Monthly Archives: January 2021

House / Home

Every year the Delta winds batter the park in which my tiny house sits.  They came two nights ago.  Fierce, cold, and unrelenting, the winds hammered our houses and the meadow around which we squat.  Inside the dwellings of our community, we wrapped our bodies in wool and our hands around steaming mugs.  Occasionally one of us posted in the community group, expressions of trepidation or hopefulness.  We encouraged each other. 

At one point, a young couple dashed out to save my flag and my Black Lives Matter poster.  I heard the rattle under my feet as they stashed the flag and ran back to their own home through the storm.  I leaned against the love seat and looked around my little sitting room.  The wind rattled the windows; the floor shook; but the place held.  

Today I went into Stockton for another day of searching for a small dresser.  I made a list of thrift stores, furniture stores, and other places where I might find something suitable.  I understand the constraints of the cubby in which this chest will fit.  Narrow, low, and deep.  I can be patient until I find just the right item.

I started at the Habitat Restore.  I’d not brought a walking stick so I sidled into the building clutching the handrail of the ramp.  The woman at the counter sang a cheerful greeting.  She loaned me a measuring tape and I started my creep around the big room.  

I didn’t find a dresser.  But I spied a lovely oak cabinet which will far surpass the grey shelf in my bathroom, which is an open affair actually meant for spices.  It has served its purpose these three years, justifying the five dollars which I gave for it.  But now I will have something closed, made of oak, and acquired for ten dollars at a charity shop.  I stood by it, pleased with myself, but wondering  how I would get it from its perch.

I heard a voice behind me and turned.  A young man in a Habitat for Humanity cap stood in the aisle.  I noticed that he didn’t wear a mask; I saw his extraordinarily kind eyes and the soft pleasant curve of his smile.  We stood for a few minutes regarding one another.  I finally gestured to the cabinet on the shelf above me; and I asked him for help.  But I also asked if he would mind donning a mask.  My stomach flopped as I said it because I’ve not been absolutely reliable on this score myself.  The public space seemed to demand these concessions.

He nodded and walked towards the front of the store.  The cashier came back to carry my purchase while the gentleman slipped a mask over his cheerful grin.  He said, Do you want a Habitat for Humanity mug? and held out a box.   I took the offering.  I thanked him.  Then I thanked him again, for putting on his mask.  He shook his head.  No, thank you for reminding me.  I am not as good about that as I mean to be.  

And we stood, again, just looking at each other, for another easy moment.

I never found a chest of drawers.  I visited two thrift shops, a traditional furniture store, and a huge outdoor shopping complex.  I sat outside a defunct Bed, Bath, & Beyond for several moments before shrugging and turning my car towards the road to Highway 5.   A half-hour later, I parked outside my cedar-clad 198 sq. ft. tiny house on wheels.   I glanced at the cabinet in the back and the Habitat for Humanity mug on the seat beside me.  Not a bad day’s bounty.  I went inside to make a cup of tea.

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


P.S.: Happy birthday to my niece, Lisa Corley Davis.  Rock on.

The uncanny effects of a winter windstorm

Warning:  If you’re here for a pleasant account of some small incident in my looming days or a blurry photo of snow geese, give this entry a pass.  I’m stuck at home and feel contemplative about this seven-year old mission to matriculate an entire year without expressing complaint.  The product of my pen (translated through keyboard) might bore you.  But I have never sold much of my writing because I want to write what flows.  My videographer friend will doubtless turn away and say, “Too long to read”, but nonetheless, with time on my hand, I intend to let the words come as they might.

Most of that about which I initially wanted to stop complaining involved what I’ll call #firstworldproblems.  Annoying bureaucrats, careless clerks, fickle friends, and garbage consumer goods topped the list.  I have enough food and adequate shelter.  I’ve had a satisfying career, even if I didn’t achieve financial success by most people’s standards.  I made enough money to send my son to private elementary school and currently acknowledge that I buy organic eggs which come from pasture-raised chickens and cost $6.00 a dozen.  For more than a third of the world, that would be considered insanely unreachable.  Just now, I tossed a handful of cashews into my mouth not two hours after eating breakfast. 

I do not credit myself for understanding the luxury that my behavior suggests to many.  On a scale of poor to posh, I’m squarely in the middle.  As one of my favorite Jackson County Circuit Court clerks would say, “I’m blessed and taken care of.” (You should excuse the dangling preposition.)  Whether you believe in a divine entity, the grace of the universe, or merely credit my dogged refusal to surrender, I’m one of the lucky ones no matter the source of my good fortune.

So why should I complain, I asked myself seven years ago.  Why should I voice any degree of dissatisfaction with the trivial components of my existence?  I had this argument with someone (and I’ve recited this conversation in other entries, so my apologies for this redundancy).  I’m so much better off than many, how can I voice anything except gratitude?  His reply haunts me: “That’s not how it works!  It doesn’t matter if you’re worse or better off than other people!  You should have more than you have!  You deserve it!”  

The argument did not really focus on whether I should have more than others, but whether I had a right to complain for having less.  Our conversation had started with a discussion of my health situation at the time.  I remarked that I could have cancer, or MS, or lupus and since I did not, I felt grateful.  He rebelled against that concept, insisting that I deserved to be free of disease or malady.  He could not explain why.  Since we were in the middle of a divorce requested by him at the time, I assumed that he spoke from a sense of guilt.  “If you were healthier, I wouldn’t feel so bad about leaving you.” 

I might have been mistaken in my conclusion about his motives but regardless, in reality, I don’t deserve better health than the next woman.  If good health is supposed to be dolled out according to merit, I’ve got a bone to pick with whomever determined the diseases with which to bestow Stephen Hawking, Helen Keller, and my sweet cousin Paul Orso who died of ALS a few years ago.   I don’t believe that a person’s “worth” determines their allocated benefits or burdens.  Something else drives the allotment:  Chance; genetics; the vagaries of social biases; or, perhaps, the sweep of a godly arm.

Once I had determined that I needed to focus my quest for tolerance of adversity on a whole stratosphere beyond trivial circumstances and comparatively lighter difficulties, I found myself examining the stuff of headier contemplation.  I spent five or six years exploring emotion, spirituality, and human connection.  I tried direct discussion and fell flat.  I reminded myself, “Don’t tell; show.”  So I embraced what one disparaging person called “warm fuzzy concoctions”, sometimes contrasted with bleak snippets of my inner turmoil.

My audience seemed to like those passages.  Thanks to the prick of conscience from the afore-mentioned videographer, I supplied the out-of-focus snapshots of the life which I described.  I admit to feeling a bit smug as the statistics rose.  Readers increased, as did the number of clicks on each entry.  As my “year” grew ever longer, endless maybe, someone who once cringed at the thought of having to read my writing expressed the relieved belief that I had found my voice.

And now I’m here to disappoint you, because I think every word that I have written belies my original quest to pass through 365 days without complaining.  

You see:  I still complain.  I still bitch, moan, and lament.  I still wince, wish, and wail.  I haven’t foresworn complaint — I’ve made it an industry.  My only saving grace lies in my insistence that I give my words away to anyone who wishes to partake of them.  No ads, no paywalls, no click-bait, no monetization.  Just my passages, accounts of my days, a chronicle of the #journeytojoy of a #MissouriMugwump.

For the last year, I’ve joined many Americans in having an extraordinary amount of time on my hands, even more than usual.  I live alone.  I work in a small office.  I moved 2000 miles away from my dearest and nearest family and friends.  I’m not good at making true alliances, despite having an uncanny knack for spotting quality in humanity.  I already had entered a life of largely empty hours, voices only heard on the radio or through the phone, and Saturday nights with nothing to do but contemplate whether I still own too many sweaters.  The California stay-at-home orders didn’t keep me from working but it did stop cold any effort at distraction in the public places which are sufficiently noisy to drown out the mantra marching through my restless brain:  You’ve come sixty-five years with little of merit to show for your time in this world.

Besides hours spent assessing my personal achievements, I’ve devoted a good chunk of my pandemic pondering to identifying truly important issues worthy of expressing dismay.  My son has devoted himself to anti-capitalism and to the cause of equalizing opportunities and resources.  His example has opened my eyes to modern champions of such causes, as well as historically significant figures about whom I once had a vague notion but whose work I had forgotten, such as Frank Chapman.  I’ve started listening to progressive podcasts such as the Young Turks, but also to whatever mainstream media has to say from which I could understand whether the everyday American enterprise acknowledges the disparities which haunt our society.  I asked myself:  What does society say about the relative importance of human beings; and can my inner drive towards living a serene life be understood in the broader context of the social compact?

Does my mission of striving to go a year without complaining have wider significance, or am I just seeking validation for my veneer of self-righteous composure?

Lots of people have a reputation for not complaining.   Entire swathes seem to nobly bear the hallmark.  I’m sure that I have heaved many an audible sigh and proclaimed my intention to sit in the dark when the lightbulb went out rather than ask for assistance and bother someone.   I see the first seven years of this endeavor as fitting within that category, though I give myself partial credit for the recently passed months in which I’ve striven for a more enduring message.  

When push comes inevitably to shove, Marshall Rosenberg again provides the basic and unerring truth.  We have basic needs.  We seek to meet those needs.  We ask others to behave in ways which allow our needs to be met.  We stand in vulnerable supplication, ready to aid others but also asking to be assisted.  Nothing else actually matters; therefore, the single only subject worthy of complaint can be expressed as the tragedy of unmet needs.

I’ve come to the end of this morning’s flood of thought.  I don’t claim to be any closer to understanding where this rambling train ride ends.  I only know that I want to continue trying to foreswear complaint if only do also abandon my regard for the trivial and the trappings by which I have judged my performance for the last six and a half decades.  I have been known to proclaim that I do not mind if my only legacy lies in giving birth to an accomplished advocate and gentle, accepting soul.  In truth, though, I find myself now driven to greater good.  Rather than simply going a year without complaining, perhaps my mission has evolved to spending the rest of lending an effort to lifting others from the muck of life so that they, too, might have the luxury of idle contemplation afforded to me and documented in this self-indulgent journal.

Last night’s windstorm swept away cobwebs from the roof of my #tinyhouseonwheels and perhaps a few which have long lingered inside my soul.  The electricity has not yet been restored to Rio Vista where I work.  Oddly, despite hours of the relentless 35 mile-per-hour battering of an ancient infrastructure, power endures where I live.  I have plenty of propane and a few extra hours.  I count myself fortunate.  I intend to make the most of whatever time remains, today, tomorrow, and beyond. 

Though I have not met the goal with which I tasked myself in December of 2013, nonetheless, I welcome its evolution into something more enduring than mere complacency, than merely staying silent in the face of small inconveniences.  I’ll keep you posted on my metamorphosis.  For those of you who have grown accustomed to lighter fare, take heart.  Along the way, I will still share a few lovely stories along with a plethora of blurry photographs, of red-tailed hawks, lone egrets skirting the edges of the San Joaquin, and flocks of snow geese rising into the glow of a Delta dawn.

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








With a long glance, I gauged the hazards between my car and the front door of the Lodi Sprouts:  Two lanes of traffic; yellow bumps installed for the sight-impaired but deadly for the propiosensory-impaired; a clutch of scampering children; and three women with their heads bent over cell phones scurrying across my path.  I tensed.  I started forward.

On the far side of safety, the same bearded gentleman who always offers me a motorized shopping cart did so; as usual, I declined with a hearty joke about my driving skills.  He wheeled a small buggy in my direction and I headed for the front section of the store, where I find my favorite gluten-free Norwegian flatbread.

Ma’am?  Ma’am?   

I stopped.  My back tensed.  I turned, half expecting the greeter to be holding out something which I had dropped; there’s always something which I have dropped.  I’m like a small child or the cautious Hansel and Gretel.

A tall man, a customer by the look of him, with amazing steel-framed glasses and kind eyes stood behind me.  I ventured a vague smile and said, Yes?

Pardon me, he said, in a tone so earnest it would have convinced the grumpiest of old men to forgive the interruption.  Please, may I ask where you got your jacket?

And I was instantly transported back in time.

My heart has been severed in two.  Half still beats, the half in which my son dwells.  The rest has been wrenched from my chest and trampled.  For a third time, a marriage has failed, promises have been dishonored, and I have been left alone.  This time, I have no hope of healing.  This time, even I know that only cauterization will stanch the flow of life’s energy.

My son comes home for Christmas.  I’ve done the impossible.  I’ve summoned as much energy as I can.  I’ve marshalled presents, and decorations, and invitations to the places where we have been welcome all of his life.  Friends who had been neglected during the five years of my marriage to someone who admitted to dislike of them had welcomed me back into their fold.  Women encircled me as I cried.  My father-in-law had succ.umbed to cancer; divorce loomed; I had no recourse but to reinvent myself.  My loyal friends stepped forward to remind me of what I had been, and how much they loved me.  But I remained desolate.  Not enough time had passed; I had not yet started down the road to anything resembling acceptance

I felt sorry for myself but even sorrier for my son, who had been through this with me not six years prior.  He did not deserve to once again become his mother’s keeper.  He had his own life to live.  But he came.  He threw his duffel onto the cedar chest at the end of his restored bedroom and cheerily suggested a shopping trip and lunch in Waldo.

Among other places, we went to one of our favorite thrift stores.  There, I lingered in women’s clothing.  I tore myself away from a lovely jacket and scouted for Christmas trinkets with which to decorate packages for the grandchildren of the two households which we would visit.  Patrick found a few things; we rendezvoused at the cashier stand and continued our afternoon outing.

My son never ceases to surprise and delight me at Christmas; and that year did not spoil his record.  In one of my packages, I discovered the jacket which I had resisted buying.  I had no idea that he had followed me and snagged it.  I touched its delicate surface, marveled at its bright colors, and held it to my face to breathe the scent of silk.  “It’s perfect,” I told my son.  “Exactly what I wanted.”

The tall man behind me at Sprouts patiently waited for my answer.  My son gave it to me, I told him.  He asked, of course, where my son had gotten it; and I told him, At a thrift store back home in Kansas City.

The man beamed.  He told me how much he liked my jacket, how much he would love to have one just like it to give as a gift, and how great I looked in it.  I told him, in turn, that I liked his glasses.  Your son has great taste in coats, he remarked.  I agreed. I said, And my son would love those glasses, too!  He grinned.  He told me to have a nice day, and to stay safe.  I wished the same for him.  We parted.  I ran my hand along the hem of my jacket, straightening its lining and adjusting a button.  I noticed that my heart had begun to dance within my chest, a full unbridled dance, the kind that one can only successfully pursue with whole-hearted conviction.

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



Friends:  Please forgive my lapses.  I injured my arm and keyboarding posed perils.   I limited my computer work to money-earning efforts and took 4 days off entirely.  I have healed considerably.  “I’m BAAAAACCKKK!” Thanks for reading and please feel free to comment.

Through wind and pain

The wild delta wind buffeted my car as I huddled near the door frame.  I strained against the air and the cold as the sight of a thousand snow geese unfolded in the field below me.  The slough ran north and the trees swayed.  My fingers curled around the body of my little Canon.  

Back in the car my head fell to the steering wheel.  Long nights and the torture of hopelessly pinched nerves have driven me to sleepless hours of agony.  As I rested, the snow geese rose into the wind.  A hoarse whisper escaped me:  So many endure so much worse so many so much worse.  I can endure this new and awful malady.

I switched on the motor and backed out of the little lay-by.  In a few minutes I joined the morning traffic journeying into the small town where I work.  I held the steering wheel as softly as prudence allowed.  At the light, my eyes drift closed as I leaned into a wave of pain.  So many so worse so many so worse.  

A noise brought me around.  I peered through the windshield into the wide expanse of sky rising over the bridge.  The flock had arrived.  In formation they flew, west though they usually head east into the preserves near Lodi.  My foot fell onto the gas.  Together we made our way forward.

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

Passing through the Delta on a Saturday Afternoon

Once again I find myself at sixes-and-sevens, nothing to do and no one with whom to do it.  I drive into Isleton, check my postal box, and order a kombucha at Mei Wah’s Beer Room.  I sit in the beer garden casually eavesdropping on the couple at the table behind me.  The owner briefly emerges and checks my status with the universal signal, two thumbs held high, and then saunters back into the building to pour more beer.  People wander outside and chatter rises.

I go across the street and timidly enter a little store where my friends used to have a tattoo and art shop.  I browse the oddments and marvel at the fifty-year old shoes.  I skirt around a knot of women debating whether to buy huckleberry syrup, made in Montana but with the store’s label prominently displayed.  I make a small purchase and retreat, down the street to my car and then along the river road back to the lush green park in which I live.

Along the way, I see a flock of mergansers, three red-tail hawks, a distant field of snow geese, and a lone egret stepping with precision through a flooded field of reeds.  I speak to no one other than the barkeep.  I raise my camera several times, enough to remind myself that I live in a beautiful place and the weather rolls fine and easy on my shoulders ten months of the year.  The other two months provide critical rain for the grapes and the willows and the migrating birds which grub in the soggy earth for their nourishment.

At home I stop as I drive through the kiosk and speak to several of my neighbors, exchanging light, airy platitudes that leave everyone smiling.  Kind and clever, that’s us, and the world shifts, and the sun sets, and the night begins to gather.  In my tiny house, in this infinitesimally minute plot of the wide wide world, I listen to the crickets in my head and wonder about tomorrow.

It’s evening, on the sixteenth day, of the eighty-fifth month, of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

A virtuous discovery

I parked my car outside the Goodwill in Lodi and studied the line.  A sign on the window announced the new normal:  Capacity – 30.  I had come in search of a couple of household items that weeks of reflection had finally convinced me to acquire.  My dedication did not extend to the funds necessary for a new item. Used would suffice, at least until I determined the wisdom or folly of the purchase.  

But did that compel me toward a growing queue?  Should I endure the chilly air, scrolling through social media on my phone?  Would the wool poncho keep me sufficiently warm?  Could the odds of discovery justify the tedious shuffling forward, keeping six feet from the next in line?

I eased myself from the vehicle and closed the door.  When I had steadied the wobble in my legs, I stepped onto the curb and judged the distance between myself and my destination.  A glance through the car window confirmed the availability of a walking stick but I disdained its awkwardness and proceeded forward.  With a few wary glances, the line shifted to allow me safe passage to its end.

It took fifteen minutes and the decampment of the guy in front of me to gain admittance.  With a small cart, I began navigating the home goods aisles.  I found a large plant pot (score!) and headed for the appliance aisle.  No toaster oven.  No small dresser in the meager furniture section.  I skirted the clothing (my no-clothing-buy rule holding fast) and surveyed baskets (adorable but unnecessary) before turning the corner to books.

Like most writers, I think I should be journaling.  The idea of owning a plethora of notebooks appeals to me.  I usually get two or three days into each new year before abandoning the effort.  Crises draw me back and inevitably I decide that remarkable trauma or joy justifies the purchase of a fresh book.  But living tiny and wanting to save money  have of late combined to dissuade me from  acquiring any more notebooks.

I found a novel by a favorite author and studied its back cover, straining to recall if I had already enjoyed its passages.  Into the cart it went.  I started forward when suddenly I spied a spiral binding, a sure sign of a journal.  Whether or not it contained someone else’s thoughts remained to be seen.  I carefully slid it from between a Gideon’s Bible and a vegetarian cookbook.

Empty pages!  Its price appealed to me — $1.39.  Small enough for my everyday handbag.  I could carry it with me!  I debated.  You have four or five barely filled notebooks at home!  But none so cute, none so thin, none so small, none so cheap. I leafed through the book to make sure its pages bore no one else’s scribblings.  I stopped. 

On the last page, someone had, indeed, recorded a brief, stunning message, incomplete but somehow self-contained.  I lightly ran my finger over the ballpoint ink.  My breath caught as I noted the homonymous error.  I saw the one-word entry at the bottom of the page.  I read and re-read the line so carefully penned on the last page of a virgin notebook, by an unknown person, who then donated the book to Goodwill or left it on their bedside table for someone else to donate.  For me to find.  For me to take home, on a cold clear Saturday in January, on the first day of the rest of my life.

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


The unexpected vagaries of Friday

For most of 2020, I did not have my usual carefree Friday.  Some fell to the stretch of time in the early pandemic when the logistics of a clumsy work-week took part of the day.  Others yielded to the planning of the summer’s Sunday Market.  For two months, I worked Fridays to bank hours for the ultimately failed Thanksgiving trip to Missouri.

Today I found myself with an entire day of unallocated time.  Over coffee, I scrolled through social media, searching for news of my friend whose household succumbed to the coronavirus.  I studied my cup for a few minutes, with its graceful clay contours.  Then I asked myself:  Why don’t you just call?

Katrina’s cheerful voice shimmied through the wire.  She might have been on the other side of my old kitchen table, the twittering of Brookside robins outside the window.  I could nearly see the tip of the Japanese maple peaking over the sill. She told me who had been negative and who had been positive, and the state of symptoms.  We talked of her daughter’s pregnancy, the death of a close friend, and her plan to resume her copious hours of volunteer work as soon as she gets vaccinated.  When the call ended, I could have cried; it felt, for just a few minutes, like going home.

After a few hollow moments, I showered, dressed, and threw myself into a spate of work.  Then I shook my head, barreled out the door, and pulled my car onto the loop.  Around the bend of Brannan Island Road, a heavy freighter made her ponderous way east to Stockton.  I caught her in backlit relief, and then marveled at the sight of her in my side view mirror.  On the way home, I strained my lens toward a distant red-tailed hawk.  It lifted from the fragile winter branch one second before the click of my shutter.

Back at the park, I found the water off.  An hour later, not to be outdone, the power failed.  In my silent, cold house, I’ve read by flashlight, eaten pasta, and wrapped myself in wool.  Eventually, still in silence, I will lay down to rest.

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

Finding Delight in the Heart of the California Delta

I stopped listening to This American Life for a few years.  My then-husband asserted that the host of the radio show cheated on a friend of his.  He expressed outrage that I would patronize such a scoundrel.  He insisted that his Republican family values dictated that cheaters should be disdained.  I clicked off the radio if he entered the room during the broadcast.

In the last five years, I’ve gotten into the program again.  I like Ira Glass.  I enjoy his voice and his insight.  He and his team present intriguing anecdotes of people who could be my next door neighbors.  I feel a sense of commonality with what they experience and how they react.   

The show plays twice each weekend on my local public radio station.  This week’s episode explored delight.  Delight!  How can anyone not enjoy an entire hour in which people describe events during which they have experienced such a delicious emotion? 

As I drove home from a grocery run to Lodi, I waited for my second listen to Act II: The Squeals on the Bus with particular eagerness.  A five-year-old’s enthusiasm for his first trip on that iconic yellow vehicle?  Sign me up.  I heard the wonder and excitement in his voice with a little bit of envy though.  What wouldn’t I give to luxuriate in the delirium of such anticipation!

Then I came around the curve of Brannan Island Road in front of the home of my friends Judy and Skip, and beheld one of the visions which make Delta life so fabulous.  I pulled my car as far against the brush as I could safely maneuver.  I glanced in my rear view mirror as I groped for my phone, the only camera at hand.  I snapped, and filmed, and grinned.  In the background, my radio kept playing and little Cole squealed, “Is that my bus?  Is that my bus?” 

I’m with you, kid.  I’m with you.

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