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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

How Much Is Too Much?

While walking the dogs on this cold, dark morning, and related to recent writing about gratitude and Thanksgiving, I suddenly asked myself "How much is too much?"

This question often pertains to material things: How much house is too much? How many pairs of shoes are too many? How many flat-screen TVs are too many for one house? But the question can be asked about non-material things as well: How much exercise is too much? How much time spent on work or household chores, rather than with loved ones, is too much? How much food is too much? How much television watching is too much?

As Americans, many of us suffer from "too much." As a country, we are woefully overweight, often the result of eating too much. We worry too much about what others think, about getting the latest fad in personal electronics or cars or designer clothing. We focus too much on getting ahead in our careers, often to the detriment of our families and relationships, or our health.

Our homes are filled with too much stuff. I, too, am guilty of having 'too much.' I recently bought a BlackBerry, despite having a perfectly nice cell phone that is only a few months old. I don't like a cluttered home, yet my place, despite numerous trips to drop off donations at the local Goodwill and library, still has 'too much' stuff. There are too many books to fit on the shelves, too many pieces of art to hang on the walls, too much food in the pantry and garage, too many clothes in the closets, too many CDs on the rack.

So as we enter this season of reflection and thanksgiving, and for some of us, the celebration of the birth of a savior, let us think about what is most important in our lives. Is it the 'too much' stuff that clutters our lives and our homes? Or is it the often-overlooked and neglected, intangible things: our relationships, our good deeds, our health, the opportunities we have to make a difference in someone else's life?

It isn't the quantity -- of years, of friends, of money or of things -- but rather the quality of our lives and our relationships -- that is most important. I love the concept of simple abundance, and my commitment at this special time of year is to learn more about this concept and to embrace it more fully, to make it a bigger part of my life.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving Thoughts

This year, despite many, many trying times and a huge amount of on-going stress, I truly do have much for which to be thankful. My daughter is in a safe place, getting the help she needs to deal with her demons resulting from a traumatic childhood in Russia. I have just closed on a fabulous house in New Mexico, and I am looking forward to moving to that beautiful state permanently in about 7 months. I am very disappointed that I can't move at the end of this year as originally planned, but the move is in sight.

Unlike millions of Americans, I have weathered the current economic recession in pretty good shape. My investments have increased by more than 4.5% this year, my job with the federal government is secure, and I have good benefits, including health insurance, which so many Americans don't have. And unlike many others, I have no debt other than two mortgages -- and that's only a temporary situation until I sell my house in California in a few months.

I am healthy, and just today I ran my 600th mile of 2009. My hips have been hurting, so I will probably rest for the remainder of the year and then resume running on January 1. In the meantime, I can enjoy walking, bicycling and hiking. I have lost 8-9 pounds this year simply by cutting back on the carbs in my diet. My blood pressure and resting pulse are excellent, and I am not afflicted with any of the problems that beset so many people of my age.

I have been given the opportunity to co-author a book, which allows me to pursue one of my favorite activities, non-fiction writing. I have set up a Web site featuring some of my best Southwest photographs for sale. I haven't sold anything yet, but I remain hopeful. An exciting volunteer opportunity is on the near horizon for me as well.

This has been a very difficult year for me. But I have learned a lot about myself in the process, and I am optimistic that what I have learned will make me a better mother and a better person overall.

So when I sit down to Thanksgiving dinner this year, I will be more mindful than ever of the many blessings in my life.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Second Step is Underway

This morning I went to the bank and wired the money to a New Mexico title company as a down payment on my new house. This afternoon, I met with a notary at work and got four documents notarized, then I took the entire fat package of paperwork to the nearby FedEx box for delivery tomorrow.

As much as I want this house, actually buying it, withdrawing a large amount of money from savings and completing the paperwork is an amazingly stressful process. Add to that the realization that for the next several months I will have not one, but two mortgage payments, and have to pay property taxes and insurance on two properties, and it becomes almost unfathomable.

I can't allow myself too much worry, and I have to have faith that everything will work out in the end. When I started this process, I decided, and I announced to one person, that I was going "to take a huge leap of faith and buy this house." That's exactly what I did. Since then, my plans to retire and move in January 2010 have been delayed for a few months.

I have to keep reminding myself that this is what I wanted. I loved this house from the time I first saw it in an Internet listing. Buying this house is, as the tired saying goes, the first step of the rest of my life. There is light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. I have to keep that light in mind. I have to remember that by next summer, I will have retired from my government job and I will be living in a beautiful house with a view of the Sandia Mountains. I will be enjoying the crisp air, the southwest ambiance, and a quiet homesite devoid of the incessant traffic and sirens and other noise that bombard me constantly now. My future, and a new life, await.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Taking the First Step Toward a New Life

In less than a week, I will close on my new home in Rio Rancho, NM. I found this house during an Internet search, fell in love with it, and after some initial hesitation, flew to Albuquerque to take a look at it. I was picked up at the airport by a Realtor, looked at fewer than six houses, and flew home that same evening.

A few days later, I made an offer on the house. It has everything I was looking for. It's only 12 years old, is a pueblo style, 1 story, with a very southwestern interior. It has lots of windows, is on a 1/2-acre lot and has a view of the mountains from the living room. The house is nearly twice the size of my little house in California. The front is enclosed by an adobe wall to make a beautiful courtyard. All the homes in the area are on 1/2-acre lots, and they all have back yards that face the mountains. The road in the area is unpaved, and the house is about a 10-minute drive from shopping. It couldn't be more different than where I live now.

Buying the house was just the first step on the road to my new, post-retirement life. As part of my plan for that new life, I'm reading a book about wishing. It's called The Wishing Year, by Noelle Oxenhandler. It was recommended to me by a woman with whom I have shared my recent dreams about my post-retirement life. I'm not even 1/3 of the way through the book, but I have started a daily practice of 'active wishing' for a couple of things that will, I hope, bring joy to my life.

I find the concept of 'active wishing' (that's my term for it) to be intriguing. Can wishing for something actually make it happen? Does 'putting it out there' really bring us the object for which we are wishing?

I can't answer that just yet, but I know that finding this house on the Internet and flying to New Mexico to see it seem very natural, almost pre-ordained. I'm not one to make rash decisions, but everything about this just seems right.

I still have to work for a few more months before I can move to the Land of Enchantment. But that's OK. I can do a lot of wishing during that time. Julia and I will spend a couple of days painting her bedroom in the new house over the Christmas holidays, then go to Santa Fe for Christmas. I have always wanted to spend Christmas in Santa Fe. The adobe buildings, the farolitos on Canyon Road on Christmas Eve, the snow, the beauty of St. Francis Cathedral -- all should make it a special holiday for us. And it will give us a taste of the new life that awaits us.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Remembering My Mom

This is a sad day for me. It was 3 years ago today that my mother died at age 80. She had Alzheimer's, but it appears that it was shingles that also attacked her brain and caused her death. She was in a drug-induced coma the last week of her life. We all knew that her passing was a blessing, but it certainly didn't feel like it then, nor does it now. My father slept on a chair in her hospital room, refusing to leave her except to go home to shower and change clothes. My brother flew in from Alaska, and as the end drew near, his wife and kids also joined us.

Julia, who had already suffered so much loss in her short life, either stayed in the waiting area or was entertained by family friends who took her to the movies or shopping to help pass the time. As it became obvious there was nothing more the doctors could do for my mother, I asked Julia to write a letter to Grandma. She wrote a very touching letter, thanking Grandma for welcoming her into the family and for being her Grandma. Although we didn't know whether Mom could hear what was going on around her or not, we pulled the curtain around her bed and Julia entered the room to read her letter to her Grandma. It was extremely touching, especially knowing how close Julia had been to her Russian grandmother. Julia's letter, along with letters and drawings from each of her cousins, was put into the casket and buried with my mother. My father also included a special memento for his wife of more than 60 years.

I wasn't particularly close to my mother, but that doesn't matter. Losing a mother is never easy. My Mom was a kind, good-hearted woman who seldom spoke ill of anyone. She was active in her church for close to 50 years, and she was a long-time member of the church women's group.

I think I was a disappointment to her, and I know that I hurt her sometimes. She opposed my decision to adopt Julia, but she welcomed Julia into the family with no apparent regrets. Julia loved her Grandma, and although she didn't show it, I'm sure losing her hit her hard.

So on this sad anniversary, I offer a prayer of thanks for my Mom, and remember her with sadness and love.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Grateful for Small Miracles

I thought this was going to be a good day. I slept well last night and didn't get up until just before 7 a.m..


I was driving home after finally going to order a new pair of glasses and sunglasses, something I have been putting off for months because of the cost. I got a great deal (50% off lenses and frames). So far, so good. Then I got into a car accident on Saratoga near 280 (a terrible intersection that I try to avoid).

A young woman hit the right side of my SUV with her Acura. The accident, fortunately, sounded much worse than it was. We pulled into a gas station parking lot to assess the damage. No one was injured, her car suffered a dented and scratched front bumper, and my small SUV suffered some scratches below the passenger door on the plastic cladding and a couple of small scratches on the paint. It isn't serious enough to warrant a repair. We exchanged information just in case something develops in the next few days. She was very apologetic and took full responsibility for the accident. I am shaken, but unhurt.

I am so grateful that no one was hurt and that the damage to my vehicle was so minor. Traffic was heavy and neither of us was going very fast. I am thankful that the young woman stopped and that she took responsibility for causing the accident. Things could have been so much worse. I am hopeful that the rest of the day, and the weekend, will be better. It's a beautiful day and I'm about to go running. Breathe, Ann, breathe!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

On Time and Growing Old

As is customary every Saturday and Sunday morning, I took Mila and Tia to the nearby park this morning, rather than going for a boring walk around the neighborhood. It was a foggy, cool morning, and Mila was enjoying herself, sniffing and exploring on her long leash. Suddenly I noticed how much she has aged over the years. Her face, the color of a yellow Labrador retriever, always bore the cream-colored markings of a beagle. But now, her face is more silver than cream or yellow.

My girl, now 11 years old by best guess, is showing her age. Mila has always been a quiet, keep-to-herself kind of dog (kind of like her mom), so I can't say that old age has slowed her. I found her, abandoned, collarless and pregnant, when I lived in Houston. After checking the greenbelt area where she was found and seeing no 'lost dog' signs, I decided to keep her. I figured that turning a pregnant dog over to the local shelter would be a certain death sentence for her.

So I had her spayed (she was carrying at least 10 puppies) and her hips x-rayed. Mila always did the 'bunny hop' when she ran, and the x-rays confirmed that my new 18-month-old dog indeed had bad hips. They have never seemed to bother her, except the day after we did a 2-mile fundraising walk for the local humane society. She was barely able to move the next day. She still jumps into the back of my SUV and onto my bed without assistance.

It is sobering to watch my "Miss Pig" (one of her nicknames) getting old. Tia, at age 8, hasn't slowed down any, although she was recently diagnosed with arthritis in her left elbow. My father will be 85 next month and is suffering from a myriad of medical issues. All these things have made me acutely aware that time marches on, and there is little that we can do about it.

My daughter, whom I adopted when she was 11 years old, will be 16 next month and is very much a young woman now. She will always be my 'little' girl (although she is a good 6 inches taller than I am).

I am extremely fortunate to be aging well. More than 30 years of running, a pretty healthful diet, love of hiking and bicycling, and watching my weight have enabled me to avoid the all-too-frequent complaints of people my age. My blood pressure is 90/60, my resting pulse 60. I have aches and pains from time to time, a knee that isn't always happy to be running, and I suffer from insomnia, but all in all, I can't complain. I am learning to take better care of myself and to do nice things for myself at least once in a while. This weekend's treat was a bunch of sunflowers, which always bring me joy.

So go out and do something nice for yourself and for those you love, be they human, canine, feline or any other species. Time is short, and none of us knows how much we have left.