Amazed and Confused

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We have this saying in our house. You use it when you have just done something that you "obviously" shouldn't have done, or failed to do something that you "obviously" should have done, etc. To use it, just say, when confronted, "But no one told me." Jam the dishes all together and face them away from the sprayer in the dishwasher so nothing gets clean? "But no one told me." Go inside and lock the door, leaving the dog alone in the unfenced front yard? "But no one told me." See how it works?

I'm shocked, actually shocked, at how much trouble I've had concentrating this week, Amelia's first "full" week of preschool. (She goes three mornings a week, four hours per day.) I truly, honestly, actually thought that the minute I got home after dropping her off I would hit the ground running, attacking my to-do list with fervor and efficiency, since so much that is on it are things that I have been wanting to, needing to, wishing I could do for months. And, to be perfectly clear, these are not optional things, or things that should wait any longer, or things that I can just continue to blow off without consequence. I can't even bear to go into details, because honestly I still haven't even made the list of what things these not-optional things all are, and that — to be meta about it — is exactly the problem. I know there are things on my list but I don't know exactly what they are. Instead of trying to determine, I've just sort of been . . . wandering around . . . feeding myself . . . reading Vanity Fair while feeding myself again . . . putting five-pound bags of bread flour into any available space instead of cleaning the cluttered cabinet . . . stuffing new fall clothes into drawers that haven't been emptied of bathing suits and tank tops . . . starting to knit new sweaters before weaving in the ends of the previous sweaters . . . watching made-for-TV movies about Wills and Kate . . . making a puppet theater. Normally I do do all of those (random and generally inconsequential) things but also get, if I do say so myself, a whole shiteload more stuff that actually has to be done, done, too. Lately — nothing. Pretty much nothing at all. Before I know it, it's 12:48 p.m., and time to go pick up Meems, and I am amazed — like, bug-eyed, hands-on-cheeks, cartoon-character amazed. Four hours goes fast. The first day of school it went so slow! But now it's over before I can even believe it. And apparently everyone knows all about this finally-have-some-time-to-do-something-and-now-I'm-doing-nothing inertia. It's a thing.

But no one told me!

Sigh.

In the true spirit of the way we use the phrase here at home, of course it's not at all true that no one told me. To really use it correctly, the thing that no one supposedly ever told you has to be a thing that someone has, you know, all but made a full-time job out of repeatedly telling you. Ah, it's a mysterious phenomenon, this particular brand of "forgetting." I've experienced this exact Mysterious Phenomenon before, and have even told myself about it. Nevertheless, I'm caught off-guard once again, flatfooted and bewildered, my mouth full of bread-machine bread and jam, my thoughts centered on what George and Charlotte's nursery looks like at Bucklebury, my hands filled with tangled yarn or covered in papier mache instead of busy at my computer, working on my new pattern that I'm supposed to have done for you to make in time for your own Christmas. My bank account is bone dry. My social life is destitute. But still I sit around ironing wrinkles (not very well) out of puppet curtains and pinning more cake recipes to my birthday-cakes Pinterest board (how many does one woman need?).

Ugh.

I did cook something. That is my mom's sauce, with short ribs, sausage, and meatballs, and her lasagna. No meal on earth tastes more like my childhood autumns and winters than this one. And seriously, if you want a totally authentic Italian "gravy" that simmers for hours and makes you cry, this is it.

I did finish knitting something. It is the Eithne sweater, and I started it at the river and finished it last night. (And then, as mentioned, cast on something else before I wove in the ends or put the buttons on this.)

I did finish my puppet, Miss Margot Maude Peaseblossom, and she made me very happy.

And don't tell Meems about the doorway puppet theater (I didn't have a pattern for that, I just kind of measured the door, and winged it, but I know there are tutorials for these on-line). It's part of her birthday present (along with the oh-so-practical hat/scarf/mittens ensembles I've been knitting to go with each of her coats [rain/fancy/duffel] which are almost all done). I decided to make her her own papier mache puppet for her birthday, too, since, you know, Margot Maude and her hair, etc. . . .

One More

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One more weekend away, squeezing the last golden drops out of summer at our favorite place on the river. It felt slow but it went fast. Crickets sang, ducks floated by. The beds were cozy and the coffee was hot. The mornings were dark and freezing, the afternoons bright and blustery and filled with falling leaves and spinning maple seeds. The river was low. The bees were plentiful. We laid on the quilt and looked up at the sky and listened to the wind in the trees and the birds calling to each other. I didn't get a picture of the bright green bullfrog that sunned himself on a rock right next to me yesterday morning. We both sat watching the river roll by. And what a lovely time it was!

School Days

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Well, well. School has started and it has been wonderful. School days! All two of them so far! :) First day: All the parents and kids wait in the foyer for the classroom door to open. There is one moment . . . one quiet, worried moment . . . taking her boots off, hanging up her coat. I bend down close. I can see everything move across her face. Curiosity and courage win out. Twenty minutes later, when the door opens, she gives us our kisses and hugs, turns to wave, and walks right in, wide-eyed with delight. Reportedly, she was the first one out on the dance floor. At school they dance, play, sing songs, garden, bake bread, cook soup, go outside, make music, rest, eat lunch. Her teachers texted mid-morning to say she was doing great! I hadn't realized I'd been holding my breath. After school, at pick-ups, she shrieks with glee and runs down the hall toward me, carrying Foxie and swinging her lunch basket. I scoop her up — she's so big — and hold her close, her weight heavy and limp with relief and fatigue. She presses her cheek so hard against mine and says, "Mommy . . . Mommy. . . ." I hold her for as long as I possibly can. Oh, my overflowing, fast-beating heart! School is intense! Even for us parents! I can only imagine what it's like for the children. So many new spaces, new places to put your things, a routine you've never had, new kids, new parents. My big, brave, beautiful girl. She inspires me every single moment. I love her so and am so thrilled for her.

After drop-off the first day, Andy and I, shaky with nervous energy, stopped for breakfast. Sitting next to each other, ordering the exact same thing, giddy with freedom (though we can't stop talking about Amelia), we linger for the first time in years. At home, with newfound empty hours and a huge list of chores I've been desperately needing to do, I do nothing, circling the rooms in a daze and working on my hand puppet. Andy gets a long-overdue haircut. The hours go perfectly slowly. Three mornings, twelve hours a week. It feels  monumental. I actually sit at my desk and space out. I can't remember the last time it's happened. After school yesterday we walked through the neighborhood to mail her birthday-party invitations and her six chain letters. The sun was shining, the air was cool, the leaves were red. She cried — bawled — when we passed her old friend's house and her friend's car wasn't there, and we didn't stop by. Maybe tomorrow, I said. Lillian might be at school, too. A different school. The bitter-sweetness of it all moved me. And her.

Another neighbor was cleaning out some old spaces and brought over a puppet she made years ago. That's hers, with the yellow hair. Amelia took down the tension-rod curtains in my office and brought them out to the back yard, and Andy set them up on some chairs. I listened to the two of them do a show (which lasted about four minutes) and it made me want to make a puppet. I got a dowel and some Model Magic and sculpted a head, then covered it with papier-mache (I just used newsprint and flour-and-water paste). She's my first puppet. I can't believe I've never made a puppet before, ever, even as a child (that I remember, anyway). I started off saying I was making this one for Amelia but now I don't really want to give it to her because it took me about three hours to put her yarn-hair on and I know Amelia will quickly peel it off, even if she says she won't. I told her I'd give it to her when she's fifteen. Guffaw. I'm probably serious, though. Usually I'm not like that — I gave her all of the stuffed animals I made (and who even knows where they or their clothes are now), I really don't care that much about my furniture or walls (though they haven't suffered too much, I don't think), and I certainly don't care how she destroys her clothes when she's playing — but I'm pretty sure I should keep this puppet out of reach. Better make another, less-precious one.

Actually, she's sitting in my office right now, holding the puppet (that I accidentally left on my table) and touching her hair very gently and then giving me a tiny little wave when she sees me watching her. Maybe there's hope. . . . Maybe I'll give it to her when she's fourteen. . . .

Squid Fail

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It's no exaggeration to say I was in crisis the entire time I was making Jamie Oliver's Sticky Squid Balls from his show Jamie's 15-Minute Meals, which was on for about five seconds back in the fall of 2012. I liked that show, even though it had a really frantic pace, which is generally not how I like my cooking shows. I had seen part of the squid-ball episode and had recorded it for the other dish that was made in the second half of it, sausage–red pepper fusilli; I made the fusilli recently and thought it was delicious. When I made the fusilli, I'd watched the episode again and remembered the squid balls, and thought I'd try to make them. I have been eating squid since I was a baby (reportedly; my Italian grandma used to cook it in a tomato sauce, and serve it with spaghetti) and I love it, though I have never cooked it myself. I hadn't recorded the first seven minutes of the episode, though, and I had a lot of trouble following the recipe I eventually found on-line (it's not on his own web site), and I way over-salted the squid goo. And it all fell apart in the pan. And it was generally disgusting, and had a horrible taste I did not like (though Andy ate it). Oh no, I feel like I can still taste it right now, remembering. It reminds me of the Miso Incident of 2014 (bad). It could be argued that anyone who chooses to make something called "sticky squid balls" in the first place should be rigorously interrogated before they leave for the grocery store. It also took me not fifteen minutes but an hour and fifteen minutes. Anyway, I destroyed the kitchen (above) in the process, and later said to Andy, "Sorry I made such a disgusting dinner and reeked up the house." He said, "I thought it was good and I think it smells good."

And that's how you know you married the right person.

Either way, just . . . don't make Sticky Squid Balls.

Blueberry cream-cheese hand pies went much better, especially with Amelia's help. (She also likes to "stir" while I "cook" [note sarcastic use of the word "cook"; see above] — "stirring" is mixing all of the cast-off ingredients from whatever I am making, including spices and peelings, in water in a big bowl with various utensils in the sink, and this keeps her happy and busy for almost the entire time I am cooking next to her.) Shrimp salad (to which I add shell pasta) always makes me happy. Also, I am loving my bread machine, and for those who have asked I got this one. So far I have just used the basic white bread recipe in the book that comes with the bread machine, but I plan on branching out when I get a minute. It will be nice to wake up to fresh bread for sandwiches.

Amelia's two new preschool teachers came over yesterday for a little visit. I would say, between Clover Meadow Paulson and Amelia Paulson generally losing their minds with nervous excitement and me having no control over either one of them, it was complete pandemonium. I'm not even really sure exactly what happened but it was total chaos. Good thing the teachers work exclusively with toddlers and also have a puppy and were super cool about all of it, but I think I was mildly traumatized and am still recovering.

So, yes, it's been a bit chaotic, now that I think about it. Luckily it's also been raining or I fear I might've started shooting out sparks from my ears. Stacey, my intrepid assistant, is now  gone working on the grape harvest until November, so I've been trying to do her job, which used to be my job but hasn't been my job in so long that I've forgotten both how to do it and to do it, so it's taking me a few days longer than usual to ship stuff out of here. This will change next week, when I have a little more time.

Gosh, my girl is growing up. I love her so much. I'm so proud of her. I'm so excited for her. So many changes. One foot in front of the other. Slow and steady. We'll get there. I keep saying.

Proper Schoolgirl

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Andy had the whole weekend off and we had nothing to do (this almost never happens). I had a pile of fabric and patterns and needed some alone time (I almost never get this). Into the sewing room I tear, and the scissors start flying. My girl is growing, growing, and has no clothes. I make a lot of her clothes. I made a lot of her clothes before she was even born (as you might know :). I made them up until size 3T, figuring she might not want to wear the clothes a made after that. DARLING GIRL, she still does, but has none that will fit her this fall, when she turns four. Oh, how my heart sings at the circumstance! Here comes a plaid jumper for the first day of preschool (McCall's pattern #7590, from 1981); a dusty pink dress that was made from a nightgown pattern (McCall's #3381, c. 1972); a blue plaid smock with the prettiest embroidered daisy ribbon (McCall's 3237, c. 1972); and a sundress for the back-to-school picnic (Simplicity #8712, from 1978). I have a lot of ideas for things in my head, but not much time to sew. When I do get the time, the things pour from my hands. It's a start. Amelia will go to preschool three mornings a week this fall. We are all very excited about it!

Next week is the last week of summer. The yard is parched and pale yellow, already covered in spiderwebs and dusty things. The spent hydrangea blooms turn russet, the grass dies. I half-heartedly water stuff, not sure if it's already too late. I can't remember the last time it's rained. Summer, you do challenge me. Day after day of 97-degree temperatures and I can't see anything but waves of heat in the air. We routinely get in the car and the thermometer there says its 109, 110, 111. . . . I'm cooked. I bought a bread machine for sandwiches. The loaf was so adorably runty, all bulbous on one side. I couldn't help but love it. It tasted just fine to me, and I made a ham sandwich with a ton of lettuce and avocado for dinner. Our apple tree has loads of apples, many with holes, some half-eaten by something before they're even picked. They're good though. If it ever gets below 90, I'll make a pie. I really cannot wait for that day.

Andy, Amelia, and Clover Meadow spent one (actually cool-ish) night in the tent in the backyard for the first time. I slept in the house, listening on the monitor. She woke up around1:15 a.m., and they (we) were up for an hour. She insisted on staying out (though Clover came back in), fell back asleep, and slept until dawn. Dawn's coming so much later these days. I don't mind that, either. Today is the last day of swimming lessons. Simon, the teacher, comes and tells us yesterday, "Tomorrow, we get to turn on the fountains! Tomorrow we get to do whatever we want!" "Oh, she'll be good at that!" I say, winking. I'll miss swimming lessons, sitting on the chaise lounges in the shade with the other lesson parents, listening to the kids sing "I Had a Little Fishy," watching them chase rings and lay on their backs and blow bubbles and put their faces in the water. I'll miss holding up the towel for her to run, shivering, into my arms when she's done, cuddling her on my lap while we watch the lifeguards put the lane lines away and crank up the beach umbrellas for open swim. We took six weeks of daily swimming lessons this summer. I will miss all these pool days, and some of the summer things. But I'm ready to go outside again, and not feel like I have to be covered in water to do it. . . .

Clackamas County Fair 2016

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Oh, it's the county fair! I'm so glad we went on Tuesday instead of tomorrow, like we almost planned to, because they say it's going to be 102 today and tomorrow. I'm so beyond over the hot weather I could literally scream. We have spent a lot of very, very hot days in the blazing sun this summer, including in Wisconsin, where naturally they were having a "very unusual" heatwave that (naturally) began the minute I arrived in the state. . . . Anyway, Tuesday — even though it wasn't technically scorching, it was hot, and I will confess that I am a little bit weary of wandering around in the sun. Understatement.

Amelia is at the age (almost four) where she doesn't want to ride in the stroller anymore (and can get herself out of it) but can't really be successfully . . . managed . . . when running free in places where there are, oh, gigantic animals, a thousand pairs of sunglasses to take off their tables, hippie jewelry within arms' reach, tractors, industrial-size fans, nipping goats, melted candle wax, etc., etc., etc., etc. I love watching all of the little dancers on the talent stage. Amelia jumps down and starts to swing. She rides the same pony (Champion) she rode last year and I race around the ring with the same-as-last-year's tears in my eyes (I don't know why, it really chokes me up to see her riding) trying to get pictures. Afterward, she climbed up onto a saddle cinched to a barrel and started "roping" the fake steer like some sort of baby pro cowgirl. The natural way she was handling the rope freaked me out. How in the world did she know to do this? Andy and I stared at each other in amazement. It was a cool moment. Candy-covered pretzels, kettle corn, huckleberry lemonade, ice cream. We are the family with iron stomachs, apparently, if the last three weeks are any indication. . . .

I love the fair, and the kids at the fair. I love the silly juggler with terrible jokes and the slightly grouchy moccasin-making man and the blacksmiths in smock-tops in the pioneer village, and the tiny dancers with their fancy costumes and their fearlessness. I love the patient animals, and the 'tweens in silver-trimmed jeans and braces sitting in camp chairs, flirting and playing cards. I love the fair moms and their 4-H broods, the grizzly old farmers standing by big metal fences, the serious farm kids grimly tugging on cows' halters as they drag their long-suffering, cud-chewing, flies-in-their-eys cattle to the show ring. I love the old barns and the light coming through the cracks in the boards, illuminating the dust in the air like a shower of stars. I love remembering my own city childhood dreaminess, how I knew things like how much land one needed in order to keep a horse at grass, that you should always pet a horse's face as if you were stroking a small bird, that you should pull his mane and never cut it. I love remembering how one or the other of my parents drove forty-five minutes each way every weekend so that I could go horseback-riding every single Sunday for five straight years. I hope that Amelia will have the chance to experience country life more often than just her yearly trip to the fair. I think she's almost old enough to do something that will help foster a love and respect for rural heritage, but I'm not sure what, or how.

Three more weeks of summer. Homestretch. I can do this!

And here are our other trips to the fair:
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Vacation, Part 3: And Back Again

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The trip back home is always a little different than the trip out. Tired, bored, ready for familiar food, ready for familiar scenery, and very ready for familiar beds (and showers), I try not to wish for the train to go faster, because once we are home, vacation is officially over. But it was a great trip, and an awesome adventure, and I'm so glad we got to go. Thank you so much for following along! I hope you might be inspired to ride the rails and see this magnificent country of ours for yourself.

Vacation3Union Station, Chicago, Illinois

Vacation4Our sleeping car attendant, Stephanie, bringing Amelia a present. (She was our attendant on the way out, and she was amazing.)

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VAcation23Two Medicine River just outside Glacier National Park, Montana

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Vacation, Part 2: Door County

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Door County, Wisconsin, is a peninsula in eastern Wisconsin that sits between Green Bay and Lake Michigan. It is a very popular vacation destination for Chicagoans, and, as children and young adults, Andy and I both came here with our families in the summer (and both of our mothers grew up vacationing here, as well). There are charming little towns scattered up and down the peninsula, and a beautiful island, called Washington Island, at the northern tip that can only be reached by ferry boat. The area has a strong Scandinavian heritage, and wildflowers, fish boils, and lovely farms seem to be around every bend.

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Vacation, Part 1: Getting There

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Almost two weeks ago (we're home now), Andy, Amelia, and I left for our vacation to visit Andy's family for his parents' fiftieth wedding anniversary. We took the train from Portland, Oregon, to Chicago, Illinois, then drove up all together (with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins) to Door County, Wisconsin, to spend a few days in the places of so many of both of our family vacations in the past. We left Portland on a Saturday afternoon at 4:45 p.m. and arrived in Chicago on Monday afternoon, around 2:15 p.m. (So, that's two nights on the train.) We had a wonderful time. Amelia did amazingly well. On the train, I took all of my photos with my iPhone. (If you follow me on Instagram, you saw some of these in real time.) The train, called the Empire Builder, follows a route from Portland (or Seattle — two parts of the train meet up in Spokane, Washington, and go the rest of the way across the country together) through Washington, Idaho, Montana (right through Glacier National Park), North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and northern Illinois to Chicago. (And to those who have asked, we had two Superliner Roomettes, right across from each other.) Here's a chronological photo-log of the first part of our vacation, the train trip from Portland to Chicago.

Would you like to join us?

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Thanks for riding the rails with us. I'll be back soon with Part 2. :)

Hot Stitches

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Well, I've been trying to write this thing for five days!

Summer is nuts. It kind of leaves me speechless. Yesterday my car thermometer was consistently showing it was over 100 degrees. My bad foot hates hot weather and so do I. I had to take Amelia with me to Target to get a bunch of stuff for our vacation: coloring books and new toothbrushes and ever more sunscreen and mosquito spray and a new backpack and all that kind of junk. It filled up half the cart. How we're ever going to pack it all I do not know. Pushing the cart with her in it out to the car was as far as I wanted to walk without air conditioning. This was all after cleaning the house, watering the pots, having a morning play date at a friend's house, going to swimming lessons (on the other side of town), eating lunch at the bakery (where she ran around the bakery or sat under the table), and driving down SE 82nd Avenue (ugh). I remember at our wedding, Andy's sweet little grandmother, Ruth. I happened to be standing near her when someone said to her, "Oh, Ruth! Isn't this wonderful! You must be having such a great day!" And (it was also about 90 degrees out that day) she goes, "Oh, yes. Get in the car, get out of the car. Get in the pew, get out of the pew. Get back in the car, get out of the car." All with a twinkle in her eye. This week my eye has more of a rabid, possibly heat-stroked, unblinking glare in it. I got to sleep in to a whole 5:30 a.m. this morning (yes, we generally get up at 5:00 due to Andy's work schedule/our child, the human alarm clock). Amelia came bounding upstairs looking like a wild animal, her hair literally going in every direction, part of it held back by the two mini-braids I never took out before bedtime last night. I said, "You need a bath. Go tell Daddy you look like Nell." Summer.

Knitting. I knit like a woman on fire. It's like some kind of homeopathy, wool + heat, like eating spicy food in India. I knit an entire extra-large sweater in a week and a half. Could not, would not stop. I am so proud of my sweater. I love how it came out and it was such a great experience. I love knitting fair-isle. This is the second sweater I've ever made for myself. I've started two more sweaters for myself (pictured above, and on my Ravelry page). I must be asserting myself somehow. Lord, please, please let it get cold enough to wear sweaters. Soon. Or ever.

THANK YOU for the recommendations for new yarns to try. Thank you, thank you! That is such a rad list, and I'm so excited to explore your suggestions. Some of the yarns you like are familiar to me, and many are brand new, so I will have to order some samples and make some plans. I didn't have enough time to do that before planning my vacation projects, but oh, this fall. I can't wait. I wanted to wear the sweater to the Avett Brothers show at Edgefield the other night (it was actually cool and beautiful; what a beautiful night in every way that was). It wasn't quite cold enough, but maybe at the lake in a few weeks. . . . Anyway, thank you for your very helpful suggestions lately. I truly appreciate them and will let you know what I come up with.

I did get to go to Powell's one wonderful afternoon and get some cozy mysteries. That was FUN. That was so much fun. I made a handwritten list of all of the books and authors you suggested and then I just went up and down the aisles, seeing what they had. I chose authors that I had 1) never read before and 2) had the first book in whatever series they've written available right there on the shelf. If the first book of the series wasn't available, I usually moved on (not every time, in the case of Jeanne M. Dams — the covers were so good). Did you ever notice how impossible it can be to figure out what the first book in a mystery series can be (without the benefit of the internet at your fingertips)? It's so weird. Why is that. Anyway, I got a whole big bunch of books. Can you tell I'm excited to have some time to read? I hope I get to. I can't wait.

I hope you are all well! I'm sorry I haven't been here as much as usual. I don't have any dedicated childcare this summer and my time on the computer is so limited. That'll change in the fall, but for now, I'm waving as I race by: Hi!!! I hope all is well with you!!!

About Alicia Paulson

About

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

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Photography

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