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.

Squirreling It Away

I’m not a pioneer storing enough root vegetables to see my family through the winter. I don’t need to can tomatoes and beans or make pickles and jams that will last until next spring. Cub Foods is five minutes away, and they aren’t going to run out anytime soon. But the impulse to preserve the harvest seems to be encoded in my DNA.

Part of it is the pleasure of perfect ripeness—it all tastes to so good. Tomatoes, sweet corn, green beans, and eggplant are tender and flavorful. Basil, mint, and cilantro are at their fragrant best. Sweet juicy peaches and crisp apples are delicious. I want to save all of those fresh, wonderful flavors.

Everything’s cheap, especially at the farmer’s market. How can I resist? Truthfully though, my urge to preserve isn’t really about saving money. By the time I’ve driven to a few farmer’s markets to hunt and gather . . . well, savings isn’t exactly the point.

Some of it is pure celebration. So many fruits and vegetables—a feast! There’s joy in the bounty. Someone (not me) planted, watered, weeded, and protected the crops, and Nature delivered again. It’s very reassuring. If you do the steps, food will grow.

After rhapsodizing about the pleasure of harvesting and preserving, you’d think I must be in a canning frenzy this time of year, but no. I like the idea of it, but I’m lazy. I’ll probably make and freeze a small batch of pesto that has the exact right amount of garlic. I’ve already frozen about 18 cups of ginger peaches—my favorite fruit. I can enjoy them when snow is on the ground and spring seems a long way off.

Something about those efforts satisfies my innate need to squirrel away food before winter.

 

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A Closer Look

I’ve recently discovered the joy of flower arrangements small enough to fit in the clutter of my desk. A gift of an ikebana vase encouraged me to assemble pink and yellow snapdragons past their prime for the drama of a large vase, but fine in this setting. Since the petite vase is inches away, I see more details. To the right of the fading yellow flower are hopeful buds trying—as nature always does—to assert itself and establish another generation.

The blue ageratum, so short that it’s usually overlooked for most bouquets, holds its own here. Its exuberant fuzzy mop has lasted for days, and more buds are opening.

 I’ve never noticed the sweet florets of the white loosestrife behind the green spear of its leaf. More often I’ve meditated on its name—loosestrife. Loose strife? I inherited this unruly perennial with the house, and it certainly has loosed strife in my garden, mobbing and obscuring several large peonies. Yearly, I root it out, but it comes back. Up close, it’s so dainty, it almost seems innocent in its mute insistence.

And hosta, a determined survivor. Neither polar vortexes nor voracious bunnies can kill it, though sometimes I wish one of them would. In the yard, it seems so ordinary, but close-up, I’m struck by how graceful its cream and green leaves are and the way they mimic the loosestrife’s curve.

This miniature holds the persistence of strife loosed in the world but it’s outweighed by enduring delicacy, grace, and beauty. In that I find hope.

Time to Rewire My Brain

Now that hands-free cell phone use is the law for Minnesota drivers, I was faced with a choice: A) buy a new car with built-in Bluetooth technology or B) retrofit the one I have. I have no quarrel with the intent of the new law, but my mind boggles at how awkward the retrofitting is.

I have an old car.

My 2011 RAV4 is a prehistoric gem with only 75,000 miles on it. Definitely pre-Bluetooth technology. Until now that wasn’t an issue, because I seldom used my cell phone while driving. When I made or received calls, I connected my phone to my old-fashioned earbuds (the kind with wires) and stuck the buds in my ears. Simple hands-free calling. Decent quality sound. Yay!

Now that’s unlawful, so I had to get a phone holder. The several articles I consulted pointed out that attaching a holder to a vent is hard in a RAV4. Besides, I don’t want to block the AC during Minnesota summers or the heat during Minnesota winters.

My best bet was a holder that attaches to the CD slot. Mmmmk. I don’t play CDs anymore. I listen to the radio, not even Sirius. Or I use the oldest iPod you’ve ever seen for music and podcasts. The Smithsonian museum probably has one in their ancient technology display. Originally, I was saving all that memory on my phone for photos, not music.

That’s only half of it. I also needed a Bluetooth speakerphone thingy to clip onto the visor.

I have an old brain.

Retrofitting the car was step one. My brain needs rewiring, too. In the olden days, cell phones were for talking, iPods were for music, and Garmin was for directions. I do realize that my iPhone 8 can do all of that—in one delightful device—but I have an unreasonable and balky reaction to being bossed around by devices even when they’re trying to help me. Until now, I hadn’t taken advantage of all that seamless wonderfulness.

Now, if I want to call while driving, I’ll need to tell Siri (Dang! I never use Siri, so I’ll have to learn that.) How long before Siri mistakes, “Call Margo S.,” for “Call Martha Stewart,” who I’m pretty sure doesn’t want to talk to me.

For music, I’ll have to reach under the cell phone holder to press radio buttons or convince my elderly iPod to talk to the Bluetooth speakerphone. (Oh wait, my beloved iPod doesn’t have Bluetooth capability, so it and the speakerphone aren’t friends. Sigh.)

It’s 2019. Time to rewire my brain and how I approach calls, music, and directions. I bought the devices and they work–sort of–but they certainly aren’t simpler.

Maybe I just should have bought a new, fully-equipped car!

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.

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.