If you saw a woman touring a homeless tent city wearing a newborn wrapped snuggly to her chest and being followed by her four other children as she jots down notes in a notebook, most people don't automatically think 'journalist.'
At least that's been my experience.
I was interviewing the residents of "Nickelsville" (the name of the tent city that was being evicted by the City of Seattle) and the people I was interviewing were momentarily puzzled when they realized I was not a homeless woman with her children seeking refuge, but writing a column about the all too common problem of homelessness in America.
The homeless folks were perfectly fine either way...my kids weren't.
"They think WE'RE homeless?" my eldest daughter asked, as if that were the most shocking thing.
"Yes." I said.
Instead of being miffed that anyone would think I "looked" homeless, it proved a valuable lesson to the kids: homeless people look "normal" and many of them are kids.
And later upon reflection, it deepened a honed personal resolve: I don't care what people think I should be doing as a mother with five kids. I'm doing what I want.
Today, I write about "Cookin' and Trippin' across the Pacific Northwest" with my five kids (ages 14 to 11 months) and host a cooking series at our rustic log cabin lake house we call "Camp Ossorio."
But it wasn't always the case.
The truth is I have always loved meeting unexpected people and places. Maybe it's because I feel like I'm unexpected.
Yes, I'm a mom with five kids.
But I'm also a journalist, host, culinary creative cook, and inquisitive. I like meeting new people and hearing their stories and sharing them with my kids and the community.
The fact that I have kids (from the first child to the fifth doesn't change that).
And yet, I have often felt the world views stay-at-home moms, particularly those with a bunch of kids, as they did children "back in the day": seen but not heard.
My desire to connect and learn about different people and places only intensified the more children I had. I wanted to create new and different experiences for my kids and myself.
Not because I was interested in making their future college applications look better or to increase their standardized test scores--to have fun and make us ALL better people.
But I had to take myself out of the "stay-at-home mom" closet. And that required getting out of my comfort zone.
I had to literally create an alternate identity, Pippimamma, after Pippi Longstocking my childhood hero.
I became a stay at home mom in 2000. As a new mom I began my journey with both a stocked refrigerator, (I loved eating good food) and shelves filled with parenting how-to books (I had a wacky childhood and wanted to overcompensate by molding myself into the "perfect" mom).
When my first child was old enough to eat solid food one of the first things that contradicted my "perfect mom" vision quest: I didn't know how to cook.
The only thing I felt confident making was a pancake. Lord knows I had made enough of them as a kid.
My mom was a single parent and times were "welfare tough." But no matter how bare the cupboards were I could always rely on a box of pancake mix, the kind with the little purple blueberries that only called for water and a half full bottle of off-brand syrup.
Sentimental fool that I am I made sure that the first pancake I cooked my little girl was from the same blueberry pancake brand name box.
I was expecting the warm rush of nostalgia filled with the joy I was feeling of motherhood. I realized, "Yuck!" the reconstituted blueberries disintegrated into my mouth like chalk."
The memories that I had as a child didn't jibe with this flat, anemic orb of soulless processed flour mixture. It was ironic/fortuitous that about the same time I admitted to myself that I loved being a mom but felt like I wasn't happy with those "canned" parenting experiences.
The same neighborhood park, city zoo, children's museum where we would all hover around our children and even worse, the same mommy judgments--it began to feel like every day was a play on Bill Murray's Groundhog Day movie.
Every day I felt conflicted: I loved my kids and felt fortunate to be able to stay at home, but I felt my identity slipping away.
What was I supposed to do differently? I didn't have a clue. How could I be both a great mom and a happy woman desperate to use her brain?
I began isolating myself. Falling more and more into that "perfect mom" mommy trap I had set for myself. When inside I felt more like the misunderstood girl in The Breakfast Club: walled up and aloof but desperate to be a part of something "bigger."
So I went back to my childhood hero, Pippi Longstocking, who had given me courage as a young girl.
And I remembered that yah we were poor but we also had a lot of fun and a lot of freedom. My mom never let people underestimate her: she followed her own path, which included joining a holistic vegetarian commune when I was a kid.
At the commune I discovered there was no such thing as convenience foods or television. And if we didn't leave in the morning we'd be stuck spending the day helping to cook in the communal kitchen learning about herbs and vegetables grown in the community garden.
For breakfast every day we juiced wheat grass infused with golden bits of bee pollen.
But the saving Grace at the commune were the daily morning honey buckwheat pancakes served in the dining hall every morning.
They tasted amazing.
My sister and I drenched them in pure Vermont maple syrup. After we had our fill we nabbed handfuls of the pancakes and took flight into the California sunshine to escape chores for an all-day romp.
We trolled the Santa Barbara beaches and laid back vibe of Piccadilly Square and farmers' markets where we "road the rails" (city buses) exploring all different sorts of adventure as free rangers trolling for coins to buy an ice cream cone while fantasizing about the delicious fried street food that filled the air...deep fried Fish and Chips wrapped in the Santa Barbara Tribune, tacos drenched in mango salsa and apple smoked bacon and avocado burgers.
That summer my sister and I were grateful for the buckwheat pancakes that fueled our daily adventures on and off the beaten path, such as learning to meditate and milk goats from a Yogi near Ronald Reagan's famed Rancho del Cielo ranch atop the Santa Ynez mountain range
I left the commune long ago, but I've always retained a bit of that hippie sensibility...bee pollen is actually really good for you!
And an appreciation for the freedom I had as a child with those honey buckwheat pancakes were a huge part of that.
Those memories inspired me to take action. I wanted to craft my own experience.
I threw away the pancake mix AND all the parenting books and started from scratch. I wanted to merge my passions: motherhood, writing and cooking. A blend of old school, (all the positive experiences from my Livin' La Vida Loca childhood) and my new school of thought...trusting my instincts, following my heart and learning to cook.
I've come a long way since those box pancakes. Today, I've made five kids and cooked a billion pancakes, give or take. Both sweet, savory and even wrapped them up for on the go.
But I do have a favorite. For me there is no more soulful and satisfying dish for me to make my family than my Pippimamma Bee Pollen Honey Hotcakes with a triple berry compote.
My recipe is a blend of ingredients from my childhood and from the adventures I've experienced with my kids across the Pacific Northwest.
The raw honey I add to my honey hotcakes comes from Brian, my "honey hookup."
I interviewed Brian last year for a piece about bees where the kids donned the white suits and hard hats and learned about the queen, worker bees and the Colony Collapse Disorder that's effecting bees and us humans.
Like The Dude, Brian abides...Once a month I pull my minivan into Brian's driveway and keep the motor running, he runs out with an armload Mason jars filled with the delectably sweet stuff (I'm talking about honey) at five bucks a jar--sometimes, we trade for homemade jam--one of my specialties.
Recently, a young mother just starting out as a writer came up to me at a conference.
"I want to talk to you!" she said. "I want to do what you're doing! How do I do it?"
Rome wasn't built in a day and neither was Pippimamma.
It has required a lot of "skin in the game" and I've had my fair share of scraped knees: "People aren't going to take you seriously if you drag a bunch of kids around!" and "People aren't going to watch you on TV if you look just like a regular mom."
When you're doing your own thing naysayers are as common as background noise.
But I didn't tell her any of that. In my experience, being a mom and a writer naturally has a way of toughening you up.
Instead I asked her, "How do you feel about pancakes?"