Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Do Opposites Really Attract?

It certainly works with magnets, but people? 

Try to put the matching sides of two magnets together and it just doesn't work, no matter how you try. But if you turn one of them around so the opposite sides are facing each other, it can be hard to get them apart.

According to the Internet match-making sites out there, young people say they are searching for partners who are just like they are. They say want someone with all the same interests, hobbies, background, likes and dislikes.

But studies of mature couples who have been together for many years show that the partners tend to be complementary. Each supplies something that the other lacks or needs. Together, the two of them become whole.

Too much alike?

I once dated a guy who was very similar to me in so many ways: we went to the same places, did the same things, ate the same food, we were even both divorced and each had a pre-school son. It was OK for about six months, but then I realized that he was thinking we were the perfect couple and I was becoming bored to death.

Losing ourselves in the relationship

Like so many women, I have often found myself in situations where I have adapted to a partner to help things work. It happens a little bit at a time - one thing here and another there. After a while, I always came to realize that I had changed so much that I didn't even know who I was anymore. The person I had become had little to do with the real person inside of me. I had almost forgotten the hopes and dreams that I had for myself.

Discovering myself again

After my second divorce in 1992, I chose to avoid being in a relationship so I could remember what it was like to enjoy being myself. It was wonderful to make my own decisions and live exactly as I wanted for the first time in my life. I finally got to go to college at age 40. It was amazing! I loved every minute of it and graduated with distinguished honors. Then I started a business that allowed me to develop the artist inside of me and support myself, too. Once the kids were grown, I was able to make the huge step of retiring to Mexico without having to consult with anyone but myself. I finally decided that if I wanted to really be me and live the life I chose, I'd better stay to stay single.

But. . .

By the time I'd retired, I had started missing having someone to share my life with. I had given up on the idea of it ever happening, and, of course, that's when I found the best partner I've ever had. And he is certainly nothing like me! East coast - west coast. Tall - short. Athletic - intellectual/artist. Extrovert - introvert. Republican - democrat. TV - books & Internet. Meat & potatoes - vegetarian. I never would have thought it possible that we'd get along so well.

We both realize that we each fill in something that is lacking in the other. I tend to hide out at home and he's the socializer who gets me out once in a while with other people. I'm his secretary and he's my fix-it guy. He taught me to fish and is proud of the fact that I can out-fish most of the guys we know. He likes to think he's helping when he gives his opinion when I'm trying to decide between two fabrics for a quilt. He can reach the stuff in the high cupboards while I can easily bend down to the low ones. He gives me peace and quiet to write and I join him on fall Saturdays to watch some college football. I cook vegetarian meals and he makes himself some meat to go with it. He bought us both Nooks and has learned how to check the fishing weather on the computer. Neither of us is going to change political parties, but we can agree to disagree and just not talk about it.

We give each other plenty of space to be ourselves, yet we are always there for each other. We actually spend a lot of time apart - he's at the coast fishing while I'm at home in the mountains. I join him for two weeks each month and we talk on the phone every evening we are apart. I encourage him to going fishing and play tennis and have a few beers with the guys, and he watches with interest when I paint or draw or design a quilt.

The moral of my story

The main thing is to not try to change or control the other person. I like what Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk,says: "The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers."

We have to take care of our flowers to keep them happy. Pay attention to what they need, or want - what is important to them. That's what we do when we first start dating, so why do we so often forget that we get out of a relationship pretty much what we put into it?

And don't forget to water your flower tonight.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Travel Tales: The People of Santiago Atitlan

The village of Santiago Atitlan is located on the banks of Lago Atitlan in the Guatemalan highlands. Most of the people live in the traditional Tz'utujil Maya lifestyle. The women weave their huipiles (blouses) and embroider them with traditional designs of birds and flowers.

It is common to see women still wearing the traditional clothing in most of the Guatemalan villages, but most men wear jeans and t-shirts. This is the only village where I have ever seen men also wearing traditional clothing.

Santiago Atitlan is larger than most of the other villages in the area, so people come from smaller nearby villages to display their handiwork on market days. Each village has it's own colors and designs in the clothing, so they all know where everyone comes from by the clothes.

The first time I visited Santiago, some young people from the states had brought a container of sidewalk chalk and passed it out to some kids on the plaza. The kids weren't quite sure what to do with it at first, but finally got the hang of it.

I think the mothers, not much more than children themselves, really wanted to jump in there and grab a piece of chalk for themselves, but they just kept a careful eye on the kids.

Each time I visit Santiago, I can't help but think about the horrible things these people have been through in their lives.

They were fighting a civil war during the 1960s, with guerrillas on one side and right wing military repression on the other. 

The guerrillas hid out in the rural villages, so the military took it out on the villagers.  Death squads threatened and killed with no fear of punishment.  In 1981, the parish priest was assassinated in front of the church as villagers looked on helplessly.

In 2005 Hurricane Stan visited Lake Atitlan and stayed and stayed. The villages are all located on the sides of volcanoes that surround the lake. The mountain-sides turned to mud and slid down to wash away villages.

 Aid poured in from many sources, but most of it never reached the people. It was almost all stolen before it got to them.

 We always stay in Panajachel, so we arrive at Santiago via a ferry that crosses the lake. The ferry docks at a small waterfront park which has been flooded over the past few years because the lake keeps rising. 

The lake water has no river to drain it, but the theory is that there used to be a 'drain' that allowed some of the water to escape underground and that 'drain' was plugged up by an earthquake a few years ago. Now the water level is rising more and more each year and there is nothing they can do about it. Another problem these people don't need.

Anyway, when we arrive at the park, we always look for a tuk-tuk to take us to the plaza at the top of the steep hill. 

Then we can wander slowly back down the hill and check out all the wares that are displayed on both sides of the road. Most of the goods on display are products from their farms - corn, beans, fresh produce, but they also sell textiles. There is always lots of cloth that they use to make their skirts plus many hand-woven and hand-embroidered huipilies.

Farther down the hill are many stores that cater to tourists. Most of the goods are made in the villages and then brought to Santiago for sale. 

We always end up buying belts woven of colorful cloth for friends and family. They are inexpensive so they make good, useful souvenirs.

Last trip, we came home with two oil paintings of indigenous people in their traditional clothing, and another of some pottery. Some of the art work is pretty bad, but a few of the artists are quite accomplished.

One time, I had gone across the lake alone and I just missed the ferry going back to Panajachel. I sat at a small restaurant and nursed a diet coke while enjoying watching the people. 

Some of the women were wearing hats that I found quite interesting.  They were made of a very long strip of hand-woven cloth that was wrapped around and around their heads to form a large "brim". 

I kept watching, trying to figure out exactly how they did it, when one of them suddenly began unwrapping hers to readjust it. She was standing right in front of me, talking to her friend when she did it so she didn't even notice when I started taking photos. 
She started by pulling her hair into a ponytail and wrapping the cloth around and around it.  Then she pulled the cloth-wrapped ponytail around her head and continued wrapping around and around, about 20 times. The final part of the cloth was embroidered so it ended up with a fancy design on the outside edge. I never did figure out exactly how she secured it at the end.

A few minutes later, I paid her a little bit of money to let me take a photo of her.  She didn't know I'd already taken a few, and I didn't mention it, but I did give her more than she asked for.
Thanks for reading this. I hope you enjoyed it. You can learn more about Santiago's flood problems here.
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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Getting Started

Why is it often so hard to get started doing something you want to do, would maybe like to do, or really should do? Sometimes, procrastination can be easier than getting started because we have no idea just how to go about getting started.

For some things we need to follow Nike's advice of "Just do it." A friend told me just today that she's been swamped dealing with a huge pile of paperwork for her accountant. The job seemed so overwhelming that she kept putting off starting it. She finally just told him that she would have it on his desk by Monday. Once she'd made that commitment, she had no choice but to sit down and dig in. She says she has what was once 42 piles whittled down to only fourteen. She's determined to have it ready by Monday.

Retirement is a new beginning. We have lots of free time to devote to whatever we choose. Often we have projects that we've been meaning to get to, or new things we'd like to try, but somehow we just don't seem to get around to doing it. We finally have the time but we can't seem to get going. Or maybe we decide it's silly to consider starting something new at this stage of our lives. We wouldn't even have any idea of where to start. It will take too much work. We're too old. Those are just more excuses to put off getting started.

You've Gotta Start Somewhere - How About At The Beginning?

The first step is to decide what it is that you want or need to do. I like to get the "needs" out of the way so I won't have them nagging at the back of my mind when I'm having fun doing something I "want" to do. One way to do that is to divide the job up into small parts to be done daily.

For instance, in my ever-evolving goal of simplifying my life, I have just begun the job of going through all of my drawers, cupboards, and closets to get rid of stuff that I can comfortably live without. This is actually an annual job for me. It seems like each year I get rid of lots of stuff but then I turn around and gather up more. I'm not conscious of gathering but the drawer somehow is full again.

This can be a stressful job because there are some serious decisions to be made. I suppose I could do it as one huge job, but I prefer to take it easier on myself by committing to go through at least one drawer or cupboard each day. That way it doesn't get overwhelming.

I have one box for stuff I will donate, maybe one for stuff I think I can sell, and one for trash. I completely empty the drawer I'm working on and then deal with one item at a time. It must go into one of the boxes or it can go back into the drawer if I'm really sure I want to hang into it. But if I haven't used it in a year or two, it's time for it to go.

I make sure that I deal with this project early each day so that I can go on to the things that are more fun without feeling guilty.

Trying Something New

Think back to the days when you were young and had your whole life ahead of you. I'd be willing to bet that you had some kind of dream - something you wanted to do with your life. Then someone came along a burst your bubble. Convinced you that you would never be good enough or never be able to make enough money to live on.

Did you dream of being an artist? A musician? An author? Take some time to think about it. Is that dream still hiding out in a little corner of your head? Does it still sound like something you would enjoy?

Or maybe your dreams have changed as the years have gone by. Maybe you now realize that you have new dreams that you would like to follow...  Cooking? Travel? Sailing?

Even with the fun stuff, it can be hard to get going. It can be too easy to get stuck in a rut of doing the same old things over and over again. You get an idea but just don't quite get around to doing anything about it. Or you think - Oh, yeah, that sounds like fun. I'll have to try that next week or next month or even next year. But it just never happens.

Make A Decision And Then Make A Plan

Once you decide what it is that you would like to accomplish, you have to figure out the first step you will need to take. Do you own any art supplies? A musical instrument? You will probably need to purchase, find or borrow something basic to get going.

I'm working on learning to speak French right now. I may take a class some day, but for now I am working with Rosetta Stone and French in Action on YouTube and some workbooks I've picked up over the years. My plan is to study French for an hour every day. My ultimate intention is, when I have a basic understanding of the language, to go to France and rent a house or apartment where I can stay for three months or so and force myself to use the language and become more proficient.

Maybe you'll need to take a class or two. Drawing class? Sailing school? Everyone has to start somewhere. Maybe you could do it on your own, like preparing a new meal each night for dinner, but a class can work as a jump start. You'll find out what you need to buy, what you need to learn, and meet other people who want to do the same thing as you do.

One really good thing about a class is that it kind of forces you to get going. You'll have specific things you'll need to learn or to do to prepare for the next class, and it will be harder to procrastinate. By the time you've finished the class, practicing the new thing will be a habit. You may decide to continue with the next step in another class, or maybe you will be ready to just go on by yourself. And you will probably now have a new friend or two to do it with.

Intention And Networking

Intention is a great tool for getting things done. An intention is defined as a course of action that one intends to take toward an objective or goal. A definite project is easy - your intention is to work on it until you get it done. You just need to decide how to go about it.

When it comes to learning new things, it can be more difficult. You could set an intention such as becoming a world-famous photographer or a best-selling author. But if you do it that way, you might just be setting yourself up for failure. Or it may become so stressful that what you thought would be fun is now a real drag. Be sure to make your goal one that is achievable. Start with small steps and work up.

The really cool thing about intention comes when you share it with friends and relatives. It's pretty hard to back out on something if you've already told everyone that you're going to do it, so sharing your intention may just give you the push you need to get going.

The other good thing about sharing your intention is the networking that just magically happens once people know what you plan to do.

When I decided to move to Japan, my niece and her husband mentioned my plans to his uncle who had been a Peace Corps volunteer. He, in turn, mentioned it to some old Peace Corps friends who published an online newsletter in Japan. They asked me to write a letter to their newsletter explaining why I was moving to Japan. I did and was happy to become pen pals with six different Japanese women. Four of them invited me to stay with them when I was in their area. One of them became a very good friend. I stayed with her for two weeks. She introduced me to many other Japanese women, taught me so much about Japanese culture, and helped me find an apartment to live in.

Make It Enjoyable

Remember, there is much less stress if we do something just to please ourselves. Take photos that you like. Draw or paint pictures that you like. Commit to write 500 or 1,000 words a day. With constant practice, your skills will improve. You will probably like your work more and more. Some day, you may become skilled enough that other people like your work. You may suddenly find that you've written a whole book. You may even make some money. But, most important, I hope you will have had fun along the way.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Simplify: Why? How?

It seems like "Simplifying your life" is the newest catch-phrase. I see it mentioned everywhere. It generates a bazillion Google searches.

But there is nothing new about it at all. Simple living was encouraged by Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad. St. Francis of Assisi, Albert Schweitzer, and Mohandas Gandhi all lived simple lives. The Amish, the Mennonites, and Quakers believe in living simply. Henry David Thoreau wrote about his simple life on Walden pond. William Morris advised us to have nothing in our homes that is not beautiful or useful.

Real Simple Magazine was a hit as soon as it hit the shelves 10 or 15 years ago. It claims to tell us how to make life easier every day. But then why is it full of ads begging us to buy more and more 'stuff' to fill up our lives? What is easier about that? What is simple about it? I don't get it.

What Does Simplification Mean? And How Do I Do It?

For some, simplifying their lives may be quite simple; for others, maybe not. We all live our lives in different ways. One thing might be very important to one person and not matter at all to the next. I think of simplifying as a long term goal - something I am moving closer to all the time. It seems that there is always one more step I can take - one more way to make my life a little bit simpler. What seemed simple ten years ago may seem totally extravagant and wasteful now. There is always room for improvement.

Make More Time for the Important Things

Simplifying is making sure that you have time for the things that are really important to you. Do you have enough time to enjoy relaxing with friends? Do you work 60 hours a week but always wish you had more time to spend with your children or grandchildren? Sure, working all those hours may bring in lots more money for fancy toys, but what is more important - toys or family?

Reduce Consumption

Simplifying is realizing that you really don't need to own every new electronic toy as soon as it comes out. Or a new car every two years. Will those new clothes really fit in your closet? Or will you have to throw something out to make room? Think about why we seem to need to shop all the time. Why are we allowing advertising agencies so much control over our time and money? 

And think about your carbon footprint. How much pollution is your lifestyle causing? How much gas do you burn? How much electricity do you use? How many trash cans do you fill every week? Isn't most of it packaging from all the stuff you buy?

Reduce Possessions

Simplifying is going through your cupboards and closets and garage and deciding what you need and what you don't need. What can you sell? What can you pass down to the kids? What can you give to charity? When you've gone through the house, what about that storage unit? Think about how good you'll feel when everything actually fits and it all stays nice and neat.

Increase Self-sufficiency

Simplifying is increasing your self-sufficiency. So many of us have forgotten how wonderful real food can taste because we are so used to buying pre-made processed foods that are full of fat and sugar that ruin our health. Learn to enjoy real cooking with real food. Buy fresh fruits and veggies and actually cook them. Better yet, get them fresher and more locally from a farmers market. Or grow them yourself in a backyard garden so you can walk out the door and eat it as soon as it is picked.

Do you get in your car and drive to a gym to work out? What does that gym membership cost? How much time do you waste driving back and forth? Do you pay someone to clean your house and mow your lawn so you will have to time to go to the gym? Here's a radical idea... What if you use that time instead to go for a walk or jog with your partner, a friend, your kids, or a pet? What if you get your exercise by doing your own housework and mowing your own lawn? People actually used to do that stuff instead of hiring it done. And they were healthier and in better shape.

What else do you pay good money for that you could easily do for yourself? The less you pay out, the less you need to earn, the more time you have for yourself, and the sooner you can retire.

Simplify Your Diet

Simplifying your diet can save you time. It can save you lots of money. It can save your life! So many of the illnesses that are ruining our lives can be directly related to what we eat. The current drought in the US may be killing the corn, but it may be good for the health of the nation. Most of that corn is not used as good old corn-on-the-cob, anyway. It is processed into high fructose corn syrup and put into almost every can and package of processed food on the grocery store shelves. This is the plan our government came up with to use up all the excess corn that the mega-factory farms produce with their government subsidies. This extra sugar in everything is what makes it taste so good that we just can't stop eating it. It is a huge part of the reason why over 60% of Americans are overweight or obese.

Simplify your diet by doing your own cooking. Try buying most of your food from the outside edges of the grocery store and very little from the middle rows of processed stuff. Simplify your diet by eating more fresh produce, and whole grains, and legumes and seeds. It's a really good place to start.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Volunteering - Value Your time

They say that volunteering can add years to your life. A person who is busy helping others never gets bored, feels needed, and just doesn't have time to be sick or die early.

I think I must have built up some pretty good "long life" karma over the years. While my kids were young, it was PTA, 4-H, weekly helping in the classroom, Girl Scouts, Little League score keeper, and the Discovery Center of Idaho. While I was running my quilt shop, every semester I taught a two week quilting unit to the sewing classes of the junior high school across the street, and I organized an annual quilt project for the needy. In Washington, I tutored English as a second language, and in Japan I helped teach quilting classes to two groups of women. When I moved to Mexico, I taught ESL to a class of young adults and I helped to found a quilt guild where I gave weekly demos and taught classes.

Then I remembered why I had wanted to retire early - to spend time developing my art and to travel. But I was already so over-committed that I didn't have much time to follow those dreams.

It is so easy to over-volunteer here... orphanages, animal shelters, theater groups, writing groups, teaching English, the annual chili cook-off, church groups, old folks homes, kids' art classes, the American Legion, the Cruz Roja (Red Cross). And that is just a very few of them.

I'm sure it's the same just about everywhere. There are so many interesting opportunities, so many people and organizations that need help. And you suddenly have all kinds of free time since you retired. It can be hard to say no. And it can be even harder to quit once you've started.

I've learned the hard way that it is important to sit down and think about what is important to you at this time of your life. Once you've figured out what your interests and your goals are, look for a way that you can follow your dreams and give your help where it is needed. Be pro-active in your choices. Don't wait until they come begging; volunteer where YOU want to spend your time.

Value your time; you worked for a lot of years and deserve some time to do what you want to do. When someone asks, be polite but firm. If it sounds like something you'd like to do, great! If not, respond with "I'd love to, but..." Don't apologize; it's your life.

After my first year with the quilt guild and the English teaching, I backed off a bit. Instead of teaching, I did some training sessions for the teachers. I let others take over some of the work of the quilt guild. Then, finally, I had the time to do some traveling.

I didn't quit volunteering completely, but I choose when to donate my time and limit it to one-day or one-weekend projects: a single day of tending bar for the chili cook-off, making up trivia questions for the American Legion's Jimmy Buffett Shrimp Boil, donating lap blankets to the retirement home and old clothes to the orphanage thrift store.

There are lots of ways that I can volunteer while still keeping control of my life.