Posts filed in: Life

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Cuddlers1

Toast2

Cuddlers3

When I was little, I used to like New Year's Eve. My dad was a musician and usually worked that night, and my mom would go to wherever he was playing. We three girls would spend the night at our grandma and grandpa's, and that was my happy place: The house was overly warm and almost new. Everything was tidy and beige. In the spare bedroom where we slept, the bed was dressed in heavy cotton sheets and thick wool blankets. There was wall-to-wall carpet, and we would become wild on the floor in a way we never did at home on our hardwoods; we did headstands and somersaults and backbends and walkovers and my grandma would just have a fit. I don't know if she was more worried that we would hurt ourselves or that our underpants were showing. We were so oblivious to either concern. Our grandparents were very old, the oldest people we knew. We were their only grandchildren. I remember one time in seventh or eighth grade, when it was the height of fashion in my crowd to wear rolled-up men's boxer shorts to volleyball practice, I raided my grandpa's dresser and came out into the living room wearing a pair of his. I asked him if I could have them. My grandpa spoke perfect English with a heavy Italian accent, but in that moment he was sure he did not understand my question. Confusion ensued. You want to wear my underpants, to school? Me, French-braided, smiling: Yes! To school? Um, Yes!?!? Could he not see how cool these were? My father gave me $10 and told me to go to Marshalls.

At my grandparents' we would lay on the floor in front of the television and watch all the New Year's Eve shows, and at midnight we would muster a sort of imitated enthusiasm, not old enough yet to truly understand what a miracle another year really is. At bedtime, my grandma would walk around the house, turning everything off. She finally would pull the chains on her cuckoo clock, lifting the heavy pine-cone weights, and then stop the pendulum so the clock would not cuckoo through the night; she'd set the hands for seven so that the next morning it was always ready to start again with just a push. It was so quiet at my grandma's house at night. Our parents were night owls; almost never did I go to bed in a quiet house at home. But at my grandma's you could hear every possible noise: the bed creaking when you moved. The heat turning on and off. The freight train approaching and then going past. Every little house-click and house-thump. Almost twenty years ago I had a panic attack on an airplane in mid-air. Tears streamed down my face. I closed my eyes and was back in my grandma's spare bedroom, in the warm dark with the night-light left on in the hallway, my grandparents sleeping in their twin beds on the other side of the wall. Safe.

I've conjured that place several times this past year, trying to find purchase in my life and in what has, at certain times, felt like being in free-fall. I think that's how most of life is, in a lot of ways. You step forward, and step forward, and then you touch back — everything still here? Still here. Okay. Forward again (then). Life pulls you forward, even when you feel tired. I never was an adventurous person, in my own opinion; I always had big plans but only for little, mostly prosaic things. I always was and still am happiest in slow, mostly quiet places, with long, mostly quiet days. Winter suits me. When I look back on 2011, I am, I have to admit, still sort of bewildered and shaken, not sure what happened or even what to do next. I'm trying to be at peace with that gauzy, half-blurred feeling, and on certain days think it is easy to just — let it go away from me, a long piece of crinkled muslin tossed up and carried off into the wind. On other days I seem to wear it, spiraled and close, like a scarf. Maybe I'll just lose it somewhere, and not even notice. Leave it on a bench or a bus. I won't mind.

I'm not much of a planner, and never manage to remember to make any grand resolutions for a new year. My regular resolutions always seem so obvious. But I like how New Year's Eve prods you say them, even the obvious ones, out loud, along with everybody else. I want to appreciate the health, happiness, and home-life, and the people and pets, that I am so lucky to have. I want to be more generous and helpful, because I haven't felt like I've had much to offer anybody lately. I want to be a better friend and listen more when people are talking. I want my shoulders to relax because they're riding too high. I want to be outside more. I want to cook more and eat healthier. I want to have patience. I want to trust my intuition again, and have more faith in myself. I want to not always feel so left behind. I want to be more free, and even brave. I want to give more love than I do. Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace. That is my wish for 2012.

Morning Light

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Snow2Near Sandhills Road, Towner, North Dakota; 8:14 a.m., November 17, 2011.

I honestly don't have words to thank every single one of you who has left the sound of your voice (and a piece of your heart) here the past two days (and the past few months, and always). Thank you for your encouragement, your generosity, your frustration, your tears, your prayers for everyone, your endless kindness, and your love. Andy says thank you for telling us not to give up. We both read every single word you shared, and with each one we felt lighter and stronger and more free; we talked about it several times throughout the day, and stayed up in bed late last night talking. Thank you for being here, in this very moment. It is so good to be part of the world all together. Look how beautiful it is!

I have a lot of thoughts about everything but they are all tangled and jumbled around today. It is storming something fierce outside! I have a new coat. My neighbor's awnings are about to blow off. We need candles, and mushrooms, and black elderberry syrup. We have firewood. We have animals sitting on top of us every minute. The leaves will all come off the trees today. I'm back in my window seat by the fireplace, watching winter roll in, making some plans. I have coffee, I have people, I have love, and things to give. This ain't my first rodeo! Back on the horse.

Walk on, girl!

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Well, things fell apart.

The sweetest, most wonderful baby girl was born. We received a phone call telling us so just hours after she entered the world. The social worker said on the phone that the baby's mother was doing well. Incarcerated, she had given birth quickly and alone, with no one but the hospital staff and a prison guard at her side, as is mandated by the law. We had not been allowed to be present at the hospital or even know that the birth had happened until we received the social worker's call. When she finally called, we were instructed that, although we had permission to come to the hospital and spend time with the baby, we could not visit, talk to, or even see her mother. And all of this, with heavy hearts, we did already know.

We had met the baby's mother back in August, when a reader of this blog sent me an email and told me that a friend of hers who is an adoptive mother had received a letter from her daughter's birthmother that day. Her daughter's birthmother, who was in prison, was writing to say (among other things) that she had met a young woman there who was six months prgenant and looking for a loving home for her baby. The adoptive mother did not know of anyone personally, but that day she asked my blog reader, her good friend, whether she knew of anyone who was hoping to adopt, and the blog reader said yes, well . . . no . . . well, it's weird, I kind of know them: Andy and Alicia. I read their blog.

We wrote to the baby's mother immediately. A week later we received from her the most poignant and  beautiful letter I have ever seen, full of her hopes and dreams for her daughter. We wrote back and told her ours. The fit was perfect. Within weeks we were headed to the prison to meet her. In the gray visitors' room at the correctional center, she walked toward us with a shy smile. We fell in love with her immediately. I believe the feeling was mutual. We stayed for hours and hours. She didn't want us to leave. We didn't want to go.

Not allowed internet, email, or phone access, she corresponded with us on paper throughout the fall. The three of us wrote long letters that often crossed in the mail, each describing ourselves, our lives, and our ideas for the brightest possible future for this baby. She met with the social worker from the adoption agency as well as our attorney and formalized arrangements for us to adopt the baby at birth. She was studying constantly for her GED and had made careful plans for her own immediate future after her release, all aimed at helping her gain control of her life. Everyone who met her was deeply impressed with her. Her story was painful to hear. Her beauty, courage, and love for the baby brought me to tears daily. Throughout September and October, as I shipped ornament kits, shopped for cradle mattresses, and knit onesies, I cried almost every day. I vowed to her and to God that I would spend every day of the rest of my life being the kind of mother the babygirl, as we called her, deserved. I wanted to make every one of her birthmother's dreams for her come true, and I believed I could. Her dreams were simple, and broke my heart: Please read her bedtime stories. Please do her hair for her. Please let her go to sleep with a full tummy and happy thoughts at night, and when she wakes up I want her to know what kind of day she is going to have. I never had those things, and always wanted them, she said. She will have all of them, we said, she will have every one of those things. All of those things, and so many, millions, more.

That was how we came to be at the hospital the afternoon of the baby's birth, where we cried when we met her, held her in our arms for hours, then convinced a nurse with sweet-talk to hold the door to the baby's mother's room open while we walked by so that we could see her from the hallway on our way out for the night. The nurses had already heard all about us from her. "She says you're amazing people!" the nurse who was taking care of the baby's mother told us as we blushed happily. "I'm so, so happy for all of you!" She indicated that we should wait while she took the baby back into her mother's room for the evening. In one motion the nurse opened the door and signaled for us to walk past just then. The baby's mother sat up in bed to see us: Andy gave her a double-thumbs-up and a huge Andy-smile; I blew her kisses heavy with all the words I wasn't allowed to say. Her long hair fell down her back as she sat up, and she waved. The room was dark; only the light from the television flickered blue. I saw the prison guard sitting next to the bed. The huge door swung closed, and she was gone. We walked on, dazed. We texted the nurse, who had given us her personal cell-phone number, and asked her to tell the baby's mother that we loved her. She said she would, and asked us how to spell the name we had chosen for the baby so that her mother could put it on the birth certificate. She had wanted us to choose it ourselves. Her name is Maisie Alice, we said. And thank you. Thank her. Thank you thank you.

***

What we didn't realize was that unbeknownst to the baby's mother and to us, someone had been quietly working on a plan to derail this adoption. Our attorney called us the next morning as we were about to leave for the hospital and gave us the news that a putative birthfather had surfaced just hours before. As I listened to her voice come out of the speaker-phone, explaining, I felt as if I were falling backwards down a hole.

That same morning, the baby's mother was also getting ready to be discharged from the hospital. Though standard procedure dictates that the baby stay for forty-eight hours, incarcerated women are allowed to stay only one day. Twenty-four hours after giving birth, she was to be taken back to the correctional center and finish recovering there. An hour before she was about to leave, the social worker rushed in to give her the news that a putative father had come forward; if he was found to be the biological father, she explained, the adoption would not happen. The nurses and the social worker later reported to us that she became extremely upset. For several hours past the time she was supposed to leave, they worked to calm her. She changed the baby's name. She left the hospital. And the next morning we arrived to take the baby home. Well, first we took her to a shabby little drug-testing facility to have her cheek swabbed. And then we took her home.

For six days, as we waited for the results of the DNA test, we loved her with our whole hearts. We held her and kissed her and fed her and got up at night with her and changed her and stared at her and rocked her and laughed at all the funny things she did and sang to her and gave her everything we had to give in those moments. We almost never put her down. She curled into our bodies as if she meant to stay. She didn't cry unless her diaper was being changed, and sometimes not even then. She loved to be swaddled with her right arm out. She loved to be held. She loved to gnaw on her fingers. She laid on the bed and kicked her little legs and stared calmly up at the two bright windows. She played with the nipple of the bottle as she drank, flickering milk on her butterfly tongue just for fun, and looked into my eyes as if she thought it was all quite funny, this world outside the womb. Andy visited the baby's mother in prison. He stayed with her for several hours. We all continued to hold out hope that the adoption plan would be realized. Through each long day, we tried to distract ourselves by just loving the baby, and praying that we would get to be her parents.

But it was not to be. A week after her birth day, the DNA test finally came back and said no, she was not to be ours. When Andy read the results, I fell to the floor, sobbing. I had thought my heart was a fleshy, pulpy thing; I didn't know it was actually made out of blown glass. It shattered into a million pieces. I hoped that a tiny, painless shard flew into the babygirl's heart, and would be lodged there forever. I hoped that someday she would love snow, or horses, or mountains and not know why. I prayed for her to have a good life, filled with happiness, filled with love, filled with every thing, filled with every single good thing. We kissed her warm cheeks, and let her hold our big fingers in her tiny hands, and told her goodbye. Goodbye.

At our request, our attorney called the father first thing the next day, and asked him if he would be willing to surrender rights to the baby and place her into an open adoption with us. He said absolutely not. The social worker came to pick her up later that evening. I was shaking as Andy put her in the car. We watched them drive away, the social worker squinting in the darkness at her directions, and prayed for their safety on the road, prayed for her safety forever. We made immediate plans to leave Chicago, and took the Wednesday train back to Oregon. The trip is two days long. We got home Friday, where our warm house and our patient animals waited with worried eyes. We are home, we told them, we are here. We are here. It's okay. We are here.

***

I've been writing this post for two days now. I think about the baby and her mother all the time, almost every moment, still. I don't know exactly where the baby is right now, or where she will end up; we don't really have a right to know, anymore. She's in the system after all, just as her mother tried so desperately to avoid. There are many answers that I don't have; there are many complicated and private details that I've glossed over or left out of my telling of this story here. Some of them don't flatter the people who will now be in this baby's life, and I am choosing to think the best of them and their motivations in spite of everything.

With baited breath and so much hope our closest friends and family have waited out these long weeks with us, and they are here for us now, bringing flowers and food, kind notes, warm hugs and warm arms, words of hope and encouragement, and prayers for the baby and her mother. We are so blessed to have these people and the life we have. As we sat together in the lounge car of the train one more time, rolling across the snow-covered angelfields of North Dakota, we held hands and counted our own blessings, one by one by one. One of the great privileges of my life was getting to watch this person that I love more than anything on earth get to be a father for those eight days. If fatherhood were merit based, this guy would have a dozen kids. We got to be parents, and see each other as parents, and be seen by each other as parents, and we decided we were great at it. So now we know. It was a privilege to spend eight days with this exquisite baby girl; as soon as I saw her, I knew and loved her. To have finally gotten to meet her, to have been there on the day of her arrival on the planet after such a long, hard wait — that, too, has been one of the greatest gifts I've ever received. I also made her smile four times in a row on Saturday afternoon, just with the sound of my voice. We sat in the golden sunshine, alone in the house while Andy was at the prison, and she smiled at me four times. It was the most beautiful thing in the world. No one will ever be able to take that from me, or from her. I will never forget her, and she will be in my prayers every night, forever.

There were so many signs all along that this adoption was meant to be, things I rarely mentioned or even acknowledged, except to my secret heart. Each one that revealed itself pulled us further and further down this unlikely road, and made us feel like someone up there really wanted us to be this baby girl's parents in this world. We were outside of our adoption agency, outside of our familiar spaces, stretched beyond all certainties, and still, through all the risks and speculations and worries, we felt protected by a sense that it must all be happening for a reason. Now I wonder what that was all about. I can only decide that we were brought together for some reason, and perhaps that reason is to stay in the baby's mother's life, if she will have us. That remains to be seen. But there was so much friendship that lay ahead for us, I was sure of it. We love her, and of all of us I think I feel most broken-hearted for her: She doesn't get anything the way she wanted it. Alone she carried this baby, and alone she loved her enough to want a better life for her than the one she herself had, than the ones she could see unfolding around her. We did everything we could to try to make that happen, but neither she nor we can change things now. I will write to her tomorrow. I will wait for a letter from her.

Baby1

Baby2

'Burb Days Daze

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Suburb1

Pastitsio1

There's an incredible storm going on outside. Rain and wind are whipping the trees in every direction. I'm inside, next to the fireplace, listening to the clock, to the mad wind, to the rain whooshing through and rapping the windows like a gravel shower. It's the strangest thing, to have these strange, quiet days, so far from our usual places, people, pets, work, and activities. Part of me is kind of enjoying it, part of me is seriously antsy. Thank goodness we're with family. When Andy's parents are at work, we don't know quite what to do with ourselves, and yet, we don't really want to do much. Yesterday we had the laziest day we've probably ever spent in our entire lives. We're car-less, far from anything we can walk or bike to, and have no wish to roam, anyway. I'd shipped all the baby stuff ahead of time, so we didn't take much with us when we left Portland — a bit of knitting, a couple of books. Yesterday afternoon we took a walk around the neighborhood here. This is a gated 55-and-older community neighborhood, very nice; we get stares and howdies when we go out. I saw a guy riding a Hoveround with a little white dog sitting at his feet on it, nice as pie. (I just asked Andy how to spell Hoveround and he cracked up.) Around three or four o'clock we were sitting in the grass by the lake and a string of cars began driving away from the clubhouse. Andy: "Bingo must have just let out!" I say I love Bingo, and wonder if they'll let me play. Andy amuses me constantly by doing spot-on impressions of his parents' cat. I made dinner for everyone — pastitsio and salad; I dragged the cooking out all day. The stove was a gas stove, and awesome (ours in Portland is electric). We wrote letters. We put fake UFOs into our iPhone photos. (There's an app.) We texted people. We watched TV. We watched Happy Feet. We played Wii. We each spent about an hour designing our Miis, changing face shapes, eyebrows, glasses, noses. An hour! hee hee :-) It might have been longer than that. My sense of time is inaccurate. I'm not totally sure what day of the week it is, either.

I have my big black camera with me but I forgot the USB cable that connects it to the computer. I spent an hour figuring out how to pop out the memory card and put it into the computer so I could get the old pictures off, which is how I found the picture of the house that I had taken and forgotten. It looks different than it did when we lived there. The new owners have made some unfortunate changes, in my opinion. I don't know what's going on with the windows, for instance. I don't understand why the window trim is brown. It should be white. They took out all of the original leaded windows and replaced them with what looks like vinyl or fiberglass. They also paved the driveway, which was always gravel with a path of dandelions and grass down the center, I think. In some ways, though, it's exactly the same. That's probably why it's confusing.

Today we're going to Menard's with Andy's dad to get rock salt for the water softener. Field trip!!!!!

Assembling and Packing

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Room1

Hi! Have I ever been busy! Whew!

[Takes deep breath, and big sip of coffee.]

How are you? How is everything going out there? Good? Thank you EVER so much for the ornament kit orders. Oh me oh my. I am so thrilled. It's been a fantastic week of crazy work, lots of help, late nights, many trips to the post office, lots of laughing, lots of ordering in dinner and lunch, lots of snacks (as you know), lots of felt, lots of labels, oh, just everything. It's been a lot of fun, actually. But I literally haven't had time to talk. Usually we have this project done by the end of October; here we are, one month early, though we started at the same time we usually do. It was awesome. Thank you very much for every single one of your orders — they mean so much to us. We still have lots of kits left (though the Sweet Homes are going faster than the others, so I think those will definitely run out first), but everything is assembled now, and I am completely caught up on orders. So I'm very happy.

We have had one problem that I know of so far, and the fault is all mine. In the Sweet Home kits, I discovered after several hundred were already assembled and shipped that I never even ordered the Red #321 embroidery floss for the French knots and the hanger on the wreath. That was not a good moment!!! After I discovered this, we bought all of the red floss they had at our local fabric stores and cut those skeins into lengths of floss and included a length in each kit, so watch for that piece of floss, tucked in near the lace and rick-rack. You need very little of the red — just enough for a few stitches in decoration — so if you have received a Sweet Home kit that doesn't have a piece of red floss included in it you can totally use a few plies (I would double or triple it) from a spool of red sewing thread and you'll never know the difference. If you don't have an easy way to get a hold of any red thread or red embroidery floss, don't worry for even a second — just email me with your address and I will send you a piece of red floss ASAP.

Thank you also for all of the super-sweet and hilarious comments on Andy's post. He was home all day the day he posted, and he was checking the computer every few minutes and giggling over all of the funny things people said. It was seriously adorable. Thank you for that.

Oh, these days! They're intense! The adoption plans seem to be on track and going well so far! The baby's due date is November 11, but there are reasons to be concerned that she may arrive early, so we are living in a state of high anticipation, waiting for the phone to ring and feathering the nest in the meantime. I think we have everything we're supposed to have, which feels really good. It's sort of challenging to make sure that we have everything we'll need to have in Illinois as well as in Oregon. But I think I will finally have some time today to put together a box of things to ship out to Andy's parents' house, where we'll be staying for several weeks.

I'm so glad we've had this time to prepare. It's all still kind of surreal, I have to tell you. I say my prayers every night, and think about the baby and her beautiful mother pretty much all day long every day, and write my letters, and try to send all of my love and good energy to them both across all of the long miles between us now. I truly hope they can feel what I am thinking and feeling. With any adoption there is a lot of uncertainty. There's uncertainty with any pregnancy, as well, of course. But adoption seems to take baby uncertainty to a whole new level, since there are so many different kinds of uncertainty happening all that the exact same time. I try not to live in the uncertainty, and try to let myself truly cherish and enjoy every single minute of this preparation time. I really want to just enjoy it all.

Because oh man. WOW. We are thrilled. Words simply fail.

Felty Frenzy

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Bunny1

Before we left, I was just finishing up this year's holiday ornaments. I love them. I'm going to photograph them and show them to you next week. We are still going to try to do kits this year. Andy's home today, cutting felt. Our awesome house/petsitter, Nanny Katie (she's also our neighbor's nanny), is out in the dining room assembling patterns. I'm winding yarn. We aren't going to take any orders until we have a whole bunch of finished kits this time. Nanny Katie is in training in case she is suddenly called upon to take over my whole life here should we get called back to Illinois early.

Poor Nanny Katie!!!

Clover Meadow is infatuated with Nanny Katie, so this is really good. She's out in the dining room, lying under the table at her feet. Warms my heart.

I have so much to say, but I think I haven't even begun to really process everything that's going on. It's a lot. Every day of the past few weeks has stretched my heart in ways I have never experienced before. Thank you for being patient with me, and just being here. It means so much more to me than I can possibly express right now.

Beautiful

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We are home safe and sound now. It was such a privilege to travel across this magnificent country of ours last week. I took these photos of the sunrise somewhere in eastern Washington, I think, on Saturday, September 10, 2011. Thank you again so very, very much for keeping us in your thoughts and prayers these past few weeks! I can't tell you how touched we were by all of the love and support we felt as we went through each of these (long!) days.

In our absence, autumn arrived! It feels good to come home to cool weather and falling acorns. I'm spending a few days getting caught up on everything, and figuring out what to do with all of these glorious tomatoes. I also owe this sweet little corgi a week's worth of cuddles. Ahhh, it's good to be home. :-)

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Our trip has been intense and incredible. Seriously epic. Thank you so much for all of your beautiful words, thoughts, and prayers. We've carried them all with us through every mile, every step. Everything has gone as well as we could have possibly hoped. I'm overwhelmed, excited, exhausted, and, frankly, sort of speechless (though I don't think I've ever talked so much in my life as I have this past week). I took all of these photos (chronologically) with my cell phone on the train coming east; later today we will leave Chicago, and get back on the train to go west. We are planning to return once again in November. The world is so mysterious and extraordinary. I feel utterly grateful, cracked open, humbled to the core.

A Journey

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Packing

Tomorrow Andy and I will board a cross-country train as our adoption journey takes us to a place I never in a million light-years thought it would take us: back home, to Illinois.

That we are going to Illinois now and that we came from Illinois then are total coincidences, and not even as strange as so many other things that have happened in the past three weeks to bring us to this point. The situation is still fluid and uncertain; at the center of it there is a very brave and beautiful young woman and her baby who need all our love and prayers. I will hold Andy's hand tightly as we watch the mountains, then the forest, then the prairie, and then the fields roll by, as we have done so many times together already. Though this journey is so unique, and its territories so unknown, something seems familiar. I feel a sense of destiny, and deeply trust that no matter how things turn out, they will turn out exactly as they should.

Pink and Green

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MeAndMyBed

I guess I come by my love of bedding (and the color pink, and photo borders, and Swedish design: that's a Jenny Lind bed) honestly. This is a picture of little me on my first night in my first big-girl bed, around 1972. I am sooooooo happy!!!!!

QuiltyLo18

I was looking through some of my old quilt photos today and I thought it was kind of interesting that this picture of the quilt I made a couple of summers ago and my first-bed picture above seemed related. I didn't even realize that at the time.

Cool. I don't know why, but that just makes me so happy. I like knowing that part of me now is still the little me I once was.

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.