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.”

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!

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.

A Study of Vigilance in Rural Colorado

Vigilance: the action or state of keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties. Synonyms: alertness, attentiveness, watchfulness

As a psychologist, my natural tendency is to observe changes in my own and others’ behavior. By living in cities for most of my life, and then moving outside of even the smallest town recently, I have had a marvelous opportunity to observe how my consciousness has changed. One area I find particularly interesting is my level of vigilance.

This is a state which most are not conscious of, because it can often be barely felt on a conscious level. Simple thoughts like “Are my doors locked?” “Do I feel safe now?” and “Am I safe?” can come up constantly. I became much more aware of these feelings after moving away from cities. In this way I discovered that we all experience varying degrees of safety in any environment.

I see now that while living in cities I felt the need to be constantly vigilant. Especially living as a single woman there, I was always quite aware of locking my doors, noticing strange sounds or things going on around my home, etc. Cities offer such a tight concentration of people everywhere, with traffic, lines at the store, etc. They seem to require a heightened level of vigilance at all times.

Sunflowers on a county road

MY COMMUTE TO TOWN

However, I didn’t become aware of my city-inspired heighten state of vigilance until I tried living away from others. When I first moved out into the country I felt isolated and concerned about that sense of isolation. How would I make new friends? What about emergencies?

But in less than a year or so those fears turned into a new sense of security and safety. We live among others who have three to six acres of land, and most keep completely to themselves. In this new setting I found that I needed to train myself how to mellow out. I was still hyper-vigilant, a trait that no longer served me.

Each year I live here, my level of deep security and relaxation increases along with my level of introversion. Some might see this as a bad thing, but I must say it feels really good to feel truly safe for the first time in decades, both in my home and in my life.

Should a seeker not find a companion who is better or equal, let him resolutely pursue a solitary path. There is no companionship with a fool.  – The Dhammapada

 

Earth Day in the USA: Love Your Mother

earth day

On January 28, 1969, a well drilled by Union Oil Platform A off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, blew out. More than three million gallons of oil spewed, killing over 10,000 seabirds, dolphins, seals, and sea lions. As a reaction to this natural disaster, activists were mobilized to create environmental regulation, environmental education, and Earth Day. Among the proponents of Earth Day were the people in the front lines of fighting this disaster, Selma Rubin, Marc McGinnes, and Bud Bottoms, founder of Get Oil Out.

Earth Day 1970

The first Earth Day celebrations took place in 1970 at two thousand colleges and universities, roughly ten thousand primary and secondary schools, and hundreds of communities across the United States. It also brought 20 million Americans out into the spring sunshine for peaceful demonstrations in favor of environmental reform. It now is observed in 192 countries, and coordinated by the nonprofit Earth Day Network, chaired by the first Earth Day 1970 organizer Denis Hayes, according to whom Earth Day is now “the largest secular holiday in the world, celebrated by more than a billion people every year.” Environmental groups seek to make Earth Day into a day of action to change human behavior and provoke policy changes.

Why Earth Day Today?

Because the earth needs us now more than ever! And since we’re fresh out of other planets to live on, now is as good a time as ever to do everything we can to preserve the miracle of this green and blue planet. Go solar! Use wind power. Change old habits that hurt the earth. You could probably name ten things today that would benefit Mother Earth immediately. Do it instead of just thinking about it!

big earth

What does the future hold? It’s all up to us!

 

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