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:




Downton Abbey, Season 6, Episode 9: The End of Everything

2016 is a year in which, sadly, so many good things are coming to an end. America as a shining example of pluralism and democracy, for one. And the show Downton Abbey, for another.

I’m not sure which one I’ll mourn more: the end of America or the end of Downton Abbey. While viewers of the show can’t do much to stop our fellow knuckleheads from electing a nasty orange Oompa Loompa as our President, we can take time from the madness to stop and watch the finale of Downton Abbey, a lovefest that might prove to be an antidote to the hatefest that is going on in this election cycle.

And what a lovefest it was! Two weddings, no funerals, and enough foreshadowing of future match-ups to make the folks at The Bachelor look like the amateurs they are when it comes to trying to find two compatible people to bring together in wedded bliss. Continue reading

Downton Abbey, Season 6, Episode 8: Mary Has it Coming

It’s been a rough week here at my house, with bouts of flu for all five members of the family leading to pneumonia, ear infections and assorted other maladies. All of which adds up to the fact that I’ve been preoccupied and am only able to turn in a short(ish) late recap of the penultimate episode. But if any episode deserves a short and sweet recap, it is this one.

Season 6, Episode 8 was so generally awesome there is not much to say, except that it was almost (almost) like Season 1 all over again. Solid writing, substantive dialogue, more or less believable action, characters that you care about, scenes that make you cry — at least if you’re like me. Yes, indeed. I wept like a fool this week, pretty much from the middle of the episode until it ended. I even clapped a few times. And laughed. So basically, between the laughing, clapping and crying I looked like a lunatic.

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Downton Abbey, Season 6, Episode 7: The Circle of Life

In this episode Lord Grantham is out of bed and ready to tear the world a new one. In all my years of watching Downton Abbey, I’ve never seen him so lively. Maybe all of us should experience the benefits of an exploding ulcer and gain a new lease on life.

Along with Lord G finding a pep in his step, this episode offered other high points: namely, we discovered that Mary is indeed a human being. As readers of this blog will know, I have long suspected her of being an android, or a granite slab polished to high gleam, or a mannequin ingeniously fitted out with tiny mechanical parts that allowed her to move freely about the room and turn her head toward someone when he was speaking. Also she was able to glare at Edith with cunning mechanical hatred. But it turns out that she is a real person. In this episode viewers saw Mary weep actual tears while great, gasping sobs escaped her narrow frame. It was very moving. Even Tom was touched, letting her know that it is okay to feel pain. It is okay to feel at all, actually. It was a big moment, the one in which Mary might just have converted into someone relatable and even likable, which would be a wonderful way to end the series.

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Downton Abbey, Season 6, Episode 6: Local Wretches Visit Downton

After last episode’s blood bath, this one offered a much calmer prospect. We see Lord G right away, still alive and propped up bed, reading letters and refraining from strong drink. He looked a little pale, but generally none the worse for the wear in spite of his ulcer exploding, a process in which he lost gallons and gallons of blood in projectile fashion, all while ruining his white dress bib and a very expensive set of table linens. On the upside, this incident gave his guest Neville Chamberlain something to talk about at dinner parties forever after, at least up until the advent of World War II. which was only marginally more dramatic.

While Lord G recovered in bed, lots of to-ing and fro-ing took place among the aristocratic set, with Mary going down to London and Bertie coming up from London and Cora walking from room to room, busy with this or that. Granny G. was busy too, visiting her son and sitting at his bedside, reveling in the fact that his exploding ulcer and subsequent need for immediate treatment meant that everyone would now have to see the value of the village hospital. A hospital with patients that Granny feels a deep, abiding, overwhelming obligation toward, since she is their “representative on earth”, as she put it. God represents them in heaven, Granny represents them on earth, and Skulking Barrow represents them in hell, where he goes regularly to consort with the devil himself. That is, when Barrow’s not giving piggyback rides to Master George and chucking li’l Sybbie under the chin in the hallways of Downton.

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Downton Abbey, Season 6, Episode 2: Pigs

This is the episode that nearly broke me. I was looking forward to watching the show online today, but only a quarter of the way through, I felt a panic attack coming on. I paused the show and placed an emergency phone call to my oldest sister, Jenny.

Jenny had already watched the episode, and knew what rocky terrain ahead, terrain filled with lots of conversations about hospital mergers, wedding venues, and pigs. So many pigs.

The phone rang and rang. My panic increased. What if Jenny didn’t pick up? I had to talk with her. I needed help. Immediate help. When she answered, I felt my throat catch in a sob. Help me Jenny!

“About Downton Abbey…” I began. “I don’t think I can do it anymore, Jenny.” I said. “I don’t think I can watch this episode. I think I’m through with this show.”

“Shhhh….” Jenny reassured me, in the manner of older sisters everywhere. (Except for Mary, the older sister with a heart like a piece of granite wedged inside a steel cage.) “It will be okay.” Jenny continued. “You can get through this.”

“But Molesley!” I sputtered. “He started talking to Daisy again about the exams! About taking that stupid math test that he yammered on and on and on about last season!” I started to cry.

“It’s okay, Sarah.” Jenny said again. “It will all be okay. Sure, Molesley can’t stop talking about Daisy’s education. And sure, there are a lot more pigs ahead of you, but you can get through those scenes. Just concentrate on the clothes. And the furniture. Concentrate on how beautiful everything is, how interesting it is to look at.”

“Alright…” I murmured, wiping the tears from my eyes. “If you say so. If you say I can get through this episode, I guess I can.”

“Sure you can!” Jenny said brightly. “And remember: when another scene with the pigs comes on the screen, just close your eyes and think of England.”

And readers, I made it. I watched the entire episode, all the way to the end, to the final scene: Ripping Marigold Out of Mrs. Drew’s Arms Redux 2.0.

I Can Do This

Unlike last season’s painful version of Ripping Marigold out of Mrs. Drew’s Arms (Original Mix), I didn’t cry while watching. I had already cried all the tears I’m gonna cry for this trainwreck of a show. Oh Downton. Why are you doing this to us? We faithfully watch week after week, yet all you can do is rehash the same plot points over and over. It’s like being inside the movie Groundhog Day. Every episode we wake up to the same thing: blackmail, scandal, times they are a-changin’, ice boxes and radios, li’l babies and thwarted love, let’s go to America! let’s not go to America!, Thomas is scheming, Thomas is lonely, Bateses killed someone, no they didn’t, Bateses can’t have a baby, yes they can (they are one person after all), let’s keep a secret, let’s tell someone that secret, oh look! here’s a letter from someone far away, let’s all eat breakfast together and murmur inanities, Granny vs. Isobel, Isobel vs. capitalism, Isobel vs. suitors, Cora on a couch, Cora walking around a room, Cora on another couch, everyone hates Edith, and finally, the greatest plot point of them all, one that transcends every season, a timeless sort of topic….. drumroll please.… aren’t those pigs just great?

Pigs are the Best Thing Ever

The thing about pigs is that we can all agree that they are fandamntastic. When all else fails, the pigs will bring us together. Lord G, Lady G, baby George, li’l Marigold, who was “aching to see the pigs” quoth Lady Edith, who got out of the pig-viewing so that she could head to London and be abused by her editor instead of Mary for a change, the village farmers, the farming villagers, the under-butlers and second footmen, ladies maids and the Bateses — the pigs will bring everyone together.

Not sure how Lady Rosalind/Rosamund feels about pigs, but we’ll bring her around soon enough. Did she make it to the fat stock show at Moulton? No? You don’t know what a fat stock show is? Well it’s an opportunity to say pigs a lot. How many times can we all utter the word pigs in this episode? I dunno but let’s go for a million!

Oh that fat stock show! What a time everyone had! Them was some doings! Pigs to look at and give ribbons to PLUS a game of nine pins to play! Pins and pigs go together like nobody’s business. The pigs were so enchanting that Poor Edith failed to notice that her ill-gotten daughter had disappeared. The only one to show sense in that entire nightmare of a climactic scene (yes! the pig show was intended to be the crux of the whole episode) was Mrs. Drew. She absconded with Li’l Marigold heading back to the farm where a comfortable couch and a cup of tea awaited. When confronted by the Crawley Car stuffed with aristocrats, spilling out from all sides like clowns at a circus, Mrs. Drew gave a simple explanation for the kidnapping.

“She was bored, so I took her home.” she shrugged.

Yes! Yes, we are all bored! We are all bored to tears. Please take us home, Mrs. Drew. Take us home, and tuck us in, and when we wake up, Groundhog Day will be over, and the pigs will have disappeared, and we will never ever ever again have to hear Anna say a line like the one she said to Mary, a few nights before the Fat Stock Pig Show:

“You’ll have the last laugh m’lady. When you show up with the pigs in tow.”

Oh please. Make it stop.

Next Week:

Who cares? I don’t know. Something about Li’l Daisy Snackcakes, the socialist-mathematician, and Old Man Mason moving into the Drew’s pigsty, Edith and a feller, blah blah blah. Just close your eyes and think of England.