Every December, we invite a small group of friends to join us for an energetic Christmas gathering. This celebration has evolved over the years and now has its own long-standing traditions. Those traditions range from tasty to tacky… and sometimes borderline nasty. Here are a few of them.
Wouldn’t you want this prancing around your rooftop on Christmas Eve?
Dinner is served. This time it came in the form of blackened chicken pasta, provolone and salami salad, cheesy breadsticks, chocolate cake, and buttermilk pie from Magleby’s. The food they provided seemed ample enough to feed a mass much larger than our little crowd.
Games are played. Common among them are pool, shuffleboard, Just Dance, and ping pong. I love Just Dance even though it tends to repellently jiggle everything the good lard gave you.
Jason wore a Star Wars sweater and I wore a Doctor Who one. Remarkably, we weren’t the only couple dressed in that exact combo.
We go around the world. A few matches of Around the World involving everyone are a standard at our Christmas party, although most of us don’t have the ping pong skills to even go around the net.
Christmas sweaters, mostly of the ugly variety, are worn. (Is there any other variety?)
If it is juvenile, puerile, vulgar, or detestable, it is likely to occur at our party.
And, of course, a white elephant exchange game is played. In our version, nothing is opened until the end. We like our guests to fight over the boxes that inevitably end up containing old socks or something with Justin Bieber’s face on it.
This year, I did add one new diversion to the merriment. I brought my camera equipment and took some shots of any attendees that desired them. I’m not entirely sure if I will do this again. It ate up too much time and it was hard to focus on my photography with so many distractions swirling around me. Still, it’s not every day you get a picture of Jeremy in tight sweats and antlers… oh wait, it is.
We encourage the wearing of tasteless attire to our party.
Cheers to the tacky-sweater-sporting and outrageous-present-begetting gang that joined us this year. Thanks to them, Santa’s got a brand new bag, a bean bag, and moose knuckles, in a miraculous feat of science, have been transplanted onto reindeer. I’d say the party was a success.
Thanksgiving, as far as holidays go, gets grossly overlooked. It’s often just seen as a stepping stone to Christmas, a marker passed on the way to the shopping season. Heck, now stores don’t even wait for the turkey to get cold before opening their doors for the holiday rush. The fixings and gatherings of Thanksgiving may seem modest compared to December’s showy gifts and twinkling lights but I appreciate its simple focus.
Like a prophet in their own country, no one listens to a photographer in their own family… and this is what happens.
For me, Thanksgiving means making delicious foods from scratch for the people that matter most. It means enjoying some sunshine on a pre-gorging run and then forgetting about calories. It means consciously acknowledging the many things I’m lucky to have in my life.
Jason requested I make caramel apple pie again this thanksgiving.
I usually get assigned the desserts for my family’s Thanksgiving dinner and I don’t skimp on the cream or the preparation time. This year, with assistance from Jason, I made caramel apple pies and almond fudge cake. Yes, of course my crusts were created from scratch. Duh. Both treats turned out pretty tasty.
Every family has a silly side. I think my family had had a few silly sides and a platter of turkey at this point.
After staying up late to finish those dishes, we rose early on Thanksgiving morning to compete in the Pilgrim 5K. This is an entertaining race where participants dress as pilgrim folk and pretend they’re courageously running across Plymouth instead of lamely over a golf course. It was absolutely frigid during the event. Temperatures were in the 20s but it was the wind that really cut through our bonnets. Still, clouds of exhaled mist hanging over packs of respiring runners were a curious and amusing sight.
This cake had a chocolate glaze and cream-cheese filling so it’s a good thing calories don’t exist on Thanksgiving.
We spent the afternoon with just one family, mine. We got to enjoy dinner with Jason’s family on a different day due to work schedules. I won’t lie, not having to hurry between two feasts made the holiday feel much more like an actual holiday instead of a cramming circus.
Thanksgiving is one of the many things I’m grateful for in my life. It doesn’t demand much, just a home-cooked meal and a few laughs with kin, yet it leaves you with a satisfied belly and numerous sweet recollections.
Our second day in Moab, we decided to trek through some familiar and unfamiliar terrains in Arches National Park. The day’s extraordinary loveliness was expected; its extraordinary leakiness was not.* Let me elaborate.
We started out with a 3.4-mile hike to Tower Arch, the sole path in all of Arches we hadn’t wandered. A dirt access road made it a little harder to reach the trailhead but Tower’s distinctive steeple of stone and 92-foot span were worth the trouble.
It takes a little effort to reach Tower Arch’s sculpted sandstone and knobby chimney.
Delicate Arch, our second and last hike for the day, (Drat that brief winter sunlight!) was a repeat. Although we’ve climbed the miles to Delicate’s iconic curve a number of times, on this occasion it hurled us a few extra curves.
Tower Arch opens to a secluded landscape of twisted rock and sparse vegetation.
We decided to start our ascent late in the afternoon so we could catch the sun setting on the arch. This plan, we knew, meant fantastic pictures but also freezing temperatures. We were correct. I got some wonderful shots of the moon rising in the arch and it was 31 degrees on our return hike.
It’s a good thing my Photoshop skills are decent enough to remove inconsiderate landmark-hogging tourists. Don’t look too closely though, my talents aren’t that remarkable.
Yes, we anticipated every detail of our Delicate journey… except Jason’s delicate intestines. About the time we reached the arch, Jason started complaining about his stomach not feeling so good but he insisted he was fit to continue our picture-taking plans. However, he did not proclaim his gastric fitness for long.
The nearly-full moon nestled itself inside Delicate Arch for a minute or two.
Only minutes into our return journey, Jason anxiously remarked that he would most likely require use of one of the pit toilets back at the parking lot when we reached them because his GI tract was squirmier than a nightcrawler on a fishing hook. Unfortunately, the mere suggestion of a potty altered his necessity for one. All of a sudden, he declared that he needed to use the bathroom right then and there… minus the bathroom, of course, because we were far from anything of the sort.
Frame Arch provides a perfect frame for Delicate Arch pictures. Hmm… I wonder how it got its name.
Those of you who have hiked to Delicate Arch before know that it is a very popular trail. It’s still well-used in November. So, lots of tourists were milling about us but, at this point, Jason’s pressure transcended the presence of people. After our brief potty talk, he barely made it five feet, equipped with the three Kleenexes and one wet wipe that I scrounged out of my backpack, before he could go no further without going.
We did some intimidating maneuvering to get into the basin below Delicate Arch.
I became lookout, ready to fend off hikers before they came across other things that would definitely fend them off. Did I mention that the landscape, being a desert and all, possessed little in way of vegetation, i.e. gawker blockers?
At least the photographing part of our Delicate Arch hike went as planned.
Miraculously, no ramblers approached just then and Jason got to have his violent evacuation in peace. And, mercifully, this experience was a one-time number-two crisis; it did not repeat itself at a later point on our hike. Phew! Jason blames his GI upset on the cold he was getting over. I don’t see how loose bowels have anything to do with nasal congestion but whatever puts your sphincters at ease.
Dalton Wells Road, like most of the Moab area, holds unique and curious scenery.
The next day, we biked four miles down Dalton Wells Road. But we didn’t make it to the slickrock playground at its terminus that we were hoping to reach because, regrettably, I had a class to get back to and we ran out of time.
Moab was an adventure as always. There were chills (Brrr!), and thrills, and even spills… of the anal variety. It was another fabulous outing in our favorite outdoor playground but, just for the record, Moab is not our favorite outdoor potty.
*The extremely embarrassing details of this story, surprisingly, were published to the world with Jason’s permission.
This fall, our traditional Moab trip didn’t happen until nearly winter. Due to scheduling constraints that will be the topic of another post, we didn’t have an opportunity to head down there until the latter half of November. Consequently, Moab wasn’t quite its usual pleasant self during our visit but at least it was 20 degrees warmer than back home. Plus, the frosty weather added another layer of ruggedness to our already radical adventures. (Insert those deserved snickers here.)
Gypsy is a short but sweet romp over rippling slickrock.
Our first day in Moab, we decided to bike Klonzo South, a section of the Klonzo Area that wasn’t finished until after we hit that trail system last year.
The temperatures were chilly on Klonzo’s unprotected outcroppings. I’m not talking about “wear a jacket” chilly; I’m talking about “wear three jackets because the wind is going to carve an ice canyon out of your belly” chilly. Still, who’s complaining? (Besides me, of course.)
The Edge deserves its precipitous name.
We biked about 7 miles over Klonzo South’s short interconnecting loops. My favorites of these trails were Magician, Wizard, Carousel, and Gypsy. They twisted over a lot of rolling slickrock and vibrant desert dirt. Awesome!
I have a tendency to sing with my tunes while I bike.
I was not so crazy about Hotdog, a curvy strip placed on a steep hillside. Hotdog was no more difficult than the other paths but I didn’t care for it. Why? After some introspection, I realized that I carry my claustrophobic tendencies with me when I bike. If I feel trapped on a tiny hint of a trail that’s sandwiched in unescapably-abrupt terrain, claustrophobic discomfort sets in. This may seem completely illogical considering the wide-open settings where mountain biking takes place but no one ever said phobias make perfect sense.
You can’t take pictures like this with an iPhone.
The day was soon over after some turns on Magician, The Edge, Wizard, Carousel, Gypsy, Hotdog, and Zoltar. Curse you sun for your winter laziness!
Zoltar mostly rides over slickrock. Jason likes mostly riding over slickrock.
Following Klonzo, it was back to the hotel to write papers until midnight. The reasons why I had to spend my evenings on homework during my beloved Moab trip will have to wait until another post and the urgent details of our treks through Arches National Park will have to wait until next week.
I think Vegas should be called Binge City, as in you’ll have to go to the bathroom and make yourself throw up after visiting. It’s a flashy reminder of the idiotic excesses of humanity that I generally find irritating. (I’m all for moderation not bulimia.) Yet, Vegas does have a few things going for it like sunshine, food, and shows. Jason and I made use of all of those few things a few weeks ago.
If you must do homework, this is the way to do it.
Like Carnival, Vegas seems to suspend normal social conventions. Any reminder of responsibility has been carefully removed from that town. You can’t find a recycling bin anywhere and no one talks about conserving water, even though Bellagio has its fountains blasting and Nevada is the driest state in the union. Visitors eat booze for breakfast so they can delay their hangovers. Hopeful gamblers pull slots like cheese-crazed rats in windowless mazes. And don’t even get me started on Vegas’ archaic representation of women.
Yet, I’ll admit, several aspects of Vegas do have undeniable appeal. Vegas’ weather is inviting when it’s frigid elsewhere. The restaurants are luscious. The shopping is tempting. And the entertainment is ample, even if you’re looking for PG productions.
Unlike other Cirque shows, you were allowed to take pictures during Zarkana.
Jason recently had to travel to Las Vegas for a business conference. I joined him on the tail end of his meeting and stayed the weekend. We had a great time. (That kind of invalidates the rant I just went on doesn’t it?) We spent our Saturday afternoon devouring sun by the hotel pool. I had to do homework during this stint but I got to do it in a tank top. Why the homework? I’ll cover that another time.
We caught the new Cirque du Soleil show called Zarkana. I cringed at what the performers were doing many times during this program but I couldn’t take my eyes away from them. I’d recommend checking it out.
Jason and I usually check out a show every time we go to Vegas.
We took advantage of Vegas’ culinary excellence with dinners at Sage and Wolfgang Puck’s Cucina. Plus, we helped ourselves to the biggest macaroons I’ve ever seen at Jean Philippe Patisserie… and some stuffed crepes… and several piles of chocolate.
Vegas is best experienced in small doses. With just a couple days, you can enjoy its finest and mostly ignore its worst. That’s how I prefer to revisit Binge City.