Monthly Archives: July 2014

Right neighborly

I’ve never been very good at handling change and I”ve had a whole lot of it this year.  I keep telling myself, “You picked a hell of a year to quit complaining!”  Then I respond to myself, “Quit complaining!” And me and myself go ambling down the sidewalk to the car which hasn’t been cleaned out for months, carefully stepping over the struggling vinca bed.

One of the changes around these parts is a decampment of the neighbors to the north and south.  To the north of me there is now a couple, George and Scott, and their adorable poodle.  Scott mowed my grass for several weeks earlier this summer and George carried a rocking chair into the house for me.  They’ve  been working on the interior of their house and often stand outside sawing what must be baseboards, or tote paint buckets and Home Depot bags from one of their cars.  They wave at me whenever we come or go at the same time and we stand in our adjoining yards chatting in the evenings.

South of me, a banker from Tulsa has moved into the home from which my dear friends Phyllis and Ivan moved — to a house three times the size, for their expanding family (so they are forgiven).  Chris and a young lady who must be his “paramour” ride bikes, grill, and work on the yard, improving on what Ivan and Phyllis cultivated.  He walks his little dog Hank and stops at the porch to ask about my day.

I’m blessed with twenty-year veteran neighbors across the street, Jim and Debbie Black.  Jim’s uncle left the house to him. They’ve lived there since the year after I moved to Holmes Street. They raised a daughter ten years older than my son, who now has four girls of her own and lives in North Dakota.  Four? Hm.  Yes, four.  Debbie calls across the street most mornings, while she’s trimming her bushes or feeding her cat.

And there are regular dog-walkers whose homes sit a block or so away, particularly one man named Kevin who works at the local public radio station.  He and his partner have two smallish dogs, and often stroll down my street a block apart.  One of their dogs seems friskier than the other and leads the way.

All of these folks mobilized to help when our dog vanished yesterday.  On foot, car and bike, each of them spent time trying to locate her.  She turned up safe and sound, oblivious to our worry, having been corralled early in her escapade and tendered to a local animal clinic, which kept her overnight  and then called my own vet on Monday morning.  When I got the news, I grabbed my phone and sent texts to everyone, announcing the glad tidings and thanking everyone for their right neighborly conduct.  My phone exploded with their answering happy responses.  When I set it down, and went out to the car to go to work — after making sure the little trickster was safely locked in the back yard — I couldn’t help thinking that sometimes, change can be a good thing.

Not that I don’t miss the people who’ve left — the neighbors to whom I had grown close — but the ones who have taken their place seem like the sort of folks that might be good to have around me.  So, while I miss a lot of the people who have taken themselves off to the next stage of their lives, I’m settling into the process of getting to know the new people.  And looking for ways to be a good neighbor myself.

The week that was

Some weeks sit on my Keeping Shelf, shining, lustrous, poignant.  Some weeks fall into the gutter — dingy, tarnished, best discarded.  This week had moments worth saving and others best forgotten.

I’m not complaining, though.

I learned some lessons this week.  I spent several hours on the phone with someone whom I love and who has some strong and blunt lessons to teach me.  I resist those lessons at times; but in other moments, in the cool sweet mornings over coffee alone on my porch, I examine them with a mixture of reluctance and eagerness, touching their contours, watching out for sharp edges.  Those conversations triggered pain as they occurred and might, at first, seem part of the days that I cast in the sewer.  But on reflection, I tuck them into a clay vessel on the shelf, saving them, savoring them.  Gems for my wealth corner, to draw goodness to me.

Last evening, a half-dozen women came to my home for a Women’s Potluck supper, and the entire evening goes in the memory box with the bits of turqoise and crystal put aside for some special project.  Their chatter raised gladness from the murky depths of my soul.  The pleasure of their company brightened my being.

A few lumpy days along the way clearly belong in the discard pile,  and there they shall be cast. But shining beautiful and bright at the start of this week that was, stands a visit from my friend Paula and her grandson Brody, unmistakeably an hour for the Keeping Shelf.  Her radiant face still glows in my mind.  The love she has for her children, husband and grandchildren, the love she has for me, the pureness of the joy with which she greets life; these inspire me.  These remind me how blessed I truly am.


Professional courtesy

The lawyer arrived 35 minutes late for court wearing modern horn-rimmed glasses, her long hair twisted in a pen.  I recognized a sister leopard immediately; I’ve come home often with my own unruly tresses secured with a purloined pencil.  I smiled at her; the judge noted her entrance for the record, and the hearing continued.

Afterwards, I saw her smoking outside the courthouse, striding down the sidewalk on strong,  purposeful legs clothed in fitted pants, above slender heels.  She shrugged her jacket off her shoulders, letting it slip sideways as she acknowledged my greeting.  We chatted as we climbed the hill to our cars.  She asked me why the other side opposed my motion.  I told her that it made no legal sense, but the law firm in question really seemed to resent  my entry into the case.

“That’s bull,” she said.  “We’re all in this together.  They shouldn’t take it personally.”  She pulled another long draw and I noticed that she appeared to be pregnant or at least, carrying a bit of rounded flesh under her blouse.  I wondered which it was.  “We all do the same thing,” she continued.  “We should support each other, not stab each other.”

We stopped by my car and talked for a few more moments, not really about anything.   I told her that I liked her glasses.  She smiled and smoked, and looked southward, toward something I couldn’t see.  I studied the smoothness of her profile and the angle of her sculpted cheeks.  I watched her smoke and roll her neck, as though girding herself for the next event.  But it was five o’clock and the courts had closed.

“This is me,” I noted, gesturing at my car.  I clicked the lock and swung the door open, tossing  my files onto the seat.  “Nice to meet you,” I told her.  She sucked the last smoke from her cigarette and tossed the butt to the pavement.  She let a smile escape and drift up to her eyes.  “You, too, ” she said, before turning away.  She threw her own bag a little higher on her arm and I saw a ripple of tension shoot through her shoulders.  I stood watching her as she continued up the hill, towards her car.  Her story drifted behind her like a filmy veil.  I couldn’t see its pattern but I could make out its form.

“See you on August 08th!” I called after her.  Her right hand rose behind her; she didn’t break stride.  I stood for a moment more, watching her tall, slender frame move away, waiting for something more.  After a few minutes, I got into my car, wondering, meditating, thinking about professional courtesy and the courage of a wounded proud leopard standing at the bar.

The face of love

Meet Carla and Molly.

Carla and Molly have been committed and together for ten or twelve years. They have been legally married for less than a year.  They’ve raised a daughter together, share a home, have gotten through family deaths together, and yes, they finish each other’s sentences.

This is the face of love.  This is the essence of why I believe in marriage equality.  When I sit across from Molly and Carla at Sunday breakfast, as I do once or twice a year when I visit Fayetteville where they live, I have no doubt that even before they exchanged vows in a state distant from their home, a state which had already made same-gender marriages legal, Carla and Molly were married, in every sense of the word but the legal one.

They’ve laughed together.

They’ve cried together.

They’ve sat beside each other in sickness and in health; through lean times and times of plenty.  Through worse and through better.  They’ve budgeted and saved, they’ve planned and dreamed. They’ve parented, along with their daughter Kori’s birthfather with whom they share her.

I took this picture on our last visit, in June of this year.  I came across it today while I was looking for something else, and I realized that I cannot stand silent when there is a loving consenting adult couple in these United States denied the right to marry.  With fifty percent of heterosexual first-time marriages ending in divorce, how absurd is it to even intimate that same-gender couples threaten the institution of marriage?

What threatens the institution of marriage is stress, poverty, immaturity and crime.  Other threats are greed, poor communication skills, infidelity and disagreement over essential values, strategies and parenting.

The fifty-percent statistic has been documented well before any state of this nation legalized same-gender marriage.  The divorce rate among heterosexuals has not been created by, nor is there evidence that it has been increased by, the legalization of same-gender marriage.

I’m quite certain that a correlative number of non-heterosexual partners — legally married or not — have been confronted with these stressors.  Some of their relationships have failed for these reasons. And it might well be true, that their legally sanctioned marriages might face similar or identical challenges. And fail.

But should the face of love not have as much chance to shine from Carla and Molly, as it does from your spouse and you?  I say yes.  I say it is time. And the fact that there are still some of these United States — including my own — which have not  yet legalized  same-gender marriage is something that I have no trouble making an exception to my year without complaining.




The woman in front of me had no idea what my day might have held, and either didn’t care, or had suffered as grueling a day as I had.

She’d spelled my name wrong, botched my test details, and broke the news that Pre-registration should  have told me about a $200 co-insurance payment that I was supposed to have been prepared to pay.  I had spent the entire day getting medical tests on two separate hospital campuses, two more in a year of quest to determine the cause of my dizzy spells. And Vicky with the last name that I remarked must be German but which apparently was not, sang her way through the World’s Longest Check-in.  Seriously, the Guinness book people hovered nearby the entire time.

Twenty minutes into the mess, I found myself trying to remember why it was I decided that 2014 would be a good year to quit complaining.  I tried to hold my tongue while she argued that I should sign the form with a misspelling of my name or she would have to do it all over again.  I could hear the clipped tones I used as I insisted that my name could be corrected, either by me or by her and,  more importantly, that I had had no idea that I would have to write a check for two hundred dollars today.

And she looked at me and said, “Well, I attended the funeral of a nine-year old child yesterday so I guess I just consider everything else trivial now.”

Okay.  Well.  I suppose that’s right.  Game, set and match.

In the garden

Yesterday, I met Steve Greene, a Merriam, Kansas resident who has a dream of creating an acre of organic garden.  He’s made a good start, with about 30% of his childhood backyard filled with raised beds holding every conceivable vegetable.  His eyes shine with the vibrant dream that he pursues.  He told me about his daughter’s take on the project, which ranged from, “Oh, yeah, Dad, that will never happen,” a year ago, to “I had no idea how cool it would be!”, this past month.

I bought a bag of vegetables from him and ate well last night.

On a shelf in my home sits a toy car, rusted and aging.  Beside it, a simple wooden block rests. My mother found these souvenirs of my older brothers’ childhoods while digging her own organic garden, a decade-long project on which she spent her maternal urgings after her last child had left for the last time.  She wrote about her discoveries in an article published in “Organic Gardening”, a copy of which I have — somewhere, in a folder, in a drawer, in this house.

I confine my gardening to pots on the porch.  But I get my fingernails just as dirty.  I’m a clumsy gardener though.  I’ve lost one gardening glove and I forgot to clean the trowel.  My basil thrives beside a healthy rosemary plant, but the sage fades.  I have taken it inside, thinking it might dislike the heat.  I don’t know; it looks anemic.  I still have blooming impatiens, though; and I’ve moved the begonias around to keep them from frying in the late summer sun.

I roasted some carrots last evening, carrots from Greene’s Acre Organic Gardens.  I threw them in a cast iron pan with a couple of chopped new potatoes from the grocery store.  Thirty minutes on 450 brought out the sweetness of the carrots which hours before had been pulled from the fertile ground by Steve Greene, while I sat on a hay bale and watched.

I’m a city girl; my potted plants give the illusion of earthiness, but I’m at home on the porch whereas I stumble on uneven farm ground.  But I felt the spirit of the land rise around me, out there in Merriam, and something of the gardener imprinted on my genes unfurled.  Today the alarm clock rang at five.  I pulled myself from bed and started the coffee, the sounds of NPR filling the room and the thump of the dog’s tail on the back door punctuating the morning’s rhythm.  While the coffee brewed, I stood and gazed at the little rusted car, pulled from our backyard by my mother’s spade, fifty years ago.  Then the coffee pot chimed; and I turned away, to pour a cup of coffee and start my city girl’s day.




For Pat Reynold’s benefit, I’m adding a photo that I shot at the Gardens yesterday.  Nothing buggy or deficient about these veggies!  Delicious and lovely.

Steve Greene, owner and operator of Greene's Acre Organic Gardens, displaying some of the items that I'm about to get as part of my weekly $25 bag.

Steve Greene, owner and operator of Greene’s Acre Organic Gardens, displaying some of the items that I’m about to get as part of my weekly $25 bag.

Detrimental Reliance

The law has a few catch-all causes of action that I’ve found charming in their descriptions.  “Intentional Inflection of emotional distress” comes to mind, as does “prima facie tort” and the concept of “res ipsa loquitor”.  In that order, these principles mean deliberately doing something with the goal of upsetting someone; ‘when all else fails, this must be actionable’; and “the thing speaks for itself”, a quaint way of saying that the patient suffered and only the doctor could have done it.  (I’m simplifying  without losing much accuracy.)

But my favorite is “detrimental reliance”.  This concept charges a person with responsibility when they told someone something, or commited to something, knowing their assertion was false, and the other person reasonably expected truth and took action accordingly.  In detrimental reliance lies the crux of all complaints:  You said you WOULD, I believed you, and you DIDN’T.  Ah, life!  Where would we be, but for our dependence on hollow promises?

Disappointment coils itself around one’s heart; and one must find the release to shed oneself of its deadly clutch.  Here on the porch, in the subsiding summer rain, I remind myself that disappointment is but the flipside of expectation.  We invite disappointment through our expectations.  In doing so, we overlook one immutable truth:  We can’t control the words or actions of anyone but ourselves.

I watch the robin land on the stone pavement.  He scoots sideways and casts his eye up toward me, assessing whether I pose a threat to his quest for the dish of catfood.  He flies away, startled by the rustling of my newspaper.  He does not resent me.  He lands on the slick bark of the maple branch and sings.  I smile, and rock, and think about hope, a far better state than misery and anger.  The thunder gives one last gentle roll.  The squirrels dart out from the crannies where they have sought shelter.  I close my eyes and surrender to the sweetness of the morning as the sun breaks through the trees and begins to warm the air around me.

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My source of strength, never-ending

My mother succombed to cancer in 1985.  She held on as long as she could, with spirit, grace and courage.  But eventually the disease reached her brain, leaving her with just a few short weeks.

Late one afternoon, three weeks or so before the end, my father called me in Kansas City.  “Mary, oh Mary, you’ve got to come,”  he begged.  It seemed the night-time hospice nurse had taken to reading fire and brimstone Bible passages, agitating my mother.  I made the 250 mile trip by 10:00 p.m., walking in the house to my father’s tears and my mother’s mournful cries.

Snatching the Book from the nurse’s hands, I shooed her  from the room.  I took her place and stroked my mother’s arm until her trembling ceased.  Then I opened to her favorite, The Book of Ruth, and read until she fell into a quiet slumber.

With my mother’s passing, I inherited her garnet brooch.  It’s become my lucky talisman.  I’ve never lost a trial with it on my lapel.

Last year, my mother-in-law Joanna fell ill.  I did what I could for her, though I felt so inadequate. She, too, displayed grace, and gentleness, and courage during her illness.  She never complained.  When Joanna died, her daughter Virginia chose a piece of her jewelry to give me, a sapphire ring.  Though it didn’t really fit, I wore it during Joanna’s funeral mass.  Unable to concentrate on the rector’s words, I slipped a Bible from the pew in front of me.  I turned to the Book of Ruth, and read, as the rector prayed, and the people stood, and sat, in turns.  I lost myself in the story of the good daughter-in-law.

I had Joanna’s ring sized this week.  Now I wear it, as I do my mother’s brooch, to remember her.  She is always with me, like my own mother, Lucille. I draw my strength from the love these women gave me.
Garnet broochJoanna's ring

Unbridled Joy

Sometimes, when my life seems overwhelming, when I feel the gloom over-take me, I look back to moments when I have witnessed joy.   Few moments quite compare with the unbridled  joy of a child. Children do not typically hold back:  They let their eyes glisten and the wonder wash over them.  I’m sharing with you today, by way of giving you some small piece of what keeps me going, the happiness that Nora Wandfluh experienced, when I gave her a Christmas doll in 2010.  Mind you:  I found this doll at Savers for $3.99.  I have to say, I would have paid a thousand times that price to engender this moment.  Thank you, Jennie Taggart Wandfluh and Brett Wandfluh, for allowing me to be Auntie Corinne, such that this moment was possible, and such that I could capture it and hold it in my heart, like a polished piece of crystal, to reflect back your child’s happiness to shine its light on my darker days.



The problem with not complaining is that the people, places and things about which one formerly would unhesitatingly complain haven’t taken a corresponding pledge to stop being annoying.

No, seriously.  People keep disappointing, distracting and distressing.  Stores still have cluttered aisles.  Jar lids still obstinately resist opening.  And here I am, vowed to refrain from moaning.

Since I’m still committed to this, even though I’ve proven that I cannot, in fact, completely foreswear complaining, I’m having to re-examine my internal response to the circumstances which still prompt a gut reaction properly called “complaining”.  I’ve spent the first six months of this year identifying all behavior that can properly be called “complaining”.  I’ve reflected on new ways of looking at those events which would previously have drawn complaint.  Now I”m trying to internalize a different attitude, over-riding nearly six decades of being a die-hard complainer.  I’m trying to rise above the road on which I previously walked, and spot a new path on which to travel.

In short, I’m still struggling to emerge from my chrysalis and spread my wings.  Stay tuned.  The butterfly will find her way out of the darkness and into grace.