Monthly Archives: April 2015

And there will come soft rains

Just because this is how I feel today, I would like to share one of my favorite poems with you all, with no complaints for the sensation of being insignificant which prompts me to recall these beautiful words.

There Will Come Soft Rains
Sara Teasdale, 1884 – 1933
(War Time)

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.


I spent yesterday struggling to avoid complaining about my wretched back and the quiet solitary life which I find myself leading.  No laundry got done.  No dusting, no errands, no yardwork.  After my breakfast company left, I moved no further than the couch unless to satisfy a primitive need — food, drink, waste elimination.  Otherwise, I huddled on an ice pack with my computer, tablet, and television remote at hand.  I took four ibuprofen every six hours and even resorted to Ben Gay.  I kept the walking stick nearby and used it for any timid creeping that I did.  I did not go outside.  I did not call anyone.  I downloaded a book on Kindle and immersed myself to avoid self-pity.

Just before sleeping — sleep induced by the warmth of a heating pad and a last dose of OTC pain relievers — I thought about my maternal grandmother.

The Ellis Island manifest shows that my grandmother, Joanna Ulz, arrived on the Zeeland on 21 April 1908.  Age four at the time, Joanna came to this country from Huttenberg, Austria.  We knew my grandmother’s family to be Austrian although the manifest shows her place of birth as Germany.  The Zeeland had departed from Antwerp, bearing scores of passengers including my grandmother, her mother Bibiana whom my siblings and I knew as “Mom Ulz”; her brother Konrad — our Uncle Cooney, then age 2; and her sister, also Bibiana, whom we called “Aunt Bib”, then age 1.  Her mother was 23.  The manifest scribes had poor handwriting: my great-grandmother and great-aunt are both misidentified as “Libiana”.

My great-grandfather Konrad “Dad” Ulz had come ahead in 1907, at age 31, a draft-dodger, sailing on the ship Kroonland.  The family ultimately settled in Gillespie, Illinois, and had, if memory serves, ten more children.

My grandmother married Delmar Lyons, child of Syrian immigrants.  They had three daughters:  My mother, Lucille Johanna; and my aunts, Joyce Elizabeth and Della Mae.  Nana, as my mother’s mother came to be known to her grandchildren, went to work during the Depression for the Montgomery Ward company.  Eventually, she and my grandfather started a hearing aid business as a franchisee of Sonotone House of Hearing, in Springfield.  They purchased a new home in a subdivision called Lake Knolls in Chatham.  It is that home which I most remember from my visits to them.

Nana had a series of severe strokes when I was eleven or twelve.  My mother and my aunt debated in my presence whether their father had gotten their mother enough therapy.  Whether he did or he didn’t, only God knows; all the involved parties are now, presumably, closer to that knowledge than I am.   The strokes left Nana paralyzed on one side, unable to speak more than stuttered guttural sounds, and dependent upon her husband, mother, children, and grandchildren.  Even then I knew that Nana hated what she became.

During one of my last summer visits to my grandparents before I got too busy for extended trips to their home, she needed something that I could not identify from the urgent noises which she made.  She finally tired of trying to communicate and dragged her bad leg down the hallway, fumbling in the bathroom cabinet with her one functional arm.  Castor oil:  she wanted castor oil. She stood in the hallway and drank straight from the bottle as I watched helplessly.  My great-grandmother came into the room just then and snatched the bottle from Nana’s hand.  Nana sought my eyes and held them with her own.  She seemed to be forgiving my ineptitude.

I don’t take after my grandmother.  I got my kinky curls from my grandfather and my fragile Irish skin from my father.  My agitated soul is also pure Corley.  But yesterday, struggling through the house with my left side shuddering, dragging my leg, leaning on my walking stick, I felt a flash of her tenacity course through me.  As I fell asleep, I considered, maybe, that I have something of my grandmother inside.

Johanna Ulz Lyons at her home in Lake Knolls.

Johanna Ulz Lyons at her home in Lake Knolls.


In which some things become clear

I resisted the neurologist’s recommendation of a walking stick for a few weeks.  But then I reminded myself that my trips to Stanford cost $1,500/pop, even though it’s in-network and the co-pays don’t break a hundred bucks.  Why spend the money for air fare, hotel, rental car and restaurants for these San Jose trips and ignore their advice, I asked myself.  So I took the plunge.

My resistance to “gait aids” transcends the distasteful increase in my dubious conspicuousness.  The wooden tools get tangled in my hopelessly awkward legs.  But Dr. McIntire at the Neuro-Science Clinic at Stanford seemed to think that a walking stick might prevent falls or injury as I cope with my changing ability.  So I got on Amazon Prime and looked at their offerings.  I settled on one that seemed inexpensive enough to prevent regret but sturdy enough to use if I chose.

It arrived in a box many times the size of its three component pieces.  I wrestled it into the house and struggled with the strapping tape. I finally extracted the plastic-wrapped dismantled walking stick and studied its gleaming metal.  I peered into the depths of the box in dismay:  No instructions — not even translated into clumsy English from Martian.

It took twenty minutes to get the three pieces fitted into each other.  I determined that the advertised lamp in the handle worked but the compass did not.  That mattered only a small amount to me — my consumer heart rebelled, but I don’t plan to hike with it.  I fiddled with the height and  the locking mechanism, then turned my attention to the strap and contours of the handle.  When I had tired of playing with the adjustable headlight, I put the thing in a corner and forgot about it.

Until today.

I’ve got this tricky back.  Three vertebrae have degenerated disks, and those swollen suckers find themselves straddled with Tarlov cysts.  Either condition might warrant surgery, but combined, they prompt pursed lips and drawn eyebrows from my doctors.  Let’s take a wait-and-see approach, my neurologist said, seven or eight years ago.  So I have — I mostly let this problem lie on the list of what ails me.  But once in a while, I turn left while my back turns right, and then I remember.  Oh, yeah.  Dang, that hurts.

Despite the burning and spasming, I got the oven cleaned, the bread dough made, the berries cleaned, and the table set.  I pulled the bread from the oven and the butter from the fridge.  I deposited it all on the wooden tray which lives in the middle of my dining table and went outside to watch for my breakfast company.  Two extraordinarily pleasant hours later, I realized, as the first of the three was leaving, that my back had grown increasingly worse and I could not stand.  My remaining guests cleared the dishes, got me an ice pack, and bade me goodbye while admonishing me to remain sitting.  I had no choice but to acquiesce.

When I found myself alone, I struggled to my feet and hobbled towards the kitchen.  Halfway there, I slumped against the buffet in the dining room and eyed the walking stick.  It seemed to peer back at  me from the blue-tinged lens of its silly light.  I reached for it, feeling the searing pain and the clenching spasm as I did.

And now I am moving slowly through the house when I feel inclined at all to do so, bent sideways, creeping, leaning on the walking stick, wishing I’d lost that last five pounds and grateful, in the final analysis, that I’d taken Dr. McIntire’s advice.

As I lower my body onto the couch after an agonizing journey from living room to rest room and back, I have a sudden realization.  Here I am, leaning on a gait aid, which I never thought would be of any use.  In the silent house, this flash of insight leaves me wondering about that on which we rely which disappoints; and that which we do not expect to be helpful but which shines brightly to guide us through the darkest night.


About blood

The normal INR is typically 0.9 to about 1.1. On warfarin therapy, the INR elevates to between 2 and 3.5.  INR stands for “international normalized ratio”. It is a calculation reported when performing the Prothrombin Time (PT) test for patients who are on Warfarin (coumadin) therapy.  In other words, it is the number by which we live and die when measuring clotting time.

A person with a hypercoagulable condition, such as that often seen in people with various viral disorders, can have sludge-blood with a clotting time hovering around the 1.5 mark if unmedicated, leaving that person sluggish and dull.  This hypoxemic state can cause an addled brain and dry, dying skin which splits, cracks, and greys.  It induces muddled thought and disorientation, slowness of breath, and a condition mimicking a general decline towards death.

As for how much blood a normal body has, one could say that it’s enough to fill one or two one-gallon milk jugs.  Blood accounts for about seven percent of human body weight, and its density is only slightly more than that of pure water.  A person weighing 110 pounds will have approximately 3.3 litres, or 5 pints of blood.

Blood is made up of plasma (which accounts for about 1/3 of its total volume), red blood cells, white bloods cells, and platelets. Vitamins, electrolytes and other nutrients are dissolved in the blood and carried to the body’s cells and organs.  When that blood is thickened by a raging virus, this transmission of nutrients can be delayed, causing havoc in cellular function and disruption in the normal organ activities, such as the heart’s beat and the lungs’ rhythmic intake and outflow of air and carbon dioxide.

Because of my hypercoagulable state, I’ve spent many days unable to work, and sometimes unable to lift my head from a pillow.  My blood has certainly caused many problems — trips to the hospital when it grew too thick and I panted from oxygen deprivation, frantic drives to the ER when a small cut brought forth a gush of over-medicated blood, slow to coagulate, unstenchable.  I’ve cursed my blood; I’ve certain levied many long complaints against it.

Nonetheless, when I found out this afternoon that my brother Kevin, to whom I rarely speak and even more rarely see, lay in the hospital under an oxygen tent in ICU, I called first my sister Joyce and then Kevin’s cell phone.  I heard his voice: “This is Kevin, leave a message” and, laughing, told him that I had been about to say that he didn’t need to collapse to get attention but maybe, come to think of it, he did.  I exhorted him to call me, you silly man, and let me know you’re okay.  I left my cell phone number; I told him that I would call again.

Because, after all, even medicated blood is thicker than water.

The infinity Corleys: Back row — Adrienne, Ann, Joyce, Kevin; Front row — Me, Steve, Frank, Mark




Of morning wind

I stand on my porch and feel the whisk of wind on my face.  I close my eyes and surrender to the morning.  Noises drift around me:  the birds nesting in my gutter, the puttering of a small vehicle journeying northward, music floating through an open window.  I make no sound myself, still and steady on the cold wood beneath my feet.  My eyes open, and what I see pleases me.  I let the serenity fill me and carry it back into the house.  The morning wind follows me, flooding the living room with the scintillating scent of spring.  I close the door and move away, into the house, my heart still quiet, my mind still peaceful.  If I have any complaints, I have forgotten them at least for a little while.


Coping mechanisms

My little brother Steve called me “Mare-bear”.   I’m not sure how the practice of putting “bear” after our names started.  Joyce became “J-bear” though I don’t recall anyone besides the two of us getting that appellation.  Adrienne had long been “Tia” or simply “A”.  Ann’s name couldn’t have been any shorter.  Kevin became “Kev” but Mark remained “Mark” for all time.  The only nickname that I can recall for my brother Frank is “Moose”, and Stephen himself was “Stevie Pat”, which I called him until the day he died.

The article in today’s Star about the suicide of Eric Schweich prompted me to take a photo of my brother from the wall and try to scan it.  I gently swept aside the cobwebs from the back of it; I hung it on that wall twenty-two years ago.  I know the painter took it down when he did the breakfast nook last year, but the thick dust did not dissipate.  I removed the back but then my mission failed:  The picture has been in the frame so long that it is fused to the glass.

My brother tried to kill himself at least once before he succeeded in June of 1997.  On that occasion, he took an overdose and awakened from a stupor to swollen legs and a failing kidney.  He dialed 911 and some of his former colleagues on the city crew took him to a hospital.  Months later, the doctors assessed the damage done: his leg could need restorative surgery, my brother Mark’s wife told me later — possibly amputation.  I had not known.

But I did know that he himself summoned help and in the early spring, I said to him:  I don’t get it, Steve.  You take an overdose and then call 911.  That seems kind of. . .well, oxymoronic.  I flashed a smile.  He did not respond at first.  He leaned on the bar in the restaurant in Webster Groves where the family had gathered for our aunt and uncle’s anniversary.  The party had degenerated into a reunion because my aunt had fallen ill.  So Steve and I stood where we stood best:  at the bar.

He took a long drink from his cocktail then set the empty glass on the bar, tipping it in the direction of the bartender.  He turned slightly, just enough to show his eyes, then answered me.  I wanted to end the pain, not suffer more, Mare-bear, he said.

My stomach dropped to the floor.

The investigation into the events leading to Eric Schweich’s suicide sent my innards lurching in just that way.  So much grief; so much struggle; so much pain.  I let the pages of the newspaper flutter to the table and stared at my brother Stephen’s picture, taken long before life brought him to that climax when he finally ended his pain.  I contemplated the words of Mr. Schweich’s wife, who said he talked of wanting to be dead but said that she did not think he meant it.

I am left to wonder if there is any way we humans can ever know another’s anguish.  I am left to wonder if I have the strength to try.

As I put my brother’s picture back on the nail, I found myself flooded with gratitude that I had never felt the pull of suicide strong enough to follow through.  I turned to pour myself another cup of coffee and caught sight of Eric Schweich’s picture on a page of the newspaper just below my brother’s photo.  I wonder what Mr. Schweich called his sister, if he had one.  I wonder if, one day, she will find peace with her brother’s death.

Stephen Patrick Corley, 12/25/59  - 06/??/97.  I'm finding that learning to live complaint-free requires making peace with the past.  RIP, Stevie Pat.  I loved you as well as I could.

Stephen Patrick Corley, 12/25/59 – 06/??/97. I’m finding that learning to live complaint-free requires making peace with the past. RIP, Stevie Pat. I loved you as well as I could.

One good thing after another

  1. My garden is starting to look lovely.
  2. My co-gardener Brenda got some of her weeds pulled — and I didn’t have to help!
  3. I got my end of year bookkeeping completed (finally).
  4. I found three muscles in my body that aren’t screaming in protest from all the work that I did this weekend (see #1).
  5. It’s warm enough that I don’t have to run the heat (though cool enough that if I did, I would not feel the least bit embarrassed).
  6. My dog had a seizure but it only lasted about fifteen minutes and Brenda was here to help me reassure Little Girl (the dog).
  7. I only have a quartet ringing in my ears instead of the life-long symphonic orchestra.
  8. I awakened this morning.
  9. Everyone whom I love also awakened this morning.
  10. The world still spins on its axis.

It’s just one good thing after another!


Isn't this lovely?  It was made by a member of the Rosebud Sioux tribe.  I bought it for my mother in 1968 when I did some work with members of the tribe visiting in St. Louis.  I'm so happy to have it.

Isn’t this lovely? It was made by a member of the Rosebud Sioux tribe. I bought it for my mother in 1968 when I did some work with members of the tribe visiting in St. Louis. I’m so happy to have it.

Things which please me

Five o’clock on Saturday morning finds me bargaining with myself.  I suggest that I try to sleep another hour and promise to make a fried egg if I do. By five-thirty, I’m in the kitchen warming yesterday’s coffee and opening a yogurt container.

I’m due to start gardening with Brenda at ten.  I’ve read the paper, blogged, answered e-mail, and done fifteen minutes of stretches by 7:30 but convince myself that no decent friend calls someone that early on a Saturday.  I put a load of clothes in the washer and strip the bed.  Little chores occupy me until 8:06, when I decide that Brenda must be awake, and call.  We arrange for her to walk the three blocks between her house and mine at the appointed hour.  Weeding first; then my annual visit to Soil Service on Troost for porch-plants.

Plenty of chores can fill two hours, and I tackle several of them.  I feel the lure of spring.  I walk down to the curb, snag the empty recycle bin and return it to the porch.  While outside, I move the shelves around, noticing the sagging rattan on one, the rust on another.  They’ll last one more year, I decide.  But the cushions which I didn’t store over the winter will have to be replaced.

At 9:45, I start a fresh pot of coffee and when it’s done, I take a mug to the porch to watch for Brenda.  During the five minutes of idle, I wave to three dog-walkers whom I don’t recognize.  Their pleasant smiles warm my heart:  Spring in Brookside brings out new neighbors and reminds me that I’m one of the old-timers now.

Then I spy Brenda, walking the first leg of her daily trip to work, a path which brought us into each other’s orbit last year for the first time, though she’d been making it for the seven or eight years since she bought her house on Holmes Street.  I pour her coffee, and we settle in porch rockers to plan our day.  My soul quiets; planting, talking, the glow of a clear spring morning — these things please me.

By noon, my side yard has emerged from beneath a tangle of weeds and brush.  We stretch our tired muscles and get into my Prius to drive to Panera’s for lunch, and then to Soil Service.  Brenda disavows the intention to buy anything but an hour later, my trunk holds a flat of ground cover destined for her back yard along with my porch plants and a dozen perennials for a long bare stretch under my deck which gets the full summer sun.

By three, I’ve taken Brenda home, seen her patio and wide back yard, brought us both to hysteria with the story of getting Chinese food while my mother lay near death, and rounded out my spring into spring with an hour of solitary gardening.  My porch and deck have begun to cast off their barren, winter guise.  I knew that I would ache come morning, whether or not I slept.  But the day’s effort rewards me with the glow which only gardening and friendship can engender.

A fair return, and well worth the agony that I feel this morning, on rising, with my muscles screaming to protest my abuse of them.  I don’t mind.  It’s all good.  I’m not complaining.


It must be said. . .

My favorite curmudgeon scolded me once (okay, many times) for talking on the phone while driving.

On the inaugural occasion of his chastisement of me for this failing, he told me to get in my car, drive home, and talk on the phone the entire time.  He went on to say that at the end of the drive, I should try to recall what I had passed on the way.  Feeling that he must surely simply be an old man unduly concerned about the dangers of multi-tasking, I nonetheless dutifully conducted his experiment.

And realized:  I could recall almost nothing of my trip home.  I could not have clearly said if I stopped at red lights, took my normal route home, or saw Santa Claus in a VW with Christmas lights.

Thereafter, I began paying closer attention to Jay’s advice.

He would be tickled to know that I’m driving his Prius and have connected my mobile phone to the car’s computer via Bluetooth.  I am mindful of studies which show that phone-talking engages different parts of the brain than in-person conversation and is more distracting.  But this afternoon, en route home from court, my doctor’s office called and was able to caution me about some test results, and I handled the call without incident with both hands firmly on the steering wheel.

I’m loving it.  With a nod to the one who made this possible for me, I’m feeling particularly blessed to have this luxury in my life.  It might be old hat to some, but to me it is new and already proving to be quite useful.  So it must be said:  Thank you, Jay, for being the instrument of my safe driving and comfortable living once again.


A nice cup of something hot

When you come into my house, you will be offered food and drink.  My selection can be limited at times.  I don’t buy soda and rarely keep alcohol at hand.  I usually have almond milk, grapefruit juice, a vast selection of tea both loose and bagged, coffee, and tap water.  I used to get delivered water but the service of the providing company fell below par and I canceled.

As for myself, I prefer a nice cup of something hot.

I’ve never considered myself worth much to the world, and any time I’m offered validation of my failings I snatch upon the evidence and parade it in front of the jury.  Yesterday, a difficult client terminated me (again) and did so in shaky accusatory tones.  Her accusations, though factually unfounded, pushed me to brittle defensiveness.  I reminded myself of every little fault, every muddled stumble, every failure.  I tend to ignore any compliment that I’m ever paid but dwell on the negatives.  I’ve been cautioned many times not to fall into this trap.  My friend Pat says she doesn’t mind my complaining except when it’s about myself; Jenny Rosen shakes her finger at me and tells me that I attract what I am.  Your light draws goodness, shine it!

I started this blog to keep myself accountable in my quest to live complaint-free.  Along the way, life’s peaks and valleys made the journey arduous.  I’ve been told not to talk about myself; that my best writing concerns others.  And I agree, in terms of quality but not necessarily in terms of quest.  It’s impossible to hold a public dialogue aimed to inspire others without waxing personal now and then.

This morning, I reminded myself that every event has at least two perspectives.  I re-read the closing letter which I penned after the client left my office, summarizing the advice that I had given her, the information that I had repeated in our thirty-minute session, the deadlines approaching her, and the procedure which I would follow to withdraw including preparing her file for transfer.  I’ve only had to do this a half-dozen times in thirty-two years.  I remember each of them:  My failures, looming large, dwarfing my successes.

This morning, I’m sipping coffee from a crystal mug and counting my blessings.  In the memorable words of Leonard Hughes, Jr.:  Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  I woke up this morning, which is more than many people can say.  So let’s get this show started!






Note:  Leonard Hughes, Jr. was a judge in Jackson County in the 1980s under whom I served as a city prosecutor.  He died in a car accident twenty years ago not long after he retired from the bench.  He often called me “Madame City Attorney Hot Lips”, (H.L. for short).  I learned a lot from him.  He opened every court session acknowledging his gratitude for waking, before dispensing swift justice with an equal measure of kindness, humor, wisdom, and practicality.