If Your Friends Jumped Off a Cliff...

by EMILY ORTON

If your friends jumped off a cliff, would you follow them?  If you are in Hawaii, the answer is probably, yes.  One of the most popular spots is on the south side of Waimea Bay, on the North Shore of Oahu.  A black monolith rises 30’ up and pushes 20’ into the Pacific.   That’s where our family, including Rob and Maddie – who have become family – decided to go cliff-jumping.

 Erik from below - to see the view from above, you'll have to climb it yourself

Erik from below - to see the view from above, you'll have to climb it yourself

The Family That Jumps Together

Eli, who knows what he likes, found some shade after watching the others jump.  Erik, Alison, SJ, Maddi and Rob have all done jumps like this, or higher, before.  Erik, Alison and SJ jumped 50’ feet down the black hole of a grotto a few years ago.  Alison and SJ thought jumping this cliff was scarier because they could see what was coming.  

I don’t know if it’s more nerve-wracking to see what’s coming or to go in blind.  I’d never done either kind of jump before.  I was content not cliff jumping.  Isn’t that pretty normal?  In any event, I was towing Lily down the beach, through the water, on a boogie board.  By the time we arrived, Maddi had caught Rob’s backflips and twisty dives on video. The party was over.  In the playback window, my husband and kids looked like tiny daggers dropping into the ocean.  Go family!

 Aunty Maddi in midair - love that hair!

Aunty Maddi in midair - love that hair!

Then Alison said, “You wanna go up, Mom? I’ll go with you.”  Her eyes and smile were wide open.  She wanted to share this.  I decided to go for it. 

When I turned to climb the rock, Lily had already started up ahead of me.  First, how did she suddenly get so fast?  Secondly, she’s sat on the end of many diving boards promising to jump only to walk away.  I didn’t foresee her stepping off a 30’ drop.  

However, She regularly surprises me and Lily has been jumping from the side of the local pool this season.  I didn’t know what would happen.  Instead of shutting her down two feet off the sand, I decided to help Lily explore her options.  We could always climb back down.  

Lily’s Jump

I noticed the south side of the rock had a couple of lower perches, only 5’- 6’ above the water.  I guided Lily over the slippery rocks to the wet sandy ledge.  The family migrated to watch.

Erik waded into the ocean to catch Lily, but she insisted that Rob, who had also taken her surfing, catch her.  Rob waded into the ocean.  

She and I stood on the little perch holding hands.  Erik and Rob beckoned from below.  SJ was a few feet behind them filming with a waterproof camera.  Maddi cheered from shore where she was also filming.  More confident kids queued up behind us.  Lily froze.

Lily perched.jpg

Anticipation is the worst part of fear.


Kids jumped past her on either side.  Twice she determined to climb back down but got intimidated.  Jumping was physically easier.  But jumping was really scary even surrounded by loving encouragement and offers of help.  She could witness kids on either side of her jumping, splashing, and swimming to shore. But that was them.  It’s different when it’s you.  Finally, Lily jumped.

This sequence shows her jumping (No, I didn't push her), uncle Rob catching her, a big splash and triumph followed by the painful realization that she belly flopped.  The seeds of trying again have already been planted.  

We were so excited for her and so proud of her.  Her jump was more dramatic than any of ours for two reasons.  First, it was her first time so uncertainty was sky high.  Second, she was really scared. Those are powerful hurdles and overcoming them is always a reason to celebrate.  

Sometimes hard things are scarier the second time because you really know what’s involved.  Lily jumped twice more.  She found techniques to mitigate her fears – once riding on Rob’s back and once holding both of my hands.  She seemed more nervous each time, yet still determined to jump again.  Each time we felt that rush of excitement for her accomplishment.  

 Lily was totally calm once she outsourced the decisively scary part

Lily was totally calm once she outsourced the decisively scary part

My Jump

After all that, Alison and I climbed to the top for our jumps.  Lily had shown me that anticipation is the worst part of fear.  I went straight for it; jumping at least three times higher than anything I’ve ever launched myself off before.  

Typical of me, an inordinate number of existential thoughts rushed into my mind and I didn’t give one thought to what to do with my body. Alison, on the other hand, pointed her toes and kept her arms close completely prepared for a smooth landing.

I’m not saying you should jump off a cliff just because your friends are doing it.  But if you’re thinking of doing something for the first time or something that makes you nervous, it sure is nice to share it with people who love you. 

Go Lily.jpg

If you think this post might encourage someone, please consider sharing.

It's a...Book!

An author friend says, “Writing a book is like having a baby with a square head.”  

We’re excited to announce the co-conceived, co-written memoir of our family’s year at sea.  It will be available in 9 months. 

IMG_9975.png

 We’re so grateful for our amazing agent, Emma Parry at Janklow and Nesbit, and thrilled to be partnering with Shadow Mountain Publishing to deliver this baby.  

Click here to stay in the loop with all things Fezywig.

Wendy and the Surface

by ERIK ORTON

DSCF0207.jpg

My favorite part of the class was to lay on the ocean floor and stare up at the surface.  The light shimmered across it, the same way the water sparkled from above, but with a muted, quiet kind of beauty.  I was taking a scuba certification class and I was swimming along thirty feet below the ocean’s surface for the first time in my life.  My body drifted with the surge in unison with the school of yellow fish.  I looked a sea turtle in the eye as it swam toward me.  We stayed below for the better part of an hour.  I was in another world.

DSCF0235.jpg

This week my friend, Wendy, passed away.  She was young.  My age : ) She has an amazing husband, David, and a daughter the same age as our Lily.  She’d been battling a brain tumor for five years.  She was a sweet, kind, beautiful person.  She loved our girls and had them over often.  Her family would come to our home and we would play music and sing together.  Even when going through chemo treatments should would send us kind notes and make encouraging comments online as we went about our lives. 

DSCF0236.jpg

As I lay there on the ocean floor looking up I couldn’t help but think about how this world and that world are so close.  I don’t know the physical location we go to once we die.  I know our body stays here, but I believe our spirit lives on, and it goes somewhere.  I believe it goes somewhere close, on the other side of the surface.  We are the ones who are below water. We are breathing from tanks and the bubbles from our lungs always float up.

S0010230.jpg

It’s a beautiful and inspiring place below the surface, but it’s not our natural home.  Our natural home is above the surface, breathing air from the sky, green leaves rustling in the wind, the sun on our skin.  I believe that’s where Wendy is right now.  She’s above the surface, watching, smiling and waiting while we swim for the better part of an hour.  We’ll all surface eventually.  The tank only holds so much air.  And then we’ll all be there together.  I miss you, Wendy.

Say that I'm crazy or call me a fool
But last night it seemed that I dreamed about you
When I opened my mouth what came out was a song
And you knew every word and we all sang along

To a melody played on the strings of our souls
And a rhythm that rattled us down to the bone
Our love for each other will live on forever
In every beat of my proud corazón

We watched Pixar's Coco this week.  What a beautiful story about family, death and love. If you haven't seen it, check it out (song audio below). Above are some of my favorite lyrics from the show. Something tells me Wendy likes this song too.

Lily & the King: A Little Kindness Goes a Long Way

Lily & the King:  A Little Kindness Goes a Long Way

Lily noticed the performers were all barefooted on the grass stage. She slipped her shoes off and asked if she could go on stage too. Points for taking her shoes off but—No. I explained these kids had been practicing for months to perform for their families. Maybe after the show we could ask about going onstage. Big tears formed in her eyes and she buried her face in her hands. I hoped the dance and music would revive her smile soon.

Read More

Connecting the Dots

El Capitan is 3,000 feet tall, the largest single monolith of granite on the planet.  Climbers come from around the world to attempt an ascent.  It rises straight up from the Yosemite Valley Floor and dominates everything else.  The most prominent line runs straight up what’s called The Nose, the corner where the East and West walls meet.  This is what I wanted to climb. 

A year and a half ago, November 2016, I walked up to the base of El Cap for the first time and set my hand against the granite.  My daughter, Alison, took this picture and I made it my profile pic.  Babysteps. 

 Meeting the Captain for the first time.

Meeting the Captain for the first time.

Fall 2017, I did my first big wall climb in Yosemite, Leaning Tower.  It was a break through for me: 11 pitches.  The Nose would be 31 pitches.  A week later, I tried The Nose, but  weather, speed and injuries forced us to bail.  Some other time.

 Our first bivy on Leaning Tower.  A good start.

Our first bivy on Leaning Tower.  A good start.

 We spent our second bivy in the portaledge.  Super comfy.

We spent our second bivy in the portaledge.  Super comfy.

Six months later, April 2018, I came back.  It was part of a plot twist as my family and I made our way to Hawaii.  Floods kept us out of the park and forced all the climbers to leave.  Once the floods subsided, we returned and I found two potential climbing partners.  The first one was game to do the Nose, but within 24 hours, changed his mind.  He wanted to practice more on something smaller.  The other guy was stoked, but our calendars didn’t line up.  We’d decided to do a cool but less ambitious climb in another part of the Valley, but even that got washed out by weather. 

 My note posted on the board at Camp 4.

My note posted on the board at Camp 4.

It was raining a lot—it was spring after all.  Not ideal climbing conditions.  My family didn’t have campsite reservations past the rainy days.  We were on our way to pick up Alison from the Fresno airport when I turned to Emily and said, “I think I just need to give up my big wall ambitions for this trip.  We gave it a good try.  Things just aren’t working out.”  We’d made good decisions along the way, but things just weren’t lining up in our favor.  I proposed we pick up Alison, finish out our camping reservations, head to the coast and drive Route 1/Big Sur until it was time for our flights to Hawaii.  Emily thought that was a good plan.

We were in Fresno, waiting for our daughter’s flight, when the text came in.  “Hi Erik, are you still around? Saw your note about climbing. I might be up for the Nose...Josh”  That was Sunday afternoon. 

Tuesday morning Josh and I met to climb something small.  A get-to-know-you climb.  While leading the third pitch, I got into a spot that was wet and directly over a ledge.  "I'm slipping," I called down to him.  I was roped in, but worried I was going to fall and hit the ledge on my way down.  "Just keep breathing," he called back up.  It was good advice.  I kept breathing, calmed down and pulled through the moves and got to safer ground.  I liked this guy.

 The maroon dots mark the belay stations (end of the pitch).

The maroon dots mark the belay stations (end of the pitch).

 Connecting the dots:  The Nose is 31 pitches, ending at the pine tree on top.

Connecting the dots:  The Nose is 31 pitches, ending at the pine tree on top.

That afternoon--once I'd plied him with brownies--we decided to go for The Nose.  We sorted gear that evening, packed our food and water the next morning and ferried our first loads up to Sickle Ledge (~500’ up) that afternoon.  It was Wednesday.  We sat out some rain on Thursday, but Friday at 4am we were up and at it.  We had a ton of fun.  The pace was steady and we worked hard, but we laughed a lot.  It was nice to climb with someone who knew how to enjoy the climb and not just grind.  The first day we climbed 10 pitches above Sickle Ledge and made it to El Cap Tower in time to enjoy the evening, heat up some soup and watch the sunset.  The next day we climbed Texas Flake, The Boot Flake, Josh did the King Swing, and we pushed on through the night up to Camp V where we slept on scattered ledges.  The last day I led The Great Roof, a pitch called Changing Corners and then Josh led us through the last large overhang, and from there I led the easy face climbing to the top. We climbed for three days and two nights, stuck to our plan and topped out with enough daylight to eat our leftover food and walk down in the dark. This was his eleventh ascent of El Cap.  It was my first. 

As Steve Jobs says, “You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” 

As I look back, I see how little things add up.  I first went to El Cap just to see it and touch it.  I made it real to me.  Then I came back with my family and climbed a big wall.  An important baby step.  Then I tried the Nose but failed.  But I learned how to start.  Then I came back and succeeded.  I was in the right place at the right time to climb with the great partner with great weather.  Looking back, the dots connected.  

Day 0 - Hauling Loads and Fixing Lines to Sickle Ledge

Day 1 - Sickle Ledge to El Cap Tower

Day 2 - Texas Flake to Camp V

Day 3 - Camp V to the Summit

Wanna Bet?

Wanna Bet?

I’m betting woman...now. I'm practicing separating decisions from outcomes. It’s helping me appreciate good stuff more and be frustrated less. I got this idea listening to Annie Duke, author of Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don't Have All the Facts, who got National Science Foundation Fellowship in cognitive psychology, but became sick during the academic hiring season and took a 20-year detour as a professional poker player before returning to psychology. She says life is a lot more like poker than it is like chess. I played poker for the first time last month and I agree with her. In chess, whoever makes the best decisions wins. In poker, that is not the case.

Read More

My Word of the Year

by ERIK ORTON

I can’t tell you how many twists and turns we’ve had on this trip.  Some have been good, some have been bad, but all of them have been unexpected.  One of our families favorite movies is Dan in Real LifeWe can all quote most of it.  One adage from the film is: "prepare to be surprised." 

The very reason for this current road trip was unexpected.  We were invited to house sit in Hawaii for two months.  Awesome.  We said yes, and bought plane tickets.  Then, thru no fault of their own, our friends’ plans changed and they had to push back a few weeks.  Surprise.  But we had already committed our apartment to some other friends.  We decided to hit the road.  This would let us spend Easter with our college girls and do some Spring climbing in Yosemite before flying from San Francisco to Hawaii.  Surprise.  We drove across country, enjoyed a wonderful visit with Karina and Alison, and pressed on to California.  Next stop: Yosemite.  We’d traveled 3,400 miles.  With less than a 100 miles to go, we got word:  Yosemite Valley was closed.  It was getting some of its biggest rain in decades and was being evacuated.  Surprise.

 Good spirits despite the set-backs.  dinner at jack-in-the-box didn't hurt.

Good spirits despite the set-backs.  dinner at jack-in-the-box didn't hurt.

We pulled over and told all the kids to take out their ear buds.  After a fast food meal, a couple phones calls, and a few recommendations from Facebook friends, we decided to make a U-turn.  We back-tracked 5 hours of driving to Joshua Tree National Park, so we could camp somewhere dry.  We limped in at 3am, and all the campsites were full.  Surprise.  We crashed for the night at a Motel 6 one town over.  That day we set an Orton record for hours driven in one day:  16.  None of us want to do that again, ever.

The next morning we checked a campground we hadn’t heard of before.  Ranger Amanda told us they were booked.  Bummer.  Then Ranger Damon returned back from his rounds.  We happened to still be standing at the counter as he walked in.  Turns out there was one site for the exact two nights we needed.  We took it, and it was a beautiful:  abutting the desert, with a big rock formation for primo privacy.  Surprise. 

IMG_0334.jpg

We ate well, made new friends, rock climbed, got slushies at Sonic (oh, man!) and got sunburned.  Three days later we shoved off for Yosemite.  As Yvon Choinard, founder of Patagonia,  says, "It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong."

IMG_0362.jpg

In my case, if some things hadn’t “gone wrong” most of the opportunities I’m enjoying right now never would have surfaced.  I wouldn’t have spent Easter with my daughters.  I wouldn’t have camped in the beautiful desert.  I wouldn’t be back in majestic Yosemite.

My word for this year is:  limber.  I want to stay limber, because if I grip and cling too tightly to what I expect to happen, I’ll exhaust myself, get frustrated and miss out on all the unexpected opportunities hidden behind what I might consider bad news.  Limber lets me enjoy the unexpected.  I’m preparing to be surprised.  Stay limber, my friend.  

 Sunset at Joshua Tree.  Spin off from the rain storms up north.

Sunset at Joshua Tree.  Spin off from the rain storms up north.

 Warming up and climbing outside again after a long winter.

Warming up and climbing outside again after a long winter.

 After a couple hot days in the sun, we discovered Sonic's slushy menu.  (But we brought our own sloppy Joes : )

After a couple hot days in the sun, we discovered Sonic's slushy menu.  (But we brought our own sloppy Joes : )

 The road from Joshua Tree to Yosemite, as seen through our WINDSHIELD.

The road from Joshua Tree to Yosemite, as seen through our WINDSHIELD.

Are You Drinking the Kool-Aid?

Are You Drinking the Kool-Aid?

by EMILY ORTON

This week we’ve been on the road.  We drove from our home in New York City to Idaho, where our daughter Alison attends school.  We stayed with our friends Matt and Mary who both teach at the university.  Mary extended a surprise invitation to speak to her Human Resources class.  The topic was conformity.  It is human nature to fit in, to go along, and to roll with it.  This class talked about being mindful of incremental influences.  We don’t want to be on autopilot mindlessly going wherever the crowd or prevalent culture is leading. 

Read More

Your Perfect Day

IMG_3797.JPG

Yesterday I turned 44.  Birthdays make me philosophical.  So I’d like to speak briefly about time, my perfect day and taxes. 

Taxes are not part of my perfect day.  That’s what I did the day before my birthday.  It put me in a funk.  Maybe it doesn’t have the same effect on you, but it did a number on me.  However, my birthday pulled me out of it, and I’ll tell you why. My birthday reminded of one of my personal mantras:  the longer I live, the faster time moves.

I know my life is only accelerating.  My next 44 years will feel like a fraction of my first 44 years.  If there are things I want to do, I don’t have time to waste.  I gotta get on it.  No time to sulk over taxes.  And I’m pleased to report that my birthday was a perfect day.  The nice thing was that I didn’t do anything different than what I would do on a normal day, and I liked that.  Here’s the rundown:

  • Got up with the sun
  • Went for a walk with Emily in the park (the same walk we do every day)
  • Worked out, got ready for the day (the same routine I do everyday)
  • Breakfast:  bran flakes and raisins with whole milk (my usual.  I love it.)
  • Sat at my desk and mapped out my work time:
    • Worked on book project #1
    • Worked on book project #2
  • Lunch (leftovers, my favorite)
  • Sent texts, emails and responded to messages as needed.
  • Worked on the online financial class we're creating:  Video chat with some dear friends who are beta testing it.  They sang happy birthday to me in Polish (not usual).  They live in Warsaw right now.
  • It was climbing day, so I drove up to the climbing gym with my buddy Rob and my daughter, SJ (as usual)  I climbed okay, but nothing special.  I was pushing myself, but just a little bit.  Jane had some breakthroughs.  I was really proud of her.
  • Drove home (as usual)
  • Visited with someone I’m going to serve with at church.  Invited him to stay for dinner. 
  • Had dinner, birthday cake, ice cream.  No gifts, no decorations.  Just the way I like it. 
  • We played my favorite board game:  Cashflow.  I’m a nerd.
  • Did our regular bedtime routine with the kids.
  • In bed by midnight.

I loved this day.  I recognize that it may not be your perfect.  And that’s okay.  That’s actually kind of the point.  I learned something yesterday: it’s important to know what you want, which may be different from what you think you’re supposed to want. 

Often times we’re tricked into thinking what other people want is what we should want.  If everyone wants to own a home, I should too.  If everyone wants to ski over winter break, I should too.  If everyone wants to sail the world, I should too.   Not so.

As we video chatted with our friends about this class, I said, “We don’t have to accept other people’s Instagram dream as our own.”  They said, “You should say that.  Write a blog post about that!”  So here we are.  Everyone needs to know what they like and what they want.

I’m so inspired by Warren Buffet, because I think he’s a classic example of this.  He’s one of the richest men on the planet, but he knows what he likes.  He likes his simple home in Omaha that he bought in 1958, so he still lives there.  In a shareholder meeting, he said, "My life couldn't be happier.  In fact, it'd be worse if I had six or eight houses.  I have everything I need to have, and I don't need any more."  I once read his favorite meal was a Chuck-a-Rama steak and a Cherry Coke.  His current favorites now include rootbeer floats, McDonalds breakfast food, and more steak.  The point is, he knows what he likes. 

I like to sit quietly at my desk, looking out the window at the park, figuring out my thoughts and writing them out.  I also like road trips.  We’re hitting the road again on Monday.  We’ll be gone a couple months.  In fact, if all goes to plan, this year will be a string of trips where we go far but we go slow.  I don’t like fast travel.  The slower and simpler, the better.

I know that if I’d never figured out what I wanted, I never would have gotten it.  If I didn’t discern what I actually enjoyed and liked, I very easily could have run the risk of pursuing what someone else liked or wanted.  And if I got it, I wouldn’t have been happy, because I would have achieved someone else’s dream.  Lame.

Some people think we do cool stuff, and that’s okay.  They say nice things and it makes us feel good.  I’m glad that sometimes we can inspire and encourage people.  But what I don't hope is that people read what we share and say, “I want to do that too.”  Rather, I hope they think, “If the Orton’s figured out how to do what they want, I’ll bet I can figure out how to do what I want.”  It may be the same thing as us--and that'd be cool--but it may not be the same thing.  I don’t want to open a yoga studio, but our friends did.  I’m so happy for them.  I don’t want to be an organic farmer, but my friend does.  I hope she makes it happen.  My dad loves to work with wood.  I do too, but it’s not my top priority.

As I sit here looking out the window, watching the latest blizzard and the kids sledding on the hill across the street, I’m grateful.  I’m grateful I’ve found my own version of the basic steak and Cherry Coke life. 

We’re going to some places I’m excited about, and we’re going to do some things I’m eager to learn.  But mostly importantly, I hope I can be honest with myself and make sure I’m clear about whether I like it, or whether I hope other people like it.  Because only one matters.

What is your perfect day?  Is it truly your own or borrowed from others?  If we can figure out what we really value and live our lives that way, each day will be a perfect day.  And a whole bunch of days like that can add up to a pretty amazing life.  And each life can be completely unique.  Whatever it is, try to describe it to yourself before you look at Instagram.

 

He Likes It!

He Likes It!

About a year ago we took Eli climbing in the Shawangunk mountains...

The event was so impactful that Eli decided he did not like rock climbing.  He was not a rock climber.  He was a victim of fate, born to parents who thought scaling rocks was a good time.  We even took him on a 105 day road trip seeking out some of the greatest rock climbing in the U.S. and Canada.  He preferred to sit at the base and wait for it to be over.  I only got him in the harness once when I guaranteed he would not have to climb.  I wanted him to stay low to the ground and swing on the rope.  When introducing new foods, I only expect my kids to take a taste not eat the whole plate.  I wanted Eli to get a taste of trusting the rope.  He didn’t love it, but he didn’t panic.

Read More