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Thanksgiving 2021

Started: 2021-12-12 12:11:47

Submitted: 2021-12-12 17:18:29

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator visits family in Bellingham for a surprisingly-normal Thanksgiving

As the Second Plague Year drew to a close, with my entire family at least partially vaccinated, we resumed our normal winter holiday rotation and went to visit Kiesa's family for Thanksgiving.

In November, Southwest started operating flights into Bellingham's little airport, including flights to the Bay Area via Oakland. Oakland is not especially close to us (depending on traffic, it's about a seventy-minute drive), but Bellingham is considerably closer to Kiesa's family (in Bellingham and nearby Mount Vernon) than the obvious alternative in Seattle. So we booked tickets to fly out of Oakland on the day before Thanksgiving, the first day the kids were out of school. (My employer decided to give me the entire week off, but while I appreciated having more time off, I found that the time was less valuable than it could have been if my kids were also out of school.)

Wednesday

The local news reported that Wednesday was expected to be the busiest pre-Thanksgiving travel day at Oakland, and when we arrived at the terminal on Wednesday morning (after driving up I-880 in the East Bay and parking in the long-term shuttle parking still relatively close to the airport terminal) and found the queue to check our bags I saw a news crew camped out in front of the departure board to report on airport operations. The camera panned over the departures shown on the monitor, all of which indicated that the airport was operating smoothly.

News crew at Oakland Airport
News crew at Oakland Airport

The airport was crowded but the line for baggage check moved smoothly, and our TSA PreCheck let us skip the main line for security; we breezed through without a hitch and settled in to wait for our flight.

As we were waiting to board, a gate agent picked us out of line because we were eligible for family boarding (between the "A" and "B" groups) because Julian is still six years old. We don't need any extra time to board the plane or get settled in our seats (because Julian no longer flies with a car seat), but it was convenient to get a better choice of adjacent seats so we did not run the risk of being scattered across middle seats on different quadrants of the plane. (It turned out that we didn't really need to worry about being seated apart for each other, because the plane was approximately 60% full so we sat in two consecutive rows and still had an extra seat on each row.)

San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge flying out of Oakland
San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge flying out of Oakland

When we took off from Oakland the sky was clear and the visibility was unlimited. As we flew north the cloud cover increased, and by the time we began our descent into Bellingham the cloud cover was completely obscuring my view of the ground. Once we broke through the bottom of the clouds I could see the ground, dark green under the pallid light filtering through the clouds, set against the steel gray water of Puget Sound. I recognized La Conner and Anacortes and Point Roberts as we looped around to land from the north, and I could see fields near Bellingham flooded after the record rainfall this month.

Looking down on La Conner on descent into Bellingham
Looking down on La Conner on descent into Bellingham

Once we landed and taxied to the gate, we disembarked onto a ramp pushed up against the airplane and walked under the open air the rest of the way to the concourse. This seemed like a dubious choice for Western Washington where it rains most of the winter.

737-700 N711HK on the tarmac in Bellingham
737-700 N711HK on the tarmac in Bellingham

Once we landed and picked up our bags, we loaded ourselves into the blue king-cab Toyota Tacoma pickup belonging to my brother-in-law Tristan that had been designated for our use. We drove across town to Tristan's house, which was the first time that I had seen their house since their pandemic-inspired remodel last year. They had torn down the wall blocking off their kitchen from the living room, raised the living room floor, and revamped the space into a bright, airy open-plan vaulted-ceiling space flowing seamlessly from entry to living room to kitchen to dining room.

After lunch we drove down to Mount Vernon, the next town south on I-5, where Kiesa's parents live. We had reserved an Airbnb in the tiny community of Bayview, a few minutes' drive from my in-laws house overlooking Padilla Bay. We stopped by the Airbnb to drop off our bags and look around our temporary lodging.

This house, according to the laminated info sheet welcoming us to the house, had been in the family since the early 1990s, and was now available as an Airbnb. (The guest book started in the summer, implying it was a new addition to Airbnb.) The house was packed with antiques and family pictures. The room where Julian stayed had two twin beds and was set up as the guest room where two grade-school-aged girls had visited their grandparents in the late 1990s, complete with artwork (conveniently dated, helping my archaeological efforts) that the proud grandparents had displayed on the walls above the beds. These girls appeared, as adults, in other family pictures scattered around the house, including on a modestly-sized but densely-packed pin board with pictures stacked several layers deep.

"Mousey-mousey" mouse hole

This fake mouse hole included a cute plush mouse to stand in the hole, which I didn't find until after I took the picture. I did observe that the mouse hole would seem considerably more cute to anyone who hadn't just had an infestation in their house of real rodents.

A day or two into our stay at the house we found a scrapbook documenting all of the antiques in the house, told in an endearing breathless style including details on where many of the artifacts had been purchased and for how much.

Lego track station
Lego track station

We headed to Kiesa's parents' house, a few minutes' drive away, and set up Lego train tracks around the living room. I built some extensions to the track, including a train station on the opposite side of one of the chairs in the room. I mostly let the kids (Calvin, Julian, and their cousin Caleb) drive the trains, but after several train collisions between the two trains operating on the track network I tried to implement some rules of the road based on a block signaling system: You have to be able to see where your train is going, and if there's a already a train on the section of track ahead of you, your signal is red and you can't proceed onto the track until the train ahead of you has moved and your signal goes to green. This signaling system cut down on the number of train collisions, but there were still some incidents of trains passing a signal at danger, and further incidents where the Lego Transportation Safety Board investigated trains exceeding the track speed limits and derailed. (I really wanted to have a track signaling system that automatically implemented block signaling, including automatic train control so the trains could not pass signals at danger or exceed the track speed limits. As a stretch goal, the trains would have head codes so the switches would operate automatically to route the trains to the correct location. But all of this was outside of the scope of what I could do with the Lego trains at my disposal.)

After supper we headed back to our Airbnb for the night. It was nice to have our own space (and to sleep in a different room from our kids), and to have a place we could recover after spending time with aggressively outgoing nephew.

Thursday

Thursday was Thanksgiving Day. We started out the day with breakfast at my in-laws' house, then I set up My Little Scythe and figured out how to play it with the kids. (I had played the adult version, Scythe, and I was bemused that there existed a children's version with some common mechanics but a very different game flavor.) I was about to make some important deliveries to the castle in the middle of the game board, giving me the trophies I would need to win the game, until Caleb attacked me and then provided an attractive target for Calvin to attack him and gather the trophies he needed; but in the final round Julian was able to pull together additional trophies — winning the game, as Calvin put it, "Through the power of friendship".

Calvin and Julian play My Little Scythe
Calvin and Julian play My Little Scythe

We headed up to Bellingham for Thanksgiving dinner, including my only contribution to food: a pumpkin pie I ordered from Whole Foods in Bellingham, because I didn't think my Thanksgiving experience would be complete without pumpkin pie (regardless of what else was on the menu). After eating we played Exploding Kittens and the kids ran around, mostly in the acoustically-isolated basement so the adults upstairs could have a modicum of peace.

Friday

On Friday, the weather forecast called for a break in the rain, so we went for a short walk on Fidalgo Island at Sharpe Park to Sares Head. The muddy trail took us through evergreen forest still damp from the recent rains to a rocky overlook several hundred feet above the water. As I ascended the glacially-polished bedrock on the overlook to the crest of the rock, over grass clinging tenaciously to the rock though thin soil, the scene revealed itself as carefully as if it were a Mughal garden tomb. The sun cast a feeble light through the high clouds, almost enough to cast a weak shadow. Below us was Rosario Strait, where the mixing tides formed a clear line away from shore. In the distance I could see Lopez Island clinging to the horizon; ahead and to the left I could barely make out the lurking form of the Olympic Mountains in the clouds. Far to the left I could just make out the inlets approaching Deception Pass. I felt like I was at the beginning of an epic fantasy quest that would take us on a perilous journey to the ends of the Earth.

Calvin looks out onto Rosario Strait
Calvin looks out onto Rosario Strait

But that three-quarter-mile hike was as far as this quest would take us. After a brief excursion down a steep hill we turned around to head back to the cars, then drove to Rosario and spent some time on the little rocky beach. I walked out to Rosario Head, found some Pokemon, and by the time I returned we were ready to go back to my in-laws' house for lunch, and by the time we'd finished lunch it was dark and there was no more time to enjoy the brief respite between the rain.

Also on Friday the news emerged that there was a new "variant of concern" named Omicron that no one really knew very much about except that it seemed to have a bunch of spike protein mutations that might be correlated with immune escapes. My first thought was "here we go again" and I settled in to wait for a new wave of closures and restrictions and mandates.

Saturday

On Saturday we ate breakfast at the Airbnb. It wasn't raining yet, so I took a short walk around Bayview to the nearby Bay View State Park, featuring a tiny rocky shoreline overlooking Padilla Bay. The tide was high, so water covered the entire bay between me and the oil refineries on the peninsula opposite. (The nautical chart for the area marked the entire bay as mud flats at low tide.) A brisk wind whipped up tiny waves on the steel gray water below the low gray clouds hanging ominously above. The gray rocky beach felt a world away from the sandy beaches framed by sandstone bluffs back home in Santa Cruz.

Padilla Bay from Bay View State Park
Padilla Bay from Bay View State Park

I amused myself in the afternoon at my in-laws' house by building a wye in the Lego tracks, but this proved problematic for the train layout because the tight curves imposed a speed limit lower than my nephew was willing to honor. In consultation with the Lego Transportation Safety Board I rearranged the tracks again to increase the turn radius, allowing a higher effective speed limit on the track and reducing the number of unnecessary derailments.

Lego track wye
Lego track wye

Sunday

On Sunday our flight back to Oakland was scheduled to depart Bellingham in the middle of the afternoon. It was raining again, and the stretch of I-5 that we needed to take to the airport was prone to mudslides, so we left Mount Vernon and drove up to Bellingham late in the morning. Along the way, in the heavy rain, we saw the aftermath of a vehicle collision near the site of the recent mudslides, with one totaled-looking car still parked on the highway shoulder next to a state patrol cruiser.

We got to the tiny Bellingham airport with plenty of time before our flight (Kiesa was willing to relax her "two hours before the flight" rule for this airport) and once again we used our PreCheck status to skip most of the security line. Inside the airport there was a shortage of concessions; I got coffee from a tiny shop with a long line while we waited for our flight. It soon emerged that the flight was delayed, though it wasn't clear why; I think the gate agents had given some explanation over the speakers but I had missed that detail and they didn't repeat it.

While waiting for my delayed flight, I saw someone sitting near me using a new 2021 14" MacBook Pro, which was exciting not just because it's an impressive machine, but also because I implemented the thermal control for the system, and here it was out in the open for anyone to use.

737-700 N202WN on the tarmac at Bellingham
737-700 N202WN on the tarmac at Bellingham

Our flight ended up delayed by two hours; once we eventually boarded the pilot said there had been a problem with the deicing system, and there was apparently some delay involved in getting the contract maintenance providers to the airport to fix the problem. (The delay did, at least, let us wait to walk across the open tarmac to the airplane until the rain had stopped, however briefly.) Our return flight was completely full; Calvin, Julian, and I all sat on one row and Kiesa sat somewhere behind us.

Aside from the departure delay, the rest of the flight was normal and uneventful. When we landed in Oakland we grabbed supper from Subway inside the airport, then picked up our bags, took the shuttle to long-term parking, and ate in the car before driving back home to Santa Cruz, after a surprisingly-normal Thanksgiving late in the pandemic.

I swear, it's not my fault if I loose things, even if I do have huge
messes.
- Neelix, 0223 CDT 30 April 2000, upon finding something he was looking
for on the bottom of a pile of Humblik's clothes