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.

Advertisements

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.

What matters most to you in retirement? Do you need to feel useful?

retirement living for yourself

Before I went to read (The 4 Things That Matter Most in Retirement) an article over at Next Avenue, by an expert on “the difficult transition from work life to an encore career in later life,” I made a list of what matters most to me as I turn 64. What’s on your list?

  1. Health and physical comfort (I live with COPD and quite a bit of pain)

  2. Lack of major worries like physical safety, money, feeling secure, etc.

  3. Being surrounded by love and family

  4. The enjoyment of being present with the natural world that surrounds me

  5. I would want to add a mindfulness and gratitude practice here

I find the author of this article assumes too much, assumptions I made before I hit the ground face first in a serious bike accident and then turned 60. Assumptions like I would feel and be as healthy as I had been most of my life, or that I would be ready to take on a “new career in my third age.”

After a traumatic brain injury and COPD, a second career is out of the question for me. I do continue to write here for two reasons, I enjoy the brain challenge and I like to interact with others in this way. I find one major issue for many as they retire is the desire to “feel useful.” I know some need to feel useful much more than others. This I attribute to early brainwashing that says,

“You have no right to be here unless you are useful or productive in some way.”

Do you remember the first time you felt useful? When was the last time you felt truly useful? Do you need to feel useful to feel good about yourself?

I was raised with a strong work ethic. Feeling useful and especially “productive” has been what my life was about before we retired to rural Colorado in 2014. In the past few years, as my health declined, I fought a hard battle with myself and eventually came to the conclusion that being here and finding ways to be content was enough. Those of you who have the “feel useful” gene know exactly what I’m talking about here. How have you dealt with it?

Acceptance releases everything to be what it already is.

laura and rasta on insulation 2014 (2)

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 which answers the question: “What’s it like to move to the country to retire?” 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 house while we built a direct-gain passive solar home with spectacular views of the Sangre de Cristos, just west of Walsenburg in Navajo Ranch, Colorado. It was not without fear and trepidation that we landed here, ready to invest our life savings into Huerfano County, the place of the orphans.

 

“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.

Inspiration for uncertain older writers (like me!)

Where Crawdads Sing

Have you heard yet the story of Delia Owens? I happened across her story on CBS Sunday Morning yesterday and felt new encouragement. She’s 70 and a loner from way back. Her new and first novel is Where the Crawdads Sing, although she has published non-fiction before (like me). This novel is tough to categorize; it’s a love story, a murder mystery, a courtroom drama, and an ode to the outdoors – all in one. It took her the better part of a decade to write, inspiration coming whenever it came.

I love the way she waits for wisdom even in her sleep:

 “I sleep at night with a little pad of paper in my bed with a flashlight and a pen, and I wake up in the middle of the night and write something down,” she said. “Something that I think is brilliant! And then when I wake up in the morning I’ll look at it and half the time I can’t read what I wrote.” A thousand such moments became little scraps of gold, like this one:

“Sand keeps secrets much better than mud.” That one made it into her book.

I found her whole story so inspirational. I also constantly find ideas or quotes popping into my head, especially in the shower, the source of my greatest inspiration. I must have a million snippets of paper like that, and never use these in my books, and the freedom of writing fiction also excites me.

We’ll see if any of these ideas go anywhere, but in the meantime, I love the fantasy!

A few things I can never do again…

The interview with Linda Ronstadt on CBS Sunday Morning this week was poignant. She learned that she had Parkinson’s Disease in 2000 and has since lost her ability to sing. She is however making the most of it:

“These days she spends much of her time reading. “I can’t do a lot of things that are active,” she said. “I can’t spend very much time on my feet, or even very much time sitting up. I have to kind of lounge around. But I’m lazy, so it’s a good thing that I lounge! So, I’m glad to have the leisure time. I have a huge stack of books that I need to read.” 

 Does she think much about singing now?

“Oh, I can sing in my brain; I sing in my brain all the time. But it’s not quite the same as doing it physically. You know, there’s a physical feeling in singing that’s just like skiing down a hill, except better, ’cause I’m not a very good skier!”

This is how I feel about so many activities I did in my previous life as a long-distance walker and high elevation hiker. Not to mention the many things I loved like yoga before my arm and shoulder began hurting constantly.

Laura and rasta close upThis is one part of aging that is very hard to take, and yet it reminds me how fortunate I was to have at least experienced these things at some point in my life. And for all of you who feel what I call ‘pathologically optimistic’ about my limitations, between a traumatic brain injury, fractured ribs and COPD which barely allows me to live at 7000 feet, these disabilities will not be changing in this lifetime.

What I find particularly difficult to deal with are the doubters and blamers I sometimes run into. They have no compassion for my losses, but instead blame me for my injuries. They judge me instead of supporting my difficulties, perhaps because they have not experienced any serious limitations yet themselves.

I felt quite strong through most of my 50s. I injured my brain and my ribs on a bike ride through Fort Collins in 2008. My 60s have been extremely challenging so far, and it doesn’t help when I feel criticized and judged for my limited ability to be active. Now I must carefully pick and choose which activities I can complete and enjoy. Everything takes more breathe and effort than in the past.

We will all experience disabilities as we age. We will all die. Please don’t blame others for reminding you of that.