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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What makes us who we are today?

I was struck the other day by this quote from Dr. Phillip McGraw. In my opinion, “Dr. Phil” is a wise man disguised as a TV personality.

“What I’m doing now is a culmination of everything I’ve ever done”

I have been in the midst of a “career” change for the past few years, since moving out into the Colorado countryside. I know, how can you change careers when you are already retired? But in some ways this change is more important to me than anything I did back when I was struggling to make a living.

That quote from Dr. Phil made me start thinking about the lifetime of influences that have brought me to this exact moment in time. I never gave much thought to the major influence my father has had on my interests until now. He has been an influential botanist, president of the National Association of Biology Teachers at one time, and author of some important books like “Trees and Shrubs of Colorado.” So, is that why I love living in nature and gardening at 7,000 feet with native plants now?

My Mom became a master of plant photography and Photoshop to assist my Dad in his book production. They together created “Common Southwestern Native Plants,” a lovely identification guide. Oh, maybe that is why I have recently decided to focus my future energies on photography.

The West Peak from the La Veta Public Library, 4/18/19

I believe we sometimes try to make our lives more complex than they really are. Look around you? What is influencing your world view right now? What is so close you almost don’t see it? Is that what you should turn your attention to right now, while you still can?

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.

BIRTHDAY JOY and how to get some!

Some might say celebrating turning 64 is crazy. What can be great about being 64? Number one, I made it this far without losing too many parts or major skills. There’s something to celebrate! Second, my Mom (who is 85!) is thrilled. And finally, we already have social security and Medicare is coming soon, hopefully before Trump kills off our Obamacare.

But in my case I have found a number of other things to celebrate. For one, the guy who has been making everybody miserable around here has finally sold his house and moved away! YES! And it’s almost springtime in the Rockies too! My tiny perennials are showing signs of new life after a cold, windy winter.

In the meantime, I feel complete gratitude for the sun coming back our way for another spring and summer. It doesn’t take much to make me happy, especially when I live in a solar home!

“What’s it like to move to the Colorado countryside to build solar?”

A Memoir of Retirement: From Suburbia to Solar in Southern Colorado by Laura Lee Carter, M.A. Librarianship, History and Transpersonal Counseling, is a book that attempts to answer that question…

In June 2014 we packed up or got rid of most of our worldly goods, sold our nice house in suburbia (Fort Collins) and took off to stay in an old miner’s cabin, while we built a direct-gain passive solar home with spectacular views of the Sangre de Cristos, west of Walsenburg, Colorado…

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?

“The Bookshop” is a lovely little film

Although I have no intention of turning this blog into a book and film review center, I just keep seeing so many wonderful small films I cannot quit thinking about. You see, I have to wait until these films become available through my local public library before I can enjoy them. I admit that I’m behind the times, but that does not diminish my enjoyment. Yesterday, I found this 2017 drama written and directed by Isabel Coixet and based on the novel of the same name by Penelope Fitzgerald, brought back so many poignant memories from my own life.

the Bookshop 2017Set in the small coastal town of Hardborough, Suffolk, in 1950s England, Florence Green, a WWII widow, sets her sights on making her home and opening a small bookshop in an old, abandoned property. This has always been her dream. Along the way we observe the ins and outs of being new to a small village much like my own experiences since we moved here in 2014. She does make a few good friends, most notably an old, bookish recluse gentlemen played by one of my favorite actors, Bill Nighy (he reminds me of my husband a bit) and a young girl named Christine, who she hires to assist her in her shop.

From the very beginning the scenes in this film remind me of my upbringing and lessons learned. At the beginning Florence has a special dress made to wear to a party put on by one of the richest and most influential local residents, Mrs. Gamart. Her dressmaker convinces her that this red dress is just the thing, in spite of her inner wisdom that says no. At the party Florence is completely uncomfortable and conspicuous in her red attire, reminding me of my Mom’s advice from time immemorial: good girls don’t wear red.

The young girl Florence hires to help her, Christine, reminded me of myself around her age, especially her belief that “boys are repulsive.” In the end, the innocent Florence, who is full of pluck and courage as she pursues her life goal, must learn the hard way how horrible some people can be, reminding me of how appalled I was when I was fired from my final job as a reference librarian at Regis University in 2004.

cool brain bookshelfFrom the very beginning of this film I was reminded how strongly I feel about promoting intelligence and freedom of information, going back to my first jobs as a Government Information Librarian in the 1980s. I see myself now as a crusader for books, the power of words, writing, knowledge and intelligence. I have found that there can be a tendency, especially in small towns and in rural America, to criticize those who are better educated. This does not serve any of us.

Education is the only way for us to maintain a healthy democracy. Ignorance is NOT bliss.

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.