Monthly Archives: June 2018


Two-hundred square feet holds an immense amount of silence.

I sit in my small chair, with its needlepoint seat and the fragile, repaired back for nearly an hour —  reading, watching my phone for messages.  Someone from whom I wanted to hear did not text.  My sister sent an update on my brother’s spinal cord surgery.  I keep reading.  I have not combed my hair today, nor put away the food gathering bacteria in the cast-iron pan.  The jays screech as they dart to and from the china bird-feeder, looking for their evening meal.  Oblivious, I remain seated with my eyes on the text.

I turn virtual page upon virtual page with a crystal glass of water at hand.  I cross and uncross my tender ankles.  I wrinkle my nose as the wind rises and brings the fragrance of someone’s grill..  The light fades.  Into my inbox drops notice of five dead in Maryland.  Behind that grim confirmation, a seller advises that my order has been shipped.  I briefly contemplate the potential that the recipient will not like my gift.  I dismiss the thought with an unchecked sigh.  I turn another page with a flick of my finger on the screen.

The silence weighs heavy on me, a burden that I did not expect.  I brush tattered thoughts from my mind and let my hands fall into my lap.  Of everything that I left in Kansas City, I yearn most for hiding places.  I sigh.  I rise.  I shrug off the gloom of my thoughts and walk out to the porch where genuine darkness gathers.  I take in a long draw of fresh evening air.  I listen to the chattering of my neighbors.  I turn, and feel the silence in my home.  After a few minutes, I shake my head and open the screen door.  I bring something sweet and hopeful with me, into the quiet of the empty house.

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


The jays work in tandem when they see that I have filled my little tea cup.

My glass is half-full, and it’s crystal.

I admit this:  I have a mild obsession with drink containers.

If a mug’s handle doesn’t accommodate my hand, I won’t use it.  If the material from which a thing is made does not feel good against my mouth, I abandon it.

When I moved, I retained certain very particular coffee cups, along with one short drinking glass (real glass, blue) and the pottery vessel which I got at the Brookside Art Fair with Dr. Karr and her mysterious  husband.  After I arrived, I gently unpacked five coffee cups (two from Taos; the petite clay one that Trudy MacDonald Aldridge made for me; the Chicago mug; and the heavy crystal mug which I stole from Sheldon Vogt from which I drink my coffee).  Feeling a bit short-supplied, I bought two tumblers at the Marshall’s in Lodi which bore a star and the word “Wish”, but I broke one of them almost immediately.  The pottery number lives on the cabinet beside where I sleep.

I serve coffee, tea, or water in a mug or one of the two rocks glasses (blue or Wish).  In the china cabinet I have 12 matching 4-oz wine glasses which came from the DAV Thrift Store in Kansas City (now known as Red Racks).  There also reside the frosted bird glasses which my sister got for me.  They match a set which our mother had.   If things get fancy around here, I will dive into the china cabinet and deploy one of those.

It’s a tiny house.  I couldn’t take everything.

Today I found myself tooling around Robin’s Nest in Rio Vista, a nifty second-hand store owned and run by an absolutely adorable woman who has five children and the most gosh-darn happy outlook on life ever to grace a cash register.  I bought my one-dollar boat-bolt door stop there, as well as the lace curtain which hangs on my biggest window.  I like going there and hearing about her children and five-month old grandchild.  She never tires of telling me how blessed she is. I’m convinced.

Today I found a basket of new greeting cards for a buck each, some of which have prints of the coastal lighthouses.  I bought a few.  And then, strolling down the house-goods aisle, I spied something dazzling.  My heart fluttered.

A crystal rocks glass.  For fifty cents.  I thought about the broken “Wish” and the fact that I do, from time to time, have a need to serve multiple guests something cold to drink.  I brought that glass home with me.  I discovered that it fits perfectly in my hand, even better than the Brookside Art Fair find.  I poured cold water from the re-usable bottle that I keep in the refrigerator. I sat and took that first delicious sip.

Yes.  This suits me.  I set my glass on the Chicago coaster and contemplated the unbridled satisfaction that I get from gazing on such a lovely item.  Maybe the ownership of a small number of perfectly formed drinking glasses will not catapult me to social acceptance and monetary success.  Nevertheless, I take my pleasure where I find it.  I like the feel of an icy drink of water served in crystal.  There’s something serene about it.  With such a sweet object in my hand, the day could be lousy and I won’t mind quite as much; at least, not until tomorrow.

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

“For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.”
― Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

My Sole Intention

This post began as many do, with sentences clumsily rumbling around in a head full of lather.  I got stuck on the first clause.  The internal debate distracted me so that I rubbed conditioner into  suds.  I had to restart the process of washing my hair and lost the writing momentum.

But what I wanted to say lingered.  Fair warning:  If you came for the cookies, you’ll want to pass on the Paregoric.  I’m not offering poignancy today, nor sweetness, nor anecdotes the message of which you can ignore, lost in the melody of the narrative.

In 1973, I sat on the stage of the parish hall at Corpus Christi in Jennings, Missouri, and listened to the class goals and class predictions.  On the limited occasions when I’ve recounted this event to my intimate friends, I’ve pretended not to remember who read these yearnings and prognostications, but I do.  I won’t credit her — or blame her, either one.  I’ll let her hide in the lie of forgetfulness, shrouded by time, safe from your scrutiny.  I’ll pretend that she would not care, or would not remember.  In fact,I’ll assume that she no longer attaches any importance to a brief event which has festered in my belly for forty-five years.

We had the unique position of being the last graduating seniors of our high school, not counting a few sneaky girls from what would have been the class of 1974 who walked with us.  Because of the staggeringly sentimental significance of being the  last class to receive our diplomas from the school, everything we did carried a rich overtone of hidden meaning.  Thus the nuns admonished us to carefully craft whatever would appear in the baccalaureate program or the yearbook.

They didn’t need to worry about me.  My stated goal had been the same for a decade:  To have a poem published in The New Yorker.  In my best cursive, I added this dream to the list of accomplishments  under my name.   I pushed aside the trepidation which rose in my stomach whenever I opened myself to ridicule.

But none came; at least, until the baccalaureate breakfast, when the girl who shall remain unnamed read our class predictions.  Mine?  “Ten years from now, Mary Corinne Corley is still signing her name, Mary Corinne Corley”.

At seventeen, I had felt the stain of shame more times than I could even then recall.  On so many other occasions, public humiliation followed me.  At five, when my father staggered out half-dressed, drunk, and stinking with the little neighbor kids staring from the sidewalk.   Walking the streets as a six-year old, huddled in my coat under a starless sky, singing church songs and waiting for my father to pass out back at the house — and pretending not to notice when the lady across the street peered  from her curtained windows.  At nine, when I listened to my mother explain to the eye doctor that we could not afford glasses.  Weeks later, when I appeared at school after Christmas break wearing an ugly pair for which my father’s mother had paid, and first suffered the taunt of “four eyes”.  On a hot Sunday walking home from church with a gaggle of boys imitating my awkward gait from a half-block away, behind the back of my unsuspecting mother.  When I experienced my first menstrual period, which I didn’t understand, spreading in a crimson flow on the back of my uniform skirt during sophomore English class.  The time I got stuck in a stall in the second floor girls’ bathroom, listening to a couple of classmates talk about how disgusting they found me.  When I attended the Father / Daughter dance alone, as the school photographer, because I did not trust my dad not to fall down drunk and vomit on himself in the gymnasium.

So what of a girl taunting me by predicting that I would not be married ten years hence, the intended implication of that prediction of how I would sign my name?  Of course, I did not doubt the accuracy of her prescience.  My own mother had told me to go to college because no man would likely marry me.

I never got  a poem published in The New Yorker.  I got three published in Eads Bridge, and then got distracted by Scotch and sex, the latter of which I mistook for love too many times to count.  When I did marry, I did not change my name, a fact which various people praised or lamented, depending on their opinion of me, of  equality, and of the man whose name I chose not to assume.  I stopped writing poetry with any regularity in 1978, when a musician told me that my poems didn’t even rise to the level of good home-grown stuff and should be relegated to the box of drivel that I would eventually burn.  Or words to that effect.

When I started this blog, my sole intention was to force myself to go 365 days without voicing one complaint.  I truly felt that if I could do that, stars would align and everything that I wanted for myself would unfold before me.  My marriage would be saved, the pain in my legs would go away, I’d forget the terrible tragedy of my childhood.

None of that has come to pass.  This blog gradually morphed into something much more than an arrogant litany of my virtuous silence in the face of the stupidity of others.  As it evolved, so did I.  My marriage failed regardless; the pain in my legs, unmedicated after forty-five years of being numbed by narcotics, rose to claim me; and the immutable reality of the neuro-biological impact of family violence forced me to accept that I will never be the person that I might have been.

It turns out that my offering to the universe of 365 days without complaining failed, but not because I failed.  The bargain existed in a plane of pretense.  I could not make life fair or even different by silence in the face of difficulty.  I could only make my life better one day at a time through effort, and awareness, and being open to the flickering candles which cast their cheerful light into my personal gloom.

During the last few weeks of my Kansas City days, a girl at one of my favorite juice places told me about Rupi Kaur.  Since then, I’ve used many of her poems to illustrate passages here.  She’s taken a place beside Sara Teasdale in my heart.  Both of them speak to whatever inside me yearned to write poetry despite  my obvious inability.  Rupi Kaur has the same sort of eternal voice of her generation that I perceive in Sara Teasdale.

I don’t know if Rupi Kaur ever yearned to publish a poem in a particular periodical, as I did, back in my high school days.  When I look at her photographs, I see a woman with impeccable teeth, lovely olive skin, a sheath of extraordinary black hair, and a petite body encased in sophisticated clothing.  I see the attributes the lack of which I always presume inhibited my success.  I don’t envy her, but neither am I at all surprised that fate apparently has dealt her the hand which I craved.  Somehow, I expect the pretty girls to succeed.  I, too,  learned the truth at seventeen.

Yet here I sit, in my writing loft in a tiny house on wheels in the California Delta.  I eventually got the conditioner washed out of my hair, and sprayed rose water on the fine lines which snake across  my face.  I rubbed cream from the dollar store onto my tortured feet, struggled to encase those feet in soft socks, and slid them into the high tops that I bought to stabilize my ankles.  I slid my mother-in-law’s sapphire onto my left ring-finger, tugged on flowered tights, and pulled a Lady Liberty t-shirt over my head.  I slugged down the last of the re-warmed coffee and poured my first little glass of cold water for the day.  I climbed the stairs, pushed open the window, and settled onto the wooden chair in which I have sat to write nearly all of the fifteen-hundred or so entries that I’ve amassed on this journey to joy. I raised my hands, and started typing.  Yet again.  No complaints.  Full speed ahead.

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

“Timeless”, by Rupi Kaur


The unvarnished truth: Yours truly, the real Missouri Mugwump, 26 June 2018.




A Day In June

Dedicated to my friend Christina, who was there when I needed a smiling face today.

from The Vision of Sir Launfal

James Russell Lowell1819 – 1891

And what is so rare as a day in June?
     Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries the earth if it be in tune,
     And over it softly her warm ear lays:
Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten;
Every clod feels a stir of might,
     An instinct within it that reaches and towers,
And, groping blindly above it for light,
     Climbs to a soul in grass and flowers;
The flush of life may well be seen
     Thrilling back over hills and valleys;
The cowslip startles in meadows green,
     The buttercup catches the sun in its chalice,
And there’s never a leaf nor a blade too mean
     To be some happy creature’s palace;
The little bird sits at his door in the sun,
     Atilt like a blossom among the leaves,
And lets his illumined being o’errun
     With the deluge of summer it receives;
His mate feels the eggs beneath her wings,
And the heart in her dumb breast flutters and sings;
He sings to the wide world, and she to her nest,—
In the nice ear of Nature which song is the best?

Now is the high-tide of the year,
     And whatever of life hath ebbed away
Comes flooding back with a ripply cheer,
     Into every bare inlet and creek and bay;
Now the heart is so full that a drop over-fills it,
We are happy now because God wills it;
No matter how barren the past may have been,
‘Tis enough for us now that the leaves are green;
We sit in the warm shade and feel right well
How the sap creeps up and the blossoms swell;
We may shut our eyes, but we cannot help knowing
That skies are clear and grass is growing;
The breeze comes whispering in our ear,
That dandelions are blossoming near,
     That maize has sprouted, that streams are flowing,
That the river is bluer than the sky,
That the robin is plastering his house hard by;
And if the breeze kept the good news back,
For other couriers we should not lack;
     We could guess it all by yon heifer’s lowing,—
And hark! how clear bold chanticleer,
Warmed with the new wine of the year,
     Tells all in his lusty crowing!

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

A view of Mt. Diablo shot from over the San Joaquin, 01 June 2018.  California Delta.

Prelude to possibility

A lovely Saturday goes on the keeping shelf for eternity.  While I don’t have an actual keeping shelf at Angel’s Haven, I hold days like today in my heart.

I spent the day at two Farmer’s Markets and a vintage sale with a new friend from Oakley.  Suanne came to the first “CampTiny” which I helped host here at Park Delta Bay.  We’ve kept in touch. When she posted a link to a Junkyard antique event, I signaled my eagerness to attend.

We started the day at the Oakley Farmer’s Market, breakfasting on home-made tamales wrapped in banana leaves.  I met the Oakley Mayor and bought humongous lush strawberries.  We piled in her car and toured the town with its wide green spaces and a surprise Tiny Village, just 10 or 12 lots behind a gate with three park models and a couple of trailers.  Later I got freshly made pupusas to take home for dinner.  I came away with a light spirit, a charming pot of succulents for my tiny garden, and a new friend.

In the evening, I tried my new evaporative cooler.  It brings the house temperature down but I’m going to have to experiment with the windows.  My neighbor Paul Flaner says to open one only, and just two inches.  That contradicts everything I’ve read, but he’s used one to cool  a three-bedroom house so he has actual experience.  Besides, in the six months that I’ve known Paul, he’s been right on every piece of advice that he’s given me.  That’s a good kind of neighbor to have.

The sun has set.  I hear a bird trilling in the tree above the house, reminding me that I want to get a book or an app and start learning about the songbirds of the California Delta.  Tomorrow looms wide and open.  Anything could happen.  Anything whatsoever.

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

Suanne’s gift sits to the left of my hen-and-chick, on our cat Tiger’s gravestone.

Click here to read my first published-for-pay article in many years.  I lay no claim to the stock photo with which the site chose to illustrate the piece.  Otherwise, it’s all mine.  Enjoy.

Please Enjoy This Musical Interlude

Anyone who knows me might be aware that my essays write themselves in my head.  I sit at the computer and hammer away, desperate to capture each word before it fades.  Then I re-read what I’ve written, sometimes obsessively, sometimes even after I hit the “publish” icon.  When I’ve gotten it perfect, I rise from the chair and stagger to my next chore.

Because of these wholesale composition bouts, I find myself torn.  I struggle between the desire to relay my thoughts on this journey, and the belief that not thought has overall merit to the public accountability and dialogue which drove my instigation of this blog.

When the dilemma cannot resolve, I sidestep by finding something absolutely mind-comforting, and post that.  Today stands as such a day.  Nothing terrible looms before me.  Life’s drudgery continues, peppered with intermittent joy.  But today, I cannot in good faith lay out the passages which my mind wrote.  To do so would defy my objective:  living complaint-free.  Instead, then, please enjoy this musical interlude, and a few lovely if technically flawed pictures from the California Delta.  Thank you for sharing a few minutes of #mytinylife.

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



Fourth-Grader Adam Kornowski performing IMAGINE during a talent show at Lakeside Elementary in Chisago City, Minnesota, on May 24, 2018.

Never A Stranger

This happened:

I spent all of yesterday blogging and engaging in activism in support of trying to reunite 2,300 immigrant children with their families. I got nothing else done.  I didn’t eat much, or read, or look for jobs.

Today I cleaned leftovers out of my refrigerator, took the trash and recycling to the bins, and headed to the grocery store.  I fished two plastic bags out of the pile of stuff in the back of the RAV and grabbed a cart.  A young man nearly slammed into me.  We fell over ourselves apologizing for being in each other’s way.  Then I told him the cart weighed more than I do, and general hilarity ensued at the thought of me driving a motorized shopping cart and running over small children.  He cited the laws of physics and I lamented my poor eye sight.  Each of us continued to our shopping lighter for the exchange.

When I had put back several items, kept the $12/pound locally roasted coffee, and forced myself to add celery to my modest pile, I made a dash for one of the two open registers.  I stood waiting for the woman in front of me to finish paying.  In the interval, a lovely lady with a single item queued behind me.

“Please, go on ahead of me,” I insisted.  She demurred, but I played my Ace:  “My mother would roll over in her grave if I didn’t let you go first, and she needs her rest.”

After she had paid, she turned to thank me far more copiously than the situation warranted.  Then she said, “Do you mind if I give you a hug?”  I assured her that I didn’t, and we embraced.  She urged me to have a good evening, thanked me twice more, and left.

The clerk asked if I knew her.  I shook my head.  “You about made her day, I think,” she said, grinning.  No doubt.  I’m sure she made mine.

I paid for my groceries and went out to the car, thinking to myself that shopping had never been quite this rewarding.

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



Today I fell into a fog.  The news of events in our nation curdled any food that I managed to swallow.  I tackled the initial deployment of my evaporative cooler and managed to over-fill it, causing water to seep from its seams and flow across my house.  True enough, three tries got me to a customer service supervisor who diligently diagnosed and solved the problem.  But by that time, I had heard the cries of children torn from their parents and could not redeem this Tuesday.

Accordingly, I did what any red-blooded American would do under same or similar circumstances.  I watched a movie.  Not just any movie: The Revolt of Mother. the 1988 gem which I had watched upon its first release.  I figured it would be on YouTube by now.

I plugged my tablet into its charger and curled on my daybed with my feet propped on the cedar chest.  I had shoved the water-soaked towel in the laundry machine and left the day’s dishes in the sink.  With the setting sun, the house cooled of its own accord.  I stilled the machine and flicked the switch on the overhead fan before collapsing and letting myself fall into the film.  I took a certain satisfaction from Amy Madigan‘s performance thirty years ago, and felt that warmth return this evening.  With all the evil and tribulation about which I could complain, I’m happy to have had a sweet piece of acting and a fine plot to distract me.

Midnight draws near.  I’m thinking of the dust in my bathroom sink and the rubble accumulated in my car.  I let myself flounder today.  But I’m cutting myself a little slack.  Not every day needs to be conquered.  Some can merely be survived.

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



“Remember Juneteenth”



A Long Line of Fathers

I come from a long line of mothers with complicated relationships involving their fathers or the fathers of their children.

My great-grandfather Conrad Ulz blew off his trigger finger to escape serving in the war in Austria.  He faced jail or the choice to emigrate, and thus decamped to America.  He left behind the mother of his children and those of his children by then already born.  They later followed him.  I’ve often wondered how his stark choices impacted his eldest, Johanna, who became my grandmother.

Johanna married Delmar Lyons, a Syrian man, in an era when women still stayed at home.  Men worked and sat silent behind their newspapers at the table waiting for supper.  But Delmar’s business failed in the Depression.  Johanna went to work and became a vocal presence in the household. Ultimately, they presented as equals, at least in my view of them.

Their oldest daughter, Lucille Johanna Lyons, married a handsome Irish boy from St. Louis, Richard Corley, just recently discharged after combat duty in WWII.  She must have thought his charm showed promise, because she quit nursing school to become his bride.  But he turned into a violent alcoholic.  Despite bearing eight children, she worked from early in the marriage.  She died too young, of misdiagnosed cancer which metasticized before it could be properly treated.  Her husband, my father, outlived her by six years, falling into physical ruin.  He suffered a heart attack on the floor of a McDonald’s bathroom on the way to my son’s baptism.

My son’s father had never wanted to serve in that role.  He had been married; and a child that they wanted had died, leaving him afraid to love another infant.  He resented my pregnancy.  Though he paid child support, he never saw his son and still has no relationship with him.  I’ve spent twenty-seven years trying to compensate for that absence.

I do not write these words by way of complaint.   I understand that every human being has limitations.  My great-grandfather, whom we called Dad, passed away when I was four or five.  My grandfather survived my mother by four months.  My father died in 1991.   As far as I know, my son’s father still lives.  Each of these men did some good for their children and the mothers of their children.  Though the harm inflicted by my own father certainly outweighs the good, still, I would rather kindle the flicker of loveliness than fan the flame of evil.

Along the way, I’ve known some amazing fathers.  My brothers Mark, Frank, and Kevin come readily to mind.  I’ve known many other men who took to the role of father with gusto.  I would numb my fingers if I named them all.  I’d run the risk of forgetting a few who deserve commendation.  I’ll acknowledge them all in one fell swoop:  Good on you, guys!

Someone mentioned Father’s Day to me last week.  I gave my usual glib reply.  “We’re fresh out of fathers at my house,” I said, and kept walking.  I did not want to see the stunned look on the person’s face.  I realized that for people with husbands who walked beside them during pregnancy and the stroller phase; and fathers whom they could take to school dances without fear of embarrassment, Father’s Day makes sense.  But for some of us, it’s a complicated social ritual.

But for the many fabulous fathers, I pause in my Sunday morning to voice gratitude for everything you do for your children and for the other parent of those fortunate babies.  The world needs you.  The children need you.  Happy Father’s Day.  You deserve my unqualified praise, and you have it.  Thank you.

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

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jog

I didn’t go to market and I didn’t buy a fat hog but I did come home again.

I spent two glorious nights and a full luxurious day at Pigeon Point Hostel. I accept that many of you might roll your eyes at the thought of a $28 bed in a six-woman dorm being luxury.  But for me, the ability to sit without interruption on a bench overlooking the Pacific justifies the drive and the slight inconvenience of sharing a bathroom with strangers.  Truth told, the mattresses in Dolphin House (my preferred assignment) inspired my new mattress purchase. I sleep better on them than anywhere, though this might be due in part to the sound of the sea through the open window.

I drove to San Jose today and assisted at California TinyFest.  I just completed a YouTube video about the experience which I hope you’ll see as soon as it successfully uploads.  The drive back to Park Delta Bay took me through the Mission District.  A twinge of temptation nearly occasioned a detour to see the Mission, but I resisted and pulled into the park five minutes before the office closed.  My timing enabled me to take possession of my new evaporative cooler, a purchase also covered in the latest video.

If I seem smug and self-satisfied, it’s a happy illusion.  Allow me a few minutes of gloating:  Three separate visitors to the display which I worked at TinyFest told me that I was famous, having seen the interview done here at the park this winter.  “I feel pretty. . .”

But now I’m back to the humdrum realities of my existence.  I’ve doctor visits to schedule, a job to find, and I still have that nagging extra eight or ten pounds to lose.  And as God is my witness, I’ll never go hungry again; for I still have Tara, and tomorrow’s another day.

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


Happy Father’s Day to All My Friends and Family Who Are Men With Children.  May the Love and Honor Always Flow In Each Direction.