The Writing Life

There IS Holiday Magic in a Christmas Tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is There Really a Correct Way to Tinsel the Tree?

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

A Tree-Trimming Tradition

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

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

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

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

What’s on the Tree?

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

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

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

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


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

Feeling Pride In My Writing- and a gift for you

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

Modesty is Esteemed in Our Culture

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

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

The Gift

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

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

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

A Gift for Three Readers

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

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

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

What story calls to you today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holiday Idea:

For you, for the reader in your life, for a quick, easy, and very entertaining free holiday gift. You can download a copy of this ebook at

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

Alvin Ailey and Dancing

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

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

Looking Back to 1969 and Dancing

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

Alvin Ailey Dance Co. Today

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

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

man dancing with group- arms upraised

Rennie Harris and the Alvin Ailey Dance Company

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

A Thanksgiving Classroom Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Don’t Go It Alone With Your Blog

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

laptop with writing and coffee mugIt seems as soon as I feel like I’ve got a grip on a “how-to” of the digital aspect of my writing life, especially blogging – it changes. But just as the workings of social media and online informations can be daunting, those workings are also my greatest resources.

I’m a blogger and I love the online freedom to share what I’ve learned about the craft of writing, about people and this wonderful, crazy world. In order to get my ideas better organized, to reach my audience to let them know what I’m writing about, I’ve cruised, watched, and signed up with quite a few online “teachers.” Not all promote themselves as teachers, but I learn something each time I check in.

After a recent workshop that I gave sharing this info, I’ve had requests to share the resources again.

Grab a cup of coffee and settle to get some great sites and ideas. Here they are with my gratitude and thanks for my online helpers who educate and inspire me.

Online Resources and Author Blogs

Free weekly or bi-weekly e newsletters with great articles. Subscribe or just go to the site to get a dose of good ideas and current trends. For each resource, I have listed the site name, a brief description of what they do, and a sample from one of their blogs or article with the site’s link.

Authors Community  Free or paid membership.

·       Opt-in/opt-out membership. No contracts or long-term commitments.

  • Where you learn from and share ideas with other authors. Self-led environment, so no pressure. Gain expert knowledge and help from our professional staff and vendor team.

Sample“Blog? Why? Blog What?” by Gina Burgess.   Understand your motive to blog.

Figuring out what motivates you to blog will help you in more ways than you can count. Is it because your publisher requires it? That doesn’t bode well for continual blogging. Is it to help build your writing skills? Is it to help organize your memoir? Is it because you want to __________?…In my experience of blogging since 2005 and column writing since 2006, a blogger will have a lot of consumers of material but few responses to the posts. It’s because most bloggers don’t frame their posts in an information exchange effort (give a little ask a question, give a little more ask another question). Encouraging responses is a major key to building community…

Chuck Sambuchino has been in the writing field more than fifteen years and seems to stay up to date on every trend so his blog ideas are on target too.

Sample: “8 Things Every Blogging Writer Should Know” 1. Headlines Matter Most

If your goal is to get people to click on something, you need a killer headline. It has to be interesting, short, and hopefully provocative without being bullshit link bait…


Dustn.TV  Dustin W. Stout “Cut through social media clutter” and blogging tips. A mix of practical ideas and social media software.

Sample: “Writing an Epic Blog Post” 1. Two-Thousand Word Minimum

Does your blog post have a minimum of 2,000 words? Look, I wish we still lived in the days where 300-500 word blog posts were a thing that worked. But they just don’t anymore. With the sheer volume of content being produced these days (and it is staggering how much is being produced), short and sweet articles just aren’t cutting it anymore. Don’t believe me?…


Ethel Lee-Miller author website. Blog: The Writing Life. An eclectic combination of writing blogs- how-to; personal essay, writers in the news.

Sample: Blog for local writers. NEXT STEP FOR YOUR WRITING: Local writers and lovers of words, why not expand your wordsmithing outside of your books? Storytelling in Tucson: Tucson Tellers of TalesTOT, Odyssey Storytelling, Female Storytellers FST, Bar Flies , and other events. …HOW TO:…


Indie Book Marketing Karen Jonson, blogger; tips and newsletter

Sample: “Did Google Demote Your Blog?”  Step 4 — Choose the Right Name

You may already have a blog name that you use. But if you are updating your blog, this is a good time to ask yourself if your current blog name is working for you. If you don’t have a blog yet, then of course you need a name.

Do a little brainstorming to choose the best possible name to promote your books. Many authors just use their names, or their names with some keyword — like Give it some thought, research other authors’ blog names for ideas, write down your ideas, ask your friends and family, and then make a decision…

Info Bunny.   Online resource for social media and SEO. Founder Dexter Roona.

Sample: “Blogging Mistakes to Avoid” by Justin Penrose

  1. Not Including Images Omitting images from your blog is one of the blog design mistakes that seems to be becoming less common, as bloggers continue to get feedback from their viewers that they want and expect some form of visual media in a blog post.

Images in your blog posts help to:

  • Break up the text
  • Get a reader’s attention before reading the text
  • Give the reader’s eyes a break
  • Generate more engagement with readers   And if you’re not convinced, according to blogger Jeff Bullas posts with images get 94% more views than posts without!

Jane Friedman

Ms. Friedman has been around for decades addressing social media and publishing trends. Sign up for her weekly newsletter summarizing her blog posts and other recommendations.

Sample: “What Should Authors Blog About?”

Here are several models to consider, based on how challenging I think they are (assuming you want your blog to “pay off”).

Easy: The Literary Citizenship Model If you’re not familiar with literary citizenship, you can read more about my views on it here. It basically means celebrating and bringing attention to authors, writing, and books—the things you presumably love and want to support.

Easy-Medium: How-to Model Many seasoned authors have considerable advice and insight for others—and the audience of aspiring writers and established authors is massive.

Medium: Behind the Scenes ModelYou write about the research, people, news stories, or current events that play a role in the construction of your books or other work.

Difficult: Personal Essay or Daily Life Model Regardless of genre, some writers write short missives—that can extend into personal essays—that comment on what’s happening day to day or that reflect on their personal life. This could also involve regular posting of specific media, such as photos or videos.


Jodi Picoult author website. If you want to cruise a website that utilizes just about every aspect of online information, entertainment, and marketing, this is it.


 Kristie Hill  “Straightforward and helpful instructions to help you start and grow your blog” Regularly offers free email courses.

Sample: “MARKETING YOUR BLOG” Writing a blog and then having no one read it- soul-crushing. I don’t want that to happen to you! The checklist covers setting up social media accounts, a newsletter and optimizing for search engines!…


Levonne Gaddy author. Home page utilizes crisp images as page headers.

She Writes.  Online women’s writing community on every level and area of writing. Free account.

Sample: blogs by members (free) on any and all topics for blogging.

 SiteProNews Tech.

Social media and search engine news

Sample: “Blogging Trends You Need to Follow in 2018-2019” by Harry Southworth

Trend: Longer and deeper.  New trends in blogging dictate the rule: the longer, the better. People are tired of kitsch content, short messages they read while taking a taxi or waiting in a line. Although a time killer, people now want informative and meaningful content. Most, however, have neither the time nor motivation to read books. That is why long posts with more informative content have become more and more attractive. People prefer to think of blogs as a means for broadening their mindset…

Story Circle Network. A  national community of writers.

Hosts annual conference. Online classes. Shares blogs, has member e newsletter, publishes member- written anthologies, holds member contests. Member fee.

Sample: From SCN’s Blog page by members “The Space Between Words” by Linda Wiseniewski

Author and speaker Charles Eisenstein says our world looks so crazy because we are in “the space between stories.” The old story said our society was sound, our ecology was fine and our economy was just. But that old story is falling apart, and many of us are afraid. We want to go back, when life was safe, stable… We are in what Eisenstein calls “a period of true unknowing.” We are between stories.

The Writing Cooperative “A community of people who help each other write better.”

Weekly newsletter. The Writing Cooperative Founder Steven Spatz. writer, marketer and president of BookBaby, a leading self-publishing company (


Ultimately, there are three key factors that should be considered:At the end of the day, if you’re deciding whether or not to start a blog, you need to consider the following:

  • What is your experience level?If you’re a new or inexperienced author, a blog can be an excellent place for you to hone your skills. It’s an excellent way to find expression, discipline, and experience. But if you already have a strong following or have scant time to devote to any kind of writing, you might say no to blogging.
  • What’s your genre or subject matter?If you write non-fiction, a blog is essential. This is where you can really demonstrate your subject matter expertise. Your posts will amplify anything you publish. Romance writer? Are you going to be tempted to leak out some of your plot twists or interesting character developments? Maybe you should keep these private.
  • What’s your motivation for blogging?Are you looking to just get revenue from your online writing? That blog ship has sailed. But if you’re blogging to cultivate readers, give people a chance to get to know you, gain followers, and establish a tribe, then a blog might be a great use of your time…

Writers Digest.   American magazine and online site for writers at all levels.

Sample: “8 Things Every Blogging Writer Should Know” by Chris Higgins. Ask Commenters to Contribute:  This is very, very important. Whenever you make a list of things, end it by asking readers what you left out. This makes the inevitable “You left out Wiseniewski awesome thing!” comment a happy collaboration rather than an indictment of the blogger’s intelligence. I can’t tell you how many times people have commented: “I can’t believe you didn’t include [some obscure nerd thing], furthermore [you are an idiot] and [should be fired].” But when I invite people to contribute, they do so gladly.

Such a simple lesson. Worth so much. Do it. Also, you’ll often get people giving you links that lead to new posts down the road.


With thanks and acknowledgement to the writers.  Ethel Lee-Miller Enhanced Life Management

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.

What Makes a Relationship Endure? Hint- ya gotta communicate

Posted by on Oct 21, 2018 in Writing | 0 comments

What makes a relationship endure? My husband and I have been together for 29 years. He’s changed from being Hank, this really neat guy, to my friend, sweetheart, true north and National Treasure. I’m sure I’ve changed too.

We have influenced each other in ways not imagined when we began in 1989.couple relationship with woman smiling at man


The two biggest ideas that have helped us are to remember we are a team, and to be honest in ongoing communications. Not always easy, eh? But we’ve learned along the way how to express our thoughts in ways that lift up, and don’t blame.

I recently shared a story (Leave-Taking) from Seedlings, Stories of Relationships that tells all about this. It’s been a process, as my therapist might say.


“Hank and I were almost smug the night we shared our Rules for Fighting Fair (at our couples support group). After almost two years of Hank’s icy silences as an argument deflector followed by my high drama of crying and/or storming out of the room, we admitted exhausted defeat in our old ways of spousal conflict resolution. We now committed to open verbal communication and were learning “active listening” with each other.”


I no longer grabbed the car keys and stormed out after he winged a sarcastic, “Fine, I don’t care” at me in the middle of an argument. We were becoming pros at, “So what I hear you saying is you think three hundred dollars is a tad too much for a birthday present for a preschool grandchild.

We glided through “Yes, I love to do things with you. However, if we don’t plan ahead, it won’t happen.” This was countered with “Yes dear, I agree about planning ahead, and (“and,” not “but”) I am having difficulty planning activities in fifteen-minute time slots between your meetings and luncheons. How about we slot our activities first at the beginning of the week?”

We knew about avoiding “gunny-sacking,” that dramatic but emotionally costly weapon of saving up resentments and then dumping them out over one seemingly minor event.

Hank and I had also learned to choose times to discuss an issue so we were more likely to get a positive response. I did not greet him at the door at 6:30 p.m. after his two-hour commute with “What the heck happened with the recycling this morning?” He did not pose any questions to me when my hand was gripped around my first mug of coffee.

Most of us in our couples group had eliminated red flag phrases like “You always…” or “You never…” from our disagreement conversations. We had added soothers like “I have a request,” and the universal bridge over troubled waters, “Thank you.” – Seedlings, Stories of Relationships.


For me it comes back to my favorite phrase, “Words are powerful.” Sure, the timing, and tone of speaking are important. But we have to commit to speak. And occasionally, when both of us are tired, or hungry, we regress. But sooner or later, one of us stops and starts to laugh, (or hint at a smile if the other is really losing it). “Just remembered, we’re on the same team.”

For more on our relationship and others, pull out your copy of Seedlings. Read “Leave-Taking,” or “Rules for Fighting Fair,” or “Kind,” or “The Heel.” You’ll be entertained and may get some new ideas for your relationships.

What, you don’t have a copy? Buy it on Amazon or get an author-signed copy   here 

Or check out “Breaking Bread” aka The Heel on Odyssey Storytelling

What helps your relationship endure? Leave a comment. I’m always looking for new ideas that work.

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.


Deal Breakers

Posted by on Oct 17, 2018 in Writing | 0 comments

Deal in red circle with line through itEver since I signed up to the be the curator for the Odyssey Storytelling “Deal Breaker” show (this November 1), I’ve been focusing on what is and is not a deal breaker for me. I’ve stepped back and looked at really uncomfortable situations and wondered, “Could this be a deal breaker?”

First stop: my online dictionary. “Deal breaker. Noun: a factor or issue that, if unresolved during negotiations, would cause one party to withdraw from a deal.”

In reality the deal breaker does not have to be a “good reason” by society’s standards, it’s a very personal thing. What’s the bottom line? Or more to the point, what’s YOUR bottom line?


Ready for some light introspection? What’s that one thing that you can’t overlook or tolerate in business, in entertainment, in personal relationships, in your home, in eating/drinking/dancing/traveling/clothing habits? The list can go on and on.

What’s the catch that can sometimes be a wakeup call? Who is the person whose presence removes you from attending an event? Do you sometimes ask, “So who’s going?” when gathering information for a decision?

In answer to “What’s a relationship deal breaker?” my friend stated flatly and without hesitation, “Infidelity.” Now that’s one of those very personal decisions, but it made me think, Just what is Infidelity? Lusting in your heart? Physical contact? Daily texting of a very personal nature? A sexual relationship?  Flirting- and how do you define flirting? Here we go down the rabbit hole.

Deal breakers are fluid. Sometimes red flags are no longer red flags. Then, do you forgive or is it a deal breaker? What might have been a deal breaker ten years ago or a year ago and now is a mere shoulder shrug? Or vice versa?

Here’s one:

Then: “Come to Sam’s party. But you know, they don’t serve any alcohol.”– Deal breaker for me.

Now: “Hey look, all you can drink- free. Doesn’t that sound great?!!” Deal breaker for me.

There are dating deal breakers, petty deal breakers – (the most unusual I heard was dimples), relationship deal breakers – ranging from and including living at home after age thirty, a long and continued history of unemployment, debt, drug abuse.

There are job deal breakers – racial prejudice, sexism, no workplace harassment policy, no a/c.

Romantic deal breakers are as varied as the number of varieties of lilies or roses  (lilies-110, and 150 species of roses). A small digression here of a personal nature: If your relationships have a shelf life of 2-3 years with harsh and seemingly abrupt endings, take a listen to some great songs: Try a Little Tenderness. Sure Thing, The Wind Beneath My Wings, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Your Love is King, You’re the Best Thing, Tonight I Celebrate My Love.

There are sometimes the edge-of-deal breaker-remarks or situations that can be solved with “Let it go.” “Move on.” (Verbally, emotionally, or physically).


But sometimes…it’s a deal breaker. Three random samples from my life:

  1. When I was in my early 30’s I went for an interview as an assistant dance instructor at a New York City dance studio. It was very posh, lovely décor, full wood floor with non-slip foam backing, and wall-to-wall mirrors. Clean, very welcoming. Very “in.” The director asked some basic questions. We danced. He had me give pointers to three students as a practice class. He was pleased. At our closing talk he confided proudly that I need have not concerns about being uncomfortable in any way with the clientele.  “We screen all our prospective students.”

“What do you mean?”

He smiled disarmingly. He turned me to the mirror. “Well, my dear,  look at us. Not everyone looks like us. There are certain types we don’t want. We don’t want their kind.”

Without a word I knew what he meant. Looking in the mirror, I couldn’t see any clue of compassion, intelligence, or verbal, much less dance ability. I saw only Size – average, Shape – young and fit, and Color – white. And that was a deal breaker.

2. Glass half-empty perspective. If someone has that “yeah, but” tone in more than 30% of their responses to suggestions, invitations, ideas, it can be like a dark cloud moving in on a picnic. After a while, isn’t that pretty tiring?

3. The tone of voice can be a deal breaker in deepening a relationship. When I said I’d pass on watching 2Broke Girls on TV I got “What?!! You don’t like it?!! It’s so funny.” Add on that this was said in an incredulous tone. Sometimes an incredulous tone is like a red flag invitation to heated debate.

“Well, it’s a sexist show and that’s not funny to me.”

“Aw, come on. I can’t believe you don’t think it’s funny.” Deal breaker.

One-liner deal breaker responses from my random sample survey: “He calls me beautiful like it’s my name.”  “Don’t call me ‘hon’ unless you are the waitress in a New Jersey diner who does it with attitude and love.”  “Aw, come on. I was only kidding. Can’t you take a joke?”


What are other deal breakers? Send me a one-liner or an anecdote. Come to Odyssey- at intermission there’s a chance for an audience member to share their deal breaker.

What did I leave out on those relationship love songs?

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.

Ways to Expand Your Writing (and other) Talents

Posted by on Sep 30, 2018 in Writing | 0 comments

Autumn conjures up visions of pumpkin picking (Yes, we’ve got Apple Annie’s in Wilcox to satisfy that desire), Farmers Markets (Like the 8th Annual Harvest Festival Nov. 3), raking leaves (Well, that goes way back), and the general idea of harvesting – reaping what you sow.

Still being fascinated with words, I began sharing at storytelling events – not only reading, but telling. If you enjoy being with people and entertaining, this organic marketing is a solid connector. The next step for me seemed to be to share stories that have not been published (yet).

I’m not a numbers person, but in the last two decades I’ve had some rich “harvests.” Published two books, have the honor of being in several anthologies, 100s of website blogs and posts on Facebook. My writing expanded to sharing about the writing process for groups and writing organizations, and entertaining by reading at Open Mics, and my 2014 ‘baby,” Writers Read, here in Tucson at BREWD.

woman speaking to writing groupNEXT STEP FOR YOUR WRITING: Local writers and lovers of words, why not expand your word smithing outside of your books or ebook? Storytelling in Tucson: Tucson Tellers of Tales TOT, Odyssey Storytelling, Female Storytellers FST, Bar Flies , and other area events. Each of these offer opportunities to share your words. 


  1. Have two to three stories you have honed to be able to share, without notes. Check the guidelines for the organization – theme, time limits, family-friendly, venue location, book sales possibilities, rehearsal, pitch and acceptance procedure.
  2. Once accepted, practice your story – not necessarily memorized, but be so familiar with the material that you know the next sequence of events. If it’s a true story, this gets a little easier. Memorizing works for some people who can deliver with gestures and facial and body language that seems natural. Memorizing can be a crutch if you forget a specific sentence. Solution: Accept that there’s the story you write or plan, the one you practice, and the one you actually give. They may not be exactly the same.
  3. Send, and then also bring, a very short intro to the event (3-4 sentences with the title of your piece). Do not depend on  the coordinator to remember you sent an email three weeks ago.  Most are wearing several hats at an event and will be grateful to have a half-sheet, typed, large font, short intro about you.NOT A WRITER? Musicians, singers, retired teachers – Why not take your voice to schools, assisted living communities, local restaurants, or residential communities? The audiences are excellent and most places encourage CD/book sales.

    Taking more of a plunge, I’ve been dabbling in improv with the incredibly entertaining and informative workshops at Unscrewed Theater. Now there’s an instant opportunity to be a wordsmith!

          MY REQUEST: Feel free to let me know how you’ve expanded your love of words. Check my Events to find some venues I’ll be at this fall.

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.

Hold Onto Summer

Posted by on Aug 29, 2018 in Writing | 11 comments

A childhood phrase that I cherished for years was “Hold onto summer.” My summers were idyllic. My family and I had a special place, memories that I captured in my memoir, Thinking of Miller Place. It was the one-acre property and surrounding little “world” of Miller Place where we could climb trees, eat raspberries, swinging lazily on the canvas hammock, rock back and forth on the glider, and go as high as we could on the rope swing, and have Sunday bar-b-ques with sweet Long Island corn. And the beach was five minutes away.

It wasn’t so much the warm weather but the activities and feelings that summer offered: peaceful, calm, exciting, adventurous.

Now that I live in Tucson, summer is quite different, at least weather-wise. Triple digits temps are rationalized with “it’s a dry heat.” Still, loyal as I am to my adopted state, that’s pretty hot.

What’s wonderfully the same for me are the feelings and memories we’re building with the hiking in the cooler mountains, reading on the patio and slipping into our spool to cool off, full moon times outside, and dinner and concerts with friends. This summer has been especially adventurous. A trip back to New Jersey and Long Island to visit friends and family and a road trip to the California and Oregon, and Idaho brought us coast to coast.

For your enjoyment here are some of my summer memories. What’s a summer memory of yours?