Where we’re at: I’m recapping my travels in 2019, including this trip to California in December.
In 2019, for the first time in my life, I spent Christmas somewhere other than my hometown of Albany, New York or my home island of Koh Tao, Thailand. (Actually, as I typed that, I realized it’s a lie — I also spent one in a beach town in Ecuador — which clearly, in my mind barely registered as a true Christmas.)
This year, my dad insisted I come to California and while I was hesitant — my plan, to run away to India and pretend the holidays weren’t happening fell through, ha — I eventually acquiesced.
I’m glad I did. We split the week between a few days feeling the Christmas spirit in Big Bear, and then getting a surreal bright and sunny Los Angeles holiday experience.
As soon as I returned from Big Bear, I signed up for a yin yoga class at Evoke, a downtown LA yoga studio that was new to me. They offered a great new student deal for the week an I went for it — some time getting centered in the studio was exactly what I needed for a holiday season that brought much sadness with the absence of my mom.
I talked my friends Amy, a New York native now living in LA and Steffi, an LA native now living in New York, into joining me for class, and Amy told us not to zen out too hard — she schemed us impossible-to-get reservations to the Here and Now Pop Up Christmas Bar after.
Wow, was this place the holiday festivity explosion I didn’t know I needed! These pop-up holiday experiences have become super popular in recent years, but this was my first time even attempting to get into one.
With cocktails based on everything from hot chocolate to matzo ball soup (yup, you read that right), fake snow blowing from behind the bouncer, and four person ugly Christmas sweaters for wearing while doing festive shot-skis, I really could think of little else to ask Santa for.
Steffi, who’s parents live a hike outside the city, crashed with me that night, and so I had the delight of making her a red-and-green inspired Christmas breakfast the next morning — red pepper and broccoli scramble with red and green mugs, duh.
It was so warm in the sun that I ended up having to peel my sweater off — I definitely wasn’t in Upstate New York anymore.
I felt like I had to send Steffi off in style, so we hopped in the convertible — On Christmas?! My mind was still being blown on a minute-by-minute basis by the lack of snow — and hopped over to California Donuts, my go-to for silly seasonal treats.
It’s an LA icon, and they did not disappoint.
It was really sweet to get to spend part of my Christmas with Steffi, who is such a dear friend and who actually came and spent Christmas in Albany with me one year, years ago.
And then it was time to get down to serious celebrating. At first I said my one request to my dad had been that we get out of our usual routine by volunteering on Christmas morning — more on that later. Later, I added a second request — seeing The Nutcracker. I love the ballet.
My dad nabbed us Christmas Eve tickets to the Los Angeles Ballet’s performance at The Dolby Theater, the famed home of the Academy Awards. I don’t often make my way into Hollywood when I’m in LA but it was pretty fun walking across all the celebrity’s stars on the boulevard, and seeing the tributes to the Oscar winners through the years when we entered the theater.
It was a classical, faithful-to-tradition performance, and I loved soaking up the familiar compositions and marveling at the grace of the dancers.
After the show, we were invited to a big group dinner at a beautiful home in the Silverlake Hills, the kind of gathering of mingling fascinating strangers that both already feels like a relic of the past and always kind of felt like a scene from a Nancy Meyers movie. I wish I’d taken a photo of the view — the silhouettes of palm trees just stretching for miles over the night sky and an endless see of city lights.
The next morning was Christmas, and rather than run straight to the tree, my dad and I headed downtown to Skid Row to volunteer with Urban Voices, an organization my dad works closely with and sits on the board of. It sounds selfless but actually it was selfish; I was grateful for the distraction from my grief provided by a morning focused on others.
Urban Voices harnesses the healing power of music and the power of community to aid individuals marginalized by homelessness, mental health issues, and unemployment in the Greater Los Angeles area. They hold regular community sings, and even have a choir that performs at events to raise awareness generate income. It may sound untraditional, but read a bit about their mission and you might be inspired by this creative approach to outreach.
For obvious reasons, I didn’t take my camera out that morning, but we joined the choir made up of both volunteers and members of Skid Row and carol-ed at shelters, food kitchens, and on the streets. Skid Row is home to one of the largest stable populations of homeless people in the United States, with a population of nearly 5,000.
While it can be staggering to confront the deep divide in our nation’s wealth and privilege, I found myself grateful that day both for the opportunity to open my eyes to it, and to have been raised by two parents who dedicated their lives to closing that gap.
Back at my dad’s, a low key Christmas day awaited. We immediately changed into pajamas — the best way to spend the day — and after an over-the-top homemade meal (just the way my dad likes to do it!) we finally gathered around the tree to open gifts.
It was a hard day, in many ways, but I was touched by the love and effort my dad put into making it a happy one, too.
The next morning, my dad and his husband flew to Mexico for the trip they’d pushed back, and my friend Dave, who I first met at Midburn in Israel, came to stay with me for a little co-workation in which we tragically did not take a single photo. As soon as he left, my next office buddy arrived — I flew my bestie and newly minted Wander Women Retreats coordinator to LA so we could co-work on the launch of our 2020 retreats.
For days we sat side by side glued to our laptops, obsessing over sales pages, drafting newsletters, testing promo codes, and wrestling with our e-commerce system. We were so beyond in the zone. We barely looked up to run out and get take out lunch, our cabin-fever reduction plan each day.
It was fun, working towards a big launch like that. And those weeks of barely looking up from my screen were just one blip in what it takes to birth a retreat — before, months and months of boots on the ground research, coordination with countless vendors, and wrestling with logistics. After, months and months of marketing push after marketing push intended to bring your dream out to the world.
I’m getting a bit sidetracked here, but it’s hard not to look back on this time and feel wistful, knowing how 2020 took the vast majority of those plans and just tossed them to the wind. A primary source of income is hard to lose, needless to say. But it’s more — it’s the time, the love and energy, the vision. Watching work and dreams you poured so much of yourself into creatively, crumble. I know so many around the world are sharing this pain with me right now. And it’s strange now, being in limbo — I can’t tell you how nostalgic I suddenly feel for working so hard and so intently on a clear, focused vision that I felt, at the time, was an absolute certainty.
The night we launched, we decided we deserved a staff holiday party — ha! So I booked us in at Crystal Spa, a slightly ritzier version of the dozens of Korean spas in the neighborhood, and dinner at Quarters, a popular Korean BBQ.
Koreatown, I love you.
I’d been super wishy washy, for some reason, about making New Year’s Eve plans (if only I’d known what was coming, I probably would have driven directly to Los Vegas, licked the floor of a nightclub, and stayed until the staff cashed out the next morning — I’ll never take dancing in public for granted again, I swear!). So when Amanda asked me to join her for a house party in Orange County, where she grew up, for one of her friend’s birthdays, I said why not!
We put the top down and hit the road.
We made it to the beach just in time to watch the final sunset of 2019, and like so many others, talked about all our hopes and dreams and excitements for 2020 (all I can say about that in retrospect is… lol.)
We talked very seriously about our resolutions and after a pretty brutal year, the roughest of my life, I told Amanda quite sincerely that my resolution for 2020 was to feel young and have fun. I had no idea what an uphill battle that would be.
But we were innocent, then. Over at the disco-themed Persian house party, we dressed to the nines and let all the parents ply us with delicious food and drag us onto the dance floor. When the clock struck midnight, everyone ran to kiss their beloveds… and Amanda and I ran to the bar to do a shot.
That pretty much sums our friendship up real good.
Back in LA, I resisted sweatpants one final night for a fun dinner in Los Feliz at Atrium, the restaurant Amy managed, with my dad, Tom, and Lindsay. It was great to catch up and hear all about each other’s holidays, and to actually emerge from my little work-and-holiday crowd and remember that I was in the beautiful city of Los Angeles, before flying out again.
I’d do more exploring next time, I vowed.
This trip was about making the most of a tough time, and you know what, I did.
I was lucky to have amazing friends around: Amy and Steffi and Lindsay and Amanda and Dave, who I truly had so much fun spending time with, and reminded me that I have a lifetime of making new traditions ahead of me, and that family comes in all forms.
I spent the two months leading up to Christmas with a knot in my stomach, sick at the thought of all the pain my first Christmas without my mom would bring. And it did. But it also brought love and gratitude for the eager efforts of my dad to make it a special day.
And so I ended 2019 exactly as I needed to: counting my blessings.
And now, onto the roller coaster that is 2020… buckle up for a bumpy ride.