Monthly Archives: January 2019

Crying over spilled milk

I can’t quite identify what got me weepy today.  It might have been someone’s accidental mention of a particularly bittersweet holiday, or the rising number of tasks for which I need to ask help.  Perhaps the sticking “f” key on my laptop annoyed me once too often.

But when I pulled out the loft ladder and crashed a stack of china onto the floor, I lost control.

I collapsed into a chair, sobbing, shaking.   I  didn’t particularly need as many dishes as I kept when I moved.  But the sight of jagged shards scattered across the kitchen unnerved me.  I liked those plates.  I bought them at thrift stores in that clumsy year between separation and my last divorce.  Jenny Rosen dragged me out of the house to search for them so I wouldn’t have to use my soon-to-be-ex-husband’s first wife’s dead mother’s dishes any more.  Now they’ve been heaped into a plastic bag and tossed in the trash, and I’m eating cold pasta salted with my falling tears.

I’m not complaining.  My heart cringes though, the sad twist of a soul with clumsy stitches over unhealed rends.  I search for consolation:  The ten-dollar cabinet; a successful community meeting; glorious blue skies for three days’ running while back home piles of snow stopped traffic and downed power lines.  I don’t feel much better.  I struggle to grasp the momentum, wrapping the spastic fingers of my lily-white hands around the fleeting wisp of joyfulness with which I started this day, twelve hours and a life-time ago.

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

John Denver, “Some Days Are Diamonds”

Breakfast on the Loop

I left Angel’s Haven at ten, bound for Lodi.  After a year of living tiny on the California Delta Loop, I’ve found my groove, smooth and strong.  Adjustments can always be made, but the clear sense of direction for which I’ve constantly yearned finally steers me.

As I slowed for Korth’s Pirates Lair, a gnawing emptiness cramped my belly. I pulled into a parking space near the dock and crossed to the restaurant.  The young men behind the counter nodded, the gentle and universal bob of every country server everywhere.  I walked through the dining room, thinking to take a two-top by the wall.

Good morning, isn’t it? came a voice from near the window.  I paused.  An old man lifted his coffee cup, another unmistakable gesture.  I took a step in his direction and agreed with his assessment.  A few exchanges later, the server at my elbow, I lowered myself into the empty chair beside the man and ordered coffee, eggs, and toast.

I offered my name, and he mentioned his.  He took my hand in a firm grasp, drawing my eyes to his face.  My eggs arrived as I listened to his tale of moving to the Loop twenty years ago; of his friendship with the owner of this cafe; of his two cats and his little trailer, and the comfort which he feels  in the slow easy embrace of Delta life.

About twenty minutes into breakfast, I realized that he had told me the same story several times.  I squinted, focusing, and saw the unmistakable struggle for words; the little wince; the sideways glance.  I understood:  Time had been kind to him in many ways, but not in the steady march towards a fog which the brightest, warmest Delta dawn cannot disperse.

But his charm  remained.  He spoke of his daughter, whom he struggled to name, who lives nearby with her boyfriend and works in a factory by the tunnel.  I know which tunnel — the Caldecott, over two bridges and almost to Oakland.  As he talked about his life before the Loop, I noticed a small notebook and a pen sitting near his plate.  Every once in a while, he scribbled a word — my name, the notation “tiny house”, the state from which I come, the identification of which evoked a vivid response:  “The Show-Me State!”  He wrote that too.   I could not have  been more humbled.

I rose to pay the bill, wondering if I should offer to get his breakfast.  He said, Perhaps I will see you again? I printed my phone number on a fresh page.  He removed the sheet, and handed me the notepad.

That’s yours, I said, as softly as possible.

Oh, yes, he replied, and carefully slipped the torn page back between its covers.  I shook his hand again, and he earnestly asked, Do you live on the Loop?

I told him, yes, I do, and identified the park in which I live, as though I hadn’t already done so several times.

Maybe I’ll see you here again, he suggested; and I smiled.  I’m sure you will, I promised.  He pointed to the cat outside the window, which we had already discussed, and which I knew had followed him down the road.

That’s my cat,  did you see him?

He’s a lovely cat, I assured him, just as sincerely as I had done the first two times.  He seemed pleased.  As I left the restaurant, I watched him through the window.  He bent his head low as he carefully recorded some essential detail in his little book.  I thought about waving, but in the end, turned, got into my car, and continued the journey into town.

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



My neighbor Jessie and I sat at my table chatting, watching out the window for the third member of our Lodi lunch adventure.  When I saw her head peeking from the other side of the parked cars, a cream scarf above the black frames of her glasses,  I darted out of the house.  Then she arrived:  my friend Suanne, who has kicked the ass of George, the tumor which grew inside of her a few short months ago.

The restaurant where we intended to go turned out to be closed.  We reconvened at a pizza place with nearly identical orders.  The constant conversation flowed around the table.  Common interests emerged:  the environment, healthy lifestyles, responsible parenting, animals.  An hour later, we made our way to a couple  of shelters.  I’m thinking of getting a small dog.  At the second place, a gaggle of little bodies sniffed our feet.  All the while, Suanne beamed.  I can’t say why she looked so cheerful, but I imagine it had something to do with still being alive.

Back at Angel’s Haven, we embraced and said goodbye.  She strolled down our gravel road to the parking  lot.  I watched her sturdy form, marveling at her resilience.  Once inside my house, I remembered the small package which she had handed me on arriving. When I saw what it contained, I did not feel the least bit surprised.  I studied her gift for a long time, until the sunlight faded outside my window and evening settled on the room around me.

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




In late May of 2008, I found myself living alone for the first time since 1991.  My then-husband had decamped.  My son accepted a position in a summer exchange program.  I faced an unexpected question:  Could I survive with only myself for company?

I began posting a weekly essay to the Small Firm Internet Group of the Missouri Bar, (SFIG), in its infancy as a rollicking e-mail listserve of solo and small firm attorneys throughout Missouri.  My first few posts consisted of poems from a little book of verses written by soldiers in World War I.  The favorable reception invigorated the writer whom I had suppressed within the depths of my fractured soul.  The Missouri Mugwump emerged from a thirty-eight year cocoon and stretched her wings.

Every so often, my own words do not fit the mood or occasion in which I wish to make an offering.  Such a time arises tonight.  After an evening with members of the community in which I live, I find myself unable to articulate anything more than timid gratitude.  So, let me offer words of a writer greater than I ever considered it possible for me to become.  Take what meaning you might; or simply luxuriate in the perfection of these tender syllables.

Dust of Snow
BY Robert Frost

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

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

Crow in a southern-facing tree on the San Joaquin; Andrus Island, the California Delta Loop.

Among the Reeds

Driving along Jackson Slough this morning, I watched the long line of geese who leave the security of the flooded field for the skies.  They will spend their day touring the loop, showing their fine form to the humans gawking from below the tender grey of the winter sky.  They seem oblivious to our stares, wafting on the air, gliding along the fog which rolls beneath them.  Their mates linger among the reeds, content to scrounge for food below the surface of the water.

Time and time again life teaches me through the patience of these wondrous creatures.  They take their nourishment from the offerings around them.  They lean into the cold clear flow of the river.  Then they soar high, on the softness of the rain.  They will land near sunset, back to the spot that I see as I drive to and from work each day.  They know their place; they do not lose their path.

The lesson of my own day ripples across my shoulders, whispering, you cannot trust the winning smile and the glittering eye.  The one who claims to meet the needs of those in pain usually preys on the most vulnerable.  I place my confidence in anyone who pretends to sympathize.  When I discover their mediocrity or, worse, their treachery, another knife sticks in my gut.  Over and over, I stagger away with a sunken heart.

Tonight I drove home as the sun set and paused to watch  egrets along the shore.  I yearned for their steadfast confidence.  They know that the San Joaquin will not betray them.

Then my neighbor sent an invitation to dinner.  We shared a glass of wine over the flickering light of a remembrance candle.  We drank to her brother who has just passed.  We talked of healing light and positive energy.  We acknowledged the shared communal spirit which we have found here.  I released the pain of disappointment in yet another person whom I trusted to help me, and who bristled when I questioned actions which seemed inconsistent with my trust.

Walking home, I reminded myself that the universe rewards kindness.  I remembered the advantages of staying true to my values.  I closed my eyes and luxuriated in the sweetness of the night.  I gave my worries to the wind.

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


The View From Here

A half dozen years ago, I reminded myself during a bitter moment  that I had life infinitely better than 90% of the world.  I didn’t realize that I had spoken out loud until my companion snapped, “It doesn’t work that way. You’re supposed to have a good life; it’s not about comparisons.”

I shook my head.  “All I meant was — “.  Then  I stopped.  All I meant was, I don’t want to complain when so many people go to bed hungry, I thought.  But I saw no use in explaining.  You get it or you don’t.  You appreciate your opportunities or you lament whatever degree of short-changing you perceive the universe as forcing you to endure.

The wind shakes my tiny house.  Rain hammers against the windows.  But the view from here seems cozy, with the warm expanse of wood and the flicker of the fan’s shadow.  The storm settled over the valley late last night.  On the way home from the grocery store today, I watched a half dozen cranes sweep across a field flooded for their use.   From the side of the road, I tried to photograph an egret’s flight.  The wind drove rain into my face.  I lifted my eyes to follow the bird’s easy rise until I could no longer discern its shape against the clouds.

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



My son Patrick and my sister Joyce understand me to the very fiber of my DNA.  Their understanding shines in the gifts which each chose for me this holiday season.  Patrick ordered a lens kit for my cell phone’s camera to help with my role as social media hant for the park where I live.  But he also gave me two books, a hard copy of Chris White’s The Life List of Adrian Mandrick, which I had previously read in digital orm; and The California Deltaa slim volume which I had coveted.  For her part, Joyce sent a vintage tin box; a little pillow like the one which our niece who just passed kept on her bed; and ribbon candy.

As I rummage through my day, doing laundry and writing post-holiday notes, the pleasant stamp of being cherished floats around me.  Wind snaps through the park, with a fierce roar and a somber chill.  I huddle in a sweater over which I zip a jacket, warm socks, hot tea.  Winter falls hard upon us now, with her voice in the trees and her kiss on the river.  Across the meadow, I see the lovely home of one of the tiny-housers, with its quaint white siding and crisp black trim.  Heavy covers swathe the furniture on the grand  drop-down iron porch.  The dog-walkers hurry by, no longer lingering in the meadow.

The last time I went back to Kansas City, I tried to describe life here to a friend.  Leaving aside my job, I talked about the park, my neighbors, the freedom of downsizing, the notion of home.  Her silence weighed on my words.  I knew what she envisioned when she thought of Northern California:  the beaches of Monterey; the mountains above Santa Rosa; the  bluffs overlooking the sea’s expanse; the exhilarating drive down the Pacific Coast Highway, I shook my head.  Those places have their own stunning beauty, but they have little in common with the Sacramento Valley and the Delta where I live.  It might be Brigadoon. The  notion of constancy comforts me: the ebb and flow of the seasons; the  lushness of spring; the unspoken promise of winter; the rise of the owl at dusk; the cheeky  crows; the patient weave of the wind through the barren willows.

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




Joanna’s gloves

Winter has settled on the Delta, though not the winter of my Midwestern life.  Nearby mountain ranges bear snow but here in the river valley, the temperature hovers near 40 at night. Fierce winds blow through the willows.  Migrating flocks rise over the river.  Rain soaks the ground and the rivers rise.

This morning I drew on my Ann Taylor coat, fifteen bucks at the local consignment store when I realized that I needed something dressy last winter.  I reached my hand into the deep pocket and felt leather.

Joanna’s gloves.

I found them in her dresser when we cleaned out her bedroom, a few days after the service.  I still could not believe that my mother-in-law  had died, though I had stood with her children and my favorite curmudgeon in the dim light of the room.  I tried not to impose on their grief.  I had no right.  But I loved her, despite the shortness of our relationship and my once-removed status.

She had never worn the gloves.  She kept them in their original box.  Perhaps she found them too lovely, like a candle in its cellophane, unlit and unsullied.  Maybe she had purchased them just before her long decline commenced.  They might have been a gift.  I opened the box and drew back the tissue.  I touched their pale surface.  My favorite curmudgeon said, “You can have those if you want, honey.”  He turned away.  I could feel his tears.  He died a year later; they said from lung cancer, but I knew better.  He died of a broken heart.

Over the last summer of her life, I did everything I could think of for her.  I brought potting plants.  I sang and read.  I drew her attention to the daily log which the cognitive therapist wanted her to keep.  I asked her questions about her childhood.  One day near the end, I sat with her in the dining room begging her to take just one more bite of food.  “Thank you very much,” she said, but she looked away from the spoon.  She gazed out over the garden behind the facility where she lived.  I could see the flash of heaven in her eyes.

I slipped the gloves over my hands as I waited for the car engine to warm this morning.  Their softness skimmed my swollen knuckles.  I’ve never owned such a beautiful pair.  

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

Only under siege can we learn to rise above the complaint of others.

This might be my longest title in the history of titling blog entries.  But, hear me out.

As my Facebook friends & followers know, I recently received a verbal attack by someone with whom I have no daily relationship.  I mentioned this in Facebook and got considerable support for my decision to exercise empathy for the person.  I do not know the person very well, nor do I socialize with the person.  But this person made a decision about me based upon inaccurate information.  The person then lashed out at me and made numerous fairly negative comments to me about the person’s opinion of me.

Please note, I have deliberately avoided here and elsewhere, using the person’s name or gender; or describing the context of the person’s encounter or acquaintance with me. I harbor this person no ill will, and do not wish this person to suffer because I choose to reflect on this person’s statements to me and to try to feel empathy and grow as a result.  So, please, do not ask.

This blog is intended as a journal of accountability for my efforts to learn not to complain.  Sometimes I just talk about my day, and the little joys which I encounter.  Other times, I wax verbose, as my son might observe.  He has articulated a preference for essays which don’t spell out the intended message.

From time to time, though, I have to grab a situation by the scruff of its neck and glare at it.  Such a time presented itself with the words spoken to me by this individual.  The communication can only be considered a complaint in the most basic sense of the word.

After recounting mistaken beliefs about something I had done and the presumed, though inaccurate, intent that this person ascribed to me, the castigation of me began.  “You are a sad and obnoxious woman,” this person proclaimed.  “You foist yourself off on people.  You barge into their homes.”  More flowed.  This came by text.  To each of these blasts, I replied, “Have a nice evening!”  I had attempted to explain the incorrectness of the person’s understanding, but left off after one attempt.  It became clear five or six messages into the tirade that none of my texts would be read.  So I copied my wish and pasted it time and time again.  “Have a nice evening!”  Finally my son suggested that I simply delete the chain.  I did so, and we continued our drive from the train station.  We had a nice authentic dinner at a Mexican restaurant.  I only spoke once more of the incident.

“You’d have to be a pretty  unhappy person to blast someone like that,” I remarked.  My son just looked at me and smiled.  My son’s like that; he smiles in the quiet spaces between the sorrows of the world.

I didn’t think much more of the incident.  I posted my comments on Facebook, which kept the facts cryptic and exhorted everybody to take care of each other’s feelings.  “Ugliness can mask depression,” I said. “People who behave hatefully usually hide their pain behind their vicious words.”  Something like that.  I meant it, too.  I used to talk to my favorite curmudgeon about evil.  “People in pain come across as angry,” I would say.  “You’re too good, honey,” he’d reply, patting my knee.

But today, on the first day of a new year, I got to thinking about this person’s condemnation of me.  “Sad and obnoxious”, the person labeled me.  “Foist yourself off on others, barge into their homes.”   I wondered how many of the poisoned arrows hit their mark.

I don’t think I’m sad.  I’ve gone through some tough times, with health challenges, a divorce, and a ten-month period of bleeding money while I set up housekeeping here in California and looked for a job.  But sad?   I test that word, like a sore tooth in a poorly kept mouth.  I don’t think so.  Maybe the person meant “sad” in the sense of “pathetic”,  beneath that person’s standards of how people ought to behave.  Maybe so.  I judge myself by a different set of rules, so I’ll have to demure.

Obnoxious, I have no problem claiming.  I do tend to harp on what I believe.  It’s not necessarily always a functional approach to life.  But given my values, I don’t seem to have much choice.  Lately, I’ve tried to find middle ground with individual people.  But the big issues — caring for the downtrodden and abused; rescuing the forlorn and the abandoned; First Amendment rights; the need to protect children  — I blast these loud and long.  One thing’s clear:  If you don’t like my politics, you’d certainly find me  obnoxious.  I have never talked politics with this individual, though; but I have a social / political blog and I make my views on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness unmistakable.

As Melissa McCarthy says, if you want someone different, pick someone else.

“Foisting myself on others” might also be a fair characterization.  That could especially be so in the last year.  If you leave your home and all the familiar faces of a three-decade long life, you can either wither away or darn well make a few new friends.  I’ll take that jab right on my Irish chin. I’m not sure what this person knows about my proclivities in this area, but I’ll own them.  I cherish every new person in my life, too.  Anybody who doesn’t want to know me has the right to walk away.  I don’t take prisoners.

“Barging into other people’s homes,” though, that’s a puzzler.  The person in question invited me into the person’s home once.  It’s a lovely home and I admired it heartily.  I never went back because I never got invited back, nor has this person seen me in anyone else’s home since then.   We don’t socialize, as I said; and I don’t go to many other people’s houses.   I spend most of my time in my own house or at work.  If I get invited somewhere, I go.   But people’s lives are busy.  I spend a lot of time alone.  I certainly never barge into any one else’s house.

No, I think I’m innocent of this charge.  I hold my head high on this one.  I go where I’m asked.  I stay home when I’m not.

Like most people with mild tendencies to be obsessive, I internalize every condemnation.  All my life, I’ve tended to thrash myself with other people’s whips.  However, I’ve let go of that more and more as the last four years have weathered me.  When you get rejected as soundly as I got rejected, your wounds need serious nursing.  While cloistered, I smeared some of that Triple-Antibiotic on all the old wounds.  I’ve done a lot of healing.

I still live in a glass house, but I’ve installed shutters . When the rocks come, I don’t flinch quite as badly.   I’ve got a bit more protection.  But when the volley subsides, I go outside and study what’s been hurled at me.  I try to find the kernel of truth underlying any complaint.  I can learn from the negative as well as the positive.    If you never listen to criticism, you’ll never have anyone’s viewpoint to compare with the picture you’ve painted of yourself.  Only under siege can we learn to rise above the complaint of others.

If I have a New Year’s Resolution, it involves just that: rising above the complaints of others.  I can’t even say that I forgive the person who railed on me.  I let the complaint against me stand.  I examine my life to see where I can become a more authentic human as a result of the input.  Then I continue living, still striving, always, to surround myself with love and light.  At the end of the day,  I realize that everyone’s story has many layers.  We never know what the other person feels, or what their day has held, or who kicked them as they walked through the front door that evening, tired and harried, longing only to be cherished.

It’s evening; and a hoot owl calls to its mate across the meadow.  The clean clear dark of a Delta night lies outside my window.    Life continues.


Happy New Year

A group of folks gathered at the community room last evening to usher out 2018 and herald the dawn of a new year of possibilities.  Our gathering took a different form than originally intended.  A death in the family of the organizer forced her to leave.  The rage of the Delta winds cancelled the planned bonfire.  But we had snacks, and Apples to Apples, and five or six neighbors gathered around a table.

At ten o’clock, I knew, all of a sudden, that I had to scram and quickly.  I trusted one soul with the security of the place, wished everyone “Happy New Year”, left the champagne, and fled.

Two hours later, I woke with every muscle cramped in ways that I have not experienced in five years, since starting viral therapy and  regimented Botox shots on my legs.  I writhed and shuddered.  I pulled myself vertical and staggered to the bathroom, groping for Tylenol.  Eventually, the spasms subsided enough for me to crawl under the covers and fall into an uneasy sleep.

I’m convinced that allowing  myself the unusual luxury of unlimited chippage resulted in a sort of temporary sodium poisoning state.   I firmly believe that no party would be complete without Lay’s Classics.  Don’t bring the low-salt or baked variety.  Nobody can eat just one!  However, I don’t usually let the bowl hover at my elbow.  I typically sit as far away from temptation as possible.  Not last night.

I awoke before seven, relieved to be alive, convinced of the potential of this new year.  Songs and slogans rolled by as I scrolled through social media and enjoyed photos of other people partying.  I felt no envy; I’ve always preferred a quiet New Year’s Eve with family, friends, or a special someone.  I’m short on special somebodies, and my family spends their time in colder climes.  But new friends in my reconfigured world provided the perfect soiree, up until the moment that my body protested my careless treatment of it.

I’m not complaining.  Today the coffee sits hot in my crystal mug and Neko Case croons from the Bluetooth speaker via Spotify.  I can deal with this.  I’ve made it this far, and 2019 holds promise.  I’ve got this.

So here’s what I wish for each of you.

Hope to propel you forward.
Strength to steady your steps.
Courage to weather life’s battles.
And wisdom to know when to rest.

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