The Writing Life

Slack Key Love

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

Hawaii has always symbolized romantic love for me – walking hand in hand on sunset-lit beaches, gentle waves lapping at our feet. Last fall my husband Hank and I had big plans to go!! As the day came closer for our departure for Kauai, I found myself playing Hawaiian music, slowing my morning walk to a dreamy saunter, and practicing serene, yet alluring smiles. We were to spend two weeks on Kauai, both the North and South shores. Yes, we were going with our neighbor, a seasoned Hawaii traveler, but had all agreed we didn’t have to be together 24-7. This would surely leave time for – Romance.

Days on the South shore went by quickly – hikes, archeology and garden tours, dinners out with the three Musketeers – as I called us. Nary a glimpse on the horizon of my romantic fantasy with Hank. The North shore and town of Hanalei surely would offer fulfillment. Looking at the weekly bulletin board in a café, my romance radar zoomed in on Slack Key Guitar Concert with Sandy and Doug. Sandy and Doug – yes, my sister had told me about them, how lovely their music was. Relaxed and romantic.

The concert was held in the hamlet of Hanalei on the North shore of Kauai “nestled against the emerald green mountains, rich taro fields, incredible rainbows, with soft trade winds carrying the sounds of surf and Hawaii’s birds through the building.” Nice, eh? (Ok… I admit, that was taken from Sandy and Doug’s website).

Our travel companion had “been there, done that” with slack key. Ha, this could be the prelude to our romantic liaison. My sweetheart agreed to go to the concert because he is usually agreeable to all my ideas, earning himself the title National Treasure. That and the caveat of  “Hey, if it’s not good, we can leave.”

Hawaiian slack key guitar is a finger style guitar art form, created by Hawaiian paniolo (cowboys) in the late 1700’s when guitars were first introduced to Hawaii. The traditional form combines altered tunings to make music that is described as “soft, sweet, and very soothing.”

The popular story is that Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) were hired to teach the Hawaiians how to manage cattle. Mexican longhorn cattle had been introduced as a gift to Kamehameha I in the 1700’s. The cowboys taught the Hawaiians and when they returned to their families on the mainland, some gave their guitars to the Hawaiians.

The Hawaiians didn’t know the chord fretting positions on the guitar neck. Their instruments until then had been percussion. They also didn’t know how to tune the strings… so they loosened the tuners until the strings were slack, sounded nice… and strummed.

Our romance providers are tuning up – Doug and Sandy – two renowned slack key guitarists who’ve been together probably since their twenties. They are of the Age of Aquarius, having been together a long time. They remind me of laidback hippies. She in Hawaiian print dress, long braids, flip-flops; he in a more subdued but Hawaiian shirt, long pants and sandals. They moved, talked, and mesmerized me in a mix of hippie/Hawaiian time and motion.

Two folding chairs are up front, in the open air – although humid and rainy – open air building, two floor mics, a very, very  small floor fan to cool the musicians, and a little table between them with extra picks, CDs, and water bottles.

Sandy both collects the money and performs. Concert pricing- if you are between 20-50 years old, you pay full price; if you’re a student – you get a discount price; over 50– you get an even bigger discount.

If someone came in during a song, Sandy would give a nod, keep playing, and go collect the money at song’s end. The room gradually fills up with tourists, local fans, and folks getting out of the rain. Of the forty people making up the audience, there is one couple, that we can see, who are under forty, or perhaps even under thirty.

We ask the youngsters if they had to pay full price since they are the only younger couple in the entire room. “No, in fact we got the student discount… And..we’re on our honeymoon.” Romance…

“You comin’ there, Sand?” Doug asks over his shoulder.

“Yep.” She sways to her chair. Ah, ok, here we go… Just as she is about to sit down, up she rises, and goes over to the fan.

“I did just fix that,” Doug says in a neutral voice.

“But it’s not perfect,” she replies with purpose. She moves it about one inch. “There.”

Doug gives us that look that many couples are familiar with. It’s the look of someone who knows their partner well, knows there is a certain attention to detail that the other partner does not hold to be vital, and an acceptance that this is how their loved one is comfortable.  Back to her chair.

My sweetheart looks at me and is shaking with silent laughter. “Wha’?” I ask. “Nothing,” he says and puts his arm around me.

Sandy has an easy listening voice. I have heard a supposed story of how they met. Doug came to a party, picked up a guitar and started playing. She was smitten. They’ve been together ever since. I’m reminded how I first fell in love with Hank’s voice – deep, measured, kind. I squeeze Hank’s hand. He gives the familiar pat, pat, pat back. Sandy shares about Doug’s talent in learning, exploring, and sharing the tradition of slack key. She looks at him. He nods and begins to play.

And I’m off on a quiet trip of musical notes that kind of hang and shimmer before finding their way to the next note.

Then it’s Doug’s turn to talk. He looks at Sandy and takes an egg timer out of his pocket, and sets it. “She only gives me two minutes to talk.” She gives a Mona Lisa smile. But he talks about her, how she has created a slack key composition that will make us think of birds chirping. When she plays, he accompanies her and occasionally looks at her, and his face is undeniably peaceful and happy. When she finishes, he plucks one string on his guitar – the note of the bird. He looks at us like Didn’t I tell you?

They are a couple. They are individual musicians, and they are each other’s champions.

What is love? It’s more than passion, kisses, and dreamy-eyed sighs. It’s going because ‘she wants to.’ It’s appreciating my National Treasure driving through the afternoon rain, dashing along muddy paths, settling in a one-fan room on a humid day to be treated to 1½ hours of restful music.

Romance is not always as I picture it, but it is always, if I allow it to be, “nahenahe.” Sweet and gentle.

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 Weekly Opportunity To Write – With Success

Posted by on Mar 28, 2018 in Writing | 0 comments

“I can’t find the time to write.”

“Too many interruptions.”

“I get distracted.”

“I’m too busy.”

When I said that last one, a tough love colleague barked, (well he didn’t really bark, but it seemed like it) “Come on – Either you want to write this book or you don’t.” A lighter version of “Either #%*@ or get off the pot.” And so I began to change my writing habits and attitude.

WRITING GROUPS WORK: Since 1999 I’ve been a member of one writing group or another that meets for the sole purpose of writing. I know this weekly commitment added to the success of completing my first book, Thinking of Miller Place. When I moved to Arizona in 2009 I knew a writing group that writes was an idea that worked. Sure enough, the second book came together, got revised, edited, and published ––Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. The same has held true for contest submissions, speeches, presentations. If I show up, the “space” is there––the writing gets done.

Writers commit to meet each week at a set time and place with the promise of no interruptions, no cell phones, no one saying “Hey, you’ll be home, you can take care of the plumber/delivery/laundry/kids…”

The Eastside Writing Room is open to all adult writers. You don’t have to live on the eastside of Tucson but it cuts down on travel time if you live near the two hosting locations (private residences). For those not on the eastside, you can trek over by us, but why not try the Downtown Writers Table––an offshoot of our Eastside group.

We state our intentions for the two-hour period and then laptops open, pen to yellow pad, and write in blessed silence.

Here’s what some of our writers say about the Eastside Writing Room:

From Hank: I belong to Eastside Writing Room because I am writing for myself and my family. As a new writer, I need the discipline of setting aside a few hours each week to just put my thoughts and memories into words. I find the writers at Eastside Writing Room comfortable and supportive.

From Bee Bloeser: What a blessing to have discovered this group over three years ago when I was beginning to write my memoir. Critique groups have been of vital importance, but I needed both kinds of support. Two hours of silent, focused writing time helps clarify direction for moving things forward another notch, especially after having declared our intention to our fellow writers.

From Rhema: I am a terrible procrastinator. If I sit down at my computer to write, unless I’m really charged up, I usually end up taking a prolonged break and playing games on Facebook. Having two hours to do nothing but sit and write forces me to get something done. As many authors have said – just write something. It’s a start. You can polish it up later.
I am in a critique group, but we meet irregularly – unfortunately. The Eastside Writing Room is just for writing, not critique. It gets me a push to do more during the rest of the week.

From Rita: I am in this writing group because I have a story to share and I felt that this is the right time for me to share. I enjoy the group and everyone in it, as well as it helps me to write and make the time. This has been a great experience for me.  -Rita Lake – with Realty Executives

From Beth: I love this writing group.  Everyone is serious-minded and we get down to work in short order.  I cannot explain why, but I get some of my best writing done here.  Maybe there is a magic vibe in a room when one is with other writers writing.  I am working on a memoir and have made great progress since joining this group.

Are you in a writing group? What kind? How’s it working for you?

You are welcome to give the Eastside Writing Room a try. Contact Ethel.


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.

Stuck For A Writing Prompt? Open Your Wallet

Posted by on Mar 22, 2018 in Writing | 0 comments

“From Wallet To Typewriter, The Effects Of Sylvia Plath Are Now For Sale” This article by Rebecca Rego Barry about Sylvia Plath caught my eye for two reasons: I’ve been fascinated with Plath as an author ever since I read The Bell Jar. What influences authors often gives me a great writing prompt. I know I’ll never get any personal items of famous people. Wait. I do have an autographed photo of the Beatles from their Forest Hills concert in 1965. But that’s mine and will never go to auction. I digress.

What would Sylvia Plath have kept in her wallet? Why the recipe for veal? And there’s the answer in the margin: “Ted likes this.”

Here’s the writing prompt. Emptying my wallet and looking at each item was like viewing one of those collections that Facebook puts together as a service to remind me what’s happened in my life. I admit curiosity at what seems an arbitrary choice of what’s Facebook-worthy. But rather than complain, I can revise it and create another device to garner what’s been important to me. The wallet will more than suffice. How many of those cards, photos, and scraps in my wallet are seeds for stories? Well, just about all of them.

The stories I carry. The five-dollar bill folded three times and tucked, not in the billfold but in a side pocket, a remnant of my father’s advice to always carry five dollars and a dime with me at all times. Five dollars would do it decades ago. I remember him showing me the five-dollar bill he had folded in his wallet and how serious he was. “You’ll always be able to take care of yourself; to get help if you need it.”

But the story that shifted to the foreground was the three years in my life when I did not have even $5 and had to scrounge around my apartment or in the penny jar to get $1.00 in change. Why? When? Where was I? How did it feel? Was this a public or private episode in my life? I’m ready to write that story. But am I ready to share that story?

Here’s the ‘gift’ card from Guadalajara Restaurant for $5 (coincidently). Must be six years old. No expiration date. Wonder if I can still use it. It’s so old; why is it still in my wallet? It’s a reminder of the friend I was with when we ate there, and the sad fact that he is no longer actively in my life. I don’t know where he lives, how or what he’s doing, but I get a text message every year wishing me a happy birthday and I send one to him. Couldn’t that mean we are still actively friends?

The battered penny I found recently in a parking lot. It’s pockmarked like it has been drilled with a micro hand drill. An edge of the penny is tissue paper thin. “Find a penny pick it up; all day long you’ll have good luck.” Sure it’s a line from Grease, but my story will be how my older sister looks just as delighted with the find now as she did when we were kids.

And then there’s the ever-growing stack of photos of my beloved and me, and my sisters. I just can’t seem to discard the old black and white one of my Finn and me, and so squeeze it in with each new one in the photo slot.

Make it a group prompt. Teachers are infamous for having a storehouse and treasure chest of things in wallets and handbags. My colleagues and I at Washington School (about twenty years ago) often played Let’s Make a Deal with one of us being Monty Hall. Most of us usually had a piece of chalk (this was before whiteboards). We all had Band-Aids, safety pins, gum, lifesavers, and gold star or heart stickers. The all-time prize went to J.W. who carried a spray can of Lysol. Instant winner.

Adaptations to the “look in your wallet” prompt. If you’re stuck for a writing idea, look in your wallet, or purse. Or have a friend share what’s in their wallet and why. Look in that junk drawer; look in the glove compartment of your car. Does anyone really keep gloves in there? And why is it sometimes called a jockey box? Grist for the mill for another blog.

Take one item. Where did you get it? When? Why? What makes you keep it? Follow the train of thought and write your story. Make it fiction, non-fiction, a fantasy, a mystery.

What’s in your wallet?

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.

“I’m Not Afraid of Cancer”

Posted by on Mar 15, 2018 in Writing | 2 comments

When I was a little girl the modern mode of communication in our house was our very clunky rotary dial black phone with a jacketed (material) round line cord that stretched two feet from the phone to the wall. It was at the hub of our house in the tiny hallway that opened to all the other rooms–living room, kitchen, bathroom, upstairs to my older sister’s room, my room shared with my Finn, and my parents’ bedroom. A hub with no privacy.

If you grew up in the 1950’s and had a phone, the word privacy was further blocked by being on a party line. A live operator connected you to your phone call, but then no one else on the party line could use their phone. Often when you picked up the phone you could hear other people talking.

When my mother got a phone call one afternoon, we overheard:




“I see.”

Then there was murmuring as she dragged the phone into the bathroom, the semi-private area of our house. It only took a few minutes, then click and clunk as she hung up and put the phone back on the little hall table.

My twin sister and I were experts at “reading” moods, atmospheric tension, and body language. Since we were in our room and Mom went into the kitchen with Dad, we heard one six-letter word. Cancer. Then “my mother.” “Funeral.” The air felt thick, almost gray. I learned early on to label it “fear.”

After that phone call I don’t remember any discussions with us. It seems most of my information came from my peers (the Big C), or books in the library (definitions of malignant, surgery, drugs, fatal).

Words are powerful.

It starts with a six-letter word. Cancer.

Then it gets personal: Your neck, brain, skin, lung, breast, bone, soft tissue, sinus, pancreas, uterus, pituitary, renal, vascular.

Then it gets specific: Tumor, lymphoma, leukemia, melanoma, neoplasm, sarcoma.

It gets more specific and more complex: Rhabdomyosarcoma. Esthesioneuroblastoma.

Being Proactive.

Over the years I did what worked for me to diffuse fear of not knowing when a medical issue arose. I asked friends. I went online. I read books; I had good rapport with my doctors.

It helped – some. My grandmother’s cancer was fatal. My sister-in-law died from cancer. My husband’s mother died from cancer. Unlike today I don’t remember hearing of anyone who survived cancer. In 2014 my stepdaughter was diagnosed with lung cancer, which metastasized to her brain. She lived in New Jersey; we were in Tucson. We lived in fear and apprehension every time the phone rang.

Being Very Proactive.

One evening at a Toastmasters meeting, I saw Laura was on the agenda as a speaker. Title of her speech: “I’m Not Afraid of Cancer.” Cancer. The big C. I was back in the gray atmosphere. Not afraid? Come on, who is she kidding?!?!?

I forced myself to listen. Laura’s cancer survival was the first I heard where a patient was very proactive. Of course she got info from her doctors; she’s a Toastmaster and we Toastmasters talk and listen. But Laura did more. She incorporated seven areas of her life that underwent ‘training’ to protect her and help do battle with her cancer. “I made that list based on my research; I didn’t even realize it was seven things until just before giving the speech –  I counted them to ensure I repeated the list without missing one. I’m pleased to provide it here:  diet, sleep, stress management, exercise, community, faith, and freedom from toxic exposures.”

I copied the list to remind myself to personalize this – diet can be the cancer fighting kitchen diet, or go green, or macro, or Mediterranean. Stress management can be yoga, meditation, affirmations, tai chi, walking, journaling. What I came away with was being pro-active and having an inner locus of control can cancel out the debilitating emotion of feeling like a powerless victim.

When a close friend was diagnosed with cervical cancer two years ago, she heard the word cancer, followed by a blur of words and a buzzing sound for the rest of the “test result consult.” When her partner read back some of the information he had written at the doctor’s, he realized there were gaps in the notes he took. That one word and the meanings and experiences attached have caused countless emotional and physical reactions.

Sadly and yet thankfully they both knew people who had gone through treatment and could fill in some of the gaps. They also were online in the next 24 hours, and in touch with her doctor, and the American Cancer Society.

In the last two years, more people in my life have been diagnosed, battled and won (some more than once) against cancer. Some, like my stepdaughter and brother-in-law, fought courageously each morning, each treatment session, each nightime and yet lost the battle with this horrible disease. Some are still holding the line. My friend B. emails me that her numbers are down. “The doctor did not see any other areas of cancer. I’m so happy.”

A Resource by Survivors.

Just this week I read Mary Maas’s book Sisterhood of the Wounded Breast. Reading this book is a journey alongside 22 courageous women gathered by the equally courageous cancer survivor, Mary Maas, who gathered the memories and stories of survivors of this horrendous “equal-opportunity” disease. Some of the women state the facts of the tests, discoveries, and decisions to fight their disease. Other stories open the doors of fears, indecision, searching and living for months not knowing the outcomes. Those were the hardest to read and yet the ones I appreciate the most.

Most survivors shared heartfelt stories of the support and overabundance of kindness of partners, spouses, churches, medical professionals, friends and their own personal spiritual power that will surely boost a reader’s faith in humanity. I could only add up my minimal aches and pains and find I was filled with sorrow for their harrowing times mixed with admiration for the determination of these 22 women. It’s a hard read but one I am grateful to have read.

Laura emailed me, “If nothing else, I hope that learning there are options may help folks feel empowered to help heal themselves, which all by itself can do wonders for one’s outlook and attitude.”

Self Talk.

My friends and the survivors in Mary Maas’s book leave me speechless. How do they do it? More than one survivor has said something like, “You wake up each day and get out of bed. You put on clean clothes, look in the mirror and say, ‘I love you.’ Close your eyes and say, ‘Thank you. I can do this.’ You have friends or family who look at you and say, ‘I love you, we can do this.’”

So what’s the takeaway from this? I’m certainly less apt to take my health for granted. I’m more aware of being compassionate, willing to offer specific help to friends, and to continue to learn, in any way I can about health and healing.

Please feel free to send comments, share your experiences and thoughts about dispelling that fear when it threatens to take over. We can do this.

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.

Valentine’s Day – not just for lovers

Posted by on Feb 13, 2018 in Writing | 4 comments

“Cupid, draw back your bow and let your arrow go…straight to my lover’s heart for me.” (Sam Cooke 1961, for those of you who didn’t grow up in the ‘60s).

The Alaskan Inuits have 52 words for snow… it’s that important. I think we need something like that for love.

When I went through a particularly angst-ridden period in the ’80s I played this song over and over, and over––“I Want to Know What Love Is.” Years have gone by and I’ve gotten a few ideas. (Thank you therapists, books, personal experiences.) Love is letting go of fear. Love is that your happiness is essential to mine. Love is devotion. Love is getting outside of self. Love is an emotion and an action.

FEBRUARY 14- THE BIG LOVE DAY. Hold on there, you don’t have to have a sweetheart to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

If, as I have read, a love relationship is a state of being connected and caring, there are dozens of ways this can happen, with varying levels of devotion, like, and love. Kinship, blood, marriage, work, colleague, boss, sibling, friendship, activity, cause, parent/child, sexual, love, romance.

My idea of love and celebrating Valentine’s Day is an inclusionary concept. I want to sweep in all the people, places, and things I’ve said I love. That ranges from loving sweet potatoes, to Gone with the Wind (both book and movie), reading (what a delightful escape), the beach, mountains, other beautiful places in nature, my dancing, hiking, writing and storytelling friends, my friends of history, loving memories of people who have died, my family, my life partner. I’m connected to all of them in some way, with varying degrees of emotions. You can love a lot of different ways.


Everybody loves something, even if it’s just tortillas. ~ Trungpa Rinpoche

Ya gotta learn to laugh. It’s the way to true love. ~ John Travolta in Michael

If lots more of us loved each other, we’d solve lots more problems. And then the world would be a gasser. ~ Louis Armstrong

I love you not only for what you are but for what I am when I am with you…

I love you for the part of me that you bring out… I love you for ignoring the possibilities of the fool and weakling in me, and for laying firm hold of the possibilities of good in me… You have done it all by being yourself. ~ Ray Croft

It was a million tiny little things that, when you added them all up, they meant we were supposed to be together… and I knew it. ~ Tom Hanks, Sleepless In Seattle





Zing went the strings of my heart. ~ James Hanley. 1934 song




Family faces are magic mirrors. Looking at people who belong to us, we see the past, present, and future. ~ Gail Lumet Buckley




Love is an excess of friendship. ~ Aristotle






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



What I Know- and don’t know

Posted by on Jan 2, 2018 in Writing | 3 comments

New Year. 2018. This is the first year in a long time that I don’t have a detailed list, or lists, of goals. Usually I have professional, then personal goals, sub-headed with writing, reading, speaking; relationships, home, travel, family, friends, hobbies. I’ve even attempted to have my husband, aka National Treasure, join me in the glee (yes. really) of making those lists. He declined.

This year it all just seemed too daunting. 2017 went far too fast, even though it was packed with:

Travel – Kauai, Virginia and DC, Illinois, California

Literary accomplishments – acceptance in two new anthologies:

Happiness – two great-nieces’ graduations and beginning college, an engagement, new babies, new friends.

Sadness – my dear brother-in-law taken from us by cancer, and far too many friends battling this horrible disease.

Professional endeavors – sharing my experiences in editing, public speaking, and stories.

Expanding my horizons – Improvisation classes, Odyssey Storytelling, Tellers of Tales.

Maybe that’s what made it go so fast. There was always something to do, people to meet and enjoy.

So this year, 2018, I’m revising an activity from my teaching plan book, “What I Know- and Don’t Know.”

WHAT I KNOW: I will continue creative writing, blogging, and submitting my work for publication, and sharing what I know. I will make self-care a priority. I will take time to spend time with people I care about. I will try things I’ve never done before. I will start tap dancing again. I will travel to Europe, California, Chicago, and the East Coast- from VA to MA. (Fair warning to all my contacts in VA, DC, PA, NJ, NY (that means LI, NYC, and upstate), MA. I’ll even make a stop on Staten Island to visit my alma mater Wagner College. After all these years, I want to walk on the Oval again and marvel in person at the changes I’ve seen online.

WHAT I DON’T KNOW: Exactly how all this will unfold. What else might be gifted to me.

WHAT I’M WILLING TO TRUST IN: The best is yet to come.

What do you know about 2018?

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.

Pile of Books #3- Recommended Reading for AZ Landscaping

Posted by on Dec 30, 2017 in Writing | 0 comments

December arrived. Outside landscaping? Trim the cacti and put Santa hats on ’em. Now Pile of Books #3 calls.

Pile #3 is like the Overview for my current and future projects–traveling, and the never-ending home landscaping. Since we returned from Kauai Hawaii, I’ve become a Hawaiiophile. I’m enthralled with the history, cultures, and especially music and dance of Hawaii.

On our drive to the airport to come home from Kauai we stopped at the Kauai Museum in the Albert Spencer Wilcox Building. With lots (I mean LOTS) of time before our flight, we took a leisurely self-guided tour through the museum. It’s a small museum compared to NYC or LA museums, but it’s chock full of artifacts from Polynesian finds, detailed texts accompanying weaving and clothing designs, statutes, photos of sugar plantations, paintings of Hawaiian royalty, and newspaper articles and posters from World War II. I’m most interested in the early history and inculcation of native cultures with western influx. This museum is great without being overwhelming. The books in Pile #3 augment the adventures of this trip.

Maui Revealed 3rd edition is a loan from our neighbor Glenn who seems to have a pretty full library of Hawaiian books, maps, and music. When we decided Maui would be our next return to Hawaii, Glenn had the book.

The Illustrated Atlas of Hawaii by Island Heritage United is an informal read of history, detailing cultural assimilation and cultural pride. This is my second time reading this; the first was prior to our trip when all the information was new. Now I’m looking at the gorgeous illustrations of plants, birds, and flowers and mentally recalling where I actually saw them. I don’t know about you but the combination of reading about something and then experiencing it for real is pretty exciting. Sort of like seeing any movie with a scene in NYC and knowing I walked there, lived there, ate there!

The last two in the pile are what I call “nudge” books. Front and center on the table near the TV as visual reminders to be easily picked up as a follow through to “Yeah, we’ve got to do something about the front yard.” I’ve marked pages, made some sketches of areas I want it to address as Ms. Alexander suggests and so beautifully shows in her book The Essential Garden Design Workbook.

Next step, choose what fits seasonally and for the climate here in Tucson, Which leads to Landscape Plants for Dry Regions by Manzano. This is still an alien subject for me. I automatically think of East Coast plants, flowers and care. And of course, the desert is different. November 19th, Lowe’s still had plants on sale that could be successfully planted right in my front yard. Time for more reading to learn what I can do in January.

Pile of Books #2- Recommended Reads

Posted by on Dec 26, 2017 in Writing | 4 comments

Book Confession: It’s now a day after Christmas. As noble as my #2 book pile was, Christmas trumped everything. It was time to get out those boxes of decorations and get ready for the holiday festivities. Now I’m putting up my feet and settling in to read.

The Hunger Games Books 1, 2, and 3 by Suzanne Collins. Now I can see why folks got into this series. It’s a lot of writing work to send the message of the futility of violence, but Ms. Collins’s writing plunked me into the daily ordeal of the very impoverished lives of Katniss and Peeta, the two main characters who exhibit characteristics of teenagers I know, layered over with the trials of the dystopian society in which they live.

Escape reading it is. I’m rooting for the main characters and that’s key for me to like a book. I’m only on Book 1 and the other two are waiting. Gotta go.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. I confess I avoided this book when it was published in 2000 because I didn’t want to read about people dying from cancer. Then in 2016 my stepdaughter died, in the next two years too many friends were battling, defeating, warding off pancreatic, ovarian, lung, skin and breast cancer. And I was almost perversely drawn to reading about Dave Eggers and his siblings’ life after their parents – both of them- die from cancer.

His memoir chronicles his years from when he is in his early twenties raising his eight-year-old brother. The resilience of the main character so obviously shines for me through the more than unorthodox ways they live. My brother-in-law died of cancer this year just before Christmas and I put the book down.

But I am grateful for writers who share their stories in whatever their style is because the book is still here in my house. Now I take it up again to learn how I deal with this latest death- to cry, be outrageously angry and eventually laugh again as Dave and Toph do.

Travels with Maggie by Pat Bean. I met the author two years ago at the Story Circle Network Conference in Austin Texas (which, by the way, is a great organization if you’re looking for support for your writing work). My colleague Penelope Starr and I happened to be sitting next to Pat and got to talking. She was working on this book about traveling in the US with her dog. Oh, ok. Then, the more I talked to her and enjoyed being pulled into her smiling personality, I thought, “If she writes the way she talks and acts, this could be a good book to get.” The bonus in talking with her was to find out she also lives in Tucson!

We kept in touch a bit, meeting at Writers Lunch here in Tucson, reading her blogs with accompanying stunning images, and having a talk about publishing possibilities.

And now her book is a reality. Of course I had to get it. Reading Travels… is akin to being in the RV with her. A double bonus is reliving my own travels in New England along with her. Beautiful writing, detailed maps, and her delightful narration.

Social Media to Social Meeting

Posted by on Dec 12, 2017 in Writing | 4 comments

Can you really make personal connections with social media? The Internet and emerging technology have brought an international flavor into my life and I more than like it. I know what happened in my hometown across the continent and to friends in Germany in an instant.

Anxiety about the subway bombing in NYC was lessened somewhat when I saw my friend’s facebook post–she’s safe. The flip side of this news coin is the happiness I felt when I saw a picture of my New Jersey extended family great-nephew two hours after he was born.

I’ve posted, texted, connected, friended, liked, and tweeted. Not all at once. But I’m there for a period of time every day.


Those connections are treats for a people person like me. For a writer it expands my connection with other writers, especially memoirists. Social media offers online and international groups to join (She Writes, Story Circle Network, The International Women’s Writing Guild to name just a few) as well as a heads-up on local events in Tucson (Odyssey Storytelling, Tellers of Tales, FST, Writers Read, Unscrewed Theatre, POWER). LinkedIn has allowed me to “meet” writers and paved the way to actually meet writing colleagues.

Two of my current editing clients are thousands of miles from me in Oregon and Massachusetts, but I value the personal connection that has grown out of frequent emails with each of them along with editing exchanges. Massachusetts and I met in person during a summer vacation to New England.


An example of a social media treat becoming more than just a snack treat, all because I accepted a LinkedIn request from Mary Havens, a writer in Alaska. We checked in periodically. We tried to meet when she was in Tucson in the summer. It didn’t work. Mary’s book was published; she persevered in keeping in touch and planned to come to Tucson for a few months leading up to the Festival of Books in March. Could we meet? Stick with me here. I invited her to our weekly Eastside Writing Room hosted at fellow writer Bee Bloeser’s home. Small world–Mary and Bee had met at a Writers Meet Up in Tucson.

As a result, we met, in person, which felt like a huge treat for me. This one was fueled by connection, persistence, and for me, a sense of accomplishment. Hey, we did it.

Next up for me–how to connect more than email and online with those guys in Oregon and Massachusetts.

If you’re not posting or liking regularly (at least every other day – better every day), set aside a half hour daily to see who’s out there. I’m at my laptop either first thing while I’m still in my pj’s or later at night. The challenge is to stay on task–read, post. Do not leave the writer’s trail even if one of those “Share if you remember this” posts catches your eye. If you don’t have time to post, an alternative is to speed read and “like,” or post a quick comment.

I’m here. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter.

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.

54 Hugs in One Day

Posted by on Dec 5, 2017 in Writing | 5 comments

When was the last time you got hugged more than 54 times in a day? I’m a hugger and was completely in my element when we recently visited a local school in Kauai. Let me start at the beginning.


Kids are amazing! Whether they’re pre-schoolers, wiggly giggly elementary age, highly energetic middle school, or inquisitive almost adult high school students, they capture my attention and heart.

Even though I officially retired from teaching twenty years ago, if I have a choice to spend time with, entertain, or be entertained by kids, I’m there. So it was a no-brainer when my friend Glenn mentioned his nephew and wife ran a charter school in Kauai, I immediately started figuring a way we could visit.

First of all, the Kula Aupuni Niihau A Kahelelani Aloha (KANAKASchool is organized, busy, and welcoming. The school embraces an educational curriculum with respect for culture and people. The vision statement impressed me and impressed me even more during our visit.


The vision of KANAKA includes: the preservation and promulgation of the Niihau dialect of Hawaiian, and Hawaiian culture and ideologies; for our students to live functional lives in a western dominated society with their culture and language as the foundation for learning; to provide authentic life lessons, and meaningful learning experiences.


More impressive was our welcome. Hedy and Steve Sullivan, the director and her husband, greeted us and guided us outside for our introduction to the students. Students and staff led us through an official ceremony with Hawaiian chants to ask permission to visit and chants of acceptance. Three of the younger students made what was probably a long walk for them across the yard to present each of us with a lei and hug. This was followed by the entire school population, students and staff greeting us with “Aloha” and a hug. The feeling? Acceptance, affection, and wondering how I can get a grant to teach there.


With a small population, the classes are shared levels so my husband, friend, and I visited the mixed high school class during science and another class during Hawaiian instruction. We were enveloped with laughter and smiles from middle school age kids vying for camera shots, and then totally enchanted with sixteen K-2 students. Their teacher, Heather Neumen, graciously allowed me to do one of my favorite things–sing and do some interactive reciting with the kids. Like most little kids, it was a mix of outgoing, curious, loners and shy ones. And like most kids they were quick to laugh, sing, and hug. What a treat!

Most impressive, being around beautiful kids who were open and curious reminded me how precious all children are. I think it was Herbert Hoover who said, “Children are our greatest natural resource.”

And Mary Jean LeTendre who said, “America’s future walks through the doors of our schools each day.” The future sure is getting ready at that small charter school in Kekaha Kauai.

Mahalo for including us in your 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.