Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Decade In the Making

It's Tabitha's birthday today!

Somehow, without ever quite being aware of how the time has passed, I have become the parent of a 'tween. I'm sure there will be all sorts of interesting things coming my way in the next few years, but so far it's all been good.

Happy Birthday, Tabitha.

Love, Dad

Sunday, December 20, 2009

I Have Just Left the Building

This is what I look like when I'm solving world hunger.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Down On the Corner

The cat is high.

A friend of ours gave us a catnip mouse a while back. It is a particularly snazzy catnip mouse, in the colors of the local minor league hockey team because, really, that's something the cats would enjoy. Well, we enjoyed it, anyway. The cats were more interested in the catnip, because they are JUNKIES, the both of them.

If you don't talk to your cat about catnip, who will?

Unfortunately, when we talk to our cats about catnip, mostly what we say are things like "Hey, wanna get some quality nip?" or "Dime bag, go on, you can pay us later." We are bad, bad people that way.

The thing about Mithra, though, is that she clearly has some bear in her ancestry. She likes caves. She likes enclosed dark spaces. And when she is wasted on catnip, her definition of "enclosed dark spaces" gets awfully loose.

So there was this paper bag, you see. An ordinary grocery bag. But not an ordinary grocery bag! No, not under the influence, it's not! It is a cave! A cave filled with things to hunt! Twitchy things that need to be batted down!

Whap! Zing! Whap again!

That other sound? That's us, falling onto our backsides laughing. Fortunately the cat is so far gone that she does not get offended at this. Rather, she redoubles her efforts at hunting whatever is in the bag making that noise. It's kind of a feedback loop, really, because eventually we can't even get up off the floor from laughing at her.

It takes some time, but we stand up after a while, still chuckling in a pointed manner.

Eventually the bag ends up standing upright, with a very puzzled-looking grey cat with saucer-shaped eyes staring out of it. Mithra looks behind her to see what is there, but it is just out of her vision, so she looks a little further behind her, and after a few rounds of this the bag is no longer upright and neither are we.

The cat is in the bag, in more ways than one.

Ready for Her Close-Up

It was show time at Not Bad President Elementary yesterday!

The NBPE first grade class was putting on a performance of the new off-off-Broadway musical, The Unity Tree, and Lauren was the Kitten.

This was a big deal.

The play revolves around the trials and tribulations of the Kitten and the Puppy, two innocents who through their eagerness to play with each other manage to heal millennia-old divisions between their respective tribes. It is a fable for our time.

It also contains the line, "We could welcome our diversity! Maybe even embrace it!" so you know it has the intellectual heft that musicals are famous for.

Lauren has been practicing her lines for months now. As one of the two stars of the show, she had a lot of lines. And despite sharing the fear that every actor has, she remembered them all come performance time.

We have long suspected that Lauren is headed toward the stage. She keeps us entertained all day long with voices, faces, characters and entire routines. Someday, when she is up there all dressed up and thanking the Academy, I hope she remembers where it all started - the All-Purpose Room of NBPE.

We got there early, as we have learned by now that you do not show up to these things 15 minutes ahead of curtain time if you want a seat. On the one hand, this is a lot of time to spend in the All-Purpose Room. But on the other hand, it is good to see that people come to these shows. The other things will wait - it's important to go to the show and see your children perform. So. Early.

The show went smoothly.

There were songs, all cleverly choreographed to keep the children's arms busy so they wouldn't get bored and whack each other.

And Lauren looked like she was having a good time up there playing the Kitten. She said her lines well, tossed a ball around with Puppy (without dropping it!) and dashed about the stage in a most Kitten-like manner.

After the show they let the paparazzi approach the stage to take pictures, and a more polite midwestern scrum you will never find.

And then it was off to class again. Thank you! Lauren has left the building!

Naturally, with a foot of snow still on the ground here in Out Little Town and the temperatures hovering in the mid-20s, we celebrated Lauren's play by going out for ice cream. It is always ice cream time in Wisconsin, especially after Kitten and Puppy have showed us the way.

You did good, Lauren. I'm proud of you.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Economics 101

The terrorists are surely on the run now. I have gone Christmas shopping, and the economy should be booming.

Or at least crackling, the way small bits of paper do when you throw them in the fire.

Especially when those small bits of paper have presidents on them.

I really haven't had much time or inclination to go Christmas shopping lately. To be honest, I really haven't had much time or inclination to do anything Christmas-related lately. If it weren't for the fact that I have children, the entire holiday might well have passed me by without my noticing at all. But we have the tree up now, and there are lights hanging from our eaves, and someday I really must look into why they don't actually light up but they're there and that has to count for something.

So. Shopping.

I walked into the mall this morning to find the Fighting 314th Mechanized Combat Band and Show Choir engaged in a furious assault on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It was difficult to see who was winning but there were obviously many casualties, one of which was the melody. For some reason this cheered me up immensely.  I felt ready to do some economy-stimulating after that. So I suppose the 314th accomplished its mission, Rudolph notwithstanding. Don't mess with the 314th, is all I'm saying.

It is astonishing just how busy shopping was. After all, it's a Thursday. Why aren't these people working? They can't all be history professors at the end of the semester, waiting to give their finals.

Well, actually, given the nature of the job market in history, I suppose I wouldn't be all that surprised if they were. Right, then. Carry on.

I spent most of the day darting in and out of stores, trading crackling bits of paper for swag to be distributed to family members. Progress was made. There is still more to be done, however.

I'm not sure I'm up to this kind of pressure.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hurled With Great Force

One of the joys of not being in graduate school anymore is that I don’t actually have to finish the books that I start.

I almost always have a book in my hands, regardless of whether I am actually in a position to read. I cart them upstairs to bed even if all I plan to do is turn out the lights and fall asleep. I cart them back downstairs in the morning and lay them on the table, where they sit until I put them into my bag and haul them to Home Campus. Eventually I pack up the bag and go to pick up the girls from Not Bad President Elementary, where I have a few minutes to unpack and actually read before the bell rings and they come charging out. And then it’s homework (theirs and mine), dinner, and on to bed, where the cycle begins anew.

For all that, though, I do manage to get a surprising amount of reading done. It preserves what little sanity I have left. The rest I keep in a jar in the back of the kitchen pantry for special occasions when I might need it, such as being audited by the IRS. Otherwise it just gets in the way.

While I have my favorite genres to explore, I have found that the one thing I absolutely require in a book is good writing. Despite being an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy novels, for example, I am no longer willing to put up with a book that might as well have been written by a hamster tap-dancing across the keys even if said hamster has brilliant ideas. Writing matters.

There are a lot of very good writers out there, in fact. Just in the past couple of years I’ve read some things that were just stunningly written – gripping, lyrical, comical, all of the above and more, and elegantly phrased. “Elegant” here is defined as “well-suited to the author’s purpose and the reader’s enlightenment,” which is why I don’t get too upset at grammar as long as the errors are artfully deployed.

But sometimes you just run into a book that makes you want to ingest powerful hallucinogens in order to continue.

I found a likely looking book at a used book sale a while back. It had good reviews on the back, an interesting premise, and it was a buck and a half. It was also Book 1 of 3, so I bought it and scouted around for a while until I found the other volumes at similar used book sales. So for less than five bucks, I had what I thought would be nearly 1800 pages of reading pleasure.

And when I started reading the book, I will admit, the ideas were interesting. Someone could have written a great story using those ideas.

But this wasn’t it. Cloying, trite, full of Portentously Capitalized Phrases and long explanations of things that the characters should have understood instinctively, this was writing that wasn’t good enough to sustain a story and wasn’t bad enough to enter into the Edward Bulwer-Lytton Contest.

I fought my way through a bit more than a hundred pages, and it just wasn’t getting any better. And then I thought to myself, “Self,” I thought, “there is no quiz at the end of this.”

And I put it down.

It was a very strange experience, really. I’m not used to doing that. As I wound my way through the PhD process to become a historian I had to slog my way through any number of books that required hallucinogens that, on my graduate stipend, I could not afford. I had to read those things stone cold sober.

It probably built character. I don’t know why people say that when you have to do something particularly unpleasant. I’d hate to think that my character is constructed of bad books and high school gym class, but there you go.

I ended up reading a very well-written book after that, so it all worked out okay. But I need to get rid of those other books before I pick them up again in a fit of leftover grad school guilt.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Look Out Below!

We went back to Mel Allen Hill today.

For those of you new to this blog, Mel Allen was the sportscaster who narrated This Week In Baseball back in the 70s, and sometime during the inevitable montage of collisions at the plate, run-ins with the outfield wall and infielders getting "the wind knocked out of them" by short-hopped ground balls, he would invariably - and, in retrospect, far to cheerfully - blurt out, "Ooooooh! That's gotta hurt!"

I have found this to be a useful line, in my career as a parent.

After we got all that snow earlier in the week the temperatures plummeted to the point on the thermometer where they no longer print numbers, just artistic pictograms of morose-looking brass monkeys. The schools even opened an hour late on Thursday due to the 20-below-0 windchills.

Part of me just shrugs this stuff off now, having lived in Wisconsin for fourteen years. You get used to it.

But part of me just looks at those poor brass monkeys and fires up the tea kettle, glad to be inside.

So the fact that it warmed up to around freezing this weekend was good news. It meant we could go out again. And the girls were seriously jonesing for some sledding time.

Except that nobody these days has an actual sled anymore. When I was a lad (hey - what are you doing? - get off my lawn! - sorry, where was I?) we had the old-fashioned sleds with the wooden decks and the steel runners. They were beyond cool. They had just enough steering to give you the illusion that you could avoid obstacles and not enough to actually do so, so it was never really your fault for running into things. And there was enough sharp steel that you might even hurt someone. How could you not love these things?

But now everyone has glorified beach rafts - inflatable things that have no steering capacity whatsoever and glide easily over any kind of snow at speeds approaching Mach 3.

You know, after setting that up as a rant about how good things were in the Good Old Days, well, never mind. Those inflatable things are just as cool, if not more so. No steel, but far less steering, so we'll call that even.

So we drove over to Mel Allen Hill and trudged dutifully up to the top.

Mel Allen Hill is in one of the many parks in Our Little Town. It has an assortment of trees to smack into at the bottom, a bowl-like depression at the top where you can toss unused sleds and inflatable things when not in use, and - invariably - a homemade ramp of snow about halfway down where you can go flying elbows over teakettle and tumble the rest of the way down.

Ooooh, that's gotta hurt!

We spent a good hour there this afternoon. Both Tabitha and Lauren went over the ramp and neither smacked into any trees, so we'll call that a success. And it was warm enough that you didn't have to worry about frostbite.

It must officially be winter by now.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Lost and Alone

The DVD with the first three episodes of Season 5 of Lost arrived this week.

It has been a long time since I was psychologically able to sit through an extended television series. As I've said, if it doesn't involve large men chasing a small ball, inclement weather, food, or the busting of myths - all things that can be watched in three-minute increments - I'm pretty much not watching it. I'm not entirely sure why this is so - certainly I used to be able to watch television shows, and I put that talent to some hard use in my day. And there are some good shows on these days, from what I hear. But after not owning a television for most of the 80s and only gradually getting back into it in the 90s, this past decade has been just a tv bust for me.

I turn on shows - even shows I used to watch all the time, like reruns of Law and Order or some such - and after about three minutes I'm flipping around the channels looking for a ball to watch. I've even watched random English Premier League matches rather than spend time looking at things with actual dialogue.

It's twisted, I know. But the announcers get so excited about what looks like, to my uneducated American eye, a couple of dozen guys jogging around trying to look productive in between random spells of mad pell-mell dashing about. You have to love it that way. And sometimes somebody scores, which just makes everything that much better. I just wish the announcers spoke a dialect of English comprehensible to someone with less than an Imperial gallon of ale sloshing about their innards.

At least it's not cricket.

But Kim has just fallen in love with Lost. It has characters and plotlines, and inside jokes that only the initiated can get. It has mind-bogglingly improbable twists that happen to weirdly obsessive characters who all knew each other several lifetimes earlier under assumed names. You know what it is? It's Dickens, all dressed up for the 21st century. I remember slogging through Great Expectations in 9th grade with all the clarity of a traffic accident, and despite having to revise my estimation of Mrs. Havisham considerably upwards after reading Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books, I still have no real desire to get back to more Dickens.

Kim watched most of Seasons 1 and 2 on discs from either the library or Netflix before discovering Hulu, where Seasons 3 and 4 lived. I liked the Hulu phase, since it meant that she was watching them downstairs in her office rather than upstairs in the bedroom, so I could go to sleep.

Not that I go to sleep much.

Or, really, that having the tv on really bothers me.

But if I switched from Lost to some random sporting event, as I no doubt would have been tempted to do, I would have quickly find myself sleeping in the car. And my back just can't take that anymore.

The girls have now been sucked in as well, so I'm the last holdout here. They're all in the living room now, even as I type, getting Lost.

There was a small crisis last week when Kim discovered that nobody had the first half of Season 5 and Season 6 was months - MONTHS - away. But Netflix to the rescue! Life can resume.

I suppose I can always do more blogging.

Or some actual work.

Is there a game on?

Tree Trimming

We decorated our Christmas tree tonight.

This was harder to do than you might imagine, since it meant finding a space to put the tree into. Everything has to be somewhere, and in a house with two children, an optimizer constantly seeking to upgrade everything whether it needs it or not and a packrat unwilling to get rid of the old stuff simply because it's been optimized, even when it well and truly needed it, there aren't a whole lot of somewheres to go around.

Normally this wouldn't be too much of a problem - we're used to it, after all, and we've developed routines as to what stuff gets stashed where until such time as it can come back again into our lives sometime in January or February, whenever we can get the Christmas tree back down. But this year Christmas has also come on the heels of a Household Project of some long anticipation. Loooooong anticipation. Long enough that we do sometimes wonder why it ended up happening now.

Kim has long despised the closet in our mudroom - the entryway at the front of our house that would hold all the muddy boots, warm clothes and other outerwear if we ever actually entered the house that way. Does anyone ever use their front doors these days? We don't. The garage is out back, therefore we come in through the back. The only reason we have a front door, other than the sheer fact that it came with the house, is to collect the mail.

Nevertheless, there is - or was - a closet there.

A closet of precisely the wrong dimensions, in exactly the wrong place.

And after thirteen years, it was time for it to go.

So last week our neighbor Adam - he of the window project - came over and removed the closet. The next day his electrician buddy rewired the mudroom so as to avoid dangly sparky bits and allow for the exciting possibilities of a) turning on the lights again, and b) adding new "track" lighting in the future, presumably because a room the size of a walk-in closet needs more lights. Because you know it does.

Unfortunately, Adam's plasterer buddy has not materialized to put the wall back where the closet used to be, although we did prevail upon Adam to insulate and put up some plastic now that we're covered with over a foot of snow and the air temperatures have dropped below zero. So we're mostly warm again, if unplastered.

Now, in most circumstances this would be a minor issue - some extra clutter here and there, and who can tell, really. But as noted, we were in need of a Somewhere into which we could put our Christmas tree.

So today I hauled most of the clutter out of the living room and found somewhere to stash it in our already clutter-intensive basement. Another problem for another day. And then I hauled up the fake tree that we use during odd-numbered years, and set it up.

And oh, such joy you have never seen.

The wonderful thing about having kids who are older is that they can now decorate the tree entirely on their own! You haul up the boxes of ornaments (and we have enough ornaments for several trees these days), set aside the particularly delicate ones (such as Kim's favorite - a spun glass lobster trap, complete with lobster, that we picked up in Maine when I was working on my first dissertation), and let them have at it.

They did a creditable job.

They also found the bugle that I've been hauling around since I was in college. We use it as a bit of decoration underneath the tree, as I am sure that somewhere in the Bible it mentions a bugle, probably in the Book of Unmentionable Acts. That's what I used to use it for, anyway. My dorm was located across the street from any number of fraternities, at least one of which would regale me with bad music until long past even my bedtime on most Saturdays. So I'd bugle back at them on Sunday mornings. They make noise, I make noise. It seemed fair.

Last year we made the mistake of teaching the girls how to make noise with it, and they were eager for a repeat.

Next stop, New Orleans.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Snow Day!

Why do people call you at 4:50am to tell you that you can sleep in?

We had our first big snowstorm of the season today, and everything in Wisconsin was closed. Well most things, anyway. We ended up with about fourteen inches of heavy wet snow, the kind that sticks in the snowblower like bacon grease in your arteries and has much the same "seizing up and dying" effect. It took three hours to clear it all off the driveway and sidewalks - two and a half hours the first time, and then another half hour to clear off the Great Wall of Wisconsin that the snowplow deposited at the end of our driveway, just in case we were thinking of leaving the house. Really, sirs, we were not.

Nevertheless, it was pretty, especially when viewed from indoors.

The girls were of course quite thrilled to have the day off, and they spent most of the day rampaging around in the snow, building forts and throwing snowballs, before heading over to their friends' house for more of same in a new environment.

The governor even closed Home Campus for us, which meant that my students will not get to hear about the Cluster-Fornication that was Reconstruction, though I will at least get them through the Civil War.

Everything closed meant that everyone was home, so Kim made us waffles for lunch. Mmmm. Waffles.

We sort of figured that we'd be staying home today when we went to bed last night, what with the Blizzard Warning and all. At one point you really couldn't see across the street for the snow. So we settled in for a long, pleasant sleep.

We didn't count on two things.

The fact that Kim is now serving a term as Associate Dean of Home Campus means that she is part of the Phone Tree that gets lit up every time something like this happens. So promptly at 4:50 this morning we received a phone call from the Business Manager, who told us in what I recall as an obscenely cheerful voice (though honestly anything short of a werewolf's growl probably would have struck me that way at that hour) that Home Campus was closed and we could go back to sleep.

But I was asleep before you called, I thought.

Oh well. Not his fault. Job to do, and all that. And I suppose it did mean that I could relax now and get some real shuteye.

At least until 5:30, when we got a robocall from the public school district telling us that Not Bad President Elementary would also be closed.

Now, I had sort of figured that when I heard that Home Campus was closed, since anything bad enough to close Home Campus will automatically close NBPE, though the reverse is not true. Plus, usually you have to go seek that kind of information about NBPE. They don't call you. Or at least they didn't.

But now they do.

You know, when the phone rings at 4 or 5am, good news is not what you expect to hear. Good news sleeps 'til noon.

It's been a fun day, though. Tomorrow will be a shock.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Digital Wonderland

Yesterday was a perfect storm of procrastination, desire, and shopping.

We've been trying to get Tabitha and Lauren onto a regular schedule for allowances for a while now. Or, rather, Kim has - I'm all for it, really, but money has a very weak hold on my mind and I keep forgetting all about it. I like money, don't get me wrong - I have my virtues, but Ghandi I am not - but I find it difficult to think about money matters for more than a few minutes at a time without slipping into a coma or wandering off to surf the web, activities that are not all that dissimilar, come to think about it.

Now allowances are good things. They teach kids about managing their money - about limits and saving and all that sort of stuff that I would have learned had I ever taken an economics class. And they provide incentive for chores around the house.

But it's been kind of like the old Soviet economy around here for a long time - they pretend to work, and we pretend to pay them. The girls are not very pushy about getting their allowances, and we tend to be busy enough not to remember to give it to them. It's been a long, long time since we actually paid them anything.

So they were owed a lot of money is what all this boils down to.

And they had plans for that money, yes indeed they did.

Both girls have been jonesing for a Nintendo DS for months now. I have no idea why they would want this. Video games are another of the many things that have no hold on my mind, probably because I was never any good at them. We've been resisting getting them anything along these lines because it will just be the first step in a long process that can only end in heartbreak or Silicon Valley. But we had been so remiss in allowances that all of the sudden they each had enough money to buy their own.

We considered this.

On the one hand, gah.

On the other hand, well, it was their money, and those things are expensive enough that you really can't ask anyone to get them as gifts. And they do provide an opening for future gifts - all those games without which the Nintendo DS is just a pleasantly styled paperweight. Plus, if we went out and got them, we could just handle the whole transaction on paper and not have to withdraw all that cash for each girl to stuff into their purses.


So the girls and I braved the pre-Christmas Sam's Club throng and got two Nintendo DS units - a red one for Lauren and a silver one for Tabitha. I had to go back to Sam's to get a replacement for Tabitha's, since somebody had previously opened her DS and stolen the stylus out of it, but by nightfall the girls were happily ensconced in the living room, playing their games.

I'm not sure what Tabitha is playing, but Lauren's game involves puppies. Lots of puppies. Puppies that need to be trained.

Did you know that the Nintendo DS system has voice recognition? You can talk to it and it understands you about as well as most of your friends do, a concept I find rather scary. Even digital puppies require a lot of training, it turns out, and a good part of this training is trying to get them to recognize their name.

Of course they can recognize their name. Don't be silly.

So for the last twelve hours, our house has resounded with plaintive cries of "Flower! Floooooowweerrr! Flower!"

Eventually the puppy will respond, I'm sure.

But if it leaves little piles of 1's and 0's on the carpet, out it goes.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Peppermint Tabby

One of my many projects in life is to make sure that my children are current with the major cultural forces that have defined our country. This is why I went out and bought a DVD set of all the Charlie Brown holiday specials a couple of years back.

It was something of a shock to me when I discovered that neither Tabitha nor Lauren knew who Snoopy was, although really it should not have been. Charles Schulz died before either of them were born. He drew his first Peanuts strip (a name he hated - he wanted L'il Folks, and thank God for editors, I say) in 1950, five years after the end of World War II and fifteen years before I was born. Harry Truman was in the White House and my parents were in grade school. It was a long time ago.

But still.

Peanuts was such a defining piece of American literature in the second half of the twentieth century - and yes, comic strips can be literature. It had a melancholy sensibility that you rarely find in that medium, and a sublime sense of the ridiculous to go with it. When I was growing up I took these for granted. That's just how Charlie Brown and Snoopy, respectively, were. But when you try to explain to your children the whole "kicking the football" routine, or the endless futility of Charlie Brown's baseball team, or the idea of a beagle as a World War I flying ace (who remembers WWI these days?), it sort of jumps out at you.

Over Thanksgiving, we had the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special running in the DVD player. It doesn't have much of a plot, you realize after watching it for the fortieth time, but you have to love the epic battle between Snoopy and the Chaise-Lounge. I've often felt that way myself, dealing with lawn furniture.

At one point, Charlie Brown was explaining to his sister Sally how hard it was to argue with Peppermint Patty, noting that you never really got a chance to get a word in edgewise. Kim looked over at Tabitha and said, "I'll bet you have friends like Peppermint Patty, huh?"

"No," said Tabitha, "but my friends do."

Happy Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown.

And Here's Dave With the Weather...

I don't know what to believe anymore.

The Weather Channel is one of the few channels I watch on television these days. If it doesn't involve rain, food, large men chasing small balls, or the busting of myths, I'm pretty much not watching it. The girls like them their Disney Channel and their cartoons, and Kim will sneak in some HGTV whenever she can, but otherwise you have to wonder why we have a television at all.

On the face of it, having an entire television channel devoted to something you could just as well look out your window to figure out is kind of odd. As one comedian once put it, "It's like having a Time Channel. It's 6:23! Coming up on 6:24! And we should see 6:45 within the hour!" But you know, it's hypnotizing, it really is. Highs. Lows. Storms. Sunshine. It just sucks you right in.

Plus, there is Your Local On The 8's, which sort of lays it all right out for you.

Except that it doesn't.

You see, Your Local On The 8's has a graphic part, where they flash the forecast right there on the screen for you, and an audio part, where the nice computer-generated voice reads the forecast so you don't have to. Because if you're not going to look out the window to see your weather you're probably not going to read the words on the screen, either. Let's be honest here.

But recently the voice and the graphics have stopped lining up. You look at the screen and it says one thing, and you listen to the voice and it says something else.

It's not a huge difference. The voice does not talk about the heat index while the graphic is showing you sleet, for example. That would be easy to deal with - you would just KNOW that one or the other of them was wrong in that case, and you could check which one by just looking out your window. If you were the sort of person who looked out your window, that is. Although why you'd be watching the Weather Channel in that case is not a question I choose to think about any further.

No, it's just a little difference. The screen says tomorrow's high will be 41 and the voice says 39. The screen insists that the winds are gusting to 15 miles an hour, but the voice reassuringly says 10. Partly sunny? No, mostly sunny.

You can't check those things without instruments. And just how you make the judgment call over partly versus mostly sunny in the first place, I do not know.

But now I don't know what to believe anymore. The old certainties are gone. Foundations are crumbling. The great truths that governed existence as recently as this summer are vanished like  passenger pigeons.

Might as well start my crime spree now and beat the rush.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Host of Thanksgivings

It takes a lot longer to fry a turkey than the internet will tell you it does.

Way back when, sometime in the distant past, we had a deep-fried turkey prepared by some friends of ours. Now, when I heard that this was on the menu, I was somewhat dubious. No, check that, I was appalled. Deep-fry a turkey? What kind of culinary redneck nonsense is going on here? Will we be deep-frying candy bars for dessert?

Oh me of little faith.

It turns out that deep-frying a turkey is just the most wonderful way of preparing that dish you can imagine. It's flavorful. It's crispy. It's beyond moist. And it is not greasy at all. Who knew?

We were so impressed that a couple of months later those same friends gave us a turkey fryer as a present.

The problem with this was that you need an oil that can handle the high temperatures, and mostly this means peanut oil. And by the time we thought about actually using the fryer, peanuts were unwelcome around here.

But now peanuts are just fine. And we needed our own turkey, because we'd been dining at other people's houses all Thanksgiving and had no leftovers. None! No turkey sandwiches! What is the world coming to?

How did we get into this situation?

Well, on the actual Thanksgiving Day we mostly just hung out around the house, for it was Pie Time! We were on pie duty for the family feast this year, which was scheduled to be held up at Kim's parents' house on Friday, so it seemed like a good idea to make the pies on Thursday. Although, seriously, when is it not a good day to make pies? Maybe during an earthquake, because it's hard to fill your pie crust without spilling everything when the table is doing the cha cha across your floor and the cabinetry is falling on your head. Maybe. But otherwise? Pie Time!

First, we made The World's Best Apple Pie, which has a cornmeal crust, chopped cranberries and currents in it. And there was a normal apple pie, made from a recipe we got from a cartoon dog. No, check that - we got it from the cartoon mother of the cartoon dog. It made sense at the time, really, and the pie is pretty good.

We love apple pies, because they allow us to haul out The Gizmo.

Not only does it speed up the whole process immensely, but also you get apple peelings as long as your arm. Life. Is. Good.

There were also a couple of pumpkin pies, which Kim made from scratch because we had a nice baking pumpkin and apparently there was some kind of pumpkin shortage so we felt we ought to use it up. Although given the immense number of pumpkins that moved across our property this fall, I'm inclined to believe that the Libby's people just made that up. Those sneaky pumpkin cartels, creating artificial shortages to bump up the prices and cause panic in the streets. Well, at least some kind of mild concern in the streets, certainly among those who heard the news, which wasn't most people I know.

But the pumpkin pies were good, according to people who like pumpkin pies. I've never been a fan myself, which is yet another sign of just how out of touch with my culture I am. Honestly, it's a wonder someone doesn't just box me up and ship me off somewhere out of the way.

We ate dinner that night with our friends Dan, Theresa and Grace, who were also headed out for a Big Family Dinner later on in the weekend and just wanted a low-key turkey festival. It was good - we had tasty food, the girls wore themselves out playing Wii games, and the adults got to sit around and talk, which is what adults do for fun most of the time, much to the consternation of our children.

Friday we went up to Kim's parents' house, for to engage in another feast! All the cool kids were there! We ate more turkey and had a grand time hanging out.

Tabitha even got us into an Uno tournament, which is both a good and a worrisome sign. It's good because we like Uno, and since her NYC cousins are learning the game it is perhaps wise to brush up before we all get together at Christmas time. On the other hand, well, it is just one step closer to having my clock cleaned by my own children. On the scale of card players, I have, through dint of ceaseless practice, finally reached a level known to professionals as a "mark," whereas Tabitha and Lauren are "sharks" and I just know I'm going to end up owing them my house. That will come soon enough, children! No need to push it.

Sunday we decided to celebrate Kim's birthday by making a lemon poppyseed cake and frying a turkey for dinner. The turkey got rained out, unfortunately, but the cake was a hit.

Fortunately we are due for no drug tests, so we can eat all the poppyseeds we want.

It was a good year for presents, it turned out.  Lauren wrote an original story for Kim about a lonely dragon who ultimately finds happiness and friendship, and Tabitha made a nice pair of earrings.  It's the homemade presents that you treasure, really.

And then, on Monday, the Great Turkey Fry was on.

Lesson One: it takes about an hour and a half to two hours to heat up that much oil, not "20-30 minutes," as it says online.

Lesson Two: it takes longer to cook the bird than it says - not much longer, only 4 minutes/pound rather than 3.5 minutes - but parse that out over the size of the average turkey and it adds up.

Lesson Three: don't do this on a school day. I didn't get the oil heating up until about 5:15 or so, which is why we didn't eat dinner until after 8pm. Now, if we were living in New York or Madrid, say, this would be perfectly normal, even timely. But we live in Wisconsin, where eating dinner much later than 5:30 is considered vaguely socialist.

But it was good, and I didn't burn down the house.


Happy Thanksgiving!