Monthly Archives: April 2023

In which I follow doctor’s orders

I meant for this Saturday to be insanely productive.  Yet my list of tasks lies forgotten on the table outside, weighed down by the edge of a clay pot.  The day sagged under the burden of a sleepless night and achy joints; and the distraction of an anticipated visit from a neighbor that never happened.

At two a.m. , my mind had finally relinquished its hold on my body.  For three hours, I had struggled to find a position in which I could not feel the searing pain in my joints or trigger a spasm in my calves.  A noise at just past five startled me awake.  I reached for my phone, checked the message, then dropped back to the pillow and reclaimed sleep.  As I sank into the abyss, an inner voice reminded me that we had not finished cataloguing my failures.  I’m done, I whispered.  Came the answer, Just one  more thing:  You need to pick a better soundtrack for your life.  I murmured my agreement as I faded.

Over coffee, I remembered my argument with my inner spirit.  I thought of the music that I played in the car, loud, on scratchy CDs:  Bonnie Raitt’s version of Guilty, the Randy Newman classic; Steve Earle’s Goodbye; a young Kasey Chambers desperately asking Am I Not Pretty Enough?; Emmylou Harris whispering, I told you everything about me; I told you everything I could.  I know every word.  I feel every vibrato.  I have lived every nuance.

I got one load of laundry done, fetched the mail, and read a book cover to cover sitting on my porch beneath the crisp spring sky.  With my head resting on the taut nylon back of the chair, I let the sun drench my face.  The Stanford oncologist says the type of leukemia that I  have often occurs in people who — like me — manifest vitamin D deficiencies.  It’s indolent; I’m likely to die with it, rather than from it, but undoubtedly my lifestyle will factor into that prognosis.  So I get my hours of sunshine when I can, coffee on the table beside me, my hands idle, my spirit consciously quelled.

The citronella plant on my porch has grown tall.  Purple buds along its branches opened today, sending a delicate fragrance into the breeze.  In my small bit of yard, the perfume bushes have begun to droop, their yellowed leaves fluttering to the ground.  But the jade plant has rebounded from the rainy winter.  I also have some reason to believe that the lime tree might bear fruit this year.

In the end, my neighbor texted his regrets.  Folks from the city had come to visit his farm.  I didn’t mind; he knows where I live, and will visit when he can.  A new tiny house pulled into the park and the couple two doors down returned from their year at graduate school in Berkeley.  I watched the comings and goings from my little 8 x 8 deck.  I nodded to passers-by.  I drank water.  I finished my book.  As the sun slipped below the crown of the oak rising overhead, I went inside to find some dinner, closing my door against the gathering dusk.

It’s the twenty-ninth day of the one-hundred and twelfth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

by Sara Teasdale

When I have ceased to break my wings
Against the faultiness of things,
And learned that compromises wait
Behind each hardly opened gate,
When I have looked Life in the eyes,
Grown calm and very coldly wise,
Life will have given me the Truth,
And taken in exchange–my youth.

Photos taken in the California Delta.  The swans hovered in the slough across from our park.  The field of flowers stands adjacent to my house.  Quote author unknown.

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Waxing Crescent Phase

Lately I have found myself drawn to random phrases that I hear on the radio.  When the SpaceX debacle-that-wasn’t-a-failure happened, the explanation for the explosion resonated with me.  I felt its pain.  I, too, often experience an unplanned rapid disassembly.    Sometimes in public.

Tonight as I threw some bottles into my recycle, I caught a glimpse of the moon.  My computer’s calendar told me its phrase.  Mesmerized, I gazed upward, oblivious to the mosquitoes batting themselves against my face.  Then I stood on a bench,  leaning against my door to steady my arms.  I lifted my little Canon PowerShot, set on manual, and fiddled with the dial.  I channeled my friend Dave Michael and pressed, gingerly at first, eyes squinting.  Above my neighbor’s house, the sliver of light gleamed in the inky depths of a spring sky.  The moon in its waxing crescent phrase mirrored the tiny hopeful flicker of my spirit.  

I took twenty images.  I here present only one.  Now I’m dragging my wobbly legs, my aching joints, and my lonely heart, to bed.   Through the parted curtains of the transom window, I will watch the Moon until my eyes grow heavy and my muscles release the tension which compels them to remain vertical.  I will drift to sleep under the pale, watchful eye of the patient moon.

It’s nighttime, nearly the end of the twenty-second day of the one-hundred and twelfth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

The New Moon
by Sara Teasdale

Day, you have bruised and beaten me,
As rain beats down the bright, proud sea,
Beaten my body, bruised my soul,
Left me nothing lovely or whole—
Yet I have wrested a gift from you,
Day that dies in dusky blue:
For suddenly over the factories
I saw a moon in the cloudy seas—
A wisp of beauty all alone
In a world as hard and gray as stone—
Oh who could be bitter and want to die
When a maiden moon wakes up in the sky?

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Secondhand Rose

If you’re friends with me on Facebook you’ve seen one of my two recent secondhand scores, a gorgeous orange/red hat that I bought in Lodi for six-and-a-half bucks.  Did I need another hat?  Of course not.  Would I have paid the marked-price of $15.00 for it?  Yup.  The sale price surprised and delighted me.  I’m a simple person, with humble tastes, and I like a bargain.

For the rest of the day, I ruminated — off and on, amidst a busy Saturday — about my proclivity for used clothing, housewares, and the like.  I do not actually recall wearing clothes purchased at thrift stores until high school but I certainly got castoffs from my older sisters and my cousins.  Once I started buying for myself, I discovered the cost-saving benefit of building a wardrobe from consignment shops. 

I’ve had people in my life who turned their noses at my shopping habits.  But I persist.  My mother once remarked that everything is used when it leaves a store.  That made sense to me.  As time passes, I find that in many cases, used furniture is made from better materials; and that I can pay less for natural-fiber clothing that other people purchased new at full price.  Maybe I’m out of style, a season behind my peers.  In reality, I don’t care, and nobody much looks at the way I dress these days.

When I got home yesterday, I offloaded more plants for the community garden then drove around to my house.  I realized that my joints had begun to ache with a fierce rage, protesting my trips to the post office, Lodi House Thrift, Sprouts, and Hollanddutch Nursery.   Clutching a tin mug of cold water, I stood on my porch contemplating the foot-high grass and wondering where I could find someone to clear my lot.  A few minutes later, I went inside, hung my new hat on a peg, and made lunch.  Sitting in the quiet of my little home, I remembered my dad calling me his secondhand Rose, with Barbra Streisand’s album playing in the background.  I closed my eyes against a sudden swell of tears.    After a few minutes, I pushed aside my plate, stood, and began my afternoon chores.  As I worked, a swell of music in my head took me back to one of the few sweet memories that I have of my father.

It’s the twenty-second day of the one-hundred and twelfth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Hear Barbra Streisand Sing “Secondhand Rose”


A video about my other secondhand score at Lodi  House Thrift yesterday!  Please ‘like’ and ‘comment’ on my video to let me know you stopped by!

To visit my online shop, purchase my book, and learn about this month’s charity, click here.

My Big Sister

In the midst of a busy Sunday, spent in the usual flotsam and jetsam of a fading weekend, I have contemplated what I might say in honor of my sister Joyce’s birthday.

My sister has my mother’s strength, her brown eyes, and her way of letting heavy burdens settle on her shoulders.  We don’t always agree about life’s choices, but when the wolves circle, we stand back to back, daring the fiends that threaten us.  I could not ask for a more stalwart defender, nor would I ever fail to answer any summons she might reluctantly whisper in my direction.

She turned seventy-three today.  Like me, she seems to be reaching for her potential in the last decades of her life.  She has come through hardship a different person than a kinder world might have allowed her to be; but her contours enable her own gentleness to shine.

I would not want to be the person who challenges my sister’s strength.  If one of her students struggles; if her daughter falls ill; if a wounded creature lies on the side of the road, there you will find my sister.  She cradles the failing body, the broken mind, the fevered brow.  I have never cried but my sister somehow divined my pain and came to offer comfort.

Yet my sister has a wicked sense of humor, my mother’s influence there, I can confirm.  She rolls her eyes and I feel a giggle rise.  I have to turn my head and hide my mouth behind my hand.  In a few minutes, I will be laughing so hard that I’ll surely wet my pants.  I beg her to stop her antics, but — like our mother before us — she merely pauses, then comes out with one last wicked, delightful parry.  I capsize on the bench of whatever restaurant we’ve chosen to grace.  As we howl, the server inevitably pauses to remark, You two are sisters, aren’t you?  I can’t pull myself together but Joyce responds, every time, She’s my BABY sister.

We’ve led complicated lives, my sister and I.  We have long-winded, intricate explanations for how we’ve each chosen to play the cards in our hands.  From time to time, we lose patience with each other, but mainly because we each take turns fearing that the world will defeat the other.  We share what we’ve learned; we confide our fears; we throw down gauntlets for the enemies that hover. 

My sister supports every choice I make.  She walks beside me on every path, no matter how broken.  When I must take steps on my own, she watches, fretting, ready to spring into action if I stumble.  She took every marriage in stride despite how misguided they seemed.  She held my hand as the marriages crumbled.  When I told her that I was going to sell my house, close my law practice, and move to the westernmost edge of the nation in a tiny house on wheels, she started pricing flights to California. 

She has visited me twice.  We threw a luncheon for the women in my community during the pandemic.  Every one of them still talks about how nice she was.  I get the distinct impression of decided surprise in their sideways glances.  I mean, I suppose, that they can’t quite understand how I could have such an amazing sister.  They get no argument from me.  I told one of them once, She’s my BIG sister, and my neighbor nodded in understanding.  You could see it in her eyes:  They broke the mold after that one!

I won’t contend that my sister has no faults, but only because I hear my mother’s voice:  People who say “I know I’m not perfect” usually think they are!   Joyce rises above her shortfalls and her shortcomings.  She finds a way.  She sucks it up, Buttercup, and puts her best foot forward.   Say what you will about my sister Joyce, when the chips are down, you’d have no fiercer advocate in your corner.

I’ve done what I could to return her loyalty.  I don’t like to brag, but when I was eleven or twelve, Joyce took Kiddie Lit in summer semester at the University of Missouri at St. Louis.  She had to read and report on something like three hundred children’s books.  We made a trip to the bookmobile, checked out a stack, and divided it into two piles.  On our old manual typewriter, I hammered out my share in time for her to pass the course.  Because of my sister, I read Harriet the Spy in the same month that I read What Maisie Knew which I had picked for myself.  Not very different from one another in some ways, those two novels; though the latter had slightly more challenging vocabulary. 

Joyce and I have not lived in the same city since 1980 when I moved for law school.  Forty-three years; two-thirds of our lives.  But she has been beside me for every major event in my life, if not in person, then by phone, e-mail, or smoke signal.  She summons St. Anthony when I feel hopeless and desperate.  She swears on our mother’s grave as a mark of veracity or dedication.  If someone hurts me,  my sister demands the culprit’s telephone number in her steely voice.  I spare them her wrath.  I will call them, she avows.  I assure her that I do not doubt her.  And I would stand her bail.  But let’s just say, it’s the thought that counts.

From time to time, my sister Joyce grows weary.  She’s survived so much; she’s overcome so many challenges; she has faced such dreadful disappointments.  And still, she rises; still, she soars.  Like a phoenix, like a butterfly, like a lost soul on a drifting boat, my sister forges through flame and flood.  She’s fierce, my sister; but she’s also gentle, and wistful, and soft.  She has taught special needs children for over fifty years.   She’s left the classroom now, and works with home-bound children.   They send her the students that no one else knows how to reach; and she connects as no one else can.  From time to time, one of her charges slips from this earth, overcome by their cancer, or their injuries, or their childhood diseases.  My sister mourns each loss; but she finds the strength to give just as much to the next child, knowing that her heart might be broken each time.

I could not be with my sister today.  As we do in my family, I called her phone as soon as I awakened.  Because of the time difference, she had already gone to work, teaching even on Sunday, even on her birthday.  I sang into the voice mail, off-key but lusty.  Happy birthday to you!  Happy birthday to you!  Happy birthday TO MY BIG SISTER!  Happy birthday TOOOOOO YOUUUUU!    After the recording ended, I found myself whispering:  And many more.  It was a prayer, more than anything; and a selfish one at that.

It’s the sixteenth day of the one-hundred and twelfth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.




After Noon

My body protests when I strive to rest.  Instead of sleep, I disconnect through the evening, read, and then watch the dark gather.  I see midnight, I see one o’clock.  I fall asleep after the last owl has swooped over the roof and the branches stop swaying against the windows.

The morning light dances in my kitchen as I make coffee.  A whole day looms ahead, a Saturday, a day for chores and grocery shopping.  I lurch around, straining to focus.  I think, I’m meeting Dia in the community room at 1 to visit while she paints signs.  My weary spirit lifts a bit.  I always feel better when my afternoon promises time spent talking with Dia.

I waste an hour trying to remember what I need to buy at the grocery store.  I have two essential choices:  I can drive into Lodi to go to Sprouts, which I prefer; or I can cross the bridge to Rio Vista and patronize the local supermarket.  My coffee cools as I contemplate whether to make the longer jaunt for better produce.  In the end, I delay so long that distance becomes the deciding factor.  The ache in my calves has quieted; I think I can probably manage the errand.

I do, but just barely.  On my way into the park, I stop to chat with a cadre of the regular dog walkers.  We talk about the menu for our Sunday potluck.   I pull away, waggling my hand out the window.  As I stop the car, a couple of vehicles pass my house going too fast.  A driver waves; I wonder if he realizes that I’m struggling with four partially filled bags of groceries.  The gravel spray  reaches where I stand, scattering around my feet.  I watch as he circles around to the park entrance.  We get a lot of “looky-Lous” here; they can’t believe we live in these small, nontraditional dwellings, RVs, trailers, and tiny houses on wheels.  They think we’re a freak attraction.  I shake my head and go into the house. 

By the time I get the food put away, it’s after twelve-thirty and I’m worried about being late.  Then my phone chimes and it’s Dia, letting me know she’s not ready and will be there at 1:30.  I suddenly realize that every muscle in my body has cramped so I drink some water and sit, doing nothing, for a solid thirty minutes.

I get to the community room before Dia and stash some drinks that I’ve bought for the pot-luck in the park’s refrigerator.  I stand in the center of the dusty space for few minutes, studying the books that we collected three years ago for a lending library that nobody has used since before the pandemic.  I shiver in the chilly air and think about turning on the heat.  My calves shudder.  I go back outside into the warm sunshine just as Dia crosses the parking lot.  My spirit relaxes.  If life awards you just a handful of good friends, I hope that one of them has a radiant smile and a heart of gold, like my friend Dia.

It’s the ninth day of the one-hundred and twelfth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Dia threw a Christmas party and invited everyone in the park. She made all the candies and cookies herself. Her husband and some of our neighbors helped her decorate.

Visit my book site here.

Tempus Fugit

Until the middle of my sophomore year of high school, I had a decent enough voice to sing in the choir.

I don’t recall much about the grade school years, except the plunk of an old piano and the scratchy record player in the music room.  But in eighth grade and high school, being in the choir meant leaving class to sing funeral masses.  A handful of us crossed the parking lot in our uniforms and slipped into the empty nave.  We silently navigated the dark aisles, flanking the space down which we would later watch the coffin carried.  I touched each pew, imagining the grieving spouse, the stoic siblings, the sobbing children.

Our voices swelled on queue, first in Latin, and then, in the enlightened years, in modern English.  We stood at the front, near the organ.  I remember most the In paradisumsung in unison as the mourners solemnly followed the departed to his resting place after the Requiem concluded:

In paradisum deducant te Angeli:
in tuo adventu suscipiant te Martyres,
et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem.
Chorus Angelorum te suscipiat,
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere æternam habeas requiem.

Later, we translated this lovely sentiment to our native language: “May the angels, welcome you into paradise.  May the martyrs come to welcome you on your way.  And with Lazarus who once was poor, may you have everlasting life.”  The last note hung in the air as we girls stood with bowed heads, waiting for our release.

I have not practiced the Catholic religion for nearly five decades, except the occasional foray during the two years in which my son attended parochial school for want of a better neighborhood choice.  My quarrels with religion and in particular Catholicism quell any glimmer of inclination to that end.   I accept my differences with the concept of a set of rules that separate one group from the other with overriding condemnation.   I’ve reconciled myself to the harms done in particular to me during my years in the grip of the Roman Catholics.

But the seasons still unfold with the rhythm of the ecclesiastical calendar.  The moon spans the sky and gives us the gauge by which we chart the moveable feasts.  Now Easter approaches, and I will sit in quietude while contemplating the many breakfasts in church garb; the lacy veil; the delicate bonnet; the patent leather shoes; and  my brother’s shirts sprayed with starch and ironed by my mother’s deft hand.  

In my youth, time had no meaning other than as a stepping stone from holiday to holiday.  Here we got colored eggs in a basket hidden behind the tree; there we prayed to Mary, in anticipation of her virgin birth.  Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, ordinary time.  I had two good dresses, and as I grew, my mother’s Singer sewing machine provided the velvet collars and the smocked bodices.  My grandmother bought my shoes, for a little crippled girl needs to be newly shod far more often than her sturdier siblings.

Over Christmas break in my second year in high school, my life took a desperate tail spin.  Events conspired to halt my participation in the choir, not least among them a stunningly painful sore throat for which my mother could not afford to get care.  I never sang again, except in the shower or in low tones to my son in his babyhood

Once in a while, I would stand in my driveway watching the autumn leaves swirl in the wind.  I would think about those mornings in the church.  Once more, the music swelled.  Once more, the people stood.  Once more, a wooden box made its solemn way towards a place of eternal rest.  Six girls, holding their bodies still, eyes turned forward, raised their voices as one to bid farewell to someone whom they had never met.   Time stands still for no one.  But with any kind of grace, your life’s sound track can include such moments as this.

It’s the sixth day of the one-hundred and twelfth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Let It Be Forgotten


Let it be forgotten, as a flower is forgotten,
   Forgotten as a fire that once was singing gold,
Let it be forgotten for ever and ever,
   Time is a kind friend, he will make us old.
If anyone asks, say it was forgotten
   Long and long ago,
As a flower, as a fire, as a hushed footfall
   In a long forgotten snow.

My sister Joyce gave me these lovely old travel clocks.

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