Wednesday, April 29, 2009

First picnic of the spring

We came off the hot weekend, enjoyed a very warm Monday, and decided to take advantage of the full-out spring weather evening. We packed up all three boys, our water bottles, the Crazy Creek chairs, and hopped on/in the bikes. We rode over to the boys' favorite pizza place (and those of you who know New Haven--it isn't Pepe's, Sally's or Modern's) and picked up a couple of pies and headed down to the Green. It felt so freeing to be pedaling along in the evening, with the sky still bright, all clad in t-shirts, and no worries about just where we would park.

Once we arrived, we spread the ever trusty batik on the very green lawn and hunkered down for a pizza picnic. This batik cloth has been well-loved and well-traveled in the past 13 years as I bought it in a small stall in Dumaguete City, Philippines during our Peace Corps training, kept it constantly in my backpack throughout my travels, and it is fun now to see our three boys roll around on the brightly printed cotton.

Food always tastes better when outdoors and the guys attacked their slices with a gusto rarely matched, and gave us a hint of teenage appetites when we just may need to move back to boarding school teaching so we can feed the boys in a cafeteria! We capped the evening with a quick ride from the Green to Ashley's for ice cream and then on to home. All-in-all, an awesome evening and a wonderful preview of many picnics to come. I just don't think we would have done it in the car....
Yes, just like in the backseat of the car, the boys seem to always have a book with them for reading in the baksfiets.
Perhaps my favorite snap (above)...

Monday, April 27, 2009

Rock to Rock

Saturday marked a momentous occasion here: a full-out community bike ride! We participated in this awesome event called Rock to Rock as we rode from East Rock to West Rock, raising money for local park groups and a wonderful organization that teaches our city kids about farms. It was so inspiring to see the number of bikers out.

New Haven felt like a real biking town as we took over the streets, helped along by some great bike guides and kind motorcycle police officers. (New Haven does have some police on bikes but I didn't catch any out at the ride.) We stopped at two parks along the way to snack, mingle, plant a tree, dance to some music, etc. There were such an array of folks and bikes and I couldn't help gawking at all the cool rides and cool riders.

Here are some shots from the day. One of my fellas took over camera duty so a few of these are from the bench seat of the bakfiets.

This was one of our favorite bikes on Saturday--decorated in fuzzy purple and gold sequins.

Coming home after a long day out on the bike. Yes, F is sporting goggles, not sports goggles mind you, but ones that C picked up at a mad scientist birthday party.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day!

Despite loads more rain, I couldn't leave the bike at home today--of all days-- and commute by car. So another soggy ride home, but here's to bright days, small steps that are good for the earth, and the bakfiets photo that makes me smile the most....

Yes, J.S. Bakfiets (Bachfiets?) is longer than a SmartCar, but we can take more passengers and we still are more energy efficient.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Into everyone's life...

a bit of rain must fall. But, that's quite alright because we had such rockin' spring weather last week for our April break that these past two days of rain showers were not overly bothersome. We reattached the weather tent and went about bike commuting anyway. Riding home today in a full-on rainstorm did put the weather tent to the test. I am happy to report that it worked-- kept those boys inside dry. I, on the other hand, was completely soaked which would have been problematic if I had been traveling to work in the storm. Instead, it wasn't a big deal to just change out of my soaking wet work clothes once we arrived back at home.

I do have to give props out to my new Bern helmet with its what-I-originally-thought-was-a-silly-looking visor attachment but I have to say that it helped a ton with keeping some of the rain off my eyeglasses. Originally, I tried to order this, but for the life of me, I couldn't get one to fit. It was my version of Goldilocks--the medium too small, the large too big-- but without the 'just right' which bummed me out because I thought it would be fun to ride around with a polka dotted helmet. Oh well, the Bern is serving me well.

Going back to work has been a bit challenging because C, S, and I had such a great week off together. I realized while pedaling home through the rainstorm today that it has been exactly one week since I last drove the car. Cool-- an entire week of doing everything by bike! We were so fortunate to have wonderful weather last week that for a number of days of the vacation, we simply took the bakfiets out in the morning and just stayed out all day, experiencing numerous unplanned adventures around New Haven. I never had to worry about where we would park or if we had enough quarters for the meters, so we could just follow our fancy and hit any place we liked. We visited a number of different playgrounds around the city, ate lunch at two different delis, joined in Elm City Cycling's Bike to Work Breakfast (meeting all sorts of neat New Haven cyclists and letting folks take the baks for a spin), came upon friends playing street hockey and joined in, hit Wooster Square Park for the Cherry Blossom Festival, rode down to Yale's main dining hall so the boys could have lunch there (and use up P's points on his meal card before he graduates), and so on.

One of our adventures last week is a bit embarrassing to admit to as we hit the main branch of the library downtown for the very first time. We are big readers and do love libraries, but for the year-and-a-half we have lived here, we have been going to two libraries in the next town over because-- get this-- it is easy to park at those branches. Ahhhh. The city's downtown library is in a busy section of town, hard to find parking, so in the past I would always just pack up the guys in the car and head north. When folks ask about what we paid for the bakfiets (and quite a few folks, friends and strangers alike, do ask), I always say that the only buyer's remorse I have is that I didn't learn of this incredible bicycle sooner. When I think of the fact that when I was home with F full-time last year, we would head off to the library at least once a week and what adventures we could have had on the baks...

I guess I am becoming well-known around town as 'that woman on that bike' because I had a number of people at school comment about seeing me out and about last week. We had friends come find us at the weekend park festival, saying, "We knew you were here because we saw your bike!" While it's been fun to have such a distinctive vehicle, I do hope that some of the folks who have inquired about our family bike join in the fun. I am dreaming of a fleet of family and cargo bikes in New Haven!

Some of my favorite shots from last week:

Hey, that's me! The first snap of me 'behind the wheel' as I am the one usually behind the camera.

Love the four-point kickstand! As P was getting a small problem on his bike fixed at our local bike shop, the boys stayed busy outside. Although, I do have to say that going to the bike shop with kids is one of the easiest stores to be in with little ones as the folks who work there do not at all mind three busy boys with curious minds, active hands, and loads of questions.....

We spotted this cool kid's Raleigh that reminded the boys of their dad's Rudge.

F is getting into the biking spirit. Again-- major thumbs up to the four-point kickstand that turns the bike into a portable jungle gym!

I just had to capture this image of P on his way home from work all dapper next to his dapper 1968 Rudge. We have always thought he should have attended university in England...

And we couldn't miss the opportunity to show the grandparents S's new smile!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A day out on the bike

It was a great spring break day. The sun was out and the temperature warm enough to don fleece and leave the parkas at home. We left the apartment at 9:15 this morning and didn't return until 4:45PM. Going out by bakfiets just brought a freedom that the car never could have. I didn't have to worry about going downtown and just where to park so we could make a variety of stops with no worries about open spaces and searching for quarters. We started at a new playground in a different part of town, headed over to Katz's Deli for lunch, hit the movies across the street, stopped at the yarn store to visit a friend, had an afternoon snack of donuts, went to pick up little brother, and cruised home feeling the wind in our faces as we put the brakes to test going down the steepest hill in the neighborhood.

All throughout the day, we interacted with a number of folks we would not have if we were not biking. The boys waved to passerbys who commented aloud about the bike. We talked to a delivery guy on a scooter who thought his restaurant should go for a bakfiets. A mama with two young kids asked if she could take a photo, thinking that such a cargo bike would serve her family well. A construction worker stopped in the middle of the street, cell phone attached to his ear, to say to the person on the other end of the phone, "You should see this bike. It's built like a boat!" A dad and son looked out the window of a bus, pointing and laughing, and when I smiled in return, I got a head nod of approval.

Throughout the day, we saw loads of folks out on their bikes and I couldn't help but gawk at their bikes, their helmets, their baskets, buckets, panniers, or milk crates, their biking style. And of course, I didn't bring my camera but I made use of the one on my very basic cellphone (that I haven't used much) to capture a few moments of this memorable day.

A shot in the deli, baks parked outside.
Now that we're biking, we suddenly notice bike-themed things we never seemed to see before. Here's a large painting from inside the movie theater.If only, I had my good camera. We left the cinema and I could not help but notice how gorgeous the bakfiets looked, reflected in the window, especially juxtaposed to the cars.

An East Coast distributor of Dutch bikes coming soon!

Please tell me you all saw this article in the NYTimes this week. Looks like the Seattle Dutch Bike Company is opening a new shop in New York City this summer. I am so excited that the bakfietsen may be coming this way, as well as those gorgeous Omas and Opas. Dutch bikes for all!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Forget the booster. Do you have an extra helmet?

It had been nearly three days since I was on the bike, the longest we've gone since we start bakfiets commuting, and I was itching to ride. We spent the holiday down in Jersey with 11 of the guys' cousins, then headed to the shore to visit a friend from high school and her two boys. The whole time we walked around her small town, hanging in the park and stopping at the smoothie shop, I kept remarking what a perfect place her town would be for a bakfiets. I could just imagine tooling around the quaint downtown, loading the box with beach gear, and parking it up by the boardwalk. If only we could travel with our cargo bike-- we would love to visit her this summer and bring the baks with us. I am imagining one of those trailers hooked up to the car with not a motorcycle strapped on nor a jetski making its way to the beach-- but the bakfiets strapped down, waiting for its chance to be exposed to the sea air.

So 2:30PM rolled around today, and we had still not been on the bike. The twins and I have this week off and we had committed to hanging with one of the boys' friends today. We decided to go to this mack-daddy playground a few towns north of us and then have a special lunch out-- both destinations that we could not get to by bike. Heading home via the highway, I was just determined to get on the bike so instead of driving directly to the friend's home, we headed to ours. I asked the boy's friend if he was comfortable riding in our bike and he excitedly agreed so I parked the car on the street, unstrapped the three boys, ran into the house, and picked up three kids' bike helmets.

For a moment, I did wonder if I should call this boy's mom and ask if it was OK if I brought him home by bike. We've mostly gotten extremely positive comments about the bakfiets, but once in awhile, someone has a comment on what they perceive to be a lack of safety. I think about the number of times I see drivers speed up to stop signs in their cars and barely stop, clearly talking on a cell phone, and I wonder how riding in that vehicle could possibly be safer than with me on the bike, acutely aware of my surroundings, paying extra care to obey traffic signals, and always, when in doubt, yielding to cars. (Of course, one of those cell-phone-gabbing drivers could hit us but that could happen walking or driving just as easily.) Anyway, I know this boy's mom relatively well and thought she would approve so we set off without a phone call first. I don't think any of the boys even noticed we were traveling by bike as they were so engrossed in their conversation and when we pulled up to the friend's house, they asked if we could circle the block a few times so they could continue talking. When his mom came out of the house, she was clearly delighted that we had traveled by bike, remarking how cool it was. After a short exchange, we bid good-bye so we could pick up Boy #3 at his school. We were happily already equipped with the third bike helmet so off we went, only having to jump off the bike for a block, to make it up the steepest part of the climb.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Two new obsessions coming together...

A successful fifth week of commuting by bakfiets completed. Today as the rain started pouring early in the morning and didn't let up all day, I knew we wouldn't be out by biking today. Instead, I went for an indoor activity that I've been dreaming about-- bringing together my two new obsessions:

Bakfietsen + Freezer paper stenciling = New shirts for my boys

A couple of weeks ago when perusing the bakfietsen photo collection on Flickr, I came upon this and got terribly excited. I'd been thinking about making bakfiets t-shirts for the boys and Travis's design kicked my creative juices into gear. (By the way, I am a huge fan of Travis a.k.a I love reading of his adventures with his three boys and their bakfiets. I also adore how they decorate their cargo box for different occasions. You really need to check it out now if you haven't seen his snaps already.)

I learned about freezer paper stencilling for other bloggers and I decided to pay it forward by putting up my own tutorial just in case they were folks interested in learning how to do this as well. I've had a bunch of people ask, "What exactly is freezer paper?" It's pretty simple-- it's a roll of white paper, waxy on one side only, found in the supermarket with the aluminum foil, wax paper, parchment paper, etc.

1. Draw and color your design on the 'papery' side of the freezer paper. I drew this picture and then scanned it into the computer since I knew that I would need to make shirts for each of my three boys and this saves me from re-tracing each time. Also, I discovered that if I cut the freezer paper to the correct size, I could actually feed it right into my printer. Cool.

2. Cut out the colored part of your design. I use an x-acto knife on a craft mat but some folks use small scissors and you can simply cut on a piece of cardboard. Make sure you save the 'floating' pieces that you will need for your stencil. For example, the pieces inside the wheels....

3. With a warm iron, adhere the stencil to the shirt, waxy side down. One trick I learned for a really flat surface (easier to paint) and to stop the paint going all the way through to the back side of the shirt is to iron a piece of non-cut freezer paper to the inside of the shirt as well.

4. Get the 'floating' pieces you saved and one-by-one lay them in their proper place on your design. Again, waxy side down, press your warm iron on them to affix.

*After all the work it took to cut out the bakfiet stencil, I decided to make use of all parts and do a 'negative' stencil on a shirt for another son. Here I ironed the wax paper bakfiets right onto a shirt and made a frame around it. (The blue and green here are just marker-colored wax paper, not the finished print on the shirt.)

5. Using fabric paint, found at a craft store, paint around/over your stencil. If possible, paint into the center of the design as opposed to out out towards the edges. This helps to stop paint bleeding under the wax paper stencil.

6. Let dry. Some crafters report that they've had success peeling the stencil off right away, but I've been more cautious, letting the paint dry for several hours (even overnight).

7. Peel away the stencil-- very satisfying-- and reveal the design below. I cover the design with a tea towel and iron again. My fabric paint says to wait 72 hours before washing the newly printed shirt and to wash and dry inside out.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Pedaling Toward 40

Ever since we had the twins, each year has seemed like a "big" year. By circumstance and our own natures, the past seven years have brought incredible changes, lots of chaos, tons of fun, little sleep, a bucket full of stress, (buckets full of dirty diapers), and some truly wild adventures. In these years, we moved from an apartment in New York City to a dorm in a rural Maine prep school to the first floor of a rambling Victorian house in New Haven. A third son joined the party. I finished a Master's degree, became an at-home parent, moved back into high school teaching after some middle school years, did another stint as a full-time mama, and now work in a progressive elementary school--where I juggle being an administrator and being a parent. I became an orphan when my father died, my mother having died while I was pregnant with C and S. P and I left the RC church of our childhoods and joined the Episcopal Church, in part due to its more open stance towards women in the clergy and openness to GLBT people. P left his job running a nonprofit to care fulltime for our boys, then stepped into teaching, became a fulltime graduate student and seminarian, struggled on the path of becoming an Episcopal priest, and will finish school in May, no longer on the ordination path. Whew.

In two months, I turn 40-- another big year, right? I am embracing this for all it's worth. I've decided not to dye my hair, at least not to cover the grey, perhaps at some point, though, to add some secretly-desired pink streaks. I am letting anyone who asks know my age. I was going to get fit and strong and lose all this extra weight I've been dragging around, but that looks like it won't happen before 40. But I am going to celebrate this birthday.

And here and now, I am publicly promising myself two gifts for my birthday: a passport and a bike. I don't have any specific plans to travel abroad, by the passport promise is sort of symbolic. Here I am-- the woman who studied in Spain for a year during university, backpacked through Europe, returned to Sevilla for a summer, worked on a farm in Scotland another summer, joined the Peace Corps at 27, served in the Philippines, hanging around SE Asia for a couple of years, took two extended trips to Thailand, honeymooned in Laos, spent her 30th birthday at a wedding on Sifnos in Greece-- who now has expired passport. P and I have always talked about traveling and/or living abroad with kids, even dreamed up a great documentary idea that would require time overseas. When he had the opportunity to spend three weeks in Ghana last summer, I was excited for him, even though it meant solo parenting for that time (ugh!). How can it be that I have an expired passport? I think it's completely indicative about becoming a mama and how one loses herself in that 'role,' that space, that identity. So I hereby declare that I will print out the paperwork, get those dreaded passport photos taken, write the check, and get myself a brand spankin' new passport that at some point, somewhere, will get stamped before it expires in another 10 years.

And now onto the bike. Purchasing the bakfiets and commuting by bike has revolutionized the way P and I think about transportation. We have prided ourselves on being a one-car family, made some thoughtful and specific choices so that we could remain a one-car family, but now with the bakfiets, we are finding that we can leave the car parked more and more. As we look toward the summer, we realize that our transportation needs will change. P will take over the bakfiets/boy commuting, bringing the fellas to camp by bike whenever possible (they are going to a farm camp on the other side of the city for three weeks that we are not sure if we can realistically get to/from by bike daily). I will continue working at my school-- the big change from teacher to administrator, not getting the summer off. Thinking ahead, I realized that I need a bike of my very own, not a family cargo bike, but one just for me and my solo summer commute. Having made a huge (but worth-every-penny) investment in the baks, I am a little skittish to spend huge amounts on this bike. I have dreamed a bit of the Oma, now that I am totally into the Dutch bike thing but feel guilty about the expense and haven't found an East Coast dealer (we shipped the bakfiets across the country--ahhh, the gas used for that, although I do love our dealer in Portland, OR). I have also thought of an Electra Townie, but have read some negative reviews (along with many positive ones). Another mama biker suggested perhaps a Gary Fisher Simple City Bike. So I put this out there to the couple of bike folks who have been reading-- What do you think? I want a bike that I can step through, sit upright, not worry about wearing work clothes on, is steady and durable for city riding, and will be just right for this nearly 40-year-old?


OK, I have to admit I am sort of getting obsessed with xtracycles as well and wonder if I should go that route. Yup, we have a great cargo bike but I wonder if I get an xtra it will serve us better in the long run than just a 'single' bike for me . A kid can sit on the snap deck, especially if you get a cool stoker bar and we really can continue to go out by bike as a family, grocery shop, etc. I could use it solo without an issue as well so commuting this summer to work would work, too. Am I just getting ridiculous?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Perspective, Perspective

The past few weeks (months) have been sort of dark for me, with the very bright exception of our new bakfiets and commitment to commuting by bike. The focus of my blogging during this time has been on our wonderful cargo bike and how great it feels to be out riding, and I have (mostly) avoided some of the heavier stuff.

I am not feeling the energy to write about the other stuff and there are some things that are just not cool to write about publicly on a blog. I look at these wonderfully talented crafty mama blogs and recognize how far away I am from them. I worry that all our life stressors have led me to disengage a bit with my boys lately, and that leaves me feeling even more stressed. Ahhh, the mama guilt is rough. Do daddas feel it as strongly?

Our apartment needs a major clean-out and clean-up. I have two pairs of shoes still boxed up, stacked in our bedroom, taunting me daily that desperately need to returning to Zappos. I have a very-much wanted sewing machine, gifted from my in-laws at Christmas, in its box sitting next to the ginormous pile of kids' art not hanging on the wall. I just feel like we are in survival mode. But we have seemed to be in survival mode for a reallllllllly long time. Is this just what life is like?

OH, poor me, huh? I am lucky to have these beautiful boys. I am fortunate to have my job. I am blessed with a great life partner. Perspective, perspective, right? Here are some flashes of moments, images that capture good stuff, things that I cannot allow to get lost in the mire of stress at work, illness, loss, and gloom.

Twin crazy front teeth! Both boys' front left teeth are quite loose and have been making a path closer and closer to their right front teeth. It's a race to see who will lose his first.

Our three amaryllis plants. Bought the bulbs from the same source. Planted them at the same time. Tried to give them equal sun and water but yet look how incredibly different they have grown. Yup, of course I see the metaphor in this one.

Dancing shirtless, homemade necklace adorned, in the living room.

Posing next to our Philippine rice god, bought as a wedding gift by our Peace Corps friend April, who is celebrating her 60th birthday. Happy birthday, April.

Big brother reading little brother a book before bed.

Spring! Yes, it is arriving. Three boys playing outside without coats. Finally.