Non Car Accidents and Near Fisticuffs With The Jolly Green Giant

More than the ability to drink staggering amounts of vodka and wake up looking like a daisy that’s sprung up next to a waterfall; all sunny, dewy and raring for adventure, more than the confidence that a smoky eye was EXACTLY what 7 am Tuesday shift at the local sandwich shop called for, more than even my twenty year old metabolism which ran like an Energizer bunny, I miss the recklessness of youth.

Once upon a time, when I wandered around in the buff not because I was out of laundry but because I was young and everything still pointed up, I used to kick banks and snarl at bank managers like a rabid dog, before chasing local, non-rabid, neighbourhood dogs home. And I was interesting. All of this made for easy blog post fodder.

I’ve been lamenting my recent stream of good life choices and lack of eccentricity that motherhood has brought upon me to anyone who would listen. That is until yesterday.

Something you need to know about small towns is; they’re like Roz from Monsters Inc- they have unnaturally short arms and wear cardigans. No. Although there are a fair number of white haired ladies who rock a cardigan every day of the year. No, small towns are like Roz in that they are always watching.

Roz

The ideal next door neighbour. Photo Credit : pixar.wikia.com

I forget the omnipresence of the town. Or sometimes blatantly ignore it and behave badly anyway. And then I see people at the mall and take a shame bath when faced with my crimes against decency. In case you’re wondering, a shame bath is exactly like a normal bath except instead of water, there’s acid. Also you exfoliate with coarse sandpaper beforehand. This is why I don’t go to the mall anymore. Because I see everyone that I’ve ever embarrassed myself in front of. That and I get mistaken for a homeless person.

Anyway, so there I was, just going about my business at the grocery store, like a normal person who’s the size of a twelve year old and dresses like a hobo, when this woman runs up to me and asks “Did I see you riding your bike and giving a car what-for a week ago?”

You know in movies when you are sucked into the character’s eyes for a flashback? It was exactly like that. Only I didn’t get to make out with my deceased husband KJ Apa.

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You may judge me for being cougar and violating the “Half-your-age-plus-seven” rule with my imaginary husbands because I’m going to be a worse person later on in the post. Photo Credit : flaunt.com

Nor did I splash on a beach with my fictional best friend Jennifer Garner. No, I was brought back to a week before, when I was cycling my son and his two friends home from a play date.

Now, before my grandparents start freaking out and sending gas money in the mail so I’ll use my car more often, I should state that at no time was anyone ever in danger. It was the biking equivalent of someone cutting in front of you in line at the bank. Irritating, rude but ultimately, in no way life threatening. Which made me that much more furious. Because I would NEVER let someone cut in line at the bank. I would gladly offer for them to go ahead but no cutsies.

Also, I don’t actually go to the bank here because eight months ago, I did something humiliating in front of a teller and now I have to bike to the machines at seven am before opening hours to do my banking.

I digress, so there I was, clipping along at a brisk 10.7 kilometers an hour. This sounds slow until you recall that me+ our bike+ three children = about eight thousand pounds. Or at least that’s how it feels in a head wind- like I’m cycling a cart full of Barnam and Bailey’s oversized animals home from the circus while the bearded lady sits on my shoulders.

A car appears behind me. This is not concerning. If I were in a city, the kids and I would be dead. However if I were in a city, I wouldn’t be cycling at all, let alone with three children under the age of five. Here, in the middle of nowhere, cars give me at minimum a meter, but most often, an entire lane to myself, sometimes more. In return I give them a big smile and tell the kids to wave jauntily at the motorists. And then someone jumps out of the bushes to snap a photo of how idyllic small town life is right after the kids finish asking what the word ‘jauntily” means. Only not actually the photo part.

This car apparently didn’t get the memo, because it sped up to turn right ahead of me. Please note that I had thrown my arm out to indicate that I was also turning right. Dude, was in such a hurry that he HAD to get ahead of me. But not by much, because I had to brake. Gently. So as to avoid a super low speed collision. The other car was also going super slow. Did I mention that I live in the sticks and that no one is in a hurry? Even if they aren’t pedaling what feels like a group of morbidly obese rhinos around?

Minor paint scratches effectively avoided. Even still, I was livid. Red flashed around the edges of my eyes as both my heart rate and legs speeded up.

Once, ten years ago, I was rear ended by a 6’8 giant driving a convertible. After jumping out to inspect my bumper, I stomped my twelve year old sized self over to his car and bellowed at him about reckless behavior and the need to pay attention. (It bears mentioning there was no damage to either car- he merely nudged me.) The NBA sized man slunk down in his seat until he was shorter than me. My boyfriend at that time was convinced I was going to grab the terrified sasquatch by the lapels and yank the guy out of the car. Suffice to say, when I’m angry, it’s a sight to behold. Also, in the interest of safety, you should stand at least ten paces back in order to safely duck the red hot magma that shoots out of my ears.

All of this was over an elderly truck, that I didn’t love, which contained no children in it. However it does convey my passion about road safety.

This right-turn line cutter, made me madder than Paul Bunyan did ten years ago. If this had happened in the city, I wouldn’t have batted an eye. But this was a small town! Who did they think they were? While braking, gently, I started shouting at the top of my lungs. As soon as I had safely turned the corner and no longer needed a free arm to indicate my turn, I began gesturing to reinforce my point.

When the car had turned in front of me, I saw that the driver was in his seventies. I looked at both him and his equally elderly wife in the front seat and thought “I could take him”. Please note that I wouldn’t have roughed the septuagenarian up, after all, I had someone else’s children with me- I needed to set a good example. This is also why I didn’t whip out those choice profanities that my husband taught me last month while fixing our washing machine. Although I’ve been dying to slip the word “tea kettle” in with a string of curse words since then.

I will confess to speeding up with the intention of chasing down this rogue driver. However, with my furious tirade still filling his hearing aids, and seeing my enraged hand gestures, rather than turning into the local senior’s center to play bingo, the man took off towards Main Street.

I quickly looked around to verify that no one had witnessed the event, shrugged it off, then kept pedaling. Afterwards, I promptly forgot about it.

That is until the lady approached me in the grocery store. This is the moment when I realized that it’s not that I no longer commit ridiculous acts, it’s that they’re no longer notable to me. Which is far more concerning. Also, I need to start wearing a wig, or at the very least, stop reaching for the rainbow coat. Much less recognizable.

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Our Family’s Paris Accord – A Year Later

All non-hippies or those who don’t enjoy puffed bulgur and braiding their underarm hair may ignore this post.

A year and a month ago, I showed “Before the Flood” to Tex. That coupled with Trumps defection from the Paris accord caused our family to write our own Paris accord and make some large scale changes to how we live. I wrote about the initial progress a couple months in after we received our cargo trike but since then, haven’t offered any updates. Here is how we have been doing on all our environmental goals. We met every single goal on our accord except for the number of car free days.

 

Eating less beef

We have done that. Despite having cattle ranchers as relatives, we have done that, which is impressive. It helps that cousins have started raising pigs and chickens, meaning that my city slicker self has someone to turn to when we start raising our own non bovine livestock. Ultimately, we didn’t feel this change keenly.

 

Using the car less

I will be honest and say that we failed to meet our lofty goal of driving only 15,000 kilometers a year but met our lower goal of reducing our mileage by 6,000 kilometers. Most people put approximately 20,000 kilometers on a vehicle per year and the majority of families have two vehicles or more, meaning that they drive about 40,000 kilometers a year. We have one car and previous to our agreement, had been putting about 25,000+ kilometers on each year. Because of Tex’s work which required him to frequently visit the city and the distance to said major city, we ended up putting 19,000 kilometers on the car which was over a 20% improvement on the previous year. We hope to decrease that next year.

 

Car free days

Our au pair was not a fan of the bike and chose to use the stroller when it was warm and discreetly take the car keys when it was cold. Between this and the significant amount of time we spent living in the big city without our bike so Tex could receive training for his job, it meant that we had fewer car free days this winter than hoped. Our goal was 115 car free days last year. I think we had around 80. Given that we spent five and half months in a city without our bikes, I think that’s pretty good. I absolutely think we will achieve that goal this year as Tex has completed all of his training this year and will remain at home for eleven months this year.

At home, we do not use the car. Even in the winter Tex would pack up our son and ride off to the grocery store. My personal favourite example of Tex choosing the bike over the car was when he took Mini-Tex to see the Christmas lights around town. They were out for an hour and our son came back with his eyes alight and red little cheeks. Boy was he delighted. In the car, our little boy faces backwards so he rarely has the view we do and will often miss things, but on the bike, he faces the same direction so it’s more fun.

Both Mini-Tex and myself will be acquiring neoprene masks so that we can bike comfortably in the winter. This is Tex’s get up in order to get to work on the coldest of days.

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This gear could also be used in the Antarctic or on the moon. Photo Credit : Tex

I should also mention that although I have NEVER received as much respect as a cyclist as I have in our small town- people will regularly move over to the other side of the road to give me a full lane when passing, Tex did not have the same experience in the winter. The amount of snow we receive is so great that it builds up along the roads and takes up about a lane, narrowing the streets. Around about December, Tex was forced to put a pool noodle on his bike to remind motorists to give him space. Since the spring thaw, he’s removed the tube of green foam, but it is still in our shed for next winter. Tex also bikes home from work at 12 AM on occasion, so he needs extra visibility and space.

Tex’s bike’s odometer just passed 800 while our cargo trike passed 1300. If anything, I see us increasing the mileage on our bikes and decreasing the mileage on the car this year.

 

Air travel

This was a sensitive point of shame for me, as air travel is one of the worst actions one can take in terms of environmental impact. I made two unplanned trips home this past year in addition to making stopovers while en route to a conference for Tex’s work- both there and back.

My Grandma passed away in February. One trip was to see her before she died and the other was to attend her funeral. While I am happy that I chose to spend time with my family during the difficult and sad period, ultimately Tex and I have decided that the cost of the travel was far too great for the environment, a strain on our finances and caused a great deal of personal stress for our family, so we will be remaining at home for quite a while. My goal is to fly only once this year for a wedding.

 

Reducing packaging and waste

We bought in bulk this year. A lot, which was a challenge because the bulk products available in town are limited. Meaning that each time we visited the big city, on our way to Tex’s training, we would stop at a bulk store and fill up every single one of our available containers.

I am proud to say that even when we were in the city, I continued to compost. The biggest challenge was finding local hippies. Luckily there was a large garden with a composter down the street from where we rented an apartment. So I showed up one morning and asked very sweetly if I could empty my giant bag of eggshells and vegetable peels into it. Between my short stature, my high voice and my bright clothing choices, I’m often mistaken for someone much younger. So this man, whose door I knocked on, rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and silently questioned himself why a child was holding a bag or organic waste then said “yes”. Boy was I happy.

 

Increasing our dependence and support of renewable energy

The solar panels were installed at the farm last August and have been chugging along ever since then. We have discussed installing more panels when we move there to support the energy required for an electric car as well as an electric furnace.

 

No internet

This isn’t really an environmental move so much as a lifestyle move, although it does mean fewer electronics are plugged in at our home. We got rid of our internet at the end of December and I finally chucked my smartphone in February. I have not regretted either decision once. Tex has a limited amount of data, meaning that if I want to use the internet, I head to the library.

All libraries offer free wifi. All librarians are helpful. Spending more time at a library has NEVER hurt anyone ever and more than likely will result in more reading and learning.

For me personally, no internet means more space to think. My time is not absorbed by social media or random click bait that I am want to fall prey to. I’ve read more books since getting rid of the internet and my smartphone, I’ve felt like a more engaged and attentive parent. But the most creatively rewarding aspect has been the effect it has had on my writing. While I haven’t been posting here, I have been writing up a storm for other projects, a feat I’m quite proud of. Ultimately this has been an excellent choice for me, although it annoys and confounds the living hell out of my family.

I must say that Mini-Tex misses music. Any grandparents out there are permitted to buy him children’s soundtracks, or his most coveted music- the Frozen soundtrack. Aside from that, a paper map in the car has replaced Google maps, in addition to an increased sense of direction on my part.

A year later, that’s where we are. I can’t wait for the environmental goals we will reach in the coming year.

Let’s Talk About Your Lover

If you’re North American, which the vast majority of my readers are, you know to whom I’m referring. Or rather, I should say to what. Let’s talk about your and all of North America’s torrid affair with the car.

Like many a star crossed lover, all of us are blind to our dear one’s faults. Specifically, your car’s habit of draining your bank account. Now before you go on about the amazing mileage your hybrid/Civic/motor home gets, let me be clear- fuel is just one piece to that expensive gold plated puzzle.

Jeff Yeager, a dyed in the wool cheapskate and an avid cyclist estimates that every kilometer driven costs a person between fifty cents to a dollar over the life of their car. The average person drives around 20,000 kilometers a year, which by Jeff’s calculations means that you are spending at least ten grand on your beloved every year. Makes your spouse’s request for that fancy pants new television seem reasonable doesn’t it?

Now before you throw up your arms and recommend Mr. Yeager move to the backwoods with all the other crazies, hear me out. While I’ve gone car free, ultimately I found the experience too limiting once my son came on the scene, so I purchased a van, so I’m just as curious if Jeff Yeager is correct as his calculation is based on the notion that people buy a new car every six years. Let’s walk through the math together shall we?

I purchased the van for $35, 880. My previous truck I drove into the ground. My GMC Jimmy was old enough to vote when I finally retired it at my mechanic’s behest. The odometer read over 400,000 kilometers. I had planned to take my truck out for its first legal drink at 19 years of age, it didn’t make it quite that long but it was close. For the purposes of this calculation, we’ll assume that most people aren’t aiming for their Ford to pony up to the barkeep for a state sanctioned brewski. According to the Fiscal Times, the average person keeps a car for 11.5 years. To me, this seems short so we’ll choose lucky number 13.

My driving record is the squeakiest of squeaky clean records, partially because I drive slowly but mostly because I don’t actually drive, making it difficult to get into accidents. Thus my insurance is relatively low, coming in at around $1,350 a year. Multiply that by 13 years (17,550) and already between the purchase price of the vehicle and insurance, we’re at a total of 53,430- I haven’t even driven the darn thing yet!

But before inserting the key in the ignition, don’t forget, the government needs in on some of that fiscal action so add in 50 each year for plate and or license renewal. Total 54,080.

Ok, time to drive this bad boy. Tragically cars don’t run on unicorn farts and cotton candy, so we’ll need to purchase gasoline. Let’s conservatively say you fill up twice a month. That mileage you mentioned before really adds up huh? With an extra fill up a couple times a year for those long holiday car trips. So fifty-five dollars twice a month, multiplied by twelve months with a couple fill ups throw in on top, multiplied by sixteen years that’s … that’s…. $21, 120. Sweet Jesus! And I thought the car was expensive! Clearly gasoline’s costs aren’t limited to the environment.

All of that is with my nice math and conservative estimates. Because if 20,000 kilometers a year is actually divided by your car’s mileage; let’s be generous and say that your vehicle gets 650 kilometers to the tank. (At the end of its life, my truck got a sad 300.) The average yearly mileage, divided by 650 then further divided by twelve, the tanks of gas per month actually equals 2.564, which doesn’t seem like that much more than twice a month but comes out to $27,076; a difference of $5,956! I could go on a cruise for that kind of money!

Let’s all pretend we’re going to take the bus to work once a week and make the kids walk to school so we can choose the first number for fuel. What’s our total now? $75,200? Geez Louise, that’s a sizeable down payment on a house.

Repairs. I’m assuming all of you don’t like to incur the wrath of your mechanic, so you probably change your oil a couple of times a year. Since we were chintzes with fueling up, I’ll have us change our oil 3.5 times a year (don’t tell my husband or my mechanic). So if we patronize one of those quickie oil places that brings us to $77,475. Phew, that wasn’t too bad. Bring on the broken alternators.

According to the Globe and Mail, after a car is seven years old, a person can bank on spending $1,100 on repairs annually. Before then, it’s lower, but not much. This leaves our final total at $ 84,400. Yeesh.

Taking that total and dividing it by 260,000 which is the projected distance after 13 years, each kilometer costs 32 cents per kilometer driven. So while not quite the fifty cents to a dollar per kilometer cost proposed by my favourite cheapskate, car ownership is by no means cheap, for you or the environment.

$84,000 over the course of your car’s life or 0.32 cents per kilometer and those are with conservative estimates. How are you feeling about your demanding and costly lover now? Imagine how your life would look if instead of working to pay for your car, you invested that time in your kids. How would you feel physically if you walked most places? What type of model would you be within your community if you biked everywhere?

A reality of living in a rural area is that car ownership isn’t optional. Car use however, is. The odometers on mine and my husband’s bikes read 1300 and 600 kilometers respectively. According to our calculations above that translates to just over $600 dollars in savings.  I didn’t even mention the effect on my husband’s pant size – it’s shrinking. Also that doesn’t account for the carbon emissions saved. This is what we’ve accomplished in six months; imagine the impact and the total after a couple of years. Just some food for thought.