Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What's for Dinner Update

Since we don't get home until close to 7 most nights, the girls have no desire to wait longer than 5 minutes to eat dinner. Even the most efficient recipes require at least 20-30 minutes...unless dinner's in the slow cooker.

I've been scouring the internet for slow cooker recipes, and have come across a few good resources to answer the never-ending question, "what's for dinner?"

I'm now the proud owner of two slow-cookers: one with cool programmable features, and one smaller old-fashioned one so I can even slow cook a side dish. I do any prep work required the night before so all that's left to do in the morning is get the slow cooker(s) cooking.

In order to avoid overdone, dry meat that sometimes can be an issue with slow-cooking, there are two basic rules to follow: 1) always cook on the Low setting, and 2) choose recipes that have a sauce. Sure, we'll have a pot roast every so often, but even then, we prefer a recipe that incorporates another liquid besides water. Since it'll be in the slow cooker all day, programmable or not, cooking on Low is already a requirement for us, and I think only once have we had something that tasted even slightly overcooked (and was cooked in the non-programmable slow cooker).

I was very excited to find Reynolds Slow Cooker Liners to help with clean-up. This is not at all a sponsored post, but I really appreciate that someone thought of these!

Our evening routine is working great for us these days. Riley gets the mail while I feed the cat. Sylvia sets the table while I serve. After dinner, the girls start on their homework while I clean up and prep for the next day's meal. While they're getting dressed in the morning, I'm starting dinner. Rinse and repeat.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

What's Next: Back to School

A little history: When I was promoted a few years ago, I was in school to get my paralegal's certificate, and qualified for the position under CA's rule that I was already essentially performing the job. And I have a totally great and supportive boss that seized the opportunity to promote me.

Just a few months later, Sylvia got in a charter school with longer school hours, we moved, and I took a break from school to help Sylvia adjust.

Then the school fell apart, the condo we were renting was sold under us, we moved again, and here we are, about 3 years later, and I never went back to complete my paralegal certificate.

To be fair, I was usually doing more than just working full-time and parenting full-time. I served on the PTA Board, on the girls' after-school advisory board, took the leadership class, did the play, and so forth.

For their first year at their new schools, I didn't want to join any committees just yet. I wanted to get used to the commute, build a new routine, and maybe even enjoy a little down-time, too.

I'm starting to get bored, though. And my wonderful, sweet boss asked me oh-so-nicely if I was finishing up that paralegal certificate. So this will be my new extra-curricular (again).

I'm setting boundaries, though. I will only take one night class per week. If there's a Saturday class, I'll take that, too. My boss has said that I don't have to rush it, just as long as I'm actively working towards it.

I'm really looking forward to it. I already know the environment, so I'm prepared for the bad and the good of this particular school. One quarter, I managed three classes, so I'm fairly confident I can handle the workload of one or two classes at a time.

And, in keeping with my promise to stay honest, I need the discipline. You may have noticed I haven't been writing here as much, nor reading and commenting as much. It's that "body in motion" thing. I need several things going on at once to keep me from getting downright lazy. I like being busy. Not multi-tasking, but constantly asking myself, "what's next?"

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Budgeting Update: Diminishing Guilt, Increasing Confidence

I have two types of Excel worksheets for my budgeting: one breaks down the budget by my weekly paycheck a month at a time, and the other is for the year, a tab for each month. Naturally, I spent some time this month looking at 2011 as a whole.

The biggest change since I've started these spreadsheets is my attitude. Because I see it as a work in progress instead of a constant struggle to make ends meet, I don't berate myself for going over in a certain area. The red numbers are simply a good starting point to figure out where I can make changes.

I also have let go of any guilt associated with not being able to afford certain things. I view everything differently.

There was a musical I really wanted to take the girls to see, but I could never justify the costs. I thought about it multiple times, but it was never worth it to me. When the girls were seeing their relatives in Northern California, they were taken to see the musical. I was thrilled that they got to see it, and they loved it. And I was even happier that I hadn't broken the budget to take them myself.

Prior to 2011, I would groan about every birthday party invitation the girls received because of the presents I would have to buy. Now, not only is it easier to buy without fearing it will break my budget, I also am much better about only spending what we can afford. Because the girls (and their friends) are older, I'm usually okay with just giving cash. It saves on wrapping, time and effort, and $10 itself may not be very much, but the recipients are thrilled to add it to their stash.

Basically, my definition of "wants" versus "needs" has been sharpened to help us truly live within our means.

Of course, there's still a long way to go. Still credit card debt to be paid down, and my emergency savings is still anemic, but those are goals for 2012. And beyond. I know there will continue to be unexpected costs, and some huge costs in the future (just a couple more years before Sylvia's old enough to drive), but I'm fairly confident that we'll keep getting through it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Versatile Blogger Award

I'm honored that Mandy from Since My Divorce passed this award on to me. I love her site, and also told my story there.

Now I get to pass this on to 7 bloggers:

Daily Plate of Crazy: Of course, BigLittleWolf is the first to come to mind. This particular award is apt for BLW because one never knows if her daily post will be about single parenting, relationships, the Real Housewives franchise or cooking. 

Tara at Thin Spiral Notebook is also versatile. She shares photos, fiction, poetry, and personal stories. I was lucky to find Tara just months into blogging, so I feel like we go way back.

I've already linked a few times to Tina at One Mom's Battle, but I'd be remiss if I didn't also reward her.

Jenn at random thoughts is also a long-time blog friend. She manages school along with full-time single motherhood with such grace.

I've loved getting to know Missy at Far From Flawless. Her tagline "Life doesn't have to be perfect to be great!" says it all, really.

Christina & Lisa at Onely: Single and Happy are wonderful sources of inspiration and education.

And the greatest husband and wife team of bloggers ever: Mike and Heather Spohr at The Spohrs are Multiplying. I never know if I'm going to get a great recipe or be moved to tears or burst into laughter when reading one of their posts. I tend to be nauseated by anniversary posts, but Mike's love letter to his wife was one of the most beautiful things I've ever read.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Gratitude, Schmatitude, Oprahtitudes

"Don't sweat the small stuff." 
"Find gratitude in every day."
"Forgiveness will set you free."

Oprahtitudes = cliches and platitudes like those above, generally heard on Oprah, Dr. Phil and the like.

I know I've shared a lot recently about how wonderful my life is, so you might think I'm one of those people that lives by Oprahtitudes. Just the opposite, in fact.

When someone tells me they're trying not to sweat the small stuff, I'm more likely to say, "screw that." When a situation or person is frustrating or annoying, I think it's perfectly okay to be frustrated or annoyed. I know whenever I try to fight those feelings, they fester, I dwell, and then I feel guilty as well as frustrated/annoyed.

I'm a firm believer in venting. I have to get it off my chest, and once I've said it out loud (or okay, said it out loud 3 or 4 times), only then does it lose its power over me.

And some days really do suck. Or at least, the majority of it sucks enough that leaves me saying, "I can't wait for today to be OVER." I know that it will be. I know that the bad day included some moments of laughter, but since every day includes laughter, it diminishes the really good days to say that every day is good. And some days aren't either good or bad, they just are. Not every day can be worth remembering.

Forgiveness is a big one for me, and I finally wrote this post about Oprahtitudes thanks to Tina's post (yes, she's becoming a favorite of mine) about trying to forgive her ex. I loved what she said in her comments:

At this point, I think “accepting” him for who he is will bring the type of healing that I am seeking.

That's where I am. I've accepted X, but I don't spend much energy trying to forgive him anymore. In the same vein as sweating the small stuff, when I've tried before to forgive him, it first makes me like a failure for not being able to forgive, and then, it just pisses me off because he's the one who screwed up, so why is it up to me to be an even bigger person yet again?  So my response is again, the oh-so-eloquent, screw that. I have enough to do every day by getting the girls out of bed, getting them to school, getting myself to work, working, picking the girls up, getting them dinner, Sylvia to dance class, dealing with homework and birthday party invites and laundry and groceries and bills (oh my!) and doctor's appointments, glasses, discipline issues...any time left over is my time, thanks, and I'm not going to spend it trying to will myself into forgiveness.

Oprahtitudes are great sound bytes. If you're someone that finds true peace and happiness by not sweating the small stuff and living each day to its fullest, that's awesome, really.

Personally, I'm grateful for any day that doesn't suck. Since that's more often than not lately, that's more than good enough for me.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Balancing Beliefs, a Birthday, and Big Little Wolf

It was X's bday. He's over half a century old, and he spent his birthday behind bars. Riley asked me to confirm, but other than that, it didn't really affect her. Sylvia and I haven't spoken about it. What is there to say? This was just another of many birthdays of incarceration for him.

I really can't remember if he spent last year's in jail, but I'm pretty sure he did. Is it bad that I'm not sure? Since it doesn't impact our daily lives, it's hard to keep track. I focus on the more immediate needs and events of today.

Big Little Wolf (a common source of inspiration, admiration, and aspiration for me) wrote When Beliefs Are Broken. She has been a single mom for many years now, and is going through some life changes: an empty nest now, a new relationship, and she questions whether or not her messy divorce from so many years ago will still impact her relationship today, as she can't quite picture getting married again. 

My responses to her questions were far too long and involved to put in a comment. She asked:

Have you had your trust broken? Obviously, yes. There are some TV shows (reality-based and not) that are difficult to watch because they mirror too closely those years of my relationship with X. I see young women (and some not so young) struggle to reconcile who they were with what their life is with this wrong guy. I know that struggle. I had no idea who I was, and that loss of me was why I stayed as long as I did.

Have you been able to put the pieces back together? Yes, and it's a work in progress. The first year was devoted to starting over our lives. The second and third years were spent processing. The fourth and fifth years were a constant back and forth, trying to get over. I think around the 6th year was when I figured out that it's about getting through, and when I went from surviving to thriving.

If you give up certain foundational beliefs, with what do you replace them?
  Well, first of all, I learned that some beliefs weren't as fundamental as I'd once thought. I realized I'd been conditioned to believe that we all want to find "the one" when really, I'm single at heart.  I also found that my real foundations were things I'd lost when I was married, and have regained since. I spent most of my 20s in relationships. My 30s have been about figuring out what's changed about me through compromises because of relationships, and what's changed because I (supposedly) grew up.

Where is the line between self-protection and self-limitation
? I don't think we really know the answer to this until we've crossed that line. And very few of us are that good at admitting we're wrong until it's glaringly obvious. I'm not in the chosen few. One of the chapters of Situations Matter talks about this in detail; no one can really know themselves completely. Each situation, each choice continues to shape us.

While I maintain that the divorce itself was not my fault, the confluence of external situations and internal struggles created the perfect conditions for me to enter an imperfect union of marriage. X alone didn't cause me to not believe in myself, but he expertly exploited my inner doubts for his self-interest.

It felt appropriate to answer these questions on the anniversary of X's birth, because no doubt, his life changed mine forever and made these questions applicable to me. But one thing I know for sure? If he hadn't, someone(s) would have. I don't think I could have figured out my real foundation without having stretched it beyond my limitations.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Musicals in My Mind

First, the ubiquitous, gee, sorry I haven't been around disclosure. Last week, the girls were out of town visiting X's family (not X; their aunts, etc.), and I took a week off from being a responsible adult. Now, the girls are back in school and I'm back at work and all the craziness that comes with it. Nothing deep or meaningful on my mind. Just musicals, it turns out.

Since I work in real estate, my weekdays consist of addresses, cities, states, and my brain (of its own volition) is coming up with ways to remember my outstanding projects.

I was working on something in Arcadia, and in my mind, Arcadia was sung, as in "Aquarius" from Hair.

When I switched to a property in Pennsylvania, my mind sang, Transylvania (as sung by Tim Curry in Rocky Horror Picture Show's "Sweet Transvestite").

Culver City became "Everything's Up to Date in Kansas Culver City" from Oklahoma!

I'm not even trying to make these connections, they just happen. Who knew real estate and Broadway musicals went so well together? My obsessed mind, apparently.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Balancing Context

My 11-year-old daughter asked me, "Is Daddy a good person who does bad things, or a bad person who sometimes does good things?"

My daughters have experienced first-hand how important context is when thinking about a whole person. 

Sam Sommers' Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World is a great read, all of it, and it helps the reader understand that personality is only one factor when it comes to understanding humanity.

My answer to my daughter was, he's just a person. I told her that a few years ago, I might have called him a good person who does bad things, but because he continues to do bad things and finds himself in jail again for his 51st birthday, he doesn't show a great capacity to learn. But he's still not a bad person. He's not evil. He just can't seem to get his life together.

I've learned how to be honest with my daughters about their father's actions, without necessarily bad-mouthing him. The girls have learned that they can love their father, but not love his actions.

Sommers' book includes many stories of ordinary people in situations where their actions might have left many of us judging them as bad or heartless people. Sommers shows us how easily we could have (and probably have) been guilty of similar actions in similar circumstances. Sommers calls this type of judgment What You See Is What Is What You Get (WYSIWYG). A benign example from Sommers' own experience: getting irritated with a driver that won't leave their parking space so Sommers can pull into it it; thinking the driver selfish or mean-spirited. Sommers later learned that (a) he knew the driver (and knew him not to be selfish or mean-spirited), and (b) the car wouldn't start and had to be towed.

My favorite chapter is Chapter 4: You're Not the Person You Thought You Were. This chapter was fresh on my mind when I wrote It's Not Your Fault. There were a lot of things at play when I said, "I do." Like, being 7 months pregnant with our second child. Even before legally wedding him, I now recognize how much fear factored into my decisions when I stayed with him, or went back to him. Some of that fear was of my own making, and X exploited those fears to make me feel like being with him was my best option. I'm not necessarily a fearful person, nor was I then, but in context with being in love with him, I found myself in a situation I never thought could happen to me.

Situation Matters helped me see that while I'll never know myself completely, I don't have to judge myself because of one action, and future actions will continue to change me. Of course, I hope for the better, but I know that won't always be the case, either. Nor will one action dictate the rest of my daughters' lives.

Sommers goes into a lot more detail of how context matters on a variety of levels: from dozens of witnesses who did nothing when a boy was kidnapped and beaten to the assumptions of gender differences, race relations, and even the idea of soul mates. Sommers is rarely preachy, often witty, and balances scientific evidence with great personal anecdotes to keep from feeling like you're in a lecture hall. 

As hard as it may be to deal with the consequences of X, I do think the girls are better off for already understanding how to balance situations with personality.

Disclosure: I was given an advance copy of the book to read for participating in TLC's Book Tour.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

It's Not Your Fault

I couldn't even get through Tina's post because I saw red. It seems a reasonable question, and I certainly was asked this enough times that I know the question is well-intended. But the result is what infuriates me.

Tina was asked, "why did you marry him?" Tina is sharing her journey of a horrible marriage to a narcissist and the ongoing struggles to get her ex to comply with the court's mandated visitation rules and his continued attempts to turn their daughters against Tina.

There are many differences in Tina's journey and my own, but a lot of similarities, too. I know exactly how Tina feels as she stumbles over her words to respond to her daughters when they try to understand why their father doesn't show up for visitations, or says or does things that no mother should have to explain.  I know how she feels when she wishes for a manual to guide her through this. The circumstances are different, but the feelings and desires for our daughters are very much the same.

Which is why I seethe for her when someone asks, "why did you marry him?" She was asked to look within herself to find out where she went wrong.

That's like asking a burglary victim to explain why the robber went after them.

I spent years in therapy trying to understand my own actions. You know what I came up with? It wasn't me. It wasn't co-dependency or a fault in my own upbringing. It just happened.

Sometimes, crappy things just happen.

That's not to say I didn't make choices or don't take responsibility. I take responsibility every day. By raising these children on my own, by paying every single bill, by sharing in their struggles and their triumphs. I pay for those choices in the nightmares and the reminders.

But I've also realized how many times I was manipulated. My mistake was believing in him, and believing that love could conquer anything and everything. Yes, love can be wonderful and strengthening and buoying, but only if it works both ways. In my situation, it simply wasn't. He has no clue how to love. Call it a mental deficiency, a chemical imbalance, it doesn't matter. I gave my love to the wrong person. Plain and simple.

I see red when Tina's asked this question because I know how it feels to ponder it, to try to look "inward" when the answer is outward. It's not always within ourselves to find these answers, but sometimes, it's really about someone else.

So to Tina and all the other persons, single parent or otherwise, whomever has had their heart trampled or their soul broken or their wallet stolen, it is not your fault. Stop worrying what you did to deserve this, what you need to change about yourself. Just keep getting up every day. Keep doing your best to get through the next hour. Keep remembering that every emotion has a beginning, a middle and an end, and believe that you will once again love, laugh, and feel true happiness for moments scattered through a life full of landmines, challenges, and loss.

There will be moments of revelation to come. There will be times when you'll remember something that says to you, oh yeah, I saw a red flag there, and I ignored it because...the blanks will fill in themselves when you're stronger, when you're more content, and yes, when you love yourself more. But you don't get there by beating yourself up. You get there with the pillars of strength you've built out of your own hard work that makes you proud. You get there with the help of friends that actually get you to laugh about your ex's shortcomings. You get there through every hug and kiss and "I love you" your child says. You get there when you can laugh at your own stumbles instead of cursing yourself for them.

So if someone asks, "why did you marry him?" you respond, "because I didn't have the benefit of hindsight." If someone asks, "what did you learn about yourself?" you can say that you're learned that a heartbreak doesn't actually kill you. If they ask what mistakes you've learned not to make again, you can respond that you certainly won't marry him again! And you can even say, "it wasn't my fault. It was his."

Monday, January 2, 2012

And the First Post of 2012

I have six grocery bags full of books to give away, and I've thrown out a good half-dozen kitchen-sized trash bags of stuff! I'm afraid that's just in the living room. There's still the bedrooms to go.

Having spent most of my adult life moving on average once a year, I've discovered something about staying settled for 3+ years. I haven't had that opportunity to go through everything due to a pending move. I had to find some other impetus to go through stuff so I used New Year's.

One of the things I haven't decluttered, ironically, are all my books on decluttering. While I accept that I can't change the fact that I'm not a born organized type person, I also accept that I need help. I hope that just having the books remind me to keep this up throughout the year.

With both of the girls out of school, all this quality time together has brought back sibling rivalry. Oh, joy.

Last night, I was telling Riley the phrase I use over and over in this blog, but not so much with the girls. I told her that anger is like any other emotion: with a beginning, a middle and an end. She responded that she was annoyed when I started talking, but she knows it'll go away as soon as I stop. Oh, yeah, she's a tween!

Sylvia has turned even more into a mini-me. She's currently obsessed with Oklahoma! and Gypsy, two musicals that I must've watched a hundred times when I was a kid.

My current musical obsession is [title of show]. My friend told me about this show a while ago, but I just got around to downloading it, and love almost every song, but most especially, Die Vampire Die! The vampires are the things and people that try to kill our creative spirit.

There's this wonderful section in that song where they talk about the little voice in our head that tells us we're not good enough, and other soul-crushing thoughts. She says (paraphrasing), "why is it that if someone said that to me in a subway station, I'd think they were a deranged idiot, but if it's the voice in my head, I think it's the voice of reason?" Such a great reminder that just because it's in our head doesn't make it right. After all, isn't that where our fears lie? To give in and give up is to let that deranged idiot Fear win.

It occurs to me that maybe I've been letting Fear win a little when it comes to this blog. Oh, sure, I have the excuses of less time, older kids, but truthfully, I have put myself out here less and less. I didn't blog about the audition I blew, or the scholastic struggles I had with Sylvia this first semester of her high school career. And maybe I wouldn't have blown the audition or allowed Sylvia to struggle as long as I did if I held myself more accountable here.

I hate resolutions, but all the more reason to make one. I resolve to blog more about the vampires this year.