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.

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!

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

and favorite mug

Miscellany: In Like a Lion

March has arrived in a dismally chilly fashion here on the North Shore. But if the weather isn’t particularly encouraging, the calendar is. Just the word “March” has me optimistic. Spring, if only in name, is nigh! My imagination is sparking, and new things are on my mind.

Little Bear wants a concrete.

Many of them were rolled into yesterday. One of M’s birthday wishes was a day in Boston to eat and shop. Specifically, he wanted his favorite burrito. Before that, we finally tried Shake Shack. Honestly, this had me more excited than the dinner plans. I was excited for a burger and really excited for a concrete. It did not disappoint, especially as we actually managed to snag a table at lunchtime on a Saturday. Having a baby in tow probably helped. Unfortunately, now I just want to visit the Covent Garden location.

After lunch, we went to Wegmans, my first time. Going to stores like this and Whole Foods always makes me a little sad. The selection is a dream, but it’s too far away and far too expensive. We spent a stunning amount of money. They had green tea ice cream, Aspall, cha soba, Fentimans, and an expansive tea bar, where I got an ounce of gorgeous sakura sencha. I guess I am still in green tea mode.

and favorite mug

Best of all my Wegmans purchases, however, was a doughnut. For some reason, I have been very specifically craving a double chocolate doughnut. Not the overly-sweet, glazed-and-frosted Dunks version. I wanted smooth chocolate cake with a rich, almost ganache-like frosting, and Wegmans delivered. I held myself to two, but I could have brought home a dozen. And then probably never craved them again.

So anyway. After Wegmans, we went back to the city and had burritos. M was ecstatic and thoroughly satisfied. I finally tried horchata, and it was wonderful.

In other news, I miss rain. Rain that is accompanied by the scent of dirt and a slight warmth in the air. It might be just chilly enough to require liners in your wellies, but only just. I want rain that isn’t going to turn to ice.

My fountain pen cartridge ran dry the other day, and now I’m faced with the delightful dilemma of which color to refill it with. In deference to the imminent season, I’m thinking grey or green. Cloudy skies and little sprouts.

I’m also thinking of green gem jewelry. I’ve had my eye on this ring for a really long time. For grey, I want something iolite. Before settling on my sapphire wedding band, I tried a version with iolite. I think I’d rather have that color in this necklace, though.

I switched my Gmail theme at work, and, on a whim, I picked the Tea House theme. I am now quite preoccupied with watching the tea house’s resident fox go about his day. He tends his bonsai, practices calligraphy, and cooks on hibachi. I even (by finagling with location settings) caught the kyonshī in the garden. I find the theme incredibly charming and even calming.

Finally, on a more prosaic note, I added my Steam and PSN info to the social tab in the menu bar. I’ve been playing more games lately and thought it would be interesting to see what my friends are playing. Add me if you like.

Hang in there, all. Spring will show her face soon…

Miscellany: Sick Days

January has not been particularly kind to our little family. It seems like the baby and I have spent more time at home than at daycare/work. I have worked just a single full week since early November! A month or so ago, I found the part-time thing relaxing. Now I am nearly crawling the walls with impatience and a slight anxiety about how far behind I am at work.

Well, I’m mentally impatient, anyway. Physically, I’m struggling through a horrifying cold to which I succumbed as the baby went through pneumonia. Thankfully, a hospital stay and plenty of TLC have him on the mend. It was not easy to see such a little lad hooked up to an IV and getting chest x-rays. But he was a trooper and it was all for the best. Now I just hope the recovery days I’ve had helped me. I badly want us all to be well for awhile.

The various illnesses and ailments of the last few weeks have subdued my usual monkey mind somewhat. I would characterize my recent desires as almost pathetic longings for spring that isn’t here and athletic pursuits I cannot manage just now and fresh produce I don’t have the energy to fix up for meals. The things on my mind are a little less ambitious, a bit more dreamy than usual.

Understandably, I’ve been thinking about wellness. One of the first things I miss when I’m ill is physical activity. Before the latest bout of illness, I’d been trying to reconcile my desire to finally resume workouts with my desire for sleep. (I truly do not know how to squeeze them in without getting up even earlier.) Now, however, I’m thinking of restorative activities. I used to do yoga every day. The associated inversions, however, conflict with my current congested state. How about tai chi? It’s been a long time since I did that regularly, and I’d love to advance to sword style

I also want to get a massage. I’ve never had one before, and I always figured I’d go for acupuncture. I do want to try that sometime, but I’ve been craving something more physical to work out the winter and baby-carrying kinks. I need to do some research, though; there are so many types.

Having spent a lot of time in sweats this week, it occurs to me that I need to freshen that part of my wardrobe. So, skinny sweats? Classic fleece? Super wide leg? Or go big with cashmere leggings?

Since all the sickness started, I’ve been sleeping on the futon in Little Bear’s room, both to watch him and to try to keep M from falling ill. Consequently, I am starting to fantasize about our bed (in a safe-for-work way, I promise). We need a new comforter, lighter because M gets warm. And why not some new sheets? Next time I get sick (and I’m sure there will be a next time sooner than I’d like), I want to have a better nest.

On a more spiritual plane, I have wanted to get a jizō figure for my child since before I had a child to whom to give it. I wasn’t raised in a saint-focused religion, but I like the idea. In Western traditions, I suppose it’s a continuation of pagan patron gods. I like correspondences. I like the way Jizō is typically represented in Japanese statuary. It projects a more earthly calm than a typical Buddha figure. I chose this one to watch over LB.

My reading of choice for the recent run of days home has been the blog Manger by Mimi Thorisson. Sometimes her life seems impossibly lush and beautiful. The style is more colorful and rich than I usually gravitate toward. Yet somehow, I have devoured the entire run in a matter of days, noting recipes to try, immersing myself in the stories of French life and food memories. It reminds me of Béatrice Peltre’s La Tartine Gourmande in the lyrical descriptions of growing up French and foodie. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t had the energy to cook much lately that I want to hear so much about others doing so. On a more materialistic note, the gorgeous photos of her gorgeous kids make me wish American children’s clothing designers took it as seriously as those in France. I get tired of the cartoon pictures and silly sayings. I don’t need my baby to wear a suit, but there must be middle ground between that and a onesie that says “I only cry when ugly people hold me”.

Finally, I’ve started to allow myself to think about spring. Right now, this means gardening. I’m thinking very ambitiously, but I know I will be hard-pressed to manage more than a couple of pots on the patio. I have rosemary and parsley over-wintering in a sunny kitchen window. I’d like to add a few more potential staples. I have a thing for atypical varieties. So French breakfast or daikon radishes. A French variety of squash. Yellow or purple carrots. And plenty of leafy greens. I love salad, but I dislike dealing with the store-bought produce.

Okay. I’m feeling a bit better. The light is certainly visible at the end of the sickly tunnel, anyway. Little Bear is chipper and giggly, and I think I’ll be that way soon. Well, maybe not the giggly part. That’s not really my style.

New toy

Bitter Watches

New toy

09 December 2013

The winter is bringing changes, and all of them are affecting our nights.

Our sweet son stopped sleeping through the night almost a month ago. He is on the cusp of sitting up, rolling over, teething, and eating solid foods, and that combination is a volatile one as far as affecting the normal routine. T wakes up between three and five times a night now, and it is unpleasant, to say the least.

During the day, the baby remains an absolute joy. He smiles and giggles, and he tries so hard to sit up. The rolling over is more of an offhand maneuver, but it will come soon enough. I fear that teething will not come soon, so it might be a couple more months of drooling and gumming on anything he can cram in his mouth. As far as solid food goes, I’m excited to start. I know he’s young, but he’s been increasingly hungry at daycare (which might explain why he wakes up at night to eat now), and I cannot pump any more than I already am. Maybe solid food will help.

24/25 December 2014

The middle of Little Bear’s first night away from home, and it’s… okay. He is restlessly dozing in my arms. I am slowly rocking my weight from hip to hip as I stand, awake from sheer determination. I’m glad that there will be plenty of other people to hold him Christmas Day, but I know that his eat-play-sleep routine will be hard-pressed by the overstimulation. The rest of the year may involve a lot of re-training.

11 January 2014

It is 01:46 in the morning. Little Bear has just fallen back asleep for the seventh time since being put to bed at 20:00. Considering that last night lasted only about five hours and that both LB and I are recovering from a week of illness, you can imagine that tonight’s restlessness is not serving me well. This is the latest in a string of “worst night yets”. I know I endured some terribly disrupted nights during leave, but somehow they had less impact on my psyche than these recent ones. I mean, it’s the weekend and I could nap whenever tomorrow, yet I am tearfully begging LB to please sleep for longer than an hour at a stretch. Because let’s face it, napping “whenever” really means only “whenever the baby also deigns to nap”.

In hindsight, I was probably setting myself up for this misery. He slept through the night by two months, and for the next six or seven weeks, nights were blissful. Most of that bliss was during leave, of course, but it did allow me to get some much-needed sleep for and during my first couple of weeks back at work. Once Little Bear started into his next growth spurt, this was all shot to hell. By the time it seemed like he was probably through the spurt and could be gently coaxed back to full nights, the holidays kicked in, and the effort seemed overwhelming. Since November, it’s been a veritable perfect storm of routine-wrecking circumstances.

I ended the year with enough PTO to luxuriate in a couple days off each week through December. At first, I thought this was great. After a couple of weeks, I realized that LB’s capacity to cope with variable waking times and vague daycare hours was not strong. With no firm routine, his nights remained off the rails, and every other week or so brought a new “worst night yet.” I started trying to standardize his mornings, despite my serious desire to sleep in when he’d let me. But Christmas, and his first overnight stay elsewhere, essentially blanked the slate.

The week after Christmas was my last hope. I had a five-day weekend culminating in New Year’s Day. If ever there was a time to risk sleep deprivation for the sake of future rest, this was it.

So we decided to transition him to his crib.

Why was this the priority? Honestly, it just felt right. There were a couple of particularly rough nights, and the Pack-and-Play just seemed like the bulky elephant in the room. As much as the night feedings were tiring, I had various reasons for maintaining them as the baby desired, and I’d adjusted to them (as long as LB stuck to a nice every-three-hours rhythm). So we decided to get him used to his crib as the gods intended it to function, as opposed to a temporary play pen.

This went pretty well. He cried less each night, and I managed to get to spend increasing portions of my nights in our bed instead of the futon in the nursery. I worked up to a full night of (albeit feeding-interrupted) pillow-top bliss. I prepared to go back to work and the five-day weeks that entailed. But Mother Nature had other plans, and I ended the week with two snow days instead.

We tried again the following Monday, only for LB to bring home a stomach bug from daycare. He was down with it Tuesday. I succumbed Wednesday (hey, how not fun is caring for a sick baby while you are also sick, huh?). We both recovered from the unpleasant symptoms, but Bear clung to his fever all week and couldn’t return to daycare.

Finally, he was ready. And boy, was I ready, too. I was finally free of my desire to stay home and be cozy and instead desperately desired the “solo” time work would bring. Thanks to a tip M found on Reddit (teething babies like an inclined mattress), the week got better and better, with LB going as long as five hours before waking.

16/17 January 2014

We move forward, we fall back.

He had such a good time this evening. He smiled and giggled and played with his toys and drank in the sight of his parents. He went to sleep a bit later but easily. And then he woke up roughly every twenty minutes for the next four hours. I don’t know how exactly he knows which nights are the absolute worst for me, but he’s a whiz at it. If I’m sleeping horribly, coming down with a cold, trying to shake an all-day headache, you can be sure that Little Bear has decided to sleep even worse than I.

There are times when I perform the dark-of-night dance in a fog of semi-consciousness, later wondering how I didn’t drop him. And there are times when I’m roused to alertness immediately, kept there for hours, cursing aloud in the dark, ostensibly to him but really to my own exhaustion. And, often, times when I get him to sleep finally, lay down, and feel guilty for being angry or upset, then climb back out of bed to touch his sweet fuzzy head, and reassure him (and myself) that I’ll be more tolerant next time. That despite the effects of sleep deprivation, I will rise above and be endlessly gentle and patient even as I slip further into exhaustion.

Since he cannot do the midnight feedings yet, M has taken upon himself more and more of the work around the house, cooking, tidying, following the routine. I am so grateful and overjoyed when I come home and only have to worry about feeding Bear and getting ready for bed. However, I find one of the worst consequences of these terrible nights is my increasing impatience to leave this age/stage behind, even though everyone tells me I’ll miss it so much. The responsibility for getting through the nights weighs on me. I wish that all of M’s hard work and support instantly mitigated the effect of the toughest sleep trials and gave me superhuman endurance. I wish these worst nights didn’t stretch before me as the loneliest moments.

18 January 2014

Here we are again.

This is unusual for Little Bear. Usually, his worst nights occur singly in between relatively good nights. For some reason, however, he is waking every hour or so. I am grateful that it’s at least not every ten minutes, but I am starting to develop a resentment of tucking myself back in after he goes back to sleep. What’s the point, when he’ll just wake again right when I drop off? Right now, it’s really just because I’m having trouble staying awake. Otherwise, I might go full insomniac rather than continually attempting truncated naps.

04:30, and M finally had to come take over. The baby has been awake for an hour and a half, which is really unusual. I am curled up in our bed for the first time in two weeks, and all I can think is that the library opens in five and a half hours, and I can pick up the baby sleep book I requested. I am determined to curb this (lack of) pattern.

20:10 and good friends are visiting. It’s wonderful to see them, but I’m prioritizing naps, so when LB shows signs, even as late as 6 p.m., I follow them. I figure he won’t sleep more than half an hour, then he’ll be up and playful and ready for a last feed and bedtime right on schedule.

Two hours have passed since I got him to sleep, curled up next to me on our bed. I’ve slept, too, which is probably the biggest reason I was reluctant to rouse him despite the time. I’m thinking of how messed up the night could be after this. But Little Bear shifts and raises his face toward mine, clutches my shirt in his hand, and sighs in his sleep. I let the rest of it go, accept the possible consequences, and revel in the knowledge that the only thing more beautiful than my son is his father.

These are the best and worst times. They are lonely and love-filled, desperate and determined. Each night seems unendurable, but each morning reminds me that I am more resilient than I previously knew. I am not foolish; the sleep deprivation cannot go on indefinitely, or nor will I be able to. But the baby learns, and he will adjust. As he mastered rolling, sitting, and eating mush from a spoon, he will figure out how to sleep as he once did. I have every confidence in the abilities of this tiny, growing being. Of course, I’ll be backing that up with sleep training, effective immediately.

Don’t worry, kid. You can do it. So can I.

Everything was fine with our system…

Little Bear and his daddyOur new, back-to-work schedule is hectic. I think M and I are both feeling a little white-knuckled on the steering wheel of life lately. Even Little Bear is under the weather. He has been delightfully congested at night, so he and I are getting increasingly disrupted. It’s funny how I adjust, though. At 2 a.m., I’m struggling. But when the alarm goes off, I pretty gamely get going. I just make sure to caffeinate adequately.

I also try to let it go once in awhile. Sometimes this means ordering takeout so we can catch up on dishes. But sometimes it’s like last night and I need to prioritize the meal. I’m tired, and I eat my lunch one-handed in my office while pumping, so that’s not exactly relaxing. I have been dreaming of soba noodles and vegetables and things that feel healthy.

I also needed to let go mentally. Since we cooked a nourishing meal, I decided I was allowed to find a way to ignore the never-ending task list that occupies my busy brain space of late. M’s suggestion of Ghostbusters hit the mark. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy that movie. Maybe this will become our Halloween tradition. We have to try again next year, at least, because LB didn’t make it to the end.

End of Ghostbusters

Soba with Sweet Potatoes and Spinach

Soba with Daigaku Imo and Spinach

I wanted noodles with the spinach and sweet potatoes I had on hand. I originally planned to steam the sweet potatoes, but my bamboo steamer was woefully tiny. I had no desire to cook six batches of sweet potato chunks. A Google search for “Japanese caramelized sweet potatoes” consistently led me to daigaku imo, a sweet-salty comfort dish originally favored by university students. I definitely wasn’t aiming for sweet and deep-fried with this nourishing meal, but they looked so good. Happily, it turns out I’d stashed a recipe that was more steam-fried than deep-fried. I threw the spinach in so we weren’t just having candied sweet potatoes. When I took leftovers for lunch the next day, I added a dab of ginger paste, and it was great. I imagine garlic would also work well.

Sweet potato portion adapted from Elizabeth Andoh’s KanshaI even cut them rangiri style, as she recommends.

  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 large sweet potatoes (at least 1 pound total weight), peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1½ tablespoons black sesame seeds, toasted
  • 3 bundles soba noodles (roughly 10 ounces dry)
  • 2 pounds baby spinach, rinsed and mostly dried (a little water helps it cook)
  • 3 bunches green onions, cleaned and chopped
  • toasted sesame oil (optional)

Cut a circle of parchment to just fit inside a large skillet.

Mix the oil, sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, salt, and water in the skillet. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the sweet potato chunks, in as close to a single layer as possible. Lay the parchment over the top (this essentially steams the surface of the potatoes). Reduce heat to maintain a low simmer and cook for 2 minutes. Cover the pan (parchment, too) with a lid and cook for a few more minutes, until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork. If needed, add a little more water. Don’t let the sugar burn.

Once the potatoes are tender, remove the lid and parchment. Stir gently to coat the potatoes in the glaze, which will reduce as the water evaporates. Cook for another 5-7 minutes, until most of the water is gone. Scoop out the potatoes with a strainer and set aside in a single layer on a platter or cutting board. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds.

Meanwhile, bring water to boil in a large pot. Add the soba and cook until al dente. Drain.

Pour off most of the oil from the skillet, then add the scallions and cook until fragrant and golden. Add the spinach in handfuls and cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed (some of the flavor goes with the oil).

Divide the noodles among four plates (these are slightly generous portions). Add the spinach, then place sweet potatoes on top. As you can see in the picture, I was out of black sesame seeds. I sorely missed them, so I drizzled a little sesame oil over the top. I probably would’ve done so even with the seeds, as I like a pronounced sesame flavor. The dish looks pretty layered, but give it a little mix as you eat, to coat the noodles.

The Dangerous Season

flame tree against blue sky

I had a moment the other day. It probably started with Facebook, as these things often do. I see a friend’s status trumpeting some amazing thing they’re doing in some amazing place. Or not! Sometimes it’s enough just to know that they’re living and working and running errands in some other place, some place I could only get to if several of my circumstances changed.

Anyway, whatever the spur, I felt a sudden, very pure moment of wishing I was alone. Not even just wishing I wasn’t a parent, but wishing I wasn’t married. It was a first, and it passed as quickly as it arrived, but it did leave an impression.

No matter how far removed I am from school, autumn, for me, remains a season of beginnings. I feel a deep, almost primal impulse to buy new things, start new projects, and even embark on Major Life Changes. Oddly enough, now that I have the dual ties of marriage and family, the big changes are even more tempting. Since those things are locked down, it makes the uncertainties I feel in other areas more acute. When the leaves start turning and sweaters are required, I start getting restless. I wonder what could be different.

Now that Little Bear is in our lives, almost every day brings a discussion of potential change, from the mundane (we should rearrange some kitchen cabinets) to the monumental (is the seriously high cost of daycare worth it when measured against my relatively low salary?). What this ambiguity means for a person like me, who lives more in the future, is that I am pretty constantly questioning. Sometimes I ponder my career, and I dream daily of living in the UK, but mostly I just look at tasks.

I have always loved an ambitious to-do list, even if I don’t accomplish much of it. Nowadays, that list is incredibly long, complicatedly hierarchical, and mostly mental. Just walking around the apartment triggers list-making. My mind applies an augmented reality-like layer of labels to almost everything at home: move that furniture, wrangle those cables, plant the crocuses, read that library book before it’s due, put away the laundry, buy more diapers in a few days. And running quietly in the corner of this imaginary interface is a little ticker of the very meager free time I have in which to accomplish any of these things.

So when I say that I had a moment the other day, I don’t mean that I wished to be without my matrimonial and familial bonds and all the benefits they bring. I just longed, for a moment, for that time when, instead of mulling over everything from overhauling my closet to upending my career, the only thing I had on my mind as the weather turned crisp was buying new colored pencils and tennis shoes.

Sigh.

Being an adult, amirite?

Virtues

Theo, sheep, sleep

It is the eve of my return to work, and I figured a little reflection might be in order, before life gets very fast. Time to review some of the things I’ve learned during the first twelve weeks with a new baby.

How to multitask

Nursing means spending a fair amount of time on the couch with at least one arm full. Little Bear is still a tiny baby in our eyes, but he’s never really been small. And he has never liked being wrapped up in my sling carrier. So I sit for a significant (though lessening) portion of each day, unable to accomplish anything that cannot be done with one hand, while stationary. Happily, that encompasses a fair number of tasks. Sure, they’re mostly computer-based, but that doesn’t make them less important. Digital de-cluttering, blogging (obviously), keeping in touch with friends and family, research on the many things that interest me and some new ones besides… Away from the laptop, it’s surprising how quickly one can become deft at doing small day-to-day tasks with only one hand. Sometimes it makes me feel off-kilter, but I am building up decent arm muscles.

As Bear’s become more self-aware, he doesn’t mind spending time in his bouncy chair or on his baby gym mat, but that leads to a different kind of multitasking – the division of attention. Even though he’s increasingly happy to discover his hands or chew on his stuffed sheep, I am pretty constantly aware of the finite nature of my precious hands-free time. I attack dishwashing like it’s a sprint. I keep a running mental list of tasks and where I interrupted them. The non-mother me would’ve been frustrated by this. As a parent, my time-management skills have taken a dramatic leap forward, and I am pretty proud.

How not to multitask

That being said, there are limits. One morning, aching after a long stretch of sleep, I attempted to feed LB and pump at the same time. Needless to say, it quickly descended into a milky farce. I scrambled for a towel while Bear spluttered, and I humbly told him I would not try that again.

Sometimes I leave tasks for later. Sometimes I plop LB in his crib or bouncy chair for a minute, even if he’s crying. He seems to enjoy being in the kitchen while I cook, especially (or so I tell myself) if I narrate my actions. But I know that sometimes I simply have to drop what I am doing, let the pasta water boil down, and cuddle my son. And really, I cannot complain. Those simple moments take on increasing poignance now that they’ll occur with less frequency. And somehow, when we were apart on his first day of daycare, I missed his crumpled, crying face the most.

Embracing and enduring change

This might be the biggest and best lesson of my maternity leave. I am not a terribly patient person by nature. I like having a schedule and to-do list, and I prefer to be the only one who derails them. I am aware that that expectation is unrealistic, but it wasn’t until LB that I finally began to accept that. I knew that life with a newborn would be more challenging than I realized, but I naively hoped to have at least an hour or two a day when I could chip away at the backlog of housekeeping. I had to work to get over my disappointment at not even having that sliver of time for awhile.

I’ve come to terms (though not completely) with the fact that most things take time. Since childhood, I have preferred to jump straight past any phase of adjustment or learning. You can imagine how that worldview clashes with newborn life. In the first few exhausting weeks, it was too easy to feel like Little Bear would never evolve. I envisioned long years of round-the-clock fussing, an endless cycle of eating and sleeping and crying. But then LB started staying awake a bit longer. And smiling at us. And cooing when we spoke to him. And playing quietly by himself. When I look back over the last three months, I realize how incredibly far he’s come. I also realize that we survived, and by a wide margin, not by the skin of our teeth. I think back to those early days, remembering how miserable I occasionally felt, and I’m pleasantly surprised to realize that it really has turned out okay so far. All we had to do was ride it out.

Our baby is bright, expressive, (mostly) cheerful, and an absolute joy. Like I said, I melt even when he’s wailing, his tiny voice at its peak, his little hands kneading at me like a kitten’s paws. After a relatively easy pregnancy and hazily-remembered labor and delivery, early parenthood is also turning out to be better than I expected. Hey, there’s another lesson learned: take an optimistic approach. Life will probably follow suit.

UPDATE, 15 October 2013 5:30 a.m.: Bear decided I needed reminding on the third lesson and opted to suspend his former pattern of sleeping through the night. Consequently, I had four hours’ sleep and shall spend the day gulping coffee and insistently telling coworkers “No, really, he usually sleeps eight hours!” It is ironic that after being pleased and proud that I could sail back to work well-rested and relaxed, I’m slumping back as the stereotypically exhausted new mother. But this does perfectly enforce the lesson…