The Writing Life



Summertime Visuals

Posted by on Aug 15, 2019 in Writing | 0 comments

Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability.  ~ Sam Keen

Even the fog is lazy

 

2 trees +1 hammock= summer relaxation

 

Hangin’ out in the pool

 

You steer, I’ll relax

 

Nowhere to go and that’s fine

 

Patio peace

 

Go horizontal

 

Lazy summer conversation

 

Oregon coast sunset

 

Water= Calm

All photos property of Ethel Lee-Miller

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s been immersed in writing for over 30 years, 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. She also enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Tucson Tellers of Tales, and just about anywhere there’s a mic. 

BLD and Books I’m Loving These Days

Posted by on Aug 9, 2019 in Writing | 0 comments

August 9! It’s Book Lovers Day!

How and Why I Love Reading

To gear up for BLD I wrote about what got me started loving books. There’s a bit of a gap between then and now, but this is what I’m loving to read now. It’s quite an eclectic range. There’s 11 of ’em, so read on. From memoir with a political tone, to a non-fiction exploration of how we care, or don’t care for the aging populating in the United States, to inspiration from Eleanor Roosevelt, to a current food plan book about Whole30.

Part of why I love reading books is for “where” they can take me. I also relish the connections and memories that stories stir in me. I know I’m enjoying a book when I think, ”This reminds me of….”

 

The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt

I got this on Kindle after watching the Ken Burns series on the Roosevelts. A lonely childhood with a definite absence of warm family fuzzies. From where did she get her resilience? What instilled this sense of integrity? I’m finding out.

 

Cowgirls: Women of the American West by Teresa Jordan

After our early summer trip down to the Chiracahuas and a recent visual treat through the Phippen Museum up in Prescott, I pulled out Teresa Jordan’s Cowgirls: Women of the American West. Ms. Jordan is a prolific writer and part of a fourth generation of ranchers. Her bio alone reads like a pretty active story. The almost thirty Western cowgirl stories she has researched and compiled are vivid, exciting, and inspiring. These were and are strong women. What a great read!

 

Elderhood: Redefining Aging by Louise Aronson

For years, “old” was always ten or fifteen years older than I was. When I hit seventy some undeniable signs had me sliding into the category of  “those people are really getting old.” Those people now include me. But I cringe when I hear folks say, “Well, I’m getting old and I can’t ____, or ____, or _____.” Fill in any number of activities someone thinks they have to give up because they are “old.” Maybe I won’t go skydiving now but it’s because I’m scared, not old.

Elderhood is helping me accept that yes, I am getting older, and old is not a synonym for “infirm.” It means relishing my accrued life experiences. I am becoming an elder in my family, my community, and my society. I am sharing experiences and being grateful that I’m enjoying my eighth decade of life. Childhood, adulthood, elderhood. All part of the progression of life.

 

In the Mystery’s Shadow: Reflections on Caring for the Elderly and Dying by Susan Swetnam

With decades of cultural training and often horror stories of mismanaged health care for the elderly, who would want to read about caring for the elderly? Add to that, the cultural perpetuation of death being a top fear along with taxes and public speaking, and this book’s title sounds like it could be a tough read. But for anyone who has loved, cared about, or cared for someone who is aging and declining, the author brings comfort, hope, and a sense of wonder at the opportunity to be a part of the connection with people who may be, as my friend says, “On the down side of the mountain.”

As I read this book, it brings back bittersweet memories of caring for, visiting with, laughing with, crying with, and coming to respect and adore my aging mother. I see the last five years of her life that I spent with my mother as a gift. Reading this book links similar experiences with my father, my brothers-in-law, and my stepdaughter, and eases my mind about their final journeys.

 

 A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren

Is Elizabeth Warren this decade’s champion or is she pushing too hard? Reading her 2014 memoir may provide grist for the mill. Her memoir combines a readable mix for me of biography and politics.

 

The Lido by Libby Page

This was recommended to me by my older sister. The Lido tells the story of a friendship between an octogenarian and a twenty-something reporter. Two very different generations. I keep pausing my reading because scenes in the book remind me of the friendships I’ve had that have crossed generations, as the two main characters in this charming book do.

Of course, the friendship that developed between my mother and me in the last years of her life is at the forefront.

I also had the privilege of befriending senior writers, not a few who were nearing or at the century mark. I was “teaching” them about the writing process. They taught me about dignity, resourcefulness, resistance, and resilience.

A “chance” meeting at a Habitat for Humanity outing with a local artist when I was in my forties and he was moving towards eighty was a gift to us both. We both, for our own reasons, knew next to nothing about building a house, but the organizer put a caulking gun in my hand and extra tubes of caulk in Marc’s. We worked our way through each room of the newly-built house, and over the next decade shared our life stories and friendship.

 

Repeats:

Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn. My bedside reading table go-to for remembering simplicity, the ideas of walking or standing as a meditation. Keeping it simple.

What a Writer Needs by Ralph Fletcher. This book was first introduced to me when I was teaching writing process to second graders. Thanks to a recent visit with my friend Bryn, I stayed in her guest room which has one whole wall filled with books. And there they were. Books about writing, emerging writers, and beginning readers that brought back fruitful lessons and the writing celebrations we had in the classroom. Most of all was the excitement of giving young children the belief that they were the bosses of their writing. And I was the boss of my writing. Fletcher’s book is timeless. More than twenty years later, it still works.

Whole30 by Melissa Hartwig and Dallas Hartwig. I first followed this food plan in 2015 and lost 15 pounds. That felt great. Four years later my motivation is to reclaim the energy that had been depleted over the last two years of stress, loss, and foolishly putting some issues before my health. Whole30 does work. On June 1, 2019 my husband and I committed to thirty days. Having him join me in this commitment earned him a renewal of his National Treasure title. I have kicked the sugar craving, lost weight, and have incredible energy. The very astounding thing is I have discovered I can not only prepare nutritious meals, but can experiment and create new combinations of foods that taste really terrific.

A Small Toot of My Own Horn

And finally… Remember the quote by Toni Morrison? “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” So I’m also rereading two of my favorites, Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships.

Contact me if you’ve read any of these. Let me know what you think.

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

Book Lovers Day- August 9

Posted by on Aug 8, 2019 in Writing | 0 comments

What I’m reading these days is an eclectic grouping, that’s for sure. These are some the books I’m loving. Check back on BLD, Book Lovers Day  August 9 to read a snippet about each one. You may like them.

What are you reading?

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s been immersed in writing for over 30 years, 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. She also enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Tucson Tellers of Tales, and just about anywhere there’s a mic. 

I Just Want to Stay in Bed

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

Some days I just want to stay in bed. My bed is really comfortable. I have a Goldilocks mattress, not too firm, not too soft, just right. Three pillows assure me of neck and head comfort. There’s the three I start with at night almost sitting up; the kind of firm one that I use as I slide into sleep, and the really soft one that takes me through ’til morning when I somehow end up totally horizontal.

Early morning sunlight slides through the slats of the shutters, diffusing the light so the room is hazy with a soft white light. The AC air is cool. Under the sheet I’m just warm enough. Have you felt that? There’s a very slight stretch where the purpose is not to elongate muscles and tendons to get up and get going, but to open and then curl up again and… stay in bed. For just a short period of time. In that halfway space between sleeping and wakefulness, there’s a lazy path of thoughts. Not the to-do list.

But sometimes, “what ifs?” What if I stay in bed all day today? What if I go out on the patio and slip into the pool before the sun rises? What if I get on my bike and just ride with no particular goal of where to go?

Sometimes the “I wonders” start. I wonder what my sweetheart is dreaming about right now? I wonder what my sister is doing? Are folks in another time zone eating breakfast? What do other writers do when they wake up?

Sometimes I do an in-bed meditation. Just breathe. Do a mental gratitude list.

~~~~~~~

Sometimes I just want to stay in bed. But I don’t want the light. I want to pull the sheet and comforter over me and block out all the light. Mostly I want to block out thoughts that have crept into my bed with me. “Why is there so much violence in our world?” “Why haven’t I heard from you?” “Why do I feel so alone?” There’s an opening in me that can let in self-pity, or anxiety, frustration, anger, fear. If I’m not aware, the seeds of those thoughts can sprout and take hold. I know it’s happening when I realize I’m clenching my teeth, or holding my breath, or my thoughts leap from one dark shadow of thought to another.

“Move a muscle, change a thought.” I think I’ve used that phrase for almost four decades to shift the mood. If I can just sit up, not get up. Or just force one arm up out of the covers. And remember:

Fate whispers to the Warrior,

“You cannot withstand the Storm.”

And the Warrior whispers back,

“I AM THE STORM.”

A few words like that have the power to remind me what’s true. I am a warrior when I need to be. I can take care of all the scared and soft and vulnerable parts of me. I am not alone.woman standing on rocks arms up victorious

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s been immersed in writing for over 30 years, 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. She also enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Tucson Tellers of Tales, and just about anywhere there’s a mic. 

Book Lovers Day is Aug. 9

Posted by on Aug 6, 2019 in Writing | 0 comments

August 9. BLD.

Huh? Yes it will be BLD – Book Lovers Day, celebrated internationally, according to Wikipedia.  “This is an unofficial holiday observed to encourage bibliophiles celebrate reading and literature. People are advised to put away their smartphones and every possible technological distraction and pick up a book to read.”

 

How I Got Started with Books

I’ve always loved books, starting with The Funny Bunny when I was a pre-reader, moving to Fun with Dick and Jane which introduced me to my first literary friends group: Dick and Jane, Sally, Puff and Spot. In retrospect, of course, Dick and Jane had a pretty thin story arc, no antagonists, no climax, and no dénouement. But at five years old I loved going through the book and finding the strings of letters that looked the same. My sister and I used to laugh at how the “a” was not like any a that we wrote. And the “g”? It was so much easier to make a sloping g rather than all those squiggly lines. But we accepted the a and g, and were on our way to decoding words.

 

Trixie Belden Books

The first books that “took” me somewhere were Trixie Belden books. We had a whole set of what must have been first edition Trixie Belden books at home which I read and reread.

Trixie regularly walked along the path in the woods from her house to her friend Honey’s house. No big excitement, just a teenage girl setting off on her own to see a friend. How many times did I replicate a trip like that through Poison Ivy Lane, the wooded, and edged with poison ivy, lane my dad cleared each summer to get to the beach during our idyllic summers in Miller Place Long Island? Was Trixie the impetus for loving hikes along trails in the Adirondacks, High Point New Jersey, and now up on Mt Lemmon in Summerhaven Arizona? A seed of a writing idea to be explored another time.

For BLD, what matters is that all those squiggles made words, then sentences, and then stories that entertained me, educated me, advised me, and inspired me to write my own stories.

 

The Covers of My Childhood Favorites:

The images are ones I grew up with. I’m a first edition reader on these!

 

 

 

 

So here’s to August 9!

When the digital date on my laptop flips to August 9, I doubt if I’ll put away my smartphone and other devices, but I plan to spend a few hours sitting in the big chair in my office – reading.

A Question for Readers

What are you reading? Post your favorites then or now in Comments

Check in with me on BLD (August 9): Books I’m Loving These Days

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

Sweet Memories of Summer

Posted by on Jul 14, 2019 in Writing | 0 comments

“If you’re not barefoot, then you’re over dressed.”

Thoughts of my childhood summers wrap around me like a well-worn quilt.

Over the years the clarity of the square pieces have faded, some colors have run into others with multiple spills and washings. But the feel of it is always soft and smooth, a tactile connection that takes me back to lying on the wicker couch on a rainy day in Miller Place. It’s not really cool enough to need a blanket, but it is cozy and safe.

If you need a summer escape, reading a summer book may be the answer.

Especially if you are unable to physically get away, make your escape in Thinking of Miller Place: A Memoir of Summer Comfort. If you summered on Long Island, this may just do the trick.

(Contact Ethel about getting your copy)

 

The MP Historical Society captures that feel of a country town on Long Island

The brick “dedicated” to the book.

 

 

A Handful of Writing Prompts Using Summer Quotes

Posted by on Jun 25, 2019 in Writing | 0 comments

What musings/stories/essays might emerge from these quotes?:

Those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.   ~Nat King Cole

Summertime and the living is easy.   ~George and Ira Gershwin

Yes, in summer we all live in the dreamy palace.   ~Mary Oliver

Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability.  ~Sam Keen

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass on a summer day listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is hardly a waste of time.  ~John Lubbock

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

Summer – Read, Relax, Travel, Write

Posted by on Jun 15, 2019 in Writing | 10 comments

Summer’s Coming

Arizona summer monsoon morning

It’s still happening. Memorial Day. Then the middle of June. Then the first day of summer. And I want to  travel. Relax. Do lots of stream of consciousness writing. A bit weird considering I’ve been retired from official careers of teaching and life coaching for  two decades. I don’t have to wait for summer vacation to relax or take a trip. I can have the lazy attitude of summer whenever I want, especially living in Tucson Arizona. But old habits linger. Only in June, July and August does my desk get cleared of more organized writing and home projects. I’ll still be editing and writing, but with a bit of a different attitude. Here are some of my ideas. They may work for you too.

Summer Reading

Read “fluff” books as my fellow teachers and I did each summer when classroom goodbyes and hugs were given, with a mix of smiles, relief, and some good-bye tears. School reports were completed, supplies packed away, keys handed in. My colleagues and I met for a long lunch (because we could with no time restrictions), and exchanged books and book titles for summer reading.

Thinking of Miller Place

My favorite summer read is still my first book Thinking of Miller Place: A Memoir of Summer Comfort. It’s been ten years since the book first came out and five years since I visited Miller Place, my childhood haven on Long Island in New York. Posts from former residents show they miss it as much as I do.

Summer Viewing

Favorite films wait to be viewed again. This will free my mind from over-concern for clients and colleagues. I want to watch films of pretty and exotic places and idealized times. Think Little Women, Enchanted April, Queen of the Desert, and still my all-time favorite Gone with the Wind. New and recommended films inspire me to go to an actual movie theater. The White Crow (yes, I loved it), Rocketman, Bohemian Rhapsody (yes, again), Amazing Grace (just to see Aretha again)

Summer Travel

Travel catalogues start to accumulate on our dining room table. My most recent lure has been to become active with my community’s travel group. My list of want-to-go-to places just tripled. One of our members has been to all seven continents. Another organizes barge travel groups. There is strong appeal about travel to new places, and revisiting old favorites. Summer is when local trips become a reality and plans get made for the year ahead.

Summer Writing

Snippets for writing

I want to play with words. My Snippets pad is overflowing. Snippets is where I jot down funny phrases, bits of overheard conversation, and visual memories that I hope to turn into words, and to essays and stories that will translate back into visual journeys for readers. Phrases from our travel group’s viewing of Rick Steve’s  “The Value of Travel” are calling to be explored and expanded. “Thoughtful travel.” “Travel wallops my ethnocentricity.” “Embrace other heroes.”

Summer travel will find us on the East Coast to see family and friends; some familiar spots; some new. Will it be the same? What will be different? How am I different? Grist for the writing mill.

Where are you off to this summer?

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

My Summer Home

Posted by on Jun 10, 2019 in Writing | 0 comments

Since summer is coming, my thoughts turn to the place that was most influential in my life. This was my grandfather’s summer home in Miller Place New York. From my birth until I was sixteen I spent each summer there with my family in glorious innocence and freedom. So much so that I wrote my first book about it. Thinking of Miller Place: A Memoir of Summer Comfort.

“In my memory I am resting in a hammock between a childhood that was and the reality of today. In it, I am in a place where I can still, if only in my daydreams, take off my shoes and run barefoot up the hill.”

This memoir is filled with reflections on my childhood summers in an idyllic town on the northeastern shore of Long Island, New York. The house was almost like a character itself – a big white house on a hill with a huge screened-in porch that was the hub of the house. Breakfasts, lunches, and dinners were eaten at the big round oak table. On rainy summer days the wooden shades were pulled down against the gentle rain, lamps turned on for card games of Canasta and I Doubt It or 1000-piece puzzles. Carefree summers in Miller Place in the 1950’s sustained my twin sister and me through the inevitable clumsiness of adolescence and informed the beliefs and values serve me today.

Thinking of Miller Place was first published in 2008, and revised in 2016 (©Wheatmark). Each summer I read it and remember. I loved being there, loved writing about it, and still cherish the memories of that home of my childhood.

Where did you spend your summers?

Do you have a “place” like Miller Place?

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

Start with a House: Homes with a Life Partner

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

Sharing Space, Ideas, Chores, and Love

Homes with Hank

The fifteenth house that I lived in was the beginning of living with Hank.

15. If I had to divide my life into phases, this most recent phase started when I met Hank in 1988. We’ve often said we were led to each other, at just the right time, and we both had the good sense to recognize a good thing crossing our life radar screens. We’ve been building a life together over thirty years and four homes – first with a blended family in Lincoln Park New Jersey. That was my beginning with Hank and extending love to two step-daughters. A story about blending a family?

Two Alphas in Empty Nest Homes

16. After the “girls” moved out on their own, a loft condo in Little Falls was where friends gathered as Hank and I honed our home entertainment style. Holiday parties top my memory chart, when Christmas tree decorators leaned over the balcony to get that star on the top of the tree, or tossed confetti “snow” down on the guests. 

 

17. I think of the next condo in Lincoln Park as our space and room to “grow.” This was the metamorphosis house, stepchildren on their own, a growing grandchild, an aging mother, my retirement from teaching, building a new career and seeing myself as a professional speaker and writer.

My personal hub was my office. I had a spacious corner room upstairs where I witnessed the changing seasons in New Jersey. I could look out from my desk and see turkeys doing their tipsy walk, wings flapping, out in the woods in the fall. One winter morning when the world was completely silenced by falling snow, I looked up from my desk to see eight deer walking in single file across the back lawn.

This home was large enough that Hank had his own office too, next to mine. Privacy but not far away.

18. Now it’s 2019. We’ve made our home in Tucson Arizona since 2009. It’s our “retirement” home although I have yet to retire. Hank and I have different interests; I go off for a morning walk at a labyrinth, he golfs. I meet storytelling colleagues, he goes on long hikes. We share the energy of a writing group in our home. We bike and play tennis together. We have planning meetings for “things that need to be done.” Evenings usually find us sharing dinner, walking in our community, reading or looking at a new movie on TV. Another Haven. A Comfort. The Next Adventure.

Eighteen homes, certainly more than eighteen stories.

I realize safety in the structure and layout of my homes has been important. We’ve decorated each home with care and things that have personal meaning. We enjoy connecting with people and inviting friends to our home, I’ve sometimes experienced a tangible feeling of very positive energy while watching friends talk, laugh, sing, or write with us. The gift they leave when they go home is bits of that positive energy.

What’s special about your home?

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