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.

Exciting new wildlife sightings!

Just a few days ago Mike was out hiking when he heard a loud sound just ten feet to his left.

He glanced over to see a deer struggling with a mountain lion on top of him! Mike was so stunned he stood there for about 20 seconds and then started walking away quickly. He never made eye contact with the big cat.

Last night Mike found a five foot snake out on our patio. Snakes might be just the thing to get rid of those varmits who keep eating my flowers!

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

Building a Southern Colorado Foothills Garden From Nothing – Summer Solstice 2020

So we have been living in rural southern Colorado for six years now, after a precipitous (on my part!) move down south from our nice home in suburban Fort Collins in June 2014. It took over a year to build our passive solar home here, because building in this rural area is DIFFICULT and agonizingly slow! Then came the garden…

Here is where we started out in 2015. Empty ground, which quickly turned into volunteer sunflowers and weeds in our first year here.

Four years later we are here.

The reason my garden is named after my brother John is because he came up from Arizona for a few years in a row to help us finish the hardscaping. He was here when we laid concrete out there. He was here the next May to help Mike lay out the stone walls…

John & Mike (above) finally laid down the gravel last May. Mike has also put his heart and soul into this project! And I should add, none of us have good backs in our mid-60s!

What a satisfying achievement though!

Through a few years of testing out a number of different native xeriscape plants, I have narrowed my selection down to those that actually survive the winters here and that terrible wind we get regularly.

Lavender and Spanish Peaks 2018.

Now I know what type of lavender luxuriates in this climate…

I also know Penstemons LOVE it here, as well as many kinds of birds, lizards, beetles, and butterflies!

A native Showy Four O’clock, Blue Mist Spirea, Yarrow, Red Knight Knautia and Catmint thrive here!

There have certainly been a number of frustrating moments in this process, but I love my garden now. It gives me GREAT and continuous JOY, especially in the spring & summer months…

BEAUTY IS THE GARDEN WHERE HOPE GROWS!

My Salute to Caregivers Everywhere!

One thing I have learned from first caring for my husband when we first met, is that providing care for those who need extra help almost always involves guilt of some kind.

So many of us understand the importance of this work…

Back when Mike and I first met, he suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) regularly. This meant trying to find doctors who understood this generally misunderstood and mistreated illness. The worst of the docs always blamed the victim by saying that CFS was caused my mental illness and had no biological basis. Thankfully the CDC eventually showed these MDs to be quite wrong. (Description of CFS at the CDC)

But in the meantime Mike had to go on regular short-term disability from his jobs. I had no previous experience with caring for others. I found that he generally felt guilty of having this terrible illness, and I felt guilty that I was not a more patient and compassionate caregiver.

Since moving down south six years ago, Mike’s health has improved dramatically. He rarely suffers days of CFS. And it’s a good thing because my health has gone downhill quickly. My main problems now are extreme hypoxia, defined as: “deprivation of adequate oxygen supply at the tissue level,” difficulties with consciousness and balance from a previous traumatic brain injury, and quickly failing eyesight (cataracts). And, I would like to add, DEPRESSION:

because I never had any major health problems before age 60. My how quickly things can and DO change! Luckily Mike is a marvelous caregiver! No guilt involved.

In addition to all of this, my Dad recently died from a short illness right before the announcement of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown in mid-March. This meant that my Mom, who had never lived alone in her 86 years of life, was suddenly quite alone and grieving terribly. Thankfully, my sister and her husband live nearby and provide every kind of loving care for her everyday. But with my health tenuous at best, (we have 3 known cases of Covid-19 in our county and over 20,000 in the Denver metro area where my Mom lives), I haven’t been able to go help out with my Mom’s care.

This means my sister is absolutely EXHAUSTED both physically and emotionally from helping Mom out day-to-day while I sit down south feeling breathless and guilty. I’m sure you can imagine how all this feels for both of us…

She does not blame me or anyone else, she and her husband are just completely worn out! There must be so many of you who are living through similar circumstances right now, with no easy answers, but lots of difficult circumstances to deal with everyday.

That is why I feel the need to salute all of you who have put your own life on hold while you care for the millions of friends and family members who desperately need your help. I love every single one of you for your bravery and dedication!

“The Last Full Measure” is an important Vietnam War story

This is a very well-made film worth seeing if you still remember what the Vietnam War meant in our history. If you know nothing about this war, even better!

I was born in 1955 and I can honestly say, nothing in American history impacted my young life more than the war in Vietnam. Those born in 1955 were the first who did not have to deal with “the lottery”, a government program that determined by birth date whether you might soon be drafted and sent to Vietnam to fight. So many men I have known throughout my life experienced this war first hand, and none were the same afterwards.

In my generation there was a dividing line between those who believed in this war and those who abhorred it. Certainly you must have heard about or seen the protests in the 1960s and 70s. “Oh no, we won’t go!” So I wasn’t too sure I wanted to watch the 2019 film “The Last Full Measure,” but I’m very glad I did.

Remember: I HATE war movies and I also hate thinking about what happened in Vietnam… But I still highly recommend this film!

This is the true story of how William H. Pitsenbarger, an Air Force medic, personally saved over sixty men during a rescue mission over Vietnam on April 11, 1966. Pits (as he was called) willingly chose to leave the relative safety of his rescue chopper to aid men on the ground when he saw how bad the situation below had become. When the medic below was killed, he put himself at great risk to do everything he could to help his fellow soldiers. After saving many, he was ordered to escape on the last helicopter out of a combat zone, but chose to stay behind to save and defend the lives of the men of the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division, before making the ultimate sacrifice in one of the bloodiest battles of the war.

The story behind this story is the present day efforts of a Pentagon staffer to investigate why Pitsenbarger never received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Scott Huffman, who at first did not want this messy assignment, ended up putting in his best full measure to right this historical wrong. He spent months tracking down the men who were saved by Pitsenbarger’s bravery, spending the time to understand their true trauma and sacrifice.

This is a very well-made film worth seeing if you still remember what the Vietnam War meant in our history. If you know nothing about it, even better!

All of the performances by actors like William Hurt, Ed Harris, Samuel L. Jackson and Peter Fonda’s last performance in a film, reminded me of the conflicts and contradictions we Americans experienced by being involved in Vietnam. And I must add, Christopher Plummer’s performance as the father of the hero in this story, reminded me so much of my recently deceased father.

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!

Garden Notes – Critter Control!

After five years living here, on the edge of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains at 7,000 feet, I’m beginning to see that my critter problems will change from year to year. Part of the problem is that I have to continually guess who the culprit is. Then I have to figure out what plants they won’t eat.

In the first year or two the most obvious culprits were the deer. They would amble up here and graze for a while, partially because we had a water source (bird bath) and it is super dry around here. We decided to add a small water source down below the garden, and then this year Mike made a few wind sculptures and placed them in the garden. Presto chango, no more deer!

Then we noticed the portulacas being eaten, but that was easy to fix. Just place them a foot or two off the ground. Bunnies don’t seem to bother plants above ground level. A couple of years later we had two squirrels. I do not like squirrels, so we made them uncomfortable enough to leave.

June 2019 record blooms!

Last summer was great. We had so much rain in the spring that nothing seemed to threaten my plants! This May is a different story. With the dry conditions we have chipmunks for the first time I can remember. They seem to have the most annoying habit. Instead of eating my plants, they just eat the FLOWERS! OK, let me get this straight, I wait for a whole year to see a little bit of color out there and right before I get to see my flowers, THEY EAT THEM! This is all out war! They especially love portulaca flowers, but they aren’t too picky. Anything down at their level they eat. They apparently can even climb up a few feet to access flowers.

Luckily I have an amazingly talented and creative partner to help me. Last evening Mike designed and made a wire cage to protect my flowers in a large wooden planter he also made a few years ago. It is on a hinge and he even plans to make a lock if we need it. Take that you nasty but adorable varmits!

Unfortunately, every morning I must go out to see what’s been eaten lately. For example, I’ve had gaillardia plants out there for a couple years now, but this spring SOMEONE is eating off the flowers right as they start to come out. Mike made a cage for that plant too. I’m hoping we won’t need the covers forever, but that’s what we have to do for now. Does anybody have advice about scaring the chipmunks away? Mike has tried shooting bb’s at them to no avail… Please help. I have never had this problem before!