Getting There is Half – or All – the Fun

 

You don’t get a lot of opportunities to try new things as you get older. You have to go out of your way to take salsa dancing lessons, try a Stand Up Paddleboard or learn a new language. And if you have young kids you probably don’t have a lot of free time to seek out and engage in learning new things. Yes, I’m talking about myself here but I am sure some of you can relate. In the grind, and joy, of parenting young children and the somewhat predictable days of mid-life, I haven’t found a lot of time and energy for learning something new.

Learning something new actually helps slow the aging of your brain. And learning something new actually brings you happiness. If you tack on being outside and exercise to this new thing – boom – you’ve added something pretty incredible to your life. Who knew I would find all of this in a cargo bike.

I feel like Superwoman on this bike. I feel accomplished and while I am still intimidated – can I get us up that hill? – that small voice saying ‘maybe you can’t do this’ is one that I revel in trying to silence. Again, when are you challenged to do something that scares you in your life? For most of us there are fewer and fewer opportunities to learn something new, something we didn’t know we could do, as we get older. So when I got my first ride in with all three kids on the bike – two months and a few dozen short rides in the making – I felt on top of the world.

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I can now haul all three children – combined weight of 110 lbs – and gear for a day at the beach on my Yuba Mundo Cargo Bike. I feel safe on the bike but I’m still intimidated at times. I’m still learning new skills, improving my fitness and learning new routes to get around my city. Still learning that I need to balance the load on the bike – put the water bottles in the front bread basket instead of in our single pannier – and still learning the routes and when to gear down. Learning and loving the fun and freedom a cargo bike has given our family.

The kids love the cargo bike. Our middle child actually refused to get on the bike at first. Kicking and screaming would not get on the bike. Now he loves it and is disappointed if we aren’t going somewhere by bike. The other thing they love about the cargo bike but probably can’t verbalize: it makes our day a lot easier and even cheaper.

The other weekend we had a beautiful Vancouver day with a visit to Second Beach in Stanley Park followed by a late afternoon dip in an urban splash park in the heart of the city. By car the itinerary would have been onerous: expensive and hard to find parking in Stanley Park with stop-and-go traffic. We probably would have skipped the splash pad because there is very little street parking near it and most of it has a short time limit.

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By cargo bike we are nimble adventurers. Load up the Go Getter panniers with lunch and our beach gear and we can go anywhere on a whim. No parking to find and pay for. We roll our bike into the park or to the beach, put the solid double kickstand on, and all of our gear is right there with us. Baby needs a nap? No problem.

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Right now the cargo bike is really cutting down on our driving which I love. School’s been out for three weeks and the only time we’ve been in the car was to drive up to the Okanagan for a family vacation. The car hadn’t moved in two weeks and I actually had the thought, should I go turn the engine over?

Some families may be able to splurge on a cargo bike solely for recreation purposes and if that’s you, go get one – they are so fun! I recently met a family that was visiting Vancouver from Seattle and had brought their cargo bike up to explore with. The dad told me he ‘tested’ himself before buying a cargo bike. He kept track of how often they got out with their bike and bike trailer set up for a summer. It was enough usage that he felt comfortable investing in a cargo bike because they biked a lot for pleasure and adventure.

But for most families the price tag of a cargo bike takes it out of being a leisure or recreation purchase; the cargo bike has to reduce or replace other transit costs. I’ll have another post about commuting with kids by cargo bike and using it to go car-free or car-lite. There are so many families sharing how they use their cargo bike as family transportation from the car-free, cycle in all weather families to those that cargo bike to reduce, but not eliminate how much they drive. Plus: how those three kids, and beach gear, fit on the bike!

Simplifying Childhood is Making Your Kid Bored….. and That is a Very Good Thing

So so happy to bring you a post from ScreenFreeMom who writes at ScreenFreenParenting.com. You can read more about her credentials and work at the end of this post. I know summer can be a tough time for managing screen access/hours with school being out so when ScreenFreeMom asked me if she could share a post with Minimalist Mom readers I was thrilled. Here it is…

As a kid, I was bored a lot.  I had a good friend who was often bored with me.  We were not put in summer camps and we did not have a ton of different “activities.” I am not a gymnast, black-belt holder, or musician; but I think I am a pretty well-rounded adult nonetheless.  We also didn’t have an Ipad with a myriad of games and programs to choose from. Our childhood was filled with boredom.

Boredom had a big effect on us.  Our neighborhood was a new development.  My house was one of the first ten built and by the time we moved out, when I was teenager, there were over 40 houses in the neighborhood.  This meant that there was a lot of construction going on in the neighborhood throughout my childhood.  My friend and I often found ourselves watching the construction, sometimes “touring” the sites, and often digging through the treasure chest of discarded materials when the building was done.  Soon, my backyard had scraps of lumber, unused roofing tiles, and leftover drywall.  We quickly decided we would build a fort. We constructed a chicken-co0p like structure – permanently half-finished but, boy, were we proud.

Also motivated by our boredom, we wrote a soap opera, built a town out of boxes, and founded “The Explorers Club,” a group dedicated to maintaining the woods behind our houses.   Reminiscing about childhood is an enjoyable activity in and of itself.  We had a fun childhood.  We also learned a great deal through our play.  Given the freedom, we created worlds with social order, wrote long narratives, and built a semi-useful structure. I would argue that we learned a great deal more through these activities than we could have through structured academic activities or organized sports.  And, we certainly learned more than we could have through educational applications and television programming.

But, when I compare my childhood to the overscheduled busy childhoods of today, I see one big difference. Children, today, do not seem to have enough opportunity to be bored.  There is a frenzy, in fact, to protect them from boredom (and often all negative emotions).  However, boredom is a very good thing for children (and adults).

Here are four reasons to encourage boredom in childhood today:

  1. Creativity

Boredom is related to creativity.  Boredom leads to daydreaming which often leads to creative insights.  As a writer, I know this, as I often go for long runs before writing.  My mind wanders and in that semi-conscious space, the ideas start to flow.  I am not alone in this as many writers have discussed how boredom is essential to their process.  Parents of young children know this as well.  If able to tolerate the whining that may come with the initial feeling of boredom, they get to witness their children creating very inventive and enthralling games.

  1. Relaxation

Constant on-the-go-ness is exhausting. It is exhausting for parents, but it is even more exhausting for children.  For children, every experience offers some novelty and therefore their brains have to work harder at observing, deconstructing, and encoding all that they are taking in.  Downtime, which may seem boring at first, is essential to allow children the opportunity to replenish their energy and give their brains a break.

  1. Sleep

Relaxation and sleep are related.  Your child should not immediately pass out when their little heads hit the pillow. If they do, they are overtired.  So, if they don’t pass out immediately, what do they do?  They process their day.  This is important work.  They also may experience boredom before falling asleep.  If they are not permitted to experience boredom throughout their day, this emotion will be intolerable for them and they will have difficulty falling asleep.  However, if they are accustomed to boredom and the daydreaming that accompanies it, it will offer a seamless passage from wakefulness into sleep.

  1. Tolerance and Insight Into (all) Emotions

John Gottman has done some great research into emotional intelligence.  He’s taken it a step further to analyze what parents of emotionally-intelligent children do.  His research has found that they tolerate and even encourage all emotions in their children.  The parents also help the children by “coaching” some tough emotions via labeling and searching for solutions.  But, a big key is that the child is allowed to experience emotions, including ones we might consider negative.  Emotion-coaching parents do not inhibit their child from experiencing sadness, anger, frustration, or boredom.  Rather, they accept these feelings as an important part of the human experience.  These children grow into adults who can accept and cope with their emotions and tolerate them.

Conclusion: Embrace the Boredom  

So, when your child is bored, give them space.  Don’t see their boredom as a “problem” you need to solve.  Be supportive and have confidence in their ability to learn to cope with all emotions.  Praise them when they are able to use their boredom to create something great for themselves.

How about you? What creative thing did you dream in your boring childhood? Or what sort of inventiveness have you seen in your children when they are given the opportunity to be bored?

Screen-Free Mom is a psychologist, writer and a university psychology instructor. She has her Doctorate in Counseling Psychology from the University of Miami and Master’s in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University. She is happily raising her two kids sans screens.  She runs a website: www.screenfreeparenting.com where she writes about tech-wise parenting and provides tons of screen-free activities.  She has developed psychologically-based system to help organize the activities young children learn and grow from: the S.P.O.I.L. system.  Before you turn on the screen, she asks, “Have you S.P.O.I.L.-ed your child yet today?

Minimalism and Your Diet

This is a sponsored post.

Have you ever wondered how simplicity and minimalism can help you eat a better? I know I talk mostly about tossing kitchen equipment and having fewer spatulas on this blog but I was recently asked to write about minimalism and diet and found some great ideas for simplifying your nutrition for better health. I would love it if you included any of your own tips in the comments. Many of these are easy to implement and immediate – no special appliance needed!

Minimalism and Your Diet

As a minimalist, you are probably looking for new areas to apply your minimalist philosophy beyond your closet and kitchen cupboards. How about applying minimalism to your diet? Eating less and eating foods with fewer ingredients can improve your health and minimize your environmental impact. Here are a few ideas to help you start looking for ways to simplify your food consumption.

Start With the Essentials

Start minimalizing your diet by thinking about the nutrients that are essential for living a healthy life. Getting the right balance of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals in your daily diet will help you to be healthier, feel better in your skin, and have more energy to do the things you really want to do with your life. Your meals are how you provide your body with the building blocks it needs to renew itself. Think about food as fuel first, and pleasure second, and you will be on the right track towards applying minimalism to your diet.
 
Eat Less

This may seem obvious but a minimalist diet could simply start with snacking less. How many times per day do you eat? There are different approaches to how best to eat that depend on your current health status, your level of athletic activity, and your basic metabolism. If you are in reasonably good health and not training for a marathon, consider simplifying your eating by eating less. Create a little rule to guide your new habit, like replacing your afternoon snack with an invigorating walk, or no eating after eight in the evening – I’ve heard some people close their kitchen after the dinner dishes to discourage evening snacking. The right approach to eating less will vary from person to person, just look for somewhere that you could cut back.

Eat Foods with Fewer Ingredients

Simplicity can be found in a meal consisting of just a few pieces of real food: a lunch of an apple with cheese and bread or crackers. Read food labels and try to stick to foods whose ingredients you recognize, as well as eating foods with the smallest number of ingredients you can find. Ideal foods would be fruits and vegetables, which don’t even come with nutrition labels. Once you venture into processed foods, the minimalist approach may lead you to look for simpler alternatives to some of your favorites. Instead of bottled salad dressing, just sprinkle some oil and vinegar on your salad. Instead of the usual mayonnaise, try making your own from eggs and oil, or try Just Mayo from Hampton Creek, a vegan mayo alternative with recognizable ingredients.

Eat Lower on the Food Chain

Try minimizing the impact your diet has on the planet by going vegan for one day per week, or try Mark Bittman’s approach of going vegan before six in the evening. About 25 gallons of water are required to raise one pound of wheat, but 2,500 gallons of water are required to raise one pound of beef. Eating less meat, replacing it with vegetables and legumes, minimizes the strain our food production system puts on the environment.

Prioritize Quality

Minimalism isn’t about being ascetic, it is about simplifying your life in ways that make sense to you. Having fewer things often means you can afford better things. This is a huge advantage with food. If you are eating less and wasting less, then you can buy higher quality foods. Buying high-quality locally grown produce will change the way you think about fruits and vegetables. Sweet summer vegetables from a farm 20 miles from your house picked earlier that day are so delicious that they require little preparation, and deliver high satisfaction. We’ve been buying vegetables and fruits through a local CSA and it’s not only introduced us to some new to us foods – fresh artichokes! – but the higher investment cost has made me even more mindful of food waste.

Prepare Simple Meals

Simplify your diet, and your life, by preparing simple meals. A protein, a starch, a vegetable, and some fat come together to create a delicious and simple dinner. Pan-fry a chicken breast in a little olive oil, make some rice, steam some broccoli, and dinner is done. Or prepare a big salad with lots of fruit and nuts to make it interesting. Multi-step recipes are great for weekends when you have more time to cook, but weeknight dinners are well suited to simple meals. Avoiding complicated recipes allows you to keep your kitchen equipment basic, as well. My family has a few week nights that are busy and I love serving up a tapas style meal of cut up fruits and vegetables with whatever else we have on hand: olives, cheese, hummus. Not having to turn the stove on or wash a pan is a real time saver and these healthy tapas style meals can be prepared quickly.

Applying a minimalist philosophy to your diet can be done in different ways, but they will all result in a simpler life. Eating less food of better quality that can be prepared simply and quickly will improve your health and free up your time for more of the things you really want to do. So include Meatless Mondays in your meal plan, cut out one snack per day, and enjoy the peace it brings you.

Our New Two Wheeled Minivan: The Yuba Mundo Cargo Bike

We did it. We’re a cargo biking family as of a month ago!

For many years I have watched and read wistfully about families using cargo bikes for most of their transportation. It looked like so much fun and the health, environmental and financial benefits were compelling. Stacy over at A Simple Six was the first person I stumbled upon who was moving her large family around by bike. They went ‘car lite’ five years ago and go by bike as much as possible. I was impressed and inspired. Cargo biking with my children seemed like an ideal way to get around because a) I don’t like driving, b) Vancouver has a growing network of bike paths and bike lanes and c) cycling would allow us to go places that are too far for us to walk. Also, d) it looks really fun!

But I also had some hesitations about cargo biking. Could I really do this? I’m a former athlete but I’m not naturally athletic. I don’t pick up new sports or movements easily. Also could I find a cargo bike that all three kids could fit on that would also fit in my condominium bike room. The bike parking stalls are small and you have to exit bikes through two doors and up a fairly steep ramp. I wasn’t sure a cargo bike could fit through the doors, in a bike parking stall or easily go up the exit ramp.

Am I strong enough to pedal my three kids around on a bike? Okay, I was once an athlete but in this current stage of life I’m far, far away from my past career as a rower. Actually right when I was in the process of getting my cargo bike I tore a muscle in my calf and had to stop running. When the bike arrived I had lost a lot of my cardiovascular fitness. Here’s another concern: I’m a big person. Cycling is all about power vs. weight. My fitness wasn’t great and I was going to haul myself, the bike and my kids up a hill? I was intimidated. Intimidated and my husband thought I was a bit crazy.

Can I navigate the streets with my kids on board a cargo bike? I did have some experience road cycling pre-children but it felt like a lifetime ago. I sold my road bike when I was very pregnant with my oldest son seven years ago. Since then I’ve been on a bike exactly once when we rented bikes and I hauled our younger two in a trailer. I went through the archives of Stacy’s blog and took a lot of comfort in her candid posts about her first rides with her cargo bike: yes, it took some getting used to but she was quickly able to ride with several children on board. Also comforting to read: Stacy hatched her plan family biking and going car lite and she hadn’t been on a bike in ten years! This is exactly the kind of blind faith success story I was looking for.

It’s been a month since we got the bike and I’m happy to say yes I am strong enough (and getting stronger!) and yes I can navigate city streets with kids on board. I slowly built up to riding with more weight on the bike and if my three year old will finally get on the bike for more than a photo (he’s our stubborn one!) I’ll be riding with all three on board this summer. I’ll be sharing more about getting started and using our bike but for now, here’s more about our awesome orange family hauler:

Our new minivan bike is a Yuba Mundo 21 LUX.

It can carry up to four small children and has a hauling capacity of 440 lbs. We’ve kitted it out with a Yepp Maxi Easy Fit seat for the baby, soft spot and monkey bars for our older two, a bread basket on the front that can carry up to 50 lbs and one Go Getter pannier bag with an 85 liter capacity. This thing truly is a minivan on two wheels.

Awesome things about our Yuba Mundo cargo bike:

  • it fits in our bike parking! A cargo bike with a box on it would be too wide and long for our bike parking but this long tail fits in nicely.
  • it rides like a regular bike. It has a mechanism called a ‘deflopilator’ that makes the steering heavier to compensate for the weight on the back of the bike. The deflopilator is a must in my opinion – I have ridden the bike with and without this small piece added and it was night and day. It takes some miles to get used to riding a bike with that much weight but after a few rides I was up to riding with two kids (50 + 30lbs) and another 30lbs of gear.
  • it is incredibly fun. Here’s a little video below of two of my boys on the back enjoying themselves. What you can’t see is the grin on my face.
  • this bike could help us become car free again. In the next 1-2 years some things will change for our family – school location, smaller car seats – and with the Yuba Mundo cargo bike, walking, transit and car-sharing we could once again be car free!
  • the Yuba Mundo is an affordable cargo bike. Bigger box style cargo bikes can be in the $6000+ range. A long tail Yuba cargo bike starts as low was $1000.

More to come on cargo biking! If you have any specific questions or photos/videos you would like to see of the bike in action please let me know.

 

Home Tour: Living with 3 Teenagers in a 2 bedroom Apartment

Sharing our home in a series of posts on the blog the last few weeks. Not included in the tour: our kitchen and bathrooms – they are straight up boring but you can see our super tiny kitchen here. The final installment: but what about the teen years?

The oft heard phrase I hear when people find out we have three children and live in a two bedroom apartment and that we hope to stay in this space is: just wait until they are teenagers! In fact there were some funny and informative comments of that exact nature in a few posts in this series. Carmen told me I may want to move out when the boys hit the teen years because of the smell. Maybe that is the solution? I rent a small apartment in my building during their teens years? Strangely enough there is a family in our building with that exact set up. Parents have one apartment and the teen/early college boys have another.

Don’t worry, we are both scared and daunted by the idea of our three boys – likely to be in the very tall range – living in this small-ish space with us. Scared but also aware that we have some choices.

One choice would be to rent a townhouse or upper portion of a house for three to five of the high school years. I think this is becoming a very acceptable idea in Vancouver’s crazy real estate market. Buy a home that works for most of your life, rent somewhere for the relatively small window where it doesn’t work. This would also give us more options for choosing a high school that has programs our children are interested in and a neighborhood that is walkable and has all the amenities we need and enjoy. I like this idea and I think it could work very well. The downside of course would be the hassle of moving and the increased cost. Plus, renting has some drawbacks in that you could lose your lease or the owner could sell and then you are stuck with the expense and hassle of moving again. We’d also pay tax on the rental income from renting out our home plus continue to pay condo strata fees each month and of course any repairs to our home. A townhouse or part of a house would also rent for more than what our apartment would rent for. This choice would significantly increase our cost of living for the duration.

Another choice, one that I also like very much, is to invest in some space saving furniture and renovations to create more space and privacy for teens and parents. Our space usage is terribly inefficient right now: our kids go to bed early and are small. We haven’t needed to increase our efficiency and make rooms multi-purpose because right now it works. Besides the baby sleeping in a portable crib in the office each night, most of our rooms are single purpose. But I can see that older bigger children will want more privacy and our small second bedroom won’t be a comfortable space for three teen boys.

And as someone who experienced having her own bedroom for the first time my sophomore year of college, I would like to give them their own space for some of their teen years. The great thing is, we can actually do that even in our small space. It will take some work and some money but investing in furniture and some small renovations is cheaper than moving and renting a bigger home for three to five years or selling and buying a bigger home.

Here are some of my favorite ideas for making our two bedroom apartment work for a family of five that includes three teenage boys.

renovatingourspace2

Master bedroom becomes younger children’s bedroom and parents take the smaller second bedroom. Our master bedroom is large for a condominium and fits a king sized bed. We could move all the kids in there in the next two or three years and then our oldest could have the den/office as his own room later on. Double wall bunk beds would greatly increase the floor space – I’ve linked to a few options below.

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Photo credit Resource Furniture

 

Second bedroom becomes the parent’s room. We move down to a queen sized bed and perhaps even a fold down queen size bed with a desk. When our oldest moves into the office the second bedroom works nights as parents room and days as a home office. 5kids1condo has this set-up with a fold down bed that is a desk during the day and it means his master bedroom can be used 24 hours a day instead of the usual 8-9.

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Photo credit Costco.ca

Our little office/den becomes the oldest child’s room. Technically this room is an enclosed balcony per city building codes. Semantics really but it doesn’t have a closet and has a glass wall and door that faces into our living room. Because of building codes and rules we will likely never be able to pull the glass wall out and enclose it though we could remove the wall and leave it open (maybe the plan once the kids leave the next!). It’s a very small room but it can fit a twin bed and maybe a small dresser if we were able change the door to swing out instead of in. From memories of my teen years I know that getting your own space is worth it even if it’s a very small space. When the oldest moves out the next in line gets it, we move back into the master bedroom and then the two children still at home each have their own room.

The closets in our home are very small but I recently saw a smart idea from fellow Vancouverite Alison who writes at 600sqft.com (lovely blog! go check it out) about a small renovation that increased their closet storage space. A light went on for me – we could do this with our few and small closets too. So to keep up with the increasing size of the kid’s clothes we could knock the headers of the closets out and have more usable space. If we can keep all or most of the clothing in the closets we can have fewer dressers and more floor space. Which will be needed with five people in the 6ft to 6’5″ or taller range sharing 1100 square feet.

Our beloved IKEA Stockholm sofa could be traded in for a sectional. Not a chance it can seat what will be five adults. We’ll get something larger, give up our side table and maybe I will finally have a coffee table once there are no crazy toddlers in the house. The dining room table that now sits in a four person configuration will expand to it’s six person configuration permanently.

We put up a sliding barn door or put a wall with door up to divide our living room from the two bedrooms. This would create a better sound barrier between the living room and more privacy for our main bathroom.

Another way to create more privacy: spend less time at home. I know this sounds a bit strange but hear me out. I’m hoping my teens are fairly independent and that due to our proximity to so many things, including transit, they can manage their own lives and schedules without mom and dad chauffeuring them around. With so much at their door step I expect they will spend some evenings studying at the Vancouver Public Library a few blocks away, playing pick up basketball at the local outdoor courts or at the Community Centre, swimming in our condo pool downstairs or at evening band practice at the high school that’s a 20 minute walk or eight minute bus ride away. Or working their part-time evening and weekends job at a local coffee shop. Yes, this is a small space for two adults and three teenagers but one of the reasons we live down here is that we have a lot of public space and amenities close by. Our living room is limitless if we think of all the options in a few blocks radius to us to study, meet up with friends, read a book or listen to music.

Are you living in your ‘forever’ home or will you need to upsize or downsize as you age or your family grows/shrinks?

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