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Senior Correspondent

I have survived the holidays with my sanity and budget intact. The weather has returned to winter-time normal for Scottsdale (low 70s) 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 birthday, turning 88 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 five 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 regrouting, 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. Refinish 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 repurpose 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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