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?

Penstemons are my friends!

After five years of trying to get a Colorado foothills garden going, I have discovered how much I LOVE Penstemons!

First of all, I have a very early blooming native, I believe it is Penstemon buckleyi, that volunteers as one of the earliest blooms in my garden!

Then I started some Penstemon Strictus (Rocky Mountain Penstemon) four years ago and look at them now! They also bloom quite early, in mid-May. They spread nicely too!

This year I bought two new versions that are supposed to be red. My garden is almost all purple at this point in time.

Amazingly, the Red Riding Hood variety (Schmidel?) is already in full bloom!

I also bought two Penstemon pinifolius and put them in. According to my book exclusively on Penstemons, “Penstemon pinifolius is an attractive low-growing evergreen plant with showy, scarlet flowers in June to August.” Mine are just tiny this year. I hope they bloom next year!

My point is that these are the kind of plants to grow here because they are natives! The critters don’t eat them (at least not so far…). They spread nicely and fill up their space by a foot or two, and they love it here!

Want to learn lots more about penstemons? This is a wonderful book for that purpose: Penstemons: The Beautiful Beardtongues of New Mexico.

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!

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!

A Celebration of 65!

Somehow, I never saw myself looking forward to turning 65, but I feel great about it. I am now happier with my life than I’ve ever been. I find aging liberating! One important lesson I have learned through my past 64 years, is how great challenges can lead to great awakenings.

My first major lesson in this was when my life fell apart around age 49. A few years after my divorce I lost my job, which then led to to the end of my 25-year career as an academic librarian. Depression and devastation soon followed. Then I got creative and started my own version of a dating service as a distraction from my sadness. That turned out to be lots of fun and then, through those efforts, I met my new husband Mike.

Having time to think, seek career counseling, and experiment opened my mind up to everything new I had ignored up until then, like the career I had always desired. I became a writer, with books and a killer blog called “Midlife Crisis Queen!”

Five years after that Mike’s job got sent to China, so what did we do? We sold our beautiful home in the Fort Collins suburbs and moved down south to rural Colorado to build a passive solar home with a killer view!

Even in the past few years I have worked hard to change a few difficult bad diagnoses into a total appreciation of health. Yes, I struggle to breathe at times, but I’m still here enjoying our new home with its fantastic sunrises and sunsets everyday.

This week my father died. My Dad, Dr. Jack L. Carter, led a truly amazing and powerful life. He believed fiercely in SCIENCE and came to be known as a proselytizer for scientific and rational thought. He taught biology and botany classes at Colorado College for decades, wrote BSCS high school biology textbooks, and then started writing his own books like “Trees and Shrubs of Colorado.” Yes, his death is very sad for my family and others who knew him, but it helps me to appreciate my own life even more.

Daily I appreciate the fact that I have lived long enough to see how life works. Yes, life includes periods of great pain and suffering. That’s the challenge that makes the successes even more joyful!

That’s what makes me want to go on…

Fort Collins versus life outside of two small Colorado towns

Yesterday, while waiting for Mike in the car at the Big R store in La Veta, I started thinking about how our lives would be different if we still lived in Fort Collins. We only go into Walsenburg or La Veta Colorado every few days when we need to do something or buy something. We generally go to Walsenburg for groceries and La Veta for the library, the great bakery, yoga or to see my one friend there.

It seems funny that after over five years I still compare in my mind how my life has changed by moving to rural Colorado. If we were still in Fort Collins we would be spending a lot more time standing in line in traffic. That’s for sure! And that is what I so wanted to leave behind. Of course I rarely had trouble breathing in Fort Collins, but I was breathing in lots more toxins everyday there.

Mainly I remember standing in line for just about everything in cities. Sure there are lots more choices of placing to go to buy things, but there were almost always lines at the grocery store or anywhere else. I have had to get used to NOT HAVING crowds and lines here. I still sometimes think, “We better hurry. There might be trouble parking or lines…” But then I remind myself that there never are lines, even at the two stoplights in Walsenburg, which we can generally avoid by going a different way.

Mike and I talked about it on the way home from La Veta yesterday. We agreed that the only time this rural area gets “busy” is in the summer. That is when the city people come down to escape the city. Then things do change a bit. The summer busyness sometimes reminds me of cities, because city people are so pushy and anxious all the time. Their life back home does that to them. How do I know this? Because I used to feel this way myself.

Especially with the difficult changes in my health in the past few years, I feel I belong in a place where things move much slower and the people I meet are more likely to help me when I need it. It is definitely less of a ‘dog eat dog’ world down here. It’s like when we still lived in Fort Collins and we would drive down here for a few days. I always noticed when the traffic on I-25 switched from “Get the f*** out of my way!” to a more relaxed, non-judgmental style of traffic. I still notice that now when I need to go up north. I truly dread the traffic up there now.

That is one of the many reasons I LOVE coming back home.

None of us get out of this alive…

“America is the only country in the world that looks upon death as some kind of personal failure.”

As we age, it is natural to contemplate more often the inevitable consequence of life, our own death. I know that since I experienced a serious brain injury at age 53, with hours of spontaneously moving in and out of consciousness, death has become a fascinating topic for me. I often wonder if unconsciousness is what death feels like. If so, it may not be so bad.

Then as I entered my 60s and personally experienced too many new ailments and disabilities, I wondered again when and of what I would die. I also learned something important about our culture: Even if we Americans don’t see death as a personal failure, we most certainly see illness as one. Ever since I moved from the healthy column to the older, not so healthy column, I have noticed many treat me quite differently. But aren’t I the same person with equal potential?

This all reminds me of a patient I treated in my counseling internship in a rehab hospital. When this elderly woman became ill and ended up in the hospital, the only question on her lips was,

“What did I do to deserve this?”

Do we all “deserve” illness and death? Of course not. We are no better or worse than all the others organisms in our world. We are born by no choice of our own. We live the best we can, and then we die. Then, regardless of the “death industry’s” best efforts, we all become dust in the wind eventually. Big surprise. No secrets here, and yet most of us walk around thinking this simply CANNOT be true!

How can this all mean nothing in the long run?

That has been the realm of religious leaders and philosophers forever. How do we make sense of this thing called life and death? That must be where our judgment of those “failures” who have the indecency to die comes from. When we are still among the living and healthy, it rarely seems likely that we will die someday.

I am reminded of a very cynical MD I met once in Boulder decades ago. I remember him telling a story about one of his healthy patients. The doc was given the unenviable task of telling this person that they had cancer. The patient’s response?

“I can’t have cancer! I run ten miles a day!”

If you like to play the odds game, here are our nation’s death stats:

Top 10 causes of death in the US.: https://www.mdlinx.com/internal-medicine/article/3848

Please note number ten on this list, the rate of suicides among Americans. This rate has risen since these statistics came out in 2017. And speaking of suicide, let’s give Camus the final word on this topic:

“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy…These are facts the heart can feel; yet they call for careful study before they become clear to the intellect.” -Albert Camus

The Boomer View – Choices Made, Opportunities Missed

Spending time with my older brother over the holidays was, as usual, revealing. One day we began discussing the ways we may have wasted time in our early years, time which we could have been better spent training for more appropriate vocations. I have often thought about a number of vocations I might have enjoyed more than my decades as a librarian years.

Thailand 1973, so much potential!

Now, with so many different television stations, I see how the shows I watch reflect the careers that could have been for me. First of all, my favorite sport to watch will always be ice skating. I see it as the perfect mix of dance and athletics. I LOVED skating in my teens years at the Colorado College ice rink in Colorado Springs! My favorite compliment came back then when a young girl skated up and asked me if I was ever in the Ice Capades. I still fantasize about being the best in the world in skating. What an accomplishment that would be. I enjoy ice dancing the most!

When it comes to alternative professions I am split between CSI, garden designer, journalist, nature photographer, and animal behaviorist. Strange combination huh… See why it was so hard to choose? I idealized Jan Goodall in my teens. Even went to meet her in San Francisco once. Journalism seemed natural because so many said I was a good writer and I have always been drawn to investigative efforts. It was only later that I learned about CSI work and garden design as occupations.

The meaning of life is having a SPECTACULAR view!

Mostly when I look back over my long life I appreciate all the great opportunities presented to me. The chance to live in Bangkok after high school opened up the world for me. Free tuition in college meant I could shop around to find the best programs for my interests like Chinese history and learning Chinese. I chose librarianship as a career because I always loved being in libraries and researching just about any topic. I chose International Librarianship because I believed in international cooperation. I got my Masters in Counseling Psychology because why people do what they do has always fascinated me.When the opportunity presented itself in 2005, I became a writer because I felt like that was my true calling, especially writing about psychology and midlife issues.

I feel I have done quite a lot with what I was given. Now I feel comfortable sitting back and enjoying my fantasies about all the occupations that might have been.

Do you think you missed out on any careers you might have loved?