A Happy Birthday

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The  most marvelous Andy Paulson had a birthday this week and we celebrated in style, picnicking at the creek and playing in the woods. A crow flew off with Amelia's entire sandwich — an untouched 6" turkey sub — right off the picnic table while we were down at the water's edge. It was actually kind of amazing to watch. He stalked it, then he took it. I was amazed that he was able to carry it. Amelia and I baked Andy a cake and decorated it when we got home. She picked everything, the colors and style and the decorations, and I just helped. We used my go-to birthday cake recipe (it's the best chocolate cake in the world, I think, if you need one) with plain buttercream frosting. Andy laid on the chaise lounge out back and read his book while we shouted hints out the back door toward him about what we were doing. "Oh, this looks good!" "Yeah! And we hope you like things that are green!" "We hope you like things that are pink!" "We hope you like things that are LURID!" He said he did, on all counts, so we carried out our plan fearlessly. Neon frosting, geranium flowers, rose petals, giant sprinkles, traffic-cone-orange powdered food coloring, and lots of blobs. I think it's one of our best ever, myself, and it was by far the most fun. Happy birthday to you, my darling, darling husband. I love you beyond words and am so thankful every day that you were born.

Thank you so much for all of your gentle and generous and thoughtful comments on my last post. I've been thinking about it all a lot and just kind of . . . absorbing, I guess. I was particularly touched by the people who said something like "well, of course you want to know these things — that's what we, as people, do." In reading those comments it struck me how, even in writing what I had written and sort of saying "oh, well, I'm not sure why this matters" in it, I was still on some level denying myself permission to be doing it. The looking. Or rather, I was trying to keep myself from feeling the need I felt to know, as if I wasn't really allowed to have feelings about it. But I think  I am. And I think that's something unexpected that I've gained from this experience: I'm just letting myself go there, and feel whatever it is I'm going to feel, or not feel, about it all. I'm encouraging myself just to be . . . human. Knowing names and dates and places doesn't necessarily answer the important questions. But maybe it is a start. It may also be the only part of the story I ever find. I don't know. I don't know yet.

Coincidentally, I started reading Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser (which just won a Pulitzer for biography) several weeks ago and was struck by this:

Discovering how Charles Ingalls and his family came to find themselves a few miles from the shores of Lake Pepin, just a few years after Pepin County was first marked on a map, is a detective story tracking generations into the past. Pieces of the family portrait survive, but the whole remains elusive, obscured under the soot of time. It may never be complete.

That is always a problem, in writing about poor people. The powerful, the rich and influential, tend to have a healthy sense of their self-importance. They keep things: letters, portraits, and key documents. . . . 

But the Ingallses were not people of power or wealth. Generation after generation, they traveled light, leaving things behind. Looking for their ancestry is like looking through a glass darkly, images flickering in obscurity. As far as we can tell, from the moment they arrived on this continent they were poor, restless, struggling, constantly moving from one place to another in an attempt to find greater security from hunger and want. And as they moved, the traces of their existence were scattered and lost. Sometime their lives vanish from view, as if in a puff of smoke.

So as we look back across the ages, trying to find what made Laura's parents who they were, imagine that we're on a prairie in a storm. The wind is whipping past and everything is obscured. But there are the occasional bright, blinding moments that illuminate a face here and there. Sometimes we hear a voice, a song snatched out of the air.

That said, this book is so depressing, I must confess. A lot of it is about Rose, of whom I knew nothing, and now I sort of wish I knew less. (I haven't even read all of the Little House books themselves, but Mimi is super into the junior versions of them right now, so there has been a lot of prairie talk around here lately.) I'm on page 347 of 515 of Fires and although I don't like it very much I can't seem to actually stop reading it. But when I do finish it I plan to read something utterly trite, so please feel free to recommend all manner of beach-reads because I'm all over it.

Andy made bangers and mash with brats for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding, and Mimi and I finally did wind up making the rhubarb pie. If I could pick my wedding dress over again I'm pretty sure I'd pick this one:

PrincessCarolinePhilippeJunotWedding2

Princess Caroline's in 1978 (I think). From the pictures it almost looks like it has a gathered — like, elastic! — waist. I would totally do my hair like that, too.

Some of my new labels for stitch markers, lotion bars, and yarn should be starting to be delivered this week. I'm ridiculously excited to see them, and to launch these new things I've been working on for what feels like forever now. Andy and I drove out to pick up my very first wholesale order of bare yarn a few weeks ago, and I've been dyeing it little by little when I have time. I will tell you more about it as soon as I get myself organized enough. I went to a really fascinating lecture the other night about the state of the wool industry and our place in it given by Clara Parkes. I learned so much and I have so many more questions. There is so much more I want to know. I feel like I'm at the very beginning of a whole new phase of my creative life, and it is quite thrilling. And a bit overwhelming, honestly.

I also have finished stitching my next cross-stitch design, the third in my little series of seasonal pieces this year. This one is called "Summer Storm" (at least, that's what I'm calling it so far) and if I can collect myself enough to take some pretty pictures of it in the next week or so, we'll open pre-orders sometime in June. If you're not finished with Time of Flowers, don't worry — it will be several weeks before the fabric arrives and we have time to pull floss, etc. But still, I want to mention it because yes, there are two more in this seasonal series, this summer one and then one I'll do for the fall. And because the Time of Flowers fabric has been discontinued, we will probably do around five hundred of these next two and then call it good, and I don't want you to miss out.

I'm almost done with my Flax Light sweater I'm making for Mimi, and I've started a knitted dress for her that kind of looks like Selekjolen by Hoppestrikk. I wasn't able to find the pattern for it, and then when I did find it it was in Danish. I bought it, hoping to figure it out, but instead I just kind of started winging it. When I tried it on Mimi she told me she liked it while at the same time ripping it off her body as if it was on fire so, might not be worth starting over. . . . This is how kid-knitting is lately. I knew this day would come.

62 comments

Cynthia Potts says: June 01, 2018 at 08:11 AM

If you are interested in Egypt and the discovery of King Tuts tomb from the perspective of a young girl read "The Visitors" by Sally Beauman. Historical fiction at its best!

Happy birthday, Andy! I love that pic of him grinning at Mimi in front of his cake. You can tell that daddy is smitten. :D I can't believe the nerve of that crow to steal Meem's sammy. Rude!

I know I am not alone when I say, "I CANNOT WAIT FOR YOUR YARN LINE!!!!" Very much looking forward to seeing it!

S Molinari says: June 01, 2018 at 09:37 AM

I love your dyed yarn! You have a knack! Would love to hear about your process!
I haven’t read the biography, but let’s face it, Laura Ingall’s story is depressing. The TV version was always good for a cry and so were the books. Their life was hard and they lived through one adversity after another. That said, Laura made the stories a beautiful read. Triump over adversity. Love over fear. A good lesson for all of us when life isn’t perfect.

Christine says: June 01, 2018 at 01:02 PM

Thank you for this wonderful post. I always love your photos and whatever you write so much. I just started reading the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths. It isn't trite but they are good mysteries and I think reading a series is pretty comforting.

Happy Birthday Andy! The cake lookings smashing and so much fun to decorate.

I know exactly what you mean about 'Prarie Fires' — left me feeling a bit icky. Something, I couldn't quite put my finger on it, was just -off- in the tenor ...

Books I finished recently that I just loved include 'The Boy From Tomorrow' which is about a pair of 12-year-olds who live in the same house 100 years apart. Despite this impediment, they become friends. Wonderful book. .... and then, 'Tomorrow Will Be Different', excellent (and very sad in parts) memoir of a young, trans, social justice advocate. Definitely recommended.

Swooning over your knitting and that flowery dress underneath it.

I'm reading "The Late Scholar" by Jill Patton Walsh and enjoying it! Set in Oxford, it continues the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries.

Spike Selby says: June 01, 2018 at 03:39 PM

I too am reading Prairie Fires, I've checked it out of the library twice, and it will probably go back again unfinished only to be placed on my hold list for another round... I can't quite seem to get through it but will keep trying! Ms. Fraser is quite contemptuous of poor Rose, who seems to really be suffering from depression... on the whole it's a sad read but still fascinating.

Happy Birthday to dear Andy! Looks like he had the most pleasant and very charming birthday.

If I had to pick a royal wedding dress, it would be Grace Kelly's :)

That rhubarb cake looks amazing!!!

Susan R. says: June 02, 2018 at 04:26 AM

Love that pic of Amelia standing by the birthday cake - so proud with frosting on her chin! Happy Birthday Andy and sounds like a wonderful day! Can't wait to see your newest x-stitch, your yarn, etc. I don't know how you get everything accomplished! I'd like to do my DNA one day because I never knew much about my small family and I wish I did. My mom was a single mom and talked very little about the war in Germany. Never met my "dad" until I was in my early 30's (they were never married). We still keep in touch, but it's not been much of a relationship really. So many "puzzle pieces" that are missing with my family history. I've always envied people that had big families and knew their history. I love how you inspire so many of us and share so many things!

Re: tracing the history of poor people--my best friend growing up (Jesse--she's still my best friend) is the descendant of very wealthy British people who can trace their lineage back many generations. (I used to be fascinated by the ENORMOUS framed family tree in her parents' basement.) I would frequently go with her to her grandmother's house and from a young age (9 or 10) would be BLOWN AWAY by the sheer volume of family photographs and portraits all over the house, including painted portraits from the early 1800s of her great great great great whoevers above one of the fireplaces. It wasn't until I was much older that I realized that my family didn't have a visual history of any kind because documenting life is EXPENSIVE, and I am a descendant of some SERIOUSLY poor people on both sides. It's only in recent years that photos have become "cheap." Even still, film is expensive and so is developing it if you're poor. Flip phones are "cheap" but their cameras aren't great; iPhones are expensive, and even if you have one, printing photos is expensive and frivolous if you don't have money. It really is true that the poorer you are, the more invisible you are, and the faster you become invisible as the future becomes present because, odds are, there's not much of a record of you. I feel the presence of all of my ancestors around me whenever I'm in Jesse's grandmother's house: "You'll never see what we looked like or even know our names, but we were here too at the same time as them." (Sorry for how long this is. Loved your party pix. Also, that crow would fit in PERFECTLY at the Jersey shore where the average seagull can easily carry away a roasted turkey if you just left it there on the sand. Wish I was joking :)

anothermom says: June 02, 2018 at 08:20 AM

Your BLOG has been an inspiration to me for quite some time. Your post about secrets, family history and adoption touches my heart. I've learned of many secrets in my family's history that could easily trouble my soul, but instead I try to use my knowledge of them to make things better for this generation and the ones to follow, as you have with your dear daughter's open adoption. We cannot change the past, but we can learn from it and try wherever possible to use it to carve a better present and future for those around us.

First, happy birthday to your awesome hubby! Second, your description of kid knitting at this stage brings back so many memories of my own childhood - nearly every single weekly visit to my grandmother involved standing still on a stool as she fitted various pieces of knit sweaters to my body. She always knit them in pieces and then sewed them up. Perhaps patterns weren’t available yet for knitting them in one piece? I remember they were always itchy and I never liked wearing them. So sad. My knitter-self now grieves for her over my lack of enthusiasm. However, my mother kept every sweater and my own little girl now wears them all with more joy than I ever felt. Probably because she was spared the endless times of standing still while being measured! Book recommendations: Her Royal Spyness series by Rhys Bowen. Also, for super light and fun, The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter series by Susan Wittig Albert.

Happy birthday to Andy! I'm sure he loved his cake, made with so much love along with the green and pink.

I'm a big Little House on the Prairie fan and read all the books several times when I was young, but I'm going to pass on this Fires book. I read through some of the reviews on amazon, and there are a LOT of bad ones.

xoxo
Melanie

Happy Birthday ANDY, (fellow nurse too). I love the Birthday cake, all the colors...so cool. I have to bake a birthday cake for my daughter today, she turns 33 this week...what?
I started Prairie Fires and found it so negative and depressing, I put it down and have little desire to pick it up again. It is the first book about Laura Ingalls I really disliked and I have been reading her books since I was in 3rd grade, (that's a long time ago).
Happy Spring! Love your blog!

Terrific cake you two! Happy Belated B-day dear Andy!

My, oh my, you have been busy! Such lovely pots of yarn taking in the pretty dyes. I love the yarns I purchased from you and am still think how best to use them all. I love looking at them!

I understand the feelings you're having about it feeling like a long time getting this and that ready for the shop. I too have been working at building up an inventory of items for my Etsy shop. How does one know when there is "enough"? Help! I think I'm either scared nothing will sell or maybe it's my total lack of confidence.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing the new release of "Summer Storm". The name brings back fond memories of being a little kid growing up in Michigan and the summer storms having the windows open and feeling the cool breeze & rain drops.
All the very best to each precious Paulson!

Happy belated birthday to your husband! Awesome cake!! Love Amelia's dress, did you made it? Thanks for the recipe, love when you share recipes. Sounds like an interesting book.

Hi Alicia. I made a skirt from the same organic cotton fabric you're wearing in your circular knitting photo. It's so light and lovely. I love wearing it. Did you make your skirt?

I really like all the new ventures you're creating for your readers. I bought your Maggie rabbit kit so I know the quality you're providing. Good luck with all you're doing.

Happy birthday Andy. I hope you had a great day.

Stunning, beautiful post.

Nicki Machin says: June 03, 2018 at 05:26 AM

I'm glad Andy had the happiest of birthdays, you Paulson's do do birthdays very well. The cake was a triumph and Amelia looks super pleased with herself and her creation in that photo!

Hi Alica, I too read Prairie Fires and gave up at page 398. I found it a difficult read. I guess that life was hard then and it is just telling it how it was. I do wonder if Rose was bi-polar as she went from mania to depression and back, quite regularly. The accounts of the dust bowl era and the great depression were sad too. Even though the world is not great now, I guess we just have to keep trying to make things better in our own worlds as that is all we can do. But in the meantime, reading is great escape and my top author for that when I can get hold of new titles from the library, is Elin Hilderbrand who writes novels set on Nantucket. I also love Jo Jo Moyes. Silver Bay was one of my faves of hers. When I can brace myself, I do intend to plough on with PF but not just at the moment....

Laura Nelson says: June 03, 2018 at 11:03 AM

that look on Andy's face gazing at mimis face just says it all. The strongest most wonderful thing in the whole is a dad who is a great father. I would be a different person, would have made better choices in my life if my father had been an Andy Paulsen. My father never once touched me in kindness as a child Ah well, wish in one hand..spit in the other.
I adored Little house books, fav was on the banks of Plum Creek.
How freaking awesome you got to hear Clara talk. Shes from here!!! Maine is very rich in fiber and fiber lore!
I really like that lil knitted dress you are making. Why are there so many ends? There are alot of really good books that were written in the late seventies and eighties. You may have read them already but they are just juicy enough to keep you glued in but you can wrench yourself away to look at kids playing. The Thornbirds, Sidney Sheldons books, The Prince of Tides, QB7, The Boys from Brazil...lots

I love everything about this post- most of all the love that’s poured out on Andy on his birthday and every day. Followed, in close second place, is that tub of yarn being dyed 😘😂

Happy Birthday, love your blog hope you had a beautiful day. I have one question, what color gray was used in your kitchen. I am searching for one that doesn't appear blue. Thank you.

"Ripping it off her body as if it were on fire" made me laugh. Raised eyebrows and a look of disbelief is my teens' version these days. I had a very brief 2 1/2 years of guiding my daughter's fashion and don't really regret it as she developed her own identity with confidence. For light reading, I just blasted through several Jojo Moyes' books from the library - entertaining and ask nothing of you. Thanks for you lovely images - each a reminder for me to pause and look at the beauty around me (like Alicia!)

Susan Abbott says: June 04, 2018 at 11:48 AM

Hello from Champaign, IL. Thanks for all of your lovely posts - I always look forward to them! My question is did you make the floral skirt pictured in this post? It is the photo with your knitting in your lap. I love it and it is exactly the kind of thing I like to wear in the summer and would like to make a couple if possible.

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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

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.