It always feels good to do good, from homeless to a home in southern Colorado

Around a year ago, my brother-in-law drove down to Sedona Arizona to pick up my brother John. He didn’t drive and he was at the point where he could no longer live in a lean-to near Oak Creek. The weather was too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer, and the creek came up so high sometimes that it was too deep to get across for him to get into town. John has a bad case of emphysema and terrible lower back pain. He thought he would move up here to take care of my Mom after my Dad died last year.

A few weeks after moving in with Mom, he realized that that arrangement would not work long-term so he called me in Walsenburg. As luck would have it, a close friend had a house in La Veta that was empty for the winter, so John moved in to caretake. When spring arrived, my friend decided to rent that house out so John had to move, but where? He didn’t want to live with us. We have a thing about “being a burden” in our family, so he found what he thought would be a temporary place in a local motel. Being the perfect renter, the management of the place soon wanted him to act as night manager, but John wasn’t interested in that. He just wanted a small place of his own.

After he moved to Walsenburg we made sure he signed up for affordable housing asap, but were truly surprised when they found him his own apartment this past month. It is clean, quiet and extremely affordable, but had no furniture. Soon after that we ask our friends if they had any extra furniture. In no time John had a recliner, a couch, a nice rug and a bed. John is a humble man who does not expect much from those around him. He just wants a nice place out of the rain and snow to listen to NPR and play his guitar. Now he has that for the first time in years. We couldn’t be happier and we almost got him to smile!

See “The Cotton Club” Encore Edition!

I don’t know how I missed it, but this old movie from 1984 is fabulous, especially if you love 1930s music and watching Gregory Hines dance! Come to think of it, I didn’t even have a TV or go see films much in the 1980s. I was busy learning Chinese and getting degrees I would never use… But this film was so much fun for me yesterday!

For me, the most interesting aspect of this movie was the way it called attention to extreme early racism in Harlem and how those with power drew the line between black and white. Opened in 1923, the Cotton Club on 142nd St & Lenox Ave in the heart of Harlem, was operated by white gangster Owney Madden. Madden used the Cotton Club as an outlet to sell his “#1 Beer” to the prohibition crowd.

The Club was decorated with the idea of creating a “stylish plantation environment” for its entirely white clientele. As with many New York City clubs of the time period, that meant the upper class of the city. The Cotton Club at first excluded all but white patrons although the entertainers and most of staff were African American. Dancers at the Cotton Club were held to strict standards; they had to be at least 5’6” tall, light skinned with only a slight tan, and under twenty-one years of age.

The oppressive segregation of the Cotton Club was reinforced by its depiction of the African American employees as exotic savages or plantation residents and the music was often orchestrated to bring to mind a jungle atmosphere. By transforming the club into this plantation atmosphere and bringing in celebrities, Owney Madden created a demand for the Cotton Club while also helping to perpetuate widely held negative stereotypes about African Americans.

This film also got a lot of relatively new actors noticed like Bob Hoskins, Richard Gere, Gregory Hines, Diane Lane, Nicholas Cage, Laurence Fishburne, and Tom Waits(!) to name a few. I loved the music, the dancing, and the story, plus I learned quite a bit about how racism worked in Harlem in the 1930s!

A personal note: I have been noticing the age difference between the romantic lead actors in older movies lately. In this case the age difference between Richard Gere and Diane Lane is 16 years! Talk about robbing the cradle…

Do you ever write anything personal any more?

I was astounded by this statistic on CBS Sunday Morning today:

22% of Americans under age 45 have never written a personal letter

When I think back to the many personal, intimate exchanges I had with past friends and lovers, I simply cannot believe that we no longer communicate on that level and in that way. I still have and treasure letters from old boyfriends in my twenties and thirties. It makes me sad, but also amazes me that this no longer happens.

“In the future old ‘love letters’ may not be found in boxes in the attic but rather circulating through the Internet, if people care to look for them,” said Webster Newbold, a professor of English at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.

Consider this, we are experiencing a loss in what people in the future will know about us. The loss is incalculable. In earlier times the “art” of letter writing was formally taught, explained Newbold. In fact, in old China a person’s character was judged by the strength of their letter writing abilities.

“Letters were the prime medium of communication among individuals and even important in communities as letters were shared, read aloud and published,” he said. “Letters did the cultural work that academic journals, book reviews, magazines, legal documents, business memos, diplomatic cables, etc. do now. They were also obviously important in more intimate senses, among family, close friends, lovers, and suitors in initiating and preserving personal relationships and holding things together when distance was a real and unsurmountable obstacle.”

Aaron Sachs, a professor of American Studies and History at Cornell University, said, “One of the ironies for me is that everyone talks about electronic media bringing people closer together, and I think this is a way we wind up more separate. We don’t have the intimacy that we have when we go to the attic and read grandma’s letters.”

I have found through the years that writing helps me realize more clearly how I feel, and what I really need to say to those I love. The process allows me to crystallize my thoughts, and then tell the other my most intimate feelings. Is that practice also gone? Will there be no physical record of any of this in our future? This more than most changes to our culture makes me glad that my days on earth are minimal.

The sunrise west of Walsenburg CO this morning!

I could tell when I first looked east around 6AM this morning that it was going to be a good one! The clouds were lovely…

First I saw the very beginnings of the sunrise…

Then a bit more with sunrays just beginning to show…

Next the early sunrays began to light up the sky!

Spreading colorful light over the Spanish Peaks to the south…

and then BAM, the full light of the sun appeared over the horizon!

Now do you see why I love living here? Magical surprises almost every day!

Imagine magically walking into your own future…

Last night I had a strange thought: What if we had been able to magically walk into our present home and living situation without having to create it from scratch? I’m certain now I wouldn’t have believed it, but it would have been so reassuring to me! I see now I had far too little faith in my husband’s power to create what we have created here out of one big dusty lot. Talk about a difference in visualizing and believing in our power to manifest it!

As I meet others who move down here to create new lives for themselves, I am constantly reminded of my own trials and tribulations when we first decided to move here to build our passive solar home over seven years ago.

Our sad little rental in Walsenburg for one year…

When we first moved into a rented dirty, dumpy 100-year-old miner’s home in Walsenburg in 2014, I was simply depressed. All I could think about was:

“How long was this going to take? Would it be as nice as we hoped? Was this a good idea or not?

First we had the slab, which took months to get approved and created properly for passive solar…

I had no idea how much work it is to create a home from scratch, even if you don’t actually build it… A million trips to Pueblo’s Home Depot and Lowe’s, 5 million decisions just about every day for a year or so, not to mention arguments with the builder about so many things, especially when is this house going to be done? I learned that the builders own your home until they leave!

But we kept at it through just about every obstacle imaginable until one day we had this…

When we finally moved in on the 1st of August 2015 we were practically paralyzed with the feat we had just completed! Did that really happen? Is this really where we live now? There were still a million little details to work out, like the smoke detector that went off at 4 in the morning soon after we moved in, but we were home at last!

I couldn’t wait to get started on my new foothills garden, which also took a few years to developJune 2019

  • Want to learn more about this kind of experience? I kept a journal leading up to our move from the suburbs of Fort Collins, to a three acre lot west of Walsenburg Colorado. Our new home is passive solar and this journal covers the full construction process as well as our thoughts after we moved in. My memoir is available on Amazon or just contact me directly if you wish to buy a signed copy from the author herself! — MidlifeCrisisQueen@gmail.com

Early radium & X-ray use and later cancers

It wasn’t until around 1920 that we realized some control over the use of X-ray and radium were necessary. The best example in American history of our lack of understanding of the dangers of radioactivity, was the extensive use of radium in luminous paint during the First and Second World Wars.  This paint was used to illuminate the faces of watches and U.S. army issue compasses. The radium-activated paint was applied by brush and the painters, mostly young women in New Jersey and elsewhere, found they could work faster by tipping their brushes with their lips, thus ingesting large amounts of radium.

The Radium Girls hard at work painting watch faces and compasses

In those days, very little attention was paid to the safety of workers. Dial painters were irradiated from the paint which contaminated their workplaces and from the inhalation of radon.  The hazard was first recognized in 1924, when a New York dentist identified a new disease which he called “radium jaw” which he found regularly in patients who were ex-dial painters.  The first bone sarcoma was recorded in this group of women in 1923 and one third of them eventually died of various cancerous malignancies.  The data derived from the experiences of these unfortunate young women eventually helped to set new radium tolerance levels.

Despite the realization that radium could be used to kill malignant cells, the public became besotted with radium as a general panacea for many illnesses.  A number of potions were sold containing radium, the most famous being Radiothor. Four hundred thousand bottles of this quack remedy, which was said to cure a range of maladies from stomach ulcers to impotence, were sold between 1925 and 1930. 

My grandfather was a very early adopter when it came to X-ray technology. Like so many, he felt that this new technology could solve a lot of problems. In fact he took a correspondence course in using X-ray on humans probably in the 1940s, and then traveled around providing X-rays where needed. Although little was really known about radiation risks from the 1930s to the 1950s, American shoe stores supplied shoe-fitting fluoroscopes, which allowed customers to see the bones in their feet, a gimmick to ensure “a proper fit.” The practice ended in the 1950s when it was determined to be a risky practice due to the radiation, and shoe clerks had no formal medical training in using X-ray technology.

When my grandmother developed major problems with her periods in the early 1960s, my grandfather decided the best solution was to use X-rays to radiate her ovaries. In the mid-1980s my grandmother developed stomach cancer and died soon afterward. Gee, I wonder why that cancer developed in the exact same region as the earlier X-rays?

Early chest X-rays used constantly with little regulation

In addition, two women I know well, including my own Mom, received annual chest X-rays in grade school to check for tuberculosis. Both of these women developed breast cancer in their thirties. How many more women were exposed to unneeded radiation in grade school?

Back then, X-rays were used to treat ringworms, acne, menopause discomforts, mental patients and even facial hair removal in beauty shops. These were largely uncontrolled misuses of radiation because there were no specific legal regulations governing radiation safety at the time. One has to wonder how many cases of cancer decades later were at least partially caused by our unwise confidence in X-ray as a cure for all ills.

To learn more about the Radium Girls’ tragedy go here to read an article published in History Magazine in October 2007 by me.