The Writing Life



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. 

Start with a House: On My Own

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

The World is My Oyster Homes

I’m on a roll. It’s 1969 and I’m on my own. I need my own place.

6. After graduation from Wagner College in 1969, I was out on my own. Each place where I lived was absolutely “mine.” My first apartment was a small studio on Staten Island near the Goethals Bridge making it an easy crossover to New Jersey and my first teaching job. It was one large square room with a big picture window, a dresser and double closet stuffed with clothes. A small cubby kitchen and bathroom made it a super-sized studio. I furnished it with beginner’s apartment finds – a studio bed/couch, TV on a rickety metal folding table, larger table with two chairs, and orange crates on bricks holding a portable record player, record albums (yes, vinyl) and lots of books. Today I wonder how I fit everything in the space. That tiny place was not filled with a lot of memories. But each time I put my key in the door, I had a sweeping feeling of independence. I was paying my own bills, and budgeting my salary to get the $125.00 a month rent check mailed on time.

7. and 8. When I began my relationship with Malachi in 1969 we started in the projects on Staten Island. He went off to work in the city and I drove to New Jersey. We both knew The City was where we wanted to be. Our next apartment was a fourth-floor walk-up in a renovated brownstone off Central Park West. The whole area was just starting to change. Two blocks west were still boarded-up buildings and abandoned cars. But our small one bedroom, with tiny kitchen, bathroom, two minuscule closets and living room was “deluxe” to us. It was complete with a working fireplace and onsite landlord who dropped in monthly to see how his “kids” were doing. This began my love affair with NYC.

9. We “moved on up” to West End Avenue to a 1925 pre-war very large apartment with three bedrooms, two bathrooms (yes, really), eat-in dining room, living room, and kitchen with pantry. This was my growing up home. Our experience with blatant discrimination and our neighbors’ help with the Human Rights Association in 1971 taught me about collective power, and being effectively assertive. I think it was then I adopted “knowledge is power.” This was a period of growing up in marriage and getting smarter about life. I met a diverse number of people, ate at upper Westside restaurants, danced at clubs in The Village, had picnics and flew kites in Central Park, and realized I was pretty lucky to be living in a beautiful neighborhood. The hour commute to New Jersey to teach was not even a blip on the radar screen of discomfort, although learning the ins and outs of alternate side of the street parking in NYC and the necessary assertiveness was interesting.

A Home as a Safe Haven

10. In 1975 my first husband died and I needed a home that was calm and safe. For a year I was surrounded by love, caring, and this sense of home with my second family. I was teaching and protected by the Ball family. Books, newspapers, and letters were comfortably strewn in the living room, and the smell of apple pie became wonderfully familiar.

The home I lived in in West Caldwell New Jersey fostered the idea of a home that was not only beautiful, but also calm and safe. The five-minute walk down the tree-lined street to my job at Washington School was the best way to start my day. It was a geographically small world, my home when I most needed a home.

The architecture of the Ball’s house added to the sense of security – a wrap-around porch, my place in the garret bedroom where I could retreat for privacy to read, grieve for Mal, and later dance at the beginning of returning happiness, and share time with my sister of the heart, Mary Alice.

11. and 12. Two other homes witnessed my sometimes shaky start to life as a widow- my alone apartment which including finding my “self.” A hard but necessary time. Then being nurtured by my Finn, Eileen, and her Paul in their house, which was my home for almost a year, another halfway house like college. But this time when I most needed a haven.

Declaring Independence Homes

13. In 1986 I moved to my own apartment in Upper Montclair New Jersey. I called it The Garrett. I lived there at a time when I cherished solitude. I relished the fact that I could sit on my bed and see straight through to the other end of the apartment where there was a tiny makeshift kitchen with sink, a half refrigerator, and a probably illegal microwave.

14. In 1988 I acquired a mortgage, deed and signed paper after paper to my first ownership – a 900-square-foot condo in Lake Hiawatha New Jersey. I had that feeling all over again of being a grown-up. But this time with monthly mortgage payments, and taxes. I learned diplomacy with over-friendly neighbors and assertiveness with household service workers.

Have you lived completely on your own? What have you learned about yourself, family, people, joy, sorrow?

Tomorrow: Homes with a Life Partner

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: Part One

Posted by on Jun 5, 2019 in Writing | 0 comments

How To Begin A Story

Where can a story begin? “Start with your childhood home.” That advice from Jim May at a Tellers of Tales workshop in Tucson took me back to sitting on the floor in our living room in Merrick New York. The carpet was thin, but thick enough to alternately be an ocean, a patio, or a foundation for building a house for my dollhouse family.

When I shared this house idea with my  husband Hank, we tallied up the numbers of places we’ve lived, both together and before we met.

This led me down into a warren of homes. I never realized how many places have been home to me. Now in my eighth decade, my tally is up to eighteen.

What did each home represent for me? Certainly, it was not apparent what the overriding feeling was to live in most of the places while I lived there. Taking time to look back has been nostalgic, sometimes sad, but mostly very enjoyable. Each home was important. Looking back from my current home, I can pick out bits of memories of each home and what they symbolized for me.

Homes-Your Built-in Writing Prompts

If you need a boost for writing and want to do memoiric work, this can be an excellent jumpstart. As I brainstormed for this writing, I began to see it as is kind of a retrospective. I’m taking a trip and stopping at each home to reflect a bit on who I was becoming then. Once I got started, I was really into it. Looking at photos, talking to my sister, husband, and facebook friends from years ago were like writing prompts in themselves. If you’re not into memoir, the truth can be revised for a piece of fiction, or fantasy, or mystery. I know I’ll be returning to this theme a lot. Start with a house.

Expanding the Suggestion:

Take it as a stream of consciousness exercise. List each house, with or without the year(s) you lived there. Maybe add who else was in the house. Attach one word or phrase to each home you’ve lived in that describes its importance. Expand, layer, combine, or contrast homes. Will your focus be on the architecture of the house, the colors, the location, the people in it? Will you make a chronological list? List them in size order? Happiness factor? Anything is possible. How many possible stories will you have?

Bits and Pieces of My Chronological List:

  1. The home of my childhood was small in comparison to homes today. We had three bedrooms and one bathroom for five people, one phone, and one TV at Kenny Avenue in a suburban town serviced by the Long Island Railroad in Merrick, New York. My dad walked to the station and took the train to work each morning. Often the train whistle at night would be the signal that he’d be striding down Kenny Avenue about fifteen minutes later. A possible story about my dad.

2. The Miller Place house on the north shore of Long Island was the oasis in my life. I spent the first sixteen summers of my life there. We packed up the station wagon and drove out to the house when school ended. June, July, and August – three months for sixteen years amounts to about four years. Those times impacted me in the most fulfilling way. More about that later. Lots more.

 

3. When I went to college in 1965, (yes, this is history now) it was a protected environment. Wagner College is situated on Grymes Hill on Staten Island with a breathtaking view of the New York City skyline. As freshman “girls,” we lived at Guild Hall with curfews, quiet hours, and no men allowed except on Sunday afternoons. I think a story about our college Open House rules is certainly in the making. Does anyone else remember “doors” open” and “one foot on the floor”? Sounds stifling by today’s standards? I loved every minute of college life. The overriding thought about dorm living was how I became aware that by spending time with other women – studying, sharing clothes and makeup, listening to first date happiness or disasters, I was building caring relationships. It was in my freshman year at Guild that I met Aino Kay Lautsio and was a suitemate with my twin Eileen.

4. and 5. Later years my sister and I had cluster rooms with our independent women friends – Bev, Judy, Linda, Angie, and Mickey in Towers Dorm and the New Dorm (not so new anymore). I’ve reconnected with Aino Kay and Linda.  The “home” feeling came from the friendships, open doors, sharing, and an incredible amount of laughing.

 

Why not start your list of homes tonight?

How many have you had so far?

Tomorrow: Homes on My Own

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. 

Alone But Not Lonely

Posted by on May 29, 2019 in Writing | 0 comments

In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion. ~ Albert Camus

Why a Spiritual Retreat?

In mid-May when spring is absolutely gorgeous in Tucson,  I made my decision to go on a solitary retreat. I recognized I wanted to be alone, but not lonely. I wanted to silence the thoughts that were constantly spinning in my head, those shallow attempts to calm myself with busyness and mental “what ifs” and “I shoulds.” It had become a kind of perseveration. I had so much internal chatter and emotions skittering around. I felt I was getting mixed up with words – alone, loneliness, solitude.

My husband and I are each other’s main cheerleaders/ supporters/listeners. We also have our own approaches to dealing with stress. We both need time to explore our interior thoughts, and kind of find our own way before we share with each other. Of course that involves different timelines. Most of the time, we both don’t have high stress needs at the same time. Most of the time.

This was not one of those times. Why won’t he talk with me? I was ready to talk and listen. He wasn’t. I labeled my feeling loneliness. It really was dis-ease with being with my own scattered thoughts. I needed someone to listen and help me sort it out. While I was at the Redemptorist Renewal Center in Tucson, I booked two sessions for spiritual direction.

Spiritual Companioning

How recent has it been that you had the experience of having someone listen to your words? Really listen, where there was no evidence that they are flipping through their own mental files deciding what to say. I had two sessions with a sister from the Order of St. Francis. There was a stillness to her listening that was simple witnessing, and as she said, “Companioning on your journey.” I got that opening and ease I longed for. And with it came the re-awareness of my Higher Power.

After each of my sessions, I went over to the pool. It was deserted one afternoon and populated with one other person doing the finger scroll checking messages on his phone, and then leaving without a sound. The sun warmed me as I sat back in the chair by the pool, eyes closed. Taking a leisurely swim, the water was a distinct and refreshing contrast to the sun.

Coming Home

When I think about the quiet of the library and the pool at the Center, a feeling of stillness comes over me. Not the heavy stillness of fatigue or inertness of being overwhelmed. The feeling is one I get when I look at a calm body of water. Here at home it’s the smooth surface of our little spool on the patio after sundown. An occasional cricket chirps. The only other sound is of my own breathing. I’m captured by the sight of miniscule points of white lights that are the stars. I feel an ease and comfort in being alone, on my own.

I came home released of tension, and in possession once again of myself. I regained the comfort of hearing no inner dialogue entreating me that I should do something. In solitude I find I can do some spiritual work. Solitude is once again an antidote to loneliness.

Who is your listener?

Where/how do you find and cherish solitude?

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. 

Mourning Dove Retreat

Posted by on May 28, 2019 in Writing | 0 comments

A Solitary Retreat

The large and very plump saguaro is wearing an almost full bonnet of white blossoms, serving breakfast every morning to the mourning dove sojourners. This particular saguaro has quite a few arms; this tells me it’s old. I’m sure it has hosted many birds and watched many human retreatants from its post just outside the patio off the dining room at the retreat center where I am staying.

Yesterday there were about seven birds at the saguaro retreat. Today I thought it was a lone spiritual journeyer like me but it was soon joined by another. The first leans over, head bobbing up and down several times – kissing, I believe.

When a third comes to join them, there’s lots of wing fluttering, sending the third away. Couples retreat, I guess. So far my own visits here have been individually oriented. I tuck away the thought that someday I will be part of a couple’s retreat here.

The third goes back to the feeder next to the patio where I am eating breakfast, where it is sure to meet like-minded travelers.

I am on a solitary retreat at the Redemptorist Renewal Center in the foothills of the Tucson Mountains and the Sonoran Desert. When I arrived I realized if I did nothing more than walk on the paths, or sit and stare at the mountains during a pink and purple sunset, I would be renewed.

Why a Retreat?

Why go on a retreat when you live in such a beautiful place on the far Eastside of Tucson, in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains? And have a beautiful home and spool?

One evening several weeks earlier, when I felt crowded, cramped, and tired in my beautiful home, some lines from Emma struck me with such clarity I thought Jane Fairfax stepped up behind me at my desk, and spoke to meJane, a character of otherwise quiet intelligence, a socially reserved woman, had quite a lot on her plate. (No spoilers, but rest assured she needed a break)

“I am fatigued… we all know at times what it is to be wearied in spirits. Mine, I confess, are exhausted. …Her parting words, “Oh! Miss Woodhouse, the comfort of sometimes being alone!”

Kind of dramatic, yes, but it hit me instantly. “That’s what I’m feeling and that’s what I need. The comfort of being alone.”

Physical issues, stress of family changes, and a multitude of losses had piled up like the snow that gathers behind a snowplow after a winter storm. Okay, being here in Tucson, I literally don’t actually have to deal with that anymore, but the comparison is apt. The “snow” had become far too heavy to keep pushing through each day.

What It’s Like

I booked three days away at the Redemptorist Renewal Center where I have had success in spiritual renewal several times before.

A small room with private bath, three delicious meals a day, a library stocked with books and four comfy chairs, a pool, paths in the desert, an outdoor chapel and indoor chapel. And my favorite spiritual tool, a labyrinth.

The first evening and the next two mornings I walked the labyrinth. The labyrinth site has been moved since my last visit. A twinge of discomfort at first when I saw the sign pointing the way led to the left rather than to the right. I don’t take easily to change.

Stopping to look at the paths and larger grouping of rocks before I entered, I saw how simple and beautiful it was. Slow and steady, one foot in front of the other, breathing in and breathing out, each breath, each walk bringing more and more “stillness.” “A labyrinth has only one path that leads to the center. A labyrinth in this sense has an unambiguous route to the center and back and presents no navigational challenge.” (Wikipedia)

Well, no wonder I feel at ease walking a labyrinth. I won’t get lost; I can rest at the center and easily find my way out. An interesting metaphor for navigating in life. And just breathe.

Each evening after dinner I went to the library. The state of grace in walking the labyrinth and having breakfast without human interruption continued. Not a soul was in the library. Perhaps there were quite a few souls, but no humans. Other than the light by my chair, it was dim and restful. Each night, I settled in a huge lounge chair with at least six books gleaned from the psychology, philosophy, spirituality, and yoga bookshelves. I traveled with Thich Nhat Hanh, and the Dali Lama, and several authors who seemed to know just what I needed to read. I skimmed some, dove into others. I ordered two of my own so I could make notes in the margins and underline, star, and comment on parts that spoke to me.

I began to be alone, but not lonely.

What do you need when you feel lonely? How do you get recentered?

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. 

“Gifts” for Mother’s Day

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

Emails from Hallmark, DSW, and every commercial enterprise that has my email address remind me again and again and again that Mothers Day is coming. I can buy, order, and send just about anything to Mom. This runs the gamut from traditional flowers and candy to a spa treatment, hiking shoes, breakfast, lunch or dinner out, or even a cruise or a car.

In-store product placement helps me choose by using eye-level placement with left to right scanning, block stacking (at least ten boxes of one product all stacked together to insure I’ll remember the name, shape, and color of the product).

Marketing surveys revealed that to attract a shopper with a cart and on a mission, there is a mere eight seconds to impress for that all-important purchase decision about how to best honor Mom.

All possibly helpful ideas if you’re stuck, rushed, or don’t have a clue what Mom really wants.

I don’t recall ever wondering what to get for my mother. This was not solely because I knew her so well. Gifts for my mother varied according to my age and what she let us know she wanted. Gift ideas were bounded by financial limits. Homemade cards were highly valued in my childhood. There was no cost and there were crayons, paper, scissors, wheat paste, ribbons and buttons in the cabinets under the bookcases. More than enough to create a card. We got positive feedback for detailed drawings, neat handwriting, and xoxoxo’s.

Once I was on my own, household items that I thought might make life easier made their appearance on Mothers’ Day, along with the homemade card. A blender, pillows, and yes, flowers and chocolate.

In the years when my mom was retired and broadening her creative side, I loved finding paints and art books to send her.

Finally, in her later years in the nursing home, I bought her clothes that were frilly, pretty, and feminine, along with stuffed animals that danced and sang.

One of the most wonderful gifts in her last decades of life was a gift of time. My mother began writing newsletters to our family members. She’d dictate, I’d write on my computer, with many digressions to tell the back story of why/how she got certain ideas. We’d address and stamp them and I’d mail them out. She also wrote stories about what was happening in her life.

After a visit with my husband and me and family in New Jersey in 1998, she wrote this story:

Smiling older woman in glass wearing New York Yankees baseball capLunch – A Feast or a Famine

by Gladys Erickson

      There are all kinds of lunches or luncheons – feasts or famines.

     The noon meal I eat alone at home after the morning chores, invariably termed a “lunch” is usually a rather uneventful occasion. That is, unless the phone rings, and I find myself, having just stuffed my mouth full of more than an ample supply of food, trying to hold a conversation.

     Feasts

     A luncheon implies two or more people, a carefully planned menu, not a slopped-together peanut butter sandwich. If I’ve left my domicile for a peaceful lunch away from the turmoil that prevails at home, then this moment in time can be a relaxing and centering one.

     When I lunch with a family member, good friend, or friends, we not only share physical refreshment but feel free to share our joys and burdens as well. This gives us the opportunity to be understanding, helpful and non-judgmental of each other. As one sage put it, to be thoughtful of others is “a time-honored way of extinguishing the ego’s self-importance.”

    This is a time, too, to giggle, laugh, “be in the moment” and prayerfully wish the whole human race be filled with love for each other. The only thing that could mar a special time as this is allowing the conversation to degenerate into a gossip session. Then the opportunity to be physically, emotionally, and spiritually restored is forfeited.

     Famine

     The loneliest lunch in the world is after you’ve lost your dearest friend, live alone, and occasionally go to a restaurant- alone. I find myself enviously staring at families – toddlers, children, parents, grandparents eating together and enjoying themselves. The little ones sometimes have more food on their faces than in their mouths and there are a few moments of mayhem among the older children. So what? It’s all part of a precious time of the day.

     Also within my view are tables where spouses and good friends are deep in conversation, and a table in a corner where lovers are more interested in each other than in the food before them.

     Does the male species utilize this special hour of the day to bare their souls and talk about their innermost feelings?  I don’t truly know. If they don’t, perhaps it’s really not important to them.

    Another Feast

     One of the nicest lunch occasions is the one when new friends are met and made. My daughter Ethel and her good friend Mary had been comparing their octogenarian mothers, and decided we should meet. So during my ’98 Thanksgiving visit to the “North,” arrangements were made for the four “girls” to have lunch at a nearby restaurant. The only knowledge we had beforehand about each other were: our first names, our ties to “Southern living” and the penchant that Mickey (Mary’s mother) and I had for wearing baseball caps in place of the conventional hats proper ladies don. There were hints from the girls that they probably had discussed our other quirks too.

     The date of the luncheon arrived. We were to be the guests of our daughters. A loving gesture and a great idea! We arrived at this pleasant restaurant and I immediately knew that Mary with her broad smile and pretty red hair was a very special person in Ethel’s life. As for Mickey, there was no doubt that this smiling lady with twinkling eyes was my kind of “gal”- not some “pooped-out” oldster glued to her rocking chair. We spoke of shared activities and interests as well as our plans for the future. The conversation flowed easily. Pictures were taken at the table. The food was delicious! All in all, it was a very, very pleasant time. With the blend of young and old, I felt young again!

     Well, it was time to say good-bye, and as we got up and put on our coats, I saw that Mickey put on her baseball cap. On the other hand, I was in the process of donning an ugly, but sensibly warm little woolen skullcap. It was then I noticed the look of dismay on Mickey’s face, and the disappointment in her voice when she learned I hadn’t even packed my cap! A terrible sinking feeling overcame me. Our daughters wanted pictures of their two mothers outside! Oh, the shame of it! Mickey’s expression of disappointment was only momentary. The pictures taken that day reveal two older ladies with smiles, respect for one another, and hearts full of love and gratitude for two loving daughters who made possible a day that was truly a feast. Also, I have a feeling if Mickey and I lived closer to each other, we might raise some eyebrows and be “too much” for our daughters.

THE END

The luncheon was our gift to our moms, but the lasting gift was her writing about it and sharing it. I realize a part of my Mother’s Day, and other days’ gifting, has been the time thinking about what to get my mother, how to deliver the gift to boost enjoyment, how to celebrate shared gifts as we did with writing newsletters, and modeling the frilly clothes. “Ah, the latest fashion for ladies of a certain age is modeled today by Ms. Erickson.” (Thunderous applause from the audience of two or three or four).

I’ve got the memories, photos, and stories to relive the gifts again and again and again.

Happy Mother’s Day!!

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.