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Thursday, August 20, 2015

I live in a Cat House.

So, have you ever seen The Best Little Whore house in Texas?  It came out in 1982, starring the good version of Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton.  My Mom loved that movie and I'm pretty sure I watched it, more than once, before I turned 8.  As the title implies, Dolly is the proprietor of a home full of  young women just looking to save up some money for college.  *insert eyeroll here*  I really must develop a sarcasm font.

Anyhoo, here's the synopsis from

"Town Sheriff and regular patron, fights to keep a historical whorehouse open when a TV preacher targets it as the Devils playhouse."

You know, it's quite interesting how society nearly 35 years later keeps trying to ban things that people deem immoral.  I'm not saying that we should have courtesans giving handies during debate on CSPAN or anything, but as far as immoral acts go, I think consensual paid sex is lower on my list of priorities to go after, ya' know?

What was I saying again?  Oh yeah, my home is a cat house, too, but instead of hookers and blow, I get indifferent animals and puked up hairballs everywhere.  I have two cats.  I would say own, but any cat "owner" knows who really owns whom.  Amirite?  And yes, according to the Googles, it is "who owns whom".

Gonzo is the lover boy.  He's a total mama's boy!
When we purchased this home, over 5 years ago now, we had not anticipated that the lovely cream color of the carpet in the basement would eventually look like the Jackson Pollock of cat puke.  We relegated the two demons (no seriously, I love these furballs, but ya know..?) to our laundry room, which had no carpet, only concrete floors.  This is where we set up the litter box and placed the water and food dishes.

The greatest thing about them being down in the basement was that we could shut the door so they wouldn't come upstairs at night.  My female calico (Princess) likes to be nosy and she gets into everything.  She also hides things.  At our old house, we were cleaning before the move, and moved a large console radio/record player.  We found Barbie clothes, hair ties, milk jug rings, twist ties, used Q-tips fished out of the trash, and socks.  She's pretty much half a ferret.  So, now the door gets closed and dishes don't end up on the kitchen floor in the middle of the night.

I do miss having Gonzo (our male black cat, officially named Tony Gonzalez, Jr.) snuggle up on the bed during the night, but I know my husband doesn't miss him.  Instead, we now get wake up meows from the cats sitting on the stairs demanding food.  Gonzo is my diabetic cat and so we had to switch from dry food to wet food a while back to help him keep his carbs down.  He seems to be doing better.  He used to weigh 21 pounds and is now down to 14 or so.  Princess has slimmed down as well, from 12 pounds to 9 pounds.  (I wish I could lose weight so easily.)

When I'm sick, Princess knows the cure.
Now, they meow like crazy until they are fed.  They each get a can early in the morning and another one in the evening.  Believe me, they will let you know if you neglect them!  Gonzo is very vocal and doesn't like his supper to be held up.

Princess, my quirky girl, she likes to climb.  In our basement, we have a large shelving unit in the laundry room.  It holds all of the holiday decorations and tubs full of photos and memories which probably won't see the light of day until I die.  We also have the drop down ceilings and we don't have the plastic covers over the fluorescent lights that hang down there.  Do you see where I'm going with this?  Yeah, my husband was sitting downstairs watching TV one evening when he looked up to see Princess staring back down at him.  She had climbed up into the ceiling and was wandering around like it was her little loft space!

My cat house is crazy and very much like the little whore house in Texas, it has its own unique smell.  Since my cats now eat wet food, Gonzo can clear a room with his farts.  I set up the empty boxes from Amazon for Princess, because she loves to play in them.  They are 8 years old and I hope they will be around for at least another 10.  I love my kitties and if you have animals, you know the special place they hold in your hearts.  Being owned by a cat can be rewarding in its own way, even if they seem to condescend to put up with you.

My Bear, with his puppy cut last year.
Do you have any animals in your home?  We also have a big, slobbery dog named Bear.  He's 10 and I taught him a new trick today.  Tell me about yours and their names.  I love seeing pictures of other animals and their hoomans, too.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tuesday 5: Frustrations of a Step

I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking this is going to be your typical stepmother rant about their stepkids.  I want to assure you that is not the case.  Unlike what you may read every day in the confessionals on Scary Mommy, not every stepchild, stepparent relationship is full of enmity.

In fact, I would be willing to venture a guess that most people who end up as stepparents get along very well with their stepchildren.  For some reason though, we only ever hear the angry ones, perhaps because they are the loudest.

However, that doesn't mean that I don't have valid frustrations in regards to this relationship.  I do.  I have a lot of frustrations, but they don't have anything to do with the children.  It's more like what rends my heart with concern and heartache for my children.

Without further ado, my list of the top 5 frustrations stepparents face with their stepchildren.  (Okay, my perceived top 5.

Getting our geek on at the Houston Space Center, 2013
5.  I think most stepparents will willingly admit that the frustration they feel over the time they get with said stepkids is a frustration that occurs more often than not.  If we are the non-custodial parents, we have to plan months ahead of time for any vacations we may take with our children.  It never feels like enough.  I will never be able to spend enough time with my kids.  Whether we are playing games, going to the park or the library, or talking with them about their week(s), when it's time to take them back to their mothers', it hurts our hearts to see them go.  When my husband and I first started dating, his daughter was only 9 months old.  It has never gotten easier to give hugs and let go.  My stepson didn't become fully part of our lives until he was nearly 8.  (Long story short, his Mom lived in Cali for the first 7 1/2 years of his life and my husband couldn't move there, because he had his daughter here.)  We missed SO MUCH TIME with him.  When our interactions with our children are limited to Tuesday evenings and every other weekend, we miss out on a lot of fun stuff in between.  Which leads to another frustration...

Catching snowflakes at Grandma and Grandpa's
4.  Not all of us get to be the parents that greet our children every day after school.  I've never gotten to watch my children get on or off the school bus.  I've rarely gotten to help with their homework.  I've rarely gotten to go to their schools and help out.  The schools oftentimes don't even contact us when a major event is coming up and they need school snacks.  We are the 'other' parents.  We are the ones that they only have to contact when a bad behavior occurs.  Even then, we aren't the first ones to know.  It's very frustrating to be treated like an afterthought.  We love our children and would LOVE to be more involved, but it's difficult when I feel like I may be stepping on the mothers' toes.  I'm not trying to show off, I just want to show up!

3.  One of my biggest frustrations is the assumption that I'm not a 'real parent'.  I know many stepparents feel this way.  The first time I showed up with my husband to his son's parent-teacher conference, my stepson's mother was livid.  She proceeded to tell my husband later that I wasn't a 'real' parent, so what was I doing there?  Thankfully, my husband nipped that s*%$ in the bud and told her that I would be there, no matter what, whether she liked it or not.  When she still argued, he suggested setting up separate appointments.  Suddenly, she was totally willing to allow me there.  BUT, I better keep my mouth shut.  Even though I work in the state's social services, I was not allowed to voice an opinion on my stepson's welfare.  (If you know me, you know that didn't stop me!)  Stepparents are just as real as those who helped create those children.  And really, is it so BAD to want extra support for your children?  Why would you WANT your child's stepparent to have nothing to do with them?  Can you imagine the damage THAT would cause?

I bet several of my friends recognize this fountain!

2.  A frustrating thing for many parents and stepparents, is when the children express their desire to live with the other parent.  We went through this a few years ago with my stepdaughter.  She confided in me that she would love to live with her Dad and I, but she didn't want to leave her mother all alone.  Her mother was having a tough time, because my stepdaughter's grandmother was threatening to take her mother's eldest child away from her if she kept living with her then-boyfriend.  The grandmother had guardianship, because her mother had him when she was 16 and she gave her guardianship back then.  My stepdaughter was so afraid that her mother would be all alone.  Rick and I had several very deep conversations about this.  We desperately wanted her in our home.  Our home is not run down, she has her own room here, we have better schools near us, and well, we love her and would have loved to have her.  I told him though, that I thought it best if we allow her to guide us to a decision.  I knew how much it weighed on her heart to give voice to her fears.  I couldn't allow her to feel like she was abandoning her mother, so she stayed.  She still lives there, but our door is always open.  If you have loved a child, any child, you know how gut-wrenching of a decision that was.

1.  The number one frustration I have as a stepparent is wondering about the future for my children.  Unfortunately, the child support system in this country is severely broken.  They penalize the non-custodial parents to the point that they can't even save for their children.  My husband pays so much in child support that if it wasn't for my paycheck, he'd probably be living in his old dinky 900-square foot, 2-bedroom home.  The calculations they use are fairly ridiculous.  I worry often about whether the mothers are saving for their children's college.  We can't.  We can't even pay into my husband's retirement account.  I often think about how these children will afford college and beyond.  We have savings accounts for them, but the only thing that goes into it is a part of their allowances right now.  I also worry about the negative influences they may be around in the other homes.  Nothing inherently bad, but sometimes the bad habits are recognizable.  My stepchildren both have mothers that weren't very involved in their school at all.  Neither one of them graduated from a traditional 4-year college and neither of them really played sports or were in band, or any of that.  My stepdaughter has already quit softball, volleyball, and band.  All done surreptitiously, because she knew we would be upset.  Her mother was totally fine with it.  Just this past Sunday, I put her on blast for her choices.  I'm so worried that with no motivation or drive to do extracurricular activities, she will fail to get any decent scholarships.
South Carolina, 2014

Mainly, I worry about how our relationship will change as they grow, get into high school, graduate, and go on to their own families.  Have we done enough to show them we love them unconditionally?  Have we left enough of an impact that they will come back to visit us?  It's scary.  I used to joke that I was just waiting for them to say, "I hate you!  You're not my mother!"  Now that they are 13, that day seems to be inching ever closer.  I only hope that they know we've only had their best interests at heart.  I love those kids so much and am so proud of them.  I hope they realize that.

Until we know for sure, we'll just keep loving them and spoiling them with our time, because if I've learned one thing through all these frustrating moments of being a stepparent, it's that you can never spoil a child with love and time.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Midway Point

So, here I am with an update.  If you recall, in this post, I mentioned that I would be updating you on my fiscal fast in August.  Well, here we are at the midway point.  As a refresher, I first did this experiment in 2013.  All the details for that year's fiscal fast are here and here.

This year was a bit different.  Instead of participating in a CSA, we planted our own garden.  We grew zucchini and yellow squash, green onions, bush beans, sugar snap peas, green bell peppers, pickling cucumbers, and 3 kinds of tomatoes.  The tomatoes were romas, a varietal called mortgage lifters, and cherry tomatoes. We also did not get a meat bundle from the locker ahead of time, as we already had some left in our deep freeze from a while ago and I wanted to try to use up as much stuff as possible.  Finally, as I stated 2 years ago, we have kids, but they are my stepkids, whose primary residency is with their mothers, so we don't have to directly pay for school or clothes or whatnot, because of the child support my husband pays monthly.

Okay, so once again I premade a bunch of bierocks.  This year I made up 3 batches of them, which WOULD be 36 overall.  I say would, because my husband is the one who fills and crimps the bierocks and well, he likes them to be stuffed.  So, instead of 36 bierocks, we got 26 bierocks and 10 homemade hot pockets, made with pepperoni slices and mozzarella.  My husband has already pretty much demolished them.

This year I also went to the store and stocked up on necessities, as well as planning a bit of stuff for meals because what we had in our freezer would probably not have been enough for the entire month.  I got paid on July 31st, so I used my normal food budget for two weeks ($350) and bought cat litter, dog food, and toilet paper at Target.  I ordered my cat food from Amazon as well as coffee, because I have a Senseo pod coffee maker and you can only get those online.  I have a diabetic cat, so I researched the lowest carb food for cats and crossmatched that with least expensive and came up with the 9 Lives Seafood and Poultry Favorites.  I haven't been able to find it at any store I normally shop at, so I order it off of Amazon.

Then, I hit the grocery store.  I wrote down everything I remember, so here it is:

pork loin chops (pack of 4)
9 lbs. of ground beef
a package of chicken tenderloins (much less expensive than chicken breasts)
2 packages of bratwursts
2 1-lb. packages of breakfast sausage
3 1-lb.  packages of sweet Italian sausage (for bulk pasta sauce)
2 packages of unsalted butter
2 packages of cream cheese
1 small carton of whipping cream
2 cartons of unsweetened almond milk (you can't even taste the difference in cereal, gravy, or pretty much anything and BONUS, it lasts over a month!)
1 16-oz. carton of sour cream
1 large package of unbleached white flour
1 large package of whole wheat flour
1 medium package of sugar
butter spray (my husband uses this on the grill a lot)
large container of white vinegar
2 cans of evaporated milk
1 loaf of wheat bread
1 package of tortillas
4 6-packs of Dr. Pepper (my husband's lunch drink)
1 4-cup bag EACH of mozzarella, quesadilla mix, and cheddar cheese
2 rolls of biscuits (for homemade donuts, as a treat)
4 4-packs of fruit cups (peaches and pears, for my work lunches)
mustard (we were out)
a bag of medium-grain white rice
2 bags of pretzels (for lunches)
2 bags of potato chips
4 15-oz. cans of tomato sauce (for bulk pasta sauce)
4 6-oz. cans of tomato paste (for bulk pasta sauce)
2 6-oz. cans of mushrooms (we use them in everything from quiche to sloppy joes)
3 28-oz. cans of crushed tomatoes (for bulk pasta sauce, but our tomatoes were so abundant, we didn't use them)
a package of penne, a package of spaghetti, and a package of lasagna noodles

The purpose of the fiscal fast is to save money quickly, by not spending what you would normally spend on food, gas, entertainment, clothing, etc.  However, you still budget your normal monthly bills, such as your mortgage, phone, gas, etc.  We were able to get by on the extra gas money we hadn't used from previous paychecks.  This is because we use a modified envelope system, much like Dave Ramsey's money system.

So, at the midway point, we are doing well.  My parents came in for a visit this last Saturday, so we actually got to eat at a restaurant for the first time in 2 weeks, because they are very generous people.  We ran out of bread last week, so on Sunday, I made up the bulk pasta sauce (it made almost 2 gallons!), a loaf of wheat bread (my last fiscal fast I linked to the recipe, called Whole Wheat wonderfulness), 2 loaves of zucchini bread (for breakfasts this week), and a large batch of cucumbers and onions in vinegar and sugar.

We have relied on the bierocks to get us through on those days we want a quick meal without much hassle.  I have also found some great recipes tailored to what I have in my pantry and freezer.  I made a pasta dish with white sauce last week.  It only included the sauce, so I added in all kinds of veggies from our garden.

We have plenty of entertainment, too.  Usually we end up playing board games (we have a multitude) or watching TV.  Occasionally, we go to the park or hang out at friends' houses.  We have books coming out our ears (mainly due to the collection we keep on hand for our Little Free Library) and oftentimes will hang out and do some gardening or writing or, as in the case of my husband, listening to podcasts.
This could be you, but perhaps without the lame business attire.

We have made it more than halfway through the fiscal fast, but I know the more difficult time is ahead of us.  The great thing is the real life positive of this fast.  We have already saved $1200.  I anticipate saving at least $800 more!

So, if any of you have ideas for some hodgepodge casseroles for me, I am willing to give them a try.  I also hope this has encouraged some of you to try a fiscal fast of your own.  Finally, if you have ever done anything similar, please let me know.  I'd love to hear variations on this idea.  It's a great time to save lots of money, which is always handy when Christmas is just a few months away.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Life in the Middle

As you may have heard, today is National Middle Child Day here in the United States.  This quasi-holiday was established in the 1980s by one Elizabeth Walker, who wanted a day for middle children because she thought that children in the middle of families often felt left out.  I feel like Elizabeth Walker may have been a kindred spirit.

As many of you may know, I am a middle child.  I have 6 brothers and sisters and I am actually number 4 in the birth order, making me smack dab in the middle of the middles.  I think that I am pretty classically middle child, though some may argue that since I was the baby for 5 years before my first younger brother came along, that it may somehow skew the results.

I have a theory about middle children.  I believe they are typically the hardest, most trying of the bunch, but they also can be the most faithful and loving as well.  Time and time again, I have heard from friends who talk about how they have this one child that infuriates them on a daily basis.  The child doesn't want to listen, they act out, they may throw temper tantrums, but they are also silly, quirky even.  They are typically the avant garde dressers, the ones who throw their passion into a source of creativity, and the ones who work very hard to be good at something!  Nearly every single friend who describes that child, when asked which child it is, will tell me it's their middle child.

It's often thought that middle children act out because they don't get enough attention.  The eldest is typically the straight A, always-do-right kid.  The baby is the oh-isn't-(s)he-cute, can-do-no-wrong child.  The middle child, or middle children, usually have to fight to be acknowledged.  There are even studies that show that middle children are typically NEVER the 'favorite' child in a household.

However, what middle children may lack in attention from their parents, they more than make up for in EXCESS EMOTION and perhaps a wee bit of MELODRAMA.  'Tis true.  Middle children are a bit more hypersensitive than most, I would wager.  I certainly was and sometimes am.  I am not a drama llama anymore, mind you, but I may have sobbed over missing a church meeting last week when it slipped my mind.  (I did.)  I also may tear up over sappy commercials.  (I do.)

Life in the middle was sometimes overwhelming and exhausting, but I got a bit of the best of both worlds.  I wasn't the first one to test the limits.  *cough* older sister *cough*  I learned how to read when I was 4 (my older siblings taught me).  I was never mistaken for an older sibling at school, because I was extraordinarily unique (i.e. WEIRD, really UNCOOL and WEIRD, with WEIRD clothes).  I also never had to worry about people treating me like a little kid even when I got older, because I learned to be fiercely independent.

First borns may have the brains and babies may have the unrestrained limits, but we middle kids don't have it so bad...we have a national holiday!  Middle children unite!