About Ellen Shriner

I write short memoirs and personal essays 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.

Meditation on Autumn Equinox

Long before a turning point is evident, tiny shifts lead to change: The last cut of the axe before a tree falls, the gathering force of an avalanche before it lets go, the final few cells piling up to a clot that blocks flow and becomes the stroke, the gradual loosening of a sleepy child’s fingers before the toy slides to the floor, the droop and dangle of a leaf before it drops, the new insight added to insight as a mind is changed. 

At autumn equinox, a near balance is struck when day and night are almost the same length before the northern hemisphere tilts toward winter. Minutes of daylight have been slipping away since June, and September’s days, though still sunny, are cooler. I don’t welcome the coming darkness, but accept it. And autumn has its compensations: apples, fires, and glorious colors.

Letting Go Gracefully, Without Regrets

Contemplating my 50th high school reunion got me thinking about friendships, acquaintanceships, and people I’m no longer in touch with.

I’m a person who stays connected. I make the calls, send the emails, arrange the visits, and keep up the connections. For years. But I wonder, When should I simply loosen my grip and let a friendship or acquaintanceship slide? Couldn’t I say to myself, We were friends for a certain moment in time and now that time has passed? It’s OK to let go gracefully without regrets.

I think I’ve done that with my high school friends. 

I’m mildly curious about a few people. There was the cute redheaded guy I daydreamed about in math class. We ran in the same circles, but never dated and with time I became infatuated with other guys. He later became an architect and developer and now is one of the wealthiest members of the class. 

I might enjoy talking with a brainy basketball star who was a good friend for a few years. She sat near me in several classes because our Catholic high school seated students alphabetically. However, even during college while I still lived in Toledo, we’d grown apart.

A dark-haired acquaintance who had a big voice and an even bigger laugh also comes to mind. We hung around together during school musicals—she was a performer and I was the costumer.

I’m curious about another dark-haired classmate in my advanced English class who became a nationally known journalist. We ran in different crowds (hers cooler than mine), but it would be fun to talk politics with her now, except she isn’t attending either. 

I felt a pang to see a close girlhood friend listed among the deceased. We parted in 6th grade when she moved to a different neighborhood and got interested in boys. I was still shy and awkward then, not ready to date. We’d let go long ago, but I was sorry to read she had been in poor health for years and was no longer married.

A friend who went to a different high school said her 50th reunion was the last one she’ll attend, because future reunions will involve classmates needing walkers and talk of who’s in the early stages of Alzheimer disease. 

Her insight bolstered my decision to skip my 50th reunion. I’d rather remember my classmates as we were—young, high-spirited, and barely aware of life’s harder realities.

Connections

Tomorrow I’ll join my extended family for a weekend gathering we jokingly call ShrinerFest. Because of COVID it’s been three years since my three siblings, their children, grandchildren, my sons, and all of our spouses have gathered, although I did see my siblings in person last year. In the intervening time, many important events have taken place off-stage, away from the full circle of family.

One niece announced her engagement. A nephew got engaged to a woman some of us haven’t had the opportunity to meet. Our two sons married in small COVID-style weddings. A niece and her husband welcomed their first child earlier this year. My second oldest brother and his wife had a rough year. She and their son-in-law experienced bad fractures requiring surgery and rehab. My sister-in-law also had a close family member die of cancer.

Despite the distance (we are spread across five states) we’ve all done our best to stay connected via text and calls. We’ve congratulated each other about joyful events and commiserated about the hard times. We would have preferred to visit in person, but we did what we could manage, and our connections stayed strong. 

I expect our weekend together will encompass lots of storytelling, silliness, and good food. Cousins who are scattered across the Midwest and are still getting to know each other will likely bond over fantasy football or the best way to cook a Beyond burger. No doubt we’ll talk about wedding plans and new houses. 

My two older brothers, younger sister and I will fall into familiar patterns. Although our interests, politics, and religious views aren’t always aligned, we’ll focus on what we have in common and try to avoid topics that jangle nerves! 

As always in this group of 25, there will be emotional cross-currents. Sometimes grievances might get aired quietly off to the side (Why’d she say___? I can’t believe he did that!) After all, we are still family and although there is a lot of love, there are also strong personalities. 

As we drive away I expect to be tired, but I’ll let the good moments sink in. We’ll talk over whatever changes—for better or worse—we see in the extended family. I might be shaking my head over some new development. But no matter what, I’ll be grateful we were able to be together again, fostering connections and cementing our ties.

The WordSisters Celebrate 10 Years of Inviting You into Our Lives

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 of posting once a week. Our original motivation was attracting agents and publishers, but soon we were blogging for the pleasure of writing. We had things to say and stories to share. 10 years later we’re still writing!

Through the years, more sisters in writing joined us: Cynthia and Bev are regular contributors, while Brenda, Jill, Jean and Rosemary have occasionally posted. 

Our insights arise from our lives—mothering, working, aging, living through COVID, reacting to events in the news, planning our futures and setting goals. I’m proud of the breadth of topics we’ve covered and the connections we’ve made with strangers all over the world . 

Most of all I’m proud of us for persisting. For being here long after many bloggers have faded away. 

One of our strengths is the variety of voices, styles, and subject matter each of us brings. In that spirit, here is a collection of best-of posts. I hope you’ll enjoy sampling them. 

Thank you for being our readers.

Ellen

No More Guilt with Every Bite 

What Work Would I Do if I Were an Immigrant?

Elizabeth

I Didn’t Come This Far

Until It Becomes Personal

Cynthia

Shake the Marbles

Broken Dreams

Bev

Let the Hope Shine

When It Comes to Your Age, Do You Share? 

Brenda

Confessions of a Pandemic Parent

I’m (Not) Sorry

Jill

Opposing Thumbs

Three Books at Once

As a readaholic, I love getting lost in a story, whether fiction or memoir. A recent Strib article discussed reading two novels at once as a hedge against running out of books. Being without a book to read is terrible, but that’s not why I’ve begun reading several at once.

For years, I read one book at a time, diligently plowing through like the good English major I was. Not only did I read one at a time, but I also doggedly finished what I started. 

Now those rules don’t hold me. If I don’t enjoy a book I ditch it. Life’s too short to read books I don’t like. Especially since there are so many books I can’t wait to read (The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang, The Pages by Hugo Hamilton, Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenridge).

Several things changed my habits.

Thanks to my two books groups, I’ve read and enjoyed many books I might not have picked up on my own (e.g., We Have Always Lived in a Castle by Shirley Jackson, Grace by Paul Lynch). However, sometimes I’m lukewarm about the chosen book. I read it to be a good sport, but I start another book for fun. 

Occasionally, I choose difficult books because I want to be better informed about race, aging, Millennials, or whatever. I’m committed to reading them and I learn a lot, but they’re not plow-through-able. Weighty subjects need to be taken in smaller doses. In between, there’s the pleasure of fiction. 

I’ve also taken this approach with recent Nobel prize winners (The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, The Last Gift by Abdulrazak Gurnah) and classic literature I read so long ago I’ve forgotten it (Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte). I read a little and mull it over, read some more.

COVID and the heaviness of the world in the last six years have changed my habits. Being pinned in place away from my usual activities heightened my need for escape. The Pleasing Hour by Lily King and Perestroika in Paris by Jane Smiley took me away when I couldn’t travel.

Often my concentration has been undermined in COVID-times, so I alternated literary fiction with mysteries/thrillers (State of Terror by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny) or lighter stories (This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith, The Book That Matters Most by Ann Hood).

A more recent phenomenon also supports my changed reading habits. Some nights I’m inexplicably sleepless for an hour or more. Then having several books to choose from helps.

Now I’m unapologetic and unfussed about reading several books at once: (Hell of a Book by Jason Mott, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty, Emma by Jane Austen). 

How do you approach reading?