Posts filed in: Life

Shine Bright

comments: 34

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I had such a wonderful Mothers' Day weekend. It was filled with sweetness and food and family and fun. Amelia's birthparents and -grandparents and -siblings were all here on Saturday and it was such a perfect day. On Sunday we went to brunch with my mom and sisters and brother-in-law and nephew and had a great time. It was alternately busy and relaxing, and included lots of pampering and lots of playing and, best of all, lots of snuggling with my baby girl, who's no longer a baby but still loves to cuddle and have her back rubbed and hold my hand and give me Eskimo kisses and look into my eyes to see what color they are. I return every gesture in kind, a thousandfold, and thank the heavens above for giving me the gift of her life and love. She is the sweetest, most darlingest, most lovable, lunatic of a creature and oh I love her so much!

Life with a five-and-a-half-year-old is filled with the usual prosaic sort of chaos. There is constant climbing on everything, falling off of everything, interrupting you talking to them with some random completely bizarre talk of their own [indicating they're actually not listening to you whatsoever], playing "kitty" with totally realistic and seriously terrifying meows, refusing to sit on those automatic-flushing toilets in restaurants or stores [I hate those things!!!], climbing trees that are too small, climbing trees that are too big. Always running or otherwise crashing through every place. The other morning, I was about to get in the shower and I asked Mimi if she wanted to get in. She likes to shower at the pool but she's only ever taken one shower at home, preferring the bathtub here. But this time she said yes. We have one of those corner, capsule-like showers upstairs; it's a standing shower but also has a little cedar bench for me to sit on. So I'm sitting on my bench and holding the doors open for Amelia to come in. She's standing outside the shower trying to decide if she wants to, sticking her hand into the water and yanking it back while I am saying with, admittedly, some urgency in my voice, "Come in if you want to. Water's getting all over the floor." Shower doors still open. Her standing there, reaching vaguely toward the water with her toe. Then her hand. Then her toe. Hand. Me: "Do you not want to?" Her: "No, I want to!" Me: "Okay, well, decide, so I can shut the doors either way," and as I'm saying this she apparently decides she doesn't want to and instead turns quickly on her heel and starts to tear out of the bathroom, only to wipe out on the wet floor and face-plant into the wastepaper basket and the dog's water dish. Wailing. Tangle of arms and legs. Bathmat bunched. I come lumbering quickly (oxymoron) out of (still running) shower, dripping more water everywhere, to help her up. She stops crying abruptly, apparently having remembered something else she wants to do. Exits. I climb back into shower and sit down and crank the water up, almost as hot as it will go, face in hands, steaming water streaming blissfully and finally over my head. Thinking: "God. It's only 6:32." This, and things like this, all. day. long.

Other moments, reading together, snuggling together, her sweet drawings and her forty-five stuffed animals (I protest), her singing to herself and talking to herself in the sweetest voice, her good nature and her easy smile, her smushing my face so hard to her own face that I can't breathe, her spontaneous hugs, her head against my chest, her "shop" in the window of my studio where she sells 6" pieces of yarn, her trying to write words, her love of Dairy Queens [sic], her portraits with big earrings and big smiles, her outfits (for Blue Day, White Day, Pink Day, Pick-Out Day), and her spiderwebs of yarn/embroidery floss/tape measures wound between table legs and drawer pulls. All of this sweetness. It's everything, everything to me.

I didn't bake any pies for Birthmother's Day. I wanted to, and had wanted to get up early and go to New Seasons (grocery store) all by myself and get ingredients and bake them that morning. But instead the pies you see above were baked by New Seasons bakery. I was too tired to make them because I wound up staying up late the night before, having finally, after about a year of searching, found my dad's birthparents — or at least the two people who I am pretty much 100% sure were his birthparents — on Ancestry. com. It was a total coincidence that I found them in the very early morning hours of Birthmother's Day (which is, if you weren't sure, the day before Mother's Day), but I had gotten a few very important DNA matches with close relatives on Ancestry within just the past couple of weeks and I knew I was close to figuring it out. When I did, when that last puzzle piece in the form of a marriage certificate between the two families whose names just kept showing up in my ghostly family tree, I actually got lightheaded. It was late at night and I was in bed in the dark, looking at my iPad, and I swear I literally heard something in the universe go click.

Sophie. Veronica. Manda. Anna. These are the names of my father's birthmother and -grandmothers and -great-grandmother that neither I nor he (he passed away in 2000) ever knew existed. Well, surely I knew they had existed — somewhere in my rational mind I knew that someone must have existed. But really, more frequently, I felt like maybe I had (mostly) fallen straight out of the sky. Until last year, I only knew one-quarter part of even just my biological ethnicity. My dad's was entirely unknown, and my mom's mother's was unknown. Or rather, we thought we knew, based on names (Lucile DuMont sounds French, doesn't it?) and legends (Italian, Italian, Italian). But we were wrong. I'm Croatian and Polish on both my mom's side and my dad's biological sides, with 1/8 English from my mom's half-English (not French) mother.

It's hard for me to explain why any of it even matters. I mean, I honestly don't exactly know why it matters now. Most of the time I'm not thinking about it. I'm living my life in the present moment, chasing my little butterfly as she zooms around on her scooter and brings me dandelion bouquets eight times a day and nose-dives into the dog bowl. But I always wanted to know how I got here. How we got here. I was always interested in history. I was always interested in geography. I was always interested in peoples' stories, and I always felt like I didn't truly know any of my own.

It goes deeper than that, though. In researching my family's history, in discovering just how many people in how many different families on how many different sides and for how many generations were keeping secrets, I can see that the legacy of . . . confusion . . . sadness . . . loss . . . insecurity . . . and even anxiety . . . around these mysteries runs deep, and also lasts for generations. It has certainly affected my family, and my sisters and me, in ways I'm only beginning to attribute. Eight years ago when Andy and I began the process of becoming parents by adoption, we always knew that in the best-possible-case scenario we wanted a local, open adoption, and we are lucky enough to have that. I don't talk about it that much because it involves so many other people, and their stories just are not mine to tell. But every single part of it, even the hardest parts and the hardest days, has been a total blessing (even in the days before Amelia when, oh trust me!, it didn't seem that way at all). I think, in life, you can try to mitigate the losses and maximize the gains. And what we have all — Andy and I, and our families, and Amelia's birthfamilies — gained from loving Amelia and loving each other is so profound it still regularly brings me to tears of gratitude and joy. How lucky we all are to be in this together! I think it's pure magic.

I obviously cannot and would never presume to speak for any other adoption experience or decision. People have very strong feelings about these things and I have the absolute, utmost respect and deep reverence for that. But I'm just telling you how I feel, and how it's been for me (and Andy), and how Amelia's birthfamily tell us it is for them. We'll always encourage Amelia to express how it is for her, especially as she gets older and is better able to articulate her thoughts for herself. All of us want so badly to be the best moms (and dads, and grandparents, etc.) we possibly can be. And for me, that effort is starting to include truly examining my own feelings about my own growing-up in a cloud of secrecy. Finding real names of real people who lived and breathed and gave life to the people who gave me life is an effort to peel back some of those layers, and let in the light. So that I can shine bright for my beautiful baby girl.

Spring-a-ling

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Halllllooooooo out there! Sorrrrrry it's taking me so long to do anything lately. I feel like I'm slamming around my life like a pinball, actually. This reorganizing thing is no joke. I've barely scratched the surface but . . . it's happening. Bit by bit. Andy and I are each trying to dig in to various parts of the house and come up with better systems. Then Amelia comes in and, tornado-like, wafts kiddo-debris from corner to corner: ponytail holders and Calico Critters and tiny bits of paper and pop beads. Bunny slippers and miniature Legos and a tennis ball and her collection of toothbrushes. Dried-up flowers and pieces of grass and wooden spoons and teaspoons. Puzzle pieces and straight pins and stickers and porcelain bells and brass bells and bathing suits and toy-veterinarian check-up cards and peg dolls and seed packets from Burgerville. Typo-correction tape. A slide whistle. A wind-up ladybug. A rhinestone tiara. A feather. A Saltwater sandal. More beads. It's as if a fire-hose filled with stuff from the bottom of every junk drawer and toy box in the world let fly its torrent of glittered swag upon the house all at once. And then, with a whoosh, she is off, and on to something else.

* * *

I had a friend once who said she didn't like spring. It was too much. Too dramatic, too capricious, too beautiful, too heartbreaking. Too gushing with promise, too inconsistent, too intense. Too beautiful. Too heartbreaking. It made you want to cry for the fragile, fraught, barely there-ness of the world, the newborn leaves, the colors more almost-colors than colors. The buds more pouf than plant. And as far as I know, she'd never been to Portland. Good thing. She probably would've screamed.

* * *

At home, I make lotion bars and twist wires into stitch markers and dye piles of yarn. I'm not sure what I'm doing but I think I'm planning to sell all of these things eventually. Aren't I? It seems there's nothing else to do lest the house be further taken over with mountains of lotion bars and mini skeins. I apply for wholesale accounts and think through tin sizes and sketch out packaging concepts. I bombard Andy with my every thought and question: Can you try this lotion bar? Do you like Ylang Ylang, or cedar? Cedar? Are you suuuuure? You like the cedar? You like them both. Do you like this color? You do? You don't. You do! Look! I made a stitch marker! I made five! I made fifty-five! I know! I made a hundred and fifty-five! No, maybe just fifty. It feels like a hundred and fifty-five! Yes, I'm still winding yarn. Now I'm dyeing yarn. Now I'm drying yarn. Now I'm winding yarn again. Let's make spaghetti! Will you make some spaghetti? THANK YOU HONEY!

I really want to do all of these things. I'm enjoying the experience of learning new things and developing new ideas so much I can't even believe it. It's been so long since I learned how to do new stuff, it seems. It's really exciting. We cleaned out our office closet and I went to Ikea to get a shelf on which to store my yarn supplies and lotion bar supplies. While at Ikea it started to pour. Andy was home with Mimi — it was early one Saturday morning and I was just planning to run out there quickly, alone, and get the job done. I enlisted a generous passerby to help me lift the giant box (it was more giant than I was expecting, and I was determined not to have to bring it back into the store to have it shipped) and slide it into my car. I pushed down that middle thing in the back seat and the box slid through the hole with not an inch to spare. Determination. Rain whipping. Windshield wipers going wild. I made it home and Andy put the shelves together for me and I think I was grinning the entire time I loaded them with bare yarn, my beeswax, my electric griddle (that's what I cook the yarn on), my tinfoil roasting pans, my food coloring, my dishpans. It was thrilling. I have a closet! My very own closet of stuff for my new hobbies, dream-scented with clary sage, jasmine, cedar wood, Ylang Ylang, bergamot, and beeswax. Opening it is like walking into another world.

Mimi wears her Thousand Tiny Tulips sweater from this post, a bit more than one year ago. I let her dye her own yarn the other day and she wants me to make her something with it. But what? Sport weight, about 430 yards, I think. I need to look for something. The weather is warming. I'd better be quick. . . .

Couch Lounge

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Amelia went to bed coughing and with a stuffy nose on Sunday night, so I kept her home for the first three days of this week. Aside from her feeling a bit poorly, we had such a lovely time together, mostly watching TV and movies, and snuggling on the couch, and reading and playing with Legos, and eating the soup that I told her I always used to ask for when I was sick as a little girl (that Lipton's chicken soup in box with the desiccated chicken and powdery bouillon and grass noodles). I brought her breakfast in bed, which she had recently mentioned she wanted me to do next time she was sick, so I did that. She was cuddly and quiet and sweet and sniffly, and as I knit she put her feet up on my legs and sang along to her baby shows, Blues Clues and Little Baby Bum (nursery rhymes and songs), stuff she doesn't watch anymore, generally, but which I think made her feel comforted and content. On Tuesday she baked cupcakes, doing almost everything herself except for the things she just couldn't do, and she was proud and I was proud of her. She missed Valentine's Day at school but late in the afternoon her friend's mom delivered a bag filled with classmate Valentines and a lollipop (not sugar free) so she was delighted.

Thank you so much for your kind words about the new cross-stitch design! I didn't get a chance to get a lot of Posie work done the way I normally would when she is in school in the mornings, but I did manage to take my cover photo and finish up the pattern. I'll start a pre-sale for the kits on Tuesday morning next week (the 20th). Three of the floss colors are on back-order so we'll pull the floss the minute it all arrives, and plan to ship at the end of March. This week I wore my new blouse (vintage Peter Pan calico made from Burda pattern 6592) and mostly worked on my granny-square blanket, which I'm calling Firefly Jar because it reminds me of little flickers of light against a dimming evening sky. By the way, I get my grannies perfectly square before whip-stitching them together by wet-blocking them all individually. The speckled yarn continues to charm me. Thank you for all the recommendations for other indie dyers. I have about ten skeins of speckled yarn now! I'll have to do a whole post about them. They are just so, so pretty. I started a spring sweater for Amelia with a few of the colors (Hedgehog Fibres Skinny Singles in Pistachio, Pinky Swear, and Opalite) using the Flax Light pattern from Tin Can Knits and it's working up quickly, being mostly stockinette. It's light as a feather. I picked the green and she picked the pink so it's a collaboration. Thanks also to those of you who suggested that I try to do some dyeing myself with Wilton food dyes. I have tons of those so I am totally going to try it. I'm excited about that. That looks like a lot of fun.

My heart and Andy's are heavy with so much sorrow over the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. We talked and talked about it yesterday. My head is swirling, feverish with bitterness and fury over how this keeps happening again and again and again. I don't even know how to talk about it. I'm so disappointed and frustrated I really cannot find the words I want to say.

Outside, spring continues to peek it's little fuzzy head out from under piles of brown oak leaves and the muck of winter. Around town, daffodils are starting to bloom in earnest now and crocuses cover tiny plots in a haze of lavender. The sky is bright gray, like a gray lightbox, with flat, dull light that leaves no shadows. I'll make tea and work and take care of little things. I wish you peace today. I hope your day has peace.

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

So Nice

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I had the nicest birthday. Every minute of it was so nice. It's wonderful to have a birthday fall on a Sunday! I loved it. I had a plan to make my birthday cake (I decided, after all, to do the usuals) and then make bolognese sauce and stuffed shells (from Craig Claiborne via my NYT cooking app). Stuffed shells have been my favorite food since childhood. Andy and Amelia went grocery shopping and got some very fancy ingredients, including handmade ricotta cheese, which was delicious. I made the sauce (but forgot to add the basil and cream at the end) and then my back was bothering me from sitting in the wrong chair for too long at lunch at our neighbor's the day before (it seems fine now) so A & A took over and made the cheese filling and assembled the shells for me while I knit and watched ice skating. It was great. Outside it was cold and gray but inside it was warm and cozy. I got sweet presents and cards and texts and talked on the phone a lot. Before we ate the cake, we put the big camera on the tripod and took some timer selfies of the three of us, which was so much fun. My mom had been reorganizing some things in her house and found a picture of my grandpa with me when I was a baby. She found it in his passport, where he apparently kept it for years and years. I was really touched, and I don't think I've ever seen exactly that picture before. The other picture is of my dad holding me above his head while my sister watched. He used to do this with us all the time. We're standing in front of his teal blue Cadillac. My dad passed away on my birthday, eighteen years ago. It's always a bittersweet day. But I was surrounded by love and family and friends and food and animals and light and warmth, which was the best present in the world.

Here's a delicious present for you:

Stuffed Shells from Craig Claiborne/New York Times

Bolognese Sauce

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup (2 ounces) bulk sausage
1/2 cup onion chopped fine
1/3 cup celery diced fine
1/2 cup carrot diced fine
1/2 pound beef ground fine
1/2 pound pork ground fine
2 chicken livers, chopped fine, about 1/3 cup
1/2 teaspoon rosemary
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Salt to taste, if desired
Generous grinding of black pepper
1 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3 cups imported canned Italian plum tomatoes
1 cup beef broth
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried
1/4 cup heavy cream

Heat the butter and oil in a heavy saucepan or casserole and add the sausage, onion, celery and carrot. Cook, stirring, until onion is wilted.

Add the beef, pork and chicken livers and cook, stirring down with the side of a heavy metal spoon to break up lumps, until meats lose their raw look. Add the rosemary, nutmeg, salt, pepper, wine and tomato paste. Stir to blend.

Puree the tomatoes in a food processor or blender or crush them by hand. Add the tomatoes and the broth. Bring to a boil and let simmer, skimming the surface of fat, 1 1/2 hours.

Stir in the basil and cream and remove from the heat.

 

Ricotta Cheese Filling (stuffs about 18 large shells)

2 cups (1 pound) ricotta cheese
1/2 cup finely diced Mozzarella cheese
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup finely chopped prosciutto
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Drop jumbo shells into boiling water and cook about 10 minutes or until tender but not overcooked. Drain.

Spoon layer of sauce over bottom of casserole large enough to hold stuffed shells in one layer.

Fill each shell with equal portions of ricotta cheese mixture. Arrange shells stuffed side up in casserole. Spoon remaining sauce over shells. Sprinkle with grated cheese and bake 25 minutes.

Already: Five

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Glory be, what a party! Parties, plural. Amelia is a partier. The girl's got game. And stamina! Party stamina. It was a blast. A friend-party and then, this past weekend, a family party. Andy's parents flew in from Chicago last Thursday. It's so special to have them here with us, and then to have everyone — Andy's parents, Amelia's birthparents and siblings and grandparents, and my family, including a surprise visit home from our niece Arden (now away at college!) — here together in one place is just magical. I really have no words to describe it. I just love this group so much, and feel so lucky and so incredibly blessed to be part of this family. Amelia is like the sun. She talks into a megaphone: "ATTENTION, EVERYONE. I JUST GOT. ANOTHER CARD. IT'S GOT A DOG IN A CAR ON IT. " Her brother: "It's a bus." Amelia: "IT'S GOT A DOG IN A . . . TRICKY BUS." Oh, my dear, sweet love. "ATTENTION, EVERYONE! SIERRA CAN'T FIND HER BALLOON!!!" Everyone: What color is it? Where did you last have it? I'll help you look for it! There is so much laughter, and so much loving. There were so many pictures I didn't get to take, and so many moments I want to remember.

Because just like that, she is five.

Andy's mom and dad ("Grandma and Pops") leave tomorrow. I'll be sad to have the celebration close. Amelia's at school this morning, for a little bit of normalcy in an unusual week. We got a huge box of apples from a neighbor-boy of ours who was selling them for Boy Scouts. I have subscribed to the New York Times cooking app in hopes of kick-starting my flagging cooking mojo. I spent the morning looking at apple recipes and hope to try out at least a few with the thirty apples now sitting in the kitchen. Autumn is here in earnest. Flowers in the garden bleach out from the sun then sog under the weight of sudden, gumball-sized hail, then sun again, and then a huge rainbow goes right through the tree across the street. Clouds whirl, lightning flares, and then sun again through flashing trees. Cold nights, the smell of woodsmoke in the air. Pumpkins on the porch, and Halloween ahead. I'm making a cat costume next. Our girl is five and she picks these things for herself now. I couldn't be more proud of her. I love her and all of it so much.

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.

Slowly but Surely

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I've been moving slowly lately, sort of mildly melancholy, even before the news of the terrorist attack in Manchester last night, which is just shattering my heart every time I think of it. A lot of people I know have been cleaning lately — straightening and organizing and dusting and fussing with the little things, and I have been the same, apparently trying to bring order to a world that feels so disordered and disorienting. I dusted off all of my earrings and twenty-year-old perfume bottles, got new low-light houseplants and some new pots, a little chair, moved the pictures. Moved them again. Sat in the chair and did nothing but sit for a minute. I'm trying to make a safe spot. I hold my daughter close under the galloping blades of the big ceiling fan — it was 90 degrees yesterday at bedtime, and we laid on top of the clean white sheets in the dim room, shades pulled against the evening sun and the world outside, talking about baby chicks and rising moons and silly songs and swimming lessons. It was almost too much to bear, her restless feet and her soft arms and her butterfly kisses and my weary heart, all jumbled and wilted from the heat and the news, and my throat felt so raw and sad I could not speak, so whispered. My heart and thoughts and prayers go out to all of the victims and their families and the first-responders of Manchester.

I wish you all peace. I wish you everything peaceful and soft today. XO, a

Peek-A-Boo

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Oh, de-dear, dear, dear, as we say here. My little head is busy with little things. Thank you for all of the waffle recommendations! The sour-cream waffles we made twice last week were delicious, if not exactly crispy. I think I'll make one of your recipes for breakfast tomorrow. Today is filled with errands and chores. It's raining, windy, and cold. This comes as a slight relief after the 80-degree temps and relentless sunshine we had this past week. A little of each feels nice. Mimi says she doesn't want to go anywhere today. I think she would be happy staying in and watching Bookaboo in her underwear while cutting pieces of paper into confetti with embroidery scissors, which is what she's been doing for the past hour, but alas, errands call. Blah.

I've been doing such weird things. I'm not even sure what. I wrote to somewhere (can't remember who you ask for this) to request a copy of the original Social Security application that was filled out by my great-grandmother in 1951, when she was 61 years old. It has her parents' full names on it, names no one in my family or extended family has ever known. Turns out I'm at least partly Polish on my mom's side, if the name Gorzinski is any indication. This was really exciting, somehow. I have one of those mysterious family histories on both sides. My father was adopted and knew nothing of his birthparents. My maternal grandmother's father died when she was little, and she never spoke of it, or him. She had a French last name, so we've always assumed she was partly French, or French Canadian, but we know nothing beyond that. Her mother remarried (or, as it turns out, married — she wasn't married to my grandmother's father) and essentially abandoned my grandmother, and all we ever knew was her (my grandmother's mother's) married name, not her maiden name. There's not much information, even on Ancestry.com, but I have literally spent hours and hours looking and have found some stuff. I don't know why I'm looking. I guess I'm one of those people who wants to know these things, but I think I'm actually motivated by my own love of researching mysteries as much as some kind of personal neeeeeeed. I think. I'm not sure. Maybe I need to know more than I think I do. There's just enough information to sort of piece something together, but who knows? Who knows what the real story is when everyone who knew the real story is gone? I'm still waiting for my DNA test to come back. Well. Amelia's maternal birthgrandma and -grandpa have done a ton of genealogical research, and passed all of that on to her on her first birthday, the most beautiful present, I thought. I'm so happy that she will have things like this in her life. Recently I traced (well, others had traced, but I just discovered the tracings) her birthfather's maternal grandfather's family all the way back to Jamestown, Virginia, in 1620. It was such a cool moment. Jamestown! Virginia! Her birthfamily is all coming for Birthmother's Day on Saturday (did you know Birthmother's Day is Saturday?) and I can't wait to talk about this stuff. Obviously, now I want to write a young-adult novel about Jamestown, Virginia.

 

December

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Cold toes :: A jingle of bells :: Amelia singing :: Ballet in the dining room :: A drive in the country :: A tree farm :: Woodsmoke and hot cider :: She learns to love hot chocolate ::  Making tea every night :: Nightgowns and nightgown plans :: Amelia destroying one advent calendar, and eating chocolate from the other at 5:00 a.m. :: Impatience :: Winter mornings :: Lone birds :: Sore throat :: Early hours in bed with coffee and Christmas music :: Amelia setting up all sorts of little scenes with little stuff :: My insane cat who tries to attack me while I knit and then gets her claw caught in my sock and freaks out (as do I) :: Hot milk with turmeric, cinnamon, black pepper, cardamom, and honey :: Andy "playing" with Amelia by accidentally knocking her down then wiping out and practically falling on top of her while my friend and I sit with our hands over our eyes, trying not to laugh :: Winter faire :: Wreaths and lights :: Ballet talk :: Brew pub lunches :: Gnomes and toadstools :: Battery candles :: Christmas movies and Christmas cards :: Roast chickens and mushrooms :: Silver sun :: Winter moon. I love December.

***Answers to some questions in comments: Cinnamon buns by Pillsbury (get Grands, unroll, re-roll, etc.); A's crown here; felt pastries were a gift, but I think I remember they were from Etsy.

About Alicia Paulson

About

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

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Photography

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