Rolling Spectacles And Other Embarrassments That Make Up My Life

So I’m a circus. It’s probably due to the big curly clown hair, but it seems regardless of where I go, it’s a performance. Three months ago, we acquired one of these.

nihola_Family_cargo_bikes_-_oblique

Jealous? I know I was when I first saw a mom riding her two little kids in a cargo trike. Photo Credit : Nihola.com

Since that fabulous day three months ago, when a truck dropped our new bike on our doorstep,  we’ve put 800 kilometers on it. About 500 miles for my US friends. This bike is amazing, we take it grocery shopping, for short haul trips, transport Mini-Tex in it everywhere. He loves it, we love it, and based on the amount of people screaming out their car windows “Neat bike!”, our fellow townspeople love it too.

Children especially love our bike, because, and I say this from experience, at times it’s kind of like riding on a tiny trackless roller coaster. I’m not ashamed to say I beg my husband to bike me to our date night locations. It’s tremendous fun and I feel like the queen waving at my public as we ride by while everyone stares.

Knowing all of this, when we packed up to visit Aunty Betty, Carter, his mom and his little sister at the beach. I pleaded with Tex to load our trike into the van. And because Tex is a nice guy, he did, even though it’s totally a pain because while sturdy, useful and a perfect vehicle for us, our Nihola Family trike is neither light nor easy to maneuver into a van. It’s only through a combination of Tex’s farm boy know-how and his engineering smarts that it manages to fit.

Flash forward to us arriving at my Aunt’s cottage at the beach. The kids immediately high tailed it to meet us and shrieked with joy and excitement, seeing the bike. I should add a disclaimer here. While we easily transport our son and two weeks of groceries home in our Nihola trike, it’s only meant to carry 220 lbs or 100 kgs in the front. And while a person can absolutely put that amount of weight in the front, oh boy is the rider ever going to feel it the next day. Plan to take the elevator if you’re ferrying around the maximum weight because in addition to the cargo, the bike itself weighs 70 lbs. On top of the mass of the actual rider because I’m assuming the seat is too high for most woodland fairies and forest eleves. Also those magical, weightless creatures are notorious for clinging to union rules and taking extended coffee breaks so they don’t make good cyclists to begin with.

So we strap in Mini-Tex, then we strap in Carter’s sister CiCi, and finally eight year old Carter crouches in the front. A combined weight of 300 ish pounds all told. Did I mention that this is a road bike? Meaning it’s meant for paved flat surfaces. Being an engineer, Tex already tricked out the gearing system so it’s easier to pedal on grass but gravel and large hills still pose a challenge.

With this in mind, I steered the bike and the children down a hill first. This would have gone better if I’d understood the braking system but things like common sense and asking Tex for explanations aren’t my forte. As it was, I yelled for CiCi and Carter to “Lean right!” as we careened around a corner at top speed. While trikes are tremendously stable for road biking, if a person takes a corner at a high enough speed, it is possible to flip the Nihola trike. Which is why it’s helpful if the riders and passengers shift their weight while turning. I swung my weight over the side as the kids leaned right and the wheels miraculously stayed on the ground.

We went over rocks, Carter went bump, bump, bump in the hold of the trike. CiCi and Mini-Tex had the best seats in the house with a cushion under their tiny bums. I spotted a pot hole a second too late, the front wheels avoided it, but the back wheel hit it smack in the middle. I clung to the handlebars as my butt bounced a foot in the air. As my tailbone came crashing down on the seat, I silently thankedmy huasband for choosing the most padded of bikes seats.

We pedalled  over grass and rocks. We enraged a neighbour’s dog who had never seen anything like our bike. The local cottage owners stared slack jawed as we whizzed by while their children looked on enviously. I rode and rode, searching for a relatively flat route back to my Aunt’s cottage. It seemed like every road was a mountain. My thighs burned from the exertion of transporting three children.

After about my third lap of the entire community, I spotted it; the only gentle hill which led to my Aunt’s cottage. The only problem was, it wasn’t paved. “Lean forward” I called to my young passengers as I approached the incline, pedalling at top speed. Carter and CiCi obediently hunched forward. I pedalled hard. I could hear my heartbeat in my ears. The bike slowed to a crawl. A snail and two caterpillars passed us. I kept pedalling. My breath was a wheeze. “We might go backwards” I warned just as the tire slipped on the gravel. “Ahhh!” I yelled in frustration. “EEEEEE” CiCi and Carter yelled in fear. Mini-Tex was still trying to figure out why he was having to share his ride, so he was unperturbed. A man came out to his porch to see the commotion.

Once again, I tried to pedal. “Lean forward!” I commanded the children. Carter and CiCi were all but hanging over the front end of the trike but the tries were still spinning out on the gravel. Exhausted from the effort, I stopped pedalling and the bike lurched backwards again. CiCi’s little hands white knuckled the side of the frame. The man who was watching started to sprint towards us, “I’ll give you a push” he cried.

Just then, I spotted it. Although it was gravel now, at one point, the road had been paved, and just to the left of my back wheel, I spotted a two inch strip of pavement. I let go of the pedals and the bike rolled backwards again, then I gathered every ounce of energy left in my exhausted quads and pedalled furiously. The tires caught purchase of the pavement and the bike moved forward. Slowly, we made our way up the hill again just as the friendly passerby arrived panting at our side. In the distance, I saw the snail heckling us to the two caterpillars.

The helpful man waved to us as we made our way past. A group at the top of the hill clapped. When I looked sideways, I realized the there were people standing in the windows of the nearby cottages staring. I’m not sure whether this is better or worse than eating fire. Definitely an improvement on lion taming though- I’m a dog person. I’ve  accepted my perpetual spectacle status.

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Horrible Thigh Discoveries, Cut Backs and Pride

We’re two months into our family’s Paris Accord. In June, my husband and I pledged to reduce our family’s carbon footprint by putting more kilometers on our bikes, fewer on our car and changing our consumption habits. Those were some pretty big promises, so let’s see how we’re doing.

On the bike odometer front everything is fantastic. When we initially purchased our Nihola Family bike, given how late in the season it arrived, we thought that 500 kilometers was an ambitious number. Just before I sat down to pen this post, the odometer read 633, based on our current usage of our cargo trike, we estimate that we’ll hit 1500 kilometers before the snow flies. Mini-Tex has actually started referring to the Nihola as a “car” because he’s in it so often, whereas our actual car sits ignored on our driveway. Funny enough, Mini-Tex recognizes the other cars on the road as cars though too.

As a mode of transportation, I LOVE the Nihola. For me, being able to lean over the handlebars and check in with Mini-Tex while riding is worth the extra money we paid over getting a cheaper cargo attachment for the back of the bike. The front holds at least a week’s worth of groceries in addition to our son. My personal favourite moment was when Tex arrived home with the bike packed to the gills with food. “Don’t worry” he assured me “I belted in the milk”. Tex had used the extra seat and Y-belt attachment to secure the 4 litre jug so it wouldn’t bounce around, hitting our son during the ride home.

There is one drawback to all the biking we’ve been doing. I was settling myself in for a relaxing hot bath when I looked down and realized there was more of me. I wasn’t pregnant, I hadn’t gained weight, but my thighs were HUUUUUUGE. “Tex!” I called from the bathtub, my voice panicked. My husband burst into the bathroom, shoe in hand, poised to obliterate the offending spider that had caused my scream. Upon a negative inspection for any insects he looked at me questioningly. “Are my thighs bigger?” I asked hoping for a no or at least a lie. “Ummmm, you could use a lower gear” my husband kindly suggested. So if you hear a giant rip tearing through cyberspace, don’t worry, your computer is fine, it’s just the sound of my shorts giving way. Aside from that, I’m enjoying our new lifestyle.

Onto the next bike; Tex pledged to ride 400 kilometers. This is the part of our accord that makes my heart swell with pride. As an avid pedestrian and experienced cyclist myself, I knew eschewing the car for other modes of transportation would be a breeze, but for my “man-van” loving husband, the dramatic change in lifestyle could be viewed as an inconvenient hurdle added to both sides of his long work day. True to his nature, when Tex decides to commit to an idea, he jumps in with both feet. The last I checked, his odometer read 196 kilometers, well on the way to 400 before the end of October, and this is in addition to the 30 kilometers my husband put on my bike, riding back and forth to work while he was servicing his ride. At his job, he’s being called “The New Alex”, a former coworker who rode through rain, sleet and snow. Tex loves the recognition and the extra workout as he’s dropped ten pounds in a month. In summary, the biking aspect of our agreement is going swimmingly… er bikingly?

Cutting down our usage of the van was another section of the accord that I anticipated being a challenge for Tex. Often for our jobs, especially Tex’s, we are required to make the 700 kilometer round trip commute from our town in the middle of nowhere, to the nearest metropolis. With a goal of driving only 15,000 kilometers in a year, those types of trips add up fast. Tex quickly recognized this and started investigating opportunities to carpool. In addition to already carpooling to the metropolis twice, Tex took the bus when he was in the big city. His enthusiasm and willingness to search for alternatives means of transportation have impressed me immensely and made my heart swell with pride. It makes me feel hopeful for what our family will accomplish in the coming months and hopefully years.

In terms of our consumption of goods and foods, publishing the post “Trump is Not Your Tragedy: Make Your Own Paris Accord”, expressed my thoughts and feelings about the environment and my personal goals to my extended family. It’s opened up discussions and I feel like my choices are better understood and respected, whereas before my family might have brushed them off as “Unwashed’s silly hippie-isms”.

Personally, I’ve been searching for ways to use more local products and to cut down on packaged goods. Unfortunately most of our packaged food comes from Mini-Tex’s snacks. So I’ve been baking up a storm, and then watching as Mini-Tex crumbles the healthy mini muffins in his toddler fist, throws the crumbs on the floor and then asks earnestly for “fish, fish”. As I have no interest in watching my son starve to death or return to exclusively breastfeeding (an option he would love), so I cave and hand him some of Pepperidge Farm’s best.

We still have a number of changes on our radar. Tex discovered a local flour mill, so we’ll be biking there in the near future. I heard through the grape vine that a farmer around here has local eggs so I’ll be following that trail as well. Tex is also contemplating applying for an elk tag, which would provide us with lots of local red meat that has a significantly lower carbon footprint than cattle because the animals exist naturally in the wild.

So that’s where we are. Do any of those points inspire ideas in your family? Are you enjoying biking or walking in this beautiful summer weather? Do you have any green suggestions for us?

Trump is Not a Tragedy: Sign Your Own Paris Accord

The United States has backed out of the Paris Accord. Not surprising given their president’s world views. Rather than calling this event an environmental tragedy, take the situation for what it is- an opportunity. This is a chance to open up a discussion about climate change, the environment and consumption with your family, friends and children, because ultimately, nothing has changed.

The people still hold all the power. With every product you purchase, with every watt, kilojoule or BTU of energy you use, you are voting. In buying shampoo, you’re saying “Hell Yeah!” to Proctor and Gamble, each time you drive your car, it’s a message to Exxon “Keep up the good work” and by charging your phone, depending on where you live, it’s like slapping a small invisible bumper sticker to your tush that says “What’s that lovely smell? It’s natural gas”.

Each person votes hundreds of times a day. The power remains with you, meaning that every single person has the ability to enact change. The take home message of climate change and the Paris Accord is this: we need to change how much we are consuming and what we are consuming. Both of those are hard truths to hear and even more difficult truths to act upon.

My aunt bought me a book for Christmas “The Reader’s Digest Guide to Life”. The book’s cover advertised that it contained instructions on “How to actually save the planet!” or some other such nonsense like that. For the record, Reader’s Digest would like you all to turn down your thermostats and locate a nearby farmer’s market. Unfortunately, as a planet, we’re past that point. But the issue is, no one wants to surrender the keys to their car.

As someone who sold their vehicle and lived car-free, I’ll tell you honestly that giving up your vehicle is limiting and complicates your life. But it’s what our planet needs. I’ll also share that two years after I junked my truck, I bought a van. The caveat here is- I don’t drive my van. Mostly I walk and I bike, on the rare occasions that neither of those forms of transportation will cut it, I hop in my car. For the past four years, my feet and my mountain bike have been my preferred form of transportation.

Tex on the other hand is a different story. He’s a cowboy which means he loves his “Man Van” and chose almost exclusively to drive the 2km to work and home last year. But the combination of watching National Geographic’s “Before the Flood” and Trump’s exit from the Paris Accord struck an unhappy note in him. It sparked a series of discussions in our house about the use of fossil fuels, the necessity of alternate forms of energy and our personal responsibility.

Last night, Tex and I signed our personal Paris Accord. As an engineer, the need for different sources of energy resonated with Tex. For myself, the question is always “How can we use less?” Together, we came up with the following agreement.

Paris Accord: The Family Edition- Goals for 2017 to 2018

  1. Put 1,000 kilometers on our cargo trike

Previously, my walking distance was under 5 kilometers, but with the arrival of our son, that became too far to go by foot. Acquiring a cargo trike opened up a world of locations that had previously only been accessible by car. We purchased the trike in lieu of buying a second vehicle. Our initial goal of 500 kilometers for the year seemed low given that the odometer ticked over to 300 yesterday. It’s been amazing how quickly trips to the grocery store and the local playplace have added up. I’ll share our tally in December.

  1. 400 kilometers on Tex’s bike

This goal made me so proud of my husband. Tex is not a morning person and allotting extra time to bike in the morning will be a challenge for him. This number represents Tex biking to and from work 100 times. Wish him luck.

  1. Reduce the distance we drive our van by 6,000 kilometers

This goal will be our biggest challenge; an unfortunate consequence of living in the middle of nowhere is that it is a very, very long drive to anything beyond basic amenities, family or programs. The average family puts 20,000 kilometers on their vehicle each year, so we would be cutting our emissions by more than a quarter. I’ll let you know how we fare.

  1. Tex will invest $10,000 in solar panels

This week, Tex discovered that in the next province over, where his family farm is located, the majority of the energy comes from oil and natural gas whereas our province is powered by dams up north. Through investing this amount in solar panels for the farm, Tex will prevent 4.6 metric tonnes of carbon emissions in addition to the 5% payback we will receive each year from the energy generated by the panels. This is equal to the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by driving a car 17,600 km or flying a family of four round trip to Europe.

  1. “Car free days” will be rewarded with $5 contributions to a fund for additional solar panels.

Five dollars a day adds up quickly, and rather than taxing our van’s use, I wanted to incentivize Tex’s newfound passion for cycling. This goal will show whether his excitement for solar panels is lasting.

 

There were a number of other obvious goals which didn’t make our family Paris Accord because they are easier changes or we had previously enacted them.

  • Less travel – we will not be flying for pleasure this year, instead we’ll be investing that money and then some into renewable energy.
  • Less beef – this one is a challenge given that Tex’s family are ranchers. We decided to halve our beef consumption to start.
  • Local food – I mentioned the family farm which is where a large percentage of our produce comes from.

Being in a family of two working professionals, Tex and I are afforded greater freedom with respect to what we can invest in alternative energy. But everyone, no matter their means can have a sizeable environmental impact by choosing to walk or bike or reducing their meat consumption. For our family, this agreement was a way of truly committing to reducing climate change by changing both how much and the kind of energy we consume.

For myself, the financial investment was and will be the aspect that I struggle with most. For Tex, the change in driving habits will present the most difficulty. Change isn’t easy, financial investment isn’t easy and sticking to it is the hardest part. But as citizens of planet earth we can personally choose to say “No” and in doing so, we will change the world. So my question to you is – What kind of Paris Accord could your family sign?

 

What small steps could you take? Transportation is where the majority of a person’s carbon footprint comes from- flying and driving are rough on our environment. When I began my green journey four years ago, I set a goal of walking or taking the bus to work once a week and my goals snowballed from there. Start small and keep challenging yourself.

 

How can you say “No”? While my brother in-law won’t be thrilled about our partial beef embargo, to me, this was a small, easy change to make. Focus on simple changes.

 

Learn more. Read green biographies, David Suzuki is fronting a movement for change. You can find him and his foundation here: http://www.davidsuzuki.org/

 

If you agree with our thoughts, press “Like”. If you think creating your own Paris Accord is a good idea press “Share” and if you want to change the world, make your own Paris Accord and tell us about it in the comments.

I can’t wait to hear your thoughts, I bet they’re good ones.

All of the Words That Go Unsaid

My sister is the inspiration for this series of posts which will be a departure from my normal humour. During the brief period that she tweeted, Diana expressed multiple times that our Granddad was her favourite person. Immediately after the first time she tweeted this, her next tweet was “How do you tell a person that?” My answer- you just do.

In these next couple of posts, I want to communicate the love and gratitude I feel towards my grandparents. I’ve chosen this particular set of people in my life because at thirty-one, I know I’m running on borrowed time. I’m one of the few people my age with no less than three living grandparents and I recognize how precious and special that is. So without further ado, let’s start with my sister’s favourite person.

Granddad, this post could have been entitled all of the words that go unheard. I love you, even though my voice falls within the exact range of hearing that you’ve lost. I love you even though since you’ve gone deaf, you can’t hear my stories any more. I love you because you are the one who molded me into a storyteller. You’re the reason this blog and all of my ridiculous anecdotes exist. I learned the craft of humour and exaggeration, of careful weaving of details while sitting at the dinner table listening to you talk about gypsy children in Europe. I learned that stories change over time and become better, hyperboles grow and become their own parts of the tale; the bear that the gypsy children led around became more ferocious. You taught me the power in confessing one’s own follies, your frantic gestures conveying your panic as you reenacted tossing coins at the begging children and their “pet”. From you, I learned that every problem is an adventure, and every adventure a story and the bumps along the way only serve to make the narrative more engaging.

Since you lost your hearing, you can’t hear my stories now, but that doesn’t matter because I’m still listening to you. Just as you taught Diana and I to do, because each time you gently beckoned “Come here, I want to show you something”, although the tone was light, it was understood that we were to come now and listen carefully while we were at it. You are teased, somewhat unmercifully for this habit, but even when those explanations meant that my math homework took 80% longer because my Granddad had to explain how nautical miles were calculated even though it was a basic subtraction question which had nothing to do with the speed of ships and had merely mentioned the terminology, I still loved every minute of it. I adored your descriptions of each ingredient’s function in a loaf of bread as you carefully added the warm water, then the salt, then the butter to your delicious dough. Try as I might, my bread is never as tasty as yours.

All of those lessons are ingrained in Diana and me. Every time I mount my bike, I relive your lectures on bike safety; “Let me show you something” pointing to the various road signs, explaining their meaning. It was you and Gran who decided that eight was too old to be riding with training wheels anymore, so the two of you spirited Diana and I away for a weekend, then spent forty-eight hours gripping the backs of our bike seats, running behind us. Not to mention the countless rides we made as a family; you, Gran, Mom, Diana and I traveling along a path towards a picnic spot. To this day, I still hear your voice shouting at me as I approach a hill “Gear down”! Gear Down!” Is it any wonder that I prefer my silver Trek bicycle that you chose for me to a car any day?

I never learned how to dance well, but that didn’t prevent me from delighting in your and Gran’s skill each time that I watched the two of you dance together in the living room, the garage, at the Coyote Cave, or on television when Mom would painstakingly set the VCR to record “Club Dance”. I felt so special and grown up, attempting the steps you would repeat as we moved across the dance floor. I sometimes joke that “Baby Likes To Rock It Like A Boogie-Woogie Choo Choo Train” is the soundtrack of my childhood because I heard it so often. That lesson of life long activity and dedication to one’s passions has stayed with me.

Granddad, I love you, and you are one of my favourite people in the world for all the reasons I mentioned and hundreds more. And even though my son bearing your name probably tipped you off to that, I still wanted to write these words, because you are important; I am so grateful and blessed that you chose to take such an active role in my life.

The Summer of My Amazing Luck

I broke another bicycle. Well actually if we’re being specific I broke three bicycles. With the latest bike, the chain got caught in between the gears and the frame. This of course occurred at the most opportune moment; in the middle of the night in the pouring rain. After trying in vain to fix it and covering myself in bicycle grease up to the elbows, I concluded I needed help, or at the very least a Kleenex. So I walked home.

Or perhaps a paper towel. (Photo Credit: andreafrazetta.com)

Or perhaps a paper towel. (Photo Credit: andreafrazetta.com)

The next day, for the third time during the program, I diligently walked the bicycle back to the home of the man who rented it to me. Tragically the man wasn’t home, however his wife was, she was prepared to lend me my fourth bicycle in four weeks. But then another student with more skills than either of us, swooped in and saved the day. And off I rode. Ostensibly happily ever after into the sunset.

I looked exactly like this. Only I didn't have a horse, or cowboy boots and I don't own a lasso. And my bike made "SCCCCREEEEEE" noises every time I changed gears which marred the fairy tale vibe. (Photo Credit: iamtemp.tumblr.com)

I looked exactly like this. Only I didn’t have a horse, or cowboy boots, also I don’t own a lasso. And my bike made “SCCCCREEEEEE” noises every time I changed gears which marred the fairy tale vibe. (Photo Credit: iamtemp.tumblr.com)

Only not really, because I got a flat tire two days later. For the record this was my third flat tire. I’m not entirely sure what is causing this problem. I wish I could tell you I was performing derring-dos on my two wheelers

I take curb jumping to a new level. (Photo Credit: tumblr.com)

I take curb jumping to a new level. (Photo Credit: tumblr.com)

but the more likely explanation is that I’m a magnet for nails and other sharp objects. Once again I wheeled my bicycle back to the garage of the owners, this time expecting some sort of speech about proper treatment of bicycles. Fortunately they merely gave me yet another bicycle. As soon as I hopped on the new bicycle, the handle bars fell forward and nearly off.  Rushing towards me with a screwdriver in hand the bicycle lender said “I’ll just fix that for you”.

Of course, two hours later the handles were flopping about like a fish on the bottom of a boat while I peddled along. Given that I could still ride the bike, I decided to just live with the wiggly steering.

I Stole a Bike, So the Police Called My Mom

Not my actual Mom thankfully, the police telephoned Tasia* the mother of the family I’m staying with. Had the police telephoned my real mother in Ontario, she would have told them to keep me in jail for a couple of nights then refused to pay my bail. My mother believes in natural consequences and doing hard time.

Getting back to my story, in the small Quebecois town where I’m currently living, the preferred method of transportation is biking. Thus at the beginning of the immersion program, all of the students dutifully marched to the house of a man who owns sixty some odd bicycles. Tragically he does not believe in repairing his stock, instead he gives a ten percent discount if the breaks don’t work and the advice to “be careful on hills”. The proprietor maintains that having a bicycle is the most important thing, regardless of whether it sounds like a maraca filled with screws when you peddle or if it fits.

 Proprietor “A perfect fit! It’s a good bike” (Photo Credit : circusnospin.blogspot.com)

Proprietor “A perfect fit! It’s a good bike” (Photo Credit : circusnospin.blogspot.com)

 

For the second time during my stay here, I had to return my bike to him to receive a new inner tube. Instead of staying while he completed the repair, I asked whether I could borrow another bicycle for the day. He said “yes”. Having seen a tall guy hunched over a bike for a ten year old, looking like the bear in the picture above minus the fur, I quickly grabbed the nearest two wheeler and stated “This one works” before the owner could choose a bike for me.

 

Owner “Ah yes, a good size, you are small, the bike is small. Be careful on hills” (Photo Credit : www.dropthebeatonit.com)

Owner “Ah yes, a good size, you are small, the bike is small. Be careful on hills” (Photo Credit : http://www.dropthebeatonit.com)

The bike ended up being much too large, I flew back to the house of my host family, doing an impression of a starfish the whole way with my legs fully extended to reach the pedals and my flimsy pipecleaner arms stretched as far as they could go so my fingers just grazed the handlebars. Toppling sideways off of the enormous bicycle, I walked up the stairs to the house. Tasia, the mother of my host family greeted me “The bike owner just called. He accidently lent you his son’s bicycle. You have to return it.”

I have no doubt that had the bicycle owner not reached my host, the police would have been the next call. “One of the girls staying with Tasia took my son’s bicycle. I can’t reach Tasia, go find her.” It’s a small town, there’s not a whole lot else the police force has to do.

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of people who chose not to hand me over to the fuzz.