If it feels like I just penned a post like this, it’s probably because I did – my last published piece on this page was all about our escapades in Los Angeles around Thanksgiving. But it’s been a crazy, chaotic, and incredible couple weeks for Tim and I, and I’m so happy to finally have the free time to share it!
For the past month or so, Tim has been talking about taking leave before the holidays to finish up some Christmas shopping and last minute things we still needed to tend to before Christmas was officially upon us. I’d been talking with my mom pretty regularly, and she had suggested we go pay them a visit since it had been well over a year since Tim has gotten to see them all. We both agreed it sounded like a good idea, too, and it seemed the pieces of this puzzle slowly started to fall together from there; the price was all too right, everyone’s requests for time off of work was approved, etc. It was like it was truly meant to be! Before I knew it, I was packing our bag for a long weekend on the East Coast. Tim left work that Friday evening, and we were soon on our way to the San Diego Airport. Flying standby is the biggest blessing and curse all at the same time; Tim and I managed to get two round-trip tickets from one end of the country to the other for less than half the price of one, but it also comes with the understanding that choosing to take that route is a gamble as the seats are not confirmed until (just about) the very last minute. We didn’t make it on the last flight that night, but since we’d already made arrangements for the truck and were a decent distance from home, we thought it’d be best to rent a room at a hotel nearby and try again the next morning.
Fortunately, we made it on the first flight the next day with ease, and we were finally on our way! I hadn’t been on a Delta flight in basically forever, so it felt like my first time all over again. Not to knock any other airlines, but this flight was absolutely perfect – there was ample leg space and TV’s on every headrest, which far exceeded my expectations. It was early in the morning when we took off, yet we arrived fairly late in the afternoon to JFK. My mother picked us up with one of my younger sisters (neither of whom had no idea we were coming, so that was an added surprise) and we headed back to their house. I may have been born in New York, but I hadn’t paid a visit in over 5 years, so everything seemed new and exciting for me, too. Plus, it was Tim’s first time there ever, so I was over-the-moon to get to be the one to share in this experience with him! The traffic was gnarly (How it can be that bad on both coasts still blows my mind!) but once we made it to home, we unpacked and settled in. We spent the first night recovering and relaxing and eating my mother’s cooking – you never realize how much you love that until you go this long without it, I’ve come to realize – and made plans for everything we wanted to do and see the next day.
Everyone slept in somewhat Sunday morning, followed by another of my mom’s home cooked breakfasts and heading out to sight see and explore the city. Our first stop was Carlo’s Bake Shop in Hoboken, NJ. It was still a good minute away, but it was on our route into the city, so we began our adventuring here. We are all big fans of Cake Boss on TLC, so getting to see the bakery in person was like a dream come true. Outside, it was completely barren of people, which came as a shock to me as my online research warned of long lines and lots of patrons. I was able to snap a beautiful picture of the infamous sign out front before heading inside. There I could see what everyone was talking about. There was a long glass display case housing all different kinds of incredible cookies, cupcakes, cannolis, Christmas cookies, and other desserts that spanned the entire wall. Cake Boss merchandise made steady appearances all throughout the shop, and there were more people than I thought the place could hold. We pulled a ticket upon walking through the door that read #67, and the neon sign overhead read #28. We walked over further inside and noticed a counter top plastic barrier between the customers and employees which provided a clear view into where the action (and all things delicious) happen. There was someone front and center frosting a sheet cake at the time, and that was pretty cool to get to see firsthand. No sign of any of the famous family, but that was to be expected. Upon leaving there, we stopped at a nearby park down the street that provided the most magnificent view of the NYC skyline.
Fighting against the depleting daylight (that’s my least favorite thing about this time of year: the fact that it gets dark around 4 pm), we hurried on to our next stop: the Statue of Liberty. Very cliché, very touristy, but very much something I wanted Tim to see. We hurried off into the city and headed straight for the Staten Island Ferry – my brilliant mother’s idea. Free AND didn’t force us to stand out in the cold longer than necessary? I was so sold. Plus, the ferry itself was a new experience, even for me. We walked right on to the next trip over and found seats quickly. From where we were, it didn’t look like we’d get too close and I was a little disappointed. But once it took off, I was surprised by how perfect of a view we got. We made our way up to the top deck/outside area for some clearer photos. I hadn’t realized just how much we were so high up, but we passed right in front of her and got some fantastic shots as we went by. Once we’d gotten our fill, we went back inside to warm up. The ferry arrived at its destination, and we went right on and boarded the next one headed back. On our way back, we were able to see the statue lit up, as well, which was an unexpected addition and surprise to me. It had started lightly snowing on this trip, and I was strangely happy to see that sight; Lord only knows when the next time will be that I’d be experiencing that again. From there, we headed to the 9/11 Memorial. We got very lucky our entire day in the city when it came to finding parking; we located an awesome spot right off the bat just about everywhere we went. There was a little ways to walk to the memorial, but I relished the opportunity to enjoy the snow once again. We first (and accidentally) walked into the Westfield World Trade Center. At first glance, I never would have known it was a mall at all; it was a tall, white structure in a unique shape and a beautiful purple light illuminating it on the inside, and the shops inside weren’t very prominently on display at first glance. It. Was. Amazing. But we continued on to what we’d actually come for: the 9/11 Memorial. The sky was dark by the time we arrived, but it was still just as much – if not more – captivating as I’d imagine it during the day. It was very surreal actually being there; you can see all the television specials and read all the articles in the world about that fateful day, but there is nothing that compares to actually being there; standing at that site, and seeing the outlines of the towers themselves, and the countless names inscribed in the panels surrounding the pools below. There was a single white rose placed in one of the names in front of us, which I later discovered meant it was that person’s birthday. It was a very eye-opening experience, but one I am so grateful we got to partake in.
From there, we went on to see Times Square. No matter how many times I’ve been here in my life, it somehow always manages to leave me awestruck. The lights, the constant go-go-go, the sheer volume of people – but most of all, seeing the 2016 ball that will drop in just a few short weeks for New Years in person – were all breathtaking! We stopped in one of the million pizza spots nearby and Tim was introduced to the BEST pizza in the world. (Seriously. New York-style pizza is like, a lifestyle or a religion or something in itself.) We wandered down to Radio City Music Hall and then found our way to Rockefeller Center and its legendary Christmas tree. It was more amazing than I’d even imagined in my head; if you’re looking for somewhere that Christmas is brought to real life in all of its splendor, this would be the place for you. The Christmas tree was absolutely MASSIVE and gorgeous; what you see on TV truly does no justice. There was holiday spirit literally around every corner. My heart was bursting with gratitude and Christmas cheer and the utmost happiness. When we’d decided we’d had our fill of Manhattan mayhem, we set our sights on one final stop before heading home for the night. Mama’s Empanadas, a restaurant with various locations all around the city I’d heard quite a lot about since their move here, was on the radar to wrap up our trip. And it didn’t disappoint. We decided on the Astoria location and were not disappointed. The food was hot and delicious and I didn’t know you could possibly stuff so many different kinds of things in an empanada and it somehow work well together. Even more incredible than that? On both of our receipt slips from this establishment appeared the number 56 (more specifically, #156 and #556), and anyone who knows us knows that that was my dad’s favorite number. Whenever I’ve seen those digits together over the years, they’ve come to be a sort of concrete sign that he’s nearby when I need him. Here, in the city I was born and that he spent so many years of his life, we saw his favorite number not once, but twice, together. It was truly the icing on the cake that was the most all around amazing day.
The last couple days of our visit was comprised of spending quality time with my family, which I appreciated more than I can find the words to say. It meant the absolute world to me for the man I love so much to flawlessly fit in again with the people I hold so near and dear as if no time had passed at all. It goes without saying that being so far away from loved ones with this lifestyle is hard, but I don’t think I realized how truly tough it had become until I was back together with them again. I’ve been out of my mother’s house for years now, but it was beautifully nostalgic to go back, if only for a long weekend. We got to see my youngest sister’s school play and spent the day at the mall and gather around the table together and basically everything I hadn’t gotten to do in a long time. I could not have been more grateful for the opportunity for it all. I was and wasn’t ready to come home at the end of it; I didn’t want to leave just yet because we don’t know the next time we’ll be able to do something like this again, but I was missing my fur kids something fierce. On our way home, we experienced the “curse” end of utilizing buddy passes; the flight(s) home was a bit more difficult than we’d foreseen, but we eventually made it back with some leave time for Tim to spare. If I ever doubted that his heart was mine, now I am absolutely certain; he saw me at my “flying standby” and stayed/loved me despite it, and that speaks volumes. Even with the chaotic homecoming, I could not have hoped for anything better. I get to spend my days with someone who also craves spending our youth traveling and seeing what this life has to offer, just as I do. I got to see my family and spend time with them like I haven’t been able to since high school. We are given endless opportunities to step outside of our comfort zones and try new things and keep coming back for more. I am so truly blessed more than I ever thought I deserved.