Posts filed in: Life

Party Time!

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The party was just awesome. I want to do it over again and have it be exactly the same. The kids were all so excited and so sweet and so giggly and had so much fun. Amelia was in her element, surrounded by friends and chaos and games and toys and fun. She likes to be right in the middle of things, the nuttier and more bonkers-crazy the better. When she slumped down in her sheepskin-lined chair to eat her cupcake with her hat on crooked and her eyes shining I almost burst into tears. She looked so content and comfortable and filled with joy. Actually, it does make me cry. Seven is such a magical age. They are made happy by pom-poms, ping-pong balls, and candy. They TP-ed the yard right away (the game of "mummy" went "wrong," but it was the best thing that could've happened, because they had a blast and got a lot of energy out before they came in) and played Bozo's Buckets and Pin the Tail (where Amelia brought the party to a screeching halt when she went first — blindfolded, she was spun around three times and walked straight to the donkey with her tail held out in front of her and pinned it perfectly into the place — everyone literally went silent, including Andy and me, looking at each other with sheepish expressions . . . ermmmmmm . . . Ha! Well, let's keep playing anyway everybody!!!). I had noted on the invitation that presents were not necessary but every single kid brought a little present, so that shows you what I know. They all sat around her in a circle while she opened them and it was actually very, very sweet. Some kids were definitely quite shy at the beginning, but all of the parents eventually slipped out and the quieter kids got quickly taken into the lively fold. They sat at the table and decorated cupcakes and ate fruit skewers and veggie sticks about halfway through, and it was so adorable to hear them all talking and giggling and being silly and making each other laugh at the table. Almost all of them are in the same class at school. They ended with the pinata, which wasn't mine or Andy's favorite but Amelia said it was her favorite. Anyway, it was just super fun and I thank you so much for all of your advice and suggestions. Andy and I both read them all and we got some really great ideas about what to be prepared for and we all had an awesome day.

Now we get ready for the family party, which is this weekend. Andy's parents arrive from Chicago on Friday and will stay until next week. Amelia's birthfamily is all coming, and her grandparents will come up from Eugene. I've left all of the decorations up and will be doing just some little appetizers, and a strawberry cake has been requested. She also wants roast chicken and mashed potatoes for her birthday dinner. I don't know why but I burst out laughing when she said that. God I love this kid so much.

The weather has been so wonderful. Lots of sunshine, storms, and the leaves are turning bright red and yellow. By the way, I forgot to tell you what that one picture was with the white dots! There were a lot of good guesses, but I don't think anyone actually guessed exactly what it was. It was a picture I took straight on (not through a screen or a window or anything) of a pouring rainstorm in BRIGHT sunlight. It was one of the weirdest things I have ever seen. The rain was coming down in sheets, but there was a hole in the clouds right where the sun was coming through and literally every raindrop was shining with light. The camera captured the raindrops as white blobs. In real life it was a glitterstorm.

Finishing her birthday dress today. We've got almost all of the supplies in for the Dovegray Dolls (except for the muslin . . . need to check on that) and as soon as birthdaying is finished, it's full-steam ahead with that stuff!

End of Summer

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The end of summer is so bittersweet, even for a winter-lover like me. Dahlias, these exquisite state-fair square-dancing skirts, are the perfect finale. We went to their festival on a red-hot blue-sky day a few weeks ago. I'd never been before and had always wanted to go. It was too hot to be in an open field, but oh, my, it was so worth it. What a voluptuous display of summer's finest bounty, these petal-heavy beauties. We grew a few of them in our little parkway raised beds this year and I am well and truly hooked. Andy and Amelia and I started making a list of our favorites and then we just gave up; there were too many to love.

School started last week and it has been life-changing for all of us. The first day was much anticipated and was a great success. The teacher was amazing and the playground is fantastic. The school garden is teeming with fruits and vegetables and plenty of places to hide and shade and play. The parents are awesome. The kids are great. It's just all been — astonishingly and unexpectedly, in some ways — great. We are really appreciating everything about it, even the things that I thought would be really hard about it. The playground has a picnic shelter, right in the midst of everything, so you can actually hang out there and linger, and linger we do. Every day after school, even though it's been some of the hottest weather we've had all summer, Amelia runs and jumps and hangs and swings and slides and chases, everywhere and on everything, racing around, making friends, wiping out, getting upset, working it out. And this is just brilliant compared to last year, where, at our old school, there was zero playground culture; literally zero. People didn't do it, because it was a commuter school with a locked campus. I didn't know how important it would be, and it turns out it is super important to her and to us. Some kids go right home. Our kid has always, always wanted to stay, no matter where she is or who is there or what's going on or whether it's pouring rain or blazing sun. Even in preschool, we had some epic leave-takings. They still make me shudder. I can't find that one post where I wrote about her tearing through the rose bushes in the play-yard as if on fire when it was time to leave school, a small ball of pure fury. I still remember what it was like to stand there, catatonic, totally out of tricks, utterly unable to convince her to leave by any rational method, watching her throw handfuls of pine needles at me from the top of her hill, breathing flames like a tiny dragon. Oh my lord. It cracks me up, now. At the time I remember thinking, "I literally have no idea how to get this child off of that hill. At least this place is mostly fenced." It can still be very hard for her to leave. I still feel a mild pang of panic every time it's time to go. However: this, yesterday, to her younger friend (kindergartner), who was having her own hard time leaving: "I know it's really hard, and sometimes you get really cranky when it's time to go. I do that, too." And then she tried to aggressively wipe her friend's face with some kind of paper towel (she pulled from out of nowhere) while her friend ran circles around her mother to get away. (Ack.) But THEN she (Mimi) pulled herself together and proudly marched right out of the playground, as if remembering she was going to try to model some good behavior for the littles. And good lord, it was JUST SO HOT. I stood there melting in the late-afternoon sun, carrying backpack, lunch bag, water bottle, my bag, hoping they would both just depart without drama. And then . . . wow . . . hugs . . . goodbyes . . . they did!

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Got lucky there. But the first week of school has just been really great. I couldn't be more proud of her, or happier to be exactly where we are. (Her first-day-of-school dress was made from Butterick pattern #4833, from probably somewhere around 1977.)

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The stories and images from The Bahamas right now are just so incredibly tragic. My heart is breaking for everyone there who is suffering these most unimaginable losses. I’ve donated to MercyChefs.com. If you have good suggestions on how else to help, please let me know. 

A Revelation, of Sorts

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The summer days roll on by, an ice-cream swirl of open swim and lazy mornings, library books and watering the flowers, Ikea trips and riverside afternoons. It's already August, and time is about to enter super-speed. At night, I knit, and knit, and knit, listening to the sound of evening traffic and neighborhood noises through the open windows. Never has there been a more perfect summer to knit, as the weather here still continues to be entirely civilized in every respect, while the rest of the country and the world is more or less on fire. Not here. Here it is cool in the morning, hot in the afternoon, sometimes cloudy. Occasionally it even rains. It’s vacation weather, come to life.

One fine day, Amelia and I went to JoAnn's to get yarn for a new ballet sweater. I've made two in the past, and both went unworn due to "scratchiness." I didn't think they were scratchy, but she did. One got given away and one sits unused in the sweater basket. Thought I, "That's it." Off to get some very soft acrylic yarn we went. She needed black (there's a dress code) so it was not hard to find. We settled on Premier Yarns Everyday Baby. I had two 50%-off coupons, and got two skeins of yarn, totalling $4.99. I knit the sweater and — great experience. The yarn was nice. It did not annoy me at all. It says it's anti-pill. She deemed it soft enough. I was PSYCHED that it cost five dollars.

Amelia is almost seven and has no sweaters that fit her. I went zooming off to my computer to find more yarn. Everyday Baby comes in colors I don't like. I wound up ordering Stylecraft Special DK and Paintbox Simply DK and Schachenmayr Bravo. The color palettes of each were huge, and I could make a sweater for, again, about $6. This was astonishing.

I spend, in general, a lot of lazy time late at night or with coffee at 5 a.m. browsing Ravelry for patterns. For me, the browsing is a huge part of the creative process, and I love it. The new yarn came, and I started re-looking at every sweater pattern ever written for kids in DK-weight and worsted-weight yarn. I'm not kidding. I looked at hundreds and hundreds of sweaters. It was weirdly relaxing. I knew what I wanted. Naturally, I could not find a pattern for it. How is this possible. Hundreds and hundreds, literally hundreds, of sweaters. Oh, Alicia. . . .

I thought back to 1995, when I was trying (again) to learn to knit. I wrote a long blog post about that here. I still find it very moving to read, if I do say so. I think part of why it moves me is that I hadn't often done things in my life that I wasn't good at, or that didn't come naturally to me. Knitting did not come naturally to me. I tried to learn to knit several different times, many years apart. The fact that I stuck with it mystifies me; it was not my style not to quit. I must have really wanted to learn, and I don't know why I did. I didn't really know anyone who knit, it was years before there was any sort of internet community around crafting, Pinterest didn't exist so there were no pretty pictures to be inspired by, and . . . I don't really know why it was so important to me that I kept trying to do it.

If you read the post I wrote in 2010, you'll see that I took a beginner class at a knitting shop in Missoula, sometime around 1996, and it didn’t go well. In retrospect, it affected me profoundly. The teacher was super intense, and went so fast. I remember thinking at the time, "This is seriously the last person I would think would be a knitting teacher." She was like a hummingbird. She had a frantic, edgy energy. I was a frantic, edgy person. I fumbled, exasperated. Her voice was high and fast. She wasn’t trying hard. She made hats for Andie MacDowell's kids! She knew so much and I was lost. Her knowledge came flying out, making the room spin. And her first rule of knitting was only ever knit with wool. Only wool. I was so intimidated by the whole experience that I think I internalized that directive on command. Only ever wool. (Years later, when I finally learned to knit here in Portland, the first thing I made was a baby sweater for my niece out of a super fluffy mint-green acrylic novelty yarn, and I remember that there was freedom — my new teacher had told me to pick anything! — but also guilt in that choice.) I have hardly used 100% acrylic since. Not that I have always used wool, far from it. I've gone through phases. Alpaca is okay but stretches out of shape. I don't like cotton at all. Bamboo and silk are much too shiny — I hate any kind of sheen in my yarn, generally. Ease of care has never motivated me — I'm always knitting and blocking something around the house, so hand-washing stuff is not a big deal (if I wash it at all, quite frankly). I think I was used to thinking that acrylic would be 1) too shiny and 2) not have any give to it, and so not feel that nice to knit with. Also: There are microplastics produced by synthetic fiber, and that is a major downside; I never feel good about consciously choosing to consume plastic and try pretty hard otherwise to do it as little as I possibly can. Hmmmm. Not really good. 

I was never a big Elizabeth Zimmerman fan, for no other reason than it feels so hard to just access the patterns and the writings somehow. Is it just me, about that? Maybe. The format, layout-wise, is totally daunting. I keep thinking that someday I’ll relax and dive in. People love her, and with good reason, I know. I have The Opinionated Knitter and I did try to read it once, but I just got so confused by both the crowdedness of the page layout and all the references to various newsletters that were out of print (when you wanted to follow the thread on something, for instance) or other books I didn’t have. I'd missed the EZ trend and kept stumbling, trying to catch up (go back?) afterwards. It's both charmingly and frustratingly analogue, in a way. Also, I'm still not a very intuitive knitter at all. She is the thinking-person's knitting teacher, and I don't like to be a thinking person when I knit, apparently. I like to be a direction-following robot so I can continue to stay with the plot of whatever episode of Vera I am on. Ravelry says I have knit over a hundred things. I would guess that almost none of them have deviated from any pattern more than the slightest bit to accommodate whatever yarn I had or, I don't know, something else small. I can follow a knitting pattern. Now I even write (doll) knitting patterns, even though I said I'd never write knitting patterns. Going off-trail does not come easily to me.

But I ran into this sweet little sweater by Adele Louise and I just had to make it. I literally became obsessed with this sweater for Mimi. That happens sometimes. It's a heady feeling. There's desperation involved, some mild bewilderment. Whyyyyyy do I care about this? I once spent hours in the middle of the night trying to track down a pattern for a pair of gloves I'd seen on a Norwegian Instagram account, with no reference to the pattern at all. I. found. it. Silly "problems." I specialize. Adele Louise mentioned that she used the percentage system to calculate her cast-on and then all of the other counts for making a round-yoked bottom-up sweater. My eye twitched. I Googled "percentage system" and saw that it was an EZ–invented thing. And suddenly I remembered that first knitting class in Missoula, and how, for our first sweater, our teacher was having us make a sweater based on the percentage system. I didn't realize that that's what it was — the Percentage System, a thing — at the time. I was so confused and overwhelmed by it all. This is how you have to make something? She took my gauge and my measurements and did the percentages and the calculations and literally nothing was coming out right. My sweater, in my fraught, anxious, self-defeating hands came out miniature, practically felted from go. It all seemed much bigger than knitting. It was much bigger than knitting. I never finished the sweater. I have no idea why it wasn't working, or what I was doing wrong. I threw it in a bag and never looked at it again. (Also, the sweater was made from Lamb's Pride Worsted, which is wool and mohair and is what I use for my doll hair. I would literally never be able to wear a sweater made out of this yarn. It is way too scratchy for me [personally]. But it was wool I could afford.)

2019. Adele Lousia's knockoff, then: I got my gauge with the copper-colored Stylecraft (4.5 sts/in) and took Amelia's measurements. I did the calculations and wrote them in my notebook. I worked out the lace pattern from my dear Nadia's original pattern on my cast-on number. I had a plan. I kept going. I figured out how to join the sleeves to the body at the yoke and still stay in lace pattern. I kept measuring. The yoke should decrease at a specific rate, three times, and wind up a certain length (5 3/4"). I kept going. I kept going. I finished it.

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It's a weird, sort-of full-circle knitting experience (that apparently took twenty-five years), with major thanks to not only Elizabeth Z. but Adele Louise and Nadia Crétin-Léchenne, who has inspired my knitting for years and years. And even my first teacher in Missoula, whose name I have no idea of anymore. The yarn blocked out soft and drapey, with nary a shiny highlight in sight, and fits my darling child like a dream. I am so proud of this.

School's Out!

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Well, hello! How are you? We are well! School's out! Cue angels singing.

You know I don't like summer but this year, oh this year . . . this year . . . summer I've longed for you.

I'm sitting in my office this morning, my newly painted office, of which I have no pictures. But I will take them. The walls are a sweet, frosty pale lilac. Everything is tidy. I've been organizing like crazy. I labeled all of my storage baskets and boxes. This took fifty times longer than I expected and almost killed me, but damn they look nice. I got a pretty-much-brand-new Ikea office chair for $25 at Goodwill. I also got a desk credenza thing for my table (also from Goodwill — I majorly scored that morning) that fits my tiny new TV and my computer and a few chotchkes. I splurged on new curtains and a new ironing board cover and another new chair (we need two in here). In spite of the fact that my email is broken and I'm flat broke because I really haven't had time to work at all lately and I'm half blind because I need new glasses and haven't gone to get them, I feel very grown up now in my new pretty new space. I will take photos today and show you how it all looks.

We've been out of school for a week. I won't lie. It was a tough year. A really great year and also a really tough year in a couple of big ways and also a bunch of subtle ways, mostly centering on our commute back and forth to the school we chose to send Amelia to. I don't think I realized how tough it was until spring break, when the effects of the two-and-a-half hours I was spending in the car every day kinda caught up to me and left me gasping for air. Once I wasn't doing it for even just a few days I could see how it was affecting me. I think it was literally sucking the life out of me. I feel stupid for not seeing it before, and even for not seeing it before we even chose it. It seems so obvious now. Nonetheless, it's hard to totally regret it, because the school and our experience there was so wonderful in so many ways, which was nice. But the commute sucked. And I never got used to it, and I never got over it. And I think it and things that came as a result of it took a greater toll on lots of areas of our life than we ever expected. So I'm happy to be done, and happy to be free, and happy to know that next year at her new five-minutes-away school Amelia will be playing on the playground for those hours every day instead of sitting in the car. Amelia, at the (new) public school carnival a few weeks ago, running up to me with her neighborhood friend: "Mom! This is GUM. It's CHEWING GUM. Can I have it? And can I break it up into little pieces and chew them one at a time carefully so I don't choke?" I try to keep a straight face. Omg. "Yes, you can have it." They run off. I turn to Andy: "Holy shit, public school is gonna blow. her. mind."

My neighbor, mom of three grown children, currently principal of a private school, who has sent her children to every kind of school, both public school here in Portland and private school when they lived abroad for many years, says kindly/knowingly to a weary-looking me getting out of car a few weeks ago: "You know what they say, the best school is the closest school." I just wish, among other things, they could actually drink the water out of the water fountains at the "closest" school (which they can't, because it is lead poisoned). Sigh. How can we not fix this? I gnash my teeth.

I Marie–Kondo-ed my closet and my dressers and got rid of fifteen-year-old handbags and belts (belts! As if!) and old sweaters and gnarly tee shirts and blouses that never quite closed at the bust. It was seriously satisfying. I'm a natural purger (unlike my mate, the natural hoarder, who also leaves a trail of items behind him like breadcrumb; I can trace the path of his every activity around the property from them) but I don't spend enough time doing it. I hate that in life we accumulate so many things. I try try try not to — the house is small, I like to have a place for everything and have everything in its place, to have no more than just enough — but overage still seems to happen, especially when you live in the same house for decades. We've been here nineteen years this spring. We've made a lot of changes to this property. I want to keep it nice. I want to honor the privilege of being here on it. I don’t want more than just enough.

I bought two peace lilies at the plant nursery and two pretty pots for Amelia's teacher-gifts for the last day of school. The guy at the nursery was potting them up for me, and I was wandering around inside, waiting for the plants. I saw the display of stuff you can use to test your soil for pH balance, etc., and it made me think of when, a million years ago, my friend Pat was working somewhere that did this and my dad asked him to test our soil. My parents always did have a vegetable garden, and my dad would have ideas about it — one year it was a square-foot garden, one year a "Victory" garden, one year they put these giant tubes with holes in them underground and you were supposed to stick the hose way down there and it was supposed to let the water really get to the roots. I thought about the hopefulness of all those things and maybe even the silly sweetness of them, and the earnestness with which they were always undertaken, and I got, in an instant, unbearably sad. All the things we want and care about, all the ways we try so hard. Time passes so quickly. My dad and the old house have been gone for so long now. Our little girl just finished kindergarten and will be seven years old this year.

The goal of my summer is simply to water the garden. I think I have some other goals but I'm not sure exactly what they are. The front garden consists of four small perennial borders that line each side of the front yard, two rock walls (hot and dry), and three raised beds on the parkway. There are also two small patches of grass in the upper yard. There are two trees — a magnolia and a dogwood — that are large enough now to arch prettily over this little spot where I put my chairs. I read here in the mornings and whenever else I can spare a moment. I have an intense urge, after all that driving and all those tuition payments, to stay home and not spend any money. Except on water. I set up the sprinkler in each one of the garden spots, moving it after each spot gets its soak. The sound of the water is soothing. Birds come and flit and flicker through the spray. The three baby squirrels that were raised in the duct-work in my studio ceiling — I swear they know our voices. They now sit in the flat feeder and gorge themselves all day on the black-oil sunflower seeds, and our near presence does absolutely nothing to cause them a moment's anxiety. It’s mildly unnerving; I’m not used to wild animals having no hesitation in running straight down a tree trunk ten inches from where I’m sitting. They practically run over my legs. Chickadees and sparrows and woodpeckers and bushtits come and go from the other feeders, and occasionally the squirrels will let someone else eat at the flat feeder. I read and read. I've been reading all of the Tana French books with my best friend, Martha, who lives three-thousand miles away. We text about this throughout the day. "Where are you now?" "Leon just told him that he didn't help him when they were younger." "Oh yeah. Oh dear. . . ." I rub my hands together nervously, knowing what comes next because I’ve finished that one. Martha: "I'm grateful every minute my client is late so I can sit here and reeeeeeeead." Me: "I know!!!" I seriously cannot put them down, and this never happens to me. They are quite dark but very compelling. These are not cozy mysteries. But the dialogue — wow. I think in a cop-Irish accent now. "Ah, what is that eejit on about, then?" (watching someone run a red light ahead of me on the commute). I'm reading the Tana French books from the library so I take what I can get when they're available, and so am reading them out of order, but it doesn't seem to matter. It turns out that my favorite character type is, apparently, Damaged Antisocial Detective. 

While I water and read, Amelia is so far content to wander around the yard, making fairy houses and chalk drawings, swinging on her tree, spraying the sidewalk with the hose, clipping bouquets for me, watching Bubble Guppies. Being home feels novel and still fun. Grandma Paulson and cousin Brooke come for a visit next week, and then we have one week of half-day ballet camp, and then nothing. No swimming lessons (we did them indoors during school year, and I think she's burnt out on them), no Trackers camp or space camp or art camp, no vacation house booked yet. We've had play dates at parks with school friends, some shopping for new shorts, and trips to the grocery store and library. We're going lo-fi this summer. Open swim and tacos as many nights a week as I can get away with and orange-juice popsicles and Camp Netflix. I'm in recovery from being previously over-committed in ways visible and invisible to myself.

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

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.

Early, Early Spring

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I absolutely love this time of year. I was thinking today as I passed a winter garden that had been cleaned up and was starting to sprout daffodils and tulip spears how much I love this time of year — the time before things begin. The time when it's still winter but spring is ready and waiting. The time when things are just swelling slightly, just barely beginning to break the surface. Our plum tree has only a handful of blossoms on it, and that's a couple of weeks late, for it. It usually blooms closer to the beginning of March. It had a severe chopping this past summer; the tree trimmer probably took 1/3 of it (which was dead) away. Still, he said the whole thing was only 40% dead and it needs to be 60% dead for the city to allow you to take it out. It looks absolutely horrible now. Huge limbs needed to be removed so it is now very obviously patchy and uneven and wrecked. Poor thing. It's also leaning at about a 30-degree angle. It's ancient, covered in big knobs and warts. It is a great, hideous, gnarly beast. I both love and hate it.

I looked on Instagram this morning at dolly quilts, intending to make one or two for my darling little boo, who loves to sweetly tuck things in and put them to bed. I haven't sewn in ages, and I miss it. There are a couple of reasons for it, I think. One is that it hurts my back. The way I sit at my sewing machine really kills my back. This has been happening for about ten years, actually. A couple of years ago I had an ergonomic specialist come out and look at my work spaces, and watch me sewing, and check out my chairs and my work table, etc. She essentially said I was sitting up too straight at my machine (irony). She wanted me to slump a bit more, but that's really impossible when you're sewing. You know. I just couldn't see unless I was right on top of the stuff, but somehow that seeing is also hurting my back when I sew at length. And that's the way I tend to do it — massive blitz, and get it all done at once. I power sew. I don't go in there and stitch a few seams, or press a few pockets. No. I BLAST through it. That's what I have time for. Blasting. It is not relaxing, but it is satisfying. Nevertheless, it's not great for my back, and if my foot is painful, I'd rather put it up and knit (or crochet). So that's what I have been doing lately.

The other reason I haven't been sewing is that I think I, and probably every other serious Portland-area sewer, have been in a strange mourning phase over the loss of Fabric Depot here in town. Fabric Depot was one of our two (the other being Mill End Store, which is still open) old-school, full-service, enormous independent fabric stores here in the Portland area (and serving all of northwest Oregon and southwest Washington in general — I don't really even have a clue from how far people came to go to Fabric Depot, but occasionally you would see actual tour buses in the parking lot). It carried, in addition to hundreds of quilting fabrics from every different fabric line and manufacturer, all sewing notions, supplies like scissors and rotary cutters and boards, all kinds of batting, wedding fabrics, gobs of trims and ribbons and buttons, lots of upholstery stuff, various apparel fabrics, embroidery supplies, and I don't even know what else. Serious stuff. Whatever you needed. It wasn't half-filled with crap for your house or seasonal decor or stuff with inspirational words on it or scrapbooking stuff. It was a fabric store that was truly for sewers, and it was old, and it had janky cash registers and they still hand-wrote all of the cutting-counter tickets, and it had a big area with all of the pattern books, and you still needed to write your pattern number down on a little piece of paper and find someone behind the counter to get your pattern for you. It was where you would wander and wander and wander, up and down aisle after aisle after aisle, pushing your cart with your kid in it but more often not with your kid in it, just looking and looking and looking for something that was perfect, something that you needed, something that would work. I can't count how many hours of my adult life I spent doing that. I can't count how many yards of fabric I bought or how many thousands of dollars I spent there or how many things I made from the stuff I bought there. I don't know how many tears I quietly circumvented there, as it was my happy place, the place I went when things were bad, when everything felt horrible, wrong, shaky, sad, or hopeless. It always worked for me, and it always had. All my life I've wandered fabric stores, plotting and dreaming and choosing and hoping. Fabric Depot was my place. I almost always went alone. I almost always had as much time as I wanted. (I wouldn't go unless I did.) I almost always went with a plan, and I almost always came out better for it all. It had what I needed. Almost every single time.

It closed, quite suddenly, last October. I didn't go to the big close-out sales they had before the last day. In the weeks and months before, it had been slowly emptying out, and I think we knew. I didn't want to see it picked over and desolate, could not, somehow, participate in the collective grief that was sure to be inside. That might sound dramatic. I guess it does. But its closing seems somehow to signal larger truths about the state of retail, or the state of the world, that I can't even get my mind around. It felt, and still feels, just painfully localized. Our store. I don't think any of us think there will be another place like that in Portland again. It was too big, and it held too much, so much random, obsolete-seeming stuff that you didn't know you wanted (grommet setters, lacy lingerie elastic, a covered belt kit) until suddenly, one day, you wanted it. But because of that it also felt unsinkable. The ladies there (in their twill pinnies, with scissors in their pockets) had been there forever. They were not arch. They were stable and reliable. Experienced in fabric and life. They knew answers to your questions. They asked you what you were making, and always listened to you ramble on about it. There was always music, there was always a sale, and there were always other people like you, hanging around, laughing with each other, talking about sewing, doing the same thing you were, making things with joy, and sewing away every sorrow. I miss you, friend.

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. 

Now You Are Six

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Six whole, big years old. My goodness. I never really have words for these things. The week has been a whirlwind of swirling leaves and party streamers and birthday cakes and fancy things, wonderful and bright and filled with fun and family. We have a big family party every year, and this year there were some people who couldn't make it because of traveling and fighting colds and some new family we'd not yet met. Andy's parents flew in from Chicago and they're here until Wednesday. It's my absolute favorite time of the year when everyone is together, celebrating this lovely young lady, who grows more beautiful inside and out every day, and every year. Mimi and I drove her birthmama home after the party on Saturday night, and Bethy told us the story of Mimi's birth, about the Pitocin and the water breaking, the nurse we all really liked and Bethy's long torso and the Lord of the Rings soundtrack cranking, the seven pushes and then the ease with which she slid into the world, eyes bright and tiny fingers ready to hold. I remember it all and I don't — it is a blur, even though I was there for every minute. It was 5:42 p.m., dark and raining. In my mind everything was golden. I remember all four of us, her birthparents and Andy and me, huddled around tiny, tiny her like big, thumping hearts. It was by far the most profound and exquisite and utterly overwhelming moment of my life. I think about it all the time, any random Wednesday, watching her do plies at ballet, running down the hall at school, racing me up the stairs to bed, climbing into the car for the millionth time, every average and forgettable thing — how grateful I am for every single minute of this, all this ordinary beauty that started in such a extraordinary way. My darling girl, you are six, and every day of your life, even before you were born, has been such a dream come true.

Today, Monday, the sky is brightest blue. The sun is low, the air cool and crisp, just like they say. We kept Amelia home from school today so she could have more time to play with her grandparents while they are here, and in a while we'll go up to her favorite park and play for a while. We're about three-quarters of the way finished shipping kit and lotion bar orders, and I hope to be caught up by the end of Wednesday, speaking of Wednesday. It's been mildly bonkers trying to keep everything going while having a party, etc., but it's all okay. We're feeling really good about what we have left to do to catch up, and that's its own reward. I love working, and tree outside my office literally looks exactly like the tree on my kit, so it just all feels right and fine. Watch your mailboxes, and let me know what you think of everything when you get it!

Now, Halloween. "Owl Princess" costume request is next on deck. I can get on board with this!

And Now, School

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Amelia started kindergarten this week. This is her picture from just before we left the house on the first day. The mix of emotions on her face just melts me into a puddle of love and hope and excitement and pride. Oh, what an intense time! Everyone says this, and it really is, especially when you're starting a brand-new school. But it's been absolutely wonderful. I find myself smiling constantly. Partially because I have some free time now, I won't lie (it's amaaaaaaaaazing). But also and mostly because school is just thrilling. New people, new places, new routines, new activities, new opportunities (tap dancing!), new expectations. And not just for her, but for all of us. We have a new commute, too, and it's long; please recommend kids' audiobooks we can listen to on Libby, or podcasts for my drive home. . . .

So yes. Now that I find myself with more free time — like, exponentially more free time — than I've had in months, and actually even years, I'm outside in the yard with my camera, taking pictures of raindrops on apples. It's incredible what doing that does for the soul, and everything else. I've missed it. I've missed writing more often, too. But I honestly need quiet to write, and there just hasn't really been much quiet in my life. I have a lot of things I need to get organized around here. I remember this from last year, too. It felt like literally every drawer and every cabinet needed cleaning and reorganizing. The refrigerator and freezer need major emptying and scrubbing. The pantry looks like a jumble sale. Amelia's tiny dresser is stuffed, literally stuffed full, of clothes that don't fit her anymore under all of the new clothes that do fit her. The basket that holds all of the hats and mitten and scarves now also (I notice) holds five outgrown Amelia sweaters, and a couple of new ones.

Speaking of clothes, I don't know if I've mentioned that for the past two years I've bought almost every single thing Amelia owns (that I didn't make) used on eBay. For years before she was born, I sewed clothes for her like crazy (you knooooooooow that). But I only sewed up to about a size 4, because everyone warned me that she would start rejecting everything I made or picked out around then. Well, when she turned four, she still didn't care what she wore, and she basically had no clothes. I was still very picky but I didn't have time to sew like I had before she was born. So I started browsing eBay regularly. Occasionally I would go to kid's resale stores or Goodwill but I don't have a lot of time to do that, either. So I do spend a lot of my nighttime free-time in my nightgown surfing my iPad for stuff that I like that I know she will like and that is also very affordable. I'm pretty cheap. I make offers constantly, and they get accepted pretty regularly. I have a firm cap on what I will spend. I'll splurge on things like coats because for some weird reason I really care about coats, even my own coats. But in general, I look for the nicest clothing brands that make good quality clothes and I tryyyyyyy to find the absolute cheapest price that someone is willing to let it go for, plus postage. This is still generally so much more affordable than buying anything new (though not as cheap as Goodwill) and it keeps stuff out of the landfill for longer. I've always loved clothes, ever since I was a little girl, and for some reason I find browsing used clothes and vintage patterns extremely fun and relaxing. I was selling her baby clothes on eBay for a little while but it was a lot of work and I stopped pretty quickly after I started. I need to go through Amelia's clothes again and decide what to keep and what to do with the rest. The topic of clothing production and consumption is very fraught with tension and I'm trying to learn more about it and educate myself about the issues. I do want to get back to sewing more for Amelia again, as well. I did make her first-day-of-school outfit, above. The blouse was from Simplicity pattern #9091, circa 1970. And the skirt was a simple elastic-waist skirt from Simplicity pattern #8623, circa 1969. Both pieces were size 7 (though she's only going to be six next month) and made from vintage fabric and trim. She requested a shirt and a skirt and this is what we came up. Sweetest darling, ready for anything.

***

Typical conversation with Amelia Paulson:

Me: "Hi!!! How was school???"
Her: "It was great!!!"
Me: "Yeah? That's awesome! What did you do?"
Her: "I don't know!"
Me: "Oh! Well, did you play with someone?"
Her: "Kind of."
Me: "What was their name?"
Her: "I don't know."
Me: "Ah. Did you learn how to do something new?"
Her: "I don't think so. I don't remember."
Me: "Hmmm. Well, what do you do all day? What's the schedule? Like, what do you do in the morning? Do you have a rhythm to the day like you did in Waldorf school?"
Her: "Yeah, we have rhythm of the parrot, it goes squawk, squawk, squawk."
Me: "Okay."

Or:

Her: "I don't like school."
Me: "How come?"
Her: "Because it's too long of a day!"
One minute later:
Her: "Mom, why am I going home so early today??? [wailing] You said I could go to aftercare!!!"

***

As for me, I have so many new projects cooking and no assistant. Aaaaaaaaagh. Things keep not working out, and the girls keep moving out of state or getting other jobs. I'm mildly freaking out. Kelsey will start working with me this fall until her house sells and she moves back to Idaho. It's good, because in addition to launching the new fall cross-stitch kit (the last one in the seasonal series, and a bit bittersweet for me, I have to confess — I have loved these so much) and a new fall lotion bar, we ARE GOING to do a hand-dyed-yarn advent calendar. YES! I'm twitching. I am excited. It's going to be so pretty. It will also be pretty pricey, as there's a lot that's going into it, including lots of special treats. I will have more details for you soon. Because we are only going to do fifty of these, I might release them ten at a time, at all different times and on different days, so you have a couple of chances to order. I think we are also going to limit these to U.S. orders only, because the boxes will be pretty heavy and we will be shipping pretty close to December 1 (because there is so little time for me to work on these; but I really want to do them). Anyway, if these go well and people like them my plan is to do seasonal advent calendars, like "countdown to spring equinox,"  or "countdown to Midsummer," etc. But in a gentle, whispery way, not like a COUNTDOWN! [shouting] kind of way. We'll see. I have plans. Stay tuned. And watch for new cross-stitch kits and lotion bars in the next week or two!

Has anyone ever hired a professional organizer? I think I might need some help. I need to redo the storage and functionality of my office, and I'm feeling overwhelmed by where to start. I feel like a lot of what I'm storing in my office is stuff I used to use but am not using right now, though I do plan to use it in the future. I don't know. I just want to start this new phase of life with a bit less spatial chaos than I have right now. I feel like I've been totally jerry-rigging every process for a while.

Every thought and prayer is with North and South Carolina right now as you brace for a monster storm. . . .

***My new obsession: baking donuts from this recipe. Sorry I forgot to mention.

Wind in the Willows

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Ohhhh, I want to go back. Three days at the river. It was short but felt long, in some ways. You follow the sun, there, moving chairs and blankets to stay in shade or face the river, from morning until dinnertime. The day passes in quiet arc of meals and trips down to the river and trips back up the hill to get out of wet, sandy swimwear and rinse off the sunscreen. Bald eagles circle lazily above. Ducks splash and dive and surface. It's absolutely incredible to be in a place where there are no roads, no cars, no other people. Where there is complete freedom to do whatever you want, for as long as you want, for Amelia to just wander around and find things to do, or not do. For me to be able to hear her wherever she was, even when she was out of my sight, building fairy houses or stacking dominoes or taking a bath. At dusk, the crickets come out and their chirping is the loudest sound around. Each night, after Amelia went to bed, Andy and I sat around eating bowls of cherry ice cream and watching a Christmas movie on Amazon. I don't know why we watched that but it just felt like a vacation thing, and required nothing from us in any way. I read (I did not finish my book, nowhere near) and knit (I ran out of yarn) and none of it bothered me one bit. I spent countless hours just watching the river roll by, and watching the light change, and watching the birds. The air smelled like mud and green things. Amelia saw a snake in the brush — twice — and screamed the house down. Andy pulled her up and down and across the river in her raft, going ashore often to explore, looking for the beaver carcass they found last year, finding a beaver den, finding crayfish claws, gloopy seaweed, snail shells soft as fingernails. Families of ducks flew up and down the river roadway from morning until night, landing with a collective sploosh. We rolled around on quilts on the grass and took long showers. We all slept so late that we missed the mist rising off the river in the mornings. We cooked and ate and let the house get so messy you would've thought ten people were living there instead of just us, just us three. It was just wonderful.

On the way home, we stopped off at Amelia's new school for her first meeting with her new teacher. As the teacher led her around her beautiful new classroom, and introduced her to the class bird, and showed her cursive letters and told her she was going to learn how to write them this year, Andy and I sat off to the side and whispered quietly to each other, talking about the room and the teacher and Amelia and everything, and feeling so full of hope and nervousness and pride and a thousand other emotions I don't know how to name.

About Alicia Paulson

About

My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at aliciapaulson.com

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Photography

Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.