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.

Death By Frozen Tundra

We’ve had cold weather warnings all week here in Canadatown. However this has not stopped me from walking to my beloved haunts like the library and campus. It has meant that I look like a larger, fabric laden version of myself; suiting up in no less than five layers up top and a minimum of two on the bottom.

Do they still count as kankles if I made them by tucking my pants into my socks?

Do they still count as kankles if I made them by tucking my pants into my socks?

Having walked in negative twenty degree temperatures for an hour several times recently, I concluded that today was the perfect day to drag someone who once called himself my friend (possibly no longer) into the wretched, frozen wilderness with me. So off we headed to the local park.

I insisted that we go to the beach. Because it’s January, and who doesn’t love the beach in January?

What we found was this.

I'm standing where the water line was in the summer. In the distance are the ice hills. I enjoy my rotundness.

I’m standing where the water line was in the summer. In the distance are the ice hills. I enjoy my rotundness.

In the summer months the water line began about fifteen feet from the dunes. As a result of this unusually cold winter, the waves have been freezing as they crash against the shore, forming a moonscape made of porous ice mixed with sand. It was stunning. It was rugged. It was so slippery I was reduced to bumbogganing at points. This sounds uncomfortable but I had a far easier time of it than Gordy what with my ample bottom being cushioned by three pairs of pants.photo 2

Initially I was hesitant to climb over the craggy surface, fearing that at any moment the ice would crack and the two of us would plunge into the lake. Luckily Gordy was all “To heck with safety!” and made a beeline for the sandy ice hills.

I followed after him, making sure to listen for sounds of the ice breaking and stepping exactly in his footsteps.

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of vulnerable possibly mentally incapacitated persons. Because those in possession of all of their faculties would not have spent the day wandering about in foot high drifts and exploring ice mountains. Either that or I have a nice friend who didn’t want me doing this alone.

The Recipe For An Awesome Summer: Me and Grandpa’s Underpants

I have an intimate and unintentional relationship with my grandfather’s boxer briefs.

I must preface this story with the following comments. My paternal grandmother grew up during the Great Depression. It was a difficult period in Canada’s history but the people were resourceful and used objects eight different ways until the item disintegrated into dust. And then they made decorative wall hangings out of the dust.

My grandmother never lost this resourcefulness; she was often seen dumpster diving around the neighbourhood for useful items that people had carelessly discarded. She would then give the furniture new life by stripping and recovering it. I’ve always admired my Grandma’s remarkable ability to use items in every imaginable way. My concern for the environment and limiting the amount of material waste I produce comes from watching my grandmother create wonderful pieces from reclaimed furniture.

This was how I ended up staining an oak chest in my grandparent’s basement one summer. I had covered the cost of the stain and the chest but my grandmother had kindly offered to provide the rest of the materials which included masks, gloves and rags.

“Thanks Grandma for helping me.” I said as we worked the stain into the wood.

“Oh you’re welcome dear.” She replied kindly. Glancing over at my work my grandmother commented “You’re going to need to use a new rag that one has to be changed.”

Looking at the stain saturated cloth in my hand I hesitated “Grandma, I don’t want to use all of your rags.”

“Oh don’t worry dear, Grandpa’s old underwear has lots of uses.”

English: I put some boxers in the floor

I don’t want to know the other uses.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If I hadn’t been wearing a mask my grandmother would have seen my mouth drop open in horror and disbelief. I stared at my hand which would now always be the hand that had touched Grandpa’s underwear. No longer did I have a left and right hand, for years after this I would have my right hand and the Grandpa’s underwear hand. Writing was quite difficult in grade eight as I had previously been a lefty. Also I lost the “Best Summer Contest” on the first day back at school that year.