Monthly Archives: March 2021

At sea

I find myself neither fish nor fowl.  I remain licensed in good standing to practice law in the great state of Missouri.  But I live in California, where I might as well be the immigrant who journeys to a foreign land.  The piece of paper of which I have been so jealous since 1983 gathers dust in a storage unit back home.

Here in the Delta, my city roots falter.  When I walk in the summer air, I hold a stick against the possible stumble.  My feet strain for purchase on the unlevel ground.  But the breezes cool my  brow; and my eyes flutter closed to the sound of owls high above the meadow.

I drive along the levee roads in the small SUV which I acquired in trade of my inherited Prius.  Everyone called me a fool for relinquishing the better mileage, but in the country, one needs a sturdy ride.  The San Joaquin winds past the island to the south.  Around a bend, I see one of the great freighters ponderously voyaging from the sea to the port of Stockton.  I stop in the road; with a drop on my right and the water on my left, I have no choice if I want the photo.  I glance in my mirror and see that a truck which just passed me has done the same thing.  The sun glints from his lens just as I raise mine.

I dare only a few frames.  I am not going for anything like a technical image.  I want to remember this moment, when a ship that has come downriver from my beloved Pacific glides beyond the banks of the waters near my home.  Behind me, the small green Toyota 4 x 4 has started moving.  I do the same.  We inch away from each other, reluctant to let the sight of the ship from our eyes, while the sun begins its slow descent to the western horizon.

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

Your heart is the size of an ocean. Go find yourself in its hidden depths. — Rumi


Five Things I Learned Binge-watching YouTube

Early in the pandemic, I decided — along with thousands of lonely Americans — to learn how to make sourdough bread.  I watched several videos, read a few blog entries, consulted a friend, and ventured forth into the realm of the unknown.  I fed a jar of flour and water every day, staring into its recesses waiting for life to bubble forth.   After six days, I plunged my hands into a well of gluten-free flour and the slightly odiferous contents of the covered container.  About an hour and a half later, I drew a virtual rock from the stove.  I think it broke my knife.

Spring melted into shimmering summer and I started to laboriously scrutinize a particular Canadian sewing expert whose demeanor suggested that I could do anything she demonstrated.  After a month of consuming her vibrant videos and listening to her lilting voice, I very nearly bought a machine.  Luckily, I remembered that I had inherited my mother’s Kenmore and had surrendered it to one of my sisters a dozen years later, the thick coat of dust testifying to its perpetual disuse.

Closer to fall, I delved into the drawled Scottish burr of a twenty-something writer with a plethora of self-acknowledged neuroses and a morbid fascination with books.  I stared in fascination at the rigidity of her pose and the bright red of her lips against the absolute crystal sheen of her complexion. My eyes widened as she recited an alphabetized list of instructions for how to savagely eliminate debt, clutter, and expectations of decent treatment from one’s fellow but slightly lesser humanity.  I actually joined her Patreon.  This gained me access to her personal writing.  I gobbled the first paragraphs with unabashed eagerness which rapidly devolved into a sickening regret.  I haven’t looked at a clip of hers since November though the small monthly contribution keeps drawing from my account. 

There followed a series of subscriptions to Canadian DIYers, all fashionably attired women of my son’s generation who install cabinetry with bare midriffs and exposed toes.  They enthralled me with IKEA hacks, thrift-flips, and some intriguing painting techniques.  Admittedly, I myself would never use a sponge treatment on my bedroom walls, assuming, for the sake of argument, that I actually had a bedroom in my 198 square foot tiny house.  Pink pom-poms, tiled coffee tables, and curtains hung two feet above the windows rounded out their favorite decor.   Their dogs pick their projects, or their Instagram followers vote on the shade which they will paint their kitchens, or they throw a dart to determine how many rounds of jute they will hot-glue to the mirror that they found on the curb.

For the last month, I’ve delved into the pre-pandemic seasons of Master Chef UK.   I cannot understand most of what the contestants say, and when I do manage to catch a word or two, my mind stumbles over unfamiliar vernacular.  Those silly Brits don’t use the same words as we loopy Yanks; moreover, they add and drop the letter “H” with dizzying unpredictability.  I’ve seen some interesting culinary presentations, though, including a chocolate mousse with a black olive Tuille.  Seriously. 

From all of this, five truths emerge which I learned from binge-watching YouTube.

I’m probably never going to own a hot-glue gun or one of those drill-thingies with which you can bore a hole in MDF or drive a screw into three-inch metal.

Whatever you call the generation now in their mid-twenties has far too much free time on their hands which might or might not be the fault of the pandemic.

Success in the culinary world requires long tweezers, an understanding of what flowers can be eaten, and lots of flaky salt.

There is absolutely no chance that I would ever purchase anything from a commercial which interrupts the flow of bubbly, youthful creativity on a 4 x 6 screen.

Anyone who can successfully execute a recipe for sourdough bread should automatically receive a place in heaven.

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

Potted tulips in nearly full bloom.





Life in paradise

In 1999, my neurologist found a couple of Tarlov cysts clinging to three degenerated vertebrae in the small of my back.  He held the film to the lightboard and used the tip of one finger to trace the offending spot.  He shook his head, raised the edges of his mouth in a reluctant half-smile, and told me of the controversy amongst him and his colleagues on the issue of surgery under just those circumstances.

Over the years, we revisited the issue from time to time.  He’d query as to my pain level, then controlled with narcotics.  He’d order an MRI, or an X-ray, or a restorative course of therapy.  I’d demur, shrug, insist that I had no time for surgery.  Injuries would intervene, themselves requiring a hospital stay or at least rest; and stealing whatever days might have been spared to have the pesky little cysts poked with a needle.  My neurologist sighed and remarked a time or two that bad disks could be fixed and cysts could be fixed, but the two together posed risks on which he did not wish to gamble.  I shared his hesitance.

Time passed.

The world turned.

I grew older.

Now I wake at five, an hour before the alarm rings.  Fire rages near the base of my spine.  I lie in the loft of my tiny house and wonder if that doctor has retired; if his film director wife ever made her fortune; what became of the  brilliant son of whom he spoke so fondly.  I shift and wince.  I slide my feet to the floor and ease my torso into a sitting position, daring the wicked wretches in my lower lumbar region to protest.  I grit my teeth and remind myself that in February of 1997, a pulmonologist threw his hands into the air and gave me six months to live.  I will myself to make the most of my days in spite of the tenacity of those Tarlov cysts clinging to the crushed remains of my L-3, 4, and 5.

After work tonight my neighbor Phillip stopped by my tiny house to get the posters for Sunday’s Spring Market which I’m managing here at the park.  We stood by his car and chatted about life.  We turned toward the western sky.  Places everyone!  I sang out.  Cue the sunset!  Another beautiful day in paradise draws to its radiant close!  Phillip laughed and told me to have a good night, to stay safe, they’d see me at the weekend.

I went inside and stood in my kitchen, grinning, gazing around my snug, cozy home.  I studied the pretty trinkets on the shelves and the lovely art by my amazingly talented friends adorning my walls.  I stood, just so, as the light faded, still smiling, humming a little, completely oblivious to the swelling in my back and the shooting pain radiating down my legs.  

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

My tablescape tonight. Many thanks to Candice Adrian for the flourishing dracenae  (from which peaks a little red heart sent to me by Kimberley Kellogg); and to Greta Jenkins for the potted tulips. Happy Spring.



Testing my resolve

Last Friday. . .

At the far back of the Sprouts in Lodi, a strapping young man opens the cooler in which I will find the main motivation for my 35-minute drive into town.  I smile and turn my head to the side, noting his employee badge and the rolling cart of stock which he steadies with one hand.  

Do you need in here, he asks, stepping aside.  My smile broadens as I reach for the precious bundle of heritage eggs.  I see my delight reflected in the clerk’s face.  I remark on the virtues of the product; how much I like them, how flavorful they are.  And better for you, he adds.  Pricey, though, I respond.

Worth it,  he avows.  I agree, and carefully nestle the eight-dollar carton of eggs in my cart.  Have a good rest of your day, I tell the fellow.  He returns the favor and I move past to continue shopping.

There’s a clerk at the store who always seems to question my purchases.  He murmurs small comments, turns each item back and forth, and shakes his head as he lays them on the scale.  I silently admit to being a bit paranoid.  I smile and thank him once in a while, for nothing in particular.  I hurry forward.  I ask for paper because we can’t yet bring our own bags unless we self-pack, a talent which I lack.   He raises his eyebrows; he seems to question my choice but nods to the sacker who starts to load my purchases.

In the middle of the transaction, the bagger rushes off to open another register and the guy whom I suspect of disliking me has to finish the sale by himself.  He packs the last half of my groceries, pushes a few buttons on the register, and tosses my receipt into my cart.  I tell myself that I’m being ridiculous; that he doesn’t know me; that I don’t shop there often enough for him to have my name or remember anything about me from time to time.  

I reach the car.  I easily lift the first bag into the back of the RAV4.  But that second bag!  Oh golly.  It seems to weigh a ton; it must have every heavy selection in the bottom.  I have to argue it into the car.  I put the issue from my mind and drive west towards the Loop, listening to an NPR show about serious problems encountered by people all over the world during the pandemic.  I feel a little shabby.

By the time I get home, I’ve convinced myself to forget about the encounter.  I chastise myself for suspecting the cashier of personal dislike.  I suspect that perhaps I am the judgmental one.  I go to the back of the car, try to lift the heavy bag out, and stand, dismayed, as the handle breaks under the weight of everything he’s crammed into it.

Eventually, I jockey the bag into the house and onto the counter.  I start unloading.  A shiny slick glistens from the surface of the first several items.  I take out a jar of olive oil and two cans of cannellini dripping with goo.  I remove a bottle of water with a sticky label.  I peer into the bag and groan. 

From the bottom, I extract the last item:  A box which once held twelve of nature’s finest, loveliest heritage eggs.

I draw in a long breath.  I reflect for a few minutes.  I remember this blog, and my quest to go an entire year without uttering one negative word in response to anything or anyone.  I look at the mess on my counter.  I try to determine how many of the eggs I can salvage.  Six or seven, I reckon.  I close my eyes.

Then I reach for my receipt, my cell phone, and a chair into which I sink as I dial the phone number for the Sprouts in Lodi.

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




The Kindness Of Strangers, Rio Vista Style

One might think that a thrice-divorced woman on the sad side of sixty living alone in a tiny house, employed well past retirement with no end in sight, might eschew unfortunate Tennessee Williams references.  While it is certainly true that certain aspects of my life bear too much resemblance to Miss Blanche DuBois, I don’t mind.  For one thing, I’m from St. Louis, and family legend held that my father once stayed down the street from the apartment building where the playwright supposedly lived as a teenager.  Moreover, I made my one and only directorial debut staging The Glass Menagerie as a one-act play.  But here’s the real thing:  I don’t mind accepting kindness now and then, despite my fragile ego, my stubborn nature, and my historical resistance to the well-intentioned offering of gentlemanly arms.

In 1973, I sustained a severely dislocated hip when an Oldsmobile Delta 88 slammed into the orange 1967 Gremlin in which I rode.  As with most of my car accidents, my guardian angel kicked into high gear in the seconds before, during, and just after the terrifying accident.

Seatbelts had not become an immutable way of life fifty years ago.  Accordingly, I had not yet deployed mine.  As a consequence, when the Olds ploughed through my door, I lurched to the left and fell onto the seat.  The move saved my life, but the car door and the front tire of the Olds pinned me to the cushion.   I writhed beneath the weight of metal while my date struggled to maintain some semblance of control.  We slid sideways and crunched against the far curb.

Silence descended.  Then a rush of noise:  Are you alive?  Does it hurt?  my boyfriend screamed.  The driver of the other car staggered in circles outside, moaning, mumbling.  A siren wailed.  I lay as still as I could.  I closed my eyes.  After an eternity, I felt a cool hand on my forehead.  I heard a deep voice assuring me that he would not leave until I had been extricated.  I think it was a firefighter; but it might have been an angel.

Weeks later, my hip forced back into place and the swelling minimized by drugs, I got to  leave the hospital for my dorm room.  One night, I came back from the library to an empty floor.  I walked towards my room at the end of the hall.  Halfway there, my hip popped out of the socket and I collapsed to the carpet.  

An hour passed before the other girls started to drift home.  By then I had managed to crawl a few feet.  Tears streamed down my face.  I reached my arm towards the first returning students and begged for help.  They skirted around me, casting looks which told me that they assumed I had been drinking.  An hour and four or five such encounters later, the R.A. arrived and sprang into action.  She gently lifted me into her arms, carried me to my room, and laid me on my bed.  She brought hot tea and a cool cloth.  She sat beside me until I fell asleep.  The next day, she drove me to the emergency room, where more drugs and a cane boosted my potential for recovery.

In the intervening years, I have had various opportunities to re-test the kindness of strangers.  I’ve gotten lost in strange cities.  I’ve broken bones at state fairs.  When my son was eighteen months old, his hand slipped from mine at Midway Airport and I had to leave our belongings in a heap, drop to my  hands and knees, and crawl through the crowd to find him.  On my return, a man clad in a London Fog stood guard over my bags.  

I could continue.  I could tell stories for hours of knights and ladies in metaphorical shining armor, who stepped into frays, and gaps, and breaches to save my sorry butt time and time again.  But not today.  Today I  just want to tell one more story, of one stranger, in Rio Vista, California, on this chilly March day in the first year following the year of years in which we all learned what it is like to be so very alone.

Readers might not be aware of my precise disability and the nuances of its manifestation.  A brief explanation, then.  I have a neuro-transmission disorder which causes numerous broad deficits, chiefly profound spasticity in my legs but also damages to my proprioceptor systems.   “Proprioception is the process by which the body can vary muscle contraction in immediate response to incoming information regarding external forces, by utilizing stretch receptors in the muscles to keep track of the joint position in the body. “  The main components of effective proprioception are your eyes, your ears, your legs, and your brain.  For various reasons, none of those properly work for me, so proprioception falters and often fails.  In a nutshell, I can’t walk and chew gum at the same time (if I were so inclined, which I’m not) and my legs shudder under challenge.

This morning I sashayed out of my car in front of the building in Rio Vista at which I work.  I don’t use a walking stick because they just get tangled in my two other nonfunctional appendages.  But from time to time, they might come in handy to give me a bit of balance, and the sloped driveway over which I must traverse to get to the sidewalk in front of our office poses one such point.  Usually, I manage the route with only a minimum of difficulty.  Today, I got stuck.  Quite literally, I took one step off the street and could not continue.  I could not lift either leg. 

My body trembled.  I raised my eyes to measure the distance to the door, just as the morning sun cleared the buildings across the street and blinded me.  Helpless, I stiffened my body to hold myself steady, and willed myself not to cry.  I know what happens when emotion takes over at such times.  

I slid the phone out of my bag and tried calling the woman for whom I work.  No answer.  I tried again; same result.  I strained to remember what would happen if I called 9-1-1 from the city center, in which I do not live and with the services of which I am not familiar.

Just then, a truck came through the intersection. I frantically waved and the vehicle slowed.  A window came down and a large dog stuck its head into the morning air.  I need help!  I cried.  Then I told my customary lie:  My artificial knee locked, I just need help over the curb!  I do have an artificial knee.  It does lock, being broken.  That excuse for my predicament sounds much better than the truth, and it’s easier to say.

The driver opened his door.  When he came toward me, I saw that he was a man some years my senior, moving slowly, wearing the yellow slicker of a worker.  He held out one hand, a hand misshapen by injury or accident of birth.  But he placed that hand under my elbow and guided me towards the doorway, asking gentle questions, telling me about his own artificial joints, slowly getting me to safety.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the intent gaze of his companion following our progress as we moved away from him.

I thanked the man over and over.  I asked his name.  I assured him that I was fine.  I leaned against the wall of the building and smiled as he  got into his vehicle.   Then I made my shaky way into our offices and to the break room, where I could make a cup of coffee before falling into my chair.  With hands wrapped around my mug, I whispered a prayer to my weary guardian angel, for sending back-up.

I don’t know who this man was.  I only know that he came along at the precise moment when I had great need of him.  But I’m sending this blog entry into the world, in case someone else knows Dave, who might or might not live in Rio Vista, California; who has a white truck (which could be a Ford) and an eager, friendly black dog (which could be a Lab), two artificial knees, and a heart as big as the entire state of California.  If you know this kind person, please, I beg you:  Tell him that Corinne Corley thanks him from the bottom of her lily white spastic legs to the top of her frizzy, lopsided Lebanese head.

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

For no particular reason, here’s a picture of the Rio Vista bridge which I am fortunate enough to have captured one day after work. Please enjoy.




Things I Wish I Could Do

Once in a while I wake to the blare of my brain making a list of things that I wish I could do.  I stretch my cramped arms, shift off of my wonky hip, and watch the light rise around me.   As the shapes reveal themselves to be comforting familiar objects, my blood starts to stir and my brain keeps on conjugating.

I wish I could make the bed without losing my footing and doing a full face-plant on the mattress.

I wish I could remember each of my siblings’ birthdays without reciting the entire list in birth order.

 I wish that I could say which plant is actually a philodendron; and while I’m at it, I wish I could spell that word without a dictionary.

I wish that I could eat more than five kinds of food without my tricky system rebelling.

I wish that I knew how to apply make-up.  Not that I would, really, but once in a while it might be fun.  Not that I go anywhere.  Or that anyone looks at me.  But still.

I wish that I could stick to a budget.  

I wish that I could whistle.

I wish that I could see my mother’s face one more time.  I wish that I could convince my son that I’m proud of him.  I wish that I could stop my brother’s trigger finger.  I wish that I had said no to so many events that I could never recount them all.  I wish that I had said yes to one or two or maybe a half dozen opportunities, people, places, songs.  I wish that I had officially changed my first name.  I wish that I had worn braces.  I wish that I had gotten braces for my son.  I wish that I knew the names of all the presidents in their order of election.  I wish that I were an inch shorter or three inches taller.  I wish that I had a mouth which knew how to smile.

The morning has brought the fullest of California light into my tiny house.  I’ve gotten my first robo-call about health insurance.  I’ve eaten breakfast.  The minutes tick by and my brain keeps making its list. I think about a friend who once told me that I needed gentler self-talk.  I haven’t spoken with her since before last year’s election; I just couldn’t deal with her insistence that Trump was the messiah.  But she might have been right about me and my judgmental brain.  Everybody’s right about some thing.

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

My last glimpse of the ocean from the Marin Headlands on a pandemic day trip last September.




Saturday at the Ocean

I drove two and a half hours to have lunch in Jenner on Saturday.  

I left early, thinking I’d walk in the roadside parks and stare at the Pacific for a couple of hours before dining.  But my body thought differently.  Hungry, with that nagging feeling from going too long without a restroom, I pulled into something calling itself a “cafe” that I’d never previously noticed.  With a view of the Russian River where it hits the sea, the placed seemed idyllic for a cup of coffee and, hopefully, something edible.

I first sought the sign announcing “Restroom” and followed its arrow — right into a wall.  Questioning the clerk yielded the information that the restroom was two parking lots north at the visitor’s center.  When I finally realized that she wasn’t joking, I trudged outside, pecked my way around two buildings and over a small wall, and finally found the brick all-gender outhouses.  

Back at the cafe, I strained to see the tiny print of the overhead menu.  I asked for a paper menu and she snapped, Outside, taped to the door.  I went outside, got in my car, and drove to the next open establishment calling itself a “restaurant”.  Surrounded with lovely trees and on the banks of the Russian River, this place looked more promising.  I asked the woman if they were, indeed, open and she said, with a charming accent, “Yes and no”.  Apparently, they had tea, coffee, and pastries until noon when they served food for a few hours.  I didn’t really understand, but accepted the information and the offered outside table.  A smiling young man brought over a delicious cup of tea with leaves sinking to the bottom of the delicate cup and a pastry with an unpronounceable Russian name.  When I went to pay, the lady gestured to a large vase and said, “Put money there, whatever you feel like paying.”  My confusion deepened, but I fished for money, threw some in the jar and thanked her.  “Of course,” she replied. 

I smiled and made my way back outside.  Afterwards, I discovered that I had been somewhere special; I’ll definitely return to the Russian House, now that I’ve found it.

Two hours of meandering later, I realized that I did, after all, need lunch.  I found a place on Bodega Bay.  A woman whose beaming smile showed in her eyes above a flowered mask carried two fish tacos (local, caught that morning) and a cold glass of Chardonnay to a table on the patio.  I watched the gulls skimming the water as the tension eased from my body.

I passed the rest of the day with abandon.  I stopped at Goat Rock Beach, random roadside turn-outs, and small bluffs as far south as Stinson Beach.  With a back-up reservation at a Mill Valley motel, I took my time, enjoying the sharp smell of the ocean and the cool wind flowing inland from somewhere near the horizon. As evening gathered, I resigned myself to a clean room in an old building because I was, frankly, too tired for the two-hour drive home, I treated myself to a vegetarian cassoulet at a restaurant where everyone wore masks without shame or hesitation.  One couple had color-coordinated both their attire and their face coverings.  Customers and staff alike seemed glad to be back to some semblance of normalcy.

I fell asleep at 9:00 p.m. in an accessible room with more square footage than my entire house.  Halfway to Sacramento in the morning, I stopped for breakfast served in a parking lot at a Denny’s off I-80.  I got to the Del Paso Avenue Safeway just in time for my second Moderna vaccine.  

My Saturday at the Ocean might sound boring to some, but for me, it’s a fine, fine life.

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

There are 34 photos in this slide show.  They scroll slowly at times; be patient.  Please enjoy.

Time change

I did not get  a photograph of the snow geese as they left Andrus Island today.  My friend Candice and I stood talking about the Spring Market.  We raised our faces towards the sky as the flocks passed overhead.  Goodbye, I called.  See you next year.  Hundreds of them formed perfect angles in the cloudless azure expanse.  They called across the air; I heard their eagerness.  My heart quickened but my feet stood still on the ground.

I have neither eye nor lens to capture such majesty.  I can get the blurry image of a ship through my windshield, or the small segment seen through my rudimentary Canon’s fully extended zoom.  My heart will keep the sight of them; their outstretched wings, their timeless, exquisite pattern, the glorious start of their perennial journey.

In the afternoon, I walked myself through another fifty pages of editing on my book.  (I swoon as I say that; words uttered like a promise to a child.  You promised, you know you did.)  I went outside to stare at the earth in the large pots of my new trees.  I strain to recall what the woman at the nursery told me about watering gardenias.  In the end I decide to pour a half-watering can into each container.  I have no idea if I’m doing the right thing. 

My mother had a rule about potted plants.  She watered them once a week and repotted them once a year.  If they needed anything else, they either died or adapted.  At the time of her own death, she had 263 house plants.  What we kids did not take shriveled within a few months.  My father must have been as clueless as I am.  My succulents do well, though; apparently, they tolerate abuse better dwarf limes (fruitless after one season) and ornamental grasses.

Soon the fullness of spring will be upon us here in the California Delta.  The rains have abated.  We had less than I expected; the vineyards will probably suffer.  The winds spared us, too; at least so far.  When I went out onto the porch this afternoon, I heard the high squawk of the cranes.  They soon will find another place, a familiar place, a place to which they have come every year just as they come every year to my island.  I will be left with the stragglers:  My lonely egrets; a pair of reluctant herons seen across the water; a handful of geese that seem loathe to leave the fertile fields.

Night falls.  An owl hoots from one of the tall oaks.  The answering cry reverberates across the meadow, long and deep.  I am left to wonder what they have said to one another; and whether they have taken comfort from their exchange.

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