May 6, 2014

(re)discovering our city

I forget, sometimes, that when we left Portland Briton was almost 5 and Evie just 1. Too young to remember much of anything. It's a funny thing to be introducing your kids to a place you know and love so well. Not that we know everything about Portland, or that the things we knew before are all the same, but it's been our city for so long, even when we were gone, that it's hard to remember that the kids don't know it at all. The perfect excuse, we decided, to re-discover the city.

Living here with two elementary school aged kids is different that it was being here with toddlers or babies or no kids. Less play-group and more go for a bike ride than it was last time. Less drinks at midnight and more lazy Sunday brunch than it was when we were first married. Fun, either way.

We've ridden bikes along the waterfront when the cherry trees bloomed and gone to visit the houses they lived in as babies. Wandered playgrounds they used to love and visited our favorite cafe - still small, still serving buttery scones as soon as you sit down at the table, still delicious. Between breaks in the rain we spent a Saturday morning at the Leach Botanical Garden, puttering down the trails and checkout out the difference between the "wet" coniferous forest and the "dry" coniferous forest and enjoying the sun.

We've got a whole list of places to go and things to show them.  Crabbing in Newport, Hoyt Arboretum, Forest Part, Grant Pool, Cannon Beach, Triangle Lake...all sorts of places that they don't remember, all sorts of adventures Will and I have had but not with them (yet). We're not in a hurry, this isn't New York with a one year deadline. We have time. But oh, it's so fun to share this with them.

April 11, 2014


The other morning, after dropping the kids off at school, I walked to a nearby grocery store parking lot to see a man about a bike and half an hour later, rode home on Penelope. Last weekend we made the rounds to several bike shops, not actually for me, Evie was in more desepate need of a bike since the pedals of hers kept falling off and even with the seat on it's highest position it was still a good six inches too small (she ended up with a Trek 220, the same bike Briton has, as an early birthday gift from Nana and Poppa, and can now make it up the hill to our house in a flash instead of having to walk part of the way. Gears! They are miraculous! Thanks  Nana and Poppa!) But since we were there I got a chance to try out several Dutch and Step-thru bikes. I was totally sold on the internal hub (Thanks Dee, for the info on that!) and the upright position and the low bar and the style, everything except the price tag. Turns out a $1300 bike is the norm here in BikeCity when it comes to new bikes. And like I said, I get it. A good bike is worth the money. It just wasn't in the cards at the moment for me.

And then I got stuck on hold one afternoon and started puttering on Craigslist. I'd been popping in now and then to see if I could find a Vintage Raleigh Lady Sport since they are pretty darn close to what I've been wanting, but with no luck. Until that day, when Penelope popped up on my screen.

She's not actually a Raleigh. She's an Elite which, according to the bike shop I took her to yesterday, is either a random small European company who made Raleigh/Peugeot like bikes or she was made by Raleigh for a different company. The man I bought her from is supposed to be bringing me her original Antwerp license plate from the late 1970's so somehow she started life in Europe and then emigrated to Portland. So far the only think I know for sure is that the hub is a 1979 Sturmey Archer She has almost all the bells and whistles I was looking for, right down to the bell, and rides like a dream. Now I can shoot up the hill to our house without pumping, feeling like I'm going to die or having to stop to put the chain back on (enclosed chain, btw, BRILLIANT! I love it!). I have to put new brake pads on her and at some point I will probably want to switch the steel rims for alloy ones for better stopping in the rain (ah, the things I've learned about bikes), but other than that, she's good to roll. The kids are particularly fascinated by the magic of dynamo lighting, which I have to admit is pretty cool.

So between Evie's new Trek and Penelope, we are officially a happy bike family. Who's ready for a nice long ride?

April 3, 2014

in which I have become obsessed with bikes

I don't mean to sound evangelistic, but I think biking may have changed my life. I realized last week, when the kids were on spring break and I wasn't biking to school and back again twice a day, that I wasn't sleeping well. I have (and have had for years) a terrible habit of waking up in the middle of the night, worrying about things that, in the light of day, aren't really a big deal. I've been dealing with that less lately but it wasn't until my Spring Break bike hiatus that I realized riding helped with this. I don't think it's just the exercise, although I'm sure that helps. I think it's being outside, in all sorts of weather. And that little kid freedom of having a bike to go wherever you want to. And coasting down a hill.

But I also realized that my bike really, really sucks. I thought it was just me, not really in shape, learning to ride again. And then Will had to borrow my bike for the day while his was in the shop (let's just pause for a moment to picture Will riding through the bike crowds on a purple retro ladies bike with a basket that's way too small for his long ass legs. Yeah, you're welcome for that smile.)  He could barely make it up the hill to our house. My much more in shape, much better biker husband couldn't believe that I had been riding it all over town.

I doubt, very much, that I'll ever be one of those biker who wears spandex and reflector shoes and aerodynamic helmets. I'm more of a London Tweed Run kind of girl (the Portland version is coming up!) Upright, step through bikes and leisurely pedaling rather than racing. But I still need a bike that I don't have to stop and fix every time I ride if I'm going to ride every day.

So I'm on the hunt for a new bike. A good bike. A girly-ass bike (because I like them. And also I wear skirts a lot, so it makes things easier). And I'm all kinds of bike obsessed. Reading up on hub gears vs. a derailleur (I like the sound of the hub style) and lugged frames and skirt guards and following bike blogs about family riding and city riding and riding in clothes that aren't made mostly of lycra.

If money were no object I would run, RUN out and buy this.

A Princess at the fair

Oh how I love that bike. And actually, I have no doubt that it's worth every penny of it's $1300 price tag. I know a really well made bike is worth the cost and that it would last me for years. Maybe forever. Never the less, too expensive. Most of the parents at our school seem to be riding some version of these.

Which are much more expensive and since I no longer have toddlers to haul around, not really what I need. In the grand scheme of things, for Portland, the Pashley is not an expensive bike. But still. Yeeks. Maybe one day. It is beautiful....

On a slightly more affordable scale I'm digging the Bobbin Bikes. The Birdie is awesome

But it's only a 3-speed. Granted, I can only ride my current bike in one speed, even though it's supposed to have 21, so 3 would be pretty damn awesome. But it also comes in a 7 speed, just not in the fun yellow and without a full chain guard thingie (see, I'm learning all sorts of technical biking terms) Which probably makes more sense. If I could find one locally to test ride I think I'd be sold. It's kind of an expensive purchase to make without trying it out though.

Anyone have a Bobbin? Do you like it? I've looked at Public Bikes as well, and Gazelle too, but I'm not as inspired to love either of those.

March 25, 2014

light and bright (and very white)

We're not quite settled enough for a full on tour of our new digs, but I though I'd share a few photos of the main living spaces with you. They are my favorite rooms in the house and the only ones that are looking semi-close to "done". Not that they, or any room that we inhabit, ever, will be done, we're strange like that. But these are at least getting there.

The house was built in the early 1920's and thankfully, mercifully, people have left it pretty well alone in the almost 100 years since. Other than new windows, which aren't as pretty as the original ones but have the benefit of opening rather than being painted shut (which is inevitable on old houses with original windows), slightly boring but not out of place kitchen cabinets and a truly ugly yellow 1970's bathroom vanity, most of the details and fixtures are there.

Ironically, Will and I have spent the past two years shifting our furniture away from "it looks good in a bungalow" and toward "Mid Century/Scandinavian/Vermont Farmhouse". I keep wishing we hadn't gotten rid of our little leather love seat or the comfy, ratty armchair that I recovered in orange. They both would have looked good in this house. And we could have used them to pad out the (HUGE!) living room, which clearly needs more...something. Another couch? Two more chairs? We're not sure. But something. Actually we need chairs all over the house. I'm not sure how we ended up short of seating in just about every room, but we did. I have a list in my bag just in case I come across something at a vintage store or garage sale. Tall stool, dining room chairs, armchair for the bedroom, desk chair for the hall, couch for the living room, chair for Evie's desk, bench for the bathroom....See what I mean? Chairs, we need chairs!

And color. The house is white. Oh so white. White EVERYWHERE. Every single surface except the wood floors...white. Even the outside. I think they bough paint in bulk and went to town. I actually like white and thankfully I like this white, but it might be a little too much white. We're debating between just adding colorful things to the house and painting, just a few rooms, just so the white isn't so...everywhere. On the upside the house is bright and light and even on cloudy days (of which there are and will be many, this is Portland after all) it doesn't feel dark, which is a big plus.

But all that aside, we're enjoying the new house. It's silly and ridiculous but I get a little buzz of happiness just looking at bungalow rooms that I don't get with anything else. I'm a sucker for a good built in glass fronted bookshelf and picture rails, what can I say?

March 20, 2014

(a) room to sew

I must admit that I was a little (a lot) bummed about leaving our house in Vermont just when we had finally gotten around to finishing off the old sun porch into a craft studio for me. It's been a long time since I had a space to work in that was all mine. Will and I shared an office/studio in our house in Charlottesville but it was before that, back to the house we rented when we first moved to Virginia, when I had a dedicated sewing room - a sunny nook off the kitchen. Even that didn't last long, it was turned into a playroom (and a very handy one) once Evie was walking. So it's been a while.

Our house here was a little bit of a gamble. We took it sight unseen after my best friend came to look at it and proclaimed it "so you". We knew the neighborhood, sort of. We knew 1920's houses, we've lived in them before. But other than a few photos, we didn't really know what the house was going to be like. Boy did we luck out. It's far roomier than we expected, spacious, particularly for a house of this age. It's full of period details like coved ceilings and wide trim and built in bookshelves. And it has a sunroom.

It's not a big room. Not really big enough for much of anything. If we had brought the piano and were musically inclined, it would make a pretty little music room. But sine we didn't and we're not, I claimed it as mine. My own. For the moment it's full of a mishmash of furniture that we had. Things we weren't using elsewhere. It would be a lot more efficient with some better shelving and maybe a different table thingy. But it's also lovely as it is. All my yarn and my pattern books are there. There's enough room on the floor for fabric cutting and because it's off the dining room, I can stretch out to the big table if needed. I can sit and knit in my old rocker or at my sewing machine and see the view of the street - gardens and charmingly painted cottages (it's much nicer in this neighborhood than when we lived here before the kids were born, ah the difference some paint and regular lawn care makes).

I'm spoiled to have it. I know. A place that is all mine. But I love it. Spring weather makes me want to sew. I picked up a remanent at Fabric Depot - oh how I'm missed that store- and cranked out a pillowcase dress for Evelyn, playing with french seams and a longer lining so that no seams are exposed on the inside. I need to make more of them for her, they work well for her habit of layering and shedding clothes though the day.

And I've got mad, crazy plans for an entirely thrifted or hand made wardrobe for myself (the thrift stores here....oh my! SO amazing!) This weekend I'm hoping to start on a chambray Staple Dress, something simple to see if I like the pattern. I love my go to tunic but it's a chore to make and for some reason (maybe it's because there are SO MANY SEAMS in it) I seem to get failed seams in them after a while. I literally wear them to death. I'm not 100% sure about it, it may not really be my style, but it's worth a go.  I've been flipping through old sewing books that I forgot I even had (moving is good for treasure finding) and dreaming away.

March 17, 2014

en vélo

I'm not a very athletic person. Actually, scratch that, I'm not at all an athletic person.  I hate sports. Watching them, playing them, listening to them. And  I really hate doing them. I'm the girl sitting in a corner reading a book during the Superbowl. Even then, I'd rather not even be in the same room. So it's been a little bit of a shock to find that I love to bicycle.

It's not that I've never bicycled before. I've had a bike almost all of my life. And it shouldn't come as that big of a surprise. I biked all the time as a kid. Around the neighborhood, in the snow, to school and back again.  My first bike was a purple monster of a thing with a long white banana seat that my parents found at the church rummage sale where I think it had once belonged to a succession of minister's children. It took me a long time to learn to ride it. In fact, I was so chicken of falling off of it that I traded it for a little while to a friend who loaned me her smaller (read: lower to the ground) bike until I was ready for the big dog. But once I had it mastered, I flew. It was a source of freedom, a way to go beyond the walkable limits of the invisible boundary that marked the difference between the known and the unknown. I rode it like a demon to my school one day to tell the parent of a teenager who had wrecked her car in front of my house what had happened (she was fine and I felt like a super hero). I fell off it trying to ride without hands and jammed my thumb so badly that I can still pop it in and out of joint on command. And when I outgrew it I got a shiny red 10-speed for Christmas which is probably second only to my cat old Nicholas in the category of Best Christmas Present Ever.

I rode my bike a little in college, and then later here and there in my adult life. But somehow I lost that love of biking. I'm going to say it has to do with that lack of athleticism I mentioned earlier. I don't like to get all hot and sweaty with exercise. I wish I did, but I don't. So the hills and heat and ice of the various places we've lived have turned me off to biking up to this point

But now I remember. I remember that old feeling of freedom. I know most people get that when they learn to drive but I hate driving. Even as a teenager I didn't like it. It feels like a chore rather than an escape. But on a bike?

I can ride here. Everywhere. Portland is a bike town and although I knew that, I never really got that before. Bikes are everywhere, and in so many different and weird combinations you almost can't call some of them bikes. It's not flat, not totally. But it's doable. Oh sure, I thought I was going to die of exhaustion the first time I rode up the hill to our house from school. It still takes my breath away, but I'm getting better. And even with the work, the fun of riding is worth it. I've ridden in the glorious spring sun and the typical Oregon rain and I'm sure the summer heat will make it harder but I plan to keep on biking. I see the city in a way I never did in a car. I see the stars and the bridges and the bright houses with their Tibetan prayer flags on the porch. Last night I rode down a street lined with blooming plums, so many that the scent was almost dizzying. When I have to get back into the car to drive somewhere further than I'm ready to bike (yet) I find that I'm grumpy and irritable. Who wants to be in a car? Give me back my bike. Beast-like, heavy as hell and (once again) purple, it's cheap and the gears suck and at some point I should get a *real* bike, but it has a basket on the front for my yarn and my book and it takes me where I want to go, or at least as far as my legs will carry me. Bike On.

March 14, 2014

hello from the other coast

Yes, the other coast. We're on the other side of the country. Almost as far from Vermont as we could get and still be in the continental US.

We moved.

Yes, I know, it's crazy and out of the blue and....crazy.

I love Vermont. We loved Vermont. We loved the small town and our friends and I loved my job and the kids loved the school, and we even loved the snow. But for many reasons, the greatest of which was Will's long and terrible commute, when the chance came to move, and not just move but move home, to Portland, where the commutes were short (and by bike!) and we had friends and much closer family, and where we have never quite gotten over was too good to pass up. So, in the middle of the worst winter ever and with three feet of snow on the ground we loaded a moving truck (with a sled part of the time) and packed up our car and drove all the way across the country to our new home. So now we are here.


It doesn't hurt that it's spring here either

January 22, 2014

busy bees

Oh we've been busy bees here in the cold cold Northeast. Working away on the house here and there. It's funny, I've lived with crazy paint patches and broken lights for over a year but it's so much better with them fixed!
The new room, apart from the insulation that will go in once its above freezing again (And when will that be? Not today, the HIGH today is -5) is done. Pretty and bright and a studio for me! It's still a little cold unless we have one of our little heaters in there, but it's lovely to have a space for yarn and sewing and a table for cutting fabric. Heaven. I need to hang some art and put my antique quilt rack together with some of our quilts to soften it up a little more and bring in my jars of buttons and knitting needles and things like that, but it makes me happy just to see it done at last!
Outside we took advantage on one warm day and stained the new shingles. It's hard to match aged stain but it's close enough. There are still a few more spots to patch up, columns to wrap with wood, trim to be added, but the house looks almost done out there in the snow.

We're toying with painting the kitchen cabinets, wood floor, wood countertop and wood cabinets have always seemed a little too much to me, but choosing the right paint color has been a challange. And we're trying to get all the little project ends that have sat unfinished done before we embark on a new one.

I'm ready for it to warm up a little. This winter has been so much colder than last. Too many days below zero. Too many days below -10. At least it give me the excuse to sit and knit by the fire!