A fresh wind in the sails?

This interview with Holly Berry – complete with beautiful pictures – makes me want to bust out my loom.  Now!

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Fall Sheep Shares Farm Visit

Though the disappointment of missing Rhinebeck (more on that soon) was acute, the fall visit to Springdelle Farm for Foxfire Fibers Sheep Shares Members really lifted my spirits.

It was a dreary, drizzly day, but there’s no such thing as too lousy of weather for sheep.  Really.  Here’s me and the infamous Mistral -

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Kristy Lamb with lambs on her shirt in a field of lambs.  I like it.  Also, a hot mug of tea and rolling green hills is all it really takes to keep me and Lara happy.

Lots of Lambs here...

It only looks like Crackerjack is trying to eat the table.  He’s just eating the mushrooms off the table (that silly handsome devil).

Apparently the picnic table contained lovely mushrooms.

Why were there freshly shorn sheep in October?  Some silly lambs got into some Hemlock that became mired in their wool.  Only reasonable thing to do was shave them (tragically).  We sat around and helped try to pick the barbs out for Barb, but it was downright sad.

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Rhinebeck disappointment

I was all set to take Portuguese knitting with at Rhinebeck this October, but it turns out, I won’t be able to make it this year. It’s too late for me to get any kind of refund for the sold-out class, so if you know anyone who may be interested in the all day Friday class, I’d like to sell it to someone so I’m not out my $135.

I’ve done a workshop every Friday since I learned about the existence of this festival, this was to be my fourth year in a row (steeking, spinning, pattern alteration and customization, now Portuguese knitting). But I’m rapidly approaching the end of my PhD in genetics, and the friends that have come up and loved the festival in the past and stayed at the KOA Kamping Kabin with me are all super busy with graduate work as well. Not my year.

I’d just find other people to crash with, the sleeping arrangements wouldn’t be the end of the world, something would work out because fiber people are awesome; however, there’s a group at Yale that organizes an annual-ish “field trip” to DC to meet with science PhDs who work in science policy and learn more about career options, make some connections, etc. This year it’s the Thursday/Friday of the Rhinebeck weekend. I registered months ago for a Friday workshop, I first saw a poster with the trip dates a little more than a week ago.

I was in denial for like a week, trying to convince myself to ignore the impending changes in my life and go to Rhinebeck, but then my advisor and I had the career talk for the bajillionth time last Wednesday during a marathon 80 minute meeting, and I sat at a friend’s defense the next day realizing we started our PhDs together, he’s done, I’m going to be standing there answering questions about a thesis talk in the next year or so…I’ve got to get my act together in terms of future plans because apparently waiting til you’re writing is bordering on too late.

Since policy has been an option I’ve considered for years, it would be foolish as a sixth year grad student not to go meet as many people as I can and learn as much as I can about their experiences. Skipping out as a junior student wasn’t as big of a deal (and after all, could be considered research for that dream back up career of alpaca farming that got me and my ribosomal biogenesis partners in crime through every ”I’m going to fail out/I can’t do this” panic the first few years), but since it looks like I’m actually going to publish my little corner of cancer research and finish this PhD, I should probably do the responsible thing and work on figuring out how I’m going to continue to make the world a better place with all that hard-fought awesomeness.

I think everyone who has met me at least twice knows that the third weekend in October is my favorite weekend of the entire year, that weekend I go to the happiest place on earth, if I could go there every October for the rest of my life I don’t understand why I would even DESIRE Disneyworld.

I listen to the pan flute band (espiritu andino) on YouTube when I’m up in the middle of the night working on lab meetings and keep a bump of llama fiber I bought last year on my desk to pet when the pressure of grad school just gets overwhelming and I need to mentally go to my happy place for a few minutes.

I may still make it up on Sunday just to soak it all in (and get enough pan flute during daylight hours to last me a good year or so), pet some yarn, pet some sheep, pet some camelids, try some wine, but the workshops really are something entirely different and they mean a lot to me as a time to connect with the fiber community and that facet of my personality, which gets totally ignored on the planet where science me reigns.

It breaks my heart to cancel what I’ve set up a dashboard countdown to since last November, but I’ve promised myself next year (Sarah ought to come and get me hooked on the wheel) and keep reminding myself that being happy in my career is far more important than being disappointed for a bit. I think that’s the problem with having two great loves – science and fiber. Until I find ways to make them intersect, I’m always going to be a bit disappointed in one because I’m not with the other while I’m doing it.

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Time for a new sweater…

So at the end of October, armed with me and Kara’s Stitches passes from the Rhinebeck Rav party, my friend Sandy and I drove up to Hartford for yet more yarn shopping.

It turns out I don’t get tired of shopping. For anything. I might want a bite to eat, I might want to sit down, but really, the hunter-gatherer-gatherer is strong in me. I will scour the universe in search of perfection.

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Perfection came to us at Stitches in the Webs booth, where a knitted-up sample of Kirsten Hipsky’s Dunes Pullover caught my attention. The undulating cables are just beautiful.

Then I touched it.

Ooooh. Alpaca. After some lackluster encounters with Berocco yarns in summer 2004, I probably wouldn’t have become the yarn snob I am today after my first few visits to LYSs in Atlanta. I was wandering around Needlenook on Briarcliffe, however, and touched a scarf off-hand…and fell in love. I left there with three balls of Plymouth baby alpaca and a pattern for what would eventually become my first finished object that seemed pretty much perfect. I still wear it regularly. Delicious.

So once I’ve felt this beautiful sweater (and have fallen into at least lust with it), I brace myself. Alpaca sweater. This won’t be cheap…

And then I figured out that since it was once of the Valley Yarns house yarns, it was only $26 for yarn and project. Sandy looked a the colors, handed me the plum, and said, “make it in THIS.” She nailed it.

I started it on the genetics departmental retreat and continued through November. At some point in early December I noticed a mistake at the increase along an arm seam – it has top-down, in the round raglan construction – like six rows back.

It takes a long time to unknit that many stitches. I spent a good portion of December, including the evening before my 28th birthday slowly picking backward. Sometime right before I turned 28, I did finally get moving again in the right direction. Appropriate.

I was making great progress on the sweater – in fact, I was almost done! – and on the last weekend in February, on the RUF retreat, with just four inches to go on one arm…I saw the end of the yarn come out of my bag. And nearly screamed.

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Frantically, I looked to see if I could just order more. I even emailed Webs directly. Yarn? Discontinued. So I began the frantic Ravelry stash-search-who-else-has-this-yarn-polite-begging that only a truly desperate knitter engages in. I hate asking people to sell me yarn not marked for sale or trade. I wouldn’t even imagine doing it if it weren’t this kind of dire straights.

Fortunately, I found two knitters who were willing to pass it along to me – one of whom had bought an extra skein (note to self: be more like her). I honestly never would have imagined that I could run out of yarn four months after buying a yarn that wasn’t on clearance and that the yarn would already be discontinued and sold out. The yarn came in the mail, I finished up my sweater, and am going to ship the remainder of the skein back to her. I made the medium, which calls for 6 50g balls. I unraveled my swatch when I started knitting (fiesty, I know). I used 10g from the rescue ball, and the final project weighed 285g – which means my six skeins only weighed 275g combined. Losing 5g to weaving in ends and snipping off the excess from that, I’ll believe, but 25g? Half a ball? I’m at least somewhat reassured that I did buy the right amount of yarn. I’ll start weighing the whole pile of yarn before starting just to make sure.

The nice thing about being a New England resident is that you can finish alpaca sweaters in March and still wear them – more than once – before it gets too warm for them. I think I’m most excited to wear this on spring nights when the low is in the mid-40s, with a skirt and some tights, feeling so free of the burdens of a coat. Like spring really has arrived.

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A very belated Rhinebeck Finale…

So the second day of Rhinebeck was in fact amazing. The big selling points were:

1. No feeling like we had to do everything in just one day, more time to just spend with people.

and

2. Leaping Llama Competition.

Really, point number 2 was the most important feature.

We wandered through the barns to say good morning to our favorite camelids.

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We enjoyed the parade of llamas and alpacas.

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We then settled into the barns for the best. show. ever.

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The 4H’ers, in particular, were super-fun to watch. The take home lesson was: alpacas don’t jump. Llamas leap. If you have a llama, you need a pretty high fence. Not so much for the alpaca.

I even made a YouTube video to this effect –

We did a tad more shopping and finally heading home (stopping at yet another diner and spinning in yet another Stop and Shop parking lot on the way home).

I think that was the point in time at which Kara and I dyed more yarn? I can’t remember October so well at some point. And there wasn’t a lot of sleep. But there was dye and yarn and it was awesome.

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I loved making the festival a two-day thing, and totally will do so in the future. Had I written this post promptly after Rhinebeck, I probably would have hemmed and hawed and said maybe next year, maybe not, but at this point…I can’t imagine NOT going, whether I’m in New Haven or anywhere else in the world. It really is the happiest place on earth…for me, at least. One miserable night back in the middle of winter, I was up late finishing my lab meeting, and finally thought to ask on Ravelry who on earth the pan-flute band who plays at Rhinebeck every year is (Esperitu Andino, for those who can’t live another minute without YouTubing them, I don’t blame you…Es Asi probably is the one I get stuck in my head the most from wandering around the festival for two days). Once I could pull up their background music and think about Rhinebeck, I had the mental break I needed to push through and keep working. Put on some music, pet some fiber, grab a hunk of cheese, and know that October is closer now than it was in January.

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Rhinebeck!!!

As everyone I know (where know is loosely defined as am friends with, go to church with, work within a quarter mile of, pass in the hallway, etc) already knows, the third weekend in October is my favorite weekend of the year.

It’s better than my birthday, or Christmas, or the two combined (though they’re close to combined anyways).

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It’s the weekend of the New York Sheep and Wool Festival at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds in Rhinebeck, New York, which is one of the most beautiful places on earth the third weekend in October.

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As I am wont to do, I took a workshop on Rhinebeck Eve, also known as Friday. I took Finishing Finesse with Judy Pascale, a Connecticut knitter who is just a brilliant, energetic instructor. It was a long, intense day of knitting theory, and while it was exhausting, it was amazing. I’d take another one of her classes in a heartbeat.

That evening, Kara and Amy and I headed to the KOA Kamping Kabin and attempted to grill in the wind and rain of a Nor’easter. I have one recommendation for you: don’t.

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However, once we were able to warm food up via this method, we had the most delicious sausage dogs known to the history of all mankind. Nothing makes food taste better than having to fight mother nature for it. Our traveling companions made it up from New Haven despite the wind and rain.

We were up and at’em early the next day. The festival was, as always, not terribly busy right at the open but awfully busy by 11am. I love wandering through the sheep breeds barn with the displays and talking to people. I have an affinity for curly haired sheep (who’d a thunk?). A nice lady at the Icelandic display started Emily down the exciting road of spinning.

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Which she took to quite readily.

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Here she is less than 24 hours after that first spindle purchase, after a Saturday night spinning lesson in the Stop & Shop parking lot in Rhinebeck.

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In the course of helping Emily pick out a first spindle (a Hatchtown Farm spindle, like my first spindle!), we wound up in the Golding booth. My first spindle is about 1.5 oz. To go up to 2 oz, or down to 1 oz? Hard question. And then I made “the mistake”. I actually spun with the Golding. Those things go on spinning forever. Like buttah. And somehow, I left with not one but two Goldings, the one above and the one below. Swoon.

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Other highlights from day one included some great conversations with various vendors – the Rhodie Hill Llama people are so kind! – discovering Lamb ravioli (has my name written all over it, no?), and sampling some wines.

Lara found some maple cotton candy that looks suspiciously like roving. Also, she makes my fingerless mitts look damn good.

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We decided to head out earlyish, and visited the Historic Village Diner in Red Hook. I love breakfast, I love omlettes and pancakes and French toast, and I really love diners. This was a great one. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places due to its train car awesomeness.

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That evening, we went to the Ravelry party in Red Hook. It was fabulous. It’s so much fun to see the knitwear on parade. This year, we even wound up doing some headlamp knitting. I try not to think of it as “cold” out so much as optimal weather for knitting.

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I have more to say about Rhinebeck, but I really feel like a day in which you go to a lleaping llama competition deserves it’s own time. More on that later.

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Rhinebeck-a-rama forthcoming




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Originally uploaded by dnatheory

I’ll post my Rhinebeck summary of awesomeness soon, but my friend Kara took this picture in which I look extraordinarily pleased with my new Golding, and I am.

Emily’s just concentrating really hard. She’s a brand-new spinner. :)

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Traveling Damson!

Back in May, I started knitting Damson (rav link!). It’s the knitting project I had with me on the trip to New York to see a Martha Stewart taping. I used yarn that Kara and I had hand-dyed back in February, during the crazy-awesome Webs weekend.

As I was getting close to the end of the project, I had the worst realization a knitter can have. I was going to run out of yarn, and there was literally no way of getting more.

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I considered a number of solutions. The first was ignoring the problem, but it didn’t go away. In fact, it only got worse as I realized most ravelers who had knit this pattern commented on running out or cutting it close. Getting gauge on Damson is critical, as is counting those garter rows!

The next solution was trying to just knit tighter, but I quickly realized that would be dumb. Finally, the awesome ladies over at knit new haven helped me find a fun sock yarn, but it still wasn’t quite right. I ripped that border out.

Kara and I talked during this mini-crisis about ways I could get myself out of the corner I’d knit myself into, and she had recently knit herself (rav) a Melusine, which involved knitting with bare yarn then dyeing after knitting (with an eyedropper!). The best solution, short of ripping the @*(#$& thing out, seemed to be to try that with this shawl. Finally, I knit a border out of still-bare knitpicks bare yarn, knit a swatch out of more of the bare yarn, and shipped it all off to Kara.

She was super-busy starting her *awesome* new job, and vacationing with her boyfriend, and all kinds of wonderful things like that, so a few weeks ago, I got magic back in the mail from her. I finally had time to block it and photograph it today, and the more I look at it the more in awe I am of the stunning job she did.

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Kara, you are so my hero. It’s fabulous, and I’m so rocking this the moment it’s not waaaaay too hot to wear wool.

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Knit PacMan graffiti – I love East Rock!

After church today, I grabbed lunch at Cafe Romeo before embarking on a Sunday afternoon of errands. As we were eating, I noticed something on a nearby phone pole that caught my eye…

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It’s a good ways up that pole, too.

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Knit graffiti. Knit *video game* graffiti. In East Rock. I clearly have an amazing neighbor somewhere that I need to meet.

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It appears to be the little blue ghost from Pac-Man, which makes me wonder if he has (or will have?) friends around the neighborhood, like Pinky, or the orange one. Or if I may see PacMan anytime soon. I’m definitely going down Orange Street on my run in the AM to see if this guy has any friends lurking about.

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The Bucolic Plague

When Val and I headed off to see a taping of the Martha Stewart show, one of the first things we noticed in the studio was the area where the staff told us the goats would be.

Yes, my ears perked up considerably at the mention of goats. The barnyard seems to follow me everywhere, in a way.

The guests were Josh Kilmer-Purcell, author of the book (which we were given as an audience freebie) The Bucolic Plague, and his partner Brent (aka, Dr. Brent, Martha’s health and wellness guy). A few years ago, they bought a mansion and farm, and decided to reanimate both (with an heritage garden and a lot of very very cute goats that even have a goat-cam!. The book follows their adventures.

On the show, they made these amazing-looking caramel buns (still haven’t tried making them yet, maybe when it cools off a touch) and then we sampled their *damn good* goat cheese. It’s even named Beekman 1802 Blaak. Sounds like bleeting goats. I love it.

Martha Stewart Taping

Val even spotted Josh, the book’s author, leaving the show, and had him autograph her copy and mine (while I held the camera). I wish I had a dollar for every time Val’s started a random conversation with a stranger about growing up in the Midwest. It’d at least be sufficient to take Val, the random stranger, and myself out for a round of beers to further discuss the Midwest (and as compared to the rural South).

So I recently spent a Sunday afternoon curled up in my beloved porch swing in the book, and it was a lovely way to spend the afternoon. I don’t quite know what I was expecting – I know that just flipping through it when I first received it (you know that motion you do where you kind of just glance at the book and all the pages fly by?) there were many many many mentions of Martha, so I was afraid of…something. I think I was afraid of fake.

The book turned out to be about the inability of those of us who don’t have huge staffs to be truly and utterly perfect; there’s no way to fake perfection in a meaningful way. If you’re elbow deep in the process and really hands-on in the process, the final product won’t be perfect in the way the advertising world wants to sell it but will possess a beauty all it’s own. I would say the book is largely about loving life and taking the risks that count, and finding beauty and success even when you fail to attain the unattainable perfection (personified early in the book by Martha, and her peony garden, and her staff full of people so accustomed to perfection that they no longer marvel at it like the contest-winner in attendance).

A visitor to the farm tells the Beekman Boys about wabi-sabi, which, overly simplified from the book’s admitted over-simplification, is about the the transience of beauty, the idea that things are constantly in tension between flourishing and decay. If we define beauty as perfection, beauty is unattainable, but if we enjoy beauty as part of the flow between flourishing and decay and work and flourishing, then beauty emerges in whatever realm we put our hand to the plowshare. I really like the idea – that perfection is unattainable, but something even better emerges out of the everyday-use sense of putting things, including ourselves, to their purposes, and enjoying the peaks as the peaks, and not as mere shadows of impossible perfection looming overhead.

Another paragraph stuck out to me, and I’ve come back to it several times now. Josh writes:

“And Oprah’s call to live your Best Life isn’t as simple as it seems. Your Best Life isn’t necessarily your favorite life or the one you selfishly want. It’s simply the one you’re best at.”

I’ve been challenged to really think about how I define success in my life and how I approach the question of what I want to do with it. It’s far more complicated than the idea of what would make a nice life. Sometimes I think that leaving it all behind, and living a solitary life somewhere near a body of water I could boat on would be the utter definition of perfection. That would be the most selfishly wanted Best Life. I think about where I want to live and what I want to do and it becomes quickly clear that the list of “things that I can safely say I like and want” falls far short of the endless possibilities of who I might have been made to be and what I may have before me to do. And the life I was made for, breathed into being for, is by far the one I would be best at.

In the end, Josh points out that even Martha isn’t perfect, but she continues to strive for it after any and every mis-step and failure, and that it’s in the going-at-it-again that great things happen. Inspiration to keep at it was more than what I was expecting from this book, but I’m really glad that I found it there.

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