Monthly Archives: December 2015

Happy New Year’s Eve

The last day of the twenty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining has not yet fully dawned.  The fifteen-year-old Christmas tree lights the eastern window of the living room, glowing red, green, blue, white against the dark square of lingering night.  Two other sentient beings still sleep, my son and our silly epileptic dog.

I awakened at four as usual.  I forced my brain to stay quiet and stole an hour of sleep between five and six.  Now I drink re-warmed coffee and sit at the lovely secretary in my dining room, thinking of the day, the weekend, next week.  A new year.

The third year of my effort to embrace joy and abandon complaint begins tomorrow.  I launched this journey on the heels of my mother-in-law’s death.  Combined with my desire to live complaint-free, I also strove to stop using prescription pain medication to quell neurological pain after forty-five years. What a challenge this has been!  Sometimes I can’t stop laughing.  I collapse into one of my many rocking chairs overcome with giddiness.  What was I thinking!  Give up grumbling and narcotics at the same time!  Crazy! I went cold turkey on the drugs with my doctor’s  help and have not resumed their use.  Complaining?  Not so easy to let go of that!

Two years ago, I realized that my own attitude held me back and left me shuddering in darkness.  I lived with inner turmoil.  I craved peace.  I strove to right a life spinning with no navigator, no controller, no defined orbit.  I wanted to keep the people to whom I clung in love beside me. I wanted to attract others towards me.

I’ve been at it for two years.

In that time, I’ve experienced more loss than I frankly had prepared myself to bear but I bore it anyway.  The friends who had helped me raise my child flocked around me, shouldering my grief, standing in the way of my despair, damping down the nightmares.  I found ways to help others as a form of distraction.  The good that I did for others pales in comparison to the calm which I gained from seeing the need of others and having a tiny hand their lives.  It helped.  It took me outside of myself.

I still have stark, immutable moments of intolerance.  I’ve never been skilled at offering correction to people who err.  I cannot abide my own mistakes and this inability extends to the mistakes of those around me.   I see what happens:  I ask someone to achieve an end; they fail; I snap; I do it myself and mutter under my breath.  I apologize.  They forgive.

I understand this cycle; and I strive to break it.  But it persists, posing my greatest challenge in the coming year.

I will learn.  I will change. I choose change.

To those to whom I have spoken sharply I can only say:  Please endure; I understand your frustration and I strive to meet your need to feel valued.  I have the same need.

A wise but somewhat embittered man frequently tells me:  If you can’t be a good example, be a horrible warning.  I have been both, sometimes simultaneously.  I find a way to laugh at myself, if only privately, if only silently.

Some months ago, I gave voice to a thought:  Should I continue this blog?  Should I rename it?  Should I let it slip away, forgotten on the virtual page, abandoned?  Should the increasingly misnamed year end?

My only answer:  I have not yet attained my goal of living without complaining, and so, I must keep writing, keep striving, keep trying.

So:  tomorrow begins the new year.  My Year Without Complaining.


Happy New Year’s Eve to anyone who reads this blog, whether by design or chance.  Tomorrow holds much promise for all of us.  We can reach within ourselves and find the peace waiting in our hearts.  We can let go of misery and embrace joyfulness.

Today is the last day of the twenty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


Jennifer Rosen lighting the  Menorah on the last night of Hanukkah.

One last lovely photo for 2015: Jennifer Rosen lighting the Menorah on the last night of Hanukkah.

All tied up

I should have photographed my boots before I took them off last night but I didn’t think of that.  The sight of them sent me into a fit of hysterical giggling.

I arrived at Diagnostic Imaging at 2:18 p.m. by their sign-in clock.  My son had driven me because the foot that I had been sent to have X-rayed hurt more than the place from which my tooth had been pulled that morning.  I sank into a chair but only had to wait seconds before I got called to the desk for registration, then another minute before I went back to be X-Rayed.

The technician watched me walk, concern furrowing her brow. She asked, quietly, Do you need help?  I assured her that I could make it.  It’s just here, she said, pointing to a nearby open door.

She guided me to a chair and instructed me to remove my shoe.  I glanced at my sprained wrist, my cut thumb, and my crooked leg before shrugging, a bit disconcerted.   This seat is too tall, I told her. I won’t be able to reach my shoe, and I can’t lift my right leg — part of it is artificial.  I sounded lame to my own ears, but she sprang into action.

She helped me move  to the X-ray table and lowered it.  Then she stooped, untied my lace, and eased the boot off my injured foot.  Minutes later, the X-ray complete, she helped me back to a sitting position and wordlessly got down to retie my shoe.  I saw her motioning over the other foot as well, but thought nothing of it.

When I got home and went upstairs to lie down, exhausted, sore, my cheek swollen and my foot throbbing, I sat on the low bench which I keep by the bed and glanced down at my boots.

The woman had double-tied the laces.

Just in case.

Oh, how wondrous people can be!  How kind!  She worried about me tripping not realizing how long it would take me to untie double-knots with my lily-white spastic hands.  But I’m not complaining.  I carried that woman’s kindness with me all day today.  It lingers still.

Just two more days until the end of the twenty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Here's another gratuitous photo that has no relevance to this entry.  Pictured from left to right:  Jennie Taggart Wandfluh; her daughter Nora Wandfluh holding the doll which we gave her for Christmas; and yours truly.

Here’s another gratuitous photo that has no relevance to this entry but which makes me happy, so I wanted you all to enjoy it. Pictured from left to right: Jennie Taggart Wandfluh; her daughter Nora Wandfluh holding the doll which we gave her for Christmas; and yours truly.


Counting down

While all of you are busy counting down to the end of 2015, I am counting down the twenty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.

I started the 28th day of this month in an oral surgeon’s chair.  Why do they ask you questions while your mouth is packed with gauze and their hands occupy whatever remaining space could be used for articulation? Ah well.  Broken abscess tooth gone, check.  Off to get the X-ray of the foot-which-might-have-a-shard-of-glass.  Then to CVS to get the antibiotic, then home to consume whatever leftovers can be described as Soft and Cold (no straws).

Soft and Warm gets added tomorrow.

At 4:45 the doctor’s office informs me that the intense crippling pain at the site of the cut on the bottom of my foot shows no presence of foreign object.  Schedule appointment for visual inspection, check.  Drag butt out of bed for Round Four of Post-Christmas-Dinner-Party dish-washing with the prodigal son, check.  Feed leftover rice to the dog, put away clean silverware, ice the side of my chubby face for twenty minutes, then back upstairs for more rest.  Check, check, check and check.

Just three more days in the second of year of my effort to learn to live complaint-free.  Morning snow followed midnight ice. I used a walking stick to get down the driveway at 7:00 a.m. and my son squired me through the rest of my day.  I’m not complaining.  Life continues.

The addition of this photo is completely gratuitous.  This is Caitlin Taggart Perkins and her husband Bryan Perkins, taken at my Holiday Gathering of the Usual (and Unusual) Suspects.  Aren't they adorable?  Bryan is wearing the scarf which we gave Caitlin.  Everybody say it now:  Awwwww.

The addition of this photo is completely gratuitous. This is Caitlin Taggart Perkins and her husband Bryan Perkins, taken at my Holiday Gathering of the Usual (and Unusual) Suspects. Aren’t they adorable? Bryan is wearing the scarf which we gave Caitlin. Everybody say it now: Awwwww.

December 27th

Today would have been my father’s 93rd birthday.

I would not go to his grave, even if I were in St. Louis.  Though I regularly visit my father-in-law’s resting place, I have only been to my father’s grave once since he died, and that was to bury my brother’s ashes, clinging to family, to friends,wracked with grief and guilt.

I have done more to accept my father’s frailties in the last two years than I did in the fifty-eight before that.  I adhere to the belief that our current states should not be blamed on our past but they can be understood if we know about events which shaped us.  That holds true for my father.  He fought in World War II and came home damaged.  His mother told my mother this, warning her.  My sons who went to war came home as different men.

My father has been described as a son of a bitch, a bastard, and worse.  Conversely when I told my cousin Kati about our childhood, over booze one late night in college, her reply shocked me.  Not Uncle Dick, she cried.  Yes.  Uncle Dick.

But then:  He turned out to be a marvelous grandfather.  Grandpa Sport, described by one grandchild as a giant, after he died, in a poem.

My son never met my father.  My dad died of a heart attack in a McDonald’s bathroom in St. Robert’s, Missouri.  He and my brother Stephen were driving to Fayetteville to attend my son’s baptism.  They never made it.  Stephen, an RN, ran the code all the way to the hospital at Ft. Leonard Wood, where a doctor pronounced death.  My sister called me and said, Mary, Dad is dead, and I said, He can’t be dead.  I have four dozen Danish for the Baptism breakfast.

She told me to bring them to the funeral; and so I did, wrapped in plastic and secured in an under-bed storage container.

The Danish had been special-ordered from a bakery in Fayetteville which had never previously made them.  I called McClain’s Bakery in Kansas City, and they faxed their recipe for Danish to me. I brought the recipe to the bakery in Fayetteville and they made beautiful, flaky, light pastries which would have made a scrumptious spread for my guests after Patrick’s baptism.  They fed my siblings for several days, sitting on the counter in my brother Mark’s kitchen.  We poured hot coffee down our throats and made macabre jokes about the dentures that Steve stashed in my Dad’s pocket when he started CPR and hollered to the McD’s staff to call 911.

Standard protocol, said Steve.  My brother Mark, a paramedic; and my sister Ann, a nurse, agreed.  But still.  In his pocket?

My memories of my father rise to the surface unbidden.  I recall the wire puzzles he made but I also hear the sound of smashed glass and a telephone being twisted off the wall.  I see him patiently unsnarling Christmas lights and designing a bracket made from a wire hanger to hold them so he wouldn’t have to untangle them next year.  I hear my mother’s cries, begging him to stop, Dick, just stop, please, knowing that what I remember can only be described as the savagery of an out-of-control drunk.

I believe that human beings have some inner essence which survives the body’s passing. I acknowledge that I could be completely wrong.  From dust ye were made, and to dust ye shall return.  Perhaps that ends things: We die, we crumble into the earth, we are no more.

If not; if what I believe is true; if that core of us some call a soul lives beyond the grave, I hope my father’s essence lives in peace.  I won’t say “he deserves peace” any more than any of us do or don’t.  I  just wish it for him.  I do.  I won’t lie; I won’t pretend to hate him.  I won’t complain that had he not been what he was, and done what he was, I might have been able to trust men more than I do.  What I made of what happened to me cannot be blamed on him any longer.  I take charge.  I own my choices.

Happy birthday , Pops.  Can you hear me?  Then know this:  I have forgiven you.

In Memory:

Richard Adrian Corley

27 December 1922 – 07 September 1991



Merry Christmas from Mary Corinne

My mother wrote my full given name, always, everywhere. She addressed letters, cards and notes to “Mary Corinne Corley”.  Though she might shorten the name to just plain “Mary” in conversation, she took care to use both when speaking for prosperity.

So, my entire childhood: Each Christmas package bore a label with these words:

Merry Christmas to Mary Corinne

My house lies quietly in the winter air.  I’ve brewed coffee and Katrina’s Christmas bun stands waiting on the table.  In an hour, Patrick and I will present ourselves at the Hope Faith daycenter in Kansas City’s northeast, to serve as second-shift greeters.

My son has given me the gift of his time this year.  Oh, I know he’s wrapped something for under the tree, but more importantly to me, he’s done everything I asked him to do this week.  He’s squired me around town and kept pace with my need for help at the house.  We’ve shopped, delivered gifts and meals, broken bread with some friends, and sipped cocktails with others.  We’ve watched Netflix, talked about literature, and even faced a bit of tension not of his making but of mine, my own foolishness, letting negativity into my life and not knowing how to find calm.  He stood by me through that; he stood strong.

As the calendar year draws nearer to its close, I can honestly say that I have no complaints.  Oh, sure, I might change a few situations in my life, if I had a magic wand to wave.  But maybe not.  Perhaps I would wave that wand inward, to let my joy release itself.  I think so.  I hope so.

Merry Christmas, everyone.  My wish for you today is simple:

May love surround you.

Six days left in the twenty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Joyfully tendered,

Mary Corinne Teresa Corley

Brookside, Kansas City, Missouri, USA

25 December 2015



Christmas Eve; No Complaints

Three hours ago, I wrote a blog entry in my head.

In it, I revisited my first published essay, “The Virtues of  Pain”.  I rewrote the essay and titled it, “The Politics of Pain”.  I don’t recall the first one word-for-word as I wrote it 45 years ago.  The one I composed this morning seemed bloody brilliant.

But then I had only had three hours of sleep.

I finally drifted back to something resembling unconsciousness at about 6:00 a.m.  The alarm sounded from my cell phone at 7.  The hour of sleep did nothing for my disposition but managed to vaporize the blog entry that I had composed in the dark of the bedroom, while trying to recall why I weaned myself from prescription painkillers two years ago.

But here I am:  awake, cheerful, coffee at my side.  It’s Christmas Eve.  The furnace hums; the dog occasionally sighs but otherwise rests comfortably on her bed under the window.  In an hour or so, the prodigal son and I will help deliver Meals on Wheels and then have lunch with my stepson.  Today is the first of four days of celebration.  How can I not be joyful?

Seven days left in the twenty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

My son's first Christmas ornament.  It plays "Silent Night".

My son’s first Christmas ornament. It plays “Silent Night”.

That one friend

Everybody has that one friend whom they don’t quite get.  Your  friend seems to go in all the wrong directions.  They zig when you think they ought to zag.  They’re late when you would be early.  They date someone highly unsuitable and marry worse.  They don’t call then call too often.  They change jobs or stay in a dead-end job that you think they should leave.

Or maybe you are that one friend.  I think I am for several people.

That one friend doesn’t have a regular table at which to dine on their birthday or holidays.  Their roast burns; their tires go flat on the way to church.  Their bangs are uneven and their high-heel breaks on the curb as they hasten into the funeral home for their mother’s service.  They have a smudge on their blouse; a stain on their tie; their handbag spills open at the doctor’s office when they’re hearing the cat-scan results.  Bad news, of course.  They bonk their head standing too quickly when someone important comes into the room.

They cry easily.

They’re a good sport; stalwarth; they hide in their bedroom when everyone else goes out for the night.  They empty the ashtrays at the after-party.  They bring a tuna fish casserole for a vegetarian potluck.  They smile.  Endlessly, they smile.  You don’t see the quivering.

Find the person who fits this description in your life.  Take them to lunch.  Listen to their stories.  If someone calls you and invites you to coffee, suspect that they consider you to be that person in their life, and accept their invitation.  Whether you’ve been invited or done the inviting, when you enter the cafe, embrace your friend — for at least twenty seconds.  Put your cell phone away.  This is that one friend; you are that one friend.  Connect.

Just eight more days in the twenty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


Experiments in complaint-free observation

giraffe-01Well, I took a run at complaint-free observation today.  It met with mixed results.

I had been standing in line at a store which I frequent (and which I shall not identify).  The slowness of the service reflected the holiday season and I did not mind it.  However, of the two cashiers, one frequently coughed with open mouth, wiped her nose with the back of either hand, and chewed gum noisely, showering spittle over the counter.

Ick.  Interestingly, that cashier resembled me:  White, middle-aged, female.  The other cashier had olive skin, gorgeous brown eyes, and couldn’t have been more than 25.

By the time I placed my items on the counter, the unsanitary woman had begun snorting audibly and swiping the back of her hand across her mouth and nose.  Luckily, she walked away from the counter, giving me a chance to lean very close to the register and whisper, I’d prefer that the other lady not handle my purchases because she has a really bad cold and is not using a tissue.  Understatement, but not complaining, right?

The younger woman froze and the frost flowed from her to me.  She began shoving my items about as though trying to break them.  She took my money, handed it to the second cashier who had just returned, and told her to ring my purchase.  This resulted in my change being under the woman’s nose as she sneezed.

Double Ick.

But I smiled and said “Merry Christmas”.  On the way out, the owner of the store opened the door for me.  Knowing the owner [gender withheld], I very quietly asked if I could say something.  Certainly, came the response.  I turned my back towards the cashier station so as not to offend anyone, and whispered that the lady at the check-out seemed to be suffering from a severe cold and not taking precautions such as using a Kleenex or hand sanitizer.  I said that I have an impaired immune system, and as such it really concerned me that no precautions were being taken.

The owner snapped, loudly enough for someone on Pluto to hear, “Well, we all have colds here.  If you’re worried about that, you should shop somewhere else.”  The owner turned away and let the door slam.

Merry Christmas.

I feel good about my attempt to say something without complaining.  I recognize that their conduct does not reflect anything about me.  I used non-violent communication.  I did not judge.  I did not raise my voice. I made no accusations, used no harsh language.  I also did not succeed in getting my needs met, but it’s a jackal-eat-jackal world and we giraffes understand that not everybody responds well to our approach — at least, not at first.

I’m determined to continue on this path.  I reject the old saying that the squeaky wheel gets the grease as a justification for complaining.  If I live by any platitude, it will be, “Laugh and the world laughs with you.”

Nine more days in the twenty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


My son first took guitar lessons from Bo Flasschoen when Patrick was 8 or 9.  The lessons ended a few months later, and the guitar lay idle.

During Patrick’s high school days, I came home one day to the sound of guitar-playing from the upstairs.  I poked my head into the stairwell and called to Patrick, asking what CD he had been playing. Came the quiet response:  That wasn’t a CD, it was me.  Really.

His move to college required the transport of several guitars and two amplifiers.  He has continued with music ever since, but in other states, other homes, for other ears.

Tonight he casually opened the piano and sat down to play.  I moved about the place starting a load of laundry, doing dishes, getting myself ready for tomorrow’s workday.  His notes followed me.

Someone told me today that I was fortunate to be able to smile with ease.  I’m blessed, I replied.  Blessed that I have so many things to inspire my smiles.

Among my blessings, I count highly this gift of music, flowing from the hands of my twenty-four-year-old son, on a piano which once belonged to my dear Mother-in-Law Joanna — or maybe to her twin? I’ve never been sure; but I’m glad to have it — even though it’s only played when Patrick comes to town.  A simple pleasure, but one about which I find myself glowing with joy.

No complaints here.  Life continues.



The hot chocolate simmers on the stove.  I’ve sweetened it with agave and melted chocolate chips because my last houseguest consumed the entire canister of sugar.  It’s an experiment.  I sprinkled ciinnamon, nutmeg and cayenne on the chocolate and poured a finger of rum in the mugs.

My son and I drink the chocolate in the living room, over his computer, while he shows me the computer game he made for his latest video-crafting class in grad school.

It’s so cool.

An hour later, he’s out the door, on his way to an evening with his generation of Taggarts.  The dog snores in her bed.  I have a sinkful of dishes, but I don’t mind.  I’ll wash them and put a load of clothes into the washer, then take my tired body upstairs.  The television will play.  I’ll answer email, texts, and messages.  I’ll coo over the picture of Brian and Sasha’s new baby, and go over my week’s agenda.  I intend to work only three days this week.  November and December brutalized me, and I’m due for a break.  This working like a madwoman at sixty has gotten old.

I don’t mind.  It’s Christmas.  The usual suspects will be here for a holiday party this weekend.  I’m feeling good.  My heart beats too quickly and erratically.  I feel feverish, a sure sign that one of my five viruses has kicked into active state.  But I am truly not complaining.

Though I work hard, I actually get paid for helping people.  The furnace is twenty years old but still roars.  My cadre of friends stands by me.  On Christmas Day, Patrick and I will serve as greeters at a shelter which serves the poor and the homeless.  Then we will have a fine dinner ourselves, and a weekend of visiting and making merry.

Life continues.

A holiday sleigh made by Jenny Rosen, my Jewish/Buddhist friend.  It lasted about five minutes.  Yumm-o.

A holiday sleigh made by Jenny Rosen, my Jewish/Buddhist friend. It lasted about five minutes. Yumm-o.