60th Wedding Anniversary

Jim Schoettler and I were married December 30, 1955 -
at Assumption Catholic Church, Charlotte, NC.

This was the beginning.

December 2005   Jim  and I celebrated our 50th anniversary with a  reception at our home in Chevy Chase, MD.  It was a wonderful party shared with family and friends - and Jim's toast was sweet and funny. 

I am thinking of that today - which is our 60th anniversary. I am pretty sure I can guess what he might be saying if he were here.

A long marriage is a beautiful gift - you have the time to know each other so well, the satisfaction of making it through tossing winds and troubled seas together, 
the  joy of many blessings, large and small, and most of all  - - love.


Remembering 60 years ago

Several years ago I opened a box of papers and found this Hallmark Date Book 1955.

Memories are the food for my stories so finding an old personal calendar to fill in gaps is a great blessing.

By January 1 1955 Jim Schoettler and I  were a couple. Most dates are marked with something to do with "dating" Jim from a "coffee with Jim" to "marrying Jim today" on December 30.

So - today --- 60 years ago - - I was excited and nervous as I packed the last items in my suitcase so I would be ready to leave home tomorrow  - - for a honeymoon week-end in Washington, DC before we put the key in the lock at our waiting apartment in Baltimore. We never guessed that we would return to the Washington area in 1964 and live out our lives there.

During the polo epidemic of 1944 my mother became so frightened for our safety that she arranged for me and my sister Lynda to live with the Sisters of Mercy at their "mother house" in Belmont, NC. She felt that living on their farm would be safer for us. I celebrated my ninth birthday there that summer - and I also learned how important receiving mail can be which has left me with a particular appreciation and love of letters.

My love of letters continued whether they were mine or written by strangers. Years later as I delved into genealogy and storytelling I became enamored with old letters because of the stories they hold. I look for letters in old boxes in back rooms, in library collections and in local history files. 

One afternoon at the Historical Society in the District of Columbia I asked to read "domestic files" and I found this letter - 

In 1845, from her parental home in Washington, DC, Normanstone, Dora Barnard writes to her finance John Higgins three days before their wedding.

Normanstone, 1845

My dear Sir,

I fully intended writing yesterday but was prevented. I have attended to your requests and I have finished sewing much to my relief.

I believe all planning is done, everything goes on smoothly. I went into the store room today to pack something away ready to be sent up and I deliberately sat down by the side of the trunk and took a good cry. That's just the way I am when I am excited.

Do not think it is regret, for my determination to leave all, and cleave to thee, Oh, no.
But this leaving causes struggles. I tremble also at the responsibility I am incurring. I suppose you are calmer than myself.

Now, good-bye till Tuesday.

Yours - - for the last time - - S. Dora Barnard

What a lovely surprise to find this sweet letter. When I read it I felt connected to Dora Barnard across 110 years.

Finding the little calendar brought back memories of how I felt the night before Jim and I married.  Writing this tonight reminded me of Dora's letter. I knew just where to find it because I often use it in a program about stories written in letter by ordinary women across the years.

Another gift from storytelling.


Dream traveling

I woke up dreaming again this morning. I think Jim was there - in the dream - but .... I am not absolutely sure.

As I woke up I could see that I was in a bedroom in a lovely B&B somewhere else, say like England. It was in an older time - not today. I recognized that immediately because of the furniture and a small fire burning in the fireplace.

People talking outside the window. Not that I understood what they were saying because they were speaking with a beautiful accent - no doubt British. It had to be British to sound that precisely clipped and correct. Ah, I love to hear a British accent.

By now, I am opening my eyes. I looked around. Darn. I am in my room in my very own bed warm under my favorite quilt. And - -  since my bedroom is on the second floor there is no one talking or walking-by outside my window.

"Why was I in the other room in the dream",  I asked myself out loud. The cat moved at my feet disturbed by hearing my voice.

When I lifted the quilt so that I could sit up - I got an inkling of the why.

The iPad tells the story. Instead of reading in bed, like I used to,  I watch Netflix movies on my iPad most nights.

This morning Netflix is paused but the screen shows what I was watching when I fell asleep -

Foyle's War  - which is set in Britain, with the marvelous man of few words, Michael Kitchen starring as Foyle.

The rooms are of another time ---- another place ---- and most rooms do look like a B & B I would like to book a room in.

Hmm. I do have a new Passport - Could I be telling myself to take a trip - "across the pond?"


Dreaming stories

Jim was always willing to listen and to talk when I was thinking my way into a new story.

As I woke up this morning I was still in a dream with my arms around Jim and his holding me. He began to melt away as I became more awake so I quickly whispered "thank you for coming."

The Christmas holidays are a testing time for me and the family. We miss Jim. The games and days have lost a bit of their sparkle and joy without him. "Dad always added the happy" Karen said yesterday. "That's true," I said and added, "now we have to work hard on our own to make the "happy" happen." That feels like a tall order and I am grateful I feel more up for it than I did for a long time.

Our 60th wedding anniversary is this week.

Last night my son Jim called to set a date to go with me to see The Force Awakens, the new Star Wars movie playing at the Uptown movie theater on Connecticut Avenue. I am a devoted Star Wars Fan and I love the Uptown Theater.

New Years Eve, 1955, on our honeymoon in Washington, DC, Jim and I went to see 'What Happened to Harry" at the Uptown Theater.

Change is ever-present in this city. Buildings regularly fall to the wrecking ball and rise ugly. However, very little has changed in the l930s-1940s low-rise shopping area where the Uptown theater is located. I often think about it's timelessness as I drive down the long familiar stretch of asphalt and pot holes.

Jim rides with me. Even though he has been gone almost four years he would not be a stranger on this path. Connecticut Avenue is the primary way we traveled to and from DC after we moved into our house in 1970. Memories crowd every inch of the way from Constitution Avenue to our turn off at Manor Road, Chevy Chase, MD.  For ten years Jim's favorite office was at the corner of Connecticut and R Street. When I worked for the League of Women Voters their office was located on M Street so I rode with Jim mornings and evenings most days. Newly empty nesters   with our kids off at college we often stopped along the way for supper out.

When I talk with him now I point out any changes - like favorite restaurants that have moved or closed or an empty lot where once there was an old building. I also remind both of us of things that happened like the morning we drove to George Washington Hospital for his surgery or a hurry-up ride to National Airport to put me on a plane to Africa. This is my way of keeping our story alive.

I do miss hearing his take on things but I know him well enough to sort of guess what he would say to recapture his good advice or to have just a bit of friendly sparring.

Right now I am working on several new stories - one a history story about women and the other a new take on Jim and me and our life together for sixty years.

So it does not surprise me to wake up with my hands beneath his jacket hugging him close  - - -  I know that, just like always - he's helping me with the story.


Stage Kiss - at Round House Theater

A few days ago my daughter Karen and I decided to extend our Christmas "doings" so we bought tickets for a play.

This afternoon my daughter Karen and I laughed out loud, along with the rest of the audience at Round House Theater , Bethesda, MD, during a performance of Stage Kiss.  It was great!!!

As I expected Excellent reviews are posted on Joel Markowitz's fabulous site, DC Metro Theater Arts.

It feels so good to lose yourself in a play as actors work hard to keep you laughing and to draw you into their world on stage. In addition to outstanding performances I have always appreciated the sets designed for plays at the Round House Theater - and today was another winner for me.  I particularly enjoyed seeing several characters wearing ridiculous orange clothes from the 1970s. Could not help wondering if they were the "real thing" or successful copies.

The run of the play ends tomorrow. We were lucky that we caught Stage Kiss on the next to last day.

On the drive home Karen and I agreed we need more real-life theater performances. We have already checked theater schedules and picked a few we want to see. Come on 2016!


Our Star Wars Christmas

For weeks all eyes have been on the calendar waiting for December 18 and the opening of The Force Awakens, the latest Star Wars film.
Now I am a Star Wars enthusiast but I was overwhelmed by the devotion of the guy in Lafayette, CA who made this 700 pound Death Star for his roof in October and proclaimed he would not take it down until after the new film was released.

This topped everything I had been reading for months as fans eagerly looked forward to a new episode. I was especially eager to see it since they reassembled many of the original actors from the first films. Harrison Ford is back as Hans Solo along with Carrie Fisher once again playing Princess Leia.

Our grand-daughter Juliana is a hard core fan of all things Star Wars. I was not surprised when she told me at Thanksgiving that she had tickets for the opening night at the Uptown Theater in DC. Like thousands of other fans across the US she had ordered as soon as they were available on Fandango.

Yesterday grand-son Jamie Fox posted this picture taken at an opening event in San Francisco area.

I was so happy to see his smiling face as he kneeled close to R2D2  - "a real one from Lucasfilm."

Later I laughed out loud when his Mom, my daughter Robin, reminded him of a Star Wars backstory in our family.

# Star Wars Christmas Memories: Round 3

Christmas 1997 is known in our family as "The Star Wars Christmas."

Jim and I were really looking forward to Christmas that year. Robin and Brad were flying in from Los Angeles with their three young boys. The rest of our immediate family lived in the DC Area so the whole of our family would be together for the holidays. Jim was determined that we plan things to make it as memorable for everybody as we could.

When he read the write ups about the Smithsonian exhibit "The Magic of Myth" Jim announced "this is IT. We will all go to the Star Wars exhibit together."  I was quite skeptical about it.  In 1977 when Star Wars initially appeared in the theaters Jim and I had schedules packed with work responsibilities and family doings.  For recreation time we did not include long lines to see what looked like a "kids flick."  Sorry  - - apologies to George Lucas.

 Jim was stubbornly determined and he blocked all of my objections. Finally, as a last ditch effort, I countered, "we ought to at least look at the films before we make the final commitment." He agreed to that.  We borrowed our son's VHS set.  So Jim and I met those marvelous characters for the first time on a table top television in our den. OK. That did it. The plan was set.

Early December 23rd we set out to the Smithsonian Exhibit in a caravan of two vans. We had a group of 11 - Jim and me, Jimmy and wife Monica, daughter Karen, Robin and her husband Brad and 5 grandchildren ages ranging from 11year old to 18 months.
Jim insisted that we leave home early in order to get parking spaces near the Air Space Museum and we did. Our little crowd stepped into the lobby as the doors opened at 10 am. The lines inside were not heavy so very quickly we entered the world George Lucas created.

The exhibit featured all the stunning costumes and other artifacts from the film -  from Jabba the Hutt in his cave to a display with the small robot R2D2 and golden Threepio. For the adults there also were fascinating panels explaining all the influences on George Lucas as he wrote the scripts. Those influences ranged  from Saturday morning Flash Gordon space serials to the ideas of Joseph Campbell. This was not a kids flick - it was the story of a quest!

Step back in time for a virtual visit to the 1997 exhibit: The Magic of Myth for a sense of the flavor and scope to the exhibit.

Photography must not have been allowed in the exhibit because I do not have any pictures and I promise you I would have been taking plenty if I could have.

The only pictures I have are taken in the cafeteria with everyone gnawing on a hot dog for a fast lunch rather than spend more time away from the exhibit.

I did come home with this silly souvenir Ewok cup - in fact I bought one for everybody. Maybe I had a vision of all of us drinking coffee or hot chocolate together using these cups. Sad to report, I am the only one who still has their cup.

Jim was already a fan of Joseph Campbell and his writings so those panels elevated his appreciation of the film to a new level. I also loved connecting with the Campbell ideas to deepen my understanding of the film  as well as seeing all the "artifacts". Every one of us had something special that caught our attention even the youngsters.  Danny, almost 4 years old, was fascinated by "Darf" Vader with his mask and deep voice.

We were caught up in the "magic of myth" so Jim and I bought the re-mastered and improved video set. As soon as we got home everyone gathered in the den to watch the films while the visions and images  from the exhibit were fresh and strong in the Force. It was great!!!!  Jim had been so right.

But there is more to this story for us.
Myth and magic don't just fade away you know.

Even though I had been cool to the idea in the beginning the imagination, images, and storytelling of George Lucas and the films pulled me in.  I had just started performing as a storyteller in 1997. While I watched the Star Wars films over and over and over I learned a lot of basics about how to seamlessly knit a story. And I love the story and the wonderful characters.

After that Christmas when we went to CA to visit Robin and her family I took the Star Wars films, until she bought her own set. The kids watched the films again and again with Jim and me. We talked Star Wars trivia. Played Star wars games. Read Star Wars books. I especially liked the after-novels by Timothy Zahn.

I thought of our grand-daughter Juliana when she was standing in line outside the Uptown theater the other night waiting to see "The Force Awakens". Opening this post you see grand-son Jamie with his old friend R2D2 in San Francisco. His brother Dan, who was out of town, commented - "I hate you." and I understood he wanted to be there too because I have to admit I felt a tinge of that same wish when Jamie's picture came through on my Face Book feed.

My "Hope: that our family will share a Star Wars film together again. It's a lasting connection.

Thank you, Jim.


Artworks as Personal Story: Two African Carvings

Recently I wrote a series of blog posts about some of the art works hanging in my daughter's home and how they passed from my hands to hers. I enjoyed catching those memories so now I am paying 
attention to the art works that hang on my walls and where they came from.


This wooden carving has stood on a shelf in the den since 1971. 

One afternoon when I was browsing through interesting shops in near-by Georgetown (DC) I walked into a small art gallery which was crowded with intriguing African objects.  At the time I was a full-time college student art major taking many art history classes. I was drawn to this figure. Even  though it was small it had a presence as it stood in its place. It reminded me of the pictures in my art history textbooks in the chapters about the influence of African "primitive carvings" on Picasso and many other European artists in the 1900s. It was for sale. The price was surprisingly low. She has been here ever since.

Over time I have learned that this is an Ashanti fertility doll. There are many interpretations of the image which all have the large head, pronounced and upright breasts and small arms extended on either side.  She is a classic figure. Perhaps that is why she has such presence. I have drawn her and photographed her just because I like the simplicity and directness of the carving. She helps me to see and understand why these "primitive" objects had such a powerful influence on the artists who discovered their simple forms and used them to break away from the accepted images of the past. 

Or maybe, there was more. During those days when I was becoming an active advocate for women's issues I appreciated that her head was the dominant feature of the figure. 

Along the way I have added bases to give it more of a presence. I often change them. This is the latest composition. 

Ashanti Figure - Hand Carved Wood - purchased in 1972 - no known date

Animal Figure - Hand Carved Wood - purchases in 1985 - no known date
In 1985 I took The American Album, an art project representing American Women Artists, to the United Nations Conference on Women which was held in Nairobi, Kenya. I was in Kenya for three incredible weeks. During that time I made a brief safari to Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to visit Amboseli Park to see the "animals" in natural habitat.

On the drive to Tanzania Francis, our driver and guide, stopped at several road-side stands where people were selling local crafts. I was attracted by the contrasting shapes of this intriguing figure and the power of the negative space in the core of the body. I was profoundly moved by the game rides through Amboseli Park where the animals roam free in a space that suggests Genesis and this figure also had mystery about it. The figure was not expensive so I bought it even though adding it to my already bulging baggage was foolish. The basket was a second purchase - also without considering how I would manage to get it into my suitcase. I worked that out by filling the basket with clothes - - and leaving some things on the bed in my hotel room. Since then I look for small items to take home.

The figure and the basket seemed to belong together so the carvings stand side by side.


TIS THE SEASON TO LAUGH - Tales in the Village


Join us for an evening of entertainment 

                              Stories, Music and ... Juggling

Friendship Heights Community Center
4433 S. Park Street
Chevy Chase, MD

7:30 PM      FREE to the Public



David Wallace - Mixed Media Collage, 2004: Artwork As Personal Story Series, No. 4

Seven years ago on a warm May afternoon Jim and I stopped by Neptune Gallery in Bethesda, MD. This review by Claudia Rousseau was probably what lured us to visit the exhibition.

We were particularly captivated by the collages in the show. David Wallace was so assured with his use of mixed papers and fragments of images to create works which suggested subtle and appealing stories. Those works really spoke to me - maybe you will agree if you look at the galleries on his website. 

We came home with this one. I hung it in my office near my computer and I loved having it near-by. 

Several years ago I gave it to Robin for her birthday. Something about the piece looked like one that she would like and enjoy.

Today it is on a shelf in her living room.

My favorite genre for my own art is collage. Cutting and piecing bits of color to make new compositions satisfies me. My textiles are also collages - its a form that suits me. 

About ten years ago I reluctantly began to realize that I needed to find homes for my favorite art works - whether they are mine or works Jim and I added to our  personal collection. At first I moved slowly with giving things away but lately I am realizing that I need to get on with it. 

And I am - but I am holding onto the stories and connections they stir.


Stories in the Sky

Since September I have been on and off airplanes in five states - NC, TN, KS, SC and CA - traveling to tell stories. Flying is not my most favorite sport ...but as I review the trips I have to say I sat with some very fascinating folks and the conversations were worth the rolls and bumps. 

One conversation was with seat mate who was a Boeing mechanic. He recognized my nerves and every time the wind tossed us around he would tap my arm saying, "don't worry about that one. The wings will stay one." We talked about a lot more and a native of the Jonesborough, TN area he was a natural storyteller.

I loved the trip to Kansas City, KS when I flew out to tell The Hello Girls at the National World War One Museum and Memorial. I was traveling with my son Jim who was as eager as I was to visit that museum. We were sitting separately because we both prefer aisle seats. My seat-mate was friendly and ready to chat. By the time I reached our destination he had filled me in on some places to eat in SC when I was there performing for the Starburst Storytelling Festival and he urged me to have a dinner at Jack's Stack Barbecure in Kansas City. Jimmy and I were very grateful for his advice as we ate our fill of fabulous food later that evening. The museum was a total winner and I was grateful for the opportunity to tell the WWI Hello Girls story where it belongs.

Several weeks later returning from SC I shared a two seat side of the aisle with a Clemson post-doc student. He was as unhappy as I was about being on an itty bitty prop plane especially since he was in the window seat right beside the rotating propellors. We talked and laughed our way through some rough flying all the way to Dulles Airport. While the wheels squealed and smoked on the runway on landing he pulled out his phone and took a Selfie of us laughing..then he gave me a big bear hug.

On my way West to CA from Dulles Airport, I was sitting in an aisle seat next to a SC guy tall enough to make a name for himself on a basketball court. First off he introduced me to his lovely girl friend who was  quite small on the Face Time screen. Later he told me he was from Charleston. When I expressed my sadness over the church shooting tragedy he told me he knew the lone survivor of that horrifying madness. He shared his story and showed me a few pictures taken at the Memorial Service which included President Obama. I felt touched and quite privileged to hear the story.

Six hours is a long time headed to San Francisco. Later when my seat mate nodded off I said something to a woman sitting across the aisle from me. (You know that is only about two feet away.) She was a darling contemporary.  Somehow we soon learned that we were fellow widows who had walked similar paths. She conducts Bible retreats and exudes warm kindness to everyone. We exchanged emails and I hope our paths will cross again in PA.

Two weeks later returning home on my final flight for this year I was sitting with a young guy who coming home to his TV job in DC. We warmed to each other and were soon chatting about the Thanksgiving holiday. He had me in stitches with stories of his week with four family fema-nazis saying, "every conversation ended with me on the defense of my gender." Later he shared a remarkable story of his family history. HIs vivid images gave away his theater background and I nudged him toward Speakeasy DC saying "you are a natural."

Was it really a five hour trip? 

I know people who say they never talk to seat mates when they fly. "I like to read, or work,  or watch a movie", they say.  To each their own. 

How about you. What stories do you gather when you are trapped in 24 inches of cramped space  while you are sitting in the limitless vastness of the sky? 

(P.S.  I borrowed the "sitting in the sky" line from Louis C.K. because I laugh out loud over that image and hope you will too.)

Thinking myself back to California

Home after two wonderful weeks in California with daughter Robin and her family. Then daughter Karen and grand-daughter Juliana arrived for turkey on Thanksgiving. It was a good time together.

I did not get to do as much as I had hoped because on arrival I was felled by the revival of an airplane malady I picked up on my storytelling  trip to SC.

I felt terrible for three days. Saved by Robin's good care, fine Urgent Care doctors, and three days of back-to-back Hallmark Christmas movies. Don't be misled by my going to an URGENT care - -  IMO a really good Urgent Care is much better than dragging into a hospital ER when you are "a traveler." I recommend STAT MED if you are in the Walnut Creek-Lafayette-Concord area.

When Jim died I was not only flattened by grief I also felt extremely vulnerable medically. After
living with a doctor for more than 56 years I was used to having medical care close by - all the time.
After a year of trying to take care of myself and deal with a doctor I did not really like,  I joined a Concierge Practice - where the doctors know you, talk to you and are available when you need them For example: I called my doctor from California. She had been treating the first wave of this malady and when she heard my rough voice and coughing he said, "you need to see someone to have them listen to your chest." So I did. If you have ever considered entering a concierge practice check into it. I found out it was more affordable than I thought it would be and it has been just right for me. Yes, I use my Medicare and Secondary just as I always did.

Robin asked me if I would bring the costumes and tell The Hello Girls while I was there, Now, really, how could I turn down such a wonderful request? She produced a fabulous house concert event. Her family room became a very nice theater. She only invited people she thought would be interested in the history and the show - and her emails and calls turned her theater into a lively "full house." It was a very satisfying evening for me and the audience declared themselves very happy to hear the story. All good.

Robin and I also spent some time playing a favorite game - "find the story" after we stopped by to photograph a local WW1 Memorial and then traced the history of the who, what, and why it was there. We picked up some interesting history and found a hero. I love this work! Love it! Love it! Love it!

Now I am home. I have un- packed, hear the washing machine sloshing the clothes around downstairs and think about how I have to tackle the mail today. Two weeks away and the bills, throw away mailings and magazines pile up.

But first, I wanted to think myself back to Robin's  - - -  for just a bit!


Ellouise Schoettler - Textile Collage Series, mid-1990's: Artwork As Personal Story Series, No. 6

These are textile works from a series I worked on in the later 1990s. They were shown at Creative Partners Gallery, Bethesda, MD and at Washington Theological Union, Takoma Park, MD.

They were inspired by light filtering through stained glass church windows. I passed these to Robin and I kept the larger ones - sold a few and have enjoyed living with the others.

People will ask - and I answer "yes, it took a long time and I loved every minute of it."

High Cotton


Monet's Garden