Where we’re at: I’m recapping the winter of 2018-2019, wrapping up with this post about all I got up to while I was home in Albany from December through February.
There’s no two ways about it — winter in Upstate New York is brutal, especially if you’re not a winter sports aficionado. This was my first full winter in I think about eight years, and I found myself seeking out a lot of advice on how to survive it from those around me! Turns out it’s a topic a lot of Northeasters think about often, and so they had good insights.
One of the most important lessons? Get away, whenever and wherever you can. I took two tropical trips throughout this stretch — one, a much-needed four day vacation to Mexico, the other, a five day retreat research trip to the Dominican Republic. The other two getaways, a weekend in Montreal for fun and a week in New York City for work, were pretty icy — but I can’t emphasize how great it felt to be traveling again, regardless of how sporadically. In those long gray months, little changes of scenery are so important.
The rest of the time I was cozied up in Albany, New York, trying to stay warm.
I made some serious strides throughout this period in trying to embrace my reality in Albany. As they do for many Americans, the holidays kind of swallowed up the month of December — and were a welcome distraction from a very difficult time at home.
All the festivities got me out of the house a bit, which was nice and kind of the wakeup call for me that Albany didn’t have to be the same place I’d left behind as a seventeen year old. I’d grown up and so had Albany, and there was a lot to explore, when I had the ability to do so. At the time that wasn’t very often, but it did give me hope.
I’ve written before that my spontaneous New Year’s Eve trip to Merida, Mexico was really transformative — it helped me come back to Albany, which I hadn’t left in three months, with a new perspective and strong intentions for the future.
Back in Albany, I really embraced that opportunity for a fresh start. Two things made this possible.
First, upon my return we immediately doubled down on finding home health care for my mom, and finally succeeded in finding a home aide who would be by our side through it all. Of course that makes it sound simple, and it wasn’t, because nothing is simple when dealing with the treatment and care of someone you love who is terminally ill. I’ll probably go into more detail in my next roundup post, but the long and short of it is, I truly don’t know what I would have done without Angie. She was a rockstar.
Second, my mom’s fiancé semi-retired at the end of December, allowing him to be home more often and for me to start working more hours and having a bit more freedom of movement again.
Like many do, I used the new year to restart or recommit to many healthy habits, including Kondo-ing my overflowing closet and getting rid of so many items that no longer sparked joy. While this was an ongoing project — one I need to restart once again — it really felt good. (Ugh, is this just an annual project for the rest of my life?)
I also, of course, like the rest of the planet, got super jazzed about healthy eating in January. I’ve written before that I learned so much from Green Chef and think at this point I actually was starting to have a bit of fun with it. (Don’t laugh — I was a major beginner! This is not sponsored, but you try it out free using this link. ) Angie was a great cook, which meant I no longer felt responsible for every meal, and that made the ones I did create a lot more enjoyable.
Of course, even with a home aide, even with Miller semi-retired, the majority of my time was spent with my mom. This was for many reasons — including that her physical care at this point truly did require two people as she could no longer even assist with standing to transfer in and out of her wheelchair. But mostly, the Avastin treatment she had begun, which doctors hopped would restore some of her speech, had really increased her awareness and engagement, which we tried to soak up every moment of.
Every other week we went to the hospital for infusions, which became a new rhythm and routine as we learned what to pack and who our favorite nurses were and what corner of the infusion room was the quietest. Those visits could drive us crazy, but every once in a while there’d be someone celebrating their last treatment, or volunteers would drop off something sweet, and there’d just be this overwhelming reminder of how much kindness can be in the world.
We even — I shudder to say — tried to embrace the cold, getting out for walks or movies at The Spectrum whenever there was a manageable day. My mom’s tolerance for cold had really, really dropped and so we had to be pretty careful about when we went outside.
One day we were watching TV and an ad for Olive Garden came on, which my mom really perked up at. She rarely spoke spontaneously, so I asked her if she wanted me to order lunch from there someday soon. We hadn’t had a meal outside the house since late summer, but something prompted me to ask if she wanted to go instead. She said yes, which I enthusiastically reported to her best friend, prompting a lunch date there the next week. You would have thought we were dining at a Michelin starred restaurant based on our enthusiasm. (Though, to be fair — breadsticks. I rest my case.)
Honestly, I tear up thinking about it. Everyone who worked there was so patient and sweet, I don’t think they could have guessed how much that meant to us. Again, so much kindness.
Our new arrangements meant I was trying to slot in time for self care, too — which was deeply necessary through the short, dark days of winter. If I learned one thing about myself from this experience, it’s that I must run almost exclusively on vitamin D! This time of the year, it starts getting dark around 4PM in Albany, and so it really can feel mentally like midnight at about 8PM. I found this super disorienting and tried to make evening plans a few times a week so the days didn’t all blend together.
It really made a difference, even if those were as simple as a night at a friends’ house, doing face masks and hopping in the hot tub. Or even at home, carving out space for myself by going down to the guest bathroom in the basement and taking a bath at night. I sense a theme here — and it involves hot water. Did I mention Upstate New York is cold?
Of course, most of my self care and me time in the past year came in the form of what I call movement therapy. I was deep in my aerial obsession at this point which I found also really fueled my weight training, too — I wanted to get my body as strong as possible to see what new things I could accomplish in the aerial cirque, dance, silks, lyra, and acro classes I was so enjoying. I believe exercise is essential to mental health year-round, but particularly crucial in the winter when it’s pretty easy to otherwise be quite sedentary.
When my theme suggestion for our our aerial cirque troupe’s January performance was chosen, I was overjoyed. My obvious suggestion? Mermaids! Seriously, what would I have done without my Good Karma Studio family?
That said, the new year brought the impulse to try new things again, and so I checked out local ballet classes and adult gymnastics gym, too — while neither stuck, due to the somewhat rigorous schedules of each, my primary dedication to aerials, and that I was traveling sporadically again; I really enjoyed both enormously and would love to pursue each in the future someday.
Mid-January, I headed off to New York City, a professional trip for a yoga training and a drive-by of the New York Times Travel Show, where I connected with industry friends I hadn’t seen in ages.
Back in Albany, the deepest stretch of winter had set in. And so it was time to put my next winter survival advice to the test: get out of the house, no matter how intense the impulse to hibernate. Enjoy museums, movies, cozy restaurants, and all the things you might forgo in the warmer months when you’re eager to be outside.
Ice bars are actually a really big thing around here in the winter, when everyone is trying to figure out how the heck to get people out of their houses after the holidays. Most of them are up around Lake George or Saratoga, but I never seemed to be available on the rare beautiful days and could never motivate myself to make the drive when I was able to and the weather was gross.
I did finally make it to one right in Albany, a winter fundraiser that also boasted a make your own s’mores and hot chocolate bar. This right here is the kind of winter fun I can get behind!
I as always kept an eye on the Discover Albany events calendar, and when a Museum After Dark tour at the Albany Institute of History and Art popped up, I leapt at the chance to check a visit back there off my list. I’d started working with Discover Albany in the New Year and so had even more motivation to explore. My mom’s friend Emily and I went together and were pretty entertained to be the youngest people there by decades, ha.
Honestly, I think the youths of Albany are missing out big time! (And yes, I realize that statement makes me sound approximately one thousand years old.) Very often in the last year I found myself at really fascinating cultural events in the area only to wonder, where is everyone? Sadly, it’s not just Albany.
One thing that never seems to go out of style is restaurant hopping, and I checked out several new ones in January. I’d long been eager to check out the monthly make-your-own-mimosa brunches at Savoy Taproom, and one weekend when Ian was in town we met my friend Kristin’s parents Marc and Laura there. (I’m sensing another theme, and it’s build-your-own snack bars…)
They also have a bloody mary version, for tomato juice fans.
Ian and I also hit up The Shop, a cute Troy spot with a great brunch menu. If there’s one area of the Capital Region that I still haven’t personally tapped to its potential, it’s Troy. What can I say, I was a loyal Albany girl!
Before I knew it, it was February and I was off on my next trip to the Dominican Republic. Now by the time this trip rolled around I was quite desperate for some sun, sand and sea. I think February can be one of the toughest months of the year in the northeast. The excitement of the holidays passed by in December, the New Year’s glow up resolutions have settled into a routine, and it’s still ages till spring.
Amanda, who invited me on the trip, told me she always looks for a cheap flight in February to literally anywhere warm, which is how she’d landed on Dominican Republic.
Lucky for me she did!
The one downside to reintroducing travel back into my life again while simultaneously trying to build some semblance of a new life in Albany was missing out on things back home — aerial rehearsals, special events, etc. While I was in the Dominican Republic I missed a big event for Unity House, a local charity of which my mom was the president of the board, and that was hard to swallow. I always felt torn between two worlds.
But, I did cut the trip a day shorter than originally planned in order to be back for Valentine’s Day, which was a great internal compromise for my anxiety. My mom used to make Valentine’s Day so special for us as kids, we always thought it was the most fun holiday! We’d spend ages making elaborate handmade valentines for every kid in our class, then come downstairs that morning to the find the dining room decked out like cupid had thrown up all over, with valentines to and from each of us to each other — including the dog.
It totally bred a deep love of Valentine’s Day in me, a member of a generation who loves to hate it. When I moved to Brooklyn I threw massive Valentine’s Day parties every year, complete with pink cocktails and carefully curated love pop playlists (pre-Spotify, natch) and carried the tradition on in Thailand, where my friends were keen for any excuse to meet a dress code challenge. It was always a blast — no cringe-y, fake romantic overpriced meals. Just fun!
Anyway, we wanted to shower my mom with all the magic she’d created for us as kids, and my sister went all out creating an elaborate Valentine’s Day breakfast that would put even Martha Stewart to shame.
Ian and I agreed on no gifts, so instead I bought myself a cookie cake at the mall — only, of course, to arrive home to a thoughtful gift sent via mail from Ian. It was a good day — a reminder of how truly lucky we were to grow up the way we did, and how our family has always come together to unite over going WAY over the top for any and every holiday.
A few days later, I got another very sweet treat — my Thailand bestie Janine, straight off the plane from Bangkok and then the train from New York. It was her second trip to see me in Albany and I was both eternally grateful and obscenely excited for her visit.
We’d talked about me meeting her down in New York, but I just couldn’t get away again so soon — so I was determined to make her time in Albany extra special.
Of course, what could be more thrilling to a resident of Thailand than visiting a pagoda in Upstate New York? Not really a hundred percent sure where my head was with that one, ha, but it was fun to see the Grafton Peace Pagoda all covered in snow. It’s one of my favorite hidden gems of the area, and it’s a beautiful drive to get there.
We also whipped by Grafton State Park to grab a photo for an Instagram campaign, where Janine declared she did not have the clothes for any length of more than five minutes spent outdoors the rest of the trip. Totally fair.
Many of you know Janine as the owner of my favorite juice bar in Thailand, Living Juices! We of course had to do extensive market research while she was in the area, despite Janine’s protests that it was too cold for acai bowls. We visited Fruit Loop, which I liked, Bare, which I loved, and Raw, which isn’t my favorite bowl in the area (but does serve other fun healthy stuff.)
It was hard to say goodbye to Janine (like, really hard), but a new Albany event to look forward to eased the pain. My mom was a prolific floral arranger, and loved gifting her lucky friends with elaborate arrangements. And so when I saw an ad for Cathedral in Bloom, a flower show fundraiser in an Albany church, I knew we had to go.
This is a really happy memory. We ran into family friends we hadn’t seen in a while, laughed with Emily, and again encountered such kindness — when we went to pay for the tickets, the cashier said warmly to my mom, “a man who came in earlier paid for an extra ticket and asked us to pass it on to someone who needed a smile — I hope you find one here.” It really strikes me, looking back, how the smallest comments or acts of compassion could change our day and stick with me months and months later. It truly inspires me to be more proactive in putting that same kind of love out into the world for others who might be needing it right now.
My last local adventure of the winter was — you guessed it — another Discover Albany events calendar find. Guys, if you don’t follow your local tourism board on social media or subscribe to their newsletters, you really should! There’s probably someone in your area working hard to tell you about all the cool things happening nearby.
In this case, it was Yoga Care’s pop up classes around the Capital Region. This one was a slow flow class held at the SUNY Art Gallery, which was a double win as I’d never been there before. Still eager to make local friends, I invited someone I’d met at a pop-up Buti Yoga class at The Hot Yoga Spot, who had started Buti classes at a studio I’d never been to called Om Shanti. As a fellow new teacher, we’d bonded over our love of the mat and our nerves about leading classes — and I was super stoked to have finally wrangled a new friend date in town (it had only taken me five months, ha!)
I wrapped up the month with a visit to Ian in hipster Montreal, a four hour drive straight north of Albany. It was a much needed weekend for us — and bonus, it made Albany feel positively balmy in comparison.
The great paradox of starting to travel again in 2019 meant that my time at home felt ever more frantic and busy as I tried to juggle my time with my mom, my return to work, and some semblance of a personal life. I often felt like I had a million plates spinning in the air, though admittedly that was a welcome change from the feelings of despair I’d been coping with pre-New Year. I can’t overstate how important these little steps, however ginger, to reintroduce work and travel back into my life were.
It’s true: I am NOT a winter girl. I struggle with the cold, with the darkness, with the isolation. But by being super proactive about leaning into the cozy at home, getting involved in my community out in the world, and thawing out with a few warm weather getaways, I survived.
And so I tried to embrace the chaos, moving into spring.
While Albany is a four season city and I love that about it, it is kind of hilarious trying to break it into four even blocks of fall, winter, spring, and summer — because my “spring” post is going to contain a lot of snow. Oh well. Stay tuned!
What are your winter survival tips?