A universal message.

Season's wish
My words, my friend’s image, our universal message.

My wish for you in this season of celebrations is simple and universal. It’s a message you can embrace guilt-free, year-round, regardless of your faith or lack thereof.

Isn’t it refreshing to find a universal message that everyone can embrace?

Stuff yourself with joy,

Gorge on goodwill,

And drink in all the love you can find.

I wish this for you today, and with every celebration in the years to come!

(Thanks to my friend Sam Ciraulo at sciraulophotography.com for his beautiful image!)

Stuck between a rock wall and a hard place.

 Me VS the rock. Me VS the rock.

When my younger son took up rock climbing a few years ago, I wasn’t entirely supportive. I thought, You couldn’t take up bowling or, I dunno, chess? 

When he talked about climbing, I played my mom card with an occasional gasp and fearful noises. He finally made it clear that my attitude was annoying, so I stopped. I started encouraging him. Eventually, I told him I’d like to try it sometime—indoor climbing, that is.

“Sometime” happened over Christmas. I wanted our family to celebrate the season with shared experiences, not just gifts. I’d have been perfectly happy with tickets to The Nutcracker, but when you’re trying to enlist the enthusiasm of a husband and two grown sons, ballet wouldn’t cut it. Rock climbing would, so that became the plan.

As a certified chicken, this was big. I rarely ride a bike because I’m afraid of falling. And the one time I tried cross-country skiing (because I’m WAY too scared to even consider downhill), I took off my skies to walk down an itty-bitty hill.

As it turned out, indoor rock climbing was much safer and less intimidating than I expected. There are harnesses and safety ropes and a belayer—a fellow climber on the ground—managing it all. It wasn’t a big deal after all; just an itty-bitty deal.

The really big deal happened midway up the rock on my second climb. I accidentally banged my knee on the rock. Not hard, but wow. Do knees have funny bones? If so, they’re not funny. The pain took my breath away and my whole leg shook for minutes afterward.

I couldn’t even yell down to tell my belayer why I wasn’t moving. All I could do was to hold on and wait for it to pass. That’s not exertion on my face, BTW, it’s pain.

My body was momentarily paralyzed but my mind was busy.

I can’t do it. My leg won’t hold me. I’m going to have to come down. I’ll have to quit.

I felt so defeated. It was another family outing ruined.

Just a few days prior, we had reservations for dinner and tickets to a comedy show. It was our “big” Christmas gift to ourselves. But my chronic illness choose that day to tangle and jangle up my insides worse than a knotted rope and we had to cancel our plans.

My guys were supportive, but I was distraught. My year had been full of cancelled plans and ruined experiences, and this one was the pinnacle of ruination. But there was nothing I could do; there was no fighting it. So I pulled myself together, we got take-out, made a fire, and played a board game. We were together. It was Christmas. How could I complain?

Several days later, my chronic illness cooperated and I was psyched to redeem myself with family rock climbing. Until the bang of the knee.

Finally catching my breath, I yelled down that I hurt my knee. My husband asked if I wanted to come down. I said, “I don’t know.”

I pictured letting go, leaning back and rapelling down. I pictured me standing on the floor below, having quit.

I didn’t want to be that me. I didn’t want to be her. Again.

I was literally stuck between a rock and a hard place. The hard place was defeat.

Something within me decided that this time, defeat was not acceptable. I don’t always have control over my chronic illness, but I knew I had control over a banged knee.

Waiting until my leg stopped shaking, I yelled down, “OK, you got me, Steve?”

I took a tentative step up to another foothold. Then another. And another. It was hard, and it hurt, but I did it. When I reached the pinnacle, I slapped the top of that fake rock like I had climbed Mt. Everest.

It felt so good, my chest swelled with pride as it heaved with breathlessness. I almost started crying with joy and relief right there, but I sucked the tears back in because nothing would have made my son avoid family rock climbing in the future more than a public display of my ugly cry. “Leaky faucet,” he used to call me.

Call me what you want. I was a winner that day.

I beat the rock and the hard place.

When so much of my life is beyond my control, that opportunity to conquer defeat was priceless. With my ego and my psyche so fragile, I needed that win.

My adventure reminded me that I have the wisdom to know when not to fight—when I need to let go, to breathe, to just be.

And just as importantly, it taught me that I have the wisdom to know when to fight like hell.

And when I do fight, I’m a warrior.

Breathtaking lessons from a family vacation.

 An honest-to-goodness sunset on the beach near my parent's condo. An honest-to-goodness sunset on the beach near my parent’s condo.

I had planned a relaxing family Christmas vacation visiting my parents on the west coast.  Since my Mom and Dad moved out there several years ago, my east coast clan of four have had precious little time with them, and this was our chance to catch up.   All three of my guys – my husband and two sons – were able to take time off from work.  My parents, in their eighties, are in relatively good health, but who knows how long that will continue?

I was looking forward to a great trip, maybe the last that the six of us would havetogether.

Then I found out that my sister from Chicago would be visiting as well.  And my brother from Pittsburgh.  And another brother and his family from Charlotte.  Thank goodness my youngest brother, quasi-famous and famously generous, lent us all the use of his house nearby while he vacationed abroad.

Gone were my fantasies of relaxation.  In my lap was the challenge to enjoy the unexpected.  Here’s what I found:

  • It does, in fact, rain in southern California and when it pours, MAN it pours.  Although I resented that nature chose my vacation to tackle the drought, the storms did clear away the typical fog, leaving an exceptional clarity to the air.
  • The hot tub at my brother’s house overlooking the Pacific is even more soothing when the air is chilly.
  • The two mile walk along the beach from my parents’ condo to my brother’s house beats Uber hands down.
  • If you happen to be inside when a coral and purple and tangerine sky peeks through the window, it’s totally worth it to drop what you’re doing and run down to the beach to witness it fully.
  • My best family moments were the simple ones – companionable dinners with my guys and my parents, going with my Mom to her bookclub, playing cards with my brothers on New Years Eve, brainstorming blog ideas with my sister at the kitchen table.

I also realized that I’m not as keen on large family vacations as I used to be.  In past years, it was a blast vacationing with my extended family.  But as our family grows, there are more personalities to accommodate, more needs to negotiate, and more bodies to feed and bed.  And let’s not even get into food sensitivities and dietary requirements. There’s a constant flux of arrangements, itineraries, and trips to Trader Joe’s.

My family seems to thrive on this intensity.  Not me – I wilt.  After three weeks, which was probably two weeks too long, in spite of the beauty, comforts, and love surrounding me, I was numb.

There’s a lesson here, too, which is how great it is to be home.  My house has no ocean view, but I can see the little league field over the hill, the stone wall that I helped heave into place, and the concrete-block garage that I painted to look like brick.  There’s no tangerine sunsets on the beach, but I can see the stalks of hydrangeas and picture their summer blooms in shades of blue and mauve.  We have no hot tub, but our cozy fireplace and old-house charm wraps us in comfort.  The nearest ocean beach is a couple hundred miles away and we’re in the middle of a dreary, icy New York winter.   I’ve never loved my life so much.  It’s breathtaking.