Category Archives: Knitting

March forecast

Seventy degrees earlier in the week here in Boston. Today: 12 degrees (that’s Fahrenheit). Insane!

Life is chugging along here at La Casa Hail Britannia. My knitting/sewing productivity has dropped over the last few months as I’ve had to spend more time helping my stepfather manage my mother’s affairs due to her declining health. Going through this experience is tough, but it has also given me some valuable insight into how I live my own life. My mother and I have very different personality types to begin with, which adds to the drama. Illness has brought out her anger and unhappiness, which she takes out on those closest to her, which is mostly my stepfather, with me coming in at a close second. ¬†Luckily I get on well with him, which makes things a LOT easier for both of us.

People have always told me things like, “Wait’ll your kid is a teenager … you’ll see how hard it is.” But I have to say dealing my fifteen-year-old is a cakewalk compared to dealing with my 75-year-old mother. My only complaint with him is he could take his studies a little more seriously, change his bedsheets more often, and eat more vegetables. On the rare days he misbehaves, I can still send him to his room, but I can’t do that with my mom. ūüėČ

All this has made me realize that I need to take better care of myself. All my life I’ve had insanely low blood pressure, but recently, it has creeped up into the high normal range, so I’m working to get that back down with exercise, stress reduction exercises, and healthier eating. I’ve never been a big fan of fast food, so it was scary to me to see how often I was eating it driving back and forth to Connecticut. Now I pack food to take with me so I don’t have to resort to “grab and go” eating. And on weekends I’m turning off the electronics and focusing on my own immediate family, exercise, and creative projects, which has been a godsend for my mental health. By the time I post this, my husband and I will have gone to the movies (Lion), had a dinner date (Legal Seafood), and knock wood, I will have finished the last bits on my denim shirt project (photo below, details TK).

What I’m going to do here is create a goal list for the month of projects I want to work on and finish. I feel like that will keep me on track and provide fewer opportunities for distraction. So here goes:

In March I will:

  • Finish my Grainline Archer denim shirt, which just needs hemming and buttonholes

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  • Sew Butterick B6296 pajama set using fabric below:

  • Finish knitting my sister-in-law’s socks from yarn we bought together in Munich last summer (I work on these when I’m waiting in the car for my son or at the doctor’s office with my mother):

  • Finish knitting this Candide cardigan, a pattern from the early 1960s with lovely olive green DK weight wool I bought on sale at Hub Mills/Classic Elite Yarns years ago. A stash buster sweater!

  • And, if I have time, sew a pair of trousers for myself with green fabric of indeterminate cotton/poly content I purchased at the $2.99 Fabric Store in Auburn and a cream-colored turtleneck for next winter using a¬†TNT (tried and true) OOP (out of print) Kwik Sew pattern.

Typing that out and looking through my project piles cracks me up because my ambitions clearly outpace my reality! I’ll check back in as projects get accomplished. : )

 

 

Winter Solstice

The shortest day of the year. When I looked out the window yesterday afternoon at 4:45 p.m. it was completely dark. I don’t like wishing my life away but I do look forward to January and the days getting longer.

I haven’t much to show knitting- or sewing-wise as mostly everything I’m working on is meant for gifting. One of my siblings is going to be a father this spring, so I’ve gone a bit crazy with baby knitting. Although I learned to knit as a child, I didn’t get back into it until my son was well into elementary school, so I missed out on knitting for my own baby. It is very exciting because¬†this will be my first niece or nephew from my side of the family. (No word if baby is a girl or a boy. My feeling is boy. The Burrell family is male-dominated.)

The expectant mom is a knitter and wants me to show her some tricks. She calls herself a “basic” knitter, which is how I think of myself. I’m not very clever, just good at following directions and patient when things go wrong … and they do, all the time. Take for example one of the huge baby projects I’m working on… Only this morning I realized I had one fewer stitch I needed in a critical row, which means tinking back three long rows of lace to fix a missing yarnover. It annoyed me so that I put aside the project aside; I’ll return to it when I’ve cooled off and can face the task without any emotion. As I told my sister-in-law several weeks ago, I think the sign of knitting competence is not in the fancy stuff you can do, but in being able to look at your work, see where it’s gone south, and know exactly what you’ll have to do to get it back on the path. Getting back to that point is often a boatload of work (to mix metaphors), so extra points there. ūüôā

And Christmas is almost here! It feels like it snuck up on me this year. We elected not to put up a tree. I would have done it if O insisted upon it, but he’s never been that affected by holiday spirit, so we’re going to put a few bulbs on our potted Norfolk pine and call it a day. Our cat Winston is a climber. Last year he knocked our tree over so many times it was more of a hassle than it was worth. Live and learn!

We spent Thanksgiving in Florida this year. My mother-in-law’s extended family built an amazing outdoor pavilion on their property so they had a family reunion of sorts. It was an interesting experience eating Thanksgiving dinner outdoors in 70 degree weather! On top of that, the food was definitely “southern style,” which interested me greatly as a food writer. For example, there were no vegetables that were cooked on their own. In other parts of the country, I think it would be common to have side dishes of plain green beans, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and/or winter squashes, but with this Southern-style Thanksgiving, the vegetables were cooked into casseroles with a lot of added ingredients. Again, it was interesting to experience a different regional style of celebration. ūüôā

OK, so the photo above. That happened Sunday afternoon, right after my husband and I returned from grocery shopping. I had just settled down with a cup of tea at the dining room table when I heard a loud crack. I looked out the window, saw pine boughs falling to the pavement, heard more cracks, and then I jumped up and ran to the other side of the house because I could tell the tree was coming down. What a noise! It ripped out the power lines, caused some significant damage to our neighbor’s home, and shut down the street for hours. We are very lucky no one was hurt, and we had power back by 9:30 p.m. (Actually earlier for us … my husband had the foresight several years ago to buy a backup generator after we lost power for a week at our old house.) This has been the third or fourth tree to come down sort of close to where I’m sitting. Yikes! Think someone’s trying to tell me something?

How to get the mothball smell out of clothing

Two years ago I resorted to storing my winter woolens in mothballs after a particularly nasty clothes moth infestation wreaked havoc on my yarn stash. That was a painful week, throwing out skein after skein of expensive yarn because–grr–the moths had a particular fondness for the skeins that cost a fortune!!! I didn’t want to lose any handknits to those damn pests so rather than relying on lavender, cinnamon, and bay leaves (which repel, not kill), I¬†went the mothball route to ensure all buggers were dead.

Here’s the thing about mothballs: they smell terrible. And yes, I know, they’re terribly toxic too, but my infestation was so great, I figured one or two seasons of mothballs would be a risk worth taking as long as I was careful handling them and I minimized my and my family’s exposure to them. I would not use them if I had young children in the house, and we store off-season clothing in a room where our cat isn’t allowed.

So back to the smell–it seems like mothballs evoke all kinds of different images and memories for people. For my mom, the smell reminds her of walking to school in her winter coat and every time she moved, getting a whiff of mothballs she hoped no one else could smell. My friend says the smell makes her think of “old people.” For me, I think of a metal wardrobe my parents had in the 70s. It must have stunk of mothballs.

Mothballs are a sure bet at killing moths and larvae, but what you can’t count on is getting the stink out of your clothes afterwards. The first year I used mothballs, I did what I thought was the logical thing: I washed all my stored items to remove the residual smell. Unfortunately, not only did it not work, it actually made everything smell worse!!! Drycleaning? Useless, as well as expensive. So I tried some other tactics, such as soaking garments in white vinegar and water (helped a little) and storing them in a plastic container with some baking soda (which maybe masked the odor more than killed it). I also tried lavender sachets and even “Febrezed” some of my more “hearty” knits.¬†Eventually I couldn’t smell the mothballs when I would take the item out of the container or my closet, but here’s the weird thing — if the garment got damp, such as from rain or being in the snow, it would start to reek of mothballs again. So frustrating that I couldn’t get rid of the chemical odor!

Near the end of last winter, I was doing some research to find out if mothballs can repel snakes (nope–snakes can’t smell). I hit on a¬†description of naphthalene, the chemical in mothballs, which said naphthalene¬†gas is broken down by¬†bacteria, fungi, air, and sunlight. WELL! No wonder water didn’t work so well for me! I piled all my woolens in a laundry basket and headed out to our sunny backyard with a bag of clothespins. By the end of the day, all of the woolens I’d hung up on our clothesline were virtually free of mothball smell. For good measure, I aired them out the next day too, and for the rest of the winter, I could wear woolens that didn’t smell as though they’d come out a steamer trunk in my great-grandmother’s attic.

That’s what I’m doing today — airing and sun-cleaning all my woolies for the coming winter. What I do is every hour or two move things around and flip garments over so they don’t get sun bleached, especially if there’s a fold in the fabric. (I ruined a sweater when I was a teen by leaving it in the sun too long with the arms crossed across the body. Learned that lesson early!) Some of the heavier items, like my Aran cardigan, will get a second airing tomorrow. Then I’ll handwash everything to get rid of any dirt or insects that landed on the garments while airing and then store the clothing on shelves lined with lavender and cinnamon sachets.

 

Back to WordPress

A bit disappointed that Hugh Laurie didn’t win an Emmy for his role in The Night Manager. Boo!

My co-author and business partner said she didn’t mind if I used some space on our server to host my blog, so I spent¬†an evening last week reinstalling a backup copy of my blog to the new host. A couple of times I was ready to pull my hair out, but I find walking away and taking a break usually resolves the (human) error. I liked Blogger’s platform, but it broke all my permalinks, which cost me some traffic. Not that I get tons of traffic here, but a couple of my posts get a lot of hits because (I hope) they’re helpful, so there was that.

Last Saturday I drove down to Connecticut with my son for a family meeting. My stepmom’s best friend from high school was there, and she let us pick one of these pot-holders made from felted sweaters. I thought they were so cute and clever. (I picked one of those teal birdies.)

K worked in theater costume design for years, so I’m excited that next month when I drive down to North Carolina for a business meeting I’ll be spending a night at K’s house in Baltimore, which is roughly half-way between Boston and Research Triangle. I’d been agonizing whether or not to make the 12-hour drive in one straight shot, but when K invited me to spend the night at her house–quilts, sewing, fiber arts–no way was I going to turn that down. It’s nice because the part of the trip I was dreading has turned out to be something I’m looking forward to. I don’t really have any friends who are as into sewing and knitting as I am. They appreciate it, but they don’t want to talk about it to the degree I do.

Warm and rainy here today. Beautiful sunset in the evening as we drove back from Lexington. O wouldn’t let me pull over to take a picture. It kind of looked like this:

48 hours

It has been a long two days. I’ve been a bit overdue for my annual cancer checkup, which involves some invasive and altogether unpleasant medical procedures, so today was the day. The actual day is not that bad; once I’m at the hospital and hooked up to an IV, the worst is pretty much over. When I awaken, I know I’ll be able to eat again, to breathe easier that another year has passed and with luck, put more distance between the time I wasn’t so lucky.

Except that today, the worst wasn’t over. When I awoke after the procedure, I was in terrible pain. Awful. And I’m not a wimp about pain so when I say it hurt, it hurt. It took hours for the pain to subside to a point where I wasn’t wincing every time I changed position, and even now, over twelve hours later, I get an occasional stab just under my breastbone. My doctor also found a new polyp, this one much higher in my colon, which was removed and will be biopsied. He didn’t seem too worried about it; he told me and my husband that it was “tiny,” unlike the huge mass he found five years ago. I’ll know the results in a couple weeks. I have a lot of work to keep me busy so I plan to distract myself. Another clue that he’s not too concerned it’ll come back positive is that he’s pushing my next checkup to three years instead of one. That’s great news!

The one thing that sucks about cancer is that even with a good outcome, it may be out of your body but it’s always there in the back of your mind. My risks for another diagnosis are higher than someone who hasn’t had that diagnosis. I do remind myself that my grandmother had colon cancer in her 70s and lived to be 100 and it wasn’t cancer that got her, but old age. Every time something goes wrong with my digestive system, I wonder if I’ve got another tumor growing in there. It’s hard to know when to relax or when I should be on it.

I was feeling too bad afterwards, so my husband brought me home to sleep it off best I could, then we went out later for food. I hadn’t eaten in two days, and all I wanted was miso soup and California rolls. We have a fantastic Japanese restaurant in town, so we enjoyed an early dinner then brought take-out home for our son. The food hit the spot, the perfect meeting between what my tastebuds craved and my stomach wanted.

On the ride home, we were talking about the weather and I mentioned to him how I was looking forward to fall because it was “knitting season.” He said, “Sweetie, with you every day¬†is knitting season.” Hahahaha! Not quite true — I prefer sewing more in the summer, but I do always keep something going on my needles year ’round, mostly socks. But for the past week or two, I’ve found myself trolling Ravelry more. I think I need more shawls. I used to enjoy knitting shawls but felt they didn’t mesh well with my style so I stopped. When we were in Germany this summer, though, I got a lot of use out of my Pebble Beach shawl — I used it to block the sun on my shoulders during a day-long boat trip, as well as a garment to keep me warm at night. So I think I’ll focus on making a few new shawls this winter — they certainly are quite handy!

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. ūüėČ

McCalls 6886

 

 

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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. ūüôā

Hope you’re enjoying this glorious spring!

Well hello there!

picmonkey-collage

It has been awhile, hasn’t it? I’ve been wanting to post again, but then when I think about how to start, it fills me with this vague anxiousness. So I’m just gonna jump back in and start talking. ūüôā

A lot going on in my corner of the world right now. Some of it isn’t great–my mother is ill so I’ve been spending two days a week down in CT caring for her–but most of it’s pretty good and holding steady. The highlights:

  • My long-time writing partner and I started a publishing company¬†on January 1, which is keeping me (us) super busy. I enjoy using the left side of my brain to run the business instead of focusing strictly on writing, which I don’t particularly enjoy on its own.
  • Since my work hours are more regular, I use the weekends to work on my sewing. I really enjoy sewing blouses, and that blue one above is the best I’ve made so far.
  • Knitting I mostly do at night while watching my TV programs or during a lunch break, which means I’m not knitting as much as I used to. The hat above is one of my favorite knits of the winter, the Mortice Lock Hat. I’ve also been working on a Isabell Kraemer cardigan (“Dexter“), which is coming along nicely but slowly. I’m using some Drops alpaca in a silvery gray…it’s going to look great against the blue of my new blouse! More on this knit later. I’m also trying to catch up on gift knitting…a few babies born this winter are in need of my craft. ūüėČ
  • I completed the Whole 30 diet in January, which is why I included that slice of pizza above. I don’t think I lost weight, but one thing I did learn the hard way is that my body does not like wheat. I’ve suspected this for awhile, but it is good to know for sure that wheat causes me such problems. I was also able to kick my sugar habit, woo hoo!
  • My son is heading to high school this fall, which has sent me into a tizzy because I swear, he just graduated from kindergarten. This week was spent choosing classes, and I’m pleased he’ll be taking Latin as his foreign language (he has taken Spanish since grade school). I met with one of the Latin teachers a few weeks ago, and she seemed really passionate about her class…my fingers are crossed she’ll be his teacher!
  • And the big news is that we’re heading to Europe this summer for two weeks! I’m very excited about this because we’ll be spending time with my husband’s family in Munich, as well as traveling to Berlin with my brother and his wife. I’ve never been to Berlin and am looking forward to exploring the museums and historical sites.

Spring seems to have arrived early here in Massachusetts. Bulbs started popping up through the earth mid-February, and today it was in the low 70s! The rest of the week will be cooler, but definitely spring-y.

I’m glad to be back and will post more detail about some of the projects I’ve been working on. What are you up to?

Rrrrrrrrrip … done!

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That’s my Garland Yoke sweater. It took me a little over an hour to rip it out and re-ball the yarn, which I did while watching Project Runway. Enough time had passed between my finishing knitting the sweater and deciding that I’d never wear it so that ripping it out wasn’t painful — in fact, it was very satisfying. Perhaps it’s because I enjoy the act of knitting more than the creation of something knitted, if that makes sense.

I added an afternoon walk yesterday to my daily list of mood boosters and even though it was gray and stodgy outside, the fresh air helped and I was less moody by the end of the evening. Last night I slept well and deeply, so I’m going to take another walk in a few minutes. Today it’s crisp and bright outside.

I was going to post a photo of how Winston greeted us when O and I arrived home this afternoon, but on second thought, the photo may be disturbing to some. He had caught a mouse in the bathroom and couldn’t seem to understand why it wasn’t playing with him anymore. We called my husband downstairs to show him the great job Winston had done — Mr. Hail Britannia is not a big fan of cats, but he does respect a good mouser. Our previous cats have all been pacifists, much to his dismay. Winston is slowly earning his respect.

Rrrrrrrrrrrip!!!

 

 

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The dark mornings of autumn get to me. I was hoping to escape the doldrums this year, but no such luck. I’ve dragged my full-spectrum lightbox out of a corner, increased my Vitamin D and fish oil intake, and am doing everything I can to stay cheerful. That includes upping my knitting. Any other tips for beating the autumn blues?

I finished my Garland Yoke sweater a month ago. And I knew within a moment of pulling it over my head I’d never wear it. First, it’s much too heavy (worsted-weight wool). It’s also huge on me, and the neckline does my narrow shoulders no favors. So I put it aside and am waiting until I feel good enough to start frogging it. Tonight may be the night.

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?