Saturday, October 25, 2014

Upward and onward

Has it been a month since I've posted?

In August the knitting bug hit hard. It was around the time I drove up to Bath, Maine, and spent a few hours at Halcyon Yarns. Since then I've knit quite a few items, not all of which have been properly photographed, such as this pullover:

Blank Canvas pullover


The pattern is Ysolda Teague's Blank Canvas, a simple, close-fitting pullover with some flattering waist-shaping. LOVE IT! I was a bit worried that the 36" size would be a bit snug on me, but I used a wool that has some alpaca in it (Valley Yarns Northfield in the color Tranquil Blue) so it developed a wee bit of drape after blocking. I have gotten so many compliments on this simple sweater -- the color, the shaping -- that I am making another in the same wool, this time in plum. I may even knit this sweater one size smaller since I'm still "shrinking." More on that later.

The other project I finished and photographed is a pair of Monkey socks I knit for my stepmother's birthday this month:

Monkey socks

I haven't talked to her properly since I mailed them, but I gather through voicemails she loves them. They're knot in Classic Elite Alpaca Sox. I think the color is Turquoise; I don't have the ball band handy. My stepmother loves turquoise so I knew this color would be perfect for her. She also has Raynaud's syndrome, which means in the winter she has to keep her extremities warm or else risk circulatory system damage thus I always have a happy and appreciative person for whom to knit warm socks, mittens, and hats.

Fall is chugging along. I have been dealing with a particularly rough case of Seasonal Affective Disorder for the past two months, which has zapped my energy. It was bad enough that my husband brought me to our doctor and now I'm on medication for it and sitting in front of a full-spectrum lamp in the mornings. I'm starting to feel a bit better, although I'm still not up to my 100% Energizer bunny speed.

I can tell my mood is improving because last night my son suggested I start a podcast and I got really excited as we talked more about it. He likes to do sound editing, and that he shows any interest in my knitting or talking about knitting is like, wow, really? Sign me up!!! So we did a test recording last night, and as much as I hate hearing my recorded voice, it wasn't that bad so I'm thinking I'll give this podcast thing a try. What do you think? I plan to talk mostly about my crafting (knitting/sewing endeavors) with a bit of real-life and Anglophilia thrown in.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

This sock climbed Mt. Washington

The sock that climbed Mt. Washington

This is the sock that climbed Mt. Washington on Saturday.


What happened is that my foot got stuck between two rocks halfway between the Lake of the Clouds hut and the summit and when I pulled up, the outer sole of the hiking boot tore away, leaving only the inner sole. After a couple hundred feet in misty, slippery conditions, the inner sole fell away, exposing my (handknit) wool socks. Then my second boot started losing its outer sole, but luckily it stayed/flopped on for the rest of the hike.


Amazingly, the socks came home no worse for the wear. They'll probably be a little dirt stained, but no holes! My knitting has finally impressed my two boys.  :)

Hiking Mt. Washington (6,289 feet or 1,917 meters) was ... an experience. Had I known the trail we were taking was basically an uphill rock scramble most of the way, I would have backed out. At one point I fell pretty hard on my bum hip, but as of today, I haven't felt any twinges of back pain. On the other hand, I'm kind of proud I made it to the top, even though I was the slowest, dead-last person in our group. (DH stayed behind with me because I was That Slow. He was my rock!) We never got cold, we had no serious injuries, and even though the wind was gusting 50 to 70 mph near the summit, it didn't bother us too much. Another high point was witnessing O fall in love with hiking. He was like a mountain goat! Not only did he keep up with the group, a group I might add that was amazingly fit and experienced, he climbed down the mountain with them! (DH and I were too late, and with my wrecked boot(s) in no condition to hike down so we took the cog rail).


Now all O is talking about is what mountain we can climb next summer. Uh-oh. I told DH never again would I do something as crazy as hike Mt. Washington, but after a couple days, I thought, "I should try it again, but next time be better prepared and in better shape." I learned a lot about myself climbing that "hill," so in retrospect it was a good experience.


I just don't want to experience it quite like that again!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Project Chicken (Coop)

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="375"] The old coop, before -- summer 2014[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="375"] Looking at the coop straight on, summer 2014[/caption]

We have an old chicken coop in our backyard. For a couple years I've been itching to raise some chickens but two things have held me back: the state of the coop and my son's reluctance.

This year, the planets aligned. O and his friends are always looking for schemes to earn pocket money, so they all agreed to clean out the coop for me. And because we've been through some tough times with our pets in the past couple years, O has grown to understand that animals and pets have shorter lifespans than their owners. The thought of losing a few chickens to predators--a very real possibility around here given that our property borders a habitat teeming with coyotes, fishers, raccoons, and hawks--isn't as horrific to him as it would have been a few years ago. Plus, that has been motivating him to research the best ways to secure our coop.

It goes without saying that our coop needs a lot of work, so much so that I considered buying a prefab coop. The prefab coops I like, however, are a couple hundred dollars so I figure it's better to do some DIY on the structure we have in place.

Today it's overgrown with vines and we need to do some serious tree branch pruning. The structure is very sound. There's a wooden floor inside, along with nesting boxes. We'll replace the chicken-wire covered window openings with real shed windows that open for ventilation, and build a door. The structure doesn't have electricity but we can run an extension cord from our garage. As for the outdoor enclosure that's currently fenced with chicken wire ... I'm not so sure. It would be nice to have a completely enclosed run, but our neighbor doesn't have one and they have only lost one chicken in the last couple years. Other to-do items: the coop will need scraping and painting after the windows and door are installed and the coop has been cleaned out.

O is having a sleepover tonight and the boys have their first paying job, clearing out some of the brush and branches around the structure. Our plan is to have a coop ready for chicks mid-spring ... that gives us the fall, winter, and early spring to get it into shape. As for chickens, I have my heart set on Araucanas, the chickens that lay pastel-colored eggs. Word is they've got friendly dispositions, are good layers, and are cold-hardy.

Do you own chickens? Any advice? The one thing that's creeping me out is the thought of snakes getting in the coop to eat eggs. I don't mind seeing them out in the open, but I'll seriously freak out if I'm gathering eggs and put my hand on a snake! An acquaintance has told me, however, that her chickens kill snakes ... around here, the snakes are too small to be a real threat to eggs.





Wednesday, August 27, 2014

An afternoon of birdwatching


[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="375"] My boy heading off with his birdwatching gear[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="500"] Loved the pale lavender color of these flowers -- see the bee?[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="375"] A long shot of my boy[/caption]



O saved his pennies up for binoculars, which arrived in the mail Monday night, so on Tuesday we headed over to Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge for a bit of birdwatching.

As you can see, we didn't spot many birds--it was about 90 degrees F so they were staying cool in their nests--but the day was beautiful and we got some good photos before biking to downtown Concord and Main Street Market for some lunch. We were starving so when our sandwiches arrived I forgot to take pictures! I had a tomato, mozzarella, and pesto panini and O enjoyed his cheeseburger, which we ate at the bar (I was kind of wanting a cold beer at this point!)

The heat and exercise tuckered us out, so when we arrived back home, I took a siesta in my air-conditioned bedroom then did a bit of knitting on my Checkerboard Scarf, a free pattern from Purl Soho. I'm using a skein of Swans Island Natural Colors in fingering weight in the color Lupine, which is a deep purplish blue, the color of the ocean up in Maine. I bought the yarn at Yarnia in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. It was a pricey splurge, but totally worth it. The yarn is a delight to knit with, and I know when I wear the scarf I'll always think of my week off this summer.

This is the last week before school starts, so we're busy getting clothes and classroom supplies purchased, as well as enjoying our last bit of free time together. Tomorrow we have a sleepover at our house -- three boys! and they've told me all they want me to do is to provide food, lots of it. I have to admit I'm looking for the structure that going back to school will bring. Autumn is definitely in the air ... for the last few weeks I've been a knitting fiend, which is a sure sign that I'm feeling cool weather in my bones. One thing I've been doing is finishing up a lot of WIPS. Feels good to have those projects done and ready to photograph. :)

Friday, August 15, 2014

A trip to Bath

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="472"] Next month we'll be hanging a left for our Mt. Washington climb![/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="375"] Bath City Hall[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="375"] I just noticed the sticker on this Subaru Outback![/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="375"] Beautiful ghost sign on the side of this building[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="375"] This sign reminded me of what signs used to look like when I was a child in the 70s.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="414"] Botanica Mittens, unblocked[/caption]

Last week while my boys were in Houston -- Texas in August? No thanks! -- I took a short break and drove about three hours north to Bath, Maine. Bath is home to Bath Iron Works, a shipyard that builds battleships, cruisers, and destroyers for the U.S. Navy. What I didn't know is that Bath is where the first boat the colonists built to make a return trip to England.

But I'll be honest ... I wasn't in Bath to look at ships or 19th century architecture. I was there for Halcyon Yarn. I've always wanted to visit and it was well worth the trip. What I loved about it was while it was a large shop -- they have not only handknitting yarn, but plentiful rug, weaving, and spinning departments -- it wasn't totally overwhelming like WEBS in Northampton can be. (My #1 piece of advice to knitters visiting WEBS for the first time ... shop off a list or know what projects you're buying for, otherwise you'll wander around like a art-sick tourist in Florence. That's Florence, Italy, not nearby Florence, Massachusetts.)

What I also liked about Halcyon is that the women working there were very helpful and kind. After I made my big yarn purchase (to be revealed in a future post), I needed a tea break so one of the women spent some time pointing out nearby cafes and other places I should visit. Fortified by a pleasant walk and a cup of very hot chai that wasn't really appropriate given that it was in the mid-80s that day, I returned to the shop for Round Two, where I purchased some yarn I'd been thinking about during my ambles. It was at this time a sample pair of mittens caught my attention -- I liked the colors and the picot edging -- so I bought the pattern and the minute I got home, commenced knitting.

Two nights later, I had my own pair of Botanica Two-Way Mittens, which look very preppy in green and pinks. The mitten on the right was knitted by following the instructions exactly, by creating the picot edge in the round, which I found rather fussy. So with mitten #2 on the left, I knit the mitten flat until the picot edging was complete, then joined the yarn to knit the rest of the mitten in the round. I also knit this mitten on DPNs. I normally knit in the round on two circulars, but I do have to admit my stranding looks better when I use DPNs. This picture was taken before blocking; after blocking my stitches look so much neater.

I'll post some pictures of my yarn haul in another post. I told my husband I hemmed and hawed about driving to Maine by myself -- I worried about leaving our geriatric cat alone, worried about the car breaking down, worried about...what a wuss I've become! -- then finally decided to heck with it! I'm going! And I'm glad I did. It was a wonderful visit. Next time, however, I'm bringing my boys with me. They can look at ships while I entertain myself with more yarn. :)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Why British plugs are better than American ones

Interesting! I never really thought about the differences. I would, however, rather step on an American plug in the middle of the night than a British plug. :)

Monday, June 30, 2014

Last day of June

Hard to believe that July 4 is almost upon us. I must have mentioned before that my absolute favorite holiday of the year is July 4, which puzzles a lot of people, especially those who love Thanksgiving and Christmas with a passion. For me, Independence Day is the perfect holiday -- summer foods like salads and fresh veggies are abundant, parades where you get candy thrown at you, bagpipes, floats, sunshine and warmth ... what's not to love? Plus it's my father's birthday, so we always have a delicious cake to anticipate. July 4 always seems to be gloriously sunny and warm, unlike Thanksgiving and Christmas, which fall at the darkest and most dreary time of year.

This year, O will not be celebrating the 4th with us in Connecticut as we dropped him off at camp yesterday:

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="375"]IMG_20140629_135831 I look so much like my paternal grandmother from the side, it's scary![/caption]


This is the second time he's been away to camp, but it's also the longest -- a full week. At this camp, it was the last year where he could go for just a week -- next year, when he's 13, it's a two-week stay (oh, and I hope he wants to go back. The possibility of two weeks of maternal freedom has me almost giddy!) We were lucky in that his best friend since first grade was able to join him (you can see his friend's feet in the bottom photo) because O was not at all enthusiastic about camp until L was able to go. But the night before we left and were packing, O seemed pretty excited, and when we arrived he seemed to hit it off with a couple of the other boys in the cabin. We really liked the two counselors assigned to the cabin, one of whom is a World Cup fan. He told O he would keep him informed of all the scores and plays this week; I, on the other hand, am his Wimbledon contact, although he'll have to wait for my letters to hear how Andy Murray and friends are faring.

When I returned home from dropping him off, my husband predicted I'd be missing O by the end of the evening. He lost. I am enjoying the quiet house immensely! I have, however, already written and posted the world's most boring letter to O. The nice thing about camp is they don't allow campers to bring cell phones and iPads -- instead, communication with parents it through the mail (or, God forbid, an emergency call by one of the counselors).

The camp is in Connecticut, so I'll be heading to my parents' house on the lake Thursday night, spending the 4th with them and celebrating my father's 75th (!!), then picking the boys up early Saturday morning and bringing them over to Grampa and Grandma's. O wants L to meet Carolina, my youngest brother's golden retriever, and show L how he can drive my father's pontoon boat so Saturday will be a busy day. Let's hope the glorious weather holds out!

I do have some finished knitting projects to show but it means dragging my dressform outside for good light. I have some interesting thrift shop finds to show you, including a crocheted blanket that I picked up for $5. I've also returned to biking on my two-wheeler and this week alone biked 55 miles. On Saturday I did a 30-mile trip to Cambridge and back:

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500"]Made it! Charles river, Cambridge View of the Charles, June 28, 2014[/caption]

I was beat that night and suffered a nasty headache and sunburn on my lower thighs, but I was proud that I made it, especially since just six months ago I was struggling to stand up without yelping in pain. :)

My goal this summer is to re-read all of Jane Austen's novels. The first I'm tackling is Mansfield Park, which I'm enjoying immensely. I forgot how decisive Austen was in drawing these characters; her touch here was not as deft as say in Pride and Prejudice. Fanny Price's goodness can be a bit tiresome, but I'm still enjoying the re-read and noticing things I didn't get the first time around.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


And yes! Spring is finally here in New England. :) Some years I can start my garden in early May, but it was fairly cold here right up until Memorial Day. This week the temps are in the 70s and 80s, so maybe we'll just go straight into summer ... which is okay with me.

I decided a few weeks ago not to do a big garden this year. The biggest reason is my back, but since I'm planning to spend a lot of time in Connecticut this summer helping my parents out, having a garden adds more to-do items to my list. Instead, I asked O what he would really like to grow this year, and he said, "Watermelon!" Thus fully half of the fenced-in garden is dedicated to watermelon. I put in a few herbs (lavender, basil, rosemary), and then built a raised garden:

Raised garden bed

I basically followed the instructions I found on The Crafty Gemini (video was especially helpful). My husband let me borrow his electric power drill, and once I got the hang of drilling holes and screwing in the deck screws, putting the bed together was a piece of cake. The only difficult part of the operation was buying wood at Home Depot, where I was ignored and then talked down to, I suspect because of my chromosomal makeup. Time to look for a new place to buy lumber! Also, I want my own power drill. :)

This week O has been helping me fill this sucker with dirt and topsoil. I had hoped to get the soil to the top of the bed, but I think it's good enough to grow kale and lettuce. Next summer I'm going to build a couple more beds using some scrap lumber.


I finished my Mind the Gap socks a couple weeks ago. Nothing much to say about the pattern (btw, when does a pattern become your pattern? I've knit these plain vanilla socks so many times with a few personal tweaks that I don't even need instructions.) The yarn was a pleasure to work with. I bought it through Trailing Cloud's Etsy shop, thanks to Kristie's post some months ago. I'm pleased I got the stripes to match on both socks, although I ran into orange striping while "kitchenering" one sock.

Mind the Gap socks

I had started on a plain vanilla cardigan last month, but today decided to rip it out and use the Cascade 220 yarn to knit Andi Satterlund's Miette cardigan. I need more stylish sweaters, and Miette fits the bill. I also ordered some yarn through WEBS to knit another Kate Davies' owl sweater for the fall and two skeins of hemp yarn for summer kerchiefs.


My weight did not budge in May despite my working out at the gym and zealously watching my food intake. That said, my pants are definitely getting looser. A couple weeks ago I bought a pair of size 8 jeans, which I thought I'd be able to fit into by the end of June. Well, I ended up fitting into them this weekend and wore them comfortably all day in Newport! So what I think is happening is that I'm burning fat and gaining muscle, which doesn't change the number on the scale (muscle weighs more than fat) but muscle takes less room that fat, thus why I seem to feel smaller.

At any rate, I'm still heavier than I'd like to be -- my body still has visible pockets of fat -- so I've made some tweaks to my diet, instituted some new habits (drinking plenty of water!), and set a few goals for the month. Stay tuned ...

Saying goodbye

My brother Matt finished out his year at the International Yacht Restoration School in Newport, RI, and is presently driving out west to Oregon to fight fires with the forest service. Here are some pictures of last weekend's boat launch ceremony. Yes, that's my crazy brother swimming in 58 degree water, towing his sailboat into harbor. Such a show off!

There was a woman next to us proclaiming loudly that people die jumping in the water like that. Not this guy!

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500"]John and Matt, IYRS, May 31, 2014 Matt is talking to John, who bought "Matt's boat." The sailboat will be moored at a local yacht club to be used by John's children and grandchildren.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500"]IYRS student boat launch, May 31, 2014 I loved the look of concentration on Matt's face. He's an excellent sailor![/caption]

Friday, May 23, 2014

Hard to believe Memorial Day is here...

Every time I wanted to post in these past few weeks, my blog was suffering a denial of service attack, which resulted in my service provider having to shut down my Wordpress login. But yay, today I could get in so here I am.

Spring here in Boston has been cold and rainy. I've even cranked up the heat a couple times; I normally shut off the heat on April 30 and suffer through the occasional chilly day, but this spring has tested my internal thermostat.

We're heading to Connecticut this holiday weekend. My son is attending summer camp for a week in early July, so we're going to the open house on Saturday, then spending the rest of the time with my family. Forecast? Rain. Although on Monday it looks like it may be sunny and high 70s.

I'm almost done with my Mind the Gap socks ... I'll probably finish them tonight and photograph them over the weekend. Any time I've been caught knitting in public, someone always comments on how colorful they are. One benefit about living in New England is that people tend to mind their own business and comment only when they have something nice to say. Only once did someone speak disparagingly to me about "some older lady" knitting in public (at a school graduation). He didn't realize that I was the one who had been knitting, and when he figured it out, he looked chagrined ... probably more about insinuating I was an "older lady" than anything else. ;-)

Last night while I was whirling my way down the foot of my Mind the Gap sock, I watched a BBC documentary running on PBS about Queen Victoria and her children. I studied the Victorian era in college (history/literature/politics), but the extent of my knowledge of Queen Victoria's private life is that she was devastated by the loss of her husband, she spent almost all her reign mourning for him, and that her children were married off to various branches of the family in Europe. I did NOT know what an overbearing and needy mother she was until I watched the show and some of her letters were read aloud. She even mocked the looks of some of her children and in one letter wished that the Prince of Wales would die before she did because he was such a disappointment as a future king. (He ended up being quite a good king, despite his playboy reputation as a youth.)

It made me contrast Victoria with the present queen, Elizabeth. They reigned under different circumstances (the British Empire no longer exists, Elizabeth has had the support of her husband), but I wonder if in 100 years, Elizabeth will outshine Victoria in history? I think so. Unlike Victoria, she has accepted if not embraced change and kept the monarchy relevant for the majority of her subjects.

OK, enough rambling. Off to knit. Knock wood, I'll be able to get back to you with a picture of my finished socks. :) Have a nice long weekend if you're stateside!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Welcome May

Let's hope that April showers really do bring May flowers because April turned out to be one of those months where when it rains, it pours. It started when my husband came home suspiciously early one evening, like around 5 p.m. Which would normally be wonderful as he usually works until 8 or 9 most nights, but this night it was because his contract suddenly ended at the company he'd been working for since 2011. It wasn't entirely a surprise--things had been tumultuous for awhile--but it happened before we expected it. Upward and onward, though ... the good news is that he's a software engineer with high-demand skills/talents, so when he sends out resumes, he actually gets interviews. Right now he's on 2nd and 3rd interviews for a couple positions he's really excited about so fingers are crossed.

I also lost my step-grandmother after a long battle with Alzheimer's Disease, learned that another family member is fighting cancer, and was left reeling after an AD diagnosis in my immediate family.

Combining all this with a cold and rainy spring here in the northeast, I just haven't had the spirit to blog, never mind sew or knit, although I did cast on a straightforward cardigan in heathery purple that makes me happy every time I pick it up.

(The purple yarn is in the background; in the foreground is a completed knit hat.)

But April wasn't *all* horror and gloom. I managed to stick to the 5:2 diet plan (five days of eating normally/two days fasting) and I lost a total of eight pounds. I would have lost a few more, I think, had I been able to get out on my bike for serious exercise. On the other hand, eight pounds is nothing to sneeze at, especially since I took off seven pounds in March for a total of 15 pounds and I wasn't a saint around Easter, although no Cadbury eggs passed these lips. I put on so much weight when I was on blood thinners for three months. I eat a mostly plant-based diet and when you're on medications like Coumadin, you can't eat stuff like lettuce, kale, and broccoli, which I normally eat in abundance. Now that I'm back to my green diet, I feel and look much healthier. I still have a ways to go before I get down to my fighting weight, but I'm encouraged that the weight I put on has slipped off fairly easily.

What's nice is that my family is starting to notice. Last night O was sitting behind me. He sighed and said, "Mom, I'm tired of looking at your butt crack. Can you pull your pants up?" Jeans that a couple months ago were difficult to zip up now have to be tugged up to my hips to keep me decent. I've made a bunch of knit skirts to get me through the warmer months; I don't want to sew jeans until I'm back to my fighting weight, so until then, I guess I'd better invest in some belts. ;)

How is your spring going?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Duchess of Cambridge and her court shoes

Of course I've been keeping up with the Cambridge's grand tour Down Under and reading all the breathless commentary on stylish Kate. She certainly has a great pair of pins, and today I learned her secret: nude court shoes!

Here in the U.S. we call these shoes "pumps": closed-toe, low front shoes with heels. According to the fashion press, nude pumps/court shoes give the illusion of long legs when the color of the pump and the skin are similar. Which makes sense, as your eye tends to stop when you get to a jolt of black or red at the feet.

Sign me up!


According to the folks in the know at the Daily Mail, Kate's preferred court shoe comes from London-based retailer LK Bennett and these shoes are, unfortunately, sold out in the U.K. If you're stateside, you can purchase the style "Sledge" at Nordstrom for just $345.

If you, like I, don't have a royal allowance for footwear, here are some lower-priced options.

Here's the BelkMadden Girl Fastenn pump for $34.30 at Belk. The LK Bennett pump is a bit more taupe, but I think the Madden Girl version would work better on someone with fair skin. It must be a popular choice with Kate admirers because most sizes are hard to find: Belk was the only online retailer where I found a variety of sizes available.

cole_haan_nude_chelseaIf you've got more dosh (sorry, I've been reading the latest Elizabeth George mystery), the Cole Hahn Chelsea pump is very similar to the LK Bennett court shoe. They're currently $199.00 at Zappos ... and free shipping. Like the Madden Girl pumps, though, popular sizes are unavailable at the moment, but Zappos will let you know when your size is back in stock.



The Michael Kors Ionna pump is quite nice, too, and a more reasonable $130 at Zappos -- that is, if they have your size. The only thing I don't like is the bling on the back of the heel.

I saw some other nude pumps by Kate Spade and Christian Louboutin, but if I can't afford LK Bennett, it goes without saying I can't afford these versions either.

I'm curious to see the "nude" effect on my own legs, so I'm heading down to our local Marshall's to give it a try. I'm not so sure about that platform look; my mind goes to porn films, hookers, and Times Square in the 70s, sorry. And those heels -- some of them are 4" or 5". Never mind walk in them. Could I even stand? We'll see ... I've sewn a bunch of skirts in the last couple months, and I'm eager to see if nude pumps are the trick of the eye my figure needs. :)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

What to sew, what to sew...

Like I mentioned last week, I started knitting up a second wool sock for a pair I've earmarked for my stepmother. That small act gave me a boost of knitting mojo. I've knitted about four inches of the cuff/leg, and with steady progress the socks should be ready for when we see her over spring vacation in two weeks.

My sewing mojo, on the other hand, has not only left the room, but it seems to have high-tailed it out of Dodge!

It's not for lack of patterns, fabric, or ideas--I've got plenty of all three. What's tripping me up is--and I'm ashamed to say this because I detest any whiff of body shame--my weight.

Last October I ended up in the hospital with a herniated disc, followed by DVT, with both conditions curtailing my cycling routine. Cycling is my exercise of choice, and it does a good job burning calories and keeping me fit. Not only was riding out, but walking was, too, because of all the ice and snow. (I had to be careful of falls or I could "bleed out.") As a result, I put on 25 pounds through lack of exercise and not watching my eating when my activity levels dropped.

Now...I'm completely confident that those pounds will come off now that spring is here, my disc injury has healed, the DVT is gone, and I have an awesome trike to cycle with. But I keep thinking, "Do I want to cut into this gorgeous shirting/Japanese selvedge denim/expensive wool boucle for a Grainline Archer/pair of jeans/couture fringed skirt when in six months I'm going to be three sizes smaller?" Yes, I could alter the fit at some point, but to be honest, I don't like doing alterations, especially on anything I've made. Is that weird? I don't mind hemming Levi's or taking in the sides of a RTW blouse, but when it's my own creation, it somehow annoys me and the garment never again looks as good as it did during the original fitting. It looks, I don't know, wonky.

The mature and rational side of my brain says, "Sew for the body you have today. Use the expensive fabric; you can always buy more. Test out that pattern you love. There's no guarantee that when you lose the weight, you're going to get a perfect garment anyway. And if you do love what you create for the 'bigger me,' you can ask a professional to alter it." (Geez, listen to me. I should listen to myself more often!)

But then Lazy Easy-Way-Out Di chimes in: "Why not sew a bunch of knit things to wear around the house? like t-shirts and yoga pants? That's how you dress anyway." Princess Di calmly interjects with, "Dahling, I thought you were trying to upgrade your wardrobe and not continue down the path of fashion dereliction? Yoga pants," she sniffs. "Really."

So I do nothing but pet my fabrics and gaze longingly into my sewing room.

What would you do?

In the meantime, here are some more pretty pictures of Newport. Last weekend I took another trip down there, this time with my son, and we were able to see the boat my brother is building at IRYS up close.

Matt's boat

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="333"]Lemur! See the lemur?[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500"]Steam box Curved pieces of wood get shaped in the steam box.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500"]DSC_0254 The view from Brenton Point State Park[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500"]DSC_0267 My boy.[/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500"]DSC_0288 The surf was crazy wild that day![/caption]

Friday, March 28, 2014

Mind the Gap!

My Mind the Gap sock yarn showed up this week from England. Wow, that was fast, only about a week. Thank you, Kristie, for reminding me about the indie dyer, Trailing Clouds, that produces this fun colorway. I tried winding the balls so that the stripes match up on each sock; we'll see how that works out. Each ball weighs 48 grams, so I'm optimistic I got it right.

A couple of nights ago, I realized I hadn't picked up my knitting needles in a few weeks. No wonder I was feeling so peevish and out-of-sorts. Part of the problem was that I had nothing exciting on my needles--a fisherman-style cap for no one in particular, a blanket made out of worsted wool leftovers, a second sock for my stepmother's (ahem) Christmas pair--so I wasn't that motivated. Last night I decided to get cracking on that second sock, and I'm happy to report that I'm feeling a wee bit better.

I'm still trying to figure out how to get better photos of all the lovely birds at our feeders lately. Yesterday we had a cauldron of crows in the yard. Quite the spectacle, and noisy! Crows are nuisance birds for a lot of birdwatchers, but I like them, especially when the light hits their feathers and turns them iridescent violet. Crows are actually very smart birds; I've heard they can be trained to mimic human voices and do other clever things. Don't believe me? Here's a guy who's fascinated by crows, too:

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Knitting reduces stress...and don't call me a goddess

Two links for you today. On the front page of CNN, an article that will surprise no one who knits, or does any kind craft work: Crafting can help those who suffer from anxiety, depression or chronic pain, experts say. My own non-scientific self-study shows this is true. Had I not picked up my knitting needles at the end of 2010, I'm not sure I could have gotten through 2011 without turning to scotch. Sometimes I joke with friends who ask why I knit so much, "Knitting saved my life," but the truth is, it kind of did. :)

Then a spot-on blog post I stumbled upon yesterday, written by blogger and author Kim Werker, former editor of Interweave Crochet, where she says and I quote: "My pet peeve is this: woo-woo rhetoric in the context of business advice for women. It seems like everywhere I look, someone is selling an ebook, course or seminar on some or another topic that involves the words goddesssoulfulness, or spirituality. Or some variation or combination of words like that." It was one of those posts I wish I'd written because the mashup of business education and feminized woo-woo claptrap annoys the stuffing out of me. Full disclosure: I teach a class for freelance writers of either gender designed to help them develop ideas for magazine articles, but they find no talk about spirituality, inner goddesses, or discovering their souls although I do urge students to write about topics that speak to their interests. Practical advice, not potions!

The snowstorm we were supposed to get fizzled into nothing, which is fine with me ... no complaints. It is, however, quite windy and cold. I've been standing in the kitchen window with my hot cups of coffee, watching the birds feed outside our garage. O and I are getting better at bird identification. So far, we've spotted male and female cardinals, tufted titmouses (titmice?), hairy woodpeckers, female blue jays, juncos, and chickadees. Oh yes, and a very naughty squirrel who climbs down our garage roof and onto the birdfeeder, draping himself over it like a blanket to nibble the black oil sunflower seeds upside down. It's so funny to watch that it's hard to get mad at him. Next time I see him out there, I'll get a picture or video through our kitchen window.

How is your week going?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A visit to the International Yacht Restoration School in Newport, RI




This weekend I rented a car (Chevy Spark--tiny!) and drove an hour and a half south to visit my younger brother, Matt, who is a student at the International Yacht Restoration School, or IYRS, in Newport, Rhode Island. I've been looking forward to this visit for some time, but scheduling and weather thwarted earlier plans. Luckily this weekend worked out great for both of us. Bonus: great weather! I didn't even need my heavy woolen coat while walking around the town!

Matt showed up a bit late -- he'd been running a race in Connecticut early Saturday a.m., then shredded the tire on his truck driving back to Newport -- so by the time we got to the school, it had just locked up for the day. Bummer, because I really wanted to see the small boat he and his team were putting together (I did get a peek through the window). Luckily the building where IYRS's restoration of the Coronet was open, so I got an expert tour.

The first thing I mentioned to Matt was how much it looked like Noah's ark. I guess my powers of observation aren't that original because not five minutes later, someone else came into the building and exclaimed, "Oh, it looks just like Noah's ark!" It's truly impressive to see up close how carefully and lovingly this piece of American shipbuilding history is being restored. When the yacht first arrived at IYRS many years ago, it was in terrible shape and a lot of the original craftsmanship had either been pillaged or damaged. However, a few objects remained, like the tile stove, above, and they were tagged and set aside along the boat for further restoration. I have to admit, I liked looking at the pieces of furniture and utility objects the best.

I wish we could have gone into the workroom, where the anchor above was, but it was roped off and Matt wasn't willing to break rules to let me in, LOL.

The other half of my visit to Newport was to visit some of the pubs. Matt had told me a few of them poured excellent pints of Guinness, so I had to test that out for myself. When I think of Newport, I think high society and inherited wealth, not Irish pubs, but there are quite a few Celtic watering holes. I didn't take any pictures, and besides, but the end of the night, I'm not sure I could focus that well. The good news is that I ate pretty much all day--lobster, cupcakes, pasta, bread--that the alcohol didn't affect me too badly, plus I had Matt with me. He's like a Hoover vacuum and finishes up anything I can't cope with, drinks included. Although I enjoyed my two pints of Guinness, my favorite beer was Shipyard Old Thumper, an English Bitter brewed in Maine. We had it at Malt on Broadway, which also happened to be the favorite bar we visited that day. The Shipyard was that day's cask beer, and it was quite nice! I wish we had gotten some food there, but I was still full from the lobster and cupcakes.

I also had wanted to go to the White Horse Tavern, but it was full ... and I have to admit, when I walked in, I felt a spooky presence. It was so strong that I ended up waiting for Matt at the front door while he was using the loo; I decided to "hold it." When we were walking down the street afterwards, I mentioned it to Matt, and he said last time he was there with his girlfriend, she had asked about ghosts and the staff said there were ghostly happenings all the time at the Tavern. Spot on ghost-sensing, Di. ;) (Well, not much of a surprise -- a quick Google check shows that the Tavern is one of the mostly haunted places in Newport, and given that it has been serving for 350 years ...)

My least favorite pub was The Fastnet just because I was definitely the oldest person in there. I would have liked it 20 years ago, though! We also visited a tattoo parlor and looked at the artwork. Matt was semi-seriously trying to convince me to get inked again--I have an olive branch tattooed above my left ankle, a gift from him for my 40th birthday--so I mentioned to the artists that this was my 50th year and maybe it was time for another small one. I loved it when one of them exclaimed that no way was I going to be 50. Hee!

Matt is leaving IYRS at the end of May after finishing half the program. He was offered a firefighting job out in Oregon with the forest service, something he did last year and really enjoyed. It'll be sad seeing him go, but I'm looking forward to visiting him in Portland this fall. I've always wanted to drive across the U.S. and it looks like this may be my chance to finally get to those states I'd never visit singularly, like South Dakota, Montana, or Idaho. I'll probably rent cars to drive across, then fly back.

But back to Newport ... it was a lovely time and great to spend so many hours with my brother. We have such an easy camaraderie--serious talk interspersed with some hard-core ribbing--that always leaves me feeling relaxed. I've been feeling rather anxious and stressed lately, so a day of eating, drinking, and good conversation was just the ticket. :)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

McCall's 3341

McCalls 3341, view C

Closeup of M3341 skirt fabric

Still too cold to model, so here's another winter creation on my dressform. McCall's 3341 is a tried-and-true a-line skirt pattern for so many sewing bloggers that there's not a lot I can add to the kudos out there. It's my go-to pattern for simple summer skirts, as well as dressier numbers, such as the one you see above. Here I've sewn up view C.

The fabric is a remnant I picked up years ago at Fabric Fix (now closed) in Manchester, New Hampshire. I've always loved the pattern and brocade weave. It's upholstery fabric, I'm sure ... it ravels like no one's business, so every seam edge in this skirt has been serged. No lining, as the fabric has a lot of body and it's something I would wear with tights.

The closeup shows the detail of the brocade. I like the tiny cherry blossoms. :)

The blouse is from Brooks Brothers and is one of my favorites. The only things I don't like about it are the French cuffs, which is why the sleeves are rolled up. (Note to self: buy some blingy cufflinks.) The scarf is a genuine Herm├Ęs, a gift from a generous ex-boyfriend who reads my blog occasionally. (We're still friends.) Thank you, S. I wear it a lot!

One of my goals this year is to upgrade my work-at-home wardrobe. Because I spend most of my day in the kitchen or in front of my computer, I basically live in jeans, knit shirts, and sweaters. My corporate clothes from the 90s are all out of fashion and probably a couple sizes too small, so it's great to finally have an outfit I could wear to a professional meeting and not look like a total slob.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The 5:2 Diet

Back in January, when all the media outlets were pushing diet plans on those of us who made New Year's resolutions to Lose Weight, I read about a diet plan that was gaining traction in the UK, but one that I hadn't read a lot about here, state-side.

It's called the 5:2 Diet (or 5:2 Plan), and basically it boils down to 1. You eat normally for five days and 2. You "fast" for two days. That's it.

I put "fast" in quotes because on those two days, you're limited to 500 calories (women) or 600 calories (men).

Initially I was a bit skeptical. It sounded too good to be true. Not only would I lose a few extra pounds, but research shows that intermittent fasting could extend my life and put me at decreased risk for a number of diseases, including Alzheimers, cancer, and diabetes. On the other hand, this was/is no rapid weight loss plan. By "fasting" two days per week, one could expect to lose a pound per week: the medical profession recommends that dieters lose no more than two pounds per week.

Then I watched this BBC program about the 5:2 Diet and the research being done on the benefits of intermittent fasting:

I decided to give it a go.

My first "fasting" day was awful. The morning wasn't so bad -- I'm fine if I can start the day with a couple cups of coffee -- but by early evening I was ready to dive into my refrigerator. This was after enjoying a 290-calorie vegetarian Lean Cuisine meal for lunch. The only thing that got me through the day was promising myself that when I woke up the next morning, I could eat whatever and whenever I wanted. I ended up going to bed early, my stomach growling so loud my husband could hear it!

But lo and behold ... eight hours later, and I wasn't really that hungry when I opened my eyes after a surprisingly good night's sleep. I got up, had my morning cup of coffee, ate my regular lunch at 11:30 a.m., and then had a snack (nuts) later in the afternoon when I needed a bit of caloric pick-me-up. I was also a wee bit more in tune with my hunger pangs -- I noticed that I didn't feel true hunger until later in the day and that when I dragged my gluten-free chips out for an evening of "Survivor," I wasn't really all that hungry. I've never thought of myself as an "emotional eater," but I've since realized that I do an awful lot of eating out of habit (i.e. watching tv, sitting at my computer, driving in a car) instead of eating when I'm truly hungry. The experiment was worth it just to discover this about my habits!

So ... I've been 5:2ing for about six weeks. I've lost five pounds. I wouldn't say easily, especially on the days where I'm limited to 500 calories, but the plan has gotten easier to follow AND I love being able to eat whatever I want five days per week. The other benefit is that I've made a couple small organic changes to my eating habits as a result of following this schedule. For example, I don't like to eat foods that are processed and that includes milk. If I'm going to drink milk, I'll drink whole milk, not skimmed. However, whole milk has a lot of calories. On my fasting days, I'm limited to one cup to use in my coffee (which I drink without sweetener), so I decided to try drinking my coffee black. Ugh. Yuck. Gross. But you know what? Like babies, adults need repetitive introductions to new tastes before they get used to them, and slowly, I've gotten used to drinking my coffee black. Yes, I still miss my milk, but it sure is nice being able to have some fruit and a cup of yogurt in the morning on those "fast" days.

As for the "fast" days, they don't have to be consecutive. Mine are Tuesdays and Fridays. I picked these days because there's nothing that great on television those nights, LOL. I can eat whatever I like on the weekends and don't have to face Monday knowing I'm going to starve all day. And really ... the "fast" days have gotten better. I allow myself extra time to work on my hobbies so the day flies by and I get distracted enough not to think about the shrimp and corn chowder in the fridge, or the platter of snickerdoodles on our sideboard.

So I'll keep you posted. I'd like to stick with this through the end of the year. I don't have a huge amount of weight to lose, and I know once the weather gets warmer, I'll lose even more weight simply because I'll be on my bike more.

A Woodland Stroll cape

Woodland Stroll Cape

Woodland Stroll Cape

Woodland Stroll Cape

I've been calling this latest sewing project my Sherlotta Holmes cape.

When it was finished, O promptly renamed it The Sherlock Dench cape. ;-)

I just haven't found the energy/willpower to dress up in my self-created fashions, even though we've had a couple days of warmth. Today it's back down in the 20s, our yard is still a mess with piles of dirty snow and shovels all strewn about. Who wants to see that? So I dragged my dress form downstairs and snapped a few quick shots.

The pattern comes from Liesl & Company (the women's pattern division of Oliver & S children's patterns). When it was released last year, I fell in love with the style and purchased it. I thought it would make the perfect light layer for fall biking.

But then my back went out and I never got around to sewing it up. It's not really "springy," so I'll put it away for late September/early October, when I like to wear more autumnal colors. The wool windowpane suiting is from Fabric Mart. I lined the cape with hunter green Bemberg rayon purchased at Fabric Place Basement in Natick, MA, and I used leather toggles for the front closures. Then instead of sewing buttons/buttonholes under the arms, I sewed on concealed snaps. I figured I'd be less likely to pull off a snap than I would a button, especially while cycling.

The pattern was super simple to put together. Really, a beginner could pull this off IF they went with a solid fabric. The plaid windowpane was a little fiddly to line up; moreover the wool itself was pretty slippery ... the silky rayon was actually easier to sew! If I were to sew another cape, I'd use a heavier wool without an obvious pattern/plaid just to keep things easy.

I also wish I'd interlined the cape with some cotton flannel because it's not very warm. I'd definitely need to wear a sweater underneath, but when I do that, I start looking kind of bulky. It's definitely a garment best worn on an autumn day with just a wee bit of nip in the air.

The most hair-raising part of sewing this up wasn't the plaid matching, but sewing on those darn leather toggles. I had one chance to do it right because once you sew through leather, that's it ... those holes are forever. Luckily I had an extra set of toggles, so I practiced on them. My advice:

  • Use a leather needle; it will pierce the leather easier than a regular needle

  • Tape or use fabric glue to hold the toggles in place

  • Sew slowly. In fact, I mostly sewed "manually" by turning the flywheel on my sewing machine by hand and maneuvering my jacket/toggle accordingly.

I also sewed the pink turtleneck underneath. Not much to say here except that I used an OOP Kwik Sew pattern (KS 2740) along with some lightweight cotton interlock purchased years ago at Fabric Fix in Manchester, NH (sadly, closed). I sewed the size large, but I should have sized down to a medium as the shoulders hang off me ... but it's fine under heavy sweaters, which is how I typically wear turtlenecks. I also drafted cuffs; the pattern doesn't include any, but I think a turtleneck looks better with cuffs. While I was at it, I sewed another turtleneck out of navy blue cotton interlock I picked up at the $1.99 Fabric Store in Auburn, MA, in January.

In other news:

  • I'm in a bit of a knitting slump so I'm knitting dishcloths whenever I sit down to watch TV.

  • I've been keeping up with the new season of BBC's Great British Sewing Bee. Did you know they're casting for a U.S. version? Let's hope they don't change the format too much and make it cutthroat competitive; I like the kinder, gentler reality tv.

  • Three more days till the official start to Spring. Can't. Wait.

  • I'm heading to Newport, RI, this weekend to visit my brother. I've been to every tourist site in New England except Newport for some reason. Looking forward to it as we plan to visit some of the "authentic" Irish pubs to celebrate a belated St. Patrick's Day.

Speaking of which: Happy St. Pats!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Channeling Judi Dench

Knitted cardigan, socks; upcycled skirt

Closeup of Diane Soucy top-down cardigan

My family has crowned me with a new nickname: Judi Dench.

I'm quite honored, although I know my brother bequeathed the nickname on me to ridicule my fashion sense. I'm sorry, but I like sturdy wool sweaters, tweedy skirts, granny glasses, and my regular adornment of a simple string of pearls. Coupled with my imposing demeanor, I can see why I remind Matt of "M." OK, that last bit is my own delusion. I'm no more imposing than sunshine on a rainy day. Or these days, a warm breeze after a long, cold winter.

O likes to inspect my daily outfits now. They are usually pronounced "too Denchy."

I've been quiet, but don't mistake that for sloth. I've been busy in my sewing room. This month alone, I've:

  • Mended three pairs of men's pants

  • "Upcycled" the wool skirt you see above

  • Sewed a brocade A-line skirt (photos forthcoming when said warm breeze arrives)

  • Sewed two knit turtlenecks

  • Sewed a Tova blouse for the spring (photos, again, TK)

  • Knit a pair of socks

The upcycled skirt started out as a thrift store purchase from two years ago, a gorgeous lined wool Talbots skirt. It was, however, rather long and made me look more like Judi Dench's mother, so I lopped off about eight inches and rehemmed it. It wasn't an easy job because there's a false wrap on the front with some piping on the seam edge, so I had to carefully rip out threads and resew some of the seams. I think it turned out quite well! I love wearing it with thick cotton tights and wooly socks.

The sweater I finished some months ago. I knit it from one of my tried-and-true cardigan patterns, the neck-down cardigan by Diane Soucy. It's a size small, but quite roomy on me so next time I think I'll knit the XS. (I have to chuckle at that because I look like a linebacker in this shot!) I've decided to accept that I like very simple, utilitarian sweaters, especially in the winter. I've been living in this one since November, as well as my Candide Aran, and both have held up extremely well and keep me cozy warm.

The wool came from sheep raised over at Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in nearby Lincoln, Massachusetts. It's unbleached and was spun up at Green Mountain Spinnery in Putney, Vermont. The pewter buttons are recycled from a very old moth-eaten Talbots sweater.

The socks you see peeking out of my boots? Handknit from Patons' Classic Wool from another tried-and-true pattern, Elizabeth Zimmerman's Woodsman's socks. These will last me through the rest of the winter. Unfortunately, the wool isn't strong enough for socks, so they'll develop holes in the heels. No worries; I'll felt them and use what's left for craft projects.

Brown turtleneck: Target; cotton tights, Marshalls; Maine Hunting Boots, LL Bean; wool socks and sweater, handknit; Talbot's wool skirt, thrifted and upcycled; glasses, Costco; attitude, all mine.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The making of a Chanel cardigan

The link to this video was on Knitty's blog today. Hawick, Scotland, is known for its knitwear industry, especially in the production of cashmere and Merino wool fabrics. No surprise Chanel has their cardigans made here. Enjoy!

Friday, January 31, 2014

The sewing muddle


Here it is, the last day of January, and I'm beating myself up because I haven't really sewn anything since signing on to the 2014 Ready-to-Wear Fast. I've tried convincing myself the reason is because I don't need anything more in my wardrobe, but that's not completely true. My wardrobe has gotten stale and boring; I've only got two pairs of pants (jeans) to wear, and while I have at least a dozen wonderful sweaters to choose from in this frigid weather, the stuff I have to wear under them is pretty manky.

The truth is, I get overwhelmed with possibilities.

Do I start simple with some basic A-line skirts and work up to the jeans I'm dying to make? I have at least a dozen patterns for cute knit tops .... maybe I should start there? On top of this, I've become a bit of a Craftsy addict so projects like Susan Khalje's couture dress and Pam Howard's Classic Tailored Shirt are like siren songs that pull me away from the practicalities of my life. Did I mention that I still owe my husband a tailored dress shirt for our 2013 wedding anniversary, which was eight months ago? Every time I smooth my hand across a pile of fabric destined for one of my garments, a pang of guilt prevents me from taking action on a new blouse or trousers for me. And I know he'd be really annoyed if he knew I felt this way. He'd tell me to forget his shirt, and get going on one of my projects.

So that's what I'm going to do. Stop the guilt and start simple. The denim I just ordered from is a bit too thin and stretchy, and I'm going to trust my gut that says this isn't the right weight for the jeans I want. Plus: jeans are hard anyway, forget throwing in the stretchy denim, which comes with its own headaches. The brocade above I've had in my stash since O was a baby (um, maybe 11 years ago?) It's a little stiff, but I think it has enough body to work as a skirt that hits me just above the knee. I like the colors -- a muted copper on gray -- and I think it'll look great with tights and a cardigan sweater. The pattern is a tried-and-true skirt pattern for a lot of sewists.

And knock wood I'll have something to show you next week! Have a great weekend!

ETA: By 6:00 p.m. I had not only prepped my fabric (by throwing it in the dryer with a damp dishcloth to steam out the wrinkles), but I'd traced the pattern and cut out my fabric! Maybe I'll have a new skirt by Sunday. :)