Writing on a Page: Haibun

This is a Haibun for dVerse. Kim asked us to write about handwriting.


In the time before laptops, I sit in archives making notes in pencil on index cards—sometimes printing neatly, sometimes writing in a scrawl, which I will later regret when I can’t read an important word or date. In the old Philadelphia City Archives, I unwrap the brown paper from books tossed haphazardly on the table in front of me. In other archives, documents are treated with more care, even if we do occasionally pass some of the more ribald ones around. I read the flowing copperplate of professional clerks, as well as less legible handwriting. I learn to decipher superscripts and abbreviations no longer used. I read the words, ponder—ideas flow, and I write.


geese rise heading north

chaos becomes organized

writing on a page



My published work on history, gender, and sexuality can be found here.


















Planning for Dragons

“It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.”
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

My husband planned to mow the lawn today, but last night this happened.
We were not home at the time, but apparently we missed quite a thunderstorm. Our two cats witnessed the event, but they’re not talking. As we drove home from a fun evening with friends at the Auburn Road Vineyard and Winery, we watched as lightening traveled from cloud to cloud and sometimes from cloud to the ground. We weren’t driving in the rain; it was all in the distance, and it was quite amazing to watch. We were fortunate that there was no damage to our house, cars, or neighbors’ property. As with dragons, when you live near trees, you must consider them in your calculations.


Of course, plans go awry all the time. We encounter traffic delays and arrive late somewhere; we have to move an outdoor event indoors because of rain. And we change what we are writing because of new evidence or a sudden, brilliant idea. OK. I suppose there are some writers who plan everything and never change a word, or bit of punctuation. I’m not one of them.


When I was writing my doctoral dissertation about marital problems in eighteenth and early nineteen-century Pennsylvania, which became Breaking the Bonds, I could not plan the chapters until I had done the research—and, of course, I kept finding new material. At the same time, I searched desperately to find particular court records and other documents that no longer existed. Or to discover more about the men and women I encountered in court dockets and almshouse records, people who were not well known or wealthy, and in fact, were often poor and desperate. I planned and wrote, and planned again, and wrote some more. I had a baby during this process—also planned—but I did not know then how having a baby would change how and when I worked. Writing a dissertation is one big life lesson on planning and re-doing plans.
This has proven true for most of my writing. What I plan to write about in my books and in my blog changes constantly.

As some of you know, I often change a cooking plan in mid-recipe (or more likely mid-non-recipe). A few weeks ago, I had some bananas I wanted to use up, and also a few strawberries. So I made strawberry banana walnut bread. This is my new super-easy and delicious banana bread recipe, adapted from Simply Recipes. My version is mainly banana bread with just a hint of strawberry. Because I think banana bread is kind of naked without walnuts, I also added some ground walnuts to the original recipe.

So here’s the recipe. You might want to plan to make it some time, or not.
Super Easy Banana Strawberry Bread
3 ½ medium bananas
About 4 strawberries
1/3 cup melted butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 ½ cups flour
¼ cup (approximately) ground walnuts
Melt butter. (I use the microwave to melt the butter in the same mixing bowl I’m going to use for the recipe.) Mash bananas and strawberries into the butter with a potato masher or other tool of your choice. Or use your hands if you want to. I don’t care. Mix in the egg—you can use the same potato masher, spoon, hands. . .Stir in the sugar and vanilla with a wooden spoon. Sprinkle the salt and baking soda on top, and stir. Add the flour and nuts. Bake in a greased loaf pan for about 1 hr at 350 degrees. Cool. Then remove the bread from the pan. Eat and do a little dance—because it will make you that happy. Plan on it.  Image

Grumpy Pants and Pizza

Dealing with work-related technical issues the other day made me very grumpy. As some of you know, I wear several different writing hats. I’ve written and edited an assortment of history books and articles, and I’m currently working on two books. I also work as a free-lance test writer throughout the year. In addition to those jobs, every summer for many years, I have written test items full-time for 6-8 weeks. It really is a great job, and most of the people I’m in contact with are wonderful. I know I am extremely fortunate to be able to work from home on my own schedule. . .

BUT–there are those annual technical problems, which usually results in a late paycheck. And there are the calls to the Help Desk–which is neither helpful, nor, I suspect, an actual desk. So on Friday, after my second call to the not-really-helpful Help Desk man, I was issued a ticket number. (This is another term I wonder about. Is there a real, physical ticket somewhere with this number stamped on it? Does someone tear off the top like the usher in a theater does, and will it gain me admission to a special Help Desk performance?) I was told someone would call me.

But of course, no one did. And there was no solution to this week’s problem. I do have that ticket number though. Perhaps I can use it to claim a prize. At a special Help Desk performance.

So there I was wearing my test-writing hat with my grumpy pants. Let me tell you, this is not a fashion combination you want to see.

And the pants were getting tighter—especially after I decided to pick on leftover brownies. (“Leftover brownies,” you ask? Why would brownies EVER be leftover? I’m mystified, too, but my husband doesn’t usually eat them. I know, how weird is that? However, there are only so many I can eat, especially since I often decide I also need to bake other goodies. It’s a compulsion.)

But back to “grumpy pants.” Because I’m a nerd, I was curious about the derivation of the term, “grumpy pants.” I did a quick search, but I didn’t find an answer. I did discover that “grumpy” was first used in the eighteenth-century, and English author Fanny Burney popularized it in 1778 in her novel, Evelina, or The History of Young Lady’s Entrance into the World. (You can read about it on the Wordnik blog .)
Coincidentally, I recently edited an article on Fanny Burney for a book project I’m working on, although unfortunately it did not mention her use of the word grumpy. . .because I suspect she was. (She had good reason to be, since she underwent a mastectomy without anesthesia.)

So I was grumpy– and feeling a little sick after the brownies–but I continued to work. What I really wanted to do though was curl up and take a nap


Or relax and read a good book.

Hmmm. . .this looks interesting.


But I didn’t.

A cycle class after I finished working helped me shed my grumpy pants. Then I changed into some comfy pj’s and made homemade pizza for dinner. Sometimes that’s all it takes. But an unexpected phone call from both my daughters  (one was visiting the other) was a bonus that topped off my night.

Fresh Jersey tomatoes, fresh basil, mozzarella, and sauteed onions and garilc

Fresh Jersey tomatoes, fresh basil, mozzarella, and sauteed onions and garlic

I love this recipe from the My Baking Addiction site. I’ve been making batches of this dough every week or two and storing them in my refrigerator. I use it to make both pizza and artisan-style bread. The dough is super-easy to make. You can make it in five minutes. Seriously. I mix it with a wooden spoon; the dough hook is not necessary. Let it sit at room temperature for a couple of hours, then put it in the refrigerator. Just remove chunks (I like to use technical terms), and bake as needed. Eat, and enjoy!

I hope this helps when you’re grumpy.