Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Blind Beginnings Buddy-Up Tandem Cycling Club--Volunteers needed!

Photo Credit: Wikrap Flickr via Compfight cc
I recently heard about a great program that's just starting up to get even more people biking: the Blind Beginnings Buddy-Up Tandem Cycling Club. The club will provide an opportunity for people who are blind or partially sighted in the Lower Mainland to participate in tandem cycling. The goal is to encourage people to get outdoors & active, while also providing opportunities for social connections within the community.

The Buddy-Up Tandem Cycling Club is the brainchild of three young people--Seerat, Randi, & Nika--who are part of the Blind Beginnings Youth Leadership Program. They attended the MEC Outdoor Nation “Think Outside” Summit in October 2017. The objective of the weekend was to encourage more young people to be active outside, with a focus on people who face barriers to participation in outdoor activities.

For two days the three engaged in workshops, networking events, & outdoor activities, all the while breaking down stereotypes & educating their peers on the capabilities of blind youth. The event culminated in  Seerat, Randi, & Nika, plus 36 other groups pitching their project ideas to a panel of judges. Their passionate & eloquent pitch reached a room of 80+ people & subsequently, the judges chose the Buddy-Up Tandem Cycling Club as one of the winning ideas. The three were awarded $5,000 to turn their dream into a reality!

So here's where you come in, my dear readers! Volunteers are needed to pedal, brake, & steer at the front of a tandem with visually impaired riders pedalling on the back, as stokers. The Blind Beginnings Buddy-Up Tandem Cycling Club is aiming to have their first ride on Sunday, May 6th. They will be hosting a pilot training session on May 5th from 10am-12pm in North Burnaby, as well as a mandatory volunteer orientation with Blind Beginnings on Saturday April 28th from 1-4pm at their office location (227 6th Street, New Westminster). They are looking for a commitment to ride regularly from May through the summer months.

Anyone interested in learning more & becoming a volunteer with Blind Beginnings Buddy Up Tandem Program should email or call Program Coordinator Lisa Odland: 
Phone: 604-434-7243 
Toll free: 1-866-736-8620 
Email: lisa@blindbeginnings.ca

For more information about their other programs, visit www.blindbeginnings.ca, or check them out on Facebook & Twitter.



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Sunday, April 15, 2018

Review: The People's Poncho

Vancouver is a rainy city, with about 150 to 200 days of rain per year. Since biking is how we get around the vast majority of the time, we need to have decent rain gear. I've gone through many many iterations of cycling rain gear over nearly two decades of biking for transportation. My current setup for most short rides--like the commute to school, or getting groceries--is a rain poncho & rain boots.

I'd been using the poncho I bought from The Bike Doctor several years ago, which did the job, but a few things about it annoyed me. I'd been looking online at Cleverhood as well as The People's Poncho & thinking of getting myself one for my birthday later this year. After a few conversations about the two brands, I'd settled on a People's Poncho, not the least because of the price.

The People's Poncho has a big, adjustable hood
I was surprised to get a FB message from Johnny, the guy behind The People's Poncho, offering me a free one. Wow! I headed over to pick it up at Sidesaddle Bikes, which is currently the only place you can get them in Vancouver. I can't say I usually look forward to rain, but I was eager to try this thing out! Then the temperatures dropped five or ten degrees below seasonal average, it snowed a crap tonne (for Vancouver), & I was more concerned about warmth & staying upright while riding.

Finally, a weeeeeek laterrrr, Raincouver was back to normal & I got to try out my new rain duds. First off, the poncho is a lot nicer to put on. Like my old poncho, the neck hole is still too small to pull on over a helmet. The People's Poncho is closed with snaps & has a waterproof gusset--no scratchy velcro like my old one that usually scraped my nose as I pulled it on--which sits nicely over a warm jacket & doesn't feel too snug at the neck.

The People's Poncho has a few biking specific features: loops under the front side to hold on your handlebars, an elastic waist belt to keep it from flying around in the wind, plus a large, adjustable hood that does fit over a helmet. I like the placement of the handlebar loops--they were easy to find "blind" under the poncho were just wide enough for my Bakfiets handlebars. They also sit well on the M-bars of my Brompton. One downside to the loops is that water does seep through the poncho onto my hands where the loops are stitched on. Of course, my hands are still a lot warmer & drier than when I use my rain coat, so I'm happy enough with a drip or two.

Poncho + cane = warm, dry hands
When I drape the poncho over my handlebars, I find it protects my legs down to about the knees. My rain boots are nearly that high, so I don't need rain pants for shorter rides or in lighter rain. This is a huge bonus for me--I hate taking off my rain pants when I get where I'm going. Soooo awkward! If it's windy the rain can blow in from the side from about mid thigh down, but I haven't really gotten damp enough to need to change my pants at my destination.

The belt on The People's Poncho is a little low for me, but I've got a hilariously short back & high waist--this poncho is a unisex fit & since the belt is elastic, I can usually keep it down over my hips well enough.

Unlike my old poncho, which was only for cycling (super awkward to walk around it because it was very long in front, while short at the back & didn't cover my arms) The People's Poncho works well for walking too. There are three snaps along the hem on each side to make it into "sleeves", plus the adjustable hood has a stiffened brim to help keep rain out of your face. Both pedestrians & cyclists can benefit from the reflective piping on the shoulders & hem of the poncho.

MOAR POCKETS
I could see myself using this poncho on a bike with the snaps done up in the summer, when the weather is warm enough not to care about getting my hands wet. I also used it while walking around the Woodland Park Zoo when we were visiting Seattle during Spring Break. My hip was sore that day so I was using my cane & found the poncho to be great for this--my hand stayed dry & a bit warmer, unlike with my trench coat.

My old poncho always stuck to my legs in the front, dripping water all over my shins. I like the length of The People's Poncho & the way it hangs kept me dry when I was walking to & from my bike or wandering around at the zoo. The shoulders are quite wide & rounded & the fabric is somewhat stiff, so it's not necessarily a very flattering fit. I also found that I still got damp shoulders, just as I had with my other poncho, but this is basically condensation from being slightly overdressed, not leaks. I am one of those people who always overdresses--I'd rather be sweaty than too cold! The People's Poncho is made of triple layer breathable membrane, with a waterproof rating of 12,000mm that consists of Japanese polyester, TPU coating, & tricot knit on the inside. Of course, no waterproof gear is really ever that breathable, so I'm not too concerned.

Rain insurance: the People's Poncho + gumboots
The People's Poncho has a pocket on the front of the chest with a waterproof zipper. It's not large enough to fit too much stuff, but do you really want a big lump of your possessions flapping around in front of your chest? For the minimalists among us, who hate bringing a bag or purse if at all possible (raises hand) this is handy for the bare essentials. Most of the times it's kept my phone nice & dry in there, but it did seem to leak once--not sure if the water got in through the zipper or possibly before.

The last thing to mention about this poncho is how compact it folds up. The People's Poncho comes with a small pouch that has a waist belt on it, so you can carry it over your shoulder, strap it to your bike, or wear it as a fanny pack. It's quite convenient to toss into a bag in case of rain.

The People's Poncho is $120 at Sidesaddle Bikes, & with shipping & the exchange rate will cost you about the same online. (hint, hint: support your local bike shop!) The poncho comes in five colours: yellow, red, navy, black, & camouflage.

Disclaimer: I received a free poncho from The People's Poncho to facilitate the review. I was not otherwise compensated for writing this piece. Opinions above are my own, technical specs come from the People's Poncho website.


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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Spring Break in Portland & Seattle

Heading out on our first day in PDX: Madi's Surly Big Dummy, Surly Straggler, & Brompton
Most (not all) of Madi's fleet. N+1...
During Spring break we headed down to Portland & Seattle to visit friends & ride All The Bikes. We chose to drive because we knew our kids might likely kill each other on the Bolt Bus & we weren't sure we could actually all get to the train station in time for a 6:30am departure. We very briefly considered bringing a bike or two, but because our friends Madi & Anny both have N+1 bike addictions collections like we do, we were well served by their fleets of kid-hauling machines.

Most of our conversations have been via social media, so it was awesome to spend time in real life with Madi & Anny. It was also fascinating to experience the cities by bike like a local. We only spent about four days in each city, but we did do quite a lot of riding & we got to see many different neighbourhoods.
The multi use path along the Willamette River in PDX



In both places, driving was incredibly stressful. The highways go right through the city (unlike here in Vancouver) so we had to navigate to an unfamiliar destination at 70 miles per hour, with highway exits on both sides (they're nearly always on the left here) & often involving multiple lanes. Other drivers were generally impatient & often speeding on both highways & arterial roads in the city, so it wasn't a great experience.

Drove to Tillamook & Cannon Beach for some fun in the sand & (chilly) sun
Biking & walking was another story entirely on the streets of Portland. The city has a reputation for being a cycling mecca, but I arrived with some healthy skepticism. I've heard criticisms that it is bike friendly, but mainly for more for assertive, confident riders. From our short trip there, I can say I didn't see much bike infrastructure that would qualify as AAA (appropriate for all ages & abilities, from children to seniors).

On the other hand, the drivers seemed to yield to people on bikes & walking a lot more often than we see here in Vancouver. We also saw a lot of people riding, particularly the closer we got to the core of the city. Perhaps it was because we were in a group with several (weird) bikes, but the drivers did seem generally fairly respectful towards more vulnerable road users.

We rode Madi's tandem to Trader Joe's--B loved being able to pedal
Got to meet Kath, another "virtual friend", in real life, in PDX
We took up most of the bike corall at Lantern Brewing
Seattle felt a lot more like home, with impatient drivers who seemed to feel that they "own" the roads demonstrating their attitude that we shouldn't be there on bikes. It's also a much hillier city than Vancouver, particularly the area where we were staying, so having electric assist seems a lot more common there among the family bikers we met. Which was quite a few--we ended up joining a group advocacy ride in favour of the protected bike lane on 35th Avenue with around 50 people. (More details about it here on the Safe 35th FB page)

Before you get the impression that I didn't like riding in Seattle, I should say that we really enjoyed it. In no small part because of how bike & kid-friendly the local craft breweries are. We visited four different places in Greenwood (Lantern, Flying Bike, Chuck's Hop Shop) & Ballard  (Populuxe Brewing), all of which had toys & books for small children, plus the expectation that you might bring in your own food (or buy it from the food truck or hot dog cart outside).

Ice cream for them, beer for us at Chuck's Hop Shop. Not a lot of space for kids, but they were welcome at this brewpub
Families were still arriving for the ride on 35th Ave
Having the opportunity to visit G & O Family Cyclery was another thing that made the trip awesome, but I think I'll have to save that for a whole other post, or this one will turn into a novel!

Gravel & shovels & random toys kept the kids busy at Populuxe Brewery
After we got home & I had a bit more time to think about the trip, I did think of a few things we'd do differently. It was a lot easier to leave on our own schedule with a rental car, but we didn't get there any faster than the train, since we had to stop for so many bathroom breaks & meals. We also waited for over an hour in the border line-up. The stress of navigating American freeways in a Canadian rental car with no miles per hour on the speedometer (we literally had to calculate how many kilometres per hour we were supposed to be driving every time it changed).

Overall it was a great vacation & I would love to go back again. I like both Seattle & Portland a lot & there are tons of museums, parks, shops, & rides I'd still like to experience in both cities the next time(s) we go. Our hosts were both so gracious, letting us take invade their homes & commandeer half their bike fleets, & doubling the numbers of rambunctious children. As a cycling advocate, it was also really valuable to experience first-hand how other cities do bike infrastructure. I wish more municipal government officials, engineers & planners would walk & bike in their cities, as well as other ones--I think we might be moving faster toward safer, healthier cities if that were the case.

If you want to see more of family biking in Portand, I recommend following Madi on social media--she's @familyride on Instagram & Twitter, plus you can check out her regular family biking column on BikePortland. This one on route planning is particularly good!



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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

What I've been sewing lately

I went for one or two things...
If you've been following me on Instagram, you might have noticed I've been sewing a bit lately. I've loved sewing since I tried it at age five, but I haven't really been sewing that much in the past few years. That all changed recently after a friend introduced me to Made for Mermaids & Patterns for Pirates PDF patterns & I finally made it to two Our Social Fabric sales.

If you'd like to do some more sewing, M4M & P4P have so many fun, simple patterns to try. They're mostly for use with knit fabrics--leggings, t-shirts, sweatpants, sweaters, hoodies, simple dresses--but there are some designs for wovens if you prefer. Each pattern generally has several variations & a wide range of sizes. The children's patterns I've used start at six months & go all the way up to size 14, & the women's generally go from XXS to XXL.

Most of the patterns are $8-10, with discounts for buying multiples (check out the Facebook groups for P4P & M4M for details on this), though there are also quite a few free ones. After you buy the pattern, you download it, then you can print it out. I generally use my phone or laptop to look through the instructions & sizing guide, then just print the pieces that include the pattern parts that I'll need. You can generally find a chart that tells you which pages you'll need to print for which size & view of pattern. After printing, you can tape or glue the pieces together, which I actually like doing. It's like a big floor puzzle!

Besides discount codes in the P4P & M4M Facebook groups, you'll find a lot of inspiration for pattern mash ups & hacks, tips on where to order fabrics online & a lot of support if you're struggling to sew one of the patterns.

Here's what I've made so far:

The project that got me started was making a couple of raglan long sleeve t-shirts, with the free Nap Time Creations pattern on Life Sew Savory. These were made of a wonderfully soft & stretchy fleece that I got two metres of at Our Social Fabric a while ago. Bronte had had a very similar (but pink) stripey fleece shirt from MEC that we really loved (thanks Auntie Sarah!). She wore it for at least two years, but finally couldn't squeeze into it anymore, so she needed a cozy new fleece top. Once I'd made hers, I made Linny one as well, in the same size, but with longer sleeves & body. They're actually very close to the same size around, he's just a head taller.

As usual, I had a hard time getting a clear picture of Bronte, since she literally never stops moving unless she's sleeping. She had also gotten into my makeup while I was sewing, & given herself a rather raccoon-like "smokey eye". But you get the idea--the shirt is just your basic raglan, no cuffs, & the neckband is made of the same fabric. I love how they turned out & the kids have been wearing them a lot too.

P4P Jolly Roger Raglan & M4M Bonny Leggings
At some point in the past few weeks I tried making Bronte some leggings as well, since she's growing out of or ripping holes in so many of her old ones. (Can't find a photo) I used a chunk of mauve cotton Lycra that I've had sitting around for years. This pattern is amazingly simple to put together--three pieces in total. It fits a little looser than most leggings--more like slim fit pants. When I made the leggings I was still working out which stitches worked best for stretch fabrics, so the thread is showing a bit at the seams & the stitching at the ankles has already broken.

Once I realized how easy these little raglans & leggings are to whip up, I decided to make a set for my nephew's first birthday present in February. I made both pieces in a size two, but realized after making the leggings that they are much smaller fitting--especially for a child in a diaper--than the shirt, so it's not likely he'll fit them at the same time. This time I thought I'd try the Patterns for Pirates Jolly Roger Raglan with a curved hem.

This is such a fun thing to sew as a gift--it doesn't take long & you end up with a really soft, fuzzy fleece shirt that would cost quite a bit if you bought it at a store. Even if the budget weren't so tight around here, I'd much rather spend time making something than money & time in a store.

Reversible Merino knit toque!
The first item of clothing that I actually made for myself this year was a simple toque. It's reversible, made out of two different colours of technical merino knit that I got at Our Social Fabric. This one wasn't actually a M4M or P4P pattern, but an Appletree Slouchy Beanie. You can sign up for their newsletter to get it free, by the way.

Though it's two layers, this toque actually fits better under my bike helmet than the MEC synthetic knit one that I was using before. The slouchiness of the Appletree one also looks a bit more stylish than the cycling gear head skullcap MEC one & it covers my ears better on the chilly morning commutes. I'm also really pleased with how soft & not itchy the merino is. I got small lengths (0.5-1.5m each) in several colours of this fabric, so I can't wait to make more clothes out of it.
Hard to capture the black on black
details of this P4P SFR
Last week I made myself a hoodie I've been mulling over for quite a while. I have been wanting to make myself a Patterns for Pirates Slim Fit Raglan with some black French terry that I found at Our Social Fabric. I decided somewhere during the mulling process that I wanted to do the elbow patches in black stretch lace, using a scrap that I have had around for literally a decade.

But I couldn't find the damn scrap for some reason. I know I had it in my hands a few days before I decided to use it, but after basically tossing the house, I gave up. A few days later, after resisting going to Dressew to just buy another length of stretch lace, I realized that I still have the arm warmer thingies I made with the lace in the first place.

Yeah, black stretch lace arm warmers. I'll let that sink in a moment. Black stretch lace arm warmers. That go from my knuckles all the way up to my mid bicep. The last time I wore them was probably when I was performing somewhere on stilts, but I actually didn't make them as a costume. Anyway... yeah, so I found one of the damned things & happily chopped two elbow patches out of it.

While I was trying to figure out where the hell that scrap of lace was, I decided on the details of the rest of the hoodie. I made the tunic length, with a wrap-around hood, kangaroo pocket & cuffed sleeves. Once I got most of it made, I decided I wanted to make a loose band at the hem as well. I graded the pattern to be a size small in the sleeves & bust, to a large at the waist & hips. It fits great in the bust, but I probably could have sized down one at the waist & hips. I made the arms longer to better fit my six-foot wingspan, with a bit extra length to accommodate reaching forward on a bike as well. Hate having chilly wrists from sleeves riding up!

Modelling her cousin's birthday gift
This pattern came together really quickly too--I think I finished it all in a day as well. The French terry is super soft & comfy & I love how the wrap around hood looks when it's down. I'll definitely be making myself more variations on this P4P raglan.

Last week I decided to sew up a Made for Mermaids Lea dolman dress for a cousin's birthday present. I used a soft navy cotton Lycra & included the side seam pockets, of course. It's something I love about this pattern--three pockets in a dress!

B's cousin is six, so that's the size I made her--I find these patterns fit a bit big, so hopefully it will fit her a while. It's not a bad fit for Bronte either, but it's a little longer than I'd like & quite loose in the bodice. I decided to make a size down when I got around to making B one too.

That day came sooner than I expected because on our way home from another birthday party (two in one day!) we stopped by Spool of Thread & I found a lovely remnant of double gauze cotton with a cute constellations print on it. Bronte thought it was pretty neat too, so I brought it home & prewashed it that night.

BYOB: build your own bag!
Monday morning, I realized we seem to have lost several of our good shopping bags, so I pulled out another remnant I bought at Our Social Fabric. It's a navy synthetic fabric--what you'd make an umbrella with, I think--with a tiny hounds tooth print. I traced the one remaining grocery bag that we could find & made a quick pattern, then cut it out of the fabric. I originally intended to do a lining layer behind the handles to avoid doing a bias binding, but I decided to try to save as much fabric as I could & just used a packet of bias binding from Dressew that I had sitting around. My notions hoarding habits are pretty handy in situations like this--ha!

The bag I was copying has a couple of straps that snap together to hold the bag when it's all folded up, but I find them a bit loose & an overly complicated solution, so I replaced that with an elastic loop on my bag, made from a scrap of elastic that my Our Social Fabric bundles come bound with--yay, recycling! The white really stands out, & will likely get fairly dirty quickly, so when I make another of these, I'll try to use black elastic, I think.

Bronte's stellar dress
Once I finished the shopping bag, I was on a roll, so I launched into working on B's dress. I got it cut out & started putting it together before she was even home from preschool. I finished most of the dress while she watched (also: nearly knocked the iron off the ironing board, played with my shears, hid under the table with my snips, & I can't even remember how many other bits of mischief she got up to while I tried to work around her). I attached the skirt & hemmed it when I got back from picking Linny up from school. Bronte was all over me to try it on immediately, so we did a quick photo shoot on the deck (check out Instagram for the full set of B hamming it up). I think she likes it!

It fits well, mostly because I made it a size down, but also because I added elastic to the neckline so it won't stretch out when she pulls it over her head. That's part of the reason it's such a quick dress to sew up--the entire bodice is just two pieces, not including the little chest pocket, then there are two skirt pieces & the optional side seam pockets. No buttons or zippers to put in, just an elastic casing at the waist.

I definitely need to keep making time to sew--it feels really good to make things myself & I feel so much better in clothing that fits me properly, since I can customize that. I'm also looking forward to making more colourful & creative stuff for both kids, particularly Linnaeus. I find boys' clothes generally so boring & dull--so much of it is navy, grey, black, with a limited range of graphics & prints that I find so annoyingly stereotypical. Girls' clothing isn't much better, but at least it's colourful.

I'm going to sign off now--this post grew into a bit of a mammoth, didn't it? But before I go, I'm curious, what have you made recently, sewing or otherwise? Let me know in the comments!



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