Travels and Firsts

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Crossing the Hudson

Blogging has taken a backseat during this busy month. July started off with a flurry of travel.

My uncle, a distinguished professor of botany, retired after a long career, and we traveled to upstate New York to wish him well. This was Little Bear’s first big road trip. From the North Shore, it’s a seven-hour drive at best. With a baby in tow, I expected to add at least an hour. That expectation ended up being quite close to the reality, but for the trip out, at least, we were in no rush. Western Massachusetts and upstate New York are both beautiful areas, so we just enjoyed ourselves.

LB naps en route to New YorkThe visit itself was quite a whirlwind. We arrived too late on Friday evening to do more than check into the hotel. LB’s relief at being out of the carseat was palpable. He spent a good twenty minutes just tumbling around on the bed, burning off energy. The retirement party was midday Saturday. It was wonderful to see my family. M’s is mostly close to our home in Massachusetts, so we see them frequently. Mine, however, is scattered, and Bear had only met three of my family members to date. In one fell swoop, he was introduced to my uncle, aunt, two cousins, and their families. M and I met new additions, too. Since the last time we were all together, five babies have arrived. For a little guy with no first cousins, LB suddenly encountered a bunch of related children. It was fun to see them all try to figure each other out.

After the party, and a brief stop at my uncle’s former classroom and laboratory, we went our separate ways, which was sad. My cousins are several years older than me, which was a bit of an obstacle when I was a kid. Now that we’re all grown, we’re discovering new connections through parenting and life, and I wish we had more time together. Now that we know Little Bear can handle the trip, we’re going to have to drive over more often.

Shotgun

Two good college friends of mine also live in the area, as one of them coincidentally joined my uncle’s department awhile ago. We spent the evening with them, and it was so nice. I’ve made great friends and have wonderful colleagues in New England. But sometimes, I really miss my friends and family from the Midwest. There is no good way to reunite with them all, as very few of us remained in the same place. All I can do is occasionally visit and make a better effort to stay in touch. Thank goodness for video chatting.

We made our way home on Sunday in time to do a quick load of laundry, repack our bags, and get some sleep. We had a normal work/daycare day on Monday. On Tuesday, we drove to Logan and whisked Little Bear off on his first airplane flight. We held our breath, but it was as close to a flawless trip as we’ve ever had. Security that early was empty, TSA and airline staffers were helpful and friendly, and Bear just took it all in with wide blue eyes. He was completely unfazed by the flight itself, napping for the first half and climbing all over his seat for the second.

Little Bear naps

One of my earliest memories (the first being knocking out my front teeth on a playground slide at the age of 2) was a flight to visit my grandparents. What I mostly remember is crying outside the gate because my dad wasn’t coming with us, not the actual flight itself, but watching LB reminded me of my much-younger self. I am so glad that he had a good time with it all. And I am very glad the women in the row behind us were charmed by his reaching through to them, rather than annoyed.

Hide and seek

To avoid having to change planes during our first trip with a baby, we opted to fly direct to Minneapolis, then drive south. It made for a long trip, but it was an easy drive through beautiful country. Sometimes I forget how big the sky is in the Midwest.

Big sky

Peeking

What can I say about the week at my mom’s house? It was relaxing, rejuvenating, and filled with just enough activities. We went to the zoo, went out to eat a few times, watched fireworks, and visited with old friends. One afternoon, we sat down with family photos and my Ancestry app, and my mom filled in some gaps.

Family history

I’ve been working steadily, if less frequently than I’d like, on genealogy the last few years. Most of my facts are in order, but my mom’s details fleshed out the stories. I only wish we’d had more time, and that I hadn’t now truly hit a wall. I need to find a way to take the next steps to confirm shaky details and forge a more solid connection to the older names. My dad’s family arrived only about a hundred years ago, but my mom’s earliest North American ancestor landed in the early 1600s. That far back, “facts” take on a hazier quality, and it can be frustrating for a librarian like me.

Anyway. That’s another post entirely.

Storms at sunset

One major relief of the trip was the beautiful weather. Having lived in Iowa most of my life, I was apprehensive about that horrible summer visitor, the tornado. We missed all the terrible weather but some very strong rain. Shortly before we left, big storms hit to the southeast, providing us dramatic sunset skies. M got a chance to test his camera with lightning, and I got a reminder of how beautiful the Midwest (and nature) can be.

Mom and me

Sadly, the visit came to an end, and we headed back north to fly east. We took a last couple of selfies and hit the road. The trip back was uneventful, Little Bear had a ball on the plane again, and we made good time.

No NIMBY here

Nearly home

And then we headed out of Boston under a tornado warning. Figures. But hey, the rest of the trip was a breeze!

Après Iowa, les tornades

The entire set of photos is here.

Good Mornings

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Hurricane Little BearI haven’t slept in in months. As tired as I can get, however, this doesn’t really bother me. First, I like mornings. Second, I realized a couple of months ago that Little Bear’s consistent rising time is a blessing in disguise. Not only does it mean that he wakes up in a timely, chipper fashion for daycare during the week, but it gives me a little quiet time of my own.

M has been casting pretty regularly on Twitch the past few months. The dichotomous effect of this is that it makes me want to play video games while using up all the weeknight time for such an activity. Light bulb realization: wait, I have mornings! I figured out very quickly that, now that LB is very mobile, intensive games are off the table. Pausing mid-dungeon crawl in Skyrim to extricate the baby from a mess is frustrating at best (i.e., when I remember to pause). If I play the Sims, however, the worst that usually happens is that my Sims sleep through work and cook three dinners in an hour instead of eating leftovers. I can deal with that.

cheeky Little Bear

So the little man and I have quietly spent our weekend mornings the last few months. He crawls and, as of the past weekend, steps carefully while holding the coffee table, throwing all our DVDs to the ground and laughing when I sternly order him to leave the power cables alone. I start up Sims or SimCity 4 and let things play out, intervening when LB allows. And sometimes, I can snag enough time to make breakfast.

I love breakfast. The Frenchman in M gets by with a single muffin. I prefer savory breakfasts, with at least two food groups, though I am not opposed to baking something sweet. Lately, I’ve had the opportunities for both, and I took advantage. Here are a couple of recent favorites…

Herby Bacon Ricotta Quiche ingredients

Herby Bacon Ricotta Quiche

Feel free to alter the herbs and other seasonings. I know the celery salt seems like a strange addition. M is obsessed with the seasoning Camp Mix, and so we’ve been trying it on everything. It is surprisingly good on eggs, so I couldn’t help but add some here. If you’d rather not, I like this quiche fine without. But it definitely adds something.

Dropping in bits of ricotta makes the resulting texture incredibly creamy. I love eggs in all forms, but this is especially luxurious.

baked quiche

forkful of quiche

Serves 4, generously

1 pie crust, thawed if frozen, rolled out if homemade
6 thick-cut bacon slices
½ tablespoon unsalted butter
1 shallot, minced
3 large eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese, divided
1 tablespoon minced fresh lemon thyme
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
freshly ground black pepper
celery salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly press the crust into a deep 9-inch pie dish. Fit a piece of foil into the crust and fill with pie weights or uncooked dried beans. Bake for 8 minutes, or until the foil pulls away without sticking. Remove the weights, and set the crust aside for now.

Cook the bacon in a nonstick frying pan until crisp and set aside on paper towels to drain. Pour off almost all of the fat and add the butter to the pan. Add the shallot and cook gently until translucent.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the cream, eggs, and ½ cup of the ricotta until smooth. (I tend to take pains to keep my dirty dishes to a minimum, so I usually measure the cream in my 4-cup glass measuring cup, then add the eggs and cheese and whisk right in the cup. It makes filling the crust later easier, too.) Whisk in the herbs, pepper, and celery salt until evenly mixed. Pour the mixture into the prebaked pie crust. Dollop the rest of the ricotta over the top in little spoonfuls.

Bake until set, about 30 minutes. If the crust browns too early, cover with foil, but don’t let it touch the filling, or it will stick. Let cool and finish setting for a few minutes, then slice and serve with a morning beverage of choice.

zucchini bread slices

Lemon Thyme-Zucchini Bread with Sweet-Salty Crust

Can you tell that I have a thriving lemon thyme plant in the garden? M suggested zucchini bread awhile back. I added the herb on a sudden inspiration, and likewise the salt in the crust. I wasn’t feeling a super-sweet breakfast, so that was a small concession. It worked perfectly.

zucchini bread ingredients

Adapted from The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book

Makes one 8½-by-4½-inch loaf

1 medium zucchini, trimmed (about 8 ounces)
½ cup canola oil
¾ cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon minced fresh lemon thyme
¾ cup chopped pecans

For the crust:
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
2 pinches fleur de sel
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon, or more to taste

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease (I used salted butter, because I currently have a delicious tub of Plugra in my fridge) and lightly flour one 8½-by-4½-inch loaf pan. Mix the crust ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

Using the large holes of a box grater, shred the zucchini. You should have about 1 cup. Set aside.

In a bowl, combine the oil, sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Beat vigorously with a whisk or with an electric mixer on medium speed until pale and creamy, about 1 minute. Stir in the shredded zucchini until blended.

In a bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, baking soda, lemon thyme, and pecans. Add the flour mixture to the zucchini mixture and stir just until combined. The batter will be stiff. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the crust mix evenly over the top.

Bake until the top is firm to the touch and the edges pull away from the pan sides, 50-60 minutes. A cake tester inserted into the center of a loaf should come out clean. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Turn the bread out, place upright on the rack, and let cool completely. Serve with salted butter or a drizzle of a favorite honey.

Bon matin!

baked zucchini bread

GLAM-o-rama

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Entrance, McKim building

I have been in the library field for over eight years (basically all of my professional life, including my brief return to school for my MS in LIS). I love information, and there are so many ways to find it in cultural heritage institutions. In the past eight years, I’ve had some amazing experiences and beheld some incredible treasures.

Astrolabe with Hebrew characters from Convivencia Spain (about 1350)

British Museum

The hull

Currently, I work in a rare books/special collections/art museum library. It has some truly spectacular collections, and I am really getting a kick out of it these days.

Freeport [No. 001]

Detail from an exhibition contender

These photos are part of a Flickr album with a variety of images from my work and play in galleries, libraries, archives, and museums. These run the gamut from pictures of my office to details of beautiful materials to touristy photos of institutions I’ve visited. I add to this album fairly regularly now. I know photographs are no substitute for personal experience, but I hope you enjoy these all the same. I try to give detail for those kindred souls who lust after data. If you ever want to know more about an object or other image subject, just ask!

Even damage can be beautiful

 

Banana-Chocolate Chip Cookies and Dough

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The finished products

I made cookies the other day. They were not great. I tried a new recipe, and though I modified it slightly, it wasn’t enough to make them as meh as they turned out. They were edible, and oh, we ate them. But I’ve been brooding about their mediocrity ever since.

Tonight, I could stand it no longer. There was yogurt in the refrigerator, chocolate chips in the pantry, and a serious case of nibbles in my mind. To soothe my wounded pride, I decided to make an old favorite that I knew wouldn’t fail: chocolate chip-yogurt cookies.

The original recipe for these comes from one of those slim Pillsbury booklets of which my mother seems to have a hundred. I don’t know if they’re still sold, and I didn’t read any more of them after I found these cookies. The usual egg in the recipe is replaced with yogurt. This is apparently to make the cookies lower in fat, but more importantly, in my view, it renders the dough edible without fear of salmonella. Finding this recipe was a true eye-opener. It’s easy to whip up and a dream to vary. This version takes the original and injects a tangy banana flavor that tempers the sweetness.

The not-so-secret ingredientI don’t normally like to make recipes that require a specific branded ingredient, but for this variation, I make an exception. I adore Stonyfield’s BaNilla yogurt for its resemblance to banana pudding, and it only seems to come in gigantic containers. I first subbed it into this recipe to use it up, and now I use it because it’s delicious. That being said, this recipe is incredibly adaptable. Feel free to use the blended yogurt of your choice. (I’ve never tried it with any fruit-on-the-bottom flavors. It may alter the consistency. Proceed at your own risk.)

Chocolate chips

I frequently throw this dough together to eat like ice cream. Keep it in the refrigerator and grab a spoonful whenever you need a hit of something sweet. My husband is more of a traditionalist and likes me to actually bake some. Pro tip: keep the baked cookies in the freezer. They stay soft enough to eat without cracking your teeth, and the cold-chewy texture makes them all the more toothsome.

Loading the cookie sheet

Banana-Chocolate Chip Cookies and Dough
Adapted from Pillsbury’s Cookies Galore!

Makes some cookies and plenty of dough (I am not being flippant. I have never baked an entire recipe of these.)

½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
½ cup Stonyfield Farms BaNilla lowfat yogurt
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
½ cup chopped walnuts

Heat the oven to 375°F.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add yogurt and blend well. Sift in flour, baking soda, and salt; mix well. Stir in chocolate chips and walnuts. (If you’re like me, you stop here, pack it into a covered container, and stash the dough in the fridge for later consumption. If you’d rather have the baked goods, read on.)

Drop tablespoonfuls of dough about 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until light golden brown. Let sit on the cookie sheet for one minute, then cool completely on a rack.

Baked cookies

Mother’s Day and the Weeks After

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Quietly at homeOh, May. It seems you just arrived, and already you’re almost over. Time flies when you’re constantly under the weather.

My first Mother’s Day saw all three of us at home with a violent cold. Fevers were raging, and poor Little Bear had his second ear infection. It was a quiet, ragged-feeling day. We’d had big plans for some work around the house, but we barely managed one of the tasks before retreating to the couch. And that was fine. Sometimes, it’s better to give in.

After Sunday, things improved rapidly. I took LB to the doctor and we got him started on antibiotics. That was really all he needed. He consented to accompanying me to my office for a bit on Monday and Tuesday, where he explored the new environment and charmed my coworkers. I was relieved to catch up slightly with work. It amazes me when I consider the difference between last autumn and now. I deliberately took some of my maternity leave unpaid so that I could save my paid time off for what I assumed would be inevitable illnesses after Bear’s birth. Instead, I wound up having to use up all that time on long weekends before the fiscal year ended in January, and I had to start over from scratch when we really did need the sick time in 2014. I think I’ll finally be out of the hole on PTO sometime this summer. As long as we don’t get sick again.

If only I hadn't had to see this pretty tree at the doctor's office.I am confident that things are improving. The onset of spring (finally) has my energy up. After recovering from the cold (also finally), we managed to catch up a bit on our to-do list. We’ve also squeezed in a surprising amount of social interaction in the last two weekends. We visited M’s former roommates in Framingham. It was one last chat in the old duplex, which everyone will shortly be leaving. It was a bittersweet moment, but interesting. Everyone is off on new adventures.

Little Bear's first parade

This past weekend, we saw more family and friends. We spent Memorial Day in M’s hometown, watching the parade (LB’s first), enduring the gun salute (he was stoic), and enjoying some barbecue. It was relaxing, and the food was great. As with every meal these days, Bear had a taste of everything and wanted more. He has no idea what to do with that tiny new tooth, but he tries his damnedest. He crawls, he stands, he shouts, he sings, and he is desperate to add to his repertoire of skills. It is fascinating, frustrating, and, generally, funny as hell. He’s figured out so many new ways to express himself, and he is very obviously a tiny version of the person he will grow to become. It is incredible.

So our little family trundles on. Now that we’re all feeling better, we’re also feeling the urge to get outside. My fledgling garden is (so far) thriving. M mentions the beach daily. And, judging from his fascination with the grass yesterday, Little Bear would also like to commune with nature. We’ll have to make that happen. Housework can be fit in around the edges. Might as well enjoy the good weather now that we have it!

On the path in New Hampshire

PAX East with a Baby, and Other Recent Events

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I confess to being lax in the blogging department lately. After a solid month or so of health, Little Bear and I both succumbed to a bad cold and conjunctivitis. We’re on the mend, though my sinuses seem to be moving smoothly from cold congestion to allergies. My left ear has been deaf for almost three days now, and it is making me crazy. I’m trying decongestants for now, but the experience has convinced me to finally buy a neti pot. I look forward to an awkward, choking learning period with that.

So while I haven’t been blogging, what have I been up to besides feeling ragged? Well, we went to PAX East again. And we dared to take the baby. To our relief, he had a great time!

Little Bear reaches for the camera

PAX East, if you are unaware, is a game convention held yearly in Boston. I’m by no means as experienced in that area as M is, but I have sufficient geek cred to enjoy myself. This year seemed a little lackluster compared to last year’s exciting announcements and many gorgeous games, but we still had a good time. Given that we don’t live in the city anymore, and we had a baby in tow, we drove for the first time. It wasn’t as bad as I expected. And it was very nice to see beautiful Boston again.

South Boston at dusk

PAX East attracts tens of thousands of people each year, and I’m always reminded of this when walking through the cavernous convention hall.

The now-empty line area

So many Starcraft players

Expo Hall from above

Despite the attendance, the size of the place means you can almost always find a little quiet corner if you need a breather. That was one reason I wasn’t too concerned about bringing Little Bear. He was a great sport about the Expo Hall, and when he got tired, I carried him off and we tucked ourselves away for some peace.

LB taking in the Expo Hall

LB watches his daddy try a game

LB encounters a glass wall

Really, the biggest lingering thought I had was that for a baby, there probably isn’t anything strange about cosplay. LB doesn’t realize yet that people don’t usually dress that way.

Sesame Street cosplay

The weekend after PAX, we eased back toward home life by spending Easter in Maine with family. It was a lovely short trip, with good food, good conversation, good company, and even a little sleep. Bear was a charmer, adjusting quickly to relatives he hadn’t seen in awhile (and his first cat!). He even delighted his admirers by standing up for the first time that I’ve seen outside of daycare.

LB standing

The fact that he biffed it shortly after this picture was taken probably explains why I didn’t see him stand up again for over a week. You’ll get there, little man. For now, enjoy your newfound mobility.

LB crawling

Other than those two big weekends, things have been relatively quiet. Since illness is running high in our household lately, that’s been a blessing. And it matches the drizzly, cool grey weather that persists. I’m not complaining, though. Early spring rains bring about that day when everything green suddenly pops, and it is magical, even though it’s the cusp of May.

I hope everyone is healthier than we are, and that your spring is shaping up nicely. Now that I’m slowly emerging from the fog of my cold, I am so excited about all the fun warmer weather will bring. Spring seems like a great time to show a baby how beautiful his little world can be.

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