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It always feels good to be home. This time, I’d come back for the holidays — less than a six week stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas (why yes, I am a tad behind in chronological blogging time, why do you ask?). I didn’t leave the East Coast the entire time, making it my longest stretch of unbroken winter exposure in four years. While I struggled with the weather and the surgical doldrums, there were some amazing highlights that made this trip home one that I’ll cherish, as always.

Good To Be Home

1. Cheerleading at The Philadelphia Marathon

Less than thirty-six hours after touching down in New York City from Phnom Penh, I was waking up before dawn at my Dad’s house in Philadelphia. Our mission? To cheer on my sister Margaret as she made her way across the Philadelphia Marathon finish line.

Philadelphia Marathon

Philadelphia Marathon

The technology behind these races amazes me. The race route came within blocks of my Dad’s place, and via a tracking app we were able to estimate with pretty amazing accuracy when Margaret would run through that section. We loved spotting her in the crowd and getting a big wave!

Philadelphia Marathon

Philadelphia Marathon

Philadelphia Marathon

We then made our way downtown to the finish line, which was pulsing with energy. We managed to spot her again just moments before she completed. We were so proud! I loved this high dose of family time right after landing — especially because I almost didn’t make it after an insane emergency room fiasco (more on that later.)

I just made plans to run a 10K with my big sis this spring — better get my buns in gear!

Philadelphia Marathon

Philadelphia Marathon

2. Surprise!

Um, how many is too many birthday celebrations? I can tell you the last thing I was expecting when I walked in the door of my home-away-from-home Brooklyn apartment (where my besties Zoe and Liz let me crash on the regular), unshowered, jetlagged, and exhausted, were twenty of my closest friends and family jumping out from the dark screaming “surprise!”

Surprise Party

Surprise Party

Everyone was there — my Dad (well, he was delivering me back to the city from Philadelphia, so that was no surprise), my mom and her boyfriend, my sister, my best friend from high school, all my best friends from college, even the beloved family I used to babysit back in my Brooklyn days.

And all the tear-inducing details were perfect — big helium balloons, a cake from my favorite Manhattan bakery, pizza from my favorite Brooklyn hole-in-the-wall, an album my sister made of my first year of Photo of the Week series called Wander by Week: Year 1.

Surprise Party

When a friend from Koh Tao messaged later to see if I got home okay and I told them we’d chat later, I was in the middle of a surprise party, they just laughed. “Has anyone else ever turned 25 like this?!” they asked. I could see their point — I’d already celebrated with an off-the-grid retreat, an island blowout, and now a big city surprise party.

I was so completely overwhelmed and touched and surprised that I actually spent the majority of the party in a dazed state of shock. And this should prove it — I didn’t take a single photo! Thank goodness for my little sister, who sent these iPhone snaps the next day, and was the mastermind behind the party.

Surprise Party

Honorable Mention: Not having a brain aneurysm. Seriously, this first weekend back was insane — I landed Friday evening after 36 hours in transit, spent all day Saturday in the emergency room, caught the last train to Philadelphia that night, woke up before dawn to watch my sister run the marathon Sunday morning, and then returned to the city for the biggest surprise of them all that evening. It would have been pretty perfect, aside from that whole ER situation. Long story short, I woke up that morning to find one of my pupils was severely blown out, and about fifteen minutes after walking into a Manhattan emergency room I was being wheeled into a CAT scan while a technician explained that asymmetry in pupils is a sign of brain trauma.

My little sister, who I hadn’t seen in five months, rushed to my hospital bed and thanks to her the day was remarkably giggle-filled. Little did I know my mom, in town for the surprise party, was less than a mile away, furiously text consulting with my sister the entire day about whether or not it was time to blow her cover and come comfort me. It was frustrating to be discharged eight hours later with a shrug, but my brain scans had come back clean and the doctors reassured me I would be fine, while conceding they had no idea what had happened. I was bummed to miss out on the pre-marathon day I’d planned to spend in Philadelphia, which is understandable considering how little I see my sister Margaret, but looking back I’m annoyed at myself for how I spent the weekend feeling so self-conscious about my wonky eye and my inability to wear s or makeup. I should have been thinking less about how I looked, and more about how grateful I was to be seeing so many amazing people in one short weekend with my two healthy eyes and one healthy brain.

3. Tucker Time

Any time spent with my munchkin is precious, and this trip was loaded with it. From field trips to Petsmart to visit the turtles and fish to late night cuddle sessions on the couch to unbearably cold sprints through the snow, Tucker lit up my days while I was home. Thanks to my Dad for letting me dognap him.

Tucker Time

Tucker Time

My two favorite cuddling on the couch

Tucker Time

The Kindle is BullshitTucker prefers paperbacks

Cocker Spaniel Love

4. Giving Thanks

I love Thanksgiving, and it felt so great to be home for my favorite late November holiday (I spent Thanksgiving 2013 in Lima, searching in vain for a turkey sandwich). This year was notable for a few reasons: a beautiful blanket of snow, my valiant attempt at cranberry jello shots, and hosting my Australian friend Sam, who was enthusiastically experiencing her very first Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

Sam is , and we collaborated (read: she made, I watched) on several efforts: the aforementioned , an , and possibly my new favorite dessert recipe of all time, a .

And, like at any Baackes family crafternoon, there was spray paint. Lots of spray paint.

Thanksgiving 2014

It was a beautiful day. Family, friends, food, traditions, and happy tears. I really loved seeing Thanksgiving through the eyes of someone who had never experienced it before; it suddenly seemed all the more precious.

Thanksgiving 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

It doesn’t look like I’ll be stateside for Thanksgiving 2015, so I did my best to soak up every bit of this one. And you know wherever I end up next year, I’ll be trying to bring a little bit of home out that day — whether I can find a turkey or not.

Thanksgiving 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

5. Back in the City…

As a major fan, I always curse aloud when I have to turn down my friend Ashlee’s invitations to star-studded events because I happen to be, you know, in a different country. So imagine my excitement when I was finally in Manhattan for one!

Women's Prison Association Fundraiser

Women's Prison Association Fundraiser

It was a gorgeous event and I felt moved to continue donating to WPA after learning even more about their organization, which, among other things, helps women successfully reintegrate into society after incarceration. I was also inspired to see my girl Ashlee in action — not only does she hold a key volunteer position with WPA, she also juggles a demanding job in the fashion industry, a starring role as devoted friend and girlfriend, and a kickboxing habit.

It kind of makes me re-examine my excuses for not being more involved in one of the causes I care about. Yeah, sure, it’s not easy to be a regular volunteer when you’re on the move as much as I am, but it made me want to find an organization I can get involved with from afar.

Women's Prison Association Fundraiser

Women's Prison Association Fundraiser

6. Wanderland Wearables

For a while now, I’ve been whining about how much I miss making things with my hands — crafting, creating, and having a finished product that exists outside of pixels. While I was home, I finally did something about it by executing one of the many ideas that percolates in my brain and then typically gets relegated to a mental shelf. I launched Wanderland Wearables, an experimental first run at what I hope will be a regular project for me.

I truly enjoyed sourcing, packaging, and sending off these babies, sets of earrings that I adore from Bangkok. I also learned a lot along the way — there were so many logistics and details about packaging, e-commerce and sales that I hadn’t anticipated. I enjoyed riding the learning curve though and am sure it will all come in handy for the next round — which will happen! My biggest question was will people buy them? And while I started with a purposely modest inventory, I sold out within a week. My profits were small considering the amount of hours I put in at the end, but the joy of working with my hands and seeing an idea come to fruition were the greater reward. Thank you so much to everyone who supported this project!

Wanderland Wearables

Wanderland Wearables

I have two more posts about my time at home coming up this week — thanks for tagging along on my sentimental virtual sojourns back to New York State!

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49 Comments...
  • Didem
    March 5 2015

    Wow. Preparing for a 10k is an impressive plan for a full time traveller. I have similar thoughts and I am just packing for a big trip at the moment. Can’t be sure if I should fill all the precious space with my ugly running shoes? Big decisions, I know! ;D

    Do you have any plans for training?

    Great post by the way, love the photos.

    Didem
    Didem recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 6 2015

      I always pack my running shoes — they double as hiking wear, too 🙂 Planning to start training as soon as I´m back on flat grounds!

  • Emily
    March 5 2015

    I can’t get over that Thanksgiving spread – it sounds delicious!
    Emily recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 6 2015

      Pinterest has changed my life — I love looking up fun dessert recipes!

  • Sophie
    March 5 2015

    I’ve been reading your blog for years, but have to finally stop lurking to scream at how cute Tucker looks with those turtles?! He is too sweet.

    Also, I am always in awe of the decorations and general cuteness surrounding your holidays at home!

    • Meihoukai
      March 6 2015

      Aw, thanks Sophie! Tucker LOVES going to pet stores and looking at the animals. It cracks us — and everyone around — right up! Hilarious.

  • I wish I could take my daily activities at home and turn them into photo-filled artistic stories! It’s always fun seeing you get creative back at home. Love the wanderland wearables, the packaging looks great!
    Sonja @ Breadcrumbs Guide recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 6 2015

      Thanks Sonja! I always struggle with how to write about my time at home. I want to include it because this blog is basically my diary but I know it might not be as exciting as my far flung travels 😉

  • Maddy
    March 5 2015

    Ok I don’t know what it is but the birthday surprise thing made me almost tear up a bit. So sweet!
    Maddy recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 6 2015

      Aw! It made me tear up too, once the shock faded. I was so touched — and I also LOLed when my sister told me she was PISSED when she saw what a good birthday I’d had in Thailand. She was like, “Um hello, we were planning to save the day here!” Ha.

  • Sounds like a great trip home! Plus, congrats on your Wanderlust Wearables!
    Karisa @ Flirting with the Globe recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 6 2015

      Thanks Karisa! Looking forward to the next edition!

  • Chris
    March 5 2015

    Sometimes, as Dorothy once said, “There’s no place like home”
    Chris recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 6 2015

      Dorothy got a lot of things right, including those killer red heels!

  • Katie
    March 5 2015

    I would love to experience Thanksgiving in the States! I have exerienced a Canadian Thanksgiving (which seems pretty similar) and loved it
    Katie recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 6 2015

      Maybe one year I´ll have to host an open house 🙂

  • You can never celebrate your birthday too many times! I love the thanksgiving deco – one day I would love to celebrate Thanksgiving in the States! What a wonderful tradition.
    Michelle | Lights Camera Travel recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 6 2015

      While the history is brutal, the modern day celebration of Thanksgiving is one of my favorite things about being from the States. It´s beautiful!

  • Miquel
    March 5 2015

    You always manage to fit so much into such a quick amount of time.

    Being away makes me home that much morw special. I am headed to Vietnam for a couple weeks and then back to Vegas for the first time in 10 months. I have to admit I have more butterflies about going home than going to a new country lol
    Miquel recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 6 2015

      I know how you feel! I remember the first time I went home after more than ten months away, and I´d never felt so lost as I did on that plane ride back to New York. You find your way, eventually.

  • Justine
    March 5 2015

    Aw, this post is making me yearn for Thanksgiving, which just so happens to be my favorite holiday! I’ve been abroad for the last two holidays, so you are a very lucky girl to have been able to spend the day with your family 🙂 I cannot get over Tucker’s drumstick headband. I would make him wear that every day of the year 😉
    Justine recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 6 2015

      Haha, we have a full closet of holiday-themed pup wear!

  • becky hutner
    March 5 2015

    Is that Tucker with drumstick ears??!

  • you really should have a reality show.
    Rachel of Hippie in Heels recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 6 2015

      Haha, love that idea — what in this post do you think would make a good episode? 😉

  • Marni
    March 6 2015

    I LOVE the ‘run like zombies are chasing you’ line – that’s total motivation to run. Also, the WPA event sounds awesome, and the WPA itself seems like such a good cause.

    I actually got really emotional reading about the surprise party for you – particularly with the incredibly thoughtful Photo of the Week book! My mom’s entire side of the family is incredibly close, so it always warms my heart to hear/read about families like yours.

    • Meihoukai
      March 6 2015

      Wasn’t that the sweetest thing? I will absolutely treasure it. My little sister really blew me away with it.

  • Ashley
    March 6 2015

    Your pupil fiasco sounds like a nightmare, but I’m glad everything turned out to be ok! How did you even have time to prepare for your Central America trip with all of this going on?!

    Also, I love that “the kindle is bullshit” bumper sticker exists.
    Ashley recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 6 2015

      Ha, I didn´t really prepare at all! And hence… I’ve never been quite so unprepared for a trip! It´s been kind of fun to wing it, though.

  • Kacy
    March 6 2015

    Sounds like a wonderful homecoming, minus the ER scare. So frustrating when doctors don’t have answers and you’re just left to wonder.
    Kacy recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 6 2015

      It definitely was not ideal! But in the end, I guess no answer is better than a brain bleed answer!

  • Damon and Jo
    March 6 2015

    Welcome back to New York! Have you been back since Maison Kayser basically took over Manhattan? If you haven’t been, go get your fair share of some French patisseries!

    • Meihoukai
      March 6 2015

      I have not! Might have to check that out next time… as if I need another baked good addiction.

  • Martha
    March 6 2015

    Sounds like a great visit home, except the ER visit. Good on you for getting the wonky eye checked out right away. My ex-husband has a similar thing happen and after weeks of moving up the medical hierarchy he found out he had a benign brain tumor that was pressing on the nerves behind his eye. Here’s to more happy and healthy travels.
    Martha recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 8 2015

      Not wanting to face a NYC ER, I was determined to get on a bus to Philly and deal with the eye when I got there. Thankfully my parents talked some sense into me and I went straight to a hospital. Now that I know how serious it could have been I´m glad I listened!

  • Kyle
    March 6 2015

    Looks like you had a productive time home … I need to get home again for a lengthy spell soon!
    Kyle recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 8 2015

      Normally I only like to do so in the summer, but the holidays are a pretty good exception 🙂

  • Camels & Chocolate
    March 7 2015

    Tucker’s coming with you to Tennessee, right?
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 8 2015

      Well, we are in the process of getting him certified as an Emotional Support Animal so he can fly on planes with us…. 🙂

  • Angeelika
    March 8 2015

    You’re just so pretty and your dog is so so cute! Sounds like you had great time at home.
    Angeelika recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 8 2015

      Ha, aw, well Tucker and I say thank you Angeelika 🙂

  • TammyOnTheMove
    March 8 2015

    Ha ha, that sign that says ‘Run better’ is so cruel. 🙂 Glad you sister made it, especially in that cold!
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 8 2015

      It was an insanely chilly day. People were throwing really expensive running gear right on the ground when they heated up! It was nuts.

  • Serendipity Tess
    March 13 2015

    I love all these photos! Especially the ‘Kindle is Bullshit’ one 😀 You are a very talented photographer! Good luck for preparing for a 10K run – I’ve only ever done a 5K which was tough in itself – if you are not used to running regularly. Surprisingly on ‘D Day’ Adrenaline seems to be pumping and it seemed much easier than the prep all the weeks before.
    Serendipity Tess recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 13 2015

      I haven’t been able to run where I am at the moment — the villages surrounding Lake Atitlan are not made for it, I don’t think! But I’m looking forward to running on treadmills and beaches for the upcoming week. Better get my butt in gear!

  • amy
    March 17 2015

    Glad your result came back clear, although it must be scary when that happens when you can see a physical difference. 25th looks amazing – you’ve got some pretty lovely people in your life! x
    amy recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 17 2015

      I do indeed. Grateful for them every day!