Am I Living Small?

Recently I was invited to serve on a certain board of directors in Fairfield. I almost fell off my chair. Not in my wildest dreams would it have occurred to me that I might be considered for this board. I have done some public speaking over the last year for this group; I do feel quite passionate about the direction this organization is taking. But a board member?

 My first thoughts were: Are they mad? Why would they want someone who is eighty-one to serve on what is a vibrant, important board, consisting mostly of members younger than my children? This can’t be happening!

 “You don’t have to decide now,” I was told gently. “Just tell me that you are even willing to consider it.”

 Stunned, I nodded my head. “Of course, I will consider it. I am so honored to be asked.”

 But, at the same time, in my head I could hear the following sentences: You are too old. Your board-serving days are long over. (There was a time when I served on a number of boards.) As a single senior you are supposed to be learning to play bridge and thinking about retirement communities. This is not for you. You will fall asleep at the evening meetings.

 I came home dazed but determined to think about it. This was an amazing opportunity, I knew. What would this mean for my life?

 I plunked myself down at my computer where I am accustomed to thinking, and there, lying beside my Mac, were pieces of yellow, lined paper containing quotes from a recent sermon delivered by the empowering pastor, Joel Osteen.

On top was a single piece of paper, which read: “I wouldn’t be alive unless there was something greater in my future.”

 The other bits were my notes from Osteen’s recent talk about “living small.”

 Was that it? Was I “living small?”  Was I afraid to live a wide-open, spacious life? “Limited thinking leads to living in a small way,” Osteen tells us. “Don’t get stuck and stay there.”  Whatever our age, whatever our situation in life we are to dream new dreams and seek new horizons, he admonishes us. We are to “live large!”

 According to Osteen, “God”—the Universe--whatever works for you—“wants to enlarge us, wants us to gain new ground, and we have to make room for that new ground in our thinking.”

 The idea here is not to compulsively bite off more than we can chew, but simply to remain open to expansion, to new possibilities in our lives.

 Was I stuck? No longer able to think of living a larger life? Was I caught in some age-determined stereotype that had snuck up on me like a creepy, red rash whose itch held me fast?

 Living in a “small environment,” Osteen tells us, gets inside of us and begins to control how we think about ourselves. We need to combat this diminishment and instead, encourage ourselves, be willing to seize the next opportunity and be unafraid to spread our wings no matter how frazzled those feathers appear to us. We are called to live an “overcoming and expanded life.”

 There are no accidents. The notes beside my computer, hastily scrawled one Sunday a couple of weeks ago while Osteen was speaking, made my decision for me.

 I opened my email, typed in the address, and sent: “YES!”

Written for Unleash Potential by Cecily Stranahan, our companion on this journey of reflection and self-discovery. Visit Cecily's Blog at

Where Were We?

Monday, January 12, Press Secretary Josh Ernest answered a question about America’s failure to send “someone with a higher profile” to the rally of more than a million in Paris that followed the shocking terrorist killings in that city.

“Well, Steve, as I mentioned to Jim, I’m just not going to be in a position to sort of unpack the scheduling planning discussions that we have here. But what I can tell you is that there are some who have suggested that the U.S. presence at the march should have been represented by somebody with a higher profile than the ambassador to France. And I guess what I’m saying is that we here at the White House agree that somebody with a higher profile should have also included.”

 Ernest went on to say that the White House had only thirty–six hours notice in which to arrange security for a top US official to travel to Paris and be present at the rally. Not, of course, he added, that our security people couldn’t have managed it . . . etc. etc.

Forty world leaders made it to Paris.

Let’s see: I wonder how Prime Minister Netanyahu arranged his security? They must move more swiftly in Israel.  

Or, maybe Prime Minister David Cameron could have given us some tips as to how the Brits expedite security. We might then have been able to show up for the single most important international expression for freedom that has taken place in a decade or more.

So much for all the talk about our leadership in the war against terror: all our posturing about solidarity and our commitment to combatting terrorism wherever we find it. What do we do? We allow our Ambassador to take some time out from the office to represent us at this rally.

It didn’t have to be President Obama, not even V. P. Joe Biden. Couldn’t Secretary of State John Kerry or even Attorney General Eric Holder, have been the face of the USA as a concerned partner nation?

What were we thinking? How did we miss this opportunity to SHOW UP? Is the United States government not aware of how arrogant, self-serving and ineffectual we appear to so much of the rest of the world?

Having spent twenty-seven summers in England, I have been   bombarded by these kinds of comments about our country and--- get this---England is our friend!

I am appalled and right now, this week, I have to admit, I'm embarrassed to be an American.


Written by Cecily Stranahan, our companion on this journey of reflection and self-discovery. Visit Cecily's Blog at

Remaining Open: Even to Kale?

Pema Chodron, the well-known Buddhist teacher, writes that coming into awareness brings us over and over again to moments when we realize we have a choice. “We have a choice to open or close, whether to hold on or let go, whether to harden or soften, whether to hold your seat or strike out. That choice is presented to us again and again and again.”

In every grocery store I go to these days: Stop and Shop, Fresh Market, Balducci’s, Mrs. Green’s, I stare at the healthy, vitamin–laden, leafy greens and I am presented “over and over again” with a choice to make--about kale. 

I have written in the past that as far as I am concerned, the only effective way to tenderize kale is to drive a tank over it.

 If you were really desperate, on a day like the one of this writing, in Connecticut, where the wind chill has rammed the temperature into the teens, you could line your shoes with those thick, ruffle-edged leaves and your feet would be warmer. 

At the same time that I have been expressing my disdain for this popular green that supposedly will grow your fingernails and hair, improve your eyesight, up your kid’s SAT scores, stimulate your digestion and give your skin a youthful glow, I have tried to keep my mind a teensy bit open. I’m not adverse to the idea of stronger bones and a youthful glow. The kale press is really good. I scrutinize baby kale—thinking that a far less intimidating product. 

A couple of months ago I actually bought some baby kale that was mixed in with other spring greens. I found myself chewing that salad endlessly, knowing that if I didn’t reduce the resistant stuff to mush in my mouth, my senior citizen tummy would let me know how foolish I had been to try to be faddish. 

But! Two days ago at Mrs. Green’s shop there was a small bunch of Ocean Mist Farms Organic Lacinato Kale Chou Frise.  (Truly, that is what the label said.) I haven’t a clue what that means, but the kale leaves were not ruffle edged or cardboard-thick and were shaped like Romaine lettuce. 

“We have a choice to open or close.”  

I bought a bunch.

I made a puree of fresh carrots and parsnips with a bit of butter, some Janie’s Mixed Up salt and organic veg stock. I sautéed finely chopped kale in some olive oil for about fifteen minutes—I wasn’t taking any chances—and stirred the softened kale into the pureed vegetables. 

 Amazing: Pretty to look at and delicious.

Choosing to remain open instead of closing, to let go rather than hold on and choosing to soften rather than hardening, is probably more life enhancing than all the kale we can eat. Nonetheless, all those green vitamins? They can’t hurt!
Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of those who were recently killed in the shocking attack in Paris.

Those of you interested in expanding your understanding of living mindfully, in particular living mindfully with a chronic disease, take a look a my good friend, Jennifer's, new blog:


Written by Cecily Stranahan, our companion on this journey of reflection and self-discovery. Visit Cecily's Blog at

Let's Wipe the Slate Clean

Everyone who gardens and even those of us who don’t, know: you have to prune your plants to keep them blooming, to keep them healthy. We pinch off the old to make room for the new. We want the life juice of the plant to stop nourishing that which is already dead, so we clip to make a clear space for fresh flowers and leaves.

We let go of the old to bring in the new.

And that, it seems to me, is the point of the New Year. Not the ball dropping in Madison Square Garden or the popping of champagne corks. But, instead, saying “goodbye” to regrets, disappointments, bitterness, hurts and anger. Pruning our lives, we can gently release everything that we bear that is fruitless and dead. 

Let’s think of opening our hands and hearts and just dropping those heavy bags that we have come to believe constitute a part of our identity. Let’s forgive everyone for perceived and actual slights and let’s forgive ourselves for all the ways that we might have, but didn’t, do things differently.  

How about wiping the slate clean, getting rid of those rusty regrets and guilts? We don’t need them. What’s done is done. “Let’s not let our past poison our future.” (Joel Osteen)

 A clean slate all around: Imagine how wonderful that would feel!

I don’t want to carry old “stuff” into the New Year. Not only do I want to travel light, I want to travel with the light, watching for it, opening to it, and following it, looking expectantly forward.

How about you? Happy New Year!

Written for What I Know to Be True by Cecily Stranahan, our companion on this journey of reflection and self-discovery. Visit Cecily's Blog at


The Power of Connection

“Come to Cal’,” my younger brother, Brandon, urged me on the phone in March of 1979. “Come and look for a house for the summer. Just think about the summer, nothing else.”

Brandon, a TV executive in California, had been divorced for about six years. Spending some time with him seemed like a good idea. Spending time with B—as we called him--had always been a good idea. Although he was three years younger than I, B was my “spilt-apart” soul. Even as children we had shared the same innate sense of the outrageousness of life: our laughter bubbling up simultaneously.

Only I wasn’t so good at laughing these days. I had been separated from my second husband for seven months and consumed by misery and shame, I was living on baked potatoes and cigarettes, rail-thin and hollow-eyed. 

Nonetheless, the realization had been creeping up on me, as slinky and drag-ass as an inchworm, that I would not survive living in the same small Ohio town with what would shortly be my two ex-husbands.

I knew I had to at least think about leaving. Leaving? After twenty-three years of life and friends in Perrysburg? I was petrified.

“Come on, Ces,” B persisted. “You have to get out of there.”

I headed west.

B had organized a realtor who took me straight to the Pacific shore at Malibu. “You need the water,” Brandon reminded me and I knew he was right. Water is healing for me: soothing, always shifting, the colors changing constantly. Rough or smooth, water is my element.

 But Malibu was not. I simply wasn’t up to Malibu.

 Alta Tingle, a friend of Brandon’s, had planned a dinner party for me. I didn’t want to go. “Don’t worry about it,” B chided. “It will be very casual. You’ll like the people. It will be fine.”

It will not be fine, I thought, as I dressed in jeans and an old shirt and some sneakers. 

“No!” B shouted when I emerged from the guestroom. “I said casual, but you are not going looking like that. You looked better when you got off the plane. Put that stuff on.”

The dinner party was OK. The people were welcoming and friendly and I did my best. It was a buffet supper and we sat around Alta’s living room, some on chairs, some on the floor. My brother was sitting next to Alta on the couch and I was on the floor nearby.

When most of us had finished our food, B suddenly stood up and announced, "I’m done with this plate!” And then, in one swift motion, he backhanded his white china dinner plate into the fireplace, where it shattered into a million pieces. 

Conversation stopped. People were gape-jawed over what had just happened. Brandon fell back into the couch, he and Alta rocking with laughter. Then B caught my eye with that old look, that naughty, utterly familiar look from our childhood when he was urging me to do something outrageous. He didn’t say a word. He just gave me that gleeful, dare-you look.

 Without thought, I rose to my knees and winged my empty plate into the fireplace. The pieces flew all over the carpet. We were all  laughing now and plates were flying across the room. Over the racket I heard my brother say to Alta, “You see? I told you. She is going to be all right.”

On the way home B confessed that he had planned the whole thing. He had seen the set of white plates at a yard sale and had the idea. “Ten dollars,” he grinned. “Small price to pay to see you light up like that.”

A day later, flying home, I recalled the giddy rush of freedom that I had felt as I winged that plate into the fireplace: the satisfying sound of pottery breaking against stone, and I smiled. I had done it, I thought. I had stepped up—at least gotten to my knees--and tossed that damned plate.

  I knew then that I would leave Ohio. With his extraordinarily creative wisdom, my wonderful brother had reached right into the core of me and reignited the pilot light of my life. 

Where I would go, I didn’t know. It would take a while, that was certain. But one way or another, somewhere, somehow, I would begin again.                                          

Written with great love and gratitude for the life of my brother,                

Brandon Stoddard

                             March 31, 1937- December 22, 2014

Written by Cecily Stranahan, our companion on this journey of reflection and self-discovery. Visit Cecily's Blog at

It's the Love and Light That Counts

It’s the Holiday Season: a time when preparation creates a busyness in us that feels like a relentless buzzing bee. Have you noticed that?

Let’s quit: let go of striving for perfection. If the candles aren’t the right blue or green, let’s shrug our shoulders and honor our intention. If a wing on one of our favorite angels is lopsided, since when is a lopsided angel less beautiful? (Come to think of it we are all lopsided angels, so it works fine.)

Having snatched up a wreath for my door on my way out of the super market, I discovered when I hung it that there was no red ribbon on the wreath. OK. It had some red berries on it so I hadn’t gone completely off the rails, but I’ve always have a red bow on my wreath! I thought about chasing one down and then decided to just get over it. A friend, who came by the other day, said, “I love your wreath; it smells so good! I muttered something about “no red ribbon,” and she exclaimed. “It’s so natural! You don’t need a red bow.”

Right. Breathe in and out.

We are all operating from longer, more complicated lists. Let’s find more ways to allow others to help. Thirteen of my family spend Christmas Day at my daughter’s house. This year Taylor sent an unprecedented email entitled, Christmas Chores, in which we were each given an assignment. Everyone weighed in with enthusiasm.

 Instead of moaning about it, let’s relax, breathe and smile at the people in the check-out lines and in the slow-moving traffic, acknowledging that all of us are in the same boat: A boat piled high with errands, but a boat aimed directly toward a celebration of love and light. 

 And we all know that it is the love and light that counts.


Love in a manger

Happy Holidays to you all!


Happy Holidays to the readers of this blog who live in in other countries. I am grateful to you. May your New Year be filled with Peace and Joy.

In no particular order, these are the foreign countries that generally show up in my stats:

Germany, United Kingdom, France, Ukraine, Canada, Indonesia, Netherlands, Taiwan, China, Israel, Jordan, and Italy and Japan.

Where Were You Joel Osteen?

A few days ago, while walking with a friend, I heard myself say a snarky thing about a woman we both knew. Later, at home, I thought: Joel Osteen! Where were you when I needed you to keep me from being unpleasant about a perfectly good person?

And why does this Episcopalian/Buddhist/interfaith minister think of Pastor Joel Osteen when she has just been a bit bitchy?

It’s simple. He’s a wonderful preacher, deep thinking, articulate and uplifting. (Sunday, 9:00 AM, Channel 5) He leaves me feeling full of possibilities: that I can be a better person: that I have only just begun to realize the potential that God holds for me: that I will be able to fulfill whatever it is that I came into this world to express.

How great is that? Joel Osteen inspires me to believe that I am worthyin every way—in spite of my contrary behavior.

And just last Sunday he raised this question: are we sowing honor or dishonor in our lives? And there I was walking along with my friend—a perfect example of someone sowing some gratuitous dishonor.

Osteen spoke of the way in which we store up honor and admiration of others. We “withhold” it, he said. We think nice things about people, but we don’t bother to let them know. We tend to be compliment lazy and often parsimonious with praise.  

Sometimes our holdback is more than just laziness.

Compliments can become frozen inside us because unconsciously we fear that if we release that praise for another, somehow we will be the less for it. As if, in praising someone else, we risk losing some esteem for ourselves. So we don’t share our kind thoughts. (Have you noticed this behavior  showing up where certain others are concerned? A spouse? A sibling? Someone with whom we feel a bit competitive?)

Osteen reminded his millions of listeners that, actually, it’s exactly the opposite. “We reap what we sow.”  Instead of losing, when we honor another, we gain. We thrive when we become “generous with compliments and stingy with complaints.”

 “Pour the oil of honor everywhere you can, by speaking well of someone even behind his or her back,” he urged. “There is great power,” he went on to say, “in a second hand compliment.”

How many sincere compliments can we offer in any given day? Let’s challenge ourselves to find the good wherever and however we can, and then share it, express it, make it known.

Then, if Osteen is right, along with Jesus and the Buddha—who teaches the same thing, but says it very differently—we will only need to keep our hearts open and our generosity flowing. As we soften, the oft-spoken spiritual promise is that miracles will begin to happen, both within us and in the world around us.


Written by Cecily Stranahan, our companion on this journey of reflection and self-discovery. Visit Cecily's Blog at

Perfect However It Turns Out.

Do you remember the weather prognosis for Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving? The wintry mix along the coast, the wind, the cancelled flights and the travel warnings for I 95: to say nothing of the prediction that there would be a record number of drivers on the roads because of the drop in gas prices. Even in good weather the Thanksgiving traffic toward Hyannis, where I was headed with my youngest son and his family, is horrendous, so this weather prediction was daunting.

The thought of the six hour drive north and east on Wednesday toward ferries that might not even run and, if they did, would be madly rocking to and fro during the two hour crossing, began to make me more than somewhat nervous. To go or not to go: that was the question. I didn’t have the same determination to get to their house on the island as my son and his family did. I wanted to be there with them; I just didn’t want to get there.

 Letting go of the outcome of it all, my prayer about Thanksgiving became, “Let this Thanksgiving be perfect however it turns out.”

On Tuesday evening I had a conversation with my daughter, who said, “Come to our house” (in New Canaan) “and see the boys.”

On Wednesday morning I spoke with my daughter-in-law, who admitted that the whole Thanksgiving in Nantucket thing was very stressful even for them. “I can get pretty snippy about it,” she told me.

That did it. I opted out.

Instead, I spent Thanksgiving with the six-member, New Canaan contingent of my family. A treat to see the older boys, all of whom are working now so glimpses of them are rare. I cooked with my daughter and held my favorite grand dog in my lap. On the way home I counted myself blessed to have had such a wonderful fall back plan.

And the blessings didn’t stop.

A childhood friend of my oldest son, who lives in Wilton, CT, and whom I have known since she was born, has just begun to read this blog. She had read The Privilege Of Pies and therefore was aware of the pending Nantucket trip. Our families were good friends during my married life in Ohio and Peggy emailed to say that if, due to the terrible weather, I did not go to Nantucket, her mother and older sister were visiting her and they would all like to see me.

A chance to see her mother, my friend, Kay, who was my tennis and paddle tennis and bridge-playing pal of twenty years? And two of Kay's three daughters, whom I watched grow up and who were so much a part of my children’s lives? Yes!

We met on Friday for lunch. When I saw Kay, I couldn’t stop hugging her. She has been through some medical issues so she is a bit frail, but there is no change in her bright eyes and spirit. The girls--no longer girls, of course—are attractive, smart and interesting and, above all, as they always have been, they are loving. The four of us caught up; we laughed and we remembered.

“May this Thanksgiving be perfect however it turns out.” 

Isn't it amazing how often when one plan folds, something totally unexpected and wonderful takes it's place?

Written by Cecily Stranahan, our companion on this journey of reflection and self-discovery. Visit Cecily's Blog at

The Privilege of Pies

On November 20 my daughter-in-law emailed me to ask if I could get pies from that “wonderful bakery”—she meant The Pantry—to bring to Nantucket for Thanksgiving.

Oh dear! The Pantry, I knew, would no longer take orders for Thanksgiving food, but I phoned anyway—just on a chance— and was advised that if I queued by 7:00 AM on Tuesday I might be able to get my hands on a pie or two. Hmm…

I called Isabel and Vincent—a good bakery—and found that, yes, I could still order up to Sunday before Thanksgiving, but that they were making pumpkin and apple tarts.

“Tarts?” I queried? That isn’t the same thing as a pie and my daughter-in-law had specifically asked for pies.

I emailed her with The Pantry news and the tart news and she replied, “Don’t stress. Get the tarts if that is easier.”

OK. So later in the day I am walking with my young and resourceful walking partner, and I tell her about the pie problem. She, bless her heart, offers to be at The Pantry at 7:00 AM on Tuesday for me. “I get up early anyway, “ she tells me.

We agree that I will buy the two tarts at Isabel’s on Tuesday and if my friend can make it to The Pantry on that same morning by 7:00 AM and successfully snare two pies there, I will give her the Isabel tarts for her family to devour and she will give me the pies.

A plan is hatched, a bit scruffy, but a plan nonetheless.

However, later in the day, to my amazement, my friend emails me with the name, phone number and email address of a bakery in Nantucket, which she found online and which, she says, is still accepting orders for pies for Thanksgiving. She knows this because she has already called them!

I immediately text my daughter-in-law for approval of this bakery. (Anyone who is a mother-in-law will understand this move.) Approval is secured. I call the Nantucket bakery—Petticoat Row--and order the pies which will be picked up by a local friend who is joining us for Thanksgiving.


Did you make it all the way through this? Have you been wondering why I am taking up so much of your precious time with what my older son would rightly call “a white girl problem?” 

  Here's the "why." It suddenly  occurred to me how very blessed I am to have my only fret this week be about something as simple as pies.

Thanksgiving is a family holiday often honored by attending our places of worship. Although we have serious gun control issues to resolve in this country, in America we will not be anxious that we might be slaughtered in our pews as we pray.

We are so fortunate. Americans are spared the anxiety of wondering if, at any moment, a bomb will explode near or on our houses. We do not live in the omnipresent terror that suddenly our front door will be bashed in and our loved ones dragged away. We do not have to hear the cries of our babies grow thin and weak as they die of starvation. We have no foreign tanks churning at our borders.

  At this moment I am filled with gratitude for the privilege it is to be able to live in a country free from constant fear. Instead, on our Thanksgiving holiday, we can joyfully focus on family, turkeys, gravy and pies.


Thank you American readers of this blog. I wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving.

 To those readers from foreign countries to whom I am very grateful, I wish you peace. I wish you borders that are secure and free of threat. I wish you and your children long lives, safe and protected within your own cultures.



Written by Cecily Stranahan, our companion on this journey of reflection and self-discovery. Visit Cecily's Blog at

A Quiet Moment

Sun-lit leaves swirl downward,


Spinning through the air like dancers,

Sliding sideways,

Twisting upwards in the breeze,

A silent graceful journey toward the earth.

Standing still to watch, I yearn to be light as a leaf,

Letting go to the stark, bare branches of winter.

Falling gently to nestle into a soft pile,

Surrendered to the sudden chill of autumn.


Written by Cecily Stranahan, our companion on this journey of reflection and self-discovery. Visit Cecily's Blog at

Bus Driver or Tour Guide?

When you find yourself on a new path, perhaps a detour from your normal routine, and you’ve come upon a place in your life you could have never imagined, nor, perhaps, one that you’d never have chosen for yourself, to what do you attribute this unexpected situation?

This is something I often ponder as I travel through my days, as I discovering new trails to investigate; new people to meet; new territory to explore.  What I almost always come away with is a renewed outlook on life, which, if it feels right, I incorporate into my life’s path.  And with these lessons I continue to grow emotionally and spiritually.

Thus is the case when I met Tracy LaCroix in Cape Charles, VA last year. Hearing of his near-death experience eleven months prior to our meeting stirred within me a renewed interest in all things spiritual.  And out of that has grown not only a new book, but a new part of CJ; one that is more aware of the Universe and all that it has to offer – in this realm and any other that might exist.

Discussing this with the interim Rabbi at my synagogue recently, I mentioned to him the Hebrew phrase, “hashgacha pratit” which translates to “divine intervention”; all that happens is “as it is, as it shall be, as it should be”.  And I added to the topic the fact that when I had met Tracy LaCroix, I firmly believed it was not an accident nor mere coincidence.  Therefore, I assumed, this must be a case of divine intervention.

Well, Rabbi’s take on that was quite an eye-opener for me.  He stated that if we are to believe in hashgacha pratit as God’s way of watching over us, we then must state that He is responsible for every action, every move, every incident that happens to us throughout our lives.  And, Rabbi continued, that would make Him our bus driver leading us down our paths.

That gave me pause for thought, for part of Tracy LaCroix’s message – and one that I  firmly believe – is that God is a God of choice.  He might take us to certain points in our lives, but it is up to us to do whatever we wish with those circumstances.

With that assessment Rabbi totally agreed.  And he did so by stating that we might then think of God as our tour guide rather than the bus driver.  He took me to Tracy LaCroix, but He also showed me the ice cream shop next door to the hotel where I met Tracy.  It was my decision, and mine alone, to choose to listen to Tracy tell me of his extraordinary journey rather go get a rum raisin ice cream cone.

I like that.

I like the idea that God – or whatever higher spirit one believes in – is our tour guide.  It gives me the power over my own choices; the power to choose good over evil; the power to choose to help rather than harm; the power to believe as I believe for my own well being; and the power to choose joy over anger.

How about your God or higher power?  Is He your bus driver? Or is He your tour guide?

Guest blogger, author and motivational speaker CJ Golden has brought us the extraordinary journey of near-death experiencer Tracy LaCroix in her latest book, “Reflections from Beyond.”

Please visit CJ at to spread his message of hope, peace, and kindness through the book, inspirational jewelry, speaking engagements and the exciting new program, “Tracys Mission.” Event dates can be found at

The Rosetta Mission? OK. So I Am A Crank

I want to be excited about the Rosetta Mission and the Lander Philae connecting with a comet moving at 40,000 miles per hour, but I’m not.

 I torment myself: I am not a good citizen, not adventurous enough; I have no worldview. I don’t care about the RIGHT THINGS. Conceivably I am just an old crank. All of the above may be true.

I understand why the international scientists of the ESA—European Space Agency--who have been working on this project since November of 1993, were jubilant over yesterday’s landing, some of them in tears. It has been a lot of work.

The Rosetta Mission was created to help us to understand the origin and evolution of the solar system. The ESA, according to online sources, is “convinced that comets played a key role in the evolution of the planets,” bringing much of the water into today’s oceans, for example. The ESA has been and continues to be a collaborative effort involving eight countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States.

I’m all for international collaboration; it really gets things done. So does a budget of some 1.4 billion euros. The American cost that I could find—and it wasn’t so easy—was approximately 275 million dollars. (It’s possible that that figure was just for the Lander Philae itself.)

So why am I complaining? As interesting as it is—and I cop to that--I have a negative attitude about space exploration. Remember how we were going to the moon—hooray!-- and going to cure cancer? What did we do? We went to the moon. Cancer still eats us alive or should I say, dead?

 My priorities are different. What I want is an ESA- quality budget and at least an eight-country collaborative focus on how to feed the millions of starving people all over the world.

 I want a highly trained scientific group devoted to the development of clean water systems for those who have none. The solar system can wait. It has waited this long hasn’t it?

Does it have to be either/ or? It would seem so. The Rosetta Mission has glamour. Yesterday’s successful landing offered us an opportunity to say, “Look how clever we are!”

While feeding the poor? What is that? So ordinary, so mundane that we just don’t do it?

OK. I’m a crank.

Meanwhile, according to today’s Telegraph, “Scientists say full contact has been reestablished with the Rosetta probe, but it is stuck in a crater where it cannot get enough sunlight for its solar panels.” 

Not nearly enough sunlight. 

And so? We will see.


I usually post on Mondays but this could not wait. 


Written by Cecily Stranahan, our companion on this journey of reflection and self-discovery. Visit Cecily's Blog at

Be Careful What You Wish For

Be careful what you wish for.  You might get it.  So much more to be revealed.

As of now we can begin to blame the Republicans instead of the Democrats for everything that goes wrong, including ebola. Ebola is on the list these days, along with ISIS and Afghanistan, Syria and Palestine/ Israel. Correct?

It no longer matters to me which party we blame. Cynicism has turned me as crusty as the rust on a junk-piled fender.

What does matter to me is the inability of both political parties to compromise in order to solve problems.

Don’t they know what we all know? No one gets it all! Not ever.

There is a technique, tried and true, in conjoint therapy, in which the disagreeing husband and wife have to take turns expressing the other’s point of view with sufficient detail and feeling until each person is convinced that the other completely understands his or her viewpoint and the reasons behind it.

Following that exercise of having to wear “the other’s moccasins” it is quite astonishing how quickly a creative compromise can be achieved.

Of course, unlike politicians, the husband and wife in therapy are not running for election every time they open their mouths. Besides, it would appear that for a politician to publically compromise with an other-side-of-the-aisle opposing view would be tantamount to having a raging case of impetigo on your face. No one would want to come near you.

Exerting leadership is also totally suspect.

Friends and I have been discussing Ken Burns’ recent outstanding film, The Roosevelts. Even long- time, ardent republican friends have expressed admiration for former President Roosevelt’s courage and ability to lead, to put himself on the line for what he believed was right—re elected or not. Has that kind of leadership disappeared along with the 1940s hair slick, Brylcreem? “A little dab will do ya!” (So the slogan went.)

It’s no “little dab” of leadership that we need.  Instead, right now our country-- the world-- needs political leadership with the heart and stamina of Seabiscuit, driven by the creative wisdom of the best minds of our nation.

I wish I had more hope.


Written by Cecily Stranahan, our companion on this journey of reflection and self-discovery. Visit Cecily's Blog at

Drawn Toward the "Great Perhaps"

As I mentioned in a recent blog, the protagonist in John Green’sLooking For Alaska, Miles Cavalry, nicknamed “Pudge,” is a brilliant, friendless, nerdy guy who dislikes his school and wants out. Obsessed with biographies and last words, Pudge, in explaining to his parents why he wants to go to boarding school, quotes Francois Rabelais. “'I go to seek a “Great Perhaps.’”

I have not been able to get that line out of my head.

Read Jon Kabat-Zinn, Be Where You Are, read Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now. Read any Buddhist writer: Pema Chodron, Thich Nhat Hanh and you will be taught that all the power, all reality, exists only NOW. The past is gone. True. The future isn’t here yet. Also true. Therefore we need to be very alert and awake right now, living each moment to the fullest, noticing everything—as if we could, but I get the merit of the idea—and always, always, in order to bring ourselves into the present, we are to come back to our physical senses and to our breath.

Excellent. I’m all for it. I meditate.

But wait. What about the “Great Perhaps?" Doesn't that fit in, too? 

The “Great Perhaps” implies a future, doesn’t it? The “Great Perhaps” is a someday thing, something imagined, even if not precisely; it suggests hope, the possibility of something better, something fresh and new, something vibrating with potential. That’s what Pudge is hoping for and that is how he describes it. And that something, the “Great Perhaps,” is a concept that lurks within us all, pulling us forward into we know not what, but forward, nonetheless.

I recall in the TV series West Wing when, at the end of each segment, the President of the United States had wrestled the current problem to the ground, he invariably turned to his Chief of Staff with a determined, yet slightly wide-eyed look, and asked, “What’s next?”


Doesn’t the “Great Perhaps” imply that there could be, in fact there will be a “What’s next?” in our lives and furthermore, that we are inexorably drawn to it?

Perhaps our dreams and fantasies constitute our “Great Perhaps.” I’ve always wanted to spend a summer living in a lighthouse. I imagined doing this alone: alone, with the sea crashing around me, throwing up spray, roaring, swirling and foaming against rocks, and me, sitting there, surrounded by turbulent water, every day, watching and listening, scribbling onto a pad what the water was saying to me.

I have lived both on and also very near water, but have never gotten myself into a lighthouse. This summer while visiting s friend in Maine I picked up a magazine called Maine and found a picture of a gorgeous lighthouse situated on a small rocky island off of Boothbay. It has been turned into a tiny B and B. I tore out the page.

Done! I will spend two nights and three days in that lighthouse this coming August. Not alone, but there, surrounded by rocks and surging water.

I know. It’s not my youthful dream fully realized. (I suspect I am too old for that now.) It doesn’t matter. I am thrilled. At last I will be staying in a lighthouse. A “Great Perhaps” that never ceased to beckon.

And there are more to come, I am certain. The “Great Perhaps” continues to entice me, lead me further into God knows what—and I mean that literally. So--as much as I want to be actively present and awake moment to moment in my life, at the same time, I love this concept, the tease of the “Great Perhaps” and honestly? I figure, when the “Great Perhaps” is no longer tweaking me with future possibilities, I will consider myself to be nearly dead . . . and even then I’ll be looking for the “Great Perhaps” in some form of life after death. After all, isn’t that the ultimate “Great Perhaps?”


Written for What I Know to Be True by Cecily Stranahan, our companion on this journey of reflection and self-discovery. Visit Cecily's Blog at

Nobody Told Me

Nobody told me that my cars keys would develop a life of their own and take off exactly when I need them.

Nobody told me that putting an electric mattress pad on my bed—running all those cords underneath--and changing the sheets could turn into a real workout.

Nobody told me that to be able to drive to an unfamiliar destination at night would require a reconnaissance excursion in daylight.

Nobody told me that in spite of having gained only five pounds since college graduation, my navel would disappear into a tummy I am only just getting used to.

Nobody told me that a text from one of my adult grandchildren would set me up for the day. Nobody told me I would learn how to text!

Nobody told me that an hour of concentrated exercising would put me on the couch for the afternoon: that pacing myself would become an imperative.

Nobody told me that watching friends become increasingly infirm and die would be like watching the leaves fall from the trees in autumn, generating in my heart an existential sadness interspersed with sudden stabs of grief.

Nobody told me that the ending years of my life would be spent almost entirely with wonderful women.

Nobody told me that over time my butt would pack up and depart, leaving my trousers to dribble around on the tops of my shoes.

Nobody told me that the sight of my older sister, her oxygen tank slung over her shoulder, trudging slowly upstairs, stopping on every other rise to catch her breath, would bring tears to my eyes.

Nobody told me that my creative, quick-witted younger brother, riddled now with cancer, would, as a result of his recent “milder” chemo, spike a neutropenic fever, lose all his muscle strength, be hospitalized and cease to know where he is.

Nobody told me that from time to time I would find myself shaded by a shadow of survivor guilt while, simultaneously pulsing with gratitude for my good health.


Painting by Brandon Stoddard 

Painting by Brandon Stoddard 

And nobody told me that we would plow through these rough waters with everything we’ve got.

Written by Cecily Stranahan, our companion on this journey of reflection and self-discovery. Visit Cecily's Blog at

Everybody Outside!

“I am the breakfast cook!” my youngest son, Jonce, announces with a grin on a recent October Sunday. “Anything you want: eggs, bacon, yogurt, berries granola, pancakes with chocolate chips or bananas? You name it; I’ll make it.”

Jonce is wearing a bathrobe made of bright white toweling and beat-up slippers; his wavy gray hair is tousled.

I am dressed. Ready for the day. “Great!” I say. “I’m for the granola, berries and yogurt and maybe I’ll have one pancake when you do some for the kids.”

“This granola is really good, Mom,” he tells me. “You’ll like it.”

“Coffee?” he offers. “I can make you some decaf?”


Gradually the kids appear. Lock, at thirteen, is growing like a weed, his body catching up with his already large hands and feet. He is ardent about Lacrosse and sports in general—a passion he shares with his father. His sister, Maggie, at 15, is blonde and blue-eyed, a competitive rider and also taking three AP courses as a high school sophomore.

My daughter-in-law, Janice, arrives in the kitchen, her coffee already in hand. She is a partner in a vast New York law firm and a terrific cook. Janice is wearing black sweat pants and a blue sweatshirt.

We slide into chairs at the kitchen table, eating and talking. Eyeing Lock’s stack of chocolate chip pancakes, I ask the “breakfast cook” for one plain one and soon it is on my plate swimming in maple syrup. 

 Jonce announces cheerfully, “OK. It’s a beautiful day and I need everybody outside in a half an hour. There’s work to do: bulbs to plant. And the tomatoes have to come out. They’re done. We’ll save the large green ones. Half an hour,” he reinforces. “Everyone ready!” 

I look up quickly to check the teenage reaction to their father’s plan. To my surprise there is none: not even eye rolling. They just go on eating.

 Wait a minute! Aren’t teenagers supposed to rebel against this sort of thing? “Everybody outside to work?” Shouldn’t that elicit at least a few groans? 

I concentrate on scraping up the last of the maple syrup off my plate. Then I remember that last spring when I was visiting the same thing had happened after Sunday breakfast. “Everyone outside!” That time we cleaned the terrace furniture, swept the terrace, and pulled dead leaves away from arising plants. No one baulked then either. My son: the “Pied Piper Coach.”

Soon it's: “Time to go! Everybody outside!” We collect in the mudroom, grabbing light jackets, replacing slippers with shoes and head out. 

Near the wooden gardening shed, Jonce has laid out a mix of tools: shovels, rakes, hole diggers for bulbs and a stack of gardening gloves.  

“Here Mom,” he says, “these should fit you.” He hands me some worn and dirty gloves.

Maggie and I rip out tomato plants in the little back garden, clearing the space for the daffodil bulbs that Jonce has given us. “Be sure to spread them out,” he yells over his shoulder as he departs for the garden in front where Janice is already planting tulips.

We plan where we want to dig the holes. Maggie places the hole digger firmly in the earth and jumps up and down on it. It barely sinks in. Maggie weighs ninety-two pounds. We begin to laugh. 

 “Can you jump any harder?” I challenge her through my laughter. 

“I’ll try!” 

Jonce comes from around the corner. “You try it, Mom.” I hesitate. At my age? Can I jump and land on those narrow spikes that stick out from the side of the metal cylinder? Seeing my hesitation, Jonce urges me on. “You can do it!” 

Of course I can do it. While Maggie steadies the long handle I climb on and jump up and down on the digger “Way to go, Mom!”Jonce shouts. But, in fact, I don’t do any better than my granddaughter.

By now Lock has joined us and he is laughing. Trying to make these holes has become ridiculous. “Let me do it,” Lock says, taking the handle from Maggie’s hand. I quickly step aside. Three jumps and that sucker is driven six inches straight into the ground. We all cheer. Our hero grins and nods his head to the applauding crowd.  

From then on Lock jumps while Maggie and I plant and cover, pushing back all the excavated dirt and smoothing the spot with the mulch and the remaining leaves scattered on the ground. We are a team.

I pat the leaves above the daffodil bulbs’ nests, speaking quietly. “Have a nice cozy winter down there.” I say. “I hope you are warm and safe beneath the snow. Then you can open up and do whatever it is you do to become a daffodil. See you in the spring.” 

My granddaughter is kneeling beside me on the ground and reaches out to pat the earth with me. No bright autumn morning was ever any better than this.


Written by Cecily Stranahan, our companion on this journey of reflection and self-discovery. Visit Cecily's Blog at

Not In My Stars

Last week’s blog didn’t capture enough interest to fill a jam jar. It was by far the least read blog since I began writing them in January. I’m not whining; I’m just observing.

It’s too hard!” a friend complained. “I don’t want to think about all that: whether there is an after life, all my preferences and prejudices. It’s too much.”

The fault, dear friends, is not in my stars, but in my writing. How to make the ideas of eternal life, evolving souls, liberation and self-awareness more lighthearted? More appealing? I just couldn’t get there, which lets you know what a novice I remain at this business of communicating through words.

There is a writer who can do this; one who can, through engaging story telling, skillfully balance between the light and the dark of this life with words so simple and beautiful and characters so complex and beguiling that I am awed.

You have heard of the book/movie, The Fault In Our Stars, by John Green. You must have. Even though Green writes Young Adult literature—the only growing segment of published writing in America these days----yes, young people are reading---those of us over fifty must be paying some attention to this aspect of our literary culture.

I have read The Fault In Our Stars and marveled that an author could write such a heart-twisting book with so much love, humor and grace. Then I read Looking For Alaska and was blown away by Green’s ability to create characters that, whatever our age, we can all recognize and feel compassion for. Alaska is also a sad story but one of redemption and hope as well. Green never seems to leave us without hope.

And if I had his skill as a writer I would have wound a story around you, my friends, with that last blog of mine as tightly as Green winds the story of adolescent “Pudge,” the protagonist in Looking for Alaska.

Pudge is a brilliant, friendless, nerdy guy who, wanting more for his life, goes off to boarding school in search of the “Great Perhaps.” At Culver Creek he finds friends who turn him inside out, friends whose life situations educate him far beyond the classes he takes.

At the end of Looking for Alaska, a solemn and pensive Pudge writes for his religion class final exam: “I believe now that we are greater than the sum of our parts. And that part has to go somewhere, because it cannot be destroyed.” “ . . . one thing I have learned from science classes is that energy is never created and never destroyed.”

“We cannot be born and we cannot die.” Pudge continues. “Like all energy, we can only change shapes and sizes and manifestations.” “ . . . that part of us greater than the sum of our parts cannot begin and cannot end . . .”

The above quotes are from Looking For Alaska by John Green. I cannot reference the page numbers, as I should, because I read this book on my Kindle. But what I can say is this: no matter precisely where in the book these thoughts are expressed, about the after life, John Green and I are on the same page. 

Written by Cecily Stranahan, our companion on this journey of reflection and self-discovery. Visit Cecily's Blog at

Wanting To Get Rid Of The "I" In Me

Saturday night after Buddhist teacher, Will Duncan’s, talk, I was awake for hours. I was wracked by the desire to somehow burn through my ego during the time remaining before I die. Burn through until there would be nothing left of it but ashes. How to get rid of the “I” in me?

Good grief! What was I thinking? In the light of day I know that isn’t going to happen. Surrendering the “I” is for the great souls like Jesus, and the Buddha and Muhammad and Martin Luther King and Gandhi and Nelson Mandela--just to name a few-- all of whom burned through ordinary life and its dazzling distractions to the place of ultimate service. That they might die for the teaching they offered the world was clear to each one. And some did have to make the final sacrifice; some did not. Nonetheless each one suffered his personal and profound trial in the process of purification.

I’ve had some trials; purified, I am not.

Have you noticed our propensity for killing off those who emerge to give voice to the still revolutionary messages of forgiveness, of our connection to all beings and of our call to love “our crooked neighbors as our crooked selves?”  (W.H. Auden)

Unlike the great souls, I am pretty well stuck into this life: this existence of mine, rife with its preferences, prejudices, its possibilities unexplored, jealousies and human frailties. You know what I mean: all the stuff that keeps us grinding away at life. Most of us are unable to sustain a vision that propels us forward into increased open heartedness; greater understanding and generosity and above all, the freedom to just let go.

Because I believe in reincarnation—please do not ask me to explain this-- I want to clear as much of the debris of my ego stuff in this lifetime as I am able to identify. My hope is that in the next life—in which of course I will not be me--I will not have to repeat all the same garbage. There will be new garbage to deal with as my soul evolves; I just don’t want the same old, same old, been there, done that.

You know that feeling? I’ve been through this situation before: the people are different, the stage set is altered, but I am feeling a familiar nasty anxiety here. I thought I had this one figured out!

If we can shine a benevolent light of awareness on such moments as they arise, we can, right then, in that moment, have a chance to make a different choice. We have the capacity to change when we notice our habitual patterns.

God knows I am a million lifetimes away from being able, like Will Duncan, to spend three years gently guiding rattlesnakes out of my solitary hut in the desert. But I can be on the path of liberation. I can keep opening my heart. Every time I want to shut down on someone or some situation I can become aware of that and breathe and soften my heart around it. I can seek a different response to feeling attacked, or ignored or disappointed or angry or . . . anything.

As Will would say, “We can only do the best that we can” in each moment, trying not to concretize our opinions, solidify our prejudices, juice our dramas and stir our anger. When we notice those habitual reactions arising, we can choose to breathe and soften. We can choose freedom; we can choose peace.

Written by Cecily Stranahan, our companion on this journey of reflection and self-discovery. Visit Cecily's Blog at

The Hard Part: Recognizing Our Good Qualities

Our spiritual study group is slowly making its way through the great theologian, Karen Armstrong’s book, Twelve Steps To The Compassionate Life.

We are on Step Four: Compassion For Yourself. I have scribbled above the chapter title, “the hard part.”

Armstrong writes that in studying the Biblical commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” she had always focused on the first part of that injunction.  I think that is true of most of us. We are happy to show up with the chicken soup for someone else but rarely create it or its equivalent for ourselves when we are in need of comfort or tender loving care.

“The Golden Rule,” Armstrong writes, “requires self knowledge; it asks that we use our own feelings as a guide to our behavior with others.” Treating ourselves harshly, with quick, slicing judgment means that, in all likelihood, we will treat others in the same fashion.

“So,” she goes on to say,” we need to acquire a healthier and more balanced knowledge of our strengths as well as our weaknesses” and then she suggests that we begin by making  a list of our good qualities, talents and achievements.

Sounds good? Maybe. One of our group members had written in her book margin, “a good idea.” But, she confessed, that she hadn’t done it. It was too hard. We all agreed. Writing down our good qualities would be really difficult. Discussion ensued. Should we do it anyway and then go even further and share our lists with each other?

“Oh God!" a member exclaimed. "I can just hear my mother now!” You are boasting! How can you possibly think so well of yourself?

Another: “I’d much rather make a list of my shortcomings. So much easier!

Still another: “How can I write the things that I think are good about me and read it to all of you? What if you think I’m not that good?”

We all made faces.

Constructing a list of one’s good qualities, talents and achievements only sounds easy. Obviously it is not. Especially if you plan to share it with people who know you pretty well.

Couldn’t we just move on to the next part of the exercise: writing down our “egotistically driven fears” that make us act uncharitably and without compassion toward others? The group was tempted.

 But bravery and compliance with the process won out. We decided to take on the hard part. We will open our hearts to ourselves and to each other, creating and sharing our good quality lists.

Will you join us in this endeavor?  Will you shine the light of your awareness onto your critical voice for long enough to soften it sufficiently for the task? Are you willing to make a list of your good qualities, talents and achievements?

I will let you know how our group fares with this and I hope some of you will do the same by sharing your comments on this blog.   

(See below if you need help in commenting.)

But first:

On Saturday I went to a talk given by a 43 year-old Buddhist named Will Duncan. Will, who has been studying Buddhism since he was sixteen, returned in July from a 3-year solitary meditation retreat where he lived in a hut in the desert of Arizona.

He was amazing!  As he imparts wisdom, Will already exudes that wonderful combination of mental discipline and humorous lightheartedness that I have come to associate with the very best Tibetan teachers.

Check out his website for Will's speaking schedule, audio talks and pictures of the Arizona valley where he spent those isolated three years. You don't need to be a Buddhist to benefit from what Will has to say about living mindfully. If you are anywhere near where Will is speaking, I urge you to get there!

Written by Cecily Stranahan, our companion on this journey of reflection and self-discovery. Visit Cecily's Blog at 

Dream On!

Do you pay attention to your dreams? I hope you do.  In graduate school I had to keep a dream journal for a year and I discovered what a wild and deep source of information our dreams could be.

“Dreams,” my Jungian analyst told me, “love to be stroked.” By that he meant that the more we pay attention to our dreams the more available they become to us. Dreams are the means by which the unconscious mind makes itself known to us.

In the past week I have dreamt about two houses I have loved and left: two different lives went with those houses in two very different countries. What those small houses did have in common was water. Both were very near or on water.

 In the first dream I was in my English cottage—the closing on the sale of it is scheduled for October 17--- with lots of my friends and we were all dressed up. The cottage was crowded with people. In the dream I thought we were having a party but, as I moved slowly through the crowd, I understood that the gathering was actually a funeral. I woke up with a start and filled with sadness as I realized that the funeral was for the loss—the death, if you will--of my cottage and of my summertime English village life of twenty- seven years.

 Could be I’m not so on top of this change in my life as I thought, if a house funeral is what my unconscious is serving up.

 In the second dream I was walking toward my little cedar house at the end of the dirt road leading into the marsh at the bottom of Sagaponack Pond in Bridgehampton, NY. I spent fourteen years living there on the edge of Sagg pond overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. I bought that house before the Hamptons became The Hamptons, otherwise it could never have been mine.

In the dream I walked down that familiar dirt road edged by phragmites and rose rugose in the company of a contractor, someone who was a friend. I think I was going to try and fix the house up, to get back into it. But when we got there, its dilapidation was evident; it was crumbling. The contractor gently pointed out the disintegration of the roof, the windows and the floors. He told me I would do better to tear it down and build a new house. Build a new house: the metaphorical message of the dream.

To that beautiful spot in Bridgehampton, clearly, there is no going back.

Sometimes the bits and pieces of the lives we have left behind cling to us like pills on a sweater, belonging, nonetheless separated. Occasionally our unconscious mind revisits places or people where or with whom we have left traces of ourselves. These two dreams  made it clear that no matter how much I had loved them, both houses were irredeemable and something new must be created.

Have you ever left a house and a life within it the sense of which  has burrowed so deeply into your psyche that it pops up in your dreams now and then?  I'm sure that you have. 

All I need now is for my unconscious mind, its wisdom so much more in tune with God and the Greater Reality than I, to reveal to me the nature of the home that I continue to seek. Then I will be on my way.

The sages write that the true home I seek is within me. Clearly I am not there yet.

Written by Cecily Stranahan, our companion on this journey of reflection and self-discovery. Visit Cecily's Blog at