I feel an incredible amount of gratitude toward my husband, my family (biological and non), my friends, my colleagues and former colleagues, my neighbors, my dog, my yoga instructors ... the world at large. I have so much and there is not a moment that goes by that I don't feel humbled by that.
Since I started living with this disease I feel emotions much more deeply and am much more sensitive to how beautiful and delicate this world is and how important it is to embrace it all with gusto. I do my best to do that each and every day because no matter how tough a single day might be, that day is a gift and it's up to me to choose how to live it – to dwell on the pain or to dance the cha cha with it.
What I like most about the holiday season is that it allows us to reflect even further on those sentiments by being surrounded by loved ones, taking a break from the mundane routine, enjoying longstanding traditions that we hold dear, getting to be a kid again while taking in the spectacle. This time of year fosters a commonality of spirit among loved ones and strangers alike and that is how it should be every day.
Our holidays were simple and beautiful and full of the warmth and the wonderful craziness that only family and friends can bring. Among the many highlights, we hosted our annual "Diamond Holiday Bash," which filled the house with friends from all over – New York, Virginia, Rhode Island, Jersey, Florida. It's something that we look forward to all year and it was so fabulous having everyone there to cheers together over pudding shots and red and green Jello shots, having impromptu dance routines and a few raging games of flip cup. The party spilled into the next day as many of our friends stayed over and we relished in a morning of coffee and quiche while laughing hysterically at the photos from the night before.
I also escorted my brother-in-law, Eric, and nephew, Jake, to Christmas Village, a classic destination in my hometown where families line the street waiting to see Santa to tell him their wishes then explore the toy shop, wave at the elves and check out the reindeer (including Rudolph) in their outdoor pens. I say escort because I used to in fact be an insider at the place having spent many Christmases making some holiday cash as Skippy, Tippy or Elmer the elf, dressing up in full garb complete with a white beard, gold spectacles and painted eyebrows, greeting (or frightening) kids and making toys all day long. For real. As Jake is just 16 months old, we skipped the Santa hype and went straight for the ancillary excitement, which left him with a gaping mouth.
On Christmas Eve, Craig, my parents, sister and I went to visit my nearly 92-year-old grandmother at her nursing home. Her Alzheimer's has progressed immensely and it was difficult for her to stay awake for our visit or to formulate a complete reply. Her eyes would spark up when we spoke of my late grandfather, of our old holiday traditions at Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, or of the traditional Italian fish Christmas Eve dinner that she would cook.
I am not sure if she knew who I was, but did my best to let her know how much she has meant to us. I showed her pictures of Sammy on my phone and we all shared stories and complimented how amazing she looks. When we left she said how very good it was to see all of us and that melted our hearts.
We then pigged out at Lotus Blossom, a Chinese buffet in my hometown of Torrington, CT. It was amazing. My sister and I each donned a pair of reindeer ears, which the waitresses got a kick out of as we pranced between plates of sushi and General Tso's chicken. Then despite my protests that the place is a raging fire hazard, Craig, Kristen and I went to the famed Christmas House in Torrington while my parents attended Christmas Eve mass. There is not one centimeter of surface area, outside or inside, that is not covered with some kind of light fixture, miniature village ski house, holiday chotzkee, revolving doll, Coca Cola Santa memorabilia or animated elfin figurine. It's a must-see obviously. The creepy wow factor is immeasurable.
My brother made it home and as has been the tradition in my family since I was a baby, we kids opened our Christmas Eve presents together: always fantastically whimsical holiday PJs then snuggled in to listen as my father read 'Twas The Night Before Christmas. I savored every word and every one of my father's wide-eyed expressions with a lump of happy tears in my throat.
Craig and I then gathered with many of his friends from childhood who all descend on our longtime friend Tony's parents house in Harwinton. Everyone rolls in after 10pm (so past my bedtime these days, but remember, I was on steroids through all of this!) and we toast a Happy Birthday to our friend Ernie, who turned 30 this year, so it was a big toast to say the least. It's because of this group of Harwinton boys that Craig and I were brought together and grew to end up together. They, and their ladies, are an amazing group of solid friends.
Christmas morning was spent watching Sammy open her presents from "Santa" – a fleece lined hemp collar and harness and an indestructible Kong red Frisbee. She took some leaps after the Frisbee in the snow and flailed it around in her teeth like it was a piece of raw meat while running laps around the house. We think she liked it.
Then the three of us traveled to Harwinton to cook breakfast for Craig's mother and spent the morning visiting with her. She told us of the moose sightings she's had, of the oxen that have gotten loose and been staring into her window, of the many, many feathered friends that have chosen her feeders to perch on. While there, we witnessed a huge flock of long necked turkeys gobbling through the yard. Yes, Craig grew up in the boonies. It's quite a beautiful place.
That afternoon it was back over to my parent's house, just 15 minutes away in the "city," where my grandmother, two uncles and one newly minted Aunt, my siblings and my brother's girlfriend had all gathered. This is my entire extended family. I don't have any cousins and both my grandfathers have passed, so we're a small crew.
We elbowed in around the table and enjoyed a traditional delicious meal of antipasto and lasagna and meatballs cooked by my mom. Presents were exchanged, lot of laughs shared and it culminated with a heated game of "Left, Right, Center" of which I was victorious and came home with $13 worth of quarters.
It was a day of warmth and lots of love. There was no talk of worries about things to come or whining about what the family has been through this year. Both my grandmother and I have been fighting our own cancer battles over this past year and beyond and because of that there is just a pervading sense of gratefulness and appreciativeness for all that we have. Not in a somber, but in a celebratory way.
Christmas continued the following day with the annual gathering of Craig's extended family on his mother's side. His cousins were home from Africa and Ohio and in addition to Jake, his cousin's children were there, one still so little he fit right into my arms like a hot sack of potatoes where he nuzzled into my sweater on the couch. Watching them all play together with their new toys was adorable. Always entertaining was the $5 limit grab bag ... imagine the treasures we open. Even more entertaining is the "Rebate Box" that Craig's ever thrifty grandmother unloads each year after collecting free things all year long. We all wait yearlong to stock up on shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, extension cords, heating pads and all of the other oddities that she somehow manages to score for free.
Though it falls first in the December calendar, Hannukah celebrations came last this year. We celebrate with Craig's extended family on his father's side. We lost Craig's dad to brain cancer six years ago and miss him dearly. It is important for us to honor the Jewish traditions and stay close with the Diamond side of the family to carry on his life through Craig and his brother, Eric. The Diamonds (Craig's Dad was one of five) are a boisterous and entertaining group to be around and we love when we get the chance to catch up with all of them. The party house in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey was full of love and laughs ... and calamari and latkes.
There are lots of cousins and that means lots of rousing games of Malarky. I happen to be awful at that one as I am a horrible liar, so I opted out, but thoroughly enjoyed observing. I loved catching up with the girls that are now in college and hearing about their exploits. Craig's aunts and uncles always have great stories and good memories to share. We even got to spend time with the incredible talent that is Craig's cousin Lauren (stage name Chevonne Glitzzi) who is currently touring the world as a singer/dancer with Lady Gaga. Yes, the Lady Gaga. Craig and I peppered her with questions, and I couldn't get enough of the stories she has from the road. It's been so rewarding to watch her career explode with success. And she remains so sweet and kind and grounded and willing to indulge me.
Although Christmas day wasn't white, we now have a lot of snow, which is so crisp and clean and reflects the most beautiful shadows. Though I can't go skiing this year (this is considered a "high-risk activity," which I am supposed to shy away from), I have been on many snowy hikes and spent an afternoon snowshoeing with the family. I'll make due ... we did get a set of sledding saucers for Christmas. As long as I bail before trees I think that activity is also permissible.
The Christmas tree is now down and its ornaments put away. The lights have been unraveled from the porch awning and tucked back into their respective Tupperware bins. But I'm not sad. In fact, I am so very happy right now because to me every day is Christmas morning full of the best gifts in the world. Every day I get to celebrate because I am still here. I am still strong. I am still going forward with full awareness and intention in everything that I do. Every day I wake up to the gifts that are my husband, my sweet pup, my beautiful home and I breathe in the essence of it all as deeply as I can.
Thank you to everyone who made this holiday so special. I am so grateful for and inspired by every single one of you. Check out some photo highlights of just some of the beautiful people and surroundings in my life:
(Note: I was cameraless for Craig's mom's side of the family so they are missing at the moment:(. And, I'm always so obsessed with taking pictures of Jake that I don't have any holiday photos of his parents, Eric and Rachel. It doesn't mean I love you any less! Thanks to Emily Sidoti for the Hannukah photos and Krista for the pix from Tony's house!)