Category: Lifestyle

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

 

Some very strange things to be thankful for.

It’s Thanksgiving, it’s beautiful and autumnal, and we finally all have a day off together! For this, I am thankful, because it has been a long time coming.

Carl being away in Prince Albert during the week is really taking its toll on me and the girls at the moment, and I am getting increasingly frustrated with the situation at times. I am effectively playing single-parent all week, and have to negotiate school and daycare drop offs and collection (at two different locations), coping with Judo and crochet club(?) and play dates and field trip permission slips, ferret-care, feeding them both, fighting them into bed (an ordeal in its own right, especially with Theia), making lunchboxes and then getting them up again and out the house by 8am. And working full time. And doing all this on my bike.

It is exhausting, and I keenly look forward to Carl’s return every weekend. But then, there is the added pressure of fitting in all the things that have to be done with him (or more importantly, the car-) here like food shopping, and laundry, and still making a point of Doing Something Fun while we’re all together. Most of the time I am exhausted and just want to spend my days off doing nothing, but that is not fair on the kids. And then we get cross with each other because I feel like I’m wasting the precious little time we do have. Gah!

However, there are many things that I love about this situation too, namely my job. Luckily, both kids thoroughly enjoy their respective daycares and after school clubs and activities, so I don’t feel too bad about relying on them so heavily. There’s also only been one horribly rainy day this season, so my bike commute around the lake is usually glorious and doing me a lot of good. Carl is doing well in Prince Albert, enjoying his work and our finances are now looking much more healthy as a result.

Without wishing to sound gushy, I really love my job. I’m working at the Science Centre, and the job is so varied that it is very difficult to define to a lot of people. Most recently, I’ve been heading up a big science festival there called Ignite! I inherited quite a lot of the set up for it from my predecessor, and the existing team of staff there are exceptional and very supportive, so I didn’t feel too overwhelmed with having to organise the whole four day event on my own. Even so, it was still more than a little daunting. I enjoy the job so much that I really want to do well at it.

I am also learning a whole load of things I never thought I’d come across – like how to dissect squid, for instance, how to build popsicle stick towers that withstand flooding, and all about different sections of the brain, all of which are covered in the workshops I am now trying to present to other people! For the festival, we had to organise a careers fair with the aiming of getting school kids interested in engineering and the sciences. Then, we ran adult workshops in the evening, which is where the squid came in. The next day was Family Maker Day, and we hosted an event for the Global Cardboard Challenge and encouraged kids to make Arcade games out of cardboard, and ran other workshops like Toy Take Apart (involving skinning an Elmo) and colour-changing putty, where I had to make playdough and explain the science of thermochromatic pigment to 40-odd kids for a couple of hours. The schools were closed for Thanksgiving that day, so Miranda had to come to work with me…

On Saturday, it was the culmination of the festival in an Expo, showcasing local innovation and plenty of weird and wonderful things that local people have created. It is did not happen without hiccups – for a start, I would have liked to get more participants than I was able to, so I was a bit disappointed. Then, one group dropped out at the last minute, and I roped Carl in to replace them! He dutifully brought his telescope and equipment and showed people all his eclipse photography – thank you husband!! (He also got a day out with the kids, a chance to geek out with fellow nerds, and the science centre’s snack supplies, to be fair.)  Actually on the day, one group arrived, introduced themselves, I showed there where to set up, and then they just vanished without saying a word! Weird. And irritating.

I still managed to get in “live blacksmithing” (which took a lot of wading through fire permit by-laws), a virtual reality game company, a solar-powered electric bike, robots built by high school students, a Vortex Cannon of Doom and a portrait of Princess Diana done in Lego, amongst other things.

I would like to think it all went off OK! The feedback I heard on the day was all very positive, anyway. I don’t yet know how the numbers of visitors compared to last year, but it certainly felt very busy, particularly on the Family Maker Day. It was also utterly exhausting!

Sunday and Monday were our weekend this week, and we did the annual OverEating Ritual with turkey and all the trimmings. The girls even admitted they liked the food for once as well! Life is not exactly easy right now, but I am enjoying its complicatedness.

 

A motivational morning

It seems the internet is currently filled with clickbait articles that are ‘life changing’ and inspirational, with the sort of headlines like “7 things to do to kickstart your morning routine” and so on.

I appreciate that most of them are designed with good intent, but as with a lot of supposedly motivational rhetoric, I find it just makes obvious how much of a chaotic mess my own life is.

This morning was a prime example. Here is what greeted me on Instagram today:

(I am very sorry to borrow you, Kyle… but as the founder of Wheelhouse Cycle Club, I figure you know a bit about getting people motivated in the mornings!)

Here, in contrast, is the 5 odd things I ended up doing this morning:

1.) Attempt to insert Fruitloops into two decidedly not-awake children at 7.40am. While they are eating, I realise that when the husband left the house at 4am, he inadvertently locked my house keys in my bike basket *inside the locked garage*. Scramble around madly looking for the automatic garage door opener, only to find it helpfully clipped to the outer door handle on the back door. Which is the *obvious* place to look for it… Stand in the alley in barefeet and eventually get into the garage, reclaim keys, find shoes, packed lunches, backpacks and shunt kids out the door.

2.) Arrive at daycare 8am. Smaller beastling is fine right up until we are inside the entrance way, then she realises where she is and that Mummy will be abandoning her there. She starts howling and literally clinging on to my ankle so I can’t leave. Detach her and transfer her into the arms of one of the poor women who have to deal with regular tantrums and snot all day. Make a break for it with the bigger beastling, who is now complaining that her backpack is too heavy.

3.) Miss 8.07 bus to the Science Centre for day camps. Cross road, find another bus ten mins later. Get downtown. Bus does not meet up with connecting bus, despite what it says on Regina Transit’s schedules. Start fuming. Sit downtown waiting for the next one and playing I Spy.

4.) Discover that this bus does not actually go right to the science centre. Persuade a shy and tired Big Beastling to walk about half a mile across Wascana Park. Discover that some fricking idiot has set all the park’s sprinklers to soak the entire sidewalk for a good 200 yards, and that there is no way to avoid them. Try to convince daughterling that it is an obstacle course and we have to run and duck between the sprays. She thinks it’s fun until she gets hit in the face with cold water.

5.) Arrive at Science Centre dripping wet. Successfully drop off daughter only 5 minutes late, but see the direct bus drive off before I can make it to the official stop. Make my way back to the other bus stop, and get drenched again. Bus appears… and sails past me, as it is an Express bus and won’t stop at minor stops. Sit for another 20 minutes drying off in the sun, and use the time to write an official complaint email to the Wascana Centre about the sprinklers.

5.5) Arrive back home, 10.07am, and realise that not only did the whole ordeal take TWO FRIGGING HOURS, I haven’t had any coffee or any breakfast yet.

I’ll go to the library, I think, I’ll collect the books I ordered then treat myself to coffee and reading time at the coffee shop to relax.

Forget that it is Monday and the library is closed.

Come back home again amidst silent screams of despair.

 

Feeling inspired, literally.

I don’t post nearly enough on here nowadays. My excuse is still Theia; it’s not that she doesn’t like me typing on this computer, it’s more she wants to join in, and that is very tricky. She has already managed to remove the Ctrl key from my laptop keyboard, in exactly the same manner as Big Sister did at around the same age. Groan.

I am on a personal mission to take my writing a bit more seriously at the moment. I have always written things, be it these blogs, a decade of Nanowrimo novels, slam poetry or even academic papers, and for the most part I really enjoy it. I don’t think I am a terrible writer, but as with anything, it always needs practice.

The hopeless, degrading and depressing job hunt continues and I loathe it. So far I have applied for 22 jobs, which has resulted in just 3 interviews and zero job offers. One did say I was overqualified, which is a double-edged compliment I suppose. But I am running out of job vacancies that I actually want to apply for now, meaning I am reduced to applying out of desperation. And that is counter-productive as well as depressing. I went for a rather-obscure publisher’s job at a magazine, interviewed and “came second”… and then I applied for an admin position at the Writers’ Guild that sounded really positive and hopeful at the interview, but I didn’t get that either. They didn’t say why and I was too disappointed to ask. Both would have involved some Professional Writing though, which would have been wonderful.

I have a friend here “pre-reading” the book I wrote, and another friend of mine is currently editing it from the safe distance of the UK. It’s an entrepreneurial memoir, about my ten years of misadventures in the world of coffee and starting my businesses. (check it out here) I wrote the first draft during Nanowrimo in 2015 and I don’t hate it. Therefore I’ve been (very slowly) typing it all up ever since and have even sent off queries and book proposals to a few publishers. The sort of publishers that say “wait 6-8 months for a response.” So, right now, no news is good new: no one has rejected it yet.

I am trying the traditional publishing route mainly because I value what I’ve written enough to actually want to see it edited by a professional – and there’s no way I could pay to have to done properly otherwise, sadly. I also don’t have the time, the resources nor the skills necessary to self-publish and promote the book myself. In my (limited) experience so far with my coffee books, marketing the things is harder work than writing them, If you self-publish, you can get the book on Amazon quite easily. But from there, it is very, very rare to find paperback editions on the shelves in traditional book stores. And I much, much prefer Actual Book Browsing for Actual Tangible Books in an Actual Physical book shop. I don’t think I am alone in that particular pleasure.

Of course, there aren’t many book shops in Regina. There’s a specialist, antiquarian book store which you really have to know is there. There’s apparently and independent place too, but its so far up in the north end that I have no hope of ever getting up there. And then of course, there’s Chapters. Which I like, but it has Starbucks in it, and so all is lost.

HMMMM…. anybody else thinking what I’m thinking?

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WATCH. THIS. SPACE.