Posts filed in: House and Garden

Rain and Roses

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I'm fighting a horrideous cold that laid me out flat yesterday. I didn't even feel like walking across the room. Blah. I'm feeling a lot better today, but I don't know how. Well, I did go to be at 8:00 p.m. yesterday and slept until 6 this morning. Ten hours of sleep. That seems to have helped. Took a shower and put on my coziest clothes and trundled Amelia into the car for the school run. We're listening to Mystery Ranch, the fourth book from The Boxcar Children on audio. I loved The Boxcar Children when I was a kid. I'm amazed she is into these. They're kind of grown up, really. The themes, I mean. Estrangements, various sadnesses, stolen money, hermits, bedridden and bitchy old aunts. She listens, rapt. I don't actually remember a thing about the books (other than that I loved them) so I'm enjoying them, too. Audiobooks and spending time with her are the only things I'll miss about this commute.

We had a truly lovely Mother's Day weekend here. All I wanted was to stay home on Sunday and hang out, so that's what we did. I feel like we hadn't done that in ages, somehow, at least not just the three of us. We've had people over or been other places a lot lately. We worked on my office, which was really fun. Mimi helped by making a list of stuff I needed for my office. I've done a ton of reorganization, took a few boxes of craft stuff to Goodwill, took a few boxes to the basement, and basically have a place for everything and everything is in its place. I love this. What I don't love is the color I chose. Wah. I don't know. I have one more valance coming for my sliding doors and once that's up I may decide to repaint, which seems completely insane. I don't know. Andy wanted to repaint it right away, but I said let's put everything back together and see if I can live with it. I kinda think I should live with it, because it's such a pain to paint, and we've now put up a bunch of wall shelves which would have to come down again if we repainted. Andy is such a good sport about stuff like this, a much better sport than I am and it's all of my doing and choosing to start with, so I'll never understand that, but he is an absolute angel about me and my ideas. I love him. The paint color is reading as a very pale yellow, and I don't even like yellow. I wish it'd had more gray in it, to go, at least, with the rest of the house. Now I'm thinking maybe I'll go with some kind of pink, like Setting Plaster. Or Peignoir. I don't know. I'm getting confused about what I originally wanted. You can see a peek of the Vanilla Ice Cream in that photo with the gray gingham curtains. That's my studio. Hrmmm. To be determined.

"The earth is a better place for me because I love you and I think that is a great idea. I love you I love you." Heart explodes in a shower of Level 1 early readers. Oh my stars, child. I love you, too.

Currently working on an enormous new cross stitch design, which will be a birth announcement (if that's what you call those things that say a baby's name, birth date, and weight and length) inspired by nursery rhymes. I drew it a few weeks ago and have just started stitching it. It will fit into a ready-made 16" x 20" frame. But I really love it! The baby info will go in that middle space. . . .

Nursery RhymesBlog

Also, we have extra Blackberries and Heather-bells kits that we have put in the shop. And the PDF for Blackberries and Heather-bells is available here; and the PDF pattern for Misselthwaite Mitts is now available here. We may still have extra apothecary stuff but I am still a bit hesitant to put it out there yet, until I am sure everyone who ordered is happy. Probably next week.

Blossom Days

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The lovely, tentative first blush of spring with its chilly mornings and brave daffodils has given way to very warm weather, and everything is suddenly exploding in a froth of greens. You know how that happens. It's sudden and irreversible. We've been going to parks as much as possible and it's glorious to be back, and back with a capable six year old who can now do the monkey bars like a pro, loves to play and shout and run as fast as she can, makes friends in about thirty seconds, and just generally is so cheerful and fun to be with that the days out have been pure pleasure. As much as I love winter and cold weather and rain, I must admit that life with kids is about a million times easier and more fun when they can go outside and not freeze their hands off on the metal stuff on the playground. I love it.

Sorry I've been so absent! I don't know where the time has one, I honestly don't. We finished shipping everything for Secret Garden just a bit ahead of schedule, and I've never been so relieved to be finished with a project. It was a pretty big, ambitious project for us, filled with so many new things. I enjoyed it, for the most part, though it's always kind of stressful to do anything for the first time, and many of the things we made and packaged we’d never done before. I was pretty tired when we finally finished, I won't lie! Mentally and physically. I also was, apparently, unable to count to four (seriously happened) so please do check your orders and make sure you got evvvvvvverything you ordered. Because literally every time I tried to count anything, I came up with a different number. It was nuts. So, please check your order and make sure I got everything right and if I didn't just let me know right away and I will fix it ASAP. It's been a week since everything went out and I haven't heard that anyone is missing anything, but I’m on high alert. Again, thank you all so much for your interest and orders, and I truly hope you enjoy everything we made! I will be releasing the patterns as PDFs next week, and we will also make any extra a la carte pieces from apothecary boxes available once we know that everyone who pre-ordered got what they actually ordered!

When we finished, my office and Andy's office both were utterly trashed. I collapsed on the sofa for a couple of days and then started reorganizing the space. This has been needing to happen for a long time. Andy and I tried to figure out how long it had been since we had painted the studio and wow, it's been almost NINE years since we did this. That was really shocking. Nine years. I took everything out of the big Expedit wall of shelves and am trying to reorganize it and eliminate all of the open shelving there by putting everything in baskets or behind doors. I decided, kind of surprisingly, that I want to paint it a creamy white. I ran into this article called "Searching for the Perfect Parisian Cream Paint" (sorry, you might need a subscription to a news service to read it) and I loved it. I, too wound up loving the color that the author chose (Farrow and Ball's Tallow) but I went with a color that I thought was exactly the same just slightly lighter than that (and cheaper than F&B!) called Vanilla Ice Cream by Benjamin Moore. We need to totally prime the whole room first, because I think it will be hard to cover that blue with white, so it might be a week or two before we're done.

I had kind of a funny moment yesterday. I have two ceiling skylights in the studio and I don't like them. The light from skylights is actually sometimes yucky. To me it looks light a florescent light fixture. People are really surprised to hear this. Skylights seem nice. But I honestly prefer just plain old window light. Even if you look up pictures of rooms with skylights, you can totally see this flourescent-effect in the pictures. The light in the room is very cool and white when you have a skylight. And I just prefer lower, warmer light. I almost never take pictures of stuff I'm working on in my studio, because unless I'm shooting right by a window it looks like I'm using a flash camera. I'm sure that might be just me, but it's not really my favorite.

But anyway, back to yesterday. So, after surfing Pinterest for I don't even know how long, looking at craft room and office and studio and even kitchen pictures for inspiration, I ran into a few pictures of rooms (I actually think they were of stores) that had weathered  ladders hung from the ceiling. And then from the ladder they had hung bouquets of dried flowers, or baskets, or lanterns, and I thought it looked so pretty. And I thought it would be a perfect thing to hang just slightly inside the skylight window-well. So, not having ever seen this before, I get super excited: "This is amazing! I've never seen this before! What a cool, inventive, unique, new idea!" And then I take Mimi with me to the antique mall to find a little ladder and we walk in and practically every other booth has, of course, ladders hanging from the ceiling displaying dried flowers, baskets, and lanterns. They were everywhere! It's a whole thing. I was laughing so hard. I never knew. I did, however, find a little driftwood ladder for $35 that will be perfect for this, though, so I'm pretty excited. I'll take some pictures next week and show you what we're doing. I found a really cute Laura Ashley–type lamp, too. I so so so love that she is coming back a little bit. I've been waiting. Anyone have any advice for getting giant stickers off of glass and MDF?

Mimi and I made a rhubarb pie using the sour cream apple pie recipe but increasing the sugar to 1 cup. It was good but the rhubarb is so acidic, I guess, that it kind of curdled the sour cream, so I'm not sure I would recommend it. . . . We also made this Shoemaker's Chicken and served it with buttery mashed potatoes and it was AMAZING. Highly recommend.  I need more of those chicken tray-bake things. Another trend I'm late to the party on. I'm slow!

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.

Keep It Together

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Hello! Guys!!! Thank you thank you for all of the Secret Garden orders! I'm so grateful — seriously, thank you. I've been here for the past week and a half, watching them roll in and now we are getting organized, placing orders for packaging and labels and materials. So things are happening here, and all the crazy parts and pieces of these projects are starting to come together, and I thank you, so, so much, for all of your kind comments and your orders! I'm really excited, and just so grateful for your support. You can't imagine. Thank you.

This week has been pretty discombobulated. We had two two-hour snow delays, and one totally cancelled snow day. The snow day was lame because there actually wasn't any snow. There was ice, and some wind, and a bunch of minuscule snowflakes that whirled but never really landed or stuck. Mimi and I had been in each other's pockets for days and days. By the time school got cancelled yesterday, I was pretty much wiped. I would've liked nothing better than to sit and watch twelve straight hours of Fixer Upper. Instead I just let her do whatever she wanted. It was too icy cold to play outside. I made breakfast, and then cleaned up. I made tomato soup, and slightly burned grilled-turkey-and-Swiss sandwiches, and then cleaned up. I made a snack, then cleaned up. I made fish sticks and broccoli for dinner and then cleaned up. When I wasn't cooking and cleaning up I read Missing, Presumed while lying diagonally on the sofa while Amelia tried to catch a fly with a handled strainer for forty-five minutes. She painted and drew. She dumped everything out, looking for some random thing. I don't remember what. She found fifty other things she needed. We've been reading eight books a night at bedtime. I put another comforter on her bed last night because it's been so cold and the kid was asleep like a bug in a rug the minute her head hit the pillow. Cabin fever, caught in only a matter of hours, is for reals. 

Only children. They can really wipe you out sometimes. When I come careening back downstairs in my nightgown after putting her to bed I swear I'm one almost-sob away from sobbing with relief. If any of the animals happen to be sitting on the sofa, they see me coming, hair streaming behind me and my eyes ablaze like a bird of prey, focused on my spot, and they get the hell out of the way stat. MAKE. WAY. MOTHER IS FIFTY.

Evening project: Using up my yarn stash. My stash is made up of a million partial balls yarn. Almost nothing has a label. Totally impractical stash. Good for making nothing but stuffed puffins, pears, and hot water bottles.

Love Days

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87DBD436-6092-4B18-B42C-C327F8CDBFD6Sweet Mimi at her Valentine's Day store, 6:00 a.m.

I was going to have all of my Secret Garden things ready to go this week but I'm not quite finished getting the web pages up. I forgot about Valentine's Day, and President's Day on Monday, so I will probably have everything ready by Tuesday and will post links then. There's no need to scramble — this is not a sell-out kind of thing. We will literally take every single order we can get; if you're willing to wait for us to pull everything together, we will make as many of everything as you will want. It will just take some time. Hoops and candle jars are on back-order at the manufacturer, and I'm waiting to place some orders for supplies until after I see how many orders we will get, so I that I try to hit these numbers properly. I honestly never know with new stuff like this — will we get five orders or fifty orders or five hundred? It stresses me out to try to guess. It's too risky to get things wrong. So we'll take orders starting Tuesday and I'll give you more of an accurate expected shipping time when we know how many of everything we need to make. I'm pretty sure that things will start rolling out sometime toward the end of April, and first orders will go out first. Soap takes six weeks to cure. We have about a hundred bars curing right now but, as I said, not sure what the numbers will look like, so stay tuned.

I both very much enjoy and utterly dread the excitement of doing new things. I can't explain the particular emotion. It's complicated.

We had snooooooooooow! It was lovely. So lovely. It was short. We got a few short-lived inches, and those were supposed to be followed by a major snowpocalypse last week, and instead we got literally nothing. Seattle got it all. Well, that's not true — certain neighborhoods around town got dumped on, and certain neighborhoods got absolutely nothing. Mother Nature cherry-picked her locations this time. It was okay. We really enjoyed what we had, and Andy was even home for second day we had snow. He had to work on the first day of snow, a Friday, when school was cancelled and Mimi lost a tooth and she and I walked up to the park and hung out with some old friends. Later we walked up to the cafe for breakfast. The sun was shining and there was no wind and it was just excellent. I miss walking around so much. Now that Amelia is not in a stroller I feel like we just do not do it very much anymore. I miss those walking days, as much as they hurt my foot. I miss being right up close to the seasons like that, noticing peoples' curtains and the things in their yards and the new growth, especially at this time of year. I miss having a baby in the stroller bundled in her blanket, sleeping or drinking her milk, strapped in and not needing anything, me just walking and thinking and talking quietly to her if she was awake. It's nice walking together now, too, but it's different. It's much more active than passive. Pushing a stroller is almost like taking a waking nap. You just keep rolllllling along.

But anyway, we enjoyed the snow, I thought about time, I thought about the snow days of my childhood, how my friend Monica and I spent countless freezing, white-cold weekends at Keystone Park in River Forest, walking under the viaduct with our ice skates over our shoulders, long underwear on under our jeans, a thermos of Swiss Miss hot cocoa to drink in the warming room at mid-day. Everything was white — ground, sky, breath. It was freezing. Every winter they flooded the park and made a big ice skating rink. It was not a destination; it was just our little neighborhood park and grassy ice rink. We shoveled snow off the ice and into big banks of snow around the sides. Bigger boys played hockey. We held hands and practiced going backwards. I honestly don't remember any parents ever there. I know for sure that mine never went. It was the '70s. We walked there on our own and we skated together all day. We did this year after year, Monica and I. Our other friend, Linda, was a skating girl. She took ice-skating lessons at a real skating rink, getting up at five in the morning, every morning, to skate before school. Her mom, who was one of my absolute favorite moms, took her. She skated in competitions. When I went to her ice-skating birthday party at Ridgeland Commons, I was the one who fell down and bit through my lip, getting blood all over the ice and making a scene. I drew a picture of Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner, like a big, giant picture of them skating, and I worked on it for a long time. At the end of a skating day, Monica and I would walk back down Hawthorn in the blue snowlight of the winter evening with the huge bare oak trees overhead, fingertips freezing, noses running, ankles aching, perfectly spent. You'd stand at the sink and run warm water over your frozen hands for ten minutes when you got home. I haven't been cold like that in years. 

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.

At Year's End

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Oh, the days, the lovely days! One after another, filled with light and love. I'm already missing it all, this holiday season that has been so simple and sweet and soft. I'd been meaning to get back here to update my blog last week, last sometime . . . the days rolled out and on, a blur of lights and cookies and carols and crows against the blue morning sky and I never could slow the roll long enough to take stock. Andy's sweet grandfather passed away just before Christmas. He would've been ninety-five in February. He always sang "Happy Birthday" to us, to all of his children and grandchildren and many great-grandchildren on our birthdays. I picture him with his date book and phone book, marking time and leaving these sweet singing voicemails throughout the year, year after year. Andy flew home to Chicago to be with his family in the early morning hours of December 26th, and Mimi and I spent the rest of the week curled together like fluffy kittens, snuggling under blankets watching movies, going out to the wintergreen woods for walks, trotting about downtown to see the lights and the people, going out to fancy lunches and ordering whatever we wanted, messing up every single corner of the house with our gifts and toys and treats. Bubble baths and storybooks, Christmas cookies and new nightgowns. This unexpected week where it was just us girls is one I will never, never forget. Andy got home yesterday evening and we all had a sleepy, sweet reunion. Our dear little Christmas tree is drooping and tired. The floors need sweeping, the beds need straightening, the big house and the dollhouse are basically trashed. But we have had love and joy in abundance and I am so grateful for it all.

Merry, merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, my dear friends! Thank you for all of the generosity, kindness, support, and great friendship you have shown us this year and all these many years. I hope your holiday season has been filled with light, and I wish you much love and peace and comfort and joy in these last days of the year as 2018 trails off and we collect ourselves to begin again. Thank you all for everything you give here, and for all of your indulgence in and encouragement of me. You brighten and enrich my life more than you could possibly ever know. Thank you!

Love,
Alicia, Andy, Amelia, Clover Meadow, and, last but not least, our nineteen-year-old little Bee

Jenny Lind Redux

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My mom had my childhood headboard and footboard in her garage and I got them from her recently. This was my childhood bed (here I am in it back then) that my mom and I stripped and refinished at some point when I was a kid. She brought it out when she and my dad moved from Chicago to Portland in 1998. I don't know why I didn't think to ask her about it sooner, but I had kind of forgotten all about it. Sure enough, she still had these pieces; I ordered new hook-on side-rails and a box spring and Andy put it all together for Mimi over the weekend. Mimi was downstairs playing with two gigantic bags of Barbie stuff that I found for free on Nextdoor; our class has been collecting donations for a family of refugees from Syria, and “Barbie house and toys” was on their wish list and I got so lucky to stumble upon these almost immediately after reading the wish list. Mimi knew she would be bringing these to her friend on Monday, and oh my word, no toys have ever been played with as much as those toys that were headed immediately back out the door. She had the best time. Andy and I busied ourselves with taking out the toddler bed and putting together the big bed and washing the curtains and cleaning her room. In the late afternoon, just as we were finishing, she wandered upstairs and saw the new bed and loved it. I mean, she knew it was happening, but it was really fun to have her walk in to it all having been done without her watching the progress. It felt pretty magical. I have always loved this little bed and I don't really have words to describe how sweet it is to see my little daughter excited about getting it for her own. Naturally I am now spending most free time trawling eBay for vintage Laura Ashley bed linens.

The Nutcracker was so lovely, as always. I did not take that photo of the dancing snowflakes (I found it online and it is by James McGrew) because they don't let you take pictures in there and I'm always sad because I just want to remember how pretty it is — the snowflakes are my favorite. They do have a photo-op for the kids with some of the younger dancers, all dressed up. Andy bought Mimi the tiara she picked out during intermission. Before we left the house, she found a pink flower headband and put it on, and posed with the two battery candles in front of the Christmas tree. This was all her idea and she asked me to take her picture and yeah, my heart melted into a puddle of melted snowflakes in an instant and does again, looking at this.

A few advent calendar reveals! Pretty yarn, spiced hot chocolate from Treehouse Chocolate (from Portland) and handmade vanilla marshmallows from Lil' Miss Marshmallow (also from Portland), silver-plated stitch markers with tiny beads (made by me). Andy and I also made beeswax-(from Portland!)-and-soy-(not from Portland) candles with clary sage and juniper essential oil. I hope everyone loved these things as much as we loved making them and putting them all together. Yesterday Andy and I made our very first batch of cold-process soap and it was thrilling and exciting. It really was. We had a blast. I have plans to include soap in my upcoming Secret Garden project boxes if I can get good enough at it. We used the Creamy Shea Butter Bastille Soap recipe from Simple & Natural Soapmaking by Jan Berry. I scented it with Raspberry Jam fragrance oil, colored part of it with purple Brazilian clay, both from Brambleberry. I decorated it with blackberry seeds and tiny heather flowers. I'll let you know how it turns out in six weeks. My first bars that I made at the class I took at OMSI are almost ready to use. I can't wait.

I've been on the fence about using fragrance oils, even only the phthalate-free ones, instead of essential oils but I think from now on I'm only going to use essential oils. Here is an interesting discussion about the pros and cons of both. Thoughts? Do you have strong feelings about this? I didn't think I did but I guess I might. But what to do when you want something to smell like blackberry and there’s no such thing as blackberry essential oil? First-world problem. But I find all of the soapmaking stuff intensely interesting. It kind of reminds me of learning to throw pots and then glaze and fire them. So. Many. Options. For what to make. And when it turns out how you planned it feels like a total miracle. This soap did not turn out like I planned and in some ways that was the most thrilling part. Much more soap experimenting to come. I'm really excited.

Magic Days

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Early-December-days mash-up, and I don't even know how to organize these pictures. That in itself feels accurate, nonetheless. The days are a swirl of present-gathering and preparations. I try to get my work done as early as I can (thank you for the lotion bar [and cowl pattern] orders! We are making bars and shipping them as fast as we possibly can, so you'll be seeing your orders very soon) and then I go out and have fun. There are so many special things to do. We went to The Grotto one night to see our school choir sing and wander among thousands of Christmas lights. We went to Merrywood Farm, which is just the cutest, sweetest little place, and spent a gorgeous afternoon walking in the woods and hanging around the fire drinking cider. The low, pale sun shown for a while through the pine trees and yule smoke as I sat with my feet up, listening to Celtic Christmas carols piped over the speakers. It was just so, so nice. This weekend is The Nutcracker and dinner afterwards, and Amelia has her outfit all picked out, along with her new (well, used, from eBay) pink suede fancy shoes. I'll be sure to take a picture. I haven't been good about the advent calendar reveals but I am definitely going to try to catch up with that next week now that I'm getting caught up with everything else in my life. We're having a party next weekend. The days keep rolling along. . . .

CURRENT OBSESSION:

Alicia's Winter Day Bath Soak

1 cup Epsom salts
1 cup pink Himalayan salt, fine
1 cup pink Himalayan salt, coarse
1/2 cup colloidal oatmeal (just grind rolled oats in a food processor until powdered)
1/2 cup whole milk powder
1/4 cup coconut cream powder
1/4 teaspoon rose Kaolin clay
Dried cornflowers, jasmine buds, and rose buds

You could add any kind of essential oil to this if you wanted to, but I thought it smelled so fresh and delicious all on its own I did not.

To use, spoon a few tablespoons into a teabag and hang under warm running water while filling your bath, then plop the whole bag into the tub to further dissolve. Relax and enjoy until they make you come out.

Makes enough to fill two 15 oz. bottles like these.

***

Also, cutest winter book in the world: Mice Skating by Annie Silvestro (illustrated by Teagan White). I just bought this for Amelia and it is absolutely darling. About a mouse who loves winter but her friends don't. #relate

I want to totally have a dye-plant and soapmaking flower garden this year, and also plant dahlias. I'm going to put it in our neglected and frizzled raised beds. For my birthday present, Andy is going to dig it all up and add a lot of compost, etc., and try to get it ready for spring. Question: Do we wait until spring to do this? Or should we be doing something now before really cold weather comes and then let it sit until spring, or . . . ?

Amelia: "Mom, your wreath you made looks so good! It almost looks real!" (N.B.: It was real.)

Start the Season

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Oh, Happy Thanksgiving to you! I've been laaaaaaazy this week. We had a nice Thanksgiving here, and I hope you did, too. People brought stuff to our house and Andy and our nephew, Perry, cooked a bunch of sides so although we had dinner at our place, I think this was the first year ever that I haven't cooked a single thing. I kind of missed it but at the time I wasn't complaining. I was tired. I really had no mojo. We'd gotten all of the advent calendars mailed by Monday the 19th, and then I sort of collapsed into a deflated little balloon-like shape, with just a small puff of air keeping me three-dimensional. Amelia was off school from Wednesday through Sunday and oh my lordy it was so wonderful having her home every day. By today, we were all ready to get back to our routine, I think, but having a long weekend was bliss. She and I went to an ice-cream place for lunch and then a birthday party at a play cafe on Saturday, and it added the perfect amount of sparkle to the mostly gloomy weather we've had. I got to knit and catch up with old mom-friends of mine, which was so nice. Yesterday Mimi and Andy baked cookies and made turkey Tetrazzini and I took a bath and read soap-making books. Usually Andy and I have gone to get our tree immediately after Thanksgiving, but this year the house feels too messy, the legs feel too tired, the weather feels too rainy . . . and so we put it off.

I feel like I have so much cleaning to do. I've started so many new hobbies lately and have gotten so much new equipment for all those things, and I haven't really cleared space, proper space, for these new things. Consequently, it's seriously starting to bug me now. I just literally haven't had time to completely reorganize. I keep talking about it but I haven't done it. I'm hoping to do it in the new year. It feels like a huge project. Everything goes so fast, somehow. I frequently feel quite overwhelmed.

At night, before bed, I watch soap-making videos. Has anything in the history of the world ever been more relaxing? No. No it hasn't. I don't know what it is about them. I like to hear people ramble on about stuff, I guess, and I like looking at the texture of soap as it's poured. I love these ones and these ones. Also, these ones. If you want to learn how to make soap you watch these ones. I don't know, there are a ton out there. Just start poking around. YouTube keeps suggesting things and then I find myself engrossed. I have so many ideas now. You need a LOT of supplies to get started. I'm waiting for one more shipment of stuff (including new goggles and some blackberry seeds) and then I'm going to make my first official batch. I'm pretty excited. Andy is going to help me make space in our pantry for soap curing. I can't wait.

I took Amelia to WinCo yesterday to get a big bag of cinnamon and some applesauce and glue to make cinnamon ornaments. I don't usually shop in big grocery stores like that, and I definitely don't shop in stores like that with a kid who no longer rides in a (absolutely enormous) cart. It was seriously stressful. She kept wandering away to look at things despite my admonitions to stay with me, and I was looking for things because I'd never been in that store before and I didn't know where anything was, and the combination was lame. It's a weird age where they're too big to be contained but too little to totally stay in control of themselves where there is candy and toys and all sorts of junk all over the place. She was loving it, I was stressed. I was in a neighborhood that I don't normally go to, either, and it's just funny how all of those things added up to being something I doubt I'll repeat. Especially now that the holiday season is starting, I think this was a good reminder to me to really pick and choose how to interact with the world over the next month or so. I never really think about stuff like that, to be honest — I usually just bust my way through any and every situation as required, and it's mostly fine — but I think I'm going to actually try to be intennnnnnntional this year. I hear it's recommended. . . .

Nevertheless, I'm looking forward to making the ornaments. I've never made them before. I usually have a theme for our mantel but I don't really have one this year. I think I'll just try to do something pretty and simple.

I noticed people ordering my ornament patterns over the weekend (thank you!!!) and I am going to put together a post with all of my winter stuff in it this week so it's easy for you to find it all together if you are interested. I probably should have done all this before, but I've moving slow lately. Also, I will start revealing all of the advent calendar presents daily on December 1, so you'll hopefully be seeing me more. I'm breathing a bit easier now that it's all in the mail (and, actually, hopefully, at its destinations . . . ).

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

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.