It always feels good to be home. This time, I’d come back for the holidays — less than a six week stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas (why yes, I am a tad behind in chronological blogging time, why do you ask?). I didn’t leave the East Coast the entire time, making it my longest stretch of unbroken winter exposure in four years. While I struggled with the weather and the surgical doldrums, there were some amazing highlights that made this trip home one that I’ll cherish, as always.
1. Cheerleading at The Philadelphia Marathon
Less than thirty-six hours after touching down in New York City from Phnom Penh, I was waking up before dawn at my Dad’s house in Philadelphia. Our mission? To cheer on my sister Margaret as she made her way across the Philadelphia Marathon finish line.
The technology behind these races amazes me. The race route came within blocks of my Dad’s place, and via a tracking app we were able to estimate with pretty amazing accuracy when Margaret would run through that section. We loved spotting her in the crowd and getting a big wave!
We then made our way downtown to the finish line, which was pulsing with energy. We managed to spot her again just moments before she completed. We were so proud! I loved this high dose of family time right after landing — especially because I almost didn’t make it after an insane emergency room fiasco (more on that later.)
I just made plans to run a 10K with my big sis this spring — better get my buns in gear!
Um, how many is too many birthday celebrations? I can tell you the last thing I was expecting when I walked in the door of my home-away-from-home Brooklyn apartment (where my besties Zoe and Liz let me crash on the regular), unshowered, jetlagged, and exhausted, were twenty of my closest friends and family jumping out from the dark screaming “surprise!”
Everyone was there — my Dad (well, he was delivering me back to the city from Philadelphia, so that was no surprise), my mom and her boyfriend, my sister, my best friend from high school, all my best friends from college, even the beloved family I used to babysit back in my Brooklyn days.
And all the tear-inducing details were perfect — big helium balloons, a cake from my favorite Manhattan bakery, pizza from my favorite Brooklyn hole-in-the-wall, an album my sister made of my first year of Photo of the Week series called Wander by Week: Year 1.
When a friend from Koh Tao messaged later to see if I got home okay and I told them we’d chat later, I was in the middle of a surprise party, they just laughed. “Has anyone else ever turned 25 like this?!” they asked. I could see their point — I’d already celebrated with an off-the-grid retreat, an island blowout, and now a big city surprise party.
I was so completely overwhelmed and touched and surprised that I actually spent the majority of the party in a dazed state of shock. And this should prove it — I didn’t take a single photo! Thank goodness for my little sister, who sent these iPhone snaps the next day, and was the mastermind behind the party.
Honorable Mention: Not having a brain aneurysm. Seriously, this first weekend back was insane — I landed Friday evening after 36 hours in transit, spent all day Saturday in the emergency room, caught the last train to Philadelphia that night, woke up before dawn to watch my sister run the marathon Sunday morning, and then returned to the city for the biggest surprise of them all that evening. It would have been pretty perfect, aside from that whole ER situation. Long story short, I woke up that morning to find one of my pupils was severely blown out, and about fifteen minutes after walking into a Manhattan emergency room I was being wheeled into a CAT scan while a technician explained that asymmetry in pupils is a sign of brain trauma.
My little sister, who I hadn’t seen in five months, rushed to my hospital bed and thanks to her the day was remarkably giggle-filled. Little did I know my mom, in town for the surprise party, was less than a mile away, furiously text consulting with my sister the entire day about whether or not it was time to blow her cover and come comfort me. It was frustrating to be discharged eight hours later with a shrug, but my brain scans had come back clean and the doctors reassured me I would be fine, while conceding they had no idea what had happened. I was bummed to miss out on the pre-marathon day I’d planned to spend in Philadelphia, which is understandable considering how little I see my sister Margaret, but looking back I’m annoyed at myself for how I spent the weekend feeling so self-conscious about my wonky eye and my inability to wear contacts or makeup. I should have been thinking less about how I looked, and more about how grateful I was to be seeing so many amazing people in one short weekend with my two healthy eyes and one healthy brain.
3. Tucker Time
Any time spent with my munchkin is precious, and this trip was loaded with it. From field trips to Petsmart to visit the turtles and fish to late night cuddle sessions on the couch to unbearably cold sprints through the snow, Tucker lit up my days while I was home. Thanks to my Dad for letting me dognap him.
My two favorite cuddling on the couch
Tucker prefers paperbacks
4. Giving Thanks
I love Thanksgiving, and it felt so great to be home for my favorite late November holiday (I spent Thanksgiving 2013 in Lima, searching in vain for a turkey sandwich). This year was notable for a few reasons: a beautiful blanket of snow, my valiant attempt at cranberry jello shots, and hosting my Australian friend Sam, who was enthusiastically experiencing her very first Thanksgiving.
Sam is knows her way around a kitchen, and we collaborated (read: she made, I watched) on several efforts: the aforementioned cranberry jello shots, an apple pie punch, and possibly my new favorite dessert recipe of all time, a brown butter, amaretto and pear crumble.
And, like at any Baackes family crafternoon, there was spray paint. Lots of spray paint.
It was a beautiful day. Family, friends, food, traditions, and happy tears. I really loved seeing Thanksgiving through the eyes of someone who had never experienced it before; it suddenly seemed all the more precious.
It doesn’t look like I’ll be stateside for Thanksgiving 2015, so I did my best to soak up every bit of this one. And you know wherever I end up next year, I’ll be trying to bring a little bit of home out that day — whether I can find a turkey or not.
5. Back in the City…
As a major Orange Is the New Black fan, I always curse aloud when I have to turn down my friend Ashlee’s invitations to star-studded Women’s Prison Association events because I happen to be, you know, in a different country. So imagine my excitement when I was finally in Manhattan for one!
It was a gorgeous event and I felt moved to continue donating to WPA after learning even more about their organization, which, among other things, helps women successfully reintegrate into society after incarceration. I was also inspired to see my girl Ashlee in action — not only does she hold a key volunteer position with WPA, she also juggles a demanding job in the fashion industry, a starring role as devoted friend and girlfriend, and a kickboxing habit.
It kind of makes me re-examine my excuses for not being more involved in one of the causes I care about. Yeah, sure, it’s not easy to be a regular volunteer when you’re on the move as much as I am, but it made me want to find an organization I can get involved with from afar.
6. Wanderland Wearables
For a while now, I’ve been whining about how much I miss making things with my hands — crafting, creating, and having a finished product that exists outside of pixels. While I was home, I finally did something about it by executing one of the many ideas that percolates in my brain and then typically gets relegated to a mental shelf. I launched Wanderland Wearables, an experimental first run at what I hope will be a regular project for me.
I truly enjoyed sourcing, packaging, and sending off these babies, sets of earrings that I adore from Bangkok. I also learned a lot along the way — there were so many logistics and details about packaging, e-commerce and sales that I hadn’t anticipated. I enjoyed riding the learning curve though and am sure it will all come in handy for the next round — which will happen! My biggest question was will people buy them? And while I started with a purposely modest inventory, I sold out within a week. My profits were small considering the amount of hours I put in at the end, but the joy of working with my hands and seeing an idea come to fruition were the greater reward. Thank you so much to everyone who supported this project!
I have two more posts about my time at home coming up this week — thanks for tagging along on my sentimental virtual sojourns back to New York State!