Boomers: What to do with all the extra years we have 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?

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.

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”

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 to love and value non-moneymaking tasks.

I have learned from Mike the value of having a few strong avocations like cooking, gardening, photography and other forms of creativity, but first I had to let go of those early lessons in extreme “productivity.” It is really OK to enjoy your day and do what you love. No one is watching and judging you. Do what makes you 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

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What’s looking happy in my mid-summer Spanish Peaks garden?

A sunset view from my garden!

When everything else in life seems crazy, it’s back to the garden for me. I’m sure some of you can relate…. We have received some nice rain showers this July, bringing us up to 13.5 inches of rain so far this water year (October to September). Compared to last year’s 9 inches, we are doing great! So, what’s looking super happy in my garden right now?

My Blue Mist Spirea is so happy here! They bloom the end of July

The Blue Mist Spirea bushes for one! I have five of these because I found out last year how happy they can be here with no deer to bother them.

The Gallardia or Blanket Flower is also quite content. I have always had great luck with these nearly native orange and yellow plants. But this year I tried a new variety that is all red. I am quite pleased with the results! It just keeps on blooming.

Colorado Four-O’clock, a tough native to do in!

Another shocker is that my native Mirabilis Multiflora or Colorado Four-O’clock is coming back again with a vengeance after a horrible time last summer with the wildfires around here. I have one plant (a taproot variety) on the edge of my garden, that was there before we started building here. Then when we hardscaped the garden this spring, I was afraid we had killed it, but nope. It’s a beauty again this year! Impossible to transplant, but also tough to kill.

Now do you see why I love gardening? With time and patience, there’s always something new to wonder about and be surprised by…

Seeing nature as our home

More and more studies are coming out now, reinforcing the idea that time spent in nature is so good for us. Big surprise there! For centuries we spent all of our time living in and with nature. What could be more, well, natural? But I must say I did not have a full understanding of the importance of nature in my life until I moved away from towns and cities altogether. Most importantly I missed natural silence while living in cities. My entire soul longed to NOT hear cars and other people around me. This longing became more strong as I grew older, and finally Mike and I reached the age where we were no longer forced to live near others for jobs and financial reasons.

It seems now that I learn a new lesson everyday by living close to nature. First I realized I could finally begin living in the present. Meditation and mindfulness seem so natural here with so few distractions. And now, as I observe and contemplate the loss of many loved ones, I can’t help but think, “What could be more natural?” Of course that does not ease the pain of loss, but it does make it feel quite a bit less personal. And what could be more natural than grieving? We humans have been doing that since the beginning of our species.

Living close to nature requires our full attention, that is what I’ve learned as I begin displaying my photos at the local Space Gallery this July. Look away for a moment and you have missed the most incredible sunrise or sunset, changing second by second…

…or the arrival of a Road Runner right outside our glass door. There is so much to be missed!

That is why this quote speaks to me everyday. I wish the same for you!

“…we all know how this ends, so rushing through life is senseless. As our inner life grows ever more luminous, the chatter of the speed-and-greed world slowly fades, leaving us with greater peace, tranquility, quiet and contentment.”  —  Arthur Rosenfeld

Boomers: Why or Why Didn’t We Go To College?

One thing I never want to happen, but I know does, is that potential new friends here may decide we cannot relate because I spent so much time at the university. To tell you the truth, this discrepancy never even occurs to me.

My own observation about boomers and college:

Those who didn’t go to college often wish they had had the chance.

Those who did go sometimes wonder why they bothered.

How many boomers went to college anyway? Census data estimates that 28.8 percent of Baby Boomers have earned a Bachelor’s degree or higher, while another 28.9 percent have attended some college classes.

It seems family views and monetary pressures were the largest influence on why many of us attended college. Because my Dad was a professor, everyone in my family got free tuition at Colorado College. We all went there at some time including my Mom.

I guess I always assumed that those who didn’t go to college didn’t want to, but I see now how parental encouragement or total non-encouragement played an important role. Mike’s father didn’t offer any support or encouragement. It was the old, “the Navy training was good enough for me, so it’s good enough for you!” And this was during the Vietnam War! I also learned from Mike that a lot of us learn more easily from doing, not listening to some long-winded professor. Some of us are physical and visual learners.

Overjoyed at college graduation… back when I had all the answers!

I was raised by a college professor and a teacher. I was totally brain-washed that college is good for you. My Dad and Mom were the first kids in their family to go to college, and I would have to say it was “very, very good to them.” It was also a career-maker for me, and I truly appreciate that fact, but that isn’t where I learned the most important lessons in my life. Not even close. In the end, I attended graduate school for a specific career.

I think we learn our most important lessons by living our lives and paying close attention to what works for us, and what doesn’t. What careers or work environments bring out the best in us? What jobs feed on our own natural abilities and talents? Unfortunately I had to wait until I quit work altogether to learn the most about my natural interests and talents.

Gardening: An old friend who has come in handy in retirement!

Ask yourself today: What would you do if you had all the time in the world? What activities make you lose touch with time and place and take you away to your own great place in your head? Now I only do what gets me going and I have the time to observe exactly what that is. For me now it is gardening, anything with vivid colors, photography, cooking, yoga….

Seeking solace in nature

The mornings are when I seek solace in my garden. No matter how difficult my sleep has been, or how disturbing the world seems, when I walk outside and hear the silence of nature, I find reassurance that we are all OK.

My previous backyard and garden

I have come to realize that this is a feeling most will never know, and one that you must fully experience to know in your heart. Recent and not so recent studies have shown that a prolonged and solid connection with nature soothes us and reduces our stress. I had small glimpses of this in my backyard in Fort Collins, but I could still hear road traffic in the distance. I could still feel the tension in those around me, the need for city vigilance.

Now I know, finally at the age of 64, the peace that only nature can offer. I hope you also experience this in your daily life.

Since the Solstice…

RASTA! My best friend for the past 10 years.

I’ve been feeling a little lost since the summer solstice last week. We had company and while they were here my puppy Rasta began to look very ill. It turned out to be eye problems, with probable glaucoma in one eye. He was barely moving and looked terrible. I had no idea how painful glaucoma can be! We are now giving him painkillers and thinking about taking him to a dog ophthalmologist. (Who knew?)

This was all so traumatic for me. Rasta and I are very close, and in a place where I have so few real friends, I depend on him so much. Since we lost Charlie our cat just a few weeks ago I have been thinking about death too much I guess. Just about everyone in my family is elderly and have a number of health challenges including myself. When did my whole world change? When did I begin wondering when my dog, my family and I will die? Nice summer solstice theme, huh? I do feel fortunate to have had my parents and siblings for so much of my life…

I often am surprised to find out how old I am. How about you?

What are you doing this Summer Solstice?

The word “solstice” is derived from the Latin words “sol+systere,” meaning “when the sun stands still.”  This year the Summer Solstice is on June 21st, 5:54 PM EST, which makes it the longest day of 2019. Following this solstice, the days will get shorter and the nights longer. As one who worships the sun, I see this solstice as a time to reflect on personal growth and the meaning of our seasons, a time of cleansing and renewal, love and personal growth. This is the moment when there is the most light available to us. In terms of consciousness, this is when we can be most present to ourselves and who we hope to be — the Sun represents the light of all life and consciousness.

Many traditions throughout time have celebrated the solstices — Ancient Egypt, the Aztecs of Mexico, Chinese, indigenous peoples of the Americas, and Europeans. Western civilizations have for centuries celebrated this first day of summer, often called midsummer or St. John’s Day. The Chinese mark the day by honoring Li, the Chinese Goddess of Light. Throughout history, with so much light showered down upon the Earth, it was seen as one of the most powerful days of the year for spiritual growth and healing.

Summer Solstice Stone Hedge

To this day, revellers still gather at Stonehenge to see the sun rise. The Heel Stone and Slaughter Stone, set outside the main circle, align with the rising sun.  And many of the ancient traditions continue – Bonfires are still lit to celebrate the Sun at its height of power and to ask the Sun not to withdraw into winter darkness.

In North America, many Native American tribes held ritual dances to honor the sun. The Sioux were known to hold one of the most spectacular rituals- The Sun Dance. Usually performed during the June solstice, preparations for the Sun Dance included cutting and raising a tree that would be considered a visible connection between the heavens and Earth, and setting up teepees in a circle to represent the cosmos. Participants abstained from food and drink during the dance itself. Their bodies were decorated in the symbolic colors of red (sunset), blue (sky), yellow (lightning), white (light), and black (night).

Why not create your own rituals this year, with an intention to create new ways to re-connect with Nature and improve your life? Bring light and love into this world in your own positive and creative ways.

“Both the Winter and the Summer Solstices are expressions of love. They show us the opposition of light and dark, expansion and contraction, that characterize our experiences in the Earth school so that we can recognize our options as we move through our lives.” – Gary Zukav

Wishing you abundance and light this Summer Solstice!