Recently in Personal Category

Achieving the Correct Tension

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<general warning... there is no knitting (well, there is a knitting reference) and there are no pictures... this is just me talking about me... proceed at your own risk/interest level>

It's funny to me how sometimes knitting terms overlap with a non-knitting concept in my life.  

In the spring, I went to give blood, only to find that my blood pressure was much higher than it should have been.  Shortly after, I had my very own diagnosis of primary hypertension.  The arrival of my very own chronic condition was not really a surprise to me.  It runs in the family.  I had gestational hypertension when I was pregnant with Z, which is generally considered to be a harbinger of hypertension to come.  I even told people that it was probably just a matter of time.

My rational self understood it, my emotional self did not.  My doctor told me not to worry, it was manageable.  The funny thing is, it wasn't the chronic condition in and of itself that bothered me.  It was the prescriptions he was writing for me and the realization that I was in my mid-40's and starting on a lifetime medication regimen, and multiple meds.

I do not like taking medications.  Particularly not ones that might never go away.  I spent the first couple of months grudgingly taking my meds and just generally being in denial.  

A child, however, is the most amazing thing.  I can look at this small person that I have made and see myself and my spouse and a whole collection of amazing things that she helps me remember seeing when I was small and everything was magical.  My child is 6 and she has so many wonderful things ahead of her.  And I want to see that story unfold and develop as long as I can.

That probably sounds melodramatic. I don't mean it to, at least not in the sense that I think that I'm going to keel over dead from hypertension.  What I mean is that seeing her reminds me that I need to do what I can to be as healthy as I can, no matter how much I don't like some of the mechanisms that keep me healthy.  It also means that instead of grousing about my medications, I needed to look what I could do to limit the need for them.

And for that, I had a very good example:  my dad.  Dad has dealt with the same condition for most of his adult life.  Two of the things that helped him were regular cardiovascular exercise and maintaining a good weight.  The better he did at these two things, the less medication he took. 

So I started to think that maybe if it worked for him, it would work for me.  

Cardio exercise is easier said than done when one of your meds is a beta blocker.  These things are like rate limiters on your heart.  But I decided to get off my elliptical and away from my heart rate monitor and just head outside and go running.  I've tried to do this before, and always fell off the wagon.  But this time, I armed myself (or rather my iPhone) with the Zombies, Run! 5K App, gave myself permission to have more than my fair share of nice workout wear (I actually have a fun workout wear subscription!) and by the time I had my next appointment with my doc, I was running 3-4 times a week, felt a lot better and felt like I had one of the pieces that would help me manage my condition with lifestyle instead of drugs.

My doc agreed and we dumped the beta blocker.

Life got hugely better after that.  The day after I stopped taking the beta blocker, I was like someone had lifted a brick off my chest while I was running and I posted my first 5 mile run of the year.  About a week later, I did a 6 mile jog around Central Park when John and I visited NYC. I hit my first 100 miles and treated myself the new pair of running shoes (it is always about the shoes!) that I promised myself when I reached that milestone. And I was watching my weight tick down gradually.  More than that, I just felt happier (I've since learned that beta blockers can have neurological effects). And a better attitude makes a lot of things better.

With the summer coming to an end, I've logged a little over 200 miles, including one 10K run that I am particularly proud of.   My jeans are a size smaller.  My diet is better (an mostly gluten free), and last week I experienced something that surprised the heck out of me:  I didn't get my regular run in and not only was I bummed about it, I was cranky about it.  I mean seriously cranky, folks!  I was actually in a bad mood about not exercising.  Apparently I have gone from a resolution to a habit.

It appears to me that, just like in knitting, sometimes my personal parameters aren't at the specified gauge.  And then I have to change needles -- or tactics -- to get there.  To, as knitters across the Atlantic would say, get the right tension.  Right now, that tension is still a little tight with the yarn I've got to work with. A little hypertense, as it were.  But I'm hoping as I keep trying new needles, I'm eventually going to get there.  Just like preparing to knit a perfect sweater, I have to work a little bit to achieve the correct personal tension.  And once I get there, I know I'm going to make something beautiful.  Just this time, that project is me.  

Forty-three going on Twenty-five

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It will probably come as no surprise to anyone reading her that I am a goal oriented person.  This fits with my very product focused approach to craft projects (I. Want. That. Sweater. NOW!) but it also bleeds over into most everything else I do.   And, truth be told, I'm pretty hard on myself (and others) when I don't accomplish exactly what I think it should be possible to do, even when my definition of possible borders on the unrealistic.

One of the other consequences of hitting my mid-40s is that it's brought me face to face with the reality that I am not getting any younger and that there are some things, if I want to do them, I have to do them now.

A big chunk of those focus on health and body image.  I've decided that in my ideal world, I'd have my 43 year old brain in a 25 year old body. 

Not long after John and I got married, we embarked on a personal crusade to get in shape and get to body weights that were good for us.  I knew when I started trying to get pregnant that I wasn't going to hold that weight, but I never thought it was going to be challenging to get back there, either.    I didn't sweat it too much after we first had Zosia because I was certain we would have another child and I didn't see the point.  But after it became clear that she was gong to be our one and only I found that it wasn't as easy as I thought it was going to be.  There were always extra kid snacks around, we didn't walk around the neighborhood or take long walks as much as we once did, our stress levels were high and a child in pre-school meant that I spent a lot of time sharing viruses and feeling sick.  It was easy for me to justify all sorts of sweet treats and low activity.

The "keyboard biologist" name for this blog comes from a colleague that I worked with when I was working at a genomics company.  I was making the transition from bench immunologist to informaticist and it felt like the right descriptor.  I've always been interested in genetics and using genetic information to help make good health decisions.  So it should be no surprise that when my husband found a good deal on 23&Me personal genomic services, that I jumped on the chance to get screened and see what my genes could tell me about my health potential*.

A couple of things stood out to me in my results.  I have an elevated risk for both Type 2 and Type 1 diabetes as well as Celiac Disease**.  There's a lot of high blood pressure in my family, so I've always known that I have some potential for cardiovascular disease.  As a woman who had her child in her late 30s and wants to live as long and healthy life as I can, this seemed like an obvious signal that I needed to think about improving my health and changing my diet.  So my personal goal is to get back to my pre-baby weight and to be more physically fit. 

I can do nothing, it seems, without a reliance on electronic toys, so to help me watch my diet, I've been tracking my calories in MyFitnessPal through an App that I have on both my iPhone and iPad.  I've done Weight Watchers before, but it's a lot easier to track calories than points (and it more or less amounts to the same thing) and this app has a great food database to help you figure things out -- combined with the ability to scan food package barcodes.  If you tell it how much you want to lose and how much per week, it will help you identify a good calorie target.  It  also has a mechanism for you to track your exercise.  And, of course, you can track your weight loss progress as well as your waist line and hip dimensions.  So not only does this help me keep honest about what I'm eating, it satisfies my inner data junkie as well.  And there are a number of studies that correlate weight loss with regular and honest food journaling.  And, it has a social dimension.  So if you're embarking on this journey too and would like a pal, let me know!

On the exercise side, I've been focusing mostly on aerobic activity and improving my abdominal muscles. 

Finally, as I mentioned in a previous post, I've been toying with gluten-free and John and I have been reducing the wheat gluten load in our diet.  It would be hard for me to say at this point that there's been any results to this, but it's a lot easier to do than I would have thought when you have access to a good grocery store.  And it's been fun taste testing.  I think the best outcome from this is that it reminds me to think about the value of the carbs I'm getting. 

For the aerobic piece, I turn to my elliptical.  I've tried gyms, but the truth is that unless I can do it at home, it just isn't going to happen regularly.  I upgraded from my ancient HealthRider e370 (or some such)  to a LifeFitness X1 which uses wireless technology so that you can optimize your work out by heart rate.  All I can say is wow!  The machine is amazing and the heart rate monitor has me so captivated that I haven't even wanted to read a book on my machine. 

For the abdominals...Again, there's an App for that!  I'm a big fan of "Ab Workout" and the series of other apps that go with it.  They have very clear videos of the exercise and come with workout plans or randomized workouts.  You can choose the length of time for the workout as well.  With the paid version you can create your own customized workout from all the available exercises as well.  They are not particularly high tech, but they are easy to follow. 

So far, I'm pleased with my current trajectory.  When I started in the middle of February, I was about 15 pounds over my ideal weight.  Now I'm about 10***.   I'm hoping to hit my target in June or so, at which point I plant to treat myself to some new and flattering swim wear. 

And that brings us to clothes....I've been doing a great deal of thinking about those, too.


* I really encourage anyone who can afford it to do this... you'll learn something about yourself, something about human biology and a little bit about probability as well.  Genes are not everything, environment also plays a role, but genes set the foundation for many things, and being aware of what your genes set the stage for is important.  That said, understanding your genetic potential can have an impact on a lot of things and not everyone likes to have a glimpse at the potential future.  Read carefully and make sure you're comfortable with what could show up in the results.

** When it comes to evaluating results from genetic screens, elevated risk Does NOT equal "going to get it" -- what it means is that your genetics increase the potential that this could present in the future, but that environment and personal habits can still have an impact.  How much impact depends on the gene, some are more deterministic than others, but most chronic illnesses rely on more than one gene or mutation and a particular set of triggers.  And in most cases we don't really understand all the genes or all the triggers.

*** This sounds more impressive than it really is since my first measurements occurred at a bloatier time of the month.

Reflections and Changes

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Some ways back, when I was in grad school, we had a tradition of hazing my thesis adviser on his birthday.  It started on his fortieth birthday because he had promised everyone "when I turn 40, I'll mellow out".  For whatever reason, I specifically remember when we helped toast (or roast as the case may be) his 43rd birthday.  We gave him something framed with a list of good reasons to be 43.  I think we put his phone number on signs around campus. There was cake and probably an alcoholic beverage or two.  As a group whose average age was about 25 we thought we were pretty clever. 

What has made this particular even so memorable for me was at the time I really thought that your 40s must be both about getting older and about having some magical wisdom to impart to others.  It seemed like he knew everything and could get almost anything done. At any given time, the lab I worked in had 12-15 people employed at various levels of the scientific food chain, most working on independent projects that my thesis adviser had to impart both advice and funding for.  I was always impressed with the things he knew, the way he connected ideas, the network of resource he was connected to, the fact that he always had another idea or a way to test something ready to go. And I never felt that I would be able to make that leap from grad student who couldn't think her way out of a paper bag to someone mentoring others. 

Flash forward sixteen or seventeen years and I find myself in the position of celebrating my own 43rd birthday.  Even though I'm not running my own lab, I'm back at a university (a place I never thought I'd be again) and I'm managing a group that all told encompasses 12-15 people.  I'm the one sitting across the desk trying to help someone on my team work through an issue that they are stuck on or develop a plan of attack for something they are embarking on.  Or tapping into my network to find a resource or a tool.  

It is odd to think that there is nothing magical that got me to this place, and that the real thing you build up between your twenties and your forties is experience, confidence in your abilities and an overall better understanding of yourself. 

The past 6 months or so have been strange for me because at the same time that I've felt like I'm truly coming into my own, I've also had this realization that I am getting older.   I'm trying to grow and improve on those things that make me feel happy with who I am and at the same time, I'm trying to make significant change in those things that I know are weighing me down.

I can remember when I defended my thesis, that my adviser made a comment about the changeability of my hair.  At the time, I wasn't sure of what to make of that and didn't entirely take it in the humor with which it was meant.  But looking back now, it makes me laugh because it's true.  Whenever I need change, the first thing I do is attack my hair.   And what did I give myself for my 43rd birthday* this year?


20120303_RedHair.jpgYep.  Indeed.  Red hair.  I've always loved color in my crafting and I can't believe that it took me so long to realize that I could update me with a healthy dose of color, too.  To say that I like being a red head would be an understatement.   And what could be better than hearing from Z "Oh Momma!  I love your red hair!"

And the hair color is just the beginning. 

*this event is about a month old now... in a rare occurrence, it made it on Twitter and Facebook before the blog

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About 4 months after Ms. Z was born, my dad needed heart surgery to replace an aortic valve.  The surgery went well, but there were complications with the anti-coagulant therapy that resulted in my dad experiencing a ruptured spleen and significant internal bleeding.  My dad jokes that he needed "a full oil change" -- when all was said and done, it took 7 units of O positive to help save his life.

Up until that point in my life, I'd always been a little scared of giving blood -- needles and bleeding just weirded me out.  But if there's anything I got used to in the process of trying to and having a baby, it was to deal with blood draws and IVs.  So I got to thinking about it.  As I've gotten into Health IT and started working at a university with major medical center, I've spent a lot more time thinking about health care, and how I can make a difference personally.  Giving blood seemed like the perfect way to start.

In honor of my dad, I've made a long term pledge (to myself) to donate 7 units of blood.  On Friday I made my first donation, and I promise to update my progress here as I go along.  Here's a few things I learned from my first donation:

  • At any given time only 38% of people in the US are eligible to give blood (i.e. they meet the health previous history requirements)
  • Only 8% of people give blood
  • Giving blood is easy and does not take a long time -- it took about 10 minutes for me to make my donation and another 15-20 to hang out after the donation while you drink some juice.
  • Drink a lot of water before hand -- it will help the donation go faster and more smoothly (and you'll feel better, too!)
  • You feel like a real hero when you're done.   
The Red Cross website is great at helping you find out more about your local Red Cross chapter as well as a a place to donate in your area -- most of the time you can even make an appointment so that you can do it at a time that works best for you. 

To put the incredible gift that my father received in perspective: when people donate blood, they can only donate 1 unit at a time and you have to wait at least 2 months to donate more.  There's a good chance that 7 different people contributed to what my dad received.  Although they will never know it, there are seven people in Southeastern Michigan who helped make sure that my dad is still here to watch his granddaughter grow up.

If you can donate, I'd really like to encourage to to do so. So many people need blood and when it's needed, there's no more precious gift in the world.

In case you want to know more about what I do in my day job, you can check out my first non-crafting blog post ever at the HealthIT Buzz blog sponsored by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.  It's a piece of writing I'm particularly proud of and I think it's a pretty good story as well -- and if you're interested in what your doctor has to think about when they're considering using an electronic health record system, it might be a nice intro.

Another Post with No Knitting Content

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This lack of content might lead you to believe that I have not been knitting.

In fact, there's a new cowl to show off, a sock that has started wrapping it's way up my foot, and a new vest underway. 

What's lacking is pictures... the cowl needs to be given a soak, the sock is not far enough along, and the vest would be stunningly uninteresting at this point in time.

So I will share a few child-related knitting anecdotes that make me smile:

My 7 year old niece really wants to learn how to knit.  The Christmas before last I got the components together for her, but we've had no time to sit and start some lessons.   While the Packers were taking the Super Bowl away from the Bears, she and I started some simple knitting lessons.  One of them was finger knitting (which I had never tried before, but which I found to be rather enchanting) and the other was knitting with one of those Clover knitting spools that create the I-cord-like tubes.  We talked about yarn (how does that whole multi-color knitting thing work) and socks and what you could do with I-cords.  She headed home with a start on her spool knitter and some nice left over variegated Shepherd's Worsted so she could see that multi-color thing happen for herself.

My three year old will pick up almost any string and tell me she's going to knit me something with it. She always asks me if what I am knitting is for her.  Today she pulled the cuffs all the way up on one of her store bought pairs of socks and told me she wanted "tall socks".  I love the idea of knitting her some stripey knee socks... maybe mismatched.  When you're three, you can totally do mismatched

There is little else to report.  My knitting from my stash effort is still going well and I am contemplating the arrival of another 4th decade birthday. My not-so-new job still gives me those "wow, how did I get here?" (in an absolutely good way) moments, and I am in constant awe of my daughter, who is reading her books to me now (and not because she's got them memorized!).   Life is quiet, but it's also quite good. 

More next week, when I will make all best efforts to have some pictures of actual crafting!


If you've followed me over the years, you've probably realized I'm pretty horrible and maintaining any resolutions.  I always have good intentions, but those intentions tend to get lost along the way when I realize that I'm not really all that personally motivated or I was counting on others to get me somewhere and they don't really have a stake in the project. 

This year, I'm approaching the process more from a "begin as you would like to go on" way of thinking.  What have I begun?

  • Shopping from my stash.  Every time I visit my stash, I'm impressed with the nice things I find.  I have enough yarn to create beautiful sweaters, scarves and socks... socks for an army of feet!  I'm not trying to deny myself new yarn, specifically, but I'm trying to make sure I consider all the possibilities in my stash before making new acquisitions.
  • Eliminating clutter.  It's hard to believe that in May John and I will have been in our "new" house for 10 years.  That's given two pack rats a long time to accumulate.  We both agree that it's time to refine what we keep.  We also would like to repaint the inside of the house in the spring.  And who wants to move a lot of stuff we don't really want all over the place?
  • Finishing or frogging in progress projects -- and not just knitting projects.  I include in this photo projects, sewing projects, video games, etc.  Anything that I'm working on or working through.
  • Hang pictures on the wall.  This is more emblematic of actually deciding not just to live in our house, but to make our house the place that we love to be.  So painting, picture framing, picture hanging, and furniture updating are all things I'd love to be doing this year. 
When John and I first bought our house, we were so excited.  We'd moved back into the city, had 4 bedrooms and 3000 square feet to call our own.  We had skylights and granite counter tops, a balcony and a home theatre and treated ourselves to a smattering of new furniture.  But we just never settled in.  We thought we might move out of Chicago or find a place we liked better.  We didn't like the way the top floor of the house could be freezing cold in the winter and too warm in the summer.  We dealt with basement leakage and not enough natural light.  For every good thing, we had a bad counterpoint.

But this year we had a realization:  we need to love where we live or just get over ourselves and move.  The market doesn't make that last one very easy.  But we have also come to the conclusion that even if we don't desperately love our house, we adore our neighborhood.  We can walk everywhere, or take public transit.  We have great local restaurants and wonderful neighborhood stores and boutiques.  We can walk to the grocery and at least 3 parks. And don't even get me started about the artisan gelato and local bakeries.

So it's time to take the plunge and do more things that make us happier with the place.  To accept that it has flaws that we aren't going to change and to try to embrace those flaws as an opportunity to think creatively. 

Here's to 2011!    

Beautiful, Virtuous and Boring

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First, the beautiful: 4 ounces of merino bamboo silk dyed by Sweet Georgia Yarns in the colorway "Hummingbird", the entry in the August 2010 fiber club.  This is the kind of fiber with the kind of color that makes my toes itch to treadle my wheel.  Which brings me to the virtuous part:



I bought this book, the Intentional Spinner,  when Interweave was running their hurt book sale over the summer.  I love spinning, and I feel I can turn out a pretty decent yarn when I spin, but I would describe myself as a very un-intentional spinner -- I just let it move through my fingers and it becomes what feels right.  I don't plan much, other than to make the 2 or 3 ply decision.  But lately I've been thinking that I would like to take a bit more control of the process -- imagine a yarn that I want and work towards achieving it.  I haven't gotten very far into the book so far (I'm still reading through the parts about the fiber types) but the Sweet Georgia fiber and some other entries in my collection are spurring me on.  

And finally, the boring.  

  • The first sleeve on my  High Line sweater is complete and the next one is under way.  I used a kitchener cast off (also called, by some, a tubular cast off) to create a nice edge for the K1P1 knitting and I'm pretty impressed with that (though not impressed enough to bore you with a picture).  
  • John and I spent some serious effort identifying what we want to do around our house to make it a better place to live.  A big part of that involves decluttering... after working on it together and breaking it down into manageable chunks, I'm pretty psyched about getting started...
  • I set up an account at Mint.com and am thinking deep thoughts about how I spend my money.  It helps you integrate all your accounts (banking, loans, retirement, credit cards, etc.) into one place so that you can get a better picture of your finances, net worth, how you're spending your money, and so forth.  It was very easy to get connected and set up.  Best of all, it's free.  
  • I am 99% of the way to being paperless where my bills are concerned.  I should have wrapped this up aeons ago, and now the weight of a forest of trees feels lifted off my shoulders as I contemplate all the paper I won't be throwing away/recycling.
  • I cleaned out my pantry.   Nothing could be more boring, but, looking at the results makes me happier than I would have thought.  Hopefully Fall 2010 will be the time of the Great Clutter Diaspora...
  • I played a bunch of video games with my budding gamer girl... it's awful fun to be rooted on by an enthusiastic little girl!
I hope you all had lovely Labor Day weekends.  The weather in Chicago is now suggesting that Fall is most definitely on the way.  I think we're all looking forward to the change of the seasons!

And Then There Were 12....

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... years, that is.

Today, we celebrate our 12th wedding anniversary.  In 12 years, like most couples, we've been through many things together.  I think one of the many things that keeps us strong is the laughter that we share together.  Whether it's making a silly Simpson's portrait of our selves or hamming it up in front of the camera at our wedding, or just giggling when our 3 year old tells us that "Zombies ate my brains! Zombies ate my brains*" (yes, I know, sounds strange, but just imagine it in 3 year old voice... it's hilarious), we enjoy seeing the silly side of life.  It seems like the older we get, the more serious things start to manifest, and the more important that ability to find the humor and joy in the world becomes.  There's nothing quite like having a best friend who always does his best to make me smile when things are tough.  

Happy 12th Anniversary, Jasiu.  I look forward to much more laughter in the days, months and years ahead of us.  I don't think a single day has gone by since our wedding when I haven't been amazed at how I got so lucky as to find a partner in life like you.  

I love you, and want to laugh with you always.

T

*its from Plants vs. Zombies if you lose... she loves the game but hasn't figured out what's going on yet.

Transitions

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Julie and I got together for a belated birthday celebration (we both celebrate birthdays in February) and took a trip out to the Fold.   As always, it was full of inspiration for both of us.  Everywhere you look there's something new to think about.  Unusually enough for me, however, I decided to focus on three things: socks for John, Skew socks for me and something that could become a work appropriate scarf for my new job.  And I was able to find one thing that worked well in each category.

The green Trekking is for man socks -- imagine finding dark green, durable yarn with some subtle interest.  John's grey Trekking socks have held up incredibly well, so it's nice to find some more Trekking that will fit his color range.

The little red bundle is a Crazy Zauberball -- I think I'm probably the last one to this party, but I think it will be interesting to watch the striping in the context of the Skew socks (something else I am also coming late to). The socks are cast on and I'm looking forward to to seeing how the construction works out.  So far, it's not too fiddly, and it's toe up -- both of which are primary considerations for yours truly when making socks.

That gorgeous BFL from Fiber Optic Yarns, dyed in the colorway "Black Light" is the foundation for the scarf in the third category.  I love love love deep electric blues and purples.  My goal is to spin a fine two ply that can be knit up into something simple and narrow that will work in an environment that requires more formal business attire.  I've been itching to pull out my wheel, and I'm hoping this fiber will be the inspiration that gets me back there.

Oh, yeah, and about that new job thing... I'm going to be the director of operations for a brand new health care IT-focused not-for-profit.   I look at my blog as a more or less work-free zone, but I will say that I'm excited and looking forward to a number of new challenges.  And that it's very likely that posting will be a bit more irregular as things get underway.  It's a start up organization with a mission and I expect it to keep me pretty busy!


Quiet

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Absent on Wednesday.  No pictures today.  My fingers have been quiet. 

I was going to show you the lovely color gamp warp that I just started on, but it's much less impressive to imagine when one forgets one's camera.  Suffice it to say, it was a pleasure to measure off my warp and touch a whole rainbow of colors on a grey January day.  I'm quite excited about this project, because the gamp will result in a blanket (roughly 40" x 50" in size) and I'll be working on a dobby floor loom -- the loom I had so much fun working on for the last couple of weaving classes is now ready to weave!

Having finished off the two Dragon Age novels (The Stolen Throne and The Calling ) on my Kindle (which were better than I expected and entertaining if you are also interested in the back story to the game, but probably not worth your time otherwise) I'm now going back to one of my all time favorite authors, Neil Stephenson.  I downloaded The Diamond Age this morning and am moving from swords and sorcery fantasy to cyberpunk and nanotechnology -- a bit of literary whiplash there, but the trial chapter drew me in, and so I go.

Other than that, I am trying to figure out how to cope with the 2 year old's main weapon -- refusal and screeching.  How, oh how, do they manage to hit the perfect pitch for creating the maximum disturbance in their mothers, and combine that with resisting absolutely any request, even simple ones like putting on socks?  My child is lucky she has two parents right now.  While she has a remarkable knack for being incredibly cute, she also pushes my buttons faster than anyone I know (and given some people that I know, that's saying something).   Any experienced mothers with suggestions (I've already figured out the glass of wine option, but that doesn't seem like a good plan at 10 in the morning) are more than welcome to share their secrets!

With a little luck, this weekend there will be couch surfing and sleeve knitting.  Or else there will be pictures of yarn on Monday... you have been warned.


2010: The Year of the House

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I haven't talked about it much, but during most of 2009 I was thinking about my house.  John and I bought our house in 2001 in a neighborhood in Chicago called Ukrainian Village (for those of you who aren't familiar with Chicago, it's a city of neighborhoods, and if you ask most people where they live, they'll tell you the name of their neighborhood).  When we bought, life was still unsettled, uncertain. We'd only been married for a little over 2 years and we looked at the house more as an investment in an up and coming neighborhood rather than someplace we planned to stay for a long time.  That said, we decided to go with the house option rather than a condo, assuming that if we liked it, the extra space would give us more flexibility and possibly room for a family.

Flash forward to now... we've been here almost 9 years.  The neighborhood has just gotten better and better with the passage of time.  We did start our family here.  We still don't know if we are living in our "forever home", but it is clear that for now, this house is where we are.  During 2009, it really started to hit me that in many ways we had never really moved past thinking about the place where we live as "our house".  By now, shouldn't I think of it as "our home"?  But it was clear that I didn't.  Only in a very few places had we done anything to really mark that it was ours.  I'd hired an interior decorator to work on the small powder room on the first floor.  John painted Z's room a lovely pale purple.  We'd hung a few bits and pieces on the wall, placed a few photos here and there, but other than that, I realized that I would be hard pressed, as a visitor, to identify who lived in this house.   I felt a little sad, for both me and our house and decided that it was time to give the place a bit more character and give us a place that felt like home.

To get started, I focused on our master bedroom and our guest room.  I made a decent start, but for a variety of reasons just couldn't keep myself focused.  And then Julie decided to talk about a project she wanted to tackle on her blog: A Room a Month.  The idea behind this project is to identify 12 rooms in your house and, each month, try to tackle some of the things that would make you happier about the room, make the room a better place, or just need to be done.    Maybe you don't get everything done, that's okay, but for one month you focus on the issues with that room.  For me, for one month, I'm going to think about what I need to do to make any given room more a part of my home and a place I want to be and less just a random piece of house. 

So, to kick things off, here are, in no particular order, the rooms that I want to focus on during the year:

  1. Master Bedroom
  2. Z's Room
  3. Guest Room
  4. Living Room
  5. Basement Bathroom
  6. Master Bathroom
  7. Office
  8. Office Bathroom
  9. Kitchen*
  10. Dining Area*
  11. Family Area*
  12. Main Floor Powder Room
  13. Laundry room
Yes, I realize that I've already violated the whole 12 rooms 12 months thing by having a 13th area.  Mostly I couldn't really decide between the powder room and the laundry room.  They'll be a bit of a dealer's choice throughout the year, depending on my mood (and finances, since the laundry room could involve and equipment upgrade).

* The kitchen, dining area and family area are really all part of one large room, but because the things that would make them better are really very different things, I'm separating them out.

The area I'm going to start with (I think, this may change as I continue to think about it) is the Family Area.  This is a part of the long, high ceilinged rectangular space that holds our kitchen and dining area as well.  This is the area that Z plays in and that has started to accumulate most of her toys and books.  It needs the following:

  • Additional storage unit for toys (Ikea here we come!)
  • Small book case for better book storage
  • Small couch/loveseat to make a sitting area to go with the rocking chair that is already there.
  • Paint for the wall.
  • Some artwork that works both as family friendly and mostly adult, since the room is still home to the kitchen and dining area as well.
On Wednesday, I'll post some pictures of the space and start to talk a little more about what I'm thinking about for it.

Fantasy and Reality

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So my fantasy
Becomes reality
And I must be what I must be
And face tomorrow.
-- from Simon & Garfunkel, "Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall"

Ever since I was a teenager, I have found myself able to get emotionally entangled with books and good stories.  My first journeys to Middle Earth in the Tolkein books were a prime example. I was unable to put them down because I had been so pulled in that I would be physiologically impacted until I finished them.  And after I would read them, I would devour everything I could find to help me understand that world, stay there a little longer.  Even though I'm a pretty high maintenance creature who would never do well in a conventional medieval fantasy setting (hello, indoor running water required, thank you very much), it doesn't take very much to get me to the place where I want to be saturated with elven lore and believe in magic.   I think this is why I liked Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere so much... a modern person transported into a world of the bizarre and somewhat magical. 

When I was in high school, I read fantasy voraciously... Piers Anthony, David Eddings, Terry Brooks, Katherine Kurtz, Raymond Feist, Robert Lynn Aspirin, Roger Zelazny, Stephen Brust, Christopher Stasheff, Stephen R. Donaldson and many many more lined my shelves.  As I got older, if I got a magick-using fantasy world combined with a good boy meets girl storyline, I was not only hooked, but emotionally invested.  I would wrap up these books and immediately be at the bookstore looking for the next installment.  I wanted to know where those characters were going.  Wanted them to be real, a little bit. Borders Bookstore started in Ann Arbor (my home town) at one incredibly fabulous location.  I was always camped out there hunting down my favorite authors.  Sometimes it would take a day or two for me to break loose of the connection I had made to the book.  Since high school wasn't one of those times of my life that I would willingly go back to, I'm pretty sure that these fantasy worlds gave me a place to go to where I could believe in a different world, instead of one populated by mean teenage girls.

As I've gotten older, it's harder and harder for me to get to that fully absorbed place.  I still like a good tour through a fantasy world, but I don't get connected unless it's particularly real.  Computer role playing games weren't all that available when I was in high school, but I developed a real passion for them in grad school and beyond.  Now, not only could I read about a world, I could put myself in it.  As graphics and other production values for these games get better, I can almost feel like I am there... and those strong physiological effects of emotional connection are back...

It's funny for me to be writing this.  I'm a scientist, eh?  Someone trained to want to understand reality in great detail.  Someone who has a vested interest in developing technology and loves to roll around in the glow of the latest technological gadget.  Makes me feel like sometimes I am two different people.   The pragmatic technologist and the romantic dreamer.  It's also funny to me to think that at the same time as I am feeling emotionally engaged by a video game -- technology pulling me into fantasy -- there's also a part of me stepping back from it, analyzing myself and the neurology of this behavior, reminding me that, unlike when I was a teenager, my forty year old self has too many responsibilities to indulge in a pure flight of fantasy.  A little unsure of what to make of the fact that I am not completely in control of the response.

There was a time in my life that I would have been embarrassed to admit all this, but this time, I seem to have gotten myself to a place where instead of being a bit disturbed and disoriented by my response, I'm kind of embracing it -- it's kind of neat that to ride some emotional highs and lows, to lose myself a little bit and get to be someone else entirely.  Sometimes losing myself helps me find things about myself that I had forgotten were there.  Gets me inspired, shakes me up, reminds me how driven I can be when something really grabs my attention, and that I shouldn't give up on the idea that I can make a difference in the world. 

I'm not entirely sure where I'm going with this post, so please forgive me the rambling.  One of those "found things" seems to be to get out there and do some more creative writing, tell some more stories about myself, move words around in pleasing ways.  Perhaps in the next weeks, more of that sort of stuff will show up here as Dragon Age continues. 

As an aside, there actually is a character in Dragon Age (an older, female mage -- ah, stereotypes -- but at least she is a pretty tough, non-typical older woman) that talks about "making fuzzy blankets with animals on them" and "slippers with pom poms" -- knitters, apparently, can be found on both sides of the reality divide.

Scars

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Yesterday I had the kind of day that leaves marks on your soul.  Unfortunately for me, these marks come on top of old scars.  I've told those stories here before, and I'm not in the head space where I can tell this one yet.  I'm not as emotionally overwrought as I was in the past, I had some warning of where things were going and had a chance to prepare myself mentally for what was coming.  But I've spent the day with a deep sense of melancholy, and a deep appreciation for my baby girl. 

I spent most of the day in a very contemplative way... and EZ's "Knit on..." quote passed through my head more than once.  I worked a few more rows on the Dragon shawl (I am only 4 rows away from starting on bits of the dragon and I am getting more comfortable with that birds eye lace).  I started a new project for myself, Ysolde's Damson shawl with some of the beautiful rich magenta/purple yarn I got when I traveled to Philadelphia earlier in May this year.  It is a simple little shawl/scarf with some nice details and I know the color will be lovely against my skin.  A little treat for the fall, which seems to be here already with Chicago's current cold, rainy grey weather.

And I went to class and worked on my current weaving project.  I finally have my loom warped, my header woven and I hope in my next class I'll be moving on to weaving the actual project.  I will say one thing for weaving: when you're getting your loom warped, it's really hard to think about anything else.  I earned a number of weaving merit badges tonight as I worked my way through all the issues that come up with a warp sett at 56 epi for double weave (28 epi for each cloth) and wrangling 840 warp ends and 8 shafts.  By the time I'm done with this project, I'm really going to feel like I've accomplished something.

Today I will deal with the wrap up and closure of yesterday and hopefully will end the day with my family at our favorite brew pub enjoying Z's favorite french fries and a beer.  And the scars will heal just a little.  And I'll start to move on.

Peace and a happy weekend to you all.


Eleven Years

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20090822_Daffodils.jpg
Today John and I celebrate our 11 year anniversary.  We celebrate it with our beautiful 2 year old daughter who has brought new dimensions to us and to our relationship.

After 11 years, it's hard to say things that haven't already been said.  John is my best friend and we have been through so many things together, good and bad.  He is my rock, my hope, my encouragement and a continuous source of optimism.  He tries new things with me.  He supports my decisions.  He helps me achieve my goals.  He challenges me when he thinks I need to think harder about something.  He encourages me to take risks when I would play it safe.  He helps me realize that stepping out of my comfort zone is a necessary part of enjoying life.  But he also accepts me for who I am and what is meaningful to me.  He reminds me that most questions have more than one answer, and that if you keep an open mind, the answer you get might surprise you, in a good way.  He does so many things to make my life better, and, in doing so, constantly helps me realize what a wonderful life I do have. 

I love you, John.  I can't imagine life without you.  Happy Anniversary, Sweetie.

The photo is taken from a series that my dad took of us when we were out at the Morton Arboretum when their natural daffodil garden was in bloom in the spring of 2004. Not really an anniversary photo, but definitely one of my favorite pictures of us together.

Me Time, No Time

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As a newbie weaver, I still get to spend lots of time making mistakes.  I thought I would have some lovely pictures of my next bolster sample to show, but I didn't even make it out of the room with my heddles threaded tonight.  Learning experiences, though valuable, do not good blogging make.  I've made no progress on Lotus that is visible.  The Dragon of Happiness is not to a point yet where it is interesting to photograph (though I am on row 35, I think.... not even 10% of the way along yet).  And my simple sock for TV knitting is still a little early to post about. 

So that leaves me to scavenge ideas from other creative bloggers.  So I'm stealing an idea from Claudia, who borrowed it from Carole -- and I'm going to share my "10 Favorite Things to Do During Me Time".  So here it goes.  These aren't in any order other than the order I am remembering them in -- I'm fickle when it comes to having favorite things to do.

  1. Knit.  I know this comes as no surprise, and certainly this blog wouldn't be here without it.  I don't knit as much now as I did before Ms. Z came along, but I certainly still spend a fair amount of time with my needles.  I think I am much more particular now about what I knit since my time is more limited.
  2. Eat out.  I regularly toy with the idea of having a food blog to record John and my adventures on the Chicago dining scene.  There are few things I enjoy more than a good evening out in a new restaurant kicking back with good food and an adult beverage. 
  3. Weave.  Weaving is rapidly beginning to take over space in my crafty brain.  It requires a good deal more planning than the other fiber arts that I love, and that engages that organizational part of me that doesn't normally get much air time when I craft.
  4. Read.  Mostly this is right before bed to help me clear my head and relax.  Right now I'm reading Jim Butcher's latest installment in his Harry Dresden series, Turn Coat (I started this series when I was on bed-rest and continued it through being post-partum and beyond -- it's easy reading, fun and allows me to indulge my guilty pleasure love of fantasy fiction).
  5. Computer Role Playing Games.  Oh yeah.  I haven't really met too many of these I don't like.  I've always wanted to cast spells in the real world, and these games let me do it in an electronic ones.  My favorites are the ones with good stories, but I've been known to enjoy a straight out dungeon crawl every now and again, too.
  6. Quilt.  I haven't done this in a while, but I love the way I can immerse myself in color with quilting.  I just upgraded from Electric Quilt 5 to Electric Quilt 6.  And my sewing machine has been calling to me lately.  It might be time to get back to doing some of this.
  7. Spin.  My poor wheel!  She hasn't seen any action since last summer.  I think the fact that I feel rather overstocked with yarn has reduced my motivation to spin.  But next week I'm going to take her to weaving class with me... perhaps that will get the juices flowing again.
  8. Surf the Internet.  I'd be lying if I didn't admit to loving just grazing through my RSS reader or my favorite web comics.  And, yeah, I do like to Twitter.
  9. Make Myself A Latte.  When I am home with Z on Thursdays, no naptime is complete unless it is kicked off with a home made latte.  I like making them for myself, I like making coffee drinks (or hot chocolate) for others as well.  It is probably time for me to move beyond my mostly automated espresso machine...
  10. Shop.  Yeah, I have to admit, I don't mind doing this.  Especially when it is internet enabled.  Or focused around shoes and handbags.  And having a baby girl makes this activity doubly fun when she's involved.
I wish I could put some exercise related thing on there, but, the truth is that I don't have some really physical thing that I love to do all the time. I do try to walk whenever and wherever I can, but I'm not sure I put it in the category of something that I do for fun.  And I would love to bike more, but I don't consider my neighborhood particularly bike-friendly. 

Do you have a top 10 list for your favorite things to do? 

All Out of Steam

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Well, that title says it all for today... I've got a few things that I could talk about, I've even got some pictures edited, but I'm not feeling the inspiration for any of the topics that normally helps me get them onto the blog. 

Funny how I can have a good day, and at the same time have a series of tiny things slowly but surely take the wind out of my sails.  I feel like a balloon with a tiny tiny hole out of which all my motivation has slowly leaked out. 

I'll be back on Monday, bright-fingered and with bells on to do show and tell with my latest completed weaving project.  Weaving is a place that cotton yarn really shines.

Good weekend, all!

Random Friday?

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First off, thank you to everyone for your kind comment about the o w l s sweater.  I've worn it twice  and simply love it.  I wish I'd knit it sooner so that I  could wear it more before it gets warm!

Sometimes I have a whole collection of things I can write about, but the world around me is making it too hard for me to focus on writing.   Or my mood is just wrong, and I know that mood will color everything and make simple happy things seem grim.  Such is today.  Today itself was wonderful -- one of those good days that I would happily live again -- but tomorrow will bring me some unhappy tasks and the anticipation of them has left me wrapping up the day in a not so great place.

So instead of writing, I will leave you with a few random good things...


1.  I have started taking a weaving class at the Chicago Weaving School, and I am enjoying it very much.  Tonight I finished warping my first 4 harness loom and wove my first twill.  I also warped my rigid heddle loom with my 8 dent heddle today in preparation for some funky plaid dishtowels to welcome spring into my kitchen.   I do like me some weaving, yes I do. 

2.  My husband has some year old Bourbon Vanilla Porter on tap right now.  I did not like it right after he first brewed it, but the aging process has made it a fabulous beer.  I will miss it muchly when it is gone.

3.  There is almost nothing better than a windy spring day and a trip to the park with Z and my Dad.  Ms. Z practically ran 6 the whole six blocks to get there.  Clearly I am not the only one in the house who can't wait for spring to get here and stay here!

4.  Without any prompting on my part, my Dad made the most beautiful warping board for me -- it's a 14 yard board made of walnut left over from the rocking chair he made for my brother and sister-in-law.  I can't wait to warp something up on it!

5.  I downloaded the Amazon Kindle reader application for my iPhone on Wednesday and downloaded a free book chapter (Niel Gaiman's American Gods: A Novel , which I really want to read the full version of someday).  The whole process worked seamlessly.  I don't consider my iPhone the ideal e-book reader, but it does a pretty good job for those times when you'd like something to read but want to travel light.    If you have an iPhone, the software is free and since you can download free first chapters for books to "demo" them, you can try without buying anything at all.  Very cool.

Looking Back.... A Long Way Back

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Well, it seems like a post coming on the eve of my 40th (holy wow!) birthday should do more than show off a picture of my latest sock.  Which is not to say that the sock is not a worthy addition to my wardrobe, but just that I've got another idea that has been banging around in my brain for how to commemorate the event. 

I remember being 20 years old and thinking how far off 40 was.  It would be a doubling of my time on the planet.  I was still in college and every imaginable door was still open.  True to form, I still had much angst about everything, and had visions of embarking on a career in science and changing the world with my amazing discoveries. 

Clearly, in 20 years I haven't cured cancer, but I thought it might be a good time to roll back through the years and think about the most memorable events in each one. 

1989 -- I decided to minor in history (the degree in biology was a given) and discovered that I really did enjoy learning French.

1990 -- I made my first scientific poster presentation at a Pew Conference for undergraduates -- at the University of Chicago.  My very first paper ever is published -- in physical chemistry -- as a result of work I assisted on after my freshman year of college.

1991 -- I was awarded a National Science Foundation Pre-Doctoral Fellowship. I graduated from college, moved to Chicago to start graduate school at the University of Chicago and moved in with my boyfriend from college.  I figure out how to send email using pine.

1992 -- I passed my pre-lims and was formally admitted to the Committee on Immunology PhD program.  I started work in T cell activation in Jeff Bluestone's lab.

1993 -- I got engaged to the college boyfriend.

1994 -- I went to my first "professional" scientific conference and delivered my first presentation to an international audience of scientists.  I learned how to ski (downhill -- I already knew how to cross country ski). My most important publication was published in Immunity describing the novel behavior of the CTLA-4 molecule (I was the first person to determine that it had a negative regulatory effect on T cell activation -- this was also one of the first ever publications describing any negative regulatory molecules for lymphocytes).

1995 -- I got un-engaged to the college boyfriend.  Lived on my own for the first time ever.  Was taught how to knit by my good friend Judy (who has made several guest appearances here).  I learned how amazing friends can be.

1996 -- I met John.   Through an internet personal's site, before it was cool.  If there is any event in my life more significant than this one, I couldn't tell you what it was.

1997 -- I defended my thesis and was awarded my Ph.D in Immunology.  I got engaged to John, which grounded me in so many good things.  I started my post-doc, which would be two of the most professionally challenging and emotionally trying years of my life.

1998 -- I married my soul mate.  I visited Australia and snorkeled in the Barrier Reef.  I became friends with Sue, who I don't see often enough any more, but who will always be one of those people who I never really lose touch with. John bought me my first Palm device.

1999 -- I visited Europe for the very first time with a trip to Madrid, Spain.  I turned 30. I made a complete career change and started my masters degree in Computer Science.  I met Julie in my discreet mathematics class over a Palm device malfunction 

2000 -- I got my first programming job "in the real world".  I suffered through the adult version of Whooping Cough (I do not recommend this).   

2001 -- I got my first job in bioinformatics at the company I still work for.  John and I bought our first real house -- in the heart of Chicago.  We both still look at it as one of the best purchases we've ever made.

2002 -- I started my blog.  It was supposed to be more focused on science.  It became a craft blog as I got more and more excited about knitting -- with plenty of help from Julie.  And I got to be blog neighbors with Emma -- who was my real inspiration to start sock knitting.  I also visited Paris for the first time.
 
2003 -- John and I vacation on the French Riviera. I knit my first pair of socks. I went to my very first fiber festival -- Michigan Fiber Festival.  John and I celebrated our 5th anniversary. 

2004 -- I made my very first trip to Maryland Sheep & Wool. I got my Master's Degree in Computer Science from DePaul.

2005 -- I learned to spin on a drop spindle courtesy of Claudia. John and I vacationed in Maui, one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.  I was promoted to VP & General Manager where I work.  I got pregnant for the first time and had my first miscarriage.  The learning of the first thing was very helpful later on in dealing with the coping with the third thing.

2006 -- I got my Lendrum spinning wheel for my birthday.   I designed the Here There Be Dragons socks in honor of my sister-in-law. I took on a challenge to knit socks for all my family members -- and was successful.  I had my second miscarriage, had a fibroid removed and John dealth with a detached retina.  John and I visited Kauai -- in hopes of banishing our health issues to the past for a while.

2007 -- John's father passed away.  I took my first quilting class. My beautiful baby girl was born -- and went to her very first fiber festival.  My father had some major and incredible surgery.

2008 --  We took Z on her first vacation to Florida.  I was honored with Godmotherhood for one of my beautiful little nieces and I became an aunt for my very first nephew.  I got my very first digital SLR.  John and I celebrated our 10 year anniversary!

2009 -- With any luck, I will learn to weave, take another nice vacation, get to MS&W and have other crafty adventures.

In the end, I have not cured cancer.  I am not the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.  I have not climbed Mount Everest or even run in the Chicago Marathon.  But I have helped to create a very wonderful family, I have made friends with some extraordinary people, and I have a career in an field that almost didn't even exist when I started grad school and over 20 scientific articles that bear my name. I have learned a whole collection of crafty things that make me happy and help me center myself. 

As I enter my 40th year, I really feel like, at some level, things are still just at the beginning for me, even though I know that I have most likely walked down half of my trail.  I am more confident than I ever was.  Have more inner strength than I did in college.  I don't spend as much time worrying about trying to change the world, but I am trying to do my best to make a difference where I can.  I have no way to predict what the next 20 years will bring me, but I hope it includes a healthy family and friends, an opportunity to travel and the time to enjoy my crafy pursuits.

P.S.  This wasn't really meant as a meme, but if you're feeling like you need a meme in your life and you do a similar retrospective, leave me a comment and let me know.   

For anyone who has been following this blog for a while, you already know that I am pretty much the world's worst resolution maker and keeper.  I have lots of good intentions, but I tend to be both over optimistic and under-motivated.  So instead of making resolutions, I thought I would just dream a little bit and talk about a few of the things I would like to do this year.  Some are practical, some are not.  But I guess they all relate to who I am as a person this year and what directions I'd like to go in during 2009.

  • I'd like to get back in the habit of having regular check-ups with my GP (means I must get one...), my dentist and my gynecologist.  It's so easy to let the time fly by on this stuff, but I am beginning to realize, as I get older, that it's also unfair to my family if I don't take care of myself.  If I can get regular monthly appointments to have a facial then certainly I can schedule two trips to the dentist and annual visits to see my doctors.
  • I'd like to turn my bedroom into the adult retreat that I have always envisioned it would become.  John and I are coming up on 8 years in our house and it is time to stop looking at it as a transition home and start treating it as the place I plan to stay.  The bedroom is a small step, but a step that I think would add a lot of quality to our lives.
  • I'd like to return all the help and space John gave me in the months after becoming a mom by making sure that he gets some time back in his life.  Taking over some small chores, doing more of the grocery shopping -- that sort of thing.
  • I'd like to get back to going to a regular knitting group.  Since having Z, this has been harder than I thought it would be. 
  • I'd like to spin more often.  My wheel has been sidelined most of the year and when I got it out not too long ago and got it back into shape (note to self: rubber bands dry out) it was a real pleasure to work with it.  Spinning brings me peace.
I think if becoming a mom has taught me anything, it's that I can still do a lot, it's just that I can't do it all at once.  The first place in my life I learned that was blogging.  It's become apparent that there is no way that being daily is realistic anymore.  So most of these things on my list reflect that lesson: small things that have value, simple things that focus on my family.

You might be surprised not to see any Z-related items in that list.  She is so much the focus of life right now (and for good reason) that I don't really think I need to add anything more to my wish list.  I work 80% time so that I can have a day with her every week.  I enjoy taking her with me to stores with shopping carts -- we both have fun shopping together.  I have some projects for her on the needles, and I just made her several nice pairs of socks.  When it comes to Z, it's all good, and I suspect that it will only continue to get better and more rewarding as the year goes on.

A belated Happy Thanksgiving to all who were celebrating today.  It was a restful day spent at my parents house with an incredibly excited baby who couldn't believe her good fortune when she saw some of the new toys that her grandparents had found for her.  She was especially thankful for the little table and chairs and simple shape puzzle. 

What am I thankful for this year?  Many things.

  • I am thankful for a healthy family.  Last year we were dealing with my father's heart surgery situation which blossomed into far more than it should have.  This year, he is healthy, happy and also enjoying better mobility from a very successful hip replacement. 
  • I am thankful for a beautiful, vivacious, active and loquacious baby girl.  She has made my heart grow bigger and watching her grow and mature is just the most amazing thing I've been a part of.  Every day she brings something new into my world.  Today it was adding adjectives to nouns "Flowers!  Pretty!" 
  • I am thankful for my wonderful, caring husband.  He constantly helps me see so many different sides to things and always helps me be a better person than I am sometimes inclined to be.  He also never complains about my hobbies or the time they take or makes me feel bad when I need some space.  He is a rare and wonderful person.
  • I am thankful for my brand new baby nephew -- my brother's first child.  I will probably be this child's only aunt, and I plan to spoil him silly even though he is far away in Houston.  He is a beautiful healthy little guy and I am sure the world will be a better place for his presence in it.
  • I am thankful for the good friends I have.  Making friends has never been easy for me, so I cherish the ones that I have.
  • I am thankful that John was able to find a new job, and one that he is very happy to be taking on.  I hope it opens up new doors for him and brings fun challenges his way.
  • I am thankful for vacation time and grand parents who find joy in spending time with Z
I feel like I could go on and on this year, but what it really comes down to is that I am thankful for my family and the good things that have happened this year.  I think Thanksgiving, in some ways, is better than New Years for looking back and thinking about what the year has dealt you.  It encourages you to look at your blessings instead of counting your hardships and failures.  It's always a time that makes me realize how truly lucky I really am.

Election Day, 2008

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There is so much that I could say... but I think I said most of it 4 years ago.  Reading back over my pre-election sentiments for the 2004 US presidential elections, I find myself confronted with a blog post that comes deep from my heart, that I still love and that still is as heartfelt and topical today as it was in 2004.  Perhaps you would like to re-read it -- or read it for the first time if you started visiting my blog after 2004.  Don't worry, I'll still be here when you come back.

I am the Lorax


I think it is more true for this year and my candidate choice for this year than it was for John Kerry.  The real difference in that election is that while I thought John Kerry was ok, I was really voting against George Bush.  This year I find myself truly excited to be voting for Barack Obama. So excited that I am going to take Ms. Z with me when I go to vote tomorrow morning.  It has become incredibly important to me that I be able to tell her that she was there when the great people of the US elected a truly great man to lead them for the next 4 years.  That she was there to be part of history, even if only in a small way. 

Not only that, but I believe that as the citizen of a country with a rich democratic heritage, it is my responsibility to help my children to understand and be a part of the democratic process.  It is not convenient, really, to take a baby to a voting booth.  I know she will not remember.  But maybe as she gets older and she goes with me again and again, this first primordial voting experience will help deepen in her the understanding of how important it is to participate in selecting our country's leadership at both the local and national level. 

There have been many eloquent voices speaking about why and how and who they vote for.  This year, I'd like to point out Carolyn's rationale for why and how she votes.  I think it's well written and beautifully stated and contains some very useful information, to boot.

I don't vote my tax bracket

Vote, my friends.  Vote carefully and with thought for what you want the next four years to look like.

*Updated: I corrected the link to my old post. Thank you Holly! 

Random Weekend

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Just some random high- and low- lights from the weekend so far:

  • The Zebra Striper dress is blocked I'm working on the finishing.  A four hour nap today let me finish both the duplicate stitch details and most of the neck line edging.  I am getting really excited about finishing this project.
  • I have more skein of the yarn that I need for Rogue than I thought I did.  Fears about not having enough yarn are allayed for the moment.
  • New iPhone firmware update definitely a good thing.
  • Heavy rain all day long kept us from heading out to the Renegade Craft Fair.  Hopefully tomorrow will be better. 
  • Ms. Baby has learned to go downstairs by walking forward and hanging onto the railing.  No place in the house is safe, now.
  • All the recent days rain has resulted into seepage into our basement guest bedroom.  Nasty mildew under some bookcases.  Looks like we will be doing some unplanned remodeling.  Sigh.  I wanted tile in that room, but really didn't want to start that project now.  Anyone know a good, reliable mason in Chicago?
  • John's big home media computer upgrade hasn't gone quite as planned.  Our Sage server (a DVR that supports the whole house) is unavailable.  No Alton Brown or Mythbusters to knit to.
Time to do some therapeutic cabling, I think.

You Know You're A Grown Up When...

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Today was a real milestone day.  When it started, I didn't know it would be, but I think that's true of a lot of milestones that I hit.  They sneak up on me and whack me in the back of the head with a rubber chicken and giggle as they pass me by.

When John and I got married, we had one lovely sports coupe (a Subaru SVX that on lovely summer days we still miss) and my functional but not as lovely Ford Escort.  After finishing up my PhD and getting started on my post-doc, I got obsessed with having a car that I really adored.  A sporty car that reflected the fact that I was a young professional with a personality.  The Escort ("Annie" -- from Harry Chapin's "Mail Order Annie"*) went off to my Dad and my Mercury Cougar ("Corey" -- from Harry Chapin's "Corey's Coming"**) filled her spot in the garage.  John and I now had two mostly impractical vehicles -- Corey being somewhat more practical because she was a hatchback -- but with no children in the picture, it wasn't a big deal.  We were happy even if other people thought a garage filled with sports coupes didn't make a lot of sense.

When the time came to replace the Subaru, John and I decided that if we were going to get a new car, it had to have 4 doors.  While the kid thing was in the back of our minds, the most prominent thought was just to be able to put 4 adults in a car comfortably.  John doesn't have too many expensive hobbies or too many things that he spends money on, but he does like to have a nice car.  We settled on a Jaguar X-type because not only did it have 4 doors, but it also came in AWD and had a stick -- practical and fun.  And since we got it, it's been a good car for us.  When Z arrived, it became the car with the baby seat since the Cougar, while it could, in fact, safely have a baby seat installed, with two doors, was not a whole lot of fun to put a baby seat in.

And that, combined with the fact that the Jag's backseat is not all that capacious given the ginormous size of the infant and toddler carseat system we chose, got us thinking about a more family friendly vehicle.  SUV's were out because neither of us liked the idea of parking a behemoth in the city, or the gas mileage that usually comes along with them.  John and I have what we refer to as a "Minivan Deathpact" (i.e. we will shoot each other before we get one)***, so those were out, too.  That left us with the station wagon or large sedans.  And we eliminated the sedans because we wanted a car with more of a hatch-back like carrying option.

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Does this look like the nose of family vehicle?

Just like when we got the Jag, we wanted something sporty and fun to drive.  Add a manual transmission and a back seat that can accomodate our baby seat onto that and the field of options gets very narrow very quickly. We weren't in any hurry though, so John had time to find us the perfect car.  Last weekend we brought her home.  Enter Inga, my beautiful new Swedish girl -- a 2004 Volvo V70 R station wagon.  With a 6 speed transmission and 300 hp under the hood you pretty much forget you are driving a station wagon when you sit in her cockpit.  And the one we bought is in such good condition it feels like a new car.   John and I have actually been fighting over who gets to drive her! 


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Most definitely!  But I'm Still In Love!

All of which meant that it was time to send our second coupe to a new home.  In a surprising stroke of good luck, we sold her this afternoon (we thought a 9 year old sports coupe with manual transmission might take a while to sell).

As she was driving away with her new owner.  Recently detailed 17" alloy rims shining in the late summer sunshine, I had that realization.  The rubber chicken to the back of the head.  John and I had a baby and now owned only eminently practical cars.  Not only that, but we both really like and are happy with our eminently practical cars.  And I have become a Volvo station wagon driving mom.

At this point, I looked around my house.  Noticed the the foam corners on my impractical glass coffee table.  Noticed that all my impractical interior decorations have been moved out of baby reach or moved out of circulation all together.  Thought about how we are now in the market for baby-proof door latches and baby gates for our stairs.  Remembered that I could no longer do simple things like leave my knitting or my laptop on the couch.  Was reminded that restaurant selection criteria now includes whether they have high chairs and serve French fries.  Realized that almost all of our outings are planned around naps.

And that's when it hit me.  John and I have become parents.  Completely unhip, completely practical grown ups.

And you know what?  I wouldn't trade it for anything.

* I became a Harry Chapin fan through my father.  "Mail Order Annie" tells the story of a mail order bride who comes to be the wife of a farmer in North Dakota from the point of view of the farmer who is waiting for her to get off the train.  When I got Annie, my dad, who worked for Ford, handled the process for me and drove her to Chicago for me so that I didn't lose any time in grad school, so she was my Mail Order Annie.

** The Cougar got her name from another Harry Chapin song "Corey's Coming" and it tells the story of an older main who worked in a train yard and befriends a younger man by telling him stories "of the glories of his past -- but he always saved his story of his Corey for the last".  When the old man passes on, the younger man is at the funeral when Corey arrives and becomes the young man's story and dream as well as he takes over the old man's job.  At the time, Corey was my dream car.  But I had to order her and wait for her to come in by train from the Flat Rock plant in Michigan. 

** I mean no offense to those of you who happily (or unhappily) drive minivans.  In fact, over our Florida vacation, we had one and it was a handy vehicle for 4  adults and a baby.  For John and I, it's just a symbol of Chicago suburbia and something we made a conscious decision to get away from when we bought our house in the city. It's one of those jokes we have between us.  Like all things, there's just different strokes for different folks.  We have no problems with minivans or the suburbs for people who are happy with them -- they just aren't things that make us happy


These Socks Were Meant for Walking

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In late May I made a deal with myself:  if I could get rid of the extra baby weight I was carrying by September, I could keep the cute clothing in my closet that I had loved so much before I got pregnant with Ms. Z.  Otherwise, I needed to deal with reality and accept that I needed to send it on its way in order to make room for clothes that fit me.  May was the month when Z decided that she was no longer really interested in nursing and, thus, I lost all the excuses I had for not embarking on a project to lose the 15 lbs that had been lingering since Z was born. 

In June I jumped back onto the Weight Watchers bandwagon (the online version, no meetings required) to help me get focused on eating healthier and being more aware of portion sizes.  One of the other elements that the WW plan encourages (if only so you can give yourself an extra treat or two during the day) is adding some exercise into your daily routine.  At first I ignored that part of the plan, but as June turned into July and I wasn't making quite the progress I wanted to (I am impatient in all things) I decided that I would start working something simple into my day.  I updated my podcasts, got them loaded on my iPhone and spent half an hour at lunch to walk laps around my building while listening to NPR Science Friday (which seemed appropriate, given where I work). 

Most knitters would not have taken as long as I did to realize that I could extend this exercise and education event into something that also gave me more knitting time.  But finally it did occur to me that I could combine my walks with a simple knitting project.  Now, not only would I look forward to my walks as a break from the frigid temperatures in my building and a chance to catch up on some interesting science that wasn't a part of my regular reading, but I could also look forward to making progress towards adding more socks into my fall wardrobe.

The socks I chose have, like the Kusha Kusha scarf and the Stained Glass scarf, been lingering in my project basket.  No good reason, really.  I like the yarn (a nice blend of cotton and elastic hand-dyed by Greenwood Fiberworks), the socks are simple.  I guess I just got a little bored and the colors (it's the Rocket Pop colorway) aren't really my ideal colors so when Z was born, I focused on things that really inspired me since my crafting time was sparse.  But for walking and knitting, simple is a must, so these socks became a perfect project.  And, lo and behold, after not too long, I had completed the first member of the pair.

And while I won't be all the way to my final target weight exactly by September, I'm happy with what I've done so far (there's nothing like being able to get into some of my pre-maternity jeans to keep me motivated and it's a thrill to watch some of my tinier tops actually fit again) so I'm pretty sure that I will, ultimately reach my goal.  And between my sock project and my podcasts and the clothing options, I definitely have lots of good things to help me keep motivated and moving in the right direction.

Thank you to everyone who left positive comments about John's Stained Glass Scarf.  In spite of being time consuming, I do think it's lovely, and getting some positive feedback has motivated me to put it in my knitting bag when we head off to SW Michigan tomorrow for a little vacation and to take in the Michigan Fiber Festival. MFF is one of those small festivals that really draws a number of very nice vendors, and, if the weather is nice, is a lovely place to spend the afternoon.  I'll be there on Saturday trying to convince Ms Z that sheep are cool and John that a girl can never have to much hand-dyed wool and looking for the perfect fall sweater idea. 

Happy Mother's Day

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This year will be my first "real" Mother's Day.  Last year, I was about 7 months pregnant and waiting for the arrival of the baby that I had worried would never be a part of my life.  Although I was already dealing with the limitations that pregnancy puts on you (limited coffee, no alcohol, an increasingly tent-like wardrobe, too many doctor visits and all the usual mobility issues) I had no idea, really, of the changes that were coming.  I knew changes were coming, but I had no way of really understanding what they would mean -- that one day I was going to go into the hospital and a few days later I was going to go home a completely different person.  It's one thing to be pregnant.  To have made the full transition into motherhood is something else entirely.

And, while I have loved most of it, I could hardly say it was all roses.  The first two months taught me that I could function on two three hour naps at night with most of my good nature intact.  I struggled with all sorts of worry about breastfeeding and introducing pacifiers (Z refused them) and bottles (something I should have been more open to so that I could have given myself the occasional break from nursing).  I learned to deal, albeit somewhat badly, with a baby, who, at roughly 5 PM every evening went through a fussy period that could only be soothed by constant motion at a time when I just wanted to be still.  I also discovered that "working from home" without supporting baby care doesn't work, even with a relatively immobile infant -- at least not when there are phone calls to be on and an endless stream of email to be answered.

After two months, the initial shock wore off and while I loved interacting more with Z, I started to really realize what had changed in life.  John and I could no longer go out for dinner at the drop of a hat, and if we did sneak out with the baby, restaurants had to be chosen for child-friendliness.  Doing "regularly scheduled" things such as getting a facial, going out on our weekly date or out to knit with friends, shopping for myself  and just going to work, required a lot of extra planning to make sure that someone could watch Z.  The more mobile she got, the harder it became to indulge in my hobbies.  It's hard to knit and keep a baby from falling off a couch or play computer games while your child is trying to go headfirst down the stairs. 

I'd be lying if I told you that I wasn't mourning my old life just a little. 

But usually about the time I really start to feel the loss of my old ways, I have a moment that makes me push the loss aside.  It can be the feel of little hands pulling on a pant leg to ask to be held and to share a gummy smile.  Sometimes it's coming home from work and having Z practically "run" over to me to welcome me home.  Or watching her hit some new milestone and getting to share in the triumph of that new experience. Often it's walking her to sleep in the basement, and getting to watch a baby angel fall asleep in my arms.  What could be more special than knowing that I can give her the comfort and love she needs to drift off into a peaceful nap? 

Z has taught me to value my time and to use it more wisely.  I pick projects more carefully, waste less time aimlessly cruising the internet, and just generally try to keep things more organized so I don't waste time cleaning up or looking for things that I need so that I can work on something I want to do.  I'm more focused at work and plan out routine shopping trips to get them done more efficiently.  On the other hand, I don't worry now if I don't get to all the house chores or I don't have time to blog or if I fall behind on my correspondence if I am trading those things for time spent with John and the baby, not doing anything but being together as a family. 

Welcoming a baby into my world has helped me to reflect on myself and who I want to be a great deal.  I want to be someone that my daughter will always be able to look up to, love, and respect.  I want to be a good role model for her, someone that she will want to be friends with when she grows up.   This desire is helping me control my temper, be more patient, be better to the people I care about and to make sure I am focusing my life and my career in ways that make me happy.  There is still a long way to go, but every day when I see my baby girl, I have more motivation to keep going in the right direction. 

Having Z has helped me open my heart a  lot more to children and people with children.  Before Z, I didn't dislike children, but I didn't really want to be with them much, either.  Now that I have a child of my own, I can understand the magic they bring and why that magic is worth being tolerant of the unhappy screaming child in a restaurant or the seemingly endless potty training stories. I get truly happy for people when they make baby announcements.  I enjoy random encounters with people in stores, restaurants and parks who have children or who stop and let Z flirt with them.  I've always felt rather distant from most of the people around me, but Ms. Z is an incurable flirt.  Having Z has helped me feel closer to the world I live in -- her desire to interact with the world is encouraging me to get better at it, too.

While I have no doubt that my husband will come up with some lovely gift to commemorate the day, my baby girl has already given me the most incredible gifts that I could ever ask for:  her beautiful smile, a desire to be a better person, and a change in perspective that has altered my life, in the best way possible, forever.  On Sunday, I'll certainly enjoy being a mother, but I will really be celebrating the sweet little person who makes every day I have with her brighter because she is in it.

Mama loves you, baby girl. 

Twitter With Me

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I suspect I am one of the last people on the planet to have discovered Twitter.  Twitter is a bit like a combination of blog, instant messenger/text messenger and social networking experience*.   Instead of  a full scale blogging experience, all Twitter "posts" are 140 characters long and once you upload them, anyone who is following your feed can see what you're doing.  It doesn't replace blogging (no images, for instance), but it does allow you to post bits and bobs when you don't have time for a large post to your blog or you just want to mention something cool or give your friends a quick update on what you're doing without sending out an email blast.  And, of course, you can follow your friends feeds and get similar information.

As someone who used to have time to share more on her blog, and who still has lots of stuff to share, just not enough time to type it, I thought I would try it out.  In my sidebar, I've added a "Watch Me Twitter" section where my most recent twitterings will be. And if you're on Twitter, you can find me here -- and my user name is KeybrdBiologist.

* I am also on Facebook but don't show up there very often.  So many webby things to play with, so little time.

First Day of the Month Meme

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I've enjoyed reading the posts of people who have been doing this meme that involves posting the first sentence the first post on their blog from each month.   I was surprised at how many of them did really sum up a lot of what was going on in the life of the blogger posting the meme.  So I thought I would try it out myself. 

January:
Sometimes Christmas brings with it more surprises than I expect.
This is in reference to the beautiful rocking chair that my dad made for me.

February:
Okay.  It is now officially cold here in Chicago.  Really cold.
Cold weather in Chicago and heavy weight socks for John.  What would winter knitting be without socks?

March:
I find myself at a place where my energy is low and I don't have a lot to say.
Spring ennui, anyone?

April:
As I started to think about my path to pregnancy, I realized that the story actually starts quite some time ago.
The back story to the baby and a retelling of my miscarriage stories.

May:
Believe it or not, this picture took me about 4 hours to create.
The stack n' whack quilt for Ms. Z begins.

June:
What is it about small things that makes them so magickal?
The Keyboard Biologists discovers the joy of knitting small things.

July:
It was nice to hear so many stories and supportive voices for my post on Friday.
In reference to getting put on bedrest.  Which seemed like an eternity but ended without warning.

August:
On my last couple of days of bed rest (when I was thinking that they were just in the middle of my bed rest period) I decided that I wanted to start something special just for myself.
In which I decide that that lace knitting and a newborn are compatible activities.  NOT.

September:
If I ever had any doubt about what a good thing grandparents are, they were all set aside this weekend.
This needs no subtext for any new parent with supportive new grandparents.

October:
As September begins to wind down (where did another month go?)  I'm also getting close to the finish line with May.
Ah, yes, I do remember how to knit sweaters.

November:
Both Z and I would like to say thank you for all your good wishes for my dad.
My father has his heart surgery.  He does remarkably well.  My mom and I struggle a little bit.

December:
Finally, at long last, I have a significant finished object to post about.
I'm ending the year with a hand knit item that is likely to become a special heirloom in my collection. 

All in all, these things really do seem to sum up my year.  A year that started with a beautiful gift from my father, progressed into a happy pregnancy, learning to quilt, and giving birth to my sweet baby daughter.  My attempts to create a little time for crafting in the midst of an enormous life change.  My father's heart surgery, which took us all by surprise.  And, finally, the realization that I can knit a little and enjoy my hobbies while being a new mom and going back to work.  I can't do it at the same level as I did before the small one, but I can accept that.  In life there is always change. The secret, I think, is never to get too attached to rituals or schedules, but to enjoy the things that matter to you when you can.

Things I Am Thankful For, 2007 Edition

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In no particular order...

  • Understanding co-workers who have made it possible for me to have a flexible transition back into full time work.
  • A very kind and loving mother-in-law who adores a certain small person and who will be watching her in December.  This is the kind of peace of mind for child care that money just can't buy.
  • Modern medicine.  If you know anyone and love anyone who has ever had major heart surgery, this one is self-explainatory. It is beyond scary to imagine what it would have been like to live it a world where we couldn't fix things in our bodies.  We still have much to learn, but what we know already is pretty amazing.
  • That my family can be together for Thanksgiving.  With my parents in Michigan, John and I in Illinois and my brother and his wife in Texas, it's harder than you think to get everyone together.  
  • A supportive husband who has made having a child a shared experience, and who works hard to make sure that I have some time to do some things on my own.
  • Most of all, I am thankful for this: 
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My healthy beautiful baby girl and her very special getting all healed up grandfather.

I hope you all had a happy, healthy holiday filled with people who make your lives better. 

9 Years

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TLW & JPB, Simpsonized*

Today marks my 9th wedding anniversary. What a year it's been! This time last year, we were dealing with the end of our year of bad medical karma: we had just had our second miscarriage, John was mostly recovered from a detached retina and I had just found out I was going to need surgery to remove a fibroid. Our anniversary felt like a turning point. We toasted to each other with the hope that our 9th anniversary would bring happier things -- or at least less time dealing with unpleasant physical realities.

All things considered, it looks like the wishes from that toast came true. My surgery went well, John's eye is completely healed and not too long after a nice vacation in Hawaii we got pregnant with Z -- and stayed pregnant. In July we welcomed Z into our world, perfect and healthy. Our lives today are completely changed from 365 days ago. We've gone from just being a couple, to being parents. As I write this, Z is treating us to an incredible meltdown -- a reminder that while parenthood is an incredible thing, it's also going to be an incredible challenge. One that we'll be facing together.

I've known John for almost 11 years now. It doesn't seem possible that it could be that long a time. Yet it is. Every time I look at John I am reminded of how lucky I have been in my life to have found such a special and caring person to spend my days with. Now I also get the special joy of watching him tenderly putting a small sock on a tiny foot or cuddling a small body against his to help her get to sleep. We were a couple before. Now, with Z, we have become a family and we are preparing to face a whole new set of challenges together.

Happy anniversary to one of the most remarkable men I have ever met. To a phenomenal husband and a wonderful daddy. May our next year together bring many wonderful things... or at least a full night's sleep.

* Image from Simpsonize Me -- a fun way to kill a minute or sixty.

Due Date

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Today is Z's "official" due date. Somehow, I never thought we would actually reach this date with her. John arrived 4 weeks ahead of schedule and apparently I put in my appearance a few weeks early as well. Of course, I never thought I would have a 3 and a half week old baby by the time I reached my due date, either. It's one of those days that gets a new mom thinking... about what is, and what might have been and what is coming.

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For instance, my technically (by a few days) "pre-mature" baby is just over 8 lbs today. When I hold her, I try to imagine what it would be like if I were still pregnant and awaiting her arrival. I thought I was large at 36 weeks. How big would I have gotten if we had made it to today? It's hard to imagine that she could weigh that much and fit inside me! What would it have been like to push out such a big baby? What would it feel like to still be pregnant and waiting for her to arrive.

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I now live my life in 3-4 hr chunks during naps between feedings. All events occur relative to feeding and naps. The concept of scheduling has become a relatively nebulous one. Unless you count charting her sleep patterns, nursing habits and evacuatory behavior. I spend time thinking about things like nipple confusion and nursing-compatible clothing and trying to figure out just how much milk a baby her age needs at each feeding. And, I spend a lot of time wondering when John and I will get to go out on our usual Wednesday date without our tiny third wheel.

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I have now entered a phase where I think 6 hours of sleep constitutes a full night, but will settle for a block of 4 hours. I wonder how it is that she can be so active at night and then want to do nothing but sleep during the day. I am surprised by how consistent this pattern is with how she was when she was in utero. I marvel at how she can go from peaceful sleeping angel to screaming demon baby in less time than it takes me to go downstairs for a glass of water. And I am less than thrilled with my own low level of patience for when she enters melt-down mode. And very glad that her father is here to help bolster my reserves.

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I never get tired of seeing her snuggling up to her Dad. I am constantly surprised by how much she changes and how each new day seems to bring something new. Simple actions are simply remarkable. Watching her hold her head up and try to look me in the eye, seeing how hard she works to rotate her head from side to side when she gets some tummy time. Seeing her look up at me and smile or try to look around and figure out where the music is coming from. One day it's not possible and then the next day it's old hat.

I've become fascinated by human development. The evolution and transformation of both the parents and the baby. And I'm surprised at my heart. It's as if having a baby opened up a door there that I never knew existed. In spite of all the lifestyle changes and lack of sleep, I can't help but look at her and feel an outpouring of love and happy emotion that I never knew I was keeping in reserve. She has made my world a brighter place, simply by coming into being.

Happy Due Date, Z!

Separated at Birth?

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I now know who my baby looks like. I've started on a project to take a picture of her every day during her first year.

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Zosia at 2 Weeks

This one is from late last week. Recently, my dad sent me some photos from his archive. He was very active in black and white photography at the time and took some beautiful pictures.

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Theresa, Early 1969

Clearly, these babies are related... My poor husband definitely got cheated on this one!

I'm not going to bore you with the gorey details of my Tuesday through Thursday in the hospital. It was nice to have the baby early in the morning on Tuesday because it meant that I got a little extra hospital time. In spite of what I had previously thought, I wasn't in a desperate rush to get home -- though I was in a rush to get my IV removed. After delivery, I had to spend the next 24 hours on the magnesium sulfate. This means getting monitored for blood pressure, temperature and vitals every hour. And being on an IV makes a lot of basic things (like using the bathroom) that are already hard when you have just given birth, even harder. It also meant that I didn't get a shower until I got rid of my IV line. So I wasn't entirely happy about that. But since it wasn't an optional step, I pulled my laptop up to my bed and enjoyed the wireless internet. And the afternoon dessert cart. There are definitely a few nice perks about convalescing at Prentice.

(As an aside, I can heartily recommend Prentice. I received exceptional care from both the doctors and nurses that I had and had access to a great and helpful lactation consultant. I hate hospitals but I can't say enough about how well treated and cared for I was while we were at Prentice.)

Most of the rest of the hospital stay is about getting to know your baby, and getting a little healing on in that place we all like to sit on! We kept Zosia in the room with us most of the time, though in the first day, she took regular trips to the nursery to have her blood sugar checked. It's not a whole lot of fun to have your baby taken away when you know she's going to get poked and bled -- and knowing that the results of this process could mean that she might get an extended stay away from you in the special care nursery. This process put a lot of focus on the issue of feeding. While I had started to try to nurse, if her sugar came back low, there was a policy of feeding some formula to help it start to level out. Since I wanted to nurse Zosia myself, I had a significant fear that the formula feedings might make her a bit breast-averse.

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Mom and Baby with Something in Common

I haven't been a nursing mom for very long, but I want to take a few minutes to get on my soap box about the whole breast feeding versus formula feeding issue. I got a few emails concerned about my choices for Z in the hospital. I've had a number of friends have babies, and every one of them has had a different situation and a different story about what worked well for them. Let me just take a moment to say that the ability to breast feed or feed your baby breast milk, even, is a gift. Not all of us or all of our babies are equally gifted in this area. And sometimes we have to make decisions that are in the best interest of the baby no matter what we most want or think is the "right way". As my pediatrician wisely said, "the goal is not to breastfeed, to goal is to make sure the baby has the nutrition she needs to thrive." He was not trying to dismiss the importance of breast feeding or breast milk. But he was trying to say that a well fed baby is more important than sticking to rigid principle.

I was incredibly lucky -- the lactation consultant watched Zosia and commented that she saw full term babies that didn't have her latching instincts. And I insisted on avoiding a bottle like the plague. But like most new moms, the process of getting used to breast feeding was difficult for me -- after the first day I was in a lot of pain and I had a baby who was latching on like a vacuum cleaner, but who clearly wasn't getting enough to eat given how long it was taking her. After a night of utter exhaustion because of a cranky hungry baby, and breasts that felt tortured, when I finally got her to sleep, briefly, we asked the nurse to take her to the nursery. My heart just about broke into pieces as the nurse wheeled her cradle out and she looked back at me with big open eyes as if to say "Mom, why are you sending me away?" That kicked off my first post-delivery crying jag (it still gets to me when I think about it even now). Now instead of helping to settle down a baby, John had to console me.

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Mom and Baby in a Quiet Moment

But a few hours without her in the room and a little bit more sleep brought something into sharp focus: I was riveting on the process of breast feeding and not on the process of making sure that my baby was well fed and that I was happy as well. I knew I needed for my own mental state to be good or I certainly wouldn't be able to care for my butterfly the way I wanted to. I talked with both my nurse and the lactation consultant for a second time about how to make sure both were accomplished. In the end, we decided to try the SNS system -- this allowed me to give her some extra formula, but have her take it while she was nursing (they run a tiny tube off the end of your nipple) so she didn't lose the rhythm of breast feeding. It worked like a charm and made all the difference while we waited for my milk to come in (it showed up on Friday like gangbusters). Mom and baby were both happy and the pediatrician visit on Friday morning showed that she had started to gain weight again. A victory all around!

Now that I've had my baby, a couple of people asked me what I found essential in the hospital. Actually, very little. Prentice pretty much provides everything you need, barring the delivery deep dish pizza that we ordered. The only things that I would say were absolutely necessary were pillows from home, my own toiletries for when I did get to take a shower, and a patient and caring partner (John remains my hero for so many reasons). After that, a geek girl like me really dug having her computer and her phone. I really didn't get a chance to knit much, only read a few pages in the book I brought. I just enjoyed the time with my husband and my baby.

Things that surprised me most about the whole experience? After birth, I looked about 8 months pregnant. Today, I still look like I'm early 2nd trimester. And I didn't see any real change in my weight until Friday or Saturday. Next, let's just say when it comes to the the feeding apparatus, I thought they were large before birth. Now they are even more substantial. Even the husband is a bit surprised. Third, I don't mind changing diapers. And finally, how happy and peaceful I still feel. I thought a crying baby would make me crazy, but instead, I look at it as a change to understand what makes her work and what she needs. She has one particular wail that sounds, well, otherworldly in a not very pleasant way. But the more we learn about her, the less we hear any kind of unhappiness at all. In fact, she's incredibly peaceful, and we've been getting 4-8 hours of solid sleep time from her at night -- I guess that counts as a big surprise, too!

I'll close the baby posts for a while with something that features both the baby and a some special knitting.

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Zosia and a Hand Knit Blankie

That lovely cabled blanket was made by my dear friend Judy (the one I knit the log cabin blanket for) out of Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino. The purple was to match the theme of her room. It was the first non-hospital blanket that Zosia came in contact with and it was a perfect snuggly blankie for her trip home. Oh so soft for being against baby skin. Note the little foot peeking out of the blanket -- she's already taking after her dad! When we took her to her first pediatrician visit on Friday (she had some jaundice issues we had to keep an eye on) even he commented on how lovely it was. Z is a lucky baby to have such a special blanket to snuggle under!

The Birth Story Part 2: Induction

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I think for a little while (at least) I will be going to a Monday, Wednesday, Friday posting schedule. Right now I'm trying to balance a very accommodating baby, finishing up a few things from work, knitting the occasional few stitches and posting here. I'm not quite in a place yet where I can do it all to the same level I was doing it before. So rather than stress about things, I'm going to back off a bit on all of them (except the baby, of course!) so that I can have the opportunity to do all of them as I would like to.

Back to the story...

Induction for me meant a lot of things. When you're dealing with some of the problems that I was having, it means an IV with more than a few chemicals swirling through it. Since there was no way to tell that I was not going to become pre-eclampsic, the first thing it meant was magnesium sulfate -- an anti-convulsant drug to make sure that I didn't seize during delivery. Since I was strep B positive, it also meant that I needed to be dosed with penicillin to make sure that I didn't pass that to the baby in the event of a successful vaginal delivery. And, since I was being induced, it also meant pitocin -- the chemical that is used to stimulate the uterus to contract.

Interestingly enough, before we got the IV hooked up, the fetal heart and contraction monitors started to identify the fact that I was beginning to have regular contractions on my own. This was a strange thing to hear, since I honestly couldn't feel them at all. But the nurse told me that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

Probably the worst experience I had with the labor and delivery process was getting my IV set. I've had IV's before, without any problems, but Northwestern has a policy of using some really large gauge needles for their IVs. While my primary nurse (an absolutely wonderful woman) took a short break for lunch, another nurse was supposed to get my IV in. Hospital types love my veins -- they are huge, many and easy to find. The temporary nurse figured it would be no problem. But she tried putting the it in the first vein and couldn't get the whole shunt past a valve. I nearly passed out -- the process triggered a vaso-vagal response and even lying down I got close to blacking out. We had to wait a while until she tried again. Same arm. Second failure. She called another nurse who "never misses" who started on my other arm. Two more failed attempts. By this time, I am beginning to feel a little bit tortured and a little dizzy. And I'm bleeding. I can tell even John is getting anxious, though he's trying to be calm to help me. I was doing my best to be good natured -- clearly no one was trying to make things difficult for me. At this point, mercifully, the nurse decided to call an anesthesiologist -- he goes back to the first arm and without any effort at all and almost without me being able to tell, gets my IV in and going. John and I both breathe a little better and they get the penicillin started.

Next up, the epidural. Now, I wanted one of these anyway, but because of my possible pre-eclampsia issues, they can't wait to do it for too long. If I do develop signs of pre-eclampsia, my platelets could go down and make it impossible to do. This is important, because it's very possible that I could have problems progressing in the induction, and if I needed a C-section, it would severely limit my anesthesia options (I would find out only long later that most people would have expected me to have to have a C-section). So after a discussion of all the possible side effects, it gets decided that once my IV is in, the epidural comes next. Given my previous response to the IV, the nurses are concerned that I'm going to have more vaso-vagal problems and black out. I have a little wave of trauma when they tell John he has to leave because it's a sterile procedure and hospital policy is not to allow non-hospital people in the room at those times. In spite of everyone's concerns, the epidural goes in without a hitch, and they get everything started and let John back into the room. At this point, I have come to believe that anesthesiologists with good hands are a gift from above.

The epidural makes me feel a little bit sleepy, my legs a bit heavy, and I start to feel more relaxed. They do some tests to make sure it's working well. Everything looks good, and I'm alone with John and our labor and delivery nurse again.

Now it's time for the real drugs to start. First, the magnesium sulfate. For most people, this drug is miserable. It prevents seizures and lowers blood pressure, but it also can cause nausea, blurred vision and a feeling of being overheated or like your skin has been turned into a giant heating pad. As one nurse told us later "mag moms" are tough to care for since they are so uncomfortable, usually. I was extremely lucky. For me, it wasn't too bad at all. The heat on my skin was oddly pleasant and combined with the epidural I just started to feel a bit drowsy and warm.

Then we moved onto the pitocin. And my labor had officially begun -- 7 PM July 16th.

At this point, John finally had the luxury of enough peace of mind to go home and get some things for him and for me. It was going to take some time for me to dilate. I was unable to feel my contractions, and I had the soothing sound of the baby's heartbeat and the assistance of a very kind and attentive nurse to keep me company. My blood pressure and vital signs were being monitored constantly. And as my contractions progressed, the nurse worked with one of the resident obstetricians to schedule the time for breaking the amniotic sac. The point of no return for me and the Z baby.

John returned with a bunch of things and the nurse helped set up the bed for him. At 10 PM, I was 4 cm dilated and just starting to feel the contractions (very mild, less than menstrual cramps -- and at this point my epidural was beginning to wear off a bit... which was fine with me because I actually wanted to know something of what they felt like). They broke my water (a strange and somewhat graphic experience that I won't share here to spare myself the strange search results that the discussion would generate -- email me if you really want to know) and my contractions started to get more regular and stronger (but still nothing that bothered me all that much). Not too long after that, another anesthesiologist came in to up my epidural a bit. And then I started to get a little more drowsy. John fed me some ice chips to help keep me hydrated for a while, but eventually we both decided some rest was in order.

I sort of floated in and out until about 4:30 AM. It's sort of amazing how it all floated around me. We had a change of nurses at midnight (another exceptionally wonderful nurse who would be with me through delivery), my pitocin drip was increased, the contractions got longer and stronger and periodically I'd get a cervical check to see where I was. I felt cared for, and John's presence made me feel safe and protected. All things considered, I was happy. Very tranquil. Not what I was expecting at all. My blood pressure was completely under control and everything was going the way it was supposed to. It all looked good for a vaginal delivery. Which gave me peace of mind. Listening to that little heart beat on the monitor, I began to get excited about the prospect of meeting my baby. The fear delivery was gone.

It was about 4:30 when I got the most pleasant surprise of the whole evening. My OB arrived -- not the OB who had got the induction process started, who I was expecting, but my OB. The one who made me feel comfortable and who had been working through my problems with me. If anything could have made my blood pressure lower and my peace of mind higher, this would be it.

At 5 AM, I was fully dilated and it was time to start pushing. I had some difficulty getting all the breathing and pushing to work together, and my contractions weren't as regular as my OB wanted them to be, so it ended up taking about 2 and a half hours to push her out -- pushing, as I discovered, while it was not painful for me because of the epidural, is hard work. Not helped by the fact that she was rotated about 180 degrees from the best possible position. The thing that helped me get it all together was a mirror that allowed me to see the progress. It was incredibly motivational to see the baby's head crown. And to hear her constant and steady heartbeat as I worked at what I was doing. She just kept letting us know she was doing well.

I didn't actually see her get pushed out, but I got the image I wanted. John got to watch her emerge into the world. The big tears and the happy smile on his face were amazing. I'll remember the look in his eyes forever. We had done it. Our baby girl had made her journey into the world. John just said it was amazing watching the doctor get her out, get her mouth and nose suctioned and get her "necklace" disengaged -- her umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck three times (no one made a big deal out of this -- apparently I had a very long cord). And then, right around 7:30 AM there was the big cry -- a lusty baby voice filling the air. Probably one of the most beautiful sounds I've ever heard.

She got whisked away to the pediatrics team that had come in (it's amazing how much staff co-ordination is going on... once I got close, my doctor and the labor and delivery nurse had them called in) and John rushed to get his camera. We have some wonderful short videos of her first moments. Some beautiful pictures. My OB collected her cord blood I didn't have any real problems with the "third phase" of labor. My OB massaged my uterine area a little bit and then that was over, too. The only thing that remained was a little stitching -- I had a small amount of 2nd degree tearing, but no serious damage (as I type, a little less than a week later, I am mostly back to normal in this part of my anatomy).

I wasn't paying too much attention to that, though. I just kept listening for the baby, waiting to get to hold her. That part took longer than I thought it would, but there's a lot to check out on a new person, especially one who came a little early. It was a magickal experience to hold her for the first time. She started to show signs of wanting to latch on right away, but also was settling down now that she was all warm and swaddled. John and I were in love. There has probably been no moment in my life where I felt I had accomplished something so major and so profound.

And the best thing is... I couldn't have asked for a better birth experience if I'd had put the birth plan together myself. I never had time to create one, and, truth be told, when I started having problems, I figured it wasn't worth the effort since I wasn't sure that I would have many choices anyway, but I pretty much got everything I wanted and then a little bit more.

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Tired Mom Finally Gets to Hold the Baby

Friday: The Hospital Stay

Looks like I created a little confusion on Ms. Z's name. Her proper name is Zofia. It is the Polish version of Sophia and is pronounced "ZOH-fi-ah" (emphasis on that first syllable). As John's mom says "it is a very old name". We wanted her to have a connection to her Polish heritage that would still have a bit of a modern feel. And I think the sound of the name is beautiful in Polish or in English. The less formal version of Zofia is Zosia and we use both names (and still call her "Z" every now and again, too) since we like both. When we looked up Zofia in a baby name book (it doesn't show up in all of them because of it's Polish origins) the meaning of the name was given as "Wisdom". I would certainly wish her much wisdom in her life. Anyway, I hope that clears things up a bit.

We're settling in at home, and while she sleeps on a perfect Friday evening I thought I'd share the first part of the birth story. Which, more or less, is the fact that we weren't expecting to have birth story to share this week!

Once the issues with my blood pressure started to occur, I was moved to the twice a week visit plan to my OB's office. This was to keep an eye on me and Z -- I got my blood pressure and blood work done and she got non-stress tests. She always did well, and I continued to have high pressure issues, though my blood work remained decent and didn't show any real signs of pre-eclampsia.

On Monday, I was expecting to go through the same drill and then head for home to take care of my usual work routine from bed. The only difference was that this visit would have an ultrasound to assess baby size and amniotic fluid levels before the nonstress test and regular checks and bloodwork.

The ultrasound went fine and I got to hear those words every new mom-to-be fears: Your baby has a big head!. As we saw her move and a few good yawns, we had no idea that we were going to be getting a better view less than 24 hours later. Nonstress test was good, too. But then we had to wait a long long time to see the doctor (there was only one in the office that morning) and I spent a long time on my side getting uncomfortable and waiting (not to mention not getting much to drink). When she took my pressure, it was high, even on my side. So, rather than wait 24 hours for my blood work, I earned another trip over to Prentice to the labor and delivery triage unit to have my blood work done at the hospital so we could have the results more quickly.

The blood work came back fine, but my pressures were staying a bit elevated. Another doctor in my practice was able to see me and it was her opinion that while I wasn't pre-eclampsic, that I could be entering a more dangerous place for my health, and the only solution to that was to have the baby. The fact that I was about 1 cm dilated and that the baby was head down were all good things, and suggested that I might not be left with a C section as my best option, although there was some worry that my cervix might need some extra help (it seems that different doctors had different opinions as to what my level of dilation indicated). I was to start the induction process as soon as a labor and delivery suite could be found for me.

I was shocked. And my brain and hormones didn't work together very well at that moment. I started sobbing (not for the last time while we were at the hospital for this trip). I'm still not sure whether it was from anxiety, fear of the unknown or just excitement. So much was going on in my head. John just held my hand and looked into my eyes and told me everything was going to be okay. And reminded me how exciting it was going to be to meet our baby soon. He helped gather up some of my things (no, we did not have our hospital bag packed) and get ready for the move from the triage unit to the labor and delivery.

A long about 4 PM (the morning started for us at 10:30 at my OB's office) we got a labor and delivery room -- LDR 9. A nurse (one of the first of many who was to be both kind and exceptional -- I can't say enough good things about the nurses at Prentice) escorted us into our room. Larger than I expected, with a bed (for me), bathroom facilities, and a comfy chair and pull out couch for John. And all the equipment for the baby after the delivery. It was so hard for me to believe I was in this room (we had missed out on our hospital orientation due to my bed rest) so I wasn't entirely prepared for what it all meant. But as the nurse stepped out (telling us that the Labor and Delivery nurse would be there soon) it hit me that we weren't going to be leaving this room until I had my baby. My baby. More fears and anxiety (would the induction be painful? what if something happened to me or her? would I have a c-section?) started, but now an under current of excitement started to fill in there as well. Meeting my baby soon. The culmination of everything. All symbolized by one room and a bunch of equipment.

Tomorrow: Induction

Special Delivery

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Zofia Anna

Zofia Anna arrived on July 17 at 7:31 AM after 36 weeks of gestating and 12 hours of labor. She's 6 lbs 4 ounces and 20" long and came into the world with a lusty cry. John and I are doing well and spending time falling in love with our baby girl. We're still both amazed at the fact that she's ours! The birthing process went well -- I couldn't have asked for better if I'd planned it myself, even though the induction wasn't a planned event. I promise a birth story once I'm a little more coherent!

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Dreams Come to Life

What was I saying again yesterday about getting a little sweater finished in a particular time frame? Wild how some things turn out!

36 Weeks

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Today is a big day. Thirty-six weeks. The Z baby and I have made it into the "safe zone" -- any time from here on out that she wants to make an entrance, she should be fine, developmentally. And any time from here on out that my body starts to show signs of not being able to safely deal with carrying a baby any more, Ms. Z can be brought into the world without too much worry. It's a nice place to be, all things considered, given that the start of the somewhat distressing portion of my third trimester began when Dr. Serious told me I was dilated and needed to be worried about pre-term delivery at 32 weeks (I should note that since then, I have not really dilated any more and I have not had any labor signs). Even if it is Friday the 13th, it's nice to have achieved this milestone. At some level, no matter how it goes now, I've been relatively successful as an incubator.

In fact, at my OB appointment yesterday, my doctor seemed to be getting almost optimistic for me. My blood pressure is higher than optimal, but stable, and as long as I am resting, it is not dangerously high. Still no signs that pre-eclampsia is imminent, although I'm still on the regular blood work plan to make sure that if anything changes, it can be dealt with quickly. And it's clear to my doctor that the baby is growing and that she is still strong. I've had 5 nonstress tests and she's done well in all of them. If things continue to hold, I might get to go into labor without assistance. Though I get the impression that my doctor would prefer that, if my body wants to do it that way, that it not wait until the forty week mark.

And on balance, while I am still not thrilled about bed rest, I'm getting better at dealing with it. Every time I get to leave the doctor's office and we haven't seen signs of pre-eclampsia or set a date to induce I feel like I've scored a little victory for me and the baby. I know I don't have much control over how this stuff is going to progress, but at least getting to this point makes me feel like the bed rest has been worth while.

While I was resting yesterday, it seemed like a good time to get serious about seaming up Lollipop.

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Only the Sleeves to Set In

I figure, I wouldn't want to hold up any important baby arrival queues by not having this little sweater completed -- even though it's likely to be too big for her for quite some time. At the rate I'm going, I'll probably be lucky to get the sleeves set in this weekend, and then I'll still have to decide what kind of crochet edging I want to attach. But that's okay. We don't need any arrivals to happen that soon...

After hearing what y'all had to say about the notion of nice socks at the hospital, I was wondering if I could ask for advice about what to pack in my labor & delivery bag? It seems like now might be a good time to get this ready to keep in the car -- just in case things happen before I expect them to. What should a new mom have with her for the hospital experience? What sorts of things should I bring along for the small person when for her first trip home? What kind of creature comforts did you enjoy having with you after delivery while you were recovering in the hospital? And what were your absolute necessities for you and the baby once you got home?

John's already promised to help out with the shopping to make sure that we're good to go. Not sure what I would do without him right now. He's really been an incredibly sweet and wonderful guy in the face of a lot of inconvenience and extra work.

Well, ring the bell to end the match. The Keyboard Biologist is down for the count. The blood pressure is still up, so I get to lie down. I am going to be bonding with the concept of the horizontal so that my baby can continue to work on her very personal developmental biology project

Strangely enough, I am less disturbed by this than I would have been a week ago. I am not sure if it is because of the warning flag that got thrown last Thursday, or because my primary OB took the time to help me understand what we're dealing with and why trying to fight it wouldn't be in my best interests. Perhaps it is just that the big heart is listening to the rapid little beats of the small heart beneath it. Pregnancy seems to be a real caterpillar to butterfly metamorphosis for me. I feel like the woman who I was in the fall is not quite the same woman I am now... and that bringing my baby into the world will take that transition even farther. Becoming a mother is a much deeper experience than I ever imagined it might be.

Hearing from so many of you about your own experiences really made a difference, too. There is a good deal of strength to be gained from the feeling that I am not alone and knowing that others have made similar journies to mine and that some of you are walking down the same path at almost the same time.

Which leads me to an apology. Not for being whiny on Friday, but for an overactive spam filter that seems to have decided that many of my comments do not deserve to make it onto my blog, and, thus, for the past several weeks I seem to have been losing words that I most certainly wanted to read. I forced Movable Type to cough up what it had incorrectly caught in its filters, and I will be watching closely in the next couple of days to make sure it stops it's bad behavior. In the meantime, if you left a comment with a question and didn't hear back from me... please comment again or send me an email. Or if you just had a comment disappear into the ether, my apologies. Even though I've restored them all, and I've read as many as I found, it's likely going to be difficult for me to respond to most of them from earlier than late last week. So please know that your words are always appreciated, even if you don't hear back from me directly.

Finally, a little more knitting -- some of the fruits of my weekend bed rest activities:

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A Little Bit More Lollipop: The Front Left Side

Since my current situation has the potential to lead to a baby a bit earlier than expected, I clearly need to finish up this little garment soon. Not that she'll be big enough to wear it for a long time, but the little pieces of sweater help me visualize her and being with a healthy baby in the future.

You know, before I got pregnant, I promised myself that I would not become one of those pregnant women.

You know the ones, the ones who can't stop talking about their pregnancies. The ones who seem to think that there is nothing much that extends beyond the radius of their expanding bellies. I was going to remain able to discuss business, life, politics and crafting without having to refer to my "condition". Especially on my knitting blog.

So to those of you who have had enough of the my abdominally focused talk, I'm not going to apologize, but I am going to encourage you to take a pass on the post today. No knitting. All gestational. It's just where my head is at, and writing about what's going on in my life usually proves to be good therapy.

I'm beginning to get a little ambivalent about my pre-natal visits. On one hand, it's good to know that I'm getting good care, and that I'm being watched carefully so that we can all make sure that both Z and I make it to the finish line happy and healthy. On the other hand, being watched carefully often means that more things come to light than you really want to know about. Like glucose levels. Or cervical dilation.

So, this morning I headed off to the doctor figuring I'd more or less gotten past the big stuff to be worried about and I'd dealt with the idea of being confined to Chicago. I got a Bella Band last weekend that seems to be doing good things for me in terms of belly support and relieving some joint pain. It makes a girl feel more or less comfortable with the idea that she's going to have a nice routine visit and then get to head off on her own adventures for the rest of the day.

Queue up the ominous music...

Of course, this morning my blood pressure was high. High when I was sitting up. High when I was laying on my side. Not high enough to be considered high blood pressure if I was not pregnant, but, since pregnant women usually have lower blood pressure than normal, high enough to raise some warning flags. The OB I was seeing did the rest of my checks to make sure everything else seemed good, told me she didn't see any signs of me having pre-eclampsia, but also told me that when it came to things like this, it was better safe than sorry. She walked me down for an immediate ultrasound (the office has it's own) to make sure that the baby looked good and my amniotic fluid levels were right (both were fine -- perhaps the bright spot of the day was seeing the baby on US screen and hearing that she's the perfect weight and size for where she is supposed to be developmentally) and booked me a bed over in the labor and delivery ward of Prentice so that they could run some more tests to see what was going on.

And we all know how much I like hospitals.

But I got settled in there. John came from work to make sure I had company. Testing for pre-eclampsia isn't so bad. Mostly you lay in a bed with a fetal monitor and a contraction monitor and a blood pressure monitor. In my case, you get a very friendly nurse who shares your name and explains everything that is going on, and draws blood more painlessly than anyone who has ever done it before. And you get to have a couple of special urine tests for protein. And your husband feeds you water and juice and takes advantage of the wireless internet at the hospital to get some work done while you work hard at resting.

My OB visit started at 10... I left the hospital around 3:30. Apparently my baby has a beautiful heartbeat and activity level. My blood work is just fine. There's no protein in my urine by either the low or high sensitivity test. My blood pressure has not dropped to where it has been in the past, but its in the "mostly ok" range and it's relatively stable. All signs point to no pre-eclampsia. And that, my friends, is a very good thing. I to talk to my OB (so nice to see her and talk to her) about what could be going on -- and get a realistic discussion of what to worry about with the blood pressure. And I get sent home with instructions to rest and to collect my urine for the next 24 hours so that they can do a more conclusive protein study.

And so here I am at home. Trying to be restful until my return to the OB's office Friday afternoon. I'm not so good at that whole restful thing. And I'm concerned about the fact that my blood pressure is still a bit higher than will likely pass muster (we have one of those little home measuring units), because it implies a good deal of bed rest in my future as part of the management plan. I don't like confinement all that much. So while I'm happy about the lack of eclampsia concerns... I'm feeling a little concerned about what might happen if my blood pressure doesn't fall back into line.

So I'm trying to remember the most important thing... the small person who is growing under my heart. We're so close to the finish line (34 weeks), and in the great scheme of things, this is nothing. Just my own issues with not liking to be out of control of the world around me. So I'm trying to focus on listening to the fetal monitor earlier in the afternoon, hearing her little heart beat, changing ever so slightly when she moves. I've been told that maternal heart sounds are soothing for babies. But right now, it's her heartbeat that's helping me feel better.

Square Ten and a Post Script

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The Tenth Star

I am coming into the home stretch with my stack n' whack stars. This is the 10th out of 12 blocks. It's my hope to get them all finished up this week so that I can get the quilt assembled before the Z Baby arrives. The quilt is destined for her nursery, and, in the interests of time, if I can get the top finished, I'm going to have it machine quilted by someone else. Just a few too many other things on my plate between now and her arrival. I'm happy with this completed block and think it embodies the "groovy" qualities of the fabric I started with.

As a follow up to yesterday's post, I just wanted to say that my trip to the OB's office Monday morning had a much better outcome for me than Thursday's trip. The fasting blood sugar levels were absolutely fine, the doctor expressed no concern over the fact that at this point the Z baby seems to prefer a head-up position and I don't have any signs of pre-term labor that would suggest that my bit of dilation is anything to be concerned about. In fact, exercise is fine as long as I don't over do it and it doesn't irritate my sciatica too much. I'm still not supposed to get too far from home, but that's a do-able restriction, since I wasn't planning on any real travel after June anyways.

Probably the biggest surprise for me with this visit was having the OB I saw today (amazing for the fact that her own baby is due in two weeks and she barely looks like she's started her second trimester) tell me that Dr. Serious had reservations about my condition due, in part, to what she felt was worsened sciatica (I assume because it suggests increased downward pressure on the nerves that might indicate the baby getting into position or my uterus getting active). She never mentioned this to me -- if she had, I would have happily told her that the sciatica was no different than it had been for the past couple of months that I've been dealing with it. I guess this falls into the "hazards of a large practice" place where my previous mentions of it to other doctors didn't get entered into my (what is becoming a very large) file, thus it appeared to be a warning signal and really wasn't It would have been nice to have this explained to me by Dr. Serious. Certainly it would have made for a better experience. Probably for both of us.

Grounded on Father's Day

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Timing is everything.

I've thought about writing this post three or four times. When I first started to think about putting it together, I was a distinctly unhappy camper. Today, my attitude is significantly changed. Whether that change is due to the passage of time or one of those magical growing up moments that still seem to sneak up on me and metaphorically whack me in the side of the head with a 2 by 4, I'm still not sure. But the net outcome is the right one, so I'll accept it either way.

It all started bright and early Thursday morning at around 10:30 AM (well, this is bright and early relative to me, anyway... I still have a bit more time before the Z baby changes all of that) at my OB appointment. I have to say, I wasn't really looking forward to this appointment all that much, because the OB I was seeing isn't one of my particular favorites (my primary OB is part of a relatively large practice that includes a number of OBs and the idea is to try to meet with them all a couple of times before delivery). She's not bad person or anything, she just doesn't have quite the right manner for me -- she seems to be one of those folks who wants to make sure you understand all the ramifications of everything, and gets a little too focused on the things that could go wrong. Just not quite the right mindset for me. Anyway.

Well, after the weight and blood pressure measurements (just fine), the first thing that happens at this appointment is the usual urinalysis and it appears that they are detecting some sugar that they don't like. So that leads to a blood glucose test (fortunately just one with one of those little meters diabetics use instead of a full on blood draw). It's still a little high (125 mg/dl), but probably inline with the fact that I had breakfast not too long ago, and between the cereal, yogurt, milk and dried cherries, I've probably eaten 25-30% of my daily carb requirement and I really haven't had anything to drink (I forgot my water bottle in my hurry to get to the bus to get to my appointment) or got very much exercise.

I don't think too much about this. After all, I've passed my glucose tolerance test with flying colors, and I figure since I have another OB appointment in 2 weeks, things can be rechecked then and probably everything will be fine. But the OB feels that I need to come back ASAP and have my fasting blood glucose levels measured again. She starts to pressure me about this. Could I come in next week? Do I have a glucose meter at home. And I can feel that little bit of panic rise. Well, I'd prefer not to, I just don't have that much time I can take off of work, I say. She frowns and sort of makes it clear that she doesn't think that that is the right answer.

So next we move on to the fun stuff -- measuring my belly, hearing the heartbeat, feeling the baby's position. The heartbeat is fine, but as she feels around, she frowns again and says This baby is in breech position. Now, this should not bother me. She moves constantly and she was head down when I had my last appointment. And I know that 32 weeks is too early to worry too much about baby orientation yet. But the way she says it has that sound of a warning message. And that raises the fear state just a little bit higher. She also takes this opportunity to make me feel a bit guilty for not fully registering at the hospital and having a pediatrician all picked out. But I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. There's only one more thing to do, and then I get to part company from Dr. Serious -- my travel check.

Now I almost didn't have them do one. I had one about 10 days ago (because I forgot about this appointment) and everything was fine -- for those of you who might not be familiar with what this is, it's basically the OB checking out your cervix to be sure you're not dilated -- and I hadn't felt anything that made me think this might have changed. No contractions of any kind I could detect. So I wasn't worried she was going to find anything and I was focused on the happy thoughts of getting out the office and on my way to Ann Arbor.

She does the check. She gets a strange look on her face. She checks a bit more. Looks back to me. This isn't your lucky day. I think you're about a centimeter dilated. I'm not going to put you on bed rest, *yet*, but I don't think you should travel.

But I was really hoping to go to Ann Arbor this weekend for Father's Day. And I haven't felt anything that feels like regular contractions. Is it really going to be a problem for me?

You're an adult, I can't tell you what to do. But I want you to come in first thin on Monday morning and be re-checked. And you can have your blood glucose checked at the same time.

And what happens then?

Well, possibly bed rest. Possibly hospitalization and steroid treatments.

By now I am beside myself. My mind is racing. I don't know very much about this stage of things, but I do know that I want Baby Z to stay put for a bit longer. Supposedly to get dilated I had to have contractions, but I haven't felt any contractions and a lot of the baby's motions are those big pushing on the uterus motions now. Could I be having contractions and not know about it? Bed rest? I'm not prepared for that. Hospitalization? Are there no "take it easy and we'll monitor the situation options"? Suddenly the issues with the blood sugar and the breech positioning combine with this to freak me out completely. And I start feeling like I haven't even had the baby yet and already I'm being a bad mother. My sugar is too high, she's not in the right position and I'm too inexperienced to know what a contraction is. The doctor leaves to take care of my paperwork and make sure I can get an appointment at short notice. I get dressed and continue to alternate between panic, frustration and being depressed.

About the only thing that rescued some of this morning was running into my primary OB as I was on my way out. She still told me she probably wouldn't travel, but also made comments to the effect that "a lot of women hold out okay" and "once you get a couple of weeks farther, we get a little less concerned". Not overwhelmingly re-assuring but better than "hospitalization and steroids".

So I head back home, get on the bus, hardly remember the ride and get home before breaking down completely while talking to John on the phone. I'm conjuring up all sorts of terrible things in my head. John, sweetheart that he is, offers to come home and work from home, and we both decide that maybe it's best to stay in Chicago.

Enter a close friend and the Internet. As I start to google my situation, I start to realize that a lot of women dilate and don't immediately go into labor. A good friend who just had a baby and also is a physician tells me that the first time they did this check at 36 weeks, she was 3 to 4 cm dilated and she delivered just past her due date and she had never felt any contractions up to that point either. She and my mom supply me with a few more examples of people who walked around dealing with the same thing and delivered when they were supposed to. I spend most of the rest of the afternoon with my feet up on the couch, feeling the Z Baby move and trying to determine if there are some motions that aren't really fetal motions but contractions. Nothing. But I do feel closer to my baby, get in a good nap and discover hat my feet aren't their usual level of swollen. So that all seems to be good. And I don't feel so panicked. But I still feel a little depressed about being in Chicago. I almost put this post together, but decide against it. I just feel too whiny.

The depression starts to subside by Friday morning, and I go to work, but the anger starts to set in. Now I'm completely torqued at this doctor. Torqued that she created such fear in me. Torqued at the insinuations that I'm not doing this gestating thing correctly. Torqued that I'm at work instead of enjoying a vacation day with my parents. And, of course, I'm still not feeling anything that even remotely smacks of what I've read of pre-term labor -- not that I want to, mind you, it's just that clearly the sky is not falling and it probably wouldn't have been a problem to travel. After a nice dinner out with John at our favorite brew pub I'm feeling a bit mellower, and think about putting a post together again. But I just can't get the bitter feelings to completely go away. My baby has been happy and active all day long. I hug my belly, decide I just don't have the energy to be bitter in electronic print, and enjoy some more time with my feet up.

With the start of the weekend and a good night's sleep (and a lot of helpful email dialog from my friend) I start to get some perspective and start to think about things. John and I have a couple of very nice days to do whatever we feel like because we didn't really have anything planned. I do some quilting and some knitting and some reading and even watch some TV. John gets set up for his first all grain mash brew. We pick up the Z Baby's crib. And through it all I'm taking it pretty easy, feeling for any sign of the Z Baby's possible early departure (and finding none) and being amazed by the fact that in spite of the heat I can see my ankle bones and the sciatica that has been bothering me is almost non-existent.

I even start to give Dr. Serious the benefit of the doubt.... I don't have to like her, or how she delivers information, but given all the problems OB's face these days with malpractice, I can sort of understand where she might be coming from. If something was really wrong, I wouldn't have been allowed to leave the doctor's office without any real restrictions besides staying away from travel and heavy labor. She's probably forced to do a lot of CYA maneuvers. Luckily, I don't have any more appointments scheduled with her. And I'm praying she won't be the one in the hospital when it comes time for me to deliver.

And after a weekend of close personal uterine monitoring, I've come to the conclusion that no matter how good the doctor, no one spends more time in my body with my baby than me. All my instincts right now tell me that everything is good. My baby is active and while I get a little fatigued, I feel incredibly good. I've been through one round where everything is clearly not good. I know what "not good" feels like. While I have no intention of ignoring a doctor's well considered and experienced advice, I also need to trust myself as well. No two pregnancy experiences and no two women are the same.

I have to admit, me being me, I still feel that I'm being a bit screwed by the system... if I hadn't had a travel check no one would have done this until 36 weeks and then if I was dilated, it wouldn't bother anyone unless I actually started to feel my uterus getting ready to hunker down and get serious. Better safe than sorry is probably a good mantra for me at this point, and clearly there is a more important goal here than simply being right, since a small, growing person is depending on me to take good care of her and give her the best possible start I can. I'll have my check early Monday morning, talk through some more things with a different doctor (one whom I like better) and try not worry too much unless there's something to really worry about. I'll be a good pregnant woman and stay close to home, try to put my feet up and take it easy while I look forward to meeting my daughter. Surely if there are no signs of impending labor, no one is going to tie me down to my couch. And, in the end, it is my choice. The doctor is right. I am an adult. I do get some voice in the decision making.

I called my dad Sunday night to wish him a happy Father's Day. I was sitting in the rocking chair he made me, which is now sitting in the nursery. It seemed like the right place to be. He told me a couple of times how much he's looking forward to the baby and how good he feels about me becoming a mom. That he thinks I'm going to be a good mom and the fact that I decided to stay in Chicago this weekend is just more evidence of how much I care about my baby. Mom's just aren't like regular people he tells me they're special. They know they have to focus on something else. You're being a good mom.

I love you, Dad. Only you could help me put it all together so simply and help me feel better at ease at the same time. I call you on Father's Day and you give me a special gift.

It was at this point that I felt good. And I decided to sit down in front of my computer, and tell another story.

The Sixth Star and a Bump Shot

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20070521_SixthStar.jpg
The 6th LeMoyne Star

This star marks the half way point through the blocks that I am putting together. It has a real "jungle flower" feeling to me. And I like the sort of flower within a flower pattern you get (if you think of the star design as something of a flower motif). I do wish that bottom left piece had fit in just a little bit better so it looked like there was just one little flower in the center. However, it is as several people have said: very slight variations in the diamonds* can have an impact on how the center looks.

It has been suggested in my comments that perhaps I should show off a "bump shot" so that you can all see how Ms. Z and I are progressing. Since I am now closing in on 29 weeks and I suspect that I will soon be ending the "cute" part of my gestational period (signified by the fact that several of the cute little tops that I bought are getting a little more belly baring than I like, I thought it might be a good time to take a picture. Hotel bathroom mirrors aren't entirely ideal, but they do work okay. That said, I am not feeling quite bold enough to make it a feature picture on my blog for a day. However if you would like to see how the Z and I are doing just click here. I'm getting to be a very round biologist! And my little passenger almost never sits still for very long. I think Z is preparing for a career as a professional soccer player!


* I know that a few people have asked how the pieces for the stars are made. The idea behind stack and whack is that you find the repeat in your fabric and then you stack as many pieces of fabric on top of each other (matching the repeat) as you need to to create the geometric shape that you want to feature. Then after you "stack", you get out your rotary cutter and "whack" -- i.e. create pieces of the size and shape that you need to make to get the central block feature.

Three Cheers for My Pancreas

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In the category of "Too Much Information"....

I passed my three hour glucose tolerance test with flying colors. Woohoo! Happy dancing and Snickers bars all around!

And all my numbers were well below the threshholds they needed to be below in order to pass.

The copious whining about tests in pregnancy will now come to a halt -- at least for a little while. Thank you to everyone who provided good words and support. I know it's a little thing, but it certainly became a big thing in my head.

Happy Mother's Day to everyone out there celebrating the holiday. And a most excellent weekend to everyone else. May you all have the lovely weather that's expected to be here in Chicago for the weekend!

The Backstory to the Baby, Part 2

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I'll preface today's entry by letting everyone know that there is some content that might make you uncomfortable, depending on who you are and what your sensibilities are. There's nothing vulgar, x-rated or crude, but I'm going to talk a bit about birth control, some medical procedures that I dealt with and my general state of mind during all this stuff, and I didn't want to surprise anyone.

I'm not going to spend any time hear talking about how I met John -- I've talked about it before, and while it's a story that I always love to tell, it's not really relevant to this one. We met in 1996 and got married in 1998, just before I turned 30.

At that time, both of us were very career focused. John was working on cutting edge technology projects in networking industry and I was finishing up my post-doc. There wasn't really time to think about having a child. And I just wanted time to enjoy being a pair. My parents had waited 5 years after getting married to have me and I always loved that they seemed to have a relationship that went beyond just being parents which made them wonderful parents and people. I wanted the same kind of thing for John and I.

After that, I went back to school to add the computational component to my training and John launched into a new job working hours that went beyond even what I put in as a grad student. Still not time. I wasn't ready and it seemed to me like he needed the chance to really put all his energy into his career without feeling guilty about having a family at home that he wasn't paying enough attention to. And this was the tail end of the dot com era and John was at a tech company -- we had hopes that his labors would pay off in the form of incredible stock option payouts.

Meanwhile, in early 2001, I got a "real job" and we bought our house. Within about 6 months my job became unstable and for the next couple of years we dealt with concerns about unstable startup companies -- on both sides. It still seemed like a bad time, I still had time.

By now what you are beginning to see is that I was really good at finding reasons to avoid the whole "starting a family thing". John always jokes with me that every guy suffers for all the sins of every other guy that his wife/girlfriend/significant other has ever dated, and to some extent that was the case with me. I had a hard time wrapping my brain around why anyone would want to give up their freedom to have a family. And I also felt, in some weird, twisted place, that having a family was giving into the ex all over again. Somehow I would stop being myself and wouldn't be valued for me any more. I would just be somebody's mom.* And I was completely freaked out by how it might change my body. And the issue of labor? Well, that was beyond really what I could think about.

We actually talked a lot about the issue of starting a family... we were watching our friends kids get older and I had started to notice that my clock was ticking. One way or another we needed to make a decision. I needed to make a decision. And for a while I just couldn't. I was scared of all the physical and emotional potential on either side. John, in his own thoughtful and understanding way, felt either option was reasonable.

And then I had one of those cathartic moments when I looked at John and I just thought it would be the saddest thing ever if I never got to see John holding a child of his own. Here I had a guy who I loved more than anything and who I just knew would be a fabulous father and would never see me as just a walking womb. Here was a guy who really would be an equal partner in the process. He was supposed to have children. And the decision was made.

But that didn't make it easy for me to stop taking my birth control pills. It was summer 2004 and I think that was one of the harder things I've ever done... quitting that ritual of cycle regulation. We didn't start trying right away... I wanted to have a couple of "protected" cycles while my body normalized after 16 years of chemical regulation. I think this was really just the whole fear thing coming back a little bit and it was a small way for me to hold onto some control in something that I knew inherently that I couldn't control once it all started rolling.

Needless to say, I was surprised when I didn't get instantaneously pregnant the minute there was nothing to prevent the whole baby-initiating process to occur. It was kind of funny to me for a while... all the time I spent trying to stay un-pregnant and even without any barrier, it didn't seem to be happening. Granted, we weren't "trying" in a focused way. And it was an incredibly stressful year at work, which didn't make things any better. But I just couldn't focus on it that way. I needed it to sort of sneak up on me and happen almost by accident.

So you might find it funny to think that when we discovered we were pregnant at the beginning of November, 2005, I was actually pretty calm about it. Not only calm, but at peace with everything and pretty happy about it. Well, I wasn't happy with the three weeks of miserable morning sickness that I had, but everything else was pretty good. That is, until I had some cramping and bleeding at 10 weeks.

That shattered my calm for the 8 hours before I could get into my doctor's office. But everything came back into focus when the ultrasound showed that I was still pregnant and everything looked fine. False alarm. Sometimes these sorts of things just happen I was told. Oh, and by the way, did I know that I had a few fibroids? No, no, nothing to worry about, but I should be aware they were there.

Scientist that I am, I opted for some early genetic screening to make sure that things were going correctly. By 12 weeks we had a CVS screen and found out that we had a genetically healthy girl. And at my 14 week checkup, on December 22nd, everything looked good and I heard a nice strong heartbeat. We decided it was time to share with our families.

On December 25th, 2005 in the afternoon I started to have some cramping. I was uncomfortable, but I didn't think too much about it, I'd been told that sometimes that happens a bit as the uterus gets used to its new occupant. In the early evening I lost my mucus plug and a rush of fluid. My miscarriage happened shortly after that. Thank goodness my mother was around and is an incredibly strong person. I don't know what I would have done without her. I feel lucky that when everything happened, I was surrounded by my family. If anything brings into focus how important family is, this sort of thing does.

My trip to the hospital was really about stopping the bleeding. A pregnancy involves putting a lot of vascularized tissue in place, and my body was evicting all of it. With through the help of quite a few medical professionals, my family and some atavan, I got through the night, got home, went on. It's still one of the hardest things for me to think about. I felt like I had lost everything. I would just have these unexpected bouts of sobbing. John was totally there for me, but had a hard time understanding. He had just been worried about losing me. The miscarriage was followed up by a D&C a little over a week later. Which didn't really help my mindset, even if it did help me find the OB that I have now and I really like working with. When I was being prepped for the procedure, it was all I could do to keep from sobbing, even though I knew there was nothing to be upset about with the procedure. But it represented the ultimate end of my pregnancy. My daughter. And did I mention that I have a real fear of hospitals. Oh yes.

But the whole thing made me resolved to try again. I was going to have a baby. There was nothing that I had wanted that I hadn't been able to achieve. I was not going to let my body get away with rejecting the whole baby having process. My doctor recommended that we give it a month or two before we started trying again to let things "get back to normal", and it felt like an eternity. One of the few saving graces was that I could head off to one of my favorite happy places and have margaritas. In the meantime, we did a lot of testing, looking for anything obvious that could have caused my miscarriage. A lot of needles and blood later (I'm not much of a fan of needles either) we hadn't found anything out of the ordinary. Which was, of course, good. But frustrating. There was nothing to fix, nothing to change. We just had to try again.

And so we did. This time I was a bit more focused about the process. I charted my temperatures, knew the timings of things. We got pregnant for the second time right after MS&W. I figured that had to be good luck. But I was going to be wrong again. My doctor's office did blood work at 5 weeks to confirm the pregnancy. My HCG levels were a little lower than they liked, so I had another draw at 6 weeks. Worse news, my HCG levels weren't rising. A follow up ultrasound didn't give much hope. Fortunately my OB was wise enough to suggest waiting a few days before scheduling the D&E so that we could do another ultrasound just to make sure things were at an end. I miscarried naturally without any need for surgical intervention. It was a small blessing for me. And, as my doctor said, at least we had one thing going for us -- we could get pregnant. A lot of couples get stuck at that part.**

This loss was a little easier to deal with. It happened earlier and I had a good deal more warning. It was easier for me to chalk it up to a bad genetic outcome, which is usually what these early miscarriages are. And given how hard the first one had been, I'd had a harder time getting invested. I was consciously staying as reserved as I could.

Not too long after that, John had his retinal problems and I just couldn't think about our baby problems. If I'd been offered a deal of having children or ensuring John would always have his vision, it would have been an easy decision in John's favor. All that mattered was that we took care of him and his eye. By focusing on John it was easier for me not to think about the fact that my uterus seemed to be rebelling against me.

The ultrasound I had after the second miscarriage to determine if everything was clear or not tool me back to the fibroids. There was some suggestion that one of the mostly benign things was actually on the inner wall of my uterus. A sonohysterogram a bit later determined that this was, in fact, the case, and that the thing was taking up 3-4 square centimeters of perfectly good, baby -supporting uterine real-estate. My doctor talked to a reproductive endocrinologist and the verdict was that it would be a good idea to remove it.*** At the end of August, I was back in the hospital to have it removed -- it was a pretty mellow procedure as these things go. No incisions required. Most of the work was done as a D&C would be only the tool had a scope and a cutting tool that would be used to remove the growth. But I hadn't suddenly developed a love of hospitals, so this experience wasn't particularly more wonderful than the early January experience. But that's probably a story for another blog post.

Everything went fine with the surgery, and my doctor told me that I was going to have a period that went on for several weeks while things healed (fun, fun) and that I needed to wait at least two cycles before we tried again. John told me that the next time he wanted either of us to be in a hospital was when we had a baby. I couldn't have agreed with him more. And then he smiled and told me that he was sure the next time would go fine. After all, it seemed like I had to do everything three times before it worked.

Baby Z, is, in fact our third time. I consider it a sign of some kind of providence that we got pregnant on the very first try after my surgery. And it's been a very well monitored pregnancy. I've had 4 ultrasounds in 20 weeks (some as a substitute for the more invasive means of genetic screening) and a whole lot of blood work. I still spent (spend?) a lot of time convinced that something bad was going to happen, that something was going to take this one away from us, too. But so far, everything's been perfect. I was barely morning sick (more like a little dizzy for a few minutes in the morning) -- which of course had me convinced bad things were happening -- not very fatigued, and I've felt pretty good through the whole thing. Every time I've heard her heartbeat, its been a treat. Every time I feel her move, it makes me happy. It does seem like the third time is going to be the charm. Knock on wood.

I decided to tell this story because one thing I discovered after my first miscarriage is that it's just about the lonliest thing that has ever happened to me. It's not something that you can talk about easily to other people. It's a sad thing. You bring back sad memories for those who have been there, and those who haven't can't really imagine what its like.

I went back and forth a number of times about talking about it here, and finally decided that now was the time for me to share. I wanted other women out there who might read my blog and have had the same misfortune to know that they are not alone. In fact, it happens a lot more often than you might think -- some statistics suggest that as many as 30% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. So a lot of us have to deal with miscarriage. But not all of us get much support for the process.

Hence my post. If someone out there needs a sounding board, or to tell their story, I'd be happy to listen. I know how hard it is to see other pregnant women, and how it seems like every woman you see is pregnant. How it feels like you have lost everything when the biology doesn't work the way it's supposed to. I know how that fear of loss creeps into the next attempts and makes it so hard to believe that things are going to go your way (believe me... I'm still wrestling with that one), and the frustration with all the medicalization of the process. I've been there and I've wrestled with it myself. So to anyone who needs to talk. I'm here.


*this is not meant to be offensive to anyone out there who is a mom... being somebody's mom is a very special and important thing... this is just to help set the stage for where my headspace was.

** again, I'm not trying to make light of anyone's situation, nor was my doctor. I do feel very lucky that we don't have fertility issues that complicate the situation. And my heart goes out to those that do. When I think about what some people have to go through to have baby, it makes my ordeal seem pretty small.

*** if you talk to 10 different OB/gyn doctors, you will probably get about 10 different opinions on whether fibroids cause problems for pregnancy. It's controversial subject material. But it certainly gave me peace of mind to know the darn thing was gone... I know if I hadn't had the prorcedure and I'd had a third miscarriage, I would have always wondered if it could have been prevented by having the fibroid removed. But a lot of people don't think that a fibroid as "small" as the one I had can really have much impact. Hence the controversy.

The Backstory to the Baby, Part 1

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As I started to think about my path to pregnancy, I realized that the story actually starts quite some time ago. Almost in high school. So you'll have to bear with me as I set up the story. Be cause the road to Baby Z really has two parts: dealing with my own hangups and dealing with some medical things that were beyond my control.

You see, I've always been a very career oriented girl. I had both my parents telling me as I grew up that I could be anything I wanted to be and that I shouldn't let other people put limits on me or tell me what I should or shouldn't like doing. Growing up in the 70's and 80's there were all sorts of exciting scientific things going on. My dad bought our first computer when I was 12 and I loved the thing, even though at school, the only people into computers were the truly geeky guys. But my first love was always biology. And when I got to my junior year in high school I discovered immunology and I was pretty sure I had found my calling. I was going to become a research scientist and save the world with my discoveries. Hey, I was 17 and I still believed I was invinceable. And I was a geek who wasn't very comfortable socially, so I needed to believe that there was something important out there for me to do.

So college was all about achieving that goal. I did undergraduate research, researched good grad schools, focused on science as much as I could. It was all about getting to the place where I could start to solve big problems in science. In the end, I was pretty proud of myself. I got to speak at undergraduate research conferences, I won a National Science Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship and was actively recruited by more than one prestigous graduate program. From a career standpoint, life was good.

During college I also met a guy that I thought was on the same wavelength as I was. Like me, he came from the midwest (he grew up in Chicago) and he was looking at a serious scientific career as an MD/PhD. We started dating sophomore year and by senior year we were picking our graduate programs together. Which is how I ended up at the University of Chicago. It was the one good university that we both got into together.

Time went on and after some intial bobbles, we ended up living together and engaged. That would have been all well and good, but it was about this time that I started to discover that he and I didn't have goals as similar as I once thought we had had. We both were driven by our careers, but it became clear that my career was really secondary to his. Whether it was comments about not wanting to get "just a PhD" or suggestions that I didn't spend enough of my time keeping a clean house, I began to suspect that in the case of the fiance, driven might be re-interpreted as controlling.

After we got engaged, he started planning out the future. He loved kids and definitely wanted to start a family. His own family relationships had been chilly, and he was always trying to prove to his parents that he was good enough for their approval. Which he never got. So he channeled all that insecurity into trying to control the rest of his environment agressively. He decided that we were going to have our first child when we were 27 and our second when we were 30. He didn't really discuss this with me in a way that was negotiable. It was just the thing that needed to be done. He didn't factor into the equation that I would be doing my postdoc in a competitive field that required as much of a time commitment as a residency and didn't cut women any slack for having babies. He didn't factor into the equation that he would probably be doing a residency and would be on call and would leave me with most of the child care responsibility. He just decided that this was what we needed to do. It didn't put me in a very good headspace. Especially when he followed it up with the fact that it was going to be very important for me to keep my weight in check during and after pregnancy. It was beginning to become clear that I wasn't much of a person to him... I was a child-bearing vessel and an arm trophy.

A smart, driven, self-confident woman would have handed his ring back and walked out the door at this point. I like to think that I am smart and driven, but at the time, between the fiance and the learning experience that is graduate school, my self-confidence was at an all time low, and I was convinced that if I couldn't make things work out with this guy, I might spend my life alone. A pretty stupid thing to think as a 24-25 year old woman, but my social skills had never been strong, and I was pretty painfully aware of that. So instead of just telling him he was a jerk and to find someone else to be his glorified arm trophy, I stayed around and started becoming very resentful about the idea of having children and got very religious about making sure that I took my birth control pills when I was supposed to.

One of the things I thank my lucky stars for every day is that we got engaged and then set a wedding date for a year and a half later. It created plenty of thinking time for both of us. Especially when I went to a conference in New Mexico in the spring of 1995. I came back with a new resolve to make things work. He came to the conclusion that things could never work. I was devastated. The real kicker? The reason he told me that he was doing it was that he didn't think I would be a good mother to our children.*

That split, while immediately painful, turned out to be the best possible thing that could have happened to me. People who saw me the next day as I told them what had happened said I seemed happier than they had seen me in ages. And in truth, I was scared of the whole being alone thing, but it felt like the great weight of a bad relationship had been lifted, and I was now free to focus on the things that were important to me again: my career, my hobbies and finding someone who would really value me -- although I didn't necessarily approach them in that order. The whole "having a family" thing went completely out the window.

And then, in the spring of 1996, I met John.

* I know all of this stuff makes the Ex sound like a real self-centered heartless bastard. In truth, he was just a regular guy with personal issues that he couldn't really get past, and he got focused on one very particular solution to those problems. At the same time, I wanted to rescue him from his demons, because I'd always had a warm, loving family environment, and I thought I could help him have that, and could change the stuff I didn't like. As a result, I enabled a lot of bad behavior on his part. After we split up, it was clear to me that we were better friends than partners, and that trying to change someone to get what you want isn't really a healthy relationship strategy. People are what they are. I don't really regret him, or coming to Chicago. But I do regret not having the strength to stand up for myself when I should have.

Twenty Weeks

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So, some of you might be wondering why there has been such a dearth of sweater-knitting activity on this blog of late, at a time of year when sweater knitting is usually one of my favorite things to do. Well, the answer is quite simple. I've been undergoing some rapid shape changes due to the presence of a very welcome visitor.

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Baby Z In Profile

I wasn't quite sure when I was going to post about our great expectations. You see, it's been something of a long road for us to get here, and I spent a lot of time worried about whether we would get here (that's a story for a future post, perhaps). So I didn't want to post until we felt very sure that all was going well. When you're past that 35 year mark, the range of testing options to help determine that "going well" thing becomes quite large. And, scientist that I am, I wanted as many pieces of evidence as possible when it came to knowing about our baby's health (another scientist friend and I were joking via email about wanting "uterus cam" so that we could see what was going on, monitor the heartbeat, etc). Last Friday we had our 20 week ultrasound and found out that from an anatomical perspective, we have a very healthy little girl bumping and bouncing around -- something I've been feeling for the past couple of weeks now. With this information, along with the other good test results, it seemed like a good time to share our news.

Since the ultrasound, I've felt a very profound peacefulness. I know problems can still happen, but I feel like we're through the toughest part of the waiting process. Now it's just a matter of her growing bigger and me getting rounder. We're feeling very happy and excited about her and can't wait until August when we'll get to meet her in person.

And that will be just the perfect time to think about planning for a new fall sweater. In the meantime, I suspect it might continue to be quilts and socks... since it doesn't seem like an August baby in Chicago needs a lot of sweaters.

Low Energy

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Sigh.

I find myself at a place where my energy is low and I don't have a lot to say. I am definitely working on things:

  • I have started the last log cabin square for my baby blanket.
  • I have made some more progress spinning the moorit CVM
  • I have found an layouf for my quilt squares that I like and have started sewing them together.
  • I'm working on a sock in Regia Silk
  • I have engaged in some retail therapy and have some nice yarn and fiber to show off

What I have not done is been able to take pictures of any of the potentially interesting things in good light. I've also been feeling spectacularly unmotivated. I don't know if it's the weather or just the time of the year or the phase of the moon, but mostly what I want to do right now is vegetate. Well, that's not entirely true, I would love to be quilting, but it's late and that would require going downstairs, so I am saving that for tomorrow when I have a day off and can dedicate the entire day to it and can enjoy the natural light in my dining room.

I also wanted to say an extra thank you to everyone who has left nice comments about my quilt or my baby blanket. It's always an honor to inspire people and to be the beneficiary of encouraging comments. Hopefully in the days to come, I'll get past my doldrums and have a few more things to do show and tell on!

Thoughts on A Weekend

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For those of you looking for knitting content, I'll warn you right up front that there is no knitting content to be found here today. It will be back tomorrow. Today I need to write about something else. For the past several days, knitting has not really been front and center in my head.

John's brother put it best: This weekend seemed like it went by an an instant and took an eternity.

And so it did.

John's family is Polish. To be more descriptive, they are Goral*, or Highlanders. When John is in a joking mood, he says that translates roughly what Americans would understand as "hillbilly". But that is really not a fair comparison. Goral are better described as a people of the mountains: strong, fiercely independent, deeply religious, very traditional. In many ways they are the keepers of the faith in ways that go far beyond just attending to their churches.

I am 3rd generation Lithuanian. That translates to an American who understands that the fact that she has an "as" ending on her last name associates her with a group of people in eastern Europe. I speak no Lithuanian, have no connections to Chicago's Lithuanian community, understand almost no Lithuanian traditions. This is how my family wanted my generation to be. When they came to the US in the early 20th century, there were many good reasons not to be identified as an eastern European immigrant. When any of us asked my grandmother to teach us some Lithuanian, she would always say, Why? You are American. You should speak English. And aside from eating some traditional food (kugeli, anyone?) and celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve I know very little of what makes someone Lithuanian. American is what I am. A little bit of everything, a cultural tradition that is always in flux, from a country that still doesn't entirely know what it's identity really is.

It's the rituals in our lives that begin to teach us who we really are. When John and I got married, I was insistant that our wedding not reflect only Polish tradition. It caused a lot of conflict because where John comes from, tradition is so strong. And if you met John at work or at a party, you might think he is Polish the way I am Lithuanian. His tradition is important to him, but he grew up here, surrounded by both Polish and American culture. I wanted our wedding to reflect us. At that time, I thought of "us" as very American. And I still do. But John very much lives and participates in two worlds. I was intrigued by his family traditions but didn't understand them very well, and, to be honest, was a little afraid of them. They seemed like the sort of thing where one could lose one's own identity. And I didn't really want to do that.

Nonetheless, our wedding was marked by the religious ceremonies, the traditional music and musicians and a good deal of Polish food. At John's parents house we received a traditional blessing for our marriage from our parents. When the Goral musicians (essentially a Polish string quartet) started to play the traditional music for the occasion, I started to cry. It was something that just overwhelmed me. The music hit me in a very deep place. As we were walking out the door from John's parents house on the way to the church, a woman who is one of John's close family friends took my hands, Ah Theresa, now you are goralka.

By marrying John, I married into a lot of tradition. Most of which I still don't understand, and, I am sorry to say, a good deal of which I have resisted because of my strong personal discomfort with the religious component of it. It is a selfish thing on my part. After almost 9 years, I am getting better understanding, but I still opt out of a number of things when I can.

This weekend was a growing up experience for me. When the person you care about most in the world loses his father, opting out of things that scare you is not an option. In fact, it does not even cross your mind. I stood next to him at the front of the funeral home chapel for the visitation. I greeted and hugged people who had come to pay their respects to his father and his family for 6 hours. I got choked up when the people from "Klub Ludzmierz" said special prayers and sang traditional songs to honor my father-in-law's passing. I was there when the funeral director closed the coffin lid. I walked behind the coffin into the church. I placed a rose on the coffin at the cemetary and touched the coffin with a final Good-bye before it was lowered into the ground as those who had come with us sang a final song and said prayers.

It was one of the most emotionally wrenching and deeply moving things that I have been a part of. It was a priviledge to be able to stand next to my husband and his family and participate in a sad but important tradition.

When we went back to the funeral home to collect the flowers and few other things that still remained there, the funeral director and I were talking a bit as we moved flowers closer to the door where John and his brother were loading them into the car. He said to me, I hear from your husband, you're Lithuanian. When I first saw you, I thought for sure you must be Polish.

I think, perhaps now, I have earned a bit of the honor of being a goralka.

Rest in peace, Tat. We'll miss you.

* to anyone out there who speaks Polish better than I do, I apoligize in advance for all the incorrect spelling of Polish words that may show up in this post. My understanding of the Polish language is minimal by anyone's definition.

Requiem

There are a lot of posts that I go back and forth on. Sometimes it's because I don't know if what I am going to talk about is interesting enough. Sometimes it's because some topics are too personal for the internet. Sometimes it's because the situation isn't really mine and I don't know whether it's right for me to be doing any talking.

Today I find myself in the same position. I've spent most of the last day trying to decide whether this post would be about my difficulties sizing the fish mittens (not pattern related difficulties, just personal decision and ripping related difficulties) or about a sad family event going on right now around me. In the end, I've opted for the family event, because I really haven't been able to focuse that much on thinking too hard about knitting.

You see, on Wednesday evening, just as John and I were about to sit down at a our date night restaurant table, John got a call from his mother. His father had passed away suddenly during the afternoon. In an instant, what had been a nice day that was going to be capped with a nice dinner, changed completely. We left without sitting down. Since that time, John has been dealing with the realities of his father's passage.

I'm not going to say too much about John's dad. Like all people, he was a complex, multi-faceted individual, and because my Polish is limited to food vocabulary and his English was not very deep either, I knew him in a very shallow way. He was deeply religious, missed farming, and loved his grandchildren. He always took the time to ask after my family when I was over to visit. When he could, he liked to raise bunnies and tend to his summer garden. We were glad that John had talked to him just yesterday and and that he had recently had a chance to go back to Poland and that we'd shared some nice Christmas holidays together.

But this really got me thinking about expectations and how easy it is to delay reaching out to other people in our families because we think we're always going to have another day. Or dropping my husband off at the train station and not kissing him good bye because I was irritated about something minor we were discussing in the car. Or not staying in touch with a friend because I have too much work to do. It's so easy to forget that something that can change your life forever can happen only in a few seconds and you might never get the chance to do something that you meant to do.

So I wanted to use this post to encourage everyone out there to stop and look at the people in your life. Call up a parent or a sibling that you haven't talked to in a while, even if you don't have a reason. Be sure to part ways from your spouse or partner or children in the morning in a positive way. Look up an old friend and send them an email and let them know you're still thinking about them.

Peace to all of you this weekend. May you be happy and have the warmth of the people you care about around you.

Resolutions, Or Lack Thereof

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Heh. It's the last day of January and I'm going to talk about resolutions. Actually, I'm going to talk about how I'm not going to make them. Clearly if you're not going to make resolutions, it really doesn't matter what day you decide not to make them on.

Most of this month I've been trying to decide about the whole issue of resolutions and whether to have them or not. The sad fact of the matter is that I start out with the best of intentions, but I rarely stick to what I've resolved to do at the beginning of the year. It doesn't matter whether I'm resolving to eat better, work out more or pick up a new knitting technique, if I don't feel motivated to do something, or more to the point, I feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task, I just won't really even get started on trying to accomplish it. And then there's the issue of predicting what will be important to me for a whole year. I live firmly in the camp of "life's too short to spend it doing things that make you miserable or don't interest you". So, in general, resolutions made in January are almost forgotten by the time Valentine's Day rolls around. I'm not even going to go back and look at the resolutions that I made last January. I can almost guarantee to you that I accomplished few to none of the things on my list.

But that said, I hate the idea of not trying to set some goals for myself when it comes to knitting and crafting. With that in mind, I decided that I would try a new approach to the whole resolution thing. I would pick one, yes just one, long range goal for the year. At the same time, I would pick one short range goal that fit with what was important to me in the here and now. And once I finished that goal, I would set another goal. That way, I'd always be picking a new goal that was actualy relevant.

The first short term goal for the year was cleaning up my blog front page. I moved all my completed projects out of my WIP list in the side bar into my Gallery (yes, 2006 was a very sock filled year) and I retired the Family Sock Challenge. I have to admit to a lot of guilt about not really wrapping that up in a graceful way. Once again, the best of intentions... But I would like to say thank you for everyone who participated, even if you only participated for a little while. I enjoyed the journey myself and was happy to see that I met that particular goal for the year (I think, perhaps, this is the only 2006 New Years Resolution that I accomplished). Goal Accomplished!

For my next short term goal, I've decided to inventory my stash. I suspect that there's a lot of yarn in my stash that I have completely forgotten about. I'd like to do more shopping from my stash in the future. I'd also like identify yarn that I will likely never do anything with and help it move along it's way into a place where it will get used. Seems like that would be easier if I had an inventory to help me keep track of my yarn. I'm about 2/3rds of the way through this project. So I think success is a possibilty.

On the long term goal side, I've decided to set two, one related to my personal life, and one related specifically to knitting. The personal one is a simple, but important one. I want to end every day with a clean desk. I don't know what it is, but a cluttered desk really clutters my brain. In order for me to accomplish anything, I need to clean my desk. Since I work from home and I also like to design at my desk, I decided that it is time to get my act together and just make it a goal to clean up every night before I go to bed. At some point, there will be photographic proof of this behavior. But it does require that I take the task on tonight...

The knitting goal is also a simple one (and one that I've had before). I'm going to work on clearing out some lingering projects. Either I'm going to finish them or rip them. The project I'm going to start with is a project that I started this time last year: the Stained Glass Scarf from Handknit Holidays. This scarf is for John and it's gotten pretty darn cold here in Chicago and my sweetie needs a little more insulation. This scarf stalled mostly because spring started to approach and the double knitting seemed to be taking an interminably long time. It's not hard, it's just tedious. So I've decided that I'm going to put this one in my hand bag and just work on it whenever I get a few spare minutes. I'm not going to get stressed about finishing it any time soon, but I am going to try to make some slow and steady progress. The fabric is wonderful and the yarn is nice to knit with, so it's definitely worth completing this one.

My progress so far?

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Not Much to Show for a Year's Worth of Knitting

Now I'm off to start cleaning up my desk!

It seems I've been tagged by Sande for a meme that's been doing the rounds lately. Since this weekend was devoted to holiday cheer (two company Christmas parties on Friday, our own big party on Saturday, brunching with good friends who came in from Madison for the party on Sunday morning and plowing through some Christmas shopping on Sunday afternoon) I find myself largely without any significant knitting or spinning efforts to talk about. Thus, this meme comes at the right time for me -- although I'm not sure whether I can come up with 6 weird things, since I've done this a few times before. And I'm going to cheat on the whole tagging six new people thing...

Here are THE RULES:Each player of this game starts with the ‘6 weird things about you.’ People who get tagged need to write a blog of their own 6 weird things as well as state this rule clearly. In the end, you need to choose 6 people to be tagged and list their names. Don’t forget to leave a comment that says ‘you are tagged’ in their comments and tell them to read your blog.”

  • I'm phone-o-phobic. Not sure what it is, and it didn't develop until my adult years, but I just hate picking up the phone. I don't have problems talking with people in general, but it takes a lot of inertia for me to punch in a phone number and call someone. I will happily send email all day long.
  • I like chocolate, but I don't love chocolate or any other form of sweet, really. If I'm going to get in trouble with snack food, it's going to be potato chips or barbeque Fritos or a bag of Gardetto's snack mix. Or Margaritas.
  • I tend to get bored at the beach.
  • If I could live anywhere in the world, money no object, I would probably still choose to live in Chicago, and I'd probably still choose a house in the neighborhood I live in. I might choose a slightly more elaborate house -- or at least on on two city lots.
  • Somewhere buried in my house I still have a collection of D&D compatible dice. When I roleplay on the computer or in real life (have not done that for many years) I almost always play a half-elf wizard. I've always wanted to be able to cast spells and live longer.
  • Someday, I would like to own a parrot or a boa constrictor. I am fascinated by birds and snakes, but am not sure they are compatible with cats. And my husband has made it pretty clear that they may not be compatible with him.

And now the tagging part.... heh. Well, in addition to all those other facts, I'm lazy (I didn't think that being lazy counted as something weird enough to include in the list). I also know that a lot of folks that I would probably tag, prefer to pick and choose their own memes. So, I'm going to turn this one around a bit and instead invite anyone who reads my blog and would like to play along to leave a comment in my comments telling me you're going to participate. I'd love to hear from lurkers. Y'all are more than welcome to do the tagging part, should you want to. I'll have a special follow up post to this one with all the people who left me a comment with a link to their post.

I look forward to finding out a bit more about the people who check in with me every day.

(More fiber content to come, soon, I promise!)

Meme-ing Along with My Friends

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Because I am still too behind in my pay-the-bills work, a bit jetlagged from Hawaii, haven't finished processing my Kauai pictures and still have no new knitting to talk about, I provide you with this meme, inspired by one of my favorite knitting folks, Ms. Bonne Marie if ChicKnits fame.

48 Things You Could Care Less About

1. FIRST NAME? Theresa

2. WERE YOU NAMED AFTER ANYONE? Not that I know of. However, the story that goes along with my name is that my mother was initially going to name me "Katrina" but when they put Katrina with my last name (Walunas -- it's Lithuanian) they felt that it sounded a little too like I was just off the boat from the old country. So they picked Theresa. I'm not completely sure that they actually got past that "old country" feel.

3. WHEN DID YOU LAST CRY? I'm not sure.. probably sometime in June when John and I were dealing with a couple of different personal medical issues.

4. DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING? Yes, I do. But I change it up a lot. It has morphed with me as I have gotten older and entered different phases of my life. What you get on any given day is hard to predict.

5. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LUNCHMEAT? It's a toss up between smoked turkey and good roast beef.

6. IF YOU WERE ANOTHER PERSON WOULD YOU BE FRIENDS WITH YOU? I think so, it probably depends on the day. I periodically go through these quiet introspective times when I am not that outgoing and am quite introverted. So if I were to meet my doppelganger at the wrong time, and the both of us were feeling isolationist, we might pass each other by.

7. DO YOU HAVE A JOURNAL? Yes, many personal things do not reach it to the knitting blog, and there is nothing like actual contact of pen with paper to help me through some of the more challenging things in my life.

8. DO YOU STILL HAVE YOUR TONSILS? Yes. And being an immunologist, I can tell you all about their structure and potential purpose. But I'll spare you that.

9. WOULD YOU BUNGEE JUMP? Probably not. But you never know. Every now and again I have these adventuresome days when I want to ride roller coasters and take doors off helicopter rides.

10. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CEREAL? I think my mom's homemade granola probably fits that bill. Don't get that too much any more (hint, hint). But when I can't get that, I like Kashi Vive and Kashi Organic Promise Cinnamon Harvest.

11. DO YOU UNTIE YOUR SHOES WHEN YOU TAKE THEM OFF? No... but most of my shoes don't lace up, either.

12. DO YOU THINK YOU ARE STRONG? On some things yes. Certainly I am headstrong and stubborn. I feel I have a certain amount of emotional strength. But from a physical perspective, I suspect I'm on the mild side.

13. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ICE CREAM FLAVOR? I'm a big fan of ice creams that combine coconut, chocolate flakes and some nutty flavor.

14. SHOE SIZE? A pretty unremarkable 8. Seems to go well with the 66 inches in height.

5. RED OR PINK? Lately, pink. But maroons and burgandies usually.

16. WHAT IS THE LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOURSELF? I get a little too round a little too easily, and I'm sometimes very unmotivated to exercise.

17. WHO DO YOU MISS THE MOST? My good friends from college and grad school. It generally takes me a long time to make friends. And it always seems that once I've been able to do it, life takes us all in different directions.

18. DO YOU WANT EVERYONE TO SEND THIS BACK TO YOU? Not really, I'm a good bloglines stalker. I'll see them.

19. WHAT COLOR PANTS, SHIRT AND SHOES ARE YOU WEARING? blue, maroon (with a pink cabled sweater hoodie on top), no shoes -- but some lovely blue/black/green handknit socks.

20. LAST THING YOU ATE? A cup of coffee -- Intelligentsia Oromo Blend (Julie is right, this stuff is fantastic).

21. WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW? The cars passing by on the street outside m y window and my keystrokes.

22. IF YOU WERE A CRAYON, WHAT COLOR WOULD YOU BE? Magenta

23. FAVORITE SMELL? Thanksgiving dinner at my mother's house, must include an apple pie baking. A close second place would be Christmas cookie making in my house or with mom/friends.

24. WHO WAS THE LAST PERSON YOU TALKED TO ON THE PHONE? My husband, John.

25. THE FIRST THING YOU NOTICE ABOUT PEOPLE YOU ARE ATTRACTED TO? Eyes, hands, scent... I guess that's more than one thing, but I don't think I really notice one thing first.

26. DO YOU LIKE THE PERSON you stole THIS from? Most definitely! There's no better neighborhood knit bud.

27. FAVORITE DRINK? Frontera Grill's Blue Agave Margarita. Without a doubt. It's the martini of margaritas.

28. FAVORITE SPORT? American Football -- but only if I get to watch with my Dad.

29. EYE COLOR? Emphatically blue.

30. HAT SIZE? No idea. Probably a medium. I'm almost always a medium.

31. DO YOU WEAR CONTACTS? Yup. But not too long ago I bought a killer pair of frames, and now I find myself wearing glasses more and more. What other item of apparel can change your image so drastically and quickly?

32. FAVORITE FOOD? A cheesy omelet with good hashbrowns. Almost anything that involves pasta and pesto.

33. SCARY MOVIES OR HAPPY ENDINGS? I'd probably have had to go to a movie theatre in the last couple of years to answer this question...

35. SUMMER OR WINTER? Spring. or Autumn. I don't really love either extreme.

36. HUGS OR KISSES? That all depends on who's providing them.

37. FAVORITE DESSERT? No idea. But I like most things that involve chocolate, caramel or sour cherries.

38 & 39 Eliminated Due to Blog Context

40. WHAT BOOKS ARE YOU READING? The Eighth Day of Creation by Horace Freeland Judson (it's about the history of molecular biology), Quicksilver by Niel Stephenson (I've been reading this one for a couple of years now), The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (got stalled over the summer, should probably go bakc and pick it up).

41. WHAT'S ON YOUR MOUSE PAD? Logitech MX 1000 Laser Mouse, baby. I don't need no stinkin' mouse pad. I love new mouse technology. I go through mice like some people go through the newest first person shooter.

42. WHAT DID YOU WATCH LAST NIGHT ON TV? The Project Runway finale; a CSI Las Vegas from 2 weeks ago, a couple of episodes of Close to Home that were on the DVR. Guess you can tell what kind of TV I tend towards...

43. FAVORITE SOUNDS? Wind in the trees on a summer day; waves crashing on the shore of a Hawaiian island.

44. ROLLING STONE OR BEATLES? Not fair. If I have to pick, the Beatles.

45. THE FURTHEST YOU'VE BEEN FROM HOME? Australia.

46. WHAT'S YOUR SPECIAL TALENT? I've been told that I can be very motivational. And that my writing is not too bad.

47. WHERE WERE YOU BORN? Upstate New York

48. WHO SENT THIS TO YOU? Picked up from the divine Ms. Bonne Marie, but also seen roaming on many other blogs I enjoy... Cara, Julie, Carolyn...

September 11, 2001

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Five years ago, the world changed completely for many people. New Yorkers were profoundly affected, but even here in Chicago, it was one of those mornings when time stopped. In my office, we were glued to CNN. It marked the start of significant financial hardship for my company, as it did for many small companies that were trying to get financing, but would now have much greater difficulty overcoming the barriers to getting deals done. Since no one knew what was going on,and Chicago hosts many tall, symbolic buildings, much of downtown was evacuated. My husband's small company had a branch in Boston and a branch in Chicago. Several engineers had flights out that morning from Boston to Chicago and were in the air when several other flights from Boston were ending in the most tragic way imaginable. They landed, not knowing what had happened, the immediately rented a car and drove back to Massachusetts. And everywhere you went, one set of images kept hitting you over and over.

To this day, many of Chicago's fire engines drive through the streets with a US flag waving off the back. A constant reminder of the sacrifice many people made in the course of just doing their jobs. It still gets to me a little bit when I see those flags wave by. On that day, like everyone else, I was profoundly shocked and devastated. I was also incredibly proud to be in a country that could handle such a terrible occurrence with grace and respect and committment. One where many everyday people became heros.

Tonight, I will sit on my deck and light a candle.

I will not forget.

8 Years

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Every year around about this time I pull out our wedding album and look for a good picture. Our wedding happened just before the entry of the digital camera into wedding photography, so this process involves pulling out our proofs, flipping through pages and travelling back in time. But the goal is to find a picture from 1998 that reflects back some light from today. Most of the time I am drawn to our artsier pictures. Pictures where we have been carefully posed or are very conscious of the fact that we are being photographed for posterity. Serious pictures.

But this year I was drawn to something different. This year, almost without looking I knew which picture I wanted. We've had so much seriousness this year and I think we're both a little worn out by that. The last picture in our album is the one you see above. We're not serious, we're not posed, we're mostly revelling in the fact that we've survived all the planning, finished all the serious business and we've come through the day, very happy to be married. How could a girl not smile?

Eight years later, I am still completely happy to be married and John still makes me smile all the time. Every thing from little grins to laughing so hard that my stomach muscles hurt and my eyes tear up. He has such a knack for helping me lighten up and put the difficult things aside for a bit. While there is much seriousness to going through life and to being married, for us there's been a great deal of happiness and laughter, too. I wouldn't trade that for anything.

Happy Anniversary, Love. I want to laugh with you forever and for always.

Good People

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Some days I just can't wait to come home and find out what might be waiting on the back porch. Today was one of those days. You see, a very kind blog reader, Gwen (sadly blogless) has shifted her focus from knitting to quilting. And in order to make way for more fabric stash (which I can completely understand, since my mother's passion for fiber tends more towards fabric than yarn) she decided that she wanted to send some of her yarn stash out into the world to see what it might become. It turns out that I am very fortunate, because Gwen, who has read my blog for a while, thought some of her lovely stash would find its future with me.

I love surprises, and while I knew the box was coming, I had no idea what might be inside. After getting all my stuff inside the house, I grabbed the box and my scissors and took it all up to my favorite place to be in the early evening: my upstairs balcony. I love the light and the breeze and the odd view I have of the Sears Tower. I spend most evenings out there when the weather is tolerable. And tonight I had a mystery box to explore.

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A Beautiful Box Full of Color

After opening the box, I got bathed in more color and texture. I just had to spread it out so that I could take it all in and do some serious yarn petting. I've seen Malabrigo before, but I'd never picked it up and realized how soft it was. And here were two skeins in a beautiful blue/green colorway. Ditto for the beautiful rich purple Karabella Aurora 8. With 4 balls, I can imagine a lovely special occasion scarf (I've read that Aurora 8, while lovely, does what most merino does, and pills a bit when it gets used a lot). And then there's the sage colored Classic Elite Premier and Attitude -- pima cotton and tencel and pima cotton and silk blends, respectively. Both are soft buttery yarns that remind me that I don't usually give cotton blends enough of a chance when I knit.

On the flashier side (in the center of the picture) are 3 skeins of one of my all time favorite yarns, Lorna's Laces Lion and Lamb. The colorway, Watercolor, is suble shades of some of my favorite colors and just calls out to be in a special project. And it's hard to miss the Colinette Prism in "Jamboree". I'd love to try spinning a yarn like that myself -- if ever I could convince my fingers to make a bigger diameter, fluffier single.

Just too much good stuff to list!

Lately, I've been feeling kind of uninspired about knitting, but this bountiful box of color has really got my brain whirring away... What could be the best use of 10 skeins of beautiful chocolate brown Jo Sharp wool? Is it cool enough to start on a pair of socks for myself in Mountain Colors Bearfoot? Is the pima/tencel blend a good substitute for the pima cotton yarn called for in Annie Modesitt's crochet cardigan pattern from the last Interweave Crochet? I just want to bury myself in my fiber room and start thinking about all the possibilities.

Thank you so much, Gwen. I am still overwhelmed in the best possible way by this treasure chest from your stash. I promise to give your yarn a very good home. Every time I knit with it, I will remember your generosity and that there is so much good energy and so many good people in the fiber/fabric/crafting community. And someday, I will brighten someone else's doorstep with a special gift in your honor.

Edited 8/19/2006 -- I'm turning off the comments for this post because it seems like the spammers have found something to love about it. Must be that spammers like gift yarn as well!

Happy Dancing

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So today was John's 4th post-operative follow up visit with his doctor. Both of us were a bit nervous about what would happen...the prospect of another week of very restricted activity was not a happy thought for either of us. But we had a beautiful sunny day and a lot of positive thinking as we headed off to the appoinment. All of your continued good thoughts must have paid off, because the doctor decided that John's couch arrest could be lifted and he could "go about his daily business". He still has a little bit of fluid that will continue to be monitored (apparently it can take months for it to go completely away in some people) but the retina has re-attached exactly as it was supposed to and the vision in his left eye is excellent. All of this is most definitely a good thing.

Much happy dancing was done! And John agreed to pose for a picture for me with his "third eye".

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John and His Third Eye

He looks like he's got his eyes closed, but in fact, he's just squinting. They put those dilating drops into his left eye (the one with the tear) to check things out so he was a little sunlight sensitive. John's extra eyeball travelled with us to his doctor's visit (I wasn't brave enough to show it to the doctor, but I did have my hand on it while John was getting his exam, just as a little extra good luck wish!) so that it could be there to provide some extra positive energy and to make us both smile while we were waiting.

Getting that good news was like falling in love all over again -- I think we both felt like we were walking on air. I tell you, this feels so good, that if you were all here in Chicago it would be Fronteral Grill Blue Agave Margaritas (our favorite!) all around to celebrate -- that's where we're going for date night tomorrow.

You see, Fronterra is one of my all time happy places, and it has become a favorite of John's as well. Not too long after I split up from my ex-fiance, after I found an apartment of my own with help from two of my very good friends, I was feeling quite good and very much like there were only good things ahead. To say thank-you for all their support, I decided that a trip to a very special restaurant was in order. Now, bear in mind, when you make the princely sum of $14,500 a year, special does not mean Charlie Trotters. But it could mean Frontera Grill -- the more casual little sister of Topolobampo, Rick Bayless' signature restaurant. It was a wonderful evening. And it started a tradition for me. If I need to be happy, we head to Frontera. If something very good is happening, we head to Frontera. It never fails to make stressful things a little lighter and happy things even brighter. A trip to Frontera for ceviche and Blue Agave Margaritas is my ultimate happy dance.

Since I can't take all of you to Frontera, I figure that I need to find another way to let you happy dance with us. So I've decided to have a little contest! What can you win? Well since I'm a very sock-y girl of late, and since John was accompanied to surgery by some handknit socks, the winner will have their choice of two skeins of Blue Moon Sock Candy or one skein of Blue Moon Socks That Rock, Medium weight (in the color of your choice -- or at least any color that I can find out at The Fold or on the Blue Moon Website). This is enough yarn to make the "Upscaled Dragon Socks" from my "Here There Be Dragons" sock pattern. What? You say you don't have my pattern? Not sure you have the right needles? No problem at all! I'll also make sure you have a copy of the pattern and your choice of a set of bamboo (Chiagu) or nickel plated (Knit Picks) double pointed needles to help get you on your way. Rather spin up that yarn yourself? Well, if you're up for that kind of adventure, I'd be happy to substitute the yarn for some of Crown Mountain Farms supewash merino roving.

How do you win? Well, it's pretty simple! The winner of my contest will be drawn at random from everyone who sends an email containing your personal favorite means of happy dancing to happydance@keyboardbiologist.net by 11:59 pm July 31, 2006. I'll have a drawing during the first week of August to determine the winner and I will also publish everyone's happy dances on a special page on my website for everyone to enjoy. Yes, international folks are elligible! Please be sure to include your name, an email address I can reach you at, where you are from, and your blog URL (if you have one). Once I draw the winner, I will contact them directly to work out the details

And one last thing. Still got some positive energy to spare? Since we've been the beneficiaries of much good energy, I wanted to ask you all to please consider sharing a little of it with Amanda at My Only Sunshine. Amanda is going through testing for something even scarier than torn retinas: unknown areas of high density in her breasts and has been talking about it on her blog. If you have some time, please take a little of it to go and wish her good luck and good health.

Karma

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I'm not a terribly religious person but I do believe in the concept of karma. It helps me to think that good, selfless efforts are rewarded while less savory behavior will ultimately lead to some kind of bad fortune.

So, whenever I find myself contemplating something in my life, or the life of a loved one that doesn't make me happy, I look for some way to increase my good karma potential. For instance, right after we found out about John's retinal problems, but before he had surgery, I made a donation to the Heifer International as a part of Cara's fund raising efforts that accompanied her Spin Out project in NYC.

Today we went in for John's third surgical follow up visit. We were really hoping that this visit would bring an easing in what I have come to think of as John's "couch arrest" part of the recovery process. A kind blog reader, Lynette, left a comment on the day of John's surgery wishing us well and mentioning that she was trying to raise money for the American Cancer Society by participating in a local Relay for Life. The ACS is another excellent organization that supports scientific research into cancer at both a national and local level. They provide support for families and people looking for information as well as research fellowships for junior scientists. My doctoral laboratory was supported by a couple of ACS grants. It seemed like a nice way to help build some more good karma and help out a good cause at the same time.

Lynette has the very modest goal of raising $500 for the ACS. She's also a whiz with a sock knitting machine and she's offering anyone who donates a chance to win 2 pairs of custom made socks. So if you feel like you need a little bit of good karma yourself, this is a chance to create a some good karma and have a chance to win some very nifty socks

And I do think that all your good wishes and some of my attempts to create a little bit of better karma have helped. John is still couch restricted, but the retina is still attached and about 85% of the fluid that had built up in his eye has been pushed out. He's still on couch arrest becauase of that last bit of fluid needs to be pushed out, and the best way for that to happen is for him to keep his head in a position that will help the air bubble in his eye push against it and send it packing. But at least much of his bruising is gone and his eye feels much better.

Not being able to go anywhere and having to keep his head at a 45 degree angle is still a bit frustrating, but at least he has a laying on his side position that he can use so that he can have a little more range of motion. We keep reminding ourselves that since a lot of fluid had built up in his eye as a result of the tear not being treated for a while, that we probably couldn't expect everything to go back to normal right away. Healing these eye things just takes time and patience. And we are fortunate that he has a work environment that has been supportive and helpful as he starts his second week away from the office.

For my next acts of good karma, I am working on making sure that everyone who left us a comment gets a personal thank you from me (I am very behind, but I am getting through things slowly but surely). I think I am also going to try to crochet John his very own third eyeball so that we can use it as a way to focus our healing energies. You've got to love the internet. The awesome Lady Linoleum has an awesome eyeball pattern complete with nerve endings. How could I not try one to make one for John?

Rays of Sunshine

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There are a couple of bright happy things for me to talk about today. The first, because this is, after all, a craft oriented blog, is this lovely 8 ounces of superwash Merino in a colorway called "Hang on Sloopy" from Crown Mountain Farms.

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Hang On Sloopy Superwash Merino

This purchase of this little bale of orangey goodness ultimately had it's roots in two things: 1) the woman I consider to be the muse for all things orange and 2) the fact that this is the fiber that is used to spin up the Sock Hop sock yarns (also from Crown Mountain Farms).

I was not sure what to expect from superwash Merino from a texture perspective. It turns out to be quite soft and luscious. Now I just need to dig out that recent issue of Spin Off that talked about making sock yarns. Methinks that I need some good tight twist to create a nice durable yarn. But the real issue will be 2 ply or 3? Any sock yarn spinners out there want to offer your guidance?

The other little ray of sunshine today was John's first follow up visit to the doctor after his surgery. He woke up this morning with his eye feeling much better. It was such a wonderful moment for me to go to the doctor with him and watch him take off the bandage. He has a lot of bruising around the eye and a good deal of redness in his eye but there's no infection, he's experiencing very little pain and the doctor felt everything looked good for this point in the recovery process. We've both been feeling pretty good all day long. This is still only day 2 and John still has a while to go with sleeping sitting up, but I think both of us are more hopeful and less concerned about more surgery or loss of vision. And John is actually a very good convalescent -- not only did he take care of many of his "big" chores before the surgery to help make my life a bit easier now, he's made the decision in his own mind that he is going to take the time he needs to heal correctly. It may be inconvenient for a little while, but it's far better than the alternative.

And there is a bit of crafting going on, just not as much as usual since I have other higher priorities right now, and there's only so much excitement I can get from posting "oh! I have another half bobbin more of cormo/silk/alpaca single".

New Day

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Deep breath. Long pause.

Well, we made it through the first day. While John was having the follow-up surgical care from the nurse, I got a lecture from the opthamologist about his special needs. Forgive me, as someone who has had many years of scientific training, it's always hard for me to remember that the doctor talking to me for the first time doesn't know that. I get a tad peevish, even though I know the doctor has to communicate in a way that makes important instructions very clear. In order for the procedure to be a success, John needs to keep his head in more or less one position for quite some time. I sat there with my sock in my hands, knowing it was important information, but wishing it was delivered in a way that didn't make me feel like a four year old. It seems a little strange to have your husband referred to as "a real trooper." I chalked one up in the "grown up" category by paying attention to what was important, and not letting my ego get the better of me. At least not too much.

All my personal irritation disappeared, however, watching John come out of the outpatient surgical suite with a big patch on his eye. On our way to the hospital I had joked with him a little bit that I could knit him an eye patch. It didn't seem so funny watching him carefully walk out the door or when I had to sign all his release paperwork. When we came in, he was a little nervous about dealing with the first surgical procedure he's ever had in his life. At the end of it, I could feel this little sad feeling from him. It's hard to explain, but it kind of broke my heart. A routine doctor's visit turns into a surgical procedure in 4 days, the surgical procedure happens and the doctor discovers that he needs to do more work that he originally thought, and the surgical procedure comes with the knowledge that if you don't deal patiently with a whole bunch of restrictions, you could have to go through it again, or worse. John is usually quick to try to make other people smile even when he isn't feeling so good. But that part had receeded into the background for a little while as he took in the magnitude of what is/could be ahead.

We got home at about quarter after nine in the morning. The car ride home in the rain seemed to ease the mood a bit. John touched base with some family members to let them know he was okay and my mom made breakfast. Thank goodness for my parents. They had been planning to spend the weekend with us before we found out that John would need to have surgery, and having them here today was a big help. When you live with someone long enough, you forget all the things that they do regularly. John is restricted to pretty much sitting peacefully in one spot for at least the next few days (he has a nice nest of pillows to help him stay in a comfortable positiion and his home theatre to help entertain him). For the sake of our plants and our cats, I hope I can remember to do all the things that our living things need me to do to keep them alive and healthy.

And now the day is pretty much drawing to a close. It's 11:30 PM, July 3rd. We've made it through the first whole day. John's anaesthesia has worn off and he is beginning to feel some discomfort, but we have some reasonable pharmaceuticals to help with the pain management. In spite of that, his sense of humor has in large part returned. I have always admired the deep well of optimism that always seems to get him through tough things. Now we just have to find some way to help him sleep and keep his head the way it should be. My dad, ever the engineer even in retirement, has helped to rig up a clever "head positioning system". And I have my first night ever of sleeping alone when John is in the house. It is the start of what I hope will be a good healing phase. The last 6 months have been tough for us from a health perspective. I'm hoping this signals the beginning of the end of that bad spell.

So I am doing what I always do whenever I have a situation that makes me nervous or unhappy -- I am looking at events beyond in search of happy milestones. In three weeks it will be time to go to Ann Arbor to a little brewfest. In four weeks we'll be seeing Circque do Soleil. In eight weeks we will be celebrating our 8th wedding anniversary.and sometime in September we are hoping to head back to Hawaii for a restful vacation. Little by little, John's eye will heal and I'll get to share in the joy of watching him get back to feeling better.

Thank you again to everyone who left us a note, shared a story or just thought about us yesterday. It's impossible to really express how much that means to both of us. Please know that we are both deeply touched and deeply grateful. If I could handknit socks for all of you, I most certainly would.

To those of you in the US celebrating the 4th tomorow, may you have a very happy holiday. To everyone else, may you have a most excellent Tuesday. I'm hoping mine will involve giving my WooLee Winder a work out and finding out at John's follow up appointment tomorrow that things are going in the direction they are supposed to go.

Waiting

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The title of this post is relevant to at least two things. The first being how long my Broadripple Socks have been started but remained unfinished. The second being what I will be doing tomorrow morning at 6:30 AM.

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Broadripple Sock #1: Started Circa Spring 2004

I had the first 6" of the cuff of this sock started quite some time ago, during my "socks on 2 circs" era. Originally, the socks were for John (hence the solid somewhat manly color) but then I realized that there was a bit too much lacy-ness for John's tastes and they became socks for me instead. They were probably the first socks I ever worked in that had more texture than a K2P2 ribbing at the top. I'm not so sure why I stalled out so quickly on these. At the time, perhaps, the patterning seemed a little hard to keep track of. It does not seem that way now. On a trip last weekend to Madison to pick up a refridgerator that could store two 5 gallon kegs and to see an old friend I finished the leg and turned the heel and started working down the instep. It took me a while to get back into the socks on 2 circs rhythm (I actually thought about switching the project onto double points, but I didn't have any US size 3 DPs in my collection and I didn't have time to go out and buy any before the trip), but once I did it was smooth sailing.

Which brings me to the second reference for waiting. This morning, at an impossibly early time, I will be sitting in the waiting room of the surgical eye clinic at Illinois Masonic Hospital waiting for John to undergo a procedure to fix and to prevent the further progression of the early stages of a detatched retina. I know, it's not life threatening, the surgery is outpatient, and everything should go just fine. But this is my soulmate and his vision. It may not be life threatening, but it is not trivial, either. We found out on Thursday and the surgery was scheduled for 4 days later. He has been quite calm over the weekend (as is his way, the Tao of John is a patient and accepting one), but I must admit to being both worried and fearful. It's a little bit invasive, this procedure. And John's never had to go through any surgery before. I think you begin to understand the feelings you have for another person when, immediately after you hear that they have to go through something unpleasant, you know that if you could trade with them, you would in a heartbeat. In less than a heartbeat.

So the sock and I will be in the waiting room early on a Monday morning, sending the best possible vibes we can with every new stitch. Very much looking forward to taking him home and helping him heal and get better. It may sound a little silly, but I've made him promise to wear a pair of the socks that I have made for him. If I can't be there with him, at least a little of the magic and love that come from a pair of handknit socks will be there to keep him warm and make him feel more comfortable.

Update: We're home and everything went okay. Apparently he needed a little more cryo/laser work than they thought he would need originally, but now the surgical part is over and the harder part begins: spending the next 1-3 weeks with his head more or less in one position to keep the gas bubble they put in his eye in one place where it can hold the retina where it is supposed to be. So we're not out of the woods quite yet, but we're hoping the healing will go well and he won't need any more invasive procedures in the future. Thank you for everyone's good thoughts. John thanks you all, too. He did wear one of the pairs of socks I knit him (the Trekking XXL pair) but he was so distracted that he actually put on both socks inside out. No matter, the good knitting magick, I think, works no matter what side of the garment faces out. I'll keep y'all posted on how he's doing. Right now he's got a big patch over his left eye (no pictures on this one) and is buried in a big nest of pillows to help him stay in the position he needs to.

Happy Birthday to My Husband

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John Planting Our Garden

Happy Birthday to my Husband

To the man who genuninely wants nothing (almost nothing, anyway).
To the man who gives freely of himself to many people, even if they don't always treat him well.
To the man who knows that sometimes you don't have to talk loudly to be heard and respected.
To the man who can keep our home computer network running, or tenderly plant a Easter lilly in the backyard.
To the man who respects my hobbies and never makes me feel bad about an impulse purchase.
To the man who patiently and tolerantly puts up with my constant desire to knit him a sweater, even though he is not really the sweater wearing type.
To the man who does double duty as my fashion photographer and always seems to find a way to get a good picture of both me, and the sweater.
To the man who really does see the good in everyone, and helps me remember that sometimes first impressions should not be the last ones.
To the man who has the uncanny ability to make me feel better no matter how bad things seem.
To the man who helps keep my feet on the ground, but always makes me feel like I'm walking a little bit above the earth.
To the man who holds my hand when we go for walks.
To the man who is my best friend and my greatest hero and the love of my life.
To the man that I can't imagine living without.

I love you, sweetheart, and I hope this birthday year, the 10th of your birthdays that we will celebrate together, will be one of great joy and new adventures..

Memories of a Furry Friend

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Sydney (left) and Mercutio (right) circa 1999

In the spring of 1996 I had been on my own for about a year. The previous spring I had split up with my ex-fiance, rented an apartment of my own, and did a series of stupid things as I tried to get used to being single woman. I had always had pets in my life, in fact, the ex and I had two cats, but when we split he agreed that they were "my" cats. However, it took me a while to find a place of my own and get settled, so Sebastian and Rowena went to stay at my parents house and went from being my cats to being my parents cats. Which was, in the long run, probably the best thing for them given the unsettled year that I had.

But by the following spring I was entering what I was hoping was my last year of graduate school, had gotten comfortable with being alone in my apartment, but I missed having my cats. And my mother made it pretty clear that the two that had come to live at her house had found a permanent home. It just so happened that at about this same time, the good friend who taught me to knit also split up with her fiance. Unlike me, her ex got to keep their two cats while she came and stayed with me while trying to find a new place of her own, and she missed her furry friends. So I decided the two of us would go down to the Anti-Cruelty Society (an animal shelter in downtown Chicago) to see if there were any kittens available for adoption.

As luck would have it, there was a matched pair (littermates) of cream colored tabbies that were supposedly a bit over a year old (I say supposedly, because I think the estimate was wrong... if I had to guess, based on their subsequent growth, these guys were probably 6-8 months old, tops). I definitely wanted a pair because I was in the lab a lot and I didn't want a solo cat to be lonely all the time. I had been hoping to have the small cute fuzzy kitten experience, but these guys were available and the small fuzzy kittens were not. And these tabbies were also incredibly friendly and interactive. They were also both boys, which appealed to me, because I have a fondness for large cats and I thought I had a better chance getting large cats with male cats.

So home with me they came -- after a quick snipping procedure. And they proceeded to enter psycho exploration mode (which also convinced me that they were younger than advertised and reminded me why, after I adopt a kitten, I always swear that I am only going to adopt adult cats forever after) and they followed me around everywhere. It was almost impossible to be separated from these cats. And my apartment felt a bit homier.

It took me a while to name them. Sydney's name came one night while I was sitting in front of my computer using ntalk (think of it as a very bare bones UNIX precursor to current IM clients) to an internet friend in Australia. My computer was in the same room as the dining room and my computer chair sat between my desk and dining room table. Sydney jumped up on the dining room table and put his front paws on the back of my chair and nudged me. Since I was typing online about Sydney, Australia, I took this as a sign that he was telling me what his name should be. (Mercutio's name comes from Romeo and Juliet; Mercutio was Romeo's sidekick and my Mercutio was Sydney's sidekick).

John came into my life about a month after the cats did. Almost from the beginning he was John's best friend. He's "helped" John with almost every computer building project he's ever worked on and always had a priviledged place in John's lap. He had an uncanny knack for going places he wasn't supposed to go -- definitely our "adventure kitty". Before we got Marco (a.k.a. "The Beezle) Syd was the cat who played with the laser pointer and went nuts when given catnip. He also liked to play fetch with what became his favorite toy -- this squishy beach ball toy about the size of a baseball that he could carry in his mouth. Everytime he caught it he would make the strangest yowling noise, but he was clearly pleased with his accomplishment. He was a water snob. Water out of the tap wasn't good enough. He needed water out of our refrigerator's purified water tap (unless he could drink directly from the faucet -- somehow it was better that way). He was much more accepting of Marco than Mercutio was even though Marco harrassed him mercilessly when Marco was a kitten. He had his issues. What animal doesn't? But overall was a good guy, friendly, loving and a little bit mischevious, just like a cat is supposed to be.

On Saturday, after a drive in which John sat in the backseat of the car and held him and his favorite toy all the way to the vet, we said a final good bye to our Sydney. We were with him to his last seconds. After all the love he'd given us in his 10 years with us, we just didn't want him to be alone at the end. And even though we knew it was the right thing to do, it really didn't make it any easier.

Good-bye little friend. You didn't deserve the bad break you got. I know wherever you are now, there's an unlimited supply of kitty treats, the most wonderfully potent catnip, someone always leaves the faucet on for you to drink from and there's never a shortage of warm sunny patches to take naps in. We'll always remember you.

To everyone who shared their encouraging thoughts for Syd with us, we did really appreciate everything we heard and learned. But he was much too far along in the course of disease for us to do much for him. For everyone out there with a cat, I encourage you to keep an eye on any changes in urinary behavior your cat may display. We wished we'd seen some of the warning signs earlier than we did. It wouldn't have changed the ultimate result, but it might have gotten us some more quality time with Sydney.

I've turned off the comments on this one. Sort of my way of giving Syd a little moment of silence and remembrance. I'll be back tomorrow with happier things.

What I Wasn't Going to Write About

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I was planning on writing about my progress on the Pearl Buck Swing Jacket or on my Dragon Scale socks. But as Isat down at the computer, I realized that I wasn't really feeling like talking about sweaters or socks or spinning or anything else fibery. What I've been thinking about all day is a cat with a serious problem and what we're going to do to deal about it.

I'd like to say thank you in the warmest possible way to everyone who left good wishes for Sydney. He can't really appreciate them, but I do. It is the nicest feeling there is to have a troubling situation and to have people that I have only talked to through email or met through their blog journaling taking the time to leave me a comment. Whenever I get down about unpleasant people, I try to think about the great vibes that I get from people who read my blog and it reminds me that there are going to be some people that suck, but there are many more good people out there.

The rest of this post is not going to be very happy, and will include no knitting. So you might want to click away now if either of these things seems offputting.

Unfortunately, all the good wishes in the world are not going to do much for Sydney. On Saturday morning we noticed he was weak, and not using his litter box when he had to urinate. So John found a vet that was open on Saturday afternoon (more of a challenge than you'd think!). The vet didn't have a very positive outlook on Syd's likely prognosis, but he drew some blood and did a blood work up. We got the results yesterday and the not very positive outlook became a pretty much negative outlook. And like most pet owners, we didn't really want to believe that things could be so bad for our cat. He's only 11 years old and his littermate is completely healthy.

So we had the results faxed to our "regular" vet and set up an appointment for all three cats this morning (we figured if we were going to take one in, we'd take them all, especially since the first vet had raised the specter of FIP). We enjoyed talking to the second vet better, but the prognosis was pretty much the same. Syd's kidney's are failing. In fact, his creatine levels are so high, he probably has lost more than 75% of his kidney function. Not only that, but his phosphorus levels are high (not good for the blood and also a bad prognosis indicator) and he's pretty anemic. Which means that his kidneys also aren't making the erythropoeitin (if you've heard of the drug "epogen" it's the same thing) that they need to to stimulate his bone marrow to make more red blood cells. Another very bad sign Especially when coupled with the fact that he is eating and drinking very little and spends most of his day curled up in a basket in the hallway just shutting out the world.

The options for treatment are limited. We could have left him with the vet to keep him on IV fluids for a couple of days to see if things got better. But that would mean that he would be all alone. When he came home, it would also mean that we would have to do daily sub-cutaneous fluid administration. To deal with the phosphorus, we would have to add a phosphorus binder to his food. And if his red blood cell count didn't go up, then we would also have the option of getting him treated with epogen. All this, and it's still likely that the time he would have left would be measured in weeks. And Syd has never been very good about treatments of any kind, unless he's sick. So giving him IV fluids everyday would probably be miserable for him and for John and I. If he was feeling good, we'd practically have to sit on him everyday for the rest of his life to do it. If he was feeling bad, then we'd just be prolonging his life in pretty miserable state.

The reality is, there are no good options. We can go through a lot of costly and low quality of life treatments to sustain his life for maybe a couple more weeks to months. Or we can let him fade until he simply isn't eating anything anymore and then take him in to be euthanized. Or we can do some portion of the possible treatments. There's no right answer and there's no clear path.

He's clearly not acting like himself, our other two cats almost act like he is not here anymore. This is particularly disturbing when you know that he and Mercutio are usually almost inseparable. But now Mercutio has abandoned him. It feels so tragic and sad. John and I both believe that you extend life when you know that there can be a good quality to that life. But how to judge what that is? I being a breathing lump in a basket represent good life quality if he is not in pain? It's certainly not good for his human companions.

In the end, we opted to have the vet give him some sub-cu fluids (the first vet did this on Saturday as well) so that we could see if that would help him perk up. He was remarkably active and aware while we were at the vet and we weren't really ready to make any more dramatic decisions. I guess neither of us wanted him to be in a small cage in an animal hospital for two days, sick and in unfamiliar surroundings. I think that means that John and I have come to terms with the fact that no amount of wishful thinking will make this small furry person better. But we still haven't really come to terms with the ultimate decision to be made. How much is too much? How much is not enough? When should a good life end with a good death?

Perhaps I will spin for a while and meditate a bit.

Handmade Gift

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On Saturday, Julie and I got together to do a little shopping, a little spinning, a little eating and a lot of talking. But the highlight for me was receiving a special gift from Julie for my birthday.

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A Pin Cushion with Personality

As I had been pinning down my pieces of the Pearl Buck jacket, I had been thinking how much easier it would be if I had a big pin cushion and the pin heads were sticking straight up instead of being in the bowl container I keep them in. I often get poked reaching into that bowl or get a pin in the opposite orientation that I need it in. My problems are now solved by Julie's fabulous pin cushion, which is of impressive size -- probably 3 inches tall and at least 4 inches in diameter, there's room for a small army of pins. She's weighted the bottom so it won't roll over and it's stuffed with some leftover roving from a trip to the Fold. Of course, my favorite part is the hand-embroidered initial on the top of the cushion done in a Celtic font. And how could you not like the knitting themed button pins that she found to put on as an accent? It makes me happy just to have it on my desk!

The other highlight of the afternoon was digging into some wonderful washed fleece that Liz sent along for us to fondle and spin with. We started working with just a little bit of the CVM and our improvised "carders" (dog slickers) and got enough so that Julie could spin a little bit of it on her drop spindle. This stuff was so awesome! Not only was it soft and a treat to handle, but when spun, it had this incredible elasticity. And the color was an incredible semi-sweet chocolate brown. Really beautiful stuff. My next mission is to look and see if I can find a small fiber preparer that can take this lovely stuff and turn it into roving. One thing Julie and I discovered while working with it is that our carding skills aren't really up to the challenge at this point. So I'm going to see if I can find someone who can give us a little help getting us a long our way. If anyone has any suggestions for companies that will process small amounts of fiber and do a good job, I'd love to hear about it!

And to anyone interested, I have posted a short review of the Yarn Harlot's most recent book over on Two Friends Collect Books. I've been a little lax in my posting over there but I hope to get going again with my reviews -- which will also include some non-knitting books.

Mail Call

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Yesterday did not turn out to be a day that involved much knitting. It did turn out to be a day that involved a bit of computer babysitting and some excellent Belgian ale. So excellent that it required another attempt with the phone camera, even though people do tend to look at you funny when you are taking pictures of beer.

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Belgian Kwak

But now that I have set the dangerous precedent of phone food photography, you can bet that there will likely be more. Because really, I have to say, I enjoy eating out in Chicago almost more than I like pursuing the fiber arts. Chicago is a most excellent food town.

But, as I mentioned, there was not much knitting to show for the day. Oh, I did try to knit after that nice Belgian beer, but it resulted in dropped stitches and ripping back a Dragon sock and playing with size 0000 needles to get everything back in order. Clearly, I was not meant to make any knitting progress yesterday. Sometimes a girl has to listen when the powers that be are telling her to abandon certain activities.

I've gotten a few neat things in the mail lately, though, and this seems a good time to share them.

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Debbie Bliss' "the club" Membership Project

I am probably the last person to go out and join Debbie Bliss' club , I resisted last year, but when I discovered the free knitting kit involved her Casmerino Astrakan, I decided that this was a good time to subscribe. I've seen a few folks blogging about it, and it just seemed like really nifty stuff. This kit is the perfect entry into playing with a new yarn, I think -- how can I go wrong with two skeins of yarn. And I know it's enough yarn for at least one project. This yarn is not entirely my color (being a bit of a yellowy green) but I might be willing to ignore that fact to make the scarf. The Astrakan is very soft and has a really lovely texture in the skein. Not sure when I will actually knit it -- probably when I'm travelling and need a small project -- but I'm sure I'll enjoy it when the time comes

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AquaMelon Vesper Sock Yarn

I consider myself just a little bit lucky to have happened upon the Knitterly Things Etsy Shop just in time to be able to pick up a skein of Julia's lovely hand-dyed self-striping sock yarn. I first learned about it when Monica over at passionknit blogged about her new sock yarn obsession (be sure to go to the bottom of the post and click on the links to see some lovely socks made in this yarn). Since I, too, feel sated with my level of Socks that Rock (and I feel safe in the knowledge that if I really need any, it's not too hard for me to get out to Marengo to get some), it seemed like a good time to join Monica in her Vesper obsession. Now that I have the yarn in my hot little hands, I am not disappointed. The colors are lovely you can click here for a closeup (even if my camera wants to oversaturate the reds) and are such a flashback to my preppy '80's high school years, how could I resist?

LIke I've said so many times before, a girl can never have too much sock yarn.

I have to admit that I don't get to read as many blogs as I would like to. But in the past weeks or so, I've noticed here and there people talking about the etiquette of posting pictures of gifts received, goodies from trades or yarns and tools purchased for one's self. It seems that some folks think "flashing your stash" is a breach of good behavior and/or a sign of uninspired blogging. Others feel left out when reading the blogs of people who receive gifts from friends or other bloggers. I try to stay off my soap box most of the time, but this is one case that touched a nerve and where I would like to share my thoughts (in other words, this post is going to get really long, so you may want to stop now, should this subject not interest you).

First off, let me just say that yes, you're seeing pictures of yarn today because I do lack a bit of inspiration, and I certainly lack any exciting knitting or spinning to show. I won't dispute that. It happens some times. As much as I would love to be able to show off the creative works of my hands everyday, it doesn't always work out. So then I try to look around my life and my fiber pursuits and see if there is something else interesting to talk about. A new yarn, a new tool, a book perhaps. I absolutely love finding out about new things -- if others didn't do a little "showing off" then I might never find out about some things that are really useful or lovely. I'm all about using Google to find things that interest me, but there's nothing quite like finding out about something new and then getting some helpful opinions about both the product and the vendor. And I like to think that periodically, when I'm showing off something new to my little treasure trove of fibery goodies, I might provide some useful information to someone else. Generally, I tend to only post about the things I like (life is too short to spend too much time focusing on the negative), but I will try to be balanced in what I say.

I look at gifts and trades in more or less the same way, but with an added twist. As with things that I might buy for myself, I like to share if I think there is something interesting about what I received. But I also like to post about them for other reasons. First off, gratitude. No matter how many times I trade with people, no matter how many times I receive a thoughtful gift, I am always really touched that someone took the time to do something nice for me. And I almost always want to try to share that feeling. I've never found a group of people as thoughtful as fiber folks when it comes to this kind of thing. Secondly, I like to let whomever I got the trade or gift from that their gift arrived. I know I could just send email, but I like the blog medium. I like making that journal entry and taking the pictures and sharing a public thank-you -- it might soudn strange, but that part is a lot of fun for me, and makes the items received doubly enjoyable.

But, that said, it's still easy for me to see how this sort of thing might make others feel left out. Growing up, I almost always felt like I was the unpopular kid that no one wanted to do anything with. It took me a long time to realize that if you want to be part of a group, you've got to put yourself out there a little bit, too. And believe me, I know (man, do I know), that can be really hard. But in the knit blog world, I think there's definitely plenty of ways to get involved and there are so many remarkable and friendly people to meet. Like someone's work or want to encourage someone? Leave 'em a comment on their blog. I've had some great email dialogs and friendships develop this way. Fall in love with a yarn that's hard to get where you are? Perhaps you could ask the blogger that posted about it if they would be willing to try a little trade -- but try not to feel hurt if its not the right thing for that person at the time. Got stash of your own that you think would be happier somewhere else? Offer to trade with others. Maybe you're stash poor but time rich? Host a knit along or share a knitting design or start a knitting group in your local area. Be genuine, be willing to exert some effort, and you'll be surprised what develops over time. After almost 4 years of blogging, I know I still am!

What this Girl Likes

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It was a very good day here in Chi-town for this knitting biologist. How can it not be when it starts with this:

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Roses from my Sweetie

Isn't he the sweetest? My desk definitely smells pleasantly of roses right now. Call me a traditionalist, but I do love roses, the deep red ones, in particular.

Then, as if winter was falling in love with the idea of spring, we had 60 degree weather and sunshine here in Chicago today. That's almost unheard of in February. It made for a perfect early afternoon trip downtown to pick up a few little goodies for John (a bright red cyclamen for his desk and some yummy chocolates from Ethel M) before meeting him for lunch. John works in the Prudential building just across the street from Millenium Park, so for lunch, we strolled over to the Park Grill. Apologies to Claudia for not taking a picure of the lovely chocolate dessert we had. I must have been too busy watching the skaters on the outdoor ice rink outside the restaurant.

After I got back home, I made a short trip to the post office. Gale, a very kind reader who was de-stashing from her knitting book library when I mentioned my interest in Teddy Bears, sent me Debbie Bliss' Teddy Bears and Toy Knits books as well as Alice Starmore's Fisherman's Knits. There are such wonderful things in the Debbie Bliss books. I just love the knitted garments that go along with some of the bears and other animals.

After knitting the next pattern repeat on the Dragon sock (bringing me up to three repeats on the second sock), and inspired by the Teddy Bear book, I also did a little spinning. Not worth a picture (it's the white wool/silk I got from my parents for Christmas) but it was a nice way to relax and enjoy the evening before getting ready to go to Scylla, a Bucktown restaurant both John and I very much enjoy. I was hoping to have pictures, but the light levels were just too low for the camera on my Moto RAZR phone to do the food justice -- it was all good, especially the crab and basil "cheese cake" which featured a layer of lump crab combined with marscapone cheese and seasoned with lemon and basil. Dessert was excellent as well. It was a frozen chocolate mousse with frozen strawberries and champagne gel paired with a flourless chocolate cake, chocolate glaze and brandied cherries. Yum! And it went very well with the rose champagne we were having.

After 9 years of Valentine's Days, John still manages to surprise me with his thoughtfulness -- he really has to think ahead to do the sweet things he does.. Sometimes I think that there is one thing that guys just don't understand about women and Valentine's day. It's really not about how much money you spend, it's about how much thought you put into making it a special day. Of course, it's hard not to like being showered with gifts, but the in my book the greatest gift of all is knowing that someone took the time to do something special because they wanted to make you happy. You just can't knit enough socks for a guy who puts his heart into making you happy.

Resolutions

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New Year's Resolutions always makes me think. Do I or don't I? Every year I come down somewhere different on these. The reality is, while I always have a lot of good intentions, I'm not always very good at sticking to them. The relatively silent elliptical machine in our basement is testimony to that. Most of the time, I have to have a meaningful motivator to keep me on track.

So, perhaps, rather than make resolutions, I'll talk about a few things that I would like to accomplish -- or, at least think about more -- and why these things are important to me.

On the fibery side of things...

I would like to knit a pair of socks for each of the family members who was with me during my trip to the hospital. I've got a great stash of sock yarn and there's nothing quite like knowing that something I made is keeping someone special's feet warm. I already have a pair started for John -- which I am going to work on exclusively once I get my first Jaywalker sock finished -- and the most fabulous maize and blue Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sock yarn for my dad, the U of M fan. That should be good to get me started. Then I'll work on figuring out what I am going to do for my mom, brother and sister-in-law. No real time table for this. It's not a race, just something that would make me happy.

I also want to spend more time with my spinning wheel. I have so much lovely fiber now and spinning always makes me feel so peaceful. I was kind of surprised when I discovered how meditative spinning can be. So spinning would be good for the stash and for my peace of mind.

I want to focus on knitting things out of my stash. I think I may be approaching the point where I have too much of a good thing. It all calls to me and I find it hard to stay focused on any one thing for long. I've been good and I've bought relatively little new yarn this year since Maryland. I plan to keep to my stash diet for a bit longer. My next two projects (aside from the abovementioned socks) will be the scarf for my aunt and the double knit scarf for John. And then I need to think about something bigger. I've definitely been getting the urge to do a little felting, lately.

On the personal side of things...

I want to improve my diet and be more careful about what I eat. John and I worked hard to lose a bunch of weight, but I've been getting a little sloppy with my eating habits. We're both beginning to get unhappy about the way some of our favorite clothes fit again! To get started, I want to drink more water and cut out most of the caffeine and alcohol so that the water can do it's work better. And I want to be more reserved about what I eat. My metabolism isn't getting any faster these days...

I want to read more. I used to read all the time and I felt in touch with the world. Lately, there haven't been many books in my life. It's almost like I can feel my vocabulary shrinking...

I'd like to find some volunteer work that I enjoy and that is meaningful for me. I think this means some homework on my part to understand the what's out there and what I might fit best with. There was a time in my life when I would have said that I wanted to do this to get to meet people, but lately I've had this feeling that it would be nice to do something for my community and give something back. I have a lot of blessings and maybe I need to share some.

Finally, I want to stop multitasking all the time. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with multitasking -- it's a survival skill, in fact, but I do it constantly. I just can't go to a movie and not work on a sock, for instance. I'm always trying to do more than one thing at a time. As a result, I think I miss things that I would have enjoyed more if I had given them all of my attention instead of trying to do too much at once.

Well, there you have it... the things that I've been thinking about as the New Year begins in earnest. It will be interesting to see next December how much progress I've made. I kind of figure if I get one out of each category, I'll be doing pretty well.

Heros

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Writing, for me, is part entertainment, part therapy. For years I've kept a personal journal, one that I write in by hand, so that I can tell my own stories. Often, the journal goes unattended for many months or even years when things are more or less normal. But some events, both good and bad, get my brain moving enough that I need to put them into words in order to move on from them.

Maybe that's why I love blogging so much. It gets me to write almost every day. Unfortunately, a lot of things that strike me still can't go here. I don't feel comfortable talking too much about my job. Not because I am likely to get fired for talking about it, but because my company has been in a sensitive place for most of the time I have worked there, and I have a senior managment position. Companies are like families, sometimes, especially small companies, and some things just don't belong out beyond the sphere of the participants.

The same thing is true when it comes to my health or family related issues that are deeply personal. In this case, I have more latitude, clearly, because it's information about me specifically. But sometimes that makes it even harder. How much of myself can I put out there? After 3 years I still don't really have any rules for this. I just sort of go on "what feels right". I've been thinking a lot about how much I am going to say about what's been going on with me since Christmas Day and I've come to the conclusion that while I've told this story in my personal journal, I'm just not ready to tell it here. Perhaps, someday, I will be able to talk about it here. Suffice it to say, it's not all that uncommon a story for many women, and I am fine, physically (as is everyone in the rest of my family), even if there's still some emotional work to go through. No doubt, some of you will guess what happened from that statement and the rest of the post that follows. If so, please don't discuss it in my comments. I'm just not really ready for that, yet, although I'm always open to talking to anyone through email.

But I still feel the urge to put something here, in a public space. What happened to me got me using and thinking about the word "hero" a lot. I used to have a very romantic notion of heros. Knights on horses and that sort of thing. But as I grow older, I realize that heros are a much broader group of people -- there are many more heros in the world than there are horses and shining armor. I guess I still can't really put a Webster's Dictionary definition on what I think a hero is. But my recent experience provides me with some clear examples...

A hero is my mother, who was there for me when I needed her and helped me with things that no mother should ever have to. And who took charge of the situation and organized everything even when it wasn't easy.

A hero is my aunt, who called the ER to let them know we were coming and who stayed at my parents house to make sure that the furry creatures at my parents house were cared for.

A hero is my father, who drove me to the hospital, through the snow, and kept his calm and got us there safely even though his daughter was in crisis in the seat next to him.

A hero is the kind nurse at the Chelesea ER who held my hand and let me know that she and I had shared this experience.

A hero is the ER doctor who recognizes he can't take care of everything and makes sure that the ambulance that has just come in with another patient is comandeered so that I can get to a place that can make sure everything is taken care of correctly.

A hero is the paramedic who bent the rules to let John stay near me on the trip to St. Joes.

A hero is the doctor in the ER at St. Joes who stayed 3 hours past her shift to make sure that I got the care I needed and took the time to make sure that we always understood what she was doing and to give me what I would need to be comfortable once I got home. And who took a few moments to let me know she liked my handknit socks.

Heros are the hostpital technicians who drew my blood and put in my IV's and were always careful and fast -- and who didn't mind me asking for those tiny little butterfly needles.

Heros are the nurses that took care of me and always treated me with respect and dignity, even though some of what they had to do for me wouldn't have been considered very dignified by some.

Heros are my brother and sister-in-law, who travelled to both hospitals and waited for hours in waiting rooms when they could have gone home to my parents house and waited there. There is nothing like knowing that your whole family cares about you.

Heros are my friends -- online and otherwise -- who didn't back away when they heard bad news. Even if they didn't know exactly what to say.

Heros are all of you kind folks who left comments here wishing me well. Those comments mean more than you know.

Finally, my biggest hero is my husband, who never left my side, held my hand through almost everything and who constantly reminds me that my being okay is the most important thing and that there is always hope for the future. He wil always be my knight in shining armor, even if he doesn't have a horse.

Happy New Year, Everyone!

A Short Break

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I'm going to be taking a brief break from blogging. This weekend has been remarkablable and terrible for me. The kind of time that truly makes you appreciate your family and a caring medical system. I don't mean to be cryptic, but I just can't really put any more of myself out in public right now.

John and I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Strange, But Perhaps True

They hit that major weakness right on the head. And who am I to argue with a strength like that?

Your Birthdate: February 5
You have many talents, and you are great at sharing those talents with others.
Most people would be jealous of your clever intellect, but you're just too likeable to elicit jealousy.
Progressive and original, you're usually thinking up cutting edge ideas.
Quick witted and fast thinking, you have difficulty finding new challenges.

Your strength: Your superhuman brainpower

Your weakness: Your susceptibility to boredom

Your power color: Tangerine

Your power symbol: Ace

Your power month: May

20 (more) Things About Me

Morgan tagged me for this little meme... awhile back I was doing the 100 things about me in small chunks. Seems like a good time to see what else I can tell you. Forgive me if some of these have come up before.

1. I am more or less painfully liberal when it comes to political views.
2. The only protest I have ever participated in was in college where they were going to move the tennis team from Division 1 to Division 3. Yes, I went to a school with a rather well-to-do demographic.
3. I am terrible at getting on the phone. But I will send email any time.
4. The smartest thing I ever did was marry my husband.
5. I will stay up all night to play a computer game. Or finish a book.
6. I have a bean bag frog, a molded plastic frog, a frog squeaky toy and a Beanie Baby cat (Pounce) sitting on my 21" monitor at home.
7. I am trying to grow a Giant Sequoia in a pot on my back porch. I promise never to plant it in my postage stamp sized back yard.
8. I would rather not have coffee if it isn't good coffee. I will almost never turn away a good skim latte.
9. I don't like horror movies.
10. If I could be a teenager again, I'd try to be nicer to my younger brother.
11. I really like being in my 30's. I can honestly say I wouldn't want to go back to being in my teens or twenties. I feel like the older I get, the better life gets.
12. I can tell the difference between Polish and Russian but I can't speak either language.
13. I am stubborn, impatient and goal oriented. I am not a perfectionist, but I have reasonably high standards for "good enough". I have a strong sense of what I consider ethical but I am not at all religious.
14. My favorite jewelry involves black pearls. I would rather have a pearl than a diamond. I wouldn't say no to a little bling-bling, but when it comes to presents, I would usually rather have consumer electronics than jewelry.
15. Sometimes I regret not doing my graduate work in the history of science.
16. The only other "languages" I speak are computer languages. I'm modestly fluent in Perl and Java, and can hold my own in C++. I wish I had my husband's understanding of how to use pointers.
17. Someday I would like to own/run my own business.
18. I am not happy unless I have the latest in computer mouse technology -- I currently have a Logitech MX1000 Cordless Optical Laser Mouse. I love this mouse!
19. I am completely disturbed by the fact that the Kansas Board of Education thinks that biology teachers should have to teach Intelligent Design alongside Darwin's Theory of Evolution. I have no issue with people believing anything they want about how the earth and it's species came into being. I have a serious issue with religious ideology in a science classroom in our public schools.
20. And, just because this *is* a knitting blog... I am mysteriously drawn to all silk yarns. Let me loose in a store, and if it has silk in it, I will almost certainly run my hand over it.

Who to pass this onto? Hmmm... most certainly Julie and Claudia if Igor can be convinced to allow her to play along. If anyone else wants to play, by all means. I'm always interested in seeing what sorts of things people use to create a picture of themselves with.

Favorite Machines

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In spite of being a geek gadget girl, I have to admit that my favorite machine in the whole wide world is decidedly low tech. It has no flashing lights, does not play MP3s, does not require a graphical user interface to interact with. It has no buttons, it isn't networked, and only two levers. It lives in a room that anyone who knows me well, also knows I don't frequent very often. If I had to guess, I'd say that it's at least 25 years old and its totally irreplaceable to me.

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Kitchen Aid Mixer, Birthdate: circa 1980

My husband and father like to joke that the only things with a motor that you can give a woman on a major occasion are a car or a Kitchen Aid stand mixer. And it really is true. I am totally not a creature of the kitchen, but when I am in a store with kitchen appliances, I just have to check them out. They have a special aura about them that I can't resist. But I have never purchased one on my own. When I didn't have one, I just couldn't justify it, given my limited interest in cooking and baking. It's a little elitist, but I believe that the good tools should really go to the people who can appreciate them, people who love what they can do with them.

Mine actually came to live with me through a very happy circumstance: my dad bought my mother a new Kitchen Aid stand mixer. One with more features and a nicer bowl. And that left mom with one mixer too many and not enough space to store both of them. The old one still ran fine and it came with all the wonderful memories of baking with my mother while I was growing up. Years of making sugar cookie dough for Christmas, cupcakes for birthdays at school, fresh bread, fresh whipped cream fo strawberry shortcake. And not a few batches of chocolate chip cookies. This, my friends, is a mixer with good vibes. It probably should have gone to my brother (who is actually an awesome cook), but I called it first. And I'm the oldest. And I snuck it out to my car almost before mom had finished unwrapping her new machine. You gotta be fast in my family.

She's not pretty, but she's wonderful. And she's solid like a rock, even after how many years. You want to see the proof?

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The Mixer Takes on Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

This mixer can take on a double bach of chocolate chip cookie dough without blinking an eye. It sneers in the face of the addition of walnuts and a few extra chips. I don't actually like to do much in the kitchen, but I do like to make cookies. And if this mixer has anything, it has definite good cookie making karma.

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The Results of a Mixer's Love

And it helped me make some pretty awesome cookies tonight.

Every now and again, I do feel a little guilty about having this mixer. Not for denying my brother the real cook the chance to have this machine (you don't need to feel sorry for him, he got my mothers fabulous old Le Cruset pots when she upgraded), but because my mother's new machine didn't turn out to be made of the same great stuff as this one is. Apparently the newer ones have a lot more plastic parts. She'd only had it for a year or so when one of them broke while she was asking the mixer to work hard. It just seemed so wrong for that to happen.

But, hey, I called no give backs...

For anyone worried, my wonderful father got that part replaced quickly. And my mom gets visitation rights. But it does make you realize that they don't build things like they used to...

Travelling Companions

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So now that I've finished some basic housekeeping, it's time for me to select some travelling companions on my trip to Maui. My goal here is not to be too over the top. After all, I want room left in my suitcase to bring back a sizable amount of Kona coffee. If you've never had fresh Kona in Hawaii and you're a coffee lover, well, you haven't lived yet. There is almost nothing better for breakfast than fresh Kona and fresh pineapple... especially when combined with an exceptional eggs benedict preparation and an open air restaurant.

Mmmmmm.... I can almost hear the waves and feel the breeze. Soon. Soon. Soon.

So what's going along for the trip? It's all about scarves and socks, friends.

1. Artisan Merino from NZ. A lovely yarn I got in a trade from Emma. What could be more appropriate for a trip to an Island in the Pacific than yarn from New Zealand. It's a little bitty skein combined with a nice lace pattern. Should keep both brain and fingers occupied, especially when combined with my iPod and a couple of good audio books. Though I'll probably switch it to my Denise needles, just to make it more airplane travel friendly.

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Soft and Purply Scarf Beginnings, Artisan Merino NZ Laceweight

2. Opal Rodeo Socks. Interestingly enough, this yarn also came in a trade from Emma. I've completed the first sock and have actually cast on and started the second sock. These socks have also been a bit of a revelation for me. I love the tubular cast on, but it takes too much energy for me to overcome the inertia of casting on a second sock. I'm thinking it will be back to my Twisted German Cast On for socks in the future. I love the happy colors in this sock yarn and now that I've gotten my second tubular cast on out of the way it should be pretty smooth sailing. Apparently others like the colors in these socks, too, as I can't go anywhere with them and not have someone ask to look at them! Should make for a nice airplane or beach project. I even have a chance of getting these finished, I think.

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Opal Rodeo Socks

3. John's Trekking XXL Socks with Bosnian Toe. I've been working on these socks -- er sock -- for way too long. My wonderful husband certainly deserves at least one new pair of socks every year, don't you think? Especially when he actually picked out a sock yarn that is not grey and does not have a completely regular pattern. I'm not sure why I've been so lazy about getting these done except that they are just for big man feet on small needles. I'm not optimistic about actually finishing the pair while we're in Hawaii, but if I could just complete the first one, I'd comsider that a major inertial victory.

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Trekking XXL Sock Waiting for Finishing and Afterthought Heel

4. Hand Dyed Autum Leaves 2 BFL. I'm thinking that I really need to take some of my own hand-dyed yarn to Hawaii. It wasnt't hard for me to find a pattern that worked well with the idea behind the yarn. Barbara Walker to the rescue again! Can anyone guess which pattern I picked? Just a hint, it's out of the second volume...

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Autum Leaves 2 Becomes a Scarf Swatch.
Can You Guess What Pattern I'm Using?

5. Habu Textiles KSH-like yarn. After being reminded of the Quick Lace Scarf by yesterday's post, I'm going to work on one for myself. How could I resist this cute little bundle? Certainly it will be easy on my suitcase!

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Sagey Green Habu Textiles Silk And Mohair: Embryonic Scarf

As per usual, I suspect I am being rather over optimistic about what I can accomplish, but I always like to balance that with having a lot to choose from. And since I don't plan to go yarn shopping on Maui (I haven't bought any yarn since MS&W and I'm hoping to keep this resolution going until at least Christmas given the size of my current stash). I want to make sure I have enough goodies with me to keep me entertained. My Denise needles will come with me, as well. They're nice and lightweight and easily fit into one's luggage and don't arouse airport safety problems.

You're probably wondering why there's no mention of spinning fiber and spindles here. I've given that a lot of thought and decided that it's probably best to leave these things at home. The fiber takes up more space than I would like and spindles are not airplane compatible tools, by my reckoning. So I'll use this vacation as an opportunity to get back to bonding with my needles, knowing that my good fibery goodies will be waiting for me when I get home. That said, I did get a little spindling in while washing clothes for our trip.

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A Little Silk and Cormo to Help Out with My Laundry

Oh, and I also got my computer "packed" and ready to go. No trip would be complete without a good complement of computer game entertainment. And I've got, for me at least, all the major areas covered. In the Strategy category, there's Civ III (how else to take on the husband in the quest for world domination?) and Railroad Tycoon III, to cover my adventure gaming needs I've got Myst IV: Revelation and URU: Ages Beyond Myst (with all expansions and upgrades) in preparation for the arrival of Myst V (it should be here by the time I get back from Hawaii), and of course, I could never leave home without a few entries from my favorite genre, role playing games, hence Neverwinter Nights (also with all the trimmings) and Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic. LIke the knitting, only a few are likely to really get engaged, but I know for sure that if I left one at home, that would be the one I want...and what else are nice, fat laptop harddrives for?

Housekeeping

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Something about going on vacation makes me want to get everything in order. The change of the seasons has a similar effect on me. As I feel the fall weather coming to not only visit Chicago, but to stay, I have the desire to clean my desk and create an open work surface for myself. I want to look at my nearby book case and see something that makes me want to pick up my books and use them. Have a beautiful storage space like you can only find in one of those TV reality redecorating shows on the day they do their reveal.

I will spare you pictures of my desk and my bookcase. However happy their relative cleanliness makes me, I doubt it will provide anyone else with the same level of satisfaction. However, good knitter and drop-spindler that I am, facing an 8 hour flight to a an island in the middle of the pacific ocean, I'm starting to think about just what fiber and tools I will take with me. And of course, that takes me to my sidebar, as I think about all the projects that I have started but seemingly abandoned over the summer. I'm sadly amused by the section I created "waiting for summer". Now that summer has come and gone, these projects will probably wait a bit longer. Clearly I was not very motivated to get a lot done this summer on the knitting front. I'll blame the spinning bug on that one. But the spinning bug and I are pals, so it knows that I'm casting blame with a wink.

So Saturday morning, sitting down with a cup of coffee and a cool breeze floating through my house and some beginning-of-fall sunshine floating through my windows, and a wonderful vacation on the horizon, I'm starting the process of evaluating the things in my side bar.

The first thing I always like to start with is making sure that those things that I finished but just haven't moved to my gallery get moved there. This is where I can give those finished projects a last salute or, now that I've had time to live with them, drop them into the gallery wondering what I was thinking. This batch of projects gave me a nice stroll down the memory lane of Spring 2005

Quick Lace Scarf in Kid Silk Haze (Chill), Started: 11 February 2005 Finished: 1 March 2005
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Kidsilk Haze Scarf

This project was meant as a gift for a co-worker. She got it much later than I had originally planned, but in perfect time for her fall trip to Moscow. This project come out of a book I quite like, Last Minute Knitted Gifts by Joelle Hoverson. It got a very nice response, so I will consider it to be one of my success stories. In fact, I may make one for myself out of some lovely pale green Habu Textiles yarn that seems very similar in consistancy to Kid Silk Haze. One thing I love about going into Nina's on Division is that she carries quite a few yarns from Habu. Last time I was in I found one that was somewhere between thread and lace weight that had stainless steel in it!

Phildar Eponge Top in Phildar Eponge (Camille), Started: 6 March 2005 Finished: 1 May 2005
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Theresa Attempts to Do the Rachael

To be honest, I haven't worn this sweater as much as I would like. By the time I finished it, there wasn't much cool spring weather left in Chicago and while the Eponge is a cotton boucle around an elastic core, it just wasn't all that airy a fabric when knit at the density called for this sweater. The fabric does have a nice texture, though and is easy on the skin, so, hopefully, this pullover will get a better hearing now that fall is approaching. I also have a dirty little secret when it comes to this sweater... I still haven't woven in the ends on the inside. So technically this project is not really finished. But knitting is not always about absolutes.

Morehouse Merino Bias Scarf in Morehouse Merino Laceweight, Started: 8 June 2005 Finished: 22 June 2005
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Bias Scarf Blocked and in the Clear Light of Morning

This is another item that has received more admiration (from me) than wearing. Even laceweight scarves aren't really summer wear here in Chicago. But the colors are perfect for fall and I will be packing this scarf to come with me to help give me a little extra warmth while on Maui. One thing we discovered while on the Big Island was that Hawaiian nights are wonderful but can be a little cool. I'm hoping this will be the perfect thing to take the edge off for me.

And that pretty much wraps it up... (except for the rainbow dyed pearl-barred scarf and my blue hawaiian scarf which I've blogged about recently enough not to give them another hearing at this point and which, given my general blog-maintenance laziness, never even made it on to my in progress list). Definitely a contrast to last summer where I remember having quite a few more projects finished and at least one pair of socks!

So now I have done the blog equivalent of cleaning off my desk (I also retired some buttons from some old knit-alongs that I've long since finished or will never finish), and it's time to start letting the feeling of open desk space help me figure out where to go next and what possibilties I want to take on. And maybe what things will be in my carry-on bag on the airplane....

Lucky Number Seven

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The true success of a marriage lies not in looking just at each other, but in looking forward together.
-- author unknown, at least by me.

Today is the occasion of my 7th anniversary of marriage to the most truly special man I know.

The man who went out and bought me 2 dozen red roses to start my morning with.

The man who never lets me give up on myself.

The man who is the eternal optimist who always sees the good in people.

The man who understands when I am difficult, that it is not personal.

The man who sees my potential even when I don't.

The man who patiently indulges my constant discussion about buying a sheep.

The man who walks by an empty store front in a nice neighborhood and says "that would be a great place for a yarn store".

The man who has graciously consented to let me knit him stripey sweaters and socks.

The man who has never failed me, but also knows when a little tough love is required.

The man who still makes me feel like I am walking on air when he is around.

The man who will play video games with me until the wee hours of the morning.

The man who I know, no matter what else happens, will always be with me.

The man who has so many good and wonderful qualities that I could write this list all day and still not have written about everything.

The man I want to look forward with forever.

I love you, Jasiu. I've never made a better decision in my life than to spend my life with you.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

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I went and finally did something that I should have done a long time ago and have pushed myself solidly into "world in flux" mode. It seems that most of the major leaps of faith that I have taken in life depend mostly on having some faith in myself. This one is no different.

As I pull my world back into the kind of order I want it to have, I'll be knitting and spinning for sure, but perhaps not as regularly as I would like. Or perhaps more. It's just not clear. And that's all good. I'm one of those people who normally likes to surround herself with order, who likes to have a plan. But I often make my biggest leaps forward when I set the plan aside and get beyond my own box.

And right now it's time to rip off the lid.

The View from My Balcony

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Lately, my house and my little gardening attempts have been making me happy. John and I spent a good deal of time looking for some simple but colorful plants to add some bright touches to our very small back yard.

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The View from My Balcony

This is the view from the balcony off our master bedroom that overlooks the back of our house. We've got 5 long flower boxes filled with red Wave petunias (I love these guys! They grow like crazy and are pretty tough customers when it comes to not getting enough water)and some nice contrasting white or yellow flowers and then we went for purple, with a touch of red for most everything else. We also got a couple of extra boxes so that I could have some fresh basil, spicy peppers for salsa and green peppers just to enjoy.

And that strange small pot sitting just to the left of the table? That contains our attempt at raising a giant sequoia from a seedling that we got when we visited the Johh Muir Woods last year. It's actually about 6-8" tall and is spreading out at the base and getting a start on a woody trunk. We have high hopes for this little tree (no pun intended) and are having a great time watching it grow. Nothing like the thought of a mammoth sequoia growing in urban Chicago... though it will likely head off to live in my parents spacious and wonderful backyard if it survives to the point where it gets to start experiencing it's "giantness".

If There Were Knitting...

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...there would be a real posting. Instead, I am just going to babble on a little bit about my life right now.

Mostly, I am amazed at how much I can get behind by taking 4 days of vacation. Especially when I did a lot of work on those 4 days. But right now, it's like a firestorm. I am one of those people who uses her email inbox to make sure that I've done what I needed to do. I don't file a message until I've responded to it appropriately. Lately, I feel like I've been playing email inbox whack-a-mole (remember that carnival game?). And I'm losing badly. Stuff just keeps flowing in, and no matter how hard I try, I'm just barely not keeping up. And I just hate that feeling like I am falling behind, so I've been very focused on trying to get caught up.

Combine that with my dearest sweetest husband having a birthday and it's a recipe for very little of interest to post on a knitting blog. I don't even have a good cat picture to show for myself.

I'm hoping the weekend will give me a chance to get myself together...

AWOB

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Absent Without Blogging

All I gotta say about this week is who died and made me an adult?

When I was in junior high and high school, I just couldn't wait to be an adult. It looked to me like adults got to run the show. And if you know me, you know that I very much like to run the show. So by that token, it should make sense that being an adult had a great deal of appeal to me.

Which is another way of saying that you should always be careful what you wish for, even if what you are wishing for is inevitable.

In spite of this desire to be an adult, as I grew up, I never really had this perception that I was changing too much. I always felt like me. Sometimes I was a more confident me, sometimes less so. I made good and bad decisions. I had my fair share of things I would do over and things that I impressed myself with. But I never really sat down and thought to myself, "Now I am a responsible adult". Even when John and I bought our house, I was just kind of amazed that I had gotten to the point in my life when I could deal with going into a small room at a title company with a couple of lawyers and some papers from the mortgage company and come out a home owner.

Of course, that said, you don't get to your mid-thirties without having a few life defining experiences. Mine include heading off to Texas for college, a PhD, an ex-fiance, marrying an extraordinary person, working for an extraordinarily awful person and getting a real job.

Lately I've been coming up against life-defining experiences in much more rapid succession than I was expecting. They usually leave my head spinning for a while, and it's hard to knit or blog too much when the world is rotating rapidly around me. The process of getting back to equillibrium requires my full attention and evaluation.

I'll be back in full force next week. After all, I still haven't shown off my favorite Maryland purchases yet...

Work In Progress

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Tonight (or should I say, this morning) the title of my post has nothing to do with knitting, an everything to do with the fact that I am carefully monitoring the behavior of one of our customer's server systems. You gotta love anything that impacts the usability of a server -- it happens at night. So while many people get to sleep, someone gets to watch and see that this computer is pushing its electrons around correctly.

So far, so good. In a half an hour or so, I will probably feel good enough about it following the instructions it was given to go to bed and check out the (hopefully) completed process in the morning.

It's funny to me, that after all the time I have been exposed to computers and the Internet, it still amazes me that I can sit in my desk chair in Chicago and have a special bonding moment with a server almost anywhere else in the world. It's the same kind of wonder I experience when I take a look at my blog stats every now and again and notice that there are hits to my blog from every continent on the planet (except from Antarctica). All I can say to that is "wow", and that I'm honored to have so many visitors from so many diverse places. Would that I had the chance to visit all the countries you all visit from!

With that in mind, if you're visiting today, and wouldn't mind commenting, let me know where you're from! If you're from the US, let me know your home state. You don't have to fill in a URL or your real email address if you don't want to. I'll put all the results together in one of those lovely maps and share it.

Thanks for dropping by today. There will be a little something to show tomorrow, since the one good thing about watch a computer go about it's business is that there's plenty of time to get in a few more rows on my pink spongy wonder.

A Day in the Life

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There are two questions that I get asked all the time. The first question is "What is the name of your blocking board and where can I buy it from?" (The answer, it's a SpaceBoard and you can get it from KnitPicks or PatternWorks). The other is "What is a computational biologist?" Since I'm back a little late from a nice V-day dinner, I thought tonight might be a good one to pursue that second question.

The answer to this question is probably a little different for everyone who calls themselves by that label. It depends on where you are in your organizational food chain and what kind of organization you belong to. I thought it might be entertaining/enlightening to provide something of diary entry of what I do on a regular day. To begin with, it's probably important to be clear about what my title is: "Director of Scientific Operations". This means that I don't do quite as much actual science as if I had a Scientist title (I used to be "Scientist, Bioinformatics"), but because I work for a small company, I still get to dabble in my area of specialty. Because I work in a small company, I also don't take the title too seriously. We all wear a lot of hats and most of the time I just do what needs to be done without worrying too much about whether it fits in my job description. Here's how things often go for me...

8 AM -- Get up, check email (some of our customers and one of our business partners are across the Atlantic, and earlier in the morning is my best chance to take care of their questions). Breathe sigh of relief that newly upgraded server supporting a group of important customers has not generated any unhappy support request emails. But notice that there does seem to be a problem with the system that handles our new customer inquiries. Make note to deal with when at work. Find coffee.

10 AM -- Arrive at work. Yes, I know, this is later than most of you get to work. I have to take care of a number of west-coasters and 10 to 6 makes it easier for me to do this. It's one of the few luxuries I have. Make tea. Turn on computer, check email again, pick up voice mail. Make note to call US business partner about proposal we are putting together for a customer.

10:15 AM -- Launch MS Project. Plan for weekly operations meeting based on info from last week.

10:30 AM -- Restart MS Project due to some strange bug. Twice. Make notes for meeting.

10:55 AM -- Round up meeting participants (it's a small company and it's Monday...)

11:05 AM -- Operations Meeting

11:54 AM -- Realize that one more cup of tea has gotten mostly cold before I finished it.

11:55 AM -- Fix small problem with customer registration scripts on new server. Yes, a little Perl is almost an essential of my day to day life. Send emails to people who noticed the problem.

12:00 PM -- Prepare DNA sequence alignment data for one of the bioinformatics scientists for a report that needs to go out. (The four chemicals, called nucleotides, that make up DNA can be represented using 4 letters of the alphabet: A, T, G & C. Much of bioinformatics revolves around comparing DNA sequences by comparing two lists of these letters and determining whether they match or not, and if so, how close the match is.)

12:13 PM -- Send off data to scientist. Start working on customer status reports.

12:15 PM -- Investigate customer issue for business development. Revel a little bit in remembering how to use some fun UNIX tools.

1:30 PM -- Lunch and coffee at local Italian bakery. Large skim latte to go please!

2:20 PM -- Take a look at what's currently on our sequencing machines. Talk to a few lab folks about how projects are progressing. Feel generally upbeat about current progress.

2:30 PM -- Review report for customer.

2:40 PM -- Discuss results from recent sequencing project with genome assembly group. (Genome assembly is the process by which small bits of DNA sequence are turned into a long piece of DNA sequence. Sequencing machines, on average, spit out 500-700 base pair pieces while bacterial genomes are usually somewhere between 1,000,000 and 8,000,000 bases... it's a bit like putting a puzzle together without knowing what the picture on the box is and having a lot of pieces with very similar nibs and cutouts. It is both very cool and very frustrating).

2:50 PM -- Send report off to customer.

3:00 PM -- Start sending off project status reports to customers.

3:30 PM -- Discussion with heads of business development and R&D with regards to an internal research project.

4:00 PM -- Investigation of software offering by another bioinformatics company.

4:45 PM -- Send off more status reports.

5:00 PM -- Remember that I still haven't called alliance partner. Send email apologizing. Make note to call tomorrow.

5:30 PM -- Finish sending off status reports. Look back through email box trying to figure out if anything urgently needs to be attended to.

5:59 PM -- Find something that does.

6:12 PM -- Wrap up that problem.

6:30 PM -- Take one more pass through inbox. Clean up desk (or at least try...my desk has a tendency to grow piles of paper) for tomorrow.

7:00 PM -- Turn off lights, set alarm. Set off for home.

10:00 PM -- Check inbox one more time, handle a couple of emails that came in from the left coast.

And that about covers it. Somedays I do more computer-related things, other days I spend more time on the phone talking to customers with technical questions. I'm usually happiest when I'm putting little snippets of Perl together and coaxing a computer into making my life easier. But I also get a little rush out of bringing in a new contract or knowing that I helped someone get a little closer to their research goals.

The knitting related content will be back tomorrow. I hope everyone had a lovely Valentine's Day!

Birthday Celebration

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It's not often that I get a 50 degree sunny day for my birthday, but this year, the Chicago weather delivered me a wonderful present which was icing on the cake of a truly wonderful day for me.

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A Little Birthday Celebration

As if the beautiful yarn from my friends at ThreadBear wasn't enough (it's a beautiful combination of Cascade 220 and Mountain Colors 4/8 Wool -- more on what it's for in a bit), John also surprised me by telling me we would be taking a trip to upgrade my iPod. This 40 GB wonder will now house all my music plus any audio books I want to put onto it.

My mom and dad added to my sheep collection. The lovely lady sitting on top of my basket was made by Lee Anne Racine of Wool Outback Farms of Dexter, Michigan (she actually lives not too far away from my parents). Like the sheep I showed off after Christmas, this Knitting Sheep is entirely made of wool and wool products from Wool Outback Farms.

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The Knitting Sheep

She's definitely worth a closeup! Gotta love a sheep taking advantange of her own natural attributes. Especially a sheep who was created specially for me (though the design is apparently one that she created in 1984). This time, I have contact information for anyone who might want a sheep of their own. Click here for contact info for Wool Outback Farms.

So what is the Cascade and Mountain Colors for? I recently bought myself a copy of this great book:

Julie and I first spotted it when on a short road trip to Ruhama's in the fall. Because I've been getting more and more interested in adding some knitted decoration to my house, this book really caught my attention. Paging through it, I found more than one design that I thought would go well in my house. John worked with Rob and Matt so that I could have some gorgeous yarn for my first project from the book (its the spiral rug in the bottom left corner). As soon as I get Sigil completed the rug is going to move up on deck.

Also, since I've heard rumors about Colinette's Ab Fab Afghan kit being discontinued, I bought myself a little present as well. John helped me pick the colors since I promised him it would end up in a place where he could enjoy it. It was fun to pull out my color card to help us visualize the colors in the final product.

Meme-ingful

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This has been doing the rounds a bit, and as usual I am a little late to the party. I believe the originator can be found at Nake-id Knits

Grooming Products

  • Shampoo: Modern Organic Products Lemongrass and Chamomile for Fine Hair
  • Moisturizer: Origins Balanced Diet (supplemented with a number of other Origins white tea products)
  • Perfume: Most of the time, none. But when I do use, my current bottle is Fresia-scented cologne from Fragonard
  • Razor: Venus
  • Toothpaste: Crest Whitening (when you're a coffee drinker you need all the help you can get)

Electronics

  • Cell phone: Kyocera 7135 -- If it doesn't have a Palm OS on it, don't even bother to show it to me.
  • Computer: Chuckle. Which one? My laptop is a Gateway m505 widescreen that every now and again gets confused with an Apple PowerBook
  • Television: Dukane D-ILA projector and movie screen. Not my doing, but I enjoy it. How did we live before HDTV?
  • Stereo: my iPod and my laptop provide most of my stereo. But we also have a mix of nice components to go with the projector

Home

  • Sheets: In the winter, flannel. In the summer, jersey or cotton. I have very little color or print preference, but I do tend to find what I like best at Eddie Bauer and Pottery Barn
  • Coffee-maker: Saeco Magic Deluxe. The one device that my husband knows better than to mess with. The one device that will leave my house only over my cold, dead body.
  • Car: 1999 Mercury Cougar in a forest green color (the sporty little coupe, not the big behemoth). Fully loaded and with a manual transmission. (As my dad would say, if you don't have a stick, you're not driving, just steering. I'm definitely a stick girl.
  • Stationery: A little from Cranes, the rest eclectic. And most definitely electronic paper.

Beverages

  • Bottled water: I have no religion with bottled water, but will tend to pick Evian if given the choice.
  • Coffee: Peet's, Major Dickasons's Blend or Intelligensia's Flo Blend (a blend they make for my favorite local restaurant).
  • Vodka: Yes. Stoli if possible.
  • Beer: Microbrewed ales. Goose Island's IPA is one of my all time favorites. I'm also partial to a well poured Guiness

Clothes

  • Jeans: Gap, Long and Lean if I can get 'em.
  • T-shirt: Gap, Eddie Bauer, J. Jill, whatever I can find at CostCo
  • Briefcase or tote: I have an awesome backpack from Eddie Bauer for my laptop and my current favorite tote is a blue suede number that I bought from Levenger.
  • Sneakers: None, if I can avoid them, I think they make my feet look strange.
  • Watch: When I wear one, which is much less than I used to, the Movado my husband got me for Christmas the year before we were married.

Favorite Places: my home; Chicago; Sydney, Australia; the John Muir Forest; the big island of Hawai'i; Seattle

Extravagances: Food and dining out, tech toys and computer games, yarn (I suppose that goes without saying), books

Good-bye, Grandma

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I hadn't really expected to be blogging about what I was doing last Friday. Some events are really just about family, and, while important, not something I choose to talk about. If you've come looking for knitting, this post will be decidedly light on that subject.

Early this week I found out that my grandmother on my mother's side had passed away. If she had lived another month, she would have been 85 years old. To say that I have mixed feelings about my grandmother is an understatement. I have not seen her in many years, she did not come to my wedding, in spite of my mother's best attempts. She was not an easy person to be with or to love. She had a tendency to push people away, and, probably not to my credit, I kept my distance. I do believe that people make their own decisions about what they want their lives to be about. Hers did not always encourage her family to gather around her.

But to be fair, not all in her life was easy. She was born in 1920 and grew up in the Great Depression. She married her first husband in the early 40's, just before the US entered the war, I think. My mother was born in 1943. His plane was shot down over the English Channel (I think some time in 1944, but I don't know the exact date). He did not come home. She married again and had my uncle 8 years after my mom, and then my aunt 2 years later. Her second husband died before my mother was married to my dad in 1964. She spent much of her life as a single mother working as a housekeeper, which can't have been an easy thing to do at the time.

My grandmother wasn't an easy person to get to know. To be honest, I couldn't tell you much about her that would help me give you a good picture of her. She loved her garden, enjoyed reading Ann McCaffery, and watching basketball. She was a diabetic and she probably smoked too much. She was frugal and kept her home neat. When I was little, there were always cookies in the cookie jar on her counter, and a set of well-used Lincoln Logs to play with and some ancient Archie comic books in the bottom drawer of her desk. When I got older, I can remember her going through an old trunk, showing me the Purple Heart and the Medal of Honor that had been awarded to my mother's father.

As I got older, the distance grew. I won't explain the reasons here, but just as she wasn't an easy person to know, she wasn't an easy person to like.

Recently, she moved from her home to housing where she would have better access to medical attention and she had to pare down much of what she had carried with her through life, and make decisions about what had enough value to her to take with her. My mother and her brother and sister went through her belongings before my brother and I arrived on Friday for the funeral. My mother gave me these:

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I had never known she did any needlework, she'd always complained of bad arthritis even when I was little. Yet these hooks and needles were important enough to her to keep, even when she cast many other things aside. They must have meant something to her. In spite of what I had thought, she and I did have something in common.

I wonder now if she and I might have had something to talk about. What if I had gone up to Northern Michigan with my parents and pulled out a knitting project? Or knit her a scarf for Christmas? Would it have made a connection? Given me a chance to see her in a different, more sympathetic light? No doubt, it wouldn't have changed everything. I guess I'll never know the answer now.

Goodbye, Grandma. May the next world or your next life treat you better than this one did. And if we should ever meet again, hopefully I'll have remembered to bring my knitting.

A Few More Things About Me

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All that was seamed is in pieces again. The addition of a single-crochet edging didn't do Margot any favors in the armhole department, so I took her completely apart and re-bound off the tops of the sleeve caps using the 15 mm needle held together with another large diameter needle in order to get a looser bound off edge. I've gotten one side of the sweater re-seamed, and the seaming looks neater than before, so at least I am making progress in the right direction.

Today was a milestone day for me -- not only did I get a haircut after about 2 years of "letting it grow out" (read: too lazy to make a hair appointment, not satisfied with any hair stylist I could find and in denial about my hair and what I was willing to spend time doing to it) but I think I have finally found a hair dresser that I can live with. This appointment got rid of the shaggy tendrils in the back. The next appointment will include not only a re-shaping but (gasp) highlighting. If you want to see the "new look" you can click here. (Whether I can re-create it on a day-to-day basis is anyone's guess).

So, since this was one of those "all about me" days, I'll close with a few more additions to my "100 things" list.

  1. I was raised Catholic, but don't practice anything in particular now if I can avoid it. I do feel I have strong values, however. I believe in treating people with respect and trying to do my best to make the planet a better place
  2. I am definitely in my middle-thirties, but often regarded to be in my twenties. I consider this a mixed blessing.
  3. Unlike most women, I am congenitally incapable of using a blow drier or a curling iron in any effective manner. This could be laziness or a lack of co-ordination or both.
  4. I was introduced to knitting by a dear friend during graduate school. She believed that anyone could knit anything. She taught me to knit Continental and my first completed sweater was Grapevine from Alice Starmore's "Stillwater".
  5. I currently have three cats, all boys. The first two were littermates that I adopted just before I met John. One of them, Sydney, got his name because of an Internet "penpal" I had who was from Australia.
  6. I played my fair share of Dungeons and Dragons in grade school. I have a continuing love-affair with computer roll playing games. When given the opportunity to choose, I almost always play a magic user.
  7. I learned to read when I was three years old and I haven't stopped reading since. My favorite genre used to be science fiction or fantasy (lots and lots of fantasy), but now I find myself drawn more to the history of science and mysteries/suspense/thrillers. And knitting books.
  8. Yes, I am well aware of the fact that I am very much a geek girl.
  9. All the men in my immediate family are engineers, and they are all different flavors: my father is an aerospace/automotive engineer, my brother is a chemical engineer, my husband is a software engineer and my brother-in-law is a mechanical engineer.
  10. I consider my career in biology, computers and management to be the natural result of crossing an engineer with a speech, literature and drama major.

A Few Things About Me

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I don't have time to get through 100 things tonight, but here's the first 10:

  1. I was born in the last year that the Beatles were still together. All while I was in grade school I can remember my parents playing the Abbey Road and Hey Jude albums. At one point in time I could sing most of the songs from these albums from memory.
  2. When I was 6 months old, my parents got me up out of bed early so that I could watch Niel Armstrong walk on the moon. They knew I wouldn't remember it, but they thought I should be there to watch it.
  3. When I was growing up I wanted to be a lawyer, an astronomer and finally a biologist. I got hooked by immunology during my senior year in high school when I read a National Geographic article "The Wars Within" which described the role of the immune system in HIV infection.
  4. I only spent one year in public school -- kindergarden. All the rest of my schooling has been in private institutions.
  5. I've only lived in four different places in my life: Buffalo, NY, Ann Arbor, MI, San Antonio, TX and Chicago,IL. But while in Chicago, I've moved 5 times. Three of those moves were within Hyde Park.
  6. I currently live in a house I don't want to leave -- a 4 bedroom house in the city. I love my house. Even though it's not new to us any more, I will still walk around my house and tell my husband how much I love it.
  7. I almost married the wrong man. But that experience helped me recognize when I met the right one.
  8. My husband and I met through an Internet personals site. For a long time I thought he was too good to be true.
  9. I believe that anything worth doing is worth doing in an obsessive compulsive manner.
  10. I was introduced to computers by my father who bought an Apple II+ when I was 12. I have been infatuated with them ever since.

Just One Word

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UNLESS

I am the Lorax...

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...and I speak for the trees. Does anyone else remember this jewel from Theodor Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss)? It was always a favorite of mine when I was younger. At the time I didn't completely appreciate how political it was, or what context to put it in. Now that I am older, it has become more meaningful. I believe that there need to be more Loraxes in the world. And not just to speak for the trees. But also to speak for the atmosphere, the sick, the homeless, the poor and our waterways. We should all speak out about what we care for.

It has never seemed to me that a knitting blog is the place for me to discuss politics. I've always seen my blog as a peaceful place, a controversy and negativity-free zone. Discussions of politics are usually not done without the risk of disrupting the peace and introducing negativity. I don't make any attempt to hide my general leanings, but since I've never wanted to offend anyone or make politics a part of my blogging experience, I've generally stayed away from making my feelings public.

But since November 2nd is tomorrow, and I do believe that a great deal hinges on this election, the time has come to put myself out there and take a risk. The time has come for me to speak for my personal trees. To anyone this offends, I'm sorry. Tomorrow I'll be back to my regularly scheduled, politics-free knitting content.

I think I can express myself best by telling you something of who I am.

I was raised to believe that I could be anything and do anything I could dream -- that my gender should not be a barrier to accomplishment. I am an avid supporter of women's and minority rights, in particular, the right of women and minorities to have equal opportunities in the work place.

I was raised Catholic, with a healthy dose of skepticism. I believe strongly that we must respect and forgive and be honest with other people and that we must teach these values to our children. But I also believe that we must think about and question the "dictates" we hear in our churches -- or from any place that is trying to teach us morality. We may be part of the flock, but we should not simply act as sheep. I am pro-choice and pro-birth control and I believe that devoted same sex couples should have the same rights as my husband and I do.

I am the child of two people who were amongst the first in their families to go to college. I am married to a man who broke through barriers and paid his own way to pursue his own schooling. I believe strongly in the value of education and feel one of the greatest priorities in this country should be the education of all children. Knowledge is power that everyone should have, not just an elite few.

I am a scientist. I believe in making decisions based on data not on what I want to be true. I am pro-stem cell research and I believe that future advances in science will improve health and lead to longer lifespans. I believe that a country with the incredible technological horsepower found in this country should be able to make sure that everyone in this country has access to affordable and regular health care. I also believe that we must discover ways to have a more positive impact on our planet. We must find cleaner and more sustaining sources of fuel. We should research ways to avoid polluting and abusing our environment. I feel very strongly that we should find ways to reduce greenhouse gasses and slow global warming. I want the planet to be someplace that the children I have not had yet will want to live.

I am an American. I love my country and have always considered myself lucky to be born here. I am proud of it's many accomplishments and the vision of hopefulness that is part of its founding and constitution. I believe in my right, and the right of others -- even those who disagree with me -- to speak and gather freely.

I am very embarrassed by my country's leadership, and saddended by the image it has created of the place that I love. It is a leadership that is fostering fear, a leadership that wants to erode freedoms that so many have fought to protect. A leadership that has no problems supporting policies that damage our environment and has no vision for how to provide affordable healthcare to all Americans. A leadership that seems to believe that the United States should be seen as a great bully instead of a role model. A leadership that time and time again has misled the American people.

I believe it is time for a change. On Tuesday morning I will be casting my vote for John Kerry and John Edwards.

Your Regularly Scheduled Blog Post

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will return on Monday. Yesterday was devoted to a lot of things at work and followed up by great problems trying to install new Symantec software on my computer (no, it shouldn't have been a problem, but it certainly turned out to be... sometimes I wonder what these software companies are thinking.... I have somebody who really knows what he is doing and we still had a hard time repairing the situation. I hate to think what it would have been like if I'd been on my own..).

Thus, I didn't get to KIP and I didn't get to blog at my normal time. Fortunately I did make time to do some therapy knitting, and I am getting closer to having a new scarf to add to my wardrobe.

All should be back to normal on Monday. Happy Weekend to everyone!

Renegade Biologist

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The Renegade Craft Fair in Wicker Park

It was an absolutely gorgeous weekend here in Chicago. Perfect weather for the Renegade Craft Fair. This is the second year for the fair. I didn't manage to get down to it last year, and I am glad I didn't miss it this time.

While it would have been fun all on its own, the time was made better by good company. Bonne Marie and Julie and I wandered through the booths and at various intervals ran into a host of other folks from out Thursday night knitting group. I even came face to face with a professor from grad school. Wicker Park has a way of drawing everyone in these days.

I was actually pretty low key when it came to purchasing things. I didn't really have any "have to find" items. But I did find a few things that caught my attention and "needed" to come home with me.

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Bracelets and Stationary

My favorite finds were the two bracelets. I'd been looking for something fun to wear around my wrist, and these two fit my mood perfectly. The multitude of multicolored stones reminded me of a bracelet that I loved but broke sometime back and can no longer wear. The metal rings spoke a little industrial, a little urban and will likely become one of those things that I wear all the time. And a girl can never have too much nifty stationary, especially when she has fun knit buds to trade with.

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Soap from Eudora Clare

I'm also a soft touch for things that smell good. This lovely soap vendor had the most delicious smells in her booth. I resisted the chocolate scented bath fizzies but came home with a sampling of soap in the earthy, spicy, citrusy range.

After the fair, I came home and found this waiting for me in the mail...

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How Long In Coming Was This?

It's official! I have my diploma and am completely finished with my computer science degree (we won't talk about when I started it... suffice it to say that it was well before I started blogging). I can now add a few more letters to my CV. Happy dancing all around! Perhaps, since I finished all the main knitting for Audrey over the weekend, I will swatch for Butterfly to celebrate!

Family Trees

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Today I am going to deviat from the usual knitting content to share the activities of last Saturday afternoon. John and I travelled to Ann Arbor to do two things: celebrate Father's Day with my dad and plant a tree.

Some day I will finish my "100 things about me list". One of the 100 things will be this little tidbit: John and I share the same wedding anniversary as my parents. It wasn't really planned that way. Back when we were planning our wedding we found a hall that we absolutely had to have. They had two Saturdays open for the whole year when we got there: Saturday August 22nd and Saturday October 31st. We didn't really want a Halloween wedding. It seems cool at first, but orange and black really weren't my first choice of colors. But August 22nd was my parents wedding anniversary. And it didn't seem right to take their day.

But as it turned out, Mom and Dad didn't have any problems sharing their day. John and I were married on their 34th wedding anniversary. And dad likes it because he never forgets the date. We've had several fun anniversary celebrations together, but this year, since it's their 40th anniversary, and they are taking a special trip to Hawaii, we decided to celebrate a little early and share in the purchase of an "anniversary tree".

John and I love trees, but our postage stamp sized yard is more or less dominated by the little Japanese maple that we bought. My parents, on the other hand, have 10 fabulous acres. Plenty of room for trees. Since we were going to plant on Father's Day, I invited my brother to get in on our little project. He and his wife were married a year ago at the end of May. So whatever tree we picked would represent 47 years of marriage. How cool is that?

What did we pick? Well, she won't show her stripes in an obvious way until next spring, but the newest denizen of my parent's domain is a Saucer Magnolia:

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Pink Saucer Magnolia Waiting for Her Forever Home

All the rain that we've had here in the midwest this spring has made my parents backyard so lush it's almost hard to tell there's a tree there. But "Maggie" is an 8 foot tall and very lovely speciment of her species. Once we got her unloaded, it was time to break ground. Dad got out one of his favorite new toys: the backhoe attachment for his John Deere tractor:

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Breaking Ground

Of course, it's really not possible for an engineer, no matter how much of a computer guy he is, to resist heavy machinery and digging holes. So after a quick lesson on the controls, John got involved in the digging too.

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John Prepares for a New Career in Construction

After they got the hole dug and got some nice new top soil to line the bottom of the hole, it was time to move Maggie to her new home. I bet you never knew how versitile a piece of equipment a tractor was!

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Maggie's Big Move

After a quick trip across the back yard, John and Dad and Ufer (the dog) got the tree all settled in.

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Maggie Settles In

Apparently one very loud any happy pheasant has decided that this tree was planted for him and is now coming out to crow underneath it. Seems like Mother Nature is happy with our planting adventure.

Just in case you were wondering what I was doing while all this hole digging and tree moving was going on, I was getting started on this:

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Confetti Tank

Yep, you knew if you waited long enough I would post some actual knitting content. Here's the bottom of the back of the microfiber ribbon tank, which I have taken to calling the "Confetti Tank" after the name of the colorway of the ribbon.

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Tank Top Stitch Pattern Detail

The colors are pooling a bit -- that red definitely likes to be with the blue -- but there's enough drift that I don't think it's going to be too bad. The picture shows the one repeat that I got in between the tree and dinner.

Why, you might ask, is that all I have to show since I had all of Sunday and a car-ride home? Well, another project managed to slip into my fingers and I just couldn't put it down. But I'll be back to this project soon. I think it will be perfect for the trip to San Antonio we have planned over the 4th of July weekend. I think the colors will go just smashingly with the fireworks!

And Now for a Word from Our Sponsor

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No real post tonight. The "keyboard biologist" part of my life is taking center stage right now. Presentations, customers, and other job-related stuff are going to take precedence over knitting for the next couple of evenings.

Hopefully I'll be back on Thursday night (Friday morning). In the mean time, do be thinking about the Audrey-a-long. We're planning on having this knit-a-long be a very participatory experience. If you haven't already told Morgan or Lis or me that you want to join up, please let one of us know (and if you let me know before, remind me, please!). Be sure you give us your email address so that we can let you know about our little surprise when it's ready to go! (Wait until you see some of the lovely work Becky is doing for the knit-a-long!)

And right now there's some beautiful completed projects to go ogle...

Claudia's Incredible Rogue Cardie (if this isn't inspiration to get Rogue on your needles I don't know what is)

Becky's Gorgeous Chocolately Poncho (is there still time to Poncho-a-long?)

Ann's Sassy Chenille Sweater (Kay is a lucky woman to be getting such a pretty new addition to her spring wardrobe).

Alison's Lovely Yellow Chickadee (I really wish I could wear that color!)

and Marie's Adorable Corgi (not knitted, but very cute).

Creative Gifts

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I've often thought that I inherited my crafty desires from my Mom. And there's no doubt that she had a lot to do with it. She was always doing something: sewing, counted cross-stitch, painting, stamping, knitting. More recently she has turned her interests to sculpey clay and doll making which combine a lot of elements of the previous crafty things. And, of course, her daughter is trying to get her back into knitting.

While I was home for Christmas, I had another realization that I should have had a long time ago. My Dad is a pretty crafty guy, too. I've always considered him a wonderful photographer. When I was little I was fascinated with the darkroom he set up in our basement. In addition to his interest in photography, he made some wonderful stained glass pieces, including a Tiffany-style hanging lamp that he actually restored after a house fire.

And all while I was growing up my dad was doing projects that involved wood working -- at one point, he remodeled my mother's entire kitchen in oak. I think it's fair to say that the older I got, the less room there was in the garage for vehicles. Instead, it housed power tools of all varieties, a table saw, a planer, a drill press. A whole collection of "man toys" whose quality evolved with my dad's skills.

When my parents built their dream home, it's probably no surprise that it included a workshop -- or that my dad built most everything in the interior of the house -- from the plumbing to the kitchen cabinets and including some gorgeous mosaic tilework in the master bathroom depicting wood ducks in flight. I came home from my first year of college and helped install wood flooring and bathroom tile and his handmade kitchen cabinets (I stay away from power tools... some of us don't have enough hand eye co-ordination not to be dangerous to ourselves and others with anything more powerful than a cordless screwdriver).

Needless to say, it's a pretty special house.

When I went to grad school, my dad built me some beautiful oak pieces, one of which includes the small dining room table that now serves as my desk (whenever you see an oak background in one of my pictures, you can see that desk). When I split up with a guy I am lucky to not have married, my dad made the most beautiful coffee table for the wonderful couple who shared their home with me for a few weeks while I found a new apartment -- to help me say thank you for their kindness.

Yes, I do know that I have the world's greatest Daddy. But somehow, I never saw him as a crafter. I don't know if it was because his creative hobbies were man oriented or if it was just that it was so much a part of him that I just couldn't imagine him not doing it.

But then last spring he got his lathe. Wood turners, I think, have a lot in common with knitters, except for the issue of sawdust. He's been building up his "wood stash" -- all of us knitters should be glad that you don't have to age our wool several years before we can use it and that we don't need a pickup truck to bring it home -- and building his collection of the lathing equivalent of Addi Turbo needles. And he's been making beautiful things.

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Turned Lovliness

This is a small sample of what he was working on when I was visiting at Christmas. The piece on the far left in the front is a set of stacking boxes, the two walnut pieces and the light colored piece behind the boxes are meant to hold knitting needles and crochet hooks. The small cherry piece in the center is meant to watch a ring or two while you wash dishes or cook. You can get a better look at it in the picture below.

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Little Containers

The stacking box above was made when I asked him to introduce me to his lathe and how he used the different carving tools. He just set up a piece of wood and then asked me what I wanted it to be. I'm a little box-aholic, so it wasn't hard for me to pick. Can you believe that its the first set of stacking boxes that he ever made? He just made it happen as I watched. Needless to say, it was inspiring.

Something about lathe work is just magical. I could have watched him all night. I think that's about the time when the two ton block hit me in the head and I realized that my Dad has had as much to do with my desire to make things with my hands as my Mom has. I just never saw it because what he was doing was never something I could see myself doing. I could definitely imagine myself working with a lathe.

The next time I go back to Ann Arbor I'm hoping to get to go from watching to doing. I'm going to get lathing lessions from my very crafty and creative dad. I'm hoping that maybe I can do something simple like a nostepinne. How cool would that be?

I think I feel another pair of socks coming on....

Evolution and Resolutions

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Something about the New Year always makes me start digging through my stuff, wondering what should travel into the next 365 days with me. This weekend I took a long look at my stash and planned projects and current projects and made a few decisions. I'm de-stashing again. The first of the things up for trade/sale can be found here. There will be a few more things that go up this week if I can't find local homes for them.

I also did some cleanup on my blog. All of my links have moved here (you can get to them by clicking on the "LINKS" rollover in my header bar as well. Nothing has really changed, I just moved them to a new page. I was finding it too hard to control all of them easily in my Movable Type template, so I decided to move them into their own space.

The blog cleanup also got me thinking about my projects. I ditched the pair of socks I was going to make for John out of Mission Falls 1824 wool -- he wore a hole through the bottom of one of the socks in his first pair, so I don't think it's tough enough stuff to stand up to John and our carpet. Not to worry though. I found some more durable stuff while out shopping in Wheaton with Julie this weekend. And I've got a bunch of Mountain Colors Bearfoot. John's feet will not be forgotten.

Of course, it's almost impossible for me to dig through my stash without thinking about getting something else started. Since I finished up the bottom edging and the collar of Mom's Holographic cardi, I decided it was okay if I started something new (there are no pics yet as I have not sewn on the button or sewn in all the ends).

I thought about returning to my Bullseye pullover, but decided that I would let it linger a little longer in the closet when I remembered I had some Colinette Giotto just waiting to become something wonderful.

And after this Christmas, I do have a reason to make myself something wonderful. My absolutely fabulous husband surprised me with a night at the opera and dinner at my favorite French restaurant, Les Nomades. When I was in grad school, some friends and I used to have season tickets to the Lyric Opera (no, we didn't make that much, we just took advantage of some well priced seats in the nosebleed section of the opera house). I never really thought I would enjoy the opera, but something about it really moved me. Lately I'd been mentioning wanting to see one again. Lucky me to have a guy who listens when I don't think he is.

Anyway... just because I can't resist showing off Giotto, here's the swatches I made for Siena. I ended up going up from a size 11 needle to a size 13 needle to get gauge (the big swatch is the correct one). It's impossible to tell from the picture, but the gauge really makes a difference. Not only in finished garment size, but also in terms of how the Giotto shows itself off. The larger gauge lets a lot more of the shine through while the smaller guage makes for a much duller fabric.

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The Difference a Needle Size Makes

Obviously, when you're knitting on tree trunks, it doesn't take very long to see progress. That ruffle at the bottom is cast on to US size 17 (12 mm) needles. I never thought I would see circular needle ends connected by what looks like Tygon tubing. A big thank you to Rob who loaned me this pair so I could get started on this project since I wasn't able to find anything this big at my LYSs

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Big Needles + Big Yarn = Rapid Progress

I guess it goes without saying that I don't expect this project to take me too long. Not just because of the big needles, but because I love the colors in the yarn and the fabric that it makes. I particularly like the streaks of bright green and blue that are shot throughout the yarn.

I've seen a lot of people out in the blog world talking about New Year's Resolutions. Usually I stay away from these things. And I'm not going to talk about the ones I consider personal. But I do have a few that are knitting blog appropriate.

  • No more yarn diets. If I find something that makes my heart sing, I'm not going to feel guilty about bringing it home. But I am also going to be a little bit more choosy. I'm not going to get something just because it is on sale. Nor am I going to buy without some idea of what I am going to do with my new purchase. I look at this as the "balanced diet" approach to stash control.
  • I'm going to be more critical of patterns -- and I am going to read them all the way through before I get started. Most of the time when something didn't go quite right in a project, my gut was already telling me to stop and think. But because I hate to rip, and because I can be such a slavish follower of instructions, I tend to over-ride my gut instincts. There's nothing wrong with modifying a design to suit my needs. Or to fix a problem the designer didn't originally forsee.
  • I'm going to explore my own design skills more. Working on my felted bag pattern was an incredibly rewarding experience. Putting that pattern together woke up something inside me that wants to keep creating. I'm going to try to devote more of my knitting time to designing things on my own. First up is a variation on the Chicago bag, after that, a sweater for John.
  • I'm want to master two color knitting. I want to take on both intarsia and Fair Isle projects this year -- and finish them.
  • I would like to review one knitting book a week on my blog. I've acquired so many this year...
  • I'm going to try to learn more about photography and photo composition. A good photo can really make even simple things look wonderful. Whenever I trip on over to Bonne Marie's blog I am usually struck by her lovely pictures -- not just by the quality of the photo but also by how she puts things together in a photo.

I think that's almost enough words to start the week and the New Year with!

But I do want to add one thing before I close... I'm hoping to create a gallery of finished Chicago bags for everyone to see and also to provide others with useful information about what works and doesn't work when it comes to yarn. If you complete the bag, I'd really love to have your pictures an comments. Just send them to the email address in the link on the side bar. If you send me something, please be sure to tell me what yarn you used and the colors so I can include that information with your picture.

Post Christmas Greetings

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I haven't disappeared, I've just been transported to Ann Arbor to spend the holidays with my family. It's been a while since my whole family has been in on place on Christmas Eve and Christmas. I've been doing a lot of eating and knitting and hanging out. Can't ask for better than that!

It was a good fibery Christmas for me... there will be pictures as soon as I can figure out how dad's photoeditng software works.

Happy Holidays!!!!

The Keyboard Biologist Gets a Makeover

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How do you like my new look? I'm ecstatic about it! The fabulous Becky, put some of her design skills to work for me and came up with something very wonderful. It's so crisp and clean and fun! Be sure to scroll all the way down to the bottom so that you don't miss the fun in the footer. Nothing like getting something done by someone who knows what they're doing. There's dancing Chez Keyboard Biologist tonight!

It wasn't exactly timed this way, but the arrival of my brand new look (at least on this page, the rest of the site will migrate gradually as I find time to convert my old pages) is happening exactly as I put my very first pattern up for sale. Chicago is now available through me and my website. Just scroll down a bit on this page until you see the "patterns" section on the side bar. The "Buy Now" button will let you use PayPal to purchase the pattern for the "Blue Line" edition of Chicago. Click on the picture to find out more information about the pattern.

As soon as I see a message in my inbox from PayPal with your email, I'll send you the PDF version of the pattern. Please be patient with me if the turn around isn't instantaneous. I just can't monitor my email 24/7. But I will try to get your pattern to you in 24 hours or less. I don't want to collect too much personal information, but please make sure that I get your full name and email address. Hopefully in the future I'll get a little more hi-tech.

If I was talking about a pattern of someone else's that I finished, I would be writing a "what did I learn" segment here to close it out. I've still got a lot of ideas for Chicago variations, but it feels like I've cleared the first hurdle here.

So what did I learn about the pattern design process?

  • Take notes. Even if something seems easy, and like something I should remember, chances are that three weeks later, I won't. As in science, reproduceability is important in a pattern for a knitted item. Keeping a "lab notebook" of the process is critical when you're trying to put everything together at the end.
  • It's hard to take good pictures. And I think it's fair to say that the ones I've got are serviceable, but not top notch. It's time to learn a little more about my camera and about photo composition.
  • Get people to help proof the pattern. There's nothing like having a second set of eyes to look at what I've written after I've looked at it umpteen times. I learned a lot from the people who pre-screened it for me. Thanks again to Julie, Bonne Marie and Steph for taking the time to look it through and give me their feedback. Steph also gets extra special thanks for test knitting the bag. It was such an incredible thing to see my little pattern work in someone else's hands.
  • Make at least one following the instructions as written in the pattern. For the Kureyon version of Chicago, I forced myself to read every line.
  • Good formatting is harder than you think. I hate MS Word even under the best of circumstances. Using it to make a pattern fit into a reasonable number of pages can be painful.

Bottom Line: It's almost as much work to put the pattern together as it is to create the design in the first place.

And even when it's over, it's not over. I want everyone who spends their hard earned money on my pattern to have the best possible experience. Felting is a somewhat mystical process involving wool and water. If you do the bag in something different than Cascade 220 or Kureyon, I'd love to know about the results. Then I can share them with others and we all benefit. And I love pictures. I'd like to create a Chicago gallery. If you make this bag, send me a picture and tell me what yarn you used to make the bag and I'll put all the info on display for everyone who comes to visit me here.

So what next?

Well, I'm going to put the felted bags down for a while and finish up a few things for some of the wonderful people in my life. The Shadow Boxes Cardigan for my mom, a winter headband for John. When I was visiting ThreadBear I puchased a skein of Cascade Indulgence -- it's 70% alpaca and 30% angora and soft as an angel's wing. Just perfect for my sweetie who likes everything soft. Even better, the yarn was on sale. Apparently Cascade is closing it out so it can be had for ~$9/246 yards from my favorite online LYS. Not a bad deal. Here's the swatch:

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Headband Swatch in Indulgence

This pattern is "Diamond Brocade" from the 365 Knitting Stitches a Year calendar (December 11). I've put 4 rows of seed stitch on either side. The hubster informed me that the fabric was a little too thin so I am going to create a tube with the patten on one side and plain stockinette on the back so that he can get a little more warmth from it. The yarn is surprisingly elastic when knit up. Hopefully it won't take me too long to figure out the right mechanics.

And one last thing... it's KIP night at Letizia's. We're doing something special, so if you can, please bring a couple of Christmas ornaments with you. One to trade and one for someone special.

Back from the North

No pictures today... we got back into Chicago around midnight last night. Trust me, tomorrow I will make up for that in spades. Hold on to your bandwidth!

Thank you to everyone who sent their sympathy or wished me a safe trip. Even though the weekend started with a funeral, it did turn out to be a really nice weekend. While I wish that more of my family could be collected together without such an unhappy event, it was really nice to see all my cousins and their children and my aunts and uncles on my Dad's side. I don't see my cousins very much any more, but I used to see them a lot during the summers when I was growing up.

When I was still living with my parents, the whole big connected family thing seemed so effortless. We got in a car several times during the summer and at holidays and drove to Ludington to see everyone. Now I am old enough to appreciate that it wasn't effortless. Mom and dad had to put a lot of effort into packing us up, making the drive, finding a place to stay and making the rounds once they were up there. Fourth of July never meant a calm weekend around the house taking care of something that they needed to do. It was a time to go and make sure that the family ties stayed strong.

And all their efforts paid off for me this weekend. It's so strange to see people that you haven't seen in 4 or 5 years and feel like you never stopped seeing them on a regular basis. Strange and wonderful. Made me realize that it's time for me to start putting some effort into maintaining the bond. We're all spread out now. My cousin Julie is still in Ludington teaching, but her younger brother, who is my age, now has a hunting lodge in Manitoba! Some of my younger cousins are in southern Michigan. My brother is in Houston. I have my work cut out for me.

On the knitting side... I wore my Eros scarf on Friday to the funeral and luncheon. I had one lady come up to admire it. She was wearing an intarsia sweater, so I just explained to her how the scarf was made. She smiled at me. Sometimes you just know when you meet another knitter. My felted daypack also got a few nice comments. And the wife of the cousin in Manitoba said she was trying to learn how to knit -- but that it was hard for her to learn from a book. Apparently they get to Chicago every now and again for hunting conventions, so I am hoping that next time I will get to teach her some basics.

After the funeral I wandered around Ludington a bit with my mom (took in a yarn shop and a handmade goods store...these were the first stops on my over the top consumerism trip this weekend) before we headed back to Ann Arbor. Lots of good things found their way into my car, there too. I got a few small things finished, but suffice it to say I need to stop shopping and start knitting.

Good Monday to you!

Knitting in Public

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Tonight was the ChicKnits KIP night in Chicago's West Town area. A very fun night for me, to listen to other local knitters and relax with a sock. John's second sock is coming along slowly. I'm almost done with the heel flap.

Second Opal 140 Sock

I'm not very good at doing complicated knitting while I hang out with other people, and the past two weeks at work have been dreadful. So the sock was perfect. One decaf skim latte and a lemon cookie and some fun conversation later, I'd almost forgotten about work for a little while.

Actually, this sock has another knitting in public experience. Last Friday as I was coming back from my meeting with my thesis advisor on the El, I was working on this sock. A man in front of me was sort of looking around and he sees me. I stay focused on my sock because my stop is soon and I just want to get a few more rows in. Finally, his curiosity gets the better of him...

Him: So what're you doing? Knitting a sock?
Me (sort of surprised that he would know what it is): Yep. I'm knitting a sock
Him: Is it hard? It doesn't look too hard.
Me: Nope. It's not really hard at all once you get a few simple hand motions down.
Him: Who's it for? You?
Me: No. It's for my husband. It's getting colder and he likes his feet to be warm.
Him:Wow. Well, I hope he treats you right if you knit socks for him.
Me (smiling): Oh, he does. He definitely does!

A lot of people have seen me knit in public. Very few people actually comment. Those who have, generally seem interested and friendly. That conversation made me smile all day. After all, how often do you meet a complete stranger, and a guy at that, who appreciates hand knit socks.

I also tried to cast on some Crystal Palace Splash for a quick fun scarf for myself, but it doesn't seem to like plastic or bamboo needles. It has a very sticky quality. Anyone else out there ever worked with this yarn and have a feeling for what its preferences are?

Oh.. and for those of you out there who like Apple, like iPods, or both, but have a Windows system, Apple released iTunes for Windows today! I've been waiting for this since Christmas when John got me my iPod. And it's very cool -- definitely worth the wait. I've already downloaded a few songs... this could get very addicting for a child of the 80's who has a love of all those one hit wonders that shared her high school years. I've always wanted a copy of 867-5309 Jenny...

Charlotte in the Home Stretch

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Thank you so much to everyone who left anniversary wishes. John and I both appreciate them. I'm fortunate to have a great husband and to be part of the wonderful Internet blogging community. I wish I could share these with everyone!

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4 Dozen?!?

My mom and dad actually share our anniversary date with us. They came in from Ann Arbor to celebrate with us and to see the Cirque du Soleil show Varekai that is currently in Chicago. (This is a great show, and I would encourage anyone who has a chance to see it to go!)

Of course, Mom and I took a quick trip out to Knitting Workshop. They were having their end of the season sale and a number of summer yarns were discounted between 50% and 70%. I didn't find much of interest because I am pretty done with cotton and cotton-blend yarns for the year, but I did pick up a few things:

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The Trendsetter Fizz was $3/skein and there were three skeins of the lovely Denim color that will be meeting their destiny as a fall scarf for me to wear with jeans. As to the Rowan Plaid book, all I can say is that there will be some Plaid in my future. KW had a whole treasure trove of it and it feels wonderful. I'm particularly taken by the Lavender Mist, but I think I need to do a littl stash decreasing before I order yarn for another project.

Along those lines, I did bring another project close to a close: Charlotte's Web. Here's a picture of my unblocked accomplishment:

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I am so taken by the colors and how they blend together. Matt of ThreadBear fame helped me pick them out and I am even more convinced of his color genius now that I am mostly finished, than I was when I first got the yarn. I'm particularly amazed how you almost can't tell where I am changing colors -- the way these skeins mixed it almost looks like I had 10 skeins instead of 5.

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4th and 5th colors

Here's what the colors look like on the skein, placed next to where they are in my shawl:

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I only have one last thing to sort out with this shawl -- what color will the crochet edge be? I really don't have enough of either of the last two colors to do the edge and still have a little yarn for the tassles. Here's the options I'm left with:

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Right now I'm leaning toward edging it with the color used for the very first "stripe" -- the green/rust/brown skein on the bottom of the picture above. I think it would be both subtle and tie the whole thing together. But then there is a part of me that says I should be more adventurous and use the bright red/orange/yellow skein (the top one in the picture above) -- that this would bring out the rusty colors in the 5th color and make the edge of the shawl look fiery and vivid. There are three crochet chains... I could do one in each color... so many things to think about!

Opinions and comments are welcome!

Happy Anniversary

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Wedding Photo

Five years ago today, at three in the afternoon, I walked down the aisle of St. Camilus Catholic Church to stand at the altar with the wonderful man who was almost my husband. Almost anyone who knew me or knows me was surprised by the fact that I was so emotional that I could hardly speak. Emotional in a good way. I was about to marry the most remarkable person I had ever met.

For anyone who hasn't heard the story, John and I met in the ultimate geek way -- through a long-gone Internet personals site. I was in the last years of my PhD and he was living at home and working as a software engineer to put enough money away to buy a house. I posted a personal, he answered. Less than a week later we met for the first time.

Before I met John, I asked a lot of people "How do you know you've found the right guy?" The answer from most: "You just know." Being a scientist, that answer didn't do much for me. But now I know it's true. By the end of our first meeting I knew I had met someone special. It took only a few more meetings for me to "just know" that John was someone meant to play a special and singular role in my life.

He had all the qualities that I could want: smart, patient, funny, kind, thoughtful. He was the sort of person who could make me think differently about something or see things in a light I had never seen them before. Even more importantly, when I pushed, he pushed back. He gave me the intellectual challenge I needed. To this day I am amazed at the way he can work with people in a way that makes everyone feel like they are winners.

While I see it as a little corny to call him my "soul mate" or to pull words out of Jerry Maguire to say "he completes me", both statements are true. I'm an individual, and I can stand for myself, but John often gives me the love and support to go just one step farther than I thought I could. He suffered with me through my mostly miserable post-doc, encouraged me when I decided to go in for another round of school and get my masters in computer science, and listens patiently when I tell him of my struggles in my current job and company as I learn my new role as a member of my company's management team. He never complains when I buy yarn. No matter how down I get, he can always make me smile. He treats me like an equal partner in all things. For me, it's an incredible thing to be able to think "no matter what happens, we'll be there for each other".

So today I will spend a lot of time remembering back to 5 years ago. I'm going to see myself at that alter, wearing the big white dress standing in front of this fabulous guy who looks so perfect in his tuxedo even in the heat of a Chicago August. If there's one thing in my life that I will never have any regret saying, and would say over again today, it was the two simple words I said five years ago:

"I do"

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