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!

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