Valentine’s Day – Friend or Foe?

j0382966 There’s just so much going on around Valentine’s Day that is happy and joyous and really over-the-top, almost (no, actually downright) annoying that I just have to say something.  Call me the Ebenezer Scrooge of Valentine’s Day.  Do it!  Maybe I’ll be visited by the ghosts of Valentine’s past, present and future and wake with a changed outlook.  It simply can’t hurt.

Clearly, if you haven’t figured it out, there is one holiday that disturbs me and it is Valentine’s Day. Or, maybe it is just that I’ve been all out sick from some death-seeking stomach virus this week and my outlook on everything right now is slightly disturbed. Whatever the case might be, I’m currently annoyed by all the happy clappy surrounding Valentine’s Day. 

Valentine’s Significance?

The significance of Valentines Day as a holiday eludes me.  I’ve just never gotten the real significance of days like this.  Random days, seemingly stuck on a calendar with no real historical or religious significance…at least, not that one could detect without doing a Google search. It really seems like a big ploy to make men feel guilty so women can get presents.  Men do this so they can get or keep something else.  At best they do it to stay out of the doghouse.  I hate being manipulated and I feel like Valentine’s is one great big marketing manipulation.  I dislike this aspect of Valentine’s Day. 

Relationship Pressure?

Because such a big deal is made of the day, it is difficult to ignore it. I’d like to.  I can’t.  Just on Facebook alone,  I see apps for my phone just in time for Valentine’s Day, invites to romantic dinner events (for two, for a lot of money usually), singles get together events promoting the promise of “finding a date in time for Valentine’s Day” and status message updates encouraging you to update your profile image with a picture of you and your partner and tell how long you’ve been together. 

Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate love. Not a bad idea, but every day should be a day to celebrate love.  Further, this day, in my opinion, more than any of the holidays (except maybe Christmas or Thanksgiving), serves to point out the haves and the have nots.  Those who have a lover, a partner, a spouse and those, who even if it is by choice, do not.  Somehow, that’s just never felt good to me, even when I was in a relationship. men-in-doghouses-425tp120209 My experience has been mostly that the holiday was celebrated because the guy felt obligated to do something so he could avoid the relational doghouse rather than because he really wanted to.  Not a good time for anyone, especially me, because I really work hard not to put relational pressure on the people I care about. 

A Fun Day

But, in spite of my Scroogist tendencies, Valentine’s can be a very fun and (dare I say it?) meaningful day as well. 

Have you ever given one of those prepackaged Valentine’s Day cards to your teenager, just for fun with a Charms Blow Pop or a bag of Skittles attached? 

Have you ever been the focus of someone’s thought and attention so much so that the person booked you for Valentine’s Day weeks in advance before you were even really thinking of the two of you as a couple? 

Have you ever passed up a date on Valentine’s Day, to go out to dinner with another very good dear single friend you hadn’t seen in a while?

Ever been in a classroom of elementary school children on Valentine’s Day?  Ever seen the sparkle in the eyes as the children (yes, even the boys) open up a card that says something silly but affirming on it?   Have you ever been the recipient of those Valentines, written in a childish scrawl, unashamedly declaring love for a teacher, a mom, a dad, a best friend? 

Young children don’t care about how their affections will be received.  It never occurs to them that their love won’t be valued and received.  They just love and they just show it.  Simply.  Matter of factly.  Joyously.  Without reservation.

Another Day To Say, “I Love You”

IMG_7867Valentine’s Day, definitely annoys me on some levels.  I don’t like the pressure that seems to be implied in the day.  I definitely hate the marketing craze surrounding it.  I don’t like the way it separates and divides the loved from the unloved, so to speak.

On the other hand, it isn’t just about the hearts and candy and flowers, either, or the presence or absence of a romantic interest in one’s life.  I get that.

I have given the tacky Valentines to my teenage children and gotten hugs and praise in response.  I have passed up dates to go out with a single friend instead and had the best time of my life with some of the warmest memories attached. I’ve had someone want to be with me so much that he made sure I was free weeks in advance for that special day.  I have for the last 15 years watched elementary children open valentines, squeal and blush and give their teacher love notes and I’ve cherished every moment. 

Maybe that’s the part of Valentine’s Day that I need to focus more on.  Because, in spite of all the bad press or potential discomfort that a day like Valentine’s can create, it is still just another day.  Another day of life. Another day to love.  Another day to say so.  Another day to make a special moment for a special someone or maybe a few special young someones, somewhere.  A rose by any other name, right?

So, what do you think of Valentine’s Day?  Is it friend or foe?  What makes it so for you?

Roasting Chestnuts, Ringing Bells, Jumping Santa Merrily On High and Other Songs of the Season

j0431277 Have you ever stopped to consider the lyrics of many of the songs we sing during this time of year?  I’m talking about the songs that are usually passed off as innocent children’s songs of Santa, elves, presents under the tree and reindeer on rooftops.  If you’ve read my posts on Handy Men and Their Tools, Hoses and Pumps, Fire Trucks, or Wood Deliveries then you might already suspect the direction I am heading with this.   Now that it is Christmas, and because I had a special request to get away from the depressing divorce stuff and do something much more fun and tawdry, let’s take a look at some of those holiday songs Wild Mind style.

To start things off, I suggest that the song, Up On The Housetop, by B.R. Hanby, is not as naively innocent as it appears.  Let’s take a look:

Up on the housetop reindeer pause (okay, this is starting to sound weird already.  I mean there is the couch, the kitchen, the hot tub and the bedroom, but the rooftop? With reindeer?)

j0440939 Out jumps good old Santa Claus (Jumping

Santa? Sounds like a title from the movie section of the adult store)

Down thru the chimney with lots of toys

(What? Toys from the adult store? Not in my chimney!)

All for the little ones, Christmas joys (See! Size does NOT matter.)

Ho, ho, ho! (Wait!  Who you callin’ a ho?)

Who wouldn’t go? (Where?  To the adult store? I wouldn’t but that’s just me.  After all, I thought Santa made home delivery. Isn’t that what this whole reindeer and sleigh thing is about anyway? No, I said reindeer and sleigh, not reindeer and swing…but…wait…now that you mention it…)

Up on the housetop, click, click, click (very delicately stated but sleighs and reindeer don’t click, they creak, they snort, they groan, they…well, never mind, what do I know anyway? I’m not into sleighs and swings, housetops and deer, not much anyway.)

j0399597Down thru the chimney with good Saint Nick (oh, he’s good alright! But, again, what do I know, right?)

I could go on and on with this song alone.  It talks about filling stockings, begging Santa to “fill it well” and even later on talks about whips.  It isn’t as innocent a song as one might think. It isn’t the only song of this ilk either. Let’s take a look at some other holiday titles just for fun. 

We’ve all heard of the popular favorite, Jingle Balls Bells which accurately depicts the state of affairs (pun intended) after the Chestnuts Have Been Roasting on The Open Fire. Hmmm, nice and tender!

Then, of course, those who are single at Christmas might experience Silver Bells or have a Blue Christmas unless they can figure out a way to Ding Dong Merrily on High (which by the way is a pretty song, but the name?  Are you kidding me?) or Rock Around The Christmas Tree with a Boogie Woogie Santa Claus of their own. In that case, someone’s Bells Will Be Ringing.  Of course, for those who are desperate for some winter companionship there is always Dominick the Donkey (does it help that he’s Italian?), The Little Drummer Boy, Good King Wenceslas, Frosty the Snowman (though I hear he’s a bit frigid), and Jolly Old St. Nick (just be sure to stock up on  the Viagra, just in case).j0422501 No one should be lonely with companions like these readily available and willing to spread a little Christmas cheer.  I would advise you to stay away from Little St. Nick, after, all how much fun is that? Of course, if you are into large group events, then the Parade of The Wooden Soldiers might be more to your liking. 

Now, for all my guy friends out there who are seeking female companionship because Baby It’s Cold Outside, I encourage you to consider Jeannette Isabella.  I hear she brings a torch with her when she comes. That might make for some Glad Christmas Bells! I also understand that The Sugarplum Fairies put on a good show.  I think for the right price, they might even dance.  And, men, if you are decent to your date and don’t expect her to go Over the River and Through the Woods, then you might end up being one of the lucky ones Driving Home for Christmas.

j0422588So, for all out there, however you choose to celebrate, I do hope you hear the Bells of Christmas All Through The Night.  After all, everyone needs their own Hard Rock Candy Christmas.  And, in all your festivities, whether on couch, in front of the fire, or on the rooftop with Santa in his sleigh, have a Wonderful Christmas Time and Don’t Forget To Feed The Reindeer!

P.S.  If you do try the rooftop, sleigh and reindeer thing, let me know how it goes.  I have serious questions about how that’s going to look when you have to explain to the insurance guy how the holes got in the roof and I’m dying to know how you managed to balance the sleigh.  I’ve had trouble with those parts myself.

 

Early Morning Coffee

Beautiful Woman Enjoys Coffee This is a special time of year in spite of all its hectic pace, congested traffic, brawls over parking spaces, and time spent waiting in line to have gift wrapping done so you can support your child’s extracurricular organization. In spite of the added awkwardness and possibly uncomfortable and painful moments that arise when children spend their lives in two homes instead of one, this time of year is still something to be relished, cherished, savored, experienced. 

At this time of year, just like every other season throughout the year, I begin my day with my early morning coffee.  In fact, especially at this time of year it is a creature comfort of mine to wake early without the aid of alarm clock, while the house is still dark, pad barefooted out to the living room and turn on the Christmas lights.  All of them.  The lights on the tree, the lights under the tree, the lights on on the speaker, the lights above the piano, the lights on the bookcase and on the sofa table (which is not behind the sofa).

After turning on the lights, I stumble through the kitchen to the garage to let the dog out to the back yard; to her side of the back yard so she can do her morning business.  It is then that I get down to the important business of brewing my morning coffee.  While waiting for the coffee to brew (a task that seemingly takes forever), I start the fire.

There is nothing more wonderful, more peaceful and more serene than sitting on my couch looking at the serene glow of a festively decorated Christmas tree, coffee mug in hand, while the fire crackles and snaps warmly, reassuringly, comfortingly in the fireplace.  Surely, come what may, everything will be okay.

j0430486 In these early morning weekend hours, I build kingdoms, establish a million possible futures, rewrite my past mistakes while retaining all the lessons learned and never, ever do I write the kids out of the picture.  In these early morning hours, I consider how things were just two short years ago when I had to go begging food at the local church food pantries in order to keep food in my progeny’s bellies while paying off, what seemed an overwhelming and insurmountable mountain of debt; most of which wasn’t even mine. In these early morning hours, I reflect on how slowly but surely things have improved.  I appreciate the strength I’ve mustered from somewhere deep within to prune back all to the bare bones, to re-evaluate my life and adapt, adjust, reinvent when needed but mostly to just keep putting one foot in front of the other, one burned meal on the table after another and to simply show up and be counted in the world one more time for one more day, often, when I wished I didn’t have to.

I know I am not alone.  Not in my enjoyment of early morning coffee; not in my surviving divorce and the crushing financial realities that often follow. 

And, so, you see…the moments of this season that are lit with the shining light of gratitude, appreciation and mostly hope are to be treasured above all and enjoyed in quietness and solitude with an early morning cup of the dark, liquid brew we all know as coffee. 

j0441005 Plenty of time for the traffic jams, the long lines, the noise and the piped in holiday music that triggers my gag reflexes better than sticking my finger down my throat.  For now, it is me time.  It is the height of the holiday season here in my quiet little living room, fire warming the house, tree aglow and coffee warmth in my hands and on my tongue.  I’m thinking how bad it was and how far I’ve come. 

I’ve survived.  Till the next big thing anyway, but I’ve survived thus far.  If I can, you can too.  Just keep getting up every morning.  Just keep going to work.  Just keep doing the daily stuff.  Pretty soon it stacks up and things do get better.  They always change.  Misery and pain are never permanent.

Even though I can’t afford even the best deal on a new HDTV or the latest in iPhone technology, even if I can’t afford the latest killer deal on the surround sound theatre system or the family package trip to Mexico for the holidays, even if I’m going to have to continue watching every expenditure like the proverbial hawk for a few more years…I am grateful. 

And in spite of my inability to enter into the spending fray of the season with abandon, I’m still celebrating.  I’m still joyous and maybe even more so because I can’t “spend” on material things.  This situation I’ve found myself in has, as my mother would have once informed me, been a “blessing in disguise”.  I’ve learned to be so much more appreciative of what I have.  I value the little things so much more. 

The little things.  Like a red ornament hanging on a fake tree that was purchased without using a credit card or overdrawing the bank account. The little things like two siblings who usually tear each other down in sibling squabbles playing a board game together with me for hours without one demeaning comment. 

The little things, like a warm cup of coffee on a cold wintery morning with a warm fire blazing.  Coffee, mug and firewood all paid for. Little things.

The joy in my life and the contentment in my heart and my hopeful outlook about the future…not such little things. 

******

j0406570 Coffee Drinker’s Prayer?

Caffeine is my comfort; I shall not doze.
It maketh me to wake on early mornings:
It leadeth me beyond to get up and go to work.
It restoreth my energy:
It leadeth me in the paths of consciousness for its name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of the weary, overworked and under rested,
I will fear no Equal™ or other sugar substitute:
For thou art with me; thy creamer and thy stir stick, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a 20 oz. venti with an extra shot before me in the presence of  Starbucks:
Thou anointest my day with clarity, at least more than I would have had without you; my mug runneth over.
Surely aroma, flavor and warmth shall follow me all the days of my life:
And I will dwell in the Mocha Mansion forever.

What Color Ornaments Do You Have Hanging On Your Tree?

Christmas ornaments Now, before you go getting your diaper in a knot because you suspect I’ve breached an impropriety by asking a question that is far too personal, just hold on.  It is, after all, Christmas and the season for festive decor.  By festive decor I do mean festive and, well, just look about.  It is everywhere.  The decor at this time of the year is bright, colorful and nearly overwhelming.  I have to admit, some of the decor is even nauseating.

In my younger years, I was totally into the decorator trees. You know, pick a color theme and go with it.  My ex, however, simply could not see his tree decorated in such a manner.  He was into the multi-colored decor.  You know what I’m talking about.  All the different colored lights, tinsel and balls ornaments strung willy nilly on the tree.  The tree ends up looking like someone puked candy on it.

I always had a hard time putting more than three colors on my tree.  Actually, two colors was pushing the limit.  I’m a bit of a monochromatic scheme girl myself since the tree itself lends so much strength, vigor and color to the entire situation in its natural state.  Why hide a good thing with grotesque coloration?  Would you tattoo your tree? No?  Too many varied colors on the tree makes me wonder if the tree is sick or dying or something dire. It certainly makes me feel a bit queasy looking at something like that. A tree with too much ornamentation or the wrong color ornamentation is just wrong.  The tree ends up seeming dwarfed by the decor; diminished behind the ornaments.

427730_31826638 Another problem with tree decorating can be found with the choice of the ornaments.  Color is so critical, don’t you think?  I mean, gold balls ornaments are nice.  They indicate a sense of peace and rest.  They represent prosperity and wealth.  They embrace a position of satisfaction and contentment.

Silver ornaments on the other hand are hard, cold, unfeeling and unyielding.  Brrrrrr! Want that hanging on your tree?  What on earth do silver things do but reflect a coldness to the brightly wrapped boxes under the tree.  Might as well have a white and frozen tree.  Not much fun there.  Cold, icy, painfully un-giving. 

Green ornaments?  Eww! Moldy. Decaying unused, sick.  Good if they turn a different color with some tender polishing and loving care, but if they are permanently green?  Something seriously must have died on that tree. Or maybe the ornaments are just discolored permanently669015_26888462 due to negligence or lack of use. 

Purple or pink ornaments?  Give me a break! Or….give them a break!    

Red ornaments?  Hmmm, now we’re talking a color that ignites The Wild Mind’s imagination.  It seems there’s a nice balance between the luxuriously contented peacefulness of the gold ornaments and the passionate, energetic, passion of the red ornaments. 

Blue ornaments?  Seriously?  Do I need to say anything more?

What color ornaments are hanging on your tree, this holiday season? 

Rethinking The Holidays

j0431277 Around Halloween, I announced to my kids that the 2 Christmases (one in each of their two homes) that they’ve known the last three years wasn’t going to happen this year.  I can’t afford it and they don’t need a massive haul or even a minor one at both houses. I told them I am rethinking how I do Christmas in the “off years”; those years where they are at their other parent’s house for the holiday and I get them for New Year’s.  In the same breath I also mentioned I wasn’t even going to decorate this year for the holidays.  “After all, I explained, you will all be at your dad’s and it is just going to be me.” 

Number 2 piped up sarcastically with, “Yeah, because Christmas can’t happen if there are no presents!”

Out of the mouths of babes, I guess.  Her comment stopped me cold.  She wasn’t saying she was unhappy about the no presents deal at our house this year. That surprised me.  She was basically expressing distaste at my perspective that if we can’t do “presents” then let’s just scrap Christmas altogether. She nailed me, and rightly so.

I could have hugged her on the spot.  Even now, the thought that a sixteen-year-old young lady (who really loves getting presents as much as the next person) can have the insight to see that the holidays are about so much more than the stuff brings tears to my eyes.  The fact that she was also more disappointed about not decorating than not getting presents also impressed me.

j0434131 I’ve worked hard the last three years and I’ve plowed through a mountain of debt, that by all rights wasn’t mine, in order to avoid bankruptcy and have a more financially secure and debt-free life.  The journey in many ways completely sucks, but the lessons, are valuable.  I’ve come a long way.  I’ve learned how much of my former existence was based on appearances and image instead of what really matters.  While living my former existence, I knew this was true and I hated it at the time.  What I didn’t realize was how deeply ingrained the obsession with image for image’s sake was in my life and how deeply stuck I was in it all.  From my views on money to what’s important in parenting and in relationships, I’ve had to scrutinize my thinking and real beliefs about it all.  I’ve experienced so many occasions where I’ve been knocked flat on my figurative seat in the last three years: emotionally, financially, relationally. I’ve found myself in places I NEVER thought I’d ever be.  Places where in my former life I looked down my nose at people in the very situations I now found myself.  It was more than humbling.  At each of these times, I’ve had to do some serious soul searching and remind myself of what was really important.  I’ve been shocked and horrified on many occasions to learn how really shallow my thinking has been. This recent episode with my daughter was another such moment of truth.

I am now once again  rethinking The Holidays and my approach toward them.

j0422249 For a number of years now, it has bothered me that my children can spend Christmas Day at one parent’s house and get a big haul of presents then go to the other parent’s house after Christmas for a second Christmas Day that year.  I’ve hated the temptation to give in to that desire to “compete” with the other parent in the gift giving arena, even though I’ve been completely unable to.  This inability, instead of creating angst for me, ended up providing freedom and relief.  Because I don’t have it to spend and everyone knows it (meaning the kids), the expectation for my participation in these areas is lowered.  That’s okay by me. I have debt to pay off and I am doing it.  I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and so far it hasn’t been an oncoming train.  I need to maintain my resolve and stay focused. I just can’t continue doing what I’ve always done at The Holidays where gifts are concerned.  If can’t pay cash, it can’t be purchased. Simple as that.

My daughter’s words struck a chord in me.  In the end, she’s totally spot on.  Christmas is about celebrating love and the people we invest our love in.  It is about hope, joy, peace and all good things.  It’s about being with the people you love not out giving the the people you no longer live with. Kids understand about what is real and what is genuine. None of this has anything to do with getting and there are gifts that can be given that don’t come done up in ribbons and bows with a bill attached. I needed to be reminded of this.

Thanksgiving 2009 040 This weekend, two days after Thanksgiving and a good three weeks before I usually can muster the energy or the spirit, we decorated our entire house for Christmas.  In fact, I was in the back room typing a blog post while Number 2,  was out in the garage, climbing ladders and pulling down the infamous plastic red Rubbermaid boxes.  She pulled out the Christmas tree with the help of her brother (Number 3) and together she and Number 3 and Number 4 began putting the tree together.  I came in just in time to help shape the fake tree.  I really didn’t do much except instruct and that, only occasionally. They got out the decorations and put them on the tree, set up the stocking hangers with stockings, and arranged all our other decorations.  They had a blast doing it and by dinnertime we had a house that in spite of it’s diminutive size looked festive and cheerful.  Number 1 even had a couple of her friends over and the lot of us listened to Christmas music, played board games and ate pizza by the fire.  It was a cozy, warm and happy time and it cost me nothing but a few minutes of my time and a few dollars for pizza delivery (something I never ever do). It created a wonderful happy and positive memory for my children and I.  I could be wrong, but I think it kind of says something when a college child chooses to bring her boyfriend to our little home instead of going out somewhere for the evening. I couldn’t have done that at her age.  I’m pleased that this is the kind of home we’ve built.  I’m pleased that my daughter got on my case and called me out this time.  I’m glad the decorations are up and we have over a month to enjoy them.  

Thanksgiving 2009 068So in an effort to reinvent a more sane lifestyle, where competition with the ex’s and buckling to human greed isn’t the driving force and resisting the feeling that I am what I can purchase, I am rethinking things. I want to work on creating more memories like this Thanksgiving weekend.  I wonder if it wouldn’t be a better idea on the years that the kids are with me for Christmas to have the traditional (though modest) celebration with gifts and on the off years, get one gift for all the kids to share…like a computer or a Wii, or whatever we come up with together? During the off times, those times when the children aren’t residing with me, I’m playing with an idea, a dream really of hosting a party for single parents who are without their children for the holidays. Maybe we could meet together at my place, go caroling, donate money or canned goods to a local charity and then afterward come back to my place for eggnog, wassail and games.  I don’t know. It’s a dream. But I’m wondering about it. This just might be the year to make that happen since I will, after all, be alone for The Holidays.   Thanksgiving 2009 064

I’m thinking, especially after this Thanksgiving Weekend, where my kids had their friends over for games and food and had a great time, that maybe that’s the kind of memory I should work on creating more and more rather than stressing about gifts.  It will cost me in terms of energy and time, but not in terms of money.  It’s something I want to do.

After all, The Holidays are what we make them not what our budget makes them or what the presents under the tree make them. 

What great ideas do you have for celebrating on a shoestring and making the season less about the stuff and more about the people you love? 

P.S.  After reading this post to Number 2, she has asked me if she can have a Christmas party here.  In her words, “I’m so excited to have a Christmas party!”  Yeah!  Stay tuned!

Kicking Off The Holiday Season

j0422837 I have a friend who firmly believes that Halloween is the holiday that officially kicks off “The Holiday Season”.  Being a person who really knows how to entertain and, yes, even cook very fine meals, she is all about celebrating.  And she is good at it.  Whether you agree with my friend or not, by the time Thanksgiving rolls around, followed immediately by the day now known as “Black Friday”  (only in America and when did that happen anyway?), it is clear The Holiday Season is well underway. 

The Problem

In years past, I was all about Christmas and decorating and making everything festive and, like my friend, I enjoyed celebrating in the company of family and friends.  But somewhere along the line things went horribly wrong and suddenly, The Holidays, have lost their appeal to me.  Or maybe I’ve just become very, very confused about does and does not matter when creating those memorable holiday moments.

Okay, things didn’t really go “horribly wrong”, at least, not all in one big life changing moment.  It was more like a gradual decline and I think I did it to myself.  Too much pressure, expectations for myself and those of others (mostly in-laws), the demands of being a new mom, starting a new demanding career at the same time (oh, yes, I do wish I’d played Solitudethat card differently), and the gradual erosion and decline of a marriage.  Along the way, The Holidays lost their charm.  They became something to be endured; a source of pain, frustration and immense exhaustion.

After the second divorce, I tried the best I could to make Christmas memorable for my children.  This wasn’t easy, since I was now in the place so many people find themselves in after divorce:  broke…if not bankrupt. I was definitely the former, scrambling to avoid the latter.  Looking back, I don’t even know how I survived that first Christmas because child support hadn’t even kicked in.  The second Christmas was also pulled off with meager finances and the third Christmas, last year, was the first Christmas my children spent away from me.  That was tough! 

  Yes, I am fully aware that in spite of the pretty lights, the happy smiles on people’s faces, the advertisements that boast loving couples, happy families, and joyous, grateful children with lavishly decorated homes where trees are standing amidst a treasure trove of gifts, the cost of which might easily feed a small third world nation somewhere for a year, The Holiday Season for many, is a season of pain, regret, disappointment, sadness and deep loneliness. Many of us, especially those of us who are Singles in a World of Couples dread the advent of the holidays because it means we will be attending yet another office party alone, waking up Christmas morning alone while the kids wake up and open presents elsewhere, eating alone with no one to greet us in the morning or drink a toast with us in the evening.  That awareness can gnaw at us and deprive us of joy, energy, and contentment.

A Solution:

Now, if I let it, that could depress me.  I could spend my time regretting the misused past.  I could spend my time fretting that I am now unable to provide my children with what I’d always wanted and hoped to be able to provide them materially. I could feel badly that I don’t have significant other to share the joys and sorrows (or my hot tub!) with.  I could get weepy that things are not exactly what I wanted or how I planned or imagined.  I could despair that things are not better than they are.  Sometimes I do.  Not for long.  Maybe only about two hours a month…if that.

Solution:  I don’t let it.  I’ve learned to enjoy what I have and be grateful that I have it.  I’ve also learned that things can always be worse.  After all, as one friend recently said to me, “You have a roof over your head, a good job, you are paying your bills haven’t had to foreclose on your home or file bankruptcy, you and your kids are healthy and you have food on the table.  It could be so much worse, so chin up!”

I’ve learned over the last three years to think differently about many things.  I now think differently about my holidays.  I think very differently about the holidays on those years when my kids will be away for Christmas Day.  I’m not so hesitant anymore to ask out that guy friend to my office Christmas Party.  I just make sure it is someone who understands that this is not a Friends With Benefits situation or that I have any illusions about us as a couple.j0444098  I’ve given myself permission to be single and to enjoy it.  I’ve given myself permission to take full advantage of the times when the kids are away.  I’ve met enough people and have plenty of friends that if I want a date to an event I can have one.  If I’m sitting home alone on a weekend night it is because I have chosen it, not because I have no other choice.  I’ve learned to be at peace with myself.

I no longer feel that I’m missing life if I stay home…alone…curled up on my couch in my lounge pants and t-shirt…in front of the fire.  Would it be fun to be using my couch differently?  Of course, but I’m not desperately hoping that will happen or thinking that it must happen in order for me to feel validated and alive.

Mostly, I’ve learned that the off times, those times when the kids are away at their other homes is a great time for me to work on the many home improvement tasks I have lined up.  I don’t have to worry about kids wanting to help with the painting or spreading the mess throughout the house. I don’t have to stop mid project to fix a meal and clean it up.  It’s also a wonderful opportunity to catch up with some j0438433of my adult friends that I have a more difficult time connecting with when the kids are around. It’s a great opportunity to get caught up on laundry and if all else fails…

…it is a wonderful time to try to learn to cook a new dish! 

Yeah, like that’ll happen anytime soon!

I do have questions though for those of you out there who, like me, have a shared custody or a parenting plan that means your children will be away from you some or all of the holiday season. 

How do you handle the holiday season when you don’t have your children with you to celebrate?

How has divorce changed how you celebrate the holidays?

 

 

Thanksgiving 2009 in Review: Screwing Up Fine American Traditions One Recipe At A Time

j0407467Never before have I been aware of the great lengths we Americans go to in our efforts to conceptualize, create, concoct and consume food on this particular day of the year.  Sure we say the day is all about family, but I think the day is all about food. Even more accurately, I suspect it isn’t even about food but about consumption. Better even, I believe it is about food, consumption and our competition to best each other in both realms.  Family, holiday and tradition simply legitimizes our desire to compete with each other in our desire to satiate our gluttonous tendencies.

Alright, alright.

Maybe that is a bit extreme, maudlin, or even harsh. Maybe it is unfair. Maybe I am just all sour grapes today.  I have reason to be. After all, I’m a lousy cook.  I can’t boil water without ruining a pan. Why would this day, of all days, the day we worship food and it’s preparation, even be a fun day for me? It isn’t.  It’s an ordeal.  It doesn’t ever start out this way for me.  I actually end up looking forward to making the attempt to enter into this realm of celebration, but somehow, some way disaster stalks me in the kitchen and always has his way with me.

A New Reality TV Show?

I’m notorious for screwing up completely wonderful UDSA approved food products in an attempt to take them from the state they were purchased in to a form that quasi resembles cooked and edible matter.  Delicious?  Ha!  That word NEVER is uttered at my table. I can blow a microwave TV dinner, I’m that good at screwing up anything food related. I can make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich taste like something that should be used to pave roads.  Better, I can make it BE something that should be used to pave roads.  In fact, I’ve often considered pitching Hollywood for a new TV reality show called “Cooking With Cat: Screwing Up Great Cuisine One Recipe At A Time”.  Hell, I don’t even need a recipe. I can screw it up without even looking at the directions.  Really.  I am that good.  

The Way To A Man’s Heart?

If the adage “The  way to a man’s heart is through his beachtoesstomach” is true, I’m doomed.   This would totally explain why, as incredibly attractive as I am, I still remain single…well…that and the four kids…and the fact that I live in the Wild Wild West where mostly cavemen and cowboys reside, but details, details.  I keep hoping that, there really is something else more enticing to men than food.

Clearly, a holiday centered around boasting of one’s culinary clout is not one that I’m going to revel in let alone experience much success with.  Unless, of course, we measure success by my standards which is “She with the greatest disaster wins”.  (And, yes, I do have a scoring rubric to determine the greatest disaster.) This Thanksgiving had all the markings of an unmitigated disaster. Try as I might to maintain a respectable presence in my kitchen I was courted and consumed by disaster almost from the get-go.

Step 1 To Screwing Up A Great Meal:  Plan Ahead then Screw Up The Plan

I’ve heard that a key ingredient to a good meal is advance planning.  I really took this to heart this year.  When I went out to buy groceries for the month, I planned ahead.  I actually planned on cooking a Thanksgiving turkey this year instead of hoping beleaguered friends or relatives would take pity on my children and invite us over for the big meal.  You see, this works for me because then I can just bring a bottle or two of wine and call it good.  That’s really how I prefer to do my cooking. 

j0430498 This year, though, I decided to step up to the plate and attempt to be a “real” mom. I planned ahead and bought a 21 pound turkey at the beginning of the month.  Got it home, stuck it in the freezer and made a mental note that I’d have to take it out and put it in the fridge on the Sunday before Thanksgiving so it could thaw.  See?  Planning ahead.  I even remembered (the Sunday before Thanksgiving) to take the turkey out and let it thaw.  Never mind that it seemed a little bit smaller than the turkey I purchased a few weeks ago, but being as I am a tired, frazzled (can’t you hear the violins playing now?) single mom, I didn’t think much of it at the time. 

I thought a great deal about it when three days later I went out to the other freezer to get ice cream for the kids, pulled the door open and saw this huge 21 pound turkey stuffed in there.  I wondered, “What is this huge turkey doing here?”  Then panic struck and I wondered, “If that’s the turkey I bought at the beginning of the month then what did I stick in the refrigerator to thaw?”  I checked the refrigerator and, sure enough, the thing I put in the refrigerator was a much, much smaller bird.  “ Oh no!” I sighed in dismay, “We’re gonna be havin’ Thanksgiving chicken this year, I’m afraid.”

So, step number one to screwing up your Thanksgiving meal is to defrost the wrong bird.

Step 2 And Beyond:  Lose Your Camera

I trudged on valiantly hoping to make the best of things.  I even googled “How to Cook a Turkey” so I could get it right. I mean, after all, I can read.  How hard can this really be? I found some great recipes, complete with cooking times and seasoning recipes.  I followed all the directions for cleaning the turkey, seasoning it and getting it in the oven.  Everything seemed to be going well, until, about 45 minutes before the time went off I began smelling smoke.  I thought maybe something was up with the fireplace but, no, this smell was coming from the kitchen and, yes, there was a fine smoky haze in my kitchen.  I quickly opened windows and checked to make sure I hadn’t accidentally put the oven in self-cleaning mode.  (Don’t even ask!) The turkey appeared to be fine.  I could detect no reason for the smoky haze in my kitchen. Eventually the haze dissipated through the open kitchen window and we went on about our day preparing for the disastrous time when the turkey comes out of the oven and everything else goes in (rolls, bean casserole, etc.) and potatoes need to be boiled and smashed. 

thermometer_in_turkey_in_panMost experienced cooks would have been proud of me at this point.  I even had a meat thermometer and I used it.  The chicken turkey was right on schedule and when the timer went off after three hours I checked the thermometer.  Everything read the right temperature so I pulled it out and let it sit while I quite effectively did the following:

1. Got Child Number 1 to do the mashed potatoes (that way if everything else got ruined at least the potatoes would provide nourishment until we could ruin the frozen pies we bought for desert).

1a. Got Number 2 to do the stuffing.  “Just read the directions on the back of the box.” I told her.  “Use this pan,” I instructed as I handed her the really nice and muy expensive saucepan my other daughter bought for me last Christmas.

2. Had a glass of wine (after all the most stressful part of the meal had begun). 

3.  Realized the chicken turkey looked great and I needed to take a picture to post on my blog so the world could see that, yes, even I can cook a great turkey!

4. Realized I’d lost my camera.

5. Went off looking for my camera and after looking everywhere and not finding it, went into panic mode and began hyperventilating.

6. Got Child Number 2 to abandon the stuffing effort and get involved in the search for the lost camera.

7.  Realized a short while later that something was again on fire. 

8. Discovered that the stuffing was now blackened stuffing.  Does that fit under Cajun style cooking?

9. Downed another glass of wine (was I supposed to be using that for the gravy?).

10.  Remembered about the gravy and the bean casserole.

11.  Left Number 2 to continue looking for the camera, while I tried to forge ahead with the meal.

12.  Got Child Number 4 to set the table, Child Number 3 to prepare the bean casserole.  At this point there were four of us in my tiny galley kitchen going back and forth.  Seriously?  Hell’s Kitchen had nothing on me! 

13.  Began carving the turkey at the designated 20 to 30 minutes after taking it out of the oven.j0427604

14.  Realized about 3/4 of the way through the carving project that the chicken turkey was NOT completely cooked.  (Yes, you heard me chicken turkey was undercooked in spite of 185 degree readings in several places from meat thermometer).  I should have gone with the 3 1/2 hours instead of the 3 hour time.  Sigh.

15. Wrapped the turkey up in foil and put it back in the oven to finish cooking while we ate was there was of our pathetic meal.  (No, I didn’t tell the kids anything about that so, shhhhh!)

16.  Put what could be salvaged of the “chicken” and stuffing on the table along with the mashed potatoes and green bean casserole which actually survived the ordeal and made it to the table in edible fashion.  Please note, those were the two dishes I let someone else prepare and left them alone to do it.

The Final Step:  Clean Up the Mess and Try Again Tomorrow

By the time we all sat down to Thanksgiving dinner, I had a great deal to be thankful for.  We did have something to eat.  Two parts of the meal actually ended up being edible.  The house didn’t burn down and I did find the camera.  Well, Number 2 found the camera. I did lose a really nice saucepan in the chaos though.   

j0443829 Now you understand why I was sour grapes about the whole Thanksgiving Feast thing. I mean, really, when it comes to putting food on the table, I’m lucky if it even makes it in edible form, forget it tasting good and looking good.  I simply had to forget the Martha Stewart or Rachel Ray cuisine and table settings everyone else was Face booking about on Thursday. I was simply glad to have made it through my meager attempt at celebrating in my own very unique way and still actually eat.  And losing one muy expensive saucepan in the fray was an improvement for me. 

In spite of it all, I’m still hopeful that I can pull off a tasty “chicken” noodle soup with the carcass and scraps. 

All’s Well That Ends Up Getting Eaten

As I sat down battle weary to yet another successful kitchen disaster (being this bad at cooking is really hard work!), I looked at my starving progeny.  They waited patiently in their chairs until everything was on the table. Their eyes gleamed at the mounds of fluffy white potatoes with butter melting unrestrained on top. The creamy gravy (little did they know then it would taste like paste) at least appeared tempting in its boat.  The “chicken” sliced with my new electric knife gleamed with the soft white juicy tenderness that the outer layers of an almost cooked bird can have.  The bean casserole provided color to an otherwise monochromatic culinary palette. And the soft, doughy rolls?  I completely forgot those, so we did without.  Sweet potatoes?  Nope.  Cranberry sauce?  None.  Other side dishes or soup?  Glaringly apparent in their absence. It was just me, my meager offerings, my hungry kids, some sparkling grape juice for them and a third glass of wine for me.

j0442231 In spite of my incredible lack of skill in creating ambiance and mood (at least a positive and inviting one) through food, my kids ended up eating until they were stuffed.  Not one of us ended up with food poisoning. The dismal state of our cuisine’s presentation didn’t dampen our gratitude and joy that day one bit.  We all worked together to clean up the mountain of dishes then retired to the living room where we ordered Four Christmases on pay-per-view while digesting our dubious dinner.

In all, the meal may have been a disaster but the day was alright.  The very best part of it all was the chilling realization that my daughter was completely accurate when she said, “Seriously!  Hollywood should so come in here and just film us!  We wouldn’t have to memorize a script.  We wouldn’t have to change a thing and people would watch us!”

Move over, Jon and Kate plus Eight!

Big Gifts!

Prerequisite reading:  Go to my  earlier post titled, “Sleepovers and ReGifting: Fundamentals of a Good Marriage”, read it then come back here. 

This just in from ReGifting Friend and her husband who have been married a long, long time.  Apparently they were discussing when they’d exchange gifts over the holidays. 

He:  Hey!  Do you want me to give you my big gift now?

She:  (smiling sweetly) Oh, I’ve been waiting for your “big gift” for a long, long time now.

He:  (shakes head and walks away).

That’s two for Regifting Friend.           

Her husband?  Well,  he seems to have lots of gifts and, after all, they are still married and happily so, it seems. 

I’m thinking she enjoyed all her gifts this holiday season.

Mr. Knows & Christmas Party Friend…The Story Continues

Christmas Party Friend and Mr. Knows have continued seeing each other since before Christmas.  If you are new here or just stumbled in and want to get up to speed on these two characters, you’ll need to check out my posts titled, “How To Ask A Woman Out” and “How To Start Things Off Right With A Woman” probably in that order. 

Anyway, apparently, Mr. Knows has been quite consistent but not overly persistent in pursuing Christmas Party Friend.  Their first official date was a Christmas party thrown by friends and colleagues of his.  However, not to be alarmed or percieved as too much too soon, it was a place where many of those same colleagues and friends were people she knew or could relate to.  She tells me it was a fabulous.  They met at a little pub ahead of time, had a drink then headed back to her place to drop off her car then drove out to the party together. It was a snowy, blustery, winter’s eve.

The party was held at this gorgeous home of friends of his.  It looked like something you might see featured in Sunset magazine.  I remember wondering as my friend was telling me this, “Where on earth do you find these people?”  As Christmas Party friend tells it, they walked in and it wasn’t long before Christmas Party Friend was doing her thing, meeting people, working the room, having fun.  Her date, already feeling rather comfortable, after all this was his crowd, took care to introduce her to each and every person in the room. 

“It was really pretty classy the way he orchestrated the introductions,” CPF told me. “We’d walk up to a group in conversation, they’d notice us and pause in their conversation.  He’d introduce me and pretty soon we’d all be talking away.  On occasion he left and talked with other people.  He wasn’t at my side the entire time, in fact, he was right beside me very little of the time, but he checked in regularly, watched to see if my plate was empty or my glass and was Mr. Johnny-on-the-Spot to do whatever he could to make sure I had a great time. At the same time, he wasn’t stumbling over himself and overdoing it either.  It was the perfect balance between close and distant, but he was always present.” 

I thought this was significant.  In my own experiences with dating and through listening to my other single friends both locally and online, one really challenging aspect that both women and men are faced with is how much is too much and how soon is too soon.  Now, personally, I’m not sure I would have been ready on the first date to meet all of my date’s very close friends.  I absolutely know that on the very first date I would not be introducing him to my friends.   But maybe since Mr. Knows and Christmas Party Friend had already met and interacted in similar settings together it was different.  I don’t know.  I think each couple has to sort this out for themselves. 

It is tough to know how close to be to someone at a party or social gathering. It is also tough to know how close is too close or how much freedom a person needs or wants in relationship.  There’s such a fine line between being present and being clingy or allowing some freedom and  giving off that sense that you could care less that your date is there.  This is both the joy and demise of getting to know another person.  My attitude about this has evolved to the point that, I simply don’t concern myself with it anymore.  If our interactions work for me and for the other person then that’s a pretty clear sign that the connection might have potential.  It doesn’t guarantee anything, but it is a start.  This really seems like it is in the “Duh” category, but my guess is more people angst over these little things than are willing to admit.  They angst mostly over it during the initial stages of the relationship, it seems.  Maybe, the fact that they even experience angst is an indicator that the relationship is probably not a good fit.   It seems to me, that with Christmas Party Friend and Mr. Knows,  it worked and they both had a great time and neither of them are experiencing any angst about it at all. 

They must have had a great time because, as CPF tells me, they stayed till well after everyone was gone and hung out with the host, hostess and one other very, very close friend and sipped Vodka tonics and smoked expensive cigars (well, the guys did) outside on the back deck overlooking the ritzy golf course till nearly two in the morning. 

Then, Christmas Party Friend informed me of The Bad Thing That Happened.  Turns out that when Mr. Knows dropped CPF off, he didn’t even walk her up to the doorstep.  “This,” CPF told me, “was completely out of character from what I’ve already experienced of him. I wonder if that was significant?”

“Uh-oh”, I thought. 

CPF is pretty certain that means that Mr. Knows decided he  isn’t going any further with this.  She’s not wasting a lot of time worrying about it, but that little bit of behavior did raise a question in her mind simply because it was so out of character for him. She simply figures that he somehow determined that it’s not a go for him for whatever reason.  From her perspective, she’s not necessarily taking it as rejection.  Everyone has the right to make decisions that are best for them and he might be doing that here.  She doesn’t know and probably won’t until it is clear he isn’t calling anymore. 

I think this brings up a great question for dialogue though.  My  friend didn’t necessarily expect a goodnight kiss from him, but was being walked to the door too much to expect or is that just too old school? 

I don’t know.  What do you think?

Starting 2009 Peacefully With A Cuppa Joe In The H.T.

Alright, everybody’s already been up and at ’em and posted their good-byes to 2008 and their hopeful wishes for 2009 on their blogs already.  In spite of my lack of originality on the topic, I’m still going to chime in with my perspectives on the transition from the last to the current year. It will, at very least, help me sort out all the varying and wayward thoughts streaming through my gray matter this morning…which this morning especially…feels particularly gray, like it is socked in under a deep cloak of tangible fog.

I am getting a late start so far on this first day of 2009 due in part to way too much celebratory cheer last night…and not getting to bed till nearly four this morning.  Gads, that’s about the time my friends on the East Coast (should those be capitalized?) were getting up for the day.  I do hope this slow beginning is not indicative of how the year will go.  Unless, of course, slow is to be interpreted as peaceful, which is indeed how my day, particularly my morning progressed.

In spite of the slow, or maybe relaxing is a better word, start to my day, once I awoke at something like 9:30 this morning, I was wide awake, and thanks to lots of water, some ibuprofen and valerian root last night, no headache this morning.  Well, okay, a minor headache due to too much vodka and not enough water or sleep last night.  I should and have felt much worse in the past after drinking such quantities.  I’m glad I feel fine this morning.  What’s a temporary minor “heckake” as my dad used to call them?

I decided that, in spite of feeling particularly regretful about how the family celebrations last night transpired, I would not berate myself for the  choices I made and instead choose differently in the future.  In the spirit of this commitment, I got up and opened up the hot tub, fished out a mismatched two piece swim suit, made some coffee and enjoyed a steamy morning cuppa joe in my HT, completely alone, with the rain falling down around me.  Ahhh, cool mist on my face, embryonically warm water enfolding me  and warm brew inside me.  As I enjoyed these physical sensations,  I contemplated the past year and pondered as much as I could see down the road of the days ahead.

It feels like a different year, same ole stuff to me. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. 

I’ve gone on and on about the challenges 2008 posed for me. I don’t want to do that anymore.  You can read more about my personal trials in previous posts here or at my other blog at Welcome to CABsPlace! 2008 actually began with the end of 2007 and if that pattern holds true, then 2009 is beginning with the end of 2008.  This is not such a bad thing. 

The end of 2008 is an improvement over 2008’s beginning.  Life after divorce has stabilized.  While the financial picture is still somewhat bleak, there is great improvement each and every month.  My family is settling into the routine of our new life post-divorce.  We are not in danger of foreclosure, bankruptcy, job loss or health issues that plague many, many others.  We are indeed very fortunate and I am very grateful.  We have each other, and we actually enjoy being with each other…most of the time.  So, I guess, when I sort through all the things I’m feeling and thinking at this juncture of my life, I’m thinking I hope that none of these things change for the worse.  Improved circumstances are always welcome but I’d be completely okay with the status quo remaining simply that.  

I’m content to declare, “Out With The Old, In With the Same Ole, Same Ole”.

Yes, I’m going to put my list of hopes, dreams, goals, resolutions up eventually because I’m a believer that a written and spoken goal is far more likely to be achieved than an unspoken or unwritten one.  But, I’ll not do that at this moment.  I’m just pretty glad to enjoy this peaceful day that started with a cup of coffee in a hot tub. I do hope that this is some indication of how my year will be.