Thursday, 30 May 2013

The Changing View of Cycling in Vancouver

For the past couple of months, my husband, along with the rest of the Vancouver Cycle Chic crew, have been working on four debut films that feature Vancouverites going about their every day on a bike in style. The goal is to show the act of riding a bike as a normal way to get around, requiring nothing more than a bicycle and a desire to ride. It has been a lot of work, and has meant many a days and nights without my husband around while they've been filming and editing. But from the sneak peaks I've had along the way, it has been well worth every second of dedication from all the people who have given up their free time to make these videos happen.

One of the great things about the videos is that each of the subjects are completely unique. From a fine artist and dad, to a librarian, a local DJ and an emerging fashionista, each person brings their own sense of style to the videos, and show a different view of Vancouver. It is a true reflection of the diversity of this city and it's people.

I am very excited for this film series to launch this weekend at Whoa! Nellie. Not only because I am proud of my husband and our friends for all their hard work, but also because these videos are exactly what is needed to start changing perceptions around cycling in Vancouver and other cities. The Cycle Chic Republic has spent the last seven years sharing images of every day, citizen cyclists. People that ride just because it is slightly faster than walking and more convenient that driving and/or public transit in many cases. Some critics have said that many images just depict young stylish people, and is not representative of everyone.

The Cycle Chic videos are not just about the style of the subjects. They follow them as they go about their daily tasks, whether it is shopping for art supplies, heading to work, or travelling to a gig. Each person in the videos is of a different demographic, and they're not all young twenty-somethings. In my opinion, they are the start of a great series of films that will feature many Vancouverites from all ages and demographics, all depicting cycling in it's purest form, as a means to get around town. The perception of cycling in Vancouver is slowly changing from the image of "Road Warriors" to average people, from spandex and specialized gear to just whatever you have in your closet. Hopefully these videos will help speed the process, and get more people normally intimidated by bike travel to realize how easy it is, and make the image of cycling accessible to everyone, regardless of age, race, or gender.

The Cycle Chic films will launch this weekend with their premiere being held at Whoa! Nellie bikes on Main Street. Join me and Vancouver Cycle Chic for a great night and be one of the first to check out this excellent video series!

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Saying goodbye to the littlest family member

Astrid - Our elusive Calico (photo by @cbruntlett)
Last night our family experienced another first, but not one we celebrated. After struggling for most of the winter and spring to figure out what was wrong with our family Kitty, we had to make the difficult decision to say "Goodbye" to our 10-year-old Calico. As a family we headed to the vet to have a few last minutes of cuddles with our furry friend, and then, as the kids and my husband went to visit with come of the other cats being well-looked after at Cat's Only Veterinary Clinic, I stayed with Astrid, our sweet little cat, for one last cuddle as she fell asleep one last time. It was certainly hard to let her go, but we knew there was nothing more we could do for her, and that this was the best thing for everyone. I am immensely grateful to our doctor, who did all she could to help us and our little friend, and was so compassionate, even at the end.

In my lifetime, I have lost pets before. Our family cat when I was little eventually reached old age and time took its toll. When I was seventeen, our family became the owners of a gorgeous husky, who sadly, when he was little more than six, developed Cancer that was untreatable. In both these cases, I had long left home when our pets had to be euthanized, so while I was certainly sad, I was so removed from the situation. So when the decision was made this time around, I didn't quite know how to deal with it. I knew that my children should get to say goodbye, but how much would they understand, and should they be in the room when she passed.

In the end, my husband and I decided it wouldn't be a good idea for them to be in the room, but they did get to play with her before. Our eldest did seem sad, but I think because we had talked to her beforehand, she had maybe just accepted what was happening and had already had her cry. Our son, while seeming to understand what was happening, didn't appear to show any emotional connection to what was going on. He pet her, and said goodbye, and pouted a little, but once he left the room, was content and happy to play with the other kitties. So as worried as I was for them, they were actually more capable of dealing with the loss than I was. It made me jealous of the ability of children to just accept and move on, wishing I could do the same. But then, they're kids, and understanding the gravity of death is still such a foreign concept, and I'm happy for them to hold on to that innocence for as long as possible.

One last cuddle (photo by @cbruntlett)
So, a day later, I sit here reflecting on the time with our kitty. Even though she could be elusive and a bit anti-social, I enjoyed lots of cuddles with her. I will miss her insanely loud purring, and her cute little white paws, and know that in the coming days I will accept the loss and know that she had a good life. They may be small, and can't speak, but even the smallest of pets leave a mark, and Astrid will be missed and will always have a special place in our hearts.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Amazing kids and an amazing view!

The Stawamus Chief - our challenge
lay ahead!
This past Saturday, upon my suggestion, the Velo Family did something I've been meaning to do since we moved here in 2007. We booked a car and headed up to the Stawamus Chief to hike to the first peak. The weather had been calling for rain all week, but after a glimmer of hope on Friday, with the weather forecast saying it would be sunny, we decided to risk the chance of rain and just go. Along the trip up the Sea to Sky, we were met with rain at various turns, filling me with dread that the trail would be a big muddy and slippery mess, but when we reached the parking lot, the sun seemed to be trying to break through, so it seemed Mother Nature just might be on our side!

As we reached the trail entrance, we were met with this sign:

I wouldn't be lying if I said that I had a moment of sudden doubt about my kids ability to hike this trail, or even my own, but not being ones to give up easily, I kept my doubts to myself and we started up the 600m climb. 

If you've never hiked the Chief, it is essentially a mix of wooden and rocky stairs winding up the side of the mountain. At the start, you get to enjoy the roar of the adjacent waterfall, which was a marvel to our kids. My youngest kept asking if it was Niagara Falls, which we have told him we'll visit when we head to Ontario this summer. Won't his mind be blown when he sees the size of those falls! 
Our 6 year old making light work of the rocky steps
We also found out our 4 year is quite the hiker!
Not quite Niagara Falls, but still pretty spectacular
Up and up we kept climbing, every once and a while getting a glimpse of sun through the towering trees. Through that whole time, we never once heard our kids complain. In fact, they were the ones telling us to hurry up! As we took off from the main trail to take the trail that would lead us to the first peak, we were meant with something we had yet to encounter in our hikes to date...a ladder. No biggie, and pretty cool to our kids. And then came the chains. I had heard talk of chains needed for scrambling up the rocks, but had led myself to believe those were at the second and third peaks, the more difficult of the trails. My kids, once again, met this challenge with no trepidation, and once again, my husband and I were reminded of how resilient and determined kids can be, and that we should really give them more credit sometimes.
Feeling dwarfed amidst these majestic trees
The first of two ladders up the mountain
Using chains to scramble up a rock biggie!
That is one impressive view and definitely worth the climb
Finally, after a little over two hours, we reached the first peak. Towering 605m above sea level we enjoyed a spectacular view of Howe Sound while snacking on some refreshing watermelon, which my son now says is what gave him the energy to get down again. While our view was slightly obstructed by cloud cover, it was still pretty magical, and I am so proud of myself, and of our kids and their lack of fear and doubt. It was a great adventure, and I'm hopeful just the start of a summer of many more hikes to come!

Enjoying a quiet moment at the peak with my impressive children
Reflecting on a great adventure with my family

Saturday, 25 May 2013

The hunt for the perfect bike - Kid's edition

After years of fixing up free bikes for my daughter, we are finally spending money on a brand new bike for her. Her current bike still works, and is the right size for her, but as out little girl becomes a more seasoned rider, she's starting to develop preferences, and knows what will be the most comfortable ride for her. So you would think that finding her a great new bike would be easy. Think again! 

There have been some specific requests from our daughter for her new bike. She wants gears, she doesn't want to lean forward but rather be more upright like mom and dad, and most of all, she wants her bike to be different and unique. The first request is pretty easy. Most kids' bikes, specifically in the 20" wheel variety, come with gear shifters. The problem is that most also come with suspension forks, a detail common in mountain bikes. This is an issue for two reasons. First, majority of the riding my daughter does is on paved pathways and city streets, so there's no need for suspension. Second, suspension usually means added weight. With her struggling to lift her current bike, a heavier bike would not be ideal, and even with the gears would make it harder for her on the occasions when she has to climb a hill. That just won't do at all.

Her second request, to be more upright, is also proving to be difficult when combining it with the request for gears. There are some fabulous upright choices out there, including the sleek Lil' Dutchi from Linus, the mini version of her dad's bike, but they all seem to be single speeds, with coaster brakes. I tend to think this style of bike would be the best for her, and not just because I have grown to really appreciate he beauty and simplicity of my own upright over the past year and a half. Think about it. Most children's first bike is a tricycle, a completely upright bike favoured because it is east to steer and pedal. They then switch to a run bike, again, sitting upright. My daughter is a seasoned rider, however she is the definition of a citizen cyclists, someone who uses a bike as a tool to get from point A to point B. So a utilitarian upright bike makes the most sense for her planned use.

Her final request is for her bike to be unlike anyone else's. We've done quite well so far with used bikes that are older, and needed a bit of rebuilding to make them perfect for her. Now that we're looking at new bikes, We are finding it quite difficult to find one that isn't similar or exactly the same as ones her friends have, or isn't pasted with licensed images. Many of the independent bike shops have very limited selection in younger kids bikes, and with the added pressure to get a bike that our son will want to ride when they've both grown up a bit, the standard pink bike just isn't going to cut it.

Well, after a couple weeks of searching, I am happy to say that we managed to get Coralie a bike that checks two of the three boxes. In order to get her an upright bike that was unique from any others she's seen, we had to forego the gears, with the promise that her next bike will likely have gears as she will almost be in adult sizes, or at the very least, a teenage size. With the help of our friends Chris and Nellija at Whoa! Nellie Bikes, Coralie is now the VERY proud owner of a shiny red Lil' Dutchi. She rode it right out of the shop and home with the biggest smile on her face, happy to know she got just what she was looking for, and we're happy to know we'll have many happy days of riding ahead!

One happy Junior Citizen Cyclist

Thursday, 16 May 2013

It may take a village, but they're still my kids

A few weeks ago I wrote about the people that feel it necessary to comment on the way in which I choose to ride a bike, and that it's really none of their business. Well, if you're a parent, like me, you may find you've been in similar situations when it comes to childrearing. A friend through Twitter once said "Riding a bike and being a parent are very similar: there's always someone who thinks you're doing it wrong", and it's amazing how true that is. Since the birth of our daughter, nearly seven years ago, my husband and I have had people around us, family, friends or complete strangers, offering comments or advice on how to be successful parents. Many times, that advice is warranted, even requested, and has been quite helpful to get us through trying times. I am aware that I'm not an expert, and every day is another potential challenge or learning experience. Raising children truly does take a village.

What I take issue with is the people that comment on my parenting because they think I'm doing it wrong. That, somehow, they know better how to deal with my children. With some of the "advice" we've endured over the past seven years, if I didn't know better I would think it's a miracle our children have survived each day. From our vegetarian lifestyle, how we travel by bicycle, babysitting, and even the way in which we walk with each other when out in the city, other adults have felt that we could be doing it better, and have been vocal about it.

Let's face it, we, as a society, do hold some very strong opinions about how others should behave. It's what makes us human, our ability to look at certain situations and actions and decide how we would best deal with them, and it is what forms our personalities and guides our actions. But another human trait that I feel is being lost, is having the social grace and understanding to know when perhaps you should keep your opinions to yourself. As someone who lives car-free, sure I have strong personal convictions about the level of car dependence in our society, but I am not about to chastise people, family, friends or otherwise, simply because they have chosen to live differently from me.

And that's what it's about; having the freedom to choose. Over the course of my daughter and son's lives, my husband and I have made choices about how we raise our children, the activities we do together, the food we eat and so on. When we need help or advice, we are very willing to ask for it, because sometimes we don't always know the best course of action. We are also there for those who ask our opinions as well, offering advice or counsel without casting judgement.

My babies and I, Mother's Day 2013

Since 2006, I have been lucky enough to raise not one but two pretty amazing children with the help of an amazing partner, and a large support group spread all over the globe. We have had challenges, and at those times we have always been grateful to have help from our friends and family. But through the successes and challenges, I have watched my son and daughter become adventurous, mindful and happy children, and while I know my husband and I can't take all the credit for that, I also am aware that they are my kids. The responsibility for them lies on the shoulders on my husband and I, and as far as I can tell, we are definitely doing something right!

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Making it count - How riding a bike may effect my vote

Election day in BC is next Tuesday, and I am reaching the point where the messages all seems to be blending into one. Aside from the usual important election issues for me and my family - the environment, childcare, education - for the first time my vote is being influenced by something else: my ability to ride a bike easily and safely in and around where I live.

This election, the BC Cycling Coalition has started the Bike To Vote campaign, meant to encourage people to bike to their polling station on May 14th to place their vote. Cycling has been continually growing with regularity in BC, and so it seems only right that alternative transportation options like riding a bike are an important part of the parties' platforms. Thankfully, the BCCC has received statements from three of the major parties laying out how they will work to improve cycling and alternative modes of transportation in BC. You can see each of their statements here.

I realize that cycling is only one small fraction of a larger picture, but what is important for me is that the parties move away from focusing so much on car travel and look to the future. It has been reported time and again that fewer young people are spending money on car ownership, opting for public transit, car-share programs and riding bikes. The fact is that money is tight for most people, especially the younger generation, who are struggling to find well-paying jobs while also paying off high student loans. So providing these people with affordable transportation by investing in and creating more accessible options is a pretty important election issue.

There are many things I will keep in mind when placing my vote, but the fact that I chose to ride, as does my family, will certainly play a part in my decision. I appreciate the efforts of the BCCC in holding the parties' accountable to getting a clear message out about their intentions, and just hope whomever is elected honours their commitments. Most importantly, though, I encourage everyone who has the ability to vote to do so. Voting is a right not afforded to everyone, and not exercising that right, no matter how you get to that poll, is a waste. So walk, bus, bike or even drive...but be sure to vote!

Thursday, 2 May 2013

A place to call my home...

My favourite maple

Every once and a while I have a moment, an epiphany, if you will, and this week I had one of those moments. While walking home with my daughter from school one sunny day, the same route as always, two simple yet surprisingly important things happened. On our walk, I passed under the most gorgeous of red maples, brand new leaves being light up by the sun's light blazing from above. I have always enjoyed walking under this tree, but somehow, that day, I was in awe of its natural beauty. As we continued on, a neighbourhood dad passed on his way to pick up his child from school, riding on his skateboard and carrying his daughter's scooter for the ride home. Instantly I thought, "Only in East Van". And that's when it hit me, I love my 'hood'!

Since leaving my parents' home and heading off to University, I have been searching for the place where I felt like I was home. While living in Toronto for four years during University was truly a blast and helped me grow personally, I just never felt like I belonged in such a bustling city. So when my boyfriend, now husband, found a job in Guelph, ON, I had no qualms about leaving the big city and trying somewhere new. I did love living in Guelph, for a time. I loved walking through its small downtown, visiting the markets and frequenting its many fabulous pubs. Then we visited Vancouver, and I knew it was time for a change.

I love that at any moment I can settle into a coffee shop for a great latte and write about my life here
Biking down these tree lined street is so peaceful
When we moved here in 2007, we lived a bit further south of where we do now. It was a nice neighbourhood, and we had a fantastic view of the North Shore mountains, but our apartment seemed a bit removed from where we wanted to be, which was the Commercial Drive area. In December of 2008, we moved into cooperative housing two blocks away from Commercial-Broadway, and both my husband and I knew we were set. We were so close to all possible transit options, whether skytrain, bus, car share, bike routes or by foot, that it made it easy to decide to sell our car in 2010. It seems funny now that it has taken me over four years, but that moment I had this week made me realize I have finally found the place where I belong, car-free, bicycling, tattooed, vegetarian me.
Some kids think of something else when you say "Donald's".
Our kids think of this place, our favourite local market!
Our neighbourhood, known as "The Drive", is full of character, and while it's nestled on the East side of Vancouver, feels like a small community in a big city. There's always something to do, whether it's street festivals like Italian Day and Car-Free Day in June, visiting on of the many parks with the kids, or enjoying a delicious coffee in one of the dozens of independent coffee shops along the main strip, as I'm doing now. Almost everyone we pass will smile, and say hi, and the people around here seem so down-to-earth. Really, what more could a girl ask for?
Graffiti can be found all over the neighbourhood...these guys were hard at work!
One of our daughter's favourite graffiti pieces
This may just be the place my kids will grow up loving, too!

I realize Vancouver has numerous neighbourhoods, each with their own personality, but there's just something about the one I live in that makes me and my nomadic heart want to stay. In the years to come, I plan on visiting many cities, some of which I've seen before, and some new ones, all of which will be sure to inspire me. It is so nice, though, to know that when I'm done travelling, I will have a place to return to that will welcome me back with open arms. It really is nice to finally have a place to call my home!