Raising a child in an apartment

There must be thousands (millions?) of people raising kids in apartments, but among my friends and acquaintances, we’re somewhat of an anomaly.  I can think of exactly one other apartment-dwelling family-with-kids that we know in St. Louis.  Other than that, it seems that by the time children enter the picture, there’s a house involved.  While in many ways, I’m in no hurry to buy a house, raising a kid in a multi-family building presents some challenges, mainly involving noise.

We live in a two-family duplex/flat with wood floors.  We intentionally chose a second-floor space, in part because it tends to be quieter on top, compared to living on lower levels with people walking around above you.  That said, there is very little up-down sound insulation, and sounds carry both ways.

In the beginning, when Gabriel was younger, the challenge mainly came from noises below, and my concern that they would wake him.  As he’s gotten older, the noise he makes being an energetic little person — walking, marching, running, jumping, dancing, knocking down blocks — has become an increasing issue.  The sounds don’t bother me at all, and would be a complete non-issue in a house, but I totally get that, for our neighbor downstairs, they are loud, unpleasant, and annoying.

The question is what to do about it.  We ARE actively looking to buy a house, but given our land and location requirements (and the fact that we’ve already been looking for years, since before G was born), it doesn’t seem that that will happen anytime soon.

We could look at rental houses, but I imagine that a rental house that is similar size and quality as our apartment would be out of our budget (and the cost and hassle of an extra move — oof!).

If the noise downstairs is really as bad as I imagine it to be, I’m somewhat surprised that our neighbor hasn’t moved, but that would not solve anything for us, because there would just be another tenant.

Measures to minimize noise

  • Using area rugs might help somewhat, but they’re not going to cover everything, and I don’t want the hassle of keeping them clean (cleaning wood floors is soooo easy).  So we probably won’t go this route.
  • We’ve been trying to keep Gabriel out of the bedrooms (which are above our neighbor’s bedroom) in the morning, especially on weekends.
  • Now that it’s cooler, we’re encouraging Gabriel to wear his slippers, which might offer some sound dampening.

Kids will be kids? 

While we discourage blatantly loud, unnecessary activities, like repeatedly banging his wooden blocks on the floor or shouting inside the house, we’re not willing to suppress or discourage the normal sounds that come with being an exuberant, happy, active child.

Focusing overly on the noise, e.g., asking Gabriel to walk quietly, is stressful for us, and it often seems to produce the opposite behavior.  We try to explain that we’re doing this “to be respectful of our neighbor,” but at three, he just doesn’t quite get it.

Still stressed

Overall, our neighbor has been patient and understanding (and we try to respond in kind to sounds that travel up to us).  We’ve talked with her about the accommodations we’re trying to make.  Still, the ongoing worry about the noise we’re generating makes me feel stressed and “yuck.”  The fact that our neighbor is being bothered by sounds that we can’t totally eliminate also creates a dynamic where it’s very hard for us to bring up reverse concerns.

Having a little person means that we are not ideal neighbors.  I wish I could magically create a sound barrier between the first and second floor units, but short of that, I guess I’ll just have to make my peace, as best as I can, with the situation.

I’d love to hear from others who have been in similar situations, whether you were the one with kids or the one living with sounds from other kids in the building.

 

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Growing big, beautiful onions

I must say that, as the end-user, the larger onions Matthew grew this year are fabulous.  It’s a lot easier peeling one big[ger] onion than lots of tiny ones — this chef is very happy!  Now on to the guest post by Matthew . . . .

I’ve been trying to grow an onion that I’m satisfied with for years.  I kept getting small onions.  Finally, this year, things went well.  I started last December by planting four seeds per 1.5″ x 1.75″ soil block.  I believe this careful regular spacing was important.  Previous years I scatter-seeded and wound up with plants too dense to grow well.  This year I got nice thick pencil-sized of onion starts for transplanting.

I grew Aussie Brown, Stuttgarter, Brown Spanish, Red Amposta, Bronze Amposta, Valencia, and Sierra Blanca.  The Bronze Amposta, Valencia, and Sierra Blanca are sweeter onions without a lot of storage life, but they produced very well for me.  The Bronze Amposta is supposed to have a 3-6 month storage life, so that’s probably my best bet of the bunch, and what I focused a lot of production on this year.

This year was also complicated by a trip out of town right when the Ampostas and the Valencias were wanting to finish growing.  I compromised and harvested most early, to avoid risk of them rotting in the ground, but I left a few Valencias to see what happened, and, wow, did they bulk up in that last two weeks the others didn’t get.  Granted that could have also been all the extra space they had, but I expect it was mostly the time . . . .

OnionTable

As you see, my Valencia late harvest was the champion.  The Bronze di Amposta may have rivaled them had I let them keep growing.  The Sierra Blanca mostly grew to maturity, so I think that is about the size I can expect.

I’ll probably keep brown Spanish in the mix as a longer storage onion (10 months), and do a very few of the others I grew this year to repeat the experiment, but I think I have my primary four onions I’ll be growing unless any other onion wows me.

IMG_5816

These were transplanted out at 6” spacing, kept well weeded, and heavily mulched with leaves as soon as they were big enough.  I think I might mulch first and plant through the mulch next year.

I’m also growing leeks, shallots, Egyptian (top-setting) onions, and potato onions (from SESE).  Leeks and Egypt onions for greens are certain keepers.  So far the shallots and potato onions are looking pretty good, too.

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Mindfulness Part II

When I wrote my initial post on mindfulness practice, I was a little over two weeks into the 6-week program at Masterpeace Studios.  Our group, which meets for two hours on Monday nights, has now met four times.  We took a week off of meeting between the 3rd and 4th weeks due to a conflict with the instructor’s schedule.

This break was nice for two reasons.  First, it just happened to fall during a very busy week, when I was prepping for and teaching CyclingSavvy and Matthew had a couple of other weekday evening commitments.  Second, the break effectively added a week to the workshop, building in an additional seven days to be held accountable for practicing.

Of course, no one is judging you, other than perhaps yourself, if you don’t practice (and you shouldn’t be judging yourself because mindfulness is all about nonjudgmental awareness), but having the workbook to record daily practice, and knowing that I am doing this as part of a group, is quite motivating.

That extra week was also the most challenging to my daily practice, given the previously mentioned busyness, but I made time for some kind of formal practice every day.

Observations
In general, I find formal practice, i.e., sitting down at a specific time with the intention of practicing, much easier than informal practice (e.g., being mindful during an activity of daily living, such as brushing your teeth or washing dishes).  I picked flossing my teeth as my activity for informal mindfulness, and it’s really hard to reign-in my mind (maybe a time of day issue?).

My work situation, both working part-time and working from home, makes it fairly easy for me to fit formal practice into my day during 4/5 of weekdays.  Mid-morning and mid-afternoon are pretty good times for me.

The days when I am home with Gabriel (Wednesdays and Sundays) are more challenging.  On Sundays, I can get some help from Matthew during the day.  On Wednesdays, I’m limited to nap time or the evening, after G is in bed.

For mindfulness of breathing, I really like guidance (i.e., listening to an audio track) to get started, but I’m finding that after 2-3 minutes, I’m ready for silence.  Most guided tracks have talking (i.e., guidance) interspersed with moments of silence.  To have the best of both worlds, I’ve been using a meditation timer along with the “Mindfulness of Breath” track on the CD.

Screenshot from OnlineMeditationTimer.com

Screenshot from OnlineMeditationTimer.com

I set the meditation timer for the total time I want to practice (10-15 minutes usually, at this point), start the track, and then, when I’m ready, stop the track and sit in silence with my breathing until the timer chimes.

Looking ahead
I’m not sure how I will do when the class, and the external incentive to practice, ends.  Keeping a log of my daily practice seems helpful, so I plan to continue that.  I’d welcome any tips or suggestions from those of you who have had success in incorporating regular meditation (mindfulness-based or otherwise) into your daily lives.

Resources
For a timer, I like OnlineMeditationTimer.com (also available as an app, if you have a phone that’s smarter than mine).  Here is a link to an Awareness of Breath Meditation that is similar to the one I use.  I also like this Standing Mindful Yoga sequence.

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CyclingSavvy firsts

Despite the gloomy forecast heading into this past weekend (and the current, continuing rain), the weather cooperated on Saturday.

Matthew and I co-taught the on-bike portions of CyclingSavvy (Train Your Bike and the Road Tour) for the very first time.  In over three years as instructors, we’ve taught the on-bike portions with other local instructors, but never together.

Thanks to Harold for the picture!

Thanks to Harold for the picture!

Big Blue also participated in CyclingSavvy for the first time (since I still haven’t, ahem, gotten my butt off the fence about a certain decision).

BigBlue_CSGrad

Big Blue proved up to the task, though we knocked over a cone on the cone weave drill (were it not for the loaded bag, we would have cleared it), and Matthew demonstrated most of the more complicated drills on a “regular” bike.

My original plan was for a picnic lunch in Tower Grove Park on a beautiful fall afternoon.  Given that it wasn’t exactly a beautiful fall afternoon (pretty decent really, but chilly and damp, even though it wasn’t raining), we moved the lunch party to Sweet Art.

BikeCorral_SweetArt

Six bikes would have completely blocked the sidewalk, so we created our own, impromptu on-street bike parking.  A couple of our students had never been to Sweet Art before; it was fun introducing them to a local business that we enjoy.

After lunch, we finished the day with the Tour of [a small part of] South City.

MelRide

Nothing quite as satisfying or tiring as a day of on-bike teaching!  We finished at the church parking lot where we did the bike drills in the morning, and, in my head, there was a car waiting to take us the three miles from the church back to our house.  Of course, we had biked to class, and said car was, in reality, already parked at our house.  Matthew and I paused in the park for a quick snack, then tackled those last three miles.

That night, I made it to eight 0’clock, but not much later, before I passed out on the couch.

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Optimizing garlic growing in the Midwest

Guest post by Matthew, in which he geeks out on growing garlic in St. Louis, complete with a crazy-detailed spreadsheet :)

One of the challenges of gardening is that things that work well in one place, with one soil and climate, don’t work the same way in another climate.  While it isn’t perfect, the best data comes from places that are near where we’re wanting to garden.  I haven’t found a lot of detailed information and recommendations for my Midwestern climate with hot, humid summers, cold winters, and fast weather changes.  (If you have suggestions, I’d love to add to my reference library.)  Because of this, I do quite a bit of experimenting with different techniques, spacings, varieties, etc.  We’ve posted some of my results about carrots before, but today is all about garlic.  Onions will come in another post.

We did one garlic tasting last year.  We were unimpressed with the practical differences in taste when used as we normally use it, or really even in the roasted product.  Granted, my roasting protocol could use some work.  If you have a foolproof recipe for all different kinds of garlic, please let us know.  Normally we just add a bulb to a dish of other food, and I think as long as it’s pretty garlicky, it’ll do.  I do plan to try tasting again this year, but unless something impresses me, I think I’ll be weeding out a lot of my lower performers, or at least cutting them way back and trying to grow them from bulbils to see if they grow better with a fresh start free from soil disease.

That said, I grew 24 or 25 different kinds of garlic last year, and eliminated those that were most diseased or unsuited to my climate.  This year I grew 17 kinds, plus elephant garlic, and took data for comparison.  This is not a great study, as the sample sizes vary, and the growing conditions vary some, but it’s a decent set of data to start from, and much better than the information I’ve been able to find.

I asked myself what I’d need to compare garlic…

First I thought number of bulbs, total weight, and average weights for each variety.

But wait.  My “Main Crop” tends to have only 4-6 huge cloves, while Inchilium Red has 8-10 plantable cloves per bulb.*  For a fair comparison, I needed to know the number of bulbs, and the weight, that had to be devoted to replanting the same amount for next year.  I needed more data.

My, that’s a lot of data (see PDF linked below for full data table).  But hmm, this still doesn’t take into account the planting density.  I mostly used 6″ spacing between plants, but planted a few sub-plots at 4” spacing, and the elephant garlic had 12” spacing.

I realized the productivity was probably my best measure, and that I could capture that with lbs of eaters per square foot total needed to grow the variety, including the footage for replants.  To get that I added the sq feet total for variety including replant, lbs of eaters, and productivity (shaded in gray in the PDF linked below).

Garlic for blog Planning 9.15.2014

When I added that in, I also adjusted the elephant garlic for space, and it’s productivity came out as low middle of the pack.  The Broadleaf Czech at 4” was essentially just as productive as Broadleaf Czech at 6”, but no better.  I’ll repeat the experiment on a small scale, but it certainly suggests that for Broadleaf Czech, and possibly other softneck varieties, the 4” spacing is just too tight.  Why have smaller cloves if you can have the same total weight and larger cloves?

On the other hand, Main Crop at 4” was significantly more productive than Main Crop at 6”:  7.48 oz/sq foot vs. 4.85 oz/sq foot (possibly contaminated with Music or Russ Giant) or 3.86.  4” was between 1.5 and 2x as productive.  Since it only has 4-6 cloves generally, I’ll probably continue trying significant amounts of 4” Main Crop, and possibly other high yielding hardnecks too.

So, for St. Louis, from my data, German White (a.k.a. German Extra Hardy or many other names), Russian Giant, Silver Rose, Inchilium Red, Broadleaf Czech, Asian Tempest, Siberian, and Shantung Purple, Kettleriver Giant, and Elephant Garlic (in order of productivity).  I’ll grow a little of the others to check my data next year, and I may start growing some from bulbils to see if that increases the yield of the other cultivars . . . IF my taste test reveals that it makes a difference for our uses.  If not, I’ll just focus on the top ten producers, and once I have results from a few years, drop it down to the top three to five.

Other garlic resources:

*Our best guess is that our “Main Crop” is German White/Extra Hardy, but we’re not quite sure.

 

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Informal traffic stop leads to good discussion

Great story from Matthew’s bike commute this morning . . .

So, this morning I was cajoling fun out of Gabriel, who really wanted to take the car because it’s “not so fast.” (He’s decided that he doesn’t care for the faster downhills on the bike.  We keep taking them a bit slower, but he was pretty upset when we didn’t capitulate on his car request this morning.)

The houses decorated for Halloween helped; the bucket truck did too, but the jackhammer he didn’t get to see almost touched off world war three.  Anyway, we were doing fine again when I entered Brannon northbound after Fyler.  This is always a slightly tricky stretch as there is a very wide lane that is intended for parking and driving.  In the absence of parked cars, riding to the right is still unsafe due to the debris that collects there (particularly bad on that segment), and a too far right position, when I can’t be all the way over, typically gets very bad (i.e., too close, very unsafe) split lane or in-lane passes.

I actually did move right at one point and allowed one vehicle to pass, but after that there was a full-size black pickup.  Given the truck’s size, and the room required for a safe pass, encouraging lane sharing, even in a wide lane, just wasn’t smart.  To avoid a bad pass, I kept lane control position.  Since the oncoming travel lane was empty, I was actively encouraging the driver of the truck to change lanes to pass, but he remained behind me.

After the next stop sign, the driver finally did pass, but he slowed down and parked right before the next intersection.  I debated waiting or going by him as he completed his stop, but when he started opening his door I was thinking, “Oh boy, here we go.”  I prepared to steer wide of him with a friendly wave (as friendly as I can) and get us the heck out of there, when I noticed the driver had blues on.

He asked me to pull over for a moment, and I, of course, did so.  At that point, I was apprehensive, because I know how wrong things went in the Cherokee Schill case.  The officer expressed his concern that I was too far left and that me waving people around instead of getting right might make other drivers mad and create a bad situation.  He told me he was especially versed in bicycle law because he’d had extra training recently to deal with mopeds (and they’re to follow bicycle regulations), and he talked about as far to the right as is safe.

I told him I really appreciated his concern for our safety.  Then I talked a bit about getting safer passes when not too far right.  The officer talked about his appreciation for my hand signals and stopping at the stop sign.  Eventually, I talked about the passing distances study, and we kept getting less uncomfortable and more friendly as we communicated with each other for a while.

I talked about my wish that there were more police available to enforce traffic rules for everyone, and he agreed.   Gabriel was awesome in all of this, mostly being quiet, occasionally asking to get to school, and giving me the opportunity to tell him that we’d be going soon, but that it was important for us to stop and talk to the officer who was concerned about our safety.  I think that may have helped a lot.

I expressed my sincere appreciation for the difficult job our officers do day in and day out.  Toward the end he told me that with the new information about the study, and with our discussion, he agreed that I was within the law riding further left if I believed it to be the safest place.

After that, I owned up to being a CyclingSavvy instructor and invited him to come to our classes.  He seemed pretty interested in coming to one sometime.

On the extra awesome side, this police “officer” was actually a sergeant, and he said he likes to learn more so he has answers when he’s asked for information in the scope of his duties either from above or below in the chain of command.  I truly hope to see this friendly sergeant at a future CyclingSavvy class.

It’s a complicated and challenging world, but discussions like the one we had this morning keeps my optimism regarding the good hearts and good work of our law enforcement officials alive.

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Mindfulness training

So, back in June, I wrote this post about stress and health.  I know what I can do to reduce stress and support mental (and physical) health: eat well, get enough sleep, exercise . . . .  I’m pretty good at all of those things (except for when the stress is interfering with sleep).

But what about the mind-body connection, and practices such as meditation and yoga?  I know there’s research backing it’s importance, but this is a weak link for me.

A year-and-a-half ago, when I was struggling with depression (a follow-up to my post-partum depression), my mom (who’s a licensed clinical social worker) sent me Jon Kabat-Zinn’s The Mindful Way through Depression.  She has quite a bit of experience with mindfulness practice and recommends it highly.  I’d like to say it changed my life, but that wasn’t quite what happened.

The book lays out an 8-week program, with readings and suggested practice for every day of the eight weeks.*  I had good intentions, and I stuck with it for two or three weeks (practicing most days), and then, I don’t know, life happened, and I put mindfulness practice on the back burner.

While talking with my mom last month, she once again encouraged me to look into mindfulness practices, specifically Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) workshops.*

A quick internet search turned up two main options in St. Louis.  The first local MBSR course that came up is one offered at UMSL.  It is primarily for UMSL employees (and their spouses/partners), but the site says they have a limited number of seats for the “general public.”  However, the next session doesn’t start until January, and driving out to UMSL once a week in [possible] winter weather didn’t sound that appealing.

The second option was the Mind-Body Stress Reduction program offered by Masterpeace Studios.  Held in Webster, the location of these classes was much more appealing, and there was a fall session about to start.  Convenient location, reasonable cost, and workable dates.  (The course offered at Masterpeace is a condensed 6-week version of what is normally an 8-week program.)

I went to their free intro class/info session on September 8th.  I turned in my registration paperwork that night, for the session to start the following week, but held off on writing a check.  Once I wrote that check, I would be committed, and I was still on the fence.  Did I really want to do this?  Could I make the commitment to practice every day for six weeks?

Even though it meant I would be out one night a week for the next six weeks (leaving Matthew solo with G at bedtime), Matthew was very supportive, and really encouraged me to go through with it.

I went into it unsure if mindfulness would “work” for me.  What if my brain just couldn’t do it?

Bridget, the instructor, told us from the beginning that the mind is a muscle.  If you want to be reap the benefits of mindfulness you have to practice.  When practicing, your mind will wander, and you just have to keep bringing it back, over and over again.  (Bridget uses the analogy of training a puppy to heel.)

With those things in mind, and with the motivation of being part of a class (that I paid good money to take) plus a log to record our daily practice sessions, I’m now into the third week of the course, and I’ve devoted time to practicing every day.

It’s not always easy, and I’m not “good” at it, but I’m doing the work, building that brain muscle.  I have to bring my mind “to heel” constantly — thoughts of decisions I’m trying to make are particularly intrusive.  Mindfulness practice won’t make the hard things go away, but it can lessen their negative effects.  No matter what was happening prior to practicing, I almost always feel calm and centered after practicing, ready to take another stab at life’s challenges.

I’ll check in again here in a couple of weeks with an update on my practice, challenges, observations, etc.

If you’re struggling with stress (and who isn’t?), anxiety, chronic pain, and/or depression, I’d highly recommend looking into Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.  If you’re not lucky enough to have a nearby program, you can try it on your own, using the book I mention below.  The University of Missouri Mindfulness Practice Center has some guided mindfulness meditations that you can listen to or download to help you get started.

 

*The original 8-week program, as practiced in Kabat-Zinn’s Stress Reduction and Relaxation Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, is described in his earlier book, Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of the Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness.  There is very strong scientific evidence for the benefits of mindfulness practice, and specifically the 8-week, which is explained well in the book.
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