Friday, October 3, 2014

The calm and the storm

Just hanging out on the deck.
This summer I have been savoring the calm before the proverbial storm of child number two's arrival. Life feels so... settled. While we are beyond excited to meet this baby and move into the next phase of our lives, I know that settled is the last thing we'll feel in the first few months (or year) after his or her arrival.

So for now, we are soaking it up. HP sleeps through the night. He talks in full sentences. He has a predictable routine (hit or miss naps aside). Parenting him feels almost (dare I say it?) easy. Of course there are challenging moments as toddlers are designed to push their limits and our buttons, but overall, we've found a rhythm that works for us.

Just thinking about going back to the sleepless nights and scheduling around multiple naps makes me want to curl up in a corner. A few months ago two good friends of ours had a little girl. We spoke to them on the phone when their daughter was only two weeks old, and her mom was raving about how well she was sleeping--three hour stretches at night! I know that is good sleep for a newborn, but I just remember thinking to myself: Soon I am going to be the one thinking that a three hour stretch is amazing... And I found that thought depressing. What can I say? I love my sleep.

The challenge of sleep deprivation does not even touch on the bigger issue: learning to be a parent of two instead of one. I know it will take awhile to find our normal, so I have already decided to give myself a pass for at least the first three months. Possibly year. Or more realistically, until the babe starts sleeping through the night. Before that milestone is reached (and possibly for awhile afterward), I will consider the day a success if we all make it through the day alive and fed.

That said, I am ready to soak up everything newborn. We know this will be our last child, and infancy is fleeting. The tiny fingers and toes. The adorable yawns. The falling asleep in our arms. The newness of it all.

The calm has been nice. But we're ready for what's next. Bring on the storm.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Selling our car

Rocketstar packed with all of our earthly possessions before we started the drive from Missouri to Oregon (Fall 2008)
Earlier this month we marked the five year anniversary of life without car ownership. We still use a car on occasion, usually when we are on vacation or if we need to haul something too large for a bike trailer or cargo bike. In our everyday life, we often go months at a time without any of us setting foot in one. 

My conversion to car-free living started years before we sold our car. After my original epiphany of the benefits of car-free transportation, the balance in my life slowly shifted toward non-motorized transportation until it reached the point that having a car felt unnecessary.

From 2004-2008, Neil and I enjoyed biking and walking places, but were both still reliant on cars for every day transportation. For Neil, the balance tipped toward car-free living in the summer of 2008 when he moved to Little Rock without a car. We shared mine, but since I took the car to work, his bike became his primary mode of transit. For me, it wasn't until we moved to Oregon for graduate school a few months later that I left the car parked for most of my trips.

In the fall of 2008, we moved to Corvallis, Oregon--a car-free paradise. The city itself is tiny; a mere fifteen minutes on a bike and you are out in the country. I normally walked everywhere, both because I found it annoying to haul my bike up and down the stairs to our second-floor apartment and because I almost always prefer to walk when given the option. Neil usually rode his bike to get to his destination more quickly. Public transit was available (and free for students!), but the town was so small it was almost always faster and more convenient to bike or walk.

Corvallis spoiled us. If our destination was five miles away we thought it was so far. Downtown was less than a mile to the east, we lived on the on the edge of campus, and the local food co-op was just over a mile from our apartment. We started having to make special trips just to get the car out every once in awhile so it wouldn't sit idle for months on end.

In the fall of 2009 I was preparing to spend six months living and working in Senegal and The Gambia. Before I left we took Rocketstar (our 1992 Honda Accord) in to get her oil change and regular maintenance. We learned that while she was running fine now, there were several repairs in our near future--repairs that were going to cost nearly as much as she was worth.

We had talked in passing about selling the car, but after that visit to the mechanic we began to seriously discuss reasons to make the leap.
  1. Practical. I had used the car the previous semester when I was recovering from a knee surgery. Neil never used the car. Ever. When I returned from West Africa, I would be biking and walking easily again. It just didn't make sense to continue holding onto a car that we so rarely used.
  2. Financial. Paying for car insurance, gas, and upkeep, was not worth the handful of times we felt that we needed a car. And after selling, it turns out that need is relative. There are always alternatives when you are forced to look for them.
  3. Environmental. There are many ways to reduce ones carbon footprint, and driving less is one of them. Selling the car was one way we could align our life with our values.  
  4. Lifestyle simplification. Not having a car gave us one less thing to take care of. Yes, it was an adjustment, but since we had been slowly moving in that direction for years, it felt like the natural next step rather than a drastic measure.
If there was ever a good time to try life without car, it was while we were in graduate school living in a small, progressive, bike-friendly town. Well-meaning friends and family worried that we would regret the decision or that our next town we moved to would not be as hospitable to the car-free lifestyle. I took comfort in the fact that if it didn't work out, we could always buy another car; the decision was not irreversible.

Less than a week before I boarded a plane bound for Dakar, we listed Rocketstar on Craigslist and sold her the following day. And we haven't looked back since.

Not having a car has changed the way we live for the better. It has saved us money, made us healthier, connected us to our community, and--most importantly--it's fun. We truly prefer life this way and are happy to have made the switch.

So here's to half a decade of life without a car! May there be many more in our future.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Preparing for labor

I am not ready to give birth. Both in the sense that the babe needs more time to grow (though at almost 35 weeks, not much more) and that I am mentally unprepared to go through labor again. I have known this for awhile, but the depth and reality of my unpreparedness became clear when I came down with the flu last week.

So why exactly did the flu make me dread labor? Because it reminded me of being in labor. As I was doubled over in pain losing fluids at an unnatural rate, I kept remembering how similar I felt during labor with HP, and how I would be going through that process again shortly. I just kept thinking I don't want to do it. I am never getting pregnant again. The morning sickness that lasts for weeks, and then, at the end, while you're in some of the most intense pain of your life, you're also throwing up. It's the worst. Is there any way to get out of it at this point? Maybe an epidural wouldn't be so bad...

Leading up to labor with HP, ignorance was my friend. I did not fear or dread labor. In fact, I had a bring it on attitude. If billions of women have given birth in the past, so could I. It appealed to my competitive spirit. So many people complete the task every day, how hard can it be? Turns out, pretty damn hard.

Before having my naivety shattered by the reality of birth, I took comfort in the fact that I had successfully taken on challenging physical tasks in the past. Not the same thing at all. When I was running a cross-country race or doing wind sprints for ultimate, I was the one pushing my body. When I was in labor, my body was dictating what happened with no input from me. I did not get to decide how far and for how long to push myself; I had to go along for the ride.

This time, I have no such illusions. Labor is painful. Labor is uncomfortable. I am not looking forward to it.

But let's stop the whining. Labor is coming, so I might as well prepare myself. Here's what I'm doing to reframe my mindset going into the birth:

(1) Remember the mantra that I found helpful in labor with HP. I call this one my "Gambian mindset" because I learned and applied it when I lived there. In labor it goes something like this: "Right now I am in pain. It is terrible and awful and miserable. Eventually I won't be." (This can apply to anything. For example, "Right now my toddler is tired, upset, and whining which requires me to use every ounce of willpower I have to remain calm. Eventually he won't be." or "Right now I am biking up a steep hill the heat. Eventually I won't be." Etc.)

(2) Reread the birth stories in Ina May's Guide to Childbirth. I read her book during my first pregnancy, but I think I will get more out of the stories after having been through the process once myself.

(3) Remember that this is likely the last time I will experience labor and delivery. Yes, it's painful, but it's also amazing to see what my body is capable of.

(4) Spending time each day focusing on my breath. I cannot control the contractions during labor, but I can control my mind and how I breathe. In order to hold onto that, I need to practice.

(5) Focus on the reason for the process: a new baby. I can't wait to meet this new little person who will be joining our family.

Only a few more weeks!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Life lately

Seedlings sprouting.
I was struck down with the flu last week for three days. It is always unpleasant, but feeling that ill while eight months pregnant with toddler running around is its own special form of misery. I thought I was in the clear, but was struck down again last night. And now HP has a cold. Neil is fine other than his seasonal allergies. Let's just say things have been a little rough 'round these parts.

I cannot stop getting rid of our stuff. I would say it's a problem, but I love it too much. We've decided to move HP into the office and make his current room the baby/playroom. Making that switch means we need to find a new home for some of office furniture. The desk we'll move into our room, but the filing cabinet and the bookshelf are getting sold on Craigslist. Getting rid of so much stuff you can eliminate pieces of furniture? Amazing.

Next project: sorting through all of the clothes for the baby and HP figuring out what we need/want to keep and what we can pass on. There is no need for such tiny people to have a wardrobes three times larger than their parents. Besides, the three giant boxes of clothes in the closet are taking up precious space that could be empty instead.

I know I already posted a list of things to do before the baby arrived, but it feels never ending. I have become more productive than usual in my efforts to get everything "ready" before a new person joins our family. Even so, it feels like the list is getting longer rather than shorter. Making curtains for the office/HP's new room (though that's Neil's domain--he's the genius with the sewing machine in our family), finishing up cloth book gifts for friends, figuring out what insurance we are all going to be on next year, take books cleared from the shelf to a used bookstore... It feels like as soon as I cross one thing off another takes its place.

The weather here is finally cool enough to open up our house in the evening. It was so chilly last night we had to turn off the overhead fan. Crisp fall mornings, how I love you. I am so looking forward to the long, mild winter of Central Texas. We went outside the other morning and HP said, "It's cold out!" It was 75 degrees. Oh, my little Texas boy.

Happy Wednesday.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Fall planting

Since we've moved into the rental house, I have let myself off the hook for gardening.

I have plenty of excuses, the most notable being that we moved in June--a terrible time for planting in Central Texas. While it is true that the summer heat that fries most plants to a crisp, I was ready to take a break. In fact, I mentally gave myself permission not to worry about growing food until the fall of 2015. Because let's be honest--gardening is not going to be a priority once the baby is here. know myself and am confident that weeding, planting, harvesting, and watering are going to be low on my list of things to do in the sleep-deprived days of having a newborn.

While I am still scaling back, I have reentered the realm of gardening a year sooner than anticipated. We had compost leftover from the spring, four-inch pots for seedlings, and seeds that were begging to be planted--all the ingredients for growing seedlings. If they are a success, I will use some of them plant a (small) garden in the front bed of the rental house and sell the excess through the Yard to Market Cooperative. A little extra income and/or food is always appreciated.

When HP saw the bucket of dirt on the table, he immediately wanted to help. He filled up the pots, planted a few seeds (quite liberally--not sure we need or want ten broccoli seeds per pot), and watered with the watering can. I love that he is at an age where he can help grow food and start to understand the process. Though for him, it is mostly about digging in the dirt. His first impulse after we finished planting was to dump the pots back into the bin. Looks like I'll need to find a safer place than the deck for the trays if I want the seedlings to flourish...

I had low (read: non-existent) expectations for gardening this fall, but am glad I decided to do something. Next step: clear out the grass that has taken over the front bed to make room for cilantro, collards, chard, broccoli, and cauliflower. A project for next weekend.

Here's to cooler weather and the crops that come with it!