Winter Clean Up

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Grocery-store tulips and hot tea. The chores were piling up. We tried to clean up a little bit, but I still feel daunted. I think it's more perceived chaos than real. But I do have a punch list, and I need to get on it. I get frustrated when I let things go that you can't really get away with letting go, for very long. Wah. This happens to me every January. I want to rest, but the girls need their 1099s, or whatever they're called, so I have to do The Books (which I really don't do all year, in spite of the many, many times I have sworn that next year I will do The Books all year, every month, every day) and The Forms and The Files. And, you just have to do it. I get no better at it, nor more inspired, as the years pass.

The sky today is pale, pale gray. Andy bought tiny light-bulbs for my grandma's two pink glass antique lamps, so they are glowing. I had an idea about making a painting for the mantel, so I bought a cheap canvas from the craft store. I fussed a bit with the mantel — all the foliage on there is dried or fake, sort of a late-winter/early-spring bunch of bits, and (it being fake) I can just look at it and be happy and not have to do any work about it — and then I hung the blank canvas where it will ultimately go. I was very pleased, in fact, with the blank white. It felt like the only white space in the room. An open door into possibility. As they say. What will it be? I thought the three of us could paint on it and see. Maybe this afternoon. A family painting.

My dear Amy and I went to Kachka for dinner the other night. I had the best time. Cute place. Great company. She and I can talk about cross stitch for half an hour and get so excited we are essentially shouting. It was loud in there, especially with what sounded like Russian Tom Waits booming, but still. Dear Amy. xo

Mimi's crocheted dress is my Mina. I need to make more of these, or of knitted or crocheted dresses in general. They are perfect for winter days, and keep her core warm. Crochet. Andy's crocheting starfish because the dog ate two of our real ones. That's a sentence I wouldn't have thought I'd ever write, for some reason.

Winterwoods Sampler (Again)

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Thank you so much for all of your generous comments on the new sampler! Since my post I've been getting emails about and orders for the Winterwoods ABCs Sampler Kit so I just wanted to pop in really quick and show that to you again here in case you want to try it out. I designed this kit in 2012. It is very dear to my heart. You can read my original post about it here or order it here. I know that many people  who had never cross-stitched before have made this, which makes me ridiculously happy. This is a good winter project. I love it.

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***Also, in answer to some questions from the last post: The muffins were made from this recipe, and the Mammagetti is an old family recipe that came from my mom's mother. I think that's my sister's handwriting on the card. My mom said that when she was little she would often have ice-skating birthday parties and then everyone would come back to her house for Mammagetti. It is kind of a strange recipe — I made it for the first time last week in about ten years. There is an absolute ton of vegetables in this thing, so use a huge pot. My mom says that you really do HAVE to add the cheese. It totally changes it. And you really do have to cook it that long, I guess. As far as the cheese container size goes, I think the one I added was 8 oz. Obviously, you can substitute fresh grated Parmesan or your own favorite spaghetti sauce for the Ragu, but this was the way we always made it in our family. It's a nostalgia thing. I love this but, ironically, my sister doesn't (anymore). I serve it over thin spaghetti with a big blob of ricotta and a big glass of milk. Sunday-night winter dinner. Yummy stuff.

****Oh yeah — thank you for reminding me, Cynthia (and thank you for your kind words) — the line in the recipe that says "fill to almost with water" [sic]. My mom says to add 2 cups of water. Sorry about that!!!

Swirlywhirl, and Slow

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January. What would I do without you, specifically your frowsy second half, after the holidays and the birthdays and the outings? Because there are the lights . . . and the burnt-out lights and the only-half-put-away decorations and the only-half-put-away presents and all the things, things strewn here and there and everywhere, things that only appear here in the second half of January, somehow, and somehow my normally compulsive tidying impulse just drifts away like a little piece of fluff on the sodden winter wind. Bye-bye. There it goes! Instead I settle, and heavily, into the downy puff of calico on our sofa, let Amelia watch too much Peppa Pig (but she's so soft and snuggly, tucked under my big, soft arm where she fits so perfectly, when she's watching!), and cook giant batches of things to freeze for three more dinners, or twelve more breakfasts, all to minimize my time away from needle and thread. Because when I get an idea, especially in January, make way, all you other things I should be doing (cleaning! taxes! grocery shopping!). I must sew.

Could anything be more antithetical to my life right now than making tiny cross-stitches on 32-count linen? Oh my stars, it is slow, so slow, and so small. I couldn't decide if this was a good or a bad thing. For sure, it is stark relief against the background of days with a whirling, twirling toddler, who once again has started dragging the chair all over the house and getting into everything on every surface: the basket of punch cards and keys and stray coins we keep by the front door; my dish of extra buttons from new clothes, and jewelry, and random push pins (?) I apparently (though I had forgotten it, until she found it and strewed the contents around the room) keep on my dresser; the houseplants that are (leaf by leaf) being denuded of leaves; the Lenox wedding-china teacup she brought to me, holding it up in both hands as if presenting a rare bird. I gasped to see it and r u s h e d — you know the oxymoronic slow rush you must do so as not to completely freak her out and cause her to just wig, and throw it? — out of the kitchen to pluck the cup neatly from her little hands and try to determine how she managed to (silently) finagle the elaborate system of ponytail holders we have holding the china-cabinet doors closed (since the attempt at installing the baby lock on that door actually broke the door frame, etc., etc.). When her hair slides loose from its braids, and she is rushing from one of her work stations (the mail basket!) to the other (the dining-room lamp cords!), she looks like Animal from the Muppets (Andy's favorite childhood character, conveniently) in the midst of an epic drum solo. Our house is only so babyproofable. Not babyproofable enough, right now. Winter in Portland: You don't know what raining means until you have a careening, ambitious toddler that can't go to the park every day.

Nevertheless, oh my darling girl, how I love the torrent of language that is flowing from her lips. Almost constant chatter, and much of it starting to make sense, and the sense it makes is so sweet and so funny and so fascinating to me. Wow. The babble, the questions, the songs, the pretend noises (dinosaur! kitty!), the shouts, the calls, the exclamations (yuck-y! mine! no! yes!) the thrilling sentences ("I want to play with this one!"). A jumble of expression, numbers and colors and songs and letters like a burst of confetti thrown into the air every minute. How could I not make an alphabet sampler for my tiny love who is just learning, right at this very moment, the ABCs? I couldn't not. I have never had such fun designing anything, or done it in such a real-time way.  Amelia takes the half-finished sampler from my hands, and names her world: apple, boat, kitty. Egg. Umbrella. Zebra!

I did the designing part quickly, like I do most everything else these days, rushing to finish plotting out every stitch on every single letter and image in one free afternoon. But then the stitching part — oh, that's the slow. And, well, now that I'm committed, it's a lovely, lovely slow. I had forgotten how lovely embroidering can be. I let myself completely settle in. It happens at night, after baby bedtime. Every night this month, by the white light of my hideous full-spectrum lamp, I stitch a motif, and a letter, and maybe half of a next one, drawing the thread through over and over again, finding it restorative after a season of so much activity — holidays, parties, events, trips, hikes, presents, people, etc., etc., etc. — and days of so much swirling, twirling toddlerness.

It's been a long time since I've designed a cross-stitch sampler, and I wanted to make this one a kit to use up the pretty substantial overstock of floss (from ornament kits, embroidery kits, and animal kits) that Stacey recently catalogued. There is a lot, and the palette is so pretty, I think. Most of the other cross-stitch pieces I've designed (and there have been quite a few that I never talked about here, because I did 1/3 of my second book on cross stitch, and none of those could be shared while in progress, which doesn't suit me) have been on 28-count linen. I thought it was my preferred. I do love it. But I couldn't get the color I wanted — Stone Gray, this sort of clay-colored, rosy gray — in 28-count (Cashel linen), only in 32 (Belfast linen). (To refresh your memory about cross-stitch counts, my tutorial on counted cross-stitch is here.) I pouted. I whined again about the cross-stitch industry (oh, fun!). I looked at and tested out about ten different colors. But I wanted Stone Gray. So I grudgingly started stitching on the 32-count, and I worked a few motifs on other colors of 28-count just to torture myself. And what happened was (you saw this coming, I know), I fell in love with the 32. Smaller, yes, but not even appreciably more "difficult" than stitching 28-count, and the motifs wind up looking tighter and brighter and more saturated, and that just feels right for this (rather large, in fact) piece. So now I love the 32! This almost never happens, but it did this time. Then the distributor called and said that Zweigart would custom dye, in Stone Gray, the yardage that I wanted for the kits in 28-count linen. And I said no. Now I'm sticking with the 32. So that's how that all went. And let's hope we can get this fabric.

Did you need to know all this? Probably not. But such is the exciting life of a cross-stitcher. I could hardly keep it to myself! And who else could I tell but you???

I love the design process so much, especially when it's not for a book, where there really isn't time to tweak the colors of the design. When I design on my own, I get to take my own time, and redo stuff until I'm happy. You don't know if colors are really "working" (that's relative) until you've stitched them. And they totally change depending on what background color (and, to a lesser degree, what count of fabric) you're using. I love all of that. I love working it out, and balancing it, and shifting it. I love obsessing about one color over another, changing the placement of an eye or mouth, or just swiftly rendering something to capture the feeling of energy that can't be belabored. You're seeing the first draft of it all here — these are not the final motifs or colors, but they're close. It's a funny life, in a way, to care about such little things in my few quiet hours of the day. It must provide some sort of weird balance, somehow. I don't even know. But it gives me something. It always has.

These are January thoughts, in the year that my baby girl is two.

***Answers to some questions here (more or less copied from the next post): The muffins were made from this recipe, and the Mammagetti is an old family recipe that came from my mom's mother. I think that's my sister's handwriting on the card. My mom said that when she was little she would often have ice-skating birthday parties and then everyone would come back to her house for Mammagetti. It is kind of a strange recipe — I made it for the first time last week in about ten years. There is an absolute ton of vegetables in this thing, so use a huge pot. My mom says that you really do HAVE to add the cheese. It totally changes it. And you really do have to cook it that long, I guess. As far as the "cheese container" size goes, I think the one I added was 8 oz. Re: the line in the recipe that says "fill to almost with water" [sic]: My mom says to just add 2 cups of water. Obviously, you can substitute fresh grated Parmesan or your own favorite spaghetti sauce for the Ragu, but this was the way we always made it in our family. It's a nostalgia thing. I love this but, ironically, my sister doesn't (anymore). I serve it over thin spaghetti with a big blob of ricotta and a big glass of milk. Sunday-night winter dinner. Yummy stuff.

Into the Woods

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Enchanted forest. This is the west end of the Old Salmon River Trail. It's just outside of Welches, Oregon, in Mt. Hood National Forest. I think it's our favorite walk (also pictured here and here). I'm hard-pressed to find an easier (it's flat and wide), more beautiful hike, fairly close to home. My hiking abilities are about on par with our two-year-old's (and here's her sweater, by the way). I don't care how far (not far) we go, just get me to the quiet sitting-down place and I can stay for hours, listening to the river, watching for birds or slugs, making stone soup, smelling the evergreens and the moss and the mud. It's a wild, twisting, silver-greened, soft-floored forest, so different from the upright, oak-filled midwestern woods I grew up walking in. I never liked to go very much, then. We were required to, and I balked at being made to go. As an adult, I'm much more sympathetic to my dad's intentions. But for many years I wanted nothing less than to go into the woods. I walked — oh how I walked! — but only ever among the houses, in the neighborhoods, and for miles and miles and miles, everywhere. Anywhere. But always in town. At some point, when I started living with Andy and we moved to Montana, I let the woods back into my life. Not long after that, I was run over by a truck and my left foot was destroyed. They put it back together, but it's a patchworked, fragile, frustrated thing, protected with gel pads and compression stockings and the special silly-looking orthopedic shoe I wear with every step I take, even just when going across the room. It usually hurts. But in the woods I do not care how it feels. I just feel happy. We wander and amble, stop and sit. She prances and talks. She sings and babbles, pointing, chattering away like a little bird. She cooks in puddles and throws sand. She is always carrying something — a stick, a leaf, a flower, a handful of rocks. She squats to look, or does her funny, swaggering walk, like she owns the place. She gets carried on her dad's shoulders when she's done. He carries me too, in our own way. I want my girl to love the woods. And I think she does.

First Snow

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Late on a foggy afternoon we drove out to the woods. Had dinner at the Skyway and spent the night at a little cabin. The next morning we went up to Timberline Lodge for breakfast and spent the day playing in the snow. Her first time. I will never, ever forget it. Man, what a great day. My dream come true.

(Other trips to Timberline are here and here. [Josh and Keels have little kids now, too, but next year I think we should all go up together again and stay at the lodge — there's just nothing like sleeping up there.] Mimi's sweater and hat are on my Ravelry page, and her mittens [when she would agree to wear them!] are on Gillian's.)

Delight

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It was my birthday on Wednesday and it was one of the best days I've ever had. Super quiet, nothing special, and yet everything was. Andy had the day off. We got breakfast at Besaw's (my favorite) and then ordered pizza and salad for dinner so no one had to fuss. Amelia napped on the sofa between the two of us for most of the afternoon. We played the Music and Lyrics soundtrack all day and Andy made me a birthday cake — apparently, the first cake he's ever baked all by himself. I asked him how he came up with the inspiration for his design and he said, "I looked at it, and I thought, 'There's nothing on there,' and then I saw those [blueberries] in there [fridge]."

Ahhhh! Brilliant! :)

The cake was delicious. I got lots of lovely cards and calls and texts and presents. It was just the absolute perfect day. And in two days we're going to Mt. Hood. I'm so excited. :)

Happy New Year!

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Happy New Year, dear friends! I hope all is well with you, and that you had a wonderful bunch of holidays. Ours were truly wonderful. It's been so nice to just chill out and I really have. I got sick over new year's and spent a few days on the couch. For the past several afternoons even my little darling has slept next to me under her quilts while I've watched movies and drunk tea and knit and knit and knit. Favorite new movie: Music and Lyrics with Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore. I loved it. Light and frothy and funny (the scene where she "confronts" what's-his-face in the restaurant? I coughed so hard! That was hysterical!) and still moving (I love the amusement park scene, so sweet). Also watched About a Boy which is one of my faves. Going through a later–Hugh Grant thing. Watched the beginning of Mickey Blue Eyes, where Jeanne Triplehorn and Hugh Grant are running through the streets of New York, trying to make their dinner reservation. He is a few yards ahead of her and she is laughing and laughing and you don't really know why she's laughing but you assume she's just having fun, and she finally stops and doubles over and says something like, "Stop! No more, seriously! Just run normal!" And he looks all faux-wounded and Hugh Grant–ish and he's like, "Run normal? This is my normal run." And she goes, "Oh! I'm sorry! I've never seen you run and I thought you were doing a funny run!"

:))))) Ha!

Someone was very excited about her new play kitchen! Oh yes, I was, and I even let Amelia play with it because I am just cool like that, people!!!

The other night I was lying next to Amelia before putting her to bed and I thought of about ten resolutions I wanted to make for 2015. Even as I was thinking of them I was trying to think of ways not to forget what they were, because it was dark in the room and I didn't have paper or pencil or phone or anything to write them down. And sure enough, the only two I can remember now (besides the private ones) are "Try not to be such a jerk about the hot weather in the summer" and "Try not to be such a jerk in general." I wish I could remember the others because I think there were some good ones in there but I guess these are a good place to start.

Love and Joy

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I do like how, after all that bustle and speed, the end of the year sort of rolls into the station slowly, somehow. The day after tomorrow is Christmas, and I'm already anticipating the quiet hush that will follow, when the streets are empty, and there's not much to expect from anything or anyone. Ooooh, sweet joy of nothing to do. The days are short but feel so long and languid. I'm so ambivilent about solstice: the return of the light . . . but already? I'm not ready. Maybe it's a Pacific Northwestern thing. Look how green our winterwoods glow! Stay longer, dusky days. Bring me quilts and pillows and pets and picture books. The sky is dark, dull, lavender with rain. Inside, our candles light our mornings, noons, and nights and the time — this lovely, luminous December-time — has been filled with the magic of our tiny girl, learning how to say Christmas tree. Snowflake. My lights. My Christmas tree. Hi, Christmas tree! Waving. On Sunday night as she was bouncing around the place well past bedtime I said to her, "Are you excited?" And she said, "YES."

From the bottom of my heart, I wish you all peace, and good health, and much happiness, and send lots of love from us here. Thank you for the gift of your encouragement, reassurances, and kindnesses, the thousands of kindnesses you show here all the year, every year. My cup overflows. May love and joy come to you, and your every wish come true. I wish you peace, from all of us.

With love always,
Alicia, Andy, Mimi, Clover Meadow, and The Bee

Good Cheer

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This season, it goes too fast. I want to draw out every day and wrap these moments around me like a spiral of sparkling lights. Christmas in Dairyville, walks to our neighborhood bakery, and having latkes with our neighbor, Amelia's official bubbe. I want to stay and chat but I need to rush off to a toddler holiday pageant. Have a wonderful weekend, be well, and enjoy all of it. Every little thing. Xoxo

***A few answers to recent questions: Our star lights in the window in the previous post are from Ikea; the chocolate-ginger-molasses cookie recipe I used is here (I thought they needed more sugar); the sugar cookie recipe is here (it's a great recipe); I got all of the sprinkles from Whole Foods. Mimi's nightgown pattern is vintage, McCall's 3798 from 1973. My dishes are all various patterns of Denby; the cups and saucers in the previous post are the Sherwood pattern. The snowflake mobile is many years old, from Pottery Barn Kids. Yes, Mimi's sweater is the recently completed Bloomsbury Kids. And no, she's not getting that pony for Christmas :( [cue crying from Mommy — wah!].

Winter Lights

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I just love December. It's really nice.

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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.