The housing hunt comes to an end

I had the opportunity to write a “green living in St. Louis” guest post for Stacy at Every Little Thing this week.  Check it out here.  Now, on to the housing saga!

Last Wednesday, Matthew and I took some time off work in the afternoon to see another round of houses.  We only had a few on the schedule, so we tacked a recently listed apartment on to the itinerary as well.

Back in April, after over twelve months of apartment hunting, we decided to be a little crazy and throw the option of buying a house back into the mix.  We located a house and made a [very low] offer within a couple of weeks.  Despite offering $40k less than the asking price, we had decent reason to believe that they may accept the offer or counter with something closer to what we were willing to pay.

The house, which was part of an estate and had nothing owed on it, had been on the market for over 250 days this round, and vacant (and probably previously listed) for much longer than that.  While vacant, the pipes burst, and repairing that and the resulting water damage resulted in a $50k insurance claim.  You’d think this would be good reason for the estate’s trustee to consider any that came along.

We sure did, and we were wrong.  The guy didn’t even bother to counter (and apparently he was so “disgusted and depressed” by our offer that he pulled it off the market — at peak home-buying season, no less!).

Within a day or two of having our offer rejected, we spotted a realty sign on an intriguing property — a big, sunny fenced lot with two tiny houses on one edge.  I pass by it regularly and always wonder to which of the two houses the yard belongs.

A bit of research revealed that the property was a foreclosure and included the lot and both houses (each about 500 square feet — like I said, tiny).  We were immediately off and running with ideas of buying it on the cheap and doing a major renovation (which I alluded to here), combining the two tiny houses to make one nice space plus an awesome yard for gardening.  Matthew even drew up some designs.

And then we faced the reality of how much it would cost, both in dollars and in our energy making decisions and dealing with bumps along the way, and the fact that we would probably not be able to get anywhere near what we put into it back out of it if/when the time came to sell.  We decided, sadly, but probably wisely, to walk away.

A few weeks passed, with more houses, a couple more apartments, and nothing that really excited us.  One of the houses that we viewed didn’t have the double lot included as we’d hoped.  Another was somewhat interesting, but seemed overpriced, and while we were considering if and what to offer, it went under contract.

So on Wednesday afternoon, when we saw the apartment that had almost everything we were looking for, I was more than ready to be finished.

To be continued . . .

Active transportation tastes better

Our housing hunt continues, and, the day after my birthday, we both took the day off and spent the morning running around (in a car unfortunately) with a realtor looking at houses.

We planned to wrap things up by late morning and follow the house tour whirlwind by treating ourselves to lunch.  Due to excellent efficiency (and a few houses that we weren’t able to see), we were finished before eleven — too early for lunch — so we headed home.  After being in and out of the car all morning, a separate car trip just for lunch was the last thing I wanted.

Bicycles were an option, of course, but I really wanted to WALK somewhere.  Unfortunately, we don’t have many options within walking distance (if you discount a few fast food joints, which are not even on our radar).  My criteria for a walkable non-fast food restaurant led us to La Tropicana, a restaurant we’ve been talking about trying for quite some time now.

After a bit of back and forth with the waiter and chef, we ordered some vegetized versions of a couple of their standard menu items.  While I enjoyed the meal, getting to and from the restaurant on my own two feet was truly my favorite part of the outing. It felt both novel and right at the same time, and reminded me of our time in Italy last year.

I’m a little bummed that we’ve lived here for four years and just now ventured into La Tropicana — within weeks of a move that will most likely take us to a different neighborhood.  We don’t eat out often, but having a good choice within walking distance is worth a lot.  I hope we’ll have some walk & dine options in our new neighborhood (location TBD), because walking to a meal is the best seasoning.

Dinner & Bikes recap

After all my questioning whether or not to attend the StL edition of Dinner & Bikes on Sunday night, and time spent formulating a blog post as I processed things, the event itself was a bit anticlimactic.

But let’s start at the beginning.  I watched the weather forecast with rain and thunderstorms for Sunday and Sunday night all week, afraid that conditions would be such that biking would be inadvisable (I won’t say impossible, because you can theoretically ride a bicycle through most any weather condition, however, we try to avoid riding in severe thunderstorms).

Sunday afternoon arrived hot but dry (as in no rain — plenty humid still), and it looked like there was a good chance the rain and storms would hold off until we were safely back home.  Since we’re not acclimated to riding in the heat yet (and let’s be honest, I haven’t been riding all that much lately, period) we debated biking to MetroLink and using transit for part of the trip.

We left that as an option, but, as I expected, once we started rolling, I voted to keep going.  We were about four miles in when I started thinking fondly of the air-conditioned MetroLink cars, but by then it really didn’t make sense to reroute for that.  We continued on, enjoying the “down” part of getting downtown, and we arrived at our destination having covered eight sweaty miles in about forty-five minutes.

After being tempted by the scent of delicious food during the happy hour portion of the event, we finally got down to business, going through a buffet-style line with a variety of vegan dishes, including three or four that featured tofu, and most with Thai flavors.

The William A. Kerr Foundation hosted the event at their 21 O’Fallon Street building.  Given the mission of the foundation, and the LEED Platinum status of the building, I was disappointed to discover styrofoam plates and plastic forks in the buffet line.  Fortunately, I had my bamboo utensil set in my bag, but it hadn’t crossed my mind that I might need to bring my own plate.  Argh!

Matthew and I agreed that our top two dishes were the coconut tofu with plantain (three o’clock position in above photo) and the eggplant with shitake mushroom (middle of plate).  My compliments to The Touring Vegan Chef, AKA Joshua Ploeg, for a tasty meal.

We met some new cyclist friends over dinner, including the organizer of the StL World Naked Bike Ride, and caught up with old friends.

After dinner came the presentation portion of the event.  Elly Blue kicked things off with a talk on the economics of bicycling.  While she had some good points, from our perspective she was preaching to the choir.

Because of my work with bicycle advocacy and Complete Streets policies, I already know the stats and numbers — how expensive it is to build a mile of urban highway ($39 million on the low side, $65 million on average, even higher in some places) and how much bicycle infrastructure that you could build with that amount of money, the cost of owning and driving a car, etc.

Elly pointed out how the cost of owning and operating a car disproportionately affects people living in poverty, especially women, and how women with children face extra challenges to using bicycles for transportation, which, as a bicycling mama, had me nodding my head in agreement.

I pointed out in my pre-event post that the use of well thought-out, progressive infrastructure can be part of the solution for making bicycling more mainstream, and throughout the presentation, I noted examples of infrastructure that should be universally acceptable: bike corrals (i.e., designated, on-street bicycle parking in front of businesses), way-finding signs for bicyclists and pedestrians, and measures that slow motor vehicle traffic.

By the time we got to the video clip portion of the evening, we were both pretty beat and getting restless.  They started with some clips of bicycle advocacy in Portland, having read Mia Birk’s Joyride, this felt like more familiar territory.

Since a baby-free evening is a precious and rare thing for us, we felt we had reached a point of diminishing returns in staying longer, so we ducked out early.

On our way there, I questioned how many attendees* would actually be biking to “Dinner & Bikes,” given the off-the-beaten-path location and the heat.  Unfortunately, the pessimist in me was correct — the indoor bicycle parking was sadly underutilized.

All-in-all, it was a nice evening.  I’m very glad we biked to the event (the ride home was especially nice), as the biking, along with the food, were definitely the highlights for me.

*I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of turn-out.  According to someone from Trailnet (the event sponsor), they sold about one hundred tickets.  It didn’t feel like there were one hundred people in the room — I’d ballpark it at 60-70, but I could be wrong.  I would have loved to see a larger turnout — more people engaging in bike-related activities and getting excited about promoting and increasing bicycle use would be a great thing.

Birthday brunch and bicycling

We filled my birthday weekend with delicious food and nice (if warmer than my ideal) biking.

We transformed a large Swiss chard harvest into this Quinoa and Kale Swiss Chard Crustless Quiche that I saw on One Hot Stove a few weeks ago, with a side of broiled asparagus to round out the meal.

I doubled the recipe and made two quiches — relatively easy and seriously delicious, all three of us devoured our pieces and went back for seconds.  Matthew said it reminded him of a grown-up take on broccoli-rice casserole.

Good thing Sir likes grown-up food!

For my birthday, I requested chocolate pudding cake, and Matthew executed perfectly (recipe coming later this week).

Later in the day, Sir headed out to Grandma’s for a sleep-over, and we pedaled eight sweaty miles (that I wouldn’t have traded for eight air-conditioned car miles) . . .

Tasty vegan food

. . . to Dinner & Bikes.*

Reflecting the flash

With the sun setting and shadows lengthening, our return ride was a bit cooler, and we further cooled things off with some frozen yogurt.

Despite reading about them for well over a year on other foodie blogs, this was my first trip through a self-serve fro-yo and topping bar — a fun ending to a fun day!


*More on the event in a later post.

Bicyclists: United we stand, divided . . .

Sigh.  I write this with a heavy heart.  What should have been a simple decision to attend a fun bicycle-related event has become much more complicated.

I first heard about Dinner and Bikes over two months ago.  It looked like a great event, uniting my two most-beloved blog subjects with its goal to “bring people together to eat delicious food and get inspired about bicycle transportation.”

However, I assumed that with the need to find care for Sir, attending would be too much of a hassle, something I could have easily done a year ago, but not so much now.  Fast-forward several weeks, and all the cards fell into place for us to have a fun evening, biking to and from the event, and sharing dinner and conversation with fellow bicycling enthusiasts.

Instead of simply buying tickets for the dinner, though, I did a little research to make sure the event was worth our time and money.  Beyond a great goal, and a list of event dates and locations, the information given on the Dinner and Bikes blog was a little sparse, so I followed some of the links for more information on the creators.

One blog in particular, Taking the Lane, seemed promising and interesting, given the title.  Unfortunately, what I found there cast a bit of a shadow on my enthusiasm:

“The great thing about Austin,” commented Joshua, not a bicyclist himself, “is that from the most in-shape to the least fearful, anyone can ride right down the middle of the lane.” He cackled and added, “That doesn’t leave anybody out, right?”

I’ve tweaked Joshua’s slogan slightly for alliteration — “From the most fit to the least fearful.” The anti-bike lane movement is welcome to take it on as its new motto.

While I love biking in St. Louis, I’m already cringing after reading this and Elly’s reviews of other cities, wondering what she’ll say about bicycling here.

Further, if this language, written by one of Dinner and Bike’s coordinators, was representative of what I would find at the event, did I really want to take part?  Would I feel unwelcome and out of place because I think bicyclists should operate their vehicles like other road users?  Would I spend the evening listening to presentations perpetuating the myth that only very fit and very brave people can use bicycles for transportation in places where there is little formal bicycle infrastructure, which goes against my beliefs and experiences and what I teach in Cycling Savvy?

In an attempt to get a bit more information, I consulted my fellow Cycling Savvy instructors — turns out I was opening a real can of worms with my digging, and not my friendly red wigglers, either.

Though I was aware that there are two differing views of cycling advocacy, one that sees infrastructure as the solution and another that encourages bicyclists to become part of traffic and work with the existing road system, my queries revealed this to be not just a friendly debate, but a loaded topic, subject of more than a few hateful and vitriolic blog posts that left me with a heavy heart and a very bad taste in my mouth.

I pose this question to you, my fellow bicyclists and bike advocates: Can we afford this kind of hateful talk?  If no, then why do we allow it to continue?

In the United States, people who use bicycles for transportation are already in the minority (in many places making up less than 1%) of all road users.  If we want to increase the number of people bicycling, make bicycling safe and approachable for all, and [although it is already a pretty darn safe activity] continue to make it safER, we must stand together.

This is not to say that there is not room for debate about various ways to achieve our goals.   I have read and understood the arguments on both sides of this debate, and, like many questions in life, there is probably no one right answer. In order to make any progress we must be at the same table, which means we need to eliminate hostile and divisive discourse and labels and categories such as “anti-bike lane movement,” “vehicularist,” and “infrastructurist.”  Only then can we move forward and find progressive solutions that address the barriers to more people bicycling.

I am a bicyclist.  I am a Cycling Savvy instructor.  I have advocated for Complete Streets policies.  I have drooled (from afar) over the bicycle accommodations and huge bicyclist mode share in places like Copenhagen.  I should not have to question whether there is space for me and my beliefs at a bicycling event.

WE ARE BICYCLISTS — united we ride, divided we fall.

Note: In the spirit of uniting with others, I just purchased our tickets for the St. Louis stop of the Dinner and Bikes 2012 Tour.  Anyone want to plan on biking with us to the event?