26 December 2013

Le Fin

It's the end of the year and the end of 365 days on a bike (well, almost). Going through my photos of the past year brought back so many amazing memories: bike dates, bike parties, family rides, work rides, rides with family members, rides to events. An entire year of memories on a bike.

Winter melts into spring...

Spring warms into summer...

Summer cools into fall...

And fall returns to winter...

And with that, comes the end of Life's a Bear. Thanks for joining me for the past six years. I've met some lovely women and men through this blog. I will miss following them regularly, but I hope to keep in touch through other social media channels. Thanks for reading!

20 December 2013

The Final Benefit of Biking: Motivation

There are far more than 12 benefits of biking. And many of them are so closely related that it's hard to separate them (health and environment, economics and community, biking mom means biking family). The 12 that I posted are specific to me, but I have a feeling that many people experience these benefits as well.

A year ago, I decided that I was going to try to ride my bike (nearly) everyday. I created a hashtag for it (#everydayonabike) and wrote about it here. By doing so, I put the intention out in the world and felt accountable. (To whom? I'm not sure. Maybe just to myself.) It was just the kind of motivation I needed to take this type of a challenge on.

And let me be the first to tell you: It was sometimes (often) a challenge. Riding my bike means that I have to get up earlier and be more prepared. It means that I spend more time commuting than I would otherwise. It means that sometimes I would show up to a meeting sweating profusely or wiping snot from my nose thanks to a cold ride. Some days I just don't feel like riding. But more often than not, I rode anyway - even if it meant having a prolonged pep talk with myself.

Here's the thing: I never, ever regretted biking once I was on the bike. I never wished I had driven instead. I have to remember that sometimes - getting started is often the hardest part.

There were also days when I couldn't wait to get on the bike. When riding was such a joy that I couldn't stop myself from smiling.

One year is a long time to keep up with something. Although I have started giving myself a little more slack about not riding, I've kept at this whole everyday on a bike adventure. Mostly I'm proud of myself for not losing motivation.

The message here is, if I can do it, anyone can do it. I'm not a hard-core cyclist. I don't have all of the latest gear and gadgets. I'm not fast. That's your motivation: Don't let schedules or kids (take them along for the ride!) or fear get in your way of biking more. Sometimes the hardest part is starting.

Thanks for joining me in this adventure!

19 December 2013

The 12 Benefits of Biking: Interactions

I rarely smile at other drivers while in my car. Sure, if I know someone, I wave and smile. Otherwise, I'm ambivalent or cursing under my breath, depending on other drivers.

When I'm on my bike, I often get smiles and/or waves from other people sharing the road - other parents riding, people walking and sometimes people driving. Today, when I rode up to the chain grocery store to buy gift cards for the kids' teachers, a woman smiled and said hello to me. Had I driven and walked into the store, I doubt that we would have shared a look, much less a smile. I've had conversations about my bike, about my bike trailer, about my coat, about riding, about all sorts of random things with people because I ride my bike. And because I work from home and don't interact with many people throughout the day, I value being able to share a little with people. And if it's because I ride my bike, all the better.

I can't write about interactions without mentioning my social media interactions that have occurred because of #everydayonabike. I now follow many people who are just like me - not serious bikers, but like to commute. It's been great to "meet" people through Instagram and the blog who share a passion for biking.

The 12 Benefits of Biking: Apparel

Over the past year, my wardrobe has shifted. Not necessarily on purpose or quickly. It's been a slow transition. Certain clothes and shoes work better on the bike and since I don't have a chain guard, I have to be mindful about what I wear. The tenth benefit of riding a bike is the challenge of finding apparel that will work with the bike (and be somewhat stylish at the same time).

Pants // The biggest change has been my conversion to skinny jeans. They're great because they're cute, comfortable and never, ever get stuck in between links. My current favorite: Old Navy Rockstar jeans. They're inexpensive, fit pretty true to size and come in all sorts of colors. My only complaint is that they are a bit on the short side. But, if I wear boots, it's not an issue. And in the spring/summer, the ankle-length is perfect.

Shoes // I know some women who bike in heels. And more power to them. I'm no good at it. I'm also pretty bad at riding with shoes with slippery soles. Flats aren't my best friend, but when I ride to meetings, I usually have to suck it up. In August, I bought a pair of Frye Veronica boots specifically for winter riding. They are super durable and keep my feet warm if I'm wearing wool socks. I'm still looking for the perfect summer riding sandal. I'm also in the market for some basic black boots.

Seen here, ski parka, Po Campo bag and Frye Veronica boots. (There are some skinny jeans hiding there too). Not on a bike, but clearly this wardrobe has impacted my non-riding days too.
Outerwear // Riding in cool weather can be a challenge because I inevitably heat up while riding. Layers are always good. But so are scarves. I've found that scarves are just about as important while riding in the cold as are mittens. I'm a big fan of my Goodwill-purchased jean jacket in the spring and summer. If it's only mildly cold, I'll wear an old wool coat that I've had for years (great because it covers my butt - an important consideration when choosing outerwear, I've learned). If it's really cold (any temp under 25 or so), I wear my big ski parka. It usually ends up being too hot. I always have my Smartwool gloves handy and they usually do the trick. Unless it's really cold. Then I'll wear some great homemade felted mittens.

If I remember correctly, I rode in 15 degree weather on this day.
I pulled out the parka, the big mittens and a scarf for that ride!

Accessories // This year I finally invested in a bike rack. At some point, I'd love to get some panniers or a basket for it. But for now, I use it mostly for my Po Campo Trunk Bag. This is one of the coolest bike bags around. It's designed to strap onto a bike rack and has reflexive strips that face traffic. Brilliant. It's also pretty great for lugging gloves and hats and snacks for kids! I'm still wearing the helmet I bought in college. Not very pretty, but it does the trick. I asked for a new helmet for Christmas. Fingers crossed!

17 December 2013

The 12 Benefits of Biking: Bike Dates

Remember that Biking Mom Means Biking Kids? Big benefit. Huge. This post will focus on the ninth benefit of biking: Biking Wife Means Biking Husband. Well, sometimes. But always for bike dates.

Nate and I made a resolution to go on at least one date per month. And for the first eight or nine months of the year, we rode our bikes to all of our dates. We've slacked on dates in the final three months of the year, but I'd say our bike dates were pretty successful. We enjoyed dates at some of our favorite restaurants, like Potager and Parallel Seventeen and Tables and Solera. And we checked out new places, like Fruition. We rode nearly eight miles to enjoy a birthday dinner for a friend (our longest bike date). And we rode to fundraisers for our kids schools. It turns out that there are A LOT of really fantastic local restaurants within a 5-mile radius of our house.

Image source.

I rode to bike dates with girlfriends (mostly to places like Neighbors, the Elm, and once to the Populist) and we embarked on several family bike dates. Tomorrow night, a few girlfriends and I are going to take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to bike to a new place. Didn't I just write about community? I'm glad to have some friends who are willing to bike along with me!

Bike dates: I highly recommend them.

16 December 2013

The 12 Benefits of Biking: Community

There is a wonderful - or perhaps many wonderful - biking community(ies) in Denver. Road bikers, mountain bikers, commuters, cruisers. You name it, Denver has it. BikeDenver is a great local organization that encourages the bike communities that exist here. It also advocates for better bike infrastructure, educates people about safe riding and sharing the road.

I haven't joined any of these communities. Not because they aren't welcoming. But because I rarely have enough time to go on group rides. That's something I'd like to change in 2014. A new bike shop opened in my neighborhood last week, so I'll look to it for organizing local rides or joining in the Park Hill Cruisers at some point.

I have found a bit of a community via social media through #everydayonabike. There are regular posters from Portland, Omaha, Ames, Tennessee, Australia and other locations all over the world(ish). And I'm  now following many people who bike regularly on Instagram. It's so motivating to see how much people ride - without any fanfare. I will miss the #everydayonabike posts when 2013 is over. I hope people continue to use the tag.

Thank you to everyone who has joined me in this adventure!

15 December 2013

The 12 Benefits of Biking: Biking Mom Means Biking Kids

I'm going to combine benefits #6 and #7 because they are so closely related.

I may be forever known as the Biking Mom now. The kids and I bike just about anywhere we go (within reason, of course), particularly in the summer when we have relaxed schedules and nice weather. As a result, Benny has made some pretty significant round-trip treks. I think his longest ride to date was nearly 8 miles this summer - to go swimming no less.

Biking has become so predominant in our routine that a ride in the car is now a "treat." The kids have been trained to go to the back door when we're preparing to leave because that's where we retrieve the bikes. They typically don't complain about it any more either.

I've gotten better at being a biking mom. I know how to bundle Benny and Lila up appropriately and I have a 30-degree rule. If it's below 30, we don't ride. That means that we can't ride to school in the winter time, but we can ride home (thanks to the Burley trailer that has enough room for Benny's scooter). When it's hot outside, I'm smarter about bringing water and snacks and taking enough breaks. It's been a learning process, but we've nearly mastered it.

13 December 2013

The 12 Benefits of Biking: Marketing

I couldn't really come up with a good name for this benefit because it was such an unexpected benefit. Business promotion didn't seem right. Marketing is just about the best I could do.

Over the course of the year, I rode to many of the business meetings I scheduled. I'm lucky that almost all of my clients are located withing 6 or so miles of my home office. The unintended benefit of pedaling to those meetings was an automatic conversation starter. Often I would walk into a meeting with my helmet and people would exclaim, "You rode your bike!? That's so great." I was never looking for accolades, but a 5 minute conversation about biking in Denver would ensue. With new clients, this was a great way to break the ice. And, I believe, in a small way, it sets me apart from other consultants. I probably didn't gain any extra work by riding my bike, but people tend to remember things like that.

So, when it comes to marketing Struckman Consulting, now I just rely on the conversational benefits of riding my bike. At some point, I'll update my business website to include information about biking and its relationship to the way I work and how I see the world.

12 December 2013

The 12 Benefits of Biking: Geographic

I've never been great at reading maps. I can do it, but sometimes it takes me awhile to figure things out. Google maps on my iPhone is just about the best invention in the world.

But typically, I only need that app for driving directions now. The city of Denver has done a pretty outstanding job of creating a vast network of bike lanes and routes that allow me to crisscross the city with relative ease. I know where all of the major bike lanes are now and can get most places without a map. I know where to ride and what to avoid. But, the Google maps ability to show bike routes in green is pretty spectacular too - for the times when I'm riding somewhere that's new to me.

This map only show the dedicated paved bike paths in Denver. They link up with a
vast network of bike lanes and routes that allow for biking all over the city.

What's more: It's good for kids to walk/ride to school and around the neighborhood too. It gives them an opportunity to figure out where they're going - something that's not possible when they're riding in the back seat of a car. Studies also show that kids learn better after some physical activity. These seemingly simple mind stretches are another great benefit of taking the bike!

Annndddd, what's more: I've ventured into neighborhoods within my 3-5 mile proximity that I'd never, ever considered biking to before. I love experiencing a new location by bike. Everything is highlighted.

11 December 2013

The 12 Benefits of Biking: Environmental

Here we are, numero tres of the 12 Benefits of Biking. It's the last "obvious" benefit that I'll cover. Health, check - definite benefits, economics - check - I saved at least $540 this year by choosing the bike over the car. While most of these benefits also benefit society in some way, I benefited from them directly as well.

The environment is a little different. Yes, I certainly benefit from cleaner air and fewer cars on the road, but I don't see it everyday.

As the folks from Bike to Work Day say, bikes use no fuel, they require much less energy to build and they don't use toxic batteries or motor oil. "Each car is a small pollution factory." Well, ain't that the truth. And I drive an SUV (please don't judge - there's a long story behind that choice). By not driving it, I'm helping the environment even more.

To think about the environment is to be a bit forward thinking. I'm not talking about progressive or even liberal. It's just considering what you do today could impact people in 5, 10, 20 years and beyond. So our choices matter, even if they don't impact us directly or in the moment. Although riding my bike is a small piece of making less of an impact, it's an important one.

The 12 Benefits of Biking: Economics

In the movement to get more people on bikes, experts often note the amount of money a person can save by choosing a bike over a car. And while there are probably many economic benefits that aren't calculated (good health, for example), riding a bike most certainly equals saving money in many circumstances.

In my case, I probably rode between 1,200 and 2,400 miles over the course of the year. Not a record breaking number in any way, but nothing to sneeze at either. But let's assume that I only rode 1,200 (about 100 per month) and let's assume that I would spend about 45 cents per gallon on gas. It stands to reason that I saved $540 in gas money alone. And that doesn't include parking fees, oil changes and other driving-related expenses that I would have otherwise incurred.

Although I've always been a fan of walkable communities and tend to stick pretty close to home when it comes to grocery shopping, dining out, etc. (I call it the 3-5 mile bubble), riding my bike has made me more inclined to shop at small, local businesses - because that's what's in my bubble. This year, instead of driving to the chain grocery store for last-minute dinner ingredients, I was more likely to ride my bike to the local mom and pop grocery store in my neighborhood. It's a bit more expensive than a larger grocery store, but I know that the money I spend there will stay in the neighborhood. Nate and I also went on numerous bike dates around the area (pretty much in a 3-5 mile radius). All of these restaurants are locally owned. So while I didn't actually save money, I spent money knowing that it would benefit my community. Lucky for me, bike lanes typically run along smaller, less car-traveled roads. And that's where small businesses tend to be located. I see a nice marriage here.

At a more macro level, I joined the growing number of people riding their bikes to and from work. With our growing numbers, cities are adding infrastructure to support vibrant bike scenes. That means that less cars are on the roads. It is much cheaper to add biking infrastructure than it is to add lanes of streets and highways to accommodate more cars on the road. That kind of economics helps the greater good, but eventually maybe it will become a benefit to me by way of lower taxes.

There were so many amazing infographics about the benefits of biking from all around the country and world. It is encouraging to see so many cities embrace biking culture - including Atlanta!

09 December 2013

The 12 Benefits of Biking: Health

I'm not riding this week. The icy roads and below 20 degree temps aren't too welcoming. So I've had some time to reflect on this whole bike-for-a-year experiment. Over the past 365 days, I've noted some expected and unexpected benefits of biking. As the year of #everydayonabike comes to an end, I'd like to share some of them with you.

I'll start with one of the most obvious benefits: Health. Spending an hour and a half on the bike in a day sure is a lot better for me than driving for 30 minutes. The health benefits of exercise were pretty great. My legs became muscular in places where I haven't had muscle in a long time. But there are a few other health benefits that aren't included in the calorie burning arena - one of which being mental health. Fresh air and pumping blood do wonders to clear my cluttered mind. That's not to mention the extra vitamin D that I was exposed to while riding.

I recently read this article and found myself nodding at all of the health benefits listed.

03 December 2013

All You Need Is Love

I love holiday card time. I love receiving real mail with good tidings from friends near and far. I love seeing family photos that track the yearly march onward and reading about accomplishments and other goings on. Holiday cards weren't really my thing until I had kids. But now they are. I guess that's what maturity and motherhood will do.

Although it's hard to believe that the year is nearly complete, here we are. What a lovely year it was. Here are some highlights:

Lila turned three in September. She is most certainly no longer a baby. She rid herself diapers (during the day anyway) and transitioned to a big girl bed. She is a little person through and through and has the most wonderful of personalities - feisty and loving and stubborn and happy. She also moved into the intermediate room at daycare - where almost all of the kids are older than her. But she loves it all the same. This year, at Thanksgiving, she said she was thankful for flip flops. It's appropriate because she loves flip flops more than just about anything. Except maybe her brother. She really loves him.

Speaking of Benny (how's that for a transition?), he's doing pretty swell too. Although he would never admit it when his friends are around, he loves his sister. They enjoy playing with each other. While fights happen, they are few and far between. He's in first grade (first grade?!?) at our local neighborhood school. He likes his teacher and seems to make more friends every passing week, which makes sense because he's a friendly and fun-loving kind of guy. This semester he's taking after school art and Spanish classes in addition to swim classes. In January, he'll start ski school. Oh, and he's reading pretty well, which makes his bibliophile mama pretty happy.

Nate and I continue to be in awe of these two little creatures - although there are the rare exceptions of evenings when we need a stiff drink after the monsters go to bed. They are ours and they are amazing.

Nate celebrated one year at his new job this summer. It's challenging and busy, but he (mostly) likes it. He occasionally plays in a local band and is serving as the president of the board at Lila's preschool. Never a dull moment.

I've been keeping busy too. Struckman Consulting is thriving now. I'll (hopefully) provide an update for that in a future post. I won't be teaching at the University of Denver this year, which is disappointing, but it's just as well. I've signed three new clients in the past three months. I'd be hard-pressed to find time to plan and teach a class any time in the near future. I've been riding my bike (nearly) everyday for the past year. It's been a great experiment/adventure and I don't see myself changing any new habits.

It's strange to reflect on an entire year in a few short paragraphs, but it's a good reminder that time does indeed march on. I'm very excited to see what 2014 has in store!

29 November 2013

Neglected November

As many bloggers before me, I am struggling with this space and what to do with it. Mostly I'm struggling with time and motivation. I've been blogging going on six years now. Now that the kids are getting older, I'm not sure an online format is the best choice to record events and developments in their lives. I'd rather not embarrass them (too much) in the future. I'll make a decision on what to do in the next month or so.

We have had a wonderful November, albeit it neglected here. We're spending our last night in western Colorado. It's our third Thanksgiving here and we love the new traditions.

30 October 2013

Stretch and Rub

I've been a runner for a significant portion of my adult life. I ran my first half-marathon shortly after I graduated from college. Since then, I've completed six more half-marathons and one full marathon. I find that having a goal keeps me motivated and running more than I would otherwise. While I've had running-related injuries before (a stress fracture in my foot after the full marathon), my body has held up considerably well.

That is until about three years ago when I went skiing and fell on my hip. Hard. My hip and knee haven't been the same since. I didn't realize that having an impact injury could mess up my alignment and create all sorts of problems. Since then, I've been running in pain. Three years is a long time to be stubborn and hope that the pain will just go away.

So, when I considered running a half-marathon this year, I decided to stop running through the pain. One of my neighbors is a therapeutic masseuse and runs her practice from her home. She and I talked at a party and she mentioned that my pain was probably a result of my alignment being off. The first time I visited her, she was amazed at how off my hips actually were. I've been back three times now. And each time, I feel my alignment getting better.

And when a mom friend started teaching yoga at the local yoga studio, I figured it couldn't hurt. So I signed up (and got a teacher discount!) for the bulk package of 10 classes. I've been going for five weeks now.

I'm too cheap to buy a race photo, so I lifted the proof :).
I was a little nervous to run the Denver Rock and Roll Half Marathon. I typically try to run a couple of double-digit runs before a half marathon, but I only managed one 10-mile run. But, with all of the stretching and rubbing, I ran a decent time (2 hours, 1 minute) and felt better and stronger while running than I have for years. I also had a good running partner, so that helped too! When I was younger, I could go out for long runs, forget to stretch and it never meant much. Running now means I have to manage a bit more in terms of recovery, but the strength and flexibility that result as a by-product aren't too shabby.

28 October 2013

Lila Turns Three (Photo Edition)

I'm only a month late in posting these. What? That's not bad, right? Also, expect to see Super Girl make an appearance again later this week.

Ketchup: Vacation, Corn Maze, #everydayonabike

// Vacation //
Nate and I took a quick parents-only vacation to southern California in early October. We didn't rent a car. We had to plan accordingly, so we stayed at a bed and breakfast near Marina Del Rey. They had bikes to borrow and it was five blocks away from a bike path running along miles and miles of beach. We had a spectacular time and enjoyed not having a schedule.
// Pumpkin Patch and Corn Maze //
We carved out an afternoon to spend at a pumpkin patch and corn maze. The last time we visited the corn maze, Lila was barely a year old. Visiting a corn maze with two fully ambulatory children is much more pleasant! And Benny loved finding his way through the maze.
// #everydayonabike //
I'm gathering and organizing lessons and thoughts about spending so much time on my bike this year. I've made it nearly 11 months - and I'm still going strong. Granted, I have yet to ride everyday in a month, but I probably average 26 or 27 days per month throughout the year. I'm looking forward to sharing the things I've learned in December. But right now, I'm enjoying the rides in cooler weather with gorgeous views. It's becoming too cold to ride to school in the morning. So, we've been walking instead. We can all bundle up with hats, gloves and heavy coats. Loving the flexibility foot-powered transportation gives us!
And now I believe I'm relatively caught up. Happy Fall!

26 October 2013

Goings On (with a Side of Home Security)

At Lila's hair appointment today, someone mentioned that Christmas is eight weeks away. That means that New Years is nine weeks away. That means that 2014 is right around the corner. I'm still having a hard time writing 2013 down. And I haven't even started thinking about Christmas plans, presents, etc.

But, I'm trying to live in the present. Denver is experiencing one of the best Fall seasons in years. We've had nearly a full month of nice weather, trees turning and general Fall happiness. We've carved out time for the corn maze and purchasing pumpkins. I'm baking so much now that I'm going through a huge package of flour every week or two. I also ran the Denver half marathon last week. The family is experiencing a good buzz of activity without feeling particularly overwhelmed.

We've been forced to address some home security issues as well. This week, burglar(s) broke into our home and swiped a few things. The things were petty and not worth much - a bright side of not having lots of nice stuff. They mostly took electronics, but also stole some sentimental jewelry. More than anything, it's creepy and unnerving to know that a stranger has been in my house, rooting around in my things. What's even creepier is that they pried open a locked window. Easy as that.

So, we're taking more precautions with things. Locking gates, keeping lights on. We're exploring a security system. I hate that it comes to that, but it would suck to have this happen again.

But, in the midst of feeling unnerved and annoyed, I also have felt the warmth and support from my friends and community. People checking in to make sure that we're OK and asking if we need to borrow toys or electronics. It's reminded me that there's always a bright side. Always. And I could never feel too down in 60 degree weather and gorgeous Fall views.

21 October 2013

Book Review: MaddAddam

I've been waiting for this book since before Lila was born. It's the third in a trilogy by Margaret Atwood. Sadly, I don't remember the first two books since I read them both in the latter stages of pregnancy and everything at that time is a blur. I do remember devouring the first, Oryx and Crake, and the second, The Year of the Flood.

I was at a bit of a disadvantage with the third because I didn't remember a lot of the details of the first two books - or it took awhile to recall them and put the pieces together. The book was good, but a bit disappointing in tying up the loose ends of the story. It seemed to jump into story lines too quickly and didn't do a very good job of resolving the story of Adam One, the same Adam One that created the Mad Adam game, the title of the book. I don't say these things lightly either, because Atwood is one of my favorite authors. It seems like she was in a hurry to finish the series and be done with it.

Also, not to give any spoilers, but the book ends in such a sad (and at the same time optimistic) way. Although the ending Atwood chose doesn't surprise me, it was hard to digest - especially after investing so much in the characters over three books. While I didn't love the final book, I did love the series.

18 October 2013

Urban Homesteading LITE: Family and Consumer Sciences

I read this article recently on Jezebel. It discusses my generation's inability to anything for ourselves - that has led to a significant dependence on the service industry. While it discusses this issue in relation to one of the author's previous boyfriends, I know many men and women who could probably learn a few things from what was formerly known as Home Economics.

I was required to take Home Ec in 8th grade and while I had to bake some cakes and sew some buttons in the class, I'm not sure I learned a whole lot that I wasn't already learning at home. My parents required me (and my siblings) to do our own laundry, cook meals for the family, sew (this was probably the only gender-specific item on the list that my sister and I learned how to do), mow the lawn, check our own oil, etc. It was sort of a necessity with five kids. My mom certainly couldn't have done all of that stuff while working part-time.

But, I see the point of the article. While I had Home Ec and a mom who taught me life skills, I've had to do a lot of learning on my own as an adult. But, as I've learned from many other experiences, once you start doing something regularly, you realize how disturbingly easy it is to do. I often wonder why I haven't pickled or baked or gardened or biked my entire adult life. Most of the time, it was just a matter of starting something and practicing to become better.

The article was a nice reminder about the importance of passing these skills onto my own kids. Often I get caught up with the hurried harried pace of life and I tend to do a lot of stuff that my kids could otherwise do. Sometimes I need to take a breath and walk them through baking or cleaning or even knitting. And I realize the need to have Nate partner up and model this behavior to the kids. Since I work part-time and he often works well over full-time, I take over many of these tasks. And it worries me that gender will become an excuse for not teaching Ben how to sew or not teaching Lila how to mow the lawn.

First world problems, for sure. But maybe, just maybe, if a critical mass of parents reverts back to teaching real-life skills and responsibility, we'll have a better society for the effort.

15 October 2013

Do It Yourselfies (Ninjas and Chocolate Cake)

Gah! Halloween is just about two weeks away. How did that happen?!?

I'm going through the yearly struggle to overcome my un-craftiness to become crafty for one month. I committed to making the kids' costumes from scratch when Benny was four and when we were out of hand-me-down costumes. This year, he wants to be a black ninja. I need to find some black pants, a long black shirt, a red sash and some sort of head dress. Not to mention some homemade throwing stars. Pretty easy. Especially considering that Benny started out wanting to be a Lego man. Cool, but damn hard to make.

Lila, on the other hand can be a dinosaur or a super girl. She's not sure which one yet. Luckily, we have both of those costume on hand. Easy breasy.

Expect a Halloween report out by Christmas (and maybe sooner, if you're lucky).

Also, I feel like I would be a total jerk if I didn't share this chocolate cake recipe with you all. Holy hot damn. This is the most amazing moist chocolate cake I've ever made. Ever. I've made it twice in three weeks. We never have dessert so the kids are totally digging my obsession.

I've been off the bike for a few days thanks to a vacation (although I managed to ride in Los Angeles a bit) and my bike has been in the shop. I have enjoyed the break because it's forced me to walk places. And I do like to walk - I just don't do it as much any more. Feels good.

08 October 2013

Book Review: Under the Banner of Heaven

I've started taking advantage of reserving books at the library. I can't believe it's taken me six years to finally stop buying books and start utilizing the library. I know all about the e-readers and how great they are, but I can't make the shift from books. I love the feeling of pages on my fingers. I love consuming pages and visibly seeing the number of pages get smaller and smaller.

I've been meaning to read Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer for several years (since 2002, to be exact). I loved his other book, Into Thin Air, and I'm a sucker for a book about religion.

Krakauer tells the story of the rise of Mormonism and fundamentalist Mormonism through the story of the Lafferty brothers. The brothers murdered their sister-in-law and niece in cold blood because they claimed God told them to. Krakauer doesn't openly judge the fundamentalist string of this religion, but the details he includes make it clear that he doesn't agree with polygamy and other fundamentalist aspects of Mormonism. There is no gender analysis or analysis in general. But the book is quite alarming in terms of how men treat women who follow this fundamentalist sect.

It's a good book and an interesting read.

01 October 2013

Lila Turns Three!

Happy birthday Lila! Luckily you're only three and won't remember that your daddy and I completely forgot it was your birthday on Friday morning. In our defense, we celebrated on Saturday with your grandparents and your friends, so we didn't technically forget it.

Lila was so excited for her birthday party. She talked about it for a week. And on Saturday morning she declared that she was ready for her party. I told her that she had to take a nap first. So she marched into her room and went to bed. At 11:30. She wasn't going to let a nap stand between her and her party!

Like Benny, Lila has made some really great friends with really great families. And now she's old enough to play with them. She had a great time at her birthday party. Her favorite part? The alligator cake that her Nana made for her. It was pretty great.

Lila is going through some growing pains. We just finished with a phase that involved A LOT of meltdowns. Luckily, she snapped out of that phase pretty quickly, but there are still moments of extreme distress over a white shirt, opening a cheese stick wrong, riding in the bike trailer. You name it and she's probably been pissed about it in the past two weeks. I know these phases come and go. They can be trying. But I'm excited to have my cuddly, lovey little girl back full time!

At three, Lila is potty trained, sleeping in a big girl bed, knows about 3/4 of the alphabet, knows how to spell her name, is drawing circles, can ride her balance bike (really well!), can get dressed/undressed below her waist (shirts are tricky), has lots of friends, loves cooking, reading, babies, trucks and anything her big brother is doing.

I'll post pictures soon. I recently bought a new computer and I'm still learning how to use it! I feel old :).

26 September 2013


Experiencing childhood as a parent can be so many things - awe inspiring, frustrating, peaceful, chaotic. It hasn't been until Benny started school that I've recognized some things as timeless. Sure, we all go through the baby and toddler phases of talking and walking. But no one remember doing that. We hear those stories from our parents.

But Benny is at an age now that I can remember. I can remember doing the things he's doing. I can remember my first grade classroom and my teacher and my friends. I can remember writing and playing and all things kid. I can remember losing my teeth and finding a quarter in the tooth fairy pillow. I can remember making my first friends at school - outside of cousins and friends I already knew.

Benny lost his first tooth last week. It had been loose for a few weeks. Benny ate a sandwich and after lunch discovered his tooth was gone. He was a little disappointed that he probably swallowed the tooth with the sandwich. But we addressed the tooth-fairy issue by having him write the tooth fairy a short note.

Benny has made lots of school friends. He's lucky that a handful of his friends from daycare also go to his elementary school. This has made transitioning much easier on everyone. But last year, Benny made a friend  in kindergarten who he didn't know before. It turns out that he lives less than two blocks away from us. The two of them are so fun to watch. They truly seem to click. I had wonderful, supportive friends in elementary school, junior high and high school. I love watching my kids make friends that could be lifetime friends.

23 September 2013

Book Review: Orange Is the New Black

I didn't know anything about Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison before July of this year. I happened upon the now-popular television series on Netflix when Nate and the kids were away for the weekend. I watched one episode and didn't stop. I finished the entire series in less than five days. Not my proudest moment, but the characters in the film are just so compelling.

When I found out that the series was based on a memoir, I knew I had to read it. I loved the series and liked the book - for very different reasons. If I had read the book before watching the movie, I would probably think differently about it.

I really loved the characters in the series, so I mostly read the book trying to figure out who was who. I did love the advocacy focus of the book. Kerman is very clear about how ridiculous the criminal justice system is - particularly because there isn't much focus on rehabilitation.

I would recommend the book - but definitely try to read it before watching the series. And if you haven't already watched the series, watch it now!

10 September 2013

Urban Homesteading LITE: Pickles

I'm not a real urban homesteader. I can only fake it up to a certain point. I will (likely) never raise chickens. I will never own a goat. I don't sew or make soap. But, I'm doing what I can to use what I have with as little waste as possible. Maybe I'm more of a modern-depression-era gal than an urban homesteader. No matter, it often shocks me to learn how easy it is to make things from scratch. I bake nearly everything from scratch. I'm starting to cook nearly everything from scratch as well - with the exception of bread, pasta and cheese - all of which are apparently easy to make as well. Periodically, I'm going to share the little nuggets of knowledge I've gained over the past few years.

I've been meaning to make pickles for the past few years. I assumed it would be hard - canning and all. I heard about refrigerator pickles, but never really looked into them. Until this year when The Real Dill posted a tutorial on quick pickling. Did you know that you can pickle in about five minutes?!? It's true.

What you need:
  • Large or small jars (I used old applesauce and tomato sauce jars)
  • Cucumbers, onions, garlic, carrots, etc., etc., etc.
  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • 1 1/2 cup vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. herbs (I used chili peppers)
What you do:
  • Cut the vegetables if you want them to pickle faster. The bigger the veggies, the longer it takes to pickle them.
  • Stuff the veggies in the jars as tightly as possible.
  • Boil the water, vinegar and herbs.
  • Pour the liquid over the veggies, seal and put in the fridge.

We're on our third batch of pickles now. They are phenomenal. They will keep in the fridge for weeks, but they're delicious a few days after pickling.

03 September 2013

Fall Starts Now

Well, not now. Not technically. But when school starts back up I always expect that the weather will quickly follow the fall trends - with cooler temps. This year, though, we're experiencing some of our warmest weather of the summer. I know that I'll be complaining about colder weather soon enough, so I'm trying to enjoy the sweaty rides.

I'm working on a very cool giveaway for the fall months. Now that I'm not teaching, I'll have a little more time to devote to all things riding. Let's do it!

#everydayonabike in August

It happened again... I wasn't able to ride every single day this month. Travel and schedules prevented that from happening. And the one day when the temperature hovered at 95 degrees and I had a meeting 8.5 miles away. I decided to drive that day. However, it's been a good, solid month of riding - even with a short-lived but excruciating back injury at the end of the month.

School started a week ago. This year, I'm hoping to ride to school everyday since I can drop Lila off before I can drop Benny off. Last year, she was at a daycare that was just far enough away that it made the logistics of riding a bike to drop off pretty unlikely on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Since both kids are a bit older and more used to the elements now, I'm hoping to outfit them appropriately throughout the school year and avoid driving as much as possible.

Other items of note this month: Benny got a new, bigger bike for his birthday. He's built up some good stamina over the summer months and now that he has bigger tires, I have to keep up with him instead of the other way around. That has made our trips to school pretty pleasant.

We are now up to 452 pictures on #everydayonabike. The photos on Instagram are slowing a bit - mostly because I'm forgetting to take a picture for every bike ride. But that doesn't mean I'm not riding. Here are the stats for the month:

31 photos // 19 photos posted by me // 12 posted by others

We're moving into fall, so some of the best riding weather is waiting!

29 August 2013

Thanks MTV

I'm not sure I've uttered those words since I was in junior high watching Vanilla Ice perform on MTV. We didn't have cable at my house, so I'm pretty sure I was watching the performance in a hotel room while on vacation with my family. Back then, MTV was so cool.

I have to admit that I haven't thought much about MTV until recently. In fact, before I started teaching Introduction to Media & Culture this summer, I figured MTV was defunct - a victim of its own demise as well as the demise of the recording industry.

Turns out that MTV is still quite alive. And I want to thank MTV for hosting the Video Music Awards. I want to thank MTV for allowing Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke to perform their mash up of "We Can't Stop"/"Blurred Lines." Thank you, MTV, for opening up a debate/discussion about race and gender in this country in a way that even the media coverage of the George Zimmerman case didn't, and perhaps couldn't, address (sadly). MTV didn't mean for this to happen, of course. But in the wake of the coverage, there has been appropriate (and inappropriate) backlash to the performance - all addressing how we see race and gender in this country - and how the media, both consciously and unconsciously, promote very offensive and troubling pictures of both.

I've heard Thicke's "Blurred Lines" a total of once this summer. I didn't really stop to listen to the lyrics, but it turns out that they're disgusting and hugely inappropriate. I love that people (men included) are talking about what this means for domestic violence and sexual assault.

When I first watched the performance I was shocked, confused and mostly sick of seeing Miley's tongue. But the more I read about it, the more shocked and confused me. Ninjakate wrote an outstanding piece about the objectification of black women in the performance - something that didn't even occur to me when I watched the clip.

On Monday, the news and social media were abuzz - mostly condemning Miley for her actions. It became front page, top of the hour news. Some people argued that we should just ignore it. But others, like those above, started deconstructing the powerful images that appeared. The Onion published a great piece criticizing the media about their coverage of the performance. While I agree that Miley wasn't necessarily news, I do think the reaction to her is news - of the good sort - news that makes us question our reality - as presented by the media and by society in general.

So, thanks MTV, for NOT questioning this performance and airing it so that we all had the opportunity to question it on a deeper, more productive level. MTV has helped me think more about how to talk to my kids about sexuality, gender and race - and what is real versus what we see in the media. Certainly, this is not going to change the way we think about race and gender in this country, but open and honest dialogue is always a first step to create meaningful change.

Le Jardin d'Ete

Although I haven't posted anything about the garden this year, it's there. It's definitely there - albeit fairly forgotten. Nate's generally the sower and tender and I'm more of the harvester. With the deck and travel this summer, the garden has been an afterthought. So, the bounty hasn't been as prolific as in years past, but we've still be enjoying fresh veggies.

Tomatoes continue to mystify us. We haven't had a surplus of tomatoes, well, ever. This year, only two of the four tomato plants survived. We've grown them in various raised beds and tried to grow a variety of different kinds of plants. We do have a delicious cherry tomato plant and enough tomatoes on another plant for salads.

The greens are completely the opposite of the tomatoes. Green leaf lettuce, red leaf lettuce, arugula, kale. Although most of the lettuce is finished by now (too hot), the kale keeps us flush with green stuff. I've been obsessed with a certain kale salad all summer, but the kale has also been great steamed on top of pulled pork sandwiches.

Kale and Farro Salad

4 cups kale, ripped into bite-sized pieces
1 cup farro
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

1 tbsp. honey
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 tsp. chili peppers
1 tbsp. lemon juice

Cook farro, per instructions on package. Chill the farro and combine with kale, raisins and Parmesan cheese. Mix the dressing ingredients (honey, olive oil, onion, chili peppers, lemon juice) and let sit for at least an hour. Combine all of the ingredients and serve. Delicious!

The most impressive veggie out of the garden so far: Beets. Beautiful red juicy beats. We haven't had much of an opportunity to roast them, but we have been juicing them like crazy. Combined with apples, carrots, lemon juice and ginger, the juice is downright delightful.

While summer is quickly winding down, we're still enjoying the bounty of the garden. And we probably only have about five to six weeks until the first frost, so we better get on it!

26 August 2013

First Grade

We started first grade with considerably less fanfare than kindergarten. It's not surprising, I guess. Benny's a pro at this - and I'm not an emotional train wreck. All good things. This year is so much different - we know the school and Benny knows most of his classmates - either through daycare, kindergarten or the play he was part of last year.

There were still nerves, but they weren't the kinds of jitters I remember having. In the weeks leading up to school, Benny would say his stomach hurt. We ruled out hunger, sickness and even gas pains. I think it was probably some anxiety about starting school, but he couldn't necessarily verbalize those thoughts. But when it came time to line up outside, he was more than ready to bid me adieu. I insisted on going inside (like the majority of the parents there) so I could meet his teacher and see his classroom. After a brief stay and an awkward hug with his sister, he was ready to be rid of us.

Benny's best friend from last year is in a different classroom this year. He's excited that they'll see each other on the playground and at afterschool care. We met up with some other first graders to ride our bikes this morning. I can't believe how big the boys look here.

I am changing things up a bit this year to (hopefully) ease the getting ready rush:

  • Have Benny pack his lunch the night before. I'm hoping that by giving him some responsibility with this task will mean that he will actually eat lunch.
  • Pick out everyone's clothes the night before. Even my own. I'm surprised by how long this takes me every single morning.
  • Wake up earlier. Like 30 minutes earlier. Getting the kids ready and myself ready in 45 minutes is not enough time.
  • Wake the kids up earlier. Ditto to the previous bullet. 
  • Put up a chore chart with the things Benny needs to complete before leaving the house - including getting dressed, putting shoes on, eating breakfast, making the bed and brushing teeth. 
Here's to a new school year and new responsibilities!

21 August 2013

Growing Up

Life doesn't seem quite fair when I'm hell bent on NOT growing up and my kids are growing up without any sort of second thought. They just do it. Everyday.

Benny starts first grade in less than a week. Somehow first grade doesn't seem as weird as kindergarten - probably because we're pros at school at this point. Been there. Done that. What really gets me is that he's reading everything. Signs. Books. Labels. Nate and I can no longer spell things out because he now knows what we're talking about. We've reverted to pig Latin. So far, he hasn't figured out that secret language, which doesn't really matter because I often can't understand it either.

We've been calling Lila a big girl ever since she ditched the diapers nearly six months ago. I'm completely willing to forget that connection to babyhood - the diapers, the wiping of butts. She moves up to the next classroom, intermediates, in two weeks. The room where every kid is potty trained and can now go on field trips. FIELD TRIPS! I've been putting off the big girl bed for months now. Nate was ready to remove the railings from the crib long ago, but I convinced him otherwise. "Why would we allow her to get in and OUT of bed on her own," I would say. And he agreed - eventually. Until she decided that she could climb out herself. On Sunday, I was suddenly forced to come to terms with the fact that Lila is no longer a baby. Not even close. She isn't even a toddler. She is a pre-schooler. And, damn if I don't want her to stop growing right now.

But we keep moving on. Benny moved up from a 16-inch bike to a 20-inch bike this summer. And he is ROCKING it. He is incessantly inquisitive and growing smarter everyday. He still can't tie his shoes and now I'm holding onto that little relic of toddlerhood with the hopes that he'll still have to ask for my help in high school - for something.

Lila pretty much just copies whatever her brother is doing, so I fear that she will develop skills faster - just to keep up. She's already a pro at the balance bike and at setting the table. She goes to the bathroom all by herself. All she has to master now - to become a full-fledged self-sufficient kid - is to be able to put her shirt on and take it off. That's it. And then what? Reading and writing for her? Bike riding? No more needing Mom?

Shuddering over here. Can't we just slow this whole process down a bit? Enjoy these little bits of dependence and independence. Savor them. Nope. All I can hope for is to be able to recall the awesome memories of my kids and consider myself lucky to be here to witness their amazing growth.

20 August 2013


The deck is (almost) done. It's totally functional and very pretty. There are a few minor details to finish up, but I'm calling it a victory. We've come a long way since we bought the house in 2008.

Originally, the house sported a patio covered with a large metal awning, popular in the 70s. Houses all over the neighborhood are decked out with these lovely metal vines. When Nate and I first saw the house, we saw the potential for a deck. We put off building a deck because it didn't seem like a "need."

Personally, I think the house looked better without the awning and I could have gone a summer just enjoying the empty space. Alas, those stairs were a death trap for kids and they made it difficult to enter and exit the house - even for adults.

We naively thought the deck would be finished in one, maybe two, weekends. Alas, it has been a full summer project. But TOTALLY worth it:

As you can see, we need to finish up the pergola and the stairs need some skirting. This week, I will be purchasing a new/used patio set via Craigslist and we'll string some lights. Just in time for the end of summer days!

14 August 2013

Book Review: The 42nd Parallel

The ladies in the book club decided to try something different for our meeting in September. We typically read popular contemporary books. This month we went for a classic in The 42nd Parallel by John Dos Passos.

I liked the book. I really did. But I think this is the kind of book that I need to read without distractions - so maybe summertime isn't the most ideal time to read it. Or while teaching a four-week summer course. I think I missed out on some very important details.

Regardless, Dos Passos follows five people to New York City (all arriving there for different reasons) just before the U.S. enters World War I. All of the characters start out working class. Some earn fortunes, others do not.

What I found most interesting about the book were the female characters, particularly because this book was published in 1930. The women were both single and professional, which is such an odd position to be in during that time.

Sadly, I don't remember much about the book (distractions!), so I'll have to read the Cliff's Notes before book club in a few weeks.

12 August 2013

Brule Day 2013

Brule Day has always represented the nearing end of summer for me. I grew up on a farm outside of in Brule, Nebraska, population 411. Brule Day is always on the first Saturday in August. It's one day to celebrate community - with a breakfast, parade, lunch, kids' games and a beer garden and dance. When I was younger, we'd participate in the parade and the kids' games, go home and work on the farm, and return to Brule for the street dance (held in the fire station a block from my grandparents' house). I didn't return to Brule Day for years - until I had kids of my own.

Now, Brule Day boasts a 5K in the morning in addition to the other activities. Many Bruligans (a nickname given to people from Brule by my sister-in-law's sister) participate along with many former Bruligans. Now, most of the kids who gather candy at the parade are out-of-towners - children of children who grew up in Brule.

Benny and I have traveled home for every Brule since he was one. Nate accompanies us if it works out. And now Lila does too. I've run in almost every 5K with my oldest and dearest friend since returning (only missing one year when I was pregnant with Lila). The kids enjoy the parade, lunch and penny toss before we head back to my parents' house for naps. Some day, I hope they can participate in the kids' games.

It's fun to give the kids a taste of small-town life. And it's great to reconnect with friends from high school and their families once a year.

06 August 2013

Soundtrack of Summer

When I hear Dido, I think about the summer I spent in Montana. I fell in love with the mountains that summer and had a serious crush on a guy from Kansas. While the guy from Kansas is long gone, my love for the mountains remains. Dido's music always reminds me of that great summer - it was sort of my coming of age summer. 

Other music reminds me of other seasons of life - typically of summer. I'm not sure if it's because the longer days spent outdoor begs for a background soundtrack or if it's because those technicolor days are just easier to hold on to and savor. The summer Nate and I started dating, I introduced him to Wilco's album "Summerteeth." The summer before Benny was born, Nate and I fell in love with Devotchka. When Lila was a newborn, we had to dance with her to get her to go to sleep. She loved the beat of Toots and Maytals. Two years ago, the summer belonged to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes - and specifically "Home." Although we were also keen on "Rolling in the Deep" by Adele and anything by Florence + the Machine. 

This summer, our evenings have been filled with dance parties to the White Stripes and Daft Punk. Benny and Lila both request "Seven Nation Army" and rock out on their drums and guitars.

Benny loves the entire Daft Punk album. You should see his robot dance moves. Pretty sick (his description). And while "Get Lucky" isn't the most appropriate kids' song, we let him listen to it anyway.

While Benny typically gets really into the music and can hit a beat almost immediately, Lila is more into the performance aspect. As illustrated here:

What about you? Do you have a soundtrack of summer? What is it? And what does it remind you of?

01 August 2013

The End of Summer

Here we are. August 1 already. I can't believe how quickly this summer has disappeared. And I know we still have roughly a month left of summer, but it's always hard to get to this point and not mourn summer a little. We still have lots of plans to round out the summer, including a trip to see my parents and family this weekend for the annual Brule Day celebration. I'll be spending the next two to three weeks working on my class stuff and meeting deadlines. Maybe that's why summer feels like it's over - it is for me.

But, I'll be riding riding riding. My goal is to ride everyday this month. I think I can finally do it! It will be like a birthday present to myself (along with a haircut and a pair of Frye boots I recently purchased - so beautiful).

Are you with me? Maybe we can make this a 30 Days of Biking, Round Two.

31 July 2013

#everydayonabike in June/July

The past two months have zoomed past. In less than a month, school will be back in session and summer will be over.

I've been riding everyday - or almost everyday, as usual. It's been more challenging in the summertime due to travel around the Midwest and western Colorado. And I've been forgetting to take pictures. But a bunch of awesome people have been filling in the holes! It's been so much fun to see everyone's biking pictures over the past seven months. In fact, the #everdayonabike tag now has 415 photos of people on bikes. That's right, we've collected far over 365 photos in a far less than a year. Now I'm wondering if we can collect 800 photos by December this year?!?

I didn't include all of the photos from the past two months. But I did include the highlights:

Making my first Target run by bike (7 miles one way) // Benny's last day of school
Getting prepped for a wedding weekend // Riding in Calgary
A hot, sweaty ride in 100-degree weather // Our first picnic in the park
Jazz in the park on a stormy evening // Riding with a friend in Iowa
Enjoying a kid-free few days // Noticing a fountain for the first time // Making my first grocery run
Enjoying an evening ride // Getting my riding buddy back // Our first visit to the Little Free Library
Benny's birthday extravaganza // Running important errands

Looking at all these pictures is a reminder of how great summer has been! Here are the impressive two-month stats:

115 photos posted // 15 contributors // 35 posted by me // 198 miles (recorded - I think there were more)

And thanks so much to everyone who played along!

@simplybike // @jentown // @bemorelocal // @elissabrodt // @shaggybrownie
amaksymo // @murawski21 // @runbobbierun // @cathope // @ashleynicoleaddison
@thepiripilexicon // @bicyclesinnewcastle // @obc_benson // @timaides // katiesnider

28 July 2013

Celebrating Six

As I've written before, we aren't a family that throws big birthday parties. Mostly because I'm not the greatest at organizing them. But positive outcomes come with hosting small parties including less money spent on the actual party, being able to talk with all the guests, less gifts to deal with and happier kids (especially my kids who don't like a lot of crazy activity).

For Benny's party this year, I wanted to something small but big, if that makes sense. A small party with fun, inexpensive activities. I also wanted to incorporate a bike ride since most of Benny's friends ride now. Here's what we came up with - a Progressive Birthday Party Extravaganza by Bike.
  1. The four of us rode to the local park with all the fixings for a party - sandwiches, juice boxes, cupcakes and balloons.
  2. Four of Benny's friends and their parents met us there. They all rode their bikes.
  3. The kids played and participated in a quick scavenger hunt (they had to find things in the park - like a rock, squirrel, sand, etc., but the kicker was that they had to read the words).
  4. After eating and singing "Happy Birthday," we rode in a big group back to our house.
  5. The kids enjoyed a movie in the yard (Hotel Frankenstein) while the adults enjoyed some conversation time on the deck.
  6. The adults went home after the movie and the kids stuck around for a sleepover.
  7. When the kids woke up (early!) they dined on chocolate chip pancakes.
  8. Benny and I rode everyone home  after breakfast, carting their sleeping bags and clothes home in the Burley.
The party was just what I wanted - small but big. What's more, when I posted to the neighborhood Facebook page that I was planning a movie party for my six-year-old, but didn't have the necessary accessories for such a party, a handful of neighbors responded. One loaned me his 10-ft. outdoor movie screen and another had her husband bring home a projector from work.

When I asked Benny what his favorite parts of the party were, he answered: 1) scavenger hunt, 2) movie and 3) having a sleepover. And the most expensive thing about the whole party: Seven helium balloons.

Happy sixth birthday, Mr. Bear!

18 July 2013

Learning to Parent, One Day at a Time

I have two kids and have been at this parenting thing for nearly six years. And I still have no idea what I'm doing. When I was pregnant with Benny, I had all sorts of expectations of myself: breastfeed for at least a year, use cloth diapers exclusively, feed him only organic homemade food, engage him with age-appropriate activities, write a dissertation, run a marathon....

The reality of having a baby, however, hit almost immediately. The adjustment period was long (and still ongoing) and a tough dose of reality. I only breastfed for three months. I mostly cloth diapered, but used a healthy dose of disposables. I relaxed on food a bit. Benny was nearly two when I finally finished my dissertation. And I haven't run a marathon since he was conceived (but I have run a handful of half-marathons).

The problem with expectations is that when they aren't achieved, it can be disappointing.

My experience with parenting a second child is that there aren't as many expectations. I have goals, but I'm not too hard on myself if I can't achieve them. This has impacted how I parent my first-born child as well.

With Benny, I worried about everything. I worried about when he was walking and when he was talking and how he was socializing. I worried about it so much that it made me nervous and apologetic about things that were completely normal. I wish I had read this a long time ago. With Lila, I've taken a more CTFD approach to parenting. And it's made the whole process more enjoyable - for all of us.

I believe that kids should be kids. They should learn to play by themselves and given the chance to play with each other without intervention (not always the easiest thing). They should be praised, but also disciplined. They should be given opportunities to learn new skills, but they shouldn't be pushed to be the best at something. Above success, I want my kids to be happy. I want them to choose their path, with appropriate guidance from their parents.

I want my kids to have empathy. I want them to play musical instruments. I want them to be healthy and enjoy good food and learn the value (beyond appearance) of exercise (like contemplation and peace). I could care less if they play competitive sports. I would like them to experience and enjoy performance as a productive outlet and important lifelong skill.

In the end, I want them to have healthy self-esteems and good friends. I want them to have a good life. And I think I can give them that without stressing about what school they go to and what extra-activities they are involved in. But I'm going to have to do it one day at a time because I'm learning all of these things as I go.

16 July 2013

My Free Week

Last week I was kid-free, husband-free and car-free. For seven days. In my own house. It was such a strange break from reality. But a welcome one. The Volvo is on the fritz again and Nate had the other car all week. I could have had the Volvo fixed, but figured I could make it the week without it. I was right.

I kept myself busy - seeing friends, working, prepping my summer class, reading and running. On some level, I'm sure I remember the lazy days of not having kids. No wonder I could train for marathons and half-marathons and go backpacking and travel. No wonder I don't ever remember cleaning as much as I do now. Because it wasn't necessary.

Seven days is the longest I've been away from either kid. The thought of being away from them for so long was daunting at first. I even cried when we drove away from Nate's dad's house. But, Nate and I got to spend two kid-free nights together, which was a treat in and of itself.

This week was a nice reminder of the importance of balance in life. It's never good to focus too much energy on one thing because another thing will get forgotten. By the end of the week, I was more than ready to have my family back. But having time to myself was wonderful experience too.

13 July 2013

Into the Wild

Don't worry, this story doesn't start with us selling our car, disappearing from home and eventually dying of starvation in the Alaskan wilderness. Lucky for you, this is a happy story of my return to backpacking - after a seven-year hiatus!

I never intended to take a break from backpacking. I bought a backpack when I started dating Nate, knowing that he was an outdoorsy kind of fella. From 2001-2006 (or thereabouts), we went on one backpacking trip a year. We would have gone on more, but we were living in Iowa and Austin at the time and there weren't many backpacking options in those areas. Often, we would save our summer vacations to drive to Colorado to hike in the Rockies (what a extreme stroke of genius to move here).

Nate has continued to backpack yearly with a group of his friends from college. But we haven't made it a priority to go out together because I've either been pregnant or we didn't have anyone to watch the kids. Now that Lila is older and Nate's dad lives in western Colorado, we had no excuse to leave my pack in the basement closet for the summer.

We drove to an area outside of Ouray and started our ascent immediately. We hiked up a mountain for two miles, crested a pass, and then walked one mile straight down. I wanted to abandon the trip several times, wondering if it was worth all of the trouble. But I talked myself out of it and realized that I needed to get back into fighting shape. As soon as we reached the pass, though, it was all worth it. We looked down on the most picturesque grouping of lakes I'd ever seen - surrounded on all sides by rough and jagged mountains. To say it was breathtaking is a gross understatement.

Hiking down the pass was a bit challenging with a pack on because it was incredibly steep and rocky. But, we made it and set up our tent right before a rainstorm moved in. We ended up eating in the tent because the rainstorm stuck around. As soon as we were about to give up on going outside and enjoying the view, the rain let up. So we explored the area a bit. It was like a scene from The Lord of the Rings, with knobby hills of green and jutting rocks. It's hard not to love life in those situations. And that Nate and I were spending some alone time together just made it better.

I didn't sleep well in the tent, but it seems that I never do any more. And my legs were super sore in the morning. But I was energized and had no problem hiking out of the wilderness. Nate and I are committed to backpacking yearly again. And one day, we'll start backpacking with the kids. Damn, I love this state!

12 July 2013

Epic Summer Vacation, Part 2

The kids and I returned to Denver and rested for about 24 hours before packing the car back up for a trip to western Colorado to see Nate's dad and step mom for the Fourth of July. We left after work on Tuesday and stopped about halfway at what has become our favorite campground in Colorado. The kids are becoming expert campers. They both turn "on" when they're outside.

We took a short hike to a nearby stream and Benny was convinced that we could build a dam. When we deterred him from that activity, he decided that he could re-route the stream by creating some channels. Lila has gotten old enough to understand that getting in the water is a bad idea. So she putzed alongside her brother and collected rocks.

We've settled into a nice schedule when we visit western Colorado: swimming in the hot springs and dining and drinking on a rooftop patio. This year we also checked out the Montrose Fourth of July parade. The kids collected a handful of candy, which made it a success for everyone - despite the heat. Benny entered a rock painting competition and won first-prize for his masterpiece (a flag, of course).

Then Nate and I took a night off to backpack near Ouray. I haven't been backpacking in seven years (!). I'll write a separate post about it, but I'll preview the trip by saying WOW! I can't believe I waited so long to strap a pack to my back and explore.

The kids are staying with their grandparents for a week, so Nate and I got to drive home alone. It was a surprising treat to have the time to talk and snooze. Nate left for his annual boys' backpacking trip yesterday, so I have the rest of the week to myself, which a little like an extended vacation - to spend time in the house by myself.