The Writing Life

Earth Angel

When Katherine embarked on her I’m-gonna-get-back-in-shape regime she envisioned a smooth return to a gym. There would be daily workouts at the gym-the reassuring clank of weights dropping back into place after each rep.

 

 

She’d pump iron like she did “back in the day.” 

The gym she joined was big, bright, airy. Busy. The smell of cleaning products blended with disinfectant and body oils. Some folks were sharing machines, alternating sets. Over in a far corner a very husky guy was working out. It was a noisy workout complete with grunts and audible exhales.

Yes, I want a corner area to begin my program, but not near him. 

A gleaming all-in-one machine was free. A very new all-in-one. Okaay. I can figure this out. The settings looked a little different from what she remembered. Nothing moved when she tried to set the weight. She tugged. She pressed. She stepped back and glared at the now-unfriendly lat/pull-down/row fixture. 

Being primed for a workout and ready to roll, her senses were vibrating with energy. She felt, before she saw, someone-big and standing next to her. This someone was probably about 6’1.” But close up he seemed 6’9” with overlarge biceps, triceps, lats, chest. The whole package radiated strong, robust. 

It was husky guy. I hope he doesn’t think he’s gonna to cut in here. He looked her up and down. Not in an intrusive way, mainly because his eyes were very blue and quite twinkly with glints of gold. He bent over and did some kind of maneuvering with all the doo-dad settings. He stepped back, and did the hand out here-you-go gesture. She was locked into those eyes. He gave a big grin and stepped back a bit more — head tilted a little to one side. “There” was his contribution to the encounter. He walked away.

She could only have her gaze follow him as he walked away knowing, yes knowing, he was one of those Earth Angels – hanging out in unexpected places to protect, leaving a trace of light. Maybe he was a Guardian Earth Angel. It was the blue eyes that clinched it.

Thank you, KB, for the “seed” for this story.

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her 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 or a Zoom room.

Post-Stroke 10th Month

Be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud. ~ Maya Angelou

This is the 10th month out from my stroke. 

Each month has opened up new pathways both neurologically and emotionally, and so many replies to my newsletter (that I don’t get to answer but love love love getting them). I promised myself I’d email or post a Stroke Recovery update each month for a year. The early months revealed how different the big things were-walking, dealing with headaches, physical weakness, remembering how to make something as basic as coffee, reining in the fear that I’d have another stroke while I slept. 

One unexpected helper was America’s Got Talent. Even before the pandemic my sweetheart Hank had become an avid fan of some of the 59 versions of the Got Talent shows. He’d pick and choose from You Tube and accrued a good collection of his favorites-mostly vocalists radiating positive vibes and natural talent that sometimes took my breath away. Sometimes endearing children or dance groups that encouraged us to get up and move. Post-stroke it added to the clear energy in our home. 

Often I’d be in my office and Hank would call out, “Come listen to this one.” And I’d get a 90-second visual or auditory America’s Got Talent boost that calmed me, or energized me, or made me smile. This was perfect in the early months because I couldn’t focus much more than 2 minutes at a time. 

My brain cells responded to those Got Talent interludes. Endorphins did their thing. My brain cells are basically over-achievers. Now they tackle home routines and word retrieval with glee-mostly. Information files are pretty organized and even the “off the cuff,” and repartee files that I’ve loved  for decades are opening with ease.

As I look back from the threshold of this tenth month, I see how recent events outside myself help me grow. I guess that’s what awareness does. Something happens-it affects me. I feel happy/sad/confused/puzzled realizing a wave of change is rolling in. I have to make some kind of decision to change to “feel better” i.e., get my equilibrium back. And then take some kind of action to make the change happen. That can be tough if your neurons are surprised and aren’t firing too well.

One Recent Event Example- COVID

After 2 ½ years of cautious pandemic living, vaxing, and boosting, my sweetheart tested positive for COVID. I tested negative the entire time of our medically recommended 10-day isolation. But something had to change from Hank being major planner/doer for stroke survivor Ethel. The planning, organizing, carrying out of daily activities shifted from Hank’s side of the TO DO list to mine. Was it time for me to take a more active part in our daily life?

His case was mild. He felt “good” after three days altho’ tested positive for 7. He ensconced himself  in the primary bedroom and bathroom and had access to the patio and spool. I had the guest room and bath. We talked via intercom and FaceTime. Eileen and Joe brought groceries and goodies, neighbors left “presents” at our door, friends entertained us via Zoom. 

Be Positive- ( in your attitude)

We decided to be positive (in the attitude way) about this if we were to be “separated” for 10 days. I created a cruise stateroom for Hank providing chef service, room service, mail delivery. During FaceTime calls, we sometimes just looked at each other and smiled.   

Nightbirde

So back to America’s Got Talent. One of Hank’s favs is Nightbirde. A 31-year-old female vocalist, she made her subdued debut singing her own folk/pop compositions. Her “It’s Okay” got the golden buzzer. There was something hauntingly magnetic about her voice and body language. She lived with cancer for five years before she passed away in February of this year. Nightbirde’s challenge was certainly far more serious than our 10-day detour in life. But her attitude and words were with us every day during our COVID isolation.

“It’s Okay” 

It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay

If you’re lost, we’re all a little lost and it’s alright

It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay

If you’re lost, we’re all a little lost and it’s alright ~ Nightbirde

 Her spoken words are just as genuine as her musical ones. 

“We are worth more than the bad things that happen to us.”

“You can’t wait until life is not difficult to be happy.” 


Well, that’s a new post-it on my mirror. Unexpected (and costly) house repairs, upsetting news about a friend, episodes of injustice and ignorance don’t need ruminating over and over after the event has happened. That drains energy I need to take care of the real work to be done. Thank you, Nightbirde.

Yes, my sweetheart had COVID. He’s a strong, resilient, and wise man. Those ‘Vid cells could only give him COVID lite. He felt “fine” after 6 days and has had no residual effects. 

What a positive feeling it is that now we are both positively “negative.”

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her 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 or a Zoom room.

Walking the Labyrinth


“The labyrinth is an ancient spiritual tool, a walking meditation, a path of prayer. Walking the labyrinth can reduce stress, quiet the mind, open the heart, and bring one closer to God. People come to the labyrinth to heal, to be enriched in the spiritual life, seeking peace, seeking insight.” —Sig Lonegren,
Labyrinths

March 2013

I walked the labyrinth this morning. I knew there was a labyrinth at the Redemptorist Center in Tucson, Arizona, where I am for a self-directed writing retreat. And I knew I’d make time to take my walk.

My first labyrinth walk over twenty years ago at a Spring Hill, Massachusetts, retreat was filled with stops and starts, looking around, feeling almost dizzy with the twists and turns. Now I look forward to drifting along the path, not knowing how long or which turns will get me to the center, but knowing I will get there. 

When I woke up at 6:00 am, my first thought was, Ah … labyrinth. As I left my room, I could see the eastern sky was bright behind the splitting clouds. And yet a dark thought flickered like the floaters that can come in your eye. What if it’s not there anymore? My pace quickened as if that was the guarantee that the faster I got to the labyrinth area, the more sure it would be to still exist. 

There’s the open space around the bend. Good. Yes, it’s there. It looked the same—flat dirt, rock-lined paths that I had walked before, with the small altar of rocks in the center. It’s set back along a path near the petroglyph rocks and under the protective shadow of a small hill that is the location of the stations of the cross. 

This labyrinth faces north, and the rainstorms of the day before seemed to be receding. Light in the east, but shadows still lurked behind the rocks. It was dim. Silent and serene. 

Another sojourner is poised at the entrance or mouth of the maze, head bowed. I sit on the stone bench nearby and wait until she enters. I’ve never thought of a labyrinth as something you go through. You simply enter and move ahead, one step at a time.

A labyrinth is usually a flat layout in an open space—a life-size two-dimensional sacred maze along which to walk. The paths wind around and back and forth, leading to the center area. 

Some people walk repeating a mantra; some walk in silence; some use empty mind. Some use it as a walking meditation, or a stream of consciousness walk. 

I am entering this morning with an empty mind. But I hold the intention of keeping my head where my feet are. To drop the people and problems and to-do lists that I mentally packed along with my laptop, sneakers, and toothpaste. To stay in this moment.

I look north as I stand at the mouth of the labyrinth. The mountains are a grayish purple in the morning light. The cholla, prickly pear, and small saguaros around me are like sentinels watching in silent support. There is also a very green ground covering, which is unusual here in the Sonoran Desert. It rained last night, and everything is darkened and saturated to a deeper hue by the rain. Not a dull and heavy darkness, but a comforting velvety dark. 

This labyrinth is in marked contrast to the one I walked at St. Mary’s in San Francisco, which was a concrete-etched oasis in the midst of office buildings, and in the shadow of the old elegant Fairmont Hotel.

As I stand there, I become mindful of my most recent spiritual directive—to respond in a different way to people, places, and things. My goal is to build and hold a feeling of compassion for others and myself. I focus on the labyrinth’s middle, where a pile of rocks rests at the epicenter of my walk. I visualize Compassion waiting to welcome me. In I go.

I say this intention several times: May I respond in a different way to people, places, and things, leading me toward my goal of compassion for myself and others. I look down as I walk. This desert labyrinth is laid out in the dirt and so has a reddish floor. The rocks that border the sides of the path are the sizes of different coffee mugs—some dainty, some the super size of a Starbucks mug. They are like the gray uniformed guards at the Chicago Art Museum, steady and silent but joining you in sharing information to guide you if you get lost. These rocks are gray, or spotted, some wearing little top hats of moss, reminding me of a labyrinth I walked at Cape Cod. 

The smaller pebbles that cover the path crunch under my feet. I watch the toes of my blue sneakers as they peek out from the hem of my pants, taking me ahead. I am calm and peaceful. The March air is cool, almost cold, and the feeling on my cheeks reminds me of being outside in the snow. 

Time recedes, but a thought intrudes. Am I going the right way? I’ve been walking for a bit of time, but the center still seems far away. I have to laugh because this happens every time I walk a labyrinth. Have I stepped across a rock border to an earlier path? Did I get turned around? Am I heading out, missing the center entirely? I stop and look back and into the center. No. A labyrinth can be trusted. You will get to the center. You are exactly where you are supposed to be. I have to remember this concept “out there” in the world when I think I’ve made an emotional, social, or mental misstep. I won’t miss the plane, or meeting, or opportunity to make a new friend or forge a deeper relationship. I am going in the right direction and am exactly where I am supposed to be.

As my chuckle settles contently in my stomach, I look up to see the equivalent of spiritual nuns walking outside the labyrinth. Ten, maybe twelve women are walking single file, steadily heading straight toward me. Their spiritual garb consists of colorful shawls and long draped scarves wound around slender necks, UA sweatshirts, knitted caps on gray heads. Sneakers, hiking boots, and Uggs lead them on the curve around the hill toward the petroglyphs. They are so beautiful in their individual dress and uniform pace that I have to stop and stare as they file by until I can only see their retreating backs. 

I resume walking. My fellow sojourner is moving at a different pace, and I realize that I am going to be right behind her if I maintain my way of walking. I will be practically stepping on her heels. What to do? Is there labyrinth protocol for this? As I am flipping through my mental labyrinth etiquette files, she stops. Oh no, is she going to do a midwalk prayer? But as I get closer I realize she has moved five inches over a rock border and is motionless, waiting for me to go past. She must have felt me coming and moved over and then back after I passed for both her comfort and mine. 

“Thank you,” I murmur as I go past. She nods. Remember this too, Ethel. Things work out without worry or angst and sometimes even without you having to orchestrate it. You can simply move on.

When I look up again, there is the center. Compassion is there. Rock piled upon rock from a large flat one on up, smaller and smaller, making the two-foot-high natural altar. Meditators have left offerings on the top rocks. More than I have ever seen at a labyrinth. A wristband, a picture of Mary, other tiny rocks, a button that says 12 +12 =good math, a paper clip! 

I have nothing physical to place there. What would I like to bring to such a sacred place? What do I want to leave there to be enveloped in compassion? The answer comes instantly. It is my brother-in-law, Paul. Paul, whose life was altered eight years ago (2005) by a stroke that forced part of his brain to go to sleep. Paul, who recently had a TIA, bringing him another electrical storm of sorts that threw him off balance physically and emotionally. Paul, who got up every single day and showered, making himself look clean and handsome, and greeted me with “Hello hello! How is everybody today?” I place my love for Paul on the top rock near the 12+12 offering. I am sure he would like that and also laugh to be in the company of a sacred paper clip.

I turn and begin the leaving. It’s always quicker returning. Another truism to recall in the outside world. 

More storms are predicted for this mid-March Saturday. Clouds are piling up over the northern mountains. But the sky is still slightly brighter in the east. Proof that there is always light, even if you can’t see it. 

The Garden: When a story comes in full blossom, as my experience did at the Redemptorist Center, I have to write it down immediately. I wrote the labyrinth story that afternoon. It was so easily remembered and cherished, needing very little in the way of details.

Excerpt from Seedlings, Stories of Relationships ©2014

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her 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 or a Zoom room.

A Secret Place

discovering what I didn’t know that I didn’t know

Walking a Labyrinth

There’s something relaxing and meditative about walking a labyrinth. I’ve walked the gravel, dirt, brick, cement, and tiled labyrinths in six, maybe seven states here in the US. Most have been outside in the woods, behind churches, in front of churches, residing next to busy streets in San Francisco and Santa Fe. 

The most unusual one was in Cape Cod in a marshy area, paths laid out on a bed of large, dark green leaves. It was what I imagined the forest primeval would be like. After that walk I began a quest to learn more about the how, why, what, and definitely where of labyrinths. 

Thich Nhat Hanh’s Walking Meditation reminded me of “peace is every step” and Sig Lonegren’s labyrinths: ancient myths and modern uses has introduced me to kinds of labyrinths, lots of history, finger labyrinths, and labyrinth dancing. 

 

Labyrinths in Tucson

Tucson offers over 40 labyrinths to explore. My colleague Janet leads a full moon labyrinth walk at a local church. The Labyrinth Society Global Group has a Facebook page filled with locations, and posts of very creative labyrinths from historical sites to woven mini-labyrinths.  

During a conversation with a fellow lab lover, she said,“You know, there’s a labyrinth at Fort Lowell Park.”

Now I thought I knew all the offerings at Fort Lowell. But had neither heard of nor seen a labyrinth. This is one of those “I thought I knew what I knew” moments. So off my sister and I went to find the mysterious lab. We walked the entire park lake-picnic areas, ball field. No labyrinth. 

An Aquatic Labyrinth

Just past the ball field there was a grove of trees. “That would be a good spot.” No labyrinth, but down a small gully was a secret lagoon. I never knew this was here. A small pond fed by the creek surrounded by mesquite trees and the scrubby shrubs of Tucson. Silent …  except for the almost imperceptible swishing of tall grasses growing along the back. The low-pitched bellow of a bull frog was like a metronome added to mother nature’s grassy symphony. It felt so sacred we reverted to the silent language we had used as children during hide and seek. A touch on the arm pointing up to a bird, over and down in the water at a small school of fish. I know I don’t know names of aquatic plants but I know that I know the feeling of awe that comes when I’m in the presence of something quite special. 

All we could do–all we had to do–was walk around the secret lagoon, our aquatic labyrinth, then sit on the bank, and just be.

Next: Walking the Labyrinth at Redemptorist Retreat Center, an excerpt from Seedlings, Stories of Relationships

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her 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 or a Zoom room.

9 Months Post-stroke

EVERY STROKE IS DIFFERENT

Every recovery is different. 

I’m now 9 months out from my stroke. 9 months is usually associated with birth in humans. This “me after stroke” is kind of like a birth. Each month my brain relearns new ways of doing “old” things. Each month reveals things I couldn’t do nine months ago and then could do two, three, or four months later. 

I’ve learned a lot about what I really know. My eyesight has shifted. My driving sight is better. “Cheaters” are back for reading small print. I realized I could skip at the 3rd month. Around the 7th month I discovered I could run-not fast, not far, but the actual pick up those feet and legs and move! I need naps or rest time every day.

In other posts I’ve talked about new brain cells, blood vessels, and nerve endings that were growing. Each month builds confidence in what I know that I previously didn’t know about me. It’s become like a treasure hunt-albeit with a map that keeps changing. 

FT. LOWELL PARK, TUCSON

This month my sister and I went to Fort Lowell Park in Tucson in search of a labyrinth. Although the park’s museum is sadly closed, we discovered treasures we never knew about. 

We knew about the tennis courts, the pool, lake, the ducks, benches for picnics. And there was an area behind the ball fields where, maybe, there was a labyrinth. This led us to the Hardy Site, marking the houses and roasting pits of ancestral Native Americans known as Hohokam, an archaeological culture that was in the Sonoran Desert from about AD 500 to 1450. The Hohokam are known for their beautiful painted pottery, carved stone and shell items, ball courts, and platform mounds. The Hardy Site is one of the major Hohokam sites, located at Fort Lowell, a military fortress from the late 1800s. In the 1970s and then in 2012 evacuations and excavations cleared out what are now 10 pits.

We walk around the village markers at the Hardy Site. I’m getting a physical surge like energy waves-my emotional sensitivity is pretty acute these days. I label this wave as a feeling of awe. We’re walking on top of history-layers of ground underneath. A Hohokam mother, a father, a teenager, a young child walked here. And now I am walking on this ancestral ground.

MONTHLY PROGRESS & GRATITUDE

I’m brought back so sharply at this reminder that I am walking that I have to stop walking. The effects of my stroke are with me 24/7. Sometimes vividly, like this huge sweep of gratitude that I can walk. Sometimes also vividly, in the shocking shaky reminder when the “wobblies” take over. 

When my brain cells are told to send messages to “stand up and walk, Ethel” after sitting for an hour, they might yawn and reply, “Yeah, yeah, we’re going.” And they are, bless their little cell hearts. But in a meandering way. If I try to move too quickly the wobblies have me stuck and trying to move at the same time. This has the appearance of an unusual dance. If I stand and wait about 15 seconds, the messengers move down along my legs to knees, ankles, and feet. “Alrighty, we’re ready.” And then I can move smoothly. Patience. EZ does it.

I file this special Hardy Site treasure in the current memory bank of May 2022 Historical Information Dept. And send loving directions to the brain cell workers in HID to preserve this memory as a factual and an emotional milestone. Writing about and researching it add to my experience. This will move the Hardy Site from short term memory to recalled memory. 

WHAT I’M LEARNING FROM MY STROKE

The cross-reference to any daily experience is under Stroke:

  • What I think I know about stroke, and about my stroke
  • What I really know that I (now) know
  • What I don’t know that I don’t know. To be discovered. 
  • Final reference: This could be tiring. Perhaps a nap or 20-minute rest?

Did we find a labyrinth? Nope, but there was another treasure that we discovered that we didn’t know that we didn’t know.

Life is Good.  

Thank you to everyone who responds to my updates with such understanding, compassion, kindness, and love. If I don’t reply to your email, please know yes, I did get it. Yes, I loved reading your words. Yes, those words can be like a super delicious energy drink, polishing up my personal perspective about my recovery (I’m not alone) and my world view (there are so many good and caring people in my world). 

Next up: The Secret Lagoon

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her 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 or a Zoom room.

Words that help- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today is Ralph Waldo Emerson’s birth day. His writing has become a part of my “words are powerful” treasured collection along with inspirations from Maya Angelou, Anne Lamott, David Whyte, Pema Chödrön, Matthew McConaughey, Thomas Moore, and lots more.

A sampler:

“Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.”

“For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.” (Ouch- so that’s where that lost time went)

“People do not seem to realize that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character.”

“A friend may be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.” (Lucky me- I’m surrounded by masterpieces)

“The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.”

“Philosophically considered, the universe is composed of Nature and the Soul.”

“He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life…. Always do what you are afraid to do.” ( Some days I’m filled with grit/determination/courage to forge ahead. Those days are glorious )

Here’s the one that calls to me today:

“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”  

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson May 25, 1803-April 27, 1882

Got a favorite Emerson quote?

It seems Emerson liked to go by the name Waldo. And then there is Where’s Waldo, (pub. 1987) the dapper-dressed man who set off on a “world-wide hike” leaving a trail of items that the reader had to locate. I kind of like the connection of the dapper Waldo and my Waldo of the 1800s leaving a trail of words for his readers to find.

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her 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 or a Zoom room.

 

Hybrid’s the Word

The Eastside Writing Room

Big News: Hybrid’s the Word!


We had our first hybrid meeting in almost a year! In-person at my house and on Zoom! There’s something very special about in-person energy that is inspiring. We’ll be scheduling one hybrid a month along with our weekly Tuesday Zoom. Writing energy abounds!

Bits and Bobs:

News Bits: 

  • Sunday May 8 AZ Daily Star:  A self-publishing article featured Wheatmark president Sam Henrie. Bee Bloeser and I have used Wheatmark for publishing our books. The biggest advantages I found were their accessibility for in-person meetings being located in Tucson ( 2030 E Speedway Blvd  Ste 106 Tucson AZ) Also they have a very credible rep and history of delivering good products since 1999. Here’s the link to the story. Arizona Daily Star
  • Mercury Retrograde- We’re there now. This came in my daily Lit Hub   https://lithub.com  but is a reprint from Harper’s 

Creative bits today:

Four of us met in person and six Zoomers joined us. We consider the Eastside Writing Room a national group now since former EWR Tucsonans have moved to California, Oregon, Maine, and Vermont. Zooming  is a must to keep us all together. Every Tuesday 11:00 AM AZ time. Contact Ethel if you are interested in getting in on that creative energy.

Keep on writing!

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her 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. 

8 Months Post-stroke

April 30,2022

Over the past two weeks I had several medical check-ups and I was the recipient of some really nice compliments. I’ve always loved compliments. Am I needy? Vain? Quite possibly, but these days I don’t try to  figure out the root of this love. I accept all positive observations with a huge smile. 

The positive feedback I got was not about my glowing skin, or sparkling eyes, or shiny glossy hair. That seems superficial stuff. What I got was “you have the blood pressure of a young person” “weight of a healthy woman—for your age,” “EKG heart rate is normal” (I love being normal). “Oxygen 95%, that’s very OK.”

Eight months out from my stroke in August 2021 and I’m getting stronger. My stamina is much better. I can now filter out extraneous noises and enjoy eating out at restaurants without a cacophony of dishes clattering or conversations echoing loudly in my head. Music playing at a party moved me to dance instead of covering my  ears and feeling really shaky. 

My brain cells are busy, busy, busy — “busy exploring, learning, moving around and engaged in more sophisticated interactions and play.” Lifted that from a child development link describing an eight-month old baby. Makes sense. I’m dealing with some eight-month old cells and brain pathways. My brain cells have ceased being on strike or whining “I don’t wanna” as they did during some physical or language therapy sessions. Some days they are in the zone and make that coffee without hesitation as to what happens first. They send signals to my arms, legs, and torso to move in coordination and “swiftly” when Hank and I walk in the park. 

This was confirmed by those doctors’ comments. I felt a sense of well-being . The newer brain cells from my new Neuroplasticity Family were up there in the left frontal lobe preening, high fiving each other with their little brain hands, and nodding knowingly to each other. “Oh yeah, we got this.”

Hank and I are playing tennis on weekends. My serves have improved- they are actually
very good; backhand returns—great. 

But because they are my brain cells they sometimes test the waters and resist transferring some commands into actions. 

Ex.: Hank’s return is a short lob just over the net. I see it. My brain gets the message. Send energy to the quadriceps to move fast; get her up there to the net. The brain Team Supervisor is on it: “Quads, go go go!” The nerve Messenger Associate that is supposed to shoot down to the quads has only just completed Basic Transfer Training 1.0 and has not been to Rapid Transfer 2.1, so as I’m moving up to the net, the ball has mockingly bounced—twice. 

Flipside of this—there’s much more coordination with messages getting through from the area that controls emotions. Soon, about a minute after the missed lob, I receive the message: Use the Triple S technique — stop, shrug, smile. 

laptop with writing and coffee mugHow fortunate and grateful I am to be able to share my journey by writing about it.

Life is Good.

 

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her 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. 

My Mother’s Beauty

Thinking of Mom and mothers …

My Mother’s Beauty

I don’t think anyone ever said of my mother that she was “a beauty.” A childhood photo when she was nine shows a slender and almost delicate girl on pointe in a perfect ballet tutu and pose. Her face is serious. Photos from her teen years show a serious pensiveness–no smile, but no frown either. Was she always serious? Perhaps this was before the era of family events that are always being marked by photo opps and parents’ admonitions to “smile.”

Love Creates Beauty

Mom and Dad 1942

Photos with my dad early in their marriage remind me of two kids having fun together- and in love.

When my mother was raising children in the expected full-time-mom era, the words I ascribed to her were serious, strong, determined. She was determined her three girls would be accomplished, and achieve all she set out for them. The few times I remember her dressed up she was still tall and proud in dresses that swished when she walked. 

Aging Beauty

The day I noticed her beauty was a cold, gray winter morning in 2004 when I walked into Regency Gardens Nursing Residence. By then her children were grown, even her grandchildren were grown, and she had been a merry widow until a stroke slowed her down in 2002. 

Winter sunlight coming in a window holds none of the frigidness of a Northeast winter, only a softer light. Sitting in her wheelchair by the window, both feet, now in permanent retirement, were propped on the footrest. Her hair was a silver halo. Something like peace seemed to surround her.

Coming a few steps into her room, my view of her shifted like a camera on a dolly curving around and in on its model. Her stroke-affected right arm curled up and into her chest at the elbow as if her hand was like an infant wanting to be close to its mother. Her left hand supported her chin. Her face was at rest. A small oval face, pale, held up by an arthritic and age-spotted hand.  

She turned and a smile, small and slow, embraced her face. She was beautiful. It was almost as if her face got lighter, not more pale, but suffused with a light like when the sun comes from behind a cloud and the shadow it has cast slides away. Her head tilted a little to the side as she looked at me. “I didn’t think anyone was coming to visit today.” And because my heart filled with love, she was even more beautiful. 

Happy Mother’s Day!

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her 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. 

 

Where Will You Be in 25 Years?

My husband Hank, a.k.a. the National Treasure, reads several online newspapers each morning. He often sends me links to things we’ve talked about, or that strike him as newsworthy of sharing. 

He forwarded an article to me about a woman who was 109 and died last week on March 24. Living to be 109. That in itself is pretty amazing and something that certainly calls for introspection about aging. The additional information that might have caught the eye of the editorial board at the New York Times was that she was the world’s oldest blogger. 

Think about it. Someone born over a century ago was blogging. writing about her life, living fully and positively, as her blogs attest. And she didn’t start blogging until she was 99, after she took a computer course. 

4 Musings:

  • Living to be 109
  • Being a lifelong learner and taking a course to learn something new at 99
  • Taking what you’ve learned and using it with something you enjoy 
  • Affecting thousands of people in a positive way with this “new” learning

The World’s Oldest Blogger

The woman was Dagny Valborg Eriksson. Carlsson. She was born in Sweden in May 1912, the eldest of five siblings. She was a factory worker, and worked for the Swedish Social Insurance Company. She became passionate about cancer research when her second husband died of cancer in 2004.

The computer course offered her a new option for learning and sharing life. She was known to be straightforward, and spread the message that age should not limit happiness. 

The article was intriguing and I spent quite a bit of time on Bojan’s blog (thank you Swedish to English translations). Dagny Carlsson  blog   Bojan 

“I’m a tough aunt, who likes most things. It can be an opera, but it is also enough with ordinary conversations about both fun and difficult things. I like the fun the most. They say I have a sense of humor and am a little straightforward. Humor may mean that things do not have to be taken too seriously and you can sometimes benefit from it when things get complicated.”   BLOGGA MED MIG! Dagny Carlsson

“I get self-fulfillment when I write,” Ms. Carlsson told Al Jazeera Media Network in a 2017 documentary. “Better late than never.”

Heroes

Add Ms. Carlsson to my list of heroes who I have only met through the printed word-Maya Angelou, Thich Nhat Hanh, Morrie Schwartz, Pema Chödrön, Pat Conroy,  Muhammad Ali.

Wait, I did meet Ali in 1976 on a plane coming home from Puerto Rico. He strolled back from First Class talking with everyone in the way back of Coach. I was starstruck, snapped lots of photos with my little Kodak Instamatic camera, only to find later I had not put in a new roll of film.

I digress.

Some Life Learning Recaps

I’m in my 8th decade of living and learning. Ms. Carlsson had me doing a bit of life recaps:

20s: Graduated Wagner College, began a fulfilling 28 year-career teaching at Washington School, W Caldwell NJ

 

 

couple with woman smiling at man40s: Met and married the National Treasure

 

 

50s: Retired from teaching and began life skills counseling and public speaking. Learned to tap dance at 50 (Thank you, Rogers Dance Center, NJ)

 

 

60s: Published first book at 61. Also started blogging in 2008. Moved cross-country New Jersey to Arizona. 

 

 

70s: Got through two rounds of shingles; lived and experienced life during a pandemic, published and had fun with marketing my books in Arizona.

Now halfway thru my 70s: I have the experiences of celebrating 150 years together with my Finn, my twin Eileen, and living and loving Hank for 32 years. All of the above aid me in surviving and learning about how the brain works following a mild stroke. And still, life is good.

What’s Ahead

I admit I’m on the down side of the mountain as far as chronological age goes. I’m shooting for 25 more years. What a fantastic ride it has been, is, and will be. Out there on the  horizon I see another book, traveling again in the US and Europe, zip lining, line dancing again, more blogging, and…

I too, get fulfillment when I write. Right here, right now-feeling really good-happy joyous, free-and blogging about it.

What have you learned that has served you well in life?

Where will you be and what will you be learning in 30 years?

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her 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.