This Was May

comments: 59




















This was May, though there were a lot more necklaces, paintings, flowers, books, getting cats out of trees, worry, and tears for the state of the world. A lot more tears. And helpless, seething anger and fear for our children's futures. Every night I fall asleep to a sleep story (right now, Humphrey in Rio) on my Calm app, taking big, deep breaths and listening to the traffic outside. In my head, when the story finishes and I'm not yet asleep, I throw imaginary pots on the potter's wheel, slowly centering clay, feeling it push against my hands, feeling myself attempt to steady and control it. I'm terrible at it, in fact. The clay spins and slumps.

The weather has been warm but still very rainy, generally speaking.  The sweetest thing is watching Agatha learn how to be outside. At times we're still unsure about this decision we've made to let her Out. But she, mostly with great caution, has been going outside for about a month or two now, ever since the weather has warmed up. The backyard is fenced and she mostly stays in it (though we did find her in the driveway a few weeks ago, which is why I say "mostly"). But mostly she literally creeps around the backyard, trying to move so no predators see her, apparently. She listens to the birds and sniffs the air and lays on the warm bricks in the sunshine, watching little bugs crawl in and out of the cracks. She sits on the back porch and tilts her face up toward the sun. She runs over to me, meowing loudly — it's genuinely like she's trying to talk to me, and tell me things about Outside — whenever I come out. She sits under the thick hood of climbing hydrangea against the wall when it rains. Three times she's run straight up the trees — twice up the apple and once up the dogwood, each time going way too high. Making the choice to run up a tree gets you a swift trip back into the house. (Andy and I look at each other, grimacing, picturing ladders and balancing and trying to grab a cat that is trying to stick every claw into you while you teeter precariously. Great.) We bring her in whenever we are done worrying about it for the day, or whenever we leave the house. But her joy — her absolute wonder and pure delight as she sprawls out, furry belly splayed on the hot wooden stair, listening to birdsong — you can literally sense it, and it makes me so happy. I wish you similar, simple joys.

Amelia and I have been spending several hours every week in the children's department at a suburban library. She gets her homework done and I sit in a big chair and read and read. I don't know why we didn't do this all year, but we only started a few weeks ago. It's really nice. She's motivated to finish the homework so she can go play on the library computer. I'm thrilled to have several hours of enforced reading time that I don't normally get/take. I've finished two books there since we started going (one was Northern Spy and one was The Secret Place; not sure I recommend either, actually). Not sure what I will read today.

Thank you very much for all the feedback about the books that Amelia is reading/listening to. I really appreciated the discussion about Anne with an E (and Harry Potter). I think I will watch that Anne myself sometime and save the Megan Follows version for Meems this summer. We are almost finished with reading Anne. And now I really have no idea what we should read this summer! I like reading the classics out loud to her because I know she probably wouldn't pick these up herself. But she really likes listening. Hrmmm. What next?

Last (and late): A Tender Year: May is finally now available. Thank you so much for all of the sweet ideas for this, and I'm so sorry for the delay. Hoping to have June finished before July, I swear.

Beauty1 web


I highly recommend listening to the Penderwick series---they are delightful! They are contemporary books but definitely have an old-fashioned feel to them. (The subtitle of the first one is "A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy." :) We also really liked the audio of the Sam Krupnik books by Lois Lowry. And all the Ramona and Henry Huggins books! When Amelia is a bit older, I'd also recommend the Incorrigibles---the reader for the audiobooks is wonderful.

You too? May flew by, despite tears, worries, flowers unfurling, and sweeter moments. Your embroidery is picture perfect, familiar, soothing. I need Calm. I’ve been too rattled to figure it out.

Third grade is when I remember loving the books my teacher read to us: The Borrowers, most Beverly Clearly books (Henry Huggins), Island of the Blue Dolphin and By the Great Horn Spoon. One for when Amanda is a little older is True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle.

Many of my (then young) children's friends were reading the Harry Potter books - but I really did not like the darker elements that I was hearing about so I waited. One of my children chose to read them as a high schooler. I am glad it worked out that way.

Just love seeing all the creativity in your home and garden. We are just few hours north and I can relate with your weather delights/mi

My family has always loved "Understood Betsy". It makes a lovely read-aloud: we laugh and cry and enjoy watching Betsy blossom. I think you would really like it.

Another good one is "The Kitchen Madonna". It's not classic level, but it's sweet.

When Amelia's older, the two of you might enjoy "Cheaper by the Dozen". She's probably a little young now though.

I love the bicycle embroidery! I've always been scared away by drawing/embroidering bicycles myself...something about being worried I won't get all the parts the right shape and in the right places.

So good to read a post from you today! Glad all is as well as can be. Thanks for recommending the Calm app for night-time. The world's woes have been weighing on me this past month in particular. I will give this app a try. Meanwhile, I have been looking at/reading creative blog posts/photos: knitting, sewing, quilting, rather than dvd/videos before retiring. much more calming. Trying less coffee as well, and Lemon Balm tea. (I love my coffee ..., but I think less is helping, along with all the other things). Loving your embroidery :)

Heather Johnson says: June 01, 2022 at 07:24 PM

Our girls are about the same age and have VERY similar interests! I would recommend The Penderwicks series as well and also The Vanderbleekers series. If you want something animal centric we read Skunk and Badger recently which was very cute. As far as classics go my daughter loved Mr Poppers Penguins, The House on Pooh Corner, and My Side of the Mountain. I also went nuts on eBay one night and bought an entire series called The Happy Hollisters--it's a family that solves mysteries. (I think it was a mail subscription type thing for kids in the 60s.) If you are looking for a good book for yourself I think you would enjoy Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. His writing is beautiful. (This Tender Land is also good by him.) I just finished an adorable British mystery you might enjoy as well called The Thursday Murder Club. I am going to try that calm app--thanks for the idea!

OH MY GOSH, I read the Happy Hollisters!! Thanks for that flashback -- I haven't heard that name/title for many many decades, eek. I used to get stacks at the library each week -- the Bobbsey Twins, too (and Nancy Drew a few years later). Cozy mysteries in training?

The kids' book for this age group that I remember most fondly was The Pink Motel by Carol Ryrie Brink (had to look that up just now). My family would go to a cabin in the mountains over some summers and that book was in their library. I re-read it each time we visited and I remember loving it so much, part of the reason being that I could only read it over summer vacation.

Jennifer says: June 02, 2022 at 02:44 AM

What a breath of fresh air your posts and photos bring. Thank you for sharing.

I mistakenly read "Amelia" for "Agatha" and pictured Amelia creeping around your backyard for a few minutes before I realized my mistake. My brain clearly isn't working well.
But! I can talk books; I'm staring at our overflowing shelves right now and see so many good ones. Betsy-Tacy (the first few now, the rest later), Mary Poppins, Swallows and Amazons, The Mysterious Benedict Society, Ginger Pye, The kids love The Happy Hollisters, too!
The May embroidery pattern is so sweet. I mean, the detail on that bouquet of flowers!

You all are my people! I've never known three people outside my family that knows of the Happy Hollisters, yet in the first few comments here you are! My mom and aunt read them in the 50's-60's as children, then my sister and I read their old copies. Now my son and I have read 32 of them, mostly in order. We have only 1 left, which makes me a little sad. He's 11 and this has been our bedtime routine for a long time. I also second The Penderwicks and Betsy Tacy. I bought Island of the Blue Dolphins with the intent to read it to both of the kids, need to figure out a summer routine that includes read aloud time.

We can wholeheartedly second (third?) the Penderwicks, The Vanderbeekers, and Swallows and Amazons. The first two are modern with a classic feel - we've loved every one. Also, the Melendy Quartet, Betsy-Tacy, and E. Nesbit. Among Nesbit's many, our forever favorite is The Railway Children. Love, love that book. Happy reading!

I’m late to the party on book recommendations - reading aloud to my children brings back the happiest memories. Our youngest daughter is now 18 and heading to college in the fall, and honestly we only stopped snuggling at bedtime and reading together when she went to high school! A series that I have read with my girls that is beloved and so wholesome is the Betsy-Tacy series by Maude Hart-Lovelace. There are 10 books, I think - and it follows Betsy and her friends as they grow. It’s about friendships, family, making decisions, staying true, making mistakes, learning as we grow. It’s old fashioned, but in the best possible way. Another fun series similar to Nancy Drew is the predecessor, Trixie Belden! There are so many amazing children’s books to read!!
Side note - as a graduation present my daughter and I are going to Concord to visit Louis May Alcott’s home, since Little Women has always been her most cherished book.
Enjoy these happy years!

I, too, was imagining Amelia creeping about the backyard until I got to the meowing part, and then went back to reread!

My daughter (9) and I are reading the Penderwicks series now, but other books we've loved are The War That Saved My Life and The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. They were both excellent on audio. Snow and Rose by Emily Winfield Martin is lovely. I'm sure you've already read The Secret Garden, which we enjoyed, and Heidi and Ballet Shoes. On our TBR pile are A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus, The Next Great Jane by K.L. Going, and The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, which my son and I loved.

You and Amelia must must must read Figgy by Tamsin Janu (Australian). I read it every year to my Year 3 classes and it never fails to entertain and delight them. I just know that you would both love her beautiful writing and the strong and fierce protagonist. Not sure if you will find it in any libraries - may have to purchase. I promise you will not be disappointed! Pam x

I also must bandwagon for The Penderwicks. It has been our read-aloud/audio book series for the past five summers. My children are 11, 13, and 18 now, and they are still nostalgic for it! So many delightful recommendations above. Amelia, and you, might also enjoy The Secret Garden. Happy Summer!

Oh my goodness, I'm back again to second Betsy-Tacy. Those books are about a different time, but it feels modern at the same time, only their lives are safer and cleaner and more wholesome.

I re-read the high-school ones to this day. I've never been able to get enough of Betsy and her friends.

Betsy, Tacy and Tib -- and all the rest. Old fashioned but in an interesting way. Harriet the Spy. Maybe the Bobbsey Twins, but some of those were so mechanical that they aren't very good reads. I feel the same about the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, you might let her find those on her own, since they aren't much fun to read aloud. Henry Higgins. The Shoes series. The Borrowers. Charlotte's Web. When my boys were little I went back to the Caldecott (spelling?) winners from past years. And thank you so much for your beautiful photos. I love Portland so much, as my son and his family live there, and Covid has limited my visits.

I just love hearing all these book recommendations! When my kids were younger, we LOVED listening to The BFG, Matilda (a fantastic audiobook narrated by Kate Winslet) and what I think to be the happiest, funniest, most enjoyable audiobook for the kiddos (we still listen to it every spring) The Wind in the Willows narrated by Jim's pure delight! Of course, these novels are also a joy to read aloud!

Happy June! I hope your days are filled with reading until your hearts content 😊

Jennifer says: June 02, 2022 at 10:53 AM

I would echo the recommendations for The Penderwicks. Those are lovely books and I think you would both really enjoy them.

If you enjoyed Anne of Green Gables, the Emily of New Moon trio (also by L.M. Montgomery) is also quite sweet.

The War that Saved My Life and sequel The War I Finally Won are heartbreakingly sad, but beautiful stories of triumph as well. Just have a hankie to hand.

If you are looking for something a bit more light-hearted, the Mysterious Benedict Society is a good choice.

My kids really loved the Land of Stories books (6 of them) written by Chris Colfer. I haven't read them, but they loved fairy tales and this was a good fit for them.

I imagine you also have already thought of the Chronicles of Narnia, but those are great too.

I'm sure you'll find wonderful books with all of the great suggestions here.

Take care,

See if she likes reading The BFG and The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles. Both were loved by my two daughters AND my students for many years.

Two books I think Amelia would love if you can find them are The Hundred Dresses and The Best Loved Doll. They are probably out of print but could possibly be found at the library or on ebay. Another book that my 3rd graders absolutely loved this year is Because of Winn Dixie. We celebrated finishing the book by recreating the party in the book.

When I was Amelia’s age, my parents read books out loud to me where the main character was an animal or a person who was sharing experiences with animals. Ring of Bright Water by Gavin Maxwell about a Scottish naturalist and an otter, King of the Wind and Brighty of the Grand Canyon both by Marguerite Henry and anything by Albert Paysun Terhune (Lassie, Lad, a dog.. My mother had a book from her childhood that she passed on to me that I loved. Magic for Marigold by L.M. Montgomery. Same author as Anne of Green Gables and it was one in a series about a feisty girl named Marigold.

Sarah Bennett says: June 02, 2022 at 01:46 PM

My recommendations for books to read out loud to Amelia would be Mrs Frisby And The Rats From N.I.M.H; Black Beauty; Watership Down and The Borrowers - these are all books I loved as a child.

For book suggestions to read to Amelia, I would suggest Pollyanna, The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, and the first few books in the Little House on the Prairie series.

Oh the joys of cats. Ours would like to go outside but she only gets that opportunity when she escapes as we live right on a busy corner and I’m afraid to let her. Plus the neighbor had 4 cats fixed and let’s them know and out and I’m afraid they’ll bully my 16 year old little cat. She also meows loudly all the time though so there are times I’m tempted to let her out as she begs to go. 😬 I love the May embroidery pattern. So pretty. Love the library idea. Enjoy June!! ❤️

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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