Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Living seasonally, winter edition

On Friday it was seventy degrees. On Saturday there was freezing rain or our ride to the market. We had a good run with an unusually warm fall, but there is no denying it--the cold has officially arrived.

It is easy to bemoan winter and all of the challenges it brings, especially when dealing with young children confined inside. We essentially live outdoors during the spring, summer, and fall. Winter is a different beast.

This year I am trying to embrace the concept of living seasonally and focus my energy on the positive aspects of winter. It is a time to turn inward, slow down, and spend more time with family. As I write this I am awake before the rest of the house, curled up in a blanket, watching the fire with my hot cup of coffee. Perfection.

Things I am looking forward to:

The holidays. HP and I are already discussing Christmas--baking cookies, what presents he would like (a drum), what E might like (a plant for their room), and gifts for other family members (leaves). Neil and I have tickets to see Oliver and my book club has planned a holiday gathering and book exchange. December is already feeling full, but in a good way.

Warm drinks by the fire. A frequent repeat of this morning would be welcome.

Watching HP play in the snow. Last year he couldn't go out nearly as much as he liked because we lived on a busy street with no fence. E did not like the cold and was often napping when he wanted to go out. This year, he'll have free rein to go out as often as he likes, even if the rest of us want to stay inside. Both kids are old enough to enjoy sledding at the park or down the hill in our front yard. HP is already discussing his snowman building and driveway clearing plans and this will be the first year E can join in the fun.

Playing games after the kids are in bed. Neil and I bought Quixx on our trip to Missouri this month and it has renewed our desire to play games together. Neil's family will be in town for Thanksgiving this week and I am sure we'll play at least a few rounds of cards. I would love to some other folks in town who would be interested in a semi-regular game night.

All the hot soups. So easy to make, so satisfying to eat.

Good books. I read all year, but something about winter makes me want to dive in more than usual. On deck at the moment: A Little Life, The Underground Railroad, and The High Mountains of Portugal.

The new year. A fresh start, time to make goals, what's not to love? I especially appreciate the blank slate after the rush of the holidays.

Winter, I welcome you.

*A new episode of Friendlier is up today--all about food. I would love for you to give it a listen!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Friendlier, the podcast

Friends, I have exciting news to share. My good friend from college, Abby, and I have started a podcast--Friendlier.

In each episode we will catch up on life lately, chat about what we're reading, what we're eating, and delve into a topic for the day. In our pilot episode we discuss our college experiences.

We will be releasing episodes every other Tuesday, starting this week. So if you need a break from election coverage, we've got you covered. We would love for you to check out Friendlier! You can listen through iTunes or Stitcher, or by going to our website. If you do listen, I would love to know what you think.

It is both exciting, nerve-racking, and energizing to embark on this new creative venture.

Happy election day!

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.