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

 

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

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.