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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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July 1_1

We’ve been having such fun in the garden this year. Perhaps it is because Maus and Cub, now 4½ and 2, are playing so well together outside. Perhaps it is the extra two garden boxes we built. Perhaps it is because the kids love helping water and are excited to eat peas fresh from the garden, and pluck calendula petals for salads. Or perhaps it is a combination of all these things and more.

Our garden is growing, and we are loving every day spent outside.

July 1_5 Marigolds

 These are my favourite marigolds. The lovely crinkly shape of the petals and the richness of colour that shades from gold to a beautiful deep orangey-red make these french marigolds so wonderful. The seeds originally came from Hawthorn Farm Organic Seeds, but this year I planted the last of the seeds from Hawthorn. I’m hoping to save some of these seeds, and with luck the saved seeds will germinate next year.

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Borage. I love Borage. I planted it last year and it managed to self seed. Everywhere. I didn’t need to plant a single borage seed this year. Given the prolific nature of this flower I think it would be a fabulous plant for that little bit of no-man’s land between the road and the sidewalk at the front of our house.

July 1_3

I thought I’d try my hand at growing a cucurbit (squash, pumpkin, zucchini, gourd, cucumber family) again this year. I tried delicata squash a couple of years ago, but that did not end well. This lovely green plant is a Black Futsu pumpkin plant. So far it seems to be doing well, and I even spotted a flower just beginning to form…

To the side of the pumpkin, just at the edge of the picture are the cucumber plants. The intent was to grow cucumbers to pickle…we’ll see how that pans out!

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Peas! Our peas have never done this well, and the kids have just discovered how wonderful peas eaten right in the garden are. I seem to have planted a mix of snap and snow peas…that was unintended, but works well enough.

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 And lettuce. We have to this point not been a huge lettuce family. We would eat lettuce on sandwiches or hamburgers, but rarely would we make a salad with lettuce. I was determined to change that this year and in an effort to do so I planted some of this funky speckled romaine. We’ve been eating it as well, so I suppose it has been a success thus far.

Our tomato plants are also doing well…all save one cherry tomato. The solitary red cherry tomato wilts more than the others in the heat, and I am afraid that there is something else going on. The happiest of the tomatoes are the two lobed German heirlooms. Pictures of those once the tomatoes start to set.

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I had grand plans for teacher’s gifts this year. I had intended for Maus and I to make some sort of treat involving strawberries, but I didn’t pick up my flat of strawberries until Wednesday evening, and Thursday was the last day of school. Needless to say, last minute baking the night before just wasn’t in the cards. It was a trickier decision than one would expect, trying to think of something to give two wonderful kindergarten teachers, but in the end I decided on two bottles of wine.

After a year spent in a classroom with 4 and 5 year olds, I thought they certainly deserved a nice bottle of wine to be enjoyed now. An organic white and a lovely looking rosé seemed like good choices to be had on a back deck now that the weather is so nice.

Resistant to buying paper wine gift bags, I thought I’d sew a couple that could easily be reused.  I used ½ a yard folded selvedge to selvedge. I then cut two long strips 5 1/2 inches wide, with one narrow edge the folded bottom and one narrow edge the open selvedges.

One bag I sewed the the side seems right sides together and then zigzagged the raw edges. I trimmed the opening to be about 2″ above the top of the wine bottle. I folded the raw edge over twice, about a ¼” each time, to enclose the edge, and stitched it down. I tried something else with the other bag. I sewed only one side seam. Then I folded the top edge down without trimming and stitched it so the the folded top was about 1″ or 1½” or so above the top of the bottle. I then continued sewing the other side seam to finish the bag.

I prefer the look of the second bag (the closer bag in the photo below) as the top has a bit more body because of the double layer of fabric. Both bags functioned just as they were supposed to however, and enclosed the bottles of wine given to celebrate the end of Maus’s first year of school.

teachers_gift_winebags

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After the never-ending winter, spring and summer seem to be moving along so quickly…

I can hardly believe that it is CSA time again! It seems like just yesterday that our farmer was sending out the spring newsletters giving us a farm and planting update…and now it is already time to bring in some spring greens.

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I had some extra cotton muslin tucked away, and I thought it the perfect fabric to make up some bags with. I washed the muslin on a fairly warm setting and then tossed it into the dryer to shrink it before sewing. The bags are basic. I opted not to put in draw strings this time.

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I simply folded the muslin selvedge to selvedge and cut across, so that the selvedges would eventually be the finished top and the fold would be the bottom. I made french seam on the edges as I like the clean look of them, although for produce bags it probably doesn’t matter what the seams look like!

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Simple, functional, easily washed. Pretty much exactly what I was looking for in a produce bag.

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Spring is finally  here, and this last week-end saw the bike trailer put back together and the kids and I out for a ride. Granted, it wasn’t a long ride, but just long enough to put the tired 2-year old to sleep for his nap. It was nice to be out on my bike again.

Last evening, Maus and I went for our first bike ride together. She on her little 12″ bicycle she is slowly outgrowing, and I on mine (mine having somewhat larger wheels…). It was slow…those are some awfully little wheels she is working with, but lovely.

Cycling is so many different things to so many people. For some the bicycle is their main form of transportation and they use it to commute to school and work. For others, cycling is solely recreational. And for many more cycling falls somewhere between the two. Bike culture is growing around here, with more and more people using their bikes to get around the urban environment. And really, why not, parking downtown can be a pain!

Taking a break from editing my thesis chapters the other evening I took to Etsy to see what interesting accessories I could find for the modern cyclist. Etsy, as usual, did not disappoint.

For those needing to haul their bikes up and down stairs or onto buses and trains WalnutStudiolo offers beautifully simple leather portage straps for your shoulder or carrying handles lower on the frame of the bicycle. I thought of my brother and his wife who live above a shop on Queen Street in downtown Toronto, carrying their bikes up and down the narrow staircase from the street to their apartment and back.

WalnutStudiolo

Leather portage strap (left) and bike frame handle (right) from WalnutStudiolo

Many years ago, when women routinely rode bicycles wearing skirts and dresses, skirt guards were common sights. FrillRide is bringing them back, but these are definitely not the skirt guards of the 40′s and 50′s.

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Skirt guard from FrillRide

Along with a skirt guard, why not add a funky garter strap to keep your shorter skirt in place while biking? BirdIndustries makes garters in a host of different colours and sizes, as well as waterproof saddle covers to keep your seat dry in the rain. There’s not much more uncomfortable than coming back out to your bike after a rain and having to sit down on a wet saddle, especially if you’re wearing your favourite skirt.

BirdIndustries

 Skirt garter for bikes (left) and waterproof saddle cover (right) by BirdIndustries

And for those heading out to a dinner party, oopsmark in Montreal makes a lovely looking wine bottle holder as well as a sleek u-lock holster.

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 Wine bottle holder (top) and u-lock holster (bottom) by oopsmark

 All these little things you didn’t realize you actually wanted…to make your cycling life easier and to add that little extra something to your bike.

All images used with permission.

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sunday cardi 7

As I was knitting Cub’s birthday sweater Maus would periodically check on the progress, and mention, while doing so, that she would like another sweater as well. Pink, she would say. I thought the Sunday Sweater pattern would be a good one to do, and Maus approved. It has a simple lace pattern on the front to add a bit of interest, and the worsted weight yarn the pattern calls for is perfect year round (well, maybe not in July and August…).

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The original pattern calls for long sleeves, but Mausi and I agreed that short-sleeves would be better this time round. I find that often short-sleeves actually extend the amount of time a sweater can be worn in the year. Mausi is constantly complaining that she is warm, and I know that a heavier long-sleeved sweater would almost not be worn anymore now, unless it is worn as a top layer. But Mausi will wear a short-sleeved sweater or vest well into early summer, and with a long sleeved shirt underneath it makes a great layering piece int he fall and winter. We are all about layering in this house.

The pattern was the easy part, finding a suitable pink yarn was something else entirely. I don’t often shop for pink yarn, and although my local yarn shop has a lovely selection of yarns, all the pink ones I liked were fingering weight, and so not suitable for this pattern without some pattern adjustments. I hummed and hawed and finally left without buying any wool at all. Instead I came home and checked out the pink selection at Quince & Co. in their worsted weight ‘lark’ wool. They had a couple, and Mausi mentioned she preferred light pink over dark pink, which made my decision that much easier. A few clicks later and ‘Dogwood’ was ordered. Of course I ordered enough yarn to fit the pattern requirements, not really thinking about the short sleeves. I have an entire skein left over…which I suppose means that Mausi will have a matching pink hat this fall. I’m sure she won’t complain.

sunday cardi 1

 The buttons were three matching shell buttons from this collection, and I thought them perfect for this sweater. They are smooth and pearly white on one side, and fairly rough and, well, shell-like, on the back side.

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The best part is that this little sweater has already been completely integrated into Mausi’s wardrobe. Originally I had intended it to be an Easter sweater, but seeing as I didn’t finish it until the week after Easter that didn’t quite pan out. Never mind. The pattern designer had intended the cardigan to be an all-purpose layering piece, but sweet enough to fit over dresses as well as jeans. And I think she succeeded!

 

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My dad stopped by several weeks ago with a very special treasure. A collection of old cardboard boxes and cigarillo tins, each filled with buttons. Old buttons. Special buttons. Cards of matching buttons for suit jackets carefully cut from buffalo horn. Lovely creamy white and iridescent buttons handmade from shells. And tucked amongst the boxes and tins of buttons, a long, narrow carton with ‘weiss’ (white) simply stamped at one end. The carton is half full of crisp, clean, sharply-edged tailor’s chalks.

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I vaguely remember him only as ‘Opi’. The older German gentleman whose house was right next to ours in Niendorf, the suburb of Hamburg in northwestern Germany. He would walk through our garden on his way to the road and call us “Kletteraffen” (climbing monkeys) with a chuckle as my sister and I sat in the apple tree. He was always wearing a hat. He had been a grandfather figure to my mum, as in a way, Opi and his wife, known only to me in stories as ‘Omi’ had been the catalyst to my own maternal grandparents meeting. My grandmother, a young French woman, had ended her journey from France to Germany under the protective wing of Omi, a milliner during the war. My grandfather, a young Ukranian man incarcerated in a camp in Germany during the war, apprenticed as a tailor with Opi once the camps had been liberated.

I imagine Opi to have been a very good tailor, and I can picture him fitting shirts and suits before the war. Using the corner of his chalk to make carefully sweeping lines on a piece of gabardine wool. He was in the German army at the start of the war, but the stories I have been told have him ending the war not in the army, marching in a direction so at odds with his own morality, but rather back in his tailor shop still required to work for the war effort by making uniforms.

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My mum added to the buttons I am sure. One tin holds a collection of identical buttons I am almost certain she salvaged from an old worn duvet cover. It’s the sort of thing she would have done.

There is history here, in these cartons and tins. In the tiny cut marks on the handful of buttons that look cut from bone, and the suit buttons on their cards. As I sift through them I think of Opi, a man I can’t really remember. We share no blood, but without him, I wouldn’t be writing this. And that is an odd thought. I think also of my mum, as I do almost every time I sit at my sewing machine or pick up my knitting. I love that I have these little pieces of history to add to and to use.

bone buttons

 

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Easter dress_4

A while ago Mausi’s papa gave me this book as a present, “Les couleurs francaises” by Yoshiko Tsukiori. I’ve long admired the styles in the Japanese dress books I had seen, and this book is particularly nice as it has both women’s and girls’ patterns in one book. An Easter dress seemed the perfect excuse to finally stop looking at the patterns, and to choose one to make. Mausi chose pattern ‘Z’ at the back of the book. It has a ruffled hem and I suspect appealed most to her mood at the time.

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 The fabric is Meandering Flower Fields in pink from Sarah Jane’s Wee Wander line. Although I’m not always drawn to pink, I thought this was really very sweet, and just the sort of thing Mausi would like. I think the little peach footprints amidst the flowers are particularly sweet. I lined it with shot cotton in ‘shell’ and the bias binding and ruffled hem are both shot cotton in lipstick. I lined it not only for modesty (as it is an Easter dress) but also to add a bit of extra substance as it is still quite cool outside.

Easter dress_5

The pattern called for sleeves…and I had fully intended to put sleeves on. The pieces were cut, and lying on the sewing table. But I got so caught up in making the bodice pieces, and then attaching them together at the front split, that I sewed up the bodice sides before I had set the sleeve in. I didn’t want to go through the trouble of opening side seams again, so I used the bias binding the finish the arm holes and made a sleeve-less version instead. I’m actually really pleased with the dress without sleeves.

The patterns in this book require that you add a seam allowance when you are tracing the pattern pieces. Mausi is such a petite 4-year old that I left the seam allowances off, and the size 100 still fits with room to spare. In fact, I am hoping it will fit next summer as well.

Despite my inability to read the written instructions, the pattern pieces were straight-forward and the dress came together quite quickly. Cut and sewn in chunks of 15 minutes here or 30 minutes there. I’m already looking ahead to the next pattern in this book, and perhaps it’s even time to sew something for myself…

Easter dress_1

Easter dress_3

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Our little Cub turned 2 a month ago on March 1st, and although it wasn’t quite ready in time…the buttons were put on that next week, by a week later he had his birthday cardigan. Everyone needs a cardigan. Second only to a hoodie (and a hooded cardigan makes even that unnecessary) a cardigan is one of the most functional pieces of clothing for little people.

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This particular cardigan is the Wonder Years cardigan by Elizabeth Smith (my ravelry notes here) and was really quite enjoyable to knit. It knit quickly from the top down and the sleeves were knit on at the end from stitches set aside. The button band was last. I had a difficult time choosing buttons, as I couldn’t find any locally that I really liked. I finally settled on these, which actually match quite well, as the cardigan just needed to be completed. But I can’t say that I love the buttons.

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All that button indecision was about a week before my dad arrived at my door with the most amazing treasure under his arm…but more on that in the next post! In the mean time, our little man has a  new cardigan to wear as winter ever so slowly gives way to spring, and it looks as though he has enough room to grow so that it will fit next fall and winter as well. Success.

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