The Writing Life



“Gifts” for Mother’s Day

Posted by on May 7, 2019 in Writing | 0 comments

Emails from Hallmark, DSW, and every commercial enterprise that has my email address remind me again and again and again that Mothers Day is coming. I can buy, order, and send just about anything to Mom. This runs the gamut from traditional flowers and candy to a spa treatment, hiking shoes, breakfast, lunch or dinner out, or even a cruise or a car.

In-store product placement helps me choose by using eye-level placement with left to right scanning, block stacking (at least ten boxes of one product all stacked together to insure I’ll remember the name, shape, and color of the product).

Marketing surveys revealed that to attract a shopper with a cart and on a mission, there is a mere eight seconds to impress for that all-important purchase decision about how to best honor Mom.

All possibly helpful ideas if you’re stuck, rushed, or don’t have a clue what Mom really wants.

I don’t recall ever wondering what to get for my mother. This was not solely because I knew her so well. Gifts for my mother varied according to my age and what she let us know she wanted. Gift ideas were bounded by financial limits. Homemade cards were highly valued in my childhood. There was no cost and there were crayons, paper, scissors, wheat paste, ribbons and buttons in the cabinets under the bookcases. More than enough to create a card. We got positive feedback for detailed drawings, neat handwriting, and xoxoxo’s.

Once I was on my own, household items that I thought might make life easier made their appearance on Mothers’ Day, along with the homemade card. A blender, pillows, and yes, flowers and chocolate.

In the years when my mom was retired and broadening her creative side, I loved finding paints and art books to send her.

Finally, in her later years in the nursing home, I bought her clothes that were frilly, pretty, and feminine, along with stuffed animals that danced and sang.

One of the most wonderful gifts in her last decades of life was a gift of time. My mother began writing newsletters to our family members. She’d dictate, I’d write on my computer, with many digressions to tell the back story of why/how she got certain ideas. We’d address and stamp them and I’d mail them out. She also wrote stories about what was happening in her life.

After a visit with my husband and me and family in New Jersey in 1998, she wrote this story:

Smiling older woman in glass wearing New York Yankees baseball capLunch – A Feast or a Famine

by Gladys Erickson

      There are all kinds of lunches or luncheons – feasts or famines.

     The noon meal I eat alone at home after the morning chores, invariably termed a “lunch” is usually a rather uneventful occasion. That is, unless the phone rings, and I find myself, having just stuffed my mouth full of more than an ample supply of food, trying to hold a conversation.

     Feasts

     A luncheon implies two or more people, a carefully planned menu, not a slopped-together peanut butter sandwich. If I’ve left my domicile for a peaceful lunch away from the turmoil that prevails at home, then this moment in time can be a relaxing and centering one.

     When I lunch with a family member, good friend, or friends, we not only share physical refreshment but feel free to share our joys and burdens as well. This gives us the opportunity to be understanding, helpful and non-judgmental of each other. As one sage put it, to be thoughtful of others is “a time-honored way of extinguishing the ego’s self-importance.”

    This is a time, too, to giggle, laugh, “be in the moment” and prayerfully wish the whole human race be filled with love for each other. The only thing that could mar a special time as this is allowing the conversation to degenerate into a gossip session. Then the opportunity to be physically, emotionally, and spiritually restored is forfeited.

     Famine

     The loneliest lunch in the world is after you’ve lost your dearest friend, live alone, and occasionally go to a restaurant- alone. I find myself enviously staring at families – toddlers, children, parents, grandparents eating together and enjoying themselves. The little ones sometimes have more food on their faces than in their mouths and there are a few moments of mayhem among the older children. So what? It’s all part of a precious time of the day.

     Also within my view are tables where spouses and good friends are deep in conversation, and a table in a corner where lovers are more interested in each other than in the food before them.

     Does the male species utilize this special hour of the day to bare their souls and talk about their innermost feelings?  I don’t truly know. If they don’t, perhaps it’s really not important to them.

    Another Feast

     One of the nicest lunch occasions is the one when new friends are met and made. My daughter Ethel and her good friend Mary had been comparing their octogenarian mothers, and decided we should meet. So during my ’98 Thanksgiving visit to the “North,” arrangements were made for the four “girls” to have lunch at a nearby restaurant. The only knowledge we had beforehand about each other were: our first names, our ties to “Southern living” and the penchant that Mickey (Mary’s mother) and I had for wearing baseball caps in place of the conventional hats proper ladies don. There were hints from the girls that they probably had discussed our other quirks too.

     The date of the luncheon arrived. We were to be the guests of our daughters. A loving gesture and a great idea! We arrived at this pleasant restaurant and I immediately knew that Mary with her broad smile and pretty red hair was a very special person in Ethel’s life. As for Mickey, there was no doubt that this smiling lady with twinkling eyes was my kind of “gal”- not some “pooped-out” oldster glued to her rocking chair. We spoke of shared activities and interests as well as our plans for the future. The conversation flowed easily. Pictures were taken at the table. The food was delicious! All in all, it was a very, very pleasant time. With the blend of young and old, I felt young again!

     Well, it was time to say good-bye, and as we got up and put on our coats, I saw that Mickey put on her baseball cap. On the other hand, I was in the process of donning an ugly, but sensibly warm little woolen skullcap. It was then I noticed the look of dismay on Mickey’s face, and the disappointment in her voice when she learned I hadn’t even packed my cap! A terrible sinking feeling overcame me. Our daughters wanted pictures of their two mothers outside! Oh, the shame of it! Mickey’s expression of disappointment was only momentary. The pictures taken that day reveal two older ladies with smiles, respect for one another, and hearts full of love and gratitude for two loving daughters who made possible a day that was truly a feast. Also, I have a feeling if Mickey and I lived closer to each other, we might raise some eyebrows and be “too much” for our daughters.

THE END

The luncheon was our gift to our moms, but the lasting gift was her writing about it and sharing it. I realize a part of my Mother’s Day, and other days’ gifting, has been the time thinking about what to get my mother, how to deliver the gift to boost enjoyment, how to celebrate shared gifts as we did with writing newsletters, and modeling the frilly clothes. “Ah, the latest fashion for ladies of a certain age is modeled today by Ms. Erickson.” (Thunderous applause from the audience of two or three or four).

I’ve got the memories, photos, and stories to relive the gifts again and again and again.

Happy Mother’s Day!!

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. She also enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Tucson Tellers of Tales, and just about anywhere there’s a mic. 

Birthday 2019

Posted by on Mar 15, 2019 in Writing | 2 comments

Every year on March 15, I take out this beautiful message to read and share:

Henri Nouwen

Birthdays need to be celebrated. I think it is more important to celebrate a birthday than a successful exam, a promotion, or a victory. Because to celebrate a birthday means to say to someone: ‘Thank you for being you.’ Celebrating a birthday is exalting life and being glad for it. On a birthday we do not say: ‘Thanks for what you did, or said, or accomplished.’ No, we say: ‘Thank you for being born and being among us.’

On birthdays we celebrate the present. We do not complain about what happened or speculate about what will happen, but we lift someone up and let everyone say: ‘We love you.’~  Henri Nouwen

Henri Nouwen was a Catholic priest, writer, professor, and theologian. Ordained in 1957, he was also, in his lifetime, a teacher at Yale Divinity School, a, visiting professor at the University of Notre Dame, along with writing thirty-nine books. He had a life filled with international learning, travel, and life experiences.

Henri Nouwen’s Influence on My Life

God’s Beloved was the book that introduced me to Henri Nouwen, when a colleague shared it at a spiritual group almost twenty years ago.

I never met him or saw him speak in person but articles about his enthusiasm and “engaging” speaking style came across for me in his words:

“I wanted to know how we could integrate the life of Christ in our daily concerns. I was always trying to articulate what I was dealing with. I thought that if it was very deep, it might also be something other people were struggling with. It was based on the idea that what is most personal might be the more universal.”~ Catholic New Times 1986

Of course. That clicks! I love to be with people and you don’t even have to be in a jolly mood for me to lean forward, look you in the eye, and want to get more of who you are. I find it with the tile guy who is visiting us daily for bathroom renovations;  I’m privileged to have conversations with our contractor about family and core beliefs along with when the vanity will be installed. It happened with the clerk at Walgreen’s who had an especially striking purple hair color; it is gifted to me at the breakfast table as my sweetheart and I linger over that second cup of coffee.  And it happens over and over with my twin Eileen.

People are fascinating. And if these thoughts on my birthday hold true for me and you and anyone who reads this, that makes some kind of a universal connection, doesn’t it?

 

Happy birthday, whoever and wherever you are!girl twins in satiny dresses sitting by toys, one year old

 

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. She also enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Tucson Tellers of Tales, and just about anywhere there’s a mic. 

Me and My Library

Posted by on Feb 21, 2019 in Writing | 0 comments

I have always felt safe and comfortable in libraries, from the very small local library where I grew up in Merrick NY  (which their website tells me is “a little busy at 11AM.” Wonderful!) to my Horrmann Library  at Wagner College (where I worked Freshman year filing books – by the Dewey Decimal system!),  then the older library in Verona NJ ( where I met with Verona Toastmasters) that was reminiscent of the white clapboard building with creaky wooden floors  in the Miller Place Academy Free Library.  (where my sisters and I roamed like pint-sized explorers and I discovered Daphne DuMaurier)

small brown buildingwhite building surrounded by green  treesfull glass windows in brick building
two-story colonial brick building with white columns in front

 

 

 

Today I read the article “A (visual) History of the American Library” by CityLab visual storyteller Ariel Aberg-Riger with interest. I have been privileged to have access to libraries–good, well-stocked, well-lit, warm in winter, cool in summer–libraries. And yet I know, and Ms. Aberg lays out quite well in detail, stats, and a historical timeline, the bumpy road full-access libraries have traveled to bring free books and the joy of reading ( and more) to everyone in the US. It’s not an unheard of path–first white men, then rich white males, then educated men and some women, then maybe some less wealthy white men and women, then segregated, at last public libraries labeled public accommodations open to everyone, but today many are locally funded which sadly portends inequalities in available funds. But libraries have persevered. And for that I am grateful.

Got a library card?

Both my husband and I have library cards. If I go back in the mental files I think a library card was the first membership card I ever had. I’m a brick and mortar library lover. I love to actually go to the library, wander the aisles, browse magazines, then pile up the books to take home. My husband is an online user. If you have a library card, use it. Take a friend to the library. Make a library date.

Lost your card? Don’t have one?  Here’s how to get a card:  how to get a card in Pima County 

It’s so much more than books

Local libraries in Tucson host writing groups, Toastmasters, tutors, chess clubs, dance workshops, Knitting for a Cause, travel lectures, storytelling for children of all ages, aging resources, tax classes, computer classes. Can’t find that special book on mind mapping? They’ll find it. Need a Big Book for your storytelling event? The children’s librarian’s got it. They gladly take and post my flyers for community events. In my mind, it’s a hub for gathering people together, so they can then spread their “wings” and fly.

Dusenberry-River Library Tucson AZ

Sure, we can check out books at the library. But what else is doing at your library?

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. She also enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Tucson Tellers of Tales, and just about anywhere there’s a mic. 

The Love Month

Posted by on Feb 1, 2019 in Writing | 2 comments

Are you ready? It’s here. Hallmark sales spikes, chocolate overloads, scented candles, perfume and flowers top the credit card sales, and people tapping into their sometimes under-utilized romance files.

I do love lots of things and people. All kinds of love. Friendship love. Loyalty love. Compassion, fondness, affection. Things that I love.

But I admit it. I’m also a romantic–big time. My heart is on my sleeve. A part of my heart holds deep abiding love. My emotions run the gamut when it comes to caring/affection/love. One of my favorite scenes in a movie is the opening credits scene in Love Actually. Families, couples, friends, people of all ages, sizes, shapes and colors greeting each other at Heathrow Airport with hugs, kisses, laughing, crying. Makes me tear up and smile at the same time. And then I can sob at one of the last scenes in Wuthering Heights when Heathcliff carries Cathy to the window so she can see the moors and smell the heather. (Multiple tissue rating if it’s the Laurence Oliver and Merle Oberon 1939 movie.)

So when the calendar on the refrigerator gets flipped to the February page, I’m ready to celebrate that incredible organ, the heart.

Love

Some quotes that get me going about love:

Everybody loves something, even if it’s just tortillas. ~ Trungpa Rinpoche

Two-minute free write: I love … pizza, sitting on the beach, cherries, smelling the ocean, seeing the sun rise from my patio, watching my husband make coffee because he is totally immersed and at ease in that one morning activity, going through an art gallery where colors abound, naps, my friend JoAn’s carrot cake, walking a labyrinth, books, my office which is also my sanctuary and my creative writing site.

Suggestion: Do a two-minute free write about love. Can you stop at two minutes?

💕

Ya gotta learn to laugh. It’s the way to true love.  ~ John Travolta in Michael

I love to laugh. Of course it doesn’t mean I ”fall in love” with my laugh buddies. But laughing relaxes me, and I’m more apt to see love when it’s offered. Laughing helps me forget the “shoulds,” worries, and small dark clouds that can drift across my emotional radar screen. Can you be mad or sad when you’re laughing? Can you be worried when you’re laughing so hard that you actually snort?

My friend Majda had one of those infectious laughs, and she laughed easily–at visual things, at stories I told her, at things we did together. I miss her. Remembering her laughter helps me remember how I loved her.

Suggestion: Who makes you laugh? Tell them. Write about them. How often do you spend time with them?

 💕

I was at a party feeling very shy because there were a lot of celebrities around, and I was sitting in a corner alone and a beautiful young man came up to me and offered me some salted peanuts and he said, “I wish they were emeralds”, as he handed me the peanuts and that was the end of my heart. I never got it back.   ~ Helen Hayes

This has got to be one of the most loving, romantic “scenes” I’ve ever read. I can see it. I can hear the background noise at this party–music, laughing, the range of voices in conversations. And the beautiful woman sitting, waiting, although at that moment she didn’t know she was waiting.

When I first heard my Hank’s voice, I felt a jolt in my heart. What the heck is this? Heartburn?But it was followed by a kind of excited feeling in my stomach and heart. I looked around to see where that measured voice with the easy listening tone was coming from. Then I saw him, but by then my heart had moved towards his. Lucky me to have followed that jolt.

Suggestion: Write about love.

💕

And my personal favorite, for fun and for love:

A man should kiss his wife’s navel every day.             ~ Nell Kimball

May you find love every day, not just in the love month.

 

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. She also enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Tucson Tellers of Tales, and just about anywhere there’s a mic. 

OK, I’m into 2019!

Posted by on Jan 18, 2019 in Writing | 0 comments

Three weeks into the New Year. For me this means the over-exuberant burst of resolve has subsided to a more realistic view of what I actually want and can accomplish without getting exhausted.

When my colleague, Gail Woodward’s (Dudley Court Press) newsletter arrived with her perspective for the New Year, it ignited a great spark of motivation. Well her’s arrived three weeks ago but it did motivate me to consider and take steps for my 2019 amazing experiences. (I’m nothing if not optimistic and enthusiastic.)

FUN EVENTS

My literary year opens with more events to take my words off the page and bring them to the stage, telling stories at Odyssey, FST (Female Storytellers Tucson), Tucson Tellers of Tales, Writers Read, Tucson Festival of Books, and improv classes at Unscrewed Theater. Read on or Click here for details at ELM Events. 

First up- Feb. 2. It’s also my first collaboration with fellow storyteller from Tucson Tellers of Tales, Ron Lancaster. Ron finds humor in just about everything and since I’m on a one-person mission to connect with people in the most positive way I can, we came up with “Go Ahead and Laugh,” an hour of stories that will have you laughing, and nodding your head in recognition. Click here for details.

Writers Read enters its 6th year. Seasonal readings from original works draw folks to a local coffee shop aptly named BREWD. I’ll be  reading on Feb. 28, perhaps a love story. Click here to find it on ELM events.

Very excited to be at a larger venue on Sunday March 3 at the Tucson Festival of Books. I’ll be one of about 350 authors but you can find me on Sunday at the Wheatmark Inc. Booth (with my books) 9:30-10:45 AM,  and at Tellers of Tales (selling-and telling tales) at 2:00-3:00 PM. The festival is all weekend, a magnet for authors, book lovers, readers, storytellers and entertainers. From 50,000 visitors in its first year in 2009 to over 130,000 last year, it’s a pretty big deal here in Tucson.

Taking my show on the road- sort of- I’ll be one of an energetic group of students from Unscrewed Theater with our improv showcase on March 9 6:00-7:00 PM. At last, a venue where I don’t have to be calm and quiet. Tina Fey has said, “There are no mistakes, only opportunities.”  “Follow the funny” is another mantra from my new improv world. More details soon.

NEW YEAR READING

6 books in a pile Robin, Becoming, Before We Were Yours, Musicophilia, Canadian Rockies, Not My Father's SonA literary experience at home is to revel in reading. If you’re a reading addict, send me what’s on your reading table, why, and your opinions.

Santa and friends brought a stack of great books to read. Robin by David Itzkoff, Michelle Obama’s Becoming, Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks, Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming, and Lisa Wingate’s Before We Were Yours.

I already tore through Robin, gaining more understanding of the comic genius and having much of his tumultuous life laid out in black and white. It was a book that stayed with me; I planned each morning when I could take some time to read a few chapters. Afterwards it left me with a bit of an emotional hangover and the desire to watch Good Will Hunting, Dead Poet’s Society, and Good Morning Viet Nam again.

Comparing Robin Williams’ isolated childhood with that of Michelle Obama, whose childhood was surrounded by relatives, love and a healthy support, my “Nurture/ Nature” ideas got pretty stirred up. From a writer’s viewpoint, what is most intriguing about Becoming is the use of phrases and words that depict scenes and emotions very clearly along with tenets of what makes a healthy happy marriage, good parenting, and a devoted family.  I’m enjoying Becoming as much as Robin, but with very different emotional reactions.

And so the rest call to me too. Will Alan Cumming’s memoir show a different side of him than we were so entertainingly gifted with in “Legal Immigrant”? Will we get to the Canadian Rockies this year? I think so. Will Lisa Wingate’s book keep the promise of being both emotionally “wrenching” and “uplifting”? I hope so.

WHAT ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS?

2019 is a renewal to a healthy lifestyle: yoga at a great studio, only a 7-minute drive from my house, no excuses about distance. Walking and hiking in the foothills and trails that are accessible to us here in Tucson just about every day of the year. I even signed up with my sister for the Senior Olympic Festival’s 5K walk on January 28.

And always a renewal for my husband and me to review our relationship and commit once again to the qualities and attractions that brought us together twenty-nine-years ago.

We recently went over our “Rules for Fighting Fair” created in the 1990’s. We softened “rules” to “suggestions.” We added a few, honestly agreed many of them had become a part of our everyday life, and renewed our commitment to some of them as very good suggestions to use with each other and people in general. Curious about the rules? They’re also in my book, Seedlings, Stories of Relationships.

With hopes and wishes for a successful, fun-filled, and Happy New Year,

Ethel

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. She also enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Tucson Tellers of Tales, and just about anywhere there’s a mic. 

There IS Holiday Magic in a Christmas Tree

Posted by on Dec 18, 2018 in Writing | 4 comments

Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.   — Norman Vincent Peale

Christmas tree decorated with white lights, colored beaded balls, and ceramic and brass ornaments. In large living room near a fireplaceChristmas Trees are Magic

Even before I had heard of the tree in The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, I knew Christmas trees had a magical quality—especially in the hands of my father. As a child it seemed to me that Dad could make a scrawny but live Christmas tree “grow” like the tree in The Nutcracker ballet with the use of a drill and a few strategically placed scrap branches.

An undernourished tree would be courageously nailed onto a makeshift stand. With drill in hand, Dad would go to work. Forty-five minutes and a few “ding-dang its” later, a plump balsam pine would stand proudly in our living room, its scent drifting through our small house. This was the signal that the tree was ready to be adorned with well-loved ornaments, strings of colored lights, and the final glittering accessory, what we called “icicles.”

Tinsel strands were placed carefully on the tips of branches, dressing The Tree in a cape of silver. The tinsel sparkled and moved slightly when you walked by. Tinsel of my childhood was regular aluminum-based strands, or the deluxe kind, because it felt heavier, which was lead-based. Little did we know the lead-based jewels were a bit toxic. This increased concern caused it to be fazed out in the ‘60s, and replaced with plastic (PVC-coated or Mylar) tinsel. Okay, it lessened the lead poisoning possibility, but didn’t have quite the heft or gentle sway.

Is There Really a Correct Way to Tinsel the Tree?

Our family ascribed to the “just one, or a few strands at a time” method of tinsel placement. Woe to any impulsive child who gave in to the urge to fling a handful of tinsel up towards the top branches. The result in my memory is a softly lit, green-jeweled visitor residing in our home for the Christmas season, lighting and softening our world.

A Tree-Trimming Tradition

Out on my own after college, I started my own tree-trimming parties. Family and friends decorated my tree as I went through the cut-your-own era. When Hank and I got married,  we’d don our Santa hats, drive to the Christmas tree place, point, and “We’ll take that one.” The wonderful Matarazzo’s Farm in North Caldwell New Jersey would deliver.

Ten years ago Hank and I invested in a masterpiece– a ten-foot pre-lit artificial tree. Family and friends who love the spirit of Christmas help us trim the tree. There is always carol-singing, parodies of holiday songs, eating with abandon, and most of all, trimming the tree.

Each Christmas, for two decades we tinseled our tree. (Can tinsel be a verb?) I smile as I remember the variety of tinseling styles—one-strand decorators, drapers, handful flingers. Expert tinselers evolved to teasingly guide the newer and younger tinselers to “try one strand at a time, hung just so.” A dear friend was crowned the Tinsel King. His style and patience in tinseling were unsurpassed. The Annual Tinsel Tony Award for the best tinseler raised tinseling techniques to the level of a fine art.

Alas, the popularity of tinseling has lessened and now we no longer use tinsel on the tree. Less tinsel means more lights and a glut of ornaments. The Tinseled Tree has been replaced by the someday-soon-to-be-famous Tinsel Singers, a growing number of singers in sparkly wigs, who lead the holiday songs.

What’s on the Tree?

Our collection of ornaments is a parade of memories. Over twenty-eight years of teaching, I was gifted with ornaments like a miniature chalkboard, a clay penguin, wooden sleds and school buses, and tiny books covered with holly. Family ornaments of Santas, and choirboys made of clothespins during my brother-in-law’s craft era adorn the tree. Beaded balls, miniature roller skates, and handmade decorated ornaments glisten near tiny, now LED lights. My sister’s quilted tree skirt surrounds the tree.

Years of travel are chronicled on our tree. Our First Christmas photo ornament, a holly-topped Eiffel Tower, a London phone booth, Park City reindeer, delicate brass ornaments from Rome, Mexico, Hungary, Prague, Paris, Williamsburg, Oregon, Port Jefferson, and New York City. The year we moved to Tucson brought horse and saddle ornaments and seven little cowboy boots.

The trimming of the tree is three hours by the clock, but I think everyone is touched by the magic of Christmas for the entire season. What is the magic of Christmas for you?red and green glass cowboy boot tree ornament

May your days be merry and bright. – Irving Berlin, White Christmas

 

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. She also enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Tucson Tellers of Tales, and just about anywhere there’s a mic. 

Feeling Pride In My Writing- and a gift for you

Posted by on Dec 12, 2018 in Writing | 0 comments

Modesty is Esteemed in Our Culture

But a little self-promotion sometimes marches to the top of the list of personal characteristics. I am so proud and happy to have my story, “My Mother’s Beauty,” as part of the 2018 anthology from Story Circle Network’sReal Women Write: Sharing Our Stories, Sharing Our Lives – coming in January.

I’ve submitted many, many articles, stories and manuscripts over the last twenty years to agents, publishers, journals, online sites. Many rejected, some accepted, some published. Some got really nice reviews.

The Gift

So why is this one a bit different? “My Mother’s Beauty” about my mom is a love story. My relationship with my headshot of high school girl serious facemother was often conflicted (You too? Are you nodding your head in agreement?). But in the last decade of her life I was given the gift of being close to her, both geographically and emotionally. Almost daily in the last five years of her life, we sat and talked, laughed, sometimes argued, and cried together. Mostly we built a kind of partnership of mother/daughter that I never, ever expected to experience. A gift. So my pride comes for being able to say, with confidence, to other mothers and daughters, “Don’t turn away. It can happen.”

My sense of accomplishment in my personal writing comes from sitting down again and again at my laptop and writing, editing, revising, and submitting my work. It’s easy to get busy with “stuff”- daily responsibilities and sometimes activities that can pose as responsibilities chipping away at more and more of my creative time. At least once a week I sit. I write. I name it, date it and sometimes file it away. And then, maybe the next day, maybe a few days later, I sit again and open my writing files. And something stirs. “Pick me. Choose me to fix today.”

My pride also comes from believing that Story Circle Network saw something of the possibility of love being shared in my story and accepted it for their anthology. I am in the company of  scores of women who share their lives in fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

A Gift for Three Readers

I’ve ordered extra copies and have three to give away. First three people who contact me with your name and where to send it. Click here, I’ll send you a free copy. Look for it in January 2019. I’ll also let you know when it’s on the way.

“Since 1997, the Story Circle Network, a non-profit exclusively for women writers, has provided learning/writing opportunities in memoir, reminiscence, journaling, fiction, poetry, family stories, kitchen table stories, writing-as-healing, writing for personal growth and spiritual development, poetry, and other areas. We teach general writing skills, organization, and critical editing, as well as technical skills in book design and development, online marketing, blogging, and other Internet-related activities.” –Story Circle Network website Click on SCN if you are interested in joining.

“When the storyteller tells the truth, she reminds us that human beings are more alike than unalike… A story is what it’s like to be a human being–to be knocked down and to miraculously arise. Each one of us has arisen, awakened. We do rise.”  —Maya Angelou

What story calls to you today?

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. She also enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Tucson Tellers of Tales, and just about any where there’s a mic. 

The Montclair Write Group Sampler 2018- in your home for the holidays!

Posted by on Dec 12, 2018 in Writing | 0 comments

cover of Montclair Write Groups 2018 book close-up of yellow flowers and book title Does Anyone Wear White Gloves Anymore?

Do you own a pair of white gloves? Do you recall when wearing white gloves was not to augment a costume, but was touted as a sign of “good breeding”? Times have changed. I’m so excited to have my story “White Gloves” as part of the Montclair Write Group Sampler 2018. Read about my experience with white gloves in 1969! The Sampler is filled with entertainment, nostalgia, and literary food for thought.

I’m in good company. The Montclair Write Group Sampler 2018 is a collection of thirty works by Write Group members and is now available for download. And it’s free! My work will be found under the memoir  section and the title is “White Gloves.”

Holiday Idea:

For you, for the reader in your life, for a quick, easy, and very entertaining free holiday gift. You can download a copy of this ebook at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/893451

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships and also enjoys sharing her stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Tucson Tellers of Tales and wherever there’s a mic. 

Alvin Ailey and Dancing

Posted by on Dec 2, 2018 in Writing | 0 comments

Alvin Ailey Dance Company Turns 60. I remember the first time I saw Alvin Ailey. It was 1969 and I was a freshman at Wagner College on Staten Island. Our modern dance teacher, the wonderful Mrs. Gardner, took a group of us to see him in his troupe.

Looking Back to 1969 and Dancing

It was the first of many times I saw “Revelations” with Judith Jamison. In the last number that night, Alvin Ailey’s grace and athleticism inspired me to promise myself to always dance. The number ended with the huge back stage door opening (I think it was NY City Center then) and he walked out into the street. Now that was awesome!

Alvin Ailey Dance Co. Today

In a NYT article Dec. 2, Rennie Harris, Ailey dancer in residence, captures it perfectly for me. “Lazarus” is about resurrection and, for Mr. Harris, that circles back to Ailey: With each dancing generation, with every performance of his 1960 masterpiece “Revelations,” Ailey is reborn. “He’s still affecting folk: black, brown, white, indifferent, whatever,” Mr. Harris said. “He’s still affecting the world on a massive scale.”
The arts–whether dance, music, books, storytelling, theater, sculpture, painting, (What did I leave out?) can open my heart, free me from cultural and self-imposed restraints, and leave a wide open path to connect with my self and other people.
What frees you?

This photo and the NYT article started my day off pretty nicely this morning.

man dancing with group- arms upraised

Rennie Harris and the Alvin Ailey Dance Company

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships.

A Thanksgiving Classroom Story

Posted by on Nov 20, 2018 in Writing | 18 comments

People are always surprised when they find out I can cook. I can, really I can. It’s just that it’s not something I’d choose to do for fun. This year Thanksgiving dinner is at our house. After reviewing family recipes for gravy and stuffing, using my 800 number, aka my older sister, for some tips, and looking at holiday magazines, I recalled when the exuberance of youth and some pretty hefty pride led me to cook my first turkey.

For your Thanksgiving entertainment, I give you “Kindergarten Cuisine.”

True, all true! Mrs. Ball, the wonderful kids, my naïveté, and that little white stove that taught me about lots more than cooking.

“Is it ready yet?” a child’s high-pitched voice asked. The room was filled with the delicious aroma of turkey. Nineteen mouths were waiting to be fed. Was it Grandma’s house? No, it was my sunlit kindergarten classroom in New Jersey, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

When I was a young and single teacher, I was extremely dedicated to my job. I knew I made a positive difference in the lives of my young students. That November morning I was also suffering from one of those“I-said-I’m-gonna-do-it-and-by-golly-I’ll-do-it”moments. In my personal life, I prided myself on cooking as little as possible. Strange to some, but to each his own. Pots and pans I had received as apartment gifts still nested in their boxes. My oven had that over-brilliant gleam only seen in new appliances. I had never, ever, cooked a turkey.

I was forced to re-examine my indifference to cooking when I changed my teaching assignment from third grade to kindergarten. I moved to Room 101, a spacious carpeted room with cozy reading area, sandbox area, and housekeeping corner complete with sink and a real stove!

The previous teacher had received an educational grant to purchase the stove for cooking.  She had a positive zeal for multi-sensory learning. She did math lessons by baking brownies. Literature was a reading of Stone Soup and stirring up vegetable soup. Her classes finger-painted with chocolate pudding. Of course, her holiday feast of Pilgrims and Native Americans was topped off with the baking aromas of bread, or cookies, or cranberry or applesauce. Each November, aromas from Mrs. Ball’s classroom drifted upwards to the third, fourth, and fifth grade rooms, producing a remarkable increase in volunteers to “go help the kindergarteners.”

When Mrs. Ball retired, I inherited her classroom. How could I not carry on this culinary tradition? I could do the brownies, pudding, and stone soup. But what could I do for Thanksgiving that was really special? Got it! I’d cook a Thanksgiving turkey. How hard could it be?

To simplify, I had pre-cooked some stuffing the night before and crammed it inside any opening I could find in the turkey. The turkey was in the roasting pan when my munchkins entered the classroom.

“Look, there’s our turkey. It looks funny!” High-pitched gobbles filled the classroom. Small bodies demonstrated a kindergartener’s rendition of a turkey strut. We approached the stove, that sacred place where so many roasting pans and baking sheets had been placed in with loving hands and emerged bearing a tasty treat.

In went Little Tom, for he was just big enough to carve a taste for each tiny mouth, yet small enough to cook during the kindergarten session.

The wait was interminable. The Pilgrims donned their wide, white paper collars and large, but lopsided, black paper hats. The Native Americans pulled on burlap vests, which I had whipped up on my old Singer sewing machine. I may have been a novice in the kitchen, but I knew my way around a sewing machine.

“My mother makes the best turkey,” declared one outspoken Pilgrim.

“Who do you cook a turkey for if you live alone?” a young philosopher asked.

“How will we know when it’s done?” queried another little one. Hey, I had done my homework. I knew about that little pop-up thermometer.

Near the end of our kindergarten morning, the moment arrived. Out he came from the oven. Oh, he looked beautiful. Golden brown and juicy. “Aahs” mixed with the aroma as Little Tom made his debut. Now, to carve. I gave the blades of my never-been-used electric carving knife a test buzz. The children appreciated the drama of this.

Off came a diminutive drumstick. Zip! Off came the other one. Slicing down into the chest cavity, the blades snagged and stopped. Something glistened from the center.

What made me suddenly, but belatedly, think of it? Where were all the insides? Words like gizzard, liver, heart flashed though my brain. Anxiety gripped me. They were inside! The glistening was their wrapping. Paper wrapping—still inside.

Now when people are caught in an outright mistake, self-help books gently advise:  Admit and accept mistakes. Laugh. Move onHowever, it’s much better to tell how you have accepted, laughed, and moved on after the fact, not while you are in it. Pride takes over when you are in it. Save face! Regroup! Think fast!

I diverted my students’ attention by gesturing to our gaily-decorated table. “Let’s sit at the Thanksgiving table, my Pilgrims and Native Americans.”

Their little heads turned, their bodies moved to the table lured by the thought of actually munching turkey slices and downing apple cider.

Swiftly I got a death grip on the bit of paper poking through the chest cavity. With a twist and a tug, the bag of innards ejected with kind of long plop! I wrapped it in some paper towels.

“Well, my feasters, we’re going to have white meat and dark meat. No stuffing today. That part of it just didn’t work out.”

Most of them accepted this, eagerly holding up paper plates for their taste.  All but my loyal Pilgrim who looked at his meager offering and pronounced, “My mother still makes the best turkey.”Man and woman in chef outfit in kitchen

~~~

If you enjoyed this story, pull out your copy of Seedlings, Stories of Relationships, p. 118. Why not read it to your family? Seedlings also makes a lovely holiday gift. Click here to buy an author-inscribed copy with Pay Pal, or go to Amazon. 

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships.