Car free days

Our Happiest Place

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Before I was able to ride my bicycle with both girls, I had a handful of less than desirable experiences with public transit.  I will admit that I was doubting just what the heck we’ve been trying to do here.  But then about seven weeks ago I got back on my bike and I felt the magic all over again.  I realized that all my huffing and puffing is less about how we’ve chosen to transport ourselves and more about the season of life we are in.  Navigating the city by car, bus, bike, or foot, with little people, is just challenging.  Usually getting out the door, is the hardest part.  But when we eventually do, we are well on our way to our happy place.  I know that once we all get to our cargo bike, everything is going to be okay.  More than okay.  In fact, I’ve never had a mood too cranky or a body too tired to resist the joy of riding my bicycle.  At the very least it’s functional and fun, at best it is life-giving and transforming.  Most days it’s the latter.

On my bicycle, I am the laid back, patient and present mama I’ve always wanted to be.  I am so present that sometimes we don’t make it to our original destination, because we find birds to chase, roses to smell and strangers to wave to and mingle with.  It’s a time and place where we are completely unplugged.  Having uninterrupted and meaningful conversations together feels effortless.  Octave can inquire about the world around her and we aren’t going so fast that I miss all the scenes that inspire her questions.  My head is clear and my heart is happy and pumping from a load that is quite heavy, albeit full of good things.  Our bicycle is one of the few places where there is little to no crying and we can almost always bet on a nap if and when our apartment fails us.  It’s how and where I get most of my exercise these days, but it serves a purpose AND it’s free!  Even with winter and rain drawing near, most days it’s one of my favorite places to be.  I am beginning to think that pedaling my family through our days might be the most simple and rewarding adventure I’ve embarked upon.

{Photographs by Ryan J. Lane}

 

 

361 days of bliss

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We are about to celebrate one whole year of living car free. During the last year there were only four days, or at least that I can remember, when I cursed the road, thought we were crazy, or wanted to own a car again. Four days out of 365 is surprisingly few, especially when six months of the year was spent in subzero weather, pregnant, with a babe. I am now a believer that it can be done in almost any circumstance!

Since moving back to Portland (with a belly that is undeniably pregnant), people have been telling me that once baby number two comes I will want a car. I wouldn’t say I feel defensive, but I’m a little surprised. I would think that that the last year would have proven our determination and shown the joy we’ve found in living without one. I would think that attempting this lifestyle with a toddler in the middle of nowhere would speak loud enough for itself. But I’ve been thinking about it a lot … and maybe these people are right. After every honeymoon phase, real life starts to happen.

I remember my dear friend Laurel, who I admire greatly, speaking wise words to me almost four years ago. She and her husband have been married for over 10 years and helped guide Christopher and I in our pre-marital counseling. (I have yet to find a couple more worthy of learning from.) The week before I got married, something in me started to question my ability to vow forever. It seemed to come out of nowhere. It caught me off guard. I found myself crying to Laurel and admitting that I was scared that I might want to run away one day.

She wasn’t surprised. She calmly and confidently told me that of course at some point in our marriage I would want to run away … but that I wouldn’t. I laughed, snorted, and cried some more. It was a profound moment for me. It brings meaning to not only marriage but so many areas of life. It is not my feelings that I should fear, because feelings, while they are very real, come and go.

It’s the choices I make that are important.

It is possible that in six months time I will be wishing we had a car. Once I admitted that to myself, I was filled with a new enthusiasm. The question is not “will I ever want to own a car?” There is no doubt that I will go through seasons where I forget all the wonderful reasons we decided to live car free. There will be a time when I want the convenience, especially once the sleep deprivation of baby-number-two kicks in.

The question is “what will I choose when those feelings arise?”

Lately, I see wisdom in setting myself up to make good choices, consistent with who I want to be, during vulnerable seasons. We all fall short of our ideals when life gets messy and real, but if I know that in advance, then I can set myself up for outcomes that are consistent with who I am.

A few months before we left Wyoming, I was filled with so much guilt as I watched our daughter Octave in a seeming coma, gazing into our television (a television I wasn’t even sure how we suddenly owned and found ourselves watching every night).

There is nothing wrong with enjoying TV in moderation. I am a sucker for family movie night and good documentaries. But a few months ago I was in my first trimester, tired beyond comprehension and I used it as a crutch on bad days. Then, I used it every day.

I told myself it was fine—many other good moms that I love and respect succumb to the television as well. But deep in my gut this only made me feel worse, because it has nothing to do with being a good mom or not, it has everything to do with being the mom that I want to be. Good people and great moms make choices every day that I don’t feel comfortable with. There is no judgment on their character or decisions. It is not about being right or wrong. It is about living in a way that gives me peace when I rest my head each night. All of those thoughts and emotions mixed with witnessing Octave become more impatient and naughty with each day of television, told me this was not a good thing for our family. So, right before we moved I had enough of this guilt and I told Christopher I wanted to sell the TV and it wasn’t really up for much discussion. The next day a friend came and bought it from us. By selling it I took away the temptation of making a choice that doesn’t make me feel good. I made it easy for myself to make a choice that at the end of the day makes me happy and is consistent with who I am.

I share this struggle with the TV only because the same logic can be used when talking about the car. Even though I have never enjoyed driving and I have many reasons why living car free makes me happy, in seasons of transition, struggle or exhaustion, I might not make the choice that deep in my gut I want to make. Even though people and places might be easily accessible by foot, bike or bus, on a tired, rainy day with two babes, I can see how easy it would be to just hop in the car if given the choice. That choice becomes a habit, and then it becomes your life. This is how I think people wake up after ten years confused at how they got from A to B without even wanting to be there in the first place.

There will always be exceptions, off days, tired days, and special circumstances. It is important to be gentle with myself on those days. There will be days I will eat something I am not proud of, regardless of whether it is in my kitchen or not. (I once biked to the store in a subzero snowstorm because I HAD to have ice cream!) There will be handfuls of weekends away from home where we use disposable diapers. There will be nights with family and or babysitters that I will probably encourage them to cuddle and watch a movie with my children. There will be times throughout the year where we get a Zipcar for the day or rent a car for a weekend trip to the coast.

Choosing to live without a car is not black and white and in no way means we are never going to use a car. This is probably the biggest misconception when I share our story. I don’t believe the car in and of itself is negative, in fact I think it is a great tool and I am grateful for it but I think the way most of us are dependent upon it is detrimental to our health and the environment. This choice to not own a car does not mean we are refusing to use a car in our future, it just means we are setting up our life so that majority of the time we don’t use one.

I do care deeply about the air Octave and her children will breath. I think about it often, and wonder what her generation will think of ours. Will they wonder how we could continue to make the choices we do knowing the things we know? Will they understand or will they be as utterly confused as a lot of my generation is when we see people smoking knowing full well what it is doing to their bodies? I like to think about the $700 a month we are no longer paying towards a car payment, gas and insurance. I will admit that I also love the thrill of being apart of something pretty counter cultural in my part of the world. I love being part of an adventure that looks and feels foreign. Yet still a year later, the most powerful reason for wanting to live this way and the reason I believe I will last, is that I get so much joy out of walking and riding my bike. The wind in my hair, a 2-year-old who is a million times happier than she would ever be in her car seat, and a body that feels like it serves a purpose in my livelihood, are all priceless. At the end of the day that is probably my biggest motivation to live car free, and while it is not always easy, it is a lot easier than I thought it would be. I am pretty impressed that 361 days of the year I absolutely loved living this way, and most of those days riding my bike with Octave was even the highlight of our day.

Like the ups and downs of marriage, (or anything good in life), I am starting to think I am in this for the long haul. Here is to one year down, and hopefully many more to come.

 

 

 

 

 

A Place At The Table

I have a feeling that when people see or hear that we don’t own a car, they get the wrong impression.  I can see the gears turn in their head, and the comments they make, leave me to believe that we easily get labeled as the next self – righteous hipster couple.  Bikes are cool, especially this one, but we are not.

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What people don’t know is the journey we have been on the last four years.  They don’t know that we love people, and hate war, and those two passions are deeply connected to our decision to live car free.  They don’t know that we believe refusing to purchase oil, on a weekly basis, is our tangible way of loving our neighbors half way across the world.  It is our tangible way of saying that our comfort and lifestyle is never ever worth innocent lives.  They don’t know that while my husband has a great job, we have an insane amount of school debt, and a year ago we were hundreds of dollars short, every single month.  We were in a real financial crisis.  I am not talking about a first world crisis that translates to, I can’t afford an iPhone. I mean the kind of struggle that results in our family and friends bringing us groceries, buying our daughter the next size up in cloth diapers, and simply giving us their own hard-earned money, or else we would not have paid our bills.  I don’t say this for any pity, because I believe I am blessed beyond measure, and in every struggle there is growth.  I say this express how dangerous assumptions are.

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When people tell us that living car free with a child is unsafe, irresponsible, not practical, or egotistical, first it makes me want to cry, and then it makes me want to scream.  Since when did living within our means become irresponsible?  When did choosing to fill our bodies with good nutritious food, rather than fill our gas tank become backwards?  When did a bicycle become so unsafe, when cars kills thousands of people each year? When did caring about the air my future grandchildren breathe make me a crazy hippy?  How does living without a hunk of metal take away my husbands manhood?

Christopher and I both thrive off of questioning social norms.  This makes being married and trying new things, fairly easy for us.  On our own unique journey we were both deeply convicted about the American lifestyle, specifically the obsession and reliance on the automobile.  This internal struggle only got stronger and louder until one day we couldn’t ignore it, and then one day we couldn’t afford it.  Ironically, our car payment, gas, and insurance was exactly amount of money we were short each month, but even a car paid in full costs $9,000 a year to maintain.  So, I was praying relentlessly for God to provide,  to take us out of Casper, and give us more earning potential.  I was always under the impression that it takes money to live like you don’t care about or have money.  I thought that it takes having just the right job, in just the right neighborhood, with just the right city infrastructure to give up something like a car.  While all these things make it much easier, this has not been our story.  We were called to bloom where we are planted and live well with what we have been given.

This morning Octave and I rode in the rain to our favorite grocery store.  I was fortunate to buy handfuls of fresh produce, herbs, chocolate and even some special cheese.  To walk into the grocery store and not only buy exactly what I needed, but also what I wanted was one of the best feelings.  After our rough year, I’ve promised to never take that for granted.  I remembered that just months ago, going to the grocery store was not so light-hearted and inspiring.  I prided myself on budget friendly meals that looked and tasted gourmet, but relentlessly prayed for God to provide more.  Yet even in our lowest, most discouraging place, we still were far better off than 40 million Americans.

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All this is to say that tonight I finally watched A Place At The Table.  I wept like a baby, and then I wept some more.  My heart is heavy and I feel the burden of hunger in this country, on my very own shoulders.  Hunger exists, and yet most of us don’t even know about it or have to see it.  Those of us who know about it fear that there is nothing we can do about it.  I am certain that I was not given my love for cooking for me and my family alone.  I was not given this passion for food to just post pretty pictures, and share sweet stories.   This realization does not diminish the heart and soul that goes into this space.  I am a creative being and this is such a fun outlet for me.  However, I know it does not end there.  I don’t know what this change looks like just yet, but I want to be apart of it!

My personal experience has revealed that riding bikes can create more room in a tight budget for food, and help to maintain a healthy and agile body.  It can also make you really happy!  I am not suggesting everyone sell their car, I know it is not that simple, and I am not pretending to know what is best for the millions of people who go hungry every day.   I know that people have different preferences, circumstances, values, and convictions.  I am not interested in telling others how to live.  I will however share my own story, and bring light to the fact that the automobile, food crisis and obesity in this country are all deeply connected more than we may realize.  Would food deserts, racism and poverty in this country even exist if we weren’t given the opportunity to segregate, spread ourselves out, and build our own kingdoms via the automobile?  Maybe, maybe not, but the automobile makes this much easier, and now privileged upper-class people have the ability to stay privileged, and not have to come face to face with those who are not.  Like I said earlier, assumptions are really dangerous, and in this country there is an assumption that poverty and hunger is a choice, and anyone can rise above it.  We watch Will Smith in The  Pursuit of Happiness and think that such a story is possible for everyone, rather than one in a million.  This could not be further from the truth.

If you are reading this I encourage you to watch the documentary, A Place At The Table, if you haven’t already, (it’s on Netflix.)  If you feel compelled, send an email to Congress to protest against cutting the SNAP program that millions of hungry Americans depend on.  It seriously take 2 minutes!  Click here to see what else you can do.  Let’s end hunger in our neighborhoods, in America, and then the world!  No one deserves to go hungry. EVER.

Modern Convenience and the Search for Meaning

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After my friend Jasmine spent six weeks in Africa she experienced  extreme culture shock coming back home.  She as well as so many of us who travel, was unable to process everything she had just experienced.  It got me thinking that while humans are great at adapting, we really aren’t made to travel around the world in a matter of a day.  The journeys we take today would take months if not years before the industrial revolution.  Naturally, we would have those months or years to process what we had just experienced.  Now we get only hours and days and we are expected to adapt quickly, and be ready for the next moment.  Our clothes still smell like foreign lands. Our bellies are still digesting foreign foods and our minds are still full of new people, new sights and new sounds.  There is no grace period for us to adjust and because of that, special moments and profound reflection are lost.

The same can be said when thinking about the automobile.  Octave and I walk to the library or the park for a play date and it takes forty-five minutes to get there rather than five minutes in the car.  I have time to process what just happened, who I met, what I felt and what we talked about.  I come back home and am able to be present because I worked things out in my head before I got back home. When I rely on my body for my transportation, my body is unable to move faster than my mind.  The relationship between the two is more intimate.  Living car free means that we have to give up convenience but we have decided that the convenience we give up far outweighs the deep meaning we gain.  Naturally, the search for meaning, and the temptation for the easy choice among all our modern conveniences does not stop with the automobile.

I feel a similar struggle within our food culture, or lack there of.  Fast foods, microwaves, and frozen dinners, are all very convenient but  similar to modern transportation, much is lost.  There is a loss of nutrients and a loss of human connection when we don’t gather around a table.  There is even a loss our digestive system experiences.  In massage school, one of my favorite things I learned is that the aroma’s we smell when we start to cook our food actually produces saliva that helps our bodies pre digest our food.  The smells created from a home cooked meal prepares our body to absorb what we are about to eat.  This is just one of the reasons fast food can be so dangerous.  In a matter of minutes you can realize you’re hungry, decide what you want to eat and have it at your fingertips.  The natural process your digestive system is supposed to experience gets completely lost.

I love finding parallels in my  life and this week I realized that my reasons for not wanting to own a car or buy store-bought bread, are one in the same.  I want my days to play a role in my survival.  Just because I can do things faster and more efficiently with the help of modern conveniences doesn’t mean my life is going to be better.  Now for some, that might not be true.  Maybe those modern conveniences do improve their life.   Maybe store-bought bread gives a single mom who works two jobs and is hardly able to make dinner come together at all, the ability to have more quality time with her children.  Maybe a car is a symbol for survival and the ability for a man to provide for his family and without one his family would go hungry.  I am very much sensitive to that fact that one size does not fit all, and I can only comment and reflect on my own life and my own experience.

After lots of thought and little experience I have come to the conclusion that I was made for the slow life.  I was made to walk or run or bike.  I was made to give my hours to rising dough, soaking seeds, fermenting kombucha, growing vegetables and teaching these traditions to Octave.  I was made to take a few steps back from my culture and question.  To make sure I truly understand why I wake each morning and make the choices I do.  For Octave to not grow up lost in the confusion of pop culture and lazy parenting, I have to ask myself why. I have to weigh my options and make choices that suit my family even if they seem impossible or strange to others.  I will make many mistakes as a parent and I already have, but I am determined to have solid responses to all the questions of why.  Even if it all changes tomorrow, I want to know where I stand today.  A seeker of truth, lover of the mundane and ambassador for the slow simple life, I am.  Without a car and without a microwave we will live, and while our friends may wonder if we are turning Amish, I feel more human than ever before.

*Edit: This is no way means that I don’t believe in flying thousands of miles away from home to explore the world.  I will forever desire to set my feet on foreign soil.  However, I will think about all of the above as I do so!

To Feast & To Flourish

DSC_0089Two weeks ago today we made an epic life decision.  It will change the course of our lives, the way we see the world and the worldview we help create for Octave.  We decided to sell our car and one week ago today we actually sold it.   This beauty is being handmade in Portland, OR and is on its way!  We didn’t expect to sell the car this soon, so until it gets here, Octave and I are relying on our feet, the support or our friends and Christopher’s ambition.  With the biggest snow storm of the season, we are getting cabin fever.  Some hours I have felt frustrated but most of the hours of the day I have been filled with complete joy.  I am so proud of us!  In my opinion this is the most important decision, apart from getting married and having Octave, we have ever made together.

It may take years until we get back to Portland or Denver (both friendly bike cities,) and even more years until we are debt free and if that is the case we want to live now.  We want to live out our values and be true to our convictions.  We want to show Octave that with creativity and strong will, anything is possible.  We want to show her that loving your neighbor can go as deep as living simply and sustainably so that our neighbors on the other side of the world don’t have to bare the burden of our lifestyle.  We want to show her that most of the time, we have choices, we might just have to sacrifice something else we want.  We can’t have everything, and that is great because it really doesn’t feel good to have everything anyway.

Our choices and where we spend our money reveal what we value and love most in life.  We don’t want to spend $10,000 a year on a car.  It is totally okay if others want  to, but we just don’t.  We are tired of our money supporting things that our hearts don’t.  We want to spend our money on quality food and drink, to be enjoyed and celebrated with friends and family.  We want to use our bodies to their fullest potential because some people don’t have healthy and able bodies, but we do. We want our money to build up and support life.  We want to be debt free.  All these issues have been heavy on our hearts and while life has been good, it has not been as full as it could be.  Almost all the things we value and desire in life could be achieved, simply by getting rid of our car.  While this town might not be ideal, with little public transportation, no car share program, extreme weather, high winds, intense hills, little bike infrastructure and a 15 mile commute each way for Christopher, we know that there is no better time than the present!

This morning Octave stayed home with Christopher and I braved the elements to go to the grocery store.  I have not felt that alive in months!  I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t think it would be that hard!  I had to walk my bike up the most massive hill of all time.  At least in Casper.  Our cargo bike will have more appropriate gearing and I won’t carry 50 pounds of groceries on my back, so I am still very hopeful.  I bought a little more than what my body could carry, loaded it up in a massive backpack and pedaled away feeling so accomplished.  As I came down that massive hill with all our groceries, and most importantly 3 bars of chocolate, a handful of limes and eggs I prayed  wouldn’t break, I felt so content with my simple little life.  I have many hopes for our future but this morning I was completely present and satisfied.  While I did not grow all the food I carried on my back this morning, I worked hard for it.  My back feels it as I sit here and type, and this brings me much joy.  Working hard for the simple things in life feels right to me.  Everything tastes more flavorful, everything has more meaning.  Our life is just as it should be and I am filled with so much gratitude.  I am grateful that I have a husband who is passionate and strong willed and craves adventure like I do. I am grateful for a husband who is not afraid to be different.  I am grateful that we are sharing this car free life together.  I am grateful for Octave who doesn’t even know she is about to live a completely different way.  I am grateful for how her life inspires both of us to live true to who we are, to live here and now.  I am so happy that our little family has begun to feast upon our life because it tastes so dang good!