engel wool before 3

I received a couple of wee hand-me-down Engel wool shirts and a wool diaper cover from a friend of mine for the new babe.

I ought to take a step back here and say that we are preparing to welcome another babe to our family, a sibling for Maus and Cub, towards the end of September. He is currently being referred to as ‘Cobnut’, and I suspect that may stick for some time.

More immediately however, is the treatment of the hand-me-down wool. The lovely cream coloured wool shirts, leggings and diaper covers don’t remain quite so creamy after even just 1 or 2 babes have worn them. Especially if the spit-up at all. This of course doesn’t affect the usefulness of the wool, and the shirts remain just as wonderful. In fact, there is an added bonus of now having a reason to dye the wool.

engel wool before 2

At first I thought I might use an acid dye, but that would require choosing a colour, ordering it online and paying for shipping, and then waiting for it to finally arrive. Instead, I decided to try some natural dyes found closer to home (and free). 

My usual wool wash routine is either to throw them into the washing machine on the wool setting, or wash one or two pieces by hand in the sink with Eucalan. Occasionally for diaper covers it is necessary to strip them of lanolin to get them really clean, and I thought it might be beneficial to follow such a routine for these pieces to make sure they were as clean as possible prior to dying. I followed these directions, and I just happened to have the right dish soap (although other directions suggest other dish soaps as well, so I am not sure it matters too much).

The next step was to mordant. I knew mordanting was necessary with most natural dyes (all the information I read said so), but I wasn’t entirely sure why. Mordanting prepares the wool so that the dye will adhere properly. I was able to find alum powder in the spice section at the bulk food store in town (Bulk Barn), which made it a very easy mordant to use.

My kitchen scale is pretty much useless for fine measurements, so I used it as best as I could and also looked up the weight equivalent of tablespoons and teaspoons (hoping that alum weighed about the same as sugar…).

The two baby shirts weighed 5 oz dry, which is about 142 g. For this I used 1 tablespoon of alum which works out to be roughly 9% of the weight of the wool, and also 2 teaspoons of cream of tartar which works out to be about 7%. I used this recipe as a guide. I simmered the shirts and mordant for just over an hour, and then I put the whole pot outside to cool and sit overnight and then some.

Enter the tansy…

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Tansy, Tanacetum vulgare, is common in this area along roadsides and in particular along a city a path not far from our house. I suppose many might consider the common tansy a weed, but I find the little golden buttons quite appealing. I harvested enough little flower heads to make up about 5 oz, put them in the dye pot with enough water to cover the shirts, brought the water to a boil and them simmered the flowers for about an hour. Next I strained the dye liquid through a cheesecloth into a bowl, discarded the flower heads and returned the liquid to the pot. Not wanting to shock the wool too much, I let the the dye bath cool before adding one of the shirts (I’m not sure why at the last minute I decided just to do one yellow…the other will be another colour). I brought the dye bath back up to a simmer, being careful not to let it boil, and simmered the shirt in the dye bath for about another hour. I then turned the heat off and left the shirt to sit over night.

In the morning I rinsed the shirt until the water ran clear, and laid it out to dry. I’m pleased with the golden yellow result. A lovely fall colour I think.

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tansy dye 4

 

The other shirt is still awaiting its fate…and although I think a green might be nice, I am sorely tempted by the walnuts falling in the backyard. I may just need to try a brown made from walnut husks.

 

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Since Maus first became aware of Barbie, she has known that her mother will not have Barbie in the home. At some point last year Barbie appeared at her grandparents house, and Maus is able to play with her there, but she doesn’t come home. We had Barbie under control I thought, the Barbie-boundaries were drawn. What I hadn’t counted on was that the Barbie pervasiveness of marketing towards little girls would work away at my daughter and would subsequently culminate in tears in her eyes as she showed me the Barbies in the consignment shop and asked why she couldn’t have a Barbie. I was not feeling a star mother as we headed on to the grocery store afterwards, and although she seemed to forget about the whole thing fairly quickly, it stayed with me. Why was I so against Barbie? I had a couple of Barbies as a child, handed down from our babysitter I think. I don’t think they made the move from Germany with us though when I was 8 and my sister was 6, I suppose Barbie never stood a chance against the He-Man action figures we also had…

But the Barbie of the early 80’s isn’t quite the glitzy Barbie of today. And I am fairly certain that when I was Mausi’s age there was no such thing as Barbie underwear for little girls. This article sums up the Barbie dilemma quite succinctly, and this one is also quite good. In fact, a google search will show that I am hardly alone in wanting to keep Barbie at bay. The first article had referenced the Lottie doll as a suitable replacement for Barbie, and I had in fact come across her a year or so ago when looking for possible substitutions. Unlike Barbie’s dimensions, that are physically impossible for a healthy woman to achieve, let alone something I want my 5 year-old daughter to internalize, Lottie’s body proportions are those of a 9 year-old girl. And what is more, Lottie can stand on her own 2 feet, an ability that Barbie seems not to have mastered just yet. When I noticed that Lottie had a small series of ‘STEM’ (science, technology, engineering and math) inspired dolls, I was suitably impressed. Although, to be honest, I am not sure that ‘butterfly protector’ Lottie is outfitted well for field ecology. But she does have rubber boots, and that has to count for something! Of course when I showed Maus the Lottie selections she thought she might like the ‘snow princess’ doll best, I find that that is a battle not worth fighting. I would be fine having the sparkly snow princess Lottie doll in the house.

To answer my daughter’s question of why. I’m not sure I yet have an answer that a 5 year-old could grasp. That I think Barbie is a useless role model, that I want more for my daughter than the superficial desire of cheaply made brand-names, and that I feel that Barbie represents the over-sexualization of young girls, are all topics that are perhaps a little above where we are in our heart-to-heart discussions. How do you explain these things to little ones? Or maybe I should just leave it at mum doesn’t approve of Barbie, and that we don’t play with Barbies in our house.

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I’ve been using more natural deodorant for a few years now, but until a few months ago I had still been using stick deodorants commonly available in health food stores. I had been planning on trying out some homemade deodorant recipes, and then, just before Christmas, I found an interesting deodorant at a local natural beauty and skincare shop.

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Packaged in a little glass jar, Schmidt’s deodorant is a lightly scented (unscented also available) paste deodorant applied with your fingers. It looked very much like what I was going to attempt to make myself, so I thought I’d give t a try.

The question was however, would it work? I had read enough reviews of truly natural deodorants that fell a little short in the actually working category to be…not skeptical exactly, but more prepared for either outcome. It does work. Really well. I’ve been using it now for just over 6 months (I am about to start my second jar), and I’ve been very happy with it.

Schmidts3

It worked well for me, right from the beginning, but in this case I hadn’t just made the switch straight from an aluminium-containing conventional antiperspirant to natural deodorant (there may be a period of adjustment if making such a large change at once). It works, has left no marks on my clothing, doesn’t leave a sticky residue on my skin, lasts pretty much all day, and I have had no sensitivity when using at right after shaving. Which really sums up the ideal deodorant in my books.

Schmidt’s packaging falls right in line with trying to reduce the amount of plastic in the home. The little glass jar is both easily recyclable, or could serve a host of functions in the home…small sewing notions, tiny treasures, wee buttons or snaps, beads etc.

It’s made in Portland, Oregon, which isn’t exactly local to Kitchener, Ontario, but not across the world at any rate.

Made with: shea butter, baking soda, arrowroot powder, cocoa seed butter, vitamin E, hop extract, essential oils (mine has bergamot and lime)

There isn’t a thing in Schmidt’s that I don’t feel comfortable using.

Schmidts2

* I have no affiliation with Schmidt’s, nor did I receive any compensation for this post.

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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.

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

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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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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.

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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.

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…

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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