Posts filed in: Books

School's Out!

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

For now, I mean, just look:

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

A Happy Birthday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Much

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

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

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

Apple Time

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A morning spent apple picking with school friends. Cool and clear weather, and what a joy to breathe fresh air out in the country. I've been cleaning and organizing the house like crazy this past week. My to-do list once school started was ridiculously long. Big projects and small projects and I am knocking them off the list. First up, go through the sand-dune of toys piled in the living-room corner. We don't have a dedicated play room or even a play space in this house. The living-room corner is where most of the toys live. Slowly but surely, toys have turned into puzzles and games. These are easier to put away and make me happy. I've never been one for a ton of toys. She seems to play harder with things like bottle caps, dead flowers, and tape, for better or worse, than any of her fancy toys. Nevertheless, she had a pile, including things like the giant blow-up hammer that said "I'm the Princess" (won at the fair) that slid down the pile of toys every time I tried to "put it away" (as if) and the two large mechanical arm-and-hands that basically made me insane in about seven different ways and now those have been re-homed, as they say, and this is not bad (for me; sorry in advance to whoever gets these). Andy and I also went through all of the books that were piling up so monstrously that they were lying horizontally in the entertainment center, threatening to come slithering out every time someone opened the cabinet door. It took an entire afternoon to enter every single ISBN number into the Powell's web site to see if they wanted to buy any of them, which they did, but only one-quarter of them. Three giant plastic boxes of books that we've had for ages went to Goodwill. I was astounded at how much had fit in the entertainment center without it collapsing into smithereens. And who says Ikea furniture sucks! NOT ME!!!

Next up was the linen cabinet, and everything came out of that, and that was just your basic insanity. Zero rhyme or reason, causing steam to literally come shooting out of my ears every time it was time to change the sheets. Madness. We also have approximately fifty pillowcases, and it appears that zero of them match. So everything came out and went into the laundry, and I did two giant loads on Sunday with lavender detergent until everything was freshly clean and smelling sweet. I refolded everything and reorganized the whole thing and put the sheets that corresponded with the beds they go on in the trunks at the end of those beds. Now I'm anxiously waiting for the lavender and cedar chips and sachet bags I ordered to get here and then I will have my own Private Moment of complete and utter satisfaction when I fill them and hang them in the cabinet and trunks.

Oh wait, back. Speaking of books, I finally finished Coming Home, the book that basically took over my life this summer. I liked it. It was honestly the perfect book for me these past few months. Now I'm making my way down the list of non-depressing books you suggested back in June or July. I'm constantly putting holds on things at the library and have just started Fever 1793 (though I must say so far, are you suuuuuure this book is non-depressing???). I finished News of the World last week, and that was a gorgeous book. That book was closer to what I wanted The Orchardist (which I read last summer and with which I was disappointed) to be. I loved News of the World. So, thank you again for the list, and I am excited to really dig into this year.

Back to my to-do list. September is ticking away. I have birthday projects I want to do for Amelia, including a new dress, a new doll (ignore the first paragraph), a birthday crown, and a cake topper. I have birthday party invitations to print and address and mail. I have more school clothes to make for if it ever starts raining and our children can wear long sleeves to school. I have a winter cross stitch kit I am done with the pattern for, and will probably take pre-orders for soon, because I have no idea how many to make. And I have more quilt kits for you that I will post very shortly, because I'm on a roll. But first

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I must have pie.

Birdland

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No sooner did I threaten to cut down the plum tree than did about a million birds show up, acting so adorable and sweet and storybookish within its branches that I'm torn, now, about chopping it down. What to do!!! What also happened is that we instituted "mom time" out in the front yard in the very early mornings when Andy's off for the day so that I'm able to sit out there alone and drink my coffee, listen to birds, water the garden, and oh, you know, think quietly for just a few secs. I get up and, before I take my shower, I hightail it out and enjoy what has always been my favorite part of the day: earliest, earliest morning. Eventually I fill up the bird bath and sit in the chair in the shade across the yard and wait. Within five or ten minutes, birds come bathing. It's the cutest, sweetest thing. They — especially the robins — splash around in the water and then fly up to the bare branches of the plum tree to fluff and dry. It's just adorable. On Sunday morning, a super-adorable thing happened when I got to watch a mama robin feed a teenager robin — see the picture of them up there? They're hard to see, being totally camouflaged by the tree, but my gosh. How cute is that. I swear the robins are coming just to visit me when I go out there, especially when I'm alone. They do always seem to show up within a few minutes! My own little Mary Lennox moment, and I just love them.

I feel so very behind on everything. I can't get my chores done and I'm stressed, so birdwatching feels desperately necessary but also crazily indulgent somehow. Summer at home with a little kid is seriously chaotic. There are so many things that I want to write about and talk about and think about, but I just won't have time or brain or breath until preschool starts again and I have a few more unengaged hours. And there aren't enough kids home during the day in our neighborhood to make it easier. I mean, there are no kids at home during the day in our neighborhood. Back in My Day, everyone was home. Everyone. We played outside or at each other's houses on the block every. single. day. To the point of utter, complete, blissful boredom. Sigh. Sometimes I worry. Where is everyone?

Nevertheless, in spite of having a scant amount of free time/me time, I checked five of the books on last week's book list out of the library, even though I'm only halfway through Coming Home (by Rosamunde  Pilcher). The librarian said that the damage I did to the book wasn't even worth noting, so that was a nice surprise. I renewed it, because it's taking me forever to read. That book is enormous! But it's really nice to read. Sort of slow, with a mildly remote protagonist (which is, oddly, relaxing). But it also just feels measured and capable and . . . professional . . . I need not worry . . . and that alone is chillaxing me down to my toes. Also, her descriptions of place are so on-point I sometimes read them twice. I mean, this:

    August, now, and a wet Monday morning. Summer rain, soft and drenching, streamed down upon Nancherrow. Drifting in from the south-east, low grey clouds obscured the cliffs and the sea, and heavy-leaved trees drooped and dripped. Gutters ran and drain-pipes gurgled, and the weekly wash was postponed for a day. Nobody complained. After a long spell of hot, dry weather, the sweet coolth was welcome. The rain fell with relentless steadiness, and thirsty flowers and fruit and vegetables absorbed the moisture with gratitude, and the air was filled with the incomparable scent of newly damp earth.   
    Loveday, with Tiger at her heels, emerged into the outdoors by way of the scullery, stepped out into the yard, and stopped for a moment to sniff the air and fill her lungs with this sweet invigorating freshness. She wore gumboots and an old raincoat, pulled over her shorts and a striped cotton sweater, but her head was bare, and as she set off in the direction of Lidgey Farm, the rain descended upon her hair, causing the dark locks to curl more tightly than ever.
    She took the road that led towards the stables, but turned off before reaching them, following, instead, the rutted lane that led up onto the moors. Here the ancient lichened stone walls were divided from the lane by a deep ditch, now running with water, and gorse grew in prickly thickets aflame with yellow flowers smelling of almonds. There were foxgloves too, in profusion, and pale-pink mallow, and tangles of wild honeysuckle, all the way up the lane, and the dark granite of rock wore velvety patches of saffron-colored lichen. Beyond the wall were pasture fields, where Mr. Mudge's Guernsey milk cows grazed, the grass a brilliant green between the random whale-shaped crests of hidden boulders, and overhead gulls, flying inland with the weather, wheeled and screamed.

How pretty is that! By typing it out I'm attempting to conjure a rain spell, because we haven't had any in over fifty days and last week our temps were over a hundred degrees.

How are you guys? How's your summer? How's it all going out there, anyway?

 

***Mimi just found this picture floating around somewhere in our bookshelf (I have not seen this one in years!), and I realized I forgot to say thank you for all of your incredibly sweet anniversary wishes. Thank you very, very much. We really appreciate them! You are so kind. Thank you. XOXOXO

P.S.: I made my dress from a Style sewing pattern but I can't figure out what number it was. It was really fun to make and is one of my favorite memories from being engaged.

Wedding

Some Summer Reading!

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It was our twentieth wedding anniversary on July 19. That's the china anniversary, so we were planning to eat Chinese food on our wedding china but instead had our standby anniversary dinner, Rozale Lasagna, named after our first apartment together back in Missoula, Montana, where we lived when that first picture of us was taken, back in 1994 or '95. That picture was taken on Flathead Lake and I can't imagine who took it; I think it might have been a timer selfie taken with my point-and-shoot. We started dating in 1992, but we actually met in . . . 1989? Almost thirty years ago. We were a very unlikely couple and started dating on a whim, literally, after a chance road trip together going to visit some other friends from college. Somewhere in the cornfields between River Forest and Peoria, Illinois, we fell in love in the car and have been together ever since. Being married to Andy Paulson is one of the great miracles of my life and I wake up every morning and still can't believe I ever got this lucky.

Actually, on our actual anniversary we went on a boat ride, above, and wound up having dinner downtown at the world's most unlikely place, Morton's Steak House. Morton's Steak House, in case you don't know, as I didn't, is one of those places that has a super-dark interior with big super-dark leathery chairs and no windows and $59 steaks, where people with expense accounts go when they're traveling for business and trying to schmooze some account rep (maybe). It was, however, blissfully air-conditioned. We wound up there because, after our two-hour boat ride down the river, we were headed over to Piazza Italia in the Pearl (a district that should have been about five or ten minutes away from the boat place) but got stuck in the biggest downtown traffic jam in the world. We were averaging about fifty feet every five or ten minutes. Then we heard the words that strike fear in the heart of every parent sitting in a traffic jam: "Mommy, I need to go potty." Cue me, pulling over (tires squealing . . . just kidding) and tossing the keys to the valet at Morton's Steak House, right in front of which we happened to be most conveniently (or not, stay tuned) sitting, unmoving, in traffic. Into the empty restaurant (it was 5:00 p.m.) and very nice bathroom we went, looking like a bunch of hippies who just tumbled off a boat ride. I won't go into details about the food but will just say that I could have bought her about fifty pairs of new undies for what that (totally overpriced and burnt, ahem) meal cost. But it was an absurd, sweet, really fun and memorable evening, and lord how I love these two. Andy said, "Let's come back in another twenty years but then go somewhere else instead." Ha!

Thank you EVER, EVER, EVER so much for all of the book recommendations. I am so excited about these, and I haven't heard of almost all of them. Amelia wound up picking out my next book, Rosamunde Pilcher's Coming Home, because she liked the cover and color of the spine (pink) and wanted to leave the library, stat. I've never read a Rosamunde Pilcher book before, I don't think, but this one turns out to be perfect for me right now because I just found out through Ancestry DNA that I am actually part English. This is completely shocking and I will tell you more about it later as soon as I figure out a few more things. Sadly, I've also damaged my library book by throwing it into my pool basket and then having everyone's wet towels thrown on top of it so I'm guessing I'll be buying that? I don't think I've ever damaged a library book before so I'm not sure what happens when you do. I feel really bad. I want to finish it quickly so that I can get to some of these on the list you put together. Thank you to everyone who contributed to this list, and I hope you enjoy these!

Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towle
News of the World by Paulette Jiles
The Nightengale Nurses by Donna Douglas
Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center
The Time in Between by Maria Duenas
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan
The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
The Bear and the Nightengale by Katherine Arden
Goodnight from London by Jennifer Robson
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham
The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
The Rook by Daniel O'Malley
The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost
Old Man's War by John Scalzi
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer
Ross Poldark by Winston Graham
The Woolgrower's Companion by Joy Rhoades
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
The Chilbury Ladies Choir by Jennifer Ryan
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
In the Castle of the Flynns by Michael Raleigh
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Song of the Lark by Willa Cather
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Victoria: The Queen by Julia Baird
My Cousin Rachel by Daphne DuMaurier
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan
Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple
Goodnight June by Sarah Jio
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam
The Scarlet Sisters by Helen Batten
The House at the Edge of Night by Catherine Banner
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery
Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander
In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
Burntown by Jennifer McMahon
The Dry by Jane Harper
The Good Daughters by Joyce Maynard
A House Among the Trees by Julia Glass
The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson
The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain
Change Agent by Daniel Suarez
Then She Found Me by Elinor Lipman
The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club by Gil McNeil
The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
Party Girls Die in Pearls by Plum Sykes
Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
The People at Number 9 by Felicity Everett
The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers
Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading by Maureen Corrigan
Princess Elizabeth's Spy by Susan Elia Macneal
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley
Camino Island by John Grisham
Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald
The Trespasser by Tana French
The City Baker's Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller
The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
Raven Black by Ann Cleeves
The Sparrow Sisters by Ellen Herrick
The Great Kitchens of the Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

Also, thank you to everyone who reminded me that the tree book I was talking about was called Trees of Greater Portland. I still have made zero progress on my to-do list re: railings and replanting, but I'm ever hopeful. ;)

Whirl and Swirl

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One by one I've been reading all of the Beatrix Potter stories to Amelia at bedtime. They're quite edgy little stories. Some are too long for her right now. Some I knew and some I've never read before — actually, most classic children's literature was not actually a part of my childhood reading. But I'm enjoying them so much (likely more than Amelia, but isn't that always the way). When we got to The Tale of Two Bad Mice the other night I could not stop laughing: Tom Thumb and his wife, Hunca Munca, notice that the dolls have gone out for the day, so they venture into the dolls' house to have what they think is going to be a marvelous feast. When they find that the beautiful food is all made of plaster, they basically have a fit and trash the doll house. They smash the plates and then try to burn them in the kitchen fireplace, but that's fake, too. Tom Thumb throws all the doll's clothes out of the window. After pulling half of the feathers out of the doll bolster, Hunca Munca (who "had a frugal mind") remembers that "she herself was in want of a feather bed" and they set about stealing the bolster by dragging it to their mouse hole (along with a bunch of other furniture, including the doll-baby cradle). In the end, the dolls return (and silently survey the scene) and the little girl who owns the dollhouse puts a policeman doll in front of the house to guard it. Tom Thumb redeems himself by putting a crooked sixpence that he found under the rug in the doll's Christmas stocking to pay for the damages, and Hunca Munca sneaks in every morning with her broom and dustpan to sweep the dollhouse. I love this story so much. The first time we read it I went downstairs the next morning and stood gaping at Amelia's own utterly trashed dollhouse. "Did the two bad mice do this?" I asked. "Yeah," said Meems, chagrined. I convinced her to put it to rights, but I suspect that Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca might be up to their old tricks in our dollhouse again. . . . The funny thing is that when you start buying miniatures made by miniaturists, tons of it says, literally, "This is not a toy suitable for children under fourteen." Fourteen! Ha. I get that. Like, I think I had my first job at fourteen. When you go to high school you can play with your dollhouse, kid.

I've done almost nothing but cut calico fabric for weeks. Weeks. I stand in the studio, cutting strip after strip for the quilt kits I'm building, and think about things. Often I think about my own inspirations for these quilts in particular, which feel like a story I've been telling myself for a long time. I thought you might like to see some of the images that swirl and twirl around in my head when I'm coming up with a project, so I made this little collection of things, woven together with pictures of some of the actual fabrics that will be going into the kits. These are turning out to be kind of epic, if I do say so. I will give you more info as I get closer to releasing them in the next few weeks, so thank you for your patience. I will be offering a pattern for the quilt-comforter (in sizes from toddler through king, including throw) that you will have to download, and then about a hundred (total) toddler-sized kits to make the quilt top in seven or eight different general colorways. There will be options to purchase kits for larger sizes, as well, but I'm still working that out. I will say that, as with a lot of things that I do, these are a totally limited edition, even more so than usual. All of these fabrics have come from eBay and Etsy or estate sales or my own stash. They are rare. I've spent the past month combing every listing, looking for all of the best stuff, and it has been a massive project. I've cut close to 225 yards of fabric into 4.25" strips by myself. And I have more to go. But I honestly think you're going to be really thrilled when you see these. They're pretty special. Again, stay tuned for more info on these over the next few weeks as I get closer to finishing them. It's taking a long time, I know, but honestly, I pretty much spend every single free minute I have working on them and it's just been a huge project. I think, short of my books, it might be one of the biggest projects I've ever done.

There's no school again this week, for teacher in-service this time. Poor kids. It really never stops raining. We're way ahead of average rainfall for February. Oh that we could have some of this rain during the summer months!!! Yesterday, despite the weather, was a great day. Andy was home and we all went out to lunch and then came back and laid around the house, me knitting, Mimi and Andy playing for hours with the Matchbox car track. Andy made a roast chicken while Amelia and I watched the season one finale of The Great British Baking Show. You get so attached to everybody. It's a very sweet show. Thank for the recommendations of some of the other shows, too. I will check them out.

I finished reading The Orchardist last week, as well, and I don't know that I've ever been so disappointed with a book. (Not since my hissy fit about The Goldfinch, anyway.) When I finished The Orchardist I literally just sat there (alone in my favorite Thai restaurant) shaking — it was, in some ways, so good. But ultimately it felt so empty to me, and it wasn't until the very end, when I finished it and then just put the book down in slow motion, stunned with a very particular kind of Reader's annoyed-disbelief, that I realized how much more I wanted. Demanded. And it was a demand that felt entirely created by the beauty (the almost-beauty) of the book itself. There were so many places where it could have and should have pushed, where something should have been made clear and bright, where hard things to write should have been written and not just circled around and ultimately, almost stylistically and willfully avoided. Toward the end, when Evangelene throws her arms around Talmadge's neck in the wagon after he gets out of jail? There? Right there! That was a massive moment that should have been cracked wide open — even one brilliant sentence could have saved the book there, and it didn't get written. Well, I was mad about this. It felt like plaster food. I marched right upstairs and, though I didn't quite hurl the book, Tom Thumb–style, out the window, I did grab my copy of Howards End (which for me, does the hard things) and huffily opened it, needing my faith restored. Now I will expect too much from you, E.M. Forster. And so it goes.

 

Photos and illustrations, from top to bottom: 1. Cecile Veilhan, My Treasure 2. Eloise Wilkin 3. Unknown, from Pinterest 4. Carmen Hawk 5. Unknown, from Pinterest 6. Erich Heinemann, Siebenpünktchen 7. Ross Laurence 8. Beatrix Potter, from The Tale of Two Bad Mice 9. Girls in Laura Ashely Dresses with King Charles Spaniels, 1970s, from Paris Vogue 10. WIlliam McGeorge, Picking Blackberries 11. Anne Andersen 12. Jill Barklem, from Brambly Hedge: Autumn Story 13. Still from Tess of the D'Urbervilles, 2008 14. Stevie Nicks 15. Tanja Kuvaa, from the Pretty Gingham blog 16. Edouard Vuillard 17. Beatrix Potter, from The Tale of Two Bad Mice 18. Sarah Freeman and Emma Ashley Photographed in Laura Ashley Dresses, 1960s, from Paris Vogue 19. Eloise Wilkin, from My Goodnight Book 20. Sleeping Mimi (by me) 21. Tasha Tudor 22. Jill Barklem, from Brambly Hedge: Spring Story 23. Sydney R. Jones, The Village Homes of England

Hot Stitches

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Well, I've been trying to write this thing for five days!

Summer is nuts. It kind of leaves me speechless. Yesterday my car thermometer was consistently showing it was over 100 degrees. My bad foot hates hot weather and so do I. I had to take Amelia with me to Target to get a bunch of stuff for our vacation: coloring books and new toothbrushes and ever more sunscreen and mosquito spray and a new backpack and all that kind of junk. It filled up half the cart. How we're ever going to pack it all I do not know. Pushing the cart with her in it out to the car was as far as I wanted to walk without air conditioning. This was all after cleaning the house, watering the pots, having a morning play date at a friend's house, going to swimming lessons (on the other side of town), eating lunch at the bakery (where she ran around the bakery or sat under the table), and driving down SE 82nd Avenue (ugh). I remember at our wedding, Andy's sweet little grandmother, Ruth. I happened to be standing near her when someone said to her, "Oh, Ruth! Isn't this wonderful! You must be having such a great day!" And (it was also about 90 degrees out that day) she goes, "Oh, yes. Get in the car, get out of the car. Get in the pew, get out of the pew. Get back in the car, get out of the car." All with a twinkle in her eye. This week my eye has more of a rabid, possibly heat-stroked, unblinking glare in it. I got to sleep in to a whole 5:30 a.m. this morning (yes, we generally get up at 5:00 due to Andy's work schedule/our child, the human alarm clock). Amelia came bounding upstairs looking like a wild animal, her hair literally going in every direction, part of it held back by the two mini-braids I never took out before bedtime last night. I said, "You need a bath. Go tell Daddy you look like Nell." Summer.

Knitting. I knit like a woman on fire. It's like some kind of homeopathy, wool + heat, like eating spicy food in India. I knit an entire extra-large sweater in a week and a half. Could not, would not stop. I am so proud of my sweater. I love how it came out and it was such a great experience. I love knitting fair-isle. This is the second sweater I've ever made for myself. I've started two more sweaters for myself (pictured above, and on my Ravelry page). I must be asserting myself somehow. Lord, please, please let it get cold enough to wear sweaters. Soon. Or ever.

THANK YOU for the recommendations for new yarns to try. Thank you, thank you! That is such a rad list, and I'm so excited to explore your suggestions. Some of the yarns you like are familiar to me, and many are brand new, so I will have to order some samples and make some plans. I didn't have enough time to do that before planning my vacation projects, but oh, this fall. I can't wait. I wanted to wear the sweater to the Avett Brothers show at Edgefield the other night (it was actually cool and beautiful; what a beautiful night in every way that was). It wasn't quite cold enough, but maybe at the lake in a few weeks. . . . Anyway, thank you for your very helpful suggestions lately. I truly appreciate them and will let you know what I come up with.

I did get to go to Powell's one wonderful afternoon and get some cozy mysteries. That was FUN. That was so much fun. I made a handwritten list of all of the books and authors you suggested and then I just went up and down the aisles, seeing what they had. I chose authors that I had 1) never read before and 2) had the first book in whatever series they've written available right there on the shelf. If the first book of the series wasn't available, I usually moved on (not every time, in the case of Jeanne M. Dams — the covers were so good). Did you ever notice how impossible it can be to figure out what the first book in a mystery series can be (without the benefit of the internet at your fingertips)? It's so weird. Why is that. Anyway, I got a whole big bunch of books. Can you tell I'm excited to have some time to read? I hope I get to. I can't wait.

I hope you are all well! I'm sorry I haven't been here as much as usual. I don't have any dedicated childcare this summer and my time on the computer is so limited. That'll change in the fall, but for now, I'm waving as I race by: Hi!!! I hope all is well with you!!!

Spring Swing

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Days of spring and flowering things. Our girl is busy and buzzing like a bumblebee, flitting from blossom to blossom, up, down and all around. The air is alternately chilly and warming, and the green is fluorescent and glowing. I love the quiet, gray mornings; the sound of crows swooping and calling; the clematis clinging and crawling along the fence, magnolia petals browning. Spring is so, so pretty. I had an impulse to weave something. I drove out to the country on a beautiful afternoon and bought a Schacht School Loom (I got it from Pacific Wool and Fiber in Newburg but it's not on their web site). I followed the directions that were included with the loom and threaded the warp (I'd never done this before, but it was really easy) and then just started weaving. Randomly. Here is a nice tutorial on getting started.

I can't seem to stop weaving now. It's incredibly calming. Have you done it? I remember that I've done it twice before — once as a really little kid, making a little blue weaving for my dad's birthday on a cardboard loom. The other time was in college when I was taking a studio art survey course. I remember that there was a lot of drama going on socially at the time, and I totally remember just sitting in the weaving studio going back and forth with the yarn and thinking, "Yes, please, I'd just like to stay right here and do this, then." It was also spring, then. It feels like a good time to start new things, and I've needed that lately. I'm excited. It's been a long time since I started something new.

I did a little cross stitch design for the incredibly talented Carrie Hoge's new project, details of which are coming soon. I love those two colors, mineral blue and rose-gold, together.

The illustrations are from two of the library books we got out this week, Hondo Escapes and The Story of the Root Children. Story time, when we're tucked up in bed in our nighties and tucked under our quilts and covers and (still) wool blankets (though it is staying ever more light outside), is fast becoming my favorite part of the day. She's listening so intently now.

Sweet, sweet spring. It's almost too much to talk about, so I'll just let these pictures tell my story for the past few days.

Down Home

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So, naturally, all we ever do is eat now, with occasional trips to some kind of water and some kind of summer reading. NOT BAD.

It's very good.

There has been: Homemade pizza dough and sauce from one of my all-time-favorite cookbooks, The River Cottage Family Cookbook; another very excellent pasta dish with prosciutto and peas from Barilla; possibly the best pork carnitas tacos I have ever had, let alone made — done in the SLOW COOKER, to boot! My history with the slow cooker basically sucks (you might remember the Alicia-slow-cooker-disasters of a few years ago), but I'm not kidding — this stuff was beyond good. I did everything exactly how that recipe said, and served the tacos with really good thick, home-style tortillas (can't remember the brand, but I think they're new, they have cursive writing on the package), minced red onion, diced avocado, diced mango, and a few blobs of sour cream (go for Wallaby, if you can find it, oh my). Squeeze of fresh lime over all. My gosh. Reason alone not to take the slow cooker to Goodwill.

I've been so lucky with my recipes lately. I also made this blueberry custard pie. It was delicious, though a bit heavy on the streusel topping for my taste. Next time I make it I might even leave that off; it looked so gorgeous when I took it out of the oven to put the streusel on (you bake it for twenty minutes before to put the streusel on) I almost didn't add it. It kind of overpowered the more delicate custard and blueberry flavors, for me. But still, seriously not complaining, it was very good. And some of those blueberries came from our little bush.

I got a huge stack of young-adult library books for myself from our downtown library the other day. They have a ton of vintage books in the children's department. I actually had, like, a bit of an emotional moment back there. It's just trippy to see these actual copies of books I read as a kid in the 70s and 80s. They have tons of them! I've never thought too much about time travel before, but I think I just did it. . . .

I have so many library books checked out right now it's just silly. Meems and I have gone to a different branch every other week or so this summer. We've hit Belmont, Hollywood, Woodstock, NW 23rd, North Portland, and Central (downtown). Central is my favorite so far. Mimi's still a little too young — she prefers playing with the toys there, or pulling all of those plastic alphabet separator things off of the shelves, or just pulling books off the shelves and throwing them on the floor in general. Or pulling the special library tape off of the special library-book dust jackets. I've had to ask a couple of librarians to give her a little speech about not damaging the books and she takes that very seriously. When she forgets and starts to pull the tape off a cover at home I say, "Remember what The Lady said about not pulling off the covers of the library books?" And she gets this wide-eyed "oh yeah!" sort of look on her face, and stops, remembering what The Lady said. But she's also at the great age where we can now pretty much read any book and she will sit still and listen, and help finish sentences. (Isn't it incredible, what they remember?) We read five or six and sometimes up to nine or ten books a night. For a long time she would reject half of any new ones I introduced, preferring to read the same ones over and over. But now, at almost three, she's down with all of it, and my heart trills with joy. I could read all night.

Speaking of books, try Hemp Masters: Ancient Hippie Secrets for Knotting Hip Hemp Jewelry (I say this with a straight face) if you want to make a micro-macrame necklace like mine. I got it a few years ago and made myself a necklace then (here's a picture, no pattern). I wore it so much it broke (they eventually break). I've wanted another one ever since but just never around to it, even though I still had all of the hemp and beads and stuff. I used 42 feet of 10lb hemp cord (like this) and some small wooden and stone beads for one necklace. I pretty much looked at the book to learn how to do the knots but I couldn't seem to follow the patterns. So I just started going, figuring that when I got down to about 8.5" I would place my center bead, and then mirror what I had done (square knots, switch knots, pretzel knots, half knot sinnets — these are all in the book). I've done most of it at night while watching my favorite show, Ice Lake Rebels. I'm almost finished (probably tonight) and I'll add the lobster clasp (bites nails — a little nervous about finishing it off properly, stay tuned).

And, yeah, I'm also making a plastic needlepoint canvas log cabin for my daughter's third birthday. Because I cannot help myself.

About Alicia Paulson

About

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

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Photography

Photography

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