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.

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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

Darwinian Mitts

 

knitted mitts
Soft squishy mitts that have a good fit, sport a stylish cable and can be machine washed. What more can you want?!

Materials

  • Approximately 100 yards of worsted weight yarn. The mitts look great in handpainted yarns that are smooth or a rustic one-ply. My favorite yarns are Malabrigo Rios, Madelinetosh Tosh Merino, or Dream in Color Calm.
  • Size 6 (4.0 mm) double pointed needles.
  • 2 stitch markers
  • 1 cable needle
  • Waste yarn
  • Yarn needle

Size
These mitts fit my small/medium sized hands well.

Gauge
This kind of depends on the yarn you use and how elastic the ribbing is.  Slightly stretched ribbing, 8 stitches = 2”

Abbreviations

  • CO: cast on
  • K: knit
  • C6B: slip three stitches onto a cable needle and hold to the back of the work. K3, K the three stitches from the cable needle.
  • C6F: slip three stitches onto a cable needle and hold to the front of the work. K3, K the three stitches from the cable needle.
  • PM: place marker
  • M1L: put strand between two stitches over left needle from front to back. Knit into back of the loop.
  • M1R: put strand between two stitches over left needle from back to front. Knit into the front of the loop.
  • SM: slip marker
  • BO: bind off

Thumb Gusset

  1. Round 1: PM, K1, M1R, K1, PM.
  2. Rounds 2-3: SM, K the stitches between the markers, SM.
  3. Round 4: SM, K1, M1R, K1, M1L, K1, SM. (There are now 5 stitches between the markers.)
  4. Rounds 5-6: SM, K the stitches between the markers, SM.
  5. Round 7: SM, K1, M1R, K3, M1L, K1, SM. (There are now 7 stitches between the markers.)
  6. Rounds 8-9: SM, K the stitches between the markers, SM.
  7. Round 10: SM, K1, M1R, K5, M1L, K1, SM. (There are now 9 stitches between the markers.)
  8. Rounds 11-12: SM, K the stitches between the markers, SM.
  9. Round 13: SM, K1, M1R, K7, M1L, K1, SM. (There are now 11 stitches between the markers.)
  10. Rounds 14-15: SM, K the stitches between the markers, SM.
  11. Next round: Place the 11 thumb stitches onto a piece of waste yarn using a needle while removing the markers. CO 2 stitches using backward loop method. K these two stitches in the following rounds of knitting.

Left Mitt

  1. Cast on 36 stitches. Divide the stitches evenly between the three needles (12-12-12) Join to knit in the round carefully, making sure to not twist the stitches.
  2. Rounds 1-4: Work in K2, P2 ribbing on all three needles.
  3. Round 5 – 8 : Begin cable pattern on 1st needle: K2, P2, K6, P2. Continue in K2, P2 ribbing on other 2 needles. Repeat for three more rounds.
  4. Round 9: Cable pattern on 1st needle: K2, P2, C6B, P2. Continue in K2, P2 ribbing on the other 2 needles. (Twist 1)
  5. Following 9 rounds: Needle 1: K2, P2, K6, P2. Continue in K2, P2 ribbing on other 2 needles. (The cable twists every 10th row of knitting.)
  6. Next round: K2, P2, C6B, P2 on 1st needle. Continue K2, P2 ribbing on 2nd needle. (K2, P2) twice, insert thumb gusset, P2 on 3rd needle. (Twist 2)
  7. Following 9 rounds: K2, P2, K6, P2. Continue in K2, P2 ribbing on other 2 needles working the thumb gusset at the same time on the 3rd needle.
  8. Next round: K2, P2, C6B, P2 on 1st needle. Continue K2, P2 ribbing on other needles while working the thumb gusset on 3rd needle. (Twist 3)
  9. Following 9 rows: K2, P2, K6, P2 on 1st needle. Continue K2, P2 ribbing on other needles while working the thumb gusset on 3rd needle. When the gusset is completed work K2 on the CO stitches to reestablish K2, P2 ribbing on this needle.
  10. Next round: K2, P2, C6B, P2 on 1st needle. Continue in K2, P2 ribbing on the other 2 needles. (Twist 4)
  11. Next 4 rounds: K2, P2, K6, P2. Continue in K2, P2 ribbing on other 2 needles.
  12. Next 3 rounds: K2, P2 ribbing on all three needles.
  13. Last round: CO loosely in pattern. As you cast off you create the 4th round of ribbing at the top of the mitt.

Right Mitt

Work exactly like the left mitt with these changes: 1. Replace each C6B with a C6F. This reverses the twist of the cable; it should be twisting towards the thumb. 2.  Work the thumb gusset on the 2nd needle in this way: K2, P2, insert thumb gusset, P2, K2, P2. The 3rd needle will be ribbing on this mitt.

 Finish Thumb

  1. Place the 11 stitches on the waste yarn back onto the needles and rejoin the yarn.
  2. Pick up and knit 4 stitches across the body of the mitt: 1 stitch before the 2 CO stitches, 2 in the CO stitches, and 1 after the CO stitches.
  3. Knit 5 rounds even.
  4. BO loosely.

You’re Done!
Each mitt has 4 ends that you will have to weave in. Do it!
What is blocking? Put on your mitts and go show them off!

 

 

 

Evolving a Better MItt

I love mitts. I have fat little hands with stubby fingers, and they get cold easily. Mitts are the perfect things for me to wear while reading in bed, working at the computer, working in a cold garage (where all the teacher stuff is stored), or driving in the car on cold days. I even pull them over my mittens when it is really nasty out and I have to shovel snow. They are fast to make, and because they are small I feel OK using some luxury type yarns on them like cashmere blends. They are a fun way to try out new yarns and colors to see how they will work out. I love hand-painted yarns, but sometimes they don’t look the way I think they will knitted up. Mitts are the perfect way to sample without making a big investment.

I found a mitt pattern that was simple but nice on Ravelry.  It was ribbed in K2, P2 ribbing with a single cable on the back of the hand. I grabbed my needles, cast on and knitted the mitt.

Image
Don”t these look cute? They just didn’t fit right!

Oops! The knitting seemed too loose. The cable twisted over too great a distance and wouldn’t stay on the back of my hand. The thumb gusset was too short, and my thumb didn’t have a comfortable range of motion without pulling on the mitt. The mitts were just too dang long on my arm. But I still liked the idea of the pattern.

Image
These mitts pulled on my thumb and the cable just wouldn’t stay on the top of my hand. Not what I wanted!

Obviously, there needed to be some changes. If you consider the original pattern to be the code (DNA) for the mitts, I was introducing mutations into the code with each change. I started knitting again with more stitches on smaller needles. I started the gusset lower on the mitt so that it would start exactly at my wrist and would be in the same place as the twist of the cable. I slowed down the rate of increases; instead of adding two stitches every other row I tried adding stitches every third row. The gusset was moved over so it would begin in the middle of a K2 rib, and after a couple of false starts I had something that looked good to me.

Image
I knitted the thumb gusset by making increases inside one of the K2 ribs.

I liked where I was going with the mitt, but I kept on mutating the pattern. I shortened up the ribbing sections at the bottom and top of the mitt so that the mitt would have more room for cable action. I moved the start of the thumb gusset over so that there would be more stitches on the top of the mitt and fewer on the palm; the tension of the stretched palm rib stitches held the cable in place on the other side of the mitt.

Image
The ribs on the palm are more stretched, creating tension to hold the mitt in place.

I made the cable twist every 10 rows so I could get three twists onto the cable. Now I had about 6 new pairs of mitts, but I had managed to create the pattern for a mitt that I just loved. Natural selection had evolved me a better mitt!

This is the basic design of the mitt that evolved over a number of weeks as I kept trying out new variations of the pattern.

Image

I love this mitt! Did I mention that I wear them while reading? I can also knit them while reading (but not quickly!) I’m now working on writing up the pattern (or the genetic code for this mitt…), which is harder than it looks. 🙂

Hello Stash!

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

Almost two years ago today my life took a sudden, unplanned turn. I was a biology teacher, and there was almost nothing about my job that I didn’t love. The opportunities for creativity were endless. The kids were amazing. The expansion of knowledge and understandings within the field of biology are explosive and every year there was something new to learn about and teach. Technology made it possible for me to create unique and meaningful learning experiences for my students.  The hands-on activities and labs were endless. I loved, loved, loved my job. OK, grading papers was a little tough, the hours were endless, and teachers were taking a beating in the press, but I loved the job.  Actually, it wasn’t a job; for me it was a more like a calling.

The first day of fall break I received a phone call, rushed to an ER, and suddenly I was reminded that our lives are not entirely our own.

I retired.

Good-bye biology classroom. Hello yarn stash.

This is the yarn stash. All of the yarn in the drawers is sorted by type and color.
This is the yarn stash. All of the yarn in the drawers is sorted by type and color.
Yarn bins
Individual knitting projects are kitted up into these plastic bins.

It’s funny how things turn out. Crash landing into retirement is not for the faint of heart, but it can take you to the place where your heart is.  During the first few months of retirement I packed away the contents of my biology classroom and waded into the craft room of my house to clean out my stash. Let me tell you, this is a stash to be proud of. I had more yarn than some of the yarn shops I frequent. I’d been buying yarn for years and stashing it with plans for its use some day “when I retired”.  I also had acquired a spinning wheel, a loom (OK, I have three of those…), several quilt kits and some fleeces to spin from friends’ sheep. Then there were the books. Boy, do I have books. I love to read every day outside by the gardens. Yep, I have more than one garden bed, and they all have names.

loom in closet

Maybe I hadn’t planned for this turn in my life, but I was well prepared for the day when it arrived. While being consumed by the best job in the world I was stockpiling those other things that I love so that they would be there for me when I walked out of the classroom.

So this is me, evolving into a new life form. This blog will chronicle my adventures as I begin this new stage of my life with all of the fiber that I have stashed, the books that I already love and the ones that I will discover, and my struggles in the garden.  Hopefully the biology that I have loved for so long and taught to so many young people will also be a part of this new life.