Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Vegas in a Nutshell

Tempted as I was to bring my computer along and post a new blog every few hours, I decided to allow myself a vacation without Internet access. Sure, I could check my GMail on my cell phone (in case an agent got back to me), but we were practically cut off from email, MySpace,, and our employers for the last four days. It was liberating…

Vegas trips can easily seem too short or run on too long; the sweet spot is leaving when you feel ready for your comfy bed at home but have already started making a list of the things you want to do next time you’re there… Fortunately, that’s exactly how it happened for us. We already have a list of five or six things for our next trip.

Sadly, we did not hit 100% of our Trip Goals for this year. Let’s run back through them again quickly…

1. Mamma Mia!
Yup, this one we managed. And as my forthcoming review should indicate, we were both shocked by how much we liked this show…

2.) Miss America Pageant
Slater proved a good host, and the show was very entertaining. The results surprised us—you should have been there to hear Miss Texas sing…

3.) Bellagio Water Show
Check. Saturday night, Shania Twain over the p.a. Love the water show.

4.) Walk away from a gaming table with more money than I arrived with
Technically, this happened a few times in the slot pits. Didn’t have such stellar luck with Craps, though…

5.) Take a dip in the Mandalay Bay pool
This isn’t our fault…but the pool was closed for the season, and under construction to boot…

6.) Visit the Wynn
Next time…

7.) Stroll Piazza San Marco inside the Venetian
And while I was there, I hung out at an Oxygen Bar – more on that later this week!

8.) Go to bed at a reasonable hour at least once...
After sitting at Logan for 5.5 hours before finally departing Saturday, we were hardly fit to stay out late on Saturday night… Hardly something to brag about!

Seven out of Eight is a pretty good finish, I’d have to say, and that doesn’t include other unexpected pleasures such as: Titanic Exhibit at the Tropicana, Shark Reef (Aquarium) at Mandalay Bay, basking in the sun at Margaritaville, gambling in eight different casinos…

We have a lot of fun stories to post over the next few days!

- Normal Guy (Jason Shaffner)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Two Days To Vegas

From the desk of Normal Girl…

Okay, it’s two days before our trip to Vegas begins and I still can’t believe that we are getting on the plane this Saturday. Jason keeps bugging me to search for fun things that I want to experience while we are there, but I finally broke it to him—I know nothing about Vegas.

It’s true, I don’t. I know of “the strip,” I know Jennifer McFly gets married in the “Chapel o’ Love” there, and I know I will be super excited when the lights go down at the start of Miss America. Beyond that, I can’t be much help with tourist-type expeditions. I even asked Jason where Vegas is located in the state; one of my lifetime goals is to stand on the site where you are in the four states at once. (My other two lifetime goals are to ride on a Zamboni and play Plinko on The Price is Right, but that’s another story for another day.)

So, off we go to Vegas. Although I am unsure what I want to see, I know I want sunshine and warmer weather than the predicted 13 degrees for Boston. I want to be blinded by the lights of The Strip. I want to be surrounded by Elvis impersonators. (I went to college in Mississippi, so becoming an Elvis fan was inevitable!) I want to walk around, see some random event, and decide to join in.

Planning has never been a forte of mine, especially when it’s a new destination. Sure, I can tell you where you should go in various cities across the nation, but it’s only because my family has either lived there or we have visited many times. Take New Orleans, for example. The city was my family’s home while I was in college and I made many treks to the Crescent City for fun—yes, Mardi Gras included. I can tell you that Maspero’s has the best fried shrimp and Camellia Grill, where the cooks sing, has amazing apple pie. Ask me to plan a vacation to an unfamiliar place and I look like a deer in headlights. Tell me to take you to Oxford, Mississippi and there will be no hesitation when I direct you to the gas station with the best chicken-on-a-stick known to man.

Vegas overwhelms me. Part of me remains the small-town girl, intimidated by big city lights. I am sure that the skylines of Philadelphia, NYC, and New Orleans are nothing compared to the strip after sunset.

I can’t wait to go and enjoy this time with Normal Guy, not only because he can be my official tour guide, but because any guy that will go to Miss America with me is one I plan to keep around…

Gearing Up for Vegas

Above: They're holding our room...

In 45 hours, we will depart from Logan. In 51 hours, or thereabouts, we will arrive at Mandalay Bay (pictured above). In 51.5 hours, I will have blown my first $20 in a slot machine.

Of course it just figures that I’d wake up this morning fending off sniffles. I get one cold each year, and I hope this isn’t it…

The strange thing about this trip is that we won it more than six months ago, and spent most of our excitement and glee in the two weeks that followed. On top of that, Normal Girl has never been there, so she doesn’t even know what to expect. I was nagging her yesterday to blog about her expectations, but she informed me, plainly, that she wouldn’t even know where to begin.

Vegas does not lend itself easily to planning. Let’s say you decide you’re going to visit the Forum Shops at Caesar’s and then stroll down to watch the ship sink in front of Treasure Island. Not a bad plan, but next thing you know, you’ve been playing video poker for an hour.

We have to find some discipline, though, since we have two pre-planned evenings. Sunday night brings us to Mamma Mia, which describes itself as follows: “Timeless songs such as Dancing Queen, I Have a Dream, Voulez-Vous, and Take a Chance on Me, are ingeniously woven into an enchanting tale of love, laughter and friendship.” I have to tell you that the website sucked a bit of the life out of me. Not the best promo I’ve ever seen. In any event, the tickets are free, the show is in our hotel, and I’m sure we’ll have a good time. I just hope that I escape without getting any of ABBA’s songs stuck in my head…

Monday night we’re going to get all dressed up for the Miss America Pageant. Yup.

That leaves us plenty of time to plan. Since I’ve been to Vegas seven or eight times and Normal Girl is a Vegas Virgin, defining our Trip Goals falls to me… Remember the formula: for any given trip, no matter the destination, you must define a set of goals that do not exceed twice the number of days you’ll be in the place (as defined here…) Eight goals…
  1. Mamma Mia!
  2. Watch A.C. Slater (Dancing with the Stars loser Mario Lopez) crown Miss America
  3. Bellagio Water Show, like in that Ocean’s Eleven movie
  4. Walk away from a gaming table with more money than I arrived with (I’m praying to the Craps Gods the whole flight)
  5. Take a dip in the Mandalay Bay pool. I don’t care if it’s only going to be in the high 50s, it’s the principle of the thing.
  6. Visit the Wynn
  7. Stroll Piazza San Marco inside the Venetian
  8. Go to bed at a reasonable hour at least once...
This trip marks the first I’ve made in YEARS where I will not have my laptop. Or at least that’s the plan. I reserve the right to change my mind at the last minute… Don’t know that I can make it that long without checking my email!

- Normal Guy (aka Jason Shaffner)

Monday, January 22, 2007

You’ve Won A Trip… the magnificent Mandalay Bay Casino and Resort in beautiful Las Vegas, Nevada! Yup, those are pretty much the words I heard in my head when Keryn uncovered that magical palm tree on that lucky scratch ticket.

Full disclosure: I never win anything. Ever.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. I won Red Sox tickets in a raffle two years ago. And I have had pretty decent luck at the poker table over the years. But other than that, I don’t win. In my clutches, winning tickets mysteriously transform themselves into losers. Good thing I was driving and Keryn had the penny between her fingers…

You might be wondering, as I wondered for the long two days between when we won and when we were able to get through to the Maine State Lottery folks -- how does winning a trip work, exactly?

The answer is that there’s some company in Georgia, and apparently this is what they do.

Let’s say you run a company and you want to give away a vacation as the grand prize in your annual sweepstakes. You name your price and these guys will tell you what it gets you. A trip to Vegas, the Virgin Islands, Paris, Alaska, Delaware -- you name it, and they'll assemble a voyage.

In this case, here’s what we’re getting:
  • Roundtrip tix (on America Worst, which happens to be one of the only direct flights from Boston, so we scored there)
  • Three nights “deluxe” accommodations at Mandalay Bay (I’m eagerly looking forward to learning what exactly “deluxe” means—I’m guessing it doesn’t mean squat).
  • Tickets to Mamma Mia (featuring the music of ABBA, which is all I have to say about that)
  • Cab vouchers to/from McCarran
  • Enough gambling money to last me a solid five minutes at the craps tables… (shh… don’t tell Keryn)
  • And, of course, a liability on my taxes...

All in all, a pretty sweet package (excepting that last part).

I can’t wait until we arrive in Vegas and slide a crisp one dollar bill into the very first slot machine that greets us as we deplane.

Back tomorrow with more details on our planning…

- Normal Guy (aka Jason Shaffner)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Things I’ve Lost: Hotel Rooms

I promise this is the last (and the shortest) in this ill-advised series.

Of all the places I’ve misplaced items, none have frustrated me more than hotel rooms. Why? Because they make it next to impossible to recover items. You can never get a person on the telephone, that’s for sure, and they never want to let you into the area where they supposedly keep the items classified neatly by room number. Riffing on that last point—they always seem to want to know your room number. Do they seriously think that we can keep track of that kind of thing?

Not even the Sheraton Old San Juan, where I stayed more than 300 nights in two years and where the valets, bell men, and desk staff greeted me by name, they couldn’t help me. I even left my voicemails in Spanish! All to no avail…

I wonder about the housekeeping headquarters. There are two possibilities:
  • An palatial room filled with wondrous wonders. Watches, umbrellas, sneakers, pens, books, toiletries…
  • There is no such room. Perhaps they hold things a day or two, but then everything of value is posted on eBay and the rest dropped in the dumpster out back.

The most frustrating thing for me is that on two occasions the valuable thing I lost was my prescription eyeglasses. It isn’t as if they would be immediately useful to someone in housekeeping. I mean, they’re my prescription (which happens to be pretty potent). Of all the things to mysteriously vanish from the trove of goodies hidden in the underbelly of hotels, why my glasses?

Vegas details are coming together nicely. More on that in the next couple of days!

- Normal Guy (Jason Shaffner)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Vegas, Baby, Vegas!

Above: Yup, that there sign is referring to Normal Guy and Girl. Does winning the lottery make us less “normal”?

It’s summer. We are on our way to spend a long weekend at the “Lemieux Compound,” as Jason has affectionately named what I call our camps on China Lake in Maine. On the four-hour drive from Boston, we decided to purchase a few lottery tickets, one of which was a Mandalay Bay $5 scratch ticket, Jason’s choice. We won $5 in Kennebunk, which we crammed immediately back into the lottery machine. I won back $7, which we decided to save for the return ride home.

A great time was had by all at the Lemieux compound…s’mores, sea-doo riding, and watching fireworks from our boat. It was Jason’s second trip to our camps and we spent time listening to old 45’s, playing old-school Atari, and reading in our porch swing.

Sunday afternoon, we began the trip back home to Boston, with an additional passenger in my back seat: my sister’s ex-boyfriend, John (they’re “still friends”). He slept off and on throughout the trip, but he was wide awake whenever we stopped for snacks and lottery tickets. John is 19, 6’1”, and a bottomless pit. He also developed a gambling habit after his first trip to the Windsor Fair.

(Windsor Fair is held over Labor Day Weekend, and John attended during the Lemieux annual trip two years ago. Having turned 18 right before the fair, he discovered midway gambling and became addicted to the various games scattered throughout the fair. Anyway, I digress…)

We stopped in Augusta for the two Cokes Jason needs for the trip (it’s a fact) and to exchange our $7 for more tickets; Jason gave me three more dollars and told me to “have at it.”

I seriously debated… should I go for the Mandalay Bay again or choose something new? Jason had won twice on that brand, so why not? I walked out with one more Mandalay Bay ticket, a bingo ticket (my personal fave that I have won exactly once with, even though I have bought one every month for the past year!), and another random $2 ticket.

We hopped in my Camry and started talking about John’s Windsor Fair gambling addiction, which led to a conversation about Vegas, where Jason has been several times, including a relatively recent work conference. I was half-listening to the discussion, focused intently on the scratching of the tickets. I had already lost on my bingo (BIG surprise) and feeling rejected, I half-heartedly began scratching the Mandalay Bay ticket.

I scratched off three random numbers that did not match the winning numbers, and thought I had another loser on my hands. Then I saw something that did not resemble a number.

I continued with my nickel and finished unveiling a tiny palm tree.

Me: “Huh…”
Jason: “What’s wrong?”
I read the bottom of the ticket aloud.
Me: “See a palm tree, win a trip to Vegas.”
Jason: “And…?” (He must’ve thought I was reading the rules for no good reason!)
Me: “I think I just won a trip to Vegas!!”

Above: Normal Girl re-enacts scratching the winning lottery ticket that will bring us to Vegas...

John stared at the ticket in disbelief and Jason swerved between lanes as he sneaked peeks at the winning ticket. Can you imagine winning a trip to Vegas on a $5 scratch ticket?!? Me neither.

Apparently, we are one of 50 winners of a Mandalay Bay stay from the Maine State Lottery. We alternated between laughing and being in shock the remainder of the trip after calling both sets of parents to share our exciting news. (We might still be in shock!)

Upon further research, we learned that we won roundtrip tickets, a 4-day, 3-night trip with deluxe accommodations at Mandalay Bay, some spending money, a wheelie suitcase, and two tickets to see “Mamma Mia!”

Since I work (unlike a certain Normal Guy I know), I had to determine when would be the best time for me to take vacation from work. Ironically enough, it was the end of January.

Well… it just so happens that Miss America moved last year from Atlantic City to Las Vegas after 80-odd years, and guess what? This year, it is being held the weekend that we will be staying in Mandalay Bay! (Have I mentioned that I love Miss America and have had friends who competed in the pageant?)

Yes, I purchased tickets immediately and plan to drag Jason to the spectacle that Mario Lopez, a.k.a. A.C. Slater, will be emceeing. Vegas, Baby, VEGAS!!!

- Normal Girl (a.k.a. Keryn Lemieux)

Monday, January 15, 2007

Things I’ve Lost: Taxis and Rental Cars

Advance Warning: today’s post is boring… Four hours of 24, four playoff games, and too many hours honing the last chapter of my novel have sucked the life out of me! But I promised a posting, and here it is. Tomorrow, Normal Girl will be back with the story of how we came by our upcoming flight to Las Vegas!!!

My Wallet
Here’s a story of mixed Samaritanism.

Cab driver finds a wallet in the backseat of his car. Inside he reads the phone number from a pinch of business cards and leaves an incomprehensible voicemail. (Note: cab ride was in Chicago, he took me from the airport to the office, left a voicemail in Boston on the same day; I received the message two weeks later).

When he doesn’t hear back, he packages up the IDs (including a Social Security Card), credit cards, assorted business cards, movie rental cards, receipts, and postage stamps, and mails the bundle to the business address on the card. He keeps the neatly folded Liar’s Poker dollars from the inside pockets (you know, the ones with six or seven of a kind -- I guarantee I’m the only person who knows what I’m talking about), 80 Euros, about $100, and the wallet.

It was tough for me to be angry, because the lost cash was not going to cause me to live on Top Ramen, and the miscellaneous IDs would have been much harder to replace. Still, I couldn’t help but think it was an odd gesture of partial good will on his part… Sure hope he got something nice for himself with those euros!

(Btw: you might ask how I got home. Well, I had to have my building superintendent enter my apartment, locate my passport, and Express Mail it to my hotel in Chicago, which was paid for by one of my colleagues.)

Cell Phone
I will make no excuses. The driver called the three most recent numbers, but the battery went dead an hour later. Here is another case where I may have been more careless with something because I unconsciously wanted it lost. That phone sucked.

Frankly, I’m surprised it’s only happened to me once…

Countless CDs
Note to self: take the CDs out of the rental car’s CD player before you get to the airport. Now was that so hard?

Countless Cheap Umbrellas
For umbrellas I shop exclusively at my corner convenience store. The beauty of $5 umbrellas is that you can through them away if you’re tired of carrying them (as I did on my second date with Normal Girl!), lose no tears when they inevitably break, and stash one in each piece of luggage so you’re always prepared on the road. On the flipside, you tend to get a little careless with them. Here’s the typical chronology:
  1. Learn it’s raining before leaving for the office.
  2. Remove cheap umbrella from carry-on suitcase.
  3. Carry said umbrella to the office.
  4. After work, carry umbrella to car (if it’s raining) or forget in the office if it’s not.
  5. Drop umbrella in trunk or backseat.
  6. Record mental note: “don’t forget to pack the umbrella at the hotel.”
  7. Pack suitcase on last morning of stay, carry to car, stash in trunk.
  8. Jot down mental reminder of earlier note: “don’t forget to pack the umbrella before leaving for the airport.”
  9. Leave for airport fifteen minutes later than you wanted to (an inevitable event).
  10. Arrive at airport, huffing and puffing from cursing at traffic to get out of your way so you can make your flight.
  11. Grab suitcase, forget umbrella.
I can predict with reasonable certainty the next big ticket item I’ll leave in the center console… Let me give you a hint. Starts with an “i” and ends with a “pod.”

Until later, safe travels…

-- Normal Guy (a.k.a. Jason Shaffner)

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Things I’ve Lost… Or Not

I cannot count the times I’ve proclaimed aloud to myself, to friends, to family that I’m going to draft a nasty letter of complaint. It happens at least twice per year.

This fall my pet gripes were held against Delta (spilling something fishy on our luggage, mishandling delayed baggage, mismanaging cancellations) and Target (lousy service, rude personnel). I went so far as to add a task into my task list, but I never got around to it…

Perhaps I would have been more on top of the task if I had a PDA to remind me of my duties. But, as you may recall from my last journal, I left my PocketPC PDA in Seat 4D during a flight from San Juan to Boston. Although I never wrote a letter of complaint on the subject, I mentioned it in an online survey. Somebody from American called me to chat about my complaint. He apologized and gave me 1,000 bonus miles.

Frequent fliers are prima donnas. We think that the world stops to admire as we pass and that airline personnel should literally fall to the feet and kiss our feet. We feel entitled to express lines through security and getting our luggage first in the claim area. We expect that policies such as “we will only call if we find your lost item” do not apply to us. That’s what had me riled up, much more than the actual loss of the device…

Last weekend, Normal Girl was conducting some January-cleaning.

“That’s disgusting,” she said.


“Dust bunnies under the couch.”

“Um, okay,” I said. “Then don’t look under there.”

She retrieved a hand-held vacuum from the closet. “Can we push the couch back?” We did, exposing a gray bail of aggregated dust. And one black neoprene case containing a genuine Dell PDA.

“Hey, look what I found,” she said.

Whoops! At least I didn’t write a scathing letter….

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Things I’ve Lost: Airplanes

This is a story about things that I've lost over the course of about a thousand flights in the last seven years. Luggage doesn’t count, because I’ve never had luggage permanently lost. In fact, my bags have eluded me only once, at home in Boston. The next morning, I walked downstairs and took my suitcase from the delivery man. No problem. We had a less splendid time dealing with Normal Girl’s luggage back in October, but that’s another story for another day.

There isn’t a whole lot of space on commercial aircraft these days, not even in the front. So you might be wondering how I could manage to lose anything. But you also probably raised your eyebrows yesterday when I mentioned leaving my keys in the refrigerator (and once in the freezer, too, for good measure). IN any event, here’s the inventory of things I’ve left behind…

My Favorite Coat
This wasn’t my favorite coat at the time, but my favorite coat of all time. Manufactured by Brooks Brothers, but one of my rare lucky finds at the outlets in Wrentham, it was a black cashmere pea coat. My build isn’t easy—most everything runs way too small or the sleeves hang past my fingers—but that coat fit like it had been tailored to my precise dimensions. (Imagine the wistful expression on my face as I wax on about this damn coat).

I flew from Tucson to Denver, before catching the last flight to Boston. Those short hauls came with automatic upgrades for the highest status level on United Airlines back then (before the Ted experiment, before bankruptcy). I didn’t need the coat in Tucson, and it was too bulky for my roller bag, so I cradled it in my arms like an infant when I boarded.

“May I take your coat?” the flight attendant asked.

Here’s the thing. When they take your coat in first class, it’s kind of a pain in the ass. Sure, the jacket doesn’t wrinkle, and it’s not going to end up with a stain from somebody’s luggage. And yes, I realize I’m complaining about first class… However, the routine is for them to present your coat while preparing the cabin for landing. It makes perfect logical sense – once the wheels touch the ground, there’s too much going on for them to distribute the laundry. But it means you have to hug your coat for the last twenty minutes of the flight. Somehow this bothered me. (Like many things that bother me, I realize I may be alone in my irritation).

For whatever reason, I handed it over rather than fold it inside out (travel tip: the liner protects against other luggage in the bin) and tuck it overhead.

They did not hand out the coats that afternoon.

An hour later, moments before boarding my flight to Boston, I realized I was missing something. My coat! My favorite coat! I called down to the gate. Left a message for DEN lost and found. Learned where that plane traveled to on its subsequent two flights. Left messages at those airports. Nothing.

I’m still looking for a coat like that one… *Sniffle* *Sniffle*

The Mayor of Casterbridge
All together, I’ve probably left a dozen books or notebooks in seat pockets. How hard is it to check that pocket before deplaning? Depends how many drinks you’ve had… But seriously, the odds are that in 500 flights you’re going to forget something, and books are easy. They slip down, and when you peer inside you see SkyMall, the Safety Information Card, a prior passenger’s garbage, and a barf bag. The good news is that by leaving The Mayor of Casterbridge for United Airlines to find, I escaped reading it.

A Very Expensive Gift
I’m not going to say what it was exactly, but I’ll tell you that it was smaller than a book and larger than a nickel. Before I brought it aboard, I told myself it was a very bad idea. “You’re going to lose it,” mumbled a voice I tend to ignore. If I’m not mistaken, the passenger beside me commented on how nice it was. Straight to the bottom of the seat pocket. Some lucky maintenance worker might even be using it today.

My Mind
Well, not quite. But close. So very close.

Leather Wallet o’ Business Cards
My parting gift from a prior employer was a leather wallet to hold my business cards. It was from Longchamps, which I surmise to be an expensive accessories boutique merely from their location on the ritzy end of Newbury Street in Boston. Of course I decided to carry it, because my pockets were not overflowing already with my regular wallet, cell phone (they weren’t quite so slim seven years ago), keys, etc.

Got home and realized: Oops, left my business cards on the plane. Bummer.

Lo and behold, the item whose loss concerned me the least was the one that turned up in my mailbox. A flight attendant (bless her heart) saw the address on the fifty business cards inside and voilà, I had a fancy carrying case for my useless business cards again.

Not so fast. One week later, I transferred my laundry from the washing machine to the dryer. What’s that at the bottom? Uh oh, my mangled business card wallet.

Do you see what Normal Girl puts up with???

Last, but not least: my top-of-the-line, über-fancy, high-definition, Bluetooth-capable, WiFi-enabled, but completely useless Dell Axim x50 Personal Digital Assistant
I was thrilled about this gadget. Loaded it with contacts, tasks, and a flashcard program to teach me Spanish. Learned how to write quickly in their special shorthand. Carried that thing everywhere. And then after a while I realized it was spending a lot of time in my work bag and not as much time in use.

I elected to give it one more try. Of course, the memory had vanished by then, so I had to reload, re-associate, and re-sync. “This thing works great!” I proclaimed.

At the apex of this last-ditch attempt to use my costly toy for something other than solitaire, I took it out before one of my last flights from San Juan to Boston in early July. Checked off some tasks, added some tasks, checked my calendar, surfed the Internet on the free WiFi. Started talking to Mark (the guy beside me). Set the PDA in the seat beside me. Chit-chatted some more. Drinks came. Dinner was served. We broke to do some “real work” on our laptops. Landed. Deplaned. Took a taxicab home.

The next morning, I realized my PDA was not in the front pouch of my messenger bag. Where could it be? In the seat, that’s where. I called Logan and San Fran (where the plane went in the morning) and left messages at lost and found. They did not return my call. I know the policy is they’ll call only if they find your missing item, but I’m an Executive Platinum! (Insert indignant rant here).

Guess what Normal Girl found under the couch last weekend…

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Things I’ve Lost: Prelude

Yessir, I’ve spent most of my adult life on the road. Seven years as a roving consultant equals hundreds of thousands of flight miles (100k+ in five of those years) and hundreds of hotel nights (more than 240 in 2005). Combine that with a tendency to lose things, and you can imagine travel has not always been a good thing when it comes to my personal property…

Around the apartment, as Normal Girl can attest, I’m always misplacing things. “Where are my keys?” I ask, even though we put a hook by the door for them just to avoid this problem. If only I could remember to use it!

A few weeks ago, I flipped the place upside down searching for a recent paycheck, only to find it inside my wallet, where it was supposed to be.

At home, things usually turn up eventually. My keys aren’t really lost; somehow I managed to put them on the top shelf of the refrigerator (true story). The luxury of oh-it’ll-turn-up isn’t there in the San Juan Sheraton or American Airlines Flight 1425.

I thought it would be fun to spend the next few postings reviewing the laundry list of things I’ve lost on planes, in rental cars, and in hotel rooms through the years. Please everyone, I welcome you to chuckle at my pain and suffering, all of which is, ultimately, my own damn fault.

Because I’m trying to be all organized in the new year, I am attempting a very risky experiment here -- setting a schedule of forthcoming postings:
11-Jan-2007: Airplanes
13-Jan-2007: Whoops… Look What I Found!
15-Jan-2007: Taxicabs and Rental Cars
17-Jan-2007: Hotel Rooms

And then we’ll move on to our preparations for VEGAS! Oh, have I failed to mention that we’re going to Vegas at the end of the month? It’s going to be legendary.

Until tomorrow,
- Jason

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Too Many Christmases?

I remember a simpler time, when my life contained a single, solitary Christmas. Until I was eleven or twelve, the Shaffner Family’s modus operandi was pretty straight-forward. The entire annual celebration took place on December 25th, in the living room of our home. Grandma and Papa Cushing arrived at our house after we had finished the nuclear family exchange, ready to watch us open the pretty boxes they’d brought. The whole affair started when I woke (typically before dawn), and concluded before noon.

By my teens, we bifurcated the celebration. Christmas Eve we traveled over the river and through the woods to Grandma’s house. She made the tastiest teriyaki chicken wings (perhaps not the most stereotypical New England Christmas rite, but among my favorites). My cousin and I, though we couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred pounds each, could eat our weight in chicken wings. Sometimes our eating even interfered with the opening of gifts.

After wrapping up (pun intended) at Grandma’s house, my family returned home for a challenging evening of staring at the presents underneath our glowing fake tree, anticipating the following morning.

Seems a lot more complicated than that these days.

Not that I’m complaining -- the holidays were amazing this year. But two ornaments on our five-foot tree proclaimed this as our First Christmas Together, and that included our respective families, so we had a little traveling to do...

Grandma told me that she’d never heard (in her eighty-three years) of one person having as many Christmases as Keryn did this year (SIX!). Here’s a rough recounting, with a touch of humor thrown in for good measure.

December 23
10:30am Depart Boston two hours late, driving north to Maine. The traffic on I-95 is slow on the autumn holidays because there aren’t any tourists. (Good to know, in case any whackos out there are planning a winter sightseeting voyage).
1:00pm Arrive in Winslow at Gram’s (her paternal grandmother) house and feast on a bucket of KFC before tearing into presents. The highlight is a rechargeable plastic four-wheeler for Keryn’s cousin. It supports 180lbs, so I was disappointed I couldn’t ride it… If only I’d shed twenty pounds leading into the holidays! I remember circling the CHiPs motorcycle in the Sears Catalog back in 1984. Probably cost a thousand bucks back then. These days you can get one for a hundred. Alas…
6:00pm Say our farewells, exchange hugs, pack our booty into the trunk, and take off for Bucksport.
8:00pm Arrive at my childhood home, exhausted.
10:00pm Crash and burn…

Above: Christmas Puppy Ripley goes crazy watching us open presents at Celebration #3.

December 24
7:00am Because my mother has not changed the clocks since Daylight Savings ended, I force myself out of bed an hour earlier than the already too-early-for-my-taste time I’d planned.
10:30am My sister and brother-in-law arrive from Portland. They’re running on borrowed time, since they have a diabetic cat to medicate (not their own, they have a business doing that kind of thing). We waste no time filling a Hefty bag with paper, ribbon, bows, and boxes.
12:30pm We’re late to the second party of the day--the one at my aunt’s house. Oh, and did I mention my sister has an eight-week-old puppy? I’m feeling good about the fact that two days in a row, I am not the primary cause of tardiness.
1:00pm Christmas with my aunt, uncle, cousins, and grandmother. There’s pot roast and potatoes, my father’s gift-to-mankind gravy, lobster stew, and Crown Royal on the rocks. The puppy demands our attention. I sip my Manhattan and try to channel Cesar Millan. Calm assertive state. Rules, boundaries, limitations. More pot roast.
4:00pm The party ends. Keryn has to be back in Boston for Christmas with her family and my brother-in-law has to deliver insulin to a housecat.
9:00pm My bad directions put Keryn in Roxbury (where she does not want to be). Fortunately, she gets back on the Central Artery and finds Storrow Drive.

December 25
Keryn has Christmas with her family (that’s #4 for her, if you’re counting). Then her clan dashes off to Logan for their flight to Columbus.

December 28
3:00am: Normal Girl and her family rise so they can make their 5:30am flight. (Yikes!!!)
5:30am: I’m packing my bags for an exciting bus ride home. Keryn boards an airplane.
7:15am: Nothing like a packed-solid bus! Ooh baby.
12:00pm: I arrive in Boston.
12:10pm: Our final celebration (#4 for me, #6 for her) begins as Keryn unwraps a genuine lump of coal and I don a new tee-shirt proclaiming, “Careful or you’ll end up in my novel!” How true it is…

So back to the original question: is there any such thing as too many Christmases?

I’m going to answer with a resounding no. Bring it on!