Tuesday, 27 May 2014

It's Not The End. It's Just the Beginning!

You may have heard the news yesterday, that my husband, Chris, and I have joined forces and are putting our powers to good use in a new partnership, Modacity. After years of writing, photographing and filming about bike culture, we have decided to start offering our services to the masses, hoping to inspire even more people throughout the globe to move to a simple approach to mobility for people of all ages, abilities and incomes. Chris and I have worked so well as a team for over fifteen years, whether as housemates, husband and wife, parents and even writing, so it just seemed the next logical step was to combine our respective talents and focus our energy and passion on promoting the benefits of multi-modal transportation.
Hard to believe how much has changed
since this photo 2 years ago

What does this mean for the Velo Family Diaries? Well, sadly it means that after two years, over 44,000 page views and global readership, I am taking my writing talents over to the Modacity blog and will no longer be adding posts to Velo Family Diaries. It has been quite a journey, and has taken me from the humble beginnings of a mom sharing her adventures with her children, to today. I have had the pleasure of writing for several print and online publications, and am currently in the planning stages of sharing my stories and experiences in person in New Zealand!

I want to thank everyone who has supported me along the way, for following this blog, or sharing my stories on Facebook and Twitter. It is thanks to many of you that I have seen such recognition and success, and I will be forever grateful. I've enjoyed your comments and stories as well. Less and less have we felt like the crazy family that sold our car and opting for bikes instead, as we've realized there's a whole community out there just like us, living through the same trials and tribulations, and enjoying many of the same successes we've had over the years.

As I move ahead and start this new adventure, I hope you continue to follow me and the journey my family is taking. It is a very exciting time for us, and I couldn't be happier to sharing it with my husband, someone who's supported me every step of the way, and is, quite frankly, the best business partner I could ask for! Thanks again and enjoy the ride!

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The Way It's Meant To Be

This week, a friend of mine found out she had to go to the hospital for surgery and observation due to some health troubles she's been dealing with. It was very sudden and unexpected, and while I'm happy to say she's home and resting now, the news did cause me reflect on my own health and that of my family, and subsequently about the time I get to spend with them. All this happened simultaneously with Mother's Day and the past few warm, sunny days when we can't help but make the most of our evenings as a family. The idea of quality time with my family is nothing new, but this week is one of those times when I am reminded what is truly important in life - spending time with my family and our quality of life.

Riding along with my son, the ever inspiring five year
old who rode 27kms that day
On Mother's Day, my family treated me to a day of rest which included a slow ride out to Jericho Beach. While we were cruising along the seawall, I was reminded by my husband that this is the first time we have ridden out to the beach since our trip to California. Unbelievable! The local beaches are one of the main reasons I love this city, finding the beaches extremely calming and my own special brand of therapy. So I was obviously very excited to make the trip. What I didn't expect was the transformation on the Point Grey Road bikeway. We turned a corner and it was like another world, and nothing could so succinctly reinforce my point about quality family time than the sights that day.

As we approached the upgraded road, I had only memories of a stress and panic filled ride with my kids done just once before, when they were still being towed by my husband and I. Being forced to ride on the sidewalk so as to not have to rub shoulder with the fast moving cars passing on a narrow road. What I was greeted with, instead, was people, and lots of them. The sidewalks were teeming with people of all ages, out to walk their dog or a stroll with their mother on her special day. The bikeway was filled with families out cycling on a beautiful, sunny Vancouver day. All I could think is that this is the way it's meant to be - people of all ages out together enjoying a walk or bike ride without having to worry about speeding traffic, and truly experiencing the high quality of life Vancouver is supposed to be known for.
Riding along the new Point Grey Road. What could possibly be wrong
with creating more environments like this?
So comfortable, my daughter
will happily hold hands with her
dad while we're out for a ride.

Being the "Velo Family", I can sometimes take for granted how lucky I am to be able to spend so much quality time with my husband and children. Although Vancouver is far from perfect, with much more in terms of bikeable streets still to be realized (ahem, Commercial Drive), the bike routes that do exist allow me to not only get from point A to B relatively quickly and easily, it also affords me quality time with my kids. Life is so insanely busy, rushing from school to work to programs and everything in between, I sometime have to remind myself to cherish the moments riding next to my kids or holding hands with my husband.

Chris and our daughter riding on the separated portion of Pt Grey Road
Bikes and the pathways proposed to make it easier for them to travel through the city continue to be a controversial topic in Vancouver and cities around North America and beyond. Arguments range from loss of parking, increased commute times, and minor inconveniences to a regular routine. Perhaps if the focus for proponents of improved bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure focus more on the positive outcomes, it will help those who don't understand why a separated bike lane or wider sidewalk is necessary see the bigger picture. What I saw on Sunday, the number of families venturing out to enjoy time together outside of a car, is such positive imagery that has stuck with me, even three days later. It gave me such hope for the future of multi-modal transportation. 

We all know that quality time spent with the ones you love is what's most important in life, and should be enjoyed whenever possible. Providing people the means to do that safely is a hard concept to argue with. As has been proven time and again in this city, if the average citizen is given the infrastructure they need, they are more likely to leave their cars at home and travel throughout this city with their family and friends by other means. I know that we are not alone in this city as a family that rides, but I am hopeful that as time goes by, the Velo Family will be just like everyone else, instead of one of the few - enjoying each and every moment with our families, as it should be.
Another very happy Mother's Day with my children!

Thursday, 1 May 2014

The Sensations of Non-Motorized Travel

Here in Vancouver we're enjoying a bit of a pre-summer tease, which means I've been out on my bike each and every day this week, enjoying the warmth of the sun and the beauty of Spring. One thing I've come to remember, after a long winter, is how my senses are treated to an absolute delight when out for some Spring riding. Most of the winter, I tend to stay hibernated inside the warmth of my house, out of the wet and cold, and opting for public transit and car-share instead of riding my bike. So it's completely reasonable that I forget how non-motorized travel can be such a positive experience for each of my five senses, and it's so lovely to have been reminded these past few weeks.

Most obviously, riding my bike is so visually stimulating. As Spring takes it's hold, blue skies become more and more common, meaning a beautiful backdrop for the still snowcapped mountains. Flowers bloom all around, adding a bright splash of colour to green scenery. On our most common bike route, the whole family is treated to two spectacles. First are the large, vibrant leaves of the chestnut trees that line much of the 10th Avenue bikeway, casting a soft green glow as the sun shines through them. It creates the most calming canopy, and I always feel just a little happier when I pass under their shade. Second, while fleeting, are the gorgeous pink cherry blossoms that grace many of Vancouver's bikeways. They are so special to the people of this region that it's almost irritating to non-locals how many photos are posted of them on social media. I feel absolutely blessed to be able to not only ride amongst these pink petals every year, but also to wake up to them outside my window each morning and watch the birds flit amongst them.

Which leads me to the sounds I am treated to while out for a bike ride or a walk through the city. Of course, the birds flirting with each other doing what they do in the Spring is a musical treat, especially when you hearing lovely song birds calling to each other. Something else that returns, though, is the sound of children playing. Hearing their screeches of delight and their laughter is very intoxicating, and it's hard not to smile at the sound of their playful innocence.

It's easy to understand that my sense of smell is in overload throughout my springtime rides. The flowers in full bloom, and the cherry blossoms, along with the newly budding trees offers such a freshness to the air that I frequently find myself taking in deep breathes without even realizing it. During my seaside travels, I love to take in the smell of the ocean. It reminds me that I am at home by the water, and no matter what stresses fill my days, I can always take a walk along the water and feel at peace.

Even taste comes into play when I'm travelling around on bike or foot. Passing bakeries is not only a treat for my nose, but I can also taste the fresh baked bread and pastries without actually eating them, sometimes causing me to divert my travels for a little nibble. And I have to be honest, pretty much every time I leave the house for a bike ride or a walk, I can hear the cafes calling my name. Be it habit, craving or otherwise, having a tasty latte in hand just makes the trip that much sweeter.

Finally, but most importantly to me, riding my bike is always a tactile experience. Today, for the first time, I raised my hand as I passed one of my favourite little maple trees on the way back from dropping off my daughter, running my hand through the new leaves. I've waited all winter and early spring to be able to do so without scraping my hands on the tree branches, and, inside, I was like a kid at Christmas, with a silly grin of satisfaction spread across my face. Touch is the way I stay connected to my environment, and it's only by travelling outside of a car, bus or train that I can truly experience all the textures of my surroundings.

Our senses are what make us human, and so it seems only fitting that the most human forms of travel are the best ways to really treat them. Sure, you can marvel at the landscape of a country side as you speed by in a car, but the slower modes of riding a bike or walking are the only way you can really focus and take in all the details. Not being trapped in a vehicle, I can hear all the wonderful sounds of nature and people interacting, and breathe in all the fresh scents of the natural world. I can savour a snack or beverage while I take life a little slower, and revel in the feeling of each tree, plant, and even rock I pass simply by reaching out my hand. The world around us offers so much beauty, and I'm grateful that my main modes of travel allow to experience it to the fullest.

Friday, 18 April 2014

The Quality of Space

This weekend, after over a year and a half of waiting, the Velo Family has returned to one of our favourite Cascadian cities, Portland, Oregon. Making the trip down via rental car, thanks to some driving credit left over from our car trouble on our West Coast trip at Christmas, we got into Portland in the wee hours Friday morning. Excitement of course meant our children were up bright and early, despite Chris and I getting a mere six hours of sleep, so a slow paced day was in the cards for our first day in Portlandia.

We started and ended our day in the lovely square
A slow paced, easy day for us still meant lots of walking, doing the loop from our apartment near Pioneer Square, through to the Pearl District, down to the Waterfront and then back home. As night came, we sat down in Director Park, a lovely open square at SW 9th and Yamhill, to enjoy some hot chocolate and let our kids run around and burn off the last of their energy. Watching them laugh and play in such an inviting space made me recall that this is how we spent most of our day - sitting in public squares enjoying the scenery while our children ran around, chasing water in the fountains and just enjoying a well built public space.

Quality public spaces are something that I've come to really appreciate during our travels. It seems we always manage to find them, and they end up becoming a central part of our visits. It's actually something we miss in our own hometown of Vancouver, where green parks off the beaten path are common but a good public gathering place in the city centre is hard to find. 

Our kids messing around in Jamison Square just 
before lunch
The importance of a great gathering space cannot be undervalued. A central place, near cafes and restaurants and with tables and chairs provide people of all ages a place to sit outdoors and enjoy a a midday snack, meet up with friends, or, in our case, relax while doing a little sightseeing. They are also very welcoming for families, many times creating an environment where kids from all over the city and beyond join together in the freedom of play, and possibly even make a new friend. Of course, water features are always a welcome addition, meaning endless hours of fun for children, and a refreshing place to cool tired feet for the older "kids". Most importantly, though, is that these quality public spaces are free to anyone regardless of age, race, or economic means, which is what truly brings a city and it's people together.

Tomorrow we set off on more crazy adventures, likely of the two-wheeled variety, and I am certain that we will find even more spaces to relax as a family, if the weather cooperates. Our travels in the nearly eight years of being a family have taken us to some fantastic cities, all of whom seem to understand the value of building gathering places for their citizens and visitors. I am thankful to be afforded the opportunity to enjoy these open, welcoming spaces with my family, and for the fond memories created each and every time
A midday run at the Tom McCall Park along the riverfront

Monday, 7 April 2014

Something Old Turned Something New!

After spending over a year commuting through the alleys of East Van and then along the sidewalks of two of the busiest roads, having dust debris fly at me from passing transport trucks, I’d had enough. Also, with the inevitable desire to shape up after a less active winter, I wanted a commute to work that lasted longer than ten minutes. So instead of moaning, I changed it up and tried something new, at least new for my commute. Instead of alleyways and sidewalks, this morning I travelled along the 10th Ave and Mosaic bikeways to the separated pathway along Great Northern Way, on a route that took me past my destination before heading back along a much less travelled and almost secret separated pathway. The change up added a mere 10 minutes to my journey, but I experienced some big rewards for my efforts.

First off, it's always fun trying something new, and while part of the trip is one I'm very familiar with, it was still fun to figure out the most effective way to get to work, and exciting to guess which streets to take to get me back on a bike path and the last stretch of my journey. In a way, I became an explorer, mapping out new territory, which I find very enjoyable.

While I was on my way, I was reminded of riding with a friend a couple weeks back, and introducing him to a bike route he'd never taken before. One thing I forget when I'm out with friends who frequently ride is that there are routes that I take for granted, just assuming everyone who rides a bike in the city knows about them. But we all choose different paths to get to our destinations, and more often than not, if you never travel to one area or another, there would be no way to know about other options. My friend shared that same excitement I had today, discovering a new way to get from point A to B, and, in a way, opening up a whole new world of cycling opportunities.

Although finding a new route was very exciting, even more enjoyable was the smells I encountered along the way. As you can imagine, travelling along busy, high traffic roads can be a pretty unpleasant olfactory experience. By sticking to the calmer routes along my journey, I was treated to the beautiful smells of fresh cherry blossoms, springtime blooms, and the overall freshness of a Spring morning. In the same way that I thoroughly enjoy running my hand through tall grasses I pass in the summertime, having all the wonderful smells rush past me during my commute was just the best way to start the day!

So, overall, not a bad way to start a Monday. A new week beginning with a new route, and a wonderful reminder of why riding in the springtime can be so fantastic. I'm sure, after months of taking the same route to work I will eventually start taking for granted this new trip, too, but for now, I will revel in my morning commute, taking in all the new scenery, fresh smells, and even the passersby along the way!

Monday, 31 March 2014

Moments of Happiness in Times of Chaos

The perfect night for a walk along
the water
Raising kids is tough, any parent can tell you that. Finding the time to spend enjoying life together can be challenging, with school, work, after school programs, and whatever else is thrown into our already packed schedules. For the month of March, I had been exceptionally busy with travel and a demanding work schedule, meaning that by the time i got home, made dinner and sat down to eat with my family, I was pretty much drained, wishing to do nothing more that get on my PJ's and flop onto the couch. 

Thankfully, I can always count on my husband to find easy things to do in the evening that require nothing more than catching a sky train and going for a little walk. Admittedly, there are times when I would appreciate less enthusiasm, but truth be told, even when I go begrudgingly, I'm usually treated to something special. Just such a time was had a little over a week ago. With TED2014 in town, and beautiful installation art piece popped up right between Canada Place and the Vancouver Convention Centre. Called Unnumbered Sparks, the art project, created by Janet Echelman and Aaron Koblin, is an interactive community art project dangling above the heads of tourists and locals who have come to marvel at the spectacle.

As the sky darkened the light show began to take shape
Chris and Etienne playing with the light
from his phone
Not only was it a gorgeous night after many days of rain, but my eyes were definitely treated to something unique. Projections hit the mesh installation creating beautiful light that dances not only to the accompanying music, but also to the touch of onlookers. After downloading the interactive app, both our kids spent a good amount of time tapping Chris' phone and making splashes and sparks amongst the lights. I truly appreciate art that appeals to any age, as too often kids can feel awkward and uncomfortable amongst artwork they so desperately want to touch. The look of wonder and amazement on their faces was certainly a highlight after weeks of feeling too tired to spend quality time with my kids.
Once night arrived the colours clearly danced across the sky

My silly munchkins can always
make me smile
Sadly, I think this spectacle has left Vancouver. I hope that if you live in Vancouver you had a chance to go and see it. Some have referred to it as a flying jellyfish. I myself found it to resemble what I imagine the Northern Lights would be like, since I have yet to see them in person. Either way, it was one of those moments of happiness that I will cherish among the chaos of the ever-busy work/life/child rearing balance.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Having Fun With Fashion

Vancouver Fashion Week wrapped up today after another successful season. While I haven't attended the shows regularly myself, yesterday I, or at least my lovely bicycle, got to take part in this exciting time for fashion. Our friend David, founder of Vancouver Cycle Chic, was lucky enough to help Danish designer Emma Jorn organize the show for her rainwear collection, Takaokami. Part of his role was helping wrangle up some pretty city bikes for the show, and so contacted me to borrow my red Pappillionaire. Little did he know, I had also just procured a white Pure City bike for a review I'm working on for Momentum Magazine. Once the designer found out she could use bikes in the colours of the Danish flag, the request went from one bike to two! As the proud owner of these bikes, I was lucky enough to get VIP access to the show, and was so excited to see my pretty bikes being ridden down the runway. It was a fun little evening, and I also was able to view some other great fashions from local designers, which, with my fashion design roots, is always a fun night. Here are some snapshots of the show and be sure to check out Emma's fun and functional collection at http://www.takaokami.com!
The lovely model that took my bike for a spin down the runway,
wearing a very cute rain skirt
I'm not usually one for bike specific gear, but these are some pretty innovative designs! 
A Rain dress so cute you could get away with wearing it all day!
Who needs a rain coat when you have this awesome wide-brimmed hat paired
with a waterproof skirt?
Sharing rainwear can be a fun way to get closer with your besties
Funnest show of the night created by the beautiful and super sweet Emma Jorn,
taking her bow in the most fitting way

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Heels, Skirts and Bicycles

More and more women are starting to get out on bicycles, creating a women's bike movement I'm proud to be a part of. As a result, we are seeing marketing and products geared towards the female rider, as well as an increased number of women bloggers. Each such woman offers a different perspective and insight on how to support and encourage women in their two-wheeled adventures. In a recent post by my new friend Melissa, of Bike Pretty, she responded to another female blogger's rather heated piece about how writers out there need to stop focusing on what women wear when they ride and empowering them to learn how to care for and repair their bikes, stating that this knowledge was more important in increasing female cycling numbers. In Melissa's rebuttal, she discusses how it is important to look at ALL possible characteristics of a female rider, noting most importantly that: 

"There is a point to demonstrating how easy it is to bike in heels. It’s a direct counter to all the ways that cycling is presented as a sporty inconvenience. If I can bike comfortably–in heels even–I’m sharing the message that riding a bike for transportation is an easy part of a fashion-conscious lifestyle."

I couldn't agree with Melissa more. Riding a bike does make you a card carrying member of the "Bike Mechanics Union", if there is one. Nor is it mandatory to know how to change a flat, grease a chain or replace brake pads. What riding a bike provides is so much bigger than that; it offers freedom, individuality and pure joy. Part of that freedom is that you can LITERALLY ride a bike wearing whatever you feel comfortable in on whatever bike makes you happy.

They may not be heels, but I certainly
love being able to bike in even my
fanciest flats (and look, they match my bike)!
It's no secret I dress in whatever I like when I ride. Many times that includes dresses, long skirts and most certainly heels, because that's what fills my closet. It truly is important to present the image that cycling is not a specialist sport and that anyone from 8 to 80 and beyond can do it. By riding in my every day clothing, I am showing that riding a bike is accessible to anyone. When my daughter wears her sundresses and sandals, she reminds the average person that riding a bike is something any child can do, and it doesn't require a huge expense to do it.

Beyond the topic of heels though, there's a bigger point. Sure, it's very handy to know how to fix a flat, and, conversely, to present images of average women riding a bike in their every day clothing. When it really comes down to it, though, we need to celebrate each and every female cyclist out there, regardless of their biking style or knowledge. With women being the key demographic that will indicate a greater acceptance of cycling around the world, by acknowledging that there are women of all ages, abilities, cultures, etcetera riding bikes, we will be appealing to a broader range of women. We are all individuals with different interests, and all that is accomplished by pressuring women to learn the intricate ins and outs of bicycle repair, or to purchase the "necessary gear" before they dream of sitting on the saddle and pedalling will only work to deter many women who just don't have the time or interest in all the fuss. All they want to do is get on a bike and start riding, and that should be supported and celebrated each and every time.

Here's a future rider exemplifying making riding
simple for women
Admittedly, yes, not only do I ride in heels and my Sunday best from time to time, but I also know how to perform general maintenance on my bike from time to time. I like to feel handy and use tools, but I also like handing my bike off to a professional to give my bike the TLC it needs. That does not make me less of a rider, just one who accepts my limitations and appreciates other people's expert knowledge. As I see more and more women on bikes, it indicates that there is a growing appeal. This means that what we are doing, all us women out there, is demonstrating that riding a bike can be easy, fun and safe, and that there is something out there for each and every female rider and her tastes. So let's continue this positive trend, supporting each and every lady rider out there, whether she rides in heels or runners, because both play an important role in creating a welcoming place for the women of today and those of tomorrow.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

It Gets Better ~ An Open Letter to the "Bike-Curious"

Somewhere along the way I forgot how much
fun riding was!
I know how you feel. I know because I was once just like you, and not all that long ago either. As a child, I rode a bike every where and loved every minute of it. But something happened. I got older, and moved away from home. Sure I tried riding my bike in University, but living on campus didn't give me much reason to. Then I became an "adult", with a job, kids and responsibilities, and suddenly I just didn't have time to ride my bike anymore. My poor bicycle got old and neglected, and eventually fell into memories of days gone by. But then I moved to a city where I saw people just like me riding bikes all the time, and I thought, maybe I could do that, too. But with the hope of something new came lots of questions and fears about trying something new, or at least new-ish.

Just like you, I worried about getting around on a bike. Is it safe? Which roads do I take? How many hills are there and can I ever dream of getting up them on a bike? What kind of bicycle do I need? What about days with bad weather? There are so many ways I would second guess myself that's it a wonder I ever actually got back "in the saddle". What it took for me was starting a job a short bike ride from my house. It was just easier to get there by bike instead of bus, and since I started the job at the end of the Spring, the weather was very inviting. But I was still daunted, especially since my ride would include a high grade hill. It was enough to turn the less enthusiastic away from riding a bike.

So I spoke to friends of mine who rode a bike regularly for commuting, and quickly realized that I was making it more complicated than it needed to be. I can't remember who said it to me, or if it was just something I told myself, but when it came to hills, I would say to myself, there is no shame in walking a bike uphill. Each day I would challenge myself to get a little further up, and then one day, I did it, I rode from the bottom to the top, and the feeling of accomplishment had me grinning from ear to ear. I realized that getting accustomed to two-wheeled travel required nothing more that small, measurable goals.

Learning to navigate the city by bike can definitely be over-whelming. Riding on busy streets is not for the faint of heart, so learning the quieter routes takes time. Thankfully, most bike-friendly cities offer maps listing all the bike routes, and even indicate steep grades. Also, with cycling becoming more and more popular throughout the world, Google maps even offers the bicycle as a selected mode of transport, recognizing bike routes and the easiest way to get from point A to point B. The crucial thing I found is that after riding a bike regularly, two things happened. One, I quickly learnt the routes to get where I needed to safely by bike, developing my favourites, and two, most surprisingly, is that I discovered that many times things that seemed so far away were actually a shorter and more manageable bike ride away than I had imagined. As I grew more more accustomed to two wheeled travel, my city and those around me opened up, and I was even eager to discover new routes throughout to travel. Over time, many of those routes have been improved with infrastructure, whether a painted lane or, more favourably, separated bikeways, and now it seems that there are very few places I can't get to without having to rub shoulders with automobiles.

In just four years I went from worrying about having all the proper gear to
simply stepping out my door and onto my bike in whatever I felt best in
The biggest lesson, though, was simplifying the act of riding a bike. Living in a city where most cyclists seem to have specialized gear is very intimidating. Not only did I have to get used to the idea of riding a bike around town, but now I had to get all sorts of expensive, bike-specific gear? I can imagine what the average bike-curious person thinks when they see this, because I was one of them. Admittedly, I did get some of the "gear", like rain pants and a jacket, but when you really start looking at everything out there, it's enough to make the average person say "forget it!" Thankfully, I realized before I had invested too much money that riding a bike is no more complicated than it was when I was a child riding in my sundress and Mary Janes. Sure, you can get all the fancy clothing, shoes and accessories, but at the end of the day, all you need is the desire to ride and a bike. And it doesn't matter what kind of bike! Whether it's a mountain bike, road bike, step-through or a hybrid - if getting on the saddle and pedalling makes you happy, that's what's important.

So, to all the bike-curious people out there who find yourself thinking, "I'd like to ride a bike, but I'm not sure I can", I'm proof that it gets better. Distances become easier, hills more manageable, and worries start to melt away. Just like when you were a kid learning to ride a bike, over time, you find balance and confidence. And just like children, you begin to challenge yourself, and learn that you are capable of doing everything you though you could but were unsure of. With Spring just around the corner, instead of letting your lonely bike sit for another season in storage collecting dust, give it a little TLC by taking it out for a ride. You'll soon learn, just like me, that navigating the city and getting from point A to B can be, well, as easy as riding a bike!

Friday, 21 February 2014

Reconnecting Through Simple Pleasures

Anyone who travels for work knows that it is pretty tough both physically and emotionally. Being away from routine, family and comforts of home make you long to return as soon as possible, no matter how long you're away. I'm no different. As much as I love seeing knew places and experiencing the different ways in which people live, There's no better feeling than returning to the place you call home. This past Wednesday, I returned home after my first of two trips to Edmonton this winter for work. I enjoyed my time away, being responsible for just myself, focusing solely on work, and even getting to meet up with an old friend I haven't seen for a decade. But I missed home, a lot. So since my return, I have made sure to make time for everything it is I love about my home.

Yesterday was a day of simple pleasures of home. I enjoyed a fresh smoothie and homemade latte for breakfast, while sitting at the kitchen table catching up on social media, and gently getting started for the day. I find my morning routine so comforting, right down to using my trusty electric toothbrush, which seems silly, but after a week with a manual toothbrush, my mouth never felt so clean! Then, as with every weekday, I walked with my daughter to school and we talked about her week so far, and everything she and her friends had been getting up to. At school, I reconnected with the other parents, got the lowdown on some PAC related things I had missed, and made plans for day time coffee with a close friend. I've come to really appreciate the connections I've made at my daughter's school, and truly value the community of parents, knowing I would be very sad if we ever moved to a different school zone or city. It's a highlight to the start of my day, and it's always a great way to get back into routine.

After returning home and tidying up some tasks left over from my trip, I set off for some personal errands. I am lucky enough to have returned home to sunshine, so as tired as I was, I took my bike for a ride throughout the city. I may take pretty much the same route whenever I head out on my bicycle, but that's for a very good reason. Travelling along the separated lanes on Great Northern Way and 1st Avenue on my way to the seawall is such a relaxed ride, with very little interaction with cars and virtually no stress. It also allows for some amazing and unobstructed views of the North Shore mountains, which had a heavy coating of snow yesterday morning. 

I did deviate from my normal path a bit, doing something I've been meaning to do since January. I have two pairs of boots I absolutely love and wear almost daily, so I've pretty much worn the soles right out. I headed into the Downtown East Side to visit East Van Shoe Repair, a fairly new business run by a lovely young woman named Rebecca, who is now giving my shoes some much needed TLC. I have a real soft spot for small businesses, especially those run by women, so I was happy to go out of my way to support someone doing what they love.

I then finished off my day doing the most important errand after being away for an extended period; a lunch date with my best friend and biggest supporter, my husband, Chris. Although we chat every night when I'm away, getting together gives us the opportunity to discuss all the events of our week apart, as well as plans for the future. Chris stays much more on top of the happenings in our city and abroad when it comes to infrastructure changes, so it's great to get caught up, get excited for the positives and understand the challenges still to come. Most of all, our lunches are a time when we get to just be us. Not parents, not part of the "Velo Family", simply Melissa and Chris, talking and catching up as we have done for nearly seventeen years. Nothing truly says "welcome home" like a coffee with my favourite person!

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Cold and Sunny Days in Vancouver

If this was your backdrop on the ride to work,
wouldn't you ride your bike?
If you live in Metro Vancouver, you know we've been experiencing unnaturally cold weather this past week. I feel I should explain to our friends and family elsewhere in Canada and the world beyond, cold for Vancouverites is -10 degrees Celsius, so nothing most of you aren't already used to. There is a lovely result of the cold weather in the Pacific Northwest. The skies have been a lovely shade of light blue and the sun has been kissing our cold faces for over a week, something we miss most winters for weeks on end. Lucky for me, this sunny week also coincided with having to travel to the showroom for work, meaning I could ride my bike in the sunshine all week! 

A sunny bike ride would seem like a no brainer for a fair weather cyclist like me, but I was actually amazed at the number of people who questioned my mental stability for riding in the cold. Perhaps it was my Ontario upbringing coming through, or just my sheer desire to ride my bike after a number of wet weeks, but I just didn't feel I was doing anything bordering on insanity. Sure it was cold, but with my warm winter jacket, a scarf, woolly toque and lovely woolly mitts I brought with my from Ontario, I was comfortably toasty. In fact, each member of the Velo Family rode their bikes most of last week, and not one of us felt it was too cold to do so.
The rest of the family riding yesterday, which was
definitely a cold one at minus eight degrees
I think because we're so spoiled when it comes to warmer climates here in Vancouver, most people find it difficult to adapt to colder temperatures. What's important to note, though, is that riding a bike on a cold sunny day is no different than walking. You bundle up appropriately, making sure you have layers to cover your extremities from the cold. For me, the number one accessory is my scarf that I can use to cover my mouth and nose from the colder winds, and, of course, a toasty pair of gloves or mitts. Most importantly, though, is I don't have any special gear for winter riding different from winter walking or transit riding. There is really nothing stopping me from getting on my bike. 
Dressed and ready to go
All Chris needs are gloves, his Whitecaps scarf and his
toque and he's ready for his daily winter ride.

In a city known for never ending days of rain throughout the winter months and well into Spring, I find it so important to take advantage of the sunny days, regardless of the temperature. Riding my bike gives me a chance to enjoy some quiet moments on my own, get in a bit of physical activity, something most people crave in the winter, and also enjoy the beauty of my city and its landscape in the winter months. I'm not daunted about riding in the winter, because I don't have to worry about dressing any differently than if I was walking. In fact, I know that by getting on my saddle and moving at a slightly faster pace than walking, I will get to my destination faster, and likely feeling a bit more toasty for my efforts.

 The Velo Kids, bundled up but happy to go for a ride on their bikes

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Overload ~ Remembering to Take Time for Myself

The month of January has been quite a bundle of activity for me. With a return to school for the kids and work for me, a promise to myself to dedicate more time to my yoga practice, and reigniting my volunteer responsibilities at the school and within my co-op, there has certainly been no shortage of activity. Add to that the excitement of learning that my lovely husband and I will be travelling to Auckland later this year, and all the love I've received for my posts so far and I'm running on overdrive. So it should come as no surprise that this week, I started to show sign of burning out. By Wednesday, I was feeling pretty much out for the count, and realizing it was time to take some rest.

Cautiously making their way down the hill
at Great Northern Way and Clark. One day they'll
enjoy the rush of going downhill

Thankfully, this week included a PD Day for my daughter, meaning forced relaxation with her being home. Having found also this month that our son has been reluctant to go to preschool, claiming missing his mom, we decided he would stay home for the day as well. After a somewhat relaxing morning, even with our trip to the dentist first thing, the kids and I headed out on our bicycles to not only enjoy the beautiful sunny day we were gifted, but also to have a family lunch with my husband, something we haven't done in quite some time.

To some, taking a ride with children wouldn't seem like a relaxing endeavour, but it's been far too long since I've ridden my bike with my children at my side. Also, riding along the seawall at an extreme leisurely pace isn't quite strenuous. I got to listen to the ramblings of a five year old, which are simultaneously insightful and ridiculous, and enjoy riding next to my mini-me, my daughter riding her almost matching red bike. Along the way, we had the lovely opportunity to watch a harbour seal pop out of the water briefly before diving back under water for food, and the beauty of the snow capped mountains contrasted by some blossoms showing the first signs of spring. It really was a lovely way to spend the afternoon.
Happily enjoying a sunny ride instead of being at school
Blue skies ahead as arrive at the Seawall
Proof that Spring is not far away for Vancouver

My munchkins always love warming up with a little hot chocolate
Remembering to take time for myself is difficult, as for most moms out there (and dads, too). Along with all the adult responsibilities I have, like working and paying bills, I also have a family, meaning meal planning, groceries, running errands, getting the kids to their extra curricular activities and everything else that life entails. I also have a knack for taking on lots of additional tasks, like my work with the school PAC and even writing this blog. These are all things that I enjoy deeply, and I have no regrets for any of the decisions I've made along the way. However, I'm not super-human, and even the best of us need to rest, which my body and mind made abundantly clear this week. So today was the perfect way to end out a busy and stressful month. To slow down, spend some happy time with my children, and enjoy the day with no set schedule, no pressure, and a little time for myself.
Remembering to rest is so important...Hot chocolate helps! ;)