Friday, December 31, 2010

Medieval Times At Last

If I were to get hit by a bus tomorrow and be on my way to heaven, it would be alright with me. Why, you ask? Because I have officially been to Medieval Times. After eight years of Erica and I watching 'Cable Guy' a million times and countless discussions about how "we HAVE to go to Medieval Times", we finally planned it. Lucky for us, there's one in north Georgia not far from where Erica lives so we set it in stone for one of the nights I'd be home at Christmas.

Me, Phil, Erica and Austin were on our merry way two nights ago and, without exaggeration, I think we were all more excited than any of the kids there. We quoted every line from the movie, of course, and totally cracked up at the hilarity of everything involved with Medieval Times. Naturally, Erica would ask our server questions like is this a real job for these knights or just an after school kinda thing? to which he'd very seriously answer "this is a REAL job and they train six days a week". Ooops, didn't mean to offend you there, kid. Also, in case anyone would like to know, the knights' salaries vary upon skill set. Yep, true story.

At any rate, we had the most hilarious evening and it goes down as one of the top five things I've ever done. I'm not sure I've laughed that hard in a while and being there with Phil, Erica, and Austin was seriously the icing on the cake. That kind of laughter is just so good for the soul. Please share in our fun vicariously:
The goblet was definitely the 5th member of our party:
Did you know there were gangsters in the medieval days?
Of course we had to meet our knight considering he won the entire battle. Yep, be jealous:
I'll be smiling for a very long time thinking about this night...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A White Christmas in Georgia!

Wow, another Christmas has come and gone. It's so very hard to believe. As usual, it was magnificent and I treasure spending that time with my family each year. It was rather bittersweet this time around though because Michael and Wynn stayed in LA and had Wynn's parents fly out to celebrate there. Christmas is the one time each year where we all fly in to be together so it felt very strange not to have them with us. I actually should be kinda pissed off at them because that just meant I ate their share of sausage balls and mini quiches Christmas morning. Thanks a lot, guys.

In all seriousness, we really had a wonderful day together. There were two huge surprises we encountered as well that made this Christmas one of the most memorable celebrations I've had. As a little back story, my family is extremely small. Both sets of grandparents passed away by the time I was 19 and I actually never knew one grandfather or grandmother. My mom's two brothers also passed away and my dad's two sisters I rarely get to see. We have family in St. Louis, some in Georgia, and the rest in New York so you can imagine my surprise when I got a Facebook friend request a couple of months ago from my first cousin, Paul. He's the son of my mom's younger brother who sadly passed away in 1997 and I hadn't been in contact with him for over half my life. It was a crazy feeling seeing that friend request but I accepted and boy, am I glad I did. We've communicated a lot recently and it turns out he's a farmer overseeing a multimillion dollar farm in south Georgia. He's had an incredibly hard life but he's turned so much around to become a hard working, successful man. He lives with his girlfriend, Sherri, who he raves about and they have such a sweet life together. He's told me all about farming peanuts, cotton, and watermelon and how the work is hard but fulfilling. He's such a neat guy and I was so excited when he asked if he and Sherri could stop by on Christmas day since they were driving up to visit her father. Nobody really knew what to expect when he arrived but it turned out to be such a fantastic visit. We all talked about his father and shared tough but necessary stories about some demons he faced. It was especially emotional for mom to see him again since he has essentially had no family for most of his life. It was a touching and deeply meaningful visit for all of us. They stayed and had Christmas dinner with us, too. It's amazing to me what restoration can happen when people open their hearts and lives to believe in and embrace one another. It was wonderful.

What else was wonderful was that we had a white Christmas!!! The news said something about it being 1882 or something nuts like that (sorry, didn't actually look it up) since the last white Christmas and I found that so amazing. It snowed all day, from 9:00am'ish until about 11:00pm. It was so pretty and I have no idea why I didn't think to take a bunch of photos. I snapped this with my phone around 9:00pm:
It really was beautiful and made the day seem even more special to all of us. I honestly can't believe it's come and gone but what a great celebration it was this year. It surely is the perfect way to say farewell to 2010. I hope everyone else out there had as meaningful a day as me!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

It's 15K Time Again...

Holy freaking freezing week in Manhattan. What better time to run the Ted Corbitt 15K again?! I actually think I just thawed out from the same race last year. I've kept a good mindset about this one though because it's my last qualifying race that I have to run in 2010 in order to be guaranteed into the 2011 NYC marathon. This is a huge deal for me and will wrap up a year of very hard work. I've come miles (no pun intended) from where I used to be with my running and I'm very proud of myself.

Running this same 15K last year was actually a milestone in itself for me. It would be the second time I'd run distance since my first half marathon in 2008 so I put a lot of effort into advancing myself both in time and endurance. I was so proud last year doing that on my own and finishing faster than I ever had. I think the reason I truly love running so much is that there's constant progress. Each day you hit the road and each mile you run is one more than before and you're consistently moving forward. In the year since I ran this race, I'm stronger, smarter, more passionate and more serious about my running and my health overall. So, it excites me to wrap up the year with the same race that meant so much to me before.

All I know is I'm ready to finish this race on Sunday, watch a hopeful Giants victory after, and prepare to head home to GA next week for Christmas. I can't even believe Christmas is around the corner but I'm just so excited for it. Happy Holidays to all of my dear friends. May love and the peace of this season surround you and your loved ones fully!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Successful Merrymaking

Well well well, our 2nd annual Christmas party has officially come and gone. I've had that sort of down feeling you often get after a big event has taken place and, while it was simply awesome, it makes me sad that it's over. I think when you invest yourself in something and spend a great deal of time on it, there's bound to be some blue feelings that follow once it ends or is over. That's kinda how I've felt but let's not focus on any of that. Let's focus on the par-tay!

Thank the lord Allison and I were much smarter this year about our preparation. As I mentioned in my last post, we'd done a fair amount of work in the days leading up to the party and it proved to be so worth it. When you host a party for over 50 people and you take care of every aspect yourself, it's a great deal of work. It's tiring and some of the fun gets sucked out until you're dressed and ready for guests to arrive. I had so much to be excited about though the morning of since Amanda and Jay were driving up from Baltimore!

I woke up Saturday morning, got a nice 7 mile run in, and met Amanda by 11am. We sent Jay up to my apartment to relax, parked the car, and grabbed coffee while chattering away with excitement to see each other. As a side note, I must point out the most important piece of news...Amanda is PREGNANT! I'm so thrilled for her and Jay and I'm ecstatic to have another little one to visit soon. (Ami, you're next!) Anyway, the three of us visited for a couple of hours and I can't even explain how good it was to see them. Both she and Jay were in town at different times back in October so I was lucky to have time with them so soon after. As they went off to check out the tree at Rockefeller, I headed over to Allison's to do the last of our prep work.

By 8pm, we were totally ready for everyone to arrive and holy crapola, was it a crowd. We had double the amount of people there this year which was totally nuts in Allison's apartment. However, we had an absolute blast. So many friends came that I haven't seen in a while, in addition to the 'usual suspects', and I loved being able to introduce so many circles of people. I think some people might have made new friends too which I think is awesome. It reminds me of introducing my crew back in ATL and having them all become friends. :)

I don't have all the photos ready from the party yet but I know there are some great ones. I'll look forward to posting them when I'm not so crazed. For now, I'll just keep reflecting on how fabulous the evening was, how beautiful/handsome everyone looked, and how great it was to kick off the holiday season with so many people I love. It's such a joy that Amanda and Jay were here to join the fun too and that meant the absolute world to me. I love the holidays so much and it's fantastic that I'm blessed with the means to throw a party like this. Such great memories made! It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, that's for sure. ;)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Party Eve

If Christmas and New Years have 'eves' then I believe I should have one for the day before my Christmas party. On this wonderful Friday, or Party Eve rather, I'm officially mentally checked out of work. Speaking of work, I have a big event tonight that I've been overseeing so I'm very ready for it to be over with. I've loved working on the project, it's just stressful to work on a firm-wide event where expectations are high. It leaves my nerves a bit rattled but, thankfully, I've got my previously mentioned Christmas party tomorroooooow in which I plan to have loads of fun.

This will be mine and Allison's second annual Christmas party and man, was it fantastic last year. Funny enough, we were completely ill-prepared and totally stressed out doing everything but it ended up being so very fun. This time around, we had a much better idea of how much time things would take and, instead of running 8 miles the morning of and getting started late, we thought it might be a better idea to do as much prep ahead of time as possible. That said, we've worked on stuff this week and only have a few things left to do tonight and tomorrow morning. That's allowed us to have MUCH more fun with this. Ironically, over double the amount of people are coming this time which should make us feel more stressed yet we're just ready to have some serious fun. The best part is that Amanda and Jay are coming in from Baltimore for it (tomorrow being Jay's actual birthday, too!) and I'm just beside myself with excitement. They'll finally meet my best friends in the city, and vice versa, which is the greatest treat for me. I. Can't. Wait.

You know, it's really wild to me that it's been a year since our last party. Well, not just that, but that it's been a year since a lot of stuff and it's pretty trippy when I think about it. It's bizarre how time can pass by so fast yet so slow. That's how all of 2010 has been for me and it's been both trying and exhilerating. I don't want to get all inside my own head with this, just noting that it's crazy to me that a year has passed.

At any rate, I'm so very ready to make it through this event tonight and to get my par-tay on tomorrow. I LOVE this time of year and it's fun to kick off the Christmas (yes, I said Christmas and not just 'holiday') season with our party. I'm secretly excited to get dressed up for it, too. Shhh, don't tell anyone.

Happy Friday, all!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving (round two!) with The Wonderlands

Ok, so most people out there who experience a wonderful meal on Thanksgiving with friends or family are already quite blessed, right? Well, this year, I had the privilege of celebrating twice! My hips aren't quite as thrilled about that fact but that's beside the point. One of my dear friends, Kyra, came in town from San Francisco for turkey day and brought her sweet boyfriend, Ted, to celebrate with her family for the first time. They live upstate in Middletown which is just a short train ride from Grand Central. Kyra's family had a duel Thanksgiving themselves as they celebrated with grandma on their own on Thursday. Their second celebration for the rest of the family would be Saturday so, since we only get to see Kyra a couple of times a year AND she was on the east coast, she warmly invited Allison and I to have dinner with them.

Side note for a second. Kyra is the type of friend that I can proudly say anyone would be jealous of me for having. She is one of the greatest people I know and I'm pretty sure her heart is really made of gold. I adore Kyra and she's truly found her counterpart in her boyfriend, Ted. He is every bit as terrific as she is and I'm such a lucky girl to call them both my friends. How adorable are they:
Back to food talk. We took an early afternoon train on Saturday and, when we got to Kyra's house, I swear I immediately felt like part of the family. We met her brother and sister, along with their significant others, and one of their longtime friends. Kyra's parents were also just fantastic and so welcoming! I can truly see where Kyra gets her warm and accepting personality. :) It was so very good to have everyone together like that:
After lots of chatter and catching up, it was finally time to eat. I have to point out that the turkey was one of the best turkeys I've ever tasted. Kyra's dad grills it every year and I've never had such tender, juicy turkey meat in my life. It had that distinct smoky grill flavor too which really elevated the flavor. Hellooooo, Thanksgiving round two:
I think our food comas made everyone have the giggles, hehehe:
Maybe it was the SEVEN desserts, instead.

We had such a wonderful time laughing, talking, and being together. I felt so at home and it made me really miss having my entire family together. Those moments are priceless and I enjoyed being a part of that time with Kyra and her family. All I know is either I'm moving to San Fran or Kyra's moving back to New York because I can't stand all the miles between us anymore. If up to me, I say we just started a whole new Albanese/Wonderland Thanksgiving tradition. ;) 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Dinner Recap

I'm still full. There's just no two ways about it yet my stomach was growling like crazy when I woke up today. Ohhh, Thanksgiving, how I love and hate you at the same time.

Those who know me well know that I love tradition. There's something about building and keeping tradition that I find sweet and meaningful. I've already mentioned that this was mine and Allison's 9th year cooking Thanksgiving dinner together (only I messed that up and it was really the 8th year, ooops!) so clearly that tradition has been very special to us both. This year, we surely kept our favorite dishes but added a couple of new twists in there, too. I suppose it's a modern take on tradition. :P

We decided our final menu would be turkey, stuffing, grand marnier cranberry sauce, roasted butternut squash, mashed potatoes and black pepper biscuits with pumpkin cream cheese pie for dessert; everything homemade, of course. We went the route of doing an herb-rubbed turkey this year and it turned out fantastic! The 'rub' consisted of fresh sage, rosemary, and thyme combined with olive oil, lemon juice, a little dry mustard, garlic, salt and lots of cracked black pepper:
Making the cranberry sauce is one of my favorite parts of the meal because it makes the whole house smell like the holidays. While it simmers, the cinnamon, nutmeg, and apple all create such a cozy aroma and it makes me really excited for Christmas. While that cooked, I made my infamous mashed potatoes. This time I used Danish gold potatoes with a couple of Idahos thrown in. I left the skins on all and they were fantastic! Allison made the pie after that and holy crap, I want that exact pie every year from now on. Yuuuum, food:
The layer of cream cheese just makes it pop and it was delicious! I think what we were both most excited about this year was making the black pepper biscuits. I'd seen the recipe (a Bobby Flay'er) a while ago and man, did they sound good. Being a hater of baking, I figured I'd never in a million years make biscuits. Um, me roll out dough? No thanks. This recipe, however, had you combining ingredients in the food processor then kneading only slightly before cutting them out. I was still happy to have Allison do that part, though:
They were so good! Next time, I'd do salted butter and combine the black pepper throughout the dough instead of just on top but they really were fantastic. It goes without saying that I greatly enjoy the ease factor, as well.

Allison and I had such fun cooking together this year because we actually spread things out over Wednesday night and Thursday morning. It was much more relaxing and definitely allowed for more time drinking vino. It's hard to choose whether we like the food or wine more at Thanksgiving, this year especially. When we were in Napa this past Spring, we both joined different wine clubs and we get a two bottle shipment every quarter. What better time to drink our super nice wine than Thanksgiving?! That may or may not have gotten me in a little trouble on Wednesday night.

All of this said, Thanksgiving was fabulous this year and I think we're really going to have a hard time topping it. What a wonderful holiday to celebrate and I'm pretty sure this sums it all up:
Gobble! Gobble!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

I Give Thanks...

Thanksgiving. Thanks. Giving. Two words with two meanings that act as one which celebrate a beautiful day and season of blessing. A season in which we focus on being thankful for what we have and for how we can share and give selflessly. (Unless you're Dave who has coined this year as being 'Thanksgetting' which just might be brilliant. Story for another time.)

As Thanksgiving has arrived yet again, I'm humbled by the place in life I find myself and the treasures in which I'm surrounded. My heart is stirred each year at this time and I often wish I could bottle the joy I feel and save it for a day where I seem to forget it. No matter what pain and hardship have followed me throughout the year, Thanksgiving is always a place I reach where I'm able to re-shift perspective and re-gain lost ground. I love this time of year so much and I'm grateful for the wisdom I've been blessed with to see life through discerning eyes.

I've always journaled the list of what I'm thankful for but this year I'm doing things a little different and writing it here. Feel free to read or not, I write it for myself regardless. On this special day, these are but a few of the things I'm thankful for:
  • Cori
  • Laughter
  • Good, strong coffee
  • Health
  • Friends who know me better than I know myself sometimes
  • Passion
  • Extra cheesy pizza
  • Crying, in good times and bad
  • Mercy
  • Running
  • Scented candles
  • My family, who are treasures to my soul
  • Peach green tea
  • My old, oversized Rams sweatshirt
  • Fireplaces
  • Music
  • The place I find myself presently 
  • Hugs
  • Fluffy sweaters
  • Love
  • Sunsets
  • Change and new opportunity
  • Red wine
  • The ability to laugh at myself
  • Hope
  • The select few who have seen me fall, helped pick me back up, and loved me all the same
How could I really list all the things I'm thankful for? I'd be here all day if I tried. I will say, with deep sincerity, that what I'm most thankful for is simply life. The good, the hard, the fun, the sad, the crazy, the unknown, the hopeful, the mundane, the stressful, the exciting, the peaceful, the unexpected...the journey. I am more than humbled by the blessings surrounding me that make life exactly what it should be, here and now. I am so thankful that I've got 30 years under my belt of experience, progress, and life. That is joy, my friends.

The house is smelling amazing and I do believe it's time for more wine. So, I'll simply say Happy Thanksgiving to all (and Thanksgetting to Dave). I hope your day is as wonderful as mine!

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Countdown Begins...

Oh my goodness, it's almost turkey tiiiiiiiiiiiiiime! I mean honestly, where the heck has this whole year gone? I keep exclaiming about this because I seriously can't grasp that 2010 is coming to a close. Man, time really does start to fly with each year, doesn't it?

I think I'm mentally checked out of work at this point. I've also had a nasty cold the past few days that doesn't seem to want to go away. I actually even walked my whole race yesterday morning. Thankfully, it was only four miles, but I just couldn't get my energy level to where I'd need for running. Allison was so sweet in walking it with me just to keep me company. I really appreciated that. At any rate, I'm still feeling like crap yet the vision of stuffing dancing in my head is enough to take my mind off of it.

In three short days, Allison and I will be cooking our NINTH annual Thanksgiving dinner together! How awesome is that?! We didn't really intend on starting that tradition together so long ago, it just sorta happened. One of these days, we need to put a collage together of the photos. THAT would provide laughter for us both.

This year, we're switching a few things up. We're adding in a veggie (god forbid there be something healthy) and trying our hand at homemade black pepper biscuits. I've also kindly requested that Allison make a pumpkin cream cheese pie. MMM! I might be drooling as I type. I'll have a full dinner report after turkey day, for sure.

All I know is I better get over this cold before Thursday. I'll cry if I can't taste the very stuffing I'm dreaming about. Three more daaaaaaaaays...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My First Giants Game: Bigshot Style

Finally, after three years of being a Giants fan, I went to my very first game on Sunday. I'd been to the Meadowlands last year for a Jets game but had yet to go to the new stadium and boy, was it nice. I was out with some friends on Saturday afternoon when Scott texted about going and I got SO excited. Going to football games is quite possibly one of my favorite things in the world. Going to a Giants game in particular just elevates that for me. :)

We all met at Brother Jimmy's near Penn Station for some food and beers before the train. In all honesty, we were having such a good time before even getting to the stadium that we kinda lost track of time, ha! Finally, we were on our way and I was soooo excited. Of course, brown bag beers were a must for the train ride. That made Scott apparently verrrrry happy:
 Camille was our honorary guest jersey wearer thanks to Abbey:
Once we got to the stadium, I was like a little kid. I know I know, I'm pretty easy to please which I happen to think is a great thing, heehee:
If I thought I was excited then, I had no clue what I was in for with our seats. When we walked in, we kept going further and further down until we stopped at the 7th row, ahhhhhhh:
Dude, that was the best surprise ever. I have to add that there was a mini blackout during the 3rd quarter! The entire stadium went dark which was pretty wild. The lights starting coming back up a little bit at a time. Pretty cool:
I don't think I need to go any further in saying we had a GREAT time:
Thank you soooo much, Pagano! Best day, ever.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Old and New Friends

This past weekend was so much fun. I know, I say that a lot, but anytime I get to visit with an old friend automatically makes a weekend better. On Friday, my friend, Mike, came in town briefly and I was quite excited to get an old crew of people together after far too long.

I met Mike in 2007 at KBC which was my first job here in the city. We instantly became friends! He entered into a great group of people that remain some of my closest friends here which is so special. Over time at KBC, I somehow became the one in charge of organizing get-togethers for everyone and, before you knew it, we were all doing something together at least once a week. I love those memories and thinking back on my time at KBC brings such a smile to my face. True to form, when I found out Mike was coming in town, I organized a happy hour and decided to include my present work colleagues, too! I wasn't sure how the groups would mix but I know just how much fun I always have with my old crew so I figured we'd have a great time. Annnd...we did!

We decided to check out Traffic Bar for the first time and it was a cool space. They have a great happy hour and we actually had our own private room, not on purpose. I haven't seen Mike in a year and a half so it was wonderful finally having him back in the city:
Yep, we match. :P It was funny for me to bring my two work groups together. It was actually so great re-living memories and sharing stories from the past with my present co-workers. We laughed, caught up, and had a super fun Friday night together:
From old friends...
to new friends...
what a fun Friday night:

Monday, November 8, 2010

4th Annual Marathon Sunday

Why oh why do the best days always have to end so fast? It's so hard to believe that yet another marathon day has come and gone. I feel like I just wrote about it from last year! I also can't believe that this is the fourth marathon I've gotten to watch in this great city. Boy, does time fly!

As usual, I totally got emotional as soon as I turned on the news coverage Sunday morning. I love how they do one off interviews with runners as they wait for their official start times! Since the marathon begins on Staten Island, I have a little bit of time before the elite runners get to my side of town. My apartment is around mile 17 and 18 which is a tremendous point on the course to be out watching. You really begin to see what these runners are made of and it's SO inspirational and moving. As mentioned, I've spent four years supporting people on marathon day and it's a true delight for me. This year was a little different, though. This happens to be my last year watching as I'll officially be running in it next year! For those who don't know, the New York marathon is one of the hardest races to get into in the world. NYRR offers their 9+1 Program which is a fantastic program that allows members to run nine races in a calendar year, plus volunteer for one, which guarantees them entry into the following year's marathon. I have two races left to go this year and then I'm an official entrant into 2011! I am SO excited and feel like it's such a reward for my hard work this year.

Watching the marathon this time was much more meaningful for me than prior years. I was focused on different areas of it than I ever have been before and that's really because I kept imagining myself out there on the road next year, finally participating. That's huge for me and I feel rather overwhelmed each time I think about it. At any rate, we had a fabulous day celebrating the amazing runners who leave their heart out on the road. As usual, you saw everything from people with two fake legs to grandmothers to people in big is quite the spectacle, running aside. My favorite part is when I'm fortunate enough to see a runner spot their friends or family on the sidelines and to see the pure joy in all of their faces. It's so amazing and has me choked up even writing this. While many out there aren't runners and cannot understand the pain one endures for a marathon, you still get to see unconditional support and encouragement. It's SO great. We all had a really terrific day together:
Another marathon day passed, another amazing memory for the books. I cannot wait for it to be MY turn next year!