Where we’re at: I’m recapping the fall of 2018, wrapping up with this post about all I got up to while I was home in Albany from September through November.
Those of you who follow me on social media know that my mom passed away recently, which has explained some of my absence from this blog over the last month… and in larger ways, over the past year.
The past year, in which I traveled less than I ever have before, would have been a great time to have “caught up” on all my past travels that I’m so behind on sharing. Yet, I found it harder to write — both physically, to find the time to sit down and do it, and emotionally, to pull the words out of my heart and through the keyboard — than ever.
I guess it was hard to share this year, the hardest of my life, while it was happening. I’m hoping now it will be easier, in retrospect; now that these memories, while still painful, feel so precious. So, I hope you won’t mind catching up with me while I try to find the words to capture this time.
This post covers perhaps the only three months of the last ten years that I slept every single night in the same bed.
Upon my return from my retreat on Martha’s Vineyard, my mom was completely wheelchair-bound and truly required round-the-clock care. Our attempts to find a home aide were slow and painful, and didn’t come to fruition until early 2019, and so it was pretty much just me and my mom’s fiancé Miller and our circle of family of friends for these three months.
The truth is it was a very tough time for me as I struggled to transition from my big, travel-and-adventure-filled, chaotic life to this quiet one at home, just me and my mom and our grief filling the big house I grew up in. Due to her condition, my mom could not be alone, and so it took a lot of effort and logistical coordination every time we wanted to leave the house, by ourselves or together as a family.
But often, we didn’t want to leave — at the time, traditional treatments were failing, and doctors told us we’d be lucky if my mom survived through the new year. And so every hour away came with a careful calibration that always weighed up at least a little bit of guilt, and a lot of sadness — sadness thinking wow, my mom and I would have loved to do this together, once.
We also did try, so hard, to get my mom out of the house as much as we could too. Moving around — getting in and out of the car safely and without pain — was a challenge. We constantly battled with the question of whether we were doing it for us or for her, and as her speech abilities were reduced to almost nothing at this time, we couldn’t ask. When I say it was a quiet time, I mean it even literally. I look back and see that maybe it was a little bit of both, maybe we were doing it for her and ourselves, and I think that’s okay.
I’d like to write more fully about my reflections on becoming a caretaker and how it changes you, someday. I’ll see when that day comes.
But I don’t mean for this post to be a pity party, seriously — because we worked hard not to make our lives one, at the time. We really tried, and I’m proud to say we succeeded, mostly, to bring joy into even this incredibly dark time. We did it with friendship, with movement, with self-care, with gratitude, and with humor.
On that note, here’s literally every single thing I did that got me out of my sweatpants in the fall of 2018.
Cider Festival at Samascott Orchards
I was very eager to enjoy some fall festivities, so one afternoon my friend Matt (one of my high school best friends who I’m so lucky still lives in the area) and I snuck away for lunch at Cider Sunday at Samascott Orchards, our beloved Nine Pin’s own apple source. We were only there briefly but it was super cute — there were a few food stands, live music, cider tastings, hay rides, and even a corn maze, which I truly cannot recall why I didn’t drag Matt through (if you ever needed evidence that I wasn’t quite feeling myself at this point, there it is!)
Albany is surrounded by so many farms with events like this in the fall. I also briefly checked out the Apple Festival at the recently renamed Windy Hill Orchard with my friend Ashlee and her mom Priscilla when they were in town, though it was definitely a more crowded, family-oriented affair — we basically stayed long enough to eat some fair food and buy a bag of apples, though if we hadn’t been in a hurry I would have definitely checked out the local wine tasting tent.
The local farm scene is definitely one of my favorite things about Albany in autumn — I’m glad I got even the tiniest taste.
Girl with No Job at The Egg
Instagram knew exactly what it was doing when it targeted an ad at me for Girl With No Job at The Egg, one of Albany’s gorgeous performing arts centers. I was excited about this for a few reasons: (1) I love stand up, which I rarely actually take the time to see, and (2) The Egg is such a cool venue but their programming doesn’t always speak to me so I was thrilled for a reason to go.
Kenzie, another one of my local best friends who I was so grateful for my friend dates with this year, was up for joining me. It was much more sparsely attended than I expected (and we seemed to be the only guests that were not college sorority sisters) but I had some much needed belly laughs and enjoyed checking out Lock and Quay, a nearby and new (to me) bar for a drink after.
Time With Old Friends
I was over the moon when my friend Michelle, another childhood bestie, came home briefly in the fall. We hung out at my house, went to the mall spa (much more on the mall spa to come — ha!) and even had a nostalgic night out in Albany with Matt. I think I realized one of the things I missed the most with this move was this — sitting down with old friends and just face-to-face catching up on our lives or on our days.
One of the things I loved the most about my expat community in Koh Tao was how much time everyone made for things like this — it’s something that I think tends to get a bit lost in the hustle and bustle of American life, where work and errands and busyness leave less energy for socializing and connecting than other cultures make time for. Anyway, it made me obscenely appreciative of the bits and pieces I had.
Suddenly I realized the work and effort it took to do something as simple as catching up with my high school friend Amanda over lunch and meeting her new baby — and it made me grateful for the tiniest things.
Matt in particular has always been a major organizer in our group of friends — I’ve blogged about his Christmas Latham bar crawls before when I’m home for the holidays! — and I was thrilled when we did a Troy version for his birthday.
I didn’t stay for the whole thing because being exhausted is an actual living nightmare when you have to wake up and take care of someone (as all my friends with kids have been trying to tell me for years, ha) but it was great to see so many familiar faces from high school and check out a few new places in Troy.
The Halfmoon Market
Another one of my major lifelines for the year was Laura, my high school best friend Kristin’s mom, as well as her husband Marc. Laura also recently went through the experience of taking care of parents who passed away from cancer, and so was just an incredible support system to us through this time. She now honors her mom’s memory with a packed volunteering schedule for various local charities that support families going through cancer, but whenever we could we met up at one of our houses, or out and about.
One of my favorite things we did in the fall was the Half Moon Market in Washington Square Park in Albany. It was such an impressive collection of local makers and artists, I really felt those big community and creative vibes that I love. I picked up some fun hand-made greeting cards, some addictive smelling room sprays and candles from Rio Santo Naturals, and some tasty snacks from local food vendors. I took note of a ton of local businesses to support in the future, which I love to do.
Of all the market events in the Albany area, this one is far and away my favorite — and lucky for me, also happens again in the spring.
Hiking at Thatcher State Park
How would I have made it through this year without Amanda?! Friends supported me in so many ways this year but none were as deeply appreciated as those who got on buses, planes and trains and came to hug me in person in Albany. Amanda made several trips up from New York City for what we referred to as our “seasonal activity adventures,” the first of which was a 24 hour trip to go hiking in Thatcher State Park.
We fueled up with indulgent seasonal donuts from Cider Belly before the half hour drive out to the park. I hadn’t been in forever and was so excited to get my lil pup Prada out on a local hiking trail, though upon arrival she was not exactly feeling the dropping temperatures (neither was I, to be fair). In her defense, it was an unseasonably cold October day; but wow, were the leaves gorgeous.
The new visitor center was super impressive and Indian Ladder Trail was actually deceptively easy for how impressive-looking it is — I’ve got to try one of the longer, more intense trails someday.
This spot is such a true gem — days like these are what I think people move Upstate for.
After, we stopped for lunch at Indian Ladder Farms. City girl Amanda was freaking out at all the fall goodness at hand and I was not unimpressed, either. After saying hi to all the animal friends and browsing the farm store, we settled down to eat at the brewery, snagging a prime spot next to a fire pit (we had to eat outside, due to our cute ‘lil dog companion.)
The food was excellent and we happily froze our tushes off until it was time to get Amanda back to Albany for a quick whirl around the Empire State Plaza before catching her bus back down to Brooklyn. It was actually on this very trip that Amanda first proposed our trip to The Dominican Republic — which I can’t wait to blog about soon.
A Night in Cohoes
The next to visit was Zoe, my college bestie who many Alex in Wanderland readers will recognize. Zoe is living in Washington DC now and was always very close with my mom — we actually joked in college as we got to know each other that our moms would make perfect best friends. They actually did, once they finally met during overlapping vacations in Martha’s Vineyard, which they enjoyed many more times through the years.
I was really thrilled to have a friend in town to plan a night out with. I’m a huge reggae fan and so bought tickets to see The Wailers at Cohoes Music Hall, the perfect excuse to also try dinner at Caskade, the place to eat in Cohoes. It was the perfect night — I can’t more highly recommend both. I really felt fueled by friendship, by a beautiful dinner date, and by live music.
We rounded out her trip with a few hours at Spa Mirabeau, which we were endlessly entertained is located within Crossgates Shopping Mall. But what can I say — with fitness classes and extensive amenities included with every treatment and an onsite bar and restaurant, it’s pretty hard to beat for entertainment value when the weather is less than inviting.
I was feeling like a guilty dog mom who’d been neglecting my pup when I saw a trick-or-treat for dogs event on the Discover Albany event calendar in late October.
I put a seasonal bandana on Prada (I wasn’t sure at the time how she would tolerate a costume, as she was still adjusting to civilized life) and off we went to Hounds of Halloween. Actually, pretty much all my friends in Albany have dogs but none of them particularly get along with other pups so we just went solo.
Downtown Albany was crawling with dressed up dogs going “trick or treating” from participating local businesses who had all kinds of gourmet local dog treats. Prada barked at the other dogs (she was still used to seeing other dogs as threats to her territory after living on the mean streets of Thailand) and refused to eat any of the treats (she basically ate meat and that’s it!) but what can I say, that was my sweet mal-adjusted wolf dog.
Prada’s behavior aside, it was the cutest event and we discovered the adorable new dog park, complete with colorful murals, across from Olde English Pub, where we eventually met Kenzie and one of her pup friends for an insanely cute — and cold — lunch (dining with a dog in Albany is not easy once the temperatures start turning.)
Next up, one of my mom’s best friends Kate and I had been scheming an outing with my mom when The Palace announced a seasonal $5 movie night — a showing of Hocus Pocus! Kate was my sister and I’s babysitter when we were growing up and she became like a little sister to my mom, who often took Kate’s kids, when she started having them, to the movies for quality time together.
So it was very cute when Kat’s youngest told her, “Kathryn always took us to the movies, and no we can take her there!” My heart melted.
Noreen, another one of my mom’s best friends, was also a rock for us during this time. She was constantly bringing us beautiful meals, coming over so I could go to a yoga class, and finally, taking me out so we could catch up and talk. My mom’s friends really, really showed up for us and I don’t know how we’d have gotten through it without them.
Anyway, one night Noreen and I headed to my favorite local cidery, Nine Pin for their pumpkin carving night. It was a really cute event — Nine Pin does this kind of thing very well — but it was also kind of a metaphor for how hectic life was at the time. We only had a short window to be there, and I only half-finished my ambitious attempt at a world map pumpkin design. I swore I’d finish it, and instead it sat rotting on the kitchen counter for a week until I accepted this was not the season of my life for creative endeavors, ha. Well, it was good inspiration for a future, less chaotic year.
I didn’t really have plans to dress up for Halloween until I nabbed a killer bodysuit at H&M (during a trip to Spa Mirabeau at the mall, no doubt) and fell in love with it and decided to dress up for trick or treaters. (Weirdly, my mom declined my offer to wrap her in toilet paper for a mummy costume.)
I admit I was a little sad at first about not having anyone to hit any local Halloween parties with, but it ended being a very sweet night — a few of my mom’s friends came over and we made a party of it. I’ve always loved Halloween and while this one was very different from my last several years, I will cherish the memory.
The Albany Lantern Parade
I immediately felt a pang when I heard about the Albany Lantern Parade — it sounded so much like the Martha’s Vineyard Illumination that is such a special event in our family, and which I’d missed that emotional year while back in Thailand running my inaugural Wander Women Retreat.
Laura and I went to one of the lantern making workshops in the week prior at my favorite local boutique Fort Orange, and then the night of, my mom, Miller and I bundled up and headed to Washington Park to make the loop. I love community events like this — ones that have no other motive than bringing people together. It was beautiful.
I have to admit, my birthday was tough, though I’m so grateful to the people who tried to make it special for me. My sister and her boyfriend took me to Spa Mirabeau for their “Friday social” — where you get two mini treatments and a glass of bubbles — and made a big, appreciated fuss of a birthday dinner at home while they were in town the weekend before, which meant a lot. Laura and Marc brought my favorite cupcakes that morning. And friends sent gifts and messages and love, which really lifted me up.
But the actual day and the night were quiet ones, that left a lot of time for reflection.
I’d spent many birthdays in my last decade surrounded by friends, treating myself to the nines, partying my face off, spoiled rotten with love, not a care in the world other than my impending hangover.
I’ve had a birthday routine since college: I’d take the day off work (a huge luxury back when I was in school and working my booty off to travel) and spend the whole thing in bed, opening cards, answering calls, napping, talking to friends near and far… and then going out all night. I used my birthday as an excuse to rope my friends into whatever activity I was currently obsessed with: bowling, mechanical bull riding, a private five course dinner for twelve high in the Thai mountains, etc. (Okay, that last one was a few years post-grad.)
This year was different. I spent a quiet day alone taking care of my mama, a pizza party for two at the dining room table I was raised around. I remember the place I wanted to get pizza from didn’t deliver and I drove there while my mom was napping in the morning, eleven minutes each way, a lump of panic in my throat in the car as we really never left her alone at that time. What if she woke up and needed me? While she was napping in the afternoon I worked through my checklist of calls to doctors, care agencies. I loaded the dishwasher. It was just another day — and it was exactly where I’d needed to be.
The night before, I had what felt like my first deep, true cry for me, for all the things I missed… my friends, my boyfriend, my routines and traditions, waking up in my own apartment, feeling my toes in the sand. It was a brief self-indulgence.
The morning of my birthday, my mom teared up at breakfast and I did too, and I knew we were crying for the same thing: for us, and all the years and birthdays and special moments we were going to miss together.
That night, I wrote this:
Tonight, I’m alone on the couch, my mom still sleeping off the exhaustion of our voting excursion. I’m about to put a face mask on, try to get in some of that annual birthday pampering I’ve always cherished before I get back to work. Starting to return texts and messages from loved ones around the world. Marveling at the generosity of those who have contributed nearly $2,000 to my birthday fundraiser for brain cancer research. Knowing that this moment, too, is my life, even if it doesn’t look like what I thought it would or how I would have planned it. Feeling sad and grateful and robbed and peaceful and scared and centered and lonely and loved. All at once. Twenty nine, be kind.
It’s funny because it was one of the saddest days of my life but yet somehow I knew that someday I would miss it, some future birthday I’d be thinking I’d give anything to be sitting back around that quiet dining room table. And it’s true. Already I can feel that.
This was always a big deal in our house. Some of you may know that my mom founded a women’s political action committee in Albany in the wake of the 2016 election, and was a passionate activist for progressive causes. Getting her to the polls to vote in the midterm elections was enormously emotional for us.
It was also my first time voting in person rather than by absentee ballot in years and years — it’s much more fun this way, I must admit.
Melt ‘N Toast
This is an example of one of those local events I went to that made my friends in Albany ask me, “how do you find out about this stuff?!” The answer was easy — targeted Facebook ads (Facebook knows I love getting out and loving where I live) and the DiscoverAlbany calendar.
Kate and I snuck away to pop into this cute little pop up event that was a celebration of all things grilled and cheese. It was small but well done — local restaurants competing for the title of best grilled cheese creation. Our ticket got us one of each as well as a drink (I had a Nine Pin cider, of course), and there was music and a festive atmosphere. Also, as we were leaving, someone pulled me aside and said they loved my blog! It was so fun being recognized by a reader right in my hometown.
Classes at the Arts Center
When I got back to Albany I had this slight — okay, major — obsession with “using the time wisely.” I think the fact that I had cancelled so many big work projects and backed out of so many personal obligations was weighing on me and my overactive little brain thought okay, if I can’t do those things I’ll take advantage of this time to do some other thing I’ve always wanted to do but couldn’t because I was traveling or living on a tiny island in Thailand.
Anyway, one of those things was to be able to create physical art again, something I really lost after college when I moved to a land far, far away from the closest available tube of acrylic paint. I always have jumped on the opportunity to take creative workshops or classes when I travel, but those are pretty few and far between.
When I was in high school I practically lived at the Arts Center of the Capital Region — I took college level classes in pottery, printmaking, painting, stained glass, and metalworking. I even worked summers in their kid’s camps! So when I saw the fall catalogue come through the mail, I signed up for a pottery class.
Now, I can’t tell you how many times I cursed myself for that decision over the next months. Almost everything I’ve covered above was an hour, or two, out of the house — tops. These were three hour studio classes, plus transportation and parking and the whole nine yards.
My stepdad strongly encouraged me to do it. At the time, he was working Monday through Friday and volunteering with his organization that takes people with disabilities skiing on Saturdays. He sets his own hours and agreed to take Thursday mornings off so I could get out of the house more than just on Sunday, but it just ended up being more logistically difficult than either of us anticipated.
Moreover, I know that stress can be an incubator for beautiful art by some people… apparently, not by me, ha. I had hoped sitting at the wheel and creating would be this therapeutic experience, but really I felt creatively drained, guilty for the chaos I created with this weekly obligation, and exasperated at myself for not using this “me time” to do the work I so missed doing.
Anyway, it was a glaze-splattered chapter in Trying To Figure It Out. I did often try to take an hour after the class to sit and write and have lunch by myself. In the process of doing so I discovered some really lovely little healthy Troy cafes, my favorites being Liza’s, which has such a pretty space to sit and stare dumbstruck at your inbox, Superior Merchandise Company, which has the yummiest speciality toast and teas, and Juice Factory VII, which has super good smoothie bowls.
More than anything during this past year, what made me stay sane and what made Albany start to feel like a home again was finding my fitness community. I started out going to the studio I’d always gone to for barre when I was home, but it changed ownership and my favorite teachers were gone and it just didn’t feel the same.
Finding Good Karma Studio really was a life raft for me — I don’t know how I’d have survived this year without it. I’d been here and there at their old location, but in the fall they moved to a huge new spot and really started ramping up their aerial offerings. I’d been taking mat yoga and TRX and weight-based strengthening classes and bungee fitness with the owner Jess Lubin, who I’d really felt a connection to. When the fall roster of aerial series started, she encouraged me after class one day to sign up for one. “Oh, I’ve tried aerials before, I don’t think I have the strength,” I shrugged. “Girl, I see you in class,” she laughed. “You do.”
So I trusted her and signed up for the silk hammock cirque series. That group of girls really started to feel like a family and I loved our Thursday night routines working towards our final performance. Learning this new skill, challenging myself physically, being around a warm group of women — it was exactly what I needed. Soon I started branching out and trying silks and eventually lyra, too, making deeper connections with other teachers and regulars at the studio.
Walking into Good Karma really felt like coming home. (And, spoiler alert, Jess became one of my best friends.)
It was also around this time, via a Lululemon free Sunday workout that I went to, that I found Anatomie. This became another sanctuary for me — it’s literally a six minute drive from my house, and the killer classes are just 45 minutes, which meant all I needed was someone to come over for an hour and I could have an intense workout and some me-time all in one.
Their HIIT, sculpt, yoga and spin classes gave me life and along with my crazy aerial workouts, whipped my body into the best shape it’s ever been in — a must while doing extremely physically intense wheelchair transfers several times a day. I always felt a lot of love from the studio owners here (and my favorite yoga teacher in the Albany area, Sachi), and appreciated so deeply at both Anatomie and Good Karma that everyone was so understanding of my situation and never raised an eyebrow when I ran in late, didn’t show for a class I’d signed up for, or had to take an emergency call in a class.
I always kept my eye out for new classes and studios, and hit the jackpot with dog yoga down at the Hudson Mohawk Humane Society near our house. Be still my heart! They do cat yoga regularly as a fundraiser, but I guess the dogs are less cooperative because I’ve never seen it advertised again. Glad I caught it while it lasted.
Longtime blog readers know this was always a super special holiday in our house. My parents had gotten married on Thanksgiving weekend and growing up, both frequently reminded my sister and I that it was their favorite holiday.
And we do it big. We’ve had as many as thirty friends and family, including, occasionally the odd stranger my mom couldn’t help but invite when she found out they’d otherwise be lonely. We decided to have our traditional Thanksgiving, and I was so glad we did, even if it felt overwhelming at times to pull it together.
The day started quietly, with my mom and I watching the parade on TV while the Turkey Trotters worked up an appetite on the asphalt.
And then the rest of the day followed the traditions I’ve always held so dear. We have a big dinner, of course, but also always do a huge puzzle (it gets heated) some kind of craft project (this year everyone painted little cottages that reminded us of our Martha’s Vineyard neighborhood) and a performance (when we were kids, we’d do full scale productions with costumes, programs, and the works — this year we went for a dramatic reading of Thanksgiving at The Tappletons.) Of course, while I type these highlights with a smile, my heart is tightening up at the less than rosy memories that the year brought.
What I’m really proud of is that we still found so much to be thankful for.
And The Rest
Mostly, I look back on this time and don’t remember everything above this. I remember the spa days we did in the living room. I remember the missions we made to take my mom to movies we thought she’d like at The Spectrum. I remember quiet walks around the familiar circle of our neighborhood with the leaves crunching under the wheels of the wheelchair. I remember afternoon naps sharing the same pillow. I remember family dinners of my valiant attempts at learning to cook for three. I remember family and friends visiting my mom from near and far.
I remember all the visits from my friends, too. I remember heartfelt messages, letters and even care packages flooding in from as far as Florida, California, Japan, and Mexico.
I remember feeling a lot of love around us.
And then, suddenly, it was winter.
Thanks for reading, friends.