How Careful Observation, Writing, and Gardening Create New Meaning

One week ends another begins, but both seem the same. It’s that sameness that wears on us. The near term is the same, and the future seems clearly uncertain. It’s impossible to make travel plans, not just for now but for the fall and winter. Some people have started referring to 2020 as the “Lost Year.” Imagine how those in my family feel, having lost my Dad right before “the virus” took over our lives.

I am saddened to learn that COVID-19 may be taking a toll on Americans’ heart health even if we’re not infected with the virus. According to new research, cases of ‘broken heart syndrome’ are on the rise among those without any specific illness. This occurs when part of the heart becomes enlarged and is unable to pump blood effectively, preceded by intense emotional or physical stress.

Everybody deals with this kind of stress differently. I think it’s easier for us gardeners. We have something in our lives that brings us daily joy. We can go outside each morning and enjoy the summer blooms! The fact that our plants need us, even marginally, also helps. Let’s face it, we all need to feel needed. This is why we all need to find positive distractions from this sad time in all of our lives.

I relate to these issues more than most. I sometimes pass out from lack of oxygen and am not certain if I will take my next breathe. I struggle daily to find the good in everything, like the 4th of July celebrations on TV last week. I want to feel good about my country again and positive about our future, but it isn’t easy if I watch the news too much.

So I go outside and walk around my garden. I hang out with the birds and bees, literally! I watch the birds taking a carousel ride on Mike’s great purple wind sculpture.

I sit quietly and observe the end to another glorious day, as the sun sets over Mount Mestas to our West.

Sometimes I take photos of the sunny still life developing on my bedroom wall as the sun comes up each morning. My appreciation of my eye sight is increased one hundred-fold as it diminishes with worsening cataracts.

These are the moments that sustain me… What are yours?

A Brief High Country Lesson in Lavenders

Lavandula (common name lavender) has 47 known species of flowering plants in the mint familyLamiaceae. It is native to the Old World and is found from Cape Verde and the Canary Islands, Europe across to northern and eastern Africa, the Mediterranean, southwest Asia to southeast India.

Certain cultivars of lavender do GREAT in my high (7,000 feet) and dry Colorado foothills garden. I believe they survive because they are woody plants and smell funny to critters who might want to eat them.

This is Lavendula angustifolia next to a flowering Stonecrop. This one is three years old now!

According to my favorite place to buy plants in Rye Colorado, that just quit selling retail 😦 there are two types of lavenders that are hardy in Colorado,

Lavandula angustifolia (the English lavenders-called English, but originally from the Mediterranean) and Lavandula x intermedia (the English hybrids). Other lavenders, like French, Spanish, and various cultivars you may find sold at Home Depot  are not hardy here! We have talked to so many customers who ask “Why does my lavender die?” and it turns out they planted a type that is not winter hardy.  Please don’t make that mistake. The ones we grow are all hardy to Zone 5, and some brave gardeners have had luck with them at 8000′ elevation.”

Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote Blue’: Along with Munstead, Hidcote Blue tops the list of most hardy lavenders. Hidcote has a deeper violet blue flower and tighter flower clusters and more compact habit than other English lavenders, and it’s our go-to lavender for xeriscape and rock garden plantings. Winter hardy, deer resistant, drought tolerant– this lavender is a good choice for the Front Range. 18″ tall. Zone 5.”

I believe this one is Lavendula intermedia. It’s only two years old.

Lavandula x intermedia ‘Phenomenal’: Silver foliage is covered with a cloud of lavender blue flowers for most of the summer. It’s a very tough variety, even outperforming Hidcote and Munstead in many trials. Grows to 30″ tall and 3′ wide. If you want a lavender with landscape pizazz, this is the one for you. Edible, fragrant, deer resistant, xeric….we can’t say enough good things about this one. Zone 5.”

Most of the plants sold at places like Home Depot and Lowe’s will not survive the winter here! Those plants are grown in places like Arkansas. Also, be sure not to water lavender much. It can lead to brown flowers and root rot!

Note: Can you tell I was raised by a botanist? My Dad hopes so! Much more fun to think about than Covid-19!

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!

Why not try focusing on the best days of your life?

In these trying times, I can highly recommend a practice I have been involved in for the past few days. I strongly believe:

What you focus on grows! And beauty is the garden where hope grows.

Therefore, I have been busy focusing on what have been the best days and moments of my life so far. Remembering those moments is such a fun escape from my worries.

Immediately I remembered a wonderful week I spent in Cane Garden Bay in Tortola in my 30s. I got there by chance, and soon afterward the woman I was there with left me alone. What a MARVELOUS time that was!

It was the year of Hurricane Hugo (1989) so no one had come to vacation there in February. Having an area like that to myself was magical!

And my week in Venice, also in the 1980s. It was January and I was sick with bronchitis, but I still absolutely loved the place and did not want to leave!

Or the river trips I took while living in Salt Lake City after a devastating previous year in Seattle. I would so love to take a week-long trip down any river again, but with Mike this time. He would love it!

One of the BEST vacations I ever took was also by chance, a week in Tulum in the 1990s, before it “developed.”

My best friend had planned to go with her husband on that vacation, but he couldn’t go at the last minute so she invited me instead. I will never forget our trip down an underground river, known as a cenote! We had so much fun with a great group of fellow travelers who were also there for a past life regression workshop. The regression was super interesting too!

After spending a day or so lost in these kinds of memories, it suddenly struck me. Living here and watching my spring garden develop, these are also some of the best days I will ever know. Yes, my health is difficult now and I cannot do what I’m used to, but I have been and am so lucky in life!

To have the love of a great man, a very cute puppy and one crazy kitty plus to live in a wonderful new home close to some beautiful mountains, what more can I ask? Gratitude is grand!

Are there “Superblooms” in Southern Colorado?

Just this year I learned a new term that I find fascinating: SUPERBLOOM! Having never lived near one, I never gave them a thought. According to Wikipedia, a superbloom is:

A rare desert botanical phenomenon in which an unusually high proportion of wildflowers whose seeds have lain dormant in the soil, germinate and blossom at roughly the same time, like these California poppies to the left. This phenomenon is associated with an unusually wet rainy season. The term may have developed as a label in the 1990s.

Yellow fields of tea flowers in Navajo Ranch west of Walsenburg Colorado!

Well, I’m here to tell you, we have had two of these just since 2014 when we moved here! We are at 7,000 feet in the high desert of southern Colorado. When we first moved here we were receiving far above average spring rainfall in Walsenburg, where we lived from June 2014 to July 2015. Walsenburg averages around 15 inches of precipitation per year, but in May of 2015 we received over 6 inches of rain in one month! In 2015-2016 we received over 23 inches total for the water year!

That’s what helps to create a superbloom!

My first experience with a superbloom is documented in the header of this blog. In June 2015 we had fields full of Navajo tea flowers along Highway 510 on the way into our place. I had never seen such a thing!

Then in the summer of 2017 Navajo Ranch was inundated with sunflowers! We have had a regular crop of sunflowers around our new home, which we attributed to the soil we had to bring in for building, but this was big fields of sunflowers everywhere!

I love a nice crop of volunteers around our home each summer!

The bees also love it!

What we did not learn from the Native American traditions

“Doctor my eyes, I cannot see the sky. Is this the price for having learned how not to cry?” -Jackson Browne

Losing my father has brought up so many new thoughts about my upbringing. Strange how I feel freer to question all this after his death. Lately I feel like I may have been raised in the wrong family at the wrong time in history. What has stimulated this thought? Watching a new series called “Native America” on PBS. I can highly recommend it!

When I started watching this program I got lost in it immediately. Everything they were saying rang true and captured my imagination. Did I mention the first stories I ever enjoyed reading, writing or drawing were about Native Americans and their ponies?

Native American creation stories are wonderful. So much imagination, something I was not allowed as a child...

Most importantly, the concept our European-American culture has so completely missed is that we should all see ourselves as ‘Caretakers of the Earth.’

How can we honor our true Mother? By taking good care of her.

I also so related to the first episode: “From Caves to Cosmos.” It is about how the ancient Amazon Peoples slowly migrated up through the Americas, always seeking the right place, or what they called “the center place.” This is the place where we feel most centered with the landscape, the weather and the cosmos. I never completely understood this concept until I found my ‘center place’ here in southern Colorado. This is a spiritual concept, not to be understood until you feel it viscerally. I felt I had to write down this phrase immediately:

“When you enter a new landscape, you become a new kind of person.”

This best describes how different I felt after settling into our high desert perch. I felt at home in a way I could not even have fathomed before. The silence, the direct connection with nature, the overwhelming sense of belonging, were instantly clear to me.

The other concept our culture has so woefully forgotten or ignored is a strong and positive sense of community. When we confronted those ‘savage’ Native Americans, we were well into the “ruggedly independent” American phase, especially out West, the Manifest Destiny and all that crap. We saw ourselves as stronger and smarter so we should certainly defeat these weaker Native peoples. Of course we weren’t the only country who massacred or subjugated indigenous tribes. It happened all over the world with colonialism. That does not, however, make it a good thing!

In fact, I see so many of our cultures’ worst problems being caused by no sense of community or belonging. The epidemic of loneliness, drug addiction and now high levels of suicide reflect how alone so many of us feel in a culture that encourages independence instead of interdependence. I was raise to be super independent and it took many decades and a lot of counseling for me to realize that this strong sense of independence and lack of trust was not serving me. I found my life far too lonely so I changed.

We have lost and continue to lose so much wisdom by ignoring the teachings of the Native Americans who are left on this earth. This PBS series is proof of that. See it and expand your mind. While you’re at it, send PBS some money so we can continue to enjoy these alternative viewpoints.

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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Consciousness is overrated

I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea lately. My Dad’s recent death reminded me of how rational and intellectual my upbringing was. My therapist in my thirties, who only worked with women, noted early in our work together that she had never seen a woman who lived so exclusively “in her head.” It’s called over intellectualizing in psychology, defined as:

“ignoring the emotional or psychological significance of (an action, feeling, dream, etc.) by an excessively intellectual or abstract explanation.”

This creates great distance from feeling a person or situation. It’s a lot safer that way 🙂 but I didn’t even know I was doing it until I began therapy in my thirties. I felt like I was somehow personally responsible for everything that happened around me, and even partially for what was happening in the world, but I also kept it at a distance by seeing it only intellectually.

My counseling training in my forties reinforced this awareness and yet distancing behavior. I could be highly aware of my client’s pain, and yet see myself as above them, understanding everything only on an intellectual level. This was my upbringing and training at work. I remember one time when this method completely back fired on me. I was working with an leg amputee at a rehab hospital. I found I could intellectually distance myself from the patient, but still feel his pain in my own leg.

Only recently I realized I did the same with my father as he was dying. I felt emotionally distant from the situation, just as my Dad had taught me to be. He always said, “We are only protoplasm floating through time and space.” And “It is biologically required that we die so others may live.” Pretty good distancing concepts, huh? But when I looked at his recent photo I burst into tears. This was my Dad and he is no more.

Being so aware and conscious all the time is not good for us! It has taken me quite a while to see this. We all need to relax sometimes and NOT FEEL THE BURDEN OF THE ENTIRE WORLD ON OUR SHOULDERS!!! My Dad and Mom used alcohol for that task, but I found that was not my drug of choice. Mike and our friend Rad have helped me stop being so conscious of everything all the time with a little bit of THC chocolate.

Being too aware or feeling responsible for everything all the time can be dangerous or at least very unhealthy!

So turn off the TV sometimes, stop monitoring the death count on this incredibly terrible pandemic, and find a way to relax and enjoy life! Remember, none of us gets out of this alive, but if you give up everything you like, you don’t live longer, it just seems like it!