Tag Archives: Inspiration

June 17 – The Subversive Needle

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Once upon a time (and not so long ago), I spent my summer vacations with my Aunt Betty. She was a non-traditional, career-minded, single woman in the ’50s who each morning ventured off to work at the nearby Western Union office.

“Don’t go outside until I get home,” she emphatically said, leaving me alone to while away the hours as best I could. She didn’t own a television so I occupied myself reading her books and magazines, playing her 33 1/3 rpm records, and listening to such greats as Glen Miller, Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Perry Como.

“You’re wearing out my records,” she told me one day. You need something else to do.”

Off we went to the local five and dime store where she purchased a set of seven bleached feed sack towels, skeins of colored embroidery thread, embroidery needles, and a package of hot iron transfers. We returned to her tiny crackerbox house, where we cut out the transfers and positioned them on the feed sack towels. Using her steam iron we pressed the transfer for 30 seconds until it magically appeared on the fabric.

“Wah-lah!” she exclaimed. “Now you can embroider while I’m at work.”

And so I did, lost in choosing the color of thread, embroidering the design, and making the pattern come alive. During my time with her, I created seven towels–one for each day of the week that represented the agreed upon prescribed daily duties for women of the time. Monday: Wash Day; Tuesday: Ironing Day; Wednesday: Sewing and Mending Day; Thursday: Go to Market Day; Friday: Clean House Day; Saturday: Baking Day; Sunday: Day of Rest (or church attendance).

I loved embroidering from the start, for it not only allowed me to occupy my mind and fill the time, but it also allowed me to express my creativity. I still have many of the pieces I completed that summer and the summers afterward.  When I look at them and think back to those summers spent at my aunt’s house, I realize that embroidering also taught me how to be a feminist.

What?” you say. “How could embroidering, a seemingly negative symbol of traditional femininity, sweetness, passivity, and obedience, provide the skills and qualities necessary for a feminist?”

Femininity and sweetness are part of a woman’s strength, but passivity and obedience are the very opposite qualities necessary to make a sustained effort in any type of needlework. What’s required is a host of physical and mental skills; fine aesthetic judgment in color, texture, and composition; disobedience of convention; creative expression; assertive individuality (in design and application); as well as patience and determination.

I doubt my aunt knew just how subversive the embroidery needle, hoop, and threads could be. With them, she inadvertently created in me a mindset that would serve me as I grew into womanhood and became an ardent feminist. I am grateful for her and for all I learned while using a simple embroidery hoop, a needle, and skeins of colorful threads.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

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June 10 – Human Connections

by Ariela Zucker

I stir my morning coffee and while the milk swirls and changes the color from dark brown to tan I reflect on a sentence that I read on the front page of Yahoo.

“Human connections are important. Try to encompass at least ten of them every day.”

I wonder if I can accomplish this challenge without leaving my home on this dreary rainy day.
1.  The first thing I do is look at my cellphone: David from 7 cups is looking for me.
2.  I log into the site that connects volunteer listeners and members who need a captive listening ear. David and I have a short conversation about his aspirations to take on the world. He says he likes to talk to me, and this time he ends the conversation by himself. I joke about “David and Goliath;” he gets it and sends a smiley.
3.  I check my online writing group, no one responded to my last post, so I move on.
4.  I send the daily Hebrew word to Sara. Later she will send me a letter composed of these words. Today’s word: The eye of the storm. She texts me a thumbs-up.
5.  An email from Beth. She just found in her DNA test that we are third cousins twice removed and is overcome with excitement. I suggest a few possible surnames for her to check. “None fits,” she writes back, adding an icon of a sad face.
6.  An unknown caller from Honolulu. A formal, somewhat scary male voice announces that I should call back in the next 10 minutes; otherwise, the police will intervene. I know it is a prank call, but for a brief moment, it stops my breathing, what if it is true?
Fifty-five minutes passed, and I scored six interactions, I am pleased and reward myself with another cup of coffee and a donut.
7. In my Facebook, I find two birthday announcements and a picture from two years ago of my dog the day we got him. I send birthday wishes and marvel at how small he was only a short time ago.
8.  I sit down to write a long-delayed letter to my pen pal in Scotland. We’ve been corresponding for over twenty years. We’re doing it in the good old-fashioned way; paper, envelope, stamp then a long wait.
9.  My daughter calls to ask for a recipe. I pull out my cookbook that is held together with will power and sticky fingers and read the ingredients to her. This is an old recipe my mother used to make. I am happy to pass it on and keep the generational food connection alive.
10. Outside on my bird-feeder, yellow Goldfinch shares the grains with a small red squirrel. Above them, on a bent branch, a blazing red Cardinal performs its warning metallic chip. Patches of bright colors against the gray backdrop. I snap a quick picture. Later I will post it on Facebook.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now reside in Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. This post originally appeared on her blog at Paper Dragon.

May 28 – Lesson From a Pothole

by Teresa Lynn

©CanStockPhoto /marcbruxelle

There is a corner coming into my neighborhood that for some reason always has a pothole. Two or three times a year it gets filled in, but always within a few weeks, the pothole is back. If you don’t give wide berth on that corner, you’ll get the jarring experience of a wheel in the crater.

Naturally, folks in the neighborhood don’t like the pothole. It’s unsightly, but that’s not what most people have against it. They’re more put out with the fact that you have to slow way down to miss the hole but still make the turn. I admit I felt the same way for a long time.

Then one day as I approached that corner after a rain, I saw two mallards, a male, and a female, at the edge of the pothole. They were taking turns getting a drink. I stopped the car and watched for several moments until they drank their fill and waddled away.

Not long after that, while the pothole still held water, I saw a squirrel drinking from it. Squirrels are nothing uncommon, no matter where you live, but that was the first time in my half a century of living I’d ever seen one getting a drink. The same day, a grackle bathed in the hole.

I began to think that maybe the pothole wasn’t such a bad thing after all. Then I remembered that this is Texas; drought-prone country. When it was no longer a puddle but merely a wheel-catcher, what good would the hole be?

The answer came several days later. The rain had all dried up, even in the ruts and ditches. Driving out of my neighborhood, I glanced down and saw a post lizard sunning itself. Down in the pothole, it was safe from passing vehicles.

Now, I make it point to see what’s at the pothole whenever I pass. Often, there’s nothing. But sometimes I’m surprised by a chance encounter with nature. That wouldn’t happen if I didn’t have to slow down and pay attention. Wonder what I’d see if I slowed down and paid attention all the time?

teresalynn-e1559253850889.jpg

Teresa Lynn is a writer and editor with a background in journalism. She has written for a range of publications and authored two books under her own name, as well as ghostwriting several works. In 2014, Teresa helped establish Tranquility Press, where she now provides all types of editorial services. She blogs at http://henscratches.blogspot.com/.

 

 

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April 29 – Inner Landscapes

by Ariela Zucker

“Life is like a landscape. You live in the midst of it but can describe it only from the vantage point of distance.” Charles Lindbergh

On the road to my daughter’s home, this morning, I drive by the river. I look at its shimmering blue, now that it got freed from the winter ice hold. I never lived by a river, I never woke up to look at its slow up and down movement, how the changes of the seasons are reflected in the water’s color and flow. I never lived next to the ocean in proximity that enabled me to listen to the waves break on the shore and watch the white foam unfurl on the sand, then backwash. But I did live in the desert and was captured by its palate of colors and desolate beauty, and for a short time, I lived at the foothills of the Rocky mountains and savored the infinite sea of green.

I easily connect to symbols and metaphors that originate in the world of natural scenes and concrete landscapes. A mountain, a stream, the ocean, the vast unending desert, they go right into me and stir up the words. The external landscapes evoke an intense resonance inside me. Often, they revive images long forgotten, and with that, they bring in their wake a sense of ambivalence that never leaves me and going back and force between two homelands just makes it stronger.

The air in one feels so soft around me, the sounds, the smells, and the colors familiar and with the people who knew me from the day I was born I share a common history, going back thousands of years. But most of all it is the language; that wraps around me caressing, accepting, signaling “here you are never foreign.”

Then I think about the soft snow cascade of white, and the spring eruption of colors. The luscious green of the warm summer days and the blazing reds of fall.

Which of these landscapes is mine, which one reflects on my life? Where is my vantage point of distance? The one that will enable me to see my life with clarity and precision? Or perhaps I am the lucky one. For a few months each year I get to change my distance and with this change alter my vantage point of view. As a writer, I get to describe that point of view in words.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now reside in Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. This post originally appeared on her blog at Paper Dragon.

April 8 – The Old Growth Forest

by Sara Etgen-BakerI often sat next to Father on an old tree stump surrounded by ancient trees listening to him tell fairy tales about trees; tales of trees with human faces, tales of trees that talked, and tales of trees that sometimes walked. The old growth forest surrounded us, alive with hidden secrets. The trees rose upward forever, and the canopy above us was distant, like clouds of green. With my arms outstretched, I knew I’d never be able to reach even a fraction of the way around the trees’ gnarly bark trunks.

I often return to the old growth forest; it is the place where I go for rest and for serenity that flows like cool river waters. The path snakes around the ancient trees; and I step carefully over the roots that knot the pathway, watching the freshly fallen rain seep into the soil, struck by a wish to melt in with it; not to die but to live forever amongst these ancient beings who cast the shadow in which I stand.

The old growth forest doesn’t care for seconds or minutes, even hours are inconsequential. The smallest measure of time here is the cycle of daylight and darkness. The forest is more in tune with the seasons; rebirth brought by the warmth of spring; darkened foliage from summer’s warm kiss; tumbling leaves foretelling fall’s arrival, and then the keen bite of winter.

Here in the old growth forest so little can happen in the time it took me to change from a child into a woman. Perhaps that’s why I love being here. It stabilizes the rapidity of my thoughts and grounds me in a place where the ticking of clocks is disregarded. There is a sacredness here that transcends my everyday concerns, casting them into the timelessness of the forest. Under these boughs, I feel the breath of the Universe and hear the beauty of Its creations.

I’ve trodden along these forest paths so often that my soles are worn thin. But I don’t tire of this old growth forest, for I’m always at home here.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

March 10 – Truth Be Told

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Barbie Doll

I frequently watched Mickey Mouse Club and imagined dancing on stage alongside Annette Funicello and growing up to become a beautiful star like her – that was until I saw my first Barbie commercial. From that moment on, Barbie became the girl whom I wanted to emulate. She had it all; a shapely figure, beautiful clothes, independence, AND a Dream House.

“Barbie, beautiful Barbie,” I sang along during the commercial, “…
Someday I’m gonna be exactly like you.”

I became consumed with having my own Barbie and her Dream House, often pleading my case with Mother.  “Mom, Barbie’s amazing! She’s beautiful, independent, and even has her own house. May I have her, please?”

“No!” Mother said firmly. “Barbie’s too expensive. ”

“But, Mom…”

“No buts! There’ll be no more discussion.”Barbie Dream House

Pressing the issue any further with Mother was futile; yet, I couldn’t get Barbie out of my head! My best course of action was saving my allowance to buy Barbie. Barbie was expensive, though. She cost $5, and her Dream House cost an additional $8; a lot of money for a girl who received only a nickel allowance each week. Saving my meager allowance took too long, and I grew impatient. What would Barbie do? I asked myself. She’d raise some money, of course! I set out to raise the $13 I needed to buy Barbie and her dream house.

The only skill I had was ironing clothes. So, I ironed clothes for the neighborhood women, ironing their blouses for a nickel; pants for a dime; and dresses for a quarter. I liked ironing clothes in their living rooms and watching Soaps with them, but the novelty of my entrepreneurial enterprise quickly wore off. Ironing clothes became a painstaking way of earning cash.

One day a neighbor lady handed me a dime, “Love, go buy me a soda. And here are two empty bottles to return. You may keep the 4 cents you get for them.”  I scurried down the street, ecstatic in discovering an additional source of income. I scrounged the neighborhood for empty pop bottles and redeemed them for cash, getting 2 cents for each 6.5-ounce soda bottle and 5 cents for each empty quart bottle. Weekdays I earned roughly 50 cents in returned bottles.

Piggy BankWeekends were more fruitful, and I typically netted $1-$2 by collecting and redeeming pop bottles tossed onto the ground at the nearby park. I deposited those coins into my piggy bank along with my ironing money. When I had $13, I purchased Barbie and her Dream House and took them home

Truth be told I didn’t enjoy playing with Barbie and her Dream House as much as I’d imagined. I actually got more pleasure from ironing clothes; collecting and redeeming pop bottles and saving money. Still, Barbie influenced me. She was my 12-inch life coach who unwittingly taught me to embrace my desires; to set a goal based on those desires; to work towards accomplishing that goal, and to relish achieving it.

Author Age 10

The Author at Age 10

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

December 10 – Giving in Paradise (California)

By B. Lynn Goodwin

Volunteers matter—especially when emergencies come up. At the Butte County Fairgrounds in November my husband and I found a mixture of hope and despair, of gratitude and anguish.

We couldn’t get near “Paradise Lost,” as reporters dubbed the Northern California town ravaged by fire, so we went to the tent cities at the Butte County Fairgrounds and the parking lot next to Walmart.  We found unparalleled need along with volunteers helping those who’d lost everything but their lives.

My husband and I took a huge stack of $50 gift cards donated by people in our church.  We followed the suggestion of a church guest, who returned to Paradise on weekends. He was there with his wife, who barely made it out ahead of the flames. They’d lost their home but had each other. He said, “Take gift cards and give them directly to the people.” My husband loved the idea.

What would you take with you if you had three minutes to escape the flames racing down the hill towards your home? Cash or pictures? A wallet or clothes? Your bankcard or your child’s favorite toy?

What if you never bought insurance because you couldn’t afford it and now you had no cash for socks or a tank of gas?

Admittedly a $50 gift card doesn’t go very far, but you wouldn’t know that from the reactions of displaced people who never dreamed of strangers handing them a gift card outside their tent. I will remember the shock and amazement on their faces forever.

All we did was offer enough to fill a gas tank or buy a family dinner or “buy my wife a pair of pants so she can get out of her pajamas,” as one man said. Even though we’ll never see those people again, some will remember they were “visited by an angel” as a middle-aged woman told us while picking up her child’s toys.

What a pleasure to see all the volunteers working directly with those displaced. Whether they were delivering the take-out donated by local restaurants, supplying hygiene products, or simply listening to those with a missing relative, they were providing a much-needed service. How the problem happened doesn’t matter. Finding a solution does. We all went there to be a part of the solution.

The people in our church rock. Their generous donations gave us a chance to play Santa and Mrs. Claus early. With so much controversy over human behavior and ethics in this country, it felt good to remember that giving makes everyone a little richer. It’s the original win-win.

B. Lynn Goodwin owns Writer Advicewww.writeradvice.com. She’s written Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62 (memoir), Talent (YA) and You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers (self-help). Never Too Late and Talent are multiple award-winners. Shorter works have appeared in Hip Mama, The Sun, Dramatics Magazine, Good Housekeeping.com, Purple Clover.com, and Flashquake. She is a reviewer and teacher at Story Circle Network. She lives east of Berkeley and west of the San Joaquin Valley with her husband and their highly intelligent terrier.

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