Christmas

In case you have lost track of the date, Christmas is next week. I have decorated to the extent that I feel able, and am enjoying the cheery visuals provided by the little lights against the greenery and the orange pomanders. The magic of the season is greatly aided by the fact that I’m actively working on ignoring the constant rumble of my children disagreeing with one another. It is hard, but necessary, to ignore the shrieking in order for me to survive right now.

Speaking of survival, the theme song for this holiday season is the Judy Garland version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, which will nearly kill you if you listen too closely to the lyrics while simultaneously experiencing Judy’s voice.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
From now on
Our troubles will be out of sight

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the Yule-tide gay
From now on
Our troubles will be miles away

Once again as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Will be near to us once more

Someday soon we all will be together
If the fates allow
Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow.
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now

My daughter made a snowman pomander.
The beloved Christmas village: the site of much mayhem and chaos as the kids fight over how it should be arranged.
The biggest tree we’ve ever had, a hedge against 2020.

On Bees & Bread

I thought maybe the isolation offered by universal quarantine would bring blogging back as a cultural trend. But after two months of 24/7 life at home, I realized this is not happening. Reading blocks of text (even when interspersed with pictures) is very early 2000s and our attention spans are roughly the length of a TikTok video. And then there is the fact that we are all too busy in isolation. Freaking out and fighting over available virus information/disinformation, trying to do our jobs and manage online schooling, and baking sourdough bread all take a lot of time. So the anticipated cultural revitalization of blogs hasn’t happened. That said, I would like to start posting again.

Happening Now

Lots of farming-related activity is going on. Bread-making, growing food, and new this year: bee-keeping. As Benjamin Franklin cautioned, I have a beehive…if I can keep it. That’s not precisely the quote but it is in the general spirit of the enterprise.

I am excited about the bees. A little too excited, my kids might say, as my moods swing in accordance with whether or not the hive seems to be thriving. But I have good reason to be nervous: apparently, keeping the hive alive and in good health is on par with keeping our Constitutional Republic alive. Basically, I have the same job as Congress. Even so, I was feeling pretty good about everything related to the bees before I heard about the murder hornet. This two-inch long protein-eating nightmare has descended upon Washington State and is munching its way across the continent, one beehive at a time.

Sourdough Bread

In a gut-level anticipation of a pandemic, I became wound up a few years ago about making my own wild yeast and taking charge of my own destiny through bread. It took me a while (a long while) to really get cranking, but now I’m as weird as the rest of the internet about sourdough bread. I’ve had some massive failures along the way, and I still don’t score fancy patterns into the top of my bread in the way that is Instagram-worthy, but I make the bread and we eat the bread and I smell the tangy, weird smell of my starter once a day and feel a rush of emotion. I don’t understand it but there you are.

Homestead Viewing

Like millions of other people, I watch videos about tiny houses by the trailer-load. I also watch a few over-the-top farm ladies on a regular basis. Why I like the suggested resources: because each of these people make it okay to care about farming and aesthetics, or minimalism and aesthetics. Having a simplified, countrified, even isolated lifestyle doesn’t mean you are surrounded by junk. In fact, it means the opposite. A few of my favorites:

 

 

 

My Favorite Things

No, this is not one of the Oprah-esque lists where I tell you about A Few Things I Love, which turn out to be $400 slippers and a box of 22k gold toothpicks. Like this.

The My Favorite Things of the title is in reference to a book written by the late Dorothy Rodgers, wife of the late Richard Rodgers (of Rodgers and Hammerstein fame). I picked up this book at our town transfer station (which we call The Dump), where locals drop off trash and recycling, including unwanted books. These books go into a pleasant little shed called the Book Barn.

The Book Barn at the dump is the source of many, many great finds. The advantage of picking up books at the dump (besides the fact that they are free) is that so many are out of print. I would otherwise never come across a book like Dorothy Rodgers’ My Favorite Things. Published in 1964, it is so of its moment that it could never be recreated now. The book’s very appeal—its era-specific trendiness (a selling point at the time of publication) means that it seemingly stopped being relevant long ago. But this book is more than the sum of its Mad Men-era parts. It’s clear from reading it that Dorothy Rodgers was one of those sorts of women who, in any civilization, is a class act. The tips and tools she utilized for decorating and entertaining may belong to an time long since past (thanks for breaking America, hippies!), but they are really never out of style.

Part I is called “The Things That Go Into a House” and Part II is called “Entertaining at Home”.  Literally everything you need to know about leading a civilized domestic life is contained in Parts I & II.

 

 

Another recent dump find was the Meals with a Foreign Flair cookbook, published by Better Homes & Gardens in 1963. I probably will send it back to the dump from whence it came. The food styling and photography is fascinatingly grotesque, the title faintly offensive in a PC sort of way. Also, it stinks.  I’m actually wheezing as I type this, due to the mold spores emanating from the book. I am very likely the first person to crack open its pages in approximately six decades and am paying the price.

 

Still, it was worth a look, so I picked it up from the Book Barn, taking a swift tour around the world through the culinary lens of mid-century home cooks, who were interested in moving beyond hot dogs and towards foreign foods such as cappuccino. An admirable impulse.

After a few Meals with a Foreign Flair I ended up back in Dorothy Rodgers’ well-appointed living room. Mrs. Rodger’s home is a place to which I will return again and again, perusing My Favorite Things while enjoying Menus with a Sense of Balance.

 

 

 

Winter Bones

It’s the week of the Polar Vortex. I don’t know what that means but it sounds like a lot of people will be dying of exposure. Conversely, the polar bears are dying in because it’s too warm in the Arctic. In short: it’s crazy out there.

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that we saw an owl in the trees in the woods across the street. That’s one of only 12 things that have happened in the last year or so, according to my Insta-account-gram anyway.

Here’s the owl:

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photo credit: Phineas B. Kelly

2019 is promising to be a year ripe with Instagram-worthy opportunities (aren’t they all), if I can ever get over the embarrassment of the performative aspects of social media. I plan to offer up plenty of insta-awesome snapshots…my head thrown back, laughing, while I ride in a convertible with my grrls, my blond hair flowing, kombucha in hand. Seriously though, I do have a lot of plans. Tuesday is the day I’ll post amusing anecdotes and such—dispatches from the Creative Life™— because I have preemptively declared blogging to be back in vogue.

So, enjoy the owl for now, with the promise of more owls—literal and metaphorical—to come.

 

Downton is Coming to a Theatre Near You

The new year has started off with a bang, not literally of course. But figuratively, with political fireworks and bad weather coming together in potent combination that leaves one feeling that the best move would be to stay in bed, under the covers, for the duration of the colder months—or until Trump and Nancy Pelosi come together to end the government shutdown. You know, whichever comes first.

Just kidding. The real reason to get out of bed will come later this year, when the Downton Abbey movie comes out, at a yet-to-be-determined date. See the nothingburger trailer here:

In this sneak peak we see that the Abbey still stands, the sweeping lawns as green as ever, and that the Downtonians still drive really nice cars and sleep in freshly-made beds. Other than that, we are adrift. No plot points or even a glimpse of Stone Cold Mary’s marble face is given to us, the proletariat who so enjoy staring at rich people using their fancy things and sitting upright on very beautiful couches.

BUT! All is not lost, at least for those of you with Amazon Prime video subscriptions. Jeff Bezos has provided access to a lovely series, featuring the legendary British baker Mary Berry. The show is called Mary Berry’s Country House Secrets and the first stop is Highclere Castle, where much of Downton Abbey was filmed. This new show offers ogling, voyeuristic viewers the chance to experience the world of Downton Abbey without having to hide a dead body, or have a secret baby, or glare at one’s enemy across the servant’s table while vigorously darning socks.

I thoroughly enjoyed having Mary Berry as my tour guide through Highclere Castle. It was as if The Great British Baking Show and Downton Abbey came together to produce television offspring of the loveliest sort, and for a brief, gentle hour, I forgot the political blizzard raging all around me on the internet and I forgot my ice-covered front stoop, the one that gives me pause when I consider leaving my house. I could stay home and watch Mary Berry’s Country House Secrets on my screen and rest easy, knowing that somewhere out there, civilization still exists.

 

 

Current Obsession: Nailed It

For a long time, I basically stopped watching stuff online. No more streaming Netflix at odd hours, playing an episode of Midsomer Murders while I was cooking dinner (an unhappy combination) or folding laundry while watching yet another season of Parks & Recreation just because the real-life Leslie Knope inside me was being destroyed by the many real-life Jeremy Jamms, and I needed the fictional Leslie Knope to cheer me up.

It was nice to take a break from wasting enormous amounts of time watching stuff on screens, and I was a better person for it. But now that break from Netflix is over (and I am back to being a terrible person again) and I am once more watching shows online. Right now I’m watching in small doses, and I hope I can keep it that way but probably not.

Here is one of my current Netflix picks:

Nailed It

A stupid, stupid concept based on an Internet meme (which is redundant) in which regular folks try to recreate a baking masterpiece they have seen on the Internet. Usually such inspiration comes from Pinterest, the site where people organize photos they discover online. The site is dominated by recipes, crafts, interior design – that sort of thing. Everyone acknowledges the inspirational nature of Pinterest, but it also must be acknowledged that most of us are complete failures when it comes to implementing any of the ideas we find online.

Nailed It invites three of these Pinterest-style losers to compete in recreating one of these Internet-photo masterpieces in real life. The show, as stupid as it is, is surprisingly charming, thanks mostly to its very weird host. Her name is Nicole Byer, and I’m not even going to google her to find out where she came from, but I had never heard of her until this show. Which makes it feel like I discovered her and I, alone, find her hilarious. She is truly a weirdo. Do you know how rare it is to see a bona fide weirdo (who is also funny, self-aware and smart, I should qualify, as run-of-the-mill weirdos are plentiful) on TV? It is rare indeed. It also means that the whole show is fully aware that its entire existence is a joke. But it is a good-natured joke, which makes Nailed It a sweet show.

Real life Nailed It. Source: The Internet.

Viewers root for the rotating roster of losers to pull off the challenge, because we relate to them, because we are most likely losers ourselves. There is money involved, however: a $10,000 cash prize, so in that sense the show is a serious endeavor indeed.

I’ve noticed that American reality shows always have money involved. Mabye Americans don’t compete unless money is at stake. Meanwhile over on The Best British Baking Show, winners of that grueling 10-week competition get a silver embossed plate or an etched glass cake stand or something. This is probably the basic difference between Americans and British people, and why we won the Revolution.

I have a few more shows I’m wasting time on, which I’ll share with you over the next few weeks, assuming I can tear myself away from a screen.

Rapunzel cakes. Netflix nailed it. Source: Netflix