Saturday, October 9, 2010

Today we we rode bikes to a woody area about 6kms from us, went for a nature walk there and had a picnic. It qualifies as our Thanksgiving celebration. I love riding my bike, haven't spent as much time on it lately as I would like to have. But nevertheless it was really lovely and easy, and we all enjoyed it immensely. It was interesting to take this route as I haven't done it since the first night I got the Xtracycle, and even with my cycle-slacking lately, I am so much faster, stronger, and better at balancing! Hills I had to walk up the first ride are like nothing to ride up now, and the distance (we went about twice as far along the route as we did that first time) was nothing. So interesting to see how far I have come with it!

Some pics:

Tired 2 year old... she is in a carrier here although you can't see it.

Some of the woods...

The Xtracycle waiting for us...

Now-awake 2 year old ready for the ride home...

And off we go...

The 3 of us on the bike...

A great day!

Friday, October 8, 2010

I have taken the plunge and joined a CSA in my town. CSA is Community Supported Agriculture, basically where you pay the farmer at the start of the season and enjoy the fruits of his/her gardens for several weeks or months following. The idea is that the people who eat the food share in the financial risk-taking with the farmer, and provide the capital necessary to purchase supplies and to sustain the farming family while they grow food for us to eat. And if the peppers do badly, we have few peppers, while perhaps the zucchini grew wonderfully this year so we share in an abundance of zucchini. That is my very amateur explanation anyways. It also encourages local eating, so avoiding having your food shipped thousands of miles to your plate, and if the CSA is organic (which mine is and I think most are), it supports organic agriculture.

I have thought about doing it before but never followed through. This year I think the impetus is partially that I feel buoyed by my carfree project, that I can untangle myself somewhat from 'the status quo' and that I have the capacity to follow through. Also I have a professor this term who is into eating only local foods; she is brilliant/totally weird in a fascinating way, and I have learned a lot from her this semester about the food industry. In addition to what I already knew from reading Michael Pollan and Raj Patel on the subject.

Luckily with this CSA, the farmer grows the food and drives it into town, where it is picked up from a house fairly nearby me. Oftentimes you drive out to the farm to pick up the food, which wouldn't work for me for obvious reasons.

So yesterday afternoon Z and I trucked out on an unfamiliar bus route to pick up our share. It comes in a large box, but I left the box there and just filled the basket of the stroller, along with a canvas bag I brought and hung from the stroller's handles, with the food. When I bring the bike I will empty the box into the panniers. The veggies are glorious! Tiny sweet red and yellow peppers, radishes that taste nicely mild, nap choy (I think), daikon (had to ask what this was), butter lettuce, red leaf lettuce, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, acorn squash, and a pie pumpkin which is now roasting in my oven before becoming pumpkin soup. We also got real free range eggs, no more $6 grocery store eggs thank goodness!

So of course I am afraid that I am going to be a CSA loser, leaving things to rot in the fridge instead of cooking them. I already half froze the red leaf lettuce - apparently my fridge is too cold, so I've turned it down. I've already eaten the butter lettuce tho, and I'm feeling quite proud that I have the pumpkin in the works to be turned into something edible. Thankfully the vegetables look familiar and inspiring. Friends gave me their CSA share last week (different CSA), and I couldn't even identify some of the veggies - green tomato-like things with their own paper-like wrappers, and a knobbly small root vegetable were beyond me. With my own, the only real question mark was the daikon. Everything else I basically know what it is, and I am eager to try it all out, even the daikon.

Perhaps this whole CSA endeavour will even inspire my children to eat more veggies. Ahhh or maybe not. But I'm pretty excited about it.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

We have been carfree for three months now. Just over three months actually. We are pretty much just grooving along in the routine of it, I don't have much excitement to post right now. I have noticed some of my routines have changed, obviously, and there are some things I just don't do anymore. Like I haven't been to Costco for ages. I did get a friend to pick me up some frozen berries when he went, and it will soon be inexpensive car-renting season so we may share a car for a weekend and I may do Costco then. I want to say 'along with other things I need a car for' but I can't think what. Perhaps I will go to Value Village - I love thrift shopping, and that has been a frecuent haunt for me, although I now just go to Goodwill as it is walking/biking/bussing distance. I have gotten many good finds there.

I also feel like having the 'carfree' thing under my belt (so far, winter is still to come) has given me a certain confidence that I am not as tied down to the expectations of the dominant culture as I feared I may be. When I started thinking about how car-dependent I was, I felt really like I'd been duped, I'd bought in and now I was dependent. As I said I think in my first post ever on here, when I got my first car it wasn't intended as a lifelong decision. It was to get around in a rural area and to commute to the city for work. But when I moved to the city, I didn't break the addiction, and it turned into this apparently lifelong dependency. I heard as well that if you lose your insurance for a period of 6 months or more? you start again at a base level like a new driver. I need to investigate how true this is, because if there is validity to it, what a con. This provides a strong disincentive for experimenting with being carfree, because of course if we lack confidence that this can be a longterm decision (as I did/still do to some extent), it is harder to go back. I still pay insurance on my car, $22/month I believe, though I don't think it even covers fire and theft so I am not sure what exactly I am paying for. Perhaps the ability to go back, I should look into that.

Wow apparently I do have a lot to say today!

I do not know what exactly I will do with my car, and this has been nagging at me. It is old, and in semi-disrepair. Too good for the scrap yard, too crappy to feel good about selling. I will keep it at least through the winter until I get more confidence in this new lifestyle. I still fear January and February and fear I am going to wimp out. I did splurge on a down coat though, and the kids have warm snowsuits, so I'm not too sure exactly what I am afraid of. I think the level of permanency that would come with making it through the winter season. If I can do that, I don't need a car. And... yikes. It still feels somewhat temporary, though as the months go by it feels less so and that is so freeing as well as being a  bit scary.

I feel silly saying that I am scared still of being carfree... how lame. But there it is. Partly there is a weird social ostracization - the mothers at my daughter's school have been very curious about where is my car, what happened. I have explained the carfree thing and I can tell they think it's a cover for just simple poverty, that the car broke and I can't afford to fix it or something. Which is ostracizing because they have their vehicles and their salon hair, and if I am poor I am even less 'one of them.' I noticed the questions about my carfree status arose anew and with more sincerity when I showed up at the schoolyard with the shee-shee Valco stroller, and I believe it is because if I can afford that, and the Xtracycle, I must not be broke. So am I crazy? Or, what the hell is going on with me that we are no longer driving? These were the aims of the questioning. So interesting.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

I finally installed my front headlight on the bike! It is very bright. I needed it last night as we were leaving my house after dark for a short trip to M's dad's house, where I am dogsitting for him this weekend as he is away. Love my bike! I can't believe I have used it so little the past two weeks. I am not sure if this is an unusually rainy September or what, but I expect some cool, dry days this weekend and am planning to bike everywhere.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Oh, how I wish I had taken the bike instead of the bus to M's school for Open House night yesterday evening. The bus seemed the easiest, as it looked a bit like rain although the Weather Network didn't project it (but then I've learned I cannot count on them), and the route looked direct and timely for us.

First leg was okay, but then the second bus didn't come when it was supposed to, and an older gentleman told me (in Spanish, I am getting to practice my Spanish so much! Apparently the largest immigrant group to this city is Hispanic, and of course being newcomers, people will be less likely to own vehicles, which means there are a lot of people speaking Spanish on the transit, a wonderful bonus for me in trying to learn the language)... anyway he told me that it had come five minutes before. I pulled out the schedule to confirm, and seemed like it had gone by early. We waited ten minutes and then decided to cross the road to get another bus that would get us closer but still a walk from the school, as the one we wanted wasn't due again for fifteen more minutes. As we were crossing, I saw our bus come, and we ran back and caught it. I don't know if it was 10 minutes late, 15 minutes early, or simply completely out of relation to the printed schedule they distribute. I suspect the latter.

Then on the way home, after staying late so the kids could play at the playground, I figured we'd just gamble, walk to our stop and wait a bit, since we could have taken either of two routes that come along that line. We waited, and waited. It got dark, mosquitoes came out. I checked my schedule (kept handily in the stroller) for the one route we wanted, and it wasn't due for half an hour, as we had missed it by minutes. No matter, as I expected the other one any minute! It didn't materialize, and I called the transit's route information line, which has recently become automated and completely ridiculous to try to navigate. If Z talks at all while I'm on the phone, it thinks I am speaking and does all sorts of weird maneouvers. Which of course is exactly what happened, and it took a full five minutes to deduce that the other route does not run past 7pm. Lovely! So we waited, in the dark, with the mosquitoes, for almost 30 minutes for the stupid bus, as first parents, and then teachers and admin I am sure (tho I couldn't see them in the dark) drove out of the schoolyard one by one in their vans. Then the trickle of vehicles stopped and we were waiting alone. Lonely.

I have a 'sweet spot' for our daily commute on transit, but this served as a reminder that our system can be extremely useless and frustrating. I longed for my bicycle, with the flashing backlight, and in my imagination I had gotten around to installing the nice bright headlight too. I longed to head out of there on my own schedule, like the other parents, and to have been at home before that damn first bus showed up. And of course despite the winds and grey skies, I felt maybe one drop of rain, no more. We could have cycled.

I also long for rapid transit. If the lines are populated, they run them more, I know this just from the ease of getting to the university, where there is a high percentage of transit users. Just get downtown, and a bus will be along in the blink of an eye to get you to campus. This morning as we waited at the bus stop along a busy road, I imagined all those drivers populating the busses, which like the busses to campus, would arrive with such frequency that it would be impossible to look at a bus schedule and tell 'which one' it is, what time it was due. Because they would come every five minutes, so whether it's the 930 bus 3 minutes late, or the 935 bus 2 minutes early, would be a toss up. No more having to plan exactly for when you want to be at the stop, getting there early and preparing to wait in case the bus is late. No navigating the stupid robotic infoline from your cellphone. It would be great to have a critical mass of people on busses and bikes, so that the busses are always coming, and their main competition for the roadspace is bicycles.

I think that would be very nice for just about everyone. Being in the car is so isolating, such a heavy responsibility, so boring, and the financial aspect such a burden. People do it to a large extent out of an absence of other convenient options. But because we do it, the demand for those options does not exist. In Toronto, where I lived for ten years, it is very common to not own a car. In fact I never got my license until we decided to move to the country. Cars are a burden, cycling, walking, and using public transit is easy and ever-present as a feasible option for getting around. I would love for that to happen here. It's a smaller city, yes, but we do have the critical mass for it. That is evident by the traffic jams on the city streets at rush hour.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

And of course it rained like crazy yesterday morning, but for once I was prepared! I had an umbrella, M had a raincoat, and Z was in the new stroller with its uber protective hood and the rain canopy. Score! We are getting the hang of all this.

I haven't been bicycling as much as I would like for our commute to school(s). Either it rains, or I feel sick (this week I have had a cold), and if I take the bus I can leave ten minutes later. This is kind of nagging on me, but I also think oh well, it's about making this as easy and liveable as possible. I do miss using my bicycle daily tho, or almost, as I was doing in the summer. I hope to re-incorporate it more again, perhaps I could cycle part way, then grab the bus down to M's school, then take the bus back up to the bicycle. This would eliminate one of the busses I have to take, and would let me ride the bus for the roughest part of the commute. Currently all told, if I cycle I spend 1.5 hours on the bike each way. This is a lot! And as I don't go home during the day I am quite committed to either the bus or the bike for the day. It still makes all the difference to being carfree for me to have it, for grocery runs, adventures around the neighbourhood and around town. Although our daily route happens to be very convenient by bus, many of the other places we go are not, and I love that I am still independent and able to get around on my own schedule, by my own route, and under my own steam. I would not like the feeling of being entirely dependent on public transit. I like that I can use it when I want to, and avoid it if I don't want to.

Interestingly, tho M's school is only less than 4km from my house, and the university is 7km, I far prefer going to the university on the bicycle. The ride to her school is quite uphill in parts and also through some not so pleasant, high traffic areas. And frankly the bus is so convenient, a 3 minute transfer wait halfway, and really door to door, from my house to the school. I guess if my main complaint is that the bus is too convenient, I'm not suffering too much. I love biking to the university though because I can take bike trails most of the way, it is quite flat, and then I have my bicycle to get around campus easily. This feels very luxurious, that I don't have to walk between different parts of the campus, but can jump on the bike and be wherever I want to very quickly.

Another great thing about taking the bus for our daily commute is that a few of the other mothers at M's school take it too, so I've gotten to meet a few people. In particular there is a mother from Colombia, who doesn't speak much English, and is very friendly. I am taking Spanish at university, and am desperate for opportunities to practice the language as I want to become fluent. She is thrilled that I know some Spanish, and is very patient about helping me find words and conjugate verbs to say what I need to say. And although I know she simplifies for me, it is really helpful for me to just hear her speak pretty naturally, I am learning a lot. She is very nice and has a great sense of humour. We are becoming friends and we talk at the bus stop after dropping off the kids, and then the whole way downtown. I am enjoying this immensely.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I have a schmancy new stroller suddenly, a fairly impulse purchase after I decided I need to get something with big, inflatable tires for the snow (which won't be here for 3 mos yet). Well actually what happened was I asked people if my stroller, an Eddie Bauer Sport, with the small non-inflated tires would be okay in the snow. Because although I've had it for over 2 years, I had no idea, since I drove everywhere. (And also used baby carriers pretty much exclusively for the first year). Friends recommended Valco brand, and lo and behold someone posted one on kijiji the next morning. I jumped on it, and now it is mine. It is the Valco Tri Mode EX, in black:

I got it for just a little more than half the full cost in the store price, and for far more than I ever dreamed I would spend on a stroller. My justification is that if I am not driving, suddenly my bicycle and my stroller become my 'wheels' and I need them to function as well as possible. Pretty good justification right? I am revelling in the materialistic gluttony of it, all the funky things it can do, how I can walk along pushing it with one hand and it glides along. It also has a very full coverage hood which will be my saving grace the next time we find ourselves unprepared in a downpour. Which knowing me will happen before too long.

I have decided that car culture is too rich for my blood, but man can I afford to cycle, walk, and take public transit with aplomb! It is actually pretty hilarious to go from driving a piece of crap, always falling apart car, to riding the Hummer of bicycles and pushing the Cadillac of strollers. I feel like I've moved up in the world! Shallow yes, but I think worth sharing because I didn't think my move to carfree status would be a step up in luxury. It totally feels like it is.

I will post a review of the stroller for anyone who is interested in that sort of thing, either today or tomorrow. But wanted to share the ooh lala factor.