december 2003

Despite his involvement in a Savings & Loan scandal in the 80s and the questionable personal and business decisions that were recently revealed in his divorce deposition, I'm still more ashamed of the Bush who is our president than I am of his wayward younger brother. I'd take Jimmy and Billy or Bill and Roger over Dubya and Neil any day.

My preparations for Thanksgiving dinner, and specifically the Thanksgiving turkey, were probably overly ambitious given that I've never fixed dinner for more than four people and I've never, ever cooked a turkey before. I kept the sides relatively simple: squash casserole, green bean casserole, and sweet potato casserole (prepared by Julie) that I planned to cook before the bird and then reheat while it was resting, along with rolls, stuffing, gravy, and collard greens that I would also prepare while the turkey was resting. But for the turkey, I decided to go all out and brine it according to Good Eats' host Alton Brown's specifications.

I prepared the brine on Wednesday night and let it chill in the fridge until Thursday morning. And even though I had been allowing the turkey to thaw in the fridge for three days, it still seemed pretty frozen to me, so I spent two hours helping it to thaw faster using the cold water method before returning it to the fridge for the evening. When I got up at 5 a.m. Thursday morning to transfer the turkey to the brine, the bird was still very cold, but it seemed reasonably well-thawed. Besides, it still had six hours to sit in the cold brine, and it would thaw more during that time.

I went back to bed for a few hours, getting up at 8:30 to turn the turkey over in the brine bucket. I wanted to go back to bed, but instead I forced myself to get up, get a shower and start to work on the other dishes. By 11, I had fixed my two casseroles and Julie had finished hers, so I put them all in the over together. By 11:40 or so, they were done, so I pulled the turkey out of the brine, filled the cavity with aromatics (half an onion, apple slices, a cinnamon stick, and fresh sage and rosemary), covered the skin with canola oil, and put it into a 500 degree oven for thirty minutes of browning.

Rachel, who has made many turkeys over the years, helped me monitor the bird, and after about 20 minutes she thought it was starting to get too brown and suggested that maybe we finish the browning process early and move onto the lower-temperature roasting. I was a little reluctant to deviate from Alton's plan, but it was looking a little brown, so I removed the turkey from the oven, lowered the temperature to 350 degrees, covered the breast meat with aluminum foil to prevent further browning and keep it from drying out, inserted a probe themometer, and then returned the bird to the oven for what I was expecting to be another 2 hours or so of roasting.

During that time, I fixed a couple of platters of chips and dip and cheese and summer sausage and crackers to tide people over while we waited for the main course. We moved another table into the kitchen so we would have room to seat all seven of us (Julie, her parents, my dad and stepmother, my brother, and me), set the table with our fine china and crystal, and even got out my grandmother's old silver, which my dad and Rachel gave to us as a wedding gift. By 2, all of the preparations were ready. We just had to wait for the food to finish.

The roasting of the bird actually took closer to 3 hours, which made me a little nervous (eventually we had to cover the rest of the turkey in aluminum foil, too, since the dark meat portions were also beginning to get a little too brown), but I'm guessing that was because the turkey was still pretty cold when it came out of the brine and it took a little longer to raise the internal temperature of the meat to the right temperature. Around 4, I took the turkey out of the oven to let it rest for half an hour, reheated the casseroles, and prepared the other dishes. By 4:30, the table was set, the glasses were filled with tea and wine, and all of the side dishes were finished. All that was left was to carve the turkey and see if Alton's instructions worked.

I was so exhausted at this point that I had no desire to carve the bird myself, so I asked my dad, who traditionally carves the turkey at Thanksgiving dinners at his house. I was almost too nervous to watch: I was pretty sure it wasn't going to be a disaster, but I didn't know if it was going to turn out good enough to make it worth all the effort I had gone through. After a couple of slices, I was relieved to hear my father say that the breast meat, the part of the bird most likely to dry out, was tender and moist.

And everyone seemed to really enjoy it. I knew they would all say it was good because that's what you say to someone who's spent eight hours cooking for you whether it's good or not, but I think they were telling the truth. Rachel, who has fixed the turkeys for our Thanksgiving dinners for the past ten years, said it was the best turkey she had ever had; the flavor of the aromatics had seeped into the meat and flavored it so well that most people didn't put any gravy on it. Everyone seemed to enjoy the side dishes as well, but they all kept making comments about the turkey.

I enjoyed the meal, too, but by the time it was on the table, I was so tired that I could barely keep my eyes open while eating. An hour or so after we finished dinner, everyone else helped clean up, and around 7 we had dessert (I don't really do desserts, but Julie's mom and Rachel brought pecan pie and pumpkin cheesecake). I played some Soul Caliber II with Dodd until Dad and Rachel went back to their hotel around 9, and then I spent a little time working in the study before heading off to bed. The whole day was really tiring, it was also fun, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Man. Only one day back from Thanksgiving vacation and already I can't wait for the Christmas holidays. This is going to be a long, long cycle.

I recently ran across this article about how people are finding and creating poetry and literature using the text and subject lines from the junk email they receive, so I decided to spend a few minutes poking through mine to see if anything came up. Surprisingly, it did: each line of the poem below is taken from the subject of a spam that I have received in the last month. The first half of the poem is from a series of messages from the same sender, in more or less the order I received them. The second half comes from a different series, and for fun I decided to put the lines in alphabetical order (I made one small exception to help the flow). The results are quite fascinating: cryptic, oblique, and filled with an unnamed sense of dread (or, to steal a phrase from one of Tom's recent emails, "tinged with some awful foreboding, like everything is about to soon go seriously wrong"—he wasn't writing about this poem, but it's a great description of the way it makes me feel). In some ways, it reminds me of the constructed poem called lines that I did for the Circular Ruins project a couple of years ago. Although the fact that lines had, I think, a deeper resonance due to the depth of the source material I used as the basis for that construction, this piece still retains the jump-cut, image-heavy style that I liked about that poem. Anyway. Enjoy.

another had gauze
referring to pushkin
a spasm distorted
the second time
it is hard
womans back flashed
spanish boot hindered

the poet passed
lighter type with
my novel without
the professors offer
to the front
a redheaded girl
blackness was quite

forsake provincial places
i need nothing
magnanimous emperor caesar

one hour passed
only dream that
once stopped flowing
out big basins

pebbles crunching under
person left between
pillows scattered over
pursued by raging

the interpreters offer
the present translation
the procession meanwhile
the responding voice

this darkness which
this taletelling about

After my exhausting day on Thursday, you'd think I'd want to sleep in on Friday. And you're right, that's what I wanted to do, but instead I got up at 8 a.m. to drive into Baltimore with dad and Dodd so Dodd could interview with the director of the operations team and then look for an apartment near campus. (For those of you who might have missed the second of the two Big News posts that covered this topic last week, my brother is applying for a job to work for six to nine months in my office doing basic office work like filing, data entry, opening mail, etc. He is finished with Duke in another week, and although he wants to go to law school next fall, he needs a job to support himself in the intervening months, and just such a short term job serendipitously became available in my office a couple of weeks ago).

While Dodd was in his interview, my dad and I went to my office and looked on the web for apartments and efficiencies near campus. The off-campus housing office had a lot of good leads, and also had links to a lot of the bigger apartment buildings near campus (since all juniors and seniors at Hopkins have to live off-campus, there are several student-oriented apartment complexes that are literally across the street from the school). In the end, we decided to print out a map that showed the locations of the closest 20 or so places to live and just walk around and look at them.

Most of the offices were closed, so we only went into one building, but I think Dodd will be able to find something pretty easily, and my conversations with people in my office who live nearby confirms that. I think he could live in a much nicer place if he was willing to consider a sublet and/or a roommate, but he didn't seem too excited about either of those options. Oh well. It's his money, and maybe he'll see the light if he understands that living in a crappy efficiency by himself will cost him significantly more than sharing a spacious apartment with a roommate. We'll find out in a couple of weeks; he's coming back up for a few days after he finishes with his classes to get some training and to get his living situation settled before coming back up in January for good.

After looking around at the nearby housing options, we ate lunch and then headed home to regroup with the rest of the family. As is our family tradition, we decided to go out to a movie that night. I was in favor of seeing Elf again, but we ended up at Master and Commander. It wasn't a bad movie—good acting, nice cinematography, lots of battle scenes, and a plot that was constantly in motion—but it felt like I was missing a lot, and I don't feel like I ever got a good feel for the motivations of some of the characters. It's kind of how I imagine people who've never read the Harry Potter books feel when they watch a Harry Potter movie: as someone who has read the books, I know that I'm constantly filling in the plot holes in the movie with subplots and details that are clearly laid out in the books but which have been left out of the movies for the sake of time.

After the movie, we went out to dinner at a rib place, and then, with everyone feeling exhausted even though it was still relatively early, we all headed back to get some sleep for our big Saturdays. Julie's parents and my family were both planning to get a jump on the holiday traffic by heading home on Saturday, and Julie and I had plans to meet my mom in DC for a trip to a museum and dinner. I played Soul Caliber II and F-Zero GX with Dodd for a while, but I was pretty run down from my marathon Thanksgiving cooking day and from all the running around we'd done, and I went to bed before 11.

I've been fighting off some sort of illness all week, and while it hasn't yet gotten bad enough to take me out, I'd still rather not go into work today. Come on snow!

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we said goodbye to most of our family members, all of whom were leaving early to get a jump on the holiday traffic. Julie's parents left around 10 a.m., and my parents left around noon. So that should have left us with a nice relaxing afternoon, right? Wrong. We had to leave almost immediately after our families did to get down to DC to spend the afternoon with my mom, who was in town for a conference and was staying with my godmother Jane down in Falls Church.

We used our standard method to get into DC—drive down to the Rockville metro station and then take the metro into the city—and although we were running a little behind schedule, the metro moved pretty fast, and we didn't end up being too late. We met mom at the Farragut North station and walked to the Phillips Collection, a place that I'm certain I should have been to before but which I don't remember at all. Their collection is mostly modern stuff, which is perfect for the class I'm taking, especially because they had a temporary exhibit focusing on the surrealists and modernists.

Waiting for us with mom was Michelle, the wife of my godmother's son Jonathan, who is a couple of years younger than me. They have only been married since March, although they have been together since they were undergrads. They were against the whole idea of marriage, but they changed their minds when Jonathan got called up to serve in the Iraq conflict (right in the middle of a mechanical engineering PhD program at Stanford) and they realized that she would not be entitled to any military spousal benefits unless they were legally married.

I had never met her before, but I liked her a lot. She was very smart and easy to talk to; coincidentally, she was an art history major who focused on the modern period (which is what my MLA class is about this semester) and she is currently a book conservator who works with private collectors and libraries to restore books and manuscripts (which has a lot of crossover with the book class I took last spring). Surrealism was one of her favorite movements, so the special exhibition was perfect for her.

We spent a couple of hours in the museum, and they had some really nice stuff. We weren't able to see a lot of the permanent collection due to construction, but since Julie and I used Ron and Jane's membership cards to get in (the four of us ended up paying $18 instead of the $38 we should have paid), we figured it all kind of evened out. There were some Munchs in a style that I'd never seen before, lots of pastel colors and seascapes; a couple of Dalis that appealed to me more than his stuff usually does; a Rothko (although not one of his classic works, which are my favorites); a painting by Childe Hassan, an American Impressionist who I fell in love with after seeing one of his seascapes at the Yale Art Gallery; several Paul Klees, who I am becoming a big fan of; a Hopper; a nice Chagall; and a bunch of other stuff that I probably wouldn't have appreciated as much before this class. We separated pretty early, occasionally bumping into one another in one of the gallerys, but mostly wandering through the show alone. At the end, we all ended up in the music room downstairs, and I had another nice chat with Michelle while Julie and mom took a breather on one of the benches.

We then headed back to the metro so we could meet Jane and her husband Ron for dinner, but unfortunately Michelle had other plans and couldn't join us. We were meeting them at an italian restaurant called Olives, but when we got there they weren't quite open yet, so we went to the hotel bar across the street to have some tea and try to get warm. It was actually a cigar bar, and there was the strong odor of cigars when we first went in, but fortunately it was all being generated by one patron, and he left shortly after we sat down. My mint tea quickly wiped the scent of the cigar from the air, and I was able to relax and warm up as the cold winter sun set on DC.

Around 5:30 we went back across the street to meet Ron and Jane, and we were seated at a nice table next to the window with a full view of the open kitchen. I ordered some kind of onion soup for an appetizer and the sea bass for an entree along with a glass of wine. I was pretty tired, and the wine helped make me more out of it (I'm a total lightweight), so I don't remember much about dinner except that the food was really good and the conversation came pretty easily. By the time we finished, it was only 8 or so, but to me it felt closer to 11. Mom was going to ride back with Ron and Jane, who had driven into the city, so we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. I was completely exhausted by the time we got home, and although it had been a really good few days seeing family, I was very glad to know that we had a whole Sunday to recover before we had to start the workweek.

We got about a foot of snow on Friday, but unfortunately, Baltimore did not. They only received six inches, most of which turned to slush on the roadways, so Hopkins didn't close, although they did delay opening until 10:30. At 10:30 in our town, they still hadn't plowed the roads once even though we live on a snow emergency route, the snow was still falling very steadily, and it was becoming clear to me that I was not going to be able to make it into work. I still ended up doing a full day's work at home, trading files with Mark while we each tried to get a fresh set of eyes on some problems that we've been working on for the past couple of weeks.

It was Julie's week to do the flowers for the altar at church, and we were supposed to get an even bigger dose of snow on Friday night into Saturday, so during the lull in the afternoon, we drove to Frederick so Julie could get her arrangements set up in case she wasn't able to make it on Saturday, when she usually does it. I had planned to walk around and take some pictures of Frederick in the snow while she worked on her flowers, but when we went up to the nave to retrieve the flowers from the previous week, we found ourselves locked in: the door we had come through locked from the inside to keep people from coming into the nave during the day and sneaking back to the administrative offices.

I had my cell phone with me, so I figured we would just call the church office and get someone to walk over and let us out (on the way in, we had seen the rector, Jim, in his office, so we knew there were other people there). But when I called the office number, I got an answering machine that informed me that the office had closed early because of the weather. But then another ray of hope: two emergency numbers. First number: answering machine. Second number: answering machine. The first number was Jim's home number, which happened to be at the rectory next to the church, so I left a message figuring that even if we had to stay in the nave for a couple of hours, he would wander home at some point during the afternoon, hear the message, and come let us out.

Julie had the idea to call the woman who runs the flower guild, too, since she lives near the church, but she didn't have her number. I suggested that we look for a church bulletin in one of the pews, and luckily we found one with her home number on it. In our first stroke of luck, she was home, and sent her husband over to let us out.

I still wanted to go take some pictures, but I stopped by the rector's office on the way out to tell him he could ignore the message he'd find from us on his answering machine. We talked for a couple of minutes, and just out of curiosity, I asked him how the recent decision, covered extensively by the media, by another diocese to ordain an openly gay bishop had affected our congregation (we're Episcopalians). I was curious because at one of our recent services, the budget committee had given a report saying that we had a significant shortfall for next year. They said it was mostly because of unanticipated costs with our new building, but I wondered if the furor over the gay bishop had something to do with it; Episcopalians are by and large a pretty open-minded bunch, leading the way among mainstream American denominations in ordaining African-Americans, women, and homosexuals over the past several decades, but just like in any group, there are always a few who are resistant to change and still clinging to bigotry and intolerance.

(In regards to this controversy, I don't really understand why making the guy a bishop was such a big deal. Once you start ordaining homosexuals, it's pretty easy to guesss that some of them are eventually going to rise in the church hierarchy. It seems to me that if you wanted to object to homosexuals in the clergy, the time to do it would have been when the church started ordaining them as rectors. But then, homophobia has never been logical.)

Jim told me that we had lost a few families, and that a few others had pulled back their pledges even though they were still members of the church and still planned on attending every week, which doesn't make any sense to me (one family even told him that they would still put the same amount in the plate every week, they just wouldn't pledge it, which he found incredibly frustrating—because he can only spend what the pledge budget allows, that just meant that he was going to have to cut a community outreach program that he didn't really need to). But the new building really was the main source of our budget crunch; by and large, most people in the congregation were accepting of the gay bishop, and just wanted to move on past the sensationalism.

I ended up talking to Jim for close to an hour, so I didn't get a chance to take any pictures; by the time I got finished with him, it was getting dark out and Julie was almost ready to go. But it was good to talk to him. He is someone that I'd like to know better, and probably would if we lived closer to church. I feel a lot of affinity to him—he received his calling late in life, after he already had an established career as an engineer and a growing family, and his sermons still reflect the struggles that most of us have in trying to balance our spiritual beliefs with the everyday obligations of the world. It's ministers like him that have kept me in the Episcoal faith, and it's ministers like him that will keep me here.

Time for another postcard from Tori. This one came about three weeks ago, and was sent from Florence while Tori was visiting there with Rachel.

Here's what she wrote on the back:



And you thought the Germans had a strange sense of humor.

For the first couple of days, the snow was incredibly beautiful, nothing but fields of crystalline white everywhere gently reflecting the monochrome, sunless sky overhead. Yesterday it started raining, though, and little by little the drops of water ate away the snow until only a few stubborn fjords of white remained, their desperate fingers clinging to life in an ocean of green. It's amazing how vivid the colors of nature are after your palette is limited to greys and whites for a few days.

I had a fairly long post written about my trip to the Baltimore Museum of Art with my art class, but I have decided to save that until Monday and keep this entry nice and short so that Tori's most recent postcard will remain near the top of the page through the weekend (you're welcome, Jeff).

What happened this past week: Friday we did all the final tweaking of our Early Decision class so we could send out letters on Monday, Saturday Julie and I went to Gift of Giving, an annual program sponsored by our church where we let disadvantaged elementary school kids come in and shop for presents for their family for free, it snowed again on Saturday night into Sunday, Tori flew back from Austria on Saturday and is now working on reassimilating herself into American culture for the next month, Dodd finished up his coursework at Duke and has already found out that he has passed three of his four final classes (including an A in his senior level Public Policy course), and I worked on my paper for my modern art class (I got surprisingly little done, even though I felt it pressing down on me all weekend).

What's happening this week: Dodd is coming tomorrow to get started with his training at Hopkins and find an apartment to live in for the next six to eight months, we're trying to get the final database and workflow processes in place in preparation for the Regular Decision deadline on January 1, Julie and I need to finish up our last-minute Christmas shopping (we made a list a couple of weeks ago, and Julie has taken care of a lot of it, but there are still a few items we need to get), and I have to get my paper finished by Wednesday night so I can leave it in my professor's box on Thursday (it only has to be 4000-6000 words, and I've written nearly a quarter of the minimum just in preparing notes and and outline, so I'm not too worried about it, but I'd just like to get it over with).

So, no, I haven't had much time to work on this site and I probably won't have that much time this week.

Tori's latest missive from abroad:

"Forget it"

Her text:

The other day we saw a woman walking down the street. She had a backpack on that said "Fuck the Po-Lice". I don't know what it is that this old man is upset about, but his old woman apparently wants him to forget it. Fuck the Po-Lice!

Much love, Tori

God I miss her.


Then I swear I'll update you on what's been going on before we take off to NC for Christmas.

4000 words is a little longer than I had originally anticipated...

Normally I would be signing off for the rest of the year at this point, but thanks to my paper I haven't had time to clean up some entries that I've had on tap for a while, so I think I'll do that this weekend and post them before we head down to North Carolina next week. I'm just too tired to mess with them now, but I don't want to wait until January to post about things that happened in early December. So stay tuned—there will be one more day of posting before the new year.

Okay, so I lied—I didn't post before I left for the holidays. But I am posting again before the end of the year, so that kind of counts, because normally I don't post again until the next year after leaving to go home for the holidays. Our trip was busy, of course—with three families to visit (Julie's parents, my mom and her side of the family, and my father and stepmother and their family), it was bound to be—and there's lots to write about. I'll save that for next year, when most of you are back, but I will post something new tomorrow.

I hope you all had a good year. I feel like I didn't get to see/talk to nearly as many of my friends as I wanted, but I'm hoping that will change next year, as I currently have vague plans to visit CS Jeff in Colorado (actually, those plans aren't so vague, but I'll give you more details on that soon), Regan in Birmingham, Tori in Iowa, and hopefully a few others. I miss all of you very much, and I hope I at least get to speak to most of you in the near future. Take care of yourselves, and I'll see you next year.
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