Author Archives: charleneoldham

This Teacher Learns a Few Lessons

A while back, one of my Basic Reporting students turned in an assignment that certainly wasn’t perfect, but had undeniable news value. Locura Sana Fitness, a Facebook page launched by the student and two friends, had built a following of more than 10,000. After helping him polish it into a press release, we sent it off to the university’s student newspaper and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. A story sparked by that press release about the Spanish-language fitness program, offered free through Facebook and other social media sites, ran in last week’s newspaper.

Between the three of them, the college students put in at least 40 hours a week maintaining the Facebook page, YouTube channel and Instagram account which, together, boast more than 20,000 followers. But they are pursuing a passion, not a paycheck, so do it all for free.

While following their dream may eventually lead to financial gain for these young people, their efforts to educate others without expecting anything in return is an important lesson for everyone, especially this teacher. Sometimes, I lament the number of hours I put in planning and grading, occasionally thinking about giving up teaching altogether for more lucrative pursuits. But I always come back to the fact I would miss interacting with students — not only sharing my own passions, but celebrating successes when they discover theirs. When I asked the student how it felt to be featured in the newspaper, he modestly replied,”Yesterday was a good day.”


morgueFile free photo

It was a good day for both of us.





More Things to Be Thankful for In 2013 -Saint Louis and Simple Pleasures

Fall is full of simple pleasures here in Saint Louis, even when the Cards aren’t World Series champions. After all, Cardinals fans still got almost a full month of playoff baseball and, judging from history and statistics, can likely look forward to enjoying October games well before Cubs fans again experience the glory of post-season play.

The Gateway Arch - Morguefile PhotoBut I digress.

First off. I am truly thankful to live in a city. I grew up in a rural town that is now home to fewer than 3,000 souls. My town did not get a fast-food restaurant until the late 1990s, around the same time it got its first ATM. While those facts may make my hometown sound charming and Rockwellian to those who have never experienced the Arkansas Delta firsthand, I can assure you that it was not.

At the same time, Saint Louis is a city that showcases the seasons, something I rarely experienced in the Delta or in Dallas, a place that specializes in summer and the metropolitan area I previously called home. Dallas is city so short on trees that I believe most Dallasites have to take their seasonal cues from the Starbucks menu. After all, nothing says fall like a Pumpkin Spice Latte and highs in the 70s and 80s.

But, here in Saint Louis, a taste of fall can be found right outside my back door, no Starbucks necessary.Image

More Things to Be Thankful for in 2013 Continued

My great niece is getting an early start in the kitchen.

My great niece is getting an early start in the kitchen.

It’s been so long since I added an item to this list that I had to reread my own blog to see what I’d already covered. I was surprised to find I had not yet mentioned food.

I love food. It’s a bold statement in a culture in which food is often vilified, but I don’t hesitate to admit it. I love everything about food — eating it, cooking it, thinking about it, even shopping for it. I don’t even mind exercising because it means I can have more of it without feeling guilty. And guilt is something I rarely indulge in too much of, though I can’t say the same about food.

In fact, I once took third place in a coed meatball eating contest by consuming 21 golf ball-sized meat treats in five minutes. My prize?

Contemplating a raw egg appetizer

Contemplating a raw egg appetizer

Two Blues hockey tickets and $100 in steaks. I don’t know whether I should feel proud or embarrassed to admit I didn’t even feel that full after the competition, a fundraiser for a local food bank.

And, though I obviously love food on a personal level, I am particularly thankful for the role it plays family, culture, and friendship. Almost every family has favorite recipes that are passed down, serving as edible heirlooms that help both preserve and create memories at every special occasion or on any typical Tuesday.

So, rather than demonizing food for all the negative things it can do to my waistline and wallet, I choose to make shopping, cooking, and eating a shared everyday celebration for the mind, body, and soul.

Homemade fried rice made after a phone consultation with her 81-year-old mimi and a little hands-on help from mom.

Homemade fried rice made after a phone consultation with her 81-year-old mimi and a little hands-on help from mom.

My Latest in WOW! Women On Writing – Writing for Trade Publications

For those looking to balance their day jobs with writing time, trade publications can offer an opportunity to learn more about their industry and make new connections while writing, often for extra cash on the side. Some industries, such as nursing and publishing, offer hundreds of online and print outlets seeking submissions. Others have a handful of focused publications geared to specific segments of the industry. Here are just a few examples of publications that pay and one that offers unpaid bloggers the opportunity to share their professional expertise with potential clients and contacts on a regular basis…

Read about some specific trade pubs here.

WOW! Women On Writing Blog Tour Guest: An Inteview with Sharon Simons, Author of Mom at Last

I’m excited to be participating in my first WOW! Women On Writing Blog Tour by interviewing first-time author Sharon Simons, whose memoir, Mom at Last, hits shelves August 1. Here, I ask her a few questions about her long journey to motherhood and the even-more-challenging task of penning her first book. In addition to making time for an interview, the busy mom has also offered to give away a copy of Mom at Last. The winner will be randomly selected from readers who comment on the interview below:

SharonAuthorPicCO: I’m not a mom, but I could total identify with how you found yourself in your late 30s without having found that perfect mate and future father to your children. Do you see that a lot in your work with your website and other projects?

SS: I hear that all the time. It catches up with you fast, doesn’t it? I was married the first time and I just knew it wasn’t right. Thankfully, we got divorced before having children. I dated someone else for a couple of years, and I realized he wasn’t the right one. And, as I said it the book, you wake up at 39 and ask, ‘How did I get here?’ It just goes so fast. I’m busy. I’m working, and sometimes dating these not so great men takes up a lot of valuable time because you want it to be right so badly that you kind of look past some of the faults. I just wanted so desperately to have a family. All my girlfriends had kids. I have three godchildren. I think I just wanted to find that someone who was good enough to be the father of my children. It was when I least expected it that I met my husband, Rick.

CO: Because you were so upfront about wanting a family, you and Rick started the process of trying to have children through in-vitro fertilization pretty quickly after getting together. What advice would you give to others considering IVF?

SS: You don’t know what to expect and I personally didn’t know anyone who had gone through in vitro. It’s really a scary world. I didn’t realize the emotional toll it takes because I am not that emotional. But giving myself all these hormones made me different. It made me cry. It made me gain weight. I remember being itchy after giving myself the shots. But I think there’s a lot more support now than there was then [in 2005]. Now, it’s something that you can almost talk about at the dinner table because everyone knows someone who has gone through IVF. That’s one reason I wanted to write this book. I wanted to tell the good, the bad and the ugly.

CO: Though some couples have great success with IVF, your experience was ugly, which is what made you investigate adoption. In your book, you call it a gift. What changed your thinking?

SS: Knowing what I know now, I would have never gone through IVF, but I didn’t really understand the adoption world. And you hear horror stories, but I am definitely an adoption advocate. I also understand that people want to have their own children, but these two children that I have — they are my own. But you don’t get that at the time. Now, I always ask, ‘What makes your DNA so important?’ If I was younger, I’d definitely adopt more children, but I don’t want to kill my husband because he needs to retire at some point. But I hope reading my story and seeing my family might inspire someone else to go that route.

CO: Your sons are from Russia. Late last year, Russia banned all U.S. adoptions and most say the ban is a response to an American law barring Russian human rights violators from U.S. soil. What are your thoughts on the recent change?

SS: It really has nothing to do with adoption. It’s very unfortunate because, there, the kids are in orphanages. I think they are in a baby house until they are four, and then they move to a different house. Every time they move into a house with a different age group, the level of care is lower and lower. When I brought Dylan and Hunter home at 16 months and 23 months, they were 14 and 16 pounds. So, though the place looked clean, they were not getting the care, not getting the nutrition, not getting what they needed there.

CO: Since this is part of a WOW! Blog Tour, I want to close with a question about writing. When we were exchanging emails before this interview, you mentioned that writing a book was harder than adopting the boys from Russia, which was far from easy. What made writing Mom at Last so difficult?

SS: I really have a new respect for writing and writers. A lot of people say, ‘Oh, I’ll write a book.’ But it’s really difficult to get the words to come to life. It took me a while and my husband really helped me. We would pull out things and change things. And I have an editor who really helped me because I’m not a writer. I say to people, ‘Now I know why writers put themselves into a cabin in the woods for three months. I get it.’ But until you do something, you don’t really understand it, so I have a totally new respect for anyone who writes.

About the Book

Title: Mom at Last: How I Never Gave Up on Becoming a Mother

Publisher: Morgan James Publishing

Publication Date: August 1, 2013
Mom at Last is the story of one woman’s journey to parenthood. Sharon’s journey is a long one that included many obstacles: vasectomies, IVF, miscarriages and the labyrinth that is adoption. It ends with a triumphant family found in Russia and now thriving in Delaware. This book is an inspirational tale for those struggling to create their families and a rousing reminder of the preciousness of family to those already busy raising children. You can order the book here. If you comment on this post, you could also win a copy from the author!

About the Author

Sharon had a dream to become a mother which she was determined to follow. Her path was difficult but ultimately successful.  Born in New Jersey and living in Delaware, she is married to her soul mate Rick and the very proud mom to her two sons, Dylan and Hunter.

Sharon struggled to become a mom, dealing with the uncertain world of infertility including three in-vitro fertilizations, tubal pregnancy and the loss of a pregnancy with twin boys at 19 weeks. That loss only made her more determined to become a mom. Thankfully that dream became a reality due to international adoption.

Sharon is inspired to share her experiences, to offer insight and inspire other women to find their strength to achieve their goal of becoming mothers. Her passion involves using her journey to motherhood to educate and help women become a “Mom at Last. “ Her main message is to let women everywhere know that when you finally hold your child in your arms, no matter how that child became your child, you will understand and appreciate your journey to motherhood. To learn more, visit Sharon’s website

Book Review – Mom at Last

Here’s a copy of a book review I posted on Amazon and Goodreads. I’m also interviewing Sharon Simons, author of Mom at Last, later this month and posting that interview here as part of her WOW! Women On Writing Blog Tour. I’ll be setting up the interview soon and would love some comments and ideas for questions about the book, the writing process or what it’s like to finally be a mom at last.

Review for Mom at Last: How I Never Gave Up on Becoming a Mother

I’m not a mom, but still found plenty to identify with in Sharon Simons’s Mom at Last: How I Never Gave Up on Becoming a Mother. Whether because of failed first marriages or wasted time with boyfriends whose true motives and motivations don’t become clear until months into a relationship, many readers will find it easy to understand how Simons reached her late thirties without finding the husband — and future father — of her dreams. She’s fortunate enough to discover both in Rick, a surgeon who already had kids of his own, but was willing to give fatherhood another try for her sake. As it turns out, finding her prince was the easiest step on her long road to motherhood. Simons endures three in-vitro fertilization procedures, a miscarriage that almost kills her in both body and spirit, an almost-laughably bad Big Brothers/Big Sisters experience, and a harrowing journey to Siberia before finally becoming a Mom at Last, and I think many women will see some of their own lives in the path she took to get there.SharonAuthorPic

The Greatest All-Star Game of All Time

file0002005910262Spring training may have just started but, here in Cardinals Nation, baseball has no beginning or end. For Redbirds fans, it is a sport with an infinite season, or at least one hopes so when it comes to Stan Musial, who died January 19.

Musial — depending on your pronunciation particularities and preferences — it may even rhyme with usual. Despite his humble  off-field demeanor, that term didn’t  apply to The Man in any way.

He may never have earned baseball’s Triple Crown, during his conspicuously consistent 22-year career  with the St. Louis Cardinals, but Musial was no statistical slouch. Stan the Man won seven National League batting titles, was a three-time NL Most Valuable Player and led the Redbirds to three World Series championships in the 1940s while squeezing in a year of Navy service during the decade.

The lifelong Cardinal  was faithful to both his on- and off-field family, celebrating 72 years of marriage before his wife Lil died in 2012 and first giving up advertising cigarettes, then kicking the habit all together to avoid being a bad influence for kids, whether his own or one of the thousands who lined up to snag one of the autographed cards he kept in his pocket.

It will be a little sad when Stan the Man  isn’t on the field at Busch Stadium with other Cardinals Hall of Famers this opening day, but I like to think he’ll be watching from somewhere. Better yet, the famously inclusive outfielder (who would declare “deal me in” to African American players who otherwise felt excluded at the All-Star festivities of the past) may even be coming up to bat himself in the All-Star Game of all time, trying to get one over the gloves of the likes of Lou Gehrig and Jackie Robinson while his wife Lil looks on from the best box seat in the park.

More Things to Be Thankful for in 2013

In a continuation of my post on extending my thirty days of thankfulness into the new year, here are a few more reasons to give thanks.

Friends_titlesI am thankful for my friends. Since I moved away from my family to attend graduate school in 1997, an ever-changing cast of characters has become my second family. And though the names in the credits have changed over the years depending on my location and theirs, there are more than a few I could call any day for solace and shenanigans that would put sitcom script writers to shame.

I am thankful for books. Books offered a window into the wider world beyond my tiny northeast Arkansas town. They also gave me fodder for the longest-lasting and best independent study course I will ever have. The self-selected syllabus included core texts like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Little House on the Prairie series early on and has since expanded to encompass everything from Jude Deveraux romance novels to the brilliant nonfiction 150px-Among_the_Thugsof Bill Buford.

I am thankful for the American education system. That might be a rare and unexpected assertion from a former K-12 teacher, but it is true. To be sure, the American education system has its flaws, and its far from fair and equal. However, it did equip me with the tools and desire to earn a degree from one of the best-respected universities in the country and go on to work at one of the largest daily newspapers in the nation. And my sister did as well or better, earning a medical degree and completing a residency in the heart of the Research Triangle. Not bad considering neither of our parents even earned their eighth grade diplomas.

Billy Bob Thornton and Barry Markowitz on Picturing the South

Highbrow Magazine published the first in what might be a few stories from my interview with Billy Bob Thornton. Appropriately enough, I am in a hotel in Arkansas right now. And I will keep my cursing to a minimum because there are definitely some church ladies around: Hollywood Cinematographer Barry Markowitz Discusses Capturing the Soul of the South on Film

More Than Thirty Days of Thankfulness

I didn’t participate in 30 days of thankfulness during the month of November, but began composing a list in my head as I read friends’ Facebook posts and blog entries about the many good things in their lives. While I was thinking of the things and people who should be on my own list, I was also brainstorming for a way to extend the new technology-driven tradition beyond the month of November.  So here are a few of the things, animals and people I am — or at least should be — thankful for each and every day. I plan to add to the list through the new month and new year and revisit it in thankless times to come.

1. I am thankful for my boyfriend. He’s paid for more than his fair share of beer, burgers and bloody marys over the past few years so I could pursue part-time professoring and full-time freelance writing.

2. I am thankful for my so-far successful return to professional writing and reporting after a decade-long detour into teaching.

3. I am thankful for my mom who is in good health and good spirits after a life-changing move to a retirement home this summer.

4. I am thankful for my sister and her family. They have provided countless hours of logistical and moral support to both me and our mom before and since the move.

5. I am thankful for my cat Lucy. Lucy Cat, who has been a faithful and fun companion through one failed relationship, three states and nearly a half dozen moves, even decided to stay close to home this summer rather than yet again answering the call of the wild while we were on vacation.

Although, as made evident by this video, she was less than happy about it.