Posts filed in: Crocheting and Knitting

Not Much

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Doing not much. Knitting and knitting and knitting. I have so many chores I should be getting to but . . . it's January. I just want to knit. So I am. And trying not to feel guilty about that. I'll catch up (won't I?) in February. . . .

Cinnamon rolls from Scandikitchen Fika and Hygge cookbook :: Sweet little baby Mimi :: Shawl is My Shetland Adventure pattern in Sunday Knits Angelic fingering in aqua :: Breakfast with my loves at our favorite, Besaw's :: Illustrations from My First Little House Books (which I like as much if not more than the original novels) Going West and Sugar Snow :: Andy and Mimi at the store right now getting ingredients for chicken soup tonight, as we all try to stay healthy :: Ranunculus sweater yoke in Arranmore Fine in progress :: Watched all of the first season of Victoria. Wow. So good!

Anyone watching or listening to good knitting podcasts? I am familiar with Woolful, The Gentle Knitter, and Kammebornia. Are there any others I should check out?

Happy New Year!

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Well, hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii! Hello. Happy New Year! I hope yours is starting out well. Lazy days turned into lazy weeks, here. It was glorious. It snowed. Things got cancelled. Things got rescheduled. Family came. Family went. The house got trashed. Movies were watched over and over. I knit and knit. Toys were played with. Books were read. Lots of treats were eaten. Lots of snuggling happened. Lots of days involved no driving whatsoever. Lots of mornings started incredibly late. Lots of baths got taken. Antidote to occasional intrusions of holiday stress: hours of mind-tranquilizing tasks. Like knitting row upon row upon row of stockinette stitch. Winding about a hundred skeins of embroidery floss onto tiny plastic bobbins and arranging them by color into boxes (a job that has needed doing for YEARS now). Cross stitching, ripping out, stitching again. Middle age descends: here's me, sitting in my cozy corner under a comforter doing these things while wearing a new flannel nightgown and watching Just in Time for Christmas. My happy place. I think I was purring. Ohhhhh, you know. It was lovely. I needed it. We all did. I hope your holidays were just as wonderful.

I blocked and put buttons on my Ellen Cardigan (still have yet to put it on Ravelry, sorry) and oh, how I love that thing. I'm really proud of it. It's the third or fourth sweater I've knit for myself and the first one that's ever fit me perfectly. As I mentioned before, I followed the colors of the original pattern exactly, and I made no modifications to the knitting (size 48). I loooooove it. I immediately started  another one based on the exact same sweater pattern, but changing the yoke design. For a while now I've been wanting to make the Ryðrauð sweater but I was nervous about doing any sweater from the bottom up, or, honestly, any sweater other than the Ellen (from now on, forever and ever) because I find it almost traumatizing to make sweaters for myself that don't fit. As I said, I've only made a handful for myself but, if I'm honest, there is something about every one of them that I just don't like. The neck on my Ramona cardigan is just way too big and falls off my shoulders. My Strokkur I made too short and I'm constantly pulling it down (well, I would be constantly pulling it down if I actually wore it). My Birkin sweater was tragic (yoke too deep, my colorwork too puckered, the neckline too funneled, body too big, sleeves started way too low on me, etc.). It just doesn’t fit my shape well. And that was size XL in fingering-weight yarn [shrieking]. I’ve seen plenty of people make this pattern now and it looks so gorgeous on them in all of the photos I’ve seen, but I just didn’t succeed with it. I don't have very much experience knitting adult-sized garments and I find it to be very intimidating and weirdly heartbreaking when I do finally take the plunge and it just doesn't work out. I know I should just chalk it up to experience but I don't. Instead, I just stop trying. But for some reason the Ellen Cardigan seemed like it would work out for me and then it did, and I don't know that I've ever been so happy with anything that I've ever made for myself, sewing included, and it gave me a lot of confidence. It was such a good feeling. Has that ever happened to you?

So, back to the Ryðrauð. I first saw Lori's version of that sweater a few years ago and I just thought it was so pretty. But, as mentioned, immediately after finishing Ellen I was nervous about ever making a sweater that doesn't fit like Ellen. So I took the Ellen colorwork chart for my size and figured out (on my cross-stitch software) a modified, simplified version of the Ryðrauð flowers that would fit right into the Ellen yoke and also could be done from the top down. And that kind of looked like this:

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I really had no idea how to do the chart the right way re: the repeat, so this is the whole yoke. Pffff! It worked out pretty well, except that as you can see there are huge spaces between the contrast color stitches of the taller motifs on the first few rows. I tried to float the yarn as loosely as I possibly could but it's still puckering a bit so we'll just have to see how it goes. But I think it's okay-enough. Also, I knit the neckband directly onto the yoke in the navy blue version; the Ellen has you pick that up last and I found that it curls a bit (and also makes the buttonholes space out rather poorly at the top, then).

Anyway, this morning I was trying to get caught up with my overflowing and neglected email in-box (yes, I pretty much suck at everything that has to do with answering all but the most urgent emails, even on my best days) and noticed that a blog reader named Kristi (hi, Kristi!) had suggested that I watch a podcast from Nicole at The Gentle Knitter. I follow Nicole on Instagram and love her work so much but I didn't really know about the podcast. I tuned in to the first few episodes and was totally thrilled to find that she was (or, actually, had been a year ago) knitting the Ryðrauð sweater (also inspired by Lori's version)! Snap! Well, Nicole is, like, the most patient, lovely, gentle creature on earth and she explains everything in such a calming way and she has so many interesting things to say about the Ryðrauð that it is well worth watching if you are interested in knitting it. She also talked about how you can catch long floats on the back of the sweater and I didn't even know that, so I will definitely have to look into that for next time. Also, I don't know, but if this navy version works out and I find myself with at least two sweaters in my closet that I love to wear, I might branch out a little more and risk making more things for myself. I purled the colorwork, above, and it's kind of a giant pain. So, all this is to say that 2018 might be my year of steeking more sweaters (I've only done it once before, for Mimi), and that's kind of an exciting feeling.

Ramble, ramble. I haven't gotten out too much lately.

What kind of cake should I make for my birthday?

Full Swing

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We're in it, here: full fall swing. Halloween came and went in a frenzy of costume-sewing/meowing/negotiating for candy. Kids are so obsessed with candy!!! Amelia says she wants one piece of candy after dinner after she accomplishes her "chores." The things she considers her "chores" include: setting up the pillows on the couch in a nice way and propping up various stuffed animals at charming angles to greet me when I come back downstairs after putting her to bed; putting her eighteen pairs of shoes and boots back in her baskets instead of leaving them in the middle of the floor; hanging up her coat instead of dropping it in the middle of the floor; putting away her scarf and hat instead of dropping them in the middle of the floor; climbing on all manner of furniture to reach the wood blinds to pull them down and close them before she goes up to bed; remembering to wash her hands without being told after going to the bathroom. Hrmmmmmmm. . . . Good deal for her, eh? These are all the things she is supposed to do anyway. . . . Maybe it's really a good deal for me. Now she does all of them in lightning speed while singing the clean-up song and then comes skidding to a halt in front of me, smiling and holding her cupped hands out to receive her treat. I don't bribe with sugar under normal circumstances, but hellity hell it really works! Good thing she only has three pieces of candy left. This is too easy. . . .

THANK YOU for the discussion on working from home vs. renting a remote space. That was really fascinating and I truly appreciate so many of you taking the time to share your experience and thoughts with me. I really needed to hear all of that and I am so appreciative of the perspectives. I would only be going to an off-property space during the time that Amelia is in school, and I would still probably keep my sewing stuff here, but honestly, I really am now thinking it's probably too complicated and too expensive to consider. I think I have fantasies of having a really cool, big, shared, white-washed space where other people would be hanging out doing creative things, and I could have room to store my stuff and still have it all within reach, and also not have it anywhere in the living space. Like, embroidery floss, for instance. When we work on kits, we have a palette of probably sixty? seventy? different colors that I routinely use in my designs. Each color has a big, fat 500g cone of floss. For kits, we break down the big cone by winding it onto several different smaller cones, depending on how many strands of that color you need in a kit. So in First Snow, for instance, we have over thirty colors and over fifty separate lengths of floss. Each length needs its own cone since we pull all the floss at the same time. So that's a lot of cones sitting in the office over the weeks that we are working on this. It's just not realistic to be schlepping them up and down from the basement every day. Felt and fabric, too — they take up a lot of space. Welllllll, you get it. But honestly, I took every single comment truly to heart and you gave me so much to think about. And I think the obvious conclusion Andy and I came to was that we need to clean out the basement thoroughly, and think of more creative storage solutions right here on our property. We have a pretty small basement, as half of the house only has a crawl space underneath it. We do have attic storage, although it's truly just storage, not standing room, and you have to use a ladder to get up into it through the ceiling in the hallway. But these are all just details I need to think through more thoroughly, and I think I can do that, especially when I have more time to think. As I said, I definitely have time to decide, as we wouldn't be doing anything (except reorganizing here) until the year after next. But just reading through everything you wrote gave me a more hefty appreciation for all of the great things about working from home, and that was really helpful, so thank you.

It's about the most blustery, Winnie-the-Poohish day you could imagine here today. The trees are whipping around outside my rain-spattered window, and the wind is howling. I keep hearing things thwack against the house and the porch. Tonight is our school lantern walk, and I don't know how those little lanterns are going to stay lit in this gale. I've been cooking and baking lately. I made a frittata like Megan's with roasted delicata squash, sauteed mushrooms, fresh spinach, and chevre, and it was delicious. I made the NYT's curried cauliflower soup and it was really nice, especially with the famous but no-less-delicious-for-that Dutch oven no-knead bread. I did Mark Bittman's speedy version as well as the long version, and quite honestly, there was no appreciable difference that I could taste or tell, so it's Version Speedy for us from now on, and bread in 4.5 hours. That bread is so good. I mean, what in the world? How is it even possible to get something that tastes like this out of a regular kitchen, with so little effort? I can't even deal with it. I don't even like bread that much (unless it's really, really good) but that thing is amazing. I've made it probably ten times over the past few years and it works every time. I also made Mark Bittman's Everyday Pancakes and those were very good. I've totally been getting my money's worth out of my New York Times Cooking subscription and highly recommend it. Everything I've made from it has been great. I love surfing it on my iPad for relaxation. The photos are beautiful. I don't know. I needed some cooking inspiration, and this has been good for me. I seem to need a lot of hand-holding in the kitchen. I love to cook but even after all of these years of cooking I absolutely need recipes. I cannot think of a single thing that I know how to cook by heart. Not one single thing! I'm also kind of a picky eater, so, in all honesty, a lot of cookbooks don't really work that well for me as anything other than inspiration or eye candy, because I find that I might make one thing out of the whole book. Maybe two. I keep the books because they're beautiful. But they aren't that practical for the way I cook. I totally cherry pick, and I like the "search" function. Anyway, this isn't an ad — I mean, I guess it is, but it's unintentional — I have just been happy with that subscription and it's getting me out of my cooking shell, or rather my non-cooking shell, and Andy and I are both happy about that. Maybe it's also just the season of cooking for me. I love fall and winter food so much more than summer.

I've also been knitting hats and gloves and cowls. I don't have any photos of any of them, apparently, but I will take some. I'm using this pattern and have bought lots of colors of Worsted Twist yarn in many of the same colors they show to make us a bunch of stuff that we need for cold weather, and I'm really enjoying this kind of knitting — lots of stockinette, lots of knitting in the round, nothing very complicated, small things that go quickly and feel soft and warm and utterly practical. I seem to need a lot of direction lately. It's kind of a wonderful relief, I have to say.

Sweater Weather

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Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all of your sweet birthday wishes and for indulging me, as you all always do. I have so much to say about five. I think I'm going to have more time to talk and I'm looking forward to that. I took Clover out for a little walk, and that's something I rarely if ever do anymore. Andy and Amelia do all of the dog walking; I save my steps for the things that no one but me can do. But it was so lovely to be outside, in the rain, alone with my little dog, who is such an excellent and polite walker, who walks to my left with slack in the leash, who stops to sniff but not so much that it's annoying. We had such a nice time together, and it felt like the first day of fall for me, somehow. This season starts the half of the year that makes me feel the most like myself. I'm a cloud-cover, cold-weather person. I like to huddle and hibernate. I like quiet and I like rain and I like television. I like dark skies and candles and yarn in my hands, and I like sofas. And flannel sheets and flannel nightgowns.

Today was Amelia's birthday celebration at preschool. They invite us parents to come to the school for our kid's celebration every year. We ate vegetable soup with the kids and then the teacher passed out the dried apples that I'd made, at Amelia's request, for snack. It's so sweet. One of the teachers plays the mandolin and they sing songs that all the kids know and we don't. We fold ourselves under ourselves and "sit" in the circle on the tiniest little benches and share pictures of Amelia at every age, and talk about special things that happened to her at each age. She wears a rainbow silk cape and a crown and walks around the "sun" (a lit candle), once for each year, while everyone sings and then says out loud a special wish for her. I'm going to miss these particular preschool rituals that make things so special. We'll have to continue them, though it's clear that part of what makes them so special is that they belong to this group, and to this enchanted time.

Last night I made my mom's chicken and dumplings, which is, in fact, chicken paprika with dumplings. This is the thing that I request most often from my mom when she asks me if I want her to make me something. I had tried to make it a couple of years ago but I did not do it right (I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts) and it was a disaster. Yesterday I used skin-on, bone-in thighs, and it was brilliant. It is quite rich and decadent, so you don't need to eat much, but it's wonderful every once in a great while. I highly recommend this.

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My Mom's Chicken Paprika

Chicken and sauce:

4 tablespoons butter
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, or any combination of bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces to make about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds
1/2 c. (or more) sour cream

In large Dutch oven, saute onion gently in butter over medium heat. Add paprika and stir around, being careful not to burn paprika. Rinse chicken pieces and add, skin-side down, to pot. Turn after 4 or 5 minutes, and let "brown" on other side (though they won't really brown, since the pan will be pretty juicy; alternatively, to make it a bit less fatty, you could brown the chicken in a bit of oil then pour out most of rendered fat before adding the butter, onions, paprika, and chicken back in, and maybe add a bit of chicken stock to the pan — but the recipe above is how my mom does it). Sprinkle about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper over all, turn skin-side back down, then cover and turn heat down to low simmer for about 1 hour. Test chicken for doneness and remove pot from heat. Discard the skin, which should be falling off (and look really gross). There should be a fair amount of liquid (sauce) in the bottom of pot. Stir a bit of the sauce into the sour cream to temper it. Add sour cream mixture back into sauce. Depending on how much sauce you have, add more sour cream to taste. Reheat slowly if necessary and serve over dumplings, below.

Dumplings:

5 large eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
Splash of water
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
1/4 cup plain breadcrumbs

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Beat eggs with whisk and add flour. Stir to just combine. Add a splash of cold water until consistency is like thick oatmeal. Don't worry if it is lumpy. Drop by half-teaspoons-ful into boiling water (they'll grow quite a bit). Work quickly. Dumplings will rise to the surface as they cook. Let them cook for about one minute more after they rise. Remove risen dumplings with a slotted spoon as they cook and place in colander to drain. To fry dumplings, melt butter in large skillet. Add breadcrumbs and toast for a bit. Add dumplings and toss to coat with butter and breadcrumbs. Fry (sauté) on low-medium heat until golden and crispy. Sprinkle a bit of salt to taste. Serve immediately with chicken and paprika sauce. Yum.

Let me know if you make this, or if you have any questions and I'll ask my mom!

P.S.: Sweater is finished and it's a hit! I'll put it on Ravelry as soon as I get a chance. It's called Carl's Cardigan and I used Woolfolk Far yarn in Pollen.

Pillow #1

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Birthday preparations are underway in the Paulson household. Cupcakes are in the oven. Amelia's "friend" party is tomorrow and we are excited. Her first friend party! Squeeeee! I think you're supposed to have one friend for every year, or something like that? Yeah. I did not get that memo. Apparently she's turning eighteen. . . .

But look at that face. I cannot deny this child ANYTHING, I tell you. Not possible.

On demand: A dress like Hunca Munca's. I might have sobbed with delight. I've finished the dress and am about to start the pinafore, in creamy white Swiss dot. I'm using Little Vogue pattern #1326. More to come on that. That one's for her family party.

A few weeks ago we went to the Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival, as we do every year with Amelia's birthgrandparents. Her grandma and I were looking at the punchneedle and rug-hooking patterns and I remembered the pillow I made several years ago, and remembered that I had an Oxford punchneedle (I have the Mini #14) and a big hoop. I bought a piece of monk's cloth at OFFF and then found this cute pattern on Etsy. Marijo Taylor, the designer, generously sold me only the paper pattern, drawn at 10"x10", and I enlarged it on my printer/copier to 18"x18". I think it's originally a rug hooking pattern (curious about the difference between punchneedle and rug hooking? Here is some information) but I wanted to use my stash of worsted-weight yarn, so that's what I've been doing. Punchneedle is FUN. It's really, really fun. The bunny, above, will be the first pillow I make as part of my new Personal Pillow Endeavor. When I'm finished I'll just back it with some calico (with an envelope closure) and stuff it with an 18" pillow form. I like bamboo pillow forms because they're pretty hard. I hate soft pillows, personally. I'll show you more about how I do it when I get closer to being finished. I was hoping I might finish for Amelia's birthday but I have a lot to do so I'm not sure. . . .

I finished the cardigan I showed you last week and it's still on the blocking board, though completely dry. That will get pale pink buttons. I still haven't put it on Ravelry. I like that sweater but I'm not sad to be finished with it. Next up, knitting-wise, are hats for everyone and gloves for me and a new neckwarmer for me.

Last night I made African chicken peanut stew and it was really good. You're here, October. I was so ready for you to arrive it was ridiculous. Hence the creative mania.

P.S.: I got that cute little painting a few weeks ago at Goodwill for $3. And the sweet invitation was from this Etsy shop; I printed it out at home on cards from Paper Source and made the envelope liners with their templates and a printable flower pattern from this adorable book (and CD) that I've had for years.

P.P.S: Oh jeesh, and thank you so much for all of your kind comments on my last post. I really appreciate them!!!

Early July

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Good morning. How are you? I'm sitting here. The fan's whirling above me and Amelia and Andy are out for a walk with Clover Meadow. It'll be in the 90s today. I'm anxious to go out and patrol my garden. No sooner did I banish the katydid nymphs that were chomping my verbena than we've had new pestering. Since these pictures were taken, big fat green worms have gotten into my cabbage and broccoli. I tried plucking a few off yesterday but I literally almost threw up. I was surprised that I had this reaction. Scream-gagging in the street. Lovely. Amelia was mildly alarmed. I tried to blast them off with the hose. Unsuccessful. I'm not sure why I think I could live in the country. . . . Thank you for all of your kind and poignant comments on my last post. I was very moved by them. I'm really trying to take it slow and steady. Summer destroys me with longing, somehow. It happens to me every year. I don't know. Summer always feels hard in ways I can't even explain.

Meems and I have been rollicking through the days, nevertheless. Andy worked Sunday through Wednesday this week, through the holiday, but she and I kept ourselves busy with friends and fun stuff. It was hot yesterday afternoon, so we slowed to a crawl and laid around and did all the puzzles and watched kids' shows on TV after we got home from swimming. It was nice. I read a library book (The Headmaster's Wife — don't tell me what happens, I'm not done yet) while eating curried shrimp and pineapple and peas (weird combo, I guess, but it was good) and she ate a dozen enormous strawberries for dinner on the couch. At night I've been knitting miles and miles of stockinette on my Birkin sweater and that thing is shaped quite oddly. I think it's going to funnel-neck pretty badly on me. My tension looks pathetic, alternately too loose and too tight. I really can't do three colors in the same row. I can knit with both hands but dropping the second and picking up the third color just messed me up I guess. Usually my colorwork looks pretty good — I'm pretty loose — but this yoke (not pictured among the four thousand pictures above, naturally) looks positively smocked. I did try it on, though, and it fit, in a way, but I can see that it wants to ride up. The armholes are quite low. There is no increasing over almost the entire depth of the yoke pattern, so the yoke is pretty tube-like to begin with, almost poncho-like. I have about eleven inches left to do of straaaaaaaight stockinette, in fingering, in size XL. Soooooooo I'm going to be there for a while before I get a chance to block it out. I'm gonna block it hard and hope the yoke stretches. Or should I take it off the needles now (I'm about three inches into the body, after separating for sleeves) and block it and make sure it's going to be wearable without tragic funnel-necking before I keep stockinetting for hours of my life? OH such problems. Well, you know. I knit while watching the news so I should probably go up about four needle sizes in general, actually and in all things, to counterbalance the inherent tension of . . . oh, everything, everywhere.

My skirt pattern (second-from-top photo) is done and I'm going to release  it next week, along with some of the extra yards of calico leftover from cutting strips for quilt kits. There is not a ton of fabric, but I do want to make some of it available, so I'll probably do it next Tuesday morning at 9:30 a.m. again. The pattern is a PDF download and it will only be available as a download (not printed). I'm vaguely nervous about this as it's my first-ever clothing pattern, but it's pretty simple and I know you'll write to me if you have any problems. More quilt kits should be coming in the next few weeks or so — I just got a new box of fabric from West Virginia yesterday, so that will hopefully be cut next week and then I'll start designing kits again.

I've been thinking a lot about the various teachers Amelia has for her school and different lessons and stuff that she does. Isn't it incredible how certain teachers really are totally life-changing, in the best of ways? I'm just starting to watch this happen, and am learning what it means for my kid. It really moves me, watching her bond with and trust and love some of the teachers in her life. It really is like watching a flower bloom right before your eyes.

Here's a cute video that Andy took of Meems at Ryan Adams last week. Xo

Cold Start

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The weather here has been absolutely freezing. Apparently we're just going to be hurled from one extreme condition (scorching) to another (freezing). I had the heat on last night, and the flannel sheets. I'm not really complaining (much) as this has been perfect knitting weather. All the knitters I know are surreptitiously knitting as fast as we can, trying to finish stuff to wear before the next heat wave. Because honestly, we need sweaters right now. And probably scarves. It's that cold.

Something really, really cool happened to me the other day. I came in from watering out back and I heard this very loud birdsong, and found that there was a chickadee sitting in the dining room. We don't have screens (or mosquitoes), but a bird has never flown into the house before. Birds have been in the house before, brought in in a state of mortal crisis by The Bee. But in this case, she, Old Lady Bee, was sleeping on a chair on the porch, literally right outside the window above which the bird was sitting and singing its heart out. She continued to sleep. The bird flew from curtain rod to pendant-lamp cord to picture moulding, singing and stopping to look around. He didn't seem in distress. My heart started racing a bit. I opened all of the windows as wide as they would go, and threw open the front door. I went outside and watered the front, hoping he would find his way out. I talked to my neighbor for about an hour, and we could hear him singing in there the whole time. A friend of his was flitting around outside, frantically calling for him, but he continued to sing his way around the dining room and didn't come out. I went back in and talked to him a bit. I really needed to come in and go to work (in the back of the house) and wanted to shut the front door. He did more flying from thing to thing. I stood still and talked, very quietly. He tilted his little head, listening. Suddenly he flew down to the lampshade on the entry table. I walked over very slowly and he stayed on the lampshade. I seriously could not believe it. I was two feet away. We stayed like that for minutes. I don't know how many minutes. I lifted my arm and held my finger out to him, moving a bit closer. He tilted his head again and sidestepped away. I stayed like that, with my arm out, until my arm started getting tired. Then I propped my other elbow on the entry table and started holding up my right arm with my left hand. We stood like this for a long time. Still, he didn't fly away. I inched my hand closer. I put my finger up to his feet, holding my breath. He was so small. He put one foot on my finger and then took it off. I kept my finger there. Suddenly he put both feet on my finger and started pecking at the tip of my finger. He was so light. He pecked at the tip of my finger some more. I was smiling hugely, afraid to breathe. Slowly I walked over to the open window, him on my finger, bobbing nervously, the whole time. When I got to the window and moved my arm outside he started to walk up my arm, toward me! I moved my arm further out the window, afraid he would fly off and back into the house! But then suddenly he was off, flying up into the sky.

It was, honestly, one of the most awesome, most amazing things that has ever happened to me in my whole life. It was so, so, so cool. I still cannot even believe it! It was so cool!

I forgot to say that at some point, Bridget did hear me talking and she came into the house through the door and started sauntering back and forth through the dining room. She knew something was going on but she couldn't figure out what, and she never saw the bird. She kept coming back into the room in mild confusion, like she thought she should definitely be involved in something. And she mostly just wanted to go back to bed. The old girl is seventeen years old this summer. She's mostly a wild cat. An old wild cat, now. She's never really sat on my lap, in seventeen years. That's not to say she hasn't been on my lap, but when she gets on my lap (once a year or so) we are both so totally freaked out that it's about as far from a lovely or relaxing experience for us both as it gets. She acts completely bewildered to have suddenly found herself on my lap. She skitters around on my legs as if her paws are on fire. I freeze in place, trying to avert my eyes lest I be caught looking at her (because she will punch you in the face faster than the speed of light if she catches you meeting her eye). It's like having a cross between a squirrel and a goblin for a pet. But she comes home every night, she loves us in her way, we love her in ours, Clover Meadow intelligently tries to give her wide berth (although occasionally she will walk up to Clover and try to head-moosh her, and Clover's entire body stiffens in terror, and we all hold our breath, too, until it's over), and Amelia screams like a banshee every time Bridget comes flying through the room like a fruit bat trying to get out of the light. Little Bee. Our little alley kitten. Doing pretty well for an old girl.

I told Andy I don't think I've ever taken a picture of Clover that more accurately captures her than the one above. Sweetest heart ever. Drives me insane on a daily basis. But I love her so much. Dear love. That face.

I've been ridiculously busy. Andy had the week off and I've just been working, working, working. I drafted a skirt pattern for you. And bought half of the remaining inventory from a quilt shop that closed in the '90s. Not even kidding. More on both of these things soon. New quilt kits coming! Next week! They're really pretty. I can't wait.

Tilt-a-Whirl

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Whirlwind days, going every which way, and a long weekend filled with friends and family, and a birthday for my love. Andy Paulson turned forty-six and had a very sweet birthday. I went old-school with the cake I made for him, and returned to my old classic, chocolate cake with butter-roux frosting. This time I made the cake in three 8"-round pans, and baked them for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees F. I doubled the frosting and piled it on. Highly recommend.

A Variation on Hershey's Deep Dark Chocolate Cake

2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Hershey's cocoa (I actually use Cacao Barry, which my sister turned me on to)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup steaming hot (brewed) coffee*

*Original recipe calls for boiling water but coffee brings out the chocolate flavor a bit without actually making it taste like coffee. I usually reheat whatever was leftover in coffee pot that morning.

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour (using cocoa powder so it disappears) two 9" round cake pans.

2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla; beat on medium speed of electric mixer for 2 minutes. Carefully stir in boiling water and coffee (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans (see above).

3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes (see above) or until wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks and cool completely.

As I've posted before, the frosting for this cake is my mom's old recipe for something we in our family called "the milk and flour frosting." (I later learned this is called a "butter-roux" frosting.) When I first put it on the blog several years ago, I renamed it more romantically and called it Cloudburst Frosting because it is really light, fluffy, and not-too-sweet . This frosting also had a long history in our house of being very temperamental but it is totally worth it. We think we have it down now, but you have to do it exactly this way. You just do. Don't ask me why. We really do not know.

Cloudburst Frosting

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup WHOLE (it has to be whole) milk or half-and-half
1 cup softened butter
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups sifted confectioners sugar

In a small pan, gradually add the milk to the flour, whisking them together into a totally smooth mixture — you don't want any lumps here. Simmer (barely) until thick over low/medium heat, whisking constantly so you don't get any lumps. (Do not walk away from the stove for even a minute — trust me. If you do get lumps, just push it all through a sieve.) You want it to be the consistency of pudding. Remove from heat and let it cool completely but NOT in the refrigerator (Mom says if you put it in the fridge it won't work). Let it cool for a few minutes, and then push a piece of plastic wrap down on the surface of the mixture (so a skin doesn't form) and let it sit on the counter for an hour or two or three until it's completely cool. (Update: My sister says it's totally fine to put this in the refrigerator, so . . . ) Cream together the butter and almond; add the confectioner's sugar and beat on high for several minutes until it is very fluffy. Add the milk/flour mixture and beat until it is super fluffy. The frosting will sometimes appear to separate when you add the milk/flour mixture, but just keep beating it on high until it whips up into smooth, fluffy clouds.

            After frosting the cake, chill before serving for maximum deliciousness. I like this cake very cold.

 

The news of the world and of our city in particular has been so troubling and heartbreaking it has brought me to tears several times this past week. Today Amelia and I went past the memorial at the transit center where two brave men lost their lives. It is absolutely covered in flowers and chalk-drawn messages of love. I send my prayers out to all of the fallen warriors and their families who have given everything to protect us. I truly appreciated all of your comments on my last post. I long for advice about how to live in these troubled times.

We planted our little vegetable garden in the parkway raised beds this past weekend. We don't really have enough in it yet, I don't think. The weather is all over the place — some days in the upper 90s and some days, like yesterday, absolutely freezing cold and raining. We planted the back-porch planters with veggies and herbs, too — tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, corn, basil, lemon verbena. These I'm hoping Amelia will take care of, as it will be easy for her to water them out there. She spends a lot of time on the back porch, so I think it will be fun. I had absolutely no plan with regard to anything that I bought — I just grabbed a bunch of veggie starts randomly and we put them all over the place, in front and back. This is not how I usually do things but hey, stuff's in the ground, at least. I feel like maybe some of it is not supposed to be together, but I've never really understood what that means or why certain veggies aren't supposed to be planted near one another. . . . Feel free to enlighten me, honestly. Is it like a nutrient thing or a pest thing or . . . ? I could Google this, I know.

I'm working on a Birkin sweater, a pattern for which you can only find in the second issue of  Laine magazine. This will be a size XL sweater knit in fingering-weight yarn, with lots of complicated colorwork (three colors per row in lots of cases) so it should keep me out of trouble for a good loooooooong while is what I'm thinking. . . .

My girl dances and twirls, spinning from one thing to the next, riding bigger little-kid amusement-park rides by herself for the first time, pulling all of her bravery from somewhere deep inside her, waiting in line and getting on the rides by herself, waving to us from the tiny plane, the tiny car, the tiny speedboat, us standing on the sidelines filled with so much hope and joy and admiration. She inspires me beyond words in these moments. I can see all of her fear and all of her fearlessness in her face, can see her weighing the risk of participation with the anticipation of just how exciting it will be when that thing goes up in the air, or bounces around the track, or bangs up and down on its metal octopus arm, and she wants to go. She is serious and deliberate and even nervous, but she always moves forward, standing in line on her own, asking the other kids around her if someone will ride with her, racing to the purple car, changing her mind and going for another one, losing nerve a little bit and starting to cry when it all gets too bumpy, then pulling herself back together and smiling hugely on the final round. When she got off the speedboat (the scariest one) she raced into my arms and collapsed, all tension in every muscle gone and making this loud noise that seemed to come from her soul, like an enormously relieved sigh but one that wasn't only relieved but also amused at herself and proud of herself and also just purely delighted at the world. It is hard to describe the noise but Andy and I both knew exactly what it was (we talked about it as soon as she went to bed and we both thought it meant the exact same things). She made the noise for a long time and I held her in my arms for all of that time and could not see through my own quiet, proud, and, yeah, relieved tears. This child, this braveheart. On my shoulder, limp and heavy and soft. Big and small. These moments sneak up on me so. I never knew about them before motherhood. I can't imagine what they are called. What are these called? There have been a few of them now and they are the most moving, poignant experiences of parenthood, for me. I can't even really describe, and I don't think I'll ever forget, but I just wanted to write this so that I could remember it again right now.

Peek-A-Boo

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Oh, de-dear, dear, dear, as we say here. My little head is busy with little things. Thank you for all of the waffle recommendations! The sour-cream waffles we made twice last week were delicious, if not exactly crispy. I think I'll make one of your recipes for breakfast tomorrow. Today is filled with errands and chores. It's raining, windy, and cold. This comes as a slight relief after the 80-degree temps and relentless sunshine we had this past week. A little of each feels nice. Mimi says she doesn't want to go anywhere today. I think she would be happy staying in and watching Bookaboo in her underwear while cutting pieces of paper into confetti with embroidery scissors, which is what she's been doing for the past hour, but alas, errands call. Blah.

I've been doing such weird things. I'm not even sure what. I wrote to somewhere (can't remember who you ask for this) to request a copy of the original Social Security application that was filled out by my great-grandmother in 1951, when she was 61 years old. It has her parents' full names on it, names no one in my family or extended family has ever known. Turns out I'm at least partly Polish on my mom's side, if the name Gorzinski is any indication. This was really exciting, somehow. I have one of those mysterious family histories on both sides. My father was adopted and knew nothing of his birthparents. My maternal grandmother's father died when she was little, and she never spoke of it, or him. She had a French last name, so we've always assumed she was partly French, or French Canadian, but we know nothing beyond that. Her mother remarried (or, as it turns out, married — she wasn't married to my grandmother's father) and essentially abandoned my grandmother, and all we ever knew was her (my grandmother's mother's) married name, not her maiden name. There's not much information, even on Ancestry.com, but I have literally spent hours and hours looking and have found some stuff. I don't know why I'm looking. I guess I'm one of those people who wants to know these things, but I think I'm actually motivated by my own love of researching mysteries as much as some kind of personal neeeeeeed. I think. I'm not sure. Maybe I need to know more than I think I do. There's just enough information to sort of piece something together, but who knows? Who knows what the real story is when everyone who knew the real story is gone? I'm still waiting for my DNA test to come back. Well. Amelia's maternal birthgrandma and -grandpa have done a ton of genealogical research, and passed all of that on to her on her first birthday, the most beautiful present, I thought. I'm so happy that she will have things like this in her life. Recently I traced (well, others had traced, but I just discovered the tracings) her birthfather's maternal grandfather's family all the way back to Jamestown, Virginia, in 1620. It was such a cool moment. Jamestown! Virginia! Her birthfamily is all coming for Birthmother's Day on Saturday (did you know Birthmother's Day is Saturday?) and I can't wait to talk about this stuff. Obviously, now I want to write a young-adult novel about Jamestown, Virginia.

 

Calicozy Questions

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Aw, thank you for all of your comments on the tantrum post. Andy and I laughed so hard at some of them. I love all of these stories so much. Already our seems funny and the stuff of family legend. I know I'll never forget it, and will tell her about it someday. We spent several days sort of acting out how our next play-yard departure was going to go, occasionally reversing roles where she was the mom and I was the kid. When she told me it was time to go (and always with the calmest, most patient voice, which cracked me up) I pitched a whopper fit, stomping and howling and yelling, "No! I WON'T! Wahhhhh! I don't want to!!!!!" which made her laugh sheepishly and left her standing helplessly with her hand out, unable to find a way to convince me. But then I scratched my head thoughtfully, remembered out loud about my "privileges" I would be so sad to lose, and happily took her hand and skipped over to the "car." She sputtered. I asked her if she wanted to praise my good decision. "Oh! What a good decision, little kid!" Ahhhhh, I love four-year-olds. Many moments of reason spiced with a few moments of utter irrationality to keep things interesting. Next week it will be something else, I'm sure, but I'm happy to report that all of our leave-takings since Epic Melt have been peaceful, and even one has included her patting another melting-down kid on the head and saying, knowingly, "I hope you feel better." Pfffft! Oh, love.

I am crocheting myself a sweater. It is very exciting. Such is the life of a crocheter — these are our excitements: four skeins of O-Wool finger-weight washable wool and a very nice pattern! Hurrah!

Quilt-kit bundles are being assembled, so let's talk about this. . . .

It looks like this batch will have enough fabric for 120 toddler quilt kits. That means we will have between 15-25 toddler kits in each of 6 colorways. Each toddler kit has 15 print strips and 7 solid strips. Last time I offered these, I took the total number of cut strips I had for each colorway and split them up between sizes. So if there were 20 toddler kits available for the Meadowsweet colorway, for example, that was 300 total strips I had for that colorway. Then I split those and offered some in each size, going all the way up to king size. I think that, in my mind, the sale would happen at a leisurely pace, and I would be able to sit there and recalculate the total number of strips left as things sold and add more into inventory as necessary, all while drinking some coffee. But in reality it didn't go like that at all; things went in a whoosh, and some things got sold out from under people who had them in their carts but were slower to enter their ordering information than others, or were shopping for other things, too, or . . .

I seriously, honestly can understand how frustrating that must have been. I tried to write to a few people who were upset but my emails to them bounced. (If you think you might have been one of those people, please feel free to write me again, maybe with a different email address, and I'll try to respond again.) Unfortunately, there just isn't a shopping cart system in existence that can pull an item out of inventory when it is only in your cart, and hasn't yet been paid for. Even though it's in your cart, it could also be in someone else's cart, and if they pay faster, they get it. . . . I really do hate that there has to be this frantic element to buying something that has been created in so much relative peace. But, short of auctioning them or maintaining some kind of private preview/purchase system (I'll never be able to manage that), this is the sales channel I have. But I really do want to respond to your feedback and make it a better experience if I can.

So, here are some questions I have for you if you have time to answer.

  • The algorithm I have means that it doesn't matter to me what size kits sell. It's all the same amount of fabric, the same amount of work, and the same relative amount of money for you and me no matter how it shakes out. That said, would you rather have more toddler-sized kits available to purchase, and then supplement with your own fabric if you would like to make a bigger size? Or would you rather have fewer total kits available in general if it meant that you could have the chance to purchase a throw, twin, full/queen, and king-sized kit?
  • I have generally started sales at the time that it is most convenient for me, personally — around 9 or 10 a.m. Pacific Standard Time. When we have much greater quantities of stuff like embroidery kits or, in the past, animal kits or ornament kits, the time the sale starts hasn't mattered so much, as we generally don't sell out of stuff so quickly. But with these limited quantities, timing can be frustrating. I could split the offerings in half, and offer them at two different times. So, question for you: What other time?
  • Lastly, and this isn't really a question but more of a statement, I do plan on continuing to do these, even after this next round. I have fabric coming in constantly now, and it is always different and always quite wonderful. So, really, if it doesn't work out this time for you, there will be more coming.

Let me know what you think about these things and I will come back on Monday with a preview of new kits, and some information for you based on the feedback I receive from you. Thank you, as always, for your interest and enthusiasm. It means so much to me and I appreciate it more than I can say. XO

*** For some backstory on these quilt kits, see the beginnings of them, my inspiration for them, this info post, this preview post, and this sale post, and Picking Patchwork.

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.