Category Archives: Uncategorized

One Thing

I spent time today trying to determine if Eleanor Roosevelt actually counseled us to “do one thing which scares you every day”.  I learned that the adage has a checkered past, attributed to various people over two-hundred years.  Not everyone accepts its virtue.  I turned instead to something which I so often suggested to my son during his childhood that he took to waggling his finger and pushing me to follow my own advice.  “Get the hardest thing done first, then do what you like to do.”  

I followed both recommendations today.  After pushing myself to engage in a dreaded effort (the details of which do not bear discussion), I rewarded myself with a drive along the river road, camera at my side.  I saw a small clutch of Sandhill cranes flying northward over the Sacramento River.  I swerved to the shoulder too late to photograph their majestic sweep, but in the attempt, caught sight of a delicate rainbow, here depicted unretouched.  Along the way, I enjoyed several other stunning vistas.

I’ve spent the evening lost in thought, principally unbridled and unexpected gratitude for the broken road which brought me to live alongside such astounding beauty.

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

With special thanks to: the late Robert Mccain; Kelley Marie Blond; Kathleen Selig; and Christina Sorenson; for encouraging me to have confidence in how I look.

On waking from a dream

I ought to be driving to Lodi right now.  I intended to be among the first to sign the list for lab work.  Instead, I have read news, eaten breakfast, scrolled through social media, and gazed out of the window at the speckles of rain.

Last night, I dreamed that I got a phone call from someone whom I used to know.  The disembodied voice in the hazy gloom of my sleeping brain told me that I needed to call a person who did me harm, for purposes of extending forgiveness.  The caller insisted that my forgiveness stood between the wrong-doer and happiness.  I woke before my subconscious responded to the entreaty.

I stumbled around the house in an unsettled state.  I thought about the concept of expressing that I hold no malice.  In my dream, I got the sense that actual forgiveness did not matter; that I only had to tender words of absolution.  My thoughts trailed from there to a state of wondering about my feelings.  Have I forgiven? If so, could I say that out loud? We easily scribble “sorry.. . thank you. . . welcome” at the bottom of Hallmark cards.  But what emotions underlie the expressions? Does deft articulation substitute for sincerity?

I scrambled eggs, drank re-warmed coffee, and watched yesterday’s Anderson360.  Now I have to dress and head east.  I haven’t gotten a blood draw since November.  For all I know, these troubled reveries stem from nothing more than a lack of oxygen.  Just in case, I’m taking precautions.  I’m packing bottled water, an extra jacket, and a phone charger.  You never know.  On the other hand, if last night’s dream signals that my own soul yearns for peace, I’m saying this now:  I forgive you.

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

 

Heights

I freely admit that I fear heights, yet my eyes constantly seek the endless stretch of gentle blue above me.  This morning I finally saw the sweep of sandhill cranes rising, falling, the lift and bend of their wings cutting gracefully through the cloudless expanse.  I had no time to photograph, nor could my little cell phone do justice to the sight.  I pulled my car to the soft shoulder and watched.

I moved through my work day a little easier for the experience.  Those creatures exist completely apart from the grind of machinery and the chatter of human existence.  I envy their effortless flight across the heavens.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been struggling with a situation which I must endure through almost no fault of my own, which will never be abated, and which causes me some difficulty.  The challenge for me lies only partially in dealing with the unpleasant stamp on my life.  That’s troubling enough, but the incongruity rankles more.  I strive to reshape my point of view, forsaking  the negative, abandoning complaint.  I must either ignore the origins of this particular annoyance, or twist this circumstance into a shape if not tolerable, then at least instructive.

I’ve been struggling toward that goal for four years.  I admit that I’ve not yet attained a state of grace with this one.  I do not want my soul to rot, so I can’t just build a box around it, nor can I force the sad affair into a corner of my heart.  I’ve exhausted myself scraping away  decades of old rot.  I loathe risking a new accumulation.

So I bid my spirit to hold itself still.  I watch the cranes fly over the meadow here on Andrus Island.  I open my heart to the dancing air on which those majestic beings soar.  I’ve seen the Delta winds cleanse this earth of heavier burdens than mine.

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

Taking What Finds Me

Although I have seen fabulous swoops of single sandhill cranes, their unmistakable majesty skimming the river’s surface or ahead of me on the road, I have not yet come upon the massive lift of a flock at dawn.  But the crows!  The crows continue to find me, and so I take the chances that present themselves.  Their steadfast song greets me every morning,and their cries soothe me at the end of each day.  In today’s morning fog, I stood outside and listened to the unending conversations across the meadow.  The sun shines now, and the crows have dispersed.  I know they will return as sunset approaches.  I will be here.

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

The comforts of home

I struggle with weight these days.  The irony of that battle lies in my having lost 85 pounds from 2008 – 2010, then dropped another 20  in the following year.  The  current extra poundage started to accumulate as I got ready to sell my house.  I understand my proclivities:  I worry.  Worry morphs into fretting.  As I fall into the quagmire of panic, I either do not eat or do not moderate my food.  I’m an emotional yo-yo.

I’ve spent the last several years trying to minimize my intake of gluten, white sugar, and refined food.  These tend to inflame nerves.  My neurologist excoriates white sugar, considering it to be poison.  He’s less convinced that I need to avoid gluten.  He agrees with the ban on processed foods.  Our bodies do not need this garbage, and my corrupted nerve cells least of all.

Yet there I sat, in the Lodi branch of Panera’s, having eaten a modified Caesar salad (no cheese) with 10-vegetable soup, eyeing the bread and butter that I did not tell the server to hold.  I’m suddenly six years old.  My mother sits at the breakfast room table with a cup of coffee, a piece of bread nestled on the edge of the saucer.  She’s tipping the cup to splash the hot liquid over the bread, then greedily dipping, so the coffee seeps into every cranny.

I watch in fascination.  This says “dessert” to my mother:  White bread, preferably home-baked, dipped in black coffee.  Not a sweet, but an after-meal treat.  I wonder years later if any of my siblings remember my mother’s delight in this simple indulgence.

I allowed myself that same enjoyment after my healthy lunch yesterday.  I had worked all morning and then spent two hours in an intense appointment while hunger gnawed at my belly.  I couldn’t make it back to the Loop without eating.  The soup and salad gave honest, acceptable nourishment.  But that bread!  I savored each morsel, for its own richness but also for the memory of my mother, offending checkbook fallen to the side, stack of bills forgotten as she savors the little meal.  Tension lines smooth.  She holds one corner of the bread and dips it into the puddle  on her saucer.  My own small repast, my after-lunch allowance, reminded me of the comforts of home.

With effort, I have lost 15 of the 25 pounds which I gained during the first half of 2018.  When I keep my weight down, I walk steadier, I breathe more easily, and I fall less frequently.  I get that. I also understand that I will likely never again weigh the scant 100 pounds of 2011.  More than that:  I know that food should not be a fixation.  But once in a while, I  let myself sit at a Formica table top, dip bread into coffee, and think about my mother.  I do not feel guilty.  I do not castigate myself.  I enjoy the brief sojourn, then go about the business of navigating whatever the universe brings me.

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

 

Life or something like it

Lately, I have gotten a bit hooked on watching YouTube DIY shows.  I suppose my fascination stems from whatever longing for change drove me to sell my Brookside bungalow and commission the creation of a tiny house.  Now that I have it, I tinker with its interior, puttering around in delight. I move the pillows, hang hooks, reorganize the kitchen utensils, and plan changes small and large to unfold with the dawning year.

So this is life, or something like it.  My armload of regrets has been heaped on the burning table which I sold to a blended family which had outgrown its own.  The sage fire scorched the surface but I rubbed it with sandpaper before they came to haul it away.  With the wad of cash, I paid some bills and took myself out to dinner, in those long days when I scratched through box after box of two and a half decades in our home.

Tonight I watched a video of the wedding of one of the bloggers whom  I follow.  I thought about the weddings to which I’ve been invited in the last five years, only one of which I attended.  Ironically that one should have been the most difficult for me, since it took place at the scene of my own last crime.  But the joy rose so fierce and fast that I could not be sad.

As the video of this stranger’s marriage ceremony unfolded on my tablet, I tested my gut for the lingering bitterness of regret.  I felt none.  Yet here I am, in a situation which could feel lonely, in the dark of night with a great horned owl hooting overhead.  I didn’t exactly feel happy to be watching someone else’s vow of fidelity, but neither did I resent that this pretty woman found something that apparently has eluded me.  I admired her dress, the poetry, and the flowers.  Then I switched to a news show about the latest sad stalemate in Washington.  I’m calling that progress.

Ever since my last divorce, people I know have been tiptoeing around the details of my situation.  I never even blogged about it, except in vague reference.  About a year afterwards, someone emailed me to ask what had happened.  They wondered why I hadn’t made an announcement.  I couldn’t think of an answer.  Nobody wants to hear about break-ups, at least, not in the open.  Anyone who wants to discuss it will do so behind your back.  I tried to be stoic; to reinvent myself; to be magnanimous and strong.  That particularly held true here, where the entire purpose of the exercise involves upbeat, cheerful discourse.  The result has been that only a small cadre of people know how difficult these last few years have been.

I say all this now for two reasons.  First, to thank everyone who reads this blog for giving me a place to test my resolve.  I wanted to overcome grief.  Forcing myself to articulate life in positive terms helped me do that.  Don’t believe for a moment, though, that lamenting did not take place.

That brings me to my second purpose for raising this subject, which is to say, without qualification, that any of you has my permission to be angry if your life takes an unexpected and unwanted turn.  You do not have to be strong one-hundred percent of the time.  I could not have been.  I lost my mother-in-law, my father-in-law, my husband, my marriage, and my self-esteem all in the space of fifteen months.  I clawed my way back from the precipice.  More than that:  Certain hands quite literally dragged me from danger.  They know who they are.  They know my eternal devotion to them.

If you suffer chaotic upheavals — the loss of a job, major illness, divorce, a loved one’s death — know that you will have moments of terror.  You will not know if you can survive.  Don’t look to me as someone braver than you consider yourself.  I wailed; I screamed; I swore.  Snot ran out of my nose.  Great wracking sobs immobilized me.  My sorry state continued for month after month.  Even as I brazened my way through this entire move to California, I had to bargain with myself to survive.  Compounding that misery, several people whom I hired to help me with various aspects of my move behaved in ways which cost me money (actual money) and pushed me to question my sanity.  They did so in the guise of being people who “specialized in helping women in transition” which I now understand meant “women who are vulnerable and therefore, can be easily manipulated”.  I don’t mean that as complaint; far from it.  It’s just a fact.  A certain category of people take advantage of others when they need help the most.  I found several of that type, and in my pain did not recognize them.

But I made it through the ordeal.  You can too.  Let yourself grieve though.  Maybe don’t try to blog about living joyfully — I laugh!  Believe me, any day you didn’t see an entry from me probably challenged me so much that I couldn’t bring myself to write a single word lest lamentations spew from me along with the vomit that I had to choke back on some of my most terrible days.

I’m here to tell you, then, that if I can survive, you also can.  Find yourself a new road to walk.  You might  be taking it alone, but you can get assists now and then.  Stop along the way for tea with your best friends.  Allow yourself to nibble on chocolates.  Carry a clean handkerchief and a well-written novel or a pack of magazines — something to read when you have to stop to rest but know you won’t be able to sleep.

My mother’s mother, Johanna Ulz Lyons, used to tell us to put our best foot forward.  You do that too.  Don’t worry if you stumble from time to time.  We all do.  Even if you hit the ground, skin your shins, bruise your bottom, just haul yourself back onto your feet and take that next step.  I remember falling on the basement floor of my old house, late one night shortly after my husband moved out.  The cold of the concrete seeped into my bones.  I didn’t think i could rise.  But I did.  You will fall.  You will doubt yourself. You will be tempted to collapse, to stop trying. Then one day, you’ll be sitting in your own house, and your own great horned owl will be calling to its mate across the meadow, or you’ll hear the low, long whistle of a passing train.  You’ll realize that you made it through a terrible time, just as I realized tonight.

There will be other days when you don’t feel quite so steady, so accomplished, so composed.  Believe me, I have those even now, five years after my separation, four years after my divorce.  Eventually, the good days will outweigh the bad.  Whatever you found hardest to stomach will be less so, until one day you forget that it ever bothered you.  Or perhaps, it will bother you still, but it won’t bother you that it bothers you, if you get my drift.  Like accepting that you don’t like snakes.  I don’t like weddings.  I understand why.  I accept my reaction.  I let myself off the hook.  Whatever it is that you find difficult to bear after whatever awful twist of life you endure, give yourself that space.  Don’t drive down that street, or go to that restaurant, or call that office, or wear that dress.  It’s all right.  Just in case you can’t bring yourself to authorize the foible, allow me to do it for you.  I give you permission to be as human as you need to be to get through the darkness so that you can emerge, one day soon, in the full glorious dawn of healing.

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

Fresh air

I lived in Arkansas from 1987 through 1992, including a year in Newton County and a year in Winslow.  When I returned to Kansas City, I swore that I had inhaled enough fresh air to last a lifetime.

Now I seem to be addicted to it, craving hours or afternoons, whatever I can carve from my attempts to support myself by working a day job in town.  I drive, I park, I walk, I greedily inhale the air of the river and the song of the birds. I stand on my porch in my pajamas, neck craned backward to widen my gaze.  No moment seems too fleeting for the fragrance of the Delta winds.

My mother kept a tattered copy of “Birds of North America – Midwest Region” by our breakfast room window.  I long for a NORCAL version.  I cannot distinguish between creatures as of yet.  I mistake falcons for hawks and ducks for geese.  I raise the binoculars which I inherited from my favorite curmudgeon and squint my failing eyes through their lenses.  I tilt my head and strain to discern the calls flung across the meadow from tree to tree.

At the end of each day, I plot my next greedy escape to the by-ways of the Loop, where I’ll park my car and make my way along the river banks, walking stick in hand, camera dangling from my neck.  Each time I venture a bit farther, bolder, freer.  My lungs expel the lingering poison of the city’s grime.  I can almost breathe again.

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

“Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

from Dream Work by Mary Oliver
published by Atlantic Monthly Press
© Mary Oliver

Taken with my lens on full-throttle close-up. This fellow fascinated me as he picked his way along the water’s edge.  Please forgive the poor quality of the image.

My Day Off

Too late, I had the idea of volunteering in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Failing that, I took another stab at finding flocks of migrating birds in the Delta.  For the second time, the sight eluded me.  But I enjoyed myself. I encountered few sentient beings.  A curious water fowl — which I believe was a duck — came to shore and found me sufficiently unfrightening to allow for a pleasant interlude just a few feet away.  Crows swooped across the winter sky.  Grazing cows spared me a glance.  Otherwise, I saw no one.  I drove for three hours, occasionally stopping to gaze at some particularly lovely scene.

As I meandered, I remembered the poems which my mother kept on her refrigerator — “I Didn’t To Go To Church Today” and “I Meant to Do My Work Today”.  Please enjoy the poignant words, along with my humble photographic record of my day off.

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

“I Meant To Do My Work Today” By Richard Le Gallienne

I meant to do my work to-day-
But a brown bird sang in the apple-tree,
And a butterfly flitted across the field,
And all the leaves were calling me.

And the wind went sighing over the land,
Tossing the grasses to and fro,
And a rainbow held out its shining hand-
So what could I do but laugh and go?

“I Didn’t Go To Church Today” By Ogden Nash

I didn’t go to church today,
I trust the Lord to understand.
The surf was swirling blue and white,
The children swirling on the sand.
He knows, He knows how brief my stay,
How brief this spell of summer weather,
He knows when I am said and done
We’ll have plenty of time together.

Lessons learned

The Trader Joe’s in Oakland has gorgeous accessible parking spaces:  large, with prominent grid lines on the driver’s side, and easily entered from either direction.  I pulled into the only vacant one of the three and eased out of my car, pleased to have scored, tickled to do a little delicious shopping before heading back to the Delta.

I stopped, peering at the door adjacent to my spot.  “EXIT”, screamed the glass with its humongous white letters. I cast my eyes at the sidewalk between me and the entrance.  Alas, a sale bin of Goodness-Knows-What, twenty feet across, snugged right up to eighteen inches of  eggshells installed for the visually impaired.  To avoid those walking hazards, my spastic feet skittered into the driving lane.  I darted back when a car blared its horn, then slipped my way across the nubby grid, stumbling, groping for the entrance.

I try to keep cool under such constraints.  I  remind myself of this journey.  I mumble under my breath, thinking of every knock on my head from people who’ve left my life in disgust.  True or not, their accusations of my inadequacy can be guideposts — “How Not To Behave”, so to speak.  “Ways You Don’t Want To Talk To People”, you could say.

I made it around the store with only one narrow escape.  I asked several girls for fresh tortillas, since the ones on the shelf said, “Best  if Refrigerated” and had a suspicious dampness about them.  They in turn summoned a full-time employee, who raised his voice to insist that “No Store Anywhere Keeps Tortillas In the Refrigerator Case”.  I assured him that in fact, they do, and he snapped, “Well, They Shouldn’t, And We Don’t.”  I put the tortillas back and walked away.  I  let him win.  His red face and instant wrath reminded me of How I Don’t Ever Again Want To Behave.

At the  cashier, the routine “Everything All Right For You Today?” prompted me to mention my problem with the parking and the impediment to safe entry.  The man looked askance at me.  “I know we just got busted and were forced to put those spaces out there,” he told me.  “What could possibly be wrong now?”  I tried to explain the heaps of merchandise on the sidewalk and the bumps over which I cannot traverse.  He stopped me and gestured.  “Tell it to the manager.”  I  looked in the direction of his arm, to the front area, with its five-feet counter and a  small harried man on the  other side, barely visible from the floor.    We stood in silence for a few minutes.

Then I took my debit card out of the machine, turned down an offer of help, and left.

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

 

 

 

Noise / Sound

I navigate my days to a soundtrack of rising, surging noise.  I close my eyes and sway to the swell, bumping people on sidewalks and drawing their glowering protest.   Unseen carpenters create the framework for country barns, the whine of their saws echoing as I do my own chores.  I vaguely understand the origins of my constant companion, the noise which my senses validate but which no one else hears.  Your brain doesn’t work right, said one doctor, as I stared at her in confusion.  Even so, but the noise? You mean, other people can’t hear this?  I didn’t know whether to envy or pity those other souls with their silent heads.

This morning, as I made my breakfast, I hummed to the chorus inside me.  Today I  heard a different noise, more rhythmic, concerted, almost organized. I stopped.  My eyes darted around my space.  I fixed my gaze on the door, adorned with hanging jackets, blue, with a doll quilt covering the window.  My hand rose.  I turned the lock.  As that door came towards me, the noise sharpened and swelled .  I stepped onto on the porch and saw what until then, I only heard as another phantom chorus of my jangled nerves.

The noise became sound, the sound of a thousand crows soaring above my tiny house, heralding the dawn, swooping across the sky to land on the swaying branches of the California oaks.  I reveled in their joy until the cold crept into my bones, and then, I stood a little longer, so I would not forget the morning song of the migrating crows.

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

Later today, I will link a one-minute video of the crows.  Watch for it. 

Have a lovely Saturday, my friends!