Buds and Birds

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Grandma Paulson was visiting all last week, and Mimi had an absolutely wonderful time playing with her grandma pretty much non-stop. She also had her last day of her lovely, wonderful playschool, wrapping up two years of this perfect experience that fills me with emotion. She has grown and changed and thrived there in every way. For an only child (in our family at least; thankfully she has three birthsiblings that she knows and loves and sees often, but obviously they don't live with her), having friends to play with, talk to, learn with, walk with, fight with, make up with, laugh with, and share her days among is invaluable. I'm so grateful for our time there. I'm excited for next year (she's going to a pre-school in the neighborhood, and her friends, only one of which is a close neighbor, are going elsewhere), but I will miss these sweet days. (I will also miss the free eight hours a week they afforded me when I don't have them this summer, but that's another story.)

The weather has alternated cold and rainy with only mildly cold and rainy. I haven't spent too much time reading in my Adirondack chairs, but when I have been out there I've been nothing short of enchanted by all the little birds that are coming to our new bird feeder — a suet feeder that keeps squirrels and bigger birds out. Black-oil sunflower seed got spilled on the porch recently and not cleaned up; the squirrels went absolutely mental after they ate it all, and attacked the plastic milk jug we've used for years to fill the feeders, and destroyed the cap to the jug, and threw the jug across the yard and down the stairs to the sidewalk, and then threw the two empty feeders off of the trees, and completely destroyed the squirrel-proof one (I have two seed feeders — one is squirrel-proof, and one is just for the squirrels) by shredding the plastic tube inside and losing half of the parts. ANNOYING. Anyway, when I went to the store to get a new squirrel-proof seed feeder, I also got the new squirrel-proof suet feeder for the smaller birds. And now we have the sweetest little bushtits and chickadees. We've always had a lot of very friendly hummingbirds. Andy told me my red feeder (not squirrel-proof) was down on the sidewalk again this morning. Hrmmmm. Obnoxious. One squirrel sits on the fence and stares at me and thwacks his tail with fury the whole time I'm out there reading. He's quite annoyed that I'm in his yard, apparently.

My roses, good lord. Too bad I can't remember what they're called. I have two different bushes and they have been nothing short of fairy-tale quality this year, I do say.

I made a barbecue-chicken chopped salad like California Pizza Kitchen's from this recipe, but I used this chili-lime chicken that I've been making about once a week since I discovered the recipe. The salad tasted EXACTLY like CPK's. Exactly. It was awesome. Andy ate it (standing, still in scrubs, watching ESPN) when he came home from work.

Him, shouting from kitchen: "This is good!"
Me, shouting from living room: "I know, it's the jicama."
Him, mouth full: "The WHAT?!?!?"

Pfffft. I used the chicken on another night to make chicken tacos with this Mexican street corn salad, a vaguely unappetizing picture of which is up there, but I assure you, oh man, it was crazy good. So, chili-lime chicken, soft tortillas, corn salad, Spanish rice (from a box, I think it was Zatarain's). Boom.

Up there as well, Molly's Granola #5, the only one I'll eat anymore, originally gifted to me by the lovely Andrea for Christmas and which I've made several times since. I use cashews, sometimes almonds, and sweetened coconut. Very, very excellent granola. Simple and plain and toasty.

And then, magic custard cake. When I made this last summer, it occurred to me that it is exactly what I always want a clafoutis to be, but never is. So yesterday morning I pitted a bunch of cherries and added them to the bottom of the pan before I poured the batter in. It worked perfectly, though next time I would use more cherries, and actually more sugar. The cherries were seriously tart, and the cake just needs to be sweeter. Maybe a pinch of salt, too. This cake is really cool. It's a little bit of work, with beating the egg whites and all, but I've never seen anything like this before, and it is really delicate and delicious.

This week, ah . . . this week. I have a whole day — today — to myself. I'm sending the 'Night, Neighborhood cross stitch pattern off to the printer. Stacey's going to start pulling the floss tomorrow. The fabric should be arriving any day. This one has taken a while because I just have so many things going on at home right now. It's almost done, we just have to get it together around here. Things are a little rough around the edges. I could use a whole day to start smoothing them out. I'll be back soon.

***It's shaving-cream paint.

***The upholstered dollhouse furniture was a long-ago sweet gift from Leigh. Thank you for that, Leigh. Meems set up this Calico Critter phalanx herself. Xox

Glorious Greening

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Oh, busy bees! Parties and family and friends and here, there, everywhere. We had such a nice Birthmother's Day party at our house on Saturday, went to my sister's for a nephew birthday/Mother's Day party on Sunday, and then out to my other sister's (glorious) place on the creek on Monday. I have so much to say but no time, it seems, to say it right now. I'm playing Twister, my hands and feet pointing in every possible direction as I contort and balance. I'll leave you with a delicious coconut cream pie recipe (and the cake is my old Cloudburst standby here, though I use this recipe for my chocolate cake now; make two of them for a double layer). Late spring. My goodness. Time whirls around me. Blur and wonder.

May Days

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This season is my favorite. Everything is still so green and fragrant and glorious. The days alternate cold and rainy with bright, white sunshine that makes us squint and run. We've planted a bit in the parkway raised beds, which have been sorely neglected the past couple of summers. The hose just doesn't reach down there very easily and the place just fries. This year, a bean teepee for Amelia, cherry tomatoes, beets, nasturtiums. Peas. Keeping it simple. Maybe a bed just for pumpkins to turn into jack-o-lanterns this fall. I assure you I am dreading the hot temperatures I feel sure are coming, even earlier this year than ever. Over the weekend it was 85 degrees, and that ain't right. Our Adirondack chairs stay blessedly shady for a good portion of the afternoon. I read an entire book in three days (unheard of for me). That was Claudia Silver to the Rescue. That girl made some horrideous decisions. She reminded me a lot of the girl in the book I finished just previous to this, Twelve Rooms with a View. These are all library books I've been picking up quickly at the library, and pretty much devouring. I can't say enough how liberating this has been. I'm just mentioning them here mostly because I've been kind of excited about how much I've been reading lately and was wanting to keep track of the titles somewhere, because I'm usually awful at remembering. I usually pick up four or five every week and finish one of them. I read a few pages of the others and if they don't grab me immediately, for better or worse, I put them back in the return basket without a smidge of guilt. Everyone knows this, I don't know why this is feeling so novel (har) for me. . . .

Yesterday I worked on my new cross stitch pattern pretty much all day long, and by that I mean the actual pattern itself, which requires figuring out which colors I used, how much of each color I used (like actual strandage), making sure the pattern reflects exactly what I did on the fabric (you'd be surprised), picking out all those little symbol things which go over the color blocks in the pattern, and then chopping the pattern up into four pieces so it fits on the pages in a way that's readable. That last part almost destroyed me. As I was in my sixth hour of doing it wrong, in one way or another, I had a distinct sense of deja vu, and of having done pretty much every single (wrong) thing in pretty much the exact same order over the exact same (ridiculously long) amount of time for the Sweetiepie sampler (of which there are literally only nine kits left, so get those while you can because they're not coming back). By 5:00 p.m. I had figured it out — I was determined to figure it out before I got out of my chair. I did. It wasn't pretty (I could see my reflection in my computer screen). But, I did it. And now to order the fabric for those kits, and get that show on the road. Should be just a few weeks before the Night Neighborhood kits are available. I'm excited about these. The finished piece itself looks really, really cool. And thank you for the framing recommendations! I almost forgot. I wound up ordering frame samples and supplies on-line from americanframe.com (thank you, Sharon, for the recommendation!). I'll let you know how it goes. I think I'm going to paint the frame again, so I can get the exact color I want. The wood seems to have a veneer on top of it, though, so it may not work. . . .

Have you heard of the thoroughly talented Carrie Hoge's gorgeous new print magazine, Making? I'm so honored to have a little cross stitch ring, inspired by my next-door-neighbors' dogwood trees, in the first issue. Thank you so much for asking me to contribute, Carrie, and thank you for putting up with me. Usually I say no to things when I'm asked to participate because I'm an unreliable disaster when it comes to meeting deadlines or providing everything required. I stand in bewildered awe (as Hugh Grant would say) of you, and all people who can put incredible publications like this together while raising small children, seriously. Very, very well done, dear friend.

I hope May goes slowly. I feel like things are moving quickly, maybe because it's been so hot. But I want this green to linger, and I want to linger over it. I want to do some things that are just plain indulgent, like perfect my chai recipe for iced chai this summer, and read more library books in the front yard, and watch New Girl from the beginning, and make summer pajamas for Amelia to wear to her end-of-school almost-sleepover at her friend's house in a few weeks (they're all bringing sleeping bags, watching a movie, eating snacks, and then sleeping at home :). I want to make Indian food and go to the river. I want to pull some weeds and feed some birds and watch my little girl whirl and twirl in the sun.

***That's Barefoot Contessa's pasta, pesto, and pea salad, above. And I forgot to mention, for those who have asked about the quilt, we got it at the antique mall (Stars, in Sellwood) for $18 a few weeks ago. Score.

Big-Girl Ways

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I couldn't be more proud of my girl these days. Every week brings new challenges and new accomplishments, and it's all just so thrilling to me. I'm starting to feel nostalgic about entering the last month of her little playschool. For the past two school years (they don't go in the summertime), she and three of her friends have attended a little "school" at a neighborhood grandmother's house, and it has been just the best experience for all of us. Next year she will go three mornings a week to an official pre-school, and while I know she will be very ready for that, I will miss our bouncing morning walks through the neighborhood (because she can't wait to get there), our lingering after-school traipses to the bakery together, the ease of walking home with friends for playdates. The Portland school system being what it is, and our location in it being what it is, these past two years will likely be the only time in both of our lives that I will get to walk her to and from school. Her new school for next year is about a mile and a half away, and that's too far for me to walk there and back on my bad foot (and too far for a three-year-old to walk anyway). Her kindergarten, if she winds up going to our local public school, will also be just over a mile away, as well. Next year, I'm probably going to drive but park several blocks away, so we can still get that walking experience together. One thing I can do is ride my bike very slowly on the sidewalk so that I'm basically just sitting on it next to whoever is walking. I'm not very good at this and there are a lot of crashes/near crashes/crushed toes, and it's hard to hold someone's hand when they're walking and you're riding a bicycle. But anyway. I'm enjoying every minute of our current playschool walks, and every minute of this time. My girl is growing up, and I am so excited for and proud of her. She loves everything and everyone and every day, and is doing so many new things that it's really quite exhilarating and awesome to watch her. Her sweet, funny, cuddly, goofball personality is blossoming, and I love it.

Weaving all but abandoned, I've been stitching like a madwoman, watching the Night Neighborhood come to life. Pattern and kit will be forthcoming. I have a 65%-off framing coupon for JoAnn's if I can finish by Wednesday, but I'm not sure I can. . . . I hope I can because framing is so expensive, and, for various reasons, I'm looking for a new framer. I always stretch my pieces on foam core myself (trust me, unless you have some sort of master-craftsman-framing connection, you want to do it this way; you will do a better job than anyone else will on your piece, and it really isn't that hard, just time-consuming) and I'm not sure JoAnn's will let me do that. I've never had anything framed there before. I'll keep you posted.

In between all the stitching, I actually designed yet another cross-stitch sampler. Two, in fact — these are birth announcements, one for a boy and one for a girl. It's just bizarre to me, even after all of these years, how the creative process works. I never, ever seem to know what I am going to do, and sometimes I'll feel like I don't want to do anything at all. I'll go and do something else, something that has nothing to do with work (recently, the weaving), and I'll be totally consumed by it, and having a very, very good time when suddenly, zombie-like, I just get up and walk away as if in a trance and go straight into my studio and put my little head down for several hours in a row and BLOOP, out pops something else entirely. There must be some whole other process happening that is just totally invisible to me that brings this condition about. It feels like magic, though.

Morning Light (and Night Neighborhood)

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Oh my, the mornings! Honeygold and fragrant with apple blossoms and lilac. We moved some chairs to the front yard and that one hour, from about seven a.m. until eight, is now my favorite of the day. Andy had the whole weekend off, which rarely happens. The weather was consistently beyond glorious, which rarely happens. I said I wasn't going to make a cross stitch pattern and then five minutes later I did, which often happens. Good thing my capriciousness is so predictable. It keeps me employed. And out of trouble. More or less.

Sugar Pie

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I've been sort of a slug lately. Sitting a lot, weaving a lot, reading a lot. Subtext there is, of course, that every other moment, indeed almost every single waking moment, is spent toddler wrangling. Motherhood is so physical. I really underestimated that. The moment she is occupied elsewhere or sleeping, I go careening across the house and onto my sofa and start gulping big, deep breaths of air. Eventually, trance-like, I start to weave until I'm less windblown and catatonic. Honestly, I feel like around 4:00 p.m. there should be people standing on the sidelines with Gatorade, offering to empty water bottles over my head as I keep picking up my feet and putting 'em back down until bedtime. The minute I get to sit, I sink. Only my hands have energy. Occasionally I read books, usually while eating. I take Amelia to the library just about once a week. We get as many as I can carry in my basket to the car; we usually park quite a ways away and linger on the way there. I have truly loved the freedom of reading library books again, not just for Mimi but for me. My choices are seriously random: whatever's facing out; whatever doesn't seem like it will be too sad, or too hard, or too serious. I loved Oh! You Pretty Things (which reminded me, in a weird way, of If You Follow Me, which I also loved). Currently reading Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse. I honestly hadn't been to the library in years, mostly because I am such a slow reader, and I couldn't get my books back on time, and I always wound up paying for them anyway, and it just wasn't convenient, somehow. But with a little kid it's totally different, of course, and although I do have to pick out my books very, very quickly, I am enjoying the complete freedom of choosing books by their covers, without reviews, and without the risk of spending money on something I won't want anyway.

Weaving #2: The one with the pink tassels. Inspired by Marianne Moodie, Erin Barrett, Rachel Denbow. I'm just making stuff up as I go along. Talk about noncommittal — you just add things on the fly and if you don't like them, you take them out, no prob. Teaching myself to do some shapes, some beads, a little bit of bling (gold embroidery floss). I have all of this yarn in my stash, so many small skeins, none of it really enough to actually knit anything besides something striped, and then, you know, gauge, care (washable? non-washable?), fiber content, etc. Weaving does not make me think about these things.

Weaving #3: Sheep in the Fields. I just had an idea and I wanted to see if it would work, and it did (meaning, it came out pretty much just like I was hoping). You build up curves by doing short rows (knitters know the term). I like this one.

Weaving #4, on the loom: Tiny Houses. I was so inspired by the pictorial weavings of Kayo here. I mean, look at this one! Isn't that smashing? Apparently, you draw on the warp to get your shapes. I didn't do that — I just started weaving with no plan, and I put some houses in, then I put some path in, then some background. I have no idea if that's how you're supposed to do it. But it's working for me, post-toddler-catatonia. Excited to finish this one. It has taking the longest of the three because it's all done with the needle, and not with the shed or shuttle. See how I threw a weaving word in there. Don't ask me to define, I'll get them wrong. But I know 'em when I sees 'em.

I actually wanted to do a little village in cross stitch. Maybe I still will. That would require some attention to detail that I will have to unwillingly muster, and is unlikely to happen in the near future, though I'm nothing if not craft-capricious, so you never know.

Oh jeez. I forgot to tell you about the pie. Rhubarb custard pie. If you like eggs and sugar and rhubarb, I highly recommend. Meems added "candles" (dried spaghetti) because apparently it was Weaving's birthday (he's four, like Ceiling). Also, sauce: Meat Sauce from Apples for Jam, one of my favorite cookbooks. Do not add the 3 cups of water to this sauce. I've made it that way before and you basically water down a perfectly delicious sauce for absolutely no reason. I added 8 oz. of sliced and sauteed mushrooms to this. You must add salt and pepper while cooking, to taste. Eat over spaghetti with a big blob of ricotta. Amelia asked for more. Thumbs up.

***Teepee poles are just replacement tent poles that Andy put together. I can't remember what we used to use, but probably bamboo stakes? Fabric held on with binder clips. :)

Flowers Fair

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First walk in the woods of spring, just the two of us. A Wednesday afternoon, temperature perfect. The trillium is blooming, and the yellow violets. We don't go that far, just up the trail a bit to the meadow, wandering as if we have all day, and we do have all day. Trying to catch a butterfly. Stuffing pockets full of rocks. We turn around and go back to town for ice cream when we're done. Days of green. The smell of trees. The song of birds. The soft trail. Holding hands on the sidewalk. Her little hand in mine.

Spring Swing

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Days of spring and flowering things. Our girl is busy and buzzing like a bumblebee, flitting from blossom to blossom, up, down and all around. The air is alternately chilly and warming, and the green is fluorescent and glowing. I love the quiet, gray mornings; the sound of crows swooping and calling; the clematis clinging and crawling along the fence, magnolia petals browning. Spring is so, so pretty. I had an impulse to weave something. I drove out to the country on a beautiful afternoon and bought a Schacht School Loom (I got it from Pacific Wool and Fiber in Newburg but it's not on their web site). I followed the directions that were included with the loom and threaded the warp (I'd never done this before, but it was really easy) and then just started weaving. Randomly. Here is a nice tutorial on getting started.

I can't seem to stop weaving now. It's incredibly calming. Have you done it? I remember that I've done it twice before — once as a really little kid, making a little blue weaving for my dad's birthday on a cardboard loom. The other time was in college when I was taking a studio art survey course. I remember that there was a lot of drama going on socially at the time, and I totally remember just sitting in the weaving studio going back and forth with the yarn and thinking, "Yes, please, I'd just like to stay right here and do this, then." It was also spring, then. It feels like a good time to start new things, and I've needed that lately. I'm excited. It's been a long time since I started something new.

I did a little cross stitch design for the incredibly talented Carrie Hoge's new project, details of which are coming soon. I love those two colors, mineral blue and rose-gold, together.

The illustrations are from two of the library books we got out this week, Hondo Escapes and The Story of the Root Children. Story time, when we're tucked up in bed in our nighties and tucked under our quilts and covers and (still) wool blankets (though it is staying ever more light outside), is fast becoming my favorite part of the day. She's listening so intently now.

Sweet, sweet spring. It's almost too much to talk about, so I'll just let these pictures tell my story for the past few days.

Season Change

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Saturday morning. Cuddles. Chat. It's still dark. We listen to the birds outside. The crow says caw. Caaaaaaw, caaaaaaaw. Amelia tells me that today is Ceiling's birthday. (Ceiling as in "the ceiling.") This is convenient, as we happen to be having a party tonight. I'm planning my dad's chili, potato-leek soup, and a chocolate cake. Our friends bring chips, salads, beer. Amelia decorates the cake (I use my cheater frosting — 2 cups of heavy cream, whipped, with 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar and a box of vanilla instant pudding mixed in; claggy but yummy) with sprinkles, pink hearts, and gold stars. She asks for candles. I forget that it's Ceiling's birthday until she asks for the candles. "How old is Ceiling?" I say. "Four." Ah. But oh, how I love three. Flowers, rain-showers, wet grass. Sunshine. Squabbles. Passion. Planting and playing. She hits her friend square in the forehead with a toy teacup and her friend pulls her hair. Kisses and tears and not sharing and then sharing. Windows open. Trees blooming. Freedom and fresh air. No more high chair, no more baby gates, no more crib. "I'm so proud of you, honey." "I'm so proud of you, Mom." Holding hands while we walk all the way to the grocery store. I pick her a bouquet of grape hyacinths and pansies and she arranges them herself in a tiny vase for her new nightstand. I turn on the fake fireplace in her little room. We can hear the raindrops hitting the window as we read, propped up with pillows in the new bed. There are soft new white sheets, a new quilt, and the softest, squishiest little eiderdown I ever did see. I feather a small, warm nest for my little bird. At the party, everyone sings "Happy Birthday" to Ceiling while Amelia points up, then blows out the candles. I pray for peace in this world.

Rainflowers

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I just finished the quilt! I'm really happy! It's in the wash right now. I can't wait to see it after it's been washed and dried. I backed it with pale mauve-pink double gauze, soft as a cloud. I used cotton-wool-blend batting (I think it was Hobbs). I used a cream-colored fabric with tiny turquoise dots for the binding. I did the binding completely by machine: I used 2 1/4" cross-grain strips, folded in half lengthwise and applied to the front of the quilt sandwich with a 1/4" seam. I wrapped it around to the back and made sure it just covered the seam on from the back, and pinned it perfectly in the ditch, just catching the back edge. I pinned a lot. Then I stitched in the ditch all the way around, catching the back edge, and it worked perfectly. You have to go slowly, and you have to pin a lot, and you have to remember to look at the front edge of your presser foot as you stitch in the ditch — don't watch the needle, watch the groove in the front of the presser foot and make sure it's centered perfectly over the ditch. My stitches were almost imperceptible. The back edge was just barely caught and looked great. I always do my binding by hand on the back, but honestly, this looked so good and saved soooooo much time, and so many hand stitches, I don't know that I'll ever do it by hand again! Well, maybe I will, but not in the near future. This looked really nice. The trick is the pinning exactly in the ditch. If you've pinned in the ditch, and you've caught the back edge, you will catch it when you stitch. Just take your time.

To quilt it, I decided I really wanted it to be as soft and light as possible. I was thinking of tying the whole thing, but again I just didn't want to take the time, as the big-girl bed has been purchased and just needs to be put together. Tying this would've taken too long and I'm just getting more picky about what I want to put my hands through these days — tying is pretty hard on your fingers. So, proud of my ditch-stitching on the binding (and yeah, I bound the edges first; the double-gauze felt a little shreddy and I thought it would be best to get the edges completely enclosed before I started handling it too much), I decided to quilt it by machine-stitching in the ditch around every patch. I just started on one edge and tried to follow it as far as I could. This required pushing a whole bunch of the quilt under the arm several times, so I don't know how this would work on a regular machine on anything bigger than a throw (this quilt measures 55" x 57", and yes, this was a fairly random measurement on my part; I basically just wanted something that would work right now on that little bed, and I didn't want it to be too big that she couldn't curl up under it easily on the sofa after it's too small for the bed; conveniently this just fit on a packaged throw-size batting [60" x 60"], but that was sheer luck, because naturally I don't think about any of these rational things beforehand, good grief) but it worked out just fine on my machine. Anyway, I just kept  stitching seams, backstitching a bit when I would hit a dead end, and then starting over. The batting package said I had to stitch it at most 4" apart, which is pretty tight. On the bigger patches I added a few ties.

I daresay I've never enjoyed making anything more! A lady at Fabric Depot once said to me that the best quilts are fast, fun, and finished, and this one certainly was that. I'll be hard-pressed to ever do a quilt another way, honestly!

I'll take more close-up pictures once we get the bed set up. That's going to require the whole room being rearranged so it may not be until next week.

***Oh, oh — and for those who have asked, some details about my crocheted blanket (also for Meems's new bed) are here (and I think that stitch is called the harlequin stitch, maybe?), and the bloomers pattern I used was Style pattern #3206 from 1980.

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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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.