Posts filed in: November 2011

Twilit

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Sky2

The edge of the roof and the sunset sky. I started my quilt yesterday. Log cabin. It's kind of a stash thing. I went through my cabinet and pulled out all the little folded up pieces of fabric that I liked. All different colors. Some from a lot of the things I've made in the past few years. There were probably twenty or twenty-five different fabrics. Then I cut a 2" strip from each, selvedge to selvedge. Then I threw them all in a big pile next to the sewing machine. Then I cut a stack of 3" squares for the center of each block, or the "hearths." (The "logs" get piled around the "hearth" in each block.) My style is to pick up strips randomly and just go. Haphazard, slap-it-together, as if I worry I'll get distracted and forget to finish it at all if I proceed with anything other than speed and reckless abandon. Quilts — all quilts, even little quilts — seem bigger than my attention span. I completed twelve blocks by late afternoon. I measured the back of the sofa and I need forty-eight blocks, total. It'll be, like, 60" by 80" or something. I think purchased throw blankets are always too small. I don't like elbows and toes poking out. Plus the doggie hogs half of the thing. (I have told you that our dog is seriously quilt-obsessed? Not kidding. It's almost weird. A quilt comes out and no matter where she is in the house she comes running and hurls herself toward it. I should find all of the pictures I've taken of her on quilts. It's really funny to see her expression once she is snuggled on a quilt. It's almost accusatory, like, "Why have you been keeping my quilt away from me all my life?")

Inside, just around dinnertime, I noticed that the light in the house had changed. Everything was pink. I ran outside. Sunsets are rare. Too many trees and hills and houses around to see them. Winter sunsets are really rare. Too overcast. But not last night. The rare sky was the exact color of all of my hearth blocks. How cool is that. I was really, really pleased.

I want to make the background on my quilt winter white. That's probably a bad idea (black dog/muddy dog) but I don't care. The other colors in it are grays and blues and aquas and mustard, and black gingham, and some pale pink and navy and dark brown, and I guess there is a bit of red maybe. Winter colors. Maybe there's some honey gold in there, too. Can't even remember.

Sometimes when I see people at the fabric store fussing carefully over their fabric choices when making a quilt, I wonder what it would be like to be them. There's something very touching about it. I feel moved whenever I see someone doing that. Trying so hard to get it — this little thing — right.

Winterthings

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Making oatmeal. Watching movies. Cutting strips for a quilt. Looking at my photos from four trips across the country. Talking to my friends, and not talking so much. Getting back to work. I put all of the ornament kits back in my web shop, though they're almost sold out. Collecting wintry essential oils. Clove bud, sweet orange, cedarwood, rosemary. Reading Middlemarch. Working on my fire-building skills. I think I am getting better at keeping the fire going nicely. Filling bird feeders. And one for the squirrels. Quiet, silver days.

Winter Busy

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There is pale morning light in the living room. There was fog this morning. It settled into a lovely, wispy frostcloud on top of the yard's fallen red leaves. A flock of fat birds were busy in our plum tree. For long minutes I watched them from the back door, then off they flew: On to the next stop. It's Andy's first day back at work in over a month. The dog and I console each other — she hates it when he's not here, and so do I. I plan a long walk arond the neighborhood to cheer her up. She sleeps beside me now, front paws curled under, tongue just barely peeking out. Sweet, warm, gentle friend.

Our weekend was quiet and peaceful. In all honesty, I had kind of forgotten that the holidays are starting! We had a beautiful Thanksgiving at my sister's on Thursday. We started and finished our Christmas shopping on Friday. On Saturday — egads, I already forgot what we did on Saturday. Oh yeah — we decorated the house for the holidays. On Sunday afternoon we made candles together. That was really fun. Very, very fun. We made Mexican hot chocolate. We made turkey tetrazzini. I have plans for a new throw quilt because it's cold in here. Something very improvised; I have no aptitude for forethought. I'm making a scarf to go with my new coat. I knit about a hundred rows of garter stitch in fingering-weight wool, and I'm not even done with the garter-stitch part. Even that sentence is mind-numbing. Busy hands, happy heart, as they say. Over and over again that proves true in my life. I am so grateful for my crafts.

Thank you, most sincerely, for every word you have given us these past many days as we get reorganized. I really am so overwhelmed by the comments and emails I continued to receive through the weekend. I don't even know how to begin to respond. Please know that we have been touched by your kindness more than I can ever say, and I am especially grateful for all of the love you have sent out into the universe for the baby and her family. Thank you very, very much. Your generosity has moved me to tears about fifty times in the past week. I'm really speechless about it. Thank you.

Morning Light

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Snow2Near Sandhills Road, Towner, North Dakota; 8:14 a.m., November 17, 2011.

I honestly don't have words to thank every single one of you who has left the sound of your voice (and a piece of your heart) here the past two days (and the past few months, and always). Thank you for your encouragement, your generosity, your frustration, your tears, your prayers for everyone, your endless kindness, and your love. Andy says thank you for telling us not to give up. We both read every single word you shared, and with each one we felt lighter and stronger and more free; we talked about it several times throughout the day, and stayed up in bed late last night talking. Thank you for being here, in this very moment. It is so good to be part of the world all together. Look how beautiful it is!

I have a lot of thoughts about everything but they are all tangled and jumbled around today. It is storming something fierce outside! I have a new coat. My neighbor's awnings are about to blow off. We need candles, and mushrooms, and black elderberry syrup. We have firewood. We have animals sitting on top of us every minute. The leaves will all come off the trees today. I'm back in my window seat by the fireplace, watching winter roll in, making some plans. I have coffee, I have people, I have love, and things to give. This ain't my first rodeo! Back on the horse.

Walk on, girl!

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Well, things fell apart.

The sweetest, most wonderful baby girl was born. We received a phone call telling us so just hours after she entered the world. The social worker said on the phone that the baby's mother was doing well. Incarcerated, she had given birth quickly and alone, with no one but the hospital staff and a prison guard at her side, as is mandated by the law. We had not been allowed to be present at the hospital or even know that the birth had happened until we received the social worker's call. When she finally called, we were instructed that, although we had permission to come to the hospital and spend time with the baby, we could not visit, talk to, or even see her mother. And all of this, with heavy hearts, we did already know.

We had met the baby's mother back in August, when a reader of this blog sent me an email and told me that a friend of hers who is an adoptive mother had received a letter from her daughter's birthmother that day. Her daughter's birthmother, who was in prison, was writing to say (among other things) that she had met a young woman there who was six months prgenant and looking for a loving home for her baby. The adoptive mother did not know of anyone personally, but that day she asked my blog reader, her good friend, whether she knew of anyone who was hoping to adopt, and the blog reader said yes, well . . . no . . . well, it's weird, I kind of know them: Andy and Alicia. I read their blog.

We wrote to the baby's mother immediately. A week later we received from her the most poignant and  beautiful letter I have ever seen, full of her hopes and dreams for her daughter. We wrote back and told her ours. The fit was perfect. Within weeks we were headed to the prison to meet her. In the gray visitors' room at the correctional center, she walked toward us with a shy smile. We fell in love with her immediately. I believe the feeling was mutual. We stayed for hours and hours. She didn't want us to leave. We didn't want to go.

Not allowed internet, email, or phone access, she corresponded with us on paper throughout the fall. The three of us wrote long letters that often crossed in the mail, each describing ourselves, our lives, and our ideas for the brightest possible future for this baby. She met with the social worker from the adoption agency as well as our attorney and formalized arrangements for us to adopt the baby at birth. She was studying constantly for her GED and had made careful plans for her own immediate future after her release, all aimed at helping her gain control of her life. Everyone who met her was deeply impressed with her. Her story was painful to hear. Her beauty, courage, and love for the baby brought me to tears daily. Throughout September and October, as I shipped ornament kits, shopped for cradle mattresses, and knit onesies, I cried almost every day. I vowed to her and to God that I would spend every day of the rest of my life being the kind of mother the babygirl, as we called her, deserved. I wanted to make every one of her birthmother's dreams for her come true, and I believed I could. Her dreams were simple, and broke my heart: Please read her bedtime stories. Please do her hair for her. Please let her go to sleep with a full tummy and happy thoughts at night, and when she wakes up I want her to know what kind of day she is going to have. I never had those things, and always wanted them, she said. She will have all of them, we said, she will have every one of those things. All of those things, and so many, millions, more.

That was how we came to be at the hospital the afternoon of the baby's birth, where we cried when we met her, held her in our arms for hours, then convinced a nurse with sweet-talk to hold the door to the baby's mother's room open while we walked by so that we could see her from the hallway on our way out for the night. The nurses had already heard all about us from her. "She says you're amazing people!" the nurse who was taking care of the baby's mother told us as we blushed happily. "I'm so, so happy for all of you!" She indicated that we should wait while she took the baby back into her mother's room for the evening. In one motion the nurse opened the door and signaled for us to walk past just then. The baby's mother sat up in bed to see us: Andy gave her a double-thumbs-up and a huge Andy-smile; I blew her kisses heavy with all the words I wasn't allowed to say. Her long hair fell down her back as she sat up, and she waved. The room was dark; only the light from the television flickered blue. I saw the prison guard sitting next to the bed. The huge door swung closed, and she was gone. We walked on, dazed. We texted the nurse, who had given us her personal cell-phone number, and asked her to tell the baby's mother that we loved her. She said she would, and asked us how to spell the name we had chosen for the baby so that her mother could put it on the birth certificate. She had wanted us to choose it ourselves. Her name is Maisie Alice, we said. And thank you. Thank her. Thank you thank you.

***

What we didn't realize was that unbeknownst to the baby's mother and to us, someone had been quietly working on a plan to derail this adoption. Our attorney called us the next morning as we were about to leave for the hospital and gave us the news that a putative birthfather had surfaced just hours before. As I listened to her voice come out of the speaker-phone, explaining, I felt as if I were falling backwards down a hole.

That same morning, the baby's mother was also getting ready to be discharged from the hospital. Though standard procedure dictates that the baby stay for forty-eight hours, incarcerated women are allowed to stay only one day. Twenty-four hours after giving birth, she was to be taken back to the correctional center and finish recovering there. An hour before she was about to leave, the social worker rushed in to give her the news that a putative father had come forward; if he was found to be the biological father, she explained, the adoption would not happen. The nurses and the social worker later reported to us that she became extremely upset. For several hours past the time she was supposed to leave, they worked to calm her. She changed the baby's name. She left the hospital. And the next morning we arrived to take the baby home. Well, first we took her to a shabby little drug-testing facility to have her cheek swabbed. And then we took her home.

For six days, as we waited for the results of the DNA test, we loved her with our whole hearts. We held her and kissed her and fed her and got up at night with her and changed her and stared at her and rocked her and laughed at all the funny things she did and sang to her and gave her everything we had to give in those moments. We almost never put her down. She curled into our bodies as if she meant to stay. She didn't cry unless her diaper was being changed, and sometimes not even then. She loved to be swaddled with her right arm out. She loved to be held. She loved to gnaw on her fingers. She laid on the bed and kicked her little legs and stared calmly up at the two bright windows. She played with the nipple of the bottle as she drank, flickering milk on her butterfly tongue just for fun, and looked into my eyes as if she thought it was all quite funny, this world outside the womb. Andy visited the baby's mother in prison. He stayed with her for several hours. We all continued to hold out hope that the adoption plan would be realized. Through each long day, we tried to distract ourselves by just loving the baby, and praying that we would get to be her parents.

But it was not to be. A week after her birth day, the DNA test finally came back and said no, she was not to be ours. When Andy read the results, I fell to the floor, sobbing. I had thought my heart was a fleshy, pulpy thing; I didn't know it was actually made out of blown glass. It shattered into a million pieces. I hoped that a tiny, painless shard flew into the babygirl's heart, and would be lodged there forever. I hoped that someday she would love snow, or horses, or mountains and not know why. I prayed for her to have a good life, filled with happiness, filled with love, filled with every thing, filled with every single good thing. We kissed her warm cheeks, and let her hold our big fingers in her tiny hands, and told her goodbye. Goodbye.

At our request, our attorney called the father first thing the next day, and asked him if he would be willing to surrender rights to the baby and place her into an open adoption with us. He said absolutely not. The social worker came to pick her up later that evening. I was shaking as Andy put her in the car. We watched them drive away, the social worker squinting in the darkness at her directions, and prayed for their safety on the road, prayed for her safety forever. We made immediate plans to leave Chicago, and took the Wednesday train back to Oregon. The trip is two days long. We got home Friday, where our warm house and our patient animals waited with worried eyes. We are home, we told them, we are here. We are here. It's okay. We are here.

***

I've been writing this post for two days now. I think about the baby and her mother all the time, almost every moment, still. I don't know exactly where the baby is right now, or where she will end up; we don't really have a right to know, anymore. She's in the system after all, just as her mother tried so desperately to avoid. There are many answers that I don't have; there are many complicated and private details that I've glossed over or left out of my telling of this story here. Some of them don't flatter the people who will now be in this baby's life, and I am choosing to think the best of them and their motivations in spite of everything.

With baited breath and so much hope our closest friends and family have waited out these long weeks with us, and they are here for us now, bringing flowers and food, kind notes, warm hugs and warm arms, words of hope and encouragement, and prayers for the baby and her mother. We are so blessed to have these people and the life we have. As we sat together in the lounge car of the train one more time, rolling across the snow-covered angelfields of North Dakota, we held hands and counted our own blessings, one by one by one. One of the great privileges of my life was getting to watch this person that I love more than anything on earth get to be a father for those eight days. If fatherhood were merit based, this guy would have a dozen kids. We got to be parents, and see each other as parents, and be seen by each other as parents, and we decided we were great at it. So now we know. It was a privilege to spend eight days with this exquisite baby girl; as soon as I saw her, I knew and loved her. To have finally gotten to meet her, to have been there on the day of her arrival on the planet after such a long, hard wait — that, too, has been one of the greatest gifts I've ever received. I also made her smile four times in a row on Saturday afternoon, just with the sound of my voice. We sat in the golden sunshine, alone in the house while Andy was at the prison, and she smiled at me four times. It was the most beautiful thing in the world. No one will ever be able to take that from me, or from her. I will never forget her, and she will be in my prayers every night, forever.

There were so many signs all along that this adoption was meant to be, things I rarely mentioned or even acknowledged, except to my secret heart. Each one that revealed itself pulled us further and further down this unlikely road, and made us feel like someone up there really wanted us to be this baby girl's parents in this world. We were outside of our adoption agency, outside of our familiar spaces, stretched beyond all certainties, and still, through all the risks and speculations and worries, we felt protected by a sense that it must all be happening for a reason. Now I wonder what that was all about. I can only decide that we were brought together for some reason, and perhaps that reason is to stay in the baby's mother's life, if she will have us. That remains to be seen. But there was so much friendship that lay ahead for us, I was sure of it. We love her, and of all of us I think I feel most broken-hearted for her: She doesn't get anything the way she wanted it. Alone she carried this baby, and alone she loved her enough to want a better life for her than the one she herself had, than the ones she could see unfolding around her. We did everything we could to try to make that happen, but neither she nor we can change things now. I will write to her tomorrow. I will wait for a letter from her.

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Day at Brookfield Zoo

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Our childhood zoo. My first time back in twenty years! The same and different, like everything. I miss our animals so, so much.

Day in Downers Grove

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On Friday we went to Downers Grove to buy some yarn so I wouldn't go cray-cray when I run out of what I brought.

Sunset

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11/2/11

'Burb Days Daze

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There's an incredible storm going on outside. Rain and wind are whipping the trees in every direction. I'm inside, next to the fireplace, listening to the clock, to the mad wind, to the rain whooshing through and rapping the windows like a gravel shower. It's the strangest thing, to have these strange, quiet days, so far from our usual places, people, pets, work, and activities. Part of me is kind of enjoying it, part of me is seriously antsy. Thank goodness we're with family. When Andy's parents are at work, we don't know quite what to do with ourselves, and yet, we don't really want to do much. Yesterday we had the laziest day we've probably ever spent in our entire lives. We're car-less, far from anything we can walk or bike to, and have no wish to roam, anyway. I'd shipped all the baby stuff ahead of time, so we didn't take much with us when we left Portland — a bit of knitting, a couple of books. Yesterday afternoon we took a walk around the neighborhood here. This is a gated 55-and-older community neighborhood, very nice; we get stares and howdies when we go out. I saw a guy riding a Hoveround with a little white dog sitting at his feet on it, nice as pie. (I just asked Andy how to spell Hoveround and he cracked up.) Around three or four o'clock we were sitting in the grass by the lake and a string of cars began driving away from the clubhouse. Andy: "Bingo must have just let out!" I say I love Bingo, and wonder if they'll let me play. Andy amuses me constantly by doing spot-on impressions of his parents' cat. I made dinner for everyone — pastitsio and salad; I dragged the cooking out all day. The stove was a gas stove, and awesome (ours in Portland is electric). We wrote letters. We put fake UFOs into our iPhone photos. (There's an app.) We texted people. We watched TV. We watched Happy Feet. We played Wii. We each spent about an hour designing our Miis, changing face shapes, eyebrows, glasses, noses. An hour! hee hee :-) It might have been longer than that. My sense of time is inaccurate. I'm not totally sure what day of the week it is, either.

I have my big black camera with me but I forgot the USB cable that connects it to the computer. I spent an hour figuring out how to pop out the memory card and put it into the computer so I could get the old pictures off, which is how I found the picture of the house that I had taken and forgotten. It looks different than it did when we lived there. The new owners have made some unfortunate changes, in my opinion. I don't know what's going on with the windows, for instance. I don't understand why the window trim is brown. It should be white. They took out all of the original leaded windows and replaced them with what looks like vinyl or fiberglass. They also paved the driveway, which was always gravel with a path of dandelions and grass down the center, I think. In some ways, though, it's exactly the same. That's probably why it's confusing.

Today we're going to Menard's with Andy's dad to get rock salt for the water softener. Field trip!!!!!

Our House

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My childhood home. Taken from where I sat in the park on September 7, 2011.

(Just found it on my camera!)

Thank you so so so so so much for all of your comments on the last post. Thank you so much for all of the kind things you say here every single day. Thank you. xoxo

Still waiting! :-)

About Alicia Paulson

About

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

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Photography

Photography

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.