Saturday, December 31, 2016

Christmas in New York

Since being home, I haven't done much but chill at home with my parents and sister.  It has been amazing to hang out with everyone, but the slightly depressing thing has been how quickly each day seems to go past.  Rummikub has been a great addition to our family game repertoire (in addition to the ubiquitous mah-jong).

Here is a picture before Christmas when Michael joined us in Flushing for an early birthday celebration with my grandmother (who is turning 89 this year).
On Christmas Eve, we enjoyed a big feast of Chinese food.  Our dining room table was full, with Michael, my sister's boyfriend and his family all in tow.
After dinner, we put all of our Christmas presents under a Christmas cactus - couldn't bother with a real tree and I'd be hard pressed to tell you where any of our ornaments are - if we even had any!
I got Michael a new Ferragamo leather wallet, he got me a black Jimmy Choo leather clutch, and we got my dad an Apple watch, my mom a carry on luggage, my sister a bunch of Clinique facial products, a hat for my sister's boyfriend and chocolates all around generally.  My parents also gave Michael a beautiful and unique tie bar and cufflinks from their trip to Toledo, Spain, my sister gave him gourmet coffee beans, and my sister's boyfriend's family gave him homemade jerky from Arizona.  It was really fun present giving all around!

Unfortunately, the day before Christmas Eve, a leak sprung in our Brooklyn house, leading to a lot of heated emotions and stress.  It was pretty bad timing.  Michael and I spent Christmas day there, trying to figure out where the leaks were coming from and how to plug everything up.  Homeownership... what a pain.

To celebrate on actual Christmas night, we went to a nearby restaurant to eat dinner.
Negroni, buttery snails, lots of fresh bread and French butter... candlelit lighting...
a warm lentil salad
followed by a steak frites (for Michael) and a roast chicken (for me).  It was the perfect cozy atmosphere for such a cold wintry day spent running around plugging holes in an old house.
Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 30, 2016

A Visit to the UN

This trip home has felt a little less relaxing and more about running errands and helping around the house with whatever needs to be done. It's crazy how quickly the time goes.  I wake up and every afternoon marvel at where the time has gone.  For my first few days back, I got the nickname the "sweeper" because it turns out I am amazingly good at throwing things away (Michael would probably say too good).  

I helped my parents clean out the attic, which had trophies and certificates from grade school, books and textbooks from middle school through college, and relics from years past.  I found all of my college applications, every single report card and standardized test report, as well as boxes and boxes of now-useless lecture and class notes.  In a fit of craziness, I also attacked the bookshelves in my bedroom, which had over the years become a repository of random books and papers.  I found my BarBri prep notes and promptly dumped all of it.  Throwing things away feels so cathartic.  20+ bags of garbage and donations later, I feel physically lighter.  During the course of all of that clearing and sorting, I found this.   A flip nokia phone!
It's amazing how far technology has come.

For Christmas this year, my sister's boyfriend and his dad and sister came to visit us.  As part of their trip, we took them to the UN and did some sightseeing around the city.  I was only able to participate in the UN portion before I had to scurry off to meet with a colleague and also do some last minute shopping, but it was an informative tour and I'm glad I got to accompany them.  It was a beautiful day.
 This is inside the UN Plaza.
 The entrance to the UN.
 There is a lot of artwork, both commissioned and donated.
The coolest part was that, because you were in international territory, you can get a special stamp in your passport.  Unfortunately I didn't bring mine.
 Posing with the sister in front of the 30 basic human rights.  Reading some of the basic rights, it was a good and timely reminder of how much we have to be grateful for, and how important it is to safeguard our liberties.
 This was a staggering statistic that I couldn't fully comprehend.  The daily military expenditure worldwide is over a billion US dollars per day, leading to 1,747 billion US dollars per year.  In contrast, a paltry fraction of that is spent toward development and education. 
 The UN is situated on a beautiful part of eastern Manhattan and the hour long tour is worth a gander if you're in town and looking for something informative to do! 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Eating All the Foods, in Cleveland and New York

Following my last post, we were admittedly pretty lame old folks and left the party pretty early.  By the time we made it back to our hotel (I drove - my first time driving in nearly six months!) we could barely function.  It was all I could do to brush my teeth and wash my face.  The next morning, we realized that Michael had taken his brother's coat and gloves by accident.  Whoops.

I woke up at 6 am and was starving by 7:30, so I had a hearty breakfast of oatmeal and eggs in-room.  Then we walked to meet Michael's brother, David, and his girlfriend, for a brunch (my second breakfast).  After that, we drove out to another brother's (Joey's) new house, to see all the renovations and plans that are underway.  It was nice to see their new space and all the exciting plans that they have for it.  It's going to be beautiful!

After that, we proceeded to Michael's parents' house, where we ran a few errands and then played around with the dogs before we sat down to the largest bowl of spaghetti I have ever seen.

The sauce was very rich and full of robust tomato flavor.  The meatballs were also cooked with sausages for extra flavor.  Michael was weird and had to have an egg sandwich for dinner instead.
 After that meal, we sat around and opened our Christmas presents prematurely - our stockings and also our presents - because we were spending the holidays in New York.  We got a variety of fun things in our stockings - a pen light that came in super handy for Michael later in the week, a pair of socks that came in super handy for me later in the week, lots of chocolate, Starbucks gift cards (also came in handy during the trip) and some hand soap and lotion.  I got a pair of PJ pants and a PJ set, and Michael got a bottle of Talisker 10 year, his favorite single malt in all the world.  It was all in all a pretty great early Christmas!

Michael and I then started our drive back to New York that night, staying over in western Pennsylvania again, before arriving in New York on Sunday afternoon.  It was a pretty exhausting trip.

Once back in New York, I've been doing a lot of eating.  I went to try out a new Xinjiang stir fry restaurant with my parents and siter (a lot of Chinese restaurants have been opening here recently).  It was nice and spicy, just the way I liked it.  It's a dry version of a stir-fry beef, and the Chinese words actually translate to "dry pot".
 We also ordered a plate of their hand-pulled noodles, which were chewy and tasty.
We got our Costco run out of the way pretty early this time (it's a pilgrimage that happens every time we are back in the U.S.) - while there, I couldn't stop marveling at the sheer size and availability of everything.  I bought myself two huge jars of artichoke hearts because... well, because I could!  On our trip back, my dad, sister and I went to try out an old family-run Italian restaurant on Long Island, called La Parma.  It was tasty, and it felt special to have some father-daughter bonding time.

 Everything about the place screamed old school, but it was very comfortable and flavorful.  I ate way too much.

On one of the nights, Michael and I managed to meet up with another couple in the city for dinner at Caffe Dante in the West Village.  Walking to the restaurant, I saw two french bulldogs!  This is the neighborhood for it, I guess. 
 I loved the atmosphere of the restaurant - it had original details like a long wood bar and tin pressed ceilings, but also had clearly been refurbished with care.  We ate like kings, enjoying a sampling of flatbreads, ham, prosciutto and kale salad (to start!) followed by entrees of steak, chicken, fish and rabbit pappardelle.  It was a really fun dinner.  Stuffed to the brim, we rolled out to the curb where you can see a (slightly blurry) Empire State building, all lit up at night.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Happy Holidays, and A Few Much Needed Catch Up Posts!

Well, things have been kind of hectic since I last posted.  I can't believe it's been over 2 weeks since I visited this space.  I am now typing on my new Dell XPS13 (which is still taking a lot of adjustment - I miss the exquisite hardware of my Macbook Air!) and I have a lot to say about what has been taking place this month!

When we last left off, Michael had departed for New York a few days ahead of me, and he used the time to work on some improvements to our house in Brooklyn.

I flew out of Hong Kong on Thursday night, planning to land in New York City the same night at around 10:30 pm.  In an utterly unbelievable stroke of luck, I was upgraded from economy to premium economy when I checked in at the airport (yaaaaaassss!) and then, upgraded again from premium economy to business class at the gate!  I couldn't believe it - the Thursday night before the busiest travel season of the year?!  It felt like winning the lottery.  I had been dreading spending 17 hours cooped in economy and it felt like the airline gods were really taking care of me that night.  If this is how Cathay Pacific awards passenger loyalty then they have just won my steadfast devotion.

The funniest thing about getting upgraded on Cathay is that they barely tell you.  At the counter I had to ask the lady, "why does it say premium economy on my ticket?"  to which she responded with no change in expression, "oh you were upgraded."  At the gate the man took my ticket, promptly ripped it up and gave me a new one with a smile.  It was only as I was walking away that I realized it was now a business class ticket!

When I landed in NYC, I was in a bit of shock at the cold.  I had just come from 70+ degree balmy weather to a frigid 30 degree, windy, dark night.  Michael (my chariot in waiting) picked me up, and we then began to make our way to Cleveland.  We were trying to make it to Michael's brother's wedding which was taking place on early Friday evening.

Michael drove until we were starving and drooping with exhaustion, and we checked into a gloomy hotel in western Pennsylvania and scarfed down stale pizza and chips.  It was not our finest hour.  I was very jetlagged so I was up by 5:30 am.  We got on the road before 7 am and continued west toward Cleveland.   Despite the bad weather it was pretty smooth driving.  I marveled at the fact that I was seeing snow for the first time in nearly two years. (!)

Our first glimpses of Cleveland when we rolled in Friday early afternoon.
 We promptly checked into our hotel, and I fell into bed and took a very long nap.  Sleep feels so good when you're jetlagged that you can practically taste it - that's how delicious it is.
 We stayed at the Ritz downtown this time, but I really didn't like their service.  This hotel was under construction so they had no gym, they lost our car at valet for a bit, and they're so slow to respond to requests.  For Cleveland, we really like the Westin.
 The room was still very comfortable, though.
 We had some nice views of blustery Cleveland.  It was really, really cold.
 The wedding was at Park Lane - a short ceremony followed by a cocktail hour, followed by dinner and dancing.
 This antipasti spread was yummy.
 We sat at a rowdy table with some of Michael's younger siblings and had a great time.  I hadn't laughed so hard in a while.  It was great to be back and see everyone.  It's crazy how much the nephews and nieces seem to have grown and changed each time we're back.