high-minded drivel

high-minded (adjective) - refined; cultured; particularly civilized. drivel (noun) - senseless talk; nonsense.

Friday, January 28, 2011

I'm not advocating Ashton Kutcher or anything, but...

Gawd.  Last night I turned in my final MLHR project, and there are few things I can recall that I've been more happy to be done with.  After three years of skating by in grad school, it's like the MLHR program finally woke up and took on a life of its own, saying "Hey!  What are you doing here?  Rar rar rar rar!"  (That last part represents the MLHR program coming at me swinging its fists)  If the program was more rigorous, I would have been conditioned to this treatment from the beginning, but as it worked out, all the hard work was saved for the last quarter.  Rather than leaving the degree program with head held high, feeling proud of an accomplishment, I think I'll be leaving with a good-riddance middle finger raised.  And my frustration isn't with the program itself.  The blame for the dissatisfaction rests squarely on my shoulders.  I'm the one who chose to go through the program despite not having a burning interest (or much interest at all) in a long-term career in Human Resources.  I'm the one who subsequently chose to take shortcuts and easy routes through the program rather than choosing to become engaged in my classes and work hard.  I'm the one who went through the program with the singular goal of getting a Master's degree, not the goal of truly learning or developing myself all that much.  So maybe there is some benefit to this whole experience in the end after all: I probably won't make a similar bad choice again in the future.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Put the stew on, Jacob Marley is coming over

Today was a pretty nice day in Columbus.  It was only 4 degrees early this morning, but the sun was shining and there was no wind, so by the time the afternoon rolled around it had turned into a good day for a run.  Today my chosen course went south on the bike trail to Confluence Park, back up Neil Avenue, through Goodale Park, and then the rest of the way up High Street.  The miles are gradually increasing, and with them my stamina, self-esteem, and ability to eat stuff without getting fat.  Because there's nothing like celebrating a boost in your self-esteem with a burger and a pile of waffle fries at Champs.

Winter itself comes with its own bedfellows as well.  They are not necessarily strange bedfellows, because some are expected and widely recognized.  However, others may be less anticipated.

The first hallmark of the cold season that we shall consider is dirty cars.  Car washing is a common practice in the warmer months, but quickly falls by the wayside as soon as it becomes cold enough out that water will freeze and/or people don't want to stand outside a enclosed space with a perfectly good heater for any old reason.  Interestingly, it is the winter months that lead to cars being their dirtiest because of all the grimy slush and salt that gets flung onto the sides of cars making their way through the snowy streets.  With this in mind, people eagerly flock to car washes as soon as a rare warm day comes along, with the goal of getting their car clean and preserving the life of its exterior by a little bit.  Some go the route of the "manual" car wash, where the driver actually gets out of the car, puts some quarters in a receptacle, and proceeds to use the ever-popular "foaming brush" to clean their vehicle, which is really akin to a person using a washcloth that has already been rubbed all over the bodies of thousands of other bodies previously.  And people say they love their cars!

Anyway, another route to take is the gas station car wash, which is like super-sizing the extra value meal that is your standard fuel fill-up.  And this really is an appropriate parallel, because just as you can Biggie Size It, Really Biggie Size It, or "Biggie" Is Really A Kind Description Size It here in 'Merica, you can select the extensiveness of your car cleaning when utilizing the gas station drive-thru wash.  I decided to use the car wash at the local Marathon station on a recent warm-ish day, and have to say that I was perplexed when presented with my car wash options.  They were as follows: Buckeye, The Schott, The Horseshoe, and St. John.  All appropriately "Ohio Statey" for a business close to campus, but utterly devoid of useful information, including the price for each option.  Was Buckeye a more extensive wash than The Horseshoe?  What was the price difference between St. John and The Schott?  None of this seemingly important detail was provided.  Buckeye was the first on the list, and seemed to be the most generically named of the bunch, so it got my vote with the thought that it was probably the least extensive and least expensive.  Of course, I was wrong.  Buckeye was the most extensive and most expensive wash, and probably the gas station owners put it at the top of the list thinking that unsuspecting customers would fall prey, just as I did.  And just let me say, if Buckeye was the best wash available, I'd hate to see St. John.  For St. John they probably pump in the slush water from the street and spray it on your car, and then use the dryers to bake it on.  Yeesh.  Buckeye didn't even have any octopus strips.

A second hallmark of winter is stews.  Few things are as glorious as a nice stew, stewed for at least an hour to fill the kitchen with a pleasing stewy aroma before being consumed in belly-warming delight.  Preferably with some crusty bread.  The interesting thing about stews is that they can be either purposeful or inadvertent, but both varieties are usually wonderful.

For a Christmas gift, both Nate and I received a couple cookbooks, and so I decided that it would be a good habit to make at least one dinner each week trying out a new recipe from the cookbooks, to give them some use and to increase my culinary knowledge.  For the first recipe choice from the cookbooks, I decided to choose at random.  My finger landed on Brunswick Stew, which would have been totally welcome and appropriate had Nate not made it the previous night, un-prompted by the cookbook.  I took another random stab and came up with Onion Rings.  Despite my increased running mileage, I figured that a dinner of nothing but onion rings was a bad idea, and the search for an agreeable recipe continued.  My next attempt landed on Crawfish Etouffee (pronounced ay-too-FAY), and it was thus delegated as the recipe for the night without further ceremony.  

The first step to preparing the dinner was to obtain the necessary ingredients.  Unfortunately, Giant Eagle did not have a number of the ingredients, so numerous substitutions were made.  For example, shrimp stock was not to be found, so chicken stock was used instead.  Giant Eagle was also sold out of French bread (there was a sale), so a similar non-French bread was purchased.  Finally, there was no crawfish tail-meat available, which would seem to be an essential ingredient for Crawfish Etouffee, but I determined that some other sea-dwelling creature would suffice.  I didn't want to go for a standard bag of shrimp, because this was supposed to be somewhat experimental after all, so instead I picked up a bag of "Seafood Medley."  I admit that I was both unsure and intrigued by the Seafood Medley, because by all appearances it looked like someone had taken a magical underwater lawnmower and run it over the coral reef.  It really was unclear what was included in the various chunks and giblets in the package.  Blue whale?  Great white shark?  Ariel?  Anything was possible.  It was the kind of food item that looked so heinously prepared that you expected to see a label on the outside that said "No tuna was harmed in the making of this product."

The dinner preparations got underway, and in typical Parry fashion I didn't hesitate to cut down on some of the less health-oriented ingredients.  The recipe called for both Old Bay Seasoning and Creole Seasoning, but I made the executive decision to use just a pinch of salt and pepper rather than quintupling the sodium content of the meal.  Of course, my nutritionally conscious motivations were rather negated when Nate pointed out that I had used double the amount of butter needed.  This was an honest mistake, and I lay all the blame on Trader Joe's for their stupid packaging.  You see, Trader Joe's has to be "special" and "unique" and "fun," and the way they achieve this is by using atypical packaging.  When you buy sticks of butter at Giant Eagle, you get four sticks in the package, and if you were to look at the end of the package you would see a square made up of four smaller squares.  Follow?  Well, at Trader Joe's they also sell sticks of butter in four's, but they make them short and fat, and they are packaged in one flat layer, two sticks deep.  If you were to look at the end of the package, you would see a rectangle made up of two squares.  Follow?  Okay, so I was aware of none of this, and I just pulled out one of these short, fat, stupid sticks of butter and figured it was a half stick, because naturally I wasn't going to get out my tape measure and see if it was a uniform thickness with other normal sticks of butter.  The result is that we had a low sodium, double-fat meal.  Increasing mileage.

To get back to the original point, the "Crawfish" Etouffee came out rather good, but we ate it like a soup rather than using it as a sauce, which I think is perfectly acceptable given the description of true etouffee.  In fact, it was quite similar to a claw chowder, and chowder is quite similar to a stew, and stew is quite delicious in winter, and now you see how this is all relevant.

A third bedfellow of dropping temperatures is swearing.  Yes, hanging out with Old Man Winter will give you a potty mouth.  Fear not, the swearing is not directed at other persons, and is not done in anger. Rather, it comes out as the only possible way to express oneself when oneself is freezing.  Common exclamations include "D*mn it's cold!," or "Sh*t it's cold!," or "It's really f*cking cold in here!"  This is typically followed by blowing on your hands and some more family-friendly phrasing like "Brrrrr."  Lest you think that my fingers mistyped in their frostbitten state, let me confirm that the words "in here" were used intentionally.  Nate, being the good Christian soldier that he is, dutifully keeps track of our finances related to the house, including the monthly bills.  He not only makes sure that the bills are paid on time, but he also looks over the history of our bills to see how the current month's expenses compare to the previous month's, and how the current month's expenses compare to the same month in the previous year.  And it's really quite interesting at times.

As I've noted on numerous occasions, our old house is rather chilly in the winter, and so part of our remodeling efforts has been to add insulation whenever possible.  With this in mind, my hope has been building for three years now in anticipation of the day when everything is insulated and the house becomes a warm and cozy haven from the cold.  However, a gaping hole in my logic was revealed when Nate tallied up the monthly bills recently and did his analysis.  You see, we keep the thermostat and at a fairly conservative 60 degrees.  Originally this was done out of a true cost consciousness, as the house really didn't have much insulation and therefore the heat ran constantly just to keep things at a reasonable level of warmth.  All along I've been thinking that as we added insulation, the house would get warmer.  But the huge fallacy in this thinking was that we would actually nudge up the thermostat as we added insulation!  Haha!  Yes, for some crazy reason I was thinking that the house would get warmer as we added insulation even though we never increased the controlled temperature of the house above 60 degrees!  I am mere weeks away from my Master's degree!

If you couldn't guess, the lightbulb flickered on when Nate informed me (with a smile) that our heating bill has gone down remarkably year-by-year.  We're keeping the house at the same temperature, but we're paying less to do it.  The thing is, despite this revelation, I'm not going to bump up the temperature. At this point it's like a pride thing, and our insulation investments are going to pay for themselves, several times over darn it.  As Nate aptly said, "Our greed warms us."

With the money we save on heating costs, maybe we can get some stylish padlock and cash-box accessories

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Where can I sign up for that yin and yang workshop?

Winter quarter at Ohio State has begun, and accordingly it has started snowing again in Columbus.  I really don't mind the snow and the cold too much, generally speaking, but it can become treacherous on the outskirts of campus, including our neighborhood.  The danger stems from the local residents' disinterest in shoveling their sidewalks, which is interesting when you consider that the sidewalks around campus are probably some of the highest-traffic sidewalks in the city.  Before you think that the sidewalks I'm talking about are only in front of student houses, which are more understandably un-shoveled, let me repeat that the snow remains on the sidewalks even in our neighborhood.  You may be saying "So what, put on some boots and just walk through the snow."  But this thinking demonstrates a lack of understanding, and I am within my rights to chastise you for it.

Chastise, chastise, chastise.

The reason the sidewalks are treacherous is because as people walk on them, the snow gets packed down - really packed down - and becomes quite slippery.  Now, you could "dig in" as you walk, but inevitably the top of the snow melts ever so slightly and then re-freezes, creating a solid sheet of ice.  It's not like a smooth glassy surface, because the snow becomes lumpy pre-freezing from everyone walking on it, but trust me, lumpy ice is just as easy to slip on as non-lumpy ice.

Walking from home to work is about one mile, work to class about one mile, and class to home about one and three-quarters miles.  Therefore, I have well over a 5K a couple nights each week within which to badly injure myself.  While I initially gave it "the old college try," I wussed out after a few falls and decided to take my chances in the street, where I might get hit by a car, but at least I wouldn't get run over by the car after having slipped and fallen on the ground.  Truly, the only place to walk in our neighborhood and around campus after a few snowfalls is in the street, because that's the only surface not coated in ice.  A solid, lumpy, continuous casing of ice.  And when I say "walk in the street," I truly mean right down the middle of the road, because the ice sheet extends about a car-width over the sidewalk and into the street on each side of the road.

The question is this: Why don't people clean off their sidewalks?  Or, put another way: What the hell is wrong with people?  Benefits to shoveling your sidewalk include the following:

  • Good exercise
  • A sense of pride and accomplishment
  • Safety for yourself and others
  • Probably less damage to the sidewalks from freezing and thawing
  • Less need to carry a second pair of shoes to work
Downsides to not shoveling your sidewalk include the following:
  • Angering your neighbors
  • Potential for injury
  • UN sanctions

Now, I acknowledge that UN sanctions have limited ability to prompt a desired outcome, and if everyone in the neighborhood is neglecting to shovel their sidewalk, then the point about angering your neighbors becomes the less noteworthy "angering your neighbor."  So that just leaves the point about potential for injury (if we're arguing from the perspective of "these are the bad things that could happen").  Don't people care about the prevention of injury?  This seems serious, because on my personal slipping excursions I've had one of two experiences:  Either I partly catch myself, which causes my legs to splay apart, which always leads to re-spraining my bad knee, or I don't catch myself at all, other than to "catch myself" with my hip, which is usually the first point of contact with the sidewalk.

Maybe I'm the only one who has problems walking on icy sidewalks.  This is a real possibility, because I've always had trouble with balance.  I know that skiin' ain't easy, but the first (and last) time I went, I spent far more time on the ground than I did on my feet, and my hips were a brilliant shade of purple for about two weeks following the outing.  My lack of balance extends beyond icy surfaces to other places, such as buses, trains, and slanted roofs (note that most roofs are slanted).  I'm always envious of other passengers on crowded public transport who sway to-and-fro in perfect harmony with the moving bus or train, barely touching the overhead rail or the pole beside them for support, even when the stupid blonde kid comes careening into them each time the slightest bump is hit or the most gradual curve is taken.  In moments like these I think "Is this a psychological problem?"  But my efforts to think of my feet as roots fail as the metaphorical tree of my body is felled by the very next bump or curve.  I then turn to physical explanation, wondering "Am I just top-heavy?," but in my mind I quickly reply "I don't like the connotations of that thought."

My troubles with equilibrium are especially annoying on rooftops, not because I've fallen from several stories up and lived to tell the tale (I wish!), but because I don't feel comfortable enough being on rooftops to even put myself in a position to fall.  The logical suspicion is that I'm afraid of heights, and that may as well be the case, because I could never say to people on a worksite "I don't want to go up on the roof because I just have really bad balance."  Please see my earlier post about the role of excuses in tests of manliness.

I wonder - is a fear of heights the same thing as a fear of losing your balance while high up and killing yourself in a fall?  Maybe, maybe not.  I've jumped out of a plane at 14,000 feet, which would suggest that I don't have a problem with heights, but in that context I had a parachute that I was fairly certain would open.  In contrast, I'm very uncomfortable going up even a few rungs on a ladder and working on something above my head, because I always feel like I'm about to lose my feet.

The obvious solution to the problems of both falling on the ice and falling off of ladders is to tap the innovative scientific minds at our disposal and find a way to effectively install airbags inside of people.  We do knee replacements, hip replacements, and nose reconstruction already.  Is it so much to ask to install a few airbags?  Hell, isn't a boob job pretty much the same thing already?  This is a great idea, regardless of whatever pithy counter-arguments you present, I will not be swayed.  Unless we're on a bus and we happen to go around a curve.


Sunday, January 2, 2011

There and back again, a COTA tale

This weekend marked the undertaking of a grand adventure, and though this was the type of grand adventure that can age a soul brave enough to undertake it by years untold, and though that brave soul may be chilled to the marrow to recount the epic happenings on the legendary journey, and though that soul's hands may be gnarled from battles fought and won on said journey, it is only appropriate - nay, necessary! - to share the tale for all to hear...

A saloon
Our tale begins as many tales do, in a saloon.  This particular saloon is dimly lit and rather piratical in nature, and the patrons and staff generally keep to themselves, both giving rise to the common notion that those who frequent this saloon are surly in nature and allowing for conversations at the establishment to be held in confidence.  Some conversations are immaterial, some are boastful, some are heartfelt, some may even be jovial - and some are of a different nature altogether.  Conversations in which plans are laid, minds are set, pacts are formed, and which are not soon forgotten after the inn-keeps have received their coin, the night has ended, and the patrons have gone their separate ways.

It was in such a conversation that the decision was made - the decision to ride the Number 2 bus to the ends of the earth!  And so it was that on New Year's Day two companions boarded the mythical 2, committed to being its passengers to the very edge...

Statues seen on our journey
Upon boarding, the driver demanded no coin, satisfied as he was with a passing glance at our identification as mere students at the local learning institution.  The mood was actually carefree at the start, with the thrill of adventure still running through our veins and the rays of the sun above shining down to light our way.  Other passengers boarded, with no pretense or agenda beyond a simple desire for transport.  The time was four and a half hours past midday.

As the voyage progressed, the mood settled, and conversation quieted somewhat as reflection on the magnitude of the undertaking took hold.  However, spirits still ran high, and were no doubt cheered to an even greater extent when salutations from a fellow passenger were offered.  The passenger was a jovial sort, and obviously of good intent, although he spoke in a tongue that was unintelligible at first, except for the lone phrase explaining that he hailed from the land of De-Troit.  The fellow seemed to feel it necessary to expound on his reasons for being so forward in engaging unknown travelers, lest he gave offense, and we attempted to reassure him that all was well, and the custom he brought with him from De-Troit was accepted in the realm of Columbus as well.  The traveler wished us a happy new year, and we returned the wish as he departed shortly after, reaching his port of exit.

The driver then set a course due East, heading into territory relatively unknown to us, and outlined in charts of only dubious legitimacy.  The journey continued, and time began to pass without reckoning.  Lands were passed by on our course, with names such as Bex-Lee and White Hall, and some of the natives of these lands could be seen as well, distinctly different in their characteristics from one territory to the next.  Eventually we passed into the realm of Rayn Auld S'Burg, and it became apparent how far we had come from our point of origin.  We were drawing closer to the ends of the earth.

By this time darkness had long since come over the earth, and with no light to give us indication of direction, our fates were largely in the hands of our driver.  While we had no preformed expectation of what existence was to be discovered at the outermost edges, it seemed apparent that they would not be found similar to those told of in the mythical stories of youth, such as that of the grand ship Dawn Treader.  No, there would not be any mer-people to greet us at the end, nor water that was sweet.

Artist's rendering of a beasty in
Speculations on the Ends of the Earth
(Getson 2003)
Abruptly the 2 came to a halt.  Silence descended like a cloak.  We looked to our right, and saw a vast emptiness.  We looked to our left, and saw a glowing emblem in the dark.  Our eyes, though bleary with weariness from our travels, could make out script formed by the glow, and with great exhilaration we were able to decipher the words Hometown Buffet!  We had reached the ends of the earth!

Our jubilation was slightly tempered as my traveling companion revealed to me knowledge gleaned from histories searched in past years that contained reference to fearsome creatures and other beasties out in the black.  We gazed out, expecting at any moment a hairy, befanged visage to suddenly come into view, but our fears were not realized.  However, this did nothing to quell our astonishment when our driver rose, turned to address the passengers, informed us that all lights would need to be extinguished for a period of a full half-minute, and stepped out into the darkness!  True to his word, the lights were put out, and we were temporarily without any bearing as the brave driver made preparations for the return journey.  In this state the passengers felt a sudden kinship, and voices were raised in merriment, providing stories of how some could not sleep in the night without the aid of night lights.

The steady 2
Eventually the 2 embarked on its return journey (1), and spirits ran high from having accomplished the task we set out to achieve.  We retraced our course, passing by the now familiar territories, and by and by turned North as we entered the home stretch to our point of origin.  Of course, the journey could not have concluded without some minor difficulty, and at a key port of stoppage the driver suddenly demanded coin for our travels!  My traveling companion negotiated exemption, but my attempts to explain my student status fell on deaf ears.  At this point the required fare was only a minor annoyance - the ends of the earth had been reached! - and the required sum was submitted without further debate.  Even the driver's expressed suspicions that we were lost and didn't know where we were going were acknowledged with a smile and laughed off.  We knew the objective for ourselves.  We knew that we were no mere travelers!

Finally, we reached our point of departure.  With a tug on the yellow cord that signaled to our driver that we desired to get off, done so many times on the course of our journey by so many other hands, but never with such significance, we said farewell to the 2.  The glorious adventure had reached its conclusion.  As a fitting end to our travels, we rejoined to that same saloon where our plans were first laid, and raised a glass to the experience past.

(1) This tale would not be complete without mention of the princely gift that was given upon reaching the ends of the earth, a jerkin of the finest quality threads, unmatched in style.  This garment was presented in honor of the epic journey, and was gladly received.  Thanks Jen :-)