New Books to Recommend: RenWomen, Where are Pat and Ernie Now? and Five Sextillion Atoms

As many of you know, I have a new book out—Heart on a Fence, which you can see here. And I have several friends who also have new books out—books I think you would love to have and read.

Dale Griffiths Stamos’ new book is a compilation of the life stories of sixteen “Renaissance women”—modern-day superwomen who have lived lives of purpose and service to humanity. Written with her twin brother, W. Scott Griffiths, RenWomen, What Modern Renaissance Women Have to Teach Us About Living Rich, Fulfilling Lives incorporates a bit of history about past RenWomen, the stories about sixteen modern RenWomen, and how we can encourage young women to follow their own dreams of exploring many different paths.

Simply put, RenWomen are women who excel in many different fields—from arts and literature to math and science to philanthropy and mentoring. I was especially delighted to see that one women profiled in the book is a dear friend of mine—Eva Haller, truly a RenWoman if there ever was one. Eva was born in Hungary and escaped the Nazis at the age of 14, finding her way to Ecuador and ultimately the United States, where she quickly realized she needed an education and work. She found both, and also the first of two great loves of her life. Her third husband, Murray Roman, was an entrepreneur marketer and public relations genius who made a fortune advising presidential candidates in the mid-1960s. Murray and Eva turned to philanthropy and charitable giving, but in 1975, Maury was diagnosed with cancer and died in 1984. Eva was devastated. Three years later, she met Dr. Yoel Haller and the two have been inseparable ever since, traveling the world and continuing the mentoring and philanthropy that Eva and Murray began together.

Eva’s is just one of the many inspiring stories in RenWomen. Pick it up. You won’t be disappointed.

My buddy Ernie Witham’s latest book of humor is Where are Pat and Ernie Now?, a compilation of his many essays on their worldwide travel adventures. I love Ernie’s voice, kind of a combination of self-deprecation, fun and husbandy idiocy. Pat is always the long-suffering spouse in their various escapades, but the last laugh is always on Ernie, and with us. Where are Pat and Ernie Now? is Ernie’s third book. He’s written columns and essays for numerous publications over many years, including several editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul. You don’t want to miss this chronicle of their latest fun-filled explorations of the world.

And last, but certainly not least, my dear friend Jayne Benjulian’s beautiful debut collection of poetry is out. It’s called Five Sextillion Atoms, which is how many atoms are in a drop of water. Her poems are both spare and powerful; she holds back no punches as she explores her past and her childhood, her experiences as a mother, and her relationships with stepsiblings.

I especially love the poems in Part Three, which seem more accessible, perhaps because she herself has finally become more comfortable emotionally with the material. I don’t know. But this I do know: Five Sextillion Atoms will wow you.

On Wonder

My friend Kathleen Barry and I write together every couple of weeks, and yesterday we both wrote about wonder. You can read her take on it here. Here's mine:

I love the concept of wonder. It conjures up the image of a child gazing at a colorful butterfly, or watching a bird's egg open, the tiny feathered creature inside emerging into the light.

I have been in that dreamy state of wonder, whether at some physical world delight, or in contemplating the metaphysical. Lyanda Lynn Haupt says wonder "is contingent on the habit of being that allows it to arise...." In other words, you have to be in a constant state of openness and wonderment for moments of wonder to find you.

How can we bring more wonder into our lives? Can you discover the wonder in an everyday cup of coffee? Or in the choosing of your clothes for the day? Or in washing the dishes after a meal? It's easy to see the wonder in a stunning sunset, less so in the drudgery of vacuuming the house.

If we are called to see the extraordinary in the ordinary (and I believe we are), then we learn over time to recognize the moments in our lives that God (or the Universe) asks us to appreciate, no matter how seemingly insignificant.

Where do you see wonder in your life? I see it in the purple bougainvillea outside the window, in the hummingbirds which flit among its petals, in the distant ocean and the tides that govern its movements.

Life is both fragile and fleeting—wonder is our opportunity to appreciate it in every moment: the touch of a friend's hand, beach sand between your toes, ice melting in your double scotch. Wonder abounds.

Season of Loss, Season of LIfe

A dear friend had a severe stroke over the weekend. She and her husband, who live near Fresno, had been out gardening in their yard early, to beat the heat. When they came in to get breakfast, she collapsed onto the floor. Her husband knew right away it was likely a stroke: the left side of her face sagged and she was paralyzed on her left side. At the hospital, doctors immediately tried a drug called tPA (tissue plasminogen activator), which works by dissolving blood clots. In this case, though, it didn't work, and they rushed her into emergency surgery.

That night, after surgery, doctors told her husband they'd gotten the blockage at the top of her carotid artery, but couldn't get to the one near her frontal lobe. It has been touch and go. Monday she moved her left leg and arm, and she was alert and asking for her phone and glasses Tuesday morning. Yesterday the report wasn't so good. We'll know more about the extent of damage in coming days and weeks, but we are all hopeful. She faces many months—perhaps a year or more—of recovery.

I've known these friends for more than 25 years. They just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, having married as youngsters on the eve of his going off to fight in Vietnam. He became a journalist and, later, a businessman. We met when we worked for the small daily newspaper in Redding, California, along with another friend. As couples, all six of us became close friends and have remained so to this day, though we all ended up in different cities far apart. We watched our kids grow up and vacationed together. We also supported each other when one of us was diagnosed with breast cancer many years ago. Last fall, her cancer returned. Her husband, meanwhile, struggles with rheumatoid arthritis. 

Earlier this year, my younger sister died unexpectedly, and another dear friend succumbed to ovarian cancer last month. Other friends are dealing with the sudden loss of his job; he is in his mid-60s.

This season of life for me has brought many joys—and, increasingly, illnesses, difficulties, sorrows, deaths. It is sometimes hard to remember that life is also death, and struggle. 

As I have gotten older, I find myself more introspective, seeking answers, looking for the reasons behind the events of our lives. I do not have the answers, but this I do know: None of us is immune from heartbreak or sorrow, and the only response to any hardship is trust, and gratitude for what is, and perseverance. And faith. I always come back to Julian of Norwich: "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."

My latest book—Heart on a Fence

I'm delighted to announce my latest book of poetry and photography—Heart on a Fence! The book is named after an original painting by my daughter, Kendall, which graces the cover. I am thrilled to offer this new book to my friends and acquaintances. If you would like to order a copy, please email me. They are $20 a piece. Here are some of the images and poems from the book.

The Stunning Beauty of Sea Ranch

Up at Sea Ranch again, on writing retreat with my AROHO sisters, eight women I met at the 2011 Room of Her Own Foundation's retreat at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. This is our fifth year of coming together to write and commune, our fourth at Sea Ranch, on the far Northern California coast just south of Mendocino. It is a stunningly beautiful stretch of sea coast, with magnificent cliffs and thundering ocean and abundant wildlife. We've seen many groups of deer (bucks and does with lots of spotted babies), foxes and jackrabbits. Bulbous sea lions lolling on the rocks. Pelicans skimming over the bluffs. The deer are protected here, so they have no fear, and graze contentedly throughout the Sea Ranch. You can almost get close enough to touch them.

The tiny burg of Gualala (wa LA la) has a lovely little market, and a gas station and a couple of restaurants. And a bookstore! Which we will be appearing at this afternoon to talk about writing retreats and writing. The Four-Eyed Frog bookstore was recently purchased by a group of community people to keep it open. There's a lovely lesson there about the importance of books to community.

Here are some photos I've taken this week and in years past. May your day be filled with the peace of nature.

Lisa Lenard-Cook: An Extraordinary Writer and Teacher, an Extraordinary Woman

My friend Lisa Lenard-Cook died on May 22, at her home in Albuquerque with her husband, Bob, by her side. She had fought ovarian cancer for almost two years, and at one point we thought she had it beat. But it came back with a vengeance last fall, and she ended up spending 40 days in the hospital. She went home in January, but in March she sent her friends a note none of us wanted to read.

"I know it's been a while since you've heard from me, but there hadn't been much to report, except that I wasn't recovering as quickly as we'd hoped. Now we've learned that the abdominal discomfort I've been because of tumors run rampant....

"This morning I was admitted to Rust Medical Center in Rio Rancho, but after talking with my doctors, & with hospice, we headed back home late this afternoon. As I am unable to eat, & have lost a great deal of weight already, this isn't going to drag out for long...

"I'm sorry the news isn't better. I knew what I was up against from the outset, & I know you all hoped for a better outcome. But I'm 63 years old, & have lived a good life, thanks, in part, to each of you.

"Thank you for your love, caring, prayers, & yes, cussing. Love you all. ~L"

Lisa posted something similar on Facebook that week, and one more post a week or so later.

I met Lisa when I was the owner of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. I was looking for new workshop leaders to add to our faculty, and my friend and workshop leader Catherine Ryan Hyde suggested Lisa. We hit if off instantly. Not only was she an amazing novelist (her books include Dissonance and Coyote Morning), but she was one of those people who has a gift for teaching and inspiring others. She was an extraordinary instructor, and the writers she coached and edited absolutely adored her.

She continued with the conference until last June, when she was in remission and came to Santa Barbara wearing scarves and wigs, always exhibiting her sense of humor and resiliency. She had pushed back against the cancer and forced it into remission in barely nine months.

In the fall of 2014 I moved to Santa Fe, and spent a night with her and Bob in their lovely home in north Albuquerque. Last August, Rob and I had dinner with them on our way to Santa Fe, and toasted the apparent triumph over the cancer. Sadly, it was not to be.

I will miss her ready smile and generous spirit, her love of literature and words and her dogs and the New Mexico landscape, and her absolute commitment to the writers she shepherded over the years. Rest in peace, sweet friend.

A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. June 11 at their home in Albuquerque. If you want to attend, let Bob Cook know, at

And if you'd like to remember her in a special way, please consider donating to one of these wonderful organizations, which she loved:

Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary, Ramah, NM:
Animal Humane NM, Albuquerque, NM:
Ovarian Cancer Research Fund: