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?

Just Mercy: A Film That Meets This Moment in American History

I cannot think of anything I have seen in the past few years that adequately tells the story of unequal justice under the law for African-Americans like this important true story. This film tells the story behind one of the first cases Bryan Stevenson argued and won before the Alabama Supreme Court.

The story behind “Just Mercy”: After graduating from Harvard, Bryan Stevenson headed to Alabama to defend those wrongly condemned or those not afforded proper representation. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian (played by Jamie Foxx), who was sentenced to die in 1987 for the murder of an 18-year-old girl, despite no true evidence proving his guilt. In the years that followed, Stevenson encountered constant racism and legal and political maneuverings as he tirelessly fought for McMillian’s freedom.

Mr. Stevenson has since founded and is the Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a human rights organization in Montgomery, Alabama. Under his leadership, EJI has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent death row prisoners, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill, and aiding children prosecuted as adults.

Mr. Stevenson has argued and won multiple cases at the United States Supreme Court, including a 2019 ruling protecting condemned prisoners who suffer from dementia and a landmark 2012 ruling that banned mandatory life-imprisonment-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger. Mr. Stevenson and his staff have won reversals, relief, or release from prison for over 135 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row and won relief for hundreds of others wrongly convicted or unfairly sentenced.

In this moment in American history, when we wish to change as a country to not be seen as the racist society we have been, this film tells true stories of unbelievable injustice, in hopes of stimulating real change that our future and our children will be proud of.

Please see this film and then give to the Equal Justice Initiative!

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

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.

The Coronavirus Marriage Test: Who the hell am I living with here?

With all the conversations about how sheltering in place has led to binge-eating, binge-drinking, and increasing mental health challenges, one topic I have latched onto is divorce in the time of Coronavirus. Of course, forced proximity for long periods of time can breed contempt, but crises like these also cause us to suddenly come to terms with our pending mortality.

Do I really want to spend the rest of my life with this person?” Just like a big fat midlife crisis, the fear of sudden death can lead to positive life changes.

From my perspective, this sudden forced increase in intimacy is like instant retirement. As I think back, one of the most important reasons for my divorce at age 45 was the realization that this marriage would not survive either a sudden, serious illness in myself or long periods of unrelenting time together. Our love was not that strong and my “wasband” at that time was a total blamer and shamer. These days he reminds me of our esteemed President Donny dumb dumb. The man never heard of the concept of taking responsibility for his choices or actions, EVER!

I eventually came to call my first marriage ‘criticism central.’ That is when I knew I had to get out!

But then on the other hand, it is good to know that our recent enforced togetherness has in some cases led to resolution rather than dissolution. Some couples in the process of getting a divorce now say that being stuck together caused them to resolve their differences and decide to stay together. They dismissed their case.

Like I said, sudden intimacy, much like retirement, either improves your opinion of your partner or makes you want to yell, “Get me out of here!”

I am happy to report Mike and I still don’t hate each other….

Our Parents’ Spirit Lives Inside Of Us!

I just watched a marvelous story on CBS Saturday Morning, where a young woman lost both of her parents at age 18. The thought floored me. I do not know how I would have survived such an overwhelming blow to my own spirit. And then she said,

“Their spirit is in me.”

I lost my father one month ago, right before this terrible virus started ravishing the entire human race. But thankfully, I see everyday how his spirit is in me. My Dad was a born teacher. He taught others his whole life. We are now learning how many of his past students saw him as a powerful life mentor. The part of his spirit that only spoke to me in the second part of my life was his love of native plants. I have kept a native plants garden since my 40s, learning more each summer about why certain plants thrive in Colorado’s higher, drier elevations. Since moving to a semi-arid Pinon Juniper woodland in 2014, I continue to learn how to plant and nurture the plants that my Dad loved and the ones that love this arid climate. Now that spring has arrived…

I go out to tend my “sky garden” everyday, with its unobstructed view of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, knowing full well that I never would have chosen to live in such a quiet, natural place if my Dad hadn’t taken us out camping as children and taught us to appreciate everything about nature. Mike has developed a love of the local birds, which he feeds and provides water for everyday. We have learned to recycle our inedible leftovers by leaving them down the hill for every variety of animals, including ravens and vultures.

We feed the earth as it feeds us...

And speaking of eating, my Mom taught me to produce healthy, nutritious meals for my family by her excellent example. She was not taught to cook by her mother and only began learning when she married my Dad in 1951. Then she turned that skill into an amazing art. By junior high school, when my Mom started working full-time, I began making our family dinners, great training for life!

Mom also followed her grandmother and mother’s tradition by taking up sewing and turning herself into a top-notch seamstress. She first made really pretty dresses for us as kids, and then graduated to beautiful quilts and other meaningful gifts for her friends and family:

Mom-made from Grandma Carter’s bedspread

All of these wonderful pastimes and useful skills dim beside the myriad of intangible lessons learned from my parents like respect for others, intelligence, science, solid research, good communications and a lifelong desire to learn more everyday.

I saw a very powerful program on PBS this week about the Windermere children. This is the story of some Jewish kids who lost every member of their families in the German death camps in World War II. They were generously given a new lease on life at the Windermere Estates in England after the war. This is a story of AMAZING strength and resilience, and fascinating in terms of early child psychology research and the use of art therapy. Please check it out sometime. This story strongly reinforces my gratitude that I was able to know my parents and grandparents for as long as I did.

Their spirit lives inside of me!

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!