Posts filed in: House and Garden

Birdland

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No sooner did I threaten to cut down the plum tree than did about a million birds show up, acting so adorable and sweet and storybookish within its branches that I'm torn, now, about chopping it down. What to do!!! What also happened is that we instituted "mom time" out in the front yard in the very early mornings when Andy's off for the day so that I'm able to sit out there alone and drink my coffee, listen to birds, water the garden, and oh, you know, think quietly for just a few secs. I get up and, before I take my shower, I hightail it out and enjoy what has always been my favorite part of the day: earliest, earliest morning. Eventually I fill up the bird bath and sit in the chair in the shade across the yard and wait. Within five or ten minutes, birds come bathing. It's the cutest, sweetest thing. They — especially the robins — splash around in the water and then fly up to the bare branches of the plum tree to fluff and dry. It's just adorable. On Sunday morning, a super-adorable thing happened when I got to watch a mama robin feed a teenager robin — see the picture of them up there? They're hard to see, being totally camouflaged by the tree, but my gosh. How cute is that. I swear the robins are coming just to visit me when I go out there, especially when I'm alone. They do always seem to show up within a few minutes! My own little Mary Lennox moment, and I just love them.

I feel so very behind on everything. I can't get my chores done and I'm stressed, so birdwatching feels desperately necessary but also crazily indulgent somehow. Summer at home with a little kid is seriously chaotic. There are so many things that I want to write about and talk about and think about, but I just won't have time or brain or breath until preschool starts again and I have a few more unengaged hours. And there aren't enough kids home during the day in our neighborhood to make it easier. I mean, there are no kids at home during the day in our neighborhood. Back in My Day, everyone was home. Everyone. We played outside or at each other's houses on the block every. single. day. To the point of utter, complete, blissful boredom. Sigh. Sometimes I worry. Where is everyone?

Nevertheless, in spite of having a scant amount of free time/me time, I checked five of the books on last week's book list out of the library, even though I'm only halfway through Coming Home (by Rosamunde  Pilcher). The librarian said that the damage I did to the book wasn't even worth noting, so that was a nice surprise. I renewed it, because it's taking me forever to read. That book is enormous! But it's really nice to read. Sort of slow, with a mildly remote protagonist (which is, oddly, relaxing). But it also just feels measured and capable and . . . professional . . . I need not worry . . . and that alone is chillaxing me down to my toes. Also, her descriptions of place are so on-point I sometimes read them twice. I mean, this:

    August, now, and a wet Monday morning. Summer rain, soft and drenching, streamed down upon Nancherrow. Drifting in from the south-east, low grey clouds obscured the cliffs and the sea, and heavy-leaved trees drooped and dripped. Gutters ran and drain-pipes gurgled, and the weekly wash was postponed for a day. Nobody complained. After a long spell of hot, dry weather, the sweet coolth was welcome. The rain fell with relentless steadiness, and thirsty flowers and fruit and vegetables absorbed the moisture with gratitude, and the air was filled with the incomparable scent of newly damp earth.   
    Loveday, with Tiger at her heels, emerged into the outdoors by way of the scullery, stepped out into the yard, and stopped for a moment to sniff the air and fill her lungs with this sweet invigorating freshness. She wore gumboots and an old raincoat, pulled over her shorts and a striped cotton sweater, but her head was bare, and as she set off in the direction of Lidgey Farm, the rain descended upon her hair, causing the dark locks to curl more tightly than ever.
    She took the road that led towards the stables, but turned off before reaching them, following, instead, the rutted lane that led up onto the moors. Here the ancient lichened stone walls were divided from the lane by a deep ditch, now running with water, and gorse grew in prickly thickets aflame with yellow flowers smelling of almonds. There were foxgloves too, in profusion, and pale-pink mallow, and tangles of wild honeysuckle, all the way up the lane, and the dark granite of rock wore velvety patches of saffron-colored lichen. Beyond the wall were pasture fields, where Mr. Mudge's Guernsey milk cows grazed, the grass a brilliant green between the random whale-shaped crests of hidden boulders, and overhead gulls, flying inland with the weather, wheeled and screamed.

How pretty is that! By typing it out I'm attempting to conjure a rain spell, because we haven't had any in over fifty days and last week our temps were over a hundred degrees.

How are you guys? How's your summer? How's it all going out there, anyway?

 

***Mimi just found this picture floating around somewhere in our bookshelf (I have not seen this one in years!), and I realized I forgot to say thank you for all of your incredibly sweet anniversary wishes. Thank you very, very much. We really appreciate them! You are so kind. Thank you. XOXOXO

P.S.: I made my dress from a Style sewing pattern but I can't figure out what number it was. It was really fun to make and is one of my favorite memories from being engaged.

Wedding

Some Summer Reading!

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It was our twentieth wedding anniversary on July 19. That's the china anniversary, so we were planning to eat Chinese food on our wedding china but instead had our standby anniversary dinner, Rozale Lasagna, named after our first apartment together back in Missoula, Montana, where we lived when that first picture of us was taken, back in 1994 or '95. That picture was taken on Flathead Lake and I can't imagine who took it; I think it might have been a timer selfie taken with my point-and-shoot. We started dating in 1992, but we actually met in . . . 1989? Almost thirty years ago. We were a very unlikely couple and started dating on a whim, literally, after a chance road trip together going to visit some other friends from college. Somewhere in the cornfields between River Forest and Peoria, Illinois, we fell in love in the car and have been together ever since. Being married to Andy Paulson is one of the great miracles of my life and I wake up every morning and still can't believe I ever got this lucky.

Actually, on our actual anniversary we went on a boat ride, above, and wound up having dinner downtown at the world's most unlikely place, Morton's Steak House. Morton's Steak House, in case you don't know, as I didn't, is one of those places that has a super-dark interior with big super-dark leathery chairs and no windows and $59 steaks, where people with expense accounts go when they're traveling for business and trying to schmooze some account rep (maybe). It was, however, blissfully air-conditioned. We wound up there because, after our two-hour boat ride down the river, we were headed over to Piazza Italia in the Pearl (a district that should have been about five or ten minutes away from the boat place) but got stuck in the biggest downtown traffic jam in the world. We were averaging about fifty feet every five or ten minutes. Then we heard the words that strike fear in the heart of every parent sitting in a traffic jam: "Mommy, I need to go potty." Cue me, pulling over (tires squealing . . . just kidding) and tossing the keys to the valet at Morton's Steak House, right in front of which we happened to be most conveniently (or not, stay tuned) sitting, unmoving, in traffic. Into the empty restaurant (it was 5:00 p.m.) and very nice bathroom we went, looking like a bunch of hippies who just tumbled off a boat ride. I won't go into details about the food but will just say that I could have bought her about fifty pairs of new undies for what that (totally overpriced and burnt, ahem) meal cost. But it was an absurd, sweet, really fun and memorable evening, and lord how I love these two. Andy said, "Let's come back in another twenty years but then go somewhere else instead." Ha!

Thank you EVER, EVER, EVER so much for all of the book recommendations. I am so excited about these, and I haven't heard of almost all of them. Amelia wound up picking out my next book, Rosamunde Pilcher's Coming Home, because she liked the cover and color of the spine (pink) and wanted to leave the library, stat. I've never read a Rosamunde Pilcher book before, I don't think, but this one turns out to be perfect for me right now because I just found out through Ancestry DNA that I am actually part English. This is completely shocking and I will tell you more about it later as soon as I figure out a few more things. Sadly, I've also damaged my library book by throwing it into my pool basket and then having everyone's wet towels thrown on top of it so I'm guessing I'll be buying that? I don't think I've ever damaged a library book before so I'm not sure what happens when you do. I feel really bad. I want to finish it quickly so that I can get to some of these on the list you put together. Thank you to everyone who contributed to this list, and I hope you enjoy these!

Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towle
News of the World by Paulette Jiles
The Nightengale Nurses by Donna Douglas
Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center
The Time in Between by Maria Duenas
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan
The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
The Bear and the Nightengale by Katherine Arden
Goodnight from London by Jennifer Robson
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham
The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
The Rook by Daniel O'Malley
The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost
Old Man's War by John Scalzi
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer
Ross Poldark by Winston Graham
The Woolgrower's Companion by Joy Rhoades
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
The Chilbury Ladies Choir by Jennifer Ryan
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
In the Castle of the Flynns by Michael Raleigh
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Song of the Lark by Willa Cather
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Victoria: The Queen by Julia Baird
My Cousin Rachel by Daphne DuMaurier
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan
Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple
Goodnight June by Sarah Jio
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam
The Scarlet Sisters by Helen Batten
The House at the Edge of Night by Catherine Banner
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery
Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander
In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
Burntown by Jennifer McMahon
The Dry by Jane Harper
The Good Daughters by Joyce Maynard
A House Among the Trees by Julia Glass
The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson
The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain
Change Agent by Daniel Suarez
Then She Found Me by Elinor Lipman
The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club by Gil McNeil
The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
Party Girls Die in Pearls by Plum Sykes
Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
The People at Number 9 by Felicity Everett
The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers
Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading by Maureen Corrigan
Princess Elizabeth's Spy by Susan Elia Macneal
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley
Camino Island by John Grisham
Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald
The Trespasser by Tana French
The City Baker's Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller
The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
Raven Black by Ann Cleeves
The Sparrow Sisters by Ellen Herrick
The Great Kitchens of the Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

Also, thank you to everyone who reminded me that the tree book I was talking about was called Trees of Greater Portland. I still have made zero progress on my to-do list re: railings and replanting, but I'm ever hopeful. ;)

Summer Season

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Amelia's in a morning day-camp down the street three days this week. I drop her off and water the garden. Today I filled the bird feeders. Then I emptied the dishwasher, made myself a bagel with avocado, cleaned up, answered emails, and now I'm sitting down for an hour to write here before I go back and pick her up and we go up to the library. I'm having groceries delivered in time for dinner. In between things, I ship orders, etc. I'm working on a new cross stitch pattern. My mom was here yesterday afternoon and I got to work on it a lot, and I love it. My mom took Amelia to the grocery store and then made dinner for us (chicken and dumplings, my favorite) and then Mimi and I read all our library books for the last time and then I put her to bed, and then I got to play with my cross stitch pattern (it's for Christmas) for several hours before Andy got home and then I went up to bed. The days are busy. They just are. They're wonderfully busy, but they're busy.

Thank you so, so much for the Scarborough Fair skirt pattern orders and the fabric orders! I'm so excited that people are going to make that skirt. Please send me photos when you do, or tag them on Instagram (#scarboroughfairskirt, maybe?). I've heard from several people who've made it already and, I don't know, it's thrilling. I haven't heard of any problems with the pattern but if I do I'll correct it right away and send out a corrected version automatically. Please let me know if you have any questions about it, or comments, or anything.

Standing by the veggie garden, Amelia is posing as a flower. We watch our squash and pumpkins and cucumbers take over the raised bed. It's been fun and also mildly heartbreaking. So far there are only two cucumbers and two big tomatoes, and two pea pods and about seven strawberries. There are some Roma tomatoes coming, and hopefully an eggplant. The broccoli and cabbage look terrible today. Tiny, tiny white bugs all over the cabbage. I blasted them off with the hose. Need the soap spray there, I guess. It's shocking how much money and how many hours I've spent to get two cucumbers, two tomatoes, two pea pods, and seven strawberries. Sigh. Well, as they say, it keeps me out of trouble. Having a little chair to sit on between the beds sort of changes everything down there. I mean, it's just a little gardener's bench, and I don't keep it down there or anything because it would get ripped off in about five minutes (our beds are about a foot away from the street), but I drag it down there from the porch every day and sit and contemplate the squash blossoms. It's a completely different experience sitting than standing. I know I keep saying this but it's true.

This year we need 1) railings on our front stairs down to the sidewalk (if anybody has recommendations for iron railing installation, let me know) and 2) a new tree to replace the half-dead plum tree in the parkway, which has just begun its yearly assault on me personally by dropping inedible plums by the millions all over the sidewalk and stairs and making me shriek with frustration daily. The thing is so gnarly and bad. It's listing so hard it looks like it's about to fall over. It never does, but one by one its big branches just stop producing leaves and get covered with some kind of lichen and completely die off. This doesn't stop plum production, however, and they are the sourest, darkest purple plums in the world. The tree is probably original to the house, which was built in 1928. We've had several arborist dudes come out and look at it and they trim it and charge us a ton of money and it basically just looks worse and worse, not through any fault of theirs, I don't think, but it's just a troubled tree. I'm loathe to lose the shade it provides so we've been dragging our feet on this. One guy recommended we plant a Katsura tree, and that is a gorgeous tree. He also said there was a book that lists where a bunch of different trees are planted around Portland so that you can drive around and go and see them in neighborhoods and stuff but I can't remember the name of the book. Anyway, these things are on my list of stuff to get done this fall, among forty-five other things. Plant new tree and install railings. Who has the time? Insert chin-scratching emoji guy here.

Anybody reading any good library books lately? I need a page-turner that's not depressing. Anybody watching Grantchester on Masterpiece? We're only halfway through season 2 (it's on Prime, FYI) so don't tell me anything, but man. I love that show. I got the first book but I didn't like it as much as the show. The show is so good. I watched season 1 when it first came out and then I lost track of it, but recently found it again. I keep thinking about it during the day.

Midsummer

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The middle. The greens have deepened. The sun is hot and rich. If there were cicadas here they'd be humming in the afternoons, but instead they hum in my memory of them humming. It's a Midwestern memory, one of many. There was a scent in the air the other day as Amelia and I got out of the car to have our lunch at a Thai restaurant I've only just started going to, needing a change. Something was blooming but I don't know what. It was the smell of a field, or a meadow, though we were nowhere near one. Far from, in fact. A sob caught in my throat. Our neighborhood feels urban in the worst of ways, lately. Overcrowded, filled with cars, crime, and a general crustiness that has me world-weary. I long for a Queen-Anne's-lace-lined gravel road, birdsong, a lake with a pier I could sit on and dangle my toes, a rowboat with which I could row Amelia into the shade to nap. No noise but nature's noises. I long for these things. Everything feels so far from them, somehow. I don't know why. I can't seem to find the right place for us to go to find them. It seems like just a small, quiet, ordinary place but I can't find it. It must be more extraordinary than I thought. Sometimes I wished we lived in the country.

Instead, I tend my little garden. It's not doing very well, actually, and seems rather stunted. The gourds and cucumbers seem stressed, their lower leaves turning yellow and getting brown splotches and falling off. The broccoli leaves, those beautiful, leathery, spruce-green lobes, are getting eaten by something. I guess everything else is actually doing okay, but it just doesn't seem to be growing very much. I've been watering every day and this is the first time I've been so diligent about doing anything in the garden for years, since before Amelia was born. It feels good and I feel ready to do it again. I mean, I'm still terrible at gardening. I learn things and then I forget them immediately, or I don't learn anything at all. I'm super into it for a while and then I'll get totally neglectful (and, well, busy) and won't water for a week, usually right when it gets super hot and the plants need it most. Well, we'll see. So far I'm doing okay with it, and it feels good.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all of your orders during my quilt kit sale the other day. I am so incredibly happy that these are selling, and yes, I have more coming. I have at least twenty new fabrics that haven't even been cut yet. I'm working on my skirt pattern — and yes, to those who've asked, it is the skirt hanging next to my basket on my post last week — and I'm going to be selling a limited amount of yardage of these vintage calicos to go with my skirt pattern. The pattern has no pieces for you to print out or cut out or anything like that — the skirt is made entirely of rectangles cut with a rotary cutter and ruler, and you can make it any size you'd like. I've literally made five of these skirts in the past few weeks as I've been working on the pattern, and I've been wearing one or another almost every single day. I put my phone/wallet in one pocket and my keys in the other and I go. So practical. I'm haaaaaaappy with this particular summer solution. It's good.

Andy Paulson. The kind of dad I wish every child in the world could have. Happy Father's Day, my dear, dear irrepressible, darling love. XOXO

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.

Slowly but Surely

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I've been moving slowly lately, sort of mildly melancholy, even before the news of the terrorist attack in Manchester last night, which is just shattering my heart every time I think of it. A lot of people I know have been cleaning lately — straightening and organizing and dusting and fussing with the little things, and I have been the same, apparently trying to bring order to a world that feels so disordered and disorienting. I dusted off all of my earrings and twenty-year-old perfume bottles, got new low-light houseplants and some new pots, a little chair, moved the pictures. Moved them again. Sat in the chair and did nothing but sit for a minute. I'm trying to make a safe spot. I hold my daughter close under the galloping blades of the big ceiling fan — it was 90 degrees yesterday at bedtime, and we laid on top of the clean white sheets in the dim room, shades pulled against the evening sun and the world outside, talking about baby chicks and rising moons and silly songs and swimming lessons. It was almost too much to bear, her restless feet and her soft arms and her butterfly kisses and my weary heart, all jumbled and wilted from the heat and the news, and my throat felt so raw and sad I could not speak, so whispered. My heart and thoughts and prayers go out to all of the victims and their families and the first-responders of Manchester.

I wish you all peace. I wish you everything peaceful and soft today. XO, a

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.

 

Spring Fling

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The world is awash in silverlight, filled with rain and wind, like being on the edge of the ocean but with flowers. Everything's cold and soaked, the ground spongy and squelching as you walk. We always park blocks away from the ballet school and walk through the quiet neighborhood in the afternoons, on the way to class. Big old houses sit waiting for dinnertime. Things — petals and twigs and spidery stamen things — fall out of trees and swirl through the air as we walk. A cold wind blows up and a million drops of water land at once, a chilly, unwelcome wash. But the greens! Noticed nevermore than now.

Yesterday was one of those humbling parenting days, when the child lost her mind at go-home time, standing on top of the hill in the school play yard, enraged with desire to stay (though, naturally, we'd already stayed too long), shouting at the top of her lungs her intention to stay, furrowing her brow and stomping her boot as hard as she possibly could, running straight through a bed of thorn-covered rose bushes as if on fire, finally flinging a handful of pine needles and duff down the hill toward me at the bottom of it, standing in a group of parents, wearily pleading with my (bloodshot) eyes that she just come down now. Personally, I think I have an absolute shitload of stamina most days, but yesterday I hit the wall, a noodle cooked to the point of soggy. I stared back at her catatonically. The moms on either side of me recognized my glazed look and instinctively moved to prop me up, diagonal support-beams of commiseration and advice. "She's a very strong-willed child," said my friend Christina, mom of four, from four-year-old to teen, and a woman of experience. "That will serve her well, really." I nodded, all hope and fatigue. If I had been among any other parents than our Waldorf-school crew (a much more-evolved set than I, with few-to-no television-watchers among them), I likely would've been bellowing at the top of my lungs, "OH HO HO, MISSY, YOU COME HERE RIGHT NOW OR THERE WILL BE NO LITTLE EINSTEINS FOR YOU EVER AGAIN!!!!!" as I know for a fact that nothing would've gotten her down off that hill faster. But I couldn't do it, somehow, any more than I could, in that moment, bribe her with promises of mountains of sugar, though everything silent in me was frosting chocolate cupcakes and turning on Netflix faster than I could think. Anything, anything in that moment, where all I wanted was a hot bath and a book and a candle, or a down comforter to throw over my head, or a train ticket to Timbuktu. But somehow, at some point (oh, it got worse before it got better), I had hold of her hand and I didn't let go, Little Einsteins was (privately) denied her for the day (more howling), we made it home safe and sound, and all was soon enough right with the world. And today Andy is, thrillingly, blessedly home. Ah, sweet relief of reinforcements! 

Stacey was here yesterday, assembling most of the new (old) strips of fabric I have cut for new quilt kits, coming again in a few weeks. This time there will be fewer colorways but a few more kits available of each color. I've been thinking about how to offer these again and will talk about that next week, though I honestly don't have any very-much-better solutions, other than to say I will make more. I will make more, guys. I've got fabric coming in almost every day now. I'm by no means done with this, if you aren't. I'm committed to finding better ways to make it work, for both of us.

Dear little crocheted sweaters, I can't quit you. The green one (pattern from Mon Petit Violon), up there? I think it's finally the perfect sweater for Amelia, and she's actually been wearing it. Hallelujah. Success with something (anything! please!). Turns out light sport-weight crocheted sweaters are a great, swingy weight, and go fast, and look pretty, and are just all kinds of good for us right now. I used this pattern (my notes are on my own Ravelry page) and Swans Island Washable Sport in Fresh Water. For my next one, already started, I'm using the same pattern but in O-Wool O-Wash Fingering in Pasture Rose with the same (4.0mm) hook. Boom.

Time of Flowers

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This is my absolute favorite time of year. I do love winter, but this time, on the far edge of winter about to tip into spring, is my favorite. The daphne is blooming. The daffodils nod, heavy with a thousand rainstorms. The sky is gray and bright, the ground soaked, the rivers high and brown. I went to Starlight Knitting Society for the first time this afternoon to get some yarn to make a sweater for Amelia's Easter dress (cutest little Laura Ashley dress that I found, used but in perfect condition, on eBay). I had parked a couple of blocks away and walked through the neighborhood to the shop. The air was deeply, darkly fragrant with wood smoke and magnolia blossoms and mud and oh, spring, you are deeply enchanting.

Thank you to every one of you for your orders and your kind words and your patience about the quilt kits. As I said in my update on the last post, I will be making more. I've already found more fabric and it is on its way. And I don't think I was able to find more than three or four of the original prints I had, if that, so this next batch will be entirely new. Now that the pattern is done I will have more time to just focus on kits, so, never fear! I will definitely do at least one more round, and I will keep you posted on this. But more than that, I just do sincerely want to say thank you, and I really will do my very best to deliver as many as I can.

This past week Stacey and I untangled all of the orders and got them organized. She went on vacation and I am going to start shipping them all tomorrow. At night I've been working on my Beatrix Blanket, although I was trying really hard to make this Anya cardigan and it just proved to be beyond me right now. I'm going to pick it back up, but I needed something easier after this week, when I also got together all of the volumes of paperwork for the accountant to do the taxes, too, etc. Bah. I need a vacation. Alas, for the next two weeks, Amelia is on vacation from preschool for spring break, so rest will not be forthcoming. But that's okay. It's spring and that is exciting. I'm not sure what we're going to do yet. It's still pretty wet, and I believe there's still a lot of rain in the forecast, so, I don't know. Lots of play dates. I feel like watching Anne of Green Gables. And making another rhubarb pie. And some egg salad. Currently it's raining so hard we can hardly hear ourselves talk.

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.