Monthly Archives: January 2016

Soooo worth it.

Some exhaustion just earns itself.

Last evening’s fourth official gathering of the Women’s Potluck Supper Group ended with the last guests departing at 11:30 p.m. and this old crippled gal staggering upstairs half-asleep.  My bones creak, my muscles ache, and I can barely type for the stiffness in my lily-white spastic hands.

But I’m not complaining.  Sixteen fabulous women gathered at the Holmes house, proving once again that you can take a life, shake it, throw the dice, and end up with a winning play.  Angela Garrett-Carmack and I have been at every dinner since the inception of the loosely-organized Women’s Potluck Supper Group.  Otherwise the rest of the chairs have been occupied by a different configuration each time and wonderfully for me — I know some amazing women.

The gathering included six women of Rotary, one of whom, Erika Kauffman Wheeler, broke into smiles when she saw Katrina Taggart enter the house — since they had worked together 15 years ago.   The age range spanned mid-thirties to Josephine Njoroge’s 75, though none of of us could believe the spry and lively woman, on her self-proclaimed fourth career, approaches 80.   Jobs and vocations included law, real estate, library science, insurance, software, social services, retail, and hospitality.  Politics did not rear its ugly head, nor religion.  Life, work, children, community service, and travel tales peppered the conversation.

Everyone’s story captured our attention — though no one could top Jenny Rosen’s account of seeing a U.S. Marshall take-down of three inter-state bad guys in the Main Street CVS parking lot on Friday.  It must be said, Jenny Rosen leads an exciting life.

I have always enjoyed entertaining.  Family at holidays; an intimate dinner party; a front-porch picnic.  In my son’s childhood, the backyard held, at various times, a swimming pool, a railroad-tie-bordered beach, and a mountain of dirt for deploying Tonka Trucks.  Kids cavorted on climbers while grown-ups sipped Margaritas.  I’ve had couples-dinners and Sunday brunch.  Anything that brings people to my table gladdens my heart.

But  this immutable truth emerges from a life-time of hostessing: Entertaining my sister leopards speaks to my soul.  This morning I feel as though I laid down in the street and let several semis drive themselves over my body.  But it is soooooo worth it.  And — a special shout-out to the guest who drove all the way into KC from Fulton to attend.  Thanks, Virginia — so good to see you and Whit!

It’s the thirty-first day of the twenty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  My incredible, crazy, hilarious, challenging, and exhilarating life continues.

Thanks to Denise Holt and Erika Kaufman Wheeler, among others, I only have this little pile of dishes left to wash!  A full dishwasher and a bag full of trash testify to a successful party.  Love my tribe!

Thanks to Denise Holt and Erika Kauffman Wheeler, among others, I only have this little pile of dishes left to wash! A full dishwasher and a hefty bag of trash testify to a successful party. Love my tribe!


In Memory:

Katheen Alongi

Beloved wife of Joseph Alongi, mother of Steven, James and Phillip

and a member of the Women’s Potluck Supper Group

Died 26 November 2014.


Wakey wakey, eggs and — toast

I have not eaten bacon since 2008 when I decided to lose 82 pounds and took myself off salty fried foods.  Over the next seven years, I weaned chicken, pork, and fish out of my diet and have gone 99.95% vegetarian. I sneak the occasional piece of salmon.  A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

The smell of cooking breakfast always reminds me of my son’s childhood friend Maher Sagrillo.  He, Chris Taggart, and Patrick came to be known as “the three cockroaches” in their middle-childhood, the glory days from age 9 to age 12 when hormones hit and parent shame becomes reality.  Maher’s Lebanese and Muslim mother served only turkey bacon, and Maher broke the pork barrier in my home, swearing all present to secrecy.  I felt wicked, but I had forgotten his presence one day and filled the house with the heady fragrance of eggs and bacon.

Auntie Corinne, he cried, coming into the kitchen.  What is that wonderful smell?  Caught. In. The. Act.

As I scrambled eggs this morning and waited for the gluten-free toast to brown, the echoes of my son’s childhood friends rose around me.  Here is Chris Taggart, ambling through the house with his cheerful grin.  Maher, dark, brooding, intense, tender.  Patrick with his serious gaze, dividing the juice into three precise portions.  Beagles underfoot, a white-and-black cat on the back of the sofa.

The three cockroaches have grown into fine men.  Maher, married, owner of a software development company.  Chris, announcing a recent promotion, more money, saving for his  next move.  Patrick, almost done with his Master’s degree, giving me advice on the phone, helping me do a flow-chart of potential outcomes of my various options for handling a sticky problem.

I did not mind giving up bacon.  It is delicious, delightful, delectable.  But everything changes, our health, our diet, our lives.  Children grow into adults. The world turns and our dance evolves.  We adjust.  The echoes subside though the memories linger.

It is the twenty-ninth day of the twenty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.




A special shout-out to my niece, Lisa Michele Corley Davis, whose birthday is today.


I’ve never seen the entire movie Sleepless in Seattle, but I gather it’s about a widower who talks to a radio shrink about being lonely and his nine-year-old son fixes him up with Meg Ryan.  I might have missed a few plot twists.  I’ve never been good at sitting still for ninety minutes unless I have a book to read and a cup of tea.

Freshly brewed English Breakfast sits next to me now, in the infuser that Jenny Rosen gave me, on a tile to protect the beautiful wood of the secretary.  I only got three hours of sleep last night, between 3:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m.  At 2:30 I had the good sense to check for the time of my morning court and re-set the alarm.

My newest sleepless trend started two nights ago.  On Tuesday night, I binge-watched Molly Ann Wymer videos.  Last night I played all my Words with Friends moves and scrolled through the Food Network On Demand.  I finally settled on recordings of Beat Bobbie Flay.  He lost four out of five and I got an idea for Saturday night’s potluck dish.

In the hazy hour between two and three, I reflected on this temporary relapse into insomnia.  By contrast, in the last six months, I’ve set my lifetime record for consecutive hours of unmedicated sleep.  Though I still drag around in a state of constant exhaustion (my lot in life — “fatigue even at rest”) I don’t yawn as much and I’m not nearly as cranky.  I think.  Maybe? Anyone?

I won’t moan about the details, but this, too, shall pass.  I’ll get back on the regimen of five or six unconscious hours between midnight and the trill of the cell phone at six.  The most harm that might befall me as far as I can tell, will be getting smacked upside the head with a hefty board of realization that life can be worse, and it has been getting better.

It’s the twenty-eighth day of the twenty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  I’m no Meg Ryan and I haven’t met a handsome widower but I’m not complaining.  Life continues.

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I’m adding this caption for Aneal Vohra. This still is from the movie. I stole it from the Internet. It does not appear to have a watermark and the site from which I took it did not have an attribution.



An hour after rising, I open the back door to coax the dog outside.  The yard stretches away from the house, towards the east.  It lies under a blanket of frost.

Scott, half of the next-door-couple, rattles his kitchen door on the way out of his house.  I turn and catch the smile which he’s lobbing in my direction.  We exchange pleasantries, him in his work clothes, me in my leopard print pajamas and grey robe.  Neither of us finds anything unusual about our morning chat across the fence at 7:22 a.m.  The dog ignores us, trotting down the steps to sniff for nocturnal intruders.

Inside the kitchen, I gaze at the mess which I’ve made by tearing away the swathes of dry, dusty duct tape.  We slapped the tape over an old cat door years ago to keep the air from drifting into the kitchen from the basement. It looked ugly.  I had grown weary of grumbling about it;  this morning, I sat down on my little bench and pulled it all away.   I’m not sure that I’ve improved the situation but the experience invigorated me.

I get into these cleaning frenzies several times each year.  I crave a neat and tidy nest.  I need the smell of Pine-sol on my skin to prove that I’ve done the work myself.  Though fatigue and disability pull me towards the occasional accumulation of clutter, a strong streak of obsessiveness dwells in my belly.  I like clean cupboards, tidy shelves, and color-coordinated clothing all hung in the same direction.

The radio blares the time and startles me into activity.  It’s the twenty-seventh day of the twenty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  I haven’t attained Nirvana, the perfect 10, my ideal weight, or a flawless state of joyful being.  But in the immortal words of Lucille Johanna Lyons Corley, where there is life, there is room for improvement.  And life continues.

Pictures hung on the new all which Brian built during the bathroom remodel.  I've carried these photos with me to each dwelling that I've had for the last thirty years.  I'm in the stop photo; can you find me?  The bottom photo is my mother, taken at the party she had for my brother Frank's high school graduation and my college graduation, held in May 1978.

These pictures hang on the new all which Brian built during the bathroom remodel. I’ve carried these photos with me to each dwelling that I’ve had for the last thirty years. I’m in the top photo; can you find me? The bottom photo is my mother, taken at the party she had for my brother Frank’s high school graduation and my college graduation, held in May 1978.

It’s just Tuesday

Some weeks pass with alarming speed; others crawl from Sunday to Tuesday.

I made a startling and unpleasant discovery on Sunday which forced me to confront reality.  It’s contours don’t require elaboration.  Take my word for it.

To handle the problem, I reached out to various people — one for calming, one for emergency help, another who had the knowledge to help me understand.  Then I took stock — I reached inside — I re-evaluated.  Like a tired swimmer, I treaded water for a bit.  The respite changed my view of the problem and of the solution.  I still might need help; but possibly not — maybe I will overcome this setback with just the promise of help if I cannot.

The situation must be tackled without much delay.  But a day or two — that’s tolerable; and the affair does not cast as long a shadow as I feared.  In short:  I will pull through this hiccup.  It makes me wonder about my capacity for handling adversity of my own.  Despite my success getting clients through their legal machinations, I have not had much faith in my ability for self-discipline and personal management.  Perhaps, just perhaps, I have bought the dim view that others take of me hook, line, and deadly sinker.

I sit here at my computer, resisting breaking into a chorus of “I Will Survive” or replaying my new favorite,  Molly Ann Wymer’s Pep Talk.  Either would suffice.

I’s the twenty-sixth day of the twenty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  I hear the dog barking outside.  It’s late; I’m not ready for work yet.  But life continues.


I bought this old make-up mirror at a thrift store and placed it in front of my computer so I would look myself in the eyes as I write.

I bought this old make-up mirror at a thrift store and placed it in front of my computer so I would look myself in the eyes as I write.


Somebody recently asked me what the hardest thing about learning to live complaint-free has been.

I can tell you:  Three challenges pose the most difficulty for me.

1.  Learning not to complain about myself.

I have been conditioned for my entire life to believe I am defective.  From my Child Psychology professor who announced that all “crippled women” should be sterilized, to my father who levied the abuse of an unrestrained alcoholic thus stamping us with the feeling we were not worth gentleness, to partners who have called my political choices “moronic” or my parenting efforts poor, to female acquaintances who have turned their noses in my face — everywhere I have gone over the last sixty years, I have encountered a host of validation for some instinctive mistrust of my self-worth.  For whatever reason — be it DNA, early trauma, failure to get professional help, poor choices reinforcing my lousy self-image — I have never accepted myself.  As my dear friend Pat Reynolds told me once along the way, I complain about myself a lot.  Learning to let go of that, and really value myself, still eludes me.

2.  Accepting limitations on “complaint-free living” in an imperfect world.

Recently my son ordered a book on Amazon which never arrived.  “You should complain,” I e-mailed to him.  Since he used my Amazon Prime account, I offered to initiate the process.  “But Mom, you’re not complaining,” he countered.

Okay then:  Report the failure of the book to arrive and request an explanation or a refund.

Joyce Kramer, my dear La Puma and favorite New York transplant, tells me that some complaining merits my voice.  Kati the Cousin agrees.  I don’t want to be a whiner; I don’t want to “sweat the small stuff”.  But some failures do indeed require redress.  I’m still trying to reconcile the desire not to complain with the immutable fact that when an outside force injures me, I need to protest.

3.  Releasing anger.

Sometimes we vent our grievances to people not involved in them.  Yes, that technically falls within the category of “complaining”, but I do understand that some “venting” serves the purpose of keeping our innards from shriveling.  It facilitates the harmless release of anger when the listener has no connection to what upset us.

In the past week or so, I have confronted my feelings about someone who did not honor a commitment made to me.  Everyone, including the person in question, expected me to be angry, but I have not been so far.  Now I realize that the anger dwells somewhere in my soul, beneath the pain, behind the desire to show empathy and compassion, within shadowy veils of self-protection, amid the filmy cobwebs of denial.

I pledge my allegiance, often and loudly, to letting go of anger.  But I acknowledge that doing so has not been easy.

It’s the twenty-fifth day of the twenty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  I have not abandoned the voyage that I launched at the end of December, 2013, following the death of my dear mother-in-law, Joanna MacLaughlin, my original  uncomplaining inspiration.  Despite some setbacks, life continues.


Inspire me

Two years ago, my life’s road took a sharp turn in an undesired direction.  Wildly scrambling to make sense of the stark changes, I started an Inspiration Board — a bulletin board on which I kept notes, pictures, cards and little tags.  Each held a message or an image which inspired me.  Photos of my cousin Paul Orso as a young man long before his battle with ALS, of my favorite curmudgeon, my son, and my shared children nestled amongst little post-it notes in scrawling handwriting, cards, and poems.

Yesterday, I took two years of inspiration down and started fresh.

On my Keeping Shelf, I found last year’s Mother’s Day card from my son; that went on the empty board.  In Saturday’s mail, I received a thank-you card from Jennie Taggart Wandfluh’s children.  As I wiped my tears, I tucked it into the inspiration board.  Cleaning a pile of papers which had fallen from a drawer, I found the photo of my son on top of the mountain that he made me climb and one of my Aunt Della before her strokes.  Onto the board they went.

I kept the inspirational items from the last two years, sliding them into a plastic zip-lock bag, labeling the bag with the date.  Those mementos got me through a dark time and helped me move into the light.  Now I can seek out that which inspires me to reach further than I have ever known, higher than I thought possible, deeper than my soul ever dared to plunge.

It’s the twenty-fourth day of the twenty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  It’s also the birthday of Ms. Jennifer Helene Rosen — one of my most inspiring friends.  Happy day, Jenny!  Here at the Holmes house, life continues.

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Driving north

The walk from porch to vehicle invigorated me, mostly because of a three-foot slide on an icy patch.  I threw my bag onto the passenger seat and squirreled my body behind the steering wheel.  I could see nothing through the windshield but white.  Engine started; grab the scraper; back outside.

Life in the midwest.

With the car pointed towards Liberty, I gave 30% of my active brain to the news.  Another 5% fretted over not having left in time to stop for coffee and still get a handicapped parking space at the Clay County Courthouse.  Whatever brainpower remained focused on the morning traffic on Interstate 435.

Just beyond Worlds of Fun, a merging truck forced me to the left.

My stomach lurched — hands tightened their grip — I signaled and craned my head sideways, a move that I don’t generally have. Drat drat drat! — is the highway slick? Slow down or accelerate?

I could hear my brother’s voice:  Keep your g**damned foot off the g**damned brake.  Let your car drive, let your car drive.

I made it past the rough moment and my heart stopped pounding.  Note to self:  Refill Digoxin.

The semi sailed on toward Des Moines, oblivious to the bile rising in my throat.  But I’m not complaining:  I made it, and continued my own journey, north to Liberty and one of my easy days, where the lawyers have their own lounge and access to all the bad coffee they can drink, and there’s no ringing phone in my little auxiliary office.

It’s the twenty-second day of the twenty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

How things look from where I sit.

How things look from where I sit.

Among the crowd

Moving through a satisfying crowd at my Rotary meeting last evening, one after another asks how I am.  Some have neither idea nor expectation of the range of potential responses.  Okay, thanks, I say, over and over.  Their response to my reciprocal query mirrors what I have said.  Just fine, thanks.

Here and there I encounter someone who knows or cares more deeply about my life, and with whom my connection requires more exchange.  One tells me of her relative’s surgery; another of her birthday celebration.  A visitor explains about his new business while the person who brought him encourages the sharing with me, me in particular.  I wanted you to hear this guy’s story, he says, because he knows that I appreciate a rousing tale of a self-made business owner.

At some point, I just stand.  I’m astonished at the crowd that has gathered for our meeting.  With over fifty members and only six months old, our Rotary Club has gotten national attention.  But here in the crowd, at the Bar, during our social time, I’m taken by the seamlessness of it all.  I’m feeling like a piece of a puzzle, the dog-chewed piece that’s been kicked under the dining room table and gathered dust.  The youngest kid in the family reaches down one day and crows.

Here it is! she shrieks, and rushes to slip that missing piece into the picture.   Ir’s a little ragged now, from weeks of getting shoved further back by people’s feet at dinner time.  The colors have faded.  But the nearly completed picture has been waiting, and the piece fits.

It’s the twenty-first day of the twenty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


Sun salutation

I’m a long-time practitioner of pigeon yoga.

That’s the kind of yoga that combines half-poses, sort-of-stretches, and uneven breathing, for ten minutes twice a day.

I combined pigeon yoga with a 1200-calorie diet to lose 82 lbs between March 1, 2008 and March 1, 2010.  I still practice the language though not the diet. I’ve gained back about 10 of those pounds.  Everybody’s okay with that ten-pound margin — and by “everybody”, I mean me, my doctor, and my dead mother who spun in her grave when I reached size 00.

I’ve tried yoga classes including Hatha, gentle, restorative, and that one with incense.  Floor exercises challenge me and the burning fumes cause me to wheeze.  Patient yoga instructors find my presence in their classes somewhat distracting.  I require lots of assistance.  Mostly for their benefit but a bit to save my pride, I went back to pigeon yoga in my breakfast nook.

Yesterday The Social Media sent a diagram of the sun salutation into my inbox.  I stared at its twelve movements, of which I can comfortably do about five on a good day.  I took my first yoga class in 1974 at St. Louis University but my first physical therapist back in the late 1960s also had credentials as a yoga instructor.  I’ve been trying to complete an entire sun salutation  for 45 years.

My stomach clenched as I watched a lithe practitioner flawlessly complete the sequence in a Youtube video last evening.

The most helpful yoga video ever to come my way is that of Peggy Cappy, who believes that everyone can do yoga.  I found Ms. Cappy’s work through the website of a one-legged yoga instructor who exchanged e-mails with me.  I’m able-bodied, she explained, with no apparent irony.  Since you’re disabled, you might find Peggy Cappy’s work easier to follow than mine.  I did not question her characterization of herself as not being disabled.  She explained that she had lost one leg in a car accident but otherwise had no impairments.

I stared at her videos for hours, envying the smooth moves of a one-legged lady.

Peggy Cappy’s videos helped me adapt yoga moves and split them into unrecognizable halves which give some benefit though a keen observer would not consider them “real yoga”.  But even so, the sun salutation has eluded me.

I woke this morning craving scrambled eggs, toast, and Earl Grey — hot, plain.  My throat hurt a little and my legs screamed from two days of lying around too sick to stretch.  My second or third thought brought the previous evening’s experience to the surface.  A slow realization gripped me.

I have a goal.  I’m going to force my spastic body to perfect the sun salutation this year.  This year.  I don’t remember my first physical therapist’s name though I do know that she worked for an orthopaedic surgeon in Clayton, Missouri.  I don’t suppose I will ever find her.  But when I reach my goal — and I will reach my goal — I’m going to post my own damn video and ask all of my friends to send it out into the universe with my thanks to that PT, to my yoga teacher here in KC, Becky Holsen, to Ms. Cappy, and to that one-legged lady online whose website I have never again come across.

Reaching my goal will be tough but I’m not complaining.  Not one damn bit.

It’s the twentieth day of the twenty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.