Tag Archives: Women Writing

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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May 10 – A Newfound Friend

by Patricia Roop Hollinger

“Who is this Lois Halley from Westminster?” I asked my husband as her name kept appearing in the Story Circle Journal with yet another writing. Since he was a former Westminster, Maryland resident I thought he might know. Her name did not appear in the local listings so, I virtually gave up on ever finding her.

“Oh, but I just might run into her at the check out line at Safeway if I am brave enough to ask the females in line with me what their names are.” No luck though with this strategy.

During the weekly Chair Yoga event at Carroll Lutheran Village, the Retirement Community where I now reside, the instructor called out our names. “Patricia Hollinger, so I have that right?” She asked. “That’s me,” I responded. When all our names were called, our bodies age 70 and over began to twist their bodies in positions that were just not familiar, but downright foreign.

Ah! the hour was finally over and I must say so myself, my body and that of the woman adjacent to me performed better than most. She approached me, saying, “I am Lois Halley and are you the Patricia Roop Hollinger that writes for Story Circle?”

“Why yes, I am she,” I exclaimed with surprise!

Lois then shared with me the recent death of her husband and that she was also now a resident at Carroll Lutheran Village Retirement Community. Since that serendipitous meeting, we have shared gatherings in the local Pub and just a week ago a meal at the local Gypsy Tea Room. Since we are both lovers of words, we attend local library events that feature current writers. The most recent one being with Judith Viorst, whose most recent book is “NEARING 90 AND OTHER COMEDIES OF LATE LIFE.” Her book has given us both a more lighthearted approach to our advancing years that also include more writings to Story Circle Journal.

“Pat” was raised on a farm, and thus developed an imagination pondering the nature of the universe. Words held the magic of stories. Other cultures intrigued her. She is a retired Chaplain/Pastoral Counselor/Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who lives in a retirement community with her husband and their cat “Spunky.” 

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 15 – My Grave Concerns

by Ariela Zucker

This morning  I look at the old oak tree towering over the yard and realize that the snow is receding. At the bottom of the tree, I can see a small heap of stones. It is there that we buried, my cat, Sheleg (snow) last October.  She died before the snow came and the ground was still soft. My husband and I rushed her, in a shoebox all the way from the motel where we spend our summers, to our winter home, two and a half hours to the south and dug a small ditch under the tree.

Meir, my other cat, the one we shipped from Israel is buried on the other side of the same tree. He died several years before, in the dead of winter. The ground was frozen and for hours I tried to create a shallow ditch to bury him in.

I tried everything. I lighted a small fire on the exposed soil. I read somewhere that even if the first 4 inches from the surface are frozen solid underneath the ground becomes warmer and softer. When this didn’t work, I tried an assortment of digging instruments, I found in my husband’s toolbox, resorting from time to time to stamping on the ground in frustration. I even considered storing Meir in the freezer until the spring thaw, but the thought of having to face him every day gave me renewed strength to continue.

Do graves makes a person feel more connected to the land, I wonder.

Eighteen years since we left Israel, the long, gloomy winter brings back images of the house we left, clinging to the side of a cliff. The road, a narrow strip of black asphalt meandering until it gets lost in the desert. And the small cemetery, at the bottom of the hill, only a dozen of graves, marked by a few Salt Cedar bushes with their broad unruly crown, and low to the ground stature, engulfing the soft whispering desert wind or bending with resignation to its immense power.

My husband does not think that burial is an issue. He told me many times when we had these bizarre conversations that he wants to be cremated and his remains spread in several chosen locations. Cremation is against the Jewish religion I remind him. We Jews go back to the earth where we came from and preferably in Israel, so we will have a first-row spot when the promised resurrection of the dead will happen. And besides, I always had an unexplained affection for land.

The thoughts of my final destination trouble me. Will it be back to Jerusalem, next to my parents, on the hill looking over the city? Or perhaps in our small town in the desert, the one where we lived for twenty-five years? Or under a big oak tree in this land that I see now as my home, covered in winter with a blanket of snow.

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.

March 25 – Mortality Musings

by Kalí Rourke

Mom Rourke was declining at 92 years old. The scalpel sharp intellect and memory we had enjoyed for years was slowly but inevitably eroding, and for a while, Mom railed in anger and frustration at her loss of control.

We learned so much as my husband’s older sister cared for Mom during this hard and challenging time, and it changed our view of aging forever.

Traveling along her journey, we discovered this fascinating book that I highly recommend, no matter what stage of life you are in. “Being Mortal,” by Dr. Atul Gawande, opened my eyes and my mind to the realities of aging and dying in America.

Dr. Gawande tells a series of important stories that illustrate how mortality has changed in our country just as aging has. We rarely die “at home” any longer and more often our last moments of life are in the hands of professional medical personnel and in the grip of the “machinery of last resort;” treatments that can leave us feeling cold, isolated and perhaps a bit like a cyborg.

Consider reading the book and having conversations with your family that may be hard.

Don’t wait until death is in the next room, tying tongues with fear, guilt or sorrow. Open that door now so that it is more possible to open it again when the time arrives to put into action the preferences and directives you only talked about before.

There are critical questions that should be at the forefront of all aging or end of life conversations: “What is important to you? What is most important to try to keep in your life until the end? What is most important to try to include or avoid in your death?” We were grateful we were able to ask these questions of Mom Rourke before it was too late. They were not huge requests and were very achievable!

You may think you know how your loved ones would answer, but often we don’t unless we ask. They may surprise us! Listen to them and ask again as the terrain of aging changes them. Don’t wait until senility sets in and confusion or memory loss make it difficult to express what is most important to them. If you wait too long, you may miss your chance.

Dr. Gawande has changed how I look at aging, terminal illness, hospice care, and most importantly, death. It takes conversations to facilitate a “good death” for your loved ones rather than to say goodbye with regret or guilt over a “bad death.”

America doesn’t like to talk about mortality, and you and I are the only ones who can change that, so consider doing it. Think of it as the first step down a road we build together that leads to people who are as in control of their aging and deaths as possible.

My husband and I are both now thinking about how aging and death can be made better for everyone. Stay tuned.

Kalí Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, and active volunteer. She is a Seedling Mentor and a champion for children’s literacy with BookSpring. Kalí works in philanthropy and as a Mentor for the Young Women’s Alliance.

She blogs at Kalí’s Musings where a longer version of this post appears, and at A Burning Journey – One Woman’s Experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome.

March 18 – Little Joys

by Suzanne Adam

The words spoke to me. While scanning my email Inbox, the title of Maria Popova’s latest “Brainpickings” post caught my eye: “Hermann Hesse on Little Joys, Breaking the Trance of Busyness, and the Most Important Habit for Living with Presence.” I opened the post.

I read that in his 1905 essay “On Little Joys”, Hesse reflects on the busyness, the hurry-hurry and the aggressive haste of modern life. Terms coined over a century ago. I’ve learned the wisdom and truth contained in his words. Perhaps I developed this philosophy for living due to life’s circumstances and to the person I am.

Hesse advised everyday contact with nature. I grew up immersed in the natural world of a small northern California town. Trees occupied the views from every window in my childhood home. Camping vacations amidst redwoods started me on the path to becoming a tree hugger.

There were other signs. Searching for my first apartment, I’d check for the view from the windows. My chosen Berkeley apartment had a distant view of San Francisco Bay. In the slim space between my building and my neighbors’ grew a leafy redwood tree and a small garden tended by a few of the residents. I was forced to move out when the owner decided to demolish our three-story building in order to build a bigger, seven-story construction. Last time I went by, the redwood tree was gone.

When I moved to Chile to marry my boyfriend, we settled in the capital, Santiago, now a city of six million inhabitants. I learned to develop personal strategies for noticing little joys in this urban setting.

It is just a matter of noticing.

SAAndesAs a teacher in a school situated in the foothills of the Andes, in free moments, I’d gaze out the window at the glorious sight and feel nourished and replenished. During my lunch hour, I’d walk a few laps around the hillside track and maybe spot a kestrel perched on a post or hear the twitter of quail.

These city streets offer dozens of small joys: flowering Jacaranda and ceibo trees, a well-tended garden, a friendly dog, the chatter of playing children.

Now, although retired, I don’t get out of the city as often as I’d like. I miss the freshness of forests and the tang of sea breezes. To counteract this deficiency, each morning I step out into my backyard to inhale the exquisite fresh air still untouched by the scents of human activity. The dew releases a potpourri of fragrances from my redwood tree and the flowering buddleia. Nights I make another mini visit to my backyard to breathe in the nighttime air and gaze at the few stars visible in our city sky. Sky. Sometimes I realize that I haven’t looked at the sky all day.

Hesse advises us to cherish the little joys, inconspicuous and scattered liberally over our daily lives. They are not outstanding, they are not advertised, they cost no money!

Lessons for living.

Suzanne grew up northern California. After graduating from UC Berkeley, she served in the Peace Corps in Colombia before moving to Santiago, Chile in 1972 to marry her boyfriend, Santiago. She explores this experience in her 2015 memoir Marrying Santiago. Her latest book, “Notes from the Bottom of the World: A Life in Chile” was published by She Writes Press.

Suzanne blogs at Tarweed Spirit.

March 4 – How to Stay Married for Thirty-Four Years

by Cheryl Suchors
Actions that may have been unrelated at the time paved the way for my ongoing commitment. Here they are, in case you care to try some and avoid the others.

1.      Get a pet. Nearing thirty and single, I got a cat. I named the cat Escuela because I figured that kitty would school me in commitment.
2.      Beware big risk. I met a guy and moved to Washington, DC to be with him. We bought a house. He changed the kitty litter. After three weeks in our new home, he moved out. Enter one of the worst periods of my life.
3.      Find a good therapist. Have I mentioned therapy? I recommend it.
4.      Give up on passive men, no matter how enticing. After the above debacle, a man sat next to me on a train. We didn’t stop talking until the ride ended hours later. But in the cab line, he still hadn’t asked for my number. I decided if he didn’t pursue the surprising opportunity of “us,” he was too passive. I waited. He asked.
5.      Have a full life before marriage. I was thirty-two when I met the guy on the train. Thirty-four when we married. I had a career, travel adventures, a condo, pet companions, and good friends. I’d had a number of heartbreaks and each one taught me a lesson I tried not to repeat. (See 2, 3, 4 above.)
6.      Allow for ambivalence. We dated for a year before I moved to Boston for a job. He’d follow in a year. Meantime, we discussed the M-word. I was utterly ready. Until he proposed, and I panicked. I told him I needed some time. Apparently, I’d squelched my ambivalence. So I took the time to be terrified, to sit with my fear.
7.      Find a partner as smart as you. Maybe smarter. His mind entertains and engages me still. This is important because bodies, well, they age.
8.      Listen when you know he’s right even if you don’t like what he says. When we brought our infant daughter home, he offered to give her a bath. She looked so tiny in his hands. I hovered, making suggestions, worried he’d break her. He told me either I could act like I always knew better and be solely responsible for our child or I could let him do his best, learning as he went. I went off to bite my knuckles in another room. He’s been a really good father.
9.      Tell him what you’re afraid to bring up. Like that time I found myself way too attracted to a co-worker. My husband and I discussed it pretty thoroughly. That put a boundary around the co-worker, one I couldn’t cross.
10.     Re-up. Each anniversary, we pull out the wedding ceremony we wrote. We laugh at our naiveté. But the vows never fail to move us. We sign up, not for forever because that freaks me out, but for fifty years. My brain can encompass fifty years.

Cheryl Suchors is the author of 48 PEAKS: Hiking and Healing in the White Mountains, an inspiring memoir of adventure, endurance, and heartache published in September 2018 by She Writes Press. Suchors lives in Massachusetts with her husband and a plethora of plants. Their grown daughter, to come full-circle, lives in Washington, DC. Cheryl blogs at http://cherylsuchors.com.