Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A George Orwell Christmas

This year, "Santa" gave Seamus a copy of Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell. But then Ian gave Seamus the very same book, and also Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London. (Seamus wants to study journalism, so we've been doing our best to give him books we think a future journalist should read.) Meanwhile, Santa gave Ian a copy of Keep the Aspidistra Flying, also by George Orwell. Are you sensing a theme here?

In addition to the Orwells, there were quite a few other books exchanged and we all have a lot of reading to do now.

It was a lovely Christmas overall. My sister and her husband came down from Washington, DC, as they do every year, and a dear friend from our ER days also came over for dinner. All the kids were here, but the girls went back to Richmond a day early because of severe allergies. This being 2016, our Christmas tree is trying to kill us with its pollen. We've never reacted so violently to a tree before. Not only did the tree make us sick, it had vicious spines that made hanging lights and ornaments acutely painful. Indeed, Christmas Tree 2016 was so terrible, I took it down on the day after Christmas (yesterday).  Jon's convinced I bought it because it was the cheapest one at the nursery, but I was drawn to its twiggy appearance and elegant, slender branches.

A photo posted by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on

 I am happy with the pine rope on the bannisters though.

A photo posted by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on

We had a lovely rib roast from the hipster artisan butcher for Christmas dinner. For dessert, I made a crepe cake. Because why mix up a batter and throw it into the oven for half an hour when you can make nineteen crepes, one at a time and then pile them into a precarious stack with hazelnut cream painstakingly spread between each layer? The cake was a success though, so it was worth the effort. The recipe is from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.

The kids were happy with their presents and I'm particularly proud of these mittens that I knit for Grace. Finished in the knick of time. I got off to a late start because the local yarn shop didn't have what I wanted and I ended up ordering yarn that had to be shipped here from Sweden.

A photo posted by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on

My daughter Brigid took this picture of Jon and me at Christmas dinner.

I hope that all of you and yours had a lovely Christmas. Did you attempt any ambitious dishes for the holidays? Do share if you did. I hope that those of you who do a Christmas tree got cooperative ones!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Liberal Elite Jumps the Shark

A reader alerted me to the fact that there exists a hater's reaction to the Restoration Hardware catalog. Unlike the Williams Sonoma Hater's Guide, it's not a wicked romp through the more ridiculous, overpriced items in the RH catalog; but a scathing recap of a bombastic opening note, written by the company's CEO, Gary Friedman.

The note (the original one, not the haters recap) is just so, so awful, but in its fulsome prose, I think I found a clue as to how Donald Trump won the election. Elevating furniture to the level of the sublime and the making of it to a holy sacrifice to the gods? What is this shit?

What started out thirty years ago as harmless yuppie affectations such as grinding one's own coffee (remember when people discovered home coffee grinders? Prior to 1983, virtually all coffee came in a can) has become a maddening class of people who like to pose for photographs with their two dirty-nailed hands (authentic!) lovingly cupping a turnip. (I found an entire page devoted to stock photos of hands cupping vegetables.)

Speaking as a bonafide member of the liberal elite (I DO own furniture from RH after all) I have to say that some of us need to get our heads out of our asses. Stop cupping the turnips and take an interest in the people around you.

And so we're stuck with Trump because some people decided that anything would be better than four more years of fucking Kinfolk. Unfortunately, we've elected to use napalm to get rid of an annoying patch of trumpet vine and as always with scorched earth methods, the many good things that came out of liberalism (such as the Affordable Care Act) will be destroyed too.

*And I apologize for yet another post about Trumputin. I can't seem to get out of this post-election foul mood. I had a mad hope that the faithless electors would save us, but they haven't.  But please, share in the comments the precious affectations that irritate you and we can all have a bitter laugh.

Monday, December 05, 2016

And Now for Something Completely Different

But first, ONE LAST comment about Trump. Yesterday morning, while wiping down the kitchen countertops, I felt such a rush of happiness. My house was peaceful, orderly, and clean. I was anticipating a lovely cup of coffee and a book, some time spent knitting, and an afternoon visit from friends.  It was good to be alive and I had an epiphany that Donald Trump can't take away the simple joys of just being alive.  He's a loathsome monster who hacked his way into the White House, but we're alive and we're in this together and our joy can overcome his nastiness.

But it's the holidays and I want to talk holiday indulgences. I love having seasonal treats that I do just once a year. At Christmas time, I stick to books that are fun and cozy, and possibly Christmas -themed. I also make a point of rereading my favorite childhood Christmas stories such as The Dolls' Christmas, and Becky's Christmas by Tasha Tudor, and The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden. I think this year I'll also reread Miss Read's Christmas stories.

I don't usually buy magazines but I always indulge in the holiday issue of Bon Appetit, and usually plan our Christmas menu from whatever new recipes I find there. This year's issue is a little disappointing, but I think I'm going to do their "reverse roast" prime rib for Christmas dinner. I haven't settled on sides or dessert yet.

A newer holiday indulgence is to read the latest Hater's Guide to the Williams-Sonoma catalog. I went searching for it yesterday, but the 2016 version doesn't appear to have been published yet. However, I discovered that I'd missed the 2015 version! I had a good laugh, although I think they'll never top the first one. I hope the absence of a new one this year doesn't mean they've stopped writing it. If ever we needed a good laugh at the expense of the excesses of privilege, it is this year.  Please, Drew, don't fail us! If we can't have Hilary Clinton for president, we ought to be able to mock a $132 cookie baking kit that consists of items that are already owned by virtually everyone with a kitchen, or if not, can be purchased for under $15 at Target. Oh, but everything is HANDCRAFTED OF COPPER with GOLDTOUCH NONSTICK COATING.

I know it's basic, but I like re-watching favorite holiday movies. The ones I can't miss are Christmas in Connecticut, and Elf. Speaking of basic, I need to get my Christmas playlist together on my ipod and possibly treat myself to a few new songs. I also need to dig out the Christmas music so I can play carols on the piano.

How do you treat yourself this time of year?

Friday, December 02, 2016

Surviving in the Post-Trump World

I have gained approximately 100 pounds since Trump won the election and I feel like I've aged ten years. I have to get my act together and come up with a plan for staying sane for the next four years before I end up in an Oreo coma or a straightjacket. These are the options:

  1. Retreat entirely into a fantasy world of knitting and comfort lit.
  2. Embark on four years of rage, activism, and civil disobedience.
  3. Absent myself from Facebook and Twitter and rely on one trusted news source, to be checked no more frequently than once a week. Regularly donate to groups that can effectively fight the Trumps. Engage in periodic acts of activism, but don't try to fight everything.
  4. Move to a different country and watch our destruction from a safe distance.
Obviously, option three is the most sensible, but I really needed to write it out for myself. Option four has possibilities too, but is considerably more difficult. Given that Jon and I work in high-demand professions, with diligence, we might be able to find jobs overseas. The main problem is that I'm not willing to abandon my children here and since three of them are adults and one will be going off to a university, taking them with me might be tricky. The other problem is that Jon doesn't want to leave the US but I think life here will become intolerable. Jon himself has experienced a hate crime of sorts. He was at the grocery store, wearing a scarf that a friend bought him in Turkey. The scarf's print is recognizably Middle Eastern. Anyway, a random white man, for no reason whatsoever, came barreling toward Jon and forcibly elbowed him out of the way. The store wasn't crowded and there was plenty of room to get by, so we concluded that it was an act of aggression. It was certainly acknowledged, long before the election, that the United States is a racist country, but the fact that so many people now feel empowered to aggressively demonstrate their hatred is deeply disturbing. I think that all of us - truly ALL of us - harbor some amount of prejudice. However, decent and thoughtful people have the ability to detach from their prejudice, to examine it, and to work to overcome it. Since the election, some people have completely dispensed with decency.

Since long before the election, I've been in a constant state of outrage over the way that sexual assault victims are treated in the criminal justice system, particularly the odious case over the summer in which a rapist was given a light sentence because he's a college athlete. I wasn't the most enthusiastic Hilary Clinton supporter (I preferred Bernie) but I was optimistic that a woman president would be a huge blow to out hateful patriarchal culture. My vote for Hilary Clinton wasn't just a vote against Trump, but a vote for women. So you can imagine what a crushing disappointment it was that we elected a sexual predator instead. Now, every loathsome creeper who ever leered at me or made comments or tried to grope me on the bus is legitimized. Jon and I had a massive screaming/yelling fight the day after the election because he just doesn't get what it means to be a woman in the United States. I am still so fucking angry. This is the main reason I'd like to get the hell out of the US and take my children with me.

On the other hand, what would the US look like if everyone who had the means and education to leave did so? If an opportunity presented itself to you, would you consider leaving the United States?