Why the urban life…

September 26, 2009

I figured it’s about time that I go into a bit of detail about why the urban life goes hand in hand with my “simple” and “green” themes. I will preface this by saying that I KNOW that not everyone will see the benefits I list in the same light I do and also that I AM NOT deliberately trying to cast aspersions on suburban living (though it may seem like it since the point of this post is to point out the advantages of the city–next I’ll do a post of the disadvantages, k?). There are many great things about both, and a person can be simple and green and happy in either place. I grew up in the suburbs and would say I pretty much had the perfect childhood. I just happen to love the city now–and love it so much that I have to share why!

1. I have nearly no outdoor maintenance. This is simple because, obviously, my husband and I just have to sweep a 10×8 ft. patio from time to time and try to remember to water the flower boxes out front. This is green because we do not have to use any water to keep a big lawn alive!

2. It costs almost nothing to heat/air condition our house. We live in a row home–which means the two long sides of our house are attached to the homes next to us–which means only the front, back, and flat roof are true outside walls. We get away with turning our heat and air on much later in the seasons than you’d expect, and even once they’re on, the bills just don’t skyrocket.

3. We only have one car. I was so happy the day we downsized to one! No more second insurance payment, no more buying gas, and no more taking it to the shop. Now I walk or take the bus/subway/train everywhere. Is it a little annoying from time to time that I can’t always get to a place as fast as I want or escape the elements when they catch me unawares? Yes, but I think the trade-off is worth it in saved money, saved carbon, and a whole lot of automatically built-in exercise for me to boot.

4. On the car note, I love the fact that I am forced to do virtually no baby-schlepping in and out of hot cars to run errands. I pop her in the stroller or Ergo and away we go by foot–no trying to keep her happy behind me while we’re sitting at endless stoplights, no finding parking and loading her in/out/in/out of different carts and strollers and carriers. And again, bonus that we’re not dumping lots of extra pollution in the air being in the car all afternoon. (And maybe a bonus to our general safety that we are in a car so infrequently–if you follow the news AT ALL it’s hard not to be convinced that you’re about to be mowed down at every moment by a crazed text-addicted 20-something! You doubt me?–See this vid at minute 2:15!)

5. The people-watching is amazing. This has nothing to do with the environment (unless you want to make an argument that too much homogeneity crushes the soul), but man, can you “simply” entertain a baby by parking her stroller at a good vantage point in a city square and just letting her watch the ridiculous variety of people passing by. The perfect “zone out” activity for that 6-7 pm hour before bed! (Which does remind me of another related advantage–that you can take about 10 quick walks per day in the city and have them all be to completely different genres of destinations even though you’re staying in the same 5 square block radius–really helps when you’re at that “I’m completely bored with my infant who can’t really do stuff yet but I don’t want to admit it to anyone lest they judge me” phase.) Of course, you can’t choose which types of people walk by, which can really be a burn sometimes.

All right, I know there are more, but that’s a good start for one night. And I will post a rant at some point about all the things that piss me off about the city. Because there are plenty of those, too. But actually I think I already covered the biggest one a minute ago.

Keep it simple, stupid!

March 21, 2009

I am a simple lady. Although in recent years I have given in and started paying more than $10 for my haircuts, and I have tried to invest more time in accessorizing according to the Friday night admonishments I receive from Stacy and Clinton (my kicky Kate Spade purse has pink lining, people!), I still can be found without makeup many days of the week and I can’t ever seem to keep more than one pair of jeans in the house that I actually feel comfortable wearing in public.

I tell you this so that you have some context when I try to explain how woefully unprepared I was three years ago when I passed from the uncomplicated, carefree bliss of single womanhood into the mystical, surprisingly intractable social construct that is WEDDING PLANNING. When I had bothered to envision this momentous step of my life at all, I assumed it would go like most things in my world. My husband-to-be and I would keep it simple, map out some general plans, make a few phone calls, and make it happen. Little did I know that weddings are this living, breathing entity with a mind of their own, and that if you are ill-prepared or not paying attention (or are an overwhelmed and exhausted inner-city teacher), your low-key celebration can turn into a recipe for bridezilla mania!

This is not to say that I don’t now appreciate having a Kitchen-Aid handy and all, it’s just that if I could have a do-over, I would have invested more time and vigilance into ensuring that the festivities bucked more of the typical “wedding” stereotypes and reflected more clearly a few of my own core values. But you can’t have a do-over (well, not if you’re really into your current husband, which I am). What I realized I DID have, however, was another chance with the next BIG event in the average woman’s life—the arrival of the first baby.

This time I would be prepared! I would take charge and preemptively simplify at every step possible. I started by trading my high-stress 60-hour-per-week teaching job for some low-stress part-time desk-work (like, is this even WORK?). Then I decided the next step would be avoiding at all costs having a baby shower that would drown me and my growing belly in the tell-tale piles of boxes, bows and ribbons that to me scream, “AMERICAN BABIES MUST HAVE ONE OF EVERYTHING IN THE BABIES-R-US STORE IF THEY ARE TO SURVIVE IN A WORLD OF UNCERTAINTY! WE WILL SHIELD THEM FROM THE CHAOS BY MAKING SURE THEY ARE SURROUNDED BY AS MANY TOP-OF-THE-LINE PLASTIC PRODUCTS AS POSSIBLE!”

Thus it was that when I became pregnant, I began announcing EARLY and OFTEN to anyone who was listening or just had the unfortunate luck to be within earshot that I would only be accepting reused and recycled items as baby gifts. To ensure that my wishes were actually followed and that my friends and family didn’t think I was just making idle threats, I made a website explaining as much that could also double as a bootleg “registry” for said used items.

Nearly ten months later, and with everything ready for the new baby, I can proudly say the sum total of “brand new” supplies in my house would probably fit inside two grocery bags. Absolutely everything else has been handed-down, re-gifted, bought at a thrift or consignment store, or lent to us by friends who jumped at the chance to free up storage in their house until their next newborn comes along.

But gathering supplies was just the beginning! Now I’ve got a living, breathing, pooping-machine whose sole purpose on this earth right now seems to be generating dirty clothes and diapers faster than I can even get them off her little body. (Question: how can something so tiny emit so many fluids simultaneously out of so many orifices?!)

So, welcome to my blog, a chronicle of a first-time mom’s part-time pursuit to find cheap, simple ways to lighten her adorable offspring’s imprint on the world.