Posts filed in: Crocheting and Knitting

Six More Weeks

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Well, it finally happened. The knitting mania I was experiencing burnt itself out, and I'm not really sad. I had been eyeing the Teru sweater for a while and really wanted to make it but after only one evening it had already bested me. You can see it above, that piddly little amount of neckline knitting in the cream-colored donegal with the beginnings of blackberry-colored fair-isle starting. I didn't make any mistakes or anything like that, and the pattern is, seriously, a work of art, but it is fingering-weight, and complicated, and, after knitting for many hours, I was literally only maybe an inch into it. I looked at it and I was like, "Yeah, I'm done." And it was kind of a good feeling, actually. Knitting-wise, I had been pretty wild-eyed in general for the past two months. My purple heather honeybee sweater is still happening but I've made lots of mistakes in the lace and it's feeling kind of sloppy. I have some yarn on order to cast on for a South Bay sweater, which is mostly just gobs and gobs of stockinette with only small areas of interest, so that will be nice and easy, and like something that a normal person with a five-year-old instead of, like, a lady who's getting paid by the stitch, or something, would knit. So yeah, in general, now that it is February, I'm mostly relieved that I'm breathing regularly instead of hyperventilating. That was intense. And thanks to Punxatawney Phil, we still have lots of winter left.

The house is a disaster. Small piles of I-don't-know-what are hanging around like beached detritus leftover from storm season. Thirty books, a fish mobile, a party hat, fourteen Calico Critters, pieces of yarn, peeled off stickers, apple peels that someone threw on the floor and tried to pretend she didn't throw on the floor, zillions of Legos, stray baby socks, broken crayons, snapped-off pieces of a bowling-alley-arcade crown, naked dolls, entire handmade XL sweaters, stitch markers, random pieces of paper, lip balm, a wooden spoon. Amelia, lately, has been trying out operatic responses to the smallest of tragedies — gales of tears when she scrapes a knee, shrieks of despair when something goes missing (as if it could not; see above). The other day in the schoolyard: wails of frustration when she saw that something had fallen into this deep window-well that houses a bunch of pipes and machinery stuff alongside the church in which the preschool is housed. The window-well is bordered by a metal railing which is covered in some kind of cage thing so the kids can't fall into it. Amelia stood and sobbed, pointing. She called me over and I went, expecting from her intensity to see, I don't know, a hurt kitten? a abandoned baby bird? a million dollars that couldn't be reached? Instead it was . . . a barrette. And not even one of her pretty felt-flower barrettes, but just one of those ubiquitous little metal clippies. I literally could hardly see it. Dramatic crying and continued pointing by Amelia into well. "Hmmmm," said I, "I think that one's been sacrificed, darling." I went back to the wall where I had been sitting and talking with mom friends. Within minutes, however, three dads and a handful of kids were all peering into the window-well through the fencing. Something was happening. A rescue operation had ensued. The guys were so into it I didn't have the heart to tell them we had at least two hundred barrettes per room, back at the house. Quiet peering into the depths of the well continued. We could see consultations and apparent breath-holding. Then, suddenly, a great cheer went up from kid and man alike: Aaron (dad) had found a magnet and Frank (dad) had produced one of those metal handyman tape measures from his pocket and they had literally fished the metal barrette from the depths of the well. Amelia, now smiling, was also mildly nonplussed; these dramas are rather short-lived and also half-hearted, for all their volume, and, anyway, she is already quite sure dads can do anything. I love our school friends. I'm already starting to have a lot of nostalgia over our time at the preschool, as none of the families with whom we currently go to preschool will be going to the school Amelia is going to next year.

So, the house is a mess and Amelia's room is completely nuts with tiny things covering every surface, rugs bunched up under bed legs, and clothes stuffed into corners, and instead of knitting, I'm now crocheting. My (lovely, I must say) Shetland Adventure shawl came off the blocking board on Tuesday and promptly went right 'round my neck, where it stayed for hours and hours, cuddling me. Hap shawls really are lovely in every way, and that one (I only made the top layer, as the bottom one felt a bit too fussy for the way I dress, which is, most days, still like an eighth-grade volleyball coach, with all due respect to mine) certainly was. It only barely bit into the third skein of fingering weight, so there went another almost-full skein of yarn into the stash. Hrumpf. Curious, I pulled out my old between-projects project, my Beatrix Blanket (which has, for months, been going nowhere). And suddenly I decided that I wanted to make something other than that for Amelia's bed — instead, I am going to do a little checkerboard granny square inspired by this one but with this pattern for the square. All fingering and sport and almost entirely stash. Random colors with a very creamy pale lavender (this yarn, gloriously called Oyster Mushroom, which I have four or five skeins of already) contrast. In the shower this morning I also had the idea to maybe add a few little fabric patches in there, too, but we'll see how that goes. Anyway, stay tuned for that. Amelia is getting a new full-sized Calicozy, too, out of fabric that I have been collecting just for her for quite a while, so I'm excited about it, though I still haven't done a bit of actual work on it. Nevertheless, I'm hoping it — both — will inspire me to start cleaning.

Luckily, my new spring cross-stitch design is finished. Unluckily, the fabric I chose (a piece of which I happened to already have in my stash and so did not call ahead to the distributor to see how much they had on hand or could get before planning to design an entire kit around it) has NATURALLY been discontinued. Thus I continue my winning record of picking out things that are mere moments from being discontinued. It appears to be my truest talent, honestly. Waiting to hear how many yards Wichelt has on hand before I decide what to do. But am still planning on releasing this new design this spring. It's also an 8" x 10", like First Snow, and my plan is to do one for each season.

A cautionary tale (or two):

My best friend, Martha, lives near Boston. We were college roommates and we now talk (text) every day, and have done for many years. She is a single mom and also has a little girl, so there's not a lot of time for either of us during the day. She is three hours ahead of me, so every night after I put Mimi to bed, I get back downstairs around 7 p.m. my time, 10 p.m. Martha's time, and we chat about everything and nothing.

On Wednesday after school, Mimi and I had gone to Fabric Depot to get some interfacing and ribbon for a blouse I'd made for myself. After that, I took her out to an early dinner, where she didn't eat anything and instead, as soon as her ravioli arrived, laid down on the booth bench and asked if she could take her socks off. This was quite strange, as she is a great restaurant kid with a hearty appetite who also generally never stops talking. But instead she was quiet, and on the way home she fell asleep in the car (unheard of). I started to worry that she might not be feeling well again, though she had no temperature and said her throat felt fine. But as soon as we got home we went straight upstairs and started her bedtime routine, even though it was still light out. By 6:00 she was in bed and I was back downstairs, telling Martha that I had just put Amelia to bed and was a bit worried that she wasn't feeling well. No sooner had I sent the text than I heard a warbling, "Mommy? I need to go pottttttttty. . . ." Cue me, sprinting upstairs. "Mama, I have a tummy ache. . . ." And this time the tears were utterly real. Her discomfort was heartbreaking. I suddenly remembered that there had been sugar-free gummy bears granted in line at Fabric Depot. Mimi is actually pretty good about not asking for that crap at check-out (there must be thirty different mini-packs of jelly bellies right there, where you get it line), and sometimes I say yes, and sometimes I say no. This time I'd said, regrettably, yes. "I can never have candy again!!!" she said, face covered in tears. "Next Halloween I'm going to put on my costume but I'm just going to walk around the blooo-ooo-oooock." Oh, my dear sweet honey! My heart was breaking. I assured her that one day there would again be some candy in her future. We sat there in the bathroom together for forty-five minutes until she was . . . finished . . . and I had her laughing again, and literally the second it was all over it was like it had never happened. She bounced off to bed, I tucked her in, she rolled over and grabbed Foxie, and we said our good nights and I love yous and sweet dreamses. I breathed a cautious sigh of relief and went back downstairs and texted Andy (who was at work) to tell him what had happened, and said I was mildly worried that she had the flu but I was much more sure that the episode was caused by the gummy bears I'd approved earlier that afternoon [guilty grimace]. Then I texted and told Martha, who had also been sick earlier this week. Before she could answer, Andy replied to me with this:

Sugarless Haribo Gummy Bear Reviews On Amazon Are The Most Insane Thing You'll Read Today

So, I'm reading that article and practically falling of the couch horrified-laughing (people are hilarious), and then sending it over to Martha and saying, "Uh, yeah, it was the gummy bears," when she answers back:

"I just threw up ten times."

Me [stunned]: "Oh no honey! You have the flu! Are you okay???"

And then she goes:

"I think I drank old daffodil water after I took the NyQuil."

Me: "SAY WHAT?"

I'm paraphrasing.

It turns out, she'd bought three small bunches of daffodils from Trader Joe's earlier that day, then put them in a glass of water on the counter, planning to bring them to her boyfriend's house for his birthday later that night. They were in the water for about four hours. She said that in retrospect she thought the water tasted funny but she had gulped it because of the NyQuil. Then this, from Jonathan (boyfriend):

"All parts of the daffodil contain a toxic chemical, lycorine. The part of the plant that contains the highest concentration of lycorine is the bulb. However, eating any part of the plant can cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. These symptoms usually last about 3 hours. More severe problems such as low blood pressure, drowsiness, and damage to the liver have been reported in animals that ate very large amounts of the plant but have never been reported in humans.

"The bulb also contains chemicals called oxalates, which are microscopic and needle-like. When swallowed, oxalates cause severe burning and irritation of the lips, tongue, and throat. They can also cause skin irritation.

"Usually, the only treatment required is rinsing the mouth well and drinking water or milk. If vomiting and diarrhea persist, watch for dehydration. If a person is having severe throat pain, difficulty swallowing, or drooling, medical evaluation and treatment is needed."

Source

Martha: "Apparently there are several posts about this. I'm not the first person to drink daffodil water."

Me: "I shouldn't be laughing at that last one."

Martha: "It's okay. It's kind of hysterical. Except not right now. For me."

Me: "Neither you nor Mimi is allowed to eat sugar-free gummy bears nor drink daffodil water ever again!!!"

Martha: "Okay. FINE!!!"

For the record, she felt better throughout the night and then went to bed. When Andy got home he was with our friend Jeff, also a nurse. They'd brought sandwiches and were planning to play Atari in the garage. I told them about Martha and then asked if they'd known that sugar-free gummy bears apparently "power-wash your intestines." Andy said he hadn't know, but he'd mentioned it to another nurse at work and she'd immediately gasped and said, "Oh my gosh, that's, like, a thing." And then they looked it up. So I'm here to warn you. The pains are real. #truestory

Winterland

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I don't want January to end. I don't.

Mimi and I were both fighting low-grade colds this past week. We were lucky, and we never really got that sick. But her nose was running a little bit, and her voice was raspy for a day or two. We had taken her out of school last Thursday to all go out to breakfast together and then take her to her first movie in the theater (Paddington 2 — loved it). Then Andy was off on Friday and he just wanted to hang out with her so we kept her out on Friday. Then on Saturday I had a funny feeling in my eyeballs, which is always my first symptom of sickness — my eyeballs feel hot. By Monday I had called her in yet again and she and I made a poorly bed on the sofa and snuggled in for the day. She played with every toy she had and we ate every meal at home, which trashed the house repeatedly, day after day. She insisted on cleaning up by picking up every mini Lego with a pair of tongs. She got all the pieces in that giant yellow box that makes no sense to me (if you have this thing, you probably know what I'm talking about). I was in the kitchen while she was putting it on her shelf and I just heard this tremendous CRASH and then the cascade of Legos spilling everywhere. And then, you know, HOWLING. Etc. Damn you, Legos. Legos at 5 p.m. So we trashed the house and I (mostly) cleaned it, and then we trashed and then I cleaned and then we trashed, etc. This continued through Wednesday. She went back on Thursday. I missed her terribly but it was nice to finally get to take some deep breaths and relaxxxxxxxxxx.

I love winter so much, even though winter in Portland pretty much sucks. No snow, just gray. The yard is seriously disgusting. Rain. Everything's brown except the sky, which is low and gray. Or kind of white. But I don't care. Be gross, Portland. I don't care. Let it rain. Nothing out there needs me. The garden doesn't need watering, the pool is closed. The evening comes early. The morning starts late. I drink coffee and bake. We stay home. I have things delivered. I knit. Apparently, I don't work. :| Yikes. I should be working, but I don't feel like it. I have so much to do but apparently I don't care about that either [insert freaked-out-looking emoji guy]. I have taxes to do and a doll pattern to design and kits to develop and a spring cross-stitch pattern to work on. I gave myself January. I see daffodil and iris shoots starting to appear and they are making me feel anxious. I'm just not ready to be done with this rest.

January.

I finished my Ranunculus cardigan and I absolutely love it. Love it. It's just perfect for me. I still can't believe it. That's THREE SWEATERS now that I've made and that fit me. This one's big and floppy and airy. It's DK-weight yarn knit on size 10 needles (for you non-knitters, that means this yarn is fairly thin and the needles are fairly big and this results in a fairly porous fabric) and the sweater is meant to be quite wide and oversized to begin with. The sleeves grew quite a bit with blocking, so they are a longer than I would like — full-length on me instead of 3/4-length, which is what I was going for. The yarn is kind of strange. I used Arranmore Light, which is mostly wool with a bit of silk and a bit of cashmere (goat). I loved it in the skein but knit up it almost feels like cotton to me. I guess that's the silk. So it's not, like, the coziest sweater in the world. There's very little halo on this yarn, and that's not exactly what I was going for, either. But I still love the sweater and the whole thing was a great experience.

Thank you ever so much for all of the knitting podcast recommendations. Wow. I'm so excited. I haven't had a chance to watch any because I've been with Mimi almost every minute of the past week, but I can't wait to check them out. Thank you!

I'm thinking more about yarn than I ever have. More and more I realize that I'm partial to a very specific kind of yarn, plain wooly with some halo, fairly soft but with good definition, too. I started yet another sweater yesterday. This one is, once again, based on the Ellen Cardigan. I did some math (I did math!) to figure out how to make it a straight raglan instead of a circular yoke and added the honeybee lace panels to the front. The yarn I'm using for this one is Cascade 220 Heather (and the color is Iridescence). This is a very popular yarn that comes in gobs of colors for nice price and for some reason this is the first time I've ever used it, I think, and I really like it.

Shockingly successful knitting balanced by baking fails. That thing with the swirlies was the Butter Cake from Scandikitchen Fika and Hygge and it blobbed all over the oven and turned into goo in the middle. As I said on Instagram, I should've taken a picture of that but I was in crisis and didn't think to. Womp womp. I need to start making soups. Or, like, any food that isn't dessert would be a good start. That might be a good place to start.

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?

Happy New Year!

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Well, hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii! Hello. Happy New Year! I hope yours is starting out well. Lazy days turned into lazy weeks, here. It was glorious. It snowed. Things got cancelled. Things got rescheduled. Family came. Family went. The house got trashed. Movies were watched over and over. I knit and knit. Toys were played with. Books were read. Lots of treats were eaten. Lots of snuggling happened. Lots of days involved no driving whatsoever. Lots of mornings started incredibly late. Lots of baths got taken. Antidote to occasional intrusions of holiday stress: hours of mind-tranquilizing tasks. Like knitting row upon row upon row of stockinette stitch. Winding about a hundred skeins of embroidery floss onto tiny plastic bobbins and arranging them by color into boxes (a job that has needed doing for YEARS now). Cross stitching, ripping out, stitching again. Middle age descends: here's me, sitting in my cozy corner under a comforter doing these things while wearing a new flannel nightgown and watching Just in Time for Christmas. My happy place. I think I was purring. Ohhhhh, you know. It was lovely. I needed it. We all did. I hope your holidays were just as wonderful.

I blocked and put buttons on my Ellen Cardigan (still have yet to put it on Ravelry, sorry) and oh, how I love that thing. I'm really proud of it. It's the third or fourth sweater I've knit for myself and the first one that's ever fit me perfectly. As I mentioned before, I followed the colors of the original pattern exactly, and I made no modifications to the knitting (size 48). I loooooove it. I immediately started  another one based on the exact same sweater pattern, but changing the yoke design. For a while now I've been wanting to make the Ryðrauð sweater but I was nervous about doing any sweater from the bottom up, or, honestly, any sweater other than the Ellen (from now on, forever and ever) because I find it almost traumatizing to make sweaters for myself that don't fit. As I said, I've only made a handful for myself but, if I'm honest, there is something about every one of them that I just don't like. The neck on my Ramona cardigan is just way too big and falls off my shoulders. My Strokkur I made too short and I'm constantly pulling it down (well, I would be constantly pulling it down if I actually wore it). My Birkin sweater was tragic (yoke too deep, my colorwork too puckered, the neckline too funneled, body too big, sleeves started way too low on me, etc.). It just doesn’t fit my shape well. And that was size XL in fingering-weight yarn [shrieking]. I’ve seen plenty of people make this pattern now and it looks so gorgeous on them in all of the photos I’ve seen, but I just didn’t succeed with it. I don't have very much experience knitting adult-sized garments and I find it to be very intimidating and weirdly heartbreaking when I do finally take the plunge and it just doesn't work out. I know I should just chalk it up to experience but I don't. Instead, I just stop trying. But for some reason the Ellen Cardigan seemed like it would work out for me and then it did, and I don't know that I've ever been so happy with anything that I've ever made for myself, sewing included, and it gave me a lot of confidence. It was such a good feeling. Has that ever happened to you?

So, back to the Ryðrauð. I first saw Lori's version of that sweater a few years ago and I just thought it was so pretty. But, as mentioned, immediately after finishing Ellen I was nervous about ever making a sweater that doesn't fit like Ellen. So I took the Ellen colorwork chart for my size and figured out (on my cross-stitch software) a modified, simplified version of the Ryðrauð flowers that would fit right into the Ellen yoke and also could be done from the top down. And that kind of looked like this:

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I really had no idea how to do the chart the right way re: the repeat, so this is the whole yoke. Pffff! It worked out pretty well, except that as you can see there are huge spaces between the contrast color stitches of the taller motifs on the first few rows. I tried to float the yarn as loosely as I possibly could but it's still puckering a bit so we'll just have to see how it goes. But I think it's okay-enough. Also, I knit the neckband directly onto the yoke in the navy blue version; the Ellen has you pick that up last and I found that it curls a bit (and also makes the buttonholes space out rather poorly at the top, then).

Anyway, this morning I was trying to get caught up with my overflowing and neglected email in-box (yes, I pretty much suck at everything that has to do with answering all but the most urgent emails, even on my best days) and noticed that a blog reader named Kristi (hi, Kristi!) had suggested that I watch a podcast from Nicole at The Gentle Knitter. I follow Nicole on Instagram and love her work so much but I didn't really know about the podcast. I tuned in to the first few episodes and was totally thrilled to find that she was (or, actually, had been a year ago) knitting the Ryðrauð sweater (also inspired by Lori's version)! Snap! Well, Nicole is, like, the most patient, lovely, gentle creature on earth and she explains everything in such a calming way and she has so many interesting things to say about the Ryðrauð that it is well worth watching if you are interested in knitting it. She also talked about how you can catch long floats on the back of the sweater and I didn't even know that, so I will definitely have to look into that for next time. Also, I don't know, but if this navy version works out and I find myself with at least two sweaters in my closet that I love to wear, I might branch out a little more and risk making more things for myself. I purled the colorwork, above, and it's kind of a giant pain. So, all this is to say that 2018 might be my year of steeking more sweaters (I've only done it once before, for Mimi), and that's kind of an exciting feeling.

Ramble, ramble. I haven't gotten out too much lately.

What kind of cake should I make for my birthday?

Full Swing

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We're in it, here: full fall swing. Halloween came and went in a frenzy of costume-sewing/meowing/negotiating for candy. Kids are so obsessed with candy!!! Amelia says she wants one piece of candy after dinner after she accomplishes her "chores." The things she considers her "chores" include: setting up the pillows on the couch in a nice way and propping up various stuffed animals at charming angles to greet me when I come back downstairs after putting her to bed; putting her eighteen pairs of shoes and boots back in her baskets instead of leaving them in the middle of the floor; hanging up her coat instead of dropping it in the middle of the floor; putting away her scarf and hat instead of dropping them in the middle of the floor; climbing on all manner of furniture to reach the wood blinds to pull them down and close them before she goes up to bed; remembering to wash her hands without being told after going to the bathroom. Hrmmmmmmm. . . . Good deal for her, eh? These are all the things she is supposed to do anyway. . . . Maybe it's really a good deal for me. Now she does all of them in lightning speed while singing the clean-up song and then comes skidding to a halt in front of me, smiling and holding her cupped hands out to receive her treat. I don't bribe with sugar under normal circumstances, but hellity hell it really works! Good thing she only has three pieces of candy left. This is too easy. . . .

THANK YOU for the discussion on working from home vs. renting a remote space. That was really fascinating and I truly appreciate so many of you taking the time to share your experience and thoughts with me. I really needed to hear all of that and I am so appreciative of the perspectives. I would only be going to an off-property space during the time that Amelia is in school, and I would still probably keep my sewing stuff here, but honestly, I really am now thinking it's probably too complicated and too expensive to consider. I think I have fantasies of having a really cool, big, shared, white-washed space where other people would be hanging out doing creative things, and I could have room to store my stuff and still have it all within reach, and also not have it anywhere in the living space. Like, embroidery floss, for instance. When we work on kits, we have a palette of probably sixty? seventy? different colors that I routinely use in my designs. Each color has a big, fat 500g cone of floss. For kits, we break down the big cone by winding it onto several different smaller cones, depending on how many strands of that color you need in a kit. So in First Snow, for instance, we have over thirty colors and over fifty separate lengths of floss. Each length needs its own cone since we pull all the floss at the same time. So that's a lot of cones sitting in the office over the weeks that we are working on this. It's just not realistic to be schlepping them up and down from the basement every day. Felt and fabric, too — they take up a lot of space. Welllllll, you get it. But honestly, I took every single comment truly to heart and you gave me so much to think about. And I think the obvious conclusion Andy and I came to was that we need to clean out the basement thoroughly, and think of more creative storage solutions right here on our property. We have a pretty small basement, as half of the house only has a crawl space underneath it. We do have attic storage, although it's truly just storage, not standing room, and you have to use a ladder to get up into it through the ceiling in the hallway. But these are all just details I need to think through more thoroughly, and I think I can do that, especially when I have more time to think. As I said, I definitely have time to decide, as we wouldn't be doing anything (except reorganizing here) until the year after next. But just reading through everything you wrote gave me a more hefty appreciation for all of the great things about working from home, and that was really helpful, so thank you.

It's about the most blustery, Winnie-the-Poohish day you could imagine here today. The trees are whipping around outside my rain-spattered window, and the wind is howling. I keep hearing things thwack against the house and the porch. Tonight is our school lantern walk, and I don't know how those little lanterns are going to stay lit in this gale. I've been cooking and baking lately. I made a frittata like Megan's with roasted delicata squash, sauteed mushrooms, fresh spinach, and chevre, and it was delicious. I made the NYT's curried cauliflower soup and it was really nice, especially with the famous but no-less-delicious-for-that Dutch oven no-knead bread. I did Mark Bittman's speedy version as well as the long version, and quite honestly, there was no appreciable difference that I could taste or tell, so it's Version Speedy for us from now on, and bread in 4.5 hours. That bread is so good. I mean, what in the world? How is it even possible to get something that tastes like this out of a regular kitchen, with so little effort? I can't even deal with it. I don't even like bread that much (unless it's really, really good) but that thing is amazing. I've made it probably ten times over the past few years and it works every time. I also made Mark Bittman's Everyday Pancakes and those were very good. I've totally been getting my money's worth out of my New York Times Cooking subscription and highly recommend it. Everything I've made from it has been great. I love surfing it on my iPad for relaxation. The photos are beautiful. I don't know. I needed some cooking inspiration, and this has been good for me. I seem to need a lot of hand-holding in the kitchen. I love to cook but even after all of these years of cooking I absolutely need recipes. I cannot think of a single thing that I know how to cook by heart. Not one single thing! I'm also kind of a picky eater, so, in all honesty, a lot of cookbooks don't really work that well for me as anything other than inspiration or eye candy, because I find that I might make one thing out of the whole book. Maybe two. I keep the books because they're beautiful. But they aren't that practical for the way I cook. I totally cherry pick, and I like the "search" function. Anyway, this isn't an ad — I mean, I guess it is, but it's unintentional — I have just been happy with that subscription and it's getting me out of my cooking shell, or rather my non-cooking shell, and Andy and I are both happy about that. Maybe it's also just the season of cooking for me. I love fall and winter food so much more than summer.

I've also been knitting hats and gloves and cowls. I don't have any photos of any of them, apparently, but I will take some. I'm using this pattern and have bought lots of colors of Worsted Twist yarn in many of the same colors they show to make us a bunch of stuff that we need for cold weather, and I'm really enjoying this kind of knitting — lots of stockinette, lots of knitting in the round, nothing very complicated, small things that go quickly and feel soft and warm and utterly practical. I seem to need a lot of direction lately. It's kind of a wonderful relief, I have to say.

Sweater Weather

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Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all of your sweet birthday wishes and for indulging me, as you all always do. I have so much to say about five. I think I'm going to have more time to talk and I'm looking forward to that. I took Clover out for a little walk, and that's something I rarely if ever do anymore. Andy and Amelia do all of the dog walking; I save my steps for the things that no one but me can do. But it was so lovely to be outside, in the rain, alone with my little dog, who is such an excellent and polite walker, who walks to my left with slack in the leash, who stops to sniff but not so much that it's annoying. We had such a nice time together, and it felt like the first day of fall for me, somehow. This season starts the half of the year that makes me feel the most like myself. I'm a cloud-cover, cold-weather person. I like to huddle and hibernate. I like quiet and I like rain and I like television. I like dark skies and candles and yarn in my hands, and I like sofas. And flannel sheets and flannel nightgowns.

Today was Amelia's birthday celebration at preschool. They invite us parents to come to the school for our kid's celebration every year. We ate vegetable soup with the kids and then the teacher passed out the dried apples that I'd made, at Amelia's request, for snack. It's so sweet. One of the teachers plays the mandolin and they sing songs that all the kids know and we don't. We fold ourselves under ourselves and "sit" in the circle on the tiniest little benches and share pictures of Amelia at every age, and talk about special things that happened to her at each age. She wears a rainbow silk cape and a crown and walks around the "sun" (a lit candle), once for each year, while everyone sings and then says out loud a special wish for her. I'm going to miss these particular preschool rituals that make things so special. We'll have to continue them, though it's clear that part of what makes them so special is that they belong to this group, and to this enchanted time.

Last night I made my mom's chicken and dumplings, which is, in fact, chicken paprika with dumplings. This is the thing that I request most often from my mom when she asks me if I want her to make me something. I had tried to make it a couple of years ago but I did not do it right (I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts) and it was a disaster. Yesterday I used skin-on, bone-in thighs, and it was brilliant. It is quite rich and decadent, so you don't need to eat much, but it's wonderful every once in a great while. I highly recommend this.

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My Mom's Chicken Paprika

Chicken and sauce:

4 tablespoons butter
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, or any combination of bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces to make about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds
1/2 c. (or more) sour cream

In large Dutch oven, saute onion gently in butter over medium heat. Add paprika and stir around, being careful not to burn paprika. Rinse chicken pieces and add, skin-side down, to pot. Turn after 4 or 5 minutes, and let "brown" on other side (though they won't really brown, since the pan will be pretty juicy; alternatively, to make it a bit less fatty, you could brown the chicken in a bit of oil then pour out most of rendered fat before adding the butter, onions, paprika, and chicken back in, and maybe add a bit of chicken stock to the pan — but the recipe above is how my mom does it). Sprinkle about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper over all, turn skin-side back down, then cover and turn heat down to low simmer for about 1 hour. Test chicken for doneness and remove pot from heat. Discard the skin, which should be falling off (and look really gross). There should be a fair amount of liquid (sauce) in the bottom of pot. Stir a bit of the sauce into the sour cream to temper it. Add sour cream mixture back into sauce. Depending on how much sauce you have, add more sour cream to taste. Reheat slowly if necessary and serve over dumplings, below.

Dumplings:

5 large eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
Splash of water
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
1/4 cup plain breadcrumbs

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Beat eggs with whisk and add flour. Stir to just combine. Add a splash of cold water until consistency is like thick oatmeal. Don't worry if it is lumpy. Drop by half-teaspoons-ful into boiling water (they'll grow quite a bit). Work quickly. Dumplings will rise to the surface as they cook. Let them cook for about one minute more after they rise. Remove risen dumplings with a slotted spoon as they cook and place in colander to drain. To fry dumplings, melt butter in large skillet. Add breadcrumbs and toast for a bit. Add dumplings and toss to coat with butter and breadcrumbs. Fry (sauté) on low-medium heat until golden and crispy. Sprinkle a bit of salt to taste. Serve immediately with chicken and paprika sauce. Yum.

Let me know if you make this, or if you have any questions and I'll ask my mom!

P.S.: Sweater is finished and it's a hit! I'll put it on Ravelry as soon as I get a chance. It's called Carl's Cardigan and I used Woolfolk Far yarn in Pollen.

Pillow #1

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Birthday preparations are underway in the Paulson household. Cupcakes are in the oven. Amelia's "friend" party is tomorrow and we are excited. Her first friend party! Squeeeee! I think you're supposed to have one friend for every year, or something like that? Yeah. I did not get that memo. Apparently she's turning eighteen. . . .

But look at that face. I cannot deny this child ANYTHING, I tell you. Not possible.

On demand: A dress like Hunca Munca's. I might have sobbed with delight. I've finished the dress and am about to start the pinafore, in creamy white Swiss dot. I'm using Little Vogue pattern #1326. More to come on that. That one's for her family party.

A few weeks ago we went to the Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival, as we do every year with Amelia's birthgrandparents. Her grandma and I were looking at the punchneedle and rug-hooking patterns and I remembered the pillow I made several years ago, and remembered that I had an Oxford punchneedle (I have the Mini #14) and a big hoop. I bought a piece of monk's cloth at OFFF and then found this cute pattern on Etsy. Marijo Taylor, the designer, generously sold me only the paper pattern, drawn at 10"x10", and I enlarged it on my printer/copier to 18"x18". I think it's originally a rug hooking pattern (curious about the difference between punchneedle and rug hooking? Here is some information) but I wanted to use my stash of worsted-weight yarn, so that's what I've been doing. Punchneedle is FUN. It's really, really fun. The bunny, above, will be the first pillow I make as part of my new Personal Pillow Endeavor. When I'm finished I'll just back it with some calico (with an envelope closure) and stuff it with an 18" pillow form. I like bamboo pillow forms because they're pretty hard. I hate soft pillows, personally. I'll show you more about how I do it when I get closer to being finished. I was hoping I might finish for Amelia's birthday but I have a lot to do so I'm not sure. . . .

I finished the cardigan I showed you last week and it's still on the blocking board, though completely dry. That will get pale pink buttons. I still haven't put it on Ravelry. I like that sweater but I'm not sad to be finished with it. Next up, knitting-wise, are hats for everyone and gloves for me and a new neckwarmer for me.

Last night I made African chicken peanut stew and it was really good. You're here, October. I was so ready for you to arrive it was ridiculous. Hence the creative mania.

P.S.: I got that cute little painting a few weeks ago at Goodwill for $3. And the sweet invitation was from this Etsy shop; I printed it out at home on cards from Paper Source and made the envelope liners with their templates and a printable flower pattern from this adorable book (and CD) that I've had for years.

P.P.S: Oh jeesh, and thank you so much for all of your kind comments on my last post. I really appreciate them!!!

Early July

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Good morning. How are you? I'm sitting here. The fan's whirling above me and Amelia and Andy are out for a walk with Clover Meadow. It'll be in the 90s today. I'm anxious to go out and patrol my garden. No sooner did I banish the katydid nymphs that were chomping my verbena than we've had new pestering. Since these pictures were taken, big fat green worms have gotten into my cabbage and broccoli. I tried plucking a few off yesterday but I literally almost threw up. I was surprised that I had this reaction. Scream-gagging in the street. Lovely. Amelia was mildly alarmed. I tried to blast them off with the hose. Unsuccessful. I'm not sure why I think I could live in the country. . . . Thank you for all of your kind and poignant comments on my last post. I was very moved by them. I'm really trying to take it slow and steady. Summer destroys me with longing, somehow. It happens to me every year. I don't know. Summer always feels hard in ways I can't even explain.

Meems and I have been rollicking through the days, nevertheless. Andy worked Sunday through Wednesday this week, through the holiday, but she and I kept ourselves busy with friends and fun stuff. It was hot yesterday afternoon, so we slowed to a crawl and laid around and did all the puzzles and watched kids' shows on TV after we got home from swimming. It was nice. I read a library book (The Headmaster's Wife — don't tell me what happens, I'm not done yet) while eating curried shrimp and pineapple and peas (weird combo, I guess, but it was good) and she ate a dozen enormous strawberries for dinner on the couch. At night I've been knitting miles and miles of stockinette on my Birkin sweater and that thing is shaped quite oddly. I think it's going to funnel-neck pretty badly on me. My tension looks pathetic, alternately too loose and too tight. I really can't do three colors in the same row. I can knit with both hands but dropping the second and picking up the third color just messed me up I guess. Usually my colorwork looks pretty good — I'm pretty loose — but this yoke (not pictured among the four thousand pictures above, naturally) looks positively smocked. I did try it on, though, and it fit, in a way, but I can see that it wants to ride up. The armholes are quite low. There is no increasing over almost the entire depth of the yoke pattern, so the yoke is pretty tube-like to begin with, almost poncho-like. I have about eleven inches left to do of straaaaaaaight stockinette, in fingering, in size XL. Soooooooo I'm going to be there for a while before I get a chance to block it out. I'm gonna block it hard and hope the yoke stretches. Or should I take it off the needles now (I'm about three inches into the body, after separating for sleeves) and block it and make sure it's going to be wearable without tragic funnel-necking before I keep stockinetting for hours of my life? OH such problems. Well, you know. I knit while watching the news so I should probably go up about four needle sizes in general, actually and in all things, to counterbalance the inherent tension of . . . oh, everything, everywhere.

My skirt pattern (second-from-top photo) is done and I'm going to release  it next week, along with some of the extra yards of calico leftover from cutting strips for quilt kits. There is not a ton of fabric, but I do want to make some of it available, so I'll probably do it next Tuesday morning at 9:30 a.m. again. The pattern is a PDF download and it will only be available as a download (not printed). I'm vaguely nervous about this as it's my first-ever clothing pattern, but it's pretty simple and I know you'll write to me if you have any problems. More quilt kits should be coming in the next few weeks or so — I just got a new box of fabric from West Virginia yesterday, so that will hopefully be cut next week and then I'll start designing kits again.

I've been thinking a lot about the various teachers Amelia has for her school and different lessons and stuff that she does. Isn't it incredible how certain teachers really are totally life-changing, in the best of ways? I'm just starting to watch this happen, and am learning what it means for my kid. It really moves me, watching her bond with and trust and love some of the teachers in her life. It really is like watching a flower bloom right before your eyes.

Here's a cute video that Andy took of Meems at Ryan Adams last week. Xo

Cold Start

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The weather here has been absolutely freezing. Apparently we're just going to be hurled from one extreme condition (scorching) to another (freezing). I had the heat on last night, and the flannel sheets. I'm not really complaining (much) as this has been perfect knitting weather. All the knitters I know are surreptitiously knitting as fast as we can, trying to finish stuff to wear before the next heat wave. Because honestly, we need sweaters right now. And probably scarves. It's that cold.

Something really, really cool happened to me the other day. I came in from watering out back and I heard this very loud birdsong, and found that there was a chickadee sitting in the dining room. We don't have screens (or mosquitoes), but a bird has never flown into the house before. Birds have been in the house before, brought in in a state of mortal crisis by The Bee. But in this case, she, Old Lady Bee, was sleeping on a chair on the porch, literally right outside the window above which the bird was sitting and singing its heart out. She continued to sleep. The bird flew from curtain rod to pendant-lamp cord to picture moulding, singing and stopping to look around. He didn't seem in distress. My heart started racing a bit. I opened all of the windows as wide as they would go, and threw open the front door. I went outside and watered the front, hoping he would find his way out. I talked to my neighbor for about an hour, and we could hear him singing in there the whole time. A friend of his was flitting around outside, frantically calling for him, but he continued to sing his way around the dining room and didn't come out. I went back in and talked to him a bit. I really needed to come in and go to work (in the back of the house) and wanted to shut the front door. He did more flying from thing to thing. I stood still and talked, very quietly. He tilted his little head, listening. Suddenly he flew down to the lampshade on the entry table. I walked over very slowly and he stayed on the lampshade. I seriously could not believe it. I was two feet away. We stayed like that for minutes. I don't know how many minutes. I lifted my arm and held my finger out to him, moving a bit closer. He tilted his head again and sidestepped away. I stayed like that, with my arm out, until my arm started getting tired. Then I propped my other elbow on the entry table and started holding up my right arm with my left hand. We stood like this for a long time. Still, he didn't fly away. I inched my hand closer. I put my finger up to his feet, holding my breath. He was so small. He put one foot on my finger and then took it off. I kept my finger there. Suddenly he put both feet on my finger and started pecking at the tip of my finger. He was so light. He pecked at the tip of my finger some more. I was smiling hugely, afraid to breathe. Slowly I walked over to the open window, him on my finger, bobbing nervously, the whole time. When I got to the window and moved my arm outside he started to walk up my arm, toward me! I moved my arm further out the window, afraid he would fly off and back into the house! But then suddenly he was off, flying up into the sky.

It was, honestly, one of the most awesome, most amazing things that has ever happened to me in my whole life. It was so, so, so cool. I still cannot even believe it! It was so cool!

I forgot to say that at some point, Bridget did hear me talking and she came into the house through the door and started sauntering back and forth through the dining room. She knew something was going on but she couldn't figure out what, and she never saw the bird. She kept coming back into the room in mild confusion, like she thought she should definitely be involved in something. And she mostly just wanted to go back to bed. The old girl is seventeen years old this summer. She's mostly a wild cat. An old wild cat, now. She's never really sat on my lap, in seventeen years. That's not to say she hasn't been on my lap, but when she gets on my lap (once a year or so) we are both so totally freaked out that it's about as far from a lovely or relaxing experience for us both as it gets. She acts completely bewildered to have suddenly found herself on my lap. She skitters around on my legs as if her paws are on fire. I freeze in place, trying to avert my eyes lest I be caught looking at her (because she will punch you in the face faster than the speed of light if she catches you meeting her eye). It's like having a cross between a squirrel and a goblin for a pet. But she comes home every night, she loves us in her way, we love her in ours, Clover Meadow intelligently tries to give her wide berth (although occasionally she will walk up to Clover and try to head-moosh her, and Clover's entire body stiffens in terror, and we all hold our breath, too, until it's over), and Amelia screams like a banshee every time Bridget comes flying through the room like a fruit bat trying to get out of the light. Little Bee. Our little alley kitten. Doing pretty well for an old girl.

I told Andy I don't think I've ever taken a picture of Clover that more accurately captures her than the one above. Sweetest heart ever. Drives me insane on a daily basis. But I love her so much. Dear love. That face.

I've been ridiculously busy. Andy had the week off and I've just been working, working, working. I drafted a skirt pattern for you. And bought half of the remaining inventory from a quilt shop that closed in the '90s. Not even kidding. More on both of these things soon. New quilt kits coming! Next week! They're really pretty. I can't wait.

Tilt-a-Whirl

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Whirlwind days, going every which way, and a long weekend filled with friends and family, and a birthday for my love. Andy Paulson turned forty-six and had a very sweet birthday. I went old-school with the cake I made for him, and returned to my old classic, chocolate cake with butter-roux frosting. This time I made the cake in three 8"-round pans, and baked them for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees F. I doubled the frosting and piled it on. Highly recommend.

A Variation on Hershey's Deep Dark Chocolate Cake

2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Hershey's cocoa (I actually use Cacao Barry, which my sister turned me on to)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup steaming hot (brewed) coffee*

*Original recipe calls for boiling water but coffee brings out the chocolate flavor a bit without actually making it taste like coffee. I usually reheat whatever was leftover in coffee pot that morning.

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour (using cocoa powder so it disappears) two 9" round cake pans.

2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla; beat on medium speed of electric mixer for 2 minutes. Carefully stir in boiling water and coffee (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans (see above).

3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes (see above) or until wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks and cool completely.

As I've posted before, the frosting for this cake is my mom's old recipe for something we in our family called "the milk and flour frosting." (I later learned this is called a "butter-roux" frosting.) When I first put it on the blog several years ago, I renamed it more romantically and called it Cloudburst Frosting because it is really light, fluffy, and not-too-sweet . This frosting also had a long history in our house of being very temperamental but it is totally worth it. We think we have it down now, but you have to do it exactly this way. You just do. Don't ask me why. We really do not know.

Cloudburst Frosting

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup WHOLE (it has to be whole) milk or half-and-half
1 cup softened butter
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups sifted confectioners sugar

In a small pan, gradually add the milk to the flour, whisking them together into a totally smooth mixture — you don't want any lumps here. Simmer (barely) until thick over low/medium heat, whisking constantly so you don't get any lumps. (Do not walk away from the stove for even a minute — trust me. If you do get lumps, just push it all through a sieve.) You want it to be the consistency of pudding. Remove from heat and let it cool completely but NOT in the refrigerator (Mom says if you put it in the fridge it won't work). Let it cool for a few minutes, and then push a piece of plastic wrap down on the surface of the mixture (so a skin doesn't form) and let it sit on the counter for an hour or two or three until it's completely cool. (Update: My sister says it's totally fine to put this in the refrigerator, so . . . ) Cream together the butter and almond; add the confectioner's sugar and beat on high for several minutes until it is very fluffy. Add the milk/flour mixture and beat until it is super fluffy. The frosting will sometimes appear to separate when you add the milk/flour mixture, but just keep beating it on high until it whips up into smooth, fluffy clouds.

            After frosting the cake, chill before serving for maximum deliciousness. I like this cake very cold.

 

The news of the world and of our city in particular has been so troubling and heartbreaking it has brought me to tears several times this past week. Today Amelia and I went past the memorial at the transit center where two brave men lost their lives. It is absolutely covered in flowers and chalk-drawn messages of love. I send my prayers out to all of the fallen warriors and their families who have given everything to protect us. I truly appreciated all of your comments on my last post. I long for advice about how to live in these troubled times.

We planted our little vegetable garden in the parkway raised beds this past weekend. We don't really have enough in it yet, I don't think. The weather is all over the place — some days in the upper 90s and some days, like yesterday, absolutely freezing cold and raining. We planted the back-porch planters with veggies and herbs, too — tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, corn, basil, lemon verbena. These I'm hoping Amelia will take care of, as it will be easy for her to water them out there. She spends a lot of time on the back porch, so I think it will be fun. I had absolutely no plan with regard to anything that I bought — I just grabbed a bunch of veggie starts randomly and we put them all over the place, in front and back. This is not how I usually do things but hey, stuff's in the ground, at least. I feel like maybe some of it is not supposed to be together, but I've never really understood what that means or why certain veggies aren't supposed to be planted near one another. . . . Feel free to enlighten me, honestly. Is it like a nutrient thing or a pest thing or . . . ? I could Google this, I know.

I'm working on a Birkin sweater, a pattern for which you can only find in the second issue of  Laine magazine. This will be a size XL sweater knit in fingering-weight yarn, with lots of complicated colorwork (three colors per row in lots of cases) so it should keep me out of trouble for a good loooooooong while is what I'm thinking. . . .

My girl dances and twirls, spinning from one thing to the next, riding bigger little-kid amusement-park rides by herself for the first time, pulling all of her bravery from somewhere deep inside her, waiting in line and getting on the rides by herself, waving to us from the tiny plane, the tiny car, the tiny speedboat, us standing on the sidelines filled with so much hope and joy and admiration. She inspires me beyond words in these moments. I can see all of her fear and all of her fearlessness in her face, can see her weighing the risk of participation with the anticipation of just how exciting it will be when that thing goes up in the air, or bounces around the track, or bangs up and down on its metal octopus arm, and she wants to go. She is serious and deliberate and even nervous, but she always moves forward, standing in line on her own, asking the other kids around her if someone will ride with her, racing to the purple car, changing her mind and going for another one, losing nerve a little bit and starting to cry when it all gets too bumpy, then pulling herself back together and smiling hugely on the final round. When she got off the speedboat (the scariest one) she raced into my arms and collapsed, all tension in every muscle gone and making this loud noise that seemed to come from her soul, like an enormously relieved sigh but one that wasn't only relieved but also amused at herself and proud of herself and also just purely delighted at the world. It is hard to describe the noise but Andy and I both knew exactly what it was (we talked about it as soon as she went to bed and we both thought it meant the exact same things). She made the noise for a long time and I held her in my arms for all of that time and could not see through my own quiet, proud, and, yeah, relieved tears. This child, this braveheart. On my shoulder, limp and heavy and soft. Big and small. These moments sneak up on me so. I never knew about them before motherhood. I can't imagine what they are called. What are these called? There have been a few of them now and they are the most moving, poignant experiences of parenthood, for me. I can't even really describe, and I don't think I'll ever forget, but I just wanted to write this so that I could remember it again right now.

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.