School's Out!

comments: 58



















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)


Caroline says: June 15, 2019 at 12:23 PM

Oh, she has grown up so much over this school year! That first-day-of-school photo is so dear. And the close-up of her with the pink flower in her hair is WONDERFUL.

Enjoy your summer with your sweet girl (my oldest is 26 and my youngest is 17 with only her senior year of school left--bittersweet!).

Always fun to see the images you share.. Mimi is growing up so fast. I'm glad you got a break from all that driving. I was trying to figure out where you were taking her to that would be such a long commute. I'm glad she'll be so much closer next year. Enjoy your summer and just breathe and read and relax.
((hugs)), Teresa :-)

Leanne Evans says: June 15, 2019 at 04:36 PM

I have been away from your blog for a few years and when I saw it today on my Pinterest "blogs" board I knew I had to check in ... and there she is! A daughter! The last time I checked your blog you had just been horribly disappointed in an adoption attempt.
But now, THERE SHE IS! Amelia is beautiful! Congratulations!
I'll now go catch up on the rest of your happenings.

Glad you've got a low key summer planned! The summers of my childhood were as you describe--library, grocery store, swim almost every day and/or evening, an occasional week of camp.
I live in PDX and I feel like these is so much bias against the neighborhood schools (which in fairness do vary a lot) amongst people of a certain income level--this is not a slam, merely an identification of privilege. The things some acquaintances have said make me grind my teeth. I'm glad you found what was best for your family, and especially that it is five minutes away! I'm also glad you are pointing out the absolute absurdity of having undrinkable water in our SCHOOLS. (full disclosure, I work in special education, but not in K-12 or PPS)

Wait until you have lived in your house for over forty years and see what you have accumulated. I have purged several times and still have closets and rooms filled with so much stuff. I took so many bags of fabric to the charity shop when I cleaned my workshop and still have boxes and boxes of fabric. I think we Americans like to consume too much, but it's so much fun. As for the pictures of Amelia, I loved the side by side of her. She is growing up. Glad you are taking it easier this coming school year. Being near the school you can keep up with what Amelia is learning and be there in a few minutes if she gets sick at school And you both will benefit by not being in the car so long. Plus her school friends will live close by. I did my share of commuting in my day and know what it can take out of you. Good decision.

I love this post. I am a firm, firm believer in summer vacation. Time to do and not do every thing you said!! Blessed relief from routine to rest, rejuvenate, and finally remember that routine is good, too, just not to the point of exhaustion. We’re doing a long weekend at the beach and returning home to stay-cate the rest of the week kind of vacation this year and I’m looking forward to every bit of it. So glad you had a good year and decided to make the change for closer school next year. You will all thrive doing what works best for your family 😉. I keep hearing about the Tana French novels, gonna have to check those out. Enjoy your new studio. Please post a whole lot of pictures, cannot possibly be too many. I’m looking for good ideas about everything from paint colors to curtains to furniture to how-to-organize. I’m always so energized by your lovely choices and taste. Happy watering!

I'm feeling so many of the same things this summer. We were planning a gigantic 2 1/2 week trip to Utah in July and my anxiety just kept ratcheting up, and I found myself having bad dreams about it. All of a sudden it clicked with me that I just want to stay home this summer. I want to water my garden every day and watch my newly planted tomatoes grow, I want to feed my own cat instead of scrambling to find a neighbor kid to help out, I want to spend lazy afternoons reading on the patio while the kids eat popsicles, and I want to do a whole lot of nothing important. We made our summer bucket list and it's basically just eating ice cream and burgers and donuts, with a few small adventures thrown in. Last year we spent the summer buying a house, painting/fixing up the house, and moving into the house, and this year I just need as much laziness as possible.

P.S. I also CANNOT get over the fact that my kids can't drink the water at school! How have we not fixed this yet?!? It has been this way for as long as we've lived in Portland and it drives me crazy.

roxanne reynolds says: June 16, 2019 at 04:44 PM

damaged antisocial detective? you need to read Ian Rankin's Rebus books. fantastic and there's lots!

My heart squeezes when I think of Summer vacation with my children. I was fortunate to be a stay at home mom and I loved summer or any vacations with 3 kids. Beach days and do nothing days. Loved it all. This makes me happy to see your dear girl. She sure grew this year!

Our daughter's private school was minimum of 45 minutes each way - more if we didn't make the bus! - which could be 3 hours of commuting each day. It was do-able when I worked nearby but it truly sucked the life out of us over 8 years. We're moving to PDX this summer and I get how frustrating PPS and their decisions can be - but we're trying our neighborhood school first and seeing how it goes. The thought of walking 10 minutes to school makes us want to turn a cartwheel or two. Good luck!

Also! Nothing makes me happier than seeing other people fall under the spell of my beloved Tana French! I’ve never found another writer that comes close to her. JK Rowling’s murder mysteries (under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith) are also very character driven, and I adore Maisie Dobbs (and the Maggie Hope series too), but there is but one Tana French.

Such a difference on Amelia. She is a young lady now. Always pretty!

Dawn Andrews says: June 17, 2019 at 09:45 AM

She is adorable! I love her shirt in the last day picture. Did you make it?

Inder Khalsa says: June 17, 2019 at 09:56 AM

Here in Oakland, cheap but effective water filters were installed at all of the schools by the local water district. Problem solved. Hope something like that happens for you too!!

your words about time passing ache my heart .. and your girl done with kindergarten .. what a difference in those last photos .. so grown up .. i did private school for my daughter in kindergarten and then onto public (although not the long commute you endured) .. so long ago now .. she will shortly be 24. i am so glad you will have some time to recalibrate .. so important .. enjoy :)

I, too, recently read The Witch Elm. It unsettled me.

My kids go to public school in Portland and while on principle I'm furious that the drinking fountains are still turned off, ultimately it isn't that inconvenient. They take water bottles to school and have clean water stations. But yes, it is sad and ridiculous that any city in this country is dealing with lead in their water, especially in schools!

Your summer sounds wonderful. I bet those roses in the first photo smell as delicious as they look. Your girl, I cannot believe how grown up she looks in her floral top.

I so know what you mean about over extended. I’ve had one whole year of being an empty nester now that my youngest finished her first/freshman year of college. AND I’m still not caught up on downtime. Now that she’s home for summer and my middle one, who just graduated, is in and out whilst waiting to start his job/career, I’m exhausted all over again. Here I am at 54 trying to remember or figure out who I am when I’m not a mom or wife or personal assistant or daughter. I read somewhere that Emma Thompson, the actress, is having a similar problem in her life at 60 with her kids growing up. It’s not bittersweet sadness it’s what I want to do now that I have time to do it. Thank you, Alicia, for always giving me creative ideas, or at least giving me the desire to create. I’m sure you’ll recoup way faster than I am doing. Happy summer

Robin Ahamedi says: June 17, 2019 at 02:11 PM

Tana French is such a wonderful author. I have thoroughly enjoyed all of her books.

Oh i am so happy you won't have that commute! When my kids went to Montessori we also had a lengthy commute but i was lucky as my husband did the drop-off and i did the pick-up (except on a couple of occasions when i got real busy at home and forgot...bad mother!). It was still more driving than i wanted to do in a day and although it was a wonderful place i was happy when they were both home schooled full time! That seems a lifetime ago now as my eldest has just completed high school and i am finding moments of feeling 'unbearably sad' also. I've heard 'She's leaving home' no less than 3 times played on the radio this past week and been in floods of tears each time. Now i look at darling Amelia here and how much she's grown and off i go again!! Cherish every second x

Beth in Maryland says: June 18, 2019 at 10:19 AM

What a great post. I love you.

Darice Herigstad says: June 18, 2019 at 10:35 PM

I loved having my kids home for the summer. We went on many small adventures, lots of carefree fishing and camping. WE all have the best memories and sometimes I really long for those days.
Your daughter is becoming more beautiful every day. She looks so happy and has such a peacefulness around her! It's apparent that you guys are doing something so very right!
I love my garden here in Camas. Everything grows! I remember my grandmother's garden so well, and now I also have grapes growing, honeysuckle flowers and blossoming yuccas. It brings me back to my childhood and to my grandmother's simple house in southern Illinois.
Now, I just need a gooseberry bush. ha. Maybe not.
Enjoy your wonderful summer!
I look forward to your new adventures and journey.

How lovely to have all that to look forward to! Here in the UK we have another 5 weeks of school so I am trying to cram in as much work as I can until they finish. rides, baking, and trying to encourage as much low-fi entertainment as I can (mine are 15 and 12, so this can be tough).
I wanted to say, I thought Damaged and Antisocial was in the job description for all fictional detectives! (I don't know any real ones, so I can't comment on that).
Enjoy the freedom ahead!

Adrienne says: June 19, 2019 at 03:00 PM

I have never read any of the Tana French books, but from the sound of them I think you might like the BBC detective drama, Happy Valley, which I believe is on Netflix. It takes place in West Yorkshire and the setting is just wonderful. But even better is the plot (a bit dark) but with some wonderful relationships between the characters that really draw you in. The lead actor is Catherine (played by Sarah Lancashire) a small town no-nonsense, fifty-something police seargeant. She is amazing!

Adrienne says: June 20, 2019 at 11:48 AM

Loved this post and your lo-fi summer goals. It sounds like bliss. Please, please new photos of the studio. This last photo of her first and last day of school made me cry! She looks so much older and grown up in just one school year but then I remember that about my son from kindergarten to first grade. I think 3rd to 4th was a big physical leap as well and then 5th to 6th was HUGE. Good thing that doll head was at the bottom of the last day photo because just seeing this head at the bottom of the stairs made me laugh out loud! All this passage of time... of to my library site to find these books you are reading! Happy Summer.

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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




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.