Retirement in rural southern Colorado: If you don’t take the risk, how will you ever know?

Four years ago, on June 17th, Mike and I sold our nice home in suburbia and left behind everything familiar to us. After living up in the Fort Collins area for the past few decades, this move felt like a gigantic leap of faith.

906 Deer Creek Lane front view

Here’s a photo of our past home in south Fort Collins. In the past four years it has increased in value more than $100,000! Wow, the prices of homes up in metroland are growing by leaps and bounds!

morning sun on comanche drive

After over a year of emotional and financial struggle, we triumphed over a million difficult challenges to create this passive solar home west of Walsenburg Colorado. We have been quite happy living here for the past few years. Retirement agrees with us, and especially in such a quiet, natural part of the West. BTW, passive solar works great down here!

Most of my worries about moving here never came to pass, and other completely unexpected problems replaced those. The biggest challenges for me have been health-related. My body made a quick decision to start falling apart soon after age 60, creating new opportunities for compassion towards others who suffer. And the truth is, I have met so many here who have been forced to retire early because of health concerns and disabilities.

great Mike photo of snow and Spanish Peaks

Huerfano, meaning orphan, is a poor, rural county down near the New Mexico border, with a total population of around 6,500 and an average age of 54 years. With few good jobs and an abundance of natural beauty, the Huerfano attracts those with less money and more appreciation of rugged country and rural life. We live on three acres in the Pinon-Juniper ecosystem right around 7,000 feet elevation.

Judging by the rapid increase in traffic in Walsenburg, the many homes sold here in the past few years, and how crazy Highway 160 has become in the summer, it looks like this area has been “discovered” by those living up north in metroland.

AMAZING sunrise over the Spanish Peaks January 2018

We have found this area to be slow and quiet, especially in the winter, and windy as hell. If you hate the wind, don’t move here! The slow country ways are what now attract me. I can go into La Veta and always see people I know. I like that.

Laura and Rasta on insulation 2014 (2)

Laura Lee Carter is a professional photographer, writer and psychotherapist. Her midlife crisis included a divorce and the loss of her career as an academic librarian, misfortunes she now finds supremely fortuitous, as everything wonderful flowed from these challenges. Laura now sees midlife difficulties as once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for personal liberation. She has produced four books and one workbook on personal change, midlife psychology and how country living changes you.

Don’t miss her new one: A Memoir of Retirement: From Suburbia to Solar in Southern Colorado

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Why take major risks in midlife?

Mike at home

Mike woke up one day after we moved in, went straight outside and did this!

I met a nice couple who just moved in below us on Tuesday. They are like us, newlyweds in their 60s from the metro area up north. They came by to explore their new neighborhood, although in our case the homes are pretty far apart. I showed them my memoir about the tough process we went through when we first got here and they bought one.

Then I started reading my memoir again. How time flies! It’s been almost four years now since we plopped ourselves down in Walsenburg, and started building west of town. And yes, an author can actually forget what they wrote a few years ago.

Although certainly imperfect, this book is an honest and funny account of my experiences in a part of our country which at first felt a bit like a foreign land. Building here was fraught with major challenges. In case you don’t know, one definition of fraught is: “causing great anxiety or stress.”

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you now imagine.  – Thoreau

Why did we do it? Here’s a short essay from my book that explains everything:

The American Dream In Progress  –   March 6, 2015

I am surprised how much interest there is in building solar in rural America. My views on this blog have increased dramatically recently, and that includes views from all over the world.

But then I got to thinking, and realized the dream we are presently pursuing is the most fundamental of all. The immigrants who risked everything to come to America did so just to be able to purchase their own land and build a new life here. Having your own piece of land is, in a sense, what this country is all about.

Mike on old tree up at build site 2014

Mike on an ancient cedar before we had to cut it down!

This realization makes me very happy and proud. My husband Mike has held this dream for most of his life. Building a passive solar home has been his primary goal since he was a teenager. Now we almost have our home completed, and in spite of the many unexpected difficulties and inconveniences that have arisen in this process, we will soon be living the life we only dreamt of last year.

Hold on to your dreams! Don’t give up when those dreams require taking risks that scare you. Don’t let others talk you out of your most important goals. You have the needed vision to live your dream.

“The person who says it cannot be done, should not interrupt the person doing it.” –  Chinese proverb 

Do YOU have what it takes to follow your dreams? Check out my memoir…  and please follow me on Twitter!

The Redemptive Power of Love

I woke up this morning just in time to hear the end of the wonderful talk by Reverend Michael Curry at the Royal Wedding of Harry and Meghan Markle:

“Dr. King was right: ‘We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we discover that, we will be able to make of this old world a new world.                                   Love is the only way.’ ”

This has also been my experience with love. When I finally found true love at age 49, I somehow felt redeemed. To redeem means “to make an unpleasant thing or person feel better or more acceptable.”

Laura and Mike Wedding Day 2005

Mike and I on our wedding day. Just like a couple of kids…

I had never felt true love from another my entire life. There had always been reasons why I was not acceptable to those I had loved in my past. That is why it felt so magical to me when Mike embraced all of me as just right! And even now, thirteen years later I still feel loved, appreciated and accepted every day of my life. And to think this all started on a blind date eight months earlier…

Love is an amazing way to change your world. Love like this was the most important piece that was missing from my life, and when I decided that and then began focusing wholeheartedly on that goal, it happened! Like magic we met and knew very quickly that we had met our true match FINALLY!

How to Believe in Love Again! blog sizeA few years later I wrote my book: “How To Believe In Love Again” to help others realize this universal truth through love. It is so easy to get distracted by other goals and not realize that love can complete your life. Especially as we age we know what matters and what does not. Without Mike’s love so many of my other goals would not have come to fruition. Because of his support both emotionally and financially, I had the time, courage and audacity to reach one of my most important dreams. I became a writer and author. Then, with his technical skills and the power of his own dreams, we were able to build a passive solar home looking at the Spanish Peaks.

Yes, love can help you build your dreams and create so many more, and it is also so wonderful to feel that daily support from another human being who stands by you no matter what.

What the heart has once known, it shall never forget…

Earth Day in the USA: Love Your Mother

earth day

On January 28, 1969, a well drilled by Union Oil Platform A off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, blew out. More than three million gallons of oil spewed, killing over 10,000 seabirds, dolphins, seals, and sea lions. As a reaction to this natural disaster, activists were mobilized to create environmental regulation, environmental education, and Earth Day. Among the proponents of Earth Day were the people in the front lines of fighting this disaster, Selma Rubin, Marc McGinnes, and Bud Bottoms, founder of Get Oil Out.

Earth Day 1970

The first Earth Day celebrations took place in 1970 at two thousand colleges and universities, roughly ten thousand primary and secondary schools, and hundreds of communities across the United States. It also brought 20 million Americans out into the spring sunshine for peaceful demonstrations in favor of environmental reform. It now is observed in 192 countries, and coordinated by the nonprofit Earth Day Network, chaired by the first Earth Day 1970 organizer Denis Hayes, according to whom Earth Day is now “the largest secular holiday in the world, celebrated by more than a billion people every year.” Environmental groups seek to make Earth Day into a day of action to change human behavior and provoke policy changes.

Why Earth Day Today?

Because the earth needs us now more than ever! And since we’re fresh out of other planets to live on, now is as good a time as ever to do everything we can to preserve the miracle of this green and blue planet. Go solar! Use wind power. Change old habits that hurt the earth. You could probably name ten things today that would benefit Mother Earth immediately. Do it instead of just thinking about it!

big earth

What does the future hold? It’s all up to us!

 

Now that I’ve gotten used to being ‘old’…

An elder friend told me years ago, ‘old’ is always ten years older than you are right now! Actually, I still do struggle with the apparent fact that I am now 63 years old. In my mind people in their sixties are like my grandparents. They are retired, checked out of the work world. I barely remember my grandparents before they retired. I mostly remember them as elderly folks who hung out a lot watching TV. This all reminds me of how different and out of it I must seem to kids today.

I’m beginning to think I’m the last person on planet earth who has never owned a “smart” phone and never really needed one.

I still communicate with my friends through e-mail to set up dates, etc. It works and does not add all those additional monthly expenses for mobile phones. I suppose my thrifty nature has made it possible for us to retire early… But then you do run into the whole, “What do you do with your life now?” question.

First of all, anything would be better than my life back in 2004 when I lost my last job. I was driving a hour each way to Denver to work at Regis University Libraries. I swear I’m still suffering from back and shoulder pain from that daily trek down I-25 to a job I hated, with people who apparently hated me. After six years I got fired in a way that felt like the end of life itself.

That turned out to be the best thing ever! Yes, my life since then has been the perfect example of this Chinese parable from 2,000 years ago:

A Chinese farmer gets a beautiful horse, but it soon runs away. A neighbor says, “That’s bad!” The farmer replies, “Good news, bad news, who can say?”

The horse comes back and brings another horse with him. Good news, you might say. 

The farmer gives the second horse to his son, who rides it, but is then thrown and breaks his leg.

“So sorry for your bad news,” says the concerned neighbor. “Good news, bad news, who can say?” the farmer replies.

In a week or so, the emperor’s men come and take every able-bodied young man to fight in a war. The farmer’s son is spared...

Proving once again that nothing is as it seems at the time. From my first (and ONLY!) firing as a professional librarian at age 49, I learned that it’s best not to get too hung up on what happened today. Even something that seems like the worst EVER can turn out to be a hidden opportunity to improve your life!

320 W. 2nd St. Walsenburg

Our Walsenburg rental, an 100-year-old miner’s home!

My best example of this is four years ago when we moved down here to build solar in the foothills. When we first got here I was not certain this was such a great idea. Moving from an up-and-coming city like Fort Collins to a poor, quiet, rundown town like Walsenburg left me thinking,

“Is this a bad thing? Have I lost my mind?”

Laura and Rasta on insulation 2014 (2)

But resilience and patience got us through the difficult adjustment and building stage, and today I am supremely happy to be here now.

Lesson to Myself: Allow LOTS of time for personal adjustment around major life changes.

IMGP7091

One new hobby I took up after moving here, photography!

And yes, we do find excellent ways to spend our days, even in retirement. We have learned to enjoy a much slower pace with lots of time to just be. I have also learned how to truly live in the present.

If you can find a better way to live your life, go for it!

“There’s nothing sweeter than falling in love with the moment we’re given, the only one we have.”  — Marcia Smalley

 

Why we decided to stay in Colorado for retirement

Another short entry from my Memoir of Retirement: From Suburbia to Solar in Southern Colorado.

AMAZING sunrise over the Spanish Peaks January 2018

Amazing sunrise from our new passive solar rural home in southern Colorado

I wrote this on May 7th 2014:

Many of you may be like us, making some big decisions about where and when to retire. We just signed a contract yesterday to sell our home in Fort Collins, and move south in the next month or so.

When we started thinking about this major change, we chose to remain in Colorado for a number of reasons.

We were looking for inexpensive land to build a solar home with great views and a cleaner, quieter, calmer existence. We found that in the rural southern part of our state.

Then I just found out this week that in terms of medical care and finances we made a very good choice!

First of all, Colorado ranks in the top quartile in healthcare systems nationally, beating out all other western states. Then I saw a new Bankrate.com financial survey announcing the best states to retire to. Colorado ranks number two, only after South Dakota.

Here’s a quote from that article:  “Colorado gets above-average marks for cost of living, crime rate, health care quality and taxes. The Gallup-Healthways survey finds that the well-being of Colorado residents ranks among the highest in the nation.”

The first thing you need to know about Colorado is how different parts of the state really are. Most Coloradans live in what we call “the front range” cities like Fort Collins, Boulder, Denver and Colorado Springs.  Then there are the mountains which are beautiful, but cold, snowy and generally an expensive place to live.

I have spent most of my life living in Colorado Springs, Boulder and Fort Collins, and to my mind, a city is a city in terms of their ever increasing cost of living, overcrowding, traffic, pollution and quality of life. After living the past nineteen years in the Fort Collins area, I can say these are our worst problems, and they are not going to get any better ever.

Mike at home

Mike is ecstatic to move out of the city and have this view everyday!

The rest of the state is rural and quite different than “the front range.” The eastern plains are mainly small farming communities and the mountains have few good job opportunities. We have chosen to put down new roots in a rural area west of Interstate 25. We have found the perfect perch for our custom, passive solar home. 

Postscript: I would only add that the average household income for some place like Fort Collins is near $60,000 now, while the average down here in Huerfano County is around $33,000. Colorado exhibits quite a wide range of income levels. You don’t need to be rich to live here, only in the big cities like Denver, Fort Collins, etc.

The hidden purpose of my new memoir: Convincing your pardner to love rural!

I decided to write a memoir of the process Mike and I went through around age 60, as we were going through it. I thought, we can’t be the only ones thinking about leaving city life behind for retirement, hoping to find a quiet, peaceful sustainable life in some beautiful rural area.

horsetooth in summer

Horsetooth Reservoir up above Fort Collins, Colorado!

As we put this plan into action and bought three acres west of Walsenburg to build our passive solar home at the beginning of 2014, I discovered that Mike was MUCH MORE CERTAIN than I was about this whole plan! He felt certain that he wanted to leave the city behind regardless of our old friendships back in Fort Collins, and the services and predictability of city life. This plan was suddenly coming together far faster than I could assimilate! I knew I loved visiting down south, but was I ready to give up everything I knew to move there?

320 w. 2nd St. Walsenburg July 2014

Walsenburg rental we lived in while building our home west of here

After we moved into our rental for the building process, I learned that many wives felt the same way initially about pulling up their roots and going completely rural. The men seemed to know what they wanted, but the women were more careful or hesitant to move to a rural area. Much like I felt at first that our new homestead was rather “isolated” other women I met felt the same. Luckily I totally trusted Mike’s sense of place and his unique abilities to make this home the best of my entire life.

But I just realized yesterday that my memoir is especially suited for wives or partners who want to move somewhere wild and rural, to show them the process I went through. I certainly changed my mind as the building went on…

At first I was so scared and uncertain of this choice we were making, mainly because we needed to sell our suburban home to afford the construction of our new solar home. There was really no way to go back on this deal if I ended up not liking it! It did feel really risky to me, but not to Mike.

morning sun on comanche drive

Our new home at sunrise!

I found that very quickly after we moved into our new home about one year after moving to Walsenburg, I loved it here. The silence, the natural beauty, the amazing sunrises and the big sky feeling… what’s not to love about that?

It just took me a while to adjust my vision and expectations and QUIT WORRYING SO MUCH ABOUT EVERYTHING!

So, for any of you who want to convince your pardner to move to a more rural part of the country. This book might really help!