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  • a year in tromsø

    The anniversary marking my first year in Tromsø has come and gone - I arrived on August 2nd, 2015, and this year on that date I found myself back at the airport as I embarked on a quick trip to Canada. The past few weeks have been a bit crazy and intense but I'm back in my cozy apartment now and have a moment to reflect before diving headfirst into my second year as a graduate student here (hello, thesis; let's get acquainted, shall we?). 

    Living abroad for extended periods of time is a curious experience, sometimes exciting and invigorating and other times isolating and deflating. I've had the incredible privelege of spending long stretches of time abroad before, and each experience is different. Norway has presented us with both incredible experiences as well as unique and frustrating challenges. But at the end of the day I usually feel very lucky to be living in this littly city in the Arctic, and as I've said before on this blog, one of my favorite things about being here is documenting the changing landscape around me through the seasons' changes.

    I've shared many, many photos of Tromsø on my Instagram account over the past year, and sometimes I have little videos to share too. What started as a whim - collecting little snippets of autumn into one video - turned into a four-part series of snippets of Tromsø in each season. I thought it would be fun to share those videos all in one place. (If for any reason the embedded Instagram videos below aren't showing up for you, they're also collected under the Instagram hashtag #ayearintromsø and can be viewed there.)

    Snippets of Autumn in Tromsø, collected in September and October.

    A video posted by Dianna ⚡️ (@cakeandvikings) on

    Snippets of winter from the past few weeks. I live in an incredibly beautiful place. #tromsø

    A video posted by Dianna ⚡️ (@cakeandvikings) on

    Summer snippets. #sommeritromsø #ayearintromsø

    A video posted by Dianna Walla ⚡️ (@cakeandvikings) on

    Autumn and winter are shorter, because Instagram's limit for video was 15 seconds when they were posted, but I was able to be more indulgent with spring and summer.

    I also enjoy revisiting photos of the same places in different times of year, and I think that our iconic peak, Tromsdalstinden (known colloquially as just "tinden," or "the peak") is a perfect example. On the top is a photo from February, and below, one from last month. Both photos are taken from Prestvannet, the lake on top of the island. I love seeing the lake frozen over and covered in snow in winter (with ski tracks!), while it forms a glassy mirror of sorts in the summer.

    I must admit, looking back through photos from the past year has gotten me more than a little bit excited for the arrival of autumn... the midnight sun has ended, the nights are growing darker, and soon this whole landscape will change yet again. September will bring visiting friends, and it's always nice to have things to look forward to.

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  • a look back; a look forward

    It's the time of year when we're all reflecting, we're all doing recaps on our blogs and social media, we're setting goals for the new year. I think these are good things, but I've had an unusual year, so I'll be doing it a little differently this time. A year ago today, I rounded up all my FOs for 2014 in one blog post. I'm not going to do that this year because despite my goal to take things a little easier, I wound up with more FOs this year than last year (35 this year to last year's 32; oops). I also haven't gotten any better at managing my number of WIPs (current count: 11). Still, I do feel less burned out this year; I do still feel like I took it easy. I took a giant step back from Paper Tiger as a business with the decision to go back to school, and that meant it could become my creative outlet again. That's been amazing. And the continued support of all of you who read this blog or knit my patterns or follow my Instagram has been absolutely amazing too. I couldn't ask for a better community and I am so grateful for all of it. 

    I am hugely proud of my accomplishments this year - highlights included my first patterns published with Quince & Co. and getting to be a part of both Tolt Yarn and Wool's Farm to Needle book as well as the Fringe Hatalong. But I think what I am proudest of has been the biggest leap I made this year - the decision to go back to grad school and the process of moving to Norway. It's still very much an experiment and a work-in-progress for me and for Chris, but it takes a lot of courage and a lot of work to make a leap like that and I'm so glad to have the support of family and friends and this community alike. I've been back in Seattle for Christmas and there's nothing easy about having two homes you love - it's such a joy to be back and to see friendly faces and favorite places again, but at the same time I miss Norway terribly. 

    I'm so excited to see where 2016 takes me. I'm excited to see where it takes us all! I can't wait to get back to Tromsø and start a new term of coursework, but I'll keep knitting, too (obviously). Thanks for following along with this space this year and always. I hope you're all ringing in 2016 in as mellow or as fancy a way as you like best, and I'll see you in the new year.

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  • october

    Hello there! October's been busy. Or maybe "focused" is a better word. My whole time here, since arriving in Tromsø, has been quite focused. I think I'm feeling it more now than I did before because September had me entertaining visiting friends and family for a few weeks, and in August everything still felt so new, and there was so much work to do to start getting settled. But it's been weeks without any of that and I'm beginning to realize just how much my uni program is dominating my attention.

    I've been following along a bit with Slow Fashion October (and the Instagram hashtag #slowfashionoctober) and while it's been really fantastic to see some of the conversations taking place, and I've even started drafting a few blog posts to join in, the truth is that that's just not where my head's at right now, you know? (Though I absolutely encourage you to check it out if you haven't!) For two months I've been intensely focused on school: on so much reading, on trying to make sense of the syntax of Tagalog (not what I expected to be spending so much time on, but grad school is full of surprises), on trying to choose topics for term papers and presentations. I spend more time in the university library than I do in my lectures; it's basically my second home. Add to that the fact that my husband's in a very focused place as well (holed up at the home studio in our flat working on a film score), and that sense of focus is compounded. I think it's turned me a bit antisocial.

    Chris and I were talking this week and I realized that in the nearly three months since I've arrived in Tromsø at the beginning of August, I've left the island of Tromsøya maybe three times? And each of those three times was just across the bridge to the mainland, which is still part of Tromsø, either hiking or taking the cable car up Storsteinen (that mountain on the right in the photo above). Tromsøya's not big: it has an area of 8.8 square miles, or 22.8 square kilometers (for the Pacific Northwesterners, that's roughly the same as Cypress Island, which lies to the southeast of Orcas in the San Juans). I literally haven't left Tromsø in almost three months; my world has been very small. I guess it's no wonder I'm starting to feel a little restless, and October tends to bring on that feeling in me anyway.

    But that doesn't mean I haven't been enjoying myself, though. I think the focused isolation actually suits me pretty well (what that says about me, I'm not entirely sure). There's so much here that I actively appreciate on a regular basis. I love my commute, as weird as that sounds; the bus ride to campus is almost always beautiful and in the changeable weather it's almost always different. The northern lights have been spectacular in the past few weeks (before the rain we've had for the past week started) - I can still hardly believe I can watch the aurora from my apartment windows. With the first storm of autumn a few weeks ago the mountains got their first dusting of snow (which has now mostly been washed or melted away, but it'll be back soon enough).

    The student welfare organization recently held an informational meeting for new international students on how to cope with mørketida - the dark season. With the nonstop rain we've had for the past week, it's feeling closer than ever. Because Tromsø sits so far north, there are two months in winter when the sun doesn't rise above the mountains in the south. We'll say goodbye to the sun on November 21st, but in the meantime the days grow increasingly shorter. And yet I find myself looking forward to the dark season. It's an excuse to cozy up indoors (and it's definitely helping with that academic focus I was talking about - it's harder to be tucked away in the library when it's nice out), to take some time to rest, to light candles and enjoy the quiet. I'll also be getting out of town at the end of the month, finally, for a quick trip. I'm looking forward to that too. 

    More soon, I hope - but for now, it's back to reading.

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  • forward

    What a few weeks it's been! Busy, with lots of ups and downs, and still so much practical stuff to do... but I'm remembering what a difference it makes to my mood to be well-fed and to knock a few key things off the to-do list (especially those I've been putting off). So having just made myself a nice lunch after successfully tackling a rather daunting to-do list this morning, I'm on the up at the moment.

    I forgot how it feels when you first move abroad - the way time marches forward, oblivious to the many, many things you need to do in order to start getting settled (and there's a lot more of it this time around than there was when I was in Hungary). There are utilities accounts to set up and housewares to buy and errands to run and furniture to put together. The electrician needs to come by and see why the overhead light in the bathroom isn't working properly. That piece of mail delivered to our box by mistake needs to be taken over to the post office. And I finally took care of getting a Norwegian SIM card this week only to learn after putting it in my phone and using it that I'll be unable to text American numbers if my Norwegian mobile provider doesn't have an agreement with the American mobile provider for that phone number (a problem I have never, ever had with Norwegian SIMs in the past). I forgot the way that all of those little things can start to add up and accumulate to make you feel like you're having The Worst Day Ever. And Time doesn't care, it marches on.

    But that stuff starts to get dealt with, and it gets better, too (and, note to self: eating good meals regularly helps immensely). There's so much to celebrate and be grateful for right now. School is going well and I love the little yarn store down the street. The nights are now dark enough for some of the stars to come out, and last night the aurora was out. I watched it from my bedroom window (my bedroom window!) for about an hour. It may seem trivial or frivolous to say this, but that is one of the things I have been looking forward to the most about moving here. The northern lights inspire a sense of childlike wonder in me in a way few other things do. The landscape here does it too, but the lights... the lights are magic. 

    I think that stuff, that sense of awe and wonder, is so important to life and mental health and feeling whole and fulfilled in this world. So for now, I'll remind myself that the stuff that's hard right now will fall away with time, and I'll do my best to eat well and take care of myself and go easy on myself when I can. For now, that's enough. 

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  • summer days

    The longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere is right around the corner (Sunday the 21st, this year).

    The days have been hot lately, too. The entire west coast is in a drought - not just California, which you've probably heard about in the news, but up here in Washington, too. The cherries are early this year. Everything's early. I can't remember the last time it really rained. Just endless sunshine and 70-80 degree days.

    It might sound nice to some, but it can make a Seattleite grumpy. I'm yearning for cloudy days and and some actual, proper rain. Still, I'm doing my best to savor the good parts. Mary Jane is in town, so she and I and Cirilia headed out to the Ballard Locks this week with some treats to do a little outdoor knitting. We hovered in the shade, but it was certainly beautiful. We enjoyed watching the bird life - so many blue herons! - and eating the homemade cookies Cirilia had brought along. 

    I've been enjoying the lingering light as the days have grown longer, too. It's hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that when I get to Tromsø, the days will still be quite long and there will be no real darkness my first few weeks there. The days will rapidly grow shorter, though, so I'm enjoying the long daylight as long as I can, whether I'm here in Seattle or in Tromsø.

    I hope whatever your summer is like so far, you're enjoying it! 

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  • photographic milestones

    I got a new camera!!

    My very first camera was a 35mm SLR: a Nikon FG-20. It was a hand-me-down from my mom and I loved it. I used to walk around my yard and my neighborhood as a teenager, snapping photos of anything and everything (but rarely people). I remained a faithful Nikon photographer when I bought my first serious digital camera, a Nikon D70 that I bought second-hand in 2007. It wasn't my first digital camera, but it was my first serious digital camera. I bought it a few months ahead of a semester abroad in France - I remember wanting to have a good camera to document my first extended trip in Europe. That D70 remained my faithful companion for the next seven years, coming with me on a cross-country move as well as trips on four different continents. I basically used it all the time. But at some point last year, that started to change. I got an iPod Touch before going to Norway for the summer, and even though my D70 came along, I used the iPod almost exclusively. Last fall I replaced the iPod with an iPhone. The cameras have come quite far in smartphones, as we all know, and for everyday snaps you really can't beat the ease and portability they provide.

    As I started using my phone more and more to take photos, I think my old D70 really started showing its age. My relationship with it had changed, too. I didn't want to bring it along to document much of anything, and it really only came out to shoot pattern photos or knitting projects. In the last few months, it's finally given up. I can no longer shoot with it. Whatever's wrong with it is probably fixable, but I decided that I'd rather look at buying a new camera than pay money to have a rather old one fixed, especially since digital photo technology has moved forward by huge leaps and bounds since that camera was released. And there's something to be said for investing in a camera that moves me to take pictures again, that's inspiring just to have in my hands. So I started looking around.

    What I landed on is the camera pictured above: the Fujifilm X-T1. I went for the "graphite silver edition" because the silver top is reminiscent of the Nikon FG-20 that was my very first camera (nostalgia totally sells; smooth move, Fuji!). The purchase of this camera marks a rather momentous occasion for me: it's the first time I've bought a proper pro camera totally brand new. There's a lot about it that's very different than my Nikon - the biggest thing being that the Fuji is mirrorless - but I love the photos it takes and I love how it feels in my hands, and that stuff matters to me just as much as the technical specs (if not more). 

    I took a long walk today to spend some time getting a feel for it. Walking around with this camera in my hands, I almost felt like that teenager walking around with her first camera again. It's been a long time since I've felt that sort of giddy excitement about a new creative tool. Most of the photos I took today are just snapshots, really, but I thought I'd share a few here on the blog. I hope to be sharing a lot more photos on the blog again, especially once I get to Norway in August.

    I also wanted to say thanks to the friends who sat and talked cameras with me as I worked my way up to this decision, particularly Kathy and Rachel. Your enthusiasm and encouragement means so much, and I'm grateful for it.

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  • a move; a shift; a change

    I have some rather big news to share today. I've been looking forward to sharing it so I'll get right to it - and for those of you who want to know the hows and whys and buts, you can read on below - but here it is:

    I'm moving to Norway this August where I'm going back to grad school. 
    I'll be starting a master's in Theoretical Linguistics this fall at the University of Tromsø.

    This is obviously a huge life changing thing - a move abroad is quite an undertaking in any case, and the scale of this one is pretty different than my first go-round (some of you may remember I once spent a year working in Hungary). There are many, many more practicalities to consider, I'm bringing a spouse along this time, etc. But it's also a huge career shift from where I am at this moment and what I've been doing for the last two and a half years. 

    I've spent an immense amount of time in the last year trying to figure out what I want to do with my life. That's a big question to ponder, and one we never totally figure out - we're constantly evolving, after all. But it's a question I definitely wasn't really ready to answer when I was finishing my BA in Linguistics six years ago. I freaked out about finishing school and applied to grad school at the last minute. I got a Master of Arts in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), a program that put my linguistics background to very practical use and which I enjoyed immensely. I went to Hungary to teach. Hungary was wonderful, but it was exhausting. I decided to head home to Seattle at the end of my contract and give my long-held dream of running my own arts & crafts business a go. And what a go it's been! But the challenges of being self-employed are myriad, particularly when one's spouse is also self-employed. Sometimes we just don't have an anchor, and I've struggled with it often. I'm incredibly lucky to have friends and colleagues to lean on for support, and I'm so lucky to have support from every one of you who's ever sent me a message, knit one of my patterns, taken a class, said hello at a conference or trade show. It's an incredible thing to make a job out of a passion, and I'm happy to have done it. But - of course there's a but - I've been making myself face a lot of truths about the realities of the situation I'm in. Motivational realities. Financial realities. Trying to imagine what I want my business to look like five or ten years down the road. Can I even imagine still running my business five years down the road?

    That's opened the door to imagining all kinds of possible futures. If what I do now isn't my career, then what do I want my career to be? It's a big question (there have been a lot of big questions lately). So I thought about it, and then I thought some more. And then some more (and I'm still thinking about it). I started thinking about academia again, about applying to go back to school. My summer in Oslo last year was a little bit of a test-run/research trip, actually, though of course I didn't divulge that here at the time. I quietly applied to grad schools last fall, and I also started thinking about the possibility of teaching English again (especially after I didn't get in to a few of the more competitive programs I applied for). But when I found out I got into the University of Tromsø's master's program in Theoretical Linguistics, it was a game-changer. It's a department I've followed since I was an undergrad, in a city I've been to and like quite a lot, in a country I really love. There are many reasons it's neither the most practical nor the "safest" option at this juncture. There's a lot of risk involved in a leap like this. And I agonized for a few weeks as I tried to make my decision about what to do. But in the end, I couldn't say no - the stuff about this decision that doesn't make sense falls away in the wake of all of the things that make total sense. Sometimes a big leap makes sense, even if it's risky in some ways. And I am very lucky to have a partner who's been supportive of this decision and is probably just as excited to move to Tromsø as I am.

    So what does that mean for the future of Paper Tiger? It's a valid question, and a good one. And the answer, of course, is that at this point it's impossible to know. I'm not naive about what I'm taking on with a research-based graduate degree. I won't make any promises about whether or not I'll continue designing once school starts this fall. But I can say that this space isn't going anywhere. I'll definitely still be knitting (I'm literally moving to the Arctic, after all), and I plan to keep writing - about knitting, about Norway, about whatever seems relevant. I'm definitely excited for a chance to learn more about knitting in Norway, and get to know Norwegian yarns that are domestically raised and produced.

    In the meantime, I do have a few things lined up for fall release that I'm working on before the move, so you certainly haven't seen the last of my patterns yet. This is still my day job, at least for a few more months! 

    --

    For those who will ask about the mitten in the photo: it's purely selfish knitting! The university seal of UiT features stylized renderings of Odin's ravens from Norse mythology, Hugin and Munin (representing "thought" and "memory"), and I couldn't resist knitting them up in to an otherwise very traditional Norwegian mitten. I actually knit myself a pair of mittens when I got into grad school the first time around, too. I'm happy to say my skills have progressed since then!

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  • stash less & thoughtful crafting

    A month or two ago I discovered The Craft Sessions via the Woolful podcast, and it didn't take long once I'd wandered over to the website for me to add the blog to my blog reader. Felicia lives in Melbourne, Australia, and founded The Craft Sessions as a way to provide opportunities for craft and fiber retreats in the Australian craft community. I found myself reading backwards through the archives, and I definitely found myself drawn to a concept Felicia started writing about a few months ago: Stash Less. She also talked about Stash Less in the podcast, so here's a link to that episode if you haven't heard it.

    The Stash Less concept comes from a desire to be more thoughtful about what we make and why we craft. It's about intentional making. This quote from the post that introduced Stash Less really struck a chord with me:

    "'In the presence of good materials, hopes grow and possibilities multiply.' And I truly believe that is so so true. But I also think that there can be too much of a good thing. And that maybe that is where I am."

    I tend not to voice my own concerns with the materialism and consumption involved in the craft community too loudly - after all, I sell patterns, which also help to sell yarn, which helps local yarn stores and indie dyers and needle makers and all other sorts of folk in this beautiful web in a mutually beneficial way, and above all it helps encourage others to take up the needles and share this craft with more of the world. But it has not escaped my attention that the encouragement can go a little too far - we can become obsessed with this or that yarn, or dyer, or notions maker, and we can develop a fear of missing out that drives us to purchase things we don't need because we want them and we can probably find a way to use them later. 

    This isn't to say that I think having a stash of yarn or fabric is a bad idea. It's a totally good idea. Not only can it bring inspiration to be surrounded by beautiful materials, but you always have tools on hand when you want to try out something new. But I also believe that life is about balance, and after a period of acquiring a lot more yarn than I actually need, I'm starting to feel the other side of the stash more and more. It's making me want to slow down, pull back, and start to balance the scales. I know I'm not alone in this, but despite having a sizeable stash, I still tend to buy new yarn when I have a very specific project I want to make. This means that some of the stash yarn just sits there for years and years. Once yarn's been in your stash for nearly a decade, it's not likely to be super inspiring anymore, you know? 

    So Felicia's Stash Less concept really spoke to me. I don't feel the need to make it an actual challenge, like she has - or perhaps I'm just setting different parameters for myself - but I have noticed a change in the way I'm thinking about my projects, particularly after I wrote about wanting to take it easier this year. I'm definitely still thinking about the perfect slouchy cardigan I'd like to knit, among several other things I'd love to cast on for, but some time in the last few weeks I decided to make a real effort to finish all my current WIPs before beginning any new purely personal projects. Having 12 WIPs going at once stresses me out, so what's fun about that? I've managed to work my way down to five active personal WIPs since the new year (excluding my Beekeeper's Quilt, which is a leftovers-eater and will likely be going on for quite awhile), and you know what? That feels really amazing. Really amazing.

    I don't know that I'll ever be a totally monogamous knitter again. I'm not sure I can do just one project at a time; I've written before about the balance between having a complex project and a simple project going at the same time, and how it's nice to be able to pick up whichever I'm feeling up for that day. But it does feel extremely good to be working through half-finished projects that have been on the needles for ages, neglected as I distractedly run from one thing to the other, starting new projects with reckless abandon. I thought I'd share one of those projects here on the blog today since it's been a little quiet lately!

    This is the Splitta Genser, or Slitted Sweater, a pattern from the Pickles team (Pickles is a yarn brand/store in Oslo). I fell in love with the pattern right away when I first saw it on the Pickles blog, even though the sample is a vivid Pepto-Bismol-pink (I don't tend to go for pink). I saw potential, and I saw how the silhouette would fill a hole in my handknit wardrobe - namely that I don't have a lot of knits to wear with high-waisted skirts or dresses. I'm thrilled that the final result is exactly the sweater I had in mind when I cast on. Here's a peek at the back:

    The overlapping panels is the detail that really sold me on such a simple knit. I think it's a lovely feature and a little unexpected if you've only seen the sweater from the front. You can read my project notes and details over on Ravelry, and the pattern is available in both Norwegian and English.

    I started this sweater in April of last year, so it's a relief and a joy to finally have it finished, and I'm so happy it fits into my wardrobe in a way that nothing else I've made really does. It's quite in line with the Stash Less philosophy I've been swept up in, so I feel like it's helping me get off to a good start. I've been reorganizing the Paper Tiger studio again, trying to optimize the space to improve my focus and workflow, and I'm working on getting the whole yarn stash more or less into one place, where most of it is visible (see also: episode 11 of knit.fm, "Stash Control"). My hope is that this will help my shift in thinking, and prompt me to think about what I could be making with what I have on hand (and where that overlaps with what my own garment and accessory needs). 

    I'd love to hear about your own efforts at stash control or project planning. How do you keep things from getting out of hand?

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