Remodeling and Midlife

Find Your Reason Cover smallI had an interesting exchange this week with The HerStory Project, a website requesting pitches from women who are experiencing “the realities of getting older” and offering support to Gen X women in midlife. They also requested informational pieces so I offered to write a piece about what midlife is, why it is particularly important to us today, and its psychological impact and implications. I thought they would benefit from the older perspective, a scholar and therapist who has done extensive research on this topic. They weren’t interested…   What could this older woman know about midlife mayhem and personal change?  My response:  Learn from those who have gone before you!

Here’s a piece I wrote four years ago on this topic, in the midst of remodeling our suburban home in preparation for our move south to build passive solar.

Find this piece and many others in my Memoir of Retirement: From Suburbia to Solar in Southern Colorado…

Remodeling and Menopause, April 20, 2014

I have had three conversations in the past three days with midlife women who are remodeling their homes, and that includes me! What is it about menopause and remodeling? I, of course, have my own theories on this…

Midlife means time to change, and what better place to begin than changing something in your immediate surroundings?

My divorce at age 49 stimulated all sorts of major changes for me, mostly because I had to move into a much smaller and older home. OK, let’s just call it dumpy.  My saving grace after my divorce was slowly fixing up my home bit by bit as I could afford it. I started with small improvements like a new native plants garden, a solar tube for more natural lighting and carpeting…

sunroom before

and ended up turning a nasty old south-facing screened-in porch…

Sunroom looking towards back

into a lovely new sun room. I added square footage to my home while also bringing down my heating bills… Such a deal!

More importantly, my new sun room was just the thing for improving my mental health. The whole experience made me feel happy, productive and creative, plus it showed me I had the power to build a much more positive future for myself.

My new sun room made me say: “Look how you took an ugly space and turned it into a thing of beauty!” 

Sunroom after

You could find me there every morning surrounded by my many blooming succulents with my sheltie dogs by my side, journaling and reading fun and empowering books about creativity and midlife change as I considered what was next for me.

That beautiful, quiet space became a source of great courage and creativity. It became the perfect place to plan my new life!  I felt so safe and secure ensconced in that solid new room created especially for me, by me.

Ten years later I can see how important that physical change was to my overall perspective. I see now how the choices I made back then increased my confidence, while enhancing my power to change everything else in my life.

Remodeling and solar power taught me how to dream again, eventually leading to meeting a great man who shared my dreams, and building our beautiful passive solar home in rural southern Colorado!

Never underestimate the power of a midlife attitude adjustment to change EVERYTHING!

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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.

Why we moved to the country to retire

For some reason this spring I keep flashing back to four years ago when we were still living in suburbia in Fort Collins and preparing to move down here to build our solar home…

Here’s an excerpt from my Memoir of Retirement:

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I saw a stupid retirement TV commercial last night that really got me thinking. The question was:

Can you keep your lifestyle in retirement?  

Say what? It suddenly struck me that this may be the most important difference between those of us facing retirement in the next few years. I for one have NO intention of keeping this lifestyle. If we did, what would be the point of retirement?

My dream retirement involves escaping this lifestyle! I feel that I have become ‘metro-fied,’ and I’m now more than ready for a peaceful escape from my present lifestyle.

I have lived in metropolitan areas for most of my adult life, for access to good jobs. What I have observed is ever increasing crowding, pollution, traffic and aggressive behavior.

beginning to build on the slab comanche drive

Construction begins on our new solar home facing the Spanish Peaks!

What I now long for is a quieter more peaceful existence with just a few people per square mile, where we can enjoy a friendly, caring sense of community; a place where we can make new friends through our daily lives.

We know and accept that this will involve a major lifestyle change, and we are ready for that. No traffic sounds great to us in exchange for less shopping convenience. Valuing and having time for new relationships is what we seek, not more of the same overcrowding, air pollution and road rage.

As I sit in the constant traffic in Fort Collins or Denver these days, I can only think, “This is never going to get better!” People will continue moving here and traffic will keep increasing every year, and I do not want to spend one more precious moment of my life sitting in traffic.

We want out of this lifestyle, the sooner the better!

Postscript four years later…I WAS SO RIGHT ABOUT THIS!

 

Passive Solar Heating: The Basics

It has become abundantly clear, from your many comments, that most do not understand what passive solar heating means. Passive solar means there are no solar panels or any electricity involved in the creation and retention of heat within a building. The heat is created only by passive means of collecting energy from the sun and then retention of that heat by the physical structure of the home.

How is this done?

beginning to build on the slab comanche drive

Number 1: The positioning of the structure is essential. Mike made certain that our home was positioned facing directly south, with a whole wall of the correct type of glass doors and windows. In our case that included incredible views of the Spanish Peaks! You need full sun exposure on that side of the house. No trees, buildings, or other obstructions.

Number 2: In a passive solar home, the slab of concrete the home is placed on must be the heat-sink type and FULLY insulated from the earth. If it is not, the heat will come into the home during the day, sink into the foundation, and leak out of the slab, leaving the home cold at night when heat is most needed.

slab and framing of comanche drive

Number 3: Excellent insulation in the walls and ceiling of the home are essential. Holding the heat in once it enters the home is the only way it can remain warm when it is zero degrees outside. The home must be close to air-tight with quality doors and windows. Your floor must also be some sort of dark tile to help absorb more heat during the day.

new windows with Mike and Lee in photo

A view of the south-facing wall during construction

Number 4: Although the sun will be directly overhead in summer, proper overhangs on the south side of the home are essential to keep the sun from coming into the home too early in the fall. Mike also positioned our south-side overhang so that they are the correct size and angle to add solar panels later if needed.

Our home has very few windows on the north side, but a few on the east and west ends to absorb the morning and evening sun. We absorb solar heat most days in the winter, store it in our slab and it returns to keep us warm at night. Sometimes in mid-winter, we need to open a window at the warmest part of the day to cool off a bit!

clouds over Spanish Peaks summer

The view from our new PASSIVE SOLAR home!

So far in southern Colorado we have never fallen below 60 degrees at night no matter how cold it is outside. We supplement our solar heat with small room electric heaters. No furnace or propane needed. Ceiling fans help to distribute the heat.

Last January, when we lost electricity for three days because of a BAD ice storm, we stayed warm. With this system, we are able to average $100/month for all power to our home. A couple other unexpected benefits? Our home stays cool in the summer with its positioning to the sun and so much ceiling insulation, and it is so quiet inside all the time with no furnace turning on and off in winter!

The funniest part was learning that I didn’t need to turn down the thermostat when I left the house… the heat just keeps on coming in!

Marijuana as Medicine in Southern Colorado

I have to admire Alexis Bortell, a 12-year-old girl who is spearheading a campaign to legalize medical marijuana across our country. She and her family had no choice but to move from Texas to Colorado to find adequate treatment for her severe epilepsy. Now, her family and a handful of others are suing Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), demanding “cannabis for the treatment of their illnesses, diseases and medical conditions.” Ever since Alexis began her cannabis treatment, she has been seizure-free for 974 days.

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Living west of Walsenburg Colorado, 50 miles from the New Mexico border for over three years now, I have met a number of parents who have found it necessary to move here just to get adequate treatment for their children. These people had to leave behind good jobs and perhaps even their health insurance to find ways to keep their children alive and healthy.

It has been interesting to observe the combination of citizens here who support the availability of cannabis for medical purposes, versus those whom we now call “CAVES”: “Citizens Against Virtually Everything.”

The most exciting development for Huerfano County, our “orphan” county with around 6,000 souls, has been in the tiny town of La Veta Colorado.  WEED, Inc. announced in July, that it recently acquired Sangre AT, LLC (dba “Sangre AgroTech”), with plans to open a Sangre Bioscience Center, investing over $1,000,000 in Colorado Medicinal Cannabis Industry.

Sangre AgroTech then chose La Veta for their new research facility whose mission is:   “To create a genomics-based Cannabis breeding program that will produce new, genetically-enhanced strains of Cannabis which express the desired plant characteristics for the treatment of disease…”

“At Sangre AgroTech, we are focused on the development and application of cannabis-derived compounds for the treatment of human disease. Targeting cannabis-derived molecules which stimulate the endocannabinoid system, we are developing the required scientifically-valid and evidence-based cannabis strains for the production of disease-specific medicines. Yes, medicines.” 

Picture this. A town of less than a thousand people, nestled right next to the Spanish Peaks of southern Colorado, just attracted millions of dollars worth of research money, and all for the good of mankind. Why? Because the head of this new company, Dr. Patrick E. Williams thought this area is the perfect place to live! He got that right!  We are so excited about this new local development! They plan is hire at least half of their employees locally, keeping jobs down here, which is great, considering our county has the highest unemployment rate in the state.

 

Buying a Home in Rural Southern Colorado

paula's ranchette

I have always found real estate interesting. I suppose it’s a part of my natural nosiness. I like to see how others live and what they choose. Mike knows the construction trade inside and out. That’s why we went with a friend to look at a small property yesterday. She wanted to get our opinion on a darling little ranchette not too far away from us.

This property is relatively new, well-built, nicely detailed inside and landscaped, with great views of Greenhorn Mountain and the distant Sangre de Cristos.

Buying in rural markets is so different than cities. Be sure and check what the property’s access is to water, electricity, phone service, and what kind of heating and septic system it has. This cute little ranch on a few acres has a giant garage and studio space, fully fenced, but it does not have access to water on the property. Most city people can’t even imagine that! Water will have to be trucked in.

Sunflowers on a county road

The good news about properties down here? The cost is about one quarter of what they might cost up north, near any metro area. I can see this property being priced at $500,000 to $600,000 if it was anywhere near the Denver/Boulder metro area. Access to jobs is everything in real estate.

The realtor informed us that sellers here usually have to accept contingencies on sales. Their average time on the market is about one year. We see many come down here, buy a house on impulse, and then need to sell a year or two later. Yes it is amazingly beautiful here in the spring, summer and fall, but the winters are so WINDY and can seem very long with most city distractions (restaurants, shopping, etc.) at least an hour away.

The truth is, most have no idea how or if they will adjust to rural life. My advice? Make sure you like spending a lot of time alone or are on the same page completely with your life partner. You need to get along very well in these circumstances. Make sure you enjoy nature, things like bird watching, plants, hiking, biking and lots of silence. If you have little appreciation for clean air, morning silence, amazing sunrises and sunsets and a pristine natural setting, don’t buy a rural home, especially if you crave any sort of human-based distractions.

decking Comanche home with mountains in backgroun

Our house being built in 2014 -2015

memoir of retirement 2016Mike and I left suburbia in 2014, after living in cities for most of our lives.      We wanted to try out solar living with spectacular views of Sangre de Cristo mountains. We moved here to live close to nature, to try out passive solar living, and to build the kind of home we chose to live in for the rest of our lives. We came in search of a far more quiet, peaceful, healthy and inexpensive lifestyle than cities could offer us. We have received so much more…            Would you like to know how we ended up here? The ups and downs of our year-long building process? My fears in our first year here? Why we love it so much now?

Please send me an e-mail to order your own copy — Laura Lee:  MidlifeCrisisQueen@gmail.com

Back to reality, strange as it is…

everyone seems normal until youThis is your brain on drugs, prescription drugs… After a few days of very strange brain sensations and a few wild hallucinations (both visual and auditory!), I’m finally starting to feel ‘normal.’ I’ve been struggling with the extreme brain craziness of withdrawal from Paxil, which I really cannot recommend to anyone!

Interesting how doctors don’t tell you about this ahead of time. I couldn’t have imaged anything like this from simply stopping a pill…Post Script: 30 days later feeling much better, but I had to fire my doctor over this one.

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Then yesterday I went out into my garden and found the stupid deer or rabbits had chomped off two of the plants I’ve been carefully nurturing all summer. GRRRR… but my garden has mostly just been taken over by SUNFLOWERS EVERYWHERE! Funny how the deer don’t like them…

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We are experiencing the total invasion of three foot sunflowers everywhere here at the Navajo Ranch in southern Colorado!

Poppy field in Oz

Sometimes it feels just like that scene from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ where they find themselves surrounded by poppies!

I had so much FUN meeting a few new women at a friend’s party yesterday. Most of them live in La Veta, so I got an earful of stories and anecdotes about living there. I love La Veta, and I’m so glad it is nearby, but I have never wished that I live there.

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I figure if we came this far to get away from the noise, traffic, pollution, and problems of other people, why move in right next to them?