Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Tips on Being Car-less

Much of Neva's life, we have been car-less as a family. In Flagstaff, AZ it was easy to get across the 8 mile landscape by bike, an Amtrak train stops in the middle of town to take you to LA or across the country eastbound, and the airport shuttle will take you straight to Sky Harbour Phoenix Airport without the hassle driving the switchbacks yourself.

Neva all bundled up for a walk-about in snowy Flagstaff, AZ

Texas was more of a challenge, with the sprawling landscape as well as summer temperatures soaring above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Even though we were in the college town of Denton, the pulse of being a suburb of the DFW area was still strongly felt. Despite this, we mostly got around by bike once the 8 mile bike path that led to downtown Denton was installed, as I could get to the University for my studies. Christian took the train to work when he started working in Dallas, and with Neva's Montessori school and our local grocery being a 2 mile cycle, we often cycled as a family for the day-to-day.

A typical weekend cycling to the grocery store, or just for the fun of it.

Now we are in Bray, Ireland, which is just outside Dublin; many people just call it Dublin as Bray straddles the Dublin/Wicklow county border lines. We chose the area as it was the furthest from Dublin we could get with reasonable public transport, but far enough away that the housing was (somewhat) more reasonable. Now we have a full transportation arsenal that we as a family can use to get around, sans car. Maybe some of these ideas can inspire you to take the leap to being car-less if it's been on your mind and you weren't sure what options were at your disposal.

Neva and I using local pedestrian/cycle transport lanes in Amsterdam, Netherlands


Over the years, we have accumulated bikes for the whole family, as well as child trailers, cargo trailers, and a tandem which make commuting around easier and safer. The bikes we chose to bring with us are mostly cross-bikes that will work on the road, and moderate off-road conditions. I'm the exception as I couldn't let go of my 1988 Red racing bike, and I kept the fat bike for aggressive off-road touring. The Burly Nomad cargo trailer makes grocery getting a breeze, and is quite versatile as it can be used for touring as well; this item, in my opinion, would be a necessity for a no-car life if you're grocery-getting by bike.

We've had some time to accumulate, pace yourself, look for deals, buy used! (Craigslist is your friend in the USA for bikes)

Biking with a child can add complexity, especially in Ireland. The roads are quite narrow, and there aren't many of them, so the traffic is often quite bad with people flocking from all over the country to work in the Dublin city centre. There are cycle paths, but many of them are non-contiguous which means regularly being in the street, or swapping to the sidewalk. The Kidz Tandem bike or the Wee-hoo child trailer makes me feel more comfortable riding around with Neva on busy roads, but it is heavy when on hilly terrain with loads of cars blocking your lane. It's for this reason, that cycling is typically reserved for weekends when there are less cars, or taking a train or bus to someplace where there is a contiguous cycling route like the Waterford Greenway we did this summer.

Neva trying to usurp the steering seat in the back. Not this time m'lady.


Since Ireland is a small country, it is made up of many small villages, and most areas have a grocery, pub, and school within walking distance. Our town of Bray is the 6th largest village in Ireland (14th largest urban area) so we luckily have many things at our disposal; all our base needs are met within a 20 minute walking time. This is how we live our day-to-day. The rolling shopper (purple thing shown below) is all you need for a grocery run after walking home from school. The only drawback is when you're feeling ill or have an injury, then we might opt for a bus.

Went grocery shopping with Warm Showers guest Jackie, and picked up a bike box on the way home.

Public Transport

Another thing we took into consideration when moving was the public transport access. From where we are in Bray, we are a 20 minute walk to the DART train, or a 3 minute walk to a bus which drops you in the Bray Main Street to transfer to the city centre. These options are quite nice as the busses and trains are typically no more than 10 minutes apart. The drawback of the DART  train being it mostly sticks to the coast, and then goes to the city centre, so your options are limited in where to go, and if you're not going to the city centre, but any surrounding area, the busses can take quite a long time. Since you can't put a bike on a Dublin bus, it's not an option to get off and cycle; the DART train you can bring your bike, but not during peak hours (7-9am or 4-6pm) so it doesn't help commuters who work near the city, but on the outskirts that take longer to get to, which brings me to our most recent addition to our no-car travel arsenal...

All the ways we get around : Top left DART train, top right double decker bus to Japanese festival, bottom left Luas in the city centre, bottom right AirCoach that takes you straight to the airport. 

Electric Scooter

Okay, now hear me out, because I know Silicon Valley has to make everything look pretentious and ridiculous. This isn't Google glasses though. The electric scooter was the missing piece to being car-less. It filled the gap of when we aren't feeling physically capable of cycling or walking, but gives us the speed of a bike to get between busses, and it folds in half, so it's easily able to be taken onto any public transport. Neva and I can both fit on it so I can take her with me, and even Christian and I can both scoot around on it together for a date night. The drawbacks would be you can only carry so much, there's a hook we put on that can hold a shopper, and then a backpack, but that's maximum capacity. Also, in inclement weather, your hands and face need to be covered because the wind and rain will pelt you (lesson learned!).

Top : folded version, Bottom left : folded version in bus, Bottom right : open version with water flask and bag on hook

Hire a Car

If all else fails and you're looking for a road trip, hiring a car is always an option. We tend to use Enterprise 2-4x a year to go and explore someplace we haven't been before in Ireland. We then don't have to have the expense of annual car insurance or the maintenance of buying and keeping a car. Just make sure you have an up-to-date license, a car seat if you have a kid (we have a blow up travel one which is great and can be used for taxis in other countries), and one of those phone holders that stick to the window which makes navigation easier. Cars have their place, but using them as little as possible helps the environment and your health all at once! With all the research linking vehicle exhaust with chronic illnesses like cardiac disease and pulmonary disease, we should all strive to do what we can for ourselves and our community.

I know not everyone can physically bike, or not everyone is near public transit, but hopefully some of these tips on how we get around may help you create your own creative combination of how to better move around in your town or city without a car, or at least to minimize use when possible. The biggest benefit for us is that it's a chance to work together (when biking on the tandem or busy roads), or have a chat, meet people, or notice details of the area we live in, together, as a family.

On the way home from a summer camp, we bumped into some fellow walkers, and made close friends with neighbors we wouldn't have met otherwise.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Neva Bikes and Inspires

I couldn't be more proud as a cycling mum with a cycling child. I remember back to the tiny toddler that used to watch my legs pedal, passively and patiently taking in the scenery (pre-verbally), while entertaining herself with bits of nature's shrapnel and cooing to the seen and unseen animals nearby - and I wonder how her growing-up-cycling experience will shape her future, if at all.

Neva taking a picture with my phone of her view from within the trailer. A typical commuting day.

Neva wasn't a fussy baby, but I remember vividly when we were packing up to leave Flagstaff and needed to transport a 'too-big-for-trailer' item, and Neva sat in her Chariot CX trailer straight away and buckled herself in. It was at that time I had to explain to a 2-year-old that "sometimes we have to use a car". Her disappointment was palpable as she fought back tears which eventually came anyway. At that moment, I realized that her experience had allowed Neva to understand that cycling was the best and most exciting form of transportation. I too wanted to cry. 

Neva loved her trailer so much, that even when at home, she would tuck herself in for a nap inside her familiar travel buddy.

Fast forward to a 5 year old Neva. We decided the destination for our tour that year; RAGBRAI then a cycle through the Adirondacks and into Canada, over 1500 miles worth of cycling total involved. She says to me, "Mom, you're too slow, I want to cycle on my own bike".  The "I'm carrying more than my body weight in gear and people" doesn't fly with Neva. We compromise and get a Kidz tandem where she sits in front and is the navigator, maybe next year Neva...

Neva on RAGBRAI as the navigator with her map close at hand

Much more seasoned after 1000+ miles on the road, it had been a wet late summer. She was in charge of making sure gear was secured, tire pressure, and navigation.

Summer rolls around again and a 6 year old Neva is ready to ride. She's prepped, she's pumped, she has a new Isla Beinn 20 bike she wants to show the world (specifically Iowa) as she unabashedly commits to riding RAGBRAI on her own bike. She insists, and we go. Neva rides as much as she feels is fun, up and down the Iowa rollers, in the heat, biking 20-30 miles per day over the whole 7 days. She cycled over 180 miles that week under her own power. I watched her struggle mentally, as every new cyclist does, with the first time being on an open road (on your own bike), going to a destination to which you've never seen or been, the daunting unknown. She grew, she pushed through it, and she kept getting on her horse again, every day. A testament to mental fortitude blossoming at such a young age. 

RAGBRAI Neva : All suited up (top), riding the long open road (left), and posing with her official RAGBRAI bike plate (right)

She met a friend Cy along the way and would talk and bike next to him while his dad pulled him along.

Neva dipped both wheels of her OWN bike that year. What an accomplishment!

Now we are in Ireland, where we walk, scoot, bus, train, and bike to where we need to go. Neva comments on what she thinks works and doesn't work and why. She contemplates how our actions and the mode of transportation we use can impact others and the environment. A true steward for nature. 

Leading the pack of scoot-ers for bike to work/school week!

Not only does Neva cycle to get to and from places for commuting, but she has challenged herself and pushed her own boundaries to explore what she can do. Last year she enrolled in her first cyclocross race with children her own age; she tried her best, and despite a mud slip and route confusion, she still finished strong. 

Nose to the grindstone for the final lap!

Neva has also shared her cycling with other kids, encouraging me to put together a children's cycle to school during bike to work week, and convincing her friend who had never cycled further than her street to do a 55 km cycle on the Waterford greenway. Neva spreads her love of cycling not through proselytizing, but by being herself; and cycling is a part of who she is. She sees value and fun in her cycling experiences, and she wants to share that with others. 

Bike to work week 2017

Waterford greenway cycle victory cheer! 

So, if you, as a parent, friend, teacher, etc. ever wonder if what you are doing matters, if you question whether your values come through and if your example can inspire others, know that YES, absolutely, you're doing great, keep it up. Keep being the example that will inspire others, and give our world a brighter future. I can't wait to see what the next chapter brings. 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Ireland Snow Day!

Happy Snow Day off today if you're in Ireland!

Arctic Siberian winds are blowing in from the north east (emphatically referred to as "The Beast from the East"), chilling down most of Europe to sub-zero temperatures. The west of Ireland breathes a sigh of relief, because for once their coast is non taking the brunt of the storm! The temperatures started dropping towards 0C this weekend after a 'heat wave' last week with temps around 10C. So without further ado, here is your super official Ireland weather update over the last couple days!

Sunday was sunny, but cold at 3C. Everyone else is bundled up, and here's Neva...in a t-shirt.

Since it doesn't really get warm enough here to warrant ice cream, and the Irish won't pass up a treat opportunity, any time the sun shows up it's ice cream time, as far as Ireland is concerned. That's right, there are people in down coats waiting to get some ice cream!

I'm pretty sure the entire town of Bray was out that day, and Sammie wasn't going to miss out. She was strutting her stuff along the boardwalk, getting hemmed at hawed at, and sometimes even rubbed by passersby. Doggy heaven.

Monday we started stocking up on food as it was projected to snow for 5 days. Many grocery stores had empty shelves. Luckily, I use weird things like tahini, garlic infused olive oil, and peanut butter, so I was able to stock up. The organic fruit and veg were limited, but I got what I needed. We went back to Tesco on Tuesday, and there was almost nothing left in the fresh section, picked clean. I prepped multiple tupperwares of hummus, hard boiled eggs, boiled potatoes, and a vat of lentil soup, as power outages are also a possibility and we don't have a gas stove.

Tuesday morning : spitting

1C : Neva still dressed like this

Tuesday evening : starts coming down and sticking

Wednesday morning : our backyard

About 10 cm or 4" worth of snow

Dublin and Wicklow counties are said to get over 25cm (around 10") of snow by the end of tomorrow (Thursday), which is a lot for Ireland. Many schools are closed, including Neva's, so we celebrate Ireland's first snow day in a while.

First thing's first in our house, check on the chooks. In the early hours, only Henrietta was willing to venture out, and took temporary residence under the outdoor sink while trying to figure out what this strange substance that littered the ground was all about.

Filling the girls' bellies with fat pellets and hard seeds helps them stay warm in the cold temperatures.

Some are more adventurous than others! While Henrietta explores the white landscape, Chicken Middle and Big Red enjoy the comfort of their coop. We check their water and bedding every few hours just to make sure everyone is comfortable. So far, so good, and 2 eggs to show for today!

Even some of the local wildlife were looking for a reprieve from the cold. This Irish blackbird was saying hello to the chickens in their abode, and a tiny Irish robin came into the house somehow (Neva...). I picked her delicate body up gently to let her outside, she perched on my finger for a moment, and flew off. I hope they're all staying warm!

Once chooks are sorted, it's business time. The obligatory snowball fight begins!

Followed by the obligatory snowperson

Followed by obligatory snowball fight number two!

Aaaand again, no coat.

And with that, we are busying ourselves and enjoying each other's company with warm food, snow times, and indoor relaxing times. 

Neva moving her aloe plant clones away from the window. Hat inside? Oh brother, my backwards daughter!

Happy snow day from us all here in Ireland! 

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Introduction to Ireland

Ireland, that mysterious green island across the pond that evokes images of everyone wearing green hats, drinking merrily while singing in a pub, and speaking in the most welcoming accents you've ever heard. Okay, some of that may be true, but I wanted to discuss a few minimum cultural and historical facts, and some general information to be aware of before traveling to Ireland. I can't get them all in one go, but here's a few... (As a disclaimer, this is a foreigner's/expat's impressions of Ireland based on my experience thus far.)

Yes, that may be my dog Sammie and fellow biker friend Andrew having a pint at a pub in Dublin.

Language : Just to get this out of the way, no one says "top of the mornin' " please don't say that...ever. There are loads of beautiful Irish colloquialisms and idioms that stem from the Irish language, but that is not one of them.  And speaking of language, the native Irish language is Irish or Irish Gaelic (Translated from the Irish word Gaeilge), not English.  Though only the 7th most spoken language in Ireland, Irish is part of their rich culture, and where many of the complex and charming idioms come from.

Gaeilge is typically spoken as a primary language only in the west of Ireland. Speaking Irish has a long history of oppression and wasn't allowed to be taught or spoken in many areas for hundreds of years. Through a rocky road of politics and policy to bring back Irish, starting in 1928, Gaeilge is now part of the national curriculum. Neva is currently attending a full immersion Gaelscoil, where all instruction is given in Gaeilge. It's no coincidence that Ireland has bred so many poets and authors with its Irish language roots!

Neva on her way home from her first day of Gaelscoil. She wears a uniform which involves a snappy kilt!

Geography : I get asked many times by Americans if Ireland is part of the UK. The answer is no, N-O. Ireland is split between Northern Ireland (part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland (independent). Now, it's kind of a long story, but it started with the Normans invading Ireland in the twelfth century, a bunch of wars happened mostly surrounding English rule over the Irish, Ireland was then split into north (Anglo) and south (Irish) in the Irish war of independence in 1921, then officially became a republic (free from British Commonwealth) in 1949, ending with 'The Troubles'; a civil war between 1968-1998 waged on whether there should be a unification of Ireland or not.

This makes the Brexit business difficult because if Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland don't have the same rules, it makes border control difficult, and I'll leave it at that. Knowing the history and difference between Northern Ireland and The Republic is important not only culturally when you visit, but economically as well. For example, the Republic uses the Euro, while Northern Ireland uses the GBP.

Cost of Living : We live right at the border of County Wicklow (south of Dublin) and County Dublin. Dublin is one of the most expensive cities in Europe, right up there with London, however, in our daily lives, the main thing that was a notable difference as far as cost goes was the rent and housing prices. Ireland got hit much harder than the rest of western Europe in the global market crash of 2008, so interest rates are higher (eg. Ireland : 3.1% compared to France : 1.55%), banks are very cautious of mortgage approval, and the fact that Ireland is currently in a housing crisis due to high demand and low availability drives the housing prices up. Tourists aren't really affected by this, but if you're looking to move here, it should be a consideration.

We have the sea and the mountains within a 10 minute or less walk from us. The high quality of life of being easily near nature and the city was worth it for us!

Part of the reason houses are so high is because lots of people want to move here. To put this in perspective, Ireland only has a population of 4 million people, with 600,000 squeezed into the capital and surrounding areas. This doesn't sound like a lot, but considering the size of Ireland, and the size of where people want to be (Dublin, see above in yellow on map), the city is quite packed.

On the flip side, many places outside of the Dublin and Cork have more sheep than people. That is part of Ireland's appeal, how quickly you can be in the city, countryside, or at the sea. The longest it may take you to get anywhere on the opposite side of the country is a 5 hour drive, taking a long, windy backroad, making it a great place to go on holiday and see lots of interesting sites!

Cost of Tourism : As a tourist, Ireland is like many popular EU cities. You only tip if you had excellent service (maybe 10%) as waiters/cab drivers/etc. get paid a livable wage, and VAT is included in everything, so no math to add on extra tax cost, it is what it is! Bed and Breakfasts are popular in rural Ireland which are quaint and reasonably priced, and the rumor that you can ask anyone on the street for directions and be met with a big smile and detailed answer is very true. The hospitals have cost caps (our local one is 500), which we got paid back in full by our insurance just a few days later. Waits can be long during flu season, but our experience has been pretty good. Many Irish may disagree with me, but having experienced US privatized healthcare, where a short hospital stay can result in a multi-thousand dollar bill, pregnancy is a pre-existing condition, etc. Ireland is pretty good. In short, you can go on holiday here, and not have to worry about breaking the bank if you break your leg.

Me in the hospital with the mumps. Total cost after all said and done, $0.

In the year and a half we have lived here, I can say that we have been very welcomed; the classic Irish kindness and chattiness is refreshing. It's nice to be able to fairly easily travel around the island. Though it's a small area, the history is rich, and it is a country that should be taken at the speed of the locals, with appreciation for the land and of those that came before. There is so much to see here, and I am honored to call it my current home. If you haven't been, come visit, enjoy the craic, have a pint, and experience the beauty and rich culture that has fought to preserve traditions of old.

Below is a sneak peak of some of the beautiful Irish places we have been. I'll tell you all about them, and when to go...next time!