The Discreet Contest Announcement

  • MrZ and I are going to a Halloween party tonight. We came up with our costume idea last minute (and by “WE” I mean “I”) and I hope it turns out right. If it does? I’ll post pictures. If it doesn’t? I’ll pretend this never was discussed.
  • I made Cake Poppers, Buffalo Chicken Dip and a Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake all for MrZ’s work lunch today. I am officially Wife Of The Year.
  • dinner

  • Speaking of cooking, look what we ate for dinner last night! It is PDub’s Chicken Salad (with noodles to make it more of a dish and less of a sandwich type option) and her baked acorn squash which turned out AMAZING. I’ve never even heard of acorn squash before…neither had MrZ. But now? We’re total BFFs.
  • I have so much to do today to prep for Halloween festivities that I’m letting AndyZ tear up the house. Anyone else ever use that technique? Just me then?
  • So…I’ve already mentioned that I have my official Team in Training Fundraising Page set up and ready to go. I get emailed the name and address of all donors and I’m making hand-made Thank You cards for those of you who already donated. I’m officially launching my Big Fundraising Efforts on Monday. It will be complete with video, giveaways, and begging. (I have to raise 3500 by January 5th.) But for anyone who donates before then? I’m entering your name into a drawing to be announced on Monday. First Prize: $100 Visa Gift Card. 2nd and 3rd prize? A copy of PDub’s new cookbook. I’m being discreet about this initial request of donations as I’m just going to use it as a measurement to see how many people even stop by here over a weekend, much less a HAUNTED one! And for those of you lovely souls who donated before this moment? You get entered into the drawing TWICE. For being awesome.

Happy Halloween!

The One-Armed Chef


I’ve written before about how the challenges of being a Stay At Home Mom, a Working From Home Mom, and Working Outside The Home Mom are all VERY DIFFERENT. All challenging in their own – very different – ways. I know this because I’ve had points in my life when I’ve done them all and finally – mostly by choice – settled on being a Working Outside The Home Mom. And a million other times I’ve said that working outside the home? Made me a better Mom because I had much more enthusiasm and patience during the short time I had with my kids than I would if I was around them all day.

So…when I got laid off? I found myself facing a conundrum.

Should I keep with the habits that made me a crappy Stay At Home Mom? Or should I try to be better since I didn’t have much of a choice at the time. Make the best of things while I had to. Still try to be the best Mom to my kids I could be, even if it was under circumstances I didn’t choose.

I think that’s why I started cooking. I needed something that I could show at the end of the day as being My Accomplishment. Partly because I was feeling a little useless but also so that I could still have something to focus on during the day that would take a few of the impatient hours away from me. I think that when I stay focused on my kids all day? That’s when I lose my patience and why I need to be working outside the home, but if I have some big challenge during the day to focus on: Cooking, Organizing, Creating – then they learn to entertain themselves periodically while I can then choose the OTHER hours to dedicate to my kids wholeheartedly: Crafting, playing, tickling. This technique is going well in terms of MY end. I’m condensing my patience and good parenting to more valuable chunks of time during the day. But AndyZ? Not handling it well.

Essentially…the entire time I’m cooking? He’s attached to my leg saying, “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” And because I’m a sucker? I pick him up whenever I can and try to cook with one hand. There are times when this is not possible, so I put him down, and he starts with the, “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” bit again. It doesn’t help if MrZ is there as he was last night…because AndyZ has also become a bit of a Momma’s boy. MrZ will chase him around to try to distract him and that works for about 5 minutes and then he’s back at my feet again, “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!”

I’ve tried sitting him in his high chair with snacks, crayons, stickers and sometimes CANDY. Anything to try to keep him occupied since playing with his toys by himself is never a consideration. These techniques work for about 12 seconds. And then he is actually climbing OUT of the chair (Have I mentioned he’s a monkey daredevil? He is.) trying to break his neck in order to get me out of the kitchen.

I keep hoping he’ll get used to it, start to accept that sometimes I cook and he has to play by himself but other times Mommy will play and we can get our snuggle time. But after several weeks of cooking? He’s still attached to my ankle, looking up at me with those dreadfully evil blue eyes. So, as soon as I’m done with knives or heat, I pick him up – making things worse, I’m sure – and continue cooking with him on my hip.

So – here’s my question to those of you Cooking Moms and/or Dads out there: Do you have a clingy child? How do you cook with said child? Do you adapt as I have or do you just avoid cooking when they’re at your feet and save it for times when they’re distracted or napping? OR…do you give them your sharpest knife and let them be in charge of cutting the onions? I mean…I know I don’t want to cut them.

Forcing The Sun To Shine

The last two days have been gray. I mean that very literally…rainy, cold, and overcast. Since the seasons are changing and the trees are losing their leaves, even the vegetation looks gray. Even the few trees that are covered with vibrant leaves some how seem dulled by the rain and the clouds. Gray. I’m not sure if this is what put me in my own gray mood emotionally, or if I was headed there anyway – I’ve managed to have some very sad days amidst brilliant blue skies and sunshine – but during these last two days I’ve felt just as gray as the skies have looked.

I finally emailed my Dad’s oldest sister yesterday. She lives in Knoxville and was a very important part of our lives during Dad’s last two months on earth. She is a nun so her religious and spiritual position allowed her to be a source of counsel for Dad, no matter how distant religion was in his own life. I know that those last two months would have been a lot harder if it had not been for her, on all of us. She has gone out of her way to stay in touch with my brother and I, she has sent emails and letters and gifts to help us in our grief. My brother and I have both sucked monumentally at responding back to her. For the same reason…there are just so many words to say to her and we still don’t know how to say them. So – after she inquired with our Mom this weekend to make sure neither one of us had moved before sending us something she brought back from the Holy Land, we both decided we needed to email her. And while we sent two different emails from our own individual voices, they both said essentially the same thing: We love you, We thank you, and We miss you. We really miss Dad.

That email that I typed out in the wee hours of yesterday morning seemed to act as a thief of any joy I may have had for the rest of the day. Just having to reach deep to send her the sincere email she deserved, it opened up so much of the pain I try to push down every day. My brother and I talk often lately because we fear we may be past to point of acceptable public grieving, yet we have days we hurt so much we just have to talk to someone. It’s usually a text that says something like, “Really missing Dad today.” Just sending that out in the world for the other sibling to see, it gives us a quite a bit in the way of solace because we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the other person completely understands the pain we feel.

So…that email put me in a funk yesterday. It did the same for my brother. I just ended up having one of those days where every little thing reminded me of how much I still miss my Dad and how unfair I still feel it is that he is gone. He’ll never know about LilZ’s play, NikkiZ’s first soccer season, and he’ll never hear AndyZ’s laugh. While logically I understand that life just isn’t fair…there’s no mandatory balance anywhere to keep order established. Emotionally? I just find myself angry that he didn’t get to do the things and see the things he deserved to do and see. He raised two kids alone. If anyone deserved a very long and very healthy life…it was him. Yet – every day things transpire in our lives that he’ll never know about. Things we would have enthusiastically called to tell him about, or asked for him to come witness himself. I’m certain he would have planned to be in Tucson in December to see MrZ run his marathon. I know he would buy tickets to LilZ’s first theatrically performance. He would have come to soccer games and probably helped coach on the nights we needed him. He would tickle AndyZ mercilessly.

But he’s not. He wont. Ever again. And the last two days this has just consumed me.

I woke up today and things look like they’re going to be gray. Again. I feel like it’s hard to get out of these emotional ruts, these downward spirals of grief, on any day. But when Mother Nature won’t help me out with some sun? It’s not even possible. So, I’m setting out today – now that I’ve gotten some of the grief out on this blog (Another thing as instrumental to helping me heal from Dad’s death is was through every pregnancy loss back in the day of Reproduction Hell) – and I’m trying to force some sun into my heart. Two days of this darkness is enough, for no other reason than I’ll gain the other 15lbs I’ve lost back just by eating as I tend to do when I’m sad. While there’s something to allowing yourself those days of grief as part of The Process, there’s also something important in realizing when you’re heading towards dark places that aren’t good for those around you. Much less for yourself. I’ve been in those places before and I don’t want to return…Thank You Very Much. So, I pull some of the things Dad himself taught me about spirituality and emotional health and how it affects those close to us, and I buck up. Today I try to use my memory of him as strength to pull me out of the rut I’m falling in instead of letting my grief over missing him push me further down into it. I think he’d like it better that way anyway.

I’ll cry a little bit more, maybe send another text to my brother, and I’ll start my day over. Have the second cup of coffee…take a deep breath…and find the strength to be the wife and Mom my family deserves, that my Dad would want me to be and I’ll do it because he did it. And he did it amazingly well. I’m confident that there is no greater way to honor a brilliant parent than trying to be as brilliant of one yourself.

A Rare Family Shot (Thanks DamPaw!)

Marathon Cooking

IMG_0268We went to the concert Friday night in Birmingham and it was waaaay more fun than I predicted. I wish I had better pictures, but you just have to trust me when I tell you that NikkiZ? Totally a concert girl. She screamed and danced and was in general awe over the entire event. Since the first band came on about her normal bedtime, she did great even lasting through the whole show. During the slow songs she would be ready to go home, but as soon as Miley sang one we could dance to? She’d perk right back up. And she didn’t complain too much when her Mom belted out “The Climb” in her ear during Miley’s ovation performance. MrZ even enjoyed himself and was in awe as someone who used to be in a band on a stage that Miley obviously wasn’t lip-synching. I think he assumed she would since her shows have so much dancing and stuff. Nope. She’s the real deal, that Miley. And she now has a chunk of money out of our wallet to show for it. LilZ even had a great time and wore his concert t-shirt to school yesterday. We were all very close to passing out when we finally stumbled home shortly before midnight. I’m telling you all of this so you will be sufficiently impressed when I list out all of the things I cooked on Saturday.

  • Red Velvet Cake Poppers (MrZ came up with “Poppers” instead of “Balls” so that we don’t have to giggle every time we say it.) I baked the red velvet cake from the box early Saturday morning but I didn’t finish them until after MrZ went to bed though so he wouldn’t see. I accepted they wouldn’t be as pretty but you know what? I think in terms of the difficulty of recipe/taste of product ratio? This may be my best discovery yet. It was really much easier than I thought it would be. While they didn’t turn out pretty, everyone who ate one had the same reaction: Eyes rolling back into the head. Seriously. SO GOOD. You must go try to make some right now. NOW!
  • Buffalo Chicken Dip – Which I Adapted MYSELF from another recipe! Here’s my recipe:

    * 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
    * 1/2 cup blue cheese salad dressing
    * 1/2 cup Frank’s® RedHot® Buffalo Wing Sauce
    * 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
    * 2 cups of chicken shredded off a cut up fryer. (The original recipe said you could use 2 (9.75 ounce) cans of chicken but that stuff is often slimy so I opted to do the chicken off the bone since I am no longer scared of it.)

    1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
    2. Spread cream cheese in a 9-inch deep dish pie plate with a fork or whisk until it’s smooth.
    3. In a separate bowl, mix dressing, buffalo sauce and chicken. Spread mixture on top of cream cheese layer.
    4. Sprinkle top with the shredded Mozerella
    5. Bake for 20 minutes or until the chicken mixture is hot and bubbly. Serve with Fritos scoops.

  • Sugar Cookies out of the role and that the kids decorated. There were days in the past that this was enough of a kitchen challenge for ONE day. Now? It seems a little lame.
  • Truly the Best Lasagna Ever. Now…this one was tricky because I bought the wrong kind of noodles. I didn’t know there were wrong noodles, but I realized when I was cooking that I had “Oven Ready” noodles. You don’t boil those…you just let them cook IN the lasagna. Which I found to be an oddly mysterious idea. I crossed my fingers and layered them in uncooked and then added 10 minutes on PDub’s cook time as the packaging of the noodles suggested cooking a lasagna 35 minutes. Since I didn’t want the noodles to be undercooked, I opted to extend the cook time to compensate. And you know what? It worked out fine. It tasted amazing and someone at MrZ’s office already asked for the recipe when MrZ shared his lunch yesterday. I think I’ll always use the oven ready noodles simply because it took out a step that was supposed to be done simultaneously as other steps which ALWAYS SCARES ME. Where I multi-task excellently in the rest of my life…in the kitchen? Not so much.

So…I did ALL of that. ON SATURDAY. After only getting 5 hours sleep Friday night. And you know what? I didn’t screw anything up beyond the point of repair! As a matter of fact, the dip was so good I made it again on Sunday and took it to the family dinner. Where it was also devoured. I think this weekend was a huge turning point for me. I spent almost every moment at home cooking. And no one died from a kitchen explosion or from poisoning!


Laughing at Himself

Just wanted to take a second to post this other picture from the birthday dinner last night. He got himself into this walker somehow (none of us saw it because we were in a heated game of Old Maid) and thought it was hysterical when we all noticed and started laughing. He was just kicking his feet and laughing at himself while we all cracked up around him. Another of those moments where I found myself saying, “Okay, kid. You’re forgiven for that time you spread poop all over your crib.