DIY History

    I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in History. I think I thought I was going to teach – I dreamed of being Indiana Jones, never mind the fact that he was an archeologist. I wanted to discover something amazing that no one else had ever discovered, just be digging into an ancient stack of books somewhere in the depths of a dusty old library. I wanted to travel back in time and meet Abraham Lincoln, or Mozart. I wanted to be in the room when the Declaration of Independence was signed. I wanted to watch Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel. I still want to do all those things, actually, but now I’m a little less starry-eyed, and a lot more practical. I mean, the whole bathing and indoor plumbing thing has sort of grown on me. Regardless, I still love History, and wondering what it must have been like to live hundreds of years ago.

    So imagine my delight when I read an article about DIY History – a project coordinated by the University of Iowa Libraries. UI has scanned thousands of pages of letters, diaries, journals and cookbooks, and has asked the internet at large to help transcribe the scanned documents into searchable text. I started reading the cookbooks, and I couldn’t stop. Yesterday, I read a “medical receipt” which promised to cure the bite of a mad dog. Personally, I think the cure would probably kill one faster than the bite, but someone thought it was important to write down. Some of the older cookbooks use measurements and ingredients that I’d never heard of. One has so many recipes for oysters, I wonder if the author lived on the coast, or just really liked oysters. Some of the recipes are lists of ingredients only, or include instructions like “if too brown they are disagreeable“. Many have no punctuation at all, and others use strange abbreviations. Some are attributed to whomever shared the recipe with the cookbook’s author. The cookbooks are endlessly captivating. I feel like I’m both solving a mystery by deciphering these recipes, and getting to know the person who recorded the recipes. It’s as close to time travel as I’ll ever get, and I love it.

    If you are interested, you can register to help transcribe the documents posted on the UI website. If not, I still encourage you to read some of the documents that have already been transcribed. The Civil War letters are truly like stepping back in time and witnessing the events of the war.

    What fascinates you?


Ten Things Toby Tuesday

Last week, this little monkey turned 10.

So I thought now would be a perfect time to do a ten things post, all about Toby. He’ll be thrilled, I’m sure.

1. Toby did not want to be born. He was determined to bake a little longer, I guess. I was in labor for two days before the doctor finally decided that maybe I should give up. Believe me, it didn’t take much convincing. Toby is just as stubborn now as he was then.

2. When Toby was about 2 ½, Mason showed up. I’m not sure what he thought about that, but he’s been a great big brother. Of course they fight, but they always make up. Toby is great with helping Mason, and I think having a little brother to take care of has made him more compassionate and understanding.

3. Toby is hilarious. As he gets older, he’s establishing his own sense of humor, sarcastic and dry. Of course, he still goofs around. Fart jokes are quite popular.

4. Toby is so smart. I still know enough to help him with his math homework, but I don’t think that will last much longer. He says that he wants to be an Engineer when he grows up so he can design LEGO sets. I tell him that he can be whatever he wants to be.

5. Toby is much harder on himself that anyone else could ever be. He demands the best of himself, and will not accept limitations. I’m trying to help him learn to redirect his frustration, but I’ve been where he is, and I know that some things he will just have to learn for himself.

6. When Toby started second grade, his dentist recommended that we see an orthodontist because he had a rather significant under bite. To correct this, Toby had to wear a big metal appliance against the roof of his mouth that was meant to stretch his upper jaw. At night, he had to wear head gear which was attached to his braces with rubber bands. He slept with rubber bands hanging out of his mouth for 8 months, and never complained. Not even once.

7. Toby also started wearing glasses in second grade. He’s never complained about that, either, except when they are too dirty to see through. I have no idea how they get so dirty, it’s one of those mysteries associated with 10 year old boys, I think. He reads books all the time, and actually got in trouble for being in the library too long when he was supposed to have returned to class. I’m thankful that his teacher allows him to go to the library during class time to trade his books so that he always has something to read in class.

8. Although he’s certainly no angel, Toby is always respectful of adults. I am ridiculously proud of this.

9. Even though there is no question that he is my kid, his pointy eyebrows totally seal the deal.

10. Happy Birthday to my big 10 year old! I love you! (Even if you don’t ever comb your hair.)

What’s my age again?

    This past Saturday was opening day for the basketball season, and Toby’s team played their first game. I wish I had a picture, because the height difference between Toby and every single other boy on his team is at least 12 inches. The other team was similarly height challenged – so much so that, at the overtime tip-off, the other team’s players stood on the side facing Toby, figuring that he would get the ball first. Rightly so, as it turned out. I don’t know if anyone kept stats for the game, but Toby made a lot of rebounds, as well as a couple of baskets. I’m so proud of him, I could burst. Toby was a little anxious that he hadn’t played well, but Denver pointed out that, a player is considered important to the team based on whether or not he is missed when he isn’t playing. Considering the rebounds they missed when Toby wasn’t playing, clearly he is important. I don’t know if Denver realized it, but that was the absolute best thing he could have said to Toby, and he smiled all afternoon.

    I told you all of that so that I could tell you this: Toby’s coach called Sunday afternoon asking that I bring a copy of Toby’s birth certificate to the next practice. I’m not entirely sure what to make of this. The sign-up sheets usually ask for a copy of the player’s birth certificate, but I’ve never had to actually produce one. The teams are organized based on age, and Toby is right at the edge. Hopefully, it’s just a formality and this will be the last any of us have to hear about it, but I can’t help wondering…. Did the other team complain? Did someone question whether or not he was too old to be playing on the 9U team? Do people actually think that the team is so set on winning everything that they would bring in a ringer? And how many times am I going to have to show his birth certificate? Maybe the kids in Alabama just need to eat more vegetables.

In which time stops for no one, regardless of how much needs to be done before Christmas

    Every year, the same thing happens. I wait until the last minute to finish Christmas shopping, baking, wrapping, decorating, and everything else that December-induced nostalgia makes me thing I should be doing. And every year I promise myself that I will do better next year, knowing full well that this has as much chance of happening as my winning the New York Marathon. I don’t know why I feel compelled to assure myself that next year will be different. I think it actually gives me more stress, worrying about why I didn’t plan ahead like I told myself I would. The only person who knows that I didn’t get that 14th batch of cookies baked, or that other pair of socks knitted, or the switch plates scrubbed, is me. I want the kids to have a perfect, candy-colored memory, traditions to carry down to their own families, something to hold close in their hearts that they can take out and examine when they are having a bad day. I worry that all I’m giving them is a memory of me stomping around the house, covered in flour, the oven timer beeping in the background, yelling at them to get their clothes to the laundry room if they expect to have clothes to wear tomorrow, for crying out loud!

    And then Christmas is over, and it was just like every other year. I have dozens of cookies that no one remembered that I baked, the living room is a mess and no one wants to help clean it up, and I am exhausted. But the kids are happy, and we snuggle up on the couch to watch Iron Man for the millionth time, and we all pretend that we don’t have to go back to school and work in just a few days. Turns out, just like every other year, Toby and Mason have great memories no matter how hard I worked to mess everything up.

    I don’t think my planning better will really make a difference. I think the stress, last minute shopping, and messy living room ARE our traditions. Norman Rockwell it is not, but it’s ours, and maybe that’s all that matters.

Things I’m reading Thursday – Wildwood

    Last Sunday, Mason and I drove in to town to try to find some new pants for Toby, who refuses to stop growing. Due to the time change, and a strange series of events that will never be duplicated again, we made it to the store at about 10 minutes ’til, and the store hadn’t opened yet. Down the strip is a Barnes and Noble, and since they have a café (“we are not Starbucks, we just carry their products, MA’AM”), I thought we’d spend a few minutes there while we waited for the other store to open. Now, you should know by now that book stores are my kryptonite, but I figured that I couldn’t get into too much trouble in 10 minutes. (Don’t hurt yourself laughing, Mom.) So, anyway….

    We wandered around for a few minutes because there is a big LEGO display and Mason wanted to see if they had any of the Monster Fighter sets. As we were standing there, Toby called, and when he found out where we were, he asked if I could look for a book for him. And since I have a book hoarding problem I think it is important to encourage Toby’s reading habits, I picked up a book three books for myself for him. Wildwood is one of them.


    This book is AWESOME!! The two main characters are both sincere and honest and just how I hope my kids turn out. Prue’s little brother is kidnapped by crows while she is babysitting him, and the crows disappear into the Impassible Wilderness – a very dense forest where no one ever goes. And if anyone does go in, they don’t come out. Prue is determined to get her brother back without her parents ever knowing that he was gone, but as she’s trying to sneak into the Impassible Wilderness, she finds Curtis, who has been following her. Curtis and Prue aren’t necessarily friends in the beginning, but by the end of the book, they have both grown and learned so much. In addition to the story, there are illustrations throughout the book that have a sort of folksy feel, and really add to the atmosphere of the Impassible Wilderness. I’m still a few pages from the end, but as soon as I finish it, I’m handing it over to Toby. He’s already finished one of the books that I bought on Sunday, and I’m sure he’ll need something else to read by this weekend.

    What do you guys think about reading books marketed to YA and middle grade audiences?

Five things Friday – the crafty edition

    I actually didn’t have a book to post yesterday, because I haven’t read much lately – I’ve been crafting instead! Christmas is getting closer, and those socks aren’t going to knit themselves!


1. If you’ve read much of this blog, you know that I dabble in a lot of different crafts, one of which is knitting. I taught myself to knit by watching youtube videos. I’m not even going to pretend that I’m any good at it, but I do know how. I also know how to crochet, but ever since I learned how to knit, I have been turning my nose up at crochet. I don’t know why. I mean, what has crochet ever done to me? I need to either reevaluate, or get rid of all of my crochet hooks. Except, it occurs to me, that I need them to help weave in the ends of something I’ve knit. Curse you, crochet!!

    2. I have more or less finally cleaned up the sewing room. It only took my six months. I did actually get rid of quite a lot (Denver will disagree, I’m sure). So far, I have not suddenly needed anything that I know I gave away. However, I did discover a new craft, which luckily, does not require a ton of new supplies.

    3. The new craft is sculpting with paper clay, if you can consider smooshing the clay around a Styrofoam ball sculpting. I made some pumpkin magnets for Halloween, and I was pretty happy with how they turned out, even though they weren’t exactly what they were supposed to be. I didn’t get them all completely finished, though, because I was also working on my Halloween costume.

    4. For Halloween, I made a poodle skirt. The pattern actually recommends felt for the skirt, which I didn’t want to use because it’s just yucky. I’m glad I did, though, because I didn’t need to hem it or use interfacing, which saved me maybe thirty minutes. The felt is so stiff, though, the skirt actually stands up by itself, which is both fascinating and slightly disturbing.

    5. This weekend, I need to finish a quilt, but I know that won’t happen. I figure if I am realistic about what I know I am most likely to get done, maybe I will surprise myself and finish more than anticipated. It could happen.


    What are you guys doing this weekend?

Things I’m reading Thursday – Size 12 and Ready to Rock

    Hello everybody!! (Is anyone else thinking of Grover from Sesame Street?) I took last week off because my mom and dad drove in from Ohio for the weekend, and I had a lot of shopping and cleaning and shoving-things-into-closets to do. I did read a couple of books last week, but I’m going to try to save those for a week when I didn’t read anything. With Christmas looming, I’m sure that will be sooner rather than later.

    This week, the book I have for you is Size 12 and Ready to Rock, the fourth in the Heather Wells mystery series by Meg Cabot. I think you could read this book out of order because most of the important information about the main characters is rehashed. Like the other books, most of the action takes place in one of the residence halls at fictional New York College. This time, though, the target isn’t one of the employees or students at the college.

Summer break . . . and the livin’ ain’t easy!

Just because the students at New York College have flown the coop doesn’t mean assistant residence hall director Heather Wells can relax. Fischer Hall is busier than ever, filled with squealing thirteen- and fourteen-year-old girls attending the first ever Tania Trace Teen Rock Camp, hosted by pop sensation Tania Trace herself—who just happens to be newly married to Heather’s ex-boyfriend, heartthrob Jordan Cartwright. But the real headache begins when the producer of a reality TV show starring Tania winds up dead . . . and it’s clear that the star was the intended victim.

Grant Cartwright, head of Cartwright Records, wants to keep his daughter-in-law (and his highest-earning performer) alive. So he hires his oldest son, black sheep of the family and private investigator Cooper Cartwright—who just happens to be Heather’s new fiancÉ. Heather should leave the detecting to Cooper. But with a dorm full of hysterical mini-divas-in-training, she can’t help but get involved. And after Tania shares a really shocking secret with her, this reality suddenly becomes more dangerously real than anyone ever anticipated.

    Like most of Meg Cabot’s books, I enjoyed this one. It’s a quick read, even though there is a murder and some pretty serious subjects, like domestic abuse. The dialogue is snappy, and there are songs written by the various characters at the beginning of each chapter. Although I haven’t actually finished the book, I have no doubt that the bad guy will get his just reward in the end.

    What have you guys been reading?