It’s official! Our garden has a new name!

My garden is amazing to me this year! After the very dry spring of 2018, with evacuations and then a terrible wildfire, the Spring Fire burned over 100,000 acres, this spring has been a dream. Plants that I had almost forgotten about came back in full force! Plants that got eaten back by deer or bunnies came roaring back with no deer in sight.

Then my brother John, the self-proclaimed “dirt guy,” made a trip up here in May to finish up…

After a number of other trips up here from Sedona in the past few years to help us plan out and finish our new garden facing the Spanish Peaks, I decided to name this garden for him. He put a lot of heart and soul into his work here and it shows!

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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!

Is early retirement on your to do list?

They had a thought-provoking lead story on CBS Sunday Morning this week: “I quit! The joys of leaving your job for good” There they said more than half of Americans dream of saying, “Take this job and shove it!” One statement that was made was the realization by so many workers that we are all expendable, so why offer up our loyalty to the place where we work? I learned the hard way how that works in my last position as an academic librarian! But before you quit your job, here are some things to think about. The fantasy of quitting before normal retirement age should include:

  • Don’t have kids
  • Buy a small house or condo
  • No big, expensive vacations or fancy lifestyles
  • The ability to ignore all commercials!

I especially enjoyed a statement by a surgeon who quit her job in her 50s to pursue her love of art. I related to her best. The interviewer ask her how she felt when she left her job for the last time. She said, “They don’t control me anymore!” She had been saving half of her income for years to accomplish her goals. Her mother’s response was even more interesting, reflecting major generational differences. Instead of congratulating her, her mother was embarrassed and told her friends she had to quit because she was sick. The previous generation generally believes that winners don’t quit. I found this true of my parents too. They couldn’t believe we would be able to pull this off.

Mike and I were relieved of the tough decision to quit our last jobs in our 50s. Mike’s job in solar engineering got sent to China and I was fired by Regis University in Denver. I was devastated for less than a year, until I met Mike through my own dating service. We joined forced, determined to prove that those assholes weren’t going to get the best of us! Luckily we had checked all of the boxes above and saved like crazy starting in our early 20s, so we have been able to convert the lack of jobs into our own version of success. Moving to a beautiful, but less expensive area and building a direct gain solar home also helped a lot!

Our view in retirement

We completely agree with the guy in the CBS story who followed his gut and his dreams and said, “I would never go back.” In retrospect, we wouldn’t change a thing either…

What’s growing in my southern Colorado Foothills Garden?

Walker’s Low Catmint does great here, and so far no rodents have eaten it!

I have been establishing a rock flower garden with both native plants and local varieties for the past few years. I don’t dare raise vegetables and fruit here, mostly because of the extreme winds we get sitting here on the side of a ridge at 7,000 feet. It is not unusual for us to receive westerly winds over 60 mph. But in the summer the winds usually calm down and we are left with long, lovely warm days.

Rocky Mountain Penstemon around our birdbath, and BTW the birds really do bath in there!

I have had great luck also with Rocky Mountain Penstemon and Knautia Red Knight. They are both just about to bloom in spite of some very cool weather this spring. Last year the deer ate some of the blooms off so this year I will be patrolling the area!

A couple different types of Gallardia and Yarrow with some Lavender of course!

I’m trying out a few different colors and types of yarrow this spring. I have heard so many different things about the animals only liking one color of flower, so now I have yellow, red, and pink coming up, a veritable smorgasbord of deer food! I should also mention Blue Mist Spirea. It’s a small bush that seems to love it here. It’s a woody plant so no deer nibbles there. I heard a new theory recently, that animals don’t like to eat plants that give off a strong odor like herbs. Have you found this to be true?

This spring I went out and realized I had almost all purple flowers, so I’m making an effort to add new colors. I added a beautiful red Sunrose, some red Jupiter’s Beard, some cinquefoil and other yellow varieties. I’ll let you know how they do…

Finally, I added a new solar water fountain to my garden. What a great idea to let the sun keep it running, but you do have to add water everyday. We are amazed at how sensitive it is! The second you come between the sensor and the sun the pump stops.

We see everything from the largest raven to the tiniest hummingbird coming by everyday. We feed the birds and they do come!

In the summer of 2014, Mike and I sold our nice house in Fort Collins to move temporarily into an old miner’s home in Walsenburg, while constructing a passive solar home near the top of Navajo Ranch Estates west of Walsenburg Colorado. To learn more about downsizing to a tiny town and then living in the Colorado countryside, consider reading my book: A Memoir of Retirement: From Suburbia to Solar in Southern Colorado available from Amazon or directly from me at: MidlifeCrisisQueen@gmail.com

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, 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!


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.

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.