Wedding Bells in the Windy City

It’s become somewhat of a tradition now — when a close friend or a family member sets a wedding date, I get a text within seconds of the ink drying on the contract. You’re the first to know, they’ll tell me, considering my crazy calendar — so you better be there! How could I not comply?

When my cousin Kirsten, who is really more like a sister, called to let me she and her high school sweetheart Steve had set a date — a mere twenty years later — I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Cindy's Rooftop Chicago

After a fun — and food-filled — few days exploring Chicago tourist-style with Ian, it was time to get back into marriage mode. We checked out of the Freehand and shifted over to the Swissotel, the official wedding hotel where my mom had generously reserved rooms for the whole family. While the hotel felt like your standard business hotel compared to the quirky lodging we’d just moved from, we luxuriated in the generously sized rooms and the views stretching out all the way to Navy Pier.

Chicago Wedding Weekend

Chicago Wedding Weekend

We didn’t linger long though — as soon as my mom and Miller arrived from Decatur (yes, this was the second decades-later wedding of Illinois high school sweethearts I attended in two weeks), we hopped in an Uber and rushed up to Ravenswood for the rehearsal. Lollapalooza traffic was insane, and we ended up arriving just as the wedding party was headed to the rehearsal dinner. Oops.

Chicago Wedding Weekend

Chicago Wedding Rehearsal Dinner

The super low-key rehearsal involved taking over nearby sports bar Tavern on Little Fort for a surprisingly delicious buffet, a bevy of champagne toasts, and an impromptu family reunion as I caught up with family members I hadn’t seen in eons.

I even got to give one of those champagne toasts. A few years ago, when Kirsten and my mom and my sister Olivia and I went to Central America, I penned ‘Twas The Night Before Belize in celebration. Kirst loved it so much she asked me to write a rehearsal dinner version, ‘Twas The Night Before the Wedding — how fun is that!

Finally, we took family photos. This next set of the new cousins is my favorite — first, the one you frame, second, the one you pull out and laugh at for years to come. Isn’t Steve, over on the left there, lucky to join this crew!

Chicago Wedding Rehearsal Dinner

Chicago Wedding Rehearsal Dinner

As with most rehearsal dinners, we stayed up way later than we vowed to — I feel like there’s a real flaw in this whole wedding weekend plan that means you always wake up exhausted on the big day!

One of the bridedsmaids told me that her brother had held his rehearsal on a Thursday and then had a quiet, low key bride-and-groom-only night on that Friday. I loved that idea — consider it mentally filed for any future wedding I might be a host of.

Chicago Wedding Rehearsal Dinner

Chicago Wedding Rehearsal Dinner

But beauty waits for no woman — especially not a sleeping one. We dragged our bums out of bed and up to the bridal suite for a morning of hair, makeup, and girly giggles.

This is always one of my favorite aspects of participating in a wedding. Things get so crazy once the whole walking down the aisle thing happens — I love having a little bit of alone time with the ladies to freak out over what’s about to go down.

Chicago Wedding Getting Ready

This wedding, we had a lot of tiny adorable company! Kirsten is beloved honorary aunt to a whole gaggle of cute kiddos, and they truly couldn’t have looked sweeter. The moms of all these munchkins were part of our amazing Nashville bachelorette weekend — we sure clean up nice, eh?

Chicago Wedding Getting Ready

Chicago Wedding Getting Ready

Chicago Wedding Getting Ready

Chicago Wedding Getting Ready

Chicago Wedding Getting Ready

Chicago Wedding Getting Ready

Once the bridal party headed off on the trolly for photos, Olivia and Ian and I reunited for a little photo fun of our own. I’d yet to show Ian the major tourist tick-offs The Bean and Millennium Park, so we strolled over for a gander and an iconic Chicago photo backdrop.

Wedding Guest Portraits at The Bean

Wedding Guest Portraits at The Bean

Wedding Guest Portraits at The Bean

Wedding Guest Portraits at The Bean

No surprise — the crowds were insane! It was Lollapalooza weekend, and we could actually hear some of the music extending all the way to The Bean.

Wedding Guest Portraits at The Bean

Wedding Guest Portraits at The Bean

Once we snapped a few shots, we sought refuge from the street up at Cindy’s Rooftop. Cindy’s is one of the most sought-after reservations in Chicago, but we managed to squeeze into a spot at the bar for a pre-wedding drink and snack in our finest formal wear. With tons of festival-goers crammed in for a pre-show drink, it was a lively and full crowd and a fun atmosphere.

While we were on the balcony, we even ran into an Alex in Wanderland reader — how fun! Usually when that happens I’m in my sweatpants and no makeup and haven’t slept for three days, so it was very exciting to meet someone on a day I wasn’t embarrassed to appear in photos, ha!

Cindy’s truly has the best views in the city — if you can’t get in for a meal, just stop by for a drink and the best aerial photo of Millenium Park around!

Cindy's Rooftop Chicago

Cindy's Rooftop Chicago

Cindy's Rooftop Chicago

Cindy's Rooftop

Cindy's Rooftop Chicago

Cindy's Rooftop Chicago

Cindy's Rooftop Chicago

And then we were in an Uber singing “Going To The Chapel…” except we were going to Ravenswood Event Center! I absolutely fell in love with this industrial chic space the moment my cousin sent me photos of it, and I couldn’t wait to see it transformed into her and Steve’s vision on that day.

We made our way up to the third floor, where a full wall of windows would frame the “I do’s.” And just as the sun began to set, the procession began.

Wedding at Ravenswood Event Center

Wedding at Ravenswood Event Center

Wedding at Ravenswood Event Center

Wedding at Ravenswood Event Center

When Kirsten walked down the aisle, I couldn’t help it — I cried!

Wedding at Ravenswood Event Center

Wedding at Ravenswood Event Center

Olivia and I were honored to be asked to read in the ceremony, along with Steve’s cousin — I shared a passage from my man Mark Twain. It was a beautiful and heartfelt ceremony with vows that left us laughing and smiling. From their first kiss at thirteen to their wedding kiss a few years later, it was a beautiful moment to see these two crazy kids finally make it official.

Five stars on Yelp, for sure.

Wedding at Ravenswood Event Center

Wedding at Ravenswood Event Center

Wedding at Ravenswood Event Center

Wedding at Ravenswood Event Center

Wedding at Ravenswood Event Center

And then the party got started! I was a little too distracted by the fun of being at a wedding with not only Ian but also my immediate and extended family and a whole bunch of Chicago folk I’ve known since I was wee. Which means I didn’t get photos of the cute champagne cork place cards or the wall of vintage family photos. But suffice it to say, no detail went forgotten!

Wedding at Ravenswood Event Center

Wedding at Ravenswood Event Center

Wedding at Ravenswood Event Center

Wedding at Ravenswood Event Center

I love loft weddings. When I worked doing wedding set up and tear down for extra cash in New York City in college, these were our speciality and I was always swooning at the amount of creativity allowed by a big blank slate like this!

The reception room at Ravenswood was once home to an industrial printing and binding machinery warehouse — now, it houses a collection of vintage neon signs and sports cars (I couldn’t help but think of the much-beloved Neon Museum in Las Vegas!)

Wedding at Ravenswood Event Center

Wedding at Ravenswood Event Center

Time to party! Dinner was crazy good, which meant I had plenty to dance off in the ensuing hours. Even better? The bride’s mother is a talented baker and made an overflowing dessert table for over three-hundred guests, by hand! I almost went into a sugar coma, a hospitalization I wouldn’t have regretted in the slightest.

Wedding at Ravenswood Event Center

Wedding at Ravenswood Event Center

Wedding at Ravenswood Event Center

Wedding at Ravenswood Event Center

What a night! The next morning, we gathered at Kirsten and Steve’s beautiful new home to wish them well on their honeymoon to Bali. While I strongly weighed the pros and cons of trying to hide in their suitcases, I had a flight to New Orleans to catch, and that was a pretty enticing trip as well.

Next stop, NOLA!

Pssst! Have you taken my reader survey yet? I’ll love you times a million if you do! Email me to redeem this offer! But seriously — these surveys help me shape the blog you’re reading, and your feedback is priceless to me. Thank you so sincerely for your time.

A Down Home Wedding in Decatur

Are those wedding bells you hear in the distance?

I hear them too — it’s definitely wedding season in Wanderland these days! This summer, I attended four. While that might seem like quite a few, they were all so incredibly unique and different, pretty much the only thing they all had in common was that two people signed a marriage license at some point.

First, there was the ritzy extravaganza in Sarasota. Next, the beautiful barn-yard fete in Maine. And then, there was the flapper wedding in Decatur, Illinois, with my Uncle Dave as the groom.

Wedding at the Staley Mansion, Decatur, Illinois

This wedding could not have been more special. The younger of my mom’s two brothers was getting married in her hometown to — get this — his junior high school sweetheart and first kiss, a few decades and winding roads later. His amazing bride Laura is the director of Decatur’s Staley Museum, which they used as both their ceremony location and a spring-board for the 1920’s wedding theme.

After a super early morning flight from Albany and a long drive from Chicago, we arrived in Decatur just in time to get my mom ready for her role as bridesmaid. So sweet!

Wedding at the Staley Mansion, Decatur, Illinois

Wedding at the Staley Mansion, Decatur, Illinois

Wedding at the Staley Mansion, Decatur, Illinois

Wedding at the Staley Mansion, Decatur, Illinois

At this point, I’m a little sad that I’ve jumped out of chronological order to share this summer’s travels more promptly, since I’ve never really had the chance to properly introduce you all to my mom’s hometown of Decatur — site of so many of my childhood trips. I returned for the first time since launching this blog in the summer of 2016 and I was just about to blog about it when I pressed pause to jump ahead to 2017.

But alas, here we are. I’ll give you the real scoop on this sweet small town in Central Illinois later. For now, this is a wedding story.

Wedding at the Staley Mansion, Decatur, Illinois

Wedding at the Staley Mansion, Decatur, Illinois

Wedding at the Staley Mansion, Decatur, Illinois

Wedding at the Staley Mansion, Decatur, Illinois

After an intimate ceremony in the main parlor of the Staley Mansion, the new family paused to say hello to Laura’s oldest son, who couldn’t make it to the wedding, but woke up in the middle of the night to Skype in from Vietnam, where he’s positioned for work.

Wedding at the Staley Mansion, Decatur, Illinois

This was such an incredibly joyful day, not only because I now have the most incredible new aunt — who has already felt like part of the family for a while now — but also three new cousins in Laura’s three kids! (I mean officially, I guess they would be step cousins? My family tree making skills kind of peaked in elementary school.) I have a pretty small family on both sides — my mom has just two brothers with three kids between them, so I’m always cheering when it expands.

Wedding at the Staley Mansion, Decatur, Illinois

Wedding at the Staley Mansion, Decatur, Illinois

Wedding at the Staley Mansion, Decatur, Illinois

And then, it was off to the reception! I wasn’t surprised in the slightest when I learned that Dave and Laura would be traveling in ultimate style — a 1930 Ford Model A. While Laura is a history buff and a museum curator, my Uncle Dave owns a local Coca-Cola museum and DJ business.

Growing up, we couldn’t have dreamed a more fun uncle — he always had some fancy new gadget or crazy toy to play with. So I knew there was no way we’d make it through the day without the wedding version of one — and I think a novelty getaway car fits the bill just right!

Wedding at the Staley Mansion, Decatur, Illinois

Wedding at the Staley Mansion, Decatur, Illinois

After nabbing a few more family photos (how could we resist, in these getups?!) we followed right behind them.

Wedding at the Staley Mansion, Decatur, Illinois

Wedding at the Staley Mansion, Decatur, Illinois

Wedding at the Staley Mansion, Decatur, Illinois

Wedding at the Staley Mansion, Decatur, Illinois

Next up was the reception at Beach House on Lake Decatur, and on the chance that any of you might someday find yourself in this particular corner of Central Illinois, I can’t recommend a prettier deck on which to have a drink. My childhood is filled with happy memories on Lake Decatur, where my mom’s other, older brother has a beautiful home. Oh, the hours we spent flinging ourselves off his deck into the water, playing in the pool, screaming on the back of the jetski while our older cousins whipped it around the lake!

In the narrow vision of childhood, the entirety of Lake Decatur existed in my Uncle Mark’s backyard. So imagine my surprise, as an adult, to find that there were such things as restaurants with beautiful decks on which to dine that also shared the waterfront.

Wedding at the Staley Mansion, Decatur, Illinois

Wedding Reception at The Beach House, Decatur, Illinois

Wedding Reception at The Beach House, Decatur, Illinois

Wedding Reception at The Beach House, Decatur, Illinois

I smiled all the way through the article the local paper wrote on this special wedding. But my favorite line was this one:

“I’m vintage and history. He’s pop culture, modern and high-tech,” Jahr said. “But when it comes to having fun, we do that really well together.”

You could see so at the reception, where a live band kept us on the dance floor — and my uncles moves kept us in stitches! Table numbers from a photo of the newlyweds when they were in high school had me swooning, as did the heartfelt speeches from Laura’s daughter, my own mom, two employees my uncle has mentored, and to my delight, one of the bride and groom’s high school teachers!

I always look forward to the speeches at any wedding, and these really hit the spot in emphasizing what a positive impact Uncle Dave and Laura both have had on the people around them. Laura herself put together a touching story of she and my uncle’s love story told via three songs — their cute puppy love story when they first met, their friendship over the years that they both married other people, and Laura moved to Spain for three decades, and finally, Laura moving back to Decatur and their reunion and all the fireworks. What a love story!

Wedding Reception at The Beach House, Decatur, Illinois

Wedding Reception at The Beach House, Decatur, Illinois

Wedding Reception at The Beach House, Decatur, Illinois

Wedding Reception at The Beach House, Decatur, Illinois

The weekend flew by! The morning after the wedding, we barged over to my Uncle’s house, where the newlyweds and three of their four kids were packing up for the long drive to their family honeymoon in Orlando, and insisted they get a late start in order to join us for one last meal.

Over a loud and rowdy breakfast at one of Decatur’s hopping breakfast diners, we went around the table and recounted our favorite moments from the day before. And you know what? That might have been my favorite moment.

Wedding at the Staley Mansion, Decatur, Illinois

Wedding at the Staley Mansion, Decatur, Illinois

With my sister on her way back to Philadelphia and everyone else on their way to Orlando, my mom and Miller and I spent a quiet night at my Grandma’s house winding down from one wedding and gearing up for the next — my cousin Kirstin’s, in Chicago the very next weekend!

And the next morning, I woke up before dawn to fly there and help her get ready for it. Having been a passenger for the three hour drive from Decatur to Chicago more times than I can count, I decided to try a new transportation method — the $59 flight on AirOne.

Air One Decatur to Chicago

Considering my recent confession, it should come as no surprise that I was a little uneasy when I first spotted this plane on the runway. And yet I was so intrigued by the whole experience and so physically comfortable on the short flight, I never had time to get nervous about any bumps or jostles. I was one of three passengers, and the plane felt like I imagine a private jet would with my seat essentially a massive cushy recliner. It was so unique and affordable — why can’t they have this route between Albany and New York?!

As I watched the world below change from one of cornfields to one of skyscrapers, I knew we’d hit The Windy City. And my summer of family time continued…

Air One Decatur to Chicago

Air One Decatur to Chicago

Air One Decatur to Chicagolook how tiny navy pier looks!

Air One Decatur to Chicago

Next stop: Chicago!

The Maine Thing: My 22nd State

Guys — I finally went to Maine!

So, I know destination weddings elicit a groan from some guests, but for this travel-and-champagne-addict, it’s a swoon-worthy combination. So when my friend high school friend Liz announced the location for her very own destination wedding, I couldn’t have been more thrilled. It’s a goal of mine to visit all fifty states someday, and with less than half ticked off the list, I do try — and frequently fail — to squeeze in at least one new one per year. Maine has topped the list for years! Turned out that for the summer of 2017, I would finally get there — my twenty-second United State of America.

Maine Road Trip

Maine Road Trip

The wedding was located in Harpswell, Maine, and I originally planned to build a full one or even two week trip around it. Unfortunately, life got in the way and I ended up with just four days — but I was determined to make the most of them. And that involved using as many Maine themed puns as humanely possible.

With my mom as my wedding plus one and travel buddy, I hopped a flight from Philly to Boston, she swooped up with the car from Martha’s Vineyard, and together we headed north.

Maine Road Trip

Maine Road Trip

Kennebunkport Travel Blog

Our first stop, after a short swoop through an art gallery in Wells, was Kennebunkport. This little coastal town is famous for being the vacation destination of the Bush family, and as Martha’s Vineyard residents, we do love our destinations steeped in presidential lore. Unabashedly preppy Kennebunkport is a quintessential East Coast destination I just couldn’t miss.

We kicked off our rainy visit with lunch at the fantastic local favorite Federal Jack’s, overlooking the cloudy harbor. It was incredibly scenic even covered in a coat of gray — I can’t even imagine how quaint it would be on a bright sunny day.

Kennebunkport Travel Blog

After lunch, I was tempted by a tasting at Maine Mead, which is based in Portland but recently opened their Kennebunkport tasting room. It was a nice mid-day pick-me-up, and I ended up buying a bottle of the Lavender Lemonade and the Habanero Lime.

Maine Mead Works Kennebunkport

Maine Mead Works Kennebunkport

Maine Mead Works Kennebunkport

Before heading out of town, we did one lap of the charming town center shops. I treated myself to a pair of Sperry’s tennis shoes and a slice of fudge, classic New England purchases.

Kennebunkport Travel Blog

Kennebunkport Travel Blog

Kennebunkport Travel Blog

Kennebunkport Travel Blog

Eventually, we said a reluctant goodbye to Kennebunkport and made our way up to South Freeport to check into our highly anticipated Airbnb. I admit that when I started researching this trip, one of the things that prevented me from extending it was the cost of Maine’s accommodation in the summer.

Prices were shockingly steep, even for fairly nondescript motels in the rural area around the wedding venue. I suppose with a very limited warm weather window, hoteliers have no choice but to make hay while the sun shines — literally. Airbnb to the rescue!

South Freeport Maine Airbnb

South Freeport Maine Airbnb

For cheaper than even the wedding rate at the local Best Western, we scored this adorable renovated barn on the property of the sweetest local couple. The wife is a clothing designer who imports fabrics from Bali, and the husband teaches Tai Chi lessons in the barn when they don’t have guests. He left us little treats like fresh strawberries and local chocolates every day, and was incredibly helpful in doling out recommendations for the area.

New to the magic of Airbnb? Use my link for $40 off your first booking!

South Freeport Maine Airbnb

South Freeport Maine Airbnb

South Freeport Maine Airbnb

South Freeport Maine Airbnb

South Freeport Maine Airbnb

South Freeport Maine Airbnb

That night, we hopped back in the car to head to Frontier Café in Brunswick. We were pretty tired from a long day behind the wheel and considered sticking closer to home, but as soon as we arrived at Frontier we knew the twenty minute drive had been well worth it.

This gallery, theater and restaurant was the kind of place I like to think I’d be a regular if I were a Brunswick resident — organic, locally sourced healthy meals, screenings of documentaries and indie films, and shows by local artists. Plus, killer sunset views — and the waitress genuinely thanked me when I asked for no straw in my water (a kindred single-use plastic loather!) It might have been one of my favorite meals in Maine, and there was a lot of competition.

Frontier Restaurant, Brunswick, Maine

Frontier Restaurant, Brunswick, Maine

Frontier Restaurant, Brunswick, Maine

Freeport Maine Travel Blog

The next morning, we woke up bright and early to walk the four minutes from our Airbnb to the Harraseeket Harbor. While the rest of the day would be taken up by bridesmaid duty in Portland, it was nice to kick things off with another peek at charming, small town coastal Maine. The harbor was deserted but for a few fishermen in the early morning hours, though my mom told me when she returned later for lunch the line for lobster was wrapped around the building.

Harraseeket Lobster, South Freeport, Maine

Freeport Maine Travel Blog

This two day wedding extravaganza was special enough to warrant a post of it’s own — so stay tuned for that. For now, we’ll fast forward to our fourth and final day in Maine, which arrived all too quickly.

We were sad to say goodbye to our adorable Airbnb — but I was pretty thrilled to be rocking day-after wedding braid.

Maine Travel Blog

Maine Travel Blog

We’d decided to spend the day in Portland but made a quick detour when we saw a sign for DeLorme mapping, home of Eartha. Eartha is the world’s largest rotating and revolving globe, conveniently located right on our path of travel in Yarmouth, Maine. What travel blogger could possibly pass by without stopping?!

Unfortunately it was a Sunday and so the building was closed — but we managed to admire it just fine from the outside.

Giant Map in Freeport Maine

Next stop, brunch at Hot Suppa. Portland, Maine, much like its West Coast namesake, is known for it’s insanely high quality restaurant scene. We were so hungry we inhaled our beautiful entrees — including a pulled pork breakfast burrito with local peaches, and a fried chicken and biscuit sandwich — before I had the chance to snap a photo.

Bad blogger, but great burrito. So far, Portland was really living up to its reputation, and I can’t recommend Hot Suppa more highly if you’re in the area.

Portland Maine Travel Blog

Portland Maine Travel Blog

Portland Maine Travel Blog

Next, we drove down to the harbor area to stroll around, do a bit of gift shopping, and get a feel for Maine’s largest city. Portland was nothing like I expected Maine to be — Kennebunkport was more the vision I had in my head for the Pine Tree State (which also, in my opinion, could work on its official state nickname.)

But while Portland was more modern than I expected, even after our short trip I agreed with Lonely Planet assessment of it as “one of the hippest, most vibrant small cities in America.”

Portland Maine Travel Blog

Portland Maine Travel Blog

Portland Maine Travel Blog

Portland Maine Travel Blog

Portland Maine Travel Blog

Portland Maine Travel Blog

Portland Maine Travel Blog

Leaving Portland proper, we headed out on a mission to tick off two final Maine must-dos off our bucket list: blueberry ice cream and lighthouses. While there had been plenty of ice cream opportunities in Kennebunkport, our first two days were pretty chilly — this was really our first beautiful sunny day of exploration.

First up, Bug Light. Bug Light Park was just moments outside Central Portland and offered gorgeous views of the city’s skyline. With kites blowing in the breeze, residents relaxing on quilts and lawn chairs and sailboats dancing in the harbor, it would be hard to paint a more idyllic scene. A World War II Memorial in one corner was a touching tribute.

Portland Maine Travel Blog

Portland Maine Lighthouse

Portland Maine Lighthouse

Next up, Portland Head Lighthouse in Fort Williams Park. Be careful if you’re headed here — though it’s alleged to be the most photographed spot in Maine and shouldn’t be too tricky to find, we almost got tricked by a Google Map error that marked it at a different location in Cape Elizabeth.

Thankfully, we followed our instincts and found the iconic lighthouse, which was every bit as impressive as its reputation promised.

Portland Head Light, Cape Elizabeth, Maine

Portland Head Light, Cape Elizabeth, Maine

Portland Head Light, Cape Elizabeth, Maine

Portland Head Light, Cape Elizabeth, Maine

And then, in what felt like the blink of an eye, we were on our way back to the New Hampshire border, starting our four-state crawl back to New York.

Portland Head Light, Cape Elizabeth, Maine

Portland Head Light, Cape Elizabeth, Maine

Our time in Maine really was fleeting, though we managed to at least glance at several of Southern Maine’s most enticing destinations — charming Kennebunkport, quirky Portland, rustic Harpswell, sweet South Freeport, and crunchy Brunswick. While the major destinations of the North were calling to me — Acadia National Park, I’m dying to camp in you! — I’m quite certain this won’t be my last jaunt to Maine.

Stay tuned for my dispatches from bridesmaid duty in Harpswell!

Philadelphia, The City of Sisterly Love

Philadelphia’s nickname might be The City of Brotherly Love, but since my little sister relocated there for a new job on the Governor of Pennsylvania’s reelection campaign, it’s been known to be as the City of Sisterly Love to me. And this year, after celebrating the Fourth of July with my family in Martha’s Vineyard, I […]

Move to The Bleat! Goat Yoga in Martha’s Vineyard

One of my favorite things about being the in the US for the summer is getting to try out crazy fitness trends. Aqua cycling in a pool? I’m in! Zumba with drumsticks? Sign me up. Hot yoga to hip hop? Literally obsessed (All three of those are real classes in my regular rotation when I can find ’em!)

So imagine my excitement when I read that goat yoga, the latest asana style to sweep the nation, had arrived in Martha’s Vineyard.

Goat Yoga in Martha's Vineyard

Goat Yoga in Martha's Vineyard

Goat Yoga in Martha's Vineyard

Ian was my bemused partner for this adventure, and as we drove the windy roads up-island on this particularly rainy morning, I hoped the weather wouldn’t divert our goat-date. I was relieved when we arrived to find that the class was being held in a covered farm structure, rain or shine.

As we settled onto our mats, we met our instructor Josey Kirkland, a goat owner and enthusiast, an environmental educator at Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary and a yoga teacher for seven years. I was pretty pumped to be practicing outside with our without furry sidekicks, something I’ve come to love on my international travels but rarely find within the US. Josey agrees, teaching both at Native Earth Farm, where we were settling into our sun salutations, and also standard vinyasa classes at Long Point Beach.

Goat Yoga in Martha's Vineyard

Goat Yoga in Martha's Vineyard

Goat Yoga in Martha's Vineyard

We attended the first ever edition of Goat Yoga MV, which meant there was a little learning curve for everyone — but mostly for the five baby pygmy goats that attended, most of whom were away for their mothers for the first time. Josey assured us this was a totally natural process, though I admit that the first ten minutes of the class were fairly stressful as the goats darted around looking tense and bleating their little hearts out.

Soon, though, everyone got into the groove. The class was a gentle vinyasa style, perfect for beginners, of which there were many in our session. Familiar asanas were punctuated with the occasional goat nibbling on a big toe, or jumping up on someone’s back or chest for a balancing practice of their own.

Goat Yoga in Martha's Vineyard

Goat Yoga in Martha's Vineyard

Goat Yoga in Martha's Vineyard

The goats were a little less interactive than the ones I’d seen in online videos and articles, but I chalked that up to them just needing to warm up to us — most of the goat interaction took place in the final fifteen or so minutes of class. But once they did they were the cutest cuddliest little yogis I’ve ever seen!

I loved that throughout the practice, Josey explained to us why she felt such a connection to goat yoga. The healing power of spending time with animal is no secret, and domestic pets and farm animals alike are often used for therapy — they’re credited with lowering blood pressure, releasing endorphins, and even extending life expectancies. Goat yoga isn’t just a cute Instagram fad (though it’s definitely that too), it’s a way for people to move their bodies, fill their hearts, and remember to smile and be playful throughout their day.

Goat Yoga in Martha's Vineyard

Goat Yoga in Martha's Vineyard

Goat Yoga in Martha's Vineyard

After class, there were plenty of time for goat selfies. We had such a good time in this class I wanted to come back the next week, but it was already sold out! Classes are filling up across the country — some studios have waiting lists over one thousand people long — so if you have the chance, don’t hesitate! At $25, it’s about comparable with other yoga classes on Martha’s Vineyard.

Next up: Check out my post on where to practice on Martha’s Vineyard!

Goat Yoga in Martha's Vineyard

Goat Yoga in Martha's Vineyard

Major fad? Yes. Totally and completely amazing? Double yes!

I get that this is a thing that’s kind of easy to throw shade at, but I had the best time trying out goat yoga. I loved that our instructor highlighted why this is more than just a trend — there’s a restorative power to being around animals, to moving your body, and to being outside. Goat yoga combines all three!

Plus? I got to be on the cover of the MV Times, and that meant my mom had something to put on her refrigerator. So really a win-win for everyone.

Goat Yoga in Martha's Vineyard

Goat Yoga in Martha's Vineyard

What’s the craziest fitness class you’ve ever taken?

Pin It!

Goat Yoga in Martha's Vineyard

Goat Yoga in Martha's Vineyard

#WeArePADIWomen: Interviewing Allison Vitsky Sallmon

Today I’m super excited to announce a new series called #WeArePADIWomen, a collection of stories and secrets from some of the most inspiring women in the scuba diving industry. If you followed Women’s Dive Day coverage in July, you know that there are plenty!

I’m kicking off this series with the wise words of a woman I’ve been lucky enough to share a dive boat with once before, Allison Vitsky Sallmon. Allison is not only a talented professional underwater photographer and PADI Rescue Diver but also a breast cancer survivor who founded Dive Into The Pink, a nonprofit that mobilizes the dive community to raise money for breast cancer research and patient support.

Private Diving Charter San DiegoAllison and I and some of our fave dive buddies!

As a Florida native and resident of Southern California, Allison has always been near the ocean. After twenty years of diving, Allison picked up a camera in 2006 and within a year had purchased a dSLR and started a second career diving and shooting alongside her husband, fellow underwater photographer Andy Sallmon. Today, Allison has a wide portfolio of unique perspectives from around the world. I look at a lot of dive photography and much of it runs together. Allison’s work, I can spot before I see the watermark!

Allison and Andy took me out for a day of diving in San Diego a few summers ago, and I was truly touched by their words of encouragement to an amateur photography enthusiast like myself, their enthusiasm for sharing their knowledge of the industry, and their patience for watching me flail around like a manatee in a 7mm wetsuit for the first time.

Now, over to Allison. Thanks for joining me for this celebration of women underwater!

When did you start diving and what was your motivation for doing so? What eventually inspired you to first pick up a camera?

OK, first of all, you didn’t flail like a manatee. That’s just nonsense. You looked fabulous above and underwater, and the sea lion pups loved you! (Second of all, I dived for 15 years before the camera came into things – I wish I’d started earlier!)

I got my first certification in 1992 in Gainesville, Florida. Diving wasn’t even on my radar. My mom actually gave me the class as a gift – she was planning a family trip to Cozumel, and she wanted a dive buddy. By the time we went to Cozumel six months later, I had done over 100 dives and was signed up for my cave course.

For the camera, at first, I just had a little point and shoot, a cast-off from an ex (if he hadn’t given it to me, I don’t know that I’d ever have started shooting). I was living in Boston at the time, so my first dives with a camera were in cold, green water. I didn’t know what I was doing with it, and that was a tough place to learn. But we took a trip to the Solomon Isands that year, and there were two amazing photographers on the boat. They inspired me, and by the end of that trip, it was all over. I was doomed to sacrifice my time, income, and sanity at the altar of underwater photography.

I am ashamed to say that I don’t log my open circuit dives, but I know I’ve done more than 2500-3000. I do log my closed circuit dives – the last time I looked, I had about 200 hours. I’d like to get more time on closed circuit, but it isn’t practical for every dive I do, so it’s incremental.

#WearePADIwomen

Oh man, I regret not logging my dives more religiously too! How did diving go from a hobby to a career for you?

Well, in fairness, I have a day job as a scientist that has nothing to do with diving. It’s been helpful because it ensures that I’m financially independent and can pick and choose the work I do in the dive industry, giving me the luxury to accept only those projects about which I’m passionate.

It’s been gradual – I’ve always enjoyed writing (my undergraduate degree was in communications), and that enthusiasm and a solid work ethic helped me get into editorial work and develop a reputation (hopefully a good one!). As for Dive into the Pink, it was a bit of an accident. I thought I’d run a single charter to raise some money, and it snowballed from there once we saw how enthusiastic people were about it.

Have you faced any obstacles in your diving or photography career? How did you overcome them? What was your greatest challenge getting started in this industry?

The biggest obstacle for me is TIME! Juggling my day job, editorial work, Dive into the Pink, and regular (weekly or more) local California sanity dives with a marriage (even to a pro shooter in the dive industry) and home can be tricky. It’s a delicate balance, and I’ll admit, I have a tendency to take on too much. I am trying to get better about spacing things out in a way that allow for down time. Sadly, the last few transpacific trips I’ve taken, I’ve been almost as excited about the flight as the diving because of the opportunity for uninterrupted sleep.

I feel you — I always look forward to my long flights as a time to rest! What do you feel are the most important challenges and opportunities facing women in diving?

There are very few challenges for women now, I think — they exist, but they are really the exception more than the rule. We are our own worst enemies; in my opinion, women have a tendency to be hard on themselves in a way men aren’t. We judge ourselves (and compare ourselves with others) to an extreme on everything – intelligence, success, appearance… I think this is true of women in all fields, and it’s a shame. We need to support and encourage each other, even when it isn’t easy or comfortable to do, because nine times out of ten, the person you’re encouraging isn’t being so kind to themselves.

Certainly, individual women have always been recognized for their impact on diving, ocean conservancy, scientific research, and media, but I think there’s more awareness of women’s impact than ever before – I think the opportunities that are currently available have perhaps always been there, but there’s increased visibility, in other words.

There are so many aspiring underwater photographers out there! What should shutterbugs hoping to follow in your professional footsteps have on his or her resume?

Hard, hard work is more important than any resume – exceed deadlines, don’t make excuses, and turn in great stuff. There is too much competition to approach this any other way. Constantly look to grow and improve — ask for criticism and learn from the advice you get.

Also, have a realistic attitude. The number of photography jobs is finite and the money isn’t exactly amazing or consistent. The vast majority of people who do this juggle shooting with a day job – some in the dive industry (sales representatives, for example) and some, like me, in completely unrelated fields.

Perhaps most importantly, be judicious about giving away work in exchange for personal “exposure.” Your gear, travel, and time is worth a lot, and there should always be some give and take involved when you’re providing images to a commercial business. If you ask for nothing in exchange for your work, it sends a powerful message that you think your work is worth nothing.

PADI Women Interview

PADI Women Interview

I know you too started out with a point and shoot camera. Do you have any tips for divers just looking to improve their underwater photography skills, especially those that might feel their equipment is lacking?

Well, you’ve heard about the number one peeve of photographers, right? You have a beautiful photo displayed somewhere, and some buffoon walks up to you and says, “Wow, you must have a nice camera!” In other words, amazing images come from the shooter, not the equipment. Sure, you can be limited by your equipment, but you should be able to squeeze a hell of a lot out of it before that happens.

First, take a class from a pro who has a documented success record – publications, for instance – and preferably a private class where you’ll spend time in the classroom AND water. Then, take what you’ve learned and practice, practice, practice. If you aren’t in the position to travel constantly (and the vast majority of us aren’t), find the best option for diving near your home, and go for it. Nothing beats time in the water for improving your skills.

What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?

As a photographer, I recently had a photo displayed in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History as part of the Windland Smith Rice photography competition. Of all the times I’ve been lucky enough to place in a competition, this win and exhibit was very meaningful because I visited that museum a lot as a little girl and marveled up at the blue whale suspended from the ceiling!

It’s not as showy, but I’m as or maybe more proud of what we’re accomplishing with Dive into the Pink. Watching people respond to the idea of diving for a cause with joy and gratitude has been rewarding in a way I never could have imagined.

What’s been your most special dive?

My most memorable in-water experience took place near home a few years ago. We were offshore, free diving near kelp paddies to photograph the life beneath them, and a blue whale surfaced and descended right in front of me. For a moment, I was eye to eye with the largest animal ever to live on the earth. And it was AMAZING!

#WearePADIwomen

Is there a piece of dive gear or accessory you can’t live without?

My drysuit. I have a backup for when my primary’s in the shop. With all the California diving we do (and given my wussiness), this is one thing I can’t do without. (I hate to insert branding here. But I have DUIs, and I love DUI! No brand I’ve tried fits a woman’s body better.)

I know we share the belief that divers are some of the greatest ambassadors of our oceans! What are some small ways those reading today can make a difference, divers or not?

Two things I try to be religious about are avoiding single-use plastic items and keeping consumption of fish (especially non-sustainable fish) to a bare minimum. These are easy things we can all do to make a difference.

I so admire the work you’ve done with Dive Into The Pink. As a cancer survivor, how did diving or the ocean bring you peace during a difficult time in your life?

When I went through my treatment, I was living in Boston, and it was wintertime. I hadn’t gotten my drysuit certification yet, so local diving wasn’t a terribly appealing option. I had some issues with my white blood cell counts getting very low, so although I felt fine and was able to work during most of the process, I avoided remote travel. What I did do was pore over dive magazines, admire images (and begin to notice who had taken my favorites), and dream about the places I’d go when I was finished.

I’ll never say that I was lucky to have faced cancer, but certainly, it has enabled me to view my life from a different perspective and with a little more of a “what the hell, let’s try (insert harebrained scheme)” attitude.

#WearePADIwomen

What advice do you have for new divers, or those who might be nervous to get started?

Give it a try before you get scared off! I loved my pool sessions, but I was freakin’ terrified before I descended for my first checkout dive. I was practically in tears, and I came very close to getting out of the water and going home. But once my head was under the surface, it was all over for me.

There are lots of technical diving images in the media, and there’s tons of hype about intense diving/training or gear, but this sport is very personal. Diving is what you make it, and it is perfectly acceptable not to pursue extremes in diving. Make sure you are comfortable and enjoying yourself, make sure that your skills are solid, and then have fun. Be true to yourself, and don’t succumb to pressure.

Do you have any words of inspiration for women in particular seeking a career in this industry?

The same words I’d give anyone – woman or man – in any field. A solid work ethic is critical. The dive industry looks like a big vacation from the outside, but I have never come across a group of people who are more dedicated or who work harder. Get the training and skills you need, be authentic, be honest and modest about your accomplishments, and keep at it. Steve Martin once said, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” This applies triply to those hoping to make a name for themselves in diving. Exaggeration and ego will only take most people so far before others see through it.

It’s easy to feel like you’ve been everywhere but I’m sure that’s not true! What’s that big dive or trip that’s still at the top of your bucket list?

Ha! I don’t remotely feel as if I’ve been everywhere! I still haven’t been to the Galapagos, and that’s obviously on the list. I haven’t been diving in any polar areas, clearly on the list. Never dived the Azores, South America, the South Island of New Zealand, the south or west coast of Australia, British Columbia, Alaska, Washington state, North Carolina…. You know, I have a very long list, and it gets longer every year — and it doesn’t include the hundreds of places I’d like to return to!

What are you working on now? Where will your next adventure take you?

Fall/early winter is our key time to work on local stock images and stories, and our weekends are booked solid with South and Central California diving until the end of the year. We are fortunate enough to have some remote assignment trips for for 2018, but I’ve always found that it’s better not to speak about those trips in detail beforehand – it jinxes conditions!

For Dive into the Pink, we have a Pink (great white) Shark trip to Guadalupe in August, and we’ll hold several California-based Pink Charters and our annual online auction (including amazing trips, gear from companies like Scubapro, Fourth Element, DUI/OMS, and Shearwater, as well as beautiful apparel and jewelry) in October. After that, who knows? But it will definitely involve being in the water 🙂

PADI Women Interview

PADI Women Interview

This post is brought to you by PADI as part of the PADI AmbassaDiver initiative. Read my latest ramblings on the PADI blog!