Monthly Archives: February 2018

All the damaged children

In the suburban living room of the foster parents with whom one of my clients has been placed since coming into care, I watch a bubbly five-year old dance around a new foster baby lying in his car seat.  The baby has just arrived from the NICU, so fresh and sweet that the other two children in the home may not touch him without copious hand-washing.  The two little girls turn outward for a time, drawn from the quagmire of their own wretched starts to the excitement of the infant.  The foster mother bends down and explains that the baby has been ill, so very ill that we might not be able to hold him, but we can gently pet his forehead while he lies in the foster mother’s arms.

Later the two girls go upstairs to play, and I talk to the foster parents.  We contemplate the progress which my client has made in therapy; her latest disclosures; the horrors which she must remember.  She had given me a two-thumbs-up when I asked how she liked her house.  I’ve seen the photos of the condemned hovel in which she, her brothers, and their mother and father had shared pallets on the floor amidst trash bags and rat feces.  I knew the standard by which any other dwelling seems glorious.

As I made my way home, my heart pounded.  Anger overcame me.  All the damaged children!  I cannot save them.  I can manage to ease the suffering of a handful.  This particular child tested positive for the same STD as her father.  My gut wrenches.  I can see no room for restorative justice.  These outrages might be fodder for excusable complaint.  I accelerated into a turn and left the highway, thinking of sleep, knowing that I would be drafting a memo to protect two other children from their drug-addicted mother before I could rest.

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



By the river

Joyce and I had reckoned without the Katy Trail bike race.  When I arrived in Rocheport at 12:15, I skirted around five bikers, a slew of orange cones, and hordes of families laden with folding chairs and coolers walking towards the park.  A quick re-group brought me back up the hill to the Blufftop Bistro which, curiously, never filled more than half its tables for the three hours that we lingered over lunch.

I had ten minutes alone at the table with a bitter mug of coffee before Joyce arrived.  I gazed down over the Missouri River, struck by the stark difference between its wide muddy expanse and the shimmering blue of the San Joaquin.  Then I spied my big sister strolling through the door, bright orange iPad in one hand, the inevitable present in the other.  She crossed the expanse of the place, under its lofting beams, and we folded into each other’s arms.

If you’re a sister, you know what sister lunches mean:  competing over the check; unending unconditional support; mutual commiseration; updates on each other’s children; giggles; and a few random tears.  We got the waitress to take photos and squabbled over who looked worse, each of us claiming the title.  I loaded the Facebook app on her iPad and posted a sisters-picture to her timeline.  I used my phone to similar end.  As technologically dull as I believe  myself to be, my big sister surpasses me in that.  But she takes the prize in sister-presents. I had none for her and she bore two sweet china angels with September birthday trappings, along with a garden stone carved with a tribute to the forever friendship of sisterhood.

We made plans for a repeat visit, better planned than this impromptu thing — call Adrienne to see if she can join us; get Patrick to come from Chicago; text a group shot to Ann.  Then we parted in the parking lot just before 4:00 p.m.  I made hay while the sun still shone and got to Kansas City two hours later.  By 6:30, I sat at Paula and Sheldon’s table full of vegetarian, healthy dinner fare, thinking of the afternoon by the river, wondering, for the hundredth time, how I got so lucky as to hit the sister jackpot.

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


Left to right, in ascending birth order:

Mary Corinne; Joyce Elizabeth; Adrienne Marie; Ann Lucille



My three sisters are sitting
on rocks of black obsidian.
For the first time, in this light, I can see who they are.

My first sister is sewing her costume for the procession.
She is going as the Transparent Lady
and all her nerves will be visible.

My second sister is also sewing,
at the seam over her heart which has never healed entirely.
At last, she hopes, this tightness in her chest will ease.

My third sister is gazing
at a dark-red crust spreading westward far out on the sea.
Her stockings are torn but she is beautiful.

Adrienne Rich

Another beautiful day in paradise

No, I haven’t gone back to California.  I’m sitting in the same spot which I occupied to write yesterday, in Jeanne Foster’s cute kitchen.  The ice-cream parlor wrought iron chairs and table stand in a flood of sunshine.  Her cat sleeps next to my tablet and a few inches from the back of my laptop.  It seems content so I decided to let it be.

Crystalline blue rises from the  hillside, accented by the dappled brown of the winter trees.  Her house casts a shadow against the glow of the lawn in the morning sunshine.  My heart gave a little jump when I saw that the weather would cooperate with my drive to Rocheport to meet my sister Joyce for lunch.  A good day.  Another beautiful day in paradise.

I got one hard task out of the way yesterday.  I stood in front of the pile of stuff in the storage unit.  Funny what remains: A couple of chairs; the metal pie-safe that I got when my brother died, which once held linens and potatoes in my mother’s kitchen; a few boxes of God-knows-what; lamps, footstools, blankets, and a bag or two of paperwork inside one of which, I have no doubt, I will find my birth certificate.  A pile of stuff 10 feet wide, 10 feet deep, and no more than 4 feet high.  Not much, in other words.  Less than I imagined.

I’ll start giving things away later this week, when Paula K-V and I visit in earnest on Wednesday afternoon.  We’ll have a couple of hours.  We’ll take what we can grab.  I’ll come back a few more times before I leave.  I’ll rummage, I’ll donate, I’ll sort and yes, I’ll grouse a little.  But I’ll get it done.  At 60 bucks a month, that storage unit will not  pay for itself.

A woman named Lynette walked me upstairs at Public Storage to show me the location of my unit.  Along the way, we talked about tiny house living.  Lynette let loose a trill of laughter.  At six-two and two-ten, she would not fit in a tiny house very well, she imagined.  But she would like a she-cabin, and she’s asked her fiance to build one in their backyard.  I scribbled my name on a paper and suggested she look at my YouTube channel.  She got the gate opened for me, and offered to stay if I wanted anything dragged out.  I bet I’m a bunch stronger than you, she said.   I declined; yesterday was just recon.  She nodded, wished me a blessed day, and strolled back to the elevator.

All these random strangers keep blessing me.   Eventually, those blessings will manifest.  I feel certain of that.  I suspect some of them already have.

Later in the evening, I visited my dear friend Katrina, she who fostered our dog.  We took a little video of me and the dog for my son.   She told me about her upcoming retirement, and i talked a little about my ob search.  The irony settled around us unmentioned.   I made my way back here before 9:00, tired, content, and convinced of the blissful ordinariness of my tiny life.

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

Morning in Leawood

The weather gods continue to smile on my visit to Kansas City.  Outside the wide window in Jeanne Foster’s kitchen, I see a bit of grey but no ice, no snow, no rain.  A low electric light in a wrought-iron lantern glows from the stone wall.  Spring hovers near this place; birds twitter in the oaks rising above the house.  One of the trees bears a tattered yellow ribbon.  I briefly wonder what death or absence my friend honored with its placement.

In another hour, I will visit children whose custody will be resolved at trial on Tuesday.  My status as their guardian ad litem brings me here this week.  I could have withdrawn, but another appointment would have meant delay in an already dreary case.  I can’t charge for the trip; the cost of it will march on my Schedule C and offset whatever earnings I might have this year to whatever extend Caesar  allows.  I’m technically unemployed and can ill afford these expenses, but I have faith that the universe will reward me, if only in the calm of some inner feeling.

Later today, I will rummage in the storage unit where the remaining bits of my life here await disposal.  I do not look forward to that endeavor.  But for the dropped ball of an inexperienced real estate agent (giving her the wide benefit of doubt which time has allowed), I would have spent the last week packing instead of holding together the house sale.  A frantic forty-eight hours saw every one of my blessed friends madly packing.  I have no idea what awaits me.  Everything had been stored at someone’s house who decided it no longer suited him to keep my possessions, and so Paula and Sheldon once more stepped into the breach and moved them for me.  Today I will scrounge through the boxes to see what I can give away.

I don’t greatly mind this somewhat unpleasant task.  Whether I did or not, it must be done.  Cheerfully suffices as well, or better, than any other approach.

But in the meantime, Jeanne set the coffee and I’ve made eggs.  Outside the light rises.  I sit in a space which all told, surpasses my tiny house by many times over, and I’m marveling at the experience as though I have never lived any way but small.  It’s morning in Leawood, with small songbirds as soundtrack rather than the geese and cranes of the Delta.  I find myself without a care in the world, or, in the least, none to which I have any thought of giving voice.

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


I don’t mind flying.  Airports pose lots of problems but flying itself affords me the opportunity to imagine that new and refreshing events await.  I talk to my seatmates, read Ngaio Marsh novels, and drink bad coffee served by smiling flight attendants with varying degrees of fatigue lingering on their faces.

Yesterday proved challenging in many ways but I got to Oakland from the Delta without difficulty and the Kansas City weather cooperated.  A merry seventy-year-old retired nurse entertained me with tales of life in Southern California all the way into MCI.  Hertz talked me into an upgrade so in the event of the ice storm, I  have all-wheel drive and heated seats.  I made my way to my friend Jeanne’s house in Leawood down 1-29 with no right side-view mirror, a malady that I did not notice before leaving the rental car building.

I kept to the far lane all the way to the 47th street exit.  Rain slicked from the windshield as I pulled into a parking lot off Brush creek.  I couldn’t see what the building was but my heart fluttered at the sight of a lanky security guard loping towards me.  Grinning, he leaned around the windshield and pulled the mirror from where it had been folded.  You should be fine now, Ma’am, he assured me.  I slipped a pewter medallion from my pocket and handed it to him.  An angel for an angel, I told him.  Maybe he’d rather I had tipped him, but his smile widened.

As I maneuvered my car back to the roadway, I heard his voice:  Have a blessed day, he admonished me.  I waved out the window and felt my heart ease.

Now I am in a courtroom waiting for lawyers to gather for a pre-trial in which I am the guardian ad litem.  The case should settle but it won’t, whether because of the obstinance of the parents or the lack of communication between the lawyers, I can’t say.  It will be tried on Tuesday, one way or the other; and I will put one more file to rest.  My list of duties here dwindles, and soon, my only tie to Missouri will be the love of my friends and the lifetime of memories.

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


When I was eight or nine, I told my mother that i wanted to be a ballerina.  The look with which she reacted remains a potent memory.  We stood in the kitchen at the house in which we lived for my entire life.  Her hands rested on a bowl of bread dough.  She looked away after holding my gaze for several minutes.

I lowered my eyes to the notice in my hands.  I had been invited to join a dance class.  I needed parental permission.  I knew we had no money; but a sentence at the bottom gave me hope:  “Scholarships available.”  I guessed what that meant; it meant that poor kids might go.  It didn’t occur to me that I might not qualify for other reasons.

My mother’s voice dropped to a low tone, lower even than her normal pitch.  I don’t think you should get your hopes up, Mary, she said.

I’ve never been light on my feet, not then, not at my lowest adult weight, around 85 pounds at age 55.  As a little girl, I hit the ground so often that my classmates called me “the little crippled girl”.  My mother said, here, knead this, and turned the dough out onto the counter in a sheen of flour.  I stepped forward and put the flyer aside.  She touched my shoulder.

I heard her on the telephone later, telling whoever had invited me that I would not be attending the dance class.  I hovered in the other room, straining to her the logic that she used.  I did not really understand but I felt a hot stain of shame in my chest.

The other day, I stepped over the pets’ gravestones which I brought to California from our home in Missouri.  Tiger Tazmania has a flat stone on which his name is engraved.  He’s proclaimed to be “The Scum Cat”.  Sprinkle just had the large yellow stone which my son and his best friend brought home from our western adventures.  They sit beside the new little pathway to my house here.  I don’t know why I didn’t walk around them.  I sprawled across the ground in an inglorious heap.  It took me ten minutes to pull myself from the steps on which I landed.

Tonight, as I watch Olympic skater after Olympic skater reach for the gold, my heart clenches when one stumbles.  I feel their pain, though it isn’t the same; it only seemed to me that the whole world watched every time I fell.

It’s the twentieth day of the fiftieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Chasing windmills

I found myself drawn to the countryside today.  Windmills fascinate me.  I yearned to find a long wide shot, perhaps a little video.  I drove east on Highway 12, over the Rio Vista bridge and continuing outside of town.  I had an hour to squander before I needed to be anywhere.

A wholesale lack of daily time commitments sends my disposition spinning.  I don’t like free time.  Dreams, ghosts, and wicked little doubts besiege me if I do not have enough to fill my waking moments.  I push them away.  Stretching for joy appeals to me but not on the roller coaster of chaos.  So I washed my hair, threw clothes on my aching bones and jumped into the RAV.

A sign for Bird’s Landing drew me off the straightway, a wide left turn and into the cleft between slopes.  Eyes darting back and forth, watching for a chance to stop, I moved beyond barns, power lines, and empty steel buildings crouched on the hillside.  I never found the perfect spot; and the road ended at the Montezuma Fire Station, with a sign for Fairfield to the right and Collinsville to the left.  Beyond the sign for Collinsville another one cautioned, No outlet.

I turned left.  I’ve been to Fairfield.

Indeed, the highway ended at a scraggly field beyond which I could see the river.  I considered my options.  A small road led into the field of windmills but the map showed that it, too, had no outlet.  I turned around and headed the way I had come.  The windmills rose above me, some still, some moving just barely in the crisp quiet of the afternoon.

As I made my way back to Highway 12, I came upon a flock of sheep, ewes and lambs, pushing against each other on the roadway.  Two black dogs nipped at their heels.  A man in an ATV led them; one hovered at the rear.  I pulled over and watched them pass, holding my cell phone, holding my breath, nodding to their minders as the mass of bleating babies moved beyond my car.

A few nagging annoyances pushed at my good mood today.  The ghosts; the dreams; the images of windmills which might be giants.  But I have no complaints.



“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love.

It will not lead you astray.”

—  Rumi


The Sheep

Sunday Morning, Feeling Fine

Let me tell you what I see:

Directly in front of me — a 48-inch window shows a tree, my neighbor’s trailer, and a wide expanse of green lawn.  The willow towering over that stretch of spring grass has begun to bud; its soft branches wave in the morning wind.

Closer at hand, a lamp glows.  I bought it for ten bucks from an acquaintance who, with her husband, is liquidating her life and setting out for two years of travel in their RV.  She said it sat on her mother’s desk for many years.  Now its milky white base matches the glass box beside it, which holds part of my extensive inherited button collection.  The women in my family do not discard anything.  Those buttons fell from blouses, shirts, and jackets for three or four generations back.

In a plastic box with vaguely oriental decorations on its lid, I keep my mother’s PTA, den mother, and war-time medals.  That box rests on the desk just inches from a hilarious picture of my adult son sitting on my lap.  We took that at a serious photo-shoot in the home of my in-laws.  We kept more serious faces when standing by the other folks.  For just the two of us, our true nature shone.

Behind that photograph, an angel music box stands with folded hands.  To her right — stage left — my printer squats on a wicker cabinet which I brought from Kansas City.  In the window sill behind the printer, I’ve placed a lovely ceramic vase that a friend gave me, into which I’ve slipped a silk rose which my son bought for me at Disney World in 1996.

To the left of the window, my favorite Genevieve Casey photograph reminds me of my former life.  Above the window, two digital depictions by my son flank a photograph of his younger self.  To the right of the window hangs my angel shelf, on which the china angels which I kept when I did my house purge rest.  Some hold their hands in perpetual prayer.  Some smile.  One  lifts a tiny candle to light my path.

These sights inspire and calm me.  They remind me of the bounty which my life holds.  They encourage me to cast aside any whisper of discontent.  They suggest to me that I have so much for which to be grateful, and very little about which to complain.  The light streaming through the open window reaches my eyes and I am reminded that I can still see.  The life which lifts my eyelids has not been extinguished.

It’s Sunday morning.  I’m feeling fine.

It’s the eighteenth day of the fiftieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


In which the sun also rises

Looking for a job at 62 seems more daunting than I had imagined it would be given last year’s premature flurry of success.  Maybe 61 appealed; but that round, even number, a click to the south, repels.

But I persist.  I drive to Lodi for sand to level the pavers in front of my house; then spend an hour online looking at not-for-profit hiring websites.  I stand on Pattie’s lawn chatting about the tree-trimming, life at Delta Bay, and the vagaries of daily existence as middle-aged women.  Then I spend another hour online.  The car takes its swoop around Brannan Island errand after errand as I build my existence and spend my budget thin.  But the river keeps shimmering along the winding road, and my heart rises with the evening breeze.

I see a smattering of budding leaves on the weeping willow.  Apparently spring nears.  I strain to hear the drone of a small plane overhead.  Messages continue to pour into my inbox — people who exclaim, I saw you and your tiny house on the news!  Their enthusiasm draws a smile to my face.  I scroll through their words, then click on WorkForGood and begin the search again.  Somebody wants me.  They await my query, sitting in their office, a cooling cup of coffee at hand, a frown on their brow and an empty desk nearby.

Amazingly, I have no trouble sleeping in California.  The sun sets.  The air cools.  I read for an hour or two and when my eyelids cannot remain open, I snuggle under the velour blankets and surrender to dreams.  I awaken at six as I have always done, but now, closer to the western edge, I see the sunrise with a lighter spirit.

My friends tell me, you’ve done the right thing, you’re where you should be.  In the glitter of morning, I find no grounds on which to challenge their assessment.

It’s the seventeenth day of the fiftieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.