Friday, November 13, 2009

The (Real) Most Wonderful Time of the Year

My favorite day of the year is tomorrow.

What is so special about the second Saturday in November, you might ask? It's not a holiday, or an anniversary, or a birthday. But it's like Christmas to me. I get up that morning bright-eyed and giddy with excitement.

The second Saturday in November is the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's annual Taste of the World event at the Newport Aquarium. It's a lush's paradise.

Not that I am a lush. Don't go crank calling my house asking for an "Al....Al Coholic." But this 3-hour-long tour of a beautiful aquarium accompanied by fine food from Cincinnati restaurants and fine wines and liquors from all over the world (some of which I wouldn't be able to afford to ever taste otherwise) is the highlight of my social season. The only light of my social season, really. Okay, it is my social season.

We've been going since 2006. At that very first event, I tried sushi for the first time. And had my first sip of imported French wine. And tried a stuffed grape leaf. And learned that the calming, surreal jellyfish room is an awesome place to be at the end of a wine tasting. I remember Jason and I going to the Barnes and Noble next to the aquarium, which was open late, having a coffee and sharing a piece of pumpkin cheesecake (the dessert room wasn't as stocked that first year as it later came to be) and sitting in awe of our very first wine tasting ever.

We both sat back in our chairs, sighing and sated.

"That was awesome. We should totally do that again."

"Yes. And we must tell others and get them to go with us."

We recruited a pair of friends that next year and we've gone together ever since. It's gotten a lot more crowded over the years; word has spread that as far as charity events go, this one is one of the most affordable and most worth your time and money. I run into people I know every year. In fact, this picture of me and good friend "DD" (with another familiar face in the background) is from two years ago when I discovered that my good friend from childhood was actually a volunteer at the event in honor of her leukemia-survivor sister. See that big smile on my face? That's what this event does to me.

Later, it also made me throw up into a Chipotle cup in the car on the way home, but that's the only time I've been excessive.

Even if you're not an imbiber, the food alone would be worth it. It's mostly the same goodies every year. Lettuce rolls from a really good Chinese bistro. Pulled pork. Rich, cheesy pasta from one of downtown's most upscale restaurants. Sushi. Cheeses and olives. Sweets. And the kicker: mini roast beef sandwiches au jus from a riverboat restaurant that we can't afford to go to for dinner. Seriously, I don't know what they do to that beef. It melts in your mouth like butter. We've often said that those sandwiches, coupled with a chance to watch the sharks and the sea turtle would be enough, really, to make it worth the money.

Do you see why it's like Christmas?

I always have a special feeling, too, when it's all over and we're in the dessert and coffee room waiting for raffle tickets to be drawn. This event raises money for people like me. People fighting leukemia or lymphoma. I have a kind of pride at the end of it all, that I am a lymphoma survivor healthy enough to attend and to give back to the charity that supported me 6 years ago. It feels good, and I get a buzz not just from the wine and the new brands of legal and safe absinthe, but from being a part of this both as an attendee and as a one-time beneficiary of others' generosity.

God bless us, everyone!

So I am very excited today. It's Taste of the World Eve. I hope I get everything I asked for tomorrow: roast beef sandwiches, Unibroue, rigatoni, maybe a nice sparkling wine in the new, revamped jellyfish room.

It's not just tiny tots with their eyes all aglow who will find it hard to sleep tonight.

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