Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Going Car-free in the 'Burbs

Finally, Twittering my life away has led me back to my blog!  (I'm not even going to talk about my Strimko addiction; it's worse than when I first found Sudoku.)  I ran across a re-tweet that sent me to this post on BlogHer about a car-free challenge.  We went car-free on March 19th so I thought I would contribute my two cents about our experience.

The reason I can remember the last date I drove our van was because it was The Biscuit's last day of preschool, just before spring break. Not really an eventful day, but memorable. We thought that our insurance had expired (turned out that was wrong so I was not driving without insurance, whew!) and I think it was weather and the party going on at school after he had been out ill that made me feel it was worth it to take him.  Lucky guy, he got to watch Cars at school, in the dark, with popcorn and his own personal flashlight and everything.

Have I mentioned that we love Teacher Katie? Because we do! She has helped a little boy and his mom like being apart from each other because class is so much fun and is just so worth it. Hip hip hooray for Special Ed Preschool Teachers.  If you agree then please consider using the button in my right sidebar linking to DonorsChoose.org and donating some money to our school (Woodside) or one near you.

Back to the car-free business...

We live in a suburb of Portland, Oregon. While Portland is well-known as a nice place to live without a car, the 'burbs are seen as much less transit-friendly.  I'm here to tell you that it can be done.  It does take a major shift in your outlook though.

The idea started simply enough: I joined a walking book club. We would meet at the local library, walk around the beautiful ponds on nicely paved trails with our strollers to lose some baby weight and talk about the book we were all reading. I started feeling badly that we were driving two miles to the library in order to walk; why not just walk to the library? So I started doing extra laps after the other ladies were finished walking to build up my strength so that walking those two miles, then walking with the book club, and then walking two miles home wouldn't be so hard. This was back in the early spring of 2008, a year before we parked then van.  I never did work all the way up to walking to the library for our walks before we went on hiatus for the winter.

There were still nice days here and there after the book club took a break and I would want to get the kids out for a walk. Sometimes it was just too much to get our errands done and figure out a way for me to get exercise. I'm sure lots of other moms have this same problem. Eventually it dawned on me that if we walked to our errands that I could kill two birds with one stone. Of course my day would often get out of hand with two kids under 4 years old so we would use the van, get the errands done and skip the walk altogether.

When we finally did stop driving the weather was nice enough and things weren't too bad.  We are lucky enough that even though we are in the 'burbs we have a bus stop two minutes away and a MAX (the local light rail) stop about 15 minutes away.  I did research and found that the regulations state that I don't have to fold up the stroller if we are riding in a low train car, so when I have both kids we don't bother with the bus (where you must always put your stroller away before boarding) and walk to the train station.  Only twice have we skipped boarding a train because it seemed too crowded and I didn't want to inconvenience the other riders with our stroller.

(This is me and the kids at last fall's Buddy Walk so you can see the stroller. It's a Tike Tech Trax360 double in lime green -- safety neon green if you ask me.)

At this point I need to admit that I feel absolutely no guilt in parking our stroller in a handicapped space on the train.  As I said in my last post, this stroller is only as wide as a wheelchair, so it fits and other people can get around us just fine.  If anyone wants to argue with me that my son isn't disabled so doesn't deserve that spot then they can bring it on.  No one has challenged us though.  We've had lots of great conversations with new people we've met and the kids really seem to enjoy the train and watching the doors when we pull into a station to see which side will open.  One day The Biscuit clearly said "door" after the announcement that "The doors are closing."  That was a sweet moment!

The biggest change we have had to make is in our thinking.  We live less than a mile from a major chain grocery store and about two miles from the library. Costco is right there near the library so at first I didn't worry about changing where we shopped.  What I had to change was what I thought of as "walking distance."  I didn't used to think that a mile was close enough to walk to.  The place I get my hair cut is just a couple blocks and takes about five minutes to get to, so of course I walk that, but the grocery store?  Yeah, turns out that's not a hard walk.  It's just walking. You put one foot in front of the other and continue until you arrive at your destination.  Really not so terrible. 

I eventually changed some of the places that I shop once I got used to using transit and noticed that there are often stores very near train stops.  That meant sometimes going to a local independent grocer that's only 2 train stops away (actually, there are two different local grocers that are two stops away, just opposite directions), and switching to a Costco that's near a MAX stop instead of the one that's a 40 minute walk from home.

Our biggest challenge is Target and Trader Joe's.  I can't give them up completely so that means that once in awhile I take a 20 minute bus ride from practically our front door to a center that has both stores.  That bus only runs once an hour so I have to time my trip just right, but it works.  Yes, it's Oregon so I get rained on, but that just means strategically packing the groceries so that what's on top protects the other items.  It also means that I do not forget my reusable bags (repurposed goody bags from last fall's Buddy Walk) because they are waterproof and have handles that make them comfortable to carry.  Another bonus for going carless is that I always remember my bags now.  It used to be that sometimes I would decide it wasn't worth it to walk back to the car to get them.  How sad is that?

Another strategy I've had to come up with is how to lug everything home.  My first method was to only take one of the kids with me so that I had not only the basket under the stroller but one of the seats to place items.  That worked great for Costco.  Then I started taking to heart my old idea that getting out with the stroller should be my daily exercise and we started shopping more frequently.  This resulted in smaller loads to be carried, but I still had to deal with the fact that we go through about a gallon of milk every day.  The trick turned out to be as simple as a bungee cord.  I can buy two gallons of milk, put each in one of those repurposed bags and then attach them to a bungee cord that's been wrapped around the strollers handle.  It doesn't change the feel or balance of the stroller that I can tell; it's still just as easy to push.  I just have to be careful when going up and down curbs that I'm not turning right or left at the same time.  As long as I take it easy everything stays where I put it.

All in all, the carless thing is working for us, despite having a walk score of 37 out of 100 which is labeled as "car-dependent."  And it's true that our walk to both the grocery store and the train station take us down a road with no sidewalks that sometimes has a bit of traffic.  I make sure that I walk on the left side of the road so that we are facing traffic, pull over into driveways if I feel that we need to be out of the way for a bit, and I've gotten in the habit of waving to everyone who does the right thing and slows down and gives us some space.  

I think that once you re-examine your thinking, there are ways of dealing with whatever location you find yourself in.  Parking that car suddenly becomes  a lot more possible.

Note:  I'm writing this after a week of sick toddlers and the toll that has taken on me.  I'm truly sorry if this isn't very coherent and would gladly clarify any points that don't make sense.  Please feel free to comment or email me questions!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

I'VE HAD IT! (Post full 'o bile)

I'm so stinking tired of reading online that I'm not welcome someplace with my double-wide stroller!  I know I'm hormonal right now (not pregnant... this month), but it is SO rubbing me the wrong way.  I shopped really hard to find us something that would make the kids happy (sitting next to each other) and would still be useful (i.e. no wider than a wheelchair so we can go thru single-sized doors).  Everytime I see these comments wishing that double-wide strollers would be banned at the Portland Farmer's Market the Mama Bear in me just gets furious.  I saw it on Twitter (specifically a Yelp guy -- that was a while ago so I'm sure the Tweet is gone by now), then on Dave Knows: Portland, and now OurPDX.  Just which of these things are they trying to tell me?
  • If you have to keep your almost-4-year-old in a stroller then you're a bad parent. He should be under control and able to walk along side you. Oh, he has Down syndrome? Oh. (That's when I see the thought bubble over their head wondering why I didn't do what the other 90% of women do and abort him. Because disability is part of the normal human condition! He's not a thing to be pitied or that should have been "put out of his misery" or "spared" from having to live. He's a wonderful little boy with a great sense of humor and I thank God that I get to be his mom.)
  • If you already had this kid with special needs, why did you have another kid? (Uh, cuz sometimes married couples celebrate and, well, sometimes pregnancy results. Did you not take health class in school? Besides that, the plan was a family of 5 so we *did* back off.)
Most people that talk to us think my kids are twins. What if they were? Should I have given one up for adoption so as not to burden your day with a double-stroller?

So here I am with 2 toddlers that I love and DO NOT REGRET HAVING and you think that means that I should stay in my house and out of your precious little way?  No!!!  We are a part of your community and that means that we are out in the community doing things and living life.  You need to get off your high horse and stop looking down your nose at us. Say "Hi!" We're friendly and enjoy meeting new people. Quit picking on me, my kids and my G-D stroller!  Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh!

Hopefully this will get the bile out of my system and I can stop leaving comments saying a MUCH milder form of this on other peoples' blogs.  (Sorry, Dave.)