Thursday, 26 December 2013

Christmas Day in the Sun

It's official, I may never want to wish for a white Christmas again! After spending a stressful Christmas Eve driving down from San Francisco and remembering why it is we we are happy to not have to worry about car ownership, we made it to Venice Beach in Los Angeles just in time for a walk along the pier to watch the sunset and find one of the few places still open for dinner the night before Christmas. Then it was home to settle in, hang the Christmas tree and place our decorations on, wrap the remaining presents and hang our stockings to prepare for Santa. As you may recall, over the Remembrance Day weekend, while Daddy was away, the kids and I worked together to make a portable Christmas tree specifically for this trip. As promised, here are the fruits of our labour. A lovely felt tree decorated with handmade felt baubles hand sewn by my seven year old and yours truly. It may not have had all the beauty of a fresh cut evergreen, but for our family vacation, it was perfect!

Christmas morning surprises!
Christmas morning, after convincing the kids to sleep a few more hours when they woke up at 4:00am, we got out of bed to see what Santa left behind. The kids were very happy to see that Santa had heeded their requests for scooters, which they promptly took out for a spin (and a couple tumbles from Etienne) immediately after breakfast. That's when they learned Mommy wasn't crazy when she insisted they wear shorts and t-shirts and not the sweaters and pants they received as gifts. Instead of the snow all our friends in family in Canada were experiencing, our kids were spending Christmas day in the sun at temperatures hovering around 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit). And once Mommy was ready, we set off to the beach for what we else? A bike ride!

Scooting along the Canals. Not a bad way to spend
Christmas morning
All set for our Christmas day ride
Chris and I have become big proponents for Airbnb, having found some amazing places to stay throughout North America. Our current home away from home is no exception, and a big selling factor for us was that it included cruiser bikes for Chris and I. So Christmas morning we took our rides down to the water, rented the kids a couple of bikes, Coralie happily opting for a beach cruiser this time, and we rode North from Venice Beach to Santa Monica for some fun at the pier. The ride was much easier than the one we rode just two days prior in San Francisco, and Etienne managed to lead the way the entire trip, mastering hand brakes quicker than I expected. But then, his motivation may have been getting to the pier and going on some rides, because as soon as we parked our bikes, that's all he asked for. We managed to ride the Pacific Wheel, and the kids each got one smaller ride of their own, despite pleas and cries for more, before we had a quick bite for lunch and head back on our bikes towards Venice.
Etienne leading the way with the Santa Monica Pier in sight
Hard not to smile on a day like this
The Pacific Wheel at Santa Monica Pier
Etienne's good to go
Coralie all set for a Pirate Ship ride
Although we had grand plans to do lots of riding, Chris and I realized that all the kids wanted to do was play in the sand. So we stopped off at our place to grab their bathing suits and pack a beach bag (again, provided by our hosts), and rode back to the beach to drop off the kids' bike rentals and settle into the sand while the kids played in the water and on the man-made bluffs. We also treated them to some body boards to ride the surf, which Coralie almost mastered but Etienne soon gave up to instead jump through the waves. Once they were too cold from the water, the joined the many other kids sliding down the bluffs. These massive piles of sand are created each year to protect the coastal cities from storm surges, but are subsequently used by local and visiting children for tobogganing. Not a bad substitute for the snowy hills to the North, especially when you can do so in shorts and a t-shirt!
This is about as far as he got...
...Before doing this instead
Coralie riding the waves
So that was how the Velo Family spent their Christmas day. Relaxing and riding bikes in the warm sunshine on the Pacific Coast of California. I really did think I would miss snow, being a sucker for traditionalism when it comes to Christmas. Clearly, I was wrong, because I'm already thinking to next year and what warm and sunny place we can go next! Maybe it's because I've spent the previous six Christmas' in Vancouver and seeing only one snowy Christmas in that time, or maybe I needed a break from the cold and the wet. I think though, that the most likely reason of all is that I, like my husband, crave adventure and travel, so to give ourselves this Christmas in the sun was the perfect gift. Getting to spend it on bikes is just the cherry on top!
A lovely family shot as the sun set on our Christmas on the beach
One last shot with my partner in crime on our
seventeenth Christmas together!

Monday, 23 December 2013

Not a moment wasted in San Francisco!

Arriving late afternoon Saturday in SF
via the Bay Bridge
Well, three days into our winter holiday and I'm exhausted! When I think about it, though, it's really no different than any other Bruntlett family vacation. In fact, since our first vacation together, Chris and I have made a point of doing as much as possible in a very short amount of time. So it is inevitable that this trip would be no different. After spending about eighteen hours on the road, we rolled into San Francisco with enough time to unpack the car, check into our apartment and quickly freshen up before heading out to meet with some new bike friends. We then spent the next several hours hanging out at a super cool bike shop on Market Street called Huckleberry Bikes, where Chris screened the first four Vancouver Cycle Chic Films from last summer, as well as premiering two new ones (releasing in the new year on the web). It's always fun to meet new people who are into bikes as much as we are, and I was very happy to connect with Kristin from Velo Vogue and Melissa from Bike Pretty to get a bit of the female perspective on riding bikes in San Francisco. All the while, our kids got to play Mario Bros. on an original NES, who were subsequently blown away when their mother, of all people, smoked level after level. That's right, for a brief moment, I was the coolest mom ever!

No Bruntlett family trip is complete without using almost
every form of transit available. First up, the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit)
How To Keep Tired Kids Happy At An Adult Function 101: Bring out the gaming system, no matter how retro!
After some much needed rest, we woke up the next day ready for many touristy adventures, starting with an obligatory trip to Alcatraz. Chris and I generally don't go in for the real tourist type excursions, but we were told it was worth the trip. It was pretty cool to visit the historic prison, and the kids got a kick out of it, but amongst so many people wandering aimlessly with headphones on, and kids still recuperating from a day of travel, we were heading back on the ferry home before lunch. We then went to Golden Gate Park to meet once again with our new friend Kristin, who gave us a great tour through the Academy of Sciences which the kids thoroughly enjoyed. There is really a ton to explore there, and I can see why people visit it again and again. From the aquarium, the rainforest, and the earthquake house, the kids didn't stop moving, but if think the highlight for Coralie was seeing live reindeer, even if it wasn't Rudolph.
 Having some fun with perspective on Alcatraz
Transit Option #2: The Trolly, followed shortly after by the tram
All set to help Santa with his sleigh
Coralie and I ready to ride. This is the day
she learned why she doesn't like mountain bikes
For our third and final day, we opted to do what we do best, and ride some bikes. Our mission, ride across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. From the bike rental shop at the Ferry building we travelled west along The Embarcadero in the green painted bike lane, Coralie and I on our own bikes and Chris hauling Etienne, who was feeling a little under the weather, on a tag-a-long bike. It was nice to travel alongside the Piers, but I have to admit I missed out separated Seawall, as cars raced past my family. I was very grateful after our lunch stop at Fishermans Wharf to connect to a proper bike path that took us almost all the way to the bridge without having to share the road with cars. Along the way we came to the Palace Of Fine Arts, a beautiful rotunda of massive Greek columns surrounding a spectacular dome. Framed by a beautiful blue sky, it was such a a great place to rest, and take many, many photos. I believe it may have been the highlight of my day, but I'm a sucker for enjoying parks within cities.

Inside the dome at the Palace of Fine Arts
Chris having a quiet moment at the centre of the dome
(He's actually waiting for me to give over the camera)
Just about to take off across the
Golden Gate Bridge
Now it was time to conquer the bridge, which meant hauling our butts uphill from the waterfront to the start of the bridge path, which included a winding road shared with cars. Not too pleasant, but the drivers seemed pretty used to seeing bikes and gave us room. Once at the top, after a quick stop to refill our water bottles and to take a couple of before shots, it was time to cross. As can be expected, crossing the bridge is a popular activity by both foot and bike. It wasn't too bad, but you did have to be sure you were paying attention at all times in case an unsuspecting photographer stepped into the path of our bikes. I will happily admit that even though it was crowded, I was pretty stoked when we reached the halfway mark, feeling a big sense of accomplishment, and we hadn't even finished the trip! Sadly, my enthusiasm once we had crossed was marred as we tried to figure out just how to get to Sausalito and the ferry back to the city. As awesome as it was to bike as far as we did, I do think that a lot can be done to make that trip a little more bike friendly, as our trek from the end of the bridge down to the bike path along the water involved negotiating amongst fast moving cars on narrow roads, which, when travelled with children, makes parents more than a little on edge. I found consolation when a fellow traveller on the ferry back congratulated Coralie for making the trip, being one of the only young children I saw on the trip across and down to the ferry. She really is quite the trooper.

A windy "Cheese" moment on the bridge
The narrow road that took us into Saucalito.
Sharrows do not a safe bikeway make
The sun setting on yet another busy day
for the Bruntletts
All told, I think we'll be leaving San Francisco feeling that there still so much to do. We barely got to enjoy the neighbourhood we stayed in, the Mission District, so full of life and character. We also missed out on taking a cable car, and Coralie didn't get to visit Lombard Road, the winding street she's seen in many a film set in this city. There are countless things still to do, and we know we'll have to plan a trip back in the near future. But for now, I look forward to the days ahead spent in Venice Beach, and Christmas morning riding along the ocean. It's a hard life for the Velo Family...

An early Christmas present for Chris and I, two exhausted children!

Friday, 20 December 2013

Snowy day in YVR

This morning was full of snowy travels
This morning I woke up to my worst fear...tons of snow the day we start our road trip to California. Tons of snow for Vancouver, that is. And then my husband woke up to tell me he wasn't feeling well and wasn't going to work. Well crap...that meant the morning routine and getting the kids to school and daycare was all on me. Although every part of me wanted to curl into a ball and hide, knowing that in less then 12 hours I'd be on my way to warmth and relaxation helped get me out of bed and getting the day started. Everything was going smoothly until it was time to go. You know your children are try Vancouverites when you start bundling them up in all their snow gear, including snow pants, and one of them says, "There's so much clothes!" Yes, sweetheart, welcome to Mommy's childhood!

Snow covered Skytrain lines make
me glad I wasn't commuting today!
Anyway, once the kids were all bundled, we set off on our trek to daycare to drop off Etienne, and then back up to the school to drop off Coralie. I think it was at this point that both my kids may have been a bit sad that we were leaving tonight. I mean, kids love snow, it's a fact! But kids in Vancouver, who get to enjoy snow so rarely, lose their minds when they see white stuff, imagining all the amazing snowmen, forts and snowball fights they can have in the shortest imaginable time, because the snow has been know to disappear before lunchtime. So to satisfy some of their snowy fun, and because I know how slow my 5 year old son walks, I dusted off our sled and pulled them along. Hearing my son squeal certainly kept me smiling while I lugged 100lbs of kid, making the journey much more fun as I recalled the similar joy I would experience in the snow when I was a kid.

A couple of very happy kids...I hope sandy
beaches make them this happy, too!
So, I'll admit, as excited I am for the warmth that is California, seeing all this white stuff right before Christmas is pretty magical. It brings back happy memories of my childhood growing up in the Ottawa and Toronto area, and even if it's brief, I get to see how excited a little bit of white stuff can make my kids. Of course, not giving it a thought myself, the principal at our school joked that he should get a photo of me and our mode of transportation this morning for the blog. I guess living so close to everything, I wouldn't even dream of driving, but as the known car free mom, showing up pulling a sled was probably a little funny, although I wasn't alone. All I can hope is one day my kids return the favour!

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Why own when you can "Share"?

Who's have thought such a simple idea could
be so "smart"?
It seems strange to post this on a day when I actually wouldn't dream of driving, but I have a confession to make. There are times when having access to a car would make life so much easier, and is sometimes even necessary. Back in 2010, when we sold our family car, I knew there would be sacrifices, and I would have to get used to the idea of not being as spontaneous in our travels as we'd been accustomed to. We persevered, though, and have in turn had many new kinds of adventures because we could no longer rely on a personal automobile. My husband and I were acutely aware there would be times when we needed a car, though, and since day one, we have taken full advantage of the car-sharing programs in Vancouver. From Zipcar, to Modo and even Car2Go, we have discovered that life without car ownership is not as difficult as it seems, and would go so far as to say life now is actually easier!

Let me start off by saying this is in no way a sponsored post, but purely my opinions on car-sharing. And my opinion is that if you're wavering between buying a car or joining a car share, you should probably hold off on that big purchase. What I have discovered over the last three years, from being a member of all three of the major car share programs in Vancouver, is that it has given me freedom and flexibility. If it's nice out, I can easily go for a walk or a bike ride. If I'm going downtown, well public transit will generally be the fastest and easiest way to do that, and if the weather is less than desirable and I need to get somewhere not easily accessible by transit, then I can simply find an available car, and go. I don't have to stress about how to stay dry or warm, or worry about rising fuel and maintenance costs.

Let's take last Friday as an example. Here in Vancouver we were experiencing a severely cold spell. My husband and I were headed downtown for a lecture followed by a drink, but knew there would be times when we'd be outside for an extended period. So, we opted for warmth, and I quickly found a car using my Car2Go app, and we were downtown in no time for the same price as transit. We did that two more times throughout the evening, and were happy for the ease and convenience, and especially the warmth. Add to that the fact that the City of Vancouver has dedicated many parking spots throughout the city to car share programs, parking was a breeze, and cost us nothing.

Sure, owning a car would be "easier", in that we would always have a car readily available, because, yes, sometimes all the cars in our neighbourhood are being used by other members. However, it is definitely not easier on the wallet. We pay a measly $35-50 a year for membership in our respective car-share programs. On top of that, all we are responsible for is the per minute or hourly rate of the the car, which, since we usually only use them for quick trips, rarely costs us more than $10 a trip. That cost per trip and the annual fee covers everything - insurance, gas, permit parking, maintenance...EVERYTHING. So compared to the costs we used to have filling up the tank, paying for insurance, and all the maintenance that goes with it, I'll happily risk not having access to a car from time to time and put the money I save towards creating memories with my family.

At a time when we're seeing less and less young people saddling themselves with the debt of car ownership, car-sharing is certainly the way things are heading. The ease, the low cost and the accessibility make it an ideal compromise, without really sacrificing all that much. With companies like Car2Go and Modo (the programs we participate in) continually adding more vehicles to their program in wider reaching areas, it's clear the idea of sharing instead of owning a car is pretty appealing to a lot of people. For our family, we'll still try to get around without a car as much as possible, but it's nice to know we have options!

Thursday, 5 December 2013

The Joy of Achievement

Etienne on his was to fight crime on his "Bat"cycle
As many of you probably remember, back in October we had the misfortune to find our beloved family bike trailer had been stolen from outside my son's daycare. While it was a sad and frustrating moment, it was quickly dismissed by our son deciding he was ready to ride a bike on his own, and so started a brand new chapter for the Velo Family. Since then, our son has become a superstar, insisting on riding to school nearly every day. He's come a long way from the boy that was terrified to try just last summer.

In watching him master his skills at riding, I've been reminded how amazing it must be to a child to start achieving new milestones in life. I can still remember the looks on my children's faces when they started walking. You could tell by their smile and wide eyes that they knew what they were doing was a huge step, pardon the pun, and were also reflecting the pride in the faces of my husband and I. I see that same look every time our son, Etienne, does something on his bike he's never done before, and I can't help but feel like such a proud Mommy.

It really was no surprise that the bundle of non-stop energy that is our son would have the stamina for long distances. He now easily travels upwards of 20 kms along the seawall if we ask him to, and very rarely complains of being tired. As with anyone learning to ride a bike in a hilly city like Vancouver, it is always the inclines that we are acutely aware will be tough for him. We learned which routes to avoid when our daughter was still getting her riding legs, and try to take things as easy as possible for both of them, and us, if we can. 

Sometimes it's unavoidable though, like the alleyway the children and I ride up to get to their dance class every Tuesday. Each week, Etienne has managed to get a bit further, with a little encouragement from his sister and I. We've even taken to singing a little song modified from Finding Nemo - "Just keep pedalling, just keep pedalling...". I think they mostly like when I start singing it funny just like Dory. At any rate, it clearly worked because this week, he made it all the way to the top without stopping, and the first thing he said was, "I'm going to tell Daddy when I get home!" The excitement and joy on his face was intoxicating, and all three of us were beaming.

Riding a bike is definitely a skill that allows children to start to feel that independence they see in their parents and other adults. They know that this is just the beginning of years of being in control of how they get from one place to the next. For our children, this is no exception, but I can't help feel there is one skill they've both been most excited to master. Since getting out city bikes, the kids have watched my husband and I learn and master the graceful Dutch dismount. It was then no surprise when our daughter, Coralie, did all she could to learn to dismount that way on her own Dutch city bike. We were, however, completely surprised to find that Etienne had been mustering the courage to join his family, even on his little BMX. Just a few weeks ago, when coming home with the two kids, I turned around to watch him ever so casually toss his leg over his top bar and step off his bike. Coralie and I were amazed! Apparently he'd been watching and practising without us even knowing, and was now just like the rest of his family. 

There are times now when I take my kids abilities on a bike for granted. Of course they know how to ride, that's what kids do. But when we have these small milestones, it's a reminder of how far they've come since sitting comfortably behind Mommy and Daddy in the trailer or on the trail-a-bike. I couldn't be prouder to see the joy on their faces, or the excitement they feel about riding. I'm also very happy that through all the frustration, loss of patience and anxiety, my husband and I have been able to pass on yet another important life skill to our kids. Now, if only I could get them to clean bathrooms as well as they ride bikes, and I would be one happy Mommy!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

The weather outside isn't that frightful

Chris and I last January enjoying a cool but sunny ride,
complete with woolly mitts
As I view more and more photos on social media, it is becoming increasingly clear that, for many parts of Canada, winter has definitely arrived. While Vancouver may not be snowy, there is certainly a chill in the air, especially on the few beautifully clear days we get. That hasn't stopped the Velo Family from getting on our bikes, though, and nor should it. Just because it's cold doesn't mean our bikes should go into storage, leaving us to rely on transit to get around. When thinking about how to write about winter riding, I was at a loss. I could go on some long, sarcastic diatribe about what extra gear you need, as in none, but my heart just isn't in it. I know I'm "preaching to the choir", to many people just like me, who ride all year long regardless of temperature. So why bother?

Truth is, some people out there who do ride all spring, summer and fall, tend to hibernate from riding in the winter. But instead of making a guide to winter riding, I thought I'd write about what it is I enjoy about riding in the winter. Spring has all the blooming flowers, and the wonderful fragrant air they provide, summer give us gorgeous sunny days and a warm breeze in our hair, and fall has all the beautiful colours to enjoy. So what does winter have to offer? For me, I love feeling the cool air on my face as it flushes. I feel so cozy while I ride with my scarf and mitts on, and the smell of wood fires in the air has such a feeling of home.

One thing I've certainly discovered riding in the winter months is there is quiet that falls throughout the city, especially on the traffic calmed streets and the seawall. With the night getting darker sooner, this gives a great opportunity for reflective solo rides, or rides home with my husband. We've spent many a later evening riding along the traffic calmed bikeways feeling like we're the only people for miles, and enjoyed the peaceful time sharing stories and the intimacy of a quiet moment together. I guess the irony would be that encouraging people to join us and ride their bikes in the winter months would make the streets less quiet, but bicycle traffic isn't that noisy, so it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make.

Winter riding really is no different that riding a bike in any other months. It doesn't require anything extra other than a little more caution on slick roads and some extra layers. When I ride I wrap up in the same winter clothing I do when I go for a walk. If you ride a bike the rest of the year, there nothing to be afraid of in the winter. I know I have the luxury of living in a temperate climate, but I would happily take riding in the falling snow over a cold, rainy downpour, and would likely ride even more! So don't put your bike away this winter. Keep those wheels turning and enjoy a cool and cozy ride. The added bonus of a winter ride, you have an excellent excuse to finish off your ride with a stop for a hot chocolate, maybe even with marshmallows!

Monday, 18 November 2013

While Daddy's Away...

Two weekends ago, my husband, Chris spent a solo weekend in Los Angeles where the Vancouver Cycle Chic's films were being shown as a part of the New Urbanism Film Festival. I was very excited for him and his mini-vacation. Not only because of the honour to be featured in even a small film festival, but because after nearly three years, this was his first time away without the family. I've now had several trips away solo, and while most have been for work, I do understand how nice it is to have time where all you have to think of is yourself.

But of course, Daddy being away meant that I was only my own with my little rugrats. Nothing a woman who stayed at home for over 6 years with her kids couldn't handle, but I kept having this nagging thought in my head. You see, every time I go away, Chris and the kids have adventures all over the city. They get treats, they go to the beaches and parks, and they've even gone to a rock concert! I think that's true for most moms I know. When they go on a trip, the old adage, "When the cat's away, the mice will play" rings so true. But when it's the dad's turn to go away, not much changes, especially for stay-at-home moms. Chores still need doing, dinners need making, and life carries on like most other days.

Somehow I wanted our weekend to be somewhat different, even if I can't match the excitement of a daddy weekend. So I decided we'd take on a craft, something I know as awesome as Daddy is, he's no match for Mommy's mad creativity when it comes to a sewing machine and my passion for Christmas. This Christmas we're heading down the Coast for the holidays, meaning we aren't putting up a tree at home, nor can we take out boxes of Christmas decorations with us. I had seen paper trees at IKEA last Christmas, thinking that would be ideal, but when my search on the internet came up empty, I came up with a DIY option, something that was compact enough to fit into our luggage but still provide us with the tree necessary for Santa to leave presents under.

And so our own little adventure began with a trip to the crafter's wonderland that is Dressew. Aisles upon aisles of fabric, notions and anything else you can think of. After letting the kids play around with the fun fur (really...who can resist), we picked up some Christmas green felt along with a few other colourful options, some sparkly ribbon, a bit of polyfill, and, because I just had to, sequins. Then we headed home, ready for our big project.

All ready to get started!
Last Spring I started teaching Coralie how to use a sewing machine, and she even made her own pencil case. So she was very excited to be able to have another crack at it, especially for this extra special creation. After I cut out the main shape of the tree, together we pinned on the silvery trim, and then I sat her down at my machine and let her go. As she went along, she gained more confidence, I was able to adjust the speed and within no time, our Christmas tree was starting to come alive. After my sewing up the tree, filled with the polyfill, it was time to teach her a bit about hand sewing. From our other colourful felt, I cut out some shapes resembling various tree baubles, showed Coralie how to thread a needle, knot it off, and sew on sequins in any pattern she wished. 

Little brother watching while Coralie shows
off her ever growing skills

Project nearing completion...completed
project images will have to wait till Christmas
Sadly, Etienne doesn't have the dexterity or the interest to sit patiently and sew, nor do I think he would manage to get more than a few sequins in without pricking his finger several time. So while it may not have been as creative, his job was to place each felt creation on the tree, where they stuck safely without being physically attached. He was more than happy to take on that task. Our tree is still in progress while we finish up some more decorations, but I'm very happy with the results so far and excited for our tree away form home this Christmas.

So while I may not have taken the kids galavanting around the town, we spent a lovely weekend doing things only Mommy will do. And I've realized, that's ok. That just makes both the time Chris and I spend alone with the kids special and unique. We got to hang out, take a trip downtown to shop a little, and even create something special. I also got lots of cuddle time with my children without having to compete with my husband, something I've missed now that they're both off to full-time daycare a school every day. We certainly missed having Daddy around, but while Daddy's away, the rest of the Velo Family will manage just fine.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Look beyond the surface...

Look at this photo. What do you see? I see a young girl smiling. I think to myself, she seems really happy. Maybe because it's summertime, or maybe it's because she has an awesome red bike. Perhaps she's excited because this is the first time she's ridden her bike without her parents holding on, or that she knows she's really close to getting rid of her training wheels. All I know is that she looks happy, and that's what matters.

Now look closer. Read deeper into this photo. See the young girl, around age six, who is well on her way to enjoying riding a bike for years to come. If she continues riding her bike often enough, she will be healthy and active, helping to keep illnesses related to inactivity away. I also see confidence, which will help her as she starts to navigate around the city she lives in, knowing she is capable of mapping out her path, finding the best route, and if she gets lost, she will calmly be able to figure out where to go next. I also see the parents behind the camera that are helping to nurture her and support her. Otherwise, this photo wouldn't even exist. 

One thing I don't notice, or at least I shouldn't care to notice, is that she isn't wearing anything protective. No helmet, no pads or armour. Just a girl riding her bike. Why isn't she wearing those things? Her parents must not feel that what she is doing is unsafe, and therefore doesn't require a ton of safety gear. They simply think that they learned to ride a bike when they were kids, and want to share this knowledge and experience with their own child. And they should be congratulated like any other parent for starting their kid on the right path to a happy and healthy childhood.

The sad truth is, though, that many people will look at this photo and get angry. They won't see the joy, the possibilities and the positivity about this young girl on a bike. They will simply see a child without a helmet and think that her parents are awful, irresponsible people, putting their child in danger by allowing her to do a perceived dangerous activity without protection. These people would rather see this girl travelling safely in a car, or not leaving the house at all, safe on her couch, than accept that the dangers of riding a bike are not as extreme as they have been made out here in North America.

Just last week, the Canadian Paediatrics Society called for legislation to mandate helmet use for all ages across Canada. The concern is for a reduction of concussions and other head injuries, most specifically amongst the young. Studies were discussed, saying that bicycle related injuries account for four per cent of emergency department cases. Sure, that's relevant, but how many of those were related to actual helmet usage. What I'm hearing is four out of one hundred child and youth emergency department cases are bike related. Let's face facts here. Overall, that is a really low percentage, which translates to me that riding a bike is really not that dangerous, even for the young.

Part of the reasoning for the recommendation, Paediatricians in the society say, is that in areas where there is mandatory helmet legislation, helmet usage is up. Well, of course it is. If you want to ride a bike but don't want to run the risk of being fined, do you really have a choice? The study I want to see is whether or not cycling rates in those areas also decreased as a result of the legislation. In Australia, where a mandatory helmet law has been in place longer than here in BC, this is what studies have found:

"As reported in March 2007 and based on data from Western Australia, Queensland and Victoria, the number of Australian children walking or riding a bicycle to school has plunged from about 80% in 1977 to the current level around 5%. The data confirms that in Western Australia, the decline of cycling began around 1991 when the helmet law was enacted." (Source)

What has been increasing in Australia are cases of childhood obesity, the rates of which tripled between 1985 and 1995. A survey from 2008 reported that one in four children aged 5-17 were overweight or obese. So while children may be safer while riding their bikes due to helmet usage, the helmet law has essentially detracted children and youth from riding, therefore increasingly their inactivity and risking their health. Surely the focus every where should be more on keeping kids active and healthy in their every day lives, instead of putting restrictions on the fun and easy ways they can do that. And if safety is such an important concern, which I don't disagree with, then padding our kids up with body armour isn't the answer. Instead, cities should be focused on creating better, safer infrastructure for all cyclists. Traffic calming, separated lanes and driver education will go much further to keep us and our children safe and get more people active and on a path to overall health and wellness.

This photo was taken nearly three decades ago, and if you haven't guessed by now, the girl in that photo is yours truly. I have been avidly riding my bicycle now for over 30 years. From riding around my neighbourhood as a kid with my friends, to the other side of my suburban home town to meet up with my teenage boyfriend, to today, riding with that same boy, now my husband, and my own children, I have never once thought what I was doing was too dangerous. I don't take risks while I'm on my bike, I refuse to "ride with the bulls", preferring to stay on quieter roads or streets where I am separated from the cars. But most importantly, I am still that young girl in the photo, simply on a bike, smiling and having fun, and that's what should matter most.

Monday, 28 October 2013

The day I realized...I have become my mother

You remember them from when you were a kid. Those phrases you heard, sometimes ad nauseam, whenever you and/or your siblings were acting up. They haunt your memory, ring in your ears even when you're on your own, but somehow they feel comforting and familiar. "Stop right now or you can go to your room"..."Don't you talk back to me"..."Why can't you two get along for more than two seconds"..."The both of you..." If you have children, particularly children who have entered the stage of life where siblings bicker with each other non-stop (basically any time after age four), I'm positive at least one of those lovely sentences has escaped your mouth. I am not ashamed to admit that I have used all of the above and then some more than once with my children. But it was that last one, spoken unwittingly just a week ago, that made me realize that it has officially happened. After years of eye rolling, back talking and outright ignoring, I have become my mother.

I guess I always knew this day would come. In fact, there have been times over the last seven years when I know I have said or done things I recall my own mother doing when I was a child, but I don't think I had fully accepted it until now. Maybe I was delusional, insisting that I would be different. Now that it has happened, though, I can say without hesitation that becoming my mother was inevitable. Not because we're doomed to repeat our parents' mistakes, but because I learned from the best!

My childhood was not different than most in the 1980's. My dad worked long days while my mom stayed home with us, while intermittently working various full-time jobs. But for the most part, she was the one who cooked and cleaned for us, took care of us when we were sick, and nurtured us. Not to diminish my dad's important influence in my life, but becoming my dad is a whole other topic. It was mom who was also around to break up the arguments between me and my two siblings, deal out and enforce punishments, and make sure we appreciated the food in front of us. During my childhood, there were many times I felt my mom was the worst, but in the end, she really wasn't, and only wanted, and still wants, the best for her children.

So now we come full circle, and here I am with two kids of my own. I could never explain this to them, but as awful as they think I am at times, I'm only looking out for them. My mom taught me throughout my childhood that by not letting me have my own way, I learned to accept defeat when it came, and to work as hard as I could to achieve my dreams and desires. By allowing me the freedom to explore, she enabled a curiosity in me that has kept me wanting to learn more, even to this day. That freedom also gave me the confidence to navigate through the cities where I have lived safely and without fear. By caring for my injuries but not coddling me, she taught me to pick myself up, be strong, and not let cuts, scrapes and bruises, both internal and external, hold me back. Most importantly though, by being the mother she was and continues to be, I am the mother I am today.

Becoming our mothers is a testament to the women that raised us, fed us, taught us right from wrong, and eventually set us free to become the women we are meant to be. Sure, every generation learns from the previous one and tries to improve on what we remember from our youth, but it's really just adapting on the principles that were instilled in us by the people that brought us into this world, who were patient, thoughtful and willing to help make us the best we could be. So while I will still joke to my husband every time I say something to my kids and hear my mother speaking those same words back at me, in that humour I will find comfort. I hope, too, that my own children will take my sometime harsh phrases and lessons and one day realize when they have kids of their own, that mom wasn't so bad after all. She just loved me enough make sure I grew up strong, confident, mindful and more than a little adventurous.
From left to right: Dad, Me, Mom and Coralie

Monday, 21 October 2013

Staying Sane Amongst the Insanity

Seven years ago when my husband and I welcomed our first beautiful child into the world, life was instantly changed. We were faced immediately with all new challenges, strained and exhausted, and struggling to maintain composure as we stumbled through the first few days, weeks and months of parenting. When we decided to have children, we knew things would be different and we would have to change our lifestyle a bit. We did, however, make some important promises to ourselves in order to maintain some sanity while our lives as we knew them turned upside down. 

Lately I have been reminded over and over about one of those important promises. Our children are precious, and it is our job to protect them. In order to keep them safe, we took a page from our parents' book. We teach them to avoid dangerous situations, chastise them when they're being deliberately unsafe, and give them the knowledge they need to travel throughout their young lives relatively unharmed. What's crucial in not losing our minds with the stress of maintaining their safety is that once they've heard all of our lessons, we let them go, free to explore, to make mistakes, and to live up to the responsibilities we've allowed them.

A comment on my last post made aware of a story by Parachute Canada suggesting that children under the age of ten should not ride on the road because they don't have the mental awareness and capacity to ride amongst cars. As you are likely well aware, we ride on the road with our children all the time. We are acutely aware of dangers when riding on the road, which is why we stick to quieter streets and dedicated cycle tracks. That being said, how on earth will our children ever learn to look after themselves when they enter their independent teen years if we don't provide them with the skills they need while they are still young and willing to learn from their parents? Each trip we take with our children, whether riding bikes, walking or taking transit is an opportunity for us to make our children mindful of the obstacles they'll face when we are no longer at their side.

Photo courtesy of Mike Hollingshead
Just this past week was an example of how if I just let go and give a bit of freedom and trust, my children will be fine. Our daughter, for the second year, took part in her school's Cross Country team. Her participation meant two meets at John Hendry Park, and a race route that took her around the full length of Trout Lake and out of my sight. Instead of being worried about what may happen as some parents around me were, I knew my daughter was running with countless other children, with one focus, get to the finish line. She would not be stopping to talk to strangers along the way, and with the park being well populated with other people in the neighbourhood. I knew if she hurt herself, there would be plenty of kind people willing to lend a hand and that she would be ok. As I expected, she arrived red faced and beaming after both races, and knew to look for me as soon as she received her ribbon.

Whether being a spectator at my daughter's race, or travelling with my children throughout the city, I could expend so much mental energy worrying and stressing about their well being. With everything children get up to, I would genuinely go insane if I spent all my time thinking about the possible outcomes. Instead, I find it much healthier to accept that since July 2006, my husband and I have made it a point to teach our kids to be responsible. As a result, we trust them to make decisions that aren't going to put them in harm's way. It is inevitable that they will still make mistakes, but by focusing on the positives instead of the "what ifs", we get to enjoy every moment just a bit more. I will freely admit you need to be slightly unhinged to give up your own freedom to have children, willingly exposing yourself to sleepless nights, fighting siblings, and strained pocketbooks. So I will remain happily armed with the confidence that my kids have enough common sense to be smart and safe. Outside of that, there's always a nice glass of red wine to calm the nerves and keep me sane enough to deal with what lies ahead. After all, we're just six short years away from... the teen years!

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Every cloud....

Quite saddened to know these days are over
About a week and a half ago the dynamic of the Velo Family was severely disrupted. Upon picking up our youngest from daycare, I discovered that, for the second time, a stranger had stolen our bike trailer. Multiple thoughts went through my head, some less PG than others, but aside from the frustration and anger came a sadness. For many cycling families, this would be a blow. For us, it meant that we had lost our ability to bike commute as a family, to do our large grocery shopping by bike, and to enjoy long rides along the Seawall, something we had apparently taken for granted and missed almost immediately. 

The most immediate impact was felt by husband and son, who had come to rely on our trailer for their morning routine. Without the trailer, Chris would be forced to walk with Etienne to his daycare about a kilometre away, before riding off to work, adding at least thirty minutes to his commute. It's pretty astounding how something as simple as a theft can completely change your lives when you rely on two wheels to get you around. However, what started out as astounding in a negative way turned into something pretty spectacular.

As you may have read previously, we have been attempting to get our son to ride on his own for over a year to no avail. My husband and I knew all along that one day, a switch would flip, and he would just get it, but it seemed to be taking forever and we were beyond frustrated. So when the trailer was stolen, and we suggested to our little man that he try riding so he can bike to school with daddy, we didn't expect much. Especially when he repeatedly said that he couldn't do it yet. But we had to try; we had no choice!

So we set up on the sidewalk, camera in hand, ready and waiting for that magic moment. After several passes, things were appearing to be as hopeless as before. You see, my husband and I knew he capable of riding on his own. In fact, he was! But for some reason, in his head, he was still too young, and would panic after just a few revolutions without daddy or mommy near by. We decided we would give it one more go, cheering him on with compliments, encouragement and praise. And then it happened! After over twelve months of trying, failing and trying again, our four and a half year old son was finally riding on two wheels all by himself! He beamed with joy and pride, and was so excited he decided the very next day he would ride to school. True to his word, he did just that. The following morning, while I sat at home nervous for my little guy, I received a text from my husband saying simply this, "'I DID IT!'"
One very happy little boy
Here we are now, just eleven days later, and the Velo Family has just returned from our first bike ride as a family all riding solo. We travelled along the 10th Avenue bikeway three kilometres from our home on Commercial Drive to enjoy some breakfast on Main Street. It's a route we all know well, but the first time Etienne would ride that distance, including some steeper inclines on the way. I'm very happy to report he made it safely there and back without any tumbles, and only had to dismount a couple of times and get a hand from daddy to make it up the hill. So, what started out as a disheartening blow to our daily routines turned out to be a blessing in disguise. As they say, every cloud has a silver lining...or in our case, a little blue bike and a brave little boy!
The set is now complete!

Monday, 23 September 2013

Why Honking Is the Worst

Lessons from a one year old...CALM DOWN!
It's a sound we recognize from infancy. One we've come to expect as a society if we live in a well populated area, and for some reason, contrary to how we should feel, it is just an accepted form of background noise in our big cities. I am, as my title would suggest, referring to honking, and I would like to propose that a shift away from this noise polluting action. In fact, I will go so far as to say that the act of honking a car horn is, for lack of a more mature term, the WORST!

Imagine, for a moment, that I'm walking behind you. I'm in a rush, needing to pick up my children, meet a friend, or some other activity that is of no consequence to you and your day. You are also off somewhere, but are walking at a slower pace and I am unable to pass you without bumping into you. Instead of waiting till a path clears, I yell "Hey!". Inevitably, I will startle you, and in all likelihood, your natural reaction will be to yell back, and we will likely exchange a few choice words before going about our day. Passers by will certainly have questions about my mental stability for having yelled at a stranger, and we'll both be angry and miserable for the rest of our journey. Sounds pretty awful, right?

Now put yourself in a car in front of me, same situation, but instead of yelling, I honk at you. Is you're reaction any different? Probably not. The act of honking a car horn is the equivalent to yelling incoherently at someone. When someone honks their horn, the person for whom that honk is intended is frequently unaware they're doing anything wrong, if they are at all. There is a very negative reaction to honking as well, even if the intention is solely to get someones attention. If you are the one being honked at, the reaction is typically to get angry, wave your hands around, and occasionally show someone the finger. The kicker is, neither you or the person honking at you are having an intelligent conversation, and are doing no more than making obscure, angry gestures at each other, accomplishing very little other than leaving both parties rattled being the wheel.

Honking is also incredibly distracting. When I'm crossing the street on bike or on foot, and someone honks, whether at me or someone else on the road, I inevitably slow down and look to see what's going on. Let's think about that for a moment. I am in the middle of the road, stopped and looking around for the disgruntled driver. Is that really a good idea? The easy answer is no, but I, and I'm sure most people, inevitably do it. Because our automatic response is that horn is intended for us, and, at least for me, I have an obligation to tell that person to stop being an impatient dickhead. So instead of being focused on remaining safe in the road, I am now in the midst of car traffic, around other road users who have also been distracted by the loud honking, everyone trying to figure out who's at fault, and no one really paying attention to what they should be...the road and others on it.

Further to honking being distracting, it can be quite terrifying, especially for our most fragile road users - pedestrians and cyclists. If you've ever ridden a bike in a larger city, you've likely had that moment when you're travelling along, minding your own business, and out of no where someone honks, you are startled and your heart begins to race. But hey, we're adults, we can handle it and recover quickly enough, right? Kids, on the other hand, aren't always so lucky. Nearly six years ago, while out discovering our city with our then toddler aged daughter, we were walking along without a care in the world, when suddenly a large vehicle honked. Our daughter was instantly startled, tripped and fell face first onto the sidewalk. She managed to cut her lip pretty badly, and was obviously in tears, both scared and hurt. And why was that guy honking? Because the person in front of him was turning left and waiting patiently for the crossing to clear to do so. All he accomplished was making himself unnecessarily agitated and scaring a child so much she was left bleeding and with a fat lip. Let's all have a slow clap for that guy.

Don't get me wrong, honking has its place from time to time, mainly in cases when another driver is being dangerous and risking lives. But the number of times I'm out and about and someone honks at another driver simply because they have stopped to allow me to cross the road is astounding. It serves no purpose in that situation other than to agitate everyone involved. It's just another case of society needing to take a moment and clam down. Yes, we're all busy people with hectic lives, but no one person's needs outweigh the needs of those around them. So, to all the honk-happy people out there, take a breath, wait that extra second, and proceed with your day a little less agitated and maybe a bit happier knowing that you haven't left someone thinking you're nothing but inconsiderate fool.