Crazed In the Kitchen: 2012   

Saturday, December 15, 2012

How to Help Newtown, Even From Afar

I had some posts planned for the next few days--some lighthearted, Christmas-y stuff. I may still get them up by Christmas, but right now I just can't. The news from Connecticut has me reeling, and every time I sit down to write it's all I can think about.

But I also can't bring myself to write about what happened. I could never do justice to such a horrible event, and I probably couldn't even describe my feelings about it in a coherent manner. And, my feelings seem meaningless when I think about the parents who have to look at empty beds, empty car seats, empty seats at the dinner table. For me, there really are no words.

My response to horrific events in the past has always been to ask, "How can I help?" When the victims are far away, it can be hard to find ways to help directly. Usually, monetary donations are the easiest way. After 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and the earthquake in Haiti, I helped organize fundraisers for the United Way, the American Red Cross, and UNICEF at my elementary school. We were able to raise hundreds of dollars, even though many of the school's students lived in poverty themselves.

So, in that vein, if you are able to donate money to help the victims' families and the community of Newtown, here are some ways to do it:
  • The United Way of Western Connecticut has created the "Sandy Hook School Support Fund" to provide support services to the families and community that have been affected. You can find more information here. (Interestingly, the American Red Cross website sends potential donors to the United Way Fund as well--they say they have what they need to support their current response efforts.)
  • The Newtown Family Connection is accepting donations on its website, and says all the funds it receives will go to victims' families. 
  • Newtown Youth and Family Services has also been collecting donations, but its website now recommends that potential donors go through the United Way fund mentioned above.
I plan on making a donation in my family's name, probably to the United Way, and I know that will help, even in some small way.

But I can't stop thinking about the teachers, staff, students, and families of Sandy Hook Elementary School. I don't know what good it will do, or if it will even end up in the hands of someone who will appreciate it, but I think I will send a condolence card--or maybe several--to the town. confirms that the USPS has established an address specifically for this reason, if you'd like to send one too:

Messages of Condolence for Newtown
PO Box 3700
Newtown, CT  06470

Again, I can't say for sure who will be receiving mail or who will be available to process the flood of cards they are sure to receive, but I can only hope that someone there will see at some point that my thoughts and prayers have been with the whole Newtown community.

It's only been one day, and I'm sure more opportunities to help will become available over time. I will update this post with any other links I find. If you know of a way to help out that I haven't mentioned, please feel free to let us know in the comments.

Meanwhile, I'll be driving my boys crazy with extra hugs and kisses. They are too young to know about any of this, so they may just think I've lost my mind. That's fine with me.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Sweet Sorrow, My Ass

(Last week I was eliminated from Blogger Idol in third place. Here's what I posted on their site as my "farewell speech.")

Parting is such sweet sorrow…

No it’s not. There’s nothing sweet about it. In fact, sometimes saying goodbye flat-out sucks. What I’m trying to say is this: I WAS MEANT TO BE THE 2012 BLOGGER IDOL AND I WILL NOT LEAVE QUIETLY!


Actually, I’m very proud of my third place finish in this contest. I competed with some top-notch writers, and I learned a bit about myself as a writer in the process. I’ve connected with some great blogs and made some real friends. I’ve…I’ve…

Well, I’ve stressed out quite a bit and ignored my family just a little. And now that Blogger Idol is over for me (sniff), I’m really not sure what to do with myself. I am finding myself with quite a bit more free time on my hands. So, I’ve compiled this list of things I’m going to do now that I don’t have to worry about Blogger Idol:


1.     Play more with my kids. Just not Chutes and Ladders. Please, God, anything but Chutes and Ladders.

2.     Read a book. ANY book. I’ve been afraid to commit to a whole book because of my Blogger Idol duties—I hate having to stop reading for a few days when something else comes up. So give me some ideas in the comments—what should I read next?

3.     Call my great-aunt Ruthie. It’s been far too long and I really need to check in and say hello. Plus also my grandma. But we’ll keep them together as one phone-call list item.

4.     Ugh. Clean my house. I don’t want to. I really don’t. But I guess I don’t have an excuse anymore.

5.     WAIT! YES I DO HAVE AN EXCUSE! I’M PREGNANT! So Number 5 on the list is call a cleaning service to come clean my house before our family arrives for Christmas!!

(See how I cheated a bit there? Not exactly 5 whole items, is it? Number 4 kind of gets negated by Number 5, doesn’t it? Oh no, the judges might lower my score because of that! HAHAHAHA no they won’t because I got eliminated. The judges can suck it.)

OK. So, I also came up with a list of things I’m NOT going to do any more because I don’t have to because I’m not in Blogger Idol any more.


1.     Think about unicorn sex ever again.

2.     Photobomb my friends and family on facebook with pictures of my kids in a cheap effort to get them to vote for me. You’re welcome.

3.     Math. I actually pulled out a calculator and tried to figure out where I needed to come in with votes if I had been ranked 1st, 2nd, or 3rd with the judges last week. It ended poorly for me, the calculator, and my poor math-major husband who tried to help me figure it all out.

4.     Write a brand spankin’ new blog post every single week. It’s just not my thing. My brain is tired and I think I broke my funny bone at some point during Blogger Idol (the proof is in that lame joke right there). I need a little break from blogging.

5.     Have a cheapo-looking blog. Thanks to Blogger Idol, I won a blog redesign from A. Kay Blog Design and we have a date to phone-chat tonight about it. Say goodbye to the free template I downloaded and sort-of installed myself, people! We are (going to be) a quality operation over here!

So, that’s what I’ll be up to now that I’m out. Of course, I was truly honored to even be a part of this competition and coming in third place feels like a dream come true. (Um, if by “a dream come true” you mean “a dream that doesn’t involve winning copious amounts of chocolate, a new tablet, or crushing my competition into the dust.”)


Thank you for the opportunity, Blogger Idol, and thanks, everyone, for your votes and kind words! It’s been a wild ride!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Merry Good Time At Knott's! #MerryFarm

Yay! Christmas!
December is here and it’s Christmas time at our house! Well, sort of. Our tree has been up for a week, but we haven’t gotten around to putting ornaments on it yet. Three out of four stockings are hung. (I’m not quite sure why my 2½ year old is so mad at his stocking, but every time he sees it hanging over the fireplace he yells “NO!” and pulls it down, throwing it on the floor.) I bought a wreath for the front door but it didn’t quite fit, so it’s hanging on the kitchen window.  

So, we are getting in the Christmas spirit—one step at a time. But even before the naked tree and the too-big wreath and the despicable stocking appeared, we had done one VERY Christmas-y thing: Visited Knott’s Berry Farm’s Christmas celebration, Knott’s Merry Farm.

Of course, with a 4½ year old and a 2½ year old around, nothing is easy. My husband spent a good deal of time in the kitchen the night before our trip packing a huge bag of snacks, lunches, wipes, extra diapers…pretty much everything we might need. And, of course, the kids woke up extra early the next morning and spent 3 hours asking if it was time to leave yet. And…it rained. But we were all excited to go, and being Midwesterners by birth my husband and I were not about to let a few raindrops spoil our day. So we packed up the stroller, the diaper bags, and the kids and hit the freeways.

"Winter Wonderland" stage at Camp Snoopy
We had been to Knott’s before for their Halloween Camp Spooky celebration, so we knew to hit the little kids’ area—Camp Snoopy—first, before the crowds got crazy. But here’s the thing about a little rain in Southern California—everyone freaks out and stays home. Which means, NO LINES at Camp Snoopy or, for that matter, most of the park! I played the pregnancy card and “let” my husband squeeze himself onto most of the rides with our littlest guy, who is too little to ride alone. The kids had a great time and loved the Christmas decorations.

After lunch, we ventured out of Camp Snoopy into the rest of the park. We were worried that there wouldn’t be a ton for our little guys to do out there, but we were wrong. After a few rides, we sat down to see “The Gift of the Magi” in the historic Knott’s Birdcage Theatre. I enjoyed it, and I think older kids would appreciate it, but it went a bit over my guys’ heads. And I must apologize to the actors now: Yes, that was William yelling, “Too much talking!” during an early scene. Thank goodness we were part of an audience filled with mommy bloggers and their kids, so we weren’t the only rowdy ones around.

"It's Christmas, Snoopy" Ice Show
Later, we got out of the rain and watched the “It’s Christmas, Snoopy” Ice Show in the Charles M. Schulz Theatre. The kids loved seeing the Peanuts gang on ice skates and in short animated clips between scenes. The music was great and the ice skating was pretty cool.

There’s a bunch of other cool stuff to do at Knott’s Merry Farm that we missed either because we left early (hey, bedtime’s at 7 pm around here and we don’t. mess. with. bedtime.) or because it got rained out. The Peanuts Holiday Parade was, sadly, cancelled due to rain, but seemed like it would be a ton of fun. There’s also the Calico Christmas Tree Lighting show with the Peanuts gang and a beautiful 45-foot-tall Christmas tree. And littler kids will enjoy the “Winter Wonderland” show at Camp Snoopy. My favorite ride at any amusement park has always been the log ride, so I was really bummed to miss out on Knott’s Elf Mountain. The magicians at Knott’s have transformed the Timber Mountain Log Ride into an up-close and personal view into the world of Santa’s Elves, but with me being pregnant and ALL of my boys (husband included) claiming an “allergy” to water that day, we had to skip it.

Calico Christmas Tree
If you live in Southern California or plan to be here over the holidays, I highly recommend checking out Knott’s Merry Farm—especially if you have littler kids. (Don’t worry—there’s plenty for bigger kids to do, too, including a few roller coasters that I am nowhere near brave enough to try out myself.) We had a great time and will definitely be making Knott’s Merry Farm a regular holiday tradition from now on!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

How To Breed Unicorns

(This post was originally written as one of my assignments for the Blogger Idol competition. Just in case you thought I had gone completely off my rocker and was just writing about breeding unicorns for fun.)

It’s easy to breed your unicorn, if you know what to do. Just follow these four simple steps.

**DISCLAIMER: We take NO responsibility for the success or failure of your unicorn breeding efforts, or any injuries, dismemberment, or death you may sustain during said activities. Follow all suggested safety precautions throughout the breeding process. Wear protective gear and remember unicorn engagement protocol at ALL times.**

****Seriously, are you paying attention? Because once a unicorn gets all “mystical creature” on your ass, you are going to WISH you were wearing protective gear. They don’t use that horn for tickling, you know.****

********Ok, I’m not sure you get how serious I am. Stop what you’re doing and go check your health insurance coverage. Make sure you’ve got hospitalization. Do not even THINK of breeding your unicorn unless you have full coverage.********

****************While you’re at it, check your life insurance, too. Or buy some. Just DON’T MENTION your plans to breed your unicorn to the agent. Duh.****************

Ok, all set? You sure you still want to do this? Then let’s move on to…

You really can find ANYTHING online these days.
Like everything else with unicorns, this step is harder than it sounds. You’re probably thinking, “I’ll connect with other unicorn owners online and find a stallion who’s available. Then we’ll put the two unicorns together at just the right time, and voila! Enchanted baby-making time!”

Yeah, right. Only if you want to see a death match that will make Braveheart look like a kids’ movie.

Please. A unicorn cannot just be bred. She must be romanced.

Start with unicorn match-making sites like and U-Date. Your unicorn will likely reject most of the available suitors at first, as she considers herself to be a paragon of magical loveliness. Remind your unicorn that she’s not getting any younger and that she may want to lower her standards a bit.


It may take time, but eventually you and your unicorn will find an agreeable partner who is available for a night of mythical passion. Set a date, and now it’s time for…

Again, you can’t just expect your stallion to arrive and get straight down to business. Your unicorn wants to be treated like a lady. Prepare a romantic meal by candlelight so the unicorns may get to know each other. As you know, unicorns eat grass, root vegetables, and wishes. Don’t worry about presentation—they don’t give a leprechaun’s ass about it.

****NEVER use the term “I don’t give a leprechaun’s ass” around a unicorn. Remember the outcome of the bloody Gold War lo these many years ago? You don’t hear about the unicorn’s pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, do you? DO NOT TALK ABOUT LEPRECHAUNS AROUND YOUR UNICORN.****

While the unicorns eat, prepare the breeding room. You may have assumed that unicorns want to knock hooves in a lush field of green lit with rainbows. You’re wrong. We all know that unicorns poop rainbows—would YOU want to do the nasty in a bed of your own poop?

No. Once the mood strikes, the unicorns will only need a room prepared in just the right way.

The most important thing to do is to leave a few things around the room that the unicorns can use to…um…”get things moving” in the breeding department, if you know what I mean. A few expensive bottles of fermented dew go a long way in helping to break the ice between hesitant magical lovers. Of course, all unicorns appreciate a basket of toys like hoof cuffs to keep things interesting, as well. And, don’t forget the ultimate breeding aid: Uniporn. Despite popular beliefs, unicorns don’t go for vanilla elf-on-fairy fare. If you REALLY want your unicorns to breed successfully, find a dvd with well-groomed chupacabras and fire-breathing dragons. Enough said?

Don't. Just...don't.
****Your unicorn will ask you for flavored body paint—you SHOULD NOT give it to her! Unicorns are notoriously hypoglycemic and respond poorly to sugary treats. Remember: Cranky, dizzy, possibly-unconscious unicorns are not usually successful breeders. Can you blame them? ****

When your unicorns are ready, lead them to the breeding room. They will see how you have set the mood and will know what to do next. Shut the door and leave them to it.


Give your unicorns some time. You will know they are done when you see an enormous explosion of glitter. At this point, you may open the door again. Leave the stallion where you find him, sleeping soundly on the floor. Lead your unicorn out to a quiet place where she can tell you about her feelings.

According to “experts” online, a unicorn’s gestation period is 1,230 days. This is a long time to spend with a hormonal, pregnant unicorn. Also, baby unicorns are a real pain in a leprechaun’s ass. They chew everything and take YEARS to housebreak—you will be cleaning rainbows from every surface of your home for longer than you care to think about. My advice? Sell your pregnant unicorn to some poor, unsuspecting forest nymph and use the profits to get yourself a centaur. They are much more reasonable and pretty much take care of themselves. You’re welcome.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

This Is A Cry For Help

I need your help. ALL of you.

As you may know, I've spent the last couple of months writing my ass off for the Blogger Idol contest. It's been a wild ride: Many of the posts I wrote made me cry, a few made me laugh, and at least one made me cringe (unicorn sex, anyone?). Early on, I was devastated to be eliminated--only to be brought back with a "save" the next day. I've been pestering my family, friends, and readers for votes every week, and you all have been very patient with me. I appreciate that.

But this is it. There are three of us left, and this week's elimination will determine who makes it to the finale. As I heard Blanche say on "Golden Girls" once, I'm as nervous as a virgin at a rodeo. (By the way, how risque was that show? I think I was too young to fully appreciate it at the time....)

The thing is, I'm up against some heavy-hitters in the voting department. If I'm going to stay in it, this needs to be my biggest week for votes. This week I wrote about what I've learned from blogging and from Blogger Idol. I'd be so grateful if you'd check out my post and vote for me, Crazed in the Kitchen. You can click HERE to get to the voting page. And if you feel inclined to share that link with your own family, friends, and readers, here it is for you to copy and paste: Voting requires nothing but a click--no registration, no personal information required. You can vote once per IP address so feel free to go out and find yourself some extra IP addresses, if you know what I mean!

Thank you so much! I really appreciate all of your support!
Vote for Crazed in the Kitchen! Just one click--no registration.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I Haven't Been This Flexible Since High School

Yes, I’ve been “stretching” a lot this past week, but not like you might think. I haven’t taken up yoga or pilates or anything ridiculous like that. No, the stretching I’ve done has been more of the mental variety. Let’s just say I’ve been writing WELL outside of my comfort zone, thanks to Blogger Idol.

And, wow, am I ready to plop ass-first right back into that comfort zone of mine. I positively DREAM about writing about poop, or boogers, or my weekly dance with the city sanitation department again. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE let me tell you all about the song my 4-year-old son recently made up called “VAGINA!” Just don’t make me write about Unicorn Sex ever, ever, ever again.
Just shoot me.
Yes. I said “Unicorn Sex.” See, right before Thanksgiving, the powers-that-be at Blogger Idol handed me this as my latest assignment: “Write a tutorial about how to breed unicorns.”

(Insert copious amounts of swearing here)

Here’s the thing. I’m not a unicorn person. I don’t really know much about their mythology, I never saw “The Last Unicorn,” and I can’t remember if they poop rainbow or glitter. They’re just not my thing. But I had three choices for my tutorial topic (how to groom a chupacabra, how to breed unicorns, and how to harvest actual buffalo wings and actual chicken fingers), and, well, unicorn mating seemed like it would be the easiest to handle.

(And by “handle” I mean “make up from freaking scratch because unicorns are NOT REAL and, therefore, DO NOT ACTUALLY BREED.”)

Well, I was wrong. This dumb unicorn post might have been harder to write than giving birth to my 2nd son (a blissfully easy birth) and maybe even more painful. But the good news is that I think I coined a new word: “Uniporn.”

Yep, “Uniporn.”

You’re just going to have to go over to Blogger Idol and read it yourself to see what I mean. And while you’re there, I hope you’ll vote for me, Crazed in the Kitchen. BECAUSE A VOTE FOR ME IS A VOTE FOR UNIC….

Oh crap, forget it. Just vote for me, please?

Vote for Crazed in the Kitchen!
Blogger Idol is down to just FOUR contestants now! While votes count for just 1/3 of each contestant’s overall score (judges’ scores count for the other 2/3), they can make a HUGE difference in the outcome each week. Last assignment, I came in FIRST after the judges’ scores, but ended up tied for 2nd after voting. Not too shabby, but it could mean the end of me with so few contestants now left. Please vote for Crazed in the Kitchen, and please share liberally on social media! Thank you SO much!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Why I Chose Formula For My Babies, And Why That's OK

I'm in the Top 5! Click here to vote for Crazed in the Kitchen.
Yes, I fed both of my sons formula when they were babies. I have to admit, however, that *I* didn't exactly choose formula so much as my severely under-performing breasts did. But, thanks to formula, my babies survived their infancies and are smart, funny, wonderful little guys today.

But what about women who CAN breastfeed, but choose not to? Are they "bad moms?"

This is what I wrote about for my Blogger Idol post this week: "Don't Tell Me What To Feed My Baby!" It's a topic I am passionate about, given my experience. I hope you'll head over there and read and comment on my post, as well as the other four excellent posts this week. And then I hope you'll vote for me, Crazed in the Kitchen.

In other exciting news, my posts have been featured on BlogHer and Bonbon Break this week! Head over to the Food section of BlogHer to read my post, "The Truth About Wine Labels." And check out the Bedroom on Bonbon Break to read my post about Lung Cancer Awareness. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Home Is Where The Heart Is?

If you ask me where I’m from, I’ll always say, “Chicago.” This wouldn’t be weird, I guess, except that I have lived in Southern California for more than twelve years now. Back in 2000, I packed up my measly belongings and left my city and my family to follow my heart: My boyfriend lived in California, and I was going to chase my happily ever after. This wasn’t a decision I made easily. I grew up in the Chicago area, stayed there for college, and began not one but TWO careers there (sorry, journalism, you just didn’t do it for me like teaching did). I had a job, I had friends, and I had family—my dad, stepmom, brother, and sisters all lived nearby. Up to that point, I had never gone more than a week or two without seeing my family—now I’d be on the other side of the country.

Choosing to leave was by far the hardest decision I have ever made.

But “love” called, so I found a roommate and a job (much easier to do in the economy of 2000), drugged up the cats, and drove my 2-door Civic across plains and mountains until I hit the Pacific. I unpacked and attempted to settle in.

Oh, the trees!
Life in California was surreal at first for this Midwestern girl. A lot of it was great—the weather, the people, my new job. But a lot of it was downright weird. I had never in my life seen roses blooming on Christmas—and there they were, spilling over fences around green lawns decorated with plastic snowmen. Beautiful, yes, but I missed the white Christmases of my childhood. All year long I marveled at the skinny green palm trees that lined the streets and polka-dotted the sunny blue sky above. Again, beautiful, but my pale skin soon longed for the wide, shady oaks and maples of my hometown. I bought stock in sunscreen and learned to use a “sunbrella.”

I slowly got used to life in Southern California, but it never really did feel like home.

Well, the inevitable happened. After two years and a lot of heartbreak, my relationship ended. Though I had made some friends and loved my school and students, my main tie to Southern California had been severed. I was free to leave, and I started seriously considering it. There was just one thing holding me back from setting out the next day: The school year had just begun, and I felt horribly guilty about leaving my administrators and students in the lurch by leaving so suddenly. While packing up and leaving that night might have felt freeing and healing, it would also have been irresponsible. So, I figured I’d give myself the next eight months to say goodbye to California—I’d soak in the lovely weather, take that drive up the coast I’d been putting off, go to Disneyland. Then, school year over, I’d pack up my stuff and the cats and head back home.

You know where this is going, right?

Three months later, I walked into a trap. My good friend Lisa invited me over for a casual dinner with her and her husband. After I agreed, she added that her husband’s friend would be there, too. And, oh yeah, this WAS the exact same guy she’d been trying to set me up with for the past two years (she wasn’t a fan of the original boyfriend, obviously). But it wasn’t a set-up. Really. Just a lucky coincidence.

Well, Lisa is a smart woman. Another month or two later, and Mr. Lucky Coincidence and I were in love. Like, REAL love. I knew I had found someone absolutely special—he was smart, funny, tall, handsome, AND a Midwestern boy himself. I was pretty sure he was the man I was meant to be with forever….

A late-December trip to the Marina. See the sweater? Brrrr...
And I was right. Here I am, 10 years later, in our house in Southern California. That same man is asleep in our bed, and our two wonderful boys are asleep in theirs. We’ve worked hard to build this life together, and I love it. We both miss the Midwest like crazy but my husband’s career is specific to this part of the country, so here we are, muddling through the 60-degree winters and 75-degree summers (don’t hate me). It’s almost perfect.

Almost perfect, but not quite.

Not quite, because I’m still 2,000 miles away from the rest of my family, and that’s an aspect of life in Southern California that I’ll never get used to. Facebook, Skype, and cell phones help bridge the distance, but it’s not the same as being there. There are frustrating days when the two-hour time difference makes phone calls difficult, and there are frustrating years when soaring airfares make travel difficult. I miss my family everyday, and I hate that my kids think of seeing their grandparents as an awesome treat rather than an everyday occurrence. Sometimes, when I am missing a family event—like the annual trek to the Iowa-Northwestern football game (go ‘Cats!), or my brother’s engagement party—I think back to the day I decided to give California “just a few more months.” And for a second, I think, “If I had just left when I wanted to….”   

But then my 2-year-old marches backward into the room laughing and singing “Skip, skip, skip to my poop!” Or my 4-year-old grabs my hand and asks me seriously how the FIRST zombie came to be. Or something makes my husband smile in that special way that makes the corners of his eyes crinkle up—the way he smiles when he’s truly happy. And I know in that moment that if I hadn’t “missed” that chance to move back to Chicago ten years ago, then I would have missed all this. And that, well…THAT is unthinkable.

This article was originally posted as my seventh weekly entry as a contestant in Blogger Idol. To see the judges' comments, read it again here. And be sure to follow me on facebook and Twitter to find out about the next round of Blogger Idol, coming up next Wednesday!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Regrets, I've Had...Um, Very Few, Actually

I'm lucky to say that I don't have a ton of regrets in my life. Not that there are none, but no one's going to make a movie-of-the-week about my life, either. Pretty standard skeletons here in the Crazed in the Kitchen closet.

So I was surprised at my reaction to my Blogger Idol prompt for this week. Our assignment was this:
Go to Blogger Idol and vote for Crazed in the Kitchen!

Write about a chance that you regret not taking, or a chance that you had, that you didn't take, that may have turned your life in a totally different direction.

Here's the funny thing: Something came to my mind IMMEDIATELY. I mean, the second I read that prompt, I knew what I should write about. was a bit personal. And, to be perfectly honest, I knew it would be difficult to write about, given the complicated emotions tied up in the topic. So for days I tossed around other, more lighthearted, ideas. Here are a few:

What if I had taken that Photography class junior year of high school instead of Journalism? Would I have ended up going to a different college (I went to a journalism school), had different friends, a different job and family now?

Hmm. Interesting to think about for a bit, but probably not much of a post.

Ooooh, I know, what if I write about that time when I was eight years old and I got to get up on stage and play Bozo Buckets on TV on the Bozo Show? What if I had been just a bit more careful and hadn't missed bucket number one? (Yes, that happened, and yes, it was horrifying.) Probably would've been discovered as a child actor and would be eating raw vegan food with Gwyneth Paltrow right now. Right?


So, I did it. I wrote the post I was meant to write. I cried a good deal while writing it--both sad and happy tears (and no, this one is not about my mom). It's an issue about which I STILL have mixed feelings. It's about how a decision I made led to the most wonderful things in my life, but also to a lingering sadness. It's about...

Well, you'll just have to head over to Blogger Idol to read my post and find out more. And please vote for me, Crazed in the Kitchen, while you are there!

(Then, look for more Crazed in the Kitchen all over the internet beginning next Monday. My Lung Cancer Awareness post will be running on the wonderful Bonbon Break, and my post "The Truth About Wine Labels" will be up on BlogHer. Check my facebook page later this week for more details.)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Blogs That Just Might Be Better Than Mine #payitforward
I started my blog about a year ago. I picked a name and a hosting site, then I wrote my first post and hit “publish.”

About two days later, I seriously considered scrapping the whole thing altogether.

What happened? Well, I started reading other blogs. And I found a few that blew me away with writing so good I figured I might as well forget it—there was no way I could compete. After a heart-to-heart with my husband (an actual, paid-to-do-it, PROFESSIONAL writer), I decided to keep at it. But I kept my eye on those blogs I admired so much, determined to learn as much as I could from them. And I have learned—a LOT. I have also been entertained, inspired, coached—and, on a few occasions, made to laugh so hard I almost spit coffee all over my laptop.

So, in the spirit of “Paying It Forward,” I’d like to introduce you to four of my current favorite blogs. I urge you to check them out, subscribe to their feeds, follow them on facebook and Twitter—do whatever it takes to be sure you don’t miss a word from any of them.

First of all, one of my absolute favorite blogs of all time is Gina Valley: The Glamorous Life of theModern Day Soccer Mom. Gina mostly writes about everyday life with her “pack:” her husband and five (FIVE!) kids, ranging in age from toddler to teenager. I first found Gina when I stumbled across her post, “How to Make Ice Cubes—An Old Family Recipe.” I’m embarrassed to admit I was sucked right in by that title—Was there really another way to make ice cubes? Had I been doing it wrong all this time? (Don’t laugh—I’m not known for my cooking skills.) I was relieved to learn that I am, in fact, an excellent ice-maker, and I was so impressed with Gina’s ability to wring so many laughs from such a mundane task that I began to follow her. (Here’s a hint: to make ice cubes, Gina says, you mostly need $5 and a bottle of wine. Go read the post and you’ll see how that makes perfect sense.) This woman is a genius. She can literally find the humor in any day-to-day event, from trying to find the TV remote to parent-teacher conferences. Any time I need a laugh or to feel better about my crazy, chaotic home, I go straight to her blog.

Another mom blog I go to when I need a laugh is Pile of Babies, by Meredith Bland. That name sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Yep, it should—she’s another contestant in this here Blogger Idol contest. I didn’t know about Meredith and her blog until I became a Blogger Idol finalist myself, and now I am hooked. Meredith is also able to find humor in pretty much any daily family event, and seems to be living my exact same life sometimes (except that she has TWINS, which is I guess just “lucky” for her). For example, when I read her post titled “The New Way My Children Like to Torture Me,” I seriously thought about sending her a stalkerish, um, earnest email telling her that my preschooler does the exact same thing. EXACTLY. And it IS torture. (Intrigued? You should really go check out her blog, and that post.) But while Meredith is usually laugh-out-loud funny, she has posted a few more serious posts recently that got very personal and really made me think. Turns out she’s quite a versatile writer, which I truly admire.

The third blog I want to tell you about is actually the one that took my parent-blogger virginity, if you will. He was my first—the first parent-written blog I ever read. I “met” Aaron Gouveia of The Daddy Files in an online parenting message board when our sons were both much younger. He stood out, being one of only a few dads who were active in the group, and when he mentioned that he wrote a blog I immediately checked it out. I loved it at first because, like the two I’ve already mentioned, it is clever and funny—and written from a male point of view, which makes me feel like I’m doing research on my husband. But, funny as he is, Aaron has never shied away from talking about the “real” issues in his life—even when they are incredibly difficult and sad. In July, 2008, he blogged with amazing honesty about the experience of learning that his unborn child had extreme and terminal physical abnormalities and would not survive gestation. Check out “The Words No Parents Want to Hear,” but have your tissues ready. Over the years since then, Aaron has written occasionally about his and his wife’s subsequent—and so far unsuccessful—attempts to have a second child. His most recent post on the topic, “It’s My Fault We Can’t Have Another Baby,” is one of the bravest things I have read ever. EVER.

Laura (on the left) and me, a few months ago.
So. Because it would be hard to follow THAT up with another parent blogger, I want to close by introducing you to an entirely different sort of blog, and to an old friend of mine. My friend Laura—we’ve known each other since the first day of journalism school over twenty years ago—writes a fitness blog called Laura Loves Fitness. When I heard she was starting a fitness blog, I wasn’t exactly surprised. After all, despite working a full-time job as a journalist in Manhattan she managed to become a Certified Personal Fitness Trainer, a Certified Group Exercise Instructor, and a Licensed Zumba Instructor, all in her free time. But I was a bit wary—would I, a harried, not-quite-but-almost-overweight stay-at-home mom of two really be able to relate to the advice of a career-oriented, childless, extremely toned (like, HOT!) fitness advocate? The answer: absolutely. What I love most about Laura’s blog is that she manages to inspire people to fit fitness into their lives, but is completely realistic about the challenges we all face when trying to do so. She writes about her own fitness setbacks—like business travel or illness—and how she gives herself a break when necessary. She doesn’t preach about healthy eating or avoiding alcohol—she talks about moderation and gives awesome ideas for low-calorie cocktails. Laura is 100% the reason I have been exercising regularly for over a year now, despite my failed attempts at Zumba. The only thing I DON’T like about her blog is the raging jealousy I feel when she posts pictures of her abs. The woman is a perfect physical specimen, and the fact that she is willing to share her secrets is marvelous. 

So, there you have it. These bloggers have made me laugh, cry, and sweat. They have all inspired me to be either a better person or a better writer—and often both. I hope you will check them out.

This article was originally posted as my sixth weekly entry as a contestant in Blogger Idol. To see the judges' comments, read it again here. And be sure to follow me on facebook and Twitter to find out about the next round of Blogger Idol, coming up next Wednesday!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Women's Biggest Cancer Enemy--Not What You Might Think

As you were probably aware, October was Breast Cancer Awareness month. It was impossible to miss; pink was everywhere. On social media, in the newspaper, on TV—I even saw our local firefighters wearing pink shirts while they cleaned their trucks recently. Breast cancer is a real threat to women, and increasing awareness, improving screening, and funding research of this disease should continue to be a priority.

But it shouldn’t be the ONLY priority, as far as women-killing cancers go. And it’s possible that it shouldn’t even be our biggest priority. Did you know that there is another cancer that kills roughly twice as many women each year as breast cancer?

It’s lung cancer.

In fact, lung cancer kills more women each year than breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers combined. And, 20 percent of its female victims—like Christopher Reeve’s wife, Dana—were never smokers. So why doesn’t lung cancer receive the attention that breast cancer does?

The main reason is that most people associate lung cancer with smoking and assume, in some way, that lung cancer victims are in part to blame for their disease. I admit, I felt this way for a long time. Until, that is, my mom was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer four years ago. Yes, she had been a smoker in her lifetime, though she wasn’t at the time of her diagnosis and hadn’t been for some time.

My mom and her 1st grandson. He was 7 months old when she died.
But the thing is, I had watched my mom try to quit smoking more than once, and I believed her when she told me that it was the hardest thing she had ever done. The truth is that nicotine—the substance in tobacco that makes smokers feel both relaxed AND alert simultaneously—is extremely addictive. (According to a 2010 Time magazine article, ex-heroin users have said that it’s harder to quit smoking than heroin.) Not only that, but between 1998 and 2004 tobacco companies increased the nicotine content of cigarettes by 10 percent. And, while they were making cigarettes MORE addicting, they were also aggressively targeting women in their advertising.

I just learned that November is lung cancer awareness month. Even now, almost four years after my mother’s death, I never knew that. I’m guessing that most people don’t know what lung cancer’s “color” is (white). And I’m guessing that most people don’t know it kills so many women each year. This needs to change. Lung cancer awareness should be on everyone’s minds in November, like breast cancer is in October.

But that’s not enough. The tobacco industry needs to be held accountable for the deadly effects its products have on women. And women of all ages—but especially teens and younger women, who are especially targeted by tobacco companies’ advertising—need to know that they are being preyed upon. Smokers who want to quit should be given the help that they need, rather than being expected to do it on their own, as many do. Economically speaking, our country needs to take further steps toward becoming independent of “Big Tobacco.” (I wish I had suggestions here, but I think I’d need another college degree to fully understand that!)

 My mom had no idea back in the ‘70s and ‘80s that smoking would keep her from knowing her grandkids. She had no idea that it would make her miss her only son’s wedding. She only knew that she felt powerless to stop, even though she wanted to. In her memory, I’ll be wearing a white ribbon this November. I hope, in time, that more people will wear them each November, as well. 

**UPDATED 11/11/12** On December 1, 2012, my 4-year-old son, Matthew, and I will be walking a 5K for lung cancer awareness in honor of my mom, his Grandma GG. If you'd like to donate to this important cause, please go here: 

Thank you!

This article was originally posted as my fifth weekly entry as a contestant in Blogger Idol. To see the judges' comments, read it again here. And be sure to follow me on facebook and Twitter to find out about the next round of Blogger Idol, coming up next Wednesday!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Just-Us League

So, I’ve been hiding something, but I’m ready to come clean now.

My family is special.

No, not special in an our-kids-listen-to-Creedence-Clearwater-Revival-instead-of-Raffi kind of way, though that is true.

Nope. We are even more special than that. Because we are…

Not us. Not even close.

Now, don’t get too excited. While it’s true that we each have super powers, we’re no Superfriends or Justice League. More like the Just-Us League or, if I’m being honest, the Jackass League. Don’t call us when that Ahmadinejad guy in Iran finally goes batshit or when the Mayan calendar ends and all hell breaks loose. You all are on your own then. No, our super powers, while definitely super, are a bit more, um, subtle than climbing walls or leaping tall buildings in a single bound.

First off, there’s me: Molly, aka Mommy, aka The Vaginator. Remember that idiotic politician who made news a few months ago by saying that a woman’s reproductive system can “shut down” at will? That guy is a dumbass nutball, but MAN he made me nervous, because he almost exposed my secret super power. See, when I’m faced with an unpleasant situation—an epic poopy diaper, for example, or a horribly boring Back to School Night presentation—my supervagina takes over and “shuts that whole thing down.” Not just my reproductive organs—ALL of me. One minute I’m filled with rage, annoyance, an urge to vomit, whatever…then, SHUT ‘ER DOWN!—and The Vaginator takes over with her vacant eyes, plastic smile, and pleasant demeanor. Regular Mommy checks out while The Vaginator maintains the social norms and rules of decorum that I sometimes find so challenging.
Regular Mommy

The Vaginator

Here’s an example:

Last week, I took my boys to the Y for 4-year-old Matthew’s swimming lesson. Two-year-old William and I sat in the lobby with a gossip magazine (for me) and my ipod (for him). Within minutes, I was accosted by one of THOSE moms. She came at me with a chirpy, “Your little guy is just SO cute with his little i-thingy! My little Maximus isn’t interested in electronics at all! He positively INSISTS that I read to him constantly! I WISH I could get a break like you, but parenting such an intelligent child really IS a full-time job!”

At this point, Regular Mommy was starting to lose her cool. I was getting sweaty, my heart was racing, I was about to say something we’ll all regret…


The Vaginator took over and smiled politely, murmured “How nice for you,” and stuck her nose back in the gossip mag. My nemesis drifted away to find another victim, and Regular Mommy slowly regained control of my body. Another momfight successfully avoided.

WhereDaddy doesn't like having his picture taken
But I’m not the only special one around here. My husband also has superpowers. He’s what we call a “WhereDaddy.” Not a “WereDaddy,” like werewolf. A “WhereDaddy.” Here’s what I mean:

Later that same day, the whole Super Family headed out to the car to go to the park. But we soon realized we had a problem. A disgusting, smelly, and, well, stiff problem. In the middle of the driveway, between our car and the street, was a dead squirrel that I swear was the size of a horse. I turned to my husband, but…he was gone. “Where Daddy?” asked William. We checked the house, the garage, the backyard—no Daddy. He was nowhere to be found. He had completely disappeared. “Where Daddy?” William asked again.


Once The Vaginator had taken care of the squirrel (NO WAY was Regular Mommy doing that), WhereDaddy reappeared and we made our way to the park. As we watched the boys climb, slide, and scream at the other kids, another mom approached me—the president of Matthew’s preschool’s PTA.

“Molly! I was just going to call you!” she said brightly. “Cedric’s Boy Scout troop is selling popcorn, and we’re hoping you’ll buy some! Of course, if popcorn’s not your thing, I could just put you down as the organizer of the school’s Halloween Party Raffle? LOTS of work but LOTS of reward, I always say! So, which is it?”

What I WANTED to say was, “Are you freakin’ crazy? I’d rather spend the next two weeks listening to ukulele jazz every day than planning your raffle or eating your popcorn.” But saying that would make future school pick-ups and drop-offs really awkward. Fortunately, Matthew had joined us so I just turned to him, nodded once, and his super alter ego—The Inquisitor—took over.

Do you know the human head weighs 8 pounds?
“What’s a raffle, lady? And what does ‘reward’ mean? What’s your name, lady? Do you have a mommy? What’s her name? Is she old like MY mommy? Why do you let your boy be a Boy Scout, lady? My mommy says they exclude gay people, so I can never be a Boy Scout or buy popcorn from you people. Do you hate gay people, lady? Are you growing a baby, or are you just fat? How do babies get IN your tummy, lady? How? How, lady? How?”

And, just like that, The Inquisitor froze the PTA lady in place with his questions. She couldn’t move, couldn’t talk, couldn’t even blink. WhereDaddy and I grabbed the boys and ran for the car before his powers could wear off. 

By the time we got home, I was exhausted and frazzled. I sat down at my computer to check facebook search for recipes while WhereDaddy played with the kids. But when Matthew pulled out Chutes and Ladders, WhereDaddy disappeared. The boys started eyeing me, because nothing screams “BOTHER ME!” like a mommy at her computer. William approached me, and I tried not to make eye contact. I tried to remember the reason his super alter ego is called “Ole Blue Eyes.” But he got me again, as he always does. Fixing me with his stare, he whispered plaintively, “Play with me?” I tried to say no, but those eyes….The next thing I knew, I found myself on the floor playing a rousing game of Chutes of Ladders. I don’t even know how I got there.
Look into my eyes...
(OK, that’s not all true. The Vaginator played Chutes and Ladders. I can’t stand that game.)

So, there it is. Our secret is finally out. Like I said, we’re not going to be toppling dictatorships or stopping global warming. But, in our own little way, we are making life better for ourselves and the people around us. And that, my friends, is super.

This story was originally posted as my fourth weekly entry as a contestant on Blogger Idol. To see the judges' comments, read it again here. And be sure to follow me on facebook and Twitter to find out about the next round of Blogger Idol, coming up on Wednesday!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Blogger Idol: I'm Out! No, I'm Back In! VOTE FOR ME!!

You can click here to vote for Crazed in the Kitchen
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...
Click on Bono to vote for me--that's fun, right?

Well, that may be exaggerating a bit. But my last week in Blogger Idol has been a bit of a roller coaster ride, and now I NEED YOUR HELP!

Our last assignment was to work with another contestant and interview each other. I was lucky enough to be paired with Jenn from "Random Thoughts n' Lotsa Coffee." We had a good time getting to know each other and working on the post together. We burned up facebook and gmail chats, and came up with a great post that you can read here.

Best of times, right?

But, alas, it wasn't enough. Fate and the Blogger Idol judges are fickle, and last Friday I learned that we had been eliminated.

Worst of times.

But the Powers That Be of Blogger Idol had a trick up their sleeves, and on Saturday I learned that I had been...SAVED! THAT'S RIGHT--I'M BACK IN BLOGGER IDOL!!!


Oh, wait. Except now I have to bring it. And by bring it, I mean BRING IT. Because now I have to prove that they didn't make a mistake in bringing me back.
You could also click here to vote for me


Of course, this week's assignment just HAD to be a doozy: Write about a day in the life of your family as if you were superheroes (click here if you'd like to play at home). Well, I did my best, and as of NOON CST on Wednesday, my post is live at Blogger Idol. You'll have to click over to read it, but let me give you a tease:

My superfamily's super alter egos are called "The Vaginator," "WhereDaddy," "The Inquisitor," and "Ole Blue Eyes." 

Intrigued? Head over there, read it, and vote! (Um, vote for Crazed in the Kitchen, that is.)

That's right--votes make a huge difference every week! And like I said, I need to bring it this week--with my post and with the votes. So please, let's show those Blogger Idol head honchos that they made the right decision in bringing me back. VOTE FOR CRAZED IN THE KITCHEN!!

Clicking here to vote for me is by far the most fun, don't you think?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Having a Knott's-So-Scary Halloween at Camp Spooky

So, Halloween is here.

Of course, it’s not ACTUALLY here—the day itself is still a few weeks away—but Halloween decorations are everywhere and my kids have taken to wearing their costumes around the house, so in a way every day is Halloween for now.

Last year, we had our first Halloween in our new house. On one of our evening walks, my kids and I discovered a house about a block away that goes all-out with Halloween decorations. I’m talking about a 6-foot spider with light-up eyes on the roof, about 15 life-size scary figures on the lawn, and maybe 30 different strands of Halloween-themed lights strung up on the fence and trees. Every night for weeks my kids and I walked past the “Wicked Witch House,” as they called it, to check on the progress of the decorations.

Like this, only bloodier.
But then one night it all went too far. The vaguely scary vampires and witches had been joined by some horribly gory and bloody baby dolls who were holding equally gory and bloody decapitated heads. I took one look and knew I’d have to choose a new route for our evening walks, at least until Halloween was over. Those babies were just too much for my little guys.

And that aspect of Halloween—the blood and guts and terror—remains a problem to me, as a parent of young children. They love the costumes and the candy, but I feel no need to mess with their already-iffy sleep patterns by introducing nightmare-inducing images of murderous monsters. Please. Less sleep is the LAST thing I need right now.

So I was thrilled to be invited to bring my family to check out Camp Spooky at Knott’s Berry Farm last week. Knott’s has a yearly Halloween celebration called Knott’s Scary Farm’s Halloween Haunt, which is aimed at much-older kids and adults. Camp Spooky (normally “Camp Snoopy”), however, is an area of the park with rides and non-scary Halloween thrills for 3-11 year olds.

And, boy did my boys have a blast at Camp Spooky.

Of course, the first thing they wanted to do was to decorate Halloween cookies at the “Kooky Cookie Painting” area at the Grizzly Lodge. They got comfy at the kid-sized tables and dug into the colored frostings and decorative sprinkles. As a bonus, we were there during “Scary Stories at the Lodge,” which, thankfully, were more silly than scary.

They went for the "Modern Art" look with their cookies.
More decorations = More YUM
Once the boys heard that there was trick or treating throughout Camp Spooky, that was the end of cookie decorating. (Who am I kidding? The cookies were long gone at that point.) The “Spooky Ookie Scavanger Hunt” led them to five different treat stations with five different treats. I appreciated that Knott’s limited the amount of sweets given out through the scavenger hunt (you know, pacing ourselves), and I was thrilled to see this cart with fresh fruit for sale. (OK, we didn’t buy any, but I was glad to know it was an option.)

Many of the kids at Camp Spooky that day were dressed in costumes, and I’m sure many were planning to participate in Snoopy’s Costume Contest and Parade later in the day. My boys ditched their costumes early on and headed straight for the rides—including a toddler-friendly roller coaster. (Um, who knew that a 2.5-year-old who deemed the mall train ride “too scary” would find a roller coaster delightful? And who knew that his 30-something mom would need a good 20 minutes to recover her balance after that same roller coaster ride? Looks like it’s just the mall train for me from now on.) The Ferris Wheel and the The Great Pumpkin Hay Bale Maze were also favorites.

After about 4 straight hours of fun, we had to call it a day and headed for the napmobile, er, car. Parking, unfortunately, was the one part of our day that didn’t bring us joy or candy. The attendants who were directing traffic when we arrived gave us conflicting instructions about where to park, and we ended up walking much farther than we needed to.

But, other than that, it was a great day—perfect for younger kids who aren’t ready for the scary and gory parts of Halloween. If you live in Southern California or plan to visit here in the month of October, you should definitely set aside a day for Knott’s and Camp Spooky. You can find all the details here.

Disclaimer: Yep, Knott’s gave me free tickets to check out Camp Spooky, for which I am truly grateful. But all the opinions above are strictly mine. What can I say? We loved the place. You should definitely go.