Monthly Archives: December 2016

My Lead-In to Next Year

If you want an antidote for the blues, spend the afternoon with Jenny Rosen.

She’s funny, smart, and just sarcastic enough to cause me to spit chai out of my nose from laughing.  The folks at the nearby table in Starbucks rolled their eyes and moved away but I didn’t care.

It’s impossible to complain with Jenny Rosen regaling me with the most hilarious stories of her life.  I think the folks at SNL must be scripting her.  She plays the straight lines just as well as the jokes.

So I haven’t cleaned.  I spent a couple of hours with Jenny, including a trip to Hy-Vee where she schooled the sacker something fierce.  We stopped at World’s Window for a last gasp of the annual 40% discount where Jenny got a pair of gloves after trying on the most adorable hats and accidentally shaming every woman there with her poise and beauty.  I spent the entire afternoon grinning, when I wasn’t falling over with uncontrollable laughter and spitting drink on the floor.

I needed that, Rosen.  You rock.

It’s the thirty-first day of the thirty-sixth month of My Perpetual Year Without Complaining.  In less than 7 hours, it will be next year.  I have yet to go even a full day without complaining after all this time, but I’m holding on.   I still have Tara.  And as God is my witness, I will never go hungry again.

Life continues.

10985181_10204865948221367_7988320122251574414_oFrom left to right:

Ms. Jenny Rosen, yours truly, and Mr. Micah Spivey

Taken in 2015 but still one of my favorites.

The eve of the eve

So, here’s the deal.

Today I can walk fairly well.  From Tuesday through yesterday, I looked like a squashed crab.  Hunched over, spasming, in pain, I hobbled through my last two days in Chicago and my return overnight at my brother’s house in St.  Louis.  My son, his girlfriend, my nephews, my brother, and my sister-in-law deserve Good Samaritan awards for treating me with gentleness and respect.

I understand how the temporarily worsened impairment arose.  My trek all over downtown Chicago with Patrick and Hope inflammed my Tarlov cysts which hug the degenerated discs.  Film at eleven, oohhh, ahhh, ahhh.  I’m not complaining, I’m just explaining.   I’m one of those medical miracles.  My body has acquired a long list of nagging ailments.  But I could and often do construct an equally long list of diseases and conditions which I’ve been spared — cancer, MS, MD, HIV, COPD, and a whole alphabet of other insidious and hideous diseases and conditions far worse than the ones which I face.

I know it’s not a competition, but I’m grateful that I can manage the symptoms of my dozen or so illnesses and deformities.  What’s a 3/4 inch difference in leg lengths among friends?  And viruses?  Gosh, I only have 5, and currently they all sleep, placated by a daily double dose of Gawd-awful expensive drugs covered by my equally expensive but phenomenal self-provided health insurance.  So?  I’ve got a good attitude.  Sue me!

But make no mistake.  As positive as I seem to you, late at night and early in the morning, bitterness can claim me.  I shake my fist heavenward.  My head falls between my hands.  Tears stream down my cheeks.  Why does life have to be so damned difficult, I cry.  Outloud, through choked sobs.  Why do I have to handle all this alone?

Then the sun rises.  I drag myself out of bed.  I stumble down the stairs and shoo the dog out into the yard.  I start the kettle and turn on the radio.  As the water boils for coffee, I dab my eyes and swallow the lump in my throat.  Lists of life’s tender, sweet moments start forming in my mind.  Around me crowd the faces of my son, my shared daughter, my fairy granddaughter.  My nieces and nephews.  My great niece. My siblings. My friends.  Their radiant smiles light the room.

I pour my coffee and sit down with something resembling resignation.  I close my eyes.  The energy begins to rise within me, flowing through me, chasing the sorrow and the anger.  I find the resolve to face another day.

It’s the thirtieth day of the thirty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  On the eve of the eve of the first day of the fourth year of this wild, crazy journey to joy, life continues.


Hope, Patrick, and myself

Hope, Patrick, and myself


I got lost twice this morning.  I tried to drive down Tower Grove Blvd. to avoid the Kingshighway detour and found myself on the wrong side of World’s Fair Doughnuts looking at the rubble of the shattered bridge.  The CLOSED sign in the window of the venerable storefront disappointed me but I turned and went north.  Eventually, I found Highway 40 and continued west, the narration of my day forming in my mind.

A half-hour before I got to the cut-over at Wentzville, a Starbucks sign lured me off the roadway.  I should have known that I’d get a sucker-punch.  An hour later, I found the coffee shop in St. Peter’s.  Fueled and fed, I traveled north on Mid-River’s Mall Drive and hit I-70, not yet to Wentzville and behind schedule.

I got a gas-station doughnut three hours later as the sun set over Kansas City, still beyond my horizon but getting closer by the minute.  When I pulled into my driveway and saw the dog in the backyard looking brushed and comfortable, I told myself that I should go away more often.

The holidays draw to a close soon, and with them, the third year of my struggle to live a joyful life.  Yesterday someone told me that my blog entries seem sad but contain a hint of hope.  I respect his point of view but disagree.  I don’t feel sad when I write — not often, anyway; though perhaps it’s not the frequency but the depth to which that gentle critic responded.

Now, on this twenty-ninth day of the thirty-sixth month of My [Seriously Extended] Year Without Complaining, I’m seeing the right side of victory dancing so close my lily-white spastic fingers can nearly touch it.  Today I found a MoDOT truck parked in a handicapped spot at a rest-stop.  I called it into the MoDOT headquarters.  I guess that was a complaint, but I see the protection of the rights of disabled persons as my noble duty, so I put that in the category of exemptions and sashay right on by.

You might not share my point of view.  I can accept your dissent.

The dog barks to be let back into the house.  I’m limping around, still not recovered from my walking tour of downtown Chicago.  I’ve got a whale of a lot of work to do to meet 2017 with a fierce attitude and a clean slate.  I’m rolling up my sleeves and plunging those crippled hands into the sudsy water.  Life continues.



After dawn

I always wake at dawn.  I lie and watch the sky go through its metamorphosis from black to pink to palest grey.  Then my conscience pricks and I drag myself to vertical.  I struggle to claim my slippers, strewn far from my reach, and so my day begins.

This morning in the quiet of my son’s apartment, I listened to the train and let myself linger beyond the sun’s calm rising. I thought about birthdays. My father would be 84 today but it is also my friend Penny Thieme’s birthday.    I’ll leave her age a secret for her to reveal, but she’s on the far side of life’s learning curve and feeling fabulous.  She rocks her silver hair, her shining smile, and her sassy attitude.

I think my mother’s father died on this date in 1985.  I know he lived four months longer than she did, and died right after Christmas.  That year whipped me. I spent the majority of it intoxicated or trying to get sober enough to drive to St. Louis.  In the top ten list of my worst years ever, 1985 lingers in the upper five.

Only four more days remain until 2017 draws me into its potential.  The faces of people who still cherish me hover nearby.  I linger in the glow of their love and encouragement.  But others whom I have lost through death,  divorce, or distance beckon from the shadows.

The trains roll by, one after another.  The unrelenting noise in my ears rises to a crescendo.   My coffee cools.  I contemplate the confluence of shadow and light.  I ask myself, which has the stronger call?

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



And then we lit the candles

A light cold rain fell over Evanston as my son and I moved from the doorway of his building to the little Kia.  He navigated the puddles to put the bag holding our contributions to dinner and the presents for his girlfriend’s parents in the car before coming back to take my arm and guide me down the stairs.

As we drove through the streets to the neighborhood in which we would dine, he mentioned a few things about our hosts which would help me acclimate and avoid any obvious faux paus.  I strained to focus on some balance between fear of being wooden and my innate sense that my true self offended people by its very essence.  By the time we parked in front of their home, I had worked myself into a mild but hidden tizzy.  I’ve been criticized so much over the years that I automatically steel myself for social failure.

I reckoned without the graciousness of Hope’s parents and her sister.  They took our coats and offered hugs, wine, and hot tea.  They settled us in the most comfortable of the available seating.  Even their little dog welcomed us.  I found myself relaxing.

More people came, long-time friends easy with one another’s company.  They carried plate after plate of steaming food to the table.  Latkes, sweet potatoes, challah, salad, turkey — enough for fifty, with only fifteen present.  Everyone took a chair.  Our host and hostess stood by the menorah.  And then we lit the candles, and said prayers, and held hands to say grace, for this family combines the Jewish faith and Catholicism with a whimsical happy flair.

At the end of grace our host offered anyone a chance to speak.  I almost did.  Words rose within me which I yearned to utter.  But tears lingered just behind and I did not trust myself.  The moment passed.

Had I opened my mouth, gratitude would have poured into the room.  I cannot think of any place that I have felt such acceptance.  The people who opened their home to me last evening assumed my worth.  I did not have to prove anything.  I understood that their attitude flowed outward — because of their virtue, not mine.  But nonetheless I benefited.  Their goodness surrounded and comforted me.  I felt consoled.

It’s the twenty-sixth day of the thirty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  From Evanston, Illinois, I send my greetings.  Life continues.



Christmas 2016

At 5:00 a.m., I awakened to some unfamiliar sound.  It took a few minutes to remember that I’m not in Brookside; I’m in Evanston, and the sound could be the downstairs neighbor or a distant train.

I feel the stiffness in my shoulders and try to lull myself back to sleep without success.  So I rise, blink the spots from my eyes, and stretch.

It’s Christmas morning.  I won’t be going to church today.  My son and I will open presents   We’ll drink good coffee and breakfast on scrambled eggs and toast.  Later, we’ll make bread and a casserole as our contributions to this evening’s meal.

But now I sit in silence, thinking about my brother Stephen.  He would have turned 57 today.  I hear the morning commuter sing its lonely song and clack along the tracks.  I wonder who rides the rail this early.  Nurses, maybe — bound for the work which never stops for them.  I recall Stephen’s long quest to finish his nursing degree through an online-program in the years following my mother’s death.   By the time he died, he had become a psychiatric nurse, with too much access to drugs for someone with an addiction.  So sorry that it had to end this way.  

I cannot help but think that Stephen would tell  me to be happy — to enjoy my time with Patrick; to comb my hair and don a pretty dress, and dance.  He’d tell me, quit your moaning, woman, and it would be good advice.  He’d snapped his fingers in my direction and pull me off my feet when the music started.  And when the last strains of Sugar Magnolia faded, he’d exit laughing, leaving me dizzy, leaning against the wall, clutching my sides and smiling.  Keep dancing, he’d tell me.  The last I would see of him would be that grin of his.

I feel him here.  He gazes with approval at the life my son has made for himself — his girlfriend, his job, the fact that he’s teaching himself digital imaging, his political viewpoint.

Steve would nod with some degree of satisfaction to see the way in which five-year-old Patrick has evolved into manhood.  He’d appreciate everything about the life which Patrick leads, even the way he’s decorated his apartment.  Stephen would like the mix of new and old, the modern vibe.  Steve would feel at home in this place.  He’d settle his big frame into the red chair in the living room and set a beer bottle on a coaster on the black coffee table.  His gaze would settle on the framed Grateful Dead poster and beside it, the one from Lafayette Square.  He would enjoy those.  He’d also like the Norman Rockwell in the kitchen and the koala print hanging on the bedroom wall.

I see a little of my brother in my son who has half of his name.  They share a nearly relentless individuality and a slightly apologetic desire for casual order.  Perhaps I feel so at home in my son’s apartment because he’s stamped it with the Corley DNA.

So there it is.  I’m visiting my son in his world, and I’m feeling fine.  I have no complaints.  In fact, I have so much for which to be grateful that I’m thinking of renaming this blog “My Year of Living Gratefully”.

It’s Christmas Day, 2016.  Life continues.



Patrick and Hope


One-hundred and sixteen miles south of Chicago I pulled off the highway to get a cup of coffee.  I stood beside the Prius in frigid air which told me that I’d already traveled a hundred miles or more out of a mild Missouri winter.

A thin man in a heavy flannel shirt darted past, with a hood pulled snug over his ears.  His eyes shifted to me as he came even with my car then forward towards his own vehicle just as rapidly.  From where I stood, I could not hear the highway noise.  In fact the whole parking lot wore a shroud of silence.

I walked into the building wondering why the faces of every other customer held nothing but fatigue so close to Christmas.  In front of the coffee machine, I contemplated the half-inch of tepid sludge in the dirty pot.  To its left, an automatic cappuccino machine boasted of caramel and vanilla.  I thought at least that might be hot, though filled with chemicals.  I took my chance.

The cashier ran one hand through a swathe of greasy hair just before I handed him my five.  The crumpled bills he placed on the counter sat between us for a few minutes while I debated whether to put them in my wallet.  In the end, my fear of offending him won out and I gingerly lifted them, folded them on themselves, and shoved them in the outer pocket of my purse.

I told him Merry Christmas and backed away, yielding my spot to a woman with no upper teeth and a fistful of quarters to pay for a package of donuts.

Outside the wind had raised.  A Muslim couple held the door for me and I couldn’t help thinking the woman’s head scarf made sense this time of year.  Thank you so much,  I said, and the man nodded.  In a soft voice he told me to have a good day.  The woman said nothing but flashed a radiant smile with dark red lips and blindingly white teeth.  I carried her cheer to the car and buckled into my seat, pushing the start button.

Emmy Lou Harris flooded the cabin.  I sat for a few minutes listening with my eyes closed, head leaning against the steering wheel.  When I looked around, I noticed several people peering into the car. I flicked my hand up,  mouthing something unintelligible.  They exchanged a glance but walked away.   I put the car in reverse and pulled out of the lot, heading for I-55 and points north, where my son waited.  Close to the city I came upon a toll and tendered the grease-stained dollar bills.  The attendant shook her head but handed me back two quarters.  I drove on before she could voice her disdain.

It’s December 23rd, 2016. Eight days remain of the thirty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  I’m writing from my son’s desk, in his apartment in Evanston, Illinois.   We have a full holiday planned.  I’m tired, but I’m here.   I made it.  Life continues.


steve-and-emmy-louTo hear Steve Earle and Emmy Lou Harris singing “Goodbye”,
click HERE.

Season’s Greetings

My friends,

In the morning, I depart for St. Louis and points north.  I cannot be certain when I will next chronicle my journey to joy.  Therefore, I pause in my busy day of preparation to tell each and every person reading this entry that you are loved.

Last evening, I shared a decent meal in a comfortable restaurant with a good friend.  We laughed, waved our hands, dissected our days, and leaned forward to talk softly of experiences which have changed our lives.  Though my friend is 17 years younger than I am, we share so many views and such similar life-events that she calls us sisters-separated-at-birth.  On the way home, in the quiet of my car with the radio off, I contemplated my good fortune at developing such a solid connection with someone who reminds me of my younger self — only better, in so many ways, since my friend made choices that took her down forks in the road which I never saw in the fog of my troubled years.

My ruminations provided this certain knowledge:  Those paths might be closed to me, but others remain clear.  A walkway to serenity beckons.  My feet might tread in jerky hesitation, but I still move forward, still plod ahead.  I can find the way to my best self and a peaceful existence —  perhaps not on terms that I first sought, but on terms with which I can be content.

My Year Without Complaining began as a promise to honor the memory of my mother-in-law by trying to live every day of a single year without voicing complaint.  I throw off a laugh when I contemplate my naivete.  My mission met obstacle after obstacle.  But I persisted.  Perhaps my thirty-seventh month, January 2017, will begin a year in which I truly live each day without complaining. I cannot say.

But I can say this:  My quest has evolved into an earnest plan to live life surrounded in glory; to give without hesitation to those who have need of me; and to meet every person with empathy and understanding.  It has taken thirty-six months to sharply define my objective but now that I have done so, getting there will exhilarate and satisfy me.

To each of you, I wish the same:  Exhilaration in your efforts; and satisfaction in the attainment of your goals.  Be well, my friends.  I will keep sharing my journey to joy, and I will keep the faith that each of you will walk untroubled on a memorable and rewarding path.

Happy Holidays.



Today I awakened at 5:15 a.m. because I forgot to tell my cell phone that a trial had been canceled.

Today the little brown dog whines for water and can’t get enough, even when I pour cup after cup into a large dish on the floor.  I watch her eager lapping, thinking that maybe she’s onto something.

Today my hips protest each step through the house, groaning beneath my meager weight as though haunted by all the pounds that I’ve lost over the last decade.

Today a lingering dream reminds me that I’ve unfinished business in my heart, playing over and over the sight of someone scurrying away from me in a video so real it might be a digitized version of what actually happened, droning on and on in my nighttime brain.

Today the cold seeps through the old keyhole in the backdoor, and the wind buffets the high ceiling in the wood-paneled bedroom where I huddle under a thick comforter, wrapped in a shawl, clutching the covers and wondering whose soul drives the terrible force surrounding my house.

Today the scrambled eggs come out perfectly and I think about a small kitchen in Evanston in which I will soon be showing my son the technique which I have perfected over the few months, ever since a scrawny grey cook in Colorado Springs told me the secret to unctuous eggs:  Love and lard.

Today I will stop on the way to work and get a chai latte, with soy milk, and a gluten-free pastry, because even perfect scrambled eggs can’t sustain a day of eager lawyering when I feel this beaten.

Today the furnace roars and reminds me that I’ve got to pay the gas bill before the house-sitter comes, and schedule a furnace check, and make sure there’s enough phenobarb to last for my entire trip out of town or the dog will start seizuring and that will be the end of that house-sitter.

Today I lift my arms over my head, close my eyes, and will my being to calm itself, to open its fifth eye or its second mind or its inner heart and receive; to let go of the old mantras which continue their unrelenting tramp  at the cellular level.

Today I tell myself to believe.

Today is the twentieth day of the thirty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


Baby, It’s Cold Out There

As I stand in the hardware store getting keys made for my house-sitter, the cell phone blasts its obnoxious ring into the air.  People turn to stare, somewhat disapprovingly.  I push my glasses higher on my nose and walk away from the counter to answer.  Penny says, “Can you come get me?” and I respond that sure, I will, and end the call with apologies to the manager who had been asking me about my plans for Christmas.

He’s a happy guy, the hardware store manager.  He told me about his perfect marriage one time, with a twinkle in his eye and a radiant smile on his lean face.  He raised his hand to smooth the little snow-white pony-tail he wears.  I gathered that they had married late in life, but I didn’t ask.  I just congratulated him.

Ever since I listened to him thank Heaven for sending him an angel, he’s fancied we’re friends.  I don’t know his name nor does he remember mine.  But as I wait for my keys, he asks about my travel plans and warns me to take a blanket in the car.  “It’s cold out there,” he says, and gestures to the windows.  The kid brings my keys and I walk over to the counter again, shoving my phone back into my purse and putting a five-dollar bill in the hands of the waiting cashier.  “And 89 cents,” he says, gently, and I give him another dollar.

They all tell me “Merry Christmas” and I respond the same, and throw in a Happy Holidays as the door closes.  Then I drive into Kansas, past the Starbucks at which Penny works, where we’re scheduled to have coffee.  I continue north, to her house.  When she’s settled in the car we double back and park in the same spot where I parked when I brought my favorite curmudgeon here for coffee more than two years ago, a few months before he became too tired to go anywhere.

I can’t move for a minute.  My hands grip the wheel and I tell Penny, I used to come here with Jay.  It’s a slight exaggeration.  We went there two or three times and I can’t remember why anymore.  It wasn’t near his house or mine.  But we did.  And later, when he stayed at Brighton Gardens, I brought him carry-out soup from a Panera’s just up the street.

I shake off the memories and get out of the car, moving slowly in the frigid air.  In a minute we are inside and Penny introduces me to her co-workers.  Then I have a chai latte, with soy milk, sitting beside me, and Penny opens the gift that I’ve brought for her.  I’m breathing easier.  I can smile.  I blink back the tears and tell a silly story about purple socks. Penny and I scrap a little bit over what it means, but good-naturedly.  She sparkles, and I laugh, and we talk about her jobs, the kids to whom she teaches art, and how her friend Tina is handling her first Christmas as a widow.

Before I know it, a couple of hours have passed and it’s time to go home.

It’s the nineteenth day of the thirty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  It’s four degrees below zero in Kansas City.  But life continues.

1218161247_hdr-2My soul sister, Penny Thieme.