Monthly Archives: November 2014

The last day of the penultimate month

As I head into the last month of my year without complaining, I will be making good use of the final 31 days in this journey.  Beginning tomorrow, my posts will identify something for which I am thankful.  You will share thirty-one days of my gratitude.  If you don’t choose to read these final entries in my personal log of growth, I will not be offended.  Again, I’ve been told that I do my best writing when I write about others.  However this blog is intended to be a chronicle of change, so charming essays appear here only as an adjunct to my publicly disseminated journal of my efforts to change the way I view the world.

It’s the last day, of the penultimate month, of my year without complaining.  I haven’t decided yet what I will do with this bog on 01 January 2015.  But by then, the blog will be enriched with thirty-one days of public acclaim for people and events for which I am thankful.  During this month, I do hope you will join me in seeing the bright side of life, and perhaps reflect on what you appreciate.  You need not tell me, but you might consider telling those who make your own lives brighter.

My niece Amy Barrale Broch and her husband, Harlan Broch.  Fitting subjects with which to hint at how rich my life is.  My son and I enjoyed a fabulous dinner with them while we were in St. Louis for the Thanksgiving holiday.

My niece Amy Barrale Broch and her husband, Harlan Broch. Fitting subjects with which to hint at how rich my life is. My son and I enjoyed a fabulous dinner with them while we were in St. Louis for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Up and running

After days of attempting to eradicate the annoying browser hi-jack and ads on my laptop, success!  No, not at my hands, but those of my son.  It’s amazing how much more a twenty-something knows about computers than his fifty-something mother.  Now the machine has been cleaned, the ad-blocker added, the browser restored to pristine functioning.

This teaches me something:  Rather than merely complaining, I reached out to find help for an annoying problem.  I first posted a note on social media, and several folks volunteered potential resolutions.  When my efforts failed, Patrick sat down at the keyboard and slogged through the cleaning.  Now I’m up and running.

When the kids were little, someone taught them this phrase:  “Now that you’ve identified the problem, what’s the solution?”  One of them would say, “I’m hungry,” to which the reply came:  “Now that you’ve identified the problem, what’s the solution?” That concept applied to my computer, and to any circumstance about which I might otherwise merely complain.  “My legs hurt,” I whine.  “Now that you’ve identified the problem, what’s the solution?”  Don’t complain, Corinne: Identify a problem, and find a solution.

*sound of hand smacking forehead*



A table for ten, around which, indeed, ten people have gathered.  At the east end, a man with thinning hair and a haggard face, wearing a white shirt and a knitted brow.  At the west end, a thin woman with a tired, olive-skinned face and a smile which lights her brown eyes.  Between, on either side, four boys and four girls.

The turkey awaits on its heavy silver platter.  Down the length of the table, bowls of vegetables, potatoes and dressing send fragrant steam wafting into the air.  A gravy boat sits in front of each parent.  The places have been set with cloth napkins tucked into silver rings, on which the names of the family have been engraved at the behest of the grandmother who gifted the delicate, extravagant items.

All eyes turn to the woman at the foot of the table, who says, in her husky voice, Okay, now, what are your thankful-fors? and the round starts, youngest to oldest, the father going last.

Every year of my life in the home in which my parents raised me, we rounded the table in that fashion, telling the thing for which we were thankful.  We didn’t get to say silly things, although the boys would try to get by with earnestly proclaimed gratitude for turkey legs.  I pondered my “thankful-for” weeks ahead and tendered my offering in a small voice, hesitant, fearing my brothers’ snickering and the silencing scowl of my father.

In the few minutes it took for everyone at the table to say their “thankful-for”, peace descended on the Corley household, calm to which we could not always lay claim.

I continued that tradition in my own home, gathering those whom I loved to create a family-by-choice to augment the little family here at the Holmes house.

This year, I am traveling to St. Louis to share Thanksgiving with family and friends.  My son will meet me there.  I don’t know whether the hostess at whose table I will sit today has allowed for a moment of gratitude, but in my heart, if not aloud, I will say my “thankful-for”.

I’ve considered my selection for some weeks now.  I could divert my emotions  into a bland recitation of the names of people who enrich my life.  More tempting: To tell you that I am thankful for my father-in-law; for the time that I spent with him before he died; for the hospice people who cared for him so tenderly; for his son who married me and gave me the chance not just to be his wife and stepmother to his children, but also to be the daughter-in-law of Joanna and Jabez; for their daughter, who understood my love of her parents.  Or I could nod to the east and say that I am thankful  for my son’s new adventure, as a grad student at Northwestern; or to the west, and acknowledge the doctors in Stanford who have agreed to see me next week.

And all of that would be true:  I am thankful for that and more.  For the shared children who live in my heart; for the years that each person whom I love has given me of their lives; for the fact that I still breathe, still walk, still find meaning in my work.  Yes, for all of them and all of that, I am thankful.

Distilled to its essence, I am in fact thankful for all of it:  For the joy, the pain, the love, the laughter, the tears, the trials and the triumphs.  My life has not been a success by some measures, but by every measure that my parents taught me to hold against my choices, my life has been all that I could have ever hoped to attain.  I am a lucky woman, for all that I have endured, for all that I have fallen short of acquiring, for all that I have not done as others might have wanted me to do and all that I have not had because others did not care to offer it to me or I failed when reaching for it.

I am thankful for all of it; and for this thing, too:  The quiet, comfortable state of my soul, sure in its knowledge that I have met many foes and done my best to vanquish them; had many challenges and given their conquering my every effort; met people who needed me, and offered them my hand; sat with people whom I loved  and soothed them in their pain.

The hour creeps toward the time when I will begin my journey eastward, to Saint Louis.  I’ll close with the hope, tendered with my full sincerity, that each of you has many “thankful-fors”, and that each of you is someone else’s “thankful-for” as well.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Submitted for your consideration

The eleventh month of my year without complaining draws to a close.  This blog, unlike my Saturday Musings(tm), is not intended as a forum merely for telling pleasant tales or depicting images to amuse, entertain, or endear.  This blog chronicles a personal journey for me.  The goal of the year started as the intention to live complaint-free.  Along the way, the goal has morphed almost beyond recognition.  Now, rather than merely learning to live complaint-free, I yearn to walk in a state that I can only describe as “grace”.

I turned a corner this week.  I’d like to share it with you in the abstract, if you will indulge me.  Someone lost patience with me and criticized  me for what I consider one of my strongest abilities:  tenacity.  I realize that a small grey strip separates persistence from obstinance but I walk that line gladly.  I’d rather be seen as stubborn from time to time than to surrender.  And please, make no mistake:  By “surrender”, I do not mean “give in” but “give up”.

“Giving in” means letting others make choices.  That has always been difficult for me, indeed.  I include that possibility as an element of the change which I strive to embrace.  More and more, when someone suggests a course of action, I find myself thinking, Okay sure, why not? and smiling.  Amazingly, I care less and less about being the decider.

But I do not wish to give up, as in, quit the fight to move forward towards attainment of my goals.  So I navigate that narrow strip between tenacity and bull-headedness.  If I stray over the line, so be it.

I suspect that the person who castigated me for my tenacity  would, I am sure, classify my choices as cursed pigheadedness without exception.  I can accept that.  Call me what you will.  I operate under the principle that solving problems means working for the outcome.  Most of the time, I’m trying to solve problems for other people, including family, friends, and clients.  When I love someone and they find themselves twisted in knots, I find the end and start unraveling.

I haven’t stopped doing this.  I’m on the phone for people.  I take their faces in both my hands and soothe their frowns.  When their heartbeat accelerates, I rub their brow.  When they burn themselves, I take them to get aloe.  if they war with their family, I sit, or stand, or rock, and help them process.   At the same time, when I need something, I push until I get it or find a way to meet the need it would have fulfilled without it.  Or I find someone who can and will meet my need.

And you know what?  I like that about myself.  I’m thankful for that quality.

Would I wave a magic wand and make myself a little softer on the edges?  Sure.  Are there days in my journey when I’ve behaved in ways that I now would not choose?  Absolutely.  Have I ever knowingly abandoned my values or failed to at least try to help any and every person in my world, starting with each and every person whom I love?  No, I have NOT.

So, then, submitted for your consideration.  Call me names, say I have failed.  Say that I did not rise to every occasion and sink every shot.  Say that my qualities don’t appear on your list of what a person should be.   Say that I’ve got light-years to grow before I get my wings.  But never let it be said that I did not put one-hundred percent of myself into every effort.

I’ve heard that showing up is eighty-five percent of life.  If that’s true, then I have the whole one hundred percent, because I show up, stand up, and let myself be counted.

If I am on your side, let anyone be against us, because I am a force with which to be reckoned when I champion a cause.

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The women who inspire me

When I turn and look back, I see a line of strong women standing on both sides of my family.  My mother raised eight children, starting from next to nothing, in a deficit situation truth be told.  During my early years, she worked for a dollar an hour at Famous ‘n’ Barr.  She walked to and from the shopping center.  The children would stand on the porch at nine-thirty each night, waiting to hear her whistle.  The notes came to us long before we could see her.  On Friday nights, she brought vanilla ice milk and Gold Brick topping.  She would spoon the thick chocolate into our bowls and we would watch it harden then crack the surface with our spoons.  We sat on the living floor and watched Twilight Zone while my mother dozed beside us.

My mother’s mother spent several years as a regional manager for Montgomery Ward, and then opened Sonotone House of Hearing with her husband, my grandfather.  I remember her as blonde, stocky and composed, with rounded Austrian features and a deep-throated laugh.  She took my hand and walked me down the street in Springfield, Illinois, to Strong’s where we ate stewed chicken and blueberry muffins with warm butter.  Nana sat in the office working on accounts while we read books borrowed from the store room, which she and Grandpa loaned to the bookstore in the adjacent shop.  She pretended that she did not notice when I slipped through the back door to wander among the stacks of boxes in which I found gateways to the world.  At night, she sat on the back patio with a cold drink or a cup of coffee.  She listened as I  prattled but kept her  own quiet confidence, gazing out across the corn field as the night wind whistled.

My father’s mother grew old before I knew her, but nonetheless she summoned my mother and one or two children to her apartment each Saturday.  Her maid served individual boxes of cereal to each child, set in a bowl, on a plate, beside a small pitcher of cold whole milk.  Grandma Corley sat at the head of the table, casting her eyes about, moving her strong jaw to make grown-up conversation in clipped precise tones.  A few years later, she moved to a nursing home, reduced to one room with an easy chair,  a desk, and a bed.  Her curios surrounded her.  When we visited, she held court dressed in her nightgown with Daniel Greene slippers on her delicate feet.  We children spoke in hushed voices and hovered in the background, in awe of her regal presence.

I do not know if I am a credit to these women.  But I am of their line. They showed me how to be a lady, a woman, a mother, a wife, and a widow.  This evening, in need of a covering garment, I gingerly lifted my grandmother’s pink flowered house coat from the hook on the bathroom door and eased it over my shoulders.  I did not fill its  contours.  I had not realized how much smaller than my grandmother I have become.  As I snapped it down the front, I ran my  hand over the soft cotton and thought, My grandmother wore this robe.  I closed my eyes and saw her face; and my mother’s face; and my Nana’s face.  My heart rose; and my soul soared.  I am my mother’s daughter.  I am my Grandmother’s granddaughter.  And I am Nana’s granddaughter too.

These women inspire me.  I pray that there is something of them in me.

The name label in my grandmother's robe.

The name label in my grandmother’s robe.

My morning without complaining

Perhaps I should have taken this complaining thing a little slower.  I’ve been trying to learn to live complaint-free since January 1st, and it’s now November 25th.  I haven’t gotten the hang of it quite yet.  I still lament, belly-ache, moan, and — yes, I’ll use the word — complain.

But it’s 6:50 a.m., and I’ve been awake since 4:30 a.m., and I’ve not uttered one word of complaint!  Not even inside my brain!  This must be progress!  I’ve even read the newspaper, with its terrible accounts of burning police cars in Ferguson.  I’ve checked Facebook (same, worse) and e-mail (mostly junk, very inoffensive).  I’ve had a cup of coffee, another of yogurt, and listened to the dog snore.  I gazed over the smattering of leaves that blew through the front door and now litter the hardwood.  I meditated and breathed through the ever-present trills of rapid heartbeat, debating whether to take a pill but not cursing my lot in life.

So far so good:  my morning without complaining shows promise.  And how could I not go complaint-free in the face of the horrible news from the east side of the state?

And this morning, I have a further, personal inspiration.  A man whom I have known for 45 years might well now have passed from earth to soar with the angels.  John Rice, who attended high school with my brother Mark and squired me  around through my late high school, college and graduate school years, proved himself a hero by first getting his son out of a burning house and then going back for his wife of 37 years, Joanie Voelker Rice, who has MS and would probably not have been able to get out without his help.  They both collapsed from smoke inhalation.  Joan moves closer to recovery every day; John’s family determined last evening that no further medical measures would be taken.

John taught me a lesson that I’ve sometimes forgotten but never lost:  “What can’t be cured, must be endured.”  He said that to me hundreds of times: through my personal quest to wean myself off of Valium; through the early days of college when I felt so estranged from my classmates; through a time when my mother and I did not speak to each other for some stupid reason that I can no longer reconstruct.

Though the trials which plagued me in those days seem ridiculously mundane in retrospect, the lesson that I should have learned from John will serve me in the last five weeks of this, my year without complaining.  “What can’t be cured, must be endured.”  And its converse:  “You need not endure that which you can cure.”

Johnny, should you let go of this life and move into the next, know that you proved yourself, yet again, to be a  hero.  And thank you for all that you gave me, and all that you taught me, back in those days when we were both young and hopelessly romantic about everything, even suffering.



My spirits sank this weekend, as I realized what I needed to do over the next few days to get ready for my trip to California.  The prospect of going excites me, because I will be seen by one of the foremost experts in our nation on the subject of the virus that plagues me.  But attending to the details of the trip overwhelms me.

Then I watch the live feed from Ferguson, Missouri, after the announcement of the return of a no-true bill by the Grand Jury.  I see people walking in the streets of the town where my cousins live, where my aunt and uncle raised them and some of them stayed or returned.  And I think:  Regardless of how stressed I might become over the prospective of taking this trip and all that comes with it, these people, right here, right now, on both sides of the tear gas thrown and the rubber bullets shot — these people have a greater burden.

The Prosecuting Attorney; the LiveStream monitor;  the police  officers in the streets; the woman on the phone to her family; Michael Brown’s family; all of these people have a greater burden tonight than I do.

My soul quiets.  My heart becomes somber.  If all of these people can handle what confronts them this evening, I believe that I can handle what I must do.

I don’t know whether the 25 days of testimony bear out the Grand Jury’s return of a no-true bill.  But that was their decision, and now the people of Ferguson, Missouri — the young black men, the police, the politicians, the teachers, the children, the families — now they have to manage their lives within the confines of that outcome.  As I hear the LiveStream recorder tell us about tear gas seeping through his gas mask I wonder what kind of world we have created.   “Oh my god, did you see that,” says a voice.  “They are shooting tear gas into the neighborhood!”  And I look at the live feed and ask myself again:  What kind of world have we created?

My perspective changes in the face of events of this magnitude.  My life seems suddenly manageable.



I sat at a table in the Lemongrass, a Thai restaurant, for two and a half hours last night.  Couples came and went during those hours. Groups of friends; older folks, who bobbed and wove in time from years of matching step.  The little waitress, shorter than the three-quarter wall flanking  my table, scurried around with plates of fragrant spicy entrees and bowls of steaming rice.  I ate my tofu and wrote, left alone except for the occasional offer of more hot water for my Oolong tea.  I declined; it seemed weak enough and better tepid than thinner.

The gatherings around  me cushioned me from the cold air drifting through the front door, from the tendrils of sadness which creep towards me when I lose my focus.  I lowered my head and buried myself in the basil tofu dish before me.  I browsed my blog entries, though what I sought in them I did not know.  Winter approaches, bringing ice, and gloom, and cold unbroken except by piles of blankets.  I held myself still amid the gatherings last evening; and after a while, I saw a silver head moving towards me on the other side of the wall.  My heart lifted as a familiar face came around the corner.  I closed the lid of my computer as my friend Penny slid into the chair across from me.

My solitude had become a gathering of its own.  My heart soared.  In the face of Penny’s radiance, how could it not?

Penny Thieme: artist, friend, dog-parent and dreamer.

Penny Thieme: artist, friend, dog-parent and dreamer.



Let us aspire

I first met Jilli Nel when she came to Suite 100 — where I have my office — to help Penny Thieme, founder and director of the VALA Community of artists, hang a show.  The immediate kinship that I felt seemed to radiate from Jilli to those around her.  I know that others feel that spirit. I did not come to her circle alone but I nonetheless drifted there.  She seems to exude effortless compassion.

I only know snippets of her story as a human, dwelling on this earth, bearing a child, living, yearning, loving, coming to America, getting caught in a quagmire of pain.  But the fragment I know draws me still closer to her.  She does not merely exist: she lives.  She does not just overcome: she rises above.  While others wear their pain openly, Jilli cloaks hers in a shimmer of light, and grace, and glory.

I stood beside her, briefly, tonight, at an opening of her work at Images Gallery as this month’s featured artist.  In her lilting voice she called me one of her angels, and though I have done precious little for her, and less that truly helped her, I feel she meant it.  She seems to appreciate the small act of coming to Overland Park to wish her well, as though I had done something monumental and unselfish; as though I had  not sat on a bench in the back of the Gallery with Dana Cole’s arms around my shoulders, briefly, publicly caught in my own personal misery, a sad distraction from Jilli’s shining moment.

I am no one’s angel.

When I said goodbye to Jilli, to come next door and ask for a table for one at the Lemongrass, Jilli said, We must do coffee! and I replied, not without some humor, that if I must then I probably wouldn’t.  She released a peal of musical laughter and hugged me, saying So true, my angel!  Then let us aspire to have coffee!  And what we aspire to do, we will do!

Ah, Jilli.  I aspire to be worthy of your friendship.  Will I, then, be worthy?

Jilli Nel.

Jilli Nel.

Visit Jilli Nel’s website by clicking here.

My bucket list

I didn’t read the book or see the movie but I liked the idea.  I’ve been keeping a mental “bucket list” most of my life without having a title for it.

When I graduated from high school, I had to tender a wish list for the yearbook blurb.  Mine was “getting a poem published in The New Yorker”.  As my writing friends know, I consider myself a terrible poet, even a non-poet.  But I write poetry and have most of my life.  I’ve had three poems published — probably the only three poems of any quality that I’ve written in 59 years.

Another item on my bucket list is getting a tattoo.  Now, I’ve held off on that one for various reasons, some probably specious and some practical.  In the last decade, I’ve believed that no credible tattoo artist would work on  me, because I’m on bloodthinners.  But my shared-daughter Tshandra White recently told me that I can probably get one.  She takes bloodthinners and has gotten tattoos while on them.  So, “getting a tattoo” remains on  my bucket list.

It would be a small angel entwined in a long-stemmed rose.  The placement would be somewhere that one would need permission to view.  Very inconspicuous.  As small as possible without making it indiscernible.  Delicate.

Another item which has been on my bucket list for decades is owning a passport. Oh, yes, I know I can have one in four to six weeks with minimal effort and expense. But the item stands only as a symbol.  The desire behind the symbol: needing a passport.  Having a trip out of the U.S.A. on the radar, that is.  That has not happened in 59 years, and now that the need for the trip to Lourdes that my favorite curmudgeon and I planned has sadly vanished, I don’t see it happening.

So the most radical item on my list remains the tattoo.  I don’t know if I will ever get it.  Arguments pro and con raged on Facebook overnight due to my simple post, “I still want a tattoo.”  I might simply continue to fantasize about it.  Or I might design the tattoo and have someone paint a piece of art for my wall in the design.  Or, who knows, I might just get one done, on a few inches  of Irish white skin which only those to whom I grant leave will see.

So keep watching my face for a Mona Lisa smile; if you see it, you’ll know that I’ve crossed an item off my bucket list.