Monthly Archives: June 2016

The longest year

On December 31st, 2013, I stood on a threshold to what I thought would be the grandest dawn imaginable.  I had taken a secret vow to learn to live complaint-free and to blog each day about my efforts to change.  I started “My Year Without Complaining” having told only one person of my intention, a friend named Iris.

Thirty months later, the longest year trudges forward still.  I often feel no closer to the state which I dreamed of attaining.  I wanted to be joyful and radiate joy.  Something my son said to me stuck in my craw:  Well, there you go, spreading unbridled happiness again.  Except his voice held that slight tone of contempt which we shudder to hear from our children.  This mild condemnation had been levied in a restaurant some months before I launched this blog.  It still echoes in my mind.  I had actually apologized to the waitress.  I’m a difficult customer but a great tipper, I told her, laughing to cover my son’s embarrassment.

I’m still a 20% tipper but I’ve improved in my treatment of wait staff 1000%.

Tonight I will face another dawn:  That of the first day of the thirty-first month of My Year Without Complaining.  I wait for midnight. I pray for my life to continue.  I beg the universe; I bargain with the whimsical force whose hand hovers over the tiller.

Let me stay alive, so that I might attain my goal.   Let me survive each night, so that I can at last live each day in peacefulness and joy.

Without complaining.



When I have ceased to break my wings
Against the faultiness of things,
And learned that compromises wait
Behind each hardly opened gate,
When I have looked Life in the eyes,
Grown calm and very coldly wise,
Life will have given me the Truth,
And taken in exchange–my youth.

Sara Teasdale


Taken in June 2014 at the home of Trudy McDonald Aldridge and Brian Aldridge in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  They held me fast and helped me endure a terrible month.

June 2014, at the home of Trudy MacDonald Aldridge and Brian Aldridge in Fayetteville, Arkansas. They held me fast and helped me endure a terrible month, as did many others, including, that visit, Carla Romere and Molly Williams.

View from the bright side

Me and a chair on the dining floor.  I think:  Well at least I wasn’t holding my coffee, and then I notice the dust under the table.  I tell myself that last five pounds has got to come off my belly; it’s making my right knee buckle too often.  I put my hand on that knee, the artificial one with its broken mechanism and the pinched scar tissue.  Something moves inside.  My stomach heaves as the pain shoots through my leg.  Will this dang knee  last another year?  My right hip screams: Quit taking stock and get off me, woman!  A long-ago evening when an Oldsmobile crashed through my car door left that hip prone to arthritis.  I shift over to my back, breathing, willing myself to stay calm. I start looking for hand-holds.

Then I notice the brilliant sunlight in the window and I reach for the phone sitting two feet above me.  As I take the shot, I find myself laughing.  I’m going to have a wicked bruise on my hip.  My elbow might be bleeding.  A crunch in my wrist worries me; I think I smacked my hand on the floor when I landed.

But I’ve got the perfect illustration for today’s blog, and quite by accident.

It’s the twenty-ninth day of the thirtieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  I’m a little sore but I hauled my sorry butt off the floor, and life continues.



That one impossible challenge

Layers and layers of the-same-old-garbage peel back and the inner rotten core sees the light of day.  That one impossible challenge faces me and I quiver beneath its stare.  I understand the keenness of the knife that I suspend over my heart.  Its plunge into my breast seems inevitable.

Then along comes Genevieve and she tells me, remember, you are awesome, and I think to myself,  How can I remember something that I never knew?  I have not forgotten that I am awesome; I never believed it; I do not believe it now.  I hear that voice:  Same old shit, same old shit, don’t bore us, and I wonder:  Whose voice is that?  Then Genevieve embraces me and repeats in her tender tones:  You are awesome, don’t ever forget that, and I get through the evening, at least; and relatively unscathed.   I see the knife hovering but a thin shield blocks its glancing blow.  The blade retreats.

It’s the twenty-eighth day of the thirtieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Thanks to my dear friend Genevieve, life continues at least for another day.


Me and Genevieve McBrayer Casey in front of her photo, "Floating", which I am so glad that I own.

Me and Genevieve McBrayer Casey in front of her photo, “Floating”, which I am so glad that I own.

Eyes to see


My friends:

I sat on my porch this morning drinking coffee and reading the “News in Brief” from the NYT.  I glanced across the few feet of my porch and saw this tableau.  The glass jar came from my mother’s house.  Think of that:  My mother died in 1985, and I brought this jar from her fruit cellar, filled with bread-and-butter pickles made by her hands.  To its right in the little planter grows a volunteer.  It sprouted more than a year ago and I’ve nurtured it ever since then.  I have no idea what it is.  The other plants came from Soil Service.  They thrive here on my porch, lifting their leaves to the sun, drinking the water and Miracle-Gro with which I nourish them.  My hands let the tablet fall idle.  For a moment, I needed nothing more than the sight of these plants and the brave little cutting with its one tap root sprouting in my mother’s pickle jar.

It’s the twenty-seventh day of the thirtieth month of My Year Without Complaining.

Life continues.



Karma:   the force generated by a person’s actions held in Hinduism and Buddhism to perpetuate transmigration and in its ethical consequences to determine the nature of the person’s next existence.

I sit on my porch with the summer’s heat shimmering just over the tops of the houses in my neighborhood.  In the chair beside me, my friend Tami Cline from Colorado Springs smiles and tells another funny story.  She’s come to town for a wedding reception, which I attended with her last evening.  I listen to her stories, share mine, and sip coffee from my crystal mug.  Tami and I have become friends through unusual circumstances, good flowing from unpleasant.  I spent time in her home last month, and now she has come to stay with me for the weekend.  The air warms around us; I think, How fortunate I am to have made such a dear friend, such an intelligent person, so unassuming and yet so cultured.  Life brings what we need.    I might have gone from a cockroach to a Corley, but these days, I do not consider that I’m being punished for failing to learn a lesson in my last life.

It’s the twenty-sixth day of the thirtieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  I could not complain today if I wanted to do so.  Rewards have begun flowing towards me.  Hope rises in my breast.  The cobblestone path beneath my feet has smoothed.  Life continues; and continues to improve.



Release from Jurisdiction

I sat in court yesterday waiting for my client to be released from jurisdiction.  A gaggle of lawyers and a host of family members convened for the occasion.  My client and her three-year-old would be the only ones let out of the Court’s scrutiny.  Her mother and sisters would remain involved with the quest for clarity.

The moment came, the Court nodded, and away we all went, leaving behind three girls and their hopeless mother.  Other days would follow when those children would find permanency.  For my client and her child, guardianship with a relative had been granted in another courtroom, marking the end of a two-year saga in Juvenile Court and my involvement.

I trailed out of the courtroom, spoke briefly on the sidewalk to another lawyer whose involvement in the case ended with the Court’s ruling, and then got in my car.  I stared at a message on my phone.  I started the engine with its almost soundless purr.  I thought about the day that I had taken my client to lunch at a Chinese restaurant near the foster home where she lived at the time.  She had laughed, standing on the sidewalk outside that odd little Chinese fast-food place.  I asked her what was funny.  She said, I’ve never eaten in a restaurant with a white lady before, and then smiled, nervously, wondering if her honesty would anger me.  It did not.

Another time, I took my client shopping to reward her for not running away, one of her proclivities.  I watched her rifling through clothes on a rack, looking for her size, searching for the color she wanted, sliding her eyes in my direction.  Can I get a top to go with this skirt, she asked, expecting me to disappoint her. I nodded, and the flash of her grin melted my heart.

I promised her another shopping trip when she graduates high school.  She’s a year or more behind her grade-level — not from lack of intelligence, ability, or encouragement, but because she never learned to be a child.  She cared for her younger siblings and then got pregnant by a young man one or two years older who ended up in prison before the child’s birth.

I drove home from court yesterday thankful for the cousin who volunteered to be my client’s custodian and the custodian of her child.  Not every story has a happy ending; not every child can be released from jurisdiction.  Every once in a while, though, something good happens, and I am no longer needed.

On the way home from Juvenile Court, the problems with which I grapple daily rose to claim my attention.  Same story, different day.  I still struggle with everything that has dragged me down for decades, still push back, still strive not to complain.  I felt the salty tears on my cheeks.  Some of us never get that judge’s gavel, releasing us, sending us into the rest of our lives without his supervision.  Some of us cannot seem to effect that much change.  But we keep trying.

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

Beautiful flowers for your viewing pleasure, courtesy of Roses Only, my official florist.

Beautiful flowers for your viewing pleasure, courtesy of Roses Only, my official florist.


My Tuesday started Monday evening with a round-table discussion over dinner in my home.  The three presenters of the next Children’s Writing Workshop met to discuss the project.  I had promised “a cold supper” but ended up with a vegetarian casserole and salad.  The eager flow of their ideas carried me until the last hug at nearly 9:00 p.m.  I watched one of them back out of the driveway and thought, well that went well.

The next morning, my feet had swelled again, something that’s been bothering me.  I realized that I had to call the cardiologist which I dread more than I should.  My heart condition lingers in the safe zone of supra-ventricular tachycardia.  Despite a few scares, it has not crossed over to ventricular tachycardia.  “Not life threatening,” they say.  “Just uncomfortable.”  Okay then, but swelling, now, this just started, should I worry?  I listened to my wildly beating heart and thought, maybe.

I placed the call.  Color me nervous.  I read a few emails and discovered that the afternoon’s hearing had been cancelled by the Court.  I sent out the requisite notices and poured another cup of coffee, closing my eyes, feeling my heart flutter.  Supra-ventricular tachycardia.  Two kinds of medicine, not life-shortening, just impactful.  Quality of life. Discomfort.  Pain.  Shortness of breath.

While I waited for the nurse to call, I queued the last two webinars that I needed to complete my CLE requirement for the reporting year which closes at the end of this month.  I watched two self-professed “geezers” talk about civil morality and how to decide if one should rat out one’s client with damning evidence.  They’ve chosen to read outloud the entirety of one of the illustrations from the materials.  The one they’ve picked involves a successful sexual harassment litigant and her attorney, who comes across a video of the incident which reveals that his client had perjured herself.  I wondered why the presenters have picked this particular example.  Could it be because it allows them to repeatedly and graphically describe a beautiful woman’s anatomy with impunity?

An hour into my endeavors, the cardiac nurse called with a bunch of questions.  At the end of our conversation, she hazards the guess that I have let myself get severely dehydrated.  She encouraged me to drink an ungodly amount of water each day and told me she will call back after reporting to the doctor.  I thanked her and started the next CLE, this time settling under headphones because the yard guys had arrived with their commercial-grade machines.

I emerged from the house while John and Charlie Smith stood examining my leaky diverter.  We chatted for a few moments about the multi-hose installation and the weeds they had come to slay.  The older one, John, described the problem with my watering system.  I did not really understand his theory but I gathered that inferior quality of product and ineffectual installation contributed to the massive leaking at the joins.  Figures, I thought, I shouldn’t have tried to do it myself.  I walked past them to my car.  I glanced at the flower bed; at the weeds growing tall on my fence, and thought, Got to keep this place up better.  The neighbors might start complaining.

When I backed out of the driveway, I saw that the brothers had already started attacking the overgrowth of vine.  They left the choke-weed with its purple blossoms.  Chaska Vogt will be pleased; he thinks they are pretty.  He’s six, though; and has not yet learned to distinguish noxious weeds from wildflowers.

It’s the twenty-second day of the thirtieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues in the sweltering heat.  I move slowly through the morning; I’m getting older. I’m no longer in a hurry.  I take my time.


Wildflowers from the garden of Tim and Mary Pettet.

Wildflowers from the garden of Tim and Mary Pettet.


Be still, my heart

I know that the wild beating of my heart does not threaten me and yet, I find it annoying.

But I scan through the news and think:  You can handle a little tachycardia, girlfriend.

Mother used to say, “There but for the grace of God. . .”.  The sentence dangled; we knew this meant that regardless of what we suffer, others endure worse.  I turned this into my own personal sayings:  “On a scale of Nirvana to Bosnia, I’m somewhere in between”, I would tell people, back in the day when Bosnia was the scariest place in American news.  Back before 9/11; before Columbine, Charleston, Orlando.

People ask, “How are you today?” and though I might not say, “Blessed and taken care of,” I acknowledge:  I woke up this morning, which is more than some people can say.

I squint through inadequate spectacles to see my words on the screen.  I think:  Inadequate, but tri-focals; a year old but only a year old; on my face, with a case, don’t complain.  Life is not a competition, but if it were, I would certainly not be in last place.  With all my trials, and all my failures, and all my sadness, I am still somewhere in the middle, chugging along, with Bandaids on my blisters and blood flowing through my veins, sweat on my brow, an extra five pounds around my waist.  I’m huffing and puffing with wildly beating heart,  Don’t be still, my heart, don’t be still.

It’s the twenty-first day of the thirtieth month of My Year Without Complaining. Here I am people.  Alive.  Alive.  Life continues.

Greg Zanis, retired carpenter, built 49 crosses to commemorate the victims in Orlando and brought them all the way from Chicago to the Orlando Medical Center to honor the victims.  Family and friends have left their own tributes to the slain.

Greg Zanis, retired carpenter, built 49 crosses to commemorate the victims in Orlando and brought them all the way from Chicago to the Orlando Health Medical Center to honor the victims. Family and friends have left their own tributes to the slain.



Still life

Michael Byers tells me it’s 6:31 and 75 degrees.  I have not ventured onto the porch but I see the motionless flags hanging from the house and think, gonna be a scorcher, better run the sprinkler for a while, and pad around the house.  I squint at the tablet on the table, answer a couple of messages, and pour another cup of coffee.

At the keeping shelf a few wine glasses stand ready for this evening when my cohorts in the next children’s writing workshop will be gathered around my table for the initial planning session.  I take stock of the wine, think about the groceries to be bought for dinner, and run over the week’s schedule in my mind.  I’ve gotten busy; work, Rotary, planning for the September DV fundraiser.  I bounce on my toes, testing for swelling in the jammed left foot.  Painful but not too bad.  I might be able to wear real shoes.

I catch a glimpse of myself in the buffet’s mirror and chuckle.  My son left a basket of clothes for Goodwill and I snagged a couple of T-shirts to wear for sleeping and yardwork.  I look ridiculous but I don’t care; it’s comfortable.  I’ve gotten to that stage.  I can wear what I like.  It’s a good feeling.  Still life with attitude.

It’s the twentieth day of the thirtieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  It’s the summer solstice.  I plan to make good use of the daylight.  Life continues.



“Warning” by Jenny Joseph

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.


My son returned to Evanston yesterday after four days in Kansas City.  I spent my evening at a Rotary dinner, and fell asleep, exhausted, but thinking about what to write in this blog today.  I am fully aware that it is Father’s Day.  But we have no fathers here; we do not celebrate that particular Hallmark Holiday.

My father made choices which resulted in his turning in a  poor performance as parent to my siblings and me, though he did better as a grandfather.  My son’s father shunned the role.  He paid child support for 18 years but never saw Patrick, by his choice.  I did nothing to prevent the relationship and in fact encouraged it, though I did return to Kansas City from Arkansas where Patrick’s father lives, in order to take a job when my law firm in Fayetteville hit financially difficult times.  I needed employment.  But Patrick’s father knew where he was.  And so.

Three of my brothers have given spectacular performances as fathers; one did not, with infamous results.  Of my husbands (my three hundred husbands, as I like to say), two were fathers in their own right; and one can honestly be said to have been a crackerjack father to both of his children.  The other got it right on the third try and raised one of three daughters with zest and acumen.

My father-in-law, Jabez MacLaughlin, criticized himself as a father, to me, in many private conversations.  I understand where he thought he had failed — but I understood, too, his love for his children and his profound pride in the lives which they had made for themselves, especially as parents.  He also gave me something that my own father could not or did not do.  He loved me unreservedly as a daughter, accepting me, being kind to me, giving me advice, and receiving me into his heart.  He redeemed the concept of fatherhood for me; I felt loved, and I mourned his death as a daughter mourns the passing of her father.

My experience of fathers has been broadened by my friends, most of whom seem to understand the concept and who give fatherhood their whole-hearted effort.  In my law practice, I’ve seen fathers like mine, who fail their children through choices made in the throes of addiction or mental illness.  I’ve also seen fathers in my private practice who want nothing less than the chance for one-hundred percent engagement.  That the mothers of their children resist baffles me.  I would have moved heaven and earth for my son’s father just to see him once in a while, let alone several times each week, let alone whenever possible — let alone to make a home for their children so that time spent can be something far more than “visitation”.  When a woman refuses to let a man parent their child, with no domestic violence, or addiction, or criminal activity involved, I cannot help but conclude that something deeper and more insidious drives her.  It could be bitterness at the end of their marriage; a haunted memory from her own childhood; or fear that the children will ultimately stop loving her if she “lets” their father be an active participant in their lives.

This reflection on fatherhood might have been triggered by the annual holiday that most are celebrating today, but it directly impacts my quest to live complaint-free.  Many of my personal demons grew from the festering muck left behind when I moved out of my parents’ home.  My father abused all of us, some worse than others, and for many years.  In those days, men did not suffer any societal consequences for beating their wives and children. My father endured nothing more than an occasional overnight in the city jail “to sober up”, and the scoldings of a priest from our parish in later years.  Oh, I’m sure he had inner turmoil in his last months on earth.  We talked about it.  And I get that he most likely suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as an aftermath of serving in combat in World War II.  That aside, though, he visited some mighty cruel conduct on us, and I keenly feel the impact in my life.  Speaking only for myself, I understand that I left my childhood damaged.  I did not confront that damage for years and years.  My troubled soul guided my outward disposition, which manifested in a state of joylessness and complaint.

As I reflected on whether to mention Father’s Day in my blog entry today, all of this swirled and emerged from the still, deep waters of my soul.  I find myself left with one conclusion:  That “father” as a word describes not a “biological progenitor”, but an action.  I reject it as a noun or appellation.  I embrace the term “father” as a verb, not meaning “to sire”, but “to nurture”.

So:  I send my most devout good wishes to men everywhere who have nurtured children — as a birth-giver, an adopter, a person who married the child’s mother, a coach, a mentor, or a surrogate — like my father-in-law and favorite curmudgeon, Jay MacLaughlin.

To you all, the male nurturers of children, my inner child sends heartfelt love and gratitude.

It’s the nineteenth day of the thirtieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  I send greetings from my deck, in Brookside, Kansas City, Jackson County, Missouri, USA, North American Continent, planet Earth, Milky Way Galaxy.   I, Mary-Corinne Teresa Corley, daughter of Richard Adrian Corley, mother of Patrick Charles Corley, and  a tiny speck in a sometimes ruthless but enduring, hopeful universe,  bid you Happy Father’s Day.

Life continues.

Jabez Jackson MacLaughlin, my favorite curmudgeon and father-in-law.

Jabez Jackson MacLaughlin, my favorite curmudgeon and father-in-law.