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!

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Making friends in small towns

A new friend has been through hell lately adjusting to the many strange things that go on when you move to a small town. That is not to say that you don’t also meet plenty of strange ones in cities too, but I have come to think there is something unique about moving to a town under population 1,000 where many people also come and go with the seasons.

My friend got stuck in the middle of lots of confusion and negativity which resulted in bad feelings. In talking with her about all of that, I began to recall how many beginner friendships I had in my first two years here, most of which ended quickly. So I decided to make a list and ended up with well over twenty individuals or couples where some sort of friendship began and then either went nowhere or worse.

I basically met no one worth being friends with for about two years here. Either they weren’t friendly at first, our politics were too far apart, we had nothing in common, or they started out friendly enough, but then went unfriendly fast. What I have found is that La Veta is not so much a close knit community as one with a few main cliches, where few are truly friendly when you’re new here.

A few said they were just waiting for us to leave after a year or two. Four years later that is not happening! Luckily there are enough decent people to go around, so who cares about the rest?

Friends help friends PandasWhen my friend started lamenting her recent bad experiences with new friends, I told her that I always approach this topic with the certainty that I am a great person to have as a friend, but I needed to learn how to be pretty selective here. A friend is someone who improves the life of someone they care about. Mike and I live by that code. Once we are friends with someone we will help them improve their lives in any way we can. I make an extra effort through this blog and my book about this area, to reach out to those just moving here for the first time. I call that being neighborly.

Good friendships take time. There will always be a period of  adjustment and testing in the beginning. I have found I do best with those with a similar education and background. Jealousy kills friendships. Most people here are quite nice, but I must keep in mind that some moved here to avoid relationships altogether.

How lonely are you?

According to recent research, Americans are a pretty lonely group, and the younger you are, the lonelier you feel.

nationwide survey by the health insurer Cigna underscores that fact. Their survey of over 20,000 American adults age 18 or older, finds that loneliness is widespread in our country, with nearly 50 percent of respondents reporting that they feel left out always or sometimes.

The Cigna results offer some alarming findings:

  • Nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent).

  • One in four Americans (27 percent) rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them.

  • Two in five Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful (43 percent) and that they are isolated from others (43 percent).

  • One in five people report they rarely or never feel close to people or feel like there are people they can talk to.

  • Americans who live with others are less likely to be lonely (average loneliness score of 43.5) compared to those who live alone (46.4). However, this does not apply to single parents/guardians (average loneliness score of 48.2) – even though they live with children, they are more likely to be lonely.

  • Only around half of Americans (53 percent) have regular meaningful in-person social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family.

  • Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) is the loneliest generation and claims to be in worse health than older generations.

Is social media part of the problem?

Social media use alone is not a predictor of loneliness; respondents defined as very heavy users of social media have a loneliness score (43.5) not markedly different from the score of those who never use social media (41.7).

More time online and social media may be causing a rise in depression and suicide among American adolescents. People who spend less time looking at screens and more time having face-to-face social interactions are less likely to be depressive or suicidal.

It appears that how people use social media determines its influence on one’s sense of isolation.

Members of Generation Z, born between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s, had an overall loneliness score of 48.3. Millennials, just a little bit older, scored 45.3. By comparison, baby boomers scored 42.4. The Greatest Generation, people ages 72 and above, had a score of 38.6 on the loneliness scale.

Albert-Einstein-I-live-in-that-solitude

I have been what I consider to be a loner for most of my life, and enjoyed most of that time alone. Even though I moved here with Mike, I feared moving to rural Colorado because I didn’t know if I would find friends here. As it turns out, I have a nice group of friends who understand the value of a great education, deep friendship and healthy solitude.

Laura and Rasta on insulation 2014 (2)

I also find I enjoy spending more time alone when feeling so connected to nature as I do here.

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.

IMGP7300

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

The Ancient Ones & My Own Spirit Quest

great Mike photo of snow and Spanish Peaks

Since we moved here on our three acres outside of any city or town, my spiritual quest has been to connect more deeply with this land and its history. I know mostly Ute Indians traversed the valley below us regularly to travel out east to Old Bent’s Fort to sell their furs and meet other life-minded nomadic tribes. I sometimes feel their presence.

Last night, when I was having trouble sleeping, I remembered a marvelous spiritual experience I had back when Mike and I were still searching for the perfect place to retire. Here you go:

“Conchas” Living by Laura Lee Carter, April 2008

My husband Mike and I are spending our vacations these days, exploring possible destinations to retire to, just in case we can ever afford it. This year we spent a few days on a road trip through northeastern New Mexico.

We were drawn to a series of lakes north of Tucumcari: Ute Lake, Conchas Lake and Santa Rosa Lake. These are all state parks with nice facilities and beautiful but ever shrinking reservoirs as the drought continues down there. Two nights were spent camping at Conchas Lake State Park.

Conchas

The first night felt like a spiritual awakening to me. Our tent was open at the top so I could see all the stars, and I don’t recall ever experiencing such amazing and overwhelming silence in my entire life. My personal account follows, written in the middle of the night:

In the perfect silence of a star-filled New Mexican night, I lie in my sleeping bag, contemplating the wonders of our universe. Yes, there are still places in America where one can marvel at the brilliant stars above, while getting lost in the silence of the surrounding wilderness.

Did a Native American woman lie in this exact same spot thinking similar thoughts many centuries before me? I feel so connected to the earth.

Living close to the earth increases my awareness of everything: the air temperature, the slightest breeze, the fragrances, the colors of the wildflowers and cacti, the occasional yelp of coyotes in the distance, the soaring hawks and vultures overhead. Time slows down.

The animal sounds serve to remind me that there was a time when we were simply prey to the many predators around us. We weren’t high-minded beings that thought that we had taken possession of the earth, but were instead just a potential meal to a hungry wolf or coyote nearby.

The homophonic nature of the Indian word “Conchas” and our word “conscious” were not lost on us. Mike’s Ojibwa family heritage may have been at play. We came to explore this land and also our own “conscious” minds, to learn about the ancient ones that inhabited this land long before us, to understand on a deeper level, the history of our earth.

Those that study the earth say that the present drought is probably another eleven year cycle, and the rains will return. But we must all wonder if man has impacted the earth’s natural cycles so gravely that they may be forever changed. We shall see.

After Conchas Lake, we headed northwest to the Jemez Pueblo area. I rarely use the word “awesome”, but I can’t imagine a better description of the deep red canyons of the Jemez Mountains. They are a unique and wonderful vision to behold!

Retirement Decisions: Urban versus Rural

Four years after our move to rural southern Colorado, I am remembering the difficulties I had making the final decision to give up city life for good. Here’s a piece I wrote five months after moving to Walsenburg and beginning construction on our new solar home:

Urban versus Rural: Decision Made!  November 23, 2014

My husband Mike and I have been in the process of transition into retirement in the past year.

320 w. 2nd St. Walsenburg July 2014

After five months living down south in a small rental in a very small town, we decided to go up north to visit family and friends this week.

What an eye-opening experience! I was absolutely SHOCKED to have this timely reminder of what life in the city feels like, and what it does to human beings.

Since we only have two stop lights in our entire new county, I had forgotten what it feels like to sit in traffic constantly. I experienced total culture shock, and Fort Collins felt like a foreign country to me.

I saw people everywhere waiting for something, a place to park, a place to sit in a restaurant, a chance to go through the next stop light, an opportunity to pay for their purchase. There was terrible traffic going through Denver in the middle of the day, constant noise, obvious air pollution we could even taste sometimes.

Do people really choose to live like this? I found city life so anxiety-producing and over-stimulating.

great Mike photo of snow and Spanish Peaks

It felt like such a relief to finally get back to tiny Walsenburg. The good news is I now know for certain that a city could never be my forever home. There is no doubt in my mind, I am so done with city life!

This essay and many more can be found in my Memoir of Retirement: From Suburbia to Southern Colorado.

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:

memoir of retirement 2016 large

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!