Wishing You a Wondrous Holiday Season

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Haven’t written much on this blog this year. My only excuse is work and life have taken more of my attention. But I didn’t want to let this season of love and peace go by without expressing my gratitude for all of you who are (or have been) clients, family and friends. You sustain me throughout the year.

I will be taking on new projects in the new year, and I’m excited about what will come into my life. I am so grateful for the clients I have had over the years, and especially those who have become friends, as well. If you have a book you’ve been working on that’s ready for an experienced development editor, or you would like the little nudge that comes from working with a writing coach, I would love to hear from you. May the peace and promise of this season settle upon you. May the love of family and friends surround you. May the abundance of the natural world visit upon you the nurture of nature. May you feel the love of the people who hold you in their hearts. Happy Holidays.

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 experiencing...is 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 bob.d.cook@gmail.com.

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: https://wildspiritwolfsanctuary.org/index.php
Animal Humane NM, Albuquerque, NM:  http://animalhumanenm.org
Ovarian Cancer Research Fund: http://www.ocrf.org

Blessings Abound

Santa Barbara at Shoreline Beach

Santa Barbara at Shoreline Beach

It rained today.

That may not seem extraordinary in many parts of the country and world, but in drought-stricken Southern California, it was like manna from heaven. Rain so soft and steady—though pounding at times—it made me ache with the sense of a long-lost familiarity, of something lost for a very long time and now rediscovered.

Two friends and I walked at the ocean yesterday evening, just before the deluge, and I walked again this evening on the beach, picking my way among the strewn detritus thrown upon the shore by the storm's waves and marveling at the rushing rivulets that poured from the hillsides down to mix with the storm-sized surf.

Pink and yellow sunsets lit up the evening sky, and I had to catch my breathe in awe and gratitude.

So many in this world live in places where they might never see the sun dip into the ocean waves, the clouds pink and heavy above, coloring the sky and the world. I am blessed, and want never to take this world for granted.

Yesterday I walked with two dear friends, our dogs and our paces matched from years of sojourns together. This evening I wandered out to the beach during a break in the rain with my dog, Chevella, and ran across two similar-minded friends with their two hounds. Bundled against the wind, we walked as the sun moved toward the horizon and its inevitable dip into the deep sea, pinkened clouds hovering above like harbingers of sunrises to come.

We walked, the three of us, and came across another friend with her new Irish setter puppy, bounding with puppy energy and enthusiasm from person to person, dog to dog, tennis ball to tennis ball. There’s nothing like a puppy to remind us that life is for grabbing the absolute most out of the moment—chewing it, sniffing it, jumping up in joy, bounding down the beach with abandon.

I am grateful for this life, this place, this most magnificent point in time. Would that we could all feel—and recognize—the blessings that flow in and around us. There is so much to appreciate, despite the very real difficulties many of us endure. Open your heart, open your arms, open your sensibilities to the gifts available to you. May you feel the generosity of the universe in this new year.

The Harry and David Christmas Miracle

A Harry and David Christmas

A Harry and David Christmas

It’s been a Harry and David Christmas at our house this year. We have pears coming out of our ears.

A week ago, Rob’s bookkeeper gave us a beautiful box of 12 pears from the iconic holiday fruit packager. Then, two days later, one of my sweet clients gifted me a box of Harry and David pears! Rob and I laughed, and I started giving them to neighbors.

A couple of days later, Rob got a package from his insurance agent—a box of Harry and David pears, apples, caramel corn with chocolate pieces, delectable chocolate truffles, and sugar cookies! At least it offered some yummy chocolates.

Yesterday, another business associate of Rob’s gave him another box of pears—from Harry and David! Our pear cup runneth over. I’ve started giving them to friends as well as neighbors. A friend suggested peeling, cutting them up and freezing them for future smoothies. Did that, too. Rob re-gifted the latest box of pears to one of his employees.

My sister and brother-in-law live in Medford, Oregon, so I’m familiar with Harry and David. The company, which was started by a guy named Samuel Rosenberg in 1910, has pear orchards that date to 1885. Rosenberg’s sons, Harry and David, took over management of the company in 1914, and it grew into one of the country’s greatest success stories.

Today, it’s a small miracle they are still in business. In 2004, Harry and David was acquired by two investment firms—Wasserstein & Co. of New York and Highlands Capital Management of Boston—which then saddled it with unbearable debt, forcing layoffs. In 2011, Harry and David filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but managed to emerge from it just six months later. The company was sold again in 2014 to 1-800 Flowers, and from all appearances seems to have recovered.

Harry and David has been a huge employer for the Southern Oregon region, so all of this abundance of fruit is a good sign. Not just for Medford and environs, but for the national economy. If a victim of takeover greed can come back from the brink, there’s hope—truly a Christmas miracle.

Solstice—Dark Unto Light

Solstice—Dark Unto Light

As we move toward the darkest day of the year—the Winter Solstice—I’m mindful of the light to follow. I think that might be the theme of my life, at least over the past few years.

It’s been almost seven years since my life fell apart—lost my mother, my marriage, our house, the writers conference. It seems a millennium ago. And yet, the lessons are so present with me today. That loss and grief give way, eventually, to light and hope. That trusting in yourself and the goodness of others will always turn out right in the end. That friends and family are treasures beyond reckoning. I am surrounded by light and love.

The last time I wrote on this blog was almost a year and a half ago. So much has happened since.

As some of you know, I decided in June 2014 to move to Santa Fe. After almost 30 years in Santa Barbara, I sought a new life in a new place that called to me. I love Santa Fe. Love the warmth of the people, the arts community, the architecture, the mountains, the snow, the extraordinary light. So I started to make plans and to pack, with a target date for moving of mid-September.

I found an adorable short-term rental with a woman artist named Bonnie Coe and made arrangements to stay through November, just to make sure I wanted to put down roots there. I planned to put everything I owned into a storage container and pack my belongings and Chevella, my dog, into the car for the trip across the country. Then….

In late July, I went to a benefit concert for Youth Interactive featuring Michael McDonald (LOVE the Doobie Brothers), and there, at the end of the concert, I met a man. He invited me to dinner that night, at the Lark around the corner. We had a lovely time, and, of course, I mentioned I was moving to Santa Fe in a month or so. He gave me his business card, and I sent him a nice thank-you email that night. I didn’t hear from him. Odd, I thought. So I texted him several days later just to make sure he’d received my thank you. He called that night and we talked for twenty minutes or so, and then hung up. And I didn’t hear from him again. My sister said, “Well, of course not; you told him you’re moving to Santa Fe.”

One evening a couple of weeks later I had a couple of glasses of wine and decided to text him (this is not advised, by the way). I wrote: “Hey, I haven’t heard from you, and I’m guessing it’s because I told you I was moving. That’s okay if it is; just tell me.” And when I didn’t hear back that night, I tore his business card into six pieces and threw it away.

The next morning he texted me and said, No, it wasn’t that. He’d just been really, really busy (his office was in Pasadena) and he hadn’t had a moment to call. Could he call the next afternoon? And what time?

I texted him back and said, yes, after 2 the next day. I fished his business card pieces out of the trash and taped them back together.

And then…he didn’t call.

I decided that was that. Went on with my life, packing, planning the move, saying goodbye to friends.

On Labor Day, he emailed. Some lame excuse about dropping his phone in the ocean and losing his contacts and he’d finally found my first email and if I was still even willing to talk with him could he call me?

Honestly, I had to think about it. He’d already failed on two occasions. Yet…something made me say yes.

He did, and we went out that night and talked in a sweet little restaurant for five hours. A week later he brought me roses and took me to the El Encanto for dinner, and we walked on the beach.

I left for Santa Fe six days later.

But, you know what? He came to visit me two weeks later. Then I visited him in California three weeks after that, and we went back and forth two more times before he asked me to come home for Christmas. And why didn’t I plan to spend a couple of weeks here?

I did, and we’ve been together ever since.

We’ve gone back to Santa Fe to visit, and in September and October we went to London and Ireland for three weeks. My life is gloriously wild and madly uproarious. Back and forth between Pasadena and Santa Barbara for almost a year, he’s finally moving up here full time in January. He makes me laugh every day, and it feels like we’ve just met yet been together forever.

So much change, so much transition, so much newness and joy. I think back on past years and all the heartache, and I am thankful for all of it, and for all the light that has come to be. This new life, this wonderful man, this exhilarating love. His name is Rob.

May this season of hope and new light bring you peace and joy. And may gratitude be the guiding force in your heart and life, as it is in mine.

A Birthday Present

Yesterday was my birthday. Well, it was and it wasn’t. My actual birthday is Christmas Eve, but about seven years ago I decided to celebrate it on July 14 instead. It has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Some people assume it’s just because it is close to Christmas, and that is partially true. When I was a kid, I never had a birthday party outside of just family members partly because of that, and once I was in my early 20s, people started giving me combined birthday and Christmas presents. That never felt good.

But for me, the reasons go much deeper. My Christmas Eve birthday is inextricably linked to my childhood, and very painful memories of innumerable hospitalizations and surgeries. I had no friends before junior high, primarily because the disfiguring scars on my face caused kids to shun me. Abusive Catholic school experiences made going to church difficult, and since we always went to church on Christmas Eve, those memories are equally woven into my Christmastime birthday. It got to be that I could hardly go to Mass without sobbing.

So, I created a new birthday celebration day, one that recognizes who I am today, rather than the sad and lonely disfigured child I was. I have not been that little girl in years, but I carried her around with me until my fifth decade. With lots of counseling – and writing – I was able to let that little girl go, and begin to see myself for the woman I am today – vibrant, happy, inspired, loving, loved.

Friends sometimes tease me about having a “half” birthday or claiming two birthdays a year. And one or two still insist on remembering my Christmas Eve birthday. I love them and appreciate the intent, but I sometimes wish they wouldn’t; it is emotionally painful.

Many of us carry within us what Jung called the “wounded child,” that part of us that was somehow injured in childhood and never recovered from it. It can be emotional or physical, or in my case, both. Often we don’t even know that child is influencing our lives, in ways that oftentimes are destructive.

When my life started to fall apart I was fifty years old, and I couldn’t understand why things weren’t working the way I wanted them to. My marriage was crumbling, my relationship with my mother was puzzling and distant, and I couldn’t seem to make the one professional thing I loved – the Santa Barbara Writers Conference – successful financially. That led to one bad decision after another, until finally, I was forced into bankruptcy. I was despondent, desperate, nearly suicidal.

And yet, through the grace of good therapy and lots of prayer, I began to understand. I started to see how the lessons I learned just to survive had caused me to make choices that ultimately harmed me. I have written about this in my memoir, Face, which was as much a part of the healing as the excellent counseling I received over nearly eight years.

Changing the celebration of my birth allowed me to become the person I am today, without all the woundedness of my childhood. So, thank you, all who have embraced my new life with me. Friends have invited me to lunch and dinner almost every day this week and into next. I cannot express how much you mean to me. You have all literally saved my life, and I am grateful.

Let’s celebrate!