Over the river and through the woods...

Two weeks ago, I made my annual pilgrimage to Idaho for Thanksgiving. Along with my Utah residency, it has become part of my holiday routine to get into the car Thursday morning for the lonely three hour schlep, salivating all the way.

It's an interesting drive, mostly because the interstate is a completely different experience. Instead of semis barreling cross-country, it's flotillas of mini-vans and SUVs loaded with children descending on grandma's house in Blackfoot or Rexburg. Occasionally, you'll see one of these Mormon assault vehicles pulled off to the side of road, adults scurrying about frantically. It's quite easy to guess that some sort of bodily fluid emergency has occurred. And then there are the typical car shenanigans, like the little girl who had crawled up on the rear dash and was making fish faces against the glass.

The pinnacle of the Thanksgiving tomfoolery, however, was my father's recent purchase: A TURKEY FRYER, because nothing says Thanksgiving like a medieval apparatus that boils oil to sufficient temperature to cook a bird the size of carry on luggage in under an hour. Of course, any device imbued with such great power must also come with great responsible, and the turkey fryer is no exception. And like a toddler with super powers, the turkey fryer has been known to to do the following in the hands of your average trailer park chef:

This is why the turkey fryer is accompanied with all sort of warnings:
  1. Don't operate the fryer indoors. (For those of you who thought it would be cool to boil 5 gallons of oil on the kitchen stove.)
  2. Make sure the turkey is completely thawed and dry. (Remember how water an oil don't mix? Now picture water and boiling oil.)
  3. Turn off the flame before lowering the turkey into the oil. (See figure above.)
  4. Do not operate the fryer barefoot. (Really?)
Fortunately, we followed the directions, and our frying went without incident. Looking back, though, I must think about what an odd sight it must have been, the three males of the household, my father in a lawn chair, solemnly gathered around the aluminum pot that contained our Thanksgiving. Rest assured, also, that frying does nothing to diminish the turkey's tryptophan content. I was still quite able to sleep through the football game.


Stuff I like...

My last post was unintentionally whiny. To make up for it, I'd like to highlight a few things that make me happy -- which seems very appropriate this time of year.

  • Sleep: I am the king of sleep. Few things make me happier than sleep. Though I have a hard time reaching unconsciousness, nothing short of an air raid siren can wake me up. I set all my alarms (clock radio, cell phone, and atomic clock) to wake up in the morning. On Saturday morning, I love waking up and realizing that I can go straight back to bed. And I don't think I am ever more contented than when I curl up on the downstairs sofa and fall asleep in front of the afternoon football game.

  • King size beds: With one of these, it's no wonder I love sleep so much. The ability to lie in bed with nary a hand or foot dangling over is the first step to sleeping nirvana. The great irony is that I only sleep comfortably if I confine myself one side of the bed. If I sleep in the middle, I lose all frame of reference and can't remember where things are when I wake up. Odd, I know, but there's a hidden benefit in that the unused side of the bed is great as a laundry staging area.

  • Fresh sheets: does this really need an explanation? Every king size bed needs high thread count sheets, freshly washed. Speaking of, does anybody know which side the scrunchy sides go? I never get it right.

  • Grape Nuts: when you stumble out of your king sized bed, you need breakfast. And though I know they are neither grape nor nut, I always have an industrial sized box of Grape Nuts in my pantry. The great thing about Grape Nuts is that they are three different foods depending on how long you leave them in milk. In stage 1, the pea-gravel stage, they function as mouth exfoliant; in stage 2, the soft outer coating lubricates the crunchy center enough so that they slide in between your teeth so that you have a snack for later; and in stage 3, the Grape Nuts and expand and fuse into some sort of impenetrable wheat lattice that is impervious to water and most soaps. (I discovered stage 3 by accident after leaving a bowl of Grape Nuts in the car all day. I envision potential aerospace applications.)

  • Costco: Where else can you get an industrial sized box of Grape Nuts, a gallon sized can of semi-liquid nacho cheese product, and those really great uncooked flour tortillas that are just as good as Cafe Rio's? Costco people, Costco. AND, they have an unheard of 90 day return policy on electronics that lets you take back your perfectly good iPod for the new one that costs 100 dollars less? I like Costco so much that I have begun to call it "The Costco" in casual conversation. Don't fear, though, I refuse to say "Wal-Marts"

  • Sunday Dinner: I am blessed with a mother of no small culinary talent who frequently dazzled on Sunday. She mastered the oven timer with such prowess that the smell of the roast as you came home from church was enough to bring you to your knees. And when I went off to college, she endured countless calls in my quest to recreate that perfect Sunday dinner. I have achieved a measure of success, and now I realize that Sunday seems eerily incomplete without some form of gravy at the afternoon meal. We may have traded the gravy boat for a Pyrex measuring cup (much easier for mass application), but the spirit of Sunday dinner is alive and well at my new house. Even though we're just a houseful of single dudes, there's something sublime about sharing roast medium well roast beef with friends before you go fall asleep in front of the football game.


More randomness...

Lately, my mind has felt like Boggle. Every few minutes someone shakes my head, turns over the little egg timer, and I'm left trying to make words from random letters until the last grain of sand finally falls.

I think that If I were a boggle game, these would be my latest words:

  • TEAM (1 point): I hate the word team. I hate it because people use it all the time at work. A group of software developers doesn't constitute a team; it's just a group of poorly dressed nerds with questionable social skills. If I'm on a "team", then I demand a lucrative endorsement contract, an offseason, and the ability to break the law without repercussion. Team is one of the original business buzzwords, way before things like "synergy" and "paradigm shift", and people like to use it to promote camaraderie and give everyone warm fuzzies about working together . For me, though, the word team makes me think of Initech and impending TPS reports.
  • MAYBE (2 points): Let's face it people, Jack Johnson was right: "maybe" pretty much always means no. It particular, it means, "No, but I'm not brave enough to say no, so I'm going to be disingenuous and suggest that I might do something when I really have no intention to do it at all." I'm guilty of it too. Beware the maybe. If you really do mean maybe, then find a different way to say it.
  • LEAF (1 point): My yard is covered with them; beautiful yellow, orange, and amber maple leaves larger than your hand ... which have now been rained on, so they adhere themselves to everything in the yard with the force of some invisible industrial adhesive. They also smell like wet dog. Blech.
  • DOG (1 point): My neighbor has the coolest dogs ever. One looks like a wolf, and the other, well, might actually be a small bear. They never ever bark. A few weeks ago, we were watching these little tiny Yorkies, and every time we'd left them out back to do their doggy business, they'd tear up to the fence at full speed and start barking furiously. Wolf and Bear would then trot over to inspect the ferocious Ewoks. They were pretty unimpressed, despite the fervor of the barking. Then, on Saturday, I went outside with the leaf blower to try and pry the leaves off the lawn. Wolf and Bear came over to see my new Toro leaf blower with cast aluminum impeller. I got pretty much the same reaction as the Yorkies. I'm pretty sure the neighbor dogs think I'm some sort of Labrador that uses power tools.
  • WEIRD (2 points) - Jodi just declared that I am weird. This shouldn't be news to anyone. I only come in one flavor: weird.
And ... time just ran out. Shoot. I'll bet everyone got those same words, too. Oh well, seven points isn't bad.


No Room for Moderation?

Finally. It's over. The election is finally over. I am sick and tired of polls and talking about politics. Now maybe I can get some work done at the office without some coworker lamenting the end of civilization if so-and so wins. And, finally finally, we can finally start talking about the most important event of fall: college football.

The thing that I hate about politics is that it is so polarizing. Instead of healthy debates and pragmatism on the issues, every position is either totally right or totally wrong. Can't we see that this is an extremely hostile environment for anyone that wants involve themselves in the political process?

To see what I mean, consider the fundamental social need of human beings to belong. Unconsciously, many of us will tone down our personal beliefs if they don't quite match up with the predominant views of the group we wish to join. We do this as a survival mechanism; no one wants to be an outcast. If you don't believe me, just think about the times when you've been found yourself surrounded by people with significantly different viewpoints than you. What was your reaction? Did you express your true views and risk being an outcast, or did you soften your stance to try and fit in?

This desire to "fit in" isn't necessarily a bad thing, because it helps us to empathize with others and understand their position. If, however, we limit ourselves to cliques that share our own points of view, our views will inevitably become more extreme, as each group member suppresses their individuality and prove their membership through a voracious defense of the group's position.

The best example of this, I think, is the worthless vitriol spewed by both liberal and conservative pundits. As de facto leaders of their respective groups, their views are always the most extreme because they constantly have to solidify their position as group leader. As a result, we see the loudmouths of each party become louder and more obnoxious as time goes on.

Given enough time, our desire to fit it can result in an unwillingness to consider alternate views, making conservatives more conservative and liberals more liberal. We have to break this cycle and realize that just because you understand how one group arrives at a particular position doesn't mean that you'll end up agreeing with them. Similarly, it needs to be okay to change their mind on an issue without being labeled as weak.

Interestingly enough, I would have voted for McCain in 2000. He seemed like a moderate voice in increasingly partisan times. Unfortunately, his primary loss to Bush took all the moderate out of him. This time around, he played the party games to secure the nomination, but then tried desperately to define himself as a maverick without alienating the party base. Who knows how things might have turned out if he had been brave enough to run as a true moderate.

What I really want to see in American politics is the candidate who is brave enough to be a true moderate, to think on his or her feet, and acknowledge all points of view. Ultimately, I'm ready for pragmatism instead of platforms.


Clothes make the man...

I was never a huge fan of Halloween growing up. I blame it on the fickle Idaho weather. It seemed like every costume was foiled by snow or sleet or wind. It's a little disheartening as an eight year old to have to cover your awesome Superman costume with a puffy winter coat. Superman never had to wear a coat on his trips to the the Fortress of Solitude, so it seemed really ignominious to have to have to wear one to just to walk around the block.

This year, though, I was actually looking forward to Halloween, mostly because I rediscovered the power of the costume. This time last year, the roommate and I were lamenting the onerous task of attending costume parties and trying to come with a suitable costume at the last minute, but this year, we planned ahead and decided to go big. And it totally paid off. Who you gonna call?

So, let this be a lesson: the awesomeness of Halloween is directly proportional to the awesomeness of your costume. I'd even call it the first Law of Halloween. I'll let you know when I develop a formula that captures the complex interactions of the differing variables, but it'll probably be something like this:
The Ghostbusters costume is awesome because even though it's not very intricate, it's a great 80's pop culture reference and I totally look like Dan Akroyd. The formula also explains why the girl wandering around with a framed picture of a Freud hanging from her neck wins the award for lamest costume ever. Being too clever can definitely kill a costume. It can also redeem it, as the guy in the AIG bathrobe and slippers proved.

So, Happy Halloween! Remember to never cross the streams.