Really really really the wrong bicycle for touring

I took most of this week off. I went to the New Forest with my puppy, my wife and a couple of bicycles. She rode my touring bike and I rode my delivery bike, with a dog trailer attached. The kit I was carrying definitely outweighed me. Fortunately, the New Forest is only slightly hilly.
It is full of wild horses! These are not like the wild Mustangs of Nevada, but are sort of fat, large ponies that mill around and eat, but they very nice looking and unafraid of people. This is probably because the term ‘national park’ in Britain means an area where you are allowed to build houses and have farms and it not actually a park as I know the term. Although the new forest does have little pockets of land that have trees on them.
We were staying in kind of an odd cabin. Upon arrival, it became clear that the ‘kitchen’ was a bit of an optical illusion. It had lots of kitchen cabinets and a cutting board and a tea kettle and a surprisingly large supply of wooden spoons, but was missing some details like a sink or any kind of cooker. It turned out that a microwave and a tiny oven were located in an outdoor shed that had a combination lock and no lighting. Which is how I came to be standing outside a shed in the pouring rain checking if a ready meal was done. I very strongly suspect that the cabin was registered with the local authority as a shed or something. As there was no kitchen, then it obviously isn’t meant for human habitation, right?
After returning from the fun but slightly shambolic holiday, it was time to prepare for Thanksgiving. One of the advantages of being abroad is that all the shops are open as normal, so its completely reasonable to stroll into a shop Thanksgiving morning (or even evening) and get what you need. My menu this year was:

  • boiled brussel sprouts
  • sweet potatoes
  • garlic mashed potatoes
  • nutloaf
  • roast carrots and spuds
  • american-style stuffing
  • mushroom gravy

My mother in law got very enthusiastic about everything and contacted her American friends for some recipes and so turned up with a wild ride with sausages, a green bean casserole and cranberry sorbet. She had a bit of a comical adventure trying to find ingredients, not realising that ‘frozen orange juice’ meant concentrated. Also, she read that an American cup measure was half a pint, and so was using British pint, which is significantly larger. I’ve never seen so much cranberry in my life.
My wife also made some lovely pumpkin bread and my friend Irene brought rice pudding. I made a pumpkin pie, which went terribly wrong and will not be mentioned again.
Around 12 people came over and fortunately, I made enough food that nobody left hungry. It was a lovely evening, at the end of which, I was too tired to move.
Now that this little break is over, when my hangover wears off, I will quickly be back hard at work at making noise commissions. I brought my recorder to the New Forest, but I learned that English forests are extremely quiet in November. The horses made some nice sounds, but my dog was acting strange and untrustworthy around them, so I didn’t get any recordings. Indeed, I was so exhausted from pedalling such a heavy bicycle that I barely took any pictures.
In my home country, this weekend has been taken over by a million holiday sales in shops and finally with ‘Cyber Monday’ which is the big day for online sales. All of it filled with desperate searching for the perfect gift for friends and family.
My dad is really hard to shop for. He doesn’t want much and what he does want, he just buys for himself. However, he is interested in arts and culture. A few years ago he had season tickets to the San Francisco Symphony and even managed to get me an introduction to the conductor!
For people like my dad, noise music commissions make fantastic gifts. The physical CD from the commission can be wrapped up for under the tree or other exchange. It’s something unexpected, with cultural capital and his name attached as the honouree of the actual piece of music. It’s a great conversation piece. The music is short, so he can store it on his phone and play it for his Square Dancing buddies before the dance starts.
Do you have somebody like my dad in your family, who is hard to shop for, but loves a good conversational started and has an interest in arts or music? This would make a thoughtful gift – something they’ll mention for years afterwards. Get a commission today and the CD will arrive in time for Christmas or Hanukkah. The price goes up after Cyber Monday so get it now!

Thanksgiving in England

Happy Thanksgiving from a land where they’ve barely heard of the Holiday!

I was feeling really crap about it this morning. Every place I’ve lived previously, I’ve had a few Americans around in my social group and so I’ve always had a small gathering for Thanksgiving. This year, though, I haven’t been actively seeking out expats in years past. Natively speaking the local language makes it much less urgent and I just haven’t bothered. But no close American friends seemed to mean no Thanksgiving.

However, Paula, who is British, remembered that it was a holiday for me. She lived in Tehran for years, so, although she doesn’t know anything about Thanksgiving, she knows what it’s like to live someplace where Christmas isn’t celebrated, so she told me to come over.

We went to the local grocery sore and got some food items. There is no tofurkey in this country (something to be thankful for), so we found an acceptable local substitute. We had fake turkey escalopes, mashed parsnips, string beans, stuffing, gravy and pumpkin pie.

In the finest tradition of Thanksgiving, we set the stuffing on fire. Ok, my grandma used to burn the rolls, but it’s similar. A pan was blindly jammed into the oven, causing the stuffing to fall off the back of the rack and directly into the fire. We ate it anyway. It was a bit . . . dry.

There was also pumpkin pie, which I explained was traditional. Paula said that she had pie tins, and I had a baked pumpkin at the ready. Her pie tin was square. One makes do when one is overseas. Adapts to local customs and the like. Also, there’s a terrible math joke this in that sometimes pi r square.

Square Pie
Paula was similarly gobsmacked that one would put pumpkin in a pudding, which is the British term for dessert. Then we watched some episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I feel much better now than I did a few hours ago.

My Mother’s Last Pie

When I arrived, it was sitting on the counter. I hadn’t fully expected to see it, a part of me thinking that it couldn’t be real. But there it was, looking more or less like I remembered. Maybe the color of the crust had changed, but it just looked so typical. Like any other of my mother’s pies.

I looked at the knife holes in the crust, searching for special meanings, but there were none. They looked hasty, as if the pie had been assembled as part of a larger process and not prepared specifically for this occasion. Indeed, it had been one of many pies that she’d made that day and frozen unbaked.
Like all her best pies, it was apricot. The baked syrup had bubbled out the slits in the top and around the sides, as normal. It was a little bit browner than usual. My sister-in-law apologized for leaving it in the oven too long.
I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe we were going to eat it. I couldn’t believe the general lightness of mood. I tried, gently, to broach the topic with my brother who seemed puzzled by my point of view. I tried a different track, “This pie should be enrolled in the first grade.”
He laughed, “It’s not that old!”
“Actually it is. We found a label on it that said ‘2001’” said his wife.
“It would have to be.” I concurred. “Mom died in 2002 and didn’t have a chance to make any pies that year.”
My brother shrugged it off and turned his attention to the thanksgiving turkey. I tried to ignore the pie, sitting there. Eventually, it got moved to the top of the refrigerator in order to clear up counter space. It almost slipped from my mind. Except that it didn’t slip from my mind at all.
I had plans to spend the night at a friend’s house. She arrived at my brother’s house in time for dessert and with an entourage. Encouraged by her presence, I again tried to cast doubt on the advisability of eating a six year old pie. “What if the power went out or something while it was frozen?”
My dad explained that he had given the last three pies to my brother over 2 years ago. My brother said, “the first thing I did was bake one of them and eat it. It was delicious.” He saved the second one for last thanksgiving and the third one for this year. It was the last pie made by mother that anyone would ever eat.
As to a power failure, he’d had one for three days. After the first 45 minutes, he’d rushed the pie over to his neighbor’s (still working) freezer for safe-keeping. The pie was still frozen solid at the time and, he argued, unharmed.
My friend was a biologist. Normally when I see her consume something, I feel like it’s risk levels are acceptably low. So when dessert was served and she took a bite of the pie, I felt like maybe I could too. Still, I spent a long time thinking about it, voicing my objections. My brother assured me that he was just as happy to eat my share and I didn’t need to.
This pie would surely kill us all.
How could they not see that eating this pie, made by mother those six years ago, before any of knew she had cancer, when she seemed well, how could it not kill us to eat it? But they ate and didn’t die immediately, so I asked for a slice.
I stared at the tiny sliver on my plate for a long time. It was a different color than I remembered her pies. The fruit had browned slightly with age. I took a tiny bite. I chewed slowly. And then another bite.
Did it’s age change it’s taste? The texture was different. It was more like a pie made with jam than with whole slices of fruit. But the taste, I don’t know. I can’t think of it now. I couldn’t think of it between swallowing one bite and putting the next in my mouth. Now, I don’t know if I could even remember the taste of her pies when they were new: fruit picked and baked on the same day.
Instead with every bite, the undeniable truth – that this pie would certainly kill us in horrible ways – got harder to ignore. This was a mausoleum pie. Not a pie for the living.
I took three or four bites in total and then looked sadly at my plate. It was my last ever chance to eat my mother’s pie. Her apricot pie. Her specialty. Something she excelled at. Made with love. I would never again have the opportunity to eat such a thing and I couldn’t do it. I felt like an important moment had come and I wasn’t up to the task. I felt like crying. I worried I would forever remember the terrible moment of having to choose between total panic and rejecting the pie. My sister in law informed me kindly that it wasn’t a big deal. Nobody thought it was a big deal. Not my dad who provided the pie. Not my brother who saved the pie. Not my sister in law who baked the pie. Not the friend of my mom who arrived in time for dessert. Nobody.
Except for me.
I knew my truth of death-dealing pie was irrational, but there was no visible middle ground between joyous object and horrifying object. No room to grieve for the pie or for myself.
I’d also brought a pie. In case we decided not to eat the other one. It was a sweet potato pie. I took it with me when I left. My brother hoped I would leave it, but his wife told me not to, fondly patting his stomach. One left over pie for him to eat was enough.

Happy Thanksgiving

Every 4th Thursday in November is the American holiday of Thanksgiving. It is basically a harvest festival where people gather together with family and friends to stuff themselves with food and feel grateful for things that are going well in their lives. Traditionally, people eat turkey and other autumn foods like cranberries and pumpkins. It became a federal holiday in 1941. There’s a cultural idea that this festival dates back to early colonial times. It’s true there was a feast of thanksgiving back with the Pilgrims, but it was in honor of a military victory and not repeated the next year. There would be similar festivities to celebrate other victories and these were held at any time of year. The had mostly fallen out of favor by the mid 1880’s, until Lincoln declared two of them in honor of Civil War victories.

Some folks who I’ve talked to described hearing this like learning there was no Santa Claus. Sorry. Personally, I like the idea of having a harvest festival and having a national holiday that is secular and non-statist-patriotic. It’s a cultural disaster that we’ve established this connection to that particular feast with the Pilgrims. It’s as if Germany established a holiday and said it commemorated their successful invasion of Poland. So I’d like to reject the Genocide Day aspect tacked on to what ought to be just be a harvest feast.
One of the traditions associated with the holiday is making a list of things that they are thankful for. I’m thankful that I get to see my family today, since it’s unexpected for me. Also, that I have the resources to deal with my immigration problems and will (eventually) be able to return to my school. I’m thankful that I had a useful telephone conversation with the foreign student office. I’m thankful that I will soon be getting one last needed document in the mail. I’m thankful for their advice. I’m thankful that stupid “anti-terrorist” restrictions on who can learn about what kind of technology in the UK won’t apply to me. Indeed, I’m grateful to have the opportunity to laugh at the idea of a Silicon Valley native sneaking overseas to get access to sekrit British technology. I mean, not that they don’t have any. At one time, they had a total monopoly on the secret of excellent musket design. It’s just that, well, the silicon wafer computer chip was invented in my neighborhood, so to speak. The ipod was invented in my home town. (My dad worked on the nano.) Alarmingly, as the US now spends very little money on R&D, it may be the case that Brits do have some advanced technology not available here. Um, but we invented MySpace. Anyway, I’m getting off topic.
As soon as my admission letter and proof of lodging come in the mail, I forward them off to my visa service who goes and stands in line at the British consulate in LA and then I should be able to travel very shortly afterwards. I want to believe it will be like a week longer, but that’s overly optimistic. I need to get plane tickets (it turns out that same day sales are rather pricey (my credit card bill is for $1500)) but I don’t want to do it until I have a better idea of when exactly and at the same time, I need to be concerned about financial details. Maybe I can fly standby. So, yeah, I’m thankful that it’s all going to work out, hopefully soon.
Sometimes people say “Happy T-day” where the T stands for both Thanksgiving and turkey. However, I’m a vegetarian. My friend Sarah sent me a poem in honor of this:

The turkey bird,
it cannot fly.
I’d rather have
a piece of pie.