Thursday, July 28, 2016

In praise of the front-mounted bicycle seat

We started using a front-mounted bicycle seat with our kids when they were around eleven months old. It was the primary way HP and I traveled around Austin until he outgrew the seat around age two and a half. Now that we have two kids, I usually use the Madsen to get around town, though Neil prefers the Yuba Mundo with HP in the back and E in the front (that set-up is pictured above). If you are only biking with one kid, the front seat is the way to go. Here's why:

(1) It facilitates conversation. When E is up on the handlebars, we are seeing the same things. I can talk to her as I ride, and as she gets older she can talk to me about what she sees. I have many sweet memories of cruising around Austin with HP chatting about the trucks, taco joints (he remembers every place we've ever had a taco!), trash cans, and anything else we saw en route.

(2) It's easy to ride. I find I have more control and am better able to handle the bike with the weight up front rather than over the rear rack. I was worried about a steep learning curve when I started using the Yepp (and even practiced with weights in the seat before riding with HP), but it feels almost same as riding riding on my own.

(3) Parking's a breeze. Maneuvering a trailer into a bike rack without blocking the sidewalk or sticking out into the parking lot is a challenge. With the front seat the bike takes up the same amount of space as when I'm riding solo.

(4) It is simple to switch between bikes. This is a unique feature of the seat we use, the Yepp Mini. There is a release mechanism under the seat so we can switch the seat from my bike to Neil's with the push of the button. We each have an adapter (mine for a quill stem, his for a threadless). When we go places as a family E can ride with me there and Neil can take her home. Or if we were meeting up somewhere and then going our separate ways we could switch the seat to accommodate.

My only caveat to my enthusiastic recommendation of a front-mounted seat is that it is hard to find an American bike that works well with the design. The geometry of most bikes here makes it awkward to ride with the front seat--either your chest hits the seat (and therefore pushes your child's head forward), your knees hit the seat as you pedal, or both. I ended up buying a new bike that worked well with the Yepp (an Electra Ticino). That may seem extreme, but I had been wanting an upright commuter bike to replace my mountain bike for awhile; accommodating the front seat was the final push I needed to make the switch. In the end, we bike so much that it was worth it to me to be comfortable and not make compromises on the fit. Moral of the story: if you are considering buying a front seat, I recommend bringing your bike in and trying it out to make sure it is compatible before making the purchase.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Thoughts on date nights

Confession: We lived in Indiana for more than nine months before we hired a babysitter.

We didn't prioritize it for two reasons: our homebody nature and cost. We generally like to stay home, eat the food we cook, and go to bed early. Our kids' bedtime is around seven, so that gives us a couple of kid-free hours to read, talk, play cards, or watch the latest John Oliver show. Beyond our general enjoyment for staying in, we (I) got hung up on expense. It was (is) hard for me to swallow the cost, especially when it is on top of another activity that requires money. The fact that we like staying home made it that much harder to justify financially.  

Sometime this spring I decided that our lack of babysitter was a problem that needed to be solved. We don't need to go out on a weekly basis, but I wanted to be able to say yes if an opportunity presented itself. We now have two sitters who can and have watched the kids.

If my parents or in-laws lived in town I have no doubt we would get out more often. It would be a win-win situation: the kids and grandparents would get opportunities to develop their own relationship without us around and we would get to go out. Alas, we do not live near family, so a babysitter it is.

So far we've (1) gone to food truck Fridays, walked around IU's campus, and relaxed in the park by our house, (2) gone out to dinner for our anniversary, (3) met up with three other couples for dinner and a concert, and (4) walked to the park for a free concert.

Now that we have sitters we are trying to go out at least once a month so the kids remain familiar with them and vice versa. When planning dates we are prioritizing unique events around town or opportunities to deepen relationship with friends. (It is so nice to socialize with other adults when everyone is not simultaneously parenting!) In the coming months I want to see another concert in the park, go to a musical, check out some of the world-class music at IU, and get together with friends to play cards.

Has having regular date nights drastically changed the landscape of our marriage? Not at all. Am I glad we are doing it anyway? Yes. It may not be necessary, but every once in awhile it sure is nice to skip the bedtime routine, have an uninterrupted conversation, and come home to a quiet house. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Life lately

Eating all the summertime produce. There is so much variety at the farmers' market this time of year--peaches, blueberries, green beans, tomatoes, corn--that we are loading up on Saturdays in addition to picking up our full share CSA on Wednesdays. HP particularly loves the corn and cherry tomatoes.

Stuck in a reading slump. This is the third year in a row that my reading has slowed waaaaaay down in June and July. It is also the third year that we have had a move in those months, which is likely not a coincidence. Recommendations of truly excellent books are welcome to get me back in the reading game.

Watching swim lessons from behind a bush. HP started lessons but does much better when he can't see me. I love seeing him do something new and stretch himself out of his comfort zone.

Thinking about this article and this podcast, both which I found insightful and challenging in the best kind of way.

Brainstorming with Abby about starting a podcast together. Eeek!

Inspired by Kelsey to make a photo book for each of my kids. I need to set a date to complete it and schedule in time to make it happen. I know both kids would love looking at pictures of themselves and hearing the accompanying stories.

Closing in on minimizing all of our possessions. The milk crate of files and a few items yet to be unpacked are awaiting their fate, but otherwise feeling like we have just the right amount of stuff.

Prioritizing going to the gym again, including some 6 a.m. classes. Biking and walking everywhere keeps me active, but it does not compare to a great workout class.

Celebrating one year in Bloomington! I regularly think about how glad I am that this opportunity came up for Neil; it is just the place we want to be to raise our family.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Bike Camping

Earlier this month we went bike camping at Yellowwood State Forest. HP had been camping twice before, but it was E's very first time and therefore our first camping experience as a family of four.

The ride was fifteen miles each way. I got off easy riding my commuter bike with two small panniers, the camping pads, and E on the Yepp Mini. Neil hauled the main load on our Yuba Mundo with HP in the Yepp Maxi seat. E was ready to get off the bike around mile ten, but was fine once I started doling out the cheese cubes and banana chips.

Most of the ride was on quiet country roads with minimal traffic. The minute we crossed out of Bloomingrton I could feel myself relax as we entered a shaded, tree-lined road. We could not have asked for a better weekend to go; the weather was gorgeous and surprisingly not too hot or humid for the middle of July in the Midwest.

The hardest part of the trip was sleep, which was to be expected. E skipped her nap on Saturday and fell asleep on the ride home Sunday, but otherwise did great. HP had a hard time going to bed because he was so keyed up. In retrospect we should have let him stay up later with us and then all gone into the tent together. Next time.

My favorite parts of the weekend:
  • Seeing how excited HP was about every little thing. He wanted to pick out our campsite, help build the fire, go on "little hikes" (think walking around the campsite), etc. 
  • Taking an early morning walk with E down to the dock of the lake and watching the mist slowly burn off the lake as the sun came up. It was quiet and peaceful in a way I do not experience in my day-to-day life.
  • Arriving at the campsite and knowing we got there by our own power. I remember feeling the same way when Neil and I biked from Portland to Mt. Hood after we finished graduate school. Such an empowering feeling! 
There is something about being in nature that I need to feel happy and whole, but do not get often enough. There were many points during the trip that I thought about Richard Louv's book The Last Child in the Woods and how valuable it is for everyone's mental health and children's development in particular to spend time in nature. It reinforced my desire to make exploring the outdoors a priority for our family. Taking the time to be together as a family away from the city, screens, and distractions is invaluable.

Overall, the trip was a huge success. It was definitely work, but a good kind of work. I take comfort in the fact that these kind of adventures are only going to get easier as the kids get older. I am already dreaming about our next bike camping adventure this fall. Crisp fall air and changing leaves + all the good things about this trip? I can hardly wait.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The house we didn't buy

I wrote this post way back in February, but failed to publish it. I'm doing it now as I want to remember this part of the home buying process. More on the house we did buy soon.

Neil and I are in search of a new home. We are in a lease until the end of July and have been keeping our eye on new listings. Back in November we found an agent we liked. We are prepared to buy any time that we find the right place (our house in Austin sold last summer).

Last Friday, I thought we had found the one. The house felt just like the one I grew up in: built in the fifties, ranch-style, family-friendly neighborhood. Nothing needing to be done ascetically to the interior---the kitchen was redone in a practical, but not showy way and had a nice gas stove, the main level had beautiful old hardwoods, the bathroom was a simple, bright, and clean, the living room featured a stone-fireplace, there was a back-entry with a mud-room type area for coats/boots, and what was originally the garage had been converted into another bedroom (we would have likely used this as a playroom for now then as the master when the kids were older). I was sold.

Neil, however, was not. The problem? The detached garage. The fact that it is detached is not an issue; we are prepared to buy a house without an attached garage as so many houses in the area we are looking have either a detached or no garage at all. His issue was with its placement. The lot was oddly shaped, which mean that to meet the setback requirements the front of the garage was closer to the street than the front of the house.

At first I blew it off as something ugly, but nothing more. So what if it is ugly? We can deal with ugly. But Neil's reticence remained. To him, buying that house was an endorsement of the design. A design that, to him, said that having a place to house your vehicles is more important than creating a community where people are more important that cars. The garage is not only ugly, but it blocks off our yard from our neighbors yard, so if our kids were out playing, it would be harder for our neighbors to look out their window and see our kids (or us) out and about.

Ideally, we would have torn down the garage (waste of materials and more things headed to the dump) and turned the master bedroom back into the garage. But that would cost us tens of thousands of dollars and decreased the value of the home. Not a financially sound move.

I was fixated on the fact that I loved everything about the interior. Neil does not care about that, because he sees it as something we can easily change. I am less excited than he is about major renovations. We did that in Austin, and quite frankly, it was exhausting. It meant that I solo-parented on the weekends while he worked on house projects--not fun.

Neil and I went back and forth about this house for two days. The whole time I was thinking, "High-five! We are such responsible adults having a respectful, thoughtful conversation about our concerns and desires." So that part was good. On Sunday we reached a place where I was fine not buying it and he would have been fine buying it. We decided to move on.

The next day I found a teeny-tiny house we could move into for about $90k. Ninety thousand! The thought of having such a minimal mortgage, taxes, and insurance was so very appealing. Then I rode by and it became clear that the location that would not have worked for us.

We are back to the drawing board. The whole weekend helped me see how off-track we had gotten in the search. Now I feel like we are returning to our minimalist desires--no fourth bedroom, willingness to do renovations so the house will be exactly the way we want it to be, and a cheaper neighborhood. I am excited to see what will come on the market in the next weeks and months as things pick-up and more houses get listed.

Our dream house will have:

3 bedrooms (no more, no less)
1 bathroom (I'd be happy with an extra 1/2 bath, but would prefer not to have another full)
1000-1500 sqft (ideally right in the middle of that range)
Space for a large dining room table
Easily walkable and bikeable to work school, and amenities
Good natural light

Everything else is negotiable. Fingers crossed we find the right thing!

Spoiler alert: the house we bought has all of those things. Well, it is just over 1500 sqft. But otherwise!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

1300+ miles with a toddler and a preschooler

A few weeks ago we took a road trip to Northern Virginia for my cousin's high school graduation. The trip was 650 miles each way. We debated taking two days to drive out and back, but were not excited about having four total travel days. We decided to just go for it and drive it the whole way in a day. According to Google, it is about a 10 hour drive with no stops. And with stops? Well, let's just say I was questioning our decision as the date approached.

Turns out, there was no need to worry. The kids did great. Fantastic, really. E was done with the whole endeavor by the end, but HP was such a trooper. He just sat in the back and talked, ate snacks, and looked out the windows. He listened to part of one Sparkle Story, but otherwise was uninterested in activities. I think he really enjoys talking to us when we are not distracted or trying to accomplish other projects (you know, like cooking dinner). We don't use screens with the kids, so snacks were the key to a successful trip. I bought a whole mess of snacks they normally do not eat; some of which were healthy, like blueberries and grapes, and some of which were not, like fruit snacks and M&Ms. And I have to say, we got a lot of mileage (literally) out of those M&Ms. 

Of course everything did not go smoothly. Exhibit A: we got forty-five minutes out of town and then had to turn around and come back because we thought HP was getting sick (think, writhing in pain like we had never seen before). Then, upon our arrival at the house, he told us he was feeling much better and was ready to go back in the car. I still think we made the right call turning around, but a nearly two-hour delay before we even got going was not the way we wanted to start the day.

The whole experience left me feeling excited for the future. That feeling was bolstered by listening to the Girl Next Door podcast on travel plans in the final hours of the drive home. As we approached Bloomington, HP napped (a feat in and of itself), E happily chatted in the back, and I started making mental lists of all the travels we can do as a family in the years to come. Think: Acadia in Maine, Boundary Waters in Minnesota, the whole state of Alaska, going back to our old haunts (and discovering new ones) in Oregon, and the list goes on (and on).

My overall takeaway from the trip was that it is starting to get easier. It's not easy (sleep was so, so terrible while we were away), but I can see that easy is just around the corner. I am impressed with what great travelers they are now and become practically giddy thinking about how much more simplified travel will be in the not-to-distant future (no diapers! no naps!).

Just you wait, kids. We have so much in store for you.