How I Spent My Thanksgiving Holiday

Ten pies brought to Anne's family's Thanksgiving this year.

Pies nearly outnumbered people at Anne’s Thanksgiving this year.

It’s the holiday season! Yes, again! The past two weeks have been far from boring as Thanksgiving came and went, events kept sliding into our schedules, opportunities for both travel and sedentary diversions fought to take up our head space, and Christmas kept trying to assert its dominance too soon. Some of the busyness lent itself to pictures.

Some of the things I did:

* Thanksgiving at home! My side of the family has more or less forfeited turkey-time now that most of us live far from each other — states away, in some cases. In lieu of that, on Thanksgiving Day itself the last few years we’ve been inviting my mom over so she doesn’t have to spend the day alone. Anne makes a feast for the four of us that would feed a full-size gathering. I watch a movie with Mom, I spend a few seconds reminiscing in my head about how I used to spend Thanksgiving night studying the Black Friday ads in the newspaper, and then we dine on the leftovers for days. That’s baseline Thanksgiving of late. I finished the sweet potatoes Wednesday morning for breakfast, and thus were our leftover duration standards met.

Our Thanksgiving 2022 dinner with boneless Butterball turkey, sweet potatoes, rolls, green beans, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, and so on.

Not pictured: the second of two boneless Butterball turkeys Anne made, our household’s event-dinner poultry of choice.

* Thanksgiving way from home! After Anne’s grandma passed away in 2018, her side’s turkey time went on hiatus as everyone suddenly began focusing on gatherings in their other circles that they’d been missing over the years, or they indulged other non-holiday activities while Mamaw was no longer around to guilt-trip them sweetly into coming over. This year two key relatives moved up to Indiana after a decades-long stay in Kentucky and offered to host a Thanksgiving comeback special. One catch: it was Friday at noon, which meant no one could spend the entire day shopping. As most folks rely more heavily on online shopping nowadays and are okay with driving local proprietors into the poorhouse, nobody complained about schedule conflict.

As seen in our lead photo, we had too much pie, a phrase that sounds like heresy, and yet there it is. I limited myself to sliver-sized slices from three different pies and pretended that was a mature choice. Even before the Friday shindig, we’d already had pumpkin and pecan pies at home…and a chocolate pudding pie the weekend before, as a pre-Thanksgiving teaser dessert, kind of like how some families let kids open one gift on Christmas Eve. All told, the pie collection featured were pistachio, squash, pumpkin, Oreo, different Oreo, chocolate non-Oreo, Tollhouse Cookie, custard, cherry, and my favorite, pecan chocolate chip. For anyone demanding a change of pace, there was a store-bought pumpkin roll, and the last faction to arrive brought a cake I never got to see.

A few of our preferred groceries have become scarce or nonexistent during the temporary recessional inflationary supply-chain crisis-esque inconvenience meltdown trifle catastrophe that’s been status quo for like two years straight, but at long as we can find pie, or pie can find us, we believe America will stand tall and brave any other challenges ahead. Hopefully.

Our relatives were pretty happy to see each other again. Right on time, my social awkwardness kicked in as all the most interesting and ebullient talkers decided the best place for mingling in varying groupings would be in the room where I wasn’t. Three of us guys who weren’t much on initiating chitchat (all of us being plus-ones to blood kin) were left in the living room with the TV off and no one volunteering to do anything about it. Instead we agreed to find separate directions in which to stare off into space, avoid eye contact, and fall back on the hoary excuse that we were “digesting”. I kept my phone pocketed for as long as I could, but eventually caved. I got in a good forty minutes’ silent, boring doomscrolling before anyone checked on me.

In a few ways I’d missed that. Sort of.

A big black and white doggie sitting by my feet, staring politely.

Their doggie kept me company through some of that. I didn’t get her name.

* Black Friday shopping anyway! On my old blog I used to have an annual tradition of keeping a “Black Friday War Journal”, a complete rundown of times, stops, and purchasing results written throughout the hours I’d spend on Black Friday out there in the predawn pandemonium and the maddened crowds, all written in the terse, paranoiac style of Frank Castle. I walked away from all that as Black Friday metamorphosed into a very different thing over time, but I do miss keeping those War Journals.

Despite our noon engagement, I got out for a few hours in the morning beforehand to grab a couple of minor sales. I saw no customer feeding frenzies, no fistfights, and no police springing into action to quell riots. At 8 a.m. Barnes & Noble was teeming with dozens of teens. At 9 a.m. Target was already sold out of a popular Nintendo Switch game in their ad (or they hadn’t bothered to order any — I checked two different Targets, mind you). By 10 a.m. Best Buy had almost no line at the registers. I was home by 11.

* Family Game Night! That was Saturday evening. I’ve posted in the past about some of our experiences with new board games. The ones that catch our attention are too expensive for us to make this a regular habit, although after seeing how many Likes my Instagram posts get whenever I share them, it’s really tempting to reinvent myself as a Board Game Guy. Our latest acquisition is Terraforming Mars, a 2016 release in which each player is a future corporation doing its part to turn Mars into Earth Junior, ostensibly in the name of solving a humanitarian crisis and advancing humankind’s frontiers and scientific achievements, but also you’re competing to see who can take the most credit. Corporations gonna corporate.

The setup and teaching phases took us far too long, but eventually we picked up speed as we got used to the rules, slowly realized which of the zillions of scores ‘n’ stats mattered most, and figured out how to sabotage other’s plans in the grand corporate tradition. My son won this initial skirmish, but I expect different results next time. Hopefully.

Terraforming Mars board game, which comes with literally a few hundred components, including over 200 cards.

Anne and I hope to start on season 3 of Apple+’s For All Mankind in the next few weeks or so. This game feels like an apropos prologue.

* Solo Game Nights! Or, “how I spend every night after 9:00 when I’m not sleepy and not writing, which is most of them lately.” Fallout 3 has been keeping me company. I’ll write more about it in the next annual “Old Guy with a PS3” entry, but for now let me say that, considering the number of years I spent playing nothing but Skyrim, luring me into a game whose mechanics and sandbox sprawl are virtually identical to Skyrim‘s was like handing a Jack Daniels gift-box to your alcoholic dad. Thankfully there aren’t nearly as many locations, and the Capital Wasteland is far smaller than Tamriel, so maybe I’ll “finish” it sometime early in 2023. The less I write here, the more time I have for covering ground there.

"Radiation Warning" sign in Fallout 3.

The fence around Fallout 3‘s crater where the White House used to be. Lately this image could also double as Twitter’s home page.

* Xfinity Watchathon! A few times per year, our old-fashioned cable TV provider will treat their customers to several free days of premium services they refuse to subscribe to normally. That’s when I catch up on my HBO stories. My last Watchathon was devoted entirely to season 3 of Barry, which remains amazing; this time in between all the other activities I just wrote about above, I managed to fit in ten episodes of Succession (I ended with season 3’s riotous shareholders’ meeting, and hope the next episode doesn’t begin with poor Frank still trapped at the podium vamping for time), the HBO Max original film See How They Run (a frivolous whodunit with some historical facts blended in, and I cheered when I recognized Lucian Msamati from the awesome Gangs of London as Agatha Christie’s husband), and, for Mom’s Thanksgiving afternoon entertainment as a lifelong fan of disaster films, Roland Emmerich’s Moonfall, the worst 2022 film I’ve seen so far. Thanks, Comcast, mostly!

* A funeral. Anne’s great-uncle, her Mamaw’s youngest brother, passed away Thanksgiving Eve after three years of compounding illnesses and conditions. He was an Air Force veteran who went on to work for the FAA, he served on the local township school board for sixteen years, he spent over five decades in the Lions Club and assorted charity works, he used to take the family out for Christmas dinner every year at Gray Bros. Cafeteria in Mooresville, and he was always kind to me and my son whenever he saw us, same as he was to pretty much anyone who intersected with his path. His numerous accomplishments added up to the sort of obituary that makes you hope your own obit won’t end up a two-line slug that just says, “Mostly harmless.”

* Things that will get their own MCC entries in the week ahead! Stick with us as I’m on staycation all next week and should have plenty of time to write about:

  • The Menu, a wicked but sadly overlooked satire of wealthy foodies and the restaurateurs who take too much pride in serving them.
  • A field trip to see a collection of special Christmas trees in a local museum.
  • Our next convention! I spent Monday night prepping for this coming weekend’s big soiree, which will take us to a city in another state that we’ve already visited twice this year, whose convention center we walked around once but have never been inside before.

…and maybe even more, more, more, right here on MCC! If you don’t read about all these by next Wednesday, please tell Anne to go drag me out of Fallout 3 kicking and screaming.

“The Crown” Season 5: All Ten Episodes Ranked According to a Guy Who Was Never All That Attached to Princess Diana

Elizabeth Debicki and Salim Daw at a horsing exhibition in episode 3 of The Crown season 5, "Mou-Mou".

Princess Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) and Mohamed Al-Fayed (Salim Daw) enjoy themselves a little too much in the Royal Penalty Box.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: at the start of the pandemic my wife Anne and I binged the first three seasons of Netflix’s The Crown and soon caught up with the rest of fandom. One slight hitch: while Anne is a major history aficionado, that was never my forte, especially not the story of Queen Elizabeth II and her subjects, some of whom were her own trod-upon relatives:

Compared to my blissfully ignorant self, Anne is far more knowledgeable of history in general and British royalty in particular. My interest in their reigning family went dormant for decades beginning on the morning of July 29, 1981, when my family woke up at 5 a.m. — over summer vacation, mind you — to watch Prince Charles marry Princess Diana, two strangers I knew only as frequent costars of my mom’s favorite tabloids. Their wedding lasted approximately six days and was performed entirely in slow motion with British golf commentators prattling through the lengthy silences in between the happenstances of nothingness. For the next 15-20 years I retained nothing of British history apart from their role as the Big Bad in the American Revolution. Frankly, I’ve learned more about their country’s storied past from my wife and from Oscar-nominated movies than I ever did from school. Sad, unadorned truth.

So far I’ve enjoyed The Crown anyway, and understood most of what’s gone on…

I found myself so entertained by Peter Morgan’s principally fictional creation that I was compelled to compile my ten favorite episodes of those first three seasons based on my own finicky and sometimes underschooled impressions. That listicle unexpectedly became this site’s most popular entry of 2020 for lack of competition during an unprecedentedly sedentary year. Naturally I was compelled to post follow-ups as they happened — a sequel listicle for season 4 and a recount of that time on Labor Day weekend 2021 when we attended a Dragon Con fan panel about the show but suppressed our responses and ripostes behind our sweaty pop-culture COVID masks in a rather Royal Family manner.

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Our 2022 Road Trip #20: Green Mountain Medley

Our view of Vermont's lush Green Mountains from our hotel parking lot.

Our view of the Green Mountains from the parking lot at our next hotel in Waterbury.

Natural panoramas! American war history! Pandemic-era disappointment! Food! This one has ’em all, in sparing amounts!

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The Ex-Capital Birthday Weekend, Part 4 of 10: A Capital Pack of Markers

The Old State Capitol Building in Corydon, Indiana, surrounded by trees in autumn.

The Old State Capitol in the old state capital on good ol’ Capitol Avenue. Capital!

Back in 2016 Anne and I visited the Indiana State House on the occasion of our state bicentennial and enjoyed the up-close look at where our local government met and worked in easier times before work-from-home became a survival option and later became simply the latest fashion. Before our centrally situated hometown of Indianapolis became the official workplace of the governor and all the rest, Hoosiers reported to the State House’s prequel structure near our southern border.

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“Tár”: Classical Gaslighting

Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tar expounding upon the classical music world to a lunch companion in the film "Tar".

“But enough about me, let’s talk a little more about ME…”

Full disclosure: I suck at fathoming and sorting the full breadth and scope of classical music in all its storied splendor. I can be taught, but my retention sucks through no conscious choice on my part. My wife Anne is far more skilled at recognizing symphonies and suites, catching nuances, spotting themes in film scores and remembering titles of lyricless songs. But she hasn’t seen Tár and prefers to let/watch/make me write my own blog, so here we are with a philistine on the keys, hopefully not too tone-deaf.

Not that I wasn’t looking forward to this! I still recall writer/director Todd Field’s debut, 2001’s In the Bedroom, a Best Picture nominee in which Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek were equally moving as parents dealing with the death of their adult son, Terminator 3‘s John Connor. I never got around to his follow-up Little Children, but that’s my fault, not Field’s. This time I didn’t wait to be prompted by my annual Oscar quest to run out and catch his next work, a taut drama so impeccably dressed and so meticulously crafted within its very specific milieu that you’re halfway into the film before you realize you’re viewing the entire edifice through an unreliable vantage.

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Yes, There’s a Scene During the “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” End Credits

Danai Gurira and Letitia Wright as Okoye and Shuri, wearing expensive non-superhero fashions to "blend in" with mixed results, from Marvel's "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever".

Okoye and Shuri learned everything they know about “going undercover” from James Bond parodies.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: after going 2-for-2 on his first feature films Fruitvale Station and Creed, director Ryan Coogler raised the bar in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Black Panther, and in turn gave Chadwick Boseman a long-overdue boost into super-stardom after years of his own fine works such as 42 and the still-underrated Persons Unknown. His death was among the many, many, many reasons we will never forgive the year 2020 for its endless curses.

Though we were blessed with chances to celebrate his life and talent posthumously in Da 5 Bloods, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and the grand surprisie of an alt-timeline Panther reprise in What If…? season one, the MCU proper never got a chance to say goodbye, to give King T’Challa of Wakanda the big sendoff he would’ve deserved if only Boseman could’ve had a couple more years to perform the honors. Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole return for that very purpose — and so, so much more — with Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

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“Decision to Leave”: The Mountain Between Us

Movie poster for "Decision to Leave" with the two leads atop a mountain, standing next to a victim's chalk outline.

The detective. The widow. The mountaintop. The fall.

If you’ve seen director Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy, perhaps you get why his name might strike fear into my heart, because I can never unsee that film nor unfeel the Grand Guignol trauma I carried for days after. (I can’t think of a single reason to seek out Spike Lee’s remake, and pray no one ever makes an all-ages cartoon prequel called Oldbaby.) I’ve been afraid to watch any of Park’s other films until now. His latest, the crime-drama romance Decision to Leave, likewise follows broken souls careening off each other amidst secrets and death, but is far more interested in examining the emotional contents of two hearts than in spatchcocking them.

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“The Banshees of Inisherin”: Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Colin Farrell bothers Brendan Gleeson in "The Banshees of Inisherin".

“So who do you think would win in a fight, Grindelwald or Mad-Eye Moody?”

Years ago I heard a pastor (not at our home church) sermonize to an auditorium full of men about what he called “radical amputations” — times in his life when he made conscious, arguably over-the-top decisions to remove potential chances for sin to enter his life by any means necessary. He knew his limits and his temptations, and took hard measures to avoid jeopardizing his family, his job, his church, and/or his relationship with Christ. Historically speaking, some pastors have fared far worse at their sin management than others. God bless those who find ways to turn away from impulsive stupidity.

The most drastic example he cited from his own past concerned a onetime assistant of his, apparently a lovely woman who was good at her job. They were frequently alone in the office. She didn’t jokingly flirt with him or do anything remotely resembling a romantic gesture in his direction, but he felt himself growing attracted to her and, shall we say, entertaining impure thoughts on a recurring basis. He never acted on those thoughts or tried to perpetrate anything Weinsteinian on her, but his imagination and hormones wouldn’t shut up. After this had gone on for a bit, he realized something needed to change. So he fired her.

This “radical amputation” on his part amounted to punishment for her despite absolutely no wrongdoing on her part — no performance issues, no rules broken, no red marks on her permanent record or whatever. But he could feel himself in danger of moral/spiritual slippage and decided he needed her permanently and immediately out of his orbit for the sake of everyone and everything that depended on him. Years later that story still doesn’t sit well with me (not once in his sermon did he suggest perhaps he should’ve hit the road), but the concept stuck in my head.

I was graphically reminded of that confession (which he positioned to us as family-man advice) as I sat raptly through The Banshees of Inisherin, the latest film from writer/director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), in which blunt decisions, sin, and stupidity become man’s worst friends.

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“Democracy, Democracy”: An Election Day Carol

Election Day Voting Sticker 2022!

Any resemblance between my Daredevil T-shirt and the Doomsday Clock, or any significance of placing my free “I Voted!” sticker at five minutes till, are largely incidental.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: I do the democracy thing twice a year (yes, even primaries) because I believe I ought to and because they keep letting me. I don’t recall why I didn’t post about it last year. Maybe society was to blame? Or maybe the reason was so dumb that I was counting on my aging brain to forget the reason why, just so I couldn’t blame myself for not writing about it I can’t recall, so maybe Past-Me’s plan worked. Politicians prefer long-term memory loss in their constituents anyway, so really this is just my brain getting into the spirit of the occasion.

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Our 2022 Road Trip #19: Buy Buy Burlington

Big Joe Burrell statue in Burlington, Vermont

A 2010 statue of Vermont jazz legend Big Joe Burrell, who played with the likes of B.B. King, Count Basie, and Phish.

We’re not high-end shoppers who get caught anywhere near boutiques, jewelers, perfumeries, fashion trendsetters, or home decor artisans unless they happen to be next door to the retailers we’d rather visit. And by “we” I especially mean “I”. Anne’s collecting habits are modest bordering on spartan, whereas I’m the one on the lookout for brick-and-mortar purveyors who cater to my hobbies and pop culture interests. Fortunately Burlington had just the district for us.

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