The Holidays are OVER! WHOOT WHOOT! (Who’s with me?)

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This is the last picture of my Christmas tree. I swear. But it was one of the few things that brought me joy during this holiday season. It also contains a pic of the Dirty Dawg, who didn’t abandon me this Christmas…whon, whon, waaah (can you hear Charlie Brown?). Since this would be my first Christmas alone in many years, I was on the fence whether or not to put up my beloved tree. Over the last 12 years, due to a non-traditional custody agreement, and the fact the houligans have long since aged out of any traditional custody arrangement, I have my kids all the time. Every holiday. Period. I’ve grown accustomed to it. Most Christmases we are together, either at home, or traveling, which I’ve mentioned in the past (Europe and Australia). There have been a few times we’ve ventured to our former hometown, where both my father and my kid’s dad reside, which has had its challenges. My dad has a less than stellar living arrangement, since my mother’s passing, in their home with his new-ish domestic partner-anyone see Fleabag?-which makes for a less than pleasurable time when I go to visit.

As for the kids, their dad has re-married. For lack of a better term, their Christmas Eve with that side of the family has turned into a glorified frat party. Lot’s of booze, questionable substances, and just general bad behavior. Not what I’d ever imagined for my kids on a holiday that remains deeply meaningful for me. I mean, how did we go from matching dresses, Christmas Eve Mass, and cozy new pjs to drunken brawls? And to be honest, lets suffice to say my situation with my dad isn’t a lot better. Last year, after a miscommunication about spending Christmas Eve with him and the DP, I ended up locked out of the house, sleeping in my clothes on my best friend’s couch. Being a displaced person on Christmas morning:  Not my fave. The houligans situation at their dad’s house wasn’t any better. As we prepared to leave our little home town last year, the day after Christmas, promises were made never to return for the holidays. To say I was a little smug over this turn of events, would be an understatement. I had presented them on a silver platter so the other side of the family could enjoy a holiday with them and they f***ed it up, not me. I now had validation that I could have them all to myself forever and ever. Sick. I know. And, as it turned out: Not true. Wanna see how this played out…

This holiday season, my eldest defected to Europe with an extended group of friends. What the whaaa??? And despite many protestations to the contrary, the other 3 opted to go back for round two with the Dysfunctionals. This was one of those moments where I had to put on not one, but two pairs of big girl panties. I had to make my peace with not being with any of my children on Christmas. At my higher level of being, I truly want them to be able to go where they feel like they need to be on any given day. However, returning for Christmas with my dad was not an option this year. I just couldn’t do it. Even if it meant being separated from the kids, I had to listen to my gut that said ‘stay put.’ There was also a deep awareness on my part, that I cannot run proximal interference for my kids any more. I knew there would be trouble with their dad, and at their ages, this really doesn’t involve me. Aside from providing emotional support, when they ask for it, I’m a bit tapped out. Emotional boundary setting with my kids has long been a topic in response to unpleasant behavior, and it is their responsibility to enforce it. Not mine. P.S. They are Masters of Boundary Setting when it comes to me. lol.

Since these circumstances left me alone, or as ‘alone’ as I wanted to be, I had to spend time trying to figure out again, how to make Christmas meaningful when circumstances change. I had a quiet Christmas Eve, with two dear friends, was home early and woke to a quieter house than I would have liked. As the sorriness started to creep in, I decided to take charge of my day. Just as I was bemoaning the absence of the sour cream coffee cake that I couldn’t justify making only for myself, it slowly dawned on me, I COULD BAKE IT FOR ME. And I did! This small act encouraged me to address what other things were missing from my holiday routine, that I wanted to re-instate. With the smell of that delicious cake wafting through the morning air, I became centered and was able to refocus on the fact that despite divorce still sucking in a major way, I get to design how I want to experience the holidays.

I also need to be hyper aware that just as I yearn for Christmases past, I also need to be cognizant of the fact that things were not always perfect even when my family of origin, and my own nuclear family were intact. My mother was a notorious over-spender, and probably an undiagnosed manic-depressive. She created beautiful, over the top Christmases that I knew I would never be able to sustain once she was gone, while simultaneously putting my parents in debt for the first few months of the new year. This behavior created its own stress. And, as wonderful as my holidays were as a child, they were followed by Januarys where my mother’s depression reared its ugly head and stole her from us for weeks at a time. As for my marriage, I don’t miss my husband getting wasted on Christmas Eve and me wrapping presents until midnight, pissed off. Someone else gets to do that now! So, as I age, I need to figure out what will bring me happiness as I navigate ‘the most joyful time of the year.’ LOL. As my kids get older, I will have to accept that they won’t always be with me during the Christmas season, and I need to make the season meaningful for me.

Once I made a conscious effort to be in the moment, I realized we were all fine. December 25th was just a day. It also made me realize I have goals for myself and how I want to be living my life, whether my kids are at home, or not. I know I want to be back in a living situation where I can have the Christmas Eve open house I so miss. The Christmas brunch with our traditional coffee cake. The Christmas dinner with a beautiful table set that so reminds me of my mother. I’m beginning to understand that I can have all the things associated with Christmas that I have been missing, but that I have to make a concerted effort to make it happen. I also need to acknowledge that these traditions mean something to me, and that is reason enough to replicate them.

Today, as everyone re-enters their lives and goes back to school and work, I have time to pause and reflect upon what I liked about this past holiday season, and what I have control over to change in the future to stave off the feeling of being left in holiday no-man’s land. I will continue to put up my tree the day after Thanksgiving, I will continue to go to Christmas Eve Mass, solo or naught,  and I will have friends over after church for hors d’oeuvres and a celebratory glass of pink champagne. I will make the sour cream coffee cake, even it is for one, like this year! Ultimately, I will have peace knowing I get to decide how this plays out. No holiday victim allowed.

 

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Shopping my Fridge: 2017

 

I’ve been really trying to cut back on my grocery bill. I spend waaaay too much on groceries for a household of two. Cooking is my entertainment, my hobby, my sanctuary and my reward. I love to cook. However, due to a major change in my job, I’ve had to cut back on everything and groceries was one of the first places to start. I’ve long suspected I was spending too much at the store, but having my income cut, made me get much more aggressive about cutting my spending there. Not to mention the fact, that most weeks, I throw out food. One of many different dirty little secrets I have. LOL. And, it pains me every. single. time. It’s like those limp green onions rear their white heads at me, and scream ‘why??? I would have been so good atop your baked potato, or your salsa!’ But alas, I go shopping with my eyes, and not with a list 9 times out of 10. Not good. Any pro-budgeter states to do the exact opposite.

So, in a concerted effort  to reform my overspending habits, I have tried to jump on the meal plan bus. I’ve used, with varying success, a meal planning template from the blog I Heart Organizing, which I love. When I use it. On the weeks I’m really on my game, I grocery shop with a highly specific list, come home and meal prep. By the end of the week I am thrilled that we haven’t gotten take-out or been forced to go out to dinner. Of course, this takes discipline, which I do a dance with on the daily. But, if I try to focus on my end goal of saving money, and eating healthier, I do better.

This has also meant ‘shopping’ my own pantry and freezer. Previously, I liked my freezer, as in Pee Wee Herman telling Dottie he ‘liked her,’ but you could tell, not in that way. Ha.I just did not use the freezer as the tool it is. My shopping preference, all things being even, would be to shop every day a la the French. However, my life is not set up like that, particularly right now as I am working full-time and going to grad school 3 nights a week. If I don’t want my son eating cereal those nights, and me eating out of a vending machine, it is necessary for me to use my weekends to create healthy, budget friendly meals. This is where my freezer has come in handy. Being able to capitalize on sales, and popping those items into the freezer for later use, has proved to be invaluable.

I’ve also tried to look into my pantry and use those items in there first, even if what’s in there is not my first preference. We’ve also turned towards left-overs. Which, after growing up on left-overs, has not been my preference. As I’ve stated before, my mother was a TERRIBLE cook. So, the first time around, the food wasn’t great, and the 2nd pass at it was worse.

So, in a round about way, the above info leads me to the above pictures of pasta. For NYE 2017 my sister and her children came for a visit. We decided on personal pizzas adapted from Bobby Flay’s easy recipe. All of it could be prepped ahead of time, from dough to toppings. We went through a lot of the pizza toppings, but as I found myself looking for something the following Monday for dinner, and I didn’t want to the go to the store, I saw that I had lots of crumbled sausage already prepped as well as baby spinach and sautéed mushrooms. This all came together quickly and easily. I was so thrilled with the resulting pasta.

This meal re-inforced what I had been attempting to do. A bit of meal prep, and shopping my own refrigerator, can lead me to a lovely meal with little effort. It was twice as nice when one of my houligan boys came home with a friend and inhaled it!

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So. Over. Pumpkin Bread.

***Please excuse the wonky pic. This cake is moist! And little Miss Impatient cut into it waaay too soon***

There. I said it. Pumpkin bread has a very short shelf life for me. And once we blew through Thanksgiving, I was happy to put that ‘bread’ in my rear view mirror. I don’t know what it is, maybe its  lack of distinct flavor, that sours it for me..

But gingerbread, on the other hand? Now we’re talking. And this recipe,adapted from Laura De Masco’s recipe printed in the New York Times is the best! And the greatest part? It has a SECRET INGREDIENT! Cocoa powder! This quick bread comes together easily. The only alteration I made was throwing in a teaspoon of powdered ginger as I wasn’t sure the real ginger was going to be enough of a flavor punch. There isn’t enough cocoa powder to compete with the ginger flavor, but just enough to enhance the overall effect. I also didn’t have stout on hand, so I substituted water. The recipe also called for coffee, which was a surprise. The end result was so good, but I do look forward to making it again with the stout.

This little bread puts Starbucks version to shame!  Coupled with a slightly lemony cream cheese frosting, it  was perfect. Extra bonus? It freezes beautifully, thank goodness as I was doing my best to power through it the first night. For now, it sits in the back of the freezer, behind the black frozen bananas, where no one ever, ever looks just waiting to provide a taste of Christmas whenever I need it!

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A Blingy Tinsel Tree

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This Christmas, I couldn’t pull it together to pre-order my Silver Tip Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Coupled with a hectic schedule, and the fact that three of the houligans would be with their dad for Christmas, and the other one is in Europe (more on that later…), caused me to re-think my approach to decorating for the holidays. The other issue I’ve repeatedly faced living in sunny So Cal (I know there is little sympathy for me from my friends enduring real weather), is that every tree is basically kindling by the time it arrives and the warm winter weather does nothing to help preserve it. By the time the 26th rolls around, bad morning breath would catch the tree on fire.

In my fantasy Christmas world, a handmade white goose feather tree from Dennis Bauer, featured in a Martha Stewart magazine years ago, would appear. However, due to price and availability, mainly price (**ahem**, $800-ish), that was not to be. So, I began a mad dash around town to find a white 36″ Christmas tree. NOT TO BE HAD. I looked high and low. The internet was out, as it wouldn’t arrive in time, the Michael’s staff laughed in my face, and everywhere else was sold out. Now, I am not a huge fan of Tuesday Mornings, but on a whim I went in there and lo and behold, there was this confection. At $39.99 with 25% it was sold and on its way home.

Since I love blue and pink, silver and gold, I (or rather Houligan 4) raffled through our Christmas boxes and culled together the palette I’d envisioned. Minor screw up number one: I was so happy to find battery operated lights, I failed to suss out white ones, so I just trailed the green coated ones down the center. It lacks the plethora of lights I usually love, but it’ll do. Mistake number two: I assembled this tree on my kitchen table moving it to the coffee table after assembly and prompted dumped the entire thing over. Fortunately, I only lost a few ornaments, but my fave pink chinoiserie ornament that I ordered off Etsy survived my stupidity.

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I’m so glad I went to the effort of putting a tree up. I am rarely without my kids on Christmas and I really love putting up a tree. In fact, there is only one year, when we went abroad for Christmas that I haven’t put up one. But this year, I truly contemplated not going to the trouble. And then I remembered that I love a tree. Even though the kids wouldn’t be around to enjoy it, I enjoy it. It is important, during the holidays, to hang onto the things that make you happy. Particularly when you might be separated from your children. Traditions that you used to enjoy as a family, are different. But the thing to remember is that you get to invent your very own holiday now. You get to keep the things that you liked doing and let go of the things you don’t. Do I miss my kids on Christmas morning? Of course I do. But it is good for them to be with their dad and his side of the family from time to time.

So, this morning I got to enjoy one my favorite things, sipping coffee by my darling, joyful Christmas tree. Frohe Weihnachten!

 

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I’m Baaaack

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For all 2 of you who noticed, there’s been a bit of a lapse between now, and the last time I posted. To say life has gotten in the way of anything I find remotely fun, would be an understatement. So, I’m taking back my life and what I love to do and that’s write, and document pretty things, and vent (sometimes), and travel, and cook, and overshare about what it’s like to be single and raising parenting adult children, or almost adult children. My God, you can’t even call it parenting. More like glorified consulting, if they’ll let you. Anyone else find the navigation of how to interact with adult children a foray into the dangerous world of ‘Don’t Say Anything Wrong.’ Ever.Ugh. That’s a full time job right there. But I digress…Are you down?

I am at the tail end of another semester of grueling grad school. Having forged back into the world of post graduate academia, I have been greatly humbled by this experience. I’d been playing with the idea of returning to school after my 4th layoff in sales. As I was (am) nearing my 50s, with zero retirement, I began to feel the need to change things up and create a financial future that would offer me security. I was having a harder and harder time imagining a world where I was a 72 year old sales rep looking for another job after yet another layoff. After much soul searching, I settled on something that was interesting to me and would offer the promise of a securer future.

In the last year and half I’ve nearly lost my mind 1,000 times. Please refer to the above picture for an accurate portrayal of this time period. The word ‘crazed’ comes to mind. This is not an endeavor for the faint of heart. It’s a good thing that my impulsivity got in the way of a saner mind, because if I’d truly known what it was going to be like, I would have never had the courage to embark on this. This is definitely one time that ‘ignorance is bliss,’ was a wonderful game plan. Returning to school has required student loans, working several jobs, doing homework alongside my 11th grader, and totally buying into the idea of delayed gratification. Never my strong suit. But as I chip away, I can see the promise of a future where stability replaces instability, something I very much crave. Thank goodness my b.f.f., Kat embarked on a similar path right before I did, and has been a source of encouragement, along with many other friends, as it is taking a village right now to pull this off! Sometimes we laugh as we picture our future selves only doing one job at a time. A time where a weekend is really a weekend without churning out paper after paper. What a breeze it will be. LOL.

But my main reason for re-embarking on this blog is to share a sort of hope for other women my age who are considering what their futures are going to look like, particularly if you’ve gone through, or going through, divorce. It is so important to shore up your financial future and explore what is going to make you happy, and self-supporting, in the long run. This is more of an issue for women who perhaps took time off to raise children, or who were underemployed during child rearing years, and it’s taking a little bit of imagination to get yourself back on track. I’m here to tell you, ‘you can do it!’

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Campfire Nachos

Hawaiian Inspired Campfire Nachos

Hawaiian Inspired Campfire Nachos

I adore nachos. I love trying to get the exact ratio of cheese, to topping, to chip perfect so that every bite is a constant delight! On our recent trip to Yosemite each family was responsible for either an appetizer, a side, or the main course each night. Which made it so fun and collaborative, especially with my foody friends who had put a lot of time and effort into their nightly contribution. We dined on Spicy Chicken Sausage spaghetti (with plenty of Chianti!), delicious vegetarian spaghetti, and Hawaiian Chicken and Aloha rice (along side passion fruit infused mai tais).

Since I was assigned the night with the Hawaiian Chicken, I wanted to keep with the theme. I settled on Hawaiian inspired nachos. After heavily layering two layers of chips with cheese atop refried beans, I set the pan over the campfire to melt the cheese and warm up the beans, covering the pan with tin foil. After the beans were warmed through and the cheese was bubbling and melted, I added jalapeños, peppercinis, diced pineapple, sour cream, and olives. I finished the whole thing off by drizzling sweet chili sauce and a concoction of mirin infused bar-b-que sauce. These two condiments definitely added the Hawaiian flavor I was looking for. They were so yummy!!!

Nachos were the perfect portable appetizer for camping. Most items were in sealed packages and cans so they kept well. I used pre-shredded cheese, an item I usually shy away from, and sour cream that kept well in the cooler. The campfire was the ideal cooking method and I used a heavy duty proof pan that would withstand the heat and not buckle under the weight of all the toppings. As I mentioned, I tented the pan with aluminum foil, careful not to touch the cheese.

On a side note, I made plain cheese nachos for the 14 children that were running amok as I was sure they wouldn’t care for the ‘adult nachos.’ How wrong I was. We were beating them off with sticks in order to get to them. So funny! Little foodies in training…

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4th of July. No Children. Boo.

 

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1/20 of my 4th of July Decor

I don’t just love 4th of July. I’m crazy for it. I found out I’m less crazy about Independence Day (or any other holiday, for that matter) without the Houligans. After the divorce, we all worked hard to create different, meaningful traditions and new memories. This 4th was an indication that we are moving into a new phase that has little to do with the repercussions of a divorce, and more to do with adult children and their plans. Three out of the four skipped So Cal for various other parts of the world: Bolivian Salt Flats (???), Belfast, Ireland, and Nor Cal. The one who did stick around was M.I.A for most of the day. So it was just me, a few friends, and the Dirty Dawg.

On a typical 4th of July we join the neighborhood morning parade, we tie-dye shirts in red, white and blue, we put on a huge lunch at the beach for all our friends, we attend an annual bar-b-que. At the end of the evening we watch the fireworks from T-Street as they cascade down the coast from Corona del Mar to Dana Point to San Juan Capistrano with a grand finale off the San Clemente pier.

This year it was me. Me, Myself, and I. I expected to feel overwhelming melancholy, and guess what? I was actually happy with a slower pace, responsible for only getting myself to the beach and to the bar-b-que. It was somewhat refreshing not attempting to ‘herd cats’ down to watch the pyrotechnics. Do I want this every year? Absolutely not. But I understand I’m in the middle of a process. With only one Houligan left at home, this active parenting thing will be coming to a sort of end.  Soon. Despite wanting to relish every second with them, I’m also discovering I’m going to be fine if every holiday isn’t a Norman Rockwell painting.

So I happily entertained myself with Wimbledon, the World Cup, dressing up/harassing the Dirty Dawg, baking, and visiting with friends.

I can do this thing!

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Hers Loves the Bow

This is what happens to the Dirty Dawg when the kids aren’t around. Poor girl.

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But I did let her sit on the couch to watch the Women’s Wimbledon Final, so I’m not a total shrew. However, no croissants were allowed!

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I felt the need to jump on the Ina Garten Flag Cake Fray. It truly was so pretty and

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