Earth Day 2019: What is the “State of the Air” Where You Breathe?

Although we may rarely think about the “state of the air” where we live, what we breathe in and out everyday does have a gigantic impact on our long-term health. And as the annual “State of the Air Report” comes out from the American Lung Association this Wednesday, let’s focus on your oxygen for just a few minutes.

Unfortunately, this is when most of us tune out. We say to ourselves, “I don’t smoke so I’ll be fine.” WRONG. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, refers to a group of diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing-related problems. COPD makes breathing difficult for the 16 million Americans who have this disease. Millions more people suffer from COPD, but have not been diagnosed and are not being treated. Go check your state for deaths from COPD:

There are times when I’m certain those around me hear my severe coughing and think, “Geez, why doesn’t she quit smoking?” I have never smoked cigarettes and yet now, at age 64, COPD dominates my life. And incidentally, 20% of Americans with COPD never smoked. Sometimes when others ask me if I smoked, I am tempted to respond with, “No, but I did breathe…”

I have had reoccurring bouts of bronchitis for decades, don’t know why except that I have lived in some very polluted cities like Seattle, Salt Lake City and Boulder, not to mention Bangkok, Taipei and various places in China. I can no longer tolerate much air pollution at all. I just cough, permanently .

Go check out your county for air pollution levels!

When you can’t breathe, nothing else matters!


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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 trip up north to the land of cities

For my birthday this year, I decided to go up to Fort Collins and Denver to spend time with family and friends. I had a wonderful time feeling special! But I am always shocked by the culture shock of returning to city life. The first thing I always notice is how bad the air begins to smell just north of Pueblo, because the air does not “smell” down here. That is also where the highway driving suddenly switches from a casual, comfortable feel to what I call “Get the hell out of my way!” driving. Luckily we missed any major traffic jams up north, but the only way I can explain it, from the perspective of one who never sits at stop lights or feels truly threatened by two-way traffic, is the roads are INTENSE up there! The cars are so close together on the roads and it feels scary.

The other culture shock for me is that up there we see so many young people! We don’t have a lot of them down here. The average age in our county, down by the New Mexico border, is around 54. Everything feels a lot more rushed and modern up there. There are of course hundreds of restaurants and shopping options compared to our county, where you can count the total restaurants on ten fingers.

Yes, we moved from one of the riches counties in Colorado to one of the poorest five years ago. My Dad (age 90) asked me how I was feeling now about that choice while we were up there and I had to think. As he pointed out, I had never lived in a place like this before. I have been cursed my whole life with the ability to see both sides of everything, and that can be truly exhausting. However, after a few days up north, I have to say I love not smelling the air or hearing traffic all the time. Our solar foothills home was the perfect temperature when we got here with no heat running the whole time we were gone. It felt wonderful to just walk in the door!

Sitting in my bed this morning and gazing out at the Spanish Peaks and the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, that’s a tough act to follow. The silence down here is perfection for me now.

This drives me nuts about my own culture!

I cannot stand the way we act like drinking alcohol is so fun and funny. I should admit up front that alcohol is not and has never been my own drug of choice. I just don’t see how this killer of those who partake and those who get murdered by drunks, is so accepted and the source of so many laughs.

“Excessive alcohol use led to around 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost (YPLL) each year in the United States from 2006 – 2010, shortening the lives of those who died by an average of 30 years. Further, excessive drinking was responsible for 1 in 10 deaths among working-age adults aged 20-64 years. The economic costs of excessive alcohol consumption in 2010 were estimated at $249 billion, or $2.05 a drink.” 

CDC Fact Sheet on Alcohol Use and Your Health

Somehow I don’t find the death of millions funny. Where did we get the idea that this nasty habit is fine and even funny, especially when we have recently determined that it also causes cancer:

The CDC’s Long-Term Health Risks from Alcohol Use:

Over time, alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems including:

    • High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems.6,16

    • Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon.6,17

    • Learning and memory problems, including dementia and poor school performance.6,18

    • Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.6,19

  • Social problems, including lost productivity, family problems, and unemployment.6,20,21

  • Alcohol dependence, or alcoholism.5

Yes, alcohol use is fine, normal and completely socially acceptable while the use of THC in marijuana is still considered a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act, a federal law which states that THC has no medicinal value and high potential for abuse just like other Schedule I drugs like heroin and cocaine.

deaths from alcohol vs marijuana

So glad that alcohol is so medicinal and holds no risk of addiction! If THC is so deadly, how come millions aren’t dying from its use? It has been in use for centuries all around the world. 

Today THC is regularly prescribed in Israel and other countries for a number of serious illnesses. Israeli research over the past ten years has led to a rediscovery of our endocannabinoid system, the largest receptor system in the human body. As it turns out, our brain produces its own cannabinoids — compounds that stimulate the body’s receptor system.

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health believe these compounds could alleviate dozens of illnesses, including schizophrenia, diabetes, cancer and multiple sclerosis, to name a few.

Over 60% of Americans want to legalize THC now.  WTF?

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.

IMGP7760

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.

Inspiration for uncertain older writers (like me!)

Where Crawdads Sing

Have you heard yet the story of Delia Owens? I happened across her story on CBS Sunday Morning yesterday and felt new encouragement. She’s 70 and a loner from way back. Her new and first novel is Where the Crawdads Sing, although she has published non-fiction before (like me). This novel is tough to categorize; it’s a love story, a murder mystery, a courtroom drama, and an ode to the outdoors – all in one. It took her the better part of a decade to write, inspiration coming whenever it came.

I love the way she waits for wisdom even in her sleep:

 “I sleep at night with a little pad of paper in my bed with a flashlight and a pen, and I wake up in the middle of the night and write something down,” she said. “Something that I think is brilliant! And then when I wake up in the morning I’ll look at it and half the time I can’t read what I wrote.” A thousand such moments became little scraps of gold, like this one:

“Sand keeps secrets much better than mud.” That one made it into her book.

I found her whole story so inspirational. I also constantly find ideas or quotes popping into my head, especially in the shower, the source of my greatest inspiration. I must have a million snippets of paper like that, and never use these in my books, and the freedom of writing fiction also excites me.

We’ll see if any of these ideas go anywhere, but in the meantime, I love the fantasy!

Puzzle, a near-perfect midlife movie!

If the best measure of the perfect story is to show realistically how the main character can change and grow, than this is the perfect product. I’m happy to see more films recently focused on introvert loners who blossom out into the world in a beautiful way, and this is one of those. We all have unique skills we may not know we have, this is that story.

Puzzle_(2018_film)Agnes (played by Kelly Macdonald) has had no opportunities to develop herself or her unique skills. She is a middle-aged housewife with no self-confidence living in a small town. She is devoted to her church and her husband and grown sons’ needs, hardly ever noticing her own. That is until she realizes how much she loves doing jigsaw puzzles. So she makes a trip into New York City to buy new puzzles, completely out of her comfort zone. While there she happens to see a sign requesting a puzzle pardner. Agnes is a true introvert, not comfortable with strangers, but she loves doing puzzles so much she takes a chance and meets up with Robert (played by Irrfan Khan).

They eventually enjoy many deep, intellectual conversations as Robert keeps encouraging Agnes to become her full Self, brilliant as she is. As he does her priorities change. She discovers the rebel within who soon becomes angry and assertive, discovering and caring most about her own needs for the first time in her life.

Who knew there is a national and world jigsaw puzzle competition? Who knew that “puzzles are a way to control the chaos of the randomness of the world.”

An appropriate sidelight: “Kelly Macdonald’s career began while she was working as a barmaid in Glasgow. She saw a leaflet advertising an open casting session for Trainspotting and decided to audition, winning the part of Diane…”

LOVED this great quote from Wikipedia about this film:

 “They [the puzzlers] fall in love out of their mutual respect and for the ability to see countless random events in their lives taking the shape of a perfect picture similar to the fragments of a jigsaw puzzle. This is due to their realization that at the end of the day there are only right choices no matter how many wrong pieces might have been fit into wrong places. This helps them to discover their inner selves…”  Wikipedia on Puzzle (2018)