Saturday, 30 March 2013

Giving Spring a Test Ride

Today we had the pleasure of joining some fellow bike riders to test out the route for the "Bike The Blossoms" ride happening on Saturday, April, 27th as a part of the Cherry Blossom Festival, celebrating it's 8th Anniversary this year. The ride takes people throughout the city to view the beautiful Cherry Blossoms that line many of Vancouver's streets. My husband is a board member with Velopalooza, who has been hosting this ride for the past several years, and today's test ride gave us a chance to see which areas will be the most densely filled with blossoms in a month's time, making the ride truly spectacular. Here is a sample of what we saw, early yet in the Cherry Blossom season, but still breathtaking! I can say in all honesty the ride will be very family friendly, with just a few steeper elevation changes that our 6 year old had little issue with. Hope to see you on the day!

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The Surprising Effect of Being Social

Who knew one picture would start a friendship?!
At the time that I decided to create Velo Family Diaries, I knew that in order to share my message to a broader audience, I would have to increase my online presence. Up to that point, I had always been quite active on Facebook, but only with people I had met face to face at some point in my past, and my Twitter activity was mainly limited to sharing my Instagram photos or check-ins on Foursquare. After starting this blog, I created the Velo Family Facebook page, and have tried making a conscious effort to tweet more often. Thankfully, I have my net-savvy husband to help, who has already increased his online presence through Vancouver Cycle Chic, Velopalooza and The Church of Sit-Up Cycling/ Together, we have delved into new territory, following people on the various social media outlets that live in other cities, provinces or even countries and sharing our story with those that have followed back. It has been quite an eye-opening experience, and I have been amazed with how quickly my circle of followers has grown online. Both my husband and I have connected with so many like-minded people we would never have otherwise, and had the pleasure of reading their stories.

There has also been a surprisingly positive effect of exposing myself and my family online. In opening up, being more visible, we have actually made some new friends we likely wouldn't have had the chance to without being online. From fellow Vancouverites to people moving to or new to the city, it has been so great to meet people who have similar lifestyles to us. Just a month ago, my husband took a random photo for Vancouver Cycle Chic, and within hours he was connected with the subject on Facebook and Twitter, and was making plans to meet up. Turns out, this gentleman, his partner and their son had just recently moved to Vancouver, and after meeting up, it was discovered they had once lived in Guelph, ON, the city we left to move to Vancouver. We had likely come very close to meeting up various times in the past having frequented some of the exact same businesses during our years in Guelph. Because of one photo being shared online, we suddenly have new friends with whom we have much in common.

Outside of personal connections and friendships being forged, my husband and I are apparently quite recognizable when we're out and about in the city. Just last Saturday, while on a ride along the seawall to take out cat to the vet, we bumped into several people who recognized us from Twitter or the blog. It's always amusing when we're travelling along, and suddenly hear someone call out "Hey, Bruntletts!" More often than not, we've never met this person face to face before, and almost every time we end up having a spirited conversation about something bike related we've recently discussed online, the latest Whitecaps results (many of our followers are fellow Southsiders), or even the odd compliment regarding my recent piece in Momentum Magazine. I can't help but find this new way of meeting people rather fun and exciting, because each person has brought with them some new experiences and taught me a thing or two about their own lives.

While I'm no stranger to the fact that some anonymity on social media is important for online safety, the surprising unintended effect of being as visible as I am is something I am welcoming. I have heard time and again from other adults that once you reach a certain age, and/or become a parent, it's really hard to meet like-minded people, and I would not disagree with that just from my own experiences. With the digital world, we now have access to a wide spectrum of possibilities, including connecting with people like us, or at least close to. So while I made the decision to express myself online in order to share my family's story to help others see what is possible as a car-free family, I am excited that in doing so I have managed to hear other people's stories and meet a few of them along the way!

Monday, 25 March 2013

It's official! The Sun has returned to Vancouver!

Evening sun two-wheeled shadows

All weekend long, all I wanted to do was go to the beach and watch the sunset. Unfortunately, with kids, most of our activities usually take place in the late morning or early afternoon, so that by the time evening rolls around we're all too tired to even think about going back out for a sunset ride. Thankfully, though, this evening turned out to be just as gorgeous as those on the weekend, and with a little bit of initiative we took off to English Bay shortly after dinner.

Almost perfectly silhouetted on the seawall

All along the seawall you could see the city had come alive now that the sun was shining and Spring temperatures had returned. From families having an evening stroll, to fellow bike riders, and even the dogs on leashes, everyone was enjoying the taste of the nice weather to come. Being honest, I know full well we'll have some rainy days that never seem to end again, but there's just something about the Spring sun that makes you forget the wet winter that just finished and get excited for long summer days in the sunshine.

My little ham

We arrived at English Bay with enough time for Etienne to play in the sand and Coralie and Daddy to toss around the frisbee while I enjoyed the silhouettes along the beach as the sun slowly fell behind the horizon. The my husband and I got to enjoy a slow ride home while the kids sat nestled in the trailer. Al in all it was a fantastic evening and I look forward to many more evening rides in our very near future!

It's hard not to smile when the weather is like this!
A bit of disc before the sun disappeared
The first of many sunset bike rides to come!

Friday, 22 March 2013

They grow up so fast

Life has been pretty crazy the past four weeks for the Velo Family. Travel to Saskatoon and Edmonton for work left me longing to return home to my city, my routine and my wonderful family who managed to cope without me quite well. Returning home I was launched into even more work in Vancouver, but thankfully I was able to hop back on my bike as the wet Winter weather started to give way to sunnier Spring days. As you have likely noticed, between work and trying to spend time with my family, my writing for this blog has suffered. So now that I have a moment to sit down and put some thoughts on paper, so to speak, I am inspired to talk about my kids and how they keep changing every day, growing more and more aware and responsible, something that I've become increasingly aware of after being away and working. 

Before leaving for Edmonton a couple weeks back, I had a pretty epic weekend with my family (see It doesn't get much better). In all the excitement of the weekend, I didn't get to talk about a pretty big milestone that just kind of happened on the way to meeting up with my husband on the Sunday. On the way, I realized my daughter was attempting to lead us, so I decided to let her, just to see how well she really does know her way. I was amazed with what I experienced!

My little girl just absorbing on the bus
to swimming lessons
As we left our street, I told her where we were going. As children have no concept of street names, save their own, I explained we were going to the store on the bike route that has the candy pop. To us adults, that translates to Cream Soda at Union Market in Strathcona. Once we crossed Commercial Drive on 10th Avenue, I let her get in front of me and take the lead. And lead she did. She knew exactly where and when to turn, and even practiced her hand signals 99% of the time. She slowed to check for oncoming cars and bikes at traffic circles, kept three feet from the parked cars, and only asked me for help once. I was incredibly proud to know that she had been paying attention this whole time, and really is starting to get a real grasp of her surroundings and getting from point A to point B.

Our munchkins walking confidently
in their "hood"
While I was away travelling, my in-laws came for a visit, helping out with the kids while my husband worked during the day. Each day they walked my daughter to school, and then spent the day entertaining my son until pick up. What they found out was that even he, at only four years old, knows his neighbourhood pretty darn well. He took them to Trout Lake, showing them around our nearest park and playground. They walked up Commercial Drive, with Etienne taking them to all his favourite places, including Grandview Park, Fratelli's Bakery, and, of course, a visit to First Ravioli Store to visit with "Auntie Tina", the wonderful Italian lady that works there and is infamous with my children for offering them free cookies. Once again, I am astounded at how much my children truly have been absorbing their surroundings with all the time they spend on foot or on bike travelling throughout the various neighbourhoods of Vancouver.

I think it's so important that children learn how to get around in their neighbourhood by modes other than a private vehicle. Not only do they more readily recognize the way home in case they're lost, but it prepares them for the eventual independence of travelling on their own when they get older. It is no secret that most children in today's society are transported mainly by private automobiles. Whether to school, to their extra curricular activities or to do the weekly shop, these trips all have one thing in common - a child sitting in the back seat of a car with no real perception of where it is they are going. By walking, biking or taking public transit, children are exposed to more of their natural surroundings, and get a truer sense of the distances travelled, the best and/or safest routes, and most importantly, they gain the confidence to travel independently. 

They're a couple of confident little rascals!
In the next year or two, I plan on starting to let my daughter walk to school on her own. Eventually, that will also mean walking with her younger brother. What I have learned with these recent revelations regarding my children's navigational skills is that when the time comes, they will be ready. They are already developing the confidence to walk and bike in our neighbourhood, and those that we frequent regularly. It really does put my mind at ease, because, after all, there will come a time when my kids will want to go out with their friends to the mall or to hang out, and won't want us to walk them there. On that day, I will be reassured that we have been doing the very best to prepare them for this moment. And for the time being, maybe it's time I start letting them lead the way for all our escapades... so long as it isn't always to the nearest playground!

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Needing to find balance? Nothing a good ride can't help

Doing what makes me happy three
weekends ago, riding along Hornby with
my family following behind.
Earlier this week I returned home from a second week of travel for work in a month, only to start another busy couple of weeks of work locally. The intense work schedule, combined with my responsibilities with my daughter's school as well as being a mom and a wife has left me feeling rather overwhelmed and struggling to find a good level of balance. Then there's all the rain we've had this week, which they estimate will add up to about 60-80 mm of rain before the end of the day today. It really does leave a damper on my spirits, leaving me feeling uninspired and severely lacking in energy.

So when I woke up yesterday and saw "dry" streets, I made no mistake about getting on my bike and riding to the office. It had been close to two weeks since I rode last, not counting an hour on an exercise bike while at my hotel in Edmonton. So as the kids and I headed off to the school and sitter, I dusted off my seat, shook the cobwebs off the wheels, and my legs, and started pedalling. Once I had the kids dropped off, I started my quick ride to the office, and I was instantly reminded why it's important to get out on my bike as often as possible. Within moments I felt calm, relaxed and happy! Even riding along the busy East 1st Avenue, the overwhelming number of cars and exhaust didn't lower my spirits. When I reached my office, I walked into the showroom and proclaimed to my employer, "That was amazing!" 

My level of responsibility hasn't changed, and although I have today off work, I have another six days straight of work ahead of me. Somehow, though, my 15 minute ride to and from work yesterday has made it seem a bit more manageable. Add to that that the skies seem to be getting clearer as we get closer to April and I am excited by the prospect of getting out on two wheels more often. Yesterday was a good reminder of what it is that helps me stay balanced; nothing but the wind in my hair, a bit of sun on my face if I'm lucky,  and pedalling along on two wheels!

Monday, 4 March 2013

It doesn't get much better

After being away in Saskatoon last weekend, and with an upcoming trip to Edmonton next weekend, I wanted to spend this weekend having fun in my city with my family. As it turned out, I was not disappointed! From quality time with my husband, to art-filled time with my kids, plus a nice little surprise to start the weekend off, I have had a whirlwind of a time, and the fun we've had will be with me throughout my next trip.

The Southsiders arriving at Terry Fox Plaza before
the match
Saturday, after about five months of waiting, the Vancouver Whitecaps began their season with an emotional game against Canadian rivals Toronto FC. With the start of the season also returns a regular date night with my husband, and over 1200 other loyal Southsiders, one of the supporters groups for the club. After reconnecting with some of our football friends at Doolin's Pub, we marched en masse along Granville and Robson Streets, clapping and chanting in support of our team. It's a tradition held every game, rain or shine, and passersby are always entertained by our enthusiasm. In the stadium, we took to our new seats for the season...front row! We got acquainted with our new neighbours, all of whom are incredibly friendly and eager to share the season's excitement with us, and began to cheer on our team proudly. It seems all our cheering, both on the march and during the game, paid off with a 1-0 victory for the home team, and I left the stadium feeling elated and excited for another season with friends new and old.
Just a taste of the support we show to our home team
Our new pitch-side seats!
Leaving BC Place these skies were
waiting to great us!
Enjoying a sunny ride to the Art Gallery
Sunday's activities were all focused on time as a family. As a special treat, mother nature decided to clear up the rainy skies and give us a glorious day of sunshine. We set off just before lunch to meet some friends in Strathcona, and enjoyed a picnic lunch in the sun. After lunch, we set off for the Vancouver Art Gallery for their Family FUSE weekend. All weekend long there were a variety of activities geared towards children and all focused on different art styles from dance, to graphic novels creation and even mixed media. As we entered the gallery, the kids got to make a "CO-MIX button" using collage techniques. Coralie said it was definitely a highlight. From there, we headed into the main gallery, where the kids learned about how to build a comic book story, followed by some pretty neat shadow art and puppetry with the use of projectors in "Projectorland". Coralie had fun using the Wolf mask, reminiscing about learning about Peter and the Wolf in Kindergarten, and Etienne seemed a bit confused by what to do with his cat mask, standing still almost the whole time. We finished up on the 4th floor in "The Making Place", where Etienne was thrilled to be able to cut out and glue various items to a life-sized Etienne superhero. After nearly three hours of creativity, it was time to get our artistic, but exhausted, children home.
Cutting out images for his button
Coralie was amazed by the button making machine.
Possible gift in the future?
The finished product
Coralie creating her own comic at the KAPOW! station
Shadow puppet time!
Having fun with projectors
Coralie's RAW Magazine cover collage
in the Art Spiegelman collection area
A little something for the parents...anyone remember Garbage Pail Kids?! In the Art Spiegelman collection
Our sunny ride home on Sunday
With the sun still shining , we took the opportunity to ride South on the Hornby separated lane to the False Creek seawall. As always when we've had long spells of rain in Vancouver, the seawall was packed with people on foot and bikes enjoying a very high dose of Vitamin-D. Along the way I got to chat with my husband and daughter while our son snoozed in the trailer, getting some much deserved rest. It was truly a great end to a fabulous weekend, especially now that our faces are all a little bit sun-kissed!

Even after all the weekend's excitement, the highlight for me actually happened on Friday afternoon. If you recall, back in August the Velo Family took a bike vacation to Portland, Oregon. Before I left, I spoke to some people at Momentum Magazine about possibly writing a piece for their magazine about the successes and challenges about bike travel with children. Well, I am so pleased to report that it's official! My article about our trip and what it was like to travel with our kids and our bikes has been featured in the 60th issue of Momentum Magazine. I feel so grateful to have been given the opportunity to share my experiences with a broader audience, and am excited at the possibility of continued contributions if or when I am asked. It makes me eager to see what the future holds, hopeful that this will be just the start of a new adventure for me and the Velo Family!
See the full piece at

Friday, 1 March 2013

Smile, darn ya, smile!

Who wouldn't smile back at this face?
The other day, after much pleading, my son got to ride his run bike to pick up his sister from school. It proved to be a triumphant trip for many reasons. He's really started getting the knack for balance and steering, and is gaining speed each trip. What I was most proud of, though, was a brief moment of civility he showed to another cyclist. While riding on the bike path, he called out "Hi!" to an oncoming rider. I think he must have confused the man, because at first he didn't seem to know what to do, and then at the very last minute, he waved at my son. While getting my son pedalling on his own is something I look very much forward to, at that moment I was quite proud of my little guy, who was so eager to share his joy with a fellow bike rider. So I wonder, if a four-year-old can do it, why can't we all?

All too often, as I walk, ride or transit through the city, I experience a strange level of grumpiness and avoidance. People on bikes ride with their heads down, grimacing even when the sun is shining, pedestrians looking straight ahead, ignoring passers by, and fellow passengers on public transit working very hard to avoid eye contact. It seems quite sad to me, that many people are so averse to even sharing a quick smile during their travels, to the point that a child saying hello can throw a person off.

It's no secret if you read this blog that I love riding my bike, and that I want to share this passion and encourage others to discover their joy for riding a bike, too! Recently, I decided to start taking drastic actions to share my sentiment; I started trying to smile at every person I pass, be it on bike, foot or public transit, even in the pouring rain, all too common in my city. I figure that sharing my happiness and showing a bit of camaraderie to my fellow humans might just be a bright spot in their day. And who knows, they might go on to share this bright spot with someone else they pass in their travels.

"But, Melissa," you may say, "sometimes I just don't feel like smiling". Fair enough, but before you completely negate this idea, consider, for a moment, the health benefits of smiling. Aside from the obvious fact that smiling makes a person look more attractive than when they are grimacing, the act of smiling has be shown to reduce stress, lower blood pressure and boost the immune system. Smiling tells your brain that you're happy, even if you don't feel it at that moment. Your brain then releases "feel-good" endorphins, thus calming your heart, relieving anxiety and relaxing your digestive system. So whether you feel like it or not, smiling is good for your health!

As an example, just yesterday, as I walked to pick up my son from preschool in the dreary, Vancouver rain, a complete stranger smiled broadly at me as we passed. I was amazed at how good that made me feel, and I gave her a big smile right back. It was such a small, civilized act of kindness, but it had such a powerful effect on my mood for the rest of the day.

So, in your travels for the rest of this day and throughout the weekend, smile at the people you pass, and even say "hello" if you're so inclined. You may just brighten up what may have been a bad day for them, and, to me, that seems like the best way to improve the quality of your own day! As the song goes:

Smile, darn ya, smile
You know this whole world is a great world after all
Smile, darn ya, smile
And right away watch lady luck pay you a call
Things are never black as they are painted
Time for you and joy to get acquainted
So make your life worthwhile
Come on and smile, darn ya, smile!

(Lyrics: Jack Meskill, Charles O'Flynn, Max Rich)