I realized yesterday that one of my very favorite things is getting ready to have people over. I remember this as a child, as well, when my parents would have family or friends coming by, especially for a holiday. The house felt hushed and clean, the afternoon expectant. I start early so I am never rushing this part. I like it after they all get here, too, but there is something about that time, maybe two hours before, that feels like the moment that repeats, and brings me back to old holidays, past gatherings. It's the moment before the official moment.
I spy a small dog, waiting for the official moment.
We indulged, culinarily speaking, with all the usual suspects. This mushroom melange was the basis for the new stuffing I made this year, from the Williams-Sonoma catalog.
You bake cream biscuits in the morning and then toast chunks of them to use as the bread cubes. It was good stuff.
I was so happy with my runner! I finished it early in the week, along with eight napkins (without appliques, alas — but I did fringe them all, which was strangely satisfying) and my new linens matched up with my new dishes quite nicely, and I was entirely pleased.
Naturally I did not allow anyone to put a single dish on it, like a big platter of turkey or a ginormous pot of bubbling au gratin potatoes. Are you kidding me? Did you see how long it took me to make this thing???
Joking. By the end of the night it was covered in all manner of dinner components. It's in the wash now, but I really think it will be just fine. It is one heavy-duty runner.
Around 2, I lit the candles. I love this room on winter afternoons. It's pale blue, and for special dinners I turn on my grandma's pink glass lamps, so there's a sort of alpinglow effect happening. I like it. The cuckoo clock was hers, too. The pinecone heart I found at Goodwill last week, but it's handmade — there's cereal-box cardboard on the back of it. It was one of those weird "I wanted one of those and then suddenly I found one of those" things.
My mom makes the absolute best sugar cookies. I'm not sure what the confection is — I think marshmallow/chocolate/peanut butter. I'm all about those cookies. They're gone now. [Sad.]
After dinner, pie eating and much Yahtzee drama ensued.
Looks like somebody didn't get a Yahtzee. Thank goodness for CoolWhip consolation. Sorry about the blurry pix — it was actually quite dark in there.
I went with Tom Yum soup (piping hot and very sour) with tofu, Airborne (had it in the house), echinacea, water, and . . . bed at 4:30 p.m., wearing about four different outfits (I was cold). Ahhhhhh. Slept in until 9 a.m. this morning, or maybe it was even later than that, which I think I've only done about seven or eight times in my whole life. I can't sleep in. But apparently I needed it, because I am feeling so much better today! Thank you for all the suggestions — amazing how many people said "rest." Funny how we need to be reminded to do that, and it's the easiest thing to do, requiring no special ingredients. I'm going to try to lay low and have a hot toddy anyway, do the Thanksgiving grocery shopping this afternoon, and watch a few Christmas movies later. I can't believe the holidays are here again.
Thinking about all the things that I am thankful for, including everyone who comes here and shares so much with me every day. In our troubled world, at a time when we face so much uncertainty, skepticism, and worry, I am grateful that so many little corners of it are filled with love notes, generosity, hard work, humor, simple beauties, acts of courage, and great kindness. I choose those. No matter what, I will choose to fill up my life, day by day, with those. Thank you for being a part of those good things, for me.
I wish you a wonderful start to this special season. xo
Actually had stuff to say today, but can't remember what it was, as head is simmering like chicken stock, throwing off only scuzzy froth and brownish bubbles. Eyeballs feel like hot pinballs. Throat getting ready to turn into excelsior.
Happy to say flair for the dramatic alive and well.
Cold remedies? Does anything actually work?
The weekend was total chaos. This is Miss Remi, also known as Mumsie (as in "Queen Mumsie"), also known as Ma'am, also known as Grilled Cheese (that's what Andy called her). She is the Pembroke Welsh corgi of some friends who went away for the weekend. She stayed at Paulson Place from Friday afternoon until Sunday afternoon and laid in this spot between the couch and the coffee table, next to my shoes, for about 65-70% of the time. (That big white thing in the front of the image is a Clover-Meadow paw.) Isn't she cuuuuuuute!!! Agh! Adorable.
Miss C. Meadow was in a total state. When Remi arrived, Clover lost her mind. She raced around in circles, she jumped back and forth over Remi, she made noises I've never heard before. Then — Grrrrrrr, said Remi. Grrrrr-WOOF!!! she said. And meant it. And Miss Clover Meadow backed up, snugging her quivering body against me, and looked very, very worried.
For several hours she anxiously sat in front of me, wherever I sat or wherever I was in the room, staring at her slumber-party guest. Her slumber-party guest who seemed to not want to have been invited to the slumber party.
How could it beeeee?????
Oh man. It was so funny. Once they warmed up to each other, early Friday evening, they started going everywhere together (and let me tell you, I thought having one little dog follow me every single place I went in the house was a handful, but having two little dogs under your feet for every step is insane). Then eventually the puppy-play commenced — and every few hours for about twenty minutes they'd start wrestling each other, a small tornado of teeth and fur as they tried to bite each other in the face or sit on top of one another. But it was fascinating because they really worked it out — Clover was bigger, much more obnoxious, physical, and pretty scrappy, but she was also more submissive than Mumsie, who, though older, crankier, and more stout, could with one warning noise or one haughty look have Clover flat on her back with her paws dangling limply in the air and those very-worried eyebrows arched into right-angles over those very-worried eyes — Whoops, what'd I do? Mommy? We tried so hard not to laugh at them. It was impossible. By Saturday afternoon, my sister picked us up to go thrifting, and Clover was ready to go upstairs and get into her crate and take a nap while we were out. Remi, who isn't crated, sat alone in the middle of the living room and looked at us with what we considered to be sheer relief at the prospect of having a few quiet hours alone. We returned a few hours later, and opened the front door, expecting to be greeted by our little guest — but the room was empty. Where was she? Upstairs, napping near the crated Clover Meadow. BFFs after all.
The other day I was at the P.O. When I went to check my P.O. box it was stuffed with bookplate-requesting SASEs! They actually fell out of the box and onto the floor when I opened the little door. I laughed out loud with happiness. People!!! How cool are you! I love you. Thank you for making me feel so special, and for making this book time so wonderful. Thank you for all the sweet notes tucked into envelopes, the emails, the kind reviews on your blogs, the comments you've left on book-selling sites. I'm really so overwhelmed by your kindness. There are so many generous magazine articles and reviews and book excerpts out right now, too, and I will point you toward all of those as soon as I get them organized. Monday. I will also get a Flickr group going to share photos of projects. Today I am signing and sending out bookplates ASAP, under Violet's supervision. She's sitting on a pile of book postcards.
Our kitters, Violet Paulson, has been with us a long time. She's fourteen this fall. I got her in September of 1994, in Missoula, a few weeks after I'd moved there. Andy moved to Missoula a few weeks after I'd arrived and didn't know about the kitten. He likes to tell the story of how he arrived in Missoula, after driving straight through from Chicago, and found not me (because I was downtown buying a nightgown) but the teensy-tiniest tabby cat you ever did see, meowing up at him. I got her when she was about three weeks old — too early to be separated, but her living conditions were atrocious. So she came home with me, and sat on my shoulder, like a bird, for several weeks. I lived in a big house with some of my other ex-pat-Chicago girlfriends then, and between them they had four dogs, including Rue, a Rhodesian Ridgeback (bred to hunt lions), who sat outside the closed, kitten-containing bedroom all day and stared at the crack between the door and the jamb, hoping it would open. But little Violet eventually came out of the bedroom and held her own with all the dogs, finding places to hide between chair legs, good ambushing spots from behind plant stands. I think she loved all of the dogs, even Rue. One time, in that house in Missoula, long before we started actually letting her outside, I couldn't find her anywhere. I looked everywhere, every single nook and cranny, and I knew that all the doors and windows were shut. Except for the skylight in the bathroom, which was open. How she jumped through the open skylight in the ceiling (from the sink? It had to be the sink) I'll never know. She was so tiny. She fell off the roof and landed in a pile of rhubarb. When I found her, sitting under her rhubarb-leaf parasol like a wide-eyed and thoroughly rattled baby owl, her ears out sideways, she hissed at me like How could you let me do that? I apologized profusely, my heart pounding. And she hasn't been too far from one or the other of us ever since.
She's also helping me finish the runner. This is the ironing board. Where I was trimming the edges and just turned around for one second to go get the pin holder. One second is all she needs: V. jumps up, makes herself comfortable, notices the scissors and when I return she looks at me like How could you leave these big huge scissors here where I could get hurt?
At least she's not around for convos like this (as I slipstitch squares in bed while watching the Hallmark Channel when Andy walks in):
"Honey, I have some bad news. There's a #20 sharp somewhere in the bed."
"What's a #20 sharp?"
"It's a #20 sharp . . . needle."
And then, later that night, or two nights later, usually at about 3 a.m., while rounding the turn on a precious REM cycle:
"FOUND THE NEEDLE!"
"Cool! Thanks hun!"
" . . . Sure."
Yes, it's life on the edge here at Paulson Place.
It's a commitment. It's not for the hand-sewing faint-hearted. But look how pretty. My Purl Bee Runner is underway. I am very pleased. By late afternoon, I'd made some chai and had stitched eight of the twenty-two squares to the backing fabric. Luckily, I love to slipstitch. You'll get good at it here. Twenty-two for the runner (I made my shorter than theirs) and eight for the napkins (later).
To make the runner (and napkins), you back the fabric squares with pieces of fusible interfacing, then slit the interfacing and turn the square, pressing it into place on the backing fabric. The fusible web helps hold the square in place while you applique it. It's a nice method, though my linen was so heavy (like, really thick and heavy) the web didn't want to stick that much. But it was enough. A trick for pressing down the outside edges of the square, where there are a couple of layers of fabric to heat through: Press the backing fabric around the edge of the square first, then press the square down on top of it. That will heat up the fusible web from below, and melt it together. Do this quickly, one side at a time, so the fabric stays hot.
There is a reason the Purl ladies did this as a quilting bee — it's a lot of sewing, and besides, how fun would this be to make together? (very) — but I have only a warm, sofa-hogging dog so I have to do mine myself, with a dog head in my lap. Plus there's no more room on this sofa. Have I mentioned before about my cuddly dog?
Yes. I think I have. The goal of this dog's life is, apparently, to lay with her head in my lap. Or her chin on my ankles. Or her paws on my thighs. Occasionally she looks up at me adoringly and pushes her suede nose into my hand, and then I put my work down and scratch her bunny-soft forehead. For a long time. Oh, Clover Meadow. You are aptly named. I've never met a dog as sweet and gentle, as beckoning and full of sunshine as you.
In the late afternoon, as we watch the leaves blow away, and the rain start to fall, this is pretty much what we do.
(It's kind of hard to take pictures of a dog on your own lap, I have to say. The camera happened to be on the tripod just a couple of feet away, so I pulled it over and sort of pointed it down at what I thought it should look at, and set the timer, but I couldn't ever see the viewfinder. After a few shots, the battery died, but who would want to move from here to go get more. Not her. Even less, me.)
I got the new dishes yesterday, and I love them. Here is some early-morning, seven-grain hot cereal with brown sugar and milk — one of my favorite winter breakfasts.
It feels strangely adult-y to have eight matching place-settings of something, instead of the cupboard jumble I am used to — even with the White Dishes, there was always something missing, or busted. The impending holiday brings out the shepherdess in me: I start looking for, then tending to, every pile of wrinkled tablecloths, every too-tiny drawer of (wrinkled) napkins. I start rounding up strays from the laundry area, wondering what happened to so-and-so (the eighth yellow napkin, the fourth blue-flowered napkin). Our little old house is low on storage space. Whenever I see people on Househunters on HGTV complaining that there are only, like, five ginormous closets in the prospective house I start guffawing: People! You have no idea! Only one teensy closet on the first floor, stuffed with winter coats and the vacuum cleaner, in Andy's office. So parts and pieces of cooking and dining materials roam the first floor unsupervised — baking dishes and tube pans in the pantry, casserole dishes on the sideboard in the dining room, tablecloths in the dresser in the dining room, napkins in the china cabinet in the kitchen. I have to herd all my little lambs occasionally, and take stock.
I ironed linens all morning (oddly relaxing — should do it more than once a year), and am pre-washing all of the fabric I got yesterday for the runner and napkins. By the time I picked everything out yesterday at the fabric store I was exhausted. You want to get it right, you know? I try to make something special for myself for the holidays every year. It forces me to sit and think about the holidays. It's the gift I give myself. That time. I'm looking forward to it this next week. Just sittin' and thinkin' and stitchin'. And ironin'. I think the dryer is almost done.
I have a couple of very materialistic weaknesses. Coats are one. Dishes are another. I love dishes so much. I don't know why, but I might have inherited this obsession from my dad. He always bought the dishes in our house, and he frequently bought new dishes. I always thought that was so sweet. It was the only thing I ever remember him shopping for, other than Christmas presents and, occasionally, very sturdy shoes. He was picky about tableware and shoes. Shoes, I couldn't really care less. Dishes — that I get.
Ironically, the dishes we use every day here at Paulson Place are seriously boring. White. Plain. Heavy. I got them from a guy who used to own a restaurant and had a warehouse full of them. I bought eight place-settings for twenty-five cents a piece. He really wanted to get rid of the stuff. Score. We've had them now for years and years. Not because I love them. Mostly because I love other dishes so much that I can't actually decide on which dishes I want. I have a few other random plates from Goodwill. But I've never actually purchased a whole set of dishes, other than our wedding china (well, I didn't purchase that, either). (That china is sooooo fancy. I know we should use it more; they always say to use it more. But I am a little terrified of it.)
But these dishes (above) I think I like. They are called Sango Concepts in Avocado. They're available from Target online and Bed, Bath & Beyond and a few other places — I looked at so many I can't remember where they all were. I was wanting something earthy, yet neutral. And affordable — about $50 for four place settings, and I have a 20% off coupon at BB&B. I think I can justify the money since we've been eating about about $4 worth of dishes for the past five years. I think they'll be pretty in winter and in summer. And I know they will be really pretty with the runner. I am completely obsessed with this runner. And, while I have no time to make a runner, I don't think I will be able to not make this runner because it is G*O*R*G*E*O*U*S and it is calling to me. I've gone back to its picture about seventeen times already over the last few days. So pretty, don't you think?
Thank you to everyone who came out to Powell's last night for my book signing! It was really, really fun. I get so very nervous about things like that because my friends and family can tell you what a total utter wally I am when I have to stand up and talk in front of people. Quel nightmare. It's like, remember that Jodie Foster movie Nell? That's me. They pull me out of my happy place/(living room)/[the backwoods] and I creep out, wringing my hands and speaking my own private gobbledygook language that only my dogs and cats understand. Well, the cats don't really understand. The dog understands, and she had to stay home.
Anyway, though I worry so much about speaking in public, every time I do do it, it naturally turns out to be just fine, if not a total blast, and I had a great time seeing old friends and meeting so many new ones. It was really so special to me to see you all. Thank you ever so much for coming out to celebrate with us. I was so honored to be there, at that awesome store, where I've spent so many happy hours. It was all just so nice.
If you couldn't make it out, Powell's has lots of signed copies available! I'll be doing a couple more events in the Northwest, and I'll keep updating the sidebar with that information, too.
Today I am in serious need of a catch-up! What an exciting week. The house is trashed. I was going to replace the buttons on my sweater at the last minute last night, so I dumped an entire one-gallon pickle jar of buttons onto my already-covered-with other-stuff work table, looking for three 1" matching reds before I decided I was crazy and only had seven minutes before I needed to leave the house, so I took off, and those buttons are still all over the place, including the floor. There are newspapers, dead leaves, junk mail, and dog hairs upon every surface. We have nothing to eat, and mountains of laundry. But it's a beautiful sunny day, and I think I'm going to leave it all and go outside and play. I hope you have a great day, too. xo
My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at aliciapaulson.com
Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.