Monthly Archives: May 2014


My mornings simmer with voices of women whom I admire from afar:  Eleanor Beardsley, Cokie Roberts, Nina Totenberg, Sylvia Poggioli.  I could see their pictures online but I prefer to imagine how they look.  Their tones, their accents, the humor lurking in the corners of their words — these delight me, sustain me, draw me to the stories they tell.

I come from a long line of strong women with comforting voices.  My mother hand-carried the “infinity Corleys” through our tumultuous childhood, perhaps wisely, perhaps not so wisely, but surely, strongly and certainly.  I hear her voice in my head still:  The advice she gave me, the pain she admitted in her last months, the praise she tendered.  Her voice, low, deep and round, echoes in my mind.

My cousin Kati and I once talked for twenty-four hours straight.  Her then-husband Bernard, French with little or no English, heard us from other rooms — the bedroom while we sat on the living room couch; the kitchen as I washed her hair in the bathroom; the patio, when we collapsed on the bed, laughing, exhausted, simultaneously depleted and replenished.  She told me later that Bernard remarked, in his native tongue, that after the first few hours, he couldn’t tell which voice belonged to Kati.  We melded into the accent of our childhood St. Louis, the cousin voice, the sound of people who share DNA.

When I spend any time on the telephone with one of my St. Louis relatives, I find myself mimicking their cadence — the drawled “o” which sounds like “a”  on the tongue of an eastern Missourian; the dropped “r”s, the weird way of saying quarter and concrete.  The accent comforts me; like the women on my radio, the sounds seem commonplace but unique; appealing and intriguing; like awakening from amnesia in a place at once both strange and familiar.

For years, I have wanted to be Eleanor Beardsley; not because I know anything spectacular about her, but because of her voice.  If I could have Eleanor Beardlsey’s voice, I would know no bounds.  To utter, just once, in that gravely, sexy tone, Eleanor Beardsley, NPR news, Paris — I would lose myself in the potential of that sound.

As I start my car’s engine and turn on the radio, the voices of these women flood into the space around me.  It’s a lullaby, it’s a beckoning; it’s a reminder of my potential and an invitation to speak.  Join us, the voices say.  Bring your voice.  We’re waiting for you.  Ah, the choir of women.  I raise my voice to meet theirs, and I am filled with wonder.


Years ago, I read a book called The Walking Stick. The main character worked as a museum employee.  She walked with a limp and used a cane.  In the course of the novel, she met a handsome man who “made love to her”, a phrase which left much to imagine.  She came to adore him and ultimately felt that he reciprocated.  She slowly abandoned her cane, leaving it idle, finding new confidence in his seeming devotion.

But he used her.  He stole from the museum and disappeared, leaving her in disgrace.  By the end of the book, she had resumed her desolate life, and reclaimed the walking stick from where it had lain idle during the whirlwind courtship by the dastardly rogue.

I’ve never wanted to use a cane.  I know that I consider it a stigmatizing utensil, though I also have tried using several varieties and find them awkward at  best.  But a large part of my reticence is the association with undesirability.

Today as I made my way to court, I passed the Children’s Center for the Visually Impaired.  I found myself stopped at the adjacent red light, watching a woman accompany a child of six or seven down the sidewalk.  He rested one hand on her arm, and in the other, held a long white cane with an oval gizmo at the end of  it.  He swept the cane to and fro in front of him as he walked. I imagine it to be new technology, and wondered what information the gadget on the end transmitted.

I studied his face.  He wore impressive dark glasses which covered his eyes and rested midway down his cheeks, sheltering him from the painful glare of the sun.  Below the bottom edge of the lenses, his mouth spread into a wide, unbounded smile.  He waived his free hand occasionally, caught in the animation of the conversation in which he and his companion engaged each other.  They moved slowly down the sidewalk, but not because he faltered.  Rather, they strolled in the carefree, easy fashion of friends just out for a morning walk.

The light turned green.  Someone behind me honked, impatient.  I gave the pair on the sidewalk a last, lingering glance, and then, slowly, continued on my way.

Monday morning

Any time I step into a blast of wind, I wonder if being thin is over-rated.

This morning as I exited the Oak Street parking garage, I felt the strong pull of the air which whistles between the courthouse and the old library building.  I clutched my handbag and the Vera Bradley in which my new little laptop rides.  Pulling my feet a bit further apart, I started across the street.  On the other side, I met a man in an impeccably tailored three-piece suit with a tall stack of document boxes on a dolly.  Recognizing a brother at the bar, I smiled and made some remark about the difficulty I had had crossing the road.  We laughed, and then started toward the courthouse together.

Standing at the elevator chatting with him, I couldn’t help noticing his accent.  I asked about his country of origin and then, when he responded with a pleasant tone, his length of time in America.  As we waited together, he mentioned the weather and I responded, as I’ve come to respond more frequently, that I was pleased to have awakened one more day regardless of the mildly daunting prospect of the windy weather.

Oh, yes, he responded.  Another gift from God.  We exchanged bright looks and comfortable smiles just as a few more people joined us and the elevators arrived to take us upstairs.

And now I am sitting in a courtroom, listening to a kind and competent young judge plow through the docket.  I am early, as I always am, but this gives me no concern.  With the half hour that I’ve got until my client arrives and my case is called, I’m content to sit and think.

Or maybe, just sit.  And breathe.

Simply fruit

I’m standing in the kitchen craving sugar.

I pull out the raspberries; they’ve gone moldy.  My son hands me a carton of “apple pie” yogurt; then says It probably has a lot of sugar.  We read the label; sure enough.  I toss it back in the fridge and think about the orange I ate ten minutes ago.


I finally pull down the rice cakes and take out a jar of Simply Fruit, blackberry.  I put a fairly hefty glob on a rice cake, spread it around, and settle back in the living room chair to watch the rest of Mud.  The first bite of blackberry sends shivers through my mouth.  I know it’s not white sugar, it’s not chocolate or ice cream.  But it tastes darn good.

By the time I finish the whole cake, with its dark purple schmear of blackberry, my craving has passed, or been sated.

I’m not  sure what — if any — lesson I’m supposed to take from that, but the snack satisfied me, the movie was good, and day 1 of my all-out run at the MS diet has nearly ended.


Zinnias as metaphor

Six zinnias grow along the driveway.  I planted the seventh in a pot on our deck.  Each get watered regularly, has been fed, and gets plenty of sun.  All seven have produced buds and secondary blooms; all seven stand tall with lovely green leaves.  Their beauty pleases me, as does the fact that each of them thrives under my care.

Every year, I pot a bunch of plants, scatter them on stands and tables, and minister to them on a daily basis through the spring and summer.  I go for easy stuff:  begonias in the sun, impatiens in the shade.  Zinnias are new for me, whether in the ground or in pots.  I’m more pleased about these zinnias than I expected to be.  Call it proof of life; call it zinnias as metaphor.  When I sit on the porch sipping my tea, I feel that I’ve accomplished something wonderful.

Plant1 Plant2

Enter laughing

Sometimes you just have to laugh.

Life threw me three big curve balls yesterday.  At one point, I announced to everyone in my suite that if anyone had anything unkind to say to me that they should save it for tomorrow because if anyone said anything unkind, I swore I would shoot them.  You can bet nobody even came near me.

A couple of the catastrophes just won’t go away, but one or two have been remedied with the help of people who care about me.  I will make it, of course; because that’s what I do.  I’ve been praised for being relentless and cursed for it, but whether it’s a gift or a burden, it’s in my nature to survive.  Even thrive, maybe.

I drank a few cups of coffee and ate a square of dark chocolate despite my sugar ban.  I swore a little, in the presence of my long-time friend Alan who has heard worse even from me.  You could call that little  interlude complaining, I suppose.  Ultimately, perhaps it kept me from resorting to more dangerous or  permanent outlets for my pain.

So.  A new day.  I’m scheduled for an ultra sound at 7:30 and I can’t eat until afterwards.  The sun is rising, May 16th has dawned.  I’m moving to Act Three.  Enter, stage right, laughing.

Nourishment for the heart

I came home from my friend Cindy Cieplik’s inaugural Wellness Table gathering feeling invigorated.  The women  at her table exuded kindness and grace, just the antidote that anyone might gather around themselves if stress threatened serenity.  I entered that space feeling joyful and left feeling that endless joy might be within human reach.

On the table inside our front door on which we routinely toss mail, I found a purple envelope with my name printed across its front.  I dumped my purse and bag, and lifted the envelope, searching my memory for any trace of recognition of the handwriting.  I slipped one finger through the flap and opened it.

Inside, I found a Mother’s Day card from a young woman who has been in my life since she attended my son’s preschool, two years behind him.  Abigail has had challenges for the last seven or eight years.  I’ve been able to help her through some of those, though I often lament that I didn’t see the crisis looming annd help her make choices to avoid some of the more difficult paths she walked.

Her mother, Paula; and Abigail’s older son, Chaska, had stopped by our house on Sunday to give me a card and a little flower that Chaska had made at Sunday School that day.  Paula folded me in her arms and pressed her face against my hair, murmuring her love and gratitude for my friendship.  I found myself clinging to her, letting her goodness wash over me, glad that I had done even one small thing to deserve what she felt for me.  Or maybe that I had done nothing to deserve it but she gave it anyway.

And now, three days later, a card from Abigail herself.  Inside, she wrote that I was “someone who gave more than love”.  I held the card, my hands trembling, my heart overwhelmed with wonder.  I asked myself, How can the little I do, the pittance I am able to accomplish in life, draw this young woman’s thanks?  Day in, day out, I push myself to do more, to be more, to help more.  But for Abigail, in her eyes, whatever I did exceeded what she had expected me to do.  Here she stood, thanking me, while there I stood, chastising myself for not doing enough.

Her words nourished my heart, my soul; they fed and watered the tender shoots of something green within me.  The roots of this new growth have long been dormant but still alive, and with each nourishing gesture, the fragile flower grows stronger.

I put Abigail’s card on my mantel, next to the one from my son and stepson, and the card from Abigail’s parents, and the little flower from Chaska.  In plain sight they stand, where I can see them every day.


Of lost bracelets and broken angels

Last evening, the wooden shelf which has long held my china angel collection fell from the wall.  Five angels shattered on the floor.  The exact chain of events which led to this small disaster has no importance, except to note that my beloved stepson caught the shelf and saved the other twenty or so angels from following their sisters and brothers to obliviion.  His deft move also meant that the birth-month angels which had belonged to my Nana and my Grandpa did not fall.

This morning, I discovered that my blessings bracelet has vanished.  I have a rocky history with bracelets. I daily wear two cuffs, one silver, one copper, right and left.  These durable bands have survived while my mother’s identification bracelet, an antique silver charm bracelet and several inexpensive but sentimentally valuable bead bracelets broke, slipped off and disappeared, or suffered other sometimes mysterious maladies. Just this week, not counting the blessings bracelet, I’ve snapped and broken two:  a black and gold bead given to me by my father, and a white and green little thing that I’ve had since I was five.  My son fixed the latter but I don’t dare tempt fate by wearing it again.

Except for my grandparents’ angels, most of my collection came from thrift stores or as gifts.  The five which broke came from my sister Joyce at various times.  Four or five which she gave me remain, as does my first angel, “Hope”, which I think might actually be a fairy.

Despite the loss of my blessings bracelet and a fifth of my angel collection, I feel serene today.  Oh, there was the terse fifty-minute call with Google Fiber about a scam pulled on us and their unwillingness to fix it; but really, they started it.  I can laugh about it now, but it did rather get my ire.  I was not complaining so much as asking them to help me address a hacking issue, and drilling up the food chain trying to find someone with authority to do so.  Had they not all refused their last names and had not one of them cut me off, and all right in the middle of my mad quest to meet a deadline, I might have kept my cool.

Through the rest of the day, I’ve been reasonably tranquil.  I know, as Jane said, that the blessings I’ve counted every day — even the mixed ones — did not disappear with the bracelet.  And the angels in  my life?  Those little china things just symbolized the many angels which come my way each day, both in the people whom I meet and in the little divine spark that seems to follow me around, stepping out to pull me back each time I nearly get creamed by a fast-moving truck.

This evening, I am going to be dining at The Wellness Table with my dear, dear friend Cindy Cieplik, who has got to be one of the most divine and divinely joyful people whom I’ve ever met.  She’s one of my angels, and one of my blessings.  I’ll miss the bracelet and those particular china angels which will soon be dust in a landfill somewhere.  But I’ll still count my blessings, and I’ll still depend upon the angels which dance ’round my head, and those which lull me to sleep each night with the sound of their heavenly choir.


In the midst of uncertainty, peace

I got good news today. No tumor.  Shew!  Dodged another bullet.  Of course, we still have no explanation for my dizziness (hold the remarks, please) but that particular one would have been extremely unpleasant and it didn’t happen.  It seems I get yet another chance to evolve into my best self.

It’s been 17 years since a doctor told me I had about six months to live.  He didn’t know how wrong he was; he died less than a year later.  The virus which awakened ravages on but I also keep going, one step ahead of it.  Some call me relentless, persistent; I just trod forward, step by step, wearing whatever form of smile I can wrap around my heart.  I don’t know what tomorrow holds; but I feel ready to let go and live in the center of it.

My friend Ramona Kennedy posted a quote on her Facebook page yesterday which resonates with me:

“You can give without loving, but you can never love without giving. The great acts of love are done by those who are habitually performing small acts of kindness. We pardon to the extent that we love. Love is knowing that even when you are alone, you will never be lonely again.  The great happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved. Loved for ourselves and even loved in spite of ourselves.”
― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

Today I luxuriate in the possibility of love and kindness.  I dare to hope that even in spite of myself, I can be kind, and I can be loved.  In the midst of uncertainty, I feel peace.

As near to perfect as it gets

I’ve been a mother since 1991.  I’ve spent Mother’s Day at McDonald’s, the zoo (in two different cities), on the front balcony of a city apartment, and having brunch at a restaurant in Union Station.  I’ve gotten flowers, and car-cleanings, and hand-made pots as gifts over the years. Mother’s Day 2014 might just be my favorite.

My day started with a pleasant hour or so just being with my husband Jim, and then we decided to go out to breakfast, the two of us.  We had momentarily forgotten that this was the second most popular day for eating brunch (after Easter) but our third try got us both an excellent table and a nearby parking space.  The conversation vied with the coffee and hollandaise for enjoyment.

Back in the car, we set about to visit his mother’s grave.  He cleaned the headstone of bird droppings and we photographed the lovely silk flowers that JIm’s sister Virginia had placed in the vase on her last visit.  The sky rose soft and clear above Joanna’s resting place.  I could not help but cry; and I know, as much as I miss her, Jim, Virginia and their father Jay miss Joanna a thousand times more.  Their pain must be so hard to bear.  But Jim says, he’s thankful for Joanna’s life, and all she gave him.  I gaze at him as we drive to the next cemetery and concur.

For the next hour, we cleared leaves from various headstones at a total of four cemeteries.  Jim talked about his grandparents, aunts and uncles.  I photographed each headstone and we touched the plot markers, stood among the silent dead, and felt the stillness of the air around us.  I thought of my own mother, resting these many years, and wondered if heaven were such that our folks might be communing — or if the spirit is less choate than that in the afterlife.  I rather think Joanna and Lucille have found each other and gaze down upon us together, each with her own radiant smile.

In the afternoon, my son Patrick and I finished planting the new vincas, which we had started on Saturday.  By “Patrick and I”, I mean, “Patrick”, since our 2009 adventure with Mother’s-Day-vinca-planting had revealed a rare and fierce allergy to vincas when my hands swelled and reddened even through gloves.  So Patrick turned the soil and added a flat of vincas to fill the bare spots. I stood nearby with the hose and fertilizer, and we talked about the Rolling Stones, aphids, and Chicago.

About three o’clock, my stepson Mac arrived from college and my heart again filled with the joy of having the household complete.  We heard about his DC summer internship and the visit to his roommate’s family.  Then I went out to the kitchen to start my part of dinner while Jim and Mac visited on our porch, father and son, as strongly bonded as I have ever seen a father and son but with so much room for each to be his own person.

Jim grilled wings and vegetables, my favorite; and the “boys”, (men, really, 20 and nearly 23), gave me a sweet card and a gift of three months’ delivery of Nature’s Wonder, a healthy snack service that I have been wanting to try.  I hadn’t told anyone of my interest, but the boys had figured out that it might be something that would augment my continuous pursuit of a healthy diet.  My heart rose with gladness that they thought so personally of what I might like.

Throughout the afternoon and evening, I moved about the house, singing softly in my off-key voice.  I listened to our two young men talking, glad that they have a relationship independent of us, glad that they can be brothers to each other.  I watched my husband move the ladder down the length of the house as he cleaned the gutters.  Periodically I stood on the deck without  a coherent thought, amidst my begonias and impatiens. I could not have been happier.

None of us know what life holds.  Each day might truly be the last we see; each hour might be the last we share with those around us.  People change; things fall apart; circumstances rise and make demands.  Unintended events, unpredicted consequences, and just plain accidents, can rise to wipe away all that we hold dear. But yesterday, 11 May 2014, I had a day as near to perfect as it gets, and I’ll be putting that day on the keeping shelf, nestled in my little silver box.  I will always have the magic of its memory, come what may.