Posts filed in: Books

Summer Starts

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A mostly cold and rainy start, but still, it's a start! We've had a busy and fun few weeks, with a ballet recital, a midsummer festival, and a trip to Oaks Park amusement park for Father's Day. I love these traditions and it feels so, so good to be back at them. The weather held off raining for the most part, but you can see how muddy it was at the midsummer festival. We broke a record for rainfall in April, May, and June (so far). No one is really complaining, not out loud at least, because I know we all think that if it can keep the place from burning down in August, we'll take it. This week has been beautiful, and everyone is ready for sunshine. Yesterday it was about eight degrees, and even the plants were thrilled. I mean, you could see it! Everything sort of stood up a bit straighter, faces pointed toward the light.

Amelia was a bit bummed that she hadn't dressed fancier for the midsummer festival, and I promised to make her a cute Swedish or Norwegian (turns out she's both, along with having ancestors from Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland, Mexico, Northern Africa, the Levant, Indigenous North Americas, and Spain — amazing! Thanks Ancestry!) dress for next year. I'll have to do some research on that! I do love a challenge that involves folk-wear. Andy is 60% Swedish. Turns out, Ancestry says I'm 7% Swedish myself. Never knew! Matching family outfits???

I'm in my office, trying to get caught up a bit. I've finally had a bit of time this week, and it's clear that I have so much work to do to just . . . get myself back on track. Back on track. I have a million projects that are about 90% finished, with the hardest, most un-fun last 10% abandoned, pre-completion. Hmmm. Necklaces, paintings, ceramics stuff, glazes, underglazes, kiln stilts, beads, quilting stuff, yarn stuff, just . . . lots of stuff, and lots of allllllmost-finished but definitely not-finished stuff. I have cross-stitch designs that I've never stitched that I want to complete. I have a box of cross-stitch fabric that I want to turn into a few small runs of kits. I have three big boxes of undyed yarn that I want to dye. Maybe I'll get my mojo back in the fall? I'm usually a finisher. . . .

Thank you so much for all of the book recommendations for Amelia and I to read together this summer! It's just so exciting. We finally finished Anne of Green Gables last week and it was just a wonderful experience. I had read the book before but I absolutely loved reading it out loud to Amelia. For our next book, I decided to go with Thimble Summer, which was one of my childhood favorites. It's must longer than I remembered, so it's just perfect for her right now, and I think the main character, Garnet, is actually nine, going on ten, just like Amelia. But I'm thrilled to have the list that you all recommended, and I thank you for your suggestions and thoughts and memories. I love them.

I myself am reading Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, which was a birthday present from my sister Julie that I'm only now getting to. I really like it. I recently finished The Good House and An Innocent, A Broad, both by Ann Leary. I also really liked both of them and read them very quickly. Another library book that I am reading is called Ancestor Trouble: A Reckoning and a Reconciliation by Maud Newton. (I read an interview with Ann Leary and she recommended this book; I actually read the interview before I had read any of Ann Leary's book, but I liked the interview so much I decided to look the books up. Here is the interview.) Not sure why I'm spending so much time reading when I actually have four hundred other things I need to be doing, but there it is.

I have finished my design for A Tender Year: June and I also have a brand new cross-stitch kit and design finished and I am going to stuff those kits today. I need to run right now but come back tomorrow and I'll have a post so that you can see them!

P.S. Amelia got a little autograph book at her end-of-the-year class party and had the idea to take it to Oaks Park on Father's Day and get signatures from all of the ride operators throughout the day, which was basically the cutest thing I've ever seen in my life.

Big Blossoms

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That exact lilac is sitting on my desk right now, the first I've picked of the season. It's actually my neighbor's bush that hangs over our fence. It's way in the back of their yard where they never go and I'm not even sure they know it's there. Last night we had a FROST warning. I'm so over it. It's just freezing cold and raining every single day. We broke a rainfall record for April. My car is leaking from somewhere onto the passenger-side floormat. It's perpetually wet. I had wanted to have a few girls over for pie under my apple tree. I thought of this about a month ago. I even bought a new tablecloth for the outside table. But there hasn't been one reliably clear day yet todo it. The garden is EXPLODING nevertheless. We kind of miss the show, however, as we run in our raincoats from the house to the car, trying to keep cold rain from hitting us in the face. My gosh, the flowers are so beautiful! The piiiiiiiiinks. I staunchly insist this is my favorite time of year but I won't lie I am freezing and kind of tired.

My May Tender Year design continues to be nowhere in sight, and I don't even have a drawing for it yet. It just doesn't feel like May! It feels like March. What things should I put in May? Help. I don't even have any ideas! If you're keeping up with me on these and you are waiting for May, feel free to yell at me. :| I know. I'm sorry. The days unroll in a scattering of pompoms and beads and blossom petals across the floor. I seem to be doing the bare minimum, somehow. Not sure why.

There is a month or so left of school. Amelia will go back to in-person next year. I am both happy and sad, worried and relieved. Or something. I don't know what I am. I'm trying to savor this time without simultaneously wishing it would change. I can see her growing up before my eyes. At bedtime (or actually, several hours before bedtime, as it turns out) we do our usual routine where we go upstairs (this is early, at about 6:00 p.m.) and we change into nighties and brush teeth, etc., and then I read to her like we always have. We used to snuggle on the big bed in the big pillows and read picture books from the library. But now she likes to play with this pretty fabulous Calico Critter apartment complex she set up in my bookshelves. There are several floors of rooms. It's a hive of activity. So I sit on the bed. She plays and plays and I read chapter books out loud. (Then I go downstairs and she stays up and plays. I need my mommy-TV time.) Right now we're on Anne of Green Gables. I read a chapter or two a night, editing it on the fly (there is a lot of negative adoption talk, among other things). Every night we say, worriedly, delightedly, "Oh, I cannot wait to see what trouble Anne is going to get into today!" Amelia, the child who had more homemade dresses than she could wear, is perplexed by all the talk of puffed sleeves, and Marilla's unrelenting refusal to provide: "Why doesn't she just make her a dress with puffed sleeves?" Genuinely nonplussed. :) I have not watched the newest Netflix version and Amelia has not seen any of the TV series. Not sure which one we'll watch when we finish the book. We read The Borrowers this fall and watched The Secret Life of Arietty shortly after. I didn't really like it, I remember. I didn't realize there was an actual live-action Borrowers (from 1997, apparently) but maybe I'll check out that one. I do remember liking the Megan Follows Anne series when I was younger. I've heard the Netflix one is violent? Or something? Disturbing? Maybe I'll preview it. Amelia recently finished reading the first Harry Potter book to herself, so we are all watching the movie at dinnertime, a half-hour or so at a time. It's the first "big" book that she's read alone to herself so it's been fun to wait for her to finish to watch the movie. Believe it or not, I have never read the books and I guess I had watched the first movie twenty years ago but remember almost nothing about it. My most vivid memory of anything Harry Potter–related is inadvertently going to Costco for one of the first and last times (we just have never really been Costco shoppers; the stores are really far from our house) on the Saturday morning that one of the Harry Potter books had just been released (I don't remember which book it was; probably the third or fourth) and the store was literally filled with children sitting in shopping carts — like, in the actual cart part of the cart — reading big huge Harry Potter books as their parents pushed them around and tried to stuff groceries in the cart around them. Like, fifty different shopping carts, each with a reading kid in it. Isn't that a funny image? Lol. It seemed very meta, actually, like something I could picture happening at Hogwarts itself. It was so sweet. :)

I've been trying to think of and make some props for my jewelry pictures I want to take, so I spent the weekend crocheting little things and making a big Perler bead girl. Maybe I can style them to figure out how to include them in my pictures. I really enjoy doing Perler beads! They have the same meditative quality as designing or doing cross stitch except that you can do them with your kids. We tried dyeing some white Perler beads with Rit synthetic dye, which dyes plastic buttons really well. But the dye did not strike the Perler beads nearly as well as it did the buttons so I don't know if I will try that again. The were pretty, though. But like, the red dye turned the Perlers to peach, and I couldn't get anything darker than that no matter what I did. So it's only good for certain colors. The peach was pretty, though.

Okay, better go figure out what's for lunch. Anyone else have a hard time figuring out what's for lunch? I literally never have a clue what to make.

January Morning

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Cold and rainy this morning. Dark. Sloppy muddy outside. Most of the kiddos are having trouble with Zoom this morning. I feel sorry for the teacher. He is trying hard to suss out the problems (we're suddenly having problems, too) and the kids are totally helping and agh, you know there are other skills being learned right now: patience, perseverance, cooperation, listening. The teacher methodically asks each one whether making the copy is working for them, and what kind of computer they have. School-issued Chromebooks like ours aren't working. And then: A kid just figured out how to get the copy to work on Chromebook and explained it to everyone, and then it worked for Amelia. My god, I secretly feel like crying! Success! Success! This moment was successful, and they all got there together. Over and over and over again. January. We can do this.

Thank you for all of your comments on my last post. I so appreciate them.

Meanwhile, Agatha does what Agatha wants. Agatha sits on the table. Agatha sneaks onto the counter. Agatha methodically drags every loose ball of yarn up the stairs overnight, meowing like a lunatic. In the morning we wake to a dozen skeins tossed around the upstairs hallway; she works hard. She has her own sweater (it's this one) and it is so disgusting, felted and stained and full of holes, a mere rag now, when, in its day, it was so beautiful. She drags it around, too, and every half a day it's in a different room, crumpled up on the floor. Agatha, since her spaying, now that her belly fur has just started to grow back, has reverted to type. She won't let you pet her, won't sit on your lap, will only really let Amelia pick her up consistently while she moans resignedly, plaintively (fifty times a day, until I have to say stop because I just can't take it anymore). We finally filled our neglected bird feeders and she spent two days perched with her front paws on the windowsill and her back paws on the chair, staring with wild eyes at all the squirrel, sparrow, and chickadee action, her pupils down to paper-thin shards. Mesmerized. Mostly what she likes to do is eat, and the vet says she's at the top end of her recommended weight at 8.5 pounds. If she has no food in her bowl, she will come down and try to beat up Clover. You'd think all the dragging-of-things-upstairs would burn a few calories for her. Apparently not enough.

I do love her so, though. My goofy little kitters.

Amelia has joined the chess club after school. Isn't that cool? I am so proud of her. Her teacher runs it, every Tuesday and Thursday from 3:30 until 4:30. They play on a digital board that looks fun, and she really likes it. She plays with her dad on a regular board in real life occasionally. I've never learned to play. Andy is good at games and so is Mimi and they play stuff a lot. I was never that good at them, even as a child, though I remember I really liked Mastermind and Battleship. I don't think we even have those right now. We should get them. Maybe she's too old for them now. We probably have thirty games we should go through and pass on. I know I should be reorganizing my kitchen cabinets right now, too. Cliched but true. They're a mess. I've got teetering towers of baking pans stuffed into every shelf, forty-five little bottles of desiccated cake sprinkles stuck to the bottoms of their jars, bags of Andy-chips and popcorn falling off of piles of cookbooks on the top of the freestanding cabinet. It's not terribly terrible, but neither is it nice or helpful.

My next-door neighbor, Gretchen, gave me this delightful book and I finished it in one day (probably the fastest I've ever read a book in my life). When I was done I wanted more like it and remembered I had this book which I'd never finished, so now I'm reading that. I sat in the cold car waiting for Amelia to do ballet class (they don't let parents inside anymore, and although it's only five minutes from the house it doesn't seem worth it to go all the way home just to come back in an hour) reading it yesterday after going to four coffee shops to get a chai to keep me warm (luckily it was this brand, my favorite) before I found one in the neighborhood that was open. Life. At night, I watch documentaries about the Windsors or mountain climbers or gardening. Just when I thought I'd watched everything ever made!

I'm not sure why but in some strange burst of energy I designed the first of a new series of embroidery patterns, even though I literally, in December, said to myself that I was done doing seasonal stuff (the deadlines!) for a while. Classic. So now I'm going to do one not only every season but every month. I'm not kitting it — it's only available as an instant PDF download. It uses Kona cotton in Fog and DMC 6-strand cotton floss (and one Appletons crewel wool, but you could easily substitute DMC floss for it).

The series is called A Tender Year, and this is January:

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It wraps around a 5" x 7" (13cm x 18cm) stretched canvas and is tacked on the back. I should do a tutorial on that for you, but I haven't yet. (It's easy, but let me know if you'd like to watch me do it.) You can get canvases pretty cheaply. Here's a pack of five for $5.99 but there are lots of places you can pick them up. It's kind of a cute way to finish a piece without a frame or without putting it in a hoop.

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The pattern costs $6 to download and there will be a new one every month. I have February's stitched and I will be better about launching the next ones on the first of the month. (I got this idea pretty late, so I apologize that it's already the second week of January, but it goes quick. You can probably finish it in a couple of days.) The product page has a list of supplies needed and details what is included in the pattern. I really enjoyed doing this and I hope you like it. If this isn't in your budget just shoot me an email and let me know and I will send it to you, on me. I want everyone who wants to be able to do this to do it. XO, a

Edited: I think Shopify is having some problems right now so the web site might not be working properly. Their status report says they're investigating, so I'll update when it's solved. Thank you! Update, 4:30 p.m.: Looks like they fixed it! Sorry about that!

Natural Beauty

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I mean, what can I say. Mother Nature speaks for herself here, much more eloquently in a single arc of wild rosehips than I could ever hope to. I wish you could smell the forest, and hear the birdsong, hear the soft gurgle of the streamlets as they meander through the tangle of trees. Oh, soft days. Soft light. A line of black geese across the white sky. Amelia can't stop talking, bouncing ahead of me down the trail, carrying the trail map, looking for a spot to stop and have her snacks she packed. She's just so happy in the woods. After the arboretum (first set of photos; second set is from Mt. Talbert) we stopped at "elephant park" (it's near the zoo, and has a now-broken elephant statue in the sandpit) and then to Elephant's Deli and had lunch on the patio under the heaters, just us girls. It was just the absolute perfect day. After a summer of near-constant outdoor activity, it's rare that we have such perfect weather on the weekends, when she has no school. Wondrous nature and walks with my family, my healing salve, my joy. These days sustain me through the dark and the rain.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and then the Christmas season will be upon us. I had lunch with my darling friend Beth Twist last week. We sat outside in our coats and scarves on the heated patio of the California Pizza Kitchen and ate and talked for four hours. We were the only people out there, ha! :) I had such a great time talking shop. My new design is coming, I swear — we just need to pull floss for it, but the fabric and the patterns are here, so I'll release everything early next week and we'll ship at lightning-speed. I never did show you the digital for it so now I guess I'll keep you in suspense for the real thing. It's my favorite yet in the series. Once we release this guy and the reissued winter kits next week we will be completely done with the reissues and this 2021 seasonal series. For once, the end of my work for the series is coinciding with the end of the calendar year. Aside from the wholesale-pattern-project I keep yammering on about, I have no idea what I am going to design for 2022! I really don't know! I have a lot of vague ideas but I haven't really dialed in a concept. Should I keep doing 8"x10" seasonal cross-stitch designs? Should I do some small little designs? Unique framing options (little grapevine wreaths as frames, for instance)? "Regular" embroidery (not cross stitch)? What should I do for 2022???

At night, I've been doing a lot of knitting. I just knit another sweater. I'll finish the last sleeve and then take a picture of it. I used bulky yarn that was in my stash. Bulky knitting on size US10 needles is not my favorite, but boy is it fast. I really like the CQ sweater and might knit that. I've been keeping my house pretty cold so I can wear all my knitted stuff. I've also really wanted to make a Gamaldags in this color combo for years. I need a hat. I never seem to have a hat for when it's really cold. Maybe this one. I love this sweater in this color. I've been really indulging in the "selfish" crafting lately. You gotta kinda take what thrills you can get. I am reading this pretty spooky book called Madam that I saw on Melissa's Instagram. I'm about halfway through and I can't put it down. It's so creepy! I started reading it before Halloween but I am a slow reader. Fast knitter, slow reader! Update: I read the next thirty pages and then started skimming through to end and did not finish because it got seriously insane and disturbing. Do not recommend. Blech.

I wish you all a peaceful and abundant Thanksgiving weekend. I am so grateful for your friendship and presence here in my life! Thank you! XOXOXO P.S.: Amelia was horrified that the girls on the trail ahead of us pulled up the mushroom in the photo above and "left it alone there to die." I think they must have done it accidentally because I heard them talking but didn't know what they were talking about until we got to where they had been and saw the mushroom right there. Amelia wanted to replant it. Andy and I had recently watched this movie on Netflix so I didn't think it would work. It wouldn't have worked, would it have? Anyone know what kind of mushroom it is?

A Weekend at the Farm

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Hello! How are you?

Summer is here and I am thrilled. Amelia has three more days of school and then we are FREE. I've never been so happy about the end of the year before in my life!

Andy Paulson turned FIFTY a week or so ago! I spent the week before his birthday making a secret video (which turned out to be over 38 minutes long). I texted all of our friends and family and asked them to make a quick video of themselves saying "happy birthday" to him. Like, everybody. Literally every single person did it. It was epic. Some people were so creative they made entire little movies and wrote original songs! And so many people dropped in little comments in their videos about something very specific to themselves and Andy together. That was so moving to me (let's just say that when I showed Andy the video on his birthday morning I literally wept, sobbing, through the entire thing, ha!). But some people remembered stuff from college, from Missoula, from childhood, just all sorts of inside–Andy Paulson jokes that kept adding up into something just . . . I don't know, but it was pretty spectacular. I am a genius for thinking of this and feel free to steal the idea because it was epic!

The day before his birthday we went for a two-night stay at Dolan Creek Farm. What an enchanted place. From the minute we got there it was so pretty, the weather was so nice, the birds were so vocal, the sunset was so rosy, the breezes so cool. I mean, it was literally magical. The pictures above of Mt. Hood in the distance? Those are taken from the porch of the studio. Just, right from the porch. Where you sit and drink your coffee. And cows come up to the fence to say hello. And swifts swoop across the fields. And bullfrogs call across the pond. Agh. Andy kept saying, "It's just so big! There's so much space here! I'm never in this much space!" Amelia was beside herself with delight, getting to help gather eggs, bring the chickens in, and feed the horse her dinner. On the full day that we were there, I carried a quilt and my little chair to a big tree down by the pond and finished my book (All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews). Birds and bullfrogs kept me company. Andy and Amelia explored the farm and found another hidden pond. They played cards and ran through the fields. At night we barbecued and the owners, Kirk and Chris, started a campfire for us and showed us around the barns and talked to us about the history of the farm and the pumpkin patch they have in the fall and what it was like for their kids to grow up here. (Several nights later, Amelia stayed up way too late listening to music on her iPod and when I came upstairs she said, "Mama, I just listened to a song that reminded me of the farm ["Thank God I'm a Country Boy," which she and Andy had been playing all weekend] and I'm so sad! I want to go back to the farm! I want to go to the farm! Why can't we go for my birthday! [We can, but we can't stay overnight, because they don't let you stay overnight in October because pumpkin patch, etc.]" Anyway, she just utterly melted down, went downstairs to get a drink, came back up with her dad and did the whole thing again, crying true tears. I turned into broken pieces of hay. My god, my darling girl, I would give you a life on a farm if I could. It was my dream when I was a little girl, too, though I've never really mentioned it. Farm Fever is real. I was a bit older than she is but I used to cry myself to sleep I wanted a horse so bad. My parents' garage fell down in a snowstorm when I was ten and they rebuilt a new garage and painted it barn red with white trim and I thought I'd die of longing. No horse in there, just bikes and floaties and tools. Evermore.)

Anyway, it was the first time that we had been off the property at home in almost a year, and my god, it doesn't take much for us Paulsons. Two nights and a day at a farm forty-five minutes away on the backroads and we are REBORN. Ready to tackle these last few weeks of school, make some plans for the summer that involve rivers and trees, text friends to invite them along, hope for our own invitations, etc. Let it be, let it be! Vaccines!!!!!

My electric bicycle has arrived, and though I need to make some modifications to one petal so that I can fit my wonko orthopedic shoe on it safely AND figure out how to lift it into the back of the car (it's so heavy! it's so heavy!), I am further on the road to freedom and reinvention and I need it. Yesterday I saw a video on Instagram of a bunch of people dancing and singing to a band on the road by the reservoir in Mt. Tabor and I've never vicariously related to anything more. If only I had my pedal and could join them! I will get there. I'm meeting a bike guy on Thursday after I visit my friend in her rose garden and . . . just . . . life on earth. It can be so hard and so beautiful.

Much of the soap that Andy and I made six weeks ago and beyond six weeks is now cured, and wrapped, and ready to go! I think I'll have a launch. I've got two new patterns/kits, one a hoopdy and one a cross-stitch that will be ready within days of June 16, which is when all printed patterns get here. We'll have some reissued older kits, too (and just, for the record, this is literally the only time ever that we are reissuing kits — it is happening, and has already happened for some), and we'll have seven kinds of soap, and lotion bars. No, guys, I don't know how I do it either! I'm thinking Monday, June 21, 2021, at 10:00 a.m. PDT. Here's a cool chart that tells you when that is for you!

So, I'm making fish balls for dinner tonight, and this is one of those recipes where you can make almost all of it in the morning and then fry it up at dinner time. And I need more recipes like this, because I am good at things in the morning and I am bad at things in the evening, especially at dinnertime. I recently had my knives sharpened by a mail-in service called Knife Flight and I cannot recommend doing this enough. It is unbelievably great to have nice sharp knives — today I sliced green onions into transparent wafers (not like I have awesome knife skills, but that's how much having a sharp knife will do for you) and chopped up a pound of cod, and it was pure pleasure. I've also cut myself five times just by waving the knife around carelessly and touching it where it used to be dull (the bottom corner edge, hello; the tip, ow). Anyway, it was really perfect timing because I'm trying to cook a lot more. Here is my cake I made over the weekend and other stuff on Instagram, too.

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I mean, just look at this. I can't wait to go back either, Amelia. It was just so, so nice.

Pulling Together

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Oh, where do the days go? They slide away, they slide away. It's been three months since our stay-home order went into effect. It's felt long and also short, since the days are all so similar they really do run together. I've been having a rough time of it lately. We've gotten out to the woods and the river a bit, and that has been wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. I would like to go all the time. I love everything about the river. I love stopping at Jimmy John's [edited: won't be going to Jimmy John's after what you guys have just told me — ugh, thank you, I had no idea] and picking up sandwiches right on the edge of town. I love the drive into the country, past Christmas tree farms and billowing foxglove groves. I love the smell of the woods and stopping the car for a mama deer and three babies. I love watching Amelia play with her toys in the sand. I love watching raptors circle endlessly over the river. I love reading in my chair. I love when Andy and Amelia go on adventures. I love the sound of the water. I want to go all the time. I can't wait to go back. My nerves feel better for it, for sure.

I hope you are all well and hanging in there!

Amelia is currently in the bathtub. I gave her a can of shaving cream and said go for it. She's hooting and hollering in there right now. She just asked me for another can (no). She's spent most of the day in her underpants, watching Inspector Gadget in the office and eating water chestnuts out of a can with a fork. It's over 90 degrees outside and sunny, without a breeze in sight. I watered the garden at about 8:30 a.m. and then shot right back into the AC. Andy is back at work today for the first time in maybe a week. But we'll pay for that now, all that glorious time off; I think he is working seven days out of the next nine days. Twelve-hour shifts. An hour bus commute on either side. That's rough, though he never, ever lets it show. But we miss him when he's not here.

We stopped at the plant nursery yesterday to pick up some shade annuals for the porch and then we went to the library to pick up the book (Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid) I had placed on hold last winter. They are finally doing hold pick-ups at the library. They meet you at the front door; there there's a table blocking the entrance, and they slide the book to you on a tray. Sigh. I can't say I enjoyed being out at all, though I had been excited to go. We were only gone an hour or two. But I was so relieved to be home, back under my tree, watching Andy plant the impatiens and Amelia whack at the lawn with a croquet mallet. I guess I'll stick to the river for a while.

I have started a new Sawtooth Star quilt for myself, but I have not worked on it too much. It will be eight blocks each of ten different star combos, made of my precious calicos and hand-dyed (by me) muslin. It will be a king-size quilt that I will line with an Ikea comforter (turn and burn method [layer batting, top, then bottom; stitch around all sizes leaving an opening to turn, turn then stitch opening closed], then I'll tie it). I like my quilts to be just thin, puffy comforters now. I've decided I really don't like binding and I don't like machine-quilting — it all makes the quilt too stiff, in my opinion. I'm going back to puffballs tied with #5 perle cotton. I made one for my sister's birthday present (see first picture). Stay tuned, we'll see if I get this thing for myself finished. A precision quilter I am not, though I did buy a fancy Flying Geese ruler, and that is helping very much.

Amelia and I baked a blueberry–cream cheese babka, an Earl Grey cake (the recipe I used doesn't seem to be available any more), and a rhubarb custard pie. Today we are going to make Orange Julius popsicles and chicken tacos.

I have finished my design for Things of Summer (digital screen shot is above) and the printed patterns have arrived (though I haven't opened the box yet; fingers crossed that all is well in there), so I will start putting kits together next week, and it will be on sale soon!

What are you favorite historical fiction movies, like big, epic ones? Or series? I am so in the mood for that. I've been watching absolute garbage TV lately. I do love it so!!!

Ride

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In the afternoon I ride my bike down to the mailbox a few blocks away. It's sunny and quiet, so quiet. I pedal slowly, looking around. Aimless. Unusual. It’s empty. I could ride right down the middle of the street. My old bike makes all sorts of noise, things clicking and squeaking, and they're the only sounds I hear. House. House. House. I roll past. My street has a few bungalows and a lot of houses that are called "English" by realtors here. They were built in the 1920s and have steeply pitched roofs, gables, dormers. Mock Tudor. Pretty. A lot of them are tastefully painted stucco. Mine is, too.

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I ride down my street. A block away the houses are nicer and more stately, set further back on the property than ours, with long driveways and window boxes and ancient magnolia trees now in bloom. This part reminds me of the neighborhoods in old Disney movies, The Aristocats, maybe, or Lady and the Tramp, the blossoming trees frothy and pink and the houses old-fashioned and mouse-colored, with borders of lemon yellow tulips just starting to bloom. The street, strangely, has the exact same sort of set-up as the quiet suburban street I grew up on — it's long and stops at a T-intersection at both visible ends, and I'm often reminded of Forest Avenue here. I remember how many thousands of times I rode my bike up and down Forest Avenue, canopied by oaks and elms. Literally thousands of times over twenty years. I don’t know this street nearly as well as I knew Forest, though I’ve also lived here for twenty years. I’ve probably only ridden my bike here a few dozen times.

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My brakes squeal as I go down the hill. I see Scott in his UPS truck. My buddy of many years. We're the only two around for miles, it seems. I've been out here for a half an hour, riding alone around the blocks, and he's the only person I've come across. He sees me coasting past and shouts through the open driver's door, "Whoa! Watch out! Everybody STOP!!!" I'm grinning like an idiot and I pretend to wobble, shouting back, "It's been a long time since I've ridden! You're right to worry!" My smile is huge and loose, my voice sounds crazy, and suddenly I'm crying, tears catching in my throat, a hot bubble of sorrow and stress. He's still out here, doing his job, and so will my husband be tomorrow. I should get back. It's too quiet, the sun is too bright, there aren't even any airplanes overhead, and I feel scared and small. I miss the world. I miss what it felt like to not feel like this.

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It's been a hard few weeks all over the world. My heart is broken, aching and sore with stories of so many others' losses and pain, and the ache never leaves. "Every day feels like Sunday," says Amelia when she wakes up one morning, and although I smile and agree, I hardly know what day it is, what month. Maybe it is Sunday. I look at the expiration date on the bagels. They're weeks old, though the kitchen counter has been bleached countless times and everything else is spotless. Time has blurred into a long, strange ribbon of worry and grief and distraction, punctuated by so much cleaning and so many, many conversations. My phone is lit almost constantly, and it's exhausting. During the day I make tons of mistakes on intricate (for me) quilt blocks and sew face masks to donate out of the scraps.

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We are all finding our way here, taking comfort in soft things, moving slowly. I am reading the book September by Rosamunde Pilcher and I am loving it, at least. Usually my go-to crisis-novels are by Mary Stewart, but a kind blog reader sent me September many months ago and I am grateful now. A steady stream of Lacey Chabert movies plays on the TV every evening, though we did splurge and rent the new Emma (for $20!) last weekend, and Andy and I both loved it. I actually watched it once by myself and then literally started it over again. I found it very moving, and man, this song, at the end. We just sat there listening to it and staring at the credits. I love that song. That song is so good. Occasionally we watch Italian Grandma making gravy, lasagna, pizza fritta. She cooks everything I remember from childhood and reminds me so much of my grandma Ieronemo. I Googled her and found out she is from Foggia, Italy, which is exactly where my grandparents were from. How amazing is that! I shouted with disbelief when I read this. Oh I love her so much and I feel better, hearing her voice. You must watch. You will like it.

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I hope you are well and finding grace during these difficult days. I made a little pattern for you for free if you would like to do some easy cross stitch, or have a youngster who would like to learn. It's called Homeschool Sampler. I've been challenged by some teenage boys to make something way cooler than this for them, so I have accepted that challenge. If you have any suggestions on what to include, please offer them up. I don't want them to know I have literally no clue how to be cool.

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Wishing you good health and all the good things these days. Thank you for all of your kind words and I send sincere gratitude to all of you who are staying home right now, and all of you who absolutely can't. I salute you and thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Our Spring Things

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Oh, hello, dear friends. Hello! I plopped all of these photos into this post in one fell swoop. I do that with every post and then Typepad arranges them into some mysterious order I don't understand. Usually I fuss with them a bit after that and get them into some other kind of mysterious order. But this time, the scattered and random Typepad arrangement felt as accurate to real life here as anything I could conjure. It's been kind of a random, unsettled couple of weeks here and I'm sure it has felt like that where you are, too. I hope you are all staying healthy and safe and I wish you every good and gentle thing in these stressful days.

Thank you SO much for all of the Things of Spring kit orders! I'm so excited for these, and we are progressing with our work on this end and preparing to start assembling kits. The patterns have arrived from the printer, the fabric has arrived from the distributor and needs cutting, and a few more floss cones should be arriving this week. We still have 43 kits left in inventory right now and we will not be producing more of them once they sell out — we will do 250 of each for the upcoming three seasons (and PDFs of each will, of course, be forthcoming as well). The PDF for Things of Spring will be available soon. I'll let you know when that is ready.

I've been doing a ton of stitching myself! I made Moonlight Visitor by Blackbird Designs and found a perfect frame for it for $3 at a thrift store. I finished Hello Spring by Plum Street Samplers and bought a frame for it on eBay which also fit just perfectly and was a weird size (6" x 10"). I'm working on Have Ye Any Wool by Brenda Gervais, and I just love it so much. What a clever designer she is. I also am working on a new design of my own for Mimi based on the book  Jenny and the Cat Club: A Collection of Favorite Stories about Jenny Linsky by Esther Averill. It's the sweetest little book — probably one of my very favorites for little kids I've ever read. Amelia has read almost the entire thing out loud to me; I think we have one more chapter. Oh it's so sweet. The cross stitch, though! Oh my word, it is challenging me! I was wanting so bad to finish it by the time she finished the book, but I'm only about halfway done. I need to keep taking breaks and stitching on other things because all those black boxes are crossing my eyes. I keep losing my place. It's actually quite a difficult piece! I will likely make it available as a PDF in the future for anyone who wants it but it'll be a little while. I'm very eager to finish it!

We've eaten some delicious comfort food recently, should you have need, and I highly recommend the local restaurant Grassa, as well as the New York Times Cheesy Baked Pasta with Sausage and Ricotta as well as Pressure Cooker Indian Butter Shrimp. You may have to log in to access those recipes and I am sorry about that! I cook almost exclusively from my NYT Cooking app and I'm never sure which recipes are available to the public or not. I will try to rewrite them here with my changes and credit but I'm on the school-run today and need to go. I'm kind of scattered and in a rush today but I hope to come back and do this this week. These were two very nice dishes that pleased even the seven-year-old palette, and I highly recommend.

Mimi won the Kindness Award at school and yes, I cried. I was able to catch a picture of her getting up in front of the whole school to receive it and I will treasure it forever because her face is pure surprise and joy. Most wonderful, kind, dearest, and thoroughly adorable darling. Oh my stars I love her so much. I am so proud of her and her big, generous heart.

Be very well, my friends. Be well, travel safe, and keep the faith. XOX

*** I found a link to pasta bake written out online here (scroll down); and a link to a copy of the Indian butter shrimp recipe is here. Sorry about that!!!

Night of Magic

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The weather we had on Halloween was BONKERS perfect. I could not believe it. It was the most gorgeous night. We traipsed through the neighborhood with the neighborhood crew, minus a few who have either aged out of our raggedy bunch or have moved on to other neighborhoods. It's not an awesome trick-or-treating neighborhood. I don't know why. A lot of people just aren't home. We were home after about 6:00 and we literally had only one group come up. We don't make it very far, mostly just around the block. Amelia was highly motivated by candy. It's all about the candy. She wanted, for many months, to be a zombie. She couldn't describe a zombie. Then she switched to ghost. I knew, as she described it (sheet over her head with two holes cut out for eyes), that this was a costume she'd literally take off within five minutes. I tried to talk her out of it for practical reasons. We looked at "ghost" costumes on-line and ran into this pumpkin costume from Pottery Barn Kids. Then she wanted that. I was busy enough and she was flighty enough that I caved and bought it. On sale, but still. I'm selling it on eBay next year, for sure. It was cute. She was happy. They had a parade at school and she went to a birthday party at a bouncy house place the next day, then had a play date to bake cookies on Saturday, and in general it was party party party, candy cake cookies, and quite honestly, as much fun as she had and as lovely as that evening walk around the neighborhood was, I'm relieved it's now November.

At the house, Andy and I am in the homestretch of putting Dovegray Doll and pinafore dress kit contents together, and are still on track to ship at the end of next week. Thank you for being patient! After we finish shipping I will release the PDF patterns of each. Several doll sweater patterns are with the tech editor right now, along with the kid-version of the Little Flower Sweater. Lots of things going on. I'm spinning plates.

THANK YOU ever so much for the book recommendations and the cooking advice! Oh joy! I checked out four of the books from the library (I can't remember exactly which ones, I need to look) and have more on hold. I'm reading The Salt Path by Raynor Winn right now and it is very good. I also made these oven-baked barbecue pork chops (except I used country ribs) and they are totally delicious. After about 45 minutes of baking, I poured the juices/sauce into a saucepan and reduced it until the sauce was thick and sticky and it was so good. I had potatoes on the side. Even Amelia ate an entire decent-sized rib.

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.

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

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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