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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My New Xeric Garden in Southern Colorado

nice garden scene at comanche drive

Now on to my favorite pastime, where you can find me every morning bright and early, my rock garden outside my door! I know, it isn’t much to look at this time of year, but my new plants are just getting established, some last spring and some this year.

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Some plants came back with enthusiasm! I have found that Rocky Mountain Penstemon (Penstemon Strictus) never bloom the first year they are planted, but all three of them are blooming this year!

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And this one I forgot all about, but it is sure happy in my garden this year! Knautia macedonica

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Look at my pussy toes! They will be blooming very soon I’m sure!

I haven’t had many problems this year with rabbits or other animals chowing down on my plants. I try to choose the ones the animals don’t like, but I just learned how much they like Yarrow!

Portulaca Mix

I learned the hard way my first summer out here that they LOVE tender, well-watered Portulacas! Perfect rabbit salad! These are the only “annuals” I buy every year. Sometimes they do re-seed themselves in their own pot. Now I keep them up on a shelf away from all hungry critters.

garden scene outside my bedroom door

THE VIEW OUT OF MY BEDROOM LAST SUMMER…

I’ve also had great success with Blue Mist Spirea bushes, Jupiter’s Beard, Lavender, most sedums, Gallardia, and I’m working on establishing a few Walker’s Low Nepeta (Catmint) for their lovely purple color in the spring.  Nice to see a few native plant volunteers too! We plan to add hardscaping this summer. It should look wonderful in just a couple more years… That’s the way with new gardens, patience is key! The main problem we have here is the drying wind. I like what Merrilee over at Perennial Favorites said about that: “We hate the wind, but the plants really don’t mind.”

Hot off the presses: The Best of Boomer Blogs!

It’s summertime here in southern Colorado and the living is dry and HOT!

Colorado drought monitor

We are experiencing “severe drought” this spring, ruining our usual display of early native plant bloomers. In fact, the photo in the header of this blog was taken just a few years ago at this time of year!

Moving on to the thoughts of some super HOT Boomer writers…

Carol Cassara discusses the ins and outs of making good decisions this week:

Have you noticed that good decisions and bad ones look alike? It’s an observation that Carol Cassara discusses and relates to episodes of her own life over at A Healing Spirit.

I bet you didn’t know that this is National Palliative Care Week in Australia? This is a topic we all could learn a thing or two about. We learned about this topic this week when a new friend dropped dead at 69…

Palliative care

Here Sue Loncaric from Sizzling Towards 60 & Beyond discusses why we need an End of Life plan and the need to document our wishes. This is NOT a conversation most of us like to have with our loved ones, but certainly one that everyone should have sooner rather than later.  Not sure where to start?  Sue offers some information, together with a video of prominent Australian’s all discussing this important topic.

Hillbilly elegyOnce in a while a memoir not only tells one individual’s story, but sheds light on a people, their culture and way of life. That is what J. D. Vance’s memoir of growing up amidst the people of Appalachia does. Hillbilly Elegy highlights a group of people that are an enigma to many Americans – Trump supporters. Vance did not do this purposefully. The book was published in 2016. Meryl Baer of Six Decades and Counting highly recommends Vance’s story of growing up in a dysfunctional family and successfully escaping his environment, an insightful, interesting must read.

In this important health report over at BabyBoomster.com  Rebecca Olkowski interviews a woman who discovered she had skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma) after twelve years of being diagnosed with eczema/psoriasis. Fortunately, she was able to find a doctor who could help her before it was too late.

Jennifer of Unfold And Begin returns this week after a short anniversary trip and she has a short but to the point post on why it’s important to keep learning.  Why trying new things is important to all of us.  Read about it in: Anyone Who Stops Learning Is Old.

On The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide, Rita R. Robison, consumer journalist, is having trouble deciding what action by the Trump administration during the week was the worst. Was it bank deregulation, including the weakening of consumer protections in mortgage transactions, or a resolution overturning guidance on racial discrimination in auto lending, which allows Congress to review all federal agency regulations and prohibits them from ever reissuing a “substantially similar” rule if a rule has been nullified by Congress. To cheer herself up, Robison decided to write about her recent visit to Spain where she went cava, or sparkling wine, tasting. She visited, Freixenet, the largest cava producer in the world, Albet i Noya, a small organic winery, and Agusti Torello Mata, a winery named after the man who founded it.

Oregon trailTom Sightings asks if we remember studying the Oregon Trail in high school. Or playing the Oregon Trail game on our computers in the ’90s. In any case, in retirement Sightings has decided to set out on his own trip across the country, following the old route of the Oregon-California Trail. In “Following the Rivers” he tells about his first days out, finding a refreshing spring, a tragic grave, a reconstructed fort, and an important river.

I would only add a bit about my latest post. Here I recommend that we all:

Mike at home

“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 

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!

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.

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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

 

How did I ever live so long?

I’m 63 today, and it may sound strange, but I never expected to live this long. That’s probably because I remember how old my grandparents seemed in their sixties. My Grandpa Carter died a few months after his retirement at age 65. But if you understand the history and statistics behind this issue, you will see where I’m coming from.

In my research for my book Find Your Reason To Be Here I wrote:

What else is unique about the boomer generation?

In the past one hundred years, we 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. 

U.S. Life Expectancy at Birth, 1930–2010
Birth Year Both Sexes Male Female
2010 78.7 76.2 81.1
2000 77.0 74.3 79.7
1990 75.4 71.8 78.8
1980 73.7 70.0 77.4
1970 70.8 67.1 74.7
1960 69.7 66.6 73.1
1950 68.2 65.6 71.1
1940 62.9 60.8 65.2
1930 59.7 58.1 61.6
(Source: National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics Reports, http://www.cdc.gov/nchs)

 It is difficult for most of us to fully comprehend how much the average life span has increased, even just in our own lifetime. It may help to recall how young our grandparents were when they died.

So here I am, wondering in amazement at my accomplishment. With ever improving health information, education and health care I shall go on until who knows when….

 “Life after 50 or 60 is itself another country, as different as adolescence is from childhood, or as adulthood is from adolescence.”  — Gloria Steinem

Happy Birthday to ME

Learning how to live in the present moment

April Buddha

This week I borrowed a unique documentary from my local library, Walk With Me, a contemplative journey which follows the steps of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, with rare insights into life within a monastic community. So begins Max Pugh and Marc J. Francis’ fascinating exploration of what it means to devote one’s life to mindfulness.

“With unprecedented access to the famous secluded monastery of Plum Village in the South West of France, Walk With Me captures the daily routine and rituals of monks and nuns on a quest to develop a deep sense of presence. It is an insightful rumination on the pursuit of happiness, living in the present and our attachment to material things – a welcome remedy to the stresses of city life and a world in turmoil.”  — Laure Bonville

What I found most fascinating about this immersion into monastic life is how similar it can be to life outside of cities, where life is luxuriously slow and overflowing with simple joys. The theme is crystal clear:

Be here now. There is no past, there is no future, just this moment…

One of the ways this short film has changed my life is in my desire to be more contemplative in each moment. For example when I first wake up I now love to look out at the birds outside my door. I find them to be the perfect topic for my first meditation of the day.

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Wild animals do not sit around thinking about their past or imagining their future, because if they focused much on that they would not survive for long. We were also once totally focused on the present moment. We had to be. But now we have the luxury of too much time, so we think about way too much stuff!

Luckily the mind can be trained over and over again. Today we can decide to stop all the concern and worry about everything else in the world, and focus on this moment before us, the only one we truly have.

“There is a fire inside. Sit down beside it. Watch the flames, the ancient, flickering dance of yourself.”    —  John MacEnulty