Swedish Knitting Genes

I grew up in the world of knitting. The neighbor was having a baby? Baby booties were produced like magic. I needed a red sweater to match a new outfit for school? Ta-da! It arrived in the mail from my grandma. I didn’t know there was any other type of dishrag than the knitted kind. When mohair sweaters became popular, a fluffy pink one arrived under the Christmas tree. All the women of my family knitted, and suddenly, around the age of 8, I was a knitter too. I made slippers for everyone, made clothes for my dolls, and began to collect my own knitting needles and yarn. There were some off years, but by the time I was a mom myself there was hardly a day when I didn’t find some time to knit.

Hey, it’s not like I had a choice in any of this. This is the fault of my mom, her mother and all those ancestors living in the Swedish countryside who passed down these knitting genes. I think that  knitting was probably a survival skill back in Sweden, but once the family was in America and located in the desert Southwest the knitting continued. It’s hot in New Mexico and Southern California, so a lot of that knitting  was done for the house (placemats, bedspreads, pillows, and even a tablecloth) and gifts. In general, if there was spare time and you couldn’t read, some knitting got done: obviously a genetic trait!

Knitting Heritage
My knitting heritage: a placemat made by my mom, a knitting pattern from grandma, and antique wooden needle case and wrapper.

I received a lot of  knitting artifacts from my mother, aunt, and grandmother as the years went by and their knitting stopped. I have antique patterns, old needles and hooks, and even an ancient darning egg. I still have some of the things that they knitted, and a little collection of patterns that my grandmother knit up and sent to my mom over the years. Of all the girls in the family, I am the only one who is a compulsive knitter, and so I got the stash. The knitting gene must be a recessive one I guess.

Pink Baby Botties
Superwash wool booties made from Malabrigo Arroyo on 3.0 mm needles for a 3 month old baby.

One of the patterns that I remember the best from my childhood is for a baby bootie that my grandmother used to make. The big deal about the bootie was that it was kick-proof and it stretched as the baby grew so that it could be worn for a few months. My mom and her sister also made these booties, and the pattern (oral tradition only – I never saw this thing in writing!) was explained over and over to me. I’m not an auditory learner, and I never caught on until the booties for my own boys arrived. Then suddenly I understood the pattern as I tied the little booties onto their tiny feet. Clever, clever, clever. The whole bootie is constructed in one piece and definitely performs as advertised. I loved these booties and used them until the boys were walking. Now I make them for other people.

White Baby Booties
Bootie made from KnitPicks Stroll on 2.25 mm needles for a newborn.

This weekend I made two pairs of the booties for the office manager at my car repair shop, who needs to give them to new mothers as baby gifts. They are just little booties, but they are so much more than that. They are the past, the present and the future all at once. They are my connection to the women of my family who gave me the pattern and the Swedish knitting genes. With each stitch that goes into them the gift lives on.

The baby bootie pattern was written up by Christine Bourquin, a woman about the same age as my grandmother, and was published as a letter to the editor of a magazine in 1989. The pattern and more information can be found online at Fuzzy Galore. There is also a great online tutorial posted by Major Knitter. I wonder if Christine was Swedish?

Duct Tape Story

I really like duct tape. I always had a roll in the classroom, and used it for emergency repairs, to anchor equipment in labs (like the bases of Bunsen burners) and to cover electric cords on the floor and tables. I used it to build hanging shelves for plants in my greenhouse. I repaired textbooks and lab notebooks with it. I would caution students (in jest, of course!) that I had duct tape, and I wasn’t afraid to use it! With a small tool box and duct tape, there isn’t much that an enterprising biology teacher can’t handle.

Smart Bed
Me working with a student on a temperature and pressure sensing “smart” bed. See all the pink duct tape?

I came out one day at work and discovered that my car had been hit on the bumper. I put duct tape on it and that was that.

A few years later, pushing my cart to the collection area in the parking lot, a woman stopped me. “That man just hit your car!” she said. Yep, he had. The crack on the bumper was now much bigger. The man who hit me was still there so I confronted him. He was an African, spoke with a British accent, and was pretending that he hadn’t hit my car. “Don’t lie to me”, I said in my best teacher voice. “If I walk to the front of your car I’m going to see the paint from mine, so just admit that you did it and apologize!” He did. Looking at his earnest, apologetic face, I suddenly saw my refugee students from Mali, Congo, Burma, and Sudan reflected in his manner and voice. One of my best friends, an immigrant from Nigeria, would kick my butt if I caused this man trouble. I thanked him for the apology, and when I got home I put on more duct tape. That crack was now much larger, but duct tape was on the job!

Backing out of a parking spot at Best Buy a few weeks ago I suddenly hit something. You guessed it, there was another car backing out at the same time and we were in each other’s blind spots. The bumper was now completely crushed in. No amount of duct tape would fix this! It had to be repaired. The other party, a visibly shaken up elderly woman who had been parked in the handicap spot, could hardly communicate with me. I found myself comforting her and telling her it was OK; since her car was undamaged, I would just take care of mine and we would call it a day. I decided to pay for my car repair out of pocket since it was kind of a no-fault deal, and I needed to get it repaired anyway. The repair was an economic blow at a bad time, but how could I make an insurance claim when the bumper was encased in old duct tape?

So I asked the auto repair shop where I should take my car to get it fixed, and took the car to the local shop they recommended. The girl in the office seemed strangely familiar: she was a former student! Yeah! The business was owned by her father, and she worked there in the office. She was the only person there who spoke English well.

Students Collecting Data
Students collecting data in hands-on lab about respiration.

Aside: I taught Sheltered Biology one year, and she was a member of that class. All of those students were non-English speakers and many were refugees trying to cope with a crash landing into our culture, struggling to learn a new language, and finding biology, a subject area that uses a new vocabulary every 6 weeks, a definite challenge. Students huddled together, shared visual materials, copied from each other, utilized lots of body language and built shared support books. We did lots of hands-on activities, labs, and watched video after video. It was the best of times and the worst of times.

There was lots of discussion in Spanish, parts were ordered, and the crumpled bumper part was removed. We agreed that I should come back the next week to have the new part installed.

Today I arrived at the collision repair shop, nervous about the cost, and discovered that there was a problem. The broken bumper part had disappeared somehow and the red reflector and the mud flap were missing. While the shop workers searched for the missing part, there was a phone call from the paint store. When the part had been taken there to get matching paint another shop’s employee had mistakenly taken it with them to Boulder (a city 45 miles away!). It had just been returned. Amazingly, this stranger had taken the time to return the bumper before we even realized it had gone missing.

Half an hour later the wandering bumper piece was back. The beautiful new bumper with perfectly matched paint was on my car flashing its reflector and mud flap like a pro. Stumpy (my car) looked great again! I turned to my former student and asked her how much I owed.

“Oh, we’re not charging you for this”, she said. “You’re my biology teacher!”

Teaching: the gift that keeps on giving! As I drove away with tears in my eyes I reflected on duct tape, kindness, and how I am connected to so many people over distance and time through this little car bumper. Car injuries often bring out the worst in people, but with a little caring and duct tape you can find that people are essentially honest and kind. What a lucky, lucky person I am.

 

 

Abaddon’s Gate

Abaddon: destruction, the place of death

After I had raced through Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s War I took a little breather, knitted some socks, and then took up the third book in The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey,  Abaddon’s Gate. I really liked the first two books in this series, and had high, high expectations for this book. I could hardly wait to start it. Not too long after digging in I began to realize that something was wrong.

Bobbie! Where was Bobbie (AKA Gunnery Sargent Roberta Draper of the Martian Marines)?

That’s right. The story has moved along and the characters who joined the crew of the Rocinante in Caliban’s War have moved on with their lives. The Protomolecule on Venus has built and launched a huge Ring that is now located out beyond the settled Belt region of the solar system. It appears to be a gateway to another place. It is not clear what this means, or how it will impact humans, but Mars, Earth, and the Outer Planet Alliance (OPA) all scramble to send ships to observe and study the Ring. It is a power struggle. Each fleet is anxious to protect the interests of their home populations while preventing any other group from achieving an advantage. Additional ships carry advisory boards, film crews, political and religious leaders, and other important/interested parties. Everyone senses that this is a pivotal moment in human history, and there is intense maneuvering to gain importance, insure legacies, secure elections, or become the interpreter of events. Oh yeah, there are also some scientists who plan to study the Ring.

Once again the story is told by characters experiencing events in different locations and circumstances. Holden is back on the Rocinante, and he is getting regular visits from “Miller” (from Leviathan Wakes), who appears to actually be an interface with the technology that controls the Ring. Clarissa Mao, connected to events in the previous books, hates Holden beyond reason and has created an intricate plan designed to disgrace and destroy him. Anna, a religious leader, gentle, resourceful, protective, and reflective, wonders what the Ring means. She struggles with the implications of impending contact with “something else”, and wants to support humanity during the time of adjustment. Bull, a no-nonsense head of security on the OPA ship, heads a mutiny to prevent an attack on the Ring.

This is an action-packed book. The fight to control the OPA ship is so intense that even the crew of the Rocinante wished they could have Bobbie back. And yet, the tone of this book is somehow different from the other two in the series. There is less snappy dialogue on the Rocinante; there is more tragedy and a sense of desperation in this plot. People come unglued. This book is also about revenge, faith, sacrifice and redemption. I liked the book, and found it to be remarkable on several levels. I am really looking forward to the next book in the series, Cibola Burn.

Gosh, maybe Bobbie will be back in that one…

 

 

 

Just Desserts: Serenity Socks

What can I do? I went to my favorite yarn store over the weekend, and they had this absolutely fabulous sock yarn in colors to dye for made by Zen Yarn Garden . I have a lot of sock yarn already, but sometimes a skein is so unique and perfect that I just can’t pass it by; I just know that I will never see it again. This yarn was called Serenity 20 and it was 20% cashmere, 70% superwash merino wool and 10% nylon. In other words, a yarn that is wonderful to touch, can be machine washed and will wear well. I found a skein that was extremely interesting, put it back on the shelf, and then took it down to look over at least twice more before I decided that it needed to go home with me. It was part of what they call their Art Walk Series, which I think means that the yarn is dyed in colorways that invoke specific works of art. This skein is inspired by Ice Cream Dessert by Andy Warhol.

This is the label that came with the skein of yarn.
This is the label that came with the skein of yarn.

Not a great shot, but you can sort of see the colors in the picture; the yarn is dyed in these same colors, and these colors go with almost everything in my wardrobe. I love mauve and plum colors, am constantly in denim jeans and darker blues, so the colors are perfect matches. The socks made from this yarn will blend in with most of the things that I wear. To be honest, now that I am retired, everything that I wear goes with jeans!

So, here is the yarn.

Ice Cream Yarn Closeup

The socks that I decided to knit are my old favorite, Chouwa from the book Knitted Socks East and West. I love this book, and have made several of the different patterns, but Chouwa is my go-to pattern. The socks always fit and wear well, no matter what yarn I am using. I know it so well that I can knit away while watching TV or reading. The word “chouwa” means harmony, and what could be a better match for a yarn called Serenity?

Here's the finished sock!
Here’s the finished sock!

I knit the socks while watching Firefly. (I’ve been watching all the old Firefly episodes because I just read some books that reminded me of the show). As it turns out, this was the perfect show to be watching while making these socks. I mean, what else can you watch while knitting socks made with Serenity yarn? Can’t help but think that the crew would have enjoyed some ice cream dessert and that while the socks invoke the harmony of the tea ceremonies that Inara conducts, they would have been a favorite worn by Kaylee while working in the engine room.

Caliban’s War

Caliban: from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. A subhuman offspring who seeks to repopulate his region with others like himself.

This book is the second in the The Expanse series written by James S. A. Covey. I’ve been re-reading some of my favorite books during the current publishing lull, and I read through the first book in the series, Leviathan Wakes, in about three days. I knew that I should take a couple of days off to catch up on other things but I dived right into the second book of the series, Caliban’s War. I just loved the characters so much I couldn’t wait to spend more time with them.

Well, that was a bad decision in terms of completing important tasks such as getting my income tax filed, house cleaned, and garden started, etc. Time stopped for me as I raced through the book in this, my third reading. Now to write about why this book was so good. I decided to call my sister, the English major, to get some help. “Oh, she says, “I never think about why I like the book. I really like how the book is written.” Oh, dear. I’m not qualified to talk about literary craftsmanship (I once asked a fellow teacher, in all seriousness, what a “thesis statement” was…), so I guess I’ll focus on the elements that compelled me to stay in bed all day reading the book.

This book picks up the story about a year after the events in Leviathan Wakes. It continues the tale of the Rocinante, the ship crewed by the survivors of a horrific attack on an ice mining ship. In the first book the crew saved the Earth from an alien technology (the Protomolecule) that would consume and remake all living matter according to its own design by crashing the asteroid carrying it onto Venus. There, that’s the end of that!

Nope. The game is still afoot: political entities and/or unknown corporations are secretly developing new technology using the Protomolecule with little regard for the welfare of others. Once again, seemingly random events occurring in different regions of the solar system need to be connected to figure out what is happening.

The old crew of the Rocinante remains intact, and during the book new characters join them. The characters grow in the telling of the tale, and I really like all of them. The story is told in Caliban’s War from the perspectives of Holden, Rocinante’s captain, and the new characters;  their understandings and viewpoints create a richness to the story that is really compelling.

One of the themes of Caliban’s War is that of system cascades. In biological and other systems, damage to a portion of the interconnected system can be repaired or compensated for by other units in the system. As the cascade gains momentum, however, everything begins to fall apart. This happens on Ganymede, the site of greenhouses that grow the majority of the food for the outer belt region of the solar system, but it also occurs with the clandestine Protomolecule research, the political status quo of the solar system, and even to some extent to the characters we meet in this book. All three of the new characters become damaged in some way, but each recovers, redirects, overcomes fears, and regains competence. They are not taken down by their individual system cascades. They ask the big questions, collect information, make correlations, and shrug off misdirection.

Here they are:

  • Bobbie:  Martian marine, and the sole survivor of the Protomolecule technology monster attack that triggers a shooting war between Mars and Earth. She ends up on Earth as part of the investigation into the events on Ganymede where the attack happened, and joins the staff of an Earth government official. Suffering from PTSD, in a place and job that is not her own, we don’t understand at first how very, very competent she is. Oh, did I mention that she has mechanized armor with kick-ass weapons attached?
  • Prax: Ganymede botanist and single father of Mei, a child with an immune system disorder who is abducted just prior to Bobbie’s monster’s attack on Ganymede. Starving, distraught, and desperate, he seeks Holden’s assistance to get his daughter back. His focus, drive, and insights, due to his personality and scientific training, are essential components in  the story  as seemingly unconnected events come together.
  • Avasarala: Earth government official and diplomat, she is shockingly foul-mouthed and direct. She adds Bobbie to her staff when she realizes Bobbie is the only witness to a Protomolecule weapon attack. Anchored by a remarkable and loving marriage, she relentlessly pursues the answer to Bobbie’s question: “Why isn’t anyone talking about the monster?” In a solar system whose planetary power politics and economic concerns drive actions and policy, she maneuvers to discover the truth behind Protomolecule weapons development while keeping a nervous eye on Venus where the Protomolecule from Leviathan Wakes is actively growing and building something.

See, great characters. As the events in the story proceed they all arrive on the Rocinante to join Holden and the crew. As the Rocinante’s crew interacts with the newcomers they grow and we learn more about them. What’s even better about this is that these rich characters and interactions occur within the context of SPACE OPERA! There are space battles, monster attacks, zombies, guns, explosions, you name it. The science is believable (even the zombies), the story well-constructed, and never a dull moment for the reader. There were a couple of points where I would have been biting my nails if I wasn’t flipping pages so quickly.

And that’s why I just read the book for the third time.

 

 

 

How Many Yards?

How much yarn is in that mitt?

So, I’ve gotten a little crazy with the mitt making. I’ve been making them while I watch television or read; basically they are something that I can produce while watching television or reading as they are kind of automatic knitting. Since I have so much yarn in the stash, they are kind of a stash buster at the same time. The only problem with this is that I don’t like making the thumbs as I need to focus a little on what I’m doing to make them. That’s how I found myself with 10 pairs of mitts without thumbs.

Unfinished Mitts
After knitting in the thumbs I still had to weave in all the ends to finish the mitts.

Good grief! I had to spend the entire weekend working on thumbs to get them finished. I watched all the episodes of Firefly again and settled into the project. While I was working I started to wonder just how much yarn was in each pair of mitts.

I have a little electronic balance that I use when dying yarn (to figure the amount of dye to use for the weight of dry fiber), and realized that I could use it to measure the number of yards of yarn in the mitts. I had already started using the balance to determine if I had enough yarn left in a ball to knit another mitt by weighing one mitt, and then the ball of yarn. If the ball weighs more than the mitt, there is enough! With a little calculator action and some simple algebra I could use the balance to get my yardage.

Mitts on the balance.
I weighed both mitts together on the balance with unwoven ends attached.

Since I had so many pairs of mitts that were made of the same yarn (but different colors…) I was able to weigh all 10 pairs and then figure the average. These mitts (the Darwinian Mitts pattern on this blog)  made in Malabrigo Rios yarn weigh 43 grams each. To make sure I was measuring the amount of yarn needed in the construction of the mitt and not just the yarn in the finished mitt I weighed them before weaving in and trimming off all the loose ends.

Now for the math! Malabrigo Rios comes in 100 gram skeins with about 210 yards according to the wrapper. I’m just going to take their word for this. Since my mitt weighs 43 grams, and if I use “X” to stand for the number of yards of yarn in my mitts, the relationship can be expressed as:

mitt math_1Then if I cross multiply so that I can solve for “X” I get:

mitt math_2This can be cleaned up by cancelling out the grams and dividing the 43 by 100 to convert it to a decimal. That leaves:

mitt math_3Which forced me to use a calculator. When I multiplied the numbers I discovered that in this case:

mitt math_4Which is the number of yards of yarn I need to create these mitts. This is great, as I have some skeins lurking in the stash that are right around 100 yards, and I think that I will put some of them on the needles to see what they look like as mitts.

Now that I have worked this out I think that I see the pattern that I can use to do future calculations. If I know how many yards are in 100 grams of yarn, and I weigh my knitted item to get the number of grams in it, I just need to move the decimal place over two places to the left on the weight of my knitted article, and then multiply that number by the yardage in 100 grams of yarn. Fast, easy, simple.

 

 

 

 

Leviathan Wakes Again!

I love a good science fiction story. I’m always on the hunt for one with compelling characters, a well-developed story, space ships and some action while we’re at it. That’s not that much to ask for, is it? Sadly, I haven’t found that many book in the genre to love, and when I find a book that I like, I follow the author and read everything that I can get my hands on that they have written. Since I’m waiting for the next books by these authors to be published, I decided to re-read some of the old favorites.

This the the book that I've been lost in for the last three days.
This the the book that I’ve been lost in for the last three days.

This is why I just finished reading Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey for the THIRD time. This time I read it in just a few days, and am currently galloping through the sequels.

I don’t feel that I’m really qualified to review the book (majored in science so I wouldn’t have to write any term papers…), but I have been reflecting on why I’m so drawn to this story and the characters. Here’s what I came up with.

The game is afoot: political entities and/or unknown corporations are secretly developing a new technology captured from space with little regard for the welfare of others. Seemingly random events are the only indications of a horrific undertaking; it is extremely unlikely that anyone will figure out what is happening until it is too late.

Except, of course, the heroes of the story. The events of the book unfold and are told in juxtaposition by two men of very different upbringings and occupations who are strangely alike.

Holden: raised on Earth in a multi-parent family unit that provided him with a stable and highly nurturing upbringing, he is honest, idealistic, self-righteous, and believes that if everyone has access to information they will be the correct choices. OK, he is a little self-absorbed, unsophisticated and politically unaware, but he also is driven to do the “right thing” and provides the type of leadership as captain of the Rocinante to pull a rag-tag crew of scrambling survivors through crisis and into a family type unit. His crew trusts him because he is “righteous”.

Miller: raised in the low gravity and extremely fragile environment of Ceres, he is worn down from years of police detective work in a society living on the edge. Extremely intuitive and resourceful in his investigative work, he is pragmatic, jaded, exhausted, and alone. He struggles with alcohol. He lacks social skills. While pursuing a missing person case he realizes that his subject is linked to larger events; he doggedly continues his investigation with little regard for personal consequences. He is able to do the “right thing” no matter what the cost.

The two men are so different because they have grown up in greatly different circumstances; one in the high gravity and relative safety of an inner planet (Earth), and the other in the low gravity of the Belt region of the solar system. Residents of the two regions differ in body shape (Belters are tall and thin), language, behaviors and priorities. This layer of complexity in another reason why I like this book so much. The very real problems created by these differences were realistically portrayed in the book and very believable.

Finally, I just like the science in the book. I hate books that beat me over the head with scientific information and justifications. You know, books that tell me how many missiles have been fired, and how many “g’s” they have, and the time lapse for the viewers, and the operational flight plans for the space fleet, and the physics of the missile drives, and just shoot me now – I’m flipping pages until the battle is over. In this book the science was there, but not too technical. Newton’s Laws were operational, distances between planets and asteroids and moons were reasonable, perspectives shifted as ships went under drive, and it was all fun. The characters even think like scientists, although since one of them is a police detective that is reasonable. They struggle with bias and misconceptions, but faithfully follow the data to logical conclusions that, no matter how crazy they seem, are correct.

Oh yeah, there is one more reason I like the books. Remember the rag-tag crew of scrambling survivors? While the Rocinante isn’t Serenity, the dynamics of crew interactions remind me of Firefly. They are a family, they eat meals together, and there is always some gunplay right around the corner. Gosh, I sure do miss that show. Reading these books are the closest I can get to new episodes. J