Christmas Eve Wonder


Photo by: Megan Oteri

Photo by: Megan Oteri

What I remember most about Christmas is spending time with my family and the magic of Christmas Eve. The joy of spotting Santa in the sky and the holiness of the night as it curved into dawn of Christmas Day. We would wait up for my father on Christmas Eve, which was so exciting. He worked nights as a security guard at the Northern Trust Bank in Chicago. He would leave for work around 1 in the afternoon. Even though his shift started at 3, he would leave the house at 1 to catch the train into the city from the suburb where we lived. Mom had the house filled with Christmas smells and spices. My favorite was a mixture of orange peels, cinnamon sticks, and cloves simmering on the stove. It made the house smell so wonderful.

We would bake Christmas cookies and roll out the white dough and sprinkle green and red sugary crystals on top of each cookie. Snowmen, Christmas trees, bells, Santas, and elves. I don’t know how the afternoon passed. Sometimes we would wrap last-minute presents Mom needed help with. We would help get “The Little Room” ready for Christmas Eve. The Little Room was the name of the room attached to the garage. It was behind the house, about ten feet from the back door. It had a fireplace and that is where we put up the Christmas tree. It was such a magical place around the holidays.

With a fire crackling and the lights shimmering, we would sing along to the Christmas music on the radio and shake our presents to “see” what was inside. Even though we were allowed to open any gift under the tree on Christmas Eve, my sister and I always opened each other’s gifts that we got each other. Then it turned into tradition. I remember one year she saved her allowance for months to get me a monkey puppet. It had super long legs and arms and had a squeaky toy inside the mouth. It was brown and furry.

The most vivid memory is when Dad finally got home from work around midnight and we would squeal with delight, scampering around the house. Then we would run barefoot over the snow (it was Chicago – you could pretty much always bank on a white Christmas) and pitter patter through it, jumping from stone to stone on the circular stone path that led to the Little Room. And once inside the door, we would warm up by the fire and drink hot cocoa. Then we would open each other’s gifts — my sister and me — and my parents would watch. That is what I remember about Christmas. Well, Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve is such a special time. Everyone is getting everything ready and it just is magical, no way around it. I love Christmas Eve more than Christmas morning.

I am embracing this tradition with my son, who is experiencing the wonder of Christmas. I hope you all have a beautiful Christmas with your loved ones and I hope you experience the wonder of the season, just as you did in the pockets of your childhood memory and in the creation of new memories.

***

Please check out my essay, “Presence” which was published on Mamalode. Lisa Stone, CEO of BlogHer called Mamalode, “America’s best parenting magazine.”Mamalode was featured in Forbes recently as a niche parenting magazine.

Here is a teaser of my essay:

“With a fire crackling and the lights shimmering, we would sing along to Christmas carols on the radio and shake our presents to “see” what was inside. Mom was Christmas Eve.”

Here is the link: http://mamalode.com/story/detail/presence. I encourage you to like and comment on the website and share the link. Thank you. I appreciate your support and interest in my writing. Merry Christmas!

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I Miss Him: Holiday Grief


*** Note to readers: this started as a Facebook status update and I decided to post it here.
 Missing this Irish man today.
Dad's article
He died 11 years ago in the middle of the night, technically December 11 at 4 am holding my mother’s hand. But I always feel like this is the day he died since December 10, 2003 was the last time I saw him and had to say goodbye to the father I loved for 29 years. Death sucks, but it is a part of life. Trying not to get all existential, but perhaps I should take this status update to my blog or journal. But you see I miss him. I miss him, and as grief has numbed the loss – a hole that death leaves, gaping in concave fragments of the heart, a sense of longing has replaced this. This sense of missing him, knowing he is gone. I miss him.

I miss seeing the veins on his hands, crossed in a holding pattern on his lap, a cigarette always tucked puffing solo in his lips. I miss his morning silence and two cups of coffee minimum rule: “Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my coffee.”

I miss him.

I miss watching his gait, heavy to the left, limping, shifting the weight in stride to his other leg — the leg I now know had significant damage from frostbite from Korea. I miss his odd sense of humor and his incredible intelligence. I miss how he could talk to anyone. I miss his pride. I miss his pats on the back and how awkward he became when I insisted on hugging him.

I miss him.

I miss the way he could pack a car, no matter how large with flea market finds. I miss his Cuban wedding shirts. I miss his scarves which he always called mufflers and reminded me to bundle up on cold Wyoming winter nights before I left the house. I miss his anger, sometimes dark and black. I miss his garden and the flower pots he filled them with — stacked in neat rows around the brick wall around our house on Maxwell. I miss seeing him peaceful with dirt in his hands.

I miss him.

I miss the way he wrapped his shoelaces around his ankles, tying them pragmatically in double knots as an old man. I miss his grey hair comb over. I miss his kindness and Irish pride. I miss smelling Corn Beef and Cabbage every St. Patrick’s Day. I miss the strong scent of coffee in the kitchen of our home. I miss having a hell of a hard time trying to buy him the perfect Christmas gift.

I miss him.

I miss his voice and his ability to speak only when necessary in a conversation. I miss his knowledge and the statistics he could whip out on any baseball team in this century or the last. I miss that he could give the biggest compliment to me through a third person like when he told my best friend Heidi that she had to make sure I write because it is in my blood — “Make sure Megan writes; she is a writer — a journalist a poet. She is related to Percy Bysshe Shelley, you know? Make sure she writes — it is in her blood.” I miss his smile, sometimes rare and sometimes wild.

I miss him.

I miss watching him read thick books and biographies. I miss startling him if I walked up on him unexpectedly, giving me a sense he knew fear in the strongest sense of the word and I miss the sense of relief he had when he knew it was me. I miss his car — a long maroon Lincoln Continental plastered with proud Semper Fi bumper stickers.

I miss him: John Shelley Miller, my dad — the first man I ever loved.

My father and I on my wedding day (November 23, 2003)

My father and I on my wedding day (November 23, 2003)

My dad in Korea. He was a member of the Frozen Chosen who fought in Inchon in the Korean War,

My dad in Korea. He was a member of the Frozen Chosen who fought in Inchon in the Korean War, He is bured at Arlington Cemetery.

My dad and his friend from Korea.  This man called me shortly after my father died.

My dad and his friend from Korea. This man called me shortly after my father died.

My dad around Christmas time 2002 -- his last Christmas

My dad around Christmas time 2002 — his last Christmas

My father had a poet's eye.  I believe he took these photos on leave during the Korean War.

My father had a poet’s eye. I believe he took these photos on leave during the Korean War.

My dad stopping to smell the roses. This photo gives me such joy.

My dad stopping to smell the roses. This photo gives me such joy.

Fence

Fences: I send messages to my father through the birds. Cardinals deliver same day mail. My father loved cardinals and I can’t help but think he sends me messages back when they whistle by me. My yard in North Carolina is filled with cardinals. I see one weekly — at least.

My father and I on my wedding day, November 23, 2003

My father and I on my wedding day, November 23, 2003

Photos from my wedding

Photos from my wedding

Betty and John were special people.  Anyone that ever met them knew this.  They were storytellers and magicians.  They made people feel good.  Sure, like everyone they had their problems, but deep at their core, they were the pot of gold.  My magic - my love.

Betty and John were special people. Anyone that ever met them knew this. They were storytellers and magicians. They made people feel good. Sure, like everyone they had their problems, but deep at their core, they were the pot of gold. My magic – my love.

Snow Angels


An angel found me today.

Angel

Angel

It took me awhile to piece together the meaning. I am a meaning maker.  I use this term from Daniel Pink’s, A Whole New Mind. If you have not read that book, I highly recommend it.

Back to meaning making. I had a snow day today — the third one in a row (I live in North Carolina and it rarely snows). It was splendid — the snow day that is and the snow. I just love snow. I grew up with snow (Chicago) and then we moved to Wyoming when I was fifteen. So I know snow.

"Snow Haiku" Bird looking for seeds Snow beauty, calm layers now Green chair aligned: tree

“Snow Haiku”
Bird looking for seeds
Snow beauty, calm layers now
Green chair aligned: tree

And I know sledding. Oh how I know sledding.  I was on the hunt for a sled on Wednesday. I went to three major stores in town (Wal-mart, Farm & Ranch, and Dunham’s Sports) and no dice. They weren’t sold-out; they didn’t stock them — at all. It snowed throughout the night on Tuesday.  Wednesday morning I awoke to a blanket of fresh white snow. I love how snow makes everything look so pure, so new, so fresh.

"Creature Print Heart Haiku" Some think Valentine's Day Is not a holiday. I I think it is because... (end of haiku) creatures make prints in the snow can you see the heart?

“Creature Print Heart Haiku”
Some think Valentine’s Day
Is not a holiday. I
think it is because…
(end of haiku)
creatures make prints in the snow
can you see the heart?

I read posts on Facebook Wednesday morning about Snow Cream. I capitalize it because apparently it is a proper noun — it is a specific thing. This Chicago native and Wyoming transplant that has lived long enough in Wyoming to be considered a native, has never heard of Snow Cream.

Recipe here.

Anyway, back to snow, back to sledding, back to meaning making.

My son and I started our third snow day with hot oatmeal.  I made Jordan Marsh blueberry muffins. My son melted my heart when he said, “Here you go my lady,” as he handed me blueberries to eat. It was so unexpected and so three and half-year old pure.  We put the muffins in the 375 degree oven. The oven heated up the kitchen and I drank that first awesome cup of coffee.  Ben watched Octonauts and yelled at me for mixing his syrup in his oatmeal.

As I was making the muffins, I realized I forgot to put in the baking powder to the first batch, already in the oven. Oops. I did not freak out. It was an honest mistake.  I rarely bake.  But it is in my blood and bones as my grandmother was a gourmet chef and ran a famous bakery in Evanston, Illinois.   I quickly fixed my mistake for the second batch. I noticed my batter was a little lumpy. Didn’t care. No need for perfection with muffins. Ben helped me put blueberries into the batter. He piled fifteen into one tin. I picked out a few and sprinkled over the other five. The house smelled delicious. I felt wonderful. These moments are so rare now that I am working.  Ben usually wants to be with his dad on weekends. Dad is the popular parent right now. Rightly so. Rich can talk in Dr. Doofenshmirtz’s voice and Major Mongram’s.

The house was quiet except for the two of us, alone in the house. I noticed how the sun streams into the front hallway at 9 am casting a beautiful shadow of the porch pillars.  I miss these little details. I thought about what I am doing at 9 am each day at school.

We made bird feeders with peanut butter, seeds, and pine cones.

"Bird Feeder Haiku" We made these today We made the red ribboned ones Christmas Eve. Mom died (end of haiku) She died on Christmas Eve 2012. Ben and I hung the red ribboned ones 12/24/13. One year anniversary.

“Bird Feeder Haiku”
We made these today
We made the red ribboned ones
Christmas Eve. Mom died
(end of haiku)
She died on Christmas Eve 2012. Ben and I hung the red ribboned ones 12/24/13. One year anniversary.

The day stretched into mid morning. Ben and I bundled up in triple layers of pants, double layers of socks, hiking boots that take forever to lace up, hats, double cloth gloves (two pairs), mufflers, and Carhart coats. I was so stiff from warmth I could barely walk. We hung the bird feeders — one on each Dogwood in our front yard, three total. The snow was so white. I hung the ornament I made but never finished. It is an angel. I made salt dough ornaments on Christmas Eve 2012. I was making them in my in-laws garage when my mother went to the hospital.

"Angel Tree Haiku" I think of my mom when I make bird feeders: love is why I get up (end of haiku) and make oatmeal for my son, just like my mom did for me. My mom taught me how to make bird feeders with pine cones and peanut butter.

“Angel Tree Haiku”
I think of my mom
when I make bird feeders: love
is why I get up
(end of haiku)
and make oatmeal for my son, just like my mom did for me. My mom taught me how to make bird feeders with pine cones and peanut butter.

After we hung the bird feeders, I pulled Ben around in a laundry basket attached to a bungee cord. We fell into the snow and laughed from our bellies. I looked up at the blue sky, startled at it beauty — startled at its calm. Through the buds still tight of the Dogwood, I realized this moment could not be caught on film, nor on camera. It just was. It was magic.

I suddenly thought we have not made snow angels. We tumbled into the snow and swished our arms back and forth. I moved Ben’s feet and arms. He didn’t know how to do it. We made angels of our own.

Snow captured beauty.

I never knew my  heart could flutter so wild, pure with love for this boy

I never knew my
heart could flutter so wild, pure
with love for this boy

Part II coming later… (about the sledding adventure).

No promises. Just story.

Back to angels, back to meaning making. We found sleds at Wilson Hardware. It is an old school mom and pop store downtown Wilson, NC.  So charming too. They carry lunch boxes. Old school lunch boxes.

"Lunch Box Haiku" I had a Pac-man  lunch box. I still love that game. I play it  a lot.

“Lunch Box Haiku”
I had a Pac-man
lunch box. I still love that game.
I play it a lot.

That is where I found the angel. She has fiber-optic wings. She is on my Valentine’s Day mantle now. It used to be the Christmas mantle. It is a shrine.  My mother’s box of ashes used to sit there, last year, right at this time last year.

Now my angel is there, next to photos of my mom and me. Next to photos of my grandma. Next to knickknacks and cards that depict and breath love. My angel is within me. I carry her with me. I carry her heart.

"Mantle Muse Haiku" I am so lucky to have loved so deeply, Mom Thank you. I love you.

“Mantle Muse Haiku”
I am so lucky
to have loved so deeply, Mom
Thank you. I love you.

"Wings Haiku" Wings allow us to  fly and be free from sorrow They don't always work (end of haiku) nut they open when we need them to

“Wings Haiku”
Wings allow us to
fly and be free from sorrow
They don’t always work
(end of haiku)
nut they open when we need them to