Adventures in Yarn Dyeing

Assuming you’re like most people, you no doubt have skeins and skeins of bare wool yarn sitting around and also lots of packets of Kool Aid® drink mix–the old-fashioned kind with no sugar added (say, like 30 or so in an assortment of flavors). Me too! That was EXACTLY the situation I found myself in one weekend when inspiration hit and I decided to try to transform my volumes of bland, natural colored yarn that was sitting around unused into volumes of bright, fruity colored yarn that will sit around unused. Problem solved!

If you wish to recreate my success–besides determination–here is what you will need:

Supplies:

Yarn–natural animal fiber yarn is best for Kool Aid® dyeing. I used 100% wool in lace weight, worsted weight and chunky weightImage

Kool-Aid® other other no sugar added powdered drink mix with vibrant colors–amount depends on color saturation you want, but I used between 6 and 10 packets per 100 grams of yarn (note: you need to divide the yarn and the Kool Aid between  mason jars if you use the microwave method)

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Food coloring–I ended up wanting to create a teal color and needed a few drops of black food coloring to achieve it

Vinegar–any kind will do, but I used distilled white vinegar Note: Not necessary with drink mix products, but needed to ‘set’ the dye with food coloring

Canning/mason jars for microwave method

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Large stockpot for stovetop method

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Crockpot for crockpot method

Staff:

Master Dyer (me)

Inexplicably Negative Curmudgeon– with ‘opinions’ (my son)

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Quality Assurance Officer (Tiny Milt)

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Manager willing to turn a blind eye to questionable practices (Gus)

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Miscellaneous:

Performance Enhancing Drug (with cream)

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Anatomy of a Broken System: U of MN and the Dan Markingson Story

I’ve been following this case of alleged research misconduct at the U of MN for some time. I don’t usually like to ask my online friends to support causes that are of personal interest to me, but this an extremely disturbing situation that gets to heart of protecting people who participate in clinical research–so potentially all of us. A very troubled young man is dead and serious questions remain regarding whether he should have been enrolled in a study at all and about the egregious failures of the study coordinator,* the U of MN IRB (Institutional Review Board, the ‘independent’ group of reviewers charged by law with ensuring human subject protection), and the investigators in this case. A summary can be found here.

The University claimed ‘sovereign immunity’ from prosecution as an ‘agency’ of the state, so the Minnesota courts dismissed the case. The IRB was also declared immune from prosecution under sovereign immunity. The University then sued the victim’s mother for court costs in an apparent effort to discourage further suits.

There is an international call for the Governor of Minnesota to order an independent investigation of this situation from researchers, bioethics professionals, patient advocates and people who fear a similar thing could happen to their loved ones. If the U has nothing to hide, this investigation will exonerate them. If the alleged misconduct is true, this family deserves answers and the U of MN needs to clean up its act.

Medical research has a long and sometimes inglorious history in general and at the U of MN in particular. This is not the first time the psychiatry department at the U of MN or their affiliated physicians have been accused of wrongdoing (see New York Times article here).  To prevent the abuses of the past, rules and regulations have been instituted that must be applied every time if the public is to have trust in the process. When the system fails it is critical to know how and why so that changes can be made. Given the history of failures at the U of MN, one can only assume this is institutional negligence that needs urgent attention.

If you have the time and would like to read more specifics of the Markingson case from Dr. Carl Elliott, an MD bioethicist at the U of MN, please click on the link above and/or the supplementary links below. If, after reading about the case, you agree an independent investigation is warranted, please sign the petition hereIf you feel so compelled, please share on your Facebook pages or other social media sites. Remember, this is a call for an independent investigation–not a witch hunt. If there was no wrongdoing, the U of MN has nothing to fear.

For more information and analysis of this case and some of the serious issues it raises:

Original St. Paul Pioneer Press coverage of the story: http://www.twincities.com/ci_9306735?nclick_check=1

Carl Elliott’s thorough expose in Mother Jones: http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2010/09/dan-markingson-drug-trial-astrazeneca

Carl Elliott’s ongoing blog updates: http://loathingbioethics.blogspot.com/ and http://www.madinamerica.com/author/celliott/

 

Researchers and Bioethics Experts weigh in:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fetishes-i-dont-get/201303/the-worst-all-possible-irb-worlds

http://blogs.law.stanford.edu/lawandbiosciences/2013/03/14/the-markingson-case-investigate-the-university-of-minnesota/

Five part series on the case in Scientific American: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/molecules-to-medicine/2012/12/11/a-clinical-trial-and-suicide-leave-many-questions-part-1-consent/

*The study coordinator in this case, a social worker who worked for an independent clinical research organization (CRO) contracted by the U of MN to manage the study, had no formal medical training. Years after the internal investigation of this case by the U of MN cleared everyone of wrongdoing, documents surfaced due to the efforts of outside investigators, that indicated the coordinator had tampered with evidence, including forging doctor’s signatures. A  disciplinary hearing found her guilty of tampering with documents and forgery (felonies for the rest of us).  Her punishment?  18 hours of CME training on ethics.  Seriously.

Simple Baby Booties–Using Single Square of Felt

I made these with Simplicity pattern #2397.  Very easy–just uses
a single square of craft felt for two booties. There are two seams, a very short one in the back of the heel and one to attach the sole to the sides.  I sewed the seams on a sewing machine, but it could probably be done by hand, as well.  The embellishments are super simple embroidery stitches that even a novice could learn from freely available YouTube videos and the ties attach through grommet holes made with scrapbooking equipment.   Quick, fun project!

Death of the King of the Wild Things

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Maurice Sendak, alter ego and creator of Max and his wild rumpus from Where the Wild Things Are, has passed away at age 83.

Max was my hero as a child. He was naughty, but he really didn’t mean to be–a condition no doubt familiar to most children. But despite Max’s naughtiness he was still the protagonist of an actual story in which he ultimately became king over monsters! I think Where the Wild Things Are validated the value of those of us who suffered from Occasional Politeness Deficit Syndrome (OPDS) as children. After all, if Max could find redemption after sassing his mother, surely there was hope for us all.

I got my first copy of Where the Wild Things Are from Scholastic Book Club in elementary school back in the late 60s. It was a cheap paperback copy, but something about the illustrations resonated with me immediately and it was a lifelong obsession. In fact, Wild Things was the the first book I bought when I found out I was pregnant 30 years ago.  I was determined that Wild Things be a part of the childhood experience for the as yet unknown little personality I was carrying. Both my children could recite Max’s adventures verbatim long before they could read. In time I had the whole Sendak catalog, but nothing ever replaced Wild Things for me. It is still my ‘go to’ gift for children’s birthdays and baby showers.

A couple of years ago I bought Where the Wild Things Are post-it notes. I really don’t remember much about my childhood and certainly don’t wallow in nostalgia for the pop cultural do-dads that informed my youth, yet even now when I’m within spitting distance of celebrating five decades on this planet, I can’t resist the Wild Things. Turns out this was not my most practical purchase, as I don’t want to actually write on any of the notes, but it definitely speaks to the power of Sendak.

What a sad loss, but what a wonderful and permanent legacy Mr. Sendak left for children of all ages everywhere.  He celebrated the little monster in all of us!

Straw Bale Gardening

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apologies up front for the formatting.  For whatever reason, this blog has tremendous trouble working text around photos, so it is an exercise in futility to try to format it.  I finally just gave up!  Hope it is clear which photos go with what commentary.

My son and I tried this version of gardening two summers ago and I think we are going to do it again this year (although it’s getting late and the bales should already be ‘cooking’).  It is simple, helps with keeping small critters from using your garden as a buffet and saves on back strain somewhat.

Hay bale gardening is really modified container gardening, with the bale (has to be straw, not hay, as hay is full of seeds that will sprout) serving as your very large container.  The bale has to be ‘cooked,’ which is a process of soaking and fertilizing (if desired–not necessary) that takes several weeks, during which time the inside of the bale starts to compost. During this period, the bale becomes very hot inside (hence ‘cooking’) and you need to allow time for it to cool a bit before planting.  Once ready, started plants can be  placed directly into the bale with no soil.  Seeds can be planted by creating shallow rows on top of the bale and adding an inch or two of soil.

Where to get Straw Bales

We found them at a farm supply store just outside the Minneapolis metro area. You can also check Craigslist or local papers.  Just remember that you want straw, not hay.

Where to Plant a Straw Bale Garden

One fantastic thing about this method is that it can be done anywhere. You can set the bales right on top of your grass with no need to till up a garden patch. They do tend to get a little messy looking towards the end of the season and definitely lack ‘curb appeal,’ so it might be better to keep them in the backyard or out of the sight of fussy neighbors.

There are lots of straw types and lots of different methods for prepping your bales, but all will require a ‘cooking’ process to initiate internal composting.  This can be accelerated by the use of fertilizer (which we did) or can be done organically using only water, which just takes a little longer.  There are lots of sites devoted to this process and many state departments of agriculture also have info on how to get started.  We won’t provide a lot of detail about here because 1.) I’m no expert at this and 2.) Mostly just want to share our experiences with this fun form of gardening.

As stated above, we decided to use fertilizer with a high nitrogen content to accelerate bale cooking it took about 10 days from placement in the garden to planting and I followed a plan we found on the Internet that is no longer available.  What I remember is that fertilization was on a staggered schedule and watering (soaking, really) needed to happen every day.  The bales are never supposed to dry out during this process.

Here is a photo of the bales soaking.  We used a typical sprayer and hosed them down good every day and also laid soaker hoses over the tops of the bales that we ran at intervals throughout the day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once they were ready for planting, we dug little divets out of the bales and put started plants directly in them, making sure the roots were covered.  Just like regular gardening, we planted more than we wanted and then thinned them back as they grew.  In the back set of bales, we put a couple of inches of soil on top bales for planting seeds.  We also planted some ground cover on the sides of the bales, thinking it would be purdy, but it really didn’t grow all that well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During early growth, it worked just fine to leave the soaker hoses on the bales. It worked so well, in fact, that we had plenty of fungus growth in the bales!  We sprayed the bales with a hydrogen peroxide/water solution and in time the fungus problem resolved.

Note also the straw grass coming up from seeds that were dormant in the bale.  This is not a huge problem with straw, but can be overwhelming with hay!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the plants grew, it became necessary to move the hoses off the bales, so here is our makeshift ‘redneck drip irrigation system,’ which consists of stringing heavy gauge wire between two fence poles (all available at local home store) and draping the soaker hose over the wire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had mixed results with our crop.  Squash and cucumbers were unstoppable, eventually becoming so big and heavy the bales collapsed under them.  We staked the tomatoes in cages placed over the fence posts at either end of the bale and they grew well, although the yield was better from tomatoes just in the regular garden. The carrots did not grow well at all, but peppers and some of the lettuces did great!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In all, I think it is a good option that provides lots of flexibility for location and garden size.  Definitely helped with bunny damage, although the birds seemed to think we had opted for bales so there would be a soft place for their little tootsies as they decimated the tomatoes, so it didn’t help much there.

At the end of the season, we broke the bales down and allowed them to lie fallow on top of the garden over the winter.  Our soil (which we had tested at the U of MN) was very low in nitrogen (another reason we decided to try bales) and our bales had been soaked in a nitrogen-rich fertilizer, so we thought this would be good for the soil.  The following year, we tilled the straw into the soil and had a wonderfully productive traditional garden.  This year will be bales again!

Dreaming of Lefse

Speaking of barely palatable things, I decided to inject a little tradition into the holidays this year and bought lefse (Norwegian potato tortilla for the uninitiated). My great aunts used to make lefse from scratch for Christmas and despite the fact that it is about as flavorful as the description ‘potato tortilla’ implies, we did like watching them make it when we were  little. Can’t say I was ever a huge fan of the flavor, but it is traditional and with enough butter and sugar you can make due with anything.
My grandfather, who was Swedish, used to say that the Norwegians developed lefse for boat repair because once you get it wet it is impervious to any substance known to man and will also cling like a barnacle to just about anything. Kind of ironic that a Swede should have such a strong critique of Norwegian pastries, as the Swede’s are hardly known for their delicious food (meatballs and lingonberries, aside). But after trying the store-bought variety, I think he may have been on to something. My son and I tried all sorts of things–traditional butter and sugar, cinnamon and sugar, cream cheese and jam, you name it–but we just couldn’t get over the rough texture of the store bought stuff.
I blogged about Scandinavian culinary culture a while back after visiting a local restaurant called Taste of Scandinavia with my son: https://mickeysmusings.wordpress.com/2010/02/14/uffda-what-a-crowd/. I’m not one of those self-hating Scandinavian types, but I do think it’s okay to acknowledge that maybe we are, as a collective group, just not all that good at the food thing. Sure, some individuals are very talented, but do we really need an entire restaurant devoted to lefse, herring, lutefisk and other white-ish foods? Can’t we just be satisfied with making great sweaters and cheap furniture that needs to be put together with an Allen wrench? This was reinforced during a visit to Sam’s Club where a Scandinavian cooking show was playing on the television display. The recipe was for fish (naturally) and the chef used both salt AND pepper to season it. We were astonished at this bold flavor choice.
Wondering if it would be okay to tweak tradition a bit–maybe roll out a delicious crescent and pretend it’s lefse or something? Are there rules about this sort of thing?

The Value of Postmodern Criticism: A Book Preview

I have been feverishly finishing my Great American Novel so that I can get it into  American lit courses and finally, through the academic ‘discipline’ of literary criticism, find out what I actually believe!  It will be refreshing to identify my subconscious motivations and deeply held sexual repressions via the lens of post-modern literary theory as applied by some overly educated grad student I’ve never met.

Seriously.  This is what passes for intellectual rigor in the modern American university.