Category Archives: Uncategorized

Friday

I spent five hours of this day cleaning a communal space at the park where i live.  My body protests but my spirit settles into a pleasant euphoria.  I like restoring order.

In my tiny house, the washer hums and the rain patters on the metal roof.  The light from my neighbor’s porch shines through the slight part in the curtains.  I don’t need the heat anymore in this mild climate.  But my bones ache from bending and reaching, so I’ll snuggle under the warmest blanket that I have.  I hope to sleep well.

Today I used a little bench that my father made.  The tightness of my spastic muscles inhibits any rise from the ground.  The bench keeps me high enough to leverage myself upright using whatever nearby structure will hold my weight.  My great-grandfather designed the original bench.    My father replicated the original.  He made mine forty-five years ago, when I started college and moved to my first apartment.

As I hoisted myself from the floor, moving from one shelf to another, wiping grime and vacuuming dust, I thought about my father.  By rights, I should hate him.  I think even God would understand.  He levied such torturous punishment on his wife and children.  I still carry the burden of his brutality.  The stain of his cruelty mars my soul to this day.  I envy those of my siblings who seem to have risen above it.

My brother Frank and I talked about this once.  We stood on the sidewalk in front of his south St. Louis home.  Night settled around us.  I had come to bring gifts for his daughters, carefully packed boxes of china pieces which had belonged to our mother.  In the morning, I would drive to Chicago to see my son.  Frank and I watched the stars, standing quietly in the autumn air.  After a while, he started talking about life, and taking ownership of it, finding one’s own avenue to happiness.

“It’s like this for me,” he said.  “Our father was an asshole and our brother killed himself.  And then I lived for another twenty years.  So much else happened.”

Today I carefully stowed the little bench back in its cubby when I got back home.  I like that bench.  I plan to keep using it for a long time.

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

Last fall, a visitor to my tiny house became enamored of my little bench. He took lots of pictures so he could copy it. Then he took this one just for fun.

 

If it’s Wednesday, this must be Isleton.

I don’t actually live in Isleton; I just technically do.  It takes me about 18 minutes to get to Isleton while I can be in Rio Vista in ten.  But Rio Vista lies over the Sacramento River in Solano County, so we folks on the Loop get Isleton as our zip code.

The days pass in less than an eye blink.  A minute ago my son and I rode BART downtown to see the city at Christmas.  Spring officially began today.  In two and a half weeks, a hundred folks will tour my house; four days later, I will fly to Tucson.  Then summer will come; and on its heels, my fifth Labor Day at Pigeon Point as I turn sixty-four.

Will you still need me?

Recently someone asked me what living in a park was like.  What could I tell her?

Go drive to a park, preferably one which sits below a river levee.  Get out of your car.  Settle a pillow and blanket under a tree.  Fall asleep to the hoot of an owl and the rustle of a shy coyote in the undergrowth.  Awaken to the sound of a thousand creatures chattering in their morning voices.  Draw in a breath full of budding willow.  Walk to the marina and watch the sea lions  cavort in the sunlight as it dances over the dock.  Lift your head to watch a thousand Sandhill Cranes rise from the field to test the air for warmth.

That’s what it’s like.  Exactly that.

I’m going outside to see if I can photograph the moon.  It’s Wednesday, the first day of spring, the twentieth day of the sixty-third month of My [Never-Ending]  Year [Trying to Learn to Live] Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Taken from Brannan Island Rd., along the San Joaquin, just west of Delta Bay Marina.

Monday

I don’t know what to think about Monday mornings.  I like the contract work that I do, and I enjoy my weekends also.  I can’t hate Monday.  I can’t hate any day that I awaken with a chance for encountering wonder.

I took myself out to breakfast today.  The shopping, cleaning, planning, and set-up which I did for a St. Patrick’s Day dinner this weekend inhibited me from getting groceries for myself.  The Highway 12 Diner served me frozen, flash-fried hash browns; scrambled eggs cooked in oil on a flat-top; and an English muffin so over-toasted that I could have used it for street hockey.  But my waitress “Deb” kept the coffee hot and the mug filled.  She greeted every other patron by name and recommended that a woman who didn’t want to pay for the Diner’s fancy coffee try the free samples at the Opening-Soon drive-through coffee place down the road. I felt all right about the experience overall.

Daylight savings time allows me to arrive home after work with a lingering, pleasant misperception that I still have a whole evening in which I might accomplish something.  But my middle-aged body doesn’t confuse as easily as my mind.  I made dinner, then found myself staring bleary-eyed at a YouTube video about home decor.  I actually enjoyed watching a BuzzFeed producer hack a wooden table four ways.  I’m not handy but if I were, I’d try at least two of them.

Is it bedtime yet?

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

Spark a damn bonfire.

I downsized 25 years of household before anyone heard of Marie Kondo’s “sparking joy”.  I get her general drift, but I say, skip the spark, let’s light a bonfire.

At the present moment, my tiny house feels a bit cluttered.  I have to undertake my annual switch-to-spring-clothes ritual soon.  I’ll use the exercise to divest myself of a few superfluous belongings.  I’ve accumulated some second-hand items to replace objects that I threw into the garage-sale-at-Miranda’s pile and later realized that I would need.  Those acquisitions must find homes.  To accommodate them, I’ll cull out anything which has proven less useful.  A balance will assert itself.

None of these items particularly spark joy.  They serve a purpose.  The possessions which elicit a smile sit on shelves and adorn my walls.  They stand behind the glass of my mother-in-law’s secretary.  I do smile when I see them.  A spark of joy? Not really — more like the warmth of a good home-made soup, the kind you remember long after the person who gave you the recipe has gone.

The bonfire burns inside me though.  Distant voices on the other end of a phone line fan the flames.  A bank agent refunds a fee that she didn’t have to give me.  My co-worker rushes to assist when the copier jams.  I call a neighbor, who unloads my car outside the community room.  The coffee shop owner remembers which size mug I prefer.

Keep the pretty blouses if you like the way they look on you. Meanwhile, here on Andrus Island, the river flows past my window.  A flock of birds rises beyond the path of the crop duster’s yellow wings.  An endless sky holds it all together.  When the sun sets, the bonfire blazes against the darkness of the night.  I might find joy, or something close enough to call it good.

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

Interlude

Author’s note:  From time to time, several days lapse between entries.  As I  have confessed, these interludes represent times when the pressures, struggles, or difficulties of my life inhibit my ability to converse without complaint.  My general tendency in such times has usually been withdrawal.  I “hunker down”.  Additionally, my writing always flows whole-piece from my soul to my fingers.  When that process halts, my productivity crashes against an immovable impediment.  Eventually, all of these difficulties resolve, and my natural verbosity combined with my judicially-noticed relentlessness result in the spewing forth of prose onto the virtual page.

In the meantime, please enjoy these passages from de Saint Exupery’s The Little Prince:

VI

Oh, little prince! Bit by bit I came to understand the secrets of your sad little life… For a long time you had found your only entertainment in the quiet pleasure of looking at the sunset. I learned that new detail on the morning of the fourth day, when you said to me:

“I am very fond of sunsets. Come, let us go look at a sunset now.”

“But we must wait,” I said.

“Wait? For what?”

“For the sunset. We must wait until it is time.”

At first you seemed to be very much surprised. And then you laughed to yourself. You said to me:

“I am always thinking that I am at home!”

Just so. Everybody knows that when it is noon in the United States the sun is setting over France.

If you could fly to France in one minute, you could go straight into the sunset, right from noon. Unfortunately, France is too far away for that. But on your tiny planet, my little prince, all you need do is move your chair a few steps. You can see the day end and the twilight falling whenever you like…

“One day,” you said to me, “I saw the sunset forty-four times!”

And a little later you added:

“You know–one loves the sunset, when one is so sad…”

“Were you so sad, then?” I asked, “on the day of the forty-four sunsets?”

But the little prince made no reply.

VII
On the fifth day–again, as always, it was thanks to the sheep–the secret of the little prince’s life was revealed to me. Abruptly, without anything to lead up to it, and as if the question had been born of long and silent meditation on his problem, he demanded:

“A sheep–if it eats little bushes, does it eat flowers, too?”

“A sheep,” I answered, “eats anything it finds in its reach.”

“Even flowers that have thorns?”

“Yes, even flowers that have thorns.”

“Then the thorns–what use are they?”

I did not know. At that moment I was very busy trying to unscrew a bolt that had got stuck in my engine. I was very much worried, for it was becoming clear to me that the breakdown of my plane was extremely serious. And I had so little drinking-water left that I had to fear for the worst.

“The thorns–what use are they?”

The little prince never let go of a question, once he had asked it. As for me, I was upset over that bolt. And I answered with the first thing that came into my head:

“The thorns are of no use at all. Flowers have thorns just for spite!”

“Oh!”

There was a moment of complete silence. Then the little prince flashed back at me, with a kind of resentfulness:

“I don’t believe you! Flowers are weak creatures. They are naive. They reassure themselves as best they can. They believe that their thorns are terrible weapons…”

I did not answer. At that instant I was saying to myself: “If this bolt still won’t turn, I am going to knock it out with the hammer.” Again the little prince disturbed my thoughts:

“And you actually believe that the flowers–”

“Oh, no!” I cried. “No, no, no! I don’t believe anything. I answered you with the first thing that came into my head. Don’t you see–I am very busy with matters of consequence!”

He stared at me, thunderstruck.

“Matters of consequence!”

He looked at me there, with my hammer in my hand, my fingers black with engine-grease, bending down over an object which seemed to him extremely ugly…

“You talk just like the grown-ups!”

That made me a little ashamed. But he went on, relentlessly:

“You mix everything up together… You confuse everything…”

He was really very angry. He tossed his golden curls in the breeze.

“I know a planet where there is a certain red-faced gentleman. He has never smelled a flower. He has never looked at a star. He has never loved any one. He has never done anything in his life but add up figures. And all day he says over and over, just like you: ‘I am busy with matters of consequence!’ And that makes him swell up with pride. But he is not a man–he is a mushroom!”

“A what?”

“A mushroom!”

The little prince was now white with rage.

“The flowers have been growing thorns for millions of years. For millions of years the sheep have been eating them just the same. And is it not a matter of consequence to try to understand why the flowers go to so much trouble to grow thorns which are never of any use to them? Is the warfare between the sheep and the flowers not important? Is this not of more consequence than a fat red-faced gentleman’s sums? And if I know–I, myself–one flower which is unique in the world, which grows nowhere but on my planet, but which one little sheep can destroy in a single bite some morning, without even noticing what he is doing–Oh! You think that is not important!”

His face turned from white to red as he continued:

“If some one loves a flower, of which just one single blossom grows in all the millions and millions of stars, it is enough to make him happy just to look at the stars. He can say to himself, ‘Somewhere, my flower is there…’ But if the sheep eats the flower, in one moment all his stars will be darkened… And you think that is not important!”

He could not say anything more. His words were choked by sobbing.

The night had fallen. I had let my tools drop from my hands. Of what moment now was my hammer, my bolt, or thirst, or death? On one star, one planet, my planet, the Earth, there was a little prince to be comforted. I took him in my arms, and rocked him. I said to him:

“The flower that you love is not in danger. I will draw you a muzzle for your sheep. I will draw you a railing to put around your flower. I will–”

I did not know what to say to him. I felt awkward and blundering. I did not know how I could reach him, where I could overtake him and go on hand in hand with him once more.

It is such a secret place, the land of tears.

 

Spring Forward

Every so often, I get a notion to try to change the clock in my car.  I currently drive a 2012 Toyota RAV4, which I’m told that I mispronounce but which I enjoy.  It has two clocks, one in the dash and one in the after-market stereo/radio.

I sat in the car this afternoon gazing at the digits.  For months, one clock has been an hour too early, and one has been an hour too late.  Now, one showed the current time and the other showed two hours ago. Within a few minutes, I had them both close to correct.

I continued to sit as the air grew cool around me.  Funny things, clocks.  They have no agenda other than informing you of the point which you’ve reached in your day.  We never glance at one until we’re certain that we missed an appointment.  Then we scold or salute ourselves, as appropriate.

My mother used to tell me that I had been born on time.  I arrived on my due date and just about the hour that the doctor had expected, given his knowledge of my mother’s five prior deliveries.  Labor Day, 1955.  September 5th.  Monday.  My whole life, I’ve told people that I was born on 09/5/55 at 9:05 p.m. and that my father celebrated with a six pack of 9-0-5 beer — a St. Louis chain which had a store within staggering distance of our house.  The pressure of timeliness weighs on me at times.  I’ve felt a day late and a dollar short for years.

I finally broke my gaze from the flashing lights on the dash and hit “menu” to accept my entries.  I’ve just started using my workhorse laptop from my old office because of its bigger screen.  It’s still set to Central Time.  I went inside to get my life in sync, as the sun slowly sank in the western horizon, and the shadows began to stretch across the meadow.

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

Hanging with the girls.

I celebrated International Women’s Day by throwing a cup of scalding hot tea in my face and going out for pizza with my neighbors Laurie and Michelle, and Michelle’s six-year-old son Matthew.  The tea thing seems funny now.  As you can imagine, it really aggravated me at the time.  A sudden loud noise had its usual impact on my trauma-altered brain.  My hand flew into the air, showering tea everywhere. Thank God for the world’s thickest lenses.

The pizza experience provided actual contemporaneous laughs.  Maddening though this sounds, we did not take one blessed photograph.  So instead, I’ll upload every possible picture in my media file of the women who have influenced me and on whom I depend for guidance, nurturing, and inspiration.

I owe everything to the women who sustain me; and also to their partners and to their children.  The love of these women for me and my son keeps me however close to sane I can claim to dwell.  I need their endless support of my clumsy stumbling.   I give them little, but cherish them in every fibre of my being.  Women hold up more than half of my sky.  Their presence in my world humbles and honors me.

It’s the eighth day of March, 2019, International Women’s Day; and the end of the first week in the sixty-third month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

P.S.:  If you don’t see a picture of yourself or another woman whom you expect to see in this gallery, it’s probably because I don’t have a photo.  Send it to me, I’ll add it!

Click on each photo to enlarge.

Serendipity

serendipity
N: good luck in making unexpected and fortunate discoveries

In 1994, an employee in the toddler room at the Montessori school which my son attended put my son on a chair in the hallway outside of the director’s office.  He had not yet turned three.  She went into the office to call me.  My secretary told her that I had gone to Chillicothe for a deposition, but that both she and her co-worker, my assistant (slash) best friend Alan, had authority to attend to my son.  The school’s employee denied my secretary’s entreaty for information, even though my emergency contact list included her.

Five hours later, I arrived at the school to find my son asleep on the cold tile near the chair in which he had been left.  He had been unattended for the entire afternoon.  The reason for his ouster (at age two-and-a-half) from the classroom had long since been forgotten, at least by my son.  He rubbed his tired eyes and said, “Hi Mommy.  Is it time for lunch yet?”  A plate of congealed macaroni sat on the floor beside him.

I took my son out of that school.  Thus did we come to Purple Dragon Daycare, a magical place at which my son would learn to read and write before his fifth birthday and try unique and amazing foods, such as borscht and artichoke.  Magda Hellmuth, the school’s owner and a truly grand human being, cared for her thirty-charges in loving,  measured ways.  As one parent remarked years later while we stood outside of classrooms at a local Catholic grade school, “Perhaps we made a strategic error, sending our sons to the best educator whom they’d ever encounter,  before they even got to kindergarten.”

Through Purple Dragon, my son and I also found the Taggarts.  Katrina, Ross, and their children Jennie, Caitlin, and Chris became the family-by-choice which Patrick and I desperately needed.  Mona Chebaro and her son Maher rounded out the set for us.  Every holiday, each birthday, the highs and lows of our household, became bearable, even enjoyable, because of the Taggarts and the Chebaros.  We picked blueberries, went Trick-or-Treating, bought and buried pets, and enrolled in the activities of childhood that a single disabled mother could never have navigated alone.

When I went to the hospital, one of those families cared for Patrick.  We took the boys on vacations, built a beach in the backyard, and created Halloween scenery on our front porch with the same crew at hand — Patrick, Chris, and Maher, weekend after weekend.  You rarely saw one without the other two.

At Purple Dragon, we also met Abbey Vogt, and her parents, Paula Kenyon-Vogt and Sheldon Vogt.  These amazing human beings have my heart, all these years later.  They know why.

A few days ago, I drew a sweater over my shoulders which Caitlin Taggart Perkins gave me for Christmas at the Gathering of the Usual Suspects in December 2016.  I pinned a brooch to its lapel.  I stood in front of my little heart-shaped mirror.  I can’t understand how a woman whom I met as an eight or nine year old girl. could evolve into someone with such keen instincts that she can still nail the perfect Corinne gift.

I don’t miss the cold, or the struggle of taking care of a house alone.  I can live without the pressure of solo practice and the painful reminders of shattered dreams.  I like California.  I’m thrilled to be an hour from the ocean, living in an adorable tiny house, in a wide green meadow, beside a sweet little stream, just steps from the San Joaquin River.

But sometimes — just sometimes, when the Delta wind rattles my window, and I catch sight of my aging reflection, I remember the whispering children on the upper floor of my airplane bungalow.  I hear Katrina’s brisk tread on the steps, and Mona’s lilting accent over the sound of running dish water.  I hear the calm murmur of Paula K-V, and Sheldon’s clever jokes, which he’d intone with a twinkle in his eye and a carpenter’s pencil behind his ear.   I’m not complaining.  But sometimes — just sometimes — I miss my tribe.

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

“Thank You Song”, Livingston Taylor and James Taylor

Treasures

I made it back to the house just as the wind rose.  At the weekly community dinner, I met four new people and tried three small bites of Sally’s pasta, careful to avoid the cheese.  Other than my coleslaw and some bread with butter, there’s nothing I could eat but I didn’t mind. Sally brought a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck and a finger of red did me fine.

It’s not gone eight before I turn the lock.  The rush and roar of the night shakes my tiny dwelling.  I ask the Google lady to tell me the wind speed.  There’s a sixteen mile per hour wind in Isleton right now, she acknowledges.

From my writing loft, I study the darkness on the other side of the sturdy pane.  My little electric heater hums.  I still wish I had chosen propane.  I don’t quite know why I didn’t, or why I didn’t spend an extra few thousand for a solar system.  The flickering lights signal that a storm draws  near.  I’ll be needing a flashlight before dawn.  I check for batteries and settle into my rocking chair.

The neighbor’s porch light beams across the way.  Her son has come outside with their little dogs.   Rain begins, a gentle patter now, but soon the house will fill with a staccato rhythm as the wind whips through the meadow and the skies open.

Back home, we had a keeping shelf.  Sand bottles and little charms; angels, Lego guys, and Christmas bells, nestled side by side.  I gently packed each one in my last few days there.  Now I live in a house of treasures.  I count my days with golden coins, as the wind blows, and the rain falls, and the river flows silently past the park where angels dwell.

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

My Tiny Life: Mementos

Back From The Land Of Misbegotten Days

The little Bluetooth speaker filled my tiny house with music as I worked.  Sorting laundry first; then I attacked the clutter which can make 200 square feet seem small and inconvenient.  My movements became more brisk throughout the morning.  The pleasure of accomplishment spurred me forward. But then:  My hand knocked against a jade plant.  Its pot shattered to the floor.  I could have cried.

Years ago, I had a wine bottle shaped like a heart.   I rooted a philodendron in water and kept the bottle on a ledge in my shower.  Around the same time, my sister Joyce fell ill.  I started taking care of her daughter Lisa, with the thought that I could assume guardianship if worse came to worse.

I took Lisa to the zoo one nearly perfect spring morning. I acted as I believed a mother should, competent and calm. I framed my directions in words of cooperation.  I provided treats but in moderation.  I put sunscreen on her cheeks and dabbed her forehead with ice-water when she seemed flustered.  I rented a stroller to push her past the seals.  I felt invincible.  Then  rain began and I dashed to the car, holding my niece’s little hand, urging her forward.

By the time we got home, Lisa had grown cranky.  She whined about needing a drink, her mother, lunch, to use the toilet.  I hoisted her on my hip, struggling on wobbly legs into the bathroom. I skittered to a halt, frozen, horrified.

The rising wind had tumbled the heart-shaped bottle to the tile, scattering shards of amber glass entwined with wilted greenery.    I stood in the afternoon gloom, thinking of the man who had brought me the wine which the broken bottle once held.  I  remained immobilized in the doorway until Lisa began to whimper.   I shook my head, then gently lowered the child onto the dining room carpet and went to get a dustpan.

After a difficult February, March offers an interlude in which my soul yearns to heal.  I’m back from the land of misbegotten days, where the rubble of the broken heart lies forgotten in a heap of trash.

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

With special thanks to a pair of lovely human beings who remembered me today.

Sarah Harmer, “Lodestar”