The Experimental Memoir - Day 25 Thanksgiving, part 2

I don’t have a lot of recollections of Thanksgiving meals when I first moved to Connecticut. I can vaguely imagine what they were like, sitting at the large table in the dining room of the old house in Stamford. They most likely were the standard faire; turkey, potatoes, corn, green beans, and carrots. Other parts of the activities around Thanksgiving are easier to remember.

Stamford started having an annual pre-Thanksgiving day parade while we lived in Stamford, and we would go down to it. It was on Sundays and we would go down right after church. There are several major north south roads heading down from North Stamford into Stamford. However, they would get really congested as you got closer to the parade. We would typically take back roads in North Stamford to head east before heading south. We could then find parking to the East of the parade, and not a far walk from it. Often we would watch the parade on Atlantic, Bedford of Summer Streets. It was often cold and we would bundle up. There would be the street vendors and many times, we would see friends, especially the girls classmates and their families.

A few weeks later, we would head downtown again to see Santa Claus repel down the side of one of the buildings in the downtown district. The trip down and the parking, the crowds, venders and friends were often the same.

One year, we were invited down to a party on West Seventy Seventh Street in Manhattan the night before Thanksgiving. A coworker’s parents lived in a nice apartment overlooking the American Museum of Natural History and the streets where all the balloons were inflated. On our way to the party, I showed Kim and the girls where I had lived when Mairead was born. It was just around the corner at West Seventy Eighth Street. We looked at various stores that had been my stomping ground before trying to get to the party. The street was blocked off, and we had to speak with a police officer about the details of the party we were going to. It was crowded but uneventful.

When Kim and I met, she was living in Guilford, and I learned about Gozzi’s Turkey Farm. I’ve always been predisposed to buying from local vendors whenever possible, so it was great to find a local turkey farm. To make things all the more enjoyable, every year at Thanksgiving, they color several of the turkeys bright florescent colors, pink, green, blue, orange, yellow, and probably a few other colors. It has always been great fun to go pick up the Thanksgiving turkey and look at the ones who had been spared to become part of a colorful display.

We’ve also sought to purchase Connecticut raised ducks and geese, but that’s always been a challenge. One year, we found a farm claiming to sell Connecticut geese, but when we got the goose, the package said it was from Pennsylvania. Another time, we got a goose but it had been poorly butchered. None of the giblets were in the goose and it was a very lean goose. Some people might like their goose this way, but an important part of our tradition has been to make a pate out of the liver, and to rend the fat for cooking. Connecticut has recently passed new laws to make it easier for people to get produce straight from the farms, so hopefully, this will result in better options for geese and ducks going forward.

As a side note, I read a tweet the other day from a Minnesota politician talking about how Minnesota provides more turkeys to the United States than any other state. I assume she was talking about Thanksgiving Dinners, and not about some of her fellow Minnesotan politicians. That works out to be a trip of about 1500 miles. This doesn’t seem especially efficient.

This carries over to other forms of shopping. We buy Christmas trees raised on local Connecticut farms. We gather up the whole family to traipse out to the farm, hike up and down the hills in search of the perfect Christmas Tree. When the oldest girls were young, I would read them “The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree” about a family in Appalachia during World War I. The father was off at war and the mother and daughter headed off into the mountains to pick the perfect Christmas Tree. It was a balsam fir, known for their fragrance.

So, every year, we head out to find our own perfect Christmas Tree. We try to get a Balsam fir, or if not, a fir fairly similar. Years later, Kim noted how I often seem to get sick around the holidays; congestion, runny nose. She suggested that perhaps it is an allergy to the Christmas Tree. I suspect this is the case, but having an aromatic tree, even if it causes me a little suffering, is worth it, so I just stock up on decongestants before getting the tree.

Our pumpkin gathering is, likewise, a holiday family tradition, including a hayride, and sometimes, when there is enough time and money, getting lost in a corn maze. This is followed by a stop to the cider mill for fresh hot spiced cider and cider donuts.

During the warmer months, schedules permitting, we also try to pick various fruits and berries at pick your own farms in Connecticut. Fiona and I usually go out and pick fresh strawberries. The farm fresh strawberries and sweeter and tastier than anything you’ll find in most stores, however, even these don’t compare with the fresh wild strawberries I used to find in the woods near the house I grew up in. We’ve also made trips to go blueberry and raspberry picking. Like the strawberries, these are particularly good, but not the same as the berries from my youth.

For raspberries, we had a neighbor who had a small cultivated raspberry patch. We would go pick raspberries there. From blueberries, we would hike up onto Mount Greylock to various areas where wild blueberries grew in abundance and pick as many as we could. I don’t remember reading the book, Blueberries for Sal when I was young, but when I read it to my children, it brought back memories of picking berries up on Mount Greylock as a kid.

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The Experimental Memoir - Day 24 Thanksgiving, part 1

I believe I was seven years old when our family got its first television. It was Christmas and their was this big thing on a table next to the Christmas tree. It had a dark brownish green piece of glass in the front, some knobs on the upper right hand section of the front of it and was made of some sort of beige plastic. My siblings and I gathered around in wonder and amazement. I didn’t know what it was, but my older brothers did. They turned it on, spun the dial and eventually a snowy staticy image appeared. It was a drawing of a dog flying, out of the speaker, came the words, “Here I come to save the day…” I didn’t know what that meant, but my older brothers, whom I guess had seen televisions before at friends’ houses and probably had even seen the show, Underdog, knew that underdog was on the way.

My father didn’t have much use for television, and at best we would watch, “The FBI” or “The Wonderful World of Disney” as a family. More often, he would berate us for watching Gilligan’s Island, or Bewitched. There would be exceptions, such when The Wizard of Oz was on, or certain holiday specials. Although, it was many years before I learned that The Wizard of Oz wasn’t all in black and white.

We seemed to get a pass when Charlie Brown was on, and watching the Thanksgiving Day Parades was an acceptable activity.

We only got three channels back then, and ABC, NBC and CBS affiliate. We would gather around the television in the living room and watch as giant balloons were guided down the avenues of New York City. We would watch the bands. As a young kid, this spectacle was as remote as Oz, and also in black and white.

While we watched the parade, the turkey would be baking in the oven. This was in a day before self-basting turkeys and little plastic things that would pop up indicating that the turkey was done. To baste the turkey, my mother would cover it with strips of bacon. As the turkey cooked, the bacon cooked and the grease trickled down into the turkey meat, providing us with a moist, and nicely flavored turkey.

As the turkey cooked and our hunger grew, we would eat special food for the season, grapes, nuts, and celery stuffed with peanut butter and with cream cheese. Being a New England home, we grew up with all the rituals of Thanksgiving, stories of the pilgrims, five kernels of corn, and decorations made by kids in elementary school.

When I was older and went off to college, even though my parents and separated and my older siblings had headed out on their own, I always made it home for Thanksgiving. I went to college in Ohio and it was a long trip home. I would be tired, but the remnant of the family would celebrate Thanksgiving together. We too often forget that thanksgiving grew out of giving thanks more for making it through difficult times than for the abundance that followed.

After college, I moved to New York City, that black and white land of an Oz like Thanksgiving Day parade. Perhaps because the real parade could not recreate the magic of the small black and white image from my childhood, perhaps because I didn’t relish fighting the crowds, or more likely because I would head up to New England for Thanksgiving, I never made it to the parade.

One of my first roommates did. He worked in food service for CBS news and needed to make sure that all the crews covering the parade had sufficient food, coffee, and hot chocolate to make it through the long cold mornings broadcasting the parade. The first year I lived with him and a few other guys in an old spice factory in Brooklyn that had been partially converted into artists’ lofts, I stayed in the city and we had our own Thanksgiving dinner. I cooked the turkey similar to the way my mother had, with the exception that I didn’t know where to find the giblets. I had taken everything that had been put in the stomach cavity and stuffed the bird with a bread dressing. However, I didn’t know about the other place to look for the giblets, and they cooked in a plastic bag in the end of the turkey.

Later, when I moved to the Upper West Side, I would head over to the Museum of Natural History to watch the giant balloons being blown up. This had more of a magical feeling, in a Fellini-esque sort of way.

Still, I liked heading up to New England. My mother lives near a ski slope, so I would go up, spend the day skiing and then come home with a large appetite for Thanksgiving dinner.

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The Experimental Memoir Day 23

(Note: For those who are not regular readers, this is a National Novel Writing Month related entry)

It is early in the evening before Thanksgiving. Last night, the cat jumped up on the bed in the middle of the night and spent an extended period trying to get comfortable. As a result, I did not sleep well and again am very tired. I struggled through work.

Tuesday was another day that I struggled through work, but on that day, for a different reason. As I’ve gotten older my medical conditions have increased. It has been going on twenty years that I’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure. My blood pressure had always been a bit high, as it has been, I believe, for various members of my family. One year, however, it was high enough for the doctor to recommend that I start taking medications for my blood pressure.

Simply the idea of having to start taking medications for blood pressure, which I would probably have to do for the rest of my life, was depressing. It was the first sign of frailty and coming old age, even though I was still fairly young. To make things worse, when I started taking the medication, I developed a persistent cough. I started sucking on cough drops all the time and I believe this annoyed my wife of the time as well, particularly when we went to events like the theatre or symphony.

Eventually, we found a combination of blood pressure medications that worked well, but over the years we’ve had to try different combinations. With the medications, there came a need to track my liver enzymes, and from time to time, they would be elevated.

I was sent for an ultrasound a couple times. The first time, they didn’t find anything, but the second time, they technicians appeared more concerned. Someone else was brought into the room who looked at the images, and I was told that I had a simple kidney cyst. I was told that they are not uncommon, are typically only discovered during an ultrasound and rarely were anything to be concerned about.

Over time, other conditions have developed. One year, while preparing shrimp for Kim on Mother’s Day, by hands swelled up and started breaking out. We figured it was some sort of allergic reaction, perhaps to the shrimp. So, when I had my next physical, I told the doctor. She ran some blood tests which showed indications of several allergies. I went to an allergist and was run through a battery of different allergy tests. I was, in fact, allergic to shrimp. I was also allergic to lobster and crab. I was not allergic to clams, other bivalves or fish. I was also allergic to dust, and had various allergies to pollen.

I remember as a kid always getting runny noses when playing out in the fields, so the hay fever was not a surprise, but the shrimp, lobster and crab allergies was a disappointing surprise. I had always eaten as much shrimp, lobster and crabs as I could get my hands on.

My allergy isn’t that bad. I don’t need an epi pen. In fact, I’ve eaten shrimp and crab by mistake at times without any serious consequences. I remember once, I went to a Thai restaurant. I had some sweet and sour soup to start with. I found my mouth feeling a little numb and tingly, which I attributed to the spices. However, when I got to the bottom of the bowl of soup, there was a nice big shrimp sitting in the bottom. I didn’t eat the shrimp, and continued my meal without any other incidents.

Another time, we were on Cape Cod, and I had some stuffed flounder. It was very good, but it turned out that the stuffing was made with crab. Again, there was no noticeable reaction. I’ve also eaten at Hibachi restaurants where the meal where everything was prepared on the same large grill. Eating hibachi from a grill that has been used to prepare shrimp created no ill effects.

Another condition that seems to be hereditary is high cholesterol. Eventually, I was put on medication for this. Since then, I’ve taken to eating oatmeal much more often, and sometimes, when I remember, taking fish oil capsules. Since then, my blood pressure has continued to inch upward, but my cholesterol seems to be doing pretty well.

Nonetheless, with all these pills, it is important for me to have blood tests every now and then. Some of these blood tests need to be done when you have been fasting, so, since I had had oatmeal for breakfast before my doctor’s appointment, I couldn’t have my blood test the day of the appointment.

The doctor wrote up an order for me to get my blood tested at the lab at her office. However, that would require me to come into work late another day. Since I work for a health clinic, I asked to see if I could get my lab work down with the lab the clinic uses. In fact, that worked out better. The doctor could send the request electronically and get the results electronically.

So, on Tuesday, I skipped my morning oatmeal and headed into work. As if often the case, it was a chaotic morning, and I didn’t get a chance to head over to the lab to get my blood drawn until later in the morning. However, I wanted to get it done as quickly as possible so I could break my fast with some yoghurt and fruit I had brought to the office.

I went to the lab, and the phlebotomist said that she could see me right away. She went on the computer and got the lab request that my doctor had submitted and printed it out, along with the bar coded labels for the tubes of blood she would draw. She was a congenial woman and we chatted about various things.

I’ve never been great with needles, and always flinch when I get shots or have blood drawn. When I was a kid, my father would also give blood at the local blood drives. When I went off to college, I resolved to do the same thing. However, I skipped my senior year of high school and started college when I was seventeen. Because of this, they wouldn’t accept my blood the first time I tried to donate, unless a parent came along and gave permission. My parents were hundreds of miles away, so I didn’t start giving blood until my sophomore year of college.

I would explain to the blood drive workers my strong dislike of needles and my hope to get over it by giving blood at blood drives. I gave blood in college. I gave blood when I was home on summer vacation. When I moved to New York, I gave blood at various places I worked. After a few years, however, AIDS came onto the scene. The screening was a lot more rigorous and it just made the time it took to give blood take longer. Friends of mine who were gay were told they couldn’t give blood and the whole experience started to sour for me, so I drifted away from giving blood.

Now, I give a few vials of blood when I need to, to check my cholesterol, liver enzymes, and anything else that might need testing.

The blood was quickly drawn, with a minimum of discomfort and I headed back to my office.

Another reason that I wanted to use the lab that I did was that it is possible to get your results back online. I’m very interested in personal and electronic health records and I hope to be able to get the test results online. Some of the results, like my cholesterol are numbers that I have a good sense at the acceptable levels. Other numbers, I’ll have no idea what they really mean. For them, I expect the doctor will simply say that they’re in an acceptable range.

However, other times that I’ve been to the doctor, I’ve been told what my cholesterol levels were, but I typically forget them on the way home, except for the general range. I would be nice to be able to look them up at any point, as well as to track them year to year.

The system that the lab uses requires the doctor to give a pin to the patient that can be used to verify that the doctor has given permission to the patient to see the data. I can understand the reasons doctors might want that. However, I believe the government just put into effect a ruling that patients should be able to get to the data without requiring the doctors permission. I may try to find that ruling and contact the lab and ask them to permission my account, even without the doctor’s permission.

This is for a few reasons. One, I like to stir things up a little bit. Two, I would like to encourage the lab to get with the new Federal ruling. Three, while I don’t imagine my doctor would have any objection issuing a pin to me to access the data, it is just one more thing that the doctor’s shouldn’t have to be dealing with. Their time is busy enough already without needing more medical bureaucracy.

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The Experimental Memoir Day 21

Small things can really put you out of sorts at times and the past few days have been one of those times. On Friday evening, we went to the Connecticut Citizens Action Group fortieth anniversary fundraiser. Since I had been gone for much of the week and was tired and way behind on many things, like email and writing, it was unclear if I would try to stop by.

However, Kim and Fiona were going to be there, and it was on the way home, so I figured I’d stop in. I was undecided about how long I would stay. When I arrived, I was quickly put to work. First, I stuffed leaflets into the programs that guests would receive. Then, I spent some time arranging posters about the last forty years. Kim sat down to check people in and I started talking with various guests. Many were long time friends, whom it was great to see.

There were a couple tables set up with little cubes of cheese, Swiss, cheddar, and some sort of jalapeno cheese. Often these cheese cubes are not all that tasty, and I often go for the jalapeno cheese since it has a little more flavor. At other events, there is sometimes a cheese made with port that is better than the average conference center cheese.

Another table had the standard vegetables. Long sticks of carrot, celery and sliced green peppers. There was a large bowl of ranch dressing for the vegetables. Later, people circulated platters of pigs in a blanket and mushroom caps stuffed with sausage. The pigs in a blanket were pretty good, but the mushroom caps stuffed with sausage were fairly bland. At times, I loaded up little cocktail plates of assorted snacks to take to Kim where she was checking people in.

Later, they set up platters of cookies. Again, these were fairly generic chocolate chip cookies, the type you’d find at many events like this. I ate a cookie or two, and then I noticed something hard amidst the crumbs in my mouth. At first, I thought that perhaps it was a nutshell. I fished the offending object from my mouth and found it was part of a tooth. One of my lower molars had come apart.

A similar thing had happened to me a few years prior when we were camping on Cape Cod. We had been making smores. I bit into a soft piece of graham cracker with a piece of chocolate on top and a melted marshmallow. In that case, the tooth seemed to break apart more spectacularly and it felt like my mouth had been filled with tiny pieces of gravel.

When I was a kid, I had cavities in various teeth. The dentist did a good job of filling these cavities and now over forty years later, it may simply be that the fillings or the teeth around them are simply wearing out.

After the tooth collapse on Cape Cod, a dentist in town cleaned out the old filling and put in a new filling. There was enough tooth left so that I didn’t need a crown or bridge, or whatever other dental procedures they sometimes do. I am hoping to be as lucky this time.

When I arrived at home, I tweeted, “Home. Tired. Broken Tooth.” Many people asked me what had happened or sympathized with my condition. I provided a little more detail in follow up tweets.

The broken tooth has not been particularly painful. I don’t have any sort of throbbing or consistent pain like often accompanies problems with teeth. The area around the tooth is a little sore, as is the side of my tongue, but I believe all of this is because of the rough edges of the broken tooth.

When there is something different, something out of the ordinary going on in my mouth, I find my tongue exploring it, and this broken tooth is no different. This probably also contributes to my oral discomfort. However, it isn’t really all that annoying.

Nonetheless, all of this keeps me a little on edge, and I find myself feeling generally achy and irritable.

Perhaps it is because of this that I am sensing a general malaise amongst the people I speak with. Everyone seems to have something to complain about, and on the grander scale, politics in California after the pepper spray incident at UC Davis, as well as politics in Washington after the supercommittee threw in the towel seem to indicate a greater national malaise.

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Occupy the High Moral Ground, The Experimental Memoir, Day 20

It is Sunday evening, and I’m sitting down to write another installment of my Experimental Memoir. This is part of National Novel Writing Month where people try to write a whole novel of fifty thousand words in a month. I’ve been submitting long blog posts reflecting on the month as a sort of stream of consciousness homage to Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and others. I mention this for the benefit for people jumping into the middle of this stream.

On Thursday, Fiona and Kim went to the Occupy Hartford protest. Fiona spoke with police officers who supported the movement and who understood their role in protecting everyone, and not just a few. She learned about civil disobedience and the importance of standing up against injustice and inequality.

Fiona is part of a multi-aged group in her school. There are about seventy-five students in four grades and they do various things together as a large group and other activities with students their own age. On Fridays they have a ‘meeting’ with all the students to discuss the issues of the week and to share what is going on. Fiona described her experiences at the demonstration.

At ten years of age, Fiona already has quite a political background. She appeared with Governor Dean when he was running for President when she was just two years old. She handed out palm cards for Kim the following year when Kim was running for State Representative, urging people heading into the polling location to “Vote for Mommy”.

When she was six, I started doing an internet based radio show with her just about every week. Together, we’ve talked about the events of the week. We’ve had some great guests on the show including Howard Dean, Dannell Malloy, Denise Merrill, Kevin Lembo, Rosa DeLauro and several State Representatives. This evening, she spoke about her experiences at the demonstration and about talking about it with her classmates.

We also spoke a little bit about what has happened at University of California at Davis. She has seen some of the videos and generally knows what happened.

On Friday evening, Kim, Fiona and I attended the Connecticut Citizens Action Group fortieth anniversary gala. Fiona saw various long time friends and people who had been guests on her radio show. Yet perhaps the most interesting discussion was with an experienced activist who asked me if I thought we were at the beginning of a movement. I didn’t hesitate to say that I believe so.

I spoke about my experience at the first Occupy Hartford meetings. One of the people stood up and said he was from Tunisia and was greeted by a large round of applause. Yes, the occupy movement is part of something much bigger which is tied to Tunisia and Egypt and beyond. My friend remained unconvinced at spoke about the difficulties occurring in Egypt right now.

It is important to differentiate between a movement and short term political successes or setbacks. Yes, I believe the occupy movement is part of a larger movement which includes Tunisia, and Egypt as well as other places like Libya, Syria, and perhaps even Iran. I don’t believe this is a small short term change will have a minor effect on the 2012 U.S. elections and then fade away. No, there’s something else going on here, and it has to do with a lot more than people setting up tents in various cities.

One thought comes to me from Jeff Jarvis. Jeff is a journalism professor at City University of New York. He is well known for talking about how journalism needs to change in the age of the Internet. He has often spoken about Guttenberg and how that changed the way knowledge and power were distributed. He’s taken that to challenge journalists, and particularly freshly minted journalism school graduates, to think about the parallels between what Guttenberg did to publishing and what the internet is doing to journalism.

Yet recently, he came up with a challenging thought. What if we haven’t even seen the beginning of the changes that the internet is bringing to our world. Perhaps that is another aspect of the occupy movement. Everyone has talked about the role of Twitter and Facebook in the Arab spring.

I think this is an important idea. You can’t tell what a movement is going to look like when it is just beginning. You can have ideas, but it can be a long bumpy road and different themes will emerge over time.

One of the first messages I saw on Twitter about the pepper spraying at UC Davis was about it being an image that would be engrained in everybody’s mind. Over the next couple days, it became clearer and it appears as if a new narrative is emerging.

James Fallows wrote this article for The Atlantic, The Moral Power of an Image: UC Davis Reactions. He compares the images of the UC Police Officer spraying students with pepper spray to images “of black civil rights protestors being fire-hosed by Bull Connor's policemen in Alabama” and “the Tank Man in Tiananmen Square”. These are powerful images and there are plenty more that come to mind.

As an update, Fallows mentions “The disciplined, contemptuous dead silence of the protestors through whom UC Davis chancellor Linda Katehi walks en route to her car…[as] another astonishingly powerful demonstration of moral imagery”.

Yet, as interesting as it is to talk about the imagery, there is another word that resonates through Fallows article, “morality”.

One early tweet about UC Davis compared the event to the Stanford Experiments surrounded by hundreds of handheld cameras. The tweet didn’t mention the moral issues, but it was clearly implied.

Over in Psychology Today, Michael Chorost wrote, The turning point: The moral example of UC Davis students, and Occupy Wall Street He starts off saying, “This event is powerfully symbolic. It is about contempt from those in power and the wanton use of force against the powerless.”

He goes on to say,

If I had to sum up the attitude of America's governing classes in one word, I would say: contempt.
We are seeing the beginning of a worldwide movement to fight for dignity and intelligent, collective governance.

He ends his article with, “I think we have just reached a turning point.”

Last month, I wrote a blog post entitled Occupy New England. In it, I wrote,

Yet our country has a tendency to forget its roots. Too many leaders sacrifice a love of their neighbors for a love of money. At times, we return to our ideals with ‘Great Awakenings’, returning to the underlying moral beliefs, not about who can marry whom, but about how we should care for one another.

All of these thoughts ran through my mind as I occupied my space in a pew in a small New England church. Perhaps, the occupy movement is part of a call to return to the underlying morality, a compassion for our neighbors, that I believe our country was built on.

My interest in Great Awakenings is nothing new. Back in the summer of 2010, I wrote in a different blog post about a visit to a friend’s church,

A key interest for me is telling our stories online. I’ve been interested in the history of revivalism in America. The Great Awakenings have led not only to great religious revivals, but also to major political and social changes. Will the twenty first century bring us a Great Digital Awakening? What might that look like?

So, for the month of November, I’ve been telling my story, in great detail, online. I continue to listen to the stories around me, especially stories about the Occupy movement and moral ground. Perhaps the occupy movement is really part of something much, much greater. Initially, I had written about it in terms of renegotiating the social contract. Perhaps it is also about recalibrating the moral compass.

At church today, the lesson was from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter twenty-five. When I came home, I took a line from the Gospel and added it to one of the pictures of the students being pepper sprayed by the police officer. I added a line about praying for the police officer, the chief of police and the chancellor.

Yes, it is time to recalibrate our moral compasses and take the moral high ground.

UC Davis, Matt 25:40

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