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

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…

LB and the Sea

M went into the office Thursday, so Little Bear and I spent the day as a duo. It was mainly uneventful. I haven’t actually had too much time alone with LB yet. I mean, I’m up with him at least once a night by myself, but hours-long stretches are rare. M has been telecommuting more than usual since Bear’s birth. At first, I wasn’t sure how I would handle the first days without him, but  it was easier than I expected. Something about having fewer choices made me calmer. You wouldn’t think that one of the few choices being plonking LB in his crib to cry while I take a shower would bring me Zen, but it does. When it’s just the two of us, I gotta do what I gotta do. We are all starting to adjust to (modified) normal life again, and juggling tasks is one of them. LB is maturing every day and is increasingly able to occupy himself. As much as I dislike hearing him upset, it’s exciting to go fetch him after washing dishes and discover that the tears have dried and he’s staring at himself in his little mirror. It’s like watching his brain wrinkle day by day.

When M got home, he wanted, as he does sometimes, to go to the beach. With one thing and another, it didn’t happen. So I cooked a seafood dish instead.

And two days later, our little Yankee baby saw the ocean for the first time.

Crab and Ricotta Manicotti

Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis’ Everyday Pasta

This was rich, decadent, and pretty easy to throw together. Finally, cooking felt normal and graceful again. What a relief.

My only changes were using claw meat instead of lump (which is so expensive!), dried basil instead of fresh, and shredded Italian cheese blend instead of Parmesan (which I did have but didn’t want to take the time to grate). I used eleven manicotti, but I probably could have used ten and stuffed them fuller. This recipe makes 4 cups of sauce, I ended up with over a cup extra, even after nearly submerging the manicotti. Be aware of that, as I didn’t rescale the recipe here.

  • 1 box manicotti pasta (about 12 shells)
  • 1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • ¾ cup shredded mixed Italian cheeses, plus ¼ cup for sprinkling
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons dried basil
  • 1 pound crabmeat, lump if you’re splurging, picked over for shells
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • butter, for the pan
  • For the Béchamel:
    • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
    • ½ cup all-purpose flour
    • 4 cups whole milk
    • ½ teaspoon salt
    • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
    • ¼ teaspoons ground nutmeg

Make the Béchamel: Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the milk a bit at a time, whisking constantly, until thickened and smooth. Do not boil. Remove from the heat and add the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. (You can make the sauce up to 3 days in advance. Let it cool before storing, covered, in the fridge.)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the manicotti and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Drain.

In a mixing bowl, combine the ricotta, ¾ cup of the shredded cheese, the egg yolk, basil, crab, salt, and pepper.

Fill the manicotti with the crab-cheese mixture and arrange in the baking dish. Pour the Béchamel over the manicotti, making sure to coat the pasta and filling the dish about halfway up the sides. You will probably have plenty of extra sauce. Sprinkle with the rest of the cheese. Bake until sauce is bubbling and the top is browning lightly, about 20 minutes. Serve right away, spooning sauce over the plated manicotti if needed.