3 Christmases

I'm beginning to feel that I am one of the lucky few who rarely have to split holidays and special occasions between some combination of extended family, divorced parents, remarried parents, in-laws, and friends who think they are your family. Porter's family is exceptionally small and thus far Trish has been happy to join in whatever chaos the Knudsons are stirring up, or host son, daughter-in-law (that's us) and a big chunk of my family from time-to-time as well.

This Christmas, my local fam was travelling to the far-away fam so we ended up splitting Christmas into three segments

1. Local Knudson

Because we can NOT be without a theme, and 5 days early is just too soon to reenact the Nativity, and since the Lunar calendar delightfully obliged us with overlapping multi-faith holidays, we opted for a Hanukkah dinner and dreidel-off. Brisket, challah bread, latkes, kugel (listed in order of familiarity)- it was as Jewish a dinner as we could get without setting a seat for Elijah (which we almost did last minute until someone remembered that was for Passover and Elijah's not invited to Hanukkah dinner).

Rees and Lucy and Rob loved the dreidel, but Porter easily had the best spin.

My favorite part of the evening, at least leading up to it, was that Porter picked out presents for Brian and Heather and was super excited about it because he did a great job. Porter isn't usually as crazy about the gift selection process as I am in general. Here's to hoping the high of finding the perfect gift at the right price becomes as addicting to him as it is to me.

Don't be deceived. This store is literally the worst.
2. Brattens in Boston

Went for snow. Got sunshine. Glad for it. I don't handle cold well.

I'll blog about the trip as a whole, but Christmassy to-do's included:
  • Getting episcopunked into a two and a half hour Christmas Eve Service. We were planning to attend midnight mass anyway, and the service was, indeed, uplifting and heartwearming and full of a good mix of familiar and unfamiliar hymns (as well as several familiar hymns with extra verses I've never heard before. More investigation into suspiciously missing verses needed.), but we braved the only bit of adverse weather we had all week to go to a Bach Cantata in a historic church. 
  • BLINK! A Light and Sound Extravaganza! at Faneuil Hall (and surrounding shopping center). Basically it was an enormous tree and all the normal size trees around blinking in time to the Boston Pops rendition of the Hallelujah chorus. An impressive feat of timing and electricity, to be sure. I'm happy with the twinkle lights on their own, no percussion needed.
  • The Knudson family's most successful Christmas day Skype session to date. That's not saying a lot, we've failed miserably most other attempts. This round we all got connected, but haven't quite yet Google Hangout's multi-video chat kinks
  • Gifts around the lamp. Nothing huge (one of my gifts for Porter consisted of a screenshot on my phone of something I'd purchased, wrapped as a gift), but what's Christmas morning without a little unwrapping? We made a little lamp and everything. It was surprisingly satisfying.
    Skyping at its best
    Surreptitious selfie at the Christmas service
Surreptitious priest photo at the Christmas Service
Cool old church

3. Leftovers
Does calling it leftovers make it sound less important? It isn't meant to. It gave us an excuse to leave up the Christmas tree with gift boxes around it until New Years' Day, which I am all for. (Thanks to my mom I will always sing the song I Cry The Day That I Take My Tree Down at the end of Christmas. Not in a nostalgic way, rather mostly reminiscing about how out of place the song is on an otherwise very religious Christmas CD. And how incredibly overwrought the song is [seriously, this YouTube slideshow captures it all].

New Years Day morning we'll be opening gifts from the rest of the extended family that doesn't live here, as well as some more local Brattens. Then we'll eat brunch and cry, since it will be the day we take the tree down, and I want the season to last all year rooooooound!
Dressing the tree
Fully dressed in all its splendor

3 Things to do with 24 hours in Las Vegas

Thanks to miles and a willing travel partner, I had an eventful day after Thanksgiving. Here's how I would recommend spending 24 hours:

1. A Show
In my case, Justin Timberlake. Mr. Dreamboat himself. You know, Jessica Biel (ahem, Jessica Timberlake legally) is pregnant too, so that pretty much means we're in the same life situation and have lots in common. Plus, why's he got to be so dreamy? And his songs so dang catchy? After 4 or 5 JT songs became Repeat Songs of the Day (it all started with Pusher Love Girl, a song I like to think Porter would write for me if he were both a songwriter and drug user), I started compulsively looking at concert tickets. I've been to like 5 concerts ever in my whole life and I was seriously considering paying money for not only overpriced tickets, but travel to and accommodations in a random city.

Crazy talk!

With hearty encouragement from Porter (who loves when I'm actually interested in anything enough to want to spend money on it) and a push from a willing travel companion (and fellow JT fan, as Spotify could tell me), Christie and I landed on Vegas at Thanksgiving.

I realize now that many shows are probably worth coming to Vegas for. The night after Justin Timberlake, Stevie Wonder was performing. I may have considered Britney Spears, who plays permanently in Vegas now. I'm still waiting for the day I can talk someone into seeing Blue Man Group with me. I can't imagine there are many nights where there aren't at least B-grade comedians and magicians playing somewhere. I'm not sure how I made it through annual road trips to Vegas in college without seeing even one show (maybe because I was poor and afraid they'd all turn into strip shows by the end?).

2. The Spa 
Groupon chose Planet Hollywood, which worked out marvelously. Seriously, facials every day for the rest of my life. I'd never been to a spa affixed to a hotel before, and now I'm convinced that they are always gonna be top notch, because if I walked out of the spa splotchy or not dazed and elated from pure relaxation I would, you know, complain to the front desk and ask for a room refund, and in the case of Las Vegas, not gamble. So they've got to be good.

The Asian woman who scrubbed, steamed, and treated my face has been doing this for almost 20 year. And, let it be known (she did, with a proud crinkle in her eyes), she's almost sixty and looks 45. That is the power of the facial.

3. Good-Old Fashioned Wandering
This was my first time in Vegas staying in Downtown Las Vegas, which, contrary to everything I'd ever before believed about Las Vegas, is not actually on or even really near the Strip, but 20 minutes northeast in a totally separate block of smaller, older, and decidedly cheesier casinos and attractions than the strip. The bartender who served me oatmeal before I caught my shuttle back to the airport admitted that it's usually semi-local regulars who stay downtown-"the mullet crowd"(see below). Plenty to see even beyond people watching, with the Fremont Experience and my new favorite museum ever, the Mob Museum.

The strip is obviously good wandering as well, though a tad less peaceful, what with the million other pedestrians in cocktail attire, costumes, or sweatpants making their way through all the tchotchke shops and Mexicans handing out ads for female escorts in between the casinos. It is unreal to me just how many people there are in every casino (and how, considering how many smokers I saw, nowhere inside smells like smoke at all!). I guess everyone else caught the 'wander and people-watch' memo.

Just don't eat here. You will literally die. 


Olympus Day Spa: 3 Stop Tour

In what might be my favorite birthday gift to date, Porter sent me to the Olympus Day Spa. The naked spa, as it may be known (Korean, women only). The spa I'd heard always been recommended in sighs and almost uncomfortable moans. 'Ooohhh, it's pure heaven' 'I just can't get enouuuugh.'

There are three features that send women over the edge with Olympus Spa obsession:

1. Naked pools
Four pools, each at varying temperatures (too hot for comfort down to cool enough that I wonder why anyone would step a toe in); dry sauna, wet sauna, and a magical trough of some sort of anti-microbial water warmed to the exact right temperature. You just scoop it over your body with conveniently-provided bowls- Thai shower style. It's amazing.

Lesson 1: Soaking gets old when you hate being pruny like I do, but a variety of pool temperatures seems to mitigate the pruniness.
Lesson 2: Bodies are shaped so differently. It's good to be reminded that even people who look pretty good with clothes on are all pretty lumpy, each in unique and fascinating ways. Hard to not notice, even when you're trying to not pay too much attention to the fact that everyone around you is naked and you're playing it cool about the fact that you're naked too. Socially abnormal, but in this small tiled room, totally normal. I think it'd be good for any teenage girl with body issues to see.
Lesson 3: People actually go to naked, pruny spas with their friends, and when they do, they don't sit quietly, they chat. Even when the signs say 'be quiet' and they send a nice but firm Korean woman around from time to time shushing. I have a hard time imagining going anywhere naked with anyone I know. How is it that strangers are more comfortable than friends or family when it comes to nakedness?

2. Robed rooms
What a delightful surprise! Seven rooms all heated (or cooled) and pumped full of earth properties that do nothing but heal your bones, blood, and soul. Mud and Jade, Sand, Salt, Charcoal, Elvan Stones (straight from Middle Earth!), one dedicated to meditation (something about bamboo?), and even one that smells like cedar, has a writing desk, and cabin tchotchkies on the wall. That's actually the cheesiest of the rooms, as practical as it is for getting your body temperature back to normal after sweating from your bones in a 130 degree room. The others feel like being transported to another planet. The sand room actually has sand under a canvas floor. The charcoal room makes your skin feel like you just finished a pore-tightening face mask. I spent about half as much time in these rooms as I would have liked to if I hadn't saved them til last and ran out of time. Lesson learned: Save time for earth rooms.

3. Services
Regular old spa - pedicures, massages, facials (that's what I got because I want a facial every day for the rest of my life). Olympus is known most, though, for their body scrub. They have you come an hour early to soak in the two warmest naked tubs to prime up the pruny, then they throw you on a table 4 feet from another naked scrubee (my neighbor was some 65 and we only had to avoid eye contact once), and scrub to you til you bleed. Not actually bleed, but there were several times when if I were told I were bleeding I would have believed it.

Baby soft skin has its price. A price I'm sold on.


Three areas in Which I have NO Self-Control

I've got it together, right? I don't smoke or drink (even coffee!) and never have. I have an impressive enough title. I volunteer through my church in both teaching and leadership roles. I'm growing a baby inside my body and take prenatal vitamins (almost) every day. I raise money for people in need. I'm reasonably informed about pop culture, world events, and the goings-on of friends and family. You might just say I'm a freaking master of the universe. (This may or may not be my personal script for one of these)

Well, mostly. Except for I have zero self-control when it comes to:

1. Waking up early for no reason
Give me an appointment at dawn (or, in Seattle winter reality, before dawn) and I'll be there. It takes me 15 minutes from eyes open to dressed, (dry) shampooed, and reasonably made-up and ready to go. Early flight, early meeting, early breakfast with a friend (who's scheduling that, anyway?), whatever, I'm there. If it's say, waking up to run errands, clean, or dare I say exercise, forget about it. Sleep, my beloved crossword puzzle app, or really any amount of staring at a wall or ceiling will always win. Always. Tasks intentioned before my brain goes into scheduled mode are in no way reliable.

2. Binge-streaming
I'll talk myself out of watching a movie on my to-watch list because I don't want to waste 90 minutes,then proceed to watch 4 episodes (or more) in a row of whatever is my show of the moment. My favorite are shows with more than 5 seasons with enough drama and comedy to engage me but are humdrum enough that I can tell myself I can be otherwise productive while watching them. Grey's Anatomy was 9 months of crack. I'm working through Gilmore Girls now.

Curses to Netflix.

3. Cereal
It's got to be some sort of childhood regression. I ate a lot of cereal as a child. I eat a lot of cereal now. I think I'd be perfectly happy eating cereal for all meals every day. My brain might not agree - I have come to the responsible conclusion that cereal is not actually brain food and actually causes energy spikes and crashes worse than candy or soda. Doesn't change anything: I want it. I can't get enough. Buy a box and it will be the first suggestion for every meal. Multiple bowls, until I don't even like the cereal anymore. That's sickness right there. I've lately taken to taking plastic sandwich baggies of the good stuff (Lucky Charms, Cinnamon Life) from my parents after Sunday night dinner. All the yum with many fewer food comas.

Cheez-its are the only other snack that seem to have a similar cannot-stop-until-I'm-sick-and-miserable effect on me. Life and Cheez-its, in my dreams an nightmares equally.


Three things I'm grateful for

It's the day for it. And while I try to live my life full of gratitude, I do feel that I spend more time than I'd like to admit being dissatisfied. Not exactly the opposite of grateful, but closer to its opposite than its ideal. At the moment I am very thankful for:

1. Opportunity
This year has been one where I seem to keep saying to myself "I can't believe I get to do this." Count it for travel (it's been a truly epic year for that); Count it for employment (I've been given a HUGE chance to learn in my current job, and get to do all sorts of fun things and meet interesting people through it.); Count it for generally being in a position where I could do anything I want if I want to (a sometimes paralyzing freedom I both appreciate and fear). I'm in a place where I'm usually caught deciding between good options, and I realize that not everyone has that luxury.

2. Cheerleaders and mentors
I'm at a place in my life where I am learning so much. I try to be as open as I can about learning and trying new things out, and luckily I've been blessed with people who quietly believe in me, actively tell me so, and talk me through some of the more challenging processes and decisions. It's maybe an innate thing to doubt oneself, and I recognize the value of having people around to pull me out of that.

3. Sleep
Or rather my ability to sleep. Maybe it's really my bed I appreciate. I wrote a paper in college once where we were assigned to write about a 'sacred space' in our lives. Some peers wrote about their grandpa's house or a mountain they hiked. I wrote about my bed. Growing up in a busy house, and always having shared space with roommates, my bed has always been my safe zone. It still is my space to rejuvenate. Sleeping, reading, staring at the ceiling in fetal position because I'm stressed out or annoyed, it's always there for me. (Methinks my bed needs a post of its own) And, probably tied to my almost religious opinion of my bed, I love sleep. And I've generally been pretty good at it. I'm rarely an insomniac, and can apparently hit rem sleep pretty quick.


3 Things I Can't Seem to Get Straight


1. Getting the right corner of my bedsheets on the mattress on the first try.
I've been counting lately and I'm not kidding, I'm 1 for 15. That means in the last 15 times I've made my bed, I have correctly put the sheets facing the right direction, in the right corner ONE TIME. I swear, I check seams and eyeball lengths for the the short end and long end.

2. Putting on tights without having on leg twisted backward.
Tights are stretchy, but they have their limit- like when one leg is turned entirely toward the back of the leg when the one on your body and up to your thigh (thus not prone to twist any further) is face forward. There ought to be some cheater markers on tights to make this easier.Get on it l'eggs, or Hanes, or whoever is at the forefront of tights and pantyhose technology

3. Keeping noon in the right M
9 am, 10 am, 11 am, 12 pm... Whose idea was that? I've got a better track record than with bedsheets, but I'm annoyed and embarrassed at how many noon meetings I've set for midnight.


3 Problems with Being Inspired

Every once in a while there's a moment where everything is crisp and clear. Where any self-doubt or external obstacle seems meaningless. Where you feel you can take over the world. That you will take over the world.


It's the pits.

I mean, it's pretty wonderful, feeling limitless and empowered and energized and in control and all the things you hope to feel every day when tackling a big project or working out life. But it also brings with it some problems:

1. When he pendulum swings from great to awful
I was at a professional conference recently where I had these little fireworks in my head about all the things I'm going to do and become in my professional life. My pen and notebook couldn't keep up with the inspiration as I thought out plans and made lofty goals. By 25 minutes after the conference, safely back at my office in the realm of reality, I looked over my notes, only to be filled with an overwhelming dread. The fireworks of possibility had burned out and had left singed in my psyche holes that weren't there before. You can't see the world the same way again, but the world is the way it was.

When I was in high school I volunteered with a program in Mexico and remember talking with the program director about how great it would be to take these kids who literally found their homes and meals out of the city dump to my hometown, just to give them a taste of potential. The program director kind of sighed and said something like 'And life would go on as normal' - a comment I didn't really understand, but can identify with a bit. Like, life wasn't so bad before I knew it could be better. But now I know it could be different, can I be satisfied with the not so bad now?

2. With the rise of expectation and possibility comes the increase in risk and disappointment
Great doers of the world say all the time (or at least they are quotes often on inspirational boards) that going big usually means failing big. Joseph Smith said that 'a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary until life and salvation.' Robert F Kennedy said that "only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly." Oprah Winfrey says "This is your moment."

Roll 'em all up (along with a hundred other quotes about how important it is to jump off cliffs before you can fly and all that crap) and there's a theme you get: If you want to be amazing, you've got to trudge through some mud first. And by mud I mean (they mean): lose money, disappoint people, hate yourself, be told you're wrong, be told you're anything but what you're trying to be, lose hope, wonder if anything will ever pay off, give your heart and soul for very uncertain outcomes.

Misery. You want it?

3. It all comes down to you
I don't know if I'm particularly prone to needing validation, or if it's common in the age of the internet forum, but I ask Google everything. How do I make sure my pie is venting properly? How do I start a conversation with a very wealthy person that I've never met before? How do I ask a person of great wealth for a gift of $10,000 or more? What are all the reasons daylight savings should be abolished? What is the best way to make sure my butt doesn't get all saggy the closer I get to 30? How do I make sure my marriage will last? Why are people selfish? Why are people generous? Blah blah blah...

There's an answer for everything, except: I want to be this person and do these things but I don't know if I have it in me- the time, energy, and personal capacity - to really live to my potential. How do I make it happen? How do I find the balance between striving and satisfaction? How do I know where my priorities should be? What decisions in life will I regret?

There's something really wonderful about the individuality of inspiration, but it's also daunting and frankly, obnoxious to see what could be and know that the only thing keeping me from all that could be is me - my desires, my will, my dedication to that inspiration.

So I'll take my inspiration- personal, spiritual, professional, whatever. I'll take it and ask Google how to handle it (PS: Just asked and there's no answer to that question at the moment), and hopefully it propels me forward to something greater.


3 Observations from Mystic Seaport

I thought Mystic Seaport was the town itself. Wrong! It's an entire town within a town, dedicated to all things quaint, historic, and maritime. I didn't take great photos, but I do have some observations:

1. My husband is an old soul.
He shares interests with men who wear sweaters with elbow patches, drink Metamucil, and love to revisit the good old days but stoically glaze over all the worst parts of the war. It's adorable and will make him a good dad to the late elementary age era when science fairs and history projects start (and I may or may not start getting bored).

Direct quote: "While I must applaud the museum's effort to preserve a piece of America's maritime history, I can't help but look at the Charles W. Morgan with a British Naval Captain's eye and notice all its lubbery lines, cluttered deck arrangement, and generally tubby appearance."

And when met with my eye roll: "All my maritime sensibilities come from the British Navy of the Napoleonic era. I've been spoiled by the lean, hungry men o'war of the Master and Commander series"
A painting above a random door at Webb, where my old man of a husband honed his sensibilities
The Charles W. Morgan whaler, in all it's lubbery glory
 2. Tunnel vision doesn't help you fund raise.
This is a good lesson for my professional life. Mystic's one and only misstep was that just about every display and appeal was for their prize possession, the Charles W Morgan, the oldest functioning whaling vessel in the world. It's an awesome boat, don't get me wrong, and seeing it (and hearing about it over and over) made me appreciate New England's salty past and need for whale blubber to light their lives. But nonprofits have a tendency to take their golden star and talk about them on and on and on.

I fundraise. I think about how to get people to care enough about housing that they want to spend time on site and give us money to keep our work going. But there are good, holistic ways to talk about why you deserve someone's time and money, and they ought not be just your star.

They could be talking more about these little beautiful boats

Or this lovely bay view from the docks

Or the ship renovation center, the delicious chowder, youth programs, historically accurate shop for a blacksmith, cooper, apothecary, rope manufacturer, and historically accurate home for a poor family, rich family, and middle class family. Or any number of other programs and sites that make Mystic Seaport pretty awesome but I didn't get great photos of. And I'm sure they do talk about them, just not as much as the whaler.

3. Boats are amazing. The ocean is amazing.

We know more about space than we do about the ocean, which is a SHAME.  Before a century ago, waterways were everything, the ocean an obvious major aspect. Exploration, expansion, supplies, recreation, FOOD. We've explored less than 5% of the ocean and understand relatively very  little about how it impacts our weather systems and what potential there is for the future. Oceans cover 70% of the planet and we've only explored 5% of it?? What a shame.


Three Best Churches in New England

We went to New England! And drove around. A bunch! One of the aspects I was most looking forward to (and least disappointed by... not that I was disappointed by much) was how great the churches are in New England. They just don't make 'em like this much anymore...

My favorites from the trip:

1. Ivy and brick church. On the way from Swanzey, NH to Dover, VT. Might be in the town of Bennington.

Contrary to what I was expecting, there weren't too many stone churches. And even fewer covered in ivy. What is the East Coast if it is not ivy-covered? Aren't these churches supposed to be where Harvard and Yale and all the other ivy-league schools I can't ever remember that qualify as Ivy League got the idea in the first place? Ivy and stone just looks good.

2. St. John's Dune Church. Southampton, Long Island

AKA the giant church right on the beach next to million dollar mansions. And yes, dunes. Porter and I did an actual Slow- Rubberneck- Stop- T-turn- Ogle when we drove past this guy. Such a lovely entrance. And what a striking shade of burnt red. And that giant anchor next to the front gate? Fitting somehow, in its grandeur. Everything about it is stately and beautiful. 

Beyond all the obvious reasons to love everything about this church (is the grass not greener than usual too, or is that a trick of eyes. #nofilter), I thoroughly enjoy the website for St. John's Dune Church- more formally known as St. John's Episcopal Church, because its back yard is sandy dunes, a very soft beach, and the Atlantic Ocean.

See? The backyard and spindly fence on the site's rotating front page (a spindly fence to keep out all those tacky New Money summer New Yorkers, eroding the dunes, the stateliness of the Hamptons, and the purity of the world, all at once for hot summer months on end). 

 Also on rotation, a path to the beach. Methinks there is a parable here. And more seriously cool spindly fences and deep sand, which line the beach and each path to it. Would these be too out of place to have in my west coast, non-beachy front yard some day?

Most importantly, two robed men, one in a dapper winter beanie (An Episcopal beanie, I believe), enjoying what I'm sure is a very meaningful sunrise conversation, in preparation for a sunrise Easter service.
I'm sold. 

3. Little white church with a steeple. Everywhere.

Is this cheating? Yes, maybe. Partially because this photo, I'm realizing now, is quite embarrassing with not only the most charming part of the entire building (the steeple) cute off, but also a telephone pole smack dab in the middle. Alas, it is the only good photo of a little which church we took. We're fired from church spotting.

But they are everywhere and they are adorable, almost every single one.


3 Best parts of Switzerland

Switzerland was a dream. Sure, half the dream was full of rain and clouds, but the parts that mattered were dry (i.e. the parts in the mountains where we were outdoors all day).

The best parts of Switzerland?

1. The views
I mean really. It was like every day, all day, at least once an hour one of us would either point out a suddenly even more gorgeous normal site, or, by the end of it, almost disgustedly comment how it just wouldn't stop being beautiful EVERYWHERE. All those idyllic meadows full of cows and bells and grass so green it looks dyed. Peaks. And clouds. And clouds just rolling around peaks like they've been placed there on purpose, for the sole purpose of looking breathtaking to the few hikers with the chance to see them. It's not normal, there being this much beauty in one place. I've been to a lot of beautiful places. Or at least I thought I had, until the freaking Swiss Alps showed me that the beauty of the rest of the world is a mere twinkle in the eye of glacier-covered passes under glowing sunsets. 

Effing green meadow
A glacier melting right below itself
An Ibex!
Even the non-mountain sites were captivating. We had some great walks in the rain. And walking tours of cities. And, as is my favorite, we just wandered. These views were memorable in a more normal, old, beautiful, European way. Museums; hearty pubs with black and white photos of important-looking men and dark mahogany booths, winding stone paths through towns with castles; fountain that NEVER TURN OFF, churches with painted ceilings:

2. Walking around
Mostly the walking in the mountains is what was great. Though, not if you asked me right about this time:
"Quiet expletives and burning rage"
That's when I was over hiking and heights and glacial snow I was sure I'd slip on and tumble to if not my death than at least pretty miserable injury. 

Yes, this face shows much more hiking happiness:

Switzerland is full of these mountain lodges where you can essentially show up with the clothes on your back (and a sanitary sleep sack) and they will feed and house you. We ended up making some of our own food, but the lodges were a great way to see the outdoors without having to pack in tents and sleeping bags and all the other bits and pieces backpacking usually requires. I don't know why we don't have any similar setups here in the US. We have enough wilderness. The huts aren't luxury, but I'd still say 'hut' is an understatement for their full kitchens and plenty of bunks. Our first hut slept 90 people. Our second could have maybe fit 20, but there were 9 there. We had a pretty difficult time picking a route (not helped by the fact that most all websites about the network of huts are in German), but I'm really happy with the route we picked. We had to cut off a night due to the storm, but what we had was AMAZING.
Our mountain hutte
We also had to carry clothes and supplies for the rest of our trip, so our bags weren't as light as they could have been if all we were doing was hiking. 

At one point, the highest point, both literally and emotionally (at least for Porter) was making our way over a the final pass before our descent (and where we were warned a storm was coming, fast). I thought I was going to die from an overactive fear of heights, as well as really struggling physically. My super man offered to take my bag, climbed over the scariest of the snow fields, up a ladder, and to the peak. That 30 minutes was the lightest (physically and emotionally) I had felt since we started hiking. And the most fun for crazy people who love not being able to see their feet when footing is important, and who love the pain of effectively doubling ones' load, and of course making their wives' lives a bit easier when it really counted. 

3. Hanging out with this guy
Seriously, he's so much fun to hang out with. And make fake German accents with. And learn about Swiss history with. We ate and wandered and shopped for cheese and sausage and knick knacks. We made some new friends and ate some really awful powdered eggs, and ate some other really amazing mea;s. We read in beautiful places and slept in some unusual places. He kept a good attitude when the rain was getting old and never got bored of learning something new. He never does.
One one of the many forms of transportation we took (Planes, trains, funiculars, trams...)
Hiking !
I have no idea what prompted this series of photos. But doesn't it just make you wanna kiss him?


How we went to Switzerland with almost Net Zero cost

When we picked Switzerland, we know going in that it wouldn't be a cheap trip. This wouldn't be a trip where we could scrape pesos together for food and lodging (my favorite kind of trip, not Porter's). Switzerland is listed in just about every travel guide as one of the most expensive places in the world. On the first leg of our flight, the German guy sitting across from us (yes, across. We had weird backward train seats from Seattle to Vancouver) spent 20 minutes telling us how expensive coffee is. A guy from Germany. That's like when Thai people tell you something it's spicy. They're at an elevated level of normal. So when they say high, it must really be bad.

Expensive is a bad word for for a cheapskate like me, but Swiss hiking was reportedly the best in the world, so we started strategizing started early. Here's how:

1. United Miles for the plane ticket
We earn a lot of United miles. We're both authorized users on Porter's account, though Porter does most of the spending on his day-to-day and for work- buying medals and tech shirts and thousands of mustache-shaped shirts. I'm not necessarily partial to United, but it's the airline we started with and the way I see it, you've got to have a card with at least one of the legacy airlines. They go everywhere and where they don't, their alliances do. It takes about 30,000 miles each way to Europe (coach- I prefer more flights over fewer fancier flights) plus tax in cash. We also paid a change fee once when a better flight opened up. 

2. Barclay Card Arrival Credit Card for travel expenses
There are a handful of credit cards out there that operated on the 'Pay Now, Redeem Later' system. The Barclay Card Arrival Plus, in addition to having no foreign transaction fees, is one where you can redeem your points for any travel expense. In short, pay for your travel on the card (and pay it off right away like normal), accrue points as you spend, then get reimbursed for anything counted as travel. For us that meant mostly trains (which cost a BAZILLION dollars) and a few hotels. With the sign up bonus and regular accrual, we covered about 75% of what we paid for hotels and trains.

Now that we're home, I'm working on Barclay's other way to accrue points: writing travel stories on their travel advice site. It adds up some 500 points at a time, which is pretty much $5 at a time, so I don't know how long I'll last. You have 90 days to redeem your travel expenses, so I'm hoping I'll get in a mood one night and write up a couple hundred bits of travel stories to cover the last 25% of our hotel and train travel.

3. AirBnB for everything else
I've got a whole post coming up or the thrills of AirBnB. For the sake of this post we'll just say this: we rented out our apartment for the entire time we were gone, effectively covering the cost of most of the food (read: cheese, sausage, and overpriced but totally delicious and worth it meals that Porter had to keep talking me into eating without guilt or dollar signs in my eyes) and fun (site-seeing, souvenirs, crap we didn't ever think we'd have to buy but did) leftover. 

I haven't finished totally everything up yet, but by my calculations, a 10 day trip to Switzerland, with mixed budget accommodations and reasonable spending on site-seeing and food cost about $500. 

Now we have to start strategizing for New England this fall!


3 Reactions to REI's Response to My Complain Tweet

The weirdest thing happened the other day. First of all I complained to REI on Twitter- which is weird in and of itself because I've posted to Twitter all of 15 times and the only followers I have are my brother and those random companies that follow people in hopes of getting followed. 

But I was shopping for something at REI, a backpack I think. It doesn't matter so much what because every time I shop for outdoor gear at REI or elsewhere I have the same frustration: I hate colors from the 80's.

I hate teal and fuchsia, and cyan, and all the colors that almost all women's clothing and supplies come in. Shop in Men's, you'll find RED, BLUE, GREEN, sometimes yellow, and the old standard black. In Women's it's all these awful colors I hate, and black, which I already have to much in anyway. 

So this last time I was really frustrated because I found a PERFECT Men's backpack in a great shade of really normal orange and it didn't fit because it was made for a long torsoed man and long-torsoed I am NOT. And the same brand of backpack in women's was AQUAMARINE.

Nothing against those who love aquamarine, but I hate it. I want my supplies in colors I could find in a standard Crayola box. Is that so much to ask? 

SO I tweeted at REI and said so. 

And two hours later, THEY TWEETED BACK.

"@kambrat Thanks for the feedback. We will pass it along."

Weird, right? Is this normal now? I didn't know what to do with myself. In fact, I had three reactions:

1. Shame/Embarrassment

Like when you complain about something loudly and then someone calls you on it. Really you were just complaining to complain. It's really not THAT bad. I realize REI mostly sells product that other companies make. And that all companies are doing market research of SOME kind. I'm not trying to say people are doing their jobs poorly. No one should get fired over this or anything...

2. Satisfaction/Loyalty
Maybe my voice will be heard. Even if it's not, the fact that REI has someone staged to respond is pretty amazing. They are listening. TO ME! Now that's the future of customer service right there. And real time market research. I'm not the only one wishing for more primary colors and I'll stick with REI until they learn that from me and all the others like me...

3. Unsettled/Creeped Out
What is it that's weird about it? It's like I'm breaking the Fourth Wall of Big Business. Small businesses hear customer complaints. Large businesses are an endless hole of bureaucracy and grey flannel suits (or in the case of REI, neon breathable spandex puffy coats). That's just how it works. Here I feel as if I've entered in a false reality where my complaints are heard... but surely not by people who can affect change... or maybe next season bags will be red and puffy coats bold blue. All because my tweet went around the world.

I don't know. I still feel mixed


Three Best Things about Baseball Games (spoiler: none of them are baseball)

Went to the Mariner's game on Friday night. I always say that I love going to baseball games because you don't actually have to watch baseball to know what is going on or to have a good time. Because baseball games are full of excitement and camaraderie entirely separate from the slow pace hits and really quite depressingly high rate of strike outs.

I like the game, don't get me wrong, but I'd never watch it on TV. That would be like watching golf. Only exciting if it's high stakes. What I like best about baseball games, aside from good company of course (a must for a game with an average of a run just every 22 minutes), is the bits at the stadium. There's a sense of collective entertainment when you're waiting for one out of three attempted swings to be successful.

My favorites are:

1. The Wave.

I get excited watching The Wave circle the ballpark. I get disappointed when the lowlifes before my section give it up. I wonder what the record is for most laps around a stadium (It's 31! And might have hit it big in Seattle!). Regardless, it fills me with glee.

2. Singing Take Me Out To the Ballgame

It's the closest thing I have to Old Irish Drinking Songs (capitalized, because it's a Thing, you know). I don't go out drinking in modern times in America, where I'm sure they don't still sing OIDS. I can only picture the experience from movies (apparently only Disney movies at that). And from ball games. Where hours (literally hours) of passive game-watching is punctuated by a burst of collective participation. Doesn't it just make you want to link arms with your neighbor and smash peanut shells in with your toes as you sway from side to side? It does me, and I appreciate when others get into it even more than I do.

3. Special displays of orchestration

Friday night we saw a fireworks show set to Taylor Swift and Ellie Goulding (really well-timed, better than I've ever seen before). It was an abnormal night where the majority of attendees actually stayed past the 7th inning stretch (a rarity for me, I'll admit) and it was so great.

But even without special occasions, I love the little dance the sand sweepers do; and when groups of 50 all wear the same thing and cheer; and costumes. I've never joined the dress up crowd (I have a blue and green plaid shirt I wear to all professional sporting events in Seattle [Sounders, Seahawks, and Mariners colors all look pretty similar]), but I love to see it on the jumbo-tron, especially when accompanied by dancing

Three more things I like:
Good company

A cute baby

Knit beard on a handsome man