The Art of Serendipitous Phenomenology

When I used to work in a medical research lab one of my co-workers described what we did as mastering the art of serendipitous phenomenology.  I think that he meant that we (hoped to be) alert, observant, curious and reflective about events around us. Big discoveries can occur from chance observations if one pays attention; one of the famous ones is Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin. Another of my coworkers discovered an important immune system inhibitor (which led to a patent and eventually a drug. How cool is that?) Of course, there aren’t any big scientific discoveries in my life right now, but I have had a run of fun occurrences lately. It’s been making me think about serendipity, and that perhaps one of the secrets of finding joy in every day living is in mastering the art of serendipitous phenomenology.

So, here is my run of fun;

Starbuck's Card
I went into a strange Starbucks Sunday on an impulse while picking up Chinese takeout. I needed a new Starbuck’s card as I had just lost mine. Look at what I found!! The hard-to-read text on the left says, “Year of the Sheep”.
I was in a slump this weekend because I had just finished a good book. I forced myself to start reading the next book on my list, and it’s a science fiction with the title of WOOL!!  It’s a really good book, too. How much fun is that?
Serenity 20 sock yarn by Zen Yarn Garden. The colorway is Jewel.

I was already contemplating serendipity when I arrived at my favorite local yarn store yesterday. I had a hazy notion that I wanted to get a cashmere blend yarn that would look nice with grey to make another Hitchhiker (by Martina Behm). Going through the sock yarns with a friend a skein suddenly fell out of its cubby and landed on the floor at my feet. “Well, there’s your yarn”, said my friend. There it was indeed! This yarn is 20% cashmere. The color is perfect for me and my new grey sweater. After going through all the yarn we could not find one that was a better fit.

Hey, who am I to argue with the universe? This yarn is clearly destined to  become a Hitchhiker. The answer to Life, the Universe and Everything. Obviously I needed to buy this yarn.

See what I did there? Even though this yarn was expensive I was able to absolutely justify buying it with my smoking post-Christmas credit card.

And that is the Art of Serendipitous Phenomenology, my friends.



February Socks are Done!

I know, I know. This is Wednesday and I should be writing a post about what I have on my needles. The truth of the matter is, yesterday I got up and realized that I had five different projects going right now. Naturally I responded by going directly to my favorite yarn store and indulging in some yummy cashmere blend yarn. Clearly I need to exercise some self restraint and get some knitting done before I cast on the newest project. Last night I really applied myself, and I am happy to announce: The February Socks are Done!!! (Ta-daa!!) (Sorry about that if you clicked on the link. Now you know what life was like in my biology classroom…)

So, without any further ado, here they are:

I decided to reverse the colors in the second sock. Fun, huh! You can also see that I sucked it up and knitted the entire twined topper on the second sock.
Heels of socks.
The heel construction of these socks allowed them to be worked stranded without cutting the yarn.

Well, they certainly are rustic looking, aren’t they? I am now referring to them as the Mongolian Boots. They are warm, warm, warm, however, and that is what I wanted. It is nice and sunny outside today, but as soon as the snow and cold come back I am ready.

I really learned a lot with these socks; here are some of the highlights of the adventure.

  • Swedish knitting genes aside, twining isn’t for everyone. Stranding was faster, easier, and I didn’t have to spend half my time untwisting the yarn. I twined only the tops of the socks, and stranded the rest.
  • I know how to knit with both hands so I can carry one color in each. Purl with both hands: not so much. My second heel (sock on the left) looks much better than the first one.
  • When making a decision about which color to call your MC, you should write that down. The increased stitches in the gusset look much better in sock #2 because I was following the directions. Duh!
  • If you can’t figure out complicated directions at some point (final join of heel to gusset) just make your best guess, knit a bunch of stitches together and move on. There are no sock police.

Whew! Time to finish up the other projects (get ready HItchhiker, here I come!) so I will be ready for the March socks. New Year’s resolutions are still a go. 🙂

Project Notes: the Basic Sock pattern in Knitting Scandinavian Slippers and Socks by Laura Farson. Yarn: Aran weight wool from my DIL’s trip to Ireland, dyed with Gaywool dyes.

WIP Wednesday: February Sock (AKA Mongolian Boots) Update

It snowed this weekend and I took advantage of the cold weather to work on my February New Year’s resolution socks. Here’s where I’m at:

Sock gusset.
How weird is this? This is not a two thumbed mitt, but the sock nearing the bottom of the heel. The center stitches are the heel flap, and the stitches added to each side are the gusset. The heel turn is next.
Sock in progress.
The heel is turned (little checks) and I have successfully connected the sole to all of the gusset stitches. Looks like it’s designed to fit  a lumpy foot, doesn’t it.
Sock on foot.
It fits my foot! Now, be honest. Doesn’t this look warm? These are so thick and cushy I plan to wear them as indoor slippers or maybe inside my Ugg boots. My son told me they look like Mongolian boots. 

Mongolian boots?! I wonder what those really look like? I wonder what patterns and colors they use? I have more of this Irish wool, and I have to say that it is not what you would wear against your skin. (The sheep that sourced this fiber actually had hair mixed in with their wool! I haven’t seen that since I since I spun some California Red that I got dirt cheap. Pokey, pokey, pokey!!) It is perfect, however, for over-socks/boots. It does dye well, is very lofty and warm, and I’m pretty sure it will felt like a charm. Hmmm…

Introducing the February 2015 Sock

My feet just hate the cold. Once they get cold, they stay cold for a long time. (Yep. It’s a Reynaud’s thing.)  A few weeks ago I came home on a sub-zero night and ended up under the covers wearing layers of wool including socks and my Ugg boots trying to warm up. Seriously, this is ridiculous! Time to fight back!!

Sock and Book
I’m knitting the Basic Sock in the book Knitting Scandinavian Slippers and Socks by Laura Farson.

Say hello everyone to the February sock. <grin> This sock is stranded or twined every single row of knitting including the heels and toes. Doesn’t that sound warm? I’m knitting it in a rustic worsted weight wool (this is the same Irish wool that got dyed in my canning jars a couple of posts back) that is lofty and very warm. I’m using yarn that is heavier than what is called for in the pattern, so they will be larger and more dense. These are the kind of socks that I can use as slippers over lighter socks while indoors, or they can stay on my feet while I’m wearing my snow boots. They are going to be warm, warm, warm!!!

I am so motivated to have warm feet!!

Anyway, this pattern is very interesting and I am learning lots of new tricks. The cast on was “Two-Strand Twisted German Cast On” which seems a lot like Old Norwegian cast on, but with two colors.

Top of ock.
The blue yarn at the top shows the cast on and two rows of the twined garter stitch edging.

The edging continued with twined garter stitch, also new to me, and created so much twist in the working yarn that I abandoned  it and moved on to the checker stitch without finishing the last two rows. Instead of twining I’m knitting the rest of the sock stranded. The twining is much stretchier than what would be traditional for a Scandinavian sock, but I want to get these socks done before the next bad cold snap.

Inside of sock.
All this stranding is going to make the socks cushy and warm. Warm is good.

Anyway, I’m happy with my stranding: look how plush and warm it looks!!

Gusset of sock.
The gusset is created by adding stitches to each side of 25 central stitches. Later they will be reduced in the construction of the bottom of the heel. There is no heel flap and picked-up stitches. All new to me!

The heel is worked in a way that I have never seen before, but it looks like it will be a good fit on my foot. I’m getting close to the bottom of the gusset now, and the heel looks pretty challenging, so this might be something of a learning curve. 🙂 I’m knitting with two cable needles instead of my usual double points, and I am finding out that this is easier for trying on the sock while it’s being knitted.

So here it is. The February sock is going to be fun, I’ll learn lots of new techniques, and I should end up with warm feet. Yeah!

WIP Wednesday: Another Hitchhiker and Mitts

It has been crazy weather time in Colorado. While the news is full of the huge snowstorm that hit New England, I have been outside in the sunshine with the cats reading and knitting. Yesterday we almost set a new record when we hit 75 degrees! Today is not as warm, but it was nice enough to give one of my cats a bath.

Within minutes of being released from the drying towels he was at the food bowl. Little does he know that the hair dryer is next...
Within minutes of being released from the drying towels Morgan was at the food bowl. Little did he know that the hair dryer was next…

Here he is tanking up on cat food after his traumatic ordeal.  🙂 Morgan is a (bob-tail) Maine Coon, which meant that a serious blow-dry and brush-out procedure was next in store for him. He actually likes the hair dryer, so it wasn’t as bad as it could be.

Look at these colors!
Look at these colors!

Still, what with one thing and another I didn’t settle down to knit until late this afternoon. I’m working on another Hitchhiker, this time in Noro Taiyo sock yarn (which is cotton, wool, nylon and silk). The colors are cool, but it isn’t as squishy as the last Hitchhiker that I made out of wool. It will be nice for summer. I keep thinking of ways to make a Hitchhiker-shaped scarf with gathered lace along one edge instead of points.  Hmmm…

Yep. No thumb.
Yep. No thumb. This yarn is Baah! La Jolla sock yarn in the colorway “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”

I’m also making some vine lace mitts that still don’t have their thumbs knitted on. As usual, I’m going to have a little stack of thumb-less mitts piled up before I force myself to finish them. Then there is the matter of the pattern for these mitts which I need to write out a little better before I forget what I’m doing. Here’s the project page on Ravelry for the mitts with kind of a half pattern.

Maybe I’ll save the mitt thumbs for the snow day that is bound to come. March and April are the big snow-makers here. You never know. 🙂

2015 Books #7 & #8: Christmas Books

Last week wasn’t very good for me health-wise. I have systemic sclerosis (scleroderma) and out of the blue I suddenly developed breathing issues, noticed that I had edema in my arms and legs, and struggled with the cold weather more than normal. Seriously, my skin hurt and my fingers kept turning blue!! That’s how I ended up spending most of the week bundled up reading and knitting. (OK, there was a trip to the doctor and a visit to radiology, but who wants to go into that!) Luckily for me my sister and cousin sent me Barnes & Noble gift cards this Christmas, and I had some really good books waiting for me on my Nook. What could have been a sad little week turned into some awesome knitting and an immersive journey to Kentucky and the Arctic through the medium of two fantastic books. Here they are.

Secret WisdomThe Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton

I’m always haunting Goodreads for a good book, and this one came up on my radar a couple of weeks ago. As soon as it was released I bought it for the Nook. What a good decision that was! I began the book Saturday of last week and read steadily over the next couple of days. Wow!  What a great story! What the heck was I going to say about this book? I was too stunned to even decide what I thought.

You see, this is a book of layers. It is about so many different things, and yet the threads of the story are so well intertwined you hardly notice it as the many themes and story lines are happening at once. So, in as few sentences as I can, here is what the book is about.

Following the death of his little brother in a horrific accident, 14 year-old Kevin and his mom go to live with his grandfather in the Appalachian coal mining community of Medgar, Kentucky. Kevin bonds with a local boy named Buzzy who is wise in the ways of the woods, and Kevin’s grandfather employs him as an assistant in his large animal vet practice. Just when it seems that the book will be a standard coming-of-age novel other themes emerge in rapid succession. This book is about environmental issues, the relationships between sons and fathers, economic greed, poverty, struggles for power, and the destructive force of homophobia. It is a murder mystery and a heroic wilderness survival story. It is a story about friendship, values, healing, and redemption. I was captured by the story, entranced by the beautiful narrative, and stunned by the turns in the plot. Wow! It was a fantastic read!



In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides
I was still spinning from the experience of The Secret Wisdom of the Earth when I decided to read a non-fiction book. Once again, I had checked this book out at Goodreads before I bought it, and several of the readers mentioned in their reviews that it was engrossing and read like an adventure novel. Take a chance, I told myself: buy it!

Yep. Another good decision. This book is the story of the voyage of exploration undertaken by the USS Jeanette in 1879. Her mission was to break through the ice belt in the north, reach the open polar waters and finally make it to the North Pole. Yep. In those days it was a commonly held belief that the North Pole was located in a warm open sea filled with teaming life. It was entirely possible, many argued, that there was a lost tribe of humans there. The Arctic was the great unknown, and there was huge public and national interest in the exploration of this region. It was the equivalent of the race to be the first on the moon. The USS Jeanette was the United States’ moonshot, and the cost of the expedition was funded by the most powerful newspaper of the time, the New York Herald.

The book is the story of the people involved in this grand adventure and a factual account of the events before, during, and after the USS Jeanette’s Arctic journey. It is based on many sources including current accounts in the news, personal journals, and the ship’s logs. It is rich, fascinating, and reads like a novel. It is a window into another time, and yet the motivations and emotions of those people echo our own times. It is a love story, an adventure story, a tale of survival in the face of horrific conditions, and even better, it is a story of science. (Hello, old biology teacher here…) The officers and crew of the USS Jeanette went to heroic lengths to collect and preserve maps and data that changed the world’s understanding of the Arctic. After the voyage of the USS Jeanette, it was never again assumed that the North Pole was located in an open sea, and all other efforts to reach it involved trips over sea ice. Just as the trips to the moon changed our view of the Earth, so did the voyage of the USS Jeanette.

A week has gone by since my first sad days of unhappy symptoms, and I am better. (Except my ankle, which has decided to hurt. What’s up with that?!) I dyed some wool, started a new knitting project, and am on the hunt for another book to read. I think it’s time for some science fiction.

Canning Jar Dye Job

I’m trying to stick to my New Year’s resolution: knit a sock each month using a pattern from one of my (many, many, what was I thinking of when I bought them…) sock knitting books and yarn already in my stash. I will not buy any more sock yarn! (but if I do, I won’t use it for the resolution socks… Hello! Need to be a little realistic here…)

So, I have a pattern picked out for the February sock (which is a secret since it isn’t February yet!), but there wasn’t really suitable yarn in the stash. I did find a kilo of Irish wool that my daughter-in-law gave me almost 20 years ago. Guess it would be OK to use that, but it is all white. Dye day!!

Skein of white yarn.
Look at this 200g skein of yarn! Wow! I think that I will try to rainbow dye it all in one pot!


Smaller Skeins
Seriously?! The skein is sub-divided into four 50 gram smaller skeins. Forget the rainbow dyeing. 


New idea. I can get those little skeins into wide-mouth canning jars. I just happen to have some of those in the garage.
New idea. I can get those little skeins into wide-mouth canning jars. I just happen to have some of those in the garage. 

Little skeins. Well, that is different. Each skein will need to be tied several times to keep them from tangling. I decided to dye the four smaller skeins of yarn at the same time in my canning pot with each skein in it’s own jar. I used Gaywool Dyes in Indigo and Raspberry and added one tsp of dye to each jar and filled it halfway with warm water while the yarn was soaking. I decided to make two of the skeins raspberry colored, and the other two indigo colored.

Dye jars in the water bath.
Once the water bath was  hot I added the jars of dye, crammed the wool into the jars, and then added more hot water to get the maximum volume of liquid in the jars. I used wooden skewers to stir my wool around. It was a tight fit, but do-able.


Dyed yarn in jars.
Ta-daa! Dyed yarn. You can kind of see in the picture that the exhaust water is almost clear around the now dyed yarn.

Once the water bath was up to the simmer I removed those skewers, covered the pot and let things simmer for about 30 minutes. I just love dyeing!  It feels like magic when the dye bites and enters the wool; the raspberry happened first, and then by the end of the 30 minutes the indigo had also made its move. I let the bath cool for an hour and then pulled the jars out.

Dyed yarn.
Here’s the dried (mostly) yarn. Yeah! February sock, you are so happening!!

By the way, I feel that I should mention that I don’t use this canning apparatus any longer for food; it is only for dyeing yarn and making candles. I have a whole crate of dye-only stuff and I even have a wool-only microwave. Best to be safe. 🙂