Monthly Archives: August 2016

Close call

The drudgery of yard work on Saturday sent me into a tail spin.  I could barely move on Sunday.  In fact, I did not move except to walk from the front porch to the television room, from there to the kitchen, and occasionally to the back door to let the dog in or out.  She stared at me each time, perhaps wondering why I looked so gloomy.

I used to wallow in resentment at the limitations of my body.  After six decades of trying to force my muscles to properly work, I’ve gotten adequately philosophical that 90% of the time I take it in stride.  That other ten percent whips my butt, I’m here to tell you.

The weed-pulling in which I engaged on Saturday took three times as long as it would have taken an able-bodied person, involved a couple of skinned elbows and a sore tailbone, and put me out of commission for about thirty hours.

And I didn’t even finish the job.

The problem with overwhelming fatigue and strain lies not so much with the loss of a day which I might otherwise have enjoyed or used for more productive activity.  Worse:  The brutality of battering my body tears open the thick scab formed over the emotional wounds.  I fall into a self-pitying muck, remembering everything that challenges me, focusing on what I lack rather than the gifts which surround me, inviting resentment to ooze from my pores.

Luckily I managed to avoid most direct human interaction during my regressive state.  I sent out a host of emails, only two of which contained any personal lament.  In most, I managed to address business or delightful subjects such as the upcoming fundraiser that my colleagues and I host in September.  I forced myself to drink plenty of water, perform my funny adaptive stretches, and even spend eight minutes on the stepper.  I tried not to dwell on the absence of another human being at hand.  I strove to see the quiet as a safe haven rather than a dungeon.

I almost lost a few months of progress in the no-complaining department.  Close call!!!  But I made it through the day only a little worse for wear.  Tally-ho!

It’s the eighth day of the thirty-second month of My [Never-Ending] Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

A. A. Milne, "Winnie The Pooh".  Artist unknown.

A. A. Milne, “Winnie The Pooh”. Image believed to be a copy of one by E. H. Shepard.



Anyone who has spent time at the Holmes house knows about the coins.

They appear on the floor, in doorways, and on steps.  I can’t say for sure who sends them — a divine entity, angels, humans who have passed from this life to some other.  They appear at random, unexpected times.  I take them for granted after all these years.  I stoop to retrieve them, toss them in a jug, continue with my day.  Quarters occasionally appear on the floor near the shelf where I keep a photo of my favorite curmudgeon.  I thank him — sometimes outloud — and put those in a little china bowl that came from my in-laws’ home.

Say I’m crazy. Say the coins spill from my own pocketbook.  I’m good with that.  I don’t think so, but if you need to believe I’m careless rather than haunted or guarded by spirits, that’s fine by me.

This morning, I spied a penny in the middle of the floor in the doorway between the dining room and the living room.  It could not possibly have been there yesterday.   I passed through that same spot a hundred times on Saturday.  I carried tools and watering jugs, shuffling with the strain of exertion.  The irony of finding a penny today of all days hits me.  With the stiffness in my back and the pain in my joints from over-doing yardwork yesterday, I don’t see any hope of bending to retrieve that penny and complete the old adage:

Find a penny, pick it up. All the day, you’ll have good luck.

I won’t complain, though.  I skirt around the penny.  I tip my body forward, holding my cell phone set to “close up” to snap its picture.  When the dog comes into the dining room to ask me to let her outside, she stops right in front of the coin.  What does she know?  I step over it with great care, headed for the back door.  I pour my coffee and stand contemplating the copper sheen.

Maybe the mere presence of the penny will improve my day.  Maybe I can make a new adage. . .

Find a penny, leave it be.  You’ll have good luck, wait and see!

I’m not much of a poet, but I’m an undeniable optimist.

It’s the seventh day of the thirty-second month of My [Never-Ending] Year Without Complaining.  My eyes are blurrier than usual today, behind three-year-old glasses and smears of something like chicken grease.  My body screams in protest every time I take a step, even one around my lucky penny.  Laundry taunts me; the dustbunnies have applied for their own zip code.  The kitchen counters hold clutter fighting for space with grime.  Know this, though: I’m alive.  I awakened today.  I’ve got another chance.  I smile, and pour my coffee, and let that gift comfort me.  Life continues.



“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”
― Alexander Pope

I used to think that when you hired a yard person, your lawn would gradually and slowly look better throughout season.   I’ve learned over the last three summers that my prior thinking does not comport with reality.  Instead, lawn guys — even good ones, even decent ones — at least in Kansas City, set a price for mowing.  That bi-weekly sum covers a fair pass across the yard with whatever mower the hired man provides, and nothing else.

My present arrangement can involve weed eradication — chopped, not pulled or sprayed — for $45 a man hour, minimum two hours, two men.  Last month I paid $160 in addition to the cost of mowing for a decent, low-to-the-ground cutting of weeds on the backyard fence line.  One heavy rain and they all sprouted back, taller, sturdier, swaying in the morning breeze with something akin to mockery.

Today I decided to cut the dang weeds in the sideyard and on the fence line.  I spent four hours, used three different tools, and fell on my backside twice.  For my efforts, I have a semi-cleared expanse of over-grown perennials and a barrel full of cuttings.  I can barely move, much  less do anything else, and I’m fairly certain my coccyx will never forgive me. I hobble around the house wondering who will do the cleaning tomorrow, for I’m certainly in no shape for dusting, mopping, or laundry.

But this misery has its rewards.   I discovered a cluster of surprise lilies hiding behind three weeks of overgrown weeds.  In the afternoon heat, I leaned my tired frame over the hundred-year-old retaining wall to capture their image with my ever-present cell phone.  Lovely, I murmured, to no one. Just lovely.

It’s the evening of the sixth day of the thirty-second month of My [Never-Ending] Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


The View From The Corner

The breakfast nook has always been my corner.  At times we’ve situated tables there, to eat breakfast or light meals.  For years, our first, bulky desktop computer lived on a desk there, long before computing became mobile.  Now I have a utility cart and an old linoleum-top table with two wooden stools.

But the walls in the breakfast nook have always borne the weight of my memories.  Angels, little china soup cups, pictures, ornaments — the fragile emblems of my childhood and my son’s childhood rest on dusty shelves and hang from crooked nails.  I stand in the nook to drink my first cup of coffee, read the morning news, and listen to NPR.  This morning I settled on one of the stools to eat strawberries and play my moves in the online game Words With Friends.  My friend Dave in England always  beats me but I win sometimes against other players.  Our vocabularies grow. I’ve heard playing such games can combat dementia.  If so, I should be immune.  And it passes the time while my coffee cools.

My nook has been compared with Les Nesmann’s office with its invisible walls.  Now that I live alone, I don’t worry about intrusion.  I let the quiet surround me.  Today the radio plays quietly and the dog has already gone outside.  I drink coffee.  I study the pictures on the walls and the sweet smiles on the faces of the china angels.  I think about the future.  I close my eyes and let myself relax into the moment.   I find my center. I have no complaint.

It’s the fifth day of the thirty-second month of My [Never-Ending] Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


The top picture is my son Patrick at 8; he made the frame.  In the bottom picture, the man on the right is my little brother Stephen Patrick.

The top picture is my son Patrick at 8; he made the frame. In the bottom picture, the man on the right is my little brother Stephen Patrick.

The top frame holds a wise piece of advice penned by Patrick, who appears in the bottom picture.

The top frame holds a wise piece of advice penned by Patrick, who appears in the bottom picture.


I stood in court yesterday with a client on my left and a lawyer on my right and a judge in front of me, thinking, How can I bring the minds of these people to a point of harmony?  On the far side of the lawyer, his client stared into space.  The judge addressed the parties with an earnestness that could have been genuine.  I leaned on the bar which held my file and stifled my sigh.

Three hours later, after a long session in my conference room with that client, I sat in front of the monitor in my office staring at electronic mail.  The words blurred even more than usual and I drank water, hoping to combat whatever fog gripped my vision.  My client had said, You’re so passionate about my case, I feel like you’re protecting me, and a warmth overtook me.  That’s how you want them to respond.  That makes the effort worthwhile.

At my Rotary meeting, I stood doing the one chore that I have since officers changed, taking attendance.  I contribute in other ways but I’ve shrugged off the cloak of serious duty.  The bright eyes of my replacement tell me that I’ve chosen well.  I gave a few instructions and she’s making my former position as club secretary her own.  Later in the meeting, I quietly encourage my friend Jenna in making her presentation, adding a few side comments which make her laugh.  When she laughs, the room ripples with its answering call.  She sits down, happy, flushed; her fifteen minutes have gone well and I am so proud to know her.

After the meeting, she and I share a meal and a spirits flight at DISTRICT.  When the check comes, she snatches it and — wittingly, it seems — pays for both of us.  I add the tip and we walk down to Betty Rae’s where I buy dessert.  On stools in front of the window, we continue our conversation.  I’m twice her age but she’s a hundred times more confident and relaxed than I will ever be.  At one point the conversation touches on a mutual friend, and I say, I’m uncomfortable around him, he always complains about everything and everybody.  Suddenly I realize that I have scarcely grumbled all week except a few times, quietly, when things out of my control went awry.  Perhaps I am improving.  I make a note to tackle that under-my-breath malcontent and offer Jenna a taste of my caramel creme brulee.

I fell asleep last night thirty minutes before the witching hour.  As I drifted off, I remembered a little girl whom I tutored decades ago.  I recall her looking at the clock and giggling, Oh, it’s eleventy-thirty!   I wondered what became of that child, who lived in the worst kind of poverty, one room for a family of four, with a hot-plate, two beds, and a pile of rotting garbage in black trash bas.  What becomes of such children?  I asked myself this as drowsiness overcame me.  Still so much work to do; still so many children to help; still so many lives to improve.

It’s the fourth day of the thirty-second month of My [Never-Ending] Year Without Complaining.  I awakened to yet another dawn, so whatever my purpose in life might be, apparently I have not yet accomplished it.  Life continues.


Jenna Munoz  rocking her lizard shirt after ice cream at Betty Rae's.  And myself.

Jenna Munoz rocking her lizard shirt after ice cream at Betty Rae’s. And myself.


The drive to work changes only with the seasons.  The buildings remain the same — quaint houses for much of the stretch; children on the sidewalk; coffee shops, tennis courts, long swathes of vibrant parkway, racks of bikes.

My eyes change though:  From day to day I see things in a different light,  not with the dimness of age but with the veil of emotion.  If I sleep well, the city appeals to me.  On a day when pain grips my legs or my obligations overwhelm me, trash spills from the gutters and exhaust fumes seep through the cracks of the car, grey and gritty.

This morning I rose before the sun and stood in the dark kitchen thinking about the day.  The faces of my clients float around me.  Their anguish haunts me, stark and bold against the dimness of my home.  Fear stamps itself on their cheeks, leaking from their eyes.  I wrap my arms around myself and close my own eyes, tight against their terror.

Years ago, my eyesight began to fade more quickly than most middle-aged folks anticipate.  I remember when I played Helen Keller in a high school production.  To mimic her blindness, I only had to take off my glasses.  To simulate her early wildness, I let my long hair fall across my face and crawled on all fours.  Something about helplessness appeals to me now.  I would not want 20/20 vision.  I can more easily endure the drive through my days with the edges slightly  blurred.  If I want to see something more clearly, I pull it close to my face..  I study each sharply focused facet, blind to the whole, seeing only so much of it as I can bear at one time.

It’s the third day of the thirty-second month of My [Never-Ending] Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


Ode to Joy

Sometimes I hear the piano playing but the hands which plunk its keys live far away, or have passed to another life, or have grown clumsy.  The first song my son learned to play was “Ode to Joy”.  Its notes resonate in my memory, over and over.

The lumpy days crowd but the joyful ones raise me to float among the clouds.  It seems that joy comes easier to the light-hearted, and so as I release each burden, I feel more joyful.

Yesterday I finally got to put my passport application to the test.  I presented myself at what I thought had been the appointed hour, 9:00 a.m.  The lady at the counter alleged that I  had been expected at 9:30 and that “the passport person says, Come back at 9:30”.  I kept my smile plastered on my face and went to fill my gas tank and drive through Wendy’s for RedHeaded coffee.  At 9:30 the passport lady told me that I did not have an appointment, a man named Reis had been put in my place.  She showed me the hand-written scrawl.  I gritted my teeth and held out my now-rumpled manila folder.  She called out, “Mr. Reis!  Mr. Reis!” but he did not answer.  She relented.

She asked for an alternate contact number which I gave her.  She bade me to raise my right hand and swear, outloud, before her, God, and a bunch of Raytown residents, that the picture was me.  This struck me as absurd — couldn’t she see? — but no matter.  I swore it.  I also swore the information on the application was true and correct even though I’m not entirely sure I got the date of my divorce exactly right.  I swore.  I did not have to swear allegiance or that I’d conduct myself in an orderly fashion overseas.  Just the two items, and I had to pay $1.37 for a money order but it’s done.

I thanked her twice.  I stopped on the way out to thank the lady who made me come back at 9:30.  I thanked a man who opened the door for me.  When I got out into the parking lot, I held the door for a little old lady entering the post office and thanked her, and told her to have a nice day.  She paused in the entry way and promised that she would.  I believed her.

It’s the second day of the thirty-second month of My [Never-Ending] Year Without Complaining.  I’m a little goofy but my life continues.  As does yours, I trust.


Weather Report

Through the unwashed window in the bedroom, I see heavy grey clouds.  From the radio comes the bored voice of a local reporter suggesting that we might see rain.

I open the bathroom window to see if I can tell whether the storm looms.  To the east, bold rays of sun push through the gloom.  I lean out and breathe the clean air.  I made it through yesterday.  Today holds promise.  Cloudy, but with a chance of dawn.

It’s the first day of the thirty-second month of My [Never-Ending] Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.