Archive | December, 2018

2018: A Recount

31 Dec

It’s about that time of year again, folks.  Of course by “that time of year” I mean the end of it.  And while December has passed by the time I’m actually posting this… it’s fine.  It’s my blog and my life.  For when I want to look back and remember…”What exactly did I do in 2018?”

It was this year that I started to travel less.  My trips were shorter and I worked in downtown Pittsburgh for 175 hours more than previous years.  By my calculations that’s 20% more and, if that’s not proof that I stayed put, I don’t know what is.



My room, where most of the staying put happened.


I still traveled, of course, you’ll see below, but I spent way more time living the dream in the Dream Flat with my dream flat mate.



Or, make it a fiesta bowl!


In 2018 I posted several blogs a month, and Patrick was even in on the action.  I’m up to date with all of them (forgiving myself for the 2 month lag time that it will always take me to process and to post).  This time last year I was five months behind.

This year, of course, there were some lows:  A breakup, lonely nights, my club getting sold, some lame dates, my dad’s open-heart surgery, the state of world affairs, and the current U.S. government’s leader.

But there were also highs: Meeting Rick Steves, THE FURRIES, winning 4th of July, getting triggered by my Glimpses, a cowboy trip with Molly, the 47th state with Patrick (and Russ!), Helen’s magical birthday weekend, Colleen’s Team TEAM, meeting Victoria Bradley, some really great dates, spending more time with my parents, planning my first ever Mystery Trip for Katie from AFAR, throwing the best party we’ve ever been to, and looking forward to my taxes.


Here is what my 2018 looked like across the USA (with live links)

Pittsburgh (duh)
New Orleans for Colleen’s birthday
Philadelphia on a road trip
Mississippi with Patrick
Arkansas as a bonus
Cinco de Mayo in Colorodo, of course
Driving to Findley Lake as often as possible
The most memorable birthday in Bandera, Texas
Exploring the Baltimore Aquarium with my dolphins
Getting dirty at Burning Man, Nevada
Stopping in Atlanta on a layover
And Dallas for the big ol’ Texas State Fair
Spending (not enough) time in Seattle: Heaven
Having a side trip to Olympic National Park
Ohio for a site visit (and then again for a hospital visit)
And the Jews did Christmas in California


For a total of 13 states (and heaps of trips), filling out my year.


And here is what 2018 looked like, for me, as a list of countries


January 1st, 2018 I woke up in Ukraine
And went to sleep in Armenia
The Mystery Trip continued on a literal Midnight Train to Georgia
I traveled solo to Azerbaijan
Flew on my own to a divided Cyprus
In Greece, I learned about olive oil, islands (like Santorini), and ancient Athens
Then came back to the USA to see RICK STEVES
Canada for a wizard
Checked on my family in Jamaica
Had the most casual trip to Kazakhstan
Decided to make it harder by hitchhiking into Kyrgyzstan
And booked a last minute flight to Colombia


That’s a total of 12 countries visited, which is not bad for a girl who tried to travel less.


Thank you to every single person and every single place that made 2018 special.



l’shona tova,

Merry Christmas to Jew

25 Dec

‘Twas sometime around Christmas, and to make the day jolly,
I went to LA to go visit Molly.


There she is!


’twas the end of December and we noticed a lack of traffic in her ‘hood.
“We could go to the beach,” said Molly, “we won’t but we could.”

So avoiding the sand, we went for something delicious,
A breakfast at Millie’s to celebrate Christmas.


Intensive air quality.  Also, I know, you know, my phone needs to be charged.


After breakfast I got to hug both Dave and Pace
And we all laughed and played, none of us keeping a straight face.

Later on at dinner, we ate sushi and sake
The three of us Jews continued to get talky.

The next day we split my visit all around
Visiting with Al and Betsy in their new hometown!

Betsy made soup,
It was pure veggies for our group.





Now before I continue, it’s important to know…
That for Christmas, I switched places with Katie Barbaro.

I sent Katie to Amsterdam for a total travel mystery
to celebrate with Soyara (See: My Singapore history)




Katie creating Love Mischief before sleeping on a house boat.


To stand in for Katie while she was away…
I went to the Barbaro’s to spend one Christmas day.

Jumping in an Uber with a loud Chinese man
We brought the family a tulip, origin: The Netherlands.



Guess who’s coming over for Christmas dinner?? 


Molly, Dave, and I had a WONDERFUL time with Katie’s parents and brother
You’d never know it was the first time for all of us to meet each other

Over text I’d been introduced as a “best friend” to the “best mom”
It felt like we were participating in our very own Freaky Friday sitcom;



Maggie, Bruno, and Bruno Jr. ❤


The Barbaros were so generous and the night was sublime
I’m glad having that much fun and food isn’t considered a crime.

Once dinner was over, there was exquisite dessert
Dave (who’s vegan) couldn’t eat it, which had to have hurt.

So to add to the fun, Molly and I described without fail
how the dessert tasted in very complex detail.



Adopted by a family for Christmas ❤



From now on, this is what I will  think Christmas dinner looks like.


When the plates were all empty and the wine just as so
Everyone was tired, it was time to go.

Our goodbyes at the doorway were such a sore sight
The three of us could’ve stayed with Katie’s family all night!

‘Twas truly a Christmas like never before
But you shouldn’t stop reading, because there’s definitely more…


Although, this next part doesn’t include rhyming for a couple of reasons:

  1. It’s about a lucky, luxury vacation. And the word “luxury” is kind of like the word  ‘orange’ — Does anything rhyme with it?


    2. No one needs to be rhyming for this long.


Okay, so this luxury vacation came about because I found myself in the right place at the right time (a Christmas miracle!) and because my generous friends Molly and Dave have equally generous friends in all the right places.  Zach (hi Zach!), had invited Molly and Dave to spend a few days at a luxury resort outside of LA, and I got to be the plus-one to Zach’s plus-two.

Molly, Dave, and I made some potted plants to give as gifts.  ‘Twas the season of giving, after all, and when someone gives you a weekend at a luxury resort, the least you can do is offer small terrariums to the family in return.

The next day, we drove to a gorgeous oasis in the greater Los Angeles area, taking special care of those sweet potted plants along the way.


Christmas with a view.


When we got there, Zach gave me yet another present; a nickname he thought people called me in high school: Samster the Hamster. Classic.  And potentially my new fursona for next year’s furries??  Hilarious, adorable, and rhyming?!  Be still my heart ❤

Anyway, the resort was massive, and all of us had an incredible time exploring the complex, which had a variety of pools to choose from (one of which Molly and I used simply to spin around in). We enjoyed going to fun dinners, playing games (like adding “hole” to the end of words), getting to know everyone better-hole, and perhaps the most luxurious part of it all: taking the shuttle in our robes #teamrobe.



One of the many pool-holes.


It didn’t take more than 36 hours for Molly and I to really get into character– to really embody the essence of fancy, at least for a few hours. And how did we do this? We went to a windowless spa (windows are so last year) and chowed down on some delicious blondie brownies. And let me tell you, you know you’ve made it when every beautician in the spa comes up to you a comedic amount of times asking if you’re Ms. Jackson.  She sounds great, we mused, as we headed back outside, probably to find ourselves at yet another pool.



On December 25th it rained briefly (God’s present to earth), but you can’t tell from this sunny photo.


Our last night in the villa, we had a smashing time (I say words like ‘smashing’ now because of how fancy I now am).  The group of us made up our own Jack the TV game before engaging in a rousing karaoke session.  Zach. the gift that keeps on giving, sang a karaoke rendition of Man, I feel Like a Woman!  It was such a delight.

I think most of the pictures are with Dave and Molly.  But the memories are in our hearts 🙂

The next morning, we parted ways.  Some of the group took their private jet back to Las Vegas where they live, and since my private jet is still in the shop (jk…jk..), Molly, Dave, and I drove to wine country.



The wining part of wining and dining.


We checked into our airbnb and then took an uber (yay for safety!) all over wine country to, duh, drink wine.  At the end of the night, happy and hungry (what’s new?), we asked our Uber driver, Pedro, if we could stop and get a bit of food at the grocery store.  Pedro was (dare I say, more than) happy to oblige.  He seemed to really like our company (or was super into the assortment of snacks were picked out) because he decided to stop working and hang out with us.  The Pedro hangout was fine… but after he left Molly hit the nail on the head when she finally pinpointed the source of mild discomfort: “Pedro wasn’t well traveled enough… in his mind.” Well said, Moodel. 



Hangin’ with Pedro: Christmas edition — the only edition.


The next day, we headed back to LA where more presents awaited.  One gift was the experience of going to my first ever weed dispensary, which was like the Apple store…so sleek, so fancy. So luxurious. It must’ve spent the weekend in a villa too.

The other gift was the business name that Molly and I got to name when we went on a solo adventure after Dave got back from the DMV.  Molly and I landed on a possible business name (but no actual business).   The Betas! “I feel beta with my dog.”  said Molly.  And, my parting gift, getting to sift through a leftover clothing exchange that Molly had hosted before I had arrived in LA.  It was like I went shopping and picked out new outfits for free. Thanks for everything Moo ❤



Clothes that are new to me.


Merry Christmas to Jew,
Sam(ster the Hamster)

Challah-Day Party

8 Dec

Victoria, Bel (Helen), and I decided to throw a themed party after Helen and I had attended Eva’s incredibly well-done Harry Potter House Cup party this summer. Even now, months after the party, Helen and I always talk about how Eva nailed it with a smashingly good and wickedly British night we won’t soon forget. Inspired and excited, we wanted to throw a party with a theme we could really get behind. There were loads of contenders in the running that were silly and fun but we wanted a theme we felt personally connected to. Eventually we had the perfect idea: Let’s throw a Hanukkah party. Let’s throw a Chanukah party. As long as we don’t have to agree on how to spell it.

In the dreamflat, we believe strongly in being and celebrating who you are. And who we are is a proud Jew and a lesbian couple who are proud of their proud Jew!

Once we knew we had the right idea, we were ready to lean all the way in. We picked December 8th as the date, Night 7 (aka the only Saturday) of Hanukkah 2018. Thanks, theme, for lending yourself so beautifully to picking a date. The brainstorming started a month in advance while Bel was in Ireland for her cousin’s wedding. Victoria and I had a 5-hour long meeting (our first solo hangout <3) to finalize the guest list and break down every possible pun and game idea we could come up with. Bel and I had learned at our housewarming/birthday party of 2017 exactly how many people cannot fit in our wee dream home. We opted to keep an intimate guest list of people we knew would come ready to mingle, play silly games, learn, and lean in HARD to a theme. People who were generally down to clown.

We walked away from our first meeting with tons of ideas, excited about how ready the team was to commit to the theme. #TEAMTHEME With the general idea of the party in mind and the guest list ready to go, we sent out our invitations:




We were all a-bustle with the excitement of the invitations having gone out! Bel was back from Ireland exactly one week before the party and like the passenger on a very exciting road trip, we had LOTS of jobs to do. Our first order of business is always food. #teamthemeishungry How can we even think about any other details until we know what we’re going to be eating? We decided this party would have a Bagel Bar (a bar full of bagels). We brainstormed lots of fun toppings: Schmear, onions, tomatoes, locks, capers, even sweet toppings for our party goers who like to live on the edge. Victoria was happy to take this on as her job. #blessup

Our drink of choice? Manischewitz wine, of course! (In addition to lots of other wine options and two coolers full of beer. All of the beer was Michelob Ultra except 8 bonus beers — 4 in each cooler — one for each night of Hanukkah.)


Bagel Bar: A Bar full of bagels


Guilt-free but not Gelt-free


Next up was agreeing on the games and the order. We came at the games with all our training from Arcade Comedy Theater: These games needed a host and the host needed to be prepared. Games were combined to create a better flow of the evening and we decided to each host one main game and one mini game. We loved how fair that felt. We did run-throughs of the games, the order of the night, and our hosting because we are fun and normal and this is how parties are thrown, right? RIGHT??

We put up the Christmas tree but in the corner because, COOL IT, Christmas, this is Hanukkah’s party!



While the party prep was happening, Hanukkah began! We kicked off the first night in the dream flat with this beautiful, handmade menorah I picked up at a Kibbutz when I was in Israel with my parents. Because this menorah is handmade, the candle holders are not exactly uniform in diameter and it’s hard to find candles that fit. During our festival of lights in 2017, we used candles that were too small and it was truly a fire hazard. Even after measuring the diameter before ordering specialty candles, they were were slightly too big. We found ourselves taxed #waxed with a job, shaving the ends of each candle to fit or using our other menorah and getting new candles. After much deliberation, we finally submitted to using the other menorah. After all, we were about to have a house full of loved ones drinking Manischewitz and an open flame (times 8) in the living room. Better safe than on fire.



Shaving down two candles for the first night of Hanukkah seemed much more doable and was well worth it to use this GORGEOUS menorah.

The night before the party, all(iday) systems were GO! In addition to last minute jobs BEING assigned, we had to do a dress rehearsal of all of our games, PROPS INCLUDED. Just normal people doing normal things. We spent the night making dough for our Challah braiding competition. Victoria, our hero, came to the house with ACTIVE YEAST! You know, normal party host stuff. #madprops



Victoria made most of the loaves in our kitchen without many baking supplies. Each loaf called for a cup of water but we only had a ¼ and a ⅓ cup measuring tool. Always thinking, Helen put 3 ⅓ cups into a red solo cup and drew a line at the top of the water. “This would really work better if we hadn’t used the last clear cup to sample the Manischewitz.” Even without the proper baking supplies, Victoria was such a trouper and whipped up some delicious dough #getaflaw By the end of the night she looked at us, panic-stricken. “It’s possible that one of these loaves is missing two eggs.” Dough well!


Why did the chicken cross the road? To find those two missing eggs.



None of us had made Challah before so there was a lot of laughter. We especially found great joy in that Trader Joe’s brand for flour called Baker Josef’s and these two honey bears putting their heads together. Consolidation is key!


UnBEARably funny


After lots of planning and brainstorming, we put on a party that we were (and still are) incredibly proud of. It went like this:

Upon arrival at our party, guests were greeted at our doorbell with this sign made by our own resident artist, Victoria, to assure them they had come to the right place:


Making Lionel proud


Once you had buzzed in, Bel or I would let you in, take your coat, and ask you to spin a dreidel to determine which team you were on, for this was a party with 4 teams: Gimmel, Nun, Shin, and Hey.


Spoilers for the winner of our celebrated-shin! #shinners


“I would LOVE to go to a party where I could earn and lose points.” – Victoria, our enthusiastic score keeper


Art in action


Once we had announced to the party which team the new arrival was on, we all shouted “MAZEL TOV!” and sent them over to join their teammates for their FIRST MANDATORY FUN ACTIVITY: Coming up with as many puns for their team name as possible. The Nun team had the advantage of Kristy and Jethro Nolen, comedy pros who churned out about 100 puns #nuns in 3 minutes. Each team had to put a Star of David by their favorite puns. You got a point for each pun you read aloud and 6 low-key bonus points if you actually put a Star of David by your favorite puns (one bonus point for each point on the Star of David).

We turned off all of the lights in the apartment (including the Christmas tree — COOL IT, CHRISTMAS!) for the lighting of the menorah. It was reverent and respectful. Everyone was silent while I, along with Jill, said the prayer in Hebrew.


So much safer than a handmade menorah #whoisdavid


In the time between choosing our theme for the party and Hanukkah, there was a tragic, anti-semitic shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in our own beloved Pittsburgh. The nation mourned along with the Jewish community. Once the menorah was lit, we asked our party guests to join us in a moment of silence for the victims and their families. We were thankful to our guests for taking a moment from what was about to be a silly, playful, fun party to join us in silence.


Paying our respects


The party reconvened with a hug from Helen to me before she took over party hosting duties as our Torah Guide. Part of the fun of planning this party was how much we learned. We did loads of research in preparing and inventing the games. One of the most interesting things we learned was about the Torah. Helen took the reigns on the Torah and explained some of our favorite Torah facts to our party goers.

Torah 101:

  1. A Sefer Torah, or Torah scroll, has to be written by a sofer (scribe).
  2. A sofer must know over 4,000 (!!) Jewish laws.
  3. On average, it takes 1 year to 18 months to make a Torah.
  4. They need to be written on a special parchment made from the skin of a Kosher animal.
  5. They have to be written with a special Kosher quill.
  6. Every time before the word G-d can be written, the sofer has to take a take a special kind of bath.
  7. If any mistakes are made, you have to start entirely over.
  8. If a Torah is dropped, everyone present must fast for 40 days.

As a representation of how precious the Torah is, we hard boiled 4 eggs, one for each team, and drew their team’s symbol on them. Each team was presented with their Torahgatchi to protect for the rest of the evening. At the end of the night, if your Torahgatchi had been cracked, your team lost 40 points. We had some rules of our own about the Torahgatchi:

  1. It could not be hidden in a purse or reindeer wine pocket (looking at your sweaters, Laura and Wee Emily)
  2. It could be smashed by members of other teams.
  3. We didn’t tell the party guests they were hard boiled to give them the fear of a smashed, raw egg.
  4. One member of your team had to be holding the egg at all times.
  5. Throughout the night, there would be random “Torahgatchi checks” where Helen, Victoria, or I could yell “Torahgatchi check!!” and each team would have to show us their Torahgatchi.

Get you a party that has side games.

From there, Victoria took over as party guide by hosting the Challah braiding game. We decided that because we did not have aprons to offer to our guests and flour can be messy, this game was optional for 20 bonus points if any member of your team volunteered. Not surprisingly, each team had a brave volunteer! #gryffindors We had Betsy from Shin, Victor from Nun, Vince from Gimmel, Jill from Hay! Victoria awarded them each bonus 5 bonus points #sowild for various reasons (Victor for teaching Vince how to braid, Betsy for finishing first, Jill for making the most beautiful Challah, Vince for cleaning up the kitchen, etc.). Helen and I as the homeowners DEMANDED more points for Vince for cleaning up the kitchen and all of the flour on the counters. Thanks again, Vince!! 🙂

While the Challah was baking, we moved straight to trivia! Helen was our trivia MC and our 8 (you get it) questions were as follows:

  1. What is the next major Jewish holiday and in what month will it occur?
  2. Name the 10 Commandments (Bonus points for order and accuracy).
  3. The Maccabees go to Applebees. Moses parts the seas.  At which Jewish holiday would you have a feast (called a seder)?
  4. Use “mecsugana” in a sentence.
  5. List the 5 countries with the highest Jewish populations.
  6. How many letters are in each edition of The Torah?
  7. In the original Adam Sandler Hanukkah song, he sings “_____ is half Jewish, ____ is half too, put them together what a fine looking Jew. (Bonus points for naming as many Jewish people mentioned in this song as possible.)
  8. Spell Manischewitz.

Party perk of the Challah-braiding game: WE THEN GOT TO EAT FRESH CHALLAH!


Jill’s award-winning Challah!


Throughout the night, everyone was loving Victoria’s method of giving out bonus points arbitrarily. People started asking for ways to earn them. “If we do a shot of Manischewitz, will you give Hay some bonus points?” Absolutely.

After trivia, we moved on to a game called “Text Your (Jewish) Mother!” where each team had to pick a Yiddish word out of a yamaka. The paper had the Yiddish word and its definition. You had (you guessed it) 8 minutes to craft a text to your mom smoothly incorporating the Yiddish word. The team whose mother responded first got a point but you also got a point if your mother responded without questioning the Yiddish word and bonus points if she used a Yiddish word back.

And just like that, it was time for our final game of the night: Each team would put on a play of what they thought the story of Hanukkah was. We had a word bank of (say it with me!) 8 words you got points for using (Maccabee, oil, miracle, etc) to assure some accuracy but the goal was entertainment. We had 8 props available for use (including coconut oil) and points were given for each prop used. We had 4 hilarious and wonderful renditions of the story of Hanukkah including a Groundhog’s Day version and a hot take on a relationship where one partner got the wrong oil from the store and they fought about it. Someone even sang MMMBop for some bonus points for our Hanson loving lesbians. #panderingpoints #handering

Planning and hosting this party was the cherry on top of a wonderful 2018. Let’s do it again next year.