Posts filed in: Books

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)

Summertime Starts!

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It's Andy Paulson's birthday today! Unfortunately he has to work! We went to Oaks Park on Saturday instead and had such a nice time. The weather was absolutely perfect — I think every other memory I have of Oaks Park is scorching hot, so this was so nice. It's an old-fashioned amusement park and it is a lot of fun, especially with little kids. It's one of Andy's favorite places. I love it, too. Happy birthday, my dearest love. I hope this year is filled with so much joy.

We've been busy doing I don't even know what, just cruising into the end of the year and doing all of the end-of-the-year things, carnivals and dance performances and final swimming lessons, etc. Andy and I were trying to make our favorite honey-chipotle chicken tacos in the slow cooker; it had been plugged in for about an hour when we realized it wasn't getting hot at all. It was a very old slow cooker and we didn't even try to diagnose it. Those things make me nervous to begin with. So on the way to pick up Meems from school we stopped at Target intending to get a new slow cooker. We came home with an Instant Pot instead. I honestly hadn't even considered getting one, but we saw that it had a slow cooker setting in addition to the pressure cooker feature and so we grabbed it. Late to the trend, as usual, but we're making up for it with a) a ridiculous amount of enthusiasm and b) five Instant Pot meals in about six days. We made the tacos, as well as this jambalaya, Indian butter shrimp, coconut curry chicken, and the lemon–poppy seed breakfast cake (which I turned into Andy's birthday cake) from this book. I was not a big fan of the cake as a birthday cake. It was kind of like a steamed bun. It would have been great for breakfast! Ha. It sure was cute when it came out though.

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We ate it just the same and had such a wonderful birthday weekend! XOXOXO

Showers of Flowers

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There's a mysterious, melancholy beauty that is so specific and to this time of year in the Pacific Northwest. The skies are dark and flat, matte gray, or like a frosted light box, glowing and opaque. The wind is cold, blowing cold rain into your face. The ground squelches and sinks, and you slip, sliding on the skanty grass while trying to fill up the bird feeder. The birds come, bright flashes against the dark afternoon. The wind blows water from the new leaves. Some daffodils have already faded. The branches that haven't yet budded out (and there are many) are dark and wet, their patches of lichen and moss (and whatever else it is that creeps across their spongy bark) bright with chlorophyll and optimism. Everything is tender, and cold, and vulnerable. Nothing, absolutely nothing, wants for water, for water is everywhere now — in the wind, in the air, in the ground, in the leaves above your head as you sit on the porch and listen to the birds sing, and watch the squirrel that is probably the same squirrel that lives in your ceiling air duct eat sunflower seed for four hours from your flat feeder. He's content as a kitten, sitting there right in the pan with his tiny hands held up to his mouth, nibbling daintily but constantly at the black seeds.

This is the best time of year for me, with all the cold and rain of winter but also all the best flowers, the daffodils and forsythia and tulips and bluebells; the enormous, suede-like pink magnolias; the ornamental flowering pear trees lining every street, and the petal-heavy cherry blossoms, and her dirty hands holding bouquets of grape hyacinths to bring to the ballet mistress. The sidewalks are covered in bruised petals, and piles of browning petals collect in the gutters and gullies. Everywhere there are petals and buds and things still just beginning to start, which is my absolute favorite state of being.

Yesterday was a hard day, teacher conferences with Amelia's sweet, darling, angel of a teacher, hard because we have, with some relief but mostly with somewhat broken hearts, decided not to return to our lovely school next year. Simply, we just can't afford the tuition or the very long commute. Andy and I sat in Mimi's classroom yesterday, filled with gratitude for all of the amazing things she's learned this year, listening to her teacher talk about her with so much affection and humor and love. She told us stories so similar to the ones we live daily with Mimi, and we laughed with joy and wonder at the silliness and the amazingness and just . . . all the cool things that she and her classmates are doing right now. Learning to read is pure magic, sitting with her each night as she earns every single word she reads out loud, whispering the phonograms to herself, sounding out the letters, asking me whether a vowel is going to be long or short or silent in any case, restricting herself from using the pictures to guess at the words. I've never told her to do that, but it seems to come naturally, and I watch and listen in constant wonder at the mysteriousness of this process, and marvel at how, in just one week, a kid can go from not really reading to totally, suddenly reading. Is it not a miracle of human development? And what, honestly, isn't a miracle? I'm beginning to think absolutely everything, everything is.

We hugged the teacher and I got choked up in the hallway as we left the conference, saw one of my friends around the corner who knew how I was feeling (she's been there forever, and knows very well what we're leaving), and I said, red-faced and blotchy-necked, "Conferences," as explanation. "It's hard to leave everyone. . . ." She said, "I know," and nodded kindly. Already, in just one year, this has become Mimi's place, where she has loved and been loved and nurtured and encouraged and guided, where the Montessori pedagogy has been perfect for her, where everyone has been just so kind. I fervently hope that transferring to our neighborhood public elementary is as good an experience as this has, in almost every way, been. I'm so grateful it has been so good, even just for this year. We are definitely looking forward to being back in our own neighborhood. But I do wish there were more public options for Montessori-type education. 

Back at home, Kady and Andy and I are finishing up the final projects for Secret Garden. We've started to ship embroidery kits and will start shipping knitting kits next week. Apothecary boxes will be the last to go, as I still need to make all of the wax sachets for that. But that's almost the last thing. Packing these will be an adventure! The boxes are big and heavy. Everything looks so pretty and smells so good. I'm proud of all of this but I will be very ready to be done by the time we get the final order out the door at the end of the month. Next up for me will be a new cross stitch kit, and then I'll be working on my dollies this summer, for release sometime in the fall.

I recently finished two mysteries that I absolutely loved called Missing, Presumed and its sequel, Persons Unknown, by Susie Steiner. I read the first one and listened to the audiobook of the second one. (If you don't have your library card hooked up to the Libby app, I recommend it; Libby is not great for browsing, but if you know what you're looking for you can check out audiobooks [and place holds] and listen to them right through the app.) I loved the narrator for the Persons Unknown audiobook. It's really the first audiobook since Secret Garden that I have totally gotten into. I really like detective characters. These mysteries are wonderful for me because they have so much character development. I'm now in that weird phase that sometimes happens where I only want to read something exactly like what I just read, and nothing else will do. I've started seven other books and three audiobooks since and they've all been . . . meh. I'm sure they all would've been fine books if only I'd read them before. . . .

***The lovely painting of Amelia is one I had done several years ago by Olga Bulakhovska of OliFineArt on Etsy. If you were reading this blog back in 2014 you might remember the photo in this post that was used to paint the portrait, and Oli couldn't have done a more perfect job of it. I love it so much.

My Secret Garden Inspiration

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I'm literally aghast at how quickly the days seem to be going right now. I'm not sure why; not sure why they seem to be going so fast and not sure why that leaves me feeling shocked. Amelia's been in kindergarten for almost five months now, and I don't really know why, either, I thought that the days without her in the house would feel longer than the days when she was in half-day preschool. I guess, realistically, I really only have one extra hour before I leave to pick her up each day. We do two extra-curricular activities — ballet once a week and now we will start once-a-week swimming lessons after school today. Swimming is important, and she hasn't taken to the water very naturally. It feels like it's becoming a thing. Her group lessons in the summer aren't really cutting it. She actually regressed between first and second sessions last summer. I've heard good things about these new lessons so, fingers crossed, this is a fun and productive time because the lessons are expensive and also halfway 'round the world. . . .

For the first time in my life, I spend a lot of time in the car. . . .

THANK YOU for the podcast recommendations! Wow??? MANY RECOMMENDATIONS. Also, thank you for the British mysteries+ recs as well. You guys are awesome. Now I just need to find time to go through all of the recommendations and get them downloaded. I am excited. Someone said that the right podcast totally changed their commute. I like that. Also, I can't believe I forgot to mention Agatha Raisin on my list of must-watches. It's our go-to. For some reason, we literally just watch it all the time. It almost doesn't put Andy right to sleep. If you're going to watch it, though, you must try to find the pilot, which for some reason doesn't appear with the first season (this is all on Acorn TV). It's separate, and two hours long. If you watch "Walkers of Dembley" without watching "Quiche of Death" (pilot) you might be really confused. So be sure to search for it. The second season just started. M.C. Beaton (author) has written five thousand books in this series so lets hope this show goes on forever. I love Ashley Jensen. Well, everybody, really. Mathew Horne as Roy is perfect. I've read a ton of the Agatha Raisin books, years ago, actually, and I love the TV series better than the books.

This past fall, as Amelia entered kindergarten and started to show an interest in reading, I started pulling out the books that I had begun to collect for her before she was born. If you've been hanging around here for a while, you might remember this book list that you helped me put together. I remember that when I was working on that list, I bought a few classic books, including The Secret Garden, to start building a library for my future child. It struck me then and still strikes me now that, as much of a voracious reader as I was as a child, I really had very little exposure to what is considered "classic" children's literature. I'd never read The Secret Garden (or Little Women; or The Wind in the Willows; or Anne of Green Gables; or The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, to name just a few . . . ). I bought all of these and more for Amelia back then, in 2010, and I can remember like it was yesterday how I went to Chipotle right after I was at the Barnes and Noble in Lloyd Center, and I was reading this version of The Secret Garden (by Frances Hodgson Burnett) while eating my burrito, and I was about a dozen or so pages in when I thought, "Oh wow, oh no — this is too good." And I shut the book. And as with so much else in my life at that time, I put it in a special place with a pat and a kiss, and decided to wait, so that I could eventually share that experience with my child. . . . For many years, as I waited and worked to become a mother, I would think to myself (and think to myself; I thought this many, many times), "But everything is still ahead of me! All of the firsts are still ahead of me!" And that thought got me through more hard days than I can even now count.

Time was slow, then. Time was painfully, appallingly slow. You were here. You saw that. I busied myself with sewing, and knitting, and kitting out the house, feathering a nest for not months but the years (I just counted them the other day, and it was eight) it took before we had the privilege of becoming parents. And then, once that miracle arrived, and baby came home, and that adoption was finalized, time sped up like you wouldn't believe. Suddenly you're out of breath. It's like the opposite of hurry-up-and-wait — it's wait . . . wait . . . wait . . . and then holy crow hurry up, because baby is crawling, then walking, then talking, then going to preschool, and then her teeth are dropping out of her mouth right and left, and she's reading. . . . And all of that took mere moments. Moments. Entire years of early childhood that have felt like just a few beautiful, excellent, soul-filled, soulful moments. Because suddenly she is six years old. And ready to hear entire paragraphs as you read to her, tucked under your right arm, under the covers in the big bed, nightgowned, teeth-brushed, drowsy, and waiting to begin.

I won't tell you she's quite old enough to hear this whole story, because I don't actually think she is yet. Her attention span is still not quite long enough for long passages of text, or some of the more complicated issues, or some of the more troubling ones. We've read it aloud at night but we've also listened to it a bit on audiobook in the car, and it's pretty clear that I'm generally more into it than she is. But this time, once I started it, I didn't stop. I couldn't put it down. I couldn't turn it off. It is a poignant book, and, though not without its problems (I found this post the other day and thought it was great; and I also must say that I was frustrated that — SPOILER ALERT! — 1) Martha, who is such a brilliant character, pretty much disappears from the second half of the book, and 2) that the book ends on Colin, who I, personally, found much less compelling than Mary, and I truly felt like it was she who had earned the ending far more than he did — but she, too, kind of disappears before the end), it cuts to the heart of loneliness, loss, neglect, friendship, healing, and growth, both metaphorically and literally. I believed in the power of the garden, of planting seeds, of waiting and watering, and I still believe now, even more.

Sometimes I wish that I had read just this one book back then, in 2010. I think I could've made an exception for this particular one, back then.

The other wonderful thing about this book is just the gorgeous, evocative imagery: the purple heather-covered moors; a big Gothic manor with weird sounds wuthering through the halls; wintergreen and walled gardens; a lonely little girl skipping rope in a hundred circles; tiny plants poking their ways through dead leaves and detritus as they've been doing for many an unwitnessed year. The scene near the beginning when Mary, talking to Ben Weatherstaff the crusty old gardener, befriends the robin was the first in the book that moved me so much. Ben had just finished telling Mary that she and he were "wove out th' same cloth. We're neither of us good-lookin' an' we're both of us as sour as we look. . . ." Suddenly, the robin landed a few feet away in an apple tree:

    "He's made up his mind to make friends with thee," replied Ben. "Dang me if he hasn't took a fancy to thee."
    "To me?" said Mary, and she moved towards the little tree softly and looked up.
    "Would you make friends with me?" she said to the robin, just as if she were speaking to a person. "Would you?" And she did not say it either in her hard little voice or in her imperious Indian voice, but in a ton so soft and eager and coaxing that Ben Weatherstaff was as surprised as she had been when she heard him whistle.
    "Why," he cried out, "tha' said that as nice an' human as if tha' was a real child instead of a sharp old woman. Tha' said it almost like Dickon talks to his wild things on th' moor."
    "Do you know Dickon?" Mary asked, turning round rather in a hurry.
    "Everybody knows him. Dickon's wandering about everywhere. Th' very blackberries an' heather-bells knows him. I warrant th' foxes shows him where their cubs lies an' th' skylarks doesn't hide their nests from him."

For some reason that forlorn, unwanted child, and that sweet robin, and that earthling boy, and the phrase "blackberries an' heather-bells" sort of unlocked this massive whoosh of ideas for me recently. I started designing my most recent craft projects and apothecaries around them. The collection of photos and illustrations above has fed my imagination while I have been working.

"Circumstances, however, were very kind to her, though she was not at all aware of it. They began to push her about for her own good. When her mind gradually filled itself with robins, moorland cottages crowded with children, with queer, crabbed old gardeners and common little Yorkshire housemaids, with springtime and with secret gardens coming alive day by day, and also with a moor boy and his 'creatures', there was no room left for the disagreeable thoughts . . ."

Like Mary, my thoughts this winter have been filled with these things of Misselthwaite, and I hope you might find inspiration in them, too. (If you haven't read the book, or haven't read it in a while, I can't recommend the Inga Moore version enough.) I will probably start taking pre-orders for my two Secret Garden craft kits (one knitting, one embroidery [not cross stitch]) as well as the bath boxes we are working on sometime next week or so. I'm almost done taking photos of the items I am going to include, and I will tell you all about them then. It's been so much fun doing this, and I can't wait to share all the things we've made.

Boy, this really took me a long time to write, sorry! Phew!

Photos and illustrations, from top to bottom: 1. By Molly Brett 2. By Johanna Basford 3. By Flavia Sorrentino 4. Yorkshire Dales by Mike Williams 5. By Emma Lazauski 6. Unknown illustrator, from art.com 7. Vintage postcard from 1908 8. Thwaite, England, by Dave Dunford (and, curiously, Thwaite is about ten miles from the towns [Reeth,Grinton, and Marrick] that my ancestors-I-never-knew-about-until-last-year are from — so trippy!) 9. By Inga Moore 10. Vintage china pattern 11. Frances Hodgson Burnett 12. Still from The Secret Garden movie, 1993 13. By Julian deNarvaez 14. By Johanna Basford 15. By Russell Barnett 16. By Giovanni Manna 17. By Rachael Saunders 18. Vintage botanical print 19. Yorkshire Dales by A. Leighton 20. By Inga Moore 21. Tasha Tudor 22. Biodiversity Library 23. Unknown 24. By Aliki Kermitsi 25. Gathering Blackberries by William Stewart MacGeorge 26. Blackberry by Margaret Tarrant 27. By Leo Paul Robert, from Les Oiseaux dans la Nature 28. Vintage botanical illustration 29. Still from The Secret Garden movie, 1993.

Winter Warming

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Oh, the days of January, I love them so. I love that the weather is cold, the garden is sleeping, the skies are gray. I love that. I love hibernating, and flannel sheets, and flannel nightgowns, and hot tea, and pretty tea mugs. I love yarn, and knitting, and television at night, and dark. I'm tired, and getting over my cold, and wanting to go slow, and wanting to go upstairs early. The house is frowsy and soft. I'm gearing up to Marie-Kondo everything in sight, but not right now. No, not right now. Right now everything is a bit droopy, and needs fresh paint, and to be vacuumed for hours. I sit and make lists, stab at the taxes, pick up take-out Indian food, read picture book after picture book after picture book at bedtime, and listen to a thousand six-year-old hopes and fears. Her warm body beside mine, we listen to the wind and rain, and talk about going to Great Wolf Lodge someday, where they have an indoor water park, and water buckets falling on your head, and pool after pool after pool of warm water. I'm in. Take me there. Let's go now.

We went to a conference with Mimi's teacher the other day and it's like . . . I could just sit there and talk about my kid all. day. long. I love her two teachers and I love her school, and love how she is thriving there. I don't love the commute, but I'm trying to learn to like it. It's long, and can be ugly if I take the busy way, which I usually don't, and then it's just plain long and slow. I've been listening to The Secret Garden audio-book (read by Finola Hughes) while I drive, but it's almost over. I think I really need to get into podcasts. I don't even know what I want in a podcast, honestly. I'm not sure where to start. And can you download them so you don't have to use data on your phone while you're listening? Or . . . how does that even work? I don't seem to know anything about anything that everyone else knows lately. Thank you in advance.

I've been thinking and working a lot on the Secret Garden projects and the bath boxes that will go with them. What I think we will do is offer two different craft projects -- one is an embroidery project (not cross stitch, just regular free embroidery, of the robin, and the key), and one is a knitting project. The embroidery project is small, about 5" in diameter and will fit and be framed in a 6" hoop (which will be included with the kit). The knitting project will include a pattern for a pair of simple handwarmers decorated with with duplicate stitch, and will include hand-dyed fingering-weight yarn for the main color of the handwarmers and also all of the small amounts of yarn you will use to duplicate-stitch the designs on top. Then, if you'd like, each project can come with the Secret Garden–inspired bath box, which will include a bar of our handmade cold-process soap, a lotion bar, a really pretty apothecary jar of bath soak, a wax sachet, and a little candle.

You may order either of the kits with or without a bath box, or you may order just the bath box. We are going to take pre-orders for all of this in the next couple of weeks, and then it will take at least six weeks for us to ship everything. It will take this long because we don't know how many orders for everything we will get and we want to make sure we can include everyone who wants any of these items. So, since the soap takes six entire weeks to cure, we will continue to make soap almost every day in anticipation of orders. We also need to order the hoops I think I want to use for the framing of the embroidery project from Europe, and they have a long turn-around time (also about six weeks after ordering). So that puts us shipping around the beginning of April, and if you've read The Secret Garden, doesn't that seem kind of like the perfect time for this? I definitely will put together a post that shows you my inspiration for all the things we're working on for this, like I did for the advent calendar. I love making those collages so much and will start working on one later this week. I can't wait.

I've watched a few of the Tidying Up episodes on Netflix. I honestly get choked up every time they thank the house. It's weirdly emotional. I would've never thought to do that but it feels very poignant. It's a really beautiful moment in the episodes, I think. I also watched the documentary Three Identical Strangers last night and that was so incredibly intense. Did anyone else see it? Man. I don't even know what to say about that. As an adoptive parent, especially, it chilled me to the bone to think that they separated those babies. Unrelated, my sister Julie got me the British TV Field Guide for my birthday and I am psyched. I should do a run-down of my favorite British TV shows (mostly mysteries and thrillers) this past year. I love Shetland, Vera, Happy Valley (OH MY WORD crazy intense), Last Tango in Halifax, No Offense, Striking Out, Acceptable Risk, and Keeping Faith. Should I tell you about those or do you already know them?

I took that moon photo during the Super Blood Wolf Moon lunar eclipse! Josh was over and he and Andy were gonna go out to the garage to play video games; they went out on the back porch and flipped out because the eclipse just happened to be almost total at that moment and we had an awesome view of it from the porch. I grabbed my tripod and put it on the back table and got a few photos of the moon right before the clouds moved in. So that's almost total eclipse right there. It was just so totally cool to see that. I'm so glad they just happened to be going outside at that moment or we would've missed it!

The sweet winter field painting is the print I bought from Jo Grundy and had framed a few years ago, and I love it so much. And that beautiful watercolor of Amelia riding the rabbit? The sweetest gift from the most lovely Emily Winfield Martin several years ago. I absolutely treasure it, and it hangs over Mimi's bed.

Strawberry Moon

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The picture I took of the strawberry moon, above, was actually taken in the early morning. The moon was so bright the night before I couldn't even look at it. And I saw two planets, one way to the left and one way to the right. I think I read that one of them had to have been Saturn, Amelia's favorite planet (thanks Little Einsteins). It was so beautiful.

These pictures go way back! It's been a bit of a scramble lately. I'm still making and shipping lotion bars at all hours, and now we're waiting for more labels to come from the printer, which is taking forever. They are supposed to arrive on Tuesday, now. Next time I launch anything I'm going to do it as a "pre-order." I should've done that with these but . . . I don't know why I didn't. I've been doing this long enough to know better, I would think. But anyway, thank you again for your patience — I've written directly to people who are still waiting for bars to let them know where I'm at. All is still on-track for Summer Storm kits (and the lotion bars that were ordered with them, as well) to ship, probably in the third and last weeks of July by the time we get it all together. Andy has pulled all of the embroidery floss, cross -stitch fabric is supposed to arrive today and then it will be cut, and I sent in the pattern to be printed yesterday. Nanny Katie, who used to help me with Posie years ago (seven years ago now!) is a high school teacher these days. She is on her summer break and is going to be working with me again until the fall. She started this past Monday and it's been so great to have her hanging around again. Love it.

And by the way, we are planning to do 600 Summer Storm kits so there are still tons left if you would like to order one. And the PDF for that pattern will be released as soon as I get caught up with all of this shipping. I'll let you know when it's ready to go.

Other than that, we've been hanging around the house quite a bit, going here or there when it's possible, otherwise just hanging. It's been really, really nice. Since Amelia got out of school several weeks ago, we've literally had nothing at all scheduled. I thought that would be stressful, but it turns out that she is just at the absolute perfect age to simply hang around. It's kind of amazing. We were at the park with some preschool friends the other day (which took, let me tell you, about twenty emails between ten people to find two hours when three of us could get together — ridiculous — this is why I miss school!) and she was just able to play, and play, and play, for hours, completely in flow and absorbed in her sand castles and sand balls and water sourcing. Watching stuff like that, watching them just be so occupied and lose all track of time, and not care where their snacks are, or what's happening later, or who's around or not around, etc., is one of the absolute greatest joys of parenting for me. Hands down. Isn't it just incredible that they do that? Is just so . . . human. Humans just have that capacity to find things so interesting, even really small humans. I mean, I don't know. I really do only have one life-goal for Amelia, and that is that I hope she finds something in life that she just loves to do. That's really all. I think everything else can come from there. I know people who don't really have that and I think it's hard for them, and then lots of other things are harder. . . .

I've got many sweaters happening at night. The white-ish sweater is one I started, honestly, months ago now. It's Alfred's Sweater by Petite Knit for Mimi, on size 3 needles in single-ply fingering, dyed by me. It is a sloooooooow knit. So slow. Basically, it's an entire sweater done in ribbing. It's so pretty but I'm ready to move along. The greenish one is the Rose Sweater by Knit by TrineP in 6-12 month size in single-ply Merino fingering, dyed by me, that I made for the @knit_beyond_borders auction on Instagram. The pinkish one is another Rose Sweater, this time for Mimi, in single-ply Merino fingering called Antique Rose, dyed by Lichen and Lace. I've been terrible about updating my Ravelry page with the things I've worked on this spring and summer, but hopefully I'll get my act together an do that soon. I'm super anxious to start a #sorbetcardigan and my yarn for that should be arriving any day. That one's for me. I wish I was a notebook-keeping type of person because I feel like I have a lot of things that I see that I want to keep track of and make in the future, or color combinations that are pretty, or someone's yarn that's sold out that I want to remember and try to get next time, or whatever, and instead all of these things just scatter through the air around me like dandelion seeds, or something. I'm incredibly disorganized about my inspirations. I have Ravelry and Pinterest boards and IG saves and all of that. But I don't really have my own personal method of keeping track of anything, anything at all. And I want that. I think it would help me lower my shoulders. I keep a lot of things in my head and I'm not sure why.

I did just treat myself to this lovely sounding book box and I can hardly wait until it gets here. And now I think I'm going to go get some fancy ice cream to bring home to Andy and Amelia. Summer. I'm gettin' on board. It takes me a while, but it's happening.

School's Out!

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Yep, it happened — preschool ended. Preschool is over. I took it hard. Not so much because I mourn the loss of baby days (I really don't) or have a hard time seeing my girl grow up (I really don't). I really love watching this beautiful, curious, hilarious, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed little creature grow and change and climb and talk and write and read and do things for herself, more and more and more every single day. I have absolutely loved aged five, and I feel like I love each year even more than the one before, quite honestly! But I have found the end of preschool a little bit difficult because, I don't know, I just liked it. I liked the place and I loved the other kids and the other parents, and I loved our little after-school hang-out group, and our little school-yard playground, and our picnic table, and our mom-convos, and the dramas, and the boo-boos, and the monkey-bar feats, and the worry over the stupid unlocked gate (grrrr) and the lead dust (grrrr), and the hiding in the camellia tree that drove me insane, and the tears more often than not when it was time to leave (and let it be known that we were almost always the last to leave as it was). I'm going to miss our friends and my flails and my rants and their patience and the laughing and the sometimes crying, and the potlucks and the lantern walks and the birthday celebrations and the shady wall on which I sat with ivy poking into my back while knitting a thousand rows. I'm going to miss my friends and the things I learned from them. Most everyone is going to different kindergartens next year. We have only one acquaintance at our new school, and although I think it is a lovely place and I know we'll make friends and hopefully we’ll love it, these two years of preschool have been magical for me. Watching Mimi get off to such a great start has been a dream. And I'm just so grateful for that experience.

***

Conversation after taking Amelia to meet the admissions director and tour her new school last week, during which she was nonchalant and inscrutable, saying hardly a word (though her eyes were just darting everywhere), and after which she got into the car and immediately fell fast asleep:

Me: “Did you like your new school?”
Her: “Yeah.”
Me: “Oh good! I’m glad you liked it! I thought it was wonderful!”
Her: “Mm-hmm. Yeah.”
Me: “Were you a little nervous? I always get a little nervous when I go somewhere for the first time, and meet new people for the first time. . . .”
Her [looking at me like I am insane]: “No.”
Me: "You weren't nervous?"
Her: "No."
Me: “Oh! Oh, well, that’s good. Wasn’t D. [admissions director] so nice?”
Her: “Yes!!! She was! Mom, she was as nice as . . . FROSTING!!!”

***

I will confess that the first morning of summer vacation Amelia and I just laid around in bed, binge-watching cartoons and drinking coffee and eating bananas and surfing Instagram until practically eleven o'clock, and we never do this. It was wonderful. Then we fed the birds and cleaned the house a bit and went out to lunch and went to the grocery store, and all of it did have a perfectly leisurely quality I am not used to. There was mint growing outside of the Thai restaurant we frequent and we asked Wassana if we could pick some and she said yes; we stopped and got lemons and an English cucumber and I made cucumber simple syrup and squeezed the lemons and mixed up a really great cucumber lemonade with mint, sweet and cool. The weather here has been PERFECT. Coldish and cloudyish and only a little bit sunnyish, perfect for sitting outside and birdwatching in the front yard, or reading on the chairs, or playing with the neighbors' guinea pigs at 5:00 p.m., an hour that will be so blazing hot by next month I won't be able to stand it.

Construction projects in the neighborhood are still ongoing. No sooner did one wrap than another porta-potty appeared on another lawn and another project started, at the third of the four properties that border ours. This time, roof replacement. The sound of summer: Nail guns, compressors, banging, guys talking, trucks beeping, trucks IDLING (seriously, whyyyyyyyyy? why are you idling?????), power saws ripping, high-screeching things doing I-know-not-what. I never thought I'd be like this, but I literally growl when it all starts getting going around 8 a.m. every morning. I am becoming my father. My father was just exactly like this about noise. DNA is no joke, people. I try to tell you.

Buried deep in my office on Andy's days off (like today), I label yarn and work on cross-stitch charts and stick new labels on new things I'm excited to show you soon. The next installation of my seasonal cross-stitch series (called Summer Storm) is finished and I'm very excited about it. I'll start taking pre-orders for that next week. The distributor has plenty of fabric in stock, so we'll take as many orders as there are orderers. Mid-summer is not the best time in the world to launch new things, but ah well. This is where I'm at in my life, so hopefully it'll be okay. Andy is going to start pulling embroidery floss for me next week and we should be able to ship this one by mid-July for sure. Then I'll have one more coming, for autumn.

I've been putting my hand-dyed yarn through its paces. I finished Amelia's Flax Light sweater in my own hand-dyed merino sport (that's the one with the garter stitch on the sleeves; Andy wants one now) and my lord, do I ever love that base. It is the absolute perfect yarn for me. It's sturdy but soft and it has a bit of halo but not too much. Agh. I'm happy with it. I started another sweater for Amelia out of the same, this time based on Rat's sweater in the Inga Moore–illustrated Wind in the Willows (which the illustrations above are from, and which is part of my own personal non-depressing summer reading list, which also includes Three Men in a Boat [one of Andy's favorites] and Diary of a Nobody, which I've read before and which I absolutely adore. Thank you for the suggestions, too! I'm planning to do a lot of reading this summer, so I'm thrilled with them). I also made Amelia a little skater skirt (it started out as the dress in my last post) using one of the three fingering bases I will be dyeing yarn on, this one made in the United States from 90% superwash Targhee wool and 10% nylon. I machine-washed the skirt on hot and dried it on high heat and I honestly couldn't believe how much it softened up. Wow. No wonder people like superwash. I mean, there's a whole debate. I never machine-wash knitwear, myself, and still don't really recommend it but . . . it worked. Anyway, more on me and my yarns and thoughts about yarn soon. I feel like I'm taming an octopus with all of these things I've got going on, but slowly they are all coming together and I'll be officially blathering even more about them soon. I still need to put all three of these new knits on my Ravelry page, sorry.

Also, I need to tell you about all of the awesome shows on TV I've been watching while knitting but I don't have any more time today.

For now, I mean, just look:

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First day of school this year | Last day of school this year. Look how much older she looks. Maybe I actually will cry, I don't know.

A Happy Birthday

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The  most marvelous Andy Paulson had a birthday this week and we celebrated in style, picnicking at the creek and playing in the woods. A crow flew off with Amelia's entire sandwich — an untouched 6" turkey sub — right off the picnic table while we were down at the water's edge. It was actually kind of amazing to watch. He stalked it, then he took it. I was amazed that he was able to carry it. Amelia and I baked Andy a cake and decorated it when we got home. She picked everything, the colors and style and the decorations, and I just helped. We used my go-to birthday cake recipe (it's the best chocolate cake in the world, I think, if you need one) with plain buttercream frosting. Andy laid on the chaise lounge out back and read his book while we shouted hints out the back door toward him about what we were doing. "Oh, this looks good!" "Yeah! And we hope you like things that are green!" "We hope you like things that are pink!" "We hope you like things that are LURID!" He said he did, on all counts, so we carried out our plan fearlessly. Neon frosting, geranium flowers, rose petals, giant sprinkles, traffic-cone-orange powdered food coloring, and lots of blobs. I think it's one of our best ever, myself, and it was by far the most fun. Happy birthday to you, my darling, darling husband. I love you beyond words and am so thankful every day that you were born.

Thank you so much for all of your gentle and generous and thoughtful comments on my last post. I've been thinking about it all a lot and just kind of . . . absorbing, I guess. I was particularly touched by the people who said something like "well, of course you want to know these things — that's what we, as people, do." In reading those comments it struck me how, even in writing what I had written and sort of saying "oh, well, I'm not sure why this matters" in it, I was still on some level denying myself permission to be doing it. The looking. Or rather, I was trying to keep myself from feeling the need I felt to know, as if I wasn't really allowed to have feelings about it. But I think  I am. And I think that's something unexpected that I've gained from this experience: I'm just letting myself go there, and feel whatever it is I'm going to feel, or not feel, about it all. I'm encouraging myself just to be . . . human. Knowing names and dates and places doesn't necessarily answer the important questions. But maybe it is a start. It may also be the only part of the story I ever find. I don't know. I don't know yet.

Coincidentally, I started reading Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser (which just won a Pulitzer for biography) several weeks ago and was struck by this:

Discovering how Charles Ingalls and his family came to find themselves a few miles from the shores of Lake Pepin, just a few years after Pepin County was first marked on a map, is a detective story tracking generations into the past. Pieces of the family portrait survive, but the whole remains elusive, obscured under the soot of time. It may never be complete.

That is always a problem, in writing about poor people. The powerful, the rich and influential, tend to have a healthy sense of their self-importance. They keep things: letters, portraits, and key documents. . . . 

But the Ingallses were not people of power or wealth. Generation after generation, they traveled light, leaving things behind. Looking for their ancestry is like looking through a glass darkly, images flickering in obscurity. As far as we can tell, from the moment they arrived on this continent they were poor, restless, struggling, constantly moving from one place to another in an attempt to find greater security from hunger and want. And as they moved, the traces of their existence were scattered and lost. Sometime their lives vanish from view, as if in a puff of smoke.

So as we look back across the ages, trying to find what made Laura's parents who they were, imagine that we're on a prairie in a storm. The wind is whipping past and everything is obscured. But there are the occasional bright, blinding moments that illuminate a face here and there. Sometimes we hear a voice, a song snatched out of the air.

That said, this book is so depressing, I must confess. A lot of it is about Rose, of whom I knew nothing, and now I sort of wish I knew less. (I haven't even read all of the Little House books themselves, but Mimi is super into the junior versions of them right now, so there has been a lot of prairie talk around here lately.) I'm on page 347 of 515 of Fires and although I don't like it very much I can't seem to actually stop reading it. But when I do finish it I plan to read something utterly trite, so please feel free to recommend all manner of beach-reads because I'm all over it.

Andy made bangers and mash with brats for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding, and Mimi and I finally did wind up making the rhubarb pie. If I could pick my wedding dress over again I'm pretty sure I'd pick this one:

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Princess Caroline's in 1978 (I think). From the pictures it almost looks like it has a gathered — like, elastic! — waist. I would totally do my hair like that, too.

Some of my new labels for stitch markers, lotion bars, and yarn should be starting to be delivered this week. I'm ridiculously excited to see them, and to launch these new things I've been working on for what feels like forever now. Andy and I drove out to pick up my very first wholesale order of bare yarn a few weeks ago, and I've been dyeing it little by little when I have time. I will tell you more about it as soon as I get myself organized enough. I went to a really fascinating lecture the other night about the state of the wool industry and our place in it given by Clara Parkes. I learned so much and I have so many more questions. There is so much more I want to know. I feel like I'm at the very beginning of a whole new phase of my creative life, and it is quite thrilling. And a bit overwhelming, honestly.

I also have finished stitching my next cross-stitch design, the third in my little series of seasonal pieces this year. This one is called "Summer Storm" (at least, that's what I'm calling it so far) and if I can collect myself enough to take some pretty pictures of it in the next week or so, we'll open pre-orders sometime in June. If you're not finished with Time of Flowers, don't worry — it will be several weeks before the fabric arrives and we have time to pull floss, etc. But still, I want to mention it because yes, there are two more in this seasonal series, this summer one and then one I'll do for the fall. And because the Time of Flowers fabric has been discontinued, we will probably do around five hundred of these next two and then call it good, and I don't want you to miss out.

I'm almost done with my Flax Light sweater I'm making for Mimi, and I've started a knitted dress for her that kind of looks like Selekjolen by Hoppestrikk. I wasn't able to find the pattern for it, and then when I did find it it was in Danish. I bought it, hoping to figure it out, but instead I just kind of started winging it. When I tried it on Mimi she told me she liked it while at the same time ripping it off her body as if it was on fire so, might not be worth starting over. . . . This is how kid-knitting is lately. I knew this day would come.

Not Much

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Doing not much. Knitting and knitting and knitting. I have so many chores I should be getting to but . . . it's January. I just want to knit. So I am. And trying not to feel guilty about that. I'll catch up (won't I?) in February. . . .

Cinnamon rolls from Scandikitchen Fika and Hygge cookbook :: Sweet little baby Mimi :: Shawl is My Shetland Adventure pattern in Sunday Knits Angelic fingering in aqua :: Breakfast with my loves at our favorite, Besaw's :: Illustrations from My First Little House Books (which I like as much if not more than the original novels) Going West and Sugar Snow :: Andy and Mimi at the store right now getting ingredients for chicken soup tonight, as we all try to stay healthy :: Ranunculus sweater yoke in Arranmore Fine in progress :: Watched all of the first season of Victoria. Wow. So good!

Anyone watching or listening to good knitting podcasts? I am familiar with Woolful, The Gentle Knitter, and Kammebornia. Are there any others I should check out?

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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Photography

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.