thanksgiving in the back yard

Thanksgiving 2021

Happy Thanksgiving! Oh wait it’s January the 7th. Right, well this sketch drawn on the iPad in my mother-in-law’s back yard in Santa Rosa was done on Thanksgiving 2021, the sky was very blue though the light was a little muted so shadows were soft, and we did absolutely zero Black Friday shopping the next day because ha, no more of that. Remember when they’d get up at 4am to stand in the cold outside Best Buy or Target? Those days are gone. Thanksgiving as you know is the big American holiday where you eat turkey, mash potatoes, cranberry sauce, all things I love, but I really love stuffing, and I really love gravy. Stuffing and gravy, oh man. I love a roast.

I’ve drawn this back yard before a couple of times, and it has changed a lot over the years, but here’s a very early one from way back in early 2007, when it looked very different. That’s the old dog Brutus asleep there, long since departed. That tree is gone too. This was when I drew in a WH Smith cartridge paper sketchbook from England, before I started using Moleskine sketchbooks, long before any iPads, and I was still figuring out watercolours, I was still using a fairly cheap but cheerful set from the university bookstore. I can tell exactly the colours used (payne’s gray mixed with ultramarine and purple lake) to get that specific shadow on the door, because I still sometimes mix those three to get the colour of shadow I want, and it was a bit of trial and error for this one at the time. I enjoy looking at the sketches from those first couple of years in the US, and I am glad I felt it so important to draw them. I still do.

lois's garden

hurrah for thanksgiving day!

Thanksgiving wall 2014
Happy Thanksgiving to you all! Unless you’re not in America in which case, enjoy your Very Normal Thursday. In anticipation of our lovely eat-turkey-and-pumpkin-pie holiday I decided to get to work making something festive for our wall, and here it is. All cut from paper, with the main letters made of little paper mosaics. Here are the leaves, which will also go all over the table. Can I recommend making loads of paper leaves as a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon? It really is.
Here is an in-progress shot of the mosaic-making project, including a very British cup of tea.
Thanksgiving Letters
And some thanksgiving coloured flowers. The big paper bag turkey was made by my son at school, and I love it.
Thanksgiving wall 2014


is it merry black friday or happy black friday?

black friday 2011, 4th st Santa Rosa
Black Friday. It’s the day when the U.S. economy takes a brief break from it’s colossal downturn, and when Christmas lists are checked and checked off, the post-thanksgiving sales. It seems that Black Friday is getting earlier every year; it used to be the 4am lining up in the cold outside Best Buy, then it was mmidnight opening, now big stores like Toys R Us are opening at 9pm on Thanksgiving, with lines around the block. Thanksgiving is America’s favourite holiday, but it almost feels as if Black Friday is becoming more focal, especially given its importance to the economy. I am personally not built for Black Friday. I stay home with my son during the morning time, watching Cars and Charlie Brown. I did the early sales once, never again. It’s all very overwhelming; I might get out in the afternoon for a bit, but, like this year, I am usually just drawing stuff. Above and below, fourth street in downtown Santa Rosa. That evening, we went to Santa Rosa’s courthouse square for the Christmas Tree lighting ceremony, with music and activities for kids and photos with Santa, who rode in on a fire truck (inspiring my advent calendar). And it was all free, even the photos! A very nice evening. That’s the one thing about Black Friday, as the day after Thanskgiving, it’s traditionally the first day of Christmas time.  
black friday 2011 D & 4th, Santa Rosa

Below, my wife, my mother-in-law and my brother-in-law busy checking the ads on Thanksgiving afternoon, pre-turkey dinner. I do like Thanksgiving, love a bit of turkey and stuffing, lubbly jubbly.
angela looking at the black friday ads on thanksgivinglois also looking at the black friday ads on thanksgivingkris probably also looking at the black friday ads on thanksgiving

home again

mum's kitchenI just got back from two weeks in London, where the weather was changeable and there was Match of the Day, trifle and turkey rasher sandwiches to look forward to. And now the scanning and posting begins in earnest! I sketched a lot in London. There was a lot to sketch. But it was cold, very cold, sometimes wet, very wet, and the sun went down at about half-past three, so it was dark, very dark. I loved it. I do miss my home town sometimes.

However, by being across the pond we were missing Thanksgiving, so my American wife cooked my British family a lovely Thanksgiving meal of roast turkey, mashed potaoes, green beans with caramelized onions, gravy and amazing pumpkin pie to finish it off. Thanksgiving is my favourite of the American holidays, by far, so it was nice to share that with my family in Burnt Oak.mum's living room

I got up very early (jetlag) and sketched in the kitchen, pre-meal. I also drew a slice of the living room. I wasn’t involved with the cooking; my job that day was to entertain my son, so I took him out and we explored the town where I was born (well, the suburb), the park, the shops, the library. This is the house where I grew up, drawn quickly in purple micron pen.

It was nice being back home in the UK, though it was only for a short while. I enjoyed Match of the Day (Lineker and his banter with Hansen), I lapped up the trifle (especially my brother’s, he has a secret recipe), and I ate a lot of turkey rasher sandwiches. Bliss.

back in black

black friday
I hope you all had a Happy Thanksgiving! Except if you’re in the UK, in which case ‘Happy Last Thursday’. Or Canada, in which case ‘Belated Happy Thanksgiving’. Or everywhere else. Anyway, it’s the most turkey-ful time of the year, and why not. I love thanksgiving, for the food. The autumnal colours are always nice as well.

But the next day is Black Friday. Black, because of the mood after spending hours locked into the consumerist nightmare that is big box america, home of the all-you-can-spend strip-mall. Black Friday sounds rather like a good pirate’s name, “yarrr, Captain Black Friday, shiver me timbers.” In a way though, Black Friday is the captain, that is supposed to steer the ship of the economy back on course (but you wouldn’t trust ‘im, an’ he’s only got one leg, etc etc). Not for me the 4:30 lining up in the freezing darkness outside Best Buy – I did that two years ago as an experiment, and have no need to do so again. I popped down to the action zone later on in the day though, to see for myself the economy rumbling back into gear, and spent hours stuck there in the maelstrom (or the toy department of Target at least), coming away with not a clue and no bargains at all. I did stop to draw Best Buy though. Looks very peaceful, doesn’t it.

Speaking of autumnal colours, the day before Thanksgiving we actually had some rain in Davis. said there was a Severe Weather Warning for the Sacramento Valley. Severe weather. Shit. I looked, and they said there would be Some Rain, 30-40% chance. Some rain. Well, I braved the severe weather and got a tiny bit damp, 30 or 40% damp on my jacket at least, dodging brown leaves as they fluttered gently to the puddle-spotted pavement, and drew the picture below. Severe weather, seriously.
il pleut

By the way, I posted both of these drawings on Urban Sketchers this week. Good reminder for you to go and check that site out; it’s nearly a month old, with hundreds of urban drawings already.

Year 2, Weeks 59-61: Black Friday

It’s probably my favourite thing about America. It’s a day devoted to food, family, and food; you get to play board games while the sugar from the pumpkin pie kicks in to negate the sleepy effects of the turkey; you get to kick back with a beer and watch the football (American that is) if you’re that way inclined (ie, an American and male), or the Macy’s Parade; and you get the pleasure of saying “have a good weekend” to co-workers on a Wednesday afternoon. Thanksgiving, or Turkey Day to some, has been an American tradition every November since the pilgrims (well, since Lincoln at any rate), and celebrates the simpler side of American culture – it is free from religious argument, it doesn’t have any annoying songs, and because you don’t have to give presents the crass commercialism of modern life is forgotten: for a day, we’re all pilgrims. It’s not forgotten for long; Christmas Shopping Season arrives with a bang, the very next morning, and what a bang.

They call it Black Friday, because that’s when the stores go from being in the red to the black. They should call it Red & Green Friday, because that’s when retailers take down their Fall oranges and browns and magically make Christmas decorations appear. Suffice to say, it is the Busiest Shopping Day of the Year ™. Normally, being stuck in crowds of tired and grumpy people in the dark early hours fighting over the half-priced electronic toy nobody needs but everyone wants is pretty much my idea of hell, on a par with being in Holloway on a Saturday afternoon when Arsenal are playing. All of these people, most of whom probably would not raise an eyebrow let alone a protest banner if the President ripped up the Constitution, congregating masse to the cathedrals of consumerism at 5am, having spent much of the evening before studying several rainforests’ worth of newspaper ads (never the news itself, though), armed with strategies and Christmas lists. Pete usually prays for rain and cold winds, and stays at home in bed; no discount is worth that effort. Well this year, as an experiment, I decided to take part in this cultural experience, and see if the reports of rioting at the checkout were true.

At four-thirty we rolled out of bed and into warm clothes; brushing hair was not an option. Best-Buy was advertising a laptop for $399, so that was our destination. Us, and everybody else in the western hemisphere. Hundreds of people were lined up right around the block, waiting patiently while pock-faced store workers geed up the crowd with patronizing and completely sincere comments like “are you excited yet?!” My excitement was low, my patience thin, my cynicism high as a Dutchman. Eventually the doors opened, and the fun began. I don’t remember a great deal, to be honest, except that the chaos was far more orderly than I had feared, and although we did not (of course) get the laptop, we did come away with a new $80 flat-screen PC monitor. Let the bargain shopping begin.

I didn’t last much longer. The sun came up, and I retreated to the comfort of the bed, but my wife and her mother soldiered on, getting most of their holiday shopping done in one fell swoop. I on the other hand got up after midday, and shuffled half-heartedly around the local mall. I’m such a shopping lightweight. I looked through some of the papers, with their handy advice on Black Friday shopping (“while one person is trying on clothes another can start waiting in line,” one sage journalist suggests). At least we had the rest of the weekend to recover, and we needed it. We put up our Christmas tree, and it has already added a warm festive glow to the apartment, though it pales in comparison to some of the ridiculously lit-up houses nearby, who have probably saved up all year to pay the electric bill (they’ve obviously never seen An Inconvenient Truth). I tell you what though, that’s not the last turkey I’ll be eating this year. Christmas in London, here we come.

Week Nine: Turkey Day

In the UK people complain about Christmas getting earlier every year, to the tune of Wizzard’s “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day”. In the US, however, Christmas comes when it is told – that is, on the day after Thanksgiving, announced on calendars as ‘The Biggest Shopping Day Of The Year’. Across fifty states, while the turkey, the cranberries and the pumpkin pie are settling down for the night, coupons are carefully cut out of colossal piles of newspaper adverts, while alarms are set for thankless wee hours, all for the pleasure of braving the November elements and the restless lines outside Best Buy. Most people have their Christmas shopping done by about midday, if they survive the crowds fighting over the last half-price laptop. Tensions run so high that in one news report, one Wal-Mart customer said he would be bringing a gun for security next year. There’s no need, you can buy one while you’re there.

The rush to the shops ushers in the green-and-red coloured (green money, red accounts) season, drawing a close to what is surely America’s Favourite Holiday. It is also perhaps its purest, unsurprising given Thanksgiving’s supposedly puritan origins. The pressure of Gift-Giving is utterly absent, as is the boring seasonal complaint about the commercialisation of a religious feast. Unlike at Christmas time, Hollywood churns out no big awful Thanksgiving movies. It is unsullied and simple, yet wholly American – this is one holiday the US feels no need to share with the world (except the Canadians, who hold their own Thanksgiving a month earlier). It is a family feast, and boy is it a feast.

It all begins on Wednesday afternoon, aka “One Of The Biggest Travel Days Of The Year” (the other being the Sunday after). TV is pretty much limited to live reports from airports and congested freeways, interspersed with tips on cooking the turkey and stories about the Pilgrims. If anybody actually makes it to the family homestead in time for Thanksgiving morning, they can expect to watch the quite dreadful Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade live from New York. If you have watched any New York-based comedy, you will know that this parade is huge, and consists largely of enormous themed balloons of characters such as Garfield or Ronald McDonald. In those shows something ‘hilarious’ always goes wrong, such as Porky Pig floats away or collapses onto a crowd. This year, for real (as Ali G might put it), one balloon actually did fall down, injuring a small girl. Now I know I always found such events ridiculously corny as a sitcom joke, but in real life I must admit I found it pretty amusing. Much more amusing than the American Football, which is the other Thanksgiving televisual tradition, but by then I was well into the pre-meal snacks.

Now according to the American public broadcasting channel, whose opinion I value over all other US channels (which is not saying very much, really), Thanksgiving was meant to be a fast, until Benjamin Franklin came along with his bag of vowels and said it should be made a feast. An extra point in Scrabble for one thing. I don’t know how true that is, nor do I care, but let me tell you, if it’s done to tradition it’s the biggest dinner you’ll ever eat. The turkey is generally gigantic and takes about a month to cook. Dessert this year consisted of a showdown: pumpkin pie (excellently cooked by my wife) vs apple pie (wonderfully baked by her mom). We aren’t talking Blur vs Oasis here; I had both, and my stomach wasn’t complaining. Where pie is concerned, there is always room at the inn.

I washed it all down with a few glasses of local hefe-weizen beer, and put my feet up to watch the evening movie. Sadly, it was a repeat of the seriously dated Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and I knew Santa was already on his way, bringing his bad movie tv with him. While watching the scene of the big mothership with my belly making strange alien noises, a thought occurred to me: I’m glad it isn’t Thanksgiving Every Day. If it were, the average American would be a whole lot fatter – now there’s something to give thanks for.

Originally posted 11/29/2005