The Writing Life

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

Summer Rains

These days of monsoon rain have brought no complaints from Catalina Mt. lovers in Pima County AZ. Last year we watched as flames and smoke moved across our mountains from west to east. Courageous firefighters and support crews battled the Bighorn Fire. “Monsoon season will help put this out” was the refrain from old-timers and weather meteorologists. But we had a non-soon monsoon last summer. Some days I couldn’t bring myself to look up beyond the foothills. My office window, which faces the mountains, held no comfort.

This summer I sit at my desk by the window as clouds gather up behind the mountains  and thunder heralds the arrival of another monsoon storm, or a full morning of steady rain. The rain here in Tucson has a smell like wetness, almost soggy, but fresh. It is clean and comfortable (well, except for the big thunder boomers last week at 2:00 AM). This summer our usually parched and brown foothills are dressed in a velvety green cover. Monsoon rainbows stop by frequently.

Dinner and a rainbow at Redemptorist Center

Beautiful rainbow arc on the Eastside

Rainbow over Sabino Springs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the rain ceases, there’s a brightness in the sky even with the thick blanket of white and grey passing clouds. The air is heavy and humid. It reminds me of summer days in my childhood oasis in Miller Place on the North Shore of Long Island NY. A big difference in geography but the same feeling of calm and easiness in the day.

It’s no accident that the full title of my memoir is Thinking of Miller Place: A Memoir of Summer Comfort. If you have or had a summer comfort place, you know what I mean. I live 2500 miles from Miller Place now. In spite of loving my now desert home, I yearn for Miller Place. I think I have to read my book again.

 

Other people feel this summer love too:

Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability.  ~ Sam Keen

Then followed that beautiful season… Summer….Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape lay as if new created in all the freshness of childhood. ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Summer is the time when one sheds one’s tensions with one’s clothes, and the right kind of day is jeweled balm for the battered spirit.  A few of those days and you can become drunk with the belief that all’s right with the world.  ~ Ada Louise Huxtable

How about you?

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 Zoom mic. 

Eastside Writing Room – Still writing


I have come to love those little boxes that show faces of friends and family. This one is part of my Eastside Writing Room- which has been a Zoom Room for the last year and a half. In May 2021 we started our journey back to the physical world with once a month in-person meetings. So now we’re hybrid- Zooming every week and Zooming and in-person once a month. Tuesday, July 27 we get to see each other head to toe. And we’ll write too. What a deal!! Thanks to Paula Brown Hank Miller, Penelope Starr, Elizabeth Murfee Dino DiConcini, Bee Bloeser, Author, Speaker Sally Lanyon Pamela Alexander

A Little Time to Think

Just Who Do You Think You Are?

The pandemic.

That was then, March 2020-April 2021.

This is now, July 2021 and onward. What’s the same, what’s different? What am I choosing to discard from my life? What am I taking with me at this ending of the pandemic time? I did start being aware of this earlier than now.  See https://etheleemiller.com/what-a-year-aka-things-are-opening-up/ 

Being at home during the pandemic offered many choices. Daily revisions of the To Do list. Binge on Brit Box TV. Make birthday and hello cards. Walk, bike, hike. Spend way too much time following online links about writing, which led to searching for college alumni and old boyfriends (Come on, haven’t you done that?) Practice yoga. Read. Experiment with cooking. Think.

Leisurely Thinking

What do I love? What blocks me from doing what I love? What triggers impatience, and envy in me? I am impatient with what I call empty time. I never thought I was impatient. I just thought I was really busy with lots of important things to do. Many of which were really time fillers. The pandemic gave me time to experience “empty” time as relaxing. Idle hands are not you-know-who’s workshop. Idle hands mean I am breathing softly, soothing my body, brain, and spirit. 

Who am I?

What do I value most? What do I love? What is love? What dreams do I have? What’s next in my life? Right now I feel so confident that I can do just about anything! And yet I am also a person who has that little voice that counters, “Do anything? Really? Come on. Just who do you think you are, Ethel?” That question verbalized in a certain way can be a trigger: You really have no right to think you can  …. This might sound familiar to some of you.

So Just Who Do You think You Are?

To do or be something or someone different takes courage. I battled with this a lot in my life. I think I’ve been victorious because it called for self-honesty to dig down and look at me. Sometimes fun. Sometimes squirmy. Yet possible to get through.  

I learned I can write a book. I wrote and revised and revised…and revised yet again. I was motivated to do what it took to get my books written, edited, polished and published and marketed. I believed I had stories that would interest other people. I am a writer. 

Take the Leap

I can take that leap into a new hobby, friendship, adventure. I love this courage builder by Joseph Campbell:

“A bit of advice given to a young Native American at the time of his initiation:  ‘As you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm. Jump. It is not as wide as you think.’” 

Alone, And Not Lonely

I can be by myself and not be lonely. In early June I took a solitary retreat. Ironic in a way. Just as things were opening up, I found I needed to get away by myself and get ready to reenter this new almost-post-pandemic world.

I sojourned at the Redemptorist Renewal Center in Tucson Arizona where I could write, read, swim, walk the labyrinth, sit and stare, and think. 

There were only a few retreatants. I had a stimulating dinner conversation with one of them. The next morning I saw one other who turned and gave a small bow in response to my hello. A third as we passed each other on the pathway. And a sweet reacquaintance with the lovely woman who works in the kitchen. Other than that, not a soul. It was delicious. I had thoughts that entertained me, made me laugh, that challenged me to glimpse who I think I am. I am a solitary sojourner. If you have not done this, I encourage you to entertain the idea.

Envy Can Be a Scavenger Hunt 

One of my daily readings from 365 Day of Richer Living talked of envy as “recognizing that which is hidden so far in me.” I’m envious of a colleague who is very calm even as loud hard words swirl around us. Okay, now where is that quality in me? 

I watched in wonder as another friend gave a slight shake of her head as the chocolate brownies got passed around. Now where did I put that quality? I had it on Saturday, but a week later I found myself reaching for the plate.

Knowing who I am has called for me to think, then take actions that might be different from my usual response or different from what others expect of me. Sometimes this is tough. It calls for courage, a sense of adventure, hope, confidence, and love. Totally worth it.

A Success Story

Years ago, two identical twins realized they could be other than what people thought about them. They could be individuals, not The Twins. “I can be funny too,” said the thoughtful twin. “I can be curious and thoughtful too,” said the entertaining twin. And they were. 

Three Caterpillars

Three caterpillars saw a delicate yellow butterfly that happened by. 

The first caterpillar said, “Just looks at her, giving herself airs.”

The second caterpillar said, “How I’d love to fly like that.”

The third butterfly said, “Why, that’s me.”

(Wish I could acknowledge the author of this piece. Have used it since 2004, the author now lost to me.)

A Writing Suggestion

Just who do you think you are? Ask yourself with genuine curiosity. And respond with genuine kindness. Write from a positive point of view. Just write.

I am…

I am…

I am…

I am…

I am…

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 Zoom mic. 

Santa Fe Kindness


Vacationing in Santa Fe

A really neat part of being on vacation is people watching. Especially if you’re in a city like Santa Fe. Especially if it’s the “opening up” stage, with businesses propping doors wide open; restaurants, museums, and galleries posting “Welcome back” signs. “No mask if you are fully vaccinated, please respect the needs of others who are wearing masks.” 

Mind you, it’s been twenty months since I’ve been around and among large groups of people. I am doing some major people watching. First off I notice smiles. Closed mouth smile, open mouth with lots of teeth, grins where body language and mouth and eyes express delight. Couples, families with teens and toddlers in masks. Singletons, eyes on the cell phone using the navigation tool of trust that the oncoming pedestrian traffic will “part the waters” for them, so to speak.

Santa Fe is a Tourist Town

Folks have come to celebrate, be seen, and spend. Up and down San Francisco Street shoppers are wearing clothes they probably haven’t worn in a year-the good stuff-crisp white slacks, glittery sandals, jewelry, make-up. I know I am and it feels fun. 

Long hair, short hair, rainbow color hair, no hair. Jeans, capris, long dresses, gauzy white skirts with sheer white tops, halters, jumpsuits, shorts, t-shirts, robes. Jewelry, body piercings. Sneakers, sandals, cowboy boots, stiletto heels, barefoot. It’s a visual runway of styles. 

Last night, my sweetheart and I were out for an after-dinner stroll, window shopping, nodding and saying hello to passersby. 

Storylines While People-Watching

I make up storylines for some. “They’re new in the relationship. See how close together they are?” “She’s tired. The kids are whining.” “She’s late. New job. She’s dressed nice, but rushing and worried she won’t look put together for work.” 

A group of four mature-age women are coming towards us. “Hello.” “Hello.” They look fit, stylishly dressed. It’s a swirl of colors going by. Blue silky top paired with light pants, beige sandals, gold earrings. A scarlet shawl on one, a print scarf on another, white capris with a colorful trimmed top. They seem happy. “Girlfriends. Vacation, maybe reunion, deciding where to go for a drink.”   

The Kindness

Just seconds after we pass each other, I hear a chorus of “Oh No!” Distress signals loudly in those two words. Hank and I turn to see one of the women has fallen and is on the sidewalk-an incongruous splash of scarlet and white spread on a dusty sidewalk. Her friends have clustered round her like colorful flowers bending over a broken flower. They help her up. She stands up. She’s tall. “I’m OK.” Her friends are patting her, dusting off her shawl, stroking her elbow. “Are you hurt?” Under her attractive face there is a strain, like part of her is asking, “Now how did that happen? Am I really OK?”

Hank and I have rushed to the edge of the cluster. I have my cell phone out ready to call 911. “Catch your breath,” I say. She looks like she might react like I would. Just up and dash off without checking in with myself first. “Catch your breath before you start walking again.” 

The colorful flower cluster is loosening up. They must sense she is OK. Nothing broken. Not dizzy. 

Hank and I back off and I hear myself say, “It’s OK. Her friends are with her. She’s not alone.” The concern and kindness of her friends will protect her and she will know she really is OK.

Simple Kindnesses

This got me thinking of the simple kindnesses people do for others. The owner of the breakfast place here in Santa Fe who goes around to each table of diners, “Everything OK?” He wears a mask but his eyes are smiley.

The man we met on the pool deck on full moon night who took time to tell us of great places to eat here in town. 

The coffee my husband makes for me before he makes his own. The way he walks on the street side of the sidewalk-old-fashioned chivalry. Yet I think he knows I’ll link my arm in his to keep us together. 

Maybe some of these kindness acts are planned. Maybe they are spontaneous. Even if it’s planned don’t you think the repetition will make it a habit? A kindness habit. Kindnesses build safety and trust and make it easier to pass on the next kindness. A kindness ensures both the giver and receiver will benefit. They might smile. They might end up talking to each other. They might become friends. Who knows where their kindness will take them? 

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 Zoom mic. 

Santa Fe Getaway!

Happy Summer and Strawberry Full Moon! Our first vacation in 20 months and we chose just the right place.

A tourist town that was like “the Twilight Zone” through COVID,  Santa Fe merchants, hotels, restaurants, and galleries are jubilant to have us return. Weather gorgeous, shops beautiful, galleries inspiring (and $$$) great food, friendly people, and super hikes.

Discovered a Welcome Back Traveler package at El Dorado Hotel & Spa. Nice big room off the deck and pool area. Near dining, galleries, the Plaza. Happy to see favorites from our 2019 anniversary trip have survived and are thriving- Henry and the Fish for great breakfast, Estevan’s for romantic dinner, Il Vicino just down the street for salads, paninis, pizza. Santa Fe is a walkable town- you’ll get your 10,000 and more steps in – easy.

Santa Fe scenes


Beautiful sculptures everywhere  Private houses and galleries along Canyon Rd. Visual treats!

 

 

 

 

Loretto Chapel in town with the magical staircase

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fredrick Prescott’s kinetic sculptures. Great fun!

 

 

 

 

 

The Tibetan Project – center, garden and book shop started to support Tibetan refugees in 1992. Beautiful carpets and books etc. Good karma!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A classic Rock/Paper/Scissors

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hiking Dale Ball Trails just outside of town  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tomorrow we search out Cerillos Hills State Park about 40 minutes from Santa Fe. It was declared a state park in 2009- just outside the town of Los Cerillos (pop. 182). Sure to be different from the city of Santa Fe. Hasta La Vista!

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 Zoom mic.