Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Vancouver Christmas Market 2018 Tips

Bring a little European flavour to your holiday season at the Vancouver Christmas Market. If you've still got a long way to go on your Christmas list, shopping at the market is so much more enjoyable than the mall. Who wouldn't love being able to sip hot mulled wine--aka Gl├╝hwein or the brandy-spiked version, Feuerzangenbowle--while you peruse the shops??

Here are my top tips for this year's Vancouver Christmas Market:

  1. Ich bin ein Berliner! If you're a bit peckish, don't pass by the Berliners at the Schnappsl Kaffee Haus. These beautiful jelly doughnuts are fluffy, not too sweet, but still crammed with a good amount of delicious strawberry or apricot jam so you get a little in every bite. 
  2. Oh the weather outside is frightful... If the weather is a bit wet or cold when you go, remember there's the Alpine Lounge: a large heated & covered area at the north end of the market with benches & tables where you can warm up a bit with hot drinks & a wurst or some raclette.
  3. FREE fun for the whole family. If you're bringing kids with you, bring them to the new heated Kinder Kraft Igloo for them to make snowflakes, decorations & colour to their heart's content, as well as a scavenger hunt activity which earns a free carousel ride if you get all the stamps! 
  4. Selfie your heart out! If you're an Instagram addict, be sure to charge your phone ahead of time--there are tonnes of great spots for photos all throughout the market, inside the huge walk-in Christmas tree & the tunnel of lights. There are lights & decorations everywhere you look--it's honestly hard to find a spot without a cute seasonal backdrop. 
  5. Getting there. I recommend taking transit or biking to the market, though pay parking is easily available in nearby lots. The market is close to Burrard & Waterfront Skytrain stations, as well as bus routes 22, 19 & anything that goes down Granville to Hastings. Biking to the market is easy--the seawall connects with it from the west, or the Hornby protected bike lane from the south (with a jog at Hastings over to the lane on Burrard) There is well-lit bike parking outside the busy lobby of the Shaw Tower across the street from the Vancouver Christmas Market.

The Vancouver Christmas Market is open daily from 11:30am to 9:30pm until December 23, then 11:30am to 6pm on December 24. It's located at Jack Poole Plaza, 1055 Canada Place (home of the Olympic Cauldron) in beautiful downtown Vancouver. Admission is $5-10 per person, which gets you a season's pass, so you can go back again for free!

Disclaimer: I received free admission, drink, & food at the family media night to facilitate this review. I was not otherwise compensated for writing this review.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2018

12 Holiday Activities to Bike to in Vancouver *2018 Update*

The holiday season is already here! Sadly, this year got a bit derailed by a concussion in October, but I'm recovering well & getting back to normal activities. Here's my update of  12 holiday activities to bike to in Vancouver.

Tall enough for Flyover Canada!
I try to focus on the fun activities & family time when our family celebrates Christmas, & not so much on the gifts. They're also at the age where they're really into Christmas & both still believe in the magic, but I know (le sigh) that won't last for much longer. So I'm determined to make the most of the magic this year & take advantage of the many holiday events right here in our backyard.

While I was compiling a list of activities that we want to go to or have gone to in the past, I thought I'd share it with you too. Since we mainly get around by bike, I have kept this list to places that are within Vancouver city limits, generally less than a 30-minute ride from home for us. Most of these locations also feature rockstar parking for cyclists--there are generally racks right by the front entrance so you don't have to pay for car parking or dodge SUVs in the parking lot as you walk to the event with your small children in tow! Bonus: more than half the events in my list are free to attend!
The kids love the Christmas Market carousel

  1. Scuba Claus at Vancouver Aquarium The aquarium is fun any time of the year, but it's even more exciting during the holidays. Spot Scuba Claus in with the fish & catch an interactive version of the holiday classic, Rudolph, in the 4D theatre. Stanley Park is easy to get to via the seawall & several of the bikeways through downtown.
  2. VanDusen Festival of Lights  get your VanDusen tickets online here to save money & skip the lineup. Bike up Heather or take the 37th Avenue bikeway.
  3. Bright Nights Christmas Train is on for the 20th year, raising money for the Firefighters Burn Fund. If you don't necessarily want to pay & line up to ride the train, you can always just wander around the lights display with some hot roasted chestnuts or popcorn from the vendors there.
  4. Bike the Lights! There are quite a few neighbourhoods in the city that vie for the title of best decorated during the holiday season. Keep an eye out on your travels & plan a route near home that takes you through the twinkling lights. Or check out Family Fun Canada's fairly exhaustive list of locations that have good lights displays. PS: though the Trinity Street Lights Festival officially ended, the neighbourhood still goes all out with their lights & decoration displays. 
  5. Visiting Santa at Oakridge I love looking back at every year's Santa photo & it was something I grew up doing, so we've continued the tradition with our kids. Photo package details & pricing are here. The absolute best Santa is the one at Oakridge Mall. Besides the fact that he's a family friend, he ranks on the lists of best Santas every year from many other families in the city. Oakridge also offers Quiet Days with Santa, a more sensory-friendly event for kids who may get overwhelmed by all the lights & noise.
  6. Vancouver Christmas Market Taste a little bit of Germany, right in the heart of downtown Vancouver, in Jack Poole Plaza. The market has been part of our holiday tradition since its inception--eight years now, I believe. It's easy to bike to along the protected lanes downtown & there are usually racks available at a nearby building. Stay tuned: I'll be writing a more complete review of this year's market soon!
  7. Holiday Heights at Bloedel Conservatory is a fun newish event. The view is fantastic from the ferris wheel there & you can warm up inside the tropical paradise of the dome afterward. It's a bit of a hill to bike up, but if the roads aren't slippery, it's doable.
  8. Robson Square Ice Skating is free, skate rentals are $4. In contrast to my childhood, where I swear I spent several hours a week on ice skates, my children have barely skated. I play to remedy that downtown at Robson Square this year.
  9. Christmas at Flyover Canada. We were finally all tall enough to try this out (kids need to be 40"/102cm tall to ride) & wow, was it exhilarating! If you've been to a 4D theatre before, this is one step further, with seats that are lifted off the floor & move around during the show. Plus, until the end of the year, BC residents get 25% off tickets!
  10. Christmas at Canada Place Woodwards is long gone, but the holiday window displays live on, inside the halls of Canada Place! It's nostalgic good fun & it's free.
  11. Get your Christmas tree by bike! There are many local tree lots around the city, there's probably one not far from you. You can carry your tree attached to a cargo bike fairly easily (you can rent one at Reckless to try this out), or in a child trailer, or if it's relatively small, you may be able to attach it to a regular bike. For inspiration, Instagram is full of photos of people getting trees home by bike right now.
  12. Linny meeting Scuba Claus in 2012
  13. The Winter Solstice Lantern Festival put on by the Secret Lantern Society is celebrating its 25th year with fire performances & beautiful installations in Yaletown, Strathcona, Granville Island, & Chinatown on December 21st. 

Are there any other fun events in the City of Vancouver that you love to bike to? Let us know in the comments!

Also: if you're interested in biking with us & other local families to some of these events, join the Vancouver Family Biking Facebook Group--we may post some organized group rides there or you can let people know you're heading out & informally meet up along the way. Nothing more fun than a little "bike parade" of families riding!

One of the homes along Trinity Street several years ago

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Saturday, October 20, 2018

Be Green & Save Some Green on Electric Vehicle Modo Bookings

With a folding bike, there are literally DOZENS of Modo vehicles within 10 minutes of home
Confession time: I've been a Modo member for over 15 years now, but I've never actually tried one of the plug-in electric vehicles in the fleet. I've driven hybrids over the years & a vast array of the gas-powered vehicles in the Modo fleet, but never an actual, proper EV. So when I heard that I can save 10% on booking Modo electric vehicles (EVs) until end of this year (December 31), I figured it was as good a time as any!

The kids are excited to try out an EV for the first time
I popped over to the Modo website & searched for EVs using the 'required features' filter. The City Hall Nissan Leaf was available--perfect--it's an 8-minute bike ride from home. We booked the car to go to our family's Thanksgiving gathering at a restaurant in Burnaby. Not impossible to bus or bike to, but a lot faster & more comfortable in a car, plus we could run a (heavy) errand on our way home.

In a flurry of getting all four of us dressed & presentable, I forgot to do any research on the car. After a decade & a half of driving literally dozens of different types of cars, I'm pretty comfortable with the quirks of each vehicle, like which side the gas flap is on, where the emergency brake is, how to get the trunk/back hatch open or if it needs to be manually unlocked, etc.

Family selfie time! 
When I arrived at the Leaf on my Brompton, I quickly fobbed into the car, folded up my bike & stashed it in the back. Next, to unplug the car. I pushed the button on the beefy EV plug & stuck it back into the charging station. The charging hatch latches closed automatically... but I wasn't sure how I'd get it open again. Decided to deal with that later.

I hopped into the car & yep, it still throws me off that there's no key, but a button to turn the car on. After poking that a few times & fiddling with what I realized was the e-brake in the console, I double checked the display on the dash to make sure the e-brake was off (it was) & the little nub of a "gear shifter" had me in drive mode (it did). I headed back to the house to load up the booster seats & children.

Lots of space for toting large, festive vegetables around!
Driving a hybrid is an experience the first time--the vehicle seems so quiet as you're leaving the parking space, but it still feels more like a regular fossil-fuel-burning car than an EV. With the Leaf, it took me most of the drive home to get used to the silent gliding feeling. Driving this EV reminded me of one of the things I love most about biking at night or in quiet trails. The silence, that feeling of slipping unnoticed through your environment. Driving the Leaf was the closest I've come to that feeling in a car.

When I got home & the kids came out of the house to see which Modo we were driving that day, they were impressed that it was all electric. After setting up their booster seats, we realized the back of the car is actually roomier than you'd expect for a family of four.

One thing of note about this Leaf, which is a 2011, is that it has a relatively small range. When I started the car, it showed a 99km, which was more than enough, as we were only going about 30km.  However, the range started dropping fairly fast as we were driving through the city & read 55km at one point. It does go back up a little from regenerative braking, but we seemed to be using battery capacity at faster than the distance we were actually driving.

Plugging in an EV is easier than getting gas!
After our dinner we headed to pick up some pumpkins for Halloween, then home. The little Leaf is super easy to park. Once we unloaded the children, pumpkins, & booster seats at home, I headed off with my Brompton to return the car. When I arrived at the parking spot, I pulled open the car details on the Modo app & took a look at this blog post for details on getting the charger flap open, using the charging account card (logically, this is stored where the gas card usually is). It took me maybe three minutes to sort it all out.

If you want to be more organized than I was & read up on some tips to using a Modo EV before you arrive at the vehicle, check out this video, or the aforementioned blog post.

Overall, I liked driving the Leaf & I'd be interested to try out one of the other EVs in the Modo fleet too, like the Prius at the Vancouver School Board location. By the way, Victoria & Kelowna also have EVs, a Kia Soul & another Leaf. All of them are 10% off until December 31. Check them out & save some green!

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Monday, October 1, 2018

My #HUB20 Spoke Up Presentation: Biking Down Barriers

HUB Cycling is 20 years old! To celebrate, they organized a fun evening of inspirational speakers... including me! In case you missed it, here's my speaking notes & images from my presentation.

Biking on my street 7 years old. Photo by Stanley Jenkins.
I'm going to go out on a limb & assume that everyone in this room knows the value of cycling to connect people to each other, to their city, to nature, to their own bodies. The value to public health & transportation. We know the joy of feeling the wind in our hair, the exhilaration of leaning into a curve, the empowerment of pedalling ourselves & our gear & sometimes our children on a camping trip.

But when I look around at the schools where I teach, at the family biking workshops I've led, in conversation with friends, family & strangers, I realize that joy, that exhilaration, the empowerment isn't available to everyone. I'll admit, this isn't something I really thought about a lot until I started struggling with mobility myself.

I fell in love with cycling when I was little & it’s been a lifelong relationship. In my 20s, biking, along with occasional car sharing & transit, became how I get around. It has been for most of my adult life & I didn’t see any reason to change that after starting a family. In 2010, my son was born & the following spring we joined the family biking world.

Biking at 39 weeks pregnant.
In 2013 I was pregnant again, & walking started to get really uncomfortable. I felt like my pelvis was going to fall apart if I walked across the street, but sitting on a bike saddle, I was fine. My bike became a mobility device. Biking was easier than walking, so I rode right up to the day before I went into labour with my daughter.

After my daughter was born, I had increasing pain when walking & standing. My hip had been sore on & off for years, but never this bad. Finally, I got X-rays & just before I turned 40 I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis. This was a bit of a blow to hear the words “progressive” & “degenerative” applied to my body, & that the “cure” is total hip replacement surgery.

At Robson Park. Photo by Melissa Bruntlett.
My doctor sent me to a physiotherapist at the Osteoarthritis Clinic at VGH where I was fitted for a cane, & learned what sort of physical accommodations I should start thinking about.

I was really struggling with the idea that this wasn’t just a temporary injury, but a long-term disability. I was also struggling to walk across busy streets with two small children while using a cane.

But I could still bike! Eventually, I stopped walking farther than a block or two--I'd just bike instead. It’s way easier to get my groceries home, carry my kids around safely, & it makes me feel a lot happier than driving in city traffic. I still feel strong, I can still be physically active, I can still get that feeling of empowerment when I arrive somewhere under my own steam. (quick aside here--not throwing shade on ebike users--I still consider pedal assist to be under your own steam!)

Biking has done a lot for me--when my doctor recommended I lose weight to help reduce pressure on my hip joint, biking was how I did that. Biking keeps those endorphins flowing & helps me manage the pain of my osteoarthritis, so I've used my cane very little except in winter the last couple of years.

Tonya & I at the first Family Bike Fest. Photo by Tom Wiebe.
As an advocate, an educator, an organizer, I believe my role is to help break down the barriers that stop people from biking. As does my friend, Tonya, who I met on a group bike ride. Over many cups of tea, we talked about how hard it can be for families to find reliable information or actually test ride the gear when they want to start biking with their babies & little kids.

These conversations turned into to Vancouver Foundation grant applications & we organized two Family Biking Festivals as well as a series of workshops on family biking. I also started promoting the Vancouver Family Biking Facebook group more & I'm proud to say it's grown from about three dozen people back in 2015, to a consistently supportive, active community of over 1300 members & a great place to crowdsource information.

Vancouver Family Biking Facebook Group.
It was Vancouver Family Biking members I turned to last year when I heard about a Syrian refugee family who needed a way to carry their youngest child while biking. They'd been given bicycles for the other members of the family, but couldn't bring their youngest child with them without a seat or trailer. Staff at the Mount Pleasant Family Centre Society asked if I had any ideas & within an HOUR, I connected them with a  Vancouver Family Biking member who donated her child trailer. With seven children, most of whom have to pay bus fare, the math just doesn’t make sense for a low-income newcomer family to get around the city. Biking means affordable mobility for them.

There's a perception out there that cycling is only for the able bodied & healthy. The vast majority of those cyclists you might see from your car as you drive along the busy arterial roads do tend to be able-bodied men. Of course, those of us riding along the seawall & the quiet bikeways see another story.

Accessible cycling: boy using adaptive bike, woman riding electric assist trike, senior passenger on the duet bike.
We see the elderly woman riding the tricycle with her crutches in the back. We ride with our friend to the BC Cancer Agency to get her test results. We see a woman with a prosthetic leg zipping over the Cambie bridge bike lane. Or there's me, biking to an appointment at the osteoarthritis clinic. People with disabilities are a small part of the cycling population, but we exist. We need all you “healthy cyclists” to help amplify our voices, particularly in the municipal election campaigns when bike lanes get thrown around like a hot potato.

Of course, disability is not only about physical mobility. As a cycling instructor, I get to go into schools all over Metro Vancouver & meet kids who are usually pretty excited about riding their bikes instead of sitting in math class. But some of them aren't. In the past couple of years, I've learned to look for those wary faces, the uncertain faces. Sometimes it's just that they haven't learned to ride a bike yet. But often the barriers are invisible disabilities.

Kids biking in schoolyard.
As the parent of an autistic child, when I get into the classroom, I look for these kids. Like Jason, during the first day of the program I was teaching at his school in Maple Ridge, I found out that he hadn't yet learned how to ride a bike. I let him know that we would bring balance bikes & give him a chance to learn during the program, but he wasn't terribly enthusiastic about it. I was worried that he wasn't going to participate at all. The next day I saw him, I spoke to him again & discovered that he was self-conscious about his classmates watching him while he was learning to ride. So I explained that he & his teacher could go anywhere on the school ground that he liked if he wanted some privacy. I was thrilled to see him move from the balance bike to a regular pedal bike & I got to watch Jason ride across the schoolyard with his classmates cheering him on.

I get great joy out of helping people break down barriers that stop them from biking. I love learning about all the resources that are out there, like Our Community Bikes & Kickstand, The Bike Host Program, The Buddy Up Tandem Cycling Club, the Vancity Mobi Community Pass & many more, so I can connect people with them.

Linny biking the seawall; Bronte biking to the library.
I’ve learned so much along the way from my own children, from Jason & all the other people & families with diverse needs that I’ve met in classrooms, board rooms, community centres, & parking lots where I teach. I try to plan & anticipate their needs as much as I can, but mostly I’ve learned to watch & listen. Ask questions so I can address their needs in a way that works for them. & keep asking. Keep inviting them to bike down those barriers.

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