Avoiding our car whenever possible

We are a one car family but as our family grows we are discussing the inevitable….the mini van! Oh how I wish American vans were more like Euro vans! Small, gas efficient, small tires and engines, fold up seats and a small sounding horn that goes, “meep, meep”. But I digress. Even though we are likely to move onto a mini van we’ll still only be a one car family. We have been given three cars since we got married. We had a Delta 88 and we sold it to a guy named Chill. It was hilarious to hear my husband on the phone speaking in his proper English accent saying, “Oh hello. Is this Chill?” Another car we gave to some friends after we were given our third car. All of them have been old faithfuls just in case you were wondering if we were given Toyota Hybrids at each giving. People also loan us cars when they go out of town so Matt is often able to use another car for a week or two to drive to the other side of town for work. It’s worked out really well for us. Those little blessings have been super helpful for us but in all honesty we have functioned very well as a one car family.

Matt started to take the bus to work two years ago taking advantage of the alone time during the commute. It’s also been like watching a good movie seeing all sorts of people that ride the bus. I find it fascinating that riding the bus in the states is considered a poor man’s mean of transportation but in other countries it’s often the main mode of transport, either that or some sort of tram. A lot of countries have a great rail system that will take you all over the city and rich and poor take the bus or tram rather than owning a car. Here in the US if you take the bus it’s likely because you can’t afford a car, that’s the assumption anyway. I have met some unsavory characters in my years riding the bus but I’m sure there are just as many crazies who are driving to work in their car. I’m excited however that it seems public transport is making a comeback.

When I use to live south of Seattle I would cringe when I had to drive on I-5 (our main interstate). The carpool lane is often unused, gridlock is a reality that will cause severe road rage and there is ALWAYS construction going on because they are ALWAYS making the freeway bigger. People want to be left alone as they listen to their own music and drink their own latte. It’s what we’re use to. I’m always impressed when I see the occasional car full of business men, not speaking to one another, reading their papers in a single car. Way to go! Carpooling!

Last year we took our kids on their first family bus ride downtown to play at the children’s museum and they LOVED it. It was sort of a family adventure and my son thought it was the most amazing thing in the world to be in a huge bus with other people. I can’t say it’s something we do as a family all the time (my husband takes them out on the bus more) but it definitely opened up a new world of family transport for me. I look for ways in which we don’t have to use our car. I actually don’t like using my car at all. It’s a necessary evil when picking up groceries and living in a state where winter graces us in the single digits for six months out of the year. In the summer we try to bike or walk as much as possible and it helps that we live next to a bike path and many other conveniences. My husband and I trade car days depending on the week’s events. It’s challenged our thinking about taking the bus and how economical, safe and relaxing it can be. It does take a bit longer but….oh well.

It’s a lot safer than it use to be, you don’t have to worry about parking and it’s a great way to intentionally slow your life down. I’m thinking this spring allow more opportunity to explore the city and give the kids an adventure. It’s not always convenient or possible for everybody but if you have the means I highly recommend it. Plus, your kids will love it!

Cheers

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Carrying my kids

She's hiding in my arm pit.

I was reading Veronica’s post the other day and it really touched me as I remembered her being one of my single friends who always wanted a family and who was amazing with children. Her outlook on kids has always impressed and challenged me. When we lived together in the UK we were having a meeting, talking about family. She mentioned that she read a story about how babies must feel being in strollers or a car seat all the time experiencing the world alone. At the time I was single and never really thought much about what she was saying. I had been a nanny and a stroller is how you get kids from one place to the next. Disclaimer: This is NOT an anti-stroller post!

A few years later I was living in the midwest and I thought back to this conversation because a friend of mine had a baby and what stood out to me as I watched them over the years was that she carried him a lot. Of course, she used strollers and car seats but I often saw her with him in her arms. I never noticed how much we rely on ‘things’ to contain children until I saw how much she carried her son. Again, it got the wheels turning in my head. Onto a few years later I had my own. We took our son to South Africa when he was three months and most of the African women wore the baby on their back with just a small blanket, a sheet or even a towel wrapped around the baby. It was quite a skill to watch then sling a baby within seconds and the sling didn’t cost $80 or have any fancy clips or straps. So while I used a stroller to wheel my son around I was also fascinated with trying to wrap him up and take him out. So I started using small blankets, just like the SA women, and strapped him to my body. It was actually easier and he stayed calm a lot more being close to me.

Next came my daughter. Her first few months were a blur because my son was highly active and all I remember is chasing him around. So instead of trying to manouver a stroller in and out of small spaces in a store I wore her close to me. We’ve never had a lot of money as a family and frankly I have always felt that baby equipment is often way overpriced. Sometimes it even seems to act as a sort of status symbol. I’ll stop there. So I went to the fabric store, bought two yards of lovely fabric and made a sort of hammock sling that I tied at the top of my shoulder. I never even sewed a stitch. The funny thing is that I got comments and compliments on it everywhere I went. “What a lovely sling, where did you get it?” Now I had the freedom to keep Chloe close to my body while chasing after my highly active son. I had a hands free devise as well. I was free to do dishes or help my son with something while still holding her. And the “sling” was a total of $5.

I saw the movie Away We Go and there is a scene set in Madison, WI where Maggie Gyllenhaal is the sterotypical earthy, progressive momma. She has a “three S” law that she lives by. I don’t remember what the first two S’s were but the last one is “No Strollers”. “I love my babies, why would I want to PUSH them away from me?” Hilarious. I’m not really one of those women, whatever that means. I had a neighbor who literally carried her daughter everywhere, even out to the car to get groceries or sweeping the kitchen floor. She never put her down. I really admired her but knew I couldn’t commit to wearing my kids that much. But I did enjoy wearing them as much as I could. It calmed them down, reminded me that they were there (something I can forget about when they are newborns-they sleep A LOT) and made life a wee bit easier in some ways. It seemed like I was experiencing the world with them and they with me. I felt that I left my son in his car seat a lot when he was little and I didn’t want to do that again after I had another child. I’m sure I didn’t damage him I just wanted my life to remain sort of the same (HAHA, right?) and my schedule, along with my hands, to remain free to do what I had always done. Looking back I wish I had paid more attention. It was all so new to me and so rattling to my disposition, I have always been very independent. Out of the two of my kids he is the one who craves physical touch more. We took him everywhere with us but I do wish I would have carried him more.

My life has slowed down a lot since I had two (yet it’s also very busy- go figure!) and my practices of raising children are becoming more defined. I’m becoming more interesting in slow living and slow parenting. As we have more I feel a bit more equipped and honestly more interested in the process. I know children need a lot of touch and eye contact to make them feel secure but I am also a huge advocate of connecting with your children in a variety of ways. One easy way, that can be very inexpensive and actually very satisfying is to carry your baby. Experience the world together. Some books say our kids won’t learn to be independent if we coddle them and hold them all the time. Well, babies don’t need independence, they need love and safety. Yes, they can cry it out but we’re not trying to teach them major life lessons while they have only been alive for a few months.  It is very sacrificial and often exhausting but the season is so fleeting. My son is five and I can barely pick him up. Soon he won’t even want me to hold his hand in public or to walk too closely to him when he sees his friends. These are the days to savor.

Enjoy life with your kids today.

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Letting My Kids Roam

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Letting my kids roam

I recently found this site written by a mother who made headlines fairly recently. She is the woman who let her 9 year old learn how to take a NY subway alone to teach him how to find his way home. She was labeled “abusive, crazy, reckless and neglectful” by many who read the story. “How can a parent in today’s day and age think this would EVER be a good idea? What was she thinking?” I’ll admit that while I didn’t have these exact thoughts I was a bit shocked that a boy so young was given sanction to do this. But the thing that caught my attention was that it was actually sanctioned….intentional. She was involved in his process. Teaching him. Trying to help him to take a risk, problem solve and find his footing. There was no neglect involved.

I’m not yet lying awake at night thinking of ways to let my little ones figure out how to walk to the library alone. They are still a bit young for that. Likely my son would get lost following a run away squirrel or something. No bueno! But I do agree that we have to give our kids more space to roam, play, explore, wander, learn and figure life out without us hovering all the time. Most of us grew up in an area that we thought was safe. By the early mid eighties everyone knew the name Adam Walsh. After the media frenzy no child was allowed to play outside on his/her bike anymore. It wasn’t an overnight change but it did change over time and the change seemed pronounced. Now you hear about all of the child kidnappings and exploitations. Oprah (God bless her) devotes networks and entire weeks of programming to this topic.  The web, TV, billboards, magazines are all telling us the world is a terrible place to raise our kids. And if you do let them venture outside, they must be clad head to toe with protective gear, sunscreen and a tracking devise. I’ve seen children ‘playing’ in the sun wearing full body, UV blocking suits….as if they are playing in a field of plutonium. They’re outside!!! Slap a bit of SPF on them and off they go! Ok, I’m being snarky and you may comment away on how fair- skinned your little freckley child is and why they need to be protected from the melting ozone. I understand that. Sometimes our protection can be a bit excessive.

A few weeks ago I let my son wander down the street to a neighbor’s house for the first time to see if they boy wanted to play. I bundled him up for the snow and sent him off. I’ll admit it was a bit strange not to walk over there with him and ask if his friend could play instead of my son asking. But it gave him confidence and excitement. He was out without mom for the first time. What a thrill! I also encourage him to give cashier’s money when he wants to buy a toy car and we have been known to let him ride his bike without a helmet on. I also think his cheeks have even been a bit sun burned here and there. Oh, and he eats food that falls on the floor.

Of course I have horrible thoughts of some car speeding off in front of my home as I look for one of my kids. Rumination is a slippery slope though. I worry like any mother and I NEVER want my kids to go through pain. Yet I remember playing outside for hours upon hours as a child, unleashing my imagination, making friends, cultivating new interests and dreaming of what I wanted to be when I grew up. These moments happen less and less as a child stays inside, watches movies or TV and is constantly being hovered over by a fearful parent.

I definitely say, YES to books and letting kids get lost in them but I also say an emphatic YES to letting our kids roam a bit, playing with sticks, learning how to start a campfire while we show them how and maybe even eating mud-cakes. Maybe even cooking in the kitchen and venturing outside ALONE to take out the garbage. Or riding a bike and falling occasionally. Getting hurt and learning about pain seems like a rite of passage for kids and we just can’t protect them from pain forever. Swimming in the ocean, jumping off of really high stuff, playing with mud, getting really dirty (it washes off) and eating the occasional piece of dirt off the floor are elements of being little and I’m trying to allow my kids to experience life and the amazing outdoors with small bits of freedom while I let go of some major fears. My husband is great at this. He has been the biggest motivator in helping me see how great it is to give your children small bits of independence. Incidentally, he actually inspired this post in an article he passed on to me a few days ago. He’s my biggest supporter.

Have fun with your little ones today. Let go a bit (I’m learning how to) and toast to the whole of life!

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More writing ideas

He wrote the first two items. Then he was done.

I’m trying to find creative ways to help my son practice his writing and reading. Ways that keep him engaged (a daily task for his curious mind) and that foster his ability to give more input. So we are heading to the grocery store today, a task I have dreaded over this past year because he use to run off a lot. I would have my mind on milk, eggs and butter while also saying, “Wait! Come back here! Stop it! Put that down!” Some of the issue for me has been that I needed to incorporate him more but I’m not a multi-tasker and I really need to focus on what I’m doing. Doing two things at once (reading the back of labels while trying to entertain two toddlers) makes me walk away from grocery shopping feeling like I need a nap. So I have often taken them with me but I honestly prefer to go alone.

Today I asked the boy to help me write our grocery list. I asked him what we needed (one item was peanuts to feed the elephants. ??? Um, ok). He did enjoy coming up with foods that we do need (critical thinking skills). He also did a great job writing out some of what we have to get. He can’t handle writing an entire list or we’ll all be sitting at the table until Lent is over. I just had him write out a few things and then we headed off.

We went through the store with the list in HIS hand so he could practice reading what he wrote, and also it will gave him an anchor to stay next to me rather than running off. Then he picked out what we needed while and the responsibility was fully his. He felt like such a big boy, I could tell.  This is really the best way to keep him involved and to keep my sanity in tact. I beleive our children really want to help us and be a part of our daily tasks. It’s always easier to just do it ourselves but I’m learning that flying solo isn’t really an attribute of being a family.  I always tell my kids, “We’re a family. We stay together”. My personality is to just ‘get er done’. Get in there and get right back out. But I have to slow down and let my kids come into my world so they can learn, enjoy the process and practice being a family together. What are your tricks for keeping kids engaged? Leslie has some great ways to help your kids gain interest in writing.

Here’s to the whole of life.

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Natural antibiotics

Over the past few weeks I’ve had a cold I couldn’t shake that eventually turned into a sinus infection. I use to get sinus infections at least once a month before getting my impacted wisdom teeth pulled about 12 years ago. For the most part the only way to get rid of a sinus infection is to go to the doctor and get on antibiotics. I have many issues with antibiotics even though I believe they can be life saving. I was on them every day for about five years for acne (Which, looking back wasn’t even all that bad. But when you’re 13 a pimple means you can’t face your entire middle school class). The 80’s were the antibiotic decade in the same way the 90’s were the Prozac decade.

Needless to say antibiotics messed up my entire system, leaving me with serious amounts of ‘bad’ bacteria that overtook my gut; an issue I still struggle with today. I had to be off of sugar, diary, caffeine and alcohol for nearly a year because of issues with Candida. I’d like to touch on this more for the ladies so I didn’t throw this post onto Facebook. Candida is an overgrowth of yeast in the system (ya’ll know what I’m talkin’ about) and the symptoms can cause a lot of problems from chronic yeast infections (again, ya’ll know what I mean), severe fatigue, memory loss, constipation, or constant immune system break down: sick all the time! A lot of doctors still don’t believe in Candida so they will likely put you on Dyflucan if you say you struggle with yeast issues.

Well, sugar feeds yeast so when I went off of sugar completely (no fruit, honey, refined sugar…not a grain of it) I actually felt and noticed a difference. Proving that my issue was indeed Candida. If you have a lot of these symptoms you might want to read more on Candida. The first step in getting rid of it is healing up the gut lining (not an easy task). If I were to go into great detail about how to cure Candida it would take many pages on a blog so I’ll just thow up some helps to look at. This has been a huge hurdle for me in finding my healthiest self (a goal I am committed to) because I really love sweets, coffee and having wine with a meal (not so much these days as I’m in the family way). I come across female friends all the time that explain symptoms to me which make me believe they too are struggling with Candida and a lot of it is women in my age range who were also given antibiotics like candy when they were young.

Now onto a suggestion if you are indeed sick and in need of instant recovery but hesitant in taking those little white pills. The good news is that antibiotics can save lives but we don’t need to take them for every infection that comes along. My preferred antibiotic is….wait for it… raw garlic! This is how I learned to get rid of my reoccurring sinus infections years ago and it worked every time. As soon as my mucus turned green or yellow, out came the cloves. What to do if you are also dealing with yeast infections? Garlic! Raw! It can even be inserted. Yep, I just wrote that! Just peel and wrap the clove in some gauze and you know what to do with the rest.

Also, the best time to take garlic is before you go to bed so that your breath is not stinky in the morning. And it won’t be. I swear by it. Just peel a whole clove (not a whole bulb!!!) , chop it like you’re going to cook with it and swallow it with water. Don’t take on an empty stomach or it could burn. This is the most amazing antibiotic there is and it can get rid of tons of infections. Plus, it’s so very inexpensive. PS- I’m not a doctor or a certified natural physician and garlic won’t cure life threatening ailments! Use it for the small stuff and stay out of the doctor’s office. If you have random questions do post them. I will reply.

Here’s to the whole of life!

Further reading on Candida: Remember, baby steps. If you can’t do all of these helps at once, and you likely will get overwhelmed after you read all of this, just cut out junk food to start, or sugar, and see if it makes a difference. Take some garlic at night for a week.  Then on to bigger helps.

Candida symptoms  http://www.holistichelp.net/candida.html   http://www.candidasymptoms.net/

Candida diet   http://www.everydiet.org/diet/candida-diet

More definitions   http://www.candidafree.net/?gclid=CL204N-R-p8CFRUhDQodzE4CbA

Benefits of raw garlic   http://www.greenze.com/2007/08/28/17-benefits-of-organic-raw-garlic-how-it-can-improve-your-health/

Raw garlic yeast cure  http://www.midwiferytoday.com/articles/garlic.asp

Dangers of antibiotics  http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art46504.asp

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Eating right from the source

Food has been a huge issue with me for decades now.  Having children will also put a new spin on food conscientiousness. The city I live in can be very proactive in the local food movement and after we bought a house five years ago I decided to start a garden. This was more for practical reasons than from the ‘eating local’ perspective. I saw having a lawn without growing food as being a huge waste of space for me personally, plus we were so very poor and paying for organic produce was just breaking us.  So I researched and worked VERY hard to make our garden happen. I now grow several varieties of veggies and even some fruit.  The more I became involved with the food we ate the more fascinating food became to me. My husband and I have read a lot of books on the food system and seen quite a few movies dedicated to exposing the wickedness of huge agribusiness. So… more thinking about food.

For years our family has eaten meat but I’ve been very lean (no pun intended) on how much meat we eat mainly because I shudder to think of where it comes from, how it was raised and then the procedure of getting it onto my table. So black beans have been our family staple for a few years now. Then last summer I decided that I wanted to go straight to the source of where our food comes from and buy directly from them. We live in a great farming state so there are a lot of local family run farms to choose from, tons of CSA programs and a farmer’s market located somewhere all over the city each day of the week. We also have one of the nation’s best and biggest weekly farmer’s market. Whoop-Whoop!

Seeing animals roam free, being cared for and, the biggest thing for me, allowed to be healthy was a huge deciding factor for me in buying meat from our local farmers. We now try to buy farm-to-table as much as possible. We even found an amazing farm that sold raw milk, cheeses, butter, beef, pork, eggs…. Since we aren’t going to invest into buying a city cow to grace in our 30 sq ft yard anytime soon we buy from a local farm. I have to say that I understand the vegetarian decision that is based on health and humane reasons. Feed lots are generally despicable, unhealthy, and completely profit driven.  For years we were almost a vegetarian family for those reasons.

After we’ve visited the farms I was pretty certain the I found a sustainable, healthy and humane option for our family. I firmly believe in supporting local farms! It’s great for the economy, for the environment and grass fed, pastured roaming animals are so much healthier.  And while I totally understand someone’s decision to still remain vegetarian, even in the light of this particular argument, my conscience is clean about how I feed my family.

We also eat as seasonally as we can but I’m still visiting the grocery store to purchase my wheat flour to make my bread and I even buy the occasional avocado in February to make guacamole. Baby steps! But we do most of our veggies out of the garden and now about 80% of our meat is from the farm. We were even getting our milk from the farm until “the man” came and busted them for selling raw. We live in The Dairy State but you can’t buy or sell raw milk. Go figure!

If you are interested in eating more locally and sustainably here are just a few places to start:

Join a CSA program (Community Supported Agriculture) This is a great site to find a local harvest in your area

Buy straight from the farm (A great way to get to know where your food comes from and develop relationships in the community….you may even be able to barter)

Plant a garden (Even if you only have a small bit of space try some tomatoes or just greens. Start small and get hooked on organic produce-power to the people!!!)

Shop at a co-op and buy local and seasonal (This is my least favorite option because they tend to be pricey and a bit elitist. Hey, I’m being honest. But if you can’t do any of the above this place can help you out)

Pick your own (berries and other produce) in the summer and then freeze what you get to enjoy all winter.

Finally, if you can’t do any of the above mentioned, find your nearest wild bull, wrestle it to the ground with your bare hands, kill it and eat its heart raw! Repeat as necessary! (sorry, no link for that one)

Here’s to the whole of life! Food, health, community, family, faith and love!

Berry picking with the kids

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Taking risks

I recently reposted something I wrote last year on being in the moment as a mother and realizing that I am right where I need to be. It’s been a journey where I have been untangling my own frustrations of ‘missing out’ on other life experiences to do what I am doing now. Before anyone thinks I haven’t enjoyed being a mom I must clarify: I have enjoyed it painfully! I love my kids from the inner core and I can’t, and do not, imagine life without them. They bring joy and laughter into this house and there isn’t anything else I think I should be doing.

The issue has always been a question of whether or not I am living to my full potential, doing all that I can based on who I am. I used to teach college-aged students about pursuing their goals and dreams in life and I loved  the process of exposing the ambiguity of ‘finding their calling’ (more thoughts on ‘calling’ for another post). I would listen to them share their inner turmoil about how they couldn’t seem to find the lost and illusive treasure that was marked “what I am suppose to do with my life” and they often thought they were missing out on something great.

I always told them, through almost a week of teaching, “Do what you care about and what you love. It will likely grow and morph into something great”, or put another way, “Pick something and do it well”. It was freeing and frustrating for them at the same time. The next comment that came from them was always, “If I pick thing A then I might miss out on thing B. Or worse, I’ll get locked into a commitment and not be able to do thing B when it finally does come along”. To which I always would reply, much to their frustration but often followed by laughter, “Yes, you will! If you pick something to do with your life you will always be missing out on other things.”  Ahhh…. the simplicity of life!

Enter my present day. I am learning to practice what I have been preaching to others for years now. Saying yes to my amazing husband meant that I would say no to other men. Saying yes to becoming a mother meant that I would miss out on opportunities to fly off to teach in a school at last minute’s notice or that I would turn down outreaches to other countries (we actually have taken a few outreaches as a family). Saying yes to moving to the midwest meant saying no to other countries that are far more exotic… and warmer. I share this dilemma with countless youth and middle agers in this nation, and in this phase of life. For some reason I find that the tension is mainly felt by mainstream evangelicals. Maybe it’s that we are taught that we should be “history makers in our generation”. It’s a teaching I am fond of but hold a bit loosely and demand a bit more clarity these days (again, a post for another time). The path to finding how we will indeed make history puts a huge pressure and creates an overwhelming expectation to find out that ONE THING we are suppose to commit our lives to. I now believe life is a lot more fluid than this; more openness to pursue a variety of options and more grace for plans to change.

Some of the tension is cultural. We are a culture of many options, always keeping our options open, and most of life really does cater to us. Gone are the days of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. These days you are likely to experience the onset of angina pains as you walk through the grocery store, break out into a nervous sweat and try to pick out a flavor of ice cream.  This cultural view makes for a huge burden of expectation when we have to makes choices and commitments although we might be afraid that something more amazing might come along. I will scream it from the mountain tops, “YOU WILL ALWAYS MISS OUT ON SOMETHING!!!! CHOOSE ANYWAY!!!! RISK ANYWAY!!!!” Live and bend with the fluidity of life, make mistakes, sometimes huge ones, and don’t get stuck in stagnate water. And then be ok when you make your decisions and you watch other amazing opportunities pass you by, because they will! Seeing missed opportunities sucks a bit, if I’m honest, and can also bring a lot of doubt as to whether or not you did make the right choice, but it’s all about perspective. Easy for me to say, huh? Yes, but I’m trying to live it out and I’m actually beginning to find more of my footing in the role of a mom who is at home with small children.

I have a lot of friends going through this as they become new mothers, “What happened to the things I use to love to do?” and even single friends who are trying to find the path in life that makes them come alive. I will add my own thoughts on something that inspired me years ago from a teacher I respect and one who has more life experience than I. He was asked what he would change about his life if he were to do things over again. His answer was three fold:

1. Live in another country for a few years

2. Learn another language

3. (Most importantly) Take more risks!

That about sums it up for me. Words I am in the process of living by. I’m gaining more perspective as I choose to be exactly where I need to be.  My choices are also bringing greater joy.

Risk well and toast to the whole of life! La Vie Entiere