Happy 2023! Last year was one that felt distinctively less COVIDy than 2020 or 2021, but obviously vestiges of the virus linger (as well as the virus itself). Life is a little different now – I think strangers are less willing to talk to people, mask-wearing isn’t so common now, but the etiquette around mask-wearing is more awkward than ever, and restaurants are clinging to the anti-social practice of making diners scan barcodes to read menus.
I like to write up a year in review because I think it’s a healthy practice to look back. Time goes fast and events can get lost in the shuffle. And although I’ve chided myself for being too lazy in previous years, I believe that if anyone looks back at all they did in a previous year, they’d be impressed.
I woke up in Zanzibar on January 1, 2022 with the dreaded scratch in my throat. We’d arrived for the start of our Tanzania vacation a few days prior and that day we were to head to Arusha to start a safari. I did still board a plane for Arusha despite feeling a little catch in my throat. But later that night, I’d get full blown COVID symptoms and Adam did the first day of our private safari without me. (Read: Tanzanian Safari Part I and Tanzanian Safari Part II). I felt better after a few days and we continued on, and seeing wonderous animals in the wild was a real highlight of my entire life. Especially the burping gurgling hippos and the regal lions. After the safari of a liftetime, we checked in to a Zanzibar beach resort for what was supposed to be a few days, but COVID testing confusion at the airport left us stranded for an additional week. We weren’t back to Algiers until the last few weeks of January.
Back in Algiers, Adam and I both really threw ourself into our jobs at the Embassy: Attending events, me planning lots of YouTube shows on American culture and beginning to pick out materials for an embassy recreation center redo project I was asked to helm. We were all, especially Adam, going hard to put the finishing touches on the upcoming OneBeat Sahara concert. Also, I was enjoying our house, hosting a few small dinner parties, tons of social events with friends, hitting the gym consistently, and taking pretty photos around Algiers. We also said farewell to my closest Algerian friend Selma in February as she left her hometown for a job in Dublin.
March contained the highlight of the whole year: The once-in-a-lifetime OneBeat Sahara experience, which brought 23 musicians to Algeria for musical creation and collaboration. Also four of my friends from the U.S. came to be a part of it and I loved showing them Algeria. After that go-go-go week-and-a-half was done, work did not stop. My team pulled off a National Spelling Bee which brought 20 kids and young adults from all over Algeria to the capital to compete. Some of them had never been on a plane or stayed in a hotel before and it was a really moving activity! In addition, Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Algeria as part of a multi-country visit and so-called “high level visits” throw entire embassies into a tizzy. He even mentioned Adam’s name in a speech at the embassy, which was nice for him to get some recognition for planning OneBeat. I’ll never forget enlisting a few of my colleagues to help me ransack the ambassador’s residence for Algerian antiques that we could add to our embassy’s American Cultural Center to make it look more Algerian in case the Secretary went in that room. He did not. It was a month!
Things mercifully slowed down a bit in April. I started the 100 Days of Algeria project, realizing that’s how many days I had left in the country. Although I didn’t make it anywhere near 100 days of mini essays and photos of my observations in Algeria, it was a lovely exercise that made me pre-nostalgic for a place I’d knew I miss. Adam and I went down to Ghardaia, a sort of eco enclave home to a few closed religious communities and known for it’s rugs. I bought a big purple and pink vintage beauty for a song and it’s currently in our Princeton bedroom bringing me daily joy. April was Ramadan, and we had some lovely iftars: At the home of dear neighbor friends (whose house was accessible from ours via a secret passageway dripping with jasmine); at our colleagues Centre Ville apartment; and with a big group of our colleagues in the historic Casbah. Come the end of the month, Adam and joined our friend Sarah in Paris for a few days of biking around the Loire Valley.
May begun with biking around the Loire Valley in France which was as lovely as it sounds. A vacation of exercising while site seeing and then eating tasty food and drinking wonderful wine is my dream. And then I stayed on a few days in Paris, sopping up my favorite city with Sarah, who was nearing the end of her three-year Parisian tour. We ate and walked and walked and walked and I finally visited the Louvre and the Museum of Hunting and Nature, both of which were quite inspiring to me, design-wise. Speaking of design, the embassy rec center I was designing really came along in May: Our talented embassy carpenter finished building the bar and tiling it with handmade Algerian tiles, and a custom mirror for behind the bar was installed. Other in-country trips in May included a work trip with the Ambassador to Constantine, and a trip with our friends Drew and Sonia to Tlemcen. Ended the month with a group yacht cruise around the Bay of Algiers.
June was our last month in Algeria and there were a lot of parties, including a massive evening garden party/concert at the Italian Embassy at which heaping platters with shards of Parmesan were passed around; a lavish buffet at the French number two’s seaview villa; an “M” party where all the guest had to dress as something that starts with an M. This was hosted at a friend’s chic villa and she had words of three local artists (all of whom have names that start with the letter M hanging on the walls of her stylish villa). Although we, for some reason, had no plans to have an official goodbye party for ourselves, we threw together a feast one Friday night, invited 50 folks over, hired a band and danced until the wee hours, most memorably to Disco Magreb, the Algerian hit of the summer. Oh and although the embassy center was still not finished, there was a party to unveil the new space, now called the Community Center, to the embassy community. And amid all this partying, we also helped out with our Embassy’s Independence Day celebration (yes, a month early) and manned a County Fair themed pavilion at the Algerian Trade Fair, for which the U.S. was the guest of honor. In the end, we had our last days in the office and said goodbye to our beloved colleagues. They gifted us a large antique Algerian lamp, which I love.
In July we departed Algiers, arrived in Princeton and Adam started his “math camp” to prep for his one year Public Policy Master’s Degree program. I reveled in perfect avocados, lightening fast Amazon deliveries right to my door, Trader Joes and TJ Maxx, eavesdropping on all the English conversations, and running. I struggled with leaving behind such a meaningful and exuberant life in Algeria, finding new friends in Princeton, adapting to life with another person and two cats in a one-bedroom apartment, and sleeping in a too-small bed. I had some resentment toward Adam, who I felt like expected me to immediately barrel full steam ahead on this new life without allowing me time for reconnecting with friends and family and for dealing with the general transition funk. About two weeks after we landed, I spent some time in Detroit with my fam, and then DC to catch up with my in-laws and my girlfriends there. Back in Princeton, Adam and I continued to explore, including kayaking on the canal, which I’d come to know well as I jogged along it several times a week through the summer and autumn.
In August, I set to transform the dirt yard of our Princeton apartment into an English-inspired patio. It was a lot of sweaty work and I kind of loved it. Quite pleased with the end result. A bigger bed arrived, yay! Adam and I tried out a bunch of Princeton restaurants, and celebrated our 10 year anniversary at one of our favorites, Blue Point Grill. I also replaced Adam’s wedding band, which he’d lost years ago. We did fun outdoorsy summertime things in town like we swam in a big quarry, did yoga outside in a nature preserve, and attended a Philly’s baseball game with some of the foreign students in Adam’s program. (I had no idea baseball games were such a party!) In late August, we stayed a few days at a friend’s family beach house on Long Beach Island, New Jersey, and then I was off to Michigan for a week of swimming and beach walks (and fishing for Dad) with my family in a rental cabin on the shores of Lake Huron. After that, I flew to Denver for a few days of hikes and good food with my best friend Lauren.
After Denver, I flew to Bozeman, Montana where Adam met me and we attended his cousin Emily’s wedding. Then, Adam flew home and I went on to stunning Glacier National Park with his family. The park was spectacular and I even spotted a few bears. Back in Princeton, I enjoyed the start of the school year, which for me meant many more people, a more energetic vibe on campus, and lectures. I love a good lecture and I remember one particular euphoric still-summer night where I was looking good, feeling good, and en route to an author reading. One weekend, Adam and I stayed at a boutique hotel in Brooklyn, went to a fun concert, and waited in line for hours for Lucali pizza and calzone. I got into reading F. Scott Fitzgerald around Princeton’s campus, began pretending my home office was in the Princeton University Library, and going to regular movies at Princeton’s adorable nonprofit movie theater.
October began with a week of cold rain, and so I, and all living creatures, were euphoric when it stopped. I took a resplendent run along the canal and communed with the basking turtles. The second week in October, Adam and I had a really fun DC visit where we caught up with friends and fam, saw The Notebooks of Leonardo DaVinci at the Shakespeare, Theater Company, and ate at DC Noodles and Le Diplomat. Fall was spectacular in Princeton, perhaps because I haven’t been in a real leaves-changing autumn in quite some time. I did another jaunt into NYC, this time to see a North African concert, and I walked across the Williamsburg bridge into Manhattan and stopped at Veselka for Ukrainian pierogi on the walk uptown. Adam got us season tickets to Princeton’s concert series and so I started seeing (and appreciating) more classical music than I might have expected. Yet another trip to DC, this time to see David Sedaris read at the Kennedy Center and to help Sarah, now installed in Arlington, set up her apartment. That trip also included, as they always do, beaucoup meetups with friends, both my DC stalwarts and the Foreign Service friends I’ve made in previous posts. I rushed back to Princeton on that trip to attend a burrata making class and get my Invisalign braces installed the following day. We hosted a birthday party for Adam’s 40th (honestly a low-key affair but maybe we’ll splash out on his 41st?) in our lil apartment and it showed me that we don’t need a four-bedroom Algerian villa in order to entertain. On one of the last days of October we bicycled to Aunt Chubby’s Luncheonette in the nearby town of Hopewell and I took a bad spill on the way back. I only mention it because I still have some pretty deep scars from the fall. For Halloween, we were introduced to a movie set of a trick-or-treating experience a few streets over, proving that Princeton really just might be one of the cutest towns in America.
November! We’re nearly through. This month started off with a long-planned mother-daughter trip to NYC. My mom and I stayed in midtown, braved the crowds of Times Square, walked through Central Park, and saw Funny Girl (starring Lea Michele) and The Music Man (starring Hugh Grant and Sutton Foster), went to the Met, ate oysters beneath Grand Central station, walked the Highline, ate at Russ & Daughters, went to the Lower Eastside Tenement museum. Whew! It was a time. Our friends Hana and Asaf came to visit us in Princeton and it was during this trip that they offered up their beautiful Bethesda home for us to stay in for Thanksgiving, as they’d be visiting Israel. So come Thanksgiving, we did just that, and then we drove down to the Shenendoah mountains to spend the holiday itself with Adam’s dad’s partner’s family, which was fun and cozy. We hiked Old Rag on Thanksgiving Day, and I was reminded of what a fun, rock scrambly hike it is. Back in Princeton, we went curling with Adam’s classmates, had brunch in the graduate student dining hall which is more elaborate and Harry Potter than my college dining hall by a factor of a trillion, and continued going to the symphony and the Princeton Garden Theater. Oh, and the biggest thing this month is I officially launched my interior design business, Next Dinner Party Designs. It was a long planned for thing, so it felt good to get it out there in the world. It’s going really well so far.
Whew, 12 months is a lot, innit? I did a lot of client work for my design business, almost always in the Princeton University library. We crammed about 25 guests into our apartment to host our Sixth Annual Holiday Spirit Cocktail Contest Party. I had a super fun girls weekend in NYC with some of my DC besties, and we sang our hearts out the Celine Dion/Titanic/super gay off-Broadway musical Titanique and then very much lost our cool when we spotted the actor Jon Hamm at brunch at Gramercy Tavern the next day. That weekend was a little too much fun because I came down with the flu the following day, which made our flight to Michigan a few days after pretty miserable. I recovered after a few days, but then Adam caught my flu and sadly he had to miss what might be the best museum exhibit I saw all year (and I see a lot of them!): The Van Gogh exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Christmas in Plymouth, Michigan also included snow, cozy dinners, hangs with some aunts and cousins, and opening presents with the entire fam. We brought our nieces, Charlotte (14) and Campbell (11) back with us to Princeton and took them for their first ever visit to New York City, which included seeing the Nutcracker ballet. I don’t think they were overly impressed (perhaps a bit overwhelmed?) but when a subway ride proved to be everything they’d ever seen on TV – talented street performers and a rat – the tides turned and they were in good spirits for a New York City slice to cap off the adventure. After a few days, Adam and I drove them down to DC, got them on a plane and we embarked on a little road trip. We stopped in Atlanta (Adam’s hometown) for a night and then made it to Montgomery, Alabama, to ring in the New Year with our friend Vicki, who just moved down there for work.
See, when you write it all out and go through the photos, it’s kind of incredible how much can happen in a year. I’m struck my the sheer amount of physical movement of my year. Always one place to the next. It was an excessively busy one for me, I’d say. Excessively fun too.
Happy New Year!