January 15, 2011

Out with the old, in with the new.

I have been a bad blogger.  In my defense, I think a lot about blogging, but things always get in the way.  And so, in an effort to become a better blogger, it’s time for a list.

I love lists.  I love planners.  I love post-its with lists in planners.  So let’s start with a list of what has happened in 2010.

Grad school:

– I passed Advanced Genetics

– I passed Genomics (and learned perl programing)

– I passed both my written

– and my oral prelim

– I chose a thesis lab

– I co-authored a review

– I applied for the NSF GRFP (crossing fingers)

– I took the Advanced Genetics TAship for spring 2011

Places traveled and people seen:

January: South Carolina to celebrate my oldest brother’s marriage

Emily in St. Louis!

April: My dearest friend, Emily, came to a conference in St. Louis

Good friends in Chicago

May: Chicago with Camilla, Anne, and Jillian, and I said “until 2012” to Camilla who moved back to Australia

Bar Harbor

June: Raleigh to celebrate the marriage of two friends, Sarah and Brian, and then on to a week in Maine to catch up and talk with mentors about lab decisions

The Old Courthouse

September: Mum and Dad came to visit St. Louis for a few days

October: I missed the pig pickin’, but went to NC to surprise my scottish cousins visiting the US

The Art Institute lions

November: Chicago with mum, and then spent Thanksgiving with cousins in Capitola, California

December: home to New Bern for Christmas

In other news:

– I started practicing Iyengar yoga in February

– I found a hiking buddy

– I found out I had a very hurt back and hip

– and I was discharged from physical therapy

– I stopped riding for 6 months

– and started back up, and my equitation is better than ever.

– Met some really amazing people – Camilla, Ashley, Sahar, Jane, Michelle, Kathy, and others.

– Went on my very first float trip

– found places to go hiking

Apple picking

– and went apple picking.

In fiber news:

– I actually started spinning my fleece

– completed several projects (and those of you who know my knitting habits should be proud), including two Christmas gifts

– joined ravelry

– learned lace knitting

– learned continental knitting

– learned how to read a knitting pattern

– learned magic loop

– started a sweater

Needle felting - a dangerous new hobby.

– picked up needle felting

– and dyed my own self-striping yarn

And so what’s going to happen in 2012?

– I am going to be a better blogger.  Or at least try.

– Stay on top of my written correspondence – do you want a letter from me?  Send me your address.  🙂

– Complete the experiments necessary to publish on my work (and they’re going to work.  really.)

– Work on gratitude – to the people who help me out every day without even knowing it.

– Be more systematic about becoming a better spinner.  I already know I love it, now it’s time to get good at it.

What happened in your life last year?  Do you have any new year’s resolutions?

October 13, 2010

Apple Picking

Autumn is here (even though the weather doesn’t quite think so), and so time was ripe for apple picking.

I went out to Eckert’s in Belleville with my posdoc, her husband, and little girl.  I had a fantastic time and can’t wait to made delicious things with my Fuji apples!

It turns out you shouldn’t trust MapQuest or Google maps directions to get to the orchard — I spent about an hour lost in East St. Louis…not the most savory of places to be lost.  But Michelle came to the rescue and got me there in once piece, and only a half hour late!  Not altogether surprising, though, that I would get lost, really.

There were apples galore, they were so pretty!  The air was filled with an apple cider-y smell from all the fallen apples and the whole orchard seemed so tidy.

"Those are nice looking!"

After we all enjoyed an apple (even Morgan!), picked about 5 lbs apples apiece, we headed on to the pumpkin patch.  I kept thinking of Cinderella’s fairy godmother and Charlie Brown’s Great Pumpkin (who also visits the Amend household).

The pumpkin patch.

I had a fantastic time, can’t wait to eat my delicious apples, can’t wait to hang out with Michelle, Ryan, and Morgan again, and can’t wait for next year’s apple-picking!

October 11, 2010

Finished a project?

Those of you who have known me for awhile, may be familiar with a certain hank of multi-colored slub yarn that I brought home from my summer trip to Prince Edward Island in 2005.


Prince Edward Island

Well, I (finally) knit the scarf.  In these five years, I’ve knit and frogged the same five or six inches a good seven times.  But now, thanks to the course I’m taking, Pathobiology of human disease, the scarf is finished, and in time for winter, too!


Completed PEI scarf.

The pattern was great and makes nice texture, especially with the colors and the slub – co an odd number of stitches, k 1, [yo, k2tog] to end of row. Rep until nearly all the yarn is gone and loosely cast off.  (Be sure to LOOSELY cast off — it’s very easy to get it too tight.)

I’m really looking forward to wearing it this winter!  It’s a bit wider than some scarves, but it’ll get a smidgen thinner thanks to gravity.  And I really like the bits of purple that come through.



And, just because she is so sweet, a picture of Patty approving the new scarf (mostly I think she’s impressed that I actually finished something).


Patty is impressed that I finished a project!

October 10, 2010

Started work on my Thesis Sweater I

I have decided to knit a sweater.  Most weeks, I have about 10 hours worth of seminars/class/meetings, and during those times I knit to help me pay attention.  And so, just before our department retreat a few weekends ago, I went on a wild goose chase for a pattern and yarn.

I am knitting Knitty’s Girl Friday.  Never one to go by half-measures, it is my first sweater, my first project that requires more than one skein of yarn, my first lace work, and my first time following a pattern.

It was also the first time I swatched:


I made guage!


It’s been going quite well, really, and the lace pattern isn’t nearly as scary as I thought it would be.

I’ve just started the shaping for the arm holes, so that’s slowing me down since I can’t work on it in seminars, etc., since I really need to pay attention to it.  I’m much further along than this picture shows, but I’ll post another update once the whole back is done.



The result of a two-day Genetics Retreat


The pattern looks really poufy, but it flattens out after blocking.  It is going along much faster than I first anticipated.  I am calling it my thesis sweater — I will finish it by my thesis defense.  I figure that gives me plenty of time to knit, frog, get bored, start knitting again, repeat.

I’m playing with the idea of knitting the two sleeves at once — either using the knitting two socks at once method or by simply having them side by side on the needles.  We’ll see.

And for anyone who was worried about my fiber helper, Patty has already had a few good naps on the yarn and on the sweater itself.  I think I may have mostly broken her of playing with the yarn and needles while I’m working with them — usually I give her the swatch to play with and she just curls up to sleep.



Patty's seal of approval


September 19, 2010

Horses are always the answer.

Those of you who have been around me at all in the last few months (or read here several posts back) know that I’ve been trying to work through a Mysterious Back Injury.  The physical therapist doesn’t know how I’ve lived at all walking/standing/sitting/lying down like I have.  Essentially, I have super weak muscles that are supposed to be super strong and when everything isn’t going right, it results in pinching of a bunch of nerves in my lower back.  In short, OW!

As part of all of this, as you might imagine, horseback riding has been forbidden.  It makes sense, especially to non-horsey people, if I can’t even walk without pain, it probably isn’t all that safe to clamber on top of a 16 hh tall, 1200 lb animal, ride about using all those weak muscles and getting pinched nerves and then falling the said 16 hands and getting hurt even more.

The other thing about non-horsey people is that they don’t really get it.  Horsey people don’t want to be around horses, they need to be around horses.

Back at State, when I’d get cranky and stressed and ‘ill,’ my friends would tell me to go out to the barn.  At that point, I had my LA out at a co-op stables in Cary, Theyland Stables.  We kept up our Western Pleasure, adding Huntseat Pleasure to our repertoire, not to mention sharing the virtues of showmanship to all the other (very crowd-y) horses out at the barn.  And anyone who’s met LA knows that he’s the sweetest horse that ever lived.  Plus he’s pretty awesome under saddle.

LA out at Theyland in Raleigh. I still think of him as being my horse, even though I haven't seen him in three years.

LA did a lot for me.  He hardly ever got too stressed about anything.  He loved a good grooming.  And, maybe most important of all, he needed me…and he liked me better than anyone else.  He was the perfect college horse — he’s an easy keeper.  Plus, he helped me recover from jaw surgery and a knee injury.  Not to mention all of life’s other problems.  I miss him all the time and wish I could have kept him, even though I know he’s doing great — I get semi-regular updates from friends still in the area who see him at horse shows.  🙂

After LA moved away, I went to Scotland for about a half year — it was the longest time I’d ever gone without riding.  I came home, changed disciplines, and took hunter lessons for awhile and then helped work a horse, Mocha, for a friend who was too pregnant to ride.  Then I moved to Maine and rode 3 day eventers (another change in discipline).

Nowadays, I ride out at a hunter/jumper barn.  I ride thoroughbreds and warmbloods.  It’s a completely different world of riding, but it’s also completely the same.

When I called up my instructor, Ida, to explain that I wanted to try to ride, to see if my back would hold, she was great.  “I’ll give you a lesson time, just so I can be around in case you get into trouble.”  And I’m really glad she was there.

Riding itself felt great…just don’t ask me to use my lower body at all – I’d be completely useless up on my first horse, Lucky.  For the first time in my life I preferred 2-point to the posting trot.  And I did a LOT of walking.  Of course, I haven’t ridden in 3 months, and in that time, I haven’t really been doing much of any other physical activity, either, so I’m pretty well out of shape.  So we’ll not talk about my equitation except to say I wouldn’t be winning any ribbons today.

My first horse, Lucky, known by those that love him as "Lucky-Butt," at the 4-H Regional Horse show in 2002. Another sweetie who was good for me, but would be a whole lot better for me now than he was then.

Now, don’t get me wrong, riding hurt my back terribly.  Enough that I had to dismount after the shortest ride I think I’ve ever taken.  But, magically, walking doesn’t hurt anymore.  I got a full night’s sleep last night because lying down didn’t hurt anymore.  I’m certainly not up to normal-level again, but I’m on the right track.

For the first time in three months, I can actually believe that my back can get better.  And I will be a good rider again, back up to competition level.  And I can hike, and backpack, and dance again, too.

I should have known not to listen to my physical therapist and doctors on this particular subject.  Horses are always the answer.

September 1, 2010

Mittens > gloves.

I tried to tackle a pair of gloves several years ago, I’m still not done with them.  These mittens have knit up really quickly, though, and seem like a “real” project — not the dreaded Rectangle Project.

needles:  size 7 (DPNs for knitting, circs for holding)

yarn:  Lamb’s Pride

weight:  worsted, single

color:  MC – Periwinkle, trim – Kiwi

pattern:  Susan Strawn, Piecework magazine, January/February 2010

The mitten patterns is based of of a sixteenth-century child’s mitten in the Museum of London collection and uses knitting techniques that were used at the time, including the German fingertip cast-on (also called the Emily Ocker cast-on), random k2tog decreases, and three-needle bind off.

finger and thumb!

I’ve really enjoyed knitting these up — they’ve gone pretty quickly, considering that I only work on them during seminars and while watching West Wing with some friends.

The finger and thumb sections are knit separately and, in an effort to keep everything the same length, I’ve been knitting everything in pairs — so far, I’ve got two finger parts and one thumb.  Next, comes a nifty joining, knitting down to make the hand part, and finishing up with a decorative cuff.

German fingertip aka Emily Ocker aka circular cast on

The cast-on for the thumb is pretty neat.  Essentially, you make a wee circle, pull up a loop through the circle and repeat, kind of like making a thread button (just in case you’ve ever done that).  It’s pretty straightforward once you get the hang of it, the only part where I had trouble was figuring out tension and how much yarn I really needed to use to make it all pull together correctly.

Taking this together with my recent spinning escapades, I’m beginning to appreciate why plied yarn is usually preferred to single.  As you can see in the picture above, there are some pretty clear differences in weight (and I’ve noticed the same type of thing in part of a scarf I’ve made with the same yarn), it’s just a bit less forgiving, even when commercially manufactured.

My last challenge with these mittens is to experiment with Continental knitting (I’ve always knitted using English) — I’ve just been having a hard time keeping appropriate tension, I’m either dropping the yarn or am all tangled and waayy too tight.

I’m quite excited to get these finished in time for winter (and for those of you who know my knitting habits, it’d be pretty incredible to even get a project DONE!).

How is your knitting coming along?  Ready for winter?

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August 29, 2010

How to make The Writing Desk new again.

About a year ago, I moved to St. Louis, and for the first time since high school, had my very own furniture in my room.  Now, I’ve loved all my furniture (in room 312 in Syme Hall, three different rooms in Bagwell Hall, Wolf Village apartments, a room at Hotel Amend/Dean, Belmont Flats in Dundee, and 7 Fedral), it was nice to use all of the things I picked out when I was younger.

One of these items is what I picked out in middle school as my “Writing Desk,” not to be used for such mundane things as homework or writing thank-you notes.  In truth, I think I wanted to be like Jo March or had romantic ideas of becoming the next Jane Austen — I wanted a place my very own to wield my pen and write the Next Great American Novel.  And for such a venture, of course, I needed The Perfect Desk.

Now, I don’t remember where I got the desk, at some antiques store in New Bern.  I thought it was beautiful.  It has long spindley legs, it looks lady-like with its three small drawers to keep your paper and pens in, and fit perfectly under my window where I would sit at it on a perfectly uncomfortable straight-backed chair with an embroidered seat, looking out over our backyard through a window that I had hung Belgian lace curtains over.

The Writing Desk had been sitting all on its lonesome for five years, with a lot of papers and notebooks piled on and under it, forgotten when I went to college and bigger and better things.  When I moved out here to St. Louis, though, I decided it should make the trip.

The Writing Desk, all wrapped up for the trip to St. Louis -- it's the blue thing on it's side on top of the boxes on top of the trunk.

Much to my chagrin, however, while I still think it is lovely and elegant, it wasn’t in great condition at all!

my battered Writing Desk

Not only was the wood not in great condition, but the pull handles don’t match, something had been done to the desk top at some point in its history, the right drawer comes apart if you don’t pull it out with just the exact knack!  It’s amazing how many things you overlook when you just want to love a piece of furniture.

And so, to at least make it look a bit more presentable, one day the week before our classes started, I undertook Project Desk Rehab.

If you haven’t discovered the wonders of Old English wood oil, you really should.  It will change your world.

Old English, aka Magic.

Right before your very eyes, the wood turns beautiful again.  Just dust the wood well, put a bit of the Old English onto a clean rag, rub over the surface, and then go back over again with another clean rag until dry.

Desk Rehab in progress.

And at the end of it, you have a beautiful desk!  Now, instead of looking old and unkempt, it just looks like it has character.

Beautiful once more!

Now, after a year’s worth of wear and tear (including four tough courses, two grants, a review, bill-paying, and any number of non-romantic things), it’s probably time for a touch up, but with something this easy, I’m willing to bet I can keep The Writing Desk looking nice until I have a time and a place to gaze out of a curtained window and ponder my Great Novel.

What projects have you done that were an easy fix but really rewarding?

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August 20, 2010

Fleece is turning to yarn!

In the last few weeks, it’s been way too hot to spin, especially wool.  Every time I tried, it turned into a mess of fiber sticking to my hands or flying around the room if I turned my fan on.

But I can at least show you my progress so far.

I’ve spun up one bobbin’s worth and wound it onto a spare knitting needle to be ready for plying once I’ve spun up a second bobbin.  (What I wouldn’t do for two more bobbins!)

A bobbin's full of wool!

As you can see, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping guage.  It’s pretty fine since I’m going to use it plied and I want aran (close to worsted) weight.  There are a lot of little variations because of the different wool types that are all blended together (I didn’t sort the fleece as well as I should have), but I really like the little bits of character.

I’m learning a TON already.  A lot of the methods that I’ve read and youtubed about that I couldn’t ever get to work just seem to happen with the rolags I made of this fleece.  I even understand long draw drafting!  And it makes everything so much more even.  I’m also learning about how different staple lengths and textures spin up — I’m able to recognize (by feel anyway) what types of fibers are going to want to slub, what fibers need more twist, and when I get to a section that needs to be carded a bit better.

Patty has turned out to be quite the little helper with this project — up until now she’s just ignored the wheel for the most part.

Patty supervising.

Before too long, of course, she needed to check to be sure that I was hitting the correct WPI.  I think she thought the wool could use a teensy bit more carding, just the type that little kitty paws would be good for.

"Just a second, let me check here..."

We are expecting just a smidgen-bit of cooler weather this weekend (heat index is only 99 degrees, yeah!), so maybe I’ll get a few minutes to prepare some more fleece for spinning.  I bet by the end of this project I will have picked up some speed as well as consistancy!

Happy spinning!

August 15, 2010

C25K: day -1

Inspired by my dear friend Kristy and dance-mom ‘A’ (and getting the kind-of-go-ahead from my physical therapist), I’ve decided to give the Couch-to-5K program.

It looks like a great plan — not too much too early, there are forums where I can go for support, and even a facebook page!  Like anything new, it’s great to have a community and proof of someone where it worked.  Plus, since I know some people individually, I can go to them for support, too, if I need it.  It doesn’t hurt that one of my St. Louis people is a Real Runner, so she’ll be good for peer pressure.  🙂

One problem I did run into, though, was where to run and how to keep track of what I should be doing.  We’re in the middle of the second hottest sum

mer record here in St. Louis, so running outside is a non-starter for a novice like me.  That means a treadmill, but I don’t really want to be super focused on having to do math of minutes into seconds and get my mind all frustrated. The solution?  Podcasts!

The only problem was that I wasn’t that interested in the music people have already worked on.  As a life-long DIYer, I decided to make my own.  “It’ll be simple!” I thought.  “No problem!”

For once, I was right!

I got the verbal cues (run…walk…run…walk) from here.  And then I went on to tackle Mac’s GarageBand.

Step 1:  Get your tracks.

Then it's as easy as click and drag!

Step 2:  Make sure everything is in the right place and record if you need to.

To record, just click the red radio button.  To stop recording, click the button again.

To get playback, click the triangle play button.  To stop playback, click the button again.  (easy, right?!)

Since I didn't want computer voice to give me my cues, I recorded my own voice. Here, the purple on the bottom and the red up top is what and where it is recording.

Step 3:  Check your playback to make sure it’s what you want.

Step 4:  Export to iTunes.  (I always think of this kind of being like Willy Wonka sends ch

ocolate to the TV.)

Hint — You don’t have to “record” the final track.  Everything you have playing will be put into one file.

Just click "Share" and you're all set!

And last, but not least, be sure that it actually went to iTunes correctly.

And it made it!

And now I have an at least tolerable podcast for my C25K this week!  woohoo!

In case you’re wondering, it’s a selection of songs from Grey’s Anatomy Season 1 soundtrack.

So this is Week 1:

Warmup:  5 min. brisk W

Workout:  *60 sec R, 90 sec W recovery* rep * to * for 20 min.

Cool down:  5 min brisk W

Rep from beg 3 x

July 26, 2010

Outdoorsiness: Castlewood State Park

View from the rim

A few weekends ago, I rebelled from city-life and joined a friend, Sahar (Sarah and Sahar — confusing, huh?) on a lovely jaunt up to Castlewood State Park.

It’s only about an hour and some change easy drive up the road in Baldwin and has some lovely trails.  We took a few mile loop on (mostly) the River Scene Trail.  Now, the name is a bit of a misnomer since there wasn’t a whole lot of a river scene except when you climb up the flight of stairs (or scramble up the rock) of the wee mountain.  It’s a lovely walk, though, with lots of shade.

Castlewood offers a lot more than I thought it would — there are picnic areas, playing fields, hiking trails, biking trails, bridle paths, and, from time to time, swimming (though it was closed when we were there for not-good levels of not-good bacteria according to a sign we found).  Despite all this wonderfulness, the trails were almost too well groomed for my taste, but they were really good for my recovering injury-ness — lots of good spots to step off trail to let others pass and not Bust The Crust.

Next hike? Taum Sauk!