Crazed In the Kitchen: February 2012   

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How to Look Like a Chicken on Ecstasy

So recently I tried Zumba. I’ve been thinking about trying it for a while, and for the past few weeks I’ve been lurking outside the class, sizing up the dance moves and the participants. I was a bit worried that I would be the least coordinated, most jiggly person there. See, I live in a city that is known for its Beautiful Women—here in Southern California it seems that somehow everyone is 22, tanned, and gorgeous. Except me. And, as it turns out, most of the participants in my YMCA’s Zumba class! Hooray for sassy old ladies and one middle-aged bald man!

Anyway, I snuck in just as class was starting and found a spot in the back. To my right was the lone male member of the class, who may have just been there to check out the instructor (she was hot, so I can’t totally blame him). I was a little uncomfortable at first dancing all sexy-like next to a guy, but then I remembered that I’m almost 40 and at the very tippy-top of the “healthy” section of the BMI chart…so the poor guy was probably not going to get whiplash from being around me. To my left was a Workout Queen in brand-new spotless white shoes, makeup, and a super-cute outfit. I was a little nervous about her. In situations like these, I like to be surrounded by mediocrity so I can blend in. She looked like she might just kick Zumba’s ass, leaving me and Mr. Shufflefoot in her dust.

Turns out I didn’t need to worry about her—she seemed not to like the whole sweat factor involved and left the class within 10 minutes. What I needed to be worried about was Zumba itself. Don’t get me wrong, it was a ton of fun. I jumped around with a huge smile on my face for a while. Because I wasn’t standing where I could see a mirror, I figured I looked like this:

Or maybe this:
Britney, why can't I quit you?

I love my fantasy life.

But then something happened, we all shifted over a few feet, I’m not even sure how, and…there I was, in the mirror, Zumba-ing in living color. I realized a few things with that first glance in the mirror.

#1.  At 5’7”—which is really not all that tall—I was one of the tallest members of the class. Somehow I had found a Zumba class for munchkins. I seemed to tower over all but Mr. Shufflefoot and one or two others. This made me stand out, and I DON’T like to stand out when exercising. Never, ever, ever.
#2.  Turns out I don’t look like Britney or Shakira or when I Zumba. Not at all. Turns out I look like a chicken on ecstasy. A sweaty, sweaty, chicken on ecstasy. (To be fair, I haven’t ever done ecstasy so I can’t be entirely sure of how a chicken would look while on it. But I’m pretty sure that if some demented farmer gave a chicken ecstasy, it would dance around and think “Holy Hell! I look like Molly in Zumba!”)

The good news is, I’m slightly nearsighted and if I just squinted up my eyes a bit I couldn’t really see myself in the mirror. Of course, then I looked like a constipated chicken on ecstasy, but I didn’t care because I couldn’t see myself! I also couldn’t see the instructor, so I had to rely on a sassy old lady in front of me for the dance moves. I’m guessing that didn’t improve my performance, but again, with no visible image in the mirror I could assume that Me Doing Zumba =
Gratuitous second photo of Britney

 Like I said, I love my fantasy life.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Chores? More Like, #WINNING!

My kids get to spend most of their days playing. They build marble runs, play hide and seek, pretend to be characters in Disney movies. I get to do most of these activities with them, of course, and I usually have a great time. But I also have a bunch of adult responsibilities to take care of, as well. And frankly, most of those adult responsibilities are downright boring. So, after a glass of chardonnay one recent evening, I decided that some of those grown-up jobs would be more fun if I tried to think about them as games rather than chores.

So, here are some of the “games” I play in the course of my average week:

A solution to my Thursday morning problem?
Beat the Garbage Truck: On Thursday mornings, sometimes as early as 7:30 am, our city’s garbage trucks begin their rounds in our neighborhood. Most of my neighbors manage to get their three cans (garbage, recycling, and lawn clippings) out to the curb before dark on Wednesday night, but sometimes we don’t quite make it. Then the next morning finds either me or my husband—wearing pajamas, of course—racing back and forth between the curb and the gate with the cans as the first of the three trucks lumbers toward our house. (Usually my 3-year-old, wearing nothing but his Thomas underpants, is standing on the sidewalk yelling “Go, Mommy! Go!” while his younger brother screams “GARBAAAAAGE TRUUUUCK!!” as loud as he can.) My very nice, very efficient, and very childless neighbor is often standing on her porch, fully dressed and nicely coiffed, waving politely as I run around in my jammies. She never has to/gets to play Beat the Garbage Truck. And, she always takes each can back to her driveway as soon as it’s emptied, so she never gets to play our next game…

Beat the Street Sweeper: Some sadist in our city government decided that our side of the street should be cleaned on Friday mornings, the DAY AFTER GARBAGE TRUCK DAY. As if it’s not hard enough for us to remember to get those cans out by 7:30 am on Thursday, we then have to scramble to get them back to the gate by the next morning when the street sweeper comes. If we forget, the sweeper passes around them, leaving a wide swath of leaves, sticks, and trash right in front of our house on an otherwise clean street. We might just as well put a huge sign on our house that says, “WE DON’T HAVE OUR SH*T TOGETHER!”

What’s That Smell? Here’s how this one works: Doing chores around the house, I walk into what feels like a wall of stink. I drop whatever I’m doing and hunt down the source so it can be removed/cleaned/doused with Febreze. The problem is that our house contains so many, many potential sources of stink. The litter box, the cats, my toddler’s diaper, the garbage can, the fridge…or any combination thereof. And the savage beauty of this game is that I can play it just about anywhere. Just recently at Mommy And Me I picked up my diaper bag to hunt for a tissue and…there it was. Less a wall of stink and more a cloud of stinky steam rising from the depths of my Bermuda Triangle bag. Horrified that someone else might get a whiff, I smashed the bag into the bottom of my stroller, piled our jackets on top of it, and used my shirt to wipe my son’s nose (not for the first time!). Back at home, the hunt began. The details aren’t necessary; let’s just say this episode of the game ended with my diaper bag in the washing machine (not for the first time!).

Where’s Waldo?: I get to play this fun game when I bring my kids to crowded places like the park, the indoor play place, or the toy store. At some point, I look down to talk to my preschooler and realize he is no longer by my side. When a quick scan of the surrounding area doesn’t reveal his whereabouts, the game begins. Where is he? How far away did he go? Will today be the day some police officer has to test my son’s knowledge of my cell phone number? Fortunately, thanks to a recessive gene or a mix-up in the maternity ward, Matthew has platinum blond hair so he’s easy to spot in most crowds—kind of like Waldo’s striped shirt. Also fortunately, he’s a really good kid who knows not to go too far away. So far, he has always appeared within a few seconds, but that doesn’t mean my heart rate doesn’t go up every time (added benefit—cardio workout!).

Safety device? Or TORTURE device?
Pin the Toddler in the Car Seat: If you have or have had a toddler, then you know that inevitably the day comes when he or she refuses to sit in the car seat. If you’re like me you try reasoning, ordering, even begging and pleading (I’m not proud). But eventually you and your child must actually GO somewhere. And since wearing a seat belt is a no-compromise situation, that’s when you get to play this charming game. Unlike the original Pin the Tail on the Donkey, you don’t have to wear an eyeshade or spin around until you’re dizzy to play. You do need super strength and agility, and having 3 or 4 hands would probably help. I often need one whole arm just to hold my writhing, screaming, hot mess of a toddler in place, then I find myself using my chin, or my knee, or even my teeth along with my remaining hand to snap the belt in place. All while being screamed at. Good times.

Name That Sesame Street Episode: Since having kids, I seem to have lost quite a few brain cells. Once a fairly quick-witted person, I now have trouble remembering such “easy” details as say, my own age or the names of my cats. But, for some reason, my brain has no problem remembering various details of pretty much every single episode of Sesame Street that has aired in the last three years. As soon as Elmo or Zoe or Telly or whoever starts speaking, I can tell Matthew which episode it is. This is important in case it is one of the two episodes that feature the inexplicably terrifying-to-Matthew Jack Black, or the one where the Big Bad Wolf SINGS “huff and puff!” rather than growling it (unacceptable), or the “boring” one about amphibians. These must be stopped, deleted from the DVR, and replaced with another before I can get back to doing dishes/farting around on the internet (so, the sooner the better).

There are lots of other games I play with my kids over the course of any given day.   At bedtime we play Staring Contest (or, Mommy Must Stay Awake Longer Than The Children). Most evenings we play Freezer Roulette (or, What’s For Dinner?). I have really improved my reflexes playing Dodge the Cough/Sneeze. And the ever popular How Dirty is Too Dirty? can be played with food dropped on the floor, hands, clothes, the cats, you name it.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Home Invasion

Recently, we were the victims of a home invasion. No, we weren’t robbed—except of more of the precious few naturally colored strands of hair I have left. Rather, my two strictly indoor cats somehow, SOMEHOW, got fleas. (Are you itchy yet? The second I think about fleas, I start itching all over.)

When I indignantly called my vet, demanding an explanation, he chuckled and said, in his heavy French accent, “Zis is Southern California! Ze fleas, zey are everywhere! Zey come in the house on your shoes, through the screens…Zey are ubiquitous!” (New bucket list item: Speak another language well enough to use words like “ubiquitous” while doing so). Then he dropped the hammer (le marteau, if you’re wondering): “Of course, now ze fleas are probably in your house. You must treat ze cats AND ze whole house.” But, I pleaded, we have absolutely no rugs or carpets in our house for fleas to live in. “NONE??” he asked incredulously.

[That’s when I began to wonder if he was a quack vet. Because anyone who has cats knows that if you have a large living room with a hardwood floor and you put down a carpet sample even as small as a dishtowel, within an hour one or both of your cats will barf on that exact spot. Not on the easy-to-clean tile floors of the kitchen or bathroom or the hardwood in the living room, but on those six square inches of carpet. Because of this, and because we have small children who are as careful with their drinks as a frat boy at the end of a party, my husband and I made the decision not to put down any rugs in our house, except for the bedrooms where the cats are not allowed. My one cat has been so stymied/challenged by our “radical” interior design choice that she has decided that the only acceptable place for her to barf is on the mat I placed next to the litter box to try to capture some of the litter the little darlings track out. All I know is that if that stupid mat captured litter the way it captures cat barf, I would be sweeping a LOT less frequently.]

ANYWAY. Fleas. According to ze vet, they can hide their evil little eggs in hardwood flooring too. And in almost-brand-new couches, like ours. And, of course, on the cats themselves. So, that night, after the kids were in bed and my husband was busy keeping the world safe from zombies with his Xbox 360, I decided to face the problem head-on. Step 1: Wash the cats. WAIT! No. Step 1: Down a hefty glass of chardonnay while googling “wash a cat.” Step 2: Wash the cats.

Have you ever washed a cat before? I would not wish this experience on anyone (except maybe those horrible people who bring toddlers to scary movies rather than finding child care). I have never loved cleaning, but I do like that sense of accomplishment you get after completing a particularly tough job—like washing toddler vomit out of a car seat or scrubbing large blobs of dried glue off foam play mats. These jobs are no fun, but at least you have a sparkling clean product as a result of your effort. This is not true when you wash a cat. Because when you’re done your cat is clean, yes, but he’s also soaking wet and ticked off—with the sole goal in life of escaping the bathroom and flinging his wet body onto your new couch.   

But, I had the flea shampoo and I had cats with fleas, so even though I didn’t want to, I got down to business. Unfortunately, our house does not have a removable shower head, so I was forced to fill the tub with about 3 inches of water and, one at a time, plop each cat into it. I quickly learned that in order to both wash the cat and hold onto the cat, I would have to climb in the tub myself and stand ankle-deep in nasty cat water. (A LONG, hot shower for me followed this whole process, needless to say.) The cats complied more than I thought they would, though each one made a noise so horrible throughout their scrubbings that it made me wish I could listen to a CD of my kids whining instead. I actually worried that they would wake the kids with their howls of clean-cat misery, and “poor” Chris had trouble hearing the moans of approaching zombies over their complaints (he managed, thank goodness).

Once the cats were clean I dried them as best as I could (so, not much), then watched them respond to their trauma. One went straight to the toilet to drink away his worries, and one decided to take a nap in the litter box. Great! Wet cat IN THE LITTER BOX! That sealed their fate, and the two of them ended up spending the night locked in the bathroom while they dried out.

Step 3 in my war on fleas was to treat the house. I had bought a can of flea-killing spray, but balked at spreading the deadly chemicals around areas where my kids play. I actually stopped and mentally tallied the pros and cons of chemicals vs. flea bites. Then, like any helicopter mom would, I called poison control. I love poison control. They don’t judge you when you call to find out if your toddler will get sick from eating apricot facial scrub. They are sympathetic when you cry just a little about the mold you discovered in your house. And they know everything there is to know about chemicals that kill fleas. They reassured me that only the fleas would suffer ill effects from my spray, so spray I did.

Finally, I bought some depressingly expensive flea medicine to put on the cats at the vet (have you noticed how the vet’s office is like a not-fun Target? Both places you can’t leave without spending $100, but at least at Target you end up with stuff like purses, slippers, yet another set of sand toys for the kids…). So, it looks like we have the flea problem beat for now. And, since the expensive flea meds must be reapplied every three weeks, I’m sure my vet will enjoy a nice vacation each year on me. Maybe he’ll take the cats with him.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

It Takes a Village to Feed My Children

They say the first step to getting help is admitting you have a problem. And that it usually takes hitting rock bottom to realize you have a problem.

So, here goes. I admit I have a problem.

I can’t cook.

And I know this because I recently hit rock bottom. I was making dinner for my boys one evening, and I found myself standing in my kitchen with a bag of frozen peas in one hand and a container of leftover fish sticks in the other thinking, “Man! I wish we had TWO microwaves!”

The kind with the shells is obviously the best. Duh.
(OK, I should have known years ago: I was at Gymboree with my almost-2-year-old, and we were all pretending to put beanbag “cookies” in a make-believe “oven.” Matthew asked, in his trademark high volume, “You can cook cookies in the microwave?!”)

So, obviously, I’ve suspected this was problem for a while now. I had high hopes for myself when I took a leave of absence from my teaching job to become a stay at home mom. Back then, still pregnant with my second son, I optimistically told my husband that in my time at home I was going to learn how to cook and how to keep the house clean. I had visions of myself cheerfully mopping floors while the kids napped and making lasagna with an infant peacefully cradled in a sling across my chest.

Then William was born, and I found myself with two kids under two years old (only for three weeks, but it sounds hardcore doesn’t it?). In the year that followed, I did NOT learn how to cook. I did NOT learn how to clean. But that’s not to say that I didn’t learn a lot of things. I learned that I could live on 6 hours of broken sleep every night for 8 months straight, but only if I spent every minute of every nap time sitting on the couch drinking as much coffee as I could as fast as I could. When we ran out of staples like milk and chardonnay, I learned how to take two young kids grocery shopping by myself (Baby strapped to chest, toddler in cart with a lollipop. Smile through your rage at the “nice” people who tell you that you have your “hands full.”). And I learned that if, heaven forbid, we actually did run out of milk right before dinner, you can make boxed macaroni and cheese with nothing but noodles, hot water and the orange powder. Not great, but Matthew would still eat it, poor kid.

In short, I learned that the year of your life spent taking care of an infant and a toddler is NOT an ideal time to learn how to cook or clean.

But here I am, nearly two years into my stint as a stay at home mom. Matthew is about to turn four and William will soon be two. Things around here are in no way calm, but at least everyone can walk and mostly talk and eat solid food and watch Sesame Street for 20 straight minutes without wandering off to lick the cat. I’m running out of excuses. I’m going to have to learn to cook something other than pasta and Trader Joe’s chicken nuggets (But it’s from Trader Joe’s! That’s, like, one step below Whole Foods! That means it’s healthy! Right? RIGHT???).

But if you’re a long-time procrastinator like me, you know that one never just dives right in to the task at hand. There are plans to make, lists to write, research to be done. Of COURSE the first step in learning to cook is to blog about how you need to learn how to cook. Next is the planning phase. I LOVE the planning phase. I’ve already thought about the office supplies I’ll need to organize this venture—binders with those plastic pocket pages, index cards, blank calendar pages, highlighter pens in various colors! Mmmmmm…procrastinator porn is what that is. Then I let my imagination run wild: I’ll have monthly crock pot days, breakfast-for-dinner days, maybe—and this is crazy—tofu days!

Wait--Stop! I need to buy an apron! I cannot possibly cook for my family until I have found the perfect apron!

You can see where this is going. At this rate, my kids will be teenagers before I get my act together. I’m going to have to start small, both for my own sanity and for my kids’ comfort. After all, Matthew did inform me recently that the fresh cauliflower I had steamed was “gross,” then happily ate a plate of microwaved frozen cauliflower. We’re not going to go from that to kale and radish salad over night. (Is that a thing—kale and radish salad? Sounds very fancy and healthy. Pencil it in for next week. Does Trader Joe’s sell kale?)

So I guess my goal is not so much “learn to cook,” as “learn to cook one or two new things every few weeks.” If frozen vegetables and low-rent pizza (flat bread, marinara, and shredded cheese) remain regulars on the menu for now, my kids will survive. And I have a few things going for me: Though my mom was the queen of TV dinners during the week (and seeing as she worked full-time and was a single parent, who could blame her?), she was an amazing cook on weekends and special occasions. When she died three years ago, I made sure that her tattered and stained copy of “The Joy of Cooking” made it back to my house. And though I am jolted with fresh grief whenever I find a note or recipe in her handwriting tucked in its pages, I am excited to re-create some of the dishes I remember from my childhood. My dad is an excellent cook, as well, and always patiently answers my many, many questions by phone. (“Dad! How do I know the scallops are done?” “Dad! How do I know the corn is done?” “Dad! Is fresh steamed cauliflower supposed to smell like feet?!”) And my mother in law—who raised and fed four very tall kids—has passed on some new favorites, as well.

And lucky for me, I have the internet at my disposal, too. I am always on the lookout for easy, healthy, kid-friendly recipes and meal ideas, and I’d love suggestions. Leave ‘em here in the comments or email me: