November 2011


According to news reports, about 300,000 people traveled from the D.C. area to other parts of the country for the Thanksgiving holiday last week.  I was one of them.

Although most of my friends think I’m crazy, I absolutely love airports.  As I headed to Ronald Reagan National Airport to catch my flight from D.C. to Dallas, I could feel myself begin to relax.  Perhaps this isn’t normal, but airports actually have a calming effect on me.  After all, going to the airport means that you’ll be transported somewhere and have a change of scenery.  Not to mention that at the airport you can curl up in the waiting area with a good magazine or book and let the world pass you by until it’s time to board.

I landed in Texas happy to see my family, but also wishing that Leon was with me.  He spent Thanksgiving with his family in North Carolina; his sister Julie is in the marching band at UNC and had to perform during the football game, so his parents flew in from Colorado and he drove down from D.C. so that they could all spend the holiday together.  We decided that I would head down to Texas to visit with my family, but would travel together to see both sets of families for Christmas.

But back to Thanksgiving.  I arrived safely in Dallas, and my dad and I chatted while we drove to my parents’ house in McKinney where I had grown up.  I already felt myself becoming sentimental as I put my backpack in my old room, and as I usually did, walked around looking at my things still perched where they had been for so many years.  I looked at old pictures from high school, shuffled through the Prom dresses still hanging in my closet, and thumbed through college textbooks still on the bookshelves.  Every time I go home it’s a trip down memory lane.

Then it was time to cook.  My grandmother was visiting, and she, my mother, my sister-in-law Leah, and I worked together to cook a traditional Southern Thanksgiving meal.  (This meant that several dozen sticks of butter lost their lives that weekend).

After a whole lot of work, the table was set and it was time to celebrate Thanksgiving as a family.  My dad was home from work, my brother Taylor was home from Baylor, Mimi was there from Groesbeck, Texas, and my brother Andrew and sister-in-law and Leah came from Frisco, Texas.  Mom and I gave each other a congratulatory hug before diving into the goodies.

The thing about cooking that I am still fascinated by is that it takes hours–or days–to prepare a feast, but less than half an hour to actually eat everything.  We all scarfed down turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes with toasted marshmallows on top, lime congeal salad, mushroom and broccoli casserole, pecan pie, and everything else that constitutes a Texas Thanksgiving offering.  It was all wonderful.

After enjoying a semi-comatose state from eating so much, my mother and I went shopping in Dallas for my wedding dress.  It did cross my mind that that was perhaps a very unwise thing to do…But I figured that if I looked okay in a dress after Thanksgiving dinner, it would probably look okay under normal circumstances.

There’s something about a girl going shopping with her mother.  In the course of one afternoon, amidst the crowds congregating at shopping centers for post-Thanksgiving sales, my mother and I managed to find my wedding dress, veil, sash, and shoes.  We probably burned off about half a stick of butter running around Dallas too–mission accomplished.

It was a good Thanksgiving, and had a mix of sentimental aspects involved.  For nostalgia, I was in my old room, where I had grown up, and ate all of the traditional Thanksgiving food that we’d had since I can remember.  For present day consciousness, I found my wedding dress and was hit with the exciting, fluttery feeling that in the next few months I would get to marry my best friend.  I felt very humbled by how much the Lord had blessed me over the years, through good times and bad times, and was overwhelmed by a sense of thankfulness for friends and family who had walked with me every step of the way.

I guess that those are the best kinds of holidays to experience–those in which you pay homage to your past, keep your eyes focused on the great things to come, and take time to be thankful for previous and present blessings.

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As we all know, life gets busy.

I had tried all September and October to plan a time to head to New York City to enjoy its full-blown autumn splendor, but work and everything else zapped up the time.  So, I had pretty much resigned myself to the thought that I would have to try again next year.

Then my very considerate fiancé stepped in and surprised me with a trip to NYC for my 29th birthday on November 12.  It worked out perfectly–my birthday fell on a Saturday, and Leon worked quietly behind the scenes to plan a great present.  When he told me the surprise plan, I squealed and could hardly contain my excitement.  After all, by that point I was fine with the idea of spending the beginning of my last year in my 20’s in front of the TV.

It turned out to be an incredible birthday, and also an incredible culinary tour of NYC.  I realized after we returned to D.C. that, in every single picture I took in New York, we had a plate of food in front of us.  (Good thing that calories don’t count on your birthday).

Leon and I hit the road early and made it to New York with plenty of daylight left to spare.  The weather could not have been more perfect–cool but not cold, crisp but not too chilly.  The leaves were all vibrant shades of red and orange, and the entire city looked  like it was dressed up for the season.  It was a fantastic sight to see.

We certainly managed to cram plenty of sightseeing and eating into our trip.  To start, we took a walk around Midtown to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree being set up, strolled through Times Square, and visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  I also had the chance to fulfill my autumn fantasy of getting a pumpkin spice latte at Trump Tower on 5th Avenue and strolling down the street admiring the window displays.

And of course, we ate.  I read somewhere that, even if you ate at a different place in New York City for every meal, it would take years to try every single place.  Leon and I certainly did our best to put a dent into that number–we packed our Tums and hit the town, hungry for gastronomic adventure.

To start, we grabbed steak at Gallegher’s Steakhouse for my birthday dinner.  Gallegher’s is a favorite haunt of celebrities, apparently, and is in a great location.  Madonna was playing a concert across the street, and the coat check lady (who looked like she was about 80 years old and, according to her, had been around New York forever) informed us matter-of-factly that she had met Madonna years ago, and, “you wouldn’t look at her twice if you saw her on the street!”  We laughed and proceeded to dig into our steaks with gusto.

Being in New York, we also had to grab some real NY style pizza while we were there.  Leon and I tried to do a proper pizza crawl, but after enjoying pizza from Angelo’s and Ray’s, we both had to take a break.  The pizza was delicious, but we had to save room for dessert.

And boy, did we save room for dessert.  I took Leon to two of my favorite dessert spots in the Big Apple, Lindy’s Cheesecake and Serendipity 3.  I don’t know how, but our stomachs were able to handle slices of creamy NY cheesecake and decadent frozen hot chocolate alongside the copious amounts of steak and pizza.

In between eating, we also strolled around the city and made our way down to see Ground Zero.  The last time I had been down to the site, about a year ago, there was not much construction going on, and the giant craters were still present to bystanders.  This time, however, the initial work on the new 9/11 Memorial and the new structures (fountains where the original buildings stood, a new World Trade Center building, and a transportation hub for new subway trains and ferries) looked like they were coming along nicely.  It always makes me emotional when I go down to Ground Zero, and Leon and I both stood there quietly for a moment reflecting on that sad day in our nation’s history.  We agreed that it will be interesting to see what it looks like upon completion.

Then, in a New York minute, it was time to head back to D.C., and back to reality.  We both laughed on the way home that we had managed to squeeze about 10 meals into our trip, and we talked about how good it was to get away and explore such an exciting city.

It was a wonderful way to celebrate my 29th birthday, and I’m so thankful to have a thoughtful fiancé who made my dream of returning to New York in the fall a reality.

I also figure that, by the time we digest everything we ate, it will be time to return for more!

                                     Ain’t no party like a [New York] cheesecake party…