Posts filed in: April 2009

Jane Market Bag

comments: 160


In between all the gardening, and the hay hauling, and the just generally sitting around waiting for something to grow, I've been sewing a bit. I was watching Marple a couple of weeks ago and I noticed that Jane is almost always carrying some sort of calico bag — which probably contains her knitting, not groceries. But it gave me an idea for a bag I'd been wanting to make for quite a while, a giant grocery tote to replace those hideously fugly ones they sell at all the stores now. You know the ones I mean? Those black ones, made of what feels like the same material they make Handi-Wipes out of (don't even know if they still make those, but my mother used to use them and I still remember that weird, webby fabric)? Anyway, I can't stand those bags, as practical as they are, but I do like that big, boxy shape — like a regular paper grocery bag. So I made this one, out of calico. I've been carrying it around all week, testing it out, and I love it. I'll put together a pattern this week in case you want to make one, too. It's easy, and a great stash-buster!

Speaking of stashes, when we got new carpet, a giant shelf that was in the bedroom came down to live in my studio. I moved all of my fabric to it, but it's a total mess. I'm trying to use up as much of the stash as possible so I don't have to refold and refuss with trying to stack and color-code it all. I'm finally just accepting that the whole stash-fabric-refolding thing will probably need to be redone once a year. It always seems to be exploding off the shelves, possibly because I am such a slob about putting it away nicely in the first place. But only possibly. I think it's really messing itself up and hurling big piles of itself to the floor on purpose, just to make me crazy. Because stashes have nothing better to do. Everyone knows this.

***The pattern is available HERE!

Our First Garden

comments: 33


Andy, on our Montana homestead, 1996.

Did I mention it is a bit arid there in the summer? Yipes.

Green and Black

comments: 82


Hello. Me here in the garden again. I've fallen in love with a little square of dirt. It must have a million worms in it. Everytime I plant something I unearth a big glob of wriggling squigglers. I read that this is a good thing. I wouldn't have believed I could feel such fondness for worms until this week. Now I get it. Tunnel on, ladies.


This is actually my second vegetable garden. Our first was in the yard of our apartment building in Missoula, back in 1996 or so. It was a little smaller than this one, about six feet square. Andy and I dug it out of a back corner of the lawn. Our landlord told us to go for it. He was probably laughing to himself when he said it. The yard was huge, and edged with ancient lilac trees. No one ever used it. We were younger and skinnier and less-tired back then. I had one book on gardening (that I bought at Freddy's Fead and Read, if anyone remembers that place) and it said to double dig. I don't remember what that means, exactly, but we did that. The square was filled with rocks. I think it was more rocks than dirt. We put in a rock border. We planted strawberries and peas. We sat out there daily and watched it all grow. I loathed my job (I was a publications and marketing assistant for a managed-care company) with the white-hot passion of a thousand suns, then. Every morning before work I'd go out there to the little garden and cry.


This year the timing was perfect. I am free for the first time in months to take a few days off and really dig in. The majority of work that we had to do to this property just to get to a "clean slate" both front and back is done. Spinach and tulips, a veggie garden — they feel like a flourish, icing on a compost cupcake it's taken years to bake.


This past week I got a bale of hay from the feed store. Actually, Andy got it, and I just went with him. Bewildered by the sheer size and weight of a real, live [enormous] bale of hay, he was unsure how to pick it up to put it in the truck, and wound up tipping it vertical then bear-hugging it, lifting it four inches off the ground, hobbling with it quickly across the parking lot, then hurling it desperately into the bed of the truck. I would have taken a picture of this but I was doubled over, laughing and pointing. When we went in to pay for the hay, Andy said to the strapping farm youth manning the register, "That was a lot heavier than I thought! Don't cowboys usually just lift that thing with one hand and throw it over their shoulder?" And the strapping farm youth was like, "Well, I usually use two hands." And I was over in the corner by the baby chicks, sputtering.


When we got home I spread the hay out over a small area around the spinach, then decided I missed the look of the dirt, and a couple of people had suggested that hay would fill the garden with weeds (thank you!). So I wound up donating the bale to my niece and nephew's bunnies. When my brother-in-law saw how much hay we had, and how much hay I'd used (about two square feet), then it was my turn to be laughed and pointed at.


I looked at my giant, frowsy hay bale, shedding alfalfa all over the driveway, and sadly waved goodbye to it. But it was fun while it lasted, and I kept a little patch of it, just for that yummy hayish smell. I'll pull the weeds, I don't care.


We dilettantes take it where we can get it.


The weather reverted to cold, and everything I planted last week seems rather stunted and unsure. Andy finished his wood shed and he got the wood moved off of its splintery, tumbling pile and into its nice little house. Willow fencing went up on all of the chain-link boundaries. Unfortunately, it does nothing to shield us from the volume of our new neighbors' band practice, noise I might have thought was cool fifteen years ago but which now just makes my head hurt.


I wish it was a bluegrass band.


You know what I mean?

The Dogwood Tree

comments: 87








Look at that last one again:


Open, opening, and about to open.

Dappled Day

comments: 66


Oh, it was good. A very good Tuesday. I got my yard all set up for summertime. I believe you are familiar with the evening view from that chair on the right.


The past four days in Portland have been beyond gorgeous. In the 70s and sunny, not a cloud in the sky. All over the city, people came outside to see the sunshine. Our neighborhood was a beehive of yard-fussing activity — from behind every fence I could hear washing, building, digging, watering. I wandered in and out of several nurseries and garden centers throughout the weekend and it was so much fun to be out there with everyone, feeling so happy to be planting at last. Everyone was happy. I felt a mandate from Mother Nature to dig a bit, plant a bit, and then just sit and appreciate it all until late into the evening on each day. My mind unwound itself like a fiddlehead fern, and stretched.


This yard is small — maybe 25 feet deep and about 40 feet across at the most, not counting the garage and driveway — and quite tightly packed into the tree-lined yet truly urban neighborhood. The houses are very tight. Four other houses border our property, and on the east our neighbor's house is literally 12 feet from ours. If that. When I first moved here, I was not used to all of these tall, very opaque fences, but now I get it, I guess. Everyone wants a bit of peace and quiet and privacy, and this is the type of place where people are frequently in their yards, so you see (and hear) everything. Everybody gets along just fine, but you need that private space. It's a busy city.

Last year our neighbors behind us built a new fence. Thank you, neighbors! We had some scrappy shrubs along the old falling-down fence that got taken out. Right now everything is brown, in every direction. This year we've planted nine hydrangea bushes — very small! — along the new back fence. They're cream- and lilac-colored mopheads, and should grow to about 4'  to 6'. I put my new willow teepee thing around one, just for fun and to give things some height back there. I also put three climbing hydrangeas against the big brown garage wall. They take a while to get going, but then they go whoosh. And they are one of the few things that will climb without support and in shade.

The yard is more hardscape than herbscape right now, but I have to remember that it's all just beginning to grow. I found that round table in someone's driveway while I was riding my bike (car's still in the shop). It had a broken leg, and a "FREE" sign on it. I rushed home and called Andy and gave him the address and asked him to stop by with the truck on his way home from work much later that night — for eight hours I sat crossing my fingers and hoping no one else would find it first! No one did. Score. I put an old half of a cinder block under it and it was the perfect height, so I didn't even have to fix it. Andy was very skeptical so I have naturally reminded him about how awesome my alley table is every day since we got it.


On Saturday, one of the things I did was run around all over the yards (front and back) and collect up all of the pots I have been collecting over the years, and I emptied and cleaned them out They now hold my herb garden and potatoes (I planted four in four different pots — the white ones that look empty) and one cape mallow called 'Very Cranberry'.


Orange mint, sage, parsley, cilantro. In the others I think there is more sage, more parsley, dill, oregano, rosemary, another rosemary, thyme. And a couple of extra fuschias. I'm going to see if the shade plants or the sun plants do better in each location.


Fuschia windowsill right outside my studio.


I've planted everything in the kitchen garden now! We mixed lots of compost into the square, and fertilized with Dr. Earth's Organic 5. Then I planted cut-and-come-again lettuce, spinach, broccoli, garlic, leeks, Napa cabbage, runner beans, peas (I stuck a section of our old wire fencing up along the wall for them to climb), and nasturtiums. Almost the minute I was done planting yesterday, I heard the UPS truck coming down the road (I'm like Pavlov's dog with that thing — I hear the engine from blocks away and I drop whatever I'm doing and rush to the front yard, panting). Sure enough, it was for me — my willow edging. Yay!

The willow is my big splurge this year — besides the plants, it's the only new thing. Well, I did get a new hose and sprayer nozzle thing. I have 30 feet of willow fencing that is going to be wired to the (chain-link) fence and the driveway gate, as well. I put the little loops on top of the edging with some old willow sticks I had from Garden Fever when it used to be Poppybox. Not sure if they still have loose willow there anymore, but they do have a LOT of willow stuff there (it's hard to find here in Portland). More nasturtiums will go on the outside of the edging, between the edging and the rocks/sidewalk. I was going to go with strawberries but it's just too tight with the sidewalk and the hose and the dog, so I think just flowers are best on that side of the edging, and the strawberries will go into pots. I think I might get a bale of hay and mulch everything too. I love the smell of hay. Reminds me of my horseback-riding days.


I really think Mr. MacGregor would be proud!!!


I have a thing for willow.



And this pot, apparently. I painted several of my terra cotta pots with yogurt a couple of years ago. For a long time, they didn't look any different than they had when they were new. Then all of a sudden this year: Patina! It worked.


The light is just crazy dramatic back here. I think this was around 3:30 or 4 p.m. I'll take more photos of the details when it's less shadowy. I love it like this, though. It adds another layer of interest to everything. Just look at this tree shadow:


Isn't that cool?


The cats love the new table. There's a little bottom level they take turns curling up on. (And by "take turns" I mean "punch each other in the face until one or the other leaves.")




I love it here.

View from a Chair

comments: 56


I don't seem to be able to move. If you need me, I'll be at the chair.

Veggie Garden Begins

comments: 41

Where I started . . .


It's such an obvious kitchen-garden spot in our yard. Right outside the back door, this little 8' x 8' square snugs up to the side of the house. I'd gotten the flagstones and put the rock border in many years ago, when we first moved here and started planting this space with herbs and a climbing rose. It was also home to our bird bath. Now it is my little vege plot. There is so much shade in the yard — almost everywhere except the little patch of lawn we saved when we graveled it all over is beautiful dappled shade. Not great for a veggie garden but we'll see how it goes, grows.


By the end of the day I had some spinach starts, garlic, leeks, and the broccoli in. This was on Saturday. I'll take some more photos today and show you what I did on Sunday. Andy built a huge shed out of the pieces of our old deck to store the firewood on the side of the driveway. I dug and planted and cleaned and fussed with dirt from sun-up to sun-down, and then I snuck back out and went and sat in my Adirondack chair in the dark, until Andy made me come inside. I am so excited. My willow fencing should be here any day now.

Almost there.

comments: 37


Yesterday was one of the big photo shoots I had planned for the book. This was the last big one, the one with my model, Beauty Nicole. That's what I call her. She's also the most patient and the nicest girl in the world. Even though a porch swing she was sitting on fell out of the porch ceiling and she got hit in the head with a two-by-four (from the ceiling) six days ago (I didn't really know this until we were fussing with her hair and had to be careful about where she'd just gotten two stitches removed), she modeled five projects perfectly. I really, really hope she has the weekend off, poor darling. I wish I had baked her some cupcakes to take home, at least.

I get a little anxious about these photo shoots. The "vision" we're trying to translate is such a wily, capricious thing. When I am designing something, I almost always have a vision for it, a specific environment. It's a setting. I can hardly think of anything that doesn't inhabit a very specific setting in my imagination as it's coming to life. Since I was very young I have always designed things this way, whether I'm making embroidery projects or short stories: There's always a place. It often comes first. My friend Andy Greer once said to me after a fiction workshop when we were in grad school together, "Well, I'm not sure what's going on in your story, but I know what all the characters are wearing and what the wallpaper in everbody's room looks like." And I was like, "Oh good! So you got it, then!"

I'm getting more relaxed about photo shoots in general, I think, which is good, in general, for the almighty blood presure, but good aesthetically, too. I've been involved in enough of them now to know that holding on too tight just squashes the sponteneity and naturalness right out of anything. I "know" this, of course, but it still takes a conscious effort for me to remember that letting go is Good, not Bad. But you gotta let go at just the right amount, and that's the tricky part. It sort of feels like doing a triple axel (as if I could even stand up on ice skates, but we'll just say) — you let go enough so that you can lift off and spin, but not so much that you can't land it. And maybe even attempt a teensy wrist flourish: Ta da! [There. Skate on.]

Part of what contributes to the intensity is just the weirdness of working alone for so long, only getting to talk to editors and art directors on the phone, usually in abstractions and generalities, and then trying, when there's only that one day to get it right (since, trust me, rescheduling a photo shoot is not something anyone anywhere ever wants to have to do), to get something that pleases all of us equally, not to mention pleases our future audience. It's ultimately a collective vision and I feel a great responsibility for that, since a lot of people and a lot of time and a lot of effort (and money) is involved. Part of it is just simple performance anxiety, which has always plagued me. And part of it — maybe even the biggest part of it — is just something that comes with experience, I guess. Is that right? Because all of it, not just the phototography but everything about making a book, has been so much easier and so much better the second time around. I think I'm surprised I had the capacity to enjoy myself this much.

Anyway. These are just the things I think about, now that I am almost there, and almost done. Just two more project photos to go now. But I'll be far away from needle and thread, camera and computer this weekend: I'm digging in the dirt. If the weather holds out.

Good morning, Morning.

comments: 37

In the yard, this morning.

Patient Vege Await My Day Off

The Planter Steph's Dad Made in Kiwanis, with Primula

How the Stucco Will Be Ruined

Good Morning, Morning

Our Ostentatious Dutch Mistress

My Pysanky Eggs

comments: 61


Whew, I really needed that break. I am soooooo ready to be less busy now. My manuscript was on its way to New York by noon Monday, and the minute after I dropped it off at FedEx we went immediately to the plant nursery to get some vegetable starts. The timing couldn't be better. As I am ready to go outside, outside is almost ready (it hailed like crazy yesterday, so I say "almost") for me! Yay!

On Saturday, I made my first pysanky eggs for Easter. A pysanka is a traditional Ukrainian Easter egg, made by layering wax and dyes to create incredible designs. I made five altogether (three of one design and two of another), and it took the entire day! But it was wonderful. I had wanted to do some last Easter but I ran out of time, and only had a few cobbled-together supplies. This past fall at the Oktoberfest in Mt. Angel I got this egg decorating kit, which made it very easy to understand how to make these and gave me step-by-step instructions to create the two designs.


As soon as I started working on them, I knew I had done these once before as a child; I have a vague memory of a lady coming to our school and showing us how to use the tools and the candle, and I remember sitting at our dining-room table and working on them, and really enjoying it. Basically, you create these eggs like this: First you draw the design in pencil. Then you add wax to everything you want to stay white (or brown, if you're using brown eggs like the one on the left). Then you dye the egg yellow. Then you add the wax to everything you want to stay yellow. Then you dab on some green, and add wax over that. Then you dye the egg orange. Then you add wax to everything you want to stay orange, and then you dye it scarlet. Then you add wax to everything you want to stay scarlet, and then for the last color you dye it dark blue or black. When you're finished, you hold the egg over a candle until the wax melts, and then you wipe the wax off with paper towels.


To apply the wax, you use a small tool called a kistka, which is like a tiny funnel attached to a wooden handle. It has a small spout on it; when the wax is melted (by holding it over a candle) it runs out of the spout, and you draw directly on the egg. This article tells you more about the history, tools, and process, if you're interested. It is soooo much fun to do! Even Andy made two of them. I think I've described this correctly, but I am still kind of wiped out, so forgive me if it's not quite right. Also sorry for these crazy pictures. I took them early Easter morning while they were still sitting on my shelf, before I gave them away.

So, slowly but surely I am getting caught up and I will be back with more garden photos — oh, and thank you so much for the information about sticks and making edging and where to find cool pavers! I wound up ordering some willow fencing yesterday to cover the chain-link fence bordering our driveway, so I am excited about that, and about making some edging.  I will be back more regularly as soon as I get myself organized — I have so many things to show you.

About Alicia Paulson


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




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.