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Happy Thanksgiving!  Today, I'm thankful not only for the "usual" things like my good health and loving family but also for the fact that today marks the start of a very long vacation for me.  With my recent assignment having ended yesterday (a half-day and a farewell party), I won't start another until mid-January.  I'll be out-of-town (mostly out-of-country) until that time except for this coming week and a little over a week in December.

The best part is that it really feels like a vacation.  I really don't have anything that I have to do other than perhaps getting a haircut.  I do want to do some cleaning in my apartment — prep-work for moving in seven months (there's two closets that I want to clean out, throwing things away and even selling a few items on eBay).

I really do feel like I've accomplished a lot in the past few days (nights).

I'd finished buying Christmas gifts for my family quite some time ago but had been putting off wrapping those presents, boxing them up for shipping, and lugging them to the post office (my least favorite parts of the entire holiday season).  But I finally knuckled down a couple of nights ago, struggled with the wrapping paper and managed to find boxes large enough to fit the various gifts (for Spencer's gift, I had to adapt two large cartons and tape them together).  I put the three large boxes in my car once I was finished packing them full and stopped by the post office on my way home yesterday.  It cost me almost $40 to mail them but at least I'm completely finished with gift-giving for the year.

I also packed for my impending London trip that same night.

I've always hated checking luggage; everytime when I do, it seems like something bad happens.  (The last straw was a couple of years ago when I was returning home from Christmas in Florida.  I had a stopover in Houston where it was pouring rain.  I could see my "waterproof" duffle sitting on the runway for almost an hour before it was loaded onboard the plane.  Naturally, everything in the bag was completely soaked by the time I opened it back in Albuquerque.)  Well, I've been looking for the "perfect" carryon bag which would fit everything I'd need for any given trip.  I do like duffle bags (I now buy an extra waterproof liner to encase my items inside the bag) and I like rolling suitcases.  I had found a good-sized but fairly inexpensive combo rolling duffle for my recent Pacific Northwest journey.  It handled the trip well EXCEPT that one of the wheels caved-in about midway through the trip; I'm sure I left all sorts of black marks along the tile floors in the Seattle and Albuquerque airports from dragging the damaged bag around.  Back to the drawing board (meaning, back to the online luggage retailers):

I already had a High Sierra drop-duffle (a lower compartment for clothes, an upper for other supplies) with wheels PLUS concealed backpack straps so I knew those were very high-quality.  But this particular bag is a 36-incher — much too big to take on the plane with me.  After much searching, I finally found they had a 20-incher (just within the airline regulations for a carry-on); not too many retailers carry it for some reason.  When it arrived, I was very pleased with the bag but also realized it would be too small to carry the electronic gear I "need" to travel with (digital still and video cameras with extra lenses plus their battery chargers, plus miscellaneous other small items).  I could put all of these items into my existing camera bag and fasten it to the duffle with D-clamps, but it was a bulky solution.  I spend a long time prowling the local Wal-Mart, Target, etc. looking for "something better."  I actually found the solution on eBay; I'd purchased a lens filter kit from a seller and noticed the store (a major retailer of camera supplies) also had a variety of Tamarc bags with a messenger bag-style design.  It's less bulky than most camera bags yet has a place for everything I needed to take (and well-protected, too).  Plus, it has one of those pockets so you can slide it over the handle of your carry-on roller bag.  When it arrived, I was amazed at how much I could fit in it!  The best thing is that it qualifies as the allowed "one personal item" in addition to the carry-on bag.

I easily fit all the clothing, travel docs, and electronic gear I need for London into these two pieces of luggage.  There's also room for a bit more.  Mission accomplished for this trip, at least.  Packing for my mid-December to mid-January trip will be a bit more difficult as I'll be spending a week in a cold climate and the rest of the time in a very hot sub-tropical location.  What to do with my warm-weather clothing while on the beach in my limited amount of luggage?  Perhaps I'll mail my coat back home from Portland and perhaps just keep one warm shirt for the return trip (or, I could buy a sweatshirt during one of the layovers coming home — something to wear while I'm sitting in the Vancouver airport waiting for the next plane back south).  I'm sure packing for that trip will require a couple of "dry runs" but I'm pretty good at solving puzzles (which is how I view such packing); this is why I no longer wait until the night before a trip to pack for it.

I did make a mistake by waiting until yesterday to do my grocery shopping.  I was already a bit frustrated from the heavy city traffic by the time I arrived at Smith's (many drivers here don't seem to obey traffic laws on a "good" day, much less the day before Thanksgiving).  It seemed that many of the bad drivers of Albuquerque had arrived at the store simultaneously and were intent on playing "demolition derby" with the shopping carts.  When I grocery shop, I like to go down each aisle checking out the sales before I decide on what type of meals I'm going to put together.  But that was impossible yesterday and it took all my concentration to avoid being run over by a cart.  The past couple of years, I'd cooked elaborate dinners that took hours so I wanted something simple for this Thanksgiving.  They no longer seem to sell those 2-pound boneless turkey loaves with gravy so I ended up buying a package of four turkey legs; then, I decided that it would be nice to "splurge" on a nice steak so I bought one of those two (I used to grill steaks a lot but I haven't done that in a couple of years).  I also bought a couple of boxes of Thai noodle dinners (coconut ginger, which I haven't tried yet, and pad Thai — my favorite).  Everything else was desert-related (I've been dieting recently on salads, fruits, and noodles so I've been craving some sweets; I'm going to pig-out today and go back on my diet next week) — apple cobbler, pumpkin pie, pumpkin ice cream, and some sweet rolls).  Oh yes, I did get some of those Hawaiian sweet buns and a package of cresent rolls.  I probably won't eat much today (just a bit of snacking, perhaps), but at least I won't have to go back to the grocery store until after I return from London.

What else?  Big plans for today — since I'm still awake (I napped through most of prime-time television last night), I've got the CBS Morning Show on and will probably sit through the Thanksgiving Day parade waiting for my sister to call.  Then, I'll probably watch some football while trying to read between the exciting plays (a Dean Barrett mystery novel set in Bangkok).  I doubt if I'll watch a DVD; I finished watching the last episode of The West Wing fifth season set a couple of nights ago and already watched The Rabbit Proof Fence this morning (which I HIGHLY recommend, by the way).  There's nothing else that I'm in the mood to watch today (I have a bunch of recently-downloaded concert DVD's that I haven't seen yet, but I just haven't been in the mood lately).

I'm still debating whether or not to put any of my Christmas decorations up this year.  It used to be my tradition that I'd put up the tree and other things on Thanksgiving.  I think that I didn't do anything last year until sometime after my birthday.  Since I won't be in the country for most of the holiday season I certainly won't put up the tree (a huge ordeal even when I'm in the mood for it).  Perhaps I'll put the cards on the mantle this year (received the first one a week ago — from my tailor in Hong Kong) and maybe hang my stocking (knitted by my Grandmother Jochim it's almost as old as I am).

It's odd that I'm in more of a Christmas mood this year than I have been the past several.  I'm looking forward to seeing London decorated for the holiday and it looks like there's several Christmas-related events I can attend in Portland.  But in the place where I'll be for the actual day doesn't celebrate the holiday at all so it will be very interesting (there is, however, a large expatriate community there so there might be a Christmas party at one of their hangout bars).

The weather forecast for today in Albuquerque sounds very unseasonable:  clear and sunny skies with a high of 63 degrees.  If it's still nice out tomorrow, perhaps I'll take a drive downtown (been aching to go down there and take some photos of a few certain things) and maybe even get my car washed (it REALLY needs it!).  It's just plain strange thinking there isn't anywhere that I have to be until next Saturday and the flight to London.  It's a good feeling, but I hope I don't waste it all away by puttering around at home!