Friday, September 20, 2013

Knitting Season

We are coming up on what is probably one of my favorite seasons: autumn. Summer is fun and active, simple in its small wardrobes and minimal planning requirements. But I have to confess that I really start to come alive during these first crisp mornings and evenings. My heart warms at the prospect of chilies and cornbread, stews to be stewed, babes to be bundled, leaves to be raked, hot cider to be sipped. Both of my babies have come of solid food age in the fall, and I delight in introducing them to squashes and sweet potatoes, apples, pears, pumpkins, and eventually the nourishing, warming soups of the season.

And of course, as a knitter, I relish being able to pull out those long-forgotten wool projects that hibernated patiently all summer.

With our cool summer nights in the Northwest, I am able to continue knitting with some cottons and linens during the warm months, but how satisfying to come back to the beloved woolens that will sustain our little and big ones through the winter. I have some cozy projects in the works as I dust off my list of 52 projects that I'm afraid I've neglected of late.

For my 8-month-old, I think she will require at least one more wool diaper cover from The Expectant Knitter in Malabrigo Merino Worsted. Because really, a sweet baby can just never have too many wool diaper covers. I have repurposed longies in the works for her too, from a lovely wool sweater that accidentally went through the washer.

This littlest one among us will also need a Christmas stocking soon enough. To be honest, our other three stockings have never actually been hung by the chimney with care, but we now have a beautiful working fireplace, so this must be the year! I've made basic 72-stitch (I think) stockings for each of us, with slight variations and unique color schemes (no red and green here) - I'm excited to pick out colors for our sweet girl.

As much as I love knitting for little babies, I can't forget my big boy, who is blessedly still young enough not to care how I dress him most of the time. For him, I have in mind a stash-breaking hipster sweater vest with a fun array of bold colors. I'm following the Kids' Vest pattern from More Last-Minute Knitted Gifts, and the yarn is a combination of KnitPicks Swish and Wool of the Andes, Malabrigo Merino again, and Cascade Superwash, and some in there that I don't even remember.

For myself (yes, Mama needs something too, don't we think?) my fall/winter bicycling wardrobe is crying out for some colorful arm warmers and knee socks. After SpokeFest a couple of weeks ago, I realized the beauty of arm warmers, which cut down on the chill as you start riding but can then be pushed up as you get warmer from riding. The same goes for knee socks, with the added benefit of being able to roll up your pant legs and avoid the chain without your legs getting cold. Thus, the cycling life and a hippie DIY wardrobe complement each other perfectly. I have the gorgeous Crystal Palace Sausalito on hand for either socks or arm warmers. Delicious.

Do you have any warm craft projects in mind for the fall season ahead?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Kids as Billboards

At the risk of sounding a bit too bourgeois bohemian, I have to say that I love PBS. Quality programming, no commercials (except for those commercials that aren't supposed to be commercials, you know the ones), and often addictive documentaries and mini-series. When I give in to the temptation to use the TV as a babysitter for my toddler, I appreciate the Daniel Tigers and Sid the Science Kids who help me to feel less guilty about it.

But I have to say that my snobbish, "Oh no, my children don't watch commercial television" attitude was in for a rude awakening the first time I walked into a store with the aforementioned toddler and experienced the barrage of "Thomas!" "Elmo!" "Dinosaur Train!" Oops. It would appear that even PBS is out to ensnare parents trying to protect our kids from materialism.*

Kids are great business. According to Simplicity Parenting, marketers spend $16 billion per year to target kids directly. My most recent experience of this phenomenon pertains to children's underpants, that symbolic graduation from babyhood into bigness (and apparently, into consumer culture). My search for said intimate apparel has turned up Superman, Thomas the Train, Sesame Street, Angry Birds, and the Avengers (which is a PG-13 movie anyway, so theoretically 2-year-olds should not have even seen it).

And this is for my son. I dread the orgy of Disney princesses that will be available when my daughter is learned in the potty arts. Plain colored underpants with non-branded trains, cars, and dinosaurs required a special order online.

So what's the big deal, after all? I've had to ask myself why Avengers undies bother me so much. I'm not convinced that superhero underpants will turn my son into a sociopath (or a superhero, for that matter). My reasoning comes down to a few concerns:

  1. Kids are gullible. It hardly seems fair to trick them into buying something when they don't have the critical thinking skills to combat marketing tactics. It's just too easy.
  2. Manipulation should be reserved for adults. In the same vein, if someone should be manipulated into buying stuff, it should be adults. At least they have (ideally) developed the ability to say "no" to something, even if they've seen it on TV. Adults are better able to assess whether a product is really better quality, or if it just has a character on it that they happen to recognize.
  3. For my own children, I hope to instill in them the principle that buying things does not equal happiness. Hey, don't get me wrong: I like buying new clothes as much as the next person. But clothes for kids are not an end in and of themselves. The same is true for toys. The stuff of underwear and T-shirts and toys should fade away as the real substance of childhood - play and mess and learning and friends and brothers and sisters and more play and more mess - takes center stage. 
In many cases, this means that the simpler choice is often the best - even if it requires a bit of extra research.

*To be fair to PBS, I believe that proceeds from their merchandise go back to support PBS programming. Did I mention that I love PBS? Please don't stop supporting PBS.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

On Wasted Time

Last weekend, we walked to our nearest library, as we often do (we've been averaging two trips a week here). It is almost two miles to the library, so with the double stroller, a slight incline, and 50 pounds of children, it takes about 40 minutes each way. Forty minutes! Eighty minutes round-trip. An hour and twenty minutes wasted, just to go to the library. Right?

Not so. The idea that the time spent getting somewhere is "wasted" comes from our car culture. An hour and  half spent in the car, just to go to the library and back, twice a week, would indeed be wasted time. But walking is rarely wasted time.

At the very least, it is good exercise. Depending on your locale, walking can also be beautiful and enjoyable. And with kids, significant others, or friends along, walking is also quality relationship and learning time.

Obviously, it is possible to have conversations and see pretty things in a car. But the focus is often different, isn't it? We rarely decide to go on a leisure drive with friends, but a leisure walk is commonplace - why? Walking outdoors involves more eye contact, greater sensory stimulation, and usually less frustration and cursing than driving. While walking, we can stop or slow down at will to watch a squirrel, smell a flower, or examine a building more closely.

Compare our library walking experience to a car moment we had just a few weeks earlier. The week before we moved to our new house, we went to the Royal Fireworks Concert in a relative's car and paid to park in a garage. After the concert ended, around 10 PM, we got stuck in a traffic jam getting out of the garage. Although everyone had already had to pay on the way in, we had to scan our ticket or some such nonsense in order to be allowed to leave the garage. For twenty minutes, we sat in the infuriatingly slow line of cars, breathing fumes, looking at concrete beams, and listening to dozens of car engines idling (as well as one screaming baby), magnified by the concrete.

It did not escape our reflection that in the time we spent walking to the car, loading up the kids, and waiting to leave, we could have walked to our new home. While this car experience was exceptional, it is certainly not uncommon to waste time sitting in line to leave a parking garage.

As a practitioner and proponent of the "alternative" lifestyles of car-free and car-light living, I often feel called upon to defend our crazy ways. The biggest question is usually how we cope with things taking so much longer than they would in a car. I can't deny that living without a car is often slower (though by no means always, especially when bikes or quality public transit are involved). But on the other hand, very little time is ever truly wasted - instead, travel time is enriched by the mode of transportation.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Oh So Much Walking

As I've mentioned, we moved about a month ago from our suburban exile to an older, denser, more walkable neighborhood. Now, this isn't DC, we're not kidding ourselves; it is definitely not the "pop out the door at 10 PM to pick up a bag of chips" kind of convenience we're accustomed to, but that being said, so much about our new life here over the past month has been so glorious.

Walking is once again our go-to form of transportation. For quickness or convenience, we might jump on a bike or grab the bus, but for shorter trips to the park or grocery store, we need look no further than our own two (or four, or six) feet.

We're meeting our neighbors and others in our community. We walk past their houses, they walk past ours; we see kids and size them up for playmates. The denser neighborhood, sidewalks, and multiple walking destinations mean we just see our neighbors more.

We are developing systems and building up our resources. This sounds very unromantic. Let me explain: as opposed to driving a car, the car-free life is ultimately about problem solving. Still not romantic enough for you? Everything eventually falls into place and becomes second nature, but starting out in a new place (especially now with two kids, which we didn't have in DC), every trip requires an assessment of what methods will be most efficient - kids in the double stroller? Baby in the single stroller, toddler on his bike? Toddler in the single stroller, baby in a wrap? Walk? Bus? Bike? While it sounds tedious, I feel like this way of thinking makes me an active, thoughtful participant in my daily life and challenges me, keeping my brain from getting flabby. In this way, we also build up our repertoire of strategies for various key trips and our own personal resources for getting around and just dealing with life.

We feel healthier and stronger. Especially with the hills around our new home, it took only a few days for both of us adults to start feeling trimmer and stronger - no gym membership required for our needs. When movement is integrated into daily life, we're more likely to stick to a fitness routine (you know, the one called "life"). Our 2.5-year-old also gets a lot more opportunities to ride his little balance bike to "real" destinations (as opposed to riding in the driveway) because there are sidewalks anyplace we need to go.

Our kids get to see walking as the default form of human transportation. I'm often surprised when I bring up the importance of walking and walkable neighborhoods with new acquaintances, and after a blank look crosses their face, they clarify, "Oh, you mean like walking for transportation?" Well, yeah, like using your legs to get somewhere that you need to go. It's amazing that we have turned the most basic form of human transportation into an exercise regimen or a leisure activity. It is both of those, to be sure, but it is wonderful for kids to be able to see real grown-ups walking as a way of life.