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.