Miscellany: The Marks We Make

Priorities

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

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

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

Wet leaves

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

Little Bear and leaves

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

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

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

Wet flower

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

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

Puzzle time at the library

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

Miscellany: Sunlight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Miscellany: Into Autumn

The season has decidedly changed, and my mind has shifted with it. Here are the new things I’m mulling.

The costs of daycare, both financial and familial. I love working, and I need it intellectually. But in what form? Maybe there are more options than I think. It is really difficult to leave Little Bear every day, partly because I spent so much of the last twelve weeks with him, and partly because I have a sort of fundamental issue with daycare. This stems from my own mother staying at home, but it’s surely almost impossible to look at a little baby and be okay with them spending more waking hours with strangers than with their own family. So I want some time apart for working, and I hate being apart. It’s complicated.

Fall foods are my favorites, and certain flavors embody that love. I’ll take honey any time, but combined with pumpkin, it’s perfect right now.

We’ve been catching up on The Legend of Korra, and I am enjoying it. I have minor beefs with both this series and its predecessor, but overall, it is such good entertainment. I like that the creators put serious thought into a kids’ show. I’m not hugely fond of the overly-similar-to-Book-1 political storyline they have going in Book 2, but I am looking forward to the spirit world thread.

Scandinavian things. Though I’m really only one-quarter Swedish, that ancestry has loomed large in my family’s collective psyche. Mostly that meant decorating with a few tomten at Christmas and enjoying rice pudding and attending family reunions with lots of blue-eyed, blond relatives. Increasingly for me, particularly as I explore genealogy, it means traditional foods, design, and way of living. This year, that means making lussekatter for the second time. And possibly (gasp!) attempting a trip to IKEA with the young lad. And happily hanging my beloved straw ornaments on the Christmas tree…

In keeping with my yearning for all things Nordic, I’m also feeling winter already. It seems I can never really enjoy a season. As soon as it starts, I start longing for the next one. This year, I want winter especially because these are a possibility.

This necklace from Madewell. I just can’t quite justify the cost. Come on, sale…

We’ve had a few gorgeously crisp, foggy autumn days lately, at least in the morning. Now it’s in the mid-70s, but I am still stuck on cool and rainy. Since our honeymoon, that weather evokes the memory of our visit to Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. We traipsed the length of the Royal Mile despite some gloomy skies, and it was great. We had lunch in the cafe there, and I especially remember drinking a Fentimans dandelion and burdock soda. After that, I tried Fentimans whenever I came across it. Now I really want to track some down here.

My new Fitbit One, courtesy of M. I really wanted a tracker for my return to work. So far, I’m doing about half my goal each day, with no extra effort. Now I need to find ways to add more steps, like taking the baby son for a walk. And hey, at least I’m not parked on the couch for hours anymore. Though I suspect I’ll start to miss the “lazy” sweatpants days of maternity leave soon…

Miscellany

This week’s collection of preoccupations:

Games I can’t play for awhile (Sims 4, The Order: 1886).

Since I can’t play those (or Minecraft, or Skyrim, or most games requiring two hands), Sims 3.

The annoying way my student loan processing keeps bouncing between providers whether I like it or not. (Really, the system is broken. If I could do it all over again, I would seriously consider taking the apprenticeship route into a trade.)

Teaching Little Bear (eventually) how to argue. M, as the resident philosopher, is in charge of this. I first need to improve my ability to be wrong with good grace.

Finding an affordable alternative to custom engraved stationery. Right now, I’m thinking blank cards/envelopes and custom stamps.

After a peculiar late-pregnancy obsession with white nail polish, abruptly finding my perfect shade in Zoya’s Snow White. Now I just have to be patient until I have enough time to actually use it.

Etiquette. Maybe to an old-fashioned degree of formality, probably because I’ve been watching “Jeeves & Wooster” and reading a lot of Agatha Christie. I’m currently reading this book to indulge this interest. (Before anyone asks, yes, I have heard that “Downton Abbey” is a great show. No, I do not watch it.)

The new iPhone 5s. But since my current phone mostly works, and my current laptop works less and less, I’m keeping my eye on the ultimate costly goal.

Miscellany

A compilation of things on my mind:

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

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

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

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

Coveting cashmere for babies, even though M forbids it.

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

Cracking open this ice cider we just found.

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

Catching up on thank you notes.

Minecraft.

Notes on a Honeymoon

Scotland on my mind

The Finnish lapphund is a gorgeous dog.

Londoners are quite stylish.

Scotland remains spectacular.

I could eat pies, sweet or savory, for every meal.

Europe, where the history comes from.

Nobody does pomp and ceremony like the British.

When trains work well, they are possibly the best mode of transport ever invented.

The United Kingdom takes cider seriously, and it is fantastic.

I love British television.

Taking an actual vacation to a beautiful place with a person you love is a perfect use of time.

M and me after arrival at Paddington