I want to make it clear that there is a difference between bravery and courage.  When a firefighter rushes back into a burning building or a soldier steps in harm’s way to face down the enemy, these are acts of bravery.  They are willing to risk their lives for the sake of others and generally people they do not know.  Courage is the day to day acts that we perform.  They can be as small as telling your two year old “no” in the middle of the candy store or even just lying with your arm in that awkward position that only cuddling can create.  You know, the one where your arm and hand is slowly falling asleep but you are committed to the caring act.  At the other end of the spectrum lies true courage.  That point, where faced with the unknown or even the end of life, one carries on for the people they love and those same people surrounding them.

I was going to title this “Fearless Courage” but I believe that the true meaning of courage involves a certain degree of fear.  Without fear it would not be courage bur rather irrational behavior.  It takes courage to act in the face of fear.  It is in that unknown that we muster the strength to act even when our rational brain would tell us otherwise.  It is in that arena that true courage rises to the top.

As I sit here writing this piece, I have a dear friend demonstrating this courage.  Diagnosed with cancer and the inbred logic of a surgical nurse, Carol knew that the ultimate outcome of her battle was sealed in her fate.  Do not doubt for one minute that she did not put up the most valiant of fights but even as she spoke of the battle she was clear on its outcome.

In this setting, it would be so easy to be angry, be angry Carol, to give in, let us take care of you Carol, or just plain whine about your fate.  I need to tell you that from the moment we learned of the diagnosis there was never a moment when we thought that she would allow any of this.  She is sassy and full of life.  She is mine and my wife’s role model in strength of character, parenting and grand parenting and how to be your spouse’s soul mate while still keeping him in line.  Carol is courageous.

Through this all she has prepared her family and encouraged them throughout her ordeal.  And let’s not forget them in this battle.  They too are courageous.  I can see the concern, even fear in their eyes, but they carry on.  They love each other.  They are there for each other and they demonstrate in every imaginable way that they are all in this together.  As Carol reminds them of what she needs them to do, they give each other strength to be courageous.

Bravery is a lack of concern but courage is just the opposite.  Courage uses concern as its weapon against fear.  My dear friend has found her courage and she inspires me.  Not just to write this piece, but to live my life better and deeper.  I thank you Carol for the battle you have waged, for your courage you have displayed and for the road you have paved for all of us.  It is on that road that your family will live out their lives as a testament to yours.

Dominican Republic Day Eight: Homeward Bound

It is hard to believe that we have been here for eight days.  We are somewhere over the Bahamas, winging our way back to the States.  I wanted to end this blog with some observations and memories that stand out.

While spending time here it became apparent that as Americans, we have come a long way with the fight for smoke free environments.  In the resort and its restaurants, in fact everywhere we went, we encountered so many Europeans smoking but far fewer Americans.  It took readjusting to sharing your dining experience with smokers.  Oh how I longed for a smoke free room.  Perhaps the European diet and propensity toward drinking wine offsets the damage done by smoking.  At least for their sake I do hope so.

Then there are the cell phones.  It seems civilization cannot go more than a few minutes without checking our phones for emails and texts.  So often, couples, here to relax and spend quiet romantic time together, would instead be staring intently at their phones.  So much for quality time.  I know this is a choice and if I actually had service outside of the US, (I might have but I didn’t want to check) I am sure I would have been no better.  Make a promise, next time you travel, turn off the cell phone and talk to people.  At least for a few minutes at a time.  They might be even more interesting than that email or text.

My favorite memory will be the night.  As darkness sweeps away the daylight, the whole place becomes so quiet.  Walking the grounds in the moonlight, palms swaying softly in the ocean breeze, will be my memory to revisit over and over.  One very special night provided us with the added highlight of a lightening streaked night sky.  The backdrop to the evening solitude was “perfecto”.  No photo could do it justice.

We have been pampered for the last eight days but then that is what we paid for.  Still, every once and awhile, a staff member would emerge that was more than just doing their job.  They showed genuine interest and a hope that we would take back favorable opinions of their country, its culture and its people.  They showed a passion for what they had to offer and delivered it with the skill of an artist painting a majestic landscape.  I will remember each of them and their spirit of generosity and friendship.

Thank you Dominican Republic for the memories and the pampering, because after all, everyone can use a little pampering once in a while.

Dominican Republic Day Seven: Holiday

We call it vacation but every where else in the world it is referred to as on holiday.  This brought about the following thought.  Why do we call it vacation?  The root of this word is vacate, or in other words emptying something.  Vacation is then the process of vacating.

This description begs the question as to what are we vacating?  Perhaps it is our workplace.  My desk, provided they didn’t get rid of me in my absence, is certainly empty.  Or maybe it is our stress filled lives that have been vacated.  Either way, the thought of emptying something doesn’t really sound all that cheerful.

Holiday, on the other hand, interests me. A holiday is something to celebrate.  It is in most walks of life a day off and not something you must earn, if not actually beg to get off.  My apologies to those of you who work through holidays routinely.  When they tell me they are on holiday it somehow seems so much more interesting.  As a result, I am officially on holiday.  I have even named it.  It is the holiday of the week I owed myself, WIOM from now on.

Unfortunately, even holidays come to an end and this one ends tomorrow at noon Dominican time. Until then I will be on holiday and tonight is the eve of the last day of the Week I Owed Myself.

Thank you Dominican Republic for giving me a place to celebrate..

Dominican Republic Day Six: Breaking the Language Barrier


The beauty of travel lies in the universe of languages and customs one experiences.  At a resort they all co-mingle.  Tonight we ate dinner in a Korean restaurant, served by waiters from the Dominican, Mexico and Cuba while sitting next to a couple from Germany.  When we ordered our wine in Spanish, our waiter literally lit up.  He then assisted us in the rest of the Spanish we needed to know to get through the meal.

But I need to go back.  We were never that good at this.  When visiting our daughter in Spain we didn’t need to speak as she took care of all conversation for us.  But then came time to say goodbye to Kathryn. It was Sunday and we were outside the downtown district of Barcelona.  After a nearly 20 minute wait for the only taxi to come by, my sobbing wife and I said our goodbyes and waved as the taxi pulled away.  As my wife tried to dry her tears, I said “don’t stop now”.  That taxi took 20 minutes, we don’t speak a lick of Spanish and I am pretty sure neither one of us knows the name of the hotel.  After a 15 minute walk toward what we hoped was a busier area, a taxi suddenly appeared and pulled over, door open, waving us in.  The driver knew no English and we could only say “del mar” as it was the only part of the hotel name we could remember.  We later learned that “del mar” only meant “by the sea” and everything i that area was referred to by that phrase added to the name. We somehow magically wound up at our hotel and it wasn’t until 3 months later in the O’hare Airport, picking Kathryn up upon her return that we figured out our good luck with the taxi driver in Barcelona.  Kathryn sidles up to me and says”how did you like your taxi ride”  She had rescued us without our even knowing.

The lesson learned that day was to try harder.  We have traveled more since then and though we still can’t speak Spanish, we give it our best shot.  This morning at breakfast I greeted the hostess in my best Spanish phrases and then gave our room number in Spanish as well.  Upon over hearing this, the waiter gave me a fist bump and then took off in the fastest, seemingly longest non-stop conversation until the hostess begged him to stop.  I told him I had picked up “mi amigo” and “mi amiga” and that was it.  He laughed heartily and asked me to not stop trying because he was proud of our efforts.

And that is the secret to successful travel.  Don’t stop trying to communicate.  As much as we harp about new immigrants not speaking our language, we as Americans traveling abroad are often too lazy.  We just act helpless and expect them to speak to us in our language.  Only when we try, do the doors open and the warmth and friendship come out.

To that end, we will not stop trying.

Buenas Noches

Dominican Republic Day Five: Pacing

Pacing is everything.  To win the race it is important to find your pace so that you can still sprint to the finish.  Today is Friday and we have done a good job of pacing ourselves.  Today was about doing nothing and a resort makes it easy and guilt free.

We start the day by sleeping in and then down to the beach for yoga, I am now a seasoned veteran.  I breeze through the positions and end alive.  We follow this up with a very late, very laid back breakfast buffet.  Chairs on the beach and some reading and so much for most of the morning.

We definitely got this pacing down.  A leisure hour on our veranda and then a couple laps around the lazy river pool.  And we are back down to the beach.  I sit and watch the beach competitions of volleyball, coconut toss and darts knowing full well there is a ringer in each game.  The coconut toss actually has this giant with arms that look like small trees.  Seriously, I make the logical  conclusion to save my energy, not to mention my pride, for this evenings dinner.  We have done Italian, Caribbean, French and tonight will be Mexican.  We have been rating them by food, service and ambiance.  Last night we gave high marks to ambiance as we ate on the beach in a really authentic looking sea side restaurant.

We have had perfect weather all week in the face of rain in the forecast every day.  Tonight as we leave the restaurant the rain has finally caught up and will cancel the outdoor show for the evening.  Oh well, back to the veranda.  No sense messing with the pacing now.

And tomorrow is another leg.  Got to pace myself.


Dominican Republic Day Four:New Experiences

Okay, it finally happened, or should I say I finally gave in to the mounting pressure.  It was 9:30 am on day four and I found myself on the beach with a bright blue mat beneath my feet and a very German fitness trainer asking me to get in the downward dog.  Oh my god I am in a yoga class.  After some brief stretches and encouragement from the other participants, I am actually doing it.  Now I am not going to say I was immediately grounded, “no judgement of our bodies”, or yet at peace but I promised to respect  relaxation and here I was.  I am proud to tell you that in spite of my clumsiness, I think I pulled it off.  I reached the sky with open hands in my “grab the mountain” position.  Pretty sure that’s what she called it and managed both the table top and as previously mentioned the downward dog.  Really kind of enjoyed the child position.  To you other males out there saying “not I”, pull up your big boy pants, my wife’s favorite motivational line, and try it.

Now as long as I had handled the yoga, it was on to my next experience.  An afternoon at the spa.  No, I didn’t get a facial and I for sure didn’t have cucumbers on my eyes, but I was in for the rest of it.  If you have never had the full massage treatment, let me enlighten you on the foreplay steps before the massage.  First there is the hot shower followed by the cold water bucket dump.  This was actually pretty enjoyable considering you are outdoors and the temperature is in the low 90’s.  Next step, the sauna.  Let me clue you in here.  I would personally use this step as a method of torture.  Threaten to keep me in there until I cracked and believe me you wouldn’t be waiting long.  We entered the room and the attendant set the timer for 5 minutes.  After what seemed an unbearable passage of time and noticing that my fingers were melting, I asked how long I had made it?  30 seconds.  This is definitely not good.  Step four, back under the bucket of cold water.  After the sauna, this was heaven.  From here our massage preparedness takes us to several pools.  Cold pool first and comfortable, time allowed 5 seconds.  Next pool, bone jarring water cascades on your shoulders, lower back and eventually, your bum. Don’t even ask.  Final pool, the bubbling cauldron.  Now as a side note, today is American Day at the resort and all meals are american themed.  Five minutes into this last pool and I am beginning to think I am the american they are having for dinner.  I ask my wife to warn me if she sees anyone about to dump vegetables into our pool.

But enough pool play, we are ready for the massage.  We are escorted in our robes to our massage room and after removing them, butt naked for the shy, we are ready for what brought us.  I will tell you now that I had no idea you could make your knuckles and toes crack that loudly.  Lest you get the wrong idea, this was somehow delightfully wonderful.  The complete body massage took 50 minutes and I was ready for 50 more.  Every knot and cramp, every achy muscle and tendon were addressed thoroughly.  By the end, I swear I was physically re-sized.  I am now back to my full 6 foot height, my feet are 1/2 inch smaller, my sandals literally fell off leaving the room, and my knees actually thanked me.  As with yoga, if you ever thought this to not be manly….. pull up your big boy pants.

Today will go down as my rejuvenation day.  Tonight its down to dinner by the ocean followed by a beach party that promises to be memorable, except for the alcohol which may end up negating their efforts.

So as I reach up to the sky from my downward dog position, with hands open to grab the mountain…….. Namaste’ until tomorrow.

Dominican Republic Day Three: Victoria

Our vacation representative has offered to have breakfast with us this morning and will then help us decipher our vacation club membership.  Vacation is easy, booking and contracts, not so much.

Victoria is from Mexico and has been here in the Dominican for over a year.  She is incredible at what she does and is using her “Woo” strength to not only put us at ease but engages us in the process.  She is determined that all of her guests be treated royally and feel like family.  I am here to tell you she does her job “perfecto”.  She is caring, energetic and generally good at what she does.  We will seek out her manager and tell him or her as much before we leave.

After breakfast with Victoria, we are back to our routine.  The rhythm of the island is taking over a little more each day.  I am actually learning to relax.  Long walks on the beach and leisurely reading are becoming comfortable.  Slowing down, more desirable.  I need to capture this feeling and take it back with me.  Life is too hectic otherwise.

Perhaps I will ship back a ton of sand, some palm trees and beach chairs and continue practicing in my back yard.

Just saying.

Dominican Republic Day Two: Settling In

It seems like such an easy task to disconnect and when you are completely out of the country, why wouldn’t it be even easier.  Somehow, our technological world has taken over.  It may not be the “1984” version or even “2001, A Space Odyssey”, but we are firmly tethered to our social media and it is hard for most of us to cut the leash.  We leave our “away message” and then ironically allow our computer to have us be anything but away.

Day two brings me promise.  I get up late and after a slow breakfast, I wander down to the pools and spend several hours lazily floating away.  Next it is on to the beach.  Two chairs, one sunny and one in the shade, two Pina Coladas and a good book and I disconnect a little more.  But it beckons.  That responsibility built into me by my father and my career keep me thinking about at least checking those emails.

I will resist.  This is vacation as I am reminded and vacation means at its core, not working.  So I float some more, eat some more, read some more and unwind.  There is no better place than here to practice what I do so poorly.  Our representative, Victoria, reminds me to “have fun, no emails”.  Thank God for this cheerleader / coach.

Tonight we dine at a beautiful restaurant with incredible service and beautifully prepared food.  The sun sets and the moon emerges and the world is quiet.  I think I am getting better.  Six more days of practice and I may never go back.

But then who am I kidding.  I am a creature of habit and habits die slow deaths in the valley of guilt.  And so I promise, to no one in particular, I will only check my emails three times tomorrow.

Its progress.

Lessons learned: Day One in the Dominican Republic

Day One:  The secret of an Island


Long ago I came to the realization that to be more than a tourist, but more than an inhabitant, one needs to spend a night on an island.  The first time I experienced this, I was on Mackinac Island in Michigan and had gotten the chance to spend the evening.  After the sun goes down, and this is the important part, the magic happens.  For that moment in time you become a local and as such, the culture and ambiance of the island opens up to you.

My daughter taught me a number of years back, that to be accepted and to experience the reality of the locale, one had to become one of the inhabitants.  Tonight on the island nation of the Dominican Republic, we came as close as we will be able to.  As the sun went down and the moon appeared in crescent over the ocean, with the sky backlit with streaks of lightening, we became, in our minds, islanders.

Now I know I am at an all-inclusive resort where it is in the best interest of the employees to make me feel welcome and even a little bit deserving, but with a little effort and a lot of imagination, I was there.

Lesson number two I learned from my daughter…don’t wish they spoke English, but rather show them you were willing to speak native.  Our wait staff, upon hearing our weak efforts, jumped in and filled in the words we were looking for.  It seems our effort had not gone unnoticed.

The point I am trying so hard to make is this, vacations are for relaxation.  For letting go and dropping out of the connectiveness (my word) of our daily grind.  But the evenings are the chance to become a citizen of the country we have chosen to visit.  Give up your nationality and instead realize that we all yearn for the same thing, a better understanding of the ever shrinking world we live in.  Let it start by realizing for a moment that we are all just tourists and that it is we that can’t speak their language and not their problem to speak ours.  When the sun goes down and night takes over, let relaxation give way to absorption.  Immerse yourself in the culture and truly let go so that you can actually hold on.  The memories of the vacation come out at night, when the sun goes down and the internal light comes on.

Thank you to the nation and the people of the Dominican Republic for showing me your heart and your spirit tonight.  I look forward to seven more days and nights of learning all I can about you.

The Journey Begins With Just One Step


Tomorrow I am going to embark on my annual trip of healing.  After a three and a half month tax season, I need a week of being whisked away to somewhere tropic and far enough off the grid to allow me to be completely distracted.  I know where I will be for the next 9 days, my time of arrival and departure.  I even know the airlines and my seat assignment.  I owe this information to my planner of 39 years.  Fortunately, I have no idea what I will be doing each day.  That has been left to the moment and the mood and there in lies the adventure.

Life is a journey.  That, I admit, is a very overworked clique.  A journey is a trip, planned in advance, outfitted properly, and laid out in detail.  When our family travels, if my wife has anything to say about it, we are given the details far in advance.  She is after all a planner.  Her bags are already packed for this trip, heck they were packed a week ago.  The plane tickets are printed, and a folder, already inches thick, sits prominently on the counter with all the possible reservations neatly organized.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate this trait, though I probably don’t tell her often enough.  With any luck, she will hopefully read this blog and give me at least a few points for the credit bank.  But back to my point.  If we didn’t have her there to do this, God only knows where we would wind up if we even wound up anywhere.  You see, when I travel, I need to be kept on a short leash.  The best part of travel is not the flight, it is the airport with an unbelievable amount of sights, sounds and attractions to distract even the most disciplined wanderer.  To better understand that aspect of my character, read “Adventures in Grocery Shopping”.  Did I mention that my bags won’t pack themselves until Monday about 5:00 AM.  Plenty of time for our 7:30 departure from the tarmac.

So let’s talk about adventure.  My children learned long ago that when traveling with dad, sans mom, the trip is no longer a journey but has evolved into an adventure.  We will get the motel when we get there and it will be three star at best. We have discovered that the rating system represents the following conclusion learned over multiple three star experiences.  One star is given if the room has a window.  The second star is earned if the window opens or at least has a screen if you do open it.  The third star is earned for the presence of a TV, no flat screen, maybe cable, if lucky, actually working.  We will treat the motel as a place to sleep between the rest of the adventure.  Nothing will be planned out, reservations are for the weak at heart and pre-planning would just dampen the heightened state of anxiety.  My children have coined a mantra that makes their mother cringe.  “They have stores where we are going, don’t they?”  This last belief allows us to pack minutes before we leave in a backpack that couldn’t possible hold all the items we will need.  We will stop to resupply multiple times.  But all of this is the nature of adventure.  Its the impulsiveness that adds to the memories.

My wife has learned, okay conceded, that our travels need to be a combination of journey and adventure.  This is why, once we arrive at our tropical destination this week, the plans will cease for the next few days while the adventure takes over.  “Have faith”, I tell her, “we haven’t lost anyone yet”.

Life is a journey, and should be approached as such.  Great goals need good planning and enough discipline to stay the course.  But, lest you have missed the point, life is also an adventure, or at least can be.  Around every bend, around every corner, in every decision lies a bit of the unknown.  Follow your plan but don’t avoid the scenic route.  Let the journey find its course and enjoy the adventure along your way.  Life is good when properly seasoned with adventure.