A Hike to Our (Future) Strawbale Homesite (And Dressember Day #28)

My ultimate dream, the fantasy that is always on my mind, the thing toward which I’m always working and striving, is to build a small strawbale cabin on my parents’ land (or rather, the piece of land that will be mine one day). This will be kind of a vacation home, but we plan to make it entirely self-sufficient for all seasons, and hope to retire there one day. I spent a couple of years choosing the site very carefully – taking into account sun, wind, slope, drainage, water, visibility, view and more. We have no planning done on the house yet (well, that’s not true – I know what I want for the floor plan, most of the features, rooms, and so on – we just haven’t met with a designer or started anything concrete), but I go visit the site a few times a year to experience it in different weather, at different times of day. Ideally, I’d like to put a temporary shelter – even a shed or something – on the site so I can camp there once a month for at least a whole year.

Over the holidays, we hoped to snowshoe back to the site. However, it’s been very warm and too much of the snow has melted. So instead, we hiked. Here are some photos from our hike (followed by a photo of my Dec. 28 Dressember entry).

A pretty willow tree in the middle of winter.

On our way to the site. The sun was setting behind us and the light was fantastic.

Grandma and Neko hiking up one of many big hills.

See that light? And that, my friends, is what we call the Magic Hour.

This will be the view from our living room window at winter solstice.

The creekbed (for the spring) in winter.

I didn’t take a photo of the actual site this time out, as it doesn’t look like much more than scraggly grey brush this time of year. However, this gives a nice idea of the look of the land. The thing that I especially love about the site, and was kind of unexpected, is that it always feels about 2 degrees warmer than out on the road. The wind is always lower, the snow doesn’t drift there, and it always feels calm, sheltered, and warm. This is amazing! Such a peaceful feeling there. The creek (spring-fed) runs past the house, just down the hill through the woods, and a grove of poplar trees offers shade in the summer while letting the sun through in the winter. There is a perfect tobogganing hill just a few metres away. The slope of the hill that the house will sit on is perfect to dig into for a root cellar. I could go on and on!

Oh and of course, my Dressember photo for December 28! We are at my parents’ place, so I thought it would be fun to grab an old babydoll dress (from when I was 13!) out of the basement. This is genuine Courtney Love/Hole era!  It looks ridiculous without the belt, but with the belt, I quite like it!


A Merry Dressember Christmas!

I have slacked off on documenting my Dressember entries online, however, I’m happy to report that I have not slacked on wearing dresses, nor taking photos to prove it! I had thought I’d posted more recently than… the 20th?! Sheesh. So here is a round-up of one full week of holiday dresses.

Dec. 20th – Neko’s birthday, and a work day for me. We had a Solstice party that night, but I changed out of the dress for that.

Years and years ago, I picked this dress up at Value Village. It was too big for me, so I never wore it, but I love the eyelet pattern and held onto it. This was the first time I had worn in. I was sad to discover that the neck is tight and coarse.

Dec. 21st – Solstice! I wore something fancy and fun. Why not?!

Dress: Banana Republic (clothing swap) // Shirt: Nine West (clothing swap) // Necklace: Global Wonders

Dec. 22 – We had pyjama day as a theme day for the kids. Ate breakfast for lunch, stayed in our jammies all day. I wore flannel most of the day, but changed into this piece long enough to take a photo.

Dress: A souvenir brought back from Hong Kong

Dec. 23: My last day of work before the holidays. After work we traveled up to my parents’ place. This dress is an all-time favourite; I bought it at Value Village when I worked there 12 years ago and still love it.

Dress: no label (Value Village) // Tights: Codori (over cheapie tights) // Legwarmers: Sock Dreams

Dec. 24: Christmas Eve, of course! I put on a light dress for lounging in the loft by the fire. Lovely.

Dress: Joe (clothing swap) // Cardigan: Joe (clothing swap) // Belt: my husband’s wedding tie

Dec. 25: saved a simple favourite for Christmas day.

Dress: Ripe (clothing swap)

Dec. 26: A third Christmas celebration, with my mom’s extended family. This is a skirt from Value Village that my wonderful best friend, Nicole, suggested I pull up above my chest and then belt and throw a cardigan over. Actually, I bought the skirt, cardigan and belt all in the same Value Village trip.

Dress: skirt by Tan Jay // Cardigan: New York & Company

Dec. 27: Another night spent lounging in the loft by the fire; thus allowing for a summery dress. Wish I had pulled the belt to a reasonable spot before this photo! Ah, well.

Dress: Urban Heritage (clothing swap) // Tank: Old Navy // Cardigan: Joe (clothing swap) // Belt: Guess

*Note: We didn’t kill that elk. It’s a hand-me-down taxidermy. We’re not hunters, especially not trophy hunters. Also, I didn’t mean to pose in front of it but I have to say it’s a bit funny.

The Night We Built Terrariums as Gifts

In case you missed it, adorable little terrariums are all the rage this gift-giving season. After seeing them featured on Inhabitat, and for sale at Market Collective (here in Calgary), I had decided that they would be an easy and cute gift for the mothers (mine and Justan’s).

We needed:

  • small or medium sized glass containers (with or without lids)
  • pretty stones, gravel, shells and other such embellishments
  • small succulents
  • sand

I bought the containers for $2-4 each at a thrift shop, along with a $3 bag of mixed glass “rocks” and decorative shells. Succulents were $5 each for 2-inch containers – we got a selection of four different types. Sand came from the backyard.

All the materials laid out.

We got a cute book from the library called Terrarium Craft, by Amy Bryant Aiello and Kate Bryant, and used this as our reference for assembling.

Here are our finished products!

Nana’s single-plant, lidded terrarium with shells arranged by Neko.

Grandma’s multi-plant, fishbowl terrarium, complete with umbrella.

Neko wanted to make her own, so I bought her a Venus Fly Trap for her birthday and we transplanted it.

My very own little terrarium with glass inukshuk.

I hope these go over well! I’m quite in love with them.

Of course, it’s Dressember the 19th. Here’s today’s ensemble:

Dress: no label. I’m guessing handmade. Clothing swap. // Cardigan: Kersh // Necklace: made by me // Tights: Joe // Socks: American Apparel // Shoes: El Naturalista // Background: My store, Babes in Arms!

A Christmas-y Weekend in Dressember

I’ve had more fun with Dressember this weekend. I’d also like to thank the weather for cooperating with this Dressember experience – it’s been so warm! This weekend it hovered around freezing.

On Saturday, we went to a Christmas market, then set up the tree while watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (our annual tradition).

Yes. Our tree is tiny. Dress: Recycled button-up shirt dress from a store on Main Street on Vancouver (with American Apparel tank underneath) // Cardigan: Etnies // Jeans: Lucky

Today, we had a two-part Christmas party to attend – the first part was at a local historical attraction called Heritage Park, and then we went back to the hostess’s house for food and the rest of the party.

I tried the dress-over-skirt option today. I had never considered this, but saw some other Dressemberists doing it and thought it was interesting.

The outdoors version of my outfit. Dress: Joe // Skirt: No label // Scarf: My BFF made it for me // Coat: Bench // Tights: Joe (under), Codori Crochet Tights (over) // Legwarmers: from Sock Dreams // Boots: Keen

The kids at the party playing with a Lite Brite.

The indoor version of my outfit (wish it showed the tights!) Dress: Joe // Sweater: Roxy // Necklace: my sister’s from the 80s // Skirt: No label (Value Village) // Legwarmers: Button-up Legwarmers from Sock Dreams // Socks: Joe

The next few days of posts will be fun – terrarium building tomorrow; prayer flag making the next day; and Solstice the day after that!

A Downtown Holiday Adventure (And Dressember Day #16)

We don’t have much time for spontaneous family days in December (it’s true!), but I’ve been taking mental note of downtown festivities as I see them pop up on Facebook and Twitter – a gingerbread replica of the beautiful Fairmont Palliser Hotel, ice sculptures on Stephen Avenue, carolers, fiddlers, and pretty lights, to name a few. I had decided it would be fun to take an afternoon and head down there to enjoy as much as we could all in one day, since I knew making it down more than once wouldn’t happen.

I looked up some of the attractions on advance and made it into kind of a scavenger hunt, so we could cross sights off the list as we went.

First was the gingerbread replica of the Palliser. Truthfully, I also wanted an excuse to go into the Palliser and see the Christmas decorations. Here is what the Palliser really looks like (today):

The real Fairmont Palliser

And here is Neko with the fully edible version:

We took to the +15 walkway system to get partway to TD Square, where we would find the fiddlers performing. On our way, we walked for a bit down Stephen Avenue, and came across the ice sculptures in front of Winners. I hear that other years, they’ve been destroyed really quickly, so we were glad to see them still standing and in perfect condition.

Unfortunately, even though the Downtown Calgary website said the fiddlers would be performing 11:45 – 1:15, and we got to the right spot at 1 pm on the dot, they were already finished and packing up their things. Too bad – I was disappointed.

Thankfully, we had Food Trucks to cheer us up. My YYC Food Trucks app told us that Alley Burger was parked down at Eau Claire, so we hoofed it down there to grab a couple. Good thing we walked so fast! After we ordered, the woman at the till told the next customer there were only four left. We were starved, and so glad to have our burgers and fries. We walked back to TD Square to sit and eat them.

YUM! Highly recommended.

A touch-up for my haircut at Ginger Group and a latte from Caffe Rosso were the perfect end to our adventure.

Tonight, we attended a Christmas party at a friend’s house, and I donned Dress #2 of the day. It’s too big – I nabbed it at a clothing swap earlier this month because I think it’s cute and I wanted another dress for Dressember.

Mid-Month Dressember Slump

Ouch, pretty bad couple of days. Yesterday was really tough, as we had to bus to childcare and then I had to get from there to work, and then another bus adventure at the end of the day. At least that was the plan. I really wanted to wear a dress but, very long story with a lot of calculations short, I decided the easiest way to make the schedule work in the morning would be for me to run from where I was dropping Neko off, to my store. So…. I needed to wear something that I could run in, without any extra pieces to carry, warm enough for below freezing temperatures and layers so I could take off the inner, sweaty layers when I got to work and not stink all day.

I came up with tights, covered by tights, covered by yoga pants, with wool socks, a tank top with a built-in bra, a long-sleeved tee-shirt, and a light dress. And a light running jacket. Needless to say, I looked… interesting.

Dress: Joe // Shirt: Calvin Klein (Winners) // Pants: Karma // Shoes: Saucony

Yep, that’s right, there’s my entry for Running Dress.

It gets worse. I’ve been so tired this week, I haven’t put any effort into the outfits. I apologize to all you proper Dressemberists out there. I hope it’s just a mid-month slump, and that today I’ll be back on my game.

Dress: No label, Value Village // Shirt: Suzy Shier // Jeans: Lucky

Dressember Day #13 and a Michael Bernard Fitzgerald Living Room Concert

Earlier this year, I saw local indie sweetheart Michael Bernard Fitzgerald live for the first time (after a close call at Folk Fest a few years ago when I missed him – boo.). I was pretty excited, not just because his music is super peppy and happy and fun, but also because he seems to always be surrounded by just downright adorable people. I love adorable people! I saw him at the Starlite Room in Edmonton in the spring, and it was a ton of fun.

Then, in September, two of my good friends, Megan and Matt got married, and as a special surprise for Megan’s stagette party, her friends hired Michael to play a private show at a theatre in Edmonton – even better! I bruised my hand at this one while clapping to Brand New Spaces. There was also much wine involved. This night was so much fun and so awesome. I felt lucky to be there!

But a third time in the same year? Nah, too much to ask. But no! Michael decided to do a series of living room concerts to benefit the Calgary Food Bank this Christmas, and my friends Janine and Nikki volunteered their living room for one of these.

Michael Bernard Fitzgerald performing old and new favourites in Janine and Nikki’s living room.

Janine’s kids, Micah and Vienna, were in attendance, so when Michael did his usual quirky mash-up of Low, The Thong Song and Baby Got Back, he changed the lyrics of the Thong Song to “Let me see that suggestive underwear.” Micah thought this was so hysterically funny that for the remainder of the performance, Michael inserted the word underpants into each song. He then wrote a new Christmas song on the spot – the lyrics being simply, “Santa don’t forget my underpants, peee-ew.” Micah was in stitches.

And, my Dressember ensemble for the occasion…

This dress has no label. I bought it at a music festival.

A Day in the Life#1: Unschooling (and Dressember Day #12)

I’ve decided that periodically, on our days that are especially great (what’s that? You don’t want a play-by-play of the days where we run errands?), I’m going to post day-in-the-life posts showing what we do on a day of unschooling. Over time, these posts will show a variety of types of days, a range of topics, and hopefully a good cross-section of what unschooling an only child can look like.

Today is the first of these! Neko and I had almost a full day at home, and I had some plans of what I could work on with her (yep… that’s not true unschooling), so I thought it would be a good time to start.

We’ve cut out our morning ritual of Neko watching a few (usually at least semi-educational without ads) TV shows and having a glass of chocolate almond milk, as her behaviour has been going downhill lately with more whining, worse sleep habits, and some back-talking and rudeness. I feel Justan and I are at fault, not setting clear enough boundaries and setting Neko up to fail with the morning dose of sugar and screen time. For the past few days, there has been no TV in the morning, and the first thing to pass through Neko’s lips has been protein, or at least whole grains.

8 am We bucked the trend a bit here this morning, and I let her watch Nim’s Island on Netflix, as it was recommended to us recently.

9:45 am Neko did a mosaic craft that my mom gave her for her birthday. Just a bunch of sticky dots that you place on a template, but my thought is that it was useful for… math. And art. And fine motor skills. Oh, and we had breakfast at this point.

11 am I did laundry. Neko finished up her mosaic, and we snacked a bit in anticipation of going tobogganing. Also, Neko put a blanket on the cat. No educational benefit to that, that I can discern, but it was silly and looked cute.

Blanket-on-cat. Cute.

11:45 am Tobogganing! About six blocks from our house, there is a pretty big hill with a nice slope, and now that the snow deep enough and a decent quality, we’ll be over there sliding down that hill often! Last year we got a big, wooden toboggan and two plastic “flying saucers,” and we just got two Crazy Carpets (from the treasure hunt for Neko’s birthday party). This was our physical education for the day. Plus it was just fun. And we got some vitamin D.

Lots of hill climbing… unencumbered glee… and it’s a good sign when you’re laughing hysterically after falling off at the bottom.

This was tiring. And thirsty-making. So we walked home for treats. It was, by the way, nearly impossible to get Neko off this hill.

1 pm Cold drinks! I blended some lemon juice, homemade strawberry preserves (simply strawberries, lemon juice and sugar, simmered) and made us strawberry lemonade. Which, of course, called for fancy glasses. Which, of course, makes it appear that I was filling my daughter with strawberry margaritas. I wasn’t, by the way.

Oh yeah. And water.


2 pm Things got pretty boring at this point when we cleaned out Neko’s bed. It’s a loft bed, and she has tons of books up there, and extra blankets, and random toys… anyway. It was gross. And messy. So we did that. (Also, I’m watching Louis CK as I write this and I apologize if it’s affecting my tone.) Neko then chose a selection of toys that she wants to keep on her bed which are, she says, “fake Pokemons.” She basically chose regular toys and assigned them special powers. I don’t get Pokemon. These are life skills of some sort, I’m quite sure.

3 pm As I had promised Neko earlier in the day, it was time for Just Dance 3 on the Wii. This is, for the record, also my workout for the day. That game gets your heart pumping! I also secretly (not anymore) hope it will improve my moves, you know, for the next time I’m at the club.

Hawt. We had a good time.

This, of course, was part two of phys ed for today. And the required daily pop culture lesson.

4 pm Here was my one, actually educational plan for the day: to print off a 10×10 chart so Neko could fill it in with the numbers one through 100. She’s been having trouble learning to count, and I thought a visual cue, and writing the numbers herself, would probably help her make the connection. So I made a ten column by ten row table in Pages, made the cells square, and printed the page. Then I had Neko fill in the bottom ten squares, left to right, one to ten. We then went across and did the teens. Then the twenties. Up until this point I was leading Neko through it, and she wasn’t totally understanding the pattern of the whole thing. But around 28, she saw the pattern. She started filling in the cells by herself, only asking for help once or twice per line. This was so cool to watch. Each time she figured out the name for the next ten spot, she was so very proud of herself. I honestly almost cried, watching her. I told her that once she had filled in the chart, she would be able to count to 100. She said, “I can only write to a hundred, I can’t count to a hundred mommy.” I explained that using her new chart, she’ll be able to count to 100 whenever she wants. Her eyes filled with excitement and she said, “I want to fold this up and put it in my pocket and keep it with me every day!

Definition of the term “awesomesauce.”

After that, we called my parents so she could count to 100 on the phone for them (my mom is a kindergarten teacher, so she was thrilled to listen), and Justan came home and Neko showed him her number chart, and then she went to play with the neighbours for a while.

Oh, and today was Dressember Day #12.

Dress: Majora (Value Village) // Boots: Thrift shop

Dressember Day #11

Visited a heritage breed show today. Neko and I loved the petting zoo and spent a lot of time cuddling ducks, hens, kids and bunnies. A little Polish hen made friends and snuggled me for about 20 minutes.

Here is today’s ensemble (comfy and warm for traveling), with a miniature donkey.

Dress: 725 (clothing swap) // Sweater: clothing swap (no label) // Tights: left at my house after a Rubik’s Cube party (yes, really) // Shoes: El Naturalista

Winter Festival and Dressember Day #10

Early this morning, at 7 am, my alarm rang to tell me it was time to wake up Charlotte, Neko’s friend who had slept over last night for Neko’s birthday party, to take her outside to see the lunar eclipse. I went outside to see if it was even visible, and on seeing that it was, wondered to myself what to do. If I woke up Charlotte, would it wake Neko? Would she be really overtired then? If Neko didn’t wake up, what would Charlotte do until she did? In the end I fell asleep for a bit, then woke up at 7:45 and when I went back outside to see if the eclipse was still visible, Charlotte woke up and came out to see. I’ve been a zombie today, though I guess it was cool to see the eclipse (I hate to sound like a brat… but I’ve seen about four now… and I wouldn’t normally get up at 7 am to see one).

After Charlotte had gone home, we drove up to my parents’ place in my hometown. There was a winter festival happening tonight in my hometown, and I’ve always wanted to take Neko to it. This is the first year it’s worked out. First, we had cake and gifts at my parents’ house, as it’s our niece’s birthday today.

The festival had a hay ride, craft sale, free hot dogs and hot chocolate, skating, and Santa. The local shops were also open late. I ran into a few people I knew, which was neat (a couple of them I hadn’t seen since high school).

Neko finally got to see Santa and tell him what’s on her wish list!

I wore one of my favourite winter dresses, an organic cotton piece from a Vancouver designer. With tights and long wool underwear, a hat and mitts, and my Keen boots, I stayed warm outside for quite a while! Though, it’s also only about freezing, so quite warm.

Dress: Two of Hearts // Coat: Bench // Long underwear: Hocosa // Boots: Keen // Mug: Contiga

My parents have a lovely woodstove so afterward we took to the loft and watched the Doomsday Marathon on National Geographic. (And ate oranges.)