Thursday, July 21, 2016

Birthdays in a custody situation.

My step daughter's birthday is Saturday. I remember during the mediation her mother was so excited to plan a joint birthday party with us. Actually after a hellish four months of frivolous court order after court order I remember actually being a little shocked that once we settled she was so keen to do everything as a team. I kept thinking to myself that this must be too good to be true, but even two months later everything was still honkey dorey. That suddenly changed about three months after the divorce but I never did figure out exactly why. Everything was good one day and then boom it was bad again. Who knows, but I guess my first reaction of "This is too good to be true." was exactly right.

How exactly do you handle birthdays in a custody situation? In Joe's case we have his daughter 50/50 and in the summers one party has one month during the summer and the other the next month. This particular summer we had her in June and his ex has her in July. Her birthday falls in July so we are supposed to be guaranteed half her birthday so we can have a party. Well this year that's pretty much impossible. We were "generously" granted 7am to 3pm by the mother's choice and we pleaded that instead we get the friday evening through noon. That sounds like a pretty sweet deal but really it just means we get to take her to dinner and maybe breakfast. Having a party at 7pm at night or before noon is just not feasible. Nor did any invites ever come for us to go to her party at her Mom's house. Honestly I am not even sure we would have wanted to go to her party at her Mom's house or not as it would have been very tense and the last thing I would ever want to do is put Penelope in a situation where she has to feel that. Her birthday party happened a week ago and I guess I was just hoping we would be at least granted the whole afternoon/evening of her birthday so we could have had an actual party but even that might not have been possible as we only found out our times a week in advance and trying to send out invites, order a cake, and plan with less than a week is pretty unrealistic.  We won't see her again till August the question is how do you fairly divide a birthday?

With the boys there is nothing set in stone as to how we divide their birthdays but usually I end up just letting Chris have them on their birthday for pretty much the entire day. I can always plan a party on another day and we can always go out to eat the night before. I'm not particular about having the birthday party ON their birthday unless it just happens to fall on a Saturday. We invited Chris to the boy's birthday parties both times this year and he had to work and didn't come but he did something special with them the next day. It actually worked out in the boys favor as Saturday they did stuff with us for their birthday and Sunday they did stuff with their dad all day. Two days of birthday celebrations seems pretty awesome.

I think the whole situation would be much more heartbreaking if we had more than just my Mother living here. My mom is pretty easy going and will show up for a makeshift birthday party with zero notice armed with a card and cash (MawMaw is the master of cash is the best present.). But what would happen if her out of town Grandparents wanted to do something special for her birthday? I guess the only silver lining in this whole story is next year we will have her in July and her mother will have her in June and we can have a proper awesome party and by then Penelope will be in school up here and she will have friends from school to invite! I have a HUGE family we could invite but again with that little bit of notice there is just no way.

I guess I am just feeling a little blue about all of this.. I had some really cool ideas for a cake and we had talked about all these ideas for a party but between the boys being in IL and Penelope only getting a few less than ideal party hours with us it's just not going to happen. We did plan out a few things to do while she is here that will be fun though. I guess days like this I just really appreciate that my ex (the boy's father) and I have an unusually peaceful relationship when it comes to the kids.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Cocooning in a new Blended Family.

Have you ever heard the term cocooning? This is a common term in an adopted family but you don't hear it as often in a blended family. The idea is really the same and the benefits are really the same as well. Basically the idea is the first few months or weeks a family adopts a child they do whats called "cocooning" where they work on establishing routines, they do things as a family and build a relationship with each other. Some of the more extreme ideas in cocooning are not really applicable but the idea is really useful in building a solid foundation for your blended family.

Our blended family has slowly been building.. As I stated before we all started living together very early on to make things easier for Joe to have visitation with Penelope and to stay close together in a very rough time in our lives. In the first six months we were all together we lost my father, lost a job, went through a very hurtful custody battle, dealt with moving my mom to another state in the midst of her grief for my dad, realized my grandmother was no longer able to care for herself, dealt with a horrible situation with my farm while I was away, were overwhelmed by the amount of stuff we had to get rid of at Joe's house, had to find a way to combine two entire households into one, and moved ultimately into my home and I ended up spending my first holidays without my kids due to extenuating circumstances and my father. I think ALL of the most stressful things you can have happen in your life (almost) happened to us in a very short period of time. The good news is we all came through it unnaturally strong as a team, and I never (except once during Christmas) ever wanted to kill Joe (or vice versa). We leaned on each other for support and we rallied around each other and we tested our relationship to it's limit and came out with flying colors.

The thing was with all the challenges we had over the last six months we really just wanted to spend this summer being a family. We decided we would take the whole month we had all three kids and really fill the entire calendar with as many activities as we could muster and build memories and build the kids up to start working as a team. Work on building a routine, chores, and setting up clear rules.  Actually it wasn't just a "this summer" thing we really made the decision to make a honest effort to keep the kids together as much as possible when they are all at home as though I have primary custody of the boys the boys father is very active in their life and Penelope is with us every other week. It would sound like we have all this time together but in reality between school and errands and work we usually only spend a an hour or two a day together after homework and dinner and on weekends during the school year its really hard to do anything as Penelope comes or leaves on sunday and the boys are gone every sunday. So that really leaves only every other Saturday to do stuff together. And during the week we are only ever in the same house three week days every other week.  I'm sure this schedule will get less and less sooner than later as once the kids are a little older a good amount of this time will be filled with activities with their friends. I honestly guess we have maybe three more summers where the kids will actually want to hang out with us.. lol a few extra for Dylan.

So we set out this summer to do as many things as we could together and I think we did a pretty bang up job. We visited Six Flags, White Water, Coca Cola World, The Fernbank Museum in Atlanta, made a trip to Birmingham JUST for Penelope to go to Cheesecake Factory, the Montgomery Zoo, we went bowling almost every every week day and to the pool on base (Thank you to the air force for cheap bowling rates on base!) and of course rode some ponies and the kids learned how to make their own lunches and blew through our art supplies. What did we gain out of it? Well a ton of arguments, temper tantrums, and a few pouty kids... heh.. but the beauty of it was the kids went from calling each other siblings to ACTING like siblings and we worked out some of the feelings we had over all the turmoil of the last few months. It was expensive, it was exausting, it was without a doubt the best thing we could have done for our kids and our family.

I can not honestly say this is truly cocooning but the idea behind it is really the same. When you are a new family and especially a blended family where the schedules between your kids are all different and all over the place spending time together is SO important. I am not sure this gets any less important as time goes on and it certainly is a challenge as if you do something with one kid when another kid is alway there is ALWAYS hurt feelings. In a future post I will tell you guys about how Penelope is still mad at me for going out to eat without her with my mom from back in February. At the time I did not think it was really a big deal but to kids these things really matter. I always tell the kids that life goes on on the days they are not here and we have to keep living our life but in reality they just want to feel like they are equally apart of our family and apart of our extended family which they are 1000% entitled to feel that way as I know without a question of a doubt I would feel the same way.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The kids are gone till August and I miss them!

UGH! The kids are all gone till August and I have no idea what to do with myself. Ok, I absolutely do know what to do with myself as all of last month was spent almost 24/7 going places with the kids and "cocooning" (see my next post) so we have yet to fully organize since the move, we have yet to get anything really settled with some of the documents I need to do since my dad passed. I had minor surgery a week ago and I ended up in the hospital for a night and if any of you know me personally you know how much I HATE lying in a bed so of course I haven't been healing nearly as fast as I should. I can't play Pokemon Go 24/7 for the next few weeks so I need to be using this time to get the house organized, to clean out the kids rooms and declutter as though I make the kids keep their rooms fairly neat and we did a toy purge before we moved we need to do a major secondary purge.

I spent most of the last few months furiously shopping for clothes for Penelope and Connor for school as Penelope came to us with basically nothing other than a lot of toys. When we moved to the new house she had not only outgrown what little in the way of clothes she had but most of her wardrobe her mom sent us was school uniforms which after we relocated Penelope will be going to school with the boys which has no uniforms. I used to always think the boys had an ungodly amount of clothes but with girls its a whole different ballgame. Shirts, skirts, tank tops, shorts, jeans, sweat pants, pajamas, dresses, more than one pair of shoes, and holy god at the leggings. Penelope was also stuck in this habit of only wearing "comfortable" clothes ie sweat pants/workout type clothes and that's just not appropriate for school. We also had to buy her all new furniture and my mind boggles as to how much money we really spent to make all that happen. We are not wealthy, but we got it all done and two coats of paint later I think she has a cooler room than I do!

Needless to say between moving, getting Penelope all squared away, and dealing with all the other drama of the last year we I have had ZERO time and almost ZERO kidless time. I honestly can tell you I do NOT like it. I need this time to get some stuff done around this house but I would much rather be at the pool or the bowling alley with the kids. Unlike some Mom's (and I'm not shaming here at all) I really really enjoy being with my kids and my kids really enjoy (between the petty arguments) being with each other. My mother babysits for a few hours one night a week close to bedtime and the kids spend the night so we can have some adult time but for the most part we do almost everything with at least one kid in tow.

Today I spent the day gutting Penelope's toy box getting rid of the countless pieces of paper and nonsense she collects. I came up with some cool ideas for her to display some of her collectibles and spent some time reorganizing her closet so I could make sure I wasn't missing anything for school clothes. Later this week I will do the same to the boys room and next week spend some quality time gutting the living room and kitchen. Combining two households without fail means you have WAY too many of some things and not enough of others. I also have 8 million things to buy for all the kids for school. How on earth do these kids need five dozen pencils EACH? As busy as I am though I can't help missing my babies. I pray the next two weeks will pass quickly.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Coparenting.. its your responsibility.

I have some pretty strong beliefs when it comes to parenting after a divorce or parenting as a single OR remarried parent. First of all the only way on earth you can co parent successfully is to drop ALL of your freaking resentments of the past. It no longer matters WHY you got a divorce, why you are not with the other biological parent, or even if you like them at all. Do you love your child? Do you think your child loves their other parent? (If you answered no there you are dead wrong..) Do you want to live miserably and fight over every single thing for the next 18+ years? Do you not think your child KNOWS you argue over them? (If you answered no.. your again dead wrong kids not only know but they get more than we give them credit for..) How do you think the way you are acting models for your child's future as sadly the statistics say that our kids follow the same paths we do and do you want your child to have to live like this as an adult?

Let me give you some history on myself.. My parents were married for almost 38 years. They met after both having two failed marriages, dated less than three months, married, and had me not even a year later. My dad swore to me on his death bed that he NEVER cheated on my mother, and though life was not always easy (see my blog posts about PTSD) that my mother was the love of his life and he knew it from the moment he met her. My parents modeled for me a loving marriage where kissing, hugs, and affection was shown to me daily. When I set out on this journey I swore I would never be that person who gives up on a marriage when kids are involved and I would do what it takes to make it work. Life didn't see it that way for me... I married young to a man who was my best friend at the time. My first marriage was good for the most part, we loved each other, we enjoyed each other's company, but we did not see eye to eye on kids and the romantic spark was just not there. I honestly think I married to stop the cycle of moving all the time and because I wanted to be independant. That marriage ended very amicably and I only regret now we
are still not friends. My second marriage (to the boy's father) was a whirlwind... we had a very strong attraction to each other but almost from the beginning there was no real affection. I got pregnant with Connor as an oops well before we married and I really strongly believe we only married because of him. We had a lot in common but we just couldn't get it together and I don't think either one of us was really ever happy. I could tell you stories of the bad things that happened in our marriage and I could tell you stories to make him look like the bad guy and I could tell you stories that would make me look like the bad guy... but in all honestly we were both really pretty awful to each other those last few years. We both tried to make it work, but never at the same time, and we both loved our kids and both felt it was wrong to divorce. With all that said when Connor was three years old sitting in the back seat of my car he said to me "Mommy, if you want to divorce daddy it would be totally ok with me. You deserve to be with someone who will love and kiss you like I do.. and Daddy deserves to be happy too..". See.. Kids GET IT.. I rarely if ever fought with my ex anywhere near my kids, but we also never showed each other any sort of affection in front of the kids. When we decided to call it quits we were both very hurt and very angry but we pulled it together and sat down and decided collectively that we would talk it out, decide what we wanted to do, and never again throw any of it in the others face again. And strangely enough we did just that... after years of being married and rarely even talking we sat down like adults talked it out and we decided all that matters was from here on out we would be good parents together. So far almost a year later we have held to that bargain and I hope we keep that relationship forever because our kids DESERVE it.

Here is the thing people.. your kid do not want you to throw the past constantly back up into their world. Those hateful conversations you have secretly in text, the sly comments, the anger. ALL of it translates into their life. They do not want to have to choose sides, feel guilty in loving either party, or even in loving a step parent, grandparent, or other people in their lives. And pending that one of the parents is a criminal, mentally unstable, doing drugs, or otherwise a danger to them they NEED both their parents and in this day and age they could use all the adults in their life they can get that will have their back. You may think your "punishing" the other parent by petty nonsense by cutting visitations short, by trying to exclude the new step parents, by not inviting family to a birthday or even that any of this is justified because your ex did something to you... but you are punishing your child far more than your punishing the other parent. When my ex calls me and asks for the boys extra time for ANY reason or he can't take them for any reason.. or really if he asks me for virtually anything I bend over backwards to give it to him. My only rule of thumb is if all the kids are together we try to keep them together or if we have something special planned. Why? Because it's what's best for my kids. 

With Joe's ex things are not that simple. There is so much anger still that baffles my mind and hurts my heart. I know the relationship I have with my ex is the exception not the rule... but I just cant fathom it being any different. I could be her... I could be angry.. My ex is seeing someone who I've not yet met but he genuinely seems happy to be with. I knew he was seeing someone well before he told me because I saw him smile in a way I've not seen.. well ever. I could be mad because it wasn't like that for us... but you know what? I was THRILLED... I was thrilled because his happiness spills into my kids lives.. I want him to be happy.. I want him to be productive.. I want him to be a good dad and if he is miserable I also know from experience he's not half the man he could be. I could be angry because before the divorce happened I was ganged up on in a way a mother should never have to see or hear... I could be mad for all the things that went wrong in our marriage.. I could be bitter and spiteful... and miserable. But if I was I wouldn't be able to have a healthy and loving relationship with my current husband, I would not be a good mom (as I also know from experience that when I'm miserable I am not the parent I an be either.) and it would hurt my kids far far more than I could ever hurt my ex. And I am not putting any words in anyone's mouth... The reason why the relationship with Joe's ex isn't the same isn't for me to say. I could speculate all day long as to why we can't get along in the same way and I hope that we do at some point get there. It works to the point that things follow the court order... and it all happens.

The point is.. if you are out there reading this and you are in a situation where you are dealing with another parent in a custody situation that is less than ideal.. STOP before you open your mouth and think. You job as a parent is to do what's right for your child even if that means playing nice with someone that you may otherwise not really want to. Even if your relationship with the other parent is awful and you'd rather stab yourself in the eye than make that visitation switch... STOP... I guarantee to you that your child loves their other parent and every ounce of anger you pour into the situation is anger directed at HALF of your child's heart. By letting go and moving on you are not only doing yourself a favor but you are allowing your child to be happy. 

I know someone is out there reading this and is like.. "but my ex is doing drugs, my ex can't have a stable relationship and is dragging men/women into my kids life, my ex is a criminal, my ex is crazy (and I do not mean just drama prone I mean actually crazy), ect ect ect." Ok.. so maybe? So how can you make it easier for your child to love that parent even if there is a problem? I'm not saying fold into a dangerous situation but I am saying in an average situation where both parents are fairly responsible human beings swallow your pride and support each other for the sake of your kids! I guarantee to you no matter what happened in the past (and let it be that forever) that happy parents make for happy kids. And yes that sometimes means being happy for a exs new relationship or life even if that only means your happy that your child will get to see their parent happy. I can't say that one day when my kids have a new step mom (and I hope honestly it happens) I will always be thrilled and won't sometimes be jealous (not of someone with my ex but because I know if that person is good to my kids they will love her..) but I will be thrilled if she has their back and supports them. I only want my boys to grow up to be good men who love their future families and know how to be a good dad/husband and I hope one day to have future happy daughter in laws so I won't have to watch my kids go through some of the stuff I went through. That is my responsibility as a Mom to raise men (and a woman) who will be successful and be happy.  My success is not measured in how much money they make as adults or even if they graduate college. My success is measured in them becoming happy, healthy, mentally stable functional adults who will then raise grandkids to be the same. I've been wealthy and I've been poor and I will tell you happy has far more value than any money can bring.

What being a blended family and a "step" really means.

You know if I had a dollar for every time someone told me a story about their crazy "baby mama" or how hard it is to be a step parent or the drama they have with an ex (spouse, grandparent, girlfriend) you name it.. I would already have been able to pay off my house and then some. The truth is, however, NO one wants to hear your story about how being a blended family is hard (and amazing too!) and if you do talk to them about the struggles for the most part you will end up with either a wall on how you "choose" to get into this OR you will end up with a half hearted "Well you know all exs, step moms, ect are evil." story. The fact is to make a blended family work you have to do the work and sometimes that means making hard choices and putting your marriage and kids first.

When my husband and I got together very early on we decided that our kids would all just be "our" kids. All equal, all the same, and we would work really hard to make our family work. Putting one kid above another just makes life in a blended family really really difficult and always ends up with one kid feeling like they are "less" which in my eyes is NEVER ok. This doesn't mean that Joe is not aware and very respectful of the boys father (and vice versa) as no one could replace a biological parent (nor would either one of us want to) but when the kids are at our house they get equal treatment, equal attention, equal dispoline and equal love. From very early on my sons especially really GOT what was going on. They understood and even agonized along side me when I really struggled with the fallout of Joe's custody battle with his ex wife. They immediately accepted both Joe and Penelope into our family and totally made room for her in our life and in my time. They never once bucked me spending time with Penelope or Joe and were almost immediately fiercely protective of their new sister.

See I think the real problem here is the use of the word "step" at all. I've made friends with many other stepfamilies in our journey as a family partially because one of the key factors in making a blended family work is having a support system and NO one understands any of this quite like other blended families do. And strangely enough my mother has been one of my biggest sources of strength in this matter as she was a step child herself, as a teenager her mother remarried to the man I call my grandfather (my biological grandfather died when my mom was young). The resounding thing that all my friends say over and over and over again about being remarried with kids is that it brings its own unique set of challenges to a marriage and parenting that unless you experience it you just cant quite identify with or understand. The thing I hear over and over and over again from my adult friends who were step children is how painful it is when a new step mom, dad, sibling or even grandparent does not accept them or treats them as "less" or unequal. Step or not does not matter in this household, we are all just a family. No one gets left behind no matter what in this household. Ironically enough before my father died he was CONVINCED me and Joe would get married and he was SOO upset he would not get to meet Penelope before he passed. My father made it very clear that not only was I not to "mess" up my relationship with Joe but that when we did get married that I would ALWAYS treat Penelope as my own and never ever make her feel any less than 100% part of our family. Thing is he did not have to tell me any of that because he raised me to be better than that as did my grandfather (Who happened to be my step grandfather not that I ever used that word with him and I think me and my cousin would both growl with disgust if it was ever brought up as an issue..).

We are luckier than most I think. My mother is very supportive of our family and accepts all the kids as "hers" and even babysits without complaint one night a week so me and Joe can have a "date" night. My ex (the boys father) and I do a really good job (at least I think) at communicating and co-parenting and we have an appropriate and supportive relationship when it comes to the kids. We have a strained relationship with Joe's ex and have had some issues with acceptance from extended family but all in all I think compared to some people's problems we talk to we are so much luckier than most. We are all hopeful over time that all the other problems will iron itself out and though people say "Time heals all wounds" we all know this is bullshit but time does give you a perspective and hopefully will bring peace.

I also realize that so much of this is all "taboo" no one wants to discuss the complications of being part of a blended family because it might cause "drama". Again people this is part of the problem. We HAVE to talk about this, we have to dispel the taboo nature of this problem as now more families than not will either be a step or have a step as part of their family. I am really lucky in the fact that I have a husband and mother who both 1000% support me and stand behind me talking about issues that otherwise might make some people uncomfortable. I know in the case of my articles about my father some of the information I wrote really upset some of our family members and that's OK. I do not write to hurt anyone I write because I want to help others who may feel lost that there are other people out there dealing with the same things they are!

Friday, May 20, 2016

The fear of always being the new kid.

You know from reading this blog you might get the idea that my childhood was this awful mess. The reality is my childhood was wonderful for the most part. I am SO lucky to have had two parents who loved me, supported me, and stuck together when the times got really rough. I have some of the most amazing friends that I do not even remotely deserve who have stood by my side even when I let them down and have believed in me when I had no hope left. I had a almost charmed lifestyle riding horses, traveling, and if I even went into my adventures in the computer world you might call me a liar. There is so much of my life that is so outrageous that I often say that if I wrote a book about my life they would most likely publish it as fiction. So much of my life was so good that it almost makes it more difficult for me to admit that I am not always the strongest or that I'm not always ok.

I had planned to make my next blog post about how I met my husband but I want to put brakes on that because for some odd reason this blog seems to be more about me working out my feelings about losing my dad and I can't promise any of you that the storyline to get me there will be in any particular order. That blog post was derailed as I got into this conversation with my best friend. Its his birthday today and though I may not be his best friend he has been mine for almost as long as I can remember. Having a "best friend" when you move as often as I have is at best a challenging prospect. The line in fight club about having single serving friends is the best way to put this.. I am a MASTER at making short term friends and I am a master at making a friendship in which I am a caregiver but letting someone in to the point that they might have to take care of my feelings it be both ways is nearly impossible. What got me thinking about this is I was talking about refinancing my house and I was trying to describe some improvements I wanted to make and I used a house I lived in as a child in TN as an example. He very clearly remembered the layout of my room and the things in it. I remember the things in it (as I also remember how everything I owned fit into boxes best) but I've had so many "rooms" that the layout sometimes gets a bit fuzzy. 

Now I'm sure you are asking where this is going as I've been a little long winded getting to the point. I am sure we have all experienced the moment at some time in our life of being the "new kid" be it having to stand in front of a new class at school telling them about yourself, going to a new job, a new college, ect. The fear is at times a bit overwhelming as you have no idea if anyone will like you. How imagine that on an epic scale. You are ALWAYS the new kid, you are always having to try to prove yourself or make friends or start over. I think I have done this routine so often in life that I never really stopped. I constantly feel the need to try to prove myself, and it's really hard for me to let anyone take care of me even on a very basic level. Believe me it's not that I do not need the help and I really have nothing to prove. I know logically in my head that I'm at a point in my life I have nothing left to prove and ironically the people I try to impress most of the time are already the people who are my friends. I also know I have nothing to prove.. I have great friends, I have an amazing husband who is nothing but supportive in everything, I have AMAZING kids, but yet i still act like a pitbull in a terrier's body. I also know that I am only one person and when friends offer to help I should take it but it's so damn hard as I feel like I'm admitting weakness if I even take small gifts.

I spent so much time trying to take care of everyone else and everything else that I tend to lose track of my own needs. Even in refinancing the house I agonize over every little detail on any improvements that need to be made and feel an overwhelming sense of fear over adding even $50 to my loan monthly as what happens if (whatever the crisis of the day is) needs me? I guess I've spent so much of my life having to figure things out by myself and being resourceful to get things done that it's sooo hard for me to let go and allow someone else to even take care of me on a basic level. I always just assume that if someone is helping me they want something out of me (as honestly that has been my experience 99% of the time). My way of coping with always being the "new kid" is to rely solely on myself and honestly to be controlled about my emotions. The problem is that now my life is settled its HARD to give up the control. I've spent my entire life taking care of someone else (my dad, my mom, my friends) that admitting I am not a super hero and allowing anyone else to "help" is sooo hard. I don't think I will ever loose my drive to protect and take care of my family and friends like a lion but I know I need to start allowing them to protect me as well. Instead of saying "I will do it myself." start saying "Thank you!!". 

More later.. much love!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Daily Adventures : Going away parties

Because our life is absolutely ridiculous at times I guess it seems only appropriate to start talking about our daily lives. This week is our friend Pep's last week before he PCS (Permanent Change of Station for you non military folks!) to another state. As always they do a going away party at a local restaurant usually over lunch. The last few PCS parties have been at our local Red Robin which honestly thrills me as I adore Red Robin's burgers and bottomless fries the problem is our local Red Robin just can't handle it.

Mind you sure we brought quite a few people into the store all at the same time but most of us were sitting at our own booths and other than our party there wasn't a ton of people in the Red Robin at the time. It was no busy with us there than a typical lunch time and we were not in a huge hurry. The problem is though they handled most of the people with no issues OUR table was sitting there for an hour and no one had even taken our drink order. At one point half the people at our table actually got upset and CALLED in orders as takeout and got their food BEFORE we even got our food at the table.

Though if you think about it.. it was kind of funny sitting there eating lunch at a table where half the people at the table had take out orders. The not funny part of it is my husband ended up spending almost 3 hours in Red Robin by the time we got our bill for what should have been maybe an hour and a half. Eh. Honestly I just like spending time with our friends and having them held hostage at Red Robin trying to eat is just another excuse for us to be together. ;)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Intro to having a father with PTSD.

When you tell someone your father has PTSD people automatically think in their head "OH! He jumps and acts crazy at loud noises? He's some crazy mumbling in the background about the war?". The truth is different for everyone affected with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome but the reality is its nothing like that. Sure at times my father was easily startled, sure at times he couldn't handle loud noises, sure at times he was very withdrawn and just wanted to be alone. The reality though of daily life is sooo much different. My father had PTSD as long as I knew him the problem is none of us even suspected that our issues as a family was because of PTSD. We never even got a diagnosis for his PTSD till well after he started to get sick long after I moved out of the house.

I think for most part our family either turned a total blind eye or thought we were making it up. My dad rarely if ever talked about it with anyone but me and usually then only very late at night when he couldn't sleep. The symptoms were so painfully obvious once we figured out the problem and progressively got worst the more ill he became. When my father was younger he was incredibly well spoken, intelligent, very even tempered and otherwise a very well liked man. Though people at his work often referred to him lovely as Little Napoleon (he was barely 5'1) I've never heard ANYONE speak an ill word about my father. As a child I was totally a daddy's girl (and still to this day am without question) but he wasn't around that often and always traveling for his job.

We moved often when I was growing up, sometimes as often as every six months and rarely lived anywhere longer than a year. I once had to list every location I have ever lived at for a security clearance and the list was so long it went on for page after page. I was commonly asked as a child if my father was in the military and my answer was always "he does military construction" which somehow was supposed to answer the question but certainly now that I look at it never really made any sense. My dad rarely raised his voice or got upset but the few times he did he would fly so wildly off the handle it was shocking and explosive. Most disagreements even at a early age in my life with my parents were handled through me. I was kind of like a mini messenger and mini counselor at times but honestly they were very rare. Honestly all in all I was VERY lucky as my parents were both married twice before meeting each other and my dad would often tell me "The third time is the charm!" and they stayed together for 38 years until his death late in the fall of 2015.

His PTSD diagnosis came shortly after getting ill and though I cant honestly remember it was at least 8 years before his death, I will revise this later with more info. He was working in Hawaii and was on a business trip alone. He was suicidal (not something we talked about openly while he was alive but I will discuss it with you guys in more detail as this blog unfolds as I think people need to hear this.) and he climbed up onto the railing of the balcony of his hotel room and attempted to jump. At that point he says he saw his mother and she talked him off the ledge. Shortly there after he was diagnosed with PTSD. Turns out all along all the moves we did when I was growing up was because the moment things started to get "good" with his job or life he felt guilty. The guilt was so overwhelming he would basically rip us up out or our lives and start over. I'm not so sure if it was always conscious and it wasn't a topic we broached often as he felt very guilty for constantly moving me growing up.

This is one of those topics I could go on for ages about and never hit the bottom but I wanted to address this early on as a lot of my stories and underlying driving forces in my life come back to this subject. It's not one of shame, and there is NOTHING even remotely to be ashamed about when it comes to PTSD. I am FIERCELY proud of my father and I strive to one day be even half the human he was... at times he was larger than life in my eyes. However with all that said he was human and every human has a story and all of us have some sort of pain though certainly some of us worst than others. I will share more about my fathers illnesses and PTSD as time goes on but so much of my own story revolves around his. I genuinely hope sharing our story will help other people not feel so alone as I did at times in my life and I know he did and to realize its OK to talk about it even though its really really really fucking hard at times. Its hard for the person suffering and sometimes its even harder for the family as the last thing you want to do is to make them feel guilty or worst.

Much love.. more later.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Just jump... starting the goal to blog authentically.

Several years ago back when I was struggling with my eyesight and shortly after the blog changed names I was at the height of my blogging success. I was making enough money that I could have reasonably lived on (though very frugally) my earnings from the blog and we were running so many contests that my house looked like a mini warehouse. I was at that point though at my lowest point in blogging history. I was VERY unhappy both in my personal life and in my writing. My marriage was at a breaking point, I had two young children, I was doing 10+ blog posts a week all of which I was very upbeat, very positive, and constantly trying to find something awesome to say about every product I was writing about.

The problem was I was dishonest... Dishonest in the fact that the face I was showing the world through writing was NOT my own. I was so scared to write in my own genuine voice about topics that really mattered to me because I was scared to upset my dad, disappoint my readers, and mostly look unprofessional. Well in the process I fell horribly behind on my reviews, and I was literally running out of things to say. Ever have to write 5000 reviews and never say anything but something positive? Its not possible... at some point you start sounding like a broken record. I felt like a broken record spewing out the same tired old shit every other second. I felt disingenuous because I was being dishonest. Dishonest with the reader about who I really was and about how I was really feeling. I got burned out.

My life was a shambles, I was having panic attacks, I was depressed, and I felt like a worthless human being. Kinda hard to project this perfect family for a blog when there is nothing at all perfect about it! I would write these incredibly snarky genuine emails to several of the PR people I was blogging for all of which would beg me to write that way on my blog and all of which I would deny because I was scared. Well It took me a few years but I think it's time I finally start sharing this with you guys. My real life, my struggles, my successes and failures, because honestly I think I need to do this for myself but I think there are more of you out there like me who feel trapped in this reality that is just not real.

The crazy thing is the more you worry about what others think of you the more mistakes you make and the more unhappy you become. A wise man and my most trusted friend once told me that sometimes it takes a long road of trying to be someone you are not to realize that all along your 14 year old self was your most genuine moment. That may not be true for all of us but I will tell you that my 14 year old self was incredibly dorky, loved video games and anything scifi, read more books than watched tv, was fiercely loyal to herself and her friends, and was ready to take on the world. I had this amazing group of friends who later became literally my family and foundation when shit hit the fan and that person IS the person I want to become again.

What does this mean for you guys? Well first of all I refuse to write another word that isn't 100% honest. I still want to do reviews but I want to also just blog about my life. The struggles of moving so often growing up that I can barely remember more than two dozen people from my childhood I went to school with. Living in a world that was almost purely digital as the only sort of long term relationships you can have when you move every six months are with people online. Learning to cope with my dad's PTSD and end of life issues. And learning how to grow as a blended family and learn to be a family all over again. I hope I can connect with other step moms out there as well! I swear some days I need a support group just to deal with the challenges of being a step mom, and don't get me wrong its amazing and I LOVE having another kid in the house but navigating co-parenting and building family moments is a challenge at times. I'm 100% down for the challenge though and I look forward to all our adventures as a new family.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Hope you have a Gnoment to appreciate the people you love over the holidays.

What are Gnoments? Gnoments are an adorable tech friendly relationship building tool!

Ever since I started accepting review requests again for this blog I wanted to focus very heavily on tech and geek sector items. I actually made a joke to my partner when the review request for Gnoments hit my email box comparing them to the "elf on the shelf" of romance. Once they arrived however we realized they were so much more!

Gnoments are a set of two plush gnomes. There is a boy and girl gnome both weighted so they easily sit on a shelf or can be positioned where you need them to be and also have a magnet in their hand (As gnomes like to hold hands!) and you can use them in so many cute ways!  You can use your gnomes to leave messages for your significant other as well as small trinkets as each gnome comes equipped with a small backpack for storing items, as well and quite possibly the most exciting part for me is that each Gnome can also has a NFC tag embedded inside of the plush. A NFC tag allows a user with an NFC enameled phone to scan the Gnome and leave small digital messages (messages, maps, ect) for a really unique experience. You will need a NFC enabled phone (currently only andriod phones support this) and need the NFC tools app. Sadly we could not test this feature as both me and my significant other use iPhones which are as of yet not supported. Gnoments also come with a very nice illustrated book which tells their story as well as makes suggestions as to how to use your gnomes.

Gnoments are an adorable idea and in a world where so many of us spend so much time with our technology and phones its actually rather nice to have a physical tool to use in your relationships. Gnoments are not only for couples, you could easily use them to leave notes for your kids! Honestly I think our children are as fascinated or more by the idea than we are! Check out the video below to get a quick overview of how to use the NFC chip as well as see the other videos to learn more about Gnoments. You can visit the Gnoments webpage as well to purchase or read more about these adorable plush gnomes!

Disclosure: I was given a sample Gnoments for review, we were not compensated for this post in any other way. My opinions and comments on items we review are always my own and are never influenced by sponsors.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Halloween Hounds: Milk-Bone Study Shows Dogs Are Ultimate Trick-or-Treaters

  • 44% of NY pet parents have dressed their dog in costume versus 28% of California pet parents
  • 38% of NY pet parents have greeted trick-or-treaters with their dog while 18% of pet parents in California have
  • 18% of Texas pet parents have given their dog extra treats for Halloween and 16% have taken their dog trick-or-treating.
  • Big dogs like Dobermans and Great Danes prefer “real meat treats”, while most small ones (Pomeranians and Pugs) choose “soft and chewy” snacks – like Pup-Peroni
  • Soft and chewy treats are also the all-time favorites of terriers (58%), and toy dogs (59%)
  • Biscuits and crunchy treats (like Milk-Bone) are the clear favorites of hounds (53%), herding dogs (56%), and sporting dogs (57%)
Because dogs are the ultimate tricksters, Milo’s Kitchen brand dog treats wanted to uncover, for the first time, which tricks dogs are best able to perform. The nation’s most popular doggy tricks are:
#1: Sit (77% of dogs can do this on command)
#2: Shake paws (58%)
#3: Lay down (57%)
#4: Stay (50%)
#5: Give a kiss (44%)
#6: Beg (31%)
#7: Roll over (27%)
#8: Speak or bark (26%)
#9: Spin (14%)
#10: Play dead (10%)

For wacky DIY doggie costumes, ideas on how to treat your pet, or for downloadable decorations to show your neighbors you’re celebrating with your pup, please visit this special Howl-o-ween website, from Big Heart Pet brands’ Milk-Bone, Pup-Peroni, Canine Carry Outs and Milo’s Kitchen.
For a chance to see your dog’s Halloween photo in the Milk-Bone Halloween website and social channels, tag it on FB, Instagram or Twitter with #TreatsForAll.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Maybe it's time to make a change.

I know I quit you guys cold turkey. The last few years have had so many ups and downs I just couldn't continue. Not the way I was going. This blog started out as a way to find my voice when I first found myself a mother rather unexpectedly... except I felt this overwhelming pressure to conform. Why? I honestly have no clue! In the end I just started feeling like a machine. There are only so many words in this world to write and I literally felt I had used them all up.

I've always tried to keep the tone on all my blogs as purely professional which always seemed to me as being so in genuine. In all reality I'm snarky, I'm sarcastic, I have a bit of a warped sense of humor and I'm not always as upbeat as my posts made it seem. In the end between some personal issues I had in my life and this overwhelming feeling of being vanilla I just couldn't continue. In the end I let a bunch of my sponsors down as I promised that I could never find the words for and in the end I spent literally months staring at a blank blog entry with nothing to write. If you write outside your own "voice" there comes a time when you literally feel like you have written the same thing over and over again and it all tends to run together.

I want to start again.. I'm not so sure if it will be with this blog or another one but without question this time it will be fully authentic. The last few years have been joyful watching my boys grow but as well being some of the most trying years of my life. I've lived what feels like an entire lifetime in the last five years. I met one of my biggest life goals by starting my own horse farm. I reconnected with friends who I thought were long gone and lost some friends who turned out to be just in it for whatever they could get.  I've learned there are just some things you cannot fix no matter how hard you try. I've gone from being very outgoing to a bit of a recluse. I honestly think this change is for the better.

I still have so much to learn! Writing has always been a way for me to work whats going on in my head and I started this blog purely to reach out to other people who felt the same way. I really want to go back to that and I want all of you to join me. Can we start again?

(The photo included is Connor's "Batman" mask he made out of tinfoil. It seemed appropriate for this post.)

Friday, November 7, 2014

Morris the cat speaks out about proper "cat petting" techinique!

You know until recently I was not a cat person. I've been a loyal #chihuahua and #minpin survivor for almost 20 years.  However, since the creation of Blue Pony Farm in early 2013 I have to say my cats are certainly working their way up the food chain. Recently 9Lives sent us a package of cat food to sample and I have to say my cats were overjoyed at finally getting some real "awards" that they deserve around the farm. Morris sent along an article I think you'll enjoy that pretty much sums up what its like living with a cat on a daily basis!

Pictured is Ghost one of our awesomeness barn kitties!
How to Pet a Cat (or Dog if Your Must)
By Morris the cat (9Lives)

One thing I've discovered throughout my years of living well is that more than a few humans could really benefit from cat-petting instruction. Frankly, I’m surprised it’s not a lesson they teach in school.

Although every cat is different and has a unique set of purr-worthy zones, us felines usually have some common petting preferences. So put down your smart phone. Fasten your seat belt. Make sure your seatbacks and tray tables are in their fully upright and locked positions. It's time to learn some life skills, people!

To bond with your cat — and receive a happy purr or friendly head butt, if you do it right -- follow my specific steps for these 9 must-learn and must-do cat petting techniques:

1. The Chin Chillin'

Purpose: Activate scent glands, assist with grooming
Popularized by: Jay Leno, Marlon Brando

Step 1: Locate the underside of the chin where the jawbone connects to the skull.
Step 2: Take one hand and scratch rapidly like your fingers are doing "The Riverdance."
Step 3: Listen for a Purrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. (Congratulations, you're doing it right!)

2. The Swedish Earmuffs

Purpose: Stimulate glands, release tension
Popularized by: Abba, Vince Vaughn

Step 1: Place your thumb and forefinger behind our ears.
Step 2: Rub them back and forth like Johnny Manziel after scoring a touchdown.
Step 3: Watch us melt into a purring ball of cuddles. (Hint: Drool is good!)

3. The Booty-O-Vator

Purpose: Therapeutic relaxation, triggering kitten memories
Popularized by: Jennifer Lopez, Sir Mix-a-Lot

Step 1: Locate your cat’s rear muscles, right above the tail.
Step 2: Squeeze your hands in and out like you’re kneading dough.
Step 3: Go slow and steady… this isn’t the latest Vin Diesel movie.

NOTE: When we position our rear towards you, it is an offer of camaraderie—much like a posterior Facebook “friend request.”

4. The Neckasaurus Rex

Benefits: Stress relief, cat-human bonding
Popularized by: Keira Knightley, Gweneth Paltrow

Step 1: Feel the spot at the base of your cat’s skull where the head meets the neck.
Step 2: Use your finger and thumb to create a circular motion for 1 to 2 minutes.
Step 3: Watch your cat rub his face against you like a little furry windshield wiper.

5. The Brain Hurricane

Benefits: Stimulates creativity, tends to end in napping
Popularized by: Natalie Portman, Danica McKellar

Step 1: Put your thumb and index finger on the top of your cat's head.
Step 2: Pretend you are a large lobster and gently pinch your thumb and index finger back and forth.
Step 3: Your cat will likely blink and nod in approval (and lucky you for having opposable thumbs!).

6. The Smooth Operator

Benefits: Muscle relaxation, back alignment
Popularized by: Marvin Gaye, Boyz II Men

Step 1: Place one hand in a flat position on the upper portion of your cat's back.
Step 2: Swoop your hand down the entire length of your cat's back saying “smooooth” as you do it.
Step 3: You may feel us stretch out our limbs and paws in kitty delight.

7. The Lumbardi Party

Benefits: Helps release toxins and chemicals, relieves the stress of chasing red laser dots
Popularized by: Rihanna, Vince Lombardi

Step 1: Put down your smartphone and place two hands on our lower back and sides.
Step 2: Position your fingers to form a cat-ready fine-tooth comb.
Step 3: Move your hands to and fro, pausing every so often to let us ask for more.

NOTE: I highly recommend pairing this petting experience with a follow-up nap in a nice sunny spot.

8. The Get Cheeky

Benefits: Social bonding, marks you with our scent glands
Popularized by: Angelina Jolie, Gisele Bundchen

Step 1: Locate your cat's temporal gland on the upper cheek between the eye and ear.
Step 2: Keep your fingers relaxed but firm and give your cat a nice scratch.
Step 3: Much like an NFL football player, you may become the recipient of a friendly head butt.

9. The Shoulderific

Benefits: Therapeutic massage
Popularized by: Michelle Obama, Ashley Greene

Step 1: Place two hands on your cat's back, one on each shoulder blade.
Step 2: Press inward with your palms and use soft circular movements (but don't press on the spine).
Step 3: Feel great about your rapid accumulation of positive kitty points and good cat karma.

Wanna know exactly what a cat sees? 

Check out my first 'catventure' where I am outfitted with cutting-edge wearable technology straight from Silicon Valley:

>>  The 'Cat's Eye View' Experience 

(Take two minutes to try "Cat's Eye View" ... you'll be laughing like crazy.)

And guess what? I'm now on social media. That's right, I can tweet and hashtag like the best of them (#YOL9 !!). So what are you waiting for, follow me back!

Disclosure: I was given a a copy of sample package of 9lives cat food for review, we were not compensated for this post in any other way. My opinions and comments on items we review are always my own and are never influenced by sponsors.

Friday, September 9, 2011

DVD Review : Barney Mother Goose Collection

Barney Mother Goose Collection is one of my favorite Barney DVD sets of all time. Barney and his friends visit Mother Goose's world and sing and act out so many of the favorite nursery rhymes and songs such as London Bridge, Humpty Dumpty, Hickory Dickory Dock and so many more. I was almost embarrassed to learn that Connor really didn't know any of the songs included so he had a great time watching the show and learning all the nursery rhyme songs! Also included on the dvd is a sing along that features fifteen of the songs included in the dvd and a rhyme a long that includes 17 of the rhymes. Connor almost prefers the sing along to the dvd itself! What we really really love about this set though is the fact that it comes with a music cd that you can take along with you in the car of Barney and his friends singing some of the favorite songs included on the dvd! Also included is an activity book that you can take along with you in the car or just enjoy at home, it's fairly small so you can easily tuck it in your purse or diaper bag for a quick activity on the go!

You can purchase your own copy of Barney Mother Goose Collection on dvd right now on Amazon!

Disclosure: I was given a a copy of Barney Mother Goose Collection for review, we were not compensated for this post in any other way. My opinions and comments on items we review are always my own and are never influenced by sponsors.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Review & Giveaway : Zippies - The coolest ID tags!

Connor is four, with four comes all sorts of new challenges but the biggest one we have been facing lately is him taking his brother's stuff and trying to pretend it was his in the first place. Today they practically drove me nutty at the barn. I gave them two water bottles which soon multiplied into six water bottles (someone ran back and got more out of the fridge) and the worst part is by the end I had no clue who's water bottle was whose.. and even worst which one was mine! Poor Dylan got the short end of the stick as pretty much any water bottle he claimed his brother came in and stole it pretty quickly and switched him out the less full one he was carrying. When I got home I realized, today would have been a great day for some Zippies.

Zippies are some of the coolest ID tags we have ever seen. First of all they are super heavy duty rubbery animal faces which won't fall apart, bend, or break on you in the first use. Most of them are pretty non gender specific and they come in a variety of different animal faces from bunnies to lizards to toads (my personal favorite) so there is bound to be one your child will like. Though all that aside that is not at all what I love about them. What I really love is their genius way that they hook on to your stuff, or should I say the several ways they can hook on to your stuff. The first and most obvious way is they come with a very heavy duty elastic cord and tightener which is great for hooking over the top of water bottles, hooking to backpacks, looping over small stuffed animals, and even attaching to your child's door knob or dresser knob so you can easily find your Zippie on the way to school. The second is a ring that is slightly under the draw string that opens up almost like a little key chain clasp which can be used for a key chain, hooking onto loops, belts, or really anything you can clip something on. The last way is you can actually take the Zippie off the ring itself and hook it onto a necklace, bracelet, or put it on your own ring, loop, or snap. Needless to say how you use your Zippies is totally up to you!

I have a Zippie on each of the boy's backpacks, and I try to remember to put them in my purse to identify our drinks as even though my boys are not reading yet they can still identify their animals to find their own drinks or even toys. You can learn more about Zippies as well as check out all the different designs on the Zippies website.

Now here comes the fun part!

Zippies has offered to give a set of five Zippies to one lucky reader!

To Enter :

  • Leave a comment on this post. Just check out the Zippies website and let us know which Zippie is your favorite!
  • Make sure there is a way for me to contact you - if your email address is not on your profile or you are not a blogger you may leave it in your comment or email it to me directly (angelaandconnor at gmail dot com) We have had to disqualify a lot of potential winners as of late as many people do not have emails available in their profiles or leave anonymous posts without any way to contact you.
  • Please US entries only.
  • To get extra credit :

    • For an extra entry - Please post each extra entry in a separate post  :
    • Blog about this contest and leave me the link on your comment, or add my button to your sidebar and let me know its there. (please note if you have our old button on your sidebar you'll need to update the link/image) 
    • Subscribe to my mailing list/RSS feed and earn another entry!
    • Let people know about the giveaway on Twitter with a link to the giveaway! 
    • Join our Facebook Page
    • This contest will end September 22nd at midnight! 

Disclosure: I was given a set of Zippies for review, we were not compensated for this post in any other way. My opinions and comments on items we review are always my own and are never influenced by sponsors.

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