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!