Monthly Archives: April 2017


I accomplished very little of substance today.

I made an early breakfast, two butter-basted eggs on gluten-free toast with a juicy mandarin orange.  I wrote my blog with the heating pad smack against the shuddering muscles in my back.  By eleven, I’d lured a friend out for an early lunch, because the dust in the house had started to unnerve me.

By 1:00, I’d found a pottery bowl at another friend’s garage sale and finally met his husband, whose Facebook page I follow with positive glee.  A fine couple — funny and loving; both professionals, with three little Schnauzers that came out of the house one by one to greet me.  I drove back home with an endless smile that didn’t fade until I came into the kitchen and smelled the burning coffee in my Bodum.

I couldn’t make myself do anything after that until about five, when I took myself in hand and carried the winter-weary plants out onto the porch.  The sight of pink buds on the begonias startled me.  I pinched a few dead leaves from the relentless green giant that I’ve nursed back to health after every stint inside, and repotted a flagging cactus.   Two years ago, I’d stuck it in the old rabbit planter from my mother’s house.  While the jade plant that I bought at the same time has inched heavenward, and the companion aloe needs its own zip code now, this little Opuntia microdasys has barely survived.

Maybe it will do better on the porch.   I do a search online for its common name and discover that folks call it, “bunny ears”.  Funny that it didn’t thrive in a planter of the same name.

When the plants have been watered, I fry a little tofu and eat it with  peanut sauce — also gluten-free but from a bottle.  The sun sets while I’m reading outside, and I begin to feel chilly.  I wander back into the living room and tell myself that I’ve wasted an entire day with nothing to show for it but some straggly vegetation in last year’s clay pots on the deck.

With a jolt, I realize that my gait has worsened in the thirteen hours since I got out of bed this morning.  I glance at the bottle of muscle relaxants and shake my head. Perhaps I’ll have another orange instead.  It couldn’t hurt.

I’m waiting for something but I don’t yet know what.  I’m hoping that the sunrise will bring understanding and break this lethargy.  Meanwhile, the old dog finds her favorite spot near the register.  She doesn’t realize that the  furnace once more has fallen  motionless, like the sentient beings in this silent dwelling.

It’s the eighth day of the fortieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Best Foot Forward

I’m channeling Nana this week.

My maternal grandmother, Johanna Ulz Lyons, always admonished us to put our best foot forward.  I’ve tried to do that.  But that’s not where I get my resolve this week.  Rather, it’s from her extreme tenacity after her strokes.

With one side paralyzed, Nana would navigate her ranch home in Lake Knolls, Chatham, Illinois, with dogged determination.  She used a four-pronged cane.  If she had to carry anything, she’d pull it along, resting it on whatever furniture came to hand.  The stroke impacted her speech so that she could say very few words but she kept trying until her wishes became known.  If she couldn’t tell you something, she’d brush past you and go get what she wanted on her own, leaving whatever grandchild had been unable to discern her needs standing in the living room feeling only slightly less frustrated than Nana herself.

I admired my grandmother.  When the depression put her husband out of work, she knuckled down and got a job at Montgomery Wards.  She raised her three daughters to be tough but tender, just as she herself had always been.  She would sing to us when we cried; take us for meals or to buy shoes or clothing; and let us sit at her desk in the hearing aid business which she and my grandfather ran in Springfield.  I wanted to be like her.  She seemed to be the consummate woman — a mother, a wife, a business owner.

The last time that I visited her, she stood in the doorway lifting her good arm to wave goodbye.  I asked my mother, “Do you think Nana knows we’re going home?”  My mother hesitated, behind the wheel of the Dodge Coronet that Nana and Grandpa had sold her so that she’d have something in which to drive to work.  In the backseat, my brother Mark asked if Mom wanted him to run back into Nana and Grandpa’s house to make sure that Nana, home alone until later in the afternoon, had everything she needed.

My mother finally shook her head.  “I’m sure she’ll be fine,” she said.

Nana died a day or two later.  I think she knew that death waited for her.  She smiled so sweetly as we left; she kissed me on the forehead and touched my cheek with her one good hand.

Yesterday as I gimped around the house, dragging my painful left hip and pushing my coffee cup along the table, I thought of Nana.  “Put your best food forward, Mary,” she’d tell me, as we crossed the street.

I’d ask her, “Which foot is the best foot, Nana?”  She would laugh and say, “The one going first, of course.”  Every time.  And she’d laugh, every time.

In another day, my current injury will be a memory as I heal.  It’s possible that one day, I will suffer an injury from which I won’t easily recover.  That’s always a chance when a disabled person mixes bullheadedness with solitary living.  If I do, I’ll have an honorable role-model.  I’ve seen one of the finest women imaginable handle the impact of a stroke with grace and valor.  I hope that my response to adversity does her credit.

It’s the fifth day of the fortieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

From left to right: My great-grandfather “Dad” Ulz; one of my great-uncles, possibly Coonie Ulz; Johanna Ulz Lyons; and her husband, Delmar Lyons.


Storm clouds

Katrina comes through the door with dog food and a cheery disposition.  After a half hour of talk, she lets the dog into the house and wipes her wet paws.  Outside, the rain descends on Brookside and the storm clouds cover the stars.

In an hour, my dog has been fed, my dishes have been done, and a load of laundry spins in the little upstairs unit.  We’ve discovered the dog’s deafness keeps her from being afraid of thunder.  I have a few difficult moments, some physical, some emotional.  But it’s a good visit.

That I reinjured my back this morning seems a small thing at day’s end.  Another court appearance has to be canceled.  I probably won’t be in the office until Thursday.  I didn’t get to vote.  But I got a visit from Katrina whom I hadn’t seen in too many days.  That counts for a lot.  I’d almost hurt myself again just to lure her back.

Almost.  But not quite.

The little dog sleeps on the floor in front of me.  I’ve had text messages from lots of folks who’ve read my blogs and know that I’m ailing.  Miranda came with groceries.  Well-wishers posted on Facebook.

The thunder rumbles and the birds twitter as they settle down for the evening.  Here in the house, the dog and I will do the same.  I dry my tears.  I swallow another muscle relaxant and scroll through my e-mail.  One or two work-related messages require my response but otherwise, nothing important has happened since the close of the business day.  I take my time.  I’m not going anywhere.

It’s the fourth day of the fortieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


Life and how you take it

Being incapacitated irks me no end.  In those hours when I lie on the couch in the living room wishing for a hot fudge sundae and a Bailey’s-and-coffee, I relive every failure of my sixty-one-and-a-half years.  Between bouts of self-pity, I read detective novels, answer e-mail, and fret about finances.

I’m not complaining.  I’m just reporting my state of mind today, after succumbing to yesterday’s injury, canceling a trial, and spending all day snapped into my grandmother’s house-coat with the soft blanket that Jenny Taggart Wandfluh gave me for Christmas draped over me.

The dog lies on the living floor pretending to sleep, one eye slitted open and aimed in my direction. She despises and fears the red metal walking stick with which I creep around the house between drug-induced naps.  I’m eating small bits of food every three hours, partly because the cupboard holds very little to tempt me and partly because I’m feeling as though if I get that nagging last five pounds off my belly, I won’t hurt myself again soon.  A strong core, a healthy body; and all that jazz.

Lately I’ve been sorely tempted to tell a few people what I really think about them.  This blog and the 4-way test of Rotary restrain me from full-fledged tirades.  The latter acts as a stronger bar.  Is it the truth?  Oh yes.  Is it fair to all concerned?  Hmmm.  Will it build goodwill and better friendships?  Uh, no.  Will it be beneficial for all concerned?  No but it would sure make me feel better.

Naughty, naughty.  Not only would spouting in rage at people violate my long-running quest to live complaint-free, but it would cause the Waldo-Brookside Rotary Club to break from its no-fine rule to impose a hefty tax on Mama Corinna.

But more importantly:  The little kernels of anger that my stomach regurgitates choke me.  Flinging them in rage would spread that harm.  Better to spit them on the ground and grind them under my lily-white spastic foot.

I never meant to be at this stage of my life in the condition in which I find myself today.  I look back on the last few decades and wonder what door closed;  what fork in the road tempted me and brought me to this precise configuration of life.  I shake my head.  Whose advice did I ignore?  What warning signs did I not heed?

I’m not complaining; I’m evaluating.  My second husband Dennis Lisenby used to say (and I know I’ve mentioned this), if you can’t be a good example be a horrible warning.  I’m a walking advertisement for mindful living, the opposite of how I ran most of my life.  I’m not sure it isn’t too late to save myself but I’m damned sure going to save some of you if I can.

Take a deep breath.  Look around you.  If you like what you see, find a way to keep it.  If your life contains joy, embrace it.  Turn your attention inward.  Figure out where the happiness lies within you.  If you’ve got brambles snarled inside of you keeping that happiness from growing, take the clippers in hand and clear the weeds.  Don’t hide beneath the rubble.  Don’t bury yourself.  Give yourself the chance to bloom.

It’s the third day of the fortieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  From my airplane bungalow in Brookside, Kansas City, Missouri, I send you my love and good wishes.  Life continues.


10:30 a.m. CDT 04022017

I can tell you the exact moment that I knew my day would hold special challenges.  Thirty minutes after ten o’clock a.m.,  Central Daylight Savings Time on Sunday,  02 April 2017.

I turned right but the devilish little Tarlov cycsts turned left, straddling the two degenerated disks in my lower back. Caught unaware, I tried to recover, willing myself to stand still without success.  The weak muscles surrounding the whole mess raged in anger and I went down for the count.

A half-hour later, I made it out of the shower.

Thirty minutes after that, I got to a horizontal position on my bed.  Reconsidering, I spent an agonizing twenty minutes moving to a vertical position, creeping to the bathroom, and collapsing on the toilet.  I slowly reached above my head and snagged the Arnicare, which I then slathered on my back.  With another ten minutes of struggle, I got a mild muscle relaxant down from the medicine cabinet.  I crept back to bed and collapsed.

Eventually, I got dressed, inched downstairs, and poured a cup of coffee with shaking hands.

Eventually, I made it down the driveway to my car.

Now it’s nearly 4:00 p.m. and my trial exhibits for tomorrow’s 1:00 p.m. trial sit on my desk.  I’ve given instructions for their copying and the other tasks that my secretary will need to do.  I’m bagging the file for my 8:30 a.m. pre-trial. I won’t need it to argue what must be asserted.

I face a bit of uncertainty with regards to getting back out to the car and driving home.  But I know it’s got to be done.  I’ll retrieve the re-frozen ice pack from the refrigerator in the suite’s kitchen, take up the damned walking stick and the little angel bag in which I’ve stashed my wallet and phone.  I might — or might not — struggle back into my jacket, hat and scarf.  They might just have to be abandoned on the cupboard.

On a scale of Nirvana to Bosnia, I’m somewhere in between.  What sustains me is what has always sustained me:  The certain knowledge that plenty of folks have it worse; that in fact I have had it worse; and that tomorrow might well see me dancing again.

Oh, maybe not dancing. But you know.  A girl can dream.

It’s the second day of the fortieth month of My Really, Really Long Year Without Complaining.  I’m still smiling.  I’m still more or less sane.  There’s food in the fridge at home, and a little money in the bank, and a world of possibilities, some of which involve joy.  Life continues.