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Thanksgiving 2015

Started: 2015-12-05 11:40:44

Submitted: 2015-12-05 16:34:17

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator visits his new nephew in Tennessee for Thanksgiving

Three years ago, after graduating from dental school, my brother-in-law Tristan (Kiesa's brother) moved to Tennessee to work in an under-served (poor, rural) community as part of a government loan repayment plan: he'd work there for several years and the program would repay his loan. He found a job at a dental clinic in Sneedville, somewhere in north-eastern Tennessee near the Virginia border, two hours from Knoxville. His wife Jessica enrolled herself in the education PhD program in the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and they rented a house in Mooresburg, overlooking Lake Cherokee, half-way between Sneedville and Knoxville.

All of this was academic until Jessica announced that she was having a baby due just before Thanksgiving this year. Since this is an odd year, our normal rotation suggests visiting Kiesa's family for Thanksgiving and my family for Christmas. (In fact I will be taking Calvin to India for Christmas to visit my family there, which is an entirely different story.) So we decided to visit Tristan, Jessica, and their baby in Tennessee for Thanksgiving.

This year our household has expanded from three people to five people, with the birth of Julian and the addition of Montse our au pair. We gave Montse the option of whether she wanted to join us in Tennessee, and she decided that she did. This is more people than will fit comfortably in a hotel room -- I like having a room separate from our children (especially because we go to bed and wake up at different times, so we need at least a separate sitting area), and the au pair program requires that she have her own room as well. We could cobble together a number of adjacent hotel rooms, which may or may not work well; but we decided instead to look on AirBnB and found a cute cabin a half-hour away in Rogersville.

Monday

We took the week of Thanksgiving off and left Boulder on Monday, 23 November. We got a direct flight from Denver to Knoxville on a 50-seat ERJ-145, a small regional jet with three seats across the tiny cabin. I sat with Calvin on one set of two seats, Kiesa sat with Julian on one block of two seats, and Montse sat in the window seat across the aisle from Kiesa. With our five-person household, we ended up occupying 10% of the total passenger capacity of the plane.

Jaeger inside N34111 ERJ-145
Jaeger inside N34111 ERJ-145

Montse noticed that the plane was branded as "United Express", and asked if it was in fact faster than a regular plane, and I explained that it was just the brand that United uses for flights on smaller regional planes. (Though with a published range of 1,550 nautical miles, the ERJ-145 can fly directly from a centrally-located airport like Denver to anywhere in the lower 48.)

N34111 ERJ-145 on the ramp at DIA
N34111 ERJ-145 on the ramp at DIA

We met Kiesa's parents at the airport in Knoxville, who brought us a car seat base for Julian, and a portable crib for him to sleep in. We picked up our bags and picked up our rental car. I had reserved a car using Avis Preferred, which meant paying more than the discount-rate rental agencies, but I did have the advantage of having the car actually waiting for me rather than having to wait for the agent to type the next chapter in his or her NaNoWriMo novel while attempting to check me out. I did end up having to talk to a human at the rental kiosk, who asked if I'd rather have a minivan (which we'd reserved) or a Ford Flex (which they'd allocated for us). I was not familiar with the Ford Flex so I decided to go for the minivan, which was located conveniently a few spaces away, and had enough space to fit our household and luggage.

We headed to an Indian restaurant in the western part of Knoxville for supper, though we arrived before they reopened for supper, so we went across the street to a bookstore and wandered around there until the restaurant opened. The store had a number of Lego sets and Calvin, always eager for more Legos, bought one of the sets.

Painting of cabin near Rogersville Tennessee
Painting of cabin near Rogersville Tennessee

After supper we drove to our cabin in Rogersville, stopping for groceries along the way. The cabin was a little ways out of town, on a tiny road off a quiet state highway. We arrived well after dark but had no trouble finding the hidden keys to gain access to the gate and to the cabin. The log cabin was originally built in 1860, presumably along with the 40-acre farm it sat on, and had clearly been upgraded and restored, most recently with a modern kitchen on the ground floor in what looked like it had originally been an open-air porch or patio of some sort.

I couldn't help but compare the cabin to the cabin featured in the classic horror movie The Evil Dead, which was filmed nearby in Morristown. This cabin did not have a basement, and the basement did not have a book of ancient curses, and our time in the cabin did not unleash any demonic forces.

Julian in entryway in cabin near Rogersville Tennessee
Julian in entryway in cabin near Rogersville Tennessee

The one thing we did have to worry about, though, was the decidedly-not-baby-safe antiques that had been scattered around the cabin as decorations. Having recently discovered how to crawl, Julian required full-time adult attention to keep him from getting into the fire, or the cast-iron cookware next to the fire, or the various tetanus deathtraps scattered around on shelves at baby-eye-height.

Gas fireplace in cabin
Gas fireplace in cabin

Tuesday

Welcome tiny overlord
Welcome tiny overlord

Tuesday established the routine for the rest of the week: we ate breakfast in our cabin, then drove to Tristan and Jessica's house in Mooresburg for lunch and supper. This was when we finally got to meet my new nephew, Caleb, who spent almost all of his time sleeping in his bassinet in the middle of the living room. When he wasn't seeping he'd eat, and then go back to sleep. I tried to remember back to when Julian was that young, and I think he was at least a little more active than that at the time.

Calvin meets cousin Caleb
Calvin meets cousin Caleb

Tristan led an expedition to Johnson Ridge, a TVA trail circling a peninsula sticking out into Lake Cherokee. The reservoir was twenty feet below its high-water mark, giving a visible bathtub ring above the water. We walked out onto the newly-exposed ground, mostly muddy slate, and Tristan and Calvin amused themselves by playing fetch with Tristan's dog Banner. (Tristan also brought his dog Oreo, who was somewhat less interested in playing fetch.)

Calvin runs with Banner and Oreo
Calvin runs with Banner and Oreo
Tristan photographs Calvin playing fetch with Banner at Lake Cherokee
Tristan photographs Calvin playing fetch with Banner at Lake Cherokee

Back at the cabin Tuesday night we ran into trouble when we discovered that the dishwasher had been loaded with dish soap instead of dishwasher detergent. I knew, in general, that soap would suds up and possibly overflow the dishwasher, but I hadn't actually experienced it personally. Kiesa tried to clean the soap out of the dishwasher the best she could, but when she ran it, the dishwasher quickly started spilling soapy water onto the floor. I grabbed a bath towel to staunch the flow, stopped the dishwasher cycle, and tried to wash out the soap. It took several tries (and several rinse-and-drain cycles) before I ended up spraying the inside of the dishwasher and its detergent dish down with the kitchen sink spray, after which I could finally run a normal dishwasher cycle.

Wednesday

Kiesa and Calvin in the cabin's living room
Kiesa and Calvin in the cabin's living room

Wednesday played out much like Tuesday, except that our afternoon walk took us down to the boat dock at the end of the road Tristan lived on. Calvin didn't want to join the walk, preferring to stay inside with the iPad, despite our best attempts to drag him outside.

Since we're in the process of figuring out logistics for our forthcoming move to San Francisco, Kiesa asked Jessica about her opinion on whether we should worry about school test scores when picking a school for Calvin. Jessica pointed out that, while it's not necessarily fair to rank the achievement of teachers on the performance of poor students, the reality is that good teachers transfer to high-performance schools as fast as they can, so high-performance schools have the best teachers. Teachers tend to teach to the middle of the class, so if Calvin is in a low-performing class he'll get bored. We're not especially worried about his academic performance -- we figure he's smart and he'll figure out whatever he needs to know -- but we are worried that putting him in an environment where he's going to get bored will be counter-productive to his future academic achievement: worst-case is that he'll get bored and act out in class, or at least get bored and develop a negative impression of school, or just fail to learn good study habits. Both Kiesa and I had problems with this in school, and while we don't really care whether Calvin is 'gifted' in a technical sense, the reality is that he comes from a highly-educated family (three of his four grandparents have doctorate degrees; all of his aunts and uncles have at least a masters degree (I'm the outlier, slacking with only a bachelor's degree)). So we expect that he'll be able to achieve, and we want to make sure he's in an environment that will encourage and facilitate that.

Thanksgiving

Cabin near Rogersville Tennessee
Cabin near Rogersville Tennessee

Julian went down for a nap on Thanksgiving morning before we managed to leave the cabin, so we poked around the cabin for a while during his nap, not wanting to disrupt a sleeping baby (especially after forgetting to bring his portable crib the previous day, disrupting his afternoon naps). This gave me the opportunity to walk around the farm attached to the cabin, which stretched up the hillside from the creek forming the base of the valley.

Farm near Rogersville Tennessee
Farm near Rogersville Tennessee
Cabin near Rogersville Tennessee
Cabin near Rogersville Tennessee

For Thanksgiving dinner we ate a Cuban dish, which satisfied the various diets represented at the table (various degrees of gluten-free, vegetarian, and veganism), then filed into the back yard to enjoy a family photo.

Jaeger and Kiesa in the family photo
Jaeger and Kiesa in the family photo

Friday

Cabin and minivan near Rogersville Tennessee
Cabin and minivan near Rogersville Tennessee

On Friday morning we packed and bid farewell to our quirky cabin in the woods. It had its occasional drawbacks but overall it was a great place to spend Thanksgiving as a family: large enough to house our family and endowed with enough space to spread out on our own. (I wasn't quite sure, though, what to make of the wedding dress perched on a life-sized dress stand; every time I woke up in the middle of the night I spotted a humanoid figure standing in the room, until I realized that it was just the dress.)

Bedroom in cabin near Rogersville Tennessee
Bedroom in cabin near Rogersville Tennessee

We dropped by Tristan and Jessica's house for lunch before heading on to Knoxville's airport to fly home. We had a late-afternoon flight, leaving at 16:30 EST. We arrived at our gate an hour and a half before our flight was scheduled to depart. Our aircraft was late coming out from Denver, giving us even more time to poke around the gate, trying to figure out what sort of food we could buy from the concourse's concessions before boarding the plane, since our flight would take the better part of four hours to get back to Denver, and was not supplied with any sort of meal. Calvin amused himself by making friends with a girl from Dallas, who tried to convince us that we should abandon our plans to return home to Denver and instead go to Dallas.

N12126 ERJ-145 pulls into TYS gate 9
N12126 ERJ-145 pulls into TYS gate 9

Julian slept for the first part of the flight but remained fussy for the rest of the flight, and wouldn't let me hold him to give Kiesa a break from taking care of him. (In the past month or two, he's gotten more picky about letting me feed him or otherwise take care of him, which generally frustrates both Kiesa and I.)

We eventually landed in Denver to find a few inches of snow on the ground. Kiesa sent me ahead to pick up the car, while she picked up our bags and met us at the curb at the terminal. I'd left my coat in my suitcase, and it was cold outside but my sweater worked well enough as I scraped the thin but persistent film of ice off the windshield before returning to the terminal to pick up the rest of my family. We returned home without further incident and saw that Willow was happy to see us, especially because the gate we installed to keep Julian away from the stairs had also kept her away from her food.

yet another half-implemented feature... 2000.04.13; i'm going to bed
- Jaeger Comment in x13's Boxes.pm