Monthly Archives: December 2013

Commence 2014 RTW Fast!

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Over the last couple weeks I’ve done more clothes shopping than I’ve done in the last two years. When I say “shopping,” though, I don’t necessarily buy anything. Instead, I’ve been trying clothes on and reminding myself that come January 1, 2014, my year of not buying any clothing* at retail commences. Bring on the Ready-to-Wear (RTW) Fast! If I want a new pair of slacks or summer t-shirts, I have to make these items by my own hand.

What have I gotten myself into?

This year is going to be a crazy-busy one for me. After a two-year hiatus, I rejoined my co-author Linda to build up our Renegade Writer brand–I’m either writing books or co-authoring them, as well as working with writers who are publishing under our Renegade Writer Press imprint. On top of this, I’m teaching my popular idea-generation-for-freelancers class and developing another class I plan to start in March. And perhaps I haven’t mentioned this here, but I write fiction under a pseudonym and I’ve got a couple books there I need to finish up. I get palpitations thinking about it all! And on top of this, there’s the knitting addiction I’ve got to feed, although after the last six weeks, my gift knitting has burned me out.

Despite my trepidation, however, I’m looking forward to January. January is one of my favorite months of the year: the days are getting longer, the holidays are over, there’s a feeling of having a fresh start and a whole new year ahead of me, and there’s those delicious Maine shrimp to look forward to at the end of the month. (Seasonal eating at its best!)

Though I love January, I’m not big on resolutions or annual goals, although I do believe in the power of goal setting–I just don’t believe in doing it at a specific time of year. Here’s what I’d like to do, though, with my RTW fasting:

* Make clothes that fit my lifestyle and not a dream vision of my lifestyle. You see, I love cocktail dresses and pencil skirts, but the truth is, I live in jeans, cardigan sweaters, skirts, and t-shirts. That said, I’d like to up the style factor on these items, get out of my comfort zone. My t-shirts, for example, don’t have to be so boring!

* Sew more pants and skirts. I have a real need here.

* Sew a beautifully tailored blouse for myself. Yes, I know … I still have to sew my husband’s (ahem) anniversary present from last May. And I will do that. But I would really like a wardrobe of blouses for myself, including one of chambray and maybe even a Liberty of London print blouse? Sigh. Maybe I’ll focus on this year being the year I master the tailored blouse, starting with the Grainline Archer shirt.

* Finish some of the other projects I’ve started/planned for including my Woodland Stroll Cape, the Angela Kane blouse where I had to recut the collar/collar stand, and the fabric I bought for my husband’s holiday office party skirt. Unfortunately, his company decided not to have a party this year, so I’ve got three yards of taffeta and I’m not sure I want to use it for a maxi skirt. You can see where my mind is going: a cocktail dress, LOL!!!

* Knit with a purpose. I did okay with this in 2013, but I still could be better about knitting stuff I’ll actually wear i.e. shawls are fun to knit, but do I actually use them? Better to spend my time knitting cardigans, pullovers, and socks.

Those labels in the picture above are a gift I bought myself. I have some woven labels with my full name sewn on them, but they don’t really work when I give away handknits and such. I ordered these new labels just before Christmas and they arrived a few days afterwards. Nice!

OK, I’ll end this with a funny story of what it’s like hanging out with my family over the holidays. They’re a tough crowd with acidic senses of humor, and if you show any weakness (meaning you take anything they say seriously), they’ll tease you mercilessly. I’m usually the one who cracks first, thus why I’m picked on the most.

We decide to go out to dinner at a local Japanese restaurant, so I “dress up” in my hand-knit Aran cardigan and best pearls. I think I’m looking quite nice, thank you, but my brother Matt takes one look at me as we meet him in front of the restaurant and says, “Did you age 20 years? Is that sweater from the Judi Dench Collection?” I have to admit, even I thought that was pretty funny. But hey, at least when I walk into a T-Mobile store, employees don’t mistake me for a bum. Just saying, Matt.

Happy New Year! Any big plans for the holiday and following twelve months?

* I get a pass undergarments (bras/undies), shoes, belts, purses, and athletic wear.

Cheese and potato soup

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It’s Boxing Day in the UK. And if you’re in the U.S., it’s another opportunity to hit the shops for some good deals on stuff that didn’t sell for Christmas.

I’ll be staying in, thank you, and enjoying some hearty winter fare.

One of my favorite winter soups is inspired by a soup I used to order years ago at a takeout place in nearby Concord, a cheese and potato soup that was thick, rich, and delicious. I once asked the owner how she made it, and she told me she used to throw in kitchen odds and ends: a bit of cheddar, the rind from some Parmesan. That might sound disgusting and a tad bit coy, but I know what she meant. My best soups are often made up of leftovers.

Here’s my version of that fantastic soup, which you can rustle up with pantry staples and whatever is lurking in your cheese drawer. I’ve used Emmentaler here, a Swiss-style semi-hard cheese that adds a touch of sharpness to the soup. Try cheddar, Gouda, mozzarella, fontina, or Gruyère, too!

Cheese and Potato Soup

Serves 4

2-oz. unsalted butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 medium baking potato, peeled and chopped
1 32-oz. container chicken or vegetable broth, preferably reduced sodium
4-oz. shredded cheese
salt to taste
garnish, if desired

1. In a medium-sized heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Add onion once butter is melted and cook gently until the onions are translucent, approximately 7 to 10 minutes.

2. Add potato to saucepan and toss to coat with butter and onion. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes.

3. Add broth and turn heat up to medium. When soup begins to boil, reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 20 to 25 minutes, or until potato falls apart when pierced with a fork.

4. Using a stick blender or upright blender, puree soup in batches until completely smooth. If perfection is an issue for you, strain to remove any remaining chunks of onion or potato.

5. With the soup off the heat, stir in the cheese. The residual heat should melt it into the soup. Taste for salt; I use about a teaspoon of kosher salt, but you may like less or more.

6. Garnish with parsley or chopped chives. Serve and enjoy!

How to become searchable under a hashtag on Feedly

Feedly_LogoFirst, I love Feedly. It’s my reader of choice for the hundreds of blogs I follow.

The one thing that has been bugging me, though, is how to get my blog listed under a hashtag so that when people search for #UK, #sewing, or #knitting, my blog shows up in the search. When I searched for HailBritannia through feedly, no hashtags were associated with the feed. How could I add them?

The solution (I hope) was fairly straightforward: you ask Feedly to assign them to your blog using this request form. I just put my request into Feedly, and I’ll let you know if it works.

Consider this my social networking Christmas gift to you.  Merry Christmas! 🙂

A knitted teddy bear

Knitted teddy bear

Last week I was listening to the Knitting Pipeline podcast, and my ears pricked up when I heard Paula and friends oohing and ahhing over a cute knitted teddy bear one of them had made. As I’ve mentioned here before, my son loves stuffed animals; in fact, he had a friend over last night, and when I woke O up this morning, Goatie (stuffed goat) was tucked under his arm. He just doesn’t care if kids tease him and shrugs it off, reasoning that they’ve probably got some “childish” habits, too.

I checked out the pattern and it was, indeed, cute as all heck and reviews said it was easy to knit. Some knitters had completed all the knitting while watching a movie. That’s my kind of pattern!

My teddy was knit with a partial skein of Bernat Pipsqueak, an acrylic novelty yarn that was perfect for this project: it knits up into a soft fabric that hides a multitude of seaming sins, of which I committed many. Like many knitters, I found this to be a quick knit; I accomplished all of it while watching Skyfall on Netflix. Mmm, Daniel Craig … such a sexy Bond!

I wanted my little bear to have a Christmas-y look, so instead of knitting the scarf, I tied a tartan ribbon around his neck. As for the nose, or lack thereof … I don’t know. I kind of like him without one. He looks less threatening (O has a bear phobia). What do you think?

For the next couple days I’ve got to crank out the knitting and clean up the house. I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas!

A trip into Cambridge

By Hand London pattern -- Anna

bike shop in Cambridge, MA

Since it was unseasonably warm day and I had a car (a rental) I drove into Cambridge to check out a sewing/knitting shop I’ve been itching to visit: Gather Here, just past Harvard University on Broadway. It was definitely worth navigating Cambridge’s traffic-clogged streets and surrendering to its pitiful 30-minute daytime parking limit to have a look-see. And as you can see above, I got my hands on a pattern I’ve been dying to possess: the Anna dress by By Hand London. This style of dress is flattering to my figure, and I’ve loved almost every version I’ve seen on the ‘net. Can’t wait to sew it!

The service was excellent at Gather Here. I was greeted as I walked into the shop and asked in a very friendly fashion if I needed some help, then I was left alone to browse. When I did need help, it was cheerfully provided–really, a perfect mix for me. And for such a small shop, they really packed a lot in there: sewing patterns by By Hand London, of course, along with independent pattern makers Colette, Megan Nielson, Sewaholic, and even UK designers Merchant & Mills! However, the M&M patterns didn’t suit my shape at all (they seemed boxy and angular, and this girl’s got curves) so I just have to admire their aesthetic from afar.

As for yarn, I was impressed with the selection, esp. all the Swans Island organic bulky and fingering weight on display. If I weren’t on a yarn diet, I would have gone nuts buying some up. But what really grabbed my eye was the large container filled with bolts of Liberty Tana lawn … there was a multicolored floral on a cream background I was salivating over, but at just over $30 a yard, I could hear my debit card begging for mercy in my wallet so I resisted. I told the young woman who cashed me out I’d be back after the hols to buy some and she put the evil idea in my head to sew up my Anna dress in some Liberty lawn. Talk about luxury! I might do it if I had a swishy summer event coming up — a wedding? — but nothing on the horizon.

When I was heading back to the car, the cheerful sight of the Broadway Bicycle School and all those bikes racked up warmed my cold suburban heart. That’s the one thing I like about Cambridge: it’s even more bike friendly than my own town 15 miles out.

As I navigated through Harvard U’s campus, I was also cheered by the realization of how far my driving confidence has come in 15 years. When I first moved to greater Boston, I was so terrified of driving anywhere near the city I avoided it at all costs, including driving to the airport, which is a fairly straightforward drive now that the Big Dig is finished. But now? I’ve whipped the rotaries into submission, and the one-way streets, crazy drivers, and narrow lanes can’t budge my blood pressure. I didn’t even need my GPS once I figured out where the shop was. That’s a huge improvement!

I think it’s the shortest day of the year, which means only one thing: the days will now start getting longer and SPRING IS ON THE WAY!!!!!! Cool

The fallout

We got about 6.5″ of snow yesterday–light, powdery stuff, the kind of snow that makes me twitchy for skiing. Unfortunately my skiing days are over (bad knees, sketchy back) unless the resort has long, gentle runs down the sides of the mountain as they do out west–I’m thinking Vail and Beaver Creek in Colorado. If I ever get the chance to visit Banff, however, this Vermont girl will throw caution to the wind to experience one last glorious run. One recurring dream I have is a happy one: I’m skiing down a mountain from the very top, and I’m doing jumps, moguls, and sharp turns effortlessly. The dream is always so thrilling I’m a bit sad to wake up and creak out of bed in the morning.

Speaking of creaking: tonight I have my second outpatient physical therapy appointment in Concord. Monday night I had my initial evaluation and the PT seemed impressed by my recovery. When he asked me to bend at the waist and try to touch the floor with my fingers, I surprised him by getting my palms flat on the floor without bending my knees. “Gymnastics team in junior high,” I explained. Which explained to him why my lower back has such a pronounced curve. He told me a lot of former gymnasts have this problem. The goal for these visits is to help me build my “core” to support my weakened spine.

Last night’s snowstorm had my husband coming home after midnight. The commute out of Boston/Cambridge earlier in the evening was longer than two hours for some people, so he decided to wait it out. The 35-minute drive home took him about an hour, which wasn’t so bad, but today he’s working at home.

Which leads me to a question: do any of you have spouses who wait until a car craps out before taking it to the garage for fixing? My husband does this and it. Drives. Me. NUTS. For months, now, he’s had this noise coming from the rear wheel wells. I asked him about it and suggested he take it in to our mechanic, but he insisted the problem wasn’t a major one … it was just a piece of metal flashing that would be expensive to remove and not fixing it wouldn’t hurt the car. The noise has gotten louder and louder, so I’ve kept at him. (“Maybe you should bring it over today since you’re working at home–I really think you have a brake problem,” says I, multiple times. “No,” says he, multiple times, “It’s nothing.”) It got to the point where when I had to drive to Connecticut for family stuff, I refused to take his car and rented one instead because I knew the problem was more than a loose piece of metal flashing.

Sure enough, when I woke up this morning he said the brake indicator lights had started flashing during his ride home  (meaning the car should not be driven at all!) so that’s why he was staying at home today. Yes, I rolled my eyes because if he had taken the car in months ago like I asked him to do, the fix would probably be a lot less money than it will be now.

I used to have a wonderful mechanic who worked on my Volvo and we would always get to talking about this and that when I brought my car in. He always loved working on my car because I took such good care of it. (214,000 miles until an au pair totaled it, grrr.) He told me that his female customers were much better at getting problems checked out and keeping up with regular maintenance than men were. He said my husband was his typical male customer. Interesting! So I’m off to rent a car later this afternoon. At least I’ll have wheels for a few days.

O has a short day today, and with DH home I won’t get as much done as I’d hoped to. My co-author Linda and I are writing a new book, which I’m very excited about. It’s called The Introverted Entrepreneur, about how introverts can develop, grow, and promote an online presence without crushing their souls. Both Linda and I are major introverts; I’m an INFP in Myers-Briggs parlance and off-the-charts introverted according to other psychological tests I’ve taken. We were talking about it and noted that we’ve succeeded by doing things our way, so we figured, Hey, there’s probably a lot of introverts out there like us who would like to know how we built our brand despite our hermit-like proclivities. Let’s write a book!

If you are an introvert and have an online presence (blogging, Etsy store, Internet marketing site), please contact me. I’d love to interview you for the book. 🙂

Tomorrow I plan to have some knitting to show off.

 

Another snowy day

English toffee

Knitted teddy

 

Around noon we got the automated call: schools were being let out early because of the impending snow storm. Yippee! I’ll let you wonder if I’m being sarcastic. My brother Matt was up here last weekend from Rhode Island and brought the tail-end of a cold with him, which I’m now valiantly fighting off. It’s, unfortunately, leaving me very sluggish and unmotivated to work. No production, no pay: the glamorous life of freelancing!

So I’ve been finishing up holiday projects, stuff that needs to get done by … oh my gosh, is Christmas next week? The top photo is the first batch of English toffee. It has been tested liberally, thus why I’m feeling sugar-sick. I’ll be making several more batches over the next couple days and sending packages off to friends or delivering goodies in person. The recipe is from the Cooking for Engineers blog and it has never failed me. This batch was made with milk chocolate instead of semi-sweet; I’ll be making future batches with the darker stuff.

The bottom photo is my first effort at knitting a teddy bear, and I have to say, it turned out quite well! When it’s completely finished, I’ll post details of the pattern. I’ve been putting off sewing the back to the front, though … must get cracking on that. I’ll be tying a red tartan ribbon around the bear’s neck and sticking this cutie in O’s Christmas stocking.

My 12-year-old is unabashedly fond of stuffed animals. He would probably kill me for saying this, but my favorite parenting moments involve walking into his bedroom in the morning and finding Taffy (a Bernese mountain dog), Goldie (a huge golden retriever), Softener (a mixed-breed stuffie), or Nordie (a wooly mammoth I bought in Norway many years ago) snuggled into his arms while he sleeps. The sight reminds me he’s still my little boy.

What are you up to today? Are you getting snow where you are?

Snowy Sunday (and a finished object)

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Our first major snow of the season and a good day to take photos!

I have to admit, I hate being photographed. It stems from my mother always saying, “You never did take a good photo,” so whenever a camera comes out, I freeze and feel self-conscious.

Earlier this year I decided, dammit … it’s time to get comfortable in front of the lens. It would be really sad if someday O didn’t have any nice pictures to remember me by. That sounds terribly morbid, but one thing I love to do is look at old pictures of my parents, grandparents, and other family members. I can’t imagine not having those photos to remind me of all the happy times we had together.

Today’s goal was not only to get a good shot of me, but get one of me and O, as well as some photos of the dropped stitch cowl I finished a couple weeks ago. The picture of me and O together didn’t really work out because O hates being photographed, but what I did get is kind of arty and nice. The cowl is a gift for someone who loves this shade of blue/green. 🙂 I knit another in a rich gold, which I’m keeping for myself, and will be knitting up another in a variegated blue/green/cream yarn for a dear friend.

As for the photos, I have to admit I like the silly one of me at the end the best.

I was going to go snowshoeing this afternoon, but I know my snowshoes will slip off my boots and put me in an irritable mood (they’re about a size too big for me). Last weekend I was looking at new snowshoes up at REI in Reading … I’m pretty sure they’ll be going on sale after the holidays, so I’m going to hold tight, but it’s tough with all that pretty snow and miles of trail behind our house.

Holiday knitting

steam and brass kerchief

When I was in Mystic, Connecticut, a couple weeks ago, I saw a sample of The Age of Brass and Steam Kerchief knitted up in sock-weight yarn (the pattern specifies a DK-weight yarn). The ruby-red sock yarn I purchased that day was so soft and pretty that I decided it would make an equally lovely kerchief. My mother really loved the color of the yarn (by Other Kingdom, a dyer I cannot find on the Web!) so this is a Christmas present for her. She looks terrific in this shade of red.

My mother doesn’t read my blog, so no worries about her finding out. 🙂

It’s a very enjoyable knit with lots of stockinette broken up with rows of eyelet, an easy pattern to remember, and something I can work on in front of the television or while waiting for an appointment. I figure I’ll have this “wrapped up” by the weekend so I can move on to my next gift knit.

So far in my gift knitting, I’ve finished two cowls, two earflap hats (stranded colorwork), one and a half socks, and a hot water bottle cozy. Just a couple more things and then I can move on to some selfish knitting. 😉

This week has been a trying one, professionally and personally. Professionally it has been a week of rejection after rejection, then having people (mostly PR) play bait-and-switch with me. Frustrating!

And maybe because of the cold and darkness, my temper is running a lot hotter than normal, esp. with my family. Last week I “bragged” about my son. Well this week he came home with some pretty bad lab/test grades in science, math, and social studies. I was really angry about the social studies grade because he had brought home a two-sided study sheet but insisted and argued with me that the test would only be on the first side. I kept telling him, “Let’s just learn the facts on the second side,” but he wouldn’t have any of it. You can guess what happened … the test included all the facts he didn’t study on the second side. When I asked him what kind of grade he’s expecting, he tried to put a positive spin on it by saying, “I’m sure I didn’t get an F.” I told him I wasn’t going to be very happy with a D or a C, either.

Then yesterday O had a half day. The town was giving out free flu shots after school, so I told O I would walk up to school to pick him up and we’d walk over to the town hall. The walk to school isn’t bad at all; it’s just a mile down the bike trail and a cut through the woods. However it was bitterly cold and windy, and the trail was covered in ice, which made it hard for me to walk. I get up to the school and O comes bounding up to me with his backpack … and no coat.

“I left it at home,” he said.

I was pretty ripped because there was no way he would be able to walk home in that cold in just a t-shirt and flimsy sweatshirt. Sure enough, on the short walk over to the town hall, O complained about the wind, that his ears were hurting, that his throat …

Oy! Enough already!

We ended up popping over to a new pizza place in town to kill some time. Since my husband and I had an appointment at school later on that evening, the plan was we’d hang out in town until DH could pick us up. However, I was sitting there in the warm restaurant, I started wondering if I’d turned the iron off in my sewing room. I’d sewed a holiday table runner that morning (seen above in photo) and I couldn’t remember switching the iron off. So I told O he’d have to wait at the library until his father could pick him up. There was no way I could sit around for two hours wondering if my house was in flames. Cue more whining.

The walk home was even colder (and longer because I was walking home from town). All that worry for naught: the iron was off. Then I started getting texts from O complaining about being bored so I told him to read a book and leave me alone, and my husband was being difficult … argh. I know the common belief is that women are difficult to live with, but in this house, it’s the male species! I ended up blockading myself in the bedroom with my hot water bottle and a novel to avoid the two of them.

OK, moving on. We ended the evening with an appointment with O’s math teacher, who was generally positive about O but agreed he could use an extra push at home. The good news is that his teacher said he’ll recommend O to move into the highest level math class next year because of his grades and MCAS scores. The bad news is that we’ve got to play some hardball with O because it’s clear he hasn’t been working as hard as he should be. We are very generous with him because he’s a good kid, but we have an understanding his #1 job is schoolwork and when he doesn’t perform to his abilities, he gets things taken away from him … like his iPad.

I was hoping the week would end on a good note, but I have a feeling it’s going to get worse before it gets better.