Monday, February 26, 2007

car-free at last

Not wanting to wait too long between posts, I'm attempting this one without having a clear idea what to write about. It's not that everything's great- it's that everything's in limbo. My house is not sold. My child's father still hasn't filed for custody or visitation rights, so the possible impending court case remains to be seen. Big question marks loom large.

That must be disturbing, because when one of my best friends called last night, I snapped and snarled, then explained that I have way too much going on- too much work, too many extra demands, and on top of that my 16-year-old Honda is making noises that sound like a wheel is ready to pop off. Just thinking about how on earth I'm going to manage to take in my car to the shop and still manage to get the child to school and myself to work is completely overwhelming. This is the perfect example of how our isolated society doesn't work. In a more ideal society, I'd be living amongst family, and "my people" would be there to help me out with the car problem.

That concept makes me think of my mother. She always used to fret that I lived so far away from home, with "no support system," as she lamented. I used to just blow her off, which is easy to do when you're 21 and have a brand new Toyota which you haven't yet totalled with your youthful driving habits.

For a long time now I've been stating that I want to move close to downtown, where reliance on the automobile is minimized. It's amazing how last night I came to realize that although I certainly do have a full plate, ripe with things I could worry about, it was the issue with my car that finally sent me over the edge. That's how significant THE CAR is, even in the life of a person who detests IT!

I show my opinion of THE CAR by refusing to give in to society's dictates regarding what type (and age) of car I should be associated with. I refuse to funnel my money into THE CAR (although, make no mistake: old cars are not cheap to maintain).

Yet THE CAR is now ruining my life. How did that happen? Well, let's take a look at where I live. Although located within this city's freeway outerbelt, my house is maybe 10 miles from downtown, and 4 miles from the child's school. The absence of sidewalks in my neighborhood shows the mentality of its developers: THE CAR rules. If, heaven forbid, something happens to your car, you'd better have another one standing by in your 3-car garage. THE CAR is mandatory, a veritable sine qua non.

The fact that the child's school is 4 miles away is another indicator of the times. I grew up in a bygone age when most kids actually walked to school. Children automatically exercised daily, just by doing what they had to do, and obesity was rare. But THE CAR changed all that.

Tomorrow I will rise at the crack of dawn, drive the old Honda to the shop (unless a wheel falls off en route), walk 2 miles back home on still-ice-covered streets, then use my superhuman powers to somehow maneuver the child onto a city bus on which I will transport him to the vicinity of his school. Then we'll traverse the tundra until, God willing, we reach his classroom.

Tomorrow we'll discover what it's like to be car-free.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

clarity at last?

In order to clear my mind about what it is that I DESIRE and wish to ATTRACT into my life, it seems to be necessary to spell out exactly what I do like about my current living situation.

Today it's snowing again. That's annoying as far as driving goes. (And driving is one of my ISSUES.) But the positive aspect of the snow in my current location is that I get to be a hero and offer peanuts to the waiting wildlife. The bird feeders are filled, of course, but peanuts are highly sought after by many birds and mammals. As soon as I took out a load of peanuts this morning, I saw blue jays dive bombing for them immediately. Then a red-bellied woodpecker, who had been observing from afar, began a full-fledged campaign to ward off all other birds. He swooped repeatedly in as menacing a fashion as he could. That particular woodpecker has struck up a deal with me. If he knows I'm home, he hammers on the gutters of my house to signal his desire for peanuts, and I rush outside to deliver. (If I could only learn about desire and its manifestation from the woodpecker...) And of course the squirrels and chipmunks here eat peanuts out of my hand. (As I write this, I wonder why it is that I think I want to move...)

Then there's the fox. One morning last week a dog was barking ferociously outside of my house as I was trying to usher the child into the car. (People constantly allow their dogs to run free here because my house is on a public park which allows unleashed dogs. I have reluctantly become accustomed to this.)

I asked the dog's owner to control her dog which was illegally on my property. As usual, she didn't have a clue how to go about doing that. But before I could get upset with her, a mad chase began. Her large retriever was chasing a thin red animal out from underneath my Amish shed. The child screamed, "IT'S A FOX!!!" (Had he not done that, it would not have registered in my shocked mind that this was indeed a fox. I have never before seen a fox in the wild, or in the urban, as the case may be.)

And one of my favorite visitors to this house has been a rather portly groundhog. He lumbers about in search of treats, seemingly oblivious to any and all threats to his well-being. Yet considering the high number of dogs running amok, he must have something figured out. As you can see, this setting lacks only hedgehogs to be the perfect location for a Beatrix Potter story.

The older I become, the more I look back to my childhood for clues as to who I really am. I was 8 when I chose (wisely) my career. At that age I saw the outrageous dishonesty and tragedy that pervaded my parents' marriage, and dismissed, possibly forever, the notion of marriage for myself. That's been an OK decision which has certainly taught me independence. And being a voracious reader, I was an incredibly idealistic child. That characteristic remains. And it's no surprise that I loved nature and animals.

There's something else which I just remembered. I have always been fascinated with houses and landscaping. At age 7, I relentlessly (and fruitlessly) begged my parents for a backyard pond which was advertised in the Sunday newspaper. I was always thrilled by the view of our backyard from my bedroom window. To this day, when I'm looking at houses, the one thing I must have is a good view of the backyard (which will feature a pond out of the Sunday paper).

I always wished my parents would move to a different house. I guess a new (to us) house offered infinite new possibilities. My much older sister sometimes took me on house searches when she and her husband were looking for one to buy. I loved looking at houses. Why? I don't know. Do we ever really know why we're drawn to the things we're drawn to? Maybe my active imagination simply enjoyed the various settings to play around in. And maybe it still does, to this day.

One more important feature of my young self is that I walked and biked everywhere, and cared nothing about the motor vehicle. I had no desire to learn to drive. (Do you think my parents realized how lucky they were?) My Irish grandmother was my hero, and she never drove a car!

So what I am is an unmarried, idealistic, house-obsessed nature lover who dislikes driving. My confusion over moving boils down to the fact that I want to live in nature (which, unfortunately, would be in the suburbs, where the car rules) AND I want to live close to downtown, where I work, so I can walk everywhere. And on top of all that, I derive pleasure from SEARCHING for houses- not from deciding on or settling into a house. How does a person like me go about sending a clear desire into the universe? No wonder I've been confused.

Friday, February 09, 2007


The weather is revolting. The air has been frigid and cruel for far too many days. Everyone's optimism and enthusiasm is icing over.

Yet yesterday, my realtor showed my house to a prospective buyer. Who would buy a house now? As I joked to a friend, no house looks enticing in this weather. That really seems true for me. As I drove through the frozen neighborhood I want to move to, I felt nothing.

Is it also true that in good weather, everything is equally appealing? I expect a buyer to be drawn to my house when spring sets in. Heck, I'll be drawn to my house when spring sets in. And of course I'll also be appreciating the downtown neighborhood........

This leads me to be suspicious of my desire to move. Does the grass become greener when the grass literally becomes greener?

Hope erupts in springtime with the seedlings, perhaps. Even those of us who are appreciative of and satisfied with our lives can hope for even better, right? That seems to be human nature. "Better" doesn't have to mean a different house, but in my case there seems to be a deep-seating yearning for a pedestrian neighborhood reminiscent of the one I grew up in.

Or is this just my way of justifying my attempt to move? Those of us who intellectualize by habit can find ways to rationalize just about anything. I constantly question my decision to move because:

A) I'm insecure.

B) The place we live is pretty darn good by most people's standards, being situated on a gorgeous public rose garden (yet we have to wonder why nobody has bought the place during the 6 months it's been on the market).

C) I'm afraid of making a mistake. I have made past real estate blunders. For example, 6 years ago the child and I DID live in that downtown neighborhood in a beautiful Italianate Victorian. I freaked out over the possibility that gutter repair on that particular house in that historic neighborhood was going to cost $20,000, so I bailed out and moved to where we are now. Had I realized how the value of that house was going to skyrocket, I would've stayed put and gotten a few more gutter estimates. (It wasn't just the gutters. I gave in to criticism from my child's father regarding my insanity for trying to raise a child in an urban neighborhood.)

I keep saying that I am unsure because I don't spend enough time meditating, getting in touch with my True Self. So I'm off to the meditation corner.....

Sunday, February 04, 2007

If I could change the world...

...this is what I'd do: I'd make its cities car-free.

In my last post I wrote about wanting to move close to downtown to a pedestrian neighborhood. Then a few days ago, the results of a California study were published which showed that kids growing up near congested urban corridors ended up having compromised lung capacity for the rest of their lives, causing asthma, other respiratory illnesses, and low resistance to pneumonia.

Of course this revelation stopped me in my tracks, and I've been spending a lot of time researching this topic on the internet. That's how I found J.H. Crawford, author of the book "Carfree."

Crawford loves to describe Venice, Italy- a busy, thriving example of a car-free city. Italians call it "Il Serenissima", the serene one. It is an amazingly stress-free urban environment.

Vancouver, B.C. is a city well-appreciated by visitors from all over the world. Its Director of Central Area Planning, Larry Beasley, offers this famous observation, "If you design an environment for children, it will work for everyone." If we in the U.S. had measured cars against this yardstick before adopting them as the default method of transportation in urban areas, we would have decided to avoid cars at any cost.

Accidents involving cars is the leading cause of death for children in the U.S. It is unsafe for children to walk, bike, or ride in cars. The pollution resulting from cars has resulted in rampant respiratory disease and cancer. (The cancer rates from car exhaust is increased sixfold in high traffic areas.)

Areas that have been cleared to make endless roadways for cars have resulted in obvious blight. The car culture has taken people off the streets, changing the social landscape. We fight wars to protect our oil supplies. Global warming is a now undeniable phenomenon.

Cities really could be designed around public transit, biking and walking, with ALL cars parked in large garages at the city's edge. Subways and streetcars could efficiently shuttle people around. For freight transportation, standard sea containers along with small, low impact freight bikes and battery-powered carts are perfect.

I am frustrated. I wish I could DO something to bring about carfree cities, and I feel powerless. How many people really care about this? Am I alone? Any suggestions?