It began with a moose mug. In fact, I like to think of it as my super power.

That’s right…my super power. I might not be able to bend steel with my bare hands or climb buildings (namely because I’m weak and afraid of heights). And I will never look as good as Wonder Woman in her spandex costume (because that would mean consuming minimal calories and no wine).  Nor can I swim like Aquaman. (Although I would like to keep the protagonist of the latest DC comics blockbuster around for eye candy.) I don’t possess telekinesis or invisibility or the ability to time travel. What I have instead is a magic cup.

I purchased the Moose Mug off Amazon this December. In fact, I ordered a holiday boxed set of two for a total of $16.95 with free prime shipping. My plastic “safer than glass” mug is a replica of the moose mug Cousin Eddie and Clark Griswald drank their eggnog from while enjoying an old fashioned family-fun Christmas. (Personally I think the only way to enjoy a family-fun ANYTHING is if the eggnog is spiked.) However the reason that my Moose Mug is my super power is that it infuses me with the strength and courage to visit with strangers.

That’s right. The Iowa Roadie is an introvert. By nature, I am neither sociable nor outgoing. I prefer to curl up on the couch with a book or, thanks to the Polar Vortex, watching a “This Is Us” marathon. However, armed with my Moose Mug (and filled with my liqueur of choice), I am able to mask my wallflower self and fraternize with people I have never met. Because the Moose Mug is A Conversation Starter.

I realize that we live in Iowa, and conversation can always fall back on the weather or grain prices. But the Moose Mug provides a fun alternative to discussion centered around how cold, hot, humid, wet or windy our beloved Hawkeye State can be. Judge for yourself…which of these conversations would you rather join?

•Conversation 1 (and a throwback topic to when Antarctica was still colder than Iowa):  “It sure is hot out there.” OR

• Conversation 2: “Golly gee! I love your Moose Mug! Isn’t that from A Christmas Vacation? Let me buy you another round.”

Notice how conversation 1 is limited to the weather? Yet conversation 2 can spiderweb any number of directions…from Christmas movies and family holidays to moose hunting and what kind of alcohol to fill the mug with.  For example, at Rungo’s in Stratford, a patron bought me a drink called “Grinch Piss.” If one could look past the fact that this drink was named after a Dr Seuss character’s urine, one could appreciate the beverage’s delightful fluorescent green color that truly embodied the essence of the holiday spirit. Would someone have bought me Grinch Piss if I were drinking from a regular cup? I think not.

In addition to Rungo’s, the Iowa Roadie’s Moose Mug adventure also took us to a little bar named “Our Place” in Stanhope. Stanhope, population 422, welcomes guests with a sign bearing a likeness of a watermelon and proclaiming Stanhope to be “A Slice of the Good Life.” And although the pineapple is commonly associated as the “welcome fruit,” a watermelon can be equally inviting with its juicy red flesh and dark green rind. Plus you can spit watermelon seeds which makes it a more social fruit. Because who’s ever heard of a pineapple core spitting contest? (Although may I make a suggestion to Stanhope’s city officials…If you ever replace the watermelon with another food that embodies the phrase “A Slice of the Good Life.”…might I suggest a slice of pie or pizza? Watermelon seeds are a choking hazard, and you might want to promote a safer, yet more greasy, way of life?)

Upon entering Our Place in Stanhope, my husband and I staked out spots at the bar’s counter. Because even without my super power Moose Mug, conversations are more easily generated here. We found ourselves seated next to a lovely woman named Emma who noticed the Moose Mug and quickly filled it by buying me a drink called the Leprechaun. Like Grinch Piss, the Leprechaun is green…but only after mixing blue and yellow colored alcohol together. It was like an art lesson in elementary school…except that elementary schools should never use alcohol to promote artistic expression or primary color education as that may lead to Front Page Headlines and Jail Time.

As previously predicted, the Moose Mug also elicited a stimulating debate regarding The Best Christmas Movie Ever. It is with a heavy heart that I report “The Nightmare Before Christmas” received multiple votes. Do the good people of Stanhope, home of the watermelon slice of life sign, not recognize the power of other Christmas films featuring Red Ryder BB guns or 25,000 twinkle lights? Are they immune to the dazzling leg lamp in the window? I was also a bit remiss to learn that our bartender–wearing an Our Place t-shirt bearing the slogan “calories don’t count outside your zip code”–considered “Die Hard” a Christmas movie. (I realize dear readers that some of YOU may also consider Die Hard a Christmas movie. And while I am not criticizing you, I would recommend a Hallmark Channel marathon to counteract such an opinion.)

Sadly I must reveal that my own husband believes “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie. He also wanted me to note that “Our Place” in Stanhope serves terrific chicken gizzards. (Side note: I did not notice a slice of pie on the menu.)

The magical Moose Mug adventure included one more stop…this time to The Malibu Lounge in Jewell where we found ourselves in a discussion about mincemeat. (I cannot make this stuff up!) I have to confess that prior to this, I did not know what mincemeat was. I think I equated it to Spam or some other slimy prepackaged meat product. But thanks to Heidi, who the bartender referred to as “Amish with a side of kinky,” we soon learned that mincemeat is made from kidney fat, candied peel and brandy. In fact, Heidi makes her own mincemeat, and it is a two-day process. (Popping the top off a can of Spam is much less complex than the process Heidi described.)

Turns out Heidi is not just a mincemeat extraordinaire. Her mother was a gypsy, and Heidi embraces a more natural life (when she isn’t managing the local golf course, that is.) She forages for aronia berries and pheasant back mushrooms, makes a number of homemade jams, and exalts the benefits a good dandelion detox. She also had my husband exhorting the virtues of fried cattails and elderberry syrup. (This is the same man who eats fried chicken gizzards and drinks PBR by choice!) Needless to say, I took Heidi’s contact information and made her promise to educate me on her more holistic lifestyle.

Because nothing says healthy and wholesome like my superpower Moose Mug filled with homemade dandelion tea…and a slice of the Good Life pie on the side.

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