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The thing I love most about Christmas isn’t what you think. It’s not the trees, it’s not the music, it’s not the food, it’s not even the Christmas spirit. Oh, and it’s not the Chinese food and a movie that my people love so much. It’s Christmas decorations on front lawns, lights dangling from overhangs and blow-up Santas waving to passing cars. Yep, I’ve caved to the commercialism of Christmas. It’s that allure of all things bright and shiny, I tell ya.

Every year, the Daily Freeman prints a map of Kingston, highlighting the best-decorated houses in town. The “Holiday Lights Tour” has been a highlight every December for the Weiss family. Last night, we bundled up, packed in the car and took to the streets. Special thanks go to my mother, who stopped at nearly every lit house along the route so I could go out and snap these photos:

This house had an electronic countdown to Christmas! (Right above the entryway)

Now, this house played Christmas music all night. Definite bonus points right there.

But even better than the music was the illuminated North Pole mailbox that opened and closed all night. That house was a definite win.

Christmas decorations after my own heart. Twenty-seven world championships!

The sign reads "SANTA STOP HERE." I hope he does.

I'm such a sucker for candy cane lights. They make me hungry.

Santa hanging in a tree--mildly sadistic, or artistic license?

The ever-classy simple white lights. Love them.

The ever-classy simple white lights. Love 'em.

The lights this year were alright. We weren’t terribly impressed with much of what we saw (nor the confusing directions in between Broadway and the Strand), but as always, a few houses impressed. Meeting up with friends for drinks at Keegan’s and the Basement brought the weekend to a solid close. On the schedule for this week: lots of gift-wrapping at the mall and a Jewish Christmas with my college roommates in the city. Bring on the Chinese food!

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“It’s a funny thing about coming home. Looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You’ll realize what’s changed is you.”
 
Well, I’m home. The original plan, crafted over the summer, was to come back to New York to surprise my sister just before the show she’s producing at Marist. Until a few hours ago, she thought I wouldn’t be getting home until after Thanksgiving. Oh, the lies I tell. After some last-minute planning, I decided to spend the last few days of my trip in Hawaii, visiting my friend Sumner in Honolulu. The 25-hour trip would take me from Hanoi to Seoul and Tokyo before finally getting to Hawaii. To say that’s anything less than a great schlep would be lying.
 
I arrived in Seoul at 5 a.m. only to learn that the next part of my journey, the two-hour flight to Tokyo, had been canceled. No explanation was given, and for the next five hours, I had to wait around Incheon for someone from United Airways to help me. I was finally assisted by the most adorable Korean woman who spent a good 45 minutes trying to sort me out. She gave me two new options to get to Hawaii, but neither of them were particularly good. One had me getting to Hawaii the next night, further elongating my journey and cutting down on necessary beach time. The other had me going through San Francisco, then back to Hawaii, which was also unattractive as I didn’t really want to go thousands of miles east only to fly halfway back across the ocean. In the end, she booked me a flight to New York.
 
The wheels were down at JFK 24 hours and 10 minutes after she handed me my ticket. Despite nearly 40 hours of hassles, turbulence and lackluster plane food, I was in high spirits as I met my parents. By the time we got to Kingston around midnight, my body was starting to feel the effects of sleep-deprivation. (I slept, in total, three hours over the course of the trip. And that’s not including the full day I’d spent touring Hanoi before getting my 11 p.m. flight. to Korea.)
 
The first day back was low-key. I treated my stomach to old friends, a whole-wheat bagel and hummus, before unpacking a few things. Went to Mizuna Cafe uptown for lunch. (Highly recommended: the chicken, spinach, tomato and brie wrap.) A quick trip to town hall and an official job offer preceded a visit to my high school mecca, the Hudson Valley Mall. Picked up a few things that were non grata in Asia and gave a smile to the Target security guard, who didn’t recognize me. Still not sure how I feel about that one.
 
Next up, Hannaford. I was nervous to go to an American supermarket. Everyone talks about his first visit to a grocery store after a stint abroad, and now I understand why. I stood in the deli section, gripping my cart for stability as I stared in awe at the hummus selection. Garlic hummus, artichoke hummus, chipotle hummus, pine nut hummus, red pepper hummus. And that’s not even half of the selection. I had forgotten what it’s like to have anything I want at my fingertips, to not even know how much I wanted something until it was right in front of me. At that moment, I wanted it all. This only grew when I walked five feet to the cheese section. I had to peel myself away, but vowed to return.
 
I called Rachel during the hummus debacle, and she kept me company on the phone for the rest of my shopping. I panicked when I couldn’t find the aisle with mac and cheese, but a friendly shelf-stocker pointed me in the right direction (away from “Pasta” and toward “Packaged food”). By check-out, half of my cart was mac and cheese, the other a random mixture of turkey bacon, Indian food and vegetarian baked beans (beans on toast, easily my new favorite breakfast).
 
Dinner was at the Bowery Dugout, where I satisfied a long-standing craving for French onion soup. After dinner, I headed up to Woodstock to surprise a certain best friend of mine at work, who happened to be under the impression that I was in Hawaii. Tor’s parents had swung by the store to drop off some food, making my timing even better. As I hugged the Burhans fam, Tor just stared at me, her eyes and mouth opened wide in shock. As her parents walked outside, her mom shouted, “Melissa–mac and cheese, champagne, root beer floats, Law and Order: SVU–whenever you want it, just let us know.” Ah, Mrs. Burhans knows a few of my favorite things. Indeed, all of those things were had at my going-away dinner last year, or as Tor accidentally blurted out, “when we got rid of you.”
 
After Surprise #1 was the long-awaited Skytop Trivia Night. I was determined to kick some ass, but it was not meant to be. What was meant to be, however, were several Absolut and grapefruits. Jerry and the Pacemakers didn’t win, but I have a good feeling about next week. Really, I do.
 
I’m now on my way to see my sister, who I’m fully expecting to bawl for a few hours after I surprise her. After that, I’m off to Poughkeepsie to visit my grandmother. Tonight is a party at the Dugout, a Sam Adams beer-with-every-course deal that I’ve been looking forward to.
 
It’s been a bit odd to come home. Same town, same house, same family–but all a bit different than when I left it. Physically, I’m sort of adapting. (That is, if you call shivering in a sweater and winter coat when the temperature is 60 degrees adapting.) I’ve somehow avoided jetlag, which is absolutely shocking, considering southeast Asia is a full 12 hours ahead of New York. So far, my digestive system has been receptive to the absurd amounts of dairy I’ve been putting down, and for that I am most grateful. I’m incredibly allergic to my cat. Having been away from animals for so long, my body is in rebellion at the moment. Constant Benedryl and inhaler use has been getting me through the days.
 
Kingston is going to take a bit of getting used to. I’ve lived alone since leaving for Korea. It’s weirder still not having my sister around. Even though Marist is only a half-hour drive, she feels an eternity away. My days of promoting Kingston are over, but I’m hoping my new job will be just as fun. (And if not, at least it’s only two minutes away–and that counts for a lot up here in winter.)
 
Home feels good. After nearly 14 months away, this is where I need to be, at least for right now. I’m already looking for jobs, both in Washington and New York. Any leads would be appreciated (thanks already to Carla, who has e-mailed me several openings in the past few weeks). Next week I’ll head down to Washington to catch up with friends and celebrate my birthday. The weeks after that are a mix of holidays things, family get-togethers and hanging around Keegan Ales. Is my beer of choice, Super Kitty, out yet?
 
I sincerely thank all of you for reading, commenting and encouraging me to keep this up. It’s been a whirlwind of a year, and I’m struggling to believe that it’s over. Having this blog was a good way to keep track of my thoughts and keep my head straight. I’m not sure what I’ll have to blog about anymore, but I’m sure I’ll find something…after all, my life doesn’t stay quiet for long.
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