Crazed In the Kitchen: November 2012   

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!