My best brisket to date

The in-laws didn’t want to have turkey for Christmas dinner. I really wanted to smoke a turkey, but understood where Steve and Joanne were coming from. They bought a 16 lb. turkey for Thanksgiving and had been eating on it ever since. They were rightfully tired of eating turkey. I didn’t feel like brisket was an appropriate Christmas dinner, so we settled on a nice beef top roast.

Steve and Joanne can’t come down without me barbecuing something, so we decided to hold off and due the brisket the Saturday after new years. I went to HEB and picked up a 17-pound prime packer. I’ve only ever purchased select briskets because I was of the thought that it didn’t matter what grade the cow was given. I was slow cooking cheap meat so why should grade matter? I think it does matter. So much so that I want to smoke another prime brisket very soon. The prime just had so much more marbling in it.

I still don’t know how to really trim a whole brisket. Especially the big fat layer between the point and the flat. I was getting frustrated when I was trimming this brisket and was going down a rabbit hole in how-to videos on YouTube, so I finally just split the brisket into the point and the flat and treated them as two separate briskets.

If I recall correctly, I think I had a 5 lb point and an 8 lb. flat after I trimmed both cuts. And instead of cooking by weight, I cooked by temperature this time. I received an instead read thermometer for Christmas and decided to put that thing to use. Whenever each cut got to 165-170-degrees I pulled it and double wrapped it in foil and put it back on the smoker at ~230-degrees until the brisket got to above 190-degrees and then I pulled it off the smoker. I let both cuts rest for 3+ hours and they were both amazing.

Here are the 4 main takeaways from this last brisket I smoked:

  • Buy a quality brisket (Prime or better)
  • Trim the deckle but don’t worry so much about removing the huge fat layer between the two muscles
  • Use a water pan underneath the brisket if you’re not using an off-set smoker
  • Cook to temperature vs. weight (wrap at 165, pull at 195)

The day when the Christmas season comes to a smashing stop

It’s the first Monday after “the holidays.” I’ve always thought of it as the first day of back to “normal” after Christmas. Christmas is that holiday and time of year that I think most people who celebrate Christmas traditions look forward to the most in a year. Family, gifts, food, traditions, time off of school and work, memories to be made. And everyone seems to just be in a better mood for a small slice of time in the Earth’s tour around the sun.

We stayed at our home in Austin this year and Steve and Joanne drove down from Des Moines on the 23rd and spent the holidays with us. They’re hitting the road and heading home today. And today I’m back to work.

The season just abruptly ends. I guess it just kind of has to. I feel like Christmastime has a bit of a lead-up. We start getting “festive” around Thanksgiving. The day after Thanksgiving they start playing Christmas music on the radio and in stores and restaurants. We start sending and receiving Christmas cards. People post their family photos and photos of trees and decorations on social media. And than all culminates into whatever exciting tradition(s) we have. For us it’s Mass, the dinner on Christmas eve, and waking up on Christmas morning and ripping through wrapping paper to unveil presents.

But there’s not really any kind of wind-down of Christmas. Steve and Joanne will be gone in a couple hours and I’ll be at my desk, responding to communications with no reciprocating sense of holiday cheer. Conversations that easily take place in the middle of August, where Christmas isn’t even a blip.

It’s like when a movie ends or you finish a really good book. There’s a mourning that happens. Only in this story, you’re the protagonist. I always wonder if I did enough, gave enough, loved enough. It’s always been like that for me, ever since I was a little kid. And then that turns into that brief period of the Post-Christmas Blues that I think a lot of us endure.

All too often these days I feel like I’m acknowledging how life is fleeting, so in that theme is easy to realize it that Christmas will be here again before we know it. While I’m not a religious person, I married into a religious family, and I know that Christmas doesn’t actually officially end until Epiphany on January 6th. So we’ve a couple days left.

Merry Christmas!

A tradition

I started measuring the girls’ height when they could barely stand.

I’ve seen a lot of folks measure their kids in a closet door frame. And then when they go to sell their house, they have to paint over those memories.

I bought some trim and tacked it up in the garage so we can take these memories with us.

Hindsight’s 2020

January 31, 2020. This photo is of the window in my home office. I’ve been working from home since late March; ever since the Novel Coronavirus Disease of 2019 shook the world. A lot of rain and cold weather swept in last night. Kind of a fitting way to end one of the craziest years I’ve experience in my nearly 45 years on this earth.

2020 has been a fog and a haze for me. I’m looking back at old photos from one year ago and reflecting this morning. We were driving back from a white Christmas in Des Moines on December 30th of last year. We stopped at Hog Wild BBQ in Wichita for dinner. Pretty sure it was last year that I’d finally resolved that any kind of pork is the right way to go with midwest barbecue. Leave the brisket to Texas.

Frank, Rich, Scott and I ran 20kms on New Years Day 2020. That was the first time I met Rich. He and I have run a few times together since. We both have freshman children who both run cross country. Rich is a good guy, and it’s always good to run with good friends on New Years Day. In fact, we’re doing it again on New Years Day ’21, but I think we’ll have a lot more people this time.

I guess in early 2020 I’d quietly resolved to get rid of stuff. I sold an old TV, armoire, gaming systems, clothing, a bike, stroller, and random stuff. We had Christmas at Mom’s.

On January 19th I ran the Houston Marathon in 2:56:45 and had what I think is the best race of my life. I could relive that day over and over. I took the following day off and the girls and I ate lunch and played corn hole at Valentina’s. On January 21st Elise and I saw TOOL at the Frank Irwin Center.

We got tickets for Maly to see Alec Benjamin. That would’ve been her first concert, and she used to be a huge Alec Benjamin fan. We surprised her with the tickets and she burst out into tears.

Mara had her first reconciliation at St. Catherine’s. I turned 44. I started training Jess for a BQ attempt in Mt. Charleston.

I ran the Austin Marathon a few weeks after having run the Houston Marathon. That was also a fun race. I used it as a training run for the Antelope Canyon 50-mile ultra that was coming up in March.

We watched the Olympic Trials Marathon, ran 10 miles up and down Convict Hill and then circumnavigated Lake Georgetown with Shawn and Abiram.

Then it was Spring Break. March 11th and we found ourselves in line to rent a car at McCarran in Vegas when the headlines on CNN said:


And that’s when Elise and I looked at each other and knew things were serious. Thankfully we were about to hop into a car and go out to some remote places, fairly far removed from crowds.

We had a very nice time up in Arizona and Utah. I ran the Antelope Canyon 50-miler. We toured the slot canyons, took the girls to see the Grand Canyon. We drove into Utah and spent a day in Bryce Canyon and a few days in Zion. All of which were amazingly beautiful, relaxing and insipiring. In a time where everything is chaotic and hospitals are overrun, I don’t know if there’s a better place to be than Zion.

It was difficult to come from that trip. Coming home to quarantine, social distancing, flattening the curve, the new normal, Zoom meetings. Everything was changing. A lot of people at my work were leaving. Many were close friends.

In person school and going to the office stopped. We’ve been working and going to school from our house ever since late March.

No races to train for, and since I was working from home, I decided to run every single street in Circle C. Elise went out on the bike with me for a few of those runs, so that was fun to have her along with me.

We got a trampoline

The girls (and pretty much every kid in the world) had driveby birthday parties.

Elise finished the back yard retaining wall under our bedroom window. We upgraded our phones.

Our tree got oak wilt. We saved a frog that got it’s head stuck in the city water valve cover. I smoked a lot of ribs, pork butts and briskets. We made a deep dish pizza in the cast iron skillet.

Maly ran 24 miles in 24 hours.

I rebuilt our deck furniture. We went out to Rob and Tara’s land out in San Angelo.

We drove 1,000 miles to Des Moines for 4th of July and Mara’s first communion. The AC went out in the car somewhere in Oklahoma.

Elise procured a bunch of limestone rocks from Meg and Mike so she could create a walkway from our back gate.

We bought electric bikes. Elise and I hiked 14 miles in the Slaughter Creek preserve and in Circle C. Elise was supposed to run the TROT Wildflower Trail Half Marathon on Mother’s Day, but that was canceled because of Covid, so she opted to do the virtual version of the race.

We spent a week at the lakehouse in Horseshoe Bay with the Gainors.

The stock market surged. I decided to cash out of some shares and pay off our mortgage.

We paid off our house on September 1st.

I bought a compound bow and took up archery as a hobby.

Mara started 3rd grade. Maly started her freshman year in high school. She also tried out for, and made, the cross country team. She ran in 3 meets.

Elise and I went to Jack Allan’s for our 19th anniversary. We took the girls to the Barr Mansion for a picnic on the lawn the day after our 19th anniversary.

Elise and I rode our bikes all the way to the Amazon return center on the UT campus.

Mara and I were hanging out one weekend in early October, we went to Academy and I bought her a bow.

Ray, Nico, Mara and me went to the pond in Meridian and fished sunfish.

I shaved off this beard that I’d been growing for a year. I started growing it in October 2019 as race season and winter were coming. Then the Coronavirus rattled our world, so I decided to let the beard grow so, if anything, it made me look like I could survive some pretty serious shit.

Halloween came. Halloween was fun this year. Everyone put candy on tables on the driveways or front porches. Candy was rationed out and separated to help trick or treaters maintain social distancing. It was different, but it was fun.

I helped pace Remo in the Japapeno 100 on the 7IL Ranch in Cat Spring. I don’t think I’d run more than a 10k in recent months and went out and ran on sand trails for 24 miles in the pre-dawn hours. That was fun.

I finished the European mount of that big buck that dad shot on the land before he died.

Started repairing and fletching my own arrows. I started running almost exclusively on the trails. I have no idea why. I think it’s just this time of year. And maybe I just really want some secluded alone time in nature.

Thanksgiving was quiet at our house. No traveling to Oklahoma this year. We did an informal annual Circle C Turkey trot in the morning. I smoked a turkey. Elise made all the sides. The turkey was a bit salty (double brined), but made for good turkey pot pie later in the week. We ate Thanksgiving dinner on the deck this year because the weather was so nice.

Under Armour divested MyFitnessPal. My team and I were part of the sale. On December 18th, the sale was finalized and I no longer work for Under Armour. I wore my Boston Marathon Adidas shoes on that day.

Christmas was at our house this year. Steve and Joanne drove down from Des Moines. The power to our thermostat was tripped because of a drain pan safety valve on the AC unit in the attic, so Steve and I fixed that. We had the usual Christmas Eve tortellini soup. 6 p.m. mass at St. Catherine’s. Busy Christmas morning with presents abound. We did a tour of the neighborhood Christmas lights on Christmas night. We did the trail of lights on December 28th.

A lot of hanging out, cooking, and eating too much.

I can’t say 2020 was a bad year. In fact, it was really a good year. Things were definitely different and everyone’s focus shifted. My focus definitely shifted. It shifted so much that I think I might actually make resolutions in 2021. Make myself a few new NEW normals.

Mortality and forgotten

I happened across a CNN article about Dawn Wells dying at age 82 from compications caused by COVID-19. Dawn Wells played Mary Anne on ‘Gilligan’s Island.’

That lead me to the next article, Notable deaths in 2020. Click after click and I found myself thinking, “I didn’t know he died” or, “oh, I’d forgotten that she died.” Was that seriously this year? Here today, gone the next. And quick to be forgotten.

2,022 miles for the year

I checked my year-to-date stats on Strava this morning and saw that I was at 2,011 miles. 2,011 miles is the furthest I’ve run in a year in the 7 years that I’ve been running. I always though it would be cool to run the year in miles.

It probably helped that this year started with a lot of big races. I was putting in high mileage while training for the Houston Marathon. Then I ran Houston on January 19th and immediately jumped right back into marathon training to get ready for the Antelope Canyon 50-miler in March. I ran the Austin Marathon in February as a training run. And then COVID happened and I’ve just kept running with nothing to train for other than just maintaining my sanity. And it’s been nice working from home because I’ll usually take a break from work and go for a run midday.

And I’m not planning on being done with running for the year. I still have a couple more days. But, if the universe has other plans, at least I beat 2020 in mileage.