The Writing Life

Martin Luther King Jr.

Site of MLK 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech

Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King’s birthday is actually January 15th; we celebrate his legacy today. But the day I remember is August 28, 1963 when he talked about a dream he had. I was 16 and heard excerpts on the radio, then we turned on the tv to see newsreels. That brilliant voice resonated through the scratchiness of the newsreel technology. And 250,000  people were with him in person at the March on Washington not to mention the unprecedented coverage from the media. I was stunned at the power of his words and have remained inspired by his words ever since. 

Reading some of these today I took time to see how I can put these words in actions. I have done so in the past, still do now, and see how my friends and family and neighbors do too. I am heartened. 

A Sampling of quotes of Martin Luther King, Jr. 

 “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

The view that mesmerizes – The Stone of Hope

“Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve…You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”

Visiting the Stone of Hope

The first view entering the memorial

The view that mesmerizes – The Stone of Hope

As you look back exiting the memorial

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Hank and I visited Washington DC in 2015, we spent a lot of time at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. It was a gorgeously sunny day and the granite gleam of the Stone of Hope held me mesmerized and emotionally moved. How can I not vow, by my words, to put his legacy into action?

Thanks to Karin Abarbanel who sends gems about words regularly.  My post uses some of her quotes from MLK. https://karinwritesdangerously.com/ 

 

 

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a mic. 

Words for a New Year

A NEW YEAR

Words are like a kaleidoscope of language, ever-changing in meaning, sound, nuance; yet meaningful to me. My decades old “mantra” has been “words are powerful.” Certain words make me laugh, question, recall, and can influence every relationship and mood.  

WELCOME SOMETHING NEW

In welcoming this New Year, I’m focusing on a new way of entering 2022. I’m looking at 2022 through the wide angle lens of possibilities. My website master at Groundwork Promotions  is calling it the Year of Evolution. That’s exciting! 

My friend Mona shared Susanna Conway ideas to choose your word for 2022. She’s not the only one. There are tribes, groups, folks, publications sifting through thoughts, feelings, hopes, intentions to choose a word for this year that embodies a personal hope, optimism, strength, wisdom. This inspiring guide for a word find reminded me of the year I redefined “sweet.” It became a treasure-not feeding the hunger of my soul with sweet food or too much sugar, but finding the sweetness that is inherent in me, and in you too. Keeping that word in mind, or on a post-it, can shift a thought. Try it. Choose a word that makes you smile or feel strong, courageous, etc. 

2021’S “NEW NORMAL”

Last year my personal catchphrase was realizing and defining what the “new normal” would be, which I latched onto from media and other writers. In retrospect it was weighted with wishing for the old normal to return. When I examined the whole concept of the old normal, it held much to be desired.  

It’s all too easy to see pandemic living as a narrow tunnel with a very small light at the end. It seems like settling for what is, even if “what is” lacked some very key elements. We now have some reference points- 2020, 2021. Yes, we’ve learned scientific facts and seen/been a part of events that cast all of us as characters of history in the making. I have had to accept some restrictive changes which I choose to see as safety measures. But settle? Maybe too confining. Life is too short to wander around in the past. 

NEW POSSIBILITIES

Turn that tube of life’s kaleidoscope a little and see a different design. Amanda Gorman’s  2022 “New Day’s Lyric” resonates with me. She said, “So let us not return to what was normal, but reach toward what is next.”

I’m releasing the “new normal” and keeping the new. No baggage. No expectations ( that’s a hard one), an etch-a-sketch beginning. Maybe a new hobby.

I recently started crafting greeting cards from the 1000’s of photos I’ve accrued and supplies from Stampin’ Up.

Maybe a new Zoom group is out there- storytelling, yoga- it’s all there with zero miles to commute.

Writing with a different focus. Since my mild stroke in August 2021 I’ve been journaling the changes, differences, progress (yes), and challenges my brain is experiencing. That takes me through a gamut of emotions and aha’s. 

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2022

So dear friends, Happy New Year 2022! My word is New. I’m placing it into the kaleidoscope of hope, joy, harmony, strength and… It’ll be interesting to discover what my view will be when someone asks, “What’s new?”

What will your word be?

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a mic. 

Words Can Soothe

Sometimes it’s very simple

Love Poems From God 

The Spirit’s Hands

They can be a great help-words. 

They can become the spirit’s hands 

and lift and caress you.

~ Meister Eckhart (Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West)

May your words be a great help to you, to all of us.

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a mic. 

Eastside Writing Room- Jan. 2022

THE EASTSIDE WRITING ROOM Jan. 2022

2022 is on the horizon. I’m jazzed to be resuming hosting our weekly Tuesday meetings after a four-month hiatus.  My heartfelt thanks go out to Penelope Starr and Sally Lanyon for hosting September-December.

YOU’RE INVITED

Start this year with a clear vision affirming your writing desire and talents with our Zoom writers. We welcome adult writers (published, not published, just starting, resuming) of all genres to join us. This group is not for instruction or critiquing. It’s solely for talking about writing and writing. 

HOW IT WORKS

Commit and claim your time each Tuesday just for you and your writing. Set your writing intention each Tuesday morning. The group talk is solid motivation to stay seated or BIC (butt in chair) as the post-it over my desk reminds me, and write. No fee. No commute- just make sure you’ve got the right time zone. Join us each week or as your time allows.  RSVP requested for each week.

WHEN

TUESDAYS ZOOM  11:30 AM-12:10 AM (MST) I email the Zoom link for our recurring meeting.

A bit of writing talk, stating intentions for the day’s writing, and then writing on your own. Email check-ins encouraged at the end of your session or sometime after 1:00 PM.

NEWBIE?


New to the group? RSVP and come when you can. Connecting while apart has had positive effects in mood, attitude, perspective and that spills over into our writing. Interested writers may contact Ethel. ethel.lee.miller@gmail.com 

If you wish to be removed from the monthly email, reply “Please remove” in the subject line. Feel free to pass this on to other adult writers.

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. She writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure joy of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a mic. She’s triple vaxed and looking forward to expanding her world.

Events? Hiatus!

A stroke sure changes your “social” calendar. My days are filled with meeting with incredibly talented and caring medical practitioners- my regular doctor, physical therapist, cardiologist, neurology practitioners and soon speech therapy. Each holds a special place in my life now- along with individual yellow folders filling up with tips, ideas, exercises.

Time spent with friends is one of the best prescriptions for healing.

Hank and my sister and her Joe are like a fresh daily elixir.

My gratitude to internet, digital, and online creatives is immeasurable. When you can’t get out like you want to, bring the world to your desk.

I’m writing blogs for the present, and snippets for the future.

Storytelling and writing programs are on hold for now. But with the ideas that keep crossing my radar, I know I won’t be able to stay away too long.

Meanwhile, I wish each of you many creative moments, events, and accomplishments whether writing speaking, singing, painting, flying, cooking-  that list can be endless. Enjoy!

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a mic. (back soon)

Tricks or Treats: A Personal Update

IT’S TRICK OR  TREAT SEASON

This October does seem like a new season to me. The weather here, September-November is a treat! The sometimes few clouds give us genuinely beautiful sunsets. It’s warm-usually 70ºs during the day; 40ºs 50ºs early morning. Even though it warms up during the day  Easterners can discern a coolness and crispness in the air. Really we can. I have gloves and scarf ready when it gets “cold.”

THE TRICKS

The trickster, aka my stroke, that visited me in late summer is getting restless staying here and has abandoned certain annoying habits like blasting me with headaches when “there is absolutely no reason for this.” I’m no longer getting neuro-laser zaps that leave me feeling numb. Emotional bursts, called lability in stroke terms, are now mostly grumbles. Biggest challenge is stamina-so more conscious attention to nutrition and smart exercise. And balance is pretty interesting when I get tired-usually late afternoon. 

THE TREATS

I can walk almost a mile with no rests and no gripping Hank’s arm. I am able to sleep lying down and getting more than 4 hours each night. I am familiar with reading “too much” with page turners ( Little Fires Everywhere, The Mothers, Rapture Sutras, and our latest Pema Chödrön book No Time to Lose) I’m journaling daily and can see the new plateaus each week-sometimes each day. Plus my stroke gives me opportunities all the time to stop for RRR-rest, relax, renew. 

My physical therapist is probably in her early 30s and has won my respect and trust. When she greets me with “I read an interesting study over the weekend about balance,” I know I am up for being a test subject. Okay by me, that’s what I signed up for in PT. She is“gentle,” but never says stop. The few times (?) I’ve whined abut reps in exercise, “Aren’t we up to 50 yet?” she might reply, “Mmm, well you can go slower” and then does the remaining math. “Only 23 more to go. “ 

Cardiology and neurology reports indicate quirks I’m experiencing are common at this stage of recovery. Overall I’m feeling pretty up these days. 

Other upside of my days-Hank and I celebrated 32 years of marriage last week! How did that happen! He is still my National Treasure and we marvel at how we are seeing the humor and are having fun in life. We are enjoying our this-is-why-we-moved-to-Arizona weather.

 

I am finishing week 8 of stroke recovery and it is getting lots better. I can now appreciate when the doctors said it was a “small” stroke. It’s all coming together.

Have a great Halloween! Hope you get lots of treats this Halloween!

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a mic. 

Being Drawn In

My spiritual resources come from every part of my life. Lots of books, recovery literature, movies, seminars, talks I’ve heard, talks I’ve given, conversations I’m a part of, conversations overheard, being in nature, snippets of scenes in other people’s lives, and the gazillion connections from online sites. 

One source has been a simple but lasting connection. In 2007 I reconnected with my childhood church. I don’t remember how it first happened that I received a Tower Chimes newsletter via snail mail. I hadn’t attended the Community Presbyterian Church of Merrick since I graduated from Wagner College in 1969. But as with many things, the beginning isn’t the key element. It’s what you do after that “beginning” that guides the path.  

I looked forward to receiving the Tower Chimes, or the Sunday bulletin. Then the change to emails. Now Facebook and YouTube. Reading about the Couples Club, garage sales, bake sales, Easter and Christmas flowers gives me a sense of community even 2500 miles away here in Tucson.

Reading the newsletter sometimes sparked reminiscing with my twin sister, with my husband, and with friends. Did you go to Sunday School? What about getting Christmas gifts from “Santa”? We knew it really was Mr. Bolander, but he was so smiley and jolly you could almost believe he was a specially chosen rep from the North Pole. Teenage years playing volleyball in the church hall on Sunday evenings, square dancing with my dad at a family night dinner, and going on retreats with the Junior High youth group. Yes, it was the days when we graduated from 6th grade and went to Merrick Ave. Junior High, the training ground for Calhoun High School. 

When my husband Hank and I took a Spring trip back East in 2014, we visited with Beverly Burke who took us on a tour through the church sanctuary, downstairs to the classrooms and to the gardens out back. It was so very different and so much the same. I always liked sitting in the sanctuary, often when no one was there. It was quiet and calm. I used to think quiet connecting had nothing to do with religion or spirituality. But if having a safe place for solitary thoughts, or sharing and connections with people is not a spiritual endeavor, what is?

 

This is an excerpt from the recent Bulletin that inspired me. I hope it may do the same for you. 

From the October 3, 2021 bulletin:

Drawn In Week 4  Listening” is an important part of Love. We open our senses to see what is emerging. Perhaps what we start doesn’t end up looking like what we thought it would. Instead, once the act of loving begins, we listen to how the Spirit is guiding our next steps and unfolding possibilities we were previously unaware of. –the Rev. Moira Ahearne, Pastor 

My takeaway here was to listen-opening my senses for that day. With that kind of listening I read the words silently-several times, then read them out loud. Moving to other senses sat on my patio, looked and listened to the birds, our little waterfall, the very slight breeze in the leaves of the mesquite trees. My intention was to listen to people that day without planning a response. Not easy. Sometimes I did, sometimes. Sometimes my reply was immediately lining up, pushing up against my vocal cords. But when I did listen -to the words, the tone, the pace, opening all my senses, with no thought of a response, it was just the easiest and most relaxing conversation.

Listen.

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a mic. 

How to Handle an Uninvited Guest

BUT WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO “BE NICE”

Belated thanks to Mom, my 7th grade Home Economics teacher, Emily Post  and Miss Manners (some of you may remember those last three). They each modeled, drilled, and cajoled me to learn how to be a gracious hostess. The old “be nice” of the 1950s growing up training included: Welcome someone with varying degrees of warmth, offer a chair or show the guest room where they are to stay, which you have previously stocked with comfortable blankets, pillows, room in the closet to hang clothes, small snacks to munch on. Offer a refreshing beverage, inquire how they are doing, what their plans are while they visit. Share what you had in mind to make the visit smooth and easy. I took to the whole concept whether lunch, dinner, evening or overnight stays.

THE UNINVITED GUEST

But then there came occasions when guests dropped in, rang the bell unannounced, or walked right in. “We’re such good friends I thought I could just “drop by.” I spent too much time being held hostage by unannounced and definitely at the wrong time visitors because I thought I had to continue “being nice.” I soon learned by the uncomfortable sensations in my stomach (anxiety), shoulder tension, headaches ( irritation, annoyance and other feelings moving along the negative feeling spectrum) that I needed to be prepared. I learned how to set boundaries and have a stock of polite phrases to limit time. Being nice to myself sometimes had to come first.

TIPS:

When you decide you have some time for that uninvited guest, here are some  tips: Welcome the uninvited visitor with a clear non-negotiable time frame that they will stay. Offering a seat is optional. Just as you might include on a written invitation, there’s a beginning and end, i.e., dinner 6:00-8:30 PM. Set the goal time of freedom from the “guest.”

When you know you have No Time: “Gosh, I wish I could talk but I have someplace I have to be in, oh no, ten minutes!” Do not answer the door. Lock the door. (same for phone calls- that’s why we have answering machines).

MY LATEST UNINVITED GUEST

About two months ago I had an uninvited guest. This guest invaded every part of my life and home. It turned my life upside down. At first I completely lost my bearings. I thought this guest might be here to stay forever.

The unwelcome guest was an ischemic stroke. I lost functioning of my right arm from shoulder to fingertips. (see “A Different Kind of Event” ) This sure was a supremely uninvited guest.

Taking That Path

IT’S WORKING

It’s now almost eight weeks and yes, it’s getting better, one day at a time. In the first three weeks it was one hour at a time. I made the decision to use all the gentle and not so gentle hints that there was no room for this uninvited guest.

I set a non-negotiable policy- do nothing to allow this guest to stay. Do everything to encourage space only for vibrant health, patience, positive thoughts.

DIET

Provide no food for this stroke- no sugar (one of the Flagstaff doctors talked  about a heart-healthy diet- “Strokes love sugar and caffeine because they weaken you and can nestle in to stay in those areas of your body.” So no sugar (not so easy for me), Good proteins, fiber, easy to fix yet tasty vegetable dishes, fresh fruit. No preservatives, No smoking, no alcohol (easy peasy for me – I quit both decades ago). Water water water. Neighbors and family stocked our refrigerator with chicken soup, beef stew, hot meals – thank you Sylvia, Lucy, Kathy, Kari, Eileen, Linda.

ENERGY

My stroke wanted sluggish activity, “poor me” thinking, and accepting a status quo ( “That’s just the way it is.”) Ha! Not here! Our home positively vibrates with good energy- Deva Primal chants, Pema Chödrön talks. Zooming with CSLT meditations and Nancy Leon’s FL Energy Meditation keep me “up” every day. Please never underestimate what a successful Rx positive messages are-  a short text from a friend that reminds me I’m a “warrior” nudges self-doubt away.

SUPPORT

Get support, even if it’s the trunk of a tree

Friends and stroke survivors/thrivers offered tips on everyday workarounds to save energy and keep my sense of humor- nap, rest, say no when you have to, get sunshine every morning, laugh, learn about strokes, ask questions, ask for help. Between online support groups, Zooming with other stroke survivors, laughing with friends, I am not isolated. The experiences of other people invite compassion for them, and for me. I’ve been a joiner for most of my life. I joined some groups because I like to learn new things, or I need to learn to survive. My path is my path, but I am not unique. So when I might be pulled towards fear I look and listen to others who are in that particular group and get my compass reset. Positive self-talk post-its are up again in my house (See Bumper Sticker Philosophy)

EXERCISE

I get daily exercise so this stroke won’t find a cushy place to take up space. My Physical Therapist, the wonderful Geneva Kaplan, personalizes exercises so I am “playing” tennis- well not with a racquet just yet but getting the spatial distance on the court and walking forward, back, side to side. Sometimes it’s “2 steps forward, 1 step back.” Also adaptable for future line dancing.

My stroke is finding out there is NO VACANCY here, and it feels fantastic!!! I don’t have to do this alone. Besides group friends, family and my husband, aka a National Treasure, I have a competent and accessible doctor, a knowledgeable neurology group, and a cardiologist who left me with this Rx the other day-  “LIVE LIFE.”

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a mic. 

 

 

A Different Kind of Event

Having an Event

When I was planning my very first book launch in 2008 a good friend said to me, “Don’t just have a book signing… have a book event.” 

“Huh?”

The spirit of his explanation was “A book signing is so functional, so utilitarian. But an event is… different. Think of the events in your life. Holiday celebrations, your first prom, graduations, a wedding, anniversaries, birthdays. Events elevate what happens above the mundane. Putting something in the event category makes it glorious rapturous exciting entertaining, noteworthy of great attention. Why not do that with your book?” 

From then on every time I planned anything to do with my book-publicizing, marketing, book talks, all so businesslike, I made it A Book Event. A Fall Writing Event. A Holiday Happening Event. It added to the attitude I had, the atmosphere of the event, and the success. Little did I know the most unexpected things can also be an event.

That first book launch event was held at a beautiful banquet room at a local hotel in New Jersey. The marquee usually announcing Happiness for Bob and Alisha or Welcome Baby Shannon, Or 75th Anniversary, was emblazoned with CONGRATULATIONS ETHEL! Introductions were made by a local celebrity. I swept in through the double doors of the banquet room. Confetti shot into the air from party poppers and drifted down like so much happiness. It was an event to be remembered. Hopefully this makes you think of events that happened in your life- wonderful, noteworthy events-and how you can create more.

A Different Kind of Event

On August 25 of this year I experienced a very different kind of an event. Some brain cells in my left frontal lobe decided to goof off. When I woke up that morning my right arm from shoulder to the very tips of my fingers was numb. Couldn’t wiggle/lift/move it. It flopped off the bed. This was not pins and needles.Try as I could staring and willing it to move. Nothing.  

A fleeting but quickly buried thought. You had a stroke. Denial immediately said, “No, maybe you just slept funny.” It wasn’t until I staggered into the bathroom and tried to wash my face, I realized I couldn’t lift my arm. Denial tried again by encouraging me to massage my arm vigorously, actually lifting it with my left hand and attempting the morning water splash on my face. The result was I slapped myself in the face. Stroke. I needn’t tell you all the details but feelings like anxiety, dread, fear, panic rushed through every part of my body except that right arm. I was triaged right through the intake and to ER. Technicians, nurses, doctors paraded in and hooked me up to machines. There were a series of tests that had letters EKG, MRI, CT and others. By then Denial had crept away in defeat.  

I had had a stroke. It was when an ER doctor came in to talk to me that I learned another name for it. 

“You have experienced a small cerebral vascular event. She called it an event. I started to laugh which maybe made her I think I had some real cognitive issues going on. 

“I’ve only thought of events as wonderful celebrations in my life, not anything like this.” 

She looked thoughtful. “Well, it’s possible that you can reframe the stroke from something horrible/scary/hurtful, into something that’s not entertaining, but certainly can be elevated to a level of importance in your life.” She had that right. It is and has been for the past month. I have been getting to know my stroke. At first I couldn’t sleep at nights with headaches and also because I thought it would happen again during my sleep. 

The medical care I received in Flagstaff Medical Center was extremely professional and compassionate. Medical advice began with REST REST REST. I’m beginning to understand this event. My mother and brother-in-law and friend had strokes. I’ve written stories about them. It’s not the same when it’s yours. As I have been accepting it, little by little the fear and panic have subsided. 

A Healing Event

Healing happens every day. I was told to keep a list of what’s different. I’m a master list maker. Each day I write a two-column list: 

What I Noticed Today: 

Yay!                 Different. 

100% recovery is expected. I put just as much time into changing this stroke event to a recovery event as I have with birthdays and book events. Yes, I’m planning a whole body healing. My daily routines of yoga, meditation, a whole food diet and daily exercise (gentle for now) are the foundation for recovery. This week I started PT and walking 20 to 30 minutes at a time. It gets kind of wobbly when I attempt something “new” and I cry often, but I add to that to my What I Noticed Today lists. And I’m surrounded by people (virtually and physically) who help me laugh. Each day is better and better. (That goes on the Yay! side). 

I am so grateful — it could have been lots worse. I have a beautiful safe house, medical insurance, neurologist, cardiologist, physical therapist- all are involved in treatment. My family and friends are so supportive and caring which sure affects physical and spiritual well-being. My Hank is wearing many hats of main caregiver, cook, shopper, chauffeur, reader, and retains his title of National Treasure. 

It may be a while ’til I post again but I want to close with this. A writing colleague, Mary Darling, wrote a lovely book titled The Charm Stories. I was saddened to learn she died this past March. 

This quote from her book is simple but powerful:  “I would like my granddaughter to understand even though life gives us unexpected traumas, it is okay if we take our time to muddle through…There is light at the end of our darkest tunnels, and life will continue to surprise us.” ~The Charm Stories by Mary Darling 

Yes, Mary, it is okay. I’m doing a slow but sure muddling, and finding my way.

Hope in a rainbow at Redemptorist Center

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a mic. 

Puzzling about Puzzles

COVID renewed my interest in jigsaw puzzles. After the smaller home project list was complete and I wanted something different, I remembered puzzles. My sisters and I did puzzles as little girls starting with 50 pieces, then “ooh 100 pieces.” We became more discerning moving up to 750 pieces, and then eye rolling and head shaking at anything less than 1000. 1000 pieces was where it was at. And so it has remained into adult life and pandemic home activities. 

I like doing puzzles. There’s something quiet and peaceful about it. It’s always colorful. Making things fit appeals. Having a finished product gives me a sense of accomplishment. In one of my early apartments, the one with orange crate boxes for book shelves, an interlocking 1000-piece puzzle of a snow-capped mountain scene complete with lake and fishing boats was my decorating accomplishment, hanging on the wall over my small sofa. 

Establishing a starting technique for doing a puzzle is a personal thing. When I taught little kids, I demonstrated ones I knew. The edge method, finding corners first. Or you could sort by colors. Noting the shape of a piece, loops or the empty space where a loop would fit. 

Getting into the heart of the puzzle, matching to the cover picture was a help. ”This piece will go somewhere along the top/bottom or on the left side/right side.” All excellent spatial relationship experiences. It was interesting to see which kids stuck with it, which kids sorted colors then left for other games, and which kids took a piece to hold onto ’til  the end, exclaiming, “I had the last piece. I finished it!”

Puzzlers, do you find that your beginning strategy is often influenced by where the puzzle will be laid out? The varnished wooden table at the vacation house at Lake George was big enough to spread out all 1000 pieces of the week’s endeavor. 

My friend A. has one table in her apartment. It serves as her work table, meal table, and puzzle table. She checks measurements first  for spacing. When complete, the edges are kept in a baggie for next time. “I have to do that first for space allotment,” she says. Makes sense.

Hank “doesn’t do puzzles,” but the island in our kitchen is my current puzzle table. He has to pass it to get food from the frig, clear the table, or go to the pantry for a snack. So he’s apt to stop by and peer at the whole setup. He’ll pick up one piece and put it in the exact right place. My puzzle ego is ruffled. “You’re kidding me, I’ve picked up that piece a million times (ego always calls for exaggeration) and it never fit.”

My friend CB does the edges, then leaves the rest for someone else. 

So during the height of the pandemic when we were home pretty much 24/7 except for the weekly out in the world loop to Safeway, Ace, and CVS, I  pulled out the stack of puzzles and began. By the time Thanksgiving 2020 came I had done all twelve of mine, was trading puzzles with A. (complete with edge pieces in a baggie), and lining up the Christmas and winter scene puzzles. Five of ‘em lasted quite a while.

 

Yes, it’s soothing and passes the time. Lots of time. On the recent bookstore puzzle I got the edges done and needed just a bit of time to do some sorting. Hank goes to bed. I’ve sorted colors, faces of seven, no eight people, maybe more. I can see where a certain section will fit just to the right of the girl in the striped shirt.. Maybe I’ll just do enough to get pieces to meet all the way across, kind of the like the forming of the First Transcontinental Railroad meeting at Promontory Summit, Utah. Activity or addiction? No matter, I’ve got to do it.

Sorting the laundry the other week, I found a puzzle piece in the pocket of a long-sleeved shirt. Which puzzle does it belong to? I haven’t worn that shirt in ages. It’s in a little plastic bag on the bulletin board. Someday I’ll find its home. Or A. will call me and ask about a missing piece.

My sister gifted me a Beatles puzzle depicting 100 Beatles songs. That’s our era! I know all these songs. Well yes, knowing the lyrics helps and there is a printed song list. But this puzzle was 3000 pieces and had lots of details. Finding corner pieces, sorting the edges, easy. Whoa, this sucker is four feet wide. I actually had to measure our kitchen island. The dining room table could be a fall back place but then we’d have to put in one of the extra leaves.  

A realization: I didn’t want to dedicate that much time to a puzzle. 3000 pieces is a lot of sorting, picking up, putting down, looking at pieces. A magnifying glass was in use far too often. Even my post-cataract surgery eyes couldn’t help with tiny details.

Dick at the puzzle table

I regifted it to our friend Dick. He’s got the edges done. Well, who wouldn’t? It’s a solid white frame for the whole puzzle. His table looks plenty big. It’s been about week since I got this photo of him. He has a determined look. The blurb on the puzzle box does say something about “Eight Days a week.” It’s time to check in and see how he’s doing.  I’ll let you know.

 

 

Comments welcome about your puzzle strategies, your most challenging, your most beautiful, your most satisfying puzzle. 

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a mic.