Posts filed in: Life

New Designs Now Available!

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Evening Skate Blog

Update regarding Typepad problems: Apparently the problems at Typepad have been solved and the blog should be working these photos should look normal now — I truly apologize for the frustration, and thank you all for the orders! Back tomorrow with a normal blog post, fingers crossed everything works!!! Agh!

BUT: Hello! Do you like WINTER? Oh boy I do. I have three new designs for winter and Christmas for you! The first is EVENING SKATE, above!

This design was inspired by its frame. Weird, I know. But one morning I was browsing eBay for vintage frames, as I do, and I found four of these matching frames available for a pretty decent price, so I bought them. They're nice and generously sized — the frame opening is about 9.5" x 12.5" — and the frame itself was thin, the way I like. The wood color and finish just reminded me of some of my mom's embroideries from the '80s. And it got me thinking about what I wanted to design for this.  Since I had four of them I knew I would do a seasonal series for winter, spring, summer, and fall. And I've been wanting to do something kind of Grandma Moses–inspired for a while. So I had the idea of the ice-skating rink I used to go to in my old neighborhood, when I was a child. It was an outdoor rink at Keystone Park in River Forest (Illinois), a few blocks from the house where I grew up. Every year they would flood the park and make an ice-skating rink for the neighborhood. On winter weekends when we were growing up, my friend Monica Sloger and I would meet up at the end of my street and walk with our pom-pom-decorated skates hung over our shoulders to Keystone Park to skate. It would be so cold, so we'd have double-socks on, and hats and mittens and scarves. Sometimes we'd bring thermoses of hot chocolate to drink in the warming house there. Oh, we used to skate for hours and hours. They would shovel snow off of the rink and pile it up around the sides. Sometimes the big boys would play hockey on one side of the rink so you'd have to watch out. Neither Monica nor I had ever taken any lessons or anything like that, so we weren't very good. But we'd hold hands and try to help each other skate backwards, occasionally do a wobbling spin. When it got dark, we'd head home, walking under the train tracks and near the woods. Funny how I was never afraid then. If it was Sunday, I knew my mom would be making dinner, maybe spaghetti sauce (just "sauce," if you're Italian — we are [though apparently not by DNA, I've come to find out — story for another day]) or chicken and dumplings or beef Stroganoff. Something rich and warm. And my fingers and toes would be just bone cold, and I'd run them under warm water, trying to resist turning it up as hot as I could. Gosh, I just loved ice skating. I remember when I first moved to Portland twenty-five years ago I was stunned to find out it doesn't really snow here. I'd had no idea! I'd never lived anywhere that it didn't snow, and Portland seemed pretty far north to me? But no. Skating happens indoors here (and I have a reconstructed foot, so it doesn't happen for me now at all). But those starry, sparkling-cold nights walking home from Keystone Park still live in my dreams as one of the best parts of childhood, and one of the things that I look back on with longing.

So Evening Skate is my tribute to that place and that time. I have three more designs for spring, summer, and fall planned, and spring and summer are already designed. All four designs are similar in that they share the same alphabet and general design elements, though the details are different. Spring is has a group of people planting a garden, summer has them swimming in a pond, and fall will have them picking pumpkins in a pumpkin patch.

It is stitched on 32-count Belfast linen in Mystic Gray. The design area is 8.63"w x by 10.5"h (22cm x27) on 32-count, and 138 stitches wide x 168 stitches high. The work is done with DMC six-strand cotton floss. Almost all of the design is done with 2 plies of floss over 2 threads EXCEPT for the doggie, which is done 1 over 1. It's not as hard as you'd think, so please don't be intimidated by that. (I just needed that dog to be a dog, and I couldn't do it 2 over 2.) Kits include a printed full-color pattern with a four-page chart, the fabric, and all the floss you need. The frame is not included in the kit. :) The kit is available here. The PDF pattern-only is available here with both full-color and black-and-white four-page charts. This is a big pattern. I recommend printing patterns at 100% (no scaling) at high quality for best results.

ChristmasisComingBlog

Next up is CHRISTMAS IS COMING! This is a cross-stitch ornament kit that includes everything you need to make the four ornaments here. The finished size of them is about 3" x 3" (and the stitching area is about 2" square). The pattern with the kit includes full-color charts as well as a photo-illustrated tutorial on how to mount the stitching to make the ornaments. The kit includes the cross stitch fabric (32-count Belfast linen in Stone Gray), the cardstock on which you will mount the stitching, the vintage calico fabric, quilt batting to make the stitching a bit puffed up, the ribbons, and four of these cute little "2022" charms with 8mm jump rings to attach to the back (or front, if you like):

CharmBlog

Cute! We have Andy Paulson to thank for these! (And I still have many extra charms on-hand, so if you are buying the PDF pattern for this but you need some charms, please email me and I’ll send you some!)

Anyway, these little ornaments were designed kind of on a whim – I don’t know but I have just been feeling so nostalgic lately, and yearning for things that remind me of home (as in, childhood home). I was remembering this time when I was around Amelia’s age, probably a few years older, and I was in a play called Ebenezer. It was a version of A Christmas Carol that was put on every year by the Village Players in Oak Park (Illinois) and I was a member of the children’s cast for several years (any suburban Chicagoans out there remember the Village Players?). We kids had a pretty small roll (it was a mostly adult community theater company) so the group of eight or nine of us kids spent a LOT of time just hanging out in a room backstage, waiting to go on. It was such a fun time. The production was Victorian and we had to have our own costumes. One year (this was sometime in the early 1980s) I saw the cutest outfit probably at Marshall Field’s or Weiboldt’s (those were two of our department stores in Oak Park) and it was a long skirt and a vest made out of dark green velveteen trimmed with cream-colored rosebud calico, worn with a high-collared, full-sleeved kind of prairie blouse with a little self-tie at the neck made out of the same calico as the trim. Oh, I wanted it so bad! But it was expensive and my mom said it was too expensive. At the time, Weiboldt’s still had a fabric department upstairs. And I remember we went up there and looked through the pattern books and found a pattern (seriously, it was probably this one, or something very similar to this) and found green velveteen fabric and cream rosebud calico and she literally made me practically the exact same one that I wanted but even better. It was perfect. I loved that outfit so much. I felt so excited to wear it every night of that play. My mom could and would sew me anything I ever wanted, even in college, and it was all beautiful.

Well, these little calicos are vintage ‘80s and remind me exactly of that outfit, and the cream rosebud one might have even been the exact fabric that my mom used for my outfit. It looked exactly like that. I wanted to design something that was very simple with very few colors that would be really good for beginners, or if you just wanted to whip something up for a friend or co-worker in one evening. And if you want to make all four for your own tree I think that would be wonderful. And I hope they spark a happy memory of days gone by for you, too. The Christmas is Coming! kit is available here. And the PDF pattern is available here. :)

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Now on to what I think/hope might be a memory for Amelia. This past summer, the ballet school she’s been going to since she was three closed down permanently. Amelia is a casual dancer – I mean, I don’t think she’s serious enough about it (or anything yet) to really pursue it to any great extent. But she enjoys it well enough and I want her to do some kind of after-school sport (I have a lot of thoughts about this that I find myself needing to express to someone, anyone, somewhere, but I will spare you here and save that for a post for another day), so we decided to keep doing ballet but at a different ballet school (further away, more expensive, but we’ve decided to give it this year to see if it’s still something she wants to continue to do. This school is lovely (from what I can tell; parents aren’t let in the buildings anymore, unfortunately) and they do quite a production of The Nutcracker every year.

When Covid hit, Amelia was in first grade and she was a couple of months away from being in her first ballet recital, which was scheduled to be held in the big theater at a nearby community college. That got canceled and never was rescheduled. Then they had a very small in-person performance for just parents this past summer, but it was basically in their regular classroom and not particularly fancy. So this year, she will be in her new school’s production of The Nutcracker and it feels like kind of a big deal! She is a “party girl” from the “rich family” (which of course she is thrilled by, ha!). This is in the party scene at the beginning. She is wearing a fancy white dress (and apparently her sash is purple, though I didn’t know about the purple sash when I designed this, or I might have made it purple instead of blue; though I guess blue feels more traditional) and also a “wiglet” (I wish I had a video of the first time I showed her the wiglet – her face was hilarious – she just stared at it like she was trying to figure out what it was and then she finally understood it and burst out laughing – it’s basically a cluster of ringlet curls that they wear over their buns).

Anyway! I personally love The Nutcracker and I designed this for Amelia because I think, even if she doesn’t decide to continue to dance, this will be a memorable experience for her, just like my childhood theater stuff was for me. Aside from singing one song onstage with her first-grade class at parents’ night a few years ago, she’s never been onstage before. I just wanted to make something to celebrate this ballet that is beloved to so many people during the Christmas season. In my design, NUTCRACKER SWEET, Clara wakes from her snowy, sweet dream under the giant tree. . . .

Nutcracker Sweet Blog

I had more fun stitching this than I have had in a long time! It is done on 32-count Belfast linen in Blush with DMC threads. You could easily change Clara’s skin tone and hair coloring to reflect your own dancer’s with a little bit of extra floss that you might have, or if you need some let me know what kinds of colors you need and I’ll be happy to send along. My favorite parts of this design are the owl clock and the mouse crown (which Amelia herself suggested). I will say that it has been really difficult to get this Belfast Blush here – I’ve been waiting for it for way over a month, and they were only able to send me seven yards. (“Supply chain issues” are real, and really frustrating.) So we have a total of only EIGHTY kits in stock right now – if you want this one, don’t wait. We will make more when more fabric comes in, but I’m having a very hard time pinning my distributor down on when exactly that will be. So I honestly feel incredibly grateful that they were able to send me seven yards, and I’ve been waiting to launch these here until I had it in my hot little hands (because mama has been burned before, people). Anyway, we have eighty kits in stock right now and will be shipping all orders next week. The Nutcracker Sweet kit is available here. And the PDF pattern (with both color and black-and-white charts) is available here.

And to go with this, my gosh this is a lengthy post, but we also have a new lotion bar, called SUGARPLUM lotion bar:

Sugarplum Blog

Yes. I could not resist. This would make such a sweet little stocking stuffer. It is a bit more petite than our other lotion bars. It is made with beeswax from the local bees of Mickleberry Gardens (and their beeswax is absolutely the best, and I have tried a few); coconut oil; shea butter; lanolin; and a natural fragrance oil from my favorite trusted source for apothecary supplies, Brambleberry (you can read about the difference between essential oils and their natural fragrance oils here). It has a sweet, fruity scent that is a mix of grapefruit, raspberry, melon, sweet pea, rose, and coconut. It is perhaps a less sophisticated scent than our other lotion bars made with essential oils. But it is just delightful and I’m so happy to add it to our collection for the holiday season. We have just restocked ALL of our lotion bars after being sold out for a while (they go quick) – but Andy made a ton of these for me last week while he was home on vacation, thank you babe! So they are ready for you and make great little teacher gifts, stocking stuffers, or hostess presents. As always, they come in a reusable tin, ready for gifting.

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Okay guys, I have rambled on for a long time here. I’m sorry it’s taken so long to post this but as I said, I needed to have that pink fabric in hand before I said a word about any of these, and on top of that, Typepad does not seem to be working properly, either (I can see that these photos are cut off on the side, but I think it's on their end, so will try to investigate). I also think I will trot out my backlist winter designs (I forgot to do it for fall) again here soon because I do like to do that on the blog to see all the seasonal stuff together, but that will wait until next week. I’m so excited to have these new things out here, and I truly wish you many happy hours of stitching these designs in the coming colder days. Much love to you all, and thank you for being here. Xo, a

Also: I'm just so curious: What are your memories like this, that you find yourself returning to? Specifically, I mean? Do you have a certain winter memory that just makes you smile, or cry, or . . . something in between? If you have time please share them here with me, especially the little details. I'm feeling so strangely full of longing these days (maybe this happens when your baby turns 10? I don't know) and I really want to hear if anyone else can relate.

Big Birthday Girl

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My baby is ten years old. I know. I can't, either. I just cannot believe it. My big, beautiful girl is ten. She had such an amazing birthday weekend. Andy's parents flew in from Chicago for the first time in three years. It was pure joy having them here after so long. One of Andy's family's traditions is to wake-up the birthday child (or adult!) in the early, early morning with a rendition of "Happy Birthday to You" and a plateful of lit candles for them to blow out, so we always do that here. It's super sweet. By some awesome stroke of luck, Amelia didn't have school on her birthday, and her grandparents had arrived the day before, so she got to spend the whole day with them and my mom, who we met at the food carts for lunch. The weather was bright and sunny all weekend and we had so much fun hanging out. Amelia decorated her own cake on Friday afternoon and I made chicken paprika and dumplings for her for dinner. (I make it in the Instant Pot so I need to rewrite that recipe.) On Saturday we all sat around and played with the things she had gotten for her birthday, and then on Sunday afternoon she had her friend-party at the roller-skating rink. That was absolutely wonderful. Her friends all came and skated for an hour or so and then they were all able to have pizza, juice, soda, cotton candy, and cupcakes (!!! I know!) in the cafe. They all did so well on skates I couldn't believe it. I mean, don't get me wrong, there was a whole lot of wiping out and a few tears, but overall they were all smiles and I think everyone (Andy and another dad skated with them, but most of the kids did pretty well on their own) had a blast. It was just a great day, and a great weekend. We dropped Andy's parents off at the airport yesterday morning and they made it home safe and sound. We all slept well last night. I am so proud of Amelia. It was a long, busy, wonderful weekend, and we will still be trying to hook up with more family and birthfamily in the coming days, but this girl is a partier!

Did you see the crocheted bonsai tree that Andy made for Amelia? Amazing. He's been working on it for weeks. (Here is the pattern he used.) He has crocheted something for her for her birthday every year since she's been born. I made her a bowl in my ceramics class. She's so cute opening her presents. I always forget this, especially on Christmas, but Amelia is a very slow present opener. She does not tear through her gifts to get onto the next one. She is very slow and deliberate about them, and generally looks carefully at everything. It's very, very sweet.

I just can't believe she's ten years old. I'm overwhelmed with love and so grateful for the miracle of her life. I'm just so, so grateful to be her mama. My sweet, amazing, darling girl. You have been pure joy since the moment you entered the world. I love you so.

We Can Do It

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1stDay

School has started! Child is excited! There have been many emotions!

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The first two weeks are under our belts and overall things seem to be going well, though I won't lie — it's been intense! Amelia is excited, her teacher is lovely, the kids are wonderful. It's great to be back, and we are figuring it out. The first week she was "revving high," as we say here. Lots of zooming around the school yard, lots of hooting noises, lots of chasing people trying to give them things, or pick them up or carry them around, or — I honestly don't even know what all was happening. Andy took the first week of school off and he and I would be there waiting together under the tree when the last bell rang, and she would be as energized at 3 p.m. as she was at 8:30 a.m. At home, also lots of energy, lots of talking in a very intense new, big-girl sort of voice (you know it if you've heard it — I can't explain), lots of excitement, a tiebreaker-in-the-fifth-set sort of ever-present anticipation, knees bouncing, racquet up: Ready to serve! Ready to receive! Then, on the third or so day after Andy went back to work, sudden tears. Clinging. Hugging on the blacktop. She didn't want me to leave. The bell rang and she bravely carried forth. I shed a tear of my own on the way home. Oh, my heart. The teacher sweetly emailed me later in the morning with the subject line "weepy drop-off." She let me know that she had given Meems some extra TLC when they had gotten up to the classroom and all was well. (I so appreciated the email! During the school day! Wow!)

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The days rolled by. We started getting used to the new routine. New bedtime-time, new breakfast-eating time, new leaving-the-house time. At school, several reported wipe-outs and trips to the nurse's office — a scraped elbow, a second scraped elbow (on the same day), and then yesterday a completely scraped NOSE. And lip. When pressed: "I was carrying Caitlin piggyback and I fell into the grass with my face." Telling me for the fourteenth time that she is "strong enough to carry a fifth grader." Me: "That's wonderful, but unless you are carrying someone out of a burning building, I want everyone's feet on the ground." Gah. Yesterday, after the nose-scraping wipe-out, her first after-school class at new ballet school across town (our [mellow] old nearby one has permanently closed): It did not go well. Parking/drop-off was chaos. The class was also very crowded (not great), and after it she came flying out the door, red-faced and streaming tears, throwing herself into my arms and saying that her shoes were too small, and she had a giant hole in her tights, and she "didn't know anything." Me: "Oh sweetheart! It's okay! What did the teacher say?" Her, wailing: "I have no idea!!! I didn't understand anything!" Ooof.

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So yeah. She left school halfway through first grade. And now she's going back as a fourth grader. She was a little kid, and now she's a big kid. As capable as she is, and as positive as she is, it's been a leap, across a very real gap, and not without a few tears and a few tumbles. But I am just so, so proud of her. I'm constantly in awe of her bravery. My big, beautiful girl. Today after school she wants to go to the dance store to get new ballet slippers to be ready for ballet class tomorrow. She said, "Everyone who saw my nose was like, 'Oh my gosh, what happened to your nose? Are you okay? Does that hurt?' but I just said, "Nope! Ha ha!'" Me: [insert quizzical emoji face] "Mmmkay!" She's figuring things out. Andy and I are figuring things out.  And just trying to take it one day at a time. It really has been kind of a manic two weeks, comparatively. I keep remembering to be gentle with her, and be gentle with everyone, and with . . . everything, everywhere. And to give it the time to let it all settle, as it feels a bit like a prescribed dust-storm right now. But it's starting to settle. I think it's starting to settle.

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I've been home designing cross stitch patterns. I have five new designs for you. Literally five. In like . . . two weeks of work? Apparently I had a few ideas I'd been waiting to explore. Fingers flying. I will be back with at least one to launch right away. It's for Halloween. My first-ever Halloween design. I'm not really into Halloween. But I don't think anyone considers you a legit cross stitch designer until you have designed something for Halloween so you know I did. I want to proof the pattern one more time and then I'll have it here for you ASAP.

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 These are heady, exciting, mildly nutso days! My girl is growing and learning and changing and trying. And so am I.

Parks and Playdates

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Oh my, the busy days! A lot of these photos were on my phone. We've been busy around town and busy at home. Amelia went to a week of pottery camp and is doing tennis camp this week. In between there have been lots of visits to parks with friends and having friends over and swimming with friends and just generally having a lot of fun. It's wonderful. I try to take these big vertical photos to show you the big trees at our playgrounds. At least the playgrounds that this mama prefers! (Some playgrounds literally have no trees and no shade, and I honestly cannot handle those.) It's hot today — 97 degrees forecasted — but really, until today, the weather has been absolutely perfect this summer. Eighty degrees and sunny, sometimes cloudy (yay!). Once it stopped raining, the sun came out (mostly) and the local gardens absolutely exploded with joy. We needed that rain so, so much. A few months of spring rain has made summer living just blissful. Absolutely blissful. I'd forgotten that the grass could be green, the plants could survive, the trees could look quenched in July. Well, I am loving it.

Next week is Andy's and my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Egads!!! That means we've been together for thirty years now. Silver anniversary. Instead of getting a silver present, we bought three little gardens to plant in our raised beds. We got one August Afternoons and two Summer Dreams pre-planned gardens, all from High Country Gardens. They shipped to us back in May and we planted them then. The plants were very small and a few did not make it. But all of the rain we had this spring — oh man. What a lucky, lucky break for us and these little gardens. Everything got watered in so well and now it is just lush and growing beautifully. The above picture is from the day last week when Andy planted a few of the replacement plants I bought at Portland Nursery and Amelia was helping him dig and tidy. We weeded everything, trimmed the vinca and clover, and fixed the willow fences, and everything is looking so pretty now. (In the picture there are a lot of oak leaves on the ground, and I'm now remembering that in the days before it was really windy one night and a ton of leaves blew down from the neighbor's trees — that was weird, because they usually don't do that.) But anyway, that area looks better in real life now than it does in that picture and I will take another one to show you how nice. I think I really recommend these gardens. We have replanted that areas so many times. Over the past twenty years it has been a rose garden, many failed vegetable gardens, a random wildflower garden, a random flower seed garden, and kind of a messy dahlia garden. BUT NOW it is going to be an August Afternoons and Summer Dreams garden and I am absolutely determined to take care of it and not replant this area again.

The tree to the left of Amelia in the picture is a gnarly old plum tree that dies more every year. I'm fairly certain it's almost a hundred years old and it has had so many large limbs that have died and then been trimmed that it just looks horrendous. It also drops cherry-sized plums all over the sidewalk which explode upon landing and make such a mess that people actually cross the street rather than walk past our house (like right now — they're falling now). We are going to apply for a permit to have it removed and replace it with an Eddie's White Wonder dogwood I think it is. Or a Venus dogwood or a Starlight — any opinions on these? (There's a list of approved parkway trees under power lines that we have to choose from.) I hope our permit gets approved. You can't really see the tree in this picture but it has a large, low-hanging limb that hangs over the driveway into our neighbor's parkway and it is dead now. There are sooooo many of these plum trees around Portland and they all look to be really ancient and just totally gnarly. The plums are sour as anything (and are super tiny to boot) and the trees just get so covered in lichen and suckers and, I don't know. They're pretty gross. I wonder if they were all planted at the time these neighborhoods were built in the 1920s. I have no idea how much it is going to cost to remove the tree, or plant a new one. I'm scared. I hope it's not a huge amount of money. We've been putting this off for a while. We were told the last time we got the tree trimmed (maybe four years ago) that it needed to be 50% dead to be removed, and ours was only 40% dead. Pah!

Anyway, mid-July. I'm taking a pottery class at the community college down the road. I went to my first class on Friday, having completely missed the actual first class the week before because I read the date wrong. I literally almost cried. I was just sitting around doing nothing, anxiously awaiting the start of my pottery class!!! Hello! I threw two pots in the class. Well, in open studios, too. The class is from about 9:30 a.m. until 1:00 p.m., and then open studios (where you get to just practice on your own) is from 1:30 until 4:30. My second pot took me two hours, I do know that. The clay (B mix?) was so, I don't know, sturdy? I couldn't get the pot "open." I didn't want to mess it up! Which was just silly. But I mean . . . let me just say . . . how unbelievably awesome it is to just sit there for two hours and throw one pot. I didn't even care. The music was on, the other students were so sweet and friendly, the teachers were just great. And I just sat and centered the clay and then opened the clay and then pulled up the sides. For two hours. One pot. Me to teacher, at 3:30: "Paul, I want to throw another pot but we only have an hour!" Paul, drily: "I could throw an entire dinner set in an hour." Hah! Paul. Gahhhh, it was so amazing. I was there from 9:30 until 4:30, all by myself! I don't know the actual last time I spent seven entire hours away from either Andy or Amelia. It's been years, guys. Y e a r s. It felt like the most ridiculous luxury. Throwing pots! Listening to non-Minecraft music! Not rushing because no one needed me to do something other than what I was doing, and nothing had to be cooked or cleaned there, and no one was crying about anything, or needed to be driven somewhere! Oh have mercy it was an exquisite indulgence, and to think I missed the first class!!!!!!!!!

Thank you SO MUCH for all of the orders these past few weeks, as well. I am so grateful for your orders and your interest and enthusiasm — thank you so much! The Stitcher's RSVP kit is almost sold out and I haven't decided if we will re-issue it. I have some extra evenweave fabric from kits over the years that I am going to try to use up before buying more. The minimum amounts I need to order from the distributor have increased (for certain fabrics) and I just don't have the numbers that I used to to make doing large quantities of kits an absolute no-brainer like it used to be. 2022 was the year I was supposed to be getting my patterns ready for wholesale (along with, you know, 2021, and 2020, blurgh) and I am going to focus on that when Amelia goes back to school in the fall. I swear I am going to! That said, I have lots of new ideas, so I will have lots of new patterns — they just might not all make it into kit form. We'll see. It's been a long few years and I've been doing my best not to just get . . . lost in space. Like everyone else, I'm sure. One foot in front of the other. That said, A Tender Year: July hasn't even been designed yet. It'll all get done eventually, I hope. Maybe just not during this actual tender year. But when I have more help from Portland Public Schools.

Some good shows: The Great Pottery Throwdown (obbbbbviously). We've watched it two or three times now (and the most recent season is so great). We really liked Signora Volpe (kind of a cross between Miss Marple and Under the Tuscan Sun). I just finished bingeing all of the seasons of Line of Duty on the recommendation of a friend and that was intense! If you have a child, we all really liked Just Add Magic. I also really liked Redemption, though Andy didn't see it. I love television.

This Was May

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This was May, though there were a lot more necklaces, paintings, flowers, books, getting cats out of trees, worry, and tears for the state of the world. A lot more tears. And helpless, seething anger and fear for our children's futures. Every night I fall asleep to a sleep story (right now, Humphrey in Rio) on my Calm app, taking big, deep breaths and listening to the traffic outside. In my head, when the story finishes and I'm not yet asleep, I throw imaginary pots on the potter's wheel, slowly centering clay, feeling it push against my hands, feeling myself attempt to steady and control it. I'm terrible at it, in fact. The clay spins and slumps.

The weather has been warm but still very rainy, generally speaking.  The sweetest thing is watching Agatha learn how to be outside. At times we're still unsure about this decision we've made to let her Out. But she, mostly with great caution, has been going outside for about a month or two now, ever since the weather has warmed up. The backyard is fenced and she mostly stays in it (though we did find her in the driveway a few weeks ago, which is why I say "mostly"). But mostly she literally creeps around the backyard, trying to move so no predators see her, apparently. She listens to the birds and sniffs the air and lays on the warm bricks in the sunshine, watching little bugs crawl in and out of the cracks. She sits on the back porch and tilts her face up toward the sun. She runs over to me, meowing loudly — it's genuinely like she's trying to talk to me, and tell me things about Outside — whenever I come out. She sits under the thick hood of climbing hydrangea against the wall when it rains. Three times she's run straight up the trees — twice up the apple and once up the dogwood, each time going way too high. Making the choice to run up a tree gets you a swift trip back into the house. (Andy and I look at each other, grimacing, picturing ladders and balancing and trying to grab a cat that is trying to stick every claw into you while you teeter precariously. Great.) We bring her in whenever we are done worrying about it for the day, or whenever we leave the house. But her joy — her absolute wonder and pure delight as she sprawls out, furry belly splayed on the hot wooden stair, listening to birdsong — you can literally sense it, and it makes me so happy. I wish you similar, simple joys.

Amelia and I have been spending several hours every week in the children's department at a suburban library. She gets her homework done and I sit in a big chair and read and read. I don't know why we didn't do this all year, but we only started a few weeks ago. It's really nice. She's motivated to finish the homework so she can go play on the library computer. I'm thrilled to have several hours of enforced reading time that I don't normally get/take. I've finished two books there since we started going (one was Northern Spy and one was The Secret Place; not sure I recommend either, actually). Not sure what I will read today.

Thank you very much for all the feedback about the books that Amelia is reading/listening to. I really appreciated the discussion about Anne with an E (and Harry Potter). I think I will watch that Anne myself sometime and save the Megan Follows version for Meems this summer. We are almost finished with reading Anne. And now I really have no idea what we should read this summer! I like reading the classics out loud to her because I know she probably wouldn't pick these up herself. But she really likes listening. Hrmmm. What next?

Last (and late): A Tender Year: May is finally now available. Thank you so much for all of the sweet ideas for this, and I'm so sorry for the delay. Hoping to have June finished before July, I swear.

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Big Blossoms

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

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

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

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

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

** Thank You **

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Thank you so much for all your kind words about Clover. We read every comment and were moved to tears several times. I am so touched that there are still so many of you who remembered when we got her back in 2007 (and even those of you who remembered Audrey). I find it just so touching that people take a little moment to think about a little dog they've never met in real life, and wish her well on the next part of her journey. Thank you for doing that, and sharing that with our family. It really helped me and I am grateful for your gentle kindnesses here. Thank you.

We have been working like crazy on our yard. I was sitting in the hot tub a few mornings ago just staring out at the backyard, feeling proud of what we have done. I realized that both the front and back yards felt a bit like the secret garden. We had kind of neglected the back yard, especially. Dead leaves, dead plants in pots, yucky hydrangeas covered in old brown blossoms, broken pots. A very gnarly porch rug covered in black stuff. Empty planter boxes on the porch. A ton of crabgrass in the front borders. Almost nothing but strawberries, a few calendulas, and a forget-me-not in the raised beds in the hellstrip. I mean, it happens, over the winter. This is all pretty standard. But it had been a while since we'd really done a thorough accounting of our plants, and really tried to get nice stuff (even a few perennials) into our many pots (I counted a total of 31), and had bought compost to mulch the beds. So we started cleaning out old pots, going to the nursery to get a few things every week to plant in them, moving strawberries from the raised bed into pots in the backyard, planting the planters with stuff that will be pretty in a month or two. We ordered two yards of compost and had it delivered to the driveway, and Andy spent the weekend covering the beds in brown paper bags to keep down the weeds and topping it all off with several inches of compost. Trimming back the ornamental grasses, which have grown monstrous and probably need to be divided. Planting a few clematises to replace our big one that looks mostly dead. (They often looks mostly dead in spring before they leaf out, but this one looks particularly dead.) Amelia and I started a new hobby of constantly checking NextDoor (neighborhood app) for new postings of free plants and, when we saw something good, jumping into the car and hauling across the neighborhood to be there first (and, we often are!) So far we've gotten a clump of pink phlox, a bleeding heart, and, yesterday, a whole bunch of purple alliums! That said, you get what you pay for sometimes — by the time we got to the bleeding hearts, the plant had been completely run over by a car and was smashed to smithereens. We still took it home and planted it. I even got that darling green table for twenty dollars! So, everything was looking so pretty. The apple and dogwood trees were about to bloom. The tulips were in full flush, the daffodils were finished, the magnolia was flowering, the hydrangeas are fully leafed out. And then at 3:30 a.m. I woke up to go to the bathroom and look at this:

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SOB! Noooooooo! Oh my stars. Absolute chaos. I had heard rumors of this in the forecast but never thought it'd hit us here on the valley floor. It was literally 76 degrees three days ago! And now it's 36! We hardly get this much snow even in the middle of winter, let alone almost mid-April. So, school is canceled today, even online school for us, due to many power outages around town, and I know there are many downed big trees from the pictures I'm seeing on the news. I mean, many trees are fully leafed out or heavy with cherry blossoms or other blossoms right now so, oh my. They say we haven't seen this kind of thing in eighty years here. Quite unusual and I won't lie, I want it to melt immediately. I was absolutely and totally ready for and indulging in spring.

I have my April design for A Tender Year ready, and I just need to proofread it and then post it. I will do that tomorrow or Wednesday, I promise. I got behind in my work and Amelia got really behind in hers while Andy and I were busy with Clover, and it was a unique kind of challenge (I don't want to repeat) trying to get her caught back up. She was about eleven or twelve assignments behind and wow, that was a first. Do not recommend. Anyway, my April design is ready and has been photographed and I just need to get back in my swing. I was able to send another check (for $110 this time) to the Ukrainian Bible Church last week, so we altogether sent $360 to Ukraine for the month of March. The war continues to rage on in a horrendous way. It's just terrible. I pray for peace daily and it's just . . . absolutely heartbreaking.  I can't even find words.

I am reading The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman and it is very compelling. I am only about halfway through it. At night, I've been watching a lot of Monty and Gardener's World and also these two very light shows that I just absolutely love: One is Baby Ballroom, about little kids (and some tweens) who do ballroom dancing in England, and Old Enough!, about toddlers running their first errands in Japan. I think they are both on Netflix. If you can get a chance to watch Old Enough!, try to watch Season 1, Episode 7. Or also Episode 4. I'm only on Episode 16 myself (they're short, probably fifteen or twenty minutes each). Oh my gosssssh. I am fascinated.

XOX

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It hurts my heart to write this and tell you that Clover Meadow passed away last week. Andy took this picture of her and Agatha on the occasion of Agatha's first time in the yard just a few days before. Clover was almost fifteen years old. I know that some of you have been reading this blog that long and will remember when she was a puppy. Honestly, this is so hard to write. Amelia is sitting behind me at her desk about to start school and I'm afraid I am going to start crying again. I've been putting this off for days, hoping I won't. I am inadequate. She was the sweetest dog. The end was hard. Clover. I miss and love you. Rest in peace, my darling, sweet friend.

Spring Break

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It's spring break this week, and Amelia and I have been busy gym-shoe and other shopping for her. Shoe shopping is not what it was. I was longing for a Stride Rite or a Buster Brown, and a kindly salesman who would have had her take a seat so he could measure her foot on the metal measuring thing (because I honestly had no idea what size her feet were anymore), who would've come back with boxes of shoes and laced them up for her and then checked her toes to see how they fit, and have had her take a walk around the carpeted store for a test drive. We were hard-pressed to find an actual salesperson anywhere, even at Macy’s, on Day 1. Day 2 I printed out a kid's foot-measuring chart (turns out she's a US size 3.5 and an extra-wide width) and wound up at a massive DSW where I got her a new pair of Reebok tennis shoes and some running shoes (wow, I had no idea how expensive nice new shoes are, having bought almost everything secondhand for many years) because she wants to go jogging with her dad. She went on a carousel ride at the mall, got a Pink Drink and a cookie at Starbuck's, got a pink velour jogging suit, and picked out a new clematis for the front yard. In every moment I can feel my intentional buoyancy and yearning for “normal.” But the Target looked like a dump, crushed cereal and clothes all over the floors, and the up-escalators at the big mall were broken (well, the two we tried, anyway), and the salespeople were nowhere to be found, and these things are of course ridiculous as entire cities and millions of lives in Ukraine are laid to waste in mere days at the whim of one evil, murderous maniac. I can’t stop thinking, stupidly, helplessly, How could this be? Someone!?! My girl grows out of her clothes. Hold all of these things.

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At home, I've been sewing a lot and have made several things, none of which actually fit very well after all (ha!) and I'll probably take them (a few shirred nightgowns that are too narrow and too short, a muslin that was also too straight, a muslin that was too big in the neck) to Goodwill. I liked this top (above, photo taken after I'd washed it to shrink it a bit, though it didn't really shrink), which I made patchwork sleeves for out of some squares in the stash that were originally cut for the sawtooth star quilt I decided not to make after all. I used Simplicity pattern #9193 (this seems to be out of print; I had it in my stash) and ultimately did an FBA (full bust adjustment), which worked brilliantly and was barely difficult after all. I used this tutorial for doing one on a raglan seam. There is a 5" difference between my upper bust and my full bust (whoa) so an FBA is really necessary — so, I need to go down two patterns sizes, and match the bust measurement on the pattern sizing to my upper bust (so that the neck and shoulders and armsceyes fit), not my full bust, and then do a significant FBA (added 2.5" to the bodice front [doubled, that's 5"]). Worked like a charm! Perfectly exciting! I also added about 1.5" to each of the side seams to make the shirt more A-line in general (it's cut pretty straight, too straight for comfort in quilting cotton). Anyway, the bust on my dress form still needs about 2" to fill it out all the way to 47". I tried to stuff it with polyfill and it just looked ridiculous and also mildly terrifying. I bought some bra inserts but they were still too small [laughing]. What can I say. G cup.

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I am making this lovely cardigan in a women's size XS for Amelia out of hand-dyed (by me) Nature Spun worsted. I dyed the yarn a few weeks ago, dyed six 100g skeins with one teaspoon of Rit dye in Cocoa Brown. One teaspoon! I love the wonderful videos from Essence of Autumn yarns and this one, about dyeing solid colors, finally clued me in to adding my citric acid only after the yarn has been soaking in the dye water for a while. That slows down the dye striking, and allows you to get smoother and also lighter solid colors. It totally works. Also, kind of amazing that Cocoa Brown actually produces this luscious, warm pink, no? I am thinking about dyeing some spring colors to sell. I feel like I'm getting some really pretty colors lately. I've been knitting this sweater while bingeing Bad Vegan on Netflix (scary, eesh. Reminded me of The Tinder Swindler).

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I'm realizing I only have a week to design and complete my April design for Tender Year and I haven't even started yet, so I might be a few days late. And oops: I meant to say last time I posted, a tutorial for wrapping your canvas with embroidery is now here. I have another $92.00 to donate to Ukraine so far — thank you again, so much, for that. Andy is home tomorrow and I'll have some time to work. Our yards need some serious cleanup. It's that time of year. Things are just starting to really froth out. The sun, when it shows itself, is glowing and low in the guest-room windows at dusk. At bedtime, I face this window from down the hall. Amelia plays with a three-story Calico Critter "house" that she's set up on my bookshelves while I read The Moorchild by Eloise McGraw out loud to her (and then she reads Harry Potter, which believe it or not I've never actually read, to me). The Moorchild is probably the most intense children's chapter book I have ever read. According to my Amazon, I purchased The Moorchild in April of 2017 but we're only just reading it now (the age range says 9-12). I have no idea why I bought it or if someone suggested it to me or if I saw it somewhere, but wow. I think it's one of the most creative and evocative and emotional books I've ever read, and the writing is stellar. That said, it's kind of a brutal kids' book, to be honest. I almost sobbed while reading it yesterday (we're almost at the end) and Amelia said her heart was racing at the end of the chapter. I'm actually surprised it's a kids' book but I guess I don't know that much about kids' books, really, or why this wouldn't be a kids' book. But it's just . . . like, the general premise (it's from the perspective of a changeling) kind of just destroys my heart from the get-go, and every main character is sympathetic, and, I don't know, the story is just mesmerizing to me. It is a Newbery Honor book from 1997. Who's read this, and what did you think?

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Flower fairy wishing you a happy spring!

Deep in the Details

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Thank you from the bottom of my heart to every person who purchased A Tender Year: March embroidery pattern so far. I was able to send a check for $250 to the Ukrainian Bible Church aid fund on Tuesday and I will send another one for the balance of the total sales for this pattern at the end of the month. I am so grateful to all of you who helped with this donation. I expect that all of us are in state of utter sorrow and disbelief and helplessness over what the Ukrainian people are enduring right now. I pray for peace. I don’t know what to say or do.

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I told my sister that I had been making a lot of quilts lately. (She said, I get it. Going back to the start.) I think I have made five or six in the past couple of months so far. I've actually lost count. I haven't photographed any of them finished yet. The making is the thing for me right now. Cutting and stitching and trimming and pressing, patch after patch after patch. Patching. Stitching and pressing. I'm almost finished unearthing and then ironing every scrap of fabric that I have. I have a lot. I don't even understand how someone can have so many "scraps." As I said, a lot of them are from quilt kits we've made for Posie in the past. But I also must have sewn a lot over the past twenty years. It makes me so nostalgic. I remember literally every fabric. It's weird. I sewed so many dresses and things for Amelia, and all of that sewing and knitting saved my life then. I loved every minute of it.

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I still love it but I don't do it as much because at some point sewing started to really hurt my back. Years ago I even had an ergonomic specialist lady come out to my house and look at my sewing set-up and figure out what I was doing wrong that was causing me so much back pain when I sewed. It turned out that almost everything was too low for me, and I have a really long . . . top part of my leg. Thigh. Like, my waist is really high. I'm short-waisted but the length from my waist to my knee is really long, according to her. So we made a few adjustments, including raising my cutting table and raising the height of my chair. But to be honest, none of it really helped. Sewing still really hurt my back. I think it's because my back is weak and I don't sit up straight very often, so when I sit up straight to sew, those back-sewing muscles are pathetic. But, I just decided I didn't give a shit. I started sewing again. I've been sewing up everything in sight. And at night I put a heating pad behind my back on the sofa and . . . it actually helps. On top of that, I think the back muscles might actually be getting stronger these past few weeks. Either that or, I don't know, pain is relative anymore. It feels worth it because for the first time in a long time I have found some joy and peace in my studio. I have tried a lot of different crafts these past two years of Covid. There was clay and polymer clay and resin and jewelry making and beading and drawing and painting and tole painting and of course the usual, cross-stitch and embroidery and knitting and yarn dyeing. But lately, the sewing has been bringing me back to myself. And I want that. I want that back. I want to be in flow. I want to care about the silly little details, getting some stupid little thing just the way I want it to be, making something come together out of just some random idea, some thing that I saw that I wanted to create. I want to be deep in those things again.

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In with the stacks of the fabric there were a few blouses that I must have cut out for myself several years ago and hadn't finished for whatever reason. (I finished them today. Inspired. No pattern I can find around here for this blue top, though I know I used one. I just don’t know what it was.) I thought about my pleating machine, on a shelf in the basement, unused for many years. I suddenly wanted to get a dress form and actually use it to make some clothes for myself. Use it to drape and fit. To come up with a few basic shapes and patterns that actually fit me the way I want them to and then use them to explore some ideas that I have to make some stuff to wear this summer.

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Nothing earth-shattering but just clothes that I like and that feel like me and what I want to wear — loose clothes, peasant tops, floaty and full things, kaftans, skirts with pockets for my keys, phone, and wallet, stuff that you pull over your head, no buttons, no plackets, no facings, no zippers. Lots of things gathered on elastic. And Amelia needs clothes, too. I don't have much in the way of "apparel" fabric. I think of apparel fabric as cotton lawn or linens or cotton voiles, and I don't have much of that. But ohhh do I ever have a lot of vintage quilting fabric yardage. Ha! So I'll be the size 18 lady at the playground wearing an entire wardrobe made out of Joan Kessler and Peter Pan quilting calicos from 1983. Watch out.

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Ukraine. I pray for peace for your families and your children. May you find shelter and safety in these dark days.

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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