The Writing Life

Hybrid’s the Word

The Eastside Writing Room

Big News: Hybrid’s the Word!


We had our first hybrid meeting in almost a year! In-person at my house and on Zoom! There’s something very special about in-person energy that is inspiring. We’ll be scheduling one hybrid a month along with our weekly Tuesday Zoom. Writing energy abounds!

Bits and Bobs:

News Bits: 

  • Sunday May 8 AZ Daily Star:  A self-publishing article featured Wheatmark president Sam Henrie. Bee Bloeser and I have used Wheatmark for publishing our books. The biggest advantages I found were their accessibility for in-person meetings being located in Tucson ( 2030 E Speedway Blvd  Ste 106 Tucson AZ) Also they have a very credible rep and history of delivering good products since 1999. Here’s the link to the story. Arizona Daily Star
  • Mercury Retrograde- We’re there now. This came in my daily Lit Hub   https://lithub.com  but is a reprint from Harper’s 

Creative bits today:

Four of us met in person and six Zoomers joined us. We consider the Eastside Writing Room a national group now since former EWR Tucsonans have moved to California, Oregon, Maine, and Vermont. Zooming  is a must to keep us all together. Every Tuesday 11:00 AM AZ time. Contact Ethel if you are interested in getting in on that creative energy.

Keep on writing!

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her 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. 

8 Months Post-stroke

April 30,2022

Over the past two weeks I had several medical check-ups and I was the recipient of some really nice compliments. I’ve always loved compliments. Am I needy? Vain? Quite possibly, but these days I don’t try to  figure out the root of this love. I accept all positive observations with a huge smile. 

The positive feedback I got was not about my glowing skin, or sparkling eyes, or shiny glossy hair. That seems superficial stuff. What I got was “you have the blood pressure of a young person” “weight of a healthy woman—for your age,” “EKG heart rate is normal” (I love being normal). “Oxygen 95%, that’s very OK.”

Eight months out from my stroke in August 2021 and I’m getting stronger. My stamina is much better. I can now filter out extraneous noises and enjoy eating out at restaurants without a cacophony of dishes clattering or conversations echoing loudly in my head. Music playing at a party moved me to dance instead of covering my  ears and feeling really shaky. 

My brain cells are busy, busy, busy — “busy exploring, learning, moving around and engaged in more sophisticated interactions and play.” Lifted that from a child development link describing an eight-month old baby. Makes sense. I’m dealing with some eight-month old cells and brain pathways. My brain cells have ceased being on strike or whining “I don’t wanna” as they did during some physical or language therapy sessions. Some days they are in the zone and make that coffee without hesitation as to what happens first. They send signals to my arms, legs, and torso to move in coordination and “swiftly” when Hank and I walk in the park. 

This was confirmed by those doctors’ comments. I felt a sense of well-being . The newer brain cells from my new Neuroplasticity Family were up there in the left frontal lobe preening, high fiving each other with their little brain hands, and nodding knowingly to each other. “Oh yeah, we got this.”

Hank and I are playing tennis on weekends. My serves have improved- they are actually
very good; backhand returns—great. 

But because they are my brain cells they sometimes test the waters and resist transferring some commands into actions. 

Ex.: Hank’s return is a short lob just over the net. I see it. My brain gets the message. Send energy to the quadriceps to move fast; get her up there to the net. The brain Team Supervisor is on it: “Quads, go go go!” The nerve Messenger Associate that is supposed to shoot down to the quads has only just completed Basic Transfer Training 1.0 and has not been to Rapid Transfer 2.1, so as I’m moving up to the net, the ball has mockingly bounced—twice. 

Flipside of this—there’s much more coordination with messages getting through from the area that controls emotions. Soon, about a minute after the missed lob, I receive the message: Use the Triple S technique — stop, shrug, smile. 

laptop with writing and coffee mugHow fortunate and grateful I am to be able to share my journey by writing about it.

Life is Good.

 

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her 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. 

My Mother’s Beauty

Thinking of Mom and mothers …

My Mother’s Beauty

I don’t think anyone ever said of my mother that she was “a beauty.” A childhood photo when she was nine shows a slender and almost delicate girl on pointe in a perfect ballet tutu and pose. Her face is serious. Photos from her teen years show a serious pensiveness–no smile, but no frown either. Was she always serious? Perhaps this was before the era of family events that are always being marked by photo opps and parents’ admonitions to “smile.”

Love Creates Beauty

Mom and Dad 1942

Photos with my dad early in their marriage remind me of two kids having fun together- and in love.

When my mother was raising children in the expected full-time-mom era, the words I ascribed to her were serious, strong, determined. She was determined her three girls would be accomplished, and achieve all she set out for them. The few times I remember her dressed up she was still tall and proud in dresses that swished when she walked. 

Aging Beauty

The day I noticed her beauty was a cold, gray winter morning in 2004 when I walked into Regency Gardens Nursing Residence. By then her children were grown, even her grandchildren were grown, and she had been a merry widow until a stroke slowed her down in 2002. 

Winter sunlight coming in a window holds none of the frigidness of a Northeast winter, only a softer light. Sitting in her wheelchair by the window, both feet, now in permanent retirement, were propped on the footrest. Her hair was a silver halo. Something like peace seemed to surround her.

Coming a few steps into her room, my view of her shifted like a camera on a dolly curving around and in on its model. Her stroke-affected right arm curled up and into her chest at the elbow as if her hand was like an infant wanting to be close to its mother. Her left hand supported her chin. Her face was at rest. A small oval face, pale, held up by an arthritic and age-spotted hand.  

She turned and a smile, small and slow, embraced her face. She was beautiful. It was almost as if her face got lighter, not more pale, but suffused with a light like when the sun comes from behind a cloud and the shadow it has cast slides away. Her head tilted a little to the side as she looked at me. “I didn’t think anyone was coming to visit today.” And because my heart filled with love, she was even more beautiful. 

Happy Mother’s Day!

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her 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. 

 

Where Will You Be in 25 Years?

My husband Hank, a.k.a. the National Treasure, reads several online newspapers each morning. He often sends me links to things we’ve talked about, or that strike him as newsworthy of sharing. 

He forwarded an article to me about a woman who was 109 and died last week on March 24. Living to be 109. That in itself is pretty amazing and something that certainly calls for introspection about aging. The additional information that might have caught the eye of the editorial board at the New York Times was that she was the world’s oldest blogger. 

Think about it. Someone born over a century ago was blogging. writing about her life, living fully and positively, as her blogs attest. And she didn’t start blogging until she was 99, after she took a computer course. 

4 Musings:

  • Living to be 109
  • Being a lifelong learner and taking a course to learn something new at 99
  • Taking what you’ve learned and using it with something you enjoy 
  • Affecting thousands of people in a positive way with this “new” learning

The World’s Oldest Blogger

The woman was Dagny Valborg Eriksson. Carlsson. She was born in Sweden in May 1912, the eldest of five siblings. She was a factory worker, and worked for the Swedish Social Insurance Company. She became passionate about cancer research when her second husband died of cancer in 2004.

The computer course offered her a new option for learning and sharing life. She was known to be straightforward, and spread the message that age should not limit happiness. 

The article was intriguing and I spent quite a bit of time on Bojan’s blog (thank you Swedish to English translations). Dagny Carlsson  blog   Bojan 

“I’m a tough aunt, who likes most things. It can be an opera, but it is also enough with ordinary conversations about both fun and difficult things. I like the fun the most. They say I have a sense of humor and am a little straightforward. Humor may mean that things do not have to be taken too seriously and you can sometimes benefit from it when things get complicated.”   BLOGGA MED MIG! Dagny Carlsson

“I get self-fulfillment when I write,” Ms. Carlsson told Al Jazeera Media Network in a 2017 documentary. “Better late than never.”

Heroes

Add Ms. Carlsson to my list of heroes who I have only met through the printed word-Maya Angelou, Thich Nhat Hanh, Morrie Schwartz, Pema Chödrön, Pat Conroy,  Muhammad Ali.

Wait, I did meet Ali in 1976 on a plane coming home from Puerto Rico. He strolled back from First Class talking with everyone in the way back of Coach. I was starstruck, snapped lots of photos with my little Kodak Instamatic camera, only to find later I had not put in a new roll of film.

I digress.

Some Life Learning Recaps

I’m in my 8th decade of living and learning. Ms. Carlsson had me doing a bit of life recaps:

20s: Graduated Wagner College, began a fulfilling 28 year-career teaching at Washington School, W Caldwell NJ

 

 

couple with woman smiling at man40s: Met and married the National Treasure

 

 

50s: Retired from teaching and began life skills counseling and public speaking. Learned to tap dance at 50 (Thank you, Rogers Dance Center, NJ)

 

 

60s: Published first book at 61. Also started blogging in 2008. Moved cross-country New Jersey to Arizona. 

 

 

70s: Got through two rounds of shingles; lived and experienced life during a pandemic, published and had fun with marketing my books in Arizona.

Now halfway thru my 70s: I have the experiences of celebrating 150 years together with my Finn, my twin Eileen, and living and loving Hank for 32 years. All of the above aid me in surviving and learning about how the brain works following a mild stroke. And still, life is good.

What’s Ahead

I admit I’m on the down side of the mountain as far as chronological age goes. I’m shooting for 25 more years. What a fantastic ride it has been, is, and will be. Out there on the  horizon I see another book, traveling again in the US and Europe, zip lining, line dancing again, more blogging, and…

I too, get fulfillment when I write. Right here, right now-feeling really good-happy joyous, free-and blogging about it.

What have you learned that has served you well in life?

Where will you be and what will you be learning in 30 years?

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her 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 7th Inning Stretch

Seven months out from my stroke. The predictions of medical folks back in August 2021 seem very realistic. Most days I feel like me. Hiking, tennis, eating out, planning traveling, seeing friends, planning visits, driving, cooking, making lists, reading, writing. I have a sense of adventure to try new things. I can do them — and just a little bit longer, and go a bit farther without extreme fatigue. 

There are still some “glitches.” Usually I can figuratively look at them and say, “Ah, there you are.” Some of those growing brain cells are either taking a coffee break, out at the training session, or sleeping in their little brain hammocks. Easy does it, Ethel. It’s spring. It’s beautiful here in Tucson.

The 7th Inning Stretch

The other day there was an ad on TV for tickets to baseball spring training up in Goodyear Arizona. I remember my Dad was a baseball fan. I don’t know if he ever got to a game in person. But he and my older sister would watch on tv — she avidly getting into the runs, hits, and errors. The numbers were confusing to me even then. But when the 7th inning came-that caught my attention. After the top of the 7th, all the people sitting in bleachers would stand up, take a break, stretch their arms and legs, maybe walk around, get a drink, then sit, and the game resumed. It was the 7th inning stretch, a baseball tradition dating back to the 1860’s.

That’s it. I’m in my 7th Inning Stretch. I’m 7 months post-stroke. I do daily language and memory exercises, physical balance, aerobic, and stamina workouts. I’m devouring books about the brain and brain injuries. It’s tiring. I need time to stretch and relax. Yoga, getting my body and feet out on the earth, listening to Deva Premal, or a Thich Nhat Hanh CD, taking a nap, meditating are ways I relax.

A Different Kind of Stretch

When I resume my brain recovery work, I also stretch in other ways. I did 100 ab exercises yesterday; do 150 today. Do more than you think you can. Make phone calls; make those repeated phone calls to get insurance information. Write it down. Don’t give up.

Sometimes it’s a stretch. A stretch emotionally to deal with surprises. A stretch mentally to learn new strategies to deal with the confusion that comes with loud noises, more than one conversation in a group, or changes in plans. A stretch physically. “Use it or lose it” has kept me exercising regularly for years. What I’ve added to that is “Use it and improve it.” 100’s, 1000’s of repetitions help me remember how to make coffee, or make a quiche easily without a lots of gaps of remembering. Working out strengthens me physically.

Strategies for Awareness, Surprises, Confidence

Awareness

Training strategies for awareness- I slow down my pace of speaking and walking. Pause before entering a room. Where’s the quietest table to sit? Where’s the restroom? Pausing before speaking sometimes means the conversation has progressed to the next topic. If it seems important to respond, I feel comfortable saying, “I need to go back to the thing about Italy/or salad/or exercise.” 

Surprises

A strategy from my speech language pathologist helps ground me if I have a surprise change in plans or get overwhelmed by a sudden noise, or sounds around me.  Use the five senses. Go somewhere by yourself – a hallway, outside, the restroom, your car. Sit if possible. Think of 5 things you can see. Say them out loud. 4 things you feel/are touching. Say them out loud. 3 things you can hear. 2 things you smell and 1 thing you can taste (may not be applicable). It works. I usually feel more grounded, less shaky.


Confidence 

There’s a scene in Legally Blonde where the law professor asks a question. The always-prepared student’s hand shoots up. She calls on him. He answers in a strong, factual voice. 

She pauses and looks at him. “Are you sure?” 

It’s a huge lecture hall filled with students. 

He replies, “Yes?” But there’s that self-questioning in his voice. 

She tilts her head and moves closer to him. “Would you stake your life on it?” 

Well, in my case it would have been, um, no, wait, maybe. 

Second guessing has been an issue in my stroke. Not in basic facts but in what I felt, wanted to do, remembered from a conversation. So during memory recall exercises my brilliant language pathologist would do that head tilt thing and ask, “Are you sure?” Oh, Jeez. Um, yes, wait, no, maybe.

Today I am usually 100% there during conversations, remembering things so I can say “yes” to that question. Then I go home and take a nap.

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her 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. 

 

Where Will You Be in Six Months?

THE 6 MONTHS QUESTION

Cary Grant (one of the classic Hollywood leading men from the 1930s-1960s) once asked: Where will you be in 6 months?

This seems a logistical question if asked of someone who’s going on a trip, or simply out of curiosity. In Cary’s case, it was his film character Nicky Ferrante, asking Terry McKay (Deborah Kerr) to meet him in six months to begin their life together. In the 1959 film An Affair to Remember it took  a bit more than six months for them to get it together. In 1993 the take-off on that whole “meet me…” scene was repeated in Sleepless in Seattle which brought renewed popularity to An Affair to Remember.

THEN

If someone asked me that question six months ago, my answer then would have been hugely different from what I know now. I would have answered quite casually, “I’ll be enjoying the end of winter. In Tucson March is often very sunny, with temps in the 70°s and 80°s. It’s a time Tucsonans often call ‘living in paradise.’ Oh, I’ll also be hiking and playing tennis — maybe both on the same day. I’ll be planning a trip back East with a road trip up the coast from Virginia to New England visiting family and friends. I’ll be dancing wherever Connie B and Little House of Funk are playing. I’ll also be celebrating 150 years with my twin sister. We’ll celebrate by — well, pretty much however we want. It’s easy to decide.” Freedom, energy, open options, happiness, good health.

STROKE

Then on August 25 I had a stroke. I’ve written about the onset previously so I’m jumping to about a week after. The absolute numbness of absorbing the fact that, yes, I had a stroke, faded. I felt relief, and a certain happiness in the daily realization  that I could walk, talk, eat by myself, and write. Not easily, certainly at a slow pace, but I was doing it. I looked at my arms, legs, eyes, mouth, ears, face adoringly. I patted my head gently each morning. “OK, Eth, here we go.” A switch flipped. I’m gonna be ok. 

Each day I journaled how I felt, what was better, along with what happened that was different, surprising, and scary. Over the weeks the Better/OK list was gaining on the Different list. Eventually the Better surpassed Different. The Different became OK. Along the way I envisioned running, speaking at a storytelling event, playing tennis, running, dancing, sleeping all night, no painful headaches. I repeated a phrase to myself about how once you grab onto an idea and ‘see’ it over and over again in your head, it’s already happened in your spirit. 

NOW

Meet me at Mt. Lemmon

On February 25, 2022, I passed the six-month marker out from my “mild” stroke and the whole assorted baggage that came with it. My life is certainly far different from what I ever imagined. No hiking AND tennis, no road trip up the East coast, no living spontaneously. Decisions get made but not quite as easily as before August 25, 2021. 

But happiness and good health? Yes! I’ve had excellent medical care, a huge amount of love and support- online, in-person, snail mail from family, and visits with friends. I have brilliant, I mean that, therapists who are helping me reclaim life activities as before my stroke. 

WHAT’S DIFFERENT and OK

My energy level is less, so I meditate more. I plan how long I can be in an activity, so no more rushing around. It’s easier to be patient and compassionate with people-who knows what interior battles they are waging? And I am easier with myself (85%?). I have retired that cape of Superwoman. I am writing, playing tennis, dancing (with Hank in the living room), and planning a June trip East to one location only. March 1 my twin and I began our birthday month celebration.

Everyone’s stroke recovery is different. It’s an equal opportunity disease and the #5 cause of death in the US. So yeah, like Nick and Terry, the execution of my 6-month plan is not exactly what I thought. But I’m here, having better and better days, many of them great days. Life is good.

Hope in a rainbow

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her 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. 

As the Love Month Closes

Thoughts

I like to see love as an inclusionary concept. I want to sweep in all the people, places, and things I’ve said I love. That ranges from loving sweet potatoes, Simon Birch, reading, the beach, desert, mountains, other beautiful places in nature, my dancing, hiking, writing and storytelling friends, my friends of history, loving memories of people who have died, my family, to my life partner. I’m connected to all of them in some way, with varying degrees of emotions. 

Other Folks’ Thoughts on Love

  • Everybody loves something, even if it’s just tortillas. ~ Trungpa Rinpoche
  • I love you not only for what you are but for what I am when I am with you…I love you for the part of me that you bring out… I love you for ignoring the possibilities of the fool and weakling in me, and for laying firm hold of the possibilities of good in me… You have done it all by being yourself. ~ Ray Croft
  •  Zing went the strings of my heart.  ~ James Hanley. 1934 song
  •  It was a million tiny little things that, when you added them all up, they meant we were supposed to be together… and I knew it. ~ Tom Hanks, Sleepless In Seattle
  •   Family faces are magic mirrors. Looking at people who belong to us, we see the past, present, and future. ~ Gail Lumet Buckley

young boys and girls wearing white robes and angel wings over jeans and scuffed sneakers. A girl fixing the crown of another girl

 

Tough to Love

Then there’s those I disagree with, get irritated with, people whose actions alarm or scare me. It’s hard to love them. The love towards them is often a seed, a wish for peace which requires nourishing very regularly, to realize an attachment because we are part of this great mass of sometimes sweet, sometimes messy humanity. Reading about compassion, listening to people, being curious helps to grow the seed. I hold this close to me: that everyone desires to belong and be safe. 

And then there are all those friends I haven’t met yet. Maybe one of them is that person who yesterday scared me because of something that stopped me from seeing them as that friend I hadn’t met yet.

  Love is, of all passions, the strongest, for it attacks simultaneously the head, the heart, and the senses. ~ Lao Tzu

Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone; it has to be made like bread, remade all the time and made new. ~ Ursula LeGuin

  Too much of a good thing is wonderful. ~ Mae West

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. 

Play With It – Part 2

We only have to choose to view an activity as play. Immerse ourselves in it. Think not of the goal. Think not of what someone has told you about the rules of this game/activity/hobby. Simply play.

Learning by playing

“Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.” ~ Kay Redfield Jamison 

When I taught young children, I held fast to the credo, “Play is a little one’s work.” They played with Cuisinaire rods; they played with big wood blocks; they played with pattern blocks. Second graders “played’ with money at a store I set up in the classroom. We had managers, cashiers, salespeople, a bank. Each student got a week’s pay and learned about budgeting, saving, and often “impulsive spending.”

Today I’m a taller, bigger “kid.” I know I need time to play. Having a specific time to play with no deadline to get it done lets my creativity simmer and bubble and erupt into a not so perfect idea. Hmm. This could work!

Essays and meditations in The Thich Nhat Hanh Collection suggest having an easy, relaxed “enjoy this moment” attitude for anything-walking, washing dishes, fixing something. Playing does work. 

Many years ago I had a very active wiggly kindergartener in the class of naturally active five year olds. Let’s call him Jimmy. When the spirit moved him, Jimmy would bounce up out of his little chair or up off the carpet. “I go play now. I see you later,” and he’d make a beeline for the hall. Jimmy needed to play first. For him it meant he had to MOVE. And so off he went. We did work out safer strategies,  (What teacher of young kids doesn’t know “Jello in a Dish”?) But young Jimmy was definitely on to something there. Play.

“Creative people are curious, flexible, persistent, and independent with a tremendous spirit of adventure and a love of play.” ~ Henri Matisse

When I’m in collaboration with someone who accepts all early ideas and actually goes with it, our process is not only safe and fun, it’s creative and successful. We called it piggybacking with kids in school. It works with anything. 

Brainstorming. Now there’s a word. If it’s all allowed, no boundaries (other than physical and emotional safety) you can really have some fun. And no headaches or fears of rejection. 

“Play is training for the unexpected.” ~ Marc Bekoff

Climbing trees, sledding down a hill, messing around with clay or pottery, making a collage, playing with words-all prep for life. Even watching a teenage girl kissing her boyfriend had my sister and me wondering how they knew which way to tilt their heads. We always bumped chins when we play-acted. Many childhood activities trained me for the big world out there – rock climbing, skiing, creating a work of art, writing a story, giving a speech, sharing my heart. 

“There is for many a poverty of play.” ~ D.W. Winnicott 

While on a weekend with women friends, we danced, braided each other’s hair  (some of us had extremely short hair styles), sang at the top of our lungs in the rowboat late at night, and laughed until our jaws ached. I wondered how people felt who never had that kind of play.

Another friend of a certain age confided, “I never learned how to play.” She seemed to feel she was too old to learn. She had filled her life with serious activities that she loved or — well, who knows? She was a voracious reader, a whiz at crossword puzzles, laughed watching others play but gave a brief wave of the hand “No, no I’ll just watch” to invitations to join the group. That was as far as she got in entering her playground. 

“Children who play creatively find multiple uses for objects. They can transform a blanket into a tent one day and a cave the next. A stick can be a magic wand, a sword, a lightsaber, or a mast for a schooner.” ~ Susan Linn. 

Remember Whose Line is It Anyway? One game was to demonstrate alternative uses for an object-outside of its conventional use. We’ve done this at parties, in groups. It’s always good for a laugh.

A guy I know entertained me at a diner by using every object on the table as something else while we waited for our food. It happened at a time when I was pretty down in the dumps. Very much in the dumps. I laughed like I hadn’t in months. Think of Fred Klett, Sinbad at his best, Gilda Radner. Better yet, don’t think. Just play.

Our brains are built to benefit from play no matter what our age.” ~ Theresa A. Kestly  

So in today’s Zoom culture and pandemic, where it’s “here comes another variant,” I think play takes on an even more important dimension. Playing leads to laughing, hugging (well, virtually) and ways to laugh, smile, wave, sing, hum, do a happy dance. Some folks are learning to exaggerate facial expressions from the top of the nose up-waggling of eyebrows, hand signals, head bobbing. Play with it. 

If outright play doesn’t come easy, watch some movies or You Tube clips that make you smile, make you want to dance, make you want to play.

Set your intention to play more, to be freer, no feedback, no rules (other than self and other safety).

A LITTLE EXTRA: SOME IDEAS THAT WORK FOR ME:

WARM-UPS

Watch Young Frankenstein ( I know it’s old, but it’s a gem)

You Tube:

Old Movie Stars Dance to Uptown Funk   

Chinese Group Shuffle Dance 

(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher – Jackie Wilson – Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth HD .

Buzz and the Dandelions https://www.digitaltrends.com/movies/funniest-youtube-videos/

Google arts  https://artsandculture.google.com/project 

Twin Babies Laughing

The Otters: River Otters Tilly and BC Frolic

Check out The Way of Play  by Victor Shamas Ph.D., Act On Wisdom pub.

THEN TAKE ACTION

Ride your bike.

Walk, skip, jog, run.  

Think lovely thoughts.

Play, sing, make music.

Smile. Giggle. Laugh. Guffaw. 

Give away something you love.

Try tai chi, sitting or walking meditation.

Climb a tree, shake a tree after the rain.

Play tennis, pickle ball, volleyball, basketball.

Paint, make greeting cards, send photos to friends. 

Change your profile photo on Zoom. Make it unusual. 

Play “ha-ha” with some people in your pandemic pod. 

Jump in the water-filled washes on the Catalina trails.

Practice some dance steps waiting on line at Safeway.

Choose to smile at everyone (even behind the mask).

Puzzle it out: jigsaw, crossword, Sudoku™, scrambled words.

Do something in a totally different way from what you are used to.

Go on a picnic with someone (s) you really like/love. Bring delicious food. 

Watch and listen to young children at a playground, away from “the adults.”

People watch. Create a bio for people you see in the park, at the supermarket. 

Create your own holiday-the date, theme, song, costume, food, opening ceremony. 

Exaggerate something that happened to you in an over-the-top positive way. Write it down. Read it to someone.

Go on a mystery outing. One person plans, decides, sets time parameters, date, equipment needed, clothing required. Off you go! (Thank you, Penelope Starr).

Add more here…

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. 

Just Play With It- Part 1

LET’S PLAY

A group of young kids ( 7-8 year-olds) are watching a video. I’m watching them. All of them are staring with that totally absorbed look. Faces relaxed. Mouths slightly open. Eyes unblinking. Some with a half-smile. Some grinning and wiggling. Is it a goofy cartoon character bopping another over the head with an oversized mallet, a falling down clown? Nope. 

It’s a bunch of otters floating, twirling, and sliding down a riverbank. I imagine I see those otters are smiling too.

“In their downtime, though, otters love to play and will often build themselves slides along the banks of rivers.” ~ Mentalfloss.com

And now this: “We are the otters of the human world.” (Wish I could remember where I read or heard this, but it sure makes me smile).

“WORK FIRST, THEN PLAY”

Line that quote up alongside an often repeated phrase from childhood. “Work first, then play” and it’s… an interesting mix. How many times did I hear that in my life? “Work first, then play” made its appearance in childhood, was my constant companion throughout college, got hardwired into my work ethic, and marched along with me throughout several careers. The edict took such a firm hold that the echos were there during just about any activity: Hike, then have snack. Clear the table, then watch tv. Make the bed, then go read. 

My falling into a excessive and harmful interpretation of those words led to an attitude that life was tough – you must EARN your reward. Work first, then play. Sometimes the work was never done. I was screwed.

I spent quite a few years – and bucks — on expanding the meaning of balance, and shifting the scale of “work first, then play” into Work and Play. Much to my astonishment I discovered Work is Play. I don’t have to do…       I have the opportunity to… or Hey, I get the chance to… 

JUST PLAY WITH IT

My Apple Genius, who I had fun writing about in Seedlings, “Not My Tribe,” encouraged me to go home and play with my new laptop — i.e., see what happens if you press this key or several together. He called it play. My website guru also encourages the “play with it” technique. In the early days of building my website we established the basics of the layout. His fingers flew over the keyboard as he prepared to put some things in place. He was grinning. “This is the fun part.”  I was astounded but loved that idea. 

Apple Genius and website guy were both in their 30’s or younger. I was in my 60’s and had been brought up that if you touched a button, things could fizzle, spark, or stop completely…and forever. With the reassurance of my guru and Genius both being willing to go online and fix it or better yet, show me how to fix it, I began to take those “huge risks.”                

WORD PLAY AS A WRITER

 “It is a happy talent to know how to play.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson 

I always loved playing with words. Making up words with my Twin as a little kid seemed hilarious to us. My favorite word just because of the reverberating sound of it is bok choy. If someone says it in conversation, be prepared. I will repeat it in various inflections, pitches, and speeds. I say this without embarrassment. Try it. Well, not with bok choy but your own word play. My Twin and a few wordsmiths I know are repartee players – a funny word comes up and we play with it. Use it as a noun, a verb, an adverb. 

Word play in writing offers me time to fool around with a rough draft, revise, edit, and even — start over. Does it sound better this way? Look better in print? Hey, which font would look more appealing? Let me just play with it. 

 “It’s the things we play with and the people who help us play that make a great difference in our lives.” ~Fred Rogers 

four women laughing outside with arms linkedI have some play friends — the ones who enjoy laughing, or the costuming, or interpretive dance.

Our brains are built to benefit from play no matter what our age.” ~Theresa A. Kestly 

 “Play is our brain’s favorite way of learning.” ~ Diane Ackerman

My tai chi instructor called our class practice Play. 

My CSL leader starts our Sunday service with something akin to, “We’re glad you have chosen to come play with us. “

“Be playful” was the often-used phrase in my Energy Meditation meetings with Nancie Leon. 

My latest artistic endeavor with Stampin’ Up is something I began this fall. I see it as a playful activity. 

When I’m getting my hair done, I’ve learned not to deprive my hairstylist of the finalé. Color, cut, blow-dry. And then style. She gets an almost gleeful look as she combs, fusses and fixes. And her parting advice: “Just play with it at home.” 

Be an otter!

More playing next time.

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. 

Stroke Survivor/Thriver

8/25/21 – 1/25/2022

Today I am five months out from my mild stroke. I’m doing well. Recovery from my stroke this summer takes time and energy and lots of rest. I know every stroke and every recovery is unique. I share this as my experience so far with my stroke with the hope it will inspire others.

Every thought, be it task-oriented, memory practice, listening or physical stamina-building, requires my darling brain cells to do some work in building new neural pathways. Some of the newer pathways are being constructed by newbies and they’re not always ready, or they need a nap.

Recovery Experiences

I’ve had some “interesting” experiences where those new little cells seem to be working out a new dance routine. It’s a fabulous routine but some cells either didn’t get the rehearsal memo or dance to their own rhythm. Then my body feels wobbly. Or I need to slow down (lots) and go somewhere quiet, aka time out. I am overwhelmingly grateful that If it’s rest I need, I am free to do that. 

I need to tell myself to  do mindful breathing, be calm, stop or rest. Each of those thoughts has to go through brain passages and the little new cells often say “Hold up there, We’re not ready to figure this one out.” They used to send me painful headaches as a signal. Sometimes now it’s overwhelming instant fatigue or small tingles.Then they stop, get out their little nap mats and lie down. So do I. After that, we’re ready to go again.

Numbers often play a game of mascarade. What I read as an 8, I may write as a 5, and even say as  “2” when I attempt quick calculations. This precludes me becoming treasurer of any organizations for the present time. Don’t give me a checkbook.

Stepping Into the Best There Is

Meet me at Mt. Lemmon

Much “research shows” the first six months to a year after a stroke hold the greatest opportunity for neuroplasticity ( the capacity of neurons and neural networks in the brain to change their connections and behavior in response to new information, sensory stimulation, development, damage, or dysfunction). So I’m taking all opportunities to read, meditate, write, listen, laugh, and talk with friends. Daily exercises like walking, yoga, and modified tennis have the effects of making me feel strong, happy, and almost athletic. The more I repeat an action, the easier it is to remember. My newbies thank me for that. Also “research shows” recovery can continue for years after a stroke. I saw that with my mother, my brother-in-law’s improvement after his stroke, and members of New Jersey and Tucson aphasia groups.

Therapy and More

My language/memory therapist is working with me on memory with distractions, recalling lists, and extemporaneous speaking. How grateful I am for my Toastmasters™ training in speaking “off the cuff.” I’ve been a serial list maker for decades, so that is a plus. Memory and distractions?? Come on, that is no stranger to me.

I see myself as crossing the bridge back-bringing me to a full recovery and living an aware regular lifestyle. My support systems – medical, family, online connections, and friends – are incredible. Thank you for being kind, patient, and loving, and making sure I get some laughs. My sweetheart Hank remains a National Treasure and I wake up each day feeling oh so thankful and loved.

Life is good.

Stroke Resources

If someone you know has had a stroke or if you are simply interested in more stroke recovery info, here are some resources that have helped me:

  • Flint Recovery-Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/flintstrokesupportgroup , their website https://www.flintrehab.com/learn/ and their newsletter, which is a complication of excellent articles on recovery, how to help a stroke survivor, and lots of stuff we never knew about that fascinating organ-the brain. 
  • My language/memory therapist has used The Ultimate Memory Activity Book by Alexis Olson, PhD which has individual or partner-assisted activities. 
  • Also Quiddler®, Rummikub®, crossword puzzles, math-keep it simple-adding subtracting, multiples. Please, no calculus. A dedicated amount of time every day actually works. Or doing any of the things many of us have been doing since we became of age to get the medicare card. Spelling, Sudoku, and solitaire-sure! 
  • My medical insurance also has online recommendations. Check yours.  
  • Stroke Resource Center of Southern Arizona https://soazstrokeresources.org 

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.