Thursday, April 30, 2009

Life is Not Fare

Ala Carte?  Should be more like ALL-a-Carte!

In our school district, when the kids move into Junior High School in seventh grade, the cost of a hot lunch increases from $2.05 to $2.25.  I understand that this is very inexpensive compared to the costs some parents pay, and I truly appreciate that our schools are able to offer a well-balanced healthy meal at a minimal charge.  My husband and I have historically deposited $50 into Junior High lunch accounts and $40 into elementary school lunch accounts on a rotation with the kids' biological mom.  When funds get low, we alternate replenishing with the amounts listed above.

At the start of Junior High that the kids are introduced to the Ala-Carte food line.  They can purchase items like juice, snacks, ice cream bars, etc... in addition to - or in place of - their regular lunch.

When my oldest step-son started Junior High over two years ago, we found he was really enjoying the Ala-Carte privilege.  In fact, we were oblivious to how much he was spending until we started to notice the frequency at which we had to replenish funds in his lunch account; he was reaching the zero balance far more often than his siblings.  At that point, I found out we could go online and view his lunch account activity to see what he was buying.

I learned a few things about my step-son at that time.  Until viewing his lunch account, I had no idea about his love for Oatmeal Cream Pies.  I also had no idea that he was suffering from mild retardation.  Ok, so things had gotten out of hand a bit, and my husband and I decided to have a talk with the boy and remind him that we were having to pay for this.  We also educated (or attempted to) on the concept of the "markup" and how he was buying these items at a very steep price.

After our discussion, he curbed his spending/eating habits and we found only a handful of extra charges on his account each week.  However, after a month or so, he seemed to forget our talk, and he began stockpiling the cream pies again.  This time, he added energy drinks, ice cream bars and chips.  So... we talked with him again and reminded him that we were not willing to pay for these items - especially at the prices they were charging.  Not only were they unhealthy choices for snacks, but we were paying double or triple what we would in the grocery store for the very same items.

His biological mom, however, told him to go ahead and buy snacks and she gave him permission to spend five extra dollars per week.

Excuse me?!?!  If he eats five lunches per week at $2.25 a lunch, that's $11.25 on lunches.  She offered him an increase of nearly 50% with which he could buy junk.  We did not support this, and we told him that the extra money would only be put into his account for his mom's custodial weeks.  There - problem solved.

Except... he didn't change his spending habits one bit.  He just kept right on ordering what he wanted and expecting us to pay for it.  He'd go in waves of buying an extreme amount of junk food, then we'd have a talk with him and the spending would decrease for a week or so, and as soon as we thought we'd gotten through to him... BAM!.. another week of seven dollars' worth of cream pies.

So... I gave in.  If he wanted cream pies, I'd buy them for a fraction of the cost at the grocery store, and send them to school with him each week.  That way, we weren't overpaying for them, and he'd get a treat with lunch each day.  Great idea!  But... the cream pies remained in our pantry and he wouldn't bring them to school.  Turns out, he doesn't even like cream pies - he was buying them for kids at schools (I still don't know if it was for friends or bullies - either way, not a good way to buy friends or solve a bully problem).

For over two years, we've had this battle with the boy over lunch money.  We remind him to not overspend, and he keeps overspending.

Fast forward to today.  He's now in High School and this year, we decided that we'd simply pay the exact amount for his lunches during our custodial weeks.  Every week, we deposit $11.25 into his account.  When this plan was first implemented, he had about $25 extra in his lunch account.  He's now diminished all the "extra" money and as of last Friday, went into the negative.  Either his mom will have to pay extra to get him caught up, or he'll have to miss lunch for a few days until his funds are replenished.  I know this seems harsh, but we've offered to provide healthy snacks, bottled water, and juice bottles that he can bring to school.

In the last month, he's spent $8.75 on bottled water ($1.25 each), $4.80 on drumstick ice cream treats; $1.00 on ice cream sundaes; $3.60 on Nutty Bars (12 @ $.30 each); $1.50 on dessert rolls; $1.50 on chips; $1.00 on donuts; and $3.45 on miscellaneous junk food (what the heck is a "clodhopper" by the way?).  Over 22 days, he spent $49.50 on lunch and $25.10 on junk food. None of what he purchased as "extras" was a healthy choice for a growing body, and the bottled water is just a waste of money, especially when we have several cases of the stuff at home and he can easily bring a couple to school with him in the morning.

It's not that I want him to eat less; it's that I want him to make healthy choices and learn to budget the money he's allocated for lunch.  It concerns me that he hasn't caught on to this in the two and a half years we've been trying to teach this lesson.

Unfortunately, he's competing in a track meet on Friday afternoon and I don't know that he'll be able to eat lunch at school on Friday.  I really have no idea how else to get through to him, other than let him suffer the consequences.  He has to learn that life is not fare.

There's your pun for Thursday.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


I'm so used to my step-kids biological mom (the "Momster") being uncooperative, spiteful and outright nasty to deal with, that when she's pleasant - dare I say cooperative - I get nervous.

What is she up to?

What is her plan?

When will the bomb drop?

Don't get me wrong; I used to take these moments at face value and think that she was turning over a new leaf and I would hold onto the hope that going forward maybe things would be different.  Oh the roller coaster!  It was a constant up and down and twist and turn.  About six months ago, I realized that we always end up right where she wants us and then she gets mean again, while we're still reeling from the ride.

So today, when sending a friendly email about some clothing the children brought to her house and never brought back here, I pressed the "send" button and held my breath.  And I waited for the inevitable barrage of finger pointing and nasty jabs that typically fill her emails to me.

However, there was none of that.  I received a polite response.  ACK!  Now what?  I have all this defense built up and nowhere to use it!  Her unpredictability is too much for me.  It's exhausting to even send this woman an email; a process of carefully removing anything that can be misconstrued as accusatory or offensive, then proof-reading several times, then sending, and finally waiting for the ball to be smashed back to my side of the court.

When I receive a response like the one today, I don't know how to take it.  My heart would like to simply accept that it was a friendly exchange and leave it at that; my mind says "BEWARE... something's amiss".

Today I will run through the possibilities.  I'd like to say that I can make an educated guess about the cause of her lack of nastiness (I wouldn't call it "kindness"), but if the past several years have taught me anything, it's that the Momster is insanely unpredictable.  You can only count on her to be unaccountable, and that's it.

Perhaps she has her "victim of the week/month" in my step-daughter, as they are still not getting along and she's concentrating all her meanness on her little girl.  Perhaps she's on new medication.  Maybe she won some sort of raid or battle in World of Warcraft (her favorite pastime, according to the kids), and is having a "good" day.  All I can be sure of is that it's a short-lived situation.  She could turn mean again tomorrow... or the next day... or the day after that...

I'll be sure to tell you when it happens.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Weekend Fare

Since it was just Jesse and me this weekend - no kids - we tried some new things in the kitchen. On Saturday, we bought some fantastic fresh Tuna steak, and decided to do a grill-only meal: bruschetta, broccoli and tuna.  Not only was it an incredibly healthy dinner, it was delicious!

The tuna was pre-seasoned with a mixture of wasabi, honey, oil and lemon, and it was grilled for about 4 minutes on each side.  For the broccoli, a splash of lemon juice along with some lemon-pepper seasoning and about 8 minutes on the grill (indirect heat).  The bruschetta was a simple combination of toasted Italian bread, tomatoes, balsamic, olive oil, basil and fresh-grated parmesan.

Yesterday, I saw a recipe online for homemade soft pretzels.  As a carb-junkie, I decided that we had to make these.  They turned out great, and now we're thinking of different ways to use the pretzel dough as a dinner item.  Somehow, I envision it wrapped around a mixture of chicken and vegetables.  We'll have to wait until the next kid-free weekend before we do some experimenting. There's no way we can risk a meal failure with three growing kids in the house - it would be a disaster!

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Day After Thai Night

As it turns out, too much wine was had last night and I did not bother to take pictures of all the food.  You're going to have to trust that it all turned out well.

My first try at mango sticky rice turned out great - it's definitely a dish I will be making again in the near future, and it's sure to be something the kids like.

I'll try harder next time to take pictures and THEN drink the wine.  But... I'm not making any promises.

Enjoy the weekend!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Thai Night

Tonight, we're having a few of our great friends over for an evening of Thai food, wine and fantastic conversation.  I'm really looking forward to our time together - there's never a lull in the conversation when we get together!

This is one of the great aspects of the "one week on, one week off" schedule we have with the kids; we are able to have a dinner party on a weeknight.

Tonight's menu is:

  • Fresh vegetarian spring rolls with peanut sauce and chili sauce
  • Thai butternut squash soup
  • Penang Curry with vegetables
  • Sweet and Sour stir-fry (pad preow wan)
  • Mango Sticky Rice
  • Waaaaay too much wine
I'll try to take pictures of everything, and post here tomorrow or Saturday.  Until then, enjoy the GORGEOUS weather!!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Lemon-Pepper Pappardelle Pasta

Yesterday, we decided to use the Lemon Pepper Pappardelle pasta we bought a month or so ago at Trader Joe's.

Around 2:00, I splashed a bit of lemon juice and sprinkled a bit of lemon pepper seasoning on two chicken breasts, then put them in the fridge to marinate for a few hours.

Jesse came home after work, and we started making dinner.

It all came together very quickly.

  • 1 pkg. Trader Joe's Lemon Pepper Pappardelle pasta
  • 2 chicken breasts, seasoned with lemon juice and lemon pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. salted butter
  • 2 Tbsp. flour
  • 1/8 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp. onion salt
  • 1/4 tsp. fresh ground pepper
  • 5 stalks of asparagus, trimmed of "woody" ends, and sliced on the bias into 1.5" pieces
  • 1/2 cup of frozen sweet peas
  • 1/2 cup of shredded or matchstick carrots
  1. In a saute pan, over medium heat, melt 2 Tbsp. butter
  2. To the melted butter, whisk in 2 Tbsp. flour and make a roux
  3. Slowly add 1 cup of chicken broth, whisking until incorporated into the roux
  4. Slowly add 1 cup of 1% or skim milk, whisking until incorporated
  5. Stir in garlic powder, onion salt and fresh ground pepper and bring to a slow boil
  6. reduce heat to low and stir occassionally
  7. After sauce thickens, add frozen peas and carrots and continue stirring occasionally
  8. Cook pasta according to package directions.  When 1 minute remains in the pasta cooking time, add asparagus to the water and stir.
  9. Drain pasta and asparagus and set aside
  10. Over medium heat, grill chicken breasts until cooked through.  Allow to sit for 5 minutes, then slice into 1" strips.
  11. Combine pasta, asparagus and sauce, mixing well to ensure noodles are coated.
  12. Spoon pasta and sauce onto plate, and top with the chicken breasts.

Poor Kiddos

On Sunday night, while tucking the kids into bed, my youngest step-son and my step-daughter (ages 10 and 12 respectively) were both tearful and upset at the prospect of spending the next week with their mom.

We've faced this several times in the past and it never gets easier.  Knowing what their biological mom (a.k.a. the Momster) is like, I can't imagine having to spend a week with her. Since my step-daughter is in trouble for participating in the school talent show, both she and her younger brother are being punished at their mom's house.  Somehow, their older brother (age 15) escapes this.  It might be that he's his mom's biggest fan.  He's constantly covering up for her and defending her.  Just this week, the kids were laughing about how their half-brother (age 3) now says the "f" word.  We asked how on Earth he learned that word at age 3, and my step-daughter and youngest step-son both said that their mom uses that word a lot.  Not that this is a big deal to us - she can talk however she'd like in her home and among her children. However, my oldest step-son immediately jumped in to "defend" his mom, saying that she never uses that word and he accused his siblings of lying.  It's fairly obvious who was lying in this situation, and he's not saving his mom any shame in trying to cover for her.

Anyway, the younger two certainly dreaded returning to the Momster's for her custodial week. In a way (and this is purely selfish), I kind of relish in the fact that she's such a bad mom. They're not my kids, and I have to try much much harder to gain their respect and approval... so when she is blatantly horrible to them, I silently thank her for making my job just a bit easier.

Not that it's easy to deal with emotionally distraught kids or know that you're sending them to a home in which they are merely "things" for her to toy with.  It's certainly hard to know that they're unhappy this week, and I don't want them to experience unpleasantness for one minute.

However, it is reassuring to know that their mom slips up from time to time, and shows them her true colors.  She is a nasty woman, and every once in a while they get a taste of just how nasty she can be.  During those times when she is publicly campaigning for the "Mom of the Year" title - which she often is - it's helpful to think back to times like Sunday and realize she's not fooling those who matter most.


It's been a few days since I've posted an follow-up to the drama we faced on Saturday.  What ended up happening is that my step-daughter felt remorseful for her behavior, and ended up cleaning her room (which DESPERATELY needed the cleaning!) in an attempt to redeem herself.

Of course, it wasn't cleaning her room that we wanted to see; it was a change in attitude.

After a lengthy discussion with her dad, she apologized for her behavior and was allowed to go to the movies with her friends.  No, she was not meeting boys at the theater or anything like that. Her actions were purely selfish and mean, and there was no underlying cause aside from her entitled attitude.

I explained it to her from our point of view by giving her this scenario:  We buy her a cake; it's a delicious cake and she gets to have it all to herself.  She is thrilled at this, and can't wait to devour her treat.  However, she finds out that we also bought a cake for her younger brother. Upon hearing this, she no longer wants her cake and she claims that since her brother also has one, hers will taste horrible and she will no longer be able to enjoy it.  Not only does her attitude not make sense, but she looks foolish for acting so self-absorbed and petty.  I hope that she can see the foolishness in her actions this past Saturday, and learn from them.  Only time will tell.

She did see the movie (and she loved it, by the way), and even went to the mall with her friends afterward to do some shopping - without her little brother, dad, or step-mom in the way. All-in-all, I'd say she had a fantastic day and our presence in the theater four doors down did not detract from her experience one single bit.

I'm such a mean step-mom for allowing her to have this day of fun and freedom!!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Sooo Embarrassing!

So earlier this week, my step-daughter (age 12) asked us if she could go to see a movie with her friends on Saturday (today).  We asked for a few details, and she said there are two show times; 12:00 and 2:30, and they could go to whichever show time would work best for her dad and me.

Yesterday (Friday), we decided that if we were going to be bringing her to a movie, we might as well go to see one ourselves, and bring my youngest step-son and his friend to see Monsters vs Aliens.  It would work out much better to just stay at the theater, instead of having to drop off my step-daughter, then turn around and pick her up a couple hours later.

So... my husband and I made the arrangements, and this morning when we told her that we had decided to do the 2:30 show, she said that it wouldn't work for her friends, and that they had decided they want to go to the 12:00 show.

After considering our options, we decided that we could pick up our step-son's friend earlier than originally planned and go see the 12:00 showing of Monsters vs Aliens, while she and her friends saw the 12:00 showing of their movie.

When she found out her younger brother was also seeing a movie, she instantly started bawling and saying it isn't fair that he is going to be there, too.  Her dad explained that her brother and his friend won't be in the same theater as she and her friends, and that it won't interfere with her good time in the least.  However, she insisted that he would ruin her fun and that he would somehow be an embarrassment and a nuisance to her and ruin her fun.  She said he would probably need something and end up interrupting her movie to "ask for money or something like that".  At this point, her dad and I reminded her that we would be attending the movie with her brother, so if he had any issues, we would be there to deal with it.

This new bit of information set her off even more, and she was now fully sobbing, angry as could be that we would be in the same movie theater complex as her and her friends.  She said we were ruining her fun and that her friends would think it was really weird that her brother and dad and step-mom were there.

I can't believe that she would have such an entitled attitude about this whole thing.  Never in a million years would I have thought it would be a problem for us to be in the same building as her.  Her dad told her that perhaps it would be better if she stayed home and didn't risk the embarrassment of being seen in public with us.

I interjected in their conversation a few times, simply because I could not believe how ridiculous she was being about the whole thing.  However, in hindsight, it's better if I simply bite my tongue and leave my husband to the business of being the bad guy.  It's hard to keep my mouth shut sometimes (I know... big shocker to those who know me), but I'll keep working on it.  In the end, I think it's best that I stay in her good graces.

At this point, she is not going to the movie and my husband, step-son, step-son's friend and I will be going to see Monsters vs Aliens at noon.  I'm not sure she understands that her dad was serious about her not going - right now, she's upstairs getting ready/primping for her day at the theater.

I have a feeling we haven't dealt with the last of this yet...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Mexican Lasagna

About a year ago, my husband was attending school a few nights a week and I was left to figure out dinner for the family all on my own.

Having about 3 years of real cooking under my belt at that point, I started to branch out and "create" recipes, rather than "follow" them.

The clear winner was the Mexican Lasagna, which I will be making for the family tonight.  It's very simple, but takes a bit of time to assemble.  It can be made ahead and frozen - just remember to thaw it a few hours before you bake it.

One 9x13 pan will feed our family of 5... so I guess it's probably 15 servings or so :-)

  • 1 jar of Target brand Archer Farms(TM) Chili Verde Cooking Sauce
  • 1 package of Target brand Archer Farms(TM) Whole Wheat Tortillas (you can use any tortillas, but these have a wonderful, sweet flavor, and they really DO make a difference)
  • 1 can Green Enchilada sauce - any brand
  • 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 can of sweet corn, drained - any brand
  • 1 can of black beans, rinsed - any brand
  • 1 can of diced green chiles, drained - any brand
  • 1 bunch of cilantro, leaves picked and chopped
  • 1 bunch of green/spring onions, sliced
  • 4 cups of shredded taco or mexican blend cheese
  • Crystal Farms(TM) Chipotle Cheddar cheese - found in the refrigerator section of the grocery store by the other brick cheeses *
  • 4 diced Roma tomatoes, for garnish
  • 1 head of lettuce, shredded / 1 bag of shredded lettuce
  • salsa, for garnish
  • sour cream, for garnish
  1. In a slow cooker, place the chicken breasts, Archer Farms(TM) Chile Verde sauce and Enchilada sauce.  Cover and cook on low for 6 hours, or high for 3 to 4 hours.
  2. When chicken is cooked through and tender, remove from sauce and shred on a platter.  This can be done using 2 forks.  Reserve sauce from the slow cooker - you will use it in the lasagna.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  4. Coat the bottom and sides of a deep, 9"x13" baking pan with a few small ladles-full of sauce from the slow cooker
  5. Place 2 whole what tortillas in the bottom of the pan, trimming if necessary
  6. Top with 1/3 of the shredded chicken, then layer on 1/3 of the black beans, corn, cilantro, green onions and green chiles
  7. Next, spoon on 1/3 of the sauce from the slow cooker, and top with 1/3 of the shredded cheese
  8. Top with 2 more tortillas and repeat the process, layering as you would a regular lasagna
  9. Finish the process with a layer of cheese on top.
  10. *If you found the Chipotle Cheddar cheese, use this on the top of the lasagna, in addition to the mexican/taco cheese you used throughout the other layers.  This smoky cheese has great flavor!
  11. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes
  12. Remove from oven and let stand for about 5 minutes before slicing
  13. Serve with shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, sour cream and salsa


I've begun to identify a pattern with my 15-year-old step-son.  He's generally a good kid, and doesn't get into too much trouble or get terrible grades at school.  Thankfully, he's not defiant, and he's not on drugs or anything like that.

The thing is... the kid's just a bit too apathetic.  He doesn't have a strong personality, and as such, he doesn't have too many opinions or feelings to stand behind... or stand up for.  I've also noticed that he's painfully unaware of other people, and how his actions or words affects those around him.

It's incredibly frustrating to know that he isn't intentionally being insensitive or uncaring; it's that he simply has no idea about people.  Just this week, I took time off work to bring him to track practice at 3:30 pm.  During the car ride, I attempted to engage him in conversation, which resulted in me talking and him grunting the occasional "uh-huh" and "yeah".  When we got to school I handed him the "spare" cell phone, and reminded him to call his dad when he was finished with practice, as his dad would be picking him up.  He grunted his acknowledgement then left the car without thanking me for the ride.  He's such a pleasure to have around these days.

I made a brief stop at the grocery store, then returned home to finish working for the day.  No sooner had I resumed my project than the phone rang.  I was busy on a call, and couldn't answer my cell phone right away.  As soon as I finished with my work-related call, I listened to the voice mail and it was my step-son calling to say, "Yeah, so I'm done with practice... you can come and pick me up."

First off, I recall very vividly reminding him to call his dad after finishing practice, and I also remember him grunting his acknowledgement as he left my vehicle.  Second, I don't quite think he's aware of the distance between our home and his school (about 6 miles).  Third, I think he has this idea that we (his father and I) simply sit on the edge of our seats just waiting for him to require our services.

Immediately after I listened to my voice mail, I received another call from him.  I answered to his, "yeah, so are you on your way?"

"I thought you were going to call your dad when you were finished."

"Well... I just thought that... since you dropped me off..."

"Why don't you call your dad.  He's across the street from where you are, and he's waiting for you to call him so he can come pick you up."

"Well... ok... *click*"

Oh why doesn't he get it?!?!

I'm really hoping this is merely a phase, and he'll move past it.  When I first met him - about five years ago - he was such a pleasant, articulate, mature, engaging young man.  He's regressed to this caveman-esque grunting wonder, who walks around the house and attempts to avoid household chores and conversation with other human beings.

The kicker is that every once in a while, he decides to make his presence known by throwing a hormonal tantrum.  Frequently, he accuses us of ignoring him and favoring his siblings, and once he even screamed "YOU NEVER LISTEN TO ME!!!!"

I'm not quite sure what I should be listening to... is it the "uh-huh" or the "yeah"?

It should be said that although he lacks empathy and understanding, he does know how to take advantage of people and manipulate.  He'll be the first one to volunteer to divide up a can of soda between himself and his siblings... making sure to pour some extra in his glass (for the effort, I'm sure).  Or just this past weekend, he offered to divide up the candy the kids acquired during their Easter scavenger hunt.  Jesse and I went to great lengths to make sure there were equal amounts of everything - knowing this was the only way to avoid arguing between the children.  When it was all divvied-up, somehow my oldest step-son ended up with all the "good" candy and the other two got whatever it was that he didn't particularly want.  You'd think that it would be pretty easy to divide three bags of mini eggs among three children, but he failed to see the logic behind that.  I realize I'm griping about very minor things, but if we don't get a handle on this conniving nature of his, it might very well turn into a huge issue for him in adulthood.

I know all teenagers present problems for their parents (and step-parents).  I realize that I need to find things to praise him for, and build our relationship that way.  Lately, though, I struggle to find the good.

Exactly how do you teach perspective?  How do you convince someone to consider other people's feelings?

Monday, April 13, 2009

The "Real" Truth

Parent-Teacher conferences for my oldest step-son went well.  We heard the same "he's great to have in class, but lacks a bit in organizational skills and homework follow-through" speech we've heard from several other teachers in the past.  It's like a broken record.  He'll do his homework, but for some odd reason won't hand it in to get credit for it.  Last semester, it was Geometry.  This semester it's Spanish. Muy estupido!  I'm sure some of it has to do with puberty and the general awkwardness that it brings.  What ensues will be a pattern of me asking to see his homework, and him being upset about my involvement and questioning (a.k.a. "nagging").  Fun stuff!

Speaking of puberty... boy did it rear it's ugly head here yesterday.  We picked the kids up from the Momster's house at 10am, as Easter was our holiday this year.  They got in the car and immediately told us how horrible the week had been.  Apparently, the Momster was in fine form.  It's so hard to bite your tongue and not agree with the kids when they say how mean and unfair she can be.  We simply let them vent.

It's mostly my step-daughter (age 12) and younger step-son (age 10) who are the recipients of their mom's nastiness.  For some reason, my older step-son (age 15) has escaped most of the unpleasantness.  I think he's learned how to play her game, and he is a bit of a "yes ma'am" type of guy anyway (somewhat of a "noodle" if you will).  The younger ones will complain and vent, and the older one will defend his mom.  It's sad to see him lie as an attempt to make her look good.  I guess that's the only way she can look good... 'cause the truth certainly ain't pretty!

Anyway, as a result of my step-daughter participating in her school talent show (against the Bio-Mom's wishes), her BM was furious with her.  She is grounded from TV and phone indefinitely, and has taken up the duty of live-in maid for the foreseeable future.  In addition, her younger brother has also fallen victim and had his TV privileges stripped.  He was told to ask his sister if he wanted to know why he was being punished 'cause it's her fault.

Again, I'm very proud of my step-daughter for making the unpopular/difficult choice and deciding to do the talent show.  However, at this point, I'm not sure the benefits outweigh the consequences.  My oldest step-son was very upset with his dad last night for siding with her and allowing her to do the talent show.  WHAT A MESS!!!  The Momster has somehow twisted things around so much that it's now my husband's and step-daughter's fault that the children missed 7 hours of interaction with their cousins (on their mom's side) from Colorado.

The truth is that my husband and I were very generous, allowing the Momster to have the children during her non-custodial week, so they could attend a wedding for her side of the family.  We gave up our time so that this could happen, and we knew it was in the kids best interest.  In a perfect world, we would have a give-and-take relationship with the bio-mom, and this would not be such a big deal.  With her, we know she will never ever reciprocate and allow us one minute of "extra" time with the kids.

However, my 15-year-old step-son was a bit emotional last night, and accused his dad and his sister of preventing the children from seeing their mom's family.  Needless to say, it didn't go over very well.  Jesse is the most patient, compassionate, understanding person I know.  Last night I was glad that he was not manipulated or guilted by his son's emotions.  After having a bit of an explosion regarding video games and the amount of time he's been playing them, he told Jesse, "It's your fault and [step-daughter's] fault that we didn't see our cousins last Friday!!!"  To which Jesse reminded the children in no uncertain terms that:
  1. We gave up 2 days of our custodial time so they could see their mom's family last weekend.  They attended the wedding and saw their aunts/uncles/cousins and spent time with them.
  2. We have previously given up nearly a weeks' worth of days so they could see their grandmother and aunts/uncles/cousins.  Their mother has never once forfeited a single hour of her custodial time so the children could see their dad's side of the family when they have visited from out of town.
  3. If it is so important that her children interact with her family, perhaps she should take them to visit her family.  That is what we do when we take the children to see Jesse's parents, siblings, and all their children.  We manage to make that happen about twice a year while juggling full-time jobs and other responsibilities.
  4. The children were with their bio-mom for spring break this year, and she had an entire week to travel with them (something she made a big deal about earlier in the year), and yet they stayed home and did "nothing at all" during their spring break.
  5. We always advocate on the children's behalf when it comes to dealing with their bio-mom.  Including activities such as track, soccer, speech and theater.  None of which their bio-mom supports their involvement.
  6. Their bio-mom very rarely attends or participates in their activities, and refuses to provide transportation to/from auditions, rehearsals, practices, etc...
It's important that the kids understand these things, and was apparent last night that they have been brainwashed by the Momster into thinking their dad is the reason for their mom's erratic and unhealthy behavior.  I think Jesse cleared that up during this discussion with the kids.

It's important to note that not once during the entire conversation was a bad word said about the children's mother.  Jesse simply said that if the children do not like certain things that their mom or dad do, then they had better make sure they don't repeat those mistakes or bad behaviors when they have kids of their own.

Sometimes it frustrates me to no end that these kids can be so ungrateful about our commitment to them and our involvement in their activities.  It's hard to take a step back and realize that it's not entirely their fault.  They are being fed so many lies by their mom, and sometimes they start to believe what she says.  I think open, candid conversations like the one last night are the only way to get them to open their eyes and start looking at the entire situation.  I look forward to more of these conversations as they grow older and are able to digest more information.

We'll just keep jumping hurdles until we cross the finish line.  If anyone has some suggestions about how to not spill my wine while jumping hurdles, I'd appreciate your input!


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Unwanted Involvement

Tomorrow, we have Parent-Teacher conferences at my 15-year-old step-son's school.  It isn't a "scheduled" event, so we don't have a specific time to arrive and talk with his teachers; instead, it's a free-for-all in the gym.  We're planning on going at 4:30 - the earliest possible time - to avoid crowds and - hopefully (fingers crossed!!!) - the Momster.

It would be an understatement to say she's not too keen on my participation in the children's school activities, and has made that perfectly clear in recent months.  I'm not sure what her problem exactly is - perhaps I'm too caring, or maybe I help too much with homework.  It could be that I take too much time away from my job to help out with school or attend daytime concerts and programs.  Of course, I can be a bit too "on the ball" when it comes the children's homework assignments and grades, and sometimes I do cross the line by checking the school lunch account balances to see if we need to replenish the funds.

Now that I think about it, if I were a biological mother and I wanted the best for my kids, I would certainly have an issue with someone giving their time and energy to my children and assisting them on a daily basis... or maybe I wouldn't 'cause it's just COMPLETELY SELFISH to think that any of these things would be a problem!

Can you sense my dripping, heavy sarcasm?  I sure hope so!

So as it stands right now, I've been told that it is very inappropriate for me to have any involvement in the children's school-related activities; conferences, website access, lunch accounts, speaking to the teachers, etc...  Not once has the BM (bio-mom) stated her reasoning for this sentiment; she just feels entitled to it.  For the record, I have several reasons for wanting to attend.  Not only does it show the kids that their dad and I are a team and that we both care about them equally, it is incredibly helpful to have two sets of eyes and ears to gather information.  Also, there are many instances when Jesse will ask questions that I wouldn't think of asking, and vice versa.  

I should point out that when she and Jesse first separated  -before she was even remarried - "Mr. Personality" (a.k.a. step-dad) attended all parent-teacher conferences and school functions.  It was obviously done as an attempt to undermine Jesse as the children's father, and she felt 100% valid in her new guy's presence at these events.  Goodness, do I have stories to post on this subject some day!

Since Jesse and I have been together, "Mr. Personality" has been present at maybe two or three school events at the most.  Apparently, he lost interest.  That alone speaks volumes to me about the children's lives when they are with their mom.  Their step-dad really wants nothing to do with them, and clearly is not supportive of them.

Ok, so now back to the issue at hand - tomorrow's conferences.  It's frustrating that the BM just can't accept my involvement kids' lives as a healthy, natural occurrence.  It would be horrible if I refused to go to conferences or discuss things with teachers or volunteer to help out at the schools when parent assistance was needed.  I will never have a "they're not my kids" attitude about it!

I've asked several teachers for their feelings on step-parents attending conferences and being involved in school activities, and not one of them has ever said it's a negative thing.  Teachers think it's a great sign of stability and support when step-parents care enough to spend time discussing the kids' progress.  This is reassuring to me, but it certainly doesn't take an expert to conclude that my attendance at events isn't done out of contempt or maliciousness.

Anyone who is a biological parent dealing with a step-parent situation, I urge you to take a moment and consider life in the step-parent's shoes.  I understand it's not ideal to have someone else influencing, helping raise, and sometimes even disciplining your child(ren). However, how easy do you think it is to assume a position in a ready-made family?  I don't believe any step-parent enters into the situation lightly, and I'm certain no step-parent does it for selfish reasons.  Please offer a bit of room and space and - maybe I'm asking too much here - some appreciation for the time and energy they give your kid(s).

Tomorrow, I will show up with Jesse, talk to the teachers, gather information and take it from there.  If the Momster shows up and has a problem with my presence, then she might just have to leave and come back at a more appropriate time.

So there you have it.  I wonder if I can petition to have "step-parenting" added to that show about the most undesirable jobs...

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Jamaican Jerk Chicken Pasta

During the weeks that the kids are at the Momster's house, Jesse and I like to be a bit more creative in our cooking than we usually are. The kids are actually GREAT about eating different types of foods, and don't often turn their noses up at anything we put in front of them.  However, there are a few dishes that we make which we will not prepare for the kids.

This Jamaican Jerk Chicken Pasta is one of those dishes.  The pasta has a bit too much spice for my step-daughter and youngest step-son.  So, we enjoy it when they're not with us.

It's been quite a while since we made this dish, and it was every bit as good as we remembered!!


  • 12 oz. whole grain penne pasta, cooked according to package directions
  • 4 chicken breasts, cut into 1" pieces
  • 2 tsp. Walkers Wood Jerk Paste (can be found online or at some specialty stores).  This flavor makes the pasta, so if you live in central MN, you can pick it up at the Cornerstone Cafe in Monticello for about $8/bottle.  A bottle lasts a LONG time!
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 2 tbsp. flour
  • 1 clove of garlic, pressed
  • 1/4 cup diced yellow onion
  • 1/4 cup sliced portabella mushrooms
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup of 1% or skim milk
  • 1/8 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tbsp. fresh-squeezed lime juice, PLUS 1 tbsp. fresh-squeezed lime juice (for garnish)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, PLUS 1 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro (for garnish)
  • 1/2 cup frozen sweet peas
  • 1/4 cup sliced sundried tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup fresh-grated parmesan cheese (for garnish)
  1. Marinate chicken breast in 2 tsp. jerk paste for at least an hour
  2. Saute chicken breasts in 1 tbsp. olive oil, over medium heat, then remove and set aside
  3. To the pan, add 2 tbsp. butter and 2 tbsp. flour and make a roux
  4. Add  garlic, mushrooms and onions.  Stir constantly, until onions and mushrooms have softened - about 2 minutes
  5. Add 1 cup chicken stock, 1/4 cup white wine, 2 tbsp. lime juice and 1/2 cup milk, and stir until the mixture has thickened
  6. Add cilantro and 1/4 tsp. fresh-ground black pepper to pan, and stir to mix
  7. Reduce heat to medium-low and add sundried tomatoes and peas.  Simmer for 5 minutes
  8. Return cooked, diced chicken breast to pan and stir to coat with sauce
  9. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce mixture and stir to coat
  10. Garnish with a bit of fresh cilantro and a light sprinkle of lime juice

Monday, April 6, 2009

Weekend in the Kitchen

This weekend, I spent quite a bit of time in the kitchen.  Saturday, I made a cheesecake that had to be assembled in three steps, and Sunday I made pot pies (currently, my husband's favorite comfort food).  Here are the results!


My step-daughter did a WONDERFUL job at her talent show, and I couldn't have been more proud if she was my biological daughter.  I looked over at my husband as soon as she finished, and he had tears in his eyes!  She has such a knack for engaging the audience and being so relaxed and at home on stage.  I recorded the entire song, and at some point, I might post it on here for all to see - with her permission, of course.

After the talent show, we packed the kids in the car, popped in a DVD and headed an hour west to meet up with the BM (bio-mom) and step-dad, so the kids could attend their mom's cousin's wedding.  When we got there, we met at the pre-determined drop-off location (Caribou Coffee, and step-dad came alone to gather the kids.  To say he isn't the friendliest person would be a major understatement. I've never seen him smile, and have certainly never seen joy/excitement on his face when he sees the step-kids.  It's hard to imagine living such a cold, emotionless life... but he makes it look easy.  Sometimes it's fun to mess with him; this time, I waved excitedly and flashed a huge smile.  When he failed to return my enthusiasm (or even acknowledge me), I mouthed - in a very obvious way - "come on!  you can at least wave!"  Still... no response.  What a creeper.

So after leaving the kids with "Mr. Personality", Jesse and I headed to a local restaurant.  We ordered a flight of wine and some pasta, and started our weekend.  Then we went to pick up a few groceries and headed home to watch a movie and turn in for the night.  I love Fridays, and the thought of a full weekend ahead of us!

On Saturday morning, the Momster emailed Jesse and let him know that plans changed and they would be dropping the kids off at our place "late" Saturday night, instead of Sunday morning, as initially planned.  She didn't bother to ask if we would be around or if we had plans that would prevent us from being home Saturday night.  For all she knew, we might have been out of town for an overnight stay.  As it turns out, we did have plans for the night, and didn't end up getting home until just before midnight.  The kids were dropped off at our house sometime between 9:30 and 10:00 that night, and called my cell phone to make sure we knew the plan had changed.

When we got home, my oldest step-son and my step-daughter were still awake, in the living room playing Rock Band.  My step-daughter told us that her mom didn't talk to her during their time together on Friday and Saturday, and said her mom was "really mad" because she ended up deciding to participate in the talent show.  So, the motherly thing to do (of course!) is to give your child the silent treatment.  Sheesh!  Sometimes that woman amazes me with her crazy behavior.  In fact, my step-daughter was "ousted" from the family for the night, and there was no room for her at the table with the rest of her family during the wedding reception.  She had to find a different table to sit at, and luckily, her maternal grandmother had an extra spot at her table.

I didn't want to sway my step-daughter's opinion when she was weighing her options and trying to decide whether or not to do the talent show.  On one hand, even though the BM never told her she couldn't do the show, she certainly made it known that my step-daughter would be making the "wrong" choice if she decided to participate in the show.  On the other hand, my step-daughter lives for things like this, and knew this was a one-time opportunity to perform in front of the entire school.  She debated for a while, but ultimately decided to go against the BM's wishes and do the show.

After hearing how her mom "disowned" her for the weekend, I made sure my step-daughter knew she made the right decision.  I encourage the kids to make waves and stand up for what they believe in, as long as they are willing to stand behind their decisions and articulate their reasoning.  She did just that, and I was proud of her.  Also, her mom will get over this and move on to the next thing very quickly, whereas my step-daughter would never forgive her mom if she weren't allowed to participate in the talent show.

For what it's worth, she ROCKED, and all the kids at school were congratulating her on the way out.  There was one kid who had his mom stop the car as my step-daughter and I were crossing the street, just so he could tell her she did an amazing job.


Friday, April 3, 2009

Calm Before the Storm?

Things have been relatively quiet for the past day or so.  Jesse and I went to see The Faint in Minneapolis last night - GREAT show!!  It's rare to see a band who sounds as great in a live environment as they do on their recorded albums, but they certainly pulled it off!!!

The kids were home alone last night, which was a good experience for them.  We had some friends pop in and "visit" them halfway through the evening, to make sure they didn't have any issues - THANK YOU, Jes and Chris!  We initially thought the kids would be with the BM last night, but plans changed at the last minute, and we saw it as an opportunity to give them some freedom and show that we trust them.  With the oldest being 15 and the youngest at 10 years old, it was certainly not a "bad parenting" decision, from where we stand.

Of course, there will probably be some backlash from the BM regarding our "negligence".  The kids have told us that their mom never leaves them at home alone, even for an hour or so.  So... I'm sure BM will loudly and clearly state her dissatisfaction with regard to our parenting (or lack thereof).

Actually, not only was it good for the kids to be alone last night, it was also good for my husband to cut the strings for the night.  Looking at the big picture, my oldest step-son will be heading off to college in a little over three years.  If we can't leave him alone for an evening at age 15, we're in BIG trouble when he spreads his wings!!

So it was a great night for us, and the kids fared just fine.  With a little prompting from Jes, they even did the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen!  It was wonderful to not walk into a disaster zone when we got home.

Today, we head to my step-daughter's Junior High School Talent Show, where she will be performing a solo.  I'm actually a bit nervous for her, but as usual, she'll be cool as a cucumber. That kid was born to take the stage!

After the show, we will be meeting up with the BM for a drop-off.  The kids will be spending the weekend with their mom's family to attend a wedding.  Jesse was kind enough to forfeit his weekend with the kids so they could see their aunts, uncles and cousins.  I'm sure they'll have a good time, and we'll have a bit of a "date weekend" while they're gone - now that's what I call a win-win situation!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Challenge of the Day

I'm sure a majority of us have a person (or people) in our lives who we view as speed bumps. You're cruising along, happy as a clam, and all of a sudden, WHAM - you hit the speed bump. Not only does it cause some physical damage, but you're a bit shaken mentally as well.  You're likely to be a bit cautious for a while, making sure you're watching for speed bumps, but after a while (without hitting anything major), you relax and start to cruise a bit faster again.

For some of us, these bumps come in the form of co-workers, for others it might be an in-law or a friend.  For me, it's my husband's former wife - the bio-mom (BM) to my step-kids.  I usually refer to her as BM (for the obvious "piece o' crap connotations) or "The MOMSTER". Of course, I never speak badly about her in the presence of the children, and am quick to remind them that their mom loves them and cares a great deal about them. Personally, I am not really sure about those things (she truly isn't the maternal type), but I think it's important that the kids feel they are loved equally in both homes.

Anyway, I digress... It seems I have again hit a speed bump on the road of step-momming.  It's frustrating, to say the least.  For the next few weeks (months?), I will be cruising at a solid 5 mph, afraid of hitting another bump and causing even more damage.  I know that when my husband and I make decisions regarding the children, we always consider what is in their best interest, and we try to factor their opinions into our choices.  Believe me, we've been reminded by BM on a number of occasions that we need to "Do what's in the best interest of the children". However, when we make decisions that are obviously based upon the best interest/wishes of the children, we are then accused of "appeasing" them and not being parents.

As far as I can tell, it all comes down to the issue of control.  BM would like to have control over everything that goes on in her household, as well as ours.  When that doesn't happen, we get the "You're spoiling the children" or "You're not teaching the children responsibility" email. When we decide on something that is not in favor of what the children want (for example, not letting them miss a day of school to see a ball game when they're already behind on their homework), we are accused of being "too strict" and "not taking into consideration what the children truly want". It's enough to make my head spin.

I assure you, I am not perfect - far from it.  However, sometimes dealing with BM's insanity is more than I can handle.  I realize there are two sides to every story and that she is probably in her home right this moment, venting to a friend (or a blog!) about what a horrible step-mom I am.  But I really do try to consider everyone's feelings and wishes when I form my opinions regarding the children and our unique situation.  My own feelings/opinions are usually at the bottom of the list.

It's really very hard to please a husband, who I vowed to always treat with respect and kindness; three children, who change their wishes/demands from day to day; and a BM who will continue to find fault in all I do, no matter what it is.

Either I am too giving, soft, appeasing OR I am too mean, rude or unbending - there's no middle ground.

This, my friends, is the reason I like my wine.