Friday, 28 September 2012

Foodie Friday #8: Vegetable Kofta with Spicy Tomato Sauce

This spicy dish was a favourite of mine at Indian Restaurants, but whenever I searched for a recipe online, none were to be found. Then one day, a fellow mom shared an Indian Cooking Recipe Book with me, and there it was! After searching for over two years, I finally had it, and it has become a staple in our dinner rotation. In fact, we will be feasting on this tonight! My kids love the Kofta all on it's own, as the sauce is quite spicy, but you can use any amount or combination of veggies to be sure your kids are getting all the nutrients they need, all in one little veggie ball!

Sauce:
1 large can of tomato sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp salt
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp tumeric
1 whole green chilli (optional)

Kofta:
3 medium potatoes
1 cup of mixed vegetable (I use 1 carrot, 1 crown of brocolli, 1 small onion, 1/2 cup peas)
1/2-1 cup bread crumbs
1 egg (optional)
1 green chilli (optional)
2" pc of ginger
1 tsp salt
2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp cayenne
1 tsp tumeric
Vegetable oil for frying

Directions:
For Sauce: Heat oil on medium and add seeds. Once seeds start to pop, add all spices, give a quick stir, then add tomato sauce. Deseed chilli and add to sauce. Bring to a boil, add 1/2 cup of water, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

For Kofta: Peel and cook potatoes and vegetable till cooked but still slightly firm. Transfer cooked veg to a food processor and add chilli and ginger. Pulse until ingredients create a mash. Add all spices and the egg and pulse again. Gradually add bread crumbs until Kofta holds shape when formed. Roll mash into 1" balls and chill in a fridge for 1 hour. Fill a deep frying pan with 1-2" of oil. Heat oil, then place Kofta in oil and cook, turning once, until golden brown. Place cooked balls on paper towels to soak excess oil. Place desired amount of balls on a plate (I recommend about 6 for an adult), and top with sauce. Serve with warmed naan bread.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Separation anxiety

Back in July I wrote about how great an idea separated lanes are and that the City of Vancouver should work to expand the network of such lanes in the city, including in my own neighbourhood of Commercial Drive. To my surprise and delight, I have started seeing more and more articles about separated lanes in my city, including along the Cambie and Granville Street Bridges.

However, much to my dismay, there is still so much aversion to them by various city officials and business owners and some of the general public. Rhetoric about bike lanes being "anti-car" is being thrown around in local publications, and one member of the Downtown Business Association states that separated lanes may "choke the lifeblood out of downtown". Is this really the view of population of Vancouver, or the voices of just a small few? I looked up some facts about separated lanes and their benefits, and wanted to share them with you. Maybe if we start looking at the long term benefits, we can stop arguing about separated lanes are start emulating some truly innovative cycling cities that aren't afraid to make some real change to their infrastructure.

In New York City, The Department of Transportation built a bicycle path and traffic calming pilot project for Prospect Park West in Brooklyn in 2010 and published their results in early 2011. The path was 2-way and separated from traffic lanes by a 3 foot parking lane, and meant the removal of just one lane of traffic. Here's what they found:
  • weekday cycling traffic tripled after the implementation
  • cyclists riding on sidewalks fell to 3% from 46%
  • speeding dropped from 74% to 20% of all vehicles 
  • crashes for all road users were down 16% and injuries to all road users were down 21%
  • the was no change in traffic flow or travel times
A study was conducted in Montreal in 2010 that compared the amount of cyclists using separated cycle tracks vs regular road traffic without any dedicated cycling infrastructure. The streets ran parallel to each other and had similar intersection and cross traffic frequency. Again, the results are pretty convincing:
  • 2.5 times as many people used the separated cycle track than the road without dedicated infrastructure
  • the relative risk of injury on the cycle track was lower than cycling on the street
Here in Vancouver, while our adoption of separated cycle tracks has been met with diversion each time, their results have always shown a positive increase in cycle traffic.
  • Trips over the Burrard Bridge increased 15% between July 2010 and July 2011, and saw over 1 Million trips taken in that time
  • Between 1996-2011, there has been a 25% decrease in the number of vehicles entering downtown, but an increase of 10% of people entering downtown (during peak hours)
  • In June 2011, there were 55,000 recorded trips along Dunsmuir
  • Total trips on Hornby grew from 60% of Dunsmuir levels in January 2011 to 80% as many in June 2011
  • Women riders were up slightly versus the previous painted lanes, making up 1 in 3 cyclists on Hornby in 2011
  • Children were now four times more prevalent in stats collection in 2011
My own personal reflection:
You know my story. I'm a mom with two young children, living without a car in Vancouver. We try to use our bikes whenever possible to get around the city, and use they cycling infrastructure in this city to do it. My eldest is 6 and travels on her own bike now, which means I am very conscious of being sure the areas we ride in are safe, with as little risk as possible of us coming into close contact with fast moving cars. So when we are heading into downtown, we make a point of using the separated lanes on Dunsmuir and Hornby. Before the completion of Hornby separated lane, I used the painted lane only once with the kids in tow, and refused to do it again until the cycle track was built. Having cars race past at high speeds and risking running across a vehicle parked in the lane made it incredibly nerve-wracking and dangerous. Now that the path is separated, I have no qualms about using them with my kids.
My youngest trailing behind with a green
buffer from the cars

My eldest on the Dunsmuir Viaduct
It's time we stopped fighting about bike lanes. It's a waste of time, especially for a city that wants to be the Greenest City in the World by 2020. If we don't provide the average person with a safe means to travel by bike, they just won't. Separated lanes also make trips more pleasurable for pedestrians, creating a barrier between them and the cars. My husband, Chris, actually commented last week that his walk home with the kids the 3 blocks along Commercial Drive was unpleasant with all the cars and exhaust during rush hour. Something as simple as a separated lane would have made that journey even slightly better, and who can really argue with that?

Some final words on the topic from Brent Toderian, the City's Planning Director for 6 years and now and independent planning consultant, “Bike lanes are not a fad. They are part of a multi-modal city, a critical part of the city working well in the future.” Well said.

Sources:

Some other articles to check out:
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/stop-bike-lane-fight-vancouver-urged/article4558182/
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/editorials/separated-bike-lanes-are-the-way-to-go/article4431730/
http://spacingvancouver.ca/2011/09/26/vancouvers-separated-bike-lanes-more-popular-than-ever/
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2012/09/23/bc-bike-use-vancouver.html


Sunday, 23 September 2012

Fall riding made easy

Well, it seems this weekend in Vancouver that Autumn is officially upon us. The weather has turned cooler, the skies are grey, and there is a feeling in the air that the rain will soon return to the forecast more regularly. So what does that mean for a car-free family that ride their bikes everywhere? To be honest, not a whole lot. We will get on our bikes just as we did in the hot sunny weather of July and August, just with a couple more layers. 

Many people often retire their bikes for the season when the weather turns, and it makes me a bit sad when I hear that. Despite the rain, there are still plenty of days to get out on a bike. So I decided to put together a few tips together to help encourage people to get out and ride, even in the cool days of Autumn!

1) Layer up
The kids and I all layered up for a ride along the
seawall in late October
As the weather gets cooler, you're going to want to stay warm when you're out riding your bike. The problem is, once you get going, even on a slow, sit-up bike like mine, you're likely going to heat up. I find the best solution is to wear layers. Throwing on a scarf and a jacket over a light sweater is an easy way to be sure I'm warm enough throughout my ride, while still being able to reduce the layers if my body starts to heat up. This holds true for kids, too. I try to always be sure my kids are wearing their coats over a hoodie, which I've found very handy when we ride closer to the water and have the ocean breeze to contend with.










Remember you can ride in anything, even a blazer and
a skirt
2) Don't break the bank
Many people I know feel that in order to ride in the cooler months, they have to buy all the special gear to do it. From special coats, gloves, pants, shoe covers and more, there is this idea in the cycling community that to be a true all-weather rider you have to have all the right stuff. To put it plainly, you don't. When you go for a walk or take transit, you don't have to buy anything more than an umbrella or wear a warm coat to keep comfortable, and riding a bike is no different. When the family and I get on our bikes in the cooler months, we wear our usual Fall and Winter clothes: a raincoat and rainboots if it's wet, or our woolly winter coats, hats, scarves and mitts if the wind is chilly. So when you prepare to ride your bike as the weather gets cooler, don't empty your savings account trying to buy all the special bicycle clothing. Just look in your coat closet, and you will find all you need to ride when it's cold!
Coralie in her raincoat and rainboots during a late
Spring ride
3) Give your bike some TLC
After a summer of riding in the dry, warm air, your bike is going to need a bit of maintenance to prepare for some cooler, wet months of riding. If you can spare the time and money, taking your bike to a local shop for a quick tune up is a great idea. They'll give your bike a good look over to make sure everything is running smoothly, including being sure your tires are ready for slicker roads, and your brakes won't fail you when the rain starts. Most shops will be able to do a basic tune up for about $30-40, and in my experience, they will always tell you if your bike needs some extra fixes before they do it so you can decide if it's something you can afford right away or want to wait till a later date.

If you have the ambition and aren't afraid to get your hands dirty, you can easily do some of the maintenance yourself. For a minimal expense, you can buy a degreaser and chain lube from any bike shop and give your chain, cassette and derailers a good cleaning. If you're unsure how to do this, there are many videos available online that show you the technique. Here's one I found on a quick search:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOZLa539wd0
Alternatively, if you want to have someone show you in person, check out HUB in Vancouver (formerly the VACC), who offer bike maintenance courses for varying levels. That's actually where Chris and I learned about cleaning our bikes as well as how to fix a flat!

4) Lighten up
The biggest complaint I hear from motorists as the weather changes and it gets dark sooner is that they can't see people on bikes. While I feel that when you're driving a car you need to always be aware of everything around you, even a poorly lit bike, it never hurts to try to be as visible as possible to those you're sharing the road with. Let me be very clear, though, I am not talking about wearing high visibility vest, jackets or the like (see above re: Don't Break The Bank). What I'm talking about is being sure you have lights on your bike, and making sure they work. Some tiny rear light that gets hidden by your coat when you sit on your bike is useless when you're trying to make sure someone sees you on your bike. As a courtesy to everyone you're sharing the road with, be sure your lights can be seen, even from a couple blocks away. 

Another part of being seen on darkened roads is about riding responsibly. Those of us on those bikes need to be sure we're making that easier for motorist to see us. Weaving around parked cars causes you to be hidden from motorists on the road, and a sudden appearance of a cyclist as the pull out next to a parked car may be an unexpected surprise. My advice, always ride in as straight a line as possible so you are a consistent presence on the road. Furthermore, on busier roads, if you feel like cars may pass you too closely, take the lane. Yes, it is likely you will run across a motorist who might be "put out" by the bike in their way, but I'd much rather have someone slightly frustrated but know I'm there, than have them pass too closely and potentially clip or hit me as they pass.

5) Transit is always an option
Finally, if you're like me, you don't enjoy getting soaked on your bike. Nor should you, it's never fun to be wet and cold, whether you're walking or riding a bike. So if you're not likely to experiment with riding with an umbrella, as some have been known to do in Europe and Asia, then don't be too proud to take transit. If your motivation to ride you bike is an environmental one, remember that public transit is a good way to keep your environmental impact low. If you happen to be caught at the end of the day with your bike and a rainy ride home, don't forget that most city buses now have bike racks on the front of them so you can hitch a ride home on a dry bus without leaving your bike at the office. From personal experience, I used to feel guilty when I didn't ride my bike in the rain, like I was somehow not as dedicated as my counterparts who ride in all-weather. I have since realized that for me, riding my bike is something I enjoy. I like to cruise along and take in the city where I live at a leisurely pace. When it's wet, I can't do that as easily, so there's absolutely no shame in staying dry in a bus or Skytrain or whatever the transit options are in your city. Even on the "Wet Coast" where it rains seemingly eight months of the year, there are always dry days when you can get out on two wheels and enjoy riding your bike again.
Even in the winter, the sun will return, as it did this
cool day in February.
Overall, my main advice is don't be afraid or intimidated about riding throughout the cooler months of the year. As I've said many time in the past, riding a bike is easy, and that fact does not change with the weather. If you're one of the many people who retire their bikes once the weather turns cold, challenge yourself this year to keep riding. You may find it surprisingly easy, and who knows, one day your city may become just like some of the great bicycle cities of the world, where the streets are filled with people enjoying their bikes all year round. That's would be pretty darned fantastic to me. Happy Fall riding!
Even in the cold days of winter, this family rides!

Friday, 21 September 2012

Foodie Friday #7: Homestyle Chicken Stew

With Autumn now being upon us, the weather is going to start getting cooler, which means it's time for the hearty, stick to your bones kind of meals. This chicken stew recipe was given to me by my mom, and even though I've "veggie-fied" it, it's still super tasty and enough to fill even the hungriest of bellies. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

3.5-4 lbs chicken cut into pieces
OR
1 package of simulated vegetarian chik'n chopped
3 cups water
2 1/2 tsp vegetable or chicken bouillon
3/4 tsp sage
pinch of thyme
2 cups chopped carrots
3/4 cups celery diced
1 small onion diced
2 large potatoes diced
1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups peas


Directions:

Place chicken in a large saucepan with water, boullion, salt, sage and thyme. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until chicken is cooked and tender - 5 mins for sim. chik'n, 1.5-2 hrs for real chicken. Add carrots, celery, onion and potatoes and simmer covered for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are just tender. Mix flour and milk separately until smooth and gradually add to saucepan, stirring to mix completely. Add peas and cook until thickened. 

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Bike Envy Solved

I think everyone experiences a bit of bike envy before they get their dream bike. My husband was no exception. Last Christmas, I purchased my very own Dutch-style sit-up bike, and I can say for certain I will never look back. I remember on one of my very first rides to pick up some Christmas gifts nearby thinking, "I feel like such a girl!" I always wanted to feel pretty when riding, and I finally did and I loved it! 

Unfortunately, my joy and happiness over my new bike became the focus of much envy from my husband that just increased with every family ride. Seeing me able to sit upright and take it slow and steady strengthened Chris' resolve that a sit-up bike was the perfect bike for him, and not his cumbersome commuter hybrid. Well, I'm happy to say that after several months of patience and searching for the ideal bike, his bike envy has been solved!
A very happy man and his dream bike
Last week, Chris visited our friends at Whoa! Nellie Bikes and picked out his very own Dutch-style bike, right down to the step through feature. I remember him being excited when he got his last bike, but I think it had more to do with ditching our car and being able to finally commute by bike than the actual bike itself. This time around, he keeps telling me how much he loves his bike, and spends a lot of time on Twitter and Facebook going on about his special blue bike. He feels so free and natural now, and revels in the strange looks he gets when riding amongst the hunched over, lycra-clad riders in his regular, business casual attire.
Riding around in South Vancouver
A nice photo op at English Bay
There's a perfect bike out there for all of us. Now Chris and I can ride confidently around Vancouver on our sit-up bikes, riding slowly, enjoying some good conversation, and feeling very European...and loving every minute!
My bike (right) has finally found her match (left)
If you're in the market for a sit-up bike, check out this article from Momentum Magazine:
http://www.momentummag-digital.com/momentummag/20120910#pg90

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Learning to Let Go

Today brought with it another challenge of being a parent. The lesson to be learnt: "Let Go". That may seem like a lesson better suited to a Mom whose children are in their teens, getting ready graduate and become adults, but believe me, it was a valuable lesson for me today, and one that will continue to challenge me.

What brought about this notion of letting go? This weekend we started teaching Etienne how to ride a bike. Not a run bike, or one with training wheels, but just a regular old bike. For over a year now, Etienne has been riding confidently on the Trail-a-Bike, and scooting along on his run bike. Then, earlier this week, he borrowed a bike from a friend after dropping their sisters off at school, and with my help, managed to get two full revolutions on his own with no help from me. I was convinced, "This is it! Etienne is ready to ride on his own!" I was so excited, revelling in the possibility that soon all the members of the Velo Family would experience the freedom of solo riding.

So this morning we took the kids to the grounds of a nearby school to get Etienne on his bike and riding. He was excited, too, or so it seemed. After two goes around the track, he gave up. He refused to focus, preferring to continually get off and play in the playground. I was left feeling so deflated. My elation for my youngest to finally be able to ride on his own had turned to frustration. I felt like I had failed somehow.


Helping Etienne keep his balance while he pedals
After the playground, we went for a ride, and I had some time to reflect. Truly, while it would be fantastic if Etienne had started solo riding today, just because it didn't happen today, doesn't mean it won't. Etienne will turn four in January, and his sister didn't start riding on her own until she was five. Every child figures it out at a different pace, and eventually my son will be riding next to me on our bike rides around the city. Until then, I need to "Let Go", understanding that in time, Etienne will get it, and the learning process will just be another memory in our little adventure as a family.


A sleepy reminder that someone still
has some growing to do

Friday, 14 September 2012

Foodie Friday #6: Meeting Saver Chocolate Chip Cookies!

This week's recipe was passed on to me by a fellow school parent. These cookies were her specialty for every PAC (Parent Advisory Committee) meeting or otherwise, and were such a hit that I had to ask for the recipe to share it with the family. After one taste, my whole family was willing to give up my tried and true recipe I've been making for over a decade. With our first meeting of the school year coming next week, I figured it was a perfect time to share this tasty family favourite!

Ingredients:

3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup butter
1 egg
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups chocolate chips

Directions:

Preheat 375 degrees F

Combine sugars with butter and mix until well combined. Add egg and mix thoroughly. Mix in flour and salt, by hand preferably, until mixtures is crumbly but will form a ball. Mix in chocolate chips, form 1-2" flattened balls, and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes.

Guest Post: "Connecting With My City" by Chris Bruntlett


So by now you've probably read Melissa's account of her five days in Edmonton. When she returned to Vancouver, she asked me to write a guest post for "Velo Family Diaries", in order to provide a contrast for her fairly uneventful, auto-centric trip, and provide her readers with an update as to what we got up to while she was away. Here it goes:

The first three days were pretty uneventful, with Coralie in school, Etienne in daycare, and I at work. With it being the first week back to school, we were still getting into a routine. This time of year, I always gain a new appreciation of the life choices we've made, and having the ability to walk and/or cycle the short distances we need to go. After all, it was only three short years ago that we were living in a South Vancouver suburb, and I was making the gruelling 75 kilometre commute to Abbotsford each day.

We have been enjoying a dry and sunny September, so we definitely wanted to make the most of our weekend. We collectively decided that Saturday would be spent on a beach, so we packed up the bike trailer with a picnic, and headed down to Third Beach. Since my own bike didn't fit the trailer hitch, I took Melissa's step-through, sit-up bicycle, which was a little small, but worth the effort. Compared to my hybrid commuter, it is so comfortable and easy-to-ride, and with two smiling kids in the back, turned plenty of heads along the way. I enjoyed the experience so much that I was inspired to sell my sporty ride on Craigslist the following week, and pick up a Dutch bike of my own!  

A rare shot of all of us taken by a kind stranger
The route to Stanley Park from our apartment is an incredibly enjoyable one. The Mosaic and Adanac Bikeways provide us with a convenient route downtown, and then the Dunsmuir and Hornby Separated Bike Lanes take us safely to the water. From there, it's several kilometres of leisurely seawall riding, soaking up the views of the ocean, mountains, parks, and glass skyscrapers. We arrived at Third Beach around lunchtime, which gave us a couple of hours to eat our picnic, toss the frisbee, build some sandcastles, and then head home. We continued along the seawall on the north side of False Creek, making sure to stop for gelato on the Adanac Bikeway along the way!
The gorgeous view of the North Shore from Third Beach
Sunday was overcast and a bit cooler, so we decided to take a ride to Granville Island instead. This time around, Coralie wanted to ride her own bike, so I pulled Etienne on the Trail-a-Bike. We rode the Central Valley Greenway downtown, which connects with the Olympic Village on the south side of False Creek. We did have a minor setback, when Coralie took a spill in the middle of the intersection at Quebec Street and East 1st Avenue. Luckily, the surrounding cars were giving her plenty of space, but I had to hop off my bike, walk her over to the grass in front of a nearby fast food restaurant, and take about 10-15 minutes to recover from the injuries and the shock of the fall. She had a few scratches and bruises, but soldiered on with the promise of treats and playtime ahead.
Etienne "trailing" behind on the Central Valley Greenway
From there, Granville Island is a short ride on the waterfront, giving the kids a chance to soak up the scenery and people around them. We grabbed a slice of pizza at the Granville Island Market, a sugary treat from Lee's Donuts, and the kids took an hour to play in the park there. It was during that time that Coralie told me she didn't want to take the seawall home. Instead, she wanted to take the longer, more challenging route over the Burrard Street Bridge, through the downtown core. Given her spill earlier, it was obviously a surprise, but that's exactly what we did, riding about 20 kilometres together in total that day. One thing I really appreciate about being a cycling family: the kids know the streets, neighbourhoods and landmarks of Vancouver like the backs of their hands! 
On our way home at Main and Dunsmuir
Melissa landed that evening, and took the Skytrain back to our apartment, with a newfound appreciate for the bubble in which we live. Funnily enough, in riding around in that bubble with the kids all weekend, I had also rediscovered what it is we take for granted. I'm always surprised at how hesitant Vancouverites are to get on a bicycle. Trust me, if our little family can safely navigate the bikeways, seawalls, and separated lanes of Vancouver, anyone can! It's remarkably easy, affordable, healthy; but most of all, it connects you with your city in ways that other modes of transportation cannot!

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

If life is a highway, then I want off...

As some of my followers may have noticed, my blog has become a little quiet over the past few days. Last week I had the incredible opportunity to work a trade show with an old colleague in Edmonton, AB, making my return to the fashion world after a few years off with the children. It was an exciting week of meeting with buyers, showing them the upcoming fashions for next season, and watching an amazing lady do her thing and making everyone that came to see us feel like they were at home. With newfound confidence, I am excited for what the future will bring, knowing I will learn much along the way. That was the best part of the last five days...
The Edmonton Expo Building inside of which
I spent my days.
 
However, while having this amazing experience, I also was reminded why it is I live where and how I do. I want to be clear, what I write is not meant to be an insult to the city of Edmonton, as my opinions and experiences are my own, which could happen in any number of cities around the world. 

From the moment I touched down at Edmonton International Airport, I spent most of my time being driven from point A to point B. From the shuttle to the hotel some 45 minutes away, to the shuttles and cabs to the Expo Centre and everything in between, I have not spent so much time on four wheels since I drove across Canada to move to Vancouver. Needless to say, I missed home, my family, but I also really missed my bike. 

Last week I was reminded of the experiences you miss while sitting in a moving car. I felt in a constant state of disorientation, never really grasping which way was North, South, East or West. I also missed the personal experience that walking or riding in a city brings. Whether it's a leisurely trip along the water, or discovering a hidden neighbourhood, I have always found that riding my bike allows me to truly see all that a city has to offer. For example, growing up I spent a lot of time visiting Montreal and my extended family who live there. Sure, I knew downtown, and the neighbourhoods where my family lived, largely because when we were in the city, we walked or took transit nearly everywhere. However, two summer's ago, on a brief visit, the family and I rented some bikes and rode along the Lachine Canal and the St. Laurence river, and my experience was completely new and wonderful, something I would have never experienced if I stayed in a car all the time. Now I will make a special effort to repeat the trip whenever I get to visit Montreal.
The view from inside our hotel, but I never had a chance
to see it up close
I also became quite fatigued over the course of week. I kept wondering why, until a co-worker asked me if I usually spent a lot of time outdoors. I suddenly realized something I very much take for granted. Generally, I spend the majority of my days walking or riding my bike, so to spend almost of all my time indoors or in a motorized vehicle was depriving me of the fresh air, vitamin D, and exercise I am used to. So as a result, I was getting easily drained and tired. 
In a car, the world just speeds by
One may think that this was actually due to the fact that I was up early every day and working hard, and not the lack of time outdoors. To that I say to that Monday morning, after returning home from Edmonton late the night before, I woke up around 7:30am, helped get the kids ready and walked my eldest to school then came home and spent 2 hours doing housework, then walked to the local market to do groceries, then back again to pick up my daughter from school, and still felt quite energized when we put the kids to bed at 8pm. Now if that doesn't sound like a busy day, I don't know what is. I do know that the sunshine, fresh air and exercise from just one day back in my routine had me back to my old chipper self in no time!

My final view of Edmonton, from inside YEG waiting
for my flight back to YVR
So, after five days of relying on four wheels and an engine to get me around town, I am happy to be home and returning to my people-powered means of transportation. It is proof that exercise is crucial to the human body in order to be healthy and energized, and the more we get people out of their cars and using other means of transportation, the better we will all be. That may sound preachy, or even easy for someone who lives in a moderate climate like Vancouver, but I can tell you I was walking through the snow drift in February in Ontario when I lived there just 5 years ago, while my husband cycled to and from work 365 days a year. It just takes a change of heart and openness to challenge yourself. So get out there and explore your city on a personal level, for your body and for your mind!

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Summer Withdrawal: Back to School Blues

If you would have asked me this weekend if I was excited and ready for the start of school and my daughter's return to routine and not being at home anymore, my immediate answer would have been a resounding, Heck Ya! But it seems now that we're back into our usual ways, that I miss the summer and having the kids to do stuff with every day. Believe it or not, your day tends to fly by when you're out and about with a preschooler and a school aged child, riding all over the city to this beach or that park. As much as I was out of energy by then end of August, it was fun, and I will cherish all the memories we made.

That's not to say I won't still be running all over the place. September doesn't just bring the start of school, but also the start of all the extracurricular activities. In just a couple weeks we'll be riding to and from school, to ballet, tap, soccer, swimming and whatever other lessons will fill my kids' days. Being so busy does make me wonder how working parents do it, and makes me very thankful that I am afforded the opportunity to be home for my kids.

But for today, I will take Coralie to school for her first full day of Grade 1. Today, she meets her new teacher; she says she hopes for a specific teacher because she has a good name. She will also and find out which of her friends from Kindergarten will stay with her as she heads to her new class, and which will be those she sees on the playground in between class. I look at her now and see how much she has changed in 12 months, from a nervous little Kindergartner to a confident Grade 1, and I'm a little bit emotional. Once again, she is off learning and growing without me. Add to that the fact that I'm about to head out of town on business for 4.5 days, missing many of the new school year challenges that may come up, and I get a little teary. I guess we're both on a bit of a journey this week, and all I hope for her is that her journey leads her to much success in the future. For now, I just wish her a happy first full day!
Coralie on the first day of Kindergarten
One year later and she's grown so much!


Monday, 3 September 2012

Looking back on my summer on two wheels

Looking back to the end of June when I decided to start writing this blog, I would never have thought that by the start of the new school year, I would have reached so many people from all over the world who would read my posts about our adventures as a family who rides bikes. The idea that started as a journal about my summer with my kids quickly grew into something more. Velo Family Diaries has become my place to share our successes, challenges and joys with other people and families in a similar situation to me, or those curious about this kind of lifestyle and maybe needing a push to try it. Either way, I want to say thank you for following me on this journey!

It's certainly has been an adventure, and I feel very privileged to have been able to share it with some new friends and my fantastic family. I've also been able to learn a thing or two about my city, my family and myself, lessons that will stick with me as we continue our bike journey. I'd like to share a few of those with you as I reflect on my summer on two wheels.

Coralie and Diane on our 2nd Velo Family Ride
The first is about the resilience and understated ability of children. When the summer started, I knew my daughter, Coralie, was capable of riding some longer distances, but I also knew having her ride every day was going to be a challenge. Well, did she ever meet that challenge and then some. Every day for nearly two weeks my little girl kept up with me and cycled at least 15 kms in the warm sun with little to no complaint. Maybe knowing she had no choice but to ride helped, but she amazed me each time. But she wasn't the only child to surprise me. It seems this summer was also when Etienne found his energy to stay awake for longer trip on the trail-a-bike, fully taking in the environment around him. I also experienced some other kids exceeding expectations, including our new friend Diane, who rode in our two family rides further than anyone expected, as well as Coralie's friend, Karli, who could have ridden all day on the trail-a-bike, pedalling the whole time.



From stuck in a trailer to long rides on the trail-a-bike.
Etienne has grown a lot this summer.
On the whole, I found that kids are capable than much more than we give them credit for. If you give them the chance, they will find the energy to get themselves to their destination, just as we do. They are also extremely observant. Coralie now knows the way to nearly every one of our usual destinations, and Etienne can tell when we're getting close just by the landmarks he sees along the way. Keep in mind, these kids are 6 and 3.5 years old, and they are already learning how to navigate their city. I'm pretty confident that this has come about simply because we do travel on our bikes, so they have to be aware of what's around them instead of just sitting back and letting the world pass them by in the back seat of a car. It makes me pretty darned proud of my little riders.

I love riding places with the kids when I
know there's a buffer between us and the cars
Riding around the city with two kids has really made me appreciate how a safe infrastructure is imperative to making cycling for accessible to families with children. Back at the beginning of the summer I wrote about how the separated lanes in the downtown core are a great thing that should be expanded throughout the city. Last week during our stay in Portland we used many of their painted bikes lanes, most of which are in what is known as the "door zone" (the space directly next to parked cars where an open car door can be extremely hazardous to a passerby on a bike). Having experienced watching my children riding alongside cars going upwards of 65kms/hr past them, I am reaffirmed in my belief that there needs to be a separation between the cars and people on bikes of any age. While drivers in Portland seem much more aware of the cyclists on the road due to the sheer number of them sharing the road, creating a barrier between them in any city would 
increase the safety of riding on two wheels. This would encourage more women and young families to ride, as women are far less likely to ride if they feel unsafe. Here's an excerpt from an article on Scientific American titled How to Get More Bicyclists on the Road:

In a study conducted last year, [a study] examined the effect of different types of bike facilities on cycling. The project, which used GPS positioning to record individual cycling trips in Portland, compared the shortest route with the path cyclists actually took to their destination. Women were less likely than men to try on-street bike lanes and more likely to go out of their way to use “bike boulevards,” quiet residential streets with special traffic-calming features for bicycles. “Women diverted from the shortest routes more often,”...

It really is time we as a society start taking this issue seriously, instead of fighting about the loss of a driving lane or on street parking. Done properly, separated lanes can have minimal impact on traffic flow, as has already been evidenced with the small increase in travel times in downtown Vancouver. This mom wants safe, direct routes to get my children around the city and to run my errands while still being able to ride on two wheels, and I know I'm not alone.

Our summer of riding has been epic and
thoroughly enjoyable!
My biggest take away this summer has actually been a personal one. Sharing my stories was initially about showing people what can be done on two wheels when you have a family. And while this has been my focus, my writing has had a bit of an unintended side effect. My confidence has grown so much this summer, I've actually surprised myself! Hearing from many readers that they love reading about our adventure, I no longer worry about our choice of lifestyle being a challenge to overcome, or that we may be selling our kids short by limiting ourselves to travel by public transit, walking or on on our bikes. We are all having a very personal experience every time we leave our home, and watching my kids grow and develop this summer has made me a very proud Mama. 









Riding most places this summer has also made me love riding my bike even more, if that's possible. I will admit that I set a private challenge to ride as many places as possible this summer so I would always have something to write about. In meeting the challenge, I actually prefer riding places now! I love feeling the sun on my face, the wind in my hair and watching my gorgeous city pass me by. I guess my new challenge will be to do it with the winter rain splashing against me...but that's for posts to come.
For love of bikes and each other
Overall, it has been a summer of self discovery, a journey of bringing our little family closer together, and appreciating every adventure we get to share while my kids are still young enough to want to spend time with us. I don't know if I've managed to change anyone's opinion about getting out of their car and onto a bike, but I do know that my daughter's story has helped push some kids we've met to start riding on their own, and that, quite frankly, is what's most important. 

As for where my little blog goes from here, as the weather turns cooler and the rainy weather returns to Vancouver, it's still a mystery. I will continue to share our stories and adventures. We will ride with Coralie nearly every day to school, and I know a little boy who may be getting ready to start pedalling on his own over the next few months. Life doesn't end when the warm summer changes to crisp, cool fall, so neither will our riding. Thank you to all those that have followed us so far. I feel privileged to have reached to many, and hope that you keep coming back to find out how our little Velo Family is doing! Merci beaucoup!
I have loved my summer on two wheels!

Saturday, 1 September 2012

One last hurrah!

So we had a last minute change of plans this weekend. What had started out as our first family camping weekend in years, changed to a low key weekend in Vancouver to end the summer. Well, low key because we wouldn't be riding our bikes out to the island for a camping trip. Instead, we would spend our Friday doing something else we haven't done in a long time. We took the kids to The Fair at the PNE!

We rode our bikes out to the very East of Vancouver, parked them in the highly under-advertised and under-used Bike Valet, and headed off for a day of excitement. I have to take a moment to thank out friend, Lisa, from The Sprog, for letting us know about the bike parking. While there was plenty of room in the city bike racks outside the gates when we arrived, by the time we left they were full and would have been a hassle to unlock and remove our bikes.
Coralie and Etienne learning how to wait "patiently" in line for a ride.
Etienne and I pre-coaster...his face was a bit
green afterwards
Anyway, back to the PNE. I was very excited to go after looking over the rides beforehand and finding out my daughter was tall enough for many of the roller-coasters and more grown-up rides! You see, back in Ontario, going to Canada's Wonderland was a highlight of my summer, as I'm a big fan of roller coasters. So you can understand my dismay when we took the kids on the Kettle Creek Mine Coaster, and both of them said they felt sick and didn't like it. First ride, too! Oh well, I guess Chris and I would be resigned to kiddie rides for one more year.


Coralie and Etienne enjoying a gentler ride
Chris sacrificing comfort for a ride with Etienne.
The things we do for our children!
After a full day, we were ready to head home. I think the highlight for the kids may have been the Super Dogs show, but it was just good to be at the fair with all the excitement of the rides, shows and, of course, all the goodies. Big thanks to which ever of our neighbours left a 2 for 1 coupon for admission on our door! It was a great way to spend part of our last weekend before returning to the routine of school, extra curricular activities, and, hopefully not too soon, the cool wet weather of winter in Vancouver.

Foodie Friday #5 - Yummy Fruit Smoothy

I apologize to all my readers. I've been lacking in the recipe department! Today's recipe, which should have been yesterday's, is a quick and easy way to get some fruit into your kid's diet, and more importantly, that of a busy mom who spends more time making sure her family is well fed. It takes no time to prepare and will be a quick family treat!

Ingredients:

2 cups mixed fruit (I use 1 banana and 1 cup fresh or frozen strawberries)
1/2 cup yogurt
1 cup milk

Directions:

Place all ingredients in a blender and mix until smooth and well mixed. Makes about 2 cups.