Early, Early Spring

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I absolutely love this time of year. I was thinking today as I passed a winter garden that had been cleaned up and was starting to sprout daffodils and tulip spears how much I love this time of year — the time before things begin. The time when it's still winter but spring is ready and waiting. The time when things are just swelling slightly, just barely beginning to break the surface. Our plum tree has only a handful of blossoms on it, and that's a couple of weeks late, for it. It usually blooms closer to the beginning of March. It had a severe chopping this past summer; the tree trimmer probably took 1/3 of it (which was dead) away. Still, he said the whole thing was only 40% dead and it needs to be 60% dead for the city to allow you to take it out. It looks absolutely horrible now. Huge limbs needed to be removed so it is now very obviously patchy and uneven and wrecked. Poor thing. It's also leaning at about a 30-degree angle. It's ancient, covered in big knobs and warts. It is a great, hideous, gnarly beast. I both love and hate it.

I looked on Instagram this morning at dolly quilts, intending to make one or two for my darling little boo, who loves to sweetly tuck things in and put them to bed. I haven't sewn in ages, and I miss it. There are a couple of reasons for it, I think. One is that it hurts my back. The way I sit at my sewing machine really kills my back. This has been happening for about ten years, actually. A couple of years ago I had an ergonomic specialist come out and look at my work spaces, and watch me sewing, and check out my chairs and my work table, etc. She essentially said I was sitting up too straight at my machine (irony). She wanted me to slump a bit more, but that's really impossible when you're sewing. You know. I just couldn't see unless I was right on top of the stuff, but somehow that seeing is also hurting my back when I sew at length. And that's the way I tend to do it — massive blitz, and get it all done at once. I power sew. I don't go in there and stitch a few seams, or press a few pockets. No. I BLAST through it. That's what I have time for. Blasting. It is not relaxing, but it is satisfying. Nevertheless, it's not great for my back, and if my foot is painful, I'd rather put it up and knit (or crochet). So that's what I have been doing lately.

The other reason I haven't been sewing is that I think I, and probably every other serious Portland-area sewer, have been in a strange mourning phase over the loss of Fabric Depot here in town. Fabric Depot was one of our two (the other being Mill End Store, which is still open) old-school, full-service, enormous independent fabric stores here in the Portland area (and serving all of northwest Oregon and southwest Washington in general — I don't really even have a clue from how far people came to go to Fabric Depot, but occasionally you would see actual tour buses in the parking lot). It carried, in addition to hundreds of quilting fabrics from every different fabric line and manufacturer, all sewing notions, supplies like scissors and rotary cutters and boards, all kinds of batting, wedding fabrics, gobs of trims and ribbons and buttons, lots of upholstery stuff, various apparel fabrics, embroidery supplies, and I don't even know what else. Serious stuff. Whatever you needed. It wasn't half-filled with crap for your house or seasonal decor or stuff with inspirational words on it or scrapbooking stuff. It was a fabric store that was truly for sewers, and it was old, and it had janky cash registers and they still hand-wrote all of the cutting-counter tickets, and it had a big area with all of the pattern books, and you still needed to write your pattern number down on a little piece of paper and find someone behind the counter to get your pattern for you. It was where you would wander and wander and wander, up and down aisle after aisle after aisle, pushing your cart with your kid in it but more often not with your kid in it, just looking and looking and looking for something that was perfect, something that you needed, something that would work. I can't count how many hours of my adult life I spent doing that. I can't count how many yards of fabric I bought or how many thousands of dollars I spent there or how many things I made from the stuff I bought there. I don't know how many tears I quietly circumvented there, as it was my happy place, the place I went when things were bad, when everything felt horrible, wrong, shaky, sad, or hopeless. It always worked for me, and it always had. All my life I've wandered fabric stores, plotting and dreaming and choosing and hoping. Fabric Depot was my place. I almost always went alone. I almost always had as much time as I wanted. (I wouldn't go unless I did.) I almost always went with a plan, and I almost always came out better for it all. It had what I needed. Almost every single time.

It closed, quite suddenly, last October. I didn't go to the big close-out sales they had before the last day. In the weeks and months before, it had been slowly emptying out, and I think we knew. I didn't want to see it picked over and desolate, could not, somehow, participate in the collective grief that was sure to be inside. That might sound dramatic. I guess it does. But its closing seems somehow to signal larger truths about the state of retail, or the state of the world, that I can't even get my mind around. It felt, and still feels, just painfully localized. Our store. I don't think any of us think there will be another place like that in Portland again. It was too big, and it held too much, so much random, obsolete-seeming stuff that you didn't know you wanted (grommet setters, lacy lingerie elastic, a covered belt kit) until suddenly, one day, you wanted it. But because of that it also felt unsinkable. The ladies there (in their twill pinnies, with scissors in their pockets) had been there forever. They were not arch. They were stable and reliable. Experienced in fabric and life. They knew answers to your questions. They asked you what you were making, and always listened to you ramble on about it. There was always music, there was always a sale, and there were always other people like you, hanging around, laughing with each other, talking about sewing, doing the same thing you were, making things with joy, and sewing away every sorrow. I miss you, friend.

Keep It Together

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Hello! Guys!!! Thank you thank you for all of the Secret Garden orders! I'm so grateful — seriously, thank you. I've been here for the past week and a half, watching them roll in and now we are getting organized, placing orders for packaging and labels and materials. So things are happening here, and all the crazy parts and pieces of these projects are starting to come together, and I thank you, so, so much, for all of your kind comments and your orders! I'm really excited, and just so grateful for your support. You can't imagine. Thank you.

This week has been pretty discombobulated. We had two two-hour snow delays, and one totally cancelled snow day. The snow day was lame because there actually wasn't any snow. There was ice, and some wind, and a bunch of minuscule snowflakes that whirled but never really landed or stuck. Mimi and I had been in each other's pockets for days and days. By the time school got cancelled yesterday, I was pretty much wiped. I would've liked nothing better than to sit and watch twelve straight hours of Fixer Upper. Instead I just let her do whatever she wanted. It was too icy cold to play outside. I made breakfast, and then cleaned up. I made tomato soup, and slightly burned grilled-turkey-and-Swiss sandwiches, and then cleaned up. I made a snack, then cleaned up. I made fish sticks and broccoli for dinner and then cleaned up. When I wasn't cooking and cleaning up I read Missing, Presumed while lying diagonally on the sofa while Amelia tried to catch a fly with a handled strainer for forty-five minutes. She painted and drew. She dumped everything out, looking for some random thing. I don't remember what. She found fifty other things she needed. We've been reading eight books a night at bedtime. I put another comforter on her bed last night because it's been so cold and the kid was asleep like a bug in a rug the minute her head hit the pillow. Cabin fever, caught in only a matter of hours, is for reals. 

Only children. They can really wipe you out sometimes. When I come careening back downstairs in my nightgown after putting her to bed I swear I'm one almost-sob away from sobbing with relief. If any of the animals happen to be sitting on the sofa, they see me coming, hair streaming behind me and my eyes ablaze like a bird of prey, focused on my spot, and they get the hell out of the way stat. MAKE. WAY. MOTHER IS FIFTY.

Evening project: Using up my yarn stash. My stash is made up of a million partial balls yarn. Almost nothing has a label. Totally impractical stash. Good for making nothing but stuffed puffins, pears, and hot water bottles.

The Secret Garden Collection Now Available for Pre-Order

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Hello! Is it snowing where you are? We're having sunshine today. Andy and Amelia are working in the front yard, lifting muck off of the borders and uncovering tender daffodil shoots and tulip leaves. It seems like the perfect day to let you know that our Secret Garden Collection is finally available for pre-order! (To read about my inspiration for these items, please see this blog post.)

Pictured above is BLACKBERRIES AND HEATHER-BELLS — a sweet little design that fits inside a 6" (15cm) hoop (included in the kit) that acts as a frame. With a robin, blackberries and blossoms, heather flowers, ivy leaves, and a hidden key, this design is done in just one ply of DMC embroidery floss and you will be so amazed at the kind of detail you can get with just one ply! I honestly think you will love blending the colors a little bit to get a very naturalistic effect. It's so much fun, is easier than it looks, and actually goes really quickly. The kit costs $22 and will ship toward the end of April, 2019.

Finished size of design area: About 4" (10cm) in diameter

This kit contains:

  • One 9" x 9" (23cm x 23cm) piece of Kona Cotton (100% cotton) fabric by Robert Kaufman in color Pickle
  • One 6" (15cm) plastic faux-wood Flexi-hoop for (very easy!) framing
  • One 6" (15cm) piece of wool-rayon felt for backing
  • (34) 24" (61cm) lengths of various colors of DMC 6-ply cotton embroidery floss
  • Stitching instructions and color chart
  • Illustrated stitch tutorial for special stitches
  • Black and white line drawing for tracing design onto fabric
  • One piece of chipboard for creating a floss organizer

You will need:

To purchase the Blackberries and Heather-bells Embroidery Kit, please CLICK HERE.

 

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The second project from the Secret Garden Collection are the MISSELTHWAITE MITTS.

The same sweet motifs embroidered on this little pair of fingerless mitts are done in duplicate stitch. Knit flat, then embroidered, then stitched up the side with openings left for the thumbs, these handwarmers are perfect to wear at winter’s end, when the soils are just starting to warm and the smell of new growth is in the air. Knit with hand-dyed single-ply fingering-weight 100% Merino yarn, they are easy to make and so soft.

Please note that because I am dyeing all of the yarn to order, I will do my very best to match the colors you see here, but because of the nature of hand-dyeing, there may be some variation. The kit costs $42 and will ship toward the end of April, 2019.

Finished size of mitts: 3.25"w by 8.35"h (8cm x 20cm); to fit average adult woman's hand

This kit contains:

  • One 115g (434yd) skein of single-ply fingering-weight Merino yarn, hand-dyed by me in Misselthwaite Green
  • One pack of cut lengths of the same yarn, hand-dyed in a rainbow of colors for making duplicate stitches
  • Knitting instructions
  • Illustrated stitch tutorial for making duplicate stitches
  • Color charts indicating placement of duplicate stitches

You will need:

  • Size US 1.5 (2.5mm) needles, or size needed to match gauge
  • Yarn needle
  • Row counter

To purchase the Misselthwaite Mitts Knitting Kit please CLICK HERE.

 

Now, let's talk about the SECRET GARDEN APOTHECARY BOX! I'm pretty excited about this! This little box is filled with lovely, handmade, beautifully scented bath and beauty products that we've made for you. The box contains five items, including one 9-oz. jar of salt-and-milk bath soak:

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It contains Epsom salt, pink Himalayan salts, Dead Sea salt, milk powder, colloidal oatmeal, coconut milk powder, phthalate-free fragrance oil, rose Kaolin clay, chamomile flowers, rose petals, cornflowers, jasmine flowers, and calendula petals. You add a few tablespoons to a tea bag and dissolve the contents under warm running water, and soak in that tub for as long as they will possibly let you. . . . At least that's how I try to do it. This smells lightly of cucumber and spring garden scents.

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Also included is one 5-oz. bar of hand-made cold-process soap.

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It is a gentle, lovely soap that contains olive oil; coconut oil; distilled water; sodium hydroxide; castor oil; phthalate-free fragrance oil; blackberry seeds; rose Kaolin clay; purple Brazilian clay; mica; decorated with pink Himalayan salt, jasmine flowers, rose petals, and heather blossoms.

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Not every bar looks exactly the same, but they are all pretty similar to these. I am basically obsessed with this soap. It smells amazing — like rhubarb custard! 

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Also included is one 1.85-oz. lotion bar (almost as big as our full-size lotion bars, but the mold was a bit shallow). It's got a light, pretty floral scent, and contains beeswax; shea butter; coconut oil; lanolin; essential oils of elemi, chamomile, and ylang ylang; and jasmine absolute. It's so perfect for the season. I've been using mine like crazy.

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Also included is one scented wax sachet made of soy wax, beeswax, hyacinth fragrance oil, wax pigments, and dried botanical matter and flowers. It is about 2.5" in diameter, and you can hang it in your closet or in a window to look at every day. I discovered these on Pinterest this past fall. I don't know why I like them so much but I just do. Each one is unique and just so pretty.

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And lastly, included is one 2-oz. jar candle made of soy wax and beeswax, scented with honeysuckle fragrance oil and decorated with gem and mineral chips and dried flowers. These are just tiny, special little candles that burn for about fifteen hours and will make your bath or your evening a little more beautiful.

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Everything comes labeled and packaged together in a little kraft paper gift box, cushioned with paper shred and closed with seam binding and a pretty wax seal. The Apothecary Box is ready for giving, either to yourself or someone you love. The box costs $68 and will ship toward the end of April, 2019.

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To purchase the Secret Garden Apothecary Box please CLICK HERE.

 

We will ship all of these items all over the world this time. But please be aware that the Apothecary Box weighs almost four pounds, and it is expensive to ship overseas. It will ship Priority Mail in the U.S. You will be asked to read our shipping policies before checking out, so please make sure you familiarize yourself with them when you place your order. We will be ordering our labels and the packaging and some of the materials based on how many orders we get for these, so we are planning to ship everything together at the end of April.

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Thank you ever so much for your patience and your interest! This is a really big project for me and I am so excited about it. Please let me know if you have any questions and I will respond here! Xoxo, a

(Nest painting licensed from WitsEnd.)

Love Days

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87DBD436-6092-4B18-B42C-C327F8CDBFD6Sweet Mimi at her Valentine's Day store, 6:00 a.m.

I was going to have all of my Secret Garden things ready to go this week but I'm not quite finished getting the web pages up. I forgot about Valentine's Day, and President's Day on Monday, so I will probably have everything ready by Tuesday and will post links then. There's no need to scramble — this is not a sell-out kind of thing. We will literally take every single order we can get; if you're willing to wait for us to pull everything together, we will make as many of everything as you will want. It will just take some time. Hoops and candle jars are on back-order at the manufacturer, and I'm waiting to place some orders for supplies until after I see how many orders we will get, so I that I try to hit these numbers properly. I honestly never know with new stuff like this — will we get five orders or fifty orders or five hundred? It stresses me out to try to guess. It's too risky to get things wrong. So we'll take orders starting Tuesday and I'll give you more of an accurate expected shipping time when we know how many of everything we need to make. I'm pretty sure that things will start rolling out sometime toward the end of April, and first orders will go out first. Soap takes six weeks to cure. We have about a hundred bars curing right now but, as I said, not sure what the numbers will look like, so stay tuned.

I both very much enjoy and utterly dread the excitement of doing new things. I can't explain the particular emotion. It's complicated.

We had snooooooooooow! It was lovely. So lovely. It was short. We got a few short-lived inches, and those were supposed to be followed by a major snowpocalypse last week, and instead we got literally nothing. Seattle got it all. Well, that's not true — certain neighborhoods around town got dumped on, and certain neighborhoods got absolutely nothing. Mother Nature cherry-picked her locations this time. It was okay. We really enjoyed what we had, and Andy was even home for second day we had snow. He had to work on the first day of snow, a Friday, when school was cancelled and Mimi lost a tooth and she and I walked up to the park and hung out with some old friends. Later we walked up to the cafe for breakfast. The sun was shining and there was no wind and it was just excellent. I miss walking around so much. Now that Amelia is not in a stroller I feel like we just do not do it very much anymore. I miss those walking days, as much as they hurt my foot. I miss being right up close to the seasons like that, noticing peoples' curtains and the things in their yards and the new growth, especially at this time of year. I miss having a baby in the stroller bundled in her blanket, sleeping or drinking her milk, strapped in and not needing anything, me just walking and thinking and talking quietly to her if she was awake. It's nice walking together now, too, but it's different. It's much more active than passive. Pushing a stroller is almost like taking a waking nap. You just keep rolllllling along.

But anyway, we enjoyed the snow, I thought about time, I thought about the snow days of my childhood, how my friend Monica and I spent countless freezing, white-cold weekends at Keystone Park in River Forest, walking under the viaduct with our ice skates over our shoulders, long underwear on under our jeans, a thermos of Swiss Miss hot cocoa to drink in the warming room at mid-day. Everything was white — ground, sky, breath. It was freezing. Every winter they flooded the park and made a big ice skating rink. It was not a destination; it was just our little neighborhood park and grassy ice rink. We shoveled snow off the ice and into big banks of snow around the sides. Bigger boys played hockey. We held hands and practiced going backwards. I honestly don't remember any parents ever there. I know for sure that mine never went. It was the '70s. We walked there on our own and we skated together all day. We did this year after year, Monica and I. Our other friend, Linda, was a skating girl. She took ice-skating lessons at a real skating rink, getting up at five in the morning, every morning, to skate before school. Her mom, who was one of my absolute favorite moms, took her. She skated in competitions. When I went to her ice-skating birthday party at Ridgeland Commons, I was the one who fell down and bit through my lip, getting blood all over the ice and making a scene. I drew a picture of Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner, like a big, giant picture of them skating, and I worked on it for a long time. At the end of a skating day, Monica and I would walk back down Hawthorn in the blue snowlight of the winter evening with the huge bare oak trees overhead, fingertips freezing, noses running, ankles aching, perfectly spent. You'd stand at the sink and run warm water over your frozen hands for ten minutes when you got home. I haven't been cold like that in years. 

My Secret Garden Inspiration

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I'm literally aghast at how quickly the days seem to be going right now. I'm not sure why; not sure why they seem to be going so fast and not sure why that leaves me feeling shocked. Amelia's been in kindergarten for almost five months now, and I don't really know why, either, I thought that the days without her in the house would feel longer than the days when she was in half-day preschool. I guess, realistically, I really only have one extra hour before I leave to pick her up each day. We do two extra-curricular activities — ballet once a week and now we will start once-a-week swimming lessons after school today. Swimming is important, and she hasn't taken to the water very naturally. It feels like it's becoming a thing. Her group lessons in the summer aren't really cutting it. She actually regressed between first and second sessions last summer. I've heard good things about these new lessons so, fingers crossed, this is a fun and productive time because the lessons are expensive and also halfway 'round the world. . . .

For the first time in my life, I spend a lot of time in the car. . . .

THANK YOU for the podcast recommendations! Wow??? MANY RECOMMENDATIONS. Also, thank you for the British mysteries+ recs as well. You guys are awesome. Now I just need to find time to go through all of the recommendations and get them downloaded. I am excited. Someone said that the right podcast totally changed their commute. I like that. Also, I can't believe I forgot to mention Agatha Raisin on my list of must-watches. It's our go-to. For some reason, we literally just watch it all the time. It almost doesn't put Andy right to sleep. If you're going to watch it, though, you must try to find the pilot, which for some reason doesn't appear with the first season (this is all on Acorn TV). It's separate, and two hours long. If you watch "Walkers of Dembley" without watching "Quiche of Death" (pilot) you might be really confused. So be sure to search for it. The second season just started. M.C. Beaton (author) has written five thousand books in this series so lets hope this show goes on forever. I love Ashley Jensen. Well, everybody, really. Mathew Horne as Roy is perfect. I've read a ton of the Agatha Raisin books, years ago, actually, and I love the TV series better than the books.

This past fall, as Amelia entered kindergarten and started to show an interest in reading, I started pulling out the books that I had begun to collect for her before she was born. If you've been hanging around here for a while, you might remember this book list that you helped me put together. I remember that when I was working on that list, I bought a few classic books, including The Secret Garden, to start building a library for my future child. It struck me then and still strikes me now that, as much of a voracious reader as I was as a child, I really had very little exposure to what is considered "classic" children's literature. I'd never read The Secret Garden (or Little Women; or The Wind in the Willows; or Anne of Green Gables; or The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, to name just a few . . . ). I bought all of these and more for Amelia back then, in 2010, and I can remember like it was yesterday how I went to Chipotle right after I was at the Barnes and Noble in Lloyd Center, and I was reading this version of The Secret Garden (by Frances Hodgson Burnett) while eating my burrito, and I was about a dozen or so pages in when I thought, "Oh wow, oh no — this is too good." And I shut the book. And as with so much else in my life at that time, I put it in a special place with a pat and a kiss, and decided to wait, so that I could eventually share that experience with my child. . . . For many years, as I waited and worked to become a mother, I would think to myself (and think to myself; I thought this many, many times), "But everything is still ahead of me! All of the firsts are still ahead of me!" And that thought got me through more hard days than I can even now count.

Time was slow, then. Time was painfully, appallingly slow. You were here. You saw that. I busied myself with sewing, and knitting, and kitting out the house, feathering a nest for not months but the years (I just counted them the other day, and it was eight) it took before we had the privilege of becoming parents. And then, once that miracle arrived, and baby came home, and that adoption was finalized, time sped up like you wouldn't believe. Suddenly you're out of breath. It's like the opposite of hurry-up-and-wait — it's wait . . . wait . . . wait . . . and then holy crow hurry up, because baby is crawling, then walking, then talking, then going to preschool, and then her teeth are dropping out of her mouth right and left, and she's reading. . . . And all of that took mere moments. Moments. Entire years of early childhood that have felt like just a few beautiful, excellent, soul-filled, soulful moments. Because suddenly she is six years old. And ready to hear entire paragraphs as you read to her, tucked under your right arm, under the covers in the big bed, nightgowned, teeth-brushed, drowsy, and waiting to begin.

I won't tell you she's quite old enough to hear this whole story, because I don't actually think she is yet. Her attention span is still not quite long enough for long passages of text, or some of the more complicated issues, or some of the more troubling ones. We've read it aloud at night but we've also listened to it a bit on audiobook in the car, and it's pretty clear that I'm generally more into it than she is. But this time, once I started it, I didn't stop. I couldn't put it down. I couldn't turn it off. It is a poignant book, and, though not without its problems (I found this post the other day and thought it was great; and I also must say that I was frustrated that — SPOILER ALERT! — 1) Martha, who is such a brilliant character, pretty much disappears from the second half of the book, and 2) that the book ends on Colin, who I, personally, found much less compelling than Mary, and I truly felt like it was she who had earned the ending far more than he did — but she, too, kind of disappears before the end), it cuts to the heart of loneliness, loss, neglect, friendship, healing, and growth, both metaphorically and literally. I believed in the power of the garden, of planting seeds, of waiting and watering, and I still believe now, even more.

Sometimes I wish that I had read just this one book back then, in 2010. I think I could've made an exception for this particular one, back then.

The other wonderful thing about this book is just the gorgeous, evocative imagery: the purple heather-covered moors; a big Gothic manor with weird sounds wuthering through the halls; wintergreen and walled gardens; a lonely little girl skipping rope in a hundred circles; tiny plants poking their ways through dead leaves and detritus as they've been doing for many an unwitnessed year. The scene near the beginning when Mary, talking to Ben Weatherstaff the crusty old gardener, befriends the robin was the first in the book that moved me so much. Ben had just finished telling Mary that she and he were "wove out th' same cloth. We're neither of us good-lookin' an' we're both of us as sour as we look. . . ." Suddenly, the robin landed a few feet away in an apple tree:

    "He's made up his mind to make friends with thee," replied Ben. "Dang me if he hasn't took a fancy to thee."
    "To me?" said Mary, and she moved towards the little tree softly and looked up.
    "Would you make friends with me?" she said to the robin, just as if she were speaking to a person. "Would you?" And she did not say it either in her hard little voice or in her imperious Indian voice, but in a ton so soft and eager and coaxing that Ben Weatherstaff was as surprised as she had been when she heard him whistle.
    "Why," he cried out, "tha' said that as nice an' human as if tha' was a real child instead of a sharp old woman. Tha' said it almost like Dickon talks to his wild things on th' moor."
    "Do you know Dickon?" Mary asked, turning round rather in a hurry.
    "Everybody knows him. Dickon's wandering about everywhere. Th' very blackberries an' heather-bells knows him. I warrant th' foxes shows him where their cubs lies an' th' skylarks doesn't hide their nests from him."

For some reason that forlorn, unwanted child, and that sweet robin, and that earthling boy, and the phrase "blackberries an' heather-bells" sort of unlocked this massive whoosh of ideas for me recently. I started designing my most recent craft projects and apothecaries around them. The collection of photos and illustrations above has fed my imagination while I have been working.

"Circumstances, however, were very kind to her, though she was not at all aware of it. They began to push her about for her own good. When her mind gradually filled itself with robins, moorland cottages crowded with children, with queer, crabbed old gardeners and common little Yorkshire housemaids, with springtime and with secret gardens coming alive day by day, and also with a moor boy and his 'creatures', there was no room left for the disagreeable thoughts . . ."

Like Mary, my thoughts this winter have been filled with these things of Misselthwaite, and I hope you might find inspiration in them, too. (If you haven't read the book, or haven't read it in a while, I can't recommend the Inga Moore version enough.) I will probably start taking pre-orders for my two Secret Garden craft kits (one knitting, one embroidery [not cross stitch]) as well as the bath boxes we are working on sometime next week or so. I'm almost done taking photos of the items I am going to include, and I will tell you all about them then. It's been so much fun doing this, and I can't wait to share all the things we've made.

Boy, this really took me a long time to write, sorry! Phew!

Photos and illustrations, from top to bottom: 1. By Molly Brett 2. By Johanna Basford 3. By Flavia Sorrentino 4. Yorkshire Dales by Mike Williams 5. By Emma Lazauski 6. Unknown illustrator, from art.com 7. Vintage postcard from 1908 8. Thwaite, England, by Dave Dunford (and, curiously, Thwaite is about ten miles from the towns [Reeth,Grinton, and Marrick] that my ancestors-I-never-knew-about-until-last-year are from — so trippy!) 9. By Inga Moore 10. Vintage china pattern 11. Frances Hodgson Burnett 12. Still from The Secret Garden movie, 1993 13. By Julian deNarvaez 14. By Johanna Basford 15. By Russell Barnett 16. By Giovanni Manna 17. By Rachael Saunders 18. Vintage botanical print 19. Yorkshire Dales by A. Leighton 20. By Inga Moore 21. Tasha Tudor 22. Biodiversity Library 23. Unknown 24. By Aliki Kermitsi 25. Gathering Blackberries by William Stewart MacGeorge 26. Blackberry by Margaret Tarrant 27. By Leo Paul Robert, from Les Oiseaux dans la Nature 28. Vintage botanical illustration 29. Still from The Secret Garden movie, 1993.

Winter Warming

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Oh, the days of January, I love them so. I love that the weather is cold, the garden is sleeping, the skies are gray. I love that. I love hibernating, and flannel sheets, and flannel nightgowns, and hot tea, and pretty tea mugs. I love yarn, and knitting, and television at night, and dark. I'm tired, and getting over my cold, and wanting to go slow, and wanting to go upstairs early. The house is frowsy and soft. I'm gearing up to Marie-Kondo everything in sight, but not right now. No, not right now. Right now everything is a bit droopy, and needs fresh paint, and to be vacuumed for hours. I sit and make lists, stab at the taxes, pick up take-out Indian food, read picture book after picture book after picture book at bedtime, and listen to a thousand six-year-old hopes and fears. Her warm body beside mine, we listen to the wind and rain, and talk about going to Great Wolf Lodge someday, where they have an indoor water park, and water buckets falling on your head, and pool after pool after pool of warm water. I'm in. Take me there. Let's go now.

We went to a conference with Mimi's teacher the other day and it's like . . . I could just sit there and talk about my kid all. day. long. I love her two teachers and I love her school, and love how she is thriving there. I don't love the commute, but I'm trying to learn to like it. It's long, and can be ugly if I take the busy way, which I usually don't, and then it's just plain long and slow. I've been listening to The Secret Garden audio-book (read by Finola Hughes) while I drive, but it's almost over. I think I really need to get into podcasts. I don't even know what I want in a podcast, honestly. I'm not sure where to start. And can you download them so you don't have to use data on your phone while you're listening? Or . . . how does that even work? I don't seem to know anything about anything that everyone else knows lately. Thank you in advance.

I've been thinking and working a lot on the Secret Garden projects and the bath boxes that will go with them. What I think we will do is offer two different craft projects -- one is an embroidery project (not cross stitch, just regular free embroidery, of the robin, and the key), and one is a knitting project. The embroidery project is small, about 5" in diameter and will fit and be framed in a 6" hoop (which will be included with the kit). The knitting project will include a pattern for a pair of simple handwarmers decorated with with duplicate stitch, and will include hand-dyed fingering-weight yarn for the main color of the handwarmers and also all of the small amounts of yarn you will use to duplicate-stitch the designs on top. Then, if you'd like, each project can come with the Secret Garden–inspired bath box, which will include a bar of our handmade cold-process soap, a lotion bar, a really pretty apothecary jar of bath soak, a wax sachet, and a little candle.

You may order either of the kits with or without a bath box, or you may order just the bath box. We are going to take pre-orders for all of this in the next couple of weeks, and then it will take at least six weeks for us to ship everything. It will take this long because we don't know how many orders for everything we will get and we want to make sure we can include everyone who wants any of these items. So, since the soap takes six entire weeks to cure, we will continue to make soap almost every day in anticipation of orders. We also need to order the hoops I think I want to use for the framing of the embroidery project from Europe, and they have a long turn-around time (also about six weeks after ordering). So that puts us shipping around the beginning of April, and if you've read The Secret Garden, doesn't that seem kind of like the perfect time for this? I definitely will put together a post that shows you my inspiration for all the things we're working on for this, like I did for the advent calendar. I love making those collages so much and will start working on one later this week. I can't wait.

I've watched a few of the Tidying Up episodes on Netflix. I honestly get choked up every time they thank the house. It's weirdly emotional. I would've never thought to do that but it feels very poignant. It's a really beautiful moment in the episodes, I think. I also watched the documentary Three Identical Strangers last night and that was so incredibly intense. Did anyone else see it? Man. I don't even know what to say about that. As an adoptive parent, especially, it chilled me to the bone to think that they separated those babies. Unrelated, my sister Julie got me the British TV Field Guide for my birthday and I am psyched. I should do a run-down of my favorite British TV shows (mostly mysteries and thrillers) this past year. I love Shetland, Vera, Happy Valley (OH MY WORD crazy intense), Last Tango in Halifax, No Offense, Striking Out, Acceptable Risk, and Keeping Faith. Should I tell you about those or do you already know them?

I took that moon photo during the Super Blood Wolf Moon lunar eclipse! Josh was over and he and Andy were gonna go out to the garage to play video games; they went out on the back porch and flipped out because the eclipse just happened to be almost total at that moment and we had an awesome view of it from the porch. I grabbed my tripod and put it on the back table and got a few photos of the moon right before the clouds moved in. So that's almost total eclipse right there. It was just so totally cool to see that. I'm so glad they just happened to be going outside at that moment or we would've missed it!

The sweet winter field painting is the print I bought from Jo Grundy and had framed a few years ago, and I love it so much. And that beautiful watercolor of Amelia riding the rabbit? The sweetest gift from the most lovely Emily Winfield Martin several years ago. I absolutely treasure it, and it hangs over Mimi's bed.

Advent Calendar Wrap-Up

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Oh, hello! How are you? Guys, it's been kind of a sloooow start to the year here. . . . I'm trying to get caught up with 2018 and I feel like I'm treading molasses. We've all had colds, me the worst. Feeling better now. Andy is downstairs making Autumn Woods lotion bars (which were sold out — now back in stock, if you need). We were both looking forward to having a quiet day at home working (he just got home from working four-twelves in a row at hospital) but woke up to a text from the school saying there was a major water leak at school and it's closed. Sooooooooo. They'll probably go out and find somewhere to play today. I'm going to try to play catch-up and try to collect myself, now that I can actually breathe through my nose (kind of). Such is January. It's okay.

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What I've been wanting to do is show you the rest of the treats that were in the Northern Light Advent Calendar.

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There were lots of pretty, fingering-weight mini-skeins in light, icy, starlit colors. I painted some original watercolors and sprinkled them with salt to make starbursts. Then I scanned the paintings and created some little gift tags. There were six of these, with tiny glassine envelopes.

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We made a mini lotion bar we called Pomander Ball, scented with orange and cloves. It smelled so bright and fresh, like a winter kitchen. I'm still using mine daily. Especially on my nose, which is smarting because I've been blowing it every four and a half minutes.

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There were eight rustic, lovely mother-of-pearl 1/2" buttons. With lots of blue, purple, and gray lights, I thought they would be perfect on any winter cardigan. These were nice and chunky. I love how they feel, all uneven and rough and smooth at the same time.

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I couldn't decide whether to have you open this tiny honey jar before you opened the tea or after, but we ultimately chose to make the honey December 12th's present, hoping you would guess that the 13th would deliver delicious tea. This sweet little bee-skep jar of creamed honey came from Bee-licious Honey, a local bee farm here in Portland. And the gorgeous, fragrant tea was Inland Grey from Winterwoods Tea Company. Inland Grey is an organic Earl Grey tea with bergamot oil with dried orange peel and pretty blue cornflowers. It's a pretty as it is delicious, and together I thought they made such a nice treat.

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On Christmas Day, there was a full-size skein of fingering-weight single-ply Merino. I loved dyeing these yarns for the 25th. Every one of them was different, but most were in a range of pale blues, aquas, and lavenders with splashes of pink and bright yellow. (And, unrelated, but I just wanted to show you the sweater I am working on for myself with yarn I dyed on my Merino-cashmere-nylon base. It's the Wool and Honey sweater by Andrea Mowry and it is such a fun knit:)

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Anyway, okay. So, let's get on to this: some things that were in the advent calendars that I have made more of that are now available to order in my web shop.

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Firstly, handmade stitch markers. You might remember that I showed you these from the advent-calendar reveal I did a few weeks ago. For the calendar I included five of these little rings: four non-tarnishing silver-plated markers and one brass (to mark beginning of round). My thinking was that you'd have four markers for a raglan sweater, with a special one for beginning of round. For my web shop, I'm making these in bigger collections of ten silvers with one brass. The rings are all handmade by a jeweler in the Midwest. I purchase them directly from her and decorate them with various kinds of pretty glass beads. The beads are in a random assortment of colors that I will choose for you. They fit up to a size 11 (8mm) needle. You can purchase them right here. Depending on how many get ordered, it may take me a week or so to get them out to you.

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Also in the advent calendar, I made sweet little botanical wax rings and discs like these. While I was researching lotion bars and candle molds, I kept running into several Japanese designers who were making these and I thought they were so beautiful I really wanted to try them. I love making them. Each one is unique, though sometimes I try to make several that look the same if I like what I did. Generally I would add essential oils but for the advent calendar I did not — because there were edible treats in the box, I did not want any scents from the wax rings to affect the flavor of the marshmallows, etc. (There were essential-oil-scented candles and lotion bars in the box, but they were in capped jars and tins, so the scent stayed in.) I've now made some of these lightly scented rings and discs for my shop. These are made with local beeswax, soy wax, essential oils, dried flowers and other botanicals. They have brass eyelets and are tied with various colors of French gingham ribbon. You can choose whether you would like a ring or a disc, and you can choose your scent from Lavender and Mint, Bergamot and Grapefruit, Ylang Ylang and Jasmine, and Cedarwood and Fir, or Natural Beeswax scent (no essential oils). They are $22 each. They are available here. I have three of each already made. If more than that sell, I will take pre-orders and make more next week. These would make such sweet little Valentine's presents, especially if you've recently cleaned out your closet. . . .

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Steel cut oatmeal at home. Sugar cookies. Snowy branches. Cozy quilts. Lacy legwarmers. Winter lights. My favorite part of the advent calendar was this: a collection of eight 5" x 7" postcards (and eight plain white envelopes) of my favorite original photos that evoke my love of winter days here at our place.

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It's been quite a while since I've had new postcards made and I could not be more pleased with how these came out. I took all of these photos myself, and they are professionally printed on 15 pt. satin-matte-coated paper with rounded corners. The back of each postcard is blank pale green except for my copyright line at the bottom. If you haven't written your holiday thank-yous yet, these would be perfect. They are $20 per set of 8 cards/8 envelopes and they are ready to go! They are available here.

Thank you for all of your enthusiasm for this calendar, and for your patience with me as I've strung out this reveal. I swear I meant to post these every day of December! Well, that didn't work. I truly hope that those of you who received the treats in real life enjoyed them as much as we enjoyed making them for you. We have so many new plans for 2019, and I am excited to share all my ideas with you, and so grateful that you hang out here to see them come to life. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. Xox xox x o x, A.

Weekend Away

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Aw, helloooooooo out there. I feel like it's been so, so long since I've had time to be here. The holidays are so busy. New Year's always stresses me out. It was my birthday a couple of days ago. My brother-in-law's is today. My mom's is tomorrow. My sister-in-law's is the same day as mine. My other sister-in-law's is in a few days. It just goes onnnnnnnnnnnnnnn and on! Andy, Amelia, and I went to Skamania Lodge in the Columbia River Gorge for the weekend. It was really, really nice. It's about an hour east of Portland. We got there on Saturday afternoon and left Tuesday morning. It's a nice place. We splurged on a fancy suite with a fireplace. There isn't a whole lot to do there at this time of year — we took a hike on Sunday and it poured cold rain the entire time. But it was nice. We spent hours and hours in the pool and hot tubs both Sunday and Monday. I think my favorite time was floating around in the outdoor hot tub on Sunday when it was cloudy and rainy and foggy and freezing. It felt like we were in some medieval hot spring. We had it all to ourselves on Monday, literally. We were the only people in the pool all day. It was so weird to just have so much time to do nothing. I clutched a big rubber ball and just floated around aimlessly. Paddled here and there. I thought about my life and the new year and the new decade for me, thought about all the things I am happy about and all of the things I want to change about myself, all the things that worry me, all the things I want to accomplish this year. I never think this way at length but I was thinking this way in the pool. I was making lists in my head. I have so many ideas and things I want to do.

At night, we always turned in early. Andy was fighting a cold. We watched Nickelodeon shows that we never watch and it was a blast. All these kid sit-coms. I laughed out loud at every single one. Mimi stayed up late. We snuggled in the bed. The wind howled outside. It's very windy there and the wind whistled in the fireplace and against the windows. On Tuesday morning, the morning we were to leave, it was basically starting to rain ice and I couldn't see across the river we were in such a cloud . I flipped out and hustled everyone into the car because the weather report seemed to indicate things might get worse. I really did not want to get stuck out there. And honestly, I was ready to get back to regular life. Turns out that right where we were at the lodge was the worst — the road was fine. But I was still ready to go home. We drove back through the gorge through the rain and the pines, listening to Woody Guthrie singing about the Columbia River. Amelia had learned the song at school and we sing it around the house often now. When I asked her if the river was what she expected, she said no: She said she thought it would be "rolling," and made big circles with her hand. It was so adorable. Roll on, Columbia, roll on. When we got home, we found this gorgeous cake that my sister, who had been house- and pet-sitting for us, made for me. I squawked with delight. What a treat. Andy and Mimi went to the grocery store and bought stuff to make individual lasagnas and they spent the afternoon making them. We had such a nice dinner, and such a nice weekend. I feel just beyond blessed in so many ways. Andy and Amelia are literally two of the nicest, sweetest people I have ever met in my life. I love them so much.

Today it's been back to school and work for all of us. When I got home after drop-off, I realized I hadn't been alone in the house for weeks. It was quiet and clean. Luckily I had done a lot of cleaning before I left, and we'd put all our Christmas decorations away. Everything was nice. The studio and office are not nice because we're in the process of reorganizing them. But everything else was nice. I felt my shoulders dropping. I photographed all of the advent calendar treats I just haven't had time to show you yet. It felt good to get a little bit caught up. I made some things I want to put in my web shop next week. I watered my plants. I drank a cup of tea. I ordered a 2019 calendar. Then it was time to go back to school for pick-up, and then ballet, etc. But honestly, I'm so happy to be back in the routine. Hello, January. Here I am.

P.S.: I have done a lot of knitting that I need to photograph and get on Ravelry. But I did finish a little hat for Mimi and it is the Faded Splendor Tam. It actually matches her plaid coat perfectly, but she didn't bring that one on the weekend. All of the yarns I used were various fingering yarns that I dyed myself. This hat is supposed to look like a beret (we were trying to make a hat that looked like the one Annabelle wears in Mary Poppins Returns [which we've seen three times now, and it is awesome] but I think I need to block it on a plate to give it that beret shape. Alas, it's cold here and Amelia doesn't really want to take it off! I'm so pleased by that I can't bear to swipe it from her for the time it would take to block and dry it right now. But I really want to see if it can be a beret! :)

At Year's End

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Oh, the days, the lovely days! One after another, filled with light and love. I'm already missing it all, this holiday season that has been so simple and sweet and soft. I'd been meaning to get back here to update my blog last week, last sometime . . . the days rolled out and on, a blur of lights and cookies and carols and crows against the blue morning sky and I never could slow the roll long enough to take stock. Andy's sweet grandfather passed away just before Christmas. He would've been ninety-five in February. He always sang "Happy Birthday" to us, to all of his children and grandchildren and many great-grandchildren on our birthdays. I picture him with his date book and phone book, marking time and leaving these sweet singing voicemails throughout the year, year after year. Andy flew home to Chicago to be with his family in the early morning hours of December 26th, and Mimi and I spent the rest of the week curled together like fluffy kittens, snuggling under blankets watching movies, going out to the wintergreen woods for walks, trotting about downtown to see the lights and the people, going out to fancy lunches and ordering whatever we wanted, messing up every single corner of the house with our gifts and toys and treats. Bubble baths and storybooks, Christmas cookies and new nightgowns. This unexpected week where it was just us girls is one I will never, never forget. Andy got home yesterday evening and we all had a sleepy, sweet reunion. Our dear little Christmas tree is drooping and tired. The floors need sweeping, the beds need straightening, the big house and the dollhouse are basically trashed. But we have had love and joy in abundance and I am so grateful for it all.

Merry, merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, my dear friends! Thank you for all of the generosity, kindness, support, and great friendship you have shown us this year and all these many years. I hope your holiday season has been filled with light, and I wish you much love and peace and comfort and joy in these last days of the year as 2018 trails off and we collect ourselves to begin again. Thank you all for everything you give here, and for all of your indulgence in and encouragement of me. You brighten and enrich my life more than you could possibly ever know. Thank you!

Love,
Alicia, Andy, Amelia, Clover Meadow, and, last but not least, our nineteen-year-old little Bee

Jenny Lind Redux

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My mom had my childhood headboard and footboard in her garage and I got them from her recently. This was my childhood bed (here I am in it back then) that my mom and I stripped and refinished at some point when I was a kid. She brought it out when she and my dad moved from Chicago to Portland in 1998. I don't know why I didn't think to ask her about it sooner, but I had kind of forgotten all about it. Sure enough, she still had these pieces; I ordered new hook-on side-rails and a box spring and Andy put it all together for Mimi over the weekend. Mimi was downstairs playing with two gigantic bags of Barbie stuff that I found for free on Nextdoor; our class has been collecting donations for a family of refugees from Syria, and “Barbie house and toys” was on their wish list and I got so lucky to stumble upon these almost immediately after reading the wish list. Mimi knew she would be bringing these to her friend on Monday, and oh my word, no toys have ever been played with as much as those toys that were headed immediately back out the door. She had the best time. Andy and I busied ourselves with taking out the toddler bed and putting together the big bed and washing the curtains and cleaning her room. In the late afternoon, just as we were finishing, she wandered upstairs and saw the new bed and loved it. I mean, she knew it was happening, but it was really fun to have her walk in to it all having been done without her watching the progress. It felt pretty magical. I have always loved this little bed and I don't really have words to describe how sweet it is to see my little daughter excited about getting it for her own. Naturally I am now spending most free time trawling eBay for vintage Laura Ashley bed linens.

The Nutcracker was so lovely, as always. I did not take that photo of the dancing snowflakes (I found it online and it is by James McGrew) because they don't let you take pictures in there and I'm always sad because I just want to remember how pretty it is — the snowflakes are my favorite. They do have a photo-op for the kids with some of the younger dancers, all dressed up. Andy bought Mimi the tiara she picked out during intermission. Before we left the house, she found a pink flower headband and put it on, and posed with the two battery candles in front of the Christmas tree. This was all her idea and she asked me to take her picture and yeah, my heart melted into a puddle of melted snowflakes in an instant and does again, looking at this.

A few advent calendar reveals! Pretty yarn, spiced hot chocolate from Treehouse Chocolate (from Portland) and handmade vanilla marshmallows from Lil' Miss Marshmallow (also from Portland), silver-plated stitch markers with tiny beads (made by me). Andy and I also made beeswax-(from Portland!)-and-soy-(not from Portland) candles with clary sage and juniper essential oil. I hope everyone loved these things as much as we loved making them and putting them all together. Yesterday Andy and I made our very first batch of cold-process soap and it was thrilling and exciting. It really was. We had a blast. I have plans to include soap in my upcoming Secret Garden project boxes if I can get good enough at it. We used the Creamy Shea Butter Bastille Soap recipe from Simple & Natural Soapmaking by Jan Berry. I scented it with Raspberry Jam fragrance oil, colored part of it with purple Brazilian clay, both from Brambleberry. I decorated it with blackberry seeds and tiny heather flowers. I'll let you know how it turns out in six weeks. My first bars that I made at the class I took at OMSI are almost ready to use. I can't wait.

I've been on the fence about using fragrance oils, even only the phthalate-free ones, instead of essential oils but I think from now on I'm only going to use essential oils. Here is an interesting discussion about the pros and cons of both. Thoughts? Do you have strong feelings about this? I didn't think I did but I guess I might. But what to do when you want something to smell like blackberry and there’s no such thing as blackberry essential oil? First-world problem. But I find all of the soapmaking stuff intensely interesting. It kind of reminds me of learning to throw pots and then glaze and fire them. So. Many. Options. For what to make. And when it turns out how you planned it feels like a total miracle. This soap did not turn out like I planned and in some ways that was the most thrilling part. Much more soap experimenting to come. I'm really excited.

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.