Posts filed in: Books

Days of Roses

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So many days! I've been loving them all. This is the last week of fifth grade — and elementary school — for Amelia. I have so many feelings about this but there really hasn't been much time to feel them, to be honest! The past couple of months have been filled with field trips and ballet performances and parties and dinners and birthdays and school musicals and so many fun times with friends and neighbors and teachers and kids that I've lost track. What a lovely problem to have. I couldn't be more grateful for our time at our little neighborhood school. Middle school is next year. 

That hasn't really sunk in, to be honest. But we have a long, lazy summer ahead and I'm so grateful for that, too.

When I've been home, in between driving to the many events that comprise Miss Amelia's busy schedule, I've been working on my cookbook. Shopping, cooking, cleaning, baking, cleaning, writing, photographing, Photoshopping, writing more, re-baking, researching. Working a cookbook is both thrilling and, not gonna lie, a ton of work. I got a new Mac computer monitor on Facebook Marketplace and it has been amazing compared to the crappy one I'd had before. That and redecorating our kitchen has just been so, so inspiring. (We also had to get a new refrigerator, which was mercifully not the horrendous installation experience I was fearing [as it was fifteen years ago when we got our old "new" one], and it has been an absolute delight. (In case you are interested, this is the one I got — very simple, as I did not want an ice maker or water dispenser, as those were the only things to ever and consistently break on our old fridge, ultimately requiring us to get a new one. And by the way, this fridge comes with the option for either stainless steel handles or antique brass handles, which is pretty unique. We are using the brass to match all the other new hardware we got for the cabinets.)

Anyway, my gosh, I love the new fridge. I am truly planning to give you a tour of the newly refreshed kitchen, I swear. But I have been spending literally every working minute on the cookbook so that I can get the rough recipe drafts finished so that I can start passing a rough draft of the book around to my friends to do some recipe testing for me! Gah! I know that that is going to take some time! (If any of you want to test recipes for me, let me know and if I need more testers I will reach out.) So far the book is more than 200 pages with over 90 recipes. Some have required me to really work on the development to get it just right (like these chocolate chip cookies — I've been trying to recreate my high-school cafeteria cookies, which were the best!). I have been enjoying all of it, but it really is a huge project, and I've been just putting my head down and digging into the work rather than talking about it a lot. I am learning a lot but also looking forward to getting to the next phase of this project, when all the recipes have been chosen and written and photographed, at least.

One day last week I actually read an entire book. I keep talking about it because I'm pretty sure it's the first time I've ever in my life read an entire book in one day. It was so exciting. It was a rainy Sunday and we had nothing to do for once, and by about 2 p.m. that afternoon I thought, "Oh man, I'm gonna do it! I'm really gonna do it!" And then I did! (And everyone let me just sit there and read, which is the second-biggest miracle.) The book was the delightful Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman. I laughed out loud several times, which is always fun. I've been having a really hard time finishing books lately so it was nice to just actually plow through something. Now I'm reading the second one, and it is super fun, too. I heard that they are going to make a movie of this. My neighbor and I were trying to think of actors we thought would play these characters. I thought Helen Mirren for Elizabeth and Anne Reid for Joyce. Then I looked up who was actually chosen, haha! That's gonna be a great cast! 

Blossoms and Ballet and . . . Vignelli Grids

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Oh, we have had a busy, busy few weeks around here. Amelia's ballet school performed Don Quixote over the weekend and it was just fantastic. I'd never seen that ballet before and I loved it. Andy and I watched three performances of it (one on Saturday with Amelia, so she could see it, and two of her performances on Sunday) so — luckily, we loved it! They were looooong. Two and a half hours each. But wow, they did a great job. The costumes were just gorgeous — the skirts on almost every costume were just layers and layers of fantastic ruffles, and the colors were so pretty. Salmon, mint greens, dusty greens, mustards, reds. This ballet was mostly the big kids at the school, including all of the graduating seniors, who each come out onstage and are introduced by the owner of the school, who shared their accomplishments and got choked up almost every time she mentioned, very movingly, what she was going to miss about each one of them. Amelia's class (the "little kids" in this ballet, though the school does other performances that include even the littlest toddlers) were the "Village Cleaners" and they each got to leap over a broomstick onstage. She (and everyone) did so great and, I don't know, these ballet performances really move me, every time. It makes all of the driving and the waiting not "worth it," exactly, because obviously it's all worth everything — but we don't get to watch them dance on a daily basis anymore (no room in this school for parents to watch), so I really just love seeing these performances so much. Amelia had a great time and is sad that she'll have to wait until Nutcracker season for the next one. Maybe she'll do ballet camp this summer. 

I have been ferrying this dancer back and forth all over the place lately so my time to work has been tucked into every corner, it seems, and I won't lie — I'm kinda tired and could use some downtime. I played Pickleball yesterday and that was great.

(Amelia won a cake at the school carnival cakewalk, which was very exciting until we tasted the cake [the label from the fancy grocery store was still on it and I could see that somebody had paid $35 for it!] and it was absolutely disgusting — dry as a bone and with gluey, inedible frosting. Wah! Still quite exciting.)

I've been working on the cookbook like crazy. Every morning I get up and drink coffee in bed early, before anyone else is awake. I read stuff on my iPad and just generally surf around. One morning I read this excellent article by Kendra Aronson about her experience self-publishing a cookbook. In it she said, "Design dictates everything," and mentioned the concept of the Vignelli grid. So I watched that video and knew that, although I had been diligently making recipe lists and writing recipes into a Word document (yes, more to come on the promised style sheets discussion), the design — or my lack of any concrete ideas about it — was really bugging me. I felt like I needed to get some kind of handle on it in order to move forward, so Kendra's article came at the perfect time.

Creating a Vignelli grid made sense to me because I knew I was wanting to use a lot of my blog photos for my book. Not as the main food shots but just as supplemental lifestyle shots throughout the book. Because almost all of my blog photos (for the last ten years or so) have been sized so that they show up at a reasonable size onscreen — they are 660px x 495 px, or about 7" x 9" at 72dpi (which is the resolution used to view images onscreen). But when you print images on paper, they need to be at a much higher "resolution" — that is, they need to be at 300 dpi (dots per inch). Dots are like pixels, but for printing. Once you've resized your photo, the dots you have are the dots you have -- you can't really create dots (you sort of can, but let's just keep this simple). You can't create more dots. So resizing an image that is 660px x 495px at 300dpi brings its print dimensions all the way down to about 2.2" x 1.65". So, pretty small. Nevertheless, I have thousands of photos at this size, so they are going in the book

I decided to create my Vignelli grid out of blocks that were about this size (2.2" x 1.65"). After a lot of tweaking and watching this video I created a modular grid that was three blocks wide and five blocks tall, on a letter-sized (8.5" x 11", which is listed as one of the hardback sizes that Amazon will print on demand) document, all matched perfectly to my baseline grid. I knew about the baseline grid (basically, a design grid that makes sure that all of your type is consistently lined up from page to page) from the novel-design Skillshare class I had watched. 

So: Once I had figured out how to get this all set up in InDesign (by Googling and watching videos) I had a grid template on which I could build my design. Can you see how it works? I've inserted these sample-page screenshots so that they are quite large; click on them to see them even bigger if you'd like.

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Can you see how things, from pictures to text, get slotted into the grid? Pretty cool!

I also picked some fonts — one serif font (for titles and headnotes) called Bodoni Egyptian Pro Light and one sans serif font (for ingredients and directions) called Proxima Nova Thin. Picking out fonts gives me a massive headache, to be honest. I don't know that these will be my final fonts but I like them. I did not want a trendy display font, or a handwriting font, or a cutesy Posie-ish font. I just wanted very simple fonts that were classic and would not look dated in two years. And ones that just felt "right." Fonts are bizarre. I have to be in the right mood to think about them, otherwise my brain gets super tangled up, for some reason.

Originally, I was going to finish my whole manuscript in MS Word before flowing any of it into design. But that's really a "traditional publishing" kind of workflow. When you're doing your own design, it just makes sense to me to write directly into the design document, so that you literally are writing to fit, for the most part.  I haven't quite figured out the details yet, but plugging the recipes directly into the design is already alerting me to potential problems with that, etc., and I'd rather know now. What I've done this week is basically make an entire book dummy, and assigned pages for sections, chapters, recipes, intros, frontmatter, backmatter, index, everything. Now everything has a place, and in theory this book is 222 pages long. So we'll see how that all holds, or shakes out, as we go!

One thing I am really confused about is some of the printing details at Amazon. I can't find anywhere where they tell you whether to use jpgs or tiffs, or whether you should submit files in RGB or CMYK. I was assuming CMYK but there was some chatter online that I could find where people were saying that they strip all color profiles before printing anyway? Is that a thing? Like, when you export as a PDF does it still matter? If anyone knows, please advise. I talked to my friend who is a production director at a book publishing company and she said they submit jpgs to their printers. And I also contacted another self-published cookbook author on Amazon who said she submitted all tiffs. . . . Hrmmmm.

I'll try to talk about style sheets next time!

Thunder, Flowers, Cookbooks

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Good flowery, rainy, thunderstormy morning to you! I’m writing from here in my office where we’ve had all manner of thunder and lightning this morning. This is very unusual for Portland, Oregon, where rain tends to fall as a dull curtain of mist instead of a dramatic, rolling cacophony of sound and shattering light. I have a new app on my iPad called “My Lightning Strike” and I kept my neighborhood moms’ chat punctually informed of all nearby strikes (one just 700 feet from our house, and one across the street from Rebecca’s) because a bunch of lightning happening right as everyone is getting the kids to school is a bit stressful (and, I have to repeat, really unusual here). But everyone now seems to be safely installed wherever it is they should be this morning, and although our power just went out and came back on (everyone in moms’ group’s did as well) and the sky is dark dark dark, the rain seems to have mellowed into a drizzle, and I’m going to keep writing and saving this document every three minutes, just in case.

Thank you for all of your enthusiasm and encouragement over my cookbook idea! I’m so excited! I’ve had a busy week of running around and playing Pickleball and having lunch with someone almost every day (very unusual for me, actually [laughing]) and am just today getting a chance to catch up. But I wanted to post about some of the details of my process so far. These details will be kind of random because — it’s all pretty much happening in real time. So I’ll just jump in and get going with the first thing I did!

1. I made a very comprehensive recipe list from the blog.

One great thing about having a blog, especially having a blog for so long, is that pretty much anything that we’ve cooked in the past eighteen years that we’ve been proud of or that we eat regularly has made its way onto the blog. So I started here. I went backwards through the “Cooking and Baking” category on my sidebar and just wrote down every single thing that we had made and photographed. And it was over a hundred different things. That was pretty shocking. I put all of the names of the recipes into a table in a Word document, and organized them by categories like “Breakfast,” “Main,” “Soup,” and “Sweets.” I also kept track of the date on which a thing appeared on the blog, whether I wrote down the whole recipe or had taken a photo of it, so that I could go back and find it if I needed to.

2. I went through my recipes in my recipe box, in my little notebook, in my Paprika app, in my binder, in the stuff my mom had given me years ago, in Andy’s binder, in Andy’s handwritten notepad pages, and in some of the magazines we’ve kept since we were first married.

There were definitely a few things that in these sources that I had forgotten about and wanted to include.

3. I looked at the recipes themselves and started to think about which ones to include.

Once I had the giant list, I started looking closely at the recipes and thought about whether these were things I had made from other peoples’ recipes or whether they were my own or my family’s recipes. We immediately eliminated anything that was solidly from another person’s recipe that we make but just don’t change at all, and wouldn’t want to change. (But I was also reminded that I really loved those recipes and want to cook them soon, even if they won’t be in my book, so I still recommend doing this step!) Some were definitely in a gray area so I wanted to know what the actual copyright laws are around recipes in general and found several resources for further information:

This resource at the Copyright Alliance gives an overview.

Here is a great blog post by David Lebovitz that discusses using other peoples’ recipes.

And an article from CopyrightLaws.com.

Basically, if you use someone else’s recipe in any way (even if it’s just on your blog or web site), you definitely want to give attribution (and a link, if you’re online) to the original writer at the very least, and you will need to rework and rewrite the recipe to make it your own version of the recipe if you want to publish it. This is pretty commonsensical, but you can find many other discussions of this topic online that will help clarify any questions you have about it if you just start searching a bit.

4. So now I’ll whittle down the recipe list even more.

I think I’m aiming for around fifty recipes, which should be about half of my original list, but the number will be whatever it is. I would like to finalize it very soon so I know. I think I will do that this weekend.

5. I think the categories will be:

Breads
Breakfasts
Sides
Mains
Sweets and Other Things

I also plan to write an introduction, chapter openers for the categories, and maybe include some old blog excerpts if they are relevant. I’m guessing I will also include:

Cook’s notes (discussions of ingredients, what you should have on hand, etc.)
Resources (web sites I’ve loved and cooked from, shows about food I love, YouTube channels, etc.)
Index
Table of Contents (but will this have each recipe listed?)
Measurement conversion charts for overseas readers
Other stuff?

6. I plan to have large photos for every single recipe.

I will either re-shoot those photos (they’ll have to be verticals) or dig into my archives to look for the hi-res I have from whenever I originally blogged that recipes. And I will also be slurping up many other photos directly from the blog through the years and including them on “collage”-type pages. Those photos from the blog will print small — 2.4”w X 1.8”h at the most — because they are sized specifically for my blog, not for printing, and there is no way I could go back and resize every single one of the photos I want to include or we’d be here for years. (I will definitely talk more about photo sizing and photo considerations in later blog posts, but I just kinda wanted to write this down so I had an idea of what I need.)

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I’m not a professional chef and this isn’t a fancy food blog — I’m just a home cook who likes to cook (sometimes!!!), and has to cook most of the time, and even loves to cook occasionally, and my cookbook will definitely reflect that. This will be a book of family recipes from our moms and my dad and our grandmas, along with ones that Andy and I have made over the years, some completely original and some definitely adapted. It will be a book that represents the way we eat here, at home, in our very tiny, very un-fancy kitchen, with our little will-try-anything girl, as we make the meals that Andy and I both ate as children, and while we were becoming adults (many of my favorite recipes I started making in college!), and during the past thirty years of living and learning and cooking together with our family and friends and the people, all of you, who read and have read this blog.

* * *

Some stuff I’ve listened to, read, or ordered this week that you might be interested in:

  • I’ve been listening to a podcast called Everything Cookbooks which is hosted by three cookbook authors named Molly Stevens, Andrea Nguyen, and Kate Leahy. I’ve listened to the first four episodes, titled, respectively, 01: Should You Write a Cookbook, 02: Do you Need a Cookbook Agent, 03: Cookbook Proposal Writing Tips, and 04: Let’s Make a Cookbook Deal.

This is obviously (so far) a podcast about publishing a cookbook with a traditional publisher, but since I’ve done a couple of books with a traditional publisher I’ve been interested in what they’re talking about and there is a lot of great information and discussion here for anyone writing a cookbook, self-published or traditionally published, I think. I’m going to keep working my way forward through the podcasts because I have already gotten some great recommendations from this one for further reading, including some books, such as Recipes Into Type by Joan Whitman (I’ve ordered it, haven’t gotten it yet) and The Recipe Writer’s Handbook by Barbara Gibbs Ostmann and Jane L. Baker (ordered, haven’t gotten yet).

I am very much looking forward to having those books as resources.

  • I’ve also been listening to a podcast called Cookbook Club, which is hosted by Sara Gray and Renee Wilkinson here in Portland. They pick a different cookbook every month (not all of them new), make a bunch of recipes from it, and then talk about what they’ve cooked and what they thought about that. It’s really fun to listen to and I’ve gone to the library and checked out several cookbooks they’ve used.
  • I’ve been watching Nigella Lawson’s newest show on BritBox called Cook, Eat, Repeat. I always, always love Nigella and have been watching her shows since her Domestic Goddess and Nigella Bites days, and I just love her. That’s all. I checked out all of her books that I didn’t already own at the library the other day and I just love reading what she writes. So I read them like novels, from the introduction right through.
  • Unrelated to cooking: I am also watching The Diplomat on Netflix and it’s very fun to watch although I think it’s too smart for me (I literally have no idea about half of what they’re saying, literally — it’s so fast, and I am a tired mama, and I need to watch it twice in order to figure out what the heck just happened). But I love Keri Russell and Rufus Sewell, too, and they have pretty great chemistry. (I have a soft spot for Keri Russell ever since Felicity, which Andy and I used to watch every single week. That was a pretty amazing show about growing up, honestly. I think it was really underrated.) The Diplomat is super fun to binge.
  • I also bought the book Book Design Simple and Professional by Nancy Starkman but I haven’t had much of a chance to get to it yet. I’m not really there yet, but I feel glad to have it for when I am ready.

I looked at many, many cookbooks at the library and on my own shelves for inspiration, and just thought about what I liked about them and what types of things in them I wanted to include in my book. I also thought about what I didn’t love about some of them and made notes of that. More on these kinds of specifics in future, as well.

A few cookbook editors emailed me or commented (still need to get back to you all and thank you personally — until then, thank you!) and their comments warrant much further discussion (that we will have), because they were all talking about style sheets, and every single thing they said was super helpful. I had already been thinking about style sheets (if you don’t know what a style sheet is, stay tuned — we will discuss) but their comments really stressed to me the importance of of creating a style sheet early in the process rather than later, so in my next post I will be talking all about style sheets — what they are, why we need them, and how to make one.

If you are joining me on this self-publishing adventure, please comment with a link to your own blog or  Instagram or wherever you would like to send us so that we can follow along! I will re-post all links here at the end of each post so that they are in one place. And to the people who sent emails sharing their own previously published cookbooks or cookbook dreams, thank you so much and please comment here again (in this post, so everything is in the same place) if you'd like me to share your blog (or whatever you have) with the group. I truly would love for this to be a collective experience as it really sounds like it's something that at least a few of us are interested in exploring. So whether you are at the point where you want to share, or are just following along as we go, welcome! And please don't be afraid to join in at any point on this journey. It's a big project, and it's going to take a while, so I look forward to settling in and having a great time together. XO

Making a Cookbook

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Thank you so much for the spring orders! I truly appreciate every order and every comment on my new designs. Thank you! I hope you are enjoying making them! I just mixed up some no-knead bread (pictured above) and covered it with a towel to rise for the next 90 minutes. Why did I do this? Why did I cook all of this food over the past week, and take pictures of it? Because I've decided to self-publish a cookbook and I want to include the recipes! As you do!

Are you familiar with self-publishing? Like Kindle Direct Publishing? I had never really heard of this (I'm really not sure how I'd never heard of this, to be honest) but I was immediately intrigued when I first heard about it a few weeks ago. Ever since my days working as a production editor when I first moved to Portland (and through working on my own books with Potter Craft), I've always been interested in book design itself. I've never actually done it but I've always wanted to learn it. So I opened InDesign and started playing around with it. I design all of my patterns through Microsoft Word — I'm not sure exactly why I started doing it that way many years ago, but that's just what I've always done, and that seems to work just fine. But InDesign is a really cool program and I've always wanted to get better at it, and it's what pros use to create documents like books. (You can use a bunch of other kinds of book-design-specific software, too, but InDesign is more sophisticated and gives you a lot more options.)

So I started practice-designing a novel. I watched YouTube videos about how to do this and also watched a few SkillShare classes. In the classes they were showing how to design novels using books that are in the public domain, like Alice in Wonderland and Jane Eyre. I decided to work on one of my and Andy's favorite old novels called Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith (you can see over seventy thousand fee e-books that are in the public domain at Project Gutenberg — what an amazing web site). But I realized that I really wanted to walk through the entire process — not just designing a book but actually publishing it, too. So I did some research and found out that you can publish novels that are in the public domain but if it's free content that is already available in the Kindle store, they will only let you publish a differentiated version. You can do that in a few different ways, and one of the way is by adding relevant illustrations. So I decided to do that, with my watercolors.

But then I got the idea to make a cookbook out of many of our family recipes and recipes that I have made here on the blog through the years. (I may still finish Diary when I'm done with this.) And that's when I got really excited. I started spending ballet-waiting time at the library just down the street from the ballet school, and I have been sitting there with big stacks of cookbooks in the afternoons while I wait. Cookbooks are really amazing. There are a lot of different kinds of cookbooks, LOL. I started thinking about my favorite cookbooks, and dreaming about what kind of cookbook I would make. We also (not coincidentally) looked at our budget and saw how much we have been spending on eating out, and knew something had to change — we absolutely need to start focusing much more on cooking at home again!

So all weekend Andy and I talked about our book, and I've been making lists of our favorite recipes that he and I have been making for over twenty years. I know I'm not a foodie, nor a trained cook (but my sister is, so I'm going to talk her into helping me, and my mom will be looking at all of our family recipes, too), and this is not a legit "food blog." But I looked back through the "Baking and Cooking" category on my blog and found over a hundred different things that I had cooked or baked or photographed! I had no idea how many recipes I had talked about over the years — it was so interesting to see that number. We pulled out our recipe binders and my mom's recipe box, and the tattered, stained pieces of copy paper with recipes we'd printed out that were stuffed all over the place in the kitchen drawers, and the "cookbook" Andy made for our family and friends a long time ago, and the tiny little notebook that says "Recipes" on the front that I started way back when we first got married. And I don't know, but I just got very excited.

So, yeah! I'm going to design a cookbook of our recipes and my photos and even a bunch of blog photos throughout the years! This won't be the world's most comprehensive cookbook or the most well-rounded, but I do want it to include all of our favorite family and friend-made recipes, the ones we've been making for twenty years, the ones I want to pass down to Amelia — the ones she's grown up eating and the ones I want to teach her how to cook. I want to make an e-book as well as a paperback version and a hardback version. I will ultimately list them on Amazon and IngramSpark and all of the other e-book/self-publishing outlets. I want to learn about the entire book design and self-publishing process in doing this, both so that I can gain experience and learn something new and also because I am really excited to be making a book as an author/photographer again (and this time, designer, too). I published my craft books fifteen years ago now. I mean, I actually had to look that up, and it's been fifteen years. A lot has changed. And I'm really excited to catch up with the whole industry.

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I hope you will join me on this journey and in this conversation! If you've ever wanted to make a cookbook, maybe you will be interested in going through this process along with me (cookbook-a-long, anyone?). Have any of you ever written a cookbook? Even a family cookbook or a community cookbook? Do you have any advice? What are your favorite cookbooks? As a home cook, what do you think makes a good cookbook? Please advise! I'm new!

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 eighty 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 during which I can do 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!!!

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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