Monthly Archives: August 2015

Summer’s waning

I’m on the porch at 7:30 this morning thinking that although I am the only permanent resident of the Holmes house, proof of occupancy stands right in front of me — in the collection of walking sticks.  The first to gather there was the stick which Jessica used for her nightly walks before she moved to Hawaii.  There’s a brown hand-carved stick, skinned bark apparent, that either came from the Lake of the Ozarks or Colorado, I’m not sure which. I had one from each place, the latter given to me by Katrina. I loaned one to a friend and never got it back.  Tall among them rises the stick which Addao sawed from a fallen branch.  The most rugged and enduring crosses over Addao’s handiwork, and I think that must have belonged to Jessica’s father.  Completing the collection is the wizard stick which Patrick bought for me at the Renaissance festival, a decade ago, more maybe, the first year that I felt too weak to make the rounds of the troubadors and stages out at Bonner Springs.

I sip my coffee and think that I’ll go inside and write.  Addao, who is Jessica’s eleven-year-old son, watches television with the sound down low because his mother still sleeps.  I open the computer and contemplate going to the cemetery.  Then I think, But what about the living? and outloud speculate on how nice breakfast at Eggcetera would be.  Addao needs no prompting. He jumps into the idea and drags his mother out of bed. Soon we sit playing I’m going to Colorado and I’m going to Take. . ., which I swiftly changed from “grandmother’s house”, realizing, it’s too soon, too soon, since Addao lost his grandmother, Jessica’s mother, barely a month ago.  Addao takes the prize with “H”, thumbing in his mother’s direction and chortling, “I’m going to Colorado and I’m taking HER!”

Afterwards, I get coral roses from Lipari’s and go to the cemetery anyway, where I clean the debris of the last bouquet and wash off Jay and Joanna’s headstones.  Then I make my way to work, thinking, Sunday, sweet Sunday, and feel a little wistful about summer’s waning.  But I cannot complain.  It’s not even noon, and I’ve already had a joyful day.  It matters not that I have to spend the next six hours working.  I’ll live.  I’ll live.


Thoughts over Greek yogurt

I set the alarm for both five and five-thirty.  I’m eating Greek yogurt and drinking rewarmed coffee and wondering why I didn’t go to med school.  A friend recently posted on her Facebook page that she’s now retired from practicing medicine, a vocation she pursued after years as an attorney.  I don’t want to complain but that seems like a better career move right now than solo practice.

My life seems to have come full-circle in the sense that I get some of my best advice about human interaction from my twenty-four-year-old son.  Better versed in NVC than I am, he often helps me figure out ways to carry on conversations which result in successful communication and no hurt feelings.  As I nurse this luke-warm coffee, I’m mulling over some sticky issues that I want to resolve and wondering how Patrick would suggest that I phrase my observations.  Though I’m tired and wishing that I could just crawl back under my antique quilt, I think to myself that the day holds promise.

There are some feelings that I hold unexpressed inside of me and no amount of nonviolent communication will make them suitable for the light of day.  These I examine in the silence of the house, wondering if I should send them aloft.  I’m torn between penning e-mails with their brutal edges and writing them on pieces of paper to burn on a mountain-top for my ancestors to handle.  These feelings stay suppressed except when I am tired or when the constant drone of tinnitus is the only noise I hear.  Though I know they should be left unsaid, the words crowd and climb to the top of my consciousness.

The emotions which I suppress all relate to my general feeling of unworthiness.  That conviction lies at the root of all the complaining that I’ve ever done.  In all of it, that tight little nub festers.  I don’t feel entitled to love, money, comfort, or happiness.  These pre-dawn hours find me scrolling through social media memes for the words of poets, of other women who have struggled with these same thoughts, searching for truths that will soothe me.

I used to think that I would feel better about myself if I could just change my behavior towards others.  But the easier such change comes, the less I believe that it will really make a difference in how I feel about myself.  I don’t know why some people grow to adulthood certain that life is a surprise party and they are the guest of honor while others, such as myself, reverse words on a computer screen to correct grammar lest those who read what I’ve written will roll their eyes and chuckle over yet another example of my essential failing.

My (second) ex-husband told me that this blog of mine represents a public journey that he himself would not take in the quiet of his inner soul.  He asked why I was keen on exposing my self-exploration and growth.  I told him then, and meant it, that I hoped someone, anyone, maybe several someones, would read what I write and spare themselves the agony in which I wade trying to reach a restful shore.  Today over Greek yogurt, my quest seems laughable.  Another day, I might feel stronger, more rested, and more optimistic about myself.  I understand both moods have value, both points of view contribute to my path to healing and joy.

And the sharing of them, the acknowledgment that I have both a dark side and a half filled with light — this, too, means something.  And so — I’ve given it to you, to those who read these entries, so that perhaps you will see your own dark side and give it voice, which I am hoping will take away its power.


Not complaining, just explaining

I’m in bed with my jammies on at 8:35 p.m. thinking of metaphors and imagery to describe the level of fatigue that I’m feeling.  “So tired my hair hurts” comes to mind.  I  put in an hour of adaptive yoga, forty-five minutes of physical therapy directed by the Stern-Mistress herself, and nine hours of pedal-to-the-metal work with not so much as a bathroom break.  My alarm is set for five a.m. so I don’t miss Trial One of Three over the next ten days.

Every once in a while, this happens to my schedule, usually because of continuances.  As careful as I might try to be to guide the trials to big empty spots in a given week, occasionally the Gods and Goddesses of the Bench have other ideas.  I’ll get through but my oh my oh dinosaurs! I’m tired — the kind of tired that in part stems from being a bit disorganized.

But as I settle, mindless television blathering in the background, I contemplate my situation.  I realize that at present, at least, I have a full caseload and clients who are (thankfully) paying promptly.  So I’m tired, but I’m not complaining — I’m just explaining why I can’t seem to see the computer screen or remember my name!!!!

Be well, everyone.  If a few days go by when I don’t reach out to share my joy, know that it shines in your direction without faltering.

girl sleeping

The lesser known angels

I’ve never felt comfortable in salons.  I understand why I get fidgety standing in the doorway and have to push myself to approach the front desk.  I’ve never believed  myself worthy of the cost or the fuss.

My family of origin didn’t have a lot of money, and my mother gave everyone whatever haircuts we needed.  I did get my  hair cut at a salon near my house during the summer before eighth grade.  I found out that the doctor had recommended orthopedic shoes for me, and the potential of being even more different when I started school in September nauseated me.

So I walked the four blocks to Northland Shopping Center, tendered six crumpled dollars of my babysitting money, and had all my hair chopped off at the little hair-cutting place that my mother used.  My father screamed for hours that I had destroyed my “crowning glory”. My mother cried; she understood my shame.

As an adult I have never shaken the fundamental belief that I am an interloper at these havens of feminine self-indulgence.  I’ve paid good money for bad haircuts because I didn’t have enough gumption to overcome my timidity and protest the layering of my curly mop.  I’ve left the heady perfumed dens with weird colors and overlong bangs.  I’m slunk away, never to return, changing stylists every eight weeks, sometimes giving up for years and applying box color in the bathroom to cover  my grey.

Last spring, I paid two-and-a-half times the going rate to a new salon, which first ruined my hair, then fixed it, and on my return visit, upped the cost by fifty bucks because I had “so much hair”.  I recovered, sought out a stylist that had once treated me with decency for my next cut, and counted myself lucky that my secretary has a degree in cosmetology and put her foot down about my returning to the fancy-pants place and getting robbed blind.

So with great trepidation, I sought out somewhere to get a pedicure yesterday.

A pedicure is almost a necessity for me.  I’ve gotten to the point in the progression of my disability at which bending is hard for me, so in addition to the potential relaxation, the attention to this little personal chore provided by a salon serves a critical purpose.  But on the two previous trips which I made for pedicures, I found myself shunted from chair to drying station in little flat foam flipflops propelled by the push of a technician eager to fill the next time slot.

With a couple of recommendations from friends, I headed south on Ward Parkway.  But in my confusion, I stopped a block shy of the one for which I was aiming, and ended up in the hands of an angel at Sweet D Nails & Spa.

The little lady guided me to a chair and eased my purse from my shoulder.  She gently lifted my feet and helped me remove my gardening shoes, which she placed next to the sandals which I had brought for “after”.  She eased each foot into the warm water, and for the next hour, massaged and manicured my feet and toes to the point of sublime softness.

Afterwards, she held those offensive little flipflops and turned her head sideways.  I stared at them, then her, and she shook her head and thrust them back into the drawer beside her station.  When it came time to move into the room where I would be given a facial waxing — which I had ordered on a whim — she held my hand and helped me dodge the chairs while I walked with bare feet and splayed toes to protect the pearly pink polish which she had so carefully applied.

Ninety minutes after my arrival, and a mere $45.00 poorer, I left the place and headed west for my next errand, feeling, at long last, like a woman entitled to a little pampering.  There are all kinds of angels in the world, some in human form, some in the form of beloved pets or dainty monarchs winging their way north or south depending on the season.  But of the lesser known angels, so little is said.  Today I’d like to acknowledge them:  Those who bestow kindness without request; who see need and silently fulfill it; who use gentle voices, and tender touches, and soft glances despite their own burdens and the pressures of their own lives.

What would we do without these guardians of our hearts?  I for one would be so much poorer.  The richness of their ministration gladdens my spirit.

On my mother's silver vanity tray stand Remembrance, given to me by my sister-in-law Virginia McCoskrie; and an angel that I bought one day while out thrift-shopping with Vivian Leahy.  Behind them is an angel belonging to my friend Jessica Genzer.

On my mother’s silver vanity tray stand Remembrance, given to me by my sister-in-law Virginia McCoskrie; and an angel that I bought one day while out thrift-shopping with Vivian Leahy. Behind them is an angel belonging to my friend Jessica Genzer.

If you want to check out Sweet D Nail & Spa, click THIS LINK.


What is it that I expect of each day?

Just to awaken; then everything else is gravy.

I sit on my porch and think about choices which others have made that have changed the course of my life in ways that I would not have chosen for myself.  I resist the temptation to chronicle those choices and their negative impact on me; or, shall I say, the ways in which those choices impacted me that I do not desire.  I’ve done that, but increasingly, I see that doing so robs me of my own joy.  Pronouncing a list of ways that another’s choices sent me in directions that I do not like is complaining, no?

And so I resist.  Instead, I rise from the rocker and trim the faded blooms from the begonias.  I see that my annuals will soon succumb to the passage of time.  Their splendor has served me well this year.

My life takes on structures that I did not anticipate, like the plant which has not been turned often enough to grow evenly.  And yet, I’m still growing, still sending out shoots and leaves and the occasional flower.

I’m good with that.  I’ll keep trying to let go of discontent with the impact on my life of the choices made by others.  I’ll keep trying to direct  my growth with my own stretch towards the sun, and the wiggle of my roots towards water and rich soil.  I near the end of the twentieth month in my year without complaining, and I begin to see lasting effects of my efforts.

And I’m still awakening each day.  That’s got to count for something!

Early morning at Pigeon Point Lighthouse, Pescadero, California

Early morning at Pigeon Point Lighthouse, Pescadero, California

Brian Martig inspired today’s blog entry.  Thank you, Brian!

Half My Life

Tomorrow morning at 7:05 a.m. — or close to that time — marks the thirtieth anniversary of my mother’s death.  I turn 60 on September 5th.  Do the math:  My mother has been dead for half my life.

Last Friday, a nationally acclaimed spasticity specialist looked me straight in the eyes and said, There is absolutely NO medical justification for you still being able to walk.  He held his face stern and rigid, just to be sure that I understood the impact of his pronouncement.  I did.  A few moments of silence lingered between us and then I told him, as I tell everyone, the reason I am still walking.

When I was a little girl,  (and I swear this is true and not just a story that I fabricated to justify a position), my mother said to me time and time again:  If you walk every day of your life, you will walk every day of your life.  So keep walking.

I understood what she meant.  On a practical level, she intended to urge me to stay out of a wheelchair as long as possible.  On a more metaphorical note, her message encouraged me to persevere.  And so I have.

Dr. Lopez settled his face into a look of resignation.  He told me, So, just in order to be sure you are clear:  I want you to see a good physical therapist well-versed in currently available ambulatory assistive devices and mechanized mobility devices.


“Ambulatory assistive devices” — doctor-speak for canes and walkers.

“Mechanized mobility devices” — doctor-speak for wheelchairs.

Yes, I have a physical therapist who has that knowledge and discussed those very subjects with me, I assured him.  But I continued.  Know this, I told him.  When my son was five and I was forty, I promised my son that I would live to be 103.  I intend to honor that commitment, and, frankly, the first sixty years has gone by pretty quickly.  I intend to live to be 103 and to walk every day of my life, so anything you can do to aid me in both goals will be greatly appreciated.

My mother died six years before an OB GYN in Fayetteville, Arkansas lifted my son into the chilly air of a sterile delivery room.  Now my son lives far away from me, though he checks on me every day by phone or text.  But though my mother lies long in her grave, I owe her no less allegiance than my living, breathing offspring.  So, I intend to keep walking every day, and to do so for another forty-three years.

And I intend to do so voicing as nearly as possible to zero complaints about the arduousness of each step, or the limited remedies for the ailments which plague me.  I think my mother would want me to insure not only that I kept walking, but that I did so with grace, and hope, and joy in every  step.

My sister Adrienne  (left) and my mother Lucille Johanna Lyons Corley (right).

My sister Adrienne (left) and my mother Lucille (right).

Dedicated to


10 September 1926 – 21 August 1985



In a box in the lower cupboard of my china cabinet, I found a puzzle that belonged to my brother Stephen.  I lifted the puzzle from under a leftover packet of number two pencils and a package of red stick pens.  I spread the various supplies in the box across the table, then disregarded them all to gaze at the puzzle.

I moved the pieces around, as I have done countless times since I came to possess it.  I touched the contours of the empty space into which those trying to solve the puzzle slip pieces from time to time, juggling others left, right, up, down.  I almost completed the picture two or three times, a decade ago.  I almost get it this time: but it confounds me.  I search the Internet for a photograph of the original work, and stare at it.  I think to myself, If only I could figure out where each piece goes relative to the other.  I ask myself, Is it possible Stephen took some of the pieces out and re-ordered them?  Is this a puzzle that cannot be solved?

After an hour or so, I shoved the puzzle into a drawer in my secretary.  I sat, quiet, in my little chair; I pulled the drawer back open, took the puzzle out, tried one more time, failed one more time.  But I’ve begun again now.  It no longer hides under the pile of office supplies purchased for my son over his years of bringing home lists for each new school year.  All of those — the pencils he never needed, the pink erasers, the dried-out glue sticks — go back into the lower cupboard.  The puzzle stays out; and from time to time, I fool with it.

I think I can solve it now.  It will just take time.  I don’t mind; it no longer burns my hand when I take it out, it no longer reminds me of my brother’s death.  I smile when I see it.  I picture him leaning over the bar at O’Connell’s Pub, shirt sleeves folded back, cigarette in one hand, rocks glass  in the other, looking down at this puzzle with his rueful half-smile.  I wonder if he ever solved it.  He certainly left it jumbled, ready to challenge me.  I touch the plastic squares that he once touched, and somehow, I feel as though he still sits on that bar stool, flashing a grin in my direction, daring me to succeed.


Surprise lilies

In Arkansas people complain about surprise lilies.  They say, Oh, get those things out of here! and make little moues with their mouths.  They pass long stretches of surprise lilies and day lilies on the roadway and wonder out loud why the highway department hasn’t done something about them.

I never commented on this attitude in the five years that I lived in Arkansas.  But when I moved back to Kansas City, I found  myself delighted with a whole long yard of them.  I waited for them to bloom; I cut stalks and put them in tall vases.  Then their bed gave way to construction — first a wheelchair ramp, later the deck.  I have so few left and they find themselves choked by the heartier iris, the bulbs which came from North Carolina and thrive in our cool springs.

I forget about the surprise lilies from year to year, and thus I am beyond surprised when the return; I am downright astonished.  This year, they asserted themselves above the ground towards the end of my recent trip to California. I found them when I left home to go to the office on Sunday.  I stood for several minutes gazing at them in wonder.  What a gift!  How can anyone consider them a nuisance?  But then, I myself like dandelion wine, and I still cannot distinguish good grass from rampant weeds.

I am beginning to accept my Plebeian view of yard growth.  Perhaps my gypsy soul relates to the wildness of untamed vegetation.

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Sunday morning at the Holmes house

I’m back in town, people.

There are no mountains, the ocean isn’t outside my window.  The dog peed on the floor by the front door and by the look of it, just minutes before I stumbled downstairs to let her out the back way.  I felt the cloying midwest heat when I took my coffee outside.  And I have to get my tired body to the office to prepare for trial in the morning.

But I’m not complaining — no, I’m not, not in the least.  I’m still high from my week out west.

At Joanie’s Cafe in Palo Alto yesterday, a mother sat feeding her teenage son, whose spastic arms repeatedly drew themselves to his chest.  His sightless eyes drifted to a space near the top of her head.  Their service dog curled beneath their feet.

When I skittered around their table en route to the exit, the woman spoke to me.  I like your pants, she remarked.  I stopped and amped my smile to a higher wattage.  Thank you! I responded, and adjusted my computer bag so it didn’t bump the young man who remained motionless across the table from his mother.  I got these at Walgreen’s in St. Louis, so if you have a Walgreen’s here, you could look for them!

The lines eased across her forehead as she replied, And your jacket, it looks so good with those pants!  I glanced down at my green hoodie and the crazy-quilt yoga pants, topped with a white shirt from Marshall’s.  I got this jacket at Goodwill! I responded, and flashed an even broader grin at her.  I felt the tension seep from her body.  I met her eyes and emptied my mind of any pity or artifice, just smiling, just being.

After a minute, she spoke again, saying, Well you look great, and then her face closed around itself.  I thanked her and moved beyond them.

A second later, I tripped on the recessed entryway, falling into the hostess who had reached to open the door for me.  We exchanged a few quiet words about the dangerousness of the configuration of the doorway.  She asked after my welfare.  I steadied my bag on  my shoulder, assured her that I was fine, and suggested again that they might review the juxtaposition of rug, shallow stoop, and higher floor.  Another time, I might not have been so lucky as to have her there to steady me; another customer might injure herself.  She agreed, and promised to tell the owner.

I thanked her and continued on my way.  I had no regrets — not about my choice of restaurant, nor about my exchange of pleasantries with a lonely mother, nor about the calm relay of advice to the manager about how to make the restaurant safer.  As I walked to my rental car, I realized that it is, in fact, possible to talk to someone whose situation seems overwhelming without feeling superior; and to voice concern over poor service or inconvenience without complaining.

My oh my!  Two lessons learned before lunch!  Must have been all the Vitamin D in the California sunshine.



Striking a blow for NVC

It’s never a good idea to look for a restaurant when you’re hungry.

As I cruised down El Camino Real, looking for the Veggie Grill, I pulled into several parking lots of other likely venues. Despairing of finding the healthy choice that Miss Google had helped me select, I finally slotted the rental car in a handicapped space in front of a row of eight restaurants.  I tried to find the door for one and ended up in another, ordering freshly made but gluten-hostile pasta from a smiling Hispanic woman.

I ate the vegetables and dodged the tortellini.

On my way back to the motor inn, I spied the original subject of my quest, a storefront vegetarian restaurant that had gotten four stars on Yelp.   Too late, but noted for future reference.  Cars sped around me as I aimed for the narrow entrance to my motel and brought the rental car to a hault just before my cell phone died a horrible death from over-use as a GPS.

As the engine shuddered to a stop and the local public radio announcer’s vice faded, I thought about the eight hours which I had spent at the Stanford Neuro-science clinic.  An hour for check-in and the H&P by a physician fellow; forty-five minutes with the Spasticity God, and an incredible five hours unwinding the failure of the pre-authorization department to locate the correct person at my health insurance to allow the muscle-specific, EMG-directed, low-level botox shots to be administered that day.

I had been skeptical of the proposed treatment.  I’ve been offered botox on other occasions and know at least one person with spasticity who receives it.  But that person grows increasingly disabled, hunched over a walker though cheerful and determined.  I knew that if anyone could figure out exactly how to use botox for my tricky muscles, this Stanford guy would be the one.  Motivation kept me pinned to the waiting room as noon approached.

But the pre-authorization lady left a message on my cell that the Insurance Masters declined to approve before a lapse of a minimum thirty-six hours.  Something bothered me about the information given, and I placed a call to my friend Katrina who works for Blue Cross in Kansas City, tendering the number and name of the person who supposedly mandated the delay.  A half hour later, I had my suspicions confirmed.  The clinic’s staff had called the wrong department and in fact, had I left it alone, eventually that verdict would have been pronounced.

I found the clinic manager and started the process all over again, gone twelve-thirty now and most everyone there at lunch. I started the mantra which I would intone through the afternoon:

I just want to let you know, the folks at the KC office of BC BS are in the Central time zone; they’re two hours ahead of us.  I was told that they were working on it.

An hour passed.  Two.  Five-o’clock-central crept closer.  I quietly inquired and was told that we were waiting for the doctor to write his notes.  I held the clinic manager’s eyes; I thanked her for the update, but I cautioned:  “If we don’t get it done by 3pm California time, it will not get done today.”  I was assured that they knew the  problem, that they were working on it, that they just needed that one more piece of information.  I inquired again; at 4:45 Central time, 2:45 California time, the doctor finally entered the note of my nine-a-m visit.

And the clocked ticked one stroke past too late.  No insurance authorization until next week; no treatment until my February 2016 scheduled return.

There is one other option, the lady said.  You could pay for it yourself and if the insurance company approves it, we could refund your money.

Note to self:  If you have to ask how much something is, you cannot afford it.

I see this another way, I replied, quietly.  I feel as though the original mistake arose when the pre-authorization unit called the wrong number, a mistake that would not have gotten corrected today had I not called my friend.  I feel as though my need for this treatment before next March could be addressed by Stanford assuming the potential risk of non-payment by Blue Cross.

A half an hour later, Stanford had done so.  Incredible though it might seem, my patience through the day, my refusal to get upset, my calm demeanor, my respectful acknowledgment of a situation gone awry, carried the day.

Strike another blow for the conversion of our society to Non-Violent Communication.  Or at least, my corner of it.

It has been a very long day, but I’m not complaining.

Marshall Rosenberg and his NVC puppets.  The giraffe has the largest heart of any mammal and signifies NVC of needs, feelinggs, and requests.  The bottom-feeding jackal symbolizes the violent communication of judgment, condemnation, and demands.

Marshall Rosenberg and his NVC puppets. The giraffe has the largest heart of any mammal and signifies NVC of needs, feelings, and requests. The bottom-feeding jackal symbolizes the violent communication of judgment, condemnation, and demands.