Back to the Boat

When I began thinking about what I wanted to do for my final summer as a student, there was a lot to consider. Both Bryn Mawr and the greater Philly area have a lot to offer in the way of internships, research assistant-ships, fellowships, and more. In the end, though, I decided to return to the summer job I’ve been doing since I was eighteen: working on a traditionally rigged schooner off the coast of Maine.

Going aloft

As I’ve mentioned in my previous post about sailing, working on a schooner is the most fantastic assemblage of bizarre experiences to ever count as a job. You could say it’s like working on a cruise ship, except there’s only 25 passengers and almost everything is run on 19th century technology. It’s a bit like being a camp counselor, but the camp is a bed and breakfast, and the bed and breakfast occasionally tilts at a 15 degree angle. Sometimes you’re given tasks like “clean the toilets” and other times you’re given tasks like “sit on this swing while we hoist you sixty feet in the air so you can rub down the masts with Vaseline”.

Yes, really. Vaseline.

“Look mom I’m driving a boat!”

All of the schooners in the Maine windjammer* fleet run pretty similar operations, resulting in a close-knit community with all the traditions and rivalries one would expect accompany that. This year I was deckhand on a new boat, just across the dock from where I used to work. I had sailed with one of the captains in my very first season, when I was a galleyhand and she was first mate. She taught me a lot about sailing in my first few months, and I was excited to work with her again.

*Windjammer: a term for a commercial sailing ship

Except for all the… charming idiosyncrasies you might expect from a 100 year old schooner, I was genuinely surprised at how quickly I fell back into the rhythm of windjamming after two years off. That said, the mechanics of sailing are just the tip of the iceberg where being a deckhand is concerned, and this season there was plenty to learn.

Beginning an eye splice

I took a lot of responsibility for rig maintenance, which came naturally to me as someone who enjoys fiber arts. I wove mats, secured rope ends with needle whippings, spliced, seized, and braided. I found the best time to work on more complicated projects was in the dead of night, when no one could call me away to help maneuver the boat or help prepare a meal. Whoever came to relieve me from night watch often found me tucking away my rig knife amidst scraps of line, with a half-completed project in front of me.

Weaving a sword mat

I also found myself working on a lot of systems projects. Some (installing a new pump for the shower) were significantly better than others (unclogging the black water system). There’s a reason that the cabinet in the crew cabin that grants access to the plumbing system is called the Room of Despair. I certainly spent my share of hours with my head buried in a tangle of valves and hoses, wishing I was up on deck in the fresh air. At the end of the day, though, it was satisfying to succeed in a project and know I had repaired some vital part of the boat’s functioning.

I had this plaque custom engraved and installed it as a prank.

My technical skills would occasionally give passengers pause. Once a passenger noticed me installing a saltwater pump in the fore-peak and barked, “Hey! Do you even know what you’re doing?”

I glanced down. This was the third pump I had installed that week.

“…Yes,” I said.

He humphed, then squinted, “What are you doing?”

I could only laugh. Comments like that were rare, but they weren’t unheard of. Many of our passengers are boomers, and some of them have particular ideas about gender roles. Luckily, the tone of most of the comments tend toward “shocked but complimentary”, and I’ve gotten better at taking them in stride.

The traditional sailing world has also been changing around me. I used to feel some whiplash going from a historically women’s college to a mostly male dominated industry, but every year I notice more and more women around me. When I began sailing in 2017, it was pretty notable that we had two female mates on the same dock. Now, no one seems to blink at female dominated or all-female crews.

I’ve heard of captains who wouldn’t hire women because they “weren’t strong enough” to do the work, but to a certain extent raising sails is less about how strong you are and more about how well you can use your body weight. Photo credit: Kari Heistad

Anyway, sexist comments are a relatively small thorn in my side when it comes to spending time with passengers. It’s hard to pick a favorite part of working on schooners, but a highlight is always getting to teach people about the boat. Traditional sailing is a rich and fascinating subject, and I have an incredible amount of practical knowledge that I love to share. Often, I would be working on a small rigging project and a group of passengers would gather around me just to see what I was up to. I would keep a supply of rope scraps handy to so people could try out making splices and needle whippings for themselves, and a few people took their work home as souvenirs. If a passenger was especially enthusiastic about helping on deck I would invite them to climb out on the headrig to furl sails, or assign them a permanent position helping us tack* the boat.

*Tacking is the term for turning the boat by passing the bow through the wind. It usually requires handling a lot of lines.

Sail furling lesson. Photo credit: Kari Heistad

I especially liked it when I could get kids involved. As much as I like sailing, I always felt that going on these trips as a teenage passenger would be a little lonely, as our demographics skew middle aged and older. So, I would make an extra effort to pull kids into the fold. A few of them really got into it. One of them, a very quiet teenage girl accompanying her parents on a knitting trip, stayed up on deck for a full day of foul weather and wild sailing while everyone else took refuge down below. Later that night I taught her all the knots I knew. I went to bed with her still tucked away in the galley, practicing with a piece of twine.

There were three or four other teens this summer who I wouldn’t be surprised to see return in a few years as apprentices or crew. Speaking of, I ran into an apprentice I worked with a few years ago who had decided he wanted to stay on as crew. I apparently inspired him to take a gap year to sail and travel, and he asked me for advice on emailing his school to defer.

The crew cabin. It consists of two bunks and about four square feet of standing headroom.

As crew, we spend 90% of our time out on the water, which leaves little time for anything outside of work. The 24 hours we have off between trips is just enough time for laundry, a shower, and a quiet cup of coffee. While we’re out on trips we have pretty minimal privacy, no real breaks, and long days of hard work. It can be hard to cope with, especially when you have to live with the people you work with. So, I like to lean into my goofy side to deal with the intensity of the job.

In particular, pranking is a time honored tradition in the fleet of schooners that sail in Penobscot Bay, and this year I finally had a crew that was willing to go along with me. This is how I found myself clinging to the ship’s railing one night in June, my legs unsteady as I adjusted my stance on a paddleboard. It was just past midnight, but by the light of the moon I could clearly see my target– another schooner anchored across the harbor.

I flashed a thumbs-up. My roommate/friend/co-deckhand/partner-in-crime passed me a miniature rubber chicken, which I stuffed into my pocket, and a paddle, which I hefted in a sort of salute before pushing off in the direction of the other boat. After a few heart stopping wobbles I got the hang of paddling and glided silently over to the other ship. I waited a moment to ensure I hadn’t attracted anyone’s attention, swiftly tied the rubber chicken under their bowsprit like a figurehead, and made a swift exit without ever alerting their night watch to my presence.

To my delight, the chicken was still there when we passed them again a week an a half later.

Coiling lines. Photo credit: Kari Heistad

Overall, I’m really glad I’ve stuck with sailing on schooners for all these years. I feel like I’m at a point where I’m really good at my job, and yet there’s still so many things left to learn. I also love how dramatically different life on a boat is from my life at school. I’m pretty studious and I spend a lot of my free time doing quiet, sit-still hobbies, so it’s refreshing to wrap up finals and immediately launch myself into another adventure. And, after three months of sailing, I’m happy to settle back into my spacious dorm room, crack open my books, and start my senior year.

Three deckhands vs a 500 pound anchor. Photo credit: Kari Heistad

August Sunrise


The Mercer Museum: A Spring Break Highlight

A bald mannequin dressed in christmas attire seated next to a vaccum

Spotted at Philly AIDS Thrift.

As much as I love travelling, spending my breaks on campus is surprisingly restful. I love having some extra time to sleep in, watch a new TV show, and catch up on my hobbies, especially after the stress of midterms.

I also use my break to explore places around Philadelphia that I wouldn’t normally think to visit. I usually go out specifically to run an errand or to visit friends, which doesn’t leave much time for casual exploring. This week I went to three new places: Philly AIDS thrift, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and– the real highlight of the week– the Mercer Museum.

The Mercer Museum is a bit of a trek. It’s located in Doylestown, which is about 45 minutes away from Bryn Mawr by car or 2 hours and 36 minutes by train. There are limits to my love of public transit, so I recruited a friend with a car and we set off.

The museum is the brainchild of Henry Mercer, a “gentleman anthropologist” who was concerned by the rapid disappearance of European artisanal and pre-industrial craft during the industrial revolution. He dedicated himself to accumulating a wide range of tools and built a museum to preserve them. Small rooms and alcoves dedicated to particular crafts ring a central hall filled with larger pieces of equipment. Some of the trades represented include needlework, farming, butchery, cobbling, barrel-making, watchmaking, and more. The second floor houses a gorgeous library, and scattered throughout the main hall are little special exhibit galleries.

A wall hung with shoe-forms and other cobbling tools

The cobbler’s room at the Mercer Museum

Now, I have a well-demonstrated interest in pre-industrial technology. I spent 3 years working on a 19th century schooner. I know how to spin yarn with a drop spindle, cook on a wood-burning stove, and one of my life goals is to learn to make bobbin lace. To say that the Mercer Museum is up my alley is a complete understatement. There were crafts on display I hadn’t even thought to learn about! Hat making! Tinsmithing! Horn working! Plus, only a few of the items on display had explanatory plaques, so it was incredibly fun to try to guess the uses and functions of every object.

The museum is overflowing with objects on every available surface– even the ceiling. In the era of mass production it is easy to forget that there are still people behind every single thing that appears in stores. For me, at least, that effect can extend to museums and historical sites as well– because I’ve never had to make a fancy table, for example, I wouldn’t think to appreciate it beyond the aesthetic level. However, at the Mercer Museum the tools of production behind nearly every object are on display. It forces you to really consider the amount of labor and expertise required to produce every single thing you see, as well as the work that was required to obtain even the most basic amenities of life.

The building itself is another marvel- 6 stories of poured concrete in the shape of a castle. Mercer had seen his aunt’s collection of medieval armor lost to a fire and was determined to fireproof his own collection. The result is cold and a little strange, with ornate architectural features rendered in rough concrete.

Mercer was influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement

There is another part of the Mercer Museum– Fonthill Castle– Mercer’s home and the showplace of his vast collection of tiles. It’s also made of concrete, and has more than forty rooms. Given our time constraints, my friend and I decided to save it for another day, but from the photos I’ve seen it’s just as cool.

For now, here’s some more pictures of the museum:

The library.

A Grand Tour of Library Wellness Centers

One of my classes this semester is a weekly seminar on the history of fascism. While the topics we cover in this class, are obviously quite heavy, it quickly became my favorite class.

However, after spending hours in the library this weekend doing research for my final paper for the class, I needed a mental health break.

Luckily, there was a shelf full of fidget toys for that exact purpose approximately six feet to my left. I selected a silicone push-pop sheet and took a walk through the stacks.

Look for these signs to find a wellness center!

You can find these throughout the libraries. To combat the stress of finals season, the libraries have arranged a series of “Intellectual Wellness Centers” that students can visit to take a break from studying and clear their heads.

The library client services coordinator Katie Surkin said, “We wanted to do this to give students some ways to rest and recharge while in the libraries. Especially during finals season, it can be so helpful to just take a quick break and do something fun or creative – like coloring or making a paper heart! Having options for people to do things together or separately was also really important to us since not everyone recharges in the same way.”

In addition to the Intellectual Wellness Centers, Pets in the Library will be returning on December 15th as a joint effort between the libraries and the health center.

And now, without further ado, the tour:


In Canaday you can find several small stations scattered throughout the library, and I have yet to discover them all. My favorite so far is the friendship bracelet station near the circulation desk. I’m glad they included instructions, too — I feel like I was the only kid who never learned how to make those. The games in The Lusty Cup are pretty great too; there’s nothing like a little Connect-4 to take me back to a better, simpler time (a time when I wasn’t writing a fifteen page paper on fascism).


The study space on the bottom floor of Carp has an entire wall full of relaxation BLAH: classics themed coloring pages, origami, plants, and fidget toys. This is the station I kept returning to while writing my paper, and it’s convinced me I need to buy some fidget toys for myself! There’s also an epic puzzle table in the computer lab.


Walking into Collier, you’ll find a room with activities spread on nearly every surface. There’s a puzzle station, coloring supplies, origami, and more!

(I’ll be real with you guys, I’m a political science major, I don’t go into Park. It took me three tries to figure out how to get to Collier.)

(The puzzles are pretty neat though.)

I’m wishing everyone the best of luck on their finals, and if you’re so inclined please comment your favorite wellness station below!

The Coolest Part of Campus (That no one ever talks about)

Fall on Bryn Mawr’s campus is easily the most beautiful time of the year. The leaves turn, the air is crisp, and on ever-dwindling sunny days countless students can be found stretched out on blankets soaking up the last of the summer’s warmth before winter sets in.

But you’ve seen all that before! Today we’re going to ignore the gorgeous blue skies and fall colors and plush grass to talk about a part of campus I can guarantee no one has ever talked about:

The surprisingly robust variety of mushrooms on campus.

“But Alex,” I hear you say, “They’re just mushrooms, who cares?”

Well, I do. Where I come from there are only two varieties of mushrooms: the white ones and the brown ones. Suburban Houston just isn’t a bastion of biodiversity. On the other hand, while the Main Line is technically also a suburb, it’s semi-wooded with all kinds of flora and fauna you’d never find in a big city.

The interesting thing about fungi is that they’re neither flora nor fauna. Like plants, they often grow in soil and produce fruit bodies (that’s the mushroom or mold that you see). However, their cell walls are made of chitin, which is the same substance that makes up the exoskeletons of insects. Also, fungi secrete enzymes that digest their food, while plants make their own or simply absorb nutrients from the soil. Overall, fungi are more closely related to animals than plants. Weird, right?

It gets better. We think of fungi as decomposers, but they actually have a much more complex place in the ecosystem. Nearly 80% of earth’s plants have a symbiotic relationship with underground networks of fungi called mycorrhiza. Some plants are completely dependent on their mycorrhizal networks; orchids can’t even reproduce without them. In exchange for sugars from the plant, the fungal networks can access and break down complex nutrients, protect plants from pathogens and harmful insects, or even pass along chemical messages between plants like a nervous system.

So, now that we’ve established that mushrooms are super cool, allow me to take you on a tour of Bryn Mawr College’s fascinating fungi:

1. Located in the hollow of a tree on Merion drive that has since been cut down, this was one of the first mushrooms I found at Bryn Mawr. Google tells me it might be a Mossy Maple Polypore. That’s a pathogenic fungus, which might explain why that tree was cut down. Personally, I just love the strange, spongy texture of the underside.

2. Also found on Merion drive my freshman year, these mushrooms looked incredibly striking on their rain-soaked stump. I believe the bottom type is called “Turkey Tail”, while the top one is “False Turkey Tail”. If nothing else, those names highlight why you shouldn’t eat mushrooms you find outside the grocery store, even if you think you know what they are.

3. I spotted these in the mulch next to New Dorm. I think they’re Goldenhaired Inkcaps, but they could also be one of the hundred other inkcap varieties. Inkcaps are quite delicate, conditionally poisonous, but lovely to look at.

4. These were tucked in the roots of a tree by the stairs down to the athletic field. I’m not going to try to identify this one; “brown mushroom eastern pa” turns up far too many results on Google. That said, I love how they look like they’re hatching from eggs as they grow.

5. I spotted this beauty in the little wooded area next to the Schwartz gym. I thought it was a lost volleyball, but its actually a giant puffball mushroom! It was still in its edible stage when I found it, but as soon as puffballs go to spore they become poisonous.

6. These were attached to a half-rotten stick sitting on the ground outside of Old Library. They’re Turkey Tails, which the same species as mushroom number one, but I included this picture because the orange tones contrast really nicely with the green lichen.

7. This is known as Hen-of-the-Woods, or maitake, which is a very distinct fungus that usually grows at the base of oak trees. I found this large cluster at one of the stumps outside Taylor hall. The USDA’s Field Guide to Common Macrofungi lists their edibility as “choice”, though at the bottom of the page is the ever present-disclaimer “DO NOT eat any mushroom unless you are absolutely certain of its identity”. 

8. I’ve saved the best for last. This mushroom confounds me. I think it’s an Eastern Jack O’ Lantern mushroom, which is notable for being bioluminescent and poisonous. I’ve spotted it in the same place outside of Park for a few years, which means its mycelium (fungal root system) is incredibly healthy. What fascinates me is what it does to my phone camera.

To my eye it looks like this. An intense but ultimately unremarkable shade of burnt orange:

However, when I pass my phone camera over it, something about that shade of orange forces my camera to tint everything else in the shot blue.

Why does it do that? It’s not that orange, and I’ve never seen my phone do this to anything else. My only guess is that this mushroom’s bioluminescence is visible in daylight on a spectrum that I can’t see, but that my camera can pick up on. If any mycologists (mushroom scientists) are reading this, please comment your thoughts. This mushroom keeps me awake at night.

Thank you for following along on the most niche of campus beauty posts. I hope you all have a new appreciation for all the mushrooms on campus. This isn’t just a bit for the blog, by the way. These are the best of two-plus years of collected mushroom pictures.

And remember: Don’t eat strange mushrooms.

Where have I been?

It’s been a minute.
The last post I made on this blog was in May 2020, and I was trying to figure out what to do with myself for a whole three months at home while I waited for the fall semester to start. It seemed like an impossibly long time to fill. I couldn’t get a job, couldn’t leave the house, and couldn’t remember the last time I had so little to do.

It was strange, then, that I decided to take a leave of absence at the last minute in August. I even surprised myself—I had already picked my classes, arranged my schedule, and nearly bought plane tickets back to Philadelphia—but looking back, what felt like an impulse choice was in reality a decision I had made weeks beforehand.

Here is a list of things I like about school: Going to class, running into my friends on Merion Green, frying eggs in the dining halls, going to guest lectures and roundtables, and taking trips into the city.

Here is a list of things I don’t like about school: Doing homework alone in my room.

The fall 2020 Covid policies meant the upcoming year would involve almost nothing from the first list and a whole lot of the second. The country was in a constant state of crisis, and vaccines still a distant “maybe”. When I put in my request for emergency leave, I felt nothing but relief. I would miss my friends, and Bryn Mawr, but I was sure I had made the right decision.

So it began, Gap Year Number Two: Electric Boogaloo.

A completely back background with the text "view of my bedroom during the last power outage"

One of those crises was the Texas Freeze. It was a scary few days, but I did my best to approach things with a sense of humor.

Like most people, I had a rough time with the pandemic and most of what happened in that year doesn’t really bear repeating. I baked some bread. Rearranged my room. Coped with various crises. Listened to a lot of podcasts.
There were a few bright spots though. Unemployed and no longer a student, I began making art again for the first time in three years. I started with some small sewing projects: a shirt, a skirt, some little embroidered patches. Then I started experimenting with comics, and then paintings.


I began my first big project in November, drawing my own tarot deck on one of the many packs of playing cards my family had accumulated over the years.

A playing card decorated with a drawing of a man walking across a tightrope among clouds.

This is my all-time favorite card.

Tarot card suits (swords, coins, cups, wands) correspond to playing card suits (spades, diamonds, hearts, clubs), which allowed me to forego the symbolism required for most tarot cards and really flex my own style to make cards that were personally meaningful to me. I began with the suit of swords. For each card I would reference my favorite tarot book, Kitchen Table Tarot, and meditate on all the card’s meanings until an image came to mind. I’d lightly sketch it on the playing card with pencil, then line it with black sharpie and red highlights. For some cards it was difficult to work around the preprinted pips, but for others, I could work them into the design with incredible results.

A fanned-out deck of playing cards decorated with red and black drawings.

Part of my deck.

Soon after I started my tarot deck I heard about a composite tarot deck that was being organized through Kickstarter, a project crowdfunding site. The idea was for a deck made up entirely of cards from other decks, resulting in a “goblincore” patchwork deck. I digitized and submitted one of my cards for a $60 licensing fee, not even sure the project would make the $80,000 needed for printing.
I should not have doubted the power of Facebook ads. By the end of the funding period, the project had made nearly $1.5 million, with significant bonuses for all participating artists.

A patchwork bag decorated with a snake

The bag that started it all. I stitched everything by hand, even the buttonholes.

The Kickstarter led me to my next project. A linen duvet cover I’d ordered came with a complimentary sample pack of swatches of all the other materials they offered. I don’t like to throw things away, so I decided to use the swatches to make a patchwork bag to hold my patchwork deck. I made an appliqué shaped like an ouroboros, painted on some sigil-like designs, and hand stitched everything together. The end result looked like an artifact from a fantasy world, and the project organizer liked it so much that they offered me the chance to sell up to 50 bags through the Kickstarter. By the end of the month, forty had been ordered, and I set to work.

For the entire summer of 2021, I worked twenty hours a week to produce those forty bags. Each bag took ten hours and had innumerable steps, so I decided the most efficient way to make them would be to work in batches. I wanted to use as much recycled or scrap material as possible, so I ordered some packs of scrap fabric off Etsy, and then dug into my own scrap bin. I cut everything into 2.5-inch squares, seamed them together, then set to decorating. I offered five different appliqué styles: a moth, an ouroboros, a rat skull, a jackalope, or eyes. Each bag had a pocket, vintage lace or bright ribbons, and three random buttons from the bin of spares my grandmother had accumulated over the past forty years. I finished every bag by hand so that I could add beads or little embroidery touches.

The finished bags, all lined up.

As involved as the tarot bags were, sewing wasn’t my only job this summer. Throughout the pandemic, I had volunteered at a local interfaith food pantry, sorting donations and packing boxes for clients. In the beginning my motivations were somewhat selfish: Houston is unbearably hot for most of the year, and helping at the pantry was the only way I could get out of the house for a few hours every week. I genuinely came to enjoy the work though, and both our clients and my fellow volunteers were fun to talk to. So, when the director reached out to encourage me to apply for the pantry’s first ever internship, I leapt at the opportunity.

Sketch of Jesus

This drawing was hung in the office of the pantry. I called him “Chiseled Jesus”. Personally, I think he looks a lot like Buff Squidward.

As an intern, I got a much deeper understanding of pantry operations. I managed volunteer shifts, calculated what portions we should give out based on our food intake, ironed out our social media, and overhauled the filing system. It was a great experience, and I’m glad to have something a little more conventional on my resume. Not that being a sailor or a freelance artist isn’t fantastic for building soft skills, but I’d like my future employers to have some confidence that I can use Excel, too.

I’ll talk about what I’m up to this semester in my next few posts. I enrolled myself in three seminar classes this semester, and while they’re all completely fascinating, it wasn’t until Fall break that I found the time to sit down and write anything other than reading responses and research papers.

For now, here’s a few more photos from my gap year:

Image of rolled coins with the text "There's a national coin shortage and my family is part of the problem"

How bored was I last August? Bored enough to empty every change jar and piggy bank in the house and roll $200 in coins by hand.

Every week I had a zoom call with a student I’d met from the online Jordan Summer Program and we tried to study a little Arabic to keep our skills sharp while we were out of school.

A yucca plant in the middle of a desert

In June 2021 my friend and I took a road trip to New Mexico. My favorite part was the day we spent in White Sands. My least favorite part was the day after White Sands when we had to go pay off a ticket. In our defense, it was a speed trap town.

An embroidered patch I made for my friend to commemorate our visit to Roswell.

Another bright spot of the pandemic was spending time with my ridiculous cat.

I made this skirt out of old linen napkins!


Tarot bag appliqués in progress.

Interior of the food pantry. Clients used to be able to shop for food like a grocery store, but because of the pandemic, we shifted to pre-packed boxes of food and distributed them through curbside pickup.


Looking Ahead

As soon as Bryn Mawr permanently closed for the semester, I had a feeling that my summer plans– the BMC Arabic immersion trip to Jordan followed by backpacking around the Mediterranean– probably weren’t going to happen. It was disappointing, but I am nothing if not good at finding interesting things to do. Surely, I thought, the worst of the pandemic will be over by June, and in a fit of optimism I sent out several job applications.

I actually got a few offers: a work-stay on a sustainable farm on a remote island in Maine, and a job as a deckhand on a schooner. They both sound like a dream, but the end of the semester was drawing closer, and the pandemic wasn’t getting better.

The cheapest hostels tend to be the seediest, and in this case I definitely found myself wishing I had paid for a better one!

Here’s the thing: I’ve never been hesitant to travel before. When trying to make a trip happen, my methods are best described as “any means necessary”. Long hours of work, militant frugality, cramped buses, and extended layovers are all completely worth it in my eyes as long as it gets me somewhere new. So, when my gut started telling me that I should probably stay put for the summer even though I could travel halfway across the country and do something exciting, it triggered a mild identity crisis.

I got over it, though, and I’m starting to get comfortable with the idea of spending the next three and a half months at home. This is by far the longest amount of time I’ll have spent in Houston since I left three years ago, and as a result my room was largely the same as it was in high school. I’ve been slowly redecorating, and I think my next goal will be to use up my vast collection of art supplies, which I’ve barely touched since I started my gap year.

A small portion of my collection.

Specifically, I’m looking forward to tackling my fabric collection. The day after I finished finals, I dug out every piece of fabric I own. It was more than I thought– the results of 10 years worth of unfinished (or unstarted) projects, remnants that were just a little too big to throw away, and a bin full of donated wool suiting that I’ve been too afraid to touch.

It took four hours to sort through. I burned a swatch from every piece to check the fiber content (you can tell what it’s made of by how it burns), made labels with the fiber type and size of the piece, and tucked them into shallow cardboard boxes so I could see all the patterns.


Unfortunately, that was the easy part. Now I have to figure out what to do with all of it– and most of it isn’t good for face masks. Maybe I’ll open up sewing commissions, or make everyone I know a tweed vest.

In addition to sewing and art, I hope to study at least a little Arabic, round out my writing portfolio, and do some micro internships this summer. I tend to keep myself unbelievably busy with work, or school, or both, and I find myself welcoming the opportunity to take a step back and put time into my longer-term projects and goals. Luckily, I have stable wifi, a quiet house, and skills that lend themselves to remote work. Unluckily, Texas is about 100 degrees for most of the summer. Even though I’ve figured things out, I will deeply miss the outdoors.

I have… so much tweed.

2 Social 2 Distant

I must admit I have not actually seen any of the Fast and Furious Franchise, but I do love their title scheme. Anyway, welcome to the second part of my transition to #BrynMawrAtHome.

A month has passed, I’m finally settling into a new routine, but it’s a lot harder than I thought: trying to balance my classwork, figuring out the summer, being a member of a household, and of course, emotionally coping with all the uncertainty a global pandemic has to offer.

I also miss the dog that sometimes visited the Park Science building.

I’m beginning to realize that I never fully appreciated how much dorm living facilitated my ability to do school work (which, oddly, has increased since online classes began). There’s so many little things I do at home — cooking, spending time with family, helping around the house — that eat up a surprising amount of time. Plus, it’s hard to stay focused when I’m working, sleeping, and relaxing in the same room. I miss all my study spots on campus!

Since I’m spending all my time in my bedroom, I’ve been slowly reorganizing everything to make it more comfortable. To be honest, I secretly hated the layout for years, but since I was never at home, I never bothered to fix it. But after doing a serious book purge, clearing out all the stuff my dad left from when he used my room as a home office, and moving a few pieces of furniture, I’ve finally made it feel like a livable space!

Unfortunately, the furniture plan in my bedroom isn’t the only thing the pandemic is forcing me to reevaluate. I had an epic plan for the next few months: I was going to go on the Bryn Mawr trip to Jordan for the first half of summer, then travel to Rome and work on a boat for a couple months, and then go back to Jordan for my fall study abroad. My applications were almost done, I had enough money saved, and then… this.

A cream cheese, tomato, and spinach omelette– my moms favorite so far.

Now, the BMC trip to Jordan is online, and I suddenly need to find a job for the summer. I despise sitting at a desk, so I’ll probably look for work on a small farm, since I doubt the sailing tourism industry will be up and running. In addition, given that social distancing measures might last for six months or more, I’ve decided to try to delay my semester abroad until next spring. Thankfully, BMC is being extremely flexible with changing people’s study abroad plans.

Despite the global chaos, though, I’m doing okay. I’m getting plenty of fresh air, the house is stable, and there’s food in the fridge. In fact, as I run out of new ideas for lunch, I’ve taken to cooking omelettes of ever-increasing complexity.

Despite all the boredom and stress, there has been one excellent highlight from the past month: Zoom Passover.

Almost every year for the past four years I have received email invitations to family celebrations of Hannukah, Yom Kippur, and Passover. This is pretty standard for a lot of big families, and everyone on the email chains is always super excited to see each other!

My only problem with these emails is that I’m not Jewish, and neither is anyone in my immediate family.

After the first few times, I realized that someone in this family must have an incredibly similar email address to mine, and that I’d been put on this family’s email list by mistake. Every now and then I would respond to let them know some random kid from Texas was still receiving their potluck plans, but the emails kept coming.
I thought we’d finally sorted it out for good last year, but in early April I received an invitation for a virtual Seder. I almost deleted it, but then I paused. This was something that I could actually attend, for once. What would happen if I asked to join in?

The worst they could say was no, right?

They responded immediately: of course I could join, I was “practically family at this point”.

So on Wednesday the 8th, I scrounged together whatever Seder appropriate foodstuffs I could find in our kitchen cabinets, poured myself a large glass of wine, and sat down to meet my new extended family. When I logged into the Zoom meeting, they immediately introduced me as the “newest cousin”. There were a lot of people: 15 screens, most of which were couples or families. One of the younger cousins alternated between virtual backgrounds: a piece of matzoh, a tropical beach, a burning bush, and an extremely dramatic painting of Moses parting the Red Sea.

After we read the Haggadah, everyone sat around and chatted for almost an hour. It was nice to finally be able to put names to faces, and to hear firsthand news from many other parts of the country. This is not the situation in which I ever would have expected to meet them, but I’m glad it happened. At the very least, it’s a good story to tell!

Social Distancing Part One: In the Beginning

The long-suffering cat in question

My spring break started out so normal. I hung out with my friends, took a million selfies with my cat, and dedicated a few days to working on my study abroad applications and planning out my workshop for the upcoming Community Day of Learning. There was a lot I needed to accomplish for school that week, and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to get it all done. Sure, I was a little concerned about the Coronavirus, but I didn’t really think it would affect my life that much.

Then within 24 hours, everything fell apart. The virus was spreading, and we were not to return to campus.

Like many other Bryn Mawr students I found myself stranded halfway across the country with barely any clothes, no school supplies, and no idea what would happen next. I’ve lived through my share of crises, but nothing on this scale. At times I was so anxious I could hardly breathe, and I had a tension headache for three full days. I’m wasn’t afraid of getting sick, I just hated the uncertainty. My entire life for the next six months could change on a dime.

I spent that weekend alternating between moping and researching how to best work from home. The general consensus was to follow a set schedule and have separate areas for work and leisure. So on Sunday night I wrote myself a to-do list for the week, set my alarm for 7:30 am, and went to bed ready for my new life as a very productive hermit.

The next morning, I hit snooze 4 times and slept for an extra hour and a half.
Failed step one.

Soon after, another roadblock to productivity arose: my sister’s college had also cancelled classes. My mom needed to drive 6 hours to New Orleans to pick her up and didn’t want to make the trip alone. I didn’t actually mind going along, since I was sure the first few days of online classes would be a disaster.

You know how when you pack for a road trip, you pack a lot of extra things “just in case”? This was the first time I thought any of the things I packed would actually come in handy.

“We need some first aid supplies, because we won’t want to go to a hospital. Better pack some extra food in case we can’t find anywhere to stop and eat. What if they close state borders and we can’t get back?”

My mom and I on the banks of the Mississippi

Of course, none of that actually happened, and my mom and I had a lovely time exploring the French quarter while my sister packed up the last of her belongings.

Ironically, that was probably the best time to photograph all the beautiful houses in the French Quarter. We were able to go out, since at the time there were relatively few cases in New Orleans. However, there were still no other tourists, so the French Quarter was deserted.

The French Quarter

The rest of the week was fairly low-key, mostly filled with assignments and home projects. Since I have to spend so much time in my room, I’ve been using this as an opportunity to rearrange and redecorate. These kinds of projects aren’t nearly enough to cure my cabin fever, though, and when I went for a run on Friday I ran twice as far as usual, then did a yoga routine to boot.

Now that the biggest changes are over, my life has taken on a weird feeling of unreality. On one hand, I know there’s a terrible crisis going on. The media is howling over grocery shortages, the tanking stock market, and political corruption. Some of my friends are afraid for their lives or their livelihoods, and I share their unease. On the other hand the sun is still shining, and in my neighborhood children play in the street. My daily life is so peaceful that days slip by without me realizing it. It’s a strange sort of cognitive dissonance.

I know this is not a cheerful blog post, but these are not cheerful times. Every day I count myself lucky that I have a home to return to, no bills to pay, and a quiet, walkable neighborhood so that I can still go out even when all public spaces are closed. I also got to watch as the entire BMC community — students, alums, parents, and professors — pulled together to try and ensure that every student had housing, travel funds, and someone to mail them their essential belongings when the college closed. It was amazing to see, and reminded me that even though we are not physically at school, Bryn Mawr is still an incredibly strong community that I am proud to be a part of.

Why You Shouldn’t be Afraid of Office Hours

One of the most common pieces of advice I was given when I started college was “Go to your professor’s office hours!” and “Get to know your professors!”
Like many students, my gut response was an extremely decisive “no f-ing way”. I was never the kind of person who hung out with their high school teachers, and I had no idea why my professors would want to get to know me. Office hours, I thought, were only for people who needed help (and I loathe asking for help) or for being a kiss-up. I would never go.

The only photo I got of our Emily Balch speaker, Roxane Gay

Thanks to the Emily Balch seminars, though, I didn’t have a choice. The seminars cover a range of content and teaching styles, but one of the common elements is that you meet with your professor a few times a month to discuss your work.

I didn’t dread my first meeting, but I definitely wasn’t looking forward to it. I don’t like asking for help, remember? Even though I’d struggled a lot with my first essay, I didn’t want to admit it.

The meeting was surprisingly helpful, though. If I’d just been handed back my essay with a grade and a few comments, I probably would have taken all semester to figure out what I was doing wrong.

Thanks to that, I got the hang of what my professor was looking for pretty quickly, and by our third meeting we had a little time at the end to just chat. She asked me pretty standard stuff: how was I doing in my classes? What was I studying? Had I ever considered majoring in English? Pretty soon our meetings turned into hour-long discussions about campus culture, academia, and current events. I even started telling her about a few anxieties I’d been having.

Eventually I began to see her as a mentor, and even though spring semester had started, I still went to see her. She pushed me to get help for a health problem I’d been trying to ignore, inspired me to write a letter to the editor for the College News, and convinced me to take an English class this semester.

I would guess a solid 50% of my friends are friendly with at least one of their professors. My roommate says she went to hang out with her dean almost every week, and I know other students who have babysat for their professor’s kids or even had Thanksgiving at their houses.

These days I have no qualms about going to see my professors, whether it’s because I need help on a paper or because I want to know more about a study abroad opportunity. It’s not crucial that you get to know your professors in college, but getting to know my ESem professor definitely had a big impact on my first year at Bryn Mawr.

Many humanities professors have their offices in the 2nd floor of the Old Library building


Sailing on a schooner: My summer as a deckhand on a 150-year-old tall ship

At 7 a.m. on July 6, 2019, I was approximately 55 feet in the air. I was supposed to be re-rigging the ship’s flags, but I had paused for a moment to admire the view. To my right stretched the rocky Maine coast. To my left, a dozen schooners — probably a third of America’s traditional sailing heritage — were anchored throughout the harbor.

At the top of the mast, nestled between the crosstrees.

A motorboat raced by, and though its wake was only a minor annoyance on deck, the top of the mast seemed to sway wildly. There was nothing but a harness and precarious footing between me and a rather unforgiving fall.

It was time to get to work. I shifted positions, sometimes clinging to the ratboards with the barest tips of my toes, sometimes holding my entire body up with my arms to swing my legs around a bar. I ended up nearly lying down on the crosstrees with my foot hooked on a support bar. My palms were sweating, but I’ve been aloft enough times to know how to force down my fear.

I finished the job after half an hour, and clambered down the ratboards to a smattering of applause from our awed passengers. Most of them had never seen anything like this. I shucked off my harness, flexed my feet for a minute to get my legs to stop trembling, and got right to work helping to set up the breakfast buffet.

Working on a schooner is a job like no other. In the same day, I’ll go aloft, clean toilets, wash dishes, power sand and paint a section of the hull, furl sails, and give passengers restaurant recommendations. It’s one part adventure, one part hospitality, and one part blue collar work. Days off are few and far between, but that hardly matters, because I never really enjoy them anyway. As the saying goes, ships and sailors rot in port.

If I got any down time during the day, it was usually filled with projects — I’ve taken apart and reassembled a fan, made leather chart weights, and taught myself decorative knots. I spent several weeks on my rig knife: doing fancy knot work on the handle to make it thicker and grippier, then making a lanyard and a sheath.

One of the most common questions I get is how I even found this job. It all started in my senior year of high school, when an artist I followed on social media started posting about her job on a schooner in Maine. After a little research, I found there was an entire fleet of traditional sailing vessels running multi-day cruises off the Maine coast. I weighed my options: spend the summer before college in the same smoothie shop I’d worked in for months, or go halfway across the country to work on a tall ship. Not much of a contest, really.

My job interview went something like this:

“Why do you want to work on a schooner?”

“I’d like a job to kick my ass for a few months before I start college.”

“Okay, I’ll kick your ass.”

And then I was hired.

Me, driving the boat.

I ended up working there for three years, first in the galley, and then on deck. It hasn’t always been great — I’ve had injuries, issues with coworkers, and dealt with some sketchy situations, but the good times far outweighed the bad. It’s hard to feel down when you can admire the sparkle of bioluminescence in the water, then look right up at the Milky Way.

Sailing has taught me a lot of skills, some of which you wouldn’t necessarily expect. Of course I’ve learned how to tie knots and handle a line, but I’ve also mastered the fine arts of making small talk, saying an elevator pitch, and giving instructions. After all, I was trapped on a 90-foot boat with 25 people for nearly a week. If I wasn’t a people person when I started, I am now.

I’ve already got plans for next summer, so I doubt I’ll be sailing next year. I’ll definitely miss my leathery hands and beefy biceps, but more importantly, I’ve found some of my most important friends and mentors through sailing. Though I’m excited to go back to school, the feeling is bittersweet.