Thursday, June 26, 2008

And the Living is Easy

My husband and I wouldn’t refer to ourselves as environmentalists. With that said, we believe it’s our responsibility to be aware of our impact on the planet and to live accordingly. Ed Bagley wannabe’s we’re not.

When the aging Honda Del Sol, with over 300,000 miles needed a new engine, we decided to bite the bullet and buy a hybrid. It breaks my heart there are so few options available. I remember going to an experimental workshop in the 1970’s to look at an electric car. What happened? Maybe this time we’ll get it right.

We ended up buying the Honda Civic Hybrid. This sticker said it could get as much as 55 miles per gallon. If you buy a hybrid, a primary goal is to get the best mileage possible. I suppose there might be people who buy a hybrid for the prestige, but that would be silly. Learning how to drive the car to get the best mileage has been part of the fun. Because I’m a very competitive person, getting better gas mileage than my husband has added to the enjoyment.

On the dashboard, there is an indicator telling us how many miles per gallon we’re getting. When the car is cold, the mpg goes way down. It also goes down when accelerating, going up hills and during traffic with a lot of stopping.

In order to get good gas mileage, it was important to change the way we drive. I can’t quickly accelerate when I’m stopped at a light or in traffic. I have to ease into it. I’ve learned how to increase my gas mileage in stop and go traffic, by coming to complete stop (which switches the car to the electric motor), and then easing into acceleration, instead of jamming on the gas motor.

What’s ironic is it’s changed the way I approach driving. Even the most passive person can become a Type A personality behind the wheel of the car. I used to love to push when I drove. I tried never to be rude or angry, but I do love to drive fast and never being far from a LA freeway allowed me to zoom from here to there. Not anymore. Now, I want to see how if I can improve my gas mileage. Take it nice and easy.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Blended Families

I went to pick my grandchildren up for a month long visit. They will be staying with their other grandparents and us this summer. What's unusual about our situation (or is it?) is my son and daughter in-law are divorced. I stay in the home of my former daughter in-law and her new husband when I stay overnight. My former daughter in-law is remarried to a wonderful man. They are all welcome in our home and we in theirs. I realize we're lucky and not everyone has this type of arrangement.

For the generation who created the Brady Bunch and the blended family, it only stands to reason, unique family situations would continue to exist for our children and grandchildren. I know one woman who drives 400 miles one way every month to see her twin grandchildren. When her son got a woman pregnant, he declared a lack of desire to be in their lives. Not so the grandmother. She is actively involved in their lives and plans to continue to be. The advice I have to offer is be very careful about getting involved in your children’s disputes. It's easy to want to pick sides. I realize every family is different, but think of the long term about you, your children and grandchildren.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Risk Success

I started plein air painting this year. Once a month, art instructor Phyl Doyon schedules an outdoor location where we paint for a few hours. It’s a totally different type of painting. I’ve come to believe that painting landscapes is the most difficult subject matter and painting outside is completely dissimilar than painting in a studio. There were seventeen of us who painted with Phyl last Monday. We were on a back road in a beautiful valley dotted with ranches and multi-million dollar homes. The valley is surrounded by the beginning of the Santa Monica Mountains on one side and gentle rolling hills on the other.
While I wasn’t particularly pleased with the results of the day, I was did enjoy being with nature and the process of trying to paint outside.

Saturday evening arrived, my husband was working and I was looking for something to do. I decided to gather up my paints and head for the hills. I love the Santa Monica Mountains with the combination of rolling green with an occasional outcrop of rocks jutting through the surface. That was what I was looking for. I decided to go down Mulholland Highway, well known as the subject in many movies about Los Angeles. Molholland dissects the length of the Santa Monica Mountains.

I was traveling along a stretch of road that didn’t offer many side roads. If I wanted to paint, I was going to have to pull onto the shoulder of the road, pull out my equipment and paint for the entire world to see. I was slightly self conscious, preferring not to be standing by the side of the road. There was a time in my life when I wouldn’t have stopped. Thoughts of, “What will people think?” would have prevailed and kept me from doing what I wanted.

As I get older I’m less inclined to let those thoughts dictate my actions. I may still have them, but they come, are examined and then gone. It was a beautiful evening and I was faintly aware of the cars and motorcycles that whizzed behind me. Did they wonder who the crazy lady was who painted by the side of the road? Maybe. But I focused instead on the color, the light and how it hit the hills and shadows cast by the setting sun and experienced a moment of bliss.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Failed Risk

One important quality of a successful retirement is the willingness to take risks. By the time most of us reach a certain age, we’ve found a groove in our relationships, work, home and interests. Retirement opens up the opportunity to explore and discover new possibilities. Likewise, it provides an easy out to withdraw from the world if we don’t put effort into getting outside our comfort zone.

Because of my work, I feel like I’m taking risks on a fairly consistent basis. It’s ironic how the world let’s us know we still have work to do. Last weekend, I was confronted with an opportunity to take a small risk and I couldn’t do it.

We’ve lived in our suburban neighborhood for almost twenty-five years. It’s a congenial place to live. People have come and gone throughout the years. It’s the type of place where you wave at your neighbor, talk about crab grass over the back fence, and deliver carrot cake if there’s an illness. We don’t get involved in the day to day activities and dramas that go on behind closed shades.

Recently a younger couple moved into the house two doors down. They got settled and then started working on a major remodel. The husband worked as the general contractor and every time my husband would see him as we took our daily walk, we’d get an update on the progress.

They completed the remodel a few months ago and promised to have an open house so everyone in the neighborhood could come see they new addition. The open house occurred last Sunday. In addition to the neighbors, they invited all of their friends.

I wanted to go to the open house with my husband, but had to work and didn’t get home until three o’clock. By that time, we needed to prepare dinner so my husband could go to bed, since he still works the night shift.

After he went to bed, I ran to the store and picked up a small plant as a house warming gift. As I drove by the house on my way home, I saw lots of children playing in the front yard, but no one that I recognized.

I called another neighbor to find out they had just returned from the open house. Then I froze. I couldn’t go down there. I didn’t know if anyone I knew was going to be there and I didn’t want to walk into a house with all of their friends and not know anyone.

So, I didn’t go. It seems so silly now. I think back over all of the times I didn’t do something, because I felt uncomfortable. I wrote recently about taking a risk and how proud I was of painting by the side of the road.

The opportunity to take risks never wanes, nor does the opportunity to succeed or fail.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The List, Part 3

When I read the following, I knew it was speaking to me. “I've committed to write more this year. It's what I want. Now that I've said it, I know I will drag into my writing room, and it will feel as though I have to hoist a dead body out of the way, just to sit down and type out a sentence. I'll want to wash my hands, and then research how soap got invented, and then perhaps start a small organic soap company.... But I'll stay there and write instead. “ It was written by Tama Kieves.

It speaks to one of the great myths. Do we ultimately do what we really to with our time and our lives? We all want to be happy, but do we do the things that make us happy?

There are a number a number of reasons we don’t do what we want. One of the prevailing reasons is life gets in the way. There are so many other things to get done, we sometimes don’t find the time to do what we really want.

As I wrote previously, when my children we younger we would visit the many museums that dot the Los Angeles landscape. They are now grown and gone and I no longer find the time to enjoy this activity. As the time to leave Los Angeles draws nearer, I want to know I’ve taken the time to see some of these sights.

The first problem is making the time to go to these places. Distances are so far and traffic is so bad you need to plan a full day for an outing. The second problem is finding someone to do this with. My husband doesn’t care to visit galleries and museums. I drag him kicking and screaming when we travel, but only on rare occasions when we’re home.

I came up with this brilliant idea. Why not create an Artist Field Trip once a month for the people I paint with? I enjoy their company. We share a love of art and most of the people I paint with are retired or don’t work.

While this appears to be another blog about art, it’s not. It’s actually about creating an environment to support your desires. Instead of willing or wishing myself to go to these places, I established a structure to do the work for me. It actually worked better than I realized.

I made the suggestion of the Artist Field Trip to Phyl and she thought it was a good idea. I then set up a flyer telling people the destination. If they wanted to be notified to send me an email. I would send out a blast once a month telling them where we were going. I would send out another email the week of the trip, telling people where to meet so we could carpool. I wanted to keep the process simple for me and everyone else. If you couldn’t make one month, that was fine.

We’ve had three of them in the last three months. It’s still hard for people to make the commitment. Everyone else is as busy as I am. But, it’s a start. We’ve kept it simple, but there is now a structure in place to pull me forward to actually do something I want to do.

So, what are you not doing that you want to do? Think about how you can create a structure to help you do the things you want to do.