July 20, 2010

How to prepare the not-so-scary fleece.

So, remember about this time last year when I went to the Maine Fiber Frolic and bought my first ever fleece?


Well, it turns out that a fleece is kind of a scary thing. It’s big. It’s dirty. It smells sheepy. It’s not all tidy and combed and ready to go. Where do you even begin?

Well, to begin with, you want to tidy it up a bit, so hand sort it so that all the really gross bits are out.
To deal with the less gross bits, you need to wash it.

Tip 1: Use a big laundry bag! It’s harder than it looks to deal with a wet fleece and it helps prevent agitation so that you don’t felt your beautiful fleece.Tip 2: Use Dawn dish soap. You can buy expensive wool soaps, but Dawn will get the job done — it gets grease off your dishes, why not lanolin off your fleece?

So, I started with a simple rinse.


Seems straightforward doesn’t it?
It is until you get this:


Only one word for it. Gross.

This brings us to Tip 3: Make sure you have an outside space where it is ok to dump a lot of water. And so you don’t bring the smell of eau de wet sheep in your house.
After a few rinses, I went ahead for the wash. I filled a tub of water, added Dawn until foamy and added my fleece. And let it sit there awhile.


And rinse.
And repeat.And repeat.
Keep going with the “wash/rinse” until the water goes (mostly) clear.
Then, spread out your fleece on a big towel or net to dry in the sunshine.


At this point, the wool is wet and sticks to your hands in long tendrils and you’ll want to just wring it out. Don’t. If you must, roll it up into your towel and pat it a bit. And then just be patient — it will dry, I promise.

Now, all of this was done in North Carolina between me moving from Maine and moving out to Missouri (remember Tip 3). Since that time, it’s been bundled up in an old pillowcase, just waiting to be loved. A note on storage: never store your fleece in a plastic bag. It’ll get warm and cosy and you may end up with moldy wool. Also, the longer you wait to wash your fleece, the grosser it gets. So do this part, and then stash it away for awhile.

Now that it’s summer and I’m mostly done with classes and the first half of my prelim (woohoo!), I decided it was time to be brave and dive in.

So, like the good graduate student I am, I started researching what I should be doing. “Comb it first” some people say. Others claim you can spin straight from the fleece (yeah, right!). So what to do?

I came across my New Favorite Fiber Website, The Earth Guild site on carding.
Now, I’ve never bought anything from this site, but it has such great tutorials that I would seriously consider it in the future.

This website taught me how to properly card wool. I tried it on my messy scary fleece that still looked awfully sheep like…and got heavenly puffy rolags.

So, what’s next?

The actual spinning. I can’t wait.
And as this wonderful website says,

Spinning, as everyone knows, is magic.

May 28, 2010

Rite of Passage

I have a wise friend, mentor, and role model, KL. She’s a graduate student at Yale and is fantastic — she’s a fiber lover, was one of my first friends at college, and is my go-to person when my life (seems like it) is going to pieces.

Most recently, of course, this was about my prelim.

I took nearly two weeks off, simply to devote to studying. And before that, I was mostly working half days to study. I’ve eaten my weight in bagels, just so I can sit at my favorite big table at Einstein Bros. across the street and get a bunch done.

Of course, because it is me, I had many crises of confidence. One minute I was fine, the next I was absolutely positive I would fail the exam and be sent packing. I find my identity through my work — whether it is work in the lab or academics or working at a horse stables or spinning wool, I judge my worth based on the scores and praise and affirmation of others. I’m not saying it is a good thing (it isn’t) and I’m working on changing that part of myself, but it’s there.

KL gave me very sage advice, though. “This is a rite of passage. Rites of passage are designed to be scary going in, but when you’re done you get to say ‘that wasn’t so bad!'”

And she was right.
But only after it was completely done.

I got to the genetics library (where I took my prelim with the other genetics students) at 8:30 for the sole reason of turning on the lights that buzzed the least. (Aside: these are serious buzzing lights. High school gym type of buzzing. Maybe start to actually go insane kind of buzzing).

People trickled in, I sat and studied. The test was handed out at 9:30. Half a bagel, a cup of coffee, a liter of water later (thank goodness for nalgenes), and SIX HOURS later, I left barely able to form complete sentences.

You read that correctly. Six hours. The test was so thick they couldn’t staple it. The last person to leave took 7 and a half hours. It was a serious test.

This morning, though, this was in my inbox:

Dear MGG First Years,

Congratulations, everyone passed the written prelim exam (and with room to
spare)!!!

Thank goodness!!!

So what that means is I passed.
KL was right — now I can look back and say “it wasn’t so bad!” Well, maybe tomorrow I can say that.

In the meantime, I’m taking a break from science and from school for awhile.

But boy am I glad I passed! 🙂

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May 24, 2010

Aunt Ruth

My mum called with sad news yesterday – my great-aunt Ruth (my mum’s mother’s sister) died. She had been failing for some time, and I am glad that she is out of pain now. All the same, a death is always sad.

As you might imagine, I wasn’t very close with my Aunt Ruth – she is of my grandmother’s generation and lived in California (with the rest of my mum’s family), but I have a few lovely memories of her.

The first I remember clearly, she took my mum and me to White’s Bakery in Hawthorne (I think). Knowing I wouldn’t want coffee, she brought cocoa just for me. And I had my first meringue. Talk about a life-changing experience.

The last time I was in California (which is waaayyy too long ago now), I went with Aunt Ruth (and various other members of my family) to the horse races, the first live thoroughbred races I’d been to. It was a wonderful day.

Besides those memories, it’s amazing how much she impacted just my every day life.
Those of you who know me are familiar with phrases that I think everyone knows, but it turns out it’s just me…all those came from Aunt Ruth. Things like “fine as frog’s hair” for being really, really good (or really really sarcastic), “jump up and down and scratch” for getting excited about something, and, the one people think I’m the most crazy for, “While you’re up, Catherine” which is directed at anyone (not just Catherine who is one of Aunt Ruth’s sisters) for them to hop up and get you something from the other room.

May 23, 2010

Channeling fun times in Syme.

Yesterday, after an hour at the gym and several hours studying on my own and with other first-years in my program for the prelim, I went out with a friend, JB, on a quest to find her some “strappy sandle-y black nicer than flip-flops sandals.” 1 trip to PayLess, 1 to WalMart, and a trip to two different Targets and we have her shoes. I was really hoping to get a pair like them in orange (because who doesn’t need orange flats??), they didn’t have my size. Something to look for.

My big purchase (apart from kitty litter for Patty), was a new box fan. Somehow, none of my fans from Syme managed to make the trip to St. Louis, mostly because my mum has comandeered the smaller ones, and the bigger ones I ended up using for my horses, and, well, that’s just never a good idea to bring back into the house.

But now I am the proud owner of a Galaxy box fan.

Poor Patty can’t decide if she likes it or not. She’s upset that she can’t look out that window any more, but when she finishes fussing about that, she lies on her back in front of the fan enjoying the breeze.
She looks pretty comfy, doesn’t she?

It has made a world of difference in my room. With the jump from mid-50s to 60s weather all the way up to upper-70s to 90s weather, I think it was a good time to get it.

And now to study in my nice, breezy room!

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May 22, 2010

body fibers

Today is The Saturday Before the Prelim. Last Saturday, I was doing other things other than studying thinking “I’ve got about two weeks to study! I can learn anything in that time!” Well, one week is already gone. I’ve only got the ‘about’ left.

With all this studying means a lot of sitting in non-ergonomic positions at the library, coffee shops, my desk, you name it, balancing papers, old prelims, a year’s worth of notes and exams, and my computer, leaning over and under and sideways, pivoting without moving my bum, generally not being nice to my body.

Add that to eating poorly at all hours (which stems from not having much food that I want to eat and not enough time or patience to cook the food I want or go get easier food), not sleeping well, and next to no exercise. Plus the mind games of “what if I don’t pass?” and guilt when I’m NOT studying and low spirits to high spirits depending on what I know when.

My poor body is rebelling. Today I can barely sit up straight for the muscle stiffness in my back and neck. I’ve been wearing my glasses for days because my eyes refuse to deal with contacts. My bad knee is even starting to ache again.


So what’s a girl to do?

Start taking care of her body, that’s what.

For starters, I’m taking the morning off of studying. I studied hard all day yesterday and am meeting up with other MGG first-years to study this afternoon, and I want to be fresh for it.

I’m going to try really really hard to get to the gym every day this week. (Except Thursday, I’m not quite THAT optimistic.) And I’m going to try to take it easy in there, but I need to get my body moving again.

I used to be quite fit, and, when I was, I felt better, I could do more, and I was happier. But this week, I’m just going to get moving. When I get back from my various adventures in the next few weeks, I’m going to dig out my work-out schedule when I was getting ready for the wilderness trip — I do much better when I have a plan.

Plus, exercise has been found to have positive psychological benefits — that’s right, it means it’ll make me less stressed out, better centered, allow me to channel my Caldwellian spirit. AND studies have shown that studying while exercising doesn’t have the same benefits as the same exercise without. Which also means I’ll have to take a break and let my mind relax.

So here’s to keeping sane and getting back on speaking terms with my body!

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May 21, 2010

Without the map the road is still the road

I’ve been having a hard time keeping perspective the last few days. It seems like if I fail my prelim, everything is over. But it isn’t, not really. The sun has the convenient habit of getting up each morning, the day will go on. If I happen not to be a graduate student at the end of it, that’s ok. I’d be good at doing lots of things.

Andy Wilkinson is a cowboy poet I had the great opportunity to meet, talk with, and listen to several years ago at one of the UHP’s pre-exam pancake slam (I think it was still called the pre-exam somethin’-somethin’ because we didn’t know what we were going to do). One of his songs is “Without the map the road is still the road.” It helps with the whole perspective thing.

If I stop being a grad student, this will have still been a great (though stressful) year where I learned a lot. Besides, I could always be a postal worker, right? Or an upholsterer?
Can’t wait for this all to be over.
I sure hope I can hold on to the perspective.

When you wonder where you’re goin’, where you been and where you are,
Remember that the wise men followed nothin’ but a star.
Across the trackless desert to Bethlehem they rode
Without the map the road is still the road.
Without the map the road is still the road.

Dorothy and the lion and their pals of straw and tin
Had no guidebook of instruction to get out like they got in.
But it didn’t make no nevermind, they hit those bricks of gold,
‘Cause without the map the road is still the road.

Without the map the road is still the road.
Every step is a journey, every journey is a step.
When your heart’s gone to yearnin’ and your soul’s gone for help.
Ink lines ain’t white lines, the routes don’t make the roads,
Without the map the road is still the road.
Without the map the road is still the road.

All you need’s a wide horizon and the ground beneath your feet,
And tomorrow is as certain as the sidewalk and the street.
Shiftin’ sands and yellow bricks and every white lines shows that
Without the map the road is still the road.

Without the map the road is still the road.
Every step is a journey, every journey is a step.
When your heart’s gone to yearnin’ and your soul’s gone for help.
Ink lines ain’t white lines, the routes don’t make the roads,
Without the map the road is still the road.
Without the map the road is still the road.

Without the map the road is still the road.
Without the map the road is still the road.

May 18, 2010

Closing in on year 1.

It’s hard to believe that my first year at WashU is just about over.
And that my prelim is in 9 days. I’m trying very hard not to freak out, but my lack of sleep and lack of appetite seem to be thwarting my efforts. I go through waves of knowing that I know everything I really need to know and then dive into a deep well of not knowing what I’m doing here or how I’ll ever ‘get’ everything in time.

This year in a list:

What I’ve accomplished:
– Molecular Cell Biology –> pass!
– Nucleic Acids and Protein Synthesis –> pass!
– Genomics –> pass!
– Advanced Genetics –> still waiting…
– Journal Club –> pass! (and I had to read and speak German and French in the process)
– submitted an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship (though I didn’t get it)
– wrote and submitted a 20 page postdoc grant proposal for a class (no comments back yet)
– two rotation talks in front of my peers and my department head
– accepted into the Lucille Markey Pathway for Human Pathobiology
– completed four rotations
– lost 15 pounds
– started (and had very moderate success with) an indoor garden
– have the Advanced Genetics TAship for the spring
– co-authored two papers under revision

other stuff done:
– brought Patty-cat home with me
– saw some of the sights in St. Louis
– learned perl
– spun up most of the fiber left from the Maine Fiber frolic
– knit a WHOLE hat
– started in on some ‘seminar mittens’
– met with potential PIs to sort out what thesis lab to join
– made some good friends along the way

stuff left to do:
– pass the MGG Prelim in 9 days! (yeek!!!)
– go to NC for a few days and Maine for a week
– pick a thesis lab

next up:
– re-instituting Too Cute Tuesday St. Louis (see http://www.toocutetuesday.com)
– getting back to spinning (and tackle my fleece)
– seeing more of the sights in St. Louis
– get back hiking and outdoorsing more
– pass the second half of the MGG Qualifying exam in September

April 6, 2010

In which I come back to the world of blogging (again)

Hello patient readers (even if you are just the Great Void of the interwebs) –

I have decided to try to come back to the internet writing thingamajigggie. We’ll see what happens.

It’s Tuesday evening. Traditionally, it is Too Cute Tuesday, but, do to allergies, school work, and brewing storms, it’s just Patty and me tonight. Which has given me time to catch up on some fiber reading.

Wait, you haven’t met Patty? She is a marmalade cat who loves open windows, tummy rubs, and sleeping in. Not to mention long naps on my too-still spinning wheel and trying to catch knitting needles.


So, what’s been going on with me?Well, we’ll start with fibers of wool (and other delicious things)…


In an effort to actually update this, I’m only going to give you a run-down of what is to come. Tantalizing, yes?

Where my fibers are:
– my fleece is washed, bundled, and waiting for cards.

– my green-yellow silk blend is spun up, between sock and lace weight — really lovely and textured.
– the purply-red mohair-wool heavenly stuff ended up being a wonderful (and EVEN!) plied worsted-weight.


– the bamboo I haven’t quite sorted out…it’s a difficult fiber length and mostly just falls apart. And when I card it, it seems to pill. More practice is certainly needed.

The Stash:
– the rest of the bamboo (and I have a TON!)
– my lovely heather gray
– some dyed wool, mostly jewel colors – I’m not quite sure what I was thinking when I dyed it. I will probably try some wet felting with it.
– dark gray churro
– jacob
– red churro
– Bag Of Caspar — my brother-in-law sent me his and my sister’s dog’s winter coat!
– misc cream/white wool-in-the-grease

In good news re: The Stash, I’ve (finally) figured out a good way to store everything in my bookcases while allowing all my wool to breathe, using a combination of pillowcases, canvas bags, and cloth drawers.

Skills learned:

– how to make worsted weight yarn (at least with prepared fiber) – it’s all about drafting and faith
– how to make a proper center pull ball using nothing but an extra knitting needle – it’s all about winding and faith
– how to Not Feel Guilty about letting my wheel sit idle while I tackle this graduate school thing.

In other fiber news, I’ve come back to the world of knitting!

I’ve left my of Boring Rectangle Projects, at least for a little while, and have completed an apple baby hat for a good friend’s baby, and am working on a pair of mittens designed after a child’s mitten from the sixteenth century. It’s perfect seminar knitting.

I’ve also chosen a pattern for my first sweater – it will be a lovely wrap sweater. I’ll keep you updated.
And in OTHER fiber news, I’ve picked up needle felting…and I’m in love!


What’s up next for fibers?

Well, unfortunately, my knitting is taking a back-seat to my perling. So, for right now, my fibers will stay where they are, at least until my qualifying exam at the end of May. I get frustrated at the wheel because I can’t spin harder stuff, and need the time to really devote time to it on a regular basis.

In the meantime, though, I will plow ahead on my seminar-mittens and maybe try my hand at some creative carding.

~~~~~~~~~~

In terms of fibers of life, the semester will be wrapping up in about two months and I can’t WAIT! I’m going to take two weeks off – the first few days here at my flat in St. Louis, cleaning and organizing and sleeping and spinning, then off to Chicago for a few days (I think), then home to Raleigh-home for a few days, a quick day trip to New Bern, then up to Maine for a week. whew.

Closer to home, I’m working on staying calmer and getting less wound up. As you know, that’s a bit difficult for me. Yoga classes are helping though (searching for contentment and flexibility), I’m mostly enjoying my lab (learning about ostoblast and ostoclast signaling and playing with mice), and I was offered the TAship for the required 1st year genetics class. I’ve also started a wee container garden and am riding (and may be showing in the near future) So all in all doing well. At least as well as things can go for a crazy first year genetics student.

What is done:
– midterm for Genomics
– 3 rotations
– 1 rotation talk
– journal club
– NSF GRF news (I didn’t get it – maybe next year!)
– Markey application
– TAship for next year

What is left to do:
– finish up my 4th rotation
– write a 20 page grant (due at the end of the month! yikes!)
– 3 more perl assignments
– 1 more genetics assignment
– Genomics final exam (at the end of the month! double yikes!)
– written qualifying exam (in two months! a bajillion yikes!)

Now I’m off to get some perling done!

Happy spinning!

June 13, 2009

In Which I Go to the Maine Fiber Frolic

I went to the Maine Fiber Frolic, held in Windsor, Maine, about two and a half house away (well, a bit more than three if you get lost). I got up early so was there just after 9 AM and got to check everything out without a huge crowd and then enjoy the mass of people that are fiber-lovers.

There were a TON of vendors, something for everyone – fiber, yarn, some wheels, some spindles, lots of knitting needles, a wool pool, hand-knit things, hooked rugs, felting fiber, baskets, livestock, fencing, the list goes on and on.

First, let me introduce to the stars of the show – the livestock!

We will start with the llamas.

Llama fiber is lovely, very fine, comes in lots of different colors, and has no lanolin so it doesn’t require the same preparation as does other fibers (namely wool). Plus, they’re pretty cool dudes, the surfer guys of the fiber livestock world. Good karma.

There were also lots and lots of goats, in many different varieties, angora and cashmere. All were friendly, from the adults on down to the kids, and there were several for sale.

There were signs posted all over the place, warning everyone not to feed their fingers to the goats, but all were very sweet to me! A few were very indignant at being penned up, calling to their owners and to other goats, demanding to be heard. I took pity on one and stopped to say hello – as you might imagine, he was very grateful.

For most of the llama and goat farms, you could buy their fiber right there – meet the goat, take his coat kind of deal. Everyone was very friendly and I learned how to groom a goat (much like grooming a dog or a horse, really) and how different their personalities all are.

Not do be outdone by the goats, the angora bunnies were out in full force. And since they breed like rabbits (obviously), there were a lot of bunnies for sale. I was very tempted, but I held firm. But don’t you think an angora bunny would be perfect for my St. Louis apartment?

Since I was there already, I figured I would hang out and learn how to groom and shear angora rabbits – it’s much simpler than I supposed, but I think it must be pretty hard to get the knack of. The bunnies don’t seem to mind at all!

Then, of course, we have the sheep, the beautiful, beautiful sheep. I may stray off to other fibers, but I think wool is what I really love.

There were white sheep and black sheep. Young sheep and old sheep. Sleepy sheep and hungry sheep. And, as always, sheep interested in what I was doing.


Throughout the day, I wandered through vendors, had a go on some gorgeous (and perfectly balanced) spindles, talked with everyone I saw, and fingered and smelled all fiber in sight. I also tried my hand at selecting a fleece – yes, that’s right, a whole fleece. There was a building devoted to it, whole fleeces bagged with the type of sheep and information – where it was from, what the farm is like, what the sheep was like, some of them even had the sheep’s name! Of course, there was also fleece from other animals, but, like I said, I’m a sheep girl.

My fleece is pretty small, only 2.25 lbs of Border Leicester with a staple length of about 3 inches. I’m really really excited. Selecting this fleece took me about an hour after digging through dozens of other fleeces, finding the really expensive stuff and then looking at the cheap stuff to try and sort out the differences. Unfortunately, I forgot that sheep like hay and that I’m very VERY allergic to it, so by the end of it, I was happy but my arms and hands were a bright angry red from the hay.

At lunchtime, I set out to the field where Dave Kennard, an honest to goodness professional shephard, gave a sheepdog presentation. It was incredible. He was working with several sheep and two goats, one old sheepdog, one puppy (only nine months old!) named Dottie, and two middle-aged dogs, Nellie and Brittany. All were border collies and even the puppy who was having a very hard time listening, were incredible. They know over 40 verbal and whistle commands, including directions for clockwise and counterclockwise, lieing down, crawling on their bellies, backing up, the list goes on. It was absolutely fascinating. Borders heard with “eye power,” essentially staring the sheep down. It only takes three dogs to move a herd of sheep down a road (you read that right, down a road) – one in the front who walks backwards, one who pushes them from behind, and one on the side to keep them in the correct lane of traffic. The entire time the sheep were being herded, made to stand in a square made by cones, and split by the dogs, the shepard stood still in front of us.

Last, but not least, I have to show off some of my new fibers. I’ve already spun up some of it and will post pictures as I go.

A picture of my fleece is above, but here is a lock to show you staple length – I can’t wait to prepare it!

I found some gorgeous Navajo-Churro roving, it’s delicious, a long, pretty straight staple, really textured,I decided it was time for me to try something new – vegetable fiber. I chose some gorgeous bamboo. It has a lovely sheen, almost like silk, and has a super-short staple that will be a challenge. But it is so so so soft!

Now for some exciting stuff – blends and colors! First, we have some hand dyed roving, 50% Mohair and 50% wool. It’s really really soft and lofty, and I think it’ll spin up beautifully. I think I may try for some plied worsted-weight with it, so I’m going to practice some more with my regular wool first. Sadie, who you see modeling the fiber, is one of my god-dogs — we spend a lot of time together. Her dog-mom’s blog is here.

Last, but certainly not least, is this gorgeous hand dyed blend of wool, mohair, and silk. It’s incredibly textured, each fiber taking the dye differently. I’ve spun it up (as you can see here – and more pictures to follow), and it’s very moody, jewel colored, changing from green to purple to almost yellow, and quite strong. It’s spinning up to be about lace weight, a bit more a bit less.

I will keep you updated as I spin up this wonderful fiber and prepare my fleece.

Happy fibering!

May 9, 2009

Novel thoughts.

A room without a book is like a body without a soul.
– Cicero

I took an awesome trip to Tuckerman Ravine in New Hampshire the weekend before last, and I promise that my next post will be all about the hike. I had a magical experience today, though, that I need to share.

I am now a member of the Bar Harbor library – the Jesup Memorial Library. It’s a beautiful library. Think a miniature of Henry Higgins’ in My Fair Lady combined with the feel of the Strahov Monastery library. It’s really tiny and lovely. You walk in the front door, and the foyer is a round room, the floor a moaic of black and white hexagon tiles. To the left is the children’s library, a room about the size of Syme rm. 312, complete with a reading area, books on tape, and young adult’s fiction. To the right of the foyer is the periodicals room, about the same size of the children’s room, a room bathed in sunlight (or at least outside light), with all the newspapers you’d ever want.

Straight ahead off the foyer (that you really must pronouce foy-yay) is the main library. The room is borderd by alcoves of books – the first floor is fiction and mysteries. Of course, there are those books that are fiction but don’t quite fit anywhere, like Westerns, are shelved in the deep window sills. Each alcove has a table or a desk and there are stairs to reach the tip-toppy shelves.

At the end of the long room are two spiral staircases that creak beautifully when you step up them. Below the right hand staircase is a closet that is the ‘Maine room,’ housing all the Maine and local authors. The second floor, reserved for non-fiction, is open and bookshelves line the walls. Keep in mind that these are all actual old-fashioned wooden bookshelves. There are so many books that every bookcase has books crammed onto the top.

Of course, I checked out several books –
The Fifth of March by Ann Rinaldi
The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson
Five Sisters: The Langhornes of Virginia by James Fox
Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
My Father had a Daughter: Judith Shakespeare’s Tale by Grace Tiffany

I think I’d like to start keeping track of the books I read. So the list begins…
I’ll give an update when I go through all the books in my room.

Happy reading!