Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Hello from Sprainsville

Hello all, and my apologies for being so long absent! Please, join me for a cup of tea and something nibbly.

I had such ambitions for posting regularly every month this year. Who knew pandemics could be so disruptive? (answer: everyone.) We've been lucky here at my place and I hope the same is true at yours.

I have however been very very busy ensuring we stay lucky.  For example, there was a ridiculous amount of mask-sewing going on almost from the start, and then more so after I got spring-loaded scissors that hurt my hand a lot less...

until I realized how draggy it was to cart my sewing machine out of the way every time somebody else wanted to use the table. 


Silly me for making an office space that is also the best possible location for a Zoom call.

There was also a ridiculous amount of audiobook-listening while I did a huge run of masks at once so I could put the machine back into its cupboard for the long haul.  And a lot of time on a heating pad because I don't really have an appropriately ergonomic chair for that much hunching over the sewing machine. Plus of course, a lot of poring over desk chair options online. Then desk options online. I'm currently considering desk lighting. The fun never ends!

Somewhere along the way I discovered Tombow dual tip markers, and that's been a fun distraction.

Markers are much brighter than the sloppy swirly pencil sketching I did before I remembered colour.

In spring, we watched our garden wake up...


and I bought a hand grinder and coffee beans so I could make decaf espresso and improvised lattes at home,

and when asked, I rolled out crackers using the mandatory pandemic sourdough starter. 


Once it was robust enough, even though the temperature outside had gone far too high to justify setting the oven to 'insanely hot', I also made bread with the sourdough starter.

It tasted TERRible. Thankfully, we have an excellent bakery nearby with a stone oven where we can purchase sourdough bread which is the opposite of terrible. Dreamy, even. After I finally acquired some yeast, we gave up on the idea of baking with the sourdough. 

Mostly I just feed it, like it's a pet. 

A very demanding pet.

Seriously, every time I open the refrigerator the starter stares me down with a big guilt thing. I kind of regret introducing myself to the sourdough starter, but please don't tell it I said so.

I had more success with other baking. I offer as proof an orange-flavoured bundt cake...

 and a rhubarb pie:


Looking at these photos you'd think the cake tasted better. It was amazing, but the pie was truly the above and beyond dessert. Can't judge a book by its cover!


In fact there's been a lot going on in the kitchen here, and not just the full-on reorganization of my utensil storage which is the direct view from my favourite armchair and therefore needs to be pleasant.

Nope: I've also been cooking a ton of healthy meals. At first we felt takeout was a bit risky, and then we all noticed how much better we feel mostly eating fresh food prepared at home with less fat and salt. Another factor: we confirmed my long-held suspicion that I am a good cook. 

Go me! 

I've been able to sell even my pickiest housemates on bean soups. 

This is me, pre-soaking very pretty beans, back when I bothered with pre-soaking.

As I started to get more and more bored with 'celebrating me' every time the next meal rolled around, I discovered Staub cookware. Curious, I invested in one piece, and then several more pieces, every time there was a sale basically, which I have been using constantly. Don't get me started about how much I love these things. The ceramics are just as amazing as the cast iron!

 But do consider adding some form of 10" oven-safe skillet to your stash. 


You can set a piece parchment paper on top as liner and bake a gorgeous cookie in it, then lift out the paper, give the skillet a wipe, and make supper in it for a well rounded meal plus dessert.  And between uses, you can use the skillet for weight lifting. How great is that?


So far during the pandemic I have sprouted seeds for salad,


and sourced the perfect benches for our shady garden hideway,

and learned how to cut hair! 

(Please note the lack of pictures of freshly-cut hair.)


Have I been knitting? Not so much. Though yesterday I did ask someone to fetch me my knitting basket so I could have something to do with my hands while watching TV. (It feels weird to not be knitting but what isn't weird these days? Even after six months of this, I'm still not used to all the changes.) 


Just last week it occurred to me I'd like to have more down time. Somehow I've been so busy I've only binge watched something once since March, for one day. I felt I'd like to stop racing around the house, trying to cram more into a day than would fit, and just sit down. Breathe. Read a book in one sitting. Maybe bingewatch something. No cooking, no laundry, no problem solving. But I can guarantee you I did NOT on purpose, that same evening, step into a pothole while out on a perfect walk under a starry sky.

It was a complete accident I completely regret.

And now that I know how bad a sprained ankle feels, and how boring it is to lie around for days upstairs, far from the kitchen and laundry room, with my leg elevated - even when I can bingewatch things and ask other people to fetch the knitting basket! - I am definitely going to keep my mind on my feet when I'm out walking.

On the bright side, I had time to write this Hug today. And that was nice. I'm always grateful for the silver linings, even when the cloud is something I could do without.

Here's hoping you're finding some silver linings in all this too, or at least getting through it all right. We sure have had better times, haven't we. And hopefully, we'll have good times again soon.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Finding beauty where it lives

Let's mark this reunion with some eye candy, shall we? Unfinished socks, meet mantelpiece.

I never get tired of the way plain knit stitches look up close, so neatly arranged. Orderly. Predictable.

Maybe even a little fluffy, like these ones, which are made from a mohair/wool blend.

You may recognize this as the farm yarn I love which is no longer in production (but thankfully and for reasons I can't imagine, ahem, I still have a substantial supply). It's a heavy, warm, hardwearing yarn that makes excellent wintertime socks. Unusually, I find they are the pairs I am turning to most often in these springtime weeks, even though some days the temperatures are warm enough to set trees to bud. The wool breathes well, so they're not too much, and the heft of the fabric is so comforting.

And boy, do we need comfort right now, don't we? Wherever we can find it.  I write this as a healthy person sitting in a comfortable home with people I enjoy enormously, very conscious that too many others are not nearly so fortunate. I hope you are doing okay, wherever you are right now, and that the people you love are doing okay too. I am going to cram as many hugs into this post as I can. I wish I could do more.

Socks, not quite crammed into a carry basket for easy Netflix knitting


It really is spring here now. I can tell because the leaves are starting to come out on the mystery tree in our back yard.

They are so incredibly green and perfect for the first two months or so, before they go patchy and brownish in July. You have to admire their resilience. This tree was old when we bought the house and that was a pretty long time ago, but it hangs on, as should we.

Those of us lucky enough to face the question of how to spend all our newfound indoor time are addressing it in different ways. Some are productive, and others are nurturing. In my case the answer is: run just fast enough to stand still.

I am on a crash course in keeping more than two or three days of food in the house at a time, cooking everything myself instead of relying on intermittent takeout, establishing multiple work areas that can shift from standing to sitting to video conference to workout coaching to writing or accounting, and sourcing technology to do these extra things.

Another urgent task: reorganizing and replenishing my tea drawer and cupboard, because in this house tea is an essential worker. Here is the cupboard, in case I haven't shown you before.  Two Unikitties, one at each corner, are ready to greet me every time I visit.

I highly recommend keeping a Unikitty on a cupboard shelf because it guarantees you a smile at least once a day when you open the door and see it again. (in case you can't read it, that mug in the middle reads, "All you need is tea & warm socks", which is almost true.)

There are usually more tea mugs on that bottom shelf.  I suspect they were all in use or in the wash when I took this. There is a lot of tea and coffee and hot chocolate happening here.


This weekend, the card house I built with these all my new skills looked steady enough to let me step back and take care of the clutter building up while my attention was somewhere else.

Isn't this a much prettier landscape than piles of art supplies and heaps of knitting and mending? It never occurred to me before to colour-coordinate my project bags, but I find this really soothing and will be doing it from now on.

I especially like that shallow bowl on the right hand side, holding socks I'd just finished running in ends on but haven't washed yet.  In March, right before things closed down, a friend came into the city to meet for lunch and gave it to me with waaay too many super-delicious brownies on it. She told me to keep it, that it was just a cheapie she'd found at a dollar store, but I love the way it looks and I think it's perfect for a small shelf like this one.

Check out the reward I got for cleaning up my tiny office:

Yep, more farm yarn socks. And they're all but finished!  That has to be the fifth or sixth pair I stumbled across this month knitted all the way to the toes and then left to wait for the future me.  I don't know what I was thinking. That knitting is more fun than finishing, maybe?

I must have started these while we were still back in the condo, before the house was ready for us to move back. They went into a basket which went into my office, where it had various things piled on top of it, some of which must have stayed for two years or so because it was only this weekend that I dug back down to the Unfinished Sock layer. 

Boy, was I glad to find them.  And also the needles they were packed with, because I can't buy this kind any more.  I was getting worried over their whereabouts.


I wanted to show you our mantel, which I switched over from 'winter' (the plaid blanket shown at the top of this post) to 'spring' (white cotton/linen fabric cut from an old French sheet)

yarn scrap parfait!!

... and then to 'Easter' (egg hunt)

You know, we pretty much never have either of our fireplaces on, but I couldn't function without the mantelpieces over them.  I have so much fun with them.


There is sourdough starter in my house now. I've been interested in baking sourdough for years, but we have an excellent bakery in the neighbourhood that specializes in sourdough and after all, there are only so many hours in the day. Even after they reduced the number of days each week that they're open, I didn't feel sure I would have enough unbleached flour to maintain a starter of my own. Thanks to Costco, I now do - hence the sourdough baby.

I don't have pretty mason jars for the baby's cradle... these are two vintage milk glass bowls nested together in case of overflow. I put an ill-fitting plate on top to keep the dust out, between glamour shots.

So far I've discovered that the baby prefers me to de-chlorinate the water I feed it by letting it sit uncovered on the counter for 24 hours, rather than boiling it and letting it cool.  Also its scent has shifted from 'dirty diaper' to 'fresh bread and apples'.  I'm kind of in love!

And very much looking forward to sourdough pizza. We'll still buy bread from the bakery because we want to do all we can to support them and also, I am guaranteed to burn myself at the high temperatures sourdough loaves require. But they don't sell pizza dough.


A couple of weeks ago we tried to go for a walk and realized our usual routes were too crowded to be viable. So Pete drove us over to an underappreciated section of our neighbourhood industrial park. That's where I got the idea for the title of this month's post. Beauty lives everywhere, and you'll find it even in the most unlikely places if you have a moment to look.

I mean: it's an industrial park. We drive through past it regularly and think of something else the whole time. But it's got trees - it runs alongside a ravine that stretches into a valley. It's got a lot of sky over it. It's not all bad. This tree is definitely not all bad.

And soon I was able to frame other images I found incredibly interesting.

Light and shadow...

Textural contrast...


A symbol of hope alongside a cracked wall...

It was a good walk.


One thing human beings are really good at is adapting, and I am confident we will adapt even to this strange and terrible time and come out the other side with new ideas and values and skills to get us through what comes after.

While you're adapting this month, I hope you're able to find small beautiful things, or something to make you smile.

(yeah, we're not eating so many fried eggs on toast since these two came to live with us.)

Thanks for coming to see me today - I really appreciate it. Take care and stay healthy and I'll see you here again in a few weeks!

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Inside Things

It's looking and sounding like spring here at Hugs - the birds are excited and cheery and there's a stiff breeze shaking off any dead leaves left in the trees. The sidewalks are clear and any stubborn snow is just dotted around like tiny islands. It's outside time! And yet...

There is a lot of inside time happening, or potentially happening.  Time that will need to be filled with inside things.

Last night I turned back to my sock. Spending so much time writing lately, I had stayed away from it long enough to forget that I'd come to an unusual break in the yarn.

(in related news, I was trying to solve a New York Times Crossword clue recently. Four letters, clued as 'knit and ...' and I was stumped.  Knit and sew? Knit and b****? wrong letter counts! Also, the second one would have read "STITCH and ...".  When I finally went to answer key and discovered the second word was purl, I knew the world had shifted on its axis and I am no longer the woman I was.)

On my initial discovery of the break in the yarn, I couldn't decide how to deal with it. I just put it aside.  Surprisingly, it didn't mend itself! So I decided to pick a solution and go with it.

I held about 3 inches of both sides of the break together and kept on knitting. It's the top of the leg - I won't even feel the double thickness, and I think 8 stitches in a non-stress area is probably enough to keep the yarn from running, don't you?

Okay, maybe you don't. Maybe I should rip out again and do 12 stitches.

Either way, in the predicament we all face as I type this, it seemed like an interesting lesson. Sometimes there's a gap between how things were and how things can be, and you just have to improvise.

Meanwhile, I'm looking at interests that haven't gotten much love lately but still love me.  Like my ukelele!

Did I tell you I bought one last fall? I don't think I did.  I was in a music store for something else and there were ukeleles in the Impulse Purchase zone at the checkout desk.  I was a very good girl and went home and worked sensibly for several hours before racing back to the store to buy one.

My thinking was, I've never been good with stringed instruments or chord-reading. Ukeleles are for cool people or musical people or people who are into folk or bluegrass or collective music, or some combination thereof. They are not for me. Also I have no space for more stuff in our house; I am still working through my yarn stash.  AND I want to be writing all the time now. When would I do anything with a ukelele?

Then the other half of my brain said, hello, two broken fingers still not fully mended? The cost of the ukelele was less than one physio session and might get me using those fingers better. And several-hour obsessions don't come from nowhere.  Obviously there is a hole in my life only a ukelele can fill.  Anyway, they're small.

So the ukelele came home.  I quickly discovered that yes, if I use my two previously broken fingers to make chords, they absolutely loosen up. They feel almost normal again! I also discovered you can play a ukelele in a soft, meditative way as well as in a STRUM STRUM STRUMMA STRUM way.  You can use your fingertips or your finger pads or a pick. You can thump on the body of the ukelele for percussion. I gave up on the chords my fingers couldn't hold properly and made up some that they could. I started composing my own tunes. It was very exciting. Pete even had to ask me to stop playing at one point because he was trying to sleep. He was mostly polite, too.

Then I realized that I couldn't sleep either, because the music was all up in my head and I was hearing it even without the instrument in my hands. So I slowed down, and the writing ramped up, and the ukelele has been sitting by itself ever since.

Maybe now is the time for it to come back out for a while?

Or maybe I should dig out some fiber and sit on sunny landing halfway up the stairs where my spinning wheel gathers dust, and make some yarn while listening to a really good audiobook.  At the moment I am in the middle of Lucy Worsley's Jane Austen At Home which is just so good. Normally it only gets airtime while I am folding laundry - it's amazing how much a good audiobook eases drudgery - but I could branch out.

Spinning would definitely be more fun than finally reorganizing my closet.  I've been quite interested in the idea of the 'capsule wardrobe', in which you whittle down your clothing to just the things you love and wear a lot, and which coordinate nicely. It's perfect for travel, obviously. But I like the idea for simplifying my everyday life.  I don't think I'd go to the extreme of 7 white shirts, 4 pairs of black pants, and 1 black jacket, but I can definitely do better than what I'm living with right now.  Also, I can see creating a few different capsules and swapping them out periodically by mood or season.  I have purchased some SKUBB storage things from IKEA to aid in pursuing this idea. Now I just need to make myself use them.  And - yay! I have time now!

I am easing into considering these possibilities while I also consider cooking. Specifically, what interesting meals to make from what's in the house. I am especially interested in learning to soak beans overnight and then cook them, and I'm hopeful that the dried beans I purchased when I first got the idea are not too old to taste nice.  I've been wanting to pursue this interest for some time and beans only wait for you for so long apparently.

I'm strongly inclined to make Joe Yonan's book, Cool Beans, my companion in this journey.

While I'm talking about books, did you know Tracy Chevalier came out with a textile-centric novel??  I don't know how I missed A Single Thread when it came out a few months ago, because I love Tracy Chevalier. Also this book is set after WWI, a period I find fascinating.

A few years back I read about how women's lives were impacted by that war, with so many men killed and a vastly lower chance to marry: Singled Out, by Virginia Nicholson.  Leaving aside the loneliness some of them must have felt, marriage was such an essential part of the social fabric then.  I had been so focused on the drama of the war itself when I studied that time, and then the weirdness of the 1920s, I hadn't thought of all those women who didn't marry, or else married differently than they would have otherwise. (that's also a fantastic read, if you're so inclined.)

So, I am buying A Single Thread as a reward, just as soon as I do something that warrants one. Which might be learning how to cook beans deliciously. I mean, even the cover of that book is so beautiful!

I am fortunate to be able to take long walks outside if I want, and I am taking the opportunity to do it. These pictures are from an amazing walk I had the other night.  The sky was just dark enough to make me feel sure my little phone camera wouldn't pick up the branches of the trees around me, but I shouldn't have underestimated it because they came out so nicely. No comments on these, I'm just clipping them all in and hoping you have the same shoulder-loosening sensation I do when I look at them.

This is getting to be a long post and I don't want to keep you from whatever amazing things you've thought of to do during this time, but I can't leave without showing you two last pictures from earlier this winter.

The first was taken about 5 minutes before the moment I discovered why one really should not sling one's backpack over the back of a chair in a coffeeshop: my wallet had been stolen. Spoiler alert: I do not carry ID in my wallet, so I only lost cash, a cancel-able credit card, and my faith in humanity. (temporarily!) (but not temporarily enough to go back to a regular wallet.) Anyhoo: I had to grab this wonderful view of the place where, long ago, I learned to skate backwards.  At that time it was a simple round rink not surrounded by condo towers. This new layout is pretty impressive, don't you think?

The second picture, and this really is the last for this month, is of animal tracks I found in the snow one morning. Bunnies? I don't know. I hope so. Anyway, I felt loved, and I hope you do too.

Take care till next time!

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Urban hiking gear and other creative adventures

It has been a whirlwind few weeks here at Hugs! While I have been writing and revising and learning things, the mantel has made a graceful transition to Valentine's Day, thanks to the removal of chocolate Santas (yum) and addition of cookies.

I am telling you: red accents and greenery are everyone's year-round decorating friend. And also, Happy Valentine's Day!

There has been snow here, of course.

And ice, which I discovered walking up a hill earlier this week.  As I neared the top a woman passing me on her way down said, Be careful, it's icy up there! and I said, You too, it's pretty bad on the hill!

I should have looked out for her because certainly once I got to the top and the worst seemed to be over, I slipped and fell hard. GAH. I didn't break anything this time but my arm still aches where I landed on it, and is not happy to be given any lifting, or sleeves. So much for my super sensible ice-resisting new boots.

In the kitchen, I've been devising exciting new ways to eat beans and lentils and whole grains.  Okay, I kid. None of them are really exciting. But some of them are delicious. And the prep is pretty.

This is a meal I ruined recently for reasons I still don't fully understand and am not much worried about, because I got it right the time before and the time after. I think really it was TOO MUCH QUINOA.  I had rinsed it a ton, but it was just too bitter without another whole grain to be its friend. In that scenario though you are wise to add some grated ginger to the onions and olive oil because otherwise that is a whole lotta fiber to deal with. I did some research before my purchase and can confirm that Microplane offers an excellent ginger grater.

Before the ruining:

After the ruining:

It even looked better before the ruining, don't you think?

As I write this, I am looking at our Chistmas tree. Yes, it's February, and No, I haven't decorated it for Valentine's day.  Really our house is too small even post-renovation to be leaving a tree up, but I didn't feel ready to lose it as January crept into double digits. Normally I am counting the minutes to January 2 when we get our living room back, but this year, not so much. So it is currently serving as a 'winter tree'.

All the little finger puppets we've amassed over the years from visits to the cute shop near the cottage, or the Royal Winter Fair, or the Home Show, have gradually made their way to the tree.

It's quite pleasant and thoroughly entertained a four-year-old friend who visited last week, but I think it will have to come down at last in March, if not sooner.  Once spring starts to hit outside, I fear a plastic evergreen tree is going to be much harder to justify.

Since the fall I've been longing to tell you guys about the very elegant approach I've honed for urban hiking, which also works for travel, or just any day out that involves going inside for some time, and then coming out again. Especially if there might be a museum or gallery involved.  So often those places frown on backpack use, but if you are walking any distance outside of said gallery or museum, a backpack is the most comfortable bag you can carry.

Decisions! Meh, forget 'em. Enjoy the best of both worlds.

What you need: a lightweight day pack, a lightweight tote, a pocket foldup shopper bag, and a small waist-pack-sized organizer.

Behold, my version of these four components!

Reisenthel's mini-maxi backpack. It folds into the outer pouch that looks like a pocket. Mine is this polka dot print, but you can get them in black too:

Rume's 'All' tote, which I personally chose in black because it coordinates and doesn't show dirt, slipped into the outer pocket of the backpack as shown above:

Note the side pockets, so perfect for securely holding a phone or water bottle

Emma Bridgewater's fold-up recycled plastic tote back in her purple polka dot print (because it goes with the backpack so perfectly!) also fits into the backpack's outer pocket:

I bought several of these on our trip to England but you can find the same sort of thing anywhere. Folded out, this particular little tote is SO perfect for carrying a baguette, being narrow for its length. I keep one in my grocery-shopping everyday backpack at all times. Folded into its little pouch, it fits on your palm:


And finally, inside the backpack, I carry Tom Bihn's Side Effect shoulder bag in black halcyon with purple lining. The slightly larger Side Kick also works if you need the space - I have one of those too and it really is a great bag - but for a serious urban hiking day, I try to go lean.

I just realized my wallet is missing from this picture, but it's a stripped down version with just the essentials. Also missing: my backup phone charger and a pack of tissues. I should graduate to a handkerchief really - I've collected enough of them over the years without ever using them for anything (don't judge - they're so beautiful and the fabrics are so soft!)

Note: that cool yarn-picturey thing is actually a compact mirror I got with a Twisted Fiber Art yarn club lo these many years ago. I do have one of those lipstick clip cases with a mirror glued in, but this is lighter and most flexible for shifting around if things get crowded.

Other items of interest: headache remedy, lip balm, a nail clipper for snipping off tags or a broken nail. The tiny pouch is an add-on from Tom Bihn and I use it all the time for keeping small things accessible. The date bar is handy in case of food-related emergencies and the notebook and capped pen are a great alternative to a smartphone, for jotting down ideas or doodling if you are sitting alone in a coffee place or waiting for your urban hiking buddy.

A tiny bag of knitting is not in the mix here, but I do sometimes toss in a sock-in-progress if I know I will need to pass a chunk of sedentary time on my own and I'm not going somewhere where a security guard will frown on needles. I'm always super conscious of ever having my favourite square sock needles taken away, because they don't make them in that particular metal any more, and I seem to be allergic to the new choice, wanh.

I admit it: the Tom Bihn bag is not made of super lightweight fabric like the others, which is silly because why keep the most hard-wearing thing inside? however, it will get its turn, and in the meantime it is plenty light weight enough, water resistant, and super well organized with sections inside. And SO many o-rings for clipping things onto.

The only other item that goes into the backpack, other than a fold-down umbrella if it's going to rain, and a small bottle for water, is the blue sheath that came with my packable down coat. In winter, I use it to stow said coat, but I keep it there all year round because it also happily stows my packable raincoat and has served as an excellent bag-in-bag for any shopping I might pick up over the day. Also I'm less likely to lose it if I keep it with the other things.

Here's how all this works together in the wild.

Let's say it's the worst case season: winter. I would walk out of the house wearing the down coat over a lightweight wool sweater (I use a fabulous wool crepe one which squishes down to practically nothing but holds heat while breathing like a woolly dream) and a black pashmina scarf  (silk and wool together: warm, soft, and SO tiny when packed down) plus, if it's really bad out with extreme cold and/or wet snow, my alpaca toque and a pair of cashmere-lined leather gloves.

The fiber lovers here know why: alpaca is the warmest, while resisting saturation in wet weather, and cashmere does an excellent job of retaining heat inside leather, which keeps you dry. On a really cold day a packable down coat is not really warm enough, but a warm head, neck, and hands minimize that deficit. Especially if you are walking briskly.

When you finally get to your primary hiking destination... you go inside! and suddenly all that gear is WAY too hot. If you're going to be inside for more than ten minutes, let alone a couple of hours, you are going to have to get rid of the extra layers.  So: the coat gets stuffed into its sheath - which now doubles as an excellent neck or lower back pillow, by the way - and the hat, gloves, pashmina, and sweater tuck into the bag as they are shed.  You will still have room to spare because all that stuff packs down to nothing.

Sometimes, after being inside for a bit, the conditioned air can be chilly. The pashmina and the sweater, separately or together, absolutely take care of this problem. They are also small things to take out of the backpack and wear, if you have bought something that needs a little more room than is left over in the backpack.

Speaking of which... if you are going into a place that frowns upon backpacks, it's time to do the magical presto-change bag swap. Ready?

1/ Remove the Rume-All from the front pouch of the backpack and unfold it from its pouch, putting the fold-up pocket tote into the newly released outer pocket of the All.

2/ Dump everything from the backpack into the All.

3/ Fold the packpack into its outer pocket/pouch, and slip it inside the All.

 Voila! You are a simple museum goer carrying an over-the-shoulder bag that isn't even bulky.

If you went shopping and you now have WAY too much to carry in the backpack, you can pull out the Rume-All and fill it, and then the fold-up tote and fill that, while still having all the room in your backpack.

This chair will not fit into even the largest backpack. Sorry.
There is a middle solution where the Tom Bihn bag comes into its own. That bag comes with an adjustable shoulder strap that allows it to be carried as a cross-body bag if you prefer. But if you slip it over your head and position it around your waist, the odds are that at its shortest length it will sit at the very least on your hips like a relaxed fanny pack. This may not look glam. But it does keep your wallet and other essentials within easy reach, with no weight to carry, and frees up more room in your backpack. Sometimes that's just enough room not to require pulling out either tote bag, so that you remain completely hands free.

Hiking tip: when it's time to take the Side Kick out of fanny pack mode, just unclip the strap on one side. You will look much less like a contortionist, and avoid pulling a muscle.

For me, the best thing about this system is that when I'm not using it, the components pack away neatly into a drawer. Every part is lightweight and long-lasting and combined, I have so much flexibility for my day.

And now it's time for me to wrap up for this month.  I hope you have a wonderful few weeks, with or without urban hiking or puppet-filled winter trees - and definitely without any nasty spills onto icy concrete because OW.

If you can fit in a coffee break with a friend, so much the better.  See you in March!