Monthly Archives: December 2018

My First Steps

I recorded my first post in this blog on 28 December 2013.  I pledged to go “cold turkey” with complaining.  At the time, I lived in Brookside, an old neighborhood in Kansas City.  I took my inspiration from my mother-in-law, Joanna Mitchell MacLaughlin.  She had just died, and the priest who spoke at her service remarked on her uncomplaining nature.  At the time, I was married to her only son.  I had two step-children from that marriage; two from my first marriage; and a biological son, Patrick.

Five years later, as the sun sets on my fifth year of striving to forego complaint, I reflect on where I stood in that moment, the road which I have traveled, and the spot in the universe which I now occupy.

I live in a 12-acre RV / Tiny House park.  Ten other owner-occupied tiny homes, a host of RVs and trailers, and a handful of park models surround a broad expanse of meadow bisected by a stream of overflow from the San Joaquin river channeled into a natural creek bed.  Weeping willows rise above the rich earth.  Migrating geese, cranes, and other majestic fowl dot the sky.  A thousand small critters scurry underneath my house.  Cactus grow as large as cars in this pleasant climate.

I still have a warm, close relationship with Tshandra and Kim, my stepdaughters from my first marriage.  I’m divorced.  I never see or hear from my two beloved stepchildren from my most recent marriage.  I harbor no ill will to any of them.  I love all of them.  I mourn the loss of that relationship, just as I grieve the death of my favorite curmudgeon, my father-in-law Jabez MacLaughlin.

I closed my law practice, sold my house, and commissioned the construction of this tiny house on wheels which I named Angel’s Haven.  I came two thousand miles to start a new life.  I work in a law firm in Rio Vista, California, for a probate attorney who values my talents.  I’ve chosen not to get a California law license. I research, write, and draft estate planning documents.  I have my own little office.  I haven’t learned to use the inter-office phone system yet, but I did manage to program myself into the fancy-schmancy scanner.

Along the way, I’ve learned some valuable lessons.  I have not yet managed to go an entire year without complaining.  I don’t concede that I will not achieve that goal one day.  I have added some interim steps which I value as highly as the ultimate endgame to my personal quest.

Some cruel devices of life bludgeoned me into acknowledging that not everyone has my best interest in mind and heart.  I’m afraid to cite examples, because once in a while, someone recognizes themselves in even the most obliquely expressed anecdote.  I try to deny the accuracy of their suspicion, but I don’t fool them.  So allow me some generic observations here, for the sake of protecting the guilty.

I’ve learned not to let anyone know that you defended them to a good friend whom they cherish more than they cherish you.

I’ve learned that if I defend someone publicly, the person who attacked them will turn on me, and I accept that as a worthwhile risk.

I’ve learned that my title as the Energizer Bunny might have been justly earned, but even renewable batteries need down-time.

I’ve learned that I can combine resilience with relentlessness in any pursuit as long as my goals remain true to my values.

I’ve renewed my commitment to putting my best foot forward (thanks, Nana), to continuing to walk (thanks, Mom) and to living to be 103 and nagging my son every day of his life.  Okay, well, I’ve loosened my grip on that last bit, for which I feel certain my son would be relieved if it continues to be true.

I’ve learned that it is easier to refrain from complaint if one views the pursuit as an effort to live joyfully.

I’ve discovered that I do not need to defend my manner of expressing love.  I’ve accepted that others express their own love in different ways than I do.

I’ve learned that when someone decides that they do not like you, it reflects only their choice and not your intrinsic worth.

I’ve learned that being a bit easier on myself makes it also possible to be easier on others.

I consider these small steps, first steps.  I’ve learned enough in the last five years to wish that I had started sooner.

I remember the weeks when my doctor and I titrated me off painkillers for the first time in forty-five years as a wistful period at the very start of this adventure.  I knew that being off narcotics would open me to experiences which I had been able to avoid.  I would feel again, all the pain, all the aches, all the bone-crunching spasms — but also the fear, the anger, and the loss that life brought to me.

Getting off narcotics also restored my ability to feel joy.  It took longer, because I had so many years of repression for which to compensate.  Bile rises higher, harder, and faster than beauty.  But all the horrible stuff that I had shoved into my celestial gut eventually spewed upon the ground.  I raked through it, examining the disgorged memories.  I extracted bits of the grim refuse, turning it this way and that, examining its formidable contours.  I dragged a bag from the cupboard and filled it with all those dark images, securing the mess with a sturdy zip tie.  I hauled it to the curb on Bulk Trash Day.  I watched a grinning sanitation engineer sling the filth into the back of his truck and drive away.

It’s the thirtieth day of the sixtieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

My neighbor’s son extended my year-old path by nine squares today. Next year, I’ll try for another nine.

No, I do not wish to complain!

I spent thirty-five years practicing law (so far), and I have formed a lot of opinions about customer service.  I’ve done my share of bungling but for the most part, my clients liked the work which my firm provided.  I had great staff and I worked my little butt to its bony base trying to do more than the meager sums which I charged would typically allow.  I considered myself a difficult boss but an earnest provider of legal services.

Today I reached my wit’s end with a company’s representative with whom I had contracted to do business.  I won’t name the representative or the company, so please do not ask.  In keeping with my mission of turning complaint into something more positive. I’ll share that I spent a lot of time trying to detail my needs for the company’s employee with whom I did business.  The individual did not wish to meet my needs in the way which worked for me.  Some time has passed during which I tolerated the difficulty.  I’m switching representatives first; and if I receive similar treatment, I’ll switch vendors altogether.

I wanted to reach out to the company itself to discuss the situation.  Blame had been heaped on the distant HQ by the local individual for that person’s alleged inability to meet my needs in an effective way.  Therefore, I wanted to hear from the  headquarters as to whether my needs could be met in a way which resonates with me. I asked the local person whom I should contact, and received a phone number and a department.

I made two calls.  The first reached an agent who clearly had a different view of the delivery of customer service than I do.  I explained that I needed to address discontent and he put me on hold for over ten minutes.  The line went dead.  I re-called, and this time, got what can only be described as a “nice young man”.  He provided a first name and an ID.  I generally protest the failure to provide a surname.  They have mine, after all.  But I’ll take a first-name only if I can ostensibly sort out which “name ending in Y or IE” made promises or assurances.  An identification number works for that purpose.

The young man First Name ID# carefully listened to my concerns.  I tried to phrase them clearly and logically, even calmly.  He asked a few questions, but mostly repeated some of my statements as though to clarify or keep track.  After a lengthy call, he said that  he could make a “verbal complaint” on my behalf.

I demurred.  “I don’t want to complain,” I emphasized.  “It’s not my place to change this individual’s manner of doing business.  I placed my trust in [pronoun omitted] and I feel abused, but I am moving past that now.  Now I want to address the future.  Will I be able to get the service which I need, or should I move to another company?”

“All I can do is make a verbal complaint for you.”  I did not relish the careful delineation of a “verbal” complaint.  I asked what that meant.  “I can only make a Verbal Complaint.  I will give it to the Verbal Complaint Department.  It’s up to the Verbal Complaint taker as to what they do with your Verbal Complaint,” he replied.

My uneasiness increased.  “Honestly, I do not wish to complain.  I just want to know if I can get the situation remedied for the future,” I assured him.  “Will someone call me?”

“No,” he admitted.  “I’m just taking a Verbal Complaint.”  He continued.  “If you want someone to get back to you, then you have to make a Written Complaint.”

“I don’t want to complain at all,” I insisted.  “I’m not [this person’s] mother or keeper.  I’m not [this person’s] supervisor or trainer.  I have no desire to influence [this person] whatsoever.  In fact, I doubt that I could.  [This person] seems comfortable with [this person’s] manner of treating customers.  I just want to know if that is typical of your company, because if it is, I want to change companies.”

“I can’t do anything for you other than making a Verbal Complaint.  If you want someone to call you back, you have to make a Written Complaint.”

I tried not to complain.  But I have ongoing business needs and if this company can’t meet them, I will have to change companies.  I took down the e-mail address to which I have to “make a Written Complaint”, and I thanked First Name ID# for his help.  I told him, with absolute sincerity, that I really felt sorry for him having to work for the outfit in question. I concluded, “You’re better than your employer.”  He thanked me.  We said goodbye.  I sat at my computer and wrote a brief paragraph, referring them to the notes which First Name ID# had promised to take, and asking for a callback.

The entire episode, not counting the many times that I tried to get help from the local agent, took two hours.  At its conclusion, I felt utterly exhausted, mostly from striving to treat First Name ID# better than I believe I have been treated for the last year.  After all, he did nothing untoward.  He and I both fell victim to a soulless corporation which apparently cares absolutely nothing about  its customers.

This not-complaining stuff drains me sometimes.  To soothe my battered psyche, I went to The Joint for a casual meal and heard live music at Mei Wah Beer Room.  I still have the grime of the greedy corporation clinging to my energy, but a good night’s sleep ought to take care of that.

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

Some damn fine friends

In elementary school, I socialized with a group of girls who considered themselves to be misfits.  We got that reputation for various reasons.  I walked funny; another had an Irish accent; a third acted tomboyish; another carried too much poundage on her tall frame for fashionable presentment in those days.  We knew that our classmates did not accept us; but we honored each other in the best way we could, banding together on the playground and hissing at the boys who tortured us and the girls who mocked us.

I’ve always had a group like that.  Though I never quite felt as though I belonged anywhere, the women with whom I surrounded myself took the edge off of my loneliness.  I’ve had some damn fine friends.  I won’t name them, because I would doubtless overlook someone.  But my tribe sustained me through the darkness which surrounded me time after time.  

In March of 2016, I acquired two more to add to my list of women who enrich my life and ease my sense of isolation.  I met Sharon Alberts and Ellen Cox, mother and daughter, at HI Pigeon Point.  They had come for the sea lions, while I had tacked a weekend on the coast to my quarterly appointments at Stanford.  We found common ground over coffee and yoga in the living room of the Dolphin dorm.

Yesterday my son and I spent our second consecutive Christmas in the home of Sharon and her husband Jerry.  Ellen had come down from Oregon where she has begun the final stage of her degree in civil engineering.  At a laden table, over Lodi wine, with the Alberts traditional “chocolate cake for baby Jesus’ birthday” at hand, we talked for hours about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Afterwards my son drove and I DJ’ed all the way back to the Delta.  A finer Christmas has not been had.  Just as fine, perhaps; but none finer.  

I’m missing the Gathering of the Usual Suspects, the annual  gift exchange at my house in Kansas City.  Dinner at the Alberts/Cox residence went a long way towards easing my homesickness, and created yet another in a series of  #christmastraditionsreinvented.  

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

Even Stephen

I vaguely recall the day of my brother Stephen’s birth in 1959, when I was a little thing, barely four.  My sisters tell me that we couldn’t play the noisy games which Santa had brought for Christmas, but I don’t remember that.  My mother went into labor during the morning festivities.  Dad took her to the hospital.  I imagine my grandmother had come down to care for us.

My parents intended to name our youngest brother “Christopher” because of his birthday.  When Dad came back that afternoon, he explained that they had changed their minds.  Mother always wanted the same number of boys and girls.  They chose “Stephen” because he made everything even.  Get it?  Even Stephen.

He had a sweet face and a saucy disposition.  You could upset him easily but he forgave with equal swiftness.  He loved dancing, the Grateful Dead, and snow.  He had a sense of style and poured a mean Stinger, something which I learned on the day of my mother’s funeral.  I woke the next morning in a heap behind the bar at McGurk’s in St. Louis.  Stephen had already started coffee and lit his  first cigarette.

He had a wicked keen humor with a sarcastic edge.  He once met me at the airport ahead of my boyfriend.  He swung me into the air and nestled me under one arm.  “Get the luggage, dude, I’m taking my sister to breakfast,” he told the astonished man who thought he would be retrieving me.  I shrugged and smiled.  What could I do, but laugh and go?

My memories of Stephen have been romanticized into oblivion.  But I have no doubt about the insidiousness of his addiction.  I once watched him shoot up with heroin while I sat nursing my son.  The sight drove me to stay with another sibling for the week of my father’s funeral.  I understood the pressure which Stephen felt, but I couldn’t expose myself or my infant son to such conduct.

Stephen had a lot of glory to him.  He loved fiercely, lived fully, and reached his hand to anyone within radius when the music started.  I realize the grandeur of his persona provides small comfort to those whom he disappointed.  I do not mean to belittle the loss which they felt.  I loved him, though.

His death by suicide gutted me.   His pain drove him to the trigger and has nothing to do with me.  I do not claim the anguish.  I merely survived while he died; and for that, I have the burden of my own impregnable suffering.

I see the stamp of Stephen’s face on his daughters, with whom I have developed some relationship.  They had marvelous mothers; and noble, wonderful adoptive/step fathers.  They made lives without my brother.  But he exists in them nonetheless.  I pray that they got the splendor of him, and not whatever drove him from all of us and from this life.

As I sit in my writing loft, rain beats on the metal roof.  The Delta has entered the rainy season.  No white Christmas here, I’m afraid.  But those days rise in memory.  I particularly recall the Christmas when my mother got sleds for my little brothers Frank and Steve.  They came into the living room early and beheld the shiny sleds with their gleaming metal runners and big bows.

Frank moaned, “Mom will feel so stupid, since we won’t be able to use these.”  Then Steve opened the curtain and saw the blanket of snow  in the front yard.

“It’s a miracle!” he shouted, and the two of them danced around making such a racket that my mother emerged from the back bedroom to shush them. They fell upon her with glee.  I will never forget the sight of my mother, in the glad embrace of her two baby boys, as the silent snow steadily fell outside the window.

I named my son after my brother.  He loved his uncle Steve.  Once a lady bent over him and said “Merry Christmas, little boy! Do you know whose birthday it is?”  Patrick chortled, “Yes, I sure do!  It’s uncle Steve’s birthday!”

Happy birthday, Stevie Pat.  I miss you.  I hope there is no pain in heaven; and that you’ve found a place to lay your head and listen to the music you love.  I hope there’s whiskey in heaven.  Cheers!

It’s Christmas Eve, the twenty-fourth day of the sixtieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.




12/25/1959 – 06/–/1997

BROKEDOWN PALACE – The Grateful Dead


Last year, my son and I took BART to San Francisco on Christmas Eve.  Though we found it radically different than its normal bustling state, we enjoyed our walk through the nearly vacant downtown. We gazed the height of buildings that he wanted to see.  We found an open Thai restaurant.  But we did not get to view the city from atop the Coit Tower, which closed early for the holiday.

This year, we repeated our BART trip.  We ate Chinese just off Union Square.  We took a LYFT to the Tower and got our tickets.  We stood in line for half an hour, then assured the staff attendant that I could traverse the two winding flights of stone stairs for the last leg of the journey.  We made it to the top, only a year late.  It certainly did not disappoint.

My son takes me to the best places. 

#christmastraditionsreinvented  #mytinylife #lovingwhattheuniverseprovides

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

Winter solstice

My son and I celebrated winter solstice by partaking of the adventures which the Delta offers to those who wish to immerse themselves in its rich heritage. 

We started with a mid-day visit to the Michael David Winery.  Then we made our way to the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve, where we had been told we would see thousands of sandhill cranes.  None materialized other than a few broad sweeps on the distant horizon just as the sunset faded.  But a falcon struck spectacular poses for us.  Later we explored the burgeoning metropolis of Isleton, with its new Joint and the old standby, Mei Wah Beer Room.

We paid no intention to the shuttering of the nation, or his dwindling inheritance, or the disaster in Washington.  Back at home, we marveled over my new bench.  We walked down the row and took a tour of Derek Campbell’s home.  Derek built my bench.  He and his wife, Kelly, built their amazing THOW.  After our tour, Patrick and I brought the shortest day of 2018 to a close with Margaritas, using the last lime from my little tree. 

I have no quarrels with this day.  Not a blessed one.   I would not change a single second.

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

In which a house becomes a home

I look across Angel’s Haven and see my son in the neighboring loft on his computer.  Somehow having him here makes this house seem more like a home.

I’ve been in California for an entire marvelous year.  I’ve seen the seasons bloom and fade.  The egrets walk among the grazing sheep again, just as they did when I arrived.  The Canadian geese rise and fall over the fallow fields.  After a day in the city, returning to the park draws the tension from my shoulders.

Potato soup simmers on the stove.  I opened a bottle of wine to deglaze, good Lodi Old Vine Zin.  I still marvel at the thought that I’ve been drinking the stuff for years without imagining that  I would live so close to the vineyards of its origins.

We drove above Berkeley today, to Indian Rock.  A retired attorney from Santa Rosa stood watching his own son, visiting from Amsterdam, climb the rock’s face.  “I rented a room near here during law school,” he told me.  “I’ve never climbed; it always had too many tourists.”  A family walked by us just then.  The wife smiled.  She lifted her camera and nodded.  The man and I exchanged the shrug of locals, even though he had the rounded vowels of Canada while I spoke in the hard twang of St. Louis.  When our offspring reappeared, we shook hands, wished each other regards of the season, and got into our respective Toyota SUVs.

It must be something in the air.  I wore my smile all the way to the Delta, to my home, where the migratory season has started and the river continues its steady flow eastward.

It’s the nineteenth day of the sixtieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues



In a state of constant wonder

Tendrils of cloud drift across the sky in the shimmering afterglow of the winter sun.  Lights rise above the horizon, lights which I know to be windmills though I cannot discern their shape in the dusk.  I drive a now familiar route, east on 12, south on Jackson Slough, make a right at Brannan Island and follow the river.  A constant state of wonder settles around me, warm and comforting like an old sweater left on the waiting rocker.

The last stretch of levee road before the driveway sits high above the park.  I slow, leaning down to peer beneath the line of trees.  Christmas lights flash and twinkle on the tiny houses and trailers.  I see the blue fairy lights entwined on my own handrail, and the bright porch light welcoming me.

When I left Arkansas in 1992, I swore that I would never again live in the country.  “I’ve  had enough fresh air to last the rest of my life,” I proclaimed, and followed that assertion with the news that I intended to live to be 103.  I would breathe the exhaust of a thousand cars every day. I would thrive on the thick polluted air.  I would gladly rinse the filth of the city from my clothes.

Yet now I stand two-thirds of the way through my intended tenure on earth, and find myself luxuriating in this rustic environment.  I do not seem to mind the freshness of the air, nor the imposing presence of the tule fog.  I tolerated the weeks on end of ash drifting down from the Camp Fire in Paradise.  My neighbors and I counted ourselves blessed that we only had to deal with heavy smoke and falling soot.

My son arrives tomorrow.  I wore myself out with chores yesterday, cleaning, laundry, and a little bit of organization.  At  one point, I called my internet provider to address lagging in videos.   My son needs reliable internet access to work a few shifts while he’s here.

“How close are you to the modem,” the agent asked.  I turned and gazed across the way, reflecting on how to answer.

“I live in 175 square feet,” I finally admitted.  “No where is far from the modem.”

She had no reply.

In a few days, I’ll celebrate my twelfth month of living in the California Delta.  December 31st brings the end of my fifth year of pursuing this blog.  The next day will dawn on the sixty-first month in my seemingly eternal project.  I still have not managed to turn the pages of twelve consecutive months without uttering complaint.

But on this, the seventeenth day of the sixtieth month of My Year Without Complaining, my resolve persists.  I remain relentless.  Life continues.



Once in a breathtaking while, kindred souls come within proximity to one another.  They can be lovers, siblings, friends, or just humans in orbit.  The connection between them can stretch two thousand miles but  it will never break.

On my birthday this year, I met such a soul.  She comes from Australia by way of the inner belly of the earth, the spirit of the cosmos, and the echo of a deep cave.  She’s less than half my age but sees the world through an astonishingly familiar lens.  We walked through redwoods together.  We ate lunch on a log.  We climbed a path into the comforting darkness of a California forest as the clock ticked down the seconds until the precise sixty-third anniversary of my birth.

At the end of our sojourn on the ocean, Genevieve continued her journey.  Eventually she settled near the US / Canadian border, south of Toronto, north of Buffalo.  I went back to my tiny house, to work, to this keyboard and the window through which I see the changing seasons of the California Delta.  When she called tonight, four months later, her voice sounded as clear as it had in the hostel, across breakfast, in the soft air of the forest when only the sound of our feet on the crackling leaves disturbed our peace.

I do not expect much from life.  When the universe sends these little gems in my direction, I take them to my bosom like a thimbleful of water in the desert.  I am grateful for the sister leopards who come my way, even the young ones, whose tender hopes still thrive.  Now and then serendipity halts the world’s mad spinning in the precise spot  where I need to be.

It’s the fifteenth day of the sixtieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Lie continues.





What can I say?

Driving home from one of my two contract jobs earlier this week, I got stopped in traffic.

But I did not mind.  Some situations deserve patience.  A long line of vehicles sat, with drivers unconcerned about the time that they might lose.  People’s hands dangled out of their car windows.  I could hear a radio behind me, music drifting along the line.  No one honked.  Not a soul slammed their door open and paced in the road.  We waited.  When the impediment cleared, engines started and we moved forward.

As I took my turn, I wondered whether I could get the five miles to Rio Vista to see it all over again, as I drove into town for groceries, across the Rio Vista Bridge.

#deltalife  What can I say?  It’s grand.  Just grand.

It’s the fourteenth day of the sixtieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.