Biopsies and Prescience: Cutting Cancer

What is it about September and cancer diagnosis for me?

I got a breast cancer diagnosis in September 2011 – and this September it’s skin cancer.

A couple of weeks ago, my dermatologist and his assistant both said the place above my elbow was a basal cell carcinoma.

The tech scraped it out and sent it off for biopsy.

I didn’t worry too much about having basal cell carcinoma, because cancer ON my body is way better than cancer IN it.

The dermatologist’s message a few days later about the biopsy was a surprise, though.

He said it was a squamous cell carcinoma, and I’ll need to go back so he can cut it off and sew it up.

That was not the message I expected! I thought it was already taken care of. Done.

Instead, though, I have to go back and have more cutting.

But, once again, cancer ON my body is better than cancer IN it. Even if it’s a notch worse skin cancer (squamous rather than basal) than the doc and tech thought.

That’s why we have biopsies and send them off to be checked under a microscope. Because eyeballing isn’t always accurate.

I’m set for the cutting in a couple of weeks.

Cutting out cancer.

Interestingly, back in May I did an exercise from The Artist’s Rule: nurturing your creative soul with monastic wisdom by Christine Valters Painter. An exercise in which I cut out pictures and words from magazines, images and words that either drew me to them or made me feel some fear. I put these images and words on three cards and randomly taped three questions to the scrambled, face-down cards, questions I’d already written out.

This was one of the three cards which randomly matched my question with my images and words. With this question: What is my path?


The “cutting cancer” caused my chest to tighten with some fear, so I chose it.

And I realized a few days ago, when I was writing an email about the skin cancer diagnosis and the dermatologist’s saying he’d cut it out – I realized I’d chosen words very similar to that a few months ago.

I’d been wondering what that meant, hoping it didn’t mean more cancer.

But it did.

But NOT big cancer like breast cancer.

“Just” cancer on my skin.

I feel a bit of fear, but not a lot. I’m more concerned with the pain that comes with cutting skin and stitching it up. And then healing the wound.

But, hey, I made it through two rounds of chemo, a lumpectomy and node-removal, plus radiation. So a little skin surgery should be a piece of cake in comparison. Right?

I’m grateful that this cancerous place can be cut off. And that biopsies are more accurate than visual diagnoses.

My sister and some friends have had squamous places cut off and have done fine. So my fears are assuaged quite a bit.

But I do wonder at how I sensed my future.

How did I know this cancer cutting was coming? And to choose those words? And actually have a magazine with those words in it?

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, 
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. 
– Hamlet (1.5.167-8), Hamlet to Horatio

And I also wonder why the chick wasn’t a kitten or three . . .  because there are three kittens on my porch right now!

Maybe there’s a part of us out ahead, in the future, exploring a path?

I don’t know.

But I’m fascinated when prescience slips in.

And I’m enjoying the kittens in the Now.



Do I really ever have either of those?

It’s all about the Now, isn’t it?

The Now. . .  and kittens.


I’ve Changed! (from a dog person who loved teenagers to a cat person who prefers younger kids)

Concord, Massachusetts 067

Pool of water in Concord, Massachusetts, seven years ago

When I was a kid, I thought that once you got to be an adult you became the person you’d be the rest of your life, no matter how long you lived.

And what I’ve discovered is that I couldn’t have been MORE wrong!

I wrote in this blog back in the spring that I felt I was completing a seven-year cycle, one of failure and fear. I’d experienced two business failures (from a personal perspective) and a cancer journey – situations that tested me and helped (or forced!) me to grow.

And just lately I’ve realized that if you took some ordinary ways of self-identification and applied them to who I was and who I am, you’d see a big change, a transformation.

I was a person who totally identified herself as a high school teacher – because she loved teenagers – and a dog person.

And now I am someone who doesn’t enjoy teenagers in groups (one or two at a time are okay) but who prefers younger, pre-teen kids – and who now is a cat person.

When I look at myself now compared with myself several years ago, I see a new person in many ways.

And that can be disconcerting.

You see, I thought that who I was was pretty stable.

Labor Day 09 Savannah, Salzburgers, Biltmore 113

The former me, dog- and teenager- loving person


The current me, cat- and young-kid loving person

But what I’ve found is that who I am is fluid. That life events can change me, that aging can change me, that many elements around and within can change me.

I don’t know that I was prepared for this.

Because I wonder . . . who am I if I’m not who I was?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I had to take a break after writing the above.

Because I had no answer.

I mowed the front yard, walking and sometimes pushing uphill behind my self-propelled mower. And I thought about being a dog or cat person, a person who loves teenagers or younger kids.

And I realized that it has to do with caring about what others think, about trying please people.

Dogs love you and want you to like them. Cats don’t care most of the time whether you like them or not.

Teenagers want you to like them. They want to belong. Even if they act in the opposite way – that’s the root: “Love me. Let me be a part of your group.”

Younger kids don’t care about that as much. They have more innocence and wonder. They figure you might like them no matter what. And they like you.

I’m becoming more like a cat.

And more like a kid.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I’ve not written in the past month because I’ve been pondering the Who am I? question.

And I’ve come upon the four-year anniversary of my breast cancer diagnosis. And I have a six-month checkup with my surgeon on Tuesday. And tomorrow I see a dermatologist about a possible cancerous spot on my arm.

Thinking about cancer and illness and death provoke anxiety in me. And questions about who I am. And who I am meant to be.

Answers I don’t have right now.

But I do have gratitude for the cool, fallish weather of the past two days. And for the fact that now I have the energy to mow my yard. And that I have so many people who are praying for me and sending good vibes for my doc visits.

I may not know who I am now, but I do know that I love the fallish weather – and my friends and family and cats and young kids.

And for right now, this moment, that is enough.

Because who knows what tomorrow will bring?

But right now, I’m pretty happy, pretty grateful.

And I’m a cat person. Who loves kids, even middle-schoolers!

And who knows that whatever tomorrow brings, I’ll ultimately be okay.

To be continued. . . . .


My sweet dog Emily, who died in 2009


The latest stray cat who adopted me and who had LITTER #2 – this one in Emily’s old dog house – a couple of weeks ago!


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.


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?

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.”



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!


IMG_8665 IMG_8630



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.


Ringing the bells at Jerusalem Lutheran Church


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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 “The Golden Rule”


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

Rockwell's studio

Rockwell’s studio

IMG_8391IMG_8390IMG_8392IMG_8396Leyendecker coversIMG_8379 IMG_8377 IMG_8378 IMG_8381