The Writing Life

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.


     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.


     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 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. 

Birthday 2019

Posted by on Mar 15, 2019 in Writing | 2 comments

Every year on March 15, I take out this beautiful message to read and share:

Henri Nouwen

Birthdays need to be celebrated. I think it is more important to celebrate a birthday than a successful exam, a promotion, or a victory. Because to celebrate a birthday means to say to someone: ‘Thank you for being you.’ Celebrating a birthday is exalting life and being glad for it. On a birthday we do not say: ‘Thanks for what you did, or said, or accomplished.’ No, we say: ‘Thank you for being born and being among us.’

On birthdays we celebrate the present. We do not complain about what happened or speculate about what will happen, but we lift someone up and let everyone say: ‘We love you.’~  Henri Nouwen

Henri Nouwen was a Catholic priest, writer, professor, and theologian. Ordained in 1957, he was also, in his lifetime, a teacher at Yale Divinity School, a, visiting professor at the University of Notre Dame, along with writing thirty-nine books. He had a life filled with international learning, travel, and life experiences.

Henri Nouwen’s Influence on My Life

God’s Beloved was the book that introduced me to Henri Nouwen, when a colleague shared it at a spiritual group almost twenty years ago.

I never met him or saw him speak in person but articles about his enthusiasm and “engaging” speaking style came across for me in his words:

“I wanted to know how we could integrate the life of Christ in our daily concerns. I was always trying to articulate what I was dealing with. I thought that if it was very deep, it might also be something other people were struggling with. It was based on the idea that what is most personal might be the more universal.”~ Catholic New Times 1986

Of course. That clicks! I love to be with people and you don’t even have to be in a jolly mood for me to lean forward, look you in the eye, and want to get more of who you are. I find it with the tile guy who is visiting us daily for bathroom renovations;  I’m privileged to have conversations with our contractor about family and core beliefs along with when the vanity will be installed. It happened with the clerk at Walgreen’s who had an especially striking purple hair color; it is gifted to me at the breakfast table as my sweetheart and I linger over that second cup of coffee.  And it happens over and over with my twin Eileen.

People are fascinating. And if these thoughts on my birthday hold true for me and you and anyone who reads this, that makes some kind of a universal connection, doesn’t it?


Happy birthday, whoever and wherever you are!girl twins in satiny dresses sitting by toys, one year old


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. 

Me and My Library

Posted by on Feb 21, 2019 in Writing | 0 comments

I have always felt safe and comfortable in libraries, from the very small local library where I grew up in Merrick NY  (which their website tells me is “a little busy at 11AM.” Wonderful!) to my Horrmann Library  at Wagner College (where I worked Freshman year filing books – by the Dewey Decimal system!),  then the older library in Verona NJ ( where I met with Verona Toastmasters) that was reminiscent of the white clapboard building with creaky wooden floors  in the Miller Place Academy Free Library.  (where my sisters and I roamed like pint-sized explorers and I discovered Daphne DuMaurier)

small brown buildingwhite building surrounded by green  treesfull glass windows in brick building
two-story colonial brick building with white columns in front




Today I read the article “A (visual) History of the American Library” by CityLab visual storyteller Ariel Aberg-Riger with interest. I have been privileged to have access to libraries–good, well-stocked, well-lit, warm in winter, cool in summer–libraries. And yet I know, and Ms. Aberg lays out quite well in detail, stats, and a historical timeline, the bumpy road full-access libraries have traveled to bring free books and the joy of reading ( and more) to everyone in the US. It’s not an unheard of path–first white men, then rich white males, then educated men and some women, then maybe some less wealthy white men and women, then segregated, at last public libraries labeled public accommodations open to everyone, but today many are locally funded which sadly portends inequalities in available funds. But libraries have persevered. And for that I am grateful.

Got a library card?

Both my husband and I have library cards. If I go back in the mental files I think a library card was the first membership card I ever had. I’m a brick and mortar library lover. I love to actually go to the library, wander the aisles, browse magazines, then pile up the books to take home. My husband is an online user. If you have a library card, use it. Take a friend to the library. Make a library date.

Lost your card? Don’t have one?  Here’s how to get a card:  how to get a card in Pima County 

It’s so much more than books

Local libraries in Tucson host writing groups, Toastmasters, tutors, chess clubs, dance workshops, Knitting for a Cause, travel lectures, storytelling for children of all ages, aging resources, tax classes, computer classes. Can’t find that special book on mind mapping? They’ll find it. Need a Big Book for your storytelling event? The children’s librarian’s got it. They gladly take and post my flyers for community events. In my mind, it’s a hub for gathering people together, so they can then spread their “wings” and fly.

Dusenberry-River Library Tucson AZ

Sure, we can check out books at the library. But what else is doing at your library?

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. 

The Love Month

Posted by on Feb 1, 2019 in Writing | 2 comments

Are you ready? It’s here. Hallmark sales spikes, chocolate overloads, scented candles, perfume and flowers top the credit card sales, and people tapping into their sometimes under-utilized romance files.

I do love lots of things and people. All kinds of love. Friendship love. Loyalty love. Compassion, fondness, affection. Things that I love.

But I admit it. I’m also a romantic–big time. My heart is on my sleeve. A part of my heart holds deep abiding love. My emotions run the gamut when it comes to caring/affection/love. One of my favorite scenes in a movie is the opening credits scene in Love Actually. Families, couples, friends, people of all ages, sizes, shapes and colors greeting each other at Heathrow Airport with hugs, kisses, laughing, crying. Makes me tear up and smile at the same time. And then I can sob at one of the last scenes in Wuthering Heights when Heathcliff carries Cathy to the window so she can see the moors and smell the heather. (Multiple tissue rating if it’s the Laurence Oliver and Merle Oberon 1939 movie.)

So when the calendar on the refrigerator gets flipped to the February page, I’m ready to celebrate that incredible organ, the heart.


Some quotes that get me going about love:

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

Two-minute free write: I love … pizza, sitting on the beach, cherries, smelling the ocean, seeing the sun rise from my patio, watching my husband make coffee because he is totally immersed and at ease in that one morning activity, going through an art gallery where colors abound, naps, my friend JoAn’s carrot cake, walking a labyrinth, books, my office which is also my sanctuary and my creative writing site.

Suggestion: Do a two-minute free write about love. Can you stop at two minutes?


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

I love to laugh. Of course it doesn’t mean I ”fall in love” with my laugh buddies. But laughing relaxes me, and I’m more apt to see love when it’s offered. Laughing helps me forget the “shoulds,” worries, and small dark clouds that can drift across my emotional radar screen. Can you be mad or sad when you’re laughing? Can you be worried when you’re laughing so hard that you actually snort?

My friend Majda had one of those infectious laughs, and she laughed easily–at visual things, at stories I told her, at things we did together. I miss her. Remembering her laughter helps me remember how I loved her.

Suggestion: Who makes you laugh? Tell them. Write about them. How often do you spend time with them?


I was at a party feeling very shy because there were a lot of celebrities around, and I was sitting in a corner alone and a beautiful young man came up to me and offered me some salted peanuts and he said, “I wish they were emeralds”, as he handed me the peanuts and that was the end of my heart. I never got it back.   ~ Helen Hayes

This has got to be one of the most loving, romantic “scenes” I’ve ever read. I can see it. I can hear the background noise at this party–music, laughing, the range of voices in conversations. And the beautiful woman sitting, waiting, although at that moment she didn’t know she was waiting.

When I first heard my Hank’s voice, I felt a jolt in my heart. What the heck is this? Heartburn?But it was followed by a kind of excited feeling in my stomach and heart. I looked around to see where that measured voice with the easy listening tone was coming from. Then I saw him, but by then my heart had moved towards his. Lucky me to have followed that jolt.

Suggestion: Write about love.


And my personal favorite, for fun and for love:

A man should kiss his wife’s navel every day.             ~ Nell Kimball

May you find love every day, not just in the love month.


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. 

OK, I’m into 2019!

Posted by on Jan 18, 2019 in Writing | 0 comments

Three weeks into the New Year. For me this means the over-exuberant burst of resolve has subsided to a more realistic view of what I actually want and can accomplish without getting exhausted.

When my colleague, Gail Woodward’s (Dudley Court Press) newsletter arrived with her perspective for the New Year, it ignited a great spark of motivation. Well her’s arrived three weeks ago but it did motivate me to consider and take steps for my 2019 amazing experiences. (I’m nothing if not optimistic and enthusiastic.)


My literary year opens with more events to take my words off the page and bring them to the stage, telling stories at Odyssey, FST (Female Storytellers Tucson), Tucson Tellers of Tales, Writers Read, Tucson Festival of Books, and improv classes at Unscrewed Theater. Read on or Click here for details at ELM Events. 

First up- Feb. 2. It’s also my first collaboration with fellow storyteller from Tucson Tellers of Tales, Ron Lancaster. Ron finds humor in just about everything and since I’m on a one-person mission to connect with people in the most positive way I can, we came up with “Go Ahead and Laugh,” an hour of stories that will have you laughing, and nodding your head in recognition. Click here for details.

Writers Read enters its 6th year. Seasonal readings from original works draw folks to a local coffee shop aptly named BREWD. I’ll be  reading on Feb. 28, perhaps a love story. Click here to find it on ELM events.

Very excited to be at a larger venue on Sunday March 3 at the Tucson Festival of Books. I’ll be one of about 350 authors but you can find me on Sunday at the Wheatmark Inc. Booth (with my books) 9:30-10:45 AM,  and at Tellers of Tales (selling-and telling tales) at 2:00-3:00 PM. The festival is all weekend, a magnet for authors, book lovers, readers, storytellers and entertainers. From 50,000 visitors in its first year in 2009 to over 130,000 last year, it’s a pretty big deal here in Tucson.

Taking my show on the road- sort of- I’ll be one of an energetic group of students from Unscrewed Theater with our improv showcase on March 9 6:00-7:00 PM. At last, a venue where I don’t have to be calm and quiet. Tina Fey has said, “There are no mistakes, only opportunities.”  “Follow the funny” is another mantra from my new improv world. More details soon.


6 books in a pile Robin, Becoming, Before We Were Yours, Musicophilia, Canadian Rockies, Not My Father's SonA literary experience at home is to revel in reading. If you’re a reading addict, send me what’s on your reading table, why, and your opinions.

Santa and friends brought a stack of great books to read. Robin by David Itzkoff, Michelle Obama’s Becoming, Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks, Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming, and Lisa Wingate’s Before We Were Yours.

I already tore through Robin, gaining more understanding of the comic genius and having much of his tumultuous life laid out in black and white. It was a book that stayed with me; I planned each morning when I could take some time to read a few chapters. Afterwards it left me with a bit of an emotional hangover and the desire to watch Good Will Hunting, Dead Poet’s Society, and Good Morning Viet Nam again.

Comparing Robin Williams’ isolated childhood with that of Michelle Obama, whose childhood was surrounded by relatives, love and a healthy support, my “Nurture/ Nature” ideas got pretty stirred up. From a writer’s viewpoint, what is most intriguing about Becoming is the use of phrases and words that depict scenes and emotions very clearly along with tenets of what makes a healthy happy marriage, good parenting, and a devoted family.  I’m enjoying Becoming as much as Robin, but with very different emotional reactions.

And so the rest call to me too. Will Alan Cumming’s memoir show a different side of him than we were so entertainingly gifted with in “Legal Immigrant”? Will we get to the Canadian Rockies this year? I think so. Will Lisa Wingate’s book keep the promise of being both emotionally “wrenching” and “uplifting”? I hope so.


2019 is a renewal to a healthy lifestyle: yoga at a great studio, only a 7-minute drive from my house, no excuses about distance. Walking and hiking in the foothills and trails that are accessible to us here in Tucson just about every day of the year. I even signed up with my sister for the Senior Olympic Festival’s 5K walk on January 28.

And always a renewal for my husband and me to review our relationship and commit once again to the qualities and attractions that brought us together twenty-nine-years ago.

We recently went over our “Rules for Fighting Fair” created in the 1990’s. We softened “rules” to “suggestions.” We added a few, honestly agreed many of them had become a part of our everyday life, and renewed our commitment to some of them as very good suggestions to use with each other and people in general. Curious about the rules? They’re also in my book, Seedlings, Stories of Relationships.

With hopes and wishes for a successful, fun-filled, and Happy New Year,


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. 

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.