Monthly Archives: May 2015

My own milestones

Seventeen months have flown by since I started this blog as a tribute to my mother-in-law, Joanna Mitchell MacLaughlin.  On hearing her praised as someone who never complained, and knowing that to be so, I vowed to learn to  live complaint-free in her honor.

I did not manage to do so within the year that I budgeted for the task.  I am five months into my second year, and still struggling to find my joyful groove.  Friends of mine assert that living complaint-free cannot be done.  Others gently admonish me to be easier on myself.  But I have learned that protest over injustice, whether large or small, can be done in ways that even the most critical would not call “complaining”.  Protest can, in fact, be phrased in nonviolent communication.

One of my best moves was to continue surrounding myself with joyful people and joyful experiences.  I visit my cousin Paul Orso as often as my calendar allows, for example.  Paul has ALS which, I’m sad to say, advances more quickly than I had hoped.  Yet when I saw him at the family reunion last weekend, he threw his frail arms around  my neck and cried, “My cousin Corinne!  My cousin, my cousin!” with happiness in his heart and voice.

How can I complain in the face of such splendor?

The flowers on my deck bloomed particularly brightly this week on account of all the rain.  One pot might well need its own zip code soon.  I sit on my porch and gaze on their loveliness.  I feel a sense of peace; and realize that I have moved forward in my quest to live complaint-free in ways that might be apparent only to someone standing very near to me and looking deeply into my soul.  I’ve moved a few more clicks towards happiness.

Another milestone:  Seventeen months have gone by, and I’m still on my journey.  But I place a marker here, now,  on the last day of the seventeenth month in my  year without complaining.  I place this marker to remember how I felt on this day, how this day looked to me.  Happy anniversary to me!  I have survived seventeen months of my quest to live complaint-free, and I’m still putting my best foot forward.

Joanna would be so pleased!

These pansies please me.

These pansies please me.

Lovely color!

Lovely color!

Mr. Froggy holdng the jade that Jenny and I got, beside Jessica's plant which came back to live along with me.

Mr. Froggy holding the jade that Jenny and I got, alongside Jessica’s plant which came back to life with me.

Service Above Self

It’s been a long year or two with many changes in my life, most of them not pleasant.  But my friend Dan Ryan perceived both a need for a new distraction and an opportunity to take advantage of my famous relentlessness.  He recruited me to be part of an organizing group for what became the Waldo-Brookside Rotary Club.

Somehow, a woman who is going blind and deaf got elected secretary.  How funny.  I last held office in 1982 for a legal fraternity.  I got elected treasurer.  That astounded me since I’m terrible at budgeting and cannot add or subtract without a calculator.  If memory serves, either I had gone to the restroom or was in the kitchen flirting with somebody when nominees were taken and the vote tendered.

This time, I offered to take notes at the first meeting and emerged as the only one willing to be the secretary.  I struggle to hear everyone during the meetings and then my busy schedule relegates the typing of the minutes to the day before the next week’s meeting.  But I love it, even if I’m a terrible officer.  Our group is the largest ever to be formed in the district.  We’ve already had our first formal speakers, and found a permanent home.

Today, we received word that our charter has been approved.  Now we can open our bank account and start picking programs to support, local, nationwide, and international.  I’ve learned some astonishing facts about the efforts of Rotary International, which has become one of the most respected organizations in the world.  I find myself drawn to its motto of “service above self”.  Helping others has been my life since my high school days, when I tutored adults trying to get their GEDs.  I think I might be the perfect Rotarian.  I like nothing better than putting my shoulder to a boulder and pushing it out of the way so that those less able than myself can move forward.

It’s going to be a lot of work, but I am not complaining.   I feel the tide turning.  I won’t abandon my own projects — providing a venue for artists, and raising money for programs which help victims of domestic violence.  I might even find a way to harmonize these avenues of community service.  I expect to be reaching my hand out to Dan in thanks for that e-mail he sent me inviting me to attend the first exploratory meeting.  I scoffed but he has been vindicated.  Thank you, Dan.  Thank you.


A different point of view

I’ve opened a satellite office in a county north of where my primary practice has always been.  In my new digs, I’m not the landlord nor responsible for anything other than myself and my work.

I toted some things northward this morning and my new part-time office mates each grabbed something and carried everything into the building.  They fussed over me, showing me the internet password, my new key, and the Keurig coffee-maker.  Then my friend Pat, whose brainstorm this whole adventure had been, accompanied me to breakfast.

I drove back to the city still walking on cloud nine from the experience.  No matter that my legs hurt, a prospective client got confused about the days, and I’m still struggling with an outbreak of no less than three viruses at the same time.  I won’t complain.  Sometimes, you just have to look at things from a different point of view.

America from above.

America from above.


Cousins, cousins, and not-really-cousins

There are cousins and there are cousins; and then, there are not-really-cousins.

So, my mom had two sisters:  Joyce and Della Mae.  Mom — Lucy — had eight children; Joyce had nine; and Della Mae had three.  Joyce’s husband had two sisters who married men named Mack and Bene, respectively.  The Macks and the Benes had goodness knows how many kids.

The Orsos and the Corleys are cousins.  The Orsos, Benes, and Macks are cousins.  The Corleys are not-really-cousins to the Benes and the Macks.

I’ve laid out this confusing account to say this: My family reunion weekend has had only one teensy weensy tiny flaw

In my almost-perfect weekend, I’ve seen siblings, nieces, nephews, in-laws, cousins, cousins, more cousins, and not-really-cousins.  I walked around introducing myself as “Dick and Lucy’s youngest daughter” and by saying, “Yes, my first name is ‘Mary'”.

I’ve seen my cousin Sabrina’s widower and his new wife, who came all the way from Uttica, Illinois, just to be with Jim’s first wife’s family and mostly due to Laura’s desire to know the family of her step-children and step-grandchildren.  What a wonderful woman!

Though my son couldn’t come due to his academic and work commitments, I don’t count that as the tiny flaw because it’s good for his life to stay on track.  Every minute of these two days has shimmered and shone with wonderful reconnection.  The tiniest teeniest flaw?  That I visited my Aunt Marilyn Dahl Corley, a little dynamo at 86, and forgot to take a picture!

I did manage to take a lot of pictures in the last two days, but have chosen to share one of my cousin Paul Orso, his niece Johanna Smythe Hallahan, and Johanna’s twelve-day old daughter Madeleine.  (And I hope I’ve correctly spelled the baby’s name!)  Something about this photo speaks to me of the very essence of our big, noisy, loving family.

Here’s to cousins, more cousins, and not-really-cousins, and all their partners and progeny.  See you in two years, all you Corleys, Macks, and Benes.  May the next twenty-four months bring nothing but joy for each and every one of you!


Memorial Day Message

My dad loved his years of service in the Army.  He talked of little else if you gave him an ear and a quiet moment.  He had a lot of faults and it’s hard not to begrudge him the way he treated us.  But truth be told, if he were coming home from fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan now, he would probably be diagnosed with PTSD.

My dad was a Missouri infantryman.  He walked the Burma trail, fighting to clear it to be used as a supply line.  He and his brothers-at-arms were still on the trail six months after the war ended, and were whisked home, considered somewhat embarrassing.

I went to the WWII Museum in New Orleans four years ago.  The lack of mention of the Burma theatre totally floored me.  No attention paid whatsoever to the infrantrymen fighting to make safe passage for supplies, who persisted under heavy fire, who quietly came home and tried to resume their lives.

I make no excuses for what my dad became or what he did in later years.  But he fought for the country which he loved; and he looked back on that time with sentiment and longing.  For that, I can honor him, even though there have been times when instead, I cursed him.

I raise my flag, hold my hand to my brow, and stand at attention in honor of the brave men and women who have fought with the aim of insuring that I remained free.  God bless them all.

Memorial Day, 2015

In honor of my father:

Richard Adrian Corley

27 December 1922 – 07 September 1991

Life, towels, and whales

Anyone who has read the HItchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy will understand when I say, that I’ve got my towel folded under my arm and I’m befriending as many whales as possible.

For the unenlightened, let’s put it this way.  If your father told you from birth, Always play the house odds and never draw to an inside straight, what lesson would you derive from those admonishments?  Would you hold your nose and dive head-first from the cliff holding a rubber inner tube the size of Manhattan?  Or would you spread a blank under the weeping willow and strum your lute?  Or, would you scamper on the shoreline, one toe in, one toe out, your jeans rolled to your knees. . .

I’ve been gravitating amongst those options.  Wildly crazy, irresponsible for a year or three, followed by a huddled decade under the stairs in the hobbit house.  Then, strolling down the lane deliberately daring the elements but only without a jacket on a cool evening, not barefoot in a park during a glorious rainstorm.

I’m beginning to think that I need to lace up my boots, pack a sack lunch, and start down the road to a new destination.  Maybe, in the meantime, I should get a new set of rules.  But definitely, whatever path I follow and whatever guidelines I adopt, I will not be complaining.  Life’s too short to spend it as a Crabby Cathy.

Five months down

I’ve nearly completed five months of my second year trying to live “complaint-free”.  I cannot say that this year has been a rousing success.  In fact, I seem to be losing ground.  If this were AA, I would not be getting a token.  But I’m still plugging away.  My eyes open wide and I leave every encounter asking myself if I have given joy to the person at the receiving end.  Often the answer rings out clear: Yes.  Sometimes, though, I have to admit that I have not — that I need a refresher course in non-violent communication.  I go back and play the videos of Dr. Marshall Rosenberg (free on you-tube) and contrast what he describes with what I have put forth.  I learn.  I strive.  Five months down; and I’m still putting my best foot forward.  I count that as a partial victory, and leave myself in play.


At pizza/dinner tonight, we played a game in which each of us had to make a vow.  Mine was to start every day with a smile this week.  Addao vowed not to make vows about strange things, after realizing that a vow not to vow was a lose-lose situation.  Jessica, diving into a pile of salad, vowed never to go so long without eating.

We stuffed ourselves silly (me with over-priced but delicious GF pizza) then we made our way home.  From the back of the house, I heard Addao calling, “Mom!” and in a flash, I found myself back in time, maybe 45 years backwards into a shotgun bungalow in Jennings.

I hover in the kitchen doorway.  My mother has her hands in suds, her back to me, staring out the window.  I can’t see the season in my memory; I am mainly aware of my mother’s shoulders, hunched and huddled.   Feelings of powerlessness and helplessness rise in me as I recall standing, silent.  She had no idea that I watched her.  I could not speak.

My little brother, eleven or so at the time, called from the basement.  Mom!  Mom!  She did not answer.  He shouted more loudly, MOM!  MOM!  I could feel his urgency; I’ve no idea — not then, not now — what he needed.  My mother remained silent until the third call:  MOM!!!  MOM!!!  MOM!!!!

Then she spoke — still facing the window, hands still plunged in the dishwater, shoulders still taut.  In the tiniest of voices, barely above a whisper, she said, “What?”  Stephen called again and again, Mom whispered, “What?”  On his fifth call he seem to reach a frenzy but still she did not raise her voice nor move:  “What?” and I gasped, Mother! and she jumped, reeled around, her hands sending a shower of soapy water across the room, slapping me in the face cold, wet, greasy.

We stared at each other.  Moments passed, then I heard the sound of my brother running up the stairs.  He charged through the basement door and skidded to a halt at the sight of our stand-off.  Mom, he finally demanded.  Didn’t you hear me calling?

Mother’s eyes never left mine as she said, “I answered; didn’t you hear me?”

I turned and walked out of the kitchen.  I did not betray her; nor did I take my brother’s side.  I went out onto the porch.  I cannot remember — was it raining?  Winter?  I do not know.  I sat on the porch and thought about my mother but I reached no conclusions.  After a while, I went back into the house and closed the door.

Addao and his mother, the lovely Jessica, our island girl

Addao and his mother, the lovely Jessica, our island girl

Ain’t no trash here, Mister

When the winds started blowing last evening, I sent a message out to several people about whom I always worry, forwarding the NWS warning alert from my phone.  One of the three acknowledged me; at least my effort hit one mark.  I downloaded a book to my Kindle app and thought about the three tornadoes that I’d experienced, starting with the one that took out the orange wooden slide at my next-door-neighbor’s house when I was four or five.

I’d gotten out of my parents’ basement where we had all taken shelter. The father of the family next door saw me, ran out, scooped me up, and got us both to safety just before the twister hit.  It took the hundred-year-old tree from our backyard and left it uprooted; the sliding board was found a few miles away.  But I lived, saved by Mr. Hawkins, who spent the storm in our basement worried about his family, thanks to his noble efforts which took him away from them at the last minute.

I had a wonderful morning with my friend Pat yesterday, then set out in search of a couple of things that I want for my house and for my new satellite office.  I decided to go way out to TurnStyles, the Catholic Charities thrift store.  But before I could hit 75th and head west, I saw a promising garage sale and circled back.

A gangly man missing three top teeth greeted me.  “If you see anything you like, let me know,” he urged me.  “It’s all good stuff, ain’t no trash here.”  Then he went to help a woman carry some chairs from the house.  I wondered if it were an estate sale but the woman explained.  She told me that she was from Central United Methodist church soliciting donated furniture for a refugee family.  The homeowner, he of the wide grin, had donated a table that he had not intended to sell and several chairs from his basement.  I told the woman that friends of mine attend the church and her face shone even more brightly.  She knew them, of course; it’s a close community.

I offered some cash to help her acquire furniture but she pushed it away.  “You’re very kind,” she protested.  “But people in the neighborhood just give us things when we take in new families.”  We talked for a few more minutes and then I spied a small lamp.  It bore a five-dollar price tag, and I asked the man if it worked.  He said, “I let an old lady from down the street put some things here, and that’s hers.”  He gently lifted it from the card table and told me that he would test it and put a light bulb in it.  A few minutes later, he tilted it to show me the illumination through the round top of the lovely shade.

I traded a five-dollar bill for the now-enhanced lamp, and the man said, “Now, I just retired and bought this house, but I’m real handy.  If you ever need anything, come see me.”  I asked if he had a card.  He laughed, throaty, long and lovely.  “Oh no, ma’am, I don’t need no card.  I don’t charge and besides, all the people I do work for know me. Just come here,”  he added, gesturing to his street.  “They all know me.”

I promised that I would.

I put the lamp in the car and watched as the old man and the church lady resumed carrying chairs down to the curb where her vehicle stood.    An hour later, I found the exact dining room light fixture that I wanted at Habitat Restore for $20 as opposed to the $200 that an internet lighting website wanted.  I asked a clerk how I would know if it worked, and he gestured to its wiring.  “There’s no way we can test fixtures, ” he remarked.  “We take things on the honor system here.  If it’s on the floor, whoever donated it told us that it worked.”  I thank him for his honesty and bought the fixture.

I walked out of the store right at closing time, and looked back towards the last few customers paying for their purchases.  The wide room had been dimmed; one worker still stood outside, receiving a donated table and chairs from a pleasant-looking couple.  I watched the three of them carry the wooden dining set into the store, heard the murmur of their exchanges, saw the quiet smiles of the couple who came to donate something they no longer used.

As I carefully laid the fixture on the floor of my front seat, I thought about the concepts of up-cycling, re-cycling, and just plain using things until they’ve reached their natural life expectancy.  I remembered a book that I read many years ago, called “God Don’t Make No Junk”.  I looked at the little five dollar lamp sitting on the back seat.  The face of the man who sold it to me rose in my mind, and I found myself smiling.  Ain’t no trash here, Mister, I thought.

Then I drove home to await the storm.


the road to hell

I tried about a half dozen things this week which just flat failed.

The nature of my failed undertakings is of no moment.  The important aspect of the last four or five days lies in my intent.  I wanted so badly to succeed at the tasks that I set for myself.  I strove to send a ripple of positiveness into the universe, or to correct wrongs, or to acknowledge essential truths.

I limped my way to Thursday with a handful of hysteria and a pocket filled with pebbles.

Someone asked me a few weeks ago why I didn’t talk much in my blogs about some of the worst things that have happened to me along the way.  You reference them, he observed.  But you never describe them.  Not really.

My friend might be right.  If so, the point is that those days, those hours, those encounters have no importance except as paving stones.  Do I build a bridge?  Do I stack them around me in a circle, the sides of which rise higher, blocking my escape?  Do I pave the road to hell or build a highway to heaven?

It’s a crapshoot, sometimes.  But I’m not complaining.  After all (said the girl, hand to forehead, sighing) tomorrow is another day.