People say that every day is a gift. This is true to the extent that every day is not totally under our control. Gifts are not earned or brought into being. They are given to us.

Some gifts are not welcome and are returned.

Some gifts are not welcome but cannot be returned.

Some gifts are exactly what we wanted only to be met with disappointment.

Some gifts fill an empty spot that we never knew we had.

Gifts can accumulate over time, like links in a chain, on which we can hang memories and meaning.

Some gifts are small gems with their own light and singular beauty.

Today is my 50th birthday. I woke up and thought to myself, “I am 50”, which was accompanied by a broad smile on my face. Today is a beautiful gift, the gift of life, the gift of family, the gift of friends, and the gift of love. I have pain, sadness, anxiety, and heartache in my life. But I also have an embarrassment of riches in cherished gifts. I offer you the gift of my wishes today.

I wish you the gentle hopefulness that comes from witnessing the quiet beauty of nature.

I wish you the spark that comes with taking on a new endeavor.

I wish you the joy that comes from exuberant connection.

I wish you the contentment that comes with the habits of our daily life.

I wish you the peace that comes with the ease of suffering.

I wish you the music your heart’s desire.



As described in my last post, the first step in pottery throwing is centering the clay on the wheel. My pottery teacher says that it takes students typically four weeks just to learn how to get the clay to stick to the wheel head, to mix the clay by coning it up and down for structural integrity, and to keep it centered.

The next major step is opening up the form. First, a thumb or sponge is used to make a small opening straight down into the clay. This is much harder than it sounds or looks. For most of my pieces, this has resulted in losing center and turning my clay into a wobbly mess. I typically end up taking a wire tool and removing the clay off of the wheel. Unfortunately, the clay has to dry out for awhile and be rewedged to remove air bubbles, before being re-used.

One of the reasons that I have focused more on plate-making is that they do not have to be opened. Yesterday, I arrived at class still not having independently made a decent cylinder, a basic form. I had, however, watched a number of pottery teachers on the Internet over last weekend. What they were doing didn`t look any different than watching my instructor. A lot of pottery is learned through feel and I was just not getting it.

I came into the studio and tried throwing a plate, which ended up going off center in the last step. It was not worth trying to save so I took it off of the wheel, balled it up, and put it back into my clay bag to be used in a couple of weeks. Then I tried to throw a cylinder, which turned into a saucer sized plate. I liked the looks of it so I was not too bothered by the fact that the clay had a mind of its own. Then it collapsed and I wired it off, discovering that the bottom was so thin that it was not viable, anyway. Counting the two plates I tried to throw last week, I had now made four wet clay blobs in a row. I was feeling a little frustrated.

Mikki, our instructor, had other things in mind. She wanted us to learn to make mugs. A mug is a cylinder. We were also adding curves to the form to make it easier to make a handle that would accommodate fingers. I centered my clay, mixed it up and down three times, took a deep breath and poked my thumb into the top of the clay to make my opening. To my surprise, it worked. Then I took my thumb and pulled it across the bottom of the form to widen the cylinder. I had a couple of close calls but there was nothing that I was not able to repair. I had successfully opened up the form without collapsing it.

Then it was time to “pull” the form. Basically, that is when most of the vertical growth occurs in the form. I carefully followed the steps but my form went awry. I asked my instructor for help. She put her fingers in my piece and said, “Oh, you didn’t make your hole deep enough.”

When I opened up, I had not gone deeply enough. I have also ruined forms by going too deep. I have also ruined forms by not having the wheel spin fast enough. I have ruined them by going too slow. As for this form, I was able to fix it and had a break through about what “pulling” a form actually meant and I moved my hands, slowly at the speed of the wheel, just as I had been instructed to.

By the end of the night, I had made two nice looking mugs. No, they didn’t match. I was actually kind of happy for that. I like variety. Next week, we’ll learn how to make and apply the handles.

By going deeply enough at the right speed and by trying over and over, I will have made a vessel from which I can derive sustenance. Opening up leads to many outcomes. Fortunately, life gives us many many do-overs.

When I was in college, I lived in the dorms for the first two years. Our dorm had a pottery room, which was open for student use. One of my acquaintances, a ceramics major named Kal, was hired to provide instruction. I wanted to learn how to throw a pot on the wheel. However, I purposely avoided going to the pottery room when I knew that Kal would be there. Kal acted as if he had a strong romantic interest in me. He was never anything except a polite and respectful young man to me but he was really intense. When he looked at me it was as if he were picturing what our children might look like when we got married. As a 19 year-old, this was too much. It made me feel uncomfortable and off balance.

One day, I went into the pottery room by myself, whacked off a hunk of clay, plopped it on the wheel, got the wheel turning, and tried to shape it into a pot with my hands. It was quickly obvious to me that pot throwing skills might be enhanced by instruction. I managed to take an off center blob of clay and transform it into an even more off center blob of clay with ridges. I’m not even sure how I got that clay scraped off of the wheel but I did. Then I did a little hand building followed by having some fun with the slip molds. Slip molds are easy. You pour in the clay slip, wait a bit, and then pour it out leaving a lining on the mold. Put it in the kiln and presto, a perfectly molded piece came out, ready to glaze. I can’t say that it actually stoked my creativity, using those slip molds getting the same shape, over and over.

It is now thirty years later and I am learning to throw pottery on a wheel. I signed my husband and I up for a pottery class at the local community college. This is the first class we’ve taken together since the travesty that was ballroom dancing at the Bloomington, Indiana YMCA, 17 years ago. I have signed us up for other classes in the past few years and have had to cancer them due to urgent parenting needs that have made it necessary for us to stay closer to home. We spend every Thursday night working with clay. The first thing we learned was to wedge the clay, in order remove the air bubbles and prevent cracks. Then we learned to center the clay on the wheel. Working with un-centered clay is kind of like trying to get a washing machine back in balance by hugging it.

To center clay, you have to make it stick to the wheel and you have to stick it to the right spot. Then you have to use your hands and tools to move some of the clay while keeping the whole pile of clay stable. It is a dance of flux against stability and like any dance, it requires coordination. The first thing I learned to do after wedging was centering. Then I was kind of stuck because I could not get the clay to move the way I wanted it to. It either moved too much and unevenly so or nowhere at all. Micki, our instructor came over to each of us at these times and helped us out either with verbal instruction or by demonstrating the technique on our work.

With each lesson, I learned a different part and by the 4th lesson, I had learned enough parts that I was able to get the clay to do some things that I wanted. I had a few epiphanies that led to my hands working together but performing different jobs. I am learning to use my right hand to create change and to use my left hand to hold everything steady while also accommodating the growth of the object. I am learning to move my hands at the right speed. I am learning to use the strength of my forearm and body weight to create width instead of willing the heel of my hand to be flatter and stronger. I can make a reasonably acceptable looking plate now. I am still working on pulling up the clay higher for cylinders, a process that has been somewhat hindered by the fact that the flat surface of a plate is much more interesting to decorate.

I am very much enjoying this class, as is my husband. We are both learning. Perhaps if I wanted to and dedicated the time to it, I could get really good at throwing plates. I suspect I will keep learning to make new things, each a combination of struggle and discovery.

I do know that with each new learning I start the same way, by taking the time to get my work securely centered to the wheel before getting creative or fancy. It requires patience, persistence, and plenty of do-overs.

A lot of teens do not understand their own mortality. That is normative. I was not a normal teen. I was hyper-responsible and tightly wound, in equal measure. Consequently, when I grew old enough to get my driver’s license, I was struck by the enormous responsibility that came with the power and the privilege of driving. I understood that I could really hurt, maybe even accidentally kill someone.

I don’t particularly like driving. Nonetheless, I am a good and responsible driver. Most of the time, I pay very good attention. However, sometimes, I have a lapse in my attention, as everyone does. I forget the power I have in driving a car. Fortunately, these lapses typically do not have negative outcomes except when I notice them and think about what could have happened.

Yesterday, I was walking to my car after work. I was crossing a street when I saw a car in my peripheral vision headed toward the intersection. I stopped because I could tell by her speed that she was not planning to stop. She had not seen me. She still didn’t notice me when she stopped at the stop sign. I was standing less than a foot away from her. I could see her in her car. She didn’t look angry, sad, or anxious. She looked focused on getting to where she wanted to go.

I watched her car as she turned onto another street. I muttered to myself, “Geez, lady you could have run me over.” I was surprised that she still hadn’t noticed me. Without looking on the pavement below me, I started crossing the remainder of the street. I didn’t see that the road was damaged right in front of me. There was a deep rut in it. I stepped right in it, lost my footing, and crashed to the ground onto my left knee and the heel of my left hand. I was sprawled in the middle of the street. I knew that I would be able to walk away but my feet were under me at odd angles, my briefcase and purse were flung across the street, and I was scared. A man on the sidewalk saw me and helped me to my feet. He walked with me for a bit to make sure I was steady on my feet.

The woman in the car was not trying to hurt me but she was not mindful of the power, the privilege, that she had. Having narrowly escaped being seriously hurt or killed, I reacted with fear and distraction. My next action after saving my own life was not one based on good judgement. Seattle streets and sidewalks are notoriously uneven. I have walked thousands of miles on them. It is important to watch where I am going because it is easy, otherwise, to trip on something.

When we are afraid we don’t always make the best judgments. We tend to flee, fight, or freeze up. This is not because we are stupid. It is part of our nervous system’s survival system during which energy is decreased from the more reasonable and sophisticated parts of our brains. That’s why training and protocols are so important for people who work in emergency or dangerous situations. Training buffers against the snap judgments we can make when dealing with threat.

Most people do not intentionally abuse their power against others but there is danger in not being mindful of it. The woman in the car was not aware of her power over me because she wasn’t even looking. She didn’t even know about me. I suspect she would have felt remorseful and given pause had she realized what could have happened.

Sometimes we don’t realize our own power. We don’t realize the privileges we have that others do not. What if that woman had hit me, exclaimed that I couldn’t have been hurt because she had no power over me and further, that I deserved to fall in the street because I had not used good judgment and taken a look where I was going? That, my friends, would be ridiculous.

But we do it, every time we dismiss out of hand the experiences of individuals who have less access to power than do we. And we encounter it daily when we encounter individuals who are so used to their higher status and power that they assume all is as it should be.

A female African American student at Spring Valley High School was subject to what most people would consider excessive force by a European American South Carolina police officer whose job it was to protect students and staff at the school. A portion of the interaction was captured on a fellow student’s smartphone. The video has “gone viral” on social media and the officer has been fired. Further, a federal investigation in underway. I can’t read minds but given the fact that the police department spokesperson felt obligated to note that the conflict, “started with her” coupled with the fact that this particular officer has been investigated for racial discrimination in the past, I wonder if the firing of the officer has more to do with image management than to the police department’s mission to protect and serve.

Police officers are trained to protect the public. They are trained to avoid using more force than is needed to do their job. They are trained to de-escalate situations. This officer was assigned to protect these high school students, including the young woman who was not following his orders and may or may not have struck him before he laid hands on her.

“She should have just done what he said and there wouldn’t have been any problems.”

“She’s a trouble maker, anyway.”

“She should not have hit the officer.”

Why do we focus so much on the actions of the person with minimum power?

The officer had more power than the student due to his sex, race, size, position, and the fact that he was armed. She wasn’t even standing up. She was sitting in one of those one-piece chair and desk combinations that you have to bend yourself in and out of.

Let’s say that the officer was afraid of this slender young unarmed woman who was sitting in her desk/chair combo while he was towering over her with a career full of experience and training for these type of situations. Is that the officer you want on the force?

Since almost everyone has a video camera on their cellphone, we’ve been seeing some startlingly awful and violent exchanges. I am not at war with our police officers. Most of them do a good job, responsibly. But there are far too many people out there abusing their power and privilege only to have a sizable portion of the public blame the victims for it. Remember the video of the  woman who was pulled out of her car and pushed to the ground for failing to turn on her turn signal and ended up dead in jail a few days later? The number of posts to social media that I saw that were victim blaming made me sick.

“She shouldn’t have mouthed off to the cop.”
“I feel sorry for the officer. He’s going to have to live with this the rest of his life.”

As far as I know, acting like an asshole, using poor judgment, mouthing off to an officer, or failing to follow police directions are NOT crimes punishable by death or brutality.

Power is to be shared. When it cannot be shared, it is to be used responsibly and for the good of all.

Privilege is to be earned, not inherited.

Power and privilege are not license to kill.

I attended a professional workshop last month on mindfulness. There were a number of exercises, one of which was a 30 minute long body scan. Afterward, we discussed our physical sensations as well as the overall experience in a small group. In a body scan, one focuses on and notices one body part at a time, moving to different locations in the body. I shared the observation that when we were instructed to focus on our torso that I found it difficult to shift my attention from the parts of my body that are numb from my mastectomy and reconstruction. One of the women in our group said to me, “I’ve been through that. I had a mastectomy 20 years ago. I thought my life would never be the same. But I don’t even think about it any more.”

I know that she was trying to be encouraging but my first thoughts were, “Wait a minute! You can’t take my cancer away from me!”

I hate that I’ve had breast cancer but I love how I changed my life in reaction to it. I don’t want my life to be the same as it was before. I want to stay mindful and appreciative of the preciousness of life. There’s only one person who could really take that away from me and that person is me.

I’ll keep doing my best to keep myself in line.


During my last two walks, I’ve been keenly aware off my gait. I have attended to my footfalls, the way some of my flesh moves a bit from the impact of each step and how I can feel the strength of my muscles in my stride. My legs are curvy, solid, and strong. They support my weight and take me places, through noisy streets and peaceful ones, through rain and wind and through the delicious sunlight that cracks through the clouds during the fall.

I have been meditating on my steps. Since I began recording my walks at the beginning of December 2012, I have walked over 2500 miles, through seemingly endless medical appointments, seemingly endless reconstructive surgeries, through work and family life, navigating an ever changing life with a map that at times seemed etched with the lightest pencil marks. One of the unexpected gifts of writing this blog is that I am able to go back and see that despite the fits and starts and lack of linear progress, I am growing and changing, in mostly positive ways. I am moving forward on strong limbs.

The last week of September was Double-Scan Week. I had a diagnostic mammogram to follow-up on the “probably not cancerous” mass that was discussed six months ago at my routine screening. Dr. Bang informed me that it was 2mm and that it had been visible on previous mammograms. On the Friday of the week, I had my annual MRI. Typically I have one scan every six months, either an MRI or a mammogram, but not both. I could have spaced them out a little but then I figured I’d just drag on the stress of waiting.

The mammogram was a breeze. One of the things I love about my cancer center is that they always provide results during my visit when  I have a diagnostic mammogram. The radiologist was pleased that the mass had not changed shape or size and that it still had the appearance of a benign cyst. I go back in 6 months for follow up, a typical course of action for monitoring. The MRI was a bit trickier. For some reason, the imaging lab that I usually go to has closed abruptly and all services had to be moved to another imaging lab, nearby. They were very nice and for extra credit, their MRI machine was shiny new. I asked them how long it would take to get results and the tech told me that my oncologist would receive results that very day.

Saturday was a very nice day and I woke up Sunday in a very good mood. My husband and I took a ride to the mountains. Then it happened, the upsurge in anxiety that seems to come out of no where. My heart started beating fast and I was having trouble concentrating. “What’s happening to me? Oh yeah. Double Scan Week.” I told my husband what was happening. Unfortunately, he was not having a good day and was not as supportive as I wanted him to be. I find more and more that there are people who are just tired of my damn cancer. I don’t know if it is self-invalidation or invalidation by others or a combination of both. But I do sense that there are people in my life who are waiting for me “to get over it”.  Personally, I don’t think it is so bad that I have a little anxiety spell for a few hours.

It’s hard to get over it when there are physicians around who keep wanting to look at what is going on in my body through scans. I waited. And waited. I was not particularly nervous. Last year, I found my own MRI results on my electronic medical record. No news, tends to be good news at my cancer center. They usually jump into action if there’s anything that’s concerning or potentially concerning. I tried not to check online too often and each time, there was nothing there.

Yesterday, my friend, Julie asked me if I had gotten results. “No, not yet. Last time it took about two weeks.” She said, “Hasn’t it been two weeks already?” It had been a week and a half. I told her that I was not too worried but would give them a call on a day I was not seeing patients. I don’t like receiving news by phone. Who knows what I will be doing when they call? Julie said, “Okay, I will be impatient for you.”

I  don’t see patients on Wednesdays so I called my oncologist’s office this morning. I expected that if I were to get a call back today that Dr. Rinn would call me in the evening, as she has in the past. And I got the call at about 8:30pm. Due to the abrupt change in labs, the new labs’ reports have not yet been integrated into the electronic medical records for the cancer center. Dr. Rinn was apologetic about the wait. She told me that no abnormalities were found inside of my breast but they saw something on my skin. She asked, “Did you have a rash or something?”  “Yes, I had eczema on and below my left breast that day. I didn’t think to say anything about it.” She told me that she was going to tell the radiologist and see if they would be satisfied. Otherwise, I will have to go back in six months and have another double-scan week. It’s not the worst thing but it was a challenging week not to mention that after 3+ years of being a cancer patient, I am getting a bit concerned about all of the zapping and injecting I get for scans.

I am relieved about my news. I am also grateful that I did not waste too much time worrying and working myself into a tizzy. But I also felt a strong wave of compassion for my friends with metastatic cancer. They have scans so frequently, treatment so frequently, and have to wait for a living. Literally.


My husband, John’s late Grandma Ann lived in Roseburg, Oregon, a small town in southern Oregon. Ann was a woman of habit, retired school teacher who got her hair set every week. It nearly always looked perfect. She ate meals everyday with her friend’s at the King’s Table, an all you can eat buffet. And when I say “every day”, I mean it. Every day, for decades, even when company came over.

Sometimes the company was John, then a child, along with his parents, visiting from California. Roseburg, then a logging town, was not surprisingly home to many lumberjacks. As you can imagine, being a lumberjack is heavy work and consequently, a lot of the lumberjacks were very large men. They not only ate a great deal but they also saw a great deal at King’s Table with their all you can eat buffet. According to John, the lumberjacks ate so much that the restaurant made a policy change. No more all you can eat. Each diner was limited to one plate.

How would the lumberjacks get enough to eat? One day, John saw a lumber jack amble toward the buffet. He picked up a plate, walked past the salads, walked past the vegetables, and straight to the mashed potatoes. Like Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, he piled his plate with a mountain of potatoes. Then he walked over to the meat section and stuck as many fried chicken legs into his potato peak as humanly possible. He’d done it. He’d packed 5 million calories of starchy, greasy, protein onto one plate.

Roseburg, a small town in a beautiful state, made the news on the first day of this month. A young man committed a mass shooting at the local community college, killing several people. The U.S. has seen an increase in mass shootings. Nonetheless, the majority of gun deaths are not due to mass shootings, they are the day to day shootings, intentional and unintentional, which occur in the U.S. at an alarming rate. The mass shootings capture our attention because they seem so random, are so severe, and tend to occur in small “safe” towns.

Understandably, people are upset. I am really upset. I am tired this issue, which is so divisive in my country. I am so tired of people not even being able to talk about it in a civil manner. I am tired of people presenting opinion and what they wish were true as actual truth. I am tired of people using emotional reasoning, greed, and religious fervor to argue against laws that would prevent death while still upholding the constitution.

Some people seem to think that unless they have the right to their own personal mountain of guns that they are being oppressed and made unsafe.

How many people have to die?

We’ve had enough.


Who, what, where, how, and why are interrogatives, nouns that signal a question.

Very soon after babies start speaking words we understand, they start asking questions, “what” and “who” questions, most commonly phrased in one baby word, “Da’at?” (That, as in “what’s that?” or “who’s that?”) They are learning nouns, the names for people, places and things.

As parents, one of the challenging stages of our children’s development happens a few years later, when we are CONSTANTLY asked, “Why?” We provide the explanation, which is followed up with another, “Why?” It can be exhausting as parents often convey to me.

However, finding out “why” is not always the function of these questions. Some children are just learning that “why” is part of having conversation. Asking “why” is a way of guiding the direction of the conversation, a powerful skill, indeed. Sometimes “why” serves the function of stalling for bed, for clean-up, or for any other distasteful parental instruction that has just been given.

When I was a psychology researcher, there were a lot of questions phrased as “why”. But were they really “why” questions? It seems to me that most scientific questions are actually answering “how” questions; they address questions related to process and sequence. In treatment research, the question is even more rudimentary, “Does it work?” Treatments manipulate many many variables and as a result, it can be difficult to explicate how they work even if they appear to do so. I mean, we have ideas and models for how we think treatments may work but it is difficult to know for sure.

“How” and “why” questions can also preface statements of distress. “How did this happen?” “Why me?” Having a plausible explanation for situations, even if they are not objectively true, can be rather comforting and reduce distress.

“Why” questions are also a concentration of philosophy and religion. “Why are we here?” “Why am I here?”

As a person drawn to complexity, you might think that I would love pondering these big questions. Sometimes I do. Sometimes, I even enjoy it. But some questions are so large and complex that trying to answer the question seems to be a great oversimplification. We have enough people boiling down big problems to utter simplicity, much to the detriment of our world. Most of the current presidential candidates come to mind.

Why are we here?
Why did I get cancer?
Why is my kid having such a challenging time with life?
Why am I here?

More and more, these questions are replaced by:
“I am here.”

Most days that is more than enough.

Yesterday was a lovely late summer day in Seattle. I was thrilled because it meant that I’d be able to have lunch for my mom’s 81st birthday out on my deck, which has become my little oasis. As if on cue, a hummingbird came right to the fountain on the deck to take a drink. My mom got a nice close-up view though she was disappointed to not have her camera at the ready.

By 4:00 or so, very light drizzle was falling. John and I were working together to put together a small storage box together for the deck so we were out there. The weather changed frequently. It was a breezy day and the clouds were moving in and out of the sky quickly.

Having had a lovely weekend, John and I got into our cozy bed. Our mattress is getting older but I put a memory foam topper on it a few years back and it really is the most comfortable bed in which I have ever slept. John quickly fell asleep. I listened to the night noises coming from the back yard as well as the gurgling of our fountain. Suddenly, a gust blew a fine mist of rain through the open windows.

My first impulse was to close the window and keep the rain out. Keep the outside, outside and the inside, inside. That’s a natural human inclination to keep a boundary between shelter and “out there”. It is a boundary that has kept us safe for a very very long time.

Noting that I felt a fine mist of water on my skin rather than a deluge, I stopped myself. The unexpected mist was actually delightful. It was unexpected, refreshing, and surprisingly comforting. After a minute or so, I closed the windows because I was sleepy and perhaps the rain would get heavier and wake me up. I am finally sleeping well again and I wanted to continue to do so.

I have been thinking some about how being more mindful of sensation, touch, taste, smell, sight, sound, and balance, so often provides me with a greater sense of comfort and calm. I also notice how my cats are the same when they are alone, interacting with one another, or when interacting with me. As I write this, Basie is purring loudly while kneading a blanket with his claws. Now he is licking his sister, Leeloo, who has her eyes closed contentedly. I also see the way they use their whiskers to gauge their physical position in space.

Humans are thinking and feeling beings but we are also sensing beings, just like my kitties. My kitties are however, not big thinkers with their small albeit adorable brains. Their capacity for feelings is based on pleasure, pain, calm, protection, and fear, just the basics needed for survival.

Sensation is important. It protects us. It creates and maintains bonds with others. It enriches our lives. It is also orienting. It is so easy for my mind and feelings to take me away from the moment to take me to places away from where I really am. Thinking and feeling can give us glimpses of reality but without being mindful of my senses, it can be like looking at reality through a window rather than experiencing it firsthand, on the inside.

My senses tell me where I am. This helps me be who I am in the reality I have, right now.

It is amazing to me how the terror of a nightmare can be quashed when it switches to a lucid dream. This doesn’t happen often but when it does, I think, “This is a dream.” That typically ends the dream pretty quickly. Sometimes, I am not fully lucid but I start thinking during the dream, “This can’t really happen. This is not a real threat.” At these times, rational thought enters the dream and it becomes much less scary. In both of these instances, it is as if I am observing the dream while also experiencing it.

It occurred to me this morning that when the most stressful and scary parts of my life seem most bearable, it is a similar experience to a lucid nightmare. I am able to observe the situation, mindfully, while still being connected with the experience. This is the main way, in my view, that mindfulness is different from coping strategies such as rationalizing, intellectualizing, or denial. There is still a connection to emotion, thought, and experience.

A most important advantage of this lucidity has been that it helps me step back from an all consuming chasm of pain and suffering to a larger view of reality, one that includes joy, happiness, and hope.

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