Happy National Peanut Butter Day!

Indeed, who knew that January 24th was a day set aside to celebrate that delicious, stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth concoction that is made from peanuts but isn’t really butter?

I didn’t know this before doing some research, but peanut butter was apparently created in a raw form in 1890 by Dr. John Kellogg (the same Kellogg of the corn flakes company) as a way for patients with no teeth to get their protein.  Years later, Dr. George Washington Carver developed a better tasting version of peanut butter, and in 1922 it was commercialized by the Rosefield Packing Company in California.  Today, over half of American peanuts are used to make peanut butter.

Growing up in Texas, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were consumed by probably 95% of the kids in the elementary school cafeteria.  This was, of course, before peanut allergies have apparently become commonplace; it seemed like everyone’s mom packed them peanut butter sandwiches for lunch.  There were even debates at the table over which type of jam was better with peanut butter (I voted strawberry, while most of my friends said grape), which texture was better (crunchy for me, creamy for others), and which brand was tastier (Skippy for me, even though at home we mainly had Jiffy or Peter Pan).  It was a staple in our young diets.

Peanut butter was also a necessity for anyone going through a lean economic time, whether in college or starting out in the professional world.  When I first moved to D.C. and spent most of my first paychecks on rent, I lived off of peanut butter sandwiches (without jam–that would have been an extra $5!) for ten days straight.  By day eleven, I couldn’t handle it anymore and took about a six month sabbatical from peanut butter.

Nowadays, I don’t eat that much peanut butter, but whenever I travel for extended periods of time I find myself craving the stuff like crazy.  When I interned in Rome for a summer, I was introduced to the European equivalent of peanut butter, Nutella, and quickly embarked on a love affair with the chocolate/hazelnut spread.  To this day, I love Nutella (although it just doesn’t taste as good when you buy it in the States–it’s creamier in Europe), but there is still a subconscious void when peanut butter isn’t around.  As an American, it’s part of our culture.  So, to keep my American roots intact, there were days when I made Nutella/peanut butter sandwiches for lunch in Rome (thank goodness for care packages from the parents).

Living in London also brought up peanut butter cravings, mainly on account of the lack of it.  I found myself missing Reese’s peanut butter cups, Reese’s pieces, and jars of Skippy, which seemed ridiculous because, as much as I love my home country, let’s face it–the Europeans do chocolate and confectionary sweets better than anyone.  So, I tried to enjoy the local sweets but also enjoyed indulging in peanut butter whenever a fellow expat would bring a jar over from a visit home.

During my time in South Korea, I discovered quickly that while Koreans were developing a taste for American sweets, they weren’t crazy about the creamy thickness of peanut butter.  Once again I found myself daydreaming about a big peanut butter and jelly sandwich, often while I was enjoying my lunch of kimchi and rice (healthier, to be sure, but certainly not delicious with chocolate).

Now, living in D.C., I admit that I tend to take peanut butter for granted once again.  It’s becoming more “hip,” though, and many recipes nowadays incorporate peanut butter into more grown-up dishes.  They all sound delicious too–peanut butter pancakes, peanut butter cupcakes, peanut butter cheesecake, and so on.  There’s also the classic, tried-and-true American snack of peanut butter on apples.

Peanut butter certainly has its place in American history and culture, and if you ask most kids who grew up in the States, it holds a nostalgic element as well.  There’s something comforting, even to this day, about having a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  I almost feel like I’m back in the school cafeteria, talking with the other kids about the pressing matters of the day (homework, does Joey like Emily, when is recess today, and so forth).

In the end, I guess it does make sense to have a day set aside to honor peanut butter.






Each new year brings a new discussion of what hot spots travelers should pay attention to.  There are lists floating around the Internet of what cities to visit, what beaches to frequent, and so forth.

I often find myself feeling like the lists miss out on some great destinations, which is no surprise given how subjective travel lists are.  After reading Frommer’s list for 2012, I liked several of their suggestions (Beirut, Ghana, the Yucatan Peninsula), but wanted to add some of my own “hot spots” for 2012.

Below are my travel picks for this new year, a year hopefully filled with travel adventures (international or domestic)…

1)  Dublin.  I spent a few days in Dublin several years ago and fell in love with the easygoing, friendly locals (most likely laid back on account of how many Guinnesses they can put away before 10 a.m., but no matter).  After feasting on some incredible Irish stew with soda bread, it’s easy to arrange a tour to take you out to the emerald hills and waterfalls that make Ireland so breathtaking.

2)  Dubrovnik.  In recent days, Croatia has been touted as an “up and coming” tourist destination, on account of its great location on the Mediterranean but cheaper prices than other European countries.  Some friends of mine visited recently and reported back that Dubrovnik is a great combination of quaint history and emerging modernness.

3)  Tahiti.  Leon and I are spending our honeymoon in French Polynesia, and I am counting the days–I developed a fascination with the islands back in college after seeing pictures of the bungalows suspended over turquoise water.  The area is also famous for its vanilla and black pearls, not to mention that Tahiti hosts a Paul Gauguin museum chronicling the intriguing life of the artist who left his family in Paris to morph himself into an islander.

4)  Tel Aviv.  It has always been a dream of mine to make it out to Israel at some point to visit the Holy Land, and to experience Tel Aviv.  Known as the cultural capital of Israel, the city has everything from beaches to the famous Old Jaffa neighborhood to incredible museums.

5)  Auckland.  New Zealand has the whole Lord of the Rings-esque scenic beauty, to be sure, but I mainly want to visit because all of the New Zealanders I’ve met are just so cool.  When I lived in Korea, I worked with several New Zealand natives and loved them to death.  They love their homeland, and after seeing one picture of Auckland, my attention was captured.

6)  Seoul.  It seems like yesterday that I left Seoul to return to the States, and I cannot believe that it was actually three years ago.  The city is a mix of vibrant intensity, chic cosmopolitanism, and traditional heritage.  In one neighborhood of Seoul, you can find the newest gadgets that aren’t even available in the U.S. yet, while in another you can observe Koreans participating in a cultural festival wearing their native hanbok (traditional dress).  And don’t get me started on how incredible the food is…

7)  Colorado Springs.  Obviously, the U.S. has incredible travel destinations that bring in tourists from all over, so I had to include a great American city in my list.  Leon and I have spent time in Colorado recently, since he hails from Pueblo, and we took time over the holidays to meet up with some of my college friends in Colorado Springs.  The snow-capped mountains were breathtaking, and the view of Pike’s Peak does not disappoint.  There is a cute downtown area where we grabbed some fondue one evening, and I remember being impressed with the city’s laid back, fun vibe.

These are just a few suggestions for 2012–I’ll of course be interested to see what locations emerge as promising destinations as the year goes on.  In the meantime, happy travels!


Last week, as I wrote about, Leon and I found ourselves preparing for our first Christmas as an engaged couple with two sets of families (in two different states) to visit.  I’m happy to report that, besides being delayed en route from Denver to Colorado Springs due to ice, things overall went pretty smoothly.

We knew heading out that spending Christmas together with each of our families would be new territory for not only us, but our families as well, and to be honest we didn’t really know what to expect.  We prepared to the best of our ability, i.e. trying to get everyone gifts that would travel easily, confirming flight information, and just not having expectations over how things “should be.”

The week absolutely flew by, as holiday times tend to, and it felt like we were arriving back in D.C. right after waving goodbye.

Our first stop was McKinney, where we spent some time with my family.  It was a good visit, and I’m glad that we were able to have face-to-face time (as everyone who lives far away from family knows, it often feels like you inhabit a separate world from your loved ones and it’s difficult to figure out a way to merge the two).  We exchanged presents, and my heart melted when my parents gave Leon a gift for the first time, as it symbolized that soon he would officially be a part of the family.  We enjoyed some Tex Mex, saw a movie as a family, and just hung out.

After spending Christmas morning in Texas, we caught our flight to Colorado and made our way to Pueblo to visit Leon’s family Christmas evening.  Since the ice delayed our trip by a couple of hours, by the time we got to Leon’s parents’ house it was pretty late and I don’t think either of us really knew where we were.

We had a great visit with Leon’s family in Pueblo, and enjoyed catching up with neighbors and friends that Leon had known since childhood.  Being in small town Texas and small town Colorado is so different from D.C., and it’s easy to forget amidst the hectic pace of Washington that we both grew up in places where things just didn’t move so frantically.  It was a nice change of scenery, to say the least.  I was also reminded of how blessed I am to have great in-laws–they welcomed me into the family from the beginning, and Christmas was no exception.

It’s also fascinating to observe your fiancé in his hometown.  I knew early on that Leon had grown up playing the organ, but I actually had the chance to hear him play at his parents’ house.  It was amazing to peek into that part of his life, long before we ever met, when he would diligently practice hymns and other songs.  (I’m also glad that one of us is musical–my parents kindly paid for seven years of piano lessons that didn’t really yield much besides a few piano recitals where people had to clap because it was polite).

Before leaving Colorado, we were able to meet up with Abby and Brian, friends of mine way back from Baylor days.  We grabbed some fondue in Colorado Springs and caught up in person for the first time since their wedding six years ago, and like it always goes with good friends, it seemed like no time had passed.

Then, in the blink of an eye, our plane jolted down on the runway in D.C. and our first Christmas as an engaged couple running around the country was over.  As we celebrated New Year’s with Rose, Chris, and Adam in D.C., Texas and Colorado seemed eons away.  I found myself, as I often do after visiting family, torn between two feelings:  happy to be “home” but sad to have left loved ones behind.  (I also found myself at the gym–who can resist either Texas pecan pie or Pueblo green chile gravy?)

It is now ten days away from Christmas, and even for those who don’t check their calendars often it is pretty apparent.  All one must do to be reminded that Christmas Day is quickly approaching is head to the nearest mall, sit at a table in the food court, and watch people run around with eyes bulging out of their heads, nostrils flared, and various shopping bags swinging from their tense arms.  In D.C., shoppers like myself who chose to get their Christmas gifts early (thank you, online shopping) are pretty much avoiding the stores at all costs until after the new year.  I personally don’t really see the merit in trying to get something on sale if you risk being trampled in the process.

The main thing I’m focusing on now is the fact that this year’s Christmas will be very unique, and will entail the exploration of previously undiscovered territory.  In the past, to be sure, I’ve been blessed to have some unique Christmas experiences–Christmas in South Korea (beautiful, except that I was violently ill from Korean food and water-related organisms unknown to my American intestinal system), Christmas in Rome with my family, and of course, many Christmases spent with my family in Texas.  This Christmas, however, will be unlike any other I’ve experienced.

To expound, this Christmas will be my first Christmas as an engaged woman.  It is a transition for any guy or girl experiencing their first Christmas with a fiancé or spouse, and it appears to be a trial-and-error kind of process.  After all, when you’re single, you only have one person’s schedule to coordinate, and one set of family members to consider visiting (in most cases).  However, when you’re engaged and/or married, there are suddenly two sets of families to think of, two sets of schedules to coordinate, and two airplane seats to book instead of one.

Case in point:  Months ago, Leon and I sat down to have a “meeting” about how to organize our Christmas plans.  His family is in Colorado, while mine is in Texas, so there were the obvious geographical considerations to mull over.  Besides that, our families had respective Christmas traditions, like the fact that my family usually opened presents on Christmas morning and both of our families usually went to church on Christmas Eve.  We wanted to find a reasonable solution to the often stressful dilemma that engaged or married couples face of trying to spend time with both sets of families.

After a brainstorming session, we both agreed that even though it seemed insane, we wanted to see both families during our first Christmas as an engaged couple.  So, we both said a prayer and booked tickets to fly to Texas for a couple of days to visit my family and exchange presents on Christmas morning, then fly to Colorado on Christmas afternoon to visit Leon’s family for a couple of days.  At least, we told ourselves, that way we’ll be with both families on December 25.

The reaction we received from engaged/married friends, who all admitted that planning holidays had sometimes caused squabbles or anxiety attacks, was pretty mixed.  Some thought that the idea was great; others thought that we had bitten off way more peppermint bark than we could chew.

It’s a natural learning process, I was also told by friends who had experienced the transition before, to navigate the new waters of stewarding scarce holiday vacation days from work between respective families.  One sage friend told us to be patient, that along the way feelings would get hurt, or we would find ourselves exhausted from trying to spend appropriate amounts of time with each family, and that we had to allow ourselves (and our families) extra grace during present and future holidays.  Sound advice, I thought–after all, Jesus is the reason for the season, and it would cheat everyone of the full meaning of Christmas if the focus was solely on travel arrangements.

So, we’re going to do our best, try to enjoy next week, and cherish the precious time that we are thankful to have with each of our families.  We’re also going to pray that bad weather, i.e. slick Texas sleet or heavy Colorado snow, doesn’t attack our carefully coordinated plans.

As I mused over what to write about this week, my friend and co-worker Lisa suggested that I consider thinking about Christmas gifts that travelers would enjoy.  After all, according to the calendar, Christmas is in just a couple of weeks.

I do have to confess that, personally, I’m done with my Christmas shopping.  I’ve never been attracted to the idea of hitting the mall (or any store, even the grocery store) in the days leading up to Christmas, when everyone is frantically making last-minute purchases.  Images in the news of people pepper spraying each other at Wal-Mart and the thought of being trampled in the name of sales only solidified my decision to avoid this year’s crowds.

If, however, you are still trying to figure out what to get for the traveler in your life, I did some thinking and tried to compile a list of possible gift ideas.  Now, this is just off the top of my head, so I’m sure I’ve missed some–feel free to include your own suggestions in the comment section.

Here’s what I thought of after brainstorming for a few minutes:

–A world map with colored pins.  My mother gave me one a few years ago, and I absolutely love it.  It’s a framed map that hangs on the wall, and it comes with different colored pins for you to designate places you’ve been and places you’d like to go.

–A passport holder.  They come all sorts of colors and styles, and they protect your passport while you’re out and about.

–A language book, language dictionary, or even language class.  Giving the gift of knowledge is always a benefit to the receiver, and encouraging a traveler to keep up a language or learn a new one is no exception.  This year Leon is thinking of giving me an English and Italian Bible (don’t worry, we decided to discuss our gifts to each other beforehand, so there was no breach of secrecy), and I told him that I thought it was a fantastic idea.

–A new piece of luggage or luggage accessory.  Travelers tend to beat up their luggage pretty quickly, especially if they’re traveling to remote parts of the world.  I’ve received several travel makeup bags, travel backpacks, luggage tags, and other luggage-related gifts over the years, and I have appreciated them all.

–A universal plug adapter.  It’s not the most romantic/sentimental gift, but boy are they one of the best tools ever for travelers.  I bought one a few years ago, and it takes the guesswork out of making sure you have the correct adapter for whichever region/country/continent you’re traveling to.

–A notebook (preferably small to fit easily into carry-ons or backpacks).  I’m always writing things down when I travel, whether a new phrase I learned in Hindi or the name of a newly discovered coffee shop in Italy.  Having a cute notebook handy is not only helpful, but you also have a written memento of your trip afterwards.

And last but certainly not least…

–An actual travel opportunity!  This doesn’t mean you have to give all of your friends plane tickets to Bali for Christmas; a weekend getaway from Groupon, for instance, might be something to consider getting a spouse, close friend, or family member.  When Leon took me to New York for my 29th birthday, it was an incredible time for us to take a mental break from D.C., eat some good NY style pizza, and have some quality time together.  We didn’t have to leave the country (although we hope to do more international travel together soon) to have a travel adventure, and it was a birthday I’ll never forget.

To be sure, Christmas gifts are not the reason why we celebrate Christmas–we celebrate the birth of Christ.  Presents, in their purest form, are simply a conduit through which we can show our affection and appreciation for loved ones, by gifting them with things that they’ll enjoy (hopefully–there is a reason why re-gifting happens frequently).

Not that our Savior wouldn’t have an appreciation for travel items.  After all, He was a traveler Himself, from the time when Joseph and Mary escaped from Bethlehem to Egypt with baby Jesus during the reign of King Herod.

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.

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…




I don’t know if you’re like me, but I secretly miss trick-or-treating on Halloween.  When I was a kid in Texas, it was a fun excuse to dress up in a crazy costume and have your parents escort you to the neighbors’ houses to gather a giant pillowcase filled with treats.

My brothers and I had a tradition where, after every trick-or-treat session, we’d convene a “meeting” upstairs in the game room and dump out all of our treasures to do inventory.  There would always be the usual suspects like Snickers, or healthy stuff given out by the “fitness mommies,” like granola bars, or the random toothbrushes given out by our older neighbors (I guess to send a message that candy would give us cavities).  Andrew, Taylor, and I would then operate a free market of sorts, bartering and trading away what candy we didn’t like for the ones we wanted.  We had it down to a science–Andrew didn’t like chocolate very much and I did, I didn’t really care for Starburst and he loved them, and Taylor would pretty much eat everything.  Those were my memories of Halloween.

Now, as other adults can attest, Halloween just isn’t the same.  Let’s face it–grown men or women going trick-or-treating is, well, a sign that you haven’t quite gotten the message that it’s for kids.  There are Halloween parties, of course, where you can still dress up in crazy costumes, but to me it just isn’t the same.

Thinking about Halloweens I spent as a child made me wonder about the actual history and international practice of the day.  So, I did some research.

According to the History Channel’s website, the history of Halloween goes back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in).  The Celts lived 2,000 years ago in what is now modern-day Ireland, the UK, and northern France, and they celebrated their new year on November 1 (hence why Halloween takes place on October 31).  November 1 apparently symbolized the end of the summer, a.k.a. harvest time, and the beginning of the dark, cold winter.  The Celts believed that, the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred and ghosts returned to cause all sorts of mischief.

To combat this mischief, the Druids (Celtic priests) would build giant bonfires for crop and animal sacrifices to try to deter the crazy ghosts, and the Celts would wear costumes and hang out by the bonfire.  Of course, instead of dressing up like Nicki Minaj or Charlie Sheen (this year’s most popular Halloween costumes), the Celts would throw on some animal skins and call it good.

From the rest of the research I did, it sounds like modern Halloween traditions in Ireland and Canada are similar to the ones in the U.S., namely trick-or-treating for kids and costume parties for adults.  Interestingly, in Ireland they still light bonfires in rural areas, much like their Celtic ancestors.

In Mexico, the rest of Latin America, and Spain, All Souls’ Day is celebrated on November 2 as a religious holiday to honor martyrs and the deceased; it involves a three-day festival that starts on October 31.  Some families in these regions build altars to the dead, namely deceased relatives, and decorate the altars with candy, flowers, photos, food, and drinks.  Candles are also lit “to help the deceased find the way home.”  As well, many relatives visit family graveyards and tidy up the areas to honor their predecessors.

Interesting to note as well:  In England, during the Protestant Reformation, Halloween celebrations pretty much faded out.  I did notice that, when I lived in London, people had costume parties and such, but it wasn’t as big of a deal as it is in the States.  Instead, the Brits tend to focus on Guy Fawkes Day.  On the night of November 5, bonfires are lit up all around England, and you might even see some fireworks shows.  Guy Fawkes Day commemorates the execution of the infamous traitor, Guy Fawkes, who was sentenced to death on November 5, 1606, after trying to blow up England’s parliament building. In some parts of England kids walk around asking for “a penny for the guy,” which is apparently their version of trick-or-treating.

Long gone are my days of trick-or-treating and convening the “Great Candy Barter” with my brothers, but I still look back on those Halloweens with fondness.  Halloween was a time to stay out past your bedtime on a school night, eat too many sweets, and frantically brush your teeth so that the next dentist visit would not be torture.  This year, Halloween falls on a Monday, and my crazy plans will probably involve getting home from work and going to bed early.  I might sneak in a few pieces of candy though.


The inspiration for today’s blog came, randomly, from my medicine cabinet.

To backtrack, last weekend was a busy, fun-filled time in Chicago and South Bend with my friend Esther and at the Notre Dame football game with Leon’s friends.  As I wrote in my last post, taking a trip to both a big city and smaller city can feel like you’re taking two trips in one, and this was no exception.  Leon and I did everything that weekend from chow down on Chicago deep dish pizza to tailgate to enjoy the sight of Indiana’s picturesque farmland.

When we got back to D.C., it was time to jump into another busy week.  Leon had a conference in North Carolina all week, and I had several things going on at work.  Not to mention that it rained all week in D.C. and the Metro was plagued with problems, meaning endless delays and listening to unnerved fellow passengers describe their frustrations in choice words.

Needless to say, Friday morning I was pretty tired.  I stood in front of my bathroom mirror getting ready for work, when I asked myself the question that I ask every morning:  What do I want to smell like today?

Scientists say that scent and memory are connected, and I can say without a doubt that it’s true.  This morning, for instance, I reached for my bottle of Shalimar perfume–sandlewood, vanilla, and musk blended into a warm scent that reminds me of my childhood in Texas.  My mother has worn Shalimar since she was a teenager, and I started wearing it as a child as well.  Whenever I miss my family or my homeland, it brings me comfort to spray on some of that scent I smelled so much growing up.

After I spritzed myself with Shalimar this morning, I thought about other scents that hold special meaning. There’s Love Spell, the body splash from Victoria’s Secret that my friends and I were obsessed with in college and that smells, according to my former coworker Ken, like “a Strawberry Patch doll.”  Whenever I smell smoky incense, I am transported back to Asia or northern Africa–I still have incense sticks that I picked up at markets in Egypt, India, Thailand, and Indonesia, and whenever I need a taste of the exotic I use one of those.  Smelling anything from the store Lush, especially the fantastic pink-hued “Rock Star” soap, makes me reminisce about graduate school days in London.  Lavender takes me back to France, where the purple stalks grow everywhere and perfume the air itself.  Prada’s Amber perfume reminds me of a girls’ trip with my mother and sister-in-law through Italy; its distinct scent reminds me of strolling through the winding cobblestone streets of Europe.

Those are just a few examples, but it underscores the notion that scents appeal to our deepest sensibilities, often comforting us when we need comforting, lifting our spirits, and reminding us of pleasant memories.

It’s always fun to return to a city you enjoyed visiting in the past.  It’s also fun to explore a new place.  When you get to do both in the same weekend, it’s double the excitement.  After all, travelers often operate in a dichotomy–at times craving the familiarity of a place we know well, other times wanting to check out a place completely foreign to us.

This weekend, if all travel plans go accordingly, Leon and I are looking forward to a “double the excitement” kind of trip.  We’re heading out to Chicago and will then drive on to South Bend, Indiana, to visit with some of his buddies from Notre Dame and watch the Fighting Irish play some football on Saturday.

The familiar aspect of this trip, for me, is Chicago.  I first visited Chicago last year to reunite with my good friend Esther, who I met in a Bible study group at our church in London while we were both in graduate school.  She moved back to Chicago shortly after our year in the UK, and I had been hoping to explore her hometown at some point.  When a weekend visit worked out for us, it was fantastic.  Well, minus a couple of bumps in the road upon arrival.

I landed in Chicago with my little backpack as my luggage, and since it was light I carried it around with me that evening so we wouldn’t have to run back to Esther’s apartment before going to an international ice cream festival at a local museum (there was no way I wanted to delay sampling different ice creams from around the world).  We had such a wonderful time and were in such a sugar coma afterwards that, upon arriving to her apartment, I realized that I had left my backpack in the taxi cab.  I sprinted outside and tried in vain to catch up with the cab, but it was too late (and I was a little out of shape).

After an emergency trip to Target for me to get some clothes, we resumed our fun weekend hanging out in Chicago.  Esther and I went up the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower and took pictures of each other on the “invisible” ledge that makes you look like you’re suspended above the city, walked around downtown admiring the interesting architecture, and of course enjoyed true Chicago deep dish pizza and drank loads of good coffee (Chicago was ranked recently as the nation’s most highly caffeinated city, as I wrote about in a previous post).  I really enjoyed soaking up the laid back yet vibrant culture of Chicago, made even more enjoyable by sharing it with a friend.

The “new” aspect of this weekend will involve South Bend, Indiana.  I’ve never been to Indiana, for starters, but I’m looking forward to going–after all, my fiance did spend four years there and loved his time at Notre Dame.  Leon showed me pictures of the campus, and it looks beautiful.  Plus, it will be fun to catch up with his friends and enjoy some fall football.  I’m also curious to see what Indiana looks like; right now I’m picturing cows and cornfields, and that’s about it.  Guess I’ll have to wait and see.

This weekend will involve the dichotomy of new versus familiar, as well as contrast the dynamics of a big city versus a smaller city.  It’s always fun to mix dynamics, in my opinion.  I’m looking forward to enjoying some deep dish pizza at Giordano’s (with Esther, of course–we’re going to meet up with her) amidst the hustle and bustle of the Windy City and then check out the (supposedly) slower pace of South Bend.

Overall, I’m looking forward to experiencing both places this weekend.  It’s something to keep in mind as a traveler–mixing dynamics on a trip can make you feel like you’re getting two for the price of one!