What Thanksgiving Gave

Cranberry Sauce

Annette and Will and I had a Thanksgiving of just the three of us and at home for the first time in…. heck, I think the first time ever.  There was one year quite a while ago where I recall Annette’s parents coming to visit us, but otherwise, it has been a 10-12 hour drive to Iowa to see my family or a 12-14 drive to see Annette’s family in South Carolina.  That’s a lot of time to spend in a car in the span of four or five days under any circumstances, but since Thanksgiving comes at what is often the worst possible crunch point of the semester, it is even worse.  Not to mention all the other drivers, the often dicey weather, etc.

Anyway, for circumstances I won’t go into (mainly because they aren’t that interesting or dramatic), what would have been a Krause get-together this year was changed to a New Year’s Christmas, and we were able to spend the time at home.  And I gotta say:  I love my family– both my side and Annette’s side– dearly, but the luxury of having a (relatively) small Thanksgiving at home was excellent. Among other things, I worked on an overdue movie project, I graded lots of things (almost done with that), we did almost all the laundry in the house, we cleaned, ran errands, winterized the backyard a bit more, and slept in.  We watched a lot of different movies, from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles to a couple of 1940s Tarzan flicks to Doctor Who, we had a lovely dinner with friends tonight, we watched football (dang Lions, dang Hawkeyes), we worked out at the gym.

And, of course, we ate and cooked.  I can’t remember the last time I cooked a turkey– probably the last time that we had Thanksgiving at home years ago.

Turkey Turkey Turkey

It turned out okay.  My timing was off, so I think I ended up overcooking it a bit, and while I did a brine for about 36 or so hours, I’m not convinced that on this size of bird it was actually worth it.  And I’m not all that crazy about turkey anyway.  Maybe next year, if we’re home again like this (I hope we’re home again like this), I’ll make a Thanksgiving chicken, or maybe Thanksgiving lasagna.

I also attempted a fancy version of green bean casserole by using a really excellent homemade mushroom soup (a Thomas Keller recipe), adding cream to that, and then adding fresh green beans and topping it all with homemade fried onions.  That was a fail, I’m afraid.  The lesson learned here is sometimes the simple things are best, like the humble version with cream of mushroom soup, frozen green beans, and canned fried onions.  Like canned cranberries.

Notes on Grown-Up Camp and the End of Summer (more or less)

We have returned from just shy of a week at “The Inn” at “The Homestead,” which is up in Glen Arbor, Michigan.  Here’s a link to a Flickr set of pictures.  Some thoughts more or less as they occurred on the trip/occur in the photos:

  • We stayed at The Homestead, where Annette made a reservation back in May or June in a fit of “Argh! I need a vacation!” It is a huge property of condos, cottages, time-shares, private homes, and a couple small hotels which is part real estate scheme/part resort, a place where many things are named with a pretentious “The” (e.g., “The Homestead,” which includes a few shops and such in “The Village,” an area of rentals called “The Cottages,” and the small hotel where we stayed called “The Inn.”) I was sort of prepared to not like it because it’s too expensive and a lot of the reviews online are mixed at best.  But just about anyplace in this area of northern Michigan “in season” is too expensive, and since we wanted a comfy room with Internet access and close proximity to the beach (maybe 200 yards away from one of the best in Michigan) and a pool, this worked out great.  We had a room with a gas fireplace, a nice sitting area, plenty roomy, and it also included a great patio.  It was quirky though– for example, none of the doors quite opened or closed right.
  • This was designed to be a “vacation,” as opposed to a “trip” like the one we took to California and Oregon in June.  Will was away at Camp Lookout just down the road, so the idea was to mostly do nothing– sleeping in, hanging around the beach and the pool and the patio, reading, going out for nice dinners and drinking cocktails.  You know, camp for grown-ups.
  • We did go on a hike that was about seven miles long one day along the Bay View trail.  It was quite nice because it was beautiful views and because it gave us a chance to try out our new picnic/wine backpack (we bought at “the store” or whatever it was called at The Homestead– a good deal, too).  But that was the hottest day up there, so not necessarily the best timed trip.
  • That night we met with a friend from our PhD program who teaches up at Northwestern Michigan College, John, and his wife and all-around groovy person, Karen.  We also ended up out there with John’s parents, who were visiting, and some local-yokel friends of theirs too.  Low-key up-north fun:  sit around, drink a little wine or beer, light a fire, and wait for the stars to come out.  And we saw lots of stars, including the Milky Way pretty clearly.  It’s nights like that which make me think that the ancient’s belief that the sky was a roof high above the earth was logical under the circumstances.
  • But there was work on this trip.  For starters, I was (and am!) still teaching two classes online and Annette, despite her best efforts, just couldn’t stay completely away.  We had ethernet connectivity in the room, but no wifi (note to self:  next time I go on an extended trip like this, bring one of my Airport Express modems).  But there was wifi in the lobby area, which was probably better because we pretty much had the place to ourselves, room to spread out, and a tremendous view.  Older vacationers would look at us scornfully and mumble how we were “wasting” such a pleasant time.  Younger vacationers asked questions about how they too could get good wifi in this place.
  • We had a couple of hours of “drama” on Thursday when I thought I had lost my keys to the car, the only set of keys we had.  We turned the room upside down, looked through every stitch of clothing, walked on the beach and searched under chairs by the pool.  I had called a lock guy with the theory that I could get to a valet key in the glove box, though we were dreading that key not being there and having to get towed to Traverse City and spending lots of time and hundreds of dollars to get back on the road.  And then I picked up a bluetooth keyboard that was on the desk area, a keyboard that I am certain that both Annette and I had moved in the course of the last two hours, and there they were.  We both gasped as if I had just pulled off the greatest magic trick of the century.
  • We ate well on this trip:  two times at a place at The Homestead called Nonna’s, mainly because it was close, very good, and reasonably priced for this quality of food.  And then the last night we went to a place in Glen Arbor called Blu that was really really good, certainly as good as any really good restaurant I’ve been to just about anywhere.  Don’t tell Will, but that even includes Bouchon.
  • We picked up Will on Friday a little early, and then made a stop at Cherry Republic for him (and us too) before getting back on the road.

And then as soon as I got back to town and was running errands, I sensed the end of summer.  The grocery store had fall plants for sale out front.  A pile of end of the term grading awaits.  Fall term will start soon….

Our midwest casino tour

We were in Cedar Falls, Iowa this past weekend, dropping off Will for a few days to spend with his cousins and grandparents.  So on the return trip, minus our minor and with the dog safely stowed in the kennel, Annette and I did something we never do:  we gambled our way home, stopping at three casinos along I-80 and I-94 in Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan.  Here’s a link to a few gambling picts.

I should point out that neither Annette nor I are exactly “high rollers.”  I’m pretty sure we gambled less than $50 between the two of us, all of it at either video poker machines or slots.  I should also point out, for those of you thinking “casinos?  in the midwest?” that we could have easily stopped at eight or nine different places, maybe more.  Once you start looking, you realize there’s lots of gambling out there.

We started at Jumer’s Casino and Hotel, in Rock Island, Illinois, just across the river from Iowa. This was mostly a breakfast stop for us, a little over two hours from my parent’s house.  I give this place high marks for convenience, with “easy on/easy off” of I-280.  It was all shiny and new, and probably not a bad place to stay on a road-trip– while we were eating breakfast, we saw a lot of people on the way out of the hotel part and back onto the Interstate.  I also give this place high marks because the whole thing was non-smoking.  I could see us stopping here on the trip to and from Iowa again. But the down-side for me was that I screwed up in my betting and managed to lose about $10 on one bet on a quarter poker machine.

Stop number two was at Blue Chip Casino, Hotel, and Spa in Michigan City, Indiana.  While there are lots of gambling options in the midwest, there are some kind of screwy laws on this, and in Indiana (apparently), gambling has to take place on the water.  So what you’ve got with this place is a giant and shiny hotel, theater (upcoming acts include Paul Revere and the Raiders), and a parking deck, right next to the casino, which is actually a giant barge floating in a pond right next to the buildings.  But you’d never know this if you weren’t looking– the connection between the building and the boat is permanently in place, and the boat clearly never leaves.  Where would it go?

Anyway, I give the Blue Chip a definite thumbs down.  Far too off the Interstate to make it worthwhile as a roadtrip stop, and you show me someone who makes a point of going to Michigan City to play slots and I’ll show you someone who has a bit of a “gambling problem.”

We wrapped things up in Michigan at FireKeepers Casino in Battle Creek (btw, sorry for the noises on their web site), where we stopped for a little gamin’ and dinner.  By this point, I think it’s fair to say that I was reminded of something I already knew:  every casino everywhere I have ever been– Vegas, Iowa, Michigan, wherever– pretty much is the same.  They all have that same kinds of blinking lights and things, the same games (with a few very subtle variations), the same hypnotic background noise of jingling machines, the same crazy-patterned carpets, the same smell of cigarette smoke (well, except for Jumer’s) and piped-in air/oxygen/air-freshener.  Annette and I did enjoy the nickel poker machines here though.

So, what did we learn?

  • Midwest gambling is dominated by old people– in some cases, very very old people.  Though to be fair, I am sure all of these places attract a more youthful clientele after 8 pm.
  • Midwest casinos are located in places where people would not otherwise go and/or stop– Rock Island and Michigan City, for example, not to mention a number of parts of Detroit.
  • One trend I noticed was a number of “machines” that were there to replace/replicate table games.  At one of these places (the specifics all blend together), I noticed a computerized version of a three card poker game; at another, it was a roullette game.  In both cases, it was people sitting around a gaming table like they would be if it were being played with real cards and/or a real dealer, but it was all computerized instead.  Sort of like the casino equivalent of those machines where you scan your own groceries.
  • Casinos seem to generally attract rather unhealthy-looking people, some who might even be zombies, cocktail-drinking, smoking, trucker-cap wearing zombies.
  • A closely related observation– midwest casinos seem to attract extremely fat people, the kind of fat where my response, as someone who is himself clearly overweight, is “hey, there’s nothing wrong with me because I’m not that fat.”  This was particularly true in Michigan, where I recall seeing at least two people being wheeled around because they were clearly too fat to propel themselves and where Annette and I witnessed a rather grotesque scene in the restaurant that had us making cruel jokes about Mr. Cresosote requesting a bucket and being offered a “wafer thin mint.”
  • Finally, stopping at the casino on the highway is not the same as Vegas, no matter how hard those Midwestern casinos might try.

Pacific Coast 2010

The last part of our trip was the super-nature-y part, the part which defines terms like “sublime” beauty, the southern Oregon/northern California coast. When we lived in Ashland, we made a couple of trips to the coast, though only a couple because while Ashland is maybe 100 miles from the Pacific, there are mountains and foothills in the way.

I posted some pictures the other day; here’s a link to the Coos Bay/Bandon part of things, and here’s a link to the Redwoods part. One of these days, I’ll have to pull together a “highlight” reel of these zillions of pictures, though I have to say it’s tough to take a bad looking picture out there.  More than you want to know after the jump. Continue reading “Pacific Coast 2010”

Ashland 2010

We are at the main destination/reason for our westward trip, Ashland, Oregon, the town where Will was born in 1997 and where I took my first tenure-track job in 1996. We were only here two years, frankly because my job at Southern Oregon University was bad and also because Annette’s job prospects at SOU and in the area were poor. I’m leaving a lot of details out of that last sentence, details I’m not going to dwell on for mostly obvious reasons. Let’s just say that if we had stayed here, I’m pretty sure neither one of us would have stayed in academia.

Anyway, I’m happy to visit now as a tenured and content professor at EMU, one who happens to be married to someone who was just granted tenure, and I’m happy that we are sharing our trip down memory lane with our 12 year old son who left this town where he was born before he was one. Here’s a link to a bunch of flickr pictures of the area (including Crater Lake) so far; more details after the jump.
Continue reading “Ashland 2010”

Napa, 2010

We’re about to conclude the first leg of our trip out west, the Napa Valley part of things. Here’s a link to the Flickr set of photos and one video; Annette also uploaded a bunch of stuff to Facebook, but I’ll worry about getting those pictures downloaded and uploaded to Flickr when I get home.

A couple of quick thoughts before Ashland:

The idea of this trip, more or less, was to cash in our frequent flyer miles (meaning the flights cost us about $40 or so) and to take a trip to see where Will was born and where Annette and I started our post-PhD program lives, Ashland, Oregon. But first, Napa.

Our flight into Sacramento was uneventful, but we didn’t get to the hotel/motel until almost 1 am west coast time or 4 am east coast time, so our first day in Napa was pretty quiet, actually. We stopped in downtown Napa for lunch– good food, but not much reason to stop there tourism-wise. Drove past wineries, stopped at Bouchon Bakery for lovely pastries and coffee, and then got to our hotel, a Best Western in Calistoga, CA. Great place, actually– lovely little town, nice hotel, reasonably priced, etc.

Tuesday night we went to Bouchon, which is a Thomas Keller restaurant in Yountville. I would have preferred going to Ad Hoc (because I have a cookbook from there), but it was closed both Tuesday and Wednesday. And The French Laundry, well, that would have been a little out of our budget. Bouchon was great, and surprisingly accessible and not crazy expensive. We have spent as much or more in a couple of different restaurants in Ann Arbor, and this was much better. Will had a great mussels dish, Annette had a bib lettuce salad that she thought was the best ever (and some good lobster bisque), and I pigged out over some deliciously fatty pork shoulder.

And then Wednesday, we got up and really had tourism proper. Napa Valley is a little tricky with a 12 year-old; as Annette put it, it’s sort of like how adults feel about a place like Chuck E. Cheese: sure, there’s stuff adults can do there, but the place is really made for kids. So is the case with wine country. As a result, we ended up keeping it pretty simple and mostly kid-friendly. We went to the California petrified forest and the “Old Faithful” of California; both were pretty much tourist-traps, but kinda fun. We went to the Sterling winery, which has the kid-friendly attraction of a gondola ride from the parking lot to the winery itself– that was pretty cool, and the views from that place were spectacular.

But the real surprise and hit of the day was Castello Di Amorosa, which is basically this pet/vanity project of a guy who has been active in the Napa Valley wine world for a long long time. Check out the link and the pictures to see what I mean; but basically, I would say it was an all-around hit for our group. I thought it was going to be super cheesy, but actually, it was a really well-done castle reproduction, and as some of the picture suggest, it looks quite a bit like quite a few things in Italy. We had a great guy serving us up too much wine in the tasting room, and it was pretty good wine, too.

We didn’t get to see a lot more than that, unfortunately, but what we saw was lovely. Oh, almost forgot– we did get a chance to go into the the west coast branch of the the Culinary Institute of America, which has about the best kitchen tool/toy/porn store I’ve ever been in. I ended up buying a couple of great looking CIA cookbooks, which are not the kind of thing you can typically get at a Borders or something.

And now on to Ashland. I’m finishing this post now from here, and I am sure I’ll photos to upload in a few days.

Krause’s #CCCC10 Recap

As I have discussed in the past, my recent record at getting stuff in at the Conference for College Composition and Communication has been bad.  But I was in this year and had a grand time.  I saw some good talks, got to connect with a lot of old friends and EMU students, played with Twitter and listened to talk about more tech stuff than I have typically at the CCCCs, and I had a lot of tourist fun in Louisville.

I shot some video which I am hoping to put together in the next week or so to show my MA students, many of whom don’t know about what goes on at academic conferences. Here’s a link to some pictures; and after the jump are probably more details than you want to know.

Continue reading “Krause’s #CCCC10 Recap”

Returning to Gulf Coast Alabama one last time

I’m writing this about 20 minutes before Will and I have to leave for the airport to go back to Detroit while sitting on the patio of my parents’ condo, and it occurs to me that this is pretty much the first time on this trip where it’s been even remotely warm enough to sit outside for any amount of time.  Jeesh.

Will was off school this week and because I’m teaching online (and thus a little more flexible in my whereabouts) and because we didn’t spend as much time with my parents at Christmas as we probably should have, Will and I came down here for a few days.  Annette, unfortunately, still was teaching/working, and (even more unfortunate) watching over a kinda sick dog.

It’s been a pleasant enough visit. The highlight clearly was Mardi Gras, which was a much bigger deal down here in Southern Alabama than I thought.  We didn’t make it into Mobile for the big parades, which was a shame since they claim to be “the original” Mardi Gras (take that, copy-cat New Orleans!), but the local parade through Gulf Shores was a lot of fun. Here’s a link to some picts; here’s my favorite chunks of video, me catching one of the things commonly thrown from the floats, moon pies:

Will and I also spent a very cool afternoon climbing around the battleship USS Alabama and the submarine USS Drum while my parents stayed back and read.  At first, I thought my parents were being party-poopers, but once I got on board, I understood:  it was a lot of fun, but the chutes and ladders and tiny doors mean it’s a little like climbing around in the tubes at Chuck E. Cheese.

And we saw an old fort, and we were at a thing where they shot off an old canon… wow, very military themed, I guess.  I “ran”/walked one day on the beach, which was pretty good exercise albeit kind of cold.

All in all, a nice enough visit, though I don’t know if I’ll be back anytime soon.  My parents are talking about going someplace different next year, and to be honest, I have a hard time making seeing me and Annette making our own vacation kind of trip here. But the moon pies are good.

Oh yeah? I planned it so I wouldn’t have so many readers/friends!

From a couple of different places, I came across this Mashable article, “Your Brain Can’t Handle Your Facebook Friends,” suggests that according to Dunbar’s number, the number of people you can really be “friends” with is 150.  This reminds me of article by Clive Thompson in the current issue of WIRED, “In Praise of Obscurity,” in which he talks about how when an audience becomes too large, it no longer is “social.”  He uses the example of a popular Twitter-er (???) named Maureen Evans who started tweeting recipes, became hugely popular (13,000 followers), and said the conversation between users just stopped. I’ll post a link once WIRED puts one up, probably when the next issue comes out.

First off, I blogged about this very phenomenon back in 2007 here, in talking about both Facebook and also EMUTalk.org and my struggling (dying?) “Blogs as Writerly Spaces” project.  (Perhaps I can count this post as something that will allow me to check off “worked on scholarship today” from my to do list.)  As I noted back then, since I think the readership of this blog is generally pretty small, I don’t need a lot of rules; on the other hand, with EMUTalk.org, especially when it was routinely getting 600-1000 hits a day (that’s fallen off to about half of that now), I did indeed need to set up rules.  In that sense, the Dunbar number seems to be about a threshold for organization as much as anything else.  If you have a group of people who like to play ultimate frisbee or pick-up basketball or softball every Friday night at a particular park and that group is less than 150 or so people, then you probably don’t need much in the ways of “rules.”  But if that group gets above 150, then I suspect you need to start forming a “league” with organized teams, schedules, etc.

Second, this all begs once again the definition of “friend,” something that has been a little easier to sort out with Facebook as of late thanks to its new “list” feature.  I think in the context of Facebook, people have basically over-valued and/or misinterpreted the word “friend.” In “real life,” I think of a friend as someone I either know quite well and engage in activities with on a regular basis (e.g., family friends, golfing friends, people I invite to my house for a party or something, etc.), people I know pretty well but only catch up with once in a while (e.g., many/most people at work, friends who live some distance away, etc.), or people I still know but are from a more distant past and who I haven’t necessarily even spoken with in some time.  This last category is a big one on Facebook:  we all have “friended” people from high school or college who we haven’t seen or spoken with in decades and who we aren’t especially interested in reconnecting with in “real life” again now, but who are still a kind of friend.

I have “real life” friends on Facebook, but besides “real” friends, most of my Facebook friends fall into the categories of “colleagues in my field,” people at EMU, and/or students.  No offense to any of these folks, but that y’all aren’t really my friends in the real world friend sense, right?

Third, I guess the other thing that comes up especially in the Thompson article is my concept/understanding of who I am “speaking” with when I post online, be that space on Facebook, Twitter, this or some other blog.  This may be kind of “old skool,” but I still work from the assumption that anything I post online has the potential to be read by anyone on the planet; therefore, I would never post any sort of personal thing which I would be concerned about some stranger reading.  You’re not going to get any “weird rash on my hands not going away” posts from me (btw, I have no rashes).  And if I post something like “ate tuna sandwich,” it is only because I don’t really care if anyone knows that I ate a tuna sandwich.

The tricky thing about this is trying to figure out those borders between the actually personal, the things you really would only tell to close friends, and everything else.  This is nothing new, of course; what makes it a little different now is that the sheer volume of people on networks like Facebook means that there is inevitably a learning curve for both writers and readers about the shifting definition of “Too Much Information.”  I mean, I have FB “friends” who do seem to think that posting about that mysterious rash is fair game; conversely, I also have FB “friends” who would comment on my lunch selection “Ew, TMI.”  So it goes with emerging medias, right?

BTW, today I’m going to have left-over pork loin for lunch.  If it isn’t too freezer-burned.