My heart goes out to those who lost loved ones in the California Paradise Fire last November. I hope you were able to see Frontline last night, Fire in Paradise. I think it is important that the rest of us understand what some Americans have gone through and what they lost. In less than 4 hours a small fire that started 8 miles from Paradise engulfed the entire town from all directions. Many of the 40,000 residents simply did not believe the speed of this fire. Others tried to get out, but the roads were too jammed up to escape. Eighty-five Americans, most over age 65, died in this wildfire.
I felt a strong need to watch this episode of Frontline because we had our own wildfire here last July, and if not for our wonderful and amazing local firefighters, that town could have easily been La Veta, population 8-900.
The night that fire started, I sat in my bed and watched the fire jump from mountaintop to mountaintop across a couple valleys behind us. I could also see our local firefighters out there giving their all to contain that fire. The next day the National Guard was called in along with the Hot Shots and firefighters from around our nation. We were evacuated the next day for a week, as the fire jumped Highway 160 and came towards our new home. Our fire burned a total of 108,045 acres, and was the third-largest wildfire in Colorado history.
The residents of Paradise where not so lucky. They basically had no warning. The fire came flying into their town so fast and only half were warned properly by Code Red. But even then their roads were inadequate to evacuate the entire town in less than an hour. Imagine the fear and anguish.
Like most disasters, news reporters flash on a big story for a day or two and then we all forget, but not me. Every report from California and every single day of our latest series of three snowstorms here in southern Colorado remind me of how lucky we are to still be receiving large amounts of moisture. Yep. Fifteen inches of snow is fine with me!
In the past one hundred years, Americans have witnessed the greatest increase in life expectancy and longevity in human history. In 1935, when Social Security became a government program and established the retirement age at 65, the life expectancy for American men was 60 and for women, 64. Those born in the early twentieth century were not expected to live past age 65, and most didn’t. Life expectancy in the United States increased a full 20 years between 1930 and 2010. The average American today who lives to be age 65 is expected to survive well past 80.
It is difficult for most of us to fully comprehend how much the average life span has increased, even just in our own lifetime. The average lifespan for a man born in 1900 was only 48 years and 52 for women. It may help to recall how young most of our great-grandparents and grandparents were when they died. The dilemma becomes, what to do after we stop working full-time?
Senior Binge Drinking on the Rise
From the recent data, it sounds like binge drinking of alcohol is gaining popularity among Americans over 65. Now there’s something to do! Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more alcoholic drinks at one sitting. For this study, data was collected on nearly 11,000 U.S. adults 65 and older who took part in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health between 2015 and 2017. Of those, 10.6% had binged in the past month, the study found. That was up from previous studies. Between 2005 and 2014, between 7.7% and 9% of older Americans were binge drinkers. Blacks and people with less than a high school education were more likely to do so, researchers found.
Elder Suicides Continue to Increase
Another bit of data which came out last year from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showed that suicide rates for women 45 to 64 increased nearly 60% between 2000 and 2016. For men of the same age the suicide rate increased almost 37% over that time. Overall, suicide rates in the U.S. increased 30% between 2000 and 2016. A separate CDC analysis released this month found that suicides have risen in almost every state.
Were You Ever Taught How Not To Work?
It seems safe to say that many of us aren’t finding positive ways to enjoy our “golden years.” I think this is partially because we were never taught what to do with ourselves beyond working all day. In fact we never learned to value “not working” in productive, positive ways. The learning curve has been a little steep for me, and I worked freelance for a decade before we moved here to retire. How do we learn to love and value non-moneymaking endeavors?
I have learned from Mike the value of having a myriad of healthy avocations. I enjoy cooking, gardening, photography, meditation, reading and writing books, movies, yoga, weather research and other forms of freedom and creativity, but first I had to let go of my early lessons in extreme “productivity.” It took me quite a while to feel really OK about enjoying my hobbies thoroughly. I had to remember that no one was watching or judging me.
Why don’t you try doing what makes you feel creative and happy perhaps for the first time in your life. Experiment. Mess up sometimes. That is how we learn the most about what gets us going.
Learn how to take advantage of that extra decade or two you have available to you for the first time in human history!
This and many other lessons are available in my book:
After changing just about everything in my own life around age 50, I spent ten years studying the psychology of midlife change. In order to pass that learning on to my readers, I wrote this book. I had no idea back in 2004, when my own midlife mayhem began, that I was experiencing a perfectly normal and even healthy response to so many midlife challenges. I soon learned: Midlife is a new rite of passage for the human race, beginning with boomers.If you are willing to take some risks, you can change just about everything. However, some serious soul surgery and personal change will be required.
If you would like a paper copy please contact me at: MidlifeCrisisQueen@gmail.com
When everything else in life seems crazy, it’s back to the garden for me. I’m sure some of you can relate…. We have received some nice rain showers this July, bringing us up to 13.5 inches of rain so far this water year (October to September). Compared to last year’s 9 inches, we are doing great! So, what’s looking super happy in my garden right now?
The Blue Mist Spirea bushes for one! I have five of these because I found out last year how happy they can be here with no deer to bother them.
The Gallardia or Blanket Flower is also quite content. I have always had great luck with these nearly native orange and yellow plants. But this year I tried a new variety that is all red. I am quite pleased with the results! It just keeps on blooming.
Another shocker is that my native Mirabilis Multiflora or Colorado Four-O’clock is coming back again with a vengeance after a horrible time last summer with the wildfires around here. I have one plant (a taproot variety) on the edge of my garden, that was there before we started building here. Then when we hardscaped the garden this spring, I was afraid we had killed it, but nope. It’s a beauty again this year! Impossible to transplant, but also tough to kill.
Now do you see why I love gardening? With time and patience, there’s always something new to wonder about and be surprised by…
We all need distractions from the news and our lives in general, so how about some photos of my favorite plants? I know gardening is my favorite form of distraction, how about you? Since I wrote to you about gardening here at the beginning of May, we have received over two inches of moisture, some of it unfortunately as SNOW, but most of my new plants just said, “What, me worry?” and continued on because they are so sturdy and well-matched to this 7,000′ foothills environment.
One plant that is totally thriving is my catmint! Instead of delaying it’s bloom time, it’s saying, “Hey, look how tough I am!”
I see the Cholla cactus I started from a baby a few years ago is also looking happy. Some ask me why I would plant a cacti in or near my garden.
The answer is that when this starts blooming in a few years it could look like this! They are everywhere along I-25 between the New Mexico border and Colorado Springs. Watch them bloom in July!
I go out every morning to see how my garden grows, if the weather is sunny and it’s not blowing like hell out there. Rasta always accompanies me. His job is peeing on the plants or lying in the sun.
I still need to find a place for this BEAUTIFUL Columbine, our magnificent state flower!
Until then I’ll just keep dabbling in my sky garden. This place gives me so much JOY!
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.
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!
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
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?”
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…