Wednesday, March 13, 2013

52 Projects (or 36 and counting...)

In addition to the benefits of a car-free lifestyle, I recently stumbled upon another way to motivate myself to devote time to creative pursuits this year: the 52 projects. The idea is nothing revolutionary, just making a list of 52 creative projects (large or small) to accomplish in 2013. There is a book entitled 52 Projects: Random Acts of Everyday Creativity  if you need some inspiration.

So far I only have 36 on my list but I'm sure I'll add more as the year goes on. The list has already inspired me to start or finish some projects, such as (ahem) this blog. Others on the list include some long-unfinished objects of the knitted variety, simple finishing touches that will make objects usable (finally putting names on our Christmas stockings, for example), a baby scrapbook for my second-born, homemade birthday cakes for the family birthdays this year, and projects to harness my interest in creative writing.

I love having plenty of endeavors on tap for those lovely, stolen moments of creativity.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Creativity and the Car-Free Life

In the midst of daily life with little ones, how easy it is to forget our own personal and creative pursuits! One more meal, one more load of laundry, one more diaper, and soon the day is over and we don't know exactly what we did all day. A certain amount of "accomplishment amnesia" is inevitable when one's primary responsibility is to keep small humans alive for one more day.

But whether we work from home, work away from home, or primarily take care of home and children, we all need personal pursuits. They maintain our balance and sanity and remind us that we are still individuals. We have passions, abilities, interests, and Selves that will ideally live on well after our kids are grown, and we still need to cultivate those now.

This is one reason why I love not having a car, even in our current not-ideal-for-walking situation. But wait a minute, you might think, doesn't a car leave you more free time for creative pursuits? You get your errands done sooner and voilĂ , look at all the time that is left over. That is supposed to be the idea, but it doesn't always work out that way, does it? How much time is wasted sitting in traffic, finding parking spaces, loading children in and out of car seats, or waiting for car repairs? And with the possible exception of waiting on car repairs, none of that time is relaxing or free time for personal endeavors.  Having a personal automobile also leads to a habit of going places in the car just because it's there, circling retail establishments and thinking about the things we might "need." Hardly a recipe for creativity or frugality or simplicity, for that matter. Instead of investing time on what we really and truly want to accomplish, we fall into the trap of going and going "just because".  I know because I find myself doing the same thing whenever I am driving a car.

By contrast, when I go anywhere walking or biking, I am getting exercise, getting rid of stress, and spending valuable brainstorming time on my various creative projects. When I take public transit, I don't need to focus on the road, so I can read, write, or even knit. Being car-free usually means combining trips to the store or other errands, so the time spent on those necessary activities is combined, leaving more free time at home and more fulfilling and fruitful travel time as well.

Adventures en Bus

Last week, I summoned up my courage to take both kids with me on the bus. We are lucky to have a bus line very close by (exceedingly lucky, if you look at how little of this area is covered by bus), and for my own sanity, I needed to get out of the house and give the bus-with-two-young-children thing a test run. With the baby in her wrap and the toddler pushing his own stroller, we set off.

The ride itself was relatively pleasant, as the driver and other passengers were indulgent and even doting to my little brood (two kids are nothing to write home about here). By the time I disembarked, I was feeling rather proud of myself for being so clever and resourceful... no sitting at home watching Sesame Street for us! It was at this point, as we were getting off the bus, that I realized there was a) no sidewalk, only a muddy, grassy curb between the road and a railroad track, and b) no crosswalk to get to our destination, in spite of its being directly across the street. The closest crosswalks were a good half mile in either direction. Hmm.

Why, one might well wonder, did the transit authority see fit to place a bus stop directly across the road from  a shopping area, but with no crosswalk to get there? Is this particular stop actually intended for hobos getting on and off the freight trains that occasionally pass by? Or, more likely, did no one give a moment's thought to who might be getting off at this stop, and why? Struggling to push my stroller through grass and mud to the nearest intersection, where I would study the traffic light timing until I could jaywalk least dangerously, I imagined it was probably the latter. The goal of this particular shopping area is clearly to get cars, not people, into the stores as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Dream Deferred

True confession: I do not own a bike. Yes, I know. There is really no excuse for not having a working bike, especially when one is living car-free. To be fair, in the DC metro area where we lived for over five years with no car, we never had a need for bikes. We always lived within a 10- to 15-minute walk of a metro station, and we could get anyplace we needed to go on foot, by bus, by metro, or some combination thereof. As struggling grad students and then struggling "aw geez, we graduated in the middle of a recession" underemployed people, we never seemed to have the money to make such a purchase. Add to those factors small apartment living, with no storage space indoors for a bike, and here we are.

However, since moving back to the Pacific time zone late last year and eyeing the brand new, adorably optimistic bike lane painted on the local main road, I have been dreaming about how easily I could get from place to place, wind in my hair, on my very own grown-up two-wheeler. It has been a while, perhaps 15 years, since I sat on a bike, but I'm hoping it will come back to me like... well, you know.

Of course, the image in my mind of riding around town happily running errands has often included my two munchkins in tow, my two-year-old in a rear bike seat and my almost-two-month-old in a trailer in her car seat. Unfortunately, after a bit of Real Actual Research, I discovered that there doesn't seem to be a way to transport a baby under 9 or 12 months safely via bicycle in this country. To begin with, they don't make helmets sized for little babies, and besides, wearing a helmet in a car seat pushes the baby's neck into an awkward position and may restrict airflow. There is always the option of skipping the helmet, but ugh, that doesn't seem right either and may be illegal. This is not the Netherlands, or even Portland or San Francisco, where I would trust motorists not to injure us.  These are the real, honest-to-goodness exurbs here, after all. The shock value of seeing humans on a human-powered machine might offer some protection from the automobiles, but I'm not going to count on it.

So, my dream of transporting both babes via bike will have to wait. In the meantime, I'll work on getting myself onto my very own bike and building up the leg muscles and confidence to carry them with me soon enough.  Spokane Bike Swap, anyone?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Meet Walking Mama

Welcome to A Walking Mama.  I'm Heather, wife to a Really Smart Guy and mama to two little ones under the age of 4. We live a rich and fulfilling life without owning a car, and here I will focus in part on our carfree adventures and ideas for living more joyously without always depending on a personal automobile.

Walking is as central an activity to the human species as eating, sleeping, or breathing.  Sadly, though, in much of postwar America, the walking human has been relegated to outsider status to make way for the automobile. I will use this space to explore ideas about smart growth and strategies for recreating our cities on a human scale, with a particular eye to how growth policies affect families with children. If you care about anything - children, culture, beauty, recreation, health, social justice, prosperity - you should care about smart growth.

The other "walking" I do is more metaphorical: living on a human scale with my children and myself, trying to move slowly, simply, and deliberately through my days.  This means avoiding consumerism and the focus on more, better, and faster stuff. It means appreciating simple pleasures, enjoying public goods, respecting the natural rhythms of childhood and the seasons, and pursuing creativity in our home. Walking together, engaging our minds and bodies in our everyday pursuits,  is what we are trying to do in life and as a family.