I love Christmas. I really do. I can so easily get caught up in the MAGIC of the season. The sights, the smells, the songs, the excitement over finding that perfect gift to give, the laughter, the cookies, the sweets, the holiday merriment. It's all magical. And more so with t-*-w-*-i-*-n-*-k-*-l-*-y lights and a fresh dusting of snow.
While I was in Albania, My Love and I took nightly walks. (Well, on the nights that we could convince each other that it really was warmer outside than inside that crumbly concrete apartment. Which, it usually was warmer outside than inside.) It's "our" thing to talk long walks together in whatever city we're currently. We usually don't have a destination in mind, and often, we don't really talk much. But they are some of my favorite times with My Love. This time in Albania, there was an added layer of magic and excitement to our walks. We headed out, down the street past the fountain, past the three gelato shops in a row, past ever-changing window displays of the latest fashion, round the corner at the ancient Venetian tower, down the boardwalk and back again. And along the way, we'd look for all the new Christmas lights and displays being put up.
C'mon, every city needs their own ancient Venetian tower decked out in Christmas lights.
It really is magical, isn't it?
Since I've been back in the States, I've had a hard time feeling the magic of Christmas. Most of it is because I just haven't had any time to enjoy the little traditions that make Christmas so magical. I realized that most of the magic of Christmas is related to the cheesy traditions we create and keep. Sure, I remember with a smile, most of my Christmas presents, but the things that made and still make Christmas magic are the traditions. Going to the candy store on Christmas Eve, wearing new PJs while listening to Dad read The Night Before Christmas, going for a drive to see all the Christmas lights, warm cinnamon rolls fresh from the oven on Christmas, watching all the Christmas movies in a dogpile on the couch with my brothers.
So, I've decided, this year, I'm focusing on the excitement of seeing my parents and my brothers for Christmas. Next year, you best be believing that I will most likely drive My Love nuts with starting Christmas traditions of our own and going for lots of walks to see Christmas lights.. ;-)
It is possible to have an entire conversation in Albanian even if you know exactly one word in Albanian (and you're okay with being on the receiving end of some strange looks and laughter). "Mire" means "good." And in Albania, "good" is a perfectly acceptable answer for just about anything:
"How are you today?" "Mire."
"How is the weather today?" "Mire."
"Want kind of coffee would you like?" "Mire."
"Want some oranges?" "Mire."
"It will take you 3 hours to travel there." "Mire."
I have just one picture regret from my first trip to Albania. And it's a doozy.
Just a block down from My Love's apartment, there is a little library sponsored by the British embassy. Similar in concept to American Corners. Inside the British library are tons of British books, including an expansive children's section. And right next to the children's section there is a low platform that is covered with a jumble of machine guns from WWII. And, even more importantly, you can pick up these machine guns and play with them! Unlike Western displays, this was a hands-on military history display, and My Love totally geeked out. (Rightfully so.)
So, this time around, whenever we got to play with military history, My Love and I took A LOT of pictures:
Because, really, how often do you get to actually play with real military history?
To be perfectly honest, My Love and I were worried about hosting our first Thanksgiving. Really worried. Especially when you factor in the fact that we were in a crumbling communist-era apartment in Albania with a poorly working stove and oven and both of our mothers thousands of miles away. Frantic phone calls for help would be out of the question. Emergency runs to the grocery store for the boxed version of stuffing or a pre-made pie were not options.
After 24 hours of travel the day before, I wasn't exactly the earliest riser. My Love opted to wait for my input before buying groceries, so at about 1 in the afternoon, we started cooking our Thanksgiving dinner tenatively scheduled for 5 pm. We decided on roasting two chickens (we had absolutely no faith in My Love's oven's ability to cook a turkey even if we stuck it in the oven for 3 days), stuffing, mashed potatoes, broccoli with cheese, and dinner rolls. We had exactly one working burner on the stove, and the chickens took an hour to thaw out under cold water and about 3 hours to cook.
So, naturally, My Love was looking up translations to explain Thanksgiving to his neighbors. The translations he looked up included "food poisoning is an essential part of the Thanksgiving tradition," "you must overeat," and "please call the fire department! my stove has exploded!"
Fortunately, he never actually had to say any of those things in Albanian. In fact, he never even had to explain Thanksgiving. Turns out, his neighbors had watched Obama eating turkey on TV and knew exactly what we were celebrating.
It's not Thanksgiving until you have a paper turkey on the table.
Against all odds, everything we cooked came out perfectly.
Thankful that our first Thanksgiving was a success (surprisingly, the stuffing was a HUGE hit!), My Love and I were able to relax and enjoy the absurdity of having a sweet little Albanian man singing Albanian love songs as we ate. I also danced with the man later on in the evening. We ate too much, drank just enough, and laughed often. Then, as the evening wrapped up, My Love's neighbors invited us over for lunch the next day.
Note: 3 bottles of wine on the table, including 1 bottle of homemade wine. (I was thrilled that the moonshine raki wasn't offered to me.)
Turns out, the Friday after Thanksgiving is an Albanian holiday (what exactly it celebrates escaped me). So, after a lengthy lunch on Friday, My Love and I passed out from major food comas.
But, the amazing part is, My Love and I survived hosting our first ever Thanksgiving. In style. Successfully. In Albania. Next year, fancy feast for 20 guests in America? No problem! Bring it on!
We're SO willing to relinquish holiday cooking duties back to our Mothers. We'd much rather just be responsible for the overeating instead of the cooking, overeating, and mountain of dishes....)
On Saturday, DC got walloped with an amazing snowstorm. I heard my part of town got 22 inches of snow in about 24 hours. By mid-afternoon, I was a bit stir-crazy. So, naturally, I bundled up and went for a walk.
The snow was almost knee-deep. Reminded me of the days I trekked to class as an undergrad. In DC, this kind of snowfall shuts down the entire city. In western Michigan,with all the lake-effect snow, this kind of snowfall doesn't even cancel classes.
It was so beautiful, and quiet, outside.
Some serious record-breaking snowfall for DC.
I like the occasional snowstorm. Especially when I have nowhere to go. Then of course, I trudged home for hot tea, a movie, and down blankets on the couch.
Whoops. Is it just me or did the last three weeks just fly right on by? I really did think I would toss up a few blog posts once I got to Albania. But truthfully, I was totally okay with ignoring the rest of the world. I opted to live in the world of KtMac and My Love and pretend nothing else existed. It was perfect. Okay, okay....maybe not perfect*. But pretty damn close.
Since 24 hours of non-stop travel topped off by a full day of work can leave a girl a bit tired, it's going to take me a few days to organize and write all the posts I so want to write. (*Including mention of why perfect may not be the best word to use...)
In the meantime, I leave you with this silly, but somehow, oh-so-classic-KtMac picture from our mini-trip to Gjirokaster in southern Albania.
Born about 50 years too late. I bet I could've been one famous WWII pin-up girl...
I could wax poetic about all the things I am thankful for, but given the fact that I am cooking my first Thanksgiving dinner in a very crumbly kitchen in Albania, I really need to be paying attention to making sure the oven doesn't explode or anything. So rest assured, I am incredibly thankful for my wonderful life, the fantastic people in my life, and all the great experiences I've had. Wherever you are, whatever you're eating, and whomever you're celebrating with, have a very happy Thanksgiving!
* I was up early this morning. I opted to walk to work instead of being lazy and taking Metro. Given what a great mood the morning walk always puts me in, it is vaguely ridiculous that I generally opt for the laziness of a Metro commute.
* I have finally made it through the week. It is all uphill from here. My weekend to-do list is incredibly manageable. AND! I have a lot of built-in, relaxing, me-time. A much-needed decompress is eagerly anticipated. One hour and 25 more minutes left until I can relax...
* Strawberry vodka helps make mind-numbing paperwork less painful.after working hours.
* It is very out of character for me to ever ask for help. More often than not, I find myself having to repeat the request several times before someone finally does what they originally promised to do. But sometimes, people are awesome and surprise you. I like those surprises.
* PMac's high school football team is currently number one in the state, and number 19 in the nation! So keeping my fingers crossed for the win at the state championships next weekend.
* I have gotten awfully adventurous and creative in my cooking this year. So many of my favorites are foreign to the classic meat and potatoes midwestern meals I grew up. But I still hate my neighbors for always cooking delicious-smelling dinners. One of these days, I'm going to catch myself knocking on their door to ask for a bite.
* I also hate the neighbor who has a balcony but chooses to smoke like a damn chimney in their bathroom. Translation: my bathroom now smells like the bar at 3 am.
* My bathroom is designed as a fancy dressing room. Which means all my clothes are also in that bathroom. Which means, even though I don't smoke, I don't have friends who smoke, and I stay away from smokey bars and restaurants, my clothes now reek like those of a two-pack-a-day smoker. Can I stress just how much I hate this neighbor yet?
* I have a lot to be thankful for this year. I can't wait for Thanksgiving, even if our exact plans remain TBD.
* One hour until I can go home. Anyone figure out how to make time fly yet?
It's 8:15 on Monday evening. It's warm, especially for mid-November. It's dark, the sun has set hours ago. And on a quiet residential street, I'm jaywalking on my way home from running errands.
As I wait for a car to pass me, another car starts a U-turn. So I jog to get out of its way, and as I head down the sidewalk, the car passes me and backs up.
Now, as any street-wise city girl knows, this is where your internal radar should start chiming. As the window rolled down, I opted to give the benefit of the doubt, and thought perhaps the driver was lost. It happens far too often in my confusing neighborhood.
So I stood solidly on the sidewalk. Far away from the car.
"Excuse me. You are very beautiful." In another situation, the accent would've been seductive.
Polite, but tight smile.
"I just have a question."
"Do you have boyfriend?"
And with that, he drove away. After a beat or two, I continued my walk home.
Guys, here's your tip of the day: This little pick-up scene? Not cool. Not cool at all.
The kind where you don't feel sick, but you don't feel right?
That was me yesterday. No matter what I did, I just could not really wake up for the life of me. Everything I did just sapped my energy. I made breakfast and then crawled back into bed for two hours. I wasn't tired enough to sleep sleep, but I was too tired to keep my eyes open long enough to watch an episode of It's Always Sunny. I finally dragged myself out of bed long enough to shower, and then napped for an hour. Ridiculous.
So I finally got up and forced myself to go for a long walk. And if that long walk happened to involve trying just about everything on the sales racks at Macys, so be it. Because it kept me out of my bed, and it gave me better insight into what now fits and doesn't. I did good - I bought a new sweaterdress and a replacement pair of jeans - and otherwise avoided temptation in the name of new dress pants for work and sexy dresses for nothing other than sexiness.
But I still felt off-kilter.
And today? I'm conscious. I'm working hard at work (hey, I earned this ten minute blogging break!). But I feel like I have an off-kilter hangover almost. So bizarre. Anyone else ever have this problem.
I'm working today. Pretty much everyone else in the DC-area is off for Veteran's Day. Most people will be spending this rainy day cozy at home, or taking advantage of the ridiculous deals (seriously?! Less than $400 for a $1200 mattress set?), or just enjoying a random mid-week day off.
But as you go about your day, please, take a moment to remember and say "thank you" to all the veterans who have fought or are fighting to keep us safe and secure.
Truth is, not a day goes by I don't miss My Love. But work, and life, and Skype, and distractions usually help keep me focused. After all, we're way past the half-way point. He'll be home sooner than when he left. I'll be there soon. But in the back of my mind, Are all the mornings I wake up alone. And come home to an empty house. It's bearable. Because I know just how very much we love each other. I can deal. With all the nonsense of long-distance love. After all the years I thought long-distance love was a joke. Because now I know the truth. The right love. The right man. Makes it all worthwhile. Most days. I can put one foot in front of the other. Make it through the day somehow. Cross off another day on the calendar. And live my life without My Love. But sometimes. In just a whisper of a moment. It all comes flooding in. And I realize just how very much I miss him. And that no matter how much I distract myself, It's still an empty bed. And time can't move fast enough. And these are the days. That are the hardest to bear. But, even in all the glasses of wine. And tears. And empty pillows. I know, deep down inside. He'll be home soon. And then, my world will be right. And this will all have been worth it.
For such a big age gap and so many miles between the three of us, we're awfully tight. As much as I might trash-talk my brothers, I love them, and wouldn't trade them in for the world(but they don't always need to know that!).
DMac, the middle one, has a wicked sense of humor and is ridiculously charming. I am in awe of his smoothness when he turns it on. He's also a sophomore at my beloved alma mater, and absolutely LOVES it there. Among many other things, he's the captain of the lacrosse team. Pretty awesome for a lowly sophomore.
Pretty badass, no?
PMac, the baby, is laid-back and easy-going. He's loyal and protective, and the best big little brother a girl could ever hope for. He's a senior in high school. It's been a tough year for him. I'm keeping my fingers and toes crossed that he gets accepted into his top-choice school, which, coincidentally, happens to also be my alma mater. Among other things as a busy high school senior, PMac is also a lacrosse player.
Also damn badass.
Where am I going with all this? There's a damn awesome point, I promise!
A few weeks ago, I was confused when DMac announced on Facebook that he was going to the World Cup. I know he's a sophomore in college and all, but no way in hell are my parents about to let him go off to South Africa. So I did the sisterly thing and ignored it.
A week or so later, PMac announces on Facebook he's going to the World Cup with DMac. Now I know something's up, so I text PMac:
My bros are both playing lacrosse for the American team in the FIL World Lacrosse Championships this summer in England!! They will be competing against 30 teams from across the world. HOW FREAKING COOL!!! They're going to be international lax players!Guess all the years I was target practice for them sure paid off....
It's a little quiet today at work. It gives me a chance to ponder the great mysteries of life. Like figuring out which health care coverage plan to choose for work. And why Bob thinks having a clone of himself is a great, but not terrifying, thought. It also gave me enough time to do a tally.
Are you sitting down for this?
Because I just realized, that at the end of 2009, I will have taken 26 different flights.
Now that we are in November, I can officially start looking forward to the holiday season. Call me a sucker, a romantic, whatever, but I love the magic of the holiday season.
This year, I am stressed. There's a lot going on in my life this month. I'm excited about all of it, but until things are done, I know I'll be stressing hard. Also, no money means no Christmas presents this year. I have awesome presents planned for my brothers.....which my parents have agreed to consider as presents for themselves as well (more on that in the future). Everyone else, you get my love, affection, and if you're local, my time. Also, since there's nothing I need (only wants if we're completely honest), there's no need to shop for "gifts" for myself.
So, my gift to myself in this upcoming holiday season is to just take the time to enjoy the simple pleasures of the season.
I'm pledging to myself that this holiday season I will: * Take time to relax and ignore all those "should, would, coulds" * Drag my chair over to the corner of my window and read under cozy blankets * Take bubble baths and not feel guilty or pressed for time * Bake cookies * Make more of the cinnamon ornaments that make Christmas "Christmas" to me
* Go ice skating * Take time to call those I love and let them know I love them * Enjoy writing Christmas cards to those I love * Spend time with friends * Watch those feel-good Christmas movies I love
* Keep working out every day, outside as much as possible * Drink hot chocolate, preferably with whipped cream on top * Indulge in a Cinnamon Dolce Latte from Starbucks * Get enough sleep for a change * Decorate my apartment for Christmas * Make sure my apartment smells like Christmas * Drink all my tea with honey
Unfortunately, since I do live down South, it's highly unlikely that I'll be able to add things like "play in the snow" or "take a carriage ride." But I can do those things in my mind. And probably enjoy them more since I won't get all wet and cold. Any other suggestions I should add to my list?
Before I go any further, let me just insert this disclaimer: I am not the biggest fan of Halloween. *Gasp!* I know, I know, everyone I know loves Halloween. But now that we're not kids anymore, I feel silly dressing up and spending ridiculous amounts of time scheming how to get a bunch of candy and tasty drinks.
That said, I did just spend an entire week devoted to celebrating Halloween.
Every year, on the Tuesday before Halloween, DC has a drag queen high heel race. Every year, I have tried to make it to the race, only to fail at the last minute. This year, Tiger and I decided that a last-minute shopping trip, followed by a delicious dinner off the happy hour menu (tangent: those are always the best dinners, aren't they? So yummy, so cheap!), and then, we trekked through the pouring rain to go see DC's drag queens strut their best.
After Mb alerted us to the volunteer opportunity to seize a free attractive day-glo orange t-shirt and front row views, Tiger and I decided to volunteer. We were hoping to get a t-shirt and a good view for minimal work. Instead, we got recruited to keep the finish line clear. But in exchange for yelling at people to "back it up," (hey, it was pouring....I was terrified that drag queens were going to come skidding to a stop on the wet pavement and I would be the one at the bottom of the stop) we got front-row views such as these:
Just in case you weren't aware: fur is a drag.
Hubcap hats and rubber skirts. Fab.
Then on Thursday, there was the office Halloween party. Aside from the usual cake, coke, candy options, I was lucky enough to win some Halloween window clings. Awesome.
On Halloween, what better way to start celebrating than with a visit to the famous Exorcist steps?
For some strange reason, we chose to walk up....
...instead of down.
And no visit to Georgetown is complete without a stop at Georgetown Cupcake, especially on Halloween.
Mmmm. Red Velvet Love.
Naturally, after all that sugar, Tuff Tiff was wise enough to realize I needed to burn it off, so we walked all.over.the.city. Which is one of my favorite ways to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon....even if I was bitterly disappointed that the line for Ben's Chili Bowl was wrapped around the corner when we finally got there. Ben's is delicious, but not THAT delicious.