The Wonder of True Friends

I just started reading a wonderful memoir. The way I found it is even more interesting. I had been thinking about how much I love this song by the Dixie Chicks. Take a listen. It’s well worth your while…

I found a way to explore northern Thailand as a college student in spring 1974!

Yep, “taking the long way” is a great description of my life. I have always been quite independent and, as one close friend in Salt Lake observed, ‘zealous’. When I focused on something new, I could usually make it happen, in spite of the fact I rarely had any money. As you might guess, in the midst of all of that, I have had only a few true friends, because I was always taking off to some other state or foreign country for a new adventure. When I decided it was time to go do something different, I simply did it. How many relationships can keep up with that lifestyle?

But back to the amazing memoir: “Let’s Take The Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship” by Gail Caldwell. Since I loved the title “Taking the Long Way” I looked it up and found it had been already “taken” by Gail Caldwell’s book. Then I had to find out more, so I checked it out of my local library.

This is a well-written memoir by a Pulitzer Prize winning former chief book critic for the Boston Globe. How’s that for credentials? And yes, it is a wonder to read. Here Gail eulogizes the kind of close, true friendship that one rarely finds in one lifetime. What are the chances of finding that one true friend who practically knows what you are thinking and what you may say next? She also beautifully describes the way so many of us writer, introvert-types jealously protect our independence and solitude. Gail begins by defining herself as “a gregarious hermit” and then wonders how she finally met “someone for whom I wouldn’t mind breaking my monkish ways.” Ah, don’t we all know that fine line between loving our freedom and yet deciding to let one worthy friend into our life.

Friend in Chinese

I found this memoir particularly poignant because I only have a few true friends in my life right now. Only one friend made the effort to stay in touch emotionally when we moved down here five years ago, and Mike is the friend of a lifetime for me. What does that mean? For me it means absolute trust that this friend loves and respects me, to the extent that we can easily disagree and argue, but love and loyalty is always solidly beneath. That bottomless loyalty is the greatest prize in my life. I need to know that this is someone who would never betray or doubt our intimate life together, and will certainly be there at the end of my life if possible.

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A Brief Lesson in Garden Love & Plant Diversity

I was raised by Dr. Jack L. Carter, a well-known botanist in this area, best know for his books “Trees and Shrubs of Colorado” and “Trees and Shrubs of New Mexico.” I never wanted to be a botanist. My interests ran more towards Asian history in college, after a few months living in Thailand at age 19. But as it turns out, my new garden at 7,000 feet, is where I now go to find meaning, happiness, comfort and solace.

This catmint took two years to start looking this big and happy!

I love everything about going out to visit my plants each morning. I want to see what’s blooming, what’s thinking about it, and which plant needs some help from me to be happier with their placement in the garden.

I have had gardens all over Boulder, Fort Collins and Loveland Colorado. From this I have learned that all gardens take time to develop and grow in their own way. Only start a garden if you have a few years to watch it develop of its own accord. You need to learn the native plants in your area and gain the awareness of which critters eat what. I spent a couple years walking around La Veta before I started my own garden. There you can quickly see what may survive constant deer nibbling, plus rabbits, etc. I have also incorporated a number of native plants from our surrounding acreage. Some just turn up in the garden and I let them stay. Others I have transplanted.

This spring we have a abundance of this plant along the county roads and just about everywhere, which is curious because I don’t remember seeing a lot of it before this year. After consultation with my favorite botanist friend Jan, we decided it is called Penstemon augustifolius.

From the very beginning I knew I wanted to bring some Penstemon strictus into my new garden, common name Rocky Mountain Penstemon. I had great experiences growing it in my Loveland garden a number of years ago.

My garden in Loveland was my primary solace in the spring of 2001 when my marriage fell apart. I started a garden because I love growing things around me and I knew even then that:

Action is the greatest antidote to despair.

Eighteen years later I will share with you an essential insight into how life works. When life seems meaningless, find some part of your life that you can transform. I have transformed ugly screened-in porches into beautiful sun rooms and empty lots into native plant gardens. Find a way to make something beautiful around you. Do it today! Because:

Beauty is the garden where hope grows!

“Mary Poppins Returns” made my week!

I had such low expectations about watching “Mary Poppins Returns” I almost skipped it. Please don’t! This delightful mix of grim reality and pure, positive fantasy is a not-to-be missed escape into the world of magical musical surprises. The superior performances by Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, plus so many great guest performances by Meryl Streep, Angela Lansbury, Colin Firth and you-know-who, from the first Mary Poppins movie, makes this an elevating experience for those of any age.

With so many delightful new songs, this movie takes off when Mary Poppins magically appears and begins to sing “Can you imagine that?” in the bath tub scene. She certainly convinced me: “Nonsense can be fun!” Then there was the “A cover is not the book, so open it up and take a look!” song, which simultaneously reminded me of my twenty-five years working in libraries, and also my dating service experience. Such great dating advice!

A few words from “Where the lost things go”

There is also a dream sequence called “Where the lost things go” to soothe the children who have lost their mother recently. Although not an easy theme to take on with children, Mary makes the loss a tiny bit less painful because “Nothing’s lost forever only out of place…”

Truth be told, I’ve always loved a good musical, but I wasn’t too enamored with the first Mary Poppins movie from 1964. I guess I had to grow up to finally appreciate a world where the women and children sweep in and save the day for the miserable adults who take life far too seriously. Oh those adults, who “think a great deal too much, of that I am certain.”

Now I see we all do think too much and in that way miss the opportunity to enjoy so many happy coincidences and surprises life can offer us. Don’t we all need a Mary Poppins to sweep down into our lives when things are looking grim and show us the bright side while we somehow solve the adult problems of life?

TODAY OR NEVER!

This fun film supports our favorite childhood fantasy of effortlessly flying away when things get tough, elevating our minds to new levels, while accenting every daily positive. And BTW, this film is wonderful with a little help from my little friend THC, along the same lines as Disney’s Fantasia!

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 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.

New Rules for Retirement: Do it NOW!

No one gets out of this alive. With retirement, you have more time to do the things you love, but the extra time is wasted unless you use it productively and actually live your dreams. Make that phone call to let someone know you are thinking of them. Better yet, go visit. Mend fences, hug, show appreciation, be kind to people. Don’t be complacent; you never know when the people you thought would be there forever will be gone.

Money is overrated. Money is a tool. To see it as anything else is folly. Yes, we all need some, but money is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Spend wisely and then let it go.

Time is your most valuable asset. You only get so much, and that is it. You can’t hoard it. You can’t get it back. You can’t turn back the clock. The best you can do is to start investing your time wisely.

Stop searching for happiness. The only place you can be happy is in the present. Stop chasing tomorrow and fully experience happiness today.

Your bucket list is crap. Putting things on a bucket list can be just another way of deferring your aspirations. Sure, go ahead and make a list but remember: Life goes on while you are busy making other plans.

Comfort is overrated. Keep pushing yourself and trying new things. Challenge yourself to more growth, not less. If you get disabled in one area, develop other ones!

Go with your feelings. No need to justify anything you want to do. It is OK to do things solely because you want to. Take dance lessons. Learn to play the zither. Who cares about the critics?

You are responsible. You get to choose how you respond to everything. Yes, everything. Your response to anything is a choice. You get to choose what matters. You didn’t get this far to keep jumping through other people’s hoops. Don’t forget the importance of yourself.

You can’t make others happy. You can listen. You can be kind. You can smile. You can respect. You can offer assistance. You can contribute tools, but everyone is responsible for their own happiness.

past better not bitterLet it go. Everyone has regrets, but don’t live a life of sorrow. The past is gone; find a way to come to terms with it. If you need to call up those from your past, do it and get it over with. Today is all we really have.

Stop complaining. Most people don’t care about your problems; some are happy you have them. Complaining only serves to keep negatives at the center of your life.

Your aspirations mean nothing if you don’t make an effort to realize them. Take action to get the things you want TODAY.

Ambition can be a killer. I hate to break it to you, but you aren’t going to be No. 1 in everything you do. Breathe, and be satisfied, with the act of living today. Don’t let blind ambition cause you to lose sight of what is important. Savour all of life’s moments, even the bad ones, because you only get so many and you may wish you had paid more attention.

Take care of yourself. You aren’t much use to yourself or anyone else if you don’t. Looking out for your health and happiness is not the same as being selfish. This is fundamental.

It is OK to fail. Failure is part of life. Failure teaches us valuable lessons. In fact, we learn more from our failures than our successes.

You don’t have to wait for an apology to forgive. We have all been wronged at one time or another. Waiting for an apology from someone who may never offer one is a waste of life. Who cares? Hell, if this is a gray area and it’s possible the other person is waiting for an apology from you, apologize first. What does it matter? Life is too precious to play those kind of games.

Negativity wastes life. Being positive and optimistic in the present has a favorable impact on the future. Yes, bad things happen, but so do good ones. Remember, what you focus on grows.

Be curious. See both sides. Stubbornness is not strength. When given new information, intelligent people research it further. Is it true? Spend the time to read, develop and evolve your opinions. We grow when we can admit we are wrong. Your life stagnates when you are wrong, but you refuse to admit it.

Do you have four really good friends?

Laura standing at build site before slab 2014

The topic of the lead story on today’s CBS Sunday Morning, “Going It Alone”, is one of my favorite life-long lines of research: loneliness. There we meet a man who, at age 27, chose to not speak to a single human being for 17 years! He eventually concluded, at age 72, that if you have four really good friends, who understand and appreciate your authentic self, you are truly lucky.

According to a recent Cigna study, loneliness is at epidemic levels in our country.

Their 2018 survey of more than 20,000 U.S. adults revealed some alarming findings:

  • Nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent).
  • One in four Americans (27 percent) rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them.
  • Two in five Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful (43 percent) and that they are isolated from others (43 percent).
  • One in five people report they rarely or never feel close to people (20 percent) or feel like there are people they can talk to (18 percent).
  • Americans who live with others are less likely to be lonely (average loneliness score of 43.5) compared to those who live alone (46.4). However, this does not apply to single parents/guardians (average loneliness score of 48.2) – even though they live with children, they are more likely to be lonely.
  • Only around half of Americans (53 percent) have meaningful in-person social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family, on a daily basis.
  • Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) is the loneliest generation and claims to be in worse health than older generations.

How much do YOU need quality connections?

This all brings back my own gradual transition in my 30s and 40s from a true loner, who didn’t trust anyone completely, to a happily married woman in my 60s. After a traumatic betrayal in my 20s I also gave up on people. I did allow a few acquaintances in after counseling in my early 30s, but trust was not my best quality.

My first marriage was a lonely tangle of struggle, criticism and disempowerment. I gradually realized that I would probably be spending the rest of my life alone unless something changed. What changed was a divorce in 2001 and then job/career loss in 2004. Living on severance with only two good friends I saw maybe once a month plus my dogs, I faced loneliness most of the time, providing ample opportunity to consider my options for my future.

At age 49 I decided loneliness was my worst problem and I did not want to live the rest of my life if it was going to be this lonely indefinitely.

Mike snuggling with Rasta 2013

My solution? Since I could not find another job in libraries, I started my own offline dating service where I interviewed local midlifers who were also looking for love after widowhood or divorce. In that way I studied our group problem and decided it wasn’t just me. Then when I found many more cool single women looking for partners, I joined Match.com to attract more cool men for my women. Yep, the first man I met this way was my future husband and partner in crime, Mike. We have been joyfully married fourteen years now.

How to Believe in Love Again! blog sizeMike supported me in a way I have never experienced before, with unconditional loyalty, affection and appreciation. He offered full support to my dream of becoming a professional writer at age 50, back in 2005. This I did with enthusiasm, first as a freelance writer, then as a blogger and finally as an author. In fact, his support led to my second book: How To Believe In Love Again: Opening to Forgiveness, Trust, and Your Own Inner Wisdom, the story of how I transitioned from a sad, miserable loner to a trusting, loving person who admits to a need for support from others. 

Since then I am rarely lonely, but moving to this rural area in 2014 has been a challenge in that department. I so rarely meet someone here I can truly relate to, partially because of differences in upbringing and education levels. In the past I made friends at work and in my exercise classes. I still miss a few good friends I made at the Senior Center in Fort Collins.

I’m now retired so I have tried to make friends in my La Veta yoga class, which I attended for a few years, but to no avail. I have also tried a few other groups like writing groups, support groups, etc. No friendships have emerged. Quality connections are hard for me to find in this environment, but I will continue my efforts. Afterall, I just need one or two more friends to have “four really good friends!”