Thursday, December 31, 2009

End of Year Chicken

Havi Brooks does this thing on her blog called the Friday Chicken, wherein every Friday she talks about the hard and the good aspects of her week. I think it’s a great exercise, so I thought I’d give it a try as an end of year review. Turns out she did the same thing in New Year’s: The Great 2009 Chicken. I was going to call it the Year End Chicken, but I think The Great 2009 Chicken has more flair. Anyhow, on with the list…

The Hard

This year started off with me still trying to move past a miscarriage from the end of 2008. This is probably the hardest thing I dealt with this year. I cried. A lot. I sunk into depression. I tried to focus on the good things, but it just didn’t help that I felt empty and lost.

Conception still hasn’t happened for us as of now, more than a year later, which makes things even harder. In October we started seeing an infertility specialist to check for any problems. All the tests have come up “everything is great/perfect/right where it should be.” Which leaves us where? So that’s hard.

Adjusting to stepmom life
Since my husband and I married in the summer of 2008, this is my first full year as a stepmom and dealing with all the feelings of overwhelm, fear, and jealousy that go with it. There are a lot of emotions that creep up when you become a stepmom. It can be disorienting. There were times I felt misunderstood and alone. I’m growing stronger at it, though.

In-laws moved in
My in-laws moved in with us temporarily. I feel bad listing this as a hard because it certainly must be harder on them having been displaced, but it’s a huge shift to go from a three person household to a five person household. There are four adults sharing a roof, not to mention parenting efforts of a 12 year old boy. Tensions can be high.

Financial stuff
My husband and I are both self-employed and while we were able to stay afloat, there were some months where things got really tight. Thank goodness we had savings. Depleting the savings, however, is not fun.

Oh, how I hate to admit there was bickering. Alas, there was. Between me and my husband, between me and my stepson, between my husband and my stepson. We are lessening that trend and I hope we continue to work things out without being so quick to take offense.

The Good

Learning about myself as a stepmom
Learning that my feelings of overwhelm, fear, and jealousy were perfectly normal among stepmoms. Yay! I’m not crazy. I’m not a horrible person. I’m completely fine. Thank you Wednesday Martin for writing Stepmonster (and thank you, Erin, for highly recommending it). That book has completely changed my perspective and given me lots of ideas for step-family health.

Unleashing my creative side
This summer I did three things to unleash my creativity. I took a photography class, I joined a bunch of other bloggers in wrecking a journal, and I took Deb Owen’s Creative Pathways class.

As a result of all three, I saw the world in a different way. I didn’t shy away from trying new things. The experience of letting myself go without worrying about creating something perfect was extraordinary.

New respect for summer
Not since my school days have I ever really looked forward to summer. Even in my school days, I was usually content to enter Fall. This year, however, I realized I have an excitement over summer and a sadness over its end. I’m not sure if that is due to this summer’s creative burst or simply the weather. I think I finally learned how to make the most of summer.

Launching Too Many Toasters
Too Many Toasters was an idea I started conceiving over the summer. I was afraid to rush in for fear of fizzling out on it. As time passed, I was more excited about it and finally decided to jump in after realizing I can do it on my terms. I don’t have to write every day even though “ideally” blogs should have frequent new posts. Who has time to read all that anyway?

Being invited to blog on Working Mother
As a by-product of launching Too Many Toasters, I was asked to blog about stepmotherhood on Working Mother. If I can help one person out there relax in her chair and think “so I’m not crazy and it’s not just me,” then I feel that it was worth it.

All in all it was a roller coaster of a year. I’m glad to have come out, perhaps better, on the other side.

Feel free to jump in with your own hard and good list in the comments. Here’s wishing for a 2010 improperly balanced with more good than hard!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cooking for How Many?

I know how to cook for two. I know how much food to take out if I want just enough or if I want there to be leftovers. When I got divorced, I had to learn how to cook for one, which is difficult because food tends not to come in single servings. It's also tough to be motivated to cook for one. I had a lot of cereal, soup, and pasta- things that could easily be portioned.

When I got remarried, I suddenly had to cook for three. I now know that 3/4 of a pound of pasta and one jar of sauce is just about right. If I kick up the sauce with extra ingredients and use the full pound of pasta, there will be leftovers.

Chicken tenderloins come seven to a package. That's three for my husband, two for me, and two for my stepson. One can of corn splits three ways perfectly. I can buy a two pack of steak, plus one individually wrapped steak to feed three. One head of broccoli steams a serving for each of us.

It took a lot of trial and error to get to this point. I made meals that left way too much in the end and meals that left us scrambling for snacks. But there is a balance and a rhythm I've come to.

That is, until my in-laws moved in. Suddenly all of my portions are null. To feed five people requires the extra large package of chicken breasts. (Did you know those cost more than $12?) That usually leaves one chicken breast left over- often a scrawny piece that certainly can't be turned into leftovers for five. If I chop it up to mix in a bowl of salad or rice, I can make lunch for two.

So I'm back at the beginning learning how to portion appropriately for four adults and a growing boy whose appetite is sometimes equal to my husband's and other times satiated by a mere three bites. While I'm decent in the kitchen, I wouldn't say I'm one of those people that can take last night's meatloaf and turn it into tonight's beef demi-glaze in a reduction sauce. (Heck, I don't even know if all those words go together.)

I'll keep trying. Eventually I'm sure I'll figure out how many pounds of ground beef and taco shells are needed. If anyone has suggestions for feeding five, I'd be appreciative. I'm thinking my crockpot could get some more use.

Blogging About Stepfamily Life

Early this fall, I started thinking more about my life as a stepmom, more about my relationships with my own stepparents and step-siblings, and I realized I needed an outlet for those types of discussions.

It's hard to admit, but sometimes I feel like I'm crazy. As in honest-to-goodness crazy. I get emotional, fearful, and have some really tough days. It wasn't until I read Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do that I realized I wasn't crazy. In fact, everything that I have felt and thought over the last few years as I've entered in to stepmotherhood are things other stepmoms go through. It was such a relief.

Since then, I approach things with more gentleness (to myself and my family). I do my best not to take offense at things where no offense was intended. I try to be helpful to my husband and my stepson and I also try to recognize my own needs and desires.

It's things like this that made me think maybe other people out there have the same fears and worries. Maybe other people are scared they might be crazy, when really they are just fine. What if there is someone else out there who is a stepmom or is a grown-up stepchild and doesn't know anyone else in similar circumstances? Who do they talk to?

For that reason I decided to start a new blog, separate from this one, dedicated to living a stepfamily life: Too Many Toasters.

I wasn't going to mention it here. I was afraid people might think my new endeavor was weird or unnecessary. I worried people might think me weak or mean. Then I remembered how kind the people are who stop by this blog. How silly of me to be afraid of you! I've made some good friends here.

So I'm mentioning it.

If it's not your thing, no worries. If you know someone who might get it, by all means, please send them a link. As of now, I am writing there on Tuesdays.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Photos

Before Christmas is a long lost memory, here are some of my favorite photographs from the holidays. May we hold tight to Christmas spirit all year long.

Christmas ornament

Josie under the Christmas tree

Twinkling Christmas tree

The Night Before Christmas ornament with stockings in background

Red jingle bells

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Today I am an artist

I love this time of year because it fills me with a feeling that anything is possible.

For the past few days, I have been off work and I won't be returning until after the New Year. I spent those first few days cooking and doing some last minute shopping in preparation for Christmas.

Today begins a week without work or holidays to prepare for. I've already begun to let loose and do whatever strikes my fancy, no matter how silly. This morning, that meant dusting off my vision journal and ripping up magazines for a little collage work.

I started by cutting out pictures that resonated with me to create a vision board. I'm still deciphering the message, but I see lots of soft rounded shapes and rich earth tones.

Then I morphed an idea from Keri Smith's Living Out Loud. She talks about creating a finder by cutting a one-inch square out of a small piece of paper. By looking through the hole, you notice textures and details in the world around you, rather than only seeing the whole.

Since I was drawn to rounded shapes in my vision board, I chose to use a circular paper punch to cut through multiple pages in my magazines. I spread out the dots, chose my favorites, and glued them in my journal.

Today I am an artist. I wonder what tomorrow will bring.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Working Mother Wednesday: Christmas Traditions

In keeping with yesterday's post about The Night Before Christmas reading we do in our family every Christmas Eve, I continued the discussion of Christmas traditions on the Working Mother Mom Blogs today.

What Christmas traditions do you have with your family?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The little book: a Christmas tradition

“It’s only two days ‘til Christmas,” my 12-year-old stepson keeps saying. It has now been “two days ‘til Christmas” since last Friday. Wishful thinking?

I can’t help but share his enthusiasm. I love Christmas. I love the lights, the bustle of people, shopping for the perfect gift, and wrapping gifts in cheerful paper. It really is a wonderful time of year for me.

The other day my stepson asked what we were doing in the coming days. When we got to Christmas Eve I said that we would be visiting our friends for the Feast of Seven Fishes, just like we had last year. (He loved the Feast last year. Any day he can have shrimp is a good day.) I continued that we would get home late, go to bed, and wake up for our usual Christmas morning routine.

“But when are we going to read the little book?” he asked, almost whining. My heart filled with joy in that moment.

You see, “the little book” is one of my Christmas ornaments. It is a 2x2” red leather bound copy of The Night Before Christmas. It has crisp aged white pages with gold edges and an inscription in my mother’s perfect cursive: “To Sherri: With love from Mommy & Daddy. Dec. 1979.” I was two years old when my parents gave that to me and it has hung on the Christmas tree every year since.

The first Christmas I spent with my husband (then boyfriend) and stepson, I suggested we read it before going to bed on Christmas Eve. We all piled together under a blanket and took turns reading. We have continued to read it before bed on Christmas Eve for all three of our Christmases together so far.

Though I planned on carrying through on the reading again this year, I hadn’t mentioned it to my stepson while speaking of the Christmas activities. He picked right up on its omission and sounded truly worried that I had overlooked it.

As stepmoms we want to know that we are making a difference. There are times that it feels like we are in the way or ignored. In that one moment, I felt like I made a difference. A little activity that I started three Christmases ago, became a tradition that would be missed if we didn’t do it. Christmas really does bring people together.

Happy holidays to you and yours! May you cherish your family traditions, big and small.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Working Mother Wednesday

For some reason it seems like I don't meet a lot of stepmoms. So when I started talking about this blog, I was surprised to to hear that Working Mother was seeing increased interest in blended families.

It makes sense. With divorce rates as high as they are, there must be a fair number of stepfamilies out there. Where are they hiding? I'll have to do a little research on that.

I was even more surprised to be asked to write on the Mom Blogs at What an honor!

Every Wednesday I will be writing Stepmom Diaries at the Mom Blogs. My first post launched yesterday. (A day early- oops!) I hope that through Stepmom Diaries and here at Too Many Toasters we can get a dialogue going about stepfamily life.

Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

How Many Toasters Can One House Hold?

Through a series of unfortunate events, my in-laws recently had to move in with us. Of all the things that could happen a year and four months into marriage, this is not one I expected.

I was just beginning to feel there was a rhythm to the new life my husband, my stepson, and I were creating. Routines were starting to fall into place and relationships were settling in. I even have the frozen setting on the toaster figured out.

My in-laws used to live five minutes from us and have been an active part of our family. Nana, in particular, spent several days a week with my stepson after school, which was extremely helpful while my husband and I were at work.

My new family is much tighter on a day-to-day basis than what I was used to with my own family. My father lives close to 200 miles away and my mother is well over 2,000 miles away.

Now, however, my in-laws are 5 seconds away – just across the hall in the guest bedroom. (I know the math is wrong but I think to get from 5 minutes to five seconds you somehow have to multiply by infinity.)

This is a huge difference and we will all either become closer than we already were or we will bicker like crazy. Let’s hope it’s that first one.

When people are moving in, there are things you expect and things you don’t. In case this happens to you, here are some things you might not see coming.

Day 1 – My in-laws arrived with fast food leftovers and a few trash bags filled with their clothing and personal items. Not so bad.

Day 2 – While I was at work, they filled my refrigerator to the hilt with extra staples like ketchup, butter, and magically three jars of mayo. (Yes, I said three.) I’m also a little perplexed at the individual cup of mini-pickles. That night they brought their ridiculously large cat who I am certain does not eat mini-pickles or mayonnaise.

Day 3 – I found a box of dry kitchen food items on the chair and a case of Cheerios on the floor. (Yes, I said case.) Unsure of where to put everything, I left it there.

Day 5 – My husband notified me that the go-cart had been brought over. The driveway now has 5 cars (plus the go-cart). All basketball related activity is suspended until further notice.

Day 6 – Minor internal freaking out on everyone’s part.

Day 7 – Having mustered up the courage, I tackled the dry kitchen food and stuffed my cabinets with 7 packages of rice, 16 boxes of potatoes, and 13 boxes of Cheerios. I threw out a bottle of bread dipping oil that expired in 2004. We have tons of food, yet no meals.

Day 9 – My mother-in-law set up her coffee maker. We didn’t have one of those yet, so….

Day 10 – I visited friends in another state for the night. My husband sent me a text saying he was watching a re-run of the PBS marathon fundraiser.

We are now 13 days in to this living arrangement. The bickering has been kept to a minimum as we learn how to co-exist. We have all kept our routines as best as possible. I know that these adjustments are nothing compared to the displacement and confusion they are going through. This is what family is all about- step, in-law or otherwise. Wish us luck.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Scheduling Around the Stepson

Adjusting to life with a pre-teen child is unusual. For me it was especially unusual because I "joined a family already in progress," as the lovely Erin of Stepchicks so perfectly describes it.

I had no children of my own coming in to my marriage. My stepson was nearly 9 years old when I met him. In no time flat, my life went from being mostly about me to being much more about my stepson. There was homework to help with, sporting events to attend, and after school arrangements to be made. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the family time, but I didn’t want to lose the “me” I was for the “us” I was becoming.

My husband coaches baseball and soccer, so even when my stepson didn't have a game, my husband's time was swallowed up quickly with phone calls to parents, field preparation, or scheduling umpires and referees. I would suggest an outing to a park or a store to find out that "we have practice from 1:00 to 4:00, but maybe after that."

Learning that my schedule was tied so intricately to my stepson's was a shock to my system. To get my “me” time back I had to make this work. I put the practice and game schedules in my calendar so I wouldn’t be caught of guard.

I continued to attend the games (and now I even understand what's going on most of the time). I do my best to make every game and the boys know that I love them and that I’m interested in what they are doing.

Practice time, however, became my time. During practices I catch up on things I want to do whether it is watching a "girly" television show, reading in a perfectly quiet house, writing in my journal, or wandering a store at my own pace (not the pace of someone worried about boring her beloved boys).

Then when the boys come home, I'm refreshed and content rather than anxious and irritable. By changing my perspective and learning to take advantage of the schedule, I have saved my own sanity.

The funny thing is the boys never really needed me at the practices. That is their “me” time. Time to be boys and play hard.

How do you get your “me” time in?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

DRAFT: Meeting a child

A lot of people must feel they have jumped head first into parenting.  To go from being a couple to being a full-fledged family in nine short months must be a great, yet terrifying, experience.

My family didn't come about that way.  My child was nearing 9 when I first met him.  He was already a thinking, functioning human being with a routine, friends, likes and dislikes, favorite foods, and a fiercely protective Nana.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Too Many Toasters

I am part of a stepfamily. Technically I guess I'm part of three stepfamilies. Whatever the case, merging families is a complex task involving the "blending" of three P's: people, personalities, and possessions.

When my husband and I took the gigantic step of moving in together, it was I that moved in to his home.  My one bedroom apartment wasn't going to fit all three P's and his house was two minutes from his 9-year-old son's school. Instant household.

We spent the following weeks taking inventory of our possessions. The extra bedroom set became guest room furniture. The extra glassware made for a well-rounded collection. The toasters, well, there were two and how many toasters does one house really need?

As I pulled my toaster from the box my (now) husband said, "I guess we can get rid of that."

What? Get rid of my toaster?

There's nothing like merging households to make you really sentimental about a toaster.  After all, it was the toaster I bought following my previous divorce.  It was the kitchen appliance staple that I picked out all by myself for my own place.  It wasn't fancy.  In fact, it's most endearing quality was it's low price tag.  But it was mine and it symbolized my ability to take care of myself.

My husband also loved his toaster.  It was stainless steel and, therefore, matched all his other appliances unlike my stark white model.  It had a special button for frozen items to properly toast them.  Even I had to admit it looked sleeker and was more functional.

After many gentle reassurances (my husband to me and I to my toaster) I decided it was time to donate my toaster and let someone else love it's thrifty simplicity.  It was an unexpectedly monumental step in our relationship.

Some time later, while visiting my dad, I realized a toaster oven adorned his counter.  I've never known my dad to own a toaster oven.  I couldn't help but wonder if there had been a similar debate between him and my stepmother about which toaster to keep.

By now you probably noticed I am both a stepmom and a stepchild.  Here's a quick run-down.  My family consists of a husband, a stepson, a father, a stepmother, a mother who was adopted, a stepfather, and two (or is it five?) step-siblings.

Thus begins Too Many Toasters, a blog to share my experiences with non-traditional families and, hopefully, hear about your experiences as well.  I plan on writing here once a week (or more if I have time), so please stay tuned.

You are invited and encouraged to share your experiences and thoughts in the comments.  Do you have a confusing family?  How do you navigate the stepfamilyhood?