About Ellen Shriner

I write short memoirs and personal essays. I have also completed a workplace coming-of-age story that takes place in 1979 and 1980 during my first year of college teaching. I write on topics of interest to working women, middle-aged mothers, Baby Boomers, people who love to read and write, and those who belong to writers' groups and book groups.

Pure Nostalgia and a Weird Convergence

Seeing the paint-by-number ‘artworks’ decorating Hot Plate, a neighborhood breakfast place, plunged me into nostalgia.

At 10, nothing was better than making art that looked ‘real’ or perhaps I should say, ‘recognizable.’ Horses fascinated me and I labored at drawing them, using my horse statue for reference. One birthday, I received a paint-by-numbers kit for a horse portrait. Dip the cheap brush into the dime-sized plastic pots of paint, dab it in the blue-outlined shapes and voilà—my horse looked like the one shown on the box! Success!

A weird convergence.

Until my husband read the historical note in Hot Plate’s gallery, I’d never known that the Craft Master Corp., which made the paint-by-number kits, was headquartered in Toledo, my hometown. At first I thought, “That figures,” then I reminded myself that Toledo is also home to the Toledo Museum of Art, at the other end of the art world spectrum.

While crunching home fries and laughing at the paintings of questionable landscapes, sad clowns, and plucky dogs, I marveled at the paint-by-numbers concept. Someone had to curate images, analyze and isolate the placement of highlights and shadows, and choose the appropriate colors. Today, that function can easily be done in a graphics program, but in the 1960s that wasn’t the case.

The appeal of paint-by-number kits (popular in the 1950s and 1960s) and Bob Ross’ PBS show, “The Joy of Painting”(mid-1980s to mid-1990s, now immortalized on YouTube and in popular culture) is the idea that ordinary people with little or no artistic training can have an outlet for their creative impulses and paint something they’ll be pleased with.

On the paint-by-numbers box was the slogan, “Every man a Rembrandt!” We l l l, not exactly. But for my 10-year-old self, there was a real pleasure in making a painting that turned out.

Advertisements

Lucky 7 — Celebrating the WordSisters’ 7th Anniversary

In 2012, when Elizabeth and I launched WordSisters, we weren’t sure where this adventure would take us or if we could keep up the discipline (and pleasure) of blogging regularly. But here we are—still blogging!

Through the years, more sisters in writing joined us: Cynthia, Brenda, Jill, and Jean. We’ve made friends and added followers from all over the U.S. and the world.

I believe one of our strengths is the variety of voices, styles, and subject matter each of us brings. In that spirit, here is a selection of popular posts:

On Losing My Ambition (Open Letter to 35-Year-Old Hiring Managers) I made choices that supported the life I wanted; my decisions did not advance a traditional career path.

Until It Becomes Personal  Until it becomes personal it is somewhere else, someplace else, somebody’s else’ kid.

I’m (Not) Sorry I have set a big goal for myself: to stop saying “I’m sorry.”

Time Runs Out We hadn’t seen each other for a couple of months when he had shared with us that he experienced a couple of mysterious health incidents.

No Merit Badge for This “What would you do if there was a fight in the food court?”

God Bless Middle-aged Daughters We’re the sensible, competent women who make it all happen.

Opposing Thumbs As I sat in Miss Bloom’s typing class, I never thought that one day I’d be typing primarily with my thumbs.

Comfortable on Any Turf In memory of Lisa, whose writing group—Ellen, Elizabeth, Rose, Jill, Brenda, and I—were WordSisters well before Ellen and Elizabeth began this blog.

Thank you for being our readers over the years. You’re the reason we’re here.

 

The Real Reward

I help teach English to adult immigrants. Recently, the teacher I work with asked what kind of gift card I’d prefer as a thank you gift for volunteering. I didn’t want to make a fuss—I know the gift card is well-intentioned—so I chose one. But the truthful answer was that I didn’t want a reward.

What’s weird is that if I were a volunteer coordinator, I would think it was very important to acknowledge and thank volunteers. Finding a suitable way to please a disparate group would be hard. I would probably land on gift cards, too. I’m not criticizing the gift options or the school’s impulse to thank me.

I think my discomfort has more to do with how I was raised. My parents set an example with their many volunteer activities—they did far more than I ever do. Their outlook was that you’re supposed to pitch in and help. It’s just what you do.

Another value that my parents conveyed was that it’s even better if you donate your time or money without any public acknowledgement. For years, they were secret angel donors for the parish grade school and the church choir. If kids didn’t have money for supplies or a field trip, or if the choir needed more funds for a tour, the principal and the choir director knew my parents would cover it. Hardly anybody knew my parents did this. My father mentioned it to me once, and the scope of their contributions only came to light when they died.

What I had trouble putting into words when asked about the gift card is that volunteering is as much about my needs as it is about theirs. The world at large can be dismissive of people who are 60 and beyond—assuming that we’re clueless, set in our ways, etc., etc. Volunteering is a way of reminding myself that I’m knowledgeable and have something valuable to contribute. I feel seen, useful, and appreciated. That’s what makes volunteering worthwhile.

I don’t think I deserve a medal (or a gift card) for putting in a few spare hours a week. Corny as it sounds, acknowledgement comes every week in the form of students who make a point to thank me at the end of class. Also gratifying are the students who return after completing the class to share their excitement about landing a better job—one requiring good English skills. Plus, the teacher often asks my opinion about her proposed lesson plans and always thanks me for coming. That’s good. That’s plenty.

The Nature of Mother’s Day Gifts

Gifts I wrapped never looked this good–LOL!

This time of year, I recall standing in Herberger’s, a store that no longer exists, searching the clothes racks for something that would delight Mom. If I were on a roll, I’d buy several outfits and relieve my sister and one of my brothers of their anxious search (my other brother usually had his own plan). Not that Mom was so hard to delight, but more that we were striving so hard to convey a love that was too big to be contained by a gift.

My system was to try on the clothes in my size (several sizes larger than what Mom wore.) We had the same build, and if the clothes fit me, I’d buy them in her size and mail them (life before Amazon was a reflex). If they didn’t suit her, she could return them to Elder Beerman, the Ohio branch of Herberger’s.

I was curiously detached about the possibility of the clothes being returned. I’d tried my best and I knew that even if my gift didn’t work out, Mom saw the effort and recognized the love. She’d done the same anxious ritual for her mother and mother-in-law for years, too.

Mom has been gone nearly five years, a fact I still can hardly believe sometimes. When my sons ask me what gift I’d like, I often have no suggestions (none of us thinks purchasing clothes is realistic!) I suggest outings and time spent together, and that suits us. The real gift is that they care enough to ask, that they want to show their love.

Message received.

 

Procrastination—I haven’t lost my touch!

I used to be a pretty good procrastinator. Not a champion, but definitely a contender. My peak performance was from my undergraduate years into my early thirties.

Paper due Monday morning? I’d get jacked up on coffee and start work by 9 p.m., telling myself, “I work better under pressure.” More accurately, it was the only time I worked. But I’d better have a draft by 2 a.m., because after that my brain would fizz out and all the coffee in the world couldn’t bring back coherent thought. Unfortunately, that system worked well enough to regularly give me B+s, which only reinforced my procrastinating ways.

By the time I was in my 30’s, I was married, had two sons, and was working full-time. Way too many chores and too little time! If I didn’t attack a distasteful task like putting away holiday decorations, they would stay untouched for weeks, a constant depressing reminder. I learned to slog through scutwork more promptly because the alternative was worse.

Fear of failing my clients and losing business kept me from procrastinating too much when I had my communications business. I’d learned that I had to build in time to write a draft, let the piece cool off for days (or at least hours), and then revise it before sending it to the client. When I had a particularly tedious project, say catalog merchandise copy or highly technical training materials, I might suddenly feel an acute need to do something I never do like alphabetizing spices or organizing my sock drawer. At very least, I’d clean the kitchen and switch loads of laundry (something! anything!) to postpone the icky project.

When our sons were little, unwelcome tasks were constant: their toys were scattered everywhere, and they drizzled on their clothes so there was more laundry. Seeing two days’ worth of crusty sippy cups and soggy cereal bowls piling up made me want to run away from home. I realized that sometimes it’s better to tackle the work right away and get it over with. After all, I’m never going to wantto do dishes. They only get more gross the longer they sit.

These days, I’m more inclined to get chores out of the way. Sort of. For at least four weeks the special tile cleaner I bought sat in the bathroom while I put off using it. Today, there’s a tricky part of an essay I meant to revise. Instead, I cleaned out my file entitled, “Blog Ideas,” and decided to write this!