• I woke up with a stomachache. Our plane didn’t leave until 8 PM, but I woke up with the dread of finding our way to the airport heavy on my mind. I love the fact that late flights can give you a whole extra day at your desired location without having to pay for another night’s hotel. I also like that there is no setting your alarm for 4 AM to be sure you make it to the airport on time. I do not, however, like the fact that your last day at your destination also becomes THE DAY you are going home. For some reason, I carry around this sense of responsibility when I travel. Maybe it’s the oldest child syndrome, but despite the fact that I was in New York with four well-traveled “grown-ups” and a competent husband, I still felt this inexplicable worry that we would never make it to our flight on time. So, I woke up on Monday morning with a stomachache partly because I was scared we were going to miss our flight, or not check out of the hotel on time, or not figure out what to do with our luggage for the day…and partly because I was not ready for the trip to end.

    We had an 11 o’clock tea scheduled at a place called Alice’s Tea Cup. It’s located on the lower west side, by Josh and Alex’s apartment. So, we packed up our various and sundries scattered about the room we’d called home for the past few days, left our bags with an attendant at the hotel, checked out (on time :)), and started our journey northwest, where tea awaited us.

    Alice’s Teacup is situated on a quiet street filled predominately with residential buildings. Along the sidewalk, trees push their way through hardened concrete and thrust their limbs towards the open air above the streets. Black, wrought iron fences protect each trunk, and provide a nice contrast to the ornate white or concrete facades of the apartment buildings. An occasional interloper hurries down the sidewalk on their merry errands, some carrying flowers, others a brown sack filled with groceries, but most just cling to their cup of coffee. Just before this quiet street re-opens to the commerce of the next avenue, one might notice the gentle flutter of a purple awning on which the words “Alice’s Teacup” are written in curly white letters. Three steps lead down to this awning and the little shop it protects.

    The first thing I noticed when we walked into Alice’s was the smell of fresh scones. There is something about Devinshire cream which, when folded into a delicious batter, produces a smell while baking that is singularly enticing. A glass counter ran along the right side of the store, and tempted us with its pumpkin scones drizzled with a brown sugar glaze, buttermilk, chocolate chip, and strawberry scones, vanilla cupcakes with buttercream frosting and pink sprinkles, chocolate cupcakes piled high with vanilla icing and red sprinkles (I need to tell you that I later discovered that these cupcakes are armed with a well that dips down to their middle and ensures that no bite will be without icing). Tall layered cakes in glass domes lined the counter-top, with decorations at once exciting and fanciful. While this scene lay on our right, the left wall was covered in book cases with fairy wings fluttering from the ceiling. The cases were filled with children’s books like Alice in Wonderland and adult books that one might lay on their coffee table to give their friends a good laugh. The wings and fairy wands scattered about the walls and ceiling were obviously hand-painted and added a perfect sense of whimsy to the atmosphere.

    Our large party (Dr. and Mrs. Maddox, Alex, Josh, Tommy, Mrs. Ohs, Jeremiah, and me) was seated in a back room with pictures of real people, partaking of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, adorning the dark pink walls. Each guest at our table received their “tea” on a three tiered monstrosity, with each level suited to our own particular taste of the moment. The top level had two scones, cream, and raspberry preserves on the side. The second tier was covered in 2 types of finger sandwiches (mine were bacon- lettuce-tomato, and blue cheese, and chicken salad), and the bottom tier was pumpkin creme brulee with assorted cookies. We also each had our own pot of tea with a dainty ceramic bird perched on the lid, and each meal was served on a different pattern of grandma’s best china.

    The food was all excellent, but the scones, which were still warm from coming out of the oven, were to die for. None of us came anywhere near conquering our 3-tiered monstrosity, but we all gave a valiant try. With warm tea cups cradled in our hands, we decided to go around the table and each tell how we had each changed in the past year and what new year’s resolve we had set upon for the upcoming year. It was a time of reflection and what surprised us all (I believe) was that it also became a time of great encouragement to one another. Like a snowball tumbling down a hillside and picking up more momentum and snow with each turn, was the flow of encouragement once it began. There were tears of thankfulness shed for each other, for the ways God had improved in a year’s time, and for the many joyful promises that lie ahead for all.

    When we left Alice’s, there was a little shopping, a mini-concert in Josh’s apartment (that’s what the picture from The Two Become One is of), and then our preparations for getting to the airport. My stomachache came in waves throughout the day as my mind continually drifted back to the departure nipping at our heels. There are several funny circumstances from the day that I could share (like the fact that we sat in the airport for three hours partially because I’d made everybody so nervous about getting to the plane on time), but I think I would rather leave you with Alice’s, which was such a perfect way to end a delightful trip to New York City.

  • Allow me to make a brief interlude and depart from our New York trip long enough to share my weekend with you. This, by all of my standards, should have been a crappy weekend. Jeremiah had call on Saturday, and Saturday call drains the life out of your entire weekend. Friday night you have to go to bed early since you have to be at work with the sun the next morning. Saturday and Saturday night you’re at the hospital, and Sunday you’re post-call and recovering. Jeremiah had Saturday call last weekend too, and it is safe to say that I was feeling a little depressed about the prospect of another weekend without him. I tried to make a plan for a fun (but early) Friday night, and my plans were reduced from dinner and a movie with a babysitter TO a sick baby with 103 fever and a husband who got called (from home) into a last-minute surgery that kept him at the hospital until 7. Things were really looking up!

    On top of the ominous weekend forecast, I’ve been feeling a bit disconnected. You hear wives make comments like, “We just aren’t connecting,” or “something is missing.” Usually these comments are followed by dumbfounded husbands who don’t have any clue what that something is and don’t understand why they can’t ever do anything right by their wives. Chances are that even if your wife/girlfriend has never made one of the above statements, she probably has suggested a romantic dinner or a weekend getaway for two, because she is on a quest to feel that connection. Ashley (Wood) expressed this dichotomy by saying she believes that God has given women the ability to feel the pulse of a relationship in a way that men can’t, and I think she is right. When that pulse is strong, we are happy and thriving, but when it is weak it echoes in our heart and begs us to nurse it back to health.

    Jeremiah and I have definitely had some of these weak pulse moments, even when we’ve been very comfortable with each other. For us, this means that I know that Jeremiah only wants his coffee cup 1/2 full because discipline tells him that he shouldn’t need more than that in the morning, or he likes Splenda on all of his cereal except Lucky Charms, or when he’s been on call he likes to eat a hot meal afterwards, or he likes his sandwiches cut in 1/2, or he likes to have a cookie when we eat Subway because it feels like a fun surprise at the end, or he likes to un-tuck the covers when he gets in bed so that his feet don’t feel trapped, or a million other little nuances that you just know when you spend time with a person and you love them enough to pay attention. While knowing all of these things can make you feel comfortable, just knowing them still doesn’t make you feel like you connect. Connecting is in the subtleties.

    I think that Jan Struther caught the spirit of these subtleties in her book Mrs. Miniver when she writes, “It seemed to her sometimes that the most important thing about marriage was not a home or children or a remedy against sin, but simply there always being an eye to catch.” And that is just it. You can’t simply know someone’s idiosyncrasies to connect with them, you each have to know you know them. This means catching each other’s eye when we go to a restaurant and the waitress refills his 1/2 cup of coffee. Or giving me a kiss on the cheek when I lay the Splenda beside his cereal bowl. Or being willing to show his excitement when I remember to tuck the cookie surprise at the bottom of his Subway bag. Or being wearily grateful when he comes home post-call and I’ve made pancakes instead of pouring the cold bowl of cereal he requested. You see in long relationships, like marriage, you can start to take for granted that you work together like clockwork. You can stop acknowledging the inside jokes and stop appreciating the little things that keep you ticking along in harmony. However, when you do, a piece of that mystical connection is dissolved.

    So this weekend, that should have been miserable by definition, was really marvelous when we were together. We appreciated each other; we connected through our comfort. We really hung out, had inside jokes, and were our happiest selves together. It didn’t take a romantic dinner for two or a weekend getaway to make that pulse come back…sometimes God just makes things work without our help.

  • Sunday morning, New Year’s Eve Day, shone brightly into our room on the 18th floor of the Warwick hotel. I rolled over to snuggle against Jeremiah, and oohh! there was Tommy sleeping peacefully in the next bed. I sat up a little abruptly and woke both the boys. After looking at the clock, we discovered that it was almost 9:00. We never (especially Tommy) sleep that late. We found ourselves warring with the conflicting feelings of thankfulness for a full nights rest and irritation at wasting the start of a new day in NYC. We called Dr. and Mrs. Maddox to see if we had missed out on the day’s plans and discovered that Mrs. Maddox’s cold had taken a turn for the worse during the night. She barely got any sleep, needed medicine, and needed to try and rest during the day so she would have a chance of celebrating with us that night. With all of these anxious thoughts, my inclination was to jump out of bed and get a plan for the day. Tommy, however, offered up the idea of a devotion. I admit that my heart was a little reluctant…there was just so much out there to do and see…God would understand, but Tommy opened the word and started to share with us some jewels he’d discovered in Haggai. We discussed all of our thoughts on the passage, and then each shared struggles in our own lives that we needed prayer for. Finally we prayed; oohhh how we prayed. We lifted each other up, we thanked God for how richly he has blessed us, we mourned for each other’s struggles. It was powerful. I was so thankful that Tommy had nudged us to exactly where God wanted us that morning.

    Then, after throwing on some work-out clothes and getting Mrs. Maddox some breakfast and medicine we (Jeremiah, me, Tommy, Alex, and Dr. Maddox) headed for Josh’s apartment. There was exercise to be had :)! The morning was glorious, with a bright blue sky and crisp, clear air. Josh led our group on a jog down to Riverside Park. We ran along with the Hudson River to our left and the city skyline to our right. An eager pilot was inscribing “USA” with his puffy white pen on cobalt paper. We felt like it was a message sent directly to us as a reminder to celebrate our country on New Year’s Eve day. We left Riverside and jogged on past skyscrapers, pretzel vendors, and mattress stores. We sprinted up an occasional hill and stopped for breaks when a member of our group was winded. Finally, we reached Central Park. The boys wanted to stay and play a game of handball, but Alex and I weren’t done with our running adventure. I had never been to Central Park and she led me past a beautiful pond where ducks huddled in groups with beaks tucked under their wings while they rested. Then, we crossed a white painted bridge that looked like it was made of porcelain. We ran past an expansive green field, and Alex described the open air concerts with people lying on blankets eating picnic dinners out of coolers and sipping on wine, so vividly that I could almost hear the music myself. We found another pond where she and Josh sometimes sit on a lonesome rock and play music on their guitars, and then we picked our way through some brush to find a short-cut back to the tame sidewalk. Finally, hunger and fatigue began to threaten the tranquility of our run, and we decided to turn towards home.

    The next thing I did is probably going to seem strange to mention as a significant part of a trip to New York City, but I took myself back to the hotel and had a bath. It was not just any bath, because I was cold down in my bones and so tired that my body felt like a limp dish-rag. I turned the water on as hot as I could stand, and then I dipped down into the fiery depths and closed my eyes. I was too tired and cold to even think about bathing for at least fifteen minutes, and when I did start to take my bath I did it very slowly. Wash face…break, wash arm…break, scrub hair…let it soak…rinse it out…break, and so forth until I had been in the tub for around 45 minutes! It was so relaxing and especially fun for me since I can’t remember when I’ve had a bath and not been trying to hurry and finish as fast as I could before Pace finished eating, or woke up from her nap.

    After “The Bath”, Jeremiah and I met Tommy, Josh, Marissa, Alex, and Mrs. Ohs for some Mexican food and margaritas. So maybe it was Sunday lunch and we were drinking, but we celebrated a little freedom as Josh would say. The food was great, the drinks were greater, and New Years Eve was about to be upon us. We spent the rest of the afternoon sight-seeing and trying to find somewhere that we could have afternoon tea. Everywhere was either closed or had some ridiculous minimum price you had to spend to sit at their table on a holiday. So, we ended up at the Starbucks in Josh’s neighborhood 🙂 Around 6, Jeremiah and I headed back to the hotel to change clothes for the evening. We almost couldn’t get back to the Warwick because streets were being closed off and masses of people were already gathering in Times Square. We begged our way through barricades and were thankful that we were not going to spend the evening in that cold circus.

    We had reservations at an Italian steak restaurant called Talia’s. My fillet was perfect, but Jeremiah and Dr. Maddox had a fiasco with their steaks. The asked for their steaks to be cooked medium, and they were most definitely well done. They sent them back, much to the displayed chagrin of the manager, only to receive them again 20 minutes later VERY rare. Jeremiah sucked it up and ate his, but Dr. Maddox decided to give it one more try on the fire. Unfortunately, it was just as rare when they brought it back the 2nd time. We had fun, but decided not to give them our business for dessert. So, the boys and Alex went to pick up some champagne, ice cream, and cookies and the rest of our party (which included Uncle Sam, Aunt Jeanie, and Samuel) headed to Marissa’s apartment.

    We all crammed in by the fire, watched “The Grapes of Wrath” (which was the odd but surprisingly enjoyable choice of Josh and Tommy) while still occasionally checking on the Times Square countdown, and were happy to just be together. Then, we all (or almost all) celebrated the New Year with a kiss and commented on how fun it was to watch the ball drop and know that all that revelry was only a few blocks away. The “grown-ups” left and we prayed in the New Year, which culminated in a spontaneous outpouring of praise songs. Happy New Year!