Find your spark

To say life is busy right now is an understatement. In under 3 weeks we have the big Ignite! Festival at the Science Centre. I am the festival coordinator and organising a 4 day event with 25+ external participants takes a lot of doing! Last month I celebrated my first anniversary at work, and it is odd to think I started this job just 6 weeks before last year’s Ignite – I really did walk right into the middle of things, but fortunately I inherited a great start to it and a lot of things were already in place. This year’s version is considerably bigger as a result though – I’ve been working on it for months already!

There’s everything from the ‘live blacksmithing’ (returning from last year) to Combat Robots to a 185 metre wide scale model of the solar system, eyeball dissections, “virtual geography”, a drum circle, an off-road potato race and exploding pumpkin workshops. Obviously! Before that though, we have Park(ing) day with the Warehouse District (a follow up event from their Tactical Urbanism workshop), then the Girl Guides of Canada’s Girl’s First Launch day event, and then a project at Regina’s first Nuit Blanche event to do. In the lead up to Ignite, I started a series of workshops designed to get people involved and making things and to promote the festival outside the Science Centre. Over the summer I ran a ‘science of Coffee’ workshop, made elastic band guitars at Cinema under the Stars and noisemakers at the night market, learned how to wind pickups with the aid of Sawchyn Guitars, fixed my bike with an  Arduino board so I could virtually cycle through Google Maps, learned to solder with the Neil Squire Society, convinced a gang of bikers to make chromotography butterflies, helped kids construct robots that chalk “art” all over the concrete during the Heritage Harvest Moon festival, dropped marbles into flour and cocoa to teach Grade 4s about impact craters during Science Literacy week, sewed conductive thread and LEDs into fleece to make a light-up scarf and went on a “Glow Ride” with Bike Regina.  So many things new things to try and new skills to learn that I never thought I’d ever have the opportunity to attempt. Hectic, but fantastic.

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None of this would have been possible without the fabulous team of weirdos at the Science Centre, all of whom are doing their own complex schedules of activities and events as well. And then there is the Wonderful Hubby, who supports all this mad rushing about without raising an eyebrow. After a summer spent fiddling about at home, he has finally got a new (and very lucrative) job. I am very happy about this because not only is it a huge relief financially, it also gave him a much needed confidence boost again. The only thing I am not happy about is that despite me being so busy at my work, he STILL ends up earning more than twice my salary. It’s not fair!!

Oh and in amongst all this, I think I am supposed to be promoting the fact that “It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time” is out now too. (Did I mention I have a book out??)

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YOU CAN PRE-ORDER IT HERE FOLKS!!


So, if I haven’t seen you in forever or I don’t text you back or I lose keys that are actually in my pocket (AHEM) then this is why!! Fortunately I am surrounded by awesome supportive people and I am enjoying every minute of this madness!

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100 Words

I am getting worse and worse at writing this blog. Current excuses are working full time, still doing Wheelie Good Coffee as well, beastling-rearing, and preparing for my book to come out. Still, I realised I was still finding time to waste glaring at Twitter, getting very depressed about the awful state of the world and despairing of humanity. So I quit it – originally for a month, possibly forever.

But I can’t go cold-turkey. I had to replace Twitter with something less soul-sapping. So I looked up 100words.com again. This is the original microblogging site: write exactly 100 words every day, no more, no less. If you don’t complete a 100-word entry every day for a month, the site wipes your whole month. It is good writing practice, especially since I suffer from verbal diaorrhea, plus it forces you to make writing daily become a habit.

I did 100 Word batches for years – before Twitter even existed, before Facebook, when LiveJournal was still a thing instead of WordPress, and blogging was only done by angsty teens. I kept it up for years! And all my entries are still there… which is terrifying. My profile has lots of references to my Vampire thesis, and it was before we got married. There’s even a link to my MySpace profile.

But of course, precisely because it was a million years ago, I no longer have the email that allows me to log in to the site, let alone any recollection of the password. So I have had to start afresh. My username is now Bel (Older not Wiser), and here is my first batch in at least ten years:

http://100words.com/batchReadBatchMember.php?batch=237&member=14701

 

30 days of biking – and another 500km

It’s April, which brings me to 6 years in Regina, 5 years of doing #30daysofbiking. Well actually, I think I’m now up to 80 days of biking in 2018 now. But anyway, you get the general idea!

Here’s this year’s adventures in photo form:

Dramatic change from one end of the month to the other! I’ve certainly been snowed on during April’s biking adventures before, but I don’t think it’s ever been this cold before.

Today I pedalled into work on the longer route around the lake – a luxury I can now afford because I didn’t have to drop Theia off then rush through traffic just to get in on time. Because… Carl is home!!! WOOHOOOO!!!!

Despite asking repeatedly to be allowed to work from home, the response from the Prince Albert job was always “we don’t have a work-from-home-policy”. Erm, well, you could make one? It’s 2018 and even Prince Albert has the Interwebs now. There is nothing he was doing up there that couldn’t be done remotely, sitting in his underpants on the computer at home. But no… so, finally, he decided the 800km drive on remote highways at 4am, the unfurnished apartment and the whole week away from the kids wasn’t worth it and he quit. Their loss, our gain!

He’s got some GIS freelance work lined up which will keep us going, and hopefully one job will lead to the next etc. Check out eclipsegeospatial.com – now accepting new clients!

It’s sunny and he’s home, and all is cheerful. And he’s decided he wants to get his bike out again too!  So, we found a good way to get us both out pedalling again.

30th April was Rohan Day – that is, the day my brother Rohan died, 20 years ago now. He had a very rare form of cancer that was only diagnosed when it was too late. He was 12.
This year Carl and I are riding the the The Great Cycle Challenge Canada in Rohan’s memory, to raise money for kids’ cancer research and support. We’re aiming for 500km in 30 days. Please sponsor us if you can! Thank you.

https://greatcyclechallenge.ca/Teams/TeamTownsend

Tactical Urbanism

Full of ideas….this is a loooong post!

Last week I attended a workshop on Tactical Urbanism, held by the Warehouse District and Downtown Business Improvement Districts. I was there partly for work and partly for personal interest, and it was a fascinating session from both angles!

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Trying not to shout about Bike Lanes too much….

Very briefly, the whole ethos of Tactical Urbanism is creating vibrancy in urban areas and treating city spaces as places where you actually enjoy spending time in their own right, rather than just as areas you pass through on route to somewhere more interesting. There’s a difference between a street and a road: roads are for transport, streets are for people. It’s simple but also something that doesn’t seem to occur to many people – especially town planners!

Tactical urbanism can be installing small, cheap and temporary initiatives (constructed by anyone with an idea, all very grass-roots and ‘citizen-led’) that are publicly accessible and very visual, and if successful, creates a momentum that leads to permanent change. This can be anything from just putting up planters and getting flowers along the streets, chalk art on the sidewalks, to pop up art displays in empty buildings, painting alleys between buildings,  to food trucks and pop-up outdoor shops and markets, or roping off a section and creating temporary bike lanes and holding a group ride or a walking tour of the area etc. (Guess which bit I was most keen on?). Anything that gets people out of ‘the commuter mindset’ and gets them walking/biking/hanging out on the streets.

We discussed Park(in) Days as a good example of this type of event. The Downtown BID tried this back in 2016 – they plugged the parking meters outside some businesses on 11th avenue downtown (my café being one of them) and got the business owners and interested groups to decorate their parking spot. We turned our cafe inside out: put some squashy armchairs on a rug on the road, a bookshelf, coffee table and made a comfy reading room outdoors,and then filled the front of the cafe with flowers and pot plants and a bike rack indoors. It was a pretty simple set up, and we even gave out free coffee, but even with the freebies it was by far the most lucrative day we ever had at the cafe. People attract people. Getting people to sit outside your business instead of just driving past can only ever be a good thing.

For the workshop, they’d printed a couple of huge banners with fake shop fronts. We marked out a rough intersection and then a bike lane along the store fronts and then designed our own Park(in) displays – loads of flowers in planters, someone got some Yoga mats out so you could do yoga on the street, deck chairs and some sand, and we made “pede-vision”- a sofa area with a huge frame where you could sit and watch the world go by (instead of sitting indoors, alone, watching TV). It totally transformed our imaginary street.20180302_152310

Inevitably, the conversations turned to cycling, and I was pleased to discover that the bike-activist contingent was not just me, Andrew (sorry, ‘Councillor Stevens’) and the guy from Bike Regina! There were a lot of people interested in making Regina more cycle-friendly, or at least, more ‘walkable’ too. Clearing the sidewalks of snow would help right now! I’ve always believed that if an area is made safer and more appealing to cycle through, then more people will cycle. This workshop actually had the stats to back that up. As Leasa from the Warehouse District BID pointed out, you can’t use today’s cyclist numbers (with no cycling infrastructure) to assume how many more people would actually use cycle paths *if they were there*.

 

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Bike rack fail.

I tried to prove a point about how unfriendly this area is to cyclists – by cycling up there. Pain points included bumping violently over the train tracks (pedestrian bridge over that would be nice!?), and drivers passing me with just inches to spare on Dewdney, despite the road being easily wide enough to accomodate a bike lane if only one could be built. To my surprise, there was actually a bike rack at the building when I arrived. But getting to it required heaving the trike up 3 steps, or trying to bend it round a too-narrow, cornered wheelchair ramp. Tactical Urbanism fail: infrastructure added thoughtlessly, with no real expectation that people will use it.

 

The workshop was held on the second floor of the enormous, empty old Sears warehouse. For the final part of the workshop, someone helped me get the trike into the freight elevator and bring it up to the workshop. So I spent my afternoon slowly pedalling around a home made street with a hand drawn bike lane, on the upper floor of a disused, slightly creepy building. Surreal experience!

The other main discussion was city design that incorporates the microclimate – as in, should Regina embrace itself as a Winter City? And how would any of these ideas work in winter? We sidestepped the shared frustrations about city hall not clearing snow off sidewalks (because of the unwavering belief that if you have a car, your journey must therefore be more important than the journeys of pedestrians). Sidewalk clearing is an activity we can all share in, even if most would prefer City Hall to do it. Most interestingly, we also talked about how a lot of building designers don’t take into account the fact that their buildings often create huge wind tunnels (the Victoria and Albert intersection springs to mind – Capital Pointe would make it a whole lot worse down there). Doesn’t matter if you are in a car, but it does if you are walking or waiting at bus stops. What could we do about that? (Wind turbines on the rooves, used to power heaters in the bus stops below, I thought!)

Tactical urbanism is about Doing, not just Talking though. So, we built things! There’s a marketing company called Sleek, and they’d designed some MDF furniture (patio tables and chairs, park benches, a bike rack etc) and cut it out using a CNC cutter, and we just had to slot it together. It was very easy and effective, and Judith pointed out how cheap it was: about 25 pieces of solid, useable and custom furniture made from MDF came to about $5000.

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The next day got more involved: we made a bar out of old wooden pallets. Jessica (from work) and I got to play with power tools! We had a guy from a construction company supervising us, but seven people most of whom had never used an electric saw before ‘recycled’ a few old pallets into a bar in an hour and a half. It was really fun!  The point of all this was just to show how easy and affordable it is to construct little, temporary things – patio seating on the plaza, large planters to go on the edge of a sidewalk, or a small bike rack etc – that make a big impact, making places more visually appealing and encouraging people to linger and actually spend time on the streets.

 

Anyway, in trying to relate this all to work and Science Centre projects, I guess my main take aways from this were:

  • There is a great community of people out there who are willing and able to embark on ‘tactical urbanist’ projects – and the residents’ associations and Business districts will support them.
  • Keep it simple and cheap to start with – it can always get more elaborate later.
  • Building things isn’t actually as difficult as it first appears.
  • People attract people – as soon as someone starts something, others will follow.

I have a ton of ideas for projects already, and I also met a load of like-minded, useful people from companies that would be excellent to collaborate with for our Ignite! science festival in October. On a personal note, I would love to keep in touch with this group of people and plan some projects together. The workshop was inspiring – and I know I wasn’t alone in discovering a new passion for making Regina a fun, safe, creative and more liveable city.

 

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Photo: Regina Warehouse District

 

Don’t run with scissors

Theia has been ‘developing fine motor skills’ at daycare recently, and as such, now loves randomly cutting things up with scissors. One of those things where when you actually need scissors, they are nowhere to be found. But when you haven’t used them for a while, you can bet Theia has found not one but all three pairs and is gleefully shredding the power bill, unintentionally giving herself a haircut and threatening to stab her sister.

“You mustn’t wave those around!” I say, repeatedly. “You might hurt someone!! No! Get it out of her face!!”

Theia is two and a half. I’m hoping she learns this lesson soon.

Apparently, there are some fully grown adults that still don’t understand it.

I am very reluctant to write my opinions on the Gerald Stanley trial because it is such a toxic issue right now. But I feel compelled to, because after the verdict I felt emotionally hungover – like I did after Trump “won” the US election. Shocked, appalled, incredulous, nauseated and scared.

Saskatchewan, I am disappointed in you.

I am finally beginning to accept the irony that we, as godless liberals fed up with Tory bullshit back in the UK, ended up emigrating to the most conservative, backward part of Canada. I would still argue for the most part, that things are much, much better over here. However, Canada is far from the liberal utopia we all believed it was from overseas. Furthermore, Canada’s own version of institutionalized racism is possibly more dangerous, precisely because it is not as overt as it is south of the border. Too many people (myself included) can naively ignore it, until cases like this one bring it sharply in to focus.

So. Colten Boushie and friends from the Red Pheasant First Nations, drunkenly drove over the Gerald Stanley’s farm, caused a load of havoc, tried to steal his ATV and apparently Stanley feared for the safety of his wife and family. As such, Stanley got a gun, fired warning shots into the air, and then *somehow* Coulten Boushie ended up being shot in the back of the head.

The defence claimed the gun misfired, (a claim that police firearms experts stated was extremely unlikely) and that Stanley did not intend to kill anyone. Apparently, because the (all-white) jury couldn’t decide beyond all doubt that Stanley had actually intended to murder anyone, they acquitted him.

This is where it gets divisive and racially charged. Few people are denying that Boushie and his friends were misbehaving, and similarly, it’s believable that Stanley feared for his family’s safety. BUT, what would have happened had the roles been reversed? If Stanley had driven on to the reserve and caused havoc, and someone there had ‘accidently’ shot him? They’d have been locked up for life, accident or no.

Not so long ago, the Saskatchewan Party Minister for Highways and former deputy-Premier, Don McMorris, (an old, white man) was charged with drink driving, several times over the legal limit, at 11am. He got a small fine, lost his license for a year, and resigned (not fired) from cabinet. Seven months later, he was reinstated back into the government.

When Trayvon Martin’s killer was acquitted in the US, there was a great deal of Canadian smugness – ‘Murika, for shame. Good thing nothing like that would ever happen here….’ Well, it just did.

I do not get this. I don’t understand the acquittal in the first place, and I don’t understand the mindset that allowed it.

I am not defending Boushie’s drunk driving, nor trespassing, nor theft. But NONE of those things are punishable by death.

It is very, very unclear that Stanley actually fear for his personal safety. Of course he has the right to defend his property from intruders, but you CANNOT kill a person to save a thing. His ATV could never be more valuable that a human life.

Stanley fired two ‘warning’ shots into the air.  What exactly is he ‘warning’ if not “I will shoot you if you come any closer”? If the gun really did misfire and it was all a tragic accident, surely Stanley’s first reaction should have been remorse, and an attempt to help the kid and get him to hospital. There is no evidence he did anything of the sort.

To my mind, firing the warning shots alone shows intent, and with that clear intent, the charge of second degree murder should have held up, regardless of whether the shot that actually killed Boushie was an accident.

 

Theia doesn’t mean to hurt anyone when she wildly waves scissors in Miranda’s face. But occasionally, the scissor-waving is accompanied by “Noooo!! It’s MY paper, miiiine GO AWAY”.   And this is when I intervene. You don’t wave scissors in people’s faces, even if you want them to leave you alone. In the same way, you don’t fire guns at people, even just as a ‘warning’. If a two year old can understand this, Gerald Stanley had no excuse whatsoever.

Twenny-Sevunteen

I had to explain the concept of Round-Robin letters to my friend at work the other day. Apparently they are Not A Thing in Canada? (It’s not him being dense, I’ve had similar discussions in previous years.) I did receive something suspiciously similar in a Christmas card from a friend, but it simply wasn’t smug enough for a proper Round Robin.

I could regale you with stories of how proud I am of little Genevieve and Lucinda, the skiing trips, Auntie Paula’s unfortunate illnesses and the amount of French wine we have in the basement, I mean, cellar, but if you’ve read this far in this blog, I hope you wouldn’t believe me.

Instead, suffice to say, my highlights of the year have been all the fun we’ve had watching the kids grow up so fast with daycare and French school and judo and so on, my new job and getting a publishing deal for my book. The lows were far more numerous: saying goodbye to all my cafe dreams at the beginning of the year, Carl losing his job, my forty-five job rejections letters and our stressful five months of being painfully hard up, Theia going through the terrible twos in the most sleepless fashion she can manage, and adjusting to life with Carl away for 5 days out of 7. All this was made worse by – well, everything else going in the world. Just reading the news is enough to drive everyone sane into a permanent malaise. Then of course there’s the current polar vortex, windchill of -43C on Christmas day. So, for all these reasons, I’m quite glad to be done with 2017.

We are ending the year on a high though: Christmas itself was lovely! The Parents are here, and despite the intense cold, much silliness is happening. The girls now have a mischievious Elf-on-the-Shelf each (although they aren’t the judgemental ceiling-Jesus type) and elf-related narratives got even more elaborate as a result. Despite the elves, they both got an obscene amount of presents and are still madly excited about it all three days later. Sharing Christmas with squealingly excited girls is wonderful and I love watching them open things we’d managed to keep secret. That applied to Carl too!

It’s going to be difficult going back to work next week, and worse when my parents leave again. But, work is good, the parents seem like they are having a great time, and the girls enjoy their daycare and school routines (even if they won’t admit it straight away).

My priority for 2018 is getting Carl home somehow. Ideally, that would be via his job allowing him to work from home at least part of the week. Then, I have a couple of big projections at work that I’m looking forward to getting started on. Then, the book is coming out. Yay! Things to work on. Positive things. Excitements. Bring it on!

 

 

Get Real?!

To the guy who yelled “get real!” at me as I cycled to work in the snow this morning and made me jump out of my skin:

1. You’re an arsehole.

2. What possible difference does it make to your day whether or not *I* cycle to work? You weren’t even heading in the same direction, so it wasn’t like I was in your way.

3. I hope you skid and get stuck in a snow drift.

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Get real: Whereas I don’t expect random idiots like that to comprehend that some people actively don’t want to drive, I’d hope that maybe he’d understand that not everyone can afford to drive. I kinda fall into that category. Very, very reluctantly I am learning to drive finally. I feel like I am selling out and going against everything I believe in… but even if I miraculously pass my test, our functional car is in PA with Carl, and the other one needs a new transmission that will cost nearly 3 times what we spent on the car in the first place. We do not have that sort of money right now, so biking is where it’s at for me, even in the snow. (For the record, there is no bus that can get me to or from work at times when I actually need to travel, annoyingly).

Get real. To my mind, cars are like cigarettes. They are highly addictive. Once you start driving, it is very difficult to break the habit of driving everywhere, all the time. I’ve seen all my friends who got their licenses in their 30s do just that – we all used to walk everywhere and take the kids in strollers, but now they all drive 3 blocks ‘just cos it’s easier’ as the kids got bigger.

Get real, cars are bad for you (as they stop you walking/biking), and bad for the whole planet. More people are killed by cars every year than by cigarettes  (I think?). Cars smell and pollute the air (like cigarettes), and if that guy this morning is anything to go by, they are as anti-social as cigarettes too.

It is my fervent belief that in the not-too-distant future private car ownership will be looked back on with horror, as early cigarette adverts are today.

Until then though, in Regina we have totally inadequate cycling infrastructure to deal with, brutal winters and screaming car-worshipping commuters. Bike safety advice from this city might as well be:

– Do not expect drivers to waste time looking for you. Wrap yourself in fairy lights at all times and sound an air horn as you travel.

– There is no situation where bikes ever have right of way.

– Reexamine your life choices at every intersection.

– Never inconvenience your superiors in cars by occupying the middle of the lane. Your place is in the gutter. To turn left, please levitate above the traffic.

– For safety, consider travelling in a motorized metal box at all times.