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.

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A trip up north to the land of cities

For my birthday this year, I decided to go up to Fort Collins and Denver to spend time with family and friends. I had a wonderful time feeling special! But I am always shocked by the culture shock of returning to city life. The first thing I always notice is how bad the air begins to smell just north of Pueblo, because the air does not “smell” down here. That is also where the highway driving suddenly switches from a casual, comfortable feel to what I call “Get the hell out of my way!” driving. Luckily we missed any major traffic jams up north, but the only way I can explain it, from the perspective of one who never sits at stop lights or feels truly threatened by two-way traffic, is the roads are INTENSE up there! The cars are so close together on the roads and it feels scary.

The other culture shock for me is that up there we see so many young people! We don’t have a lot of them down here. The average age in our county, down by the New Mexico border, is around 54. Everything feels a lot more rushed and modern up there. There are of course hundreds of restaurants and shopping options compared to our county, where you can count the total restaurants on ten fingers.

Yes, we moved from one of the riches counties in Colorado to one of the poorest five years ago. My Dad (age 90) asked me how I was feeling now about that choice while we were up there and I had to think. As he pointed out, I had never lived in a place like this before. I have been cursed my whole life with the ability to see both sides of everything, and that can be truly exhausting. However, after a few days up north, I have to say I love not smelling the air or hearing traffic all the time. Our solar foothills home was the perfect temperature when we got here with no heat running the whole time we were gone. It felt wonderful to just walk in the door!

Sitting in my bed this morning and gazing out at the Spanish Peaks and the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, that’s a tough act to follow. The silence down here is perfection for me now.

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.

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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.

How we steal the bright side from ourselves everyday: Try some cognitive reframing

reframing your life

The most fortunate are those who have a wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder and even ecstasy. — ABRAHAM MASLOW

Although I learned this psychological tool decades ago, I am always re-learning its usefulness in my own life. What is cognitive reframing? Here’s a definition from an article by social worker Amy Morin:

“Reframing is a technique used in therapy to help create a different way of looking at a situation, person, or relationship by changing its meaning. Also referred to as cognitive reframing, it’s a strategy therapists often use to help clients look at situations from a slightly different perspective.”

I have found that choosing a “different perspective” can also be the opposite of what I automatically go to in my own mind.

The point is that we can and do choose how we see ourselves and our lives everyday. 

If we were raised with a critical or negative view of ourselves and how the world works, the way we will see our lives may be destined to be critical or negative, but that is not the only way to see ourselves. That is not the only reality behind our circumstances.

Here is an example from my own life:

In my present life I may tend to focus on all of the difficult challenges Mike and I have faced since we decided that we needed to leave Fort Collins behind for many good reasons. I may choose to focus on how much money we left on the table by selling our Fort Collins home before prices went way up up there, how expensive and stressful it was to build down here in a rural area, etc, making me critical of our past decisions. Or, I may choose to see exactly how fortunate I have been in spite of many tough misfortunes in the past few decades; to be here now, retired comfortably and happily, and most importantly together!

In addition there are the greater misfortunes of Mike’s horrible experience with CFS for decades, my inability to find another job in libraries at age 49, my traumatic head injury at age 53, and many more difficulties that just come up as we age. Considering all of these factors, we are more than fortunate. How can we be anything but filled with GRATITUDE that we made it to this soft place to fall in this beautiful place?

That is how reframing works, and it can be used in all parts of your life on a daily basis…

laura and rasta on insulation 2014 (2)

leading to overwhelming feelings of gratitude, a feeling we could all use more of!

Colorado Rocky Mountain High!

You belong somewhere you feel free…

Boomers: Contrary to popular belief, not the American generation who had it made…

Find Your Reason Cover smallEver since I heard from a fellow writer about a troll who goes around trashing boomers for ruining their life, I have been thinking about how the generation we are born into affects how we choose to live our lives and how we see ourselves. I have been studying this issue for years now, and wrote about the boomers’ place in history, how our lives compared to our parents, and how we are different psychologically, in my book Find Your Reason To Be Here: The Search for Meaning in Midlife, published in 2013.

“Our generation began with a literal BANG! when the USA used two nuclear bombs against Japan in 1945. Then in 1962, as children, we witnessed the Cuban Missile Crisis, a time when there existed roughly enough nuclear weapons on earth to erase human civilization one thousand times over. Our parents sat on the edge of their seats, wondering if the human race would simply disappear from this earth in nuclear holocaust. One cannot help but wonder what the long-term emotional consequences are of experiencing this type of worldwide threat as a small child. This is an important question that may be hard to pin down but cannot be ignored.” (page 7 in my book)

We were also the beginning of the “Age of Permanent Distraction” we see today:

“At times it seems we [boomers] were nothing but guinea pigs in a long line of mind-clutter experiments. As in no previous generation, our brains have been filled with far too much mindless television, in-your-face commercialism, and non-stop media coverage. We were the first generation to grow up with television. From the music of the early years, most notably rock ’n’ roll, transistor radios and then “boom boxes” allowed us to distract ourselves constantly by carrying around our music everywhere we went.”  (page 9 in my book)

Contrary to some young ones who believe we had it made in our youth, with great jobs opportunities, spoiled rotten while we gobbled up natural resources as fast as we could with no regard for the future, our generation was found to be “the gloomiest generation” by the Pew Research Center in 2008.

Most boomers are under serious financial strain today, worrying more often than their parents did about money, and suffering a number of stress-related illnesses as a consequence. Many of us are also feeling financially stretched because we are supporting both our children and our aging parents. More than half of boomers still provide financial support to at least one adult child.

mortality rates among white boomers

The death rate among Americans 45-54, increased dramatically between 1999 and 2013 compared to other developed countries.

“The increased deaths were concentrated among those with the least education and resulted largely from drug and alcohol “poisonings,” suicide, and chronic liver diseases and cirrhosis. This midlife mortality reversal had no parallel in any other industrialized society or in other demographic groups in the United States.” 

Stress is perhaps the single most important psychological factor affecting boomer health today, contributing to higher midlife suicide rates than any other developed country. Poor self-esteem is another important stress-related factor that can and does lead to a number of chronic health problems. Poor self-esteem can cause us to indulge in addictive behaviors like excessive shopping, overeating, and gambling, and overuse of alcohol, tranquilizers, antidepressants, and sleep aids. People with low self-esteem also are less likely to maintain stable social relationships.

But I guess the statistic that concerns me the most about my generation is that most of us have little or no savings for retirement. No wonder so many of us are depressed. The future doesn’t look good for most of us.

 

Gratitude, Pure and Simple!

As I prepare to pen this final post of the year 2018, I would have to say my heart is filled with gratitude. My life has been blessed with a wonderful family who all still live. My Dad, at almost 90, is as healthy as I might hope for, and my Mom, although she struggles everyday for clarity, is as generous and loving as ever.

My brother who lives in the woods in a lean-to, loves his life at age 65. He knows exactly what it means to live “wild and free.” Talks with him always remind me of Henry David Thoreau. He shares his own version of genius with the rest of us.

My sister is an international star in the field of long-term care, who else to manage my parents’ many health concerns? Diane knows what she’s talking about when it comes to end-of-life issues. She teaches us all what she knows.

great Mike photo of snow and Spanish Peaks

And finally, as I look out over our majestic fields of snow, I love where I live with my favorite people and pets. The sun struggles to come out and warm our passive solar home today, reminding me everyday how dependent we are on its power and warmth.

every day is the best day of the year

I am forced to ask everyday: How did I ever get so lucky? 

An abundance of LOVE is felt…

A Photo Life Review: Adventures with Laura!

Dad Laura Diane and John small January 1961

Dad and the kids.  The junior world explorer is in red, 1961

Recently I have been on a protracted trip down memory lane. Last night I started looking at all of my photo books, that’s six thick albums! I’m slowly working up to possibly reading my many volumes of journals back to age 14.

original_photo_Thailand_1973cropped[1] (2)

Near the Bridge on the River Kwai, northern Thailand 1973

As I viewed many old photos, one thing struck me. I seem to have forgotten exactly how adventurous my life has been. From 18 on I traveled the world. I started out in Mexico, Bangkok and northern Thailand, then spent months in Taiwan and Hong Kong, traveled up through Malaysia from Singapore, and right before we moved here, the Andes and Cuenca in Ecuador.

Cuenca washing clothes in the Rio Tomba

Yes! Women still wash clothes in the Tomebamba River in Cuenca Ecuador!

Wuzhou

Once, before China was officially open to American tourism, I took a trip up the Pearl River in southern China on what I called “the People’s Ferry.” We arrived in Wuzhou, what appeared to be a town made of mud, and much to our surprise there were PRC government officials there to escort us onto a bus to Guilin, but not before the citizens of Wuhan surrounded us to point and exclaim, “What is that? A foreign ghost!” They had never seen a European or American before.

caribbean blueI visited the Caribbean a number of times, and did a couple island-hopping sails with my first husband, a windsurf instructor and sailboat captain from USVI St. John…

Canyonlands

Locally I started out at Colorado College on a backpacking trip to Canyonlands my freshman year. Half of us got lost and I did flyovers with the rangers until my friends were found. Unfortunately the rangers mixed up our names and called my parents saying I was lost, a fact NOT appreciated by my parents. I then spent years exploring Colorado and Utah. So many hikes, backpacking, ski and river trips.

My first professional library job was in Salt Lake City. Luckily I found the BEST group of friends there, including Roy Webb, who took us on a number of fantastic week-long river trips on the Dolores, the Green, the Colorado, Desolation Canyon, etc. He has been a famous river runner for decades now, and the author of many books about river history.

My first husband pretty much insisted that we go hiking, skiing or backpacking most weekends. Those trips included a number of trips to southern Utah like one memorable backpacking trip down into Escalante Canyon to enjoy “some of the most outstanding hiking opportunities to be found on earth.”

sking

I climbed a few fourteeners in my time, and skied from I-70 up to Shrine Pass (11,089 feet) and then into the tiny town of Minturn twice. I never forgot the glisten of fresh snow on that eleven mile trek.

Mtns and wildflowers

So many great memories, so many wild times…

Now I see how fortunate I was to tackle these physical challenges while I could still breathe well above 7,000 feet. I’ve had bronchitis regularly for decades and in some of the most exotic places! With a recent diagnosis of COPD, alas those days are gone. So happy I spent my youth exploring the world near and far when I could handle long flights, driving long distances and the general risk and chaos of getting off the beaten path.

Mike at home

Now I find myself  in this lovely “soft place to fall” with Mike and Rasta, where I can appreciate how profoundly fortunate I am to have done most of what I wanted to do for most of my life, and I even enjoyed most of it!