Saturday, March 30, 2013

On riding buses.....

We live in a city.  Fort Wayne is 74th in size nationally, far behind behemoths such as NYC, Chicago or LA, but an urban area nonetheless.  As all with all urban areas, we have our share of urban problems.  Last week an event happened that certainly caused many of us bus-riders to sit up and take notice.

The southeast side of Fort Wayne has far more than its fair share of hard luck stories.  It is the area with the highest rates of poverty, violent crimes, and general police notice.  It is also an area with plenty of hardworking, decent people who are going through life raising families, making a home and a life for themselves and trying to stay out of other people's drama.  Unfortunately sometimes drama finds them anyway.

A woman was forced off the bus by her former boyfriend and shot on the sidewalk, in front of many witnesses, many of them schoolchildren waiting for their buses.  It was horrific.  Why do I bring this up on the blog?  Because it is one of those stories that make many non-bus riders say "And that is why I would never ride a public bus."   Millions of people ride public transit everyday. It is overwhelmingly safe. It is not perfect.  As someone who has made a choice to live a carfree life, the bus is an essential part of my transportation package.   This story hit particularly close to home for me because it is the busline I ride to and from work. 

I was asked to say a few words after church last week about living carfree.  There was a potluck to share information about the UCC's "4/1 Earth" Eastertide caring-for-creation emphasis.   After the meal several people came up to share their stories of bus-riding days (mostly from many years back) and some to seemingly ask for absolution when they told of why they couldn't possibly ride the bus.   Choosing to be carfree has never been meant as a means of somehow being "better" than those who drive, it a choice we made as a family.  We don't necessarily play it up, but neither do we deny our choice.

I don't think riding the bus puts me at any greater risk than driving a car through the same neighborhood would put me.  I ride the bus here, because it is where I work.  Carfree is simply another facet of my multifaceted life.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

I've been gone....(without the Schwinn)

We left town for a spring break to climates that are warmer and sunnier than northeast Indiana has been.  We left Fort Wayne and ended up in Ocean Springs, MS at Gulf Islands National Seashore for a lovely camping trip.  

The question I've been asked most is "How did you get there?"  I guess the assumption is that if you choose not to own a car, you must not ever drive one either. Au contraire!  We rented a Toyota Yaris from Enterprise for the trip.  Having most recently owned a station wagon, we knew packing for this camping trip would require some rethinking our usual M.O.   Instead of our very large and spacious multiroom tent, we went back to the smaller dome tent Mike and I received as a wedding gift.  In theory it holds four people.  We found that the three of us filled it up nicely, with just enough room for our duffle bags.  Once the trunk was emptied out, we used it as our pantry, where food was stored between meals.  Having had our cooler decimated by racoons on a camping trip a couple of years ago, we didn't want a repeat performance.

Of course on the Gulf Coast one may have to contend with more than racoons:

Yes that is an alligator, soaking up the sun in the bayou at the campground!

While in Mississippi, we hiked, ran in the Gulf Coast Running Club and Hibernian Marching Society St Patrick's day races, took a boat to West Ship Island,

 and checked out the Gulf Coast Science Center in Mobile, AL.  It was a great antidote to winter.  Of course up our return, we discovered, that winter had settled in for an even longer stay here in the Midwest!

As with all trips, once you get home, there is always laundry to do:

Monday, March 11, 2013

Long distance bike trail

Just after posting today's earlier entry, I ran across this article: 

Michigan To Wisconsin Trail, Proposed 924-Mile Bike and Hiking Route, Moves Forward

We can connect!

Musings on getting out into nature without a car

Yesterday there was a post from the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette on facebook looking at how other cities have developed their downtowns and asking "Should Fort Wayne be more like Oklahoma City?"

This was my response:
 "I think there is a lot we can pick up from places like that all of those referenced in the story. The towns around Biloxi MS have not just a greenway, they also have what they call blueways - water trails to use for kayaking and canoing. We have lots of water, but we don't do a lot with it. South Bend has had a whitewater course for 25 years, so I'm not sure Fort Wayne needs to duplicate that effort, but we have a lot more outdoor opportunities than we usually let on to. We have rivers, lots of nature areas that are often unused. The co-op of county and city parks, ACRES, LRWP that offers fall hikes is a good start, but we need more co-operation across bodies like this to leverage the outdoor recreation possibilities in Allen County and NE IN. Lets be Fort Wayne, not OKC's shadow, but let's take what we can learn from other places. I feel far more hopeful about FW's future than when I first moved here 14 years ago."

Today, another blog I follow, posted the question of whether her family could get to a local nature area by public transit and bike.

This just tied in so well with our experience of getting to Eagle Marsh this weekend to participate in a cleanup project.  (See yesterday's post.)

Eagle Marsh is located along the Towpath Trail  one of Fort Wayne's many greenways., So bike access is actually very good.  Monday through Friday, Citilink runs a flex route bus to the Towpath Trailhead, adjacent to the marsh. But that service doesn't run on weekends.  So on Saturdays we take the regular fixed route bus to it's end point, and then walk about a mile and a half through a quiet neighborhood to the Towpath trail and then get to the marsh.  It isn't a perfect arrangement, but it gets us their.

But what about other natural areas in Allen County?  Well that gets to be a lot more complicated.  Our two main county parks,Fox Island and Metea are both beyond the boundaries of our bus system, though the county dial-a-ride bus theoretically could get you there during business hours Monday through Friday.  Fox Island is actually adjacent to Eagle Marsh, which on the map  looks like a great plan. In reality, there is a river and busy set of railroad tracks between the properties and no point of entrance to the park.  That entrance is a road that could be biked, though the roads approaching it are both quite busy.  Same for Metea Park, it is just off of a state highway.  So in essence both of the county parks are really auto dependent.

We also have a wonderful asset in Northeast Indiana called Acres Land Trust..  They have nature preserves in 16 counties in the area.  They also run some wonderful programs.  Their Mengerson Preserve is actually on a bus line, but the rest are not.  All are theoretically bike-able on county roads.  But it does come down to the reality that without a car, few people will visit these preserves.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Spring is sprung, old newspapers and other oddities of March

Yesterday morning on the way to Eagle Marsh to help out with a cleanup day, Mike said it felt like spring was in the air. I, wearing a winter coat, hat and mittens, disagreed.  Today though, it did feel like spring (the temperatures in the 50s didn't hurt!)

Eagle Marsh is a nature preserve at the edge of Fort Wayne that our family volunteers at as trail guides.  Little River Wetlands Project is the land owner for the marsh and several other tracts of land in the Little River Valley.  The Little River (sometimes it is called the Little Wabash) has it's headwaters in Eagle Marsh and flows into the Wabash River in Huntington.  The French Voyageurs called it the Joyful River.  Leaving Quebec, they had to paddle upstream against the St Lawrence, lakes Ontario and Erie and the Maumee.  By the time they finished the relatively short portage over to the Little River, it was all downstream to New Orleans - joyful indeed!

With all the snow on the ground, litter wasn't as easy to find as it will be once the snow is all gone, but we found a fair amount.  Pete was carrying the recycling bag and snagging pieces of newspaper.  He found this one:

The date is Thursday August 12, 1999!

This paper was in remarkably good shape for a 14 year old newspaper.  I assume it blew off a truck taking it to the recycling center a mile or so down the road, but really, who has 14 year old newspapers to recycle?

After we finished our clean up we headed back to our bus stop and waited for our ride home.

Today we  didn't do much beyond church in the morning. Tomorrow is a work day and then on Tuesday the vacation adventure begins!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Occasions for boots

All the snow that came down on Tuesday is disappearing.  That is not to say we are ready to put our boots away, far from it.  I slogged through about a mile of unshoveled snow to get to my secondary bus stop today.  Some days, I get off work soon enough to catch a half-hour bus and get downtown much sooner than if I wait for the bus that goes by the library. Today was one of those days.  I was carrying groceries in my backpack, and some in a canvas bag, so I got a workout!  When I got downtown, I left some of the groceries with Mike to bring home in his bike saddlebags. My lightened load was much appreciated.  One of the things you discover when becoming car-free is that it takes teamwork in the family to pull it off.  I do the vast majority of the grocery shopping, but sometimes it helps to parcel the shlepping of stuff out to other family members!

Tomorrow should be another occasion to wear boots.  We are planning to go help with a spring cleanup at Eagle Marsh.  I for one will change into my muck boots when I get there.  Be interesting to see what winter (and a lot of snow) have left behind on the trails.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Snow doesn't mean a day off for homeschool kids!

March snows are wet and heavy - and yet another unrealized benefit of car-free living - you don't need to clear the  driveway to get the car out.   Which gave us time to go snowshoeing.

10 plus inches of snow was great for getting the snowshoes out and wandering around the neighborhood.   Schools were closed all over the region, but the library was not.  My son's writing workshop is a program for homeschoolers run by our main library, so a quick phone call determined that they were indeed on for Wednesday, as were play auditions later in the afternoon and Wednesday Night Live, our church's midweek gathering for food, music, study and fellowship.  So we left the snowshoes home and trekked to downtown.  Most of the trip was through shoveled sidewalks or down alleys that were easy walking and once downtown the sidewalks were in good shape, but about two blocks of the trip, the walks were not clear and the city snowplow had covered the sidewalk with gloppy, deep, slush-snow.   It took just a little longer than our usual trips.

The buses seemed to be off schedule yesterday, just based on when we saw them going by. Today they are back on schedule so Pete and I made our usual Thursday afternoon jaunt out to the suburbs for homeschool art class.  This was a program he began a few years ago, so we had always done it with a car.  When we went car-free, this was one of the pieces I wondered about.  Turns out, it works just fine.  We take the regular city bus to the end of it's line and transfer to the flex-link bus.  It can drop us right off at art class, but we usually leave home early so we can get lunch across the street, pick up a few groceries at the overgrown Kroger Marketplace and the come to the library branch for Pete's class.  We go home the same way.  It has turned out to be a nice Thursday mom and son time during the travel.

We are fortunate to live in a city with a very active homeschool community, so there are no shortage of activities to choose from.  Even nicer for us, living close to downtown and close to many of the parks and  facilities  that offer programs are within a 30 minute walk, and less by bike or bus.   I was a little concerned about some of the things Pete has gotten involved with as a homeschooler and becoming a car-free family, but to date, we've not encountered any insurmountable problems.

I'll write more about homeschooling in future blogs.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

 Well the snow did come as predicted and then some.  My bus ride home was an epic fail.  I was at my stop at my usual 7:30, a quick call to Citilink confirmed that the buses were running.  I waited, expecting it to be late, the snow was really heavy.  I'm very fortunate that I have a bus shelter to wait under.  By 8:02, no bus, so I called customer service again to see where it was. (They track the buses on GPS).  It was back downtown!  No bus ever went past me.  Customer service said it went through the intersection at 7:36.  That means one of two things:  I missed seeing a large blue vehicle or the driver didn't stop for me.  The other possibility is that the bus was going by on its way back north and I had my back to it. But for that to happen, it would have had to go by my stop several minutes early.  In the snow we were having I'm really doubtful about that possibility.  Cold and furstrated I went back in the library and called 3 cab companies -2 to 4 hour wait.  Turned down all those options.  My new co-worker said she was going north (she lives much further north than I) and offered me a ride home at 9:00.  I took her up on it.  So on this day - public transit was not a great solution.  Car-free still has bugs to work out.

Found the bug!

 On a whim I searched for the kind of bug I saw crawling in the snow in the previous post and it turns out it really was where it should be.  (Proving the virtues of not interfering with other beings)

Snow scorpion fly

Insects, bridges and buses

I watched an insect crawl across the snow on the bridge balustrade this morning.  It made me look twice.  An insect in March? On the snow?  But there it was, marching to somewhere it had in mind.  My first thought was to pick it up and move it. But where?  Where do you put an insect that is crawling through the snow, especially when you know a snow storm is supposed to be on the way?  Especially when you don't really have the faintest idea what kind of bug it is?  That's when I remembered the Star Trek Prime Directive: Do not interfere in the ongoing affairs of another species.

So instead of trying to rescue the bug, I just watched it.  It crawled off the snow-covered balustrade, down the edge and into a niche in the brickwork that makes up the side of the bridge.  It was a fascinating way to spend the time waiting for my bus on the way to work.  The sort of little adventure I would never see played out had I been driving.

Another car-free blogger had posted a link to a Time Magazine article from last year about Gen Y not being all that hyped about buying cars.  If given a choice between a car and a phone, they in general would pick the phone with all the extras.  Once again it seems, I'm stuck in the wrong generation! :)  (My mom always said if I'd been born ten years earlier I'd have moved to San Francisco and become a flower child.)

The snow has begun falling here and if the weather forecasters are anywhere near accurate there will be a lot of it before all is said and done.  Check in later and I'll post the results!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The sun came up this morning, literally!  What a difference a blue, almost cloudless sky can make.  The breeze was stiff and chilling, but the sunshine more than made up for it.   It was a nice morning to walk to church.

Sunday morning in our family means Sunday school and church.  That is not quite as straightforward as it might seem though.  When my husband and I married, we came from two different branches of the Christian family.  We are both comfortable enough in each other's churches, but we feel called to keep roots where they were planted before we married. My son loves his Sunday school class and children's choir at my church, and he appreciates the full sacramental experience he receives through his dad's tradition.  For him though, they are both part of his faith tradition.  So most Sundays he goes to Sunday school and then heads out with his dad to go to church together.  Complicated sometimes, but generally it works.    

In the precar-free days it meant one parent getting kid and car to the other parent and shuttling everyone to the right place.  Since going car-free it means sometimes skipping Sunday school to just go to church with dad, or going on Saturday evening so Sunday morning is less complicated, or riding bikes from one church to the other, or visiting a church that is closer to downtown than their home parish.  That was the choice this morning.

We met up for lunch at Subway, ate and then I took Pete back to Plymouth for the rehearsal before the big concert. The children's choir joined with the adult choir, the handbells and brass and timpani to put on a festival of hymns this afternoon.  The concert itself was free, but an offering was taken to help fund a scholarship for a student in peace studies.  I'm guessing it will be well funded!  The sanctuary was full and the music was beautiful.  The kids contribution was "All Creatures of Our God and King." I you have facebook you can see some pictures here.

After refreshments and social time, we walked home.  Mike works just down the street from church, so he rode his bike over to work and then came home for dinner.  (Yes you can be car-free and still come home for dinner!)

This evening Pete and I made adinkra designs from Ghana.  He's been interested in all things African lately, so it was fun to choose three symbols that we thought said something about who we are.  Pete chose Ntesie-Matemasie  (wisdom and knowledge), Bi Nka Bi  (peace and harmony), and Funtummireku-Enkyemmireku  (democracy, unity in diversity) as his symbols.  He chose Fihankra  (a house which is safe, secure) for his dad.  Here are some adinkra symbols.

Some days you can look back on and say "It was a good day."  This was one of those

Friday, March 1, 2013

I've been part of the chorus of  "Let's just get this winter over with!"  and then this picture entered my facebook feed today:

And I realized it's not just my physical location I can change  (though south would be nice about now) it is my mental location.  So that is what I've set about working on today.  As part of the general winter malaise, my housekeeping has joined the funk.  Before work this morning I made a list of things I wanted to get done. when I got home.  My dishes are now finished and I have three loads of laundry clean.  None of these things are going to make the skies less gray or the weather any warmer, but they can help me change my outlook.  They are small ways I feel like I can take back the total  "I don't care" blahs that have overtaken my world lately.

A grade school librarian I talked to today said the kindergartners in her school are tired of this winter too.  Usually they love her special storytimes, but today they just wanted to hide under the table and create havoc.

On an epicurean note, my family and I had some incredibly delicious pizza tonight at Pembroke Bakery.  I'd love to see this become a regular Friday night feature!

Tomorrow I'll explore Japanese food with any of the teens who happen into the library, then I'll come home and see what further adventures may await.

I'm sometimes asked if being car-free limits our family's ability to go out and do things or have a social life.  Our outings do have a different cast to them, but I wouldn't say we have given up anything we really want to do.  Just looking back over the last month, we've been to activities at the local science museum, a Freedom Riders exhibit and civil rights- era sing-in at the local art museum, an incredible production of Oliver! put on by the local university and youth theater, Afghani story and song sharing, Komets hockey game, and our regular Wednesday dinner, kids choir practice, and social gathering at church.  And that is in the midst of winter.  It generally expands as the weather warms up and the sun shines longer.

Then there are the homeschool activities.  But those can wait for another post!