Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Eat A Peach

You know you're back in California when you wake up, pull a peach from a backyard tree, and eat it before jumping into the pool.

This paradise is the home of my longtime friends Janelle and Bobby. Right around the time Dave and I decided to give up our house and live a traveling life, Janelle and Bobby decided to focus on home. They wanted space to host friends, kids, and grandkids. They love to cook and garden and lovingly populate space with the perfect thrift-store find.

So they sold their Santa Cruz condo and bought this sweet Hollister house that rims a golf course--one of Bobby's favorite past-times. Talk about expert manifesters:  They knew they wanted a fireplace, and they ended up with three!

It's hard to imagine a better place to be right now as Dave and I navigate the medical derailment of our travel plans.  And yet a derailment doesn't mean an end to the journey; it's part of the journey, and we're already experiencing the incredible power of this detour. Much of the power is surfacing as serendipity, synchronicity, stars aligning--call it what you will.

Start with the fact that the other day our doctor friend Garry mentioned to us the name of a highly-regarded Stanford-affiliated Santa Cruz neurosurgeon, Dr. Ciara Harraher.  An hour later, Dave and I were sitting in the Santa Cruz office of my general practitioner. He was writing me a referral to a neuro guy when I said, "Do you know Dr. Ciara Harraher?"  And he said smooth as buttah, "I can write you a referral to her too, if you like."

Turns out my insurance covers her! Turns out she had an appointment available the very next day.  Turns out she specializes in the type of tumor I have and has performed many of these surgeries. Turns out she can do the surgery next Thursday, August 8.

I loved her immediately. Probably in her early 40s, she was kind and warm but no-nonsense. Wearing lime-green pants and a matching necklace, she vibed highly competent yet caring energy.  She reminded me of a number of my friends.  Her office is run by women, and in a subtle way it recalled being aboard the Piko Kai at this time last year--a woman-staffed dolphin boat in Hawaii. 

"Piko Kai" means "umbilical cord to the world." That's a comforting thought right now, thinking of how I'm being held in the warm womb of life blessed by the expertise of this surgeon, and the love of my family and friends.

Bobby and Janelle making peach and berry cobbler.
I was in awe of the vast world inside me when Dr. Harraher showed me images of my brain. It was easy to see the walnut-sized meningioma nestled into the left hemisphere in the "pre-motor region." She said that most of these types of tumors scoop right out, but that some are more adhered to the tissues.  So the surgery could take anywhere from 3 to 6 hours.  She discussed with me some possible complications but is pretty optimistic that things will go well since I'm in excellent health and this type of tumor is 95% likely to be benign.

Afterward, Dave drove us to the beach. We sat a few blocks from the house we'd left just a few months ago. Even though being with Janelle and Bobby is perfect right now, we knew that before and after my surgery, we'd need to be in Santa Cruz. We floated a few ideas, including finding a place to rent or staying in a hotel.

Santa Cruz
Then I picked up the phone and called my longtime friend Stacey who lives in Santa Cruz. We'd been playing phone tag all week; she was concerned and wanted to know what was going on. Just a few sentences into our conversation, she asked what she could do for us and said we could come stay. I was concerned because I didn't want to put more on Stacey's plate, as she's the mother of twin 11-year-old boys and she's preparing to teach fall classes.

But here go the stars aligning again! We'll get to spend three days with them. And then, right after my surgery, they happen to be going away on vacation. We'll be staying alone in their beautiful home, nestled in the redwoods. The perfect place for me to heal.

When we decided to live a house-free, traveling life, I hadn't thought about what might happen should one of us fall ill. After my seizure and brain tumor diagnosis last week, I've discovered the answer:  We have been enfolded in the loving arms of our friends.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Cosmic Roller Coaster

Cape Cod, with Dom, Charlie & Chris.

I figured on Cape Cod I'd experience lobster, clams, fishing, and beach fun with our fabulous friends.

I never considered, though, that I'd experience a seizure, resulting in diagnosis of a meningioma--a brain tumor.  

I'm so fortunate that the seizure took place while I was in bed--not driving or swimming, both of which I'd done quite a bit of in the previous days.

It was early morning of Dave's and my first wedding anniversary.  I was having a dream about my mentor and friend, Gabriele, who recently died.  She was telling me that the veil between worlds is even thinner than one could imagine.  

I was awakened by what at first felt like a Charlie horse. I then realized every single muscle--and my organs, including my skin--was seizing.  A roaring filled my head.  I thought, This is dying.  Part of me was terrified.  Incredibly, another part of me was at peace.  I was aware that I had no regrets, that I'd been living my life fully and authentically.

Dave was awakened by my moaning. He said I was curled up awkwardly on my side, my eyes open.  (I'm sure I was much lovelier a year prior in my wedding dress on a Hawaiian beach!)

Dave said the seizure seemed to last 15-20 seconds, and then I fell asleep.  He leaned into me, making sure I was breathing normally.  I slept for a little while, which I don't remember.  But I do remember waking up with an empty brain.  I didn't know where we were or why.  I wasn't sure who I was--and yet part of me knew I had a history to remember.  I vaguely understood Dave was my husband.  The one thing I knew for sure:  I needed to go the emergency room.

Fresh tuna dinner with Charlie and Lois.

So we spent our first wedding anniversary in Cape Cod hospital. It took about 30 minutes for my memory to return. An MRI confirmed I have a 2.5 centimeter meningioma on my front-left meninges, the tissue that covers the brain.  These tumors are usually benign and slow-growing.  But I need further testing to determine my status.

My brother-in-law put me in touch with his good friend who's a neurologist.  Generously, he talked to me on the phone and told me I will probably need to have the tumor surgically removed.  

I certainly never imagined I'd add "seizure" and "brain surgery" to my list of new life experiences.  But I can see how my interest in the past few years in spirituality, quantum physics, and near-death experiences has prepared me for this.  My friend Mark said I'm "surfing on the leading edge of human experience" and enthused, "Wow, darling, you are really a thrill seeker!!!!"

Charlie's striper.

I do suddenly feel like I'm on a cosmic roller coaster ride. The day after the seizure, we went to a Robert Plant concert. How beautiful to hear that uber-powerful, familiar voice live. I knew he wouldn't sing "Stairway to Heaven" (which would have been fun since I use the song in my novel For the May Queen).  But he did sing the next song on my wish-list: "Going to California."

And that's where we are now.  Mark picked us up last night at the San Jose airport and took us right to our favorite BBQ joint where we celebrated our "return" with great food and awesome live blues. How many incredible friends am I to be allotted in this life?  As we slept in a super-comfy bed in Mark's guest room, I felt wrapped up in love.

Lobster extravaganza.
This morning as I stood in line at Starbucks, a weathered-looking man asked me if I'd buy him a coffee.  I told him I'd be happy to--and anything he might like to eat, too.  He introduced himself, shook my hand, and chatted with me in line.  I knew he thought I was doing him a favor.  But he was doing me one.  I was grateful for the human connection.  And I was grateful to be able to give a little back for all that has been given me.

Cape Cod sunrise.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The two most beautiful words in the English language...

En route to Ragged Island on Lake Winnipesaukee
Hot air. Cool, fresh water. Long light-filled days. 


Summer at a lake.  Your skin is alive, your mind relaxed.

Dom with Sherman the Tank.

You're happy in the fold of nature and friends.

Time takes on a different dimension. You feel eternity in each moment.

The guys with Tom (in sunglasses), our kind and generous captain.

"Summer afternoon--summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language."  - Henry James

Monday, July 15, 2013

Massachusetts, Home-style

After the red-eye from L.A., we arrived at 8 a.m. to hot and steamy Boston.  So off to the beach we went with Dave's long-time friends Charlie and Lois, and their two boys Dom and Chris.

The journey from Carlisle to Gloucester was a treat.  It's so green here, and all the small towns are mariner-charming.

Chez Lombardi in Carlisle
And there's nothing like swimming in cool salt water to wash off  travel skin-scum.  (JetBlue's nice touch of wet, hot hand towels went only so far.)

Floating in the benevolent sea, I realized I'd been in the Pacific one day and the Atlantic the next.

Long Beach, Gloucester
This led me to robust appreciation for things that make extended travel like buttah:

* relatively inexpensive jet travel
* cell phones and laptops
* Airbnb, TripAdvisor and other online travel resources
* online banking
* Google docs (which is how my clients and I share writing and feedback)
* PayPal (which is how those who are inclined pay me)
* Nice people everywhere you go (thought I'd just slip that one in when you weren't looking).

After the beach, we stopped at the Gloucester Fisherman's Memorial, which overlooks a boat-filled harbor.  You can feel the poignant beauty of this special place down to your bones.

Charlie with the goods.
Next stop:  J.T. Farnhams in Essex, where the fried clam was created.  One bite and I knew this to be an invention even greater than Velcro.

We ended the day back at the Lombardi house, singing happy 11th birthday to Chris and chowing down on cake and ice cream.   Only one day and we're feeling home.

Friday, July 12, 2013

"Let Your Soul and Spirit Fly..."

Last time we were in L.A., Dave got to test drive our friend Andy's Maserati.  This time, I drove the new BMW of our friend Jude.
Melissa and Jude, and his bro Brent
Cars are like citizens here.  They have their own personalities.  The BMW propelled itself down the road, smiling slickly at the Escalades, Jaguars, and the occasional Honda.  

I was driving the car because we dropped Jude and Melissa off at the airport.  They are generously letting us stay two days at their place while they're off to the East Coast. 

Marina del Rey
But first we spent a wonderful Thai-take-out-and-wine evening with them.  And we watched the video of our Australian friend Mark playing the piano.  

Jude was impressed with the love and commitment it takes to play with such skill and emotion.  It inspired him to take out his guitar.  As he often does, he played his sweetly gravelly rendition of my favorite song:  "Into the Mystic."

Hark, now hear the sailors cry
Smell the sea and feel the sky
Let your soul and spirit fly
Into the mystic 

And when that fog horn blows 
I will be coming home
And when the fog horn blows 
I want to hear it
I don't have to fear it

Sea air drifted in through the open sliding glass door, the ocean ambiance reflecting this mariner song.  And suddenly I realized the lyrics were speaking to me about my friend and mentor, Gabriele Rico.  It would have been her 76th birthday that day. I'd just read an incredible piece by her daughter about how as she was dying, Gabriele said she was experiencing an "awakening." And that she felt no fear. (I want to hear it, I don't have to fear it...)

These thoughts still resonated with me today as Dave and I rode bikes through Venice Beach to Santa Monica.  

I was thinking about how living isn't possible without dying.  And while we're alive, shouldn't we let our soul and spirit fly?  

Isn't it all about being in this moment?

I thought about how often we humans wriggle out of the present by drumming up thoughts about the past, by worrying about the future, and by harshly judging ourselves and others.

I wondered if riding a bike had any meaning--if that moment in life was really just about pushing my feet onto the pedals to move the bike forward and feeling the sun and sea air on my skin.  

I thought:  Is this really enough?  If I'm not going back to teaching, or raising kids, or going to therapy, or introducing bills to Congress...does my life have purpose?  Do we have to have purpose--other than to let our soul and spirit fly? 

Venice Beach
Later, as Dave and I soaked in the pool and jacuzzi, I also soaked in thoughts of the abundance of loving friends and shiny cars and blue water and vast stretches of white sand, and wacky, colorful Venice Beach characters.  

And I realized that on our journey of giving up home and job to travel the world, I'm digging around into this seemingly banal but bottom-line question:  What is life about, after all?

And I'm learning more deeply about what it means not to do, or to have, but to be.

Writing on the patio.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

"God is at home. It is we who have gone for a walk." - Meister Eckhart

You know you're not in Australia anymore when you look up to the night sky and see the north star. Polaris can't be seen in the southern hemisphere--a fact that Dave reminded me of as we sat in our L.A. friends' backyard jacuzzi.

We're in L.A. after the sci-fi event of leaving Brisbane on Tuesday morning and--after a long, full day of travel--arriving in California on the same day.

When I checked in as "at the L.A. airport" on Facebook, people chimed in, "Welcome home!"

And I wonder:  Are we home?

When you don't have a house, where is home?

We've been living a traveling life for just over a month now. In the past when I felt a tinge of home-sickness while on the road, I could think of my house, which would grant me a sense of comfort, of grounding.  Now I must think of my inner home for that same feeling.

So perhaps I'm learning in deeper and deeper ways that home is truly inside.  It's a vast home.  It's the north star of the heart.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Musical Send-Off

If our Australia experience were a story, last night would have been the climax--you know, the scene where everything comes together. The final turning point. The emotional apex.

Just like in a novel or a film, all the key characters were in place:  Mark, his mother Gloria, our new friends Beci and Natalie, and a rich mix of music lovers and the best musicians from the Queensland Orchestra.

And oh, what a place.  A home with a crystal staircase.  A home designed by classical music lovers Avon and Helen Phillips to share their passion with others--ergo, the music room that houses Victor Borge's grand piano, and space for 90 guests, and long windows that evoke a modern church framing an expanse of trees.

The evening was billed as "Opus 6:  Soiree on Sundays at the Phillips."

For the first piece Mark, at the piano, was joined by an oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon for Mozart's "Quintet in E Flat Major."  Listening to it felt like floating in champagne bubbles.

crystal staircase (photo by Beci)

The second half of the program, with the addition of a flute, featured the French composer Francis Poulenc (1899-1963)--whose music was described for us as "half priest, half clown."  Indeed, the instrumental mix elicited delight, creepiness, and the sublime.

This mix of reverence and irreverence reflects Poulenc's life as a devout Catholic and an out gay man.  He once said, "You know that I am as sincere in my I am in my Parisian sexuality."

The audience erupted in gasps and claps at the end of the first part of the Poulenc piece. Then we fastened our seat belts for the rest of it.

Afterward we enjoyed Helen's delectable hand-made sandwiches and sweets.  The baklava was almost as ethereal as the Mozart.

Mark said this piano is ideal
for playing Schubert and Liszt.
When most people had left, Mark sat at the piano and played a spontaneous private concert for our hosts, the architect of the house and his wife, Beci and Natalie, and Dave and me.

Mark flayed open Schubert with incredible passion. I saw through blurry eyes that I wasn't the only one deeply moved.

And now the denouement--the story's resolution, or literally the "untying of the knot."  We pack our bags in the room where every morning Mark's music drifted up to us as he practiced.  We leave here with a song--and a new expanse of joy--in our hearts.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

It's People!

Love has our back!
Yes, we've seen so many amazing animals and places in almost five weeks in Australia.

But it's the connections to people that have been the richest.

We've become a family with Mark and his mother Gloria as we live under the same roof. Every morning I bring coffee to them downstairs. Then, while Dave and I do yoga or eat breakfast, Mark plays the piano.

Joy:  Living with a concert pianist.

The other morning a violinist joined him to practice for a recording session.  Dave and I were in heaven as they rehearsed Vivaldi's "Four Seasons."

Sharing meals and conversations, gazing at the fish tank together hoping the most exotic elusive fish will pop out, watching videos, taking day trips--we've been doing all the stuff that family does.

BFFs in new hats.

Last night, Dave and I gave Mark advice on what to wear for a date.  If that's not sibling behavior, I don't know what is!

Getting some dog love at an Airbnb host's house.

Adding to the family vibe has been this:  staying in others' homes (via Airbnb) for our trips to Noosa and Byron Bay.

Dinner with new friends:  Susan and Andy in Noosa.
Also, we've had a blast hanging out with new people we've met through our gracious friends who are following our travels.  With the internet, this is no longer a "Six Degrees of Separation" world; it's more like one or two degrees.

With a little help from our new friends, we've seen the wonders of Noosa, Brisbane, Byron Bay, and the wacky city of Nimbin.

With Beci and Natalie at Byron Bay Lighthouse,
the Eastern-most point of Australia.
It's inevitable that we will get close to people on this journey, and then part.  But as Maya Angelou said, "Why spend precious hours fearing the inevitable?  It would be wise to use that time adoring our families, cherishing our friends, and living our lives."