Saturday, December 19, 2009

Gifts for City Dwellers and Other Small-Space Folks

Over the years, our friends and family have had to get used to our unique needs around gifts. We love generosity and connecting with loved ones, but with four of us sharing 660 square feet, we don't have a lot of room to spare. Now that we're on the other side of Hanukkah, I've been thinking about what nice gifts we've gotten this year and what kinds of gifts work well for people in small spaces. So what do you get the family who can't really fit your gift into their home?
  • Consumables. Some of our favorite gifts are things that get used up. Nice coffees and teas, gourmet food, wine, toilet paper. Kidding about that last one. Lots of items other than food will still get used up -- crafting supplies, Hanukkah candles, art supplies for kids, fancy paper for letter-writing.
  • Memberships and Activities. Museum memberships are great because they are wallet-sized, can be used any time, and work for the whole family. Movie tickets or restaurant gift certificates can also be good. Doing something together with a gift-giver is wonderful.
  • Services. Massage, spa treatments, and manicures can all be good choices for the right person.
  • Magazines. We love to read, but don't have room for many books. Magazine subscriptions give us something to read and they can be used afterward for art projects by kids.
  • Music tends to be very compact and it's a wonderful thing to share with others. I love getting mixed CDs.
  • Something really needed. If you want to get something more substantial for someone on your list, you can always find out if there is some larger item they really need. That way you won't be giving them something extra they will have to find space for. These kind of gifts are often best when the recipeint really can be specific about exactly what they want so that you don't end up getting them something that doesn't quite work.
  • Small toys for kids. For kids, stick with small toys that have lots of potential in imaginative play. Small building toys, puppets, playsets with animals and people.
  • Small useful items. Everyone needs socks. Kids always need clothes. Cloth napkins and dishtowels are useful for most everyone. Hats, gloves, and scarves are generally welcomed by those of us in cold climates.
Need still more ideas? Check out Bus Chick's list and some links for having a simple holiday at Rowdy Kittens.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

These are the people in your neighborhood

It was a beautiful New England fall day yesterday. Lots of folks were out and about in our neighborhood, and by the end of the day, I was reflecting on the riches living locally has brought to our life.

We started the day at shabbat services, a 20 minute walk from our place, where we reluctantly turned down a spontaneous lunch invitation from some friends, also walking distance from shul, because H and I had plans to have time together, just the two of us. After services, while we were out, H and I ran into a neighbor family we haven't seen in a little while and got to catch up a bit. Later that afternoon, after we were back home, a great friend of H's from daycare (the daycare that's about 5 blocks away) and her mom just dropped by to see if maybe H wanted to play. The neighbor whisked both kids off to the park while Angela and I finished getting ready for our outing that night. I then went to pick up H at the park, touched base with H's daycare friend and her dad, and ran into yet another family we know well and caught up with them a bit, letting them know if they wanted to hang out tomorrow they should touch base with Angela. H and I then walked along the bike path over to grandma's house in Davis square, running into two more families we know along the way, one family from the park, and one of Angela's co-workers and her daughter, who we know both from Angela's work, and from the fact that her daughter's daycare plays at the same park as our daughter's daycare, so our kids see each other several times a week. After dropping H off with her Grandma for their weekly sleepover (we know, we're spoiled), I waited in the square, listening to some great music for a few minutes while Angela got baby R settled with a sitter. When she caught up with me we hopped on the bus to a friend's wedding (which was delightful). This is a friend I met several years ago at grad school, and then we ended up on the same train home one day, and realized we lived in the same neighborhood.

Choosing to live with our work, daycare and religious community located right here in our neighborhood, choices we made because we didn't want to own a car, and choices that were not always easy to make, has provided such a rich sense of community. As we go about our days, we have so many opportunities to connect with friends from the many overlapping spheres of our life, simply by doing what we were going to do anyway. Some of the folks we ran into yesterday are close friends, the kind you really can call on in an emergency. Some are just friendly acquaintances. But even the less intimate connections, when they are so frequent, and so effortless to make, contribute to a deep sense of community and place. On our walk from the bus coming home from the wedding, I couldn't help but think that Mr. Rogers got it right.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Carseats for the Carfree

Do you really need a carseat for your kid if you don't have a car? Even carfree families need to drive or ride in a car sometimes, in a rental car on vacation, a cab to the airport, or carpooling with friends. Our kids are in cars enough (mostly during out-of-town trips) that it makes sense to have seats for both of them. But which seat is the right one? This is a difficult question to answer. Most of the available carseat information addresses seat safety under the assumption that the seat will be installed permanently in one car, ideally by the police or at the fire station by someone trained in safe installation. Unfortunately, that information doesn't help parents who need to carry the seat around to carshares or taxis (lighter is better), install both quickly and correctly (fancy or confusing straps? Not going to happen) and will need a seat to fit in many kinds of cars. Throw in the prospect of shelling out tons of cash for a seat that gets used just a few times a year, and it gets very frustrating.

Kids, who are legally required to be restrained until 4'9" and 80 pounds in MA, will need multiple seats before they can ride with seatbelts alone. Our approach has been to borrow an appropriate infant seat and then, once H grew out of that one, purchase a relatively light, cheap, and relatively easy-to-install convertible seat that works both rear and forward facing. We purchased an Evenflo Titan which has served it's purpose reasonably well. However, this seat has some drawbacks, the most obvious being that its shoulder strap height rear-facing does not accommodate a child until anywhere close to the AAP recommended two years of age, and suffers a similar shoulder strap height problem forward facing.

In consultation with some smart parent friends, we have tracked down some great suggestions for carseats for the carfree.

If you are expecting an infant, the Combi Coccoro (reviewed here) might serve you well. It is very light, installs without a base (convenient for folks doing more frequent installs and removals), and even though it truly is an infant seat, it also fits kids up to 40 pounds with a fairly high height limit. Even better, even though it is a light and simple seat, it has a relatively high rear-facing weight limit of 33 pounds, and word is that the shoulder straps are positioned high enough that you actually can get close to that weight (unlike our seat, which even though it has a weight limit of 30 pounds rear facing, didn't have nearly enough shoulder strap height to make that a reality) . That won't get all kids to age two rear facing, but it will get many of them there. This seat is pricey at about $160, but it takes the place of both an infant seat and a convertible toddler seat, so if you were planning to buy both anyway, this might be the way to go.

The height/weight limits on the Coccoro should serve you until your child is big enough for the RideSafer Travel Vest (beware the obnoxious music on this link), which positions regular seatbelts to secure a child from 30-60 pounds. When there is no shoulder strap on the seatbelt, this vest needs to be additionally secured with a tether, and not all cars and cabs have tethers, but virtually all will have either a tether or a shoulder belt available. This is a new version of this vest, and the low-end of the size limit has been reduced to 30 pounds, 34 inches & three years old (used to be 35 pounds). This is a very good thing, because the range has now dropped to where many kids can ride with this vest straight out of a low-end convertible carseat like our Evenflo. In fact, that's just what H will be doing as soon as we place our order. We have word from a New York friend with the older version of this vest that installation works well, their 4 y.o. is happy to wear the vest, and that most cabs there actually have a top tether. Note also that there is a larger size for a child up to 80 pounds, though I'm guessing a 7 or 8 year old might resist wearing the vest. I'm guessing we'll switch to a backless booster when H grows out of the vest.

Another good find for an older child might be the SafeGuard Go Hybrid (reviewed here). The Go Hybrid is a forward facing seat that folds up when not in use, making it a good choice for families where a seat spends much more time in storage than in a car. It isn't nearly as compact as the travel vest, but it does have a much lower starting weight of 22 pounds. It also has a nice high 60 pound weight limit in the five point harness, which is something that carseat enthusiasts love as a safety feature, and can go up to 100 pounds as a backless booster. Thus, as soon as your child can sit forward facing, this seat should see them all the way through their carseat years. One word of warning though on this seat: it must be used with a top tether, which not all cars have, and even when they do have them, the tether attachment can be hard to find (every car is different). If you frequently ride in older cars, or don't know in advance what kind of car you'll be riding in, this might be a significant drawback.

Another option out there that might be nice for the carfree, particularly if you do a lot of air travel, or have a long walk to your carshare, might be the Sit 'n' Stroll, which is both a stroller and a fairly standard convertible carseat. However, those wheels make the Sit & Stroll heavy, so unless you really will be using it frequently as a stroller, it might not quite be worth the hefty price tag ($250) or the extra weight getting in/out of the car. Another feature of the Sit 'n' Stroll, unlike either the Go Hybrid or the Travel Vest, is that is is FAA approved for air travel.

Please let us know if you have experience with any of these seats, or what your solution has been to the carseat problem. We have friends with these seats, but haven't used them ourselves so we can't vouch for them specifically. However, we will be getting the travel vest soon, and will absolutely report back once we've given it a try.

I'd like to thank many friends who provided information & experience for this post, and have clearly done their carseat homework: CCB, Party B, Estelle (who tipped us off to the Coccoro), Shelli (a carfree NY mom and big fan of the Sit n' Stroll and Travel Vest), and Jen (who pointed us to the Go Hybrid). Thank you!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Check out

Today, we have an article featured on, "How to be a carfree family." Those of you who are carfree, car-light, or just interested in the lifestyle should check it out and leave a comment. Jeremy Adam Smith also has a great post up, "5 Ways My Son Benefits from a Carfree Life". In fact, you should just go a read all of right now. You can read about carsharing, garden-sharing, sharing with neighbors, unexpected positive consequences of collaboration/sharing, and even sharing pay. There's lots of great stuff up to read about, and more going up all the time.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Join us at Honkfest!

The whole family in the parade!It's October, and that means it's time for Honkfest, Somerville's fabulous music festival. We'll be enjoying the bands on Saturday and riding our fabulous Xtracycle in the parade on Sunday. We'll be with at least one other family with a kid/cargo bike setup, and if you have your kids on a bike or a cargo bike, we'd love to ride with you too! We usually try to march with the Green Streets Initiative.

Come to the festival, watch or march in the parade, and if you see a family on a great bike (whether it's us or someone else), say hello!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Advice for taking the car free plunge -- Part II: Back-up Plans

This is part of a series in response to a question we got way back when from a family considering remaining car free in our neighborhood after their car met an untimely (or timely?) demise. In Part I we addressed some questions regarding gear. Here we bite off something perhaps even more important: The Back-Up Plan

In general, it is best to have at least two possible ways to get anywhere you need to go on a regular basis. If you've had a car, even if it's just one car that you barely ever use, you've always had a fail-safe back-up plan for any required trip. Even if you took almost every trip by bike or transit, if the weather turned sour or you felt kind of sick that day, you had another option. Biking is a fabulous primary method of transport for the car-free who are in good health, but, especially with kids involved and New England winters, it's just not going to work every single day. Yes, yes, I know plenty of you are wonderful hard core bikers and will ride in anything, no matter how nasty, slippery or icy, and I used to be one of you. But I'm not going to take my kid(s) out in everything, especially not on ice, and my personal risk tolerance has also gone down since having kids.

Fortunately for Lauren. who asked this question originally and lives in our area, there are a wealth of back-up plans, mostly based on public transit. I used my back-up plan (taking the Red Line to Kendall) to get to work for about a year while I was pregnant and recovering from birth, though I am now happily biking again. The train takes longer than biking, but it's pretty reliable and with my discount T-pass through work, it is quite affordable. I also have several bus routes available that take me to several places I might need to stop on the way to or from work, and knowing available routes comes in very handy when the T is delayed. Angela can walk, bike, bus, or take the T to work, but bike is her first choice. Daycare drop-off is mostly by foot and sometimes by bike. Groceries are almost always by bike, and our snowstorm back-up is to shop at the store we don't like that's closer, or to borrow our friends car (hey, we're not purists). There is also a bus, but paying more (and grumbling) at the close-by store is usually our preferred back-up option.

Another great back-up option is a car-share (Zipcar in our area) and this might be particularly good for someone making the transition away from car ownership. Lauren has a 3.5 y.o. who is probably able to be in a booster seat in the car, which is relatively easy to get in and out. With car sharing, if you are used to using your car for occasional trips, you'll still have that option easily available. Car sharing can really help you to take the plunge; at first, you can give yourself permission to just get a car whenever you don't see another easy way to make a trip. It won't feel like too much of a lifestyle shift, and you won't feel deprived and resentful. But one of the beautiful things about a car-share like this is that it attaches the economic cost of the car to the activity itself because you pay by the hour. So even if at first you use it a lot, you'll soon find yourself motivated to find ways around using the car (is it really worth $35 to get to Target when you could pay just a tiny bit more for the same thing from the hardware store on the corner?).

When we first got rid of our car we were fairly heavy Zipcar users (2-3 times a month). But that was ages ago, and while we still maintain a membership so we can have the option, we are considering cutting it because we just don't use it (as in, I can't remember the last time), and we have friends who generously offer their cars for occasional use (which definitely was a help while I was pregnant).

When we were first car free, I remember frequently feeling like I was backed into a corner. Suddenly there was something I couldn't do without a car! But once you've settled into your life, and have ready access to two or three methods of doing your most frequent tasks, you can save the effort of figuring and planning for the big stuff, like cooking up a fabulous car-free camping trip, or adventures by train out of town. And that kind of planning is actually fun.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Carfree Roundup

  • Shareable: What is a Shareable City? Chris Carlsson talks about the shared space of cities and how cities create a shared culture and are created by that shared culture. He also identifies an important need I've been thinking about a lot lately of "how we [can] begin to connect across the class, age, and race barriers that divide us." I certainly feel like I share an enormous amount with the people in my neighborhood, but I notice I share more with those that look like me that with those of other races and cultures.

  • Totally Smitten Mama, Quest for the Simple Life Lex expounds on her family's reasons for giving up the "simple" rural life, that didn't turn out to be so simple since it meant they had to drive all the time. Instead, her family will soon be moving into town where they can walk, bike and bus for almost all of their transport instead of driving. She writes eloquently about the real perks of arranging life so you drive less (hint: it's not all about being a smug environmentalist).

  • Old enough to go to school alone? When can a kid start walking or biking to school alone?

  • Vendor selected for Boston area bike-sharing program - Local News Updates - The Boston Globe Bike sharing seems to be coming to the Boston area. I'm not sure how much I personally will use a bike sharing program, but I'm very excited to see one implemented and to see what kind of impact it will have on the area!

  • » Blog Archive » Carrying your infant by bike: How young is too young? Are you wondering just how early you can get your baby on a bike? That's not an easy issue to settle, but this post by BikePortland explores the options if you want to put a young baby on a bike. How can you keep them safe? Do even infants have to wear a helmet? I also found this post on A Long Walk to Green that goes even further, talking about carrying an infant on a recumbant trike.

  • List of car-free places - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikipedia maintains this list of carfree places in the world, which I recently stumbled upon. A great resource for anyone who is interested in creating carfree spaces, or just traveling and interested in spending time in them!

  • Lovely Bicycle!: DZnuts for the Ladies? Call me completely ignorant, but I didn't even realize that there creams existed to protect very personal and tender areas during biking. So thanks to Dottie for enlightening me!

Monday, September 14, 2009

On the road again

It's official. I'm back on the bike. Wow, is it good to be back!

I stopped biking somewhat prior to and during pregnancy, and while recovering from birth. Plenty of women, including one very impressive lady over at totcycle, do bike while pregnant, and more power to them. But for me, the year of acupuncture it took to even get me to ovulate combined with the vast sums of money we were laying out for frozen sperm (as lesbians, we didn't have easy access to the free stuff), as well as my acupuncturists stern warnings (she's great, but a little bossy), were enough to ground me for the year. Thankfully, we live in an area with great transit, so I had a workable alternative.

After the birth, I was chomping at the bit to get back on the bike, but I had a lot of recovery to do and it took a solid three months to get to where I could handle a ride of longer than five minutes without extreme discomfort the next day. I've now been commuting for about two weeks with no ill effects, and couldn't be happier. I've always loved the sense of freedom I have while riding, and now it feels even sweeter.

The best thing though, and what finally got me off my duff to post an update, was riding along today, in a big line of bikers, and seeing a little hand waving madly out of a school bus window, and hearing "Hello H's Mom!!" I waved heartily to a girl from our local playground as I passed her bus at the light. It's nice to be back on the road.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Advice for the carfree plunge, Part 1: Gear

We got a comment last week from Lauren asking for advice in taking the step from car-light family to car-free family. She writes:

"My family (two grown-ups one 3.5 year old) have been day dreaming about being car free for a while- since we already owned a car, it was easy to just do our best being car light. Since our car has now taken it's last trip (by way of a high speed car wreck) we have the perfect opportunity to take the challenge on. I love the IDEA of car free, but things like, snow, illness, and visiting the grandparents makes me worry. I have been reading your blog and have found it very helpful and comforting. Right now we have a simple set up- two old bikes, a child bike seat and a burley trailer (with no rain cover)... but we have daycare that is walkable and work near the bike path. Any advice for some essentials to make life easier? ... (Our t-stop is Alewife too, maybe someday we will see you out there!)"
I have several thoughts for Lauren, and we'll get to them, but the most important thing I have to say is that you can do it! You live in our neighborhood, so I know for a fact that the resources are here. Yes, it can feel scary, and you will certainly have to figure out new ways to do some things, but I bet you'll feel a payoff pretty quickly in terms of your place in our community, your health and that feeling of freedom that comes from knowing you'll never get a parking ticket again. Now, for the first portion of some more detailed thoughts:

GEAR: It sounds like you have a completely reasonable bike set-up in order to use biking for a lot of your transport needs. Your trailer can be used easily for either kid or cargo, and if you need to haul cargo and kid at once, you can put the kid in the bike seat and haul stuff in the trailer. You might consider getting a hitch on both bikes if you haven't done so already. You also might consider some rain gear (like a raincover for the trailer, and rain pants and jacket for adults.) The number of days that you can ride comfortably in this area goes up dramatically once you are moderately protected from water. However, that said, we still only have one set of adult rain gear in our house, and we're fine. I got a LOT happier with my bike commute once I got rain gear, and now that Angela has been borrowing mine while I was on pregnancy bike hiatus, we may need to buck up and get a second set. Mostly though, if your bikes work and you have a way to haul both kid and some cargo, you are fine, and any remaining gear decisions come easier if you go ahead and ride with what you have, and then notice what drives you crazy the most. Then you can find gear that troubleshoots that problem specifically, rather than trying to anticipate all possible needs ahead of time (which will just make you spend a lot of money).

At some point quite soon, your 3.5 y.o. will outgrow the bike seat (most American seats have a 40 pound limit). The trailer work for a while after that, but soon that won't work either. If you're a carfree or mostly carfree family, consider the next kid-hauling purchase with cargo as well as kid in mind. The most common next step from the trailer is a trail-a-bike, but like the trailer, that has an extremely limited lifespan and even worse, provides no cargo capacity. If you need the trail-a-bike for the kid and also need to carry groceries what do you do? Well, some folks make giant trains by hooking a trailer to the trail-a-bike, and that does work, but it's a lot of weight and, in my opinion, a lot of accident risk due to sheer length. Another option is to go with both front and rear panniers on the adult bicycle, which does get you something, but if you need to haul groceries for a whole family, that probably won't cut it. We love our xtracycle (see also for its ability to carry both kid and stuff in a relatively compact package. There are other great cargo options out there (including the ute and the madsen), but from a price perspective, you might have great luck converting one of your existing adult bikes to an xtra, or possibly even both, once the trailer is outgrown. Even though a conversion would cost more than an trailer-bike, it would get you many many more years of use, and would be useful long after the kid bikes on his/her own. But you don't have to do it now. You can wait, see how your car-free lives unfold, and then assess down the line what next purchase will give your family the most use.

Next time, in part II, we address the importance of back-up plans.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Blogging for dollars

Lately, there's been a lot of talk about the controversy over "mommy bloggers" accepting payment or goods from companies.* If the coverage hasn't gotten to you, try the Newsweek piece, or the NPR piece. Off and on, I've wondered if we should host some advertising on this blog. After all, we put energy into the blog -- wouldn't it be nice to get just a little bit of cash out of it?

I've resisted the idea of advertising because I don't want people to buy anything they don't need. And advertising is about getting all of us to buy things they don't need. I'd rather than we all bought a little less.

But after reading a bit about bloggers getting swag and dollars for product reviews and other types of sponsored blogging, I realize there's another reason not to host any advertising. I love to read blogs by regular people who just want to get their thoughts out into the world. What's great about the internet is the possibility of ordinary people finding an audience for what we want to say and being able to bypass corporations, advertising, and marketing while doing it. And if those are blogs that I love to read, I guess they are also the kind of blog that I would love to write. A blog that comes out of a passion. A blog where you aren't going to be able to read three posts a week because we don't have time to write that many since we both work to earn our living rather than blogging to earn a living. So thanks for reading, thanks for writing your own blogs, and please don't buy anything you don't really need even if a blogger says it's great.

* Note: Please accept my apology for using the term "mommy blogger." It drives me crazy how everything on the internet having to do with parenting has the word mommy in it. What's wrong with the term "parent blogger?"

The Ride Home

There are wonderful things about raising a kid who rides public transit. I love that H. is out in the world, interacting with all kinds of people, all the time, and not just with the people we decide and arrange for her to have contact with. It's a pleasure to watch her skills at navigating public spaces grow. She's a pro at riding an escalator safely (yes, that did take teaching), knows just what to do (and what not to do) in a train station (wait back from the yellow line, stay close, NO RUNNING!, take a BIG STEP to get on the train).

She behaves reasonably well on trains and buses. We have pretty firm standards on what is and isn't acceptable that she mostly meets. There was a while there, right around 18 months, where I avoided taking her on transit because it was so difficult to keep her moderately contained for even a 10 minute ride. I thought perhaps we'd never make it out the other side. But it got better, and now, it's just a normal part of our days. One of the best things is that no matter where we're going, getting there is half the fun. The bus/subway/train ride is part of the adventure and the things we see out in the world give us lots to talk and think about. I can also see peeks into a future when she'll be able to ride trains and buses herself, and I can see that time will come way before her 16th birthday.

This is all great. But, and you knew there had to be a but, there's one thing that makes me wish for a nice, big, hermetically sealed car, preferably with tinted windows:

The ride home.

After a lovely trip out, say to the Science Museum (87 or 88 to Lechemere or Green line to Science Park), or Drumlin Farm (Commuter Rail to Lincoln), or South Station to watch the trains come in, H is tired, possibly cranky, and we still have to get home. Depending on where we are, getting home can take a long time (up to an hour, sometimes even longer), and that's a long time to ask a tired (or getting there) toddler to keep it together in a public space. She also knows the fun stuff is over, and is less enthusiastic about getting home than she was about getting wherever we were going in the first place. She still works hard to follow the "train rules," and we use all the tricks (e.g. toys & snacks in the bag just for the ride home), but any parent will tell you that sometimes the "tricks" just aren't enough, and then we become those people with that kid on the train.

I know other people's kids sometimes melt down after a big day, but they get to keep their tantrums private, in the confines of that nice car, with the kid strapped in and the windows rolled up. Every now and then, on that train or bus ride home, I wish I was one of them.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Carfree Roundup

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Suburban Friends and the Carfree Family

We got a really great question on the When you really need a car post. BusChick writes (somewhat edited here):
"The biggest driver (pun intended) of car use for us is visiting friends. My family lives in the city, and so do most of my old friends. I, do, however, have one or two close friends who live outside of bus range; my husband has several...

I like to reciprocate visits to friends and not always have them come to us, but renting a car just to go sit in a girlfriend’s living room is not something I’m going to go every week—or, for that matter, every month. Most of my husband’s friends have kids, and they are forever having baby showers and birthday parties and Super Bowl parties and et cetera. Sometimes we can take the bus to these events, but these are two-transfer rides with long wait times and infrequent service... Many times, we cannot take the bus to these events and so either have to rent a car or skip the trip...

So, after all that, my question is: Do any other car-free parents have this problem, and if so how do you handle it?"
I wrote a little bit about this a while back, but mostly in the context of new friends. But the existing friends and family are a tougher problem. Some strategies we have are to host events instead of transporting ourselves to other peoples' houses, especially if it's for an activity along the lines of "hanging out in a living room". It's easier for us to feed and host people than it is for us to get to them, and hey, then they don't have to cook, so it's a win for them. For friends with kids who live in the burbs, we sometimes arrange for transit accessible meet ups at kid friendly activities that they'd probably come into town for occasionally anyway (like a trip to the Boston Children's Museum).

But that doesn't really answer the question of the baby shower or the super bowl party, that really is happening at someone else's place, and that someone didn't really consider bus routes when they bought their lovely 4 bedroom in the burbs. One strategy is to increase the threshold for what you consider a true social obligation. If the baby shower is for someone you really care about, and particularly if it is for family, then maybe it is something you need to be there for since a baby is kind of a big deal. The super bowl party might be less of a true social obligation (but keep in mind, I'm not a football fan, so feel free to disagree for your own life). If you decide you really need to be there, one option is to divide and conquer. If only one grown-up goes, you might be able to beg a ride from a driving friend, and lord knows the toddler doesn't want to go anyway. If you can't rustle up a ride ahead of time, go ahead and take the 3 bus trip, knowing you'll probably be able to hitch a ride home since everyone there will be horrified that you didn't drive and will be falling all over themselves to offer you a ride home (just say at moderate volume "oh, I need to head out soon to catch the bus, I've had a great time!" and you'll have 10 offers of a ride...but all of those offers evaporate if a carseat is involved).

The social pressure to maintain tit-for-tat invitations is very strong, but is nearly impossible to maintain for a carfree person (especially a parent of small kids) in a social world that assumes you have a car. These social rules are largely unspoken. It might happen that you gradually come to fewer and fewer parties, and eventually you just aren't invited anymore. Honestly, for some friends, that may not be such an awful thing. I'm sure your old friends are wonderful, but is each and every relationship really one of those friendships meant to last a lifetime? Most friendships do eventually fade, especially once kids are in the picture, and you know, that can be OK (and isn't that kind of what facebook is for?) But some of those friendships are probably ones you really want to maintain and are willing to work for. For these friendships, a little communication is in order.

I'm reminded of a situation with some of our best friends (fortunately, they are the kind that live in walking distance!). We both have 3 y.o. kids, but theirs is a more finicky sleeper. When he was little, he couldn't sleep at our house. He still has a much more rigorous nap schedule. However, our kid was fine sleeping at their house and could be a little more flexible on timing at a younger age. As a result, we frequently ended up going to their place and having our kid nap or even sleep overnight there. We started feeling really bad for never having them over and for eating too much of their delicious food. So, at some point, we actually talked about it. We established that for them, it was easier to just host us than to mess up their kids sleep, so it was OK for all of us if we didn't host as often. Now, that conversation was probably a year and a half ago now, so we should probably have it again, especially since baby nap schedules trump 3-year-old nap schedules and baby R has been added to the mix. Maybe now we can return the favor and feed them (C & D -- let's discuss!). But the point remains, we felt bad for not meeting our social obligations, but there was a good reason for it, and it turned out that there was an arrangement that worked.

Perhaps it's similar for those really close friends who had the audacity to move to the burbs without checking with you, first. Go ahead and tell them, out loud, how truly difficult it is for you to get to them (even though you feel pressure to prove anything can be done by bus) but that you value the friendship and would hate to lose it due to logistical difficulties. Say that you'd really rather host them when you get together or meet at a restaurant or activity in bus range, but let them know that for the really big stuff (the baby shower, the wedding), you'll suck it up and rent a car. If you can actually communicate about the unspoken obligations, you can probably come up with a level of contact that maintains the friendship.

(And congratulations to BusChick and BusNerd on the impending arrival of BusBaby #2!)

Monday, July 27, 2009

On (not) using my body

A recent article in the New Yorker combined with trying to get used to my post-partum body, has gotten me thinking. The article opens with research showing that Americans started gaining weight in the early 80s, after remaining relatively stable through the 60s and 70s, and that we've kept on gaining, and then launches into reviews of several books that purport to explain the increase. One of the main arguments is that we are evolutionarily primed to seek out calories from sugar and fat, since putting on concentrated calories when they were available helped us survive lean times. Now that calories (especially from fat and sugar) are so cheap, we pack on the pounds.

But the article also points out that the economic part of this argument may be a bit flawed. After all, if calories are cheap, fewer calories are even cheaper. That got me wondering what else has changed in the 80s and 90s. What I came up with is the rise in personal computing. Cheap computers have dramatically changed the way that we make a living and the way we spend our recreation time. Even jobs that used to involve a fair amount of physical activity, like nursing, have been changed by technology. With the introduction of electronic medical records, any nurse will tell you that they tend to gain weight if they aren't careful (My mom's a nurse, so I have that on authority). The structure of our down time has changed, too. Here I sit blogging in my "free time." We spend time on facebook, twitter and message boards, perhaps instead of (not in addition to) more active pursuits. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't think computers are bad. I (mostly) like them, and rely on them for my livelihood. But many of us sit around all day working on a computer, and then come home to sit around playing on the computer.

I've been blessedly spared much angst over my body, but not because I've always been in great shape. Even when I wasn't in good shape, I was frequently using my body for transportation, by walking and biking. My body served me well, got me efficiently from point A to point B, and other than that I didn't worry much about it. I think using my body to do something useful helped me skip some of the worry about appearance.

But here I am, done with pregnancy, and my body is different. It is a little bigger and a different shape, and even though I'm nursing, I'm not finding that those extra pounds are coming off. After stepping on the scale the other night, I had to admit that I might have to work at getting back into shape, which caused me to exclaim in an exasperated tone "But I don't diet! I should get to eat as much sour cream as I want!"

The birth left me with a lot of recovery to do and my body still isn't ready for biking. So, in contrast to my pre-pregnancy life, I now find that I am fairly sedentary, with a few extra pounds I'd rather not have, and not exercising enough to justify my love of sour cream. I'd certainly buy the evolutionary argument that we love our fat and sugar (I sure do), but for me at least, the bigger problem may be that I'm not using up those calories in satisfying or useful pursuits. Even if I still had these pounds, if I were biking, I don't think I would be bothered as much. If my body felt strong and functional, I think I could recapture that blithe disregard for my body image.

Back when we were hunters, gatherers, or farmers, we didn't have time to obsess over our bodies. We just used them. I'm guessing neither anorexia nor excessive weight were big problems. Other than having recently grown a pretty fabulous baby, my body isn't doing anything for me right now. I'm not using it for work; I'm not using it for recreation; and I'm not using it much for transportation (though I do still walk some), and those cheap calories are not helping. I think the way for me to feel more satisfied with my post-pregnancy body isn't to diet or to "exercise," but to start using my body in ways that feel productive.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

When you really need a car

Purists out there will cringe, but I find that sometimes I really need a car. It happens less and less as time goes on because our lives are increasingly integrated with the community within a mile of our home, but it still does happen sometimes. In the winter I don't always want to tackle a huge grocery shopping trip on my bike. We sometimes need to purchase items that are too large to fit on our bikes. We sometimes need to get to the hospital quickly.

So if you are carfree or are considering being carfree, you might want to know if there will be a car out there should you need one. There are four main avenues for finding a car for occasional use:
  1. Rent a car. A rental car can be a good option for taking a vacation or when you will need to use a car over multiple days. In our city (Cambridge MA), it is easy to bike or take public transit to a number of car rental agencies. You can shop for the best rates online, but keep in mind that taxes and other fees may apply, so read the fine print. In particular, you'll want to think about the issue of insurance. If you don't already have a car, you won't be covered by any insurance, and car rental insurance can really add to your daily costs. Some credit cards will cover you if you rent the car with their card; call your credit card company to ask about their policy. A good summary of insurance options can be found in this MSNBC article.
  2. Use a car sharing service. Car sharing services allow you to rent a car for a very short period of time. You can find a list of car sharing services on Wikipedia. Generally you pay an annual fee to subscribe to the service and an hourly fee to have the use of a car. You make a reservation online and then pick up the car and return it to the same permanent parking space. Membership in a car sharing service means that you can have a car available almost any time you want it. Here in Cambridge, we sometimes use Zipcar.
  3. Borrow a car (or share a car informally with friends). It can be great to borrow friends' cars from time to time. It is cheaper (and friendlier) than a formal car sharing service. If you are going to borrow your friends' cars, it is a good idea to set some parameters ahead of time (How often can you borrow the car? For how long? How much do you contribute for gas/repairs?) and then to check in periodically to make sure your friends are still comfortable with the relationship. Borrowing a car is a great way to build community and to avoid having to have your own car!
  4. Use a taxi. Taxis are expensive but they can be a simple way to get from one place to another!
As Bus Chick pointed out, the worst part about using a car when you are a parent is having to use a car seat. Whenever possible we try to do car trips without a kid (for instance, baby R has only been in a car on the way home from the hospital), but sometimes car trips with kids in tow are unavoidable. Here are our tips for each for handling car seats in each of the options above:
  1. Rental Cars. From what we hear, you don't want to take up a car rental company on any offer to include a car seat. Either the car seat won't be available, will be broken, or will be a substandard/outdated seat. Better to bring your own if possible. If it is not possible, look for tips from Delicious Baby. Rental cars should all be equipped with latch systems which helps when getting car seats in and out. Also, keep in mind that the laws about child seats vary by state (for instance, Massachusetts requires that children up to age eight be restrained in a car seat or booster seat). You should check the laws any time you are traveling to a different state.
  2. Car sharing. Most cars from a car sharing services will be newer and thus equipped with latch systems for car seats. Zipcar at least does not provide car seats and I haven't heard of any other car sharing services providing them.
  3. Borrowing a car. If you borrow from a friend with kids, you may get lucky and be able to borrow a car with a seat already installed. If your friend does not have a car seat installed, you'll need to know if the car has a latch system. If it does not, you'll have to use a seatbelt to secure the seat which means getting intimate with your car seat manual.
  4. Taxicabs. Taxi cab drivers often get crabby when they have to wait for you to install a seat. We had a driver tell us just to hold our infant on a lap and hold the car seat as well rather than installing it (we installed the seat anyway). In Massachusetts and some other states, children are not required to be in car seats in a taxi. You'll have to decide how important a car seat in a cab is to you, particularly as your child gets older. If you want to have your toddler ride with a seatbelt, there are tips here. That same site gives the advice that "Many parents find it helpful to ask the driver to start the meter immediately and also to hand him a dollar right away (just factor this into the tip at the end) – this might show him that you respect his time and pacify him as you take the minute to install the baby's car seat." I advice you read the whole advice section from the car seat lady to help you make the best decision.
Also, I can't recommend it because I haven't tried it, but the Travel Vest certainly seems like a great idea. It's a more portable option for when kids are the right age for a booster seat. If anyone has tried it, please let us know in the comments!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cloth Diapers, Take Two

Sometimes really great things happen in the world of babies between your first and second kid. In our case, two wonderful things happened in the world of cloth diapers.

1) One-size pocket diapers were invented. We received several BumGenius 3.0 one-size pocket diapers as a gift, and we LOVE them (Thank you friends! You know who you are...). They fit both 3.y.o. H and infant R (amazing!), and are so much nicer than prefolds at those middle-of-the-night changes.

2) A real live brick and mortar cloth diaper store opened walking distance from us in Somerville, MA. Check out Diaper Lab at 201 A Highland Ave. We stopped by to pick up some Thirsties Covers in R's new size, and found a wonderfully stocked store, helpful and knowledgeable staff (store founder Salina is in the photo above), and, our favorite, a discount corner in the back with gently used items. Prices are on par with online stores, but you don't pay shipping and exchanges are easy. We only wish this store existed when we were stocking up on cloth diapers the first time! The store is a 15 minute walk from Davis on the red line, and accessible via the 88 or 90 buses. Diaper Lab gets extra points for posting the relevant bus schedules inside the store.

If you're considering taking the cloth diaper plunge, consider the Diaper Lab Experiment to Own Program. Try 8 kinds of cloth diapers for two weeks for only $25.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Carfree Roundup

Here are some posts and findings from around the web that we really enjoyed this week.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Carfree on the Internet

This week I've been noticing just how much stuff comes with kids. We picked up a lot from friends used, but I still feel like the stream of stuff pouring into our house is wide and deep. We have gifts for H's birthday, an avalanche of parts for the many electric breast pumps in our home, and new tools from some home renovation projects taken on by Dorea's dad. We're trying to counterbalance the influx by clearing out our basement, including paring down our vast collection of hand-me-down clothes to what will actually be worn.

I've been surfing around the carfree internet today and found a few items of interest:

Monday, June 15, 2009

First Bus Trip and Parent Group Round-up

Baby R. and I went on our first bus trip on Friday. I tied him to my chest in our stretchy wrap (really just 4 1/2 yards of Jersey Knit fabric, tied like this), grabbed the diaper bag, took a moment to revel in not needing to pack any bottles since I'm nursing this kid, and headed out to catch the 77. We made our way north to the Arlington New Moms group hosted by Boston Jewish Family & Children's Services and showed up right on time (the group runs from 10-11:30 at the Calvary United Methodist Church at 300 Mass Ave). New parent groups were a great resource to us when H was a wee babe, and I have been really looking forward to attending them again with R. Here's a round up of some more local groups in the Cambridge/Somerville MA area:
  • JF & CS hosts lots of New Moms groups in the Boston area (open to all new moms, not just Jewish moms, unfortunately not open to dads). The Somerville group (Thursdays, 11-12:30, at 42 Prescott St) is accessible via the 87, 88 or the 90, a 1.3 mile walk from Porter, or a 1.5 mile walk from Davis (though I'm not yet up to that much post-partum walking quite yet, ask me again in a couple weeks). The Cambridge group (Wednesdays, 10-11:30, at 132-134 Magazine) is a .6 mile walk south of Central Square.
  • The Cambridge Birth Center hosts three groups at 8 Camelia Ave, right across from Cambridge Hospital and right next door to the Birth Center. There are nursing support groups on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10-12, both with lactation consultants, and a parents group (theoretically open to both moms and dads, though I only once saw a dad there when we attended with H) on Wednesdays from 10-12. These are accessible via the 83, 91, 69, or a 15 minute walk from Harvard.
  • For both Moms and Dads, StellaBella toy store in Inman (1360 Cambridge St) hosts a new parents coffee hour, complete with tasty coffee & snacks from 1369 on Fridays at 10:30 (accessible via the 83, 91, 69 or a 15-20 minute walk from Harvard or Central)
  • The Mount Auburn Midwives host a group for parents (they don't specify moms only) of non-crawling infants at the Vineyard Church in North Cambridge on Mondays from 2-3:30. (15 Notre Dame St, accessible via the 83, short walk from the 77, 15 minute walk from Davis or 10 minute walk from Alewife)
  • The Cambridge Center for Families hosts a group for parents (any type!) and caregivers of babies up to 15 months on Mondays 12:30-2:30. This group is open to Cambridge residents only, and is held at the Peabody School at 70 Rindge Ave (accessible via the 83, short walk from the 77, 15 minute walk from Davis or 10 minute walk from Alewife). The entrance to the Center is at the rear of the school, and they host lots of events for families with kids six and under. Here is a pdf of the May/June schedule and newsletter, or look here for links (on the lower left) to future calendars.
Please feel free to leave additional info about similar groups in comments if you know of something I've missed, and do say "Hi" if you see me, Angela or baby R. at one of the groups!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Update: Our (not so) Carfree Birth

Rowdy Kittens wrote recently in the Small Living Journal that one way for people to become more involved in their communities is to go carfree. We couldn't agree more, and we've noticed this in particular around the birth of our baby boy.

Because of complications, Dorea had to be induced at 38 weeks, and we had been hoping to take the bus to the hospital for the induction. We were all set with that plan until we left the house with our luggage in tow and realized that it was raining. After a few minutes, the rain slacked off a bit and we were set to go out in the drizzle. Just then, our neighbor stepped out onto her porch.

"How are you getting to the hospital?"

"We're going to take the bus," Dorea said.

"Do you want a ride?"

Dorea and I exchanged a meaningful look and then responded with a somewhat sheepish, "Yes."

Our neighbor ran back into her house, hollering to her husband that we needed a ride now, and then her daughter joined us for a very non-exciting ride to the hospital (it had even stopped raining).

Less than 24 hours later and we were headed back home, still without a baby. We'd had a round of induction attempts and wanted to get a good night's sleep before starting another. This time our wonderful doula drove us home. As we were getting out of the car, our neighbor's son spotted us and shouted out, "Dorea and Angela are back with the baby." Kids and grownups came pouring out of houses and alleyways to have a look, and we had to tell everyone it was a false alarm -- no baby yet.

The next morning a friend who lives a few blocks away drove us to the hospital for a second round. A few eventful days later we were ready to come home, this time with our beautiful new baby boy. Dorea was under doctor's orders to rest for a couple weeks and a bus was out of the question. We called yet another friend who came to the hospital and hauled us, all of our junk, and our new baby, back home.

So, how did we do on our carfree birth? It wasn't particularly car free, but we are grateful to be connected to our friends and neighbors and to be able to depend on them when we need help. And that's really what being carfree means to us.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

He's here!

Our son arrived very late on Wed night (May 27th). He's a healthy 7 lbs 4 oz with a full head of reddish blond hair. We have lots of recovering to do around here (let's just say it will be quite a while until I'm back on that bike), so details and pictures may be slow to appear, but know we are all doing well.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Container Gardening, My New Hobby

I've wanted a good hobby for a long time. Dorea has her knitting, but the only hobby I've been able to come up with is reading books. I enjoy it, but it's pretty lame as hobbies go.

A few months ago, I decided I wanted to take a stab at growing some vegetables. We have no ground for a garden, so we have to grow in containers. Dorea took charge of making self-watering containers with instructions from She used some rubbermaids and other material we had around the house to make them and some tools borrowed from a neighbor.

Here is one of the finished containers:

The containers turned out great, and the whole family got involved in planting seeds, and eventually planting seedlings in the containers. The plants, however, seem to have become my own personal babies. Sometimes I feel the need to check on them multiple times in one hour. In addition to the tomato, zucchini, and basil plants we have outside, we also have some lettuce and other seedlings growing on our sunny porch. And we stuck some green onions into some soil in order to grow those as well.

Now our little seedlings have grown into great big plants and we couldn't be more proud!

So as we wait for a real baby to arrive (any day now), at least I have a hobby. I just hope that I remember to keep watering everything after our new addition throws the house into chaos!

Retail Therapy

I've learned something about myself in the past couple of weeks -- I'm not immune to retail therapy. Since Dorea got diagnosed with a semi-rare pregnancy complication, we've been bleeding money.

Some of the spending is legit. She's been having acupuncture appointments and we've spent money on medications of various sorts. But looking at my purchases, it seems that I think the whole problem will go away if I just spend enough money at Cambridge Naturals on natural products of questionable efficacy. And earlier today I accidentally bought two metal water bottles and a baby doll. I'm a far cry from the woman who wrote about buying everything used.

Maybe I should  be happy with this development. I was starting to worry that by saving my money and spending as little as possible, I was hurting the economy. There's no danger of that now, and I expect a call to come through any day from the president or at least the chair of the Fed thanking me for my patriotism.

I have learned two important things through this.
  • Being anxious, tired, desperate, and fearful leaves you vulnerable to purchasing things you don't really need. Like all of the essential oils I bought last week because they might be helpful during labor.
  • I hate spending money on things, but I actually really love spending money on people. We're having not one but two birth attendants at the hospital, and I'm happy to give both of them my money. In the past few weeks Dorea has seen a number of holistic/natural practitioners and I'm happy to spend money on them as well. I feel really happy knowing that these transactions are going to help us have the best birthing experience possible, and to know that I am helping to directly sustain alternative practitioners.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Making some room

As we've blogged about before, we have a small condo and we are soon to be a family of four. With the baby coming in just a couple of weeks, we realized a few days ago that we don't actually feel like we have enough room for the baby, either time-wise or space-wise, despite our protests otherwise.

So we finally got around to converting H's Ikea dresser back into a changing table. We cleaned out H's closet and made room for baby things. We donated all of the junk we have been collecting for a garage sale (finally admitting that the garage sale wasn't going to happen). With that done we were actually able to get to the crib out and set it up beside our bed.

With our physical space a little more freed up, we are starting to believe we have the mental space for a baby as well. Our goal is to be ready to welcome the baby next weekend!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Carfree birth. Sort of.

We got a request on our last post for more pregnancy news. In thinking back over the year, it does seem that my primary pregancy-as-it-pertains-to-being-carfree thoughts have to do with whining about not biking, about T delays and bad weather. Not a very good track record, is it?

I confess, I had been writing a wonderful carfree baby post in my head for after the birth (estimated due date for the baby is June 9, I'm at 34 weeks now). It was going to be all about how we had a carfree birth by having this baby at home (yes, we are that big of hippies, we really were planning a home birth and have the boxes of birth supplies on our porch to prove it). Of course, such a birth wouldn't have really been car free, because two midwives and a doula would have been driving to us, but still, I was kind of excited about not having to put the kid in a car seat right away.

Unfortunately, our plans have changed, and they will involve more driving. I was just diagnosed with some late-term complications that effect my liver function and can be quite risky for the baby if I don't deliver sooner than later, so instead of that nice home birth, we're looking at labor induction at a hospital in just a couple weeks. It certainly isn't what we had planned, but we're glad to know, glad we're getting excellent medical care, and glad that the risks in terms of outcome for the kiddo are pretty much nonexistent as long as we do what we need to do.

And now for the blog relevant part: we need to figure out hospital transportation. We are blessed to have many wonderful friends who are happy to drive us places every now and then, who'd be happy to get us to the hospital. But this morning, we got it into our heads that maybe we won't drive to the hospital. We'll need to take a lot of stuff, but hey, that's what our Xtracycle is for. If Angela bikes, then she'll be able to come and go easily after the birth to tend to H's needs without having to beg a friend for a ride whenever she needs to get somewhere. I can easily take public transit to get there (it's how I'm getting to prenatal visits anyway), and since it's a pretty early induction, it's not like I'm going to be in labor on the bus.

All of this news is only about 48 hours old, and we still have lots to figure out. We may well just throw our junk in a friends car since that's probably the path of least resistance. But there's something about the idea of getting to the hospital on our terms and our own power, that's really appealing in this situation. It feels a little like taking back a bit of control in a situation where we have none. It would be nice to land at the hospital V-C style, and of course, the thought of a photo of the bike, all loaded up with birth gear including one of those giant "birth balls," may be too exciting to resist. But please, don't worry, we're not going to strap the newborn into the panniers on the Xtracycle to go home. For that, we really will get either a friend, a cab or a zipcar. Though I have to say, some of totcycle newborn biking prototypes look pretty good (before you get hysterical, note the date on his post).

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Carfree toddler (and grown up) concerts this week

H's grandma (aka Angela's mom, aka "Baba") tipped us off about a series of great toddler-friendly T-accessible activities this week.

All this week there are free guitar concerts inside South Station hosted by the Boston Classical Guitar Society. Yesterday, H and I headed downtown on the red line to meet up with Baba, eat a pretzel (H's favorite part) and listen to Juanito Pascal perform flamenco guitar music. Tomorrow (Thursday) you can check out 20th Century music (not sure how that goes over with the toddler set), or Friday listen to some Music of Latin America.

We only really lasted through about a half hour of music, but H really paid attention there for a little while, and we probably would have lasted longer if the concert had started on time at 11:30 instead of 20 minutes late. Once we got there, I realized that a train station is the perfect place to take a toddler for a concert. It's easy to get to, there are snacks available, everyone is coming and going so no big deal if you need to leave early, and it's loud anyway, so you can introduce some concepts of concert etiquette without actually bothering anyone when your kid can't really pull it off. Concerts happen periodically at South Station, so keep an eye on that events calendar.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Biking with Kids in the Rain

Earlier this week, I was nearing the end of the day, which is the time when I pick up my daughter from daycare on the bike and madly rush home.

But it was raining. And the kid and I were completely devoid of rain gear.

I cursed myself a little bit for never remembering to check the weather. Then I decided to wimp out, go buy an umbrella (new, not even a used umbrella), and walk to daycare. Then I could walk the stroller home (as opposed to strapping it to the bike). Since the stroller comes with a rain cover, I wouldn't be subjected to any I'm-wet-and-its-the-end-of-the-world hysteria. My daughter and I would stay dry.

But being a procrastinator, I didn't ever leave to buy the umbrella and instead found myself needing to get to daycare as fast as possible, which means using the bike. But what to do about the water-phobic tot? I decided to go for the tried and true plastic-garbage-bag method. It works for keeping my computer dry in my backpack when it rains, so why not the kid?

I took a plastic bag, poked a hole in the top, put the bag over my daughter H, put her helmet on and put her in the bike seat like a little burrito. I didn't even pull her arms out. I poked a couple more holes in the bag so that I could thread the straps through, and I was done. Before I put her on the bike, H had noticed a worm on the sidewalk and we talked about how worms like the rain. So as I was getting her settled in, I told her that she was a worm and that she liked the rain too. She told me her shoes were getting wet, but she never really complained about that or the fact that her arms were pinned down. She was a trooper. I got absolutely soaked, but H only got her pants a little wet.

Once I got home, I thought about how embarrassing it is to claim to be a big biker with kids and not to have rain gear for myself or the toddler. OK, I do have that big blue poncho, but it only works if I remember to bring it with me. Where can we get pint-sized raingear (and can we get it used)? Can I rig up a bike-seat cover so that H never gets wet as I'm sure I should? I felt guilty for a while, and then Dorea and I decided that we should just embrace the plastic bag method.

So my new goal is to get a handful of cheap plastic garbage bags and some rubber bands (for securing bags to shoes and whatnot) and stash them in the Xtracycle (along with my poncho). If it's raining when we are on the way somewhere, I can throw in a change of clothes. If it's raining on the way home, we can just strip when we get home and get into dry things. Then I'll look for a time to try out the line that my parents used with me when I complained about the rain, "You're not made of sugar -- you won't melt."

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Used Success

A while back I wrote about wanting to purchase more things used. I just wanted to report a major success, which was buying a used portable dishwasher. I found the dishwasher on Craigslist and was able to find someone who could deliver it as well. Even including the cost of delivery, we saved a few hundred off of a new purchase, and I was able to get an EnergyStar dishwasher. We got the dishwasher hooked up and it works great (but we still have to figure out how to fix some leaking from our faucet -- leave a comment if you have any ideas).

Next projects involving used items: get rid of the (working) washer in the basement, buying a used bed frame for our queen-sized futon, and try to rent a birth pool rather than buying one.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The evening scramble

Rush from work to daycare and from daycare to home; cook dinner, eat dinner, put child(ren) to bed -- do you recognize this scramble? In our house the whole routine starts when I leave work at 5-5:15 (I usually do daycare pickup) and ends when H is in bed at 7pm. H and I get home between 5:30 and 5:45, Dorea is home by 6pm, and we try to have dinner on the table by 6:15 in order to start our bedtime routine between 6:30 and 6:45. How is it possible to make dinner and eat it in just one hour with a toddler underfoot? And can you do it eating food that is cheap, homemade, and healthy?

We have three main strategies.
  1. We often start meals the morning or night before so they are half-made when we hit our nighttime rush. This takes advanced planning, and we almost never arrive home in the evening without knowing what's for dinner.
  2. Inspired by the folks over at Addition Problems, we have prepared a "master list" of two weeks worth of meals. This saves us time shopping, but it also saves time in preparation. When you make a meal over and over, you get better at it. As we cook our two-week repertoire repeatedly, we've alter meals so that they are easier to prepare, and we get faster at preparation. We are also able to reduce food waste because we know how much of each dish we need.
  3. We use time saving devices. Our pressure cooker allows us to make brown rice in 25 minutes and vegetable broth from scraps in a half-hour. We use a crock pot to cook beans from scratch painlessly (soak-em the night before, then put them on low during the day). Our baked potato night always features microwaved potatoes.
We are also trying to get in the habit of cooking a big meal on Sunday that gets used for leftovers or stuck in the freezer, but we often don't end up cooking quite enough. Sunday is our time to test out new recipes or make some old favorites. This Sunday we made a lentil loaf from Laurel's kitchen, and then we discussed ways that the preparation could be streamlined. It may go into our regular rotation at some point.

In case you are interested in our two-week meal plan, here it is. Another note about our particular meal plan: Dorea is home on Tuesdays and I'm home on Thursdays. On Tuesday's, Dorea cooks a somewhat more intensive meal, and on Thursdays I prepare food for Shabbat (for Friday night and Saturday).

What do you do to save time in the kitchen? Any other two-week food planners out there?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Xtracycle shopping

True confession time: I have no right to be writing this post right now. Between illness and bike problems, it's been far too long since I've done a good shopping trip on a bike. In fact, thanks to the generosity of our friends, I've borrowed a car for several in the past couple of months. Yes, we're going to change the name of this blog from "Car Free with Kids" to "At Least We Aren't Driving a Minivan with Kids." With my shame out of the way, I want to share with you a trip from the glory days of last December.

My usual grocery shopping trip consists of a short bike ride (~2 miles) from our place to Market Basket. These days I buy two weeks worth of groceries at once, but at end of last December I was just doing a large weekly shopping trip. The trip usually takes about two hours all together, unless something tragic happens like I forget that I'm shopping on Superbowl Sunday in which case I may never get home.

On this day in December I pulled up back home in a timely fashion, with the bags loaded. I also filled the kid seats with groceries and use a couple of bungees over the top.

Here's all of our food, in its full glory. This trip cost us $101.02, thanks to Market Basket being the cheapest grocery store around.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Walking like a Tortoise

Most of the time, walking drives me crazy. I am obsessed with efficiency, and walking is slow. I think the one-minute walk to the kitchen at work goes by too slowly. The idea of a treadmill simply boggles my mind. Yes, I know that walking can be peaceful and I'm sure I should be living in the moment, but in the race between the tortoise and the hare, I tend to root for the hare.

When I don't bike into work, I don't have a bike available for the trek from my office in Porter Square down to Lesley's
"south campus" where I teach an afternoon class. It's a solid 13-15
minute walk from door-to-door, but I can get from my office to the
classroom in just seven minutes if I bike. Just
imagine what I could do with those extra five minutes! In fact, it
would be enough time to wolf down some lunch, which I never seem to have time to do on teaching days.

Lately I'm walking much more than I'm biking. I live less than a
mile from work. When I wake up to a cold and icy morning, it's hard to work up enthusiasm for my bike with it's terrible windchill. In the last month or so, Dorea has been having problems with her legs; to give her a break I've been doing both daycare dropoff and pickup. This means that three days a week I take H to day care around 7:30am and pick her up around 5:15pm. It's much easier to walk than to bundle H up warmly enough to ride a bike, so I plod along without my bike like a tortoise.

But as a result of all this walking, I've made a friend. There's a man who commutes on foot in an exactly an opposite pattern from me. When I am headed to Porter Square around 7:45am, he's walking away. When I'm headed away from Porter at 5pm, he's walking back. Over the last month and a half we started to notice each other, then started nodding, then saying a brief hello with a wave. We now have big smiles for each other every morning and afternoon. Running into him is one of the highlights of my day. It's exactly what I love about being carfree, but I never would have met him if I was on my bike. If I don't watch out, I might get hooked by this tortoise lifestyle.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Surviving carfree babyhood

We recently got an interesting comment from Charlotte of Chic Cyclist, on the thread about how we gave up our car. Charlotte writes:
"some vestigial teenager in me clings to the 'option' of having a car somewhere, just in case. I'm going to have to read about how you handled the early months of H's life - my biggest concern is the time between a possible future baby's birth and the point where she can wear a bike helmet."
First of all, gold star to Charlotte for actually considering getting rid of the car. She's in the Boston area, so chances are she and her partner won't even miss it.

That said, she's right to anticipate that if kid(s) are on the horizon, getting through babyhood without the car can be tricky. But if you can do it, the rewards are many (not least of which is not being trapped in a minivan all day every day for the rest of your life).

On the practical front, the impact of parenting on biking and carfree living spans much more than the first year of babyhood that Charlotte anticipates. If you are pregnant, you may or may not feel comfortable biking while pregnant. Yes, yes, I know the Dutch do it, but Dutch roads have space for bicycles and Dutch drivers are probably a bit more deferential to bikers than those in Boston. So far, I have yet to meet a real life pregnant lady who has biked. I don't feel comfortable doing it, for a variety of reasons, so for now, I am T, bus and foot dependent.

Then comes biking with the kid. In the states, conventional wisdom says wait a year, and that felt reasonable to us. In reality, it took us about two years to come up with a bike setup we felt good about, but we could have started much much earlier if we'd gotten our act together. During that first year, you need to make sure that anywhere you need to get with your kid is accessible by foot or public transit, preferably by foot (it's not fun to be the one with the screaming baby on the bus, though see buschick for a mom who is serious about bus riding with a baby). Chances are, in a fairly large city, you'll be able to do this. Choose a doctor close by (there are plenty of them). Restrict to a local search for childcare. If you'll be working outside the home, you can still blast to work on your bike like the old days after you drop off the baby, though if you're anything like me, a new-found sense of mortality may lead you to become a bit more cautious. I certainly relaxed my insistence on all-weather biking once H was born.

And once you finally get the baby on the bike? I'm afraid all is not as blissful as you might hope. It is nice, yes, but you might not get the kind of toddler who wants to sit on a bike for miles at a time. You'll probably feel more cautious about winter biking. Rainy-day biking with a kid takes a lot of gear and preparation, and you may find yourself avoiding it more than you did in your pre-kid days. Once you start biking with your child, you'll also get a lot of flak, from random people on the road, but also from real life friends and family who are anywhere from "concerned" to absolutely livid that you would place your child at risk on a bike. I've written some about my take on the safety (or not) of biking with a kid, but all the thinking and soul searching in the world won't spare you the intrusive advice that you'd all be better off if you just bought the SUV and the giant carseat, and strapped your kid in 24/7.

So if it really is this hard, why do it? Why do the work of navigating pregnancy, babyhood and toddlerhood (perhaps several times) without a car? What, exactly, is the payoff? The payoff is a life in which your entire family is firmly integrated in your local neighborhood and your child isn't made to sit still, strapped in, as you drive endless mindless miles from one thing to the next. The neighbors you meet as you are out walking or regularly frequenting the local park (because it is so close, and you can't really drive to the nicer one a little farther away), become the friends that you call when your whole family is throwing up, but you are out of pedialyte and soda crackers. And if you are already a person who loves the freedom and independence of biking and minimal dependence on a car, isn't that something you want to share with your kid(s)? Life changes when kids come into the picture, but you don't have to leave what matters to you behind. Better to keep the things you love and are proud of, and include your children, even if it's a little inconvenient at first.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Small Living

We live in a small condo, about 660 square feet, 36 square feet of which is an unheated porch off of the master bedroom. We moved here from a 450-square-foot awkwardly-arranged apartment when our daughter was almost a year old. This condo with it's open floorplan and 200 additional square feet felt like a palace.

In the nearly two years we have lived here, it's gotten smaller. Perhaps the suburbs are attacking us with an evil shrinking ray. More likely, we have been adjusting and accumulating a lot of junk we don't need.

Of course, we are not just accumulating stuff; we're about to pick up a whole new person. In June, a new baby will be arrive together with a mountain of gear. We just moved our daughter H up to a twin-sized bed so that we can move the crib into our room for the new baby (if you saw our room, you'd ask us where it will fit). Her twin bed is really the bottom half of a bunk bed which seems like it will fill the entire room. While we were rearranging furniture, we started to wonder how we are going to fit baby clothes and diapers into dresser drawers that are now packed with our daughter's shirts, pants, and sleepers.

We plan to stay in our current condo for at least five years (and we'd prefer to stay even longer), so in the interest of our continued sanity, we are trying to liberate ourselves from some of our junk. We started in the porch, which was the place that we threw anything we didn't know what to do with. Now it's a much tidier room that is holding the contents of our spring garage sale. After the garage sale, it will hopefully become an indoor garden.

Next, we moved into the kitchen. We had big plans for a kitchen renovation, but our dreams are bigger than our tolerance for chaos or our willingness to put forth serious effort. We still hope to buy a portable dishwasher, hopefully used (although I have to say that buying heavy used things is difficult for a carfree lesbian couple). Right now, we are focusing on streamlining our kitchen and making it  as usable as possible.

We also have plans to clean out H's room and put in additional storage. We have a large number of clothes handed down from other kids. Those that are too small or too large are organized in bins in the basement (that's the only organized part of the basement), but we are swimming in things that are the right size for H that she just doesn't wear (H, like her mothers, wears the same 2-3 outfits repeatedly).

Then there's our room, which needs both purging and additional shelving. Of course, our clothes need an overhaul (whose don't?), and we have to repeatedly excavate the top of our dresser. After that we have to tackle the back porch (or the trash pit, as some would call it). Finally, we must wrestle with the basement. I don't know where all of the stuff down there came from or how to convince it to go back. If you ever want to feel completely powerless, just go down and look at the stuff in your basement. You don't want any of it (if you did, it wouldn't be in the basement), but it all seems impossible to get rid of (what if we need that window AC or the paint or the old plastic dishes?) and the pile grows each month as you move stuff that you once thought was important down into the subterrainean clutter pile.

Honestly, all of these complaints are exactly what's great about small-house living. Humans have a bad habit of collecting, and a small home gives you a natural limit on that tendency. We have to be serious about getting rid of stuff that isn't important for us, because soon we'll be down to 165 square feet per person. That also makes us serious about not bringing new things into our home and thus helps us live a sustainable life.

Small houses and condos are cheaper to buy and cheaper to maintain. We have a small space to heat, illuminate, and cool. We can furnish the place cheaply, in part because we can't buy too much furniture. We don't buy too many toys for our daughter because we don't have any place to put them. That helps our wallet and gives us a refuge from material culture.

A small house is also much easier to clean. Even when our house is a
wreck, we can get it into passable shape in an hour or less. If we have
two hours, we can give it a really deep cleaning. Having a small house gets us outside, even in the winter. This keeps us healthy and connects us with our neighbors.

So we love living little, but we still have more junk in our house that we need and we still get frustrated with the confinement. Here are our strategies for living cramped but happy.
  • Purge repeatedly. Each time you can dig deaper and get rid of more. For instance, we had to purge books about five times before we got ourselves down to the 110-120 books we have now. That number seems outrageously high, so we're due for another round of shedding. You also need to shed repeatedly because despite your best efforts, clutter will creep into your home.
  • Have a place for everything, and keep everything in it's place. We tend to have a pretty bare and sparse house (for instance, we just put up our first pictures on the wall after living here for almost two years). However, we have some neighbors that have a place just as small as ours that feels comfortable and homey and contains many more objects and knickknacks. Their secret is simply having a home for each object. This is not our strong suit, but we're working on it.
  • Pickup and clean daily. For instance, we clear our dining table every night of the clutter that has accumulated during the day. We spend much more time on daily maintenance that we do on deep cleaning, so if you come into our home you will hopefully be able to sit down at the table to eat, although you may notice that the carpet if full of mashed peas.
  • Don't bring new items into your home without getting rid of old items. We're not always very good at this, but we're working on it.
  • Folding furniture is your friend. We have folding chairs that we can stash out of the way, a dining room table that folds down from large to medium to small, and a folding table that doubles as a play house for H. Non-folding furniture may look beautiful, but it is much harder to deal with in our space.
Now it's your turn. How do you keep your small space livable? Do you love your small house or hate it (or both)? Do you aspire to shrink or to grow?