Sunday, February 21, 2010

Food Waste Challenge

Since baby R was born, we've noticed waste creeping into our lives. We're more likely to waste money on take out. I'm certainly treating myself to more coffees during the work days. When we need to buy something, we're more likely to purchase it new than to work at locating a used item.

We've been trying to think of some sort of challenge to get us back on track. Something like not throwing anything away for a month, or not spending any money, or living without our car for a month. Oh wait. We already do that last one. We're just looking for something to kick us out of our current habits and make us pay a bit more attention. But the trouble is, the most obvious options, like not spending any money for some period of time, would take a lot of energy, and probably a lot of time, at least initially. Energy and time are in very short supply around here.

But Angela had an idea that actually may be sustainable. She was cleaning out our fridge, which happens every two weeks in tandem with our grocery trip. The fridge clean out inevitably ends with lots of leftovers dumped in the trash and piles of dirty food containers in our sink. Instead of chucking the food directly, Angela first took a picture of it.

Now we have a rough measure of how much food we wasted during this last two week cycle, and now we have our challenge. Every two weeks we're going to take a picture of what we throw away and try to make it smaller. No, it's not a dramatic challenge; it probably won't completely change our lives, and it's not a perfect measure of waste (some additional food gets wasted day to day as table scraps), but it's better than nothing. We were already inspired us to eat some leftovers for dinner that would have gone in the trash two weeks from now, which saved us time, energy and money, so we're on the right track.

How to raise a walker

At this point, our 3 1/2 y.o. H is a pretty reasonable walker. She walks the 6-ish blocks to and from daycare four days a week and walks the scant mile between our house and Davis Square (where grandma lives) at least once a week, sometimes as many as four times a week. She frequently walks the half mile or so to our subway station, as well as frequent short jaunts to the park, the library or the swimming pool (it will be summer again someday, right?). These days she hardly even drives us crazy while doing it. She just walks along, sometimes holding a hand, sometimes running ahead a bit, generally not making us fear for her life at street crossings, and walking at a pretty decent clip. She took a ceremonial "last stroller ride" a few weeks ago, but she hasn't used the stroller on any kind of regular basis in probably 5 or 6 months.

This doesn't seem so remarkable to us. Lots of kids in our neighborhood walk. A lot. But my parents were just visiting and seemed rather impressed by it (and H, seeing an easy mark, convinced her grandpa she was tired and needed a ride on his shoulders to Davis...). I've also seen a few notes here and there in blogland of parents with older kids whose kids wouldn't walk as far as a mile (maybe it's an older kid thing?). So it got me wondering, how did we raise a walker (so far)? It's not rocket science. The kid probably mostly just has to walk a lot, but anyone who's ever tried to take a walk with, say, a two year old, (and actually get somewhere) knows that's not necessarily as straightforward as it sounds. Here are a few tips and generalizations based our our broad and carefully selected sample set of one child. By all means, please add wisdom from your experience in the comments.

Step 1: Send child off with grandma, who won't pick her up, hates carrying a stroller in and out of the apartment building, and has a lot of patience, shortly after child learns to walk. Really, grandma has been great for H's walking prowess. She's also been great at working with her on train riding skills. When she has H, she's not in as much of a hurry as we are, and her patience really helped her to work with H on walking instead of just getting frustrated and chucking her in the stroller (which we've definitely been known to do).

Step 2: Keep an eye out for trips that might actually be easier without the stroller. Starting at barely age two, H was able to start making the three block walk to our neighborhood park, albeit very slowly. At some point, we noticed it was actually easier not to have to strap her in and instead let her walk. Sure, it took a while, but we were just going to the park anyway and she was having fun. If she got tired, she was still small enough, and the trip short enough that she could ride on one of our backs home. Soon we noticed more and more trips were easier with her on foot. First the library. Then the T station (which opened up a world of stroller-less outing options). Now she can get all the way to Davis Square, which as our nearest real commercial center, was the marker that let us ditch the stroller for good.

Step 3: Keep them moving but keep your cool. We went through a period where H would dawdle. A lot. It drove us crazy. After all, we're not just out taking a stroll. Walking is a major form of transportation for us, and doing it not just at toddler pace, but at the pace of a toddler who has realized she has the power to drive her parents insane by walking even more slowly, well, let's just say we had some outings that weren't so much fun. Once she realized she could push buttons this way, any seasoned parents here know we were just adding further inspiration for even more dawdling. We finally wised up. Angela let H know that she was expected to keep moving forward at a good pace, and that after one warning, if she slowed again she would be picked up and carried, no questions. H really didn't want to be picked up (the horror!), and since she stopped getting a rise out of us, she soon learned to keep moving. Now, clearly this one won't work with a kid too big to carry, or a kid who doesn't have a lot of motivation to do things him/herself, but that's all the more reason to start them young. Most 2 year olds are small enough to carry 10-20 paces, and want to do everything by themselves, at least some of the time (though it's true, H may be at one somewhat extreme end of that spectrum, but hey, we only promised a sample size of one!).

So, what are your tricks? What works to keep school age kids moving? How did you navigate the transition from stroller to foot?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

One thing I'm glad I got wrong when bike shopping

Way back when we were trying to figure out what family bike to get, we thought that we were looking for a good way to bike with kids. We eventually found it, and love our current set up with an Xtracycle and custom two-kid seat. It works great for carrying one kid, and soon baby R will be big enough for us to use it for two. But it turns out that what we actually needed, even more than we needed to bike with kid(s), was a way to haul cargo.

Getting the Xtracycle itself was actually a bit of an afterthought. At first I thought I was just searching for the right kid seat. But then, after some looking, and riding some standard bikes with kid seats and checking weight limits, I thought that actually an Xtracycle would give us a better ride and more longevity, but I really wasn't thinking much about hauling capacity. I just wanted to bike easily with my kid.

As it turns out, our bike sees much more use hauling stuff (mostly groceries) than it does hauling kids. We don't actually need to bike with our kid(s) that much. We do, at least with the bigger one, and whenever we do, it's a blast, but in terms of day to day life, we really do need the bike to carry stuff.

This certainly wouldn't carry over to every other family, and may change for us once baby R is big enough we feel comfortable with him on our bike. We're set up with daycare and most activities walking distance from home (and yes, that's even 3 y.o. walking distance). However, it does bring up a point for families striving to reduce car trips, but who may not feel comfortable biking with their kids. If you can swing it, it might be worthwhile to work out a cargo set up. It wouldn't have to be fancy. A simple used trailer would do. Any kind of real cargo capacity, the kind that lets you haul a week's worth of groceries, or big bags of kitty litter, can turn errands for which a car used to be essential into bike errands.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Embracing our Tiny House

Ever since we found out baby R was a boy, we've been thinking about real estate.

We own a 650-ish square foot two-bedroom condo in North Cambridge (and about 40 of those sq ft are unheated enclosed porch). Our approximate plan when we bought the place two and a half years ago was that if our hoped-for second child was a girl, the kids would share a room indefinitely, and if that second kid was a boy, they could share a room for at least 8 years or so, at which point we'd likely be able to afford more space for separate bedrooms.

When we were shopping for our home, we made the conscious decision to give up space in order to live in close proximity to work, transit, and our religious community. While we certainly still stand by that choice, I'd be lying if I said that having two kids in this space doesn't make me fantasize about that affordable 3 or 4 bedroom place in the burbs sometimes.

After we found out R was a boy, we started to think through what it would really take for us to get more space, even if it was many years down the line. We'd love to share a two-family house with Angela's mom (who currently lives at 15 min walk away in Davis Square) and we started to think maybe we could get more space sooner if we pooled resources with her. Then we took a sobering tour of single and multi-family home prices in our neighborhood and realized that even 8 years hence, that's probably a pipe dream. More space would almost definitely mean a move out of our beloved little corner of Cambridge.

As we imagined years strapped to such an outsize mortgage, our tiny very affordable place started to look nicer and nicer. We crunched some numbers and realized we'd have some hope of paying this place off sooner than later, not as soon as 5 years, but well before the end of our 30 year mortgage. We're desperately in love with our neighborhood and shudder at the thought of living somewhere else. The financial freedom and community that we'd get from staying put started to seem like a nicer idea than more space.

We're beginning to believe that 650 square feet is actually enough (after all, 1200 square feet is enough for 12). If instead of saving money towards more space, we put some money into making this space really work for a family of four, perhaps making a more efficient and streamlined kitchen, opening up and insulating our porch to have more useable work area, and dividing the space that currently houses two bedrooms into three small ones (you don't actually need much space to sleep, after all), we really could stay here. It's not firm yet, but a plan is being hatched. Just like living without a car has made our lives richer in ways we didn't expect, continuing to live with less space, even as our kids grow, might open up new kinds of freedom. This feels like the kind of thing that is right up our alley.

(as part of our plan hatching we'll be attending a design workshop by Jay Shafer of the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company in May. We can't wait.)