The New Home Economics


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Happy New Year (budgeting time)

Happy 2012 everyone! I’ve just completed my yearly review of grocery expenses (2009 and 2010 editions), and you’ll probably be shocked (shocked!) to know that I did not stick to my resolution to hold the line on the amount of money we spent on groceries. We spent about $500 more in 2011 than 2010. But rather than promise to do better next time, I’m just going to say “OH WELL” and dish up some more foie gras.

Just kidding! We did enjoy an amazingly good soup this week, made out of more humble but delicious ingredients:

Christmas Lima Bean StewChristmas Lima Bean Stew recipe, which I followed verbatim from 101 Cookbooks. She’s right: don’t skip the toppings.

If there’s no financial apocalypse (I am skeptical at best), our finances should improve quite a bit when our kids go to Kindergarten in the fall and our daycare expenses evaporate (or at least go down substantially). So to prepare for that joyous (or scary) day and budget for groceries AND everything else, I’ve decided to start a Mint.com account. Will let you know how that goes…

My only other real resolution for this year is to bike even more — specifically to make at least half of all my grocery store trips by bike — this means I’ll have to bike more than half the time during the summer months to make up for the winter.  We have a cargo bike; time to use it for something besides hauling kids! If this winter continues as it has been, I’ll be able to start this week.

What about you? Any resolutions?

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Winter bike commuting

winter bike commuter

Well, it’s here. Wintertime in Minnesota. (Yep, that’s me under there.) I’ve been out on my Nishiki (now converted to a single speed) at least 8 times. I only wear the goggles when it’s less than 10 degrees (F).

Here’s my winter biking get-up, for temperatures well below freezing:
– wool socks, under lightweight “walking” boots
– tights, under super thick fleece sweatpants
– wicking shirt + long sleeved t-shirt + fleece jacket
– balaclava
– thin gloves under awesome 80s chopper mittens that Adam found for me at Savers

Many people like to include windbreaking tops or bottoms, but I find that I get way too overheated when I do that — especially after a few miles of biking.

I have to be honest and admit that the start of this, my second year of really dedicated winter biking, has been uninspiring. Last year at this time I was all “yeah, I’m hardcore!” and “this is an awesome challenge!” and “I’m burning 8,000 calories right now!”  This year, I’ve been dreading it since early November.

I tried a few different routes the first part of December. Chicago Avenue was pleasant in the morning, but really busy in the evening. Bloomington Avenue was busy both morning and evening.

This week, I went back to my normal bike route —it involves mostly neighborhood streets — and it went better.  I see two choices in winter bike commuting:

1. Move slowly because of slippery conditions.

2. Move slowly because of slippery conditions and have cars rushing closely past you, scaring you out of your wits.

For me that’s a no-brainer, though I know other people feel differently.

The most important thing I learned last year was to slow down and embrace the fishtail. At first, every time my rear wheel would fishtail even a little bit, I would panic and put my feet down. An hour later I would arrive at work, totally exhausted.

You’re not going to wipe out every time you fishtail a little bit, and you will be much calmer when you realize this. Think of yourself as a cyclocross rider, or remember how it feels to drive your car fast down dirt roads. There’s a little bit of shimmying, but if you just roll with it you’ll be fine.

Oh and one more thing: I love my studded tires. They make a huge difference.

Anyone have advice for staying the course with winter biking? How can I get that hardcore feeling back?

Update, 12/28/2011: Lucky for me (but unlucky for my perennial plants), the little snow that we got in early December melted quickly.  It’s been dry and unusually warm and I’ve been taking my fixie bike, and wearing the same number of layers I usually wear in October. What a strange year! I’m sure it’s not likely to last…


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Cargo bike!

Finally, my Christmas wish from 2009 has come true. We are the proud new owners of a Sun Atlas cargo bike! Here’s Adam and the kids riding it home from the farmers market last weekend:

Why a cargo bike? Well, the kids outgrew their baby carriage and I needed a way to get them to preschool in the mornings this fall.

Why the Sun Atlas? Price was the deciding factor — it’s among the most affordable complete cargo bikes we’ve seen, and we’ve been shopping around for a long time.  We looked at Xtracycle, Yuba Mundo, an Electra Townie with Xtracycle FreeRadical add-on (which was affordable but uncomfortable), and we also even fantasized about the Big Dummy or (be still my Dutch heart) a bak fiet.  But our tight budget won out in the end, and we went with this very comfortable, affordable, versatile solution.

The other thing was this: I’m four inches taller than Adam, and in order to justify spending this kind of dough on a bike we wanted to be able to share it.  That meant a frame that was made for sharing — the seat is easy to adjust and at an angle such that it moves farther away from the handlebars the higher you raise it, making on-the-fly adjustments easy.

So enter the Sun Atlas, which we were lucky enough to be able to test ride — both of us — and buy at Varsity Bikes in dinkytown.  This bike is no Big Dummy; many of the components are a bit on the cheap side: the center kick-stand, for example.  But Adam’s a pro at finding gently used bike parts on eBay so we should have no problem swapping out various components as that becomes necessary.  The frame and the wheelset are the most important things right now, and they rock!

Here’s how we customized it for four-year-old twin transport:

mountain bike bar ends - or foot pegs

First, Adam picked up two sets of mountain bike bar ends from the salvage bin at the Hub to attach for foot pegs, so the kids’ feet wouldn’t just be hanging there.  Here’s how the look on: (with princess shoes of course)

However, their heels were still dangerously close, at times, to those spinning spokes, so we also decided to go for it and get the Xtracycle bags. The Sun Atlas is made to be compatible with most Xtracycle accessories. They’re not necessary for hauling kids, obviously, but they’ll make the bike much more useful in the long run.

Here was our solution for something to hold on to:

Stem from the Hub salvage yard, and an inexpensive set of handlebars and grips, considerably cheaper than the Xtracycle “stoker bar.”

Finally, we did a bit of sewing — a bit of colorful canvas and some foam from the fabric store and we had a nice little pad for the kids to sit on.  ALL SET!

Sun Atlas Cargo bike

The first couple times we took this out the kids were a little nervous, but now… well now they barely even hang on and I have to warn them when we’re about to go over potholes.  Anneke sits in front and holds on to the handlebars and Rowan usually just holds on to the bar under the pad.

This thing is A BLAST to ride. Much easier than pulling the baby carriage, even with 75 lbs of kids on the back.  And the basket that Adam bought me for my birthday last year fits perfectly on the front! This bike is the bees’ knees.  It was worth the wait!


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Winter Bike Commuting

I’m going for it this year!  I invested $130 in a new setup that has gotten me through all kinds of ice and snow in the last two weeks with no problems whatsoever.  Will I make it all winter?  Hopefully, but only time and Paul Douglas will tell.  Here’s my ride:

Safety tips so far include: wear reflective vest in the evening, take it slow, and, as per my usual advice, take the back roads whenever possible.  Also, I really like the ski goggles that Adam got me as an early Christmas present, though they’re not 100% necessary.

As usual, we tried to be as thrifty as possible, so here’s the cost breakdown:
$50 complete Nishiki Uptown bike in working order (via craigslist)
$65 set of Innova Tundra Wolf Studded Snow Tires
$15 set of SKS Beavertail fenders

The Nishiki Uptown was a great find.  That thing is a tank.  Added bonus: it has horizontal dropouts so after I trash the components this year, Adam could potentially convert it to a single speed or fixie for winter 2011-12.

Update, 12/27/2010: Boy, did I pick a great year to commit to winter bike commuting.  We’ve had 33″ of snow so far this December, on our way to a record (more is expected later this week). But I only wimped out and took the bus a total of 3 times so far.  I will, however, amend my earlier advice about only taking the back roads.  During a snow emergency, you’ll want to stick with main roads and try to leave just a little before or a little after the main rush hour.  I’ve been taking Bloomington Ave when the side streets are impassable and it’s been mostly pleasant.


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DIY arm warmers

Arm warmers are pretty handy for bike commuting.  You leave your house and it’s 50 degrees but soon it’s 60, and you don’t exactly want to pull over to the side of the road to change clothes.  The spandex crowd Serious cyclists pay anywhere from $20-$50 for a pair of arm warmers — and they are really nice; I’ve checked them out.  My friend CJ makes them from the sleeves of old wool sweaters that she buys from Good Will.  I would love to knit myself some, but I haven’t knit anything in a really long time.  I can only do so much, y’know!

This week, I made myself some nifty arm warmers for FREE with an old pair of over-the-knee socks.  Here’s how I did it:

I cut off the toes and a small circle of heel.  I hemmed the toe end with the sewing machine, and the thumbhole by hand.  Took a little under an hour, total (and most of that time I was watching Curb Your Enthusiasm while doing the hand-sewing).  It was cool enough outside on Friday to try them out:

And a couple of detail shots — I may not be a super talented seamstress but they are definitely functional.

I’m jazzed about these!  They match my bike so perfectly that I’m about now ready to enter the next phase of hipsterdom.


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New bike (apparently I am a hipster now)

My purple Gitane is not doing so well, so Adam put together a fixed-gear bike from the frame of the Schwinn road bike I was riding for a good year or so:

(click to enlarge)

Yep, it’s got a pink chain!  A friend pointed out that I’ve now reached “The Williamsburg” level on the evolution of hipster-ness, so apparently the only thing I can aspire to now is becoming a meta-nerd.  I like how my new bike looks almost exactly like the one in the picture.  NOT planned.  Plus, I don’t have any tattoos so I don’t know that I’ll ever reach meta-nerd level.

I’m going to ride the fixie for a while and see how I like it — Adam used a flip-flop hub so if I change my mind I can easily go back to a standard free-wheel single speed like I’ve been riding for about a year.   Two cool things that I’ve noticed about riding fixie so far: it works more/different muscles in my legs, and more importantly, it forces me to be a little more cautious in my riding.  I guess I’ll have to quit zoning out/crying/whistling/doing anything but paying attention to the road while I’m biking…


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Those green Europeans

Europeans are doing some neat-o, green redevelopment — from the no-car Vauban district in Frieburg, Germany (which I’ve mentioned here before) to well-planned urban public spaces in Copenhagen — there is some cool stuff going on there.  Read all about it here.  And then see what you can do in your own community.

the essential first step, maybe the only critical one, in reassembling these shards and building the urban foundation of the Green Enlightenment is to put people ahead of their cars and public spaces ahead of private ones in the planning priorities of the city — of any city.

Yes.  (via Scrawled in Wax)