Seedlings: Stories of Relationships


Seedlings invites us to look at ourselves with humor, acceptance, and love. Seed w Final.LabelEach story tells a lighthearted or not so lighthearted story of regular people in and out of relationships, marriages, and that particular phase of life known as retirement.

The stories come from real life—either it happened just the way it says, or the event is a part of someone’s life and I took some literary license, or one word or phrase or snippet of a scene got me started. Who isn’t in a relationship of some kind— professional, personal, or both? Although weren’t we all told about the dangers of merging those two?

Some tips that emerge out of  reading Seedlings may fill the gaps for you, offering the ‘stuff’ other people learned while you were surviving your childhood, cutting classes, working the second job, having a baby, or believing the myths of “I can’t do that” or “I’m just too old for that now.”

This collection of essays offers a bit of everyday easy wisdom—from the power of the triumvirate of “yes dear, I’m sorry, you’re right,” to the styles of leave-taking, from leaving a party to leaving a relationship.

Each true story is written with a charm and honesty that comes from a sensory love of detail and the power of words, and told with love and affection for who we are—imperfect, goofy, beautiful, intelligent adventurers. It is possible to live loving your 60-year-old body as much as you loved your 20- year-old body, and loving your mate more than when you were younger, thinner, and hotter.


Sample Chapter

Seedlings started with people-watching. Observing couples, kids, friends, strangers. Noticing their gestures, eye contact, what they said, what was left unsaid. The mood I felt, the mood I imagined. Snippets of ideas got written down, later expanded and shared with friends, writing colleagues. Why not a book of Seedlings stories? Here’s one story for your reading enjoyment:


The Seven-Second Connection

The Seed: The Handshake was something my dad taught my sisters and me, not by saying “Watch and learn” but just by being himself. This got me thinking of those thousands of things parents and other adults teach us in similar ways.

As an oversensitive eight-year-old, I could be embarrassed by my father in about seven seconds. It wasn’t that he was obnoxious or unattractive. Even as a child, I saw that my father turned heads with his straight posture, his twinkling gray eyes, and a certain openness that made him so appealing.

It was precisely that easy friendliness that made me cringe. As shy young girls, my twin sister and I had learned to create our own world and often didn’t need anyone else. Was it because Dad wasn’t a twin that he needed to greet every passing soul? Everyone in church already knew him. Did he have to be on this campaign to get to know everyone in the suburbs of New York?

“Hi, I’m Al Erickson,” he’d say to anyone, with a hand out for a warm handshake. “This is my wife, Gladys, and my girls, Ingrid and the twins, Eileen and Ethel,” and he’d go down the line introducing us. All with a big smile on his face.

“Put out your hand. Four fingers together. Thumb up a little. Firm. Strong,” he would instruct us for The Handshake. Every Saturday during the summer, we walked to the post office in a small town out on the north shore of Long Island that was our haven in the summer. As soon as the person next to us had clicked their box closed, Dad was ready. He’d stick out his hand for the greeting. We all learned to follow suit. Smile and shake.

It never occurred to me to explore the why of my preadolescent discomfort. I just knew he was like that everywhere—at the corner store, at the library, even on the street.

“Jeez, Dad, we don’t even know them.”

“Now you do. You may be the only person who says hello to them all day.”

As I got older my perspective on the world shifted. I noticed the reactions to his handshake. Strangers were sometimes slow to shake hands, but they did. The hello was often just an opener. When Dad shifted his weight and brought both hands up to make a point, I knew we were set to “jaw a while.”

I learned how to make friends all with a quick handshake and a smile. The boundaries of my father’s world were marked by the towns in which he lived. But I believe he was one of the best goodwill ambassadors around. And he had fun doing it.

As I got older, the routine came naturally for me. It gave me a way to mask my own shyness. As a teacher in New Jersey, I made a commitment to personally greet each child within the first ten minutes of class. In professional groups greeting nervous new members or guests, I still hear echoes of “You may be the only person who says hello.”


…That seven second connection has successfully propelled me to a meeting, a presentation, a party, Toastmasters, a yoga class. When I get to the door, a handshake and smile pull me across the threshold. Hey, I know how to do this. Thanks, Dad. I’m home.

The Garden’s Harvest: Rather than let the “what ifs” stop me from going somewhere new, I take The Handshake along with me wherever I go. Rather than feel old when I have the good fortune to meet young folks from Generation X or Y, I relish the comparisons and the look of amazement when we find common ground. It’s always true—we are more alike than different.


Book Trailer

MuseMatrix: A Journal of Writing & Art

“Brilliant!” “Such a beautiful book!”

“The writing is superb!” “What a gem!”

“Love the artwork!” “Perfect gift for women with heart”

Edited by Dorothy Randall Gray, with selections made by contemporary peers, this anthology is an exceptional collection of 100 pages, 24 authors and 5 full color works of art. These are works by women who reached into their souls and shared what was found there. These pages hold stories of love lost, denied and fulfilled. Stories of poetic remembrance, passion, pain, mysterious women and the wild unknown. Ethel’s story “The Heart of a Family” is part of this anthology. Each work of art tells its own tale.

Order your copy now!

$10 + $3.00 SH – Paypal or Check

Reading Group Guide (Print)

1. At first glance, Seedlings appears to be a collection of assorted entertaining short stories. Yet the chapters reveal emotions and connections that are prevalent in our society. What chapters resonated with you? Why?

2. How did you experience the book? Were you engaged immediately, or did it take you a while to get into it? How did you feel reading it—amused, sad, disturbed, confused? Which stories made you laugh? Cry?

3. Seedlings was not written as a how-to book, yet the stories are containers for tips about successful relationships. How did this affect your reading? Did it work for you? What ideas may have resonated to use in your relationships? Which stories gave you ideas to nurture relationships?

4. What is your own experience with the kinds of relationships in Seedlings— infatuation, long-term commitment, first child, new marriage, step-parenting, caring for aging parents, chronic illness and the impact on a family or relationship, death of a parent, self-esteem, mother-daughter? Are your experiences the same or different from the book?

5. What main ideas/themes does the author explore? Has reading this book impacted what you might read or how you may view your current relationships? Has it changed your perspective about relationships?

6. Does the author use a single viewpoint or shifting viewpoints? Why might the author have chosen to tell each story the way she did—and what difference does it make in the way you read or understand it?

7. The chapters of Seedlings are brief in page count yet serve to tell stories that hold emotional impact. How did this affect your reading of the book? What passages—narrative or dialogue—struck you as insightful or profound? Are there stories you found contrived or overworked?

8. The author uses the metaphor of a garden for both her “garden of stories” in culling, watering, and watching her stories grow, and in nurturing relationships. How do the sections of the Seeds, Shoots, and Blossoms fit this metaphor?

9. The author uses humor through self-deprecation. Discuss the tone of this device. Do you think the author achieved the effect of entertaining along with possible relationship suggestions? Is egocentricity also one of the author’s traits? Part of the charm?

10. Discuss the author’s relationship with her husband Hank. Would you like to be Hank?

11. Which story did you enjoy the most? Why? The least? Why?

12. For a book club it might be fun to view the YouTube videos: Introduction to Seedlings, and reading excerpts: “Losing Things” pp.42-45, “Big Al” pp.54-57, “A Rose for Karen” pp.87-94, and “Leave-Taking” pp.148-153.

13. If you could ask the author a question, what would you ask? Have you read other books (Thinking of Miller Place: A Memoir of Summer Comfort; Muse Matrix (anthology) Inside and Out (anthology) ) by the author? If so, how does this book compare? If not, does this book inspire you to read others?

Story-by-Story Reading Guide (Print)

1. The Seven-Second Connection. The author’s father taught his children by doing. Why do you think she was embarrassed by his friendliness? Although his larger than life personality embarrassed her as a child, she adopted many of the same characteristics. Does the young character’s embarrassment seem real? Has this happened to you? Who influenced you as a child? Are you the “Dad” in someone’s life? How do you connect with people?

2. Not My Tribe. In spite of remarking about the young people in her life, do you think the author feels “old”? Do you make comparisons with age groups in your life? Who is your tribe?

3. A New Romance at Forty. The author swore off marriage after the death of her first husband. Does this seem real? Have you known people like that? What are you thoughts about the “no sex for 90 days” policy? Does it make sense? Do you think you have to “settle” in a relationship?

4. The Love Seat. Does the main character seem shallow? Even though she learned about her love for wicker in this relationship, is there deeper credence to the phrase of “from each relationship we learn.”

5. They Were in Love. This snippet of a poem is prefaced with “Sometimes you have to go through the torment of finding out what you don’t want in a relationship in order to know what you do want.” Discuss how this may or may not work.

6. Windows of Opportunity. Is the plot engaging? What is the relationship of the daughter with her father? How did the author create an image of her dying father? What windows opened in this chapter? What windows have opened for you in your life? What did you do?

7. Ankle Bracelets and High Tops. The author uses the term “visual candy” in this chapter. Which character presented a visual image for you? What is your hometown like?

8. Empty Nest. How do the hummingbirds connect with the author’s life? Have you had the empty nest experience? What was/is it like? Do you think the author really did all she could to stay connected to her stepdaughters? How did the author’s launch experience differ from her stepdaughters? From yours?

9. Craggy. What is the message of the stereotype of being craggy? Do you think this has a serious effect on the author? What aging issues are on the horizon for you?

10. Things I Love About My Body. Did this get your attention? What’s on your list? How would the list read ten years ago? Ten years from now?

11. Compassion Ambassadors. There are two stories in this piece—the author’s commitment to compassion and young children showing compassion. In what ways is the author exploring compassion? How do you define compassion? How do you show it? In the classroom setting, how would you have shown compassion to the new student from Zaire? Describe the gravity and velocity experiment. Would you have interfered? How did Class Prankster show his other side? Have you seen Different Ones in your life? How are they treated? What can you do to show compassion?

12. Aging—It’s All Relative. Do you think the mother-in-law’s processing issues are something to be concerned over? What aging changes have you seen in those around you? In yourself?

13. Losing Things. The author uses humor about her aging process, yet there is truth in jest. Do you think she is truly upset by her aging?

14. A Summer Portrait. How is Mrs. Desmaisons an exotic creature in the main character’s world? Who has influenced you in this way?

15. Big Al. Big Al prided himself on his three omissions. What were they? Are these things to be proud of? What is the purpose of this story?

16. Evolution of a Health Nut. The author plays with time here. Is the era (1950s and 1960s) and family background apparent from the author’s descriptions? How? In what ways does the author become like her mother? Has this happened to you—yet?

17. My Mother’s Hands. How is the focus on hands key in this story? Did you feel the need to know about the Mother’s other physical characteristics? What kind of a person do you think she was? How does the author relate to her mother’s changes?

18. Pegasus. The timeline in Pegasus goes back to college and then ahead to the last few years of her mother’s life. What picture does this display of the mother? How is this different or the same as the mother in My Mother’s Hands.

19. A Mother’s Gift. Do you think the two walkers would be friends if they did not walk together? What was the gift? Readers have said they also received a mother’s gift? What was yours?

20. The Dog Days of Summer. This is one of the few work-based stories in the book. Does the setting come across clearly? How does Rowena strike you? How would you deal with a Rowena at work? Even though Hank is introduced at the beginning he is not the main character. Does this work in reading the story? Describe the bond between Rowena and Alma? Do you know anyone like this?

21. You, Me, and Somebody. This snapshot piece illustrates a relationship coping device in many partnerships. How is it used in this one? Have you seen it used elsewhere? How is this like a circle story?

22. You Get What You Pay For. The story takes us from the era of the Depression to the present by the shifts in money attitudes in a family. What kind of a picture do you get about the mother and father? Is the mother’s attitude about money at the end of the story believable? Why or why not?

23. A Rose for Karen. Is this a story of forgiveness or about the disease of alcohol? What feelings do you have for the dad? Do your feelings changes by the end of the story? How? Does Karen appear believable in her ability to forgive? Does the device of having the story written in diary form add or detract from the story?

24. Summer Stock. How did you experience this story? Were you engaged right away? Could you relate to the times? The age of the characters? Who is the main character? What are your feelings towards Sidney Jr.? Does this remind you of your own high school friendships? How have times changed in employment situations?

25. Low Gear. Does the main character, She, exhibit believable traits? Have you known anyone like her? What do you think of the narrator’s attitude towards She? What was the epiphany?

26. Earl’s Stroke. Describe Earl and Margaret? How do you know they care about each other? What changes did Earl go through pre- and post-stroke? Does humor enhance or detract from this story?

27. Ivan and the French Fries. What is the theme of this story? Is the family dynamic believable? What is Ivan’s dilemma? Is the ending satisfying?

28. Kindergarten Cuisine. How does the author set the scene for this chapter? How does the young teacher adapt her lifestyle to her teaching career? Have you known teachers like Mrs. Ball? How do you react in the midst of an awkward situation?

29. Shopping with Ellen. What is the theme of this story? Adolescence is often a time of exploration of values and relationships. What is being explored here? Do you think the narrator was weak? What are you feelings towards Ellen? Disapproval? Envy? Sympathy? Did the ending surprise you? Did you ever go “shopping”?

30. Be Prepared. What is the plot of this chapter? What are some relationships in this story?

31. The Heel. How does the author use self-deprecating humor in this story? How does this couple handle their communications? What do you think about “being the architect of your relationship”? What status does the heel have in your home?

32. Automotive Adventures. This story tells about an 82-year-old woman with just a little background of her past life. Is the past background necessary? What words would you use to describe this Mother? Do you think she enjoys “shocking” her daughter?

33. Dancing with My Mother. Aging brings changes and sometimes a solidifying of traits. What are the traits of the Dancing mother? How would you describe the mother/daughter relationship? How is this mother different/the same as the mother in Automotive Adventures? Discuss your experience with aging parents.

34. Leave-Taking. What do you think of Betty and Hodges solution to leave-taking? Does the setting of the support group enhance the story?

35. Our Anniversary. What changes this chapter from a basic list to a love poem?

36. Catherine the Great. How does the author use exaggeration to build up to the climax? What compliments does Catherine pay to the narrator? What other life episodes could be expanded into a humorous story?

37. Kind. What is the message of “Kind”? What other message does the author give in describing her personality?

38. Leave-Taking II. How does the author create the metaphor of the dance between Joanie and Ardin? Do you feel as if you are an observer at the party? What leave-taking strategies do you employ with a partner or alone at an event? Do they work?

39. Walking the Labyrinth. This meditative story is meant to take you on a labyrinth walk. Does it work? How is this the same/different from labyrinth walks you have experienced? How does the author use the five senses to create a mood?

40. Making a List. The author’s list was filled with personality and character traits, but no physical attributes. Is this a serious omission? What would be on your list? Have you ever based a relationship on “potential”?

41. Rules for Fighting Fair. Is a Rule List necessary in a relationship? What parts of the list do you agree with? Disagree? What would be on your list? How might this be adapted to the work environment or a classroom?

42. The ABCs of Retirement. It has been said that a successful retirement needs the perspective of going towards something new rather than escaping from something old. Do you agree? At what age do you consider someone old?

People are Talking About…

A provocative look at the precious people who share our lives, including a mother who dances at 89, a queenly dental hygienist, and a second husband who serves the heel of the bread. Read, enjoy, and inwardly inventory your own treasures. ~ Lorraine Ash, author,  Self and Soul: On Creating a Meaningful Life

Beautiful, fun, spirited stories on humanity and connection. Ethel writes with such grace and passion. Her stories will melt your heart. A fantastic read for all ages coming from all walks of life. ~ Tara Kligman, Holistic Health Coach, Bangkok Thailand

“More alike than different” sums up this delightful collection. Ethel’s fine eye for detail is matched by her ability to discover the common threads between us all, and to illustrate them touchingly, poignantly and yet lightly in this, her best book to date. Each story is a window into the process of our lives. I can’t wait to see what flows next from her pen—as a gift from her deep well of insight and compassion. ~ Beth Lane, author, Lies Told Under Oath

I am enjoying your book…laughing, crying & thoroughly enjoying this reading journey. You write beautifully. Congratulations, your book is a wonderful read! ~ Karen Frey Tucson,  AZ

I love the first story of your dad and his handshakes.  I like how he said, “you might be the only person who says hello to them all day.” What a nice memory and a good thing for all of us to remember! ~ Suzanne Bruens   Irvington,  NY

Seedlings raises so many emotions and thoughts. I laughed, cried, said out loud, “Yes, yes, that happened to me.” I sometimes forget all the various relationships that exist in my life  … all of these relationships exist in Seedlings…a delightful collection… a wonderful book to keep by the bedside, share with a friend, give as a gift. ~ Eileen Erickson Tucson, AZ 

Seedlings, a collection of personal essays and memoirs, exposes universal truths about the experience of being human with stunning simplicity. Ethel Lee-Miller cleverly uses her brilliant analogy of life’s garden, with its seeds, shoots and blossoms, to capture poignant moments and events in her life. The stories and characters are drawn so beautifully that any reader will readily identify with them. Be prepared to be moved to tears and laughter as she makes personal relationships assume an almost spiritual quality. Seedlings easily could be a life-changing book. ~ Duke Southard, author, A Favor Returned and Agent for Justice

Seedlings is a gem—a work that starts out small and grows with each subsequent story. Ethel Lee-Miller has a gift for painting a picture with words and drawing the reader into her world. ~ Janet M. Neal, author, Soul in Control: Reflections of a Reformed Superwoman & Queen Bee at The Superbwoman™, Inc.

I finished “Seedlings” this morning. I loved it! I am considering getting it for my mother and aunt…they would appreciate your topics and writing style…The Seven Second Connection was a very strong beginning to the book … the stories about your mother…My Mother’s Hands, Pegasus, and Dancing with My Mother were wonderful portraits of her. They had a great mix of subtlety and humor.  ~ Chris Richards  MA

Seedlings is a collection of well-crafted essays that intertwine heart and humor with a bouquet of colorful characters. Honest and revealing sensory details translate Ethel Lee-Miller’s personal stories to the reader’s universal experience. A truly enjoyable read! ~ Bridget Magee, Writer. Poet. Speaker. Mom. Tucson, AZ