Not Just Another Auld Lang Syne

New Years Eve 004How does one look back on a year such as mine?  Three years ago, I ventured out into one of the scariest places I think I’ve ever been.  Post divorce, 40-something, straddled with debt that wasn’t all mine, looking forward to fewer years to earn back the losses than I had behind me.  While many would say I look good for my age, the fact that they had to add the phrase “for my age” said it all.  I was divorced, single with more children than most, struggling to avoid bankruptcy, and wondering how I was going to pay the bills and put food on the table.  I was frightened.  I was destitute. I was humiliated and ashamed.  I was alone.  To make things better, I blew an engine on one car, and dropped the rear differential out of another.  I had no credit, no cash, no clue what an engine or a rear differential was, and nowhere to turn.  I was terrified.  I wondered, often, how and if I was going to survive.  I was also 40-something and it was only a matter of time before the aging process we all must eventually succumb to, became no longer disguisable. Further, I still had children at home, lots of them, and would probably retire (if that was still even a possibility for me) with them at home.  Not exactly the formula for finding someone to spend your golden years with before you actually get to your golden years. Continue reading

Lessons from Family Guy

It’s been said that children are always learning and learning all the time.  The real question is, “What exactly is it they are learning?”.  Further, the concerned parent might go so far as to ask where are they learning it and from whom? I’m warning you.  Don’t explore this too deeply.  The knowledge you discover might  alarm you if it doesn’t send you to your grave early.

Today, I was attempting to convey the meaning of the word synagogue to a group of fourth graders.  The word for some of them who are still learning English is a bit of a mouthful and I wanted to help attach some meaning to it for them since, it was in our reading selection for the week.  Don’t get all alarmed that I wasn’t respecting the proper division between church and state.  We were reading an Encyclopedia Brown excerpt.

After explaining the meaning of the word synagogue, one of my students blurted out in frustration, “Awwww!  I should have known that!  I learned that off Family Guy!”

Okay, maybe my definition was off…I’ve got to go back and check Websters.

Sigh.

Children are always learning and learning all the time.

Even in homes where television, radio and computer access are strictly controlled and monitored, children learn things that their parents are less than happy about.  Even though a parent might be diligent in monitoring the influences that children are exposed to, it is difficult to monitor the influences their friends are exposed to.

In spite of the very large influence that school, friends and media have on how children are influenced and what they learn, the home (generally) and parents (in particular) are the most influential factor in a child’s learning and development.

It is also often the case that what we intend to teach is not exactly what was learned.

Children are always learning and learning all the time.

What are you teaching?

Is this what they are learning?

How can one be sure?

I ask the questions simply because, if we are to be honest, our children learn far more from who we are than what we tell them.  Are they learning what we want them to learn? Better yet, are they learning what I want them to learn?

I Almost Got Struck By Lightening While You Were Gone

This post is one I am moving over from my other blog, Welcome To CABsPlace, where I am pretty certain I will not continue writing.  That is…unless…someone can come up with a really good reason why I should write two blogs that mostly deal with the same stuff.  This particular post, speaks of doing the single parenting job with four kids and how sometimes, for no seemingly apparent reason, you just encounter turbulence.  I wrote this post originally in June, 2008 and have made only minor revisions. Enjoy, and let me know what you think.

Summer 2009 033 A sunny summer June Monday morning started out peacefully but soon deteriorated into complete and total chaos, then, just as suddenly as it erupted, the chaos evaporated. This kind of disturbance happens routinely in my home and I am often perplexed as to why or how it starts and what to do about it when it does. Today, I did nothing. That seemed to work.

I awoke, as I normally do to the peaceful music of the birds outside my window. These wonderful sounds were angrily disrupted by the grumbling, groaning, clanking, banging noises of the garbage truck makings its rounds on the block behind mine. My oldest daughter, who had rolled in well after midnight last night from an out-of-town choir tour, continued to sleep undisturbed. Now, she doesn’t usually share the bed with me, but this last week she was gone and her room became the laundry room. When she returned in the wee hours of the morning, I was unwilling to move the laundry and my bed, so though I hated the thought of enduring the battle of the bed sheets and her snoring, I suggested she just crash in my bed tonight. I figured if it got bad enough, I’d just go sleep on the couch.

The night passed uneventfully, meaning I slept without disturbance, until around 5:30 or 6, my youngest decided she wanted to crawl in with us. Once cozily sandwiched in between her older sister and me she drifted off into blissful sleep. I rolled over to try to catch a few more winks myself. That’s when the fun began.

j0422197 I was just drifting of into some nice REM sleep when the warm blankets were abruptly pulled off me. I was startled awake by the chill morning air and the loss of the covers. My youngest, sweet cherub that she is, had become too warm and kicked off all the blankets in her sleep. I glanced across the vast bed to my oldest. She was still sleeping soundly. So was my youngest for that matter. The kicking clearly bothered no one but me. I grumpily pulled the covers back up, rolled back over and went back to sleep again. I’m not sure how long I was sleeping before the covers were suddenly pulled off me again. This time, knowing it was my daughter’s kicking problem, I just reached out grabbed the blankets and pulled them back up over my shoulders. I burrowed down into the bed cinching the covers close around my neck. I closed my eyes. I waited. Sure enough, it was only a matter of a few moments when my daughter’s began flailing in an attempt to rid her body of the constricting sheets. That was it for me. I slid out of bed and padded into the kitchen to start the coffee. I was officially up for the day.

Connecting through Random Sound Bites

Later that morning, as I was putting away dishes, my daughter (Number 2) was mixing up pancake batter when an argument arose between my son (Number 3), and my youngest daughter (Number 4) about who woke up first this morning.

I mean, what’s up with that and who cares?

Then there was the confusion about how Number 1’s dirty clothes got mixed in with the clean clothes in spite of the fact that she’s been gone for a week. This then moved into a discussion (okay, it was really an argument) about moving the family computer out of my oldest daughter’s (Number 1) room to the kitchen/dining area where I am now typing on it. Never mind that all school year she complained about having it in her room because she needed to study and no one else was allowed in there to use the computer while she was studying. Sigh. Then there’s the breakfast table conversation which went something like this:

Number 1: I know for sure I’m not going to Elite Private School in That Big City by Puget Sound.

Me: Oh, why not?

Number 1: I’m not so sure I like the city. (She’d just returned from a week long trip to That Big City.)

Me (raising my eyebrows internally): Well, that’s definitely a consideration.

Number 1 (to Number 2): I got some really neat things while I was gone. (Note the random and sudden change in conversational direction.)

j0422455 Number 4: Pass the syrup.

Number 2 to Number 1: Did you get me anything?

Number 4: Is the first gallon of milk already gone?!

Me: No, it’s right here.

Number 1 to Number 2: No, but you can use some of it if you want. (Referencing the stuff she got on her trip but which was not for her sister.)

Me: Number 2, I don’t think we have enough pancakes here. Does anyone want some more? We can mix some up.

Number 2: You mean, Number 2, can mix some more up.

Number 1: Number 2, are you going to be in Youth Ensemble next year?

Number 2: While you were gone I almost got struck by lightning.

I kid you not, that is how the conversation went. That is how the morning went. One random thought after another. Sound bites of our lives, disconnected but fitting together.  The heartbeat of a family simply comfortable with being together.  It sounded like no one was listening to anyone else, but that wasn’t the case.  It seemed everyone was content just to say something, anything even if no one responded to it.  It is enough to make the thinking adult go nearly mad.  Except that somehow, almost miraculously it seems, there was actual dialogue and forward progress on those daily activities that keep a household afloat. Have you ever stopped and listened to the flow of the daily conversation in your home?  Close your eyes for just a second and listen.  What do you hear? Keep your eyes closed, now what do you see?

Expect Occasional Turbulence

Number 2 did tell about her close encounter with lightning, we did finish breakfast fairly uneventfully, the laundry is getting folded and put away, in spite of Number 2 and Number 3 creating an alliance against Number 4. Currently, Number 3 is attempting to avoid changing the sheets on his bed by suddenly developing an interest in reading, Number 1 is agonizing through her allergies by doing the dishes with Kleenex packed firmly in each nostril and Number 4 is refusing to let me type one more word until I give her permission to scoop the dead worm she found out of the pool. None of this would be a problem except now the older kids are accusing Number 4 of digging up the worm and putting it in the pool instead of finding it already there. Hmmm, how would a worm get in the pool on its own anyway? And then, Number 4, when passing through the sliding screen door knocks the screen completely out of its tracks, you’d have thought she was struck by lightening.

There are days in a family that pass by fairly uneventfully, like when all the kids are gone to their other parents’ homes or spending time away with friends. There are other days, when we are all here and things still pass fairly uneventfully but that seems to occur only if I let the kids do whatever they want and make no demands on them. Since that is not  our reality, it is more common that there is going to be some turbulence at points along the way. I know this. I understand this. I expect and accept this. But I don’t always like it.l_60fb08cb5f694286b3a6544b7f9c3f53

At this very minute, there seems to be an unofficial cease fire and things are calm. I wonder how long this will last? It baffles me how the tone in a home can go from blissfully serene to completely insane in seconds and then just as suddenly back to peaceful. It is not unlike being struck by lightening. Sometimes in family life, it feels like you end up dead too.

On the other hand, it can also leave you with the feeling of being more alive than ever.

Divorce Transitions or How To Slay a Dragon—Another Year Later

Costumes_Halloween_Lady_Dragons I wrote this last year at about this time of year over on my other blog. It is rather lengthy so I’ve broken it down into a series of several posts.  Those of you who have been through the divorce process and are trying to heal up after it, might have some very significant and quite possibly different perspectives to share.  If so, I hope you’ll leave a comment.  I certainly don’t profess to have the only valid experience.  I only share mine and what was helpful for me.  I love hearing what others found helpful.  I know my readers do too!

I spent most of my childhood growing up in rural eastern Oregon.  My family lived in the same home from the time I was in third grade till after I graduated from college.  We drove the same ’68 Chevy Camaro and never had another car.  My mother had the same job in the same office building across from the county library until she retired many years after I was grown and beginning my own family.  My grandparents lived across the river in Idaho, a mere six miles away.  They owned a department store in town where I spent my pre-school years hiding in the racks peeking out at customers from behind the clothes.  It was a stable, predictable, secure childhood.  Very little ever changed.  It was not the kind of beginning that exactly prepares one to deal with the transitions that come after a marriage ends.  But, if we are fortunate, and I was, we should not be preparing for such sad events.  There just weren’t that many dragons to slay back then…and…I guess that’s a good thing.

clocks-med Change is the only constant.  This is never more true than when going through a divorce, when emotions run high and everyone is running scared at some level.  Everyone, except the attorneys and the dragon.  They are running to the bank.  (Sometimes I think I am definitely in the wrong career.  Hmmmm, is it too late for a law degree?) Even so, I am grateful for a good attorney who helped me see the issues clearly and without emotion.  The dragon is bigger and has the fire-breathing capabilities.  You can easily determine where the dragon fits in your own analogy.  For me, it was a volatile and completely unstable partner who was an incredible con artist and who had everyone believing (including myself) that I was the crazy psychotic problem child.   

Phase 1–Acceptance

This is the first transition and probably the most difficult in divorce:  accepting that the marriage is over.  Accepting that one partner wants out badly enough  to formalize the dissolution legally can be a difficult and heartbreaking reality to grasp.  Whether you are the one initiating the divorce or the one having to accept that your partner is saying, "I’m out!",  the very first step is to accept that no matter what happens, when the dust settles you will in fact be divorced.  Nothing else but this will be certain as you head into the process of negotiating like you’ve probably never in your marriage or maybe your life negotiated before. It is not unlike dodging the fiery blasts of the dragon’s anger as you attempt to defend your kingdom. The finances, the assets, the kids, the child support, the alimony and the acrimony will all be undetermined until the judge raps his gavel or until the two of you sign out of court. Until then, you just don’t know how the dragon will move, twist, or turn.

BooksandGavelA_jpg When I walked in to see my attorney…a good two years before I actually retained her…she told me these words, "Look, I can’t assure you of anything except that by the end of this you will be divorced."  She was right, and despite what is oft said about attorneys, she was honest, direct, a great strategist and she advocated on my behalf.  She helped me negotiate the frightening web of legalities to ensure the best possible outcome for my children and I.  She was there to negotiate some of those transitions for me.

Plan on the transitions.  Expect them, anticipate them, negotiate them and then live them.  My attorney helped me plan and prepare for the first phase of transitions but I had to first face the reality that nothing I could do was going to change the eventual outcome.  Armed with this knowledge I was able to take a more active role in determining and shaping my own post-divorce world.

If you are at this place in your life and the inevitable is going down, I encourage you to begin doing your own research.  Find out what the laws are in your state or county.  Find out how property is usually divided and how the courts generally treat custody and parenting issues arrangements.  Your attorney can be a valuable resource in this area.  You can also do your own homework.  There are many great resources on the internet. 

It helped me to think of life in three categories: the things that were non-negotiable for me, the things that I could easily give up, and the things that fell in between these two extremes. It became a matter of prioritizing.  When it came to negotiating with the ex, I knew clearly what I had to barter with and what wasn’t up for negotiation from my perspective.  This ended up being irrelevant for me as my ex didn’t even show up for the hearing and the judge ruled everything as proposed by my attorney with some added stipulations making it more difficult for the ex should he seek to drag me back to court in the future. This, however, is extremely rare.  Expect a battle and arm yourself intelligently and thoughtfully for it.

 

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!

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!

Valentine’s Day Babysitting Shortage

The closest I'll get to a Valentine this year
The closest I'll get to a Valentine this year

Well, let’s see.  How does a single 40-somethin’ woman talk about Valentine’s Day?  I guess I could say I will end up getting at least 33 Valentines.  Sadly, they will be from people far younger than I.  All of them adore me and think the world of me, and I can’t really ask for much more than that.  

However, in adult world, I will be sitting at home enjoying Valentines with a very special 8-year-old.  Yeah, I did get invites out.  More that one, that’d be plural.  Actually worked really hard to try to find babysitting for the 8-year-old, but after about the 5th attempt, I decided, I simply didn’t want to try anymore.  Now the person I am trying to get the babysitting arranged for will feel as though I am really not that into him and I will have to explain and if he understands that I just can’t feel good about leaving my sweet child with just any old stranger (I feel kinda weird leaving her anyway, stranger or no) then things will be fine.  If he doesn’t understand, then I guess another one bites the dust.  I’ve exhausted all my options and I just refuse to leave my child with someone she doesn’t know so I can go out and have dinner with a nice man and all his friends and their wives/girlfriends. 

This is where it all feels bad.  He’s not going to be able to go out with his friends and their significant others without being the odd man out.  I’m not going to be able to go and feel good since all five of the folks I usually call on to babysit are unavailable, including my own two older children.  On an adult level, in one way, probably one very minor and insignificant way, really, this just doesn’t feel good.  I hate letting people down like this. It’s not likely he’s going to be aware of how difficult it really is to get a babysitter on Valentine’s Day and will likely view it as a cop out on my part, which it won’t be, but it won’t matter. When no familiar babysitters are available, I feel so much like I’m abandoning my child. I’ve paid for a babysitter for her once over the last year.  I just don’t ever go out when my kids are with me. But…it is Valentine’s Day and, well….I should have known it was going to be the most difficult day of the year to arrange babsitting.  Even if someone didn’t have plans, for them to admit it would be a bit like them admitting they are a loser and have no life (j/k).

No matter how hard it will be to call tomorrow and say, “Hey, I’m sorry it just isn’t going to work out, blah, blah, blah”, nothing is worth my little girl’s security and happiness.  She’s absolutely my favorite Valentine.  I won’t mind for a minute spending time with her.  I only wish I’d remembered how difficult babysitters are to find on Valentine’s to begin with and said no before saying yes.

Further Tales From The Friendship Files

One of my friends spent her Winter Break in Mexico.  I’m already jealous, aren’t you?  While most of us in the Pacific Northwest were slogging away through some  extreme form of precipitation, my friend was sunning herself in her size 2 bikini, blonde hair down to her butt, no, wait, past her butt and sipping dangerous concoctions oceanside near Porta Vai Somewhere In Mexico.  She didn’t care.  She wasn’t having to drive home. 

This is her annual treat to herself and her family.  Yes, I did say family.  She and her husband and their two children go to Mexico every year at this time.   Usually, the vacations are pretty standard, as vacations go.  Four star luxury resort accomodations, sun, sand, surf,  sex (I’m guessing, though she didn’t go into it with me, particularly. Ah, just as well).  This year, things became a bit more exciting when said sexual exploits were rudely interrupted and her husband got in a fight.

Now, whereas my friend is small, her husband is quite tall and he’s not the skinny, shrimpy tall either.  He’s  a big, strong man.  He is not, however, prone to fighting, nor is he what I’d call, a bruiser.  He’s an easy going fun guy with a ready smile and a quick wit.  He’s a very kind, considerate, friendly person, except when his wife is upset, then he gets upset because, as he says, “If she’s upset, I’m going to hear about it.”

 When my friend mentioned that her husband got in a fight, I was all ears.

It turns out that they’d been on the go most of the vacation.  You know, entertaining the kids and all. It was their first night  there and both the kids crashed early, the place was quiet and they were feeling quite amorous.  Do you blame them?  For married couples on vacation with kids, it’s not often that both kids fall asleep while parents still have any energy left.  Just as things started heating up, the phone rings.  Annoyed, my friend’s husband answers the phone.  A voice on the other end asks, “Is Mike there?”  My friend’s husband’s name is not Mike, so he said, “No.”  The voice on the other end laughed abrasively and hung up.  My friends shrugged and resumed their activities.  As things once again began heating up, the phone again interrupted the holiday celebration.  The same conversation transpired.  This intrusive caller continued to several other times, before finally leaving my two friends alone for the evening. 

The next morning, very, very, very  early before anyone was awake, my two friends were again enjoying the quiet before the children woke up when there came a knock on the door.  Mexico Friend’s husband goes to the door, there is no one there.  He shuts the door.  A few minutes later they hear another knock.  He answers the door.  There is no one there.  Now, it is very early in the morning. My friends are on vacation in paradise, the kids are out cold and they are being disturbed at ungodly hours by some prankster at the most inopportune times.  They were both getting really annoyed.  Apparently, Husband Of Mexico Friend was more than a bit annoyed. 

This time he waited right by the door and the minute he heard the next knock he lunged out the door.  He was just in time to see a big burly kid probably about middle school age go hightailing it around the edge of the building.  Husband took off with Mexico Friend right behind him. 

Husband, being the larger and faster of the two was able to catch up with the kid but not  whithout slipping and sliding on the tile floors.  The kid  very nearly made it into his own room and had the door almost shut but Husband stopped the door with his foot breaking his toe in the process.  This did nothing to diffuse Husband’s temper or lift his mood.  Husband instead lifted the kid right out of his 4-star room and drug him back out into the hallway.  Husband verbally taking the prankster to task.  As I mentioned before, Mexico Friend’s Husband is a big man.  While he appears fun loving and gentle anytime I’ve ever seen him, I certainly wouldn’t want to get on his bad side.  He could be somewhat intimidating when provoked, I think.  I’m thinking the middle school student thought so too.  He was shaking like a leaf and white as a ghost. 

Well, the tonguelashing  caused quite a disturbance and it wasn’t long before others in the vicinity peeked out of their rooms to see what was going on.  Soon a bit of a  crowd had gathered. Apparently,  the parents of said teen were out partying and had left him on his own.  Out of boredom he decided to have some fun.   Mexico Friend had followed her husband because she thought he might need some support.  I have no idea what she thought she might do to help. 

Soon, things calmed down a bit and Mexico Friend’s husband ended his tirade. Relatives of the punk showed up, promised they’d address the behavior with the kid and just as everyone was beginning to disperse, Husband looked over at his wife and couldn’t believe what he saw.  In the wee hours of the morning, with very little time to plan, they’d both bolted out the door with little thought as to their appearance.  There stood his beautiful wife surrounded by a crowd of gawking onlookers, long blonde hair tousled and all 100 pounds of her (if she’s even that) clad only in a thin see through tank top and panties. White and transparent to be exact.  Knowing my friend as I do, I’m most certain these were not the grandma type briefs that my mother used to wear (sorry, mom) nor were they even boy shorts. I’m thinking her attire left little to the imagination and my friend is not, at least as far as I know, an exhibitionist.  She must have been mortified.

Mexico Friend and her husband made it back to the states safely.  Fortunately, there was no Mexican jail time for either of them.  She told me this story in person today as she gave me a beautiful hand-crafted Mexican poinsettia Christmas ornament as a souvenir.   Each year as I pull this lovely ornament out of it’s tissue and place it on my tree I will remember this humorous tale of what must have been a very embarrassing but humorous moment for Mexico Friend.  I will chuckle,  smile and think fondly of my friend and her family and wish them many more wonderful  and far less eventful vacations in the future.

Take Some Christmas, A Warm Fire, and Two Glasses of Reisling and Call Me In The Morning

I just want to write something happy tonight.  My last few posts have focused on the somewhat drearier side of existence.  I’m ready for happy.  I’m usally ready for happy.  I also have all my Christmas decorations up and my house is clean.  I also have only two more days to work this week.  Well, that’s not really true, I get pulled out of the classroom for some district work on Friday and after dealing with tons of elementary school kids all day everyday, going to adult meetings is like taking the day off. 

There’s a warm fire burning in my woodstove.  The lights on the tree, the ledge and the window mirror in my entry way look absolutely inviting.  It isn’t a monstrous palace I live in, but it is warm and cozy and inviting most of the time. It is especially so at Christmas. 

I mentioned earlier in one of my posts either here or on my other blog at http://cabsplace.wordpress.com that I just wasn’t feeling the Christmas spirit.  I wasn’t.  I haven’t been.  It took a while to ignite. 

First, there was the haggling (in my mind) about whether or not to go with a fake tree this year.  I’m such a real tree lover (not hugger, lover).  I was concerned that getting a fake tree would be a disappointment to the kids.  There are some real valid reasons for wanting a fake tree though.  One is that the cost over time is something I really need to consider.  Throwing $30-$60 away on a tree that’s going to be dead by Christmas every year is not a good thing.  I also have a wood stove and the tree and the wood stove are not that far apart.  Remember, my palace is small.  Very, very small.  So tree and woodstove in the same room equals insurance claim waiting to happen…hmmmm.  

I also live right in the middle of Christmas tree land. Getting a permit and going out to the woods to cut my own tree is not a real tough thing to do.  I could do it.  However, cancel out another day out of my life that I desperately need to use to do laundry and cleaning.  I’d be doing it alone or with only my youngest which is fine, but again, it means something else vital doesn’t get done.  The worst part is getting the thing up on top of my 4×4 alone.  I could do everything else, but that might stymie me.  I usually enjoy going out in the woods and making a day of it with friends, building a big fire and hanging out after the trees are found…but again…not many couples enjoy having a single 5th wheel around and this year my single friends made other arrangements.  I just opted for the easy way out this year.

I’m glad I did.

I bought a $68 special at Wal-Mart.  After three attempts back and forth from Wally World, I had the thing up and lit.  And there it sat…for nearly a week.  I just dreaded the idea of going out and pulling down the decorations from the rafters in the garage.  I don’t know why.  Each day after school, I’d tell myself, toinght we’re going to do this.  Then my energy to do it would just evaporate.  Finally, I just gave my two older girls control of it.  So, Sunday evening they set about decorating the tree while I prepared dinner.  I deliberately stayed out of it.  I wanted it to be their thing. They did their thing and it is beautiful!

It looks like a decorator tree!  Well, almost.  I definitely need to work on getting some more of those specialty ornaments, but with the money I’ll save next year on buying a tree that should be no problem.  Next year. 

This year, I want to add one new thing to the outside light display.  I only have lights across the front of my house and a rope light up the walk.  Pretty boring.  But, hey, like I’ve said all over the place here, it’s been tight.  Things are getting better.  I think this year I might wait till the day after Christms (since I won’t have any kids) and go to the stores and get a few things for the outside of the house…and maybe for the inside too.  But not too much, just a few things.  In a few years of behaving like this I”ll have more Christmas than I could have imagined.

Anyway, I was pondering all this last night and feeling really at peace with the world. It is hard not to feel this way when your kids aren’t squabbling, the Christmas tree looks spectacular, the kids are fed and the dishes are done and the house is clean.  There was a warm fire in the woodstove and all was very well in my world.  It was so nice, that after I sent the younger two to bed, I slipped into my p.j.’s, poured a glass of my favorite Reisling and curled up on the couch to enjoy the ambiance. Before I knew it, I’d dozed off.  I awakened only momentarily when my two oldest girls entered after their holiday dinner theatre rehearsal.  I said a few groggy, loving words to them, they headed to bed themselves and I added a couple of  logs to the fire. 

I think I woke up about midnight and headed to bed after throwing the last few logs on the fire for the night.  The house is lovely, clean, cozy and warm.  My kids are fed and clothed.  We have a roof over our heads and we have Christmas in our hearts as well as our home. It could be a whole lot worse than this that’s for sure.  And, even though, I really have only one more week till my kids vanish for the Big Holiday, I’m going to enjoy every minute of it with them…and I’ll even enjoy the time without them too (I know, blasphemous thing to say, but, remember, I’m one who is with kids 24/7.  It’s nice to be alone after that sometimes). 

As long as the decorations are up, the fire is crackling warm and I can pour a glass of Reisling, life is good.  Not perfect, but still very, very good.

Swirlies And The Problem With Interludes

I have the swirlies. I’ve just experienced an interlude.  Wasn’t planned.  Wasn’t expected.  Was fun. Very fun.  Not exotic.  Not spectacular.  But unusual, unexpected, and very, very unique.  It was signature.  It was classic.  It is the stuff good romance stories are made of whether they end in happily ever after or not…and not all of them do.  But now, it is post-interlude and I have the swirlies.

The swirlies.  It’s that state of mind, hmmm, maybe that state of emotion too, where everything’s  in motion.  My thoughts, my feelings, my reactions, my motivation, my thoughts, my feelings, my reactions, my motivation…all of it is just swirling around like leaves in a breeze. The wind’s not blowing hard enough to just clear the yard of all the leaf matter.  Leaves are in motion, spinning, floating, dangling, coming to rest momentarily, then getting picked up again by the next breeze that floats through.

This is my state of mind this morning.

I’m filled with thoughts.

I’m fill with emotions.

I can’t sort any of it out.  I’m not really even sure I want to. 

I can’t keep any of it still for more than a moment or two and it all comes bubbling right up to the surface again.

I have to go back to work tomorrow.  Correction.  I have to go back to work today.  Because there is laundry to be done, a house to be cleaned, bills to be paid, and children’s needs to meet.

But I am filled with emotions and thoughts and my own needs.  I have my own questions.  I wonder.  I doubt.  I fear.  I hope.  And, none of it will settle.  I want.  I do know this.  I know what I want and that is not swirling.  Everything else is swirling around that. 

I have my own wishes…and my own regrets.  I wish I could have….I wish I’d said…I wish I’d asked…I wish.  I regret that I didn’t…I regret that I did…I regret…

And I wonder.  I wonder what.  I wonder if.  I wonder why. Will there be the opportunity for a re-do?  What if there isn’t.  Why?  Why not? What? What if? 

I also fear.  I fear the if…the when and the why.  Maybe, especially the why or worse…the why not.

Thoughts dash in and then out and back in.  They are swirling, roaming, floating, dashing, fleeing, swirling.  I have the swirlies inside. 

It is evident that today I will not get any answers.  I don’t even know if there are any answers to be had. For that matter, I can’t even pin down the questions.   So without questions, answers make no sense anyway.

I will not get any nearer knowing or resolving or settling anything today, I don’t think.  The leaves in my mind just refuse to be raked and bagged.  I am certain that it is going to be a waste of time to even try to address the tumbling mess of emotional and cognitive matter moving messily about my wild mind. 

So, I am going to give up and go do something else. 

Like laundry.  And making breakfast.  Or preparing for work tomorrow. 

Or any matter of other really normal, routine, business-as-usual things that I would be doing anyway….if the last three days hadn’t happened.  And that’s the problem with interludes. 

The really good ones can’t be planned.  They come as a completely unexpected surprise.

And, when they are over….

When they are over…the return to reality can be almost painful. 

Because a really good interlude, especially one that isn’t planned or scheduled, can put one in touch with what really matters.  And sometimes, it’s just hard to get back to the laundry after that.