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  • december light

    Today is Luciadagen, or St. Lucy's Day, traditionally a day for celebrating light in the darkness here in Scandinavia. We started our day with an early morning walk up the hill to Elverhøy church for a fairly traditional celebration: one of the university choirs and a youth choir joined up to put on a Lucia procession and concert, lit only by candlelight. One of the girls from the youth choir was dressed as Lucia, with the wreath of candles on her head (those were the only electric candles - the rest were real). Saffron buns (known as lussekatter in Norway) were served. In the age of electricity and artificial light, an experience like that feels like a rare luxury. It was beautiful. (It was also not conducive to phone photos, but you can get a glimpse of what it looked like on my Instagram.)

    It also made it feel like this day is an apt choice to share a few of the photos I've collected in the past week. It's been three weeks since the sun disappeared below the mountains in the south - three weeks of no sunrise or sunset. Three weeks of mørketida. But that does not mean it's always dark. The light that we do have in this season can be so beautiful. It isn't always - we've got a week of rain ahead of us, which will mean dark skies and no snow to brighten up the ground, either. But the past several days have been pretty magic. And as the photo at the top of this post shows, even the grey days can be beautiful in the little bit of daylight that comes.

    I got to take a nice long walk on Saturday during the daylight, and it was such a treat. It was my favorite kind of cotton candy pastel sky. The rest of these photos are from that walk. The world looked like a painting.

    For me, there is so much beauty to be found in the dark season here. Even on the darkest rainy days, I am so grateful to be living here and experiencing this. I hope these photos bring a little light to your day today, too.

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  • first snow and FOs

    Things have gotten very busy lately, but I wanted to pop in to say hello and share a few things.

    First up: Pomcast, the podcast of knitting & crochet Pom Pom Quarterly, has a new episode up featuring an interview with me! I a live interview with Lydia at the Oslo Strikkefestival, though the audio unfortunately didn't make it, so Sophie caught up with me via Skype after the fact (we largely covered the same questions, so don't feel too sad if you missed out on the original interview, and don't expect it to be wildly different if you happened to be there!). Still, it was fun to do an interview in a room full of lovely people knitting while we chatted and I enjoyed the novelty of wearing a "Britney Spears microphone," as Lydia called it.

    Secondly: while we're on the topic of the Oslo Strikkefestival, I have a couple of FOs to share that I knit up using yarn I bought at the marketplace! I finished my Lupine shawl, which I wrote about in my last post, and I'm so pleased with how it turned out.

    The pattern is by Cory Ellen Boberg of Indie Knits and the yarn is the gorgeous gradient I picked up from Squirrel's Yarns, which was one of my impulse purchases at the festival (the Pécan Fing base in the color Hématite). If you like gradient yarns, I can't recommend Lisa's gradients enough. The transitions are impossibly smooth and the finished shawl is so pretty to me in its simplicity.

    The other FO is also knit up in one of my marketplace purchases: it's a Simple Hat by Hannah Fettig in the spælsau yarn I purchased from Værbitt. This was the first time I've knit with a 100% spælsau yarn, so I wanted to knit something simple that would get a lot of wear and let me really get a feel for the yarn knitted up in a fabric. I also didn't want the pattern to compete with the subtle variation in the colorway.

    I have to say, I love the finished hat. This yarn's a little bit rustic and it feels slightly wiry in the hand - it's very strong - but it's also surprisingly soft considering that, and when washed and blocked it developed a bit of a lovely halo that adds to that soft feel. This hat has gotten a lot of wear already and I think it'll continue to do so.

    Lastly: we've all been impatiently waiting for the snow in Tromsø, as last week we passed the previous record for the date of the first snowfall of the season (that means in recorded memory, it has never been as late as this year: yikes). But finally, on Saturday evening, the snow started falling. It kept coming down through Sunday, when I got to take a walk down to my favorite park. It's nice to revisit the photos, because Tuesday turned suddenly warm again, bringing rain, and the snow started to melt almost immediately. Between the rain clouds and the fact that we bid farewell to the sun last week (it won't rise again until January), it's been very, very dark this week. Hopefully before too long it'll cool down again and the snow will come back, but for now, enjoy these photos from Sunday's walk.

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  • on darkness and light

    I'm going to get a little philosophical today, but I hope you'll bear with me.

    As the days have grown shorter in Tromsø I've realized I'm taking fewer photos. I like shooting in natural light best, so as the availability of natural light becomes smaller and smaller, it's not surprising I reach for my camera less often. But that is only one reason. October moving into November always seems to be one of my busiest times - and the time of year that I am most susceptible to seasonal depression, due to the rapidly changing light and a number of other factors (I wrote about this a few weeks ago on my Instagram, and thank you so much to everyone who responded - I can't say how much I appreciate both your kind words and your open conversation). My seasonal depression is fall-specific, and doesn't usually last throughout the winter. So believe it or not, I feel myself coming out of that depressive low now, just as we're nearing the beginning of mørketida (literally, the dark time, the season in the north when the sun stays below the horizon). In the wake of the U.S. presidential election, there are many people turning to the thought that "the sun will still rise tomorrow" - and here I am, in a place where in a week's time, the sun literally will not rise on Tromsø. Does that sound dark to you? For me, it's not as dark as it sounds. I've been thinking about the best way to try to explain this.

    One of the most common questions I get at this time of year is people wondering what it's like to live somewhere where the sun sets so early in the fall, and then eventually, it doesn't rise or set at all. It's difficult to imagine if you've never experienced it, so here are a few key facts:

    • In Tromsø, where I live, the sun doesn't rise above the mountains in the south between November 21 and January 21.
    • This doesn't mean it's only night and total darkness, however, for the sun spends a few hours in the middle of the day just below the horizon. To imagine what clear days are like, picture several hours of the most beautiful sunset/twilight combination you can imagine. That's your daylight.
    • Once the snow comes, the effect of the darkness is lessened a great deal. The period leading up to Christmas can be the toughest, as the snow tends to come and go (and this year we have yet to have a proper snow), but after Christmas it usually sticks around and accumulates, and January and February are absolutely beautiful. A proper winter wonderland.

    So what is it like to live with? I know Norwegians and foreigners who embrace it and I know Norwegians and foreigners who struggle with it, too. I fall into the former camp - and people are always surprised when I tell them I prefer the polar night to the midnight sun. Everyone is different and there are many factors that influence how we cope with and feel about the dark season. I have always been a night person, often feeling my most creative and productive in the wee hours. That's probably part of it. But I think mindset is another part.

    As I mentioned in my last post on the yarn I brought home from the Oslo Strikkefestival, I wanted to make a Lupine shawl with the lovely greyscale gradient from Squirrel's Yarns. I cast on last week after the election news, and the repetitive bands of lace and garter stitch have been my constant companions in an incredibly emotionally trying time. And this gradient yarn, with its slow, smooth transitions, is exactly as beautiful as I hoped it would be. But that's not what I want to talk about, though - I want to go in a more metaphorical direction. 

    I could've started at either end of the ball when I cast on for this shawl, but I like a center pull ball, and I decided to start from the center - the lightest end of the gradient. The fact that this means I've spent the last week literally knitting in the direction of the darkness is not lost on me. It has crossed my mind on more than one occasion. I could continue that line of thought - the further I knit, the longer the rows get, and the slower my progress feels, etc. I could see it as a slog. (Fortunately, I don't.) And here's the thing - this is where perspective comes in. There's a Fast Company article that made the rounds last year called "The Norwegian Secret to Enjoying a Long Winter," and spoiler alert: it's all about your mindset.

    From where I sit as I knit the shawl, this is my vantage point. I am situated at the dark end, watching the gradient fade back into the light. While I may literally be looking at where I came from, this vantage point allows me to remember that the darkness can - and does - give way to the light again. Our whole world functions in cycles. The planet rotates and orbits the sun, the winter we are heading into will give way to spring and summer, and the daylight will come back. The darkness is an important part of that cycle - and in the case of my shawl, the darker the yarn color gets, the easier it is to see the sparkle of the silver stellina spun into the yarn. Much like we cannot see the stars or the northern lights when the sky is overwhelmed by the light of the sun.

    I read a book a few years ago - while in Norway for the new year, aptly enough - that really changed my relationship with nighttime and darkness. It's by Paul Bogard and it's called The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artifical Light. It was a game changer for me, and a book I would recommend to anyone and everyone. I'd never thought about the importance of darkness in the balance of life this way before, since as humans we tend to fear the darkness, which can represent danger and the unknown. But this book helped me start to embrace the dark and it changed the way I think about certain types of light. I don't think I would enjoy mørketida as much without having read it. 

    I also want to say that while there are many situations where I think the cycle of light and dark is important, I would not extend that so far as to say that the darkness of the current political situation is a necessary part of any such cycle - I think there is a cycle of dark and light there, but the degree of darkness we have reached goes far beyond any natural cycle. Racism, misogyny, bigotry, and hate should have no place in our society, let alone in the White House (or any of the governments in which xenophobic nationalist movements are gaining ground). But in the midst of this darkness there are bright points of light emerging, and I would encourage you to seek those out. And as I sit and knit my shawl, I will remember that the darkness can - and does - give way to the light again. And in the coming days I'll be thinking very hard about concrete ways that I can step up and be a part of that movement.

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  • first days of september

    Yesterday evening the weather was good and I got to take a nice long walk around Tromsøya (I hope you all enjoy these posts about my walks around Tromsø, because they're often the highlights of my weeks). I know many of you are trying your best to hang on to what's left of summer, but here in the Arctic, fall is truly beginning (and I have to admit I'm quite happy about it). Autumn is a special time in Tromsø. The transitional seasons are short here (snow in September is not unheard of), but somehow that makes the way they mark the passage of time even more special to me. Ephemeral joys, and all that. 

    I love the life cycle of the fireweed. Five weeks ago it was in full bloom, and while there are a few stubborn blossoms still clinging to their stems, now most of the plants have lost their flowers and opened up their seed capsules (I love the silky hairs of the seeds). And in fall, the green leaves turn a vibrant red-orange. Many of the fireweed plants have turned already.

    The leaves on the birches and the rowans have started changing, too. There's still a lot of green - in some places the change is overall and subtle, and in others great tufts of leaves have changed at once. In a few weeks everything will be golden and red.

    Autumn means a return to the most beautiful light. During the midnight sun, the light can be very mundane - the most beautiful time of day to see the sky is the middle of the night, when the sun is low in the sky (and if it's overcast, the sky is just the same all the time). There are no sunsets. I'm so, so excited to have proper sunsets again, because the sky here is so incredible.

    And of course, with sunsets comes a dark night sky again - the return of stars, and the return of one of my favorite things, the northern lights. The sky was clear enough on Friday to see them, even if they weren't very strong.

    So I'm quite content to welcome autumn with open arms. Bring on the changing leaves, the northern lights, and the stars. I'll keep walking with my camera, the closest thing to bringing you along with me.

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  • technicolor sun

    I hope you're ready for a big photo post.

    It's just past midnight as I'm writing this post from my couch, looking out the window at the blue sky outside. The midnight sun continues to be disorienting; my husband pointed out that the lack of night seemed to be affecting him creatively and he's right - we're both night owls by nature and have a history of getting good creative work done in the wee hours. Which can go sideways when the wee hours don't look or feel like night anymore. I think we'll both be relieved when the sun starts to actually set again next week (the nights will still be light for several more weeks, but at least it marks the transition toward the night's return).

    The photos in this post were not taken at midnight, but rather earlier this afternoon. The weather's been chilly and rainy since we got back to Tromsø, as it so often is at this time of year, but today we woke up to nearly cloudless blue skies and sunshine, and we hit temps around 24ºC / 75ºF (hot for Tromsø!). That's a rarity to be taken advantage of, because in the summer when the weather's like that, the whole world here is in technicolor. You immediately forget all about the weeks of grey weather as soon as you step outside. I decided to head out for a long walk in the afternoon to take advantage of the weather, because I always love exploring new paths and nooks and crannies of this island.

    First I went up to Prestvannet, the lake on top of Tromsøya. The pictures look serene, but the racket is no joke - several species of birds nest here every spring and summer, and the noise is non-stop when the sun never sets.

    After a whole winter of seeing Tromsdalstinden covered in snow, it's almost strange to see it with very little left.

    I wandered some new forest paths...

    ...and documented some wildflowers. One of my favorite things about the Norwegian summer is the wildflowers, and up north they grow like crazy due to all the daylight. It's light and lush all at once. (I seemed to be very drawn to the purple ones today. Also, I'm no botanist, so it's possible I've misidentified one or more of these.)

    I think this one's skogstorknebb, or wood cranesbill.

    One of my very favorites: geitrams, or fireweed (or rosebay willowherb if you hail from the UK).

    Rødkløver! The red clover here is enormous and super saturated.

    I even spotted a few thistles. 

    While they're not widlflowers, the lilacs bloom late here and I've certainly been enjoying their fragrance as I walk around town. The blooms make me think they might be dwarf lilacs, but I'm not really sure.

    I also can never resist a good dramatic patch of light coming down through the trees in the woods. It feels so inviting, cozy, and intense all at once.

    I mapped my route when I got home, and it turns out today's walk was 8 kilometers. I think I'm going to feel it in the morning...

    The rain is supposed to return next week, so I'm sure there's some knitting on the horizon! Hoping to share some of that soon. For now, I hope you're enjoying your summers as well. x

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  • summer days

    The midnight sun is disorienting. In Tromsø, the sun literally doesn't set between May 18 and July 26 due to its location above the Arctic circle. We had many sunny (and even warm!) days in May, but once the calendar flipped over to June, the chilly clouds rolled in and we've seen a lot of rain. The thing about a cloudy sky when the sun never sets, though, is that midnight looks a lot like noon. Time does not exist. There have been clear pockets of weather, however, and in the evening on the summer solstice the clouds slowly dissipated and the sun came out. My friend Beth was in town for a visit and since the skies looked like they were clearing up, we decided rather spur of the moment to take the cable car up the mountain. It was still fairly cloudy while we were up there, but it was worth it. (We opted to walk home to enjoy the middle-of-the-night sunshine, and the photo above was taken at two in the morning!)

    We made it up the mountain just before midnight, and it was pretty amazing to walk around the mountaintop at that time of night. The light was constantly shifting and the reflection of the sky on the water was soft and beautiful.

    As you can see, the mountains still have some snow clinging to them, but otherwise, Tromsø is very green now. After the long winter and late spring, it seemed to happen very suddenly.

    I took Beth to the university's botanical garden during her visit and for the first time, the little cafe that serves waffles and coffee was open while I was there (it's always been closed on my previous visits to the garden). It was a highlight to sit outside the adorable building, surrounded by tulilps and other blooms, sipping coffee and eating Norwegian waffles. It was wonderful to see the botanical garden really coming alive again after the winter, too - in about a month I think it's going to be spectacular.

    I'm off to Seattle for a couple weeks now, and I'm looking forward to seeing the night sky again. Stars! Remember those? 

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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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  • ut på tur

    Thank you all for your feedback on my last post! I'm happy to hear it seems like so many of you are interested in hearing more about wool in Norway, and I'm looking forward to sharing what I learn here on the blog. Today, though, I just have a few photos to share from a walk I took earlier this afternoon with my friend Anna. It's the end of the sememster for us, which means we're both spending a lot of time working on papers and presentations and generally being shut up indoors with laptops and books. I like that well enough, especially when I can get into a bit of a groove, but it's important to take proper breaks to clear one's head, too. And Sundays are the perfect days for that, especially when the sun is shining and the temperatures are getting warmer. 

    Spring in Tromsø is interesting because throughout April, you have pockets of warmer days but it also still cools down regularly - enough for it to snow. There's also still a lot of snow lying around, especially on high ground and on trails and things that aren't plowed - our maximum snow depth this winter was just over a meter. You can imagine it takes awhile for all of that to melt away. So today we went traipsing around the northern half of the island, which I haven't explored anywhere near as much as the southern half. It was actually quite nice to be in the snow, since it's all melted in the city center and the roads are quite dusty. The north half of the island is less developed and there's a lot more forests and trails, too, which meant that the sweeping views we enjoyed today were all pretty spectacular.

    Spring comes late here, but there are signs that greener times are on the way. Aside from the melting snow, I've seen crocuses sprouting up at the university! I'm looking forward to the leaves coming back as well.

    Looking to the south, the rest of the island of Tromsøya is visible behind the trees, as well as the mountains on the mainland (to the left) and on Kvaløya (on the right, at the back). 

    Could we have asked for a better day?

    While we might get a dusting of snow tonight overnight, it's supposed to get much warmer this coming week. I'm already looking forward to the spring giving way to summer, since the summer in Norway is so absolutely magical. I feel incredibly lucky to live in this beautiful place.

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  • currently

    The daylight walks continue to be lovely. On clear days, the colors are unreal. The photo above was taken from Telegrafbukta, the park on the southwest side of Tromsøya. It continues to be one of my favorite places, and at this time of year it's the perfect place to watch the sunset. (I also finally saw the sun again on Friday! Momentous. Glorious. The days are growing longer at a fast clip now - this is the fun part.)

    School is already busy, but that's no shocker. In my downtime I'm managing to get a bit of knitting done. I finished my Toatie Hottie (no photos yet, though) and I've been working on several other projects, but most of those are the kind I can't show you yet (aka future patterns). So in lieu of that, here's some things I'd love to be joining in on if I had the time:

    Bang Out a Sweater over at Mason Dixon Knitting - Kay and Ann are leading a KAL of Mary Jane Mucklestone's Stopover, a beautiful lopapeysa. Cast on is tomorrow (February 1st), and it's probably a good thing I don't have time to join in, because I don't think "new lopapeysa" is really one of my pressing needs at the moment.

    I'd also love to join in on the Anna Vest KAL hosted by Fringe, starting February 15th. This is one of my favorite patterns from Farm to Needle and while I'm not sure a vest/waistcoat like this would be a perfect fit for my wardrobe, I'd still love to knit it someday (perhaps I could add sleeves, since I am in need of cardigans?). I'm really looking forward to the versions that come out of this knitalong - I'm expecting to see some cool yarn and color choices and I'll definitely be following along on social media.

    Both the Stopover and Anna Vest photos are by Kathy Cadigan.

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  • daylight walks

    Winter is dark in Tromsø. I wrote on back on November 21st that we said goodbye to the sun that day (and then I cheated, because I wasn't in Tromsø for the darkest four weeks of the year). Today, January 21st, is soldagen ("the sun day"), the day we welcome the sun back. All week the weather forecast for today has been cloudy, but we got lucky and the clouds stayed at bay just long enough for the sun to make its first brief appearance of the year.

    Unfortunately, I was in a classroom during the few minutes it came out (the photo above was taken on Monday). I watched it happen on screen via NRK's live feed (for the very curious, you can watch the playback here - the video is just under ten minutes). I was able to participate in other soldagen traditions, though, like eating solboller, which are sweet buns or donuts eaten on soldagen. In Tromsø the preferred type seems to be a frosted jelly-filled donut! What's called a "solbolle" can vary from region to region. I must say, I'm in favor of holidays where it's traditional to sit around with something warm to drink, eating donuts.

    Even though I didn't see the sun today, I'll see it again soon enough. In the meantime, I've been taking lots of walks during the daylight hours. For me, the two most important ways to cope with the long hours of darkness are spending time outside during the daylight, and getting plenty of exercise. Long walks around the island during the daylight does a wonderful job of feeding two birds with one seed.

    People's reactions when they first learn how little daylight we get at this time of year often aren't that far from "horror-struck." But somehow, I find it easier to really commit to darker days than to spend a winter with dark setting in at 4:00 pm all the time. I know it's going to be dark for the vast majority of the hours in a day, so the daylight hours become precious (it's part of why it's so important to spend as much of the daylight outside as possible). 

    The other thing, though, is that the light during the daylight is magical. It has an incredible quality. There is a time of day referred to by photographers as "golden hour" (or sometimes "magic hour") and while without the sun I'm not sure it's a true golden hour, it's no secret the light at the edges of day has a special quality. The light we get here in winter? It's like 4-5 hours of magic hour. On a cloudy day (and it seems my long walks have mostly been on cloudy days) there's a softness cloaking everything, while on clear days, the sky turns into a giant ombre cotton candy daydream. Pair that with the snowy mountains all around, and I don't feel sad about the darkness at all; on the contrary, I feel so lucky that this is the place I get to live and walk and breathe. And the snow makes it sound different too; the physical properties of snow make it a sound-absorber, which is why the world feels quiet when you're out walking in a fresh snow.

    Thinking back to Tromsø when we arrived in the summer, it feels like a different planet. And while I am certainly looking forward to the days growing longer, and eventually, warmer (because the Norwegian summer is glorious), for now I am incredibly grateful for my long daylight walks through this magic winter wonderland.

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  • new year

    It's been a surreal start for 2016. Here's a glimpse:

    Emma Watson started an online feminist book club (it's called Our Shared Shelf, and you can join the group on Goodreads, if that's at all appealing). I read most of the first book, Gloria Steinem's My Life on the Road, on a flight to London over the weekend. My route back to Tromsø included an overnight stay in London where I got to hang out with Lydia of Pom Pom and some lovely folks at Loop. I didn't take any pictures until the train ride to Gatwick (that always happens these days), but I had a lot of fun. I love London.

    Monday morning I woke up at six (thanks, jet lag) and spent some quiet time hanging out in the tiny bed in my tiny hotel room. It was there that I learned about Bowie's passing, via Twitter. It felt absolutely unreal, and then I was just sad. It's still surreal.

    I finished My Life on the Road in the first hour of my flight from London to Tromsø. It was really, really excellent. I tweeted about this, and then Emma Watson replied and retweeted me (!). I've now had a (very) tiny glimpse of what it's like to be a celebrity on Twitter, and I'm grateful that's not my reality. Not only do I have a lot of respect and admiration for Emma, but she's an actress near my age who I watched grow up on screen, so the surreal score is off the charts for seeing my tweet right there at the top of her feed.

    I'm back in snowy, dark Tromsø now and the beauty of this place at this time of year is as surreal as ever. The days have been clear since I got back and the light's been incredible. In less surreal news, I've started classes for the new term and already have a stack of reading to do, but I've managed to get in a few stitches here and there on some small projects. I'm sensing a color theme; it might have something to do with the light outside. I love these wintry blues. Also, now that I'm thinking about it, the fern pattern and the tree motif have quite a lot in common...

    The embroidery is a kit I bought last summer at Urban Craft Uprising, from Studio MME. It's one of those fantastic and simple little kits where the pattern is printed right on the fabric so the stitching is relatively mindless but the end result is stunning (I'm sort of halfway through, so if you look very closely you can see the difference between my stitches and the printed bit I have yet to embroider). You can find this particular kit in their online shop (although it appears that it's now being sold with a round hoop, instead of the oval one I got). The knitting is another kit, a Toatie Hottie by Kate Davies. The pattern is for a hot water bottle cozy and the kit (not currently available in Kate's shop) came with yarn and pattern plust a mini-hot water bottle just for that purpose. I bought the kit ages ago and have actually used the hot water bottle several times, but I'm using it more regularly in Tromsø and I thought it was about time I actually knit the thing. I managed to knit most of it in an evening, getting through the whole chart with just the top bit and ribbing left.

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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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  • an autumn walk around prestvannet

    One of my favorite walks in Tromsø is the loop trail around Prestvannet, a lake at one of the higher points on Tromsøya. It's a small lake (the loop trail is only 1.7 km) but the surrounding area forms a public park and nature reserve. The lake itself and its marshy perimiter are a nesting area for a variety of bird species. It's only a twenty minute walk from my flat, but when you're up in the park, it's a serene spot to go walk, run, or simply sit and reflect. It's a sanctuary.

    My sister-in-law is in town for a visit and we took a walk up there this evening so I could show her the lake, and I was pleased to see Tromsø really starting to show its autumn colors (it was all green the first few times I was up there, as seen here). It's a special joy to watch the landscape begin to change like this for the first time. 

    I hope you enjoy seeing this shifting landscape too, and I'm looking forward to documenting it throughout the seasons.

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  • september bits

    September second marked one month in Tromsø for me. It also seems to be a seasonal milestone: in the past week there's been a noticeable change in the weather, almost like someone's flipped a switch. The air outside feels fresh and brisk. A few of the eager birches are starting to turn golden yellow, and the colors on the mountainsides have (just barely) started shifting from green to bronze. I turned on the heat in my apartment for the first time this week. As someone who grew up in North Carolina, where it always felt like it took aaages for fall to come around (especially since people started talking about it in August), I have to admit I'm enjoying the early shift. I'm already looking forward to snow appearing on the mountains nearby, and I'm very curious to see when the first snow in the city will be this year. We shall see!

    In an attempt to bottle up some of the remaining arctic summer, I made red currant jelly this week. I got the idea from Unlikely Pairing and then loosely followed the instructions on this blog. Highly recommended. Otherwise I've still been working on settling into the new apartment (we finally got some of the art up on the walls) and focusing on school. I've been scoping out study spots and I'm pretty sure I've found my favorite on campus.

    For those who are curious about what it is I'm doing in school, I wanted to point you toward this bit on BBC Radio 4 (streamable online through the end of the month). It's an episode of Fry's English Delight - and I love Stephen Fry - called English Plus One, all about bilingualism. The area I'm planning to focus on for my thesis is bilingual language acquisition in children, which is one of the topics that comes up. It's a half hour segment and interesting stuff for anyone who's interested in language.

    Finally, I've actually been able to start knitting again regularly! Some days it's a few minutes and others it could be an hour or two, but it's been so nice to be able to unwind with knitting again. The change in weather has certainly helped encourage me to pick it up this week.

    And speaking of knitting, some pieces of knitting news:

    - Karen has highlighted some of the creative mods knitters have made to Laurus over on the Fringe blog. You know I love mods, so I loved this post!

    - If you've ever wanted to knit yourself a Sundottir but you've been putting it off for whatever reason, you might want to join in on Fern Fiber's Sundottir KAL! Cast-on date is September 23rd and you can get the pattern for 10% off if you're joining in. Fern Fiber is a natural dye company run by Maria and Nikki (who you've probably heard before if you listen to the Woolful podcast - they're frequent Man on the Street contributors) and they'll also offering a limited number of yarn kits in the colors of your choice for the KAL. You can read up on the KAL details in their Ravelry group and check out the listing for the naturally dyed yarn kits on Etsy.  Fern Fiber hail from North Carolina (my home state!) and I'm so excited they've put this KAL together. It makes me wish I had time to take part (or that I needed another Sundottir).

    - Have you heard that Kate Davies has developed a yarn? I'm ecstatic about this news! It's called Buchaille and you can read all about it on her blog in a series of posts - everything from how they sourced the fiber (all Scottish), where is was scoured and prepped for spinning (with a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility), what kinds of colors will be included in the line, and more. There will, of course, be a collection of patterns to accompany the release of the yarn.

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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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  • 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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