Posted by: Travis | December 15, 2009

What i love about winter, a movie you have to see, and thoughts on life, provoked by said movie

First off, Houston just elected an openly gay mayor.

Read that sentence again.

Ever since i left Texas in 2007, i’ve noticed that whenever i tell people i’m from Houston i get a response that is usually: i’m so sorry, good thing you were able to get out of there. When i’m feeling up to it, i’ll go on for 5 or 10 minutes about how underneath the conservative leaning oil town known nation wide for its suburban sprawl, is actually a very cool town populated with friendly, thoughtful, interesting people, you just have to know where to look. So kudos to you Houston (and everyone who worked to make this happen), while the rest of the country is scratching it’s collective head on this one, i’m kicking back with my arms folded, nodding my head. I knew you had it in you.

So, on to to content i had planned (and have been meaning to sit down and crank out for the last 2 weeks): Winter.

What i like about Winter

I think it’s pretty well document that i’m not a big fan of winter. Here in the Bay Area winter means short days (sunset right now is around 4:45), constant rain after 5 or 6 months that contained a total of 2-3 rainy days, and (comparatively) cold weather.

Okay, all you people from up north or in Colo-raaad-o get 30 seconds to give me grief for complaining about lows occasionally dipping juuuuuust below freezing and highs in the 50’s being cold weather. Ready? Go.

I don’t do cold weather. Sure i like to ski, but that’s only a handful of days, then it’s back to the warm temps. No waiting out a whole season, shoveling snow, driving snow, etc. I moved to the Bay Area to avoid that stuff. Anyway, the winter means getting up at 5 in the morning a few days a week so i can be in the office by 6, and out by 2:00-2:30 so i can actually get a bike ride in before dark. The winter means freezing my butt off and riding in the dark with temps in the mid 30’s if i choose to ride before work. The winter means long rides inside on the trainer camped in front of the tv counting down the minutes until i can get off and do something else. The winter means days like Sunday when i rode my bike for 3 hours in the pouring rain while the temperatures hovered around 50 degrees (the only way to get through it is let your inner 8 year old boy come out and have some fun with it). The winter means hot showers after said cold bike rides where your fingers and toes burn as the feeling starts to come back. It means driving home from work on days when i don’t leave early in the dark. It means that baseball season is over, college football is getting ready to go on a 6 week break before bowl games, and college basketball and the NBA are too early in their seasons to really be compelling, which leaves us with the NFL. Snore. Winter means no CSA box and slim pickens at the farmer’s market. Are you starting to get my drift here? I’m not a negative guy, but how happy i am tends to be directly proportional to how much i get to see the sun. Winter and i just don’t get along.

There are however, some redeeming qualities. While winter may not have a very deep lineup of hitters, the 2-3-4 hitters are really good.

Batting 2nd: Holiday drinks. Hot apple cider or wassail is just one of those perfect drinks that is super tasty and warms you up. Love that stuff, and i have since i was a kid. I especially love when my mom makes it in the crock pot for parties and the mulling spices waft through the house. Oh man. Next on the list: eggnog. I know it’s a acquired taste for some people, but i’ve been loving the stuff for a long time. When i was in high school, as soon as eggnog hit the store shelves right around Thanksgiving time, my friends and i would go by a whole bunch of it (Promise Land was our eggnog of choice) and have ‘the Inaugural Nog’ of the Christmas season. It was awesome. Between Christmas and Thanksgiving it’s pretty much a given that i have a carton of eggnog in the fridge. Put a shot of Bulleit burbon in and ground some fresh nutmeg over the top and i’m in heaven. Last in the trifecta of holiday drinks: Starbucks. I should hate everything about Starbucks. It’s a chain, every single one is the same. The dumb down espresso drinks in a way that talks down to their customers, stocking the menu with super sweet, 500 calorie gimmick drinks. The baristas will sometimes set a pitcher of milk under the steam wand and walk away. That should be horrifying to anyone that knows how to steam milk. It’s everything that my favorite local indie coffee shop is not. But, in truth i just can’t make myself do it, especially around the holidays. Eggnog latte, peppermint white chocolate mocha, gingerbread latte, carmel apple cider, white chocolate mochas, and don’t even get me started on those damn frappuccinos (other coffee shops try to imitate the frappuccino, but i haven’t found a single one that gets the texture right). Do they have a 12 step program for this stuff, because i’m hooked.

Batting 3rd: The food. When winter comes around, do you know what Rachel and i fill our weekly menu with? It’s like the crockpot/le creuset dutch oven all stars. Texas chili, beef stew, red beans and rice, chicken and white bean soup, beef short ribs, pork shoulder, white bean chili, lentil soup…the list goes on and on. Pair all this stuff with root vegetables or a well paired bread, and i’m ready to curl up on the couch, watch some tv, and get warmed from the inside-out as it rains outside.

Batting cleanup: Thanksgiving/Christmas. Twice in about 5 weeks you have an excuse to go home, hang out with your family, eat ridiculous amounts of food, and just soak up love from your friends and family that will get you through the next year. In an ideal world these two megastar holidays would be spaced 6 months apart, but as it is, it’s just a rapid fire blitz of holiday fun. We spent Thanksgiving in Cushing this year (as has become our routine: Thanksgiving in OK, Christmas in TX) and it was our best trip back to Cushing yet. Just absolutely perfect all the way around. For Christmas we’ll be going back to Texas to go to the wedding of some friends from college, then it’s back to Houston for a few days of hanging out with my family. I’m so excited.

So there you go. Winter isn’t all doom and gloom. As much as i may complain, it’s got some things going for it.

Burgers

Just a side note: i’ve always been a ‘burgers on the grill’ type of guy. Maybe years of subliminal messaging from Burger King that the flame broiled burger is better, even though Burger King is one of my least favorite fast food places. So whenever i cooked burgers, i did them on the grill. However, last week i was making burgers from buffalo meat, had the patties ready to go, stepped outside to turn on the grill and….nothing. Out of propane. Damn. Being an Eagle Scout i quickly went in search of a back up plan: fire up the griddle. They turned out to be far and away the best burgers i’ve ever cooked. Buffalo burgers on the grill tend to shrivel up a bit and get dry if you aren’t careful. On the griddle, the margin for error is a lot bigger because the fat can’t drain away. You also have better control over your temperature, which works wonders. So word to the wise: next time you make burgers, swallow your manly pride, pull out that cast iron griddle, and give it a shot, i’m willing to bet you won’t be disappointed. Just think, what’s your favorite burger place? Stop by and see how they cook their burgers. It’s probably on a griddle.

A Movie You Should See

This is getting long, and it’s getting late, but i’m going to keep pushing. About a year ago i was on the phone with my Dad and at one point he said “Oh yeah, we saw a great movie last weekend, you should check it out”. So, i put said movie on the Netflix queue (Has Netflix become a verb yet, like Google? Can you Netflix a movie?) and didn’t think about it for a while. A few weeks ago we got ‘Away We Go’ in the mail from Netflix, which i had totally forgotten about. Rachel and i popped it in one night after dinner and were totally blown away by it. Not since ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ have credits rolled on a movie and my reaction was ‘wow, they totally nailed the attitude with which i want to live my life’. The basic premise is that a couple in their early 30’s gets pregnant (she gets pregnant? What’s the etiquette on that?) . They live in the same town as the man’s parents in the Northeast and are excited to have them be around. The parents then decide that they are going to move to Belgium. Realizing that their reason for living where they do is no longer relevant, they go on a trip around the country visiting friends and family in an attempt to figure out where they want to live. To quote my Dad, ‘while the movie is ostensibly about where to live, it is really about how to live’. I won’t go further with details about the movie because i don’t want to spoil it, but it is at times hilarious, tragic, serious, poignant, and just beautiful. You’ve got to go check it out. I think it’s the only Netflix movie we’ve held on to so that we can watch it again. It set off an email exchange with my Dad that lasted several days and produced a few epic, novel length emails.

Perhaps it hit home with Rachel and I because we are at a similar point in our lives (don’t worry, a baby is not on the way now, or anytime soon), and the question of how to live is something we wrestle with and talk about openly on a daily basis. While our baby boomer parents don’t blink at the idea of choosing how to live your life, i’m sure older generations scoff at the idea, especially those that lived through the depression. The mentality used to be take the best you can get, work as hard as you can, keep your nose to the grindstone, work work work, make as much as you can, provide your children with a better life than you had, etc, etc. But i feel like that has been changing. Rather than being pressed to follow the same career path as your parents and grind through medical school, law school, whatever, i feel like people are doing what they want to do instead of what they feel they have to do. The reality is that we make decisions everyday that affect how we live. Sure, some days have a greater impact than others (Should i take this job? Should we move into this apartment? Should i ask her to marry me?), but even the seemingly mundane decisions (Should i do my work today, or spend hours on facebook? Should i say good morning to the awkward guy that works on my floor?) snowball into a larger effect down the road. I think moving to California really brought that to the forefront for Rachel and i. It forced the discussion of how we want to live our lives, where we want to live, what we want life to be like for our kids, where we want to be 5, 10, 20, 30 years from now.

I have no illusions that Rachel and i are tremendously lucky to be in the position we are. We were both born and raised in small, very closely knit families, where we got everything we needed, but not everything we wanted (that does, in fact, build character, you were right mom). We ended up at Trinity, where we met, because it felt right when we visited, not because of the prestige carried with the name of the school, and our parents were not only okay with that, but encouraged that. Based on sheer serendipity, i found out about the opening for my job from my professor while i was out here interviewing for another job, i went to lunch with the guy that would become my boss, we hit it off, and a few weeks later i got a job offer. There’s no way i can argue that i somehow ‘earned’ that opportunity, it landed in my lap. We were lucky to be able to move out here and work jobs that we enjoyed. We were both lucky enough to wind up in small offices where our ability to do the things expected of us was quickly recognized and we were given more responsibility. We’re 24 and we enjoy our jobs, the people we work with, the place we live. We’re lucky to make enough that we can afford to do the things we want to do (within reason, of course), without having to obsess about the balance in our bank account. Somehow, i tricked a girl who was way out of my league into liking me as much as i like her. I’m still not sure how i pulled that one off.

Sure there are some things i would change about our life. I wish we lived closer to our families and that we got to see them more than we do. I wish we lived in a place with a kitchen that had more space than standing room for one, and had a decent back yard and a garage so that we could take all of our toys off the wall and store them properly. I wish i had a few more bikes. I wish i had more vacation time. I wish i was faster on the bike. But those things are pretty small. I’m 24 years old and i’m content with my life. Hell, i’m thrilled with it. As far as i’m concerned, i won the lottery. I have no illusions about how i ‘deserve’ this because of all my hard work. Believe me, i don’t.

I’m not sure where i was planning on going with this. I guess that Rachel and i realize that we are lucky to have some control over how we want to live our lives. That we’re so young and we have a wealth of options. But being lucky, and recognizing that, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take advantage of your opportunities to live life the way that you want to. Just because we live in Silicon Valley doesn’t mean that i see the guy driving the Ferrari to work and envy the life he lives. We don’t care to own some estate in Atherton worth tens of millions of dollars. I’m not interested in working my way up the corporate ladder of some big company. I feel like to be 24 years old and realize those things, means we’re already well on the way to living the life we want.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite exchanges from Little Miss Sunshine (warning: if you can’t handle a few f-bombs, don’t read the next few lines):

Dwayne: You know what? Fuck beauty contests. Life is one fucking beauty contest after another. You know, school, then college, then work, fuck that. And fuck the air force academy. If I wanna fly, I’ll find a way to fly. You do what you love, and fuck the rest.
Frank: I’m glad you’re talking again, Dwayne. You’re not nearly as stupid as you look.

Anyway the film is called ‘Away We Go’, we loved it, you might too.

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Responses

  1. Great blog entry!! Loved Little Miss Sunshine!! Can watch it over and over!!

  2. Very cool entry. I’m looking over at my daughter doing her math homework and thinking how lucky I am that she asked me to help. Life is good. Now back to riding in the rain…

  3. I never remember to read blogs, and look what I’ve been missing. Your writing is wonderful, and this particular entry deals with subjects that have been on my mind lately. Yes, you are a lucky man, but you seem to make the most of your opportunities, due to your great intelligence, insight and heart. You and Rachel will undoubtedly have a (mostly) wonderful life.
    Re the movie, I’ve been wanting to see “Away We Go” since it came out, due to the great reviews and John Kraczinsky. Will have to do that ASAP.

  4. Your comments about character remind me of a book Miss Miner had — “Does Your Child Have Character or Is He a Character.” Even in kindergarten, you seemed to have character. Your brother embodied the second half of the title. Both important traits. Anyway, it is gratifying to see all the things I value expressed artfully in print by my son. As a parent you just keep plugging away and hope that something sinks in. Obviously it has. How fortunate for you and Rachel that although your parents are different (they through away the mold after Tyson), the values are very similar. I smile when I think of you two 50 years from now.
    Love you. Mom


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