autumn days

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If October was “focused” last time I wrote, it got busy. Very busy. The last two weeks of October were my absolute busiest so far, and I’m hoping that the frenzied pace peaked with the two presentations I gave last Friday and I’m on the descent side of the slope now.

In between and around a bunch of schoolwork and an extra three-day course I took (focused!), I’ve continued to enjoy life in Tromsø.

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I made pickles for the first time. I used the light pickling solution from The New Nordic and these were a delight (that’s radishes on the left and onions on the right). One of the bonuses of living in Norway is that I can basically find any of the ingredients used in that cookbook. I also made some fancy cookies which I can’t show you yet, but more on those later (edit: the piece went live, so now I CAN link you to those fancy cookies!).

I collected a few short video snippets I’ve been taking over the last couple of months into one video. It’s just snippets, but for the curious, here’s a glimpse of autumn in Tromsø:

Mørketida, which I mentioned in my last post, draws ever nearer (or is already upon us, depending on how you look at it). Daylight Savings Time ended here on October 25th, which very suddenly made the days feel much shorter. The sun set today at 2:30 in the afternoon and it’s really not long now before the sun disappears for the winter. One thing that makes the dark easier to cope with, though, is the northern lights that visit us when the weather’s clear. I don’t get tired of watching them from my living room window. I love how they often look like twisting green flames coming from behind the mountains to the east.

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Another thing that makes it easier to cope is snow. About a week ago we had our first snow in the city. It started snowing on the 26th and by the morning of the 27th there were several inches on the ground. It stuck around for a few days before mostly melting away, but man, it was beautiful. From what I’ve heard, the snow-melt-snow-melt cycle is pretty common here, but after Christmas the snow is more likely to stick around (and it also starts to get lighter again, so that’s when skiing season really begins).

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This city is absolutely charming covered in snow. It’s such a treat to see my daily landscape transform so dramatically. The university campus, too, looks a little bit more magical in the snow.

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So between the northern lights, the dramatic skies, and the snow, I think I’m going to get by okay during the dark season.

october

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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.

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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).

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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.

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.

forward

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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.

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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.

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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.

velkommen til tromsø

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We’ve been in Tromsø for two weeks as of today, and what a whirlwind it’s been. There’s been so much to do and so many new experiences that I’ve barely had time to think, let alone sit down at the computer (let’s not even talk about the state of my email inbox). We’ve been in our new apartment for a week and it’s slowly (ever so slowly) creeping towards a cozy, habitable dwelling, but this has been the longest and most involved move of my life.

I thought it’d be nice to give you a little bit of info about my new Norwegian home. Tromsø sits at 69º north – well above the Arctic Circle (and the entirety of Iceland, for a knitterly point of reference; Reykjavík sits at 64º north). That means it gets the midnight sun in the summertime (the sun doesn’t set for two months) and polar night in the winter (the sun doesn’t rise above the mountains in the south for two months). That dramatic difference between summer solstice and winter solstice means the days are already growing shorter at a staggering rate. When we arrived two weeks ago, sunrise was at 2:26 AM and sunset was at 11:08 PM. Today, sunrise was at 3:48 AM and sunset was at 9:45 PM. That’s a difference of almost an hour and a half at each end – in two weeks! Still, it hasn’t gotten totally dark yet and it won’t for a couple more weeks. I’m looking forward to seeing the stars again (and eventually, the northern lights). You can check out sunrise and sunset times for the month of August here, if you’re curious.

20446790268_53c94c7d74_cLooking west to Kvaløya from Tromsø at 11:45 PM, August 7th

The natural beauty of the landscape here is overwhelming. Tromsø’s a city of around 70,000 (or 75,000 when university is in session) and most of it is situated on the island of Tromsøya (“Troms Island”). The Norwegian mainland lies to the east and a much larger island called Kvaløya (“Whale Island”) lies to the west. Tromsøya is connected to the mainland and to Kvaløya by bridges. I can’t even describe how happy it makes me to be living on an island surrounded by water and ringed by mountains. The weather can change at the drop of a hat and the light is often dramatic. I could probably stare at the sky and the light on the mountains all day.

20608542516_ef9ee737a8_cTromsøya as seen from Storsteinen on the mainland, with Kvaløya at back

At this point in the year, there’s fireweed growing everywhere and it feels impossibly green and positively lush compared to drought-ridden Seattle. I love the scrappy subarctic birch forests, too. Even though the island of Tromsøya isn’t that big, there are so many corners to explore. We spent some time down at the beaches on the southwest side of the island last weekend, and I’ve started exploring the network of trails that criss-cross different parts of the island. Everything feels so alive. I expect that will change as winter approaches.

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I think we’re a few weeks away from really feeling settled in (we should be acquiring the essential pieces of furniture we still need this week, at the very least) but it’s easier to put up with the hassles of moving when all of this is right outside your door. My classes start this week and perhaps I’ll be able to get into a bit of a routine after the first week or two. And then, maybe then, I’ll be ready to check out the yarn stores that are just a few blocks from our new place. For now, I have plenty to do (and plenty of WIPs that need working on, if we’re being honest).

I’m looking forward to sharing more of this incredible place with you all as we find our feet here.

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a move; a shift; a change

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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!