Where we’re at: I finished recapping my summer of 2018, of which this is a huge roundup.
I’ve been working on this post for what feels like forever. I’m sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted. To be honest, I think this draft sitting in my queue kind of messed with my head a little. I’ve been struggling with this for a while, but how do I cover my travels and life the way I used to, when it feels like my whole life has been turned upside down? This was the summer everything changed. It kind of feels like I should just write: “my mom got cancer” and that’s the whole post.
Like what else matters, you know?
show blog must go on. And if anything, I regret not writing more through this process, as journaling and writing, whether I share it publicly or not, has always been so cathartic and powerful for me.
Anyway, this post covers a three month stretch, from the very end of my trip to Israel in the beginning of the summer of 2018 to my departure back to Thailand to run by retreat at the end of it. It includes my yoga teacher training, my normal hectic summers of hopping between travel campaigns and family fun, and the ER trip that changed it all.
Where I Went
• Two nights in Jerusalem, Israel
• One night in the Negev Desert, Israel
• Four nights in Tel Aviv, Israel
• Four nights in the Negev Desert, Israel
• One night in Tel Aviv, Israel
• Five nights in Albany, New York
• Three nights in Savannah, Georgia
• Two nights in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
• Three nights in Albany, New York
• Twenty-six nights in New York, New York
• Four nights in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
• Two nights in New Orleans, Louisiana
• Four nights in Boston, Massachusetts
• One night in Los Angeles, California
• Two nights in Santa Barbara, California
• Three nights in Los Angeles, California
• Four nights in Miami, Florida
• Five nights in Key West, Florida
• Three nights in Islamorada, Florida
• One night in Key Largo, Florida
• Two nights in Miami, Florida
• Thirteen nights in Albany, New York
• Desert vibes. I’ve always felt very at peace in the desert (assuming, needless to say, I’ve packed the appropriate moisturizers), and my night in the Negev with the Vibe Israel group was one for the books. Incredible company, a gorgeous setting, and all those endless stars. And then, on the opposite end of the chill spectrum, rappelling down a desert cliff! When I first saw this activity on the itinerary, I didn’t think much of it. When I was standing on the edge of what felt like an endless freaking sheer cliff, suddenly I THOUGHT VERY MUCH ABOUT IT. It was probably my biggest adrenaline surge of the trip, and I felt totally naturally high by the time I hit the ground.
• Discovering the Dead Sea Tree. Wow, wow, wow. Again, the Dead Sea just felt magical with my Vibe crew — covering myself in mud and drinking piña coladas and cracking up with Becky for our first trip, and then going on our dramatic journey to hunt down a random tree on our dreamy second. (And while the subject is very sobering, it was also a highlight to get to write this very in-depth piece about the Dead Sea sinking.)
• Falling in love with Tel Aviv. Like whoa. I kind of suspected it would, but this city swept me off my feet with nightlife (what an incredible cocktail tasting at Bellboy! And what a hilarious night dancing at Jimmy Choo’s!), beaches (sunset on the beach right in Tel Aviv! Acro-yoga up at a quiet Northern beach!), insanely delicious food (the cute watermelon pizzas at Citizen Garden! The hummus, everywhere!), and more. I left knowing I’d be back.
• Midburn. Wow. Okay, I feel like I’m using the word WOW excessively here but there are very few synonyms that properly capture my experience in Israel. Midburn was the eye-opening experience I not just wanted but needed. I’ve written this before, but the challenge of attending a burn solo in a country I’d never been to before in which I did not speak the language was the jolt I needed to remind myself that I am capable of great adventures. As always, this burn pushed me to the edge of my comfort zone — and there’s an incredible amount of magic there. I can’t imagine a better note to wrap my Middle Eastern travels on.
• Watching my mom accept an award at the New York State Museum from the Center for Women in Government and Civil Society for her work founding CapitalWomen, a progressive political action committee making waves in Upstate New York. It’s fun to go from being a teenager and thinking your parents are the most mortifying humans to have ever roamed the earth, and then grow up and realize that actually they are the coolest.
• Having the opportunity to meet, talk to, and photograph Cecile Richards for one of my sister’s campaign events. What a privilege to meet a woman who has done so much for other women.
• Our sister weekend in Savannah. Sure, I contracted a light case of extremely severe, crippling strep throat, but otherwise it was great! We did all our favorite things — drinking cocktails, brunching, spa-ing, and hit up one of the coolest museums I’ve ever been to, the Prohibition Museum. I always love when I can turn work time into family time.
• My month in New York. I feel like I could just scrap the paragraph I’m about to write and insert a hundred heart-eyed emojis and it would basically be the same thing. What indescribable happiness I felt taking this test run of a new life in a place with so many old happy memories. I obviously felt insanely wistful and nostalgic for New York, and doing my yoga teacher training there was the perfect way to put my toe back in. I loved loved loved the novelty of having a routine. I loved the museums and the botanical gardens and the restaurants and the events and just soaking up all the culture and chaos of a city. I loved having friends from so many chapters of my life, spread in every direction. I loved it all.
• The Mermaid Parade with my partner-in-crime, Amanda. The highlight of any summer, of course.
• Fulfilling my vision of completing my yoga teacher training. The ritual of our morning practice, learning the chakras, soaking up the knowledge and passion and adjustments of our instructors, challenging myself to eat clean, learning the schools of yoga, trying so many various practices, and sitting in the contentment of having made my dream a reality.
• All my many many fitness adventures. I was HIGH on the adrenaline of my teacher training and would often leave and immediately go to a class at Y7 or another studio! I had so much fun, from yoga in Central Park to buti glow in the Lower East Side and beyond. The intention I set every morning was to feel strong and after the most physically demanding and health-focused month of my life, I did it.
• Seeing the lightness in the dark. Everything about this time in Massachusetts, when my mom was airlifted from Martha’s Vineyard to Boston for emergency brain surgery, was brutal. Just some of the scariest times of my life. But even inside that, there love. My friend Lindsay bringing custom little gift bags for each of us to the hospital. The compassion my friends showed as I slowly started sharing the news with them. The sunrise from the couch in my mom’s hospital bed, cuddles with her in the morning before the world woke up. At the time, all we saw was my mom getting better, and we didn’t really understand the reality of the situation until much later.
• Winery hopping with my therapy dog in Santa Barbara. At least that’s what I started calling Tucker. When my mom was finally released from the hospital, and we were in limbo waiting for her diagnosis, I flew out to California for the campaign I’d already planned to Santa Barbara — it kind of shows how clueless we were about what was ahead. I spent half of the trip on the phone with insurance and hospitals — seriously, it is one of my most poignant memories — but luckily, there was a dog to cuddle and wine to drink on the moments I wasn’t tangled in the hell of medical bureaucracy. But, Santa Barbara is stunning. I’ll always remember the drive back from Los Angeles, when we were caught in such terrible traffic we said what the heck and got off the freeway and went such a scenic route instead, in my dad’s beat up old convertible, stunned and exhausted from all that was behind me but still at least sort of in that mindset that things could go right.
• Family time in LA. Our planned time in Los Angeles was cut really short (shout out to airlines who super humanely will cancel your flight if you can provide evidence of a true medical emergency, by the way) so not much more to report there, but I always love spending time with my dad and my dog. I went to the new Silverlake Y7 Studio, saw a movie, went to a meeting at PADI Americas, and ate a hot dog at iconic Hollywood spot Pinks. Huzzah.
• The City Where the Heat Is On. Is it even legal to go to Miami without singing Will Smith songs in your head? I was pretty beside myself with stress over what was going on at home at this point, but tried to make the most out of showing Ian Miami for the first time — walking around South Beach, enjoying cute cafes, and soaking up all that Art Deco gorgeousness. I also took not one, not two, but three Viator tours for a photography project with them — it was great to work with them again in a fresh way after a several year hiatus. They were quite literally the highlights of Miami, for me (I especially loved learning the illicit history of the city on the last one).
• Key West, in true over-the-top mermaid style. I can’t think of a better place for a bachelorette party — and I love bachelorette parties. Time with other women is sacred and we really made the most of this weekend, planned to perfection by such a great group. This was a pretty emotional trip for my sister and I, seeing each other for the first time after our mom’s diagnosis, but we were really giving everything we had to holding it together, and I will forever remember this one moment of dancing and hugging and crying to The Middle, which has become kind of an anthem for me in the past year. The whole weekend was an important reminder that love and heartbreak and laughter and tears can all fit into one weekend, one day, one hour, one moment.
It just takes some time,
little girl your in the middle of the ride,
everything, everything will be just fine.
• Biking the entire island. Once the bachelorette party disbanded, I had a few more days in Key West as I kicked off my next PADI collaboration, in which I kept quite active with scuba diving and doing SUP yoga. But my absolute highlight was my reflective sunset bike ride around the circumference of the island, culminating in a beautiful sunset. It was an incredibly memorable moment.
• Being inspired by wonderful women throughout the Keys. From the director of the Turtle Hospital to the founder of the History of Diving Museum to the crew behind the Coral Restoration Foundation, I met so many incredible inspiring women on this trip. All of them are doing really special things to promote conservation — of the planet and of history.
• Spending the night underwater. Heather and I’s night at Jules Undersea Lodge truly was the highlight of the entire Florida diving road trip. What an insanely unique experience — once in a lifetime, some might say! And, no surprise, in a tumultuous month, I found myself very much at peace, just below the surface. Also very cool: I even got to write a piece about in Scuba Diver magazine, which came with a custom illustration.
• Our hilarious SUP tour. Heather and I were on a bit of a time crunch writing the Wanderland Dive Guide to the Florida Keys, and there were several mishaps along the way (which you’ll read about below!) So, by our last day in the Keys, we were ready to blow of some steam — or should I say, paddle off. Which is exactly what we got at our hilariously only-in-Florida Sip N’ SUP tour, in which we paddled from key-lime-colada-serving-bar to key-lime-colada-serving bar. Heather is not only one of my fave dive buddies, but one of my favorite paddle partners and colada crew too.
• Our clean up dive send off. Heather and I just breezed through Miami since I cut my trip short to get home sooner, but we used our brief time there to take part in a clean up dive there, and it was the perfect feel-good note to end our diving road trip on. I wish I could be involved in these more often.
• Speaking of the Wanderland Dive Guide to the Keys — I was so dang proud of this thing. It’s something I wanted to find and couldn’t, and it’s such a good feeling when you’re super proud of the content you’ve produced.
• I can’t say that getting home to Albany after Florida was a highlight, considering the circumstances, but it was a relief. I was meant to fly straight to Thailand, but quickly changed my plans when we realized how serious my mom’s diagnosis was. I was completely overwhelmed, just sidelined with anguish, but it was also a happy time, oddly, when I look back — we were surrounded by friends and family, and it was the last time my mom was partially mobile and able to be up and really engaging with the world, even in a limited way. One of my best friends from Thailand, who has tragically been through a very similar circumstance, came to Albany for a few days and really was a true lifesaver, getting me and us organized and helping us transition through a really terrifying time. It was one of the most anxiety and grief filled periods of my life, but also, so full of precious memories I’ll treasure forever.
Lowlights and Lessons
I’ll start with the easy stuff and see where we end up.
• Just not that into Jerusalem. To me, that’s fine — not every place is for every person! And I kind of suspected that I wouldn’t be that into this one. But it did ruffle some feathers.
• Feeling my one pair of shoes rip off my feet at Midburn. Anyone who has ever been to a burn will understand the fear that moment struck into my heart! Thank God for hot glue and willpower. Midburn challenged me in the BEST possible ways so it’s hard to look at even the greatest struggles as lowlights. There were a lot of differences that I had to reset my expectations for after so many magical Burning Man experiences, but I loved being pressed to do so.
• Returning my rental car in Israel. So, so many people had warned me that I had to get to the airport in Tel Aviv earlier than I ever had in my life. And yet I’d had all kinds of drama getting the car out of the parking garage where everything was only in Hebrew (I’d wanted to return it the day prior, but I couldn’t due to a Jewish holiday) and was running behind already by the time I got to the airport… where I proceeded to miss the car rental return exit three full times. Cue me literally screaming, full volume, into the abyss of the car as I imagined myself missing my very expensive flight back to New York. The airport was definitely an EXPERIENCE and one of the most stringent and serious security situations I’ve ever been through, but I made my flight, full of energy to return soon to Israel.
• Getting sick in Savannah. Like, serious strep throat sick. Oops. I kept trying to tell myself I was jet lagged, but when I finally gave in and walked to an urgent care clinic, the nurse (a) asked me how I’d been managing to walk upright (b) told me that my strep throat was so severe it was spreading to my ears — literally — and (c) asked if she could show another staff member on duty, since it was the most severe case she’d ever seen. Ha ha? What can I say — that’s showbiz, baby.
• The (overwhelmed by upsides) downsides of my training. Not getting the business side of the education I was craving, the training just being a bit too big for me, not leaving comfortable teaching. Oops. I wish I’d been more proactive in that, especially looking back at the time and money I invested. But it’s never too late.
• Florida flops. The trip wasn’t without some frustrations — we struggled to find a sailboat that could accommodate our bachelorette weekend at short notice and weren’t blown away by the one we settled on (we had an incredible time regardless, thanks to the company) and Heather and I had a full blown disaster with accidentally going reef diving on one of the two days of mini lobster season. It was more like a hunting trip than the classic Keys reef diving experience we were going for. Yikes! We were warned that there are essentially more diving accidents in those two days than the rest of the year combined and we saw it first hand as we boarded the dive boat to missing diver calls coming over the radio, watched as one of the dive masters on our boat had to jump overboard and save a woman who ran out of air, and then watched a rescue chopper fly overhead as we came back to the pier. Finally, Heather and I decided to splurge big time on a fancy spa package in Key Largo for our last day in the Keys. We made the booking then went underwater for our night at Jules Lodge — and when we emerged the next morning, ready to hit the spa, they called to tell us our appointments were cancelled because we hadn’t answered their confirmation call the prior afternoon. Uh, so like, a few hours after we had called to make the appointment?! And of course, they had rebooked the appointments and could no longer fit us in. It was such a silly lack of common sense, we were fuming. Overall, Florida was a dream, but needless to say it would be shocking for a trip with so many moving parts to go completely smoothly, anyway.
• My yoga teacher training graduation. To my surprise I really had to pressure my family to come. It was one of the proudest accomplishments of my life but I look back on that celebration and I have a pit in my stomach. I’m not sure what I could have done differently, other than have been there solo, which would have also made me deeply sad in a different way. But it felt very out of character for us, and it still tugs at my heart a little.
• Not knowing how to do my job, really, and all my terror over what this would mean for my blog and who I am as a person not defined by this career I created for myself. I was on various assignments for weeks while all this was going down and I was trying to untangle the mess of my obligations, and the anxiety that vibrated through this entire period was anguishing — I was doing my job the best I could but there’s probably never been a bigger disconnect between what I was projecting and what was going on inside, and it made me feel like a fraud.
• Backing out of my Bali retreat. Backing out of being a bridesmaid in my dear friend Suze’s wedding. Cutting short campaigns that took dozens of people countless hours to plan in California, New Orleans, and Florida. I did what I had to do — if anything, if I could go back in time I’d cut more — but it doesn’t make it any easier to let people down.
• Heavier things. Things I don’t know how to write about publicly yet. Things that still ache to look back on. My mom not being able to drive me down to the city for our mother daughter move-in day as planned, and getting on that train alone knowing something was off. Crying in satsong circle at my teacher training that I knew something wasn’t right with my mom but I didn’t know where to start to figure out what it was. Confessing out loud to my best friend over takeout what was going on, and seeing the concern on her face as I did. Sobbing to my stepdad on the beach in Martha’s Vineyard, telling him I thought we were making the worst mistake of our lives not taking this more seriously. Leaving for New Orleans, crying in the airport knowing I was making the worst mistake of my life but not knowing how not to make it. Getting the call I got while I was there. Sitting in this big empty glass lobby in Boston, hearing a surgeon say the word cancer for the first time, but still not really knowing what that meant. That yoga class in LA where I cried myself to pieces in savasana and realized I knew that it meant something really bad. Hearing that official diagnosis and feeling like I could literally see my life collapsing around me. Processing so much grief in Florida, so pure. My mom texted me, in that rare window she could text, “my heart is pulling you home.” That final journey back to Albany, the anguish of the last month just pouring out of me, so that I felt there wasn’t a tear left in my body by the time I pulled up in my childhood driveway.
Best and Worst Beds of the Month
Best: It’s a tough call — I was blessed to stay in some incredible places in these three months. Glamping in the Negev, the chicest boutique Hotel Saul in Tel Aviv, the super girly Kimpton Brice in Savannah, the dog-friendly Kimpton Goodland in Santa Barbara, and of course, my beloved studio loft rental in the West Village.
Worst: Sleeping in the hospital, I guess just by default. We all had a hotel room nearby but we didn’t want my mom to sleep alone and I was happy to be there. Yet as I write that I am flooded with touching memories. Watching the most beautiful sunrises over the Charles River, crawling into my mom’s bed and whispering to each other before the rest of the world descended, being touched by the kindness of those around us. It wasn’t all bad.
Best and Worst Meals of the Month
Best: I always joke that the best meal of the year is the first one you eat after leaving Burning Man. I don’t know if that quite applies to Midburn, where I was blown away by the quality of our camp meals (no surprise, based on the food I drooled over in Tel Aviv), but I will admit that by Burner husband Dave and I spent an ABSOLUTELY OBSCENE amount of money at a random roadside McDonald’s on our way back to Tel Aviv — in our defense, we were overwhelmed by the excitement of a touch screen, and after a few weeks I still hadn’t grasped the shekel conversion.
Worst: Again, probably something I ate at the hospital, by default and out of desperation. Though this does remind me of a very happy memory — some of our friends from New Hampshire driving in with bagels and lawn chairs and making an elaborate picnic in my mom’s room, to the delight of all the nurses on her floor. So I guess again, it’s such a mix of joy and sorrow there.
I often modify that popular saying to, if you want the universe to laugh, tell it your plans. I put new partnerships and projects on the back burner while I enjoyed my Middle Eastern travels (and splurged on them!) and completed my yoga teacher training (and splurged on that too!), and planned to dive back in head-first once I wrapped those.
Well, the universe had other plans, as I found myself wiping my virtual desk clean of work obligations so I could focus on family. Suddenly, it seemed that I had at least a hundred hours of tasks to complete in every twenty-four hour day — my business that I spent the last near-decade building kind of fell to the wayside as a result.
But time juggling wasn’t the only issue. It was the start of a very confusing time for me, work-wise, one I am still picking up the pieces of today. I am Alex in Wanderland. The brand is me. How did I juggle these identities of being this carefree, travel-loving beach babe and now this tired, grief-filled, caretaker for my mom? A year later, I still haven’t figured it out. And I know my blog has suffered as a result. I do hope someday I’m back on track.
Health and Fitness Update
Needless to say, this was one of the most intensely health and fitness focused periods of my life. My yoga teacher training made me feel physically like a rockstar, and it was just the reset my body needed after a decade-long buildup of bad habits.
One aspect I didn’t really write about elsewhere much is that the month of my yoga teacher training was the most I’ve ever restricted my eating in my life. And it was essentially the first and only time I’ve made an attempt to regulate what I drink. Honestly, I could write an entire post on this subject alone — but for me, food is something I often feel very out of control of and have the self-loathing around that lack of control of. Alcohol on the other hand, has never been something I’ve had an unhealthy relationship with (despite what some readers have insinuated over the years, ha!). I’m a social drinker, so during periods where I am seeing a lot of friends and have a lot of events, I love kicking back with a cocktail; other times, things will be low key and weeks will go by without me having a sip, and it’s really no big deal.
I’m proud to say I’ve carried a lot of these habits into my real post-training life, and while I obviously can’t maintain the same three plus hours of physical activity and rigid eating and drinking forever, it definitely gave me a new sense of discipline and habits and a fresh start that really was beneficial for mind, body and soul as I shortly after entered a very difficult time.
What Was Next
Heading back to Thailand to pack up my life and move back to Albany and for my very first ever Wander Women retreat.
It wouldn’t be the same without you all — thanks for being a part of my story.
Since I left home for my Great Escape, I’ve been doing monthly roundups of my adventures filled with anecdotes, private little moments, and thoughts that are found nowhere else on this blog. As this site is not just a resource for other travelers but also my own personal travel diary, I like to take some time to reflect on not just what I did, but how I felt. You can read my previous roundups here.