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!

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!

Garden Notes – Mid-May 2020

My Sky Garden is developing very slowly this spring. We just aren’t receiving the 5+ inches of rain we got last March, April and May. I’m adding new plants everyday, but they develop so slowly!

My garden last May!

I took a trip up to Perennial Favorites on opening day, May 1st, and bought mostly plants that I had previous success with like Catmint, Penstemon Strictus, Yellow Yarrow, Blue Mist Spirea, Turkish Veronica and Gaillardia plus a few alternative Penstemons, Jupiter’s Beard, and Cinquefoil. I’m even taking a chance on a drought tolerant Honeysuckle this year!

This part of my garden has two native volunteers, penstemons & yucca

This spring we have received less than two inches so far, and May is not looking promising, so far just lots of wind. YUCK!

My Portulacas from last summer!

The only annual I buy is Portulacas. When I first moved here the rabbits would eat these if they could reach them. Now I have a new problem, chipmunks who climb up and eat all the flowers off. GRRRRR…. And that’s even when they are three feet off the ground! Mike says he can help me solve that problem.

If only I controlled the weather & the critters, my sky garden would look like this again!

What we did not learn from the Native American traditions

“Doctor my eyes, I cannot see the sky. Is this the price for having learned how not to cry?” -Jackson Browne

Losing my father has brought up so many new thoughts about my upbringing. Strange how I feel freer to question all this after his death. Lately I feel like I may have been raised in the wrong family at the wrong time in history. What has stimulated this thought? Watching a new series called “Native America” on PBS. I can highly recommend it!

When I started watching this program I got lost in it immediately. Everything they were saying rang true and captured my imagination. Did I mention the first stories I ever enjoyed reading, writing or drawing were about Native Americans and their ponies?

Native American creation stories are wonderful. So much imagination, something I was not allowed as a child...

Most importantly, the concept our European-American culture has so completely missed is that we should all see ourselves as ‘Caretakers of the Earth.’

How can we honor our true Mother? By taking good care of her.

I also so related to the first episode: “From Caves to Cosmos.” It is about how the ancient Amazon Peoples slowly migrated up through the Americas, always seeking the right place, or what they called “the center place.” This is the place where we feel most centered with the landscape, the weather and the cosmos. I never completely understood this concept until I found my ‘center place’ here in southern Colorado. This is a spiritual concept, not to be understood until you feel it viscerally. I felt I had to write down this phrase immediately:

“When you enter a new landscape, you become a new kind of person.”

This best describes how different I felt after settling into our high desert perch. I felt at home in a way I could not even have fathomed before. The silence, the direct connection with nature, the overwhelming sense of belonging, were instantly clear to me.

The other concept our culture has so woefully forgotten or ignored is a strong and positive sense of community. When we confronted those ‘savage’ Native Americans, we were well into the “ruggedly independent” American phase, especially out West, the Manifest Destiny and all that crap. We saw ourselves as stronger and smarter so we should certainly defeat these weaker Native peoples. Of course we weren’t the only country who massacred or subjugated indigenous tribes. It happened all over the world with colonialism. That does not, however, make it a good thing!

In fact, I see so many of our cultures’ worst problems being caused by no sense of community or belonging. The epidemic of loneliness, drug addiction and now high levels of suicide reflect how alone so many of us feel in a culture that encourages independence instead of interdependence. I was raise to be super independent and it took many decades and a lot of counseling for me to realize that this strong sense of independence and lack of trust was not serving me. I found my life far too lonely so I changed.

We have lost and continue to lose so much wisdom by ignoring the teachings of the Native Americans who are left on this earth. This PBS series is proof of that. See it and expand your mind. While you’re at it, send PBS some money so we can continue to enjoy these alternative viewpoints.

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!

Does solitude ever feel like a gift?

In these trying times, it is possible to begin to perceive so much extra time alone as a gift, like when I lost my job back in 2004. That is when I started writing my book Midlife Magic: Becoming the Person YOU are Inside!

Here is a brief chapter from that book entitled simply “Solitude”

“And you, when will you begin that
long journey into yourself?” — Rumi

Loneliness scares most of us quite a bit; in fact, it may be our greatest fear. But I believe there’s a lot of power in knowing that you can live alone successfully.

Living alone for a few years, especially during or after a major life transition, allows us the time to process change. We finally have some time to breathe and search within for what’s missing or what definitely needs to change. As luck would have it, midlife often offers this time to rest up from relating to others constantly. Divorce, a loved one’s death, unemployment, an empty nest, or some combination of these common midlife circumstances can offer a natural breather to sit back and take a hard look at ourselves and where we are.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been constantly distracted by the needs of others. As natural caretakers, we just can’t stop tending to the needs of those around us, even when we aren’t being asked for help. That is why it’s so important now to find a way to spend some time completely alone.

Your tendency may be to immediately find new distractions, new people to care for. Fight that impulse. After a lifetime of chaos and caring for others constantly, this is a very important time for you to be alone, as scary as it may feel at times. How else will you have the time and fortitude to face yourself squarely and ask some tough questions about your previous choices and your future?

Introspection demands solitude and time. This may be why many of us never truly get to know ourselves until midlife, if ever. It takes a lifetime to know ourselves well. The only way to your true self is through contemplation. No shortcuts are available on this one. You may find that a good therapist is a great guide at this time, but the heavy lifting must be done by you. This is the beginning of self-responsibility. Up to now, life has just happened, and in the chaos of it all you’ve done the best you could. Now, if you choose, you can take full responsibility for your life, for your own process, for all future choices, and for your own solitude.

Why is solitude so important? We cannot learn and grow without personally processing what we alone have experienced within the context of our own lives. No one else understands our own internal experiences of loss and alienation quite like we do, and no one else processes these experiences into wisdom like we can.

Without personal processing at a deep level, we will continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. We all go through periods of crisis—major changes, intense difficulties—as we age. It’s best if we can intersperse these episodes with periods of solitude and deep learning, to integrate and consolidate what we have experienced in preparation for a new learning cycle.

If we learn with each cycle, we become wiser and more able to cope with the next difficulty. If we never stop and spend time alone to integrate lessons learned, we cannot accumulate wisdom or the ability to live a more comfortable life with more supple and adaptive coping skills.

Please contact me at MidlifeCrisisQueen@gmail.com to purchase copies of any of my books.

E-book and some paperback versions are available through Amazon

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…