Friday, December 31, 2010

Surprise Bike Shop

On Monday, I set out with the kids to run an errand in the West 11th area.  Typically, we take the multi-use path that runs along the south side of 11th.  This time, we chose a route on the north side of 11th.  I'm so glad that we did, because we noticed this little neighborhood bike shop for the first time.

I so want that little bike above the door for Bigger.

The shop is right next to Martin Luther King Jr. Park.  One side of the bike shop bears a tribute to Dr. King.

The shop was all closed up, and there were no hours posted.  I'm curious to find out more about this place, especially since it is relatively close to our house.  Is it new?  What kinds of bikes are sold there?  I look forward to stopping by again sometime soon to get the whole story of this little spot.  I thought about knocking on the door to see if anyone was in the shop, but Little was napping, and I wasn't interested in disturbing him.

Today we're going to be busy running errands again, this time in preparation for a trip to Los Angeles via train.  My secret weapon for Amtrak travel is to lay in a back-breaking supply of library books, so that will be stop number one.  I also have an appointment about nine miles away, on the north side of town.  I believe that I'll be heading to this appointment solo, so I'm considering taking my pre-kids, zippier bike out for a spin. We'll see what the day holds.

Happy riding!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Little Wiser, Every Day

The last ten days have been a breathless whirlwind of activity.  The kids and I helped out with a few odds and ends for the Kidical Mass ride (it was really fun, by the way), I wrapped up a couple of loose ends at my new job, Austin finished his first term of grad school (while also working full time -- I am married to a superhero), and we headed up to the mountains for a long weekend in the snow.  There was a homemade Christmas gift all-nighter thrown in there for good measure, too.


It felt like I didn't have a spare moment to think about riding my bike.  I used it to get from point A to point B, but my rides lacked the mellow, contemplative ease that I had been enjoying earlier in the month.  Now that I finally have a few minutes to catch my breath, though, I'm realizing how much I learned in this long, end-of-term, pre-holiday week:

1. My bike is capable of standing upright on its own!

Bigger points out our new kickstand

Though I missed the weekend sale at Arriving By Bike (and their Friday bike social -- I was cleaning out our chicken coop at Grandma M's), I made it there on Monday to purchase a new kickstand for our crazy bike.  (We have a large milk crate on the back rack and a Follow Me tandem coupler that connects Bigger's bike to mine, so a single kickstand is insufficient.)  Every time I stop in for something, the folks working there are so helpful and friendly.  Thanks, Courtney, Alexander, and Paul!

Anyhow, if you are thinking of getting a Follow Me tandem for your child's bicycle, I would strongly suggest you get a sturdy double kickstand.  Our Follow Me was slightly off center (and missing a couple of bolts) after several recent tip-overs while loading and unloading groceries.  (I look forward to posting a thorough review of the Follow Me soon -- overall, we love it.)  Alexander helped us replace the missing bolts and gave the Follow Me some long overdue TLC.  (I later learned that he has a bike blog that includes some really lovely photos.)

Though the bike is still a little prone to tipping when I've got lots of cargo in the crate (I think that panniers would help), having a functional kickstand has made a world of difference.  Hooray!

2. Riding a bike during a busy time forces me to relax.

This one is such a no-brainer.  Though I still have my share of holiday-related hustle and bustle, I don't have to fight traffic or feel stuck in my car.  Fresh air (even when it's cold fresh air) feels so right to me now.

3. Bigger's mood can be improved by asking him to carry appealing cargo.  Especially chocolate.

This is kind of a goofy facial expression, but I think Bigger is trying to convey...salivation?  He is always proud to carry something for me on his bike, and this chocolate may have been his favorite cargo so far.

I think that Bigger will be moving up to a 16" bike soon, and I'm going to make sure that it has a nice rear rack for whatever cargo he may want to haul.  Just think of all the chocolate we could bring home if he had a nice set of panniers!

4. Double leg kickstands can help you convert bare sidewalk into a bike rack.

Monica and Paul Adkins taught me this on Saturday's Kidical Mass ride.  While I wandered around for a minute or two searching for bike parking outside Mezza Luna, the Adkins family had their two Xtracycles parked on the sidewalk just outside the restaurant's window sans rack, with only the wheels locked to the frame.  I never think to do this because Eugene is notorious for bike theft, but if you are sitting within view of your bike, it makes sense.  Their kickstands are sturdy enough that they were also able to chain their kids' bikes to the longtails.

Even with the new kickstand, my bike is a little top heavy to serve as bike rack for someone else, but I wonder if the new Workcycles Fr8 I'm expecting in the spring will be.  In any case, it was suggested that I try simply propping my bike up on its kickstand and locking it to itself, and that worked quite well for our brief dessert stop.

5. Being a beginner is kind of nice.

Before this year, there were plenty of trips I just wouldn't have known how to make on a bike.  I made (and continue to make) all kinds of mistakes that a more experienced cyclist could gracefully circumvent.  I bruise my shins.  I take wrong turns.  My groceries tumble out when I am loading them into the milk crate.  But one of the advantages of being new at something is that it puts you in the position of experiencing little moments of discovery, too.  Every trick learned, every quiet realization, every first time feels so good.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Winter Cycling With Kids: How We Stay Warm and Comfortable on the Bike

In my garage sits a dusty and lonesome Burley trailer.  I thought that for sure my kids would be clamoring to get in the trailer by now, to escape the cold (as low as 25 F), the rain, and the wind.  Perhaps if I lived in a snowier or more northern climate (like Miss Sarah, of Girls and Bicycles), my kids would be interested in the trailer.  So far this winter, we've experienced some of the colder and rainier weather Eugene has to offer (including our favorite configuration: buckets of cold rain with strong winds), but I have only heard the words "Mama, I'm cold" once.  (And when he said those words, I reminded Bigger that he could put his coat on over his beloved wool sweater.  He was fine once he added another layer.) I don't know if I have unusually warm kids, or if we are going to be freezing and cranky in a couple of weeks, but right now, we're still excited to get on the bike, and enjoying the ride.

Here is what's working for us right now, in our Oregon climate:

1.  Winter clothing

I've written before about the fact that we spend a little more on winter clothing than other folks in our income range.  Really, though, I think most people I know would have most of this stuff for their kids, even if they weren't riding bikes through the winter.

Here's what the kids wear: long underwear (bottoms only, lightweight capilene or silk for Bigger, and lightweight silk or midweight fleece for Little, who is not warmed by pedaling), mittens (fleece almost every day, but we also have insulated gore-tex ones for extremely cold or wet days); warm, waterproof and windproof coats OR a thick wool sweater; soft wool hats that cover the ears OR a Bern helmet with a winter liner; good shoes or boots (the kids both have Bogs, which I'm told would keep your feet warm even if you poured a cup of water in them first); and soft wool socks.  The kids both have rain pants, but I've learned that they aren't necessary unless there is a true downpour or we are traveling a long distance in the rain.  Their long underwear keep them warm even if their pants get a little bit wet in the rain.

I typically wear a dress with wool tights, and if it's cold enough, a wool sweater.  Then I add my thrifted wool overcoat, which is really not necessary in our weather for the most part.  I choose my wool coat because it is long enough to cover my dress and keep it dry, and because it keeps me warm if we stop at the park and I want to sit down for awhile.  I usually wear it unzipped while riding, because I would get too hot otherwise.  I wear tall leather boots or rain boots (be sure to clean and weatherproof your leather boots periodically if you are riding in a rainy climate!), and if it is particularly cold, I add a pair of wool knee socks underneath the boots.  I have a pair of ancient wool gloves that have been serving me well, and also a pair of technical mittens for unusually cold days.  So far, I've only worn the mittens once.  I've got my eye out at the thrift shops for a wool sweater in an attractive color that I can felt in the washing machine and make some mittens from, because the technical mittens are too bulky to be practical on most days. I have a pair of soft wool arm warmers that I will occasionally use.  My coat buttons up around my neck, but I'm working on a soft alpaca cowl to keep my neck warm.  I could use a winter liner for my Bern helmet or a pair of earmuffs, but other upgrades are ahead of those ones in my budget.

2.  Engaging bike activities

 I don't think I could have predicted how important this is to staying comfortable on the bike.  People who are bored are more likely to be cranky.  Cranky people are more likely to whine and kvetch.  And cranky, whiny people can do a pretty good job convincing everyone else around them to be miserable.  I'm sure that enjoying ourselves doesn't actually raise our body temperatures, but in our family at least, in-transit games and other entertainment keep us so busy that we don't think about (or whine and make everyone else think about) rain or cold.

Bigger, pausing to watch construction on our way to the library
Here's a short list of things we do that keep the kids engaged (and too busy to notice the weather) on our winter rides:
  • talk about where we are going or what our favorite parts of the day have been so far
  • imagination games (putting out forest fires on your ride, pointing out dangerous lions, piloting ships through a big rainstorm)
  • songs (yes, that's me singing "She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain" on the bike path)
  • stopping to watch interesting sites, even just for a few seconds (their entertainment value increases if you continue to talk about them as you ride away -- and it's good for your kids' language and cognitive development, too)
  • checking out winter lights -- like we'll be doing tomorrow on our way to eat free pie with Kidical Mass
  • road trip bingo, pick one: hoot and whistle each time you see winter lights; ding the bell at every letter "S" you see; eat a small treat every time you see another cyclist, etc.
  • recite or retell a favorite story or poem (this may sound unusual, but when you think about it, most kids and parents have at least a chunk of Goodnight Moon, or If I Ran the Zoo, or something memorized)
  • mitten friendly book, snack, or toy (for Little only, in our family, since he is the only true passenger)
  • talk to friends we spot on the way, or who are joining us on our trip (hooray for Heather and her son S on Tuesday!)
  • shout something about your, um, incredible speed ("Let 'er tear, Mama!" or "You're going to break the sound barrier, Bigger!")
If all of the above fail, ridiculous howls of agony from Mama seem to lighten the mood so that we can get out of the occasional whiny rut.  (Even though we've only had one weather-related whining episode this winter, there are apparently many other reasons to whine.)

3.  Warm beverages or snacks

If you want to ride your bike through the winter with your kids, go out right now and find yourself a thermos for hot drinks.  I learned this trick from my friend Heather and will never forget it.  The morale-boosting and warming effects of hot chocolate, mint tea with a bit of honey, or any other warm drink are not to be underestimated.  If we are running more than one morning errand (or running a long one), I will make a pot of tea or stir some milk, cocoa, sugar, and nutmeg together on the stove when I am getting my breakfast going.  I seal it up in the thermos, and it's still hot when we get to our errand.  The kids can have a sip or two while I lock up the bike at the grocery store.  It keeps them busy close to the bike, it warms them up, and (in the case of homemade hot cocoa) it offers a little protein and nourishment on the go.

We are also frequently on the lookout for opportunities to stop for a little snack or lunch somewhere warm.  If the snack in question is itself warm, all the better.  Toasted bagels at the library?  Good.  A big bowl of noodle soup at Toshi's?  Even better.  Soup and bread in front of the fire at Hideaway?  So cozy.  I used to avoid eating out with my kids because of the impact it seems to have on the budget.  Now I take more opportunities to get a little something on the run because I'm saving money by riding my bike.

One final thought, and a question: Little's windscreen, comical though it may be, also keeps him out of the wind and rain for the most part.  I'm curious to see if he'll be quite so warm if we switch to a rear seat.  Anyone out there have experience with this one?  Does the adult's body keep kids on a rear seat out of the rain and wind?

Happy riding!  And if you're in Lane County meet us tomorrow at Mezza Luna for the Pie to Pie with Kidical Mass!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Butterflies and Balloons: First Bus Commute to My New Job

Last week I started a new, very part time teaching job teaching writing classes at a small rural elementary school.  When I taught here a few years ago, I drove.  Even with something interesting on the radio, and beautiful scenery on the way, it was a kind of a dull commute.  I remember thinking that I would have rather been doing almost anything else while I had childcare for Bigger (who was only a year old at the time) than feeling stuck in my car.

As I was planning my first bus commute last week, I was curious about how the trip would turn out.  Would it still feel like I was squandering those precious minutes of childcare?  I was also concerned about the cargo I was planning to bring: 14 helium-filled balloons along with a heavy bag.  Would it be too awkward to carry these things on the bus?  Would the bus commute hamper my creativity as a teacher by limiting what I could bring to school with me?

As it turned out, I was too nervous to really enjoy my commute there, or to notice much about it.  Most teachers get a case of butterflies in the stomach on the first day of school.  For me on this particular first day, those first day jitters were pretty intense, since it's been two years since I last taught in a classroom.  Witness my self-portrait on the bus ride there, below:

You probably can't tell that I'm trying to smile.  My crazy hair isn't helping, either.  Okay, here's shot number two, trying harder.

Not really much more genuine, right?  I just gave up after that.

Aside from my nerves, though, the morning bus ride was just fine.  It was no problem to bring the balloons with me, and in fact, no one even mentioned them during my trip.  My bags were not all that heavy.  I made it to the school about ten minutes earlier than I had expected to, giving me some extra time to catch up with the school's office manager (an incredible woman, I think that school secretaries should run the world) and catch my breath before setting up for my lessons and collecting students.

And the students?  They are wonderful!  I already love them.  We used the balloons as a prop for our first lesson, about finding inspiration for writing in ordinary life.  Then each child composed something very short, taped it to a balloon, cut the ribbon, and let it fly away.  I wish I could post the photos here! 

After I finished teaching, I had some time at school to do some prep work for my next lesson and help out a little in the classroom of a friend from grad school.  I arrived at the bus stop with plenty of time to read before my bus arrived.  Reading for pleasure in the middle of the day?  That's this busy mother's definition of heaven.

On the bus, I had a chance to do some knitting.  I have this beautiful ivory baby alpaca yarn that I've been trying to make a cowl from since my birthday in October.  I've ripped it out several times because the width of the cowl or the type of stitch I chose just didn't feel right.  It was good to finally make some progress on it.

The bus was fairly quiet and mellow.  It was raining, and there were beautiful birds and trees outside.  A mother boarded the bus with her daughter, and they read a children's novel aloud in soft voices.  An older man asked me what I was knitting.  It was a pleasant trip.

So far, I really like my bus commute.  It's nice to have my hands and my mind free, and to be able to focus on whatever relaxing activity (or, um, gripping anxiety) I've brought with me.  I'm looking forward to my commute again this week.  And in the new year, I'm excited to try cycling some or all of it.  For you seasoned rural cyclists, biking 16 miles on country roads must be no big deal.  To me, though, it is a whole new world.  What better way, though, to practice what I preach as a teacher?  Children need to know that adults are sometimes beginners, too.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Kidical Mass Eugene: The Pie to Pie Winter Lights Ride!

Dear Bike-Riding Families of Eugene,

Have you marked your calendar with the date of this month's Kidical Mass ride yet?

There will be pies savory (pizza) and sweet (pumpkin, apple, cream...who knows?), beautiful winter lights displays, and good company.  Kidical Mass is going to be picking up some of the tab.  How could anyone even think of missing it?

I think you should go do whatever you must in order to save the date.  Do it!  Now!  Before something you may not really want to do sneaks up on you.

Kidical Mass Eugene Pie to Pie Winter Lights Ride
Saturday, December 18th, 5:00 pm
Mezza Luna Pizzeria (933 Pearl Street)

See you there!

P.S.  Feel free to print out a poster to display at your grocery store, your child's school, your Birth to Three group, or share one with a friend!  And drop me a line if you have recommendations for great lights displays in the downtown or Monroe Park area.  Our family is helping with the coordination of this ride, and your input (and assistance) would be very welcome.  Many thanks!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Little Nutty Helmet Seeks New Home

We are looking for a new home for this helmet, which does not fit Bigger.  It came into our hands for free (Bigger won it from Arriving By Bike at the Blackberry Jamboree), and we'd like it to go to someone else that way, too.

A recipient here in Eugene (or nearby) would be preferred, but I would consider shipping the helmet to the right family.  This helmet has been gently used for several months.  If you are interested in the Little Nutty, please post a comment below.  Please mention your relationship to the intended recipient of the helmet, whether he or she has tried on a Little Nutty in the XS size, and anything else you'd like me to know.  Assuming that someone out there is interested, I'll let folks know who the helmet goes to by Thursday of next week.

Thanks, and happy riding!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Little Bit of Everything

On Monday, Bigger's teachers informed me that he had spent the afternoon giddily polling his fellow preschoolers.  His question? "What's your favorite way to get around?"  He likes to ask me this one, too.  My favorite modes of transport are no secret (bikes, buses, trains, and walking), but he pretends each time that he is surprised to hear my reply.  "Really?  Me too, Mama!"

I really wonder how the other children responded to his question.  I don't see any of them arrive at school, but I do see many of them leave with their parents at the end of the day.  Almost all of them are picked up in a car.  (The one exception is a little friend of ours, who I believe arrives most mornings on foot or on his balance bike.)  Do these kids love bikes, or walks?  Do they ever go places on the bus?  Bigger refused to share the results of his survey!  I guess he didn't want me to scoop him on his big story.  Oh, well.

Anyhow, yesterday we managed to use (or connect with someone who had just used) all our favorite modes of transportation.  First, we walked to the park with our friend A.  She rode her balance bike -- a 12" bike with the pedals removed.  Little, Bigger, and I walked.

She was much, much faster than us.  Those balance biking kids can really get up some speed!  Bigger had decided to leave his balance bike at home. I didn't get any shots of us walkers -- we were too busy trying to catch up with A., and making sure that she stopped at alleys and iffy driveways.

Then we ran an errand on our family bike.  No photos of that either, but here's one of us from another day, on our crazy interim bike -- a new one is coming in March!

Photo by our neighbor, B
Finally, we took the bus to go pick up my mom (the kids call her "Mimi") at the Amtrak train station.  This was absolutely the highlight of our day.  Trains!  Mimi!  Bus rides!

My mom struggles with chronic pain, and driving her car for two hours to visit her grandkids is usually very painful for her.  Over Thanksgiving, she decided to try taking the train down to visit us instead.  Since she can get up, walk around, or recline her seat if she needs to, the train seemed like a good option for her.  She reported that her trip was pretty comfortable and relaxing.  And then her grandson handled the luggage on our bus ride home.

The bus ride was so relaxing.  I love it when someone else does the driving.  Little enjoyed the bus so much that he wailed and screamed that he wanted to get back on the bus for at least a block of our walk.  Hello, neighbors!  I hope you like kids!

Me (with some really excellent hat hair) and Little on our favorite seats
All in all, it was a lovely way to start our visit with my mom.  There was nothing too special about it, it was just another pleasant day getting around our little town.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Longer, Wintry Rides

How do you like the flag growing out of Bigger's head in this shot?  Pretty classy, eh?
This weekend, Little, Bigger, and I set out to run an errand on what is to us (from our centrally-located, everything-within-arms-reach neighborhood) the far north side of town.  Since we were headed in that direction anyhow, I decided to try out the commute to an elementary school in that area that we think might be a good fit for our kids someday.

If you know me well, you know that I am an awful navigator.  I'm just outstandingly poor at it.  For any trip outside of my typical repertoire, I usually use google maps (don't you love the bike directions option?), then check my bike map (this helps me both orient myself to the ride and also check to see if there is a better route), then scribble turn-by-turn directions on a piece of paper.  I do okay, actually, for someone with such a poor sense of direction.  For this trip, which involved two unfamiliar destinations, I used my regular systems, but I did not check the route between the school and the errand, because it seemed pretty straightforward.  And the navigation part of the day went very smoothly.  Our route was perfect.  What I didn't realize was that what I estimated to be a nine mile trip was actually a seventeen mile one.

Mom, you should spend more time thinking about our route and less time photographing this thing growing out of my head.

Do you know what?  Even though that distance is unusual for me, we were okay.  In fact, it was a really fun ride.  Sure, there was a little whining at the beginning of our trip from Bigger, who had to wait longer than he had expected to reach a treat at our second destination.  But Little got a much longer than usual bike nap on the way there.  And on the way home, Bigger was not only less cranky, he was actually asking if we could add another leg to our trip.  And me?  At the end of the day, I felt really, really good.

Washed out but happy at the end of the ride

As I've starting cycling more and more, I find I'm just itching to get out on my bike most days.  Once I settle onto the bike, my kids and cargo piled all around me, I feel something inside me say, "Yes!  Here comes the good part!"  When I head down my driveway, I feel this rush of happiness.  There is a secret about riding your bike: it's fun.  And in my life right now, longer rides mean more fun.  Sometimes when it's late or dark, concerned friends tell me that they hope I don't have far to go.  My wish is the opposite.  I wish that I had more errands to run.  I wish that my children's preschool was a little farther away.  I wish that I didn't live so close to my favorite shops.

I start a new, very part-time teaching job this week.  (I was supposed to start last week, but the bug our family came down with put the kibosh on that.)  It is about sixteen miles from our house, at a small elementary school.  At first, I was looking forward to commuting only by bus: time to read students' work, time to knit, time to catch up with a good book.  I'm still looking forward to the bus ride, but now I'm also imagining what it might be like to try some of that commute by bike.  Before this weekend, I doubted the practicality of cycling that distance.  Now I realize how amazing I could feel at the end of the day if I did bike to work.  (And man, what does it feel like to ride a bicycle without two kids and a bunch of heavy stuff?)  My plan is to try out the route with a friend who is an experienced cyclist and see where I want to go from there.  Wish me luck!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Back on the Bike, With a New Helmet

Thursday morning, Little and I woke up feeling healthy again, but Austin was a groggy, nauseous mess.  The kids and I needed some fresh air and a chance to see something other than the walls of the living room, and poor Papa needed a quiet house.  Happily, we had a fun errand to run: Bigger's new helmet had arrived at Paul's!

Bigger has had a string of ill-fitting helmets this year.  First there was a little Giro helmet, which fit him for quite awhile.  He was starting to outgrow it, so we measured Bigger's head and cashed in a gift certificate to order this Nutcase helmet in size S/M.  This was Nutcase helmet #1.

Bigger and his 8 ball helmet with Auntie R, who gave this bike its wild custom paint job
Nutcase helmet #1 should have fit Bigger (according to the size charts) but it didn't.  We tried various adjustments to the padding and straps, and even took it into a couple of shops that sold Nutcase helmets to see if the experts could help us make it fit.  It never did.  It slid around his head in all directions, and never managed to hit the safety target for protecting the front part of the brain: you should only be able to fit about two fingers above a person's eyebrows.  (I learned this and lots more in a confident cycling class offered by our local bike club: GEARS.  This is a great class if you're in Eugene, and it's taught by two papas who cycle with their families, Paul Adkins and Shane Rhodes.  I recommend it if you are interested in learning more about biking for transportation.   There's also a class for families with kids age 5 and up: Traffic Skills for Families.)

Enter Nutcase helmet #2.  Just before we figured out that the first helmet was never going to cut it, we entered in a drawing to win a Nutcase Helmet from Arriving by Bike at the Blackberry Jamboree Ride.  Guess what?  We won.

Bigger chose this gray model in the next size down, XS.  This is the model they call the Little Nutty, and it has a dial at the back for adjusting the size of the helmet to fit smaller noggins.  According to the size charts, the Little Nutty also should have fit Bigger.  We worked with a very kind woman at the shop to adjust the fit of the helmet until it was almost right.  We had foolishly set out a little too close to Little's naptime for this errand, and had included the purchase and installation of a new rear rack on our to do list at the shop.  It was a long morning at the shop, and we finished with the helmet sizing (boring to the point of tantrum-induction for a sleepy toddler) and moved to bell ringing as quickly as possible.  When we left, crying toddler in my arms, I thought to myself that the new helmet would fit better with just a little bit more adjustment to the straps.  Adjustable dial = better fit, right?

Wrong.  In fact, Nutcase #2 would go on to win the Wost Possible Helmet for Bigger award.  Nutcase #2, adjustable dial and all, would slide sideways towards his left ear, leaving half of his head completely uncovered.  (I can't find a photo of this stunning helmet malfunction now, but will search for one to include here.)  While the smaller helmet size fit his head better, the straps on the left side were too short, and seemed to yank the helmet off the right side of his head while we were in transit.

Now, I'm sure that the good people at Arriving by Bike would have been glad to take Nutcase #2 off our hands and exchange it for a properly fitting helmet.  We have never had anything but positive experiences with them (they sold us our Bobike Mini and windscreen), and I love the mission of their shop: cycling for transportation, as opposed to cycling for sport.  But they cannot re-sell a helmet that has been returned, and the idea of this helmet going into the landfill when others could make use of it just doesn't feel right to me.  Also, Arriving by Bike does not carry Bern, the brand of helmet that we discovered fits Bigger's head perfectly.  (We read Julian's review of the Bern helmets on Totcycle, and tried one out.  It was like we had met Bigger's soul mate.  Perfect fit, good coverage, and it comes with a cold weather liner or visor.  What's not to love?)

Bigger, delighted with his new helmet
We haven't had great experiences with the Nutcase helmets for kids, obviously, but I think it's possible that certain brands of helmets just fit certain people's heads better than others.  If it's the case with shoes, why not with helmets?  I love that the Nutcase helmets are available in so many fun colors and designs.  It seems to me that the Nutcase helmets have been a part of the rebranding of cycling -- it's not just for people who are comfortable in spandex.  Lots of stylish women in particular seem to choose Nutcase.

We're going to hang on to Nutcase #1 (we have a friend in need of a new helmet that we suspect it may fit), but we're looking for a new home for Nutcase #2.  Are you interested?  Check back next week (or spread the word to folks who might be looking for a kid-sized helmet that they may want to check in next week), when I'll be giving this helmet away.  We'd prefer a local kid (Eugene, OR), but if there isn't one, we'd consider shipping it to someone whose child has tried on an XS Nutcase and is sure one would fit its new recipient.

Now I'd better get going.  We have a big day of bike errands and swinging at the park planned.  I love my job.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

On Sick Days and Neighborliness

The last week or so has looked (and felt) a lot like this:

We spent a long weekend at the coast, feasting with our extended family.  We got some lovely, if unusually windy, walks in, but spent a significant amount of time cooking, reading, and playing inside.  (The above photo was taken at the coast.  That is my dog, but sadly, not my cozy wood stove.)  When we returned to Eugene, we had one full day of good health and bicycling, and then Little and I came down with a stomach bug.


(Actually, I am pecking this out one-handed on my sofa, while Little dozes in my lap.  It was a long night.  Parenthood teaches us that we are capable of more than we thought, right?  Like hauling 130 pounds of kids and library books up a hill on a bike, or typing for long stretches with one hand and not much sleep.)

We've been inside a lot, trying to stay warm and comfortable while we fight off this bug.
Little, asleep at last
Before we ditched one of our cars, there was lots and lots of discussion about what that would mean for our family.  One concern that came up was how we would cope when someone was ill.  Would I be able to get to the store with two sick kids on a bike?  How about a doctor's office?  This week has been our first sick-day test of our new transportation setup.  What do you do when you and your littlest passenger have the flu?

I'm so happy to say that we passed this simple test.  The answer?  Stay home.  Isn't that what we should all be doing anyhow?  If I had needed to get to the doctor, I would have either loaded Little into the bike trailer or gotten a ride from a friend or neighbor.  Easy, right?

So why were we initially concerned about working out a sick-day transportation solution all those months ago?  I think it was primarily the idea that we might need to ask for help that gave us pause.  It seems to me that we are sometimes so determined to be independent and avoid inconveniencing others that we fail to give or receive the little favors that build community.  It's sometimes difficult to ask our neighbors and friends for help, but when we do, it encourages those folks to call us up and ask for help, too.

We needed a few things from the store and had our CSA pickup yesterday, and Grandma M ran both errands for us.  I could have easily called four or five other people and asked them for the same small favor.  And I hope those people would call on me in the same situation.  I didn't make anyone else sick by thinking that I should run this errand for myself.  My children and I got to rest and read rather than pile into the car and slouch around the market in a stupor.  And hopefully, I'm inviting Grandma M to think of me when she needs help sometime soon.

I love getting around by bike in part because I've met so many more of my neighbors while using this very physically open and conversational mode of transportation.  It's easy to stop and chat with folks who are working in their front gardens, or walking their kids to school, or cycling around themselves.  (And anyone out there with a family bike knows that it is one of the best ice breakers out there.  Only a very small fraction of cyclists will stop at an intersection next to us without comment.)  The fact that riding my bike may put me in a situation where I'm likely to give or receive help from others only improves that feeling of neighborliness and community.

As I was finishing this post, Bigger woke up and quietly built this cool submarine lighting system out of his headlamp and some loose bike lights.  He says it helps the submarines to navigate when sonar is not a good idea.  Does this kid have a fabulous imagination, or what?

Monday, November 29, 2010

We Love Trains

Here's the truth about traveling by train with small children: it is so incredibly convenient and pleasant, that if you try it, you may never, ever want to get on a plane or strap yourself into a car again.  Honestly.

How can it be so convenient to travel by train with children, even here in the car-centric western US?  Let me count the ways:

1) Amtrak has less invasive security procedures, at least in our experience.  There is no need to wait in long lines at security checkpoints.  You may have your luggage or personal effects examined, but you're not likely to be asked to remove your shoes or go through a naked body scanner.  If you have your ticket in your hand and only carry-on baggage, you can simply wait for the train to arrive, and then hop on.  It's basically as simple as getting on a city bus or light rail car.

One particularly pleasant aspect of these security policies is that you may wait to board the train with friends and family who are seeing you off at the station.  I've traveled to California on Amtrak with Little and Bigger twice in the last year, both times without my husband. (He had to work while we traveled, and wasn't home in time to wait with us at the depot.)  Both times, Grandma M was able to wait with us by the track, and then help us get our luggage to our train car when it was time to board.  If you have squirrely little children or awkward luggage (and I usually have both), an extra pair of eyes and hands is lovely.  Plus, if your train is late (as mine was on my most recent trip), there is another adult to split a burger and a beer with while you wait for the train.  (If you're in Eugene, I recommend the bar menu at Marche as a late-train cure-all.  They are also always gracious about seating children for an early dinner.)

2) Train stations are centrally located in many west-coast cities, while airports are often on the outskirts of a city.  I assume that this is because train stations often predate airports, and require comparatively little space.  You don't need to schlep to the edge of town to make your departure when you go by train.  When you arrive at your destination, you are often in the middle of the city, at the hub of its public transportation services.   We are close enough to the center of the city that we have walked to or from the train station many times.

3) You can bring your bike on the train.  This is particularly convenient between Eugene and Seattle, where the Amtrak Cascades has simple bike racks right on board.  On some trains, you are required to pack your bike in a box provided by Amtrak before travel.  

4) You can move about a train freely, anytime.  I have traveled with my sons on Amtrak from the time they were infants on.  If you travel by car or plane with your children, everyone has to be seated (in rather cramped conditions) for most of the trip.  There are car seats and seat belts involved, and when someone needs to use the bathroom, you must either find a rest stop (if going by car) or check to ensure that the path is not blocked by a food cart (on planes).  If you want to stretch your legs or get something to eat, you may have to wait.  Not so on the train.  When Bigger was a year old, he spent most train trips walking up and down the aisles with me, smiling at all the people, getting something to eat in the snack car, and befriending all the kids and grandparents on board.  He had a blast, and when he was tired, we could sit down in our seats and nurse (also not possible in a moving car). 

5) Finally, we love to take the train because it is fun.  There are huge windows by each seat, plenty of room to relax, and no one has to drive.  We can read, knit, talk, or doze with plenty of elbow room. We can visit the snack car for cookies and milk.  There are viewing cars (and sometimes nature guides) and dining cars on longer trips.  You or your children can even watch on-board movies or hang out in the video game parlor if that's your bag.

Have any of you out there had positive (or not so positive) experiences on the train?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Snow Day!

We had all sorts of bicycle errands planned for today: grocery shopping, a park trip, and a run to the library.  When I woke up, though, I saw a light dusting of this outside.

Snow!  In Eugene!

While I believe that cycling in the snow can be fun, practical, and safe (check out Dottie from Let's Go Ride a Bike, and Julian on Totcycle), I didn't have the confidence to set out on my bike today.

The reason I chose to walk rather than bike today is that the ride quality of my current family bike setup leaves something to be desired.  Frankly, in slippery conditions with a full load (meaning kids + groceries or other bulky cargo) it's like riding a bag of squirrels.  I LOVE riding my bike -- don't get me wrong.  And with a few inexpensive improvements (namely rear panniers to replace the high-center-of-gravity milk crate and a cargo bike kickstand for stability when loading and unloading), this bike could get me where I want to go with greater agility and grace.  Well, greater agility anyhow.  This bike is lots of fun, but it's more circus pastiche than elegant vehicle.

Actually, do you know who loves this bike? Teenage boys.  Every single time I go out for a ride with my son's bike on our tandem coupler, at least one teenage boy notices and appreciates our bike.  Using slang that makes me feel very, very old.  ("Sick bike!")
Anyhow, I'm looking forward to upgrading to a bike designed to carry lots of kids and cargo soon.  My Workcycles Fr8 should be arriving in March.  March!  How terribly long for such an impatient me to wait!

In the meantime, Grandma M very kindly combined our shopping with hers and dropped off all the groceries we will need for our holiday feast tomorrow.  Thank you, Grandma M!  Austin took the morning off from work to play with Little in the snow.  The last time it snowed here, Little was only a few months old, so the experience of seeing familiar streets and gardens covered in snow felt very new to him.

Bigger had spent the night at Grandma M's after our bus ride, so he was snowed in (if less than an inch of snow and ice can be described that way!) in Creswell.  He had a grand time taking care of the chickens, horses, and other animals down there.  Here he is checking out some snow on a cold frame and helping to clean out the chicken coop.

Back in Eugene, we walked through the snow to get ingredients for Austin's eggnog waffles, and then later through the slush to drop off the weekly egg order for Little and Bigger's teachers and pick up our CSA from Open Oak Farm.  (They still have spaces available, if you are reading this locally...)  By the time we returned from picking up our CSA, it was dark outside, and quite chilly.  Perhaps it was in the twenties?  We were pretty warm in our regular cold weather uniforms, with an extra layer of wool sweaters or long underwear thrown in, and gore-tex mittens for Bigger and I.  Little made do with a mismatched set of mittens we dug up from last year's winter clothes.  We tied them to a length of yarn that we had threaded through his sleeves so that he wouldn't lose them, which worked well.

There were lots and lots of cyclist out on the Amazon bike path.  They were going perhaps a little slower than usual, but otherwise, things seemed fairly normal, even with lots of ice patches on the path.  Alas, my camera was feeling irritable and would not capture any of the bikes, only their tracks in the snow.

If it snows again this winter, I'd be curious to try cycling in it.  And I've had a few too many frustrating experiences with stability on my current family bike to ignore the upgrades I know I need any longer.  Does anyone out there have thoughts on how I could make my bike less wobbly when loaded up with cargo?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Over the river and through the woods... Grandmother's house we went.  This afternoon we took the bus to Creswell to visit Grandma M.  The boys love buses almost as much as they love Grandma, so there was plenty of excitement in the air while we waited to catch the bus to the downtown (Eugene) station.

Today the weather forecast included the possibility of snow, so you might think we were feeling the chill as we walked to, and then waited at the bus stop.  Actually, with only minimal forethought, we were quite warm, even when the wind picked up a bit.

The boys wore their standard cold weather uniforms: soft woolen caps, sturdy pants with silk or capilene long underwear, soft woolen socks, Bogs boots, and rain coats with either a thick fleece or wool layer underneath.  (Mittens are also a part of this set-up, but they were removed in these photos for snacking.)  We probably spend a little more on cold-weather clothing than most families in our income range, but we spend a lot less on mass-produced plastic toys, movies, etc.  We consider an investment in cold-weather clothing as the cost of year-round access to the outdoors, which is the most stimulating and fun "toy" imaginable.  Plus, we get at least four years out of each item of clothing, since Bigger passes things on to Little in good time.  Our team of grandparents supplies some of these items each year for birthday and holiday gifts, which we very much appreciate.

There's little photographic evidence, but I wore my standard cold weather uniform: soft wool tights (sweater tights from Sock Dreams in Portland today), an extra pair of wool knee socks, tall boots, a simple dress, a cardigan, and a hooded wool coat.  I'm still getting the hang of taking my own photo, so you'll have to use your imagination.

While waiting at the bus stop, we find it best to have...

...a snack.  Little in particular seems to be eating nonstop these days.  We also always bring... imaginary border for our kingdom.  Beyond that crack in the sidewalk lies a perilous no mans' land (and a busy street).

We typically pack at least one book for bus trips.  Our current favorite is a selection of stories by Margaret Wise Brown that Ritta got for the boys.  (Thanks, Ritta!)  It hits the ultimate traveling book sweet spot: compact size, sturdy binding, excellent literary quality, and it's an anthology (meaning lots of stories are available for long trips).  What more could you ask?

Of course, we also bring correct change for the bus (though these boys are young enough to ride free), and aim to arrive a few minutes early.

Today we did not need our book, as the boys were enthralled with the bus and its inhabitants.  On the ride downtown, our bus was packed.  We sat at the back, where the seats are elevated, and talked about our plans for the evening and all the things we saw out the window.  The bus was a little late, so we had to rush to make our connection to Creswell.  I think that next time I will give myself more time to transfer.

Creswell is a small town about half an hour from downtown Eugene, by car or bus.  During our ride there, freezing rain dropped in fat circles on the window.  Bigger and I chatted while Little dozed for a minute or two.  People were knitting, reading, and fiddling with their cell phones (though no one was talking on one, thankfully).  It was a pleasant and cozy ride, and I was glad that someone else was driving through this weather so that I could relax.  We arrived 35 minutes after leaving the station, and met Grandma M. at the stop.  When we walked into her place, there was a fire in the wood stove, and dinner waiting for us in the oven.  Is that a tired mother's fantasy, or what?

Little dazzled the company at dinner with the sequel to this bus stop dance.
One of the goals I have for this winter is to take the bus to Creswell more often, in part because I hope that transit service to this part of Lane County will be improved.  On the weekends (when we most often go there), there are only two (on Sunday) or three (on Saturday) bus trips there per day.  Not only is Grandma M. a big attraction in Creswell, it now has a year round Tuesday farmer's market and Heidi Tunnell's Tuesday bakery, Wednesday dinners, and winemaker barn dinners.  I would love to see more frequent bus service to Creswell so that we could get to these events more easily by bus. 

But for now, the times that we do bus down there are hundred times more interesting and enjoyable than a drive would be.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

How-To: Helping Your Child Nap Comfortably on a Bobike Mini

I spent much of the evening up with the fella pictured above, trying to help him fall back asleep.  Perhaps I should rename this post: "How To: Helping Your Child Nap a Little Too Comfortably on a Bobike Mini".

I'll save an exhaustive review of the Mini for another post, but let me begin by saying that we love this seat.  LOVE it.  When my two-year-old (let's call him Little) rides up front, it is easy for us to talk to each other.  I notice right away if something is making him uncomfortable, or if he needs something.  I can kiss his cheek or pass him a snack without fuss at red lights.  The (easily removable) windscreen we added this fall protects him from the rain and wind.  Most importantly, he is right where all the action is, dinging the bell, enjoying the view, signaling turns when the mood strikes.  He is fast outgrowing this seat (he is very tall), but we love having a kid up front so much that we just ordered a front kid saddle for the bike that will replace our current mama bike in March.  Here's a link to the saddle (and the bike, a Workcycles Fr8):

I purchased the Mini in the spring, but rode around for a few months before I got the hang of helping Little nap comfortably in it.  At first, I would try to use my arm to cushion his head when he drifted off.  This was quite uncomfortable, and occasionally prevented me from signaling turns properly.   I knew that Bobike made a headrest for the Mini, but I couldn't find anyone in Oregon who carried the more padded version I was after.  (Here are links to the two versions I've seen: with cushion attachment, without cushion -- scroll down the page a bit to see the without cushion sample on that second link.)  Only an unpadded version was available through the shops I checked with.  Then one day, it dawned on me that I didn't need a headrest.  I just needed a little pillow. 

We have a couple of favorite pillows.  Because we are always trying to pare down the amount of stuff we are hauling, our pillows are typically improvised from things we were planning to bring on the bike anyhow.  In the photo above, Little is resting his head on a knit cap that has been stuffed with a small pocket sling.  Knit caps are excellent for this purpose, as long as they are not made of cotton.  Wet cotton would, of course, make Little's face cold if it was sprinkled with a little rain during the ride.  Our favorite pillow component for Little is actually a SmartWool cap belonging to his older brother (call him "Bigger").  As the weather in this photo was chilly and wet (mid-thirties to upper forties, I believe -- brisk for Eugene), Bigger had his nice warm cap placed very sensibly on his noggin.

 (The helmet is on loan from Paul's Bicycles, who very kindly offered us the use of this rental helmet -- free of charge -- while we are waiting for Bigger's new, special order helmet to arrive in their store.  The Nutcase helmet he had previously been using just didn't fit him, but that's a story for another day.  Actually, this one looks like I didn't adjust it properly to accommodate his cap, as it is sliding back and to one side on his head.)

We also like to use a small wet/dry bag that we used to carry Little's cotton diapers before he was potty trained, but that's out for the winter as it is cotton on the outside.  These days, it is stuffed with his change of clothes, which are equally soft and comfy, and could work as a winter bike pillow in a pinch.

If we are traveling around Little's nap time, I simply put the sling and cap just inside my bag or purse, so that I won't have to dig around for it.  Then, when he starts to nod off, I can easily reach into the crate behind my saddle to retrieve the pillow.  I rest it atop my handlebars below Little's head, then gently guide him into the most comfortable position.  Simple!  I can't believe that I ever thought I needed a $40 metal and foam product to help Little nap comfortably on the bike.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Corners of My City

The other day, I snapped this photo of my children, enjoying a moment in one of their very favorite places in the whole world.  This is a phone booth near a store we frequent.  Each week, after we lock up our bikes, my older son carefully opens the door to the phone booth, I scan it for anything unsafe or unusual, and then we gleefully pile inside.

In the last few weeks alone, this phone booth has been transformed into a rocket ship, an Amtrak sleeper car, a squirrel house, a busy restaurant serving only pancakes and pumpkins, and one of Saturn's moons.  This phone booth has revived the spirits of a frustrated toddler, given an exhausted mother a moment of peace, and illuminated the grayest morning in recent memory.  Even a mention of the phone booth can distract the most determinedly cranky child for a few minutes.  It is our errands day sanctuary.

Before I started to run this errand (and all others) by bike, I don't believe we ever set foot in this place.  In the rush of getting from car to store, we hadn't ever considered stopping to look over this little corner of our city.  But when a family arrives by bike, it is easier to see things.  You are moving at a pace from which it is possible to get a good look at what is around you.  You stop and park your bike and spend a couple of minutes locking up while the children have a 360 degree view of their world.  The children start to point out the big birds' nest on that one streetlamp.  They know the places where herons sometimes fish.  They give names to the engines at the fire station and put squirrel houses in the phone booth.

Why do I choose to get around my city by bike?  There are many reasons, but perhaps the most important one is this: it's fun.  My greatest fear about making the leap from car to bicycle transport was that my children wouldn't like it.  I had no idea that it would become the one part of our day that I can count on to improve everyone's mood.  In the rain, in the wind, even on what used to be our most tedious errand, we love to get out on our bikes.  For hundreds of reasons.  And one of them is this little glass-walled spot.