The Writing Life

Events? Hiatus!

A stroke sure changes your “social” calendar. My days are filled with meeting with incredibly talented and caring medical practitioners- my regular doctor, physical therapist, cardiologist, neurology practitioners and soon speech therapy. Each holds a special place in my life now- along with individual yellow folders filling up with tips, ideas, exercises.

Time spent with friends is one of the best prescriptions for healing.

Hank and my sister and her Joe are like a fresh daily elixir.

My gratitude to internet, digital, and online creatives is immeasurable. When you can’t get out like you want to, bring the world to your desk.

I’m writing blogs for the present, and snippets for the future.

Storytelling and writing programs are on hold for now. But with the ideas that keep crossing my radar, I know I won’t be able to stay away too long.

Meanwhile, I wish each of you many creative moments, events, and accomplishments whether writing speaking, singing, painting, flying, cooking-  that list can be endless. Enjoy!

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a mic. (back soon)

Tricks or Treats: A Personal Update

IT’S TRICK OR  TREAT SEASON

This October does seem like a new season to me. The weather here, September-November is a treat! The sometimes few clouds give us genuinely beautiful sunsets. It’s warm-usually 70ºs during the day; 40ºs 50ºs early morning. Even though it warms up during the day  Easterners can discern a coolness and crispness in the air. Really we can. I have gloves and scarf ready when it gets “cold.”

THE TRICKS

The trickster, aka my stroke, that visited me in late summer is getting restless staying here and has abandoned certain annoying habits like blasting me with headaches when “there is absolutely no reason for this.” I’m no longer getting neuro-laser zaps that leave me feeling numb. Emotional bursts, called lability in stroke terms, are now mostly grumbles. Biggest challenge is stamina-so more conscious attention to nutrition and smart exercise. And balance is pretty interesting when I get tired-usually late afternoon. 

THE TREATS

I can walk almost a mile with no rests and no gripping Hank’s arm. I am able to sleep lying down and getting more than 4 hours each night. I am familiar with reading “too much” with page turners ( Little Fires Everywhere, The Mothers, Rapture Sutras, and our latest Pema Chödrön book No Time to Lose) I’m journaling daily and can see the new plateaus each week-sometimes each day. Plus my stroke gives me opportunities all the time to stop for RRR-rest, relax, renew. 

My physical therapist is probably in her early 30s and has won my respect and trust. When she greets me with “I read an interesting study over the weekend about balance,” I know I am up for being a test subject. Okay by me, that’s what I signed up for in PT. She is“gentle,” but never says stop. The few times (?) I’ve whined abut reps in exercise, “Aren’t we up to 50 yet?” she might reply, “Mmm, well you can go slower” and then does the remaining math. “Only 23 more to go. “ 

Cardiology and neurology reports indicate quirks I’m experiencing are common at this stage of recovery. Overall I’m feeling pretty up these days. 

Other upside of my days-Hank and I celebrated 32 years of marriage last week! How did that happen! He is still my National Treasure and we marvel at how we are seeing the humor and are having fun in life. We are enjoying our this-is-why-we-moved-to-Arizona weather.

 

I am finishing week 8 of stroke recovery and it is getting lots better. I can now appreciate when the doctors said it was a “small” stroke. It’s all coming together.

Have a great Halloween! Hope you get lots of treats this Halloween!

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a mic. 

Being Drawn In

My spiritual resources come from every part of my life. Lots of books, recovery literature, movies, seminars, talks I’ve heard, talks I’ve given, conversations I’m a part of, conversations overheard, being in nature, snippets of scenes in other people’s lives, and the gazillion connections from online sites. 

One source has been a simple but lasting connection. In 2007 I reconnected with my childhood church. I don’t remember how it first happened that I received a Tower Chimes newsletter via snail mail. I hadn’t attended the Community Presbyterian Church of Merrick since I graduated from Wagner College in 1969. But as with many things, the beginning isn’t the key element. It’s what you do after that “beginning” that guides the path.  

I looked forward to receiving the Tower Chimes, or the Sunday bulletin. Then the change to emails. Now Facebook and YouTube. Reading about the Couples Club, garage sales, bake sales, Easter and Christmas flowers gives me a sense of community even 2500 miles away here in Tucson.

Reading the newsletter sometimes sparked reminiscing with my twin sister, with my husband, and with friends. Did you go to Sunday School? What about getting Christmas gifts from “Santa”? We knew it really was Mr. Bolander, but he was so smiley and jolly you could almost believe he was a specially chosen rep from the North Pole. Teenage years playing volleyball in the church hall on Sunday evenings, square dancing with my dad at a family night dinner, and going on retreats with the Junior High youth group. Yes, it was the days when we graduated from 6th grade and went to Merrick Ave. Junior High, the training ground for Calhoun High School. 

When my husband Hank and I took a Spring trip back East in 2014, we visited with Beverly Burke who took us on a tour through the church sanctuary, downstairs to the classrooms and to the gardens out back. It was so very different and so much the same. I always liked sitting in the sanctuary, often when no one was there. It was quiet and calm. I used to think quiet connecting had nothing to do with religion or spirituality. But if having a safe place for solitary thoughts, or sharing and connections with people is not a spiritual endeavor, what is?

 

This is an excerpt from the recent Bulletin that inspired me. I hope it may do the same for you. 

From the October 3, 2021 bulletin:

Drawn In Week 4  Listening” is an important part of Love. We open our senses to see what is emerging. Perhaps what we start doesn’t end up looking like what we thought it would. Instead, once the act of loving begins, we listen to how the Spirit is guiding our next steps and unfolding possibilities we were previously unaware of. –the Rev. Moira Ahearne, Pastor 

My takeaway here was to listen-opening my senses for that day. With that kind of listening I read the words silently-several times, then read them out loud. Moving to other senses sat on my patio, looked and listened to the birds, our little waterfall, the very slight breeze in the leaves of the mesquite trees. My intention was to listen to people that day without planning a response. Not easy. Sometimes I did, sometimes. Sometimes my reply was immediately lining up, pushing up against my vocal cords. But when I did listen -to the words, the tone, the pace, opening all my senses, with no thought of a response, it was just the easiest and most relaxing conversation.

Listen.

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a mic. 

How to Handle an Uninvited Guest

BUT WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO “BE NICE”

Belated thanks to Mom, my 7th grade Home Economics teacher, Emily Post  and Miss Manners (some of you may remember those last three). They each modeled, drilled, and cajoled me to learn how to be a gracious hostess. The old “be nice” of the 1950s growing up training included: Welcome someone with varying degrees of warmth, offer a chair or show the guest room where they are to stay, which you have previously stocked with comfortable blankets, pillows, room in the closet to hang clothes, small snacks to munch on. Offer a refreshing beverage, inquire how they are doing, what their plans are while they visit. Share what you had in mind to make the visit smooth and easy. I took to the whole concept whether lunch, dinner, evening or overnight stays.

THE UNINVITED GUEST

But then there came occasions when guests dropped in, rang the bell unannounced, or walked right in. “We’re such good friends I thought I could just “drop by.” I spent too much time being held hostage by unannounced and definitely at the wrong time visitors because I thought I had to continue “being nice.” I soon learned by the uncomfortable sensations in my stomach (anxiety), shoulder tension, headaches ( irritation, annoyance and other feelings moving along the negative feeling spectrum) that I needed to be prepared. I learned how to set boundaries and have a stock of polite phrases to limit time. Being nice to myself sometimes had to come first.

TIPS:

When you decide you have some time for that uninvited guest, here are some  tips: Welcome the uninvited visitor with a clear non-negotiable time frame that they will stay. Offering a seat is optional. Just as you might include on a written invitation, there’s a beginning and end, i.e., dinner 6:00-8:30 PM. Set the goal time of freedom from the “guest.”

When you know you have No Time: “Gosh, I wish I could talk but I have someplace I have to be in, oh no, ten minutes!” Do not answer the door. Lock the door. (same for phone calls- that’s why we have answering machines).

MY LATEST UNINVITED GUEST

About two months ago I had an uninvited guest. This guest invaded every part of my life and home. It turned my life upside down. At first I completely lost my bearings. I thought this guest might be here to stay forever.

The unwelcome guest was an ischemic stroke. I lost functioning of my right arm from shoulder to fingertips. (see “A Different Kind of Event” ) This sure was a supremely uninvited guest.

Taking That Path

IT’S WORKING

It’s now almost eight weeks and yes, it’s getting better, one day at a time. In the first three weeks it was one hour at a time. I made the decision to use all the gentle and not so gentle hints that there was no room for this uninvited guest.

I set a non-negotiable policy- do nothing to allow this guest to stay. Do everything to encourage space only for vibrant health, patience, positive thoughts.

DIET

Provide no food for this stroke- no sugar (one of the Flagstaff doctors talked  about a heart-healthy diet- “Strokes love sugar and caffeine because they weaken you and can nestle in to stay in those areas of your body.” So no sugar (not so easy for me), Good proteins, fiber, easy to fix yet tasty vegetable dishes, fresh fruit. No preservatives, No smoking, no alcohol (easy peasy for me – I quit both decades ago). Water water water. Neighbors and family stocked our refrigerator with chicken soup, beef stew, hot meals – thank you Sylvia, Lucy, Kathy, Kari, Eileen, Linda.

ENERGY

My stroke wanted sluggish activity, “poor me” thinking, and accepting a status quo ( “That’s just the way it is.”) Ha! Not here! Our home positively vibrates with good energy- Deva Primal chants, Pema Chödrön talks. Zooming with CSLT meditations and Nancy Leon’s FL Energy Meditation keep me “up” every day. Please never underestimate what a successful Rx positive messages are-  a short text from a friend that reminds me I’m a “warrior” nudges self-doubt away.

SUPPORT

Get support, even if it’s the trunk of a tree

Friends and stroke survivors/thrivers offered tips on everyday workarounds to save energy and keep my sense of humor- nap, rest, say no when you have to, get sunshine every morning, laugh, learn about strokes, ask questions, ask for help. Between online support groups, Zooming with other stroke survivors, laughing with friends, I am not isolated. The experiences of other people invite compassion for them, and for me. I’ve been a joiner for most of my life. I joined some groups because I like to learn new things, or I need to learn to survive. My path is my path, but I am not unique. So when I might be pulled towards fear I look and listen to others who are in that particular group and get my compass reset. Positive self-talk post-its are up again in my house (See Bumper Sticker Philosophy)

EXERCISE

I get daily exercise so this stroke won’t find a cushy place to take up space. My Physical Therapist, the wonderful Geneva Kaplan, personalizes exercises so I am “playing” tennis- well not with a racquet just yet but getting the spatial distance on the court and walking forward, back, side to side. Sometimes it’s “2 steps forward, 1 step back.” Also adaptable for future line dancing.

My stroke is finding out there is NO VACANCY here, and it feels fantastic!!! I don’t have to do this alone. Besides group friends, family and my husband, aka a National Treasure, I have a competent and accessible doctor, a knowledgeable neurology group, and a cardiologist who left me with this Rx the other day-  “LIVE LIFE.”

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a mic. 

 

 

A Different Kind of Event

Having an Event

When I was planning my very first book launch in 2008 a good friend said to me, “Don’t just have a book signing… have a book event.” 

“Huh?”

The spirit of his explanation was “A book signing is so functional, so utilitarian. But an event is… different. Think of the events in your life. Holiday celebrations, your first prom, graduations, a wedding, anniversaries, birthdays. Events elevate what happens above the mundane. Putting something in the event category makes it glorious rapturous exciting entertaining, noteworthy of great attention. Why not do that with your book?” 

From then on every time I planned anything to do with my book-publicizing, marketing, book talks, all so businesslike, I made it A Book Event. A Fall Writing Event. A Holiday Happening Event. It added to the attitude I had, the atmosphere of the event, and the success. Little did I know the most unexpected things can also be an event.

That first book launch event was held at a beautiful banquet room at a local hotel in New Jersey. The marquee usually announcing Happiness for Bob and Alisha or Welcome Baby Shannon, Or 75th Anniversary, was emblazoned with CONGRATULATIONS ETHEL! Introductions were made by a local celebrity. I swept in through the double doors of the banquet room. Confetti shot into the air from party poppers and drifted down like so much happiness. It was an event to be remembered. Hopefully this makes you think of events that happened in your life- wonderful, noteworthy events-and how you can create more.

A Different Kind of Event

On August 25 of this year I experienced a very different kind of an event. Some brain cells in my left frontal lobe decided to goof off. When I woke up that morning my right arm from shoulder to the very tips of my fingers was numb. Couldn’t wiggle/lift/move it. It flopped off the bed. This was not pins and needles.Try as I could staring and willing it to move. Nothing.  

A fleeting but quickly buried thought. You had a stroke. Denial immediately said, “No, maybe you just slept funny.” It wasn’t until I staggered into the bathroom and tried to wash my face, I realized I couldn’t lift my arm. Denial tried again by encouraging me to massage my arm vigorously, actually lifting it with my left hand and attempting the morning water splash on my face. The result was I slapped myself in the face. Stroke. I needn’t tell you all the details but feelings like anxiety, dread, fear, panic rushed through every part of my body except that right arm. I was triaged right through the intake and to ER. Technicians, nurses, doctors paraded in and hooked me up to machines. There were a series of tests that had letters EKG, MRI, CT and others. By then Denial had crept away in defeat.  

I had had a stroke. It was when an ER doctor came in to talk to me that I learned another name for it. 

“You have experienced a small cerebral vascular event. She called it an event. I started to laugh which maybe made her I think I had some real cognitive issues going on. 

“I’ve only thought of events as wonderful celebrations in my life, not anything like this.” 

She looked thoughtful. “Well, it’s possible that you can reframe the stroke from something horrible/scary/hurtful, into something that’s not entertaining, but certainly can be elevated to a level of importance in your life.” She had that right. It is and has been for the past month. I have been getting to know my stroke. At first I couldn’t sleep at nights with headaches and also because I thought it would happen again during my sleep. 

The medical care I received in Flagstaff Medical Center was extremely professional and compassionate. Medical advice began with REST REST REST. I’m beginning to understand this event. My mother and brother-in-law and friend had strokes. I’ve written stories about them. It’s not the same when it’s yours. As I have been accepting it, little by little the fear and panic have subsided. 

A Healing Event

Healing happens every day. I was told to keep a list of what’s different. I’m a master list maker. Each day I write a two-column list: 

What I Noticed Today: 

Yay!                 Different. 

100% recovery is expected. I put just as much time into changing this stroke event to a recovery event as I have with birthdays and book events. Yes, I’m planning a whole body healing. My daily routines of yoga, meditation, a whole food diet and daily exercise (gentle for now) are the foundation for recovery. This week I started PT and walking 20 to 30 minutes at a time. It gets kind of wobbly when I attempt something “new” and I cry often, but I add to that to my What I Noticed Today lists. And I’m surrounded by people (virtually and physically) who help me laugh. Each day is better and better. (That goes on the Yay! side). 

I am so grateful — it could have been lots worse. I have a beautiful safe house, medical insurance, neurologist, cardiologist, physical therapist- all are involved in treatment. My family and friends are so supportive and caring which sure affects physical and spiritual well-being. My Hank is wearing many hats of main caregiver, cook, shopper, chauffeur, reader, and retains his title of National Treasure. 

It may be a while ’til I post again but I want to close with this. A writing colleague, Mary Darling, wrote a lovely book titled The Charm Stories. I was saddened to learn she died this past March. 

This quote from her book is simple but powerful:  “I would like my granddaughter to understand even though life gives us unexpected traumas, it is okay if we take our time to muddle through…There is light at the end of our darkest tunnels, and life will continue to surprise us.” ~The Charm Stories by Mary Darling 

Yes, Mary, it is okay. I’m doing a slow but sure muddling, and finding my way.

Hope in a rainbow at Redemptorist Center

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a mic. 

Puzzling about Puzzles

COVID renewed my interest in jigsaw puzzles. After the smaller home project list was complete and I wanted something different, I remembered puzzles. My sisters and I did puzzles as little girls starting with 50 pieces, then “ooh 100 pieces.” We became more discerning moving up to 750 pieces, and then eye rolling and head shaking at anything less than 1000. 1000 pieces was where it was at. And so it has remained into adult life and pandemic home activities. 

I like doing puzzles. There’s something quiet and peaceful about it. It’s always colorful. Making things fit appeals. Having a finished product gives me a sense of accomplishment. In one of my early apartments, the one with orange crate boxes for book shelves, an interlocking 1000-piece puzzle of a snow-capped mountain scene complete with lake and fishing boats was my decorating accomplishment, hanging on the wall over my small sofa. 

Establishing a starting technique for doing a puzzle is a personal thing. When I taught little kids, I demonstrated ones I knew. The edge method, finding corners first. Or you could sort by colors. Noting the shape of a piece, loops or the empty space where a loop would fit. 

Getting into the heart of the puzzle, matching to the cover picture was a help. ”This piece will go somewhere along the top/bottom or on the left side/right side.” All excellent spatial relationship experiences. It was interesting to see which kids stuck with it, which kids sorted colors then left for other games, and which kids took a piece to hold onto ’til  the end, exclaiming, “I had the last piece. I finished it!”

Puzzlers, do you find that your beginning strategy is often influenced by where the puzzle will be laid out? The varnished wooden table at the vacation house at Lake George was big enough to spread out all 1000 pieces of the week’s endeavor. 

My friend A. has one table in her apartment. It serves as her work table, meal table, and puzzle table. She checks measurements first  for spacing. When complete, the edges are kept in a baggie for next time. “I have to do that first for space allotment,” she says. Makes sense.

Hank “doesn’t do puzzles,” but the island in our kitchen is my current puzzle table. He has to pass it to get food from the frig, clear the table, or go to the pantry for a snack. So he’s apt to stop by and peer at the whole setup. He’ll pick up one piece and put it in the exact right place. My puzzle ego is ruffled. “You’re kidding me, I’ve picked up that piece a million times (ego always calls for exaggeration) and it never fit.”

My friend CB does the edges, then leaves the rest for someone else. 

So during the height of the pandemic when we were home pretty much 24/7 except for the weekly out in the world loop to Safeway, Ace, and CVS, I  pulled out the stack of puzzles and began. By the time Thanksgiving 2020 came I had done all twelve of mine, was trading puzzles with A. (complete with edge pieces in a baggie), and lining up the Christmas and winter scene puzzles. Five of ‘em lasted quite a while.

 

Yes, it’s soothing and passes the time. Lots of time. On the recent bookstore puzzle I got the edges done and needed just a bit of time to do some sorting. Hank goes to bed. I’ve sorted colors, faces of seven, no eight people, maybe more. I can see where a certain section will fit just to the right of the girl in the striped shirt.. Maybe I’ll just do enough to get pieces to meet all the way across, kind of the like the forming of the First Transcontinental Railroad meeting at Promontory Summit, Utah. Activity or addiction? No matter, I’ve got to do it.

Sorting the laundry the other week, I found a puzzle piece in the pocket of a long-sleeved shirt. Which puzzle does it belong to? I haven’t worn that shirt in ages. It’s in a little plastic bag on the bulletin board. Someday I’ll find its home. Or A. will call me and ask about a missing piece.

My sister gifted me a Beatles puzzle depicting 100 Beatles songs. That’s our era! I know all these songs. Well yes, knowing the lyrics helps and there is a printed song list. But this puzzle was 3000 pieces and had lots of details. Finding corner pieces, sorting the edges, easy. Whoa, this sucker is four feet wide. I actually had to measure our kitchen island. The dining room table could be a fall back place but then we’d have to put in one of the extra leaves.  

A realization: I didn’t want to dedicate that much time to a puzzle. 3000 pieces is a lot of sorting, picking up, putting down, looking at pieces. A magnifying glass was in use far too often. Even my post-cataract surgery eyes couldn’t help with tiny details.

Dick at the puzzle table

I regifted it to our friend Dick. He’s got the edges done. Well, who wouldn’t? It’s a solid white frame for the whole puzzle. His table looks plenty big. It’s been about week since I got this photo of him. He has a determined look. The blurb on the puzzle box does say something about “Eight Days a week.” It’s time to check in and see how he’s doing.  I’ll let you know.

 

 

Comments welcome about your puzzle strategies, your most challenging, your most beautiful, your most satisfying puzzle. 

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a mic. 

More About Tables-A Writing Prompt

A Writing Prompt- only 4 steps.

1. List some possibilities:  List the tables in your house/tables where you’ve dined/work tables/holiday tables. Choose the top three that appeal because they were joyous, or tension-ridden, or just stick in your mind.

2. Pick one to write about. Write for half hour. Step away from the writing. Take a break. 5, 10 ,15 minutes. Go back and read. Revise or write more.

3. Expansion Possibilities: Who was at the table, your relationship to them. Where did people sit at the table-at the head? Next to someone? Same place every time? Why? Who talks? Who listens? Topics? Topics avoided? Why? What was the atmosphere? Feeling? How would you/will you change at the next table?

4. What will you do with this piece? Share it? Print it out and frame it with a photo of the table? Send it to someone? Tuck it away for another time?

Free Writing from My Table List

  • Eastside Writing Room – We have different tables as we rotate hostessing. The feelings of creativity, dedication and caring are present at each.

  • Book Launch- A room full of writing friends, neighbors, family to “welcome” a new book. Happy, joyous, grateful.  Lots of food and fun.

 

  • Teachers Room -Morning coffee held the hum of busyness. Lunch was teachers talking, bustling energy. Wednesday faculty meetings at 3:15 called for more coffee, munching the remaining birthday cupcakes or cookies from a 2nd or 3rd grader’s offering. Various supplies piled in the corner as silent witnesses. This small room held the aroma of old coffee and hard-boiled eggs from lunch. Teachers were creatures of habit, usually sitting in the same place. It was crowded but I always felt a sense of community.
  • Tables Tables Tables- Celebrity, Computers, Dessert, Presentation

  • Work Table – Any surface with four legs and a flat top where you can spread out your “stuff.”
  • Bedside Table Keep a note pad and pencil on your  bedside table. Million-dollar ideas sometimes strike at 3 A. M. ~ H. Jackson Brown, Jr.  Ideas at 3:00 AM – yes. Million dollar ideas — not yet.
  • Separate Tables – The peanut table at a school where allergic kids sat to be separated and safe from other food. Segregation for a “sanitary health” reason it may have been, but segregation nonetheless, which carried the subtle but harsh labeling it a much less desirable place until Henry came along, brought his own peanut-free lunch  and changed the “rules.” “I wanted to sit with my friend.”
  • Negotiating Tables – During my teaching career the tables where we met for hours and hours exuded an “us v. them” atmosphere with some room for compromise and occasional openings for pure agreement. It was stressful and yet provided a valuable space for learning about people. 
  • Puzzle Tables – Usually a card table with cereal bowls and cookie trays doubling as containers for categories like “the blues” which could be for the sky until you realize it’s also the blue of a lake.

A lot of ideas and feedback from folks about puzzles. Next post- Puzzling About Puzzles

A 1000 piecer

 

 

 

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a mic. 

Come Sit at My Table

Web Log

Short form of how the word “blog” came to be. Web log… became Weblog…  became Blog. 

My blogs usually run anywhere from 500-1200 words. This one was getting pretty long and I was having fun with it. It seems I’m still within the median length. According to HubSpot the ideal length for 2021 blogs is 2100-2400 words. The focus shifted as I wrote, so today is musings. Next blog- different kinds of tables and a writing prompt. Enjoy!

Thinking About Tables

My blog about Rina and our table talk got me thinking. How many tables have I set, decorated, sat at, gathered around? And why, with whom? 1 other person, 2, 5, 10, 30? Friends, strangers, family, a lover, boss, adversary, card players, artists, puzzlers, negotiators? 

 Shaqua Niequest’s quote seems to make a lot of sense: This is how the world changes, little by little, table by table, meal by meal, hour by hour. This is how we chip away at isolation, loneliness, fear. This is how we connect, in big and small ways – we do it around the table.

A table is not just a table. With more than half a century of table sitting in my life there’s a pretty long list of tables, accompanied by associated flashes of where it was, when that table figured in my life, how we used it, and the feelings the memory evokes.  Perhaps this will spark some memories of tables for you.

A Memory Lane of Tables

Dining Tables-Childhood

Merrick, Long Island, New York.  In our small dining room, the table held center court with a sideboard on one wall and hutch on the other, six chairs around, Dad’s chair at the head. We ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner there, celebrated holidays, dyed Easter eggs with newsprint laid over to protect the wood.It was a small but practical, functional table. Gathering there every day it was like sitting at a loom to weave our family.

Miller Place, Long Island, New York.  On the screened-in porch a large, round, heavy oak table weathered summer rains and humid August warmth where we ate breakfast, lunch, and most dinners. It also served as the site for card games of Go Fish, I Doubt it, and Canasta, and board games like Sorry and Parcheesi on rainy summer days. Clocks not consulted. Cozy. Quiet.

The picnic table in my childhood summer oasis in Miller Place was up a slight hill by the stone fireplace. The table was long and wooden, with one of those oilcloth coverings across it. Outside on weekend evenings I remember these as times of freedom and laughter, and eating as much corn, hamburgers, hot dogs, pie, and grapes as we wanted. 

The conversation whipped gaily around the table like rags in a high wind. ~ Margaret Halsey

Flushing, New York.  The Christmas holiday table at our Aunt Ruth and Uncle Rob’s home was the first I remember as being “elegant.” Covered with a soft white linen tablecloth and “real” cloth napkins, heavy silverware, glass goblets, everything seemed to sparkle. A platter of turkey and stuffing, and one of ham, with vegetables, and later on, pies. An occasion where it was the norm to have seconds, maybe thirds. 

Young Adult – Changing Tables

West Caldwell, New Jersey.  Kay and Andy Ball’s Thanksgiving table is a memory as one of the most comfortable tables filled with relatives, travelers, neighbors. Food, the aromas of turkey and apple pie wafting throughout the entire first floor of the house. Maybe this sounds cliché, but apple pie and love are woven together from that memory with my chosen family. 

It isn’t so much what’s on table that matters, as what’s on the chairs. ~ W. S. Gilbert 

New York City, NY.  My first husband Malachi refinished a dining room set with a huge table, sideboard, and hutch. He led me to the basement of the brownstone where we rented a one-bedroom apartment with a ta-da flourish. 

I was happily surprised but practical. “But we have no room for it.” 

His reply. “We will.”

Less than a year later we had moved to West End Avenue with more room and a spacious dining room. Most Wednesdays Mal had dinner on the table when I got home from teaching and had to dash off for a dance lesson. “You need energy for class,” he’d say. After he died I reluctantly gave away the whole set. I moved from our big apartment in the city to a tiny apartment with no room for a dining room set. I like to think the new owners sensed they were receiving a table made with love.

The New Millennium Tables

Fine Dining in New York City.   Have you ever been to Picholine in NYC? Opened in 1993 on New York’s E. 64 St. Picholine served incredible French-Mediterranean meals. Subdued colors, sounds, aromas. This wasn’t a” let’s go eat” restaurant. It was “We’re dining at Picholine.” It seemed like a server was at the ready for each of us enjoying a pre-theater meal before Opera at the Met. Truly only a memory since it closed in 2015. Oh, so special.

Dining at Home.  The dining room table Hank and I bought twenty-one years ago moved with us from New Jersey to Tucson Arizona. It’s a breakfast, dinner, buffet, Thanksgiving, birthdays, eating and gathering table. Hank and I have our financial meetings there. It’s also our daily spiritual table where we have morning coffee, read, and talk.

 

That same dining room table doubled as the Scrivener’s Writing Table in New Jersey where writers gathered each week for nine years; now it’s the Eastside Writing Room table each Tuesday in Tucson, and an art table three hours once a month for artists drawing, quilling, sewing, making cards, doodling. 

Our small wooden table and two-chair set in the Lincoln Park NJ kitchen nook is the same table today in our Tucson nook. A crystal bowl of Angel Cards sits there for daily choosing. The nook table was the inauguration of Hank’s kindness campaign. Kindness and love, still there.

I want to wake up with you beside me in the mornings. I want to spend my evenings looking at you across the dinner table. I want to share every mundane detail of my day with you and hear every detail of yours. I want to laugh with you and fall asleep with you in my arms. ~ Nicholas Sparks

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a mic. 

The Table at My Writing Retreat

A “Seed” Story

The idea was planted while sitting at an almost empty table. The story was watered with the conversation between two people at either end of the table, and blossomed with revisiting that very same place. 

 A  Different Kind of Writing Retreat

My solitary writing retreat was very different this year. The Redemptorist Renewal Center in Tucson Arizona dining room was empty, the usually sumptuous cafeteria counters were covered with long white cloths, empty underneath. 

The meals for the few of us who were there were “plated” — entree, veggies, salad, soups, utensils, little salt/pepper packs already dished out and covered, with a small name tag waiting to be picked up by the retreatants. 

Different. No lines of people chatting like my autumn retreat had been as we shuffled along toward the mecca of multiple choices of steaming, delicious food. 

The last day of this year’s retreat the refrigerator in the dining room that stored the meals conked out. No plated meals in sight. Bummer. But one of those bummers that became a serendipitous thing. I tapped tentatively on the door to the kitchen (employees only) to find my meal. 

A Pleasant Reacquaintance

A dark-haired petite woman was standing at the huge stove, her back to me. When she turned around I felt a flash of recognition mixed with pleasure. 

Several years earlier just around Mother’s Day I got to know her. 

It was a similar retreat in that there were few people. Not during the pandemic. It was just a slow time. No groups had scheduled retreats and there were only two or three other solitary sojourners. 

I had waited until near the end of dinner hour because I was into silence for that particular writing retreat. 

One of the dining room staff was sipping coffee at the end of the long table. All the tables are long, wooden, and gleam with polish. I sat at the opposite end. It was like the formal dining set-ups I’ve seen in movies. 

I broke my self-imposed silence and called a hello down the table to her. I don’t know how we started. Maybe it was “These tables are gorgeous and huge. My family could fit around one small end of it.”

A Conversation About Tables?

She got right into it. Her family was large. This could have been a conversation about tables. But it was really about family. “Will you be with your family on Mother’s Day? I hope you won’t be cooking here.”

“I will be with my family.”

“I will be home with my husband. Most of our family is back East and my older sister and her husband usually host holiday meals. They will put the leaf in the table expanding it to hold many more dishes than usual and give enough room for everyone to sit.“ A sense of yearning for family might have crept into my voice.  

“I will go to my family’s.” Her childhood family sometimes had fifty people on special occasions! Her father always sat at the head of the table. “It’s different  today-the kids are adults. They grow up and move away. They have their children. They can’t always come back home.” She sounded wistful about this. Her memories of her childhood table seemed sweet and deeply steeped in safety and love. I had a picture in my head as she talked. 

buffet table dishes of vegetables, salads

They gathered around long tables, shared food, smells, tastes. I could imagine the sounds mixed in with my own childhood memories. The clinking of utensils, clattering of dishes, the glug, glug, glug of wine pouring into glasses, maybe the sound of a glass dropping and breaking. 

Voices — the high-pitched babble of little kids, deeper male voices, female laughter that rose above it all in harmony. We both smiled at our memories. 

Family Summer BBQ Miller Place 1956

 

Family July 4th Virginia 2019

Seeing her again after several years was more than a visual; it also brought back the nostalgia for tables that held that sometimes noisy love, safety, and abundance for me. As she took out my name-labeled plate and turned to give it to me, we both smiled. Actually I think I was grinning.
“I remember you.”

“I remember you too.” 

“We had the family table talk.”

She nodded. 

“I’m a writer and wanted to write about your table. May I?”

“Yes.”

“I feel like know you and yet I never asked your name. It didn’t seem necessary then because … I felt I knew you. But now I want to write my story and send it to you.”

“Rita. Rita Nunier.”

This then, Rita Nunier, is for you. Thank you for meeting me at the table, sharing stories, and cooking at the Redemptorist Renewal Center. Note: My friend’s name has been changed.

Next up. Different Tables Hold More Than Food

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a mic. 

 

Odyssey Storytelling-We’re Back-Live!

If you’ve heard rumors of an in-person Odyssey event, it’s true. After more than a year of Zooming to stay connected, we’re taking baby steps to be totally back! 

YOU’RE INVITED!!!
 A special evening of food, fun, the August Show, a pool, & friends – in person!

WHAT: A Post-Pandemic Pool Party & Fundraiser
WHEN: Saturday, August 21   6:00-10:00 PM
WHERE: At the home of Roscoe Mutz, our curator for the August “Wasted” show.
WHY: Because we can, and we need to see each other from head to toe 

HOW MUCH: $21.00. Registration required. Patreon members- Your current membership gets you in free. Of course, donations are accepted.
Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/odyssey-wasted-a-special-pool-party-fundraiser-event-tickets-165077807165 

**Bring a lawn chair for show time. Street parking. Safety: masks are optional for vaccinated folks but we ask that you social distance. Event will be strictly outdoors.

AND WHAT DOES THAT GET YOU?:  Entry, food, 2 free drinks, swimming in the pool, the live August show, Odyssey mask, and seeing each other. More to come, but isn’t this enough to get you started?

Get out those shorts, pants, bathing suit, tops, and find those sandals or sneakers ( the good ones, not the house stuff you’ve gotten used to wearing for 16 months). We’re ready!!!  All we need is you!

Ana Montañez, Executive Producer Odyssey Storytelling
Become a Patreon member today: https://www.patreon.com/odysseystorytelling
stories@odysseystorytelling.com