This fucking pandemic

On perhaps the most perfect night of the year, I arrive to Jess’s house. It’s early evening, which means in the spring, it’s still light outside.

The winter in Las Vegas has come and gone.

I powered through it fighting the temptation to call it a day when the sun sunk behind the Spring Mountains at the ungodly hour of 4 p.m., casting the Valley into darkness.

I’ve always rebelled against the early hour of sunset in the winter in Las Vegas. That, and the unforgiving dry stick-your-head-in-an-oven heat in the summer are the two worst natural aspects of Las Vegas.

The summer, I can live with.

But, the winter and its dark and short days are harder.

IMG_5083

Even when I lived in London and the days were relegated to less than half shrouded in a cover of clouds or at best an icy cold winter sun, I managed. Maybe it’s because it was London and living in London was one of my dreams.

Las Vegas? That’s a different story.

Winter 2019 – 2020, I made it through easier than most.

I was in and out of the city starting in October, going from Thailand to Vegas to New York for my James Beard Dinner back to Vegas for my James Beard Dinner followed by the holidays and then living and breathing the vegan dining month I created and run in Las Vegas (this year marked its expansion into two new markets, too, so there’s that).

Then, it was on to Madrid and Paris. Then, just as the hour hand ticked back to old daylight life, I was in New York and Chicago.

I barley had a chance to register the late afternoon sunsets and hibernation in my living room in front of my gas fireplace before the daylight was brought back to me.

Then, when the pandemic happened, I became brutally aware of every ticking minute.

I watched from my couch as the sun crept behind the mountains later and later and suddenly it was 7 p.m. but it was still light out and my brain and body were confused, because holy-fuck-I-was-home-all-day-and-still-it’s-nearly-bed-time.

As the days stretched longer and the shutdown continued, I began a deep dive into me.

Sitting with Jess — six feet apart because I’m not messing around — on her front porch is the first time I’ve seen her in two months. The last time was when I was at her house filming her making a meal for Vegans, Baby.

She’s an accomplished chef and in the year we’ve known each other, we’ve gone through so many life changes together.

Relationships.

Careers.

Career-defining moments.

Cities.

Drunken-morning-after-milestone-events eating a terrible breakfast followed by just-past stumbling-regaining-our-composure-strolls through crisp fall days in Central Park.

Tonight, a lifetime has passed when we stand in our own bubbles of airspace.

I want to hug her. My arms have hugged exactly one person in two months. My arms know and miss embracing another warm body.

We instead smile and acknowledge the weirdness. The fucking pandemic.

IMG_5049

We sit outside on plastic Adirondack chairs drinking wine as the last gorgeous night of spring displays her greatness.

Ducks waddle down her street, a cute coupe out for their nightly exploration of tufts of grass and puddles.

A hummingbird flits in and out of the yard.

The sun begins to set and the puffy clouds turn a cotton candy pink.

We talk. Catch up. Recall our lives pre-COVID. Pre-shut-down.

My brain kicks into the “if only” mindset as we sit together.

If only …

I had appreciated that meal at Esther’s Kitchen the night we were there drinking $40 bottles of wine and dipping fresh, homemade sourdough into tickle-the-back-of-your-throat olive oil.

I had taken the time to be aware. To be present. To have gone through New York and the Beetlejuice Bar knowing I wouldn’t have the option to go back anytime soon.

Savored being at an event where I could whisper in someone’s ear.

Cherished a moment of intimacy.

Sitting on her front porch, that same wave that has washed over me regularly since the pandemic happens again: I wasn’t grateful enough.

I was grateful after it was gone.

I miss hugs. And lingering dinners. And the excitement of a new crush. The anticipation of a first kiss. I miss making plans. I miss friends. I miss going to a grocery store without a goddamn mask.

But, I don’t miss the tightness in my chest. Feeling like I needed a minute.

Just. A. Minute. I would tell my mom on the phone. I just need a fucking minute and I can’t because I have to work and I have to make enough money to pay my bills.

The pandemic removed those pressures from my life. I suddenly had more minutes. I had no money, but neither did anyone else.

I had time.

And space.

And daylight.

And an empty calendar.

I. Had. Me.

This fucking pandemic has brought out the worst in people. I won’t even get started on the entitlement, the selfishness, the reckless advice being dolled out from armchair experts (ok, shit, I did get started).

It’s also brought calm, And mountains of gratitude. And self love. It’s made me appreciate my life. My breath. The strength my body gains each day as I move deeper into yoga poses. Cuddling with the animals who live with me. The smells of garlic and onions cooking in a pan. Being able to write. The time the sun sets. My friends. My world.

Yes, it took a pandemic to put a pause on the go-go-go of my life and force a hard re-set. And yes, I come from a place of utter privilege that my experience is one of blessings.

Tonight, with Jess, there was a feeling of old life. Of comfort. Of being in a pre-pandemic world that evolves around love and friendship and trust.

I’ve had this rare insight into myself the past few days. A renewed desire to write and write and write and take no prisoners.

It took a fucking pandemic, but here. I. am.

Blog Blog Featured Nevada Uncategorized
Zion and realizing dreams

And so it is

And so it is.

I scrawl across a fresh page in my journal, then date it 5/22/20, Zion National Park.

Zion and realizing dreams

I take a deep breath, letting the fresh air push down into my lungs and close my eyes. The gentle breeze nudges the tendrils of bangs I didn’t manage to get up into a half-bun on top of my head earlier.

Leaning into the deep arms of an old tree whose veins leave divots in my skin, I let her cradle me and feel the energy from her, the Virgin River at my toes, and the giant orange and red mountain faces reaching to the sky in front of me.

I almost didn’t go to Zion today.

The pandemic has been a lot of things to me. It’s been a time to grieve and mourn for the projects I had and was so excited to pursue. It’s been a time to dust off my shoulders and put on my adult pants and reinforce the idea that, at the end of the day, the only person I can rely on is myself. It’s been a time to create rituals and focus on my health and wellness.

And sanity.

For more than two months, I’ve been pretty much stationary and the company I have kept is with my two cats and new pup. I walk every morning in an effort to keep a routine and honor myself and movement and Vitamin D.

My trip to New York and to Delaware to see my family came and went, and I sat at home dreaming of getting on a flight.

Dreaming of a lot of things.

Feeling the sticky heat of Thailand and the calls  of frogs; walking through Tompkins Sqaure Park in the spring sunshine, green leaves thick and rustling; of lounging at table on the sand, icy cold beers with sweat on the bottles, squirting lime into them and dipping chips into fresh-made guacamole in Puerto Vallarta; flakey bits of croissant dotting an old, wooden-slatted table on the sidewalk in Paris; sipping vermouth or tinto de verano on a terrazo in Madrid.

It’s funny what your brain lets you conjure when you’re in isolation.

It’s even funnier what it doesn’t.

I’m in Zion for a reason.

A reason I’ve been avoiding because … it felt uncomfortable.

I’ve had homework all week, which is a change because normally I’m the one giving others homework in my coaching. But, the table turned on me this week when a friend of mine who literally makes dreams come true decided he wanted to focus his effort on making my dream a reality.

Except … I have no idea what my dream is.

Less than a week earlier, we sit on the phone as I ramble on and on about the things I want in my life. What I think are my dreams.

To make Vegans, Baby national.

To launch a TV show.

To live in New York.

So, we start to dig in. Like, really dig.

But, I can’t narrow down a dream.

Am I broken? Is something wrong with me?

I tell him I always follow my dreams, which is true. And that they always come true. Which is also true.

“Then fear is holding you back,” he tells me.

I balk.

Nope. No way.

“You haven’t allowed yourself to really dream,” he says. “You need to think about your dream life. What it would look like. What it feels like.”

Sure, ok.

“You’re dream life without reality in the way.”

There it is.

So, I commit to writing a few pages of what my dream life looks like and suspend the reality of the current situation.

It’s really fucking hard.

I sit after the call and look over the prompt in my notebook.

“What does your dream life look like?”

What does it look like?

I’m supposed to just grab a pen and write and write, letting the dream expand and flow onto paper. But, I get caught in my head. Reality keeps shutting it down. Keeps reminding me that if I allow myself to imagine my dream life, it’s without the pandemic. Without social distancing.

My dream life includes lavish events, open borders, intimate conversations with passionate chefs in dark booths with homemade wine and plant-based food in far corners of the world. Celebrating talent. Celebrating steps people take to a more compassionate life. Loving deeply. Sharing. Traveling. Making the world a kinder, gentler place for all beings.

The pandemic and my fear of never being able to do these things holds me back from writing.

Instead, I spend five days playing out my dream life in my head. What it looks like. Where it takes place. I negotiate my dream. I problem solve with the current climate. But, I still can’t bring myself to sit and write it down.

May 22 is my one-year anniversary from being hit by a car and surviving.

Yes, I got physically hit by a car when crossing the street. In a crosswalk. With the crosswalk sign signaling it was safe to cross.

It was a lie.

Half-way through the first lane, an old, beat-up Kia SUV turns left. I freeze in the lane, glaring at him and waiting for him to stop … but he doesn’t. I realize I’m about to get hit and I jump back, not quick enough. The right side of the vehicle hits me and the tire pins my shoe under it, causing me to fall back in place.

I sit on the ground, a light May drizzle coming down. In utter shock.

I’m alive.

I’m also in pain. I take stock of myself.

I’m alive.

There’s no blood. No broken bones I can see. I’m in pain, but I’m alive.

The driver pulls over and runs out of his SUV.

“I’m so sorry,” he says. The guy is young, mid-20s at best. His brown hair is scraggly, shoulder length and he’s wearing a baseball cap advertising a meat company.

None of it matters to me. I sit there and blink up at him as the rain falls into my eyes.

“You fucking hit me,” is all I can muster.

Zion and realizing dreams

I survive. I come out of the accident with a 30 percent compression fracture in my L5 (which was actually discovered months after the accident because no one seemed to have looked hard enough until the MRI), and a few other back injuries. I get put into three-times-a-week physical therapy and borderline molested by the massage therapist at the PT office.

He’s never had any other complaints.

Yet another time in my life, I have to recount to someone how my body was violated. This time, it’s in the hands of a professional I had no inkling I should not trust. They jockeyed my schedule around in the system so I wouldn’t have to be touched by this man, they changed the protocol with my massages, too. No longer would the door be closed when I was in the massage room.

I began to feel out-of-control in my life. I didn’t trust anyone. It was horrible to drive because I would always think a car was going to hit me. I would close my eyes and see an alternate reality — one where I’m laying on the street and my insides are crushed and I’m dead.

The PTSD and anxiety nearly destroy me as I maneuver through my post-hit-by-a-car life.

My feeing of safety is taken away from me and I grow more and more terrified of being alone and dying, as panic attacks always linger on the horizon of my new reality.

The pandemic, in a way, has given me back some semblance of control. It’s taken away my income. It’s paused my dreams I allowed myself to have. But, I have this curated bubble now and only let in what makes me feel safe.

I also start to feel shame, that I have to explain to people why I won’t go out, why I won’t dine-in, why I spent the first month basically holed up in my apartment downing bottles of Kick-Ass Immune Activator and Lorazepam. It’s triggered something else I tucked away and thought I had worked through via copious amounts of EMDR — my first panic attack in Thailand where I felt the walls close in on me and couldn’t breathe. I thought I was going to die alone in Thailand, my last moments being ravished by fear and knowing it was the end of my life.

I imagine the virus and getting sick and the walls closing in on me and the utter terror from that night floods back and lingers every day for two weeks, until I know I’m not sick.

It’s a real bitch to explain to people, so I don’t. Instead, I create my sanctuary, reading books and sipping hot tea and walking every morning and working out and breathing. Deep, deep breathing to remind myself I am capable of taking breaths and in that time, the anxiety dissipates. It’s the first time in a year I can breathe and be present.

So, when the date comes up marking the one-year anniversary of being hit, I allow myself to feel it … but not too much.

The homework assignment looms in my mind while the battle boils in real life versus the maskers and anti-maskers and I need to leave. To get the fuck out of Vegas and connect with nature.

Zion and realizing dreams

I drive out late in the morning because even though I know it’s only a day trip, I still need to get my walk and workout in to keep my routine.

It’s windy and the sky over Las Vegas is gloomy, dust hovering in the atmosphere.

I try to tap into my inner-child. The girl who loved traveling. Who would delight in waking up on a Saturday to her father announcing they were going on an adventure and then hopping on the Metro and exploring DC.

There’s an energy around me today. One that feels defeated.

Earlier in the morning, I had a call with the woman who discovered me and brought me to New York. In the year-plus we’ve known each other, we’ve become close. She tells me about the changes she’s had to make to her work, and I realize the work I was doing with her is gone. And that work is such a big part of my dream.

As I drive towards Utah, I try to force myself to smile and it feels fake. The corners of my mouth refuse to curl upward.

Was this a bad idea? Should I turn around now?

I continue on, my car being knocked around by the wind hurling itself through the vast expanse of the blooming desert the road cuts through.

Then, the sky clears and becomes that perfect, deep blue. The landscape changes from desert to green, with bright, rust-colored mountains in the distance.

I feel it. Joy.

Zion is nearly empty, which means I won’t have to be near people. I’m delighted.

I grab a wrap at a local cafe and stuff it into my backpack and continue on to the park.

With no clue where I’m going, or what I’m doing, I decide to leave it up to what feels right. So, right past the turn for the scenic drive, there’s an empty spot. I turn and park and grab my backpack and water and get out.

I want to walk and walk and surround myself in nature. I feel my body craving it.

Tucked inside my backpack is my journal. For a few days, I’d thought about where I wanted to sit and write down my dream and all I could imagine was a place in nature, surrounded by peace and beauty and vibrant energy.

I cut across the street to a trailhead and read the placard. Easy. 100-foot elevation. Paved. Winding along the Virgin River.

Done.

I begin to walk down the path, feeling my body soak up the sun. Stopping to pause on bridges to notice the bubbling Virgin River and imagine where it’s coming from. Looking up to the towering rockfaces surrounding me. Listening to the wind rustle the leaves. Being present and aware of the life surrounding me.

Here, there are no anxieties. There are no fears. There is nothing but beauty and nature and Earth and it’s exactly where I’m supposed to be.

I wander along the path, a feeling of wonder enveloping me as I continue.

Zion and realizing dreams

Finally, I spot a path to the river that’s free from people and make my way down to it. The soft, orange sand encases my feet as they sink in each step I take. Wind turns up the leaves of the trees, revealing a mint-colored belly to the thick, green tops.

On the bank of the river is a tree who’s thick roots wind and twist along it, finally diving into the water.

This is where I am going to write.

I thank the tree for permission to sit on her, and grab my journal and a pen and open it to the first empty page as I feel myself mold into the roots.

I begin to write.

What my dream life looks like.

The words flow. My hand flies over the paper as my dreams pour out of me, word-by-word, line-by-line.

I give myself permission to dream. Permission to suspend reality. Permission to feel what it feels like to have my dreams come true. Permission to see myself where I want to be without the pandemic grey cloud stopping me in my tracks.

I write four pages and then seal it.

And so it is.

The pages fly closed in the wind and I sink deeper into the cradle of the roots, looking up. Listening. Breathing.

It’s beautiful.

For a moment, tears build in my eyes as I sit there in intense gratitude for where I am, and for being alive a year later.

When I am ready, I get up, put my journal in my bag and continue down my path.

Lighter. Brighter. Dreams down on paper.

I drive home with the windows down, a smile plastered to my face. And, when I see the skyline of Las Vegas, I feel love.

Americas Blog Blog Featured Utah

Sea Monkey and Sunsets

Sea Monkey in Puerto Vallarta

The surf pounds the well-packed sand, littered with seaweed. I sit, toes buried deep where the water meets the shore. Behind me, local vendors run a sales rotation at Puerto Vallarta’s Sea Monkey, a beach bar with a handful of tables and umbrellas nestled on the coastline.

They sell everything: Drawings. Jewelry. Marionettes. Clothing. Massages.

As each one passes, my friend, Paula and I, tucked into 17 peso margaritas that could use a little more tequila and a little less sweet, catch up on life and quickly report to each seller, “no, gracias.”

Americas Blog Blog Featured Mexico

On Gratitude

on-gratitude

“I’m moving home,” I announce to my parents when I touch down in Philadelphia, fresh off a few days in Las Vegas.

“What?” they both ask, confused.

And, I get it. I really do.

Only few weeks ago I had told them I was meeting with immigration lawyers in Madrid to see how I could get another visa … to see if I could continue living my expat life for another year.

But, then it hit me like a proverbial ton of bricks: the last thing I wanted to do was stay in Madrid. Stay abroad. I was tired. Mentally. Physically. Every -ally you could imagine, that was me.

I had tossed the idea around with them a week earlier, after piercing my nose, and the words just flowed out of my mouth with zero censor:

I want to move home.

Blog Blog Featured Nevada

Midnight in the Garden of Good

Midnight

There’s a cacophony of crickets, frogs and dogs barking that wake me before my friend, Jodi, does.

Laying on the bamboo floor in her hut constructed of the same at Elephant Nature Park, I am still. Present in the total darkness as the world softly whispers outside the slats in her walls.

Her soft footfalls come from the bedroom and into the main room where I am splayed out, tucked under some thick blanket a top a Thai mat typical of what people sleep on.

She approaches me, and in a hushed voice so as not to wake her son in the other room, or the two dogs and cat somewhere nearby, she asks if I’m awake.

“Yeah,” I whisper back, slowly peeling back the blanket from my body and standing up. The floor creaks softly the way woven bamboo does when walked upon. It’s a sound I haven’t heard for months. Since I left the park in December 2014 to start one of many new chapters in my life.

“Follow me,” she instructs, opening her front door.

Asia Blog Blog Featured Thailand
Planning a trip to Krabi, Thailand? Add kayaking to your list!

Getting Prehistoric in Krabi

Planning a trip to Krabi, Thailand? Add kayaking to your list!
Editor’s Note: I was a guest of Tourism Authority of Thailand during my time in Krabi.

My paddle dips into the glassy green water of Bor Thor, and the shrimp start dancing.

Hundreds of tiny creatures pop out of the water, hop across it like rocks skipping, and then dive back down into its depths.

“We’re almost there,” our guide, Man, who also graciously volunteered to steer my kayak, informs us.

Our three fire-engine-red kayaks skirt around a small turn and into a mangrove forest and then we see it: a half-moon emerging from the water and moving upward into a towering karst shrouded in palm trees and other jungle foliage.

We’re kayaking in Krabi — something I honestly never thought I’d do. Mostly because, let’s be real, I’m not so skilled at kayak navigation.

Blog Blog Featured Responsible Tourism Reviews Thailand Tours