Owls for Eleanor Part 2: Safe Landing in California

A couple of weeks ago I made some little owl mitts for my grand-niece Elly who sustained an injury to her hand that required surgery. I got the mitts done and into the mail just in the nick of time. Here’s how things went down.

Cast coming off.
Elly heading out to get her cast off. This is the first time she’s seen the injury since she landed in the ER. Did you notice that she loves purple?

 

Mail delivery
Not long after getting home the mail delivery brings her a package!

 

Mitts!
Perfect landing! Owls have arrived.

 

Best timing ever. Enjoy the mitts little lady and keep safe.

Love,

Aunt Marilyn

Sock Reboot

Gosh, I really like Corriedale sheep. The very first fleece that I spun was from a lamb named Bob with long, lustrous locks and a gentle crimp. The owner of the flock and I became friends, and I would go out to visit her sheep and even helped skirt fleeces  when she had her flock sheared.

So when I saw this yarn at Shuttles, Spindles and Skeins in Boulder, Colorado, I  had to have it.  It was Corriedale sock yarn, dyed locally at MJ Yarns in a wonderful colorway called Midnight Orchid. I couldn’t wait to get started on it, and cast on to make simple garter rib socks to show off the fabulous colors.

Orchid Pooled Yarn
Gee, look at all the orchid pools on this side of the sock.
Midnight Side of Sock
But the other side of the sock is all midnight with one lonely orchid strip…

Yikes! The orchid colors all pooled on one side of the sock, and the midnight ended up on the other side. NOT the look that I was hoping for.  Be strong, I told myself, and ripped it all out in under a minute flat.  Back to the drawing (knitting) board; I started looking at other possible patterns. After going through some pattern books (OK, I have way too many sock books…) I settled on a sock pattern that uses wrapped and twisted stitches.

Criss-Cross stitch
The criss-cross stitch pattern in this sock really changes the fabric of the sock and made the pooling stop.

Problem solved. The colors have settled into stripes and the front looks just like the back. I like the way the twists show off the yarn. As a bonus, this fabric is also very nice and stretchy.

Yeah! Happy knitting again. I hope to have these socks done by the end of the week. 🙂

Sock Pattern: Traversus Socks found in Knockout Knits by Laura Nelkin.

Yarn: Simple Sock Fingering Weight by MJ Yarns

Owls for Eleanor

My grandniece Elly suffered a medical misadventure a couple of weeks ago that landed her in the ER with a badly cut and mangled finger. Wouldn’t you know it, not only was it badly cut, but the bone was also broken. The next morning she was taken into surgery for the repair and ended up with a purple cast. Sad, sad day.

Heading into surgery
Here she is heading into surgery…
After surgery
and here she is afterwards. See the purple cast?

The cast comes off in about a week, and I decided to make her some little purple fingerless mitts to wear as a little padding for that hand. She is into owls in a big way, so of course the mitts had to feature knitted owls.

Elly3_Cropped
Here they are, ready to fly to California. Hope they bring a little TLC to that finger!

These were a fast knit. I cast on 28 stitches and got started Friday and finished today. I used a bulky single ply yarn from Crystal Palace and size 7 and 9 needles. They go into the mail Monday, and I hope that she will like them. 🙂

Elly looking at her mitts on the blog.
Elly discovering her mitts in the blog this morning. Look Mom! I’m in a blog!!

Morning update. I texted Elly’s mom this morning to let her know about the finished mitts and the blog posting. She likes them!

Knitting in the Key of LIfe

“Now, let us all take a deep breath and forge on into the future; knitting at the ready.” – Elizabeth Zimmerman, The Opinionated Knitter

The last four weeks have been terribly hectic for me. I’ve been fighting a chronic condition for some time now, and in May it decided to get ugly. My wonderful doctor ordered a huge battery of tests, and wouldn’t you know it, I tested positive for an autoimmune condition. “Good to be diagnosed, but also a shame,” my doctor tells me. Things have been busy for me as I’ve completed batteries of additional tests, visited new doctors, driven to new clinics, and started new medications. Huh. It’s like I’m starting a whole new life.

How best to respond to a body blow like this? Obviously the thing to do is to stay calm and knit! I have knitted though all the crisis of my life. I knitted a new sweater the week that my mom died, made a pair of socks while sitting in the ICU with an ill son, and created an afghan while recovering from surgery. Stranded in an airport for two days? No problem, I have knitting! Knitting can sooth and center me in a way few other things can. I feel calm, hopeful and pleased to be creating something of beauty and purpose during the process. Cheapest therapy around!

So, I made a pair of socks for my sister’s birthday present the week I was diagnosed.  I then started a big project for one of my friends (a cushy vest that she can wear to Colorado Avalanche hockey games),  and bought the yarn to make little purple mitts with owls on them for my grand-niece who just had hand surgery to repair a badly mangled finger. Still, I needed more. I needed to make… a cat!!

My cousin loves all things cat. We saw this meme that has been making it’s way around Facebook that shows a box of kittens with the  “Crazy Cat Lady Starter Kit” stenciled on the side.  Of course she asked for a starter kit of her own. Of course I started looking for a cute pattern to knit a cat. This pattern by Kath Delmeny fit the bill.

Knitted Kitten
First kitten in the “Starter Kit” crate. We’ll have to get a larger crate as I add kittens!

Here it is. Cutest cat ever! I finished it today (on her birthday) and I couldn’t help posing it all over the yard.  I’m so pleased with how spunky it is, and can’t help but imagine that it will be a little rascal that gets up to no good once it’s at her house.

Kitten in Flower Pot
Doesn’t this look like a kitten that will break house rules?

Why do I knit? Because it makes me feel wonderful!

That’s the best medicine ever.

“Knit on, with confidence and hope, through all crises.” — Elizabeth Zimmerman

 

All the Light We Cannot See

One summer I spent a few weeks at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder, Colorado taking a course for teachers. We learned about light (the electromagnetic spectrum), stars, space exploration, and all things fun for geeks of the science teacher persuasion. We developed lessons and activities to teach these topics to our own students, and we even built simple AM radios.

Out in the courtyard between buildings at LASP my team and I spread out our antenna (yards and yards of wire hung in trees and across the ground), plugged in the earplug, and hunted up and down the radio-wave spectrum using our tuner looking for a signal. Suddenly, it was there. A voice and music from far away; a momentary connection to an invisible person that launched us into yelps and leaping high-fives in the afternoon heat. Even for people who can’t survive without computers and smart boards it was a magical moment.

In the book All the Light We Cannot See the author Anthony Doerr tells a tale about connections such as these and so much more. On the surface it is a tale about a boy, a girl, and a fabulous diamond. Under the surface we discover that the “Sea of Flames” diamond is cursed with mystical powers, the boy is a genius whose talents will be consumed by the Third Reich, and that the girl is blind but sees better than many others around her. Their story is framed within the shocking human waste and chaos of war.

This should have been a grim story, and the likelihood that I would continue reading it was slim, but I was captured quickly by the humanity of the characters and the sense of wonder they brought to their worlds. Werner, our young boy in this book, keeps a book of “questions” of the kind only a budding scientist would collect. He builds a radio from scraps, and he and his sister Jutta listen to voices over the airwaves. They learn about the world outside their oppressive coal mining community, and they hear science lessons for children in a French voice that captivates them. “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever,” says the voice. Their eyes are opened.

Sea Shells
Marie-Laure loves to explore the inhabitants of the ocean shoreline. She especially loves the whelks and collects shells.

Marie-Laure, our young girl, blind from a young age, is raised by her father in a museum in Paris, France. She is a clever young lady who observes, learns, and applies logic to the world around her. She collects pine cones, explores the inhabitants of oceans shores, learns how to classify mollusks by variations in their shells ,and reads Jules Verne  novels in Braille.  Her father loves her greatly.

The lives of Werner and Marie-Laure intersect through the radio. Werner becomes part of a unit that hunts for radio transmissions by freedom fighters in occupied Europe. Marie-Laure becomes involved in outlawed radio broadcasts. Through the radio these two are destined to meet each other. Because this is war, and there is an enchanted diamond of immense worth involved, nothing will be simple. Lives are lost, conditions become desperate, both Werner and Marie-Laure will be trapped in fire-bombed and burning Saint-Malo, and the sea reclaims its own. Human potential will be lost, a promising future obtained. What a book!

The book is much richer than the central characters and storyline. It is peopled with a host of other characters who are connected to Werner and Marie-Laure. It has themes within the central theme. Science lives in its pages, and books shine throughout. We become aware of the immense destructiveness of war; lives and cultures will be impacted for generations to come. We begin to understand our inability to control our own lives, and glimpse the amazing power of self-determination. As with the diamond in the book it is possible for great gifts and curses to exist at the same time. What is the light that we cannot see? I’m pretty sure that it is radio waves, microwaves, the heat from burning coal, and so many things that are obvious looking at an electromagnetic wave chart. “How does the brain, locked in darkness, build for us a world full of light?” Marie-Laure’s great-uncle asks in the book; the light we cannot see is also about souls, promises kept and lost, and the connections that bind us all together.

“Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.”

 

Elephant Walk Socks

Every year, as soon as my taxes are filed, I head to the nearest yarn shop. I mean, how else am I going to recover from “I have to pay HOW much money this year?!” It’s kind of a ritual now. I buy yarn and needles that I don’t even have a project for; the whole point of the outing is get some joy and to feed the stash. That way I drive home happy, excited and looking forward to some productive knitting. Taxes, what taxes? 🙂

Elephant yarn.
Yarn I bought at a favorite yarn store on my way home from doing the taxes.

That’s how I ended up with this yarn (Noro Taiyo Sock Yarn). It’s kind of a happy yarn, don’t you think? I thought that it would make up into something fun for my sister. These are more her colors than mine, and I had plans to make her a little shawl in time for her birthday.

Well, all I can say is that the stash ate this yarn. I put it into the drawer with the other sock yarns, and I never thought about it again. Then, out of the blue, I saw a pattern for socks (Water for the Elephants by Rose Hiver) that I just loved, I dug in the stash for some crazy yarn and pulled this out. Sorry Sis. This yarn is meant to be patterned socks with elephant details. Who knew?

Yarn on the inside of the skein. Hmmm... what will this look like knitted up?
Yarn on the inside of the skein. Hmmm… what will this look like knitted up?

The reason why this yarn seems a little crazy is, no matter how I try to visualize what the final knitted piece will look like, I get surprised. I looked at the end of the skein, and I was pretty sure that I was looking at orange, green and some golden tan. The sequence looked promising, so I cast on.

Not matching socks
Well, who knew these socks would only look distantly related when finished?

Well, the socks turned out great. I just love the little elephants in the Turkish pattern. They fit perfectly, and I couldn’t be happier with how they turned out. Except… they don’t really match all that much. They kind of complement each other, so that is just the way it is going to be. Knitting, the great adventure. I wonder what this pattern will look like in fingerless mitts? I think that I will put the little elephants onto the palms…

Socks and Noro yarn.
The yarn that I used (Noro Taiyo Sock Yarn) made the two socks have very different colors.
Top and bottom pattern of the sock.
I just love the pattern in this sock. The pattern on the sole is pretty nifty, too.

DNA, Evolution, and The Signature of All Things

It seems that my life has become an exercise in synchronicity and random coincidences. I checked a book out of the library, read one that had been sitting on my NOOK for weeks, picked up a book on a sale table at Barnes & Noble, and remembered a video that I used to show my biology classes each winter. Strangely, they all fit together. No matter what I thought the book would be about, it began to talk about DNA and evolution at some point. How bizarre! All three books (The Signature of All Things, The Sociopath Next Door , and Orfeo) echoed things that I remembered from the video series Intimate Strangers: Unseen Life on Earth, which was broadcast in November 1999 on PBS. All these connections are just churning around in my head; here’s my thoughts about the video and one of the books, The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert..

The episode that I’ve become fixated upon while reading these books is the first one in the Intimate Strangers series, The Tree of Life. If you would like to actually watch this episode (and all the others, of course) they are housed at Microbe World. The  biology classes saw this video when they were learning about taxonomy and the kingdoms of life.  In the video we meet Dr. Carl Woese,  a microbiologist of singular vision and drive. Working alone for years, chasing patterns in the mutations of a small, heavily conserved region of DNA, he pieced together the pattern of relationships between living things on earth. Using this information, Woese was able to determine the sequence of descent, establish common ancestors and eventually created a new “Tree of Life”. His work shook up the taxonomy world as domains were created (a grouping above “kingdom” in the normal sequence of “kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species”), and our understanding of evolution was enriched and altered forever. One man, working alone, chasing patterns in the musical score of life that is DNA, was able to change our view of the natural world.

This is what Dr. Woese says on camera in the video:

You have to have your own particular sensitivity to the world, and there has to be parts of it that are beautiful to you, because they’re beautiful to you regardless of what anyone else ever thinks. You see this all the time in an artist, and you see it also in good scientists.

This brings me to The Signature of All Things. In this book we meet Alma Whittaker, the daughter of a botanical robber baron. Raised in a wealthy and enriched environment that encourages learning and allows Alma to meet many eminent people in the scientific world, and possessing the logical mind of her mother, Alma is nonetheless trapped within the small world of her father’s estate. She sets up a lab in the carriage house, explores the land around her, and spends the majority of her life studying the world of mosses and liverworts. Small as her life becomes contained within the estate as she handles her father’s business and the details of life, it allows her to follow her “own particular sensitivity to the world” as she observes the interactions and changes in her moss populations; in truth she sees that mosses living within a timeframe much slower than our own engage in the same behaviors as the animal kingdom around her. It is a life of study in a world that is beautiful to her, and Alma is a good scientist.  Life altering events cause her to leave the estate following her marriage and the death of her father, and she travels to Tahiti and Holland, where the glory and chaos of a larger world help her develop a theory of evolution based on her understanding of mosses. This theory, while never published, propels her into a new life within her mother’s Dutch family and she obtains standing in the scientific community based on her own merits.

This was a good book. I’m a biology geek, so of course I liked it! Is it believable that Alma could have slowly come to a theory of evolution on her own? Sure. This book is a glimpse into the world that gave birth to the original theory. Science can always be pursued by a committed individual of observant and reflective nature. This was the time of Charles Darwin, Gregor Mendel, and Alfred Russel Wallace; Alma would have had access to the same ideas and published works that they had. All three of these men worked alone as gentlemen scientists, observed nature, designed experiments and looked for patterns. They wrote each other and shared their scientific ideas. Darwin and Wallace arrived at the mechanism of natural selection through independent work at about the same time; they published jointly in 1858. Mendel published his work in 1866, which would have been extremely helpful to Wallace and Darwin, but they missed the boat on that one! It will be almost 100 more years before we understood that the molecule of inheritance is DNA, and many more years before Carl Woese read the musical score of DNA to finally see the signature of all things.

Alma never publishes her theory because it can’t explain why all people aren’t sociopaths. Why does altruism exist, she wonders? How can natural selection account for what we see in people around us? Richard Dawkins addresses this very issue in The Selfish Gene. Guess what’s next on my reading list?