Trajectory Towards Transformation: Part 4 — An Eastward Glance

In truth, the second scouting trip seemed more like “due diligence,” rather than a real reconnoitering for a relocation spot. We were already leaning heavily to Colorado, but felt like we needed to at least look somewhere else. After all, when Lucas was looking to change colleges, he was heavily sold on one in Colorado — until we went to Asheville.

So, Brevard, about 50 miles from Asheville caught my eye when I saw it on a list of “best retirement places.” The climate looked to be moderate, there was a college in town and several more nearby, recreation galore up in the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains, and, again, great proximity to Asheville.

We startled Lucas by telling him we’d be flying to Atlanta and then driving. “I figured you guys would be driving the whole way — you’re such road warriors.” Not sure how he got that impression — maybe it was all those trips out to Big Bend, New Mexico, and Colorado. Or maybe it was that time we drove to Alaska and back…But, this time, we were already a bit road-weary and in a bit more of a hurry, so we opted for the flight + 170-mile drive travel combo to get us there.

Blue Ridge Mountains near Brevard

Blue Ridge Mountains near Brevard

The drive took us on winding roads climbing through wooded hills as we wandered northeastward out of Georgia. The closer we got to getting there, the closer the trees and hills hugged the road, enveloping us in fading colors of fall. Sara commented how the roads were reminding her of New England country roads.

We hit Brevard and found a charming little downtown area. We were arriving the week after Halloween, a major holiday there in Transylvania County, and many ghouls and ghosts still decorated the street corners and shops. We’d booked a room in The Inn at Brevard, in a historic old mansion walking distance from downtown, so we settled in and strolled around to see the sights.

We were quite enchanted but not quite convinced. From the start of the visit, the whole town had more of the feeling of a retreat or resort town rather than where we would want to live permanently, a feeling reminiscent of Paonia, but on a larger scale.

I’d also noted a sharp divide in the houses in our price range I found on line: specifically between gated communities and regular housing. Several houses looked to be well-appointed and quite gorgeous, surrounded by woods but still part of a vibrant community, as evidenced by the many amenities listed…followed by the Homeowners’ Association (HOA) fees, a whopping $245 per MONTH. Even putting aside the fact that I despise the concept of gated communities, those HOA fees alone meant we would essentially be paying rent to live in our own house — um, no, thank you!

So we decided to check out the handful of houses in our price range not in a gated community. There were some that looked mildly promising, and were only a mile or two from downtown, which would be plus for us — if that mile or two had been more pedestrian or bicycle-friendly. But between the major highway feeding into town and the winding, narrow 2-lane country roads, they looked less than inviting for anything other than automotive traffic.

And the houses we spotted looked a little funky. Not outlandishly funky, mind you, but not really what we were expecting either. And then there was the last one we looked out, a little further out a winding road. As the GPS indicated we were approaching the address, we spotted a driveway merging with the road at a reverse oblique angle. We had to make 2 cuts to make the turn and then we saw it: the 50-yard straight driveway climbing the hillside at about a 20° angle, looking for all intents and purposes like a ski slope. We ascended the slope slowly, shaking our heads as we reached the house at the top. “No no no no,” Sara said. “Can you imagine trying to go up — or come down — that driveway in icy conditions? and then make the turn onto the road? Oh nononononono…”

See, Sara’s reactions about the roads reminding her of New England was not a nostalgic yearning. Not at all. Having lived in Texas for 27 years, she’s grown used to having a big sky visible most of the time, and when the trees and hills and roads are so tight together, they blot out the sky. Again, our son, Lucas, had kinda predicted this ahead of time. “I know you guys, and you’ve got more of that western vibe, like Colorado, than the eastern vibe, like here.”

We decided to enjoy the rest of our time in Brevard but it no longer figured in contention.

To be continued…


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Trajectory Towards Transformation: Part 3 — Scouting Expedition #1

For a couple of years prior to our launching on our Trajectory Towards Transformation, I’d been fighting late night financial despair demons plaguing my thoughts by cruising on-line realty sites like Zillow. So I had a pretty good idea of pricing and availability within our possible budget range long before we started to narrow our choices. I’d also been scanning loads of lists about “Best Places to Retire” or “….Start a Second Act” or “…Live Afforadbly,” taking extensive notes & compiling my own sub-lists, noting especially overlaps and repeat cities.

So with our sights set on Colorado or near Asheville, we headed out to scout both areas.

Within Colorado, we started off with another process of elimination, crossing off with Boulder (too expensive), Denver (too big), and Colorado Springs (too conservative) pretty quickly. We also had no interest in living up any narrow mountain roads. Asking old friends living in Colorado gave us a few other places to consider checking out. As we got closer to our scouting trip, we dropped Ft. Collins from consideration for being too far north. The comment in one article, “Ft. Collins is closer to Cheyenne, Wyoming than Denver — and not just in miles,” was the final thing that pushed that possibility out of consideration.

Colorado map for our scouting trip 2016Pueblo, our first target detonation, popped up a couple of times on lists centered around affordability. They boast the lowest residential property prices in the state and ranked as the 6th most affordable city in the country on one list. The southern Colorado location would be a bit of an advantage as well, considering we intend to travel back to Texas for visits rather often. Using Zillow for a guide, we’d found a dozen or so homes to look at and booked a couple of nights in a hotel near downtown.

But I guess we got our first hint at a recurring theme in Pueblo when the clerk saw where we parked, and commented that was a good spot, as we would be able keep an eye on our car from our room. That sounded a little odd, but we took little note of it at the time. We enjoyed strolling part of downtown Pueblo that evening and mapped out some houses to look at the next day. As we drove around to view them, we noticed that nearly every house had anti-burglary bars, and somehow, in every conversation, the person from Pueblo would invariably say something about “security issues,” generally assuring us they didn’t have many problems like that in this part of town…with that dangling phrase hinting many other parts did.

We didn’t entirely cross Pueblo off the list yet, but headed west to check out a recommendation from my friend, Rory. Knowing how much we loved Boulder, he mentioned Paonia, in western Colorado, had the nickname, “Boulder West,” for its similar vibe — so we booked a room in a B&B there to check it out.

Indeed, Paonia was a hip little town in a beautiful valley in the western range — with an emphasis on “little.” We loved our B&B, we loved the funky main street drag and several of the shops, and we loved the overall vibe of the whole place. But after seeing only one general grocery store on the main street, we asked our B&B hostess where she picked up household and grocery staples. Well, it turned out, about once a month, she drives 45 miles over to Grand Junction to stock up. That killed it there for us. I’ve done that distance shopping routine before, and that was not in our plans. No, Paonia might make a great weekend retreat for us, but it would not be our new home.

At first, Cañon City was only a footnote on our scouting trip. I think it was my old buddy, Arnie, who had just recently retired to Florida after years living in Denver, who mentioned Cañon City, or maybe a mutual friend, Jill, who lives in nearby Penrose.

Well, we had to drive through Cañon City on our way westward from Pueblo, so we decided to take a quick look on the way through. Driving westward from Pueblo, you traverse a high, arid plain where tumbleweeds are not unusual sights — we were not impressed by the Pueblo West area at all. We passed Penrose a little further west, noting it as we went, since we’d also heard mention of that town as a possibility. But all the Penrose properties I found listed had a minimum of 5 acres attached — and I barely wanted to have to manage a small yard any more.

But just as you approach Cañon City, the road descends into a green bowl, with the Sangre de Cristo mountains rising behind the city, on the other side of the Arkansas River’s bend through the Royal Gorge. It wasn’t quite love at first sight, but it did take our breath away.

On our way west, we diverted to take a look at a couple of the listings there, noting that they actually looked pretty promising. Then we lunched at marvelous little deli, and the owner engaged us in friendly conversation and made us feel at home. So after visiting Paonia, we decided to spend the “free night” we’d built into the trip to check emergent possibilities in Cañon City. As we headed away from Paonia, the car’s “Maintenance Required” light appeared, adding further impetus to stopping to see a mechanic, just in case.

Well, I called a mechanic I spotted on Yelp the next morning, and he gave an estimate for checking it out and we agreed to come by in a couple of hours. First, we had some breakfast on Main Street, enjoying the food and the friendly feel of the place. Then, when we headed back out to our car, we discovered we had left the driver’s door not just unlocked, but hanging wide open for over an hour — and nothing had been disturbed! That just doesn’t happen in most places.

We headed over to see the mechanic, and waited in his office while his worker finished on another job and then checked our light. Fifteen minutes later, he strolled into the office and announced we had no problems and he simply reset the sensor. The mechanic looked at us and said, “Well, I can’t charge you for that–just tip him whatever you think it’s worth” — an honest mechanic, a treasure anywhere you can find one! Score another one for Cañon City!

So we wandered around town and looked at several lovely houses for sale, and struck up a conversation with some folks living by one of them. Again, they were friendly — in fact, everyone we met was unfailingly friendly. We grabbed lunch again at the same deli, as we continued to fall in love with the look and feel of the historic Main Street district downtown. Cañon City began to emerge as a front-runner for our landing spot.

As we returned to Texas, we knew we still a visit to Brevard to go, but it already seemed like a long shot. Mind you, that was the case when we took Lucas to Asheville the first time, in that he seemed set on going elsewhere before we got there — and then changed his mind almost overnight.

So, we bounced back to Austin and laid plans to go to Brevard in just a week or two on scouting trip #2.

To be continued…


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Trajectory Towards Transformation: Part 2…but Where?

Continued from Part 1

So we found ourselves ready for the basics of the that first big step: sell the Austin house (should be no problem), pay off almost all our debts, and buy another house elsewhere.

Now, it was time to go…but where?

We considered trying to have 2 homes: a winter home somewhere in Texas and a summer home somewhere cooler. But the shortening of our timeframe meant we would not have the resources to invest in 2 homes, no matter how modest.

We even considered an interim move wherein we would move somewhere within the central Texas region for 2-5 years, then turn around and sell that property. We considered San Marcos, Wimberley, and even Marble Falls. With the whole area around Austin booming and promising to continue to boom for the next several years, we would almost certainly make additional profit on any property we might buy and then resell. Then, late last September— when summer lingers too long, still hot & sultry even at night and showing little sign of letting up — Sara announced that she had moved to Texas to marry me, and she had now put up with 27 of our insufferably long Texas summers — and that was more than enough and she wanted OUT.

So we started with a simple set of climate-based decision parameters:

  • Nowhere south where it’s too hot too long in summer,
  • Nowhere north where it’s too cold too long in winter,
  • And after Hurricane Ike destroyed our relatives’ Bolivar beach house — nowhere near any coast with the associated storms.

We had both travelled extensively in the United States, me more in the West, Sara literally all over the map (hit all 50 states by age 50!), so we had each had our impressions, as well as shared impressions on our trips together, from New England to Alaska and various points between.

We were less interested in the politics of where we might move than in avoiding both deep red (again) and deep blue states, as politics on either end of that spectrum tend to get stuck in a purity mode, pushing extremes. We did not want to move to another big city, but we had no great interest in small town or rural life, either. Proximity to a wide range of healthcare resources & services had to be considered as a major factor as well — we’re not getting younger.

People often relocate to be closer with family. Well, we are our family to a great extent. Both sets of our parents and all of our grandparents have been gone for years. I have one sibling back in Texas, and Sara has one surviving sibling in New England — who is not on speaking terms with her. Our son, Lucas, lives in Asheville, North Carolina — but he’s 24, hardly the most stable time of anyone’s life. Were we to move to be closer to him, he just might move elsewhere within a short time anyway. Still, we fell in love as Asheville when we first took Lucas there four years ago, so we kept that area in consideration.

Our Decision Map

Our Decision Map

By now, we’d narrowed our choices down quite a bit and basically were just looking at two places: Colorado and near Asheville. Colorado has always been a welcome escape for this Texan, even though it takes 2 days to get there. And when we visited Rory in 2014, Sara fell in love with Boulder, especially sitting outside mid-summer. But much as we love and adore Boulder, there is no way we could afford to buy a house there, much less live there. We considered other nearby communities, but decided to widen our search to other parts of Colorado.

As to North Carolina, well, North Carolina was not really the spot we were considering anyway. No, we loved Asheville, but it suffers the same fate as Austin: a liberal bastion in a highly conservative state. Yes, Asheville itself is wonderful, beautiful, and enticing and we loved it from the minute we saw it. But again, prices within Asheville proper can be prohibitive, so many folks live outside the city itself in nearby communities and commute in to work. That might not be an ideal set-up for us.

Anyway, we decided last fall, we needed to make a couple of trips to further examine our prospects.

To be continued…

in nearby communities

in nearby communities

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Trajectory Towards Transformation: Part 1 — Time to Go!

I’ve been telling anyone who asks about our move, “We’re on a trajectory towards transformation.” So what does that phrase mean anyway?

Trajectory Towards Transformation: Time to Go!Well, trajectory implies a launching of some sort, an arc to overcome obstacles, be they walls, mountains, rivers, or great distances. Also implied in the word is that while you intend to arrive somewhere else, that “somewhere” is not so much clearly defined as a wished for landing place, a hoped for new life, a desired end state. Still, by the very act of launching into a trajectory, you throw it all into one grand curving arc outward into the distance, overcoming the nearby obstacles — but not quite knowing where you’ll end up.

Hence the word toward rather than “to.” Using the more definitive term, “to”, would imply that there we had a specific destination in mind. No, we did not — not at first, at least. What we had in mind was a general direction of movement — away! — so toward more accurately describes our intentions.

Finally, transformation means change — fundamental, basic change. For several years now, we have known we would need a change sometime in the vague “future.”. Like a frog in boiling water, our situation in our beloved Austin was getting worse as time went on. As lovely as our house on Dexter Street was, it was in dire need of much repair that we were not able to afford to do. Our credit debt had mounted to a ridiculous level, making our minimum payments on those accounts far and away our largest monthly expense, with over half of that being the debt service itself. We were still paying off our second home improvement loan, the one to add more room just before Lucas left home. It didn’t help that some of the needed repairs were on portions of that second addition.

My work opportunities in Austin had become increasingly sporadic and limited. Most of the possibilities available to me were in fields or clients I did not wish to work for — state government, military contractors, or corporate giants. Sara’s work situation had been getting worse for awhile, but had improved a bit with an increased ability to work from home. For several months, in fact, she worked primarily, almost exclusively, from home, thus avoiding the dreaded Austin traffic. But the company was snatching the work-from-home option away from more and more people just as they were finalizing plans to move the Austin office north to Round Rock, so things were about to go from bad to worse when Sara got laid off after 14½ years. That actually made things better once we got over the initial shock. She received a good severance package (salary through the end of the year) and the feeling was of an immense burden being lifted.

See, we’d been talking about selling our house there as part of a vague “plan.” At first, it was a 5-10 year plan, but became a 2-5 year plan that became a 1-2 year plan that became: time to go now! In addition to all the other pressures, Texas hides its tax burden in property taxes, and the desirability of our neighborhood and our property meant our property taxes had risen steadily and outrageously during the time we lived there. As we sold the house, we had to pay nearly $10,000 in property taxes.

This camel had more than enough straws to make several of them the last one. So we knew we needed to sell. And we knew that meant transformation.

To be continued…

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a Quantum State of Home

or How Can We Live in 2 Places at Once When We’re Really Nowhere At All?
(with no apologies to Firesign Theater— just a tip of the hat)

I’ve been woefully absent from this back porch blog awhile now. Have you missed me? I do want to explain, but that will take several posts, so I’ll simply start with a doodle (of course) to illustrate what’s been going on…

a Quantum State pf Home

Reverse the usual direction of expected eye-flow (left to right, top to bottom) and start in the lower right at the original Casa Dexter, then move to the upper left to see our House of Many Colors in Cañon City: our 2 quantum-state homes.

See, for the last month, we’ve been in the process of moving from Texas to Colorado in a series of back & forth trips involving our car (with car-top carrier) & one-way rental trucks paired with one-way flights back, capped by a final run in the car with our 2 cats in pet carriers in a final getaway run. Throughout the month, we never quite stopped moving and we never quite felt fully at home in either place.

Now, that the quantum phase is coming to a close, we are starting settle into our new home (we still await the arrival of our furniture). I’ll fill you in on how we got here and what’s going on a little more next time.

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SXSWedu 2017 doodle-notes (Part 2)

…continuing with last week’s doodle-notes from the Land of A-Ha’s: SXSWedu.


Tim Ferriss: Secrets of Accelerated Learning and Mastery

The Challenge of Curation

Next Generation Transmedia Learning Ecosystems

How to Make Awesome Educational Videos

The Premise & Promise of Hybrid Higher Ed


Leveraging Instructional Designers in Higher Education

Brené Brown: Daring Classrooms

Sara Elizabeth Lewis: Creativity & Social Justice

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SXSWedu 2017 doodle-notes (Part 1)

It’s been a week since SXSWedu 2017 so it’s about time I post some of my doodle-notes from the 4 days in the Land of A-Ha’s!


Monday morning, as soon as I told my wife, “I’ll call you for a ride home later,” and she drove off, I realized I’d left my iPhone at home. Though feeling significantly less smart than usual, I made it through Day 1 a-okay.  I skipped a couple of sessions to hoof it over to the downtown Cap Metro office for a bus pass so I could get home.

Chris Emdin: We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service

Therapeutic & Pedagogical Benefits of Improv (Hideout Theatre)

Blended High Ed: How to Start Your Own University (Peloton U.)


Sara Goldrick-Rab: Paying the Price

Make Learning Awesome (Kahoot)

What the Students Know: Why Peer-to-Peer Works (Brainly)

Learning, Memory, and Knowledge Post-Google

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