Miscellany: The Marks We Make

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Priorities

I am an information geek. I cannot get enough of it. Lately, that obsession interest is stronger than ever, and I am reading and writing with a fierceness that surprises me. About what, you ask? I’ll tell you!

A colleague inquired after letters a few weeks ago, and it sparked a major obsession on my part. How has the folding evolved? What’s up with that filing system? How do you preserve wax seals? What is the subtle etiquette of salutation and signing-off? How did letters travel before the postal system? Most of the resources I want to read are academic tomes like this one, so I may be attempting some ILLs if I want to pursue this fascination.

DISCLAIMER: After the first (of an account book in my library’s collection), none of these photos have anything to do with the topic at hand. I just liked some of my recent shots from our autumn adventures.

Wet leaves

If I cannot get ahold of those, however, I know I can find books about books. I am a rare books and special collections librarian, and oh, how special the collections! Lately, I’ve been intensely interested in books as objects. Bindings, paper, marginalia, provenance… Give me all the information about the information. The textual content is great, but the physical evidence fleshes it all out. It makes each individual volume unique, and my library has so many unique objects. I’ve been wandering the stacks, pulling here and there to examine the endpapers and title pages. Anything bound in vellum catches my eye, because it immediately screams “old”, and that means a potentially visible history.

Little Bear and leaves

So I’ve been devouring these tomes visually, and then I’ve been researching them madly. I had to create a separate mini wish list for my immediate to-reads, because my “To Read – Information” list was too big to find anything in. [Aside: ALL of my wish lists are too big. I don't think I could read all those books even if I did nothing but read, sleep, and eat.] Thankfully, I work in a library that holds not only a lot of rare book objects, but a number of excellent resources about rare books. I’m reading about paper and bookbinding and library history, though unfortunately only in brief snatches, because, you know, work.

Alright, fine, here’s one more book-related image. This is a teeny tiny book a colleague and I just discovered in our miniature book collection. (DISCLAIMER THE SECOND: When a librarian/archivist/curator says they “discovered” something, it doesn’t mean it was physically lost, like they found it under a couch cushion. It was simply not known to them. Try as we might, it remains impossible to memorize all holdings of a not-small collection.)

Anyway, all of this leads me to writing. My fountain pen love is still going strong, but now I’m getting restless to dig out my dip pen and attempt more actual calligraphy. That seems exceedingly difficult to fathom right now, as the rambunctious toddler requires frequent wrestling away from forbidden things or wrangling from the chair he somehow got stuck under, etc. But I have to try.

Wet flower

In the meantime, I’ve been writing some letters and notes. One of them is soon to be sent to my great-aunt, the doyenne of our family history, who is so graciously helping me with my genealogy work. (Speaking of, I will be really annoying by saying that the most incredible object I’ve seen lately, which haunts my handwriting dreams, is a bound manuscript genealogy that I can’t share publicly because it’s on deposit. Maybe soon…) I’m making headway on dates and names, and perhaps soon I can start mocking up calligraphy-written family trees.

Or maybe I’ll start collecting wax seals (since ordering a custom one of my own is out of the financial question). Or I’ll delve into bookbinding. Or… or… probably chase a toddler around all day.

Puzzle time at the library

Or maybe I’ll just get some sleep. Somehow, I have thought myself into exhaustion. That sounds so lame that I have no choice but to wrap this up, get some rest, and write some more tomorrow.

Autumn, Suddenly

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Fall flowers.

Just like that, it’s cooler and crisper and obviously the season has changed. I love this time of year. The transitional times in general are my favorite. Typically, it’s right about now that the long, endless slog of hot summer days has me down, and cooler weather sweeps in to relieve me. This year, however, summer was surprisingly mild, and I actually enjoyed it. That means that not only am I excited by autumn, I’m still energized instead of drained by constant humidity.

Stacking is a pretty big deal these days.

Perhaps that’s why I feel a bit restless and eager to tackle some work. I would love to say that means I’m throwing myself into big projects. But I am finding it more satisfying to chip away, little by little, at countless small tasks that have been nagging at me. And, in the midst of the fresh fall housekeeping, I’m swinging back into cooking.

Pizza with blue cheese, arugula, and pear.

Pizza with arugula, pear, salami, and Brie.

I have a difficult time with cooking in summer. It’s often too hot, and by the time I get home from work, I am not in the mood to stand and chop things for salads or other cool foods. Fall food is a different story. Fall food seduces me. I make long, lovely lists of produce I want to use and recipes I want to try.

Pizza with blue cheese, arugula, and pear.

This one is an interpretation of a salad recipe I have stashed in my MacGourmet database. Don’t ask me why I utterly refused to consider making the actual salad. No, it had to be pizza, and boy, am I glad I stuck to that instinct. I kept the main flavor profile for the first pizza, then, why not, we traded in some leftover Brie and salami for the other. Both variations were something of an experiment, and both were good, but we preferred the first. It was a little less salty and a little more nuanced. Even the baby found it to be just the thing to fuel his rapidly-wrinkling brain.

Now if only Little Bear and I weren’t overcome with sniffles. My sinuses started creeping into cold-weather mode a week ago. I’ve had a constant grumpy headache ever since, and it is getting old. I’m so preoccupied with the expectation that a major cold is about to kick in that I cannot enjoy the fact that a major cold has not kicked in. Oh well. At least I can enjoy food like this pizza, or porridge, or chili, or any number of sweet things

Pizza with Blue Cheese, Arugula, and Pear
Inspired by Williams-Sonoma’s Harvest Salad with Blue Cheese and Roasted Pears

Serves 6-8

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons golden balsamic vinegar
salt
freshly ground black pepper
all-purpose flour, for rolling
2 balls of pizza dough, store-bought or homemade
honey, any varietal, to taste
1 large shallot, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
4 cups baby arugula leaves, washed and spun dry
½ pound whole-milk mozzarella, grated
1 firm Bosc pear, cored and thinly sliced
½ crumbled blue cheese

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Use a baking stone, or prepare a pizza pan the way you like it.

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Roll out one ball of dough on a floured work surface. Brush with half the vinaigrette. Drizzle lightly with honey. Sprinkle with half the shallot and tarragon.

Scatter half the arugula over the dough evenly. Sprinkle with half the mozzarella. Spread half the pear slices on top. Sprinkle evenly with half the blue cheese. Bake on the stone or prepared pan for 12-15 minutes, until arugula is wilted and cheese and crust are golden brown. Repeat with the other half of ingredients. Serve immediately.

Brie, Salami, and Thyme Variation
Replace the golden balsamic with red wine vinegar. Replace the tarragon with thyme. Replace the blue cheese with Brie. Sprinkle with ¼ cup chopped salami or pancetta.

Pizza with arugula, pear, salami, and Brie.

Scotland on my mind

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Scotland on my mind

I love the UK, as an entity, but in its separate parts as well. I cannot imagine having to decide on such an important question. I have many fond memories of Scotland, and I look forward to making more, whether my passport gets stamped in London or Edinburgh. Whatever the outcome, people of Scotland, I wish you the very best today. I am thinking of you and your land.

Miscellany: Sunlight

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It’s been awhile since I did a miscellaneous post, and it is exactly the sort of post I need to do right now, when my mind seems to be sparking in a dozen directions.

Speaking of aimlessness, I’ve been going through an unsettled music mood lately. Do you ever have times when you just don’t like any of the music you try to listen to? That’s where I am now. Or was, anyway. Then I put on a playlist of Trio Mediaeval‘s albums. The group is a trio of Scandinavian women who sing (mostly) medieval polyphonic music. I am a fan of that genre anyway, but it’s usually sung by men. Hearing it done by women adds an even more haunting quality.

Speaking of haunting, I’ve had Dinan on the brain. Dinan is a town in Brittany, France, where I spent five days during a study abroad trip in high school. At the time, it was the second half of a two-week trip, so I was getting a little tired, and it was basically another French town. I saw an album of photographs of the town on Flickr the other week, however, and now I am remembering what could have been. Dinan is an old town with beautifully preserved half-timbered buildings, a lovely riverfront, and a quirky steep medieval street called the Rue de Jerzual. We carefully made our way down the latter daily with the daughter and cousin of the family with whom we home-stayed.

This is the part I am kicking myself over. We stayed with a French family in a traditional stone farmhouse outside of town. As it was summer, there were a few relatives in and out, and farmhands occasionally joined us for dinner. We ate outside, on a beautifully set table, enjoying wonderful food and speaking ever more fluently (the patriarch of the house gently insisted that we resort to English only when at an absolute standstill). In the mornings, we drank coffee out of latte bowls and bathed quickly in a tub under the low eaves.

It was, in essence, precisely the sort of envious existence reveled in by American ex-pats in any of a number of recent books. We lived that beautiful life for five days, and I barely remember it now. I certainly didn’t appreciate it fully at the time. It was fun, to be sure, but my primary thrill was how easily my French was improving. Now I find myself craving an almond croissant from the bakery in the medieval town and wanting to stroll along the river. It’s a very odd feeling, given that I haven’t been there in fifteen (!) years. But hey, I have out-of-brain-to-London moments daily, so I suppose it’s not that much of a stretch.

Speaking of traveling to France, I have been playing a lot of Sims 3 lately. (Bear with me, it connects, I promise.) The reviews for Sims 4 are rather troubling, so I will not be spending money on that game anytime soon. However, they have reignited my love for the franchise in general, so I’ve been firing up Sims 3 after dinner and just letting it play on my laptop while I do other things. I check in occasionally to make sure the house isn’t on fire or to send my Sim on a trip. One of the destinations in the World Adventures expansion is “Champs-les-Sims,” a faux French village (see, the tenuous segue!). I’ve had her there exploring tombs and making wine and generally living it up. Now I think it’s time for the next step.

I have played Sims in one edition or another for years, but I was recently reading Carl’s Sims 3 Guide (such a good resource) and realized that I have not been doing Sims 3 to its full potential. Now I’m sort of stuck between keeping it casual so I can leap to chase this guy off furniture or really getting into it and playing. I suspect I’ll do a bit of both. I love playing games, but every so often I hit a TOO MUCH wall and have to pull back. Good thing M has Destiny back starting tomorrow. I can lean back and watch that.

Speaking of things to watch, APPLE EVENT TOMORROW. I am an unapologetic Apple fan (though not opposed to other products – that intriguing new curved-screen Samsung, for example), but this event feels even bigger than most. Part of the anticipation is that I am really tired of my Fitbit. It’s ruining the clothes I clip it to, it’s falling apart, and it gets lost too easily. I’m ready for a wearable that tracks more data while not looking obvious, and I hope that Apple can provide exactly that. I am worried that it won’t work with my aging iPhone model, though. I cannot afford to get both.

Speaking of shopping, I am really looking forward to this ink. Maybe it will prompt me to drag out my dip pens more often.

Speaking of dipping into things (such a stretch; I’ll make this the last thing), I have been reading up on heraldry in my ongoing quest to learn about my family’s history and genealogy. I have no idea if we have any associated arms, but it’s so fun to read about in general. It reminds me that I still have not finished A Game of Thrones, which I was mostly drawn to because of the sigils. But the research I’ve been doing gives such a fascinating look at medieval (and later) history and the way human beings always find a means to craft a self-identity. I’ve been trying to create a personal badge, and the list of elements I have considered and rejected is long. It is surprisingly difficult to distill your entire personality, interests, and allegiances into a few basic symbols. Nevertheless, I keep at it, even just to have a letterhead for stationery.

I hope everyone had a wonderful summer and welcomes the cooler temps as much as I do. Bring on the apple cider doughnuts!

Des couleurs culinaires

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The past week or so has been a riot of colorful food at home. The pictures never do it justice, but I tried anyway.

Radishes on marble rye with salted butter

I am a huge fan of radishes and salted butter on toast for breakfast/snack/lunch. Celery salt adds a particular zing.

Baby zucchini

Veggie pizza with smoked sausage and rosemary

These baby zucchini begged to be sliced lengthwise for visual impact, though I blunted it by then covering them with the rest of the toppings. Still tasted delicious.

Frying blue potatoes

I couldn’t believe it when I found blue potatoes at a local farmstand. Home-grown and a gorgeous color, I pan-fried them with sage. We ate them on the side of cumin-spiced burgers topped with yellow tomato (which we devoured before I could take a picture).

Iced matcha latte

My Saturday morning drink of choice this weekend was a matcha latte. I always forget how much I love them, even the ones made with the Trader Joe’s mix. Having a green tea latte tends to spark a run of matcha endeavors, and this weekend was no exception.

Matcha- and cocoa-white chocolate chip yogurt cookies.

I have plain matcha at home, though it was a new brand for me, and I didn’t care for it for drinking. It is fine for baking, though, so I was inspired to do exactly that. I took my go-to yogurt-chocolate chip recipe and modified it. Using that recipe as a base just never gets old, and the bonus of it not containing eggs is that I can taste as I go. Experimenting becomes a bit less of a disappointment risk. I made a half recipe with matcha and a half with cocoa, because M is not a fan of green tea.

One note: I stirred in the matcha and cocoa at the wrong point, but I am still mulling over what the right time is. Basically, I’m trying to find the latest possible moment to divide the measurements. To do it properly, split the dough after incorporating the yogurt and extracts. Sift in the matcha with half the flour/baking soda/salt, and the cocoa with the other half. Divide the chips and nuts. Or follow my lazy lead. Luckily, the yogurt dough is moist and forgiving, so a little extra stirring blended in the powders well.

As usual, I made some other modifications from the original recipe. I swapped in a little white rice flour (not sweet/glutinous) for a change of texture and added chopped hazelnuts for crunch. I made the cookies more bite-size than usual. If I had had more time, I think I would have used finely chopped white chocolate instead of chips. Full-size chocolate chips can take over small cookies.

Atypically, I actually baked all of these. I just didn’t think I would like the green tea dough plain, plus I knew that the flavor would muddy the longer it sat. The flavor on both baked versions was great. M even tried a green tea one.

Matcha- and cocoa-white chocolate chip cookies

Matcha- (and Cocoa-) White Chocolate Chip Yogurt Cookies
Adapted from Pillsbury’s Cookies Galore!

Makes about 36 cookies

½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup cane sugar
½ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon hazelnut extract
½ cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1⅜ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup white rice flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon fine salt
1 cup finely chopped white chocolate
¾ cup chopped toasted hazelnuts
¾ tablespoon matcha
1 tablespoon Dutch-process cocoa

Heat the oven to 375°F. Line two cookies sheets with parchment paper or baking mats.

In a medium bowl, cream together butter and sugars until smooth. Stir in yogurt, vanilla, and hazelnut extract until blended. Sift in flours, baking soda, and salt and combine well. Mix in chocolate chips and nuts.

Move half of the dough to a small bowl. Stir the matcha into one bowl and the cocoa into the other. Blend well so there aren’t any streaks of powder left.

Drop small teaspoonfuls of dough onto the cookie sheets, about 2 inches apart. Bake for 6 to 10 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway, until lightly golden (the matcha ones) or set (the cocoa ones). They will be softer than some chocolate chip cookies, but don’t be tempted to bake them too long.

Let sit on the cookies sheets for a minute. Transfer, parchment paper and all, to a wire rack and cool. Store in an airtight container. Enjoy.

This is not shabby chic.

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Respectfully

I made a depressing discovery the other day.

I’m not sure what took me so long to shed my apparently willful ignorance. I had seen Etsy listings for digital facsimiles of manuscript documents, being sold for digital scrapbooking or even printing out for physical crafts. But recently, while researching something in my library’s collection, I discovered that there are actual historical documents being sold. With the primary selling point being their suitability for découpage.

Découpage.

We in the cultural heritage world work so hard and apply so many resources collecting, conserving, and making accessible historical artifacts. We track down provenance so people can have context for the objects. We exhaust our supplies budgets buying custom boxes for broken volumes, carefully sleeving fragile documents in expensive Melinex, and sending out important items to private conservation agencies for repair.

Beyond repair

As a whole, we don’t discriminate, either. Each institution makes a judgment based on its collection development policy and sphere of interest. To be honest, your local public library may not love you for dropping off six boxes of papers from your aunt who lived two states away. But everything, written by the lowliest unknown servant or the President of the United States, can find a home in a library, archives, or museum collection somewhere. Everything is important to someone.

Crew list

If you possess something handwritten (or not!) or old (or not!), please don’t give up. The information contained in historical documents will always provide a piece, no matter how tiny, to the larger puzzle of history. Please don’t assume that its only value is its prettiness from far away. Those cursive letters may look lovely, but once they’re cut up, slathered in paste, and slapped on a collage, they will be of little use to anyone. And another part of the cultural record will be gone. It may not be an ancient monument or a priceless early printed book, but that schoolgirl’s diary, grocer’s account book, or cousin’s letter will be read by someone, someday, and it just might change them. It cannot do that if it’s the background of a page in your scrapbook.

log of French rivers and canalsThis is not to shame or wrist-slap anyone but simply to encourage. I, too, find old handwriting and paper absolutely gorgeous. And no, I certainly don’t read every manuscript in my library’s collection. But I am a steward of those papers, and I help maintain them so that other people can read them. I keep them so that they are available for as long as they endure. I protect a bit of history, and that makes me happier than the sight of any craft project.

The next time you want something “olde” for your DIY, seek out one of those digital images. Buy a file you can use again and again, that won’t be irreversibly damaged. It will be just as beautiful to look at, and the real artifacts can continue to keep history alive.

Chaos Theory

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Day 342

We have a near-toddler in the house, and I cannot understand why everyone says the newborn phase is the tiring part.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t out of the blue. Things began ramping up the moment Little Bear started to crawl. Once he learned how to pull himself up, sitting down for a moment became a luxury. He’s just so tall and apparently fearless. But this? He has leveled up, and our response has had to scale accordingly.

Day 327

I mentioned before that I was surprised by how well I adjusted to the dirtier aspects of parenting. I really am. In fact, I have to say that the hardest part for me turned out to be the chaos. Children have a rationality all their own, and we adults are not a part of it. That is unfortunate for me, as I have never, ever liked not knowing.

Parenting advice columns and blogs will tell you to give in and embrace the chaos. While I have considered that, even as an exercise in mindfulness, I know that I cannot go further than halfway. I am not a person who thrives on entropy. Giving in to the crazy throws me off balance.

When I was pregnant with LB, I used to lament the need to return to work. My mother stayed at home to raise my sister and me, leaving a career in kitchen and bath design and, I now suspect, some independence behind. She was always there when we got home from school. She shuttled us to our dance classes and piano lessons and tennis camps. She kept house and baked and balanced the checkbook, and I dreamed of having what I believed she had. How could I just ship my tiny baby off to daycare? How would I have the time to cook fresh, nutritious meals if I was working full time? How could I ensure clean, neatly folded laundry and dishes always washed?

In the end, the decision was made for me. Daycare, incredibly expensive in Massachusetts and a big reason women leave work, turned out to cost barely less money than I would earn working. So I returned, and boy, am I glad I did. Even a few recent days home sick with Little Bear had me climbing the walls, especially now that he is so mobile. He doesn’t even walk unaided yet! But he crawls and cruises and climbs, and we’d have to baby-proof down to no furniture to completely keep up. We spend a lot of time having to say no. I think even he finds daycare to be a welcome place of permission.

Untitled

The point of this story, finally, is that despite the chaos, we had a practically perfect summer weekend. The sort of weekend that reminds you of the carefree summers of childhood. There was a balance achieved between Little Bear’s “jerk” moments (did I mention that he’s discovered hitting?) and the bright, sweet curiosity that shines when he encounters new things. The balance was as close to absolute equilibrium as I think is possible for us right now.

We ran errands in New Hampshire, then, on a whim, took lunch to a wildlife refuge that had a lovely little half-mile trail to a pond. We saw no wildlife but the two-legged kind, but the woods were beautiful and reminded me sharply of my desire to visit the Pacific Northwest again.

Untitled

After our picnic, we spent a few lazy hours at home. Then we went out for sushi. I must say, I am really starting to see the point of raw fish. Fresh salmon has such a luxurious texture. Bear actually woke up to partake this time, enjoying miso soup (though confounded by the spoon) and even a miniscule taste of wasabi. To work off the abundance of seafood, we headed to the beach. Our usual beach is in New Hampshire, but this time we decided to try Plum Island.

Beach study

It was not what I expected. I knew that it was inhabited (houses are routinely reported to have fallen into the ocean during hurricanes), but I didn’t realize how many people must at least summer there. We did a circuit of the peninsula before finding parking, but what we found was amazing. It is relatively rare to get a good beach sunset view on the East Coast, for obvious geographical reasons. To our surprise, there was a near-deserted beach facing west, with a gorgeous red-orange sun descending over the opposite shore. For whatever baby reason, LB took an immediate aversion to the sand and had to be coaxed to keeping his toes in it. We’ll keep working on that.

Outrage

After a gorgeously lazy Saturday, we got a surprising amount done on Sunday. I attacked my fledgling garden with a ferocity borne of too many recent sick days. Though we actually have a small patio at our current place, it’s still difficult to maintain outdoor harmony when renting in a multi-unit building. We’ve had enough rain to make the weeds go crazy, and I finally got fed up. I swept away old leaves, repotted some herbs, moved some plants into the ground, and harvested some successful vegetables.

Cherry tomato

After a couple hours outside, I even managed an experiment. Little Bear is increasingly ambivalent about jarred baby food, and I decided to try a possible way to use up the surplus. I love banana and pumpkin breads and I figured that baby purées of fruit could be swapped in easily. I was too cautious about proportions and my product was a bit dry and dense. I’m not sure I’m willing to buy more baby food just to refine the recipe, but never say never. No matter the result, baking was a nice way to end the weekend.

Untitled

Sick again

The weekend’s lovely glow didn’t last long, I’m afraid. In a callback to the terrible long sicknesses of late winter, the Bear succumbed to a virus just a week after finishing a round of antibiotics for his ears. He’s on the mend, but not 100%, so I am really exercising my chaos tolerance muscles. This is much easier, unfortunately, because the baby is so clearly miserable. Poor little guy. If anyone has any tips on forcing a willful one-year-old to take in liquids even though his throat hurts, I welcome them!

The First Year

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Shades

Our Little Bear recently turned one.

Funny on the feet

His birthday was on a Wednesday, so the lucky little man had a family party the weekend before, a dinner out on the day proper, and a party with (our) friends the weekend after. The first party was quiet, just the three of us and M’s immediate family. Bear received a bunch of new toys, chowed down on dinner and a whole nectarine, and enjoyed his first run through a sprinkler. It was sweet and lovely and Bear had a great time.

Sushi

The midweek dinner was, honestly, more for M and me. We were craving Japanese food, and we wanted to celebrate our first year as parents. For once, I actually got sushi instead of noodles, and M donated one of his tuna maki to the cause of my continued training in raw fish tolerance. I had a salmon skin roll and tamago nigiri, both of which were fantastic. The restaurant had a wish tree set up for Tanabata, so I wrote a wish in hopes of continued happy, healthy family life. The baby slept through the entire dinner.

Balance

The second party was more rambunctious. One is still pretty young for a party with other children, so we didn’t bother. Instead, we invited some of our close friends over to eat good food and play video games. Watching LB scramble around was part of the entertainment, and he always had willing hands to stroll him up and down the apartment. (All that hunching gets really exhausting when you’re tall!) M and I got to breathe and sit and interact with other (non-work colleague) adults. I made the first of many birthday cakes (from this recipe). Only Bear’s developing pinkeye put a slight damper on the day. But even I managed to avoid catching it, so all in all, the birthday was a success.

Checkup

It’s true, of course, what they say about children. They grow so fast! The time just flies! But it hasn’t entirely. A steady progression marches along the center of the rushing current. His development seems accelerated lately, but it still shows the linear advancement of time. A month ago, he was a crawling fiend. Last week, he cruised the furniture (a new phrase learned from the pediatrician) adeptly. Maybe next week, he’ll let go and walk alone. Maybe he’ll refer to us by name. He’s very close to saying “Batman”. And that would be fine, too! Sometimes you have to let his priorities take precedence. We certainly won’t discourage the proper growth of his geek cred.

Day 001

We’ve been doing a lot of marveling lately, looking at old photographs. Despite knowing that it’s happening, you don’t easily notice, day-to-day, how much babies change. I’m sure there are individuals who simply become increasingly larger versions of the same newborn. But Little Bear has changed so much! He was so round and had much darker hair (and less of it). Now he’s tall and skinny and has a surprising amount of pale gold hair that I always brush upward for maximum fluff. He looks completely different and exactly the same.

It’s easy to remember that Little Bear has completed his first year of life. I have to remind myself that the flip side of that is the first year of parenting for M and me. That achievement needs noting, too.

Issues of partnership timing and marital status aside, I always knew that I’d rather have kids later than my mid-twenties. I just figured I’d be better prepared by then. I think that panned out nicely. Of course, I certainly haven’t had all the answers (impossible without having the experience). But I know I’ve gone about it with a strong foundation, a touch of maturity that would have been missing earlier.

Day 189

That being said, I’m still surprised by how well we’ve dealt with some aspects of parenting. I have changed some horrifying diapers, been thrown up on, held the baby down for needle sticks and up for chest x-rays, and put him in a headlock to administer eye drops. Truly, I was surprised by my ability to handle the more disgusting, bodily function-related aspects of raising a child. If you’d asked me pre-LB, I would’ve sworn that I would run out of the room when faced with such things. But hey, guess what? It turns out that I have an ironclad gag reflex.

I am also amazed at how well we’ve coped when none of us are feeling well. It is incredibly difficult to parent a sick child while sick yourself. Sometimes it feels impossible, until you realize that it has to be possible. The past weekend, Bear has had an MMR-given fever, so he’s been home from daycare, perfectly coinciding with my bout of food poisoning. All I want to do is curl up in bed with absolutely no distractions or demands whatsoever, but that is not an option. And you know, I am just dealing with it. I think I might have been much more selfish about that a few years ago.

Day 137

One thing that has helped immensely is the partnership I share with M. He has been a staunch support from the beginning, and we make a great team. I know he felt a little helpless in the newborn days, when so much of the baby’s interaction was with me out of necessity. But I think it is because of that early distinction that he and Little Bear share a special bond now. We’re parenting equals, but, without discussing it particularly, we’ve evolved certain separate roles in our son’s life. Mama is for comfort, and Daddy soothes big hurts. Mama is there for the early morning, Daddy when we get home from our days. We didn’t have to arrange for things to balance. I know not every parent gets this equilibrium, so I am grateful for it every single day. Especially these days, when LB is increasingly mischievous and M finally took the next step of instituting “tiny time-outs” for major infractions. I am still a bit too much of a sucker for Bear’s big blue eyes.

Day 363

So we made it through three hundred sixty-five days and the next year is well underway. We are so excited for what it’s going to bring. If he changed this much in one year, imagine how the next will be!

The rest of the birthday photos are here.

The set of his first 365 days in not-quite-that-many pictures is here.

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.

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