memories of island life

At the end of January, I wrapped up my three-month winter work-from-Hawaii (WFH?) adventure, and I headed back to the mainland. Since then, my tan has faded, my sun-bleached hair has darkened, my carefree island mindset has shifted, and my wardrobe has taken a drastic 180 degree turn from swimsuits to sweaters. I’ve regressed to winter-in-California-Cassidy. And while this has its own advantages, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t daydream about the endless goodness of island life.

Below, some moments, routines, and beauties of the experience that, with deep appreciation, will burn bright in my memory…

Returning to the “old” places I’d grown up visiting: Magic Sands, the Coffee Shack, Ho’okena, Turtle Beach.

Lots and lots of time with Grandma…and so much never-before-heard family lore.

Chocolate chip cookies, scones, cinnamon rolls and everything else from Kaya’s Bakery. Plus a shit ton of other good food. Like pumpkin pancakes and sliced turkey for Thanksgiving!

Swimming with humpback whales at Kiholo Bay (yes, this is a real photo!), and pods of dolphins at Two Step.

All the “new” places I hadn’t been to before: Waipio Valley, Mau’umae Beach, Kua Bay.

Momma visiting for a few weeks over the holidays.

Routine after-work solo hikes down to Kealakekua Bay.

Weekend snorkels at the Refuge followed by shmoozing with regulars and consuming ample amounts of coconut water, papaya, sardines, and chips.

Wearing t-shirts or tanks or swimsuits all day. Also a renewed love of wearing bright colors.

Visits (and adventures!) with family friends from home.

Stellar used bookstores. And ample time to read, write, be quiet, and channel my inner zen (seriously).

Celebrating turning a year older (mid-20s here I am!!!!) and Grandma turning a year older (80!).

Good weather: clean air, blue skies, tropical rainstorms, warm water, and stellar sunsets. Glorious background to everything.

(Contrary to what it seems, I was, in fact, working my butt off full time in between all this beauty.)

documenting strange times, pt. 2

Hi wonderful people— I hope you are safe and (sorta) sane out there.

Back in May of the year-that-shall-not-be-named, I noticed that I was subconsciously documenting the pandemic through iPhone screenshots. You may remember that post. A few months later, I recognized an additional form of my documentation: taking photos of signs. Signs of the pandemic (no pun intended).

During the year-that-shall-not-be-named (fine, this hyphenated thing is annoying, I give in: 2020), our world radically changed. And, naturally, the signs posted in store windows, on street corners, in airports, etc. all changed with it…providing us direction, information, and sometimes even comfort or humor as we navigated our new world.

Below, are some of my favorites.

January 4, 2020 | Months before the world fell apart, we spent the day as a family in San Francisco. I snapped this pic. Little did we know.
March 3, 2020 | Somewhere between the world beginning to fall apart and totally falling apart, the yoga studio I was helping to manage was still open. The staff was going crazy with the label-maker and sticking these suckers on every surface of the studio. Fastest path to enlightenment? Washing your hands for 20 seconds.
April 27, 2020 | On my neighborhood walk, I noticed the local elementary school’s marque: “4/13 RETURN TO SCHOOL”. It was 4/27 already and not a soul was to be found.
June 7, 2020 | All over the neighborhood, people started scattering painted rocks. Most of them were cheery or funny and made me smile. Moments of joy.
August 2, 2020 | Look closely at that sign. It says “Please deliver ALL packages to the front door.” This, friends, is not the front door. Not even close. Hope this resident had a crane to get these suckers closer to the door.
August 3, 2020 | Mom and Dad left me in charge of their house for a week while they went camping. Dad’s words in red, Mom’s in black. Pandemic priorities are clear.
August 29, 2020 | A documentation hybrid for me: I screen shotted a friend’s photo of this sign on Instagram. Could it have been more direct or accurate?
September 19, 2020 | At the beginning of the pandemic, this restaurant just had the word “OPEN” in large letters outside. Evidently, some people had their doubts. So in September they added a few additional signs, allowing them to *assure you* they were open! (In November, they added a large blown-up armadillo outside to further emphasize their openness.) Open. Open. Open.
October 10, 2020 | A table at a taqueria in Chicago I visited. It’s the little signs, sometimes, that draw my attention the most. The fact that the pandemic has seeped so deep into every interaction we have and move we make…still shocks me.
October 12, 2020 | University of Chicago was truly deserted when I putzed around its grounds. But you know, safety first. 6 feet, people. 6 feet.
October 17, 2020 | I’m a sucker for handmade cards. Also a sucker for handmade signs. This one, posted in a florist shop in Chicago, really made me smile.
October 17, 2020 | Six months into the pandemic, United was getting witty with its signage. Have to admit, I kinda loved it.
October 29, 2020 | I walk past this sign every day, but for some reason it really hit me that day. In the midst of an autumn surge in cases, my mind interjected an additional word as I walked past: Please [COVID], slow down.
November 14, 2020 | Another small sign and brilliant indicator of sanitization, at the Hertz rental car office in Kona, Hawaii. Who would have thought a little dot could make me feel so much safer.
November 9, 2020 | A few days after the US election, I came across this sign and interpreted it politically. Yes, politically. I took a picture of it and posted it on Instagram, labelling the straight line as four more years of Trump and the right curve as a shift to Biden. “It was a close one,” I wrote, “Thank god we didn’t miss that turn.”
December 11, 2020 | Special points go to the sign-makers who add local flare. Spread Aloha, not germs. All the way.
December 12, 2020 | C’mon, would a pandemic sign collection be complete without some anti-vaxxers? They’re out there every Saturday morning on the local highway, maskless and proud.
December 23, 2020 | Good news is, the rest of Hawaii (besides those two dozen silly-brains above) are PRO-MASK. And they often have a cute way of showing it. Creative kudos to the local supermarket and their emojis.
December 24, 2020 | The local post office in Kona has a few signs. Take your pick. You can’t go wrong!
January 12, 2021 | A handmade new years card from a friend. Not a sign, per say, but I’m going to hang it in my room as if it was one. Happy not-2020 to all!

Have you come across any fun / interesting / poignant pandemic signs? Email me them, I wanna see. And stay tuned for documenting strange times, pt. 3. I have some phenomenal screenshots of pandemic text messages (names removed!) to share.

In the meantime, stay safe out there. Sending love. XO

52 books, 52 weeks

I’m not one for New Years resolutions, but I do love a good New Years intention. And at the beginning of 2020, I decided I wanted to read more. So, I set myself a goal: 52 books for the 52 weeks of the year.

Spoiler alert: I finished my 52nd book last week…and my 53rd yesterday. You can see my entire reading list for this year here on my Goodreads account (the 52+ books I finished, plus the many others I started and abandoned).

Below, in brevity, are thoughts on how I managed to hit the mark, what I learned along the way, and “superlatives” for a few of my favorite reads.

How I did it

  1. I read multiple books at once. I used to only read one book at a time, but Gretchen Rubin recommended this strategy. Just like watching a few TV shows at once…when you’re not interested in West Wing you can watch Trevor Noah, or if both don’t fit your vibe you can always default to The Office. Same thing with books: reading more than one book meant that there was always one I felt in the mood to read.
  2. I read books that I liked. (I know, revolutionary!). I ended up reading lots of non-fiction, Israeli history/authors, self development, and *a bit* of fiction (but only fiction that came highly recommended by readers I trust 🙂 ). No forcing myself to read genres or authors I didn’t like.
  3. I “stacked” my new reading routine on top of another current, successful routine. I journal every morning religiously. I tacked on 30 minutes – 1 hour of reading to this existing habit. It worked like charm. Did that mean I woke up an hour earlier to read most mornings? Yep.
  4. I watched less TV. This one wasn’t really intentional, I just got into such a reading-groove that very few TV shows captivated me this year.
  5. I had some extra time on my hands with COVID. But, I was also working 40 hours a week and doing a million other things…so while COVID gave me a bit more time to read, it wasn’t much.

What I learned

  1. “I don’t have time” is not a good excuse for not reading. And it’s not even true. I can build time in for the things I love.
  2. Reading is a mediation: the more I read, the more creative, thoughtful, and inquisitive I feel in daily life.
  3. Returning as an adult to something (reading) that I loved doing as a child felt self-nurturing and soothing.
  4. Reading helps me develop my voice as a writer (like A LOT).
  5. I despise reading on the Kindle and screens of any kind (not a new realization…but definitely a reinforced one). Only real-deal books for me.

SUPERLATIVES: Best bookS I READ IN 2020

The most important (for me, for you, for society, for everyone) — Know My Name (Chanel Miller)

The one I’ll read over and over again — A Gentleman in Moscow (Amor Towles)

The most thought-provoking story — The Book of Longings (Sue Monk Kidd)

The biggest adventure — Undaunted Courage: The Pioneering First Mission to Explore America’s Wild Frontier (Stephen E. Ambrose)

The best sorta-autobiography — A Tale of Love and Darkness (Amoz Oz) *only b/c Know My Name was the most important book

The one that was small but mighty — Talking to My Daughter About Capitalism (Yanis Varoufakis)

The favorite modern-history of Israel — My Promised Land (Ari Shavit)

The one that made me confront my white-privilege the most — Hood Feminism (Mikki Kendall)

The personal mindset changer — Untamed (Glennon Doyle)

The random thrift-store purchase that became a page-turner — In the Company of the Courtesan (Sarah Dunant)

The one I didn’t want to like, but really, really did — Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations (Ronen Bergman)

Thoughts or questions on these books, the reading challenge, or what I learned? Give me a holler. I’ll be over here chipping away at a few more hundred pages before the end of the year, and I’ll start fresh with my next 52 on January 1, 2021 (hopefully…as long as the below doesn’t happen!)

thankful (a list)

I ❤ making lists. Sure, I love making long to-do lists to feel the joy of crossing things off (is this not a universal human satisfaction?!). But I also find comfort in making lists of things I’m anxious about, or what I’ve learned from xyz scenario, or moments I’m excited for, or topics I wish I knew more about. Perhaps someday I’ll make a list of why I love lists 😉 .

For now, though, I’ll just share an unedited, stream-of-consciousness list I wrote in honor of Thanksgiving. 2020 has been such a doozy. In the words of my wise mother, “Let’s not forget to count up the good things, too.”

In 2020, I’ve found myself thankful for…

  1. the humor that gets me thru the hard days
  2. clear, clean skies after wildfires
  3. COVID testing
  4. masks, gloves, PPE
  5. front-line workers
  6. books (Know My Name, A Gentleman in Moscow)
  7. FaceTime, GVC, technology to support us
  8. my health. really, more than ever before.
  9. the oldest, truest friends
  10. the colors pink and olive and blue
  11. access to healthcare
  12. clean, safe water
  13. a sturdy, reliable home
  14. employment 
  15. new coworkers
  16. women-of-waymo/x
  17. mentorship from wise folks
  18. mint tea
  19. toast and apricot jam 
  20. my strong body
  21. yoga, meditation, all of the things
  22. podcasts (On Being, Becoming Wise)
  23. the sound of wind in leaves
  24. the smell of laundry detergent (calming)
  25. people who believe in me
  26. grandparents 
  27. sisterhood 
  28. travel despite corona (OR, WA, IL, HI)
  29. brave voices + mvmts for equality
  30. simplified schedules (how did I ever do so much?)
  31. soft, forgiving clothes
  32. second chances
  33. opportunities to grow into being more me
  34. community…despite + in spite of COVID
  35. acts of remembrance
  36. fresh starts
  37. standing desk
  38. good ear plugs
  39. long hikes
  40. proximity to the ocean
  41. “thinking of you” texts
  42. liberal uses of “I love you”
  43. all the things that didn’t happen
  44. the kindness of strangers
  45. the things that fell thru
  46. financial stability
  47. more books (Four Agreements) + bookclubs
  48. long-distance friendship
  49. ice cream (tgod that exists) 
  50. a backyard
  51. a quiet space of my own to work
  52. Netflix 
  53. comedy shows (TY, Trevor Noah)
  54. JBiden and KHarris…big time
  55. and their families ^
  56. new neighborhood acquaintances
  57. dogs. dogs. dogs. 
  58. time in nature
  59. sky blue pink
  60. cameras + photos + videos
  61. journalists + freedom of the press
  62. tortilla chips (yum.)
  63. my relationships
  64. the shattering of perceived timelines
  65. people who are patient with me
  66. all my mental tools
  67. winter where it’s warm
  68. backpacking. alpine lakes.
  69. new cities. old friends. a new tattoo.
  70. holiday at the lake. forever friends.
  71. cousin time. road trips. PNW.
  72. time, resources, privilege to keep learning
  73. activism, freedom of speech + demonstration
  74. the places we return to that don’t change
  75. and those that do
  76. linen 
  77. no shoes while working (since March!)
  78. pesto. ya. so yum.
  79. siblings + siblings-of-circumstance
  80. working with brilliant, kind people
  81. Instagram (love/hate. but love.)
  82. people who tell me when I’m wrong
  83. my height (weird. but true.)
  84. Anthony FLIPPIN Fauci 
  85. dinners outside with friends
  86. strong local gvt 
  87. serendipity
  88. chances to change my mind
  89. journaling + writing
  90. big, fun earrings
  91. my parents’ generosity + love
  92. social services (the mail, garbage)
  93. libraries
  94. Amazon Prime (JBezos, I don’t like u, but…)
  95. models of vulnerability
  96. music
  97. friends that are family
  98. the growth that sprouts from grief
  99. opportunities to share + receive
  100. the twisted blessing of experiencing this year. history. this moment in time.

Of course, after I wrote this list in my journal, additions came to mind. Namely: our military and veterans, planes and cars and bridges (can you imagine a world without them?), museums, [mostly] reliable WiFi, firefighters, hand sanitizer, sunscreen, National Parks and State Parks and ALL the outdoor spaces.

west for the winter

If you told me last November that right now I’d be living in Hawaii, with my grandma as my sole roommate, working remotely for a tech company, in the middle of a global pandemic…well, I wouldn’t have believed you.

But, by April of this year, if you told me the same thing…well, I probably would have believed you. Allow me to explain.

This spring, my traditional “plan ahead” mentality came up rough against the unpredictability of COVID and our rearranged world. At first I thought I could still plan six months in advance. But soon the gravity of this thing set in. I readjusted my planning-perspective to two months out. Next time I looked up, the world was flat on its back. My timeline became one month out. Then, three weeks. By August, I couldn’t think more than a few days ahead. While not totally dissipated, my “plan ahead” mentality had been beaten into the Earth by reality. And my willingness (dare I say enjoyment) for continued spontaneity had shot through the roof.

So when, in early October, Grandma and I were sitting by the ocean in Santa Cruz and she threw out the idea of “going to Hawaii for the winter,” it didn’t sound as unreasonable or impossible to me as it would have a year ago. Nor did it sound too last minute to me, as it may have at the beginning of this whole pandemic-hoopla. In fact, it sounded totally reasonable, possible, and right-on-time.

(Literally the day/time/place we cooked up this plan, sitting on West Cliff in Santa Cruz.)

Within the span of a few weeks, we’d purchased out-bound flights for the first week of November and found a condo on the Big Island to rent through the end of January. My sister and Grandma coerced a way for her to take care of Grandma’s dog Sugar while we were gone. And I subtly informed my bosses that I’d still be working PDT hours – but from the Hawaii time zone for a few months. (Conversations which I navigated with the utmost humility. After all, “I’m going to live with my grandma in Hawaii for a few months” comes-off differently than “I’m going to live with my grandma in Boston/Denver/Minneapolis for a few months”)

After sorting out the logistics of dogs and work (two of the most important things in life, I’ll note), there was little additional coordination required for our westward migration. Part, in thanks to COVID’s radical simplification of our lives, and part as a result of the life stages that Grandma and I are both at. Me: without a dog, spouse, children, lease or mortgage…and with a currently-remote job. Grandma: without a spouse or children relying on her (if anything, she’s relying on the grandchild, a’hem, *me* here 😉 )…and with the forced-flexibility of all her social engagements already moved to Zoom (Mahjong, chair yoga, women’s group, *multiple* book clubs, film club…the list continues).

The only real logistical hassle to navigate was getting onto Hawaii itself. The islands opened to visitors in mid-October, requiring double-testing and proof of negative results to bypass the previous 14 day quarantine that had kept non-residents out since the spring. This involved us scrambling to get a rapid-test from an approved provider (and receive proof of negative results) within 72 hours before departing the mainland. Then, we were rapidly re-tested when we arrived at the airport in Kona before being “released” onto the island. I’ll spare the additional details, but it was an interesting experience to go through. I’m especially curious if it’s a model for how travel could begin to safely open up in certain areas pre-vaccine (e.g. other islands, or countries with tightly controlled borders, like Israel).

(Waiting for rapid re-testing at the Kona Airport.)

Anyways, we arrived November 4th, mid-election (as we all know, we couldn’t say we were “post-election” at that point) and settled right back in. “Back in” because my aunt and uncle lived in Kona in the early 2000s, and so my grandparents spent the good portion of many winters here with them. And, to my good fortune, when Hannah and I were little, my parents would pull us out of school for weeks at a time to join in the fun.

Thus, being in Kona now as a “temporary-resident” really does feel like revisiting an old home. Grandma and I swim at the same beaches after work that I played at as a child, wander the aisles of the same Walmart looking for snacks, smell the same aromas (read: dead fish) at the local harbor…there is comfort in this full circle.

(Surf check at one of our favorite local spots – Turtle Beach.)

As we’ve settled in, Grandma and I have quickly developed the most wonderful, basic weekday routine.

  • 530am – I get up an hour before work to read (yes, I wake up at an absurd hour to read!) and journal. Grandma is usually still sleeping (precious!).
  • 7am – I starts work and desperately try to hide I’m in Hawaii so that coworkers don’t feel jealous (tank tops and the reflection of palm trees in the windows behind me on video calls make this challenging). Grandma makes coffee, checks her email, announces to me the news of the day (“more COVID here, more COVID there, Trump is an idiot”).
  • 10am – I take a break (it’s 12pm in California) and walk down to the harbor and back up to the condo, which is followed by sweating, which is followed by a cold shower, which is followed by returning to work. Grandma has usually had at least one Zoom call already.
  • 3pm – I wrap up work. Grandma and I decide which local beach to go to, depending on if we want to 1) snorkel, or 2) “bob” (in the waves). We drive down to the beach of choice, get in the water, and forget the world at large. Bliss.
  • 430pm – I rinse off the salt water, swap my swimsuit for my workout clothes, and walk home. Grandma drives.
  • 6pm – Dinner. It usually looks like a “dorm-room” dinner (eggs, veggies, rice, random left overs). We sit out on the lanai in the dark (lights exist, but neither of us like light…good partnership there!) and look at the stars. Grandma casually drops treasure troves of never-before-heard family lore onto me, and I concentrate really hard to remember it all so I can write it down later.
  • 7pm – We turn on Gilmore Girls. We’re rewatching it together. It’s basically the best thing ever. Just as cute a scenario as you could imagine.
  • 845pm – I’m zonked. I journal, read, and go to sleep. Grandma stays awake, listens to her radio, makes a midnight snack, and semi-sleeps (the way, apparently, all old people seem to do!).

On weekends we sleep in (so like 7am?) and read a shit-ton (right now I’m reading To the End of the Land, The Great Believers, and Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History…classic Cass combo). We go to beaches outside of Kona, and grocery shop for the week (some epic farmers markets), and Grandma shares more family lore. We are also taking a weekly online course together, from a professor I had while I was studying in Israel about non-Jewish communities in Israel. “Inter-generational learning” the professor calls it. Pretty rad.

This is all to say that going west for the winter (turns out you can even say that coming from California and have it mean something) has been splendid so far. Of course, it is a privilege beyond measure to be safe and healthy AND in paradise while the world-at-large aches in so many ways. This situation has left me oscillating between complex emotions of guilt and gratitude, but I am trying to seat myself in the latter rather than the former state of mind.

Each day here feels like another deep, soothing exhale after such a tragic last 11 months (personally and globally). And for that I am deeply grateful. Recently, I’ve felt as though I’ve aged a decade just since January. I haven’t asked Grandma, but I think she feels the same. So, here’s to the next few months of winter, “west of the West” – may this time add back a few years of youth for the both of us.

the trail provides

This time last year, I was backpacking the Israel National Trail, a ~ 700 mile hiking trail that stretches from Israel’s northern border with Lebanon to its southern border with the Red Sea (it’s like the Pacific Crest Trail of the Middle East…with a few more camels and a lot more hummus).

It took me 52 days to complete the trail from tip to tail. Each day, I’d hike 15 to 25 miles in the autumn heat, sweat a sh*t ton, drink > 6L of water, consume an unbelievable number of calories, and try my very best not to get sunburned.

Along the way, I made incredible friends, traipsed through stunning landscapes, and marveled at the strength of my human body. Hiking the trail was fun, and a huge privilege…it was also just as grimy, exhausting, and hard (like, really hard) as it sounds.

I’ve thought a lot about “the trail” in the year since completing it. Like most of life’s intense and impactful experiences, I’m still metaphorically “unpacking my backpack” from it all these months later. Especially mid-pandemic, I’ve found myself recalling specific days from the trail more frequently and with a new clarity. Many of these memories parallel, metaphorically, the challenges we face mid-pandemic. And so I draw from them a sense of strength and wisdom that supports me in our new reality.

There’s one specific, taxing, beautiful “trail” day I think about most frequently: Day 46. We (my Israeli hiking partner, Eran, and I) were deep in Israel’s Negev desert. We hadn’t had hit a village rest stop in days, which meant we were exceptionally stinky, down to our final food rations (crushed up chips for breakfast, anyone?), thoroughly depleted of energy after six weeks non-stop on the trail, and hadn’t seen any other humans for…a while. (The great expanse of the desert was certainly not quarantine, but we were isolated with each other. And, this far into 2020, we all know how that can be! 😉

On the morning of Day 46, we packed up camp before dawn to beat the heat and hiked south through a wide canyon. These morning hours were always my favorite…the desert breeze felt cool and dry, the little birdies were chirping in acacia trees, my morning coffee was hitting my system, and a full day of adventure was ahead. As we hiked, I pulled out my phone to document the moment, and flipped the camera to selfie mode…ouch, I thought, I look exceptionally exhausted.

As the sun continued to rise, hundreds of flies began to swarm around us. I’m not sure if it was the pungent smell of our stinkiness or food, or just genuine interest, but they would. not. let. up. We hiked for miles on end with hoards of them in our faces and on our backpacks — not dangerous, but relentlessly annoying. I took lots of deep breaths, channelled all my yoga-namaste-breath-thru-it mindfulness, and “accepted the suck.” This is minor, I reminded myself, and I am fine.

Eventually the canyon narrowed. As we climbed up it, we discovered deep, seasonal water pools. “Let’s just boulder up along the canyon walls and climb around them,” Eran suggested. Uh…couldn’t we just wade through them? I felt a bolt of anxiety – intensified by my exhaustion – shoot through me. Falling in would be inconvenient at best and dangerous at worst.

I tossed a rock in the water to judge depth and struggled to hear it land. Fine, bouldering it is. I followed Eran’s lead, my palms sweaty on the rocks, gravity pulling my heavy backpack and me away from the wall as I clung towards it. Mind over matter.

An hour later, we had made our way out of the canyon and up to the exposed desert plain above. I took out my phone to take a picture of the plain and it was on selfie mode still…I look both relieved and pissed.

By this time it was midday. Normally, at lunch, we would find shade to stop, eat, and nap. But getting through the canyon took longer than expected, and we needed to get to our endpoint by darkness that evening. So we overrode our bodies’ request for rest, and hiked on in the oppressive heat. It felt like Mars.

I ate what was left of my mushy trail mix, and tried to move a little faster in front of Eran to create some space. I was feeling expended, and thus beginning to be overwhelmed by the small things. And as we all know by now, a preventative buffer on hard days = a good idea.

After a few hours, the trail began to slope downwards. We reached a second canyon. I hadn’t noticed this on the map, and my chest tightened. Really, again? There’s better not be water.

Of course, there was water. This time with a series of ladders and ropes previous hikers had attached to the rock to “ease” the scrambling.

Eran went first. I peered over the edge. “Wait,” I called down to him, “but I won’t be able to see the rest of the ladder until I climb over the ledge! I’m not sure how to feel about this…”

He called back up at me, “Well, you don’t have to know how to feel about it. But you do have to come down here for us to get out of the canyon.”

I stalled to take a picture, “ugghhhh…this is really uncomfortable. I want to know what it’s all going to look like before I do it.”

With all the tough love in the world he responded, “Unfortunately, that’s not an option, Cass.”

I stood there at the top, fully depleted. From sun, from miles, from sub-par-nourishment, and from the past 45 days of hiking. Every day of the trail had held enormous challenge of one kind or another – physical, mental, logistical, emotional…but for some reason, the six weeks of hiking prior felt like it crescendoed there. On Day 46. In that moment.

At my wits end, I silently protested: I know discomfort breeds growth. But can’t I be done growing for today? Like, isn’t this enough growth for now?

Eran called up to me again. I sighed, what’s one more thing at this point? I overrode my thoughts, and got my butt down the ladder.

The “best” part, of course, was that after a few more of these ladders, we came to a truly impassable pool. We actually tried to send our packs across it on a rope, which snapped. Then we attempted to swim across it with the packs over our heads, but it was too wide. We realized we’d have to retrace our way up the ladders, of the canyon, and find a different route.

I looked at our water bottles. Near empty. I looked at the sky. Near sunset. We wouldn’t get to our endpoint (where we had bottles of water cached for us) before dark. We’d need to stop for the night miles before that, which meant we’d need to filter this water. I shook my head, realizing the irony of the situation: this water had slowed us down and challenged us all day, and now it was going to provide us sustenance through the night. We filled our bottles with the murky, silty green water, dropped in chlorine tablets, climbed back up the ladders, and returned to the desert plain.

As we navigated the alternative route, the sun sunk behind the Jordanian mountains in the distance. We played with the acoustics of the canyon – calling back and forth to each other to hear our voices echo. And as the sky became lavender, I felt a wave of relief wash over me. Suddenly, I was crying and beaming. Sunscreen and sweat ran down my cheeks.

“Wait, I gotta stop and snap-shot this moment,” I said to Eran. I paused, pulled out my phone, and took a selfie. My face, tanned by weeks in the desert sun. My hair, oily and matted in a bun atop my head. My backpack, grimy and heavy on my shoulders.

I snapped the photo, and we continued down the trail as I cried silently. At the time, I couldn’t fully process why those tears kept coming. Was it relief? Exhaustion? A mix of everything?

It wasn’t until many months later, in fact, as I was sitting at home mid-way into the pandemic, that I realized those tears were signs of growing pains. They were tears of expansion and adaptation and stretching beyond limits day after day after day. They were the break after the crescendo. They were evidence that I had leveled up, that I could tolerate and process more than I used to be able to.

Sitting here now, a year later and eight months into the pandemic, I see all the parallels and metaphors Day 46 and our present. I try to remind myself that these current moments ache so much and so often because I’m being forced to grow at a rapid rate. Moment after moment. Day after day. Without a break. Even (especially) when I don’t want to, even (especially) when I feel like there. can’t. possibly. be. more.

I remind myself that I’m in it. That the epiphanies and connections and silver linings and hindsight will not come until much later. But for now, here I am.

So I’m begging you, gently and persistently, to join me in reminding yourself, too, that this feeling? This is what growing feels like.

then & now, pt. 1

Good morning wonderful people! Recently, I’ve been writing short comparisons between daily experiences in pre-pandemic times and the world we live in now. Below is a free-write I compiled Wednesday morning, loosely based off of a NYT Pandemic Diary prompt. No scene feels more striking, mundane, and *different* than a trip to the grocery store. I hope you relate, and perhaps are inspired to jot down a few of your own observations on “then and now”.  

The date was March 13, 2020.

It was noon, and I was at the grocery store for the sole purpose of a chocolate bar. (Chocolate, I argue, is a food not a dessert, and it is appropriate to eat at all times of the day). The store’s crowded parking lot hadn’t set off any alarms for me. Neither did the elevated bustle at the door. Even upon entering the store, it didn’t register to me that the scene I was stepping into was evidence of the world turning on a dime. 

Headphones in, music on, auto-pilot engaged, I entered, weaving between people to get to the store’s chocolate section. I compared chocolate bars for a minute, picking up and putting down at least five before settling on one. Probably scratching my head and touching my face at least as many times, too. 

On my way to check out, I bumped up against maskless shoppers, passed by toddlers plopped on the ground at parents’ feet, and slid between couples staring at empty shelves…empty shelves. It was the empty shelves that caught my attention first. I hadn’t noticed them on my way in. 

Then, when I got in line, I saw carts packed high with cans of tomatoes and beans and rice and hand sanitizer?! Every cart had duplicates of each item, making each shopper’s selected stockpiles strikingly obvious. Rumors of quarantine and lockdown had been circling, and many companies had already gone WFH, but standing in that line was the first time I genuinely wondered: Wait, are the floodgates opening, is this corona thing – which seemed so distant and ephemeral – really here with us and among us?

I tried to take mental stock of the food we had at home as I stood there with my one measly chocolate bar, absurdly close to the family in front of me in line. We have quite a bit of food at home, but should I still be loading up? I pondered, the concern slowly rising in me. Suddenly, it felt like I was in some sort of denial if I left the store without at least a few extra things. 

So I dipped out of line, grabbed a basket, and filled it with what remained on the shelves – a few boxes of pasta, granola, tuna (in retrospect, my gathering was more psychological than practical). When I got back in line, two shoppers near me recognized each other from school and embraced without hesitation. I thought nothing of it. I checked out, chatting briefly with the friendly cashier. Despite the chaos, his smile was big.

Outside, I loaded the groceries into the car. Before turning the car on, I pulled out my chocolate bar, and broke off a piece with my hands. The chocolate melted in my mouth. Delicious. I licked my fingers. 

The date is September 1, 2020.

It is noon, and I am at the grocery store for more than a chocolate bar (because the calculated risk of a trip to the store for just a chocolate bar doesn’t make much sense anymore). I grab a cart (methodically wiping down all its surfaces) and stand outside of the store in line waiting to enter. I am six-feet-apart from others, on spray painted dots with smiley faces and “your safety is our priority” slogans. 

Somewhat vigilant, I enter the store. Shoppers are proportionally populated to the building’s square footage. Even so, I cast a wide berth around people as I load my cart, as if in an invisible bumper car. “No, after you, I insist!” I subconsciously evaluate the density of aisles before I proceed down them. I’ll come back and get the peanut butter later, I tell myself. (Of course, I forget the peanut butter). 

I don’t browse anymore. I don’t pick up five versions of chocolate bars – or any items for that matter – to compare. I try to touch as few things as possible. I resist every urge to scratch my face or adjust my mask. If I find myself in the unfortunate position of needing to sneeze, I hold it in as if the world depends on it (no pun intended). 

When I go to check out, I find myself an empty dot to stand on. I feel like a buoy, along a line of evenly spaced out shoppers: bobbing a little left and right, but never too close to the person in front or behind. No one chats in line. Two people recognize each other and they wave, without getting any closer. 

When my turn comes, I unload my items on the conveyor belt (which is damp with disinfectant). I reach around the partition to hand the cashier my card. We chat briefly. It’s hard to hear him behind his mask. He is friendly.  I find myself searching his forehead and the corners of his eyes to see if he’s smiling.

Once I’m home, I wash my arms up to my elbows, lathering and scrubbing and rinsing, as if I were a surgeon. I unload the groceries, then wash my hands again. I never used to wash my hands all the time (I am not I was not particular about germs), but now…well, now is now. 

I unwrap the chocolate bar I bought this time and cut a piece off with a knife. The chocolate melts in my mouth. Delicious. And just before licking my fingers, I catch myself, wiping them on a napkin instead.

INT [belated] gear review

For the prospective Israel National Trail hikers — plus the die-hard gear-junkies and all who find joy from reading about the trade-offs between spoons and sporks — here’s a long delayed gear review on my carefully curated “backpack of things” I carried last autumn along the Israel National Trail (INT).

For context, my trail stats:

  • Israel National Trail, completed North to South (Kibbutz Dan > Eilat)
  • ~ 1090km / ~ 700mi
  • Sept 20 – Nov 10, 2019 (52 days: ~ 47 hiking, ~ 5 rest / weather)

My general gear / packing philosophy:

  • Start with less than you think you need. Add from there.
  • Go light, or go without.
  • Know your weak points and mitigate (e.g. mine: finicky ankle = ankle brace, distaste for long periods of sun exposure = “sunbrella”).
  • “Shiftzur” stuff – שפצור – Hebrew slang used to describe “makeshift or jury-rigged improvements to an existing component” (i.e. modify gear to make it better suit your needs – doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive).

Notes about this list:

  • This is a base weight list (no food / fuel / water included).
  • Some items I switched out midway through – noted in descriptions.
  • Some items I shared with Eran (hiking partner), thus divided weight / excluded weight from my pack – noted in descriptions.
  • For the most part, I LOVED the gear I took – so you’ll read lots of rave reviews here.
  • I recognize this is a higher-end gear list. I have slowly and strategically collected most of this gear over time, and I was also in the position to invest in some new gear pre-trail, too. I recognize this gear isn’t accessible to everyone. And that’s ok! Your hike will be just as fun with whatever gear you have access to. 
  • See bottom of post for spreadsheet with item weights.

More info on my summarized trail experience here, first 140 miles FAQs here, and “day in the life on the trail” here. And now onto the juicy reviews…!

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PACK + SHELTER

backpack [Gossamer Gear Gorilla 40L] – I will never (likely) use a different backpacking backpack ever again. Small yet spacious, this bag held all of my gear (very comfortably) and allowed me full mobility, comfort, and ease. Pros: large mesh outside pocket (where I stored all my food for easy access), breathable straps, convenient hip pockets, simplified design, pack’s size forced me to be diligent with gear choices. Cons: I pushed the pack’s weight limit a few desert mornings when I added 5-7L of water to my base weight, and after 700+ miles I did see some wear on the straps (to be expected) / mesh. 

pack liner [Gossamer Gear] – I lined my pack with this plastic sheet to protect the gear inside. A garbage bag will do fine also – but this one is virtually indestructible.

quilt [Enlightened Equipment Revelation 20] – Instead of a sleeping bag, I carried a 20 degree F backpacking quilt. I’ve always felt super constrained by mummy bags. The quilt, alternatively, lets me stretch out under it or cinch it up into a bag, which was perfect for fluctuating desert night time temps. I’ve also tested in California’s alpine weather, does great!

sleeping pad [Nemo Switchback] – Fully support using an egg carton sleeping pad versus a blow up pad. Pros: impossible to puncture, never need to repair, ready to throw out on the ground for any lunch break, can be folded into a seat, doesn’t deflate. Cons: depending on your backpack, can add extra bulk outside. Not as cushiony as a blow up (until the blow up pops!). 

pillow [Sea to Summit Aeros Premium– Could have gone without this, but so glad I chose to bring it along versus the old “stuff sack and clothes” route. Pro tip: only fill your pillow 3/4 to allow for a little give, more like a real pillow!

ground cloth [Gossamer Gear Polycryo] – I slept on top of this ground cloth (with my sleeping pad and quilt) while sleeping outside without a tent the first half of the trail. It protected my gear from wear big time

tent [Quechua QuickHiker 2] – Eran and I used this tent (nicknamed “spaceship”!) for the latter half of the desert section. Wind + moisture + bugs had all convinced us that a tent would improve our sleep quality and thus our trail experience. I’m glad he picked it up when he did, as it definitely was not necessary for the North section. I was fairly impressed with this tent style / brand (average compactability, weight, sturdiness), but I’ll probably go with Gossamer Gear, Zpacks, or Big Anges when I invest in a new tent myself.

COOKING

camp stove [Jetboil] – I despised this piece of gear. The Jetboil’s flame and heat were too powerful and difficult to control. Simmering rice (an essential Israel-hiking activity) was impossible. I did like the Jetboil eating container and cup, but I quickly started sharing Eran’s stove for cooking instead. Post-INT, I bought a stove like his for backpacking, plus a duplicate of his beloved cup

spork [Sea to Summit long handle] – I adored this piece of gear. The long handle was great for digging to the bottom of a cup of rice, it was durable and easy to clean, and super lightweight. However, personal opinion: the fork part of sporks are quite annoying for the relatively small amount of time you actually need to stab something. Since returning, I’ve converted to a spoon version instead for all backpacking needs. 

bandana – I carried one bandana exclusively as a surface for dry food prep / consumption.  This kept a lot of my other surfaces (e.g. sleeping pad, pant legs) clean and also didn’t weigh as much as a plastic plate / additional surface.

lighter – Also carried matches just in case. 

SHOES

hiking shoes [Altra Lone Peak 4.5 Trail Running Shoe] – For thru-hiking, I can’t rave about using trail runners enough. I’ll never go back to boots. Ever. Pros: trail runners are lighter, breath better (read: less moisture accumulation), save your feet from blisters, dry out easier (if they get soaked), don’t need breaking in, and are overall more comfortable. Cons: lacks ankle support (takes a few weeks to build up ankle muscle strength), tread wears down quicker than most boots. 

camp shoes [Xero Z-Trail sandals– For post-hike evenings, and around-town shoes, these are the best of the best. Pros: lightweight, adjustable (read: wear socks with them), and comfortable (in my opinion, they surpass Tevas, Chacos, Crocs, and SOURCE). Cons: less support than brands listed above, but that’s the point of them!

CLOTHING

hiking shirt [Patagonia Capilene Cool Sunshirt] – My gear item MVP. I wore this shirt every single day I hiked. Pros: thin yet durable, incredible sun protection, quick drying, thumb holes to keep sleeves down, anti-chafe, (mostly) odor resistant, easy to wash. This shirt also lasts forever, I’m still wearing it today! Note: some folks like hiking w/ button down shirts (dubbed “bar mitzvah shirts” by Eran) instead because you can unbutton them for air ventilation. 

hiking pants [Outdoor Research Ferrosi] – Long pants are essential for sun protection. I hiked in the tan version of these pants 90% of the time. Pros: kept my legs protected and cool, stretchy, soft, easy to wash. Cons: seams started fraying (between legs and on bottom) after ~400 miles, lighter color showed a lot of dirt (if you care about that!)

sun gloves [Outdoor Research ActiveIce Spectrum Sun Gloves] – Small and mighty, these sun gloves saved my hands from long days of exposure on the Negev plains. They’re nerdy and totally worth it. 

hiking socks [Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew– The only pair of hiking socks I’ll ever wear. I carried two pairs for the whole trail, rotating them out as needed. Pros: breathable, odor-resistant, can withstand infrequent washing, no blistering, the company will even send you a replacement pair when your current ones wear out – lifetime guarantee. Cons: NONE. 

gaiters [Dirty Girl] – I HIGHLY recommend adding gaiters to your set-up. Paired with my trail running shoes, these gaiters kept rocks out of my shoes and my shoe laces in check. While my hiking buddies had to stop frequently to remove Negev debris from their boots, I sailed along without discomfort. Plus, they look really dorky and fun. 

underwear [Patagonia Women’s Active Briefs– Thru-hiking underwear preferences varies person to person. I love this style, fabric, and fit. I carried two pairs (one dark pair, that could double as swim bottom) for the duration of the trail. 

sports bra [Patagonia Women’s Barely Bra– Another personal decision, but I’m going on five+ years of wearing this as my exclusive hiking sports bra. Supportive, wireless, chafe-resistant, quick-dry, and can double as a swim top. I started the trail with two of them (one for hiking, one for post-hiking), but I quickly ditched one of them.

t-shirt [Icebreaker Merino Cool-Lite Sphere Short Sleeve Low Crew] – The only shirt I brought (other than my hiking shirt) was this gem of a T. Comfortable, versatile, “dressy” enough not to look like total trash in town, thick enough to wear without a bra (I thought), odor resistant, and resilient as hell. I wore it every day after hiking and to sleep. Highly recommended.

jacket [Patagonia Houdini] – This was the only jacket I carried from Kibbutz Dan to Philip’s Farm. Pros: lightweight, semi-wind-resistant, and a perfect summer evening layer. Cons: runs on the smaller side and doesn’t have pockets. 

jacket [Patagonia Hooded Nano-puff ] – I switched this jacket out for the Houdini at Philip’s Farm (beginning of the desert). Pros: compact-able, washable, resilient, and warm…it provided regulated warmth for desert mornings and evenings as we entered into November. I love the hood and pockets, too! Con: runs on smaller side. 

shorts [Nike Tempo– I only hiked in shorts a few times (not ideal for sun protection), but they were great to wear in town, on rest days, or on warmer evenings. Pros: washed easily, dried quickly (recommend to cut liner out shorts if you’re carrying underwear). Cons: chafing. 

leggings – I started the trail without leggings and purchased a random pair in Arad (beginning of desert section). They were my “camp pants” that I wore post-hike and often slept in. Pros: allowed perfect mobility for stretching out after a long day, good for keeping bugs off, and just warm enough for the autumn evening desert temps. Cons: some folks just don’t like leggings. (Side note: Eran wore leggings under his shorts most days and raved about their sun-protection and anti-chafe ability. A rec for dudes – and ladies!)

TOILETRIES

toothpaste + toothbrush – I started the trail with one of those fancy two-piece travel toothbrushes…which quickly broke. I replaced it with a kid’s toothbrush. Just as small and light!

hand sanitizer – Essential for when clean hands were essential (e.g. administering first aid). 

soap – Multi-use soap or shampoo, refilled in a reusable mini-bottle. Used for all washing needs.

sunscreen – Purchased along the way. Protect yourself!

hair comb – Lighter and more compact than a travel brush. Necessary for keeping the luscious locks under control. 🙂 

baby wipes – We carried a pack of these for removing sunscreen at the end of the day, and other needs.

tampons – Shoutout to all the period-blessed bad-ass hikers out there. I used tampons, but I wish I had used a menstrual cup like Lunette Cup. After the trail, I started using this cup in daily life, and it’s incredible. On the trail, it would have been much easier and more sanitary than tampons.

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ESSENTIALS

guidebook [“The Red Book”] – There are lots of options for navigation along the INT. Eran and I chose to go old-school and (mostly) only use this book and its paper maps (no apps). He had a Hebrew version, I had an English. Pros: accurate, easy to use, thorough…and humbling and humorous! We nicknamed it “Yaacov” after the book’s author. Cons: some folks feel it underestimates the difficulty of sections…I didn’t agree with this, but can see it (Side note: we also made a “Yaacov holder” for Eran’s backpack out of a water bottle, sock, and medical tape, allowing Yaacov to be easily accessible…this is a “shiftzur”!) 

poles / “sticks” [Black Diamond Ergo Cork] – Highly recommend. Pros: durable, adjustable, steady, comfortable cork grip. 

hat [Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap] – Wore this hat for the first half of the trail, until I lost the back flap part! Pros: maximum sun protection, convertible into ball cap, comfortable. Cons: dorky, limited ventilation, doesn’t allow for periphery vision. 

hat – Picked up a second random hat in Beer Sheva as a replacement (see picture). This one was less dorky (wide brim, flop back) and provided better ventilation, but not as great sun protection.

knife [No.6 Opinel Carbon Steel Pocket Knife] – Sexiest knife alive. It’s cheap, easy to clean, simple to use, and sufficient for everything short of filleting a fish (unheard of in the desert!). 

sunbrella [Gossamer Gear Liteflex Hiking (Chrome) Umbrella] – This wasn’t an essential piece of gear (fairly sure I was one of the first to use it on the INT), but it radically improved my experience / internal temperature when walking in exposed areas for hours on end. Pros: allowed for maximum ventilation (no hat needed), provided shade from waist up, could “shiftzur” to be tied to pack (hands free), helpful for when it rained. Cons: difficult to use in low / narrow clearance areas (e.g. trees, narrow canyons), holding it only leaves you with one hand for a pole, may solicit silly comments from fellow hikers (until they overheat and get jealous!). 

headlamp [Petzl– Simple and functional. Replaced batteries once.

trowel [TheTentLab The Deuce #2– Essential in North when hiking through semi-populated areas and softer ground. Unnecessary in South where feces dry up quickly and you can take care of business far off trail.

first aid [Adventure Medical Ultralight/Watertight 0.7– I heavily modified this first aid kit, but it’s a great starting point. Also removed extra zipper pouch around it to cut weight.

ankle brace [Bauerfeind MalleoTrain Plus] – I have a horrible tendency to twist my ankle. Hiking in trail runners was worth it, but definitely didn’t aid in supporting my ankles. Half way through the trail, Eran gave me his ridiculously high-end ankle brace from the army, which I proceeded to wear every day. Problem solved. 

bandana – I cut a bandana in half diagonally, one part was used as a pee rag, the other as a snot rag. Actually wish I had just carried two bandanas or cut the one I had in half to form two rectangles instead of triangles (triangle tails were annoying to deal with). 

sunglasses – Impossible to go without. 

 

WATER

bladder [Camelback 3L– I carried this bladder for the first half of the trail. It was annoying to fill up, began to leak, and wasn’t ideal for using to transfer water to cook with for meals. Thumbs down.

hydration bottle-top screw-on [Source Convertube] – I switched my bladder out for this contraption at the beginning of the desert. I wish I had used this all along. Pros: easily attached to plastic water bottles we received cached water in, easy to clean, made unscrewing and using water for cooking much easier.

ELECTRONICS

earbuds [Apple cord earbuds] – Opted for earbuds with cords. Wireless earbuds have to be recharge and fall out. 

sat beacon + charger [Garmin inReach Mini] – Pre trail, I thought I might be walking alone for long stretches, so the Garmin came along with me. This is definitely not needed for the the INT (tons of cell reception and people along the way) and more of a tech toy. That being said, if you’re looking for a sat beacon for other trips, I can’t recommend this one enough. Pros: lightweight, superb battery life, insane coverage. 

external battery [Mophie] – Helpful to have for long stretches of days in the desert without phone recharge ability. 

Israeli / Europe USB wall plug in – If you don’t already have one, buy a cheap Israeli / European wall plug (example). I have one with two USB inserts so I can simultaneously charge my phone and Garmin. (Carrying a converter, if you have a different country’s plug in, is extra weight, extra pieces, totally unnecessary.)

watch [Timex Ironman] – Nice to not have to pull out phone to check time. Good alarm. 

phone / camera [iPhone X, charging cables] – Highly recommend taking a phone with an excellent camera. The landscapes are too good not to have pictures of later on!

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PERSONAL

journal + pen [Moleskine Cahier Journals] – Super fun to journal throughout the trail to document experiences. I love these lightweight paper ones!

wallet [Ziplock bag] – Held drivers license, credit card, Rav Kav (Israeli transportation card), photo copy of passport, some cash. 

wrap / towel [sarong] – I carried a simple, thin, cotton fabric that acted as a towel, changing room, bug-shield, sun-protector, and so much more. 10x better than any expensive / special travel towel you can buy. 

book – I heavily utilized the trail book boxes (lending libraries) and Eran’s generous book loans for trail entertainment. I briefly tried carrying a Kindle and hated it (see “OTHER” section). 

sling-shot – Eran carried a hand-made slingshot for fun. We spent many lunch breaks shooting tiny rocks at other tiny rocks. It was fun to have a unique item on the trail…other hikers carried little stuffed animals, instruments, funky hats, frisbees, or shesh besh (backgammon)!

OTHER

*Gear I considered taking, but didn’t. Or, gear I had for a hot second and quickly ditched.*

long underwear top + bottom – Unnecessary (too hot).

warm hat / beanie – Unnecessary (too hot).

rain jacket – Umbrella served this function. It only rained a few times when I was hiking (most storms we anticipated and planned rest days for).

anti chafe [Squirrel Nut Butter] – I had zero chafing issues on the trail, but when I do have chafing this is the stuff I use. It’s magic and smells divine.

mosquito net – Used a few times in desert, then ditched in a book box. Flies were more of an issue than mosquitos, and our cotton fabric sarongs were enough to ward them off.

Kindle – Too annoying to have to charge, not much lighter than a regular book from a trail book box, fun to be constrained to the book box selection, plus I simply despise reading on screens unless necessary. That said, two considerations: 1) if you’re not excited about picking up books others have touched w/ current COVID, a Kindle is ideal; 2) if you prefer to read in a language other than Hebrew or English, bringing your own book / Kindle is a good idea.

A GENERAL NOTE ON FOOD

breakfast – Coffee, oatmeal, honey, chocolate, peanut butter, crackers, sugar, silan (date paste).

lunch – Bread / tortillas, tahini, tuna, cabanos (sausages), crackers, cucumbers, tomatoes, hummus.

snacks – Cookies, nut mixes, sahlab, halva, Lays, Bamba, Apropo, dried fruit, cereal, granola bars, dates, peanut butter, coffee, tea.

dinner – Rice, cabanos (sausages), olive oil, tahini, spices.

favorite town foods – Burgers, vegetables, pastries, popsicles, Krembo, ice cream, eggs, homemade trail angel meals. 

*Also, I’m gluten and dairy intolerant and had zero problems finding safe food to eat on the trail. If you are unfamiliar with Israel, the country is very friendly in this way, even at the gas stations and in small villages! (Also very easy to be vegan or vegetarian on the trail). 


Questions encouraged, and here’s the GEAR SPREADSHEET (w/ item weights)!

Happy hiking.

!!!בהצלחה

100 COVID / Quarantine Observations

I love lists. It’s something I both adore about myself and exhaust myself with.

This morning, I felt inspired by a list I read yesterday: Two Hundred Fifty Things an Architect Should Know (Michael Sorkin). So here’s an unedited, uncoordinated list of 100 things I’ve observed/learned/remembered in quarantine (Because 250 felt like…ugh. A lot for this morning).

  1. I despise reading books electronically.
  2. Less is usually enough.
  3. The same neighborhood walk-loop looks different each day.
  4. The dogs are the real winners here.
  5. I am still capable of throwing tantrums.
  6. The reason my last name has no “w” in it isn’t what I thought.
  7. Hugs are medicine.
  8. Given the choice of a dozen breakfast options, I’d still choose fried eggs.
  9. Cinnamon on fried eggs is REALLY good.
  10. A Gentleman in Moscow (Amor Towles) might be my favorite book. Ever.
  11. Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd), too.
  12. Untamed (Glennon Doyle) also changed my life. (Ok. That’s it for books.)
  13. I miss dinner parties.
  14. I miss wandering the supermarket for fun.
  15. I miss inviting people inside.
  16. I don’t miss the yoga studio as much as I first did.
  17. A home yoga practice isn’t as dreadful as I made it out to be for all of those yrs.
  18. FaceTime is a saving grace.
  19. FaceTime doesn’t replace face time.
  20. Chocolate solves most problems.
  21. Building new professional relationships over GVC is hard.
  22. WFH forever freaks the sh*t out of me. [the concept]
  23. Boundaries – worktime, space, relationships – are essential.
  24. Flowers brighten up the house.
  25. We all want to feel connected.
  26. Many of us are truly living in our homes for the first time.
  27. I don’t actually mind my toenails unpainted.
  28. I miss the desert.
  29. My grandparents are lonely.
  30. “Marie Kondo-ing” your digital life is…exhausting + liberating.
  31. No ability to plan into the future = forced presence.
  32. Many people are struggling.
  33. The impact of COVID will last…forever.
  34. The new normal won’t be the same as the old…requiring more grieving.
  35. Public space design will shift radically.
  36. We are experiencing the same “thing” but we are each experiencing different things.
  37. I love olive trees + white roses.
  38. “COVID” is enough of an excuse for anything.
  39. We can retell old stories and find more inner freedom.
  40. Moving our bodies is really important. Any way. Some way.
  41. California is [objectivly] the best place to SIP.
  42. No one is taking vacation from work (if they’re employed).
  43. Employed corporate America [+ here, tech] is going to face major burnout.
  44. “How are you?” is a f*cked question.
  45. “How are you (really)?” is better. Kind of.
  46. I need a haircut.
  47. I am sad about a lot of things.
  48. I am happy about a lot of things.
  49.  COVID is really making me look at all the things.
  50. I am grateful for employment.
  51. I wish bananas didn’t make me constipated.
  52. I don’t like the color orange.
  53. Linen is the world’s supreme fabric.
  54. I’m having nature withdrawals.
  55. English is a hard (so hard) language to learn/teach.
  56. Cleaning out stuff sometimes makes me want more stuff. Ugh.
  57. Grief is very stubborn.
  58. Some days are harder than others.
  59. We all need individual attention right now.
  60. Humans are ridiculously adaptable.
  61. Self care ≠ Self indulgence.
  62. Laying on the ground outside solves many problems.
  63. Pro sports / live music / college / dating / conferences / airports will never be the same again.
  64. I can usually benefit from taking my own advice.
  65.  We all benefit from valuing friendship + humor over most things.
  66. Anticipation of suffering is usually worse than suffering itself.
  67. Getting “dressed” for work in the AM can change the psychology of my day.
  68. Documenting is therapeutic for me.
  69. Living at my parents’ home is wonderful + exhausting.
  70. The Sunday Review is the best section of the New York Times.
  71. The animals of our world have no idea what’s going on.
  72. It’s weird to see my pictures from “before” – crowds in Jerusalem, Rome, NYC.
  73. The world screeched to a stop, but our lives ached as we slowed.
  74. We might miss things about this time…when this time becomes that time.
  75. I remember the “lasts” from before COVID quite clearly. Last yoga class. Last time at a store. Last hug from a stranger.
  76. I miss the ease of pre-COVID public spaces.
  77. When we have all the time in the world, the connections we keep / let slip can say volumes.
  78. My responses are my responsibility. Repeat.
  79. “How can I become more FREE today? How can I FREE others?” are good / helpful questions.
  80. Even w/ all my privileges / advantages, this is hard.
  81. No one but you is keeping score on your life.
  82. Eat the frog.
  83. Making plans is ok as long as you’re ok w/ changing them all.
  84.  Flexibility and indecision are not the same.
  85. I miss the hot food bar at Whole Foods.
  86. We don’t always need to explain ourselves.
  87. I miss the mountains.
  88. I miss hugging my friends.
  89. Social media can be whack.
  90. Sleep solves so many problems.
  91. I love wearing sundresses.
  92. Writing cards + letters is important. People love snail mail. (No, you can’t get COVID thru mail…right?)
  93. Our president is a buffoon.
  94. Underserved populations and people of color are disproportionately affected by this crisis.
  95. Old actions can be repeated w/ new meaning.
  96. We are not entitled to our lives.
  97. We never know. But the opposite is also true: We always know.
  98. “Should” is such an unhelpful word.
  99. I am scared the world will never look the same again.
  100. I am thankful the world will never look the same again.

 

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documenting strange times, pt. 1

Hi wonderful people— I hope you are safe and well out there.

Can I ask you a (maybe personal) question? I’m going to assume yes. I’ve been thinking about processing methods a lot lately (because let’s be honest, there’s a shit-ton to process right now), and I’m curious:

How are you processing this moment in time? 

At a foundational level, I think many humans process the world through documentation. We make sense of our conditions by taking stock. This comes in many forms. Some are artistic (writing, photography, sketching, video), while others are quantitative (data collection), social (relaying stories to friends, passing down family folk-lore), or the product of our technological age (Instagram-ming, Tick-tock-ing…is it a verb yet? idk). Sometimes we document to engage in later analysis or share our experiences with the world. Other times, documentation has no external purpose. It is simply a way for us to see ourselves, a silent nod of self-validation.

My default processing (documentation) method has always been writing: journaling, blogging, brain-dumping thoughts on tiny folded up pieces of paper, opening a million one-sentence “Notes” in my iPhone app. And since March, when COVID hoop-la surfaced in California, I’ve been writing like a madwoman. But I’ve also begun to crave creative new ways to document this strange and uncertain time.

One medium I’ve discovered? iPhone screenshots. Without even realizing it, I’ve been “journaling” my COVID shelter-in-place experience through screenshots since early March. Funny, random, heartbreaking, comforting, and poignant. Looking at them as a set now, these screenshots (and their corresponding timestamps) are the mind’s modern-day polaroid: instant snapshots of what I was thinking about, resonating with, or responding to. A record of fleeting moments I wanted to save to see again.

Here they are, below.

Also, if you’re so inclined, please let me know how you’re processing or documenting. (Or, if you’re like one of my best friends, who said “I’ll tell you how I’m processing— I’m NOT”, well, then please tell me how you’re not processing and what you feel. That counts too!) I can’t wait to hear from you!

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[March 7] I was monitoring travel restrictions to Israel in anticipation of a spring trip I had planned. A few days later Israel closed its borders to nearly everyone (not just NY, WA, CA). At the time, reading this article was bizarre. I remember thinking “What? How the hell can they even operationalize that?” Now, obviously, the concept of international travel in itself feels bizarre.

 

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[March 9] Still monitoring travel restrictions, I came across this timely PSA from February. I remember laughing and thinking to myself “There’s no way this won’t all be over by Passover [April].” How wrong I was.

 

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[March 10] This note notification popped up randomly on my screen. I was having a rough day. The reminder that we “never know” what good or bad may come our way felt serendipitous. I can tell you confidently that on March 10, I really had no idea.

 

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[March 11] The world felt like it was screeching to a halt this week. Everything was changing so quickly. I spent a lot of time thinking about how COVID might be a dress rehearsal for the end of the world. This quote resonated.

 

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[March 13] FaceTiming took on a whole new meaning this week. I added the term “social-distancing” to my vocabulary. On this call, we were guessing how long the world would be in this state. Even the least optimistic of us (me) guessed we’d be back to normal by summer.

 

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[March 18] My cousin moved from NYC to Portland and bought a Tesla. My grandma emailed us a dual picture of her father at a young age with his car. Things felt connected through time.

 

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[March 27] On Instagram, masses of bored people were posting #rough pictures of themselves, captioned “Until Tomorrow” (they would take down the photo the next day). I joined in with not one, but 15 photos. Why not.

 

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[March 30] FaceTiming with my original Israel gals (minus @Hannah). Earlier this year we were scheming a 2020 reunion for the five of us in NYC. Now it looks like we’ll have to stick to virtual.

 

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[April 3] G-bless my Grandma’s humor. I also love the email subject line. I hope you are all very OK too.

 

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[April 5] There’s been a lot of endless scrolling on social media. This is a post from 2018 I liked on a Costa Rican farm’s page. LESS seems like a good lesson for now.

 

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[April 9] I like looking at the mosaics of photos I’ve saved from other people’s accounts on Instagram. It’s like a living collage. Here there’re photos of yoga, child Holocaust survivors, Bar Rafeli pregnant (future pregnancy fashion goalz), fluffy dogs, and an important reminder: “You don’t have to use this time to ‘improve’ yourself.” Noted.

 

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[April 14] Another good reminder. I believe, at our core, this is what most of us really want.

 

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[April 14] A lot of old emotional baggage bubbles up when you’re stuck at home for weeks on end. Working on self-compassion is not some fluffy-flower-girl thing. It’s tough shit. Here are some resources.

 

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[April 24] This is from a NYT piece titled “When Life Felt Normal: Your Pre-Pandemic Moments.” I must have screenshotted it just because the room looks so peaceful. I miss being in beautiful spaces with other people. Especially yoga studios.

 

 

 

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[April 25] I remember seeing this headline and thinking “This is certainly a situation I never thought we’d find ourselves in.” Also, is it just me, or has no one heard anything about the election for like…months?

 

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[April 25] These photos, from a NYT piece titled “Denuded of Tourists, Paris Reveals Its Old Beating Heart”, made me feel quiet, still, hopeful, and peaceful. Some of the world’s most trafficked places are returning to their stewards: their residents.

 

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[April 28] FaceTime fatigue is a real thing. Which is why you need to keep it light and funny sometimes, too.

 

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[April 28] “The virus has collapsed distances.” This quote made me cry. How true, in so many ways.

 

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[May 2] This title made me think about all the accomplishments and celebrations (e.g. graduations) that people are experiencing alone right now. They are “Blooming Lonely” like the trees.

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[May 3] From a NYT piece, titled “My Restaurant Was My Life for 20 Years. Does the World Need It Anymore?”. Heartbreaking words that made me think about the overturn of our economy and precious small businesses. What will the world look like when “she wakes up”?

 

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[May 6] I sent a copy of this print (from the Oakland artist People I’ve Loved) to my best friend for her birthday. It’s titled “Lift Each Other Up.” We all need it right now.

 

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[May 9] As most of the country begins to face optional trade-offs, Silicon Valley is still mostly locked-down…I oscillate between jealousy and gratitude.

 

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[May 9] I needed this validation the other day. I’m a firm believer in sometimes Losing It.

 

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[May 9] Our beloved friend and neighborhood school secretary Anna started this GoFundMe to raise money for children whose parents are unable to provide food for their households. If you are able to, please contribute. All together now.

To be continued…stay tuned…love you all.