Author Archives: ccorleyjd365

Learning curve

My son sent air plants with sea anemone holders for Christmas.  The care of them terrifies me.

In the last five years, I have convinced myself that I have no business nurturing life.  I have a porch full of succulents but those grow in California like — well, like weeds.  I barely do anything.  I glance at them as I come and go, thinking, I wonder if these need attention.  I ignore the lime tree until June and then dump water on it every Friday without so much as touching the soil.  Last year I got seven limes.  The fifty-cent ice plant that I bought at Lowe’s my first spring here practically needs its own zip code.  But I had nothing to do with any of that.

I’m not sure what my son was thinking.  I can’t ask him.  I have a general policy that when someone gives me a gift, my only response will be a heartfelt expression of gratitude.  Even when I receive something which I later re-gift, I say nothing to the original giver except “thank you”.

The Etsy company which sold the air plants included a phone number to text for instructions.  I tried it straight-away with no response.  I might as well have been using a rotary phone.  I went onto Etsy to watch the video supposedly posted.   I couldn’t find it.  YouTube had quite a few offerings.  I watched four or five but my confidence stayed at zero.

The card in the box cautioned not to expose the little spidery plants to direct sunlight.  “They will enjoy a two-hour soaking after their trip!”  I did that.  I ordered the right kind of food and stared at the little packet, a thin square inch which looked like a dime bag of cocaine, cost $8.50, and boasted that it held a full year’s supply.  I spilled half the contents tearing it open.  I sprinkled a pinch into a cup of water in the new glass spritzer which I ordered from Amazon.  I move the plants from counter to table to step, depending on the slant of the sunlight through the large east-facing window.  I put the little shells on a pretty pottery tray and fluffed the leaves.  Occasionally I stare at the base of each one to see if anything has died.

I don’t know that I did a good job raising my son.  Thankfully, he turned out well in spite of me.    I don’t want to let him down again though.  These air plants will survive.  I consider them my chance for redemption.

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

As long as you’ve gotten this far, I invite you to read my other post of today HERE.

A brief sojourn into forgotten days

It started as a quest to find a small wood clock.

The boxes we pulled from under the bed before the demolition still sit in the back of my car waiting for a suitably sunny day.  I have to drag the empty plastic tubs from the storage cabinet on the back of my house to make room.  In the meantime, a recent conversation about old timepieces sent me rummaging in the bubble wrap, leaning through the open car door, the damp of a Saturday afternoon clinging to my sweater.

My luncheon guest had already made her way back to Oakland.  I thought I would find the clock with ease but soon a  pile of packing material heaped on the floor of my car.  I didn’t find the clock.  But my rough hands tarried on the smooth surfaces of pinch pots and sand bottles and the imprints of small hands.  Angels emerged from the wrapping, and paper flowers, and the image of a bird fashioned from autumn leaves by an  earnest kindergartner, laminated with patience by a teacher who knew such things would tug a mother’s heart strings decades hence.

I didn’t find the clock, but I found the Peters Jul scroll that I rescued from the trash at my old classmate Lise Koenig’s estate sale a few years ago.  The auctioneer thought it worthless.  I couldn’t bear the thought of something that Lise had once found precious tossed away like garbage.  Bad enough that she had died alone, after her husband’s passing, falling down the basement stairs and lying on the cold concrete floor until a neighbor began to worry. Lise and her husband had lived one block over from me in Kansas City.  They never had children.  They biked the neighborhood until their physical condition betrayed them, and then they walked.  Eventually disease claimed him, and she went on walking alone until her own death a few years later.  I never spoke to her in all those years of being neighbors.  Keeping her banner seems to be a small thing.

The plaster handprints bear dates which are thirty years apart.  The outline of my brother Stephen’s small hand now hangs below that of my son, just as it did in Kansas City.  I can see them from my little table.  I think Steve would have liked my tiny house.  He would have understood my urgent need to leave the grimness that my life had become.  He would have slipped his arm through mine, just as he did so many times, drawing me onto an imaginary dance floor, spinning to the rhythm of music in his head.  Steve walked me down the aisle at my first wedding, to the glowering consternation of my feckless father.  Halfway to the front of the church, Steve leaned down to whisper, You don’t have to go through with it, Mare bear.  We can just have a big party.  Nobody will care.

He would have loved my Pacific Ocean.    His soul yearned for freedom, and he could have found that here, if anywhere.

I carried the sand bottles and set them on the loft floor, near the edge, where I can see them from the kitchen.  I remembered taking our two foster children, Mikey and Jacob, to the Renaissance Festival. My son Patrick and his friend Chris helped the younger boys fill their bottles, tipping them to make the layers.  Jacob got adopted but Mikey aged out of the system living in a group home.  I heard some dire stories about his later years.  We loved those boys.  My heart still aches at the thought of what they suffered before their removal from their addict mother’s home, too late for Mikey but in time for Jacob to be saved.

I never found the clock.  The sun began to set.  I repacked the boxes and came inside.  I stood in the entry way of my tiny house, surrounded by a life time of memories.  I drew my sweater closer and went to make a cup of tea.

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

New shoes

I got a new pair of red shoes today.

I haven’t had a pair of red shoes since my last Mary Janes got ruined by a large Americano trying to escape consumption.

When I was a girl, my mother gave me a book called, “Emmylou: Her Book and Her Heart”. In that book somewhere it says, “It’s impossible to be sad in Sailor suits and red shoes.”  I tend to agree.

I didn’t need another pair of shoes but I needed a pair that wouldn’t make my toes numb, and maybe the wearing of which would gladden my heart. I got the shoes from eBay for 30 bucks.  They look to be in perfect condition. The ad said, “gently used”. I feel that way myself. Sometimes worse.

I took the red shoes out of the package and touched their shiny leather. I thought about that last pair and how the coffee soaked into the footbed to the point where you couldn’t put your feet inside. I liked those shoes. I hope these new ones stay away from hot coffee.

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

The quest continues.


Now that the birds have returned to Andrus Island, my quest for pictures of these incredible creatures continues.  I nearly got to photograph the snow geese on the way to work this morning.  An accident on Brannan Island Road had drawn three first responders to the only turn-off in full view of the flock.  I drove around to Jackson Slough to gawk at the long-necks instead. 

On the way home from work, I pulled into the entrance to a nearby field to snap the flocks coming to the island for the night.  The turbines spanned the far horizon, perhaps a mile away. I remained in my car, but cut the engine.

Within minutes, a truck appeared on the dirt road ahead of me from inside the perimeter of the private property.  The driver disembarked and hovered near my car, watching through the windshield. 

As I recapped my lens and started to exit, I rolled down my window. 

“Just shooting the sunset,” I told him. 

“All good,” he said, though neither of us was fooled.

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

Please note that I do not pretend to be any good at the technical aspects of picture-taking.  If you want to see stellar shots, plenty of professionals and capable amateurs post their work.  My current favorite is Don Wisdom.

I post my photographs so you see a fraction of the beauty in which I live, the world which draws me forward in my #journeytojoy.


Blame it on the sunset

Tonight I ate strawberry jam and crackers after dinner.  I have no regrets.  How could I?  So much exists to encourage me toward contentment.

I live in a place where snow geese descend upon deliberately flooded fields to make their home where winter barely kisses the earth.  Their cries awaken me and I think, Ah, they arrived at last.  They rise as one into the tender sky of the early sun and ease back to the ground at twilight.

I live in a place where the sun spreads its crimson glow across low-lying clouds at evening’s end, and dances over the billowing tule fog at daybreak.  I drive to work beneath the sure, steady beat of a hawk’s wing and the dancing flutter of gathering songbirds.

I live in a place where farmers give over their acreage to Sandhill cranes, and egrets, and blue herons.  Snowy birds on slender legs stand among stodgy ewes alongside the highway.  The rain eases to honor the sheep dog as he noses the flock toward the pasture.  

I have no complaints.  As far as I know, only one person on the planet holds me  in contempt.  Maybe two or three regret knowing me.  One, possibly, wishes that I had never crossed his path.  A smattering of lawyers still shake their heads in recollection of cases against me.  

But otherwise, I have excuse only for joy.  Blame it on the sunset.  It pulls me to the roadside every time.  I cannot resist.  When its last rays ease themselves below the horizon, I can barely contain my rapture as I resume my journey home.

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

Taken in the California Delta on 10 January 2020 with a Canon PowerShot set on auto. The color has not been altered.  I straightened several but otherwise they appear as I shot them, and I am no photographer.  What you see is what the heavens provided. 

Tempus fugit

Somehow, four days of the new year have come and nearly gone.  I cannot quite fathom this break-neck passage of time.  I’ve had busy days, though.   I’ve enjoyed long conversations with friends; written letters; launched a tiny renovation of my tiny house; and watched a myriad of videos about personal philosophy.  

The birds have returned to the Delta.  The crows came first, followed by thousands of little brown songbirds and scattered clusters of majestic white egrets.  Two mornings ago, I awoke to the cries of geese.  Today en route to Lodi, a flock of Sandhill cranes soared overhead.  My soul yearned to take flight in their midst but I contented myself with pulling alongside the road and staring as they climbed into the sky.

I came home mid-afternoon, my little Canon PowerShot out of its case and ready in case I spied a bird or two along Brannan Island Road.  I nearly got a picture of a heron with its wings spread wide, but a dog barked and startled both of us.  Then I saw one of the enormous freighters that make their ponderous way from the Pacific through the Delta to Stockton’s port.  I gave chase, and ended up in my usual awkward pose:  Hanging from the car window, squinting, praying that I wouldn’t embarrass myself by tumbling head first into the San Joaquin.

The nearby homeowner waved as I made a turn to continue home. I stopped in the middle of the road, lowered my window, and apologized for bothering her dogs. 

“Oh, I don’t pay any attention to those mutts,” she laughed.  “Aren’t those big ships grand,” she continued.  I agreed, and then admired her house. 

“It’s enough for me and my eighty-three year old mother,” she acknowledged.   “Those ships turn in the deep channel out there,” she told me.  “I never get tired of watching them.”  I agreed again, earnestly this time.  Then I wished her a happy New Year, and pulled out into the road, smiling, cheered, remembering anew why I love #mytinylife so dearly.

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

As Year Six Ends

Six years ago, I decided to attempt to matriculate through 365 days without uttering one word of complaint.  I failed miserably, so I kept the effort going. i continued being accountable for the effort by blogging.  At the end of year four, I suspended my other, weekly blog; closed my law office and art space; sold my house; took possession of a newly constructed tiny house on wheels; and headed west.

For the last two  years, I have struggled with the new life that I seemed to eagerly embrace.  What was I? Not a California girl, no longer a Missourian.  Not married, uncomfortably divorced.  With my one child grown and my siblings all engrossed in their own progeny and careers, not really a family person.  

In 2019, I have watched an astounding number of videos on YouTube in which people shared stories of their own journeys to self-acceptance.  These ranged from college students struggling with body positivity to fitness coaches to book reviewers to one young woman in Scotland who has an extraordinary vocabulary and a PhD in literature based on her dissertation on Joyce’s Ulysses.  That last vlogger speaks in stark terms about recovering from anorexia and expounds upon books of which I have never heard and doubt that I have sufficient intelligence to understand.  She also did an entire video on not giving any more F*cks, in which she managed to bleep that word all but one of the dozen or so times in which she used it.  

One of the exercises in which I engaged in 2019 involved listing all the criticisms that have been leveled at me in the past decade and examining them for accuracy.  Believe me when I tell you that doing so humbled me beyond expectation.  Assuming that every insult contains at least a nugget of truth forced me to ferret through the exaggeration to find the uncannily perceptive accuracy.  If those bits had been pebbles, I could have paved the muddy path from my car to my tiny house and walked with ease for the better part of a rainy winter.

I learned from that endeavor.  My coldest suspicions about myself found both confirmation and refutation.  In short, I concluded, for the hundredth time, that I have attained neither perfection nor utter failure.  I hover in the region of midway between the two.  With a long way yet to traverse to my best self, I’ve still moved forward, if only a click or three.

I have a list of goals that I did not meet in 2019, along with, yes, the unattained principal objective of going a year without complaining.  I’ve managed to anger a few people;  and I’ve disappointed some whom I dearly love.  That last failure hurts the most, a self-inflicted wound made bloodier because I could not resist pulling the dagger from my heart.  But the salve of forgiveness brings healing; and I remain hopeful that I will earn my bandages by and by.

It’s already 2020 in Asia, in Russia, and across the Atlantic.  Soon, the earth’s orbit will close the decade even here at the edge of the nation.  I will wash my dinner dishes and hang the towel on the stove.  The porch light will be extinguished and the heat turned to a lower temperature.  I will gaze around the 200 square feet of my home, contemplating the changes that the next week will bring as I undertake another declutter and a few house modifications.  Tomorrow gives me an unbroken day in which to set the tone for the three-hundred and sixty-four days to follow, during which I will try, with every ounce of my energy, not to utter a single disparaging word.  Happy New Year, everyone.  May the coming months hold peace, prosperity, glory, love, and grandeur for you all.

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


An Ode to Ugliness

I don’t know many ugly people.  By “ugly” here, I do not suggest judgment of physical presentment.   I use “ugly” to describe the snarled heart, the curled lip, the squinted eye.  Such people ooze their own self-loathing as they castigate others.  

Most of us muddle through our lives.  We hold doors for others.  We offer smiles, even grins, through fatigue and pain.  We strain to use words of encouragement.  We forswear complaint; or hustle around behind our clumsy selves, tendering apologies if we have erred.  We do the best we can.

Ugly people fume.  They stew in the sad juices of their disappointment.  We all experience such phases —  weeks, months, maybe even decades.  Most of us look back on these unfortunate interludes as dark, lamentable wanderings in misty, murky forests where we would never choose to linger.   But some folks have hearts grossly marred by anger.  They cannot tear themselves from the clutch of brambles.  I fear such folks need a soothing ballad sung by a more noble troubadour than I.

Recently, an artist friend  messaged from a far-away country where he lives with his family.  We talked for a few minutes about the relentless current of life.  The waves rise; the jagged rocks loom; the banks of the river seem distant and unreachable.  Yet we grab an oar; grin over our shoulders; holler at the moon; and plunge forward.  

I think maybe the ugly people have lost their paddle, or their compass, or that precious packet of belongings stowed beneath the seat.  Maybe they need a different soundtrack to their desperate efforts.  Maybe they need not an ode but a serenade, or a symphony, or a sweet soft lullaby to comfort them as they throw themselves exhausted on the shore.  

Maybe if we join hands and form a circle around them, we can sing away the pain of whatever sorrow has claimed their wretched hearts.  I’m game to try.

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

In My Sister’s House

In my sister Ann’s house, cookies and tradition sit plentifully on the wooden shelves.  The children have grown but they return for holiday dinners and long walks on Sunday.  Everyone flashes genuine smiles beneath dancing eyes.  They speak in cheerful tones and write thank-you notes, which my sister says are the last bastion of a civilized society.

When my sister learned that I would be alone for Christmas, she bought a plane ticket with her airline miles and planned my visit.  I slept in the little bedroom off the dining room under a hand-made quilt, with her childhood afghan in pristine condition folded at the foot of the bed.  Glass globes hung from the dining room light.  Fairy lights twinkled in the schefflera plants on either side of the bay window.

My sister joined the army before I finished elementary school.  With her nursing degree, she spent a year in Korea at a hospital caring for wounded soldiers coming from Vietnam.  She met her husband in the army.  When I asked Ann and Bill how long they had been married, Bill said, “I have no idea,” simultaneous with Ann’s “too damn long”.  I didn’t believe either of them.  I don’t know what their forty-three years together have brought them; but I heard no grumbling, no disagreements, no painful sighs.  The silences between them seemed companionable.  

In my sister’s house, yarn gets spun, tapestries woven, and bread kneaded.  I’ve always called my sister Ann “the perfect one”.  She made her oldest son’s blue-jeans herself, for goodness sake, at least in his  tender years.  With double seams, no less; just like in the store.  Ann remains connected  to each of our siblings, while the rest of us fall into factions with lingering and petty disputes driving wedges between us.  

I wonder what would have happened if Ann had stayed at home longer, into my high school years.  Would I have struggled less?  Would she have suffered more?  Would her marriage have lasted as long; could her children have grown into such  happy young men?  With her influence stretching into my college years, might I have learned a few lessons sooner than I clearly have?  I cannot say.  I came away from Christmas at my sister’s house with two balls of yarn, a pair of borrowed socks, and the lingering feeling that I have missed so much these last decades, when we lived just a few hours away from each other.  I rarely saw her. Even less frequently did I turn to her for comfort or counsel.  I did not give my son the benefit of her wisdom.

I spent the better part of this afternoon making a little neck  wrap from the yarn which my sister gave me.  I hope I did her justice.

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


Christmas Greetings

I came back to Missouri from Arkansas in late December of 1990, two months pregnant and determined to reconnect with family for Christmas.  My close friends in Kansas City gave me safe harbor — a bed for as long as I wanted it, offers of  dinner, presents, comfort.  But I craved something indefinable which they could not provide, a certain meaning stamped on common DNA.  

I had intended to drive to St. Louis on Christmas Eve but a snow storm blanketed the stretch of highway between the two cities.  Desperate, I phoned my brother Mark.  In his measured voice, he suggested the train.  He offered to meet me at the station and promised their guest room for as long as I wished to stay.  I did not refuse; in fact, the eagerness with which I accepted must have surprised him.  We had never been close.

At Union Station, I struggled with my small bag and my  bundle of presents.  But angels stepped forward.  A gloved hand came under one elbow.  An arm entwined my shoulders.  Someone hoisted my belongings to the corridor above me.  Another person practically lifted me from the packed snow through the frigid air, into the car.  All the while, I murmured meager words of gratitude, barely discernible over the heavy noises of the train as the crew readied the long train for departure.

I have always enjoyed the space of time and sense of isolation of travel by rail.  Nothing takes place while you huddle against the glass and stare at passing farmhouses.  Though modern times have brought USB ports and hand-held electronics for distraction, 30 years ago, one could still sink into blissful oblivion.  

The eternal clanging lulled me into a drowsy daze.  My hand sought the rounded curve of my belly, where I thought, just thought, I could feel a newness of texture even beneath my heavy garments.  In that space of time between the last call for boarding and the cry of entry into my station, the life within me unfolded.  Birth, babbling, steps, cries, laughter, hugs, songs;  an endless delightful film unfurling itself in my sleepy brain.

I don’t remember that Christmas celebration.  Except for my mother who had died in 1985, everyone in my family of birth must have gathered at some point during my visit.  I could extrapolate from other times to describe the likely festivities but as for actual memories, I have none.  Whatever I retained of the celebrations has faded now.  Dinners were cooked and shared; gifts exchanged; snow felll upon the city.  Eventually I boarded a train, traveled  back to Kansas City, and eventually, south, to my home in Winslow.  Of those days, I recall nothing.

But of the hours on the eastbound train, my recollection remains clear.  I hear the voices, the laughter, the greetings, the offers of help and the glad acceptances.  The sense of calm which settled over me as the train sped across my home state to the city of my childhood lingered and I can recall it to this day.  I summoned the memory of that journey when immediate events overwelmed me in the tumult of the years which followed.  Somehow, its quiet moments came to signify something to which I can turn within my darkest hours.  In gladder times, that tender respite can still convince me of the potential that I will, after all, find peace.

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