Wednesday, May 31, 2006

the story of how I feel in love with fiber and then ordered a wheel....

My love of fiber in the form of roving started at Spa in 2005; I trekked my way to the DoubleTree hotel and wandered around a room of vendors with a single goal: find wool to make thrummed mittens. I had heard they were warm and it was a cold and snowy winter – perfect for mittens that would keep my hands warm and dry.

I had no idea what different types of wool were called, why they were different and what was best for thrums so I simply put my hands into bins and buckets of wool until I found something that felt soft and looked affordable. The vendors were helpful but not sure how to help me and no one knew how much fiber I’d need for a simple pair of mittens. I walked away with a bag full of Icelandic wool from the friendly people at Frelsi Farm Icelandic and was hooked on fiber.

I still haven’t made thrummed mittens, but that initial batch of fiber has been a touchstone and was the reason why I got a Bosworth drop spindle at Cummington last year. (well, I also happened to be in the right place at the right time and Laurie and I had a sort of pact that was a bit like “I’ll get one if you get one…”)

Then life got in the way.

The spindle was packed and moved and unpacked and repacked and moved and over the course of the past year my fingers forgot what to do with the wool. I don’t have anyone locally that could help me out with the spinning process and every attempt I made by myself was simply frustrating. After this past weekend it’s also become clear that (for many reasons) I probably wasn’t in the best place to learn how to use a new fibery tool last year (pre-boards among other things…) but! my desire to figure it out has been simmering. Over the past year I watched and cheered on other new spindlers, saw as wheels were tried and bought and used to make the most amazing yarn and created a sort of “plan” for what my future in spinning would look like….

The plan:
- figure out how to use spindle while in my 3rd/4th year of med school
- try wheels with the goal of buying myself a wheel for graduation (from med school)
- figure out how to use a wheel in residency

there are many problems with this plan – the first being that I’m crazy to think that I’ll have time to learn how to use a spinning wheel during my first year of residency (often known as the “intern” year, or ayearofhell). The other issues weren’t truly clear to me until this past weekend and the jist is that there’s no way I can wait a year to own a wheel. The logistics ran through my head as I wandered around the fairgrounds on Saturday so I focused on getting the technique of using a spindle down.

This year at Cummington it made sense. I watched (sometimes out of the corner of my eye) how others held the spindle and the wool, how they started with a new fiber, how to spin lusciously greasy wool straight out of a bag of fleece, and how to pick it up when it falls on the floor and just keep going.

That last one was a particularly good lesson. I was initially worried about how foolish and clumsy I’d look, and how the generous and amazing people would feel about repeating themselves and showing me again and again what to do with my hands. Those fears, I soon learned, were completely unfounded; everyone was patient and kind and showed me ways to fix what I had done wrong and how to do it another way. I saw and learned more in one evening then I could have possibly understood using a book or video from the internet and as a result sat somewhat self-absorbedly playing with my spindle. I stopped when I was too tired to see straight but wanted to keep it going.

When I knit items like simple stockenette socks my fingers know what to do without needing any help from my mind. I can feel when a stitch isn’t quite right, or when I’ve dropped a stitch because, for example, the spacing has changed. Knitting has become automatic and it’s part of the reason I want to branch out into lace and more “complicated” stitches – there are times I want something that I have to think about and concentrate on. Yes, knitting during classes and while studying has been a lifesaver (literally), but I’m on the verge of thinking it’s always something I do when I’m working on something else.

Spinning at Cate’s re-opened (for lack of a better term) the part of my brain that has been asleep for the past four years. My fingers and mind worked together to figure out how much to draft, how much twist was needed or already there and, at the risk of sounding like a cliché, it was somewhat peaceful. Spinning had never before been something I did to reach a state of calm, and yet there I was – calm as could be in a room full of people laughing and talking and knitting and spinning. I wasn’t overwhelmed, wasn’t getting a headache or withdrawing into myself.

I get it now.

Sunday morning I had plans to head south to complete my weekend tour of New England and help a friend move into her new apartment near Providence, RI. While enjoying one last cup of coffee in Cate’s living room I started talking to a gentleman named Doug who was sitting next to me. We talked about where we were from, and at one point he mentioned that he had a wheel that he’d be happy to lend me so I could practice and try it out. He was an authorized Louet dealer and before I knew it I was saying “or I could just buy one.” He tried once to talk me out of it and into just borrowing a wheel (that could be bought if I wanted to) but I was firm that this was something I wanted to do. I’d looked at lots of wheels on the internet and couldn’t see how an ornate wheel fit into my future as a med student/resident and that’s when the Louet moved to the top of my “plan” list.

I’d heard that the right wheel at the right time would speak to me, but in my case it was the right person in the right place at the right time. (beware the power of Cate’s wool room, er, living room and house when it’s filled with people under the influence of a lanolin high because there are beautiful fleeces and wheels and knitting nearby….)

The wheel Louet is an S-17, which is marketed as a budget wheel for the beginner but what really appeals to me is how sturdy it looks. I think this wheel (and the absence of spokes – beautiful as they may be on other wheels) can stand up to being packed and moved around every few weeks next year. It will serve the purpose of being a wheel that I learn on, play with and enjoy. My plan of a new wheel for gradation is still a possibility but now when I start to look I’ll know what I want and what works best for me. It's not here yet, but it'll make it's way here some way or another and I can't wait. (Can't. Wait.)

I think it’s strange that I find myself trying to justify the purchase to everyone – wool people know what I’m talking about when I simply say “I wanted a wheel.” For everyone else I have a long mental list of reasons why this was a good idea and how it will be a benefit to have one now. Life is too short to wait for the calm I felt that night.

(I could go on and on about how I feel in love with fleece(s) on Saturday and how carrying around a lock of fresh wool was near intoxicating and how I continually asked people to remind me that I did not need a fleece (what is the opposite of enabling?) but really wanted one anyway. Now that I’m immersed in surgery again I know I don’t have time to process a whole fleece but someday….someday….)

Re-entry to the world of medicine (a land I was ecstatic to leave behind for a few wonderful days) was and has been difficult. Straddling two worlds (fiber and medicine) that do not often intersect is hard but very much worth it and weekends like this past one keep me going forward. I’m not always happy with what I see and do during my rotations and as a result of that (and other things going on in my life) I can be rather grumpy. It was nice to not feel like one of the least liked seven dwarves this weekend, and what others have written remains true for me as well. It is hard to describe but it was real. I was Real. Med students aren’t often encouraged to be or stay real while in training and it’s a struggle to keep it up. Glimpses into what can and will be help me remember – thank you to everyone.

(links et cetra are going to have to wait – it’s midnight and I have to be up and on my way into the OR in a few hours….)

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

can't we just be friends?

to my dear bosworth drop spindle.....

I've been a faithful wannabe spindler with you this past year but I think it's time for me to start seeing other spindles. It's time for me to drop the "wannabe" part of that title, and given our past performance together I'm not sure I can count on you to help me out. You look so lonely when you're fiberless, which has been often.

I think it's best for the both of us, and would like to formally introduce you to the new spindle. It's a bit lighter then you are, but makes up for it in length. Variety is the spice of life and this spindle saw me from across the way - who am I to refuse the call of warm wood? Once I picked it up, I could not put it was a sure sign that we were meant to be together. (I want to say that it picked me, but that would just be crazy-talk....or would it?)

(The Atlas of Human Anatomy is feeling a bit out of place there in the corner...)

The lessons from the kind, experienced spinners were great, and I'm sure what I learned using the new spindle will apply to you as well. I get it now - really, really get it, but it's important to note that even though I get it, I can't *do* it all yet. My fingers are still new at knowing how to anticipate what the fiber will do and I expect to have lots of thick and thin "yarn" (I use the term loosely).

Owning multiple spindles is all the rage now, and from what I can gather it's a socially acceptable arrangement. I think we can make this work, so let's give it a try?

(and by the time we've figured this situation out it'll be time to introduce you to the, er, other thing that was purchased this weekend.....)

yours in spindling love,
(and more about this past weekend will follow....),

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

my dear, dear drop spindle....

it’s not you, it’s me.

You are a magnificent piece of handiwork, a pleasing weight and complete with beautifully contrasting wood tones. I am a selfish knitter who hasn’t taken the time to truly work with you…the time it takes to work through my frustration into calmness and ease. Time after time I’ve used the excuse that you aren’t in the right place at the right time (and it’s true that I haven’t been dragging you to all of my cat/dog sitting gigs) but really you aren’t as portable as one of my many socks-in-progress (yet).

It’s been almost a year since you’ve come into my life and I am so sorry I haven’t gotten to know you better. I’ve held off using my “good” fiber for fear that I’d tornado it, but over and over again those who are good with spindles and wheels tell me that’s the only way I’ll learn. Your potential still amazes me and I haven’t given up. (yet.) All those times I ended our park’n’draft attempts with confused looks of “how do they do it? they make it look easy…” I am sorry about that. Really sorry. It's unfair of me to want to be so good at something that is so new, and it's not your fault.

This weekend we will head back to the wonder known as “Cummington” and I want you to know that even though I may sit near a spinning wheel, I WILL NOT BUY ONE. I will remain faithful to you, little guy – it’s the least I can do for a spindle that sticks around somewhat unused for a whole year.

Maybe, to make it up to you, I’ll get some new, amazingly fantastic fiber.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

socks and surgeons, oh my!

socka-pal-phew!-za: my pal’s socks arrived in one piece, and they fit her! I was worried that they’d be too tight or the cuffs would be too long, but she was kind enough to let me know that they fit fine. (I was also worried that the colors wouldn’t be what she wanted (she loves greens and I had a hard time finding washable variegated green sock yarn…) but they were also to her liking – I was glad to hear that. I knit them for Patrice, who is (sadly) blogless.

socka-pal-for-me?!?-za: I was lucky enough to get a pair of the best socks in the world!

picture of socks......(borrowed from my pal's site but saved to my own computer)

My pal had to wade through the ramblings I sent out (a long run on sentence about what I’d knit myself vs. what I’d never knit myself and it went on and on and on about the colors I like, don’t like and combinations, etc) and she took it all into account. The yarn was hand-dyed (by her!) and the pattern is one that she came up with while trying to figure out what to knit up. The yarn looked beautiful in a feather and fan pattern but she was kind enough to realize I might not like them because I don’t like chevrons. In truth, I think I’d have loved anything that was knit from this yarn but I appreciate that she frogged and then invented a pattern! I don’t have pictures of the socks on my feet (yet) but they have been worn and admired many times. Thank you Celia!

(that is the picture she posted; once my camera and all of it’s parts find themselves in the same place (and the sun comes out) I’ll share pictures of them on my feet.)

Knitting, at this point in time: socks. They are reliable because I can knit them without a pattern and small enough to go with me wherever I go. In fact, the first day on my surgical rotation they were a conversation starter…which brings me to….

Surgery rotation: I have, perhaps, the best surgery rotation (for someone who is not planning on being a surgeon (though my surgeon-wanna-be classmates also enjoyed it) in the northern hemisphere. The general surgeon that is “in charge” of the med students knits. He knits the socks that he wears everyday and has been knitting for “a very, very long time.”

When he saw the yarn peeking out of the top of my “bag’o’medical’references” he asked what I was knitting and it started the proverbial ball (of yarn?) rolling. He wanted to know how long I’ve been knitting (specifically how long I’ve been knitting every day, not how many years ago I learned to knit), what I have knit in the past, the yarns I prefer and then encouraged me to dig out the sock and work on it. He knits with five metal dpn’s, has never heard of a “short row heel” and instead flaps. He doesn’t believe socks should be fancy with lace or other designs because that’s just not practical and he doesn’t need patterns because he can knit a sock without thinking about it and why fix what isn’t broken? When I asked what type of yarn the pair he had on was knit from he said he wasn’t sure, as “most companies are making those jacquard patterns now” but it probably wasn’t Regia because it wasn’t soft enough.(!) He told me stories about how his wife started knitting a pair for herself but later lengthened them and gifted them to him because every time he saw her working on them he told her how much he loved the yarn; He went on to tell me how much he loves knitting for her because she always appreciates it.

Then he asked if I spun. I confessed to owning a drop spindle that I don’t feel proficient using and asked if he spun. I figured the answer was going to be yes (and it was) but I couldn’t hide the shock when he told me that he owns three spinning wheels.

Three. Spinning. Wheels.

At that point I no longer worried about this rotation – how could it be bad when my over-seer knits and spins? (I haven’t figured out which types of wheels he owns (yet) but will. At this point it’s 8 days down, 22 to go. There’s time.) I still don’t want to be a surgeon, but my days aren’t as long as they could be and the hospital I’m in is a small (small-small) community hospital and most of the procedures are elective. There aren’t any residents (people that med students are usually “under”) so I’m working directly with the docs and scrub nurses.

I have yet to hit the floor. That alone means that the first 8 days have been a success.

I did sew some sutures in the first week (we won’t talk about how I had to change scrubs afterwards because I’d dripped through the first set – in my defense there were four people staring at me and it was the first time; the second time wasn’t much better, but I’m only willing to talk about the first time…) and have scrubbed into many different surgeries. I’ve worked with an ob/gyn, a neurosurgeon, another ob/gyn, two different general surgeons, joked with a proctologist (if he is representative of his field they have Amazing senses of humor) and successfully avoided the orthopods and sinus surgery doc. Ortho cases are bloody and full of bone cracking and smells that aren’t natural and therefore I may not remain upright. I don’t think I can keep the avoidance up for the full six weeks, but so far, so good.

Other randomness: Right now my yarn (and other belongings) are spread out between three houses and two cars. I’ve changed locations yet again and went ahead and bought a car. (I love my new (used) car. It’s blue.) At some point I’ll need to gather everything and organize it but until then I’m living in denial. It’s not causing too many problems right now, so why invite trouble?

There are other things going on. Things such as me trying to arrange for a few weeks off from my rotations to do some other things that will help me get through rotations and, perhaps, pass the boards. I’ve been trying to come up with a more eloquent way to explain what has been going on but I haven’t had that moment of inspiration yet. In short, things are still up in the air. I am ready for them to fall, but it appears that I can’t influence gravity and will have to wait it out. Or take up juggling. Anyone know how to juggle?

Sunday, May 14, 2006

MOM is WOW upside down....

Happy Day Mom!

(yes, the picture is from last year....I don't have enough yarn with me to invent something else this year...)

Sunday, May 07, 2006

and.....they'!!! (as in, the socks have left the building)

dear sockpal,

these are on the way to you - a few days late, but that wasn't because the socks weren't done. (they were done a week ago so I could get them out to you in time!) Nope, instead I had a heckva time trying to postcards. Postcards? yes, postcards. Now that I've found a few I'm seeing them everywhere - and all of the people that I asked to keep an eye out for some have reported back to me that they, too, are finding them all over the place. The socks are on their way! (and should be on your doorstep early this week...)

My peds rotation ended on Friday - the last week was fairly mundane compared to the other weeks I spent in the hospital and office, and it was a nice change of pace. The themes of strep throats, flus, gastro bugs, ortho and kidney problems were just some of the things I saw over and over again. I quickly learned that the answer to the ever-popular question of "is _____ going around?" is always yes. (No, antibiotics won't always help.)

Tomorrow morning, bright and early, I start my surgery rotation. I am not excited about it as I do not have any interest in being a surgeon. I figure that if I can make it through the first week standing up, then the other five weeks will be much easier.....

Monday, May 01, 2006

Dear Mr. Ether's Leg....

Hi. I heard that you're having a hard time jumpstarting this whole "regrowth" thing and I thought I'd throw in my two cents.

In order to sound like I might know what I'm talking about, I just reviewed the process of building bone. It's quite an ordeal - there are osteclasts and osteoBlasts (B for building, the "clasts" break it down and reabsorb it) and lots of chemical triggers that we don't full understand. Bone is a living thing - it has a blood supply, nerves and many textures and layers (haversian canals) and it's always changing to adapt. The canals look an awful lot like the rings of a tree, though a tree isn't always able to rebuild itself in times of trauma.

One of my professors in college always loved to tell us the story of how a bone starts out (complete with pictures and x-rays of fairly plain and smooth nondiscript bones from embryos and non-weight bearing infants) and then how it changes... how the grooves form from the muscles pulling and stretching and bearing weight. How the landmarks form - like how the achilles tendon attatchment looks different in a runner and how there can be spurs and how ballet dancers can "shape" their feet (tarsal bones) if they dance en pointe (a form of "new" weight bearing) for years.

Over time the weight bearing (or stress) "lines" change the way that bone "grows." The osteoclasts (after getting the right signal from a pathway a bit too complex to explain here) break down the bone and the osteoblast lay it down again - in a way that benefits the body at that time.

It is that knowledge that leads me to believe that you have it in you to pick up the pace and get going. Grow, grow, grow. I'm not sure what your osteoblasts have been doing but the break is over. The osteoclasts can slow down a bit and enjoy a bit of "off" time; Don't go too far though dear osteoclasts, as the whole growth/destruction thing is a balance. Reshaping requires breaking down AND rebuilding - luck a mini-recylcing process. You've been through quite a shock of breaking and artifical rebuilding and it seems to me that the balance is outta'whack (actual medical term used at one point during my rotation).

So my hope for you is that you rediscover the balance. That the osteoblasts have what they need to reach out into (what used to be familar but is now) unknown territory and that the osteoclasts can (in a very simplified way) provide them with what they need to lay down new bone.

I think you can do it. Prove me right.

your friend in growth and balance,

ps: (I will knit for you tomorrow, and the next day and the next....)