January 30, 2012

The Little Things

I have survived the holidays with my sanity and budget intact. The weather has returned to winter time normal for Scottsdale (low 70's) so I can begin spending more time in the backyard. My wife, daughters, son-in-law, and grandkids have made it through various flues and colds. My dad is a month away from his 88th birthday and doing well. Betty and I have decided on our vacation plans for this year. So far, so good.


Let me tighten the focus a bit. With 2012 already almost a month old, now is a good time to reflect on all the little things that make up a satisfying retirement. Too often I get caught up in thinking about major problems or events and overlook the little sparkles of everyday life. When one reaches a certain age (different for everyone) it just happens: a realization of how marvelous the small stuff is that fills the nooks and crannies of a life.


As noted, the weather is now perfect for being outside. Summers in Phoenix are brutal, but from late October until mid April there isn't a better place to be. Over a dozen resorts, with room rates averaging close to $400 a night, are full of folks escaping the cold and snow. I just have to walk out the back door.


Too often, though, I take that fact for granted, stay inside, and make excuses for not taking full advantage of perfect, sunny days. Miles and miles of hiking trails are just minutes away. I live 5 blocks from a large, beautiful park just waiting for me to enjoy a picnic under a tree, watch the moms and kids play on the swings, or simply sit and read while soaking up the sounds of nature. There isn't a weekend from now until May that doesn't have at least two or three festivals or special events somewhere in the Valley of the Sun. I just have to make a little effort to enjoy something different.


I am thankful my almost 9 year old car is still running well. Yes, there are rattles, squeaks,and a noise here and there that I can't pin down, but none of that affects its purpose: to get me or my wife from here to there. The car was bought for cash so there has never been a payment. It still manages to get close to 30 miles a gallon. The air conditioner blows cold air in the summer and heat in the winter. It remains safe and dependable and still has less than 85,000 miles on it.


I am thankful for hobbies and interests to keep me busy. After 10 years of retirement I haven't run out of things to do. I still occasionally plunk away at the guitar. Every once in awhile I'll turn on one of my ham radios and talk to someone on the other side of the world. A few times a year I go to the garden store and buy enough flowers to fill the pots with splashes of color.

We have a bird and  hummingbird feeder out back. Most months of the year there are winged visitors at each one, adding color and song to my day. They don't ask much in return, just some peanuts and sugar water.

I am married to a woman who loves to do what I don't: physical labor. If a bathroom needs re-grouting, or a side yard needs a fence build for a new puppy, she will be the one to tackle those jobs. Paint a room? Call Betty. Re-finish the front door? I will help but she is the driving force. I am thankful for someone in my life who is strong where I am weak.

I am thankful that both of us enjoy the simpler things in life. We like finding a bargain at a second-hand furniture store. We get excited when we can re-purpose an old dresser or chair into a conversation piece for the house or yard. We feel like we winning when we can use a coupon at a favorite restaurant or enjoy a dinner of half-price appetizers during happy hour. We enjoy sitting in the lounge at a local resort, listening to a jazz trio, knowing we can drive 15 minutes to enjoy the free show any day of the week we feel motivated to do so.

I enjoy the process of clipping back the plants and bushes in February as they start to grow and green up for spring and summer. Raking up the leaves, trimming the trees, and making sure the drip system is working properly tell me the cooler days are almost over.


All of us, me included, tend to focus on the big stuff of life, both the good and bad. When we look back at years past it is the special vacation, the leak that ruined the bathroom, the birth of a grandchild, or the day the car died on the freeway during rush hour that first come to mind. That is not likely to change. 


What to do about it? Appreciate every small joy or smile today. You may not recall it next year, but the overall texture of your satisfying retirement lifestyle will be better for what happened today. 


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18 comments:

  1. Someday we want to retire to Tucson. I love Arizona. All except for the politics that is. But Tucson is bluish, I am told.

    I love the desert. Yes, you are lucky to be there.

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    1. 50 years later Phoenix remains Barry Goldwater country. Most folks here bring new meaning to the term conservative. A much more liberal slant can be found in Tucson. In fact, there is a small movement to have the southern part of the state split away and form a separate state. It won't ever happen but it gives you an idea of the different mindsets. Flagstaff is an interesting blend of tree-huggers (and I say that in a good way), liberals, and conservatives. But, over all, Arizona politics is a unique animal that must be adapted to.

      Both my wife and I were born and raised back east. We miss "real" trees, small towns, and rain. But, after 27 years in Tucson and Scottsdale this is home. Yesterday was 75 degrees and just spectacular. We could never give up January days like that.

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  2. I hope someday to have as great a life, and mindset, as you do, Bob. Still slogging through the everyday life of work and play (too much of the former), but will see the light at the end of the tunnel in not too long. In the meantime I appreciate those times we have that are most memorable, and oftentimes they are the simplest. Enjoy the great weather in AZ. Our winter, if you want to call it that, is starting to tail down here in TN, as the days get warmer and the skies seem to be blue all the time. Later.

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    1. It has been an odd winter this year almost everywhere. We have had none of the usual January rain and the temps have been fluctuating between 10 degrees below, then 10 degrees above normal. Much of the nation has had virtually no snow cover while the Pacific Northwest has seen record snowfall.

      No matter what some people say, the climate is changing as it has continuously since the formation of the earth. How it affects all of us is still to be determined. Some predictions are of daytime summer high temps averaging 120 in the Phoenix area within 50 years. Luckily, I will be long gone by then!

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  3. Read this and your piece reviewing "ten years later" linked on the right. You give me hope. I'm struggling with exiting what would likely be my last job in my profession but not sure what the heck I'll do with my life. Your ten year review and litany of gratitude for all you have (after going through a lot of the angst I'm now contemplating) is encouraging. But, you're you and I'm me and I know I've always struggled with living in the moment and enjoying my blessings as they are. At 60 I hope to have a long time to fill, and am blessed with a great family but jumping out of the plane, having never skydived, is really scary! It's not the finances thankfully (if anything I've overdone that these many years, living perhaps too much below our means), it's just the need to completely re-invent myself. Am I thankful? You betcha. Great opportunities. Just not sure what to do. Anyway, your writing and observations help. And, having re-read this, it helps me too to understand me! Thanks Bob.....

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    1. No matter how smooth and satisfying my journey seems now, there were several years when I worried about money constantly, floundered trying to find a hobby or something to keep me occupied, struggled with time management, and was convinced all my plans would end in failure.

      All of those emotions and thoughts are rather common, Allan. I had done only one thing for my 35 year career. I didn't know how to do anything else. So, if retirement didn't work for me I really had no Plan B.

      At any time if you have a particular concern or question feel free to e-mail me. I don't promise I will have an answer that works for you, but I'll give it my best shot. Thanks for reading and caring.

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  4. One of the blessings of retirement is having time to enjoy the simple pleasures each day offers. Winter in Canada doesn't allow me to enjoy my back garden or local park in the way you describe. I am however, taking pleasure in those mornings when new snow covers the landscape, the sky is as blue as on the best of days in July, and the sun is so brilliant that I think of reaching for my sunglasses as I drink my morning coffee and gaze through my windows at the wonder of the season.
    Your post always provides more suggestions for my daily gratitude list.
    Be well, Jeanette

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    1. I remember the type of winter mornings you describe. Growing up in the Philadelphia and Boston area, living for awhile in both Iowa and Utah, plus going to college in Syracuse, NY provided plenty of opportunities to see the beautiful side of snow and cold. There is a sharp tang to the air that is not replicated during any other season.

      Enjoy your coffee and view, Jeanette.

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  5. Looking forward to two months in Tucson next winter!

    I haven't been successful at slowing down yet. Maybe later this year.

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    1. Considering you just returned from Arizona and now you are off to South America, I'd agree you are still running full speed ahead..good for you.

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  6. great post filled with graditude. That and a positive attitude can make the difference of an enjoyable retirement of a negative one. Thank for the encouragement.

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    1. Sometimes gratitude for what we have is overlooked. If you can read this blog and leave a comment you are already in the privileged group the people on earth because it means you have electricity. You have a computer and Internet access. It is likely you have control over your fingers for typing. And, you have the freedom to read and write.

      Not bad, right?

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  7. Gratitude, and living in the moment, are the keys to living a satisfying life, retired or not. Sometimes I feel anxious about my upcoming retirement and I have to remind myself of that. Thanks for a post that encourages me to prioritize "the little things", and to stay focused on today and let tomorrow be tackled when it gets here. You've inspired me to have lunch in the park on a beautiful Florida winter day!

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    1. Good, Jan. I have to constantly remind myself that now is the time to be outside, whether it is a picnic, or going to the horse track (no betting, just people watching), or simply walking a few miles around the neighborhood. It is scary how quickly a day can get away from me if I am not conscious of my use of time. Suddenly it is dinner time and I have no idea where the day went.

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  8. You're a lucky man -- your car and your wife both work!

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  9. Today I am grateful for the weather-sunny an 63 degrees in NYC. How wonderful to be able to spend the afternoon sitting in the sun in the botanical gardens. It really is the simple pleasures that make a satisfying retirement.

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    1. 63 degree in New York City on February 1st...it has been such an odd year for weather. I'm so glad you can take the time to literally smell the flowers!

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