Friday, December 16, 2011

Weighing In: Milestones - Twenty (two!)

*This post published last Friday, but was somehow dated in November. Good grief. Still all true though, but a few busy weeks have really derailed my lunch-time running regimen. Need to get that back on track!!

I'm celebrating two awesome "twenty" milestones. I've officially lost twenty pounds (twenty-two-ish, actually!) and I ran for twenty minutes straight today (nearly two whole miles)! I can hardly believe it and can barely believe that I'm only five(ish) pounds away from my goal weight. 

I've been working on Week 5/Day 3 of my running interval program since before Thanksgiving. The previous day, W5D2, had me run for eight minutes, walk five, and run another eight before cooling down. I successfully completed that set on November 14th. I proudly checking off sixteen total minutes of running (in two chunks) - a personal best. I expected the next day's program to be the same, or even a minor interval increase like "run ten minutes, walk two, run ten." But nope! Imagine my surprise when I started up W5D3 only to find that it wanted me to run for twenty minutes straight. I literally laughed at my iPhone, out loud, on the treadmill.

I rallied and gave it my best. On my first attempt, I made it fourteen minutes before I had to slow to a walk. The next try, I made it sixteen minutes before I hit the stop button. I thought the next day would be the one where I ran twenty minutes in a row, but I had a mishap with the "pause" button on the running app and it wasn't keeping track of my time, and then my knee started giving me trouble. Plus, I was late getting down to the gym, so I called it a day. Over Thanksgiving, I went for a few runs along the trail by my parents' house, hoping the stimulating scenery would get me all the way to twenty, but I had a hard time keeping my pace without the help of the treadmill and wasn't disconcerted by my clothing situation, since I'm not used to dressing for running outdoors.

Last week, after a relatively marathon post-holiday drive back from the Bay Area, I woke up feeling like I was coming down with something. Hoping to shake it with a little rest, I took last Monday off from the gym which somehow stretched into an entire week. Finally, this Tuesday, I was feeling well enough and had enough time to get back on the treadmill but had lost too much of my momentum and fell way short of twenty minutes. Yesterday, I made it a little further, but still nowhere near twenty. I thought I was going to take weeks, or that I'd have to back up and redo some of the previous days' workouts to get back up to speed.

Today, I hit eleven minutes and thought, "I can definitely do two more." I hit thirteen minutes and thought, "I can definitely make it to fifteen." I made it to fifteen and thought, "Just keep going, don't think about it," which worked for about one minute. I checked the clock at 16:30 and thought, "So close, I can DO this!" I checked again at 17:30 and and couldn't believe only a minute had passed. I checked again at 18:30 and said some bad words. And maybe bumped the speed down a notch or two. I checked again at 19:20 and watched it count down, willing my legs to keep moving. I counted down from 19:40 and practically counted out loud from 19:50. I hit the big, red "STOP" button exactly at 20:00. If I'd been alone (and my legs hadn't been like jelly), I would have jumped for joy.

I don't think I've mentioned this before but I am a terrible runner. The first day's workout on the app was something like: run 30 seconds, walk for 90, run for 30, walk for 90 (repeat for 20 minutes). When I started this training program, I couldn't even finish the first 30 second run. I have only run a full mile without stopping like, once in my life and it was a few years ago when I first attempted losing this thirty pounds. I never would have believed that I could run for twenty minutes, without stopping, and enjoy doing it. Though this app implies that one will be 5k-ready at the end of 8 or 9 weeks, I've been working on this since April and am still only on week 5. I don't actually have any plans to run a 5k but I might make some, or at least tell people that I do, since that's easier than explaining that I work out so I can have dessert and a beer with dinner...

Anyway. I'm trying to be extra disciplined through the holiday season so I can try to meet my goal-weight goal of early/mid-January. How do you combat the winter weight gain/holiday bulge??

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Post-Thanksgiving Post.

I know everyone is in full Christmas mode but I'm only just now finding time to post some photos from Thanksgiving. We spent the weekend prior with Jon's family and had a pre-Thanksgiving family dinner and then headed up to see my family for the long holiday weekend. As always, we did a lot of cooking, eating, hanging out, playing with Alice, and playing games in general. My cousin and her husband were enjoying a vacation nearby and  joined us for the holiday dinner. It was lovely to visit with them and Jon enjoyed hearing all about his line of work, landing planes on aircraft carriers...

the holiday table. waiting (left) and full (right). My brother's girlfriend folded the napkins into chickens, but we pretended they were turkeys...
fruit, with wine.
Grandpa got a lot of playtime with the little munchkin.

Grandma gave Alice a sniff of her whisky. Maybe Alice is following in her (and her dad's) footsteps...
Following in her mama's footsteps and playing the piano. By ear, obviously.

More following in her mama's footsteps, a game of peekaboo with a dramatic flare!
We had a lovely holiday but I think I'd like to start celebrating Thanksgiving immediately after Halloween to give me more time to prepare for Christmas. I'm already well behind! Maybe next year, I'll actually start making and buying gifts in September, or earlier! I say it every year, perhaps that should be my New Year's resolution this year...

I hope you all enjoyed wonderful Thanksgiving feasts and that your house is fully lit and decorated for Christmas and all your gifts are wrapped beneath the tree already!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Earlier this week, Jon gave Alice her first lesson in the holiday spirit of giving. They went to Pet Plaza, a locally owned pet supply store, and bought a variety of pet food from the Burbank Animal Shelter's wishlist. Then, they toddled on down to the shelter to deliver their donations. 

We know first-hand how wonderful and loving shelter cats can be, and how feral cats can turn into the best companions ever when they have the right love and care. The Burbank Animal Shelter runs a kitten foster program and a shelter dog training program, both funded completely by monetary and in-kind donations. Jon was glad to see lots of other donations when he delivered his, but remembered that the shelter and these animals have the same needs all year, as do most of the organizations asking for support during the holiday season. We're going to try to be more mindful of that next year, as we try to establish habits and traditions of giving our time as a family. 

Here are some photos of Alice, helping out some kitties and doggies (that would be her cue to adorably pant like a dog). I hope this will become an annual Thanksgiving tradition, in addition to other efforts throughout the year.

Also, if you have an American Express card, sign up to "shop small" on "Small Business Saturday." When you shop at a participating small business on Saturday, American Express will credit you $25 back toward your purchase (on each American Express card you carry!). Just register on the site and find a list of participating businesses in your area. Shopping locally this weekend can make a huge impact on the small, local businesses and people in your community. If millions of Americans shop small, it will be huge.

I hope that you're all spending today in ways that make you happy, and that your families (and kitties and puppies) have everything you need. May you have every reason to be thankful this holiday season.  

Friday, November 18, 2011

[Jon] Changes

Before Alice was born, my dad shared a little gem that proves more true every day. He told me, “Being someone’s parent will change you in ways you can never imagine.” And it has. But not just in the ways that directly relate to being a parent. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have believed how comfortable I would become with diapers and breastfeeding. But I probably could have imagined it if I tried, that's not so far outside the realm of probability for a dad.

I am a homebody. I like to be very near those I love, and I like the comfort of my own home. So naturally, I love being able to work from home. My life’s radius has shrunk down to just a mile or two from our house. My surroundings, small and familiar. A byproduct of this is acute awareness of it all. I was talking about this with Erin and compared it to a prisoner knowing every inch in his cell, every sound and routine. When someone spends all his time in the same, small space, they become intimately familiar with every minute detail. Every day I pay closer attention to nearly imperceptible changes in the length of the day, the weather, how this sunrise compares to the others this week, et cetera. I feel like a farmer in the early mornings when I research the exact weather and the sunrise/sunset times for the day; I’ve even started looking at moonrise/set times.

Alice plays, Dad ponders.

Also, like a prisoner, I have plenty of time to contemplate. If you’ve spent considerable amount of daily time with a baby or toddler, I think we can agree that much of the time is pretty boring. I mean that in the nicest way, I’m just not quite as stimulated as Alice is by reading the same book over and over again, or playing with the same toys. So in between our active communication and playtime, during her more independent, exploratory times, I’m kind of left alone with my thoughts while I watch over her. It’s nice, and I’m never bored with them.*

The cats and I, working hard.
Alongside Alice, our two cats are my other faithful companions in this stay-at-home adventure. Spending all day, every day with those little characters, surrounded by their unique personalities, their antics and affection, they’ve affected the way I feel about animal rights, cruelty, and consumption. I love to eat meat. It's one of my favorite culinary experiences. But I’ve come to believe, at least for myself, that my nourishment should not be dependent on another creature’s life. One of my 2011 New Year’s resolutions was to lessen this dependency by eating half as much meat as I was before, and twice as many vegetables. I think I’ve been more than successful and while I’m not completely vegetarian, I am in spirit.

With Erin’s help in the kitchen, I’m trying to utilize all other forms of nutrition, which when done creatively and adventurously, all but make up for the comfort of the old meat-centric recipes we love so much. When we do eat meat, we try to make the best choices and make extra effort to support farmers who provide the animal with the best quality of life possible. And I try to honor that animal’s gift to me by not taking more than I need to sustain, and acknowledging that a life was lost for me to have dinner. With that perspective I want to exhaust every other outlet of more sustainable nutrition before asking for a life.

Our tiny trashcans: we downgraded to the smallest size.
Related to responsible eating, I now see my footprint on the planet. I pay attention to how many lights are on in the house, how much water is being used. I’m aware of how much trash we throw away every week. If you just look and listen, you notice where you need to make a change. I recently tried to imagine a life without convenient weekly trash pickups. Say I had to pile up an entire year’s worth of garbage in our yard. What would that look like? I truly cannot imagine the size of it. Because our excess in packaging is whisked away every week, it’s out of sight out of mind. But it’s not. When I see plastic containers, I like to think, “great, that can be recycled.” Which is great, but what about all of the effort and fuel that is required to produce and then recycle something that wasn’t truly necessary in the first place? I’m learning that the outlying Rs in the three Rs of recycling are the biggest of the three—reduce and reuse. We’re on a non-crazy-person’s goal to reduce our lives down to what matters and to cut out the waste. We’re trying to make careful decisions that give us the greatest reward for the investment. I promise to not become actually crazy about this, I just want to be more intentional and responsible. 

reusing paper and jars.
I’m also developing an ever-increasing appreciation for well-executed ideas. Good design, beautiful typography, innovative ways of solving problems all appeal to me more than ever. I’ve set a challenge for myself that when I work on something, I want to do work that I’m proud of and make the process enriching and enjoyable. I want to solve problems with innovation, thoughtful design, and proper technique. Whether I’m designing our yard’s new irrigation system, or searching out an elegant solution to our leaky diaper sprayer, or laying out music on a page, I want to know that I didn’t just do it, but I did it well, and beautifully, and the right person will admire it.**

irrigation design.
I suppose the common thread through all of this is self-awareness. My small, quiet island-living is turning my thoughts inward, forcing me to examine my choices and more importantly, who I am entirely. I can say that becoming a father (and by extension, working from home), has indeed changed me in ways I never imagined. The amazing thing about it? This is only the beginning.

* I am not a prisoner, and almost never feel trapped. I know you’re thinking that was an unfortunate metaphor, but it was the most accurate I could think of.
** Blogger baffles me in how and where it decides it will insert double hard returns. I try and I try to fix this, even modifying the line breaks in the HTML, but alas, my paragraph breaks are uneven and are not the way they should be.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Fall has fallen.

Fall has fallen. We've turned the clocks back (almost all of them) and I'm slipping into the mild melancholia that always accompanies this ritual. I am not surprised and only slightly disconcerted by it this year; I embrace it and pull it up around my ears like a cozy blanket. It wards off the chill from the sudden drop in temperatures after our Halloween heatwave that flushed Alice's cheeks inside her plush giraffe costume.

I baked my first batch of pumpkin bread over the weekend, tucked up warm inside on a rainy Sunday after making hay while the sun shone the day before. Actually, on Saturday, Jon busted up one of the free hay straw bales that has been decaying in our backyard since Alice's birthday party. He spread the straw across the newly seeded expanse of dirt that we hope will soon sprout and grow into a thick carpet of grass where Alice can play. While he worked, Alice and I took an usually painless trip to the fabric store and bought a yard of purple corduroy and one and a half yards of denim. I wore her in the Ergo on my back, the first time I'd ever attempted it out alone. Later, while Alice slept, I stitched the denim into a pair of little jeans for her winter wardrobe. I was finally trying my hand at Made By Rae's Big Butt Baby Pants pattern. I was impressed with the pattern, with my success, and the speed and ease at which I was able to comprehend crotch geometry and whip up a pair of actual pants.
Eli supervises everything.
please ignore my sewing imperfections, if you can notice. this was a trial run.
It's dark when I ride my bike home from work now, and cold. I use my head and tail lights. I wear gloves (to keep my wedding ring from falling off) and a pink beanie under my helmet (to keep my ears warm). I pedal fast and try to work up a sweat, and think of making legwarmers from the sleeves of sweaters I don't wear anymore (because my cats ate holes in them - I knew I saved them for a reason). I ordered a puffy coat in white so that I'm not just a shadow in a black jacket (and I got it at an awesome price, thanks to the sale Jon caught with a Google search, just in time). While I ride, I decide to finally buy myself a nice pair of boots; they'll keep my legs warm and will go with my new goal weight wardrobe, when I get there. I shop online, my credit card ready, looking for the perfect combination of shaft height (tall, for warmth and glamour) and heel height (low, for pedaling and standing all day); of slouch and polish; of price and quality. I look at more than one thousand boots - literally - and cannot find ones I want. I resign myself to a trip to the mall to see if it helps to see anything in person. Maybe this weekend? There is ice cream there.

I count the cars that go my way, it's never more than a handful and they are surprisingly considerate. I almost prefer riding in the dark because the headlights announce the cars before I would hear them otherwise, and then my shadow leaps out long in front of me and skews sideways as they pass. I ride through pools of light and pockets of air scented with fireplace smoke, warm laundry, and dinner. I try to deduce each dish by smell but my nose is too cold to work properly and I ride too fast, and it all bleeds together into an olfactory buffet. The exercise and the aromas whet my appetite for the meal I will cook when I get home, and I wonder if my cooking will entice any passersby.

And I have been cooking. I always cook but lately, the flavors are new. We try to eat less meat. Rather, Jon tries and because I do the cooking, I try too. But he knows this means he must learn to appreciate and enjoy new vegetables, new tastes, new cuisines; to expand his palate further than he already has since I've been cooking for him. And so, I get to be more adventurous in the kitchen. I collect recipes via Pinterest and tell Jon he should follow my pinboard and let me know what sounds delicious. We both step outside of our comfort zones. Most attempts are successful, some more than others. We've never had to order a pizza in defeat. Here is what we've been eating. (Note, none of these photos are mine as I do not have the energy or the light to style my food, nor the restraint to delay my dinner.)
orzo with caramelized fall veggies. recipe & photo: Faith Durand
Orzo is Jon's new favorite pasta. I wasn't sure how the flavors of these caramelized veggies would meld but the whole was certainly greater than the sum of the parts, finished perfectly with grated parmesan. Jon hasn't cared for sweet potatoes in the past and had never willingly/knowingly eaten a mushroom but I think this dish may have been a turning point. He has since expressed desire to try a portobello mushroom burger.
(left) cannellini bean "no meat" balls. recipe & photo: Cookin' Canuck. (right) spaghetti squash lasagna. recipe & photos: Skinny Taste
Jon had also never eaten a spaghetti squash. My mother always served them like spaghetti but I thought this lasagna dish might be an even more accessible introduction to the vegetable. Jon proclaimed it to be delicious and suggested that spaghetti squash would be a fine substitute for pasta. We both agreed that the extra effort to layer the vegetable into a lasagna wasn't necessary. We had it again last Sunday night with these cannellini bean "no meat" balls. They tasted great but I think I was overzealous with the food processor and nearly pureed the bean mixture into a hummus. Thus, the meatballs were creamier than I would have liked as I was hoping they would have a texture closer to actual meatballs. We saved the leftovers for the next night and after a day in the fridge, bathing in sauce, and a turn in the microwave, they had a nicer, chewier texture. So maybe make them in advance if you want a firmer "no meat" ball with a better bite.
roasted tomato soup with broiled cheddar tops. recipe & photo: Smitten Kitchen
We like exactly one kind of packaged, processed tomato soup (I guess that's kind of a lie, as Jon likes the Campbell's condensed version, but I refuse to eat it). The soup we like is not available at the new market we're shopping at and we're too lazy to experiment - and too wary of disappointment - to try any of the brands they carry. I had a total "aha!" moment when I saw Smitten Kitchen's recipe for roasted tomato soup with broiled cheddar tops. Of COURSE you should combine tomato soup and grilled cheese a la French onion soup! Of COURSE I can (and should) make my own tomato soup! So we did. And it's delicious. We had the soup once with the grilled cheese tops (like with French onion, toast the bread in the oven first - I forgot that step) and once without. It takes only slightly more effort to slice open three pounds of tomatoes than to open a can of soup, and obviously a little more time to roast said tomatoes than to heat up soup in the microwave or stove, but you just have to plan ahead a little more. The investment of effort pales next to the reward of this fresh, homemade soup. And if you put in a little extra investment up front and roast double the tomatoes, you can freeze the tomato puree to use as a base the next time you need some quick soup.

To accompany the toast-less soup, I decided to try my hand at socca, a chickpea crepe or flatbread traditionally enjoyed as street food in Nice, France. I was tempted when I first saw the recipe in The Sweet Life in Paris and was tempted again when it popped up on The Kitchn recently. And I was in luck because while our market does not carry our preferred tomato soup, they do carry Bob's Red Mill chickpea flour. The recipe is pretty foolproof; flour, water, a tablespoon of oil, a dash of salt and cumin, and hot cast iron in the oven. Believe me, I tried pretty hard to fool it. My batter wasn't room temp and my pan wasn't hot enough and the first round still came out delicious. If you over salt it, like I did, you may even find, like we did, that it tastes like the best parts of fried chicken without the grease and guilt. I'll have to make my way to Nice someday to try the real deal but I'm sure this is a decent facsimile, and a quick and reliable trick to have up one's sleeve.
socca. recipe: David Lebovitz, photos: Faith Durand
That's how we've welcomed fall at our house, how about yours? Are you enjoying any new or favorite fall flavors? Confused, depressed, or delighted by the end of Daylight Savings? Are the long, dark hours making you cozy and lazy or are you knitting and sewing and generally preparing for winter?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

One Car/Two Bike Family

One Christmas when I was about seven or eight, Santa brought me a bike. I woke up to find my gift dramatically displayed beneath the tree. In pieces. It was an enormous two-wheeler, which I didn't yet know how to ride, in a dreary shade of olive green. Santa must have known that my next door neighbor worked for the city's parks & rec department and was constantly collecting abandoned bikes and parts and repairing and restoring them in his garage. I wonder what he did with all of those...? Clearly, he was in business with Santa. I wasn't sure whether this bike was something I was supposed to like and just didn't know it yet, or whether Santa had made a huge miscalculation as he sorted gifts for the good boys and girls on his list. Or maybe I'd been worse that year than I realized.

I'm sure I woke my parents and I'm sure they asked what Santa left under the tree for me. I'm sure I remember putting on a brave face and trying to muster excitement about the ugly, disassembled beast of a bike in the living room. Once everyone was up and ready to open presents, my dad suggested that we move the bike parts into the garage where our neighbor could help us put them together later. I helped him gather wheels and pedals and handlebars. The feeling in the pit of my stomach made it even more surprising when someone opened the door to the garage and revealed a glorious, shiny new Huffy Sea Princess two-wheeler with training wheels! It was just my size, in the most beautiful shades of pink and sea-foam green. I was overjoyed and wasn't even suspicious that Santa had a sense of humor remarkably similar to my dad. 

I don't remember when I outgrew that Huffy but at some point in middle school, I started borrowing my dad's ten-speed mountain bike to ride to swim practice and friends' houses. He was just telling me that it was his first big purchase after an important promotion, and how he agonized all day about spending that much on something for himself - especially a bike, when he was used to spending $20, $30, $40... I stopped riding his bike in high school, once everyone I knew had a drivers license. I don't think I remember riding a bike again until my sister lent me her beach cruiser. She asked me to take good care of it when she moved away from her small college town to spend a year as an au pair in Amsterdam. Jon bought himself a nice beach cruiser and we spent some nice weekend afternoons cruising around town.

Alas, my sister reclaimed her bike when she moved back to California and Jon lost his weekend biking partner. That Huffy Sea Princess was the last bike that properly belonged to me - until last weekend!

Part of our one-car family plan was for both of us to have a bike to use if the other person needs the car at any given time. If Jon needs to go into his office, or needs the car at home for any appointments or errands, I wanted to be able to get myself to and from work without needing him to drop me off or pick me up. If I need the car at work, Jon didn't want to be limited just to stroller radius. Two things needed to happen to make this plan work. Number one happened for Jon's birthday a few weeks ago:

one baby bike seat & bunny helmet.
Jon got a WeeRide Kangaroo bike seat for his cruiser so he and Alice can hit the town on two wheels instead of three or four! These photos are from their inaugural ride a few weekends ago. Alice totally enjoyed it, despite her ambivalent looks here. She doesn't even mind wearing her helmet, though sometimes she cries about having to put it back on to go home, and is usually ready to take it off as soon as she's on the ground again. Jon's been testing their bike-accessible range with trips to the park and a few errands.

And then last weekend, after a bit of web-based research, we hit up the super legit Flying Pigeon bike shop to see if we couldn't get thing number two squared away. 

I had ridden my sister's bike to work one summer afternoon and learned there is just enough incline between my office and my house to necessitate a few gears. So that was definitely my top priority as I started considering the options. I didn't want (or need) a mountain or road bike, and I'm not indy enough for a fixed-gear (or "fixie"), or urban enough for a folding bike so I always sort of assumed that beach cruisers were the only other alternative. And then I rode an omafiets when we visited my sister in Amsterdam.

"Dutch-style" bikes, also known as "city" bikes, are becoming quite trendy here and I've been seeing all kinds of pretty styles on the pretty blogs I follow. It wasn't long before the omafiets replaced the beach cruiser in my bike fantasies. Unfortunately, these pretty bikes all seem to come at a pretty price. The lovely models below, available from Adeline, Adeline, are all $1,200 or more.
top row: Pashley Britannia ($1,295), Gazelle Toer Populair ($1,359) bottom row: Workcycles Omafiets ($1,599), Retrovelo Klara ($1,450)
Fortunately, there are a few more affordable options ranging anywhere from one-quarter to one-half of those fancy prices. I narrowed my sights onto the Schwinn Jenny, the Public C-7, and the Linus Dutchi 3. I called all the local retailers to find out what I could try out in person. The websites suggested that Flying Pigeon carried both Public and Linus bikes, so I called to see what they had in stock. The girl I spoke with said they didn't have any Public bikes in their shop, but they did have one Linus Dutchi 3-Speed. She also mentioned that the handlebars were a big difference between the Linus and the Public models, with Publics having straighter bars more like a mountain bike and the Linus having curved handles more like a Dutch bike. I decided to head down to their shop to check out the Linus, figuring I could start there and track down a Public or a Schwinn if I needed to keep shopping.

Well, it was love at first sight. I took it for a test drive up and down the block, and tested out the fancy twist-shift gears. Just for comparison, I also tested out the AM★DAM  2-speed:

AM★DAM  2-speed

which was a bit too bare bones and a bit too legit (too legit to quit) for me. I wasn't sold on the kick shift, and I liked that the Linus had hand brakes. So I bought the Linus. And then they told me it was like, the very last red Dutchi ever, until they make the new models. Behold, my shiny, new red bike.

so shiny and pretty!
The shop installed a sweet headlight and tail light (which I'll really get to test after Daylight Savings ends this weekend), and I got a saddle bag so I can carry my lunch, purse, and gym bag on my commute. I was also super excited that the bike came with a vial of touch up paint. The girl said you could also use nail polish, in a pinch, and now I'm kind of obsessed about finding the exact perfect shade of OPI nail lacquer that will do double duty on my fingers and toes and on any nicks or scratches in my pretty bike.

As soon as we brought it home on Saturday, we loaded Alice in her new bike seat and took our first family bike ride. I loved pulling up alongside Jon's bike and seeing Alice grin! We rode down to the park for a little picnic, play time, and a stop by the Lake Street Creamery truck for a little taste of my current obsession, Don Draper-flavored ice cream (whiskey, smoke, and caramel - just what I imagine licking Don Draper tastes like).

Then the weekend ended, and after three years of talking about it, I finally made my first bike commute on Monday morning. It was so glorious, I did it again on Tuesday. I would have ridden today as well, but Jon dropped me off so we can go to an appointment this afternoon. My company will reward me $2 for every day that I commute by bike to work, so it's great incentive to do it every day! My company also offers reward incentives for participating in a health and wellness program. I qualified for the full reward amount this year, now that my weight is within the healthy BMI range. With the wellness rewards and the commuter incentives (not to mention the savings in gas costs), my bike should pay for itself in two years. Not a bad deal, and I get to burn some extra calories to boot! 

say it like Ace Ventura: "saddle bags!"

I was reading a bunch of articles about biking and read a quote from someone (maybe the founder of Public Bikes, who also founded Design Within Reach) saying that biking makes cities more civilized. After only two bike commutes, I'm inclined to agree. Who knows, maybe this is just the start of a new era. Maybe someday, you'll see me chauffeuring two kids around in this "mommy bike!"

Gazelle Bloom "mommy bike"

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Alice in Pumpkin Land

We had a chance to enjoy one of our favorite new holiday traditions last weekend and took Alice for her second visit to the pumpkin patch. We had such a good time last year, we didn't even need to think twice about where to go. Plus, the drive out to Lombardi Ranch was the perfect excuse to test out our new car on a windy/bumpy road!

We were all excited to hit "the open road," but accelerating up the on-ramp was about as fast as I'd get to go for while. Apparently, this fatal motorcycle accident happened almost exactly as we were getting on the freeway. We wondered about all the motorcycles that were passing us but had no idea about the annual "Love Ride" that was in progress. Between the already awful interchange, the poorly organized major construction happening on that stretch of freeway, regular L.A. traffic AND several thousand motorcycles, it all adds up to a recipe for disaster. It took us about an hour and a half to go about 4 miles. My takeaway? Don't ride motorcycles, kids.

Anyway, Alice used up all her good behavior while we were sitting in traffic, so it was a good thing we'd planned to stop for lunch before the patch. We had our first taste of Habit Burger during last year's trip, and now it's part of the tradition! Everyone recharged with sweet potato fries and then we were on our way again.

The farm was much busier this weekend than on Halloween Sunday last year, and the thermometer was somewhere near 92 degrees, so we tried to be quick about our business. I'd hoped to take a photo of Alice amongst all the sunflowers like last year, but they were all dead and droopy and looked more like the ominous scarecrows nestled between their stalks. So we moved on to the fields of pumpkins for our photo ops.

Alice had a great time walking along the rows of pumpkins. She smacked them all, tried to lift them and pushed and rolled them all about. She made her selection pretty quickly and made sure dad knew which one we'd be taking home. 

"this one, please."
 This year, she didn't cry about sitting in the dirt and she didn't even care that she got her dress dirty! Or maybe she just didn't notice... She loves wearing her costume and we couldn't resist bringing it along for some cute photos. We did a quick change and got a few shots, even though her cheeks were getting a little a warm and pink. 
the cutest little giraffe i ever saw...
I don't know if it was the tail or the hood throwing off her groove, but she did lose her balance and topple over sideways into the dirt. The whole side of her costume was filthy and Jon said, "Surely this is machine washable, right?" And I said, "Surely, it must be." In fact, the tag says HAND WASH ONLY. Who does that??? So now I'm debating whether it's riskier to wash it by hand, try it in the machine's delicate cycle, or just tell people that giraffes live in the dirt, yo. 
a flying giraffe! wheeee!
All in all, it was a great little afternoon trip and Alice enjoyed herself much more than last year. We went from this:

to this:

How about you guys? Have you visited the pumpkin patch yet? Carved your pumpkins??

Saturday, October 22, 2011

One-Car Family

So after all of our budgeting and planning and researching and agonizing, we finally bought a new car last weekend. We've been discussing this plan since last Christmas/New Year's. You could literally gestate and deliver a human child in less time than it took us to make this happen. But we've been gearing up for a while and had started to pick up steam just before my car sealed the deal for us. We're choosing to think that my car laid on her sword and killed her own battery to keep us from driving home on dangerous tires, forcing us to take the leap toward a new car.

I've been driving my beautiful black Toyota 4Runner (affectionately known as Maleficent) for eleven years, nearly exactly. Jon got his beloved white Volvo S70 (aka Pearl) only a few months before he met me, eight years ago. Both of our cars were - and still are - very safe vehicles, but are nonetheless lacking the modern safety features of today's cars. Things like Electronic Stability Control, side airbags, and improved roof strength make many of today's cars considerably safer than '97 and '98 models we drove. Both cars were very well-maintained and will continue running admirably for another 100,000+ miles with proper care and maintenance but we knew that things would inevitably wear and break and we didn't want to have to worry about where we might be stranded when that happened (e.g., in Livermore, with a baby...).

My trusty vessel, Maleficent.
Jon's Pearl
Last holiday season, Jon suggested that we begin thinking about replacing our cars. I agreed, it was getting to be that time. And then he suggested that we turn two old cars into one new car and become - gasp - a one-car family. We discussed and it made a lot of sense. My commute is under two miles a day. I could, and really should, even ride a bike to work. Jon works from home. He rarely needs a car, unless he has some errands to run, which we'd generally know about and be able to work out in advance. He could always drop me off and pick me up when necessary, and in a pinch, a car would be less than two miles away. So we decided to go for it. We just had to figure out what to buy, how to afford it, and the logistics of getting rid of two cars.

We talked about our needs and desires and boiled it down to a few things. We like having a bit of room for when we need it but don't want to drive much more car than we really use, day-to-day. It didn't make sense for us to drive something with tons of cargo space, or seven seats for our future additional kids' friends and relatively rare extra passengers. We really only need to be able to pack gear for the occasional road trip. We decided a small SUV would be a reasonable choice. Plus, I like being up high. I loved driving a stick shift and wasn't ready to give that up, so a manual transmission was one of my main requirements. We also decided that if we were looking for the safest car, it might as well be white. There are varying statistics and opinions about accident rates for different colored cars, but it stands to reason that white ones are more visible - certainly at dusk and dawn. So we set about looking for a super-safe, small SUV in white, with a manual transmission.

We started our research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, by looking at their vehicle ratings. In the 2011 Small SUV category, I was surprised to see the Kia Sportage recommended as a top safety pick, with the Honda CR-V nowhere in sight. I've been admiring the recently redesigned Honda CR-V for a few years now. Quite honestly, I had been suspecting that it might be my next car. It was certainly the model I was most interested in, out of everything I saw on the road. In reading the IIHS ratings, I was shocked to learn that the CR-V scored too poorly on their roof strength evaluations to be recommended as a top safety pick.

According to the IIHS, federal regulations require vehicles to withstand a force 1.5 times the total weight of the car before reaching 5 inches of crush. This is called the strength-to-weight ratio. Many roofs can withstand greater force than the recommended minimum, but the specific information hasn't been available to consumers. The IIHS started performing their own roof strength tests in 2009 and has included this element in vehicle ratings since 2010. 

video of IIHS' roof strength test
To receive the IIHS's "Acceptable" rating, vehicles must have a strength-to-weight ratio of 3.25. A "Marginal" rating value is 2.5, anything below that gets a "Poor" rating. Beginning in 2010, in order to earn their "Good" rating and qualify as a "Top Safety Pick," a vehicle must have a strength-to-weight ratio of 4 or more. I think roof strength is an especially important element in SUV safety; 25 percent of deaths in car/minivan crashes involve rollovers but that number jumps to 59 percent in SUVs. From the IIHS, "a strength-to-weight ratio of 4.0 has an estimated 50 percent reduction in the risk of serious and fatal injury in single-vehicle rollover crashes compared with the minimum level of 1.5." 

The 2007-2011 Honda CR-V gets an IIHS strenght-to-weight ratio of just 2.8. It withstood 9,700 pounds of force to it's 3,469 pounds of weight. Only the Ford Escape/Mercury Mariner/Mazda Tribute scored lower in the "Marginal" group, at 2.55. I thought it was especially interesting that only the 2005-10 Kia Sportage and 2005-09 Hyundai Tucson received the worst score - a "Poor" at 2.43 - but then the '11 Sportage and '10-'11 Tucson jumped all the way up to "Good" with a rating of 4.43. They were third in the Small SUV category, behind the Subaru Forester (at 4.64) and Volkswagen Tiguan (at 5.82).

I don't know that I would have even looked at a Kia Sportage if it hadn't been on the IIHS 2011 Top Safety Pick list, but I checked it out immediately and was highly intrigued. The Sportage was totally redesigned for it's third-generation 2011 model under Kia's Chief Design Officer, Peter Schreyer. You may not know his name but you've certainly seen his work - most notably, the 1998 Audi TT and the 1998 Volkswagen New Beetle. As CDO at Kia, one of Schreyer's most important contributions has been the design of a recognizable "face" for the brand, which seems to have been integrated into all of the current year models. Called the "Tiger Nose," I think it's particularly hot on the Sportage. Also hot? The low, low starting price for the base model, which came in a manual transmission. It jumped to the top of our list.

The 2011/12 Kia Sportage. Check out that "Tiger Nose" (left)
We went on our first test-driving expedition early this year. We wanted to drive a Sportage and a CR-V so we could figure out which paths to keep exploring. Kia was our first stop so we could accurately judge the car and the experience without comparing to anything but our own cars. The dealer didn't have a manual transmission base model to drive, but we were happy to take the automatic for a spin. We were actually both surprised by how impressed we were and came away pretty smitten. 

We drove straight to the Honda dealer across town. We were fully expecting a Honda to be way nicer than a Kia and were excited to see what that looked like, if we were so impressed with the Sportage. Perhaps our expectations were too high but we were disappointed as soon as the dealer opened the door to the CR-V. The starting price was a few thousand dollars higher than the Kia but the interior felt cheap and spartan by comparison. Plus, the CR-V isn't available with a manual transmission. Factor in the low roof strength-to-weight ratio, and I decided pretty quickly that this wasn't the car for me. I was also annoyed that the dealer only let us drive it on the freeway in the on/off-ramp lane and then gave us the hard sell for like, thirty minutes. He even brought in a "closer" type. They both seemed surprised when we mentioned that the car wasn't an IIHS Top Safety Pick, and that was pretty important to us. We were only just beginning our research and this guy wanted to sell us a car we didn't want, that very day. He reminded us an awful lot of Ol' Gil Gunderson - "You want a car with a radio, right? You kids like music, right?" ...

Aw, c'mon, do it for Ol' Gil!
So after our first foray, we were pretty keen on the Sportage as our first choice. We even went as far as to hunt one down to rent for a weekend. We picked it up at the Burbank Airport Avis and drove it around for a few days. We tested out the LATCH system and installed Alice's carseat, and drove it over the Grapevine and back to see how it handled the steep grade and how it felt on the road. We only had a few complaints but they were major enough to give us pause. The passenger seat was ridiculously low (which we since determined must have been a problem with that particular car), and the aggressive exterior styling majorly compromised visibility in the rear blind spots. Ultimately, we decided that the pros outweighed any cons, and that we'd be able to live with any shortcomings. 

We started crunching our numbers and keeping an eye out for a white, base model Sportage with a manual transmission. We also investigated different certified pre-owned cars but after we weeded out everything we weren't interested in, it seemed like we'd be paying as much for a used car as we would for one of the new models we were interested in. So we decided to aim for that and invest in a couple of years where we wouldn't have to worry about mileage-related repairs. That was kind of the point here anyway, along with the updated safety features.

Anyway, it became evident that not only were there no white, base model Sportages around, there were hardly ANY base models with manual transmissions available. In any color, anywhere. We finally tracked down a black one in San Juan Capistrano and went down to check it out. We were happy with the stick shift but realized that if we were serious about buying this car, we'd have to order the specific configuration we were looking for. They quoted us a 3-4 month wait but we weren't ready to pull the trigger. Unfortunately, while we were trying to figure out what to do with our cars and get our budget in order, Kia released the 2012 model year. With no manual transmission. So it was back to the drawing board.

My dad had been suggesting we consider the Subaru Forester since we started talking about a new car. We'd looked at the Forester but the photos on the Subaru website are kind of terrible and not super appealing. But then Jon saw one on a walk through our neighborhood and said it looked much better in real life. Once the Kia was out of the picture, we decided to give the Forester a shot and finally found time to drive one late in the summer. And we liked it better than we'd expected to. We actually liked it a whole lot. 

Unfortunately, we found ourselves in a similar situation as with Kia, where we couldn't seem to locate any existing white Foresters with a manual transmission. The dealer told us that we could order one with a lead time of 6-8 weeks and that the 2012 year model had been delayed by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. But again, we weren't quite ready to pull the trigger so we went home and continued trying to figure out how to go about selling our cars, and turning the sales into a down payment that would get our monthly payments where we wanted. The budgeting wouldn't have been so difficult if we didn't also have to put a new roof on our house next summer, per city ordinance.

In the meantime, Jon listed his car on Craig's List, got creeped out by a weirdo with absolutely no trail on the whole wide internet, and then reassessed how much time and energy he was able to invest into selling privately. We stalled some more and then things started falling into place. We drove to Livermore, Maleficent refused to leave and we left her there. Two days later, Jon was checking inventory at Subaru dealers all over the state. He found a car for sale in Livermore that fit the bill in every way but color but at this point, we were willing to consider dark gray. But he got really excited when he found the perfect combination at a dealer in Ventura, only an hour away. After much deliberating, emailing, number crunching, and weeping, we decided to accept my dad's help in selling my car in Livermore, see what the dealer would offer to trade in Jon's car, and just take the plunge. We gave the dealer a deposit to hold the car until we could get out there on the weekend and started to become cautiously optimistic.

Well, the car was perfect. Exactly what we wanted, with a few extra features AND a really great deal on the price. We traded keys with the dealer and took the car for a drive while he looked over Jon's car to determine the trade-in value. When we got back, he solemnly told us what he thought Jon's was worth. I tried not to leap in the air for joy and hoped that I was  able to duck my head and hide my grin fast enough to pass it off as a reaction to Alice eating crackers. Jon then engaged the dealer in a very serious negotiation for a very modestly priced accessory while I tried not to laugh. But he got the accessory, and we got a better trade in price than we were hoping for after CarMax's quote of $600 (ouch). So we signed on many dotted lines and ninety minutes later, as promised, we waved goodbye to Pearl and drove our new car off the lot. WOOOOOO-HOOOOOO!!!!

Looking over the engine 
I promise that handshake connected and resolved.
By the way, if you live in the LA area and are in the market for a Subaru, we had a really great experience with the guy we worked with at Barber Subaru in Ventura. Let me know, and I'll pass his name along. He even took a photo for us! 
the happy family with our newest member
We were giddy and starving, so headed to the nearest dining establishment we could find. After we fortified ourselves with Habit burgers, we headed to the beach (since we were just right there) and walked out on the pier and down a nice trail that stretched along the beach. Alice hadn't slept since 6am that morning though and didn't seem to feel the need to start then, so we called it a day and headed home in our smooth and quiet new ride.

lunch and a long walk on a long pier.
We left Pearl parked here.
Jon was sad about saying goodbye to his car, especially when he thought about how that's how we drove Alice home from the hospital. When he was cleaning it out and sprucing it up for the last time, he found a note that my sister had tucked under the windshield while we were still in the hospital with Alice, telling us to have fun bringing our little baby home. But Jon loves this new car as much as he loved Pearl when he first brought her home. He particularly loves the peace of mind that a new car brings, and loves that we've downsized to be a one-car family. We both love the giant, glorious sun roof, the iPod/Bluetooth connectivity, and that we have our very first new car (for either of us). Oh, and that lovely, new-car smell. Or, as my dad likes to say, the most expensive smell in the world. Now we just need to find a suitable name...
The stroller fits! Hooray!!

And that's the WHOLE story of how we got a new car. I'm just glad it's over. Well, almost over. If you live in the Bay Area and are in the market for a black 4Runner, let me know and I'll give you the digits!!