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!

Attachment Parenting, Engorged Boobs, Women’s History, Moose, and Muse


I know I posted on Facebook (facebook.com/memomuse) and Twitter (@memomuse1) that I would post the Monday Mooseletter Monday night.  I just didn’t get to it.  I don’t like to make promises I can’t keep.  So, here it is on Wednesday.

Afterall, I don’t want a riot to start because I didn’t have a fresh post on my blog. Ha ha. Seriously, I wonder who are my loyal followers.  What I think about when I get a new like on Facebook is not about the number, but the actual number — the person. The fact that one person in this great big universe decided to go to the sidebar and hit like.  It means a lot to me.  It means you truly heard me and recognized and appreciated  my voice. And I thank you.

So, here are some moose:

Mama moose and her little one

Here is an update of what is going on:

1. Remember 35 mm film and photos you hold in your hand

This post will be short (this is an out right lie) because I have a photography deadline to meet. I am going through my photos (35 mm film prints) from Wyoming (my home state) to find color photos for a Wyoming tourism brochure I was invited to submit photos to.  I have so many photos (literally thousands) of film prints to go through.  I am so biased when it comes to Wyoming because my heart still lives there even though I live in North Carolina now.

Moose on the road in Yellowstone. They are enormous in size.

It takes my breath away and it makes my heart swell.  It also breaks my heart that there are so many wildfires going on in the West, especially Wyoming and Colorado.  My sister lives near the High Park fire and she is safe now, but it was frightening to wonder if she would lose her farm.  See — here I said this post would be short, but now I want to write about my sister’s farm.

I love Wyoming. Photo taken in 2004 on my honeymoon.  We went to Yellowstone for our honeymoon.

2. Working on Two Books

An agent in New York is reading over my motherhood memoir (proposal and full manuscript requested).  It is a creative nonfiction memoir about Attachment Parenting, as it relates to me, as a new mom trying to find her way.  It is NOT, I repeat NOT, a how-to book.  All I know how to do is be the best mother I can be to my son and write pretty well.  I can do other things too, but you get my point.

BlogHer CEO and c0-founder, Lisa Stone, recently declared Mamalode magazine America’s Best Parenting Magazine. Mamalode publisher, Elke Govertsen, has agreed to write a blurb and endorse my book.  She is such an amazing person and has really taken Mamalode where it was meant to go — a publication with subscribers in every state and many countries around the world.  Elke is a true trailblazer and visionary.  Check it out.  There is a link to the magazine on my sidebar too.

3.  More Details about Book Projects

I have to just hit enter and go to the next number or I will ramble on.  I have so many ideas for blog posts, but they require research, development and crafting.  I just don’t have the time right now to develop the blog posts I want to write about.  I have been thinking about turning them into articles for magazines, but then I am brought back to #2: my books.  I have to finish these projects.

These two books (AP motherhood memoir and historic food memoir) are my priority right now.  The Attachment Parenting motherhood memoir is a book about my experience as a new mom. I kept detailed journal entries in graduate school for an independent course on motherhood I designed. It was called,  Motherhood: The New Frontier.  I picked five books to read, and basically had free reign to write whatever I wanted to about motherhood.  Well, to say the least, it is raw, edgy, hopeful, honest, vulnerable, and loving (and about a dozen more adjectives).  One of those books on my reading list was Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott.  Read it if you are a new mom.

Anne Lamott and me at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, NC.

If you haven’t met Anne yet, let me introduce her.  Reader, this is Anne Lamott. She is a recovering alcoholic and addict, absurdly funny, and radically Democratic.  She is not afraid to speak her mind.  She writes as if in a confessional, and turns a phrase with the craftsmanship of a needlepoint artist.  Anne, this is my reader (feel free to introduce yourself to Anne in the comments — I’d love to know more about you).  You two should talk.

One of  the themes of my motherhood memoir is the fact that I was practicing Attachment Parenting without even knowing it.  AP is flexible and you can adapt the 8 principles to fit your family’s needs.  People are up in arms about AP and the recent Time magazine cover.  I really don’t understand all the hoopla and outrage, but the Mommy Wars are a real thing. I’m a lover, not a fighter.

Motherhood is beautiful, ugly, difficult, easy, complicated, simple, textured, smooth, heart-breaking, heart-pounding, and one of the most complex relationships.

My road to motherhood was not easy; I struggled with infertility, postpartum psychosis, postpartum depression,  breast feeding, co-sleeping, and anxiety.  As they say in the South, I was a hot mess.  The thing is, nobody really talks about how hard motherhood is.  In fact, it is a taboo subject.  I guess it easier to talk about the joys and blissful moments instead of talking about nipple scabs, cracked nipples, sleep deprivation, and all the other little dirty secrets mothers live through.

My little miracle. Hard to believe something as wonderful as being a mom can be so downright terrifying at times.

I remember calling my friend, Debra Elramey in tears saying, “Debi, my boobs hurt.”  My milk had just come in.  I was not told it would feel like the lower falls of Yellowstone were dammed in my breasts.  I was parked in the parking lot near the super strip mall and my husband was getting me a Subway sandwich.  I was trying to be strong, and the baby blues were coming on something fierce.  Ben was sleeping peacefully in the car seat, probably a week old.  Debi said, in a voice only a good friend can emulate, “Honey, you’re engorged,” she paused while I cried, then said, “you need to get a pump.”  I was like, “What is engorged?”

She explained the situation and what I needed to do. I got a free hand pump from the lactation consultant that spent ten minutes with me the next day.  She said, “Yep, you got this, you’re doing it right,”  as if I was some tick mark to check off on a list.  I wanted to call her out and say, “Lady, I think you are mistaken — I have no f#@&ing idea what I am doing! Please sit your a$$ back down on my couch and please don’t leave.”  Instead, I just kept a stiff upper lip until she left and then I cried.  My next call was to the La Leche League and that is a story for the memoir…

Historic Food Memoir — The Community Kitchen

My other book is a historic food memoir about women in the kitchen and history in the making.  It is about my great-grandmother’s (Elizabeth Hawley Odell) food business. The Community Kitchen started as a food conservation project in the basement of the Evanston’s Woman’s Club in the summer of 1918, during WWI.  Read this blog,  to find out more about it.  I am working on the book proposal for this book.  Two agents have expressed interest in this book already.  The history is incredible, as it spans 1918 – 1951.

The Community Kitchen store front (600 Davis Street, Evanston, Illinois)

My grandmother, Elizabeth Odell Welch, was an executive chef for Alice Foote MacDougal, Schrafft’s, Birdseye, and General Foods.  “In 1926, she joined the staff of Alice Foote MacDougal in the tea shop business in New York. Later she did experimental recipe work for Schrafft’s and before she returned to Evanston in 1947, she was on the staff of General Foods preparing foods for advertising photography.” – The Evanston Review — May 31, 1951

Juney was a 1930’s version of Peggy Olson from Mad Men.  In fact, she had the beauty, style, and sass of Joan, the sense of humor and charm of Roger, and the creative vision of Don.  She was a trailblazer.

My grandma, Juney (nickname), was something else! She was a Taurus, athletic, smart, sassy, and beautiful — honest and funny too.  She loved New York so much that when her husband bought a home in Long Island when they were newlyweds, she said, “Take it back! We’re going back to the city.”

She loved my sister, Kathleen and me dearly, as we were her only grandchildren. She adored her nieces, Mary Liz Price Hunt and Virginia Price Ware and her grandnieces, Harriet Hunt Brown and Mary Hunt Newcomb, and nephew, Lewis G Hunt.  She loved her daughter (my mom) more than anything in the world.

I know this story is powerful: women’s history, food history, American history, and most important — family history! Did I mention how excited I am about this project! I am the sieve of this story.

Please tell your foodie and history buff friends about it. Word of mouth is a powerful tool in marketing. I hope you enjoy following The Community Kitchen as it evolves.

The photo below is a photo of my grandma, Juney — isn’t she just something else?  She was the only grandparent I ever met.  She passed away when I was ten.

This is my grandmother; her nickname was Juney.

4.  Moving on, as I am rambling on.  I am thinking about self-publishing a lot lately.  I have the motherhood memoir written and am working on final editing.  To be or not to be.  That is the question. I do like the glamour of a publisher and agent from New York, but the more I read, the publishing process is not very glamorous.  My grandma was a New Yorker and my mother was a New Yorker.  There is something magical for a writer to think their manuscript is traveling like a tourist in New York.  I hope that both my books not only travel New York City, but become residents, ultimately securing a book deal and publishing contract.  For now, I am enjoying the cab ride, gazing up  at the tall skyscrapers of possibility with wonder filled eyes.

5.  Artist in the Schools and Writer-in-Residence

I was selected by the United Arts Council to be an Artist in the Schools and a writer-in-residence.  If you are a teacher in Wake and Johnston County (North Carolina), you can apply for a grant to bring me to your school to conduct residences and workshops on Poetry (The Bicyle of Poetry: Riding through the Senses), Memoir, Poetry Slams and Spoken Word,  Photography (A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words) and any other writing program.  I am more than happy to tailor it to meet your classroom needs.  Email me directly if you are interested.  Don’t worry, I can tone it down for the public school setting, as I was a teacher for thirteen years (Special Education, Elementary Education, Middle School, and Residential Treatment Center).  There is nothing more powerful and rewarding than helping children and teenagers find and hear their own voice.

6. Brain Tumor Thursday

I have a profile for Brain Tumor Thursday, which will be posted tomorrow.  It was submitted by a man named John. He was an archeologist and his profile is moving.  I don’t find these profiles sad, but then again, my mother has brain tumors and has lived with them for the last twelve years.  They were diagnosed in 2000; she most likely had them longer. Brain tumor survivors submit their profiles to me, using the template I created.  They fill in the blank:

I hope…

I wish…

I dream…

I am…

And then they can share their diagnosis, treatment, photos, and three things about themselves.

Well, I should be wrapping this post up.  I do have that photography deadline to meet. Have a great day.  I hope to see you here tomorrow for John’s post.  It is whimsical, funny, hopeful, and beautiful. The photos he submitted are quite magical.

Find me on Twitter (@memomuse1 or @600DavisSt).  You can find me on Facebook too (facebook.com/memomuse).  I would love to chit chat with you there.

I leave you with one more photo, as you have been reading a rather long post (thank you for reading the whole post, even though I said it would be short). If you click on the photo it will take you directly to the food memoir blog.  If you are interested in this book, read the about page, as the history is fascinating.

This is a photo of my great-grandmother. She is the woman on the far left. The three women pictures founded the Community Kitchen.

Connection


I am in the process of working on writing a blog post to catch everyone up to speed.  But honestly, the last week has been a whirlwind of creative connection, human connection, technology connection, and soul connection — and oh, how can I forget — writing connection.

I want to put some links here that will give you an idea of how connected we all are and also what I have been up to creatively.

1.  Talenthouse:  My photo, Brain Tumors, which is a photo of my mother in the hospital the day after she almost died.  The photo was taken last year in May.   The photo received over 1000 votes and they are still coming in.)  The support all over the world has been incredible.  Just click on the link, Brain Tumors and take a look around to see what’s going on over at Talenthouse.  I have met so many amazing artists through this website.  I really appreciate what Talenthouse is doing for artists and creatives.  What I really like about their website title is it reads: “Talenthouse – ALL CREATIVE.”  The winner will be announced March 15.  You better believe I will let you know!

No doubt about it - I am a right brained brainiac.

In a nutshell — I entered the photo, Brain Tumors in a creative invite at Talenthouse to work with Tiffany Shlain, who was honored by Newsweek as one of the “Women Shaping the 21st Century.”  “Tiffany Shlain is a filmmaker, founder of The Webby Awards, and co-founder of The International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. A celebrated thinker and catalyst, Tiffany is known for her ability to illuminate complex ideas in culture, science, technology and life through her unique films and her dynamic talks and projects.”  Tiffany also recently did this film, Connected. She is beyond raderific!  She is also a mom.

2.  Attachment Parenting International:  I am a regular contributor to their online blog, API Speaks and magazine, The Attached Family.  API is a great international organization and I practice attachment parenting with my son, Benjamin.  My essay, Magic Mama, which honors and celebrates my mother’s legacy and giant spirit, is posted there right now.  This essay has been getting retweeted and has had an incredible amount of readers.  It actually got retweeted by Tiffany Shlain after I tweeted it to her and other organizations having to do with brain tumor support and information.  I am honored to share my mother with the world.  The essay was also linked to via this post, Motherhood is hard, with a pingback to my essay, Magic Mama, when Lara, the mom blogger said, “How on earth did our own moms make it all look so easy?”

Attachment Parenting is an international website, with over 20,000 fans on facebook.  That means 20,000 people, all over the world, potentially read this essay, which celebrates the beauty and dynamic of the mother-daughter relationship.  I also made arrangements with the director of the nursing home where my mother is at, to have someone read her Magic Mama.  This makes me happy.  I wrote this essay for my mom, so it is fitting she hear it.

3.  Mamalode: My essay, Take a Number, I Just Got to Town was published on Mamalode’s website last week.  This is also a magazine and website I am a regular contributor for.  I can’t tell you how much I adore this magazine.  It is a collection and community of honest, down-to-earth mamas, telling you how it really is, how they wish it were, and how sometimes it isn’t anything they even understand.  This magazine has subscribers in every state in the US and a presence internationally.   Check out their Spring issue, themed Flow, coming out this week.  You can subscribe via the link above.  This issue will feature an article by Kelle Hapton about writing her new book, Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected, which goes on sale April 3rd.  You can pre-order a book at her website.

So, how we are all so connected — by technology, by the human condition, by our hearts.  I have connected with an artist in the US and one in the Ukraine because we both lost our fathers; these connections were made on Talenthouse.  I will be writing about these connections later on this website (here at memomuse.wordpress.com). Right now, I am just trying to get out the basics so you all can be caught up to speed.  Anyway, there just feels like there is so much to tell you.  Like how someone I went to junior high with in Chicago, posted the Brain Tumors  link in his 20th high school reunion facebook feed.   Or how Tiffany Shlain retweeted my essay on Mamalode because I had tweeted it to her, as well as, to the American Brain Tumor Association.

How are you connected? How does it bring you joy?

Thank you for following my blog and reading this post.  Hope. Wish. Dream. Be.

Extra information and memomuse news:

Photo by Megan Oteri (c) ~ All Rights Reserved

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4. Wheat Thins Review: “What do The Colbert Report, Family Guy, a disbelieving twitterer, a hiker stuck under a rock, and Wheat Thins all have in common? They all are part of the new advertising launch of the new Wheat Thins made with 100% whole grain.”  I was asked by Grovery.com to write a review for Wheat Thins.  This is a great website with articles, reviews, information, coupons, and news of the grocery industry.  We all need to eat, so we all need to go to the grocery store.  Here is the link to the review.  It was fun to write and it is funny.  I promise you will laugh.  Really, I do.

Have a museful day!