Archive | June 2014

Me, My Bike, the Kids, and the Groceries

Last time I wrote about how we’re trying to stay out of the car as much as possible this summer. So far, it’s been all playground-hopping fun and games except for some sore sit bones. Today I biked the kids over to the library, only to realize that I had gotten the day wrong and storytime is actually tomorrow. So what? I burned some calories, Little Brother admired some basketball hoops, Big Brother said hello to all the dogs, and we went to the playground instead. No fossil fuels burned or time wasted wrangling with car seats.

But could I put my money where my mouth is and use the bike trailer for “work” as well as play? Despite the fact that there is a Walmart Neighborhood Market about three blocks from our house, I’m embarrassed to admit that we’d never actually biked it. Even Mr. FP has driven himself there–alone–in the car, in perfectly acceptable weather. Because, hey, groceries, right? They’re heavy.

That changed today! Two kids, Mr. FP out of town, and a short list of groceries to get me and the kids through the next several days.

Two bags of groceries in rear cargo compartment of child bike trailer.

Plenty more room in there. The insulated bag was a freebie that’s turned out to be handy.

If the bike trailer holds a hundred pounds and my two kids combined weigh less than 70, that means I should be able to carry up to 30 pounds of groceries, or as much as will fit in the trailer’s “trunk.” I didn’t weigh the groceries, but there were $52 worth. Yogurt, bananas, couple of canned goods, couple of vegetables, odds and ends. It fit pretty easily, so I guess I could have gotten more, but that was all I really needed. With the distance so short, it would have been just as easy to walk, but the bike trailer is my only non-motorized vehicle that’s large enough for the job. Next stop: The “nicer” grocery stores a couple miles away where we like to buy produce.

I’ll be honest: It was really easy. Probably easier than driving. Really nothing to crow about. So why is what I did so unusual in this country?

Summer Goal: Stay Out of the Car

Driving in the summer is unpleasant, especially, I imagine, for toddlers: They’re in the backseat, away from the air conditioning, and their car seats are hot. And  in addition to the usual rigmarole of  fastening and unfastening two separate five-point harnesses for my two toddlers, I have to put up and take down the windshield sun screen and cover the car seats with blankets (which doesn’t keep them from being hot, but at least prevents burns). Then maybe I get stuck in traffic, so the AC doesn’t cool as well, and the sun is baking one of the children–who have long since disabled those window-covering doodads one buys for babies–or me.

Then there’s the cost of the gas, the environmental impact, and the fact that our fifteen-year-old Accord will probably limp along longer if we don’t use it for a bunch of stupid little trips around town.

Fortunately, we have another means of locomotion. Mr. FP went on an awesome second-hand buying spree a couple of weeks back,

Double bicycle trailer.

The kids seem quite cozy, but comfortable enough.

picking up toddler sandals, bike helmets, a lampshade, and, most pertinently for our present discussion, a well-used but structurally sound double bike trailer. It’s an older model of the highly recommended Burley brand.

While I am not nearly as badass as Mr. Money Mustache, who uses his bike trailer to buy groceries in the snow, I can at least use it to tote my tots to, for instance, library story time. It was so much more pleasant than driving. The kids got to exclaim at every dog, water feature, and basketball hoop we passed (Little Brother is currently, inexplicably obsessed with basketball hoops), and I burned some calories. . We stopped at a playground on the way home, and I think next week I will pack us a picnic lunch. The only snafu was that I forgot to bring a bike lock. I almost skipped the story time because of that, but I thought I would at least see what the ride to our new library was like. When I got there, I noticed several other unlocked bikes, and I thought you’d have to be a pretty stupid bike thief to choose a midget bike with a giant trailer attached when there were several unencumbered normal-sized bikes to abscond with.

Rear view of bike trailer showing cargo space.

There’s a surprisingly generous amount of “trunk” space.

We had a further adventure in the afternoon. Tropical Smoothie Cafe, one of our favorite places in the universe, was having a special event to support Camp Sunshine; everyone who came in wearing flipflops would get a free smoothie. (I am unclear on how giving away free smoothies benefits charity, but was happy to play along.) We stashed flipflops in the “trunk” and set off by bike. Unfortunately, Mr. FP wasn’t as sure of the route as he thought, and it wound up taking like an hour and a half. Do you have any idea how delicious a free strawberry banana smoothie tastes after that long on a bike? Extremely awesome.

In easy biking distance of our house, we have a wide selection of grocery stores (Walmart, King Sooper’s, Sprouts), a very nice branch library, several playgrounds, and a variety of other restaurants and shops. Downtown is also, in theory, reachable by bike, but it’s like eight or nine miles and I have not tried it yet. With so much in reach on two wheels, here’s hoping we can spend the summer in the open air, not in the car!

Mother and two toddlers drinking smoothies.

The kids, of course, didn’t “earn” their smoothies like Mr. FP and I did. That’s why they look so fresh.

Minimalist Fail: 10 Days Without a Dishwasher

When we moved into our new rental, I noticed that the dishwasher appeared to be as old as I am. The bottom rack was missing half the wheels, and there were rust spots. But I’m not a snob about these things–I happily tool around in a 15-year-old Honda, for instance. So I tried it, once, and it did not clean the dishes. It took about ten days for the management to get me a new one, during which time I washed the dishes by hand.

I was miserable.

The minimalist approach is to own only as many dishes as their are people in your family. Then after every meal, you wash them in the sink to be ready for the next meal.  None of this business where you have a whole special device for holding your vast quantities of unwashed dishes (aka, a dishwasher). This is not my style for many reasons:

  1. I already own a lot of dishes. Why would I get rid of perfectly good dishes?
  2. A stack of 10 plates takes up no more room in the cupboard than a stack of 4 plates.
  3. I often use plates for meal preparation. I’m not going to eat off a plate that previously held raw chicken or was used to microwave bacon, for instance.
  4. Some things are really hard to wash by hand, like cheese graters and strainers that have been used for draining meat.
  5. I really, really hate washing dishes. A lot.

    Dishwasher with dial control.

    At least it’s a minimalist dishwasher, right? None of your fancy buttons and options.

I think the last time I was so happy to see anyone as I was to see the dishwasher installer was when the anesthesiologist showed up

during the birth of my second child.* Washing the dishes by hand took up time that I could spend playing with my children, earning money, or reading. Plus, I accidentally lost two sippy cup valves down the garbage disposal, and it cost me five dollars and an extremely un-Mustachian trip to Toys R Us to replace them.

The new dishwasher is not one I would chosen for myself–not wild about the layout, and it seems to have been installed a bit crookedly, so that the bottom rack keeps rolling back in. But I’m just so happy to be away from the sink.

Minimalist fail! I will keep my dishwasher and my lots of dishes.

*I attempted natural childbirth, which I still think is a desirable goal that is attainable for many women. All I’m saying is, in my personal situation, I was really, really happy to see the anesthesiologist.

How To Save Money Moving If You’re Crazy (and Lucky)

Since Mr. FP and I began our married life in the summer of 2001, at which time we were living in a two-bedroom apartment that rented for, as I recall, $565 a month, we have moved house ten times. Yes, ten. A few of those moves were short distances; most were between states. Our two children, ages two and three, are now living in their third state.

So we have tried pretty much all the kinds of moving:

  • Van lines. These provide full service, but are expensive, keep your stuff for a and undetermined period of time, and have lousy service.
  • Local/individual movers. These will actually often do longer distances as well. They have much better service than van lines, in our experience, and their prices are equal or less. Since they generally put just your stuff on a truck and drive it to you, you get it much faster.
  • U-Pack. In this service, the shipping company ABF drops off a full-size trailer (we had to get special permits to have it parked  on the street when we used it) and you fill the first part with your stuff. They charge by the linear foot used and fill the rest of the trailer, after you put up a bulkhead, with commercial shipping going in your same general direction. They have good service, reasonable prices, and keep to a good schedule, but you do still have to wait for your stuff for quite a while–about a week for the distance we were looking at this time. And the trailers are hard to load (you can, of course, hire local movers to help load and unload). If you are going a long distance and do not want to drive your own truck, this is probably the most economical option.
  • Driving your own truck. While this option is the most grueling, it is generally the cheapest option for a smaller move. Advantage: Your maintain control of your stuff at all times.

For our recent move to Denver, we chose option D: Drive your own truck. This even though it meant driving in separate vehicles for 28 hours–I followed behind the truck in our 1999 Accord with the toddlers in the backseat. The main deciding factor was convenience. We did not want to be living in a new city for a week with toddlers and no stuff, nor did I think that four humans and one cat could ride comfortably in an Accord for three days. (The cat, in her carrier, was Mr. FP’s only companion in the moving truck.)

Our quote from U-Pack was about $2700. Renting a Penske truck for that distance was about $1700, and online gas estimators put the gas for the truck at about $700. (Other moving costs–movers that we hired to help unload, hotels on the road–would have been about the same either way.) So we expected to save only about $300, plus whatever we saved by having our stuff sooner (fewer meals of restaurant/convenience foods, not needing to buy a new air mattress, etc.) Better than a nail in the foot, as my father would say, but nothing to get excited about by itself.

We actually wound up saving a whole lot more than that. A truck breakdown (stranded five hours in Strip Mall, Ohio) allowed us to negotiate a refund of $800. While it was certainly an unpleasant experience  and one would prefer that they resolve maintenance issues ahead of time, really the whole thing worked out in our favor. And gas was more like $500. Total savings: $1300.

Was driving through the flyover states with a backseat full of toddlers, listening over and over again to “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” a grueling experience, one I am glad I will not have occasion to repeat? Well, yes. But now the three days are over, and the extra money is still there.

What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done to save some money? Was it worth it?