Thursday, September 17, 2015


HP started preschool last month. I have had in my head that it would be great for him to start in a part time program the fall after he turned three. In Austin I kept putting it off finding a program for him because it was so hard to find a place that met our criteria:
  1. Within two miles of our house
  2. Had a part-time option
  3. Was reasonably priced
  4. Did not radically go against our parenting ethos (read: we wanted a place with lots of free play and outdoor time and little to no emphasis on academics)
There were places that were close, but they only offered full-time slots. There were places that emphasized free play, but they cost more than our mortgage--for part time. There were places in our budget that did part-time, but they were five miles away. So. I crossed my fingers and hoped that our plans to move would work out and that there would be better options in the new location.

Luckily for us, that's exactly what happened! We found a place that only does part-time (perfect! all the kids are in the same boat!), is amazingly affordable, and emphasizes play.

HP is doing so well. There were no tears or clinging on the first day or any day thereafter. He just found something to play with and off he went. He is one of the quieter kids in the class, which is not surprising to me since he has always been more of an observer in group situations. The teachers have told me that he is "easy," "calm," "so zen," and "composed in the midst of chaos."

Preschool came at just the right time for us. Since moving here, HP's been spending most of his time with me and E since we are still in the process of meeting other families. Back in Austin, we saw friends most every weekday. HP was missing playing with kids his age, and preschool is the perfect opportunity to meet a whole slew of new friends (for him and for me!).

Another benefit: On preschool mornings I get some time to myself while E naps. The first morning I came home, I put E down, made myself a cup of coffee, and read a book in the quiet. Bliss.

It's been interesting for me to have him in an environment where I don't know exactly what goes on. Not bad, just different than what it has been up until this point. Usually he is either with me, Neil, or a relative. Preschool gives him the opportunity to regularly interact with unrelated adults and negotiate a different sets of rules and expectations. I also love that through preschool he has something that is just his, not just something he does with our family. It made me think of this post by Jennifer Dary, specifically this passage:
It reminded me of the feeling I had when my brother went to Kindergarten. I distinctly remember him talking about some of the things they did on his first day of school and realizing that my brother was going to know people and do things that I knew nothing about. Up until that point I had known his whole world... now he was going to have parts of it that were private. He was beginning to write his own story and that's how I feel when I think of Noah spending some of his days at a daycare too.
It's good for HP. It's good for me. It's good for our family. Preschool, it is so nice to have you in our lives!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Box bike or bucket bike?

Back in the spring, we decided to buy a longtail cargo bicycle to accommodate our family of four. We have been happy with the Yuba Mundo, but since moving to Bloomington we've realized that we need to find a biking situation for the kids that will work in the colder weather. Riding a bike in the cold is okay for the rider, as you warm up quickly when you pedal. For passengers, it is a different story. Especially for passengers that are too young to know what is good for them and proceed to pull of mittens. Solution: a cargo bike with a rain cover, either a Madsen (bucket in the back) or a bakfiets (box in the front).

Image courtesy of Madsen Cycles

WorkCycles Kr8: ready-steady-cargo!
Image courtesy of WorkCycles

We were almost ready to pull the trigger on the Madsen last week, but I have been waffling. It is a major purchase and I want to make sure we are making the right choice.

Pros of the Madsen:
  • It can comfortably holds four children so we could pick up friends and bike-pool as the kids get older (most bakfiets only hold two or three).
  • Cheaper than most bakfiets.
  • It would be easier to handle the bike from the get-go. I am sure I would adjust to the handling of a bakfiets, but the steering and balance is different than a traditional bike. The Madsen would feel more familiar right away.
  • It would last longer as a child-carrying device since the kids would outgrow the bakfiets before they would outgrow the Madsen.
  • The bucket is larger than the box on the bakfiets and rated for heavier loads. It's larger cargo capacity would make it useful long after the kids were done riding in it.
Pros of the bakfiets:
  • The kids ride up front. It is easier to carry on a conversation and more fun to bike with kids in the front.
Looking at these lists it seems clear that the Madsen is the better choice: cheaper, holds more cargo, and easier to ride from the start. But the one pro of the bakfiets is the reason I haven't been able to make a decision. I really love the idea of the kids in the front.

Decisions. If anyone has any advice or opinions, I would love to hear them!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Selling our home

All photos courtesy of Twist Tours

Neil and I just finished signing the closing documents on our house. By the time this post is live, the money will be in our account and we will no longer be homeowners. *Insert celebratory cheers!* All things considered, the sale of our house went smoothly, and we couldn't be more thankful for how things turned out.

This house was the first home we owned. It was where HP was born, learned to walk, and said his first words. We have so many good memories from our time there: walks through the neighborhood while wearing HP, exploring the creek and trail in the parkland behind our house, baths for HP in the kitchen sink before bedtime, conversations with neighbors, and snacking on our harvest from the front yard, to name a few. It was a good home to us.

We moved out of the house last summer to be in a more walkable location. This spring we decided that we would sell when our tenants' lease was up at the end of June, regardless of whether or not we were leaving Austin. Things moved faster with Neil's job search than we anticipated and we ended up with a very small window to get the house ready to sell after our tenants moved out and before we left town. We managed to list it the day after we moved to Bloomington.

The first weekend we received six offers--five above asking price. I thought it would be smooth sailing from there, but we went under contract three times before it finally sold. It all worked out for the best, as the final contract was actually the best offer we had received throughout the whole process. We were incredibly lucky with our timing for both buying and selling--we bought before the market took off in Austin and sold in a strong sellers' market.

We bought the house in the spring of 2012 and moved in just a few weeks before HP was born. To anyone considering buying a house while pregnant, I recommend not buying a fixer-upper. I am sure that is obvious to most everyone in the world, but apparently not to us. Here's the list of work we've done on the house since buying it (items in bold done by us, and by us I mostly mean Neil):

  • Removed ceilings and abated the asbestos (asbestos was in the popcorn on the ceilings and was cracking/peeling)
  • Installed new ceilings
  • Patched, cleaned, and stained concrete floors
  • Put in radiant barrier in the attic to improve energy efficiency
  • Installed new insulation in the attic
  • Installed a ridge vent on the roof
  • Installed a whole-house fan
  • Refinished the pantry with all new wood
  • Put in a garden and built compost bins 
  • Replaced a rotting window in the enclosed garage with French doors 
  • Installed a solar tube in living area
  • Remodeled the kitchen
  • Remodeled the bathroom
  • Installed new energy-efficient windows
  • Repaired the foundation
  • Replaced the back half of the roof (the front had been replaced a few years before we moved in)
  • Installed a new bamboo privacy fence
  • Refinished the bathtub
  • Repaired drywall cracks
  • New paint everywhere (ceilings, cabinets, trim, and walls)
On the one hand, I am so glad we put the work into the house. We were able to sell the house for a profit. Most of the price increase was due to appreciation (the market in Austin is bananas), but a big chunk was from the work we did. I feel fortunate that Neil is able to fix/remodel/install things for a fraction of the cost a contractor would have charged. That said, many weekends during the first two years of HP's life were spent on house projects. In retrospect, I wish we had bought something more move-in ready. I console myself with the knowledge that we made the best decision we could with the information we had at the time.

I have many thoughts about what we will look for in our next (hopefully forever) home. But for now, we are going to enjoy a few months of just being renters.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

How meal prep is saving my sanity

In Austin I had a friend who regularly spent her Saturday or Sunday afternoons prepping meals for the week. She would make muffins, cook and shred a chicken, make a soup, and generally get ready for week's meals. I was always jealous of the outcome, but never motivated to give up a chunk of my weekend to do it myself.

Not wanting to put in the time was only part of the reason I never did any meal prep. The main reason I resisted is because I thought I didn't need it. Cooking dinner every night wasn't a burden; I enjoyed it. HP was (and is) interested in the process. At our rental in Austin, he would often stand on his climber and help chop (rather ineffectively, of course), put ingredients in the pot, and stir. I enjoyed spending that time with him and I liked that he saw how our meal was made each night. When he wasn't up for helping he would usually play independently in the living room without (too much) complaint. Some days Neil was even home early enough that he would hang out with HP while I listened to All Things Considered and cooked, which was the best.

Enter child number two. What used to feel relaxing and enjoyable has now become stressful. At the end of the day, HP and E are both demanding my attention. Neil usually isn't home until the bulk of the dinner work is already completed. My patience levels when I am not sleeping well (thanks E!) are limited. Not a recipe for a happy household in the hour leading up to dinnertime.

I knew something had to give and reading about Shutterbean's meal prep was the final push I needed to give it a try. I've been doing it for three weeks now, and I am officially sold. Here's what I accomplished last week:
  • Frozen burritos for lunches or last-minute dinner
  • Hummus
  • Carrots, celery, beets, and green beans prepped for snacking
  • Chickpeas and black beans soaked and cooked for meals
  • Veggies for all meals prepped (carrots, onions, acorn squash, peppers)
  • Tofu chopped and marinated for snacks and meals
  • Dozen eggs hard-boiled for snacking
  • Two dozen muffins for breakfasts (minus the peach and honey, plus cocoa)
It was so worth the few hours it took. I caught up on podcasts while I worked and Neil took the kids out to the park. Meals were a breeze all week long, often requiring no more than ten minutes of hands on time from me. Throughout the day it was easy to reach for a healthy snacks since there were multiple options ready to go. And on Friday, when I just couldn't deal with the world, I pulled out the freezer burritos for dinner.

I may not find the time to make it happen every week, but I am going to try. Even I only wash and chop some of the veggies for the meals, it will go a long way toward making the end of the weekdays feel calm and smooth. Well, calmer and smoother anyhow. At this stage, I will take what I can get.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Baby's first bike ride

It's official. Everyone in the family is now on a bike. A biking family of four! I am so glad to have reached this milestone.

There is conflicting advice on the best time to start riding with children. Just like with HP, we waited until E was around ten months to start riding as a family. This age felt comfortable for us because it was when (1) both our kids were sitting very confidently by themselves (and had been for some time) and (2) the helmet finally fit.

E's first ride was a week or two after she turned nine months. We weren't planned on starting then, but HP needed to go to urgent care and we hadn't gotten our front seat set up for her. I loaded the kids in the trailer and off we went.

She hated it.
Fast forward three weeks. We adjusted the straps on our beloved Yepp Mini and the Lazer infant helmet to make the ride safe and comfortable for E. We took a short trip to visit Neil for lunch at his work with plans to continue on to the local children's museum. The museum was closed for cleaning, but all was not lost as HP enjoyed playing in the fountain outside City Hall. E hated wearing the helmet--which was her main protest in the trailer. More specifically, she disliked getting the helmet on. Once we were moving she was content. I wouldn't say she loved it, but she didn't complain when we were on the road.

HP's preschool was a huge motivator for getting E on the bike. His class is only three hours long, so if we walked the 1.5 miles each way E and I would be spending most of the morning taking him there, rushing home for her nap, then walking back as soon as she woke up. It would be a lot of sitting in the stroller for E and while I love a good walk, I didn't want to commit to six miles every preschool morning.

I was not completely satisfied with the way the front seat sat on the Yuba Mundo (pictured above) so I decided to switch to my Electra Ticino for the preschool drop-off. Success! E seems to be enjoying the ride more each time we go.

It is such a relief to be biking again. I had gotten used to walking everywhere over the last ten months and honestly didn't feel too anxious or impatient to bike with E. But getting back on the bike was like talking to an old friend I hadn't seen in years. We've only been biking a week, but I already feel the same wave of freedom I felt when HP reached this milestone. Biking is easier, faster, and more convenient.

E, welcome the world's superior form of transportation. I hope you are ready for many family adventures traveling on two wheels, because now that you are on a bike there's no stopping us.