Hello and Happy New Year, friends and family. Excited to be writing to you in this glorious new decade.
What a whirlwind month. I’ve missed it here on the blogosphere! But with a trip back home for Christmas, a New Years voyage, and a jump right into the deep end with a work trip to Bangkok, I could barely find time to write. All is well now though, and as I settle down on my couch, in front of my laptop, I’m ready to write, with a head full of thoughts and a heart full of memories.
Where to start?
Let’s go back in time, to December 13. I’m boarding my flight to New York, with Zé, with more excitement than can fit in my bones. We haul it 23 hours through Hong Kong, then over to New York, each clocking at least 10 hours of sleep between the two flights. In a thick and foggy daze, we reach EWR on Friday evening, where New Jersey’s finest (Dad) is there to pick us up. The flight was a lap of luxury, thanks to Cathay (and the freedom seekers of Hong Kong, who drove flight prices down so much that we were able to afford round-trip tickets on one of the world’s finest airlines. Of course I don’t condone random acts of street violence…….but I can get behind half-price tickets).
After scooping Matt up in Hoboken, the Hayden-Viana Baptista squadron headed to Branchburg and almost immediately passed out from exhaustion. I had a little bit of trouble sleeping that night because I had slept almost 13 hours of my 20 hour flight (what can I say, I love a good snooze), but I managed to clock about five hours on the first night home.
Saturday morning was marked by a trip/pilgrimage to
heaven-on-Earth Wegmans for some groceries, followed by breakfast prepared for the Haydens by Mr. Zé. In the afternoon, Mom, Dad, Zé, Matt, and I headed to New Brunswick for the Seton Hall-Rutgers game, preceded by lunch with Aunt Marian and Uncle Joe, Tim, and Sue, and followed by a shameful and truly atrocious 20-point loss. I mean it was so bad that I can’t even find the will to recall it now. I honestly believe if coach had put me in after not having played since my Branchburg recreation days, I still would have played better. Blindfolded.
Anyhoo! It was lovely to spend time together, especially with Zé there. We kept the party going on Sunday, when we headed to Lambertville for brunch at the Full Moon Cafe, Mom’s favorite. Lambertville, and New Hope, PA, which is just across the bridge, are lovely little artist communities filled with cafes, galleries, vintage shops and, according to one Google search result, ‘dreamers of tomorrow.’ I smell Bernie voters.
Brunch was delicious, and walking around Lambertville was super enjoyable that day—it was brisk, but all the shopfronts were sparkling and shining with the Christmas decorations. I was officially feeling festive! (It might be hard to believe, but there’s something about the 90-F/32-C pool of sweat that I live that just doesn’t get me into the holiday spirit).
After relaxing a bit more at home, Matt, Zé and I left Hotel Hayden and headed into the city. It was hard to leave, as always: cozy and comfortable accommodation, free Wi-Fi, no prepayment required, all meals included, and inn keepers aren’t too bad, either. Five stars, would recommend.
We dropped Matt off in Hoboken and headed into Union Square, Manhattan, where we’d be staying. It was our first night on the town, so we headed out to take in the bright lights and the big city! Just kidding. We watched four episodes of Shark Tank and fell asleep by 11PM. The life of the party, we are.
Monday through Friday was marked by work during the day (I was on-call wrapping things up throughout the week), and some breaks during the day. Monday, the weekend crew of Zé, Matt, and I headed downtown for lunch at the Crosby Street Hotel with Teta Tanya. She introduced me to this lunch spot years ago, and it’s remained one of my favorites ever since. Set on a cobblestone street lined with shops and restaurants, the space is vibrant and elegant (think kitsch-meets-classy) and the menu is unique, seasonal and always tasty. We enjoyed burrata, roasted vegetables, flatbread with various dips, mains of salad, salmon, and a croque monsieur for the turning-French Matt, over several bottles of red wine. Quick shoutout for red wine—how I’ve missed your tannins in balmy Singapore! It was so nice to have some extra quality time with Tanya, who I typically only get to see once over Christmas break. She is my godmother and someone I love spending time with, for her fantastic stories, knowledge of the world, and warm hugs. I was very happy too that Zé could finally meet her, after hearing so many #TanyaTales. He said it was like meeting a celebrity. They were also able to swap stories about living in Brazil, which was unique and interesting, and gave Matt and I the opportunity to sit back, contribute nothing, and polish off a bottle of Cabernet.
Monday evening found us shopping in the streets of SoHo (where we both picked up some FLY pairs of Warby Parkers, being the millennials we are), and heading to a tavern in the West Village for drinks with Manuel, a friend of Zé’s from Lisbon. From there, we quickly changed in the hotel and headed out to Jersey City for dinner with a few of my friends from home, including Erik Haussman and Diana Fernandes. It was wonderful catching up with old friends and introducing them to Zé, but the other big win of the night was realizing how much we both love Jersey City. With its many different cultures, cuisines, shops, restaurants, and cafes, I’m convinced it’s Jersey’s best-kept secret (besides my mother’s cooking, obviouslyyy). We also liked Domo Domo, the sushi place we ate, but more than anything, we loved the company with whom we shared our meal.
Tuesday was a big day: we went to Macy’s Herald Square. The iconic Macy’s. Rivaled by nothing in the United States, and potentially only Harrod’s abroad. A longstanding and cherished holiday tradition, the annual Macy’s Christmas Window displays at Macy’s Herald Square draw thousands of people, and this year was no different. But it was the store’s interior we had our eyes on—it was time to revamp Zé’s wardrobe, and I was along for the ride. We sifted through shirts, shorts and shoes, cashing in on the gift card my sweet parents gifted him for Christmas, and left with a beautiful bounty in hand. You can find Zé’s updated look here.
For food (you know I’m always going to talk about food), we ate at Fiamma in Westfield, NJ, where we were to visit the world-famous Hanchuk family. We met up with Mom after she got out of work, I did a quick Google search for “super cute cozy Italian wood fired pizza place” (my goodness it was good to be back in America), and we enjoyed our super cute cozy Italian wood fired pizza meal. The Hanchuk crew arrived home about two hours later, and we headed over to see them. I was incredibly happy to get some time with them. I know I sound old when I say it, but my three little cherubs are FULL-ON ADULTS NOW! How did this happen…?! I mean, Deanna traveling to Madagascar and Madrid? Wasn’t she just in diapers? (Again…I realize I sound like a 95-year-old). I also loved catching up with Renata and Walter, who are the sweetest and funniest couple I could have asked for. And again, was so happy to introduce them to my Portuguese half. We traded stories, caught up, sipped wine, nibbled on bites, and enjoyed each other’s company until about 8PM when we had to (tear) head back into the city. Man, we really run on a tight schedule during these Christmas trips.
Why did we have to leave? Because we were 45 minutes late (feels right) for dinner with the Syra-crew: Berger, Mitch, Chet, CJ, and Timmy. Woo hoo! We ate at the Spaniard, a neighborhood gastropub in the Village, followed by after-dinner drinks at Wilfie and Nell. Complete, in-the-moment satisfaction is the best way to describe the trip so far. Uninterrupted quality time with some of my favorite people on the planet—what more can you ask for? (Probably only pizza and wine, both of which were also already covered at this point)
My sleep schedule was a little wonky all week, and I was working on Singapore hours, so I was up EARLY BIRD on Wednesday. Simultaneously, this is the day jetlag hit Zé the hardest, so I had a few hours to kill that morning after I had completed my work assignments. So I did what any efficient—and frankly, excellent—girlfriend would do in this scenario, which was to check off all my ‘girly’ bucket list items in New York. Meaning, a stop at By Chloe, my favorite vegan eatery that would have Zé running for the hills, a stops into Sephora and Anthropologie, and finally, a complete clearing-house at West Elm for dish towels, candle holders, and other (not completely essential) trinkets that make my heart sing.
When Sleeping Beauty rose from the crypt, it was nearly noon and we were both starving. We had been waiting to go to Gramercy Tavern all week but hadn’t managed to find the opportunity, and this was the perfect one. I love Gramercy Tavern so much. It’s an easy choice for my favorite restaurant in all of New York. I think this bit from NY Magazine sums it up best: “It could be argued, easily, that Gramercy Tavern is the crown jewel of the Danny Meyer restaurant empire. It is certainly the best showcase for the restaurateur’s famed approach to over-the-top, make-everyone-feel-comfortable-at-all-costs hospitality.” Top-class dining with no gimmicks and waiters you want to hug and befriend, every time. You can’t go wrong.
Following a two-hour meal, which was an EVENT for me and a regular-length lunch for Zé, we walked around the Union Square holiday market and down to Washington Square Park. That’s when it hit. THE SQUALL. While we were walking through the park, the sky went from shining and sunny to near-zero visibility within seconds. This time lapse video shows how the storm engulfed New York City in under five minutes flat (also, props to the writer of that article for the opening line: “And that’s squall she wrote.”). We had never experienced anything like it before! And because of the rarity, distinctiveness and straight-up oddity of this weather pattern, I’ve decided to pause here and share some facts about squalls (from an article I found called “Squall facts for kids.” Enjoy.):
- A squall is a quick and big increase in wind speed which is usually linked to weather such as rain showers, thunderstorms, or heavy snow.
- Squalls move in and move on or fizzle out quickly, and typically last less than an hour.
- They normally occur during the daytime.
- In this particular squall, Central Park picked up 0.4 inches of snow in about 40 minutes. (Honestly, it was such an insane and momentous event, I feel like we’ll all remember where we were when “the squall of ’19” went down)
Anyway, that evening was marked by dinner with Juliana, a friend from my first-ever job in New York which was at Havas Media. We went to Vic’s, a low-key dig in NoHo with Italian dishes and nice wine and cocktails. We had a lovely time, as we always do, and keep the fun going with an after-dinner cocktail. The jetlag was hitting us hard, so we headed back to the hotel around 11PM for a good night of sleep. The next day, Thursday, was more of the same: brunch, touring of New York (the Whitney Museum and Meatpacking District), the coldest day I have experienced in years (according to the Great Google, the reading that day, of 16° F, was three degrees colder than the typical coldest reading of December. Cool!), and a late lunch at Eataly. We met up in Financial District with cousins Shannon and Pete, as well as famed Hayden siblings Matthew and Larissa, for a Mexican fiesta at Toro Loco. Lots (and lots) of spicy cocktails later, it was back to sleep for us. If you could not already tell, this is more or less just a post about what Zé and I did between sleeping.
Friday was the final day Zé was in town, so I did what any self-respecting New Yorker (former or current) would do: took him to Katz’s Deli. For those not familiar, Katz’s is the place to go if you are looking for that one food place in NYC which is iconically “New York.” It’s a no-frills Jewish deli with mile-high sandwiches and, my favorite, theatrically cranky service. I love a good cynic. From there, I met up with my favorite Jewish person on the planet (keeping up with the theme here), Steph Krivitzky, for coffee in Union Square. It was a short and sweet visit—always good to see my Stephy. Then, we walked up Fifth Avenue in search of Christmas lights, overcrowded streets and ambling tourists, and then met up with some of Zé’s work colleagues in Midtown. I was bummed to see Zé get into a taxi, but I was also excited for him to be able to spend time with his family in Lisbon, and for me to be able to spend time with mine. Cue next scene: Jersey!
I took an Uber home, and was in deep and relaxing sleep when I arrived in the Burg. Dad was kind enough to stay awake to greet me, but we both went to sleep almost as soon as I arrived. The next day was when the Hayden squad convened: shortly after Dad and I got home from having lunch and running some errands, Matt and Larissa flew in the door like whirling dervishes. To give Mom a break from the chaos that is the Hayden children, and an opportunity to do some quiet preparation for Christmas, the four of us headed into Newark for the second Seton Hall basketball game of my trip home. Jason met us there, and we watched Seton Hall execute a miraculous win against Prairie View A&M, a school I had no idea existed before that day. At least I got to see one win during my trip home! (And by the way, Seton Hall has gone on to become #1 in the Big East conference since then…that horrible game must’ve been some kind of cursed Portuguese energy!).
A significant milestone on Monday was me getting behind the wheel of a car for the first time. Well, that’s not entirely true: Larissa and I hit up a few yoga classes in town during my trip home, and I did offer to drive to one of the classes, but upon asking Larissa to “remind me which is the break and which is the accelerator?,” she promptly ordered me into the passenger seat.
After that brief (but memorable) snafu, I got it together and was able to remember which was which. And it was a good thing I did, too, because my fingernails and toenails were in desperate need of a Christmas treatment at the spa. Mom and I enjoyed a nice and relaxing afternoon of spa time together, away from the hustle and bustle of Christmas preparations at home. One of my favorite days home!
The next day was Christmas Eve, which we spent at the Hanchuks. Between visiting them with Zé, stopping at their house quickly before the second basketball game, and Christmas Eve, I got THREE FULL VISITS with the Hanchuk family during my trip. This sent my heart soaring!! There, we were joined by Mom’s side of the family, and we enjoyed wonderful company and our traditional Ukrainian meal of such delicious dishes such as kutia, several kinds of vareniki, borscht (made by three Michelin-star chef Mom Hayden), and lots of red wine (another traditional staple of a Ukrainian Christmas meal). Per Byzantine Catholic tradition, Ukrainians celebrate Christmas Day on January 7 in accordance with their religious calendar, and in some families (like ours), the kiddies receive gifts on Christmas Eve. It is always such a rush: seeing the kids scamper down the stairs when they hear the bell of the ангел (angel) that brings gifts on Christmas Eve, and seeing the kids tear through the wrapping paper in sheer joy. Many of them this year received puzzles and games, and we spent a lot of time after dinner cashing in on these. The kids (and yes, there is an army many of them #AdultsOverpowered) also make a dance video every year to a different song, which we watch at the end of the night. They’ve been doing it for years, and we went back and dug up some vintage finds from a decade ago! Needless to say, all this activity left us exhausted, so Team Hayden rolled out at about midnight, and layed our weary heads to rest (we had to, as by now we all know the Claus can see us when we’re sleeping). The next day was the big one: Christmas!! Mom and Dad carried the religious duty for our family that morning by attending an early morning Mass while their three tired children slept until 8AM. Our typical Christmas morning involves opening gifts together while listening to Christmas music in the background (which is always Hanson’s Snowed In, if I get my way), enjoying brunch together and then going to church together (promise!). It’s a beautiful morning tradition. From there, we nap and rest for a bit before we go out for our evening activities with Dad’s family, but this year was a bit different, as we were hosting about 30 people at the house. So the day looked something like this: gifts and music in the morning (no Hanson), a quick brunch, and then PREP. PREP. PREP. There was a fun energy in the house: cooking together in the kitchen, preparing finger foods, laughing and running around together. I have very fond memories of this day, and we even did get a little time to rest. That evening was even more fun: needless to say, when you pack 30 Haydens into a house, there’s nothing but fun to be had. The sounds of laughter were deafening, the food was tasty, Pete brought with him all the right wines (it’s good having a sommelier in the family). Uncle John gifted all the siblings some digital photos of Grandma and Grandpa, which we also looked at together. It was so cool seeing photos of Grandma traveling to Europe, taking a ski trip with her girlfriends, etc. before she met Grandpa. An independent woman that lived her best life—much like her granddaughters!
There is not much to report on following Christmas Day, unless you are interested in hearing about how the five of us were the laziest humans can be. Relaxation was the name of the game for the next two days, until finally I headed out of the house for a haircut and other errands Friday. Also, I should note that Larissa, Matt and I crushed two entire episodes of Derry Girls on Netflix, and if you haven’t seen it, I would highly recommend it. It’s one of the funniest shows I’ve seen, though you will absolutely need closed captioning because their Irish accents range from heavy to quite heavy. Moving on!
Saturday was my final day at home, which was spent with my favorites (#TheRealFabFive) in New York. We headed in around 1PM, stopped by Matt’s apartment and had a delicious lunch in Midtown before strolling through the Christmas Market at Bryant Park. From there, we headed over to the Theater District for what would be the highlight of the trip in my view: David Byrne’s American Utopia show!! In the performance, David Byrne shares the spotlight with a diverse ensemble of 11 musical artists from around the globe to perform songs from his latest album, also titled American Utopia, as well as some Talking Heads classics. I thought this Pitchfork review summed it up best: “American Utopia is limited-run stage show that feels equal parts civics seminar, rock summit, and postmodern dance revue.” It was truly an experience unlike anything I’ve seen in my many trips to Broadway. First of all, getting to see the lead singer of my favorite band was epic, and seeing him perform in such a small theater and dance along with my family made the experience even more memorable! David (we are on a first-name basis now) is an outspoken advocate for voter registration, and at one point, he made a point to the crowd that only 20% of people vote in local elections. To showcase this, he asked for the spotlights in the theater to be turned on 20% of the audience……the Haydens. Pause for effect. And freakout. He addressed us personally, saying “You are the 20%. You, sir (referring to Dad) are the vote that represents the rest of this theater.” Of course we were waving wildly and making complete fools out of ourselves, but we got to connect 1:1 with David Byrne and now I can die happy.
Following the show, we shipped it back to Hoboken for dinner and some drinks before the family dropped me off at the airport. Maybe it was the perfect day we’d had, or maybe it was the series of non-stop jokes Matt and Larissa were making, or maybe it was the three glasses of wine I’d had, but I felt happy arriving at the airport, versus my usual demeanor which is complete panic and dread about having to leave home. It was a wonderful trip, one that reminded me of how deeply loved I am, and how lucky I am to have so many people that I can share my love with. Home is the place that makes me most happy. It’s a safe place, one that centers me and makes me feel like I can go back out and achieve anything I want in the world. And for that, I am forever grateful.
A few photos from my trip to New Jersey/New York: