Thursday, October 30, 2008

Coral Reef from Yarn!

This is absolutely amazing. I wish I could see it in person. I love the intersection between art and science -- it makes my quest as a quilter and crafter feel somewhat related to my goals as a scientist.

Check out the Hyperbolic Coral Reef here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

More Beginning Quilting Tips

* Squaring up your blocks after making them inevitably means that you will have to rip out seams and re-sew them. As one of my classmates said, "I wish I'd paid more attention while making these things, it would have made this part easier." No kidding. Watch out for those quarter inch seams...they'll gettcha!

* Sew around the edge of your quilt top (quarter inch from the edge, running stitch -- nothing fancy) once it's all pieced and before you make your quilt sandwich. I can't say I really understand this part but apparently it has something to do with preventing your quilt top from becoming not-square. (I have a feeling advanced quilters are reading this and laughing -- that's OK).

* Binding strips are sewn together on an angle because it prevents bunching at the seams when you roll your binding and sew to to your quilt. My guess is a diagonal seam also distributes tension a little better to that seam, so your binding doesn't pop open inadvertently.

* When taking a quilting class at a store ALWAYS ask what the total cost of the class is, and if it's OK to bring your own fabric and what supplies will be supplied as part of the cost of the class. The cost of my class has doubled due to unnecessary supply purchases, and my inability/reluctance to ask these questions and/or just assuming that it was all inclusive.

* Color choices and fabric pattern picking: is this generational or learned? There are some wonky color/fabric choices in my class.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Quilt 1

I think I am officially becoming a quilter. The last block (lower right) still has to have all of its pieces sewn together. And then there's the boarders between the blocks and the boarder on the outside. I'm enjoying the process and the rules of quilting (what you piece together and what order you sew them all together -- it's very theoretical and meditative at the same time). I'd actually like to quilt it by hand, but that may be a whole 'nother can o' worms.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Beginning Quilting

These are some of the things I learned at my first quilting class:

- Don't iron your fabric in a back and forth motion. Instead, press your fabric in an up and down motion because this means you won't make the fabric fibers move around in funny ways.

- Don't reverse stitch your seams, because in quilts it doesn't matter anyway.

- It's Ok to start with the needle of your sewing machine in the 'down' position without it being in the fabric, but have your fabric right up against your needle.

- Press your stitching before pressing your seam open because it helps 'set' your stitches.

- Apparently it's not always necessary to wash your fabrics before cutting. This seems a little gross to me, though, so I'll just keep washing my fabrics first. It makes for more intense pressing with the iron.

- When using a rotary cutter make sure the blade is sharp (I didn't know they were easily replaced, but it makes sense) and make sure to cut slowly and "inch" the hand holding the ruler/straightedge as you cut. Watch your fingers, 'cause blood on your fabrics REALLY means you gotta wash 'em first!!

- People have amazingly different taste in fabric colors, patterns, etc. It's probably the most amusing part of my class so far.

- Fabric guilt: gotta learn to fight it when it's too late to change your choices (but there's SO MUCH to pick from!!).

- Fabrics when they're cut down to size for the blocks sure do look different together than when they're by themselves on the big bolts.

Obviously, this might seem like a bunch of randomness. As one of my classmates asked, "So what do you do?" "Oh, I'm in grad school." "What are you doing taking a quilting class?!" Honestly, it might not be the most effective use of my time, but as a grad student I struggle with abstract learning goals and hazy benchmarks of understanding so it's nice to come away from three hours of a class where I have used my brain and my hands and I can say, "Today I learned how to properly use a rotary cutter and sew a seam." That, my friends, is progress I can set my watch to. I've got five more weeks and a sample quilt on the way!!

Thursday, June 12, 2008


It is almost as bad to proctor a final exam as it is to take one. Almost.
Words my students wanted me to help them define:
"defoliate" -- when all the leaves fall off
"hallucinate" -- it's something that happens in your mind. Oh, like when you're in the desert and you see things? Yes! Exactly like that.
"prevalence" -- the frequency with which something occurs (like Lyme Disease infections)
"sympatric and allopatric speciation" -- sorry, can't tell you!
"gestation" -- Really?! But no, can't tell you.

They finished. We left the freezing room. Out.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Have Knives, Will Cook

It's amazing when the pieces of my life come together unexpectedly. And I am especially amazed when my blog-reading life jives with my physical life. A few days ago on Soule Mama's blog I noticed this book on the side bar. The words "Tassajara" brought back memories of dozens of slices of toast eaten during my years of living in Northern California. We'd stop at Bell Market on the way home and pick up a loaf.

"Tassajara toast, Poppy! With lots of butter!" That's what we'd chirp to my dad for whenever he asked us if we wanted a snack. We are a BIG toast family -- always in search of the perfect loaf, and we've burnt out a toaster or two over the past years.

Just today, I put in my latest Netflix entitled "How To Cook Your Life" and was totally floored to see my worlds collide, because it turns out that this documentary is a film about Edward Espe Brown who wrote the Tassajara Bread Book.

I really enjoyed this little film. I'm not a Zen follower, nor do I make my own bread (although I've since been inspired to try, but probably after our 100+ degree summer is over), but this film is great. It spoke to me as a graduate student on several levels. Watching Brown get frustrated with a bottle of oil and slice off the plastic lid with a cleaver saying "Why do they do this to people?" symbolized both my past and current frustrations and mimicked my internal and external temper tantrums. Watch Brown mangle a packaged block of cheese -- you'll get it.

I think the most important message of the movie for me was to remember to be in the moment; to accept imperfection; to focus on the singular task at hand; to let my hands do things hands ought to do.

Two of Brown's quotes stick with me. He says we ought to "treat the food as though it were your eye sight; treat it as though it were that precious." I believe that this is not just true about food, but about everything we value in life: our work, our education, our family, our planet.

He also says: "when you're cooking, you're not just cooking, you're not just working on food, you're also working on yourself...the food will taste better when the cook is joyful." Again, there are many things that nourish my life besides the food I eat. And I must be cognoscente that when I am producing a "thing" (like a dissertation) I am also working on myself and the world around me to improve both and to share my joy.

Brown reminds us to look past our temper tantrums, our inner and outer moments of weakness, and be joyful. Loving the toast.

The photo is from here, where you can also watch a trailer for the film.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Giant Granny Square = Easy Baby Blanket

It wasn't until recently that I started photographing my craft projects. I made this blanket last year for my youngest cousin. I used the easiest crochet stitch and pattern I knew how to work with: the Granny Square. Except, I made a giant one! I just kept going round and round until I had about 19 rows to each side. For the boarder I added white yarn for a little embellishment.

This particular blanket was made with some synthetic yarn from Michael's. Not usually my first choice, but in this case I wanted something that was light weight, washable and cheap because I used about 6 skeins of yarn (100g each, I think).

I'm happy to say that this blanket has been well loved. It's been washed and but in a diaper bag, gone on multiple trips and it's help up with minimal pilling. I don't know where the hat went, but I'm sure that while it fit it was used.

It seems that at the time I thought hanging it on the fence to get a photo was a good idea. No damage done, but I've got to get a little bit more creative in my photo-ops!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Works in Progress

This is me being busy. I have two "works in progress." The first is yet another addition to the blog-land's collection of pincushions. Really, it's nothing new, but I totally love it. I used these instructions (here) but made my own modifications: cut a circle of fabric about 3" larger than the edge of your vessel. Do the running stitch thing, stuff it with fluffy stuff, cinch it tight and jam it in. My dilemma right now is how do I make it stay in there? I'm going to try hot glue around the inside rim and then move on to other glues from there. I'm worried about how well everything will stick to the metal. The silver sugar bowl was a thrift store find. My sister polished it with my old toothbrush and my toothpaste. Probably not the best way to polish silver, but whatever. I almost wish I'd left it tarnished...

And this is my second project: growing bulrush rhizomes for a competition study with an invasive aquatic weed. My first challenge was getting these suckers to grow. Apparently you can't over water a wetland plant. I'm learning, people!

Monday, April 28, 2008


I am slowly developing a list of things I want to blog about and eventually they will be posted for your consideration. But until then I wanted to say that the weather is changing (sometimes erratically) and so the plants are beginning to emerge. The flower above is from a lupin plant and she was turned to the afternoon sun and the sea spray high on a windy cliff. All the physical parts of this plant are made from many different elements combined to make cellulose and lipids and proteins, among other things. But what interests me the most is that the sugars in this plant (like the cellulose, for example) are made of carbon. Many people don't fully appreciate how the plant gets (or acquires, if you will) this carbon. Do you know the answer to this question: "Plants are made of carbon. Where does that carbon come from?"

There are probably a million different ways to ask this question, but I'd like to point out that currently over half of my students (intro to biology students who are second and third year college students) did not give the correct answer.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Words of Wisdom

I work with a local non-profit organization as a volunteer mentor on trips where high school kids are taken to local sites where they actively participate in restoration efforts. Last week was my last field trip with a group of local high school students. I, and other mentors, work with kids from one class on several field trips during the school year where we all head out to the site and plant native grasses and acorns, build bird boxes, learn about watersheds, native plants, and bird identification. That's the serious part of the day. Most of the time the kids are waddling around in rain boots and rain gear, slinging mud at one another, rolling down hills, chucking rocks, eating lunch, playing educational games or singing at the top of their lungs. Inevitably all of the above are all happening at the same time.

Different high schools from around the area are free to participate, but I worked with a group of students from the local city. The majority of the students were African American, Latino or Asian. Not many of them have an opportunity to be out in nature, away from the hustle and bustle of their daily lives. On our very first day the kids struggled with the prospects of having to use a port-o-potty, and the choice of muddy clothes but cool, or dorky boots but clean. But once we started our trek I heared exclamations like this, "Oh my gosh! I saw a turkey! Did you know turkey's can fly?! The one I saw flew away!" There were also some shouts of glee and wonder when they saw a heard of large animals up on the hill, "What are those?" They asked. They were local cows, which meant that those dry cow-patties were perfect for slinging at school mates. They were disappointed, however, to learn that they couldn't pet the cows.

On our last day, after planting native grasses, sedges and rushes to stabilize a stream bank, we gathered to share our hopes and words of wisdom. One girl asked us to continue the program even if her group had been too rambunctious. Others wanted to return to the site to see how the plants had grown. I asked them to be mentors themselves, some day, but I wish I had added more:

"Remember that actions speak more than our words, but in combination you have a primal shout! Take with you the feeling of mud, sun, fresh air, flowers, birds and share them. What you've done today is yours, and you can do whatever you want with it: plant your own garden, identify the birds you see, share your sense of delight with others, be mindful of where your water comes from and where it goes. Today you were a scientist -- you asked questions about your environment, you tested the best ways to plant seedlings, you made observations. Be a scientist every day. Ask questions, look for answers. Never sit still."

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Fits and Starts

This is where my family lives. It's a little town called San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. It's a perfect place. For the last couple of weeks in December I alternated my time between reading books (a total of 6 in two weeks -- I wonder why I can't blow through scientific literature with such speed and joy?), mountain biking with my father, and generally absorbing the local culture (read: shopping and eating).

Despite my complete disregard for anything academic during my vacation I let my inner ecologist bubble. On our bike rides and drives across town I couldn't help but notice the vast amounts of Arundo donax growing from the banks of the river and along the edge of the lake. The locals use the reed for fencing material, either by cutting the shoots and lashing them together, or simply by growing this (invasive) weed along their fence lines. They also let their goats eat it. We rode by one happy flock munching through a large stand. In Mexico, the plant is called "can-lle brava" (that's how they pronounce it). The literal translation would be: "Angry reed" or "crazy reed." This invasive weed is also found here in California and pains riparian restoration. Should we bring out the goats?

Friday, January 18, 2008


This week I found myself in the middle of a crisis of confidence. What if I never write a successful grant? What if I never get proper funding? Why do I feel like I don't have any ideas? Am I normal? Do all grad students have this crisis at some point in there career?

I spent an hour today, surrounded by PCR machines, and cancer causing EtBr, chatting with my lab mate and lab assistant about just that: are we normal? I didn't even take my gloves off or put down my pipette, that's how engrossed I became in the conversation.

My take home message: the crisis of confidence has dissipated. There are twinges; but I can put the pains aside and concentrate on setting obtainable goals, learning something new every day (even if it's how to serve in racquetball). And remembering that I am here, every day, because I want to be.