Tuesday, January 9, 2018

grad school eats your life

Hahahahaha, oh man, I had a draft started in here from back in July when I was having fun with getting health insurance off the exchange (I really don't recommend turning 26 the same month you decide to stop working full-time to attend grad school). Grad school has been so good and so intense and it's eating my soul in the best/worst of ways! Per my usual MO, I procrastinated mightily on the term papers, and maybe this time I've learned my lesson from how unpleasant that was? Maybe, but also almost definitely not.

I've been working my way -- very slowly -- through Trollope's Barsetshire Chronicles. Barchester Towers was just as wonderful as the first one, more even, but I've discovered that I have difficulty following along on audiobook. I've always preferred reading books to hearing them read, but I've had some success with nonfiction and thrillers during my commute before (the only thing that got me to and from Des Moines for a work trip was Gone Girl). My mind has a tendency to wander off to grocery lists, scrubbing the bathtub, needing to pick up that bit of paperwork or fill out that form, and then I've missed a chunk of narrative I have to skip back and relisten to. I've just finished Doctor Thorne, and I'm contemplating switching to print for the next one.

I've let myself do some fluffy rereading (The Royal We, the Peter Wimsey mysteries) and dig into Mary McCarthy's stuff motivated by this article from Commonweal.  I finished The Group on the plane back from a friend's wedding in Phoenix (which meant I missed the bulk of the below-zero weather here in Minnesota over the Christmas/New Year's stretch, thank god). It was...fine. I was reading on a kindle, and I had a headache most of the flight back, which didn't help. I am reading A Charmed Life next, but first a biography of English artist Eric Gill (whom I do NOT recommend googling at work), and grumbling about his attitudes toward women even as I'm drawn in by his stupid Arts & Crafts predilections. He reminds me more than a little of J.F. Powers, at least as Powers shows up in his letters in Suitable Accomodations (you'll have to scroll a bit, it's a few paragraphs down); despite owning a copy of Morte d'Urban, I still haven't read it, whoops.

Leslie Jamison is coming out with a new book, and I'm on tenterhooks waiting for it. I never wrote about The Empathy Exams, but I loved it passionately. I haven't done nearly enough baking lately, but given that Minnesota is dipping back down into subzero temps this weekend, I can think of nothing better to do with my time than some pumpkin scones, possibly also some bread. I haven't formulated any New Year's resolutions (my track record is abysmal), but I did spend a good chunk of last weekend laying out the Moleskine I'll be using as my planner this year. I would like to procrastinate less, though, and come up with a more workable schedule (working from home turns out to enable really bad choices on my part, like regularly staying up past 2 AM) that ALSO includes planned human interactions (turns out working from home also enables my worst anti-social tendencies). I want to make more things in 2018, whether that's blog posts or baked goods or finally finishing the quilt I started with my grandmother three years ago. I want to be more proactive at adult things, whether that's taxes or health insurance or not impulse-buying 7 albums off iTunes at 2 AM.

Those sound a lot like resolutions, but they're not, because if I actually called them that, I wouldn't even make it to the third week of the month without falling flat on my face. Odds are I won't make it any farther without labeling them such, but calling them "aspirations" sounds less dire in my head, and thus more achievable. We'll see.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

the way you used to do

"This is how writers fall in love: they feel complicated together and then they talk about it."
-- Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams,
a book I read, loved and never wrote about here.

Since my thoughts on The Benedict Option were complete mush, here are a few other takes I enjoyed reading even if I didn't agree 100% with any of them: my personal favorite at Eastern Christian Books; Emma Green at The Atlantic, someone whose writing I'm starting to anticipate with pleasure; this profile of Rod Dreher at The New Yorker touches pretty thoroughly on the book while also being surprisingly even-handed.

I just started Eve Tushnet's memoir Gay and Catholic, and it's serving as a nice counterpoint to my grumbling about Dreher's LGBT+ grumbling. She is easily one of my favorite bloggers; here's a semirecent highlight. Courtesy of a more recent post was my introduction to this amazing Jonathan Swift poem.

"I just saw The Book of Henry, and I feel like I've been mugged by a Decemberists song."

I fell off the Jane the Virgin wagon early in the second season in the midst of grad school applications, but I obviously need to pick back up asap.

"One such table is laden with metal stands, on which several dozen decapitated doll heads of various shapes, expressions, colors, and hairstyles are impaled on spikes—an admonitory display of contemptible traitors from Tudor England’s hottest town." GQ has this amazing look at the new Ken dolls, but I highly doubt any of them will live up to my childhood boyfriend, Shaving Fun Ken.

I have been looping the new Queens of the Stone Age single all day, every day for the past week at work, and it's one of the best choices I have made. It's helping with the packing-up-to-move, need-to-figure-out-my-health-insurance-situation-stat, grad-school-premonitions angst.

Also helping with that angst is my discovery of Monster Factory, which is v., v., v. profane, inappropriate, etc., and yet so very wonderfully what I need right now.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

some disjointed thought-spewing on rod dreher's benedict option thing

I've recently finished (and returned to the library, darn you other 54 people who want to read this book and thus prevented me from copying out some relevant quotations) Rod Dreher's The Benedict Option, which was kind of igniting a certain corner of the Catholic blogosphere. I had some strong opinions, at least partially because I am a product of the educational regimen he prescribes as a cure for what ails the culture, yet I almost completely disagree with his approach.

[This is in no way a thoughtful analysis of Dreher's book or agenda; it's just me throwing my thoughts here because boy did it turn out I had them. I'd love to take another, more in-depth pass at the book, but since I'm in the middle of moving and starting grad school soon, who knows if/when that will happen.]

The book's basic premise is that conservatives lost the culture war pretty much as soon as the Enlightenment took off, this fact only recently pushed home by the Sexual Revolution and the fight for gay marriage. Thus, Christians, rather than living in this hostile environment, must withdraw into their own enclaves for the sake of preserving and transmitting the faith/culture as they wish to their children until such a time as a wider renewal of the culture and return to more conservative values is feasible.

He says (although I remain unconvinced) that this isn't to completely shut out secular life as we know it and develop into a cultish existence. The parameters he sets around Christian interaction with the larger, secular world, though, would very, very easily devolve into an us-vs.-them doomsday standoff, not so much because he disallows any physical interaction or communication, but in the ideological lines he very urgently and emphatically draws in how one ought to view the world.

My main problem with Dreher's thesis, I think, is that it's aimed at a particular kind of conservative freaked out by the way the world works who wants justification for pulling back into his shell and battening the hatches until the storm passes (when or how it is to pass Dreher doesn't say), who doesn't have to engage with any of the world or possibly consider that some of his positions might not be as sacrosanct as he would like to believe. This rubs up pretty diametrically against my own inclinations of how to engage those of differing viewpoints, especially religious/moral ones, so this stuck in my craw a lot.

Dreher hammers on the fact that it can be uncomfortable to publicly espouse certain conservative positions in a lot of situations -- he is not wrong about this -- which butts up against more serious consequences such as when people's livelihoods are put on the line by embracing the traditional hardline on marriage (one man, one woman, possibly also no divorce for some flavors of Christian). His intimations that this is a hair away from actual, literal persecution is risible, however, especially given the Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere whose lives are actually on the line for their faith, as opposed to some unpleasant glances, commentary and online diatribes here in these US of A (also, I don't know, come talk to me when you're being beaten and left to die in a field tied to a fence or dragged along an asphalt road for miles by a truck and then we can talk about how Christians are on the verge of persecution in America  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ )

In order to preserve and transmit their cultural and religious values, Dreher insists that Christians seriously committed to living the BenOp life MUST place their child[ren] in a private school founded on a classical education with a strong faith component (he's not picky about what strain of conservative faith that is) ASAP. He does acknowledge that this might be financially unattainable for some and that others have no such option geographically within reach; these people might homeschool or start their own classical academy, he suggests. Literally on the same page as he says these kinds of private schools aren't affordable for many, he also says that homeschooling can be unaffordable or out of parents' reach for other reasons (not being inclined to be a teacher, for one, or an inability to handle the organization involved). I guess the BenOp life isn't so much of an option for poor people or those who can't homeschool (and as someone who was homeschooled, not every parent is cut out for it, and it doesn't work for every kid, either).

[Like I said, I'm basically a product of the kind of education Dreher champions -- beside being homeschooled from 1st through 12th grades, I also went to an uber conservative Catholic college -- both based around the same classical curriculum which supposedly guarantees your kid's retention of the faith. Yet somehow I've come out here on the other side almost completely at odds with These Kinds of People, and by and large disagreeing with Dreher's conclusions and most of his premises, methods and reasoning as well. That doesn't entirely disprove his position that educating children in this manner is the best way to ensure they retain the faith their parents impart; I do, however, want to strongly emphasize that it's not a guarantee. In fact, part of the reason why I came out of my 16 years of classical, uber-conservative Catholic education and swerved "left" was because of how conservative it was.]

That target audience of Dreher's also seems to be primarily white; he tosses some crumbs to the idea of a non-blindingly-white conservative Christian demographic (he explicitly namedrops Hispanic Christians), but it all reeks of tokenism.

Similarly, because he spends a chunk of the book talking specifically about how the "LGBTs" (an actual term that Dreher actually uses in this, his actual book) have pushed their cultural agenda over recent years, what little he does offer queer folk who abide by the traditional sexual ethic is very shallow (to be fair, Dreher also targets materialism, sexual impurity more generally, and abortion/euthanasia, so it's not 100% hating on LGBT+ people). Granted, his book is primarily aimed at people who have the potential to reproduce and thus pass on the culture, so I don't completely fault him for this. If he's going to spend so much effort hating on the secular stylings of the "LGBT lifestyle", though, it certainly feels like he should give more than a few crumbs of encouragement. He acknowledges that gay people have been ignored or mistreated at best in the past by church figures, but after those centuries of mistreatment and being ignored, maybe crumbs shouldn't be your best and only offering?

tl;dr: although Dreher sets up the book at the beginning as a plan for all orthodox Christians to cleave to in this new dark age of secularism, it quickly becomes apparent that his plan is really aimed at reproducing, married, straight, conservative Christians of a certain socio-economic class (who are almost definitely 99% white). Which is fine if that's who your audience is, but maybe don't pitch it as a panacea then?

All was not doom and despair, however! I did really like that Dreher admits that politics can't fix the culture wars and the Republican party is no more the party of Christ than the Democrats are. He hits up the expected points about being less reliant on technology and doing and making more with your hands, both points I mostly agree with. I can also get behind his urging to be more intentional in supporting the businesses of fellow believers and creating a network to support people of faith in times of need.

My favorite thing is his urging towards a greater tangible and intentional community with those around you in your immediate environs. This is something I've definitely felt the lack of in my own life, and it's something I'd like to live (probably not strictly in communion with the kind of orthodox Christian Dreher describes, but that's my personal preference).

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

half a maudlin god

I've just finished Rod Dreher's The Benedict Option, and I have Thoughts, but I also needed a break from typing them up. Since I'm giving a little speech tomorrow about Edna St. Vincent Millay, I went digging through my computer for a quotation of hers that I'd copied out of her selected letters, which I read last summer, and I've been immersed afresh in how much I love her. Have a few, along with me, to cleanse your hump-day palate:
“I learned no end of disgusting French expletives that Pete will not let me use—he said: ‘How would you like to have me going around saying “--------” and “--------” and “------------” etc.’—the dashes indicating atrocious English expressions which every nice girl would pretend she had never even overheard,--whereupon I swooned , saying, ‘Oh, damitall, have it your own way, camel!’”
-- Letter to W. Adolphe Roberts, 7/12/1919

“Bunny, I adored your drunken letter. Never be sober again, oh, lofty one, O Centaur with song in his heart and burrs in his tail, O half a maudlin god!”
-- Letter to Edmund Wilson, 7/20/1922

“Of course I knew you would not like my preface to the Baudelaire translations. Sometimes when I was working on it (and I never worked so hard on anything in my life) I thought, with a wry and sad smile, ‘Lulu will be pained by this.’ I knew that you would consider flippant and in bad taste many things which were not flippantly conceived or written, and which, if I had considered them in bad taste, I should not have printed. It is our old quarrel. It is not that you would like me to write ponderously because the subject is a weighty one, but that, naturally, you wish me to be lighthearted and human in your way, not in mine. I wonder how you can stand Shakespeare, (perhaps you can’t; I never asked you) Shakespeare, who permitted Mercutio to die as Mercutio would have died, did not force upon him in the end the extreme unction of traditional solemnity, permitted him to die cracking jokes, and with a pun on his lips,--and this, mind you, not in The Merry Wives of Windsor, or any other rollicking piece of horseplay, but in a proper tragedy. I suppose you agree with the French that the “Knock, knock” scene from Macbeth is most regrettable; unless perhaps the archaic flavor of the words and illusions makes it acceptable to you. If you had been present on the opening night of ‘Macbeth’, and had yourself been wearing a pair of the fashionable and very tight and scanty ‘French hose’ for stealing from which the English tailor was sent to hell, you would have been shocked, I think, by the guffaws of your elegant neighbors. Not that there is anything Shakespearean about my writing—would God there were!—but that in temperament I am rather closer to him. And it is my guess that you would much prefer Racine to Shakespeare, supposing that they both were bringing out plays today.” 
-- Letter to Llewyn Powys, 4/24/1936

 “Having answered your questions, I come now to that aspect of your Commencement activities regarding which, I said, I felt compelled to speak.
“I received from Mr. Chase, your Chancellor, in a letter dated April 26th, the information that New York University wished to confer upon me on the occasion of its Commencement on the ninth of June, the honourary degree of Doctor of Human Letters. In the same letter Mr. Chase informed me that Mrs. Chase would be pleased to receive me as guest of honour at a dinner given for a small group of ladies at the Chancellor’s house on the evening before Commencement.
“I answered at once, accepting the award of the degree with happiness and pride, and the invitation to dinner with pleasure.
“In your letter, dated May 4th, I was told for the first time that on the evening of the dinner given in honour of me by the Chancellor’s wife, a quite separate dinner is to be given at the Waldorf-Astoria in honour of the other recipients of honourary degrees, that is, the male recipients.
“On an occasion, then, on which I shall be present solely for reasons of scholarship, I am, solely for reasons of sex, to be excluded from the company and the conversation of my fellow-doctors.
“Had I known this in time, I should have declined not only Mrs. Chase’s invitation to dinner, but also, had it appeared that my declining this invitation might cause Mrs. Chase embarrassment, the honour of receiving the degree as well.
“It is too late to do either now, without making myself troublesome to everybody concerned, which I do not wish to do. I shall attend Mrs. Chase’s dinner with pleasure; and I shall receive the degree the following morning with satisfaction only slightly tempered by the consciousness of the discrimination against me of the night before.
“Mrs. Chase should be the last, I think, to be offended by my attitude. I register this objection not for myself personally, but for all women.
“I hope that in future years many women may know the pride, as I shall know it on the ninth of June, of receiving an honourary degree from your distinguished university.
“I beg of you, and of the eminent Council whose representative you are, that I may be the last woman so honoured, to be required to swallow from the very cup of this honour, the gall of this humiliation.”
-- Letter to the Secretary of New York University, 5/22/1937,
regarding aspects of her coming up to receive an honorary degree 

And this last one, which just guts me, to the local postmistress, Mary V. Herron, who helped answer letters of condolence after her husband Eugen's death:
“Thank you for all your kindness. I don’t know how I should have managed, without your help.“Yes, it must indeed seem impossible to you that he will not be coming down the hill to fetch the mail, this lovely autumn day.“He never comes up the hill, either, any more.”

Tuesday, June 13, 2017


I bought a new address book a few weeks ago. I know. I'm a Millennial; I shouldn't want to function apart from my phone, much less rely on something as archaic as the United States Postal Service, but I do. Plus, I bought this original address book back in my dumbphone days, as I was heading off to a college that didn't believe in internet access outside of a hardwire connection in the mailroom.

Surprisingly enough (that is, not at all), I couldn't find any address books in my favorite aisle of Target, aka the notebook aisle. I settled for a pocket-sized notebook and pulled it out over a lunch break to transfer information in what I figured would be a ten-minute task at most.

I'd forgotten that my grandmother's name and address still shows up here, four years after she died, as does a listing for Bob and Joan, although my grandfather's been buried for nearly three years.

I wasn't expecting the surge of emotion that froze me then. It's a battered gray book, "smoke pebble" to be precise; I bought it from a pretentious store, thrilled at the prospect of having something so adult as an address book, although I wouldn't have admitted it for the world. The binding split months ago, and it's been shedding flakes of its slate gray surface more and more rapidly over the past year, rubbed bare by floating around the bottom of my big-enough-to-fit-War-and-Peace-and-a-small-water-bottle purse.

I remember how very full of possibility that summer after college seemed, at first. I haven't written extensively about my undergrad experience, but it was decidedly Mixed. Some things I appreciated intensely and still remember fondly now, others left an ashy taste in my mouth at the time and bring out my most biting contempt now. So I looked with bitter envy on all my classmates who loved their undergrad life enough to mourn its passing at the various end-of-senior-year parties and rituals. For me, I was so goddamn excited to move on to the Next Thing, no matter what it was (it was probably grad school) because it wasn't Thomas Aquinas College and all the neuroses I'd developed around it.

Two months after graduation, still in the throws of job-hunting for a Career-Type Job while I detoxed between undergrad and grad school, my mom picked me up from my summers-during-college-job that had taken me back full-time in the interim. She told me that my grandmother -- her mom -- had had irregular results on a routine checkup that had sent her an hour and a half away from her tiny rural town to Sioux Falls to a Real Hospital. How my uncle had showed up while she was waiting for the ambulance to transport her and she had scolded him for leaving work to take care of her. How my other grandparents had noticed that summer she hadn't been around as much, as involved in the town's social life.

My grandmother got her first e-mail account around the same time those initial scans showed stage IV lung cancer. The only e-mail I ever sent her was comprised entirely of a few crappy pictures of the 1998 station wagon I'd bought for $500 that summer, my first car. I still have her one-sentence reply, typed out by my mom because my grandmother wasn't up for tackling new technology at that point. It's squirreled away on a dying laptop because I really can't delete it.

I can remember the day before she died early that September (four weeks? Six weeks? from diagnosis to death), standing in the frozen food aisle at the grocery store clutching a package of shrimp while on the phone with my mother, asking her when she'd be coming home because, although I didn't say it at the time, I was tired of being the responsible adult grocery shopping and cooking over the past few weeks for the five of us, four kids -- ranging from 13 to 23 -- and a dad, who were still at home living normalish lives while my mom cared for my grandmother as she died and I really, really wanted her to come back because if she came home that meant everything -- including my grandmother's normal existence -- resumed just as it had been before. The way my throat clenched at the weariness and resignation and grief in her voice when she told me it wouldn't be long now and how immediately I realized the stupidity and selfishness of my question.

And then two months after that funeral, my parents called us all into the living room to tell us that my grandfather's cancer was back terminally this time, and how I curled up on my bedroom floor after that, and brushed my hair out over and over again, fanning it around in a halo because I couldn't, couldn't, couldn't do this all again, and how very much I hated God all throughout that winter and spring and the first half of the summer, until he, too, died, almost a year exactly after my grandmother.

I wrote letters (notes, really) to my grandparents throughout my college life, copying their addresses out of that stupid gray book onto crisp white envelopes every month or so, thanking them for the $5 at Halloween and the little note for St. Patrick's Day, assuring them that college was hard but worthwhile and that I'd splurged the money on mental-health-preserving chocolate.

More than three years later, I still catch myself doing this: seeing a garage sale sign while driving, eating fudge or chocolate chip cookie bars, and I'm crying again. It happens less now, but the intensity of the emotion still surprises me. I assumed when I bought my $3 notebook at Target that I'd copy out a handful of still relevant addresses and pitch my smoke pebble relic. I don't think I can now.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

bananas for the lord

The latest things to have caught my eye...

I haven't gotten a chance to watch American Gods yet because someONE (my sister) used her Amazon Prime STARZ trial to watch Outlander, so I've consoled myself with this ranking of Bryan Fuller female characters from Tor (I love Tor).

As someone raised in a very prolife household in the late 90s and early aughts, I have a strong internal mandate now to develop far more understanding and empathy for the flip side, and this piece in The New Yorker is the latest episode of that.

This NYT piece on a Focus on the Family magazine for young women was fascinating. It wasn't actually part of that upbringing, although I've read a couple Catholic fantasias on the theme. I also recently finished Dianna E. Anderson's Damaged Goods: New Perspectives on Christian Purity, which is related. I may blog about that later this summer because I have THOUGHTS of all stripes.

Not to keep hammering away at this my-religious-childhood theme, but I find Patricia Lockwood an intriguing figure, even though I've not read either her poetry or her memoir. The Millions (my second favorite online literary journal, after Open Letters Monthly) had this lovely piece on Lockwood's memoir Priestdaddy and The Toast's Mallory Ortberg interviewed her for LitHub recently as well (oh but this one in particular hit a lot of my 'growing up uber conservative christian' buttons).

This one isn't about religion; it's about 3D-printed mouse penis models!

I'm torn about Netflix's new Anne of Green Gables series because I love the books for exactly what they are: a not especially-super-realistic story of pluck and everyday mishaps/adventures and, above all, sweetness that only occasionally skews into cloying. Anne with an E sounds grim and gritty and like it's made changes to the story that only occasionally add and mostly undermine some of the original feminist aspects (how dare they eliminate Miss Stacy!). I...don't know if I can watch it. I'm all for realism and not painting overly optimistic pictures of anything, but it sounds like this adaptation is stripping out everything I love for...not much in the way of things I want to watch:
Anne With an E is great, but it isn’t Anne of Green Gables. To so many of us, Anne of Green Gables stands for childhood afternoons spent reading about a fierce young girl who faces the world and charms everyone around her with her positivity and imaginative spirit. The novels (and yes, the 1980s films) are about optimism, faith in humanity, and quite simply, joy. Darkness is there, lurking beneath the surface, yes, but it never defines the action. Anne never lets difficulty dampen her spirit. The emotion of Anne of Green Gables is beautifully hopeful. Young or old, Anne taught us to look at the world in a different, more cheerful way, even when reread by adults in the darkness of the 2016 world. All of that disappears in Anne With an E.

Roger Moore died recently, and although I've never seen any of his Bond movies, he sounds like he had exactly the right attitude toward them.

I resent the ubiquity of sports and the way it's assumed that everyone is into them (did you see that Disney sent out a press release announcing the teaser trailer for Black Panther "during game 4" and didn't even bother to identify what the game was 4 of?) I don't resent the people who enjoy playing or watching sports -- you do you, I'm glad you've found an activity that makes you happy that you can bond over with other people. What I resent is the way it's assumed that e*v*e*r*y*b*o*d*y has that same interest and desire to watch/discuss/use sports images as the lingua franca of metaphor, especially in business settings. So I maybe enjoyed reading this (pretty long) older piece about the corruption of college sports more than I ought to have if I had a purely neutral viewpoint?

And finally, I've gotten really into Lana del Rey, and "Body Electric" has been my jam at work for the past couple weeks.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

the frugal vanderbilt

I recently returned from a trip out East, the centerpiece of which was Steepletop, Edna St. Vincent Millay's longtime home outside Austerlitz, NY, with my friend the Inimitable Kate. That in and of itself was marvelous -- the house is almost exactly as Millay left it when she died in 1950, in both lovely and worrying ways (Kate and I shared a moment of distress over the condition of Millay's glorious library, which isn't really preserved as nearly century-old books -- including what must be a significant number of first editions of Joyce, Steinbeck, Barnes, etc. -- ought to be). We noodled around the grounds, taking in Millay's writing shed (she hung a handkerchief from the window to alert her husband, Eugen Boissevain, if she was in need of anything) as well as the pool (no swimsuits allowed) and its protective barrier of arbor vidae (now reduced to stumps, alas). Kate and I grinned to each like fools over our picnic lunch, held just across the road from Millay's house.

I've read quite a few of Millay's poems, and some of her sonnets in particular gut me in the best of all possible ways. I really want to dive into her poetry now that I've seen the house; I also have two biographies that I really, really should read sooner rather than later.

We also made a pit-stop at the Vanderbilt mansion in Hyde Park, just down the Hudson from Austerlitz. Built by William Vanderbilt in the late 1890s, the house only cost $660,000 to build at the time (the first inflation calculator Google brought me says this is just over $18 million today) -- this compares favorably to some of William's siblings, who spent $9 million (~$250 million) and $11 million (~$300 million) on their houses (again, this is just construction costs -- the furnishing/upkeep/household expenses are a c*o*m*p*l*e*t*e*l*y separate consideration). Rich people are the worst, don't @ me.

The house is currently in a state of pretty severe dishabille, due to a renovation project to redo the UV protection on all the windows, keeping the original glass. It's taking them longer than anticipated because the frames are made out of MAHOGANY rather than something plebeian, and they're thus a deal HEAVIER than expected. Rich people really, really are the worst.

(aside because these numbers are burning a hole in my poor brain: the family fortune was started by the ur-Vanderbilt, Cornelius, in the early 1800s, mainly from shipping and railroads. He passed along the bulk of his $100 MILLION to his eldest son, William Henry [one of 13, my god, poor Mrs. V {except not really, because, as I said above, rich people are the WORST, even when they're disenfranchised 19th century women}]. William Henry improved upon his father's largesse (amazing what you can do when you've been handed $100 mil by virtue of being born and not predeceasing your papa), and passed along to his eight children about $195 million (~$5.4 billion today). In 1885. Including our Hyde Park boy William here. [this is all pre-corporate-tax, pre-income-tax, pre-estate-tax, which explains a LOT] There's a bio of Cornelius called The First Tycoon that I am now dying to get my hands on so I can hate-read it, but also read-read it because I'm sure it's fascinating.)

The grounds, just up the bluffs from the Hudson (and William's private railroad to NYC), are as gorgeous as you'd expect that much money to make them. It's a lot harder for your tacky nouveau riche tastes to blind visitors when you're working in plants rather than, say, Medici tapestries that you've paid somebody to pick up for you on the cheap in Europe because you want something with a coat of arms on it (Kate totally recognized the arms before the guide pointed them out, and I was very proud of her.).

We washed the disgust from our mouths after the tour at Plan Bee Farm Brewery in Poughkeepsie. I highly, highly recommend it if you are at all a fan of sour beers, as I am.

Also included on this tour: Gettysburg, Washington's headquarters in Newburgh, Capitol Hill Books in DC (I only bought four things there!), the Folger and boozy brunch with old friends (plus a pit stop at a library book sale). It was a pretty good start to the summer.

Me, a smug descendant of dirty immigrants, rubbing my fat sweaty thighs all over a bench in William's fancy Italian gardens. (photo courtesy of the Inimitable Kate)
P.S. Curl your lip with me at the uber-rich of today and how they wed in this piece at Racked, if you will.