Monday, February 13, 2017

On being settled. Or not.

I thought I wanted to be settled, to live with both feet firmly planted and no move on the horizon. When we were looking to leave Austin our goal was to find a place to put down roots. If not our forever place, then at least a place that had the possibility of being a forever place.

Fast forward to last week when I was looking into jobs in New Zealand, Canada, Montana (hello, mountains!), and Denmark. I was texting my mom--who enjoys discussing travel and new locations as much as I do--when she made this comment:
See, you really don't totally love being settled. There's always something else out there.
Huh. I had always envisioned myself as someone who would find a spot and stay. I thought once I found a place I loved, I would never want to leave. In some ways, that's true: the longer I am here the more connections I make and the more I "love where I live" to borrow a phrase from Melody Warnick's book. But the excitement I feel when contemplating traveling to and living in new locations has not faded the way I imagined it would.

The most compelling reason to stay is for our kids. Neither Neil or I moved cities until we left for college (or in his case, grad school) and would like to offer that experience to HP and E. At the same time, if we moved they might learn more quickly what I have found to be true as an adult: you can be happy anywhere and that there are good people everywhere.

Despite all of my Googling and daydreaming of foreign locations, we are unlikely to leave Bloomington anytime soon. We like the community, our church, our neighbors, and Neil likes his job. If we leave, it would not be to get away, but to explore and embrace a new adventure.

So far I have lived in five states and two foreign countries. Moving is hard. It is hard to say goodbye to friends, to find where you fit in your new community, and to make new friends. But all these moves have taught me something else: it doesn't take that long to feel settled.

The thought of moving again doesn't fill me with dread; it excites me. Maybe I don't need to be so settled after all.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Staying informed

I used to feel informed and in-the-know about what was happening in the world, primarily from regular NPR listening. In the year before HP’s birth I regularly listened to both Morning Edition and All Things Considered. My listening continued after HP’s arrival, especially in the evenings. Neil would come home and watch HP while I cooked dinner and listened to the news. Then E entered the scene, and it all fell apart.

I was woefully uninformed about current events the first year after E's birth. My world felt confined to the immediacy of what was happening inside the four walls of our home. In my sleep-deprived state I was both unwilling and unable to take on the world's problems in addition to my own. For a time, that was fine.

Then 2016 happened and the pendulum swung the other direction. Our family had settled into a regular rhythm, which gave me more time and energy to pay attention to current events. That extra time coupled with an election I couldn't look away from led to the opposite problem: I was consuming too much news and felt overloaded.

I am still trying to find that right balance. I want to stay informed and engaged--there is so much happening that requires information and action!--but I don't want it to take over my life in an unhealthy way. If anything I am still on the "too much news" side of things. It feels manageable, but could use some tweaking to make it more sustainable. Here's how I'm keeping up these days:
  • Subscription to Time magazine. I love that as a weekly publication, the news is pre-digested. There is more analysis, synthesis, and bigger picture thinking than found in the 24-hour news cycle.
  • Subscription to our local paper. We started this about six months ago but I wish we had subscribed sooner. How else I would find out who was running for the school board and other local offices?
  • The Skimm. This is a news-recap that comes to my inbox M-F. It gives me the headlines of what's happening in the world, both politically and culturally. It is geared toward millennial women, which is fine for me, but might be too casual an approach for others. I appreciate that they also recap big pop culture and sports news. Without it, I wouldn't even know when the Super Bowl was (not an exaggeration).
  • NPR politics podcast. I resisted listening to this for awhile, but now I can't live without it. It keeps me up to date on political happenings with insightful analysis and perspectives from journalists in thick of it.
  • Subscription to the New York Times online. Every evening I sit down and sift through the top stories and "most popular" section. Since the election it has felt even more important to support quality journalism like the NYT.
  • Watching John Oliver's Last Week Tonight on YouTube. It only comes out once a week (or less) and it is something Neil and I both enjoy watching. I find most all television news insufferable, but I find this to be funny and informative. It has been on hiatus since just after the election and I am looking forward to its return.
I am not able to keep up with all of the above all the time. I often end up skimming the front section of the local paper and let Time pile up for a week or two before sitting down and reading. I most religiously read the NYT and the Skimm and always listen to the latest NPR politics podcast.
How are you managing to stay informed without losing your mind in these crazy times?

Friday, February 3, 2017

Life lately

Struggling to write. The news of the world is so dark that what I have to say here feels trivial in comparison. I want to keep showing up and be in the habit of writing, but it is hard to feel like it matters.

Thinking about Homeward Bound by Emily Matchar. She took a critical look at many of the choices I have made (staying home with my kids, intentionally downsizing, DIY cooking, etc.) in a way that made me think, not get defensive.

Relishing in glorious, glorious sleep. My children now regularly sleep past six a.m. This has been the dream for so long and it is every bit as wonderful as I imagined it would be.

Working on a new creative project and feeling energized by the possibilities.

Excited to visit a college friend in Nashville to our celebrate our birthdays. It may still be four weeks away, but anticipation is half the fun, right?

Re-watching the final season of The Office with Neil. I loved the early seasons, but the last one is my favorite. Feeling all the feels about Jim and Pam.

Loving the imaginary play happening in our house. HP usually assigns roles (mommy bunny, baby bunny, and friend mouse, for example). E is adamant about declaring a role for herself if she does not like one assigned. If we call her "E" while they are playing she'll correct me: "No! I am not E! I am a CHICKEN!" Okay then.

Inspired to be politically engaged. I signed up for a reproductive justice workshop on how to advance women's rights in the current political environment, have been calling my representatives, and attended a local protest against Trump's executive order on immigration (pictured above). It feels small in the face of what is happening, but it is something.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Getting outside

The draw of living out of town, surrounded by nature is strong. I know I am romanticizing it, but the thought of drinking my coffee in the morning while looking out into the woods instead of my neighbor's backyard is incredibly appealing. Imagining raising my kids where playing in nature is an everyday occurrence is even more so.

But that is not the choice we made. Even more than being close to nature, we value not getting in a car on a daily basis. When it came down to it--life in the woods with a car or life in the city without one--we chose the latter, but I still feel the pull of the former.

Last year I read Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods and it reminded me how important being in nature is for children and adults alike. We may not live in the woods with fifty acres of our own to explore, but we can still prioritize time outside. Here's how we are making it happen:

(1) Taking regular bike camping trips. We took two trips last year and hope to do two more this year. The feeling I get once we are out of the city and biking through country roads? Bliss.

(2) Going on Sunday hikes a couple of times a month. Our church is a mere mile and a half from a local nature preserve. Twice now after the service we have biked there for a picnic and a short hike (short being the operative word with a toddler and a preschooler). Most of the time was spent throwing rocks into the lake, building fishing poles out of sticks, and eating snacks. We were fortunate to go last weekend (as photographed above) when we had unseasonably high temperatures. Starting in March I would like to go twice a month.

(3) Take advantage of the in-town opportunities. There is a large park blocks away that features a creek and plenty of open space. Both kids love to "fish", launch "boats" into the creek, climb trees, and run up and down the hills. I want to be better about seeking out these little pieces of nature we can enjoy without leaving town, or even our neighborhood.

(4) Let the kids go outside every day, even if just into the backyard. This one has been relatively easy to manage now that we have a fenced in yard. The winter weather doesn't seem to dampen kids' enthusiasm for playing outside, or at least not HP's--E has a lower tolerance for the cold.

(5) Take regular walks. Going on walks has been a stress reliever for me since I was in junior high school. I have fallen away from the habit, but am trying to get back into it. It will be easier once the days get longer (and warmer!), but I am trying to sneak in a few walks a week. It does wonders for my mental health.

How does your family enjoy the outdoors while living in town?

Monday, January 23, 2017

Biking in winter

I am in the middle of my second winter biking with two kids. Here's my secret: it's not actually that different from biking other times of the year. To provide some context for our experience, let me give you a picture of what we are facing:

We live in Southern Indiana, so while winter here is much colder than in Austin, it is still mild compared to many other parts of the world. We have gotten two snows, each only an inch or two deep. The worst stretch so far has been a couple of weeks where the highs were in the teens and the windchill was consistently in the single digits or negatives. It was cold enough then to freeze the cable to my derailleur on three separate occasions. While those more extreme temperatures do happen, it mostly hovers in the twenties and thirties with some days that warm up into the forties and fifties. I am writing this in the middle of January and our ride this morning the kids were in light jackets with the top down on the bucket bike. I try to keep that in mind when I think about biking in the winter: it is cold some days, but not every day.

The most common question is whether I worry about the kids being too cold. Honestly, I don't (#buildscharacter). When the temperature plummets they are bundled just as they would be to play in the snow: boots, snowsuits, mittens, scarves, etc. There are always blankets in the bike to wrap around them for an extra layer of protection. Since they are enclosed under the canopy of the bucket bike, they are protected from the worst of the wind. I have no doubt that it is still cold in there; there is only so much you can do to combat "feels like -2" temperatures. With all of the layers, even little ones can go for a short ride. We rarely ride more than two miles one way, which translates to fifteen to twenty minutes door to door. If we were riding for hours, I might feel differently.

As for me, the proper attire makes biking possible even on the coldest days. When the wind chill is in the single digits or below I wear polar fleece pants, extra socks, my coat, a scarf, two pairs of gloves (a liner and a windproof outer-cover), a balaclava, and an ear warmer in addition to my regular attire. The hardest thing to keep warm are my hands. The bigger challenge is not how to stay warm, but how to keep from getting too warm. When you start out you need a lot of layers, but once you start riding you warm up quickly. It is not unusual for me to show up at my destination slightly sweaty and feeling like I overdressed. As with any outdoor activity, as long as you have the right clothes, you're fine.

The worst part of biking in the winter is without a doubt putting on all of gear. When I am bundling everyone up I dream about the ease of summer days when we could put helmets on and go. It feels like it adds an extra ten minutes on either end to put on all the extra layers. But if I am being objective, I know that even that is an exaggeration. All told, it realistically adds four or five minutes and much of that time would be necessary even if we were in a car--kids still need more layers no matter the mode of transportation.

There are circumstances in which I won't ride, but it is usually ice, not the cold that keeps me inside. In those instances we either stay in for the day or walk to our destination. One advantage of living in a smaller town is that everything is relatively close, which makes walking an easy and viable alternative to cycling.  

On the cold days where it feels like too much effort to get everyone geared up and on the bike I think of this Mr. Money Mustache article. Just like we biked through the heat of Austin summers, we bike through the winter here. I have shifted my mindset to think that it is normal--even enjoyable--to ride all year round. It may be cold, but it's not that cold. Some days biking HP to preschool or taking the kids to the library is the only exercise I get. I don't want to lose the opportunity to move my body and get outside because I am unwilling to take the time to put on the proper gear.

In sum, here my tips for biking as a family through the winter:
  • Keep the  kids protected from the wind, either a cargo bike with a canopy or a bicycle trailer.
  • Invest in the gear you need. Good gloves and a face mask are a must.  
  • Change your mindset. Biking does not have to be a fair weather activity. Cycling in the winter lets you enjoy the outdoors when most people retreat inside. Bonus: you feel like a badass.
It may be cold, it may be gray, and it may require many layers of gear, but it is still both possible and fun to get around by bicycle all winter long.