Friday, January 31, 2014

Updates: life and the cargo bike

Life with Noah and Eli has been pretty amazing of late, not least because of the cargo bike. A lot of things happened at once: our friends from Australia returned home after a lovely visit, we decided to try limiting our kid's screen time to Sundays only (at the same time we'd been trying to take a day of rest more seriously), and the Bullitt arrived. What had been a pretty tough time parenting-wise suddenly turned around. 

When Noah is tired or on edge now, he gets into the crate of the Bullitt with an encyclopedia and looks at pictures of fossils. I don't know exactly why. We've tried these kind of soothing solutions before, but up to now the only thing that worked to calm him down was media, which seemed to make things worse in the long term because it didn't teach him how to cope with difficult emotions. I'm not sure what we'd have done if the kids had kept asking about the iPod or computer, but to my surprise Noah seemed to welcome the boundary, and Eli, while he loves Kipper, doesn't think of it when there's no computer around to remind him. 

Eli feeds Noah the dregs of the Nutella jar. We have a tradition of buying Nutella every time we have houseguests, and when Tiff and Justin left, the kids cleaned the jar so well I barely needed to wash it.
Happiness is sugar 

It's been really hot so we've been making ice-cream. Eli gets to lick the paddle outside. In other news, our granadilla vines are finally starting to grow granadillas!
Today I took the kids on the train to Kalk bay. The train station is about 20 minutes walk away, but for the kids it's more like an hour-long walk. With the heat, that's just too long. Up to now, we've mainly driven to the beach, but with the Bullitt it's a 5-10 minute ride each way to the train station, and when they're tired after a long train ride, we can just pop them in the crate and ride home.

Eug somehow rode and took photos at the same time.
On the train, the kids read books and looked out the window. We waited a long time for the train in each direction, but it was still apparent that the train time was much more enjoyable than car time for the kids. Relying on the Bullitt and public transportation makes some places  difficult to get to but others easier. The Science Center is now an easy trip- instead of a grueling walk up the hill with the kids, it's a quick 5 minute bike ride. If only I liked going there. We are keen to explore the city centre - where it's hard to find parking but is an easy bike ride away.

We went really early to try to get to the beach before it got too hot.

Eug rode with us to the station and brought the Tern back in the Bullitt. 

After a week with the Bullitt, we're still in the honeymoon phase- we haven't managed to sell our car yet and it's still sortof funny when I have to drag myself up a hill and can't. To make it work in a mountainous city like Cape Town in the long term either we will need a BionX electric assist or I need to have a body transplant.

Can you see the McDonald's ice-cream wrapper on the handlebar? Eug took the Bullitt through the drive-thru yesterday. 
Going on busy urban roads for the first time has been nerve-wracking: rather than just thinking of my own safety, I have to consider what is an acceptable risk for Noah and Eli, and my gut reaction is "NONE!" But then I ride, I'm pretty cautious: I wait at intersections until there's really no doubt of it being safe to cross over, and gradually it's less scary.

It feels like we're at the beginning of a new adventure. We have multiple conversations every day about commuter biking. We are able to understand first-hand how highways split up communities and make commuting by foot or bike a nightmare. The role of trucks in small urban roads seems more questionable. We can describe different routes to other commuters. We're more connected to people in our neighborhood. I'm imagining more broadly what is possible with pedal power. And that's just after a week.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

We have a Bullitt cargo bike

Today we picked up our cargo bike, a Bullitt classic with a crate up front. Here it is:
I promise, we wore helmets later. It was only when we had no idea how to ride the bike that we didn't.
While Eli was napping we tried it out on the street outside our house.
I hope to write more about it on Composting Faith, but here on Concrete Gardener I wanted to share the news and the day-to-day process of learning to ride with small kids in Cape Town. Here goes!

Up to now, riding has been limited to my trips to work and back. It's a short, easy ride on our folding bike. For about a year we've been thinking a lot about doing a car-free experiment: selling our car and relying on bike transportation, with some train and bus support. I don't consider myself a great bike enthusiast, but I do believe that personal-use cars are generally unsustainable and not great for neighborliness or health. We're uniquely suited to giving up our car- we don't have long work commutes, the weather in Cape Town is more or less ok, there are nearby hospitals we could bike to quickly if there was an emergency. We can get to some amazing beaches by train. All the important things are pretty much covered.

But I call it an experiment so that it doesn't have to be forever; even as I know driving is not sustainable, it's part of who we are and that doesn't change overnight. We hope to give it our best shot for a year or two, then reevaluate. Of the cities I've lived, Cape Town is not the greatest place for commuter-biking, nor is it a great place for being without a car... yet. Of course, most of the city do live without personal cars, but in general it makes life more complicated, whoever you are. So anyway, we'd love to be part of making Cape Town more bike-friendly.

We ended up with a Bullitt because it seemed like a cargo bike is much better at replacing a car than a regular bike- even a regular bike with modifications. I think the Bullitt makes it much more likely we'll survive and thrive without a car, long term. There was just one company in Cape Town, Camissa bicycles, that happened to be interested in importing cargo bikes. After doing all their research they decided that the Bullitt was the best cargo bike on the market, so that was what they imported. I love it when choices are made for us. We had to buy it without ever seeing one. In fact, it's the first Bullitt imported to Africa.

A look at costs
We hope to sell our 2008 Tata for about the same amount we paid for the Bullitt, and from a financial perspective, the bike will pay for itself in less than 2 years, not counting the health benefits of cycling. That is, in two years, if we need to, we can buy a car similar to the Tata and not sell the Bullitt, and still come out ahead. Even as a high-end, expensive, awesomely made bike, it's still a lot cheaper than our always-has-problems low-end car.

First impressions
1) It's big
We have to keep it indoors for security, so it's good that the kids like playing in it because it takes up most of our corridor space. I think they may start eating all their meals in the crate. If you come over a meal, please excuse the massive bike you have to climb over. We're going to have to figure out security as we try out different routes around the city. The bike comes with a really good lock, and with a second lock I'm hoping we can secure it on lampposts etc. It's size also makes it harder to steal. It's relatively narrow, so I think it could be on at least some sidewalks without totally blocking pedestrians.

2) It's beautiful and looks like it can last a lifetime
This is a super well-designed bike.

3) Even though it takes some getting used to, it's fun to ride. And super fun to ride fast.
It rides extremely well, but I'm still getting used to the center of gravity up front. Today I rode the kids down the street to the park (I didn't take pictures, but we did wear helmets this time!), and felt like a clumsy novice. The good news is, the kids are already in love with the bike, and even with the clumsy bits the trip to the park left them so happy and excited that it was worth it. They consented to the helmets and safety harnesses and sat there like they were going on the adventure of a lifetime, not a trip to our local park.

It does best when I get a bit of momentum- stopping and starting was hard for me. Pedalling with the kids and cargo was not strenuous, but then I only rode a couple of kilometers.

4) The crate is spacious enough for two toddlers and luggage. 
There's plenty of room for the kids. They share a safety harness and once Noah is a little taller, there is also a space for him to ride behind the handlebars. Figuring out a way to buy groceries with two children and no car was the biggest impediment to thinking through life without a car, so the space is great. We also signed up for Harvest of Hope so we're not really needing to grocery shop much.

Remaining questions
We don't yet know how we'll do on longer rides in extreme weather- very hot or very rainy. We have a weather cover for the crate, but it's solid waterproof fabric. Right now we're thinking of just bringing up the weather cover so that water isn't rushing into the crate, and the kids can just wear jackets and poke their heads out. We may have to build something to fit on top of the crate- or just have the kids hold umbrellas... ideas welcome!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Oude Moulen Ecovillage

As we do once or twice a week, the kids and I went to the ecovillage in Pinelands today. We joined my parents who had just dropped off my brother and sister-in-law at the airport, meaning that the holidays are officially over here.

With plans finally afoot for a cargo bike to replace our car, I am so grateful to have the ecovillage nearby enough to make it an easy trip by bike. Last week, we discovered a self-seeding cherry tomato plant that supplied enough tomatoes for 5 1L consol jars of sauce. This week, there were enough new tomatoes for another batch- not quite as big as last week but still probably enough for 3L of sauce.

Noah and Eli are now brave enough to go up a little step ladder up to this super high treehouse. Terrifying stuff.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Miller's Point

Happy New Year! Last year was a big year for us in its smallness: we didn't have any major life changes, though there were two trips to Korea (one with the whole family, one where Eug went alone) and lovely visits from friends. I interviewed women and conducted focus groups with migrants/refugees around the city, which was life-changing in its own way.  Eug completed his first novel, which is also a huge deal.

On the last day of the year, I suggested that our extended family head to Boulders (also known as the Penguin Beach). What I forgot was that EVERYONE (tourists, Cape Townians, everyone in the universe) had the same idea, and we were pretty sure Boulder's would be awful if it was super crowded (it's a tiny beach). Plus, living in Cape Town has made me feel uncomfortable if we're forced to share a beach with anyone else. I know. Spoilt much?

So we decided to find another beach, and went further down to Miller's Point. I'm hesitant to tell you about it because it's awesome and empty, even on the biggest beach day of the year. But you probably live far away, or if you live here then you probably have a job and can't just hop off to the beach, or I know you in which case it would be awesome to go to the beach together. And it's pretty far south, further than Simonstown. So telling you about this beach is, I suppose, a win-win.

There are lots of rocks, and a protected area that is great for swimming. Off to one side is a beautiful tidal pool, with a slide. And when there's wonderful photos, you know Eug came with.

Note clenched buttocks.
Noah and Eli immediately wanted to jump around on the rocks like mountain goats. On the one hand, this is completely what I want for them: a simple existence where getting strong and nimble is fun and exciting. On the other, nothing makes me realize the problems in our current parenting of Noah than not feeling I can keep him adequately safe. He is cautious and will not do anything unless he feels safe, but he's been getting more confident and I am not sure if his own perception of safety gets wonky when he's starting to get tired, and the stakes here were too high. Big high rocks, with rocks below. He hated suggestions about safe routes, but picking him up when he didn't want to picked up would be even more dangerous, so I just tried to guide by example - to far away from the really high rocks. The lower rocks were fine. Oh well. 

The water was cool but not too cold to swim, and calm enough to swim lengths in the area protected by a semi-circle of rocks and kelp. 

We're at the beach a lot so usually we keep our shirts on for sun protection.

Eli found the ice cream. He always finds the ice cream.
Here you can tell the wind was pretty strong. In the left corner is the tidal pool. I am really looking forward to using tidal pools a lot once Noah and Eli learn to swim (they are spending a lot of time in the water this summer).  
My brother's family brought a beach tent. The kids thought it was awesome.

Noah's collection of shells...
On the way home the kids fell asleep almost instantly, which meant we could take the long way home and explore vacant land in the area. We're very much hoping that a plot will become available in the next year or two, so that we can go from concrete gardening to homsteading, with a brief interlude for somehow selling our house and somehow building/acquiring some kind of structure on the plot to live in.