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

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 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.

The hidden purpose of my new memoir: Convincing your pardner to love rural!

I decided to write a memoir of the process Mike and I went through around age 60, as we were going through it. I thought, we can’t be the only ones thinking about leaving city life behind for retirement, hoping to find a quiet, peaceful sustainable life in some beautiful rural area.

horsetooth in summer

Horsetooth Reservoir up above Fort Collins, Colorado!

As we put this plan into action and bought three acres west of Walsenburg to build our passive solar home at the beginning of 2014, I discovered that Mike was MUCH MORE CERTAIN than I was about this whole plan! He felt certain that he wanted to leave the city behind regardless of our old friendships back in Fort Collins, and the services and predictability of city life. This plan was suddenly coming together far faster than I could assimilate! I knew I loved visiting down south, but was I ready to give up everything I knew to move there?

320 w. 2nd St. Walsenburg July 2014

Walsenburg rental we lived in while building our home west of here

After we moved into our rental for the building process, I learned that many wives felt the same way initially about pulling up their roots and going completely rural. The men seemed to know what they wanted, but the women were more careful or hesitant to move to a rural area. Much like I felt at first that our new homestead was rather “isolated” other women I met felt the same. Luckily I totally trusted Mike’s sense of place and his unique abilities to make this home the best of my entire life.

But I just realized yesterday that my memoir is especially suited for wives or partners who want to move somewhere wild and rural, to show them the process I went through. I certainly changed my mind as the building went on…

At first I was so scared and uncertain of this choice we were making, mainly because we needed to sell our suburban home to afford the construction of our new solar home. There was really no way to go back on this deal if I ended up not liking it! It did feel really risky to me, but not to Mike.

morning sun on comanche drive

Our new home at sunrise!

I found that very quickly after we moved into our new home about one year after moving to Walsenburg, I loved it here. The silence, the natural beauty, the amazing sunrises and the big sky feeling… what’s not to love about that?

It just took me a while to adjust my vision and expectations and QUIT WORRYING SO MUCH ABOUT EVERYTHING!

So, for any of you who want to convince your pardner to move to a more rural part of the country. This book might really help!