Monthly Archives: January 2017


At the end of a productive day, filled with work and Rotary, and a few warm hugs, I went out of the bright bar room into the chill of the dark night.  I sat  for a moment, letting my eyes stray through the windshield, drawn to the door which I’d just closed behind me.  I felt the yearning rise in my chest like unchecked bile from a rotten piece of meat festering in my stomach.

I shook my head and pressed the button to start the motor.

In the parking lot of the grocery store I saw two children scurrying after their father.  I leaned against the car with my hand curled against my chest.  The man lifted the first little girl into her seat and brushed the top of her head in a moment so tender I thought I would collapse to the pavement.

I dragged myself away and into the assault of the relentless overhead lights.  Pushing a small cart, I made my solitary way around the produce section, lifting a few random items into the rigid wire basket.  I remembered the delicious breakfast that my brother Frank had made for me, eggs with hashbrowns from a package in the refrigerator.  Simply Potatoes. “Better than fresh,” he remarked.  “Already cut and seasoned.”

I craned my neck to peer at a spot three feet higher than my shoulders where the package whispered to me from an inch beyond the reach of my lily-white spastic hands.  Turning, I spied a customer getting yogurt at the end of the aisle.  Excuse me, sir, I called.  Are you taller than I am?

He strolled in my direction, laughing.  Everybody’s taller than you are, ma’am, he replied.  He lifted the package down and handed it to me, a smile breaking across his face.

My heart took flight.

At the register, a young man of slight stature, maybe 5-5 to my 5-3, asked me if I had found everything I needed.  As I put the Simply Potatoes on the conveyor belt, I admitted that I had.

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

Just a few of the angels which I have encountered in my crazy days.

A few of the angels that I have collected in my crazy days, not all of which sit on a shelf in my breakfast nook.

Sarah McLachlan & Pink Sing “In The Arms of The Angel”

A howling wind

A howling wind buffets the house today.  I wakened early, still feeling the emotions which drove me to the computer to write last evening as I listened to the bittersweet farewell of our President.   But those words and those emotions live elsewhere.  Here in this venue, I come to chronicle my efforts to live without complaining.

So:  it’s come to this.  I tarry on the threshold  of a new year, another twelve months only ten days old.  I’ve spent so much of my life looking backward enmired in regret.  If I had only moved to St. Louis instead of Kansas City in 1992 when I faced a failing law firm falling of its own prodigious weight.  My son would have been raised around his cousins, aunts and uncles.  How different life would have been.

If only I had not married. . .If only I had taken that lobbyist position in Omaha. . . if only I had not bought this house . . . kept my son in Catholic schools. . .

The shelves of the basement groan under the weight of boxes full of pictures, letters, and notebooks which I hold close.  I dread sorting through them when the time comes to close out this house — whenever that might be, this year, next, or ten years from now.  I tell myself to just pitch the lot but I know that I will not do that.  The box which says, “Buddy Mementos” surely must be sorted for the souvenirs of my son’s childhood.  The albums hold pictures of people who’ve left this earth, some of whom my son never met because they died before his birth.

But I ask myself:  Will he even care?

Wedding photographs. . . pictures of mountain waterfalls. . .Polaroids, and heavy-bordered prints, and sketches.  Mildew nibbles at their edges as they gather dust in plastic bins.

When I moved to Boston in 1976, I went to a hair salon the day before my flight and had the woman chop off almost every inch of hair.  Later I locked myself in my mother’s bathroom and painted blond streaks throughout my bangs.  My friend David Sotkowitz met me at Logan Airport.  He must have been shocked at the change but he never said.  Nearly forty years later, brown curls with chunks of blond brush my shoulders. I ask myself every morning, Is this the day that I go grey?  Should I cut all this chemical-coated stuff off and let the silver claim me?

Living without complaint requires the burying of ghosts which hover around my shoulders as I push forward against the bitter wind.  I see clear blue on the distant horizon.  I put my head down, and press forward into the storm.  The wind rages.  I wrap my scarf more tightly and quicken my pace.

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




I spent 25 minutes on hold to Blue Cross today before terminating the call without getting through to anyone.  By that time, I had driven 3/4 of the way from the Independence Courthouse to my main office in Westport.  I realized that I wouldn’t be able to have a meaningful conversation hands-free because I wouldn’t be able to reference the paperwork on the seat beside me anyway.  I felt my stomach sour.

I parked and gathered all my files and walked into the office building.  Someone opened the door for me and someone else asked if I wanted them to hold the elevator.  I waved and smiled, shaking my head and gesturing towards my first-floor office suite.

Then I entered the door of Suite 100 and my secretary Miranda beamed at me from the interior of the suite, asking how my party had gone, telling me she saw the picture of my new sweater, asking if I needed help.

By the time I sat down at my desk with a hot cup of coffee, I realized that tension had eased from the back of my neck.  The coil of rawness had unleashed its grip that sore spot in my lower back where the Tarlov cysts straddle the degenerated discs.  My mood had made a complete 180, and all it took was three little selfless acts from three different persons, two of whom I don’t even know.

Ain’t life grand?

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

"Like Barley Bending", by Sara Teasdale

“Like Barley Bending”, by Sara Teasdale


The Gathering of the Usual Suspects

Eight hours from now, a family which has sustained me for more than two decades will join a half-dozen others in a last holiday celebration in my home.  The Taggarts, now with sons-in-law, plus grandchildren, initially came into our lives when Patrick started at Purple Dragon Pre-school in 1994 and became best friends with son Chris.  I’ve contrived not to lose them since then, though I have sorely challenged their loyalty on more than one occasion.

Penny will be here too; and it must be said, I have known that woman for the entirety of my son’s transplanted life in Kansas City.  She taught him to draw, and to dream, and to luxuriate in a darn good movie lounging in the family room surrounded by people who love you.  No wonder his MFA is in screenwriting.

Along with them, the Kenyon-Vogt household will be represented, with their oldest grandchild whose birth I nearly attended,  arriving only moments after mother Abbey and son Chaska returned to her hospital room from the birthing center.  Abbey, like Patrick and Chris Taggart, is a Purple Dragoner.  Suffice it to say that their roots run deep and intertwined.

With a few  other friendly faces — the effervescent Jenny Rosen, farmer Steve, the stalwart Brenda — these are the usual suspects, and today is the briefly delayed Gathering of the Usual Suspects.

Minus one:  the prodigal son himself, decamped to Evanston and absent for the first time in all these years.

He’s here in spirit, though.  He lives in his digital drawings on the mantle; in the clay hand-print hanging beside that of my brother Stephen on the wall of the keeping shelf; in the box of Legos with which children and adults alike will no doubt play as the afternoon wends its way to evening.  He’s in the fiber of the gathering itself, originally started so long ago in order to give my son a solid sense of family.

My family by choice sustains me so deftly.  All the comings and goings in this old airplane bungalow have challenged my resolve.  Without these wily ones who gather here today, I might not have endured.

So here I am — early to rise, with chores still to do and food to prepare.  Human Kind talks of forgiveness on the radio.  I stop to listen for a moment.  Robin Casarjian tells me that “forgiveness is a favor that we do for ourselves. . . an act of self-interest. . . something which we do to free ourselves. . . Forgiveness is a choice and a decision to see the situation in a different way.”

I smile.  Exactly.

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

My first cup of LaColombe coffee fittingly served in my Northwestern Cup.  Hope Rehak gave me this coffee for Christmas.  Patrick gave me the mug for Christmas last year.  Merry Merry, everyone.

My first cup of LaColombe coffee fittingly served in my Northwestern cup. Hope Rehak, my son’s girlfriend, gave me this roasted-in-Chicago coffee for Christmas. Patrick gave me the mug last year. Merry Merry, everyone.



What evil lurks

Today a lawyer spewed her venom at me and my secretary.

I sat telling a friend about it on the phone, wondering about times in the past when I might have talked that way.  I wanted to call the woman and ask, What happened to you that you need to be so foul?  I thought of all the ways she could have expressed her point without vomiting her bile in unpunctuated lower-case letters with the fires of her wrath licking at the sides.

She could say, “You’ve caused prejudiced to my client; I’ve no choice but to file a motion.”  She could advise me, “I feel your actions are deficient as follows. . . and request an immediate remediation.”  She did not.  Instead she threatened, rattled her sabers, and used hostile rhetoric.  Will that approach work?  It might.  I met each wrathful e-mail with an attempt to be professional.  I tried not to meet her violent language with anything but courtesy.

I did ask her not to talk to my secretary in the way that she did.  Needless to say, her answer was that if my secretary did not wish to correspond with her, she should not have sent her an e-mail, even though all my secretary did was send her the missing page of a document which had been inadvertently omitted.

My body sinks into the quagmire of that woman’s behavior.  I wrap my arms around myself and shudder, her stink permeating my pores.

In the darkened living room, I remember a lawyer, long dead, who’d puff on his cigars, standing a foot above me calling me “little girl” and blowing smoke in my face.  I don’t know what’s worse, that man’s chauvinism or this woman’s bitchiness.  I felt close to tears tonight.  I closed my eyes and willed myself to summon the faces of any lawyers whom I treated as this woman treated me and Miranda today.

Forgive me,  I whisper.  Forgive me.

I’ll meet the legal allegations of her motion as well as I can.  But I will not stoop to conquer her.  If foulness can only be bested by a mirror of itself, then lose I shall.  I cannot wallow in her vile tirades and come away whole and clean.

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



To Know Me Is To. . .

I’m the kind of person who grows off people.  Most folks initially respond to me with wild enthusiasm but when they get to know me, they sour.  I accept this.  Though I’ve tempered with age and deliberate pursuit of a milder deportment, still, my personality comes over as aggressive and unpleasant, which I’ve been told so often as to be convinced.

This brings me to my friend Kevin.

We don’t have much in common.  Kevin is 49, happily married, no children, one sibling, and a long-time Sprint employee.  I’m 61, thrice divorced, one child, seven siblings, and chronically self-employed.   We know each other through our common dedication to Service Above Self as Waldo-Brookside Rotarians but otherwise couldn’t be more different.

Despite this, Kevin listens to me.  I’ve cried on his shoulder, asked about his wife, shared confidences, and taken away a conviction of his essential kindness.  He checks with me every week and in between, and, along with his wife, totes me to late-evening outings so I don’t have to rely on my aging vision.  During my recent journey N by NE, he kept track of my progress by text and Social Media.  When I posted a picture of a MoDOT vehicle unlawfully parked in a handicapped spot, he saw the image and tweeted to MoDOT to take them to task.

Kevin K. quietly rocks the life of a good man.

All the more overwhelming, then, that Kevin seems to know me and like me.  He and his wife both reach out to me to make sure that I’m okay. He’s offered to come change light bulbs, shovel snow, and rake leaves.  When winter blows and rain falls, Kevin messages to make sure that I’m getting around without difficulty.

I can count on one hand the number of people who continue to like me regardless of their exposure to my baser self.  Although Kevin has never lived with me or endured my most evil essence in my starkest hours, he knows a lot about me and still calls me “friend”.  So despite the dearth of compatriots sitting round the campfire with me on dark and dangerous nights, I will not complain.  I have a small but solid cadre of truly wonderful people in my life, and Kevin K. stands tall among them.

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



Pressure cooker

Today I found out that an outside vendor did a job so poorly that my secretary and I have already together spent a combined 16 hours working on rehabilitating their work and we are not finished yet.  We will feverishly work all day tomorrow and hopefully pull my butt out of the fire.

I wrote the vendor an email and told the company that I was outraged.  They called and tried to offer excuses.  Rather than chew them out, I told them their product was so inferior that I was working like a bandit to fix it. I said that I had no time to talk to them and disconnected the call.  I did not trust myself to speak any further.  I felt swear words and shouting rising from my belly.

I nearly bit my secretary’s head off but stopped myself, telling her that I knew it was not her fault.  We put our heads down and kept working.  Thanks, Miranda!  You are THE BEST!!!!

It’s days like this that act like a giant pressure cooker and tempt me to mortally complain.  But I feel myself improving.  This vendor deserves my wrath but I know that I need to calm myself and deal with the erring company when I can use rational and reasonable rhetoric.

Oh my stars and bars!  Perhaps this effort might be successful!!!!

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


Two down, 363 to go

It’s only 4:30 p.m. CST but I’m calling this day a win.

On 01 January 2014, I decided to go an entire year without complaining.  Three years later, I have yet to accomplish my mission so I continue to try.

I drove to St. Louis on December 22nd, en route to Chicago for Christmas.  I stopped in Rocheport for lunch and to buy a few presents at an antique store there.

My decision to spend an hour in this lovely town had some risk.   I last visited Rocheport with my sister Joyce and my then-sister-in-law Virginia.  My sentimental side pinned me to the driver’s seat for five solid minutes in front of Abigail’s Restaurant while I dared myself to get out of the car without weeping.

I made it.

I don’t know if my proprietress was Abigail or if the name had been borrowed from someone else.  She flitted around the place, lean and grey, in a t-shirt with an apron tied over her jeans.  She cautioned me against the soup I intended to order because her husband had made it with beef stock.  “Try the potato,” she urged.  “I made it and I used vegetable stock.”

I have never had such a delicious potato soup and I told her so.  She paused in the process of wiping the counter to give me the recipe, step by step.  Three simple ingredients, not counting seasoning:  Onions, potato and broth.  She describe the method of roasting the potatoes (peeled); chopping and sauteing the onions; and combining the two in warm broth after using a mixer on the potatoes to make a chunky base.

I tried it in Chicago for my son.  We used a mason jar to smash the roasted spuds since he has no mixer.  I admit that we didn’t do as well as Abigail, but close.  And Abigail taught me her recipe!  In a restaurant!  For free!  Unprompted!  The only other time that I’ve been so epicurianally lucky involved the fried tofu at Blue Koi.  (Their secret?  Corn starch!)

I made it through yesterday without complaining because I started the day at the Opera House having breakfast with Pat Reynolds.  Today could have gone south.  I dropped my glasses on the floor before I even got out of bed and spent fifteen minutes trying to stand after groping around to retrieve them.  Fifteen minutes.  I wanted to complain but I thought about my resolve for 2017 to be the year that I made it all the way to New Year’s Eve and bit my tongue.

I puttered around the house all day, putting away wrapping paper, unloading the dishwasher, and listening to NPR.  About one o’clock, I decided to try to replicate Abigail’s potato soup, but with baby bella mushrooms added.  I have a mixer but I’ve watch enough episodes of Chopped to know that electricity can make potatoes gummy. I used an old-fashioned masher.

Oh my.  Did it turn out fabulously!  I wolfed down a bowl as the sun set over Brookside and decided right there and then that I could make it until midnight without complaining — my belly full, the light bulbs in the kitchen replaced with the help of the world’s best step-ladder, and the little dog sleeping in her bed.

It’s the second day of the thirty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  I could make a list of reasons to lament.  But I won’t.  Life continues.



Feet, don’t fail me now

I strive to be punctual but today for the second time, I got to the Opera House fifteen minutes late to meet my friend Pat Reynolds.

Perhaps it’s something about the place or its distance from Brookside. My son and I met Pat there during Thanksgiving and arrived ten minutes late then too.

Today I had to go back into the house to change shoes.  I had walked down the driveway in the cutest Danskos you’ll ever see but halfway to the car, I realized my walking today needed something sturdier.  I crab-toed back into the house and to my room for a pair with a strong buckle and a full back.  Then I stood at the backdoor trying to persuade my dog to abandon her quest for the scent of the raccoon and come inside.  I surrendered after five minutes and scurried back to the car.  Pat texted me at the halfway mark, just as I crossed 31st street arguing with my GPS lady who always wants me to take a different route than what I’ve planned.

I adore my friend Pat.  She’s full of piss and vinegar, as my Dad would have said.    She keeps me apprised of all the latest news from my Liberty office when trials south of the river occupy me.  Her politics sit left of mine.  She’s an atheist.  She’s fiercely independent and takes no grief from anyone.  She sits in the top five list of people I’d call if I just could not stand another minute of my life, along with Jenny Rosen, my son, and Brenda Dingley.  (Yes, I know; that’s only four.  Surely there must be someone else. . .).

Pat forgave my lateness.

On the way home, I turned the radio to KCUR which I have barely tolerated hearing since the election.   The strains of The Moth Radio Hour greeted me.  I listened to a story by Charles Upshaw, a man with MS who taught himself to walk faster hoping to qualify for a miracle drug, only to learn that he had improved so much he no longer needed it.

I could not contain my smile.  Chuck, Chuck.  Way to frickin’ go.

I parked behind the house in time to see my little dog chase a squirrel to the fence line.  She stood with quivering enthusiasm, barking to remind the rodent that its territory did not include her domain.  I called out my congratulations.  We old broads have to assert ourselves at times.  I locked the car, started forward, and made it to the top of the driveway without stumbling.  Feet, don’t fail me now.

It’s the first day of the thirty-seventh month — the first month of my FOURTH journey around the sun since I started My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.



Pat Reynolds

If you’d like to hear Chuck Upshaw’s story, click HERE.