Crazed In the Kitchen: Home Is Where The Heart Is?   

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!


  1. WOW as a eastern gal I think I'd go into shock having roses blooming at Christmas! But in the end it all has worked out well, very well written too.

  2. Thank you, Pamela! And, 12 years later, it's STILL shocking!

  3. A great story of how choosing the right path can really lead you to the life you are destined to have! I feel the same way when I look at my husband. I went home from the US for him and I'm freakin sure I made the right decision then, even if I was only 13 years old! :D

  4. It's crazy how the Lord gets us where we need to be even if we're don't realize it at the time! I can imagine how home sick you get. Your husband and boys look like their worth it

  5. I gre up in South AFrica and we always had a hot Christmas - no snow - just sunshine and fake snow in the windows. I only thought it was cold in the North Pole. Boy have I grown up since then! I have had plenty a white Christmas since then!

  6. What a beautiful love story. I know you visit home, but missing out on real love would have been a travesty. This almost brought tears to my eyes. <3

  7. Thank you, everyone! I'm glad you enjoyed this post. It was bittersweet to write.


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