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The rest of Thanksgiving

Started: 2014-12-06 12:48:40

Submitted: 2014-12-06 15:25:25

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator visits NorCal for the Logan family reunion and unlocks a major parenting achievement

After two days in San Diego, visiting Legoland and San Diego harbor, Calvin and I flew to Sacramento on Wednesday, 26 November. The airport was crowded with people traveling on the day before Thanksgiving; after breezing through the pre-check lane at security I had a hard time finding two seats next to each other. Calvin amused himself by drawing a series of drawings involving Red Aliens attempting to invade Earth but being repulsed by a fleet of Green Aliens. While I was glad that the Green Aliens were willing to help defend our planet I couldn't help but worry that they were just going to colonize us once the Red Aliens were gone, and we were merely proxies in their long-running conflict.

I checked our flight route before boarding the plane so I knew what side of the plane to choose. The flight departed runway 27 to the west, then turned gently to the right to head north along the coast, staying over the ocean before making landfall over Los Angeles. (Every other time I've flown out of San Diego the plane immediately executed a sharp left turn to head east to Denver, so if I sat on the left side I could see the harbor and downtown.) Sitting on the right side of the plane I could see the beaches, La Jolla, the cliffs at Torrey Pines, and my employer's 12-story office buildings in Sorrento Valley.

San Diego and La Jolla from the air
San Diego and La Jolla from the air

Halfway through the flight, while I was sorting through the massive bulk of photos I collected in Legoland, I glanced out the window in time to see Half Dome towering above Yosemite Valley. I pointed it out to Calvin, but he was not especially impressed, possibly because he was more interested in watching whatever video he was watching on the iPad.

We landed in Sacramento without further incident. I collected our luggage and found the shuttle bus to take to the rental cars. Calvin stowed his tiny backpack on the luggage rack and went to the very back of the bus to sit in the window seat on the right side, which proved to be his favorite seat in all of the shuttle busses we road (On this flight I put his iPad and earphones in his backpack, and watched carefully to make sure he never left it behind.) I ended up with a rental silver Nissan Altima, which was not quite as exciting as the bright red New Beetle I rented in San Diego but possibly more practical. (We had no trouble fitting Calvin and I into the New Beetle, and even though the car had only two doors it was easy enough to get Calvin and his car seat into the rear seat by pulling the front seat forward.)

Before leaving San Diego, Willy called me to invite me to join him at the Aerospace Museum of California, located on the north side of town at the former McClellan Air Force Base. We stopped by Chipotle for lunch on the way, then found Willy along with my father and grandfather looking through the airpark in the back of the building.

Dad climbs down from N466FE to Uncle Willy and Calvin
Dad climbs down from N466FE to Uncle Willy and Calvin

The museum had an assortment of Cold War aircraft, much of it on loan from the Museum of the Air Force. While it was active, the adjacent Air Force base had been a major service base for aircraft, which probably explained the large and impressive collection of aircraft engines, both piston and jet turbine, inside the museum.

Uncle Willy and Calvin photograph a plane
Uncle Willy and Calvin photograph a plane

Calvin was amused by the planes and especially liked the handful of helicopters on the grounds. I was not quite sure what the significance of the ex-FedEx 727 (itself converted from passenger service, given the covered windows on the fuselage), but I did appreciate the opportunity to climb the air stair and wander into its cavernous cargo bay. I was amused that the main cargo door had an up-side-down FedEx logo on it, to be displayed when the cargo door was open.

Cargo bay inside N466FE ex-FedEx 727 cargo plane
Cargo bay inside N466FE ex-FedEx 727 cargo plane
Calvin in an Air Force recruiting F-16 model
Calvin in an Air Force recruiting F-16 model

We departed the museum when it closed. Calvin found the adjacent playground and recruited Uncle Willy to play with him at the impressive play structure. Willy was impressed by how enclosed the multi-story play structure was, and how hard it would be to climb out on top of the structure. (I'd already recruited Willy as my navigations and communications officer, though most of his navigation help involved interpreting whatever turn-by-turn directions on Google Maps on my phone told him.)

Play structure at McClellan Park
Play structure at McClellan Park

We arrived at my grandparents' house in Fair Oaks and promptly raided their collection of vintage Legos, presumably dating from the 1960s and 1970s when my uncles were young. The collection included a set of old train tracks; Willy set the tracks up in a loop and Calvin and I built engines and trains to run on the track. I built a 4-4-0 tank engine and ran into trouble when the individual wheel sets were not flexible enough to meet the turning radius of the track, requiring me to add articulation to let the wheels match the track.

I have a few more pictures from Wednesday at Photos on 2014-11-26.

Thanksgiving

Before breakfast on Thanksgiving morning, Willy recruited me to walk down to look at Nimbus Dam on the American River at the base of the hill. As we left the house we spotted a flock of feral turkeys wandering the quiet suburban street, apparently oblivious of the fate of their brethren on this auspicious holiday.

Live feral turkeys marauding in suburban Sacramento
Live feral turkeys marauding in suburban Sacramento

We walked to the Nimbus Dam overlook and found the dam and the lake backlit by the morning sun and the light cloud cover. We were amused by the flock of fishermen in the river between the dam and the fish ladder.

Willy overlooks Nimbus Dam
Willy overlooks Nimbus Dam
Willy with Nimbus Dam
Willy with Nimbus Dam

My Logan family is well supplied with cousins; I have nine Logan first cousins, most of them in their twenties. (The median age of my cohort of cousins, I discovered, is 27.) None of them have their own children, but they were all amused to play with Calvin. Calvin got started by breaking in my cousin Kristina (herself a first-grade teacher, so she has some experience with this age group) and her husband Nathan.

Calvin plays with Nathan and Kristina
Calvin plays with Nathan and Kristina

I recruited Willy again as my navigations and communications officer for the ninety-minute drive up US 50 to Leoni Meadows, the site of the every-even-year Logan family reunion. The family reunion collects all of the descendants of my great grandfather; I have second cousins who attend regularly, and Calvin has third cousins, some of whom are in or have graduated college. (Calvin has no first cousins on either side, and he has no second cousins in the Logan family.)

Calvin shows Uncle Willy his Red/Green Alien drawings
Calvin shows Uncle Willy his Red/Green Alien drawings

The centerpiece of Thanksgiving was a large dinner in the camp's craft building, which had a suitable kitchen to feed everyone who showed up. The wall had been decorated with a "pumpkin patch" showing everyone in the family as a pumpkin grouped by their families and lines. (With third cousins the whole thing would get a little unwieldy in a traditional family tree.) I scrawled a histogram of birth years (which let me discover the median age of my cohort) and contemplated transcribing the whole thing to let me do detailed statistics on the family.

I have a few more pictures from Thanksgiving at Photos on 2014-11-27.

Friday

I celebrated Black Friday by staying as far away from shopping as physically possible. (This wasn't hard, since I was somewhere in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains a half-hour from the nearest gas station and ninety minutes from the nearest big-box store.) After breakfast the camp opened the go-kart track, giving us the opportunity to take out our road rage in a relatively controlled paved track. Calvin was big enough to ride as a passenger, strapped into the four-point harness. He couldn't reach the pedals, which was probably good, but he could grab the steering yoke to "help" drive.

Calvin rides go-karts with Uncle Willy
Calvin rides go-karts with Uncle Willy

I had way too much fun with my fancy SLR; in the time it took my mother's aging point-and-shoot camera to take one poorly-timed shot my camera would take ten rapid-fire shots. I might not get more than one properly-timed shot in that fully-automatic burst but I had a good chance of getting something that turned out.

Calvin rides go-karts with Jaeger
Calvin rides go-karts with Jaeger

Calvin loved the go-karts and ended up riding four times: twice with Uncle Willy and once each with me and my father.

Calvin rides go-karts with Uncle Willy
Calvin rides go-karts with Uncle Willy

The weather changed at noon when a front blew in, turning the clear sky cloudy and causing the temperature to begin dropping. Given the forecast for rain on Saturday, the camp preponed* the scheduled super-narrow-gauge train ride to Friday afternoon. The camp has an elaborate train track running a mile around the central meadow and another mile into the forest. The train, pulled by a gasoline-powered engine dressed up like a steam engine, rarely exceeds a walking pace, but riding it around the meadow and into the forest is a highlight of the family reunions. Calvin and I were the first people to show up as the train was pulling into the station from the shed. We sat up at the front of the first carriage, and as he was preparing to depart, the driver quietly asked me if I would let Calvin ride with him on the engine. I said that I would, and Calvin thought that was a great idea.

Calvin covers his ears while the Leoni Meadows train blows its whistle
Calvin covers his ears while the Leoni Meadows train blows its whistle
Calvin rides the Leoni Meadows train
Calvin rides the Leoni Meadows train

We rode the train around the meadow, over the viaduct over the small creek, past the route I knew well from years of prior experience. Calvin liked his perch on the engine, though he thought the whistle was a little loud. (The driver took to warning him in advance of the whistle so Calvin could cover his ears.)

Calvin with the Leoni Meadows train engine
Calvin with the Leoni Meadows train engine

We stopped at the turn-around loop to look at the 'golden spike' placed when the railroad was complete, and again to look at the Indian grinding stones uncovered while laying the track. Calvin decided he had had enough of the front of the train and joined Willy (whom I'd recruited to join me from the back of the train) and I on the first bench for the ride back.

Leoni Meadows train track winding through the forest
Leoni Meadows train track winding through the forest

Next to the train station was a junk yard of old farming equipment, including an old Fordson tractor. My grandfather mentioned that his father had had one of the tractors, and Willy put on his history-of-technology hat to find the tractor fascinating.

Willy rides an old Fordson tractor
Willy rides an old Fordson tractor

I avoided the vespers program after supper and put Calvin to bed, then joined Kristina and Nathan (also ditching vespers, but back from spending the day elsewhere) in the upper-floor lobby trying to put together the end of a 1000-piece puzzle. All of the easy parts had been put together on the previous day; the part that was left was the last few hundred barely-distinguishable pieces filled with background pine needles. We talked about family and traditions, and the challenges and opportunities of creating one's own family and traditions. When vespers finished we were joined by a larger group of our cousins and eventually finished the puzzle.

I have a few more pictures from Friday at Photos on 2014-11-28.

* "Preponed" is the obvious antonym of "postponed", at least in Indian English, which I'm exposed to on a regular basis in my professional life.

Saturday

During breakfast in the craft building, I took a picture of the pumpkin patch, then returned to the lodge to transcribe it so I could run statistics on it. I had to promise TV to Calvin to tear him away from the group of his third cousins whom he was trying to disrupt while they were preparing to sing in the church service. I typed the pumpkin patch into a spreadsheet, then downloaded and installed Octave so I could plot the data, which proved taxing for the local Internet connection. (I've used Matlab extensively in the past year at work, to plot frequency response curves and run simulations, but I've never actually used its free software clone Octave.) I finished just in time to go to lunch, leaving further analysis for later.

Calvin walks with Uncle Willy and Cousin Heather
Calvin walks with Uncle Willy and Cousin Heather

After lunch I showed off my pictures from Scotland, until we ran out of time to visit the nature center. Calvin didn't want to go to the nature center, so I left him with my mother and made the trek across the rainy meadow to the center. The nature center, with its random hodgepodge of natural-history-museum artifacts and science-museum exhibits (and attempts at explaining a literal seven-day creation at 4004 BCE) has seen better days, but it was still amusing to wander around and gape at the Foucault pendulum.

I helped make supper, then avoided the day's final religious service before returning to eat supper. I put Calvin to bed (though he was not thrilled by the idea of leaving all of the fun), packed, and resumed working on my data analysis of my extended family. The one thing I wanted to see was a histogram of the births in the family, to see when everyone was born and how the generations diverge. The divergence started early; my great-grandparents had five children over 25 years, one of whom was younger than his nephew. After hacking Matlab code for a while I ended up with the plot I wanted to see: a histogram of births by decade, color-coded by generation. (I decided to plot only the natural-born Logans, rather than including their spouses, which would have spread out the data a bit.) My generational cohort is yellow, but I have second cousins as old as my father and as young as Calvin.

Logan family births by year

Sunday

Calvin and I departed Leoni Meadows on Sunday morning to head home. Breakfast took a bit longer than I'd planned; Calvin is not a fast eater, and there was a queue for the microwave and the coffee maker. We made our dramatic departure a little after my must-leave-by time of 08:30 and began the ninety-minute drive in the damp morning through windy mountain roads through Grizzly Flats to Diamond Springs, where we joined US 50 to Sacramento and the airport.

As we were dropping off the rental car, I got a text message from Southwest telling me that our flight had been delayed by two-and-a-half hours. (I was running a little late; a half-hour delay would have been fine.) My Twitter feed suggested that there were delays in Denver due to high winds screwing up flight patterns. We caught the shuttle bus to the terminal, checked our bags, and breezed through the pre-check lane of security. I checked the monitors and saw that my flight had been miraculously un-delayed. I reverted to my original lunch plan: a hot drink and pastry at a coffee shop. We ate at the gate while waiting for our flight; Calvin proceeded to get crumbs all over the seat and carpet in front of his chair. (He's usually well-behaved but most definitely not a neat eater.)

Our flight boarded on time and we departed for Denver. While we were descending I looked out the window (over Calvin in the window seat) and saw mountains I recognized in Rocky Mountain National Park. The peaks were shrouded by the clouds but I could recognize the Mummy Range, including mountains I've climbed this year.

Ypsilon Mountain from the air
Ypsilon Mountain from the air

We landed in Denver and found the airport crowded by post-Thanksgiving travelers. The people-movers between the concourses seemed to be running a bit slow; by the time the train arrived at Concourse C to pick us up there were enough people waiting for it to pack the train nearly to capacity, which proved problematic when the train stopped at the next two concourses and tried to pick people up there as well.

I grabbed our bags at baggage claim and headed out to the curb to wait for Kiesa to pick us up. (I had no interest in trying to park at the airport and convinced Kiesa to drive us instead.) This proved easier said than done; the crowding extended to passenger pick-up. Kiesa eventually found it easier to pay US$3 to park in the garage, conveniently on the fourth level, and walk to the door we were waiting in.

I was happy to be home again (and to see Kiesa again) after a week away. At no point was I actually worried that I wouldn't be able to handle Calvin, but this trip was far more extensive than any trip I'd taken before with Calvin and without Kiesa. The whole thing went off about as well as I could have expected, which is probably due to proper planning and expectations as much as anything else, but I'll take credit for my parenting skills as well if I have to.

If you're curious what Kiesa did in the week Calvin and I were in California, she wrote about her week in Vacation-Related Ramblings.

We reject kings, presidents, and voting.
We believe in rough consensus and running code.
- Dave Clark, 1992