Three!

Our weekend was filled with family, friends, and cake, as we celebrated Sir’s 3rd birthday.100_1025

We kept things pretty simple and low-key, which also equated to planet-friendly.  The only “disposable” item that I purchased was the pack of party hats, but they’re all in good enough shape to be used again.

Matthew suggested that we look for some kind of reusable (ideally cloth) birthday banner that we can pull out at this time every year (his family had something like this growing up), and I think that’s a great idea!

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Sir requested strawberry birthday cake, and I delivered, using frozen garden strawberries (I used the Jell-O-free recipe here, subbing whipped cream and sliced berries for the icing).  I also pureed a bit of roasted beet for extra pink oomph — the batter was a lovely bright pink, but, as you can kind-of see in the above picture, the finished product just barely had a pink hue.  Sir didn’t mind!

I’m on the hunt for a kid-sized table and chairs for G (not necessary, but might be fun for him, so if I can find something nice, at a reasonable price . . . ), so in the meantime, we borrowed my MIL’s.  Fun place mats belonged to Matthew and his siblings.

Birthday presents were also pretty low-key: a deck of Uno cards (he plays at Mrs. L’s house) and a new-to-him bulldozer, which, not surprisingly, was a huge hit!  (I picked up the bulldozer at a thrift store last fall, intending it as a Christmas gift, then forgot about it.)  While I think gift-giving can be a nice part of birthday celebrations, I really prefer that the acquisition of more stuff not be the focus.

My planned birthday gift for Sir is/was a new-t0-us, three-wheeled scooter.  I’ve been keeping an eye on CL, but not really finding anything.  My first choice would be a Mini Kick Scooter (reviewed here), but I might have to compromise on that, if I’m also set on buying used.  Either way, I’d like to get something so he can zip around like the adorable kids I saw in London.

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Sir’s weekend fun also included not one, but two, trips to Grant’s Farm, first with Baba, and then with my family, who came from Iowa for the weekend.  Gabriel had lots of fun running around with his cousin Noah and riding the “train.”

 

Humanizing effects of transit

I spent the weekend in Iowa.  When planning the trip, I had good intentions of finally trying the bus between St. Louis and my hometown in Iowa, but there’s a small airline that flies 8-seater planes between the two locations, and the plane is much faster (more on bus vs. plane in another post).  Not the greenest option, but I made it a bit better by taking transit to and from the airport in StL.

My return trip could not have gone better, transit-wise: I boarded the MetroLink (light rail) at the airport just a minute before it departed, and I only had to wait a minute at my bus stop before my bus rounded the corner.  Smooth travels!

On the bus ride, I couldn’t help reflecting on the differences between using transit and driving a motor vehicle.

Public transit is so much more personal.  You see faces and hear voices.  You start to imagine stories of peoples lives: the mother with her teenage daughter boarding together, the woman chatting with the bus driver.  You’re connected by, if nothing else, your shared humanity with the other bus passengers.

This just doesn’t happen when we isolate ourselves in individual metal and glass cages.  We are inside and insulated from our surroundings, and others — whether pedestrians, other m or cyclists, are out.  We create an environment and conditions that make it very difficult to realize that these other road users are also people just like us, as highlighted in this video clip (WARNING: language not suitable for workplace, young children, etc.).  The audience is laughing, but when you think about the implications and consequences of this mindset, it’s not funny.

Studies have looked at, and named, what I experienced yesterday as a bus passenger: the windshield effect / perspective, described here:

Observing the world from behind the wheel, it turns out, has a powerful influence on our judgments about places and even people.

Researchers found that people driving a car tend to view unfamiliar, less-affluent neighborhoods more negatively than people who were walking, biking or taking transit.

The windshield effect also contributes to the myth that other completely legitimate road users, including pedestrians and cyclists, and, yes, that bus that delays you for all of 10 seconds while you wait to change lanes, are “in the way.”

In the way of what???  That person walking across the street is just going about his business, getting from point A to point B, just like you are.

Even being aware of the windshield effect, and often being one of the “other” road users myself, I am still susceptible.  Just hours after stepping off that bus, I drove our car to our garden.  I was on an arterial road, with relatively light traffic, and I saw a man walking across the street in front of me (mid-block, no crosswalk).

My very first thought was, “What is that guy doing crossing the street like that?”

His presence may have necessitated my slowing for half a second, but he finished crossing well before I arrived at that point in the road.  And the answer to my question, once I settled down and thought beyond windshield perspective, was that there was a very long stretch between stoplights and “official” crosswalks on this stretch of suburban arterial, and, in his place, I probably would have (and have, in similar situations) done exactly what he did.

Was my slowing down ever so slightly, and being aware of this fellow human’s place on the road, really that big of a deal?

NO.

Is it hard to work beyond, or fight back against, this windshield perspective?

Yes.  But not impossible, and something we all must do if we want civility and compassion on our roads.

Third cup’s a charm?

I’d been using the Diva cup for a little over a year when I found out I was pregnant with Gabriel, and the menstrual cup was relegated to the bathroom closet for over two years (9 months of pregnancy + 17 [wonderful] months of lactational amenorrhea).

Once I started cycling again, I wanted to continue using a menstrual cup, but I was uncertain about using it with an IUD, since some people talk about the suction from the cup pulling the IUD out of place.  Some cup manufacturers said, “no big deal,” but some said “check with your doctor.”

To be honest, I doubt many GYNs are terribly familiar with menstrual cups, so my doctor saying that it “should be okay” wasn’t all that reassuring, when the IUD being in place and doing its job was all that stood between me and another pregnancy.

But I didn’t want to go back to tampons, when I knew there was a more sustainable, and, in most ways, more comfortable alternative, and I had a perfectly good menstrual cup sitting in my bathroom closet.  (Note: the Diva cup manufacturers recommend replacing the cup every year, but manufacturers of other silicone cups, like the Moon Cup, claim you can use a cup for up to 10 years.  I had already decided that I was going to get more than a year out of my cup.)

The Diva Cup comes in two sizes, and, at the time I bought mine, the smaller size was for women who had never given [vaginal] birth.  In the months after G’s cesarean birth, this seemed one small positive — I could still use my smaller size menstrual cup — yay!

But for some reason, my trusty Diva cup wasn’t working.  I remembered there had been a bit of a learning curve when I first started using it, so I double checked that I was doing everything correctly.

In the process of hunting around the Diva cup website, I came across their updated sizing recommendation, that ALL women over age 30, regardless of having ever given birth (and all women, regardless of age, who have given birth vaginally OR by Cesarean), should use the larger size cup (Model 2).

Humph, so much for getting more use out of my original cup!

I shelled out the thirty-five dollars for a new, “Model 2” Diva Cup, only to be met by more failure.  I couldn’t get either size Diva Cup to fit correctly and comfortably and not leak, and I was almost ready to throw in the cup!

Then I came across Glad Rags, and their 90-day, money-back guarantee on the Moon Cup, another silicone menstrual cup.  After consulting with a customer service rep, I chose the larger size Moon Cup (size A), placed my order, and hoped for the best!

After several months of use, I’m pretty happy with my Moon Cup.  It is very similar to the Diva Cup, but, for whatever reason, it works for me, while the Diva Cups don’t (even though the smaller Diva had worked for me, for over a year).  Both are medical grade silicone, but the Moon Cup seems to be slightly more flexible (and perhaps thinner?) than the Diva.

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Moon Cup on the left, Diva Cup on the right

My only complaint: The Moon Cup does not work when I am lying down.  This means that I still have to use a tampon sometimes, usually overnight on my heaviest nights, which averages out to about three nights a month — not perfect, but not bad!

I’ve also realized that, thanks to the comfort level with my body that developed while using a menstrual cup, I can use tampons without applicators, which really cuts down on the waste when I do need to go that route.

 

Shopping at Aldi

I’ve been meaning to write this post since the mid-January thaw, when I ventured to my local Aldi grocery store for the first time ever.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no stranger to Aldi.  Growing up, my family did a decent bit of our grocery shopping there, and, as a college student and a grad student, I appreciated the affordable prices.

I probably shopped Aldi most frequently my first year out of grad school, when I lived within half a mile of a store.  When I was in grad school, I lived closer to Soulard Farmers’ Market, so that was my go-to source for produce (though often not locally grown).  When you’re going by bike or on foot, it’s all about proximity!

Anyhow, my biggest issue with Aldi was and is the packaging on the produce, which this site mentions as one of their cost saving strategies.  In addition to saving cashiers’ time weighing bulk produce, I imagine prepackaging produce also cuts down on product loss — instead of being able to pick through for the best pepper, or the best apples, you take what you get, the good with the not-so-good.  But it’s a lot of packaging, especially the items (like peppers) that are placed on polystyrene trays and then wrapped in plastic.  Ugh!

On the other hand, Aldi was one of the first stores to encourage bringing your own bags (again, as a cost-saving measure), long before it was en vogue or “green,” and some of their other cost-saving measures are also good for the planet, so it’s a bit of a conundrum.

Anyway, my January trip was spurred by citrus season, and my memory of Aldi carrying fairly nice oranges and grapefruit for a very good price.  Also, we have not bothered to unsubscribe from the weekly mailer that includes the Aldi flyer, and I had seen that they were starting to carry some organic items, including apples and bananas, and I wanted to check it out.

They did indeed have good prices on citrus, particularly the three for a dollar grapefruit.  On that trip, I came home with three grapefruit (not prepackaged!), a bag of oranges, a bottle of wine, two 1/2 pound blocks of cheese, and a bag of walnuts (a pound for less than $8, vs. the $10+/lb I usually pay at the bulk bins).

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My haul did not include any of their “new” organic offerings, though I did scope them out, along with a few other items:

  • Organic soymilk — good price, but sweetened, which is unnecessary sugar, in my book
  • Almond milk (non-organic) also sweetened
  • Organic bananas 59 cents/lb, but were all green, so I skipped them
  • Organic toasted O’s, but only a 9oz. box
  • Walnuts — a good price, as I mentioned above; not organic, but, for better or worse, I don’t usually buy organic walnuts anyway

Finally, the cheese.  I prefer to keep dairy consumption pretty minimal, and, as much as possible, organic [practices].  Avoiding dairy completing is tricky (and for us, unnecessary) and it does taste good.  But organic and/or small-farm dairy, and especially cheese, is pretty pricey.  Enter the “frugal foodie” debate.  On this trip, I went ahead and bought a half-pound each of two cheeses (less than $2 each), knowing they were not up to my preferred standards for dairy.

I find it ironic that many of the Aldi dairy (and perhaps meat?) products are packaged in their “Happy Farms” label, since I imagine the animals have far less than happy living conditions.  But, to be fair, the dairy and meat products at Aldi are, in general, no worse ethically/environmentally/health-wise than similar, name-brand products at other stores.

Enough on the food, though.  What finally spurred me to write this post was the current week’s flyer, which features none-other than BIKE accessories in the “Special Buys” section.

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While many of these items are not likely high-quality, if you’re trying to get set up for biking, and you’re on a tight budget, it would be better to have these lights, than, say no lights (but please don’t skimp on a good quality bicycle!).

I’m particularly interested in the helmets, as my current noggin-protector celebrated it’s 5th birthday a couple of months ago (general recommendations are to replace helmets every five years (or after an impact)).  With bicycle helmets, more money does not equal more protection.  As long as a helmet has the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) stamp of approval and fits correctly, it is good to go!

I do have a few other features I want in a helmet, so I’ll head over tomorrow (Special Buys don’t start until Wednesday) to see if my store actually stocks something that will fit the bill.

Do you shop at Aldi?  Why or why not?

Cuivre River camping trip

After our “adults only” camping trip last fall, we decided to venture into “camping with a toddler” this spring.  The idea of joining the Missouri Mycological Society’s (MOMs) “Morel Madness” weekend spurred the trip, but their gathering was closer to Kansas City than to St. Louis this year, and I wanted something a bit closer to home, as well as something we could do on our own schedule.

Enter Cuivre River State Park, the site of last year’s “Morel Madness,” conveniently located about ninety minutes from home.  (For those not from the StL area, the common/local pronunciation of this state park name is “Quiver” River, no doubt a horrible bastardization of the French word for copper, for which the park/river is named.)  The park was lovely — nice campground, well-maintained hiking trails (well, the little we saw of them), and many areas nicely cleared from recent-ish controlled burns.

When we camped last fall, I remarked on the lack of space in the car for Gabriel.  It wasn’t any different this time, especially with the addition of a third sleeping bag — we just smushed everything in more.

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I’m afraid in the not-too-distant future, we’ll need to borrow or rent a larger vehicle for camping trips.

After getting stuck in Friday afternoon traffic on the way out of St. Louis, we were extra glad we’d reserved a campsite ahead of time (there were actually plenty of vacant sites when we arrived, but it was one less worry), and we arrived in time to pitch a tent, start a fire, eat dinner, and roast marshmallows for s’mores.

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The afternoons and evenings were warm, but the mornings start out a bit chilly, and, after enjoying Friday night, Sir spent a good deal of Saturday morning requesting Baba’s (grandma’s) house.  He started Saturday with a 2+ hour sleep debt, having both taken over an hour to fall asleep (due to light and noise at the campground) and woken early.  Le sigh.

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We explained that we’d be staying at the campground another day, and made plans to take a hike.  You know, just a couple of miles.  With a toddler.

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We chose a 4.75-mile loop trail, planning to alternate between Gabriel walking and riding in the backpack child carrier.  Hiking was not particularly to Sir’s liking.  Over the course of two hours, we heard, “Why going on hike?  Me not want hike,” on almost constant repeat.

He didn’t really want to walk, but carrying 36+ pounds of squirmy toddler in the back pack was no picnic.

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Especially when he realized he could stand on the frame.  This made it more comfortable for Sir, but far less comfortable for the bearer.  (This hiking pack is one of those items that seemed like a good idea, but that, in retrospect, we’ve rarely used.  It takes up a lot of space, and, except for the sweaty factor, a basic baby carrier, like the Ergo, works just as well, and is much more comfortable.)

Fortunately, the loop we chose had a cut-off option, making it about half the total distance (a bit over two miles).  If we had had to cover the entire 4.75 miles, we’d probably still be out on that trail!

It was a near thing, but all three of us made it back to the car, and, subsequently, to the campsite, for some much-needed lunch and rest time.

After our morning hiking experience, we kept the afternoon low-key, honoring Sir’s request to visit the play ground.  That evening, we built a nice fire and enjoyed grilled bread and cheese sandwiches, plus more s’mores.

Saturday night’s bedtime was much like Friday’s.  It took a long time and required one of us staying in the tent with Sir until he fell asleep.

Our overall campsite conditions were made a bit better by the departure of our Friday night “neighbors,” who were exceeding their campsite occupancy limit and showed little concern for campground quiet hours.  We also scoped out some campsites that might be better situated for quiet (the site I picked, which looked good online, actually had quite a bit of passing foot and vehicle traffic).

Noise level aside, two months away from the lightest day of the year, it’s pretty darn bright at 7:30pm in a tent.  For future kid-camping, we decided late September would be ideal — similar temps to late April camping, but earlier nightfall.

Matthew couldn’t resist building one more fire on Sunday morning, and after breakfast, we had an Easter egg hunt.

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We decamped rather efficiently, and, after one last playground visit, returned home to recover.  All-in-all, it was a successful first camping venture, but I’m glad to be [almost] unpacked, cleaned up, and back to normal sleep conditions.