Last week, we were in Africa…which admittedly is something few people can say so glibly.

Paul and I were travelling with eee and her partner, E, to a wedding outside of Johannesburg, and a quickie holiday in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, in the gap between two work trips I was trying to efficiently take all out of one carry-on suitcase.

Paul has two habits that make me crazy when we travel. First, we both prefer the window seat, which I didn’t know until far too late in our relationship (because usually we fly from different locations to our destination, or we are flying to see one another). Second, he doesn’t read the packet (more on this later).

Once I discovered that Paul and I both liked the window, I simply booked us in separate rows when we flew together. Except…everyone who is not me or Paul has an opinion on this. Don’t you want to sit with your husband? Are you fighting? I can’t believe you guys don’t want to sit together on the airplane.

My response to this is generally: STFU, busybodies. We both just like the window, and I relish as little talking to other people as possible when I travel. Paul and I both win when we sit one directly in front of/behind each other – we can say something through the gap in the seat if absolutely necessary, and we both get to look out the window. I don’t know how many of you men out there silently swallow your rage and sit in the middle seat every time you fly economy so your wife can have the window/how many of you women are secretly tallying a lifetime of middle-seat wrongs, but…life’s too short. Do yourself a solid and book in separate rows.

In planning for this trip, eee and I set specific parameters for activities and accommodations: Nice, but not too expensive; encompassing experiences we all wanted to have; maximising our time for the few days we were able to participate in non-wedding related activities. Those limitations yielded a handful of great suggestions, and we had a pretty easy time picking, booking, and moving on.

As we sipped sundowners on the Zambezi river and watched the pods of hippos standing closer to shore, it dawned on me that This Was Perfect. But Perfect hadn’t happened by accident. We created this lovely little adventure by 1) travelling in such a way that reduced friction (i.e., Paul and I both sat in window seats; eee and E flew on a separate airline); 2) limiting our universe of choices so that we were not overwhelmed and only picked from a handful of places and activities; 3) building in an appropriate amount of downtime and silence into our itinerary so that I didn’t murder anyone.

Perfect actually took pre-Perfect Work.

To that point, a few years ago, I led a group up Mount Whitney, and I was meticulous-to-the-point-of-obsessive about the planning. I wanted the experience to be Perfect. I also didn’t want to get anyone killed. On one hand, this meticulousness was a good thing, because it was my first time climbing a Fourteener, let alone, leading a group up one. On the other hand, I took it so far above and beyond the call of duty that it became something of a joke – organising conference calls; distributing weekly emails; and ultimately, Fed-Exing my team what came to be known as The Packet, a 160pg hard copy document with the history of the trails, the specifics of our route, emergency and contingency plans, and other information. I expected everyone to read this information – in full – before we left.

When we arrived at the trailhead under cover of darkness to begin our climb, the youngest member of our group looked at me and said, So, what’s this going to be LIKE?

I remember staring at her in disbelief, my headlamp shining into her eyes.

Didn’t you read The Packet? I asked.

Uhhhhh, no. 

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry or be angry. But we all made it up the mountain and back and lived to tell the tale. And I still haven’t fully learned how to effectively digest information and translate it to give people the Need to Know for when we travel.

My husband does the same thing with travel information. We will turn up in Zimbabwe or Zambia or New Zealand, and I’ll look at him expecting he’s taken out local currency, or has questions relevant to the situation, and he’ll look at me and say: So, what’s this going to be…like?

At that point, the flames will start to shoot out of my eyes as I think DIDN’T YOU READ THE PACKET?!?!

That, by the way, was how we wound up paying € 130 for a pair of Zimbabwean visas, instead of the usual $70 – Paul didn’t read the goddamn packet.

I digress.

But what I am really saying is that none of these wonderful experiences happen by accident.  There is a certain magic to having a successful holiday – especially when travelling with other people. It takes doing the work of setting expectations, and limits, and doing research, and Knowing What You’re Getting Into, and, perhaps most importantly, finding a way to never, ever sit in the middle seat on an airplane.

Reverb14 is a prompt-a-day series for the month of December designed to reflect on 2014 and project hopes and dreams for 2015.  Throughout December,SarahKat and I will post each day with a new prompt.  Join us by writing, or join us by reading.   Follow us on Twitter @project_reverb and #reverb14.

HeroWho was your hero this year? Tell us why. What makes a hero in your eyes?

I tried to define this term, so like any human living in the 21st century, I googled it, and came up with this:

he·ro
ˈhirō/
noun
noun: hero; plural noun: heroes; noun: hero sandwich; plural noun: hero sandwiches
  1.  
    a person, typically a man, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.
    “a war hero”
    • (in mythology and folklore) a person of superhuman qualities and often semidivine origin, in particular one of those whose exploits and dealings with the gods were the subject of ancient Greek myths and legends; the chief male character in a book, play, or movie, who is typically identified with good qualities, and with whom the reader is expected to sympathize.
  2.  
    North American
    another term for submarine sandwich.

(Source: Google)

Hmmm. None of this sounds correct.  The chief male character? A submarine sandwich?

Please.

One of the interesting, lasting effects of a couple of bad relationships in my 20s is that I have a lot of female friends. I’d spent my teens hanging out with boys — mostly because I felt alienated by the high school politics of Mean Girls. But after dating a couple of jealous guys (then marrying one), it got to the point where having friendships with men became…challenging. And less important to me.

This is not to say I don’t have close relationships with my male friends — because I have those relationships, and they’re great. But I’ve spent the last decade or so cultivating friendships with other women, and sometimes I’m sad to think of what I missed out on in my youth because I didn’t actively nurture these sorts of things.

My girlfriends are amazing. From all angles, these women blow my mind. Athletes, writers, artists, musicians, parents — they are all genuinely beautiful souls. My friends have crossed marathon finish lines with me; they have battled terrible travel circumstances while pregnant to be in the hospital with me while I had cancer surgery; they have taken care of my dog while I’ve had to travel to advance my career (or simply to allow me to face the sometimes challenging circumstances that come with having a job like mine); they have supported me when I have insisted that I totally knew what I was doing and that it was a great idea to chase married men; they have tended to my wounds, and nursed my broken heart, and listened to my endless rants about my favourite thing to whine about that I’ve been ranting about for 3.5 years.

But aside from who they are and how they are in relation to me, each one of these women contributes to this world so meaningfully, it breaks my heart with beauty. Whether it is how she manages charitable grants, or how she donates time and money to the communities in which she works/lives, or how she raises her children, or how she creates art, or how she has turned immeasurable loss into an opportunity to give, each of these ladies is a meaningful example to me of who and how I want to be.

I am surrounded by women who show up; who raise me up; who create things. Sometimes this makes me absolutely furious with jealousy because I love them so much, I want to be the things that they are.

I suppose that’s what a hero is, isn’t it?  Not somebody’s lunch, or the sympathetic guy in the story. It’s the person who makes you better than you think you are; it’s the thing that keeps you striving for better; it’s the part of the story where the going gets good. And in my life, that role is played by a bunch of bad-ass (mostly) blondes.

10455333_10100816542558975_8905051251616596360_n 10552598_10100801366596725_4533157435397808785_n 10516646_10100741764739325_1555784628252722919_n 579215_10100644519235095_936531730_n 250451_887790998065_8104496096105546350_n 1147684_10102577141270056_1119692153_o 1015388_10102448087180486_823906101_o DSC_0927 IMG_1686

A guest post by my friend Katka:
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I have been thinking about this post for a while.

I am honored that Meredith asked me to write a guest post again; I had written one a while back when we climbed Whitney together with Strand. And I thought about what to write when we celebrated after the ING New York City Marathon that Meredith and her brother ran together. What a great experience for all of us from near and far who had the opportunity to cheer them.

What am I grateful for?  Family and Friends. That is what I am most grateful for — I am grateful for the ones who are close as well as the ones who are oceans apart. They are what have gotten me and my husband, Matthew, through the tough times; helped us take big and little steps forward; and they are the ones with whom we have celebrated with along the way.

This year has been a challenging one for us.

We experienced a terrible tragedy in January, losing our son at 23 weeks of my pregnancy. I went into preterm labor for no explained reason and we found that we had to make extremely difficult decisions that would impact us for the rest of our lives. But I truly believe that every tragic moment goes hand in hand with a moment of joy and happiness. Our son was delivered and we got to hold him — then he peacefully passed in our hands, pain-free, and surrounded by love.

It was a very sad moment but it was also a new beginning.  We dug deep to continue our journey forward to another day. Matthew and I are committed to each other and we are getting stronger day by day while we have grieved, cried and laughed together. I am thankful that in the times of sadness, we rely on each other even more and it has made our partnership stronger.

I am thankful for the medical care that we have received from our doctors and nurses that helped us to deal with the infertility battle and conceive our son, along with the care that we received at Columbia hospital during those tragic days in January. There has been a lot of negativity in the news related to vaccinations, ultrasounds, medication and prenatal care. Everyone should spend some time to educate themselves about both pros and cons of any medical procedure at any stage of life, but I am thankful for the science, medical advancement and care that has allowed Matthew and I to have a family one day.

So what is it that keeps me pushing forward throughout this challenging year? The immediate support of my family and friends when the worst hit, but also, as the time passed, the days when it was tough to go forward and I was able to send out a text to ask for help. My mom and dad flew from Slovakia for 10 days and we would take hikes, cook, bake, play Angry Birds on iPad – pretty much anything that would make us smile and laugh. Matthew and I took a quick getaway to Disney World in Orlando before I went back to work after my maternity leave. We would make plans with our friends during weekends, apple picking, wine tasting, doggie snuggles, long walks on the beach and in the woods; BBQs on our deck or just spending time reading. I studied over the summer and we both kept pretty busy despite some additional life roll coaster events.

A positive attitude, a smile on my face and the constant reminder that we are lucky to be surrounded by all of you is what I am grateful for. Cheers to that!
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Document2

Katka is my hero; one of my best friends; a finance gal; a climber of mountains; a woman who cannot be deterred from any goal once her mind is set.  Katka is someone who is incredibly important not only to me, but to my entire family.  She lives in Fairfield County, Connecticut with her husband, Matthew, and is kind enough to let Roo bunk in with them when I travel.  She was a part of the inaugural Women of Winesday Mount Whitney Expedition 2011.

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Throughout the month of November, I will be posting stories of change, gratitude, forgiveness, and grace — both my own words, and the tales of carefully selected guest voices.

It’s still February.  Let’s keep talking about lovely things.  Like intentions; resolutions; the thirty-days it’s supposed to take for something to sink in.

1) Off-Leash Hours

You’ll recall that I promised myself that this year, I’d spend more quality time with Roo.  With my hectic life, it’s easy for him to get lost in the shuffle.  Loving him is probably not enough.  Sometimes, our walks are abbreviated.  He’s a lazy dog, so that’s not necessarily the worst thing in the world.  And he’s young, so the fact that he has a few extra pounds on him isn’t going to hurt him right now.

But what happens to him later in life?  Why am I making these investments in myself, and not him?

And what kind of person am I where I can’t get up fifteen minutes earlier and take him for an extra lap around the block?  What kind of dog owner am I where I can’t drag myself out of bed on a weekend and take him to Central Park?

We’ve been making it to the Park on weekends.  Our lives are better for it.

roo at conservatory roo in snow

2) The small things

little note

I ordered little love notes from Felix Doolittle.  I suppose this also goes to the idea of saying “I Love You” more.  Sometimes, one can say it.  Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, one cannot.  Regardless, one should always be prepared.

3) New Mountains

I keep alluding to having been sick, and the fact of the matter is, my rheumatoid arthritis has begun affecting my lungs — which is a serious problem for a distance runner.  This is a strange situation for me — as I look remarkably healthy, but I have not drawn a deep breath, or a breath without pain, in about a month.  We’re still struggling to control the inflammation in my chest.  What I thought was just a cold was a sequence of much more serious situations.

I hate this disease.  And the treatments for it are sometimes worse than the sickness itself.  I did not expect this to be my “new mountain,” but it is, and I’m beginning to be ready to face the challenge.

Classifying this as a beautiful thing seems strange, I know.  But in life, I think one can either say: These are my challenges and I give up.  Or one can say: These are my challenges and maybe I hate them but I’m going to face them.

Life is life.  It changes; it goes on.  The really gorgeous bit here is that I spent two weeks in Thailand just a month or so ago, laying on the ground, spending hours each day learning how to breathe.  I was listening to the rain, and the waves, and feeling my chest move up and down; up and down.

And when we were on the mountain top a few years ago, trying to summit Mt Whitney in a day, Kat struggled with breath and Strand was trying to teach her how to breathe.  Smell the rose; blow out the candle.  She made it to the top; we made it to the top.

What I am saying, really, is that in these times of swelling and constriction; in these times when I think I am gasping for air and I cannot get a breath at all, the absolutely beautiful thing is that I can remember I know how to breathe.

DSC_0927

Sarah Rosemary at Sunny Side Up and I are hosting our own Reverb11, a series of prompts to look back on 2011 and manifest the new year.  Please check our Reverb11 pages for details, and join in!

Prompt for December 15: Thanks: Give yourself fifteen minutes to write down fifteen things for which you were most thankful in 2011. Write down the first fifteen things that pop into your head.  Go on – set the timer; set your watch; set the stopclock on your iPhone!

(Admittedly, I wrote these under time pressure, but I’ve gone back and edited them without time constraint)

1) The older woman friend who gave the advice: Never wear nice underwear on a first date.  Don’t shave your legs, either.  Takes away the temptation to take off your clothes.

2) Those utterly wild weeks in London, getting out the shakes of a few bad years (nights at A—; nights at B—; dancing till the sun came up then wandering around till breakfast was served; nights like the ones I used to have when I was much younger); the quiet ones under pressure, too (that night before a late sunset in Berkeley Square; the quiet dinners and nightcaps; running in Hyde Park)

3) Spa Castle

4) The Women of Winesday; the best bloodymarys in the world; brunches that last into dinners; bad ideas that become excellent ones; the people who make my house a home

5) My family — the one from which I came and the one I have made, the one my parents have made

6) Plaid; fisherman sweaters; cashmere

7) Grace

8 ) Finish lines, and those who make them possible.

9) That moment when someone reaches for me; the awkward feeling of hand on hand; kisses on the forehead

10) 10 Toenails

11) My best friend of 19 years

12) The top of the mountain and the journey thereto

13) The places that are safe and dangerous; my life in airports; the hotels where things began; the hotels where things ended

14) Leaving

15) Learning to let go

Sarah Rosemary at Sunny Side Up and I are hosting our own Reverb11, a series of prompts to look back on 2011 and manifest the new year.  Please check our Reverb11 pages for details, and join in!

Prompt for December 3:  Celebration: What did you celebrate this year?  What do you hope to celebrate next year?

January:

  • Miss Mal’s birthday: the first Winesday Birthday (precedent set!)

February:

  • Major Life Change
  • Hyannis Marathon: I ran this because the last Anniversary Trip that Andrew and I ever took together involved an uncomfortable daytrip to Hyannis for fried clams.  I needed to go back to the past and move forward in celebration of an accomplishment.

March:

  • Publix Georgia Marathon, Atlanta, GA: First solo marathon; no “Team Merethon” along for the ride.  The course for this race ran past a very painful place for me.  When people you love are mean when you need them more than you care to admit, running down Ponce de Leon Avenue in celebration of forgiveness and truly moving on is…cathartic.

April:

  • Receiving our Mt Whitney Permit

May:

  • Getting on a train in Edinburgh; choosing things out-of-character
  • Pittsburgh Marathon: running through the places where my family is from; visiting with the people to whom I am related; getting a streetlevel view of my Dad’s hometown

June:

  • 24 hours in Paris; drinks under Parisian summer skies; getting stopped at Gare du Paris Nord; oversleeping on a London Saturday.

July:

  • 2nd Annual Winesday 4th of July; our 2nd Annual Running of the New Canaan 4 on the 4th

August:

  • Two years of legal non-marriage
  • The Summit

September:

  • Recovering
  • Things long awaited

October

  • Chicago Marathon: Going back to a place where I was hurt professionally — someplace I’d avoided for 2.5 years; celebrating another marathon finish with the people I explored strange and difficult circumstances on the other side of the world; seeing Kate & Paul and their little one.  Undoing past aches.  Getting on a plane, again.

November:

  • 4:37:10
  • Every day with the people I love

December:

  • This

2012:

  • Adventure
  • Blessings
  • Happiness
  • Love
  • The people above, others, and more…

(Several people had asked me “So you climbed this mountain together; you’ve done x, y, z…what’s next?”  There is no one better to answer that than another of the Women of Winesday — one who perhaps has a bit more perspective-by-way-of-distance on the climb than any of us who went through the looking-glass.  Now: eee‘s epilogue…)

i’m honored to write about friendship, and in particular, about the women of winesday (wow). i didn’t participate in the mount whitney climb, and my distant view of the mountain isn’t as compelling as their first-person narratives. but we all have mountains and molehills, peaks and valleys in our lives, and these women have supported me through my hardest climb yet.

ms and i have had many parallels in life. we’re two years apart in age but we grew up in the same so-cal suburb, with its spanish-style homes on tree-lined cul-de-sacs, and teenage boys with fake ids and pick-up trucks, and clean-cut missionaries on bikes, and swimming pools on hot summer days, and shaded paseos created just for long runs. we went to the same high school, swam laps with future olympians, admired/abhorred mrs. lund’s reject rules, and had boyfriends who later announced they were gay.

we joined sororities at and graduated from the same university. we have more degrees than we know what to do with. we’re international women of mystery, as evidenced by our passport stamps and uncanny ability to speed through airport security. we’re women of sport, and philanthropy, and wine.  we’re women of the pen – or these days, of the keyboard – and write for fun, out of compulsion, or for emotional reckoning.

we’re also women of divorce. exactly one year ago, my beautiful then-life shattered like glass and my ex and i filed for divorce – an emotionally and physically devastating decision that left me ambivalent, confused, disheartened. at the same time, i accepted a job that offered opportunity, travel, personal and professional development, and a new home 3,000 miles away. i figured there was nothing left to lose, so i picked up the broken shards of that life, packed a few dry-cleaned outfits in a suitcase, and moved my life to cacophonous, fabulous nyc.

in my first week of work, after i posted something on facebook about being on the east coast, ms sent me a message inviting me to winesday. despite our mutual friends and affinities, we had never actually been “friends,” except in the i-have-1000-friends-on-facebook sense. i didn’t know ms, but i said yes.

(i have respect and admiration for people who “come from a place of yes,” who are up for new things, who affirm and confirm. it’s very easy to say no, to restrict, to shut down. saying yes is generally much harder, more vulnerable, yet bolder and more worthwhile.)

i fell hard for winesday. my friends have fascinating lives across all sectors. the ladies and i share support, witty banter, a mutual aversion to pants, a love of jesus band-aids, themed parties, tiaras, spontaneous photo shoots in dirndls and holiday sweaters, and a mop-like mascot named roo.

(sweater party 2010)

(winesgiving 2010)

my fave theme is still “chilean minesday,” which featured chilean wine and meredith’s veggie chili – hardhats optional. and although there’s a conspicuous lack of horn spoons at ms’ upper east side home, at least we all now know what they are.

moving to new york, i took the pieces of my life and created something new. it looks a little different, but it’s lovely. in many ways, these friends have been the glue.

what do i love about the women of winesday? we laugh. we accept each other with unconditional love and without judgment. (this was huge post-divorce, when i lost some of my nearest and dearest friends who couldn’t weather the storm with me.) we show up – sometimes with a casserole, or puff pastry, or soup; always with wine. (i have a near-perfect attendance record when i’m in new york. i’ve even joined a winesday via skype.) we say yes. whether it’s to cheer for a friend running a marathon through the city streets, take impromptu road trips to dc, hike in camouflage pants, grab drinks on the upper east side, escape to a ridiculous fantasy world known as “spa castle,” or CLIMB A FRIGGIN MOUNTAIN, we say yes.

i wasn’t able to join the ladies on the mountain, and although i thought ms would disown me as a friend (i still have my penitent text message saved), i’m still here. and now we have a new adventure! (you know when you wake up and you’re not sure if something was a dream or reality? THAT.)

two nights ago, in a flurry of tweets, several women of winesday spontaneously and enthusiastically committed to running the napa marathon next march. ms’ birthday weekend, wine, sunshine, california…. this time, we said hell yeah.

(And so begins the next chapter for the Women of Winesday…)