Thursday, October 31, 2013

Welcome Eleanor Vincent and a Guest Post: Motherhood Then and Now

Eleanor Vincent is the author of Swimming With Maya; A Mother’s Storya memoir that has been described as "heartbreaking and heart-healing." In today's guest post, as well as in her book, "Eleanor Vincent shares an inspiring true story of courage, creativity, faith, and sheer tenacity as she seeks to find balance after unthinkable tragedy."

Motherhood Then and Now

Eleanor Vincent

When I study my 22-month-old daughter on the cover of my book, I remember a hot July afternoon in Minneapolis. Maya is wading in Cedar Lake, little wavelets lapping at her ankles. She’s about to call “Mommy! Look at me!”

Moments after the picture was taken, she ran to me and hurled herself against my shoulders, throwing her arms around my neck.  I have that picture too – me turning my head to look over my shoulder, smiling, and Maya, grinning back at me like a jack-o-lantern.

In Swimming with Maya: A Mother’s Story I relive my time as a mother. That is one of the great joys of writing – and motherhood – remembering and retelling the peak moments.

I was 24-years-old when I became a mother and fell hopelessly in love with my bright, beautiful little girl. I could never have imagined that 19 years later I would be staring down at her face in a coffin. If you lose a spouse, you are a widow. A child who loses a parent is an orphan. But if your child dies, what are you? Our culture does not have a word for the depths of this grief. “Bereaved parent” is a pale appellation.

Maya’s death demanded that I step into a new level of mothering – radical letting go. At the age of 43, grieving for Maya forced me to mature spiritually and emotionally, and to reach a new understanding of the meaning of love. Love, in my new universe, included the ability to allow my child to have her death, on her own terms.

I can’t sugarcoat this process of letting go. I thought it would kill me. Swimming with Maya shows how day by day I fought to raise my surviving daughter, Meghan, continue my professional life as a writer and editor, and find my balance in the midst of overwhelming sorrow. For me, and countless others, mothering is a hands-on course in surrender, humility, and courage.

When Meghan left home for college, I had to grieve all over again. Not for the loss of a person, but for the loss of my role as a day-to-day mother. One part of me rejoiced at my new-found freedom, but another, stronger part mourned for my place in my daughter’s lives.

It’s been 15 years since I became an empty nester. Guess what? Mothering is never over. It shape shifts into an ability to be your adult child’s friend and, if you’re lucky, a treasured confidante, while at the same time respecting her choices and refraining from any form of advice giving, unless asked! Being close, but not smothering.

Meghan, 33, now has two beautiful daughters.  I have the unspeakable joy of watching my child continue the cycle of mothering. I love each precious moment with Lucia, 3, and Francesca, 2 months. All those years of on-the-job training as a Mom come in really handy when you have a jealous preschooler and a crying baby to contend with!

Meghan gave Lucia the middle name Maya, so when she really acts out, I get to say, “Lucia Maya, stop that!” It thrills me to see Maya’s intelligence and spunk reflected in the eyes of her niece, and when Lucia points at the book cover and says, “Maya,”  my heart overflows.

Becoming a grandmother is “the bonus round,”  as Anne Lamott so aptly said. Because of Maya’s life and death, I will never take a moment of time with my granddaughters for granted, or ever forget those peak moments with my own daughters.

Please enter to win a copy of Swimming with Maya. Thanks, Audry, for hosting me today.

Thank you, Eleanor, for sharing your thoughts and your story with us!  

More about Swimming with Maya:

Previously available only in hardcover, Swimming with Maya demonstrates the remarkable process of healing after the traumatic death of a loved one. Eleanor Vincent raised her two daughters, Maya and Meghan, virtually as a single-parent. Maya, the eldest, was a high-spirited and gifted young woman. As a toddler, Maya was an angelic tow-head, full of life and curiosity. As a teenager, Maya was energetic and independent - and often butted heads with her mother. But Eleanor and Maya were always close and connected, like best friends or sisters, but always also mother and daughter.

Then at age 19, Maya mounts a horse bareback as a dare and, in a crushing cantilever fall, is left in a coma from which she will never recover. Eleanor's life is turned upside down as she struggles to make the painful decision about Maya's fate.

Ultimately Eleanor chooses to donate Maya's organs. Years later, in one of the most poignant moments you will ever read about, Eleanor has the opportunity to hear her daughter's heart beat in the chest of the heart recipient. Along the way, Eleanor re-examines her relationship with her daughter, as well as the experiences that shaped Eleanor as a woman and as a mother to Maya.

An inspirational/motivational true story recommended for anyone who has experienced tragedy, who is grappling with traumatic experiences of the past, or who wants to better understand the strength and healing power of the human spirit.

Paperback:  340 Pages
Publisher:  Dream of Things (March 26, 2013)
ISBN-10:  0988439042
Twitter hashtag: #SWMaya

Swimming with Maya; A Mother’s Story is available as a print and e- book at Amazon.

Meet Eleanor Vincent:

Eleanor Vincent is an award-winning writer whose debut memoir, Swimming with Maya: A Mother’s Story, was nominated for the Independent Publisher Book Award and was reissued by Dream of Things press early in 2013. She writes about love, loss, and grief recovery with a special focus on the challenges and joys of raising children at any age.
 Called “engaging” by Booklist, Swimming with Maya chronicles the life and death of Eleanor’s nineteen-year-old daughter, Maya, who was thrown from a horse and pronounced brain-dead at the hospital. Eleanor donated her daughter’s organs to critically ill patients and poignantly describes her friendship with a middle-aged man who was the recipient of Maya’s heart.

Maya as a teen
Since the initial publication of Swimming with Maya in 2004, Eleanor has been a national spokesperson on grief recovery and organ donation, appearing on CNN and San Francisco’s Evening Magazine. She has been featured in the San Francisco Chronicle, and been interviewed on radio and television programs around the country.
She was born in Cleveland, Ohio and attended the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and received an MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College, where she occasionally teaches writing workshops on creative nonfiction and memoir.
Her essays appear in the anthologies At the End of Life: True Stories about How we Die(edited by Lee Gutkind); This I Believe: On Motherhood; and Impact: An Anthology of Short Memoirs. They celebrate the unique and complicated bonds between mothers and daughters, making hard decisions as a parent – whether your child is 14 or 40 – and navigating midlife transitions with grace and authenticity. She lives in Oakland, California.

Find out more about Eleanor Vincent by visiting her online:

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Book Review: The Goodbye Year by Toni Piccinini

Wisdom and Culinary Therapy? I'm in!

No, my children haven't suddenly aged at a rapid rate and become high school seniors overnight.  However, when they reach that age in ten years or less -yikes - I know I'll be thinking that it feels like they have grown up overnight!  So, while it may seem that my choice in an Empty Nest story would be a touch too soon for my household, I still couldn't resist gaining some early wisdom so I'll be prepared.  And honestly, I couldn't resist the Italian cooking portion of this book.  

First, the Wisdom ~ You'd expect it all to be about getting over saying goodbye to your child leaving the nest, blah, blah, blah.  But it's so much more.  This book isn't about goodbye; it's about saying hello to the part of you that had been pushed aside by prioritizing your children's needs over your own.  And as a busy mother of three, I know all about that.  Of course, you do so much for your own children - as every good mother tries to do each day. But, in her book, Toni reminds the mothers of the world to "reclaim the you of you".  

"The pain of saying goodbye is real enough, but it is not about your child.  This time the labor pains you are feeling are for the rebirth of you.  It's a long process, and you can do it the hard way or the less-hard way.  There is nothing easy about this."  

And now for some Culinary Therapy ~ The recipes nearly had me drooling on the pages - torta, risotto, gnocchetti, orzo ... need I say more! Each month had a new recipe to try that tied perfectly to the time of year and that month's "life lesson".  At first, I figured I'd skim over the recipes until I was ready to give them a try.  And then, I realized the recipes were as entertaining as the book.  They really did live up to their touting as Culinary Therapy. And who couldn't use some of that?

Whether you're surviving your child's senior year or not, The Goodbye Year, is an enjoyable read with a little something for every mother at any stage of the game.  And you can be sure, I'll be rereading it when my first "goodbye year" rolls around. (Sigh!) 

Here's more about The Goodbye Year:

The Goodbye Year is an inspirational, honest, and hilarious tale of Toni’s approach to the end of an era in the Piccinini household. For many mothers, a child’s senior year brings about a serious look back on the past eighteen. Every event—from Halloween to Mother’s Day—becomes The Last Time.

Toni Piccinini knows exactly what that’s like, and in
 The Goodbye Year, she offers the loving support every soon-to-be Empty Nester needs. Think of Toni as your bossy-but-loving Italian auntie, with modern sensibilities and a packed pantry. With the wisdom she’s acquired from saying goodbye three times to her own children, she reassuringly holds your hand while encouraging you through the insanity of the college application process, the rejections and the acceptances, and the teary dorm drop-offs. Even better, she reminds every mother that the best is yet to come—freedom, creativity, flexibility, and the Me Years.

Paperback:  264 Pages

Publisher:  Seal Press (September 10, 2013)

ISBN-10:  1580054862

Twitter hashtag: #TGYPiccinini

The Goodbye Year is available as a print and e- book at Amazon.

Meet Toni Piccinini

Toni’s writing career started when she  stapled her first "book" together and launched it at a reading attended by her brother, Scotty, and her Boxer, Lonesome. The title-less story was a mash-up of Hansel and Gretel, The Six Swans, and a Box Car Children adventure, with the protagonists (sister, brother, and dog) risking everything in their quest for a magical lump of coal that would save the town. It was an immediate success. During the fifty years between her first and second book, The Goodbye Year: Wisdom and Culinary Therapy to Survive Your Child's Senior Year of High School (and Reclaim the YOU of You)she has, in no order of importance or chronology
·        opened a "Top 100" San Francisco restaurant
·        published scientific articles on the efficacies of antibiotics
·        sang the National Anthem at high school football games
·        published essays, recipes, and cookbook reviews
·        sent three children off to college
Toni lives in Marin County California, which is a long way from her Western Pennsylvania hometown, Heilwood. She is busy on her next book, which may revisit the power found in a magical lump of coal.

The Goodbye Year’s Website:

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Big Apple and Times Square'd

You know when you get a crazy idea to do something out of the ordinary.  And you say to yourself, "I can't do that. What if something goes horribly wrong?"  But then, you think, "But this is my only chance. Either do it now or regret not trying."

So, here was my dilemma:  I could sit around my house on a three day Columbus Day holiday weekend and do nothing all that special to celebrate my last weekend to be, 39 ... (or 29 again wink,wink).  Or I could pack up my three children and hit the open road up to New York State where my husband's work had stationed him for the last month and a half.  We could crash at his hotel room, then take a train into Penn Station - right into the heart of Manhattan and spend the weekend doing something completely out of the ordinary and totally out of character - especially for me.

Yes, you guessed it - we went.  And, I'm happy to report nothing went horribly wrong - partially because between my husband and I we had vice grip on the kids as we schlepped from one toy store to the next.  Toys R Us  in Times Square (Ferris Wheel ride inside the store included), Lego Store at Rockefeller Plaza (the ice skating rink was open!) and The American Girl Store (all three floors of dolls, doll clothes, doll accessories and a spa - not for real living people, but for the dolls).

"It's your birthday weekend," my husband reminded me as if it just occurred to him.  "Don't you want something?" At this point, we had crossed multiple traffic-filled/enter-at-your-own-risk intersections, forged through a break in the Hispanic Heritage Parade with my crying daughter who thought she'd never make it across Fifth Avenue and into the American Girl Doll store and plunged back through trills and hoots of the parade goers as I slowly came to the realization that a horse drawn carriage ride through Central Park wasn't on anyone's "must see" list but mine.  "All I want is a cold, preferably alcoholic beverage and something to eat," I said as the the time read well past noon. 

Rooftop dining at the Perfect Pint off Broadway on 45th Street

I got my wish (minus a trip to Central Park): a cold beer and a grilled portobello sandwich that was so phenomenal I ate the whole thing.  We weaved our exhausted children back to Penn Station by way of cutting the corner through Macy's.  Perfumed and amazed by the jewelry department including a couple purchasing an engagement ring for a mere $24,000, we returned my husband back to his "home" at the hotel and, the next day, arrived safely home ourselves.

Other than a migraine-like headache and my hands being sore from clenching the steering wheel too tightly down the interstate, it was a fantastic trip - and completely worth breaking from the ordinary to be a little daring.  

As I've heard it said, "Daring greatly yields great rewards." In this case, the rewards were amazing memories for our family as neither my husband nor my children had ever visited Manhattan.  As for me, I'm kicking off this new decade ready to enjoy life to its fullest!  

My local roads all have this speed limit.  Not that I'm a bad driver or anything -really- but I never noticed that the speed limit was 40, until that number was on my mind the day of my birthday!

Stop by my Facebook page - I'd love to hear from you!

I'm celebrating my birthday by extending the super low price of $2.99 now through the end of October!

If you haven't read it yet, you don't know the SECRET!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Welcome Cynthia Briggs and a Guest Post, "How Cooking Strengthens Family Bonds"


How Cooking Strengthens Family Bonds

Food is something we all have in common and people of all origins and backgrounds come together to prepare meals and celebrate their bounty with loved ones. We all love food and we love eating, but what we love even more is to cook and bake so we can eat, drink and celebrate with close friends and family.

How better can we say, "I care!" than meeting in the kitchen to bake a batch of Grandma's Chocolate Chip Cookies? While the kids find her recipe, Mom pulls out the ingredients, and later a neighbor stops by just as the cookies go into the oven. When Dad arrives home, he's spirited back to his childhood with just one whiff of fresh baked homemade cookies. Gathering in the kitchen to make cinnamon rolls and catch-up on whose doing what in the family is the backbone in strengthening family bonds.

The social aspect of preparing and sharing food is an indirect line to expressing endearments, building camaraderie and reinforcing our connections. Trust builds as we reminisce about food and the fun had at gatherings and this leads to feeling safe about saying what's on our mind.

Preparing and serving food seems a given at our celebratory occasions, which lends to a strong social connection between food and birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, religious ceremonies and holidays. We don't meet simply to eat, we gather to find out what's happening within our circle of friends and family because we care who's expecting a baby, who will be going off to college in the fall and who is considering retirement after 30 years in the military. Gatherings for special occasions and the holidays are where we make our most powerful and long-lasting connections.

Food and cooking sometimes anchors our history. My grandmother taught me how to knead bread, which is a memory of her and bread making that remains vivid today. My image of her has stayed alive by our time spent in the kitchen even though she's been gone for many years.

Another short example is when my kids were young we scheduled 3 days in early December so the family could make holiday cookies and candies. The kids are grown now but they still fondly look back on those family times. It seemed an insignificant tradition at the time but I've come to realize if we weave together enough single threads we'll eventually have a strong piece of cloth.

Cynthia, thank you so much for reminding us how simple traditions like cooking together can create bonds and memories that last a lifetime.  I have fond childhood memories of helping to bake cookies around the holidays.  Now that I'm a mom to three young children, I hope to keep that tradition going.  And it's so true what you say about family history. Learning how to make pie dough from scratch is one of many examples of a special connection in my family that was bridged from grandmother to mother to daughter.

Check out Cynthia's latest book with the theme of family bonds and great food, PORK CHOPS AND APPLESAUCE.

Cynthia Briggs message in Pork Chops & Applesauce is about focusing on what's important in life; and how taking a break to reflect upon memorable family gatherings and the sharing of dinners provides a respite from the fast pace of living in today's hectic world. Cynthia says, “Your Roasted Garlic Potatoes are in the oven baking along with your Surprise Parmesan Meatloaf. The Pear Pie with Crunchy Pecan Crust is cooling on the counter. The dishes are done, the cut flowers are in a vase on the dining room table, and the whole house smells like paradise! Now, before your guests arrive, it’s time to relax.” While you’re relaxing, why not read one or two of the nostalgic and often humorous stories that introduce many of the recipes in Pork Chops & Applesauce? Enjoy!

About the Author:
Cynthia Briggs, also known as the “Apple Queen”, has had a life-long enthusiasm for mastering the art of cooking and baking. Inspired by women of kindred spirits, she believes through sharing our recipes and food we engage in an ongoing connection with others, weaving unique bonds we carry with us through our lives.

A food columnist, Cynthia’s popular newspaper food columns (over 200 of them) have appeared in various publications since 1999. Her work has also appeared in New Mexico Magazine, New Mexico Woman, and Funds for Writers as well as several Chicken Soup books. She has talked "food, writing and techniques for living a more gratifying life" on radio and TV, at rotary clubs and women's associations, and at schools and universities.

Cynthia was born in eastern Oregon where she lived near her grandparents' farm. Later she raised her own children on a small farm in western Washington where she experienced daily "mis-adventures" of family life in the country, which she often writes about in her books, stories and columns. Her young family inherited nine well-established, and prolific apple trees with their farm leading to Cynthia’s royal nickname. She later moved to New Mexico where she mastered something new: peppers and southwestern cooking.
Cynthia Briggs’s website:

Traditional Comfort Foods & More:


Other Books by Cynthia Briggs:


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Hello October and Hello Friends!

I realized I haven't added my own post here on All Things Audry in like ... forever (or in a month which to me feels like forever)!  So, time to get something fun, humorous and potentially thought provoking up here.

I mean it's October already  - which is typically my favorite month.  I say typically because on the 15th, I turn 40 ... and all I can say about that is "Aack!"  I'm a writer and I should have something more profound to say than an utterance that is more of a sound than a word.  "Aaack!"

And I should be celebrating this milestone like that girl who did good deeds for her birthday and then posted her list all over the internet.  I started to be inspired by her list until I read that she was going to put away all the carts at Wal-Mart.

That's nice for her, but there's not enough hand sanitizer in the world for this "germ-a-phobe".  Then I think, a younger me wouldn't have cared about germs.  Then again, a younger me didn't have the glamorous life I have now.  I can't get sick when I need to cart the kids to soccer/dance and get done all those other domestic diva tasks!

Also, I wonder what a younger version of myself would think of the fact that getting a new washer/dryer was the high point of last month.  It was, though! The old dryer may or may not have briefly caught on fire.  So as I drink my coffee and write this post, I am spending this beautiful October morning gazing out at the early Autumn foliage as I eagerly await the sing song chime indicating the cycle is done which has replaced the old dryer's nerve grinding/coffee spill inducing buzzer.

So, anyway, time to write a new post here.  Wait.  All that up there looks like it could work.  Maybe I'll go with it. Or maybe, I come back here and edit the whole thing. (I did come back - look below.)  I mean, Wal Mart? Washer/Dryers? What has happened to me?  And why is there an apple on my head? Oh yeah, that was my son's idea ... and honestly, there was no drinking involved!

Hello, again.  So, yes, here I am the next day to do a little editing and to add one more important thing.  And that is, despite the "aack", I do - really do - like being my age and the age I'm about to become (cough- 40).  I like it because I'm able to do all the things I love - be a mom, be a writer, volunteer in my children's classrooms, bake, garden, watch Bravo TV while the kids are at school, pretend I'm a trophy wife ... okay I've taken it a smidge too far, but you get the point.  And yes, it's not a perfect life.  Of course there's always something I wish I could have that we can't afford or somewhere I'd to like travel if we had more freedom.  But, I wouldn't trade my smile lines or the few extra pounds around my waist to go back to my younger self.  Instead, I welcome the next decade.  I'm excited to watch my children grow, build my writing career and, most of all, enjoy the life I have now. 

I'd love to hear from you! Stop by my facebook page:

Fall is the perfect time to read

Check out the fun Oktoberfest scene!
Available for a sweet (and possibly intoxicating) price: $2.99
on Kindle and Nook 

(Don't have a Kindle - get the Kindle app and read anywhere on your tablet or device.  Is that cool or what?!?)