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!