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Monday, January 31, 2011

Busyness

I ran across the word 'busyness' recently, in a sentence about all the 'busyness' that consumes our lives. The spelling caught my idea and started me thinking.

'Business' is commerce or a profession, while 'busyness' is 'lively but meaningless activity' according to one source. So regardless of whether or not we are in business, many of us are engaged in 'busyness.' I am recently retired, yet some days are full of busyness. I may be waiting for someone to make a third trip to diagnose a problem with my garage door, or spending countless time on the phone with a 'customer service'  representative. Whatever it is, busyness is time-consuming, unrewarding tasks that bring no sense of accomplishment.

Busyness can take over our lives and rob us of meaningful activity and interactions with friends and family. It can cause us stress and frustration. Busyness also can be a convenient substitute for self-reflection. We can tell ourselves that we are "too busy" to really think about our future, about changes we want to make, or to plan enjoyable things we want to do.

The Web is full of suggestions for how to decrease the busyness in our lives, but the bottom line is eliminating the 'clutter' and distractions from our lives and focusing on people and things that are truly important. Simplicity is the key.

There is a great Web site that lists 72 ways to live simply:
http://zenhabits.net/simple-living-manifesto-72-ideas-to-simplify-your-life/
My favorite suggestions from this list include:
  • Find inner simplicity. 
  • Live in the moment.
  • Learn to say no.
  • Do what you love.
  • Learn how to be a minimalist.
  • Learn what 'enough' is.
These things aren't easy, at least for me. Before I moved last year, I got rid of a lot of stuff, and I gave away a car full of things after moving. Still, I am amazed at how much I still have.

It's really easy to be overwhelmed by electronic busyness, especially with all the social networking opportunities available through e-mail, the Internet, Facebook and Twitter, and the constant presence of 'smart' phones.

A common thread running through all of these 'simplify your life' suggestions is to learn to appreciate the necessities and avoid the excesses. A smaller house requires less energy to heat and cool, and less time to clean, than does a big house. How many pairs of shoes do we really need? Does our house really need four television sets? You get the idea.

But even if we can't adopt a minimalist lifestyle, or choose not to, we can work on finding inner simplicity. Take pleasure in the simple things: a walk on a nice day, a chat with a friend or relative, a good book. We can work on finding time in our lives for those people and activities that are most important to us. I love photography, so I have made a habit of not leaving the house without having at least a small pocket camera with me. I never know when I will see a beautiful scene, a rainbow, or an interesting animal. I have joined a photography group. I make time for photography because it is important to me.

I would add one more thing to the list above: Know what you need and what you want. This is a lesson I've been working on with my daughter. When she says she 'needs' something, I ask whether she needs it or wants it. Often she will correct herself when she says "I need" something. Lesson learned.

To quote a line from a Sheryl Crow song, "It isn't having what you want. It's wanting what you've got."

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Living Retired

I'm a pretty unadventurous person, but since retiring, I am learning to be more adventurous and to do things I initially try to avoid. I'm also learning to be more spontaneous. A few recent examples come to mind.
  • Another adoptive mom in Albuquerque invited me to go with her to Los Poblanos, a lavender farm, organic farm, B&B, fine dining and special events establishment in the small town of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque. I was just recovering from a head cold and hadn't slept much the night before, so I was thinking about begging off. But then I reminded myself that the last time I went to something I didn't really want to go to, I had a great time and a wonderful experience. So I went.
We were the only customers in the little unheated farm store, which was built in part of an old dairy building. The man working there was very knowledgeable about lavender and its medicinal benefits, and there were some nice photo opportunities, too.

After shopping, my friend treated me to lunch, and we sat and talked for nearly 2 hours.
  • The next day, I had the chance to buy half-price vouchers for 2-hour horseback rides. It has been decades since I last went riding, and I was so sore the next day I could barely walk, so I'm sure I'll be even more sore this time. But this is something my daughter wanted to do, the price was great, and we will travel in a group of no more than four riders, plus a guide. We'll go once the weather warms up. Of course, I will take my camera along, too.
  • One Sunday morning after my daughter got up, I asked if she would like to take a drive to Sandia Crest, the tallest peak in the Sandias at 10,678'. Although the temperature where we live (at about 5,300') was in the 40s, I knew it would be much colder at the top. We wore warm (or so we thought) clothes, and my daughter wisely wore her snow boots. The road to the top is 14 miles long, and it didn't take long before we saw snow on the sides of the road and among the trees. Then the clouds rolled in and the wind started howling. By the time we got to the top, there was no trace of sunshine.
The stairs to the observation area and gift shop weren't shoveled, but we managed to make our way to the top, slipping on the icy snow and at some points sinking up to our knees. I immediately regretted my decision to wear athletic shoes instead of snow boots. Once at the top, we continued on to the observation platform. The gorgeous views of the forest and city in the distance were completely obscured by blowing snow and low clouds. And it was cold! So we made our way back to the car through the parking lot and headed down the hill.

We then decided to drive part of the Turquoise Trail that runs between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, stopping in the little town of Madrid. We visited a couple of shops, took some pictures, and headed home. It was a fun day with my daughter. And it felt good to have decided to do something on the spur of the moment.

  • Most recently, my daughter wanted to go bowling with one of her friends and her father. I haven't bowled in probably 30 years or more, and I've been having pain in my right arm. But I didn't want to be a spoil-sport. We bowled two games, and I had a high score of 136 -- including four strikes. Then the dad took us all to dinner. So it was a nice evening and a lot of fun.
I have realized that the more I do things about which I am hesitant, or act spontaneously, the easier it becomes to say 'yes' and get out and do new and fun things. I haven't been disappointed yet. These actions aren't anything unusual for many people, but they are big changes for me.

I don't want to 'be retired.' That is too passive an expression. To me, it indicates an existence, not a life. Instead, I want to 'live retired.'

I am free of the daily grind and schedule of working at a paying job, so I am retired from work. But I never want to retire from life.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Having Too Much Fun!

Did you ever have a weekend chock full of fun activities? I recently did. And because this kind of thing doesn't happen to me very often, I was just glowing when the weekend was over.

No, there is no new man in my life. But this was such a great weekend anyway, with a variety of fun activities.

One Friday afternoon, my new digital SLR, a Canon T2i, arrived. It takes fabulous pictures, without a flash, even under very low light. That evening, my daughter celebrated her 17th birthday by taking her boyfriend and another couple from school to dinner. I ate at a nearby restaurant to give them some space to just hang out without an old lady hovering nearby. Then we came home and the kids watched a movie. They then had cheesecake, and I lit a big fire in the fire pit in our back yard. The kids sat outside by the fire, snuggling under warm blankets. My daughter later commented that it was her best birthday party ever.

Saturday my daughter and I spent the afternoon in Santa Fe, starting with a stop at our favorite Native American-owned shop, where we each got a new turquoise and silver ring. Then it was on to the plaza for some browsing, a late lunch and a lot of photography with my new, very awesome camera.

Sunday we drove to the Wanagi Wolf Refuge east of Albuquerque for a couple of hours of interacting with the wolves and wolf dogs in residence. I took a ton of pictures. My daughter was given a special Christmas ornament filled with wolf fur (which she had plucked from Hokshila, the big timber wolf). I was given a framed poster collage of pictures of the rescued wolves and wolf dogs.

After a quick dinner, I headed off to Coronado State Monument in Bernalillo, to join a Meetup group for the annual winter celebration. It was a blending of Native American, Hispanic and Anglo activities. My camera was put to the test as I photographed some of the many farolitos (waxed brown paper bags, each with sand and a votive candle inside). The outside of the museum was decorated with lights, Santa arrived, kids took a crack at a pinata, and then the crowd gathered around a blazing fire awaiting the arrival of Native American dancers from the nearby Cochiti Pueblo.

After watching several dances, I was cold and tired and headed home. I was disappointed with my pictures, although some of them were pretty good -- just not as good as I had hoped.

I can't believe how busy I am since I retired and moved to New Mexico. There is a long list of places I want to explore, many of them within driving distance of home. I have always been such a homebody, so it's surprising to see myself on the go so much of the time. It's also surprising to be having so much fun.

A therapist friend told me recently that it isn't uncommon to see retired people suddenly 'finding themselves' and becoming involved in new and fun activities. I am loving my new life since retirement. My father has often asked whether I regret retiring. My answer is always an unequivocal 'No.' There is nothing about my job that I miss with the exception of one friend with whom I went walking every day during lunch.

There is so much natural beauty, so many historic sites, so many places to discover and photograph. I think I'm going to be having fun for a long, long time to come.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Looking Back on This Blog

I started this blog in October 2009. Since then, I have published 59 posts. That's an incredible number of things to write about for a not-so-creative person who leads a pretty hum-drum life. My readership is small, but people from a variety of countries: the U.S., Canada, England, Russia, South Korea, Croatia, Slovenia, the Netherlands and several other locales, have read this blog at least once. I now have an even dozen followers. I would love to see that number grow in 2011.

I appreciate everyone who takes the time to read my blog, and I value and appreciate every comment and e-mail people send. People have said they have found encouragement and inspiration in my posts. Sometimes it feels that nobody cares or reads the blog, but your encouragement and feedback are very appreciated.

Sometimes I wonder where I will continue to find ideas about which to write, but my sources of inspiration are widespread: a newspaper ad, a word in an article or on-line posting, a thought while walking, a feeling or experience. I also have a few posts in rough drafts awaiting completion and the right time to post them.

Sometimes I write when I feel strongly about something. Sometimes I just want to share something fun or neat that has happened, such as getting to spend time with a large but very friendly timber wolf. And sometimes I write simply for the sheer pleasure of writing.

So because I really enjoy writing, I plan to continue sharing my thoughts, whatever they are worth, with my readership, small though it may be. I hope my readers find this blog to be interesting, that it encourages people to examine their attitudes and lives, and that it provides at least some fodder for thought and action.

Thank you for taking time to read about red rocks and sunflowers. Feel free to share the link with others, to sign up as a follower, and to give me feedback and suggestions.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Year of Change

While enjoying a walk outside a few weeks ago, before the Arctic Express hit us, I started thinking about change. Certainly my life changed during 2010 (retirement, move to a new state, daughter returning home, new house). But did I change as a person? And if so, how?

A few things came to mind immediately. The physical changes are the most obvious:
  • Hip pain frequently keeps me awake at night.
  • I have on-going pain in my arm muscles.
  • I have aged a great deal.
  • I have frequent pain in my shoulder.
  • I have lost a lot of muscle strength. 
  • I was diagnosed with osteopenia, or bone loss, in my hips.
Not so obvious are the psychological and emotional changes:
  • I am more introspective than in the past.
  • I am more aware of the beauty of nature, and I value it more.
  • I'm more outgoing (but still an introvert).
  • I'm doing a lot more fun things these days (hiking, photography, writing, exploring my new state, hanging out with wolves).
  • I am more aware of my blessings.
What caused these changes? Some are related to aging. I am acutely aware of the physical changes my body has undergone: loss of muscle strength, hip problems, shoulder pain, graying hair, changes in my skin, sleeplessness. And although I still don't feel 'old' (except when my hip and knee pop with every step), I am aware that the majority of my life lies behind me.

Some of the changes result from being retired. I now have the time to engage in activities I enjoy, which I couldn't do when I was working. I can now go hiking on weekdays, or go out and take pictures while my daughter is in school. And living in a very beautiful area allows me to just look up to see the mountains and the bluest sky I have ever seen.

Some changes result from long-delayed personal growth. Previous blog posts have explored the importance I place on personal growth and development, on continuing to stretch myself into areas where I am less comfortable, and on learning and doing new things. 

I know some people who are so afraid of anything new or different that they endure life, rather than embrace it. I don't do stupid things or take unnecessary risks. But how dull would my life be if I was afraid to explore, to stretch, to take a chance, to do something I'm not always comfortable doing? Whether it's trying a new recipe, inviting a stressed-out mom to meet me at a crafts fair for a couple of hours just to get away, or joining a hiking or photography group, these seemingly mundane things bring a spark to my life. I'm an introvert, so reaching out to people and joining groups isn't something that comes easily. But in 2010, I made a real effort to do these things. And you know what? I had fun! It feels good to stretch myself, even if 'stretching' for me includes things that are no big deal to more outgoing people.

It's OK to feel uncomfortable about trying something new. The important thing is to try. Life is about change and growth. We cannot control all the changes in our lives. Sometimes changes are negative, and they occur whether we want them to or not. Change can be scary. But even in those instances, we can control our reactions to change. We can accept, if not embrace, change. We can try to see the good in changes that may, on the surface, appear to include nothing positive. We can make the most of whatever situation we are in.

Changing how we think about things can actually change how we feel, both mentally and physically. Focusing on the positive, having a good attitude, can literally make us feel better. It isn't always easy to do, but it's certainly worth trying as 2011 gets under way.