Sunday, October 21, 2012


I've always cherished those moments with my kids when we have a real conversation - where they ask questions (although they may sometimes be hard to answer), where they seek advice, where they share something they are feeling or experiencing or excited about. And with having five kids, those little one-on-one conversations are too few and far between.

I've been getting a lot of questions from my 7-year-old lately. The kind of questions that really make you pause and think and decide how to explain some of the things in life that are hard to explain, like why there are wars. And I want to make them feel comfortable coming to me with questions or seeking advice.

The pre-teen and teenage years are a time that come with lots of questions, but it can also be a time when kids stop seeking out answers from their parents and learning about things from peers. Sometimes that's a good thing and sometimes it's not. There are many lessons to learn in life and while you are the primary teachers as parents, there are others that can sometimes shed light on a situation in a way that you can't. Early in my parenting career I didn't understand that. I do now.

Once kids approach the teenage years, they can scale way back on the communication. Where the question of "how was school today?" once caused a lengthy explanation of recess-time and the spelling test grade and what the history lesson was that day, the same question posed to a pre-teen or teen usually elicits one of three one word answers "good," "okay" or "boring."

This is one time when those pesky electronic devices can be a benefit. Once in a while between the 200 texts going out to their friends, they take a minute to send you a text. My thirteen-year-old has his thumbs busy all the time, but there have been two occasions where I was so glad he had that cell phone. One was a few months back and I was out running errands and my cell phone rang. I figured it was him calling to ask if he could play video games or go somewhere with his friends or eat the OREOs he found hidden in the closet.

"Hey," I answered after I saw it was him.
"Hey, Mom. Guess what?" he said.
"I don't know," I answered.
"Guess what?" he repeated.
"I have no idea. What?" I said.
"You have to guess," he responded.
"I don't really know. Just tell me," I said, a little more impatient.
"No, I want you to guess," he said, still with excitement in his voice.
There I was standing in the parking lot at the grocery store, bags spilling out, his brother bouncing around at my feet, the wind blowing so hard I could barely hear him. I wasn't in the mood for a guessing game. My voice got more stern. "I don't have time to guess. I'm loading groceries. I have my hands full. I've got to go. What do you want?"
His voice sank. "Nevermind," he said. "I'll tell you later."
Then, riddled with guilt and still annoyed, I conceded. "Ok, sorry. I'm in a hurry here. I'm not mad at you. What did you want to say?"
"I just wanted to tell you I have a girlfriend," he said.
I stopped in my tracks and listened to all he wanted to tell me.

Wow! He called me to tell me he had a girlfriend. Lots of things went through my mind, but mostly I thought about how I never would have told my parents that I had a girlfriend. There was never a rule about not dating as a teenager in my house, but I just always felt like it had to be secret. It felt good that he was calling and telling that to his mom.I felt happy that my child was sharing that news with me, especially being a boy.

Yesterday, my phone rang and it was my 13-year-old again. When I answered, He said, "Guess what?" I answered "What?" even though I knew what he was calling about. He had entered a contest by the Cook Country Farm Bureau and that's where he was at. He brought a pumpkin that he and his grandpa had grown that weighed in at just under 80 pounds. He won first place. My husband had already called and told me, but it was nice to hear his voice and how excited he was. I hope there will be many times in the future where I'll get to hear his voice when something good happens in his life.

Monday, October 8, 2012

How food blogging changed my life

Every other week, my Mom Moments column appears in the Northwest Indiana Times. There wasn't room for the whole text his week, so I'm sharing it here. Cheers to all the other foodie moms out there. :)

How food blogging changed my life
Like most people, I enjoy a good meal, but in the last year, I’ve began to develop a better appreciation for the food that sustains us. I’ve learned more about where it comes from and the passion of those who produce it and prepare it.
In the spring of 2011, my sister, Becky, had a cooking party at her house in the west suburbs. She had taken gourmet cooking classes in the past and she is a world traveler who has been everywhere from France to Fuji, Austria to Australia, Poland to Prague. In her travels, she is always excited about trying new foods. I haven’t been lucky enough to travel as much as she has, but her passion for food is contagious. So, at this cooking party she had, there were some last minute cancellations and it ended up being just four of us. One other couple was there – a former sous chef and his wife. It worked out very well as more people would have been really been a hindrance. Four fit perfectly in the kitchen as we each went about a different task of making the meal, which included a savory salad of greens and goat cheese with a homemade vinaigrette, a meat empanada, chicken buerre blanc and a dessert of fresh fruit crepes with homemade whipped cream. Julia Child would have been proud. We created a visually appealing and delicious French meal and had a blast in the process.
As we enjoyed our meal, I suggested to my sister that we start a food blog, to share recipes and reviews some of the wonderful restaurants we’ve visited. On July 1, Chicago Foodie Sisters (CHICAGOFOODIESISTERS.BLOGSPOT.) was born.
It got off to a slow start, but it was instantly something I was in love with and was way more than just another writing gig to get done. I started looking at the whole world differently. I planned out meals differently and started to experiment more in the kitchen. I started to follow other food bloggers, who offered great tips and ideas, and were a whole new group of online friends and a valuable resource to go to when I was stumped in the kitchen or wanted to learn more about what some eateries were serving. And soon I was posting something every single day.

Over the past year the blog has evolved. I now seldom eat a restaurant meal without taking a picture first (which sometimes annoys the family and friends I dine with.) I’m spending more time in the kitchen at home and loving it. Cooking isn’t a chore, it’s a joy. I visited farmer’s markets with such gusto this past summer. I’m being contacted by companies that are introducing me to new food products. I’m attending more media events where I’m visiting new restaurants, meeting chefs and enjoying seeing their personalities and how they translate into what they prepare and trying so many new foods. So, my life has been changed big-time by writing this blog in ways other than the extra couple of pounds that have made their way onto my waistline. It’s also given me an identity other than “mom.” Being a mom is for sure priority number one, but my kids are getting bigger and while my life still revolves so much around them, this has become something I can enjoy that gives me an opportunity to dine out and interact with other adults and not have to cut up food for anyone else or wipe chins or engage in conversation about PTA or soccer practice or homework. It’s a part of my life that is all me.

Off the top of my head, here are a few of the things I’ve learned over the past year. Before starting the blog I had never eaten quail or jicama or golden beets or fois gras or duck or goat cheese or cremini mushrooms or ancho chile or truffle oil or balsamic vinegar. I had never cooked on a wood plank before. I didn’t know the difference between pinot noir and pinot grigio. I never would have ordered a salad with watermelon or pistachios in it, but there are so many combinations that are magical. And the best part is that there is always so much more to learn and try and experience and I am cherishing the ride.

A night in boyland

I am surrounded by testosterone 24/7. Sometimes it is too much. As much as I love these creatures, I sometimes grow weary of roughness and dirt and zombies and wrestling and snakes and toads and Axe deodorant and video games and washing sports uniforms and armpit farts and crashing sounds and devouring of a pan of brownies in 1/8th the time it took me to prepare them. But, on the same token, I love it. And I love being introduced to things that weren't part of the girly world I grew up in.

In having boys I learned to like things I never knew I would. My husband introduced me to snowmobiling and fishing and off-road excursions.  In having my boys I've learned to enjoy watching skateboarding and snowboarding and riding all-terrain vehicles. One more I can add to the list is the annual Crashfrest at Illiana Motor Speedway.

Despite living about a half-hour away I had never been to the Illiana Motor Speedway. I have learned an appreciation for racing in recent years. We've traveled all over the Midwest and being a travel writer I am always seeking out new places to visit. On a trip to Indianapolis one year, we stopped at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I had never been to a race before and never watched racing on television....but on that trip, part of the visit to the Indiana Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum was a ride around the track in a small bus.  We were moving at a crawl compared to how the race car drivers take the turns, but it was a big thrill to be on that same track and rounding those corners gave me such a rush.

Every year, we mark the end of the season Crashfest at Illiana Motor Speedway on our calendar, but we don't make it. My husband has gone a couple times in the past. Once with my oldest son and nephew when they were quite young. Another time he and his parents went with a couple of the boys. The past couple of years, I was willing to go, but we had other plans that night or my husband had to work. This year, I looked at my calendar the day before and since the day was open, we decided to go.

We pulled in the lot nearing race time and I could not believe how many people were there. And how many people take it so seriously. There were tailgaters with tents and grills and tables who looked like they'd been there for hours. We were lucky to find a small vacancy on a front center bleacher so that we could sit close to each other.

First were stock car races. The boys had fun making picks and watching a Corvette blow away everyone else. Next was a figure 8 bus race. This was really cool. As they picked up momentum on those 25 laps they ran, some fell behind leaving close calls each time they'd cross. Two buses collided. One tipped over. The driver jumped out of the back, unscathed, and hopped back in the driver seat. I enjoyed it way more than I thought it would. There is the potential for injury - even death - in such an event, but when the driver jumps out with hands in the air, letting everyone know he is okay, the crowd goes wild. The winner was someone who had just bought his bus, decided that morning to enter the race and painted it that afternoon. Everyone loves an underdog story.

The final race is a trailer race and that's the one where the crashing happened. Lots of it. There were about 8 vehicles, each pulling some kind of trailer - a camper, a boat, a comical contraption of a port-a-potty placed on a flatbed trailer. Before the race even began, a boat had fallen off its trailer and it was soon hit and blown to smithereens. My boys, of course, had a blast. I kinda liked it myself. And it's not something I thought I'd enjoy. You see I cringe at so many things where I know people are getting hurt - football, wrestling, hockey. That's the mom in me. I don't like to see people get hurt. And in this race, there were a couple pretty big crashes, where you weren't sure if the driver was going to walk out of there in good condition. But, they did. So, you hold your breath for a moment, waiting to see if they come out...and when they do, you kind of want to see it again. At least I do. And most of all, I love any activity I can do with the kids where we are all there and all having fun together. Now that my oldest is 18, he's absent in a lot of our family activities. Or sometimes only half the family is there because one of the other kids has to be somewhere else. All seven of us in one place at the same time is becoming more of a rarity.

After we returned home, I logged on to Facebook and saw my husband's status. "4 hours tonight at Illiana Speedway Crashfest. $120 for tickets. $45 for food. All family members enjoying the night, priceless!" I was thinking the same thing myself. :)

Friday, October 5, 2012

Babies Don't Keep

I really enjoyed being part of the Listen to Your Mother cast this past May in Valparaiso. In its second year, the show included readings about Motherhood coming from a diverse group of women. The first year, the production took place in five cities. The second year it grew to 10. I felt very privileged to be included in the 2012 cast. Recently, the videos were put up on YouTube, so I got to watch myself read. The link is below if you'd like to see it, too. My piece was called "Babies Don't Keep."