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.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Life lately

Telling everyone I know about this book. It is well-written, fascinating, and just the act of reading it makes me love Bloomington even more than I already do.*-

Needing new rain gear. I rode to church in a downpour last Sunday and arrived completely soaked. So soaked, that I had to go into the bathroom, wring my shirt out, and put it back on. I bought my raincoat and rain pants before we moved to Oregon in 2008 and they seem to have lost all of their water repelling abilities over the years.

Excited that the school year has started! We had a great summer, but I am more ready for the routine of preschool. First day was on Monday; all smiles at pick-up!

Trying to spend less on groceries this month. What can I say? We love to eat nuts and good cheese. We'll see how we do.

Loving our house more every day. It feels good to settle in. (And now have working ceiling fans in all the  bedrooms!)

Thankful that my mom is visiting while Neil is in California at a conference.

Refreshed from my weekend in Chicago. Having forty-eight kid-free hours to explore a new city with old friends was just what I needed to fill my tank. See also: delicious ramen, sushi, and pizza.

Wanting to find at least one play and concert to attend this fall.

Planning more ways for our family to explore nature in the area. Perhaps a bike-ride one Saturday to a nearby lake?

Joining a newly-formed book club next month. I so loved my book club in Austin and have been wanting to find one here. Now I have!

Listening to Harvey sing the state song over and over. And over. He especially likes to sing it in the back of the bucket bike.

Monday, August 15, 2016

It's getting easier

There has been a shift in our family this summer; things are feeling easier. Not exactly easy, but easier. Long road trips are surprisingly smooth We can go on outdoor adventures that would have been more stress than fun just a few months ago. Getting out the door is not quite the ordeal it used to be. The end of diapers is not here, but it is in sight. HP has largely moved past tantrums and shows great self-control.

A recent trip to the farmers' market and grocery store highlighted how different life is now compared to last year. I took both kids there by myself while Neil stayed home to work on a house project. Partway there I realized that I forgot the carrier E uses at the market. Not long ago, I would have turned around to retrieve it. Instead, I shrugged my shoulders and kept going. Amazingly, it didn't feel daunting to walk through a busy market holding our bags with both kids walking beside me. A trip like that used to be a feat. Now it is everyday life--not much more stressful or time-consuming than going on my own.

I noticed this newfound ease again on our trips to visit family this summer. I was continually impressed with how well the kids did with new faces, new places, and very little sleep. (Why? Why can no one sleep on vacation?!) In Virginia there were several moments when I thought, "If this same situation had happened six months ago HP would not be okay." But now, he can roll with it. Or if he can't, he can articulate the problem to us in a (relatively) reasoned way. Please don't misunderstand: there were many, many hard moments on both trips as it is a lot of work to travel with two young children. But it is less work now than this time last year, and this time next year it will be even easier.

I love to see and cuddle my friends' infants (I'm looking at you, Plum), but I am happy to be entering new territory as a family. We are still in the "families with young children" stage, but now they are "ever-so-slightly-more-independent children." The difference between that and life with a child under the age of one cannot be overstated.

A month after HP turned one, I wrote about entering toddlerhood. Passing the 18 month mark with E elicits those same feelings--excitement for the future coupled with appreciation for the moment we're in. I can't say it better than I said it then: It no longer feels like we're struggling to keep our heads above water; we're able to enjoy the swim.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Goals for August

I love the start of a new month. It feels especially refreshing to start a new month on a Monday.

I am heading into August riding a wave of productivity. These last few weeks I have accomplished more than usual. I think the reasons are threefold (1) I am getting more sleep, which is key to all the things, (2) life is settling into an easier rhythm with the kids as they get older, and (3) I am utilizing smaller bits of time that I used to fritter away. Natanya recently wrote about all of the things she can accomplish in ten minutes. So, so true.

This month we have two trips planned--one for Neil and one for me--so we'll both get to go out of town and solo-parent. Neil is going to a work conference in Anaheim, California. I am headed to Chicago to meet-up with two high school friends. We haven't all three been together in... a decade? On the agenda: lots of Olympics watching, catching up, and good food. This will be only my second time away from E overnight.

Other things happening in August: the start of preschool and end of swim lessons. The transition to a new class may be a little rough for HP. Change is hard, especially when you are four. I have no doubt he'll be loving it by the end of the first week.

On to my goals:

Continue posting twice a week here. I have gotten into a good rhythm and I want to keep up the momentum. I may struggle a bit around the trips, but I am going to do my best to keep plugging away.

Take care of a health insurance issue. Calling health insurance companies is the worst.

Organize photos on our external hard drive. I started doing this last week and made a lot of progress. This has been on my to-do list for YEARS. Once these are all culled and sorted, I plan to make a photo book for each kid, inspired by a recent Girl Next Door episode. Photo books won't happen this month, but just getting the hard drive organized would be huge.

Find a good exercise routine. I'd like to find three or four classes to go to each week and then commit to making it happen. This will be easier once preschool starts mid-month and I have more open hours. New school year, new start.

Complete house projects: hanging ceiling fans in two of the bedrooms, install a solar tube in E's room (this one might be a stretch for this month), and figure out what we are going to do with our fireplace (gas insert? wood burning insert? I need to not be cold in the winter).

Get back in a reading groove. June and July have been rough for reading around here. I am currently reading The Big Short and picked up three holds from the library yesterday.

Take my spare bike to the shop to get the shifter fixed as it is currently stuck in one gear.

Figure out Neil's birthday present. I have an idea, but need to make a trip to Goodwill and another store to make it happen, which means I need to think about it now instead of days before.

Okay, that is plenty for one month! May the momentum and productivity continue through to September.

Monday, August 1, 2016

A year in Bloomington

In the middle of last month we celebrated a year in Bloomington. A whole year!

Moving away from Austin felt like a big leap. We had a great community of friends and Neil loved his job. In short: were happy. But it wasn't the place we saw ourselves raising our family. So where did we see ourselves?  Well, a place like Bloomington. Here are some of the things I love about our new home:
  • Physically smaller than Austin. I have a friend that lives on the east edge of town here and when I visit her it feels like it is so far, even though it is less than five miles from our house. Five miles felt close in Austin, but here I rarely have to bike more than two--a luxury I do not take for granted.
  • Amenities of a bigger city--international food, world-class music at IU, plays, concerts, etc.
  • Small-town feeling, but not too small. Even after only being here a year, I run into same people at the market, the library, or the Y. It doesn't feel confining, it feels like we are starting to belong.
  • Four seasons. Seemingly endless summer, I do not miss you. Fall here is truly spectacular to behold (see photo above for proof). I even enjoyed the winter and snow. It has been particularly fun to experience the change in seasons with HP who curious about everything happening in the natural world.
  • Beautiful parks. There are fewer small neighborhood parks here than in Austin, but the parks they do have are large and include a lot of green space. Lucky us, we live next door to one of those parks.
  • Strong biking community. There are paths and bike lanes, but more than that, I see individuals and families biking everywhere we go. So many cargo bikes!
The only downside to Bloomington I've found so far is that it is not in the Pacific Northwest, which we love. But then again, if we lived there we would be farther from our parents and much of our extended family (though closer to my brothers). Indiana may not be Oregon, but it has its own beauty waiting for us to explore.

We have moved so much in the last decade that it feels good to know that we will be here for the foreseeable future. I still get an itch to go off on a new adventure--maybe a year abroad with the kids when they are in elementary school--but am happy to grow our roots here.

We can be happy anywhere. Happiness depends much more on people and relationships than it does on place. That said, I am glad we took the risk to uproot our family and try something new. Bloomington feels like home in a way that Austin never did. Even though we loved so many aspects of our lives there, it always felt like we had one foot in and one foot out. Now both feet are firmly planted in Hoosier soil.

A few days ago HP asked me when were going to move out of this house and--for the first time in his life--I could tell him that we have no plans to leave. It's a good feeling.