We’ve just had a very wet week-end here. But a little rain wasn’t going to keep anyone inside, and so while I sat down to edit another thesis chapter, Papa took Maus and Cub out for a rainy day adventure.

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There are plenty of resources online for how to keep kids busy outside in the rain. But sometimes it is the simplest things that are the most fun: jumping in puddles, or a wet wander along a trail.

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And there really is no better day, than a grey drizzly one, for collecting snails. I was told, by a very excited 5-year old, that they saw “more than a hundred, more than 200…500 snails!”. Then she proudly showed me the ones she had gathered.

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The key, is keeping kids warm and dry in the rain. A decent rainsuit or a rain jacket and rain pants will go a long way in allowing kids to enjoy being outside in the rain. Which reminds me, I somehow need to find a less “puffy” pair of rain pants for Maus…unfortunately I don’t even really know what that means.

 

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I made a sweater for Maus just before she was 2. It was the Little Hoodlum pattern by Julia Stanfield. That little golden yellow hoodie was worn all the time by Maus, and was then passed on to C, who still wears it just as much as she did.

old gold hoodie

Maus at almost 3, wearing the year-old hoodie.

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Maus, 1 month shy of 5, still wearing the old gold hoodie…although her brother was wearing it more at the this point.

Such a versatile pattern I felt needed to be made again, in a larger size so that it could again start with Maus. Knowing that she had would have 2 boys following her in wearing the sweater I decided to make it in a pretty blue. A colour that was approved by Maus, but would also suit the boys coming up behind.

So that is what is on my needles this month…another Little Hoodlum, this time knit in Cascade 200 Heathers in “Summer Sky”.

blue hoodie 2

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Maus is at an age where she is really starting to get into having chapter books read to her. Although she still likes to look at the occasional picture, she’s able to sit and listen to a story for much longer. This is wonderful! But it also presents the problem of finding books that are both suitable for this 5-year old, and yet not so mind-numbingly boring, predictable or relatively poorly written, that reading it makes me want to throw it out the window. Many early chapter books written for the 6-8 year old set are therefore not eligible for consideration. I discovered this the hard way after reading just one popular “Thea Stilton” book to Maus. Never again. While I am sure that they are enjoyable for young readers to read themselves, they are not best suited for me to read out loud.

We had our first major success with “Tumtum and Nutmeg” by Emily Bearne.

The book we picked up at the library was a collection of three stories, beginning with one simply titled “Tumtum and Nutmeg” in which Emily Bearne begins by setting up the delightfully whimsical story of a draughty, ramshackle English cottage called ‘Rose Cottage’ where the human children Lucy, and her brother, Arthur, live with their disheveled, absent-minded father. Unbeknownst to the children, Tumtum and Nutmeg, or Mr and Mrs Nutmouse, also live within Rose Cottage. To be precise, they live in a stately, 36 room, miniature, mouse-sized mansion called Nutmouse Hall, tucked within a forgotten broom closet, itself hidden behind a large wooden dresser too heavy to move.

Life is peaceful at Rose Cottage and Tumtum and Nutmeg have taken to caring for the children. Nutmeg darns their socks and mends their clothes, while Tumtum fixes toys and the like. The children believe that a fairy has taken up residence, and they correspond with Nutmeg through letters left on the dresser. Inevitably trouble arrives one day, and in this story trouble comes in the way of dastardly Aunt Ivy, who has come to stay at Rose Cottage while exterminators rid her own apartment of mice.

The ensuing chaos involves a poisoning, plotting by Aunt Ivy, an attack by a mouse army led by the retired General Marchmouse and the eventual fleeing of Rose Cottage by Aunt Ivy in the middle of the night.

The two other stories “The Great Escape”, involving a squeamish human schoolteacher, a cage full of unsophisticated gerbils, and a group of mouse-ballerinas on pogo sticks, and the “Pirates’ Treasure”, involving a group of pirate rats, were equally enjoyable.

For us, Tumtum and Nutmeg and the other 2 stories provided just the right amount of adventure and suspense for my Maus to enjoy, and I must admit that I think I enjoyed reading the stories as much as she enjoyed listening to them.

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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.

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 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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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