Hello, all — very nice to be back, but I had a really wonderful working-break at PSU. It was so lovely to chat with colleagues whose research and writing I’ve long admired, but never met. And it was particularly nice to meet Sean and Tina, who were incredibly kind and hospitable. As well as being the sort of academic who bowls one over with all-round smartness, energy, and good humour, Sean is also a connoisseur of fine ale, and introduced me to the delights of Stone IPA, which, in all its floral-citrus-y-hoppiness is my new favourite American beer.


I was very taken with the PSU campus at State College. Militant pedestrian that I am, I found it really well-designed for getting about on foot, and it has a truly beautiful setting in the landscape of Central Pennsylvania (particularly glorious at this time of year with the leaves beginning to turn). The campus is also full of wildlife: the smell of a skunk and the sight of a chipmunk occasioned much ludicrous excitement, and I was very intrigued by the lions which are to be seen everywhere at PSU. . .


. . . but the creatures I was most thrilled to spot were the birds which had appeared on someone’s sweater. . .


I’ve ‘known’ Heather online for a few years now, and it was such fun to meet her: she is sharp as a whistle, a superlative knitter, and is perhaps the only blogger whose writing about knitting regularly makes me laugh out loud (recall, for example, her skillful incorporation of the Mother Theresa bun into a post about the forest canopy shawl). The other patrons of the bookstore/cafe in which I met her last week may have been disturbed by our animated discussion about the sheer pointlessness of Alain de Botton, raucous laughter (from me), and mutual yarn hysteria. On the subject of which, Heather treated me to a delicious skein of the legendary socks that rock, and my new favourite shawl (the work of her own deft hands — details here)


Other PSU crafty highlights included meeting Garrison Gunter (I seriously covet the couch upon which Garrison is pictured, upholstered with fabric he designed and printed at Philadelphia’s fabric workshop. The very nifty pattern repeat is built around motifs suggestive of his own Hawaiian background). . . .


. . . And the art of Willie Cole in the Palmer Museum (a wonderfully curated collection at the heart of the State College campus).


Look closely at Cole’s amazing Harlem Rose: each petal is a shoe, and the flower is formed from the combined footwear of many women. The shoes still carry the ghosts of the owners’ feet inside them, and many are worn beyond wearing. Cole makes worn-out shoes bloom together in a gorgeous celebration of the ordinary acts and material lives of women — working women, walking women . . .


. . . and finally, while I’m on the subject of walking women — how was my talk about those of the eighteenth-century? Well, the feedback seemed positive, and the lecture elicited a few laughs from the audience, which I reckon is always a good sign. I proudly wore Heather’s shawl to accompany the frock, and confess to a certain amount of (quiet) hubris about my inclusion in the Weis seminar series. Its a really fabulous programme, and I wish I could be around for some of the other talks and roundtables which are taking place in association with it later this year (thanks, once again, to Sean). And if any of you are remotely interested in my lecture, or indeed any of the other great talks in the Weis “Moments of Change” series, you can actually download them from itunes. Just click here and open itunes at the prompt. (Warning: I do go on a bit).