Monthly Archives: March 2024

Happy Easter, Happy Spring, Happy Happy EVERYTHING!

I spent a fair amount of my childhood at our breakfast room table handwriting cards for my mother.  I wrote the invitations for two of my sisters’ weddings and addressed every envelope.  My mother would have multiple copies of favorite photos made so that we could create greeting cards.  She poured herself a cup of coffee and settled beside me, browsing through her address book and directing the careful loops of my Catholic elementary school penmanship.

One year she used a Halloween photograph of my two little brothers as our Easter card.  I long for a copy of it.  Frank and Steve sat behind a pumpkin, scooping its guts and chiseling a Jack O’Lantern face.  They each held a glob of seeds high above their heads, huge grins on their faces.  Under the photograph, I carefully inked, Happy Easter, Happy Spring.  When you opened the card, you found these words:  Happy, Happy EVERYTHING!   

That memory still delights me.

I tried to replicate my mother’s traditions in my son’s childhood.  We colored eggs, hid baskets, and invited our friends to dine.  I bought Russell Stover bonbons and malted milk balls in pastel colors.  Peeps nestled in green plastic grass.  As I sit in my tiny house writing, I remember carefully packing our Easter baskets when I downsized, but I can’t tell you now where they might be.  Perhaps they got lost in the move.  

As a recovering Catholic I do not celebrate Easter except as a day of new life and joyfulness.  Three thousand miles from family, I had no breakfast invitations nor did I sit at a table laden with ham, potatoes, and Jello salad.  I spent the day in my little shop, where I saw no customers until after 1:00 p.m.  The church folks and the brunch-goers drifted down Main Street.  In the quiet hours before they began to arrive, I called my son and cruised the internet.  When I finally closed the store after a busy afternoon, I drove home with the news playing in the car.   At the red light, I watched the weekend vacationers pull their trailers through the intersection headed back to the city.  They smiled through their dusty windshields.  I envied them.

Though I didn’t have an Easter basket or a corsage pinned to my dress, my friend Michelle did stop by with flowers.  My son sent a little clip about an Easter egg hunt where a boy found a plastic egg leftover from a prior year.  When I came home, I dug out a souvenir of his boyhood, a carefully painted plastic egg that seemed important enough to rescue from the frantic purge of home goods.  I studied it, seeing the intentness on his face as he drew each squiggle.

One Easter Sunday, my son Patrick and his two best friends, Chris Taggart and Maher Sagrillo, hunted eggs while the adults watched from the porch.  In the middle of their lively search, Maher’s father called from a faraway city, concerned that his Muslim son might be engaging in a Christian practice.  Maher settled on the front porch steps, disappointed but wanting to respect his father’s wishes.  As the hunt progressed, Chris and Patrick occasionally darted back to slip an egg into Maher’s basket.  The rest of us, included Maher’s Beirut-born mother, considered their spontaneous kindness to be an acceptable compromise.  

Now I sit in the gathering night, once again filling the silence with rambling news accounts of the day’s events.  Most of it drifts around me unnoticed.  Instead  I close my eyes and picture my mother sipping from her green Melmac cup, the very cup from which, some fifty years later, I serve myself cold water.  She did not share her thoughts with me, but once in a while, I raised my eyes to meet hers.  She’d give me a gentle smile.  Reassured, I would return to my work, tightly gripping the pen, making card after card.  Eventually, I finished them all.  I sealed each envelope, applied the stamps, and together my mother and I walked them to the mailbox.  Off they would go in the morning, bearing meticulously inscribed best wishes for happiness, from the Corley Family, with love.

It’s the thirty-first day of the one-hundred and twenty-third month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.


In Which I Create A List of Things for Which I Am Grateful

For the last two years, when someone has inquired as to my welfare, I have answered, There are no bombs falling on my village.

For several decades prior to the commencement of the war against Ukraine by Russian, I had another ready answer, stolen from the late Leonard J. Hughes, Jr.:  I woke up this morning, which is more than a lot of people can say.

I alternated that with a glib, over the shoulder avowal:  On a scale of Nirvana to Bosnia, I’m somewhere in between.

But  let me just brag a minute, folks:

No bombs pummel my tiny village.

I haven’t had to flee southward to avoid enemy artillery.

No bridges where I live have collapsed, and given that I can think of at least seven significant draw bridges within a ten-mile radius, that’s saying a lot.

Twenty-seven years have elapsed since a team of doctors gave me six months to live.

My sister Joyce still calls me nearly every day, and I hear from my son a couple of times a month.  Various others of my siblings and cousins text and email on a regular basis just to keep our connection alive.

My eleven-year old car runs like the proverbial top.  (Note to self, Do tops run?)

Someone left three boxes of my favorite gluten-free pasta hanging in a bag on my doorknob today. ❤️

At age 68, I only have one tooth that aches and I’m sure it’s due to a lack of diligence on my part.  It hardly counts as anything other than a mild annoyance.

I make a decent living.  I have good neighbors.  I didn’t have to shovel snow this winter.  We only lost power once, for a few hours.  Trees bud; flowers bloom; robins sing.  

And it nearly goes without saying:  It’s the twenty-seventh day of the one-hundred and twenty-third month of My Year Without Complaining — and, my friends:  Life continues.



Blue skies

Milestone after milestone slips away as the year moves forward.  I let a few pass unnoticed but others bring a tear, a smile, a quiet moment.

I called my son yesterday for no other reason than I needed to hear his voice.  Someone else’s son had gone missing.  I felt the stab of a mother’s fear, a pain that has since deepened on learning of the young man’s death.  I cannot truly imagine the devastation.  Such sorrow could not be assuaged.  I ache for that other mother.

But last night, I did not yet know of her loss.  I only knew that if my son had been wandering in a city far from home, I too would have driven all of those hours to search for him.  Only the sight of his face would part the gloom.  I could not bear a sunrise, however beautiful the skies, if he had been lost.  

For me the sun still shines, the sky still spans blue above the earth.  For that other mother, no voice will answer her call on the silent phone which died along with her precious child.   

Last night,  my son asked, Did you call for anything special? I did not confess.  I shared a few bits of family news.  We talked about yoga and what we each had cooked for dinner.  Eventually, we came to the stack of paperwork that awaited me.  We said our goodnights.  I opened a news site and searched for word.  Seeing nothing, I turned to chores and later fell asleep over a book.  While I slept, that mother’s nightmare became eternal.  Hell swallowed her terrified spirit.  Her skies will never clear.  

I am one of the lucky ones.  My son has thus far navigated life’s sometimes troubled waters to safety.  To the mournful mother of another beloved Missouri son, I send a prayer for comfort.

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

Super Powers

I have given a lot of thought to my hidden talents.  Undertakings at which I excel seem few to me:  I can cobble together a decent sentence.  Though I cannot multi-task, I can hold a safety pin between my pursed lips while I walk across a room.  That has to count for something.

In my heart of hearts, though — the secret essence of my being — I do not doubt the true nature of my super powers.  They number three:  Over-thinking the obvious; romanticizing the mundane; and contorting every interaction into something for which I can be blamed.

When a pile of books falls onto the floor, I dash to rescue every volume.  Despite my distance from the calamity, I accept fault for the crash.  In fact, by the time I get done apologizing, the booktender’s scowl will have deepened and targeted my retreating back.  

I’ve accepted responsibility for all three of my divorces, a half-dozen car accidents in which I actually had no role, and the decline of an orchid that a friend brought me which I promptly re-gifted to forestall its demise.  I vividly recall a lunch with my mother during college in which I began to think I had caused the crash of the silver market by trying to find the price of what I (erroneously) believed to be a rare dime.  Whether due to my Roman Catholic upbringing or the burdens of unresolved childhood difficulties, I remain convinced that it is all my fault.

People like to have someone else accept the blame.  My brother-in-law JD will shrug and announce that he accepts full responsibility.  He invites you to advise him of how bad you want him to feel.  He assures you that he will keep you alerted as to his progress.  “I’ll let you know when I get there,” he promises.  The irony drips from his words.  But I say it with profound seriousness, and I have found that people do not hesitate to provide a standard by which to assess my remorse.

I stopped patronizing the public library years ago because I can’t be trusted to return books on time.  I uniformly paid for extra trash tags because I assumed that my garbage exceeded the allowed weight.  I replace things that I might have broken when I visit someone’s home, even though I truly have no idea whether or not I did.  Just in case.  I’m not sure, but I might have stepped on your cat’s toy.  Here’s ten dollars to replace it.  Very truly yours.

In fact I have become adept at the art of apology.  I might insult you, disappoint you, damage your best blouse, or break your heart.  Expect flowers and a note disseminated to anyone on the radar of our mutual acquaintance.  I will describe the wrong that I have visited upon your innocent head.  Your faultless state will be extolled.  My despicable character will wither under my own ruthless castigation of it.

Truth told, I have no idea how many times I have apologized for something in which I had no part.  I’m the classic case of a woman who can be abused without acknowledgment while I excuse my emotional reaction a thousand times and counting.  My actual wrongdoing probably hits an average mark but you would never know that to hear my account of my failing.

Mostly, though, I keep my self-condemnation quiet these days.  I bite my tongue unless the other person audibly expresses anger, and then I offer such contrition as I expect will smooth the path between us.  It no longer matters who’s to blame.  I understand that I’m likely over-reacting.  I strive for peace.  Wrongful accusation seems a fair price to pay.

Silence might portend inner reflection.  I look across an expanse of time to gentler days, when I accept that some things do not rightfully claim me as their cause.  Until such time as I learn that welcome lesson, I continue to flex my super powers, hoping, if not for lasting truce, then at least for a temporary cease-fire.

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

A ship headed to the Pacific nears the confluence of the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers just east of the Suisun Bay.

Sea Longing

A thousand miles beyond this sun-steeped wall
Somewhere the waves creep cool along the sand,
The ebbing tide forsakes the listless land
With the old murmur, long and musical;
The windy waves mount up and curve and fall,
And round the rocks the foam blows up like snow,—
Tho’ I am inland far, I hear and know,
For I was born the sea’s eternal thrall.
I would that I were there and over me
The cold insistence of the tide would roll,
Quenching this burning thing men call the soul,—
Then with the ebbing I should drift and be
Less than the smallest shell along the shoal,
Less than the sea-gulls calling to the sea.
— Sara Teasdale, (1884 – 1933)

In Which I Definitely Feel Like Complaining

A beloved project of mine faces sabotage.  I definitely want to scream, shout, and protest.

Complain, even.

So here I stand, halfway through March of 2024, wondering if my quest to traverse 365 days silent of gripe faces doom.  Inevitable, I suppose;  yet I resist.

I scroll through sunset photos on my Google drive, noticing that the sync feature has failed and no automatic upload has occurred for three weeks.  I grit my teeth.  Have I used this photo, I ask myself.  Can I duplicate media posts, I wonder.  Will anyone notice?

A woman recently told me that she has been following me for a while.  She lives out here, in the California Delta, so I found her pronouncement both startling and delightful.  About six years ago now — before the pandemic, in that void we vaguely remember as idyllic — I had an email from someone in Vancouver.  I had to summon a map.  That correspondent told me that she and her book club had been reading my blog.  Not since then have I heard from a stranger. I found it immeasurably encouraging.

I needed that.  Most days I bite back tears and remind myself of the plethora of worthwhile events that arise to fill each day.  Yet an abiding aura of discontent lingers.  I filled the empty hours with the project that now strains against demise.  I struggle for salvation; I meditate on positive outcomes; I make phone calls, send emails, and explore options.  Sand drops through the hourglass.  

A thousand times each day I catalogue my shortcomings.  Lest you think to admonish me, please understand that I’ve been cautioned to employ kinder self-talk.  Yet still the inner dialogue continues.  It feels like a muscle cramp, that astonishing, intense pain that causes us to double over and gasp.  We insist that the discomfort portends growth and improvement.  In reality only exhaustion and collapse follow.  Yet we persist.  We analyze each choice and action.  We compare ourselves to others — to skinnier, taller, richer, seemingly happier folks whose true circumstances we can only suppose.  Next to such pristine facades, our ugliness glares.  

Dawn begins to shimmer its initial feeble light in my transom window, reminding me of days spent writing at my little desk in the eaves of my Kansas City bungalow.  So many miles and hours and years away, yet forefront in my mind as the life that I have constructed here stands on the brink of collapse.  I purse my lips to withhold the anger that I yearn to express.  I hear my son’s gentle voice reminding me, live in the moment; manifest positive outcomes.  I shall try.

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

Hard truths

I resurfaced from a grueling week to discover that a couple of my domains had expired.  I might have lost a few years of my best writing.  I scrambled for help from my webhost and a savvy friend.  At the same time, I struggled to deal with a trifecta of challenging situations, including the daunting reality that today the  place where I live has no water due to a broken main.  Luckily, I showered last night.

Not only did I shower — I also saturated my hair with conditioner.  I’ve been avoiding this task for longer than I could unabashedly acknowledge.  My Syrian curls set their own course.  A snarl overtook the far back where I jab my copper hair pin in the last minute dash out the door.  I can’t really reach that spot.  I’ve been aware of the growing knot for weeks.  

My heart has grown restive.  Treating my curls seems like self-care, doesn’t it?  With weakening eyes, I strain to read the tiny letters on the back of the bottle.  “Gently rake your fingers through the lengths of hair,” they caution.  “Avoid breakage.”  What I wouldn’t give to honor their advice on other fragile parts of myself.  Instead I gather the splinters of my spirit into a dustpan and drop them into a bag.  I rummage through the junk drawer looking for glue strong enough to hold my reassembled heart together.

Standing by a small folding mirror last night, I reached for a  pair of stylist’s scissors.  I hesitated only a moment before clipping the matted clump from my head.  I heard the echo of my father’s voice nearly six decades ago.  A table fan had grabbed the end of my waist-length tresses and whipped around until my head jammed against the grill.  My mother screamed, “Dick, just cut it!”  Grandma Corley huddled in her chair, confused by the commotion.  My brothers anxiously hovered in the background.  For my father’s part, he pulled the plug and settled into the task with a screw driver and an infinite supply of patience.  Over a painstaking half-hour, he dismantled the fan and manually reversed the blades.

“A woman’s hair is her crowning glory,” he proclaimed, while I bit my lips and restrained my tears.

Finally free of the offending snarl last night, I coaxed my wet hair into two fat braids and snuggled myself into warm pajamas.  I studied my greying head in the mirror.  I stared into the pale blue eyes at the woman who grew from that terrified, silent child.  She had held herself impossibly rigid while a grown man strained to protect what he believed to be her most valuable asset.  I wondered, not for the first time,  what other lies my father told me.  

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

My tiny house, Angel’s Haven 

My friend Rachel Warren is restoring the sun-faded mural originally created and painted by Alex Loesch to honor my baby brother, Stephen, who had his own hard truths to face.  

“How does one know if she has forgiven? You tend to feel sorrow over the circumstance instead of rage, you tend to feel sorry for the person rather than angry with him. You tend to have nothing left to say about it all.”
― Clarissa Pinkola Estés