Thursday, June 22, 2006

California here I come

Thank you all for your congrats. The other night, I was too excited (and exhausted) to tell you what this little bit of data means to me, so I thought I'd take a moment to do so now.

Grad school has really been a rough road for me (as it is for most people). In addition to all of the trials and tribulations that come with working in lab, I also had to deal with my husband living in another state for three years (though he was able to come home on weekends) and a crippling depression. Additionally, I got stuck finishing up the work of another grad student who left before she really should have and so much of my data is already published in a paper where I am not the first author (in my field, there are often several authors on a journal article). This is a problem because an unofficial criteria for graduating is having a first author paper. Now, of course, some people get to leave before then (such as the student whose work I got stuck doing), but so many professors have gotten burned by this, they are becoming very reluctant to let people do it.

So, until about two days ago, I was finishing my 6th year of grad school and I had absolutely no data that could be put in a paper of my own. And no idea if I would be getting some anytime soon.

We're going to get to Calif. soon, I promise.

In the meantime, NASA, in its infinite wisdom, decided to not give the project SOFIA any money for the next fiscal year (btw, the technical hurdles mentioned by that press release were nonexistant). This was the project that was going to be paying my husband starting in August until I graduated. They have already spent half a billion dollars (yes, that's billion, with a b) on this project and they were effectively cancelling it. It was a project for a telescope on an airplane. The airplane had been built and modified to fit the telescope. The telescope was in its final stages of development. Several instruments that were to accompany the telescope (one of which J was working on) were nearing completion. And now it is all stopped. In fact, they stopped giving them money for the current fiscal year.

Now, I could rant about the stupidity of this and the workings of the federal government and how this country is going to go to hell in a handbasket if we keep cutting funding for basic research, but that's immaterial at this point. The important thing is that J needed a new job. And that job was not going to be in Chicago. He was able to get funding through Sept. and then he heads to Pasadena to work with a group at Caltech. So, despite our best efforts, we are going to be separated yet again.

This made my situation even more desperate. I really need to graduate, but I had no data. I am determined to graduate by next Feb. at the latest, but yet, I had no data. I had no idea how I was going to accomplish this. Whenever I sat down to think about it, I got panicky. So, I tried to stop thinking about it.

On top of this, six years is starting to get old for a grad student in my department at my school. They frown upon you staying longer than that. They stop increasing your stipend every year. Your advisor starts thinking of you as a burden. Your committee starts pushing you to finish up and get out. Except I had nothing to finish because I hadn't gotten my start. This also made me panicky. Again, I tried to not think about it.

Then, finally, this week, I got a Result. Something I can build a paper around. Something that is going to let me get out of here and move to California where it is sunny year round (important because I have Seasonal Affective Disorder) and where my husband will be starting in October. This is what I've been waiting for all of these years.

I'm a realist, though. I know this could still go horribly awry. It wouldn't be the first time such has happened to a graduate student. But, now, I have hope. Hope that this will all end up okay and I won't be forced to leave without my PhD because after 6 years, I still didn't have a real project. Hope that I won't be separated from my husband for another 3 years (and this time, he wouldn't be coming home on weekends). Hope that I will eventually be done with research and I never have to look at a pipet again (well, at least for awhile--I gotta tell ya', after all of this, I'm sick of research).

So, that's what this is all about. That is why I am celebrating (a little, quietly, so that the lab work doesn't hear me and think that I'm getting a little too uppity and decide to stop working out of spite).

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I have a thesis project!

My experiment worked! It really worked! I have a publishable result! I really will graduate sometime in the next year! I'd been hoping, dreaming, wishing it were true, but now it really is true. Hooray!

Busy weekend

In addition to my lakeside trek this past weekend, I also bought a bike. I live about a 30 minute walk from campus and have long thought a bike would be a better way to go back and forth. So, on Saturday, I went to Working Bikes to buy a used bike. My criteria were as follows:

1. Cheap
2. Can ride while wearing a dress or skirt
3. Large seat
4. Nobody would want to steal it

I ended up with the bike above (we speculate it may be a 1960s Raleigh) which also has a rack on the front and a headlight that currently doesn't seem to work, but my astrophysicist hubby is going to deal with that.

For the past two days, I have been riding my bike to campus and I can't tell you how much I love it--the freedom! Today, I went home for lunch and took a little nap and came back. I can go back and forth as much as I want! The only thing left to do is buy a basket for the back so I can use it to go to the grocery store.

Monday, June 19, 2006

What's the Point?

This past Saturday morning, I decided to take the trekking socks (colorway 104, by the way) for a little walk to the lake. This was prompted by the fact that it was a billion degrees in the apartment, and I knew it would be cooler by the lake.

I live about two blocks from the lake in Hyde Park, home of the lakeshore park known as Promontory Point (or, for Hyde Parkers, the Point). In between Hyde Park and the lake, however, is Highway 41, better known as Lake Shore Drive. It's a beautiful drive, but it does mean that when you are at the Point, you can hear all of the cars drive by so you can never forget you are in the city.

To get across LSD, the city of Chicago has thoughtfully made pedestrian underpasses like this one.

At the Point, there's a really great view of the Chicago skyline. I'm not all that interested in architecture, but I think Chicago has a fabulous skyline. It's all laid out in a line jutting off into the lake and the buildings have a nice variety of heights and shapes. This picture is pretty hazy because of all of the humidity.

If you've never seen one of the Great Lakes, you probably have no idea how big they really are. On the other side of this lake is Michigan, but no matter how hard you try, you can't see it from here. When the wind is really strong, the water gets very choppy and crashes up against the rocks on the shore in large waves. Those of you who are used to the ocean (especially the Pacific) probably scoff at the idea that a lake could have waves that are measurable, but they are pretty impressive to this Iowa girl.

I sat down on one of the rocks by the shore, dangled my legs over the edge and started knitting. There was a delicious breeze blowing on me and I didn't even mind working with wool. The water is pretty clear right now, which means that it is still cold. When the water heats up, more things can grow in it and it becomes cloudy.

Even though the water was churning a bit around the rocks, the socks were unafraid because they are superwash.

The shoreline is pretty unique in this area. Sandstone boulders have been laid out so that they resemble steps.
The steps are getting pretty uneven, and slightly dangerous in some areas. For this reason, the city wanted to redo the shoreline at the Point. It was a huge to-do because the city wanted to shut down the entire Point for two years which would've denied Hyde Parkers our shoreline, plus the huge park that is the mecca of every picnicker in the area. Additionally, they wanted to get rid of the sandstone boulders altogether and make it into sterile, white concrete. The citizens of Hyde Park were up in arms about all of this and made a huge stink about it. The city and the Hyde Parkers have been in negotiations about it ever since. I think it's been 7 or 8 years now. In the meantime, we continue to enjoy the Point the way that it is.

As for the socks, I am doing one of the zigzag patterns for self-striping socks from Sensational Knitted Socks. I finished the garter-stitch cuff and started the pattern, but unfortunately discovered that one of my socks has two extra stitches. This brings up one of the disadvantages of knitting two socks on one circular needle. If you have to tink back on one sock, you almost always have to tink back on the other, too (although, I was un-purling, so would that be lrupping?). And, not wanting to go through the hell that was casting on again, I decided to decrease by two stitches on the one sock. But, now I'm not so sure how I feel about that and may end up ripping it all back and starting over. With a different pattern. I don't know. We'll see how I feel about it the next time I bring the socks out.


Guess what I got in the mail on Sat.?

Hooray! My wonderful sock savior sent me a beautiful pair of socks, some Burt's Bees hand cream, a little notepad and pen, a cute little notions bag, and a key chain made out of scrabble letters that spelled yarn.

Here are the socks in more detail:

The pattern is Gullwing Socks from Socks, Socks, Socks. The yarn is Shelridge Farms, Soft Touch Ultra. They fit beautifully. I only wish it were cold so I could wear them for longer than 5 seconds!

Thank you, Erin!

Friday, June 16, 2006

Glutton for punishment

In my defense, I have to say I didn't know I'd be picking up that many stitches when I decided to knit the bolero. I guess I never did learn that lesson from elementary school about reading all of the directions before you begin (did you ever take one of those "tests" where the directions tell you to read everything before you begin and there's a list of 30 things that includes things like stand up, tap your pencil five times, sing I am the very model of a modern major general, only to have the last thing on the list be "Do none of the above"? Those were always good for a laugh. Of course, back then, having taken the tests before and having an insane fear of looking like a fool, I always read those things all the way through).

It's a good thing the bolero is being knit in one hundred percent cotton and not wool because summer has finally arrived in Chicago which means I won't be wanting to touch wool until it cools down (in October or so--too bad the Trekking socks are wool, guess I'll have to make treks to air conditioned locales so I can handle touching them).

Thursday, June 15, 2006


Well, picking up those stitches along the edges of the bolero is every bit as bad as I thought they would be. Oh, and it's 300 stitches for the front, not 200. I managed to do the right front starting with the lower edge and going up to the neck, but haven't done the neck yet. The pattern does try to be a bit helpful by breaking it down into smaller sections (pick up so many stitches along the lower edge shaping, then so many stitches along the straight selvedge, then so many stitches until you get to the neck). I'm doing myself a favor and dividing those areas in half so instead of picking up 24 stitches in 4 inches, I'm picking up 12 stitches in 2 inches, then another 12 in two inches or whatever it is. Still, I sometimes get to the end and still have to pick up 5 more stitches, or I pick up all the stitches I'm supposed to pick up, but haven't made it to the end yet. *sigh* After fiddling with it last night, I ended up putting it down and knitting a washcloth. Sometimes, you're knitting muscles need the equivalent of mindless tv.

Despite it being tedious, I am determined to get all of these stitches picked up with the next couple of days so that I can work on knitting the ribbing over the weekend. I think that's what keeps me going--once I finish picking up stitches, I can get back to the knitting part. I'm already jumping ahead of myself and reading up on seaming. I've never done proper seaming and I have spent so much time and effort on this thing, I want it to look nice when I'm done.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Remember that Bolero I said I was working on? Well, I have finished knitting the body.

Here it is, laying all flat on my bed. Next up is the ribbing border. I have to pick up around two hundred stitches for the front and neck. I'm trying not to cringe thinking about it.

Monday, June 12, 2006


I signed up for the Trek Along With Me knitalong, but hadn't done any treks. This weekend, I decided to do something about that. I "trekked" downtown to Millenium Park on Sat. for Worldwide Knit In Public Day. Since I took the bus and it can take 20 min. or more to get downtown from where I live, I decided it counted (besides, if I waited until I actually took a walk, I'd never have a Trek-along post). The only picture of me from the event looks like I'm mentally disturbed, so I give you a picture of other knitters:

And of the progress I made on my socks:

Yes, that's right folks. After being there for 4 hours, I had successfully cast-on (well, okay, I had also spent a great deal of time winding the yarn into two almost equally sized balls). In my defense, I was trying to figure out how to cast-on to knit two socks on one circular. In the past, I've just transferred the socks to the same circular after having knit on them awhile. But, I guess I wanted to be difficult. In any event, I eventually figured it out but decided I didn't like how that cast-on looked, so I ended up casting-on on two different circs and transferring one so they would both be on one circ. *sigh*

Our group attracted quite a bit of attention, including a photographer and reporter from the Tribune and a cameraperson from CLTV (Chicagoland TV) whose clip ended up on WGN (a woman at Curves said she had seen V on TV this morning!). We had around 60 people there of all ages, both genders, and all levels of knitting. It was a lot of fun and there was talk of turning this into a first Sat. of the month sort of thing.

I also took my socks to church:

I was lectoring (reading one of the bible passages to the congregation) and had to carry the Gospels in the processional and therefore had to hang out in the back of the church until Mass started. Great knitting time.

Monday, June 05, 2006

This past weekend, I helped a good friend of mine, V, sell her pottery at an art fair. This was her first fair and she was nervous and excited. She was deeply worried nobody would like her things. I imagine it's got to be difficult putting your creative efforts out there for all the world to see and purchase. The first hour or so after opening was ego-crushing. People walked up, looked for a minute, then wandered off. I could see the tension building on her face and I knew it would not be relieved until she had made a sale.

Her first sale was a large green bowl. The buyer was interested in a possible mate to it, but it was one of a kind. After that, V, seemed to calm down a little and was willing to leave the booth and have a little walk around the fair herself. We talked about it later and we agreed it was an enlightening experience being on "the other side of the table." We recognized some of our own shopping behavior, but saw it from the perspective of the artist (well, in my case, as the friend of an artist that I consider very talented) and how ego-bruising some of our habits can be. It's hard not to feel that they hate it or think it's substandard if a people walk past the table and only glance at the pottery before moving on. There are hundreds of dismissive gestures people employ with their hands, faces, body postures that can really cut you to the quick. Intellectually you realize they might not mean anything by it, but that's hard to remember while you're sitting there.

Ultimately, she did very well. In two days, she made over $1000, net. This calculation does not include the amount of money she spent on studio time and so forth because she would've done that anyway (pottery is one of her passions), but rather the cost of selling at the fair. And it was a beautiful weekend to be outdoors--sunny, not too warm or humid.

As for me, I got a weekend of people watching, time outdoors in beautiful weather, some muscle-building from the loading and unloading of all of that pottery, two very good nights of sleep (from all that exercise and sun--this is worth it's weight in gold for me as I have a tendency towards insomnia), a free dinner, and two beautiful pieces of pottery that I will treasure always (or until I break it--at which point, I'll likely glue it together). And, of course, the satisfaction of being useful and helping out a friend.

Friday, June 02, 2006

A little appreciation goes a long way

I'm not sure if I mentioned it before, but this past school year I have been doing a part-time internship for museum presentation of science. For the past several months, I have been entrenched in my final project. We had to come up with an original idea for a small exhibit or demonstration, write a proposal, and if your proposal was accepted (not everyone's was) implement it, evaluate it, and write a final paper which was due in yesterday and give a final presentation today.

Lab work? What lab work? You mean I'm supposed to be working on a thesis project?

I wrote a proposal for a demonstration on chicken embryonic development. I preserved 4 and 6 day embryos (gestation is 19-21 days), bought slides, tested microscopes, did a prototype demo, did evaluations, and wrote the report. I wrote the proposal alone, but did the rest with the help with two other students and a coach. At times, it was intense. I was working on the report while in Boston, if that tells you anything.

Yesterday, I was telling one of my labmates that I would be glad when it was all over. I was exhausted. I was tired of trying to divide my time between lab and museum work. I was tired of having group meetings. I was tired of chickens. I just wanted it to be finished.

Today, we set up all of our projects in a room in the M*useum of S*cience and Ind*ustry. It was kind of cute--like a mini-science fair. People from our partner museums and from the university came and looked things over and we each presented our projects to the group as a whole. And I gotta admit, I was feeling a little, well, unsure of myself because what did I have? Some dead embryos and slides. My colleagues had cool computer programs that would take you on tours of constellations in our galaxy or a program that taught you about the affect of frequency on sound and you got to wave a little wand and make waves on the screen and their was a voice-over and everything.

But they liked it! They liked my embryos. And not just in a polite, oh she worked hard so I'm going to compliment her sort of way, but in a I overheard the director of education for MSI saying what a great demonstration it was and that he loved the fact that it brought together two museum icons (the chick hatchery and the human prenatal exhibit which consists of human embryos that they've had since the World's Fair), and that they really thought that they could use it and were interested in it.

And that was when I thought, "It was all worth it."

Most of what I do in lab has no lasting tangible thing at the end of it. I mean, there are pictures, there are graphs, but none of it feels like it's going to be this thing that will really make a difference to anybody. But this, this feels real. People will come to the musuem and see it and learn something and even if they don't learn something they'll think how cool it is to see a real embryo and not just a picture or a model but the actual thing. And they won't know who I am, and my name won't be associated with it in any way except to the staff of the museum, but it will still be something that is mine that affected people--everyday people, not super-specialized scientists--in a way and it will make them think, "Science is cool."

It was great interacting with the public and it was rewarding to see their enthusiasm, but this is even more exciting because it means that my work will survive after I'm gone from the museum. And that means a lot to me.

Not that I'm going to be gone from the museum for awhile. I'm taking a break for about a month, then I'm going to work with the musuem directly (only a couple hours a week because, hey, I have to graduate) to see that the demonstration really becomes a permanant part of the musuem. They have a group of high school interns who have been studying development and I'm going to teach them to do the demonstration for the public.

So, that's it. That was my day today. It's definitely going in the books as one of the best days of 2006.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Boston Shop Crawl

I do not have pix of my purchase yet because I have been really busy. You know how it is when you've been gone for a week and you get back to work--there's a million things you need to do.

My first stop was A Good Yarn. This shop is absurdly convenient by the T (the Boston subway system). It's probably 100ft from the stop. The women in the shop were very friendly and when I told them I was from Chicago, they asked me about the yarn stores in Chicago and I told them abut the shops and about my knitting group. They let me just wander around without being too nosy and I found several yarns there that I haven't seen at shops in Chicago ('course I can't remember which ones those are, now!). The shop was well-organized and about 90% of the yarns had swatches next to them for you to admire and feel. This was true for two of the shops I visited and I really liked it. One thing I did not like about the store was that instead of having each ball of yarn individually priced, they had a little sign near the yarn with the yarn name and the price. This was not much of a problem since they were so well organized, in most cases it was easy to find the sign with the price on it. In general, I'm not a big fan of this system, though, because it can be inconvenient for the shopper. I can see why stores do it, of course, it's much easier than labeling every skein of yarn. One thing I especially liked about the store was one display they had where the skeins were all hanging from hooks on the wall, sorted by color. This was fabulous because I had bought a hat pattern and wanted to use the yarn they used for the model (a mercerized cotton, can't for the life of me remember the name now) and that brand was all displayed like that. Therefore, I could see all of the different colors at once and could easily compare them to each other and get the exact shades that I wanted. Cross stitch stores do this all the time and it makes it very easy to find the color you are looking for. However, I'm not sure this approach is very practical with yarn which is bigger and will take up more room. And it would be difficult to hang up a large number of skeins of the same color, so I suppose they would have to hang out in the back room and you could go get them if a customer wanted a large number of them. Practically speaking, you could do the same thing with swatches--a swatch from each color of yarn.

As far as accessories, they had several kinds of stitch markers, chibis (I finally broke down and bought one--I could no longer resist the lure of the chibi!), bamboo, metal, and rosewood needles. I was sorely tempted to buy a rosewood circular for sock knitting but decided against it.

Next, I went to Newbury street, to find Newbury yarns (no website) which I had no trouble locating thanks to the excellent directions of Dave Daniels. Sadly, they were closed. There was a note on the door saying that they would open at 10:30, but since it was 11:30 at the time so I didn't stick around.

After lunch, and a stroll through the Public Gardens and the Common, I went to Windsor Button. I really loved this store. It's an independent craft store and has a magnificent selection of buttons--plastic, wood, shell--you name the material, the shape, the color, they have it. I bought a large wood handpainted flower in a soft green. I have no idea what I'll use it for--I'm sure I'll be inspired at some point. They also have a wide selection of yarn from brands you would find at JoAnn's or Michael's to things you only find in yarn shops or online. They had some knitted swatches, but not as many as A Good Yarn. I had John with me by this time and fortuitously, there was a table and chairs for him to sit at and read while I browsed. I decided on some sock yarn, and some Lionbrand Kitchen cotton, and a couple washcloth pattern books because I wanted to make some washcloths for John's grandmother as a belated Mother's Day gift. This was probably one of the best things about this store. If you wanted fancy yarn, there was fancy yarn. If you wanted inexpensive run-of-the-mill yarn, they had it. I know many people eschew Leisure Arts booklets as the kind of stuff that gave knitting a bad name in the 80s and 90s, but if you want something basic like washcloths, there's no need to try to find a Rowan magazine and search for the one or two they've probably published in the last 20 years. As for other craft materials, there was a large selection of ribbons, and a whole section devoted to wedding stuff. I'm very nearly positive there was more, but it didn't register because it wasn't near the knitting stuff. Again, the staff was friendly and asked if I needed any help, but left me alone to browse (I cannot stand salespeople that hover over you). Again, I was asked about the yarn scene in Chicago (one of the salespeople was thinking of moving there) and caused a small uproar when I told them there was a Tender Buttons store in Chicago (they thougt the only one was in New York). For needles, they had metal, bamboo and plastic, and several other notions, but not as big a selection as the first store.

Finally, I went to Woolcott and Co. in Harvard Square. There I met the inestimable Sean who was friendly and asked me if I had met the Chicago celebrity blogger Franklin Habit (I haven't; one of these days, I have to get to the MCA Stitch 'n Bitch and ask him to sign my t-shirt or something). Then, we started talking about Franklin's blog and I told him I also read Dave Daniel's blog and he recommended the store, and he said he had just spoken to Dave on the phone and would have to thank him for the referral. I wandered around the store trying to decide what I really wanted to buy. I have a hard time just buying yarn with no particular purpose in mind. As I had already bought sock yarn, I didn't want to buy more of it. And since it was a beautiful, sunny, warm day in Boston, I just couldn't bring myself to buy wool. I finally decided on some Debbie Bliss 100% silk (although I was sorely tempted by another silk yarn from Alchemy) which I think I'm going to make into a little lace scarf that I may keep or give to John's grandmother (she was a big knitter, btw, before her arthritis got so bad she couldn't knit anymore--it's our little connection, see). Again, about 90% of the yarns had sample swatches hanging next to them. However, they had something the other store didn't have. Each swatch had a tag with the name of the yarn, the fiber content, the price per skein, and how many skeins it would take to make a four foot scarf or a small sweater! Genius! How perfect for the tourist or stash shopper. The store was neat and well-organized. There seemed to be a mixture of pricing systems, with some yarns having just a sign and some yarns having a tag on every ball of yarn. Perhaps he is switching from one to the other. I remember this store had very good lighting, and all of the shelves were of light colored wood, so the store was very cheerful. There was a large selection of accoutrements, and I even spied the yarn strand separator that I bought online because I have never been able to find one in a store! Color me impressed! There was a variety of needles in several price ranges, although no rosewood. I bought a 10" set of bamboo needles so I could make my washcloths (because I hadn't thought about bringing extra needles for just in case). I thought the yarn selection was very good and there were several things I had never seen anywhere else--even online (like the Alchemy yarn, for instance). I also saw Reynolds Saucy Sport which is what I'm making my bolero out of (no, I did not get it done), and I have never seen in a store. I really like that yarn and it is inexpensive, which makes it a plus.

Each of the three stores I went to had something to recommend to it, but if I lived in the Boston area, I would probably go to Wolcott and Co. most often for several reasons. First, because I simply felt the most comfortable there. The salespeople at the other store were very nice and friendly, but hadn't heard (or only vaguely had heard) about WWKIP day, and didn't really seem very plugged in to the modern knitting "scene" as it were (not the "I only knit scarves with novelty yarn on size 17 needles" modern knitting scene, but the knitting group/blogging knitting scene). Second because I really liked the variety of yarns both in price and in quality. And third, because I love shopping in Harvard Square and there is a Tealuxe nearby (which is where I like to buy loose tea), and there is an Au Bon Pain nearby with a huge outside seating area that I used to go to when I was in college and being there reminds me of fond memories of hanging out with friends, and I can go with John and just send him to find a bookstore or something.

All three of these stores are very close to public transit, which also makes tops in my book. They had wonderful selections of yarn--some novelty yarn, but not an overwhelming amount, yarns at both ends of the price spectrum, large brand names and yarns from small companies that do hand-dyed yarns (Bearfoot Mountain Company was popular and I would've bought some at one of the places if not for the fact that it was too warm to buy wool). I really, really love all of the sample swatches and I wish more stores in Chicago would have such large numbers of them. Some stores in Chicago do have them, but they either only have them for a small selection of their stock (for things like self-striping sock yarn, and ribbon yarns that you can't figure out what it would look like knitted up), or they don't have them right next to the stock of the yarn in question, so you have to go look at the swatches, then go try to find the yarn. In the two smaller stores, I thought they did a good job of having their items attractively yet conveniently displayed. They also had sample items (baby sweaters for the most part) on hangers in a little area instead of all over the store. I liked this too. One thing I did not pay attention to were the patterns, books and booklets in particular, so I can't really comment on the variety of books these stores sell in comparison to Chicago. One other plus, the stores did not seem to be afraid of selling lower end needles. I swear it can be difficult trying to find needles that aren't addi or bamboo in Chicago. What's wrong with Inox people? Some of us would rather spend our money on yarn.

Thus ends my Boston yarn experience. I had a great time and will definitely be frequenting these stores whenever I vist Boston.