Sunday, November 30, 2014

Diaper preferences

So, I use cloth diapers on my toddler, mostly because they're cheap. But there are a lot of other benefits to cloth diapers too - less exposure to chemicals, reducing the amount of trash we throw out, keeping human waste out of the trash, and comfort for the baby.

Some people think "ew, they have a wet cotton diaper on - how is that more comfortable?" - first, once they're wet, you're supposed to change them. That goes for disposables too, but because they hold so much most parents just wait until they're more "full". So ideally, baby should be spending most of their time in a dry diaper. Second - have you ever worn a disposable diaper (that you can remember)? They feel itchy, crinkly, and just gross.

I don't know this firsthand - my toddler told me.

My mother-in-law, the coupon maven, bought home a few pairs of disposable pull-ups that were free at CVS. I figured they might be nice to use when we were out and running errands, so I took them.

Tristan fights wearing them like a child possessed. He screams, kicks, and finally either points to a cloth diaper or runs off to pee on the bathroom floor. So much for convenience.

He'll be two this January, and I'm hoping to get him properly potty trained by this coming summer.We tried doing elimination communication when he was really little, and it went really well... right up until he learned how to walk! After that, he couldn't be bothered. Now he's starting to show interest in the potty again, and displaying a little patience in sitting, so I think we have a good shot at ditching diapers entirely before he's much older.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Ice Cream Wagon?

So, why did I go with my giant trike instead of a streamlined longtail cargo bike like the xtracycle bikes,or a two wheel bakfiets like the CETMA, Bullit, or even the Virtue Gondolier.

For me, the cargo capacity was the deciding factor, combined with the stability.  This was my old rig, cobbled together with various parts found on craigslist.

That's a WeeRide up front, and the trail-a-bike behind. When Tristan would fall asleep, the idea was that he'd lean on that nap pad in front. That didn't happen - he'd end up sleeping on my left wrist, and it messed up my balance and steering. If Daniel got distracted or tired, it caused a heck of a wobble. And because of the way the WeeRide mounts to the bike with that cross bar, I couldn't stop  or put my foot down as easily as I would like. Seriously, I don't know how you guy riders manage! I've had a trailer before, but I didn't like how it handled, and with a trail-a-bike I couldn't use a rear mounted baby seat (though my husband has one on his bike).

But having ridden this rig for a while, it gave me a good sense of what I did and didn't want in a cargo bike. I didn't want to have to worry if a sleeping toddler would throw off my balance. I wanted a lot of cargo capacity that wouldn't require lots of straps and bungees for a casual trip. I wanted Daniel to be able to ride along without worrying that if he got excited about something he saw, we might fall. And most of all, my husband and I are hoping to be able to have another baby in a year or two - I wanted something that I'd be able to ride comfortably through pregnancy and strap an infant car seat in, should the day come.

With all those criteria, a longtail was definitely out for this phase in our lives. When the youngest kid is about 3, it might be worth looking at an EdgeRunner or a Bike Friday HaulADay,|
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to free up some shed space and allow for a more nimble ride. A bakfiets like this one from Oak Cliff Cargo Bicycles could have been an option, but I wasn't all that sure how 1) it would handle, 2) if it would haul everything I would want, and 3) if I'd be able to hold it steady and park it.

The trike offered serious stability at low speeds, enough room for four small kids (or two kids and a baby seat), lots of hauling capacity, awesome gearing to get going from a dead stop, and an easy seat posture.

So easy my 12 year old can do it!

So, there you have it! Why we went with the big trike.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Black Friday, black eyes.

Hey, welcome back! Hope your Thanksgiving was wonderful!

We went to see family members that I haven't seen in years - it was so good to see everyone, and especially so because I was worried that snow would prevent us from driving to my aunts house up a mountain in Virginia!

It's Black Friday. I'm not going out. Unless I do later....

For a penny pincher like me, Black Friday is a schizophrenic mess. There are some things that my family could actually use on sale today (underwear at Target), and there are some really neat luxuries that I'd like to give as gifts to different people (including my kids) that are really cheap. But I know that if I go out there, I'm going to be severely testing my resolve to only buy what I originally meant to buy. I might get into the "Oooh, that would be nice for Catie, my mom would like that, that's shiny...." and before I know it, my budget is blown for Christmas and I have 8 things my mom would like, but nothing for my dad.

As a former retail grunt, I have long believed that if the shoppers didn't show up, the workers could get more sleep. Yes, I know it doesn't work that way, but I can't decry the crass commercialism of the season, and then go participate in the annual punch-out for a cheap tablet. In other words, I'd be part of the problem.

But... it's a day with all my kids at home, and I was thinking about taking my daughter over to the uniform store to have her sized for another school skirt. The thing is the uniform store is very close to a huge mall, a Target, and a bunch of other high volume stores. The traffic is going to be UGLY.

I think I MAY go shopping today - by bike. The midtown center has some interesting shops, I can talk to a local bookstore about carrying my book, it'll get us some fresh air (we'll bundle up well), and we'd be supporting local business. I just wish the uniform store were a little closer!

OK, the next post will be about why I went with my trike instead of a longtail or 2 wheel bakfiets!

Stay safe!

Update - I caved. We went to size Catie for a skirt, but they were closed. Neither of my big kids had sneakers that both fit and were intact, and we were near Payless, so I took a deep breath and spent $40 for 2 pairs of sneakers. I probably could have gotten the same deal at most of their sales, and while we did walk through Target, I was not impressed. The deals were less than exciting. We didn't buy anything.

Thank goodness we went around lunchtime. The crowds had died down by then, so we didn't get trampled while we were disappointed.  :)

Update update - we did make good on the bike shopping idea on Sunday - we went to the Midtown Scholar bookstore to talk shop about the book, and the kids bought each other a gift. I have to go back for one that I wanted to get Catie, but couldn't because she was right there.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Chinese Cargo Bikes are OK with me.

That? Right there in front of the Smart car? That's us (minus Catie, who took the picture) on my cargo bike. (We posed there because I get a kick out of the fact that my bike can hold 200% more people than a Smart and still uses less gas.)

The main bike is a Virtue School Bus - the non-electric-assist version, bought from Iron City Bikes in Pittsburgh. Tristan is chilling up front in the box. The attachment is (I think) a second-hand Tagalong - Daniel is probably too big for it now, but he's not very confident riding on his own yet. (That Tagalong handles like it's been through a war, anyway - it's probably time to retire it and get him riding independently.)

Yes, I ride a Chinese built cargo bike.

That's controversial in the cargo bike world. Most "serious cargo cyclers" will tell you that a Chinese built bike is a "BSO" (bike-shaped object) not worth the components on it. "Why are you wasting your money on that bike? You should be riding a hand built CETMA Largo, or maybe a Workcycles KR8. At the very least, you should buy from some country other than China!" When I asked why, people started talking about things like frame failure, shoddy parts, and companies masquerading as high quality Dutch bikes when they were really cheap knock offs.

I'm not saying that Workcycles and CETMAs aren't totally awesome. They are high quality, handmade bikes, and if I had the means I wouldn't mind having one. But running down all Chinese bikes because they're made from inferior parts and metal, or because they're just not European, doesn't exactly wash. Some varieties of bikes that are "Made in the UK" or "Made in the EU" are actually just assembled and finished there, out of Chinese frames and parts. The components on the Virtue bikes are Shimano, which are industry standard parts. Yes, if you're deciding to import a container ship of bikes, you need to be careful that you're dealing with an honest company that isn't trying to pass off counterfeit goods, but if you're buying from a company stateside they will have already checked those things out. I felt much more confident in buying my Virtue after talking to the bike shop - they told me that everyone who had bought one through their shop had been very happy with it. They hadn't seen any problems with frame weakness or component problems, and I've been very happy with mine too. The only thing that has had to be replaced was (I think) a brake cable and some inner tubes. It rides well.

I freely admit, I bought the Virtue instead of another brand because I had $1000 to spend and no more. My next choice after a Virtue would have been a bike from, but as it happens he's on hiatus until after January 2015. I love the idea of an upcycled bike made from donor bike parts, but I just don't have the know-how to build one myself. A Workcycles KR8 is beautiful, and built to withstand a bomb, but costs over $4000 plus shipping! A sight too rich for my blood, especially since the only East Coast dealer just closed up shop, so it would HAVE to be shipped.

If I were to do it over again and I had a little more money at my disposal, I would have gotten a Worksman front loader with the 7 speed option, and built a box to go on it. Why? The only real drawback I found to my School Bus is common to most front loading cargo bikes in any price category - the cargo weight limit is listed at around 150 lbs. I can easily top that with two kids and some groceries, and I know many people just push their limit to see what they can haul. Maybe that's why there were frame failures? But the Worksman is rated for 500 lbs, and is made in the USA. With a home-built box, you could reasonably carry adults, special needs kids, luggage, groceries, and large dogs along with whatever else you want to carry. What's more, it's more affordable - only about $1200 with 7 speeds - than most other options.

In my next post, I'll get into why I went with a front loader trike instead of a 2 wheeler or a long tail like the Edgerunner.

Oh - by the way! My book is going to be FREE for Kindle on Black Friday! If you get it, please review it on Amazon - it makes a huge difference in how many people will see it.

Edited - I don't agree with the human rights violations in China, and I prefer to buy American when possible. I just want to clarify that just because they're not hand-crafted beside a Dutch canal doesn't make these bikes worthless. They're still a viable option for people wanting a cargo bike. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Us, accidentally enviro-friendly

So, a few of the basics about my life.

I have three kids, a husband, a dog, a house, and a book I just published through Amazon. (The title is "Hard Core Poor - a book of serious thrift"  - it's also on Kindle for $3.99.)

My husband is a super-handy electrician. He's the reason we have nice things. If we can't buy it, he can build it. If he can't, we probably don't need it that badly.  :)

My oldest is my girly-girl. She's 12, very sweet and sometimes sassy, and she goes to Catholic school because 1) our public schools stink a bit, and 2) we're Catholic. She sings, does a little Irish dance, and is really good with little kids. Oh, and she has a face painting business, if you're hiring. 

My middle is my aspiring Pokemon master, my 9 year old boy who is still waiting to see when his Hogwarts acceptance letter will arrive. He's homeschooled because 1) the schools stink and 2) he doesn't do well in classrooms anyway. We use Easy Peasy All In One Homeschool curriculum - it's a FREE, high quality, online curriculum for preschool to high school. You should look at it. Seriously. If only to marvel at the level of work being offered for free.

My baby boy is going to be 2 in January, and he's funny and sweet like toddlers are. He can also be a holy terror, like all toddlers. We breastfeed (still) and cloth diaper, but it's not like a hobby or anything. I don't collect the pretty diapers or even use the fancy ones - just cotton diapers and snap covers. It's not an environmental thing for us - it's a money saving thing.

I mean, we do things that are environmentally friendly, but we do them for other reasons. Like, I ride my cargo bike around town to save gas (because it's $3 a gallon), and I need the exercise. I converted my sewing machine and serger to treadle power - it saves electricity, but I also love the control that I have when I treadle vs. using the electric powered machine. We buy used clothes, not to keep them out of the landfill, but because they cost less than a quarter of the original price. And the diapers cost me $250 over the past 22 months, instead of the $1300+ that I would have spent for the questionable privilege of throwing away disposable diapers - and I never have to run to the store for more.

I can't get satisfaction from thinking "well, I didn't burn fossil fuels to get here, and the millions of diapers in the landfill aren't mine", but I can feel satisfied by thinking "I saved $8 this week by washing those diapers, and I burned 500 calories and saved $2 by biking here". It's cool - I'm still doing good stuff, right?  :) Right?


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Welcome to Books, Bikes and Budgeting, which was nearly named Books, Bikes and Boogers. I guarantee I will write about books (including my own), bikes (especially my own), and budgeting, but I can't guarantee NOT to write about boogers. I have 3 kids, after all. Boogers happen.There will be nonsense, silliness, and the occasional piece of well-thought out writing with information you can use. Please don't hold that against me.  :)

I'll be writing here as often as I can come up with things to say.

Well, maybe not that often.

I'll be writing here as often as I can come up with GOOD things to say.

Scratch that.

I'll be writing here. Sometimes it will be good.

Hope you'll read it.