Still Here!

Wow…what an extended unintentional break from this site. It’s been a busy fall/early winter and I am just starting to catch my breath.

What is the quick and dirty version of what has happened since this summer? I had a lot of fun participating in Squam in the City, I started a new position as an archivist, I got sick and stayed sick for nearly a month, probably because I can’t ever just let myself rest at the start when I should, and I have been entertaining some thoughts about returning to school again. There is some sample knitting mixed in there, and more recently some secret Christmas gift knitting, and a little (thought not as much as I’d like) reading for fun. Maybe I’ll stick to the simplest little update and mention that I cut all of my hair off and have since been knitting many hats to keep my cold head a little warmer as winter sets in.

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The hat shown above is Skiff by Jared Flood, and it might be my current favorite hat pattern around. Such a quick and versatile knit. My version is in Cascade Alpaca Lana D’Oro, in the Olive Oil colorway. Now that I don’t have a few pounds of hair to accommodate, I could have probably gone down to a size 7 needle instead of the recommended 8, but I am really happy with this unmodified version. I may knit another after the holidays to compare. I’ve been enjoying the instant gratification of hat knitting lately, and it is a nice way to experiment with colors I might not use for a larger garment.

These last few weeks of 2014 will continue to be busy ones, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now, and I’m looking forward to a January of chipping away at some much-anticipated selfish knits, making a dent in my to-read list, and drinking lots of coffee in bed with my little cat friend.

I hope you are all wrapping up your year without too much holiday chaos, and are looking forward to similarly pleasant winter months!

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Why Running?

I usually run alone, but fairly recently I went running with a coworker and friend, and he invited a running friend of his along as well. Somewhere around mile five or six, she asked me, “So why running, for you?” That’s a hard question to answer, for me, and I have been thinking about it since then.

I’ve been running off and on for about twelve years; this is the first time in about six that I’ve pushed through my three-month/three-mile threshold. For the past year I’ve been running increasingly long distances, trying to get out and run at least three times a week, with varying levels and styles of cross training. I don’t drive, so I do all of my daily commuting/traveling by bike, and I plan to get back to longer rides now that the weather is turning. I do yoga and lift weights when I can muster up the energy, and try to stretch a lot every day, even if I’m not doing any other exercise.

The internet would have us believe that running is like this:

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Would that every day was gray and misty and there were never any other humans around and I actually invested in stylish running outfits. If running was like this, no one would ever ask why you do it; everyone would just want to do it.

More accurate portraits of my current running life would include me shuffling in circles around the city of Providence trying to rack up a few more miles; me pouring Listerine over my broken toe so the nail doesn’t become fungal as it grows back in; me blowing my nose into my shirt because my allergies are terrible and I can barely breathe; me averting my eyes and turning the volume on my phone up so I can block out creepy dudes as much as possible while running in the city; new leg muscles rendering most of my pants too tight- do I need to buy new pants now, on top of everything else? It doesn’t sound so good. So there is still that question, why do it?

I guess in spite of all of the above, this is how I relax. It feels good to be outside and moving, and to be in a kind of imagined isolation. I feel like my brain works better when I’m covering some physical ground. And because most of my day is spent at a desk, I feel especially grateful for the literal change of pace.

 

Let’s be fair. There is a running advertisement that speaks to the very core of me. Running is a time out, where none of these things can catch me:

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Put simply, maybe there is a reason it is called running away from your problems. A special bonus is that when you’re done running, all problems are put back in perspective.

This past Sunday, I ran my first half marathon. I say first because, although six months ago I registered for the event unsure that I would actually push through the mileage and feel ready to run 13.1 miles, but now, instead of feeling like I’ve reached a goal, I feel like I’m just getting started. I feel lucky that I’m able to do this because I can’t imagine being able to lose myself this way in anything else, and it feels good to see how far I’ve come in just the last six months; I can’t wait to see where I am in another six. It’s different, but I feel somewhat about running the way I feel about knitting. They share a meditative quality, and the potential for constantly overcoming new, small obstacles. In both cases, I feel like I’ve reached a point where these are things that I crave as a part of my day, and know to factor into my daily routine. It feels good.

ETA: This post popped up in my feed via Fit and Feminist (highly recommended). It’s always worth reiterating that thinness is one of running’s top PR problems. As alluded to above (re: my pants), running hasn’t made me thinner, and it hasn’t given me fitspo muscle definition. But has it helped me conquer body issues by reminding me what my body is capable of doing? Yup. And that is certainly another thing that makes me glad to be a runner.

My Ears are Burning

Thanks, Jennifer, for including me in this project! It’s fun to work from a prompt, and to think about things in a different way than I normally do. Written a bit on the fly, as everything seems to be these days.

What is your dream project? The one thing that you want to complete no matter how long it takes?

Dream project! I don’t know if there’s just one. I’d love a closet full of fair isle sweaters and a Beekeeper’s Quilt on my bed.

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With whom would you want to collaborate on any sort of project?

I honestly love working collaboratively. Outside of knitting, reading, and running, I think most of my life (especially my professional life) is about working with others. And even my independent activities have at least a social element. I can’t think of just one person I’d want to work on a project with, because I think the answer is everyone I know.

What’s the reason for your blog name? Why did you begin blogging?

“Figs and Things” is one of the names of a magazine in this Kate Beaton comic: sweater issue

A friend once sent it to me, joking that this was a panel about my then-boyfriend’s life with me. Dating is not a thing I’m currently interested in, but I like to imagine that any/all boys in the world perceive me this way. “Blase Sweater Issue” might be my other favorite detail from this strip.

Why did I begin blogging? I don’t always know. I’ve probably been writing about crafts online, in various blog incarnations, for about 8 years. Periodically, I’d feel self-indulgent or self-conscious about putting things out in a public forum and delete the blog, only to start a new one a few months later. I think what keeps me around are the other people who are doing this too. Knitting can be very solitary if you want it to be, but it can also be wonderfully social. I think a solid majority of my friendships have begun because of a common interest in knitting or textiles in general.

What meal can you make with no recipe, hands tied behind your back, one eye open (you get the idea)?

I mentioned in my last post that I’m not much for cooking. That said, I can make many varieties of fancy grilled cheese, and inappropriately extravagant banana splits.

What world city do you feel is your true home?

My family lives in Meadville, PA, north of Pittsburgh. To me those two cities always feel the most like home. I’ve lived in Providence for six years now and I really like it, but when I think of home, I always think of western Pennsylvania.

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Describe a time when blogging/crafting helped you through a stressful time in your life.

I feel kind of like it always does. Granted, when I’m really stressed or going through a hard time, it’s difficult for me to sit still, so I tend to go running more during those times. But once I go for my run and have exhausted enough energy to sit down for a while, there is nothing better than playing with yarn. I like heavy cables, textures, or colorwork when I’m stressed.

Name something that you wish you could do or something that doesn’t come easy, and admire others for being able to do so?

This could easily become an endless list, but I suppose off the top of my head, I wish I was better at spinning yarn and sewing. There was a time years ago when knitting would have been on this list, so I know that becoming good at something just takes time and practice, but I don’t know if there will ever be enough hours in the day to become skilled at all the things that interest me. I’ve also recently been giving an electric knitting machine, and hope to become even remotely skilled at using it. But it’s a very different kind of beast.

What are you reading right now?

I’ve just wrapped up a few books, and am trying to decide what I feel like reading now. One of the books I just finished was David Sedaris’ When You are Engulfed in Flames, which was, like all of his collections, equal parts funny and touching.

What movie’s lines can you recite by heart?

Wayne’s World, Troop Beverly Hills & Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. I’d add television to this because my real media obsession is Golden Girls, and I think I can actually quote every episode of the complete series. Test me on it sometime.

If your life were a movie/album, what would it be named?

I joke about this a lot. A few favorites: “Party Hardly” and “Life in the Cats Lane.” People who hate puns don’t tend to love spending too much time with me.

At what point in your life were you the most impressed with yourself & your creativity?

Is it really arrogant if I say that I’m frequently kind of impressed with myself? I don’t mean it that way. What I mean is that I’m constantly attempting to do new things that I don’t know how to do yet, and feeling really good when I manage to grasp new concepts. I just started knitting my first Lopapeysa, and this will also be the first time I cut a steek into a sweater. I am actually so nervous about it that it makes my heart kind of race. It’s something I’ve wanted to attempt for years, but the idea of cutting into my knitting is (understandably) stressful. So I can preemptively say that if I cut the steek successfully, that is when I’ll be feeling most impressed with myself.

March Survival Guide

I don’t like March.

I know, April is the cruelest month, etc., but March has never really done me any favors either. Here, briefly, are the things I have found to be wildly comforting this winter, and which I will continue to indulge myself in through March:

1. Sleeping in cashmere. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this earlier in life. It sounds kind of like a Diana Vreeland “Why don’t you…” but seriously: why don’t you sleep in a cashmere cardigan? It’s warm and cozy and it makes my cat want to spoon with me under the covers like a little human.

2. Speaking of Diana Vreeland, watch The Eye Has to Travel. It’s on Netflix, and it’s amazing and made me feel excited about being human during a time of year when I rarely feel even lukewarm about being a human. I mean just look at this woman hanging out in her living room:

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3. Get a new coffee mug. This is a modest indulgence but it makes a big difference. My favorite pink coffee mug went MIA recently, and I’ve been thinking about treating myself to something new. I’m currently coveting this one, but I can’t justify paying overseas shipping on a mug. But I don’t doubt that something more local will catch my eye in no time.  (Related: drink lots of coffee. That helps everything.)

4. Knit something colorful. A weird one coming from me, but hey. After months of winter landscape, it doesn’t hurt to acknowledge the existence of colors.

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5. Shamrock Shake. Look, I’m a simple woman. McDonald’s is bad, but Shamrock Shakes are so good. Just have like one. Before they’re gone. Drink it in a car in the parking lot and feel good/bad about it the rest of the night.

2013 in Review

A bit premature in my review, but there is a good reason for that. In a few days I am leaving to spend the holiday and remainder of the year with my brother in Sitka, Alaska, where I plan on doing next to nothing.

That’s already a lie – I’ll do some reading and a tiny bit of knitting, I’m sure, hopefully some cooking and baking, and a lot of basking in gorgeous scenery. I look forward to some days of self-indulgence. One of my (many) bad habits is that I like to take on more than I realistically believe that I can handle, then force myself to see all commitments through at the cost of sleep or a regular social life. I don’t plan on changing that in the new year, though. If anything, I’m just going to work on harnessing that inclination for over-extending myself in order to eventually become some kind of superhuman. But a girl must rest sometimes.

This year was hard on me, mentally and physically. It took a few cracked ribs, a split chin, a possibly-sprained wrist, and a lost thumbnail for me to realize that this was (literaly) a year about toughening up and gaining thicker skin. Once I gave into it, things felt a little bit easier. Having dinner with a dear friend in Pittsburgh over Thanksgiving, I realized that I feel better than I did when we had dinner together a year before. I hope all of my friends can say the same.

My favorite thing that I knit this year? Probably my Stasis pullover, though I’ve yet to take a decent photo of it. I’m also getting a shocking amount of wear out of my Bridgewater shawl, though it is quite a departure from my usual color palette.

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Favorite things I read this year? Alice Munro’s Dear Life, Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle (a reread from years ago, I can’t recommend it enough), and A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver. A special mention goes to Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, which I read during a time when the emotional resonance was practically deafening, and which I found immensely comforting and helpful. (Surely I’m forgetting something, but you can’t go wrong with these.)

I was really lucky to travel as much as I did this year. In my day-to-day life as  professional tourist, I got to explore Rhode Island on a deeper level than I had in any of the prior years I spent living here. I appreciate it much more than I did before, even going so far as to finally admit that I actually live here, and am not just passing through. My rip to Block Island was a definite highlight. But I also got to spend time at home in western Pennsylvania, with friends at the Jersey shore, and with one of my nearest and dearest in Los Angeles. I didn’t make it back to Salzburg, but a friend and former coworker there did make it here to visit me. I’ve always wanted to spend time in Alaska, and now I’m going to end the year there. Lucky doesn’t even begin to cover it.

My 2013 imperative was “rest less.” I started the year with a pun tattoo to seal the deal:

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It served me well enough. Perhaps I’ll stick with it in 2014. (Maybe I could take it to a bit less of an extreme.) As usual, I have no real resolutions. Just more of the same, but bigger and better. I recently bought a friend a strange energy drink at Ocean State Job Lot, and in tiny, tiny text on the can it said, “Because I have been given much, I too must give.” That, with a solid dose of taurine, could really be the secret to everything, couldn’t it?

Then again, perhaps I’m just tired.

See you next year.

Cruising

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Work and work-related activities are consuming my days lately. My favorite month is almost over. How have I spent it? The above Instagram roundup gives some indication. I am nearly done knitting a wonderful, woolly, selfish sweater, but my gauge has been a little weird these past months (by weird I suppose I mean a bit looser), and I ran out of yarn mere rows before finishing. It’s waiting sadly in a corner until the mailman brings those last few yards. I think it will be worth the wait.

Do the photos require explanation? Maybe. Very briefly, left to right, top to bottom:

1. New York. 2. My life as a human chair. 3. I gave an awkward speech at a dinner, rewarded myself with my beverage of choice, the manhattan. 4. My work took me to a room called the Biblearium. It’s what you’d expect. 5. That thumbnail I smashed back in August? I finally lost that. 6. Seasonal mail from a friend. 7. An eerie orbed moment, supervising a wedding at my workplace, making sure no one touched anything historic. 8. In my work, I also often encounter incredible dolls. 9. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. Apt.

More on the horizon, but perhaps most importantly, sleep, and dreaming of wool.

The Bottle Show – Builds ‘Em Healthy!

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If we’re friends elsewhere on the internet (or even in real life – for occasionally I do socialize!), you’ve already heard me talk about the antique bottle show I went to not long ago. You see, one of my jobs involves surveying the history and heritage sector of my entire (tiny) state. And in the course of that work, I spend a lot of time researching what those organizations are and developing relationships with them. I am, essentially, a professional local history tourist. I really like it. But I digress. While researching something totally unrelated to antique bottles, I stumbled upon a local bottle-collectors organization. And lo and behold, their annual show was that weekend, in nearby South Attleboro. I had no idea what to expect, but the tourist in me was hell bent on going. I turned immediately to fellow lover of old things, Liz, who described our outing as “becoming a parody of ourselves.” Perhaps, but I know this: I was not in the least disappointed in my first bottle show experience. Yeah, I said first.

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To be perfectly honest, personal collections are what really sparked my initial interest in becoming an archivist. I was never interested in “history” as a broad subject, but I love learning it through the scope of a specific person’s connection with objects of any kind, whether it’s a form of media, like a record collection, or something as seemingly static as a bottle collection. When I was home in Pennsylvania, I stayed at a friend’s house one night in Pittsburgh, and her dad showed me his oil can collection. I wish I’d had my camera then – his collection was as well maintained and artfully displayed as any I’ve seen in any professional exhibit. The bottle show was another really great way to glimpse into another kind of collector’s world, and I have to say it was really impressive. I also have to say that I would genuinely go to another bottle show, this time with more money in my pocket. (Don’t worry, I’ve already established a solid collection policy for myself to prevent unnecessary acquisitions.)

Library School Confidential

In May, I graduate from Simmons College with my MLIS with a concentration in archives. I attended school full time, and will have completed the program in two years. My experience is probably not typical of most archives students for two reasons in particular: first my background is in writing, not history, which is a very common undergraduate major for archivists; and second, I chose to complete the program (which is in Boston) while commuting from Providence, and I don’t drive, so I relied completely on my bike and the commuter rail. I know a few other students who did this, which made me feel less crazy for choosing not to move to Boston. This is definitely not intended to be an objective overview of library school at Simmons or anywhere else, more a personal reflection on my last two years. If you want to read a more nuanced review of Simmons’s program, you should check out this post on Hack Library School, which I think provides a little more information about what the program is really like. For my own part, I’ll say that I mostly had a really good time at school. The archives track is extremely structured, so I only got to choose two of my classes freely (I took Digital Libraries and Photographic Archives). I learned a lot both in class and through jobs and internships. I found that what I learned in class was very consistent with what I learned in all of my workplaces, which I think speaks well to how current the curriculum at Simmons is.

I think one of the strengths of Simmons is that it’s in an area full of libraries, museums, and other historical and cultural heritage institutions.  In my two years of school, I worked with a correspondence collection from the Mary Baker Eddy Library, art from the Anthony Quinn Trust. I processed textual and audio collections at Northeastern University, which has an amazing social justice collection in its archives. I’ve worked in the digital archives of one of NARA’s presidential libraries for the past year, and for the past three months of worked with photography degree projects at RISD. I’ve also helped work on the Uni, a portable reading room for public  space that provided a really inspiring creative outlet for me, and reminded me about why I got excited about library science in the first place, and how much potential there is for exploration in this field. As this hodge podge of experience probably suggests, this means I’ve been working multiple jobs and internships concurrently at almost all times. Add a few hours of commuting a day to that, not to mention homework, and it probably seems really obvious that I’ve run myself ragged. I have. This past semester, in particular, I’ve really felt that I’d taken on maybe just one two many things, and was at risk of doing them all poorly. Fortunately, I’ve managed to muddle my way through it. I’ve of the mind that when I’m given an opportunity, I ought to take it. At least, I think that’s the case now, while I’m still figuring out what I want to be when I grow up.

I started the archives program dead set on working with oral histories. I would still love to do this, but as it happened, my system of accepting opportunities as they were presented to me led me to work primarily with photographs and digitization/digital preservation projects. I’m definitely not complaining. I started the program with very minimal technological skills (I collect manual typewriters and used to work with microfilm, so no, I’ve never been at the forefront of technology.) But I threw myself into learning, and had a really delightful moment when my advisor referred to me as a “technology person,” something I never ever thought I would be called.

For me, going to library school was a lot like going to school for writing. I feel that in both programs, I learned skills that should allow me to fit into many different settings, working with materials from many different disciplines. As a person who is interested in too many different things, I love having studied subjects that in essence can allow me to infiltrate and contribute to so many professional environments. I am very tired these days, so I don’t know that I would attempt to convince anyone to go to library school necessarily, or to commute from Providence to Boston on a daily basis. But if it’s what you want to do, I will say it can be done. (There are also some great places to work in Providence, but I think Simmons has a more established connection with institutions in Boston, so there are a lot more internships and student positions there.) And you will probably get to do some really interesting things, and if you’re in archives, touch some pretty amazing letters. I’ve gotten to get my grubby (actually extremely sterile) hands into letters from Susan B. Anthony and Francesca Woodman’s student portfolio, to name only a few things. I’ve also heard rumors about an official special collections librarian concentration at Simmons, which I think would be a really fun program to go through. Not that I’m looking to go back to school anytime soon.