Doing Things

Trio

Sometimes life gets in the way of things you intend to do. In this case, I intended to write blog posts a lot more frequently than has happened lately. Happily, life only got in the way in the best ways, so I let it.

Snuggling with Mama's mama

Some of the things have been social. After my sister’s lovely visit a few weeks ago, my mom came to stay for a few days. My family is so geographically scattered that M (let alone Little Bear) hasn’t even met them all yet, so these two occasions were unusual and precious.

We also recently took a quick road trip to Maine for M’s cousin’s graduation. That was eventful, as everything seemed to be scheduled for Bear’s nap times, but it was so nice to see family. (And to hear bagpipes. Oh, Scotland.)

Graduation party

Pond and a wisp of cloud

Some of the things have been experiential. We have, at the ides of May, finally emerged from the dull weight of endless winter to remember that spring still happens. M in particular has taken to outdoor excursions with a vengeance. He walks with LB every day, and I join them on weekends for trips to the beach or the woods. The Japanese term shinrin-yoku (“forest bathing”) has become a mantra for us, though we do need an equivalent for time spent with sand and salty air.

Moon over dunes

Ham and mushroom quiche

Finally, some of the things have been actions.

I’ve always been more of a dreamer than a doer. I mean, I want to do all the things, but first I want to read all about the history and procedure of each thing, figure out the best tools for doing the thing, and get inspiration on different approaches. It’s unfortunately rare for me to progress to the actual doing of said thing, but it has become easier to follow through the last few years as I’ve settled into a few certain areas of interest.

Baby lettuces

One of those is cooking and baking. One is writing, both the intellectual creation of works and the physical act involving paper and ink and pen or brush. One is gardening, or maybe just attempting to keep plants alive. And one is needlework.

Specifically, I like to sew (including embroidery, if we’re getting specific). I love needles, thread, and fabric. I do not love my sewing machine. I bought one an embarrassingly long time ago and remained terrified of and baffled by it until my mom’s visit brought a chance to move past the fear stage. So I hauled out the machine, set it up per the manual (this was more complicated than it should have been; do manual-writers not sit in front of the machines about which they are writing?), and let my mom guide me.

This episode was an important turnabout in our educational relationship. When my mother has a tech problem, she calls me. Trying to get my brain to step back to the point of pure computer basics is difficult and often frustrating. But I had to sympathize when she was trying to teach me how to sew with a machine. I finally had to remind her: “Mom, you know how I sometimes have to explain the difference between a file and folder? Take this back to a similar level.” We got there in the end, and I got a new handmade napkin out of the process.

Trying my hand at machine sewing

After the flush of that first triumph, I set aside the other three napkins to finish on my own. Several weeks later, I finally picked them up again, and it didn’t start all that well. I recognized one issue, called my mom regarding another, and had a minor frustration fit when it still stuttered. In my younger years, I would’ve flown into a full temper at this point, blamed my sewing machine, and left it alone to rot. But I am older now and (somewhat) wiser and recognize that tantrum-ing is not going to accomplish my goal. Also, it will feel so good when I work over the hurdles and achieve what I want through effort.

Though age 32 is kinda late to be learning these lessons, it’s better late than never. And when I eventually finished those napkins? It really did feel great, and I still grin when I see them on the kitchen table.

This one's for you, Mom

Miscellany: The Marks We Make

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.

Miscellany: Sunlight

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!

Lamy A.L. Joy

The Big 3-1

I celebrated my birthday this past weekend. More precisely, I enjoyed several little celebrations over several days. I told M that I wanted to do three things: go out for Japanese food, bake myself a cake, and play some uninterrupted Skyrim. His reply? “Going big for the 3-1, huh?” I think he was being sarcastic.

In truth, I’ve never been a big birthday bash person. I don’t dislike parties, but I’m not fond of being their focus. It took a fair amount of faking comfort to get through the baby showers last summer. Something about opening all those presents in front of everyone.

Anyway, the festivities started early, thanks to a snow day last week. Since work usually gives the final say around 07:00, the baby and I were already up. I got a shower, saw the happy email, and decided to settle in for a little gaming. Something about snow just makes me want to play Skyrim. Incidentally, is there a mod to remove all the nonessential dragons? Fast-traveling is becoming a major pain. (Yes, I know dragons are basically the point of the game. I’m a scaredy-gamer, and I really just play to collect and craft. Or kill bandits. I can do that.)

baby and socktopus

Japanese food was Saturday’s task, checked off at Hana Japan in Newburyport. We gingerly took Little Bear with us, and, to my shock, he lasted the entire nearly-two-hour dinner without fussing once. He couldn’t seem to get enough of the charming ladies in kimonos, the paper lanterns, the carp streamers hanging from the ceiling. I, on the other hand, could not get enough of the food. Their rendition of nabeyaki udon was different than the one I used to order at Mr. Sushi in Brookline but was still excellent. The noodles were perfectly chewy, the broth was rich, and instead of cracking in an egg, they topped it with slices of tamago, or Japanese omelet. It added a great sweet counter to the savory. I also had agedashi tofu for the first time. I’ve wanted to try the dish for years, but I dragged my feet on making it myself. I can now add it to my repertoire without fear. Deep-fried tofu is wonderful.

agedashi tofu at Hana

My present from M arrived earlier than expected. Because I’d asked for it specifically, it wasn’t a surprise like he prefers (and is very good at). But it was eagerly anticipated and joyfully received. I’ve been dabbling more and more in writing, both everyday and decorative, so I asked for my first real fountain pen. This pen works for calligraphy, though I fully intend to use the 1.1 Italic nib I selected for everyday cursive. I chose this pen especially because it includes a converter, and I am mildly obsessed with bottled ink. I also got samples of this ink and this ink. I look forward to spending a messy hour learning how to swap them in.

Lamy A.L. JoyThe last step of my chosen fun was the cake. For some reason, I started getting really particular about baking birthday cakes once M and I moved in together. Except last year, when I prioritized homemade bao, though a blizzard nearly derailed that. Two years ago, I made almond champagne confetti cake. This year, I wanted something green tea and simpler, though you wouldn’t know it from how it turned out. I wanted something made with green tea. In googling, two cakes really stood out: a swiss roll and a mille-crêpes cake. Having never made génoise, I decided the modular style of a crêpe cake might be more forgiving this time. (Silly me.)

On a hunch, I thought chestnut might be really good with green tea. However, all I had on hand was sweetened chestnut spread, and I couldn’t find a pastry cream recipe that used sweet purée. I really didn’t want to try my hand at reducing the sugar when I’d never even made crème patisserie before. So I figured the chestnut spread could be its own component and flavored the pastry cream with white chocolate instead. As happens with a six-month-old in the house, I wound up making the components separately and in advance. I actually assembled the cake on my birthday night.

It was not great.

Mille-Crêpes messThe pastry cream was too thin, so things started sliding, then it essentially started weeping down the sides of the cake. The white chocolate seemed heavy to taste. The chestnut was strong and had to be mixed with cream to spread easily. The crêpes turned out well, at least. I’m adept at making American-style pancakes, but I’d always heard the first crêpe or two off the pan comes out badly. This was not the case for me, somehow. A small victory amidst the mess.

green tea crêpesI didn’t realize how badly I wanted a win until I didn’t get one. I don’t make a huge deal about birthdays, but it was so disappointing to work hard on my birthday cake and have such a subpar result. (Note: the flavor the next day was good, but it never really firmed up. I basically ate my cake with a spoon.) But hey, there is some silver lining. I discovered a taste for chestnut. My love for green tea continues unabated. And I’m a surprisingly dab hand at making crêpes. Just don’t ask me to layer them with pastry cream again.

The night of the cake, I was feeling a bit bleak. I don’t cook or bake often enough these days to be unperturbed when an effort goes awry. But I’ve had some time to reflect. Reading back over this post, I realize that this birthday was full of things that I love. Which means, despite the culinary disaster, it was a total success.

Miscellany

A compilation of things on my mind:

This cardigan from J.Crew. (Autumn clothes are back!)

Finally finishing Little Bear’s quilt. (A modified version of this.)

LEGO for “grown-ups”. Though our healthy collection includes plenty made for “kids”.

Kindness, and raising my son to be courageous enough to practice it.

Coveting cashmere for babies, even though M forbids it.

Incorporating routines, such as candles and music in the evenings as we prepare LB for bed.

Cracking open this ice cider we just found.

Finally moving up from the trial version of Scrivener, to collect all the ideas in my head.

Catching up on thank you notes.

Minecraft.