Monthly Archives: February 2020

A Leap of Faith

In a week when my meager savings took the same downward dive that everyone experienced and I learned that a bunch of specialists probably lied to me, having an extra day seemed like a mixed blessing.    I considered staying inside all day.  But the sun shimmered on the tender shoots of grass in the meadow.  The sky stretched its sweetest blue overhead.  Geese in their eternal formation soared past gentle wisps of clouds and glided into the fields of our island.  So I pulled on clean jeans, buckled my red Mary Janes, and straightened my news boy hat.  I took myself out to breakfast.  Then I used Leap Day to cast my vote in the primary and watch lion dancers celebrate the Year of the Rat in Isleton.

For no particular reason other than a desire to share the experience, I offer a gallery of a handful of the 206 largely unusable photographs.  I took these while leaning one hip on a large planter of succulents in front of the Wandering Gypsy in Isleton, California.

Judging from the rush of the Delta winds through the willows behind  my house, March intends to emerge like a lion herself.   Let us hope she eases into April like an innocent, peaceful lamb.

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

Of sights which I cannot forget

I cannot capture the sweep of the egret’s flight.  I dare not turn away long enough to lift my camera and find the focus.  I yearn to share what I see, what prompts the unbidden gasp.  I can only sit in my car on the side of the road and marvel.

Dusk falls more gently each night as I arrive home.  We inch our way towards spring, when the flocks of snow geese will rise into the wind and fade on the horizon.  The egrets too will find their way to warmer fields.  We sigh and stare into the sky, already lonely, already counting the days until the return of these majestic creatures.

A lifetime ago, I traveled to Montana to visit a friend.  We drove to Glacier Park in the chill of an October morning.  As I stood beside St. Mary Lake, I lamented the accidental abandonment of my camera in my suitcase at his apartment.

No worries, he assured me.  The photographs you take with your heart will  last forever.

I close my eyes and let the image of the egrets find its way into my eternal album, with the smile on my son’s face as he lay in my arms and the tilt of my mother’s head as she watched her grandchildren from the park bench in her backyard on her last Easter Sunday.  My friend did not mislead me.  Pictures of the heart never fade.

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

Some Days

Some days wrap themselves around your tired body like Mama’s cashmere sweater and the steaming cup of hot chocolate that she brings you with a plate of vanilla wafers. 

Other days drag you down like heavy school brogues, clumsy and chunky.  Their minutes stretch into eternities with a soundtrack of hollow laughter.  The hands of the clock freeze on the second that the phone shrilled with tragic news.  Those days settle in the back of your neck and in the furrow of your tired forehead.

I started this day with some stunning news about my health that I still struggle to comprehend.  Then I watched a sulky technician completely abandon a confused older woman who didn’t understand where she was or what she should do.  I helped her find the exit, waited while she searched for her car, and shook my head at the sight of an adult behind the steering wheel who didn’t even get out to open her door.

The day sagged after that.  It didn’t so much go downhill as sink in the muck and mire of Monday.  Time and time again, I shook my head.  I felt my dormant ulcer protest and abandoned my coffee.  Files piled on my desk; problems festered in my inbox. 

Then I came home, back to the island, to the wide expanses of the winter fields with clusters of snow geese.  A golden glow flowed across the horizon.  Mount Diablo stood silent and majestic in the crimson sunset.  A glimmer of hope stirred within me.

I realized that I had not checked my mailbox in several days, and pulled a pile of packages from its tight corners.  I carried the lot into my house and dumped it on the table.  I reached to run water for tea. The moan of the hot water heater foretold its impending death.  Within seconds an ominous beeping filled my tiny space.  Call the code.  Reset! Reset!

It’s too late, we lost her.  Flatline.

I sank into my chair.  How would I spin this day?  What bright, silver lining could I rend from the clouds?  Where would I find the stardust to sprinkle on the pages of this account, this reckoning, this tribute to my never-ending quest to lead a joyful life?

My eyes fell on the little box adorned with Priority Mail stickers.  I recognized the sender’s name, a woman whom I met two weeks ago at the Point Montara hostel.  I pulled away the packing tape and pried back the battered flaps to peer inside.

And I began to smile.

Some days bring sweet messages from the angels who surround me, soft reminders of the enduring charity of those persistent beings.  Today was one of those days.

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

Hand-knit slippers and home-sewn potholders from my newest angel, Barb Taylor of El Paso.



Some Truths Long to Be Spoken

My friend Penny recently asked me if I still wrote this blog.  She called from Kansas City one evening after dinnertime, chortling that she had just remembered the time difference and thought I might still be awake.  The sound of her voice warmed my heart.  I sat listening to her with my eyes closed and an enormous smile on my face. 

I told her that I do still write this blog but not as often.  She did not ask me why, but some truths long to be spoken. 

I stopped my long-time blog, “Saturday Musings”, when I ran out of pleasant memories to share.  Stories of life among tender humans comprised most of the entries, peppered with sorrowful stories about people whom I tried to help.  I could not continue to talk about my life without dredging dark waters, so I stopped.  Ostensibly, my hiatus allows time to edit those essays into a book.  I have not made much progress.

This blog poses a similar challenge.  I intended to use My Year Without Complaining as a journal to a joyful life in which I never complain.  I have sincerely tried.  Along the way, I have acquired some faithful followers; a myriad of stalwart cheerleaders; and a couple of vocal and venomous detractors.  I still intend to strive to live without complaining, but the stories of everything that happened to make me prone to crabbiness have begun to ooze from my pores and congeal on my scorched skin.  They clamor for attention.

Like this one:

When I moved to Little Rock in 1987, I took my Missouri doctor’s certification of my disability to the local DMV.  My niece Sarah accompanied me.  She had come down to spend a summer with me and my new husband, her father’s brother.  She wanted to go everywhere with me and I enjoyed her company as I learned about our new city.

In those days, the DMV had not yet been arranged to put barriers between the employees and the public.  Clerks sat behind old metal desks with word processors and stacks of paperwork in file stands.  The receptionist gestured to an unoccupied desk and bade us to wait for the clerk who processed applications for handicapped plates. 

Sarah and I sat chatting about dance lessons and day trips planned for when my stepdaughter Tshandra arrived.  The cousins had not seen much of each other and Sarah could barely contain her excitement.  After a few minutes, a heavyset greying woman plopped down in the desk chair and asked what she could do for us.  I showed my paperwork.  She studied it for a few minutes and then said, “You’re not in a wheelchair.”  I explained that I did not, in fact, use a wheelchair but that I met the criteria for the plates and had all the necessary forms, properly completed.  She shoved the stack across the cluttered surface of her desk and said, “I don’t approve handicapped plates for people that aren’t really handicapped.”

My stomach churned, and truth be told, my nausea found a perfect reflection in the look on Sarah’s face.  I argued with the woman for about fifteen minutes and finally Sarah said, “Corinne, let’s just go.”  I acquiesced to quell her discomfort with a trusted adult’s increasing shrillness.  I left my name and number and asked that a supervisor call me.  Sarah and I walked out of the office with all eyes turned in our direction.

By the time we got home, the woman had already left a message on our machine, asking me to call.  When I did, she spoke in quiet tones.  “Ma’am, I didn’t see you come in, but I saw you leave.  If you come back, I’ll give you the plates.”

She did not apologize, not then, and not when I returned, alone, to finish the process and get my vehicle plates.  The same group of state employees stared at me throughout the entire exchange.

A few weeks ago, I finally got my California car tags.  I had all the paperwork: A form from my doctor; the smog test certificate; my sales receipt and title from Missouri; and, just in case, my birth certificate. When I walked into the office, a sign directed me to a window for “disabled customers”.  At the counter, I had a choice to stand or sit.  My form got quickly created and I received a number for the next step.  I went through the VIN inspection routine, signed everything, and paid my fees.  Within twenty minutes, I had my plates and stood outside, by my car.  I studied my new plates, the bold indicia of my complete transformation into a Californian.  I thought about all the people who have told me over the years that I’m not crippled enough for special treatment, and all the other people who had made it abundantly clear that I’m too crippled for their affection.

I know scores of persons with disabilities who wear their burdens with far greater grace than I do.  Still,  I strive to keep the pain and feelings of impotence from poisoning my everyday demeanor.  Sometimes, though, I cannot help myself.  In those moments, I snap; and then I cry inside when I see the look of shock with which my lament is inevitably met and which even the most  hasty and sincere apology cannot erase.  Sadly, the victims of my crashes never get to see the 364 other days of the year when I walk with angels, serene and silent.  Ain’t that a crying shame?

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

For no particular reason, here’s a picture of the Pacific Ocean at Montara. Enjoy.


Saturday Blues

I can’t lie:  Sometimes, I get the blues.  On such days, I grouse around my tiny house embroiled in an inner battle.  I beat back overt complaint.  But my stomach aches; my knees creak and shudder; and the shooting stabs of misdirected ATP release call to mind Yossarian‘s dubious condition.  I’m not sick enough to be in the hospital but not well enough to dance on the levee.

Someone who shall go unnamed used to scold me for being grateful not to have worse conditions like MS or cancer. He’d say, That makes no sense; why should you be glad not to suffer more than you do?  You should just want to be pain-free.   I never understood his view on this issue.  At any given moment I can think of scores of diseases more painful or crippling than mine.  Knowing that I’ve been spared much worse makes what I have infinitely easier to tolerate.

When my mother asked me how i felt, I would typically reply, “On a scale of Nirvana to Bosnia, I’m somewhere in between.”  But I do crave decent health sometimes.   Like the blind man who covets sight, I yearn to skip, run, and maybe — just maybe — to pull socks on my feet without tears.  

Then I open the photo app on my computer and scroll through the pictures which I’ve uploaded.  I gaze at the mama owl in her nest and the snow geese in the fields behind our park.  I pull a book of poetry from my shelf and browse the tender tales of Timothy Pettet or remember the haunting voice of David Arnold Hughes. I close my eyes, set my chair to rocking, and wrap myself in evening’s cloak.  After a while, the demon relaxes its grip on my soul.  I ease myself out of the blues and into  the arms of the whispering wind which rises in the meadow.

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

My Weekend In Paradise

I went to HI Point Montara Hostel 07 – 09 February 2020.  While I do not have a fancy camera and shoot almost exclusively on “Auto”, I enjoy recording the captivating sights.  

While I waited for a friend to join me at dinner on Friday, my lens wandered over playful gulls at the edge of the beach and the sun setting across a parking lot.  Later, I madly snapped frame after frame of the full moon.  On Saturday, dawn revealed the vague lines of a ship on the farthest horizon.  I walked down a path on Pillar Point, where I watched a charming little girl run from mischievous waves.  At sunset, a young man and his Yorkie drifted across my line of sight. 

The Pacific drew me westward.  I return to her whenever my soul needs comfort.  She never disappoints me.  Someone whom I met at the hostel this weekend asked how frequently I stay there.  As often as possible, I admitted.  And it doesn’t seem like nearly enough.  

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

The Thing About Friends

My glorious weekend at the ocean had left me sapped of energy.  Usually the sea rejuvenates me. I can depend on the soothing grace of her song and the soft kiss of her breath to revitalize my spirit.  But one of my episodic slumps pulled at the corners of my mouth all week.  I might have fared worse if I had not gone; but I returned in a fog of fatigue to Monday’s eight-hour work-day.  A basket filled with self-doubt dumped itself on my doorstep by nightfall.

Then the screen of my cell phone lit with a name that I rarely see these days.  Penny Thieme.  I hit the button to engage.  Her sassy spirit bubbled across the miles.  We talked about old times, old folks, old lines for which we still search for that perfect rhyme.  I told her about walking to the edge of an ocean cliff to live a sticker for my friend Beth’s son Xander.  She shared her latest adventures,and told a sweet silly story about love and lust in the San Francisco of younger years.  By the time we finally admitted our respective need for sleep, my soul had risen from the slumps even if my body could not follow.

Here’s the thing about friends.  Whether born to us, like a dear sibling or cousin; or gifted by the universe, they soothe me as no tonic ever could.  As I scroll through the weekend’s photographs looking for the one I took of a crow on San Gregorio Beach, I see my friend Penny’s radiant face and I know, as certainly as I sit here in the loft of my tiny house, that no distance, nor any mere feature of geography, nor the strongest Delta winds, could ever .damage our connection beyond repair.  The phone trills; I see her name; and I might as well have just left her at the coffee table bent over some sketch or scribbling.

Hey, Penny.  What’s up, girl?

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

Alas, I cannot find the crow from San Gregorio, but here you see a couple of fast friends taken across the meadow where I live.


On the Rising of a Gentle Soul

I did not know Marilyn Lyle for a long time, nor well; but nonetheless I felt the soft rising of her gentle soul.  I woke at five this morning, knowing that her end had been near.  The message on social media confirmed my fear.

Marilyn had worked in the same office in which I currently work.  Her cancer had taken her from the daily grind.  She occasionally spent a day at her old job.  We met there from time to time and once or twice socialized with the rest of the office.

I last spoke with her one Friday morning around Christmas.  She sat in the chair beside my desk and spoke of the failure of the experimental treatment which she had been receiving.  She talked about her oldest son’s sudden, recent, and tragic death.  She stressed her belief that he had moved from this world to one in which his soul found peace and pain eased its terrible grip.  I wondered if she had the same hope for herself.  I could only nod; and smile; and hold myself open to whatever she wanted to share.

Her younger son and husband tracked her last days in a private Facebook group.  Although I do not espouse any particular religious faith, my connection with the universe remains solid.  So i reached out to my own friends — to those who pray, and to others who share my own sense of the wholeness of the spirit which rests in each of us.  I asked for prayers, positive thoughts, and healing energy.  My tribe responded, which Marilyn saw and appreciated.

I might never meet Marilyn’s family.  But I know their pain, if not the comfort which they take in their Christianity.  I have shared exactly their  loss.  My mother died of cancer in 1985.  My brother took his life in 1997.  My mother-in-law slipped away in 2013 after dementia overcame her.  My favorite curmudgeon, my father-in-law, succumbed to cancer a year later.  Those hallmark departures from the slender claim I stake to stability rocked me as Marilyn’s death must have shattered those who held her dear.

Yet the passing of someone like Marilyn also calls forth a slender reed of hope.  I cannot fathom that the tenderness which lit her eyes when she spoke of her family could fade and never rekindle.  That joyfulness certainly must endure:  In a delicate blossom among the brambles by the highway; in the smile on her granddaughter’s face; in the stillness of her husband’s cheek as he remembers her touch.  The ember need not glow only on the broad cold hearth in some mystic mansion.  I can find it here, at the seaside, in the soaring sweep of the seagull’s flight and the pale shimmer of the winter moon.

My glass holds only water, but that water is clear and cool.  I raise the drinking vessel from the table and hold it toward the flicker of the fire.  I close my eyes and contemplate the year or so during which I had the great good fortune to know Marilyn.  I tip my glass; I nod; and I drink, to Marilyn, and to the peace which I believe she finally found.

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

The Very Least That I Can Say

I have trod upon the earth for nearly sixty-five years.  The days have brought me along a cursedly circuitous path but not to come back a short way properly.  My sort of long way seems more like the sort which dumps you into the barrel end of a shotgun or a dead-end in the maze.

But just when I feel about as useful as a nozzle on a wooden peg, something like this happens: 

I hear a step on my porch.  I flick on the porch light.  I don’t see anyone. I open the door.  

And there, sitting on my old wooden chair, I spy a bottle of drinking water which my neighbors Helix and Louis have left for me.  Helix thought I seemed dehydrated when we spoke outside the community room at dinner time.  I could drink tap water, of course; but we all prefer bottled and I had forgotten to replenish my supply.  I take the bottle into my house, suddenly smiling, my step a touch lighter, the furrow on my brow easing if only a smidge.

I stand in my kitchen drinking for a few minutes.  Helix might have been right.  The  cool water seems to revive my spirits.  I take my phone from the table and select the message app.  I scroll to Louis’s phone number.  I hover over the text box for a moment.  Finally, because Louis is from France and Helix has become bi-lingual since they got married, I choose the one word which is, in the end, the least I can say: 


Then I use some of the water to make a cup of herbal tea and take myself off to sleep.

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

From where I sit

From the chair at my desk in the loft, I can see a patch of sunlight dappling the meadow beneath a birch tree.  I ease down and grasp the strap of my camera case.  When I load the snapshots onto my computer, I notice a bird feeder that my eyes could not detect.  The cobwebs on the pottery in my transom blur in the foreground.  I study the rust on the old car in front of a trailer from which I have never seen the resident emerge.  I wonder about him.

The tiny house row sits higher than the rest of the homes on the park’s west side.  I suppose we’re more vulnerable.  If push came to shove, a levee break would wipe us out first, but if the creek overflows its banks, we will probably survive.  The guy in that old rig, though — he’d be a goner in either case.  

When I visited my brother in St. Louis before I moved, he asked if I would be living in a trailer park.  He shook his head when I shrugged my response.  People romanticize tiny house living.  In reality, only in counties on the Oregon border could I legally park without the structure of pre-set utility poles and nearby services.  I could go off-grid.  With an easily added solar system, a fresh-water tank and its current composting toilet and propane hot-water heater, this house could stand by itself on the coast.

But this park provides community.  From where I sit, I can see a tiny house to the east and a park model to the west.  On either side of those, more tiny houses stretch six lots either way.  Over on the park’s eastern acreage, a cluster of RV dwellers live, laugh, and love in sleek steel boxes equipped with small bedrooms, dining booths, and stadium seating.  We’re all like-minded souls who eschew suburbia and the outrageous cost of living on the peninsula.  We share a community meal each week.   This morning I walked down to a neighbor’s place for coffee.  In the spring we will host the fourth annual Camp Tiny House.  Whenever we gather, talk turns to sustainable living and the financial freedom of going tiny.  We sit on each other’s mini-couches and congratulate ourselves for embracing change.

The sun has shifted.  Shadows cover the meadow.  In a little while, the stunning beauty of a Delta sunset will turn the sky ruby and indigo.  I’ll go downstairs, heat some soup, and watch the colors fade.  I like it here.  From where I sit, thinking and writing, the place looks marvelous, — rust, spiders, and all.

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