Monthly Archives: November 2017

Life’s little lessons

On three occasions, I’ve been taught or reminded that showing up and doing your best comprises 85% — or better — of life.

During grade school, we had to memorize poems.  On one occasion, the teacher assigned to me the poem, “Be the Best of Whatever You Are”.  I still remember most of it, but here’s the entire piece:

Be The Best of Whatever You Are
by Douglas Malloch

If you can’t be a pine on the top of the hill
Be a scrub in the valley–but be
The best little scrub by the side of the rill;
Be a bush if you can’t be a tree.

If you can’t be a bush be a bit of the grass,
And some highway some happier make;
If you can’t be a muskie then just be a bass–
But the liveliest bass in the lake!

We can’t all be captains, we’ve got to be crew,
There’s something for all of us here.
There’s big work to do and there’s lesser to do,
And the task we must do is the near.

If you can’t be a highway then just be a trail,
If you can’t be the sun be a star;
It isn’t by size that you win or you fail–
Be the best of whatever you are!

I know, I know — it’s kind of hokey but I was in kindergarten.  I vividly recall the vibrations of my sing-song cadence.  “If you CAN’T be a BUSH be a BIT of the GRASS. . .”

In my post-college days, I worked as a paralegal for Legal Services of Eastern Missouri.  I assisted their lobbyist, Pat Martin, with her efforts to secure passage of legislation which impacted our client base.

One afternoon, we hung around the gallery watching floor debate.  I kept resting my legs on the brass railing. Just as frequently, a guard admonished me.  I turned to Pat and groused about his chiding.  Why does he keep bothering me, I whined.  Pat observed, If your job was to tell people to keep their feet off a railing, wouldn’t you do it to the best of your ability, as often as needed?

I turned away, chastened, and moved my feet off the man’s domain.

I learned that lesson again yesterday, when I unpacked my groceries.  A little yellow card fluttered to the ground as I folded the bag.  I lifted it from the floor and studied the writing.  I smiled.

Be the best of whatever you are.

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

The price that I pay

I’ve spent the day doing what I do:  Answering e-mail, writing parenting plans, juggling comments from parents who don’t like how I’ve done my job as their children’s attorney, and eating piccalilli.

Before the week is out, I’ll be calling Katrina to beg for more of the stuff.  My mother’s blood runs through my veins.  She made her own, as did her father.  I never learned the art but I still appreciate it, and my friend Katrina sends a jar my way every year.

Towards evening, I calculate that I’ve sent enough emails in my personal life and my work life that I can take a rest.  I’ve even penned one missive recounting a time when I enthusiastically affirmed my desire to be the best possible version of myself.  My earnest retelling garnered only silence.  I sat in front of the inbox waiting for an acknowledgment.  I should have known better.  I’ve scrolled through years of email history looking for answers to my bewilderment but found none.  In silence, I nonetheless understand that compassion flows like thick lava, lumbering downhill to my valley.  I let it go.

My best self seems attainable now.  Stripped of all artifice, I recognize that every man, woman, and child who has found me lacking in some essential quality will keep walking, trudging through that lava flow to the other side of the mountain.  I find my peace on the river banks.  I recognize that all this pain, all this loneliness and longing, this letting go — these coins of my realm pay for my re-entry into the world from the dark of my cocoon.

When the earth turns two more times, the work will be done on this house in which I’ve made a home for the last twenty-four years.  I will be able to tender its keys knowing that I leave it better than I found it.  In the meantime, I’ll keep hammering out the writing that my profession requires and my relationships demand.  I won’t let go.  From my perch at a tray balanced on a half-opened drawer in a Brookside kitchen, I’ll hold on.

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


Pink & Kelly Clarkson Perform:


The end or the beginning

The potted herbs wilt on the shelf in the breakfast nook.  Dust drifts from room to room as the house slowly empties.

Fourteen hours after the day started, my muscles ache even though I barely carried anything.  My office has been dismantled.  Files now sit in a borrowed space in Independence.  Furniture has been deposited into a basement room.  Every nook and cranny of my car holds the flotsam and jetsam that remains after decades of law practice finds its way to the end, or to the beginning of whatever lies ahead.

I’ve given thanks.  I’ve settled the dog in her foster home.  I’ve lost my breath as my son walked around, looking at the dwindling piles of his childhood memories.  I’ve hugged my sister, who hates to fly and might never come to visit me on my Pacific.  I’ve closed boxes, and counted envelopes, and shredded copies of old letters that probably no one ever read.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when this wild plan crystallized for me.  Scroll through every meme on social media about the woman who finds her own path.  Those thimbles full of potential irresistably beckoned me.  Perhaps I’m in the wrong era of my life for this momentous change.  Nonetheless, I’ve taken one more step towards tomorrow, and I have no regret.

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


Surrendering to gratitude

The mess around me has finally won.  My trial schedule crashed into the week when I have to pack my office.  I attended to the cases and let the debris at home fall of its own sloppy weight.  God knows how I’ll get the office packed in a half-day tomorrow and whatever time on Sunday my cherished volunteers can spare.

But while I’m surrendering to clutter, I’ll take a moment to also allow myself to recognize the well of thankfulness rising within me.  You might not be able to detect its presence, blocked behind such obstinate obstacles as grousing about the botched machinations associated with my house-sale or even the good-natured lament over a settlement gone sour because, you see, Missouri law won’t let people get divorced if they are pregnant.  Continued to July, draw blood, appoint me as GAL for the baby, and fly me back at my own expense.  Heavy sigh.

am grateful, though.  When we go around the table, I’ll set aside even the temptation to complain.  I’ll seek the humanity in the title company employee who waits until the eleventh hour to ask for decades-old paperwork that I shredded just six weeks ago.  I’ll draw in a healing breath and release my anger at a friend who stubbornly refused to acknowledge the discomfort that his actions caused those around him or the time I spent calming the situation.  I’ll release my frustration at the crunch in my back and I will, for a few minutes at least, stop missing all the people who no longer grace my table for whatever reason.

i began this blog with the thought of going 365 days without complaining.  I had spent six months reading and studying videos about nonviolent communication. I had watched my mother-in-law surrender to the fog of dementia.  I had heard the message of her eulogy, a tribute to her uncomplaining soul.  I had thrown away the last of the prescription narcotics and abandoned consumption of white sugar.  I longed for peace and harmony in my home; and I wanted to make the effort required to honor my end of every personal bargain.

Most of all:  I wanted to embrace joy by forswearing lament.  I thought that going an entire year without uttering one word of complaint or miming one gesture of disgust would enable me to live a more joyful, peaceful life.  By starting this process, I sought to outwardly demonstrated the acceptance and tolerance which I desired to genuinely adopt.

It’s been a long forty-seven months in this, my intended year without complaining.

I’ve learned that people have many faults and usually stubbornly maintain their virtues.  I include myself in that category.  The tendency of people to turn any remission on the unwitting recipient of their error continues to astonish me.  They drop the ball and rail at you for wincing when it hits your foot.  Most days this proclivity spurs me to shake my head, though once in a while I just want to bitch-slap someone.  Truly.

But I don’t.  I walk myself into a closet and scream.  I find a trusted compatriot and utter some whiny plea for sympathy.  I stand on my porch and breathe the heavy fragrance of last year’s noble begonias.  Then I take an even deeper draw of cleansing air, and start all over again.  I recite a litany of occurrences, people, and phenomena that enrich my life.  I spread my arms and stand ready to receive the bounty which I know will flow through the seemingly unrelenting dearth.  I welcome beauty.

I surrender to gratitude.

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

Some of the dear friends and family

with whom I have been honored to be photographed over the last few years.

Buried Bodies


When you’ve known someone for 35 years, you have a lot of ups and downs in your relate.  Thus so with Alan White, who just retired after working with me for 24 of the 35 years since we met.  I don’t appreciate him enough, or maybe I should say — I don’t show enough appreciation for him.  So this is my song for you, Charles Alan White.

I’m not complaining about anything to do with the decades of our friendship.  I’ve caused him far more grief than he has given me.  He’s stuck by me loyally — when we made money, when we didn’t; when we had clients clamoring at our door and when we worked from a dining room table on Baltimore Street.  He knows where all the bodies are buried; hell, he dug the holes and threw most of them in the deepest of graves to protect me.

Alan attended all three of my weddings.  He served as best man at my first, while a well-intentioned woman slaughtered one of his beautiful songs.  He sang at two of them, if memory serves.  He celebrated with me in the joyful dawn of each adventure, and held me when the sobs of failure wracked my heart.

Alan and I do not always agree.  At times our discord bleeds with the crimson flow of genuine suffering.  Sometimes the disharmony vanishes as it plumes into the air, vaporous insubstantial bickering over irrelevant minutia. He snaps, I respond; I bleat, he rebels.  The next day our voices soften, anger forgotten in the flow of eternal empathy.

I could not have raised my son, represented my clients, or endured migraines without his tenderness.  I owe him more than I can articulate even with the nimble flow of my lily white spastic hands across the keyboard.

I gave my son the middle name “Charles” because of Alan.  He guided me in nurturing Patrick’s musical gift.  He coached me in talking with boys about so many areas, too  many to name, too important to articulate without embarrassing both “Uncle Alan” and his adopted nephew.  But he knows, and Patrick knows, and I know.  The rest of you can imagine and share my thankfulness.

I played Alan’s first album on my dead mother’s turntable from a mountaintop in Fayetteville during lonely evenings after my marriage to his brother failed.  I wrote long letters to him in Kansas City and received longer ones from him in Arkansas.  He talked of people we knew, and places we had frequented, and feelings we had shared.  He was my first best guy friend.  I sang his songs to my unborn child.

His son calls me “aunt” to this day.  I cherish the connection.

I can’t take back any misstep that I made with Alan in our friendship but he would never begrudge me them.  In the debris that I sometimes think will never be more than my lot, he navigated a life boat in the stormiest of harbors.  He gave me violins in the wind.  He created a soundtrack for my tragic love affairs.  He served as a constant reminder that regardless of the soot which covered my soul, someone would continue to cherish me.

Alan has never wavered in his friendship, despite my weakness, despite my treachery.  I send him what passes for my gratitude, knowing that no expression of remorse would be necessary.  If you see him, tell him that someone destined for the quiet of northern California will be playing his music all across America, and smiling as she sings off-key.

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

Jake Carmack, left; and  “the” Alan White

Not Complaining But. . .

One of the wonderful things about being me (not) is that lying down hurts.

I’m not complaining but dang, can’t a girl even rest without pain?  I realize that pain is relative, pain builds character, pain allows you to appreciate pleasure.  But really, Universe And All Things Holy?  Pain just from touching the flat surface of my bed?

As I pull myself out of bed this morning, I find myself thinking about a child whom I saw in Incarnate Word Hospital in the early 1970s.  I had a job as a Unit Secretary.  I mostly hung out at the nurses’ station, transcribing orders and filling med requests.  But one evening I strayed to a floor where burn victims slept.  I can’t recall why this child had not been transferred to Children’s Hospital or the Barnes burn unit.   but there he lay, small and forlorn, swathed in bandages.

I couldn’t breathe as I watched him.  I wanted to wrap my arms around his frail frame and rock him to sleep.  I could see his eyes, the tip of his nose; gauze covered the rest of his face.  He opened his eyes as I watched, blinked, and then shut them as a tear seeped out one corner and gathered.  It could not fall.  The surrounding cotton  absorbed the tear.

I swing my legs over the side of the futon and grope for my slippers.  I stretch my spine.  The slight chill in the room feels good against my face.  I stand, and find that I’m intact. It’s not so bad.  I take a step forward into my day.

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


Among friends

The evening progressed, as evenings do, with laughter and with conversation.  I sat mostly in silence, feeling something that I did not recognize.  At one point, I closed my eyes.  I sent a tender, careful probe to the corners of my mind.  When I opened my eyes, I had my answer:    Welcome.  I felt welcome.

I’ve sat at many tables.  I had in fact sat in the very restaurant at which we dined, several times, with people who smiled in my direction.    Still the feeling of being wanted rarely rises in my breast.  I unfurled it, wrapped it around my shoulders.  I waved it over the plates, with their half-eaten meals and their forks set askew.  No one so much as blinked.  The merriment continued.  I didn’t even garner a casual curious look.

A few hours later, the gathering adjourned to someone’s house.  Turkish coffee got handed round.  Stories flowed.  We played a funny video which made me laugh so hard that I hid behind  my hands.  My stomach ached.  Still later, in the dark of my empty house, a smile lingered on my face until I drifted into dreams.

Today, I will bid goodbye to a chapter of my life.  I expected to awaken with a sense of sorrow.  Instead, I stood at the back door watching the old dog lumber down the stairs, smiling again, waiting for the kettle to boil.  Turning back to the room, I regarded the piles of baking dishes in the drain basket without my usual reluctance to confront my chores.  Nothing could overwhelm me today.  I’ll get myself ready, and take myself to the End of An Era:  A Closing Reception.  I’ll mix the cider and set out the cookies which I spent all day yesterday baking.  I’ll hug each person who enters.  When the last note shimmers in the air as Jake and Angela pack their instruments; when the last person slips back into the chill of winter; I’ll still wear this silly grin.  I took it home, from last night’s dinner among friends.  I consider it a worthy souvenir.

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


Sometimes walking on the bright side takes a little effort.

I’ve been listening to the news again, so bear with me.  I remain aghast at the flood of accusations against powerful men.  The nature of the allegations does not astonish me, nor their number.  Instead, I sicken at the thought that in 2017, people still behave so badly towards one another.  I would have thought our species might have reached a higher level of evolution by now.

A secret about me:  In addition to the Food Network and every tiny house show on any channel, I binge-watch Project Runway.  Last evening, a “full-figured” or “plus-size” model cried as she thanked the show’s moderators for pioneering acceptance of Every Woman.  A beautiful girl with cocoa-colored skin, the model stood before the panel of judges wearing a gorgeous, innovative outfit.  I watched the tableau thinking of all the girls in high school, grade school, college; women in the workplace; we older gals — all of us, the entire female portion of humanity, just wanting to be considered beautiful enough to grace someone’s arm and strut our stuff.

How did our own standards twist until they festered within us?

I’m not complaining; or if I am, it’s about something so basic and yet so profound that you must excuse me.  I try to find joy in every corner of the universe but this state of affairs defies even my deliberate cheer.  A senate candidate stands accused of preying on young teenage girls while in his thirties; and though he does not deny his actions, he still plans to run and his supporters stand beside him.  This spans both sides of the aisle, from Bill Clinton to Donald Trump to Al Franken and all those politicians, movie moguls, actors, and sports figures in between them.  It’s no wonder women get a little bitchy.

Still, I rise and stand square-shouldered beside the likes of the glorious Uma Thurman.   She tells us that she will not speak until she can control her anger.  Her quest is not so different from mine.  “Complaining” does no good but speaking out against injustice always will.  That’s part of what I have been learning.  I started out with this dogged cheerfulness but in the four years during which I’ve slogged away at this blog, I’ve taken every lesson and fashioned a true path for myself.  Some things deserve to be labeled in vivid red:  POISON.  Dump this down a sturdy drain.  None of us need this garbage.

Embrace joy; disdain evil.  If you walk with evil, hold out your hand:  I’ll pull you to the bright side.  But be prepared to honor those  of us who dwell here.  We treat each other well.

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

Walking out the smack-down

I swear, some people just smack you down because they can.  I shake my head and wonder if it felt good enough that they’ll keep at it.  Will they wait for the next innocent fella to stroll into the dialogue, then slap their hands — hush their mouths?

I shrugged it off when it happened yesterday.  I had sort of expected it.  I had hesitated in the first place, tip-toeing into an arena where my welcome stood far from certain.  A mixed bag:  Smiles here, hugs there, the scornful look followed by the inevitable squelch.  I tried to take it with grace.  I cringed only inwardly, letting the small-minded have the moment.  Sarcasm rolled from my shoulders. I unfurled my invisible ermine cape and straightened my crown.  I held  my head as regally as I could and then, because that posture has never felt right, I burrowed into my soul and drew the cloak of kindness from its cupboard.

I walked away wrapped in the warm certainty that I would live to smile another day.

It’s tempting to wax bitter.  I acknowledge having an advance hint that these persons would resent my presence.  Our discord does not stem from the correctness of my energy nor the invalidity of theirs.  We take different positions on critical values.  My right juxtaposes with their might; my yin clashes with their yang.  But for a scant hour, I came within the broken circle.  I smiled; they grimaced.  The exposed throat met the gnarled grip.

I left without complaint, knowing that only I would take some deeper meaning from the nastiness of their condemnation.  I cannot say that I took the high road, but at least I solidly trudged the sane and safe middle-ground.  I let them think they’d won.  I did not raise my hand, though neither did I hang my head.

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


Of hats and airports

It seems that everyone in California admires a good hand-crocheted hat.

One of the beneficial by-products of deciding to let wheel-chair attendants push one through major airports lies in the positive feedback of passers-by to one’s attire.  The normal barriers between humans dissipates when one has a disabling condition, whether temporary or permanent.  Pregnancy, a broken limb, a rash, or crippled legs can act as a magic wand to allow others perceived license to cross normally intact lines.  This permits commentary on any aspect of the person with the impairment — “When’s the baby due?”, followed by a pat on the belly; “Does it hurt?” accompanied by an arm squeeze.

In  my case, nobody wants to know why a seemingly intact woman allows a small immigrant to propel her body through the throngs of travelers.  They see the cane which I do not actually use but which I carry on my travels. It lends a legitimacy to my request for assistance which otherwise comes only when the gate-keepers see my walk.  Fellow travelers nod as the assistants careen me past the lines.  I have a walking stick and a serene smile; I’m not contagious, but neither am I a threat to their self-confidence.  They judge me to be benign.

So they ask about collateral attributes.

On this most recent trip, the subject of inquiry most often involved my hat.  I admit it’s grand.  I made it myself.  It’s round and a bit ripply.   I crocheted it from scraps, so it’s an odd combination of brick-red and canary yellow.  By complete happenstance, I acquired a jacket in those colors earlier this year.  Suddenly an unfortunate choice becomes a fashion statement.  To top off the effect, I pinned a yellow silk flower to one side of the beret.  The addition appeals to me, though two or three of my three hundred husbands might have found it ridiculous.

In California, it made quite a stir.  A dozen people commented. Several asked where  I had purchased it.  One lady offered me twenty dollars for it.  Her money did not tempt me.  It keeps me warm and I quite like the attention.  There’s something about inducing all those people to smile as I am rushed past them which satisfies a need.  Maybe it deflects the natural embarrassment attendant to my disability.  Perhaps it’s just a lingering craving for compliments.  Or something else:  A recognition that the broken barrier had in fact  outlived its usefulness.

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