Video Blog On A Rainy Afternoon

Hi, Dear Readers.  It’s cold, rainy and lousy out as I type this.  And I’m in the mood for a chat.

So I thought it was time for a video blog.

Press play.

And think about friendship as you watch this.

Posted in Friendship, pop culture, Video blog | 19 Comments

Free At Last

Milestone Alert:  This is Post number 400, Dear Readers. Wow! I feel just like Ted Williams.

Thank you all.  And here’s to making it 500.

And now it’s time to reveal my shameful little secret.

For the first time in my life, I am dog-free.

And I love it.

(Sorry, all you dog lovers.)

Now don’t go flying off the leash and tell me that I don’t know what unconditional love I am missing.  I have always been owned by dogs.

Here’s just a PARTIAL list of breeds I have had:

  1.  Beagle
  2.  Standard Poodle (4)
  3.  Miniature Poodle
  4.  Yorkshire Terrier
  5.  Afghan Hound
  6.  Doberman Pincher
  7.  Bassett Hound (2)
  8.  English Bulldog
  9.  Scottish Terrier (3)
  10.  Siberian Husky
  11.  German Shepherd (2)

From Afghans to Yorkies, I have shared my life- and sometimes my bed- with all these four-legged friends. I even have a wish list of dogs I still long to own:

  1. French Bulldog
  2.  Brussels Griffon (the “Verdel” dog in As Good As it Gets.)
  3.  Shetland Sheepdog
  4.  Collie
  5.  Dandie Dinmont
  6.  Sealyham Terrier
  7.  Bedlington Terrier
  8.  Boston Bull Terrier
  9.  Wirehaired Fox Terrier

I have loved dogs ceaselessly from the time I can remember.  When I was three, my stuffed dog, Pal, got dragged around mercilessly by a leash made out of my bathrobe tie.

My favorite tv show were Lassie and Rin Tin Tin.

My favorite movie was – hands down- Lady and The Tramp.  (I still can’t discuss Old Yeller. OMG. Rabies? Travis shooting his own dog? I’m still traumatized.)

I’ve lived all my life by the 8 o’clock and 4 o’clock feeding schedule.  I’ve given insulin injections to a diabetic husky and held their paws as they’ve made that last journey across the Rainbow Bridge.

I’ve had as many as four dogs at once and was such a steady client that my vet came to my thyroidectomy surgery. (He said that my thyroid was the exact same size as a cat’s and although he had done many, he had never seen an operation performed on human before. What else could I do?  I invited him to scrub in.)

I’ve spent thousands of dollars on blue-blooded pedigreed pups and I’ve adopted the homeless from the great team at Denver’s Rocky Mountain Scottie Rescue.

I’ve had good dogs and bad dogs and chronically ill dogs- Demodex mange, severe liver dysfunction- and smart dogs and dumb dogs and brave dogs and dogs who were timid.

You name it, I’ve lived with it.

And if there is a heaven, I’d like to be reunited with ALL of them after I die. I’d give anything to see them again.

But my last two dogs- Scottie Gillis and German Shepherd Fritz- died within two days of each other.  The shock of that- combined with a move to an apartment- finished me off emotionally and practically.

Sure, the apartment seemed horribly empty and sad. And it was weird and lonely not to have anyone happy to see me when I came home.

I just didn’t think it was right to keep a dog on a leash all the time or alone a lot of the day when I had to go to work.

It was really tough at first, but little by little, I got used to it.

But lately, I must confess, a new emotion has been washing over me.

It’s the delirious feeling of FREEDOM.

I can walk out of my house, go to work, and then hop on a train and be home…

Wait for it.


If I water the plant and wind the clock, my household runs like clockwork for at least a week.

What a feeling!

It’s just the best thing.

For now.

I’ve entered the AARP years and I don’t want to worry any more about finding the right kennel or a competent dog sitter.

I’m sure I’ll change my mind again at some point.

But for now- and the foreseeable future- freedom’s just another word for nothing left to walk.

Posted in Dogs, Rocky Mountain Scottie Rescue | 7 Comments

Sorry, Wrong Number

Remember when this was THE phone?  No buttons, no hold button, no second, third and fourth lines, no call waiting, no caller ID?

We didn’t have area codes.  We had exchanges.

Like Highcrest and Vernon and Alpine and Lincoln and Superior…

You know what I mean.

And we didn’t type on it, use it to find out the population of Brazil, make reservations, put up pictures of the children or pets or rate restaurants.

It was strictly for calling.

Nowadays, this usage has gone the way of the dodo bird.

My kids think phone calls are strictly for the birds.

Unless it’s a real emergency. (Nick)

Or FaceTime. (Natasha.)

I don’t take offense at this.  Their lives are jam-packed with work, children, dogs, snowboarding, spouses, friends and…

And they live in opposite end of the country times zones.

Natasha is an early bird in Boston.  Nick is on Pacific Time in Seattle.  They rarely get a chance to coordinate phone calls with each other.

And I really really hate to bother them.

Just because it’s some down time for me doesn’t mean that it’s AOK in their world to give the phone a jingle.  I feel that odds would be good that no matter what time I call, Nick and Natasha would always be tied up with much more important life events.

So that leaves me with exactly one rapid response communique option.


It’s quick, to the point and if they’re busy, they can easily ignore it.

I really do have a horror of interrupting people at a critical time.

And a couple of weeks ago, my hesitation waltz when it comes to make random acts of dialing really paid off.

I had texted Natasha in preparation for my Boston birthday visit to see my grandchildren.

I needed to coordinate some dinner plans with her and I texted her to ask if this was a good time to chat.

The answer came back loud and clear.


She was walking into a bris.

Oy gevalt.

Now enjoy this.  It always reminds me of the time when my flight in Aspen was cancelled and I was stranded at Sardy Field.

I called Nick – sixteen at the time- because I needed him to come to the airport and bring me home.

You’ll see what happened.

Watch this…

Posted in Parenting, pop culture | 2 Comments

Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day, Dear Readers.  Here’s wishing you all a wonderful holiday.  I hope it’s the best MD ever.

I had a glorious time visiting Boston for my granddaughter Carly’s first birthday.  The birthday girl- and her parents- enjoyed it, too.

But somehow, looking at this picture, my mind drifts back to 1977.  I was pregnant with Natasha and the whole mother-to-be gig just didn’t seem real to me.

Seriously, I just thought I was simply fat and sick.  On a drunken cruise from morning ’til night.

Of course, the people around me didn’t see me this way.  They were excited.

“What do you want?” they’d ask happily.  “A boy or a girl?”

Easy answer.

A boy, of course.

When I’d married Bill in 1976, he was already the father of three lovely girls.  Julie was fifteen, Patti was eleven and Amy was nine.

Here are my stepdaughters on my honeymoon in Aspen in 1976.

Fair’s Fair Sidebar: When Patti (the one laughing on the left) got married, she went to Europe on her honeymoon.  It sounded fun and so I asked her if  I could  go with her and her husband, Dave.  She looked at me like I was crazy.

“Why would I want to take you on my honeymoon?” she asked.

“Because I took you on mine,” I replied.

…Anyway, in 1977, I found out I was expecting.

Boy, were those pre-historic pregnancy days.  Practically back with “the stork brought you.”  No home pregnancy sticks to pee on, no complicated matter-of-course genetic testing, no test (other than that scary wicked-looking needle amniocentesis thing) to tell you if it was a boy or a girl.  No doulas, no push presents…

Pregnancy and birth in 1978 were old school.

But I wanted a boy with all my heartburn-stricken heart.

I wanted a boy because we already had three girls and I wanted to to do something “special.”

And I wanted a boy for more practical reasons.

Boys didn’t cry or whine a lot, boys didn’t fight with their friends over petty b.s. or whimper about being left out.  Boys loved their mothers.  (And I was afraid that if I had a girl I would turn into my mother.)

But the question “What do you want? A boy or a girl?” remained ubiquitous.  I heard it from everyone everywhere I lumbered.

A classic.

Until one day in summer of 1977.

I was at the Meadows Club in Rolling Meadows watching my husband play tennis.  (We were living in Barrington Hills at the time.)

John, a business associate, was also practicing.  When he spotted me, he came over to say hi.

We exchanged the usual pleasantries and then he asked me a question.

“What do you want?  A son or a daughter?”

That rocked me.

I just stared at him.

Huh? A son or a daughter?

This was a concept that had never occurred to me.  Now it was no longer about gender or sex.

Now it was about…



And in that “Aha” moment, I became a parent.

Sure, I had plenty to learn.  (I’m still learning how to do it.  And now I’ve got to master this long-distance “grandma” thing.)

But that was the day that I realized that the baby and I would be in it forever.

And we have been.

Loving, learning, crying, arguing and laughing for the past (almost) thirty-nine years.

So thanks, John.

You did me a favor.

Your question made a mother out of me.

Now look at this.  It’s my Mother’s Day gift to all of you.


Love, Ellen

Posted in Memoir, Mother's Day, Parenting, Pregnancy | 4 Comments

Me and My Big Mouth


I know it’s usually not a great idea to talk to strangers.

But I do it all the time.

Some of the best things have come from talking to a total strangers.  Rides from the airport, great tips about restaurants, my last blog post, a husband (or two), fabulous off-the-beaten-path travel suggestions…

You get the idea.

So last week I was talking to this guy next to me at the teller window of our bank.

Truth be told, I was actually joking around with the teller.  When she asked if there was anything more that she could do for me, I joshed and said that I wished that she could add a few more zeros onto my deposit.

The guy next to me heard what I had said to her and laughed.  “My teller just did that for me,” he teased.

Everyone laughed.

“Jamie Dimon is not going to like that.  He’d be very mad at her.  He’s not Mr. Nice Guy. But I’d like some of his money,” I rejoindered.  (I bank at Chase.)

“You’re not kidding,” he agreed.  “But he hung tough in 2008.”

“Yeah, he’s a tough guy, alright,” I went on.  But he got rid of my change-counting machine. What a gyp!”

The guy next to me laughed again.

“You’re right.  That’s too bad. I have a restaurant right here in the neighborhood and I’m always bringing in change.  I bet Chase would love me to stop.”

“You really have a restaurant here?  What’s it called?” I asked.

“Bob’s El Stop.  I’m Bob Corbett.”

Bob’s El Stop!” I exclaimed.  “I’ve been there!  It’s good.  My boyfriend is all about the char so I took him there last summer.”

“I thought you looked familiar.  Why don’t you come in and I’ll buy you lunch.  A burger on the house.”

“Wow!  That’s so nice of you, Bob.  As a matter of fact, I have some new relish I bought and I’m dying to try it on a charburger.  I have to do some errands this morning but can I come in today?”


So I went back home, threw some relish in a container into my bag, did my thing on Michigan Avenue and took a Via back to Wellington and Sheffield.

Bob was working the grill with aplomb.

“I’m here. And I brought my relish!” I sang out.

“What will you have?  A burger?  Do you want cheese on that?”  Bob was raring to go.

“No cheese. But here’s what I want.  Everything else.  I want mayo, grilled onions, a little mustard, relish, and do you have round pickles?”

“We have both kinds.  Pickle chips for the hamburgers, pickle spears for the dogs.”

“Give me the round ones then.”

“How many?” asked Gracious Host Bob


“Three’s the perfect number,” the burger maestro concurred.  “Fries with that?”

“Yep.  And a small Diet Coke.”

I gathered some utensils, sat down at a table and opened my relish.

In a flash, Bob brought over a delicious-looking basket of hamburger heaven.

“I hope it’s done to your liking.  It’s medium.  You know I’m much better at timing cheeseburgers than the hamburgers.  Twenty times to one they order cheeseburgers.”

Hmmm.  I never knew that.  Interesting fact.

And then I took a bite.

The chef waited expectantly.


Bob beamed with pride.

(As well he should have.)

It was terrific.

Sometimes, it pays to talk to strangers.

There might be a great burger in it.

P.S.  I’m off this Sunday, Dear Readers.  I’m going to be in Boston attending a VIP (very important party) for my granddaughter Carly’s first birthday.

See you when I get back.

Now can I take your order?

Posted in Divorce, Hamburgers, Memoir, pop culture | 2 Comments

Hailey’s Comet

MRI UPDATE: Good News!

The Leading Doc In His Field says that my MRI (two hours, btw) shows that I am healing on my own and that no further surgery will be required.


Thank you to all of you for your good wishes and prayers.  I have no doubt that everything you for me did counted big time.

It’s been a very long month and I’ve tried to keep as busy as my recovering body would allow. So forgive me if my posts haven’t been in your email boxes lately.  I’m doing my best to catch up.

Now you may remember that in my last post, my sister-in-law Mary Lu had taken me away on a fabulous New York City weekend.  It was jam-packed with fun to help distract me from the countdown to the tests that would determine my medical fate.

We went to theater, dined at Joe Allen, lunched at Bergdorf Goodman’s Good Dish Cafe, shopped a little, walked a lot.  The weather was spectacular and so were the hats shown off in the Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue.

It was all wonderful, and needless to say, I’ll remember the trip always.

But a funny thing happened on the way to New York.

I was seated next to a little girl on the airplane.  She looked just like the little girl in the photograph that heads this post.

A lady- it turned out to be her grandmother- was seated across the aisle from us.

I would have changed seats with the grandma but the little girl didn’t seem to mind and I guess I checked out.  So sticking with original seating plan, we took off.

It was rocky.  Windy and bumpy, and the small jet shuddered and shook at every down draft.

To get my mind off the Dramamine situation, I turned to my neighbor and asked her if she lived in Chicago or New York.  (I could see that she had been watching me and wanted to talk to me but she had been too polite to bother a grown up.)

“I live in the Bronx, ” she informed me.  “My grandmother and I were in Chicago to see my uncle graduate.  He just joined the Navy,” she added proudly.

“That’s so nice.  My father was in the Navy,” I told her.

“See this bear?”  She held out a little stuffed bear wearing a middy blouse.  ” My uncle gave him to me. I named him David.  That’s my uncle’s name.  That way my uncle will always be close to me.”

By now the plane was swooping sideways.  I gulped and smiled weakly.

“That’s a great way to keep your uncle close.”

“Squeeze his hand.  Look what he does.”

I did.  The bear started playing “Anchors Aweigh.”

I started singing along with the bear.  I felt that if we were going to go down with the ship, I wanted to be singing the Navy Anthem.

My seat mate was studying me intently.

“You’re so pretty and so thin.  Were you always pretty?” she asked.

“Thank you!”  I was startled.  This kid seemed so poised.  It was like talking to an adult.  “And no, I wasn’t always pretty. How old are you?” I had to ask.

“I’m eight.”

“Are you in third grade? Do you know the story of The Ugly Duckling?  It’s by Hans Christian Anderson, the man who wrote The Little Mermaid.”

“I like Ariel,” she said.  “But I don’t know that story.”

So I told it to her and I pointed out that when I was young, being thin wasn’t pretty. Having black hair wasn’t pretty and how I was a nerdy bookworm when I was a kid.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“Ellen Ross.  What’s yours?”

“I like your name.  Mine is Jo Hailey.  You can call me Jo or Hailey.  And my friends call me Jo Jo, too.  I live with my mother.  Do you have a mother?’

“I like your name and no, my mother died last year.”

She looked stricken.  “I’m very sorry for your loss,” she said.

“Well, thank you, but she was very old and she wasn’t happy, and in the end, maybe it was better that she went.”

Jo Hailey thought about this for a moment.

“When your mother was your age, was she happy?”

I pondered the question.

“No, she wasn’t.  I don’t think she had been happy for a long time.”

We then went on to cheerier subjects.

We discussed her friends, her favorite subjects in school (math and reading.  “My teacher just gave me a chapter book!” she said with her eyes shining.  “I love it.”)

We discussed her deportment, too.

“I’m behaving better in school, too,” she assured me.  “I haven’t gotten any demerits this year.”

We played four games of “I Spy,” too. We ended in a tie.

Her grandmother glanced over once in awhile to make sure we were getting along.

We were.  In fact, I was absolutely floored by this kid.  Adorable, articulate, thoughtful and fun.

As we started to land, I thanked her.

“You were a very good traveling companion, Miss JH.  You made this flight go by in a flash,” I told her.

“And so were you,” she said gravely.  “I didn’t have to use my tablet once.”

As we were taxiing on the runaway, she leaned over to confide in me one last time.

“You know, when my other uncle joins the Navy, I’m going to get his room. I told you that I share with my mother and I am so excited.”

“That is special,” I agreed.  “Are you looking forward to having a room of your own?”

“I am,” she said.  “My mother’s bedroom only has a curtain to separate it from the rest of the apartment, you know.”

“I’m going to get a door.”


Here’s to every door opening for this little girl.

God bless and Anchors Aweigh, Jo Hailey.

Posted in Childhood, Memoir, Travel | 14 Comments

Another Opening, Another Show

Dateline: Manhattan

Hi and Happy Easter and Happy Passover from the Big Apple, Dear Readers. I thought I’d get this post off to a rip-roaring start because today I’m here in New York City.

I’m spending a few days here (pre-MRI and surgery verdict) as R and R. Courtesy of my beautiful- and generous- sister-in-law, Mary Lu Roffe.

ICYMI, ML is a three-time Tony Award winning producer.

Read all about her here.

And she has graciously let me tag along to three plays.  Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, The Play That Goes Wrong and Significant Other.

I’m in a rush and can only touch upon Mary Lu’s fabulous production here.  Last night we saw a performance of The Comet. It was the most spectacular, dazzling, creative thing I have ever seen on Broadway.  The wonderful cast – led by multi-talented Josh Groban took my breath away and  brought me to my feet shouting, “Bravo!” over and over again.

But don’t take my word for it. Read what Charles Isherwood had to say about it here.

Or get the back story on this marvelous musical straight from CBS Sunday Morning. 

Sorry but this has to be a very short post today.  I just wanted to whet your appetite.

I don’t want to be late for the theater.

I’ll see you soon (MRI results willing) with a recap of my entire New York show-going weekend.

And while you’re waiting, please enjoy this clip from another one of her Tony-winning smashes.

Mary Lu will save you an aisle seat.

Posted in Broadway, Mary Lu Roffe, Musicals, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 | Tagged | 10 Comments


That’s me, Dear Readers, this past Saturday.  One week out of the hospital and what a difference a week makes.

I’m not quite out of the woods yet.  I have an MRI scheduled for April 18 and a meeting with the big honcho doc on 4/19 to tell me if I’m healing on my own or if I need surgical repair.

But the worst is definitely behind me.

Let me take this moment to thank each and every one of you.  Your calls, emails, comments, FB posts and generous offers of help and support were the BEST medicine.

They lifted my spirits, flattered my ego, overly praised my writing abilities and made me feel that I was not just taking up space on this planet.  Now I know that I have made a (small) difference in your lives- at least on Sundays and Thursdays.

Bless you all for your prayers and good wishes.

They helped me through an awful, awful time.

But since my harrowing emergency ordeal, I am on a mission.

I want to go over some points that I myself learned the HARD way.

1.  Always bring your cell phone charger cord to the hospital.  I had no idea that when I went to the E.R. at 11:00 a.m. that I would still be languishing in there at 9 p.m.  My phone was on its last legs and I did not know ONE person’s phone number.  I could not have contacted one person from memory.  The drugs and the emergency procedures had made me nuts.

2.  In that same vein, have your emergency contact numbers on a card in your wallet.  Be on the safe side and have them in there old-school.  What if you were unconscious on the street?  Carry the numbers with you.

3.  Don’t ask “How are you?” of the sick person.  Counterintuitive, I know.  And I know that you cared.  But I had 40 doctors all in need of symptoms- plus the back story- and I was worn out with telling them over and over again ad nauseam.  Then when I got out and had to find a specialist, I had to tell my endocrinologist and my gynecologist and my internist… I was exhausted by the narrative.  You get the point.

4.  Instead say “What can I do for you?  How can I help?”  This was music to my very sick ears.  I came home to an empty apartment.  I needed medical supplies, some Diet Jello, and SLEEP.  Hence all the emails and FB comments were a boon.

5.  The one question I heard over and over again was, “Can I bring you something to eat?” I found myself in the ironic position of having any food I craved brought or delivered to me. However I COULD NOT EAT.  Shame.   I was having a difficult time keeping meds down and food was out of the question.  Freud says that food is connected with love.  I get why so many people wanted to bring/send me nourishment.   But it was no dice for at least five days.

6.  What would I have wanted?  Flowers, a book, your wonderful emails and comments. Flowers went a long, long way cheering up my dingy cell of a hospital room.  My yellow roses cheered up the staff, as well.  Not a tired, over-worked nurse or orderly failed to comment on them.  They brought joy to many.

7.  My final tip?  STAY OUT OF HOSPITALS.


Now I’m off for a few more weeks.  Still recovering from this ordeal and barely strong enough to type.  I just wanted to let you all know that I’m on the right road and it was mostly because of you.

See you soon.

Thank you one and all.

Now take a look at one beautiful hospital patient.

(And no, I’m NOT dying.  I just love Ali MacGraw.)

Posted in Health, Memoir | 14 Comments


Dear Readers, In case you can’t recognize me, that’s yours truly lying in a hospital bed.

(Hospital to be named later.  After I’ve recovered.)

I went to the emergency room and five days later, they released me.

Long medical horror stories are boring to everyone except the teller. Suffice it say that I have a good one.

I was really sick.

I am on my way to recovery.  I need some other procedures/surgeries before I’m declared healed.

I wouldn’t have mentioned it but I am not sure yet when I’ll be back with you all.

I will keep you posted. Soon, I hope.

In the meantime, just be patient with this patient and while you’re at it, a few prayers in any denomination would be most appreciated.

Thanks for your understanding.

Ellen, Your Elba Girl

Now take a look at my favorite doctor on the staff.

(It only hurts when I laugh.)

Posted in Memoir, Uncategorized | 28 Comments

Three Little Words

WARNING: This may be the most politically-incorrect and controversial blog to ever appear on Letter From Elba.  So fasten your seat belts.  It’s going to be a bumpy post.

The photo that leads off today’s blog was taken in 1983.  It’s Natasha’s first day of first grade and there we were- Natasha, me, partially-hidden Olga the bulldog and three-year-old Nick- waiting for the school bus.   I can tell by the pink volunteer smock so casually thrown over the back of my car that after the pick-up, I was on my way to Michael Reese Hospital to host MRPTV Bingo- a game show for very bored patients.

(Read all about it here.)

I waited with the kids each morning.  As you can see, my hair was cropped short in those days.  I liked my look but it invariably led to the bus driver asking Nick, “Who is that nice little boy who waits outside with you each day?”

This photograph brings back thousands of memories and smiles.  And a few lumps in my throat.  Where did the years go?  It all happened so fast…you know that kind of stuff.

And if I look closely, I can see the look of love and pride on my face.

Which is the big lead-in to what I want to say here today.

I hardly ever say “I love you.”

Not even to my kids.

(I figure if they don’t know I love them by now, they’ll never know it.)

Or my closest, dearest friends.

Not to anybody.

I just don’t say it.

I’m not sure exactly why I find this simple phrase such a stumbling block.

Maybe it wasn’t said much in my house when I was growing up.

I’ll have to ask my brother Kenny if he remembers.

BTW, I never say it to him, either.  We’re not mushy that way.

(And besides, he knows.)

I never use it as a phone sign-off either, obviously.

I overhear these conversations sometimes.  People are chatting away and then they have to hang up.

“Love you,” they chirp.  Instead of “Good-bye.”

When did that happen?

On social media “I love you” is used indiscriminately and often.

I can’t tell you how many FB posts I read that proclaim undying love from the sender to their best friends, their sorority sisters, their bowling teams, everybody.

“Love you” has become then new “Thinking of you,” I guess.

Now I fully expect blow back from you guys.

I can just hear you thinking, “She can’t say ‘I love you to her kids?’ What an emotional cripple!”


“Life is so short, Ellen.  You have to tell the people you care about that you love them.  You might never get another chance.”

I just can’t.

The words always seem to stick in my throat.

And when I do finally say them, they don’t sound convincing.  Somehow they have a hollow ring.

And, as for my love life…

I can’t tell you how many times and from how many guys I have heard, “I love you.”

Sometimes it meant, “I need you.”

More often than not it meant, “I want you.”

Thus I am highly suspicious of lovers’ extravagant declarations of their undying love.

And, after a myriad of trips down the aisle, I have come to conclusion that (love) talk is cheap.

So, don’t expect much in the way of sentimental hogwash out of my mouth, Dear Readers.   Even though I am so thankful for your tremendous loyalty, friendship, great comments and general moral support over these four plus years.

I’m just never going to be able to say “I love you.”

(But I can type it.)

Posted in pop culture | 12 Comments