Thanksgiving

For maybe the last 5 or 6 years, I’ve been in charge of cooking our Thanksgiving turkey. This year, I wasn’t certain I’d be cooking for a bunch of people until fairly late, and I wasn’t able to pre-order a gigantic free-range, organic, summa cum laude turkey in advance. In the past, I’ve gotten a turkey somewhere between 20 and 24 pounds to feed a passle of people. This year I ran out three days before Thanksgiving and got two 12.5-pound turkeys instead (the larger bird being unavailable). They were frozen, which isn’t something I’m used to (in the recent past, we’ve gotten birds that were alive on Tuesday), and there were two of them, and I wasn’t sure how that’d work in my oven. They turned out to take nearly an hour longer to cook together than I think one of them alone would have taken. It all worked out, though, and they turned out about as beautifully as two creatures who have been murdered for the sake of a historically misinformed food glut can turn out.

I put nearly as much effort into my rolls, which turned out delicious and equally, non-grotesquely beautiful as the turkeys. My process photos below show how the rolls progressed. For the turkey, thank(sgiving)fully I show only the finished product.

I did have a first this year. It’s common when you get a turkey to find a little sack full of the organs, which generally one turns into giblet gravy. I didn’t like giblet gravy until I was a bit older, and my wife doesn’t like it, and my kids turn their nose up at gravy altogether, so we default to my wife’s preference (which is fine by me; I like regular old gravy just fine). This year, only one of my turkeys had the organ sack in its cavity. The other had the top half of the poor critter’s head. In general at least in the U.S., we tend to prefer meats that don’t much look like the creatures we’re killing. At least in this case, I suppose I can say that I looked the poor bird in the eye, at least one of them.

Meat is pretty gross (I contend that being a physical body in the world is pretty gross), and while we eat it with most meals, we don’t eat a whole lot of it with any single meal. During the Macy’s Day parade today, I heard the stat that some 280 million turkeys are killed in the U.S. each year for Thanksgiving. When I was in I believe the third grade, 280 million was the estimated population of the United States. It’s a staggering number. I mean, there was a turkey served in the U.S. today for each person who was alive in the U.S. when I was in the third grade. That’s crazy! I’m sort of ashamed to have contributed two of those turkeys, especially when for me the real hits of Thanksgiving tend to be the vegetable dishes, but I suspect that there’d be revolt if I proposed a veggie Thanksgiving in the future.

We also made cranberry sauce (from cranberries, not pooped out of a can), mashed potatoes, and green bean casserole. Others in the family provided other delicious sides, including perhaps the loveliest sweet potato casserole I’ve ever seen and a really yummy broccoli casserole, and we’ll make some stuffing and sweet potato casserole tomorrow to augment our leftovers.

It was a good Thanksgiving overall. I woke at around 7:15 and cooked and cleaned until about 12:30, then ate a plate of food and cleaned for a bit longer. It was nice to listen to the family chatting and to share some laughs, to hear my kids playing with their little cousins. The rest of the day stretches out before me. I’ll spend a few minutes making terrible noises on my guitar, then will read to my family, then will maybe watch some TV, and finally read until bedtime, and then I’ll sleep tomorrow until I feel like getting out of bed. I’ll feel sympathy for those who have to work tomorrow and will feel perhaps a sort of benign contempt (if that can even make sense) for those who spend the day doing cutthroat shopping (tempered by sympathy for those for whom the day’s deals amount to a necessity of the season).

Secret Santa

My wife has five siblings with something like a 15 year spread from oldest to youngest. That’s a lot of adult siblings to buy Christmas presents for when you’re the youngest in high school or college, so when the youngest were younger, we decided to do a Secret Santa exchange at Christmas. Siblings and significant others (who’ve been around for a while) play along, and everybody draws a name and gets a gift for one among the group. It’s nice because instead of stressing over being more frugal about gifts for a whole bunch of people, we can try to think about one person and get something thoughtful and with less concern about balancing the old budget.

Because I write code for a living, I volunteered years ago to automate this so that it could be truly random and truly secret, and also to impose certain necessary restrictions. For example, I’ll already be getting gifts for my wife, so I shouldn’t get to draw her name in the Secret Santa drawing. As we’ve added more significant others to the mix over the years, the restrictions have become more, well, restrictive.

A couple of years ago, I found some bugs in my code that made it sort of surprising that we’d never had a big snafu. It was possible (though unlikely) for a person to get drawn twice, if I recall correctly. The code does record who drew whom, but I use some simple reversible encryption to obscure the data so that even if I view the data, I can’t tell who drew whom without jumping through some hoops to decrypt the data. It looks like this:

mysql> select id, selected, selectee, spouse from people;
+----+----------+----------------------------+--------+
| id | selected | selectee                   | spouse |
+----+----------+----------------------------+--------+
|  1 |        1 | Š­ð·4Ì9ΟO*Ú                |      2 |
|  2 |        1 | àßúœÉsë1‘™                 |      1 |
|  3 |        1 | 4èàÿ|tB Ýá)Öœ–             |      0 |
|  4 |        1 | Ñkdt»ÙŽ¼üHÚ©z%             |      8 |
|  5 |        1 | ã,oŒô-ârvó-b               |     11 |
|  6 |        1 | (Ûk;Öîì(:vû^­ƒ€             |     13 |
|  7 |        1 | Éãä“úHàücLݦÙ5*            |     12 |
|  8 |        1 | åÐï÷¡I•Ò0Ñ´Y               |      4 |
| 12 |        1 | Á/ðE™©„“Ü%                 |      7 |
| 11 |        1 | ®§V$]n1½ŽÂÎw«y             |      5 |
| 13 |        1 | †Ì>í…²”[Å*çƒ@©             |      6 |
+----+----------+----------------------------+--------+

So even if someone had in the past been selected to receive more than one gift, it wouldn’t have been readily obvious, and it would have been tricky to fix, since the code fires off an email to everybody letting them know whose name they were assigned.

So say Joe and Bob both draw Mary. They’d each get an email letting them know to get a gift for Mary, and unless I snooped a bit, I wouldn’t notice, and even if I did notice, I’d have to regenerate the assignments for the whole group, which’d result in confusion. Inevitably somebody would wind up looking at the older email, and we’d have chaos. Luckily, we had no snafus, and I fixed the bug.

I have occasionally played with the idea of mixing things up a bit, though. For example, I think it’d be fun to make everybody get me a gift. Or, to put a less actually selfish spin on it, it’d be sort of fun to make everybody get me a gift and then in turn get everybody else a gift. I’m far too lazy for that, though, so once again we’ve got a random selection (within the usual constraints), and hopefully everybody winds up being happy with it.

Grandma Wooten

Here are a few pictures of my Grandma Wooten from around 1970. I knew she was a nurse at some point but hadn’t known she had gone back to school for it when older. I don’t know when she was born exactly, but she’s clearly not 22 here. She always seemed much older to me than she probably was. This is a few years before I was born, and she aged a lot between these photos and when I was accustomed to visiting her. I remember once crying as a very little boy when we drove to Wrightsville Beach to visit her because I thought she was mean and I didn’t want to visit. She was extraordinarily wrinkled and was cranky and sat in the same spot on the couch in the dimly lit house she rented, smoking nonstop and drinking tea from a brandy snifter and watching NASCAR and Cubs baseball and National Geographic.

She and my parents would always argue for about half the time we visited, and though as I grew up, I learned that arguing about a topic doesn’t always mean you’re actually fussing with each other, I think it sometimes got a little mean spirited, which didn’t help my impression that she was an old grouch.

The only toys at her house were a motley set of rusted miniature (bicycle?) license plates from various states. I would pull these out and balance them against one another to make little buildings. Sometimes my sister and I would walk a couple of hundred yards down the street to Johnny Mercer’s pier for a few minutes, or to the hotel between the pier and her house (which she rented the downstairs of from a man she seemed to hate named Walker Brown) to buy a soft drink from one of the vending machines in the parking garage. Otherwise, we mostly sat around watching whatever Grandma had playing in the background on the television.

She had a way of holding a cigarette in a hand near her face and rubbing her lower lip absently with the ring finger of the hand. Her hair by the time I came along was pretty much completely white and curly and looked very soft, like wool.

One room of her home that we didn’t go into very often had a collection of minerals in a wall-mounted rack with dozens of little compartments. She had several large geodes, and some sculptures of sharks or dolphins made of I don’t recall what — perhaps porcelain. She had various other curios that were neat to look at. I think she was fairly interested in science and the natural world. I think that if I had known her when I was older, I might have found that she was a pretty fascinating person.

When I was in probably middle school, she moved out of Walker Brown’s place into a condo that my uncle owned. There was a mall nearby that I would sometimes walk to to browse a book store. The visits remained pretty much the same, with Cubs or National Geographic or racing on television and with the arguments maybe becoming more vitriolic. I remember that one Thanksgiving my mom packed up some food to take her a Thanksgiving meal. She lived about an hour away, so it was a little bit of trouble. Grandma for some reason or another was kind of a jerk about it, and I think Mom packed up the food and drove home crying over it.

I don’t know how much having had a hard life excuses being mean to people, but it’s my understanding that Grandma had a rough life. Her husband was I take it another pretty fascinating person, but he wasn’t nice to her (what that means exactly I’m fuzzy on), and she had three kids and was essentially a single parent in the 50s and 60s.

Drinking wasn’t something I ever saw her doing, and I never saw my parents drink any alcohol (a vendor once sent my dad a few bottles of wine that went unopened for years), but I remember once looking in the pantry at her condo and seeing a bottle of Jim Beam back there. I must have been a teenager at the time, and I remember being surprised and in a way sort of pleased.

She had cancer when I was in high school, and she wound up dying alone and in a grotesque way and was found by my other uncle, who had been living with her at the time but been away from the condo at the time of her death. Since I had always found her pretty uninviting and uninterested in me and basically mean, I wasn’t too bothered by it, but I have thought a few times since that I might have liked to know her before she grew bitter, or to have better understood and known her when I was older, as I really do think she was probably a smart and interesting person I just never had a chance to get to know properly.

Pizza

For a couple of years now, we’ve made pizza and watched a movie together as a family on Friday nights. My wife is usually the pizza chef, but sometimes I blunder my way through it too. Here’s a quick set of photos from a recent effort. We usually have bacon on hand because that’s what our daughter likes, and using the bacon grease to oil the iron skillets is a nice touch. It was only in the last year or so that we started using skillets instead of other types of pans, and I don’t think we’ll ever go back.

Fort Dickerson Quarry

There are a couple of quarries in Knoxville that you can swim in. Well, I don’t swim in them because though I can swim, I don’t love doing it and I sink like a stone if I stop. The quarry at Fort Dickerson is reportedly 350 deep, and that’s a little farther than I’m eager to sink should I run out of steam. In any case, it’s really a beautiful quarry, with aqua water and a pleasant enough walk from the parking area to the water. We went a few weeks ago and I caught some minnows and dropped a fishing line in near the shore to see if I could find any fish, but I caught nothing. It was a nice outing nonetheless.

Granddad

Granddad

Of my two grandfathers, I only ever knew one, and he died when I was a toddler. This is the other one, my mom’s dad. I understand he was not the best guy in the world, but otherwise I know very little about him. He laid tile by trade if I recall correctly, and I believe he flew airplanes as a hobby, though perhaps it was a commercial concern too. At any rate, here’s the only picture of him I know of. My mother found it years ago and I’ve had a copy ever since. I attach no sentimental value to it, but he sure does look swell all decked out for a flight, like somebody out of an old movie.

Tiles

Tiles

My wife ran across an idea for making home-made coasters using glazed tiles, sharpies, and rubbing alcohol. You start with a plain white tile and scribble on it with rainbow sharpies. Then you spritz or dropper alcohol onto the ink. The alcohol makes the colors run together and then it evaporates, leaving the color smears behind.

Sometimes you wind up with these weird almost burned looking effects (I think probably where alcohol has puddled too much). You rarely get quite what you expect. The tiles are dirt cheap, and it’s a quick, neat craft. Once we figure out how to seal the colors in, we’ll have a nice new assortment of coasters, and we’ve talked about figuring out a way to mount these together somehow as a wall hanging in the kids’ playroom.

My tiles are the rainbow one in row 4, column 3 and the one with lots of sort of marbled whitish space (intentional but not exactly as I had intended) in row 3, column 1. I think the top left one looks really neat — like something the Hubble telescope would send back — but my son was really disappointed in it. The one to its right has some neat striations that I think were the result of blowing the pooling alcohol a little.