We have a small house, and most storage spaces do double duty. We don’t really have a designated “cleaning cupboard” in which we can keep (hide) all our cleaning supplies. Some are stuffed under the kitchen sink, some under the bathroom sink, and some in the “linen” closet (which itself is currently a repository for “stuff” and is in dire need of some attention). With that in mind I did some searching to see what the web held for simple, pretty cleaning supplies, that didn’t need to be hidden away.

kitchen collection1

 Clockwise from top left: Redecker dish brush, hand-printed tea towel, Japanese scrub brush, Redecker dust pan and brush

1. Dish brush  – Have you seen my dish sponge? No, you haven’t, and this is a good thing. My dish sponge (like most, I presume), goes through its lifecycle in various phases from sparklingly new to disturbingly grungy. The “scrubbing” part wears away, the sponge falls apart, and if I am on top of things and throwing it away before this happens (as is likely the wise thing to do), I end up replacing my sponge frequently and thereby also adding a nasty spongey mess to the landfill. And contrary to what aged dish sponges attempt to do in the sink, I feel confident in saying they do not decompose well. Enter this lovely looking German made dish brush. Sure, you can buy dish brushes just about anywhere, but do they have replaceable, biodegradable heads and natural bristles? Dish brush with replaceable head available at Archer Hard Goods

2. Tea towels - Right, of course, tea towels do go without saying. But, as with everything, there are tea towels, and then there are tea towels. Within the latter group are the tea towels you’d almost rather pin to the wall instead of using. Cotton or linen tea towels that will look lovely as well as properly dry dishes. These are the ones we all ought to have in our kitchen. Like this one – would you really not be able to smile with this cow hanging from your oven? Cotton tea towel with hand printed cow – Oh, Little Rabbit

3. Dust pan and brush - Functional, yet mostly just an ugly bit of plastic. Most of the metal ones available also leave much to be desired, and are betters suited to workshops and garages. But what if there were one with simple clean aesthetics, metal and wood construction and a rubber lip, making it ideal for quick cleanups inside? That’s what I thought, I’ll take one too. Above is the Redecker Delta dust pan and brush – Archer Hard Goods

4. Scrub brush – Every one needs a multipurpose, work-horse of a scrub brush. Since I’m going for aesthetic appeal as well as functionality, how could I leave out this unique looking Japanese scrub brush. Made of palm fibre, this Japanese “turtle” brush appears to be just the heavy-duty brush needed for cleaning everything from kitchen floors to cast iron pots (although maybe not the same brush for both). The palm fibres resist deforming even with heavy use, and natural lipids in the fibres help prevent mould. Japanese kamenoko brush – Kaufmann Mercantile

Tagged with:
 

Running through a part of the city, and not very far from our home, is an old rail line that has ben converted to a paved walking and biking trail. Sometime around the middle of December the city was doing some trail maintenance, cutting back trees and bushes that they deemed were growing too close to the trail. In one of the sections closest to our home a thicket of native red osier dogwood had grown along the path, these were cut back rather drastically.

One morning just before Christmas I took the dogs for a walk along the path and picked up several of the beautiful glossy red branches that had been cut. I brought them home, trimmed them down to a manageable size, and put them into an old glass wine carafe as decoration for the season.

The ends that had been trimmed off I put into a mason jar in the kitchen, then added a bit of water. I am not entirely sure why I added that water. Maybe just to see what would happen. I had tried to root forsythia in water before, without much luck, so I don’t think that I was actively trying to root anything. At least I don’t remember that being my plan.

The little cut ends were pretty in the kitchen, an they stayed there, not doing much of anything for several weeks.

dogwood1

Then one day I spotted a bit of bright green growing from a stem, and before very long all of the branches had sprouted leaves and roots were starting to grow in the water. How exciting. Unfortunately, it was January. Spring wasn’t even on the horizon, let alone weather warm enough to think about planting anything.

dogwood3

dogwood_roots

 

I let them grow a little further in water, and then one morning I decided it was time to pot the little twigs up. Perhaps a little too soon for some, as out of 7 rooting twigs, 2 didn’t do so well. The leaves started to droop and shrivel, and although I suspect that given a bit of time they may have perked up again, I wasn’t in a waiting mood (seeing as it was the end of January anyway, I had 5 others, and none of this was intended in the first place…), so out the 2 failing twigs went in the compost, the next garbage day. The 5 remaining twigs are, to various degrees, doing well. Two are positively thriving, and the other 3 are hanging on.

dogwood4

Of course, the question is, will they survive until April or May? I have just the place for them as an informal hedge at the side of our back garden. Red osier dogwood is native to this area, so I am pleased to have it in the back yard. Granted, it will take some time for the twigs to resemble anything like a hedge, but after all, they were free, so no reason to complain.

Tagged with:
 

C slippers 1

We have had leather-soled, crocheted slippers on the kids’ feet since they were born. I even had a pair myself until they recently fell apart. Up until now I have bought the slippers, but with both kids now in sizes costing over $40, our beloved crocheted slippers were becoming a bit too expensive. Enter my friend and neighbour with her fab pattern for crocheted slippers! I tweaked it a little as I was making them, and I don’t think I even referred to the pattern for Mauisi’s slippers (above)… And that’s just it – crocheted slippers are not nearly as difficult as one might think. Her pattern steps you through the process and provides templates for the soles.

C slippers 2

For Cub’s slippers I added a knit cuff, similar to a sock leg, and I find they stay on brilliantly. I used a 6.5mm crochet hook for both slippers. Cubs were three strands (2 darker blue and 1 lighter blue) of Cascade 220 worsted weight wool, while Mausi’s slippers were 2 strands of worsted weight wool held together. Both slippers have soles cut from a old sheepskin coat I found at a thrift store; suede on the outside and wooly on the inside.

Immie slippers 1

I think I might just have to make myself a pair…

Tagged with:
 

This is Sally. Sally Snake. I won’t talk about the originality of the name – that’s just how it is.

draught snake4

The upstairs of our 1 ½ storey 1940’s home is odd. We have one bedroom, a closet, and an unfinished section with odd roof angles, that could creatively be turned into something some day…but for now functions as a very cold attic. There’s a door to the attic, off the landing. It’s that door there, that Sally is lying in front of.

And that door is actually why Sally came to stay. Sally is a draught snake. She was made as the weather turned cooler this last fall, and I thought it would be good to have something extra against that door. Her body is made from an old boiled wool skirt, and her head and tail are bits of a vintage bed sheet. She’s stuffed with wool, fabric and yarn scraps, and old buttons serve as her eyes.

draught snake2

Sally, however, was quickly picked up by little hands, and the kids thought it kind of neat to have a giant stuffed snake to play with. That upstairs door wasn’t critical anyway.

Our garden door on the other did need something. Something a little less intriguing. We have double doors leading out into the garden. They are old, and there is a small gap at the bottom between the two doors. It needed something a little bigger than Sally, and so the other day I took an old wool blanket and a zipper salvaged from a thrift-store sweater and made more of a draught cushion than anything else.

draught pillow 3

Clearly that is not our garden door, but I gather the light was better in the upstairs bedroom than down in the kitchen…

It also is stuffed with wool and fabric scraps, and I added the zipper in order to be able to dry things sufficiently should the draught stopper get very wet. It sits at the garden door, and the dogs have a tendency to track snow through that door.

draught pillow 1

We tend to sit it up a bit more against the door to keep draughts out, and so far it seems to be working.

Tagged with:
 

winter bird tree 1

This past Christmas we finally had our first real tree as a family. We picked Mausi up early on her last day of school, and we went as a family to cut down our tree. It was beautiful. It was everything a Christmas tree should be. We took down our Christmas tree yesterday; two days short of the 12 days of Christmas, but it seemed like the perfect time, just before school started again and life resumed it’s chaotic pace.

Here, the city will come and pick up your Christmas tree if you leave it at the edge of the road. They will chip it, and use it. This, of course, is a perfectly viable option for a tree, but we were interested in using our tree ourselves.

We decided that for the time being we would put the tree on our back deck. All the decorations were safely put away for another year, all except the garland of dried oranges, cranberries and popcorn we had made to decorate. This garland stayed on. We then set about making bird-feed pinecones.

winter bird tree 4

winter bird tree 5

We smeared nut butter on the pinecones and then rolled them in birdseed. I attached a small piece of cooking twine to the top of each pine cone, with which to hand the pinecones from the tree.

winter bird tree 6

Once finished we headed out to decorate our tree for the second time! This time for the birds and squirrels.

winter bird tree 3

winter bird tree 2

I have other plans for what will be left of the tree in the spring, but for now our little Christmas tree can serve as a perch for winter birds.

 

Tagged with:
 

I stepped out the other day and a fluttering sound interrupted my daydream. Caught in the uppermost branches of a tree, silhouetted against the steel blue of a cloudy late December sky, was a plastic shopping bag. Winter images in my mind would have the bag replaced with a crow, or other winter-residing bird, not a ragged plastic bag blowing in the wind. It was wrong, it didn’t belong.

With Christmas Day past us, and the jump into the new year just ahead of us, thoughts invariably turn to changes we would like to enact for the new year. The making of New Years’ resolutions seems to be innately programmed into us; this desire to improve. My resolutions this year are a handful of small and large goals for myself, Cub and Maus, but also some changes to the way we do things. Chief amongst the changes is meal-planning. I will get the hang of successful, efficient meal-planning…but that is a post in itself.

Next to meal-planning is greater thought in the products that come into this house. The ideal of reducing plastic may seem lofty, or better suited to those with greater disposable income, but I don’t believe either. To my mind it just requires a bit of forethought in planning, and a greater conscientiousness while shopping. Some ‘convenience’ may be lost, but I’m beginning to think that such convenience was an artificial construct in the first place.

We will still have plastic in our home (some brilliant pieces of which are played with almost daily), but little-by-little we’re reducing the plastic we don’t need. I’ve made a list. Some things we already routinely do (cloth diaper), some things I strive towards (the planning to be able to effectively buy in bulk), and others are for a rainy day (making dish soap).

Having said all of that, here are 14 ways to reduce plastic use:

  1. Reduce the use of plastic bags by using reusable cloth bags for groceries, produce and bulk foods.
  2. Reusable lunch containers go a long way to help reduce plastic. Go even further by using stainless steel or glass containers (although glass may not be such a good idea for kids!).
  3. Buying in bulk when possible helps to reduce the plastic packaging of smaller amounts. Bulk products will also often be available in paper bags.
  4. Products will also sometimes be available with alternative packaging. Buy products packaged in cardboard, glass jars or cans when available.
  5. Avoid excessive packaging.
  6. Make/use homemade cleaners and keep them in glass jars.
  7. Keep a reusable water bottle with you and never buy another plastic bottle!
  8. Use a reusable coffee cup, and reduce the number of plastic cups and lids ending up in the garbage.
  9. Use washable cups, plates and utensils for parties, and if the thought of so many dirty dishes makes your head spin, limit yourself to paper plates that can later be composted.
  10. For those with little ones still in diapers, cloth diapers, reusable swim diapers and cloth training pants help to keep a significant amount of plastic out of the landfill.
  11. Increasingly it is becoming easier to find natural alternatives to plastic toys. Buying used toys and passing loved toys on to family and friends also helps to reduce to ecological impacts of plastics.
  12. Microbeads in some face/body washes are accumulating in freshwaters and wreaking havoc with aquatic organisms. They are just not necessary. Choose conscientiously when buying face and body wash. 
  13. Even simple clothing choices can have an impact. Polyester fibres from clothing have been found on beaches globally. These fibres are separated during wash cycles, and are too small to be filtered out in water treatment plants. Impacts of these fibres on marine life are still unknown, but it’s certainly something to consider.
  14. Feminine hygiene products as well are not without plastic issues (both in packaging and applicators), but nor are they without alternatives either. Reusable silicone cups and cloth pads are both readily available alternatives, and will keep extra plastic out each month.

Clearly it is something to work towards, and my goal is not to be completely plastic free, but rather to be more mindful about what is coming into our home and reducing unnecessary plastic.

Tagged with:
 

Back at the beginning of fall we decided we needed a little getaway. We wanted to take the dogs with us as well, so we turned to AirBnB to see what we could find.

What we found was a small log cabin tucked into the woods on a 200 acre horse farm near Sundridge, Ontario. No running water, no real electricity and an unexpected lack of cell phone coverage lead to the perfect respite from the hustle of everyday life.

We drove down the farm lane-way and were met by Patti, the farm owner, and one of her daughters. We parked our car next to the house, and loaded our bags and cooler into a trailer attached to the back of an ATV. Papa sat in the trailer with both kids, while I sat on the back of the ATV holding Badger. Cato ran along behind. Patti drove us up to the cabin, which was no more than a few minutes walk, but would have been several trips with our bags and cooler.

cabin

The little octagonal cabin in the woods had a lovely wood stove for heat, a fireplace, and a handful of oil lamps to bring some light. Patti had hooked up a battery, so there were some electrical lights, but we tried to use them as little as possible.

Cato_woods

It was as much a holiday for the dogs as it was for us. Cato has never spent as much time off-lead, and Badger also thoroughly enjoyed snuffling about.

badger_field

Bucky

One morning was particularly mild, almost spring like with a warm breeze blowing, and Patti took both Maus and her brother for a ride on Bucky the pony. First Maus, then Cub, then both together. They had never been on a pony, and were both so excited!

puddle jumping

After a night of rain the soggy fields had giant puddles. It was misty and drizzly, mizzly even, but with the proper gear both kids were toasty and thrilled to be able to jump in so many puddles!

Cato_field

cato running

You’d never guess this boy was 10, would you?

We walked, we explored, we adventured, we had a thoroughly relaxing time, all 6 of us.

We’re coming back, of that we are certain.

Tagged with:
 

A friend and I were talking about baby essentials the other day. She had read an extensive list and was skeptical that one needed all of it. It made me think of my own list, and while the list changes for everyone, and even sometimes between babies, this one worked for us; a Maus’s view on what one needs* for a new baby.

  • Wrap or ring sling :: With Mausi it was wonderful to have a snuggly little newborn wrapped up against us. It was the perfect way to transport our November baby through the winter. In fact, we wore her exclusively until she was 16 months old. With our Cub the sling was an absolute necessity! For all the same wonderful reasons that we had with Maus (the ease of breastfeeding on the go, the convenience of not having to lug an awkward car seat through a store or navigate narrow doorways with a stroller, and the peace that comes with a contented babe) but now also the reason of having to contend with a busy 2½ year old in addition to a newborn. Whether we were at home or out and about, with Cub in a sling, this mama had two (or very nearly two) hands free for wrangling a Maus.
  • Plenty of wool :: There’s no denying it, I have a thing for wool. Especially on babies…and toddlers…and growing 5 year olds. Wool caps, wool undershirts, wool soakers, wool sleepsacks…it’s warm, it breathes, it absorbs moisture. It’s essential.
  • Cloth diapers :: I’ve really enjoyed always having diapers on hand and not having to buy them weekly. And just incase you are curious…we work with a combination of prefolds, flats and Motherease Sandy’s and Pianissimo cloth for night (as well as one or two random other diapers). Prefolds might be the one of the world’s most useful things. They are diapers, yes, but also work as overnight doublers for toddlers, wipe up baby spit-up, handy burp-cloths, are perfect to lay underneath a naked bum…and the list goes on.
  • Lambskin/sheepskin :: We didn’t have a sheepskin with Maus, but were given one for Cub, and I can say with some certainty that we used it every day for a wee babe. And still do. For sleeping, changing and just hanging out around the place.
  • Calendula salve :: Cub was a little more sensitive to moisture than Maus was, especially in his first couple of months. We used a calendula salve almost with every diaper change to soothe the irritation. Such a useful salve for skin irritations in general.
  • Wool puddle pad :: For those inevitable times there is a nighttime leak. A wool puddle pad under the fitted sheet in baby’s sleeping place protects the mattress nicely.
  • Nursing pillow :: I should preface this by saying I didn’t have a nursing pillow with Mausi, and was perfectly happy. But then I didn’t have the pillow I have now! Not your standard half-moon support pillow available at many baby shops, the one I used with Cub is more cylindrical and filled with buckwheat so it molds to your lap. What makes it so useful in my mind however is that it can be used for so much more than just nursing!  It was the perfect support to keep Cub nice and snug against me when nursing lying down, it is of a good weight and helped keep the wee Cub from rolling off things (like the bed), it worked well to separate the 6 week old and 2½ year old when they were lying side by side (big sister love can be a tad smothering at times), Mausi has enjoyed lounging against it for the last 2 ½ years, and for mama at the computer it kept a newborn Cub at the perfect height, for kisses, nursing and talking to. Now it sort of kicks around. It keeps growing children from rolling of beds, it works as a back support when reading books, and is integral in fort building…just generally useful. Ours is the Nneka nursing pillow made in Canada, and to be honest I am not sure if there are other similar ones. Although, I can’t imagine it would be too difficult to make one like it.

* I didn’t include clothing in this list as individual needs change according to season…unless you count wool. Wool is always good.

A balance bike or runbike was on our list of things we wanted to get for our children. When I found a practically brand new one on Kijiji a mere 20 minute drive away we bought it right away (or rather, Mausi’s Auntie M did for her Christmas present the year she was 2).

Mausi is a petite child, and even on the lowest seat setting she wasn’t able to fit the runbike comfortably that first summer when she was 2½. It wasn’t until the following spring/summer that we came to fully appreciate the marvels of the runbike.

bike1

bike3

It took her a few days to get the hang of sitting on the bike while moving it forward with her feet, but once she did, there was no stopping her. She flew on the little wooden bike. When she started kindergarten last fall we discovered that that 2 little boys in the neighbourhood, both of whom were in her class, and with whom we had started to walk almost everyday (and still do!) also had runbikes, and the 3 of them started to ride home together. They rode those runbikes well into the fall, until the weather turned too wet and chilly to comfortably use the runbikes.

bike5

But more than the sheer enjoyment she clearly had from using the runbike was the speed with which she learned to ride a proper bicycle. We had thought we would buy her a bike this spring, but at the end of last August she was given a little hand-me-down bike with 12″ wheels. The bike came with training wheels, but they weren’t attached, and we didn’t bother putting them on. Three days was all it took before she was happily pedalling away. It was another 2 or 3 weeks before she figured out how to start on her own.

For Maus, learning to ride her pedal bike was such a clean and smooth transition. Maus is a cautious child by nature. She likes to get the lay of the land before jumping in to something. But it almost seemed as if learning to ride her bike was the most natural of transitions after her runbike. There was hardly any hesitation, no trepidation, no feeling of unease as the bike tilted awkwardly slightly to one side on a training wheel. She’d already mastered the biggest hurdle to riding a bike; figuring out how to balance. Adding the pedals in was the easy part. I attribute all of that to the runbike.

Her runbike still get a lot of use. But with each passing day she is asking to ride her pedal bike more. Which is really just as well, because we are just about ready to reset the seat back down to the lowest setting for Cub. I wonder if he will fit it yet. He is taller than his sister was at the same age, but he is only just over 2 now. It may well be another year yet before he is also flying down the path as fast as his little legs can propel him.

A note about our runbike ::

When I had first looked into runbikes I had landed on LIKEaBIKE balance bikes as my top choice, but the price was prohibitive. When I found a used LIKEaBIKE not far from home I jumped at the chance. We have the Mountain model designed for children aged 2-5. I really liked that they are designed and manufactured in Germany, as many of the other runbikes I had seen online are made in China. The LIKEaBIKE mountain bike is made of high quality birch plywood, has a removable seat pad and pneumatic tires, and has felt steering limiter which prevents younger children from turning the handles so sharply that they end up in a heap on the ground. All of these features were important to me, and to be honest I liked the look of the well-built little wooden bike. Ours gets a lot of use, and has held up brilliantly. We are however careful to store it inside, as I am quite certain the birch plywood would not appreciate being left in the rain. The only drawback really is the that the seat didn’t go quite low enough, but I have seen that LIKEaBIKE has another model of wooden runbike where the seat starts out lower still, so that may solve that problem.

bike_closeup

I have no reason to get another runbike now, but if I did, I’d be sorely tempted by the new LIKEaBIKE Rosalie & Hardy, and aluminium framed runbike with spoked pneumatic wheels and a removable steering limiter. Available in simple pink or blue, vibrant grass green or deep cherry red. Looks like a great little bike, and perhaps better than a wooden one when the weather is soggy.

 

Tagged with:
 

Two years ago, the summer after we moved in, I found this table and four accompanying chairs on Kijiji for a song.

table_before

It had been years since anything was done to it, and the top had the oddest coating on top. It was fine when it was dry, but when you wiped it it would get slightly sticky. It didn’t really have the lovely worn look some wood pieces get with age, and we’d been talking for ages about painting it. This past week-end seemed the perfect time to do so. I’m very much wanting to try out milk paint but as there is no milk paint available within walking distance and not wanting to spend much money on getting paints, I checked what we had put away in the basement. We still had some Benjamin Moore primer, which seemed like a suitable under coat.

I’m really loving white in our kitchen. It’s bright, clean, and really opens up our little house. And…it goes with everything, so there is always the opportunity to paint the chairs in different colours. We had a Benjamin Moore semi-gloss in ‘Chantilly Lace’ left over, as that is what we have been using for trim in the house.

I sanded the table as best I could. The odd coating on top made it a bit more difficult, and I am hoping that the primer and paint will be fine on top of it. I gave the top of the table two light coats of primer. Let it dry properly over night and then sanded it lightly before painting the semi-gloss latex on top. I have yet to seal it, and am not sure whether I will use a clear wax or polyurethane.

Painting the legs was a complete pain. Doing it in the heat on the back deck probably didn’t help. It’s just as well that this is just a functional kitchen table I intend to use in my own kitchen, and not an antique destined for sale.

table_1

The top is still a little sticky, but I gather that it actually takes forever for latex paint to cure. Which is a little awkward considering that this is a kitchen table. I’ll have to hold of the horde for as long as I can…it’s a good thing that it is summer and we have an outside table on our deck!

table_2

Maus’s dresser is next on the docket (although it may actually just stay in the living room where it has been temporarily relocated, and I will have to find another for her), but this time I am going to try milk paint. Certainly a faster curing time, but annoyingly not quite as readily available as latex.

Tagged with: