I Want a “Future” Anchor

imagesI realized this week that want an anchor in the future.

“Want” as in need. And also as in lack.

What I want is a date set out there somewhere in the next week or weeks on my calendar. A date indicating something I’m to do in a place where I’ll be. At a meeting or an appointment, at a lunch or a dinner.

Some event, some time, some place that is concrete showing me how my time will be spent.

Without that, I feel unmoored, untethered.

I realized that if I’m not looking forward to something, I get anxious.

Because I’m supposed to be doing something specifically productive.

Right?

Because if I don’t have a plan, some specific action to be pursuing . . . SOON . . . then what’s my reason for being?

I’ve been struggling with this feeling for quite a while now.

When I was teaching high school, my schedule was very predictable. I got so used to that predictability and structure that I thought those rigid ways of measuring time were “normal.”

And when I quit teaching (as well as during the summers while I was teaching), I loved the flexibility I had.

Those open days felt magical.

I could do just about anything I wanted to do! How liberating!

I enjoyed that for a while. And then my ingrained need for structure kicked in.

I started feeling anxious if I didn’t have some scheduled time, something beyond my weekly centering prayer group or tai ji class.

What’s that about??

How can open-ended time be a bad thing, something that causes me to worry, to be anxious?

Even though I truly believe that the only time I have is NOW, I don’t yet live in that belief.

I realize that I use my calendar to anchor me to a sense of time, of future, of assurance that I am existing right now.

I use some anticipated future event as an anchor so that I don’t feel I’m floating untethered in the NOW.

So just how can I get comfortable with the sense of only Nowness?

No binding to the past, no mooring to the future?

Just NOW.

Only NOW.

Joyful NOW.

Sheer freedom NOW to choose my direction, my path.

Why does that make me anxious – and not exhilarated?

I’m not sure.

But I’m curious. I want to explore this feeling. I am exploring this feeling, this anxiety created by no set future (as if ANY future is set!).

And I want to see if I can change, if I can become comfortable with being unmoored, unanchored

With a future as wide open as the sky

Sky above the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountain National Park (from Sprague Lake)

Sky above the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountain National Park (from Sprague Lake)

All I have to say is Donald Trump, right?

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Every headline lately seems to mention Donald Trump. Merely typing his name seems to assure you’ll get readership.

So Donald Trump.

But I bet you know I can’t stop at that.

Because I wonder why he is resonating with us so much right now?

People have such varying responses to him and what he says and seems to stand for. I know there’s real living, breathing man with the same emotions that you and I experience – fear and anxiety and love and sadness and excitement and joy . . .  the whole gamut – underneath the façade we see on television.

But no one really cares about the real man, now, do we?

We want to see what we want to see.

And what we’re seeing in him tells us more about ourselves than about him.

I think he’s playing the Jungian Shadow figure for us. If we don’t like him, he’s showing us the part of ourselves we don’t want to acknowledge.

If we do like him, he’s playing the part of ourselves we wish were stronger, more assertive, more powerful, less restrained.

Or maybe he’s the Trickster, the one who’s turning everything upside for us, showing us the absurdity of our time and our society and our own individual lives.

For years now I’ve wondered if Donald Trump were for real. I’ve thought that he is just playing a role, one that gets him lots of attention. Attention that, for him, translates into a lot of money.

I feel P.T. Barnum in him. You know, someone who knows there’s a sucker born every minute. I feel sure Trump is reveling in the attention and commotion of these past few days.

But what does all of this attention say about us? 

About me?

What part of me would like to insult anyone who challenges me, anyone who asks me to look deeper, to have more substance, to quit complaining about my problems but actually to implement changes to address them? What part of me would like to dismiss a questioner as a bimbo – so that I don’t have to do the hard work of coming up with a substantive answer?

I hate to admit it, but there is that part of me.

I keep her hidden most of the time, but sometimes she peeks out in my psyche and makes me feel like a little, powerless kid. And sometimes she actually talks before I can stuff her back down again!

What part of me loves attention, loves to be admired, loves getting special treatment, loves being flattered, loves the idea of being rich, of having so much money that people kowtow to me?

Yeah, that person is in me, too.

I tell her humility is better. But she doesn’t always believe me.

What part of me is judgmental and dismissive, likes to feel superior, especially intellectually superior or superior in achievement, likes to feel I’m better than or have done more than someone else?

Yep, she’s in there, too.

I’ve been less successful in keeping her under wraps. But she’s at the top of my list to transform.

I see a lot of Donald Trump’s negative qualities in me – if I’m honest with myself.

I’m also aware that each of these “bad” qualities has the other side, the positive one.

I know I can be challenged and can defend myself appropriately, not be cowed by a direct, aggressive question. And I know that if the challenge is accurate, I can take a deep look at myself and decide what I need to change . . .  and actually start changing.

I know I can seek positive attention – and I can allow myself to enjoy it when I deservedly receive it.

I know I can work on being less judgmental. Heck, I’m currently working on it – every single day.

Why every day? Because that’s how often I catch myself judging. Every day. Many times a day. I get lots of opportunity there.

You can see that right here. I want to judge Donald Trump.

But I also realize that in judging him, I judge myself.

So I suppose I owe him some thanks. Him, along with all of the presidential candidates.

In my reactions to them, I get glimpses of myself, both my positive and negative qualities.

That’s partially why I’m enjoying this election season so much.

I’m learning a lot about myself, what I like and don’t like about myself.

What I need to change.

But that’s also the rub.

I’d rather just observe myself. But the rubber meets the road when I not only notice, not only observe. It meets the road when I decide to do something to change. When I decide to work on my negative qualities. To pay attention when they arise. And to make the effort to diminish them.

So thank you, Donald Trump.

You’re helping me on my path of self-awareness and growth.

Who would have thought that possible??

I’ll slightly modify this quote from Trump to serve as my conclusion.

“As long as you’re going to be thinking anyway, think big.”

For me, it is: “As long as I’m going to be changing anyway, change big.”

Thank you, Donald Trump. Here’s to big change!

What the stray kittens taught me

If you know much about my life the past few years, you know I’ve become a cat magnet. Cats just show up at my back door.

Sometimes they’re mama cats who bring kittens.

A mama cat showed up mid-April. I could tell that she was nursing kittens somewhere, but I never saw any evidence of them. Not for a whole month. Not until two days before I was going out of town for 10 days.

I got up that Friday, and when I looked out the back door to the porch, there was mama cat. And two gray tuxedo kittens. They were much older than the kittens the last stray cat brought a couple of years ago.

“Well, ” I thought, “At least it’s only two.”

I walked out on the porch, and to my surprise the kittens didn’t run. I thought they’d not been around any humans, but hey, maybe they had. When I walked toward them, one scampered out the cat opening in the screen door. But the other just sat and looked at me. So I bent over and picked her up.

She bit me.

So, of course, I put her right down, and she ran off the porch.

I’d been right initially. They were NOT used to people!

About an hour later, I looked out and saw a calico kitten. Okay, so not just two.

I thought, “At least there are only three.”

Thirty minutes later, I looked out and saw a white-colored flash on the porch. It escaped to the deck, and when I went out to check, yep, another kitten.

“Well,” I thought, “at least there are only four.”

Maybe.

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It turned out there were only four. A friend came and caught the calico and the white one before I left town and had them placed in families before I returned. But she couldn’t catch the gray ones – even though she tried.

They had gotten used to my porch and deck as their home. So I was the intruder when I returned from my trip. The little boogers were so quick, I knew catching them would be a challenge. I’d have to do some outwitting. And that involved letting them see me around, being nonthreatening, putting out food for them and the adult cats (of which there were five, counting their mama – all strays who showed up at my house over a period of just over two years).

The mama cat wheezed pretty badly some days, and I knew she was sick – and that likely the kittens were sick. I couldn’t get close enough to tell if they looked sick, except for when they came on the porch. Some days I didn’t see them at all. The neighbor kids next door offered their cat-wrangling help – they caught the stray kittens who showed up two years ago – but these kittens were older and savvier and eluded my neighbors’ grasp.

After a while, I noticed that one kitten had very crusty eyes and looked sick. I needed to catch them soon. I put a cat carrier on the porch and started putting tuna in it, hoping that one day I might be able to sneak out and catch the kittens in the carrier when they went in to eat.

But it turned out to be even easier than that. I think because one of the kittens was so sick with upper respiratory gunk, she didn’t hear me open the door even though she was right next to it watching one of the adult cats.

This time I was ready for her. I had my leather yard gloves handy. I slipped them on, threw open the door, and grabbed her.

She scratched and bit, but the gloves protected my hands. I plunked her in the carrier and brought her inside to my hall bathroom. The amazing thing is that she cowered in the back of the carrier instead of fighting. I reached in and brought her out, wrapped her in a towel, and held her. She settled immediately.

Her fear went from scratching and clawing and biting for all she was worth – to quietly cowering.

I held her for a while that night before putting her back in the carrier with a towel for the night. The next morning, I took her out and held her. She was very sweet. And very sick.

So off to the vet we went.

IMG_8623I came back with antibiotic eye salve and oral liquid, enough for both kittens (yeah, I still had the other one to catch, and odds were that he was sick, too). Eye salve administration was three times a day, oral liquid every 12 hours. She didn’t much care for the liquid and tried to push me away with her little paws, but she didn’t mind the eye salve. Her congestion was terrible. She’d stretch her head way up. My guess was that her throat was pretty sore.

A couple of days later, I caught her brother. He’d been the most skittish one of the litter. Somehow I managed to trap him on the porch. I covered his escape route with a box, and when he made a dash for it, he was confused just long enough for me to grab him (with my leather gloves) and plunk him into the carrier as he scratched and clawed (he wasn’t a biter).

I went through the same process as with his sister to begin socialization, and the next morning I started him on the antibiotic regimen.

I’d hold each of them at least three times during the day and evening. The boy was typically squirmier, but sometimes he’d relax and fall asleep in my lap. He got well faster because he was less sick. It took the little girl about 10 days.

IMG_8672I kept posting photos on Facebook, trying to find a home for them. They were such good buddies, I was hoping someone would take them both. I thought they should be together.

And, eventually, someone did take them both.

But before they left, they had taught me some lessons.

They taught me that things that seem scary – things that I might scratch and claw to avoid – can actually be good for me. Those things might actually involve healing and more security and even love – maybe not my mama’s love, but love nonetheless.

They taught me that gentleness is important. Power can be good, but gentleness often works much better.

They taught me that great change can happen in just two or three weeks. That what I know can shift by 180 degrees overnight, and that I can adjust.

They taught me that exploration can be messy. That overturned garbage cans, askew blinds, toppled stacks of papers can be fun.

But I guess most of all they taught me that my typical nature, one that’s not particularly nurturing, can be modified by a couple of kittens.

They weaseled their way into my heart for a few weeks, and they taught me some lessons about gentleness and love.

And then they moved on to spread their love in a new home.

I’m glad for the kitten lessons. They taught me some things I needed to consider, that I need to bring into my life now.

But I’m hoping these are the last kittens and kitten lessons . . . at least for a while!

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Follow the markers

Too often I try to figure everything out, to anticipate all of the possibilities.

And too often those possibilities seem negative. I think of all the things that could go wrong. All of the things that could be bad. All of the things I don’t want.

And I focus on scarcity instead of abundance. I worry that there won’t be enough. That there isn’t enough to go around.

So I’m trying an experiment.

I’m making a concerted effort not to look too far ahead. To look only at my next step or the next – and not try to look too far down the path or around the bend.

And I’m making a concerted effort to think positively, with my heart open. To do what I feel called to do, what makes me feel the most alive. Not to search out negatives and dwell on them. Not to worry about scarcity.

But instead to envision what positive results could manifest if I pay attention and follow where I’m led.

To trust that I live in an abundant universe. That we all do. That there is enough for me. For you. For everyone.

Yes, I have a specific project in mind. I’m following the markers for it. (I’ll share more in detail later as it takes shape).

I’m finding that if I don’t try to plan too much but still am active and involved, markers do indeed appear.

I received two or three pretty significant markers in the past couple of weeks. . . some validation that I can trust following them.

Yet even with validation, I find it’s hard to let go of trying to control, to let go of worrying, to let go of negativity, to let go of a scarcity mentality.

But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean I can’t do it. I just have to be aware, to notice when I feel and think negatively, when I start worrying and trying to control, when I’m afraid that there’s not enough to go around.

To notice when my heart space starts closing.

And to choose opening instead.

And to choose to trust in abundance. . . thirtyfold, sixtyfold, even one hundredfold abundance!

I choose to follow the markers today. And tomorrow. And the next day.

And to trust where they lead.

And I bet the markers are forming a path. . .

And I bet the markers are forming a path. . .

What’s Important: Some of What I’ve Learned from My Father

Humility and service and dependability and respect. Some of the qualities my father taught me – taught not with words but in daily life lived.

I like to use Father’s and Mother’s Day to reflect on my parents’ lives. To think about what I learned from them, to appreciate the foundation they laid for me and the support they offered through my entire life.

In looking through a picture album that spanned part of Daddy’s 50s and 60s, I saw a man who didn’t seek the spotlight, who in most photos was quietly enjoying the activity that was going on in the center of the photo. Seldom was he a part of the “center.”

But the qualities he lived were certainly essential, important, center ones.

He didn’t live a flashy or unusual life. It was mostly centered around Ebenezer Crossroads and Effingham County, Georgia, branching out into Chatham County, which is where he went to his job at a big paper mill. He wasn’t an office worker or foreman there. He was a machinist. A basic blue collar job. The kind of job that most of my friends’ fathers had.

His leisure activities were centered around sports and fishing and community activities – with a little travel thrown in after he retired.

Daddy loved sports and passed that along to me. One set of memories to do with sports is of when I was a kid. In warm weather he’d get home from work and change clothes and spend time with me in the back yard hitting fly balls for me to shag.

Caught a big bass

Caught a big bass

And he loved to fish. He spent many an early Saturday morning at “the seas” (*) fishing in a jon boat. I think that was his weekly meditation time. The brown reflective cypress lake, the plunk of the hook and bait and bobber, the smoothness of the worn paddle, all surrounded with an occasional bird call – that was one of his sanctuaries.

His other sanctuary was a literal one, Jerusalem Lutheran Church, the church of his parents and their parents and their parents and their parents. . . . for generations, stretching back into the mid to early 1700s.

He always felt that if the church doors were open, he was supposed to be there.

And he usually was.

He was the church treasurer for years. He was on the council many times, sang in the choir for years, and was the bell ringer for 35 years.

Ringing the bells was a Seckinger job. He took over from his brother when his brother died, and his brother had taken over from their father when he died.

Both his brother and father died early deaths, at ages 45 and 55. Daddy thought he’d follow in their footsteps in early death, too, but he lived to be 73, and it wasn’t a heart attack that got him as it had gotten his brother and father. It was a car wreck. His heart wasn’t what let him down – even though he was afraid that it might.

And I guess it’s pretty appropriate that it didn’t.

Although he was not one to be demonstrative with love, he did love deeply, dependably, respectfully, with much of it shown through acts of service. For family, for friends, for church, for community.

But mostly for his God.

He wasn’t one to preach, but he believed that we’re all equal, that we are all deserving of respect, that we all are worthy of service – no matter who we are, how we think, how we vote, what color our skin is, how much money we have.

None of those mattered. Because the God that my daddy loved and served was one of love.

Love pure and simple.

Daddy took “God is love” literally.

In my whole life so far, I’ve not learned any lesson that is more important than that one.

That lesson is at the center of who I am.

So on this Father’s Day, I say, Thank you, Daddy. For what you taught me through your life, your qualities, your service, your love.

I miss you.

(*) Our extended family property that we call “the seas” is the only example of a word that I think comes from German, the language our Seckinger ancestors spoke. The German word for lake is “see.” I believe it got switched to “sea” somehow through the years because the English word sea was somewhat connected. Our “seas” are two lakes.

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Ringing the bells at Jerusalem Lutheran Church

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Feeling Failure

Just what is failure?

I suppose that for each one of us, it can have a different meaning.

For me, it’s a feeling of not measuring up. To society’s standards. To my own standards.

When I think of the word “fail,” I think of going to school. To fail a test or a class meant you didn’t meet the standard.

My biggest fear as a student was of an F.

Because F = Failure.

When I was writing last week, that Failure of the past seven years sometimes felt a lot like an F.

So just what standard did I fail to meet these past seven years?

The main standard at which I feel I failed was the one that tells me that to be successful, I must have a job that produces money.

That to be a worthy member of society, I have to produce income.

These past seven years have made me question that assumption. Does everyone I consider a worthwhile person make money?

The answer is definitely NO.

I know plenty of stay-at-home moms and dads who don’t produce monetary income – but who are some of the most worthwhile, productive members of society I know.

I have friends who don’t have to work, either because they’re retired or because they have enough wealth to support them. Are they “worthless”? Absolutely not.

So where did I get this idea that to be worthwhile, I have to produce money?

Did it come from my family, from my community? From our society at large? From being born a human?

Where did this whole equation of Income Production = Success come from?

I think it comes from the other word I felt so much this past seven years.

FEAR.

I realized that in MY mind, income production means I’ll be safe, protected. That I won’t have to worry. That life will be easy.

That if I’m working in a job, I’ll be valued. And valued people are taken care of. That bad things don’t happen to valued people.

Even though I know better than that, know differently than that, there’s a basic assumption that I seem to have been born with. That being productive, making money, makes you invulnerable.

And, in these past seven years, I’ve had to realize that that kind of thinking IS A LIE!

Nothing makes me invulnerable.

Not money. Not success. Not faith.

Being alive in this human form means I’m vulnerable.

Sometimes that scares me senseless.

But sometimes. . . . sometimes, when the light is just right, when it’s quiet and empty, when I can release a tiny bit of the tension in my body. . . I realize that my very vulnerability is precious.

That vulnerability is the only thing that can break through the barriers I’ve spent 56 years erecting. That the crack, the F, the Failure, is the very thing that I need – to be fully human, to live fully in this murky, muddy, magical world.

Who’d a thunk it?

That just what I needed was failure??

But there you have it. My F these past seven years has meant much more than any A or gold star or trophy I received in all of the years before that.

Because all of the “successes” didn’t do one thing to help break open the armor I put around my heart.

Only failures have done that.

Failure. Fear. Vulnerability.

My greatest teachers.

My greatest heart openers.

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Early spring wildflowers

A 7 Year Cycle: Failure and Fear

About three months ago, I got the feeling I was completing a cycle.

That something is finishing within me, that something is shifting, that I’m about to emerge into something new.

I realized that it was seven years ago that I quit teaching and embarked on a new life. I also realized that I’ve read about seven-year cycles, that some say seven-year cycles run throughout our lives.

When I did the math, it matched up. I completed my seventh seven-year cycle during the middle of my last year as a high school classroom teacher and had already made the decision to leave teaching. I turned 49 and was beginning a new way of thinking and of seeing the world.

Now, seven years later, I’m 56 – completing one cycle and beginning a new one.

For these three months after my realization, I’ve been pondering the theme of these last seven years.

What has been the predominate pattern I’ve experienced?

What came to me was that these past seven years have brought me a lot of failure and fear.

When you read the words “failure” and “fear,” don’t assume that I’ve hated these past seven years or haven’t found them fruitful.

Because they’ve been the seven years of the most soul growth of my entire life. I’ve said in this blog before that I’ve learned more in the last few years than the rest of my life put together.

What I’ve realized is that I don’t experience a lot of soul growth if things are rocking along smoothly.

If I’m not pushed into new areas, I can become complacent, passive, satisfied (in the worst sense of the word) – and I lose my appreciation for the gifts that this life offers.

This past seven-year cycle has pushed me in ways that I never would have chosen – but in ways that have forced me to evaluate myself with a critical eye, to see where my weaknesses are, to see where I must grow if I’m to become the soul I’m meant to become, to become the person I was born to be.

And to do that, I needed to experience failure and some pretty severe fear.

I had to fall.

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A breast cancer diagnosis and a three-pronged treatment journey (of chemo, surgery, radiation) were a part of it. That brought me a lot of the fear. I had to confront my fear of illness and dependency on others – and my fear of death.

And along with the fear that cancer brought me, there was also failure.

It seems that nothing I’ve tried professionally has worked during these past seven years. I’ve tried two businesses with partners, and neither one worked out for me. I’ve tried different ways to make money – and have been an abject failure in each.

These have been hard lessons, particularly hard because in the first part of my life I had many successes. I did well in high school, graduating third in my class. I was selected to play on the first state all star girls basketball team.

I did well in college. I graduated magna cum laude. I applied to one law school – and got in.

And when I was miserable practicing law, I switched to teaching, where (in the first 20 years) I was happy and successful. In my first year as an assistant basketball coach, our team won the state championship. And in my second year as head softball coach, our team won the state championship. And our softball teams won two more state championships.

Yes, I had a good work ethic, but success just seemed to fall into my lap.

And when I decided to quit teaching, I really thought that good things would come to me. After all, they always had.

But that’s not what happened.

I tried a project in education. Nothing lined up. I tried starting a business with a friend. It didn’t go very well.

And then I got a breast cancer diagnosis.

Through all of these difficulties,  I had to take a hard look at myself, to see where I was flawed, to feel fears that I’d run from or avoided by being busy, by being in a steady job which provided money and security.

I thought I’d made progress after the first failures and the cancer journey, but then I took a job that didn’t align with my soul. It didn’t go well, and I had to quit.

For seven years I’ve tried this and that, here and there. And have failed every time. Nothing worked out the way I hoped.

I kept thinking something would shift. I clung to the hope that something would shift. I tried to make something shift.

Something on the outside.

But the shift needed to happen on the inside.

And the only way that would happen was for me to experience failure, to have to face some of my fears.

And that’s just what I’ve been doing for these past seven years.

What have I learned?

Well, I cling less now to the hope that something will magically shift, that there is some future time when all will be perfect.

I know I won’t always be “successful.” I now see success in very different ways.

I know I can get by on – even be happy with – a lot less.

I no longer hope for a charmed life – because it’s hardship that has broken me open, gotten me in touch with my heart, helped me see my flaws and try to change them, to lessen them, to become a better person.

I’ve had to grow up. To choose maturity over childishness, growth over avoidance, open-heartedness over security.

Fear and failure have pushed me into the soul expansion I needed.

Expansion I’d never have chosen if my life had continued to rock along with a steady income and good health.

Life’s ironic like that.

What you most fear can be what brings the biggest gifts.

So this cycle of failure and fear, am I glad it’s ending?

Yes.

But I don’t expect the next cycle to be rainbows and unicorns. It might be, but I don’t expect that.

I do expect opportunity for growth, to continue on the path toward wholeness.

And I have a feeling I’m going to find my way to a new incarnation.

One that has less fear, one that embraces vulnerability, one that is happier with each day’s gifts whatever they may be.

As I pass from one cycle to the next, I know that the path will be revealed little by little.

I’m more comfortable with not being able to see around the bend.

Because the view now, today, in this moment, can be pretty wonder-ful.

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A Sister Trip around NY, Mass, and NH: First, Mountains

Not every one gets to take slow and scenic trips with her sister.

But I do!

Our latest trip began in Pennsylvania and went to Poughkeepsie, New York, up and over to Stockbridge, Massachusetts and then further over to my sister’s home in New Hampshire. We took two days to travel as the spirit moved us.

We met up at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Pennsylvania airport. I drove there, and she flew there. We headed up I-81 to I-84 through the Poconos to the Hudson River and drove up to Poughkeepsie, New York.

Why Poughkeepsie? Well, I wanted to see Valkill, the Eleanor Roosevelt house I’d missed seeing five or six years ago because it wasn’t open for the season yet. And Poughkeepsie is just down the road from Hyde Park. BUT, long story short, Valkill changed its schedule and wasn’t open on the days we were there.

Chef Crossing at the CIA

Chef Crossing at the CIA

However, there’s plenty to see and do in that area, and we’d made reservations at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. We had dinner at the CIA in the American restaurant (they have three: American, Italian, and French). We both chose the prix fixe menu, a special one in honor of the last episode of Man Men, a three-course meal with a 1960s theme. Our meals were  both excellent. I highly recommend a trip to the CIA for a meal prepared by the students. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Karla on the Walkway Over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie

Karla on the Walkway

The next day we went to the pedestrian bridge that is a former railroad bridge over the Hudson River in Poughkeepsie. The Walkway Over the Hudson gave us a little exercise and a great view of the Hudson River and the surrounding area on a crisp, windy day.

From there we drove up to Hyde Park. I’d been to the Roosevelt house and presidential library and the Vanderbilt Mansion on my last trip, and since we didn’t have a lot of time we chose to stop only at the graveyard where several of the Roosevelts are buried behind the Episcopal church. It’s a pretty little cemetery with some significant and interesting graves.

IMG_8349From Hyde Park, we headed north along the Hudson to Rhinebeck. I’d read that it’s a pretty town, and it really is. We had a nice late lunch of rustic pizza there and got back on the road. We meandered over to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, a small town in the Berkshires, for the evening. We stayed at the Stevens House of the Red Lion Inn. The main building dates back to 1773, but we were in a “newer” building, which is itself an older house. We walked to the Lion’s Den in the main building for a pub dinner in a unique undergroundish setting.

The next morning we walked to the Elm Street Market and sat at the counter for a diner breakfast. A couple of locals were perched on their stools in what seemed to be their regular spots, so I made sure to say “y’all” a few times and engage the reticent cook in a little conversation. Very little :) He wasn’t so crazy about tourists.

Karla get a pic of the studio

Karla gets a pic of the studio

The Norman Rockwell Museum was our next destination. It’s just outside Stockbridge in the country. It’s not a big museum, but it’s really interesting and has a good assortment of Rockwell’s paintings and copies of all of the Saturday Evening Post covers. We heard a gallery talk and enjoyed the Rockwells as well as the Leyendecker exhibit. And we took a walk out to the Rockwell studio, which had been moved to the museum grounds from downtown Stockbridge where Rockwell worked through much of his career.

We also tried to visit Naumkeag, an estate with gardens, but it wasn’t open for the season quite yet. And it turns out that Chesterwood, the country home, studio, and gardens of Daniel Chester French, is just outside Stockbridge, too, but I decided I didn’t really have the energy to enjoy it as I’d like, so we left that for another trip. Instead we drove into Lenox for lunch. Lenox is the summer home of the Boston Pops and is a nice little Massachusetts town. Edith’s Warton’s country home, The Mount, is nearby, but since we’d been there years ago and still had a couple-hour drive to my sister’s house in New Hampshire, we got on the road and left Western Mass and the Berkshires.

That was the end of our motel and driving time. Our next excursions were day trips. And I’ll tell about those in my next post.

Hallway at the CIA

Hallway at the CIA

Rockwell's

Rockwell’s “The Golden Rule”

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This is the Four Freedoms series. Freedom from Want, Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech, Freedom from Fear

Rockwell's studio

Rockwell’s studio

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5 Appreciations I Have for My Mother (I Wish I’d told her)

Why is it that it’s not until after your parents have died that you have some realizations about them? Then it’s too late to tell them thank you.

These five appreciations about my mother only came to me years after she crossed over.

I never told her.

Some are daily kinds of things. Others go deeper.

Today, on Mother’s Day, I’m hoping that maybe somehow that energy of appreciation can still reach the other side . . .

1. I appreciate the good meals Mama prepared for our family.

I have a hard enough time feeding myself, and feeding a family of four was much, much harder. Many days I can’t figure out what I want to eat. And it’s just me to feed! Not four people with different tastes. Somehow Mama figured out how to have a protein, rice or potatoes, and at least one green or yellow vegetable at supper each evening. And typically more for Sunday dinner.

Most days, I don’t enjoy cooking. I know Mama didn’t, either. But she still did. For us.

2. I appreciate that she treated people equally.

I realize now that my mother was careful to teach my sister and me that we were no better than anyone. I think that’s partially why when people had car trouble at the intersection where we grew up they came to our house for help. The people who knew us knew that Mama wasn’t going to look down on them – whoever they were, wherever they were from. They were going to get the help they needed, whether it was using the phone or getting gas or help changing a tire.

3. I appreciate that she enjoyed helping people.

This one ties in with the previous one. People came to our house for help because Mama liked helping them. And she knew how to do all kinds of things, from working on cars to tending a fire to repairing just about anything. Plus, she was always well-supplied. Gas, ropes, duct tape, wrenches, you name it. She had them all handy – and knew how to use them. Daddy knew how to use them, too, but she’s the one who made sure there were all kinds of tools and equipment handy. That mattered more to her than it did to Daddy.

4. I appreciate that she could fix most anything.

And this one is connected, too. She understood cars, and she and Daddy kept our cars running well. She could repair all kinds of small appliances. She could fix nearly anything around the house. She was also good at refinishing furniture.

She knew how to take care of almost any kind of wound, too. We’d teasingly call her “Dr. Seckinger” because she had strong opinions about taking care of physical ailments. The bathroom cabinet was full of tinctures and lotions and salves and gauzes and tape. She tended to many a cut or scrape or sprain.

5. I appreciate that she taught my sister and me to be independent.

That was one appreciation that was brought to me right after her death. Several people at the funeral home mentioned that she was “independent.” I hadn’t realized that independence was unusual. But when I thought about a woman born in 1927 and the usual role she had to play, well, yes, my mama didn’t fit that. She definitely thought her own way and lived her life her own way. She never waited on a man to take care of things. She knew she could do just about anything. And she taught my sister and me to think and live that same way.

I wish I’d thought of thanking my mama for these specifics while she was alive.

I hope that maybe I did in a roundabout way. Sometimes things get conveyed underneath the surface of words. I hope I let that conveyance take place.

Maybe she already knew – even if I didn’t say the words.

When love is deep, a lot can be communicated without words. Maybe she could feel my appreciation. Even if I wasn’t directly aware that I had it. Even if I didn’t know to say it.

I hope so.

And maybe, just maybe, she can feel it now.

Mama, you were such a blessing to me. Thank you. I appreciate all you did for me. I didn’t have the words then, but here they are now.

Happy Mother’s Day with much love.

And appreciation.

And boy, could she pack a trunk! (A Robinson talent).

And boy, could she pack a trunk! (A Robinson talent).

She liked animals a lot. Even old goats.

She liked animals a lot. Even old goats.

An Upcoming “Birth”day: Three Years After Cancer Treatments

April 24th is a kind of birthday for me.

It’s the day I completed breast cancer treatments.

And fittingly, this year’s local Relay for Life is on April 25th.

So I’m looking at this year’s Relay event as a “birthday” celebration of my third year as a cancer-free person.

But I’m not only feeling celebration . . . because cancer is swirling all around me. I have friends for whom cancer has recurred. I have friends who are nursing family members through cancer. I have friends who have had family members die from cancer. I see Facebook posts and news articles about people who are diagnosed with cancer – seemingly every day.

Cancer, cancer everywhere. Or at least that’s what I’m seeing and feeling now.

Heck, our centering prayer group reading even mentioned cancer last week!

And I have to admit that seeing and reading about cancer lately scares me. I wonder if cancer will return in my body.

I guess all cancer survivors worry about this. This past week I’ve had acute awareness of that potential. Nearly every ache and pain makes me wonder . . . is this a sign that cancer has returned?

My deep feeling is that it won’t return.

But what if I’m wrong?

That’s where my centering prayer practice provides me a foundation, one of being present with what is. Because right now I feel healthy. I feel stronger than since before cancer. I feel I’m on a good path, even though I’m currently jobless and not sure of my future.

But, honestly, who is ever sure of her future?

None of us is. Anything could happen tomorrow or in the next hour or in the next minute.

So all we really have is this moment.

I’m going to appreciate it. This moment. Right now.

With my coming “birthday,” I’m looking at the energy I’m feeling now as well as reflecting on my cancer journey in the past.

My initial Relay for Life goal

My initial Relay for Life goal

I’ve been feeling some wonderful energy connected with this year’s Relay for Life. I set a goal of raising $1,000 and posted a photo on Facebook. Within 48 hours, my Facebook friends had me over half way there, and within four days they had me over my goal.

A big “thank you!” to my very generous friends who donated to the cause of helping cancer patients and helping fund research to find a cure for this terrible disease. I’ve increased my goal, and friends continue to donate.

I’m feeling the love!

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. . . and again!!

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. . . and again. . .

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. . . again. . .

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Thank you to Relay for Life donors. . .

My look back at my cancer journey has me feeling the love, too.

Because, you see, I was surrounded by love the entire time.

Friends and family and even strangers were so loving and generous with me. They prayed for me and sent good vibes. They took me to doctor appointments and took notes for me. They brought food. They gave me blankets and clothing and hats and scarves and art. They sent cards, encouraged me on Facebook, wore scarves in solidarity, mowed my yard, raked leaves, took me to treatments, met me at treatments, visited, emailed, and texted. They sent packages with blankets and sweet grass from Montana and gift cards and more.

Some restaurant owners treated me to meals. Friends and strangers knitted, felted, and crocheted hats and blankets and prayer shawls for me. Friends and family took me out to eat. They shopped for me, had picnics for me, sent anonymous gifts to me, cut my hair (and shaved it) for me, gifted me with acupuncture sessions. One even got a squirrel out of my ductwork for me.

Another called to check on me every day.

And my sister was with me with my first (port) surgery and back for the last of the first round of chemo and back again for my lumpectomy and back again for my last chemo. She came a lot! And she checked in every day via phone or email.

There were so many loving gestures of support that I’m sure I left some out. But know that I deeply appreciated – do appreciate – them, even if I can’t remember them all at this moment.

As tough as that cancer journey was, it showed me how much love and generosity is a part of human nature. How kind people are. How willing to help.

And as I celebrate this “birthday,” I’m asking my family and friends to join with me – in prayer and thanksgiving, and perhaps in a donation to my Relay for Life efforts. Because, you see, I doubled my goal. I worry that it seems pretentious to think I could raise $2,000. But then I think of the cause – helping those with cancer and helping find a cure – so I think, “Why not? Why not try to raise as much money as I can?”

If you’d like to donate, to help me celebrate by helping others on this difficult journey, click here.

And thank you to those who have already donated – to me or to another Relay for Life team or another beat-cancer organization.

I’ll end this post with a photographic walk through my cancer journey – from September 2011, when I was diagnosed, to April 24, 2012, when I had my last radiation treatment, and three days later at Relay for Life. You just might see yourself or a gift you gave me.

It’s with gratitude that I celebrate this April. I don’t know my future, and I feel for those currently on a cancer journey.

But now, in this moment, I say thank you, deeply, to all of those who helped me in my journey and who remain friends now.

You make me feel loved.

And I love you all right back!

Because that’s what it’s all about.

Giving and receiving love. All the rest is details.

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My sister joined me in a special meal just before I began treatments. She came down from New England several times to take care of me. Nothing better than a loving, caring sister!

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My friend Claire painted a silk scarf for me

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Getting my head shaved since my hair was about to fall out from chemo effects

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Angie shaving my head

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Almost done. . .

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Bald!

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A tough day. I was getting used to being bald and feeling rotten.

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Scarf solidarity from my centering prayer group

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Now let’s get Margaret in the pic!

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Selfie on sofa (where I spent most of my time)

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Celebrating our birthdays (and my no-cancer-in-lymph-nodes after surgery)

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Steroid voraciousness after chemo

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LAST chemo treatment

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Face rash from chemo. There are all kinds of side effects! BUT this was the LAST chemo treatment.

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Chemo was over, and I was getting out and about. Sporting my Kim-made felted hat :)

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Radiation room

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Before one of my eight seroma aspirations. Yeah, I had lots of fluid problems.

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Fuzz! Angie tried to dye it pink, but it didn’t work.

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An outing at The Pocket to see wildflowers with Susan

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A Mentone outing with Sandy, who checked on me EVERY day during my treatments!

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My first Savannah return near the end of radiation treatments. Those live oaks did my soul a world of good!

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With my high school friend Efrayim in Savannah

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Savannah selfie

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Last day of radiation, and thus of treatment. Retiring my arm and head support.

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Treatment is over! My “birthday”! With the wonderful radiation techs. And wearing the cool hat Nina brought me from South America.

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My first Relay for Life, three days after I completed treatments. With Kelly, nurse extraordinaire. She’s the captain of the Fuller Cancer Center team, the one I’m supporting in Relay for Life.