Monthly Archives: November 2015

The first day of the week

I have never understood those calendars which start the week with Monday. I can accept that some faiths consider Saturday to be the Sabbath; and some believe that the Sabbath falls on Sunday.  But our work week starts on Monday and I’m not conceding that work constitutes life.

So I have arrived at the start of my week.  The holiday has come to a close.  The little black Kia pulled out of the driveway.  Dishes stand in the sink; the remains of a hastily assembled breakfast shared with my son.  Truth told, I still have not cleaned the cast-iron pans from yesterday’s brunch.  They can wait.

In the coming week, I will start the last month of my second year of striving to live complaint-free.  On Friday, my office suite will have its Holiday Open House.  The weather folks predict more ice.  My new shower will get tiled.  I will start the last purge of clothes preparatory to arranging the new closet which will be done in a couple of weeks.  I might even divest my refrigerator of a twenty-three-year magnet collection and slide the pictures from my inspiration board.

I’ll be ready to start fresh when the year ends.  I have one more month of my (second) Year Without Complaining.  I intend to make good use of it.



I broke my sugar fast to enjoy Jennie Taggart Wandfluh’s apple caramel pie yesterday and have no regrets.  I followed that slice of heaven with a serving of Caitlin Taggart Perkins’ fluffy pumpkin custard pie and cajoled my son into deploying the Reddi-Whip to adorn each plateful of wonderfulness.

I did not eat meat or meat-gravy, but did consume a small share of gluten.  Don’t mention the rest: two servings of cranberries; several scoops of roasted veggies; mashed potatoes with butter; my oh my.  My stomach has not yet signaled readiness for more.

But none of that explains why I am full.

Standing in Katrina’s entryway last evening, my coat buttoned, my hat squarely plunged down onto the crown of my grey-blonde curls, I felt a wave of affection flow around me.  I’ve been sharing holiday meals with the Taggarts for twenty-one years.  Though several years passed when the scheduling and travel inhibited a full-scale sit-down, every year we’ve shared at least one collected celebration.

I cannot explain how it feels to be with people who accept everything about me.  This family has trusted me with their children, taken me to the emergency room, stood with me through glory, brought me their grief.  The street runs in both directions — neither family giving more than the other, neither receiving less.

Yesterday, Jennie’s children called me Auntie Corinne and hugged me so many times that I staggered under the weight of their joy.  Benton, the oldest of those three Wandfluhs, carried my cell phone around and took photos of everyone present so I could have the memories.  Then he and I planned a piano recital at my house, when he reaches the end of the lesson book, when he feels he can do the last song, on the last page, and has prepared himself for performance.

Nora turned cartwheels in her grandmother’s living room.

Gavin told a long story about the restaurant which he intends to open when he has “enough ingredients and money”.  Maybe right after he finishes kindergarten.

I scanned the news today about “Black Friday”.  Not my cup of tea.  I perused the recipes for leftover turkey.  Nyet.  Then I scrolled through the Facebook entries about my friends’ Thanksgiving celebrations.  Blue-jean clad teens crowd on couches with their parents.  Folding chairs stand at card tables covered with plastic table-cloths to make room for more.  Generations group together in warm homes — arms circled, faces beaming.

I realized, suddenly, why I still feel satisfied fifteen hours after yesterday’s scrumptious meal.

Love fills me.

The Taggart "children":  Jennie Wandfluh Taggart; Chris Taggart; Caitlin Taggart Perkins.  These three were my "first" borrowed children; Chris is my "second" son.  See their radiant smiles?

The Taggart “children”: Jennie Wandfluh Taggart; Chris Taggart; Caitlin Taggart Perkins. These three were my first “borrowed” children; Chris is my “second son”. See their radiant smiles?

Day of Giving Thanks

Every year in my childhood home, Thanksgiving dinner could not begin until every person present said their “thankful-for”.  I carried this tradition into my household, and by ripple effect, the households of those who have eaten at my Thanksgiving table.

In the twenty-three months since I started My Year Without Complaining, events have occurred for which I am not thankful; not even in retrospect.  Though I could adopt a “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” stance to find an avenue for gratitude, in fact some of the obstacles in my path these last two years downright aggravate me.

This year has held challenges, but also has given me pause to reflect and consider how fortunate I am.  And, yes, to be thankful.  I could focus on the actual circumstances over the last year, the times that I’ve cried with the times that I’ve laughed; the loss with the love.  But as I wait for the coffee to finish dripping, I realize that everything can be summarized with one word:


I’m thankful for the time that I’ve had this year.

Time with my cousin Paul Orso, who died this summer from the ravages of ALS.  Paul taught me about faith; and acceptance; and love; and though he would shake his head and smile if he heard me say this, Paul taught me the true art of not-complaining.

Time with my friends — and if I started to name them, I would surely omit one, so I will wave my hand in a vague circle and say, All of you all.  The sands would have slipped through my hourglass had you not kept turning it.  You know who you are.  You appeared at my side in the darkest hours; you pulled me to my feet; you brought me tea; you shared your table; you held me.  You saved me.

You gave me time.  My most precious commodity, not for itself but for what I can do with the time I have reclaimed.

I am thankful for time.

Time with my son, though mostly virtual.  By phone, by text, by Twitter, I have gained insight into the rich depth of my son’s character.  He has grown into a gentle soul, a man who inspires me to accept myself and release my anguish.  My son sees past the trappings of complicated living to the essence of life.

He will doubtless “tsk” and roll his eyes if he reads this.  He’ll say, Oh yes, because you know how much I like it when you brag about me.  My words stand: I’m thankful for the time he has given me.  In the last year, I’ve spent many hours on the phone with Patrick, time which has enriched my life, and for that time, I can never repay him.

So much time for which to be grateful.  So many people who fill my hours, who abandon other pursuits to spend their time with me.

But I’ve had time alone, too; and I am thankful for it.  I’ve had time to write, and reflect — to resume the healing that I started 7 years ago, and unknowingly abandoned.  This blog has been a vehicle for discovery, not just in the writing but in reading the comments — both public and private.  And now here’s a word for the Puma:  Thank you.  All right, technically, that’s two words.  But thank you, my friend.  My faithful follower. And the rest of you:  Sandy Thomas Dixon; Cindy Cieplik; Kati the Cousin; Yorkielaw; Judy Rea; Chuck; “Mr. Smoots”; Brenda; Prof. Sununu (who keeps begging to call her ‘Andrea’!); Theresa Orso Smythe; all my faithful followers.  Again — I can’t name everyone.  But I take the time to read each and every note sent to me in response to my blog entries.  Thank you.

Your reading means more than my writing:  I continue this journey because you choose to walk this path beside me.

Pat Reynolds once asked me how I can remember my childhood vividly enough to recount anecdotes, which I often do in my Saturday Musings.  I’m cursed and blessed with a “good memory”, though science tells us that the human brain edits and revises “memories” often beyond recognition.  I recall the Thanksgiving dinners with each of my siblings announcing their Thankful-Fors, followed by my parents.  I remember the years when my health prompted some doctor to tell my parents that I had to gain weight at any cost, so that my father put me in the People Who Eat Dessert First club.  I was its only member.  I ate pumpkin pie with whipped cream while the other kids had to clean their plates before they could get dessert.

That experience gave birth to my advice to my favorite curmudgeon during the months of his wife’s waning health:  Calories are calories, Jay.  If Joanna wants ice cream, let her have ice cream!  He repeated that advice to me week after week, until it seemed to him that he had formulated the theory for himself.  During his own last illness, when I had such precious time with him, Jay once reached over and held my hand.  Tears rose in his eyes.  He said, “I let Joanna eat ice cream whenever she wanted, honey.  After all, Calories are calories.”  Indeed, Jay.  Indeed.  Wise words.

In 1968, my neurologist subjected me to a week in Children’s Hospital in St. Louis.  I underwent a painful spinal tap, and missed some now-forgotten summer event that I dearly wanted to attend.  The test gave scant information, and speculation about my “walking problem” remained the only diagnosis.  That doctor told my mother that I’d be bedridden by eighteen.  I spent the next six years waiting for the worst to happen; and the next forty with the same dull expectation.

I’ve squandered much of my time in sixty years.  Now I look into the mirror and see the stamp of time:  Fine lines, and grey hair; and sagging neck.  Shimmering reflections could be ghosts, they could be angels; I whip around, who’s there? I feel the pages of the calendar falling at my feet.  Time does not stand still.  And yet I cling to its wings.

I’m thankful for the time that I have been gifted, most especially the time that I have had with those whom I’ve lost.  Like any gift, time comes to us without guaranty.  We cannot count on love, or fortune, or time.  And so for time, I am most thankful this year:  For time, and for all I have been able to do, and see, and learn with the time that has been given to me.

At 4:45 a.m. today, my phone’s text feature sent its bleat into the dark bedroom.  I struggled to illuminate the phone’s face, fear rising in my breast.  I had not yet discovered my son asleep on the couch; for all I knew, he had crashed his car in mid-Missouri somewhere.

But no.  Not calamity, but my sister Adrienne, sending an early morning holiday greeting to her siblings and cousins.  Happy Thanksgiving, A, replied my brother Kevin.  And what the hell are you doing awake at 4:45 in the morning?  For the next two hours, the phone intermittently woke me, as people wakened and replied.  I might have been irritated, but the entire event made for a happy beginning to this day.  Thank you, Adrienne. Thank you.  Now go back to sleep!

Safe travels, all.  Happy Day of Giving Thanks.


My father gave me this mantle clock. It belonged to his brother Bob, who followed their father’s footsteps to law school just as I later did. My father put new works in it and for years it chimed on the mantle of my home. It no longer works. Time stands still in my living room, where it is always 6:30.




On the brink of thankfulness

NPR fills the air of my house with the sounds of Sinatra for the second time this morning. I’ve been awake for two hours.

Today, I will clean, cook, and dance around  in my grey sweats to the sounds emitting from Spotify.  Brian will tile the new shower.  The scents of kale, carrots, and cranberries will waft through the house.  Occasionally I will slide onto the little wooden chair that I got from Jay and Joanna, which stands in front of Joanna’s secretary.  I will send an email, peruse Social Media, or read news sites.

Before rising this morning, I reflected back on the last two years, back to October 2013 when Joanna died and I formulated this odyssey.  The intervening events marched through my mind, a long litany of powerful happenings which catapulted me through twenty-three months of striving to live joyfully.

I do not occupy the space that I planned to inhabit at this point. I have lost so much.  But so many people remain faithful to me; so many people give to me tremendously even in the absence of any legal, moral, or ethical obligation for what they do.  Unexpected kindnesses sustain me.

Blessings abound.  I make no complaint.  Everything that I have experienced has led me to this moment and though it might not have been the moment which I envisioned for myself, I dwell within it and make it my own.


The right words for it

My mother read everything from billboards to bestsellers.  Modern novels, science fiction, classical literature, pop psychology, volume after volume of Reader’s Digest Condensed books courtesy of a subscription from my paternal grandmother.  She devoured it all and everything she read, we read.

We had a weekly book club for a few years.  Anyone living in the house at the time read the same book — in fact, the same copy of the same book.  At the end of the week, Mother led a discussion in which we delivered our opinions of the book, which had to be supported with page references.  These coincided with “theme night” dinners.  On one such occasion, I dressed in Mother’s robe with my long hair in a bun secured by knitting needles for Chinese food night.

The year of my mother’s nervous breakdown, we read “I’m Ok, You’re Ok”.  Among the most memorable “Corley Bookclub” selections stands “War and Peace”.  Our copy had a removable guide to the characters and a book plate from my grandfather Corley’s library.

As I struggled out of bed after an hour’s sleep this morning, a wisp of memory floated from murky depths to the stagnant surface.  Didn’t Mom make us read a William Safire book?  Driven by this nagging thought, I turned to the Internet.  I determined that Mr. Safire’s books on language didn’t turn away from the purely political until 1979, long after I departed from the familial abode, even two years past my brief return there after my ignoble flight from Boston.

But something Mother fed us contained a history of word phrases.  I know I read “On Language” later in life, but some earlier work, by another wordsmith, taught me metaphors, and images, and allegorical comparisons.  I recall being prodded by Mother to tell her one phrase that I had learned from the book, and blurting out that To Test One’s Mettle meant to force someone to sit through an event that the person did not want to endure and eventually would resent.  Like a book club at dinner time, I illustrated helpfully.

The table fell silent.  My brothers contemplated my courage.  Talk about testing your mettle, one of them muttered.  Mom studied my face.  I don’t recall any sisters being present; I can’t picture my Dad at his place to my right.  But my mother’s face has not faded.  She watched me; I did not speak.  She finally lifted her fork and turned to the next kid in line.  And what did you learn? she asked, as I released a jagged breath.

With a nod to Mr. Safire or that other, now forgotten author, I strive to describe my life in words that resonate.  Last night tested my mettle. My neurological condition reared its ugly head as it hasn’t done in months.  I had a little warning; twitches throughout the day which alerted me.  I shrugged them off, thinking that I had been feeling so well of late.  Surely, I’m past all that.  Big mistake.

I’m not complaining.  I made it through the ordeal.  I’m here.  I awakened; and I’m toddling around the house, albeit an hour late, not yet even showered let alone dressed.   I can’t complain:  I am alive.  The world tested my mettle and I prevailed.  And that ain’t hay.

Porch therapy

I often make a list of all the calamaties that have not befallen me and use that list to inspire myself to be thankful despite anything that has happened. I describe this process by a phrase that I invented: “On a scale of Nirvana to Bosnia, I’m somewhere in between”.  I consider life to be a continuum of wonder and wickedness; and I count myself as fortunate if I hit dead-center or inch closer to glory.

Ironically, I discourage others from measuring their lives against mine.  I  often proclaim, “It’s not a competition, it’s an exhibition.”  I usually deploy this instruction with people who dismiss their  own suffering.  How are you?  I ask.  They roll their eyes and shrug, saying, Well, I don’t have to put up with nearly the pain you experience, but I did….”.    Fill in the blank with their injury, ailment, loss, or longing.

It’s not a competition.  I don’t have a monopoly on suffering.  You’re entitled to your share.

I do know that my life holds much for which to be grateful.  I’m not rich, but neither am I poor.  The comforts which surround me inspire my quest to help those who do live in poverty.  My relative good health draws my determination to donate to medical research for crippling and fatal diseases like cancer and ALS.  Even though I have my own illnesses — none of which are sufficiently glamorous for walk-a-thons — and regardless of the struggles which face me when I try to walk, or stand, or pay my health insurance premium, I acknowledge that I have it fairly well off.

On a scale of Nirvana to Bosnia, I’m somewhere in between.

That’s why I’m still smiling, though sometimes with gritted teeth and pursed lips.  I’d rather my life had taken a few different turns.  If I felt vengeful, a handful of names would be on the hit-list.  I do rage.  My face contorts as I lift it toward the sky where we presume the deity reigns, and wail in anguish.  Why?  Why not?  Why me?  Why not me?

Then I grab a broom and start cleaning the front porch.  The air soothes my skin and dries my tears.  The wild banging of my aching heart begins to calm.  Peace descends on my soul; a peace more cherished because it can be fleeting.

I put aside complaint.  Life continues.


The road to hell, the stairway to heaven

I’ve never understood imagery.  We have a road to hell paved with good intentions and a stairway to heaven that apparently can be bought.  Me, I’m stuck somewhere in between, wondering if my good intentions will put me on the highway to Hades or give me a ticket to ride.

I once had an hour-long argument with someone as to whether a particular turn of phrase constituted a metaphor or an image.  He knows who he is, so I won’t name him.  But the memory of that hilarious conversation lingers, decades after it occurred.  The reason?  Communication, baby! It’s all about bridging the gaps with language that resonates.

Words mean so much.  As a writer, I hammer words onto a keyboard and send them winging through the cosmos — of late, via electronics but from birth using any method available.  I even bought postage stamps yesterday and affixed them to actual hand-addressed Thank-You cards.

But words fail if the listener has a different frame of reference than the speaker.  I say, “What can I do for you?” and the person contorts their face years later spitting out, “You never said you loved me!”  Someone says “Can I help you?” and I shirk away, sputtering, “Do you think I’m so crippled that I can’t do anything for myself?”

A thousand ways to say what I mean and if I don’t find just the one you want to hear, you never know what I feel.  Worse:  You assume you know and act on your assumption.

I take my good intentions.  I stack them one on the other.  I smear the mortar of my love between them.  Am I building a house or a wall?  I’m building a castle and it has a drawbridge.  Cross the moat.

Happy Sunday, everyone.  This blog entry comes to you from a Lenovo Yoga 2 propped on the pulled-out desk of a beautiful old secretary, in the wood-floored dining room of a 93-year-old airplane bungalow in Brookside, Kansas City, Missouri, in the United States of America.  Picture it.  Smile.




What it is

Nothing much happened today.  Brian Martig’s comings-and-goings interrupted laundry every hour or so.  I got some client bills posted and washed three loads but otherwise, spent a restful day at the Holmes House.  Now the dog barks in the side yard, no doubt at the air floating around her or the light from the stars.  I hear the rumbling of the washer.  Aches in various joints and muscles assert themselves. My lungs send a little shiver of pain as they draw air in, push it out.  What it is, is a quiet night.  In the morning I will go to brunch with my friend Pat Reynolds; and afterwards, I might stop by the office.  This wasn’t the weekend which I planned, at the Honker Springs Farm, in the quiet company of Ellen Carnie.  But the flu claimed her; and I stayed home.  I’m not complaining.  The farm will be there for a while; and every once in a while even the Energizer Bunny needs some downtime.


And the answer is. . .

I recently had dinner with a couple of women who had not heard of my blog.  Shocking, I know.  But on hearing its theme, one of them asked me, What have you learned from the 20 months of your year-without-complaining?

Good question.

I’ve learned that people complain most about themselves.

I’ve learned that rich people complain about poor people, and poor people complain about rich people.

I’ve learned that passive-aggressive complaints wound the most and overt, open complaints can most easily be forgiven.

I can’t say for a scientific certainty, but I believe that eye-rolling and heavy sighs share this in common:  They get used most often of any form of complaint, and the recipient of them often suffers great and self-righteous indignation followed by simmering, seething resentment.

Children complain about their needs not being met while adults complain about their needs not being recognized.

Physical comfort and a lack of challenge to your beliefs often quell complaints but do not necessarily lead to complacency.

Questioning of authority garners cold condemnation.

A failure to recognize someone’s worth spurs them to outrage and vocal complaints.

If one screams loudly enough in outrage, most people will shrivel and shrink and withdraw.  Both behaviors constitute complaint.

Calling people names equates with complaining, often about essential, immutable qualities of people over which they have absolutely no control.

Judgment = complaining

Everyone thinks they have a firm basis for complaint and that whatever they find objectionable justifies their complaining.

I prefer to live complaint-free.

I’m not there yet.

So, to Denise Holt & Therese McGill: That’s what I’ve learned in the first twenty-months of My Year Without Complaining.

Thank you for asking.




The three bleats that tell  me a message has arrived woke me at midnight.  Thanks for the tweets, I read.  A good reason to be awakened.  Patrick, in Evanston, noticed that I had checked out his #TwitterPlayFest entries and re-tweeted them.

I embraced social media in that gaga way that middle-aged people sometimes respond to modernity.  I post on Facebook and I send the link of my blog to Twitter.  I have 279 followers on Twitter and I “follow” 698 people there.  I have 839 “Friends” on FB, and I know quite a few of them in what we Luddites call “the Real World”.

My son uses twitter more as a testing ground for his comedic writing.  He raises his eyebrows at the manner in which my generation uses Social Media.  I don’t mind his opinion.  Life tires me; it’s easier to keep pace with family and friend in my nightgown wrapped in the lovely shawl which Trish Hughes gave me, a cup of tea by my side.  I telephone; I go to dinner; I share coffee on the porch.  I don’t live exclusively in the virtual world.  But the virtual world can enrich one’s life by allowing one to see photos of people dear to you; by letting folks share poetry and inspiration; by providing a manner for quickly sending comfort and encouragement; in the same way that a handwritten letter once did albeit at a snail’s pace in comparison.

It used to bother me that my son and his friends send texts rather than call and speak voice-to-voice.  But in the dark of the guest bedroom where I’m hunkered down until the upstairs bathroom rehab concludes, my son’s midnight text drew a smile to my face.  I no longer complain about any method by which people for whom I care and who care for me communicate.  Send up some smoke signals. I’m listening.