Monthly Archives: March 2016

Shadows and light

Yesterday someone reached out to me and acknowledged something which I had done for that person for which I have long believed they harbored resentment.  And perhaps they did.  But now that act has emerged as something noteworthy; a turning-point perhaps.  I hovered in the shadows of my fear that the person thought ill of me for what I had done; and now I come forward to stand in the light.  I had not needed to be praised.  I had not acted with the thought of being appreciated.  In fact, my action had been completely spontaneous.  But for years, this lingering taste of sorrow had haunted me, and now I can instead taste the sweetness of a pure connection.

It is the thirty-first day of the twenty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  This morning I told the owner of my neighborhood coffee shop that I could not complain.  He laughed and replied, what good would it do, eh? But I reiterated:  I cannot complain.  My readers hold me accountable.  I took my cup and went out into the day, knowing that each step I take in this wild journey brings me closer to the truth.


Rumi Quotes on Soul and Heart


New life

I stood in my driveway yesterday gazing at the greenery under the deck.  I didn’t see buds yet, but the irises and surprise lilies have pushed themselves tall and soon will bloom.  The heavy purple and yellow blossoms will reach out over the driveway, daring me to drive past without rolling down the window for a better look.

My maple bears its annual growth of vine.  Some call the creeper an insidious invasive species but I enjoy its vibrancy.  The maple has nearly regained its umbrella shape, 14 years after being split by an ice storm.  Standing in front of it, I remember the great weight of its crown on our old porch and the churning in my stomach as I contemplated how close my car had come to being smashed.  Some instinct had prompted me to pull it down the driveway.  Our home cringed under an icy blanket and frozen splinters of the maple, but the car sat unscathed at the bottom of the impassable asphalt.

That long ago January receded back into the shadowy corridors of memory as I climbed the three stairs onto the porch, the new porch, the one we had  built more than a decade ago.  I crick my neck back and study the shiplap and oak trim, wondering if it needs refinishing.  The deck beyond the porch never got properly sealed.  That’s something I will do this spring; something I will have done, I should say.  In a week or two, I will make my annual pilgrimage to Soil Service for potting plants, lining the tables and shelves with the bright purple, red, and orange of pansies, begonias, and impatiens.

Someone recently asked me how long I have lived in Brookside.  Twenty-three years, I acknowledged, thinking about my son, a toddler during the move into the house on Holmes Street, Memorial Day weekend 1993.  Patrick turns twenty-five this July.  A whole life-time with the Holmes house as home-base.

This morning dawned on my tired and aching body.  I know that I have grown old, even if my years in chronology don’t suggest old-age.  The Stanford neurologist says my state is a decade or so beyond my years, with arthritis and unsteadiness combated only by my diligence — by stretching and adaptive exercise gleaned from Peggy Cappy’s “Yoga for Every Body”.  I insist that I will live to be one-hundred and three.  I caution those Stanford doctors:  I got myself this far, the next four decades are on you.  They grin,  shake their heads, scribble a few notes about my great attitude, and tell me they will see me in six months.

Spring comes to Brookside after a mild winter.  I find myself embracing hope, as I do each year.  I remember sitting vigil over my mother’s dying form, in August of 1985.  I left her room to get a glass of water and came upon  my sister sitting on the schomley in the kitchen.  She held my gaze and whispered, We keep saying, ‘this will be our year’, but it never happens.  Why is that?  Why can’t we have a “year”?  I did not know how to answer.  I understood the question and its importance to her, but still fell silent.

Now I think I will make “a year” for myself, this year, My Year Without Complaining, twenty-seven months long and counting.  I feel new life coursing through my veins, ready to burst forth in beautiful flower despite my aging limbs.  It’s coming; I sense it.   Watch me.  Just watch me!




A note about guilt and forgiveness

When someone looks at me with a gruff sadness and says, I’m sorry, my first reaction is not forgiveness but rejection.  I do not believe they are sorry; I am more inclined to think their being jangles with the burden of guilt and they want to soothe their own nerves.

I ask them, Please don’t apologize any more, but still, often, they assume that same demeanor and murmur, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.  And at times, I find myself taking this stance with another person — someone who has reacted to my words or conduct with hurt and humiliation.

As I go about my day today, I’m thinking about that Egyptian hijacking, and the hijacker who took an entire plane to Cyprus ostensibly to dialogue with his former spouse.  I wonder what he would have said to her.  Did he act from his own pain, or out of empathy with hers?  We might never know, but here in Kansas City, I feel at one with his grief.




To hear one German citizen’s perspective on forgiveness and guilt, click THIS LINK.

Today’s Best Thing

I could say that the best thing to happen to me occurred at 5:45 when the second of three alarms rang and I awakened.  This would be a double thanks:  One for missing the first alarm and hence sleeping an extra thirty minutes, and one for surviving to awaken at all.

Or, I could say that having Andrew Starr buy lunch for me at Baked – KC counts as the best event of the day, and certainly, that would be a contender.  Though I had to apologize to the waitress for his odd sense of humor, the grilled cheese hit the spot and I enjoyed seeing pictures of his son Jeremy.

But no.

Today’s best thing came tucked into an envelope along with a payment from a client, a typed  paragraph cut from an 8-1/2 by 11 sheet and glued to a square of purple.  I slid it from the tight confines of its mailer and stooped to retrieve it after it fluttered to the floor.  A moment later, tears flowed down my cheeks, as I read the final sentence of the thank-you card.

In our meetings you were emotionally supportive, but always professional, as you kept me grounded in reality and focused on what this was all about: my child. I never felt unheard.  You made sure I understood all of the legal aspects of our proceedings without ever making me feel powerless.  I really appreciate you as a professional and as a person.  Thank you.”

It’s the twenty-eighth day of the twenty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  My amazing, funny, sad, roller-coaster, and very humble life continues.

A work by Katie M. Berggren.

A work by Katie M. Berggren.

You can view other work by K. M. Berggren at her WEBSITE.

Therein lies the rub

Here’s a last-minute post to round out the day.

So I’ve gotten home from Carnie’s Honker Springs Farm and eaten again, a bit of leftover three-mushroom tofu from Spices on Burlington with the last of the jasmine rice.  I should get another load of laundry going but instead I’m cruising Facebook, checking out everybody’s Easter pictures, and thinking about trust.

One of the hard parts of being sixty and having had one’s trust betrayed in pretty cruel fashion lies in the fact that one does not have much time left within which to get the heck over the disappointment and resume living.  Between figuring out the stuff that you can’t do and who’s going to do it for you; running from doctor appointment to doctor appointment hoping for good news of your aging body; and working full time, we sixty-year-olds don’t have much time for sitting around drinking Margaritas wondering who to blame.

Instead I pour some Diet Dr. Pepper over ice in the souvenir cup that I brought my favorite curmudgeon three years ago when I took two weeks to sit on Lake Michigan feeling immensely grateful for everything that life had brought me.  Eighteen months later, it all went to hell and I scrambled for safety as the cliff crumbled beneath my lily-white spastic feet.   Tonight I clutch the cup, rattle the ice, and wander around the house looking at the pictures on the mantel and thinking about my mother.  I take down a few dusty objects that I have been wanting to examine, and put them on the table in the breakfast nook.  I straddle one of the wooden stools, reflecting on the first year that I got to hide Easter eggs instead of hunting for them.  I sigh, briefly at first, and then, because it’s the only noise in the house, a little louder.

I took this mission on myself, this quest to live complaint-free.  Had I known what the weeks after I started down this path held for me, I would never have begun.  But therein lies the rub.  Once I embraced the decision to evolve into my best self, however much my journey might be ridiculed, I had no choice but to continue.  Learning to live complaint-free has proven challenging.  So far, I have not gone one day without voicing lament, let alone an entire year — and not for lack of effort, I assure you!

I once told someone whom I loved that my greatest hope for myself was to be the best possible version of “me”.  He scoffed, maybe even sneered.   I’ve mentioned this before now, but only recently have I acknowledged the inner cringe which I experienced in that moment.

But I know this:

Regardless of how painful my growth has been, regardless of how lonely my life feels at times, regardless of what I have lost in my effort to embrace my true north, my feet only stumble.   Faced with a choice to turn back or walk forward, however solitary my journey might prove to be, I have no meaningful choice but to continue.  And so I shall — partly because I am a determined woman, but mostly  because I realize that while failure will not bring me shame, failing to try would destroy me.

The pink basket had been my brother Steve's last Easter basket and I used it for my son. Nested with it is my childhood basket, with my name tag on it, written in my mother's hand.  My mother bought the blue hat for me one year, when I was seven or eight.  Grandma Corley bought the straw hat, earlier, at age five or six.

The pink basket had been my brother Steve’s last childhood Easter basket and I used it for my son. The old tattered purple one was mine as a child, still bearing my name tag, written in my mother’s hand. My mother bought the blue Easter bonnet for me one year, when I was seven or eight. Grandma Corley bought the straw hat, earlier, at age five or six.

Of new beginnings, and Honker Springs Farm

The day dawned over a half-inch of snow spread across the rolling hills of Carnie’s Honker Spring Farm.  Ellen comes out from the master bedroom and tells me, A little while ago huge flakes were falling, and we stand together speculating about the weather.  Her dog rolls over in his bed and stares at us for a minute before letting his eyes fall shut again.

I slept as well as a person can sleep after assaulting her CNS with gluten and white sugar, half at dinner and half at 9:30, watching recordings of sit-coms with Ellen and Jerry.  I knew the dessert would jangle my nerves and once again, have proven the theory: no white sugar, no gluten, at least not that close to sleeping.  But otherwise the morning found me fine, with the uncovered windows letting in the light over the pasture behind the house and the CNN app on my phone announcing three big wins out West for my son’s favored candidate.

I wrap myself in a shawl and sit in a wing chair in Ellen’s living room, while Ellen makes coffee and we laugh about Jerry’s self-righteous admonishment of her for losing her wallet.  If you keep it in one place all the time, you will never misplace it, he told her, repeatedly, for a half an hour, in various versions.  The funny part? That he can’t find his gluco-meter.  When I found that out, I howled at him, Fraud!  Fraud! Fraud!  while Ellen cackled in the kitchen.

I’m not a Christian.  I was raised Roman Catholic but left that religion years ago, for one reason and another.  I’ve thought about the concept of a deity existing in a trinity a lot over the years, and have concluded that I don’t know, I can’t know, and I don’t mind not knowing.  I’ve seen angels; I’ve felt the hand of a kind and powerful deity pulling me back from abyss after abyss; and I subscribe to the contract theory of faith:  I do the best I can by God, and God does the best God can by me.  It’ll sort itself out in the end, one way or the other.

Now I smell the aroma of Ellen’s coffee, and I hear the rattling  of mugs.  I can almost taste the coffee.  I’m feeling wonderful.

Whether today commemorates a risen crucified Jesus or the newness of spring, I feel the promise of new beginnings rising within me, bringing a well of joy from my belly.  In an hour or so, we will put on pretty clothes and drive down to the Stony Point Presbyterian Church.  Ellen’s friends will greet me with their radiant smiles and the pastor will take my hand in both of his while his wife stands beside him with that confident, comfortable presence that pastor’s wives have shown for ages.  I will sit beside Ellen and smile at her grandchildren as the choir rises its voices as one.  I will think about how much I have changed since I sat in that same church last year, broken and grieving.  I will wonder at the resilience that I did not know I had.

It’s the twenty-seventh day of the twenty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  Happy Easter, my friends.  Happy Spring.  Happy, Happy Everything.  May your life continue, and may new beginnings await you.

The view from the Carnie farmstead at Honker Springs Farm.

The view from the backdoor at Honker Springs Farm.


I fill my home with glass and china.  Italian glass graces the living room; pottery sits in the middle of the dining table; my mother’s crimson crystal cornucopia with its broken foot stands on a shelf below a hand-blown bowl.  Shelves in the breakfast nook hold fragile angels and Limoges soup cups.  High in a corner rests the two-faced cookie jar from my childhood home.  Little crystal pots scattered throughout my bedroom hold rings, hair jewelry, and broken bracelets.

I sit amidst the shimmering pieces, and feel at one with the vulnerability of it all.




From Around The World

Every messaging system on my devices has its own noise.

As I climbed downstairs to make coffee, I heard the high-pitched ping of Facebook Messenger from the phone which I carry everywhere in my house ever since that grim, hysterical sojourn on the floor of the basement.  I glance down at the red LG3 and see a line of text from Paula Caplan, a former client turned friend who has flown to Israel.

In a few exchanges we establish that she has overcome the sudden blow of being laid off from her job in Florida after seventeen years, and has embraced a new life practicing her religion and living among other devout Jews.  I have come home, she messages.  Don’t get me wrong, I was devastated when I lost my job.  I felt like used Kleenex, thrown away because they didn’t need me anymore.  I told her I understood, all too well, the concept of feeling as though you have been tossed aside for a younger, easier, better version.

But she’s taking a chance;  a genuine leap of faith.  Closed door, open window, I reply.

She tells me Happy Purim and signs off, just about the time that my kettle starts to steam.

Yesterday a friend quizzed me on my level of hopefulness.  He had read an article in the Wall Street Journal about the physical effects of being a hopeful person.  My score showed that I’m high-normal.  I didn’t score at the very top.  I couldn’t commit to absolute belief in the potential accomplishment of my dreams, or unfailing ability to seek support from others.  I got 12 out of 15.  I can live with that.

It’s the twenty-fourth day of the twenty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  I’m hoping for the best.  I haven’t yet experienced the worst, but I’ve fallen fairly low over the last two years.  I’m on the uphill climb.  I rest each time I reach a plateau.  But then, I start climbing again.  Life continues.

One of the sights that Paula photographed in Israel today.

One of the sights that Paula photographed in Israel today.

Morning, Wild Hair, Snooze Button

In the witching hour between midnight and one a.m., the bleat of a text message flowed into my room as my son expressed his excitement at the outcome of the voting in Idaho and Utah.

I replied with emoticons and exclamation points, smiling, thankful that he knew I would awaken to see his notes.

When the phone sent its alarm into my sleep, I rose and stretched, catching sight of my wild hair in the mirrored door leaning against the wall where the carpenter placed it during the closet rehab.  Laughing, I hit the snooze button and burrowed under the quilt, listening to the wind, letting the day’s duties begin to float to the surface of my mind.  I worried a little about my lost Rotary pin, trying to remember where I might have stowed it when I took it off my jacket after last week’s meeting.  I calculated and recalculated the timing from Brookside to Platte City, and finally crawled out of bed at the very last moment possible to have enough time.

My fatigue lies in my cells, entwines itself around my bones, spreads through my veins and over the surface of my skin.  On last night’s conference call with the guru in Stanford, I listened to his assurances that labwork showed stability and his reminder that my first check-up with him last August seemed promising.  He insisted that I have to manage my life to decrease pressure.  I do not treat stress; you must take care of that.

Sure, of course, thank you, I’ll just wave my magic wand and twitch my nose.  But I did not complain.  I thanked him, feeling really no more informed, wondering if anything through which I’m going at his suggestion has had the least impact on my life, never mind making enough difference to justify the effort.  But best foot forward, my Nana would have said.  So I put my hands into the curls and sort them into a braid, as the radio blares, and the wind whips around the houses of my neighborhood.

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



This morning, I awakened to a Facebook post from someone whom I do not know in real-time, stating that she had just been assaulted.  I messaged back, asking if she was all right, and eventually became convinced that either it was a prank, a hack, or a drunk-text.  But I spent intermittent increments of time throughout the day trying to reach someone who knew her “in real time” to see if someone could call her.

We had dozens of “friends” in common and none of them knew her — that is, in real life.

At the end of the day, a man I know whose job is private investigations reached out to her and convinced her to acknowledge that she was all right.  I don’t know what happened, but at least I know that she is safe.

The world in which we travel takes us to strange places and connections that defy old notions of relationships and human interactions.  We dance on a spider web, its gossamer strands comprised of bits, bytes, transmissions, and the occasional human touch.  I sit at my desk in the northern window of the upper half-story of an airplane bungalow in Brookside, Kansas City, Missouri, United States, and a young woman in Canada whom I met in California three weeks ago sends pictures just snapped halfway round the hemisphere.

It’s the twenty-first day of the twenty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  Changes ripple out in all directions.  I stand on a plateau, a cliff, or a crossroads.  Fog surrounds me; strands of lovely music penetrate the darkness.  Life continues.