Thursday, October 17, 2013

Clawing My Way Out Of Martha Land

Everywhere I look people are responding to Martha Stewart's comments about bloggers and while I normally wish to stay out of the fray, this time I wanted to add my voice because Martha Stewart has taught me a lot about myself both as a mother and a writer.

You see, my relationship with Martha goes back about 17 years or so, right around when my son was very young. Back in 1995 before the days of Pinterest, Twitter, and bloggers, Martha's glossy perfection wrapped up in the pages of a magazine or on Food Network were the sources of all things pretty and wonderful. As a new mom, I scoured the pages for tips on decorating and cooking, hoping to glean some kind of knowledge about how to achieve the perfect Christmas holiday meal or Easter egg hunt for my family.

It's not surprising really, that Martha's show became one of my two year old's favourites. I still remember all these years later how he would sit riveted to the television, watching her make pancakes. At the time, I was using a mix from a box and all I could think was, "Why is she making this so complicated? Who cares if they get a little squished? They are pancakes, it's not like you are serving the Queen." Still, I was sucked in. Somehow, I began to think that pancakes from a box weren't quite good enough, and maybe I needed to up my Mom game a little.

Time went by, and I fell further into the grip of what I now call Martha-Land. I wanted every holiday, every moment, to be as glossy and perfect as those magazines. Nevermind that we had a business of our own, teenage foster children, and I held down a job working with special needs kids, which made finding the time to devote to creating elaborate dinners or celebrations at home difficult.  Birthday parties became huge ordeals planned months in advance, with me hand cutting hundreds of  intricate paper snowflakes to hang from the ceiling or dying paper and designing pirate treasure maps as invitations. Christmas meant I would be hand crafting gifts for almost everyone we knew and staying up into the wee hours of the morning, putting the finishing touches on hand painted ornaments, cross stitched knick nacks, or delicately created cards.

Things came to a head one Christmas with of all things, a gingerbread house. I had gotten in my head that to be a good Mom and citizen of Martha-land, I had to provide my child with the experience of gluing bits of candy onto a gingerbread house made from scratch, with sticky sweet icing. The glossy photos dictated it. Besides, Martha (or was it a guest on her show?) made it look easy.

The result was me getting so frustrated I literally screamed and  threw that gingerbread house completely across my kitchen, smashing it to bits on the wall. Kevin cried. I cried harder-and the next day, feeling like a complete outcast of Martha-land,  I bought a pre-fab gingerbread house kit at the grocery store.

From that moment on, I resented Martha and everything about her 'perfect' world; the stylists, editors, chefs, photographers, and their glossy perfection. I felt that it was something completely unattainable and unrealistic, so instead I began enshewing Martha's work for other publications that were a little less intimidating. Old habits die hard and it took many years, but thankfully no more airborne gingerbread, for me to finally claw my way out of Martha-land. Celebrations became more of what we loved, and less work. We ditched the time consuming, and did things that brought us together instead-and in that time, I began to blog. In the past five years I've worked with brands and publications, and I believe that now I finally get it.

Martha's brand is perfection. It's what we expect from her, and she delivers in every way. We all know who she is, but it's pretty clear from an interview that Martha still is unsure about all of us.

 "Who are these bloggers?" she asked

Well Martha, let me tell you.

I'm a 42 year old Mom to a teenager. My brand isn't perfection. In fact, I don't even think of my blog, or myself, as a brand. I've been writing since I was 7, and it's something that feeds my very soul. I love to cook and have been in the kitchen creating things as long as I remember.

I have baked cookies at least once a week for the past twenty years-if you do the math, that means I've baked cookies at least 1040 times. I wonder if that makes me an expert?

No, my blog isn't perfect. There's messed up links and typos, some of the photos are bad and I'm sure you'd cringe at a few of the recipes. I likely don't test them as much as you do in your kitchens-but since we're sharing, I find that your recipes often don't have very clear instructions, and as a result I rarely ever use them. I made this one the other day and it neglected to mention that the egg will slide right out of the crepe if you aren't careful, so you have to tuck it into the side of the rimmed baking sheet in order for the recipe to work. This is frustrating, and I hate the guess work.

What will you find in my blog? Food that my family has actually sat at a table and eaten, or the result of time spent with my kid in the kitchen. I don't have the budget that you do to employ food stylists, tech people, chefs, and more to run my site; I do it ALL completely by myself while holding down two jobs and being a parent. Many nights I'm up until the wee hours tweaking photos, and sometimes when life is busy it has to go quiet for a bit. My priority isn't perfection, it's weaving our stories in a way that people can relate to around the busy bits of life.

The very last thing I want is people feeling that what I do is not attainable, and click through a gorgeous site that they only look at, but don't feel they can engage in.  Having a family and cooking is messy and sometimes frustrating, but it's so worth it to have your family around the table with something you made yourself. So what if they pancakes are squished? If they taste good and are good for us, that is enough for me.

To you, my blog may be something that isn't up to your standards, and that's okay. I don't blog for you. I blog for me, and I no longer seek perfection like in your magazines. Before you dismiss us as not worth your time, I'd like to show you a recipe that I created one summer day in my kitchen back in June 2008 around when you started following me on twitter.   That hot summer day, I changed a rice krispie recipe around and came up with something chocolatey and decadent, which I declared absolutely amazing on Twitter. 

And then in October 2008 I saw something eerily similar in Every Day food.

Now of course, there's no patent on rice krispie squares, and anyone could've thought to add cocoa. I'm just a blogger, and not a trained chef. I tested that recipe exactly once. It's not rocket science.

The best things usually aren't.
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