Family Time


 It’s Thanksgiving, the quintessential holiday for American families.  
It’s a holiday where each family tends to develop its own rich trove of traditions.  Maybe it’s a family football game before or after the feast.  Maybe it’s a particular food, like Aunt Gertrude’s oyster stuffing or cranberry sauce still maintaining the shape of the can from which it came, sliced to produce red hockey pucks.  Maybe it’s the rickety, riotous “kid’s table” where everyone under the age of 30 has to sit because the real dining room table can’t accommodate the whole clan.

But one of the biggest and most closely held traditions has to do with time — as in, when do you sit down for your meal?  Newly married couples learn to their astonishment that not every family eats at the same time.  Some people eat at noon, right after the parades end.  Some people eat at four, squeezing the meal in between the football games on TV.  So the newly married couple might eat two meals, one with each family, until they start to establish their own traditions.

I’ve never heard of anyone waiting until a more standard dinner time — say, 7 p.m. — to eat their turkey.    By then, most of us are chowing a cold turkey sandwich, pounding down a second piece of pumpkin pie, and groaning at our gluttony.

Wherever you are, and whenever you eat, Happy Thanksgiving!

Double Oven Dreams

Lately, when I go into our kitchen, I am drawn to the shiny, aluminum-clad appliance in the far corner, next to the outside wall.  I look at it, and think about possibilities.  Happy, hopeful, heated, holiday possibilities.

It’s the double oven, of course.

IMG_7516_2A double oven may not be a big deal for those who’ve always had  one, but I’m not in that category.  I’ve only had a single oven, which has been . . . sufficient.  There aren’t many times when you really need two ovens.  But the holiday season is one of those times.  And now, with Thanksgiving only two days away and the Christmas cookie season right behind it, I think of what I might be able to accomplish with deft use of the double oven.

For Thanksgiving, the benefits of a double oven are obvious.  The turkey can be cooking away in one oven, perhaps with one or two other dishes, and the other oven can be used for warming pies, candied yams, rolls, a green bean casserole, and on and on.  No more desperate attempts at oven space management, trying to jam every course into the nooks and crannies around the turkey in a doomed bid to get everything hot and ready to serve at the same time.  In short, the double oven affords the luxury of ample space.

For Christmas cookie baking, the potential benefits are different.  The double oven should allow me to maximize efficiency and eliminate the down times, when I’ve got a sheet of cookies ready to bake but I’m waiting for those in the oven to finish.  I look at the shiny aluminum facing and I think of Dutch spice cookies turning a rich golden brown in the top oven as I’m loading a tray of Cranberry hootycreeks into the bottom unit.  An efficiency expert would undoubtedly be able to calculate how much time I might save by deft use of the double oven options.  It will require careful planning and sequencing, of course, but I’m eager to tackle the challenge.

And now I wonder — do I have enough counter space for all of these cookies?

Bald-Faced Waste

Imagine, for a moment, that you are a bureaucrat at the National Institutes of Health charged with making decisions about spending the NIH budget.

One of your subordinates comes to you with a proposal for the NIH to spend $22,500, over two fiscal years, to fund the 9th World Congress for Hair Research.  The subordinate notes that the theme of this year’s World Congress, sponsored by the North American Hair Research Society — which will be held at the “luxurious InterContinental Miami” hotel in Miami, Florida — is Reflect, Rejuvenate, and Regenerate.  He says the Congress will bring together “hair biologists, dermatologists, cosmetic scientists and hair transplantation surgeons” to “present new research, share experiences, and discuss new directions for the advancement of knowledge in hair growth, hair and scalp disease, and clinical care” and is sponsored by the likes of Women’s Rogaine, Procter & Gamble, HairMax, Theradome, L’Oreal, Aveda, and the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery.

baldheadsDo you: (a) tell the subordinate that his proposal is a very funny joke, and share a good laugh at the outlandish idea of federal tax dollars being used to help put on a “luxurious” conference about baldness and hair restoration surgery, (b) gently but firmly tell the subordinate that baldness and hair implant surgery aren’t the kind of serious health concerns that require the attention or support of the National Institutes of Health, or (c) rubber-stamp the proposal because it’s only for $22,500 out of the multi-million dollar NIH budget and note that the session about “Robotic Hair Transplants” looks like it should be interesting.

If you picked (c), you have a future as a federal bureaucrat.

In the grand scheme of trillion-dollar federal budget and trillion-dollar deficits, a $22,500 payment toward the 9th World Congress for Hair Research — which is going on now, thanks in part to your tax dollars — is just a drop of Rogaine in the bucket.  This is about principle, however.  Either the people who make decisions about how federal tax dollars are spent are zealous guardians of the public fisc, or they aren’t.  And while some men and women may fret about losing their hair, there simply is no justification for federal support for a hair-care conference that already is amply supported by large corporate sponsors peddling hair-care products and hair restoration and regeneration treatments and techniques.

Kudos to Senator Rand Paul — whose tousled coiffure is at the other end of the hair spectrum — for calling attention to this little example of spending silliness.  You can see the NIH information about the funding for the 9th World Congress here and here, and the Congress website is here.

Our reckless federal spending has fallen off the political radar screen, both because we’ve become hardened to enormous federal budget deficits and because other issues have come to the forefront.  At some point, though, our federal government’s inability to control its budget and to resist obviously unnecessary spending will have terrible consequences.  And that’s the bald-faced truth.

A Window To The ’50s

Russell is living these days in Hamtramck, a separately incorporated enclave within the sprawl of Detroit and Wayne County.  It’s always been an ethnic community, initially with a huge influx of Poles coming to work in the nearby factories and, more recently, with a large Middle Eastern population.

Hamtramck feels apart from the rest of the Detroit area, too.  We walked down its Main Street area yesterday, and it was as if we were on a Hollywood set for a Back To The Future-like ’50s period piece.  No strip malls here, just individual buildings with street-level shops.  One of the shops, which sold clothing for men and boys, looks like it was transported directly from 1955.  Check out the mannequin hair styles!

To complete the time warp feel, when we were sitting in a Hamtramck tavern watching some college football, a friendly man came up, shook our hand, and announced the he had just been elected to city council and wanted to say hello.  When was the last time that happened to you?

Cold House

Yesterday we had our annual furnace check-up, and the result was bad news:  the inspector found a crack in the heat exchanger unit, which could cause carbon monoxide to leak into the house.  So he “red-tagged” our furnace, which meant that he had advised us of the problem and we could decide whether or not to use the furnace.

IMG_7460_2That left us with one of the more easy and obvious decisions we’ve had to make lately.  After weighing the options for a fraction of a nanosecond, we decided that rather than senselessly flirt with death from carbon monoxide poisoning, we would turn off the furnace — which was just about at the end of its normal life span, anyway — and buy a new one.

In the meantime, we’re enduring life in a cold house.  Fortunately, it’s not super-cold yet; today when we woke up it was 34 degrees outside and the indoor temperature, according to our thermostat, had dipped to 58.  That’s well below the comfort zone for most Americans, but it’s really not too bad.  So long as you bundle up and keep moving during the day, and add lots of blankets at night, you can manage perfectly well.  I once spent a weekend on an island on a Canadian lake and slept in an unheated bunkhouse when the overnight temperature got down into the teens, and enjoyed it immensely.

In some ways, living in a cold house has its little advantages.  I tend to sleep better in the cold, anyway, and this will give us every incentive to get out of the house and do things this weekend.  I wouldn’t want to live footloose and furnace-free long-term, though.

A Practical Test Of The Butterfly Effect

The butterfly effect posits that small changes can eventually be amplified into large differences in an outcome — that the beating of a butterfly’s wings in Africa, for example, can eventually affect the course of a hurricane as it moves across the Atlantic.

I believe in the butterfly effect, and think it is inarguable that small changes can have a significant ultimate impact.  I believe it because I put the butterfly effect to a practical test every time I drive to Cincinnati — as I did this morning.

Let me state for the record that the drive from Columbus to Cincinnati for a 9 a.m. meeting . . . well . . . sucks.  That’s because there’s no good time to leave.  Leave too early, and you sail past the choke points with almost no traffic and arrive in Cincinnati at 7:15, with plenty of time to kill in a sleepy Queen City.  Try to time it so you arrive close to 9 a.m. and you’re bound to run into hellacious traffic jams from King’s Island until you’re in sight of the Procter & Gamble buildings.  And there’s no doubt in my mind that my decision on when to leave influences the traffic conditions that I encounter.  Simply by deciding to roll over and sleep a little later, I inevitably produce the crushing congestion that makes the trip so unpleasant.

And there’s an even more apparent practical confirmation of the butterfly effect when you’re driving, too.  Let’s say you’re mired in a traffic jam in which, contrary to common sense and all that’s holy, your car in the left, “passing” lane is at a dead stop, while the traffic in the middle lane is moving briskly past.  If you change your lane to try to start moving again, traffic in that new lane will immediately come to a halt.  Why?  The butterfly effect, and the fact that every other driver in the stuck lane saw the same traffic flow you did and switched lanes at exactly the same time.

It’s nice to know that the butterfly effect is real, but have you ever noticed that the butterfly effect always produces something bad?  Maybe we should call it the moth effect instead.