Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mother-naked goes to #lovelydinners

Two food, one fashion, one photography, one mixology and one lifestyle. All bloggers. And me, the mom blogger. One of these things is not like the other (or are we?).  Ragan Brooks ( and Molly Schoneveld ( invited me to their Lovely Dinner, a gathering of bloggers, to enjoy food, great company and talk blogs. I’m pretty sure my shirt had a hole in it, because I haven’t bought nice clothes for myself in a while. My photos on my blog are fuzzy and blurred because my kids won’t sit still. And these ladies’ blogs are absolutely full of beauty! How do I fit in?? But I’m getting ahead of myself.

And as much as I just painted myself as the odd one out, I wasn’t at all. Over amazing cocktails by Jordan and Jocelyn (, we talked about the most rewarding things about having a blog and the biggest challenges. It was interesting to see how similar our insecurities were.

I left my belly full of amazing food and drink and inspiration brimming over. I vow to dress better now that I obsessively read Veronica's blog ( I love photography, I want more of it in my blog. And the food…. Can I eat like that every day? Thank you Ragan! What an awesome group of women. Their blogs are full of beauty, but so is mine. I know I can string words together pretty damn well. 

Photography by Christine Chang

                                                              decor by Molly Schoneveld

                                                              Me (and my hole in my shirt) 
We all left with some yummy granola made by Pamela Salzman! Perfect for breakfast.

I made dessert!
                             Balsamic Black Pepper Strawberry Shortcakes

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
5 tbsp sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking power
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 cup chilled heavy whipping crew
1 large egg, beaten 
Balsamic strawberries (recipe below)
whipped cream: 1 cup of heavy whipping creamed beaten until stiff peaks with 2 tbsp of sugar

Position rack in center of the oven and preheat to 425
line baking sheet with parchment paper

place flour, 4 tbsp of sugar, baking powder and salt in food processor. Using turns, pulse to blend

Add butter and pulse until butter resembles large peas, about 5 1-second intervals. Add cream and pulse another five 1-second intervals until moist clumps form. The dough will not completely stick together.

Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface. Gather dough into a ball. Do not overwork it. Using as few strokes at possible ,roll ito a  8 X 4 inch rectangle about 1 1/4 inch thick. Cut length wise in half the crosswise into four equal strips. forming 8 square/rectangle biscuits. Transfer biscuits to prepared baking sheet and chill for 20 minutes.

Brush top of biscuits with egg glaze and sprinkle with remaining tablespoon of sugar. Bake until biscuits are golden brown and tester comes out clean, about 15 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool.

Serve with strawberries and whipped cream!

Balsamic strawberries
2 pounds of fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered.
5 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 large pinch of fresh ground black pepper

Mix strawberries, sugar, balsamic vinegar and black pepper in a medium blow. Let macerate for 30 minutes and stir occasionally.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Sometimes the answer is easy

Sometimes the answer is easy.

Why did it ever seem hard?

Love Monster called me into her room tonight. Smirker was asleep. This scenario rarely happens. Smirker is usually the one up long after Love Monster is snoring. Fighting sleep. Using every last excuse to avoid dreamland, but not tonight.


I barely heard it over the TV. I wasn’t a scream like the usual tattle-tale tone or demand for water. It was listless and half asleep. I walk into the room, not even sure I really heard anything.

“Mama, you’re here,” Love Monster says.

My hyper, fast talking Love Monster was hibernating. A calm half-asleep girl is here. I walk in and I see it as plain as her my little pony PJ’s. She wore her vulnerability like a ball gown.

“Mama, I miss you so much. I hate that I always miss you.”

This was the end of a very tough week for all of us. Work was crazy. Things were tense and off all over the place in my life it seemed. And every morning at school Love Monster cried her eyes out when I left. It’s over a month into second grade and it suddenly felt like the first week of kindergarten all over again. She would crumble into a sad mess and I had to walk away. It sucked. Bad. But I would pick her up after school and she was back to her hyper, happy self. The other day I dropped her off at her dad’s and she wouldn’t let me leave. She paced the driveway like a caged animal screaming not to leave, that she missed me. I sat and held her on the front steps for a while. Rocked her. While she said over and over that she hated she wasn’t with me all the time. I sighed. Divorce. This is one of the damages that comes with it.

I asked her about all this stuff later after she calmed, after I had to walk away.

“I hope you didn’t stay sad long. Why were you sad babe?”

 She brushed it off. “Nope didn’t stay sad long! Oh mom! Did you know we’re going to see Wizard of Oz….”

And she was off. That subject was closed.

But now, in the dark of night, she is talking to me. And boy, am I listening.

“What is it babe? Why are you sad? I’m here.”

“I just miss you.”

“I know honey.” This isn’t just about right now.

“I miss you. I need you,” she says.

“I’m here, babe. I love you. I miss you too when I’m at work. When you’re at papas.”

“I just feel like I don’t spend enough TIME with you. I need you.”

And there it is. The tears are flowing for both of us now.

It wasn’t until my friend pointed it out to me that I realized what this was. I remember feeling this way when I was young. Feeling like I lost myself. Feeling my autonomy really for the first time. That I am not just a part of my parents. That you are your own person. It’s scary.

She pulled me down to her chest, holding me so close as if she was trying to make us one. “Just stay with me a couple minutes. I miss you so much when I’m at papa’s. I miss you so much when you are working. I miss you so much….”

She trailed off. I didn’t know if I wanted her to finish that sentence. She didn’t. But…

 She misses me even when I’m here.

 “I’m here. I’m always here.” And I stayed and snuggled. “I love spending with you. You’re fun and smart. Funny. You’re wonderful honey. Everything about you.”

Her love language was clear. It always had been. Spending time with her was EVERYTHING. It didn’t matter how much I said, “I love you.” I had to be there. She is constantly saying, Play with me, come here mom, look at this, watch this with me.

There is this obvious fragility, vulnerability I see in Love Monster. I don’t think it’s obvious to most. I don’t think. She’s tall, athletic, boisterous, loud, outgoing in everyway. A little tornado of awesome. But there’s a facet that shines like a beacon. Something that came straight from me. “Take care with me.” It says. “Don’t be fooled by my confidence.”

At school I see that confident girl run up to a classmate, “Hi!!!!!” And I’ve seen them brush her off. It sucks. Hard. I want to grab that kid and say, “Hey! Love Monster is so much damn fun! She will enrich your life kid!!!” But I don’t. And I see her move past it like it’s nothing. And then I realize I am that damn kid.

“Mom! I have to show you this!”

“In a second, I have to do this one thing….”

Busy is bullshit. I mean it’s not. There is real stuff we have to get done. We have to go to work. We have commitments. And it is important we parents do things for ourselves. Follow dreams. Follow through. Attack life. That is a good example.

But sometimes…. Sometimes it’s important to take time to sit with them while, a long while, they will show you how they made a funland in Minecraft and they have a Minecraft chicken named Jeffery who just had babies names Lucien and Constan, make cupcakes, be silly, tell stories, blow bubbles…. Sometimes I feel like I fail them.

I am here. I am. I think about you constantly.

                                      (Photo courtesy of Smirker who loves to take my phone.)

This missing you streak isn’t just with Love Monster, lately when they are at their dad’s I miss them achingly. Sometimes I pretend we are telepath’s and I have conversation with them in my head around bedtime. Did you have a good day, sweets? Yes, mama! Goodnight my love…. And tonight? Tonight the girls called me to say good night from his house. Well that…. That make my freakin’ year.

This is the time. They are little sponges who actually want to spend time with their folks. That window is pretty damn small I think.

I was driving home from work the other day, editing this blog post in my head, when The Who’s The Kids are Alright came on the radio. I love this song. And I started crying. It’s not really a cry worthy song, but the lyrics took on a new meaning at that moment.

“The kids are alriiiiiiiiiight, the kids are alriiiiiiiiight….”

And they are. They are smart little things. They tell you what they need. Pay attention. Daughters need their mothers in a way that’s hard to describe. Be there.

Sometimes the answer is easy. Pick her. Pick them. They are the most important things. Always.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Hold Me

It started a few weeks ago. No real trigger. Out of the blue. But it was obvious and unignorable. The girl’s clingy factor undoubtedly increased. Hold me. Lay with me. Cuddle with me. They would press up against me, standing or sitting. Unabashed full body draping while I lay on the couch. Carrying them from room to room. Clinging to my leg while I do laundry. At dinner having to be right next to me and getting upset that there is a three-inch table leg between us. They just want some sort of contact. They burrow in so close, readjusting so many times just to get…. closer. It seemed a little odd, but lovely. And, I hate to admit it, inconvenient at times. It’s hard to safely strain pasta when a four year old is gripped to my chest like a little baby monkey. Being the Virgo I am, I analyzed this cuddle amplification with a pie chart.

I came to the conclusion that it was just a kid thing. Kids are wonderful at just asking for what they want. So this outpouring of cuddles was just that. It wasn’t a big deal.

Until today.

Today all the stresses in my life came to a head. Nothing huge just lots of little every day life stuff. But I lost it.

And then that little voice in my head said, “See? Kids are magic.”

Because it was like these little ones of mine had been filling up my love well. Banking it up. Like they knew I would need it. Now I’m sure they didn’t consciously know. But I was grateful. I was fall-to-the-floor grateful. I gave them even more cuddles then they asked for today. It got me thinking about that thing above I thought “wasn’t a big deal.”

It occurred to me, if my kids want love and affection, they just go for it. No shame. They need it, they go after it. That struck me deep. I admired that. That made me feel so happy, then I felt a small desperation in my heart. There will be a time when they won’t share their love so freely with me I’m sure. So I will take that big pie piece of “hold me” and bank it up. Because I know that pie slice will get smaller. It will. I know it will.

I struggled with feeling accepted and loved growing up. I knew my parents loved me, it was everyone else that was my concern at the time. And to now get an avalanche of love piled on me on a daily basis is just fine with me. These two little beautiful beings love me for everything I am. Wow. That’s pretty damn amazing. I hope they see the good in everyone like they see in me. I will treasure this time with them. These two teach me lessons everyday. We all need to be held. Am I saying you only find acceptance in hugs? No. But it sure doesn’t hurt!

I’m going to kiss them and hug them whenever I want, while I can, before they become teens and motherly affection becomes the Ebola virus. Man, I love this huge affectionate pie slice they are serving up at this point in their lives.

Oh and this isn’t limited to kiddos, if I want a full body contact hug and you’re busy looking over the mail, I might go ahead and hug you. Life is too short.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Mother-naked Gets Married

I woke up wedding day morning with my little space heater, Smirker, pressed up against my back sleeping soundly. She’s slept with me every night at my parent’s house in my childhood room. Too scared to sleep by herself. Love Monster bounded in and ferociously snuggled in. Lying between my second hearts, joy filled my first.

“Is it TODAY??” Love Monster whispered loudly.

Yep it’s today.

Rick asked me to marry him on an average Saturday. The most exciting thing that had happened to me that day was I bought new high-top converse (which is pretty exciting). We saw an afternoon showing of Star Trek: Into Darkness. Went out for some Japanese Hibaci. Fun date night. I should have seen the clues. He was very quiet. Nervous. Then after a little bit of Saporro buzz. He asked. He said he’d ask me a million different times and a million different ways. And he had, but this time he had a ring.

We had both been married before. Our eyes were open. Communication is everything. Love Monster and Smirker were happy. They proclaimed themselves the flower candy girls (because just flowers are BORING) and that was that.

And now the day had come. I’d organized everything as much as possible. There were lists upon lists. Contact sheets. Schedules emailed out. All my stuff to get ready was at my sis in law’s house. We had had a very cool wedding week. Seeing family. Wedding tasks spread over days so they were not overwhelming. I had my first book signing with Grambo’s illustrator!  The Star Trek themed rehearsal dinner. This was shaping up to be the week of my dreams.

I threw on the first pair of wedding shoes of the day and off we go.

First stop the salon where I had gotten my hair done as a kid through high school. Mom and I went in at 7am. The hair dresser I had known since I was a kid greeted us in the empty salon and we listened to some Motown. I opted for an easy peasy blow out. No curls, no big hair. Not my thing. I sipped on tea and checked in on my best friend and her man who flew in the red eye to be there. She made it! I got the instagram proof of her flying in with the Chicago skyline in the background. Yeah! My day would be complete with her there.

Hair done. The girls got adorable waterfall braids. Love Monster was feeling the excitement of the day. She crawled all over me in the salon and I loved it. Smirker was as chill as ever smirking at all the attention that she was getting about how cute she was. And I feel good, calm. I look for the nerves, but they aren’t there. Excitement though is there for sure. I do remember thinking “I’m not really going to feel that different after. Rick and I are already committed to each other.” But we’ll come back to that later….

My brother arrives to play chauffer and  take me to stop number two, he and his wife’s place to get ready. Let’s just put it out there. Liz is the best maid of honor in all the land. Here is why:

·      1. She had snacks ready. I need snacks.
·      2. She gave me the coolest gift. (John Green!)

·     3.  She hung my dress on a hanger that says Mrs. Hoff. Fun. (I really wanted something Pinterest worthy!)

One of my oldest friends came over and did my make up (I can say “old” because she called me out my wrinkles while doing my eyes. :p) She did a beautiful job and only scoffed at my supply of make-up a couple times.

Kevin Von Qualen, my friend and photographer, came over to take come getting ready pics. He had the most amazing vibe. Super calm and cool. The best photog around in my opinion.

The girls came over and got dressed in dresses made by their Gigi. They looked gorgeous in seemingly vintage dresses and accessorized in their candy necklaces.

I put on my dress and chiffon and lace Sarah Seven strapless number. Super romantic, which I love, but I had to edge up with Lincoln Park after dark deep purple (black) nail polish and sparkly platform shoes. These were the original shoes I was going to wear, but after practicing in them for weeks I realized these knock offs were made terribly and there was no way I’d last ten minutes in them. So here they are looking pretty and useless.

My friend Corie gave me a beautiful vintage brooch necklace to wear also. AND I found this amazing 1950’s purse on etsy for 20 bucks. My flower crown was put in my hair. I was successfully transformed into the edgy fairy bride.

We were coifed and ready. Let’s jump in the limo.

The girls reaction to the limo was priceless. They were most impressed that snacks and drinks were available and that there was a TV. (Let’s put on Frozen!)

Our ceremony and reception were at Meson Sabika. One of Rick and I’s first dates was there and they have the most yummy tapas and sangria. We pulled up. I saw through the limo's tinted windows loved ones gathering. We snuck around back and I hid in the hallway. We planned a few moments for a first look (And I secretly thanked God that Rick was in the vicinity and not late. Love you babe!). It was a bit of a relief to see him. Both of us were cool, calm, collected. I think no one would guessed we were getting married (except for the fairly obvious wedding costuming of course). We took some photos in the old mansion that makes up the restaurant then departed ways

“See you at the end of the aisle."

The girls , Liz and I hopped in the limo one last time to take me behind a giant pine tree where I would make my entrance. We arrived to find two of the four ring bearers (don’t ask) not quite so sure about their task…. One of my nephews was taken absolved  of his responsibilities (I know it's hard being 3, Henry! Believe me I get it.) and the other had the very apparent “Eh. Nope.” look on his face and went down the aisle carried by my sis in law. The girls did a beautiful job dropping flower petals marking my path. Sting’s Secret Marriage began playing and dad walked me down the aisle. I was brimming over. Good friends and amazing family surrounded us as I walked into a beautiful garden. The weather was perfect, a little humid, but after a threat of rain all week it’s all good. I took Rick’s hands and all was right with everything. The ceremony was perfect. My cousin wrote a poem that he recited. Here is a snippet:

“I carry a quiver across my back
arrows touched with the aroma of flora
and the quickness of citrus
the plain ringing of an open note.”

I’m not going to put the whole poem here. For some reason its feels too sacred to transcribe here. I think I want to keep it for us and for all who witnessed it. It was perfect and beautiful.

My aunt and uncle sang “All I Ask Of You.” A usual for them. (They performed in Phantom of the Opera for years in the touring company.) It brought me to tears.

Speaking of tears. I saw Rick tear up three times. He said he wouldn’t cry. Boom!!! Anyway….

“The pastor (the Chaplin from the hospital my mom had worked at) had wise words. He spoke about how marriage is not 50/50. It’s 100%. Of course it is, but wow that really struck me. We spoke traditional vows. I think it was Liz who said earlier that week that she liked that. There was something about millions of people saying the same thing before you. I couldn’t agree more.

Pastor Mark recited to us things we had written to him about what we loved about each other. Rick mentioned how it was really meant a lot him that I knew his dad before he passed away. I spoke about Nerd Love. His was better then mine. Though I did make mention how he is so amazing with my girls. That means everything. We squeezed hands all throughout the ceremony.

Remember when I thought I wouldn’t feel too different after? Well I was wrong. I felt so full of love and everything about our relationship with each other and everyone else was richer. It was different and wonderful. And it’s continued since that day. I know it won’t always be easy, but the love is there. It’s solid. I told him also I think he’s more handsome now that he’s my husband. Marriage goggles. It’s like beer goggles, but better.

The ceremony ended with a sing along to All You Need is Love, LM and Smirker ran up and brought us little stuffed heart presents they got out of a quarter toy machine and  all the guests and Rick and I took a group picture.

Then the reception! Tapas and sangria were plentiful. We cut our Zombie cake. Yep Zombie cake. The reaction was either; COOL! Or yes that is interesting, but hey WE loved it. Zombie Hunters Forever! The girls had a My Little Pony flower girl cake that they cut as well.

Kids got gift bag that were full of sugar. The girls floated around the party, little fairies armed with Polaroid cameras. I still don’t know how they got this picture.

We visited with our guests. Aunts, uncles, friends, grandma. Rick’s mom, who is a wonderful woman. A wonderful wonderful mother in law. Even though she thought she had Dallas hair. She looked gorgeous. LM and Smirker hung on their older cousins that they had just met for the first time like long lost sisters. The youngest in attendance, Esther (Estie for short) was her adorable little two month old self. I couldn’t stop touching her perfect baby feet. What is it with baby feet?? I kept stealing glances with my mom. Yes mom I’m happy. I’m in love. Thank you for loving and worrying about me. I’m okay. I really am. That goes for you too dad (The coolest cat in the room.) And the illustrator of Grambo (My picture book) Betsy was also there and she insisted I open her wedding gift there. Boy am I glad I did!!! How cool is this. Grambo gets married.

Rick’s brother and best man, Rob, gave a speech about second acts (I teared up again.) and my maid of honor gave an equally tear worthy speech and read different pieces of advice from family members.

Smirker ate her cake like a princess (She transformed into ultra girlie girl this week. She insisted on make up for the wedding.) Love Monster was a tornado of fun taking bites of the cake when she had the time.

The guests left with our secret sangria recipe (don’t forget to invite us over!) and hopefully a love buzz.

We took more photos during which time I realized my feel were killing me and I couldn’t wait to take off my shoes.

We left Meson Sabika for a little hotel break before the after party. (We can’t stop now!)

Rick and I drove there in his mom’s car and got many congrats from strangers in the parking lot. Everyone loves a bride and groom. I should wear my dress out to just get glowing looks and free stuff.

I tried to nap in our amazing suite (thanks mom and dad!), but was too excited, too full of adrenaline.

For the after party of wore the dress, my converse and jean jacket. The girls are having a Lego Movie pizza party in my mom and dad’s room with the babysitters and cousins. I know they are having fun and I love this fun adult time, but I miss them. I can’t wait to have a little girlie time.

The after party was a blast at the pub. Slider burger bar, beer and a thunderstorm.

The after after party continued on in the hotel lounge. We were down to our close group of friends. Drinking continued. I demanded drunken marriage advice that I will not share here, but it was goooooood. Finally it came down to Rick and I and our best friends. There was so much love in the room it was palpable. Love them all.

We went to our room to find Champagne and chocolate covered strawberries that we wouldn’t touch. Didn’t need anymore alcohol at that point. I took a 1am bath because the bathtub was too huge not to used. And we feel asleep. Married.

I woke up with the urge to write. And with no hangover which was shocking. Cold water was left in the bathtub. My flower crown was draped on the unused champagne bottle.  

I wrote notes upon notes on the hotel notepads. Details about the day so I wouldn’t forget. I realized I left my bouquet in the lounge, but luckily they had put it in water behind the bar. I let my husband sleep and went to my parent’s room. I needed some snuggles from my girls. They were tired from staying up late, but smiling with their eyes closed like little loons.

The weekend was perfect. And I know it doesn’t end here. The work will continue to make this marriage great. I will give 100%.

My parent’s were generous enough to get a hotel room that night downtown Chicago. The James Hotel was awesome. Rick had to borrow my socks because he forgot his (This is marriage. I give 100%!). We ate the most luxurious dinner at Lawry’s.  Totally old school Chicago. Served prime rib cut at the table. Our server Ms. Raskin had worked there for 30 years and sang to us because we had just gotten married. She made us promise we’d come back on anniversaries.

Rick and I started punching rings and saying Wonder Twin powers unite. We’re dorks.

So that's the story. I did mainly write it for myself. To remember. Writing solidifies things for me. I hope it brought you some smiles.

Love. Double love.