Kudos

Irene Finley carrying William Jr. across a creek
Irene Finley carrying William Jr. across a creek, William L. Finley Photographs Collection, circa 1900-1940; Org. Lot 369; b1; Finley A72.

Almost two years ago (June 19, 2015, if I consult my diary), I was in the reading room at the Phillips Library. I recall it being relatively quiet for a summer day, with not many researchers to attend to. My cell phone buzzed in my pocket. I was in the unpleasant habit of keeping it on me, because young kids in daycare get sick a lot, and I was frequently called to pick up a toddler in the throes of the latest ailment: stomach bug, spots, pinkeye, plague.

This call was different. M was on the other end, and he had News. Six months after being laid off, his recent phone interviews with the Oregon Historical Society had been successful, and he was invited to move across the country to join their team. He (we) accepted.

William L. Finley Jr. Portrait
William L. Finley Jr. Portrait, William L. Finley Photographs Collection, circa 1900-1940; Org. Lot 369; b1; Finley A67.

It was not easy.

There was the time issue. We had six weeks to pack up our lives and find a way to move our things to the opposite coast at the height of summer. I was still working full-time, and our toddler spent four days of the week home alone with M. Free time was minimal.

There was the geography issue. M had never been west of Iowa, and all of his family lived within a few hours’ drive of our Massachusetts home. I was blasé about my personal relocation but very aware that it might not be so easy for him.

Dogsled, Claude Ewing Rusk expedition
Dogsled, Claude Ewing Rusk expedition, Kiser Photo Co. photographs, 1901-1999; bulk: 1901-1927.; Org. Lot 140; b1.f14A.

There was the lifestyle issue. In a short time, our daily routines would completely swap. In the midst of our frantic move preparations, I was mulling what it would mean to suddenly leave a job (and, to date, a career) that I loved and was progressing in and become a full-time parent. I was uneasy but trying to be optimistic. M was eager to dive into work that was fulfilling, meaningful, and aligned with his skills and interests.

It was a lot to pack into six weeks. But we managed it, and we even landed a good apartment after just four incredibly hot days of hunting. Then, in August, M got down to business. Now, the major product of his efforts is ready.

OHS digital collections screenshot

Please check out the Oregon Historical Society Digital Collections.

The Oregon Historical Society holds a wealth of visual materials across a variety of media. Digital versions of these materials have been created and obtained in waves and spurts over the years. Now, the first batch of them is online and ready to view, in an electronic home built by M.

From Rooster Rock to Oneonta Falls. Relief Train at Bridal Veil (D 113)
From Rooster Rock to Oneonta Falls. Relief Train at Bridal Veil (D 113), Carleton E. Watkins photographs, 1861-1885; Org. Lot 93; b6.

I am no Luddite, but I have spent many dinner conversations over the past eighteen months nodding politely and endeavoring to keep an intelligent look on my face. M enthusiastically and fluently discourses about ingest processes and information packages and checksums. I don’t get most of the technical intricacies (I am usually relieved when the topic turns policy-related), but I’m tickled that he does. His passion is historical visual objects, but his métier is technology. I am in awe of how seemingly easily he conceptualized and created this digital repository.

Joaquin Miller with Senator Fulton's family, Crater Lake, Oregon, 1903
Joaquin Miller with Senator Fulton’s family, Crater Lake, Oregon, 1903, Kiser Photo Co. photographs, 1901-1999; bulk: 1901-1927.; Org. Lot 140; OrHi 101868.

Few projects are entirely solo efforts, and this is no exception. OHS IT staff is heavily involved. Marketing staff weighs in frequently. Other library staff spend endless hours on the actual creation of the digital objects. [Sidebar: please do not write off the digitization effort as trivial. People outside the cultural heritage world (and many inside it, unfortunately) generally underestimate what a colossal undertaking it is. Any variation on the theme “just digitize it” is enough to send me off on a rant. Creating, describing, disseminating, and preserving high-quality digital objects is NOT EASY OR QUICK.] And finally, back to the point, colleagues at Oregon State University contributed particularly to the William L. Finley Collection (my personal favorite).

H. T. Bohlman Scaring Gulls
H. T. Bohlman Scaring Gulls, William L. Finley Photographs Collection, circa 1900-1940; Org. Lot 369; b18; FinleyA2070.

In many organizations, individuals are not always publicly singled out for their contributions. M’s name is unlikely to be in any of the promotional materials, but make no mistake: this is his creation. And this is my blog, and I am biased as all get out, so I get to use this post to promote him.

M, I will be direct for a moment.

Your triumphs have been balanced by trials. There were the usual ups-and-downs related to administration or money or time. Tech hiccups diverted you with annoying regularity. You even had to get glasses! And the kid and I and our mundane troubles have frequently intruded on your process. Oh, I grouse plenty, love, but I am so damn proud of you. I cannot wait to see what you achieve next. I’m sure the file transfer speeds will improve.

Bohlman and Peck Digging the Automobile from the Sand
Bohlman and Peck Digging the Automobile from the Sand, William L. Finley Photographs Collection, circa 1900-1940; Org. Lot 369; b20; FinleyA2296.

So, readers, if you see the Oregon Historical Society’s digital archivist around, please give him a high five or handshake. And perhaps a mocha. He is quite tired.

UPDATE (June 6, 2017):

M has been making the radio rounds discussing the project. Listen at the link (I will add more as they become available):

Jefferson Public Radio

All images in this post (except the screenshot of the webpage) are courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society Research Library but are under no U.S. copyright. Other images in the OHS Digital Collections may have restrictions. Please inquire of OHS if you have questions.

Self-Care

A light hike

Quite a year we’re having, hm? And just over a year since my last post. The lapse was unintentional, though not surprising. This has been the most tumultuous, stressful year I can recall.

As I began writing this, Little Bear (or T, I should say, now that babyhood is behind him) was passed out in exhaustion after his fourth stomach bug of the year. M and I were catching up on housework and wondering if 7:30 p.m. was too early to go to bed ourselves. Essentially, it was a fairly normal night for recent life.

We’re hardly new to adulthood, but so many challenges have coincided during the past year or so, we have reached a whole new level of mental, emotional, and even physical struggle. I realized I was starting to see self-care as a luxury, something to do after attending to my family, our home, our work, or even useless time wasting. I reject that now. I remind myself to prioritize efforts to keep the stress, frustration, and fatigue at tolerable levels. Here: some of the biggest hurdles and most helpful activities for me.

THE TRIALS

Little Batman

Parenting a threenager

If you’ve not heard the term, “threenager” refers to the fact that whoever coined the phrase “terrible twos” was just trolling parents. Two is a breeze. Three is parenting on Hard Mode. It is the grueling dress rehearsal for the teen years, and it is a constant struggle to stay centered and seek joy.

On the one hand, T’s increasing articulation, creativity, and physicality are a marvel to behold. He tells stories, loves to paint with watercolors, and climbs on everything. He can be delightfully insightful, funny, and sweet.

On the other hand, he is willful, heavily into independence, and often shockingly lacking in empathy. All of these are normal toddler traits, things he needs to adjust to on his own or by learning from our example. Reacting to them is a fantastic exercise in emotional growth, mindfulness, and resilience. But it is not easy. It would be difficult even if we were perfectly healthy and well-rested.

Sleep

We are not. Because my work schedule and M’s do not align, our family time most days is reduced to the dinner hour, and T reacts by trying to sleep in our bed at least once a night. I go to bed (but rarely sleep) after midnight, and I’m up with T just 6 or 7 hours later. Mornings are generally rough for all of us. This translates into diminished immune systems and fragile emotional control. Tempers flare more easily than they used to, and dealing with all of the other trials becomes more and more difficult. But for financial and mental reasons, it is important that I hold a job, too.

Work

When M was laid off, we agreed that we had to be ready to change, to keep our options as open as possible. He accepted an offered job in Oregon, so I quit my job in Massachusetts. I wasn’t worried about my future as a whole, and I was interested in the new avenues that might open. But I confess that, deep inside, I knew that I might be permanently leaving the career I’d been building, and I am still wrestling with that.

It may seem defeatist, but it is pragmatism that has me questioning whether I will ever be a librarian (let alone a rare books specialist) again. Though Portland doesn’t have a local library school churning out graduates, it also does not have New England’s density of repositories. Weeks go by before I see any posted job to which I could reasonably commute, let alone one that also fits my skills and goals. Even then, Portland is an Attraction. People want to move here or (if native) stay here. There are already plenty of qualified librarians on staff patiently waiting to move up the ranks. Hiring from within is the norm (so is using volunteers to accomplish much of the work). Breaking in from outside can be incredibly difficult, and sometimes I fear that it is impossible.

I am still exploring my options and generally enjoying the process. Right now, I am experimenting with the other side of the book world (i.e., selling), and it is fascinating. I will be happy continuing there, though I hope I can get a less punishing schedule soon. Really, the only big problem with my career at the moment is my lingering reluctance to leave the path I was on before. That reluctance creates uncertainty, and there is too much of that going around right now.

Current events

I have to refer to the endless, repellent United States election. I know I am not the only one feeling serious stress about this year’s surreal political situation. As I sit here typing, I feel physically cowed and slightly sick to my stomach. I am terrified of what our country could become and how people could be treated. I still feel occasional disbelief that we have come to this. But current events in general have been an onslaught.

The occupation of the Malheur reservation occurred a few months after we arrived. Despite being miles away, it produced a sense of uneasiness. We were new to Oregon and had no idea how the rest of the state would react. Would the armed anger spread? The relatively peaceful resolution was a relief. The recent verdict was not.

Brexit was a blow to this UK-ophile. It made it painfully obvious that not only is the UK not a viable dream home for our family, but the swelling tide of hatred, fear-mongering, and rejection of truth is depressingly global.

In my worst moments, I look at the world and feel utter despair. Where can you go? What is left? “What can men do against such reckless hate?” In these divisive times, what is honestly the point?

But I am not good at staying low. I’ve spent more time in the dumps this past year than during my life previously. But I float back up, even if now it takes an effort sometimes. That effort is worth it.

THE TREATMENTS

Giving in to Witcher 3

Meaningful distraction This has been more difficult than I’d like to admit. I am certainly prone to mindless Internet cruising, and it is remarkably easy to slip into when you’re exhausted, just want a minute to relax, and have a smartphone at hand. You would think that the luxury of being at home would make me dive into reading, crafts, and other hobbies. The desire is certainly there, but the discipline has been sorely lacking.

My favorite reads this autumn

Lately, though, that has been changing. I find myself reaching for my calligraphy pens, baking ingredients, or even the video game controller. Thanks to the Pacific Northwest climate, I am able to garden whenever I choose. At the very least, I can sit on the balcony and enjoy a cup of coffee and the sound of rain on the roof.

Autumn is red and green

Elevating sensory experiences is the small way that I currently explore mindfulness. I stop and do yoga or tai chi in the middle of the day, just to feel my body move. I spend a few minutes methodically making tea, watching the steam curl in the air, feeling it on my skin. I bury my face in my toddler’s mop of hair, nuzzle his (somehow always slightly sticky) cheek, let him clamber over me like I’m a jungle gym. Even shopping from the bulk bins at the grocery store has become an oddly soothing experience. Something about being closer to the beautiful reality of food, the possibility of what the components could become. Through handfuls of oats and azuki beans and flour, I reach for the reality that now seems warped, the possibilities that sometimes seem so distant.

Star Trek

The idea of possibility leads me, usually, to science fiction. In past times of political turmoil, I would find solace in that liberal stalwart, The West Wing. Not now. These days, I want true escapism, idealistic escapism. I want to be far from United States (or, frankly, most real world) politics. I want to think about the possibilities that could come with progress.

There is a line in, ironically, West Wing about raising the level of public debate in the country. With this election, we are down to debating whether the very foundations of democracy remain intact. Idealism is far away. We seem to just be hoping that most of us still belong to a common humanity. It is disheartening, disappointing, and not enough. I want to remember what we used to dream about, so I turn to Star Trek.

I never watched the Original Series, so I’m mainly talking about The Next Generation. Voyager was my childhood standby, but I find myself drawn now to Jean-Luc Picard and his crew. I marvel at their approach to the issues they encountered.

They prioritized diplomacy, curiosity, multiculturalism, and knowledge. They tackled problems with reason, thoughtful discussion, and careful experimentation (even when it made for boring TV). Sure, it had some notable flops (usually related to it being a TV show about advanced civilization in an industry that is often less than enlightened). But overall, I continue to be inspired by the vision of a future driven by exploration, diplomacy, and a firm acceptance of truth.

And on the lighter side, Worf always makes me laugh, and everything sounds better said by Patrick Stewart.

Choose kind

Watching words

I could write a whole series of posts about words. Words, their tone, the intention behind them, and their omission have been at the forefront of my mind. Following current events, moving to a new place and getting to know new people, accompanying a toddler through his early language acquisition: all of these have been major challenges and opportunities to think about how I use words and why. One big reason I haven’t posted on my blog is that I have been extremely hesitant about what (and whether) to say.

I have started myriad drafts. From current events to parenting, I started writing my reactions to many things (even those pseudo-Victorians). But I always hesitated, faltered, and wrote in my diary instead. I just couldn’t bring myself to add to (or detract from) any discourse.

That didn’t stop the words from coming. I delight in language, the way words fit together, the way they feel when you speak them, how they look on a page. So I kept scribbling or typing notes, collecting the words but corralling them. I finally signed up for NaNoWriMo just to give myself another place to put them. (Never mind that it’s eight days in, and I’ve written more words in this blog post than in my novel.)

Then there’s speech. Young T is at a critical juncture. He repeats the most horrifying slips made by me or M. He latches on to the worst lines in movies or TV shows or video games. He went through a phase where he called us “silly dumb” if we said something he thought was wrong. Of all the colorful and devastating insults slung into the conversation this year, a three-year-old’s sandbox taunt should provoke giggles. But you know what? It stung.

The words were mild. But the tone was, somehow, scornful. Whether he realized it or not, it conveyed disrespect. I have to assume he picked it up at daycare. M and I are not in the habit of insulting each other or our son. We worked very quickly to quash this development. We explained as best we could that words can hurt like fists, or more, since the damage can last far beyond what a bandage can heal. It took a few days, but that contemptuous tone left his voice and “silly dumb” faded away, replaced by “thank you” after almost everything.

I am proud of my son’s polite manners and increasing grasp of basic social courtesies. But I am after more than just preparing him to get through a dinner party. I am trying to cultivate in him a deep understanding of what these “word-actions” mean and how their impact can last. It sounds silly to emphasize manners when etiquette doesn’t even come up in the ongoing violent rhetoric. But I look at it as the beginning of the social contract.

My son interacts with a diverse group of little peers (which is pleasantly surprising in Portland). He doesn’t yet know that the differences between them are given meaning in some places and with some people. Before he becomes aware of that, I want him to have a concrete habit of approaching everyone with respect and civility. I want him to treat people as human beings, full stop, and choose words based on truth and compassion, not innuendo and stereotype. The thought of him using words to isolate, or manipulate, or bring harm to others makes me feel sick. The vicious power of language has been just overwhelming this year. I have to keep him clear.

Books about books shelfie

Practicality and productivity

When all else fails, when my head and heart hurt too much for reading or calligraphy or spinning stories, I reach for housework. We pick up the toys and put books back in order. I hand T the duster and sort the laundry and focus as best I can on the absolute basics. Scrub the plate. Rinse. Dry. Next.

Little by little, a sense of assurance grows. For the most part, I cannot control my son, my job prospects, or the bizarro state of the world right now. But I can damn well make sure the laundry is washed and folded and stored neatly in the drawer. That tiny bit of certainty helps keep me afloat on the wild river that is life these days.

These are the efforts that are (mostly) working for me in this year of trials. I hope that you are coping, too. What is bothering you? What is helping you through your troubles? I am always open to new ideas!

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

Autumn, Suddenly

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 raw

Pizza with arugula, pear, salami, and Brie raw

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 baked

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

  • 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 baked

Chaos Theory

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.

Undergrowth

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.

Out of the woods

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.

Baby food bread

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

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!

Travels and Firsts

Crossing the Hudson 20140627

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 York

The 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 20140627

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 20140701

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 20140707

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 20140701

Peeking 20140705

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 20140704

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 20140706

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 20140707

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 20140707

Nearly home 20140707

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 20140707

Quietly at home

Mother’s Day and the Weeks After

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

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

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

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

Little Bear's first parade

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

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

On the path in New Hampshire

Little Bear reaches for the camera

PAX East with a Baby, and Other Recent Events

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

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

Little Bear reaches for the camera

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

South Boston at dusk

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

The now-empty line area

So many Starcraft players

Expo Hall from above

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

LB taking in the Expo Hall

LB watches his daddy try a game

LB encounters a glass wall

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

Sesame Street cosplay

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

LB standing

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

LB crawling

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

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

Tipsy Daddy

Remembrance

Tipsy Daddy

I lost my father to cancer nine years ago today.

I know it was today because of what the records say and what people have told me. I was studying in Ireland at the time, and my memory combined with the time difference leaves a surreal impression in my mind. I have to remind myself every year. I became too embarrassed to go to my mom or my sister, so I surreptitiously check my family tree on Ancestry.com to confirm the date. It is intensely frustrating that one of the most important moments of my life remains fuzzy instead of crystal clear like I think it should be.

Having a ball at training

There are days when I don’t think about my dad. Sometimes I challenge myself to bring up as vibrant a mental recreation as I can. It’s not easy. The sound of his voice is elusive: unable to replicate it myself, it always skates away just as I think I recall it. I can mostly picture his face, though it shows up differently (dark hair, grey hair, no hair) on any given day. I can still reel off plenty of facts: companies he worked for, sports he played, foods he loved. I can see him polishing his combat boots and mowing the lawn. Though for the latter, I prefer the version from my childhood, without the little cigar hanging from his lips.

When I do consider my dad, I think all of the usual things. Some less fair than others: How dared you value smoking more than us? Advised by doctors, he quit to protect me when I was born prematurely. But somewhere along the way, it didn’t stick. I still remember the moment I found out he’d resumed the habit. I was at the public library, sometime in my early high school years. I’d driven myself and was still in the parking lot when I saw him come out of the building. I didn’t know he’d walked over from home. I watched him light up, hiding behind the car in shock. I didn’t emerge until he was down the street.

I can’t believe I never confronted him about his smoking, I wrote in my diary on March 1 the year that he died. My justification at the time was that I figured he would brush me off. Probably true, but of course now I wish I’d risked it.

A close momentA day will come, sooner than I’d like, when the time I’ve spent without my father is longer than the time we shared. Even then, the time we shared was frequently separate. As a corporate pilot and Army reservist, he was often away from home. We had a fine relationship, though we shared too many volatile traits to be as close as he was with my sister. I was closer to my mother and remain close to her as I get older. She’s been there as I graduated from college, moved to Boston, earned my Master’s degree, got married, and had a son. It is strange to realize that my father missed all of that. I have such a sweet little family now, and I wish like hell he’d had the chance to get to know them. And me, for that matter! He never knew me as an adult.

That works both ways, unfortunately. I never got to find out if we would be friends. I never got to laugh as my father tried to sternly interrogate my future husband. M missed out on that. And he doesn’t know what parts of me come from my dad. He doesn’t see that we share the same brow and the same temper. It will probably be years before my son understands that I, too, had a father. Little Bear knows his paternal grandparents and three of four paternal great-grandparents. On my side, he has my mom. Life isn’t equal, I know, nor is this unrealistic. I am older than my husband, my parents are/were older than his, and so on. It isn’t surprising that there has been more loss at a closer level in my family than his. That just doesn’t make it any easier, though.

I’ve always been blasé about the fact that my family is scattered. Aside from a paternal home base in Iowa and a maternal in the general St. Louis area, most of my relatives live apart. I have kin in California and New York, Illinois and Oklahoma, Michigan and New Jersey, and plenty of places besides. For a modestly-sized group, we have gotten around. As a result, we see each other infrequently. I’ve spent much more time with my in-laws than my relatives in recent years. I love that Little Bear has so much family close by. But boy, do I miss my own. Video chatting and digital photos just don’t make up the difference. Sometimes you want to be face to face.

looking like my sonWe take at least one photograph of our son every day. That was a conscious decision, even if we don’t eventually do a clever online album or photo book using those snaps. I usually go beyond the minimum, trying to capture his funny expressions and increasing coordination. Be it thanks to my training as an archivist or my history with my father, I want as many recorded memories as possible.

I’m going about it the wrong way, though. If my experience has taught me anything, it’s that M and I should be taking photographs of ourselves. We should be recording our voices and our smiles and the songs we sing. We should be taking pictures of every relative and friend we see. I desperately want our tiny son to be aware of his family, even just by sight, because someday we will lose each other. I have no power over life and death, but I can make damn sure he knows such love existed.

Life is short, but legacies can go on and on if you help them along. Memories fade so easily. Sometimes we need reminding. Someday, preferably many years from now, my son will be able to point to a photograph (or hologram, or whatever) and say to his great-grandchildren, “This is my grandfather. I never met him, but I know I would have loved him. My mother told me so.”

Sleepy, then and now