Portland

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}

 

 

Browned Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies, With Sea Salt

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I made these cookies in the midst of an epic meltdown with Octave. Sugar and salt ended up everywhere but the bowl, she burned her hand on the hot stove, and an entire jar of vanilla extract was just moments from drowning the cookie batter. For a brief moment I could understand why my mother never attempted to bake with me.

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Her independence is something to applaud and admire, and yet there are moments when it will send me into a tizzy, leaving me in tears or flat on my back, silent, as if not to explode. She is teaching me that I am not as laid back as I would like to think I am. Some days are like this. Some days everything, (and I really do mean everything,) is work and I doubt if I was cut out for this crazymessybeautiful life as a mama. And yet some days I am filled to the brim, overflowing with so much love and joy that I find myself once again, in tears laying flat on my back, only this time for reasons much more worthy of celebrating.

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My days have been rich and yet they have been exhausting. My days have been spent nesting and making our beautiful little space our own. The best thing about living in 620 square feet is that I get to feel like an awesome housewife for having everything cleaning and organized each morning and night. When you have little and live simply, it takes little effort to keep things put together.   So, for someone who needs a clean tidy environment to function, I am viewing our little space as a blessing rather than a disadvantage. And besides, for the first time in my adult life I am living with both a washer and dryer and dishwasher! My life has been changed. Forever. Seriously.

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My days have been spent riding around the city and being filled back up with life. This city is even better than I remember. Riding in lanes with hundreds of other cyclists is doing wonders for my confidence and affirming our lifestyle choices. I am not alone.

My days have been spent, back in the kitchen, feeling a little more like myself. I really did just need my own kitchen back. Baking, even in the midst of chaos and meltdowns, is one of the most centering things in my life right now. And I have yet to kick my cookie craving this pregnancy, so this is where I can be found…in the BEST chocolate chunk cookies I’ve ever had.

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Almost a year ago I posted our loyal chocolate chip recipe. Many moons and too many cookies later, I have made an even better batch that I can now confidently call, the BEST! Browning the butter and using a combination of both brown and cane sugar makes all the difference. Chop up your favorite bar of chocolate, add some flaky sea salt on top, and you have perfection.

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I thought I had the best recipe for chocolate chip cookies, until I learned that I didn’t. Until I tasted something better. I feel a little silly comparing my life to chocolate chip cookies, but I really do see a connection. I didn’t realize I was so unhappy until I experienced happiness again. I can see now that I have been in survival mode almost the entire time we were in Wyoming. I’ve been waiting to be where I’ve always wanted to be. Now I am here, grateful to be on the other side, savoring every last morsel of life. It is truly great to be alive.

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Brown Buttered Chocolate Chunk Cookies

2 ¼ cup AP flour (I use bob’s red mill)

1 ½ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. sea salt

1 cup grass-fed unsalted butter, browned

¾ cup cane sugar

¾ cup brown sugar

1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract

1 egg, + 1 yolk

1 heaping cup of semi sweet chocolate chips or a chocolate bar cut into chunks

Coarse sea salt for garnish

Melt butter in a small saucepan until it is cracking and brown. It may even start to foam. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.

Combine flour, salt and baking soda in a small bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl combine sugars and browned butter. Beat with a hand mixer or in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, until combined. Add egg, yolk, and vanilla. Mix until combined.

Add half of dry ingredients into large mixing bowl and mix until all the dry ingredients are absorbed. Add the second half and repeat. Add in chocolate chips of chunks and beat until just combined. Cover dough and place it in the fridge for 30 minutes to chill. While the dough is chilling, pre-heat oven to 350.

Using a cookie scoop or a tablespoon, scoop out dough and place evenly onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle each ball of dough with coarse sea salt. Bake for 9-10 minutes. Immediately upon removing from oven, pat pan against counter or table, (this helps the cookies set, leaving those attractive lines that are found in my favorite bakery style cookies!) Let cool on baking sheet for a few minutes and transfer to wire rack to allow them to cool completely.

 

 

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.