Monthly Archives: February 2015

Not complaining about the gift of a day

My friend Jenny Rosen recently sent an article to me which listed twenty ways in which one could tell that one is succeeding.  These included being employed, at least occasionally liking yourself, having food in the refrigerator, and being able to ask for help.

I particularly liked number three:

“You have raised your standards.You don’t tolerate bad behavior any more – from other people, or even yourself. You hold people accountable for their actions. You don’t spend time with the ‘energy vampires’ in your life anymore. ”

I’m working on that  one.

One of the standards by which I have judged my success for the last 22 years is the ability to take a morning off.  In fact, I have scheduled this entire day out of my office.  I have tentative plans to go observe a trial this afternoon, but I am toying with the notion of just staying at home, doing laundry, working on marketing my Youth Writers workshop, and perhaps — maybe — resting.

Someone recently expressed envy that I have no boss to whom to report.  I laughed and told the person that being self-employed principally meant that one obsessed about paying overhead although not having to wear a suit to work does please me.  But the ability to have a flexible schedule  definitely flows from self-employment.  At times, I struggle with the responsibility of billing, finding clients, organizing my admin work, and walking the line between relaxed and negligent in the daily functioning of my office.  But  when I have reached the point of needing a day away from it all, such burdens seem small price to pay for the gift of a day.


Here is a link to the article that Jenny Rosen sent me:

20 Signs You’re Succeeding

It might seem a bit simplistic to you, but the list coalesced some thoughts that I had been having.  Please note:  Number 8!  Number 8!  Booyah!

What love looks like

A table-full of people studied each other with a mixture of wariness and consternation.  Four family members, two social workers, four lawyers.  Each of us struggled to find solutions to a sixteen-year-old runaway whose eighteen-month old son would one day wonder about her choices.

Is that what love looks like?

The cousin who has taken the child into her home blurts out that when the boy turns three or four, she intends to tell him that his mother did not love him.  I gasp.  As her attorney, I cannot let her rights be carelessly tossed on a courtroom floor but the attitude of her son’s placement provider factors more into the humane considerations of the situation.  I think about my nieces and nephews who were adopted into our family.  I harken back to my foster parent training regarding honest, gentle, age-appropriate conversations with our foster children about their birth parents.  I think of my own son, who has never met his father, and the care that I have taken for 24 years never to speak  ill of the man at all, let alone in Patrick’s presence or hearing.

Is that what love looks like?

I hear a story on NPR about a new show called “The Slap”, apparently about the virtues of corporal punishment.  I contemplate the decisions of people who supposedly consider the feelings of others, and the timing of their actions.  I ruminate over gut-punches, empty mailboxes, phones which don’t ring, children standing in front of school buildings gazing on empty driveways.

Is that what love looks like?

I have loved five men, seven siblings, one birth child, four stepchildren, four babies who never made it, two parents, a half-dozen “second sons”, several borrowed daughters, and a dozen or more gal-pals.  The love of each differed from the love of every other.  But all of the love stayed with me to the point that sometimes I am completely overwhelmed with worry that I have failed even one of them, while at other times I fall to my knees in gratitude at the thought that I might have done right by any one of them.

Is that what love looks like?

Or is love a sixteen-year-old girl who walks away from her baby because of some deeply rooted instinct to enable him to have a better life than she herself has had, than she herself could ever hope to provide?

When I told one family member that I was pregnant at age 35, unmarried, he suggested that I give my son to "a real family".  Here is my son on a mountain in New Mexico.  This is one face of love.

When I told a family member that I was pregnant at age 35, unmarried, he suggested that I give my son to “a real family”. Here is my son on a mountain in New Mexico. Love has many faces in my life. This is one of them.

Chaska hugs

I left work at 3:00 p.m. today feeling as though I needed a hot fudge Sundae.  I haven’t had one in several decades but it seemed like a good idea in the middle of a stressful day coming on the heels of a sleepless night.  I called my friend Paula, who shares custody of her grandson, and has him Sunday through Wednesday.  I’m in serious need of these people with their unabashedly loving ways, I thought.  I didn’t need to ask; Paula heard whatever lurked in my voice and immediately invited me to spend the afternoon with her and Chaska.

We joined with Paula’s niece Catherine, buckling Chaska in his booster seat in the backseat of my Saturn, and making our way to the Clock Tower Cafe in old Overland Park.  With Roasterie coffee, cupcakes and shortbread standing in for ice cream, we chatted about nothing in particular.  Chaska told us a long story about some game they played outside that  day at Pre-K.   Oh, you got to go outside after all, Paula exclaimed.  Yes, Nona, Chaska said, a bit impatiently.  It got to be over 41 degrees, and that’s the rule.  Five years old, our Chaska, but very wise.

Two hours melted into the setting sun to the west as the ladies dawdled and Chaska launched into a rousing game of I Spy with My Little Eye.  I repeatedly  lost due to Chaska’s proclivity to change the rules mid-round.  Not to mention, his Nona supported his dubious labeling of the brown ceiling as “something red”.

We gathered our debris, re-filled Paula’s water bottle, and made our way across Santa Fe Road, with Chaska walking heel-to-toe, slowly, having been placed in charge of Auntie Corinne’s new red phone.  A few minutes later, the ladies had settled into chairs by the play-yard at the Matt Ross Community Center while Chaska  commandeered the slide.  A few giggly girls  squealed and raced around the small enclosure.  Later, Paula timed Chaska while he tried to beat his personal record for running around the room. He did, too: 6.9 seconds, his fastest time yet.

On the way home, Chaska’s clear voice sounded from the back seat: Auntie Corinne, can I play Minion Rush on your tablet?  Another round of laughter — as though Auntie Corinne would say no to such a sweetly stated request.  Once a boy-mother, always a boy mother.  I handed the tablet to Paula, and Chaska showed her the icon.  In the rear view mirror, I saw their two dark heads angled together in the dark, over the screen, and heard Chaska’s periodic updates:  I’m on level two!  I’m on level four!  I won a trophy, Auntie Corinne!  Oh, my little one.  What joy to be around you!

I deposited the Kenyon-Vogt family in Paula and Sheldon’s driveway, and leaned down to get one last hug from Chaska.  He threw his arms around my neck and said, Thank you for coming, Auntie Corinne!  I drew a long sigh into my chest and let it escape in jagged tremors.  Not quite sobs; but close.  What healing power those Chaska hugs have!

And now I am home; and I’ve eaten a cup of tomato soup, and the day seems to have made its way to a peaceful, easy end.

Chaska James Vogt and Auntie Corinne, trying to makek a selfie one wintry day at Nona and Papa's house (Nona and Papa being Paula Kenyon-Vogt and Sheldon Vogt, two members of the village where I dwell, where my heart dwells, where I am at peace).

Chaska James Vogt and Auntie Corinne, making a selfie, in Paula and Sheldon’s living room one wintry day.


By the time my life changed irreparably on February 9, 1982, I had spent several hours in the offices of Rea, Chamberlin & Russell, interviewing for a clerkship.  After I had talked with everyone at the firm, partner Loren Rea told me that I had gotten the job.  I decided to celebrate by meeting a friend towards the end of his shift at a restaurant in Wesport.  I parked my car at the curb, stepped into the street, and within seconds, had been struck on my left side and propelled upwards, higher than the adjacent buildings.  I soon found myself falling, falling, falling until I landed on the hood of the car and flew forward into its windshield.

The incident is noteworthy for several reasons, not the least of which was the brief visit from a sweet angel who told me my time to die had not yet come.  My leg sustained multiple fractures when it impacted the windshield. I spent the next three months in the hospital, and twenty years later, had a terrible experience with a knee replacement that set the record for admission (seven weeks) and failure (almost complete, except the darn thing does, in fact, bend).

I associated February 9th with hard luck and heart break for a long time.  But over the years, I have reclaimed it for happiness, because February 9 is also the birthday of Tshandra White, one of two shared daughters from my first marriage.

Tshandra and I struggled to establish a stepmother/daughter relationship back in 1987 – 1989, but in the last five years, we have reconnected.  The love which I felt for her twenty-five years ago but could not express comes unbridled now.  I’m humbled that it is returned, and that because of her, I have reclaimed something that I lost along the way.

Happy birthday, Tshandra!  Thank you for letting me be your substitute mother.  Your presence in my life brings me great joy, and has triggered more than one reclamation.  May this day give you the same joy; and peace; and wonder; and may your coming year be prosperous and peaceful.

Tshandra White with her daughter, Grace P. Kelley.

Tshandra White with her daughter, Grace P. Kelley.

Small steps

Our local hardware store charges more for much of its merchandise than big box stores, but an employee greets every customer at the door with a smile and an offer of assistance.  Once your greeter has identified your purchase target, he or she guides you to the item and then engages you in as much or as little conversation about the potential variants as you encourage.  The handy guy or gal with no need for advice can smile, nod, thank the clerk and grab what they plan to buy, heading back to the cashier at the front of the store.  The not-so-deft, like me, will stand in front of the daunting rows of choices and cling to every word of advice offered.  I’ve gone to Waldo Hardware and taken advice from the off-duty police officer who works security there.  Thanks to his guidance, I conquered a terrible mouse problem in five days flat.

I decided yesterday to polish a little silver jewelry box that lives on the keeping shelf.  I  have a real jewelry box — large, multi-compartmented — upstairs on my dresser.  This box is about three inches by five inches and quite old, a gift to me from someone well versed in my love of old objects with history.  It has rested on the keeping shelf for five years.  It came to me tarnished and had woefully taken on more black stain as I opened and closed it most days to stash rings before doing dishes or early in the evening to cast off rings when my fingers had swelled from a day of typing.  The box suffered from use, neglect, and disregard.  Its time to shine had come.

I scrounged under the kitchen sink for the Wright’s Silver Polish for several  minutes before I recalled tossing the nearly empty jar when Jenny Rosen and I cleaned the kitchen.  With Jenny in the yard bagging the leaves which Jessica had raked before the first snowfall, I drove to Waldo Hardware for more leaf bags and silver polish, preferably Wright’s.

A silver-haired clerk who seemed to remember me from a prior visit or three called my name before asking what I needed today.  “Leaf bags,” I told him.  “And silver polish.”  His face crinkled and he laughed, long, merrily, asking, “Are you polishing trees?”  He guided me first to the stack of leaf bags where I told him “two packs” and he extracted them, hoisting them easily in his arms.  “Let’s go look for the silver polish,” he suggested.

We stood in front of the display, a bit of chagrin rising in me.  “No Wright’s,” my guide noted, as though like me, he could not fathom using any other brand.  He showed me what they did have and we settled on Goddard’s.  As he rang up my purchases, which had grown to include two storage boxes for the pictures stacked in shoe boxes on the shelves of what is going to be my new laundry center, my clerk asked me to let him know if the Goddard’s worked for me.  I paid him, silently noting that the boxes cost about two bucks more than they would have been at Target.  He carried my purchases to the car, settled them on the back seat, and told me to have a great day and come back if I needed anything else.  “We’ll be here all day,” he assured me, and I thought to myself, That man loves life.

This morning I applied a thin layer of liquid from the bottle of Goddard’s to the surface of the jewelry box.  A half-hour later, I’m fairly certain that I used about a third of the bottle.  My clean square of toweling now sports wide streaks of black, and the silver polishing cloth that I used to buff the surface bears blotches of grey across one half of its cleaning side.  My fingers cramped as I rubbed the box’s crevices.  I see that I will have to find some Wright’s, probably at Target, if I want the job to be completely successful.  But I’m making headway.  The beauty of the box has been awakened.  It’s a small but satisfying step.  I find myself happier at my efforts than a little task like this should make me, but I don’t mind.  I’m not a material girl, but I like a polished old jewelry box as much as anything.  The next time I enter the doorway of Waldo Hardware, I’m showing my clerk the before-and-after photos.  I think he, too, will be pleased.






Diagnosis from Drs. Jessica and Jenny

One of the wonderful facts of blogging your way to healthfulness centers on the license that your friends take from your public journey.  Every quiver and tremor goes out to the universe by virtue of my decision to engage in a public quest for a better way of living.  Sentence after sentence, webpage after webpage, the story unfolds.

Thusly do the Doctors Jessica and Jenny share with me their diagnosis:  I need less negativity in my life. And  I should drink more herbal tea.

As the evening wanes and my nagging hip eases back into its normal state of pain after an afternoon mishap, I think about their prescription.  They play back to me what I tell them.  “Auntie Corinne says, ‘drink more herbal tea’.”  But they are also right.  Drinking more herbal tea has become code for relaxing and letting go of tension; reaching for a peaceful space in which to meditate.

I have had a couple of sinking spells this week.  While my physical health has held except for the twisted hip, my emotions have slid down, pulled back, plummeted and barely leveled.  Through it all, the good doctor Jenny has been at my elbow, softly reminding me, What lies ahead will be joyful, wonderful, fabulous; God has that in store for you.  And the good doctor Jessica has sent snippets from Paradise, I’m still here, I’m thinking of you, I have not abandoned you.  Between times, I think, they confer and scheme, consulting.  Their opinions converge.  She needs more herbal teaShe needs more joy.

I embrace their prescription for me.  The good doctors Jessica and Jenny have never been wrong on the subject of herbal tea.

 Jennifer Rosen, D.J. (doctor of joy)

Jennifer Rosen, D.J. (doctor of joy)

Jessica Genzer, D.S. (doctor of serenity)

Jessica Genzer, D.S. (doctor of serenity)

Let us hope I am not a swine

At the other end of the phone, my son fell silent.  I had just asked his advice about how to respond to an uncomfortable situation in my life.  My reason for consulting him lay in the fact that he has a more solid handle on nonviolent communication than I do.  I outlined what had transpired.  I expected him to talk about identifying my feelings and needs, and making a request of the other party to do something which would meet my needs.  When making such a request nonviolently, you make clear that the person with whom you are speaking can refuse your request.  You then figure out another way to meet your need.

I waited.  My son asked a question, which I answered and then, my son gave his advice:  “Don’t say anything.”

Just walk away.

Uh, what?  Walk away?  Don’t engage?  Don’t announce my needs, request fulfillment by a certain course of action that the other may decline?  Don’t ask for empathy?

No.  Just walk away.

And why?  “Whatever caused this dynamic happened a long time ago, and it’s too late to change it.  Just accept it.”

Well, then, there’s that.  We talked about other things, and then finished the call.  I sat for a time, in my warm, comfortable living room.  After a while, I began to hear the NVC tapes playing in my head and I realized that my son had analyzed this situation consistently with nonviolent communication’s essential mantra:  Instead of playing the right-and-wrong game, play the game of leading a wonderful life.   I knew that the other party in my little dilemma would not meet whatever need I might try to serve by engaging them.  And so this left me to figure out what that need might be, and to get it met in some other way.  I felt myself relax, realizing suddenly that I had been steeling myself for confrontation, a fight which would have no winners and which would leave both me and the other person with, at the very least, an unmet need to feel accepted.

And so,  I will say nothing.  If the issue arises, I will state only facts, simply, without judgment, without placing blame.  I will not make demands, nor even requests, and I will certainly not form let alone articulate expectations.

Out of the mouths of babes, pearls of wisdom sometimes fall.  I can only hope that I make good use of them.


P.S.:  Patrick often grows weary of me talking about him.  But sometimes my interaction with him just fits perfectly into my blog.  Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Says the recovering Catholic, who has forsworn both blame and shame, smiling.

Of yesterday’s kindnesses

I rarely get invited to join anything.  When my friends Dan Ryan and Robin Seydel Ryan invited me to an organizational happy hour for a newly forming chapter of the Rotary Club, I decided to attend on general principles.  Unlike Groucho Marx, I’m flattered by the invitation, and in any event, several people suggested that I shouldn’t venture out in the snow and that was incentive enough to do so.

I mean, I’m a St. Louis girl, right?  We ain’t afraid of a half-inch accumulation and temperatures in the 20s.  Besides, I have a front-wheel drive Saturn Vue and a tankful of gas.  Not to mention a cell phone and a AAA card.  Off I went — the scant two miles to the 75th Street Brewery.

The group ranged from late 20s to late 60s, from current Rotary members there for “eye candy” and curious professionals wanting to have a fresh networking opportunity.  I eased myself from group to group.  I introduced myself, took names, chatted, had a Virgin Hot Chocolate and ate two belly-bombing Mac ‘n’ Cheese balls.  Delicious but oh, does my stomach hurt.

After the speeches and the come-ons, which in fact made participation sound appealing, the mingle-and-meet accelerated.  I slid past my doctor and his wife, squeezed the shoulder of folks whom I only see at Dan and Robin’s annual Mardis Gras parties, and ended my crowd-cruise next to the food table along with two people who at first seemed like a couple but whom I quickly realized did not know each other.

Both looked vaguely familiar.  I judged each of them to be a few clicks closer to their later years than I am.  They also each stood a solid three inches shorter than me, and I’m barely 5-3 if I stand as straight as possible in thick-soled shoes.  The man had a one-name tag on his sweater — “Will” — and of course, I asked if he were comparable to “Cher”.  He spared me a minute smile and said that no, his last name wouldn’t fit, and nobody would remember it anyway.  I goaded him until he told us; then the woman and I laughed together.  We drew a connection between his name and something to which he made objection but he let himself be persuaded to share our mirth.  And he told me, too, that he knew me: and told me from where.  As I apologized for not remembering him, the woman sighed and said, It’s a small world, isn’t it? about the time that I saw her name.

I know you, too, I told her.  I knew a man with your last name at least, perhaps. . .I knew who she was.  The widow of a lawyer who stepped forward and treated me with decency in my early days of practice.  Smart, quirky, a loner, the man plodded along at his chosen area, and at a time when I needed a friend, let me use his office without asking for compensation.  i squatted, basically, at the invitation of him and his office-mate.

Years later, the man fell into some rough days; and a half dozen years ago, he passed from this life.  I attended his visitation, lingering at the back of the room and leaving quickly.  I observed his wife, but did not speak to her.  Tonight, I put my hand gently on her arm and  testified to her husband’s memory. For me, he has never stopped being one of small cadre of lawyers who gave me the hand that they had once been given, and pulled me along into the ranks of solo practitioners by giving me a chance; by mentoring me; by treating me as though I had some credibility and value.

If anyone who reads this knew Bob Sundblad, then you know the gentleness of the man and the quietness of his kind character.  All of us make choices that we might wish we had not made.  Bob might well have been no different than any of us in that regard.  But this choice, too, he made:  He helped a young lady lawyer who had nowhere to hang her shingle, and did so without making her feel in the least bit shabby, or lame, or inconvenient.  I hold close to my heart what Bob did for me just as I hold what my other mentors did — Loren Rea and Chris Lewis; Larry Gepford and Leonard Hughes; Jim Lyons, Jeff Alena, and Danny Matula.  All of these lawyers and others looked past my naivety and my clumsiness.  They let me in their club, despite my inherent unworthiness.

I’ve tried to honor those who helped me when I was young.  In return, I ask nothing, but  I hope that one day, those whom I have helped will do the same for the next generation.  We owe this tribute to all who have come before us and who did  the same for us.

For the kindnesses of yesterday, we offer the kindnesses of today, and of tomorrow.


Tuesday evenings with Mac

Parents measure time in “school years”.  A school year spans from September 1st to May 31st, give or take a few days either way.  Summer consumes June, July and August.  Our lives switch gears at the end of each increment.  Winter clothes and school uniforms go into storage; shorts and soccer balls emerge.  As our children age, the accoutrements of each season change.  The t-balls give way to baseballs; the wiffle bats surrender to tennis rackets.    The calender pages turn as our children’s faces mature.

Though I only gave birth to one child despite some rather noble efforts, I’ve been stepmother to four others who forever reside in my heart.  Among these, my stepson Mac stands tall in both senses of the phrase. Handsome, six-feet two, good-natured and intense, Mac has won the hearts of many and mine is no exception.

Tuesday evenings with Mac:  He came from home, I from work.  We had a scant hour.  The regular date started with my concern over his nutrition.  How could he go to choir practice without a good supper?  But I could not get home in time to fix one, so we started to meet at the Mixx for salad, soup, and sandwiches.  Sometimes his father or one of his choir-mates joined us, but most Tuesdays, just the two of us dined and I could not have been happier.

He usually arrived first.  From my handicapped spot, I could see into the restaurant.  He leaned against a wall, holding one elbow with the opposite hand, regarding the customers in line with his bright, curious gaze.  I would sit for a minute or two, watching him, appreciating his kindness as he would reach to hold the door when someone entered or left.  Then I would climb the ramp to the patio and his smile would broaden.   One strong arm would hold the door for me, then; and as I entered, his other arm would briefly embrace me.  Hey, Corinne, he would say, as he flashed  a bright, even smile.  Then we would go up to the line and order.

Most of our conversations over dinner could only be described as ordinary.  How class had been; whether he had taken a test; what pieces they would be rehearsing in choir.  Occasionally, he would ask my advice and I would fall quiet, contemplating the situation which troubled him.  I dug deep for my best analysis and for a thoughtful way to express myself.  Mac listened to whatever I said and then he would thank me as though he truly appreciated my advice.  A look would flash across his face as he shelved my comments for later reflection.  I never doubted that Mac would make his own choice, but I felt equally sure that my suggestions would receive serious consideration.  He’s like that, is Mac:  He gathers ideas and shapes them around the solid values at the core of his being.

Mac graduated from high school in May of 2012 at the outdoor stage at Pembroke High School.  I sat with his father, my son, Mac’s sister Cara and her Ben, and two of the most wildly proud grandparents ever present at commencement, Jay and Joanna.  That fall, Mac started at Rhodes College in Memphis.  To no one’s surprise, he has excelled in every effort he has undertaken there.  He applies his insatiable curiosity and his stunning acumen to every effort.

Mac turns twenty-one today.  A few weeks ago, I reached out to find out just what gift he might want from me.  He gave me a choice of two, and I ordered both.  Bam, done.  I sent him the tracking number and received in quick return, an e-mail in which Mac, child of my heart, protested that I should only have bought one of the two suggested items.  Oh puh-lease, my dear.  As though it matters what I spend.  As though you are not worth an extra few dollars.

As though I can ever repay him for all those Tuesday evenings, when Mac and I met at the Mixx, and had our hour together, between the end of his school day and his evening of music.  That school year ended at its regular point in the calendar year, but its final days came too soon for me.

Happy birthday, Mac.  Though tradition calls you a “man” today, you will always be one of my shared children.  Thank you for letting me into your life.


Mac and his grandfather Jay, my favorite curmudgeon. Rhodes College, Family Weekend, Fall 2012.



Okay, Jenny Rosen, I hear you.

Yes, something you said got through.  And I just had a Eureka! moment. I won’t bore everyone with that Eureka! moment, but I’ll send around a smile to everyone, and this wish:  May you have your own Jenny Rosen, to listen, to comment, to gently guide you to your own Eureka! moment.  

I have no complaints about my friends.  My friends rock.

Here’s the smile: