Darkness and Light

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Foster Pond sunset

During my blogging absence, another year began, and it began busily.

The holidays were a mess of one- and two-day work weeks, interspersed with a last-minute vacation week for me. All three of us had a bad cold that week, and then, unhappily, my aunt passed away. This lent a melancholy feeling to the holiday, exacerbated by the fact that, thanks to airline heartlessness, my mother then had to cancel her trip to spend Christmas with us.

Tree trimming

We did manage to have a wonderful time, though. It started with the solstice. Because Christmas day is always scheduled with family, M and I started celebrating the solstice as our own holiday. I love the family time of Christmas, but every year I get less and less enthused about the “holiday” of it; solstice fills the void. For me, it’s become a holiday on its own, and one that isn’t saddled with any baggage of commercialism or other trappings. It is a pure expression of winter joy, and I look forward to it every year.

Pumpkin-pecan bread

Pomander

We don’t make a splashy deal of it. We make sure to cook good food, always watch the same episode of “Little Bear” (yes, seriously), and light some candles. As I get less and less into Christmas, which was never a religious holiday for me anyway, I get more and more into the elemental quality of the solstice. It’s all about pine and fire and snow and being cozy on cold nights. This year, I explained a little bit to Little Bear about it being the longest night and how some cultures celebrate with candles or bonfires to symbolize the sun being reborn. Maybe next year I’ll risk putting out the goat.

Skinning hazelnuts

Homemade Nutella

Things progressed quickly after the solstice. Christmas was full and lovely. LB seemed to get it more than last year, of course, but he didn’t so much realize that presents were for him, per se. He loved playing “Santa’s helper” and handing out packages to everyone (“Can you give this to Mémé? No, Mémé. Mémé!”). He himself received a number of beautiful (and quiet!) wooden and/or building toys that he continues to enjoy daily. He is very into blocks and trains and nesting toys. It’s fascinating to watch.

Crêpe for the baby

In a blessing/curse way, we get more chances to observe him at play these days. Shortly after a quiet New Year’s (M and I made it to 11:30 this year!), M got the news we’d been dreading, and the big L-A-Y-O-F-F word became reality. Though we’d been expecting it, there was little we could do beyond lay out the few steps we would take when it actually happened. Now we’re still trying to deal with those steps, and things are terrifying, frustrating, and sometimes a little depressing. Little Bear is home with M during the day now, and we’re both having to squeeze in job applications. I’d love to believe that M will quickly find another position right in the area, but I know that I need to be prepared for the other thing.

Reader

Oddly enough, despite the obsessive monitoring of our bank accounts, the hair-tearingly-frustrating health insurance process, and the uncomfortable familiarity of the library-school-graduate-saturated New England market, we are both feeling good. I love my work and am happy at my job, but M was ready for something new. And though it is very scary to be a one-nonprofit-salary household in an expensive area, we feel strangely, buoyantly optimistic. There is a persistent sense that this is the next step and good things are soon to follow.

Yin Yu Tang near sunset

Obviously, we hope they follow really soon, but we’re doing the best we can to bring them about. There are plenty of options on the table. Information science is a vast and flexible field. I’m a little sad-in-advance, though. I love working in special collections, but jobs in the subfield are scarcer even than general library jobs. I know full well that, if I need to change jobs, I may have to move to a different professional area. I can only cross that bridge if I come to it, so instead I think about geography. My sister moved to Oregon after college, and ever since visiting her some years ago, I’ve felt the lure of the Pacific Northwest. So part of my brain is going, hey, if we have to move, why not move out there…?

Driftwood and mist

Long story short, there is a lot up in the air right now. I have always preferred to pin things down as quickly as I can, and that is just not possible in this situation. It’s an exercise in mindfulness, patience, and time management, and it’s actually kind of… fun. The level of fun is directly proportional to the balance of our savings account, though, so I channel the enjoyment into as much practical work as possible. Life is quite busy, but Little Bear (when he’s not proving himself quite a toddler) provides lovely little moments of joy and quiet. This is an interesting time in our lives, scary and cash-strapped, but clarifying and decluttering. We are certain that we’ll emerge from it stronger, clearer-headed, and with purpose. I keep smelling spring in the air, and I’m going to ride that high to our next stage.

Dark stone lantern

Pics are a montage from the past two months and a years-ago trip to Portland.

Productivity of Necessity, and a Recipe

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Night on the river

The past month has been a building whirlwind, though obviously not on the blogging front. I like this time of year, but man, it can be exhausting. This year, the buildup to the holidays has seemed coincidental to all the other things going on. That doesn’t make it all less crazy, though.

It also doesn’t negate the impact some recent illness has had on our growing to-do lists. I was just pondering my PTO accumulation, but apparently I tempted fate. An early-season daycare bug quickly swept to Little Bear and home, and I used up sick days in rapid succession.

The unforeseen upside to that, however, was that I suddenly became a productivity machine. I am not one of those people who claims to work best under pressure. The idea of cramming for tests or speed-writing papers still makes me cringe, years after school. But one thing I am good at is buckling down when I simply have no other choice. And so it has been recently (hence the blog-radio silence).

So what have we been up to?

Minecraft pumpkin

M carved pumpkins.

His m.o. since we moved to this place (okay, so just the last two Halloweens) has been to carve while handing out the candy. Since he telecommutes, he’s out on the porch promptly as trick-or-treat starts, so he multitasks until I get home with Little Bear. It’s turned into a fun little two-year tradition that I think we might just continue.

This year’s main pumpkin was, as you can see, Minecraft themed. This was a big hit, particularly with the kids dressed in similar style. I was bemused by the mother who suggested that we must have some Minecraft-loving kids. Some people really do feel that games are not for adults, I guess.

Kabuki faces

I went to work.

The last couple weeks have included sick time and holidays but also work events and tons of checked-off tasks. Our director retired last month, but he continues as director emeritus, and we hosted some of his fellow Grolier Club members during the recent antiquarian book fair. It’s always fun to show off collection highlights, and our guests, booklovers all, were appreciative and interesting.

Books on tea

I’m especially enthusiastic about showing off materials lately, because I’ve been having a blast with our collections myself. I even finally finished a post for our library blog, and I’m planning my next draft. My current fascinations lean heavily toward book history and East Asia, so I’ve been hunting for great examples to support these themes. I took a little detour into Japanese maps, and I’m not sorry.

Temple

I even dragged Little Bear into the fun. My office’s proximity to his doctor means that he gets to accompany me occasionally. Now that he’s toddling, he’ll be reshelving in no time. He’s growing so fast, he will certainly be tall enough!

Training

Embroidery ready

Outside of work, I happily headed home for some domestic bliss.

I have finally, finally reached the end of the hand-stitching the quilt I’m making for Little Bear. I don’t mean that to sound bitter. I actually prefer hand sewing to machine, and it’s been a nice meditative way to end nights. It has simply taken so much longer than I originally intended. Now I’m preparing to add a little decoration in the form of French knots, and I’m looking forward to learning a bit of embroidery.

Cooking shrimp and baby bok choy

Aside from that, and all the housekeeping catch-up, I’ve been in the kitchen. Cookies, pancakes, and chili rolled out as we got over our bugs, and then I finally made soba with shrimp. I’ve been planning a dish made of these two components for weeks, and I made it now because I find soba noodles very comforting. They remain so in this recipe.

Shrimp and baby bok choy on soba

Soba with Baby Bok Choy and Shrimp

I aimed for light but warm, bright and nourishing. I adore baby bok choy, and the shrimp revived my strength after days of on-and-off illness and fatigue. I’m getting more confident at improvising Japanese food, and I considered this meal a success. Note that the sauce measurements are approximated and adjust to your liking. I’m a big fan of the Japanese seasoning blend of shichimi togarashi, but red pepper flakes and toasted sesame seeds would add the spice and crunch, too.

Serves 4

2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons mirin
¼ cup soy sauce
1½ tablespoons minced ginger (I used ginger paste)
1½ tablespoons crushed garlic
pinch of sugar
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 heaping tablespoon cornstarch
3 bundles of soba noodles
1 tablespoon canola oil, or more as needed
2 pounds baby bok choy, trimmed, halved, washed, and dried
1 pound shelled shrimp, tails removed (I used thawed precooked shrimp because it was on hand but prefer raw)
shichimi togarashi

Whisk together the rice vinegar, mirin, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sugar, and sesame oil. Taste and adjust as necessary, then whisk in the cornstarch until smooth. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the soba noodles and cook until al dente, just a few minutes. Pour into a colander to drain, rinsing a bit to separate if necessary.

Place a wok over medium heat. When hot, add the canola oil and the baby bok choy and toss. Cook, stirring frequently, until stems soften a little and leaves wilt. Add the shrimp and cook until barely opaque, stirring frequently. Add the sauce, stir, and cook until bok choy retain just a bit of crunch and sauce has thickened, stirring regularly.

Divide the noodles among four bowls and top evenly with the shrimp and bok choy (and plenty of sauce. Sprinkle with shichimi togarashi to taste. Pick up your chopsticks and enjoy.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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