Monday, October 3, 2016

Life lately

Wearing sweaters. Fall is here, and it is glorious. Cool breezes that require jeans and jackets, cloudy bike rides to preschool with a chill in the air, soups every night--I love it all.

Thinking about Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg. So many excellent insights into productivity. The one that has stuck with me the most is having mental models of how your day/week should go to both keep you focused and allow you to easily recognize when something is amiss.

Appreciating HP's newfound love for crafting. He was indifferent toward drawing and any form of art for a long time, but now asks to craft daily. See giraffe picture above, which he just had to draw after we tucked him in. It would have been impossible to sleep otherwise. ;)

Thrilled to be in a book club again. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren is our first book and I am almost done. It took me about a hundred pages to get into it, but once I did I couldn't stop. It has confirmed what I already knew: I would be a terrible bench scientist, but it is fascinating to have an inside look into that world. One woman in our book club runs a lab at IU so I am particularly interested in hearing her take.

Listening to Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. It takes me back to my undergraduate days as a religion major in the best kind of way and inspired me to pick up the first book in the series for a reread. All the warm feelings for this podcast.

Hoping to take another bike camping trip during the height of the fall colors. Fingers crossed the weather works in our favor so we can make it happen. Last year the boys when bike camping around this time and the temperature dropped below freezing the night of the trip, which made me glad E and I stayed home.

Loving our new bike racks! Neil finished installing three racks this weekend. It is so nice to have specific place for all of our bikes that is protected from the weather instead of haphazardly locking them to the edge of the carport or storing them in the shed/workroom. One more project to crossed off the list!

Excited to celebrate E's birthday. Two! She may not know exactly what a birthday is, but her brother does and his excitement is contagious. I have no doubt she'll enjoy the cake, ice cream, and presents even if she doesn't fully understand the occasion. We are having a small family celebration because, well, that's what we prefer.

Happy Monday!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

House projects

Now that we own a house again, house projects abound. So far we've installed ceiling fans in the three bedrooms, a solar tube in E's bedroom for more natural light, and fixed leaks in the bathtub and the washing machine's hot water faucet.

Our current project is installing three bike racks in the carport so we will have a better way to lock-up our bikes and keep them out of the weather. Think: Pipes and concrete from Lowe's, plus Neil chiseling through the asphalt. First one should be finished this weekend.

This fall we are planning to install a gas insert into our fireplace so at least one room in the house will be warm come winter (we usually keep the heat set at 61, which is fine for Neil, but leaves me freezing). In the spring we will put in a whole house fan to help efficiently cool the house off during the summer months. I had one growing up and we put one in our house in Austin. It was sorely missed this summer and I am looking forward to having one again.

Long term there are some bigger projects, some of which sill definitely happen, some of which are in the "dreaming" category:

Roof. It is not in fantastic shape. We are planning to replace it with a metal one when it starts leaking, but until then, we'll keep it as is.

Bathrooms. The full bath needs a remodel: new flooring, tile in the shower, new tub, low-flow toilet, new vanity with better storage, and changing the hinges to the other side of the door. The half bath is a tiny closet bathroom (it literally used to be the linen closet) that is dark and almost never gets used. We probably use it less than once every two weeks. I'd like to convert it back to storage.

Kitchen. Ideally we would paint the cabinets (Neil prefers the wood look, so we'll see where we land on that one), replace the laminate counters with stainless steel and an integrated sink, upgrade the electric stove to an induction stove, replace or fix the refrigerator (it's leaking inside for unknown reasons), put in new flooring, open up the wall to the dining room, and add counter space to the wall under the pot rack.

Laundry area. The current set-up is right off the kitchen, but I'd like to move it to the workroom and then turn the laundry area into pantry storage and add a door to E's room so she can have better airflow in her room.

Workroom. There's a den in the addition that we are using as storage for our tools, camping gear, toys that are not in the current rotation, sewing materials, and Goodwill donations. I'd love to divide the room in half and make half of it the laundry room and the other side a half bath. That way we'd still have a half bath if we convert the current one to storage. It would make more sense to have one in the addition instead of two next to each other in the main part of the house. Most of the stuff in the workroom now could be moved to what is now the half bath, with the exception of Neil's workbench that he built this summer. Not sure what we would do about that.

Addition. The main part of the addition is a second living area. I'd like to replace the carpet with wood. The carpet is cheap and likely won't last too long, so we can replace the flooring when it wears out.

Yard. I'd love to turn the front into a "lawns for life" situation where we remove the grass and plant native plants and flowers. I don't have the energy to take that on right now, but maybe in a few years.

Part of me loves the idea of making the house exactly what we want, and part of me thinks, "Eh, it's fine as it is. Let's save our money." Many of the bigger projects require completely rethinking rooms and come with correspondingly large price tag. Before we change the essential function of any room, I want to live in the house longer so we are sure we are making the right decision when we move forward. We've tossed around many concepts, including things as radical as turning E's room into the kitchen and the kitchen into the master bedroom. Because why not explore all possibilities while we can? For the foreseeable future we'll be chipping away at the smaller, easier to define projects and creatively dreaming about the rest.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Our bicycle fleet

How exactly do we make life with two children and no car work? With many, many bikes. Here's what we're riding these days:

Cargo bikes

Yuba Mundo
The Yuba was our first cargo bike purchase. It is a longtail bike, which means the section in the back where you normally put a rack is longer, hence the name. It has a wooden platform over the rack that is about twice as long as a traditional rack. This is Neil's preferred cargo bike. He likes it because it rides so much like a regular bike, but with more capacity. I use this bike if I am going grocery shopping by myself, but do not regularly ride it with the kids.

Right now it is setup as pictured above with a seat on the back for HP and a seat on the front for E. We just ordered a set of monkey bars and a soft spot so HP can ride sitting on the back once he outgrows the seat. Then E will switch to the back seat when she outgrows the one in front.

On our anniversary last year Neil gave me a ride to the restaurant on this bike, because why not? It comes in handy to pick people up / drop them off at the bus station instead of having to walk or leave a bike locked up in public for days at a time. It is also good for towing other bikes (front wheel of bike being towed goes into the pannier and back wheel rolls on the ground).

We bought our cargo bike last fall with the intention of finding something that could work through the winter. We pre-ordered the soft-top, but it only just arrived last month. Now we have a covered option to keep the kids protected from the elements. We considered getting a bakfiets, but went with the Madsen as it was more affordable, easier to ride out of the box, and has a larger capacity. It can seat four kids--two on each bench.

I prefer this bike for the kids over the Yuba and ride it almost every day. Neil (6'1'') finds it slightly awkward as he is at the top of the height range, but he has admitted that it would probably be fine if he spent a little more time making adjustments.

We are a bit of a spectacle riding around town in this, but we have a lot of fun. The kids like sitting next to each other and they are up high enough to see everything around them. The main downside is its speed: it is slow--very, very slow. I am used to it and just consider it part of my exercise regimen, but I am always shocked at how much faster I can ride when I am traveling on Electra (see below) without kids.

Neil's bikes

Fairdale Weekender
Neil bought this commuter bike in Austin after he ran his road bike into the ground. The link above is to the newer version of what he has. This is the bike he takes to work every day and uses when he is traveling alone.

Neil scored this bike at a neighborhood clean-up "free" section. He wanted a second bike that he could ride in the winter when there is salt on the roads to help keep his Fairdale better condition. He just got it this spring, so no report yet on how to performs.

My bikes

Electra Ticino
I bought this bike in 2013, specifically because it worked well with the Yepp Mini seat. (You can read more about why I love the Yepp Mini here.) The geometry of American bikes is surprisingly ill-suited to front seats, and it was a challenge to find one where my knees did not hit the seat when I pedaled. It is a basic commuter bike. I used to have a road bike, but I sold it back in Austin when I realized that I like riding in an upright position. For me, comfort wins over speed any day.

Bowery Lane Breukelen
I bought this bike from a garage sale this spring to have as a spare bike. I definitely don't need this one, but it's nice to have another bike in a smaller size for when guests come to visit. Bonus: we got it for a steal of a price.

Kids' bikes

We got this for HP on his second birthday. For the first year and a half he had it he was supremely uninterested in riding it. Instead, he liked to wheel it around the yard and park it various places. Early this spring something clicked and he wanted to ride it to the park and all over the neighborhood. Two months later, he graduated to a pedal bike (see below).

Specialized Hotrock
Neil bought this bike off of Craigslist last summer. Switching from the Strider to the pedal bike was a relatively seamless process. Mastering the Strider taught him how to steer and balance, so all he had to do was add pedaling. Bonus: we became friends with the people who sold us this bike and Neil and HP went bike camping with them in the fall.

The extras

Yepp Mini
Love, love, love using this seat. HP used this seat until he outgrew it at 2.5. I cannot recommend having the child in the front enough, whether it is this one or a different brand.

Yepp Maxi
We switched to this seat when HP outgrew the Mini. I do not like riding with him in this seat on my Electra as I find it too unstable with his weight so high over the rack. We primarily use this seat on the Yuba, where stability is not an issue. Now that we have the Madsen, I almost never use this seat. Neil will use it when he picks up HP from preschool or when they go on an errand together.

Burley trailer
Some friends rehabed this bike trailer for us when HP was born. We used it for groceries every week for almost two years until we got the Yuba. HP rode in it if it was raining or cold when we were in Austin. Since we didn't have the cover for the Madsen this past winter, the kids rode in the trailer regularly in the cold temps.

Personally, I do not love using a trailer. I find it more physically taxing to ride pulling the weight rather than having it integrated into the frame, the kids can't see out as well, and I can't talk to them or hear them as easily. That said, it is a great option if you are looking to get into riding with your kids. There are so many used ones available on Craigslist that there is a low cost of entry to start cycling as a family.

Bikes we'd love to own someday

A tandem
No real purpose other than leisure, but wouldn't it be fun?

We could take it as a carry-on when we travel then ride out of the airport! Though then Neil and I would both need one and we'd have to traveling without the kids. It is unlikely to be worth the cost to us anytime soon, but fun to dream about.

Cargo bike trailer
I know we have two cargo bikes, but neither one is great at hauling things like lumber, a canoe, or appliances. If we had this, there is nothing we couldn't move by bike! Maybe Neil and I will splurge on this as a Christmas present to ourselves this year.

Our system is ever-evolving, but for now, these are the bikes that make car-free living both possible and fun.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Putting down roots

Before we moved to Bloomington, every place we lived had an end-date. We may not have known exactly when it was, but we knew we weren't committed for the long haul. Even when I tried not to let it, that knowledge led to a one-foot-in, one-foot-out mentality. For the first time, I don't feel that way; ten years from now, we fully expect to still be here.

I recently finished reading Melody Warnick's book This is Where You Belong and loved it. I was already feeling positive about our decision to move to Bloomington, but reading the book further solidified my love for this town.

The premise of the book is that there are things we can do to make ourselves more "place-attached" to where we live. I am a firm believer that I can be happy anywhere, though I do think certain environments are more conducive to happiness than others. One of the main reasons we left Austin is that it felt too big; we knew that a smaller town would be a better fit for our family.

The book inspired me to take direct actions to facilitate putting down roots. I subscribed to the local paper, bought season tickets to a local theater company, and turned in a request to the City to fix an intersection that does not detect cyclists.

One of the questions she asks herself throughout the book is "What would someone who loves (insert the name of your town here) do?" I have been asking myself the same question with great results like introducing myself to people at the farmers' market stands we frequent, stopping in and say hello to the folks at the Bloomington Bike Project, and supporting a local bike shop instead of purchasing something online. As things start to get easier I can see that in the not-too-distant future I will have even more time and bandwidth to serve on boards, volunteer, and generally be involved in the community.

Warnick's book encourages readers to change where they live for the better, but perhaps more importantly, to change the way they think about where they live. When I picked it up I expected it to be a fluffy, light read. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it is one of those books that I will be thinking about for years to come.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Our house

Fenced in backyard for the win.
Neil and I have moved a lot: eight times in eight years, nine if you count a one-month AirBnB rental as we transitioned from Austin to Bloomington. Once we sold our house in Austin, we started to seriously look for homes for sale here with the hope that it would be our last move for a long time.

As we started looking, we made a list of our ideal home:
  • Location that is easily walkable/bikeable to work, parks, library, gym, and downtown
  • 1000-1500 sqft
  • Three bedrooms
  • One bathroom
  • Space for a dining room table, which did not need to be separate room, but somewhere that didn't feel crowded so we could comfortably host guests
Nice to haves:
  • Garage
  • Wood floors
  • A half bath
The location was the limiting factor in our search. There was a very small area of town that met our requirements for ease of walking and biking. We were willing to compromise on many aspects of the house itself, but not on location.

We saw the house we ended up buying the day after it went on the market. It was in a great location, but at the very top of our price range. When we got home from seeing it both Neil and I agreed that we could see ourselves there, but that it wasn't perfect. We decided to walk away, thinking that it was still early in the search and that we would find something we liked better that cost less.

A month later, the price dropped significantly, which made the house much more interesting to us. We saw it again, this time with my sister and her husband who were in town visiting. Just like the first time, we were on the fence. There were parts of it we loved, and parts we did not. The next day we decided to put in an offer for $10k below the asking price, then negotiated it down even further after the inspection. Now, three months after moving, it feels like home.

Here's what we love about the house:
  • Hardwood floors
  • Local limestone
  • On a quiet street
  • Close to an amazing park and walkable to downtown
  • Great natural light in the living spaces 
  • Fenced-in backyard (the bessssssst)
  • Awesome neighbors
Here's what we don't love:
  • The full and half bath are next to each other (weird!)
  • The kitchen and bathrooms are not updated
  • No garage
  • E's room has no windows (but soon to have a solar tube!)
  • And our biggest complaint: at just over 1500 sqft it feels too big. We are using the second living space, but would have happily lived in the house without the addition. It is more to clean, more to maintain, more to heat and cool...the list goes on. That said, I know it will make things easier as the kids grow and want to have a space to hang out with their friends. Even now, we've been enjoying having separate "adult" and "kid" living spaces. So I suppose the extra space is both a pro and a con.
I both loved and hated the home buying process. It was fun at first, but as it dragged on the stress started to overwhelm me. Looking back I think, Why was that so stressful? But I know it was, and I am glad it is behind us.

There is a lot of talk out in the world about finding the perfect house and how you'll just know when you find the right one. We never had that feeling with this house (or with our house in Austin, for that matter). We are happy we bought it and it works for our family, but there was never some magical feeling that this was the one. At times during the process that lack of certitude made me question our decision, but now I think it was for the best. Buying a house is a major financial transaction; it's okay that we let our practical side guide us.

Is this our forever house? Possibly. We bought it thinking this would be the house the kids grew up in, but that once HP moved out we would downsize to a two-bedroom. If the City changes its code--which they are looking into--we may be able to build a tiny house in the backyard that Neil and I could live in as empty-nesters. We could AirBnB the tiny house and/or use it for guests if we built it before the kids moved out. But that is a project for another day; for now, we are relishing the fact that there is no move in sight.