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.