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Where we’re at: I’m recapping my 2019, including my time in Albany and around in April and May.

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April showers bring May flowers. That’s how the saying goes, and in my hometown of Albany, New York, it’s actually true. Finally, it truly felt like spring.

Spring in Albany, New York
Spring in Albany, New York

It was a busy time. My visit to Bull Moose Club in March had left me determined to check out other coworking spaces, find the perfect one, and commit to it — sadly that never happened, but I did make it to CoLab for a super productive day.

While I personally found Bull Moose better set up for my needs, I was obsessed with the fresh design of CoLab, and it’s also a bargain at just $20 a day or $200 a month, the cheapest coworking space I’ve found in the Capital Region.

While I could definitely only define my working hours at this phase as “part time,” I was thrilled to be using my mind for creative projects like a consulting gig for Discover Albany, ambitiously launching my next retreat, and taking on Instagram collaborations that weren’t possible when I was living in Thailand and unable to reliably receive products from brands.

Colab Albany New York
Colab Albany New York
Colab Albany New York

And as usual, my main source of sanity, joy, therapy, catharsis, socializing, and more was movement. Almost every day I took a local class in yoga, weight training, or aerial arts.

I’ve never had a more dedicated or regular movement routine in my life, and it’s actually something I miss now that I’m on the road pretty much full time again and have to struggle for.

Anatomie, Troy, New York
Yoga at the Opalka Gallery with Yoga Care

But at the time, my travels were still sporadic and deeply cherished. Early in April, when my mom’s partner Miller returned from a much-deserved ski trip out West, we swapped off and I hopped on the train for a quick trip to NYC, looking drastically different than it had when I visited in January

Spring in New York City

Back home, I just had a few days before I departed for my big spring trip.

Spring in Albany, New York

I was super excited to sign up for my very first aerial photoshoot at Good Karma Studio, where I spent so much time the teachers joked I should just pay rent.

I was totally unprepared — I hadn’t really researched any poses, considered what I was going to wear, or thought about what photographed well. But I still managed to get some images I loved which were great for marketing my upcoming aerial retreat — and the experience gave me some great experience for the photoshoots we’d do on that and future trips.

Aerial Arts Photoshoot at Good Karma Studio in Albany, New York
Aerial Arts Photoshoot at Good Karma Studio in Albany, New York

Aerial Arts Photoshoot at Good Karma Studio in Albany, New York

Good Karma had become more than just a studio for me — it was a family. I lived for the days when some of the girls would go out for dinner or drinks after class and I didn’t have to rush home and could join them.

I know I’ve said this before but this time back in the suburbs of mid-sized American city really did show me how easy so many parts of my life were living abroad in a huge expat hub. Never before had I had to really think about how to get my human interaction fix.

Celebrating with Good Karma Studio in Albany, New York

Then I was off to Mexico, and not a moment too soon. It was the first full week Ian and and I had spend alone together in nine months — isn’t that wild? And, after seven years in the tropics, I was still struggling with feeling snow beneath my feet instead of sand between my toes.

Suffice it to say, it was a much needed trip.

Spring trip to Mexico

Back in Albany, I was tickled to meet my friend Abby, who had recently relocated to Saratoga Springs, for a friend date. Abby is a total fellow “yes girl” and always down for dinner at a new restaurant, tickets to a new show, or any other kind of local adventure — I could hardly contain my excitement to have her near. I missed having a big sprawling group of girlfriends around so terribly.

We’d scooped up tickets to Avenue Q at Cohoes Music Hall, and I couldn’t have been happier. I love the venue, and it’s a show I’ve been meaning to see for years. Score! We met up beforehand for dinner at Caskade Kitchen, the gem of Cohoes — and one of the restaurants on my list of local favorites. I loved getting to show Abby around Albany, and couldn’t wait for her to give me a spin around Saratoga, too.

Caskade Kitchen in Cohoes, New York
Caskade Kitchen in Cohoes, New York

Caskade Kitchen in Cohoes, New York

Avenue Q is hilarious, by the way. Yes, it’s a tad dated — it was written in 2003. But it’s amazing how much of it is still relevant. What can I say, I guess I’m a sucker for social commentary delivered by puppets.

Avenue Q at Cohoes Music Hall

That weekend, Ian drove down and we headed to the spring edition of the Half Moon Market. Any excuse to head to the Washington Square Park Lakehouse and support local artists is a win for me.

After, reminiscing over our Mexico trip, we headed to a local hole-in-the-wall, Oaxaquena Triqui for lunch. At this point I’d covered almost every trendy, hip restaurant on my local wish list and had a solid roster of favorites. This little adventure prompted me to branch out and try other spots I normally wouldn’t have walked into in my hometown — and it was about time, as Albany has a ton of them.

Half Moon Market, Albany New York

We also held, that weekend, our own “family Easter.” Real Easter had passed by with me en route to Mexico and Olivia spending it in Philadelphia with her boyfriend’s family. We figured it’s just a date on a calendar, really, so why not celebrate when we were all together?

So we planned a sweet little family brunch — and doing so a few weeks after the fact meant I scored Prada a cute ‘lil costume on clearance at Target.  Major score, no?

Easter in Albany, New York
Easter in Albany, New York

Easter in Albany, New York

Easter in Albany, New York

Seriously, is she not the sweetest thing you’ve ever seen?

Easter in Albany, New York
Easter in Albany, New York

Easter in Albany, New York

It was the final stretch of April, which meant we’d have a downpour one day and beautiful, blooming spring the next. When my dear friend Heather had a trip to New York City scheduled and offered to fly into Albany for a twenty-four hour visit, I crossed my fingers for the latter so we could head out for a hike.

We weren’t quite so lucky — but coming from the Cayman Islands, Heather was equally happy to spend the day urban exploring museums as she was to spend it traipsing rolling mountains, considering the flat little Caribbean island is short on both.

Washington Park in Albany in the Spring

I took her to the Albany Institute of History & Art, where I’d recently attended an evening event and was eager to return and fully absorb the galleries at my own pace. As always, the Ancient Egypt exhibit caught me eye. How wild is it that Albany has two mummies?!

It’s pretty much no surprise I went on to launch my own tour to Egypt — the seeds were planted since childhood! (And there are just three spots left on that tour, by the way.)

Egypt exhibit at the Albany Institute of History & Art

The true highlight was an absolutely incredible show by local sculptor Larry Kagan. Heather and I were mesmerized by his works, which appeared from a distance to be hunks of scrap metal but upon closer inspection cast detailed shadows on the wall. The creativity and vision required to bring them to life was mind-boggling.

It was truly one of the most incredible sculpture exhibits I’ve ever seen, right down the road from the house I grew up in. 

Larry Kagan exhibit at the Albany Institute of History & Art

Larry Kagan exhibit at the Albany Institute of History & Art
Larry Kagan exhibit at the Albany Institute of History & Art

Larry Kagan exhibit at the Albany Institute of History & Art

The exhibits at the Institute can be a bit hit or miss for me — I confess that “Cast Iron Stoves of the Capital Region” didn’t really get me hot and bothered (ha!) but we had really lucked into a great lineup.

Larry Kagan exhibit at the Albany Institute of History & Art
Albany Institute of History & Art Cafe

In the afternoon, the weather had cleared enough for us to take Prada to Washington Square Park, where the tulips were getting ready to bloom for Albany’s iconic Tulip Fest. We had fun walking Prada around the park, popular with fellow dog owners in the afternoon, which I hoped would become a new routine for us. 

Washington Park in Albany in the Spring
Washington Park in Albany in the Spring

On the way home, following my new routine of dipping into local spots I’ve been driving by without a second thought my whole life, we stopped at Roy’s Caribbean Restaurant for patties. Heather was a huge hit here when she broke our her Caribbean patois and ordered like a true Cayman girl (Jamaicans actually make up the bulk of the population in the Cayman Islands!)

If I was still living in Albany I might have made this into a little self-challenge — a new restaurant I’d never tried every week.

Washington Park in Albany in the Spring

Washington Park in Albany in the Spring

Washington Park in Albany in the Spring

The next morning, I dropped Heather off at the train station en route to my next adventure — Maine! I was so deeply honored to be asked to speak on the keynote panel at the Women In Travel Summit in Portland, and celebrated with a visit to charming Bar Harbor and a quick road trip through Acadia National Park after, which you’ll read about tomorrow.

WITS Portland Maine

Acadia National Park in the Spring

I was even able to stop in Northampton, Massachusetts on the way home to see my older sister Sarah and break up the long drive back to Albany. I ached to stay longer — her house is so warm and welcoming, a true cozy home. 

Northampton Massachusetts
Northampton Massachusetts

Northampton Massachusetts

I arrived back to Albany just in time for Mother’s Day weekend, armed with a fresh blueberry pie and all kinds of Maine goodness I’d hoped would remind my mom of our trip there, what suddenly felt like a lifetime ago.

Back from Maine
Maine Souvenirs

For years, this was the weekend I’d typically aim to return back to the US from my travels abroad. We all decided to take my mom to Tulip Fest, which she always loved, despite the challenges of crowds and less-than-wheelchair-friendly terrain. While we weren’t there long, as you can see from the smiles, it was worth it — a bittersweet but happy memory of our last Mother’s Day together.

Tulip Fest in Albany, New York

Tulip Fest in Albany, New York

Tulip Fest in Albany, New York

Tulip Fest in Albany, New York
Tulip Fest in Albany, New York

Tulip Fest in Albany, New York

Meals were our go-to for making any occasion special — something we could do right at home to show our love. And so of course we made an elaborate Mother’s Day brunch.

It was such a complicated, confusing year. But I look back at times like this and I know we did everything we could to do the right thing.

Tulip Fest in Albany, New York
Tulip Fest in Albany, New York

Mother's Day in Albany, New York

Mother's Day in Albany, New York

Yet while bracing myself for the biggest devastation of my life, I could have never anticipated the fresh heartbreak that was right around the corner. I was packing for my next trip, a joint campaign to The Finger Lakes with my dear friend Rachel of Hippie in Heels, when I got the call. Rachel had passed away, tragically and suddenly.

You know in the movies, when someone gets bad news, and they literally fall to their knees? That happened to me for the first time in my life — I was so blindsided. I’d thought it odd that she hadn’t replied to me for a few days, which was very unusual when we spoke almost every day. But I figured she’d been busy having fun at her bachelorette party. “Let me know if you need me to come save you from a roller coaster,” my last voice note to her joked.

In some ways, I had no choice but to carry on as normal. Needless to say I cancelled the trip, which the client could not have been kinder or more understanding of, and stayed home to take care of my mom — but her memory and capacity for understanding were so limited that she would be startled to see me in tears. So I tried to mourn Rachel quietly. But it was so odd, putting on a smile for my mom while my heart was so in pieces.

Rachel was a big part of my life. I don’t even know if I realized how much until I lost her. She was special, a ray of light and love and a true friend. She was too young. She was so deeply loved, and is so deeply missed. 

Tulip Fest in Albany, New York

It was a lonely time, as I find grieving often is. My thoughts were consumed with memories of Rachel and concerns for her family and closest circle, but I tried to keep my ship upright. As Sylvia reminded me, Rachel would be so pissed to see us suffering. It makes me smile to write that, because it makes me think of the Rachel I loved — and it’s so true.

I threw myself into work, spent time with my family, brought my mom to an event at Unity House, the local charity where she had been the acting chairman of the board, and even volunteered to teach a fundraising class at Good Karma.

Teaching yoga at Good Karma Studio in Albany NY

One evening, feeling a bit stir crazy and deeply in need of a laugh, I faced my fear of going to the movies by myself to attend a Mean Girls Quote Along at The Palace. I’d been meaning to rewatch the movie since going to the Broadway Show in April, and it was good to get out of the house and smile, even if it made me feel a bit lonely that I didn’t have anyone to go with.

The Palace in Albany New York

Mean Girls Quote Along at The Palace in Albany New York

Mean Girls Quote Along at The Palace in Albany New York

Ian arrived that Sunday, both of us eager for a hug. When we were blessed with a day of good weather, we knew exactly what my bruised soul needed — sunshine, movement, and time together with our girl.

I’d heard that The Hill at Muza was a great outdoor spot that allowed dogs, so we headed to Troy to try somewhere new.

The Hill at Muza
The Hill at Muza

It was just what the doctor ordered, and after we wandered down to Poestenkill Falls and around Prospect Park on exploratory hikes. I was in a bit of a fog at the time, and so I think I was almost taken aback when Ian told me the day had scared him — something was wrong with Prada. We’d both been concerned for some time at her weight loss, but she was a very old dog living in a new country, it seemed normal in a way that she’d drop a few pounds.

We’d hesitated to take her to the vet. Her vet in Thailand made house calls, and the one time Ian had to bring her there for shots, she was so petrified the vet came out and did the vaccines in the street. We didn’t want to traumatize her just to have a vet tell us that essentially she was an old street dog.

Hiking in Troy, New York with a dog

Hiking in Troy, New York with a dog

But it was time. Ian called around and got us an emergency vet appointment the next day and, startled, we took her to dinner with us and then out to a drive-in movie so we could all hold each other close.

Drive In Theater, Albany NY
Drive In Theater, Albany NY

The appointment was hard but the vet was incredibly kind and understanding of Prada’s clear terror and reassuring to my apologetic rambling about not bringing her in sooner. I’m sure it’s a parasite she brought from Thailand, I told Ian as we left.

It wasn’t. The next day, with Ian back in Canada, the vet called to tell us Prada was in advanced kidney failure. We had three options: hospitalize her for her best chances, attempt to treat her at home, or put her down. I was walking through the grocery store on my way home from working out, still in a haze over Rachel’s death, standing looking at the yogurts when I got the call, and I froze — did I just hear that my dog is dying, in the dairy aisle? It felt like a bad dream.

The Empire State Plaza at Night
Leaving Albany, NY

We quickly decided to go the middle route. If Prada was dying, there was no way she was doing it alone and terrified in a hospital. A new wave of guilt, anxiety and grief hit me every day as I cancelled my upcoming yoga retreat in Upstate New York and pushed back my trip to the UK and watched Prada rapidly deteriorate while making plans to attend Rachel’s funeral in Ohio. How was I going to make this work?

Miller had already planned to take my mom to Martha’s Vineyard with my sister while I was meant to be out of town, and I was grateful for the privacy and the peace and the ability to focus completely on Prada while we made such a gut-wrenching decision. She slipped away so quickly. My older sister told me that her dog had done the same — as soon as the vet told her she was terminally ill, it’s like the dog didn’t have to keep the secret anymore, and she just let go. I left for the funeral in knots, terrified that Prada would slip away while I was gone. My mom’s home aide Angie, who loved Prada like she was her own, promised to take care of her and I knew she would. But I was beside myself.

Spring in Albany, New York

Spring in Albany, New York

I was gone for twenty-four heartsick hours, saying goodbye to my dear friend. I had debated attending the funeral, and I’m so grateful that I did. I needed it — to pay my respects to Rachel’s family and to hold the hands of Sylvia and Sam, and finally cry with those who loved her too.

I returned to find Prada unable to walk. Ian drove down to Albany the next day, and we made the tearful decision to let her go. We spent a day loving her, telling her how precious she was to us, and taking her to one last drive in movie, all of us snuggling in the back with the trunk open. The next day I found a vet who would come to our house so we could say the most peaceful goodbye possible. Even today, I struggle with such a deep sense of guilt. Was I too distracted by my grief over Rachel and before that, my mom to protect this helpless creature I’d vowed to care for? How had I let this happen?

It had been just a week since we brought her to the vet. The house felt quiet without her.

Spring in Albany, New York

It feels odd to write this whole story about me, and how I was affected by the terrible suffering of others. But these are the memories I have; this is the only story I can tell.

Spring is meant to be a time of new life, new beginnings. And suddenly, I was pitched into the grief of the ends of three lives — the sudden loss of Rachel, my guilt-laden goodbye to Prada, and a new intensity to the dread we lived with every day, knowing my mom’s terminal diagnosis would take her away any moment. 

When I think back to this time, some of the darkest days of not just a crushing year but of my life, I am reminded of a story a friend told me. When asking new employees at their office to share the most powerful life lessons they’d learned so far, one wrote down: “it goes on.”

Spring in Albany, New York

And I suppose it’s a lesson I had no choice but to absorb during this time, too. Even when it feels impossible, even when it feels wrong, even when it feels like you’re not really sure you want it to, life does go on.

You put one foot in front of another, a new day begins, and eventually, spring comes again. And things aren’t better, and the grief hasn’t gone away, but you’ve learned, over time, how to live with the loss and joy you carry at the same time.

I’m still working on that one.

Thank you for letting me share this life with you, all the highs and also the heartbreaks <3

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19 Comments...
  • Ramona Puckett
    February 28 2020

    Sending love and prayers ❤️

    • Kat
      February 29 2020

      Girl, I needed this so much. I’ve just experienced a series of crushing life events without time to breathe between them all. Thank you for showing that I’m not alone and that life goes on <3

      • Alex
        March 14 2020

        I’m so sorry to hear that, Kat. Sending love <3

    • Alex
      March 14 2020

      Thanks Ramona <3

  • Laure
    February 29 2020

    Such a beautifully written piece! Actually made me cry.
    I have such admiration for how you handle all the tragedies the best you can. We definitely need to enjoy all the good moments when they are here! Wishing you all the best!

    • Alex
      March 14 2020

      That’s so kind of you, Laure. It can be hard sharing these raw memories so I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

  • Joella
    February 29 2020

    This was such a hard time for you, Alex! But you gave Prada a wonderful life, you were a loved and loving friend to Rachel and you can see how you made so many special memories with your mom. I don’t think anyone truly gets over these types of losses but yes, life goes on. I’m sure your mom, Rachel (and Prada!) are all so proud of you. Thanks for sharing with us. Big hugs!

    • Alex
      March 14 2020

      Big hugs back, Joella. These were much appreciated words of comfort.

  • Laura Firth
    March 2 2020

    As always, beautifully written and deeply honest – thank you for sharing the highs and lows with your readers. You have been through so much, your determination to keep going is inspiring x

    • Alex
      March 14 2020

      Thank you so much Laura. It means a lot.

  • Liz
    March 2 2020

    What an emotion-filled moment in time. When you look back on it I hope you see the strength you have to not only get through difficult and trying times but to “be” through them. You have such a grace that we can all hope to emulate in times of pain. You are a warrior!

    • Alex
      March 14 2020

      You are amazing and so eloquent. You always make me see the best in myself, such a gift! I love you.

  • Martha
    March 3 2020

    My heart breaks for you as I read these posts about your last year with your mother, your loss of your pup and how life treated you overall in 2019. Your writing is beautiful and I hope helpful in your own healing process. Know that you are not alone!

    • Alex
      March 14 2020

      Writing is indeed such a cathartic process for me. I appreciate all of you who not only come along on this journey with me but take the time to comment and send me kind words. It is so appreciated.

  • Kate
    March 4 2020

    I’m a huge dog person, and a huge harry potter person. And I always tell myself “The ones who love us never really leave us.”

    • Alex
      March 14 2020

      I love that, Kate. Thank you <3

  • Sarah
    March 6 2020

    As always, beautiful and thoughtful. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself and normalizing the grieving process <3

    • Alex
      March 14 2020

      It’s such a lonely one to go through, I hope this helps someone else who needs it. Thanks Sarah.

  • Lurlene
    March 24 2020

    Such a beautiful post, Alex. I truly enjoyed reading it. I love the pictures of the Tulip Fest! My mom’s favorite flowers are tulips. I’ll have to consider taking her one day.

    Thanks for sharing your experience at the Albany Institute of History & Art. I honestly don’t know much about Ancient Egypt, but I’m always up for learning something new. I’m trying to go to more museums in my area, too. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Aww, the pictures of Prada are super cute. I love dogs so much! They are definitely a joy to be around. Sending hugs your way.

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