School's Out!

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Well, hello! How are you? We are well! School's out! Cue angels singing.

You know I don't like summer but this year, oh this year . . . this year . . . summer I've longed for you.

I'm sitting in my office this morning, my newly painted office, of which I have no pictures. But I will take them. The walls are a sweet, frosty pale lilac. Everything is tidy. I've been organizing like crazy. I labeled all of my storage baskets and boxes. This took fifty times longer than I expected and almost killed me, but damn they look nice. I got a pretty-much-brand-new Ikea office chair for $25 at Goodwill. I also got a desk credenza thing for my table (also from Goodwill — I majorly scored that morning) that fits my tiny new TV and my computer and a few chotchkes. I splurged on new curtains and a new ironing board cover and another new chair (we need two in here). In spite of the fact that my email is broken and I'm flat broke because I really haven't had time to work at all lately and I'm half blind because I need new glasses and haven't gone to get them, I feel very grown up now in my new pretty new space. I will take photos today and show you how it all looks.

We've been out of school for a week. I won't lie. It was a tough year. A really great year and also a really tough year in a couple of big ways and also a bunch of subtle ways, mostly centering on our commute back and forth to the school we chose to send Amelia to. I don't think I realized how tough it was until spring break, when the effects of the two-and-a-half hours I was spending in the car every day kinda caught up to me and left me gasping for air. Once I wasn't doing it for even just a few days I could see how it was affecting me. I think it was literally sucking the life out of me. I feel stupid for not seeing it before, and even for not seeing it before we even chose it. It seems so obvious now. Nonetheless, it's hard to totally regret it, because the school and our experience there was so wonderful in so many ways, which was nice. But the commute sucked. And I never got used to it, and I never got over it. And I think it and things that came as a result of it took a greater toll on lots of areas of our life than we ever expected. So I'm happy to be done, and happy to be free, and happy to know that next year at her new five-minutes-away school Amelia will be playing on the playground for those hours every day instead of sitting in the car. Amelia, at the (new) public school carnival a few weeks ago, running up to me with her neighborhood friend: "Mom! This is GUM. It's CHEWING GUM. Can I have it? And can I break it up into little pieces and chew them one at a time carefully so I don't choke?" I try to keep a straight face. Omg. "Yes, you can have it." They run off. I turn to Andy: "Holy shit, public school is gonna blow. her. mind."

My neighbor, mom of three grown children, currently principal of a private school, who has sent her children to every kind of school, both public school here in Portland and private school when they lived abroad for many years, says kindly/knowingly to a weary-looking me getting out of car a few weeks ago: "You know what they say, the best school is the closest school." I just wish, among other things, they could actually drink the water out of the water fountains at the "closest" school (which they can't, because it is lead poisoned). Sigh. How can we not fix this? I gnash my teeth.

I Marie–Kondo-ed my closet and my dressers and got rid of fifteen-year-old handbags and belts (belts! As if!) and old sweaters and gnarly tee shirts and blouses that never quite closed at the bust. It was seriously satisfying. I'm a natural purger (unlike my mate, the natural hoarder, who also leaves a trail of items behind him like breadcrumb; I can trace the path of his every activity around the property from them) but I don't spend enough time doing it. I hate that in life we accumulate so many things. I try try try not to — the house is small, I like to have a place for everything and have everything in its place, to have no more than just enough — but overage still seems to happen, especially when you live in the same house for decades. We've been here nineteen years this spring. We've made a lot of changes to this property. I want to keep it nice. I want to honor the privilege of being here on it. I don’t want more than just enough.

I bought two peace lilies at the plant nursery and two pretty pots for Amelia's teacher-gifts for the last day of school. The guy at the nursery was potting them up for me, and I was wandering around inside, waiting for the plants. I saw the display of stuff you can use to test your soil for pH balance, etc., and it made me think of when, a million years ago, my friend Pat was working somewhere that did this and my dad asked him to test our soil. My parents always did have a vegetable garden, and my dad would have ideas about it — one year it was a square-foot garden, one year a "Victory" garden, one year they put these giant tubes with holes in them underground and you were supposed to stick the hose way down there and it was supposed to let the water really get to the roots. I thought about the hopefulness of all those things and maybe even the silly sweetness of them, and the earnestness with which they were always undertaken, and I got, in an instant, unbearably sad. All the things we want and care about, all the ways we try so hard. Time passes so quickly. My dad and the old house have been gone for so long now. Our little girl just finished kindergarten and will be seven years old this year.

The goal of my summer is simply to water the garden. I think I have some other goals but I'm not sure exactly what they are. The front garden consists of four small perennial borders that line each side of the front yard, two rock walls (hot and dry), and three raised beds on the parkway. There are also two small patches of grass in the upper yard. There are two trees — a magnolia and a dogwood — that are large enough now to arch prettily over this little spot where I put my chairs. I read here in the mornings and whenever else I can spare a moment. I have an intense urge, after all that driving and all those tuition payments, to stay home and not spend any money. Except on water. I set up the sprinkler in each one of the garden spots, moving it after each spot gets its soak. The sound of the water is soothing. Birds come and flit and flicker through the spray. The three baby squirrels that were raised in the duct-work in my studio ceiling — I swear they know our voices. They now sit in the flat feeder and gorge themselves all day on the black-oil sunflower seeds, and our near presence does absolutely nothing to cause them a moment's anxiety. It’s mildly unnerving; I’m not used to wild animals having no hesitation in running straight down a tree trunk ten inches from where I’m sitting. They practically run over my legs. Chickadees and sparrows and woodpeckers and bushtits come and go from the other feeders, and occasionally the squirrels will let someone else eat at the flat feeder. I read and read. I've been reading all of the Tana French books with my best friend, Martha, who lives three-thousand miles away. We text about this throughout the day. "Where are you now?" "Leon just told him that he didn't help him when they were younger." "Oh yeah. Oh dear. . . ." I rub my hands together nervously, knowing what comes next because I’ve finished that one. Martha: "I'm grateful every minute my client is late so I can sit here and reeeeeeeead." Me: "I know!!!" I seriously cannot put them down, and this never happens to me. They are quite dark but very compelling. These are not cozy mysteries. But the dialogue — wow. I think in a cop-Irish accent now. "Ah, what is that eejit on about, then?" (watching someone run a red light ahead of me on the commute). I'm reading the Tana French books from the library so I take what I can get when they're available, and so am reading them out of order, but it doesn't seem to matter. It turns out that my favorite character type is, apparently, Damaged Antisocial Detective. 

While I water and read, Amelia is so far content to wander around the yard, making fairy houses and chalk drawings, swinging on her tree, spraying the sidewalk with the hose, clipping bouquets for me, watching Bubble Guppies. Being home feels novel and still fun. Grandma Paulson and cousin Brooke come for a visit next week, and then we have one week of half-day ballet camp, and then nothing. No swimming lessons (we did them indoors during school year, and I think she's burnt out on them), no Trackers camp or space camp or art camp, no vacation house booked yet. We've had play dates at parks with school friends, some shopping for new shorts, and trips to the grocery store and library. We're going lo-fi this summer. Open swim and tacos as many nights a week as I can get away with and orange-juice popsicles and Camp Netflix. I'm in recovery from being previously over-committed in ways visible and invisible to myself.


First day of kindergarten | Last day of kindergarten (with Juniper Nia Aliayah Paulson the American Girl doll)


Before we started homeschooling, the happiest day of the year was the last day of school. Enjoy your low-fi summer! The library, the park, summer crafts, a sprinkler...this is all I ask of summer.

Cheers for the neighborhood school... we are lucky to have good ones, too (not perfect, but good.). I’m happy for this update from your corner of the world, to recognize the relief and joy of staying “Schools out,” and the liberty of nothing else, much, scheduled or demanding our attention. Happy, too, because your posts are like finding a handwritten letter in the mailbox... newsy, hopeful, familiar. Happy summer... let’s hope we enjoy every bit.

Lauralou says: June 14, 2019 at 02:23 PM

I love these rambling posts. We are so close to school being out...and my husband and I are both teachers. It's always such an exhausting sprint to the end that I fail to make any sort of plans for summer. My boys have become giants over night, it seems. They tower over me, and their voices are deep, and I just want to hang on and bask in this time...

Kim-Pacific Northwest says: June 14, 2019 at 02:23 PM

I couldn't help but notice your daughter has the same horse barn in her bedroom that my grandson has at my house. Isn't that a great toy? He loved naming each horse.

I really hope you enjoy your low-key summer and I hope we don't have any of the wildfire smoke that we experienced here in Olympia last summer. That was terrible.

My grandson (6 years old) and I are planning a summer of visiting as many public libraries in our area as we can. We have it mapped out.

Happy Summer

Michele Holmes says: June 14, 2019 at 02:27 PM

I know what you mean about 'accumulation' sneaking up on you. We've sold our current home - been here for 20.5 years - and are moving at the end of July to our new home. Oh, the stuff!! I, too, am one who purges regularly but still am overwhelmed by the amount of stuff. I swear it all reproduces on its own! Can't wait to see pictures of the 'new' office!

Sigh, I love the loveliness of all of your photos, I always get so excited when I see that you've written another post. Thank you so much for sharing about your daughter's school; we made a difficult school decision for our daughter recently where we really wanted her to attend a fabulous arts-integrated magnet school, but we'd be driving at least an hour a day, so we opted for our zoned school, which is only five minutes away.

Enjoy your beautiful summer!

I've read all of the Tana French novels, and I LOVE them!

holy bananas, i swear once again we've been leading parallel lives - we did 3 years of a horrendous commute for my daughter's elementary school and it was just SO AWFUL. And now the middle school she started at in 6th grade is 5 minutes away. we have theater stuff and once weekly tennis lessons for her set up through July and then NOTHING. I was so euphoric when we were able to stop with swimming lessons. I can't imagine how kids of multiples do it - I feel like I spent half my life sitting through my kid's swimming lessons ha ha ha. Can't wait to see your office space!

Holy smokes what a difference between the first and last day!

Okay, how come I never heard that the best school is the closest school?? I schlepped my kids 18 km to the Waldorf School for ten years. We managed and it was worth it in many ways but when they switched over in grades 11 and 9 respectively to the neighborhood public school, a five-minute walk from our house, it was like the biggest weight had been lifted. Good for you for figuring this one out early!

I can hear your sigh of relief here on the East Coast! I love that you can see the good of the last year, but are open to making the changes your family needs for a better lifestyle. My oldest is enrolling in our area public highschool after being homeschooled for nine of the last ten years. The enrollment is almost 4,000, so I imagine it will be a big adjustment for her, BUT, as this year it became patently clear homeschooling was no longer a good fit for her, I am so thankful the school is an option. Good strength as you all adjust—and remember that nothing has to be forever. Take it year by year!

My planned summer reading is very light but oh, how I love the BBC detective mysteries with damaged but good detectives. Wallander (the BBC version) has run its' course but I have watched most of the episodes. My grown daughter finds it a little too dark. We agree on Shetland, though. I keep telling her she will love Vera when she finally gets time to watch them. Maybe now that it is summer...

My son and daughter and their families were here for the first time in two years during the Memorial Day week. My son lives in-state but my daughter is 1,000 miles away. Every time we are together, I wonder how time passed so fast. It is the time spent with them in the young years that decides the relationship we have with them as adults.

I was counting down the days until the last day of school two weeks ago. Wow!! May is busier for us than the month of December. We went to the coast for a few days last week which was nice, but I was happy to return home and just chill. It's so nice to not have much of a schedule now. My daughter will continue with karate class twice weekly and swim lessons twice weekly - only the month of July. I'm looking forward to lots of slow days with a long weekend planned to visit Washington DC later in the summer. Yay for summer! Hope you enjoy every second of it!

i'm reading tana french this summer too! we read the witch elm in my book club last winter and i loved it. i read in the woods a couple of weeks ago and now i'm on the likeness. LOVE her books so much. i just eat them up! cheers to a summer of murder mysteries.

Checking in every other day, hoping for a new posting.
Hooray, as today's the day. I so enjoy the pictorial array along with catching up on the everyday goings-on in the Paulson household.

Can't wait to see your fresh new studio in all it's lovely coat of pale lilac along with your Goodwill finds. I can completely agree with the less is more, everything has a place way of living. Clutter makes me feel uneasy. Seems I'm rearranging and give away this and that, every 6mos or so.

Your plan for a lo-fi summer sounds perfect. Sometimes we take on too much and before we know it we've worn ourselves into a frazzle.

Take care sweet Paulson's, and enjoy each summers day as you find them. XOXOXO

Lovely, as usual. I’ve been a reader for a long time. I found you through the Attic 24 blog. Absolutely wonderful writing.

Susan R. says: June 15, 2019 at 04:52 AM

Yay - love to spend my Sat. mornings with your post and a latte. Love the pics of Amelia. School is difficult and a commute would be soooo difficult. That loss of precious time and glad you'll have that back in the fall. I have been organizing too and threw away thousands of recipes. I did keep the very dear ones, but really trying hard to purge and organize. It was bittersweet as I saw very old recipes and therefore, memories too. I plan to do a room a week and I don't ever want to do this again! Talk about a waste of time - I want less stuff too. We spend years accumulating recipes, clothes, crafts, and things - and it is sad because it's all not important really. Enjoy your summer - so fun to not have big plans and enjoy it. Let's just hope we don't have sizzling temperatures!

Just popping by to say that after allllll these years of reading your blog, I still absolutely love to visit and read and soak in your images. THANK YOU for all that you share.
Here in the UK, school isn't out until 26th July so we've still five weeks to go. I am so looking forward to the change in pace that's for sure, but the juggle of kids/home/work is quite tricky for me these days. I do my best. Sending love in abundance to you and yours - happy summer!!!xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

I, too, am in the market for a tiny TV for my craft space. What size and brand did you decide on? Are you able to watch Netflix on it?

Jean Stein says: June 15, 2019 at 07:35 AM

I have a recommendation for your reading list for after Tana French. Try Susan Hill, who writes wonderful mysteries involving a family who lives in an English cathedral town. Not as grisly and dark as Ms. French, but challenging nonetheless because the characters are complicated and develop over the series of the books. Probably best to read them in the order they were written, though, so get ready to take advantage of that PDX library system. Thanks so much for sharing your life.

Oh, my, she has grown so much. A little lady! You are such a good mother. I can only imagine how stressful that commute must have been -- like a circus ride you can't get off of! I homeschooled my kids and have never regretted it. But its not for everyone and certainly has it stressful moments too. Enjoy your summer!

I live in New Jersey and structure my entire life to avoid traffic whenever possible. This is sometimes a futile task but I still try.....enjoy the time off of an unscheduled summer. It sounds lovely and so refreshing. Those pictures of your lovely growing girl are a bit of a gut many changes.

Ruth Hower says: June 15, 2019 at 10:05 AM

Years ago I bought The More With Less cookbook along with a companion book, Living More With Less:
They've been on a shelf since then and only yesterday did I open and begin to read the Living More with Less. Words can't describe it (another female author, the likes of Rachel Carson, also taken away young by cancer) - I think you will see why if you take a look. It's truly worth having and reading, just to open eyes to what we overlook in living so fast when there's such a better way. It's truly opening my old eyes. It's wisdom to pass on to your precious daughter. Enjoy a peaceful summer!!♥♥♥

Oh my, oh my! Look at her change -- thank you for the photos of the first and last days! It is such a decision -- what school situation is best, it can be so heart wrenching. I'm a firm believer in my local schools despite so many neighbors ditching it for "greener" pastures. I was convinced my daughter would be OK wherever she went and took it on faith following families with older kids and seeing them flourish in our small, small district. I went with the big fish, small pond attitude, rather than sending her to the next district with many more students and a better (?) reputation. Of course, when I was a kid, no one sent their kids anywhere but public school; growing up in a small rural community, that was the only option. I got to watch my daughter become a leader. Maybe she wouldn't have had those valuable experiences among more students. We were rewarded in so many ways, the biggest of which is a full tuition scholarship to an exceptional state university -- any student in our district who gets into the school gets tuition paid. I'm practically weeping now just thinking about it. All the best to you and enjoy the low-key summer!!

I just discovered the book Maisie Dobbs, an fictional investigator in 1913, and loved it. I was really happy to find it's a series of 15!

I'm a former teacher and we've always homeschooled our daughter (age 12). I've said to my husband so many times the ONE thing I really miss about being "out" of the school paradigm is the immense rush of freedom and relief that comes on the last day of school. There is nothing else like it. I can only imagine how strong it was for you this time after such a grueling year.

I hope you have a lovely summer of rest.

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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