Monthly Archives: April 2018

There’s No Place Like Home

Technically, of course, I come from Jennings, Missouri by way of a maternity ward in St. Louis.  I can’t even claim that I spent half of my life in Kansas City before moving to California, due to those five stray years in Arkansas.  But the city by the river, Royal blue and somewhat worn around its edges, still feels like home.

Don’t fret, people of NORCAL.  I’m coming back.  I make no cheesy lament about having left my heart there, but Angel’s Haven sits by your rivers, in the midst of your own tattered old Delta.  I’m returning.  I’ll make my way to Jim and Nancy’s driveway where the RAV4 sits.  I’ll dine with Jim and talk about our respective sons; his job; my employment search; and Rotary matters, including Shelterbox   in which that friend, a member of the San Rafael Harbor Rotary Club, plays a major role.  The next day, I’ll join another NORCAL transplant for lunch at a Bay area restaurant.  The spray of my Pacific will kiss my face as I walk along the street.  

But I’ve felt the comfort of home during this week in Kansas City.  I’ve finished some cases; I’ve transferred others to new counsel.  I’m rummaged in my storage unit, filling the rental car with items from the Holmes house bound for my son or for safe-keeping at my sister’s house in St. Peter’s.  I’ve filled the time between these tasks with coffee-shop hopping.  I’ve seen a host of my own special angels, the men and women whom I most closely call my tribe here.

There’s truly no place like home.  Yes, I understand:  You belong where you take your heart and in the place where you find your heart’s desire.  Dorothy has nothing on me.  Nor does Edward Albee:  I get that I must go a long way out of my way to come back a short way properly.  But the very wealthy among us know that  we can have more than one home.  So I stake my claim here, Kansas City; and there, too, St. Louis; and 1800 miles west of here by the sea.     I need no walls.  I need no strict address.   I take my comfort with me.

It’s the fifteenth day of the fifty-second month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

The week that was

The week draws to a close.  Sunny weather lingers but the warmth has fled on the heels of a lapse into chilly air.  Two more days remain of my Kansas City sojourn and two days in St. Louis await.  My foreigner feelings have abated but the ocean still calls to me.  I have not yet found the courage to drive past the Holmes house where I raised my son.  Another time, perhaps; but not today.

We’ve bombed Syria and the governor of my home state apparently emulates the predatory behavior of the president.  I shake off the gloom which descended as I read the transcript of his victim’s testimony.  I can’t complain; I won’t complain; I’ll flee westward but with the full knowledge that in Sacramento, a man will never see his children graduate high school; two boys will never sit on their father’s lap again.  Their shattered family became a victim of bigotry disguised as poor police training.  Don’t complain; don’t whine; don’t grouse; it’s business as usual in these United States.  Save your commentary for another place and time.

Beyond me, the sun has climbed above the trees of Brookside.  She shines full and bright through Brenda’s kitchen window.  In a few hours, I will slip into my comfortable role as adjunct to the tremendous personalities of a group of artists whom I know as friends.  Still later, Jenny Rosen and I will make our way downtown to hear Jake and Angela’s band.  I cling to my visitor pass.  I carefully peal it from each dress and press it on the next day’s outfit.  What I once was, I no longer can be.  But who I am now?

Perhaps when I leave, my shadow will follow.  Perhaps I will pass a mirror in which my reflection will reveal my identity.

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

A hundred repetitions later, lesson learned.

My sister Joyce once explained that it takes X repetitions of any lesson for a human being to learn, where X consists of some formula relating to age and other factors.  For me, the number looks more like (X to the nth power) / (y to the nth power) x (z to the nth power) + (a times b), where the unknowns consist of a brutal combination of stubbornness, pig-headedness, obstinance, and blindsightedness.

I re-learned my don’t-eat-white-sugar lesson yesterday, partaking of a luscious brownie at Crow’s Coffee (new wonderful Red Bridge location) along with house-made chai and soy milk.  As a consequence, my jagged nerves danced all night, angry and petulant because of my choice.

This prompted me to contemplate the amusing fact that My Year Without Complaining has entered its fifty-second month finding me still grousing, still whining, still muttering under my breath.  As April rushes to its midway point and May looms, I confront my humanity as I’ve never before understood it.  No, Puma, I’m not accepting your premise that complaint should be pursued for whatever reason you once argued.  And no, my dear Patricia, I don’t espouse your inflated opinion of my virtues though I thank you for the validation.

Rather, as I sit in Brenda’s dining room with my wild frizzy hair which in an hour will submit to Kelley Blond’s deft hands, I allow myself the imperfection of those needed repetitions.

Someone recently argued in favor of suicide by stating that she felt entitled to decide how much pain she was able to bear before quitting altogether.  I conceded her point but added that I thought the equation should include consideration of how much suffering her death would cause others, particularly the unique anguish of survivors of suicide.  I think she understood.  We must make allowance for the humanity of others.  Our duty rises from the connections we share with them.

In the same way, then, I must make allowance for my own humanity.  Perhaps my conviction to truly refrain from eating white sugar required one hundred repetitions of its nasty impact  after I reached an intellectual understanding of its inflammatory properties.   Similarly, this journey has taken longer than the original allotment of twelve months.  I began on 01 January 2014, resolved to travel through 365 days without uttering a word of complaint.  An unfaithful lover, I did not keep my vow.  But the path has provided many lessons; and as I promised my mother and my Nana that I would do, I keep walking, every day of my life — always putting my best foot forward.

It’s the twelfth day of the fifty-second month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.



Sunshine Daydreams

The sun followed me to Kansas City, as I knew she would.  We’ve become best friends, me and the sun.  When I visited the ocean last month, she shone at each half-mile stretch of the coast that I occupied.  I would sit at a counter over coffee and watch the rain gather at the other end of the bay.  When I moved, the rain obliged, yielding to the glow of my stellar companion.

As I packed, I scrolled through message after message from Missouri, cautioning me, suggesting that I pack for winter, bring a coat, prepare myself. I never had a doubt.  I brought my light coat, the nice one, which suffices for most climates except in July.  “Three season”, the fashion industry once dubbed such items.  This one came from a consignment shop in Lodi. It cost twenty-bucks and is an Ann Taylor.  I feel good in it.  It fits me as though I stood still for a tailor’s deft needle.

My mother once said that if gloomy spirits overcame me, I should put on red shoes and a sailor blouse.  I don’t own either right now, though I certainly have and I certainly did.  I follow her general rule, though.  If I have my hair nicely coiffed and you detect a bit of lipstick, understand that these measures guard against the blues.  My Ann Taylor coat snaps me to attention. It’s black and white, and styled like a trench.  I imagine that Jackie Kennedy would wear this coat, or Audrey Hepburn.  An elegant woman.  A woman who understands her worth.

We American women play this game. We need to be perky, and pert, and pretty.  We need to spread sunshine in our wake, letting it wash over those around us.  Or maybe it’s just me.  Maybe I just haven’t figured out that I’m not in charge of people’s reactions to me.   I still dress for success; I still worry about my image; but not enough to wear mascara or subject my budget to braces, even though I could probably afford them now.

I’m not complaining, though.  We play  our roles, or we abdicate them, according to our strength of character.  My current role allows me to be a sunshine daydreamer.  Nobody cares how I look these days.  No one’s self-respect depends upon my ability to conform.  That’s a good space to occupy.  Yesterday I gave an orange from my day bag to a little girl while we waited for the plane.  I got her mother’s permission first, and she said to the girl, Tell the nice lady thank you, Elliott.  Elliott looked around before deciding that her mother meant the crazy lady with frizzy hair and a goofy smile in the black-and-white coat.  Thank you, nice lady, she whispered.

You’re welcome, Elliott, I replied, and watched her peel the little Halo.

It’s the tenth day of the fifty-second month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

In which I take my inspiration where it rises to bludgeon me on the noggin.

When I first met Stacey Nicholson, she had a different surname.  She’s married twice since then and she took her husband’s surname the second time.  On anybody else, it might looked like a cop-out but on Stacey, it looks right.  I can’t say why; and you all know me, I’m a bull-headed feminist.

But this post does not concern why Stacey Meinen became Stacey Nicholson.  So move forward, because I don’t call her either of those monikers.  I call her “Short Stuff”.

Stacey blasted into the Solo and Small Firm Committee of the Missouri Bar’s SFIG (small firm internet group) at a time when I reigned as one of its queens and her stepfather milled around the interwebs among my favorite colleagues.  She sashayed her way to being chair of the Committee right about the time my world crashed and burned, so I didn’t get to see her coronation.  My loss.

Short Stuff practices law in St. Louis.  I would not want to be her opposing counsel, if she litigates with the same verve that she debates curriculum, politics, and the relative virtues of differing versions of damn near anything.  I’d file a brief with the words “I concede” scrawled in red ink.  I’d tell my client to pay the lady and shut up.

I haven’t seen Stacey in a few years, since I’ve been hiding in Kansas City, licking my wounds and preparing to slink away into the western sunset.  From what I see on Facebook, she’s staked her own claim to fame — she and her husband run a Karaoke night at some bar in St. Louis County. and have made a “best in the state list”, to cite just one example, following the chair-of-a-powerful-MOBar-committee coup.  I admire her immensely and would strive to be just like her when I grew up, except it seems to be too late for that. I’d have to age backwards.

Apparently Stacey doesn’t feel as good about herself as I would expect.  She’s gone on a health-regimen, either to lose fat or build muscle or both — I haven’t figured it out.  I see changes in her pictures online.  Her face looks crisper, more defined.  But her attitude shines just as clearly as ever, along with the glow with which she and Mark gaze at each other.  I’d be jealous except it’s hard to hate someone as nice as Stacey (as long as you stay on her good side).  I wouldn’t have thought she needed to do much to improve that compact four-foot dynamite body but I take her word for it.

I woke this morning at 4:30 a.m.  That’s a trend that used to plague me and which I thought I’d kicked but it’s come back in the last week or so.  It might be the owl calling outside my window, worry about finding a job, or the whole lost-our-dog-of-sixteen-years sadness.  Possibly the Stanford miracle drug needs adjusting, who knows.  I’ll find out in June when I go for my six-month check-up with the Stanford miracle docs.  But still, there it is.

I reached for my phone, checking first for news of my critically ill niece (Godspeed, Angie).  Then I scrolled through e-mail; nothing but junk.  Then — and you knew it loomed — I opened Facebook.  The first thread got me.  Stacey had just posted a response to someone asking her what “cheat days” looked like on her new regimen, and she blasted back with this:

Courtnie S***** girl, I got goals! Cheating ain’t gonna get me there!

My tired body snapped to a sitting position and I studied those two sentences, with their bold sentries standing at attention.  I focused on the essence of her proclamation:



Damn, Stacey, you’ve done it again.  You set such a glaring example that even I get it.  Maybe I will strive to be like you when I grow up, Stacey Nicholson.  Maybe I ain’t done growing yet.

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




It’s not a competition, but, well, maybe.

I lay in bed thinking about yesterday for a half an hour, as the rain drummed on the roof and the sun crept over the eastern horizon.  I pictured myself as a sailor on a battered boat, dragged to shored by strong hands which wrapped me in a warm cocoon of wool and pressed a mug of steaming tea upon me.  I made some mistakes this week, and endured some blows, and my self-pity caught me short.

Then I read about a friend’s mother dying, and all kinds of havoc in Washington; and saw a few pictures of injured children in the aftermath of storms abroad.  I browsed the Times and contemplated my relative lot in life.  True, I cost myself a few dollars by stupidity; and true, our dog finally had to be eased of pain and left us; and true, I’m still unemployed.

And yes, I know, it’s not a competition to judge whose suffering  pummels them more soundly.

But still.  Maybe it is, in a way: because I know that I’m on the lucky end of life.  Maybe not the very luckiest.  I’ve certainly had my share of setbacks, some more recently than others.  I cannot claim to have been “lucky in love”, nor with money, but I’ve got a great son and some kick-ass friends and I’m still breathing, still crazy, still feisty and without a doubt, still relentless.  (With a tip of the mortar-board and a fling of the white tassel to Judge Peggy Stephens McGraw, who once took judicial notice of such.)

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



The staccato sound of rain on steel fills the house.  Just beyond the upper window pane, a purple glow marks the edge of the neighboring RV.  I’ve done the dishes, and put away an odd assortment of items which have yet to settle into one of the niches here.  For now they get stashed in the cedar chest with the baby blankets, a black wool sweater that I want to keep safe from the moths, and the exercise bands.

I did not much of anything today.  I made the obligatory trip to Lodi to return a lock.  I stopped at Pier 1 and bought a large cushion from the clearance pile which i fancy might make a good headboard.  I read a funny book, edited a stipulation, and spent two hours arguing with an office laughably called “Guest Relations” at Stanford.  They use initials instead of surnames and don’t give out extensions.  I wrote a three-page letter about my experiences in Cardiology, and tricked someone into disclosing both an e-mail address and a fax number.  I can be persuasive.

Not having a real job has finally gotten under my skin.  I’m starting to get interviews, so it won’t be long now.  But I can’t rearrange cupboards that I don’t have.  I’ll be in Missouri next week, which hopefully will soothe my jitters.  I’ll get a couple of more cases resolved.  I’ll go to St. Louis where my son and I will help each other process the loss of our beloved dog.  He’s meeting me there, taking the five-hour drive from Chicago.  It’s my sister Joyce’s birthday.  There’s no place like home.

But tonight the rain relentlessly hammers on the expanse of blue metal above me.  I’ve read all the novels that I bought for the trip.  I’ve exhausted my patience with social media.  I close my eyes.  I want to cry but that feels like a betrayal though I’m unsure of where my loyalties lie.

What’s the saddest song? someone asked on Facebook tonight. I posted a link to something by Bonnie Raitt.  But now, it comes to me:  The Sounds of Silence.

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


My favorite tree on Jackson Slough Road with the merest hint of Mount Diablo on the far horizon.



I don’t mean to complain, but. . .

I’m trying to understand the world.  I hear so much coming out of Washington that troubles me.  Protections for our climate, for children, for immigrants, for older Americans, all seem to be under attack.  I don’t mean to complain but it seems as thought the world is going to hell in a hand basket.

I get on the phone and I’m told that the customer service person cannot give me his name “because of Company policy, ma’am”.  After 35 minutes of struggling to get the clerk to help me,  I begin to think that there might be a language barrier.  I finally demand a phone number for an American agent.  I call that phone number and a cheerful voice provides me with her name and in three minutes, accomplishes what the first individual could not do in a half an hour.

I don’t mean to complain but I do not understand why the second clerk had no trouble doing what I needed whereas the first clerk could not despite having a half an hour to do so.  Was it the inability to communicate or was the man just a jerk???  I don’t want to blame an entire foreign nation; maybe the guy just doesn’t like his job.

I turn on the radio to distract myself.  I browse the NYT.  There I read about tariffs against others by this nation and tariffs against our nation.  The stock market plunges and clearly, we aren’t getting greater.  I don’t mean to complain but the average Joe and Jane gets screwed and it’s business as usual.

I have a headache.  I did manage to change my plane reservations as well as my rental-car-drop-off reservations with only a net outlay of twenty additional bucks, so it’s a win if you don’t count those lost 35 minutes and my rising frustration and agitation.

I draw in a very large cleansing breathe. I remind myself that we’ve just lost our dog; and that my son and I are both grieving, he more so than me because of their special bond.  We couldn’t be with her; we feel that we failed her.  And the stock market plunges, and the government  keeps eroding the hard-won progress of the last fifty years and I still don’t have a job!  I don’t mean to complain BUT!!!!


This not-complaining business overwhelms me once in a while!

It’s the fourth day of the fifty-second month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues. . .and tomorrow’s another day.


Growth potential

Living tiny seems to have begun to change me.  Years ago, I wrote a poem called, “How To Go For A Walk In Loose Park”, in which I advised disabled people to “keep your head down / don’t make eye contact / then you won’t see the fear / or feel the shame”.  But now I walk the quarter-mile loop around my side of the park every evening or every other evening.  I know I still look as clumsy as ever but I no longer seem to mind.

Nobody here thinks I’m any odder than anyone else.  Someone in Kansas City once told me that he described me as having “gimp in [my] get-along”, to warn another person before meeting me.  I found that incredibly painful.  If you were to make a list of the first three things that I would want someone to know about me, my funny walk would not even make the top fifty.

In fact, the only physical characteristic about which I alert people is my hair.  It’s curly, wild, and virtually uncontrollable.  I ironed it until I turned fifty.  At that point, I looked in the mirror after a shower and studied the ringlets.  “Oh what the hell,” I told my startled image.  “You’re a curly girl.  Get over yourself.”  I threw away my flat iron or at the very least, tossed it in the back of the highest shelf of the bathroom cabinet.

Right now it’s probably in one of the boxes which my friend Katrina carefully labelled, “Bathroom 1′, “Bathroom 2”, and so forth.  Those boxes made it as far as a storage unit.  They hold all the girly stuff that I bought in a misguided attempt to look like other women.  One of these trips, I’m busting open those boxes and giving all those bottles to homeless people.  Unless they’ve been opened, of course.  But I happen to know that a lot of those purchases sat unnoticed within hours of being taken out of CVS bags.

I spent 62 years trying to be the female of handsome men’s dreams.  The mere thought of that makes me laugh derisively now.  What part of “the American dream” ever involved the likes of me?  Not one man on the face of this earth ever awakened and thought, “Damn, I want to marry a crippled girl with bad teeth and a wicked stubborn streak.”    Somehow I thought if I got skinny enough (I did, down to a 00, and yes, that’s an actual size) and acted extraordinarily chipper, I’d fool somebody.  I knew I was fighting against the current because when I was in eighth grade, my mother told me that I should go to college because I was not the kind of girl who would ever get a proposal.

My mother.  MY MOTHER.    She warned me.  I think  she meant well, and I’m here to explain, that I believed her for the next five decades.  Even when I actually did get not one but three proposals, I still considered it a fluke, a product of my studied ability to appear to be something I wasn’t long enough to trick someone who wanted marriage badly enough.

What this process of going tiny has taught me is that my mother’s assertion fails because of its false premise.  She assumed that getting a proposal was the standard by which my worth would be judged.  I don’t blame her; she was raised in different times, and my generation came to its ascendancy as the last of that era.

I’m truly pleased for anyone who has made a success of their marriage; and I take full responsibility for the mistakes I made which contributed to the failure of mine. But what this last six months of cleansing and decluttering has given me is a new premise.

In this equation, my worth is judged not by who wants to be with me, but by my inner essence, the kernel of kindness, how I use that kindness in my dealings with others, and my capacity for joy.  More than that:  The measure of my value consists not in whether my legs wobble when I walk around the park, but whether my lips smile, whether I hold my head high to feel the evening breeze, and whether my heart rests lightly in my chest.  It shows in the hand that I raise on the steering wheel when I come around the hairpin curve on Brannan Island Road and pass another vehicle.  I prove myself every day by swinging those crippled legs onto the floor of Angel’s Haven and standing, against all odds, despite every setback, and whether or not I should, in all reality, be able to do so.

I might not be anybody else’s idea of marriage material, but I think I’m one fine person.  And you can take that to the bank.  Guaranteed growth potential.

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








This is the new screen door at Angel’s Haven.  For a door stop, I’m using a rusty old bolt that I found at a thrift store in Rio Vista and bought for $3.00.  The lady said, “What are you going to do with this thing?”  When I explained, she cooed: “Oh that is so cool!”  Indeed.

Damn Fine Pets

I’ve always asserted that I am not a dog person.  It’s true that I shy away from dogs.  It might be my relative unsteadiness.  I can be knocked sideways with little effort.  Perhaps I don’t like the feel or smell of a puppy; who knows.  Maybe it’s a myth.

I spent many hours sitting on our porch back in Brookside in my nightgown, calling to Chocolate, our runaway Beagle.  I lamented his accidental death which, truth told, I unwittingly occasioned.  But more:  I spent hours in my living room, crying over my sad life, with Little Girl’s head on my knee and her warm brown eyes studying my face.

Today my son made the brave choice to let go of our beloved Little Girl.  I haven’t stopped crying for more than a few minutes at a time all day.  We knew this would happen soon.  But we will both be in Missouri next week.  Another week, and one of us could have been there with her.

I trusted the vet’s advice and my son’s decision.  Her cancer, arthritis, and a ruptured disk all combined to put her in too much pain.  We tried to orchestrate it as well as we could, but in the end, she went quietly.  Our friends Chris Taggart and his mother Katrina stood in for us.  We consoled each other; they consoled us. Katrina had her hand on Little Girl’s soft head, petting her, comforting her.  They did the best they could for her, and so did we.

And she did her best for us.  From Sprinkles, the black-and-white cat, through Chocolate, our first dog; the boycats Tiger, Scruffy, Chief; and the stalwart Little Girl, we had some damn fine pets in our home.  We loved them well.

I will never forget the sight of my son carrying Little Girl down the street in his arms because she got tired on a walk.  Or when he taught her to sit, to “un-sit”; and to spin; and how we tricked her into running upstairs by saying, “Go see Patrick!”  But most of all, for the rest of my days, I will remember Little Girl going out of her mind berserk with glee the first time that Patrick came home from college and she realized that he had returned to her.  Her joy knew absolutely no bounds.

She was his dog; and he was her boy.  I owe her so much because she loved him without reservation.  If there is a heaven (and no, I don’t need a copy of “the Rainbow Bridge”, but thank you) and if dogs go to it, I hope she finds my mother and that the two of them go for long walks, keeping each other company for all eternity.

Rest in peace, Little Girl.  And thank you.

It’s the second day of the fifty-second month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues, albeit with a Beagle-Lab-mix-shaped hole in the universe, and a heaviness in my heart.

Portrait of Sprinkles and Little Girl by Patrick Corley