Monthly Archives: July 2017

Morning air

A vine snakes around the deck post, entwining the solar light at the corner.  I see the black-eyed Susans still lifting their dark orbs toward the soft grey sky.  The bush which I call Rose of Sharon but which isn’t has started its bloom.  Flanked by volunteer Mimosas, the plush green and delicate pink strikes a balance against the driveway’s pebbled asphalt.

Here in my outside living space, in the cool morning air, I cannot imagine having anything about which to complain.  A truck rumbles past, headed to a neighbor’s house with new appliances.  On the rooftop, squirrels skitter over the peak with a flick of a curved tail.  Crickets chirp in time, reluctant to leave their morning song to hunt for food.   Dawn blooms in full over my neighborhood.  Traffic roars on the distant boulevards, but my little block sees only the occasional car, now that everyone else has gone to work

I don’t need much.  A table for my laptop and coffee.  A moderately strong wi-fi signal and electricity.  I take my inspiration from the flicker of faith in my breast and the towering old trees above me.  I cannot type fast enough to capture my peace in this moment.

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

Of memories and dusty bins

Today I managed to fill a large contractor bag with paper scraps that I don’t need.  I started with pre-school drawings and finished with fifth grade mathematics.  Two small piles on the dining room table bear closer scrutiny, possibly scanning.  A huge cardboard box, now empty, has made its way to the recycle bin.  Two large plastic  tubs hold nothing more than  flakes of grime.  A few garments still fill a third, but they will go down to the big washer in the morning.  Of the six containers carried upstairs by a friend on Wednesday, only two remain to be sorted.

Four down, two to go, not counting the fifteen still weighing down the basement shelves.

I sift through the piles on the table, maybe 10% of the lot.  Here a drawing; there a certificate; in this folder, letters from a long-dead aunt.  I come across a faded copy of a Star Magazine, Christmas 2008:  Letters to Santa Claus from area residents.  I’m sure that I must have written one.  When I find it, I cannot help but smile.

My scanner will get a lot of use before I finish this purge.  I’ve shed a few tears.  I’ve taken some snaps with my phone and texted them to my son.   It’s slow going, but I’m not complaining.    I had my share of sorrows, but I didn’t box those — not many, at least.  These bins hold pleasant memories.  I take my time.

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

Progress as Promised

Three years ago, I put out a post which included the words to one of my favorite fake country songs.

Driving down the road I saw a sign / and understood its meaning from the start

The way it told my own sad story / I ought to wear that sign upon my heart.

Closed for repairs . . . Closed for repairs. . . My heart is breaking and nobody cares.

Somebody lied. . . Somebody cried. . . Now my heart is closed for repairs.

That post came in my list-all-the-things-about-which-I’m-not-complaining phase.  I grew beyond it, stumbling, bumbling, groping my way through a forest of weeds towering above my head and choking in the fetid air.

Now another highway sign flashes past:


How do I know?

Here’s a symbol —-


Now what, you ask, does this photograph of my somewhat grimy stove, a cast iron pan, a wooden spoon, and the little hot pad for the pan’s handle reveal about my progress?

Patience, my friends.  Patience.

For those of you who skim these entries, I’ll explain that my father was what we used to call an Irish Catholic Alcoholic.  That’s the kind that drinks all evening, wakes up hung over, might or might not drag himself to a job, and certainly has little inhibition when it comes to kicking the dog, smacking the kids, or punching his wife around.  (Don’t feel sorry for me; I’m just reminding you of the background for this story.)

Until very recently, the sight of anything combustible on or near a burner filled me with dread.  I’d scurry over, chide whoever left the offending object within flammable range, and grab the whole lot and toss it in the sink.  I’d check the knobs, grumble, raise my voice, and shudder in fear.

I recently learned that one of the neuro-biological impacts of trauma, especially early childhood trauma, is the proclivity to respond to perceived danger in exactly the same way as one responds to actual danger.  When I scolded my son, spouse, or visitor for leaving the towel near the stove, with raised voice and ugly scowl, I over-reacted because of the impact of seeing flames rise from my mother’s stove and creep along the kitchen wall.

My father would forget a hot pad, or a coffee pot, or a cloth towel, in his haste to roar at someone who had dared to cross his path.  I’d stand in helpless terror as the fire grew.

Did it happen once?  Twice?  A half dozen times?  Or never, except in my horrified imagination?  I can’t say.  But I believe that it happened, and more than once.  Certainly, the chaos in our home had its devastating impact on my neuro-biology.  The rerouting of my neuro-pathways  plunged my brain straight to a level of alertness designed to keep a small child safe from unknown harms.

My outrage at the seemingly careless abandonment of cooking utensils has frustrated more than one of my household members over the last forty years.  I get that; and I dearly wish that I could apologize to each one of them.

However, I still feel victorious.

When I walked into the kitchen to wash my breakfast plate today, I stood in front of the stove, studying the tableau.  Huh, I thought to myself.  Maybe I’ve made progress after all.

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

A Perfect Fit

I struggle with a lot of nagging wrongness.

I gain weight:  My small sizes don’t fit.  I sweat to pull on my pants and cry in front of the mirror.

Someone visits and puts dishes away in a cupboard that I can’t reach.  I fall off the step-stool and curse my well-intended friend.

Though I love my little Prius and remember my mother-in-law when I drive it, truth told, it’s too low and I wince with pain when I slip into the driver’s seat.

These old glasses work on the top and bottom planes, but the middle range leaves me straining to see the computer screen.

I could complain about any one of these situations and more, but instead, I’m taking this moment to brag about an absolutely perfect fit.

My new coffee cup.

The handle has a wide enough opening to accommodate my arthritic fingers.  It holds enough coffee for a satisfying morning jolt but not so much that the last ounce cools before I reach it.  Lightweight, pretty, and delicate without being fragile, this new mug does everything I want a morning cup to do.  Best of all:  I received it as a gift from an extraordinary young woman, my son’s girlfriend Hope Rehak.  Sometimes one right thing makes all the annoying wrong ones vanish from the horizon, leaving nothing but a chance to smile.

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

Turn Around

I started the day anxious and worried.  After a brief dip into a successful witness interview, I discovered a lurking disaster not of my own making but with which I had to deal.  A potentially costly mistake that required considerable effort on my part to repair, the event cast a bitter pall over my entire day.

I admit it:  I complained.  Loudly, with a sprinkling of mild profanities, even.  I lost my grip on three years of NVC practice and raised my voice.

What galled me was not the mistake itself, but that the person who made it could have prevented the little whirlwind of calamity.  That person had a chance to see the error and take action.  Another person also knew of the impending difficulty and remained silent.  I bore the burden of the mistake and the failure of two people to see the stumbling block and alert me.

But.  Ah yes, there’s a “but”.

And it’s a HUGE one.

The purpose of this cursed blog is now, and always was, to chronicle my journey to joy, undertaken and orchestrated by forswearing complaint.  I strove for accountability, so here it is. Three years’ worth of steps forward peppered with the occasional backwards stumble.

Now I’m home.  I’ve eaten.  I’ve stared mindlessly at a re-run of Chopped and read a few emails.  I wrote a thoughtful reply to a parent voicing concerns about my performance of my GAL duties.  I poked around on the Internet looking for some threads to pull or knot together, as the case might be, in creating a path forward for myself.  I fed the dog; and texted a few friends; and walked around the house planning my Wednesday.

I asked for forgiveness of the person on the other end of my little rant; and of someone else who inadvertently stood in the path of the backdraft.  I took a long, deep, breath, and forgave myself.

I’m calling this a total turn-around.

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

From Alice in Wonderland, By Lewis Carroll

Tactical Errors

Living so close to Kansas, I have heard scads of yellow-brick-road jokes.  Although Dorothy Gale never specified the town in which her Uncle Henry and Aunt Em fostered her, sunflowers grow plentifully everywhere in this metro, both real and plastic.  We wander through Lollipop Land with the singing Munchkins.

As for myself specifically, I mutter “Missouri” each time someone says they’ve heard of Kansas in response to my identifying my city of residence.  Yes, there indeed are two Kansas Cities.  We’re quite state-Xenophobic here, despite someone christening the intersection of 63rd Street and State Line as “One Kansas City Way”.  The metro area grudgingly includes both, though secretly pining to have its real identity associated with “joooohhhhhnson Cownty, Kansas”, and specifically, Mission Hills.  That tony town flexes its muscles across the state line, preening, luxuriously stretching in the golden sunrise with the practiced, casual ease of the very rich.

Here on the slum side of Brookside, a stone’s throw from another, more tawdry east/west dividing line, Troost Avenue, I don’t mind being considered inferior to my Kansas neighbors.  My flags flutter in the quiet morning breezes.   Up and down the block, intermittent barks sound reveille.  My begonias and geraniums send out repeated rounds of flowers, white, red, and pink.  This lush oasis rises from the straggled lawn and untamed backyard.  With one foot, I keep the old rocker in motion.  My coffee grows cold as I daydream.  I celebrate whatever failed plan has brought me to this moment.  Nothing that I have done and no day that I have lived can ever be considered deliberate.  I’m here by happy convergence of tactical errors that did not prove fatal.

But I have no complaints.  Not one.

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


Trolling for Good News

My nature yearns for balance.  I’m lousy at stability but I crave the calm that walking the straight and narrow provides.  A regular schedule, consistent tasks at hand, and an absence of chaos appeal to the need for security which defines my existence.

When my life seems destined to see-saw, I go trolling for good news.

I’m not wandering through the memes about the lottery winners.  I want to posts from my friends having breakfast in bed made by their adorable children.  I look for pictures of sunrises taken from decks in Olathe or up in the Northland, near the river or just off I-29 with a city-scape looming behind the dawn.  I don’t need Paris, or London, or Geneva.  Parkville will do.

Forget the killing in the stock exchange.  I want stories of a daughter’s new job, a son’s short story being published, or finding a twenty-dollar bill on the sidewalk.  You can easily please me with snapshots of your dog sniffing the neighbor’s tree from the end of the leash that you juggle with a Starbucks coffee.  An account of your chance encounter with your high school sweetheart makes my day.  While I peer at the blurry screen through my old glasses, please send me 140 words about discovering the crisp new world after cataract surgery.

I’d like to leave my worries on a shelf while I luxuriate in the bounty of your life.  I’ll tackle my dishes, fret over bills, and haul laundry in due course.  For a little while, let me vicariously enjoy a little cheerful expression of somebody else’s good news.  I promise to be glad for you.  I vow not to envy your good fortune.

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

Playing Hooky

As my social media connections know, I have been playing hooky this week.  My son has come to Kansas City to commune with Mom and the old dog amidst the flotsam and jetsam of his childhood life.  Later this week, his girlfriend arrives.  They’ll tour the city and see everything he remembers; all the places which we frequented, the restaurants that he likes; the streets and parks of this town which comprise the fabric of his younger years.

In the mornings and evenings we sit over coffee or drinks.  I study his face, looking for the vagaries of youth.  They don’t exist anymore.  The lines have smoothed.  Occasionally a flicker of concern darts across the strong features of my son’s complex heritage.  But in general, he’s come into himself, confident and complacent.  Even his discontent takes solid form.  He wants to live his values, his politics as he says.  He wants to pursue endeavors which serve the dictates of his social conscience.

We walk down a sidewalk in City Market talking of other days when we’ve walked together.  We sit in a restaurant gazing around at the other patrons, mentioning other meals we’ve shared.  We start our sentences with remembrances.  We hit upon a fragment of an event and chase the illusive details until we’re sure of what happened.

We drove downtown by way of Troost so he could see the long wide vista of this city from my eyes.  I parked in a bus stop with my flashers activated so he could take a picture.  Once downtown, we found a place along 12th street and left the car to walk towards the federal courthouse.  I sat on a park bench outside of City Hall while he went the last few blocks alone.  From the small rise over Oak Street, I could see the courthouse where I practice.  The differing perspective awakened a mild curiosity in my breast.  Changing my point of view always refreshes my outlook.

Later I stopped the car in a crosswalk so he could walk  behind the half-circle of the Federal courthouse to photograph it from that angle.  I watched him with no small measure of amazement.  My boy.  But also:  a man, fully grown, composed, with decades stretching out ahead of him, waiting to be filled.  I could not be more proud.

I would not change a thing about my son, though if I could, I would rewrite some of my own conduct in his rearing.  I’ve been told by several people that I failed as a mother.   But he seems to have overcome whatever deficiency I brought to bear.  Perhaps, after all, I can be forgiven.

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

Of happiness and neighbors

Another thing which makes me happy:  My neighbor’s dog Zoe.

I’m not a huge dog person.  Our 18-year-old rescue, Little Girl, has sort of an annoying bark due to being 1/2 Beagle and 1/2 half Let’s-Annoy-Corinne.  But I’ve been tolerating her for that last 15 years.  I can almost tune out her frantic insistence that everybody come out here and look at the wind, right now.  She goes through spells, sometimes in the space of a day.  She barks for a half an  hour straight or remains completely silent for a week.

But Zoe.  Ah, Zoe.  Zoe moved into the house sold by  Scott and George, whom I greatly miss.  They took away their old fella, Poodle.  Such a spunky dude, was Poodle!  But then, I got Zoe.

Zoe brought two people with her, and I like them well enough.  But the dog, now, that’s something to bark about.  She has a sweet face, a friendly amble, and a plethora of barks that establish how she feels about you at any given time.

When I get out of my car, Little Girl slowly trots to the gate and sticks her nose through the metal, demanding to be petted, fed, let into the house, or in some way acknowledged.  I bend and oblige to the extent that my fingers fit through the gaps.  She turns her eyes towards me then signals to the back door, with a shrug that tells me that she knows I’ve abandoned her for eight hours but might forgive my oversight if I immediately let her into the house.

But Zoe.  Ah, Zoe!  All the while, Zoe barks with a wild abandon to show that she remembers the sight and smell of She Who Tosses Milk Bones Indiscriminately Over The Fence.

I’m not, as I said, a dog person.  I’m fond of Little Girl because she’s the sentient being who, other than my son, has endured in my household through all the tragedy, through all the tears, through all the heartaches.  I find it difficult not to feel affection in the face of what can be interpreted as loyalty.  She sits at my feet when I collapse into a chair, overwhelmed with fatigue or worry.  If I should cry, she places her muzzle on my knee and fixes deep brown eyes on my face.  I’m not a dog person.  I’m not sure, though, whether Little Girl is actually a dog.  She might be an angel.

But Zoe!  Ah, that Zoe.  She flies into a frenzy when I come out onto the porch. She knows I’m going to lob that treat through the air!  She tenses.  My hand rises.  She leaps.  Ah, Zoe!  Almost, girl.  You almost caught it!  Next time!

I send you greetings, on this, the eighteenth day of the forty-third month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


Truths seen through blurry lenses

For the last nine months, I have struggled with glasses which I believed had been made wrong but which the optician who measured and ordered them swore were correct.  Now  I know that the mid-plane of three was higher in one eye; and the right lens did not carry the ordered prescription.

While I’m waiting for documentation of the errors so that I can get a refund and then order new glasses elsewhere, I’m wearing spectacles from two years ago.  They aren’t right, either; but they are less wrong.  New glasses will be properly measured (one can dream) and have a correctly configured prescription for both eyes.  I’ll forswear the pretty purple plastic frames in favor of the sturdy basic Kate Spades of yester-year.

In the meantime, I’m viewing the world through slightly blurry lenses covered in a permanent film caused by the decay of some fancy treatment that I let myself get talked into ordering.  A permanent headache lingers behind my eyes.  Driving has gotten easier but reading requires me to discard the glasses.  I see the computer monitor in a pleasant haze or hunched, bare-faced and squinting.  For a woman who spends a grand every year for corrected vision, I’m struggling more than one would think reasonable.

But I’m not complaining, unless you consider seeking the refund to be “complaining”.  I did it in the nicest of ways, forwarding the chain of emails from last winter in which I outlined the problems that persisted despite repeated adjustments.  On the last visit, I let the woman talk me into keeping the glasses.

I wanted them to work.  I get serious compliments on those purple frames.  People remark on the color, the shape, and the incongruity of seeing a 61-year-old crippled lady wearing such gorgeousness on her face.  Oh, they don’t say it like that.  But you know that’s what they are thinking.  Oh, I LOVE those glasses! One waiter practically fell over himself to exclaim.  How bold of you!  How daring!  People don’t take enough chances!  He actually chortled.  His cries meant that he would not have expected me to be fashionable.  He wore his own purple glasses with pride but understandably:  in his mid-twenties, dressed in the current expensive trend, what else would adorn his face?  I didn’t mind; I took what he said at face value.  I might have even preened.

I am vain about some things.  My hair; the shape of my eyebrows; my slender ankles.  But the rest of me causes genuine dismay when I stand in front of the mirror.  So when it comes to the band of plastic, metal, and glass planted in front of my eyes, I struggle to find something acceptable.  I try on every frame that meets the doctor’s criteria for width and depth to accommodate my obnoxious prescription.  In the old days, I wore contacts because, as everyone knows, guys don’t make passes at lasses who wear glasses.  Unless, of course, they have a knock-out chassis.  (It’s an old ditty from grade school.)

This boring passage about my glasses precedes this simple truth:  I’m getting old.  I’ve never much cared for what I see in the mirror, and now less so.  The impact of this has been that I compliment other people a lot more.  The simple truth?  I’ve never gotten many compliments, and the  fewer I get, the more I bestow on others, because why in God’s name not?  Sometimes a simple, sincere remark upon the virtues of one’s glasses and how they decorate one’s face can mean the difference between a scowl and a beaming ray of sunshine brightening the world.

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