Hobbies: so many choices, so little time

Hobbies are something you do in your free time for enjoyment or relaxation. When I was young, I thought as I got older I'd have time to get into hobbies, but I was totally wrong — the older I get, the busier I get.

Plus, as you age, your energy level decreases such that, sometimes, just resting is all you want to do. Still, hobbies are a wonderful pastime, and truly worth finding the time and resources to participate in if you can. Here are some hobbies I've tried and would love to do more of:

— Model Railroading: I've been interested in model trains since I was a kid. Back then, I had the time but not the space or funds to get into it — now I have those but not the time.

If you've never seen a great model railroad, you really should. There is a club layout in the basement at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute that is truly a miniature world. They've modeled the Troy area in the 1940s, and it's not only beautiful but historically accurate as well. While I could never create something as amazing as that, I'd sure love to have something to work on and play with. Someday.

— Computer Programming: From the first moment I was exposed to computers in high school, where your programs were on paper tape and punch cards, I was hooked. I've made my career working with computers, and, of course, they are ubiquitous now, but there is still a big rush in getting a computer to do exactly what you want it to do.

If you have the bug for this (no pun intended), there are many programming languages to choose from, and, lucky for us, the best of these are free or "open source." Computers are great because, unlike people, there is no gray area with them — the program either works or it doesn't.

— Woodworking and Metalworking: Woodworking and metalworking are terrific hobbies because you can make useful things. Though very similar in the creative sense, they are very different in real life, because metal is basically stable but wood shrinks and expands with temperature and humidity.

The kinds of tools you need are different as well (tools are like toys for big boys). I've made plenty of bookcases over the years, and I can hang shelves anywhere, but I really want to take my woodworking to the next level.

I'm also learning how to weld, and I have a really old metal lathe that I'd love to get working one of these days. Both of these hobbies reward practice and patience in so many ways it's fantastic.


— Ham Radio, Electronics, Audio: I've been a radio fan my whole life, so it was natural to get a ham radio license. Ham radio ties in nicely with electronics, too — there are so many gadgets to build.

Though ham radio is no longer on the cutting edge due to the Internet, it's still a great learning tool and can really come in handy during an emergency. Good quality stereo gear is awesome as well, and you can still build it yourself if you like. There is so much information out there in this area, much of it free, that you are truly limited only by your time and imagination.

— Fitness: It's always good to do something physical, even if it's just walking. Keeping the blood flowing keeps you feeling young.

Over the years I've tried everything — running, weight-lifting, bicycling, calisthenics — but I always come back to nice long walks to clear my head and make me feel good. I'd like to hike more as well, and someday I'd love to learn to swim, but the important thing is just doing something. A good sweat now and then is a great thing.

— Learning Another Language: Wouldn't it be fascinating to learn another tongue and then travel to places where that tongue is spoken? Maybe you won't be fluent, but it would still be helpful for sure.

My problem is there are so many places I want to go I can't decide on what language to learn. Not too long ago, I was at a campground late at night, sitting under the stars with my short-wave radio, and I picked up Radio China which was airing Mandarin lessons. That language is so different from our own, but for that one night, if a Chinese person showed up at the campground, I could have greeted him or her and then shown them to the bathroom!  

— Entertaining: By “entertaining,” I mean cooking and sharing good times with family and friends. Every now and then, you go to a party where everything is right — the food, the mix of guests, and the weather if it's outside. It's hard to get it just right, and there are entire books on how to entertain.

My lovely wife is a big fan of potlucks, where everyone brings a dish to share. Then there's holiday entertaining, theme parties, sports events — I'm getting tired just thinking about it. Entertaining creatively and effectively is a skill in its own right and one worth getting better at.

— Traveling: You only have so much time, money, and strength to travel, yet there are so many places to go it's mindboggling. You name a city or landmark anywhere in the world and I'm sure I'd love to go there. How do you choose?

I know for my wife and I riding motorcycles in the Swiss Alps is definitely on our bucket list, as well as touring Italy and visiting Australia. Those would all be fantastic, but what about Peru, South Africa, Japan, and New Zealand, to say nothing of closer destinations like Key West, Alaska, and even the national parks? Will there be enough time, money, and health? I sure hope so for some of it at least.  

— Reading and Writing: All my life, reading has been a dependable joy, the one activity that never fails to entertain and enlighten. Reading truly is a time and space machine, as you connect with writers from different eras and walks of life. Such a deal. In my case, reading led to creative writing, which I enjoy very much.

Even if I had all the money in the world, my favorite things would still be a good walk and a good book. Truly you don't need much more than that.

Note: though I'm an avid motorcyclist, I did not include motorcycling here because, while I do ride in my leisure time, I consider motorcycling more of a lifestyle choice than a hobby. For example, circumstances permitting, I'll always ride rather than drive, and, since driving is not generally considered a hobby, why should motorcycle riding be?

If you can ride to work — and I do whenever I can — then it's not a hobby.

Similarly, I've not included being a sports fan as a hobby. Just listen to some sports talk radio to hear how passionate sports fans can be and you realize we take it very seriously. Sports can be much more than a hobby, or even a lifestyle; watch a Bills game and see those bare-chested fans with their faces painted, wildly yelling and screaming, outdoors in freezing cold weather — the word “obsessed” comes to mind.

Gardening, stamp collecting, whatever — hobbies are great fun and worth doing if you have the time and resources. When I hear that people retire and then get bored, I simply have no idea how to relate. There is just so much to learn and do. Enjoy your hobbies!