June 2008 Archives


So far, this is what I have to bring home to Ms. Z -- a plush E. coli bacteria toy (E. coli is a bacteria that likes to live in the human gut; it's also a work horse bug for molecular biology studies).

Thanks to everyone who left me such great suggestions.  I brought a journal along to make entries to Z about my trip and I am definitely going to try to find "Make Way for Ducklings" since I love the idea of bringing back books from interesting places. 

My first night away from Z was a mixed bag.  I did okay until I had to go to sleep and then, for the life of me, I couldn't get to sleep.  So, finally, I just got up and worked on a sock I'm knitting since lying in bed feeling frustrated with not sleeping didn't seem to be all that great an option. I still don't know if it was strange missing the baby vibes, circadian rhythm issues or I just wasn't coping well with my new location. Every now and again the same thing happens while I'm at home -- though I haven't had an episode like that one since well before Z was born.  I'm hoping tonight I don't get a repeat performance.  A good night of sleep would do me a world of good right now.

Wrapping Up Boston

It seems like I turn around and another week is gone.  I've been meaning to sit down and post for quite a while, but with one thing and another, it hasn't happened.  My husband marked another year on the calendar (happy birthday, sweetheart!), Ms Z had her first overnight away from home and parents this week (she was with her Babcia while John and I celebrated his birthday a la Belgian beer without having to worry about when we had to get home) and at work I am settling in with a new boss (I've now watched several leadership changes where I work, so the transition doesn't seem quite as traumatic as it might have at another time).  So it's all good, but this biologist is busy, and not getting a whole lot of non-work related computer time.

20080612_BostonDucks.jpgBoston is always one of those places I like to visit.  It's filled with history and roads that don't necessarily go where you think they will.  It's got crazy drivers (they make Chicago drivers look like they are out for a Sunday stroll) and beautiful landscape.  It's got good shopping and great eating (as far as I am concerned, no meal that involves fresh oysters on the half shell can be too bad) and some beautiful spaces.  The picture above was taken in one of them.

Thanks to some very helpful commenters, I learned that "Make Way for Ducklings" (a book I knew about but had never actually read)  was centered in the Boston Public Gardens.  And with the help of the most fabulous Claudia (who gave me a great tour of the area near the Boston Commons and the gardens) I not only found a copy of the book for Ms. Z, I also got to see the famous bronze statues of Mrs. Mallard and her celebrated ducklings. To commemorate the trip for both me and Z, Claudia took a picture of me with Mrs. Mallard -- I'm going to print out a copy of the picture and put it in the front leaf of the book, so Z will have a small set of books that are part of her mother's travelogue.  And if I go back to Boston, I still have some good book options -- I found out later when Claudia and I went into an old cemetery not too far from the garden, Mother Goose also hails from the Boston area (and is buried in that cemetery), so if I get back that way while Z is young, I know what book I will be looking for next.

I also got to come home with my own heart warming Boston story.  On Wednesday evening after I had dropped off all my booth shipping information to the shipping company, I went outside the convention center to wait for a good friend from when I was doing my post-doc.  She pulled up and while I was putting my suitcases in the back of her car my iPhone decided to make a run for it.  It was a little rainy and rather cold and a bit noisy and I didn't notice it's unfortunate bid for freedom until we got to Burlington for dinner.  After searching my friend's car it was clear that the phone was gone.  Needless to say, I was not a happy camper.  Borrowing my friend's phone, I called John.

The call went something like this:

Me:  Guess what?

John: You lost your iPhone?

Me: <surprised> How did you know that?

John: The person who found it called me at the same time as you did... I'm going to merge the calls...

As it turned out, not too long after we pulled away from the convention center, a gentleman on a bike with a penchant for electronics noticed my iPhone's bid for freedom.  He stopped, surprised to see it in the street and nearly getting run over himself, retrieved the phone.  He took it home and there he and his wife turned it on, saw the picture of Ms Z on it that is my wallpaper and decided that the phone must belong to the mother of a cute baby and that it needed to find it's way home.  They figured out where my recent call list was, saw that John had been called more than anyone else, and called that number to find out if he knew anything about me or my phone.  And just at that time, I called John as well.  The gentleman who found the phone agreed to leave it at a hotel near the convention center where I could pick it up.  With Claudia's help I retrieved the phone the next morning.  I never got to meet either of the people who helped my phone come back to me, but they did leave me a nice message telling me that they had once lost a phone and never gotten it back and they knew how frustrating that was and wanted to make sure my phone got back into the right hands.

These people deserve much good karma to be sent in their direction.

Needless to say, I am still sort of in shock (in a good way) that my phone came back to me.  I know most people do the right thing given the opportunity, but I guess I just don't expect it to happen when it comes to me.  One of the other things I have been doing this week is finding some Chicago things to send back to them to say thank you for going out of their way to help me out. I settled on a pound of Intelligentsia coffee and my favorite variety of Vosges chocolate bar and a gift card.  Z and I are going to head off to the post office after her afternoon nap to see these goodies on their way.

Tonight I start my first color theory class at Quiltology (I am so excited about this I can hardly sit still) and then we're off to Ann Arbor this weekend to celebrate Father's Day with my dad.  I wish all of you a most wonderful weekend full of family warmth.

Not Entirely Random Wednesday

  1. Chicago has gone from a very cold spring (the coldest May on record for over 100 years) to a blast of August and is now finally settling into some reasonable weather.  Probably my favorite temperature range is 70 to 75 degrees farenheit with mild breezes.  The fact that it is relatively rare in Chicago except in late spring and early fall makes it all that much more enjoyable when it arrives.
  2. My incredibly resilient father has taken on his third major surgical procedure in less than a year and just had his hip replaced.  He called me after surgery yesterday.  He is very excited to have it done and to be back on the road to much better mobility.  I'm feeling inspired by his willingness to take on the scariness that is major orthopedic surgery so soon after some other major medical events because he wants to be proactive about ensuring his own quality of life.  Sometimes it is easy to let our fears prevent us from opening a door and going someplace better. One of the things he can do as "therapy" is use his spinning wheel.  You've got to love rehabilitation that involves spinning.  Dad was asking me about whether he should make a two ply yarn or a three ply.  Is there anything more fun than sharing a fiber hobby with your dad?   I love you, Dad.  Heal up soon and heal up better than before!
  3. Ms. Z is now going to bed between 8 and 9 PM almost every night.  I am still adjusting to this change.  You would think I would have thrown myself full force into knitting and spinning, and I have started a new pair of socks for myself.  But mostly I am just using my free time to do not very much at all except read and watch some mindlessly entertaining TV (Deadliest Catch on Discovery... I am trying to convince myself that it is helping me to understand some of what is really involved in bringing seafood from the ocean to the grocery store, but I really just think that the cinematography of the boats in the Bering Sea is very cool in HD).
  4. You know, I'm just not feeling a 4th entry here... probably because I have a big #5...

If you are looking for a good cause to get behind for the spring, please consider contributing to Claudia's fundraiser to support the National MS SocietyClaudia is going to be riding as part of a tandem in a big MS ride in the Boston area to help raise money that will hopefully one day help to defeat Multiple Sclerosis. 

MS is an autoimmune disease where in the immune system attacks the nervous system.  This inappropriate immune behavior leads to many symptoms but often includes pain and fatigue and a degradation of neurological function including paralysis and loss of vision.  Different people have different progressions, but the end result is that most victims of this disease must work through both pain and the knowledge that at times they are going to be fighting for control of their own bodies.

Medical research is expensive, and I know many of you must be thinking, "How can my $10 make a difference?".  In and of itself, one ten dollar bill can only do so much, but together, they can do some amazing things.  Last year Claudia raised almost $40,000 for her ride.  That kind of money can help to support a graduate student's stipend for two years, or can cover most of the cost of a post-doctoral researcher's salary for one year.  It can buy almost half of a lower throughput sequencing machine.  It could cover the cost of developing a genetically modified mouse that could be used to study MS or could maintain a small "clean" mouse colony for a year or more to help study the progression of disease and possible interventions.  It could make it possible for 20 researchers to travel to a conference where they can share the results of their research and maybe help to catalyze the next big advance in the science and understanding of the disease.  I saw the value of this money first hand when I was in the laboratory and people received grants and fellowships from the MS Society and organizations like it.  There are so many ways that this money gets put to good use!

I think so many people think that only big government research grants can make a difference when it comes to tackling big disease issues, but the truth is that smaller communities of people really can make a difference with contributions to efficiently run organizations like the MS Society. 

This year, I definitely was the beneficiary of some good karma when I went to Boston.  I plan to make a contribution  to Claudia's fundraising efforts for the MS Society in honor of her dedication to doing a good thing to help others and with thoughts of the people who did a good thing to help me in mind.  If you have the resources to consider contributing to this cause, I hope you'll get on board and help work towards fighting a disease that affects so many of our fellow travelers.

A Bowl of Yarn

No Friday baby pictures, but I do have a bowl of baby pink yarn to share.  This yarn is Rowan Purelife Organic Cotton.  It's a beautiful cotton yarn, in DK weight, and it has a lovely sheen.  It's perfect for babies because not only is it organic, it's also been dyed with natural dyes.  Ms. Z is showing the same sensitive skin issues that her mother has, so it's wonderful to be able to find products where I don't have to worry quite as much about chemical compounds that might cause her some irritation. 

I absolutely love the color of the yarn and I picked it without really thinking about its pinkness.  But I do have to admit that lately I have been picking out girly colors for Ms. Z's clothes because so many people still come up and ask me if she's a boy -- including the parents of other baby girls!  I know at this age, this question doesn't bother the baby, but for some reason it bothers me that her identity as a girl is not clear. 

20080619_ZInAnnArbor.jpgOkay, maybe one baby picture, taken last weekend while we were in Michigan.

So now I am in search of a good basic template sweater pattern that I can use to create her a fall cardigan.  I'd like to find something simple and raglan that I can use as background so that I can play with the details myself -- for instance, she looks so sweet in bell sleeves and I'd like to add my own simple lace motif.  Any suggestions?  I've made a first pass through Ravelry, but nothing is jumping out at me.  And my Ann Budd book of basic sweater templates doesn't quite go small enough (although it would certainly be easy to shrink one down if I needed to -- I'm just feeling lazy right at the moment). 

Thoughts About Babies and Gender

Thank you to everyone who commented on my last post.  I found both the comments with sweater suggestions and the comments talking about gender and babies to be interesting and thought provoking.  While I am still ruminating about the sweater, I wanted to talk a little more about the gender issues, because, I have to admit, I didn't think I was going to run smack up against them like I did.

In fact, after I found out we were having a girl, but before Ms. Z was born, I insisted that I didn't want to do that whole "pink is for girls, blue is for boys" thing.  When people asked me what colors I liked, I suggested yellow, green, purple and my personal favorite color, blue.  And, lucky for me, most of the clothing that we were gifted with came in a rainbow of colors.  Sure, there was some pink in there, but there was enough variety that I didn't mind the pink too much -- and having diversity in her wardrobe was much more important to me than anything else. 

Initially I went quite "neutral" for her nursery as well.  Her furniture is in light wood and white, the walls are a soft purple, her carpet is grey.   Nothing that screamed out girl to me.  We did go the pink route for some of her bedding, and registered for a really lovely dark pink and white motif crib set from Nurseryworks.  But with a variety of different colored toys and mobiles the pink wasn't overwhelming, and I thought it was a nice balance.

I think what started to get me when it came to wanting people to recognize that Z was a girl was when people would ask me "Is it a boy or a girl?"  On one hand, the pronoun "it" is just the neutral pronoun.   On the other hand, people are never referred to as "it" except in a perjorative way.  So not only did it feel like my baby was losing an important part of her identity, but she was being made into a thing or some kind of pet.  And gender really is an important part of identity.  If only because without gender we become "it"s.

I could completely understand this reaction from people without children.  Heck, I'm sure that I've been guilty of it more than once in my life and I don't chase after people and harass them about their word choices.  But once I had Z, it really sunk in for me that babies were little people with their own personalities and identities.  And as I struggled with figuring out why it bugged me when people asked me what "it" was, I tried to find ways to make sure I wasn't doing the same thing.   So when we met another baby, I started asking questions like "How old is your baby?"  or "Does your baby enjoy the swings?" because the parent or caretaker would usually say something like "He's 6 months old" or "She's getting to like them now that she can sit up."  So when I didn't know whether the baby was a boy or a girl, I was able to get my gender information in a way that preserved my own need to recognize that the baby was a person and not a thing.

So that was when the pink started to creep in.  First it was her foot wear: pink Robeez shoes for when we went out for walks, then subtle things in her wardrobe: tops with pink flowers, bottoms with pink designs or more feminine motifs.  She has a few solid pink things, but mostly what I've tried to do is buy clothing that gives off cues.  I love bright colors (I think that is why I enjoy quilting so much) and want Z to enjoy color, too, but I also want people to recognize that Z is a girl.  Sometimes being a girl comes with a lot of baggage, but my overall experience so far is that it's a pretty cool thing, too.

Does that mean that I subscribe to all the gender-role stereotyping stuff?  No, not at all.  I grew up thinking that most of the time the boys got the coolest toys: building blocks, erector sets,  Legos and miniature firetrucks with real hoses that could squirt water and computers.  I have a plan to make sure that Z gets exposed to all sorts of different kinds of toys and games and I'm going to work hard to make sure that she understands that no matter who she is or what she wants to be, her parents will support her.  That means if she wants to be an engineer (a strong possibility given her genetic stock) we'll try to encourage that.  If she wants to be a girly girl, I'll try hard to not make her think that there's anything wrong with that either. 

Not too long ago, I was listening to a podcast or reading something online (I honestly can't remember) about "taking back the pink" -- it spent a lot of time discussing how one simple color came to be symbolic of such a strong set of stereotypes and how both women -- and some men -- had gotten tired of this and were embracing pink in their lives just because they liked it and it made them happy.    And I was remembering that article when I bought the yarn for Z.  I just thought it was a lovely color and would make this sweet sophisticaed strawberry ice cream confection of a sweater, and it would give me the chance to indulge in a sweet and girly little project.  (In fact, if the yarn hadn't been so darned expensive ($14/skein) I would have bought it for myself.).  So I guess that yarn is a little bit stereotype and a little bit my attempt to get beyond my own color biases and just enjoy working with a happy color.  Kind of nice when you get a "twofer" like that.

Just a Test

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Trouble here in River City... I'm trying to get things restored.  New version of MT and all the fun that goes with it.  Sigh.  This is what happens when you don't stay up-to-date with your understanding of the tools you rely on.

Baby Steps

Whoever thinks baby steps are small ones has never had the opportunity to watch their own baby take them.

Ms. Z took her first independent steps on Monday morning to try to get a glass of water that John was holding (she loves drinking water out of a regular glass).  She took three whole steps without help.  She was acting like she might do something like that for a little while and I was getting nervous that she was going to do it when John and I weren't there to see them.  But she saved it so that both of us could see.  Of course, she went right back to crawling, which she prefers to walking because speed is better than verticality in her book.  But real walking is not far away now.  And we all enjoyed her new triumph.

There would be pictures, but my camera and my SD card conspired against me and I seem to have lost most of my baby pictures from June.  Color me not very happy about that.  But at least I was able to get my blog problems straightened out.

Updated to add: I know that clicking on my comments link leads to an error message.  If you click on the "Permalink" link just to the left of the Comments link, it will take you to the entry page (which isn't really any different than the comment link operates) and let you leave a comment should you be inclined to do so.  Not sure why this is happening.  More of the magic of migrating from MT4.01 to MT4.12 -- or just something I don't quite remember from the last time I did this...

Finished Fairy Wings


With my niece's 5th birthday party only a weekend away, it was clear that I needed to finish her wings.

I'd been procrastinating on this project since I thought the sewing up part of it was going to be fussy and take a long time.  As it turns out, for those of you who do not measure the amount of crafting time you have by the number of naps between now and an event, a single afternoon would likely sufficient for most people, assuming all of the ties were crocheted and the wings were completed.

20080629_FairyWingCenter.jpgIn order to create a more ruffly wing-like appearance from those rather rectangular pieces of lace, the pattern uses a crochet technique to gather in the wings and to create a nice edge for seaming.  Then the center band is sewn down over the top.  The loop at the bottom of the center band is meant to hold the ties that go over the shoulders and help keep the wings snugly in place.

20080629_FairyWingTopAttach.jpgSewing the shoulder ties down required some careful stitching so as not to make them obvious on the visible side of the garment and also to make them tough enough to withstand being used as a child's plaything.   I think that is the hardest thing about finishing this project.  Children are hard on toys, especially toys they love, and I didn't want the ties to become detatched easily.   I am a little concerned that this edge may still be fragile,  but the nice thing about the  Crystal Palace Kid Merino is that, just like Kidsilk Haze, the yarn has a nylon core thread, which gives it a little more durability.

20080629_FairyWingWristLoop.jpgRather than weave in the ends after I sewed the wrist loops onto the wings, I secured them, trimmed them and then tied them in a bow. This both obscures the less than beautiful edge of the loop and provides for some extra little fairy gold to flutter in the breeze.

These wings spent a lot of time trying to flutter while I was taking the picture.  Now all they need is a little girl to believe in their magic so they can transport her into a land of make-believe.

Pattern Details

Pattern: Fairy Wings from Boho Baby Knits
Yarn: Crystal Palace Kid Merino and Deco Stardust

Were I to do this pattern again, I would make one change for certain:  ! would just stick to one color (probably the variegated colorway).  I got tired of messing around with having two balls of fuzzy yarn that wanted to be best friends as I worked on the wings.  I don't think it would take away from the project at all if only a single colorway were used.

I would also probably try to find a lighter weight and smoother gold tape yarn.  The Deco Stardust is pretty and shiny, but I think it's a little heavy for the role it was chosen for and just a little scratchier than I would want it to be when knit up.  My only hesitation in changing the yarn would be that it's also pretty tough stuff and I do think durability is important for the pieces that are going to hold the wings to the child when the wings are being played with.

This project made my husband smile when I "tried them on" to show him how they would work for our niece.  When I ran around a little bit with them (yes, that is an image I will spare you of) he told me they fluttered nicely and that he thought they did really look like wings. 

Kill the Cookies

I discovered a little issue with being able to post comments to my blog.  If, for some reason, you try to comment on my blog and have difficulty doing so, please clear out the cookies for my site from your browser.  Apparently the cookies hold on to information that refers to my old Movable Type information. 

I'm learning lots about MT that I didn't know before, but don't feel like I'm getting much closer to an installation that makes me happy.

Thanks for your patience.