The Great Escape: Months 101 + 102 + 103
Where we’re at: I’ve wrapped up blogging the fourth quarter of 2019, of which this is a huge roundup. What a weird time to look back on. These first three months after losing my mom were, largely, a fog. I guess much of the year was. As the world transitioned from fall into winter, I started […] Source: Alex In Wanderland
Where we’re at: I’ve wrapped up blogging the fourth quarter of 2019, of which this is a huge roundup.
What a weird time to look back on.
These first three months after losing my mom were, largely, a fog. I guess much of the year was. As the world transitioned from fall into winter, I started to learn to live through the seasons of grief. In a way the timing was quite cruel, having to survive all the nostalgia-gut-punch events one after one, immediately after losing her. Weddings. My thirtieth birthday. Thanksgiving. Christmas. In another, perhaps it was best to just dive headfirst in.
There was also the shock and confusion, and sometimes guilt, of finding my own freedom again from caretaking again. I used it to do the cliche thing of trying to outrun my feelings, or run towards comfort, somewhere, anywhere — in these three months I hopped between three countries and five states, attending weddings, conferences, memorials, and the most epic birthday trip a girl could dream of planning for herself.Here’s the behind-the-scenes.
Where I Went
• Ten nights in Albany, New York
• Five nights in New York, New York
• Six nights in Albany, New York
• Ten nights in Tel Aviv, Israel
• Three nights in Cancun, Mexico
• Five nights in Isla Mujeres, Mexico
• Three nights in Sarasota, Florida
• Three nights in Orlando, Florida
• Six nights in Jacksonville, Florida
• Two nights in Chicago, Illinois
• One nights in Decatur, Illinois
• Eleven nights in Albany, New York
• Four nights in Houston, Texas
• Four nights in New York, New York
• Six nights in Albany, New York
• Three nights in Big Bear, California
• Eight nights in Los Angeles, California
• One night in Orange County, California
• Saying goodbye. It will sound strange to say, but my mom’s memorial in Albany kind of falls under this category. Along with the shock and overwhelming anguish of losing a parent was the relief that I had been by her side, the gratitude that her suffering was over, and the true sense of being surrounded by love that I felt. Her memorial, with more than three hundred guests, was an incredible tribute to her beautiful, well-lived life. (My one regret is actually that I did not take a photo — I was so humbled by the turn out, I wish I had.)
• A courthouse love. I hesitated to attend this wedding, afraid I’d make others uncomfortable with my freshness of my loss, but I was so grateful I put that aside to attend my friends Jannah and Nim’s courthouse wedding in Manhattan. It was a quintessential New York experience I felt so lucky to be a part of — the energy was palpable, the people-watching was divine, and the love was so pure and simple. Everything that came after, from dim sum in Chinatown to a whirl on the SeaGlass Carousel to the fantastic Theater XIV performance that night added up to the best, most joyous day.
• Enjoying Upstate. I kept saying to everyone, did the leaves look like this last year? I guess technically, they must have — I was just in too much of a fog to have really noticed them. This year, I really enjoyed them to the max, taking several what I called “ grief field trips ” such as a kayaking trip in the Albany Pine Bush Preserve, a hiking trip to Grafton Fire Tower, and adorable upstate farm excursions to places like June Farms and Forts Ferry Farm. No surprise — it really did wonders for me to get outside and get into nature. You just do have to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and it helped for me that my feet kept landing in glorious piles of multi-hued leaves.
• A joyful “I do.” My acceptance to my first big, Israeli wedding (the celebration for the courthouse ceremony I’d witnessed in New York) was a last minute one — but when I booked my ticket and started throwing my suitcase together, I felt an instant sense of relief. I bought a dress that I love more than perhaps any dress I’ve ever worn before (though I am considering my lack of perfect glamour shot wearing it to be a lowlight, FYI), I got my hair done, and I danced the night away. It felt good to feel good.
• Time in Tel Aviv. It’s never not a highlight for me. I didn’t do much — I was still in that heavy fog, after all — but I did some retreat planning, did my best to be mentally present for all wedding festivities, and was, much to my surprise, finding myself swept off my feet by the best friend of the groom. From a surprise dinner at the posh restaurant at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art to a motorcycle ride out to a bowling date in the suburbs, I felt like I was starring in my own romantic comedy — and those were just the vibes I needed after a year of living a pretty grim drama.
• Dia De Los Muertos. From the moment I realized that Dia De Los Muertos was exactly one month after my mom passed away, I felt really strongly that I wanted to spend that day in Mexico ahead of my birthday celebration there. It was very special for me that my dear friend Kat, who also lost her mom to cancer not long before me, arrived to do so with me — I think we both really craved that connection to the idea that our moms are still with us, somehow, and found comfort in a cultural tradition that celebrates that. While Cancun is far from the most epic place to spend the holiday, we truly had a magical authentic local experience by allowing ourselves to just blow in the wind.
• Somewhere new. There’s something about a new destination that always makes me feel new again. And this was one of my favorite categories of places: under-appreciated gem . The hip hostel, the uber cool art tour, the funky restaurants — I actually really loved Downtown Cancun, the perfect place to sleep off my jetlag and prep for my epic birthday bash.
• The meeting of the mujeres. I don’t know, from the moment it dawned on me that Isla Mujeres translated to Island of the Women, I really became hooked on the idea of inviting my closest girlfriends there for a week of indulgent fun in the sun . I definitely had the kind of hosting nerves anyone would have bringing a large group who largely didn’t know each other together, but wow, I could not have asked for better results. Everyone hit it off like crazy, staying in touch and even visiting each other after the fact. Nothing warmed my heart like seeing this crew, made up of the most special women from so many phases of my life, bond. I joked the week was like my very own inner circle Wander Women Retreat and honestly — it was! (Except TBH I was day drunk more.)
• Staying in the Seashell House. You know how sometimes you see something on Pinterest, or read about it in a magazine, and you think wow that’s a dream, but you don’t actually really imagine yourself actually experiencing it? Like it would be too hard, or too expensive, or too crowded, and it just probably won’t happen? I think that’s how I felt about the Seashell House. But then suddenly the exact dates were open, I snapped them up, and we all were there — it was perfection. And the house was more special, love-filled, and fantastical than I ever could have dreamed .
• Turning thirty. It’s not an easy milestone for most women to cross, but I did so afloat a giant floating clamshell wearing a mermaid top at my giant seahell house guzzling champagne and surrounded by my best friends so, the blow was definitely softened. From the gifts the girls smuggled in from themselves and other friends who couldn’t be there from around the world to my dad finding a way to get flowers delivered to being surprised with a morning massage while the girls jazzed the place up, I really felt immensely loved. It was perfect.
• Diving the world’s first underwater museum. As an avid diver, MUSA has been on my list for a while — and I can’t think of a better way to experience it than first taking a private tour of the artist’s workshop, followed by diving it with all my best girlfriends onboard! I kept having to pinch myself looking around and seeing all my girls underwater .
• Day drinking in Isla Mujeres. I have to admit, the nightlife in Isla Mujeres in November is nothing to write home about — especially as we arrived to find the big party hostel on the island, home of regular beach parties, had just shut down for renovations (sob). But we made the most of it, embracing the island’s beach club scene and having a blast drinking frozen cocktails in the sea and watching the world go by. Isla Mujeres is definitely a casual, fun-loving island with no pretense — I know I keep using the word perfect, but I couldn’t have asked for a better fit for this event.
• Spending time with my second fam in Sarasota. My best childhood friend’s parents are planning to buy a house there someday, and the timing worked out perfectly for me to crash their trip on my way back from Mexico. I wish I had had longer there, as I really need to explore Sarasota more properly someday (how have I still not been to the Ringling Museum?!) But I found an adorable yoga studio, we went on a hilarious sunset boat cruise, and just soaked up precious time together.
• Finally making it to DEMA! I’ve been wanting to go for years, and it was so exciting to finally be there making the connections, soaking up the knowledge, and feeling like I was ready to bring Wander Women Retreats to the next level. Several of our upcoming retreats were born right there on the showroom floor! Conferences of this size are totally overwhelming and I quickly figured out I was unprepared and definitely didn’t make the full most of this one, but I’m so glad I finally dipped my toe in. You don’t know till you now. One moment that really stands out and humbles me was getting to see Allison, who has been a mentor to me and who donated the discretionary fund of her cancer-fighting scuba non-profit to a brain cancer research center in my mom’s name. I’ve never felt more an embraced part of the dive community than that moment.
• Just unwinding in Jacksonville. Angie and I always joke that we are determined that I never write a proper travel blog post about this place, but rather decompress completely instead. I actually love our routine when I visit — she has an amazing office set up for coworking, and the coziest couch set up for relaxing. I was feeling really tied to my regular workout routine on this trip and sought out a different studio every day for yoga or group fitness, which was my big adventure of the week (and I found some amazing ones — it’s one of my favorite things about traveling!)
• Treasured memories. While it’s hard to list a memorial for my mom as a “highlight,” I am grateful that I made the last-minute decision to fly to Illinois for the service my grandma held for my mom (she was unable to travel to Albany for ours due to her health). I got to hear some beautiful tributes to my mom from those who knew her long before I did, and I got to spend precious time with my Grandma. We had conversations I’ll never forget.
• A grateful Thanksgiving. I had a lot to be thankful for, in a year that could have been awful: my best friend spending the holiday with me, starting the day with a family Turkey Trot, complete with custom team sweaters, a dinner table surrounded by people who loved my mom and were all in it together .
• Exploring Albany. One of my goals for exploring my hometown has been seeing more of the Capital Craft Beverage Trail — it’s something I’ll definitely write a blog post on someday when I’ve ticked off a bit more of it! But having Amanda, my fellow cocktail connoisseur, in town was a great excuse to check out a quirky local distillery and a cute little meadery.
• Heating up in Houston. A spontaneous trip to Texas was just what I needed to defrost as the weather started to drastically turn in December. From kitschy tiki bars to modern Indian restaurants to a historic cistern to hip, sprawling outdoor bars, Houston took me entirely by surprise — and I loved it .
• A magical bonus weekend in NYC. Last minute flights from Texas to Albany were nuts, so I stopped in New York for a few days — and was totally reacquainted with the magic of New York in December. I splurged on an indulgent date at Aire Ancient Baths when Gil came through town, had a beautiful girl’s night at Jajaja, had a hedonistic night out at the artsy Zerospace, and finally checked out the aerial arts space The Muse in Gowanus. Walking back through Brooklyn, I looked over at Manhattan and had a total “should I move back here?” moment that I haven’t been able to shake since.
• Embracing Christmas in Albany. I finally gave in, and am glad I did — a Christmas lunch at June Farms (I just couldn’t love that place more!), and a nostalgic Empire State Plaza skate with my stepdad set the tone for the season.
• Discovering Big Bear. I had it in my head to go to Big Bear for a while, and I’m SO thrilled to have finally made it there for the perfect shake-up-tradition year with my dad. It made it feel enough like Christmas, but not so much as to be painful. I know I probably sound like a crazy person about all this holiday stuff, but I think those who have lost a loved one understand — it really throws you out of orbit for the first round without them. Anyway, Big Bear was cute, I got in my annual ski day, and I loved getting to just dip into winter for a weekend and then head back to LA — and I was so thrilled we were blessed with a big, gorgeous snow before leaving! (Which really made me feel better that I’d been to busy to enjoy any of the truly beautiful snowfalls that fell in Albany.) I can’t wait to see more of California like this.
• A shockingly lovely LA Christmas. Again, maybe it was because it felt so different from any Christmas I’d had before, which is what I was craving. But the ballet at the Oscars theater, the pop-up holiday bar with my girlfriends, the morning of caroling on Skid Row with the non-profit my dad works with, the driving with the top down to pick up fancy donuts on Christmas Eve — it was all a blast, and I’m so grateful to have this memory with my dad and Tucker.
• A coworkation. When my dad announced he’d be jetting off to Mexico immediately following Christmas, I couldn’t accept the dogsitting gig quick enough. My friend Dave popped by to cowork for a bit, and I flew down newly crowned Wander Women Retreats Manager slash BFF Amanda for a week of crash launching our 2020 retreats. It was the wildest time — we seriously didn’t look up from our laptops for days — but we were so dang proud of all we were building. We finally came up for air on launch day with an impromptu Wander Women Retreats “holiday party” that consisted of a Korean Spa sesh, Korean BBQ, and the perfect amount of soju.
• Toasting to a new year. I didn’t quite know what to do with myself for New Year’s, and so when Amanda proposed we take some friends of hers up on an invite to a house party in Orange County, I said why not. It was an adorably multi-generational Persian disco-themed 30th, and at midnight, rather than rush to the dance floor to kiss someone, Amanda and I rushed to the bar and did a shot together, which really summed up perhaps my most significant relationship of the year, this dear friendship. We toasted to a big year of work and travel together, and my resolution? To have fun. (Ah, how 2020 laughed at that one! But we were innocent then.)
Lowlights and Lessons
• Losing my mom. Well, it is hard to imagine ever listing a lower lowlight than that. And while it was something we’d spent fifteen months in dread of, there are some waves of emotions nothing can prepare you for until they are washing over you. I miss her terribly and her death does still haunt me.
• A scary Halloween… and not in the way you think. Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays and I really agonized over where to spend this one — arrive early in Mexico, stopover in New York or Mexico en route, or stay till the last second in Tel Aviv? As resolved, I just wanted to have fun. In the end I stayed in Israel and didn’t expect Halloween to be an emotional holiday at all, for obvious reasons, but I was struck by how grief stricken I was that night. It was an ominous warning for all the holidays ahead, and ended my trip on a weird note. I thought dang, if I can’t make it through this, what are the emotional land mines of my birthday, Thanksgiving and Christmas going to be like? It was definitely a wake up call that I needed to be gentle and patient with myself while I went through this process.
• Relearning an old lesson. I vowed ages ago that with some rare exceptions, I was not doing one night hotel stays anymore. They make me feel rushed and frazzled, and I never really enjoy the experience. When two hip hotels offered me one night stays in Tel Aviv, I thought what the heck, I can try them out for my retreat. But they didn’t really work for the trips and yup, beautiful as they were I left feeling rushed and frazzled from all the check-ins and check-outs and packing and unpacking and trying to document the whole thing. I know myself, lesson (re)learned.
• Relearning another old lesson. How many times do I have to drag my drone somewhere only to set it all up and realize I need an app update, I didn’t fully charge the batteries, or there’s some other issue? I brought mine to the Dead Sea, along with some floaties which Gil spent actual ages blowing up for me to get a drone shot… only to realize I needed to do some updates and didn’t have the service to do them. Womp womp. I really do have it on my future goal list to learn my drone better — there’s so much more I could do with it, I know! (I once saw the DJI Store in Miami offers tutoring, which I’d love to try next time I’m in Florida.)
• Airbnb awkwardness. Kind of a weird note to start a stay when the police are called to evict a group that was double booked for your accommodation — and refuse to leave! That, plus the weirdness over our private chef dinner for our final night in Mexico, definitely give me pause to recommend the place we rented to others. But I will say, it was otherwise a largely perfect trip. Sure, I was bummed the nightlife was so quiet and had some hosting stress that I should have planned more island activities, but overall it really was a blissful, easygoing beach week.
• Driver drama. I landed in Florida, got in my rental car, and made it all the way to the garage exit when the attendant handed me my license and said, ma’am, you know this is expired right? I hadn’t — I’d grabbed my old one when I left Albany weeks before but had no reason to notice it before. I was so annoyed at myself, especially as this was not my first driver license snafu . Knowing I’d been able to find a solution before, I went back in to try to bargain and while there were definitely moments I thought I might as well go back into the airport and buy a ticket back up Albany (the trip to Florida was impossible without a car) I eventually was able to show them a virtual copy of my license on the NY DMV website, and get permission from an annoyed yet sympathetic manager to have an exception. Super stressful — when will I learn! But gosh, was I relieved when I finally got on the road.
• A real life sharknado. I was so excited when I got to DEMA and spoke to my long-time virtual friend, new IRL-friend Sarah Richards and spontaneously decided to join the Girls That Scuba shark diving trip that weekend in Jupiter, Florida. This is what it was all about, pushing my comfort zone and being spontaneous! I booked an adorable Airbnb and really looked forward to a new corner of the Sunshine State. Less than twenty-four hours later, the trip was cancelled due to a huge storm coming in — and my Airbnb hosts refused to budge on refunding my expensive booking. Luckily I was able to get a refund via Airbnb through their extenuating circumstances policy, but it was an enormous hassle. Sometimes I feel like I spend half my life fighting for refunds.
• The biggest shipping facepalm of my life. And it’s tough competition, considering I once spent a fortune shipping a huge box of my belongings to meet me halfway through a trip, in Europe, only to never see them again. But while I was visiting Angie in Jacksonville I decided to ship home my fifty pound bag, so that I could travel lighter to Illinois for the weekend — it would be about the same cost as baggage fees, and so much less of a hassle. (Or so I thought!) I dropped it off at her local UPS, where they package things up for you, along with some Amazon returns that they scanned the barcodes for, and didn’t think about it again. Until I was at home in Albany the following week, and was surprised to see one of my tiny little Amazon boxes on my front step. Uh oh, I thought… and looking at the label realized, yup, it was the label for my suitcase. Which meant they’d swapped the labels — and my suitcase was on its way to Amazon.
I called UPS customer service in a panic and they told me it wasn’t their problem and to call Amazon. Like what, you want me to ask Jeff Bezos to go dig around the warehouse, find my suitcase, and send it back to me at his own expense?! I was infuriated and terrified I’d once again never see my stuff again. It was a long, hard fight but they finally intercepted my bag and got it rerouted back to me two weeks later. Even worse? It was soaking wet and smelled of mold and when I opened it, yup, black mold was covering half my clothes. Eventually I got them to refund the shipping and send me a $200 compensation check but wow, what a logistical nightmare (and I spent ages fruitfully trying to get the mold out of some of my favorite things — it didn’t work.) The one thing I will say is the staff at the Jacksonville UPS, once I reached out to them directly, were so deeply apologetic and really truly tried to make amends and talked to me like humans and not like corporate drones, and it actually really did ease the sting of the whole thing. Kindness matters!
• The fun and frustration of long distance. At times it was a blast, at times it was confusing and hard. I definitely didn’t expect to fall for a guy living in Israel during this time! Honestly, as I write this, I think despite the challenges I put it in the wrong column — the highlights were worth it.
• My absolute indecision and agony over the holidays. I think I’ve waxed poetic enough about this. But wow. I really did not know what to do with myself, and I don’t think there’s been an emotion I’ve had more anxiety trying to avoid feeling in my entire life.
• The business of closing up a life. I’d been warned, but wow — is it truly an almost overwhelming amount of work, sorting out someone’s affairs once they are gone. In our case, it started less than an hour after my mom passed, when we fulfilled her wish of donating her brain to cancer research and set off a logistical barrage of issues and has stretched well into a year after her passing, with little light at the end of a tunnel. I know it is a sign that she lived a layered life and that we are blessed, but sometimes it is so complicated and I feel so underwater with it all I just want to scream into the abyss. Ironically, she’s the one I most wish I could call for comfort with it all.
• Saying goodbye to my home. On that note, but distinct enough that it deserves its own bullet point, was the very sudden recognition that the house I grew up in was no longer my home, at least not technically. My stepdad, who it now belonged to (and who has always generously welcomes me there), could decide to move at any moment. My mom had thirty years of belongings and generations of family heirlooms stuffed into every corner of that house, and while I did my best to start organizing it while I was living there taking care of her, I realized after her passing it had only been the tip of the iceberg. I want to get the house into the shape that if my stepdad decides to downsize, the remaining things I and my sister would like to keep will be organized and culled enough to call a moving company and have them put into storage, drama free. And while I’ve donated carloads, tossed tons of trash, recycled a mountain, and shipped many boxes to relatives, I’m shocked to say that a year later, there’s still much to do. I can’t wait to have this done and dusted and off my shoulders, someday.
Best and Worst Beds of the Months
Best: I mean, is it even a contest? The Seashell House, but of course!
Worst: A hotel dispute I’m still trying to resolve — nearly a year later. It’s kind of a long story but I used Hotels.com, normally my go-to, to book a night at The Moxy Hotel in New York in December. Only I realized within an hour, when I checked my email, that I’d accidentally booked for January. The live chat agent told me to call the hotel directly which I did, and they told me no problem — they’d cancel without fees and to go ahead and rebook the correct date. Of course January rolls around and I’m charged a no-show fee — and by the time I’m done with my retreat madness and doing my quarterly accounting, they’ve closed due to COVID. It’s an ongoing battle, and I’m so exhausted and infuriated by it. Lesson learned — get everything in writing, even assurances that seem casually and breezily granted. Remember what I said about spending my life chasing refunds?
Best and Worst Meals of the Months
Best: Jajaja with the girls in New York. I don’t know if it was the food, the pride of seeing a stunning restaurant that one of my friends designed, or the joy of having a reunion for my NYC-based Mexico girls. But we had the best night, one of the kind that makes winter in New York suddenly feel warm.
Worst: None that stand out. Lucky me!
This quarter was all about retreat planning. My blog, at least in terms of attracting campaigns and big projects, still felt like it was in “pause” mode from my time being more or less unavailable for those kinds of things due to my caretaking responsibilities. One aspect I had control over and could jump back into headfirst straight away was my retreats, and so I did.
From aggressively planning my Israel retreat in Tel Aviv to planting the seed of a Yucatan trip in Mexico to hunkering down in Los Angeles and flying in Amanda, my retreats manager, to prepare for our biggest launch ever, we hustled like we have never hustled before, launching six retreats at once ahead of the New Year, with multiple others in development. It was nuts, and we’d never ridden a bigger high. I was on track to go from one of the lowest points of my career to one of the financial highest — we projected six figure earnings in 2020 (lol at that, in retrospect.)
Health and Fitness Update
This quarter was definitely a wake-up call about balancing life back on the road with the fitness routine that had really gotten me through the darkest days of the previous year. A workout was no longer the much-anticipated highlight of my otherwise difficult and largely stationary and routine day — it was one of a dozen things I was trying to fit into a suddenly full and busy life on the road, again. That was a tough transition, and one I continue to try to balance.
What Was Next
Thanks for sticking with me through this much-delayed 2019 recap. Onto 2020!
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 .