Category Archives: Holidays

Sewing projects for May

I completed two sewing projects this month, not bad in that it was a super busy month around here.

First up is McCalls 6886, which has been a popular pattern with sewing bloggers over the last few months. It was a fairly straightforward project with the only challenge being keeping those stripes lined up at the seams, which I managed to do fairly well. The only thing I changed about the pattern was binding the neckline with a strip of fabric cut on the cross-grain. I left one shoulder unsewn before I did the binding so I could seam everything up neatly once the binding was attached. I adore hot pink and bright orange together. When I spotted this fabric in the bargain bin at my local Joann’s, I bought all they had left. I still have enough left over for a t-shirt.

This is a size 14 at the shoulders/bust, and I graded out to a 16 at the waist and hips. This would have been fine in a heavier ponte knit, but I used a thin pique knit that shows every lump and bump underneath. That said, I’m planning to bring this dress on our trip to Europe later this summer when I’ll be at my slimmest/fittest, so I’m not too worried about it. Also: Spanx. 😉

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Next up for your viewing pleasure is yet another tailored shirt, this one made out of some of-so-soft fine-wale cotton corduroy I had in my stash. The pattern is also McCalls (M6649, a Laura Ashley design now OOP) that was part of the Craftsy class called One Pattern, Many Looks. Again, I cut out a size 14 for the shoulders/bust and graded out to a 16 around the waist/hips. This pattern includes separate pieces for B/C/D cup sizes, so I chose the C cup. 

The pattern directions were not the best on this pattern, but it really wasn’t an issue for me because I’ve developed my own “order of construction” based on Pam Howard’s excellent Craftsy class on sewing tailored shirts. I also recently purchased David P. Coffin’s class on shirtmaking details and picked up a couple neat tricks for turning collars and cuffs.

I had always wondered how my grandmother’s hemostats (she was an RN) ended up in the sewing box I inherited from her. Then I saw Coffin’s trick of using them to fold and hold the seam allowances while turning a collar or cuffs. Absolutely brilliant! I’ve never had sharper points on my collars and cuffs until now. I wonder if this was a trick my grandmother knew, although she was more of a knitter than a sewist.

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I’m pretty happy with the shirt. The darts in the front and the back flatter my figure, and the fit in the shoulders is spot-on. The only thing that was surprising was seeing how the C-cup barely contained my bust. The buttons aren’t straining or anything like that, but the fabric is a bit too form-fitting for my tastes. Next time I’ll use the D-cup piece to give myself more room in this area.

Speaking of buttons, I chose snaps for this garment. I wanted a more casual look with this garment, and I think the pearl snaps help.

I’ll probably pack this shirt away for the fall.

McCalls 6649

McCalls 6649

I picked up my 2nd Kelly sweater after a long hiatus and it’s coming along nicely. I’m still surprised how much I enjoy knitting with two strands of mohair and silk! You’d think it would be fussy and a pain, but it’s actually not much of a bother at all. Plus all the fluff hides wonky stitches and it looks beautiful on the needles. I’ve finished the sleeves (I always knit sleeves first) and am nearly done with armhole shaping on the back piece. Then all that’s left are the front pieces plus the finishing details … I’m hoping to have this done by July. I started this sweater around the same time last year, planning to have it finished for Christmas 2015. So it goes.

Blogging has definitely taken a back seat lately. Our trip to Europe this summer is taking a lot of coordination as we’ll be traveling with my brother and his wife and visiting with my husband’s family in various locales. Then my husband is starting a new job in Boston in a couple weeks. Last week we were out to dinner and he mentioned he was thinking about getting some shirts custom made. “I hope you’re thinking made by your wife,” I said. So yeah, that’s on the plate now, along with the sun-blocking drapes I need to make for our bedroom and the clothes I want to make for our travels this summer. My son is now as tall as I am and eats constantly; there are days where I feel like I’m a short-order cook at Denny’s flipping burgers, pouring waffle batter, or kneading bread dough. (Wait, I don’t think they knead dough at Denny’s, but never mind.)

I’ve been hearing a lot of “blogging is dead.” I have to admit, I think about shutting Hail Britannia down, but something stops me. I guess it’s that I’ve been doing this since 2008 and that I do it for my own amusement … there’s no rule that says I have to blog every day or every week. It’s okay if I take a break. Still, these days I’m much more apt to post something on Instagram because I can do it in a minute versus this. THIS, what I just wrote, took me over an hour because my computer is crap and it struggles with cutting and pasting links to my Flickr photos. I feel like I have to carve out an hour or two from my schedule to blog, whereas Instagram takes me seconds.

I don’t know … guess I’m rambling here. At any rate, I’m still here and have plans to write more about what I’m making and doing. I hope you’ll still be around too. But if you want more frequent updates, or are curious whether or not I’m still living and breathing, Instagram is probably the best place to check. 🙂

Hope you’re enjoying this glorious spring!

Kwik Sew 3614 shorts … and September!



Way back in July I noticed a dearth of shorts in my wardrobe. I’m not a big fan of shorts … specifically, I’m not a big fan of how shorts look on me. Mostly because I don’t tan at all and my white legs scare people, but also because I don’t like wearing anything higher than just above my knee. Since I have a spiffy new sewing machine, I decided to make some shorts that met my requirements and I feel comfortable wearing on the hotter days of summer.

Enter Kwik Sew 3614, a pattern I first read about on Sewn. Elizabeth had mentioned how members of Pattern Review raved about the fly construction instruction on these shorts, and after making a couple pairs, I have to agree — fly fronts can be tricky, but it’s smooth sailing with this pattern.

My first pair was constructed out of lavender-colored cotton twill I purchased a few years ago from Fabric Place. I traced and cut a size L and followed the directions for view A (the longest version) exactly, making no modifications. The shorts came out well and I’ve worn them a lot this summer. My only dislikes were having hook and eye closures on the closure tab. I decided with my next pair I’d use a button and buttonhole.

My second pair are the ones I’m wearing in the photos above. I can’t remember where I got the fabric, a navy blue cotton twill … either Joann’s or Sewfisticated Fabrics in Framingham. The button/buttonhole closure works much better. For future shorts I plan to use a contrasting facing on the waistband, as well as softer pocket fabric. I used matching twill to make pockets for both pairs of shorts. They’re fine, but maybe a little bulkier than I’d like.

This is a great pattern and I will definitely get my money’s worth from it as I have plans for olive, white, and red shorts for next summer.

Since I took a bit of a blog break for the last six weeks, here’s what else is going on. My mother and I took a week-long trip to central Maine in August and had a wonderful time. I didn’t take any pictures (bah!) except for a shot of my yarn haul from Halcyon Yarn in Bath.  I’ll do a run down of what I purchased in a separate post.

I’ve been a bit down because my father and stepmother are going through a painful divorce. It’s not a bitter one, just very sad because of the circumstances. I’m hoping that once the smoke clears, things will get better.

Then my husband’s car died. We were down to one car for the last few years, so it has been necessary to do some car shopping. It looks like I’ll be getting a new VW Jetta by the end of the week. It’s funny because VW was not on my “car-buying radar” until I rented one a couple weeks ago and fell in love. Even better, my son loves it and my husband, while not a fan of practical four-door sedans, admits that it’s a smooth, responsive ride.

And oh, that cat you see above? That’s Winston. I’l write more about him in another post, but we decided after a year of having no cats it was time to welcome a new cat into our home … and hearts. We adore Winston … he is a sweet, lovable, friendly guy. And even better,  he doesn’t chase my yarn.

What have you been up to this summer? Are you glad it’s September?

Away at camp

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O was safely delivered to camp on Sunday. My father had a clever idea. When I asked if we could borrow his SUV to bring O’s trunk to camp, my father said, “Why not let him take the boat over?” (The camp is on the same lake my parents’ house is on.) O loved the idea, so he piloted us over there. His arrival definitely attracted attention on shore. The only trouble was, the dock’s gate was locked, so one of the parents had to find the camp director so we could get in. She’s known my dad for years, so I don’t think she was too annoyed. 😉 The only thing my father asked of O was that he ask the camp director, “Permission to come ashore, ma’am.” It was pretty clear she knew this was one of my father’s antics. 😉

I brought O to his cabin, met his counselor, then helped him get settled. I didn’t want to hang out and embarrass him, so I said, “I think I’ll get going back to the boat now,” and the boys in the cabin perked up. One said, “Hey, you’re the ones that came on the boat? Cool!” I guess he made a memorable entrance. O’s cabin is visible from the water, so my father and stepmother will know where to look for him when they boat over at night. (They like to come over and see if they can see him…grandparents!!!)

The night before my father took us out on the lake and we watched fireworks. July 4th during the day had been drizzly, but by nightfall, the skies were clear, the air was cool, and was the perfect evening for fireworks. Once they were over, we sat offshore and listened to the Grateful Dead’s “Franklin’s Tower” play at a house party. The perfect tune for Independence Day! (BTW, it was also my father’s 76th birthday. I can hardly believe he’s that old. He was complaining about a pulled muscle he’d gotten from, get this, running laps around the track! He’s a former marathoner, still in great shape.)

Today (Monday) the house feels empty. I already missed O on the drive home, but I know he’ll be having fun these next two weeks.

Crafting

Not much knitting got done since I last posted, though I did work a couple of rows of Pebble Beach last night before bed. Each row is now over 300 stitches and I’m not even halfway through the pattern.

On the way back home from CT I stopped at That $2.99 Fabric Store in Auburn. They had some great denim there, but I have plenty of denim in my stash so I controlled myself. I bought a couple of yards of midnight blue lace to use as an inset on a dress I want to make and two yards of cream-colored polyester charmeuse for slips/bodice lining.

It looks like this week’s sewing project will be creating a Roman shade for one of our bedroom windows. Since I finished the drapes for our northern-facing window, my husband has become quite spoiled and wants the eastern-facing window to have a similar covering. I can’t blame him–the light shines right in his eyes at dawn.

The Yowza Weigh-it Shawl

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I finished knitting this beautiful shawl by Susan B. Anderson last month during a week where it was cold and rainy and I’d already shut off the heat for the season. It was a pure delight to knit–it wasn’t completely mindless because every couple seconds there was a new color change to ooo and ahh over. While knitting, I listened to the Serial podcast put out by PBS. Can’t wait for the next “season” to begin!

I’m a huge fan of Susan B. Anderson’s blog (and vlog, too!), and when she introduced this pattern in May, I dropped what I was doing, ordered the pattern, and promptly broke my yarn diet by ordering the exact color yarn she’d used in her sample (Miss Babs Yowza! Whatta Skein! in the colorway “Perfectly Wreckless.”) I made a mistake and ordered the colorway “Berlin” (which is very pretty, too), but the people at Miss Babs were nice enough to correct my order … that’s what I get for ordering yarn late at night.

Speaking of nice…that’s one of the main reasons why I love Anderson’s blog and vlog. She seems so darn nice, not to mention talented. While I don’t mind reading snark, I can only take it in small doses. I much prefer blogs, podcasts, and vlogs where the hosts leave me feeling a little happier after having read or watched them.  Anderson’s blog is definitely a cheerer-upper for me. 🙂

OK, back to the shawl. Yes, the colors are as vibrant IRL as they are on your screen. The shawl appears to have a woven appearance because of the garter stitch, yet it’s soft and squishy around my neck. I was going to wash it and pack it away for the summer, but discovered last week that it was perfect to wrap around my shoulders on a cold and rainy day … plus, those lively colors cheered me up. I even got a couple compliments on it when I wore it out shopping at Whole Foods. The reason why it’s called “the Weigh It Shawl” is because rather than count rows, you weigh your yarn as you go along and start wrapping things up when you are down to a certain number of grams. I still had quite a bit of yarn left over, but that’s okay because I like having odd balls for my blanket knitting.

Ravelry details here.

I’m off for the holiday weekend. Happy July 4th to my American blog readers, and to everyone else, have a wonderful weekend. 🙂

p.s. Forgot to mention, but I also made the pink cotton lawn blouse underneath the shawl. It’s a bit wrinkly as it had been freshly washed but not ironed. I thought the shawl would look better styled with a blouse.

 

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:

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I look so much like my paternal grandmother from the side, it’s scary!

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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:

Made it! Charles river, Cambridge

View of the Charles, June 28, 2014

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.

TGIJ!

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.

Knitting

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.

Weight

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!

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.

IYRS student boat launch, May 31, 2014

I loved the look of concentration on Matt’s face. He’s an excellent sailor!

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!

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!

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!