabin in Walsenburg, as we prepared the plans for our new home west of town. That was total culture shock for me, but we enjoyed exploring our new area that summer as our home plans came together.

Mike contemplating his future home & view!

The next year or so passed in a chaotic confusion of construction, one step forward, two steps back, but by August 2015 we moved into our solar home with amazing views and lovely solar heat!

All of my physical stress and uncertainty slowly dissolved as I realized how quiet, peaceful and contemplative my future would be in this lovely place. One thing I didn’t count on at that time was the myriad of health problems that would follow. Yes, part of it was simply moved up to 7,000 feet, but I had never had breathing problems before at over 5,000 feet. I guess my old lungs that have been through too many cases of bronchitis and polluted air had had enough. Just breathing has become a struggle. Add on new problems with my hearing, eyes, shoulders and back and I think you get the picture. The sixties have not been kind to me so far.

My Sky Garden in Bloom! August 2019
One of my greatest achievements of the past few years!

Still I feel grateful every single day for all that has been given to me. So many exciting and interesting experiences all over the world. So many cool people I’ve met everywhere, and I’m not done yet!

My greatest blessing has been meeting Mike finally at age 49, thus finding the love I had been seeking my entire life. We just work well together. In the best and the worst of times, we are always a great team!

So I choose to be optimistic about Mike and I’s future as well as the future of our country and Mother Earth. Bring on 2020! I’m ready!

Are YOU ready for the country? A Review of “The Biggest Little Farm”

When I first heard about this DELIGHTFUL new film about moving to the country to start a farm, I knew I just had to see it. Mike and I moved to the country ourselves five years ago and we’re just getting settled in. After seeing this documentary, I would say the line from Variety best describes it:

“Like fresh air for the soul!”

This film is refreshing like nothing I have ever seen! It makes you laugh and cry all at once. The narrative and descriptions of finding a whole new way of life are right on, and the cinematography is scrumptious.

That is not to say that all is goodness and light on the newly established Apricot Lane Farm. They started from 200 acres of desiccated land north of Los Angeles with the goal of learning enough to transform their land into a fully balanced and sustainable organic farm. This film chronicles eight years of that process, with all the traumatic ups and downs. I think I observed as much death as life in this film, that is how new farmers learn how to grow in harmony with nature.

Apricot Lane Farm eight years later!

In the end I learned a lot myself about living in harmony with nature instead of fighting it, and I felt so glad to have shared this experience with Molly and John Chester.

Boomers: What are YOU doing with all the extra years we’ve 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?

Senior Binge Drinking on the Rise

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.

Elder Suicides Continue to Increase

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,” built by my brother, Mike and me! All in our mid-60s!

Were You Ever Taught How Not To Work?

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 do we learn to love and value non-moneymaking endeavors?

I have learned from Mike the value of having a myriad of healthy avocations. I enjoy cooking, gardening, photography, meditation, reading and writing books, movies, yoga, weather research and other forms of freedom and creativity, but first I had to let go of my early lessons in extreme “productivity.” It took me quite a while to feel really OK about enjoying my hobbies thoroughly. I had to remember that no one was watching or judging me.

Why don’t you try doing what makes you feel creative and 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