Part of the purpose of the East Coast entry into America was to revisit people and places from my past. After Washington DC, we headed to Philadelphia, where I spent two years teaching high school. We were met at 30th Street Station by my dear friends Aisha and Andrea, who whisked us back home and fed us. It is good to have friends that, despite 6 years of separation, fall back into the same conversations and rapport that we shared before. Continuing on the theme of going back “home,” we spent our first full day in Philly wandering around Germantown, where I taught; Mount Airy, where I first took salsa lessons; and Chestnut Hill, where I lived.
After I had wrapped my head (and emotions) around being back here, we were ready for our second day of exploring. Aisha treated us to brunch at Green Eggs, where we devoured a feast of decadent goodness. From there, I led the way down well-known streets to City Hall, Ben Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia Art Museum (with the Rocky statue), the Philly Free Library, and then down Market street toward the more historical areas.
Of course, we stopped at Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell to marvel at the place where the USA actually became the USA. From there, we walked a few blocks over to the Mint…one of only two you can visit in the whole country (the other is in Denver)…and it is free! Unfortunately, one cannot take photos inside (that didn’t stop many others, but I wanted to be a better example), but we enjoyed watching millions of coins being made through the huge windows that look onto the floor. Darkness was falling outside, and a cold wind froze us as we walked along the waterfront at Penn’s Landing and up South Street (I saw Common’s tour bus…AHHHHHH!), where we hunted down the tiny shop that deals in THE best vegan cheesesteaks. Sangbyeong got his own cheesesteak back at the house, where we ate with the family.
On our last day…it rained. So we did exciting things like laundry…ALL of it. As in, I borrowed Aisha’s sister’s clothes and Sangbyeong wore a gigantic teal bathrobe while we went to the laundromat. Which of course, called for a celebratory tea at Aisha’s favorite spot, Taste of Britain (to give a little context…that was her first international trip, when she fulfilled a dream by coming and visiting me in the London year). That night, I made peanut butter chocolate chip cookies and watched them disappear. The next morning, we caught a train to Princeton…just for a couple hours. I lived nearby, in Hopewell, for about six months between leaving university and getting a house in Philly. Like that in between period of my life, it was just a stopover on this trip…but enough time to walk the university and go to The Bent Spoon. The best ice cream shop. Ever.
I covered NYC in a previous post…and I never lived there, so we will move right along to Boston. My parents drove the 2200km (1500miles) out to meet us, and we spent our days there together with them. My uncle Lowell, his wife Lillian, and his younger kids Lizandra and Arthur hosted us at their home in Belmont (the house that hosted my university graduation party!). On our first full day in Boston, we really dove into my past and visited the strip of city that was my home for four years and the pivot on which my life turned…Boston University.
We even visited Anna’s Taquiera and Tsai Performance Center, where I used to work. It was locked, but someone asked us what we were doing…and it was one of my old bosses! So he let us in and we had a nice chat. The next morning, our posse of four set out for a broader tour of Boston, heading toward Quincy Market, Long Wharf, and the North End. From there, Sangbyeong and I walked across the Common and the Public Garden to meet up with my parents on Commonwealth Avenue. Good to see the fat squirrels are just as fat as I remember.
For our last day, we stayed out of Boston and visited other important sites in the area that were also important for me. In Cambridge, we visited Harvard and wandered around Harvard Square, where I used to hang out and listen to live music. We then followed the highway out to Concord, where I had my first ever student teaching experience. While there, we went to Old North Bridge, where the first battle of the American Revolution was fought.
That night, we bid farewell to our Boston family and headed west. Twelve hours each day, my mother drove, with only a stop at Niagara Falls, outside Toledo to sleep, and in Tomah to catch up with a cousin and his growing family. And then…we were in Minnesota, retraced all the way back to the beginning. Just in time to start the preparations for Christmas, like picking out a tree. My brother Adam arrived a couple days later, and my sister Livie arrived with her husband Sean and two daughters, Miriam and Navah, the day after that. Nine people in one small duplex!
With that, Christmas (and Hannukah) preparations went into full swing. The tree got its treatment, as did the rest of the house, and the endless cooking began. We started working on preparations for Christmas Eve dinner, making Christmas cookies, and fitting in time for goofing off and playing games. I don’t get home for Christmas as often as I would like, so I am thankful for every second I can spend with family at this time of joy.
By Christmas Eve, everything was glowing and filled with the scent of exotic spices, as we eat Tunisian couscous for our traditional feast. In a whirlwind of activity, we finished opening the presents and also prepared a double batch of homemade crescent rolls to bring with us up north for the Christmas day festivities. As always, we attended church to hear my parents sing in the choir after opening the first round of presents.
On Christmas morning, we arose early to pack up presents, food, and ourselves and drive two hours north to my mother’s hometown, Little Falls. At my Aunt Renee’s, we met up with my uncle Jim and cousin Jeff for feasting, storytelling, and more presents. It was also a good chance to take a long country walk between Renee’s house and the farm where my great uncle Lloyd used to live before he passed away.
The next few days after Christmas were dedicated to little field trips around town…to the Mall of America for us to buy a new camera (and visit Legoland) and sledding in the nearby park. We also hosted a large family Christmas party for my Dad’s side relatives. How we managed to cram 32 people into our house and feed them is a mystery! But it was fun!
Although Christmas had been mild, a few days later, a blast of Arctic air dropped temperatures to below 0 F (-20C), which just gave us more excuses to snuggle inside or in our favorite pubs with friends and family. It also inspired a day at the Conservatory in St Paul to warm up with all the tropical plants.
We visited another family favorite, St Mary’s Basilica in Minneapolis, to beat the chill. Before we knew it, it was New Year’s Eve and time for our traditional fondue feast to celebrate the passing of the old year into the new. Delicious and divine! We stayed up to toast 2015 and reflect on all the wild adventures that it will bring.
My sister’s family left on New Year’s Day and my brother the day after. But we still had 10 more days in Minnesota, so we got busy doing puzzles, meeting old friends, playing cards with cousins, going to swim meets, and Sangbyeong got to fulfill his dream to go ice fishing! Our friends from horse things and high school, the Eberles took him out on the ice.
We had spent almost a month with my parents, 3.5 weeks of which were spent back in Minnesota. It was a good time to reset, to see family, to share wild adventures. Now, we set out for the last quarter of this wild 14 month adventure, taking in Central America and then the west coast of the US. Stay tuned!