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Gap Year Kids go Off the Grid with NOLS

by Monday, September 26, 2016

Week one of the Winterline Global Skills program was their official orientation. It was designed for the kids to get to know each other better. They spent time in Denver, Colorado at Estes Park (aka the YMCA of the Rockies), attempting ropes courses, engaging in team building activities, problem solving, critical thinking and sharing personal stories.


Winterline orientation (Daniela, Michael, Noah, and Rochelle)


Leo on the ropes course!


Emily taking photos of Ana Paulina, while Chandler is throwing up deuces


Lilly, McKenzie, Chandler and Gabbi all in deep focus, while poor Susie needs a nap. (planning a Gap Year is hard work!)

This week was in preparation for their first big challenge at Winterline; an eight-day backpacking trek off the grid, and into the Rocky mountains of Wyoming.

But first, they needed to be trained by NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School).  They took a bus from Denver, Colorado to Lander, Wyoming, which was where the base camp of NOLS was located.  They spent a few days at the NOLS hotel for training.  They took very intensive classes on wilderness first aid training, leadership skills, outdoor skills, environmental studies and risk management.  Once they have passed their in-class tests, they were ready to put their new skills to use.


NOLS wilderness first aid training…not funny when you’re sent a snapchat of this with no explanation!

They broke the cohort into two groups of ten. Each group was equipped with NOLS issued tents, sleeping bags, a camp stove, food, and even a bear fence. Yikes! Each group also were accompanied by two, highly trained  NOLS instructors. What couldn’t fit in their, close to 50 lb. backpacks, (and also NOT allowed),  was their smart phones!


The two teams for the NOLS backpacking adventure. (my daughter Maddie is the little one at the bottom, center)

This meant zero contact with the outside world for eight days!

This second week would prove to be a challenge for the Gap Year Mom’s too, as we were at home worrying, and had no clue on how they were doing.  Thank goodness us Gap Year Mom’s have united and formed a chat group. This was a great idea from a mom from Columbia. She uses the app called Whats App to stay in contact with her daughter. I have used that app and Viber while traveling abroad.  They are both great apps to stay in contact with friends and family while traveling abroad, and what’s even better is that  they are FREE ( as long as you have a WiFi connection)!! We also have a private group on Facebook (created by Winterline) and all follow each other, our kids, and Winterline, on Instagram, snapchat and twitter.  The reason for us using the Whats App more is because some of us don’t have Facebook or other social media apps on our phones.  Many of us haven’t had any prior experience with social media at all. The gap year learning is extending onto the parents.  Gotta love social media! It really is a lifesaver through this!


food prepping for their 8 day NOLS expedition


Maddie and Michael (both from NH) all ready for their eight day backpacking expedition in the Rocky mountains

The first week for the Gap Year Mom’s was hard adjusting to our kid’s absence.  The second week was even harder, because they weren’t only gone, but we couldn’t talk to them either. It almost felt like they were in boot camp. And in a way, they were.  Each of us from our “Gap Year Mom chat group” checked in from time to time, seeing how we all were holding up. It was like a virtual lifeline for us when we started to worry. Even with our busy lives, working, doing our routine errands and the such, we always made time to pop in and check on each other.


camping food doesn’t look half bad…who knew?


Elise, Michael and Emily setting up camp

The Gap Year Moms had our share of ups and downs during this week. Every day was the countdown, ” eight more days”, “seven more days”, and so on…. When someone expressed a thought of worry in the group such as;

“What if they are freezing?”,

“What if they are homesick?”,

“What if they are scared?”,

“Do you think they came across wildlife?”,

“I hope they don’t get lost!”,

“What if they have a medical emergency?”,

to, you name it, (we thought of every possible scenario), the others would talk that mom down.  It’s like we took turns being the strong one, and the weak one.  Even though we couldn’t talk to our kids, to know what they were going through, it was nice to talk to other Gap Year Moms having these same concerns. Also it was nice knowing that we weren’t alone.

That eighth day came and we were all on the edge of our seats waiting to hear from the kids. We knew that they had to hike to the base camp, but didn’t know how long it would take. We were all on high alert, checking our phones in between patients, at our lunch breaks, during down time at work, or whatever else we were occupied with, each promising to immediately report when we’ve made contact with one of the adventurers.



We’re on top of the world! Wind River Wilderness, Pinedale, WY (elevation 12,500 ft. )

They made it!!

Each of us got a call, some sooner than others, but we were all so relieved to hear their happy voices.  I was afraid that my daughter might be complaining about how hard it was and how much she hated it, but no, it was just the opposite! She was breathless while excitedly speaking about how amazing and life-changing her experience was.  She said it was one of the most challenging things she has ever done, but felt so accomplished for sticking it out and completing it. She spoke of the extreme mountain hiking, totaling forty miles, with elevations reaching 12,000 ft. and up, the beauty of the Rockies, the cooking shifts,  setting up camp, scaling the Continental Divide, some cold and wet nights, not showering, the bathroom situation and how exhausted and sore she was, but most importantly, having a feeling of self-satisfaction and an increase in her self confidence.

I was so happy and so impressed that my little 90 lb. daughter was a bona-fide BAD ASS!


My little backpacker!


The campers keeping each other warm.

The Gap Year Moms chat group was buzzing with awesome stories of their happy campers. So many of the kids shared the same sentiment, that it was so hard, but life-changing.  They were not only challenged physically but also mentally and emotionally.  Some kids even lost some weight, which they had made as a personal goal for this year.  There were tears of happiness shared by all the moms and a good night’s sleep to be had that night. Winterline is already impacting us all in so many positive ways and we are only two weeks in!


taking in nature’s beauty


Emily, Michael and Maddie taking it all in!

This week solidified my decision to let my daughter go on a gap year. As many of us in the Gap Year Mom group have confessed, we at times, doubted ourselves if it was a right choice.  Not because we didn’t know what an amazing, life changing experience we were giving our kids, (we all knew that) but because of the naysayers in our lives that don’t understand what a gap year can do for young adults.

I hope that by sharing these stories of my daughter’s gap year, it can help enlighten others to be open to the idea of how awesome this can be for kids transitioning from high school to college.  We aren’t saying that college isn’t important. We all agree that it is.  It’s just that, we recognize, that learning through life experience while being fully immersed in hands-on education, instead of only in a classroom setting, can be even more beneficial. To be able to first begin with a gap year traveling the world, in ten different countries, learning one hundred new skills and becoming more independent, and then going into to college the following year, we believe, it will only make them that much more prepared for college and adult life.

This journey has already proven to be reaping so many benefits in its first twenty days for our kids. Winterline has impressed me from day one and has continued to throughout this entire process, thus far. I can only imagine how transformational this will be for them in nine months! What I wasn’t aware of was the friendships and journey the Gap Year Moms are going through together is just as transformational for us.


After 8 days without a shower. She has dreadlocks!


They Passed! On their return from the wilderness, they all received their diploma of completion through NOLS

Next stop, Costa Rica!!…..PURA VIDA!





Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone

by Tuesday, September 6, 2016

As I lie in bed on a dark and rainy September morning, my two Boston Terriers by my side, I feel numb. Earlier today, while many moms and dads have sent their kids on the bus for their first day, back to school, the day after Labor Day, I sent mine on a plane to travel the world for nine months. Without me!

I knew this day was coming. Hell, if it wasn’t for me, I don’t think it would have ever happened? You see, I am in love with travel. This is something I passed down to my daughter.  Being able to travel the world, visiting exotic places and meeting people from foreign lands, for an extended period of time, is something that many only dream about.  Many, including me. Now, my daughter is living that dream. This is her reality and the thought of it is so surreal that it  gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.

I am over the moon with excitement for her, knowing that she is able to see the world in this unique manner.  This traveling style will allow her to fully immerse in different cultures, will expose her to new people, new foods and new traditions, in such a way that is very rare for a person to achieve on a typical two-week vacation.  The program she is traveling with is called Winterline Global Skills  This program has created an extraordinary hands-on approach to learning.  Therefore, she is not just visiting 10 countries, hitting a few tourists spots and leaving. She is visiting places such as Costa Rica, Panama, Germany, Italy, Czech Republic, Austria, India, Cambodia,  and Thailand and while she spends time at each location, she will be learning 100 new skills as her journey progresses. The thought of how such experiences will positively impact her life in so many ways makes my heart sing.

So why am I so sad then?

After returning from the airport and driving up my driveway the first thing I see is her car with her Winterline bumper sticker proudly displayed on the back of her beat up Lexus RX300 SUV, that used to be mine, and used to be nice, but through the years it has aged, as did she, as did I. Thoughts ran through my head, “That car will no longer have Maddie coming and going in it”. “That car won’t move for months on end.” “It may even still be there when it snows and she still won’t be back!” My heart pounded and my eyes filled up again, right when they finally dried up from my drive home. “Take a deep breath Jess. She is going to be okay. You are going to be okay. She is so happy and that makes me so happy!”

But I’m going to miss her.

I proceeded to walk into the house, greeted by my fur babies, that thankfully “will never leave me”, I thought to myself,  and then saw her shoes by the doorway. I tried to ignore them looking at me, as they whispered, ” She is gone. It’s time to let her go.”  I contemplated on going in the kitchen for who knows what? I wasn’t hungry. I wasn’t thirsty. I decided to instead to go upstairs and lay in my bed. I did wake up at 3:00 am to drive her, so I was really tired, but in reality, it was more a feeling of loss than fatigue that I was feeling.

I made my way up the stairs with Gabby and Bernie following close behind and in my peripheral vision I saw her clothes hanging to dry on the railing from the night before. ” I don’t know why she washed them if she wasn’t taking them?” I thought, “but if I don’t put those away in her room after they are dry, they won’t be touched or worn by her for at least three months, and by then, the shorts, crop tops and rompers won’t be in season. “

I need to get away from her stuff. At least for today anyway. I don’t dare go near her bedroom although I project images of myself laying in her bed on days I’m missing her.

My husband knows how hard this is for me, so in between his jobs he came by the house to check on me and to bring me a pumpkin spiced iced-coffee from Dunkin Donuts to cheer me up. It did temporarily. He knows that I am genuinely so excited for her, but have to transition to the empty nest stage of life. He also knows that this will be especially hard for me because she is “my person” and he isn’t even remotely jealous in that fact. He thinks we are clones, especially when we sweet talk him into things. We always eventually get our way with him, but I know he secretly loves it.  I wonder if now I won’t get my way without her added persistence? She is good. Really good, but  I digress.

He is a man a few words. He shows his love by his actions and has a hard time expressing his feelings verbally.  Before she left he wanted to add patches to her backpack of all the places she has already gone.  This is something we talk about on every trip we take.  We buy the patches, intend to put them on when we get back home, but never get around to actually doing it.  His goal was to have hers complete by her trip.

It started out rough. Some of the places we visited, we didn’t get a patch, so he ordered it from Amazon Prime. (I love Amazon Prime btw! You can get virtually anything!)  We were waiting for them to arrive and it was getting very close.  Then, the patches we thought were iron-on were actually sew-on. Trying to sew these heavy-duty stitched patches onto a nylon Northface backpack seemed nearly impossible.  It was a grueling nightly task that he would make his chore for a week or so until it was complete, finger pokes and all. This was his way of saying good luck and a send off gift, “Brice-style”, not to mention the hefty contribution to this Gap Year he made. She loved it!


Maddie at the airport with her backpack adorned with country patches on her way to her Gap Year

It’s now the afternoon and I’m still here on my bed writing my thoughts as I hear my dog loudly snoring next to me. As I finish off the last sips of my melted down, now less sugary, pumpkin spiced iced-coffee, I allow myself a day to mourn.

Today, I am mourning the end of her childhood.  I am mourning our times chatting all night about all the drama at her school. I am mourning the unbearable wake-up calls for her before school meetings for FBLA.  I am mourning seeing her pretty face smiling at me as she walks in from wherever she was that day.  I am mourning the nights I couldn’t fall asleep until I knew she was home safe.  All these things and more, will no longer be.

However, tomorrow, I will be celebrating her journey into adulthood. I will be celebrating the amazing experiences she will have exploring the world.  I will be celebrating all of her accomplishments.  I will be celebrating the obstacles that she has overcome.

I will be celebrating HER.

As a mother, letting go is hard. So hard. But when you know that by doing so, you are giving your child wings to fly, it’s all worth it. This is what I believe that being a good parent is all about.  You can love them, nurture them, teach them, guide them, and hope you’ve done you’re best. BUT, you have to let them go. If you’ve done well, they will never forget where their nest is.


The first group has arrived in Colorado!





I Took a Brooklyn Bridge Walk at Sunset and This is What Happened

by Tuesday, November 10, 2015

I was in New York City for a quick 24 hours, or actually, even less than a full day, to be exact. I did a few things during that visit; I toured a college, had lunch at the Seaport, got a mani/pedi at Spring Nail Salon for only $22.00 (I still can’t believe it was that cheap!), but I also did something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. I took a Brooklyn Bridge Walk at sunset and this is what happened. 

location and information for Spring Nail Salon

I walked along the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset, along with hundreds of others, seeking to take in, that chance warm evening, and wanted to trick ourselves into believing that winter would never come.

Carriages were being pushed by young mothers. Eldery couples were walking at a snail’s pace.  There were new lovers walking hand in hand, flirting playfully with one another. There were bikers, trying to make their way through the stopped crowds. There were tourist from all over the world, speaking languages that I didn’t recognize.

And then there was ME.

thewanderlustyogi.netI was alone on this walk. I have wanted to do this for a while now, but for some reason or another, I never got the chance on all of my previous visits to the Big Apple.

I didn’t mind being alone. I wasn’t afraid or anything. There were people everywhere. I actually used this time to see how it would feel to be a real “solo traveler”, which I was aiming to become. It was a little experiment, I guess you could say?

A link to my thoughts about how solo travel might be

How I ended up here, was my daughter and I toured Pace University (http://www.pace.edu/) and then she did an overnight in the dorms, staying with a student that she knew from high school, who was currently a student there.


My daughter, Maddie and her friend Ally in front of Pace University

I stayed at my cousin’s apartment in the Eastside, sadly unable to visit with her, due to a previous speaking engagement she had at a medical conference in Washington DC. She is a doctor. I’m very proud of her. However, I did have the company of her handsome cat, Rafi. It also made it very convenient for me and saved me some money, which I was extremely grateful for.


My cousin’s cat, Rafi

After dropping my daughter off to the dorms, I tried to think of something to do. I was pretty wiped out from the last two days of college tours, driving, and all the walking we did, but I wasn’t ready to turn in just yet.

On a side note: one of the colleges we toured was  Marist College(https://www.marist.edu/), where my uncle is the Dean of the Math and Computer Science department.  It is in Poughkeepsie, New York. After comparing the two colleges we toured (Pace University and Marist College), it was clear that Marist College offered so much more, for what my daughter was looking for, with her college experience, and she really could see herself fitting in there. She decided that Marist College was her number one choice and wants to apply for this upcoming Fall semester. She is hoping she gets in and is accepted into their amazing Florence Freshman Experience (FFE) program, where she could study abroad in Florence, Italy for her entire freshman year.  She also has the travel bug and would absolutely love an opportunity such as this. We are crossing our fingers. 


My daughter, Maddie, excited about our tour at Marist College

The location of Pace University was directly in front of the entrance of the Brooklyn Bridge. It seemed meant to be. I have always wanted to walk it, it was freaking 75 degrees, in November, the sun was about to set, and I had the time. It was perfect!

As I made my way through the crowd, I, at first, felt a little awkward. I was looking around at all the people who had “their people” with them as I was there, flying solo. This was still a strange feeling for me, but I’m forcing myself to get used to it, especially since I will be doing my first official “solo trip” in one short month from now, to Belize!

I Took a Brooklyn Bridge Walk at Sunset and This is What Happened:

I learned Three Benefits of Solo Travel:

  1. You can do whatever you want!-I took my time and stopped to take pictures. What did it matter? I wasn’t holding anyone up. It was nice to not have to discuss with anyone else, how long we wanted to stay or not stay. I just did whatever felt right to me. It was kind of freeing.
  2. You are completely “in the moment”-Everything felt so surreal and I’m not just saying this for dramatic purposes. It really did. I didn’t know why, but I think I was more able to be completely “in the moment” because I didn’t have any other distractions as I would with another person, with conversation, non verbal communication and just their presence in general? I loved that feeling.
  3. People are So Much more Friendlier When you are Solo-Then there was the people. I don’t know if I’m just making this up, but everyone seemed so much more friendly towards me, being alone. (other solo travelers have shared this exact sentiment) This was crazy to me. I mean, I was in New York City, where, if you know their reputation? -Not super friendly folks. (This is kind of a stereotype, but it’s what they say. Just like they say Southerners are friendly.) Yes, this could be because I was mostly around tourists, but I could absolutely tell, people were approaching me more, because I was alone. It must have made me more approachable. Which makes complete sense. If you are with others you seem to be more closed off and in your own private world. People will sometimes interact with you, but mostly respect your space. When you are alone you are open to engage with everyone and anyone. I met and spoke with more strangers in that hour  I spent on the Brooklyn Bridge, then I think anywhere else I’ve ever been? People were chatting me up about the weather, asking me to take photos for them and just paying attention to me, smiling at me, as if to say “Hello, I see you.” I felt a real connectedness with total strangers that I have never felt before. It was awesome!


    My token headstand picture, for my 365 day inversion challenge (this one was number 134) taken by a sweet couple, that I think, thought I was nuts for doing it!


I took a Brooklyn Bridge walk at sunset and got so much more than I ever intended out of it.  I not only got to observe some benefits of solo travel, but I also got to be alone with my thoughts and was able to reflect on my life; all of the good and bad events that I have gone through, that has brought me to where I am today. I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Even the bad. For it has molded me to be a stronger and wiser person and made me really appreciate what was important in life.thewanderlustyogi.net

I never thought if I took a Brooklyn Bridge walk at sunset, that I would be able to receive such unexpected joy. I was filled with gratitude, so thankful for my existence and everything I have experienced thus far in my life,  and it made me even more excited for Belize, and traveling solo.thewanderlustyogi.net

By taking that walk on the Brooklyn Bridge alone, I sensed a real connection with other humans and I encountered a feeling of self-awareness and empowerment, which only made me long to explore these feelings more, through solo travel.  I don’t think solo travel will end up being my favorite way to travel, since I do enjoy sharing these experiences with my loved ones, but I realized that solo travel is a very different and authentic way to travel. I feel that solo travel should be experienced by everyone, at least once in their life.

If you are ever in New York City and have a chance to walk to Brooklyn Bridge, I highly suggest it, whether alone or with others. You may get even more out of it, than just burning a few extra calories. I know I surely did!








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