Monthly Archives: May 2017

Thank You for Your Service

I’m home from three days on the nether side of the state.

I did not make it to the cemetery after all.  My fatigue level on Saturday kept me from making the hour trip into the city.  On Sunday, I made time for three different family gatherings; the living seemed more fitting company than the dead.  Monday saw me at Picasso’s in St. Charles for breakfast with my son.  I listened to his update on pursuits in Chicago, talked of my own plans, and then we parted with a hug and a tap of the horn when I turned west just before he headed east both on I-70 but to vastly different destinations.

En route, I figured that I had a Memorial Day celebration left to attend.  I think both my father and my favorite curmudgeon would be pleased to know that I stopped at Mile Marker 45 to honor a fallen state highway patrol officer.

I pulled the Prius to the edge of the access road and hit the flasher button.  With my bag slung over my shoulder, I trudged down the steep parkway.  My feet found level ground; I’ve walked this path on other occasions.

I stood before the monument and raised my right hand in the best salute that I could muster, never having served, never having seen the real McCoy.  My voice rang through the clear summer air and shimmered against the vivid blue sky.  “Thank you for your service.”

I thought forward a week to the benefit on Sunday, where four artists will show their work and help my colleagues and I raise money for First Responders.  I stood for a few minutes, feeling any glint of complaint ease from my soul.  I nodded toward the monument, then spoke aloud again.  “Happy Memorial Day.”  I turned and climbed the hill, and continued toward home.

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

Read about Trooper Michael L. Newton, MO HIghway patrol officer killed in the line of duty.

Read about our June 4th  benefit, “Thank You For Your Service”.

RSVP on Facebook to the June 4th event.

Square plates and spring nights

On the way home from work, I paused for a red light adjacent to the Plaza tennis courts.  I glanced out the window at a man with thick grey dreadlocks, a chunky fellow in a black suit jacket over blue jeans.  He flashed a broad grin at me and i returned the beam.  I stretched my neck and tossed my head on tense shoulders.  The man widened his smile.  My blond curls could not compete with his glorious mass of braids but something close to wild kinship crackled through the air between us.

As the light turned green, I caught his eye and nodded.  He raised one hand.

The traffic report droned from the radio.  Backed up from Holmes to Antioch on 435.  That had to be five miles.  Who would subject themselves to such drudgery?  The Northland reported a stalled car on 29.  My own circuit never varies:  Brookside to Westport on the east side of the Plaza in the morning.  Westport to Brookside straight through the middle, in the evening.  Eleven minutes flat each way, timed to avoid the crawl.  No sane person chooses to suffer that torture day after day.

I pulled the  Prius down the driveway and swung my pocketbook as I spanned the asphalt to my door.  My shoulders slowly lowered.  The day’s ration of lawyering and benefit planning eased from my muscles.   I had seen ten o’clock the previous night at the keyboard, hammering out a motion in a case where I’m the guardian.  I knew the mother would be trouble when I failed to convince her attorney that she needed to process her grief somewhere other than in the  terrified gaze of her seven-year-old son’s wide eyes.  No one wants to be left; least of all the babies.  I understand her pain but the children deserve to be insulated from the anger and the anguish.

I’d like to leave it at the door but my heart won’t stand for that.

I breathed easier in the kitchen, standing over a pan of sizzling tofu and red peppers.  The water for my pasta boiled.  I tipped a half cup of dry ancient grain penne into the pan.  From the open back door, sounds of a soulful drummer drifted through the house, carried by the dancing breeze.

I took my square plate to the porch and settled in a rocker.  I thought about the spring three years ago when Jenny Rosen dragged me from thrift store to thrift store, looking for plates that held no memories.  My cabinets groan under the weight of too many blended households.

The crickets start their song of sleep as dusk gathers to the west.  I close my eyes.  Morning hovers too near.  My hand falls to the pages of my book, and I begin to read.

It’s evening on the twenty-fifth day of the forty-first month of My [Long, Long] Year Without [Too Much] Complaining.  Here on earth, we’re weary but optimistic.  Life continues.




My wild curls.





My square-plated dinner.




A good day

I ran into someone the other day whom I know experiences chronic pain.  He looked tired, and I asked if I could do anything for him.  He shrugged, and smiled, and suggested that I walk with him for a few minutes.

I need to stretch my legs, he observed.  And so, we moved around the room for a few minutes, gazing at the people gathered for the event which was about to start.  Neither of us spoke.

Finally, I asked if he was in a lot of pain.  He raised his eyebrows and replied, Every damn day, but actually today is a good day.

The Simon and Garfunkel lyrics drifted through my mind.  A good day ain’t got no rain.  A bad day is when I lie in bed and think of things that might have been.  

I did not get the sense that my friend had any regrets about his life.  But I understood the concept of relativism.  On a scale of Nirvana to Bosnia, most days hover somewhere in the middle.  The gloom lurks behind me; the dawn tempts from its comfortable horizon.  I don’t like to be considered  strong or brave.  Many others suffer so much worse burdens than I.  But neither can I stomach the chirpy voice of patient techs asking me to rank my pain on a scale of zero to ten.  Zero being pain-free, ten being the worst pain you’ve ever felt.

No, ma’am, I shan’t oblige.  How about on a scale of run-over-by-a-car to my-mother’s-slow-painful-death-of-misdiagnosed-cancer?

Today’s a good day.  I will take it.  I won’t question the authorities who might rescind my reprieve.  Under the radar suits me.  I might even find the energy to smile.

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



Every once in a while

I’ve stayed away from my political blog ( because the nastiness in the world overwhelms me.  It’s hard enough to get through most days without complaining.  I read about the budget slashes, the senseless deaths, the inanities in Washington, the Russian collusion, and a myriad of other evils.  I tell myself, that’s not your problem, and try to slog through my day.  But then the other side of my heart awakens and admonishes me.  It’s all your problem, because, well, even though I’m not a Christian, I can’t help remembering ‘whatever you do to the least of my children’ and all that jazz.

I read an essay years ago about a woman who happily lived alone.  ‘But then once in a while, I come home and check under the beds and in the closets before I make my evening cup of tea, just to make sure.‘  That’s my life.  I rock through the morning, sashay into the afternoon, and chortle all the way home.  I take coffee on my porch and stretch for fifteen minutes before climbing on the stepper.  I fall asleep with a smile on my face.  But every once in a while some realization hits me.  Some startling revelation, global or personal, and I feel like wailing at the wall but I can’t because — gesturing — I promised not to complain.

I remind myself how fortunate I am.  My son didn’t fall to the blast of a terrorist’s bomb.  I own a house and a car and there’s food in the fridge even though it makes me sick most days.  I have a friend who is trying to lose a hundred pounds so shut up already about the last four sitting on your belly, girl.  Then my Facebook feed prompts me to send a friend request to somebody who committed treachery against me; and I holler at my tablet, E tu, Brute?

Life’s like that.  Perhaps these nagging irritations fall into the category of #firstworldproblems, a main reason that I wanted to forswear complaint.  Dwelling on these pesky annoyances impedes my journey to joy.  I strain forward, shouldering the boulder’s harness.  I remind myself of my quest to make it an entire year without complaining, a resolve which I adopted more than three years ago and still have not fulfilled.

But tomorrow’s another day; and I still have Tara; and as God is my witness. . .

Oh wait.  Wrong movie. Exit, smiling.

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





It’s six thirty on a Tuesday night and I’m sitting on my porch.  A man strides down the sidewalk pushing a baby carriage.  A baby carriage.  He’s wearing shorts and swinging his legs in long, zesty steps.

I’m still wearing the black pants, grey sweater, and burgundy coat that I donned at seven a.m. but now my feet feel pinched and burn inside my Danskos.  I’ve got a bowl of falafel pieces that I barely warmed in the microwave and a clay glass of cold water.  A novel lies forgotten in my lap.  I watch the guy with his kid, and I’m nearly breathless with sentiment.

A father.  In shorts.  Out walking his child in a baby carriage on a Tuesday in late May.

A little while later I remember a text from my son.  I’ve been  sending him snaps of  everything in the house in advance of the family reunion, asking if he wants anything from here.  To one he replied, Chicago days, Hoboken nights.  He answered my question mark with two words:  “The book”.

Ah, yes.  Daniel Pinkwater.  So after I put my dishes in the sink, I go in search of the slim volume on one of the four shelves  in the little front bedroom where I watch television, do my stepper, and spin small loads of clothes in the European unit.  Sure enough, there, just above reach — but no, I can ease it down and catch it right before it hits my forehead.

And a card falls out.

It’s from someone named Mark, sent nine years ago this weekend, to somebody in Prairie Village, Kansas.  It says, among other things, that he loves their life.  That she looked so pretty when they parted.  That he loves her so.


I stand in the dimness of the hallway, between my dining room and the dark upstairs, and wonder if they’re still together.  Oh God, I think, and it’s a prayer, not blasphemy.  Please let them still be together.

The muscle in my left arm twitches with an intermittent stab that I’ve decided is not a heart attack.  I take the book into the dining room to add it to the pile of things that will ride with me to St. Louis.  I find the present that I’m bringing for my niece Josephine, who came into our family after my mother died.  I want to distribute among my nieces the mementos of my mother’s life that I’ve been hoarding for thirty-two years.  The first to leave will be a lidded dish that I’m taking as a bridal gift for Josephine, one of my brother Frank’s adopted daughters.  She never knew my mother.  I think they would have been great friends.

I carry the postcard upstairs, wondering about the mysterious author, Mark, and his pretty woman.  At the top of the steps, I have to lean against the doorway, chest heaving.  Darkness gathers outside the window.  I draw another jagged breath, cross to the desk, and prop the card against my mirror.  It’s from the Oregon Coast but inexplicably bears a Denver postmark.  One of the stamps depicts a piece of Navajo jewelry.  Above the address a single word has been scrawled — a first name.  Yeenie.

He loves their life.  Breathless.

It’s night-time on the twenty-third day of the forty-first month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.




A long time ago, I loved a man who had one of everything.

As an insulin-dependent, grippingly-compliant diabetic, David survived by slow movements on the thinnest imaginable high wire.  He spared me tight little smiles.  He kept his body lean and clean.  He organized his t-shirts by the one color he permitted himself: beige. Single pocket, short sleeve.

Yet when I flew to visit David in Helena, he dragged his chains from the garage and drove me to the glaciers on Halloween.  I brought my own dishes and silverware for the three-day vacation.  I forgot my camera.  I have no documentary evidence of the trip.  David said, No matter; we have pictures in our mind.  And then he smiled.

When I got back from my trip out west, on November 01st, 1983, David returned my dishes in a small, tidy package which arrived on my door step postage due.  I haven’t seen him since, but neither have I forgotten him.  The tidiness of his closet contrasted with his willingness to downshift through snowy curves on the highway so that I could see St. Mary’s Lake.  I held my breath beside the swirl of grey while he administered his nightly dose of stay-alive-juice with a needle and a primitive glove-box tourniquet.

I thought of David this morning as I slid delicately scrambled eggs from my cast iron pan onto a square plate beside a rice cake.  I set my breakfast on the lone place mat in the narrow expanse of my downsized dining room table.  A gentle breeze rippled the curtains.  The tiny chime of the bamboo hanging from the porch drifted through the house. I heard no one’s voice.  My thoughts remained unspoken.

But the debris of a crowded life clutters  the shelves and crowds the cupboards.  Feet have trampled on these floorboards.  In the thirty-four years since that plane lifted from the runway with David on the other side of the nonreflective glass, eyes burning through his thick lenses, I have embraced every opportunity  to fill the vacuum.

I expect to find one red plate, one red mug, one red bowl shoved in an upper cabinet in a box with aging tape and faded stamps.  They’ll go in the garage sale when I move, the last vestiges of my ode to singularity.  Make of this news what you will.  My heart still beats; wonky, but persistent.

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




Seeing rightly

I realized today that I have an entire list of people to whom I can say very little of substance without violating the Four Way Test of Rotary.

The irony of it hit me square on the jaw and sent me reeling!

Is it true?

Is it fair to all concerned?

Will it build goodwill and better friendships?

Will it be beneficial for all concerned?

I can usually pass numbers one and two, especially if I squint.  But as I’ve noted here on a prior occasion, almost nothing that constitutes “complaint” builds goodwill and better friendships.  Sniveling complaint might be beneficial in  the short run, but I can only  rationalize complaint by a tortured re-casting of it as “constructive criticism”.  Lame, even for me.

Chagrin oozes from my pores.  I reached this state earlier today when I found myself having a long conversation in my head with someone whose conduct over a significant period of time fell outside the realm of what I wanted that person to do.  I cranked the volume to unreasonable decibels, if only within the confines of my brain.  Hours went by as I sat on my porch, rocking, drinking tea, and listing the person’s shortcomings.

That is to say:  Complaining, though only to myself.

Every little thing smacked of truth.  The person went into the situation fully aware of its parameters, so I  think my disappointment  meets the test of fairness.  But listen:  Free choice, free expression, freedom to live one’s life any way one pleases even if others get hurt:  these principles have power.  People do what they choose. If they  trample me in the process, giving voice to my outrage benefits no one. 

Leave it be.  Let it go.   Smile and remain silent.  Add that person’s name to the host of people with whom all future conversations will be light, airy, and superficial.  It’s all good.

I met a sweet young couple at tLoft today who approached me to remark on my exotic look.  I took it as a compliment.  I carried the glow of their smiles into evening.  The warm feeling offsets a fair measure of chagrin.  I feel it in my heart.

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



On Reassessing My Measure of Myself

Yesterday, someone publicly accused me of being biased against African-American people.  I can’t say that I felt much surprise, because the hint of a future such accusation had been tendered in an e-mail.

The person accusing me of such bias has no obvious African-American blood in her.  She felt that because I criticized herself and two of her colleagues, I operate from racial bias.  I had stated that all three of them had become emotionally vested in a party to a court proceeding as to which the three should remain professional and dispassionate in order to be most effective as case workers. My conclusions related to their work, not their skin color.  Presumably, their conduct  related to their warm-hearted feelings and not their skin color.

One of the women, as noted, is “white”.  One of them appears to be vaguely bi or multi-racial.  One has darker skin and could be “black”.  All three of them are some level of social worker and are assigned to a case in which I am guardian ad litem for a child.  The child’s mother appears to be African-American.

Of course, the accusation of racial bias deserved comment in the forum in which it had been made.  Racial bias stands as one of the most insidious proclivities of our human condition.  I gave their accusation the serious and thoughtful response it deserved, and the proceeding in which we all found ourselves continued on the merits.  Later, I wrote to their director, thanking them for the opportunity to lay their fears at rest; assuring them again that none of their skin-tones factored into my opinion of their work; and remarking on our collective mission, to serve the best interest of the children involved.

At the end of the day, I have no complaint against the woman for her accusation.  From the pale-skinned, freckle-faced countenance of the woman who authored the report, through the delicate beige of her supervisor, and the warm caramel of the third worker involved, all have lovely personages which in my view, relate to their total essences but have little to do with their performance on the case in question.  But in our society, so much prejudice and so much hatred underlies our interaction that assigning such vitriol to every interaction seems almost logical.

Those women don’t know me.  They had never heard of me before this case, and have no idea what my sensibilities might dictate.  Judging strictly by appearances, I would wager to guess that they weren’t even alive when I got kicked out of my first apartment for having a black boyfriend in 1974.  Nor have they any clue that I filed a complaint against the landlord and won a thousand dollars which I donated to a local desegregation cause in St. Louis.  A few years later, when refused service here in Kansas City because my companion was black, I joined with my friend to seek redress.  When the City made the restaurant pay us $1,200 each, the money went to Freedom, Inc.’s program to match citizens with employers.

I could continue.  My brother’s multi-racial family makes us look like the UN when we gather on holidays, but I can’t take personal credit for that rainbow.  Suffice it to say, that I could recite a litany of personal and professional connections and accomplishments which, if these ladies had been aware of them, might have given them pause to reconsider.

And so I come to the end of today’s entry and the point.  Yesterday’s experience validated one of the lessons that this journey has imparted.  Over the years, I’ve found myself stymied by people’s opinions of me.  I measured my worth by what others thought of me.  I bitterly complained about people’s castigation of my character, my body, my talent, or my views.  I let the opinion of others sour the milk of my life.  And then, stuck in the curdled mess, my voice rose in loud complaint.

I’m letting go of that cycle.  I recognize my values and my virtues.  At the same time, I acknowledge areas in which my conduct sometimes does not conform with what I  set out to do.  But my assessment and my adjustments must be guided by my own internal compass, and not by external threats and condemnation.  I cannot let the cries of others drown the voice inside which tells me that I am worthy, that I have merit, that I deserve to live.

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


Turning pages

People keep asking me if I’m moving to California.  Let me be clear:  I don’t know yet.

While I am definitely “going tiny”, I am only considering a westward decampment.  I’m still actively practicing, I’m still taking new clients, and I still have a bucketful of GAL cases.  The appeal of Northern California hangs heavy as a counter-balance to continuing my life here, but I haven’t decided what my best course will be.  Or might be.  Or hopefully can be.

I’m turning pages and writing the story as quickly as my fingers allow, but weighing every option.  I might end up in the back row at a trailer park in Raytown or on the Pacific coast.  No road has been chosen or foreclosed.

Thank you for asking.  Now just sit back and wait, and time will tell.  Meanwhile, I can say that in a few months, the Holmes house will go up for sale after twenty-four years of being my home.  So if you’ve a notion to live in a charming but haunted airplane bungalow in Brookside that holds a  lot of memories, let me know.  August, maybe September.  But definitely this year.  I’m going tiny!  And still having a contest to Name Corinne’s Tiny House.

By the way, I’m not complaining about the choruses imploring me to announce my next big move.  Rarely have I felt so loved.

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



Long Night’s Journey Into Day

The wind howls around my house, rattling the shades through the open windows. I watch the digital numbers on the computer’s clock click through, struggling to focus on all those clumsy little rituals that people pursue to get themselves ready for the work day. Outside, the dog paces in the yard. We both know that a storm brews.

Around midnight, I finally managed to log into the patient portal for Stanford and read the note from the Infectious Disease people. I’d sent a status update yesterday. The biggest benefit of what we call The Stanford Miracle has been my ability to fall and stay asleep. That has eroded over the last month, leaving me tense and unhappy by daybreak. What this portends, only the West Coast gurus might be able to opine.

The long night’s journey into day has given me hours in which to fret about the future. I’m not complaining, though. A lot of the lessons which recently coalesced need refinement. The litany of griefs that others have voiced against me might finally be resolved. Should I have done what each asked, over the years of struggling to skirt around discarded land mines? Would anything have changed?

Maybe not. I write those grievances on parchment, curl them, and let them afire. Their smoke drifts to the heavens and I let them go. I can’t promise that their ghosts won’t linger. The soot invades my lungs; I fan myself and take a deeper, cleansing breath.

Assume the pose. Ommmm.  Namaste.

In my favorite movie, When A Man Loves a Woman, the husband/dad/stepfather says goodbye to his two daughters after the parents divorce.  He visits each at school.  To his stepdaughter, he says, I’m sorry for all the kinds of daddy that I was or wasn’t ever since I met you.  That line kills me every time.  She forgives him.  She sobs and they embrace.  His birthdaughter  continues turning cartwheels as he tells her that he’s going away.  She takes his love for granted.

I’m the stepsister, the Cinderella, the slightly awkward girl who knows she can’t hold a candle to her younger, prettier sibling.  I don’t assume you’ll always be there, even if you think that I do. All my actions signal that I’m dancing as fast as I can, trying to be the beauty that you wanted.  I push my legs to walk straighter.  I tug at my unruly curls and pluck my eyebrows.  I shift my work to squeeze in a few extra hours to get the house clean.    I pack your lunch; I write to your teachers; I call the bully’s bluff.

In the unending dreariness of the midnight hour, I must concede that I knew my efforts would never be enough.

The wind rages and the rain threatens.  I sit beside the bedroom window and let the storm simmer.  I’m holding out for rainbows.  I know that even the loneliest, blackest night will eventually yield to sunrise.

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

The sun rises over Point Montara, California.