Friday, December 31, 2010

Getting to Goal, Step One

I love that everyone around the blog world is getting organized and starting challenges. It's a great time of year for it and maybe our collective efforts will help drown out those winter blues while we wait for the sunshine to return.

Next up, Ill be participating in a six week pantry challenge hosted by Melissa at Mom's Plans. It begins tomorrow and runs until mid-February. My new budget allows for only $300/month for groceries/household items and so I'll be using this challenge to find ways to keep myself within that parameter. From here until February 15th, I plan to spend no more than $450. I have no take out in my budget planned for that period either so if I decide to order a pizza or whatever, it will have to come from this amount.

Some things that will help:

  1. My deep freeze is pathetically low, to the point where it's probably not worth it to have it plugged in. However, I do have a whole chicken, two small hams and a pot roast in there. I've just taken out another pot roast for tomorrow's dinner as well. My regular fridge's freezer has a bag of perogies, two meals worth of mozzarella stuffed meatballs, two meals worth of cooked ground beef with onion and one meal worth without the onion. I've also got 4 meals of homemade turkey soup in there as well. All together this counts for the main parts of about 3 weeks worth of meals, minus sides.
  2. My kids can be picky and don't like a lot of different things. They mostly eat plain chicken, pot roast and spaghetti. Otherwise they like simple things like grilled cheese and kraft dinner. If paired with lots of fruits or veggies, these can be good additions to pad out our menu.
  3. The boys will all be gone for 3 days during this 6 week period and Owen will be gone 6. I usually just eat left overs when Im home alone so these days will be a good budget stretcher, although they're not new.
  4. We still have quite a few goodies around the house from Christmas. The boys all got chocolates, chips and candy in their stockings and we still have some of it for the times when they want a snack.
  5. I made the pioneer woman's cinnamon rolls and although we gave two trays of them away, we had lots left over. They are sooo good though that I had to sneak a pan of them into the freezer before the kids noticed! I've also got a batch of muffins that Ill be taking out next week for school lunches and snacks.

Is anyone else participating in a pantry challenge this month?

Goals? Resolutions?


I haven't thought much about what I want to change or accomplish this coming year. I've usually done so in the past but it's not like I've ever followed through, so.. meh. I've learned that there's a lot in this life you can't control, however much you think you can. Living in a shelter while 9 months pregnant with my fourth child was certainly not in my plan, but it happened. I can say that Im determined to never let it happen again, but I don't know what the future holds. Im smarter now and I know how to ask for help and maybe those things are what would make the difference if I was ever faced with something like that again. But then again, maybe not.

I've spent YEARS making up for having a baby at 18. I was so determined to not be a statistic that I just put my head down and plowed through my GED, a diploma in graphic design and a degree in sociology/women's studies. I spent 6 straight years in school (without ever taking a summer off or any other type of break) while having children and watching my marriage fall apart. I did all that so that I could get a well paying job and not be the teenage failure.

It's 2.5 years later and although I have a job, the pay sucks. I can choose to work in my office at the university, full time and pay daycare fees or I can work limited hours at home for measly pay. Even with a daycare subsidy, I was paying $700/month for 2 full time children and one part time (I finished work when the kids got out of school at 3, each day). Next fall when James is in school, I could possibly pay only $300, but they now to go a school too far away from the university for me to pick them up after school so the after school care would end up costing just the same.

I've made peace with this and now accept that maybe it's better that Im home with my babies anyway. I can pay my bills and look after my boys at the same time, so why add the extra stress of working away from home too?

Anyway, all of this is to say that Ill be participating in Penny Saver's The Saved Quarter Challenge.

My current income (or what Im classifying as income is $2475/month, take home). This includes my income, child support and what I receive as part of the Canada Child Tax Benefit (CCTB) and Childcare Benefit (which I group in with my CCTB).

If I were to save 25% that would equal $7425 for the year 2011. I believe this is doable for me and I'd actually like to increase it to $11000, but let's just start with the $7425 for now, shall we?

I don't expect to have $7425 sitting in my bank account next December 31 because I have a lot of debt and it would be irresponsible to hoard money while being charged interest. So instead I plan to put at least $5000 towards debt repayment, $1000 into an emergency fund, $1000 into fixing my van (which is almost how much it needs now) and the rest ($425) for a small vacation this summer with the boys.

If you'd like to read more about the challenge, go here. You can pledge to save whatever you choose and use it for whatever your needs are. The idea is to come up with new ways to cut your budget and earn extra money. I plan to post about my journey with this each Monday and have already prepared topics through February.

Happy New Year, dear readers.

Monday, December 27, 2010

A little rant about gifts

So my last post about my complicated family and was brought on because of my thoughts on presents at Christmas time. The boys have always spent Christmas morning at home with me and since the divorce, they've spent the rest of the day with their dad and grandparents. This year they didn't get to see their grandparents until boxing day and from what they came home like, it was obviously different from previous years. After talking for awhile I found out some things that are both good and bad.

They've always been really spoiled by their grandparents and received waaay too many gifts, most of which weren't overly exciting. They'd get a lot of clothes and things that they had a vague interest in and maybe a toy or two that they'd be happy about. My problem was always the amount of gifts they received that would rival their lot from Santa and Mommy. If the gifts were things that they had really wanted or needed, I would probably still have had a problem with the quantity.

This year though, there was a celebration on Christmas including the other grandchildren (Chris' two daughters and his sisters' kids). My boys were left for the following day. So first of all they were left out of a normal Christmas celebration. Then they received clothes (Ive been led to believe one outfit each) and a toy each. They also received gifts from their aunts and dad but there was a drastic reduction from previous years. Which you would think would make me happy.

Im not though. I feel like my boys are being treated differently because they're not really part of the family anymore. Im glad that I don't have a huge amount of crap that I have to find places for (more on that below) but its still sad to me. Couldn't there have been a happy middle ground? The boys still didn't enjoy their gifts and on top of it, they've lost the spoiled/special treatment they used to receive.

Micah actually cried over his gift from his aunt. He had put on a brave face and thanked everyone accordingly (according to him) but when he came home and was with me, he was sooooo sad that he didn't like the gift. He was worried that he would hurt his aunt's feelings. I told him that as long as he was polite to her, than it didn't really matter. He was allowed to feel disappointed in the gift but being polite to the gift-giver was the appropriate response. There's bound to be different opinions for this, so please keep that in mind.

Chris' family has distanced themselves so far from these boys that they just have no idea who they are anymore and that was really reflected in their gifts. Most of what they received was just put up in my closet to re-gift when the boys are invited to birthday parties. If they had no interest in it or already had it and I KNEW they would never play with it, then up it went. There's at least 6 things in there, maybe more.


So that brings me to our gift giving practices. Im not stupid enough to believe that I've never given a present that someone didn't like. That's inevitable. But with 28 people on my list this year, not including my children, I seriously put a lot of work and thought into giving the best gifts that I could think of while sticking within my budget. It seems that some people just give for the sake of giving and don't give a thought as to if the person will actually like the gift or not. What's the point in that?

I made a point to buy things for Chris (also known previously as "The Ex"), Patti and their girls simply because it's the right thing to do. The boys picked out most of the gifts and they were really from them, not me. I ordered Patti a parenting magazine subscription with my airmiles and as a mother of two, I assumed she would like it. I have no idea if she does or not, but I certainly tried. This is a magazine that I've enjoyed for years and currently have my own 3 year subscription. The boys picked out pjs and candy for their dad. When I knew him, he was in pjs whenever he could be and the boys knew he loved all types of candy. I was buying pjs for other people at the time and so it just kind of worked out. The boys' first choice was a $50 game, but that wasn't going to happen. Thought was put into these things, is my point.

Another example is that I gave pjs to three of my brothers (with other things) but I knew for a fact that another brother would absolutely NOT wear pjs and so he got something else. I could have sent generic chocolates to everyone and called it a day, but I tried. It really bothers me when people don't about the person they're giving to. I think I'd rather get nothing than something they didn't even think about. I may be reading too much into it, but it's like the gift-giver is saying that you don't really matter enough in their lives for them to know what you'd like.


I had decided this year to buy only things that the boys had asked for and only a couple items each. I didn't set a budget for each child but aimed for an equal number of gifts. For example, Noah got a Dsi XL that cost $200, Micah's big gift was a $50 cell phone...both are equally happy. I didn't want to deal with useless things that the boys would never play with. Unfortunately I couldn't completely eliminate those items (see above) and so I came up with the idea to put them away to re-gift. Class birthday parties are usually a stab in the dark anyway, unless your child and the birthday child are fairly good friends. There's also a couple of items that they probably will play with but already have enough of; like trucks for Owen. Those are put up as well but Ill probably bring them down in a couple of months when they're bored of what they have.

A guess an advantage of having extra gifts to put away is that now my boys will be able to go to more birthday parties. Though it doesn't happen often, there have been times when we get an invitation with very little notice and can't make it because there's simply no money for a gift.

What are your strategies for dealing with unwanted presents? Or maybe you're a grin and bear it kind of person?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Our complicated family tree.

Ok, so I had another post in mind but I realised that in order to really explain it, you would have to understand our complicated family tree. So I thought I might as well do a post about how our little family came to be because, without actually checking my archives, I don't believe I've ever explained it all before.

So, lets begin with me.

There's my parents:

Dad, oldest of two children, married once before with a son named David (who has two teenage daughters who were adopted/put into foster care)

Mom, youngest of four children

They had:

Will, not married, no children

Chris, two children from previous relationships, engaged with two more children

Myself, we'll get to me later

Morgan, separated, two daughters

Sam, not married, no children

This is where it gets complicated.

So I have:

Micah, born when I was 18, fathered by William (raised in foster care with no link to biological family and who has never been in the picture), grew up knowing about William but calling Chris dad

Noah, fathered by Chris (moved out when Noah was 3 for the final time)

Jamie, fathered by Chris (Jamie was about 6 months old when Chris left)

Owen, fathered by Andrew (disappeared when he found out I was pregnant, has one brother and an 8 year old daughter, whom Owen has met)

Did you get all that?

Now for the fathers:

William lives in another province and has not kept in contact since we moved to our current province. He has emailed once or twice but disappears just as quickly. He is basically non-existent for our family other than Micah's knowledge of another dad.

Chris and I were together from just after Micah's first birthday (2002) until we finally called it quits in 2007. The day after he moved out, he met Patti, his now fiance and mother to his two daughters. These daughters are biologically related to Noah and Jamie, though Micah is also included as Chris' son. These three visit their dad (and extended family) twice/month, which is the schedule that he has chosen.

Andrew. There isn't much to say about Andrew as most of what I know about him, I found out from his ex, J(mother of his daughter). I found her on facebook using the little info I had about his daughter, once he split. I emailed her and we've been talking ever since. Neither of us have heard from or seen Andrew since 2008. J knows his family and hears the odd rumor, but we've both accepted what kind of man he is and instead are actively encouraging a bond between her daughter and Owen. Next year, she'll be moving to the same city where I currently live so hopefully the kids will get a lot more time together.

And then there's Jason. He isn't biologically related to any of the children, but is a father for Owen. He and I started dating when Owen was about 7 months old and he just moved out last month. He takes Owen for a night every weekend and visits him usually twice each week.

Chris's family consists of two sisters and his parents. His mother calls every now and then and asks to take the boys for an afternoon. She's also the one person I can rely on to show up to any of the boys school/church performances. The boys see their grandparents every time they visit their dad. I don't know as much about their aunts/uncles/cousins. I know that one set lives in another province and so they don't see a lot of each other, but they might see the other family once/month or so. His fiance Patti on the other hand, seems to make every effort not to be home when the boys visit and is usually with the girls at her parents home in another town. The boys, as far as I know have zero relationship with Patti's parents.

Jason's family consists of a father and sister whom he barely speaks to and who live on the opposite side of the country, and his mother who lives four hours away. He visits (with Owen) his mother usually every holiday when he has time off of work. His mother also visits him every couple of months. During these visits, Owen is always included and his mother has begun to see Owen as her grandchild. She is also quite nice to the other boys and has even bought them Christmas gifts this year.

So, congratulations if you've followed that! With a family situation like mine, things can sure get interesting!

Well, that was fun!

Dec 23, watching movies

Our Christmas Eve goodie buffet

Owen's selections

New Christmas Jammies
Putting out cookies for Santa

A relaxing Christmas afternoon spent together

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Traditions

Our Christmases have changed quite a bit over the years with the various shifts within our little family and cross country moves of extended family members. The where and the how of Christmas is rarely the same each year but that hardly matters. Ive found that a combination of flexibility, knowledge of what really matters, old and new traditions and time management make our holidays great wherever and however they happen.

We have a lot of traditions that I've introduced to my boys and that I make an effort to hold onto each year, but these are the small things that can be accomplished as the days and our schedule allow.

We always make sugar cookies together. I can make up the dough one evening after the boys are in bed and then just leave in the fridge until we're ready to make them. If something comes up the next day and they can't be done, the dough keeps fine until we can. We can also just make the cookie shapes and freeze them to be decorated at another time. This is a tradition that my family had when I was growing up and it's one of those things I was always so excited about, year after year. Time with mom during this busy season is always a treat. I usually try to make these cookies with just one or two children at a time as well because it can get rather hectic. If that's not possible though, then we just make a mess and have fun all together!

As I was writing that last paragraph I got to thinking about the different things I bake each year, and how the cookie lineup is rarely the same. The one thing that has turned into a yearly tradition though without meaning to, are Christmas colored rice krispies for breakfast and to be made into squares. My boys always ask for that cereal this time of year and it always just gets made into squares without any planning from me!

We decorate our tree early, usually about a month before Christmas. I prefer to enjoy the anticipation of Christmas and celebrate it all month long. Once December 31st comes along though, everything is packed up and back in the basement until next year. I could never understand people who kept their decorations up well into January. To me, the Christmas season is December, not January. Our tree is also decorated with almost exclusively handmade ornaments. We either make them ourselves (another tradition) or the boys bring them home from school.

Decorations are something I don't care about very much and therefore prefer to spend my money elsewhere. Our tree was from freecycle two years ago and although it leans and is quite bare in spots, it's lovely once its decorated and it hasn't fallen over yet, despite cats and children! I usually pick up a couple of new things each year, mostly from the dollar store, but this is certainly the last christmasy thing I want to spend money on.

The boys are allowed to stay up late watching Christmas movies. Living in the earliest North American time zone, things come on tv late here. Most of the time a movie will run past their bedtimes, but this is the one time of year that I don't mind letting them stay up. Those precious moments of snuggling on the couch, watching Christmas classics are more important than my quiet evening relaxation time.

We all get new pjs on Christmas eve. I do this strictly for the Christmas morning pictures and there have been some years when the budget hasn't cooperated and so we just make sure to wear matching pjs that night. I care more about paying the bills or giving gifts than I do about spending $50 on pjs for us all.

New this year will be Church on Christmas eve. Because I hadn't attended a church in years, there was never a desire to do so on Christmas eve when it's busy and hectic anyway. But this year, things are different. We do go to church and we are very involved in ours. The bigs will be singing in the service on Christmas eve and it's important for us to remember why we're celebrating in the first place. I've always taught my boys about the real reason we celebrate Christmas but that was on such a lower level than we are doing this year. We're making it the most important part, which is as it should be.

Also new this year is our homemade advent. I've strung ribbon across a dining room wall and hung envelopes for each day. Inside is a treat, possibly a card with an activity written on it (pick out new mugs and have hot chocolate, make a manger for baby Jesus) and our Jesse Tree paper ornaments. Each evening one boy gets to open the envelope, show around the picture and try and figure out how it might be incorporated into the story. Then I read the associated passage from my bible and we discuss, before he gets to hang it on our tree. We used to pass out the candy first, but that proved to be a very bad idea and so now that's the last part. Our advent is such a mixture, but it's ours and hopefully it'll become a fond memory for my boys.

Christmas morning always begins with stockings outside the boys' doors. They are allowed to open these and explore their new treasures that Santa has brought them. At an appropriate hour, we get up and head downstairs as a family where we open gifts together around the tree. Our gifts only have our names on them and they do not distinguish between whats from Santa and whats from Mom. I just find it easier this way. All of my boys still believe in Santa but I don't make a huge effort to encourage it. If they question it, I usually give them a silly answer and laugh. Im not going to adamantly refuse to tell them the truth but Im not going to push the Santa thing either. When they ask about mall Santas, they're told the truth, but in a way that doesn't highlight the lying aspect.

Cinnamon buns and a jello salad usually accompany a large breakfast Christmas morning. This year though, Im going simple and picking up a fruit tray from the grocery store. I have frozen muffins in the freezer if I decide not to make the cinnamon buns and they'll do just fine. All I plan to cook that morning is bacon, because its a treat we don't have often.

New this year is the traditional turkey dinner. Ever since the divorce, the boys have been picked up a little after noon by their father and returned full of turkey in the evening. Because of this, Ive always just gone to my parents, or one of my brothers' houses for my Christmas meal and that's been fine with me! But Christmas this year lands on their regular scheduled visit with their dad and because he would normally pick them up at 5pm on Saturday, that's what he's going to do. It's too bad for the kids because they always enjoy spending the afternoon at their paternal grandparent's house with their cousins, presents and food. So instead Im cooking the dinner myself and Ive planned to have it at lunch time. Jason and Owen will be heading out to spend a few days with Jason's family and because its a four hour drive, they need to be on the road early. So that's just how its going to be this year. Ill have an enjoyable night in the quiet with leftover turkey for my supper!

When my parents lived here we always visited them on Christmas day, usually for brunch. But since they moved super far away, we've been trying out different ways to go about this. The first year, I hosted a Christmas eve party at my house and then a brunch on Christmas day for all my brothers and their families. This turned out to be too much for everyone's Christmas days and has since been dropped. Then we tried the Christmas eve at my brother's house and that was fine, but took up too much of our evening so Im not overly excited to try that again. This year Im sending my nephews home with the gifts for them and their parents when they leave tomorrow (I babysit them). I don't know if my brother has anything for us, but Im sure they'll find a way to get them to us if they do. My bottom line this year is stress-free and focused on Jesus and our own little family.

What are your family traditions?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Morning Thoughts

I've noticed an anger in myself lately that is most likely caused by the recent changes in our lives. Im snapping at the kids more and just feeling annoyed by every little thing. I don't think it has anything to do with holiday stress, but maybe just the fact that Im alone at Christmas has something to do with it. Without a partner I've had extra time to get things done and so my cards are mailed, gifts bought and wrapped, parties/concerts/etc have been hosted and attended, house is decorated and baking is done. I want to clean my house a little more and buy a fruit tray to add to our Christmas morning breakfast, but those are simple and quick, not stress-inducing.

As is normal with mothering, Ive been experiencing a lot of guilt, right along with the anger. Ive laid in bed the past couple of nights rethinking situations and how I could have handled them better. Just as my mother was, Im very conscious of how my mothering may effect my children as they grow. My daily mistakes could add up to my boys becoming men and scheduling a weekly meeting with a therapist! Ok, I don't actually believe that, but at 1am it's easy to go there.

I don't really have any answers to how Im feeling or what to do about my parenting mistakes. Being aware of my short comings and being willing to change them has always been a part of how I mother, and maybe that's all I can do. Reflect, pray and talk about it. In the mean time, Im forcing myself to be a little more patient, even though I really don't feel it. Im focusing on loving my boys and nephews (whom I look after 40 hours/week) instead of getting them to all get along and act like I want them to. We're doing more activities each day and when one of them talks to me, Im making sure to stop what Im doing and listen/help/follow/whatever it is they need of me. Because when I evaluate my life and what I want from it, nothing is more important than those boys.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A decade...

10 years ago today, as a seventeen year old girl, I found out I was going to be a Mommy! It's been a decade and even though my life is nothing like I thought it would be, I wouldn't trade it for the world!

As a side note: my very grown up little man has created his own blog to show off his lego designs... Lego Town