Posts filed in: May 2018

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:

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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.

Shine Bright

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I had such a wonderful Mothers' Day weekend. It was filled with sweetness and food and family and fun. Amelia's birthparents and -grandparents and -siblings were all here on Saturday and it was such a perfect day. On Sunday we went to brunch with my mom and sisters and brother-in-law and nephew and had a great time. It was alternately busy and relaxing, and included lots of pampering and lots of playing and, best of all, lots of snuggling with my baby girl, who's no longer a baby but still loves to cuddle and have her back rubbed and hold my hand and give me Eskimo kisses and look into my eyes to see what color they are. I return every gesture in kind, a thousandfold, and thank the heavens above for giving me the gift of her life and love. She is the sweetest, most darlingest, most lovable, lunatic of a creature and oh I love her so much!

Life with a five-and-a-half-year-old is filled with the usual prosaic sort of chaos. There is constant climbing on everything, falling off of everything, interrupting you talking to them with some random completely bizarre talk of their own [indicating they're actually not listening to you whatsoever], playing "kitty" with totally realistic and seriously terrifying meows, refusing to sit on those automatic-flushing toilets in restaurants or stores [I hate those things!!!], climbing trees that are too small, climbing trees that are too big. Always running or otherwise crashing through every place. The other morning I was about to get in the shower and I asked Mimi if she wanted to get in. She likes to shower at the pool but she's only ever taken one shower at home, preferring the bathtub here. But this time she said yes. We have one of those corner, capsule-like showers upstairs; it's a standing shower but also has a little cedar bench for me to sit on. So I'm sitting on my bench and holding the doors open for Amelia to come in. She's standing outside the shower trying to decide if she wants to, sticking her hand into the water and yanking it back while I am saying with, admittedly, some urgency in my voice, "Come in if you want to. Water's getting all over the floor." Shower doors still open. Her standing there, reaching vaguely toward the water with her toe. Then her hand. Then her toe. Hand. Me: "Do you not want to?" Her: "No, I want to!" Me: "Okay, well, decide, so I can shut the doors either way," and as I'm saying this she apparently decides she doesn't want to and instead turns quickly on her heel and starts to tear out of the bathroom, only to wipe out on the wet floor and face-plant into the wastepaper basket and the dog's water dish. Wailing. Tangle of arms and legs. Bathmat bunched. I come lumbering quickly (oxymoron) out of (still running) shower, dripping more water everywhere, to help her up. She stops crying abruptly, apparently having remembered something else she wants to do. Exits. I climb back into shower and sit down and crank the water up, almost as hot as it will go, face in hands, steaming water streaming blissfully and finally over my head. Thinking: "God. It's only 6:32." This, and things like this, all. day. long.

Other moments, reading together, snuggling together, her sweet drawings and her forty-five stuffed animals (I protest), her singing to herself and talking to herself in the sweetest voice, her good nature and her easy smile, her smushing my face so hard to her own face that I can't breathe, her spontaneous hugs, her head against my chest, her "shop" in the window of my studio where she sells 6" pieces of yarn, her trying to write words, her love of Dairy Queens [sic], her portraits with big earrings and big smiles, her outfits (for Blue Day, White Day, Pink Day, Pick-Out Day), and her spiderwebs of yarn/embroidery floss/tape measures wound between table legs and drawer pulls. All of this sweetness. It's everything, everything to me.

I didn't bake any pies for Birthmother's Day. I wanted to, and had wanted to get up early and go to New Seasons (grocery store) all by myself and get ingredients and bake them that morning. But instead the pies you see above were baked by New Seasons bakery. I was too tired to make them because I wound up staying up late the night before, having finally, after about a year of searching, found my dad's birthparents — or at least the two people who I am pretty much 100% sure were his birthparents — on Ancestry.com. It was a total coincidence that I found them in the very early morning hours of Birthmother's Day (which is, if you weren't sure, the day before Mother's Day), but I had gotten a few very important DNA matches with close relatives on Ancestry within just the past couple of weeks and I knew I was close to figuring it out. When I did, when that last puzzle piece in the form of a marriage certificate between the two families whose names just kept showing up in my ghostly family tree, I actually got lightheaded. It was late at night and I was in bed in the dark, looking at my iPad, and I swear I literally heard something in the universe go click.

Sophie. Veronica. Manda. Anna. These are the names of my father's birthmother and -grandmothers and -great-grandmother that neither I nor he (he passed away in 2000) ever knew existed. Well, surely I knew they had existed — somewhere in my rational mind I knew that someone must have existed. But really, more frequently, I felt like maybe I had (mostly) fallen straight out of the sky. Until last year, I only knew one-quarter part of even just my biological ethnicity. My dad's was entirely unknown, and my mom's mother's was unknown. Or rather, we thought we knew, based on names (Lucile DuMont sounds French, doesn't it?) and legends (Italian, Italian, Italian). But we were wrong. I'm Croatian and Polish on both my mom's side and my dad's biological sides, with 1/8 English from my mom's half-English (not French) mother.

It's hard for me to explain why any of it even matters. I mean, I honestly don't exactly know why it matters now. Most of the time I'm not thinking about it. I'm living my life in the present moment, chasing my little butterfly as she zooms around on her scooter and brings me dandelion bouquets eight times a day and nose-dives into the dog bowl. But I always wanted to know how I got here. How we got here. I was always interested in history. I was always interested in geography. I was always interested in peoples' stories, and I always felt like I didn't truly know any of my own.

It goes deeper than that, though. In researching my family's history, in discovering just how many people in how many different families on how many different sides and for how many generations were keeping secrets, I can see that the legacy of . . . confusion . . . sadness . . . loss . . . insecurity . . . and even anxiety . . . around these mysteries runs deep, and also lasts for generations. It has certainly affected my family, and my sisters and me, in ways I'm only beginning to attribute. Eight years ago when Andy and I began the process of becoming parents by adoption, we always knew that in the best-possible-case scenario we wanted a local, open adoption, and we are lucky enough to have that. I don't talk about it that much because it involves so many other people, and their stories just are not mine to tell. But every single part of it, even the hardest parts and the hardest days, has been a total blessing (even in the days before Amelia when, oh trust me!, it didn't seem that way at all). I think, in life, you can try to mitigate the losses and maximize the gains. And what we have all — Andy and I, and our families, and Amelia's birthfamilies — gained from loving Amelia and loving each other is so profound it still regularly brings me to tears of gratitude and joy. How lucky we all are to be in this together! I think it's pure magic.

I obviously cannot and would never presume to speak for any other adoption experience or decision. People have very strong feelings about these things and I have the absolute, utmost respect and deep reverence for that. But I'm just telling you how I feel, and how it's been for me (and Andy), and how Amelia's birthfamily tell us it is for them. We'll always encourage Amelia to express how it is for her, especially as she gets older and is better able to articulate her thoughts for herself. All of us want so badly to be the best moms (and dads, and grandparents, etc.) we possibly can be. And for me, that effort is starting to include truly examining my own feelings about my own growing-up in a cloud of secrecy. Finding real names of real people who lived and breathed and gave life to the people who gave me life is an effort to peel back some of those layers, and let in the light. So that I can shine bright for my beautiful baby girl.

May Days

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It's a cold and chilly day today, and I love that. This morning Amelia and I were up before dawn. We started the coffee and then sat out on the back porch and listened to that one bird who always seems to sing the loudest. Actually, he sort of is the only bird within hearing distance. Way far off we can here other lone birds singing the same sky-lightening song. Amelia lay, wrapped in her comforter, looking up at the sky. I sat and drank coffee and watched the silhouettes soften into colors. I relished the quiet, save for the bird song. These days our property is drowning in noise from two major construction projects going on separately at each of our closest neighbors' houses. It's literally been almost enough to drive me out of my mind. The noise is shockingly loud and maddeningly constant. And I mean constant. They seem to howl in stereo. Or actually more like call and response. East-side starts, then stops. West-side starts, then stops. East-side starts. West-side starts. Guys talking on one side of the fence. A radio coming from the other side of the other fence. Passive-aggressive construction-dude conversation with new roofer guy: "Okay [skeptically]. If that's what you want to do. . . . Which [incredulous] one do you want? But that's gonna . . . uh . . . o-kay [majorly skeptically]." They all seem like nice-enough guys but uuuuugh. Shush. We can barely hear ourselves in the house. Nail guns. Power saws. Hammers. Compressors. Giant machine noises. Nail gun, nail gun, nail gun. Nail gun nail gun. Power sawing. More power sawing. Fourteen nail guns in a row. Are you annoyed yet? Welcome to our house! It's hard for me to think, I apologize. It's all been going on for weeks and it will be going on for many more weeks.

Inside it's really not that much better. Everything's fuzzy around the edges and needs a good cleaning. Dog hair, dead flower petals, sticks, dead bees. Puzzle pieces, dirty boots, a couch that looks slumped and weary. Andy went back to work today after having two weeks off and I confess to breathing a sigh of relief. When I'm alone in the house I go into a weird, efficient cleaning trance, wiping down crumby counters, sweeping dirty floors, picking up every last ponytail, straightening pictures, dusting surfaces, secretly tossing the kid-drawings that just don't make the save-cut. The list of chores I made went to the second side of the paper. Maybe it's not as bad as I think. I don't know. It does bring me a sense of accomplishment and peace to check things off the list, I must say. It doesn't take much to get it all to a good place but it does take some, and when there are a lot of people in the house I feel like I can't do it. I have a much lower tolerance for disorder than my family. But things are coming together!

Birthmother's Day is Saturday and we are having a party here, so I'm baking pies. I'm thinking coconut cream and banana. Maybe rhubarb if I can still find it in the grocery store. Or maybe chocolate cream? I would love to do one of those super fancy pie crust things that you seen on Pinterest all the time, with the cut-outs and the flowers, etc. Isn't this one so pretty?

I have things I want to write about but I think I'll be able to write more next week, when it'll hopefully be just a bit more quiet. Wishing you all a very happy weekend with lots of love and peace in every way. XOXO

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.