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.

Escape from Moving Madness

Avila Beach is one of my favorite writing haunts, a place my Santa Barbara writing buddies and I escape to twice a year, usually for a week of writing bliss. This month I could only come up for a couple of days since we're in the middle of a move (I've been awash in boxes--packing and unpacking--for two weeks), but I am grateful nonetheless for the little space it allowed me. Above and below are some photos I took as I walked the beach yesterday.

Discovering London and Ireland

Until two years ago, I had never been out of the United States beyond a sojourn to Ensenada, Mexico, and to parts of Canada, which in my mind don't really count. In 2012 I went to Costa Rica and stayed at my cousin's beautiful home on the northern Costa Rican coast for a month. It was there that I finished the first draft of my memoir, which I've been excerpting in posts on my blog (here is Part One, if you've missed them).

So I was literally giddy last fall when Rob and I traveled to London and then to Ireland for three weeks. Our transAtlantic flight felt like Christmas Eve to me, and the stewardesses and stewards must have sensed it because they presented us with a bottle of champagne upon our arrival at Heathrow. Everything seemed magical to me. I loved London. Loved its energy, its people, the Tube, the lovely little boutique hotel in which we stayed, the vintage double-decker bus tour we took, the theater district play we saw, the vast historical sweep of the buildings and monuments everywhere one looked. In just the few days we were there we shopped at Harrods, saw a Shakespearean play at the Globe Theatre, took a boat trip up the Thames, and visited the new Tate Museum. And it didn't rain a single time, despite all the rain gear we took along. We were in Europe from late September through mid-October; the weather was cooler, but the crowds were almost nonexistent. I would go back to London in a heartbeat, because there was so much we didn't get to see. But the purpose of our trip was to see Ireland.

The London Eye

The London Eye

The Cheesegrater

The Cheesegrater

When we flew to Dublin on the fourth day, it was sunny and in the low 60s, a harbinger of the weather we encountered throughout our time there. Dublin is much smaller than London, but has its own charms. Our hotel was on the edge of the Temple District, which is the hot nighttime place brimming with bars and music venues.

The most impressive thing about Ireland is every corner has a pub, and every pub (almost) has a live band singing traditional music. We LOVED the immersion into Irish culture and music, and relished it as we traveled south and then up the west coast of the country.

St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin.

St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin.

At a pub listening to traditional Irish music.

At a pub listening to traditional Irish music.

On the Jameson whiskey tour.

On the Jameson whiskey tour.

Next, Waterford and Kinsale.


Excerpt from 'Face, A Memoir,' Part Five

This is Part Five of Face, A Memoir. When I was five years old I was hit by a car and lost my left cheek and eyelid. It was the beginning of nearly two dozen surgeries over fifteen years. In this section, I decide to see a therapist when, as an adult, my life seems to be falling apart.

(Part Five)

I am sitting on a white overstuffed couch in the Santa Barbara office of a therapist a friend recommended. South-facing windows let in filtered light from the late morning sun. Japanese paintings hang on the cream-colored walls, creating a sense of serenity and intimacy. A box of tissues is tucked behind the lamp on the side table, within easy reach. Michael sits in a straight chair in front of me, his long legs tucked under. His square, tanned face framed by waves of blond curls. We are talking about self-esteem.

“I don’t have a problem with self-esteem.”

“Yes, you do,” Michael says.

I am stunned. “No, I don’t.” 

“Yes, you do,” he repeats, more emphatically.

I look out the window at the jacarandas in bloom, their graceful purple flowers nudged by a gentle offshore breeze.

I’d always thought of myself as confident, secure in my self-image, strong and independent. I was a successful journalist – had been editor of the editorial pages of a medium-sized daily newspaper and a recognized leader in the community. I did not lack confidence in my abilities.

But that wasn’t what he was talking about.

When I first went to Michael for help, it was because I suspected – and feared – my marriage of twenty-four years was over. After a month of weekly meetings, he suggested joint counseling with my husband. But after nearly six months, we were making little, if any, progress. So we stopped, and I returned to individual sessions with Michael.

Now here I was, sitting in Michael’s office wondering what had gone wrong. With my marriage. With my career. With my life.

“Talk to me about your scars,” Michael said.

“What do you mean?”

“How did you get them?”

I shrugged. Gave the rote response, something I had spent years perfecting: “I was hit by a car when I was five. I was nearly killed and lost my cheek and my eyelid. I underwent twenty surgeries over the next fifteen years.”

“How do you feel about that?”

How did I feel? I didn’t feel. I hadn’t felt about it in years. I hadn’t thought about it in years. But the more Michael and I talked, the more the memories flooded back. Then I remembered a folder my father had given me just before I got married.

My mom and dad were visiting me in Redding, where I was a reporter for the newspaper, and I was sorting through clothes in my bedroom when my dad knocked on my open bedroom door.

“Hi, Dad. Hot enough for you?” It had to be 102 already, and it was midmorning.

He smiled. “I have something for you.”

He sat down on the bed and patted the spot next to him. I plopped down.

“I am so proud of you,” he started. “Now you’re getting married, I guess it’s time I gave you this.”

He held out a thick, faded, dark-blue folder.

“What is it?”

I opened the folder and was surprised to see dozens of hospital invoices, insurance documents and doctors’ bills, all dated from the 1960s and ’70s and all carefully marked “paid” in his distinctive hand.

“Oh my gosh, Dad.”

He had saved and noted each bill, each surgical procedure, each hospital stay. As I leafed through, I came across a yellowed photo envelope and opened it. That was when I saw the photographs for the first time. I looked for only a moment, then shoved them back into the envelope and put it back into the blue folder.

There was an awkward silence.

I didn’t know what to say. Why had he saved all these things? And why did he feel it was important to give them to me now?

Finally, I mumbled, “Thanks, Dad.”

He patted my leg again, and stood to go.

“I think your mom’s waiting to go shopping,” he said as he walked out of my room.

“Okay.”

I sat alone for a few minutes. I felt confused and overwhelmed, as if he had shown me a film clip from my childhood, one I hadn’t expected and didn’t want to see.

Then I walked over to the dresser and put the folder in the bottom drawer, under some old jeans. I gathered my purse and my shopping list for the wedding and walked out to the kitchen where Mom was just finishing putting away the breakfast dishes.

“Ready to go?” she asked. I nodded, and as we left, I put the folder out of my mind.

(To be continued...)

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.