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!

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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

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 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 needs to sit at stop lights 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 down here 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 back 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, 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.

A Review of “Where the Crawdads Sing” from a Naturalist and Psychotherapist’s Perspective

I just finished reading this novel yesterday, and I would name it the best nature-focused novel I have ever read, this from a reviewer who idealized Jane Goodall as a teenager and wanted to grow up to study animal behavior just like her, in nature’s most beautiful and wild places. The author, Delia Owens, shows such sensitivity and intelligence in describing the natural setting as well as her main character, Kya.

where the crawdads sing

Kya was left to raise herself in the swamp country of South Carolina, to fill her days with survival skills as well as precise observations of the natural world around her. She loves her animal friends like the gulls. They are her only companions. We slowly see how Kya is uniquely qualified for this vocation as a natural loner who lives to be encapsulated in pure nature. As she grows and spends time with only a few other people, she learns to read and then she learns more and more about animal behavior.

Chimpanzee 2012 filmOne aspect of Kya’s life I found easy to relate to, was how she observed or read about animal behavior to inform her about human behavior. This comes through clearly as she describes the behavior of the lawyers during her trial. Ever since I saw the short nature documentary film Chimpanzee in 2012, released by Disneynature, I see most human behavior through that lens. Most human behavior can be understood by observing chimps in the wild, where they can truly be who they are. Males are naturally more aggressive, females protective of their young. Try watching a football game sometime through this lens and you will see that we are not so different as we think!

After decades of city living, I moved to a home in rural Colorado five years ago, where I find myself quite close to nature. Here I so enjoy the experience of observing changes in myself and how I see and feel the world around me. The best part is the complete silence here and with less reason for fear and daily vigilance, the natural world has unfolded before me, showing that we were made to live close to nature, not close together in cities. I have learned that city life can literally drive us mad. The perceived threats are everywhere in cities so we naturally keep our guard up at all times, not a healthy or natural way to exist.

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Now that I live out in the country, I feel like I have finally begun to live in harmony with each sunrise and sunset. Now I notice the birds’ songs as spring arrives, free from tension and anxiety, a feeling I have never felt before. That often unconscious and yet ever present stress felt in cities is simply gone.

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!

Boomers: Contrary to popular belief, not the American generation who had it made…

Find Your Reason Cover smallEver since I heard from a fellow writer about a troll who goes around trashing boomers for ruining their life, I have been thinking about how the generation we are born into affects how we choose to live our lives and how we see ourselves. I have been studying this issue for years now, and wrote about the boomers’ place in history, how our lives compared to our parents, and how we are different psychologically, in my book Find Your Reason To Be Here: The Search for Meaning in Midlife, published in 2013.

“Our generation began with a literal BANG! when the USA used two nuclear bombs against Japan in 1945. Then in 1962, as children, we witnessed the Cuban Missile Crisis, a time when there existed roughly enough nuclear weapons on earth to erase human civilization one thousand times over. Our parents sat on the edge of their seats, wondering if the human race would simply disappear from this earth in nuclear holocaust. One cannot help but wonder what the long-term emotional consequences are of experiencing this type of worldwide threat as a small child. This is an important question that may be hard to pin down but cannot be ignored.” (page 7 in my book)

We were also the beginning of the “Age of Permanent Distraction” we see today:

“At times it seems we [boomers] were nothing but guinea pigs in a long line of mind-clutter experiments. As in no previous generation, our brains have been filled with far too much mindless television, in-your-face commercialism, and non-stop media coverage. We were the first generation to grow up with television. From the music of the early years, most notably rock ’n’ roll, transistor radios and then “boom boxes” allowed us to distract ourselves constantly by carrying around our music everywhere we went.”  (page 9 in my book)

Contrary to some young ones who believe we had it made in our youth, with great jobs opportunities, spoiled rotten while we gobbled up natural resources as fast as we could with no regard for the future, our generation was found to be “the gloomiest generation” by the Pew Research Center in 2008.

Most boomers are under serious financial strain today, worrying more often than their parents did about money, and suffering a number of stress-related illnesses as a consequence. Many of us are also feeling financially stretched because we are supporting both our children and our aging parents. More than half of boomers still provide financial support to at least one adult child.

mortality rates among white boomers

The death rate among Americans 45-54, increased dramatically between 1999 and 2013 compared to other developed countries.

“The increased deaths were concentrated among those with the least education and resulted largely from drug and alcohol “poisonings,” suicide, and chronic liver diseases and cirrhosis. This midlife mortality reversal had no parallel in any other industrialized society or in other demographic groups in the United States.” 

Stress is perhaps the single most important psychological factor affecting boomer health today, contributing to higher midlife suicide rates than any other developed country. Poor self-esteem is another important stress-related factor that can and does lead to a number of chronic health problems. Poor self-esteem can cause us to indulge in addictive behaviors like excessive shopping, overeating, and gambling, and overuse of alcohol, tranquilizers, antidepressants, and sleep aids. People with low self-esteem also are less likely to maintain stable social relationships.

But I guess the statistic that concerns me the most about my generation is that most of us have little or no savings for retirement. No wonder so many of us are depressed. The future doesn’t look good for most of us.