Saturday, December 28, 2013

Fast food

I get a lot of questions about how to keep so many plates spinning at once. When I talk to other moms, especially those that spend long hours outside the home, they almost all have this love-hate relationship with dinner.

Most parents want their children to eat healthy but, when time is limited, it gets tough. Got example, when I don't get out of court until 5, traffic usually has me rushing to get to the day cares by the time they close at 6. Then, we make it home, with only a couple hours before the young ones have to go to bed. In that time there is homework to be done, a meal to be made, baths to be taken, etc. That's not a lot of time. 

The solution many people come up with is fast food. It's quick. It's easy. And pretty much any kid will eat it. The problem? It's expensive. Also, it's not terribly healthy (at least the stuff my kids would want to eat). 

So...this is why fast food looks like in my house:

It's pretty simple, really. They make their salads while I open the shrimp & throw the pizza in the oven. By the time the veggies & the shrimp cocktail are gone, the pizza is done. Dinner made & eaten in a half hour, with very little cleanup. It's actually costs about the same as I paid the last time I went through a drive thru. Plus, there will be salad left over for future meals, so it goes farther. Bonus, all of this can be bought with food stamps, which is something that can't be said of the drive thru.

This is a big meal, though. What about snacks? 

When I talk to other moms, I get the impression that they feel guilty if they aren't Martha Stewart. Don't. 

Here's what a typical snack looks like at my house:

It's healthy. They love it. So, why should I feel guilty about not baking them individual quiches? 

Let yourself off the hook. The goal is to feed your family & keep them healthy. I doesn't have to be complicated. In fact, in my home, if a meal takes more than 45 minutes to make, I consider it a waste of my time. Save the gourmet stuff for special occasions. You'll likely save yourself a lot of stress that way.

If you're good at planning ahead, a slow cooker can be your best friend. I don't use mine as often as I wish I did (that whole planning ahead thing gets me), but they really are great. 

Today I made chicken & dumplings in mine. I put chicken broth, cream of chicken soup & frozen chicken breasts in. This afternoon, I dropped in the dumplings & it was all done by dinner time. All in all, I spent probably 10-15 minutes in the kitchen. 

I think I'll make chili for tomorrow. I'll put some dry beans in to cook overnight. I'm the morning, I'll put all the ingredients together & it'll be done by lunch. I've talked myself into the idea that I need to use my slow cooker more often. So, I'll probably be up late looking up recipes online. Procrastination & time wasting are not my friends but,7 yet, I still can't seem to get rid of them... 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

This Christmas has been a good one for my little family. We got to share the blessings that we have with others, which always makes me happy.

We got to spend some time back home. I  first typed "in my home town", but that never feels right, since the nearest town is miles away. 

I was raised on a cattle ranch, if you can imagine that. Also, my father had no sons...but did have a fear of his daughters growing up to be dependent on men. So, we worked as hard as the men. As such, I don't really know how not to work. 

So, instead of laying around over the winter break (I've been working from home all week, since the kids are out of school) I spent it doing manual labor. 

A few weeks ago, while we were getting snow, the folks back home were dealing with a ice storm. It left a lot of damage & left thousands without electricity. My parents had lots of trees down & were without electricity for about a week & a half. 

Fortunately, most of their damage was cleaned up by the time I got there. So, instead, we helped a neighbor with some cleanup. Mostly this was in the form of dragging & burning fallen limbs. 

I call her a neighbor but she grew up with my grandmother. My family has known each other for generations, so she's more of extended family. These days, she's an elderly widow & most of her family lives quite a distance away. So, it's always nice to help, whenever possible.

Likewise, today, her family enjoyed the turkey that we had been given. For the record, I don't want the critical comments or emails about how I shouldn't give away food, when we're on such a budget. In our culture, sharing food is a high honor. So, if that's what you had to say, just keep moving.

In any event, we worked hard & played hard. My family were very generous with the kids & they all came home with lots of new clothes & toys. The Bigs got to see their dad. (I don't want to hear it about that, either. Yes, I know how he's been. However, I have a daughter that is literally sick, from feeling unwanted by him. So, I was not going to tell him he couldn't bring their gifts over.)

We just arrived home & I lit a fire. It's time for some quiet time with my little family.

Sending prayers & good thoughts to all who read this. May the coming year bring many blessings to you & yours.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Holiday Blessings

I was brought to tears today by the generosity of people.

I got a cryptic call from my oldest son, today, telling me the school counselor wanted me to come by the school on my way home from work. He didn't know why.

When I stopped by, I was given an amazing surprise. The school has a program where they make food baskets for the students who's families are struggling, to make sure they have a good Christmas dinner. I hadn't been told about this before, but it came at an amazing time. 

The small raise that I got at work effectively caused my food stamps to be cut in half. It doesn't matter that my housing & child care expenses went up to absorb more than the additional amount of income. Those factors don't do a whole lot to shift the equation that they use to calculate need. This came at a very bad time, as I had just had to finance a vehicle because mine was breaking down (I cried after signing the papers, because I didn't want another bill to juggle). So, it seemed like, just when I could make ends meet, they moved the ends. 

Fortunately, I'm very good at juggling & have been stretching every possible penny & meal to make sure nobody does without. The food they gave us will help SO MUCH. In fact, because I was the last one to pick up, they gave me the four bags of groceries that they had left over. So, now, I have a big turkey in the freezer & a full cabinet of food. I couldn't be more grateful.

In addition, they sent a gift for each of my kids & one for me. There was also clothing for my son. Anyone who's ever had a 12 y/o boy knows what a big deal that is. They go through clothes quickly. 

I am so grateful for these blessings. As always, I'm paying it forward whenever an opportunity presents itself. I'd like to ask all my readers to do the same. There are people all over the place that are struggling in some way. Look at what you have to offer others. It not always money. It can be time or whatever of the cat resources that you, personally, have at your disposal. Please, just take what you have to offer & bless someone. It may just be a small sacrifice to you, but it might make a world of difference to them. 

If you don't do this already, start this holiday season. Then, try to make a routine of it. Find a way to pay it forward every day in some way. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Semi-Happy Holidays

December is always bittersweet in my family.

Beautiful's 8th birthday was this week. We celebrated a couple days early, because the day is sad for her, as she very much misses her grandmother. My Mother in Law & she shared a birthday, & the day has been hard for her ever since her Na died. I can't call her my "former MIL" because she was still very much a part of our lives until the end. I divorced her son, not her. In fact, I was very sad that my classes prevented me from attending her funeral, but am grateful that I had the opportunity to take my children to see her in the hospital not long before her death.

This year, though, she seemed additionally sad. When I asked her why, she said that she was thinking about her Dad & wondering if he was going to come see her any time soon. I did my best to validate her feelings and tried to cheer her up. Truth is, though, I don't have any answers for her. I have yet to see any indication that he's making steps to complete the things the court requires in order for him to have visitation. So, I really don't know.

Lil Sis's birthday is coming up, before Christmas. This will be her first birthday & Christmas in our home. It remains to be seen if there will be any issues that come up for her about these dates.

As each of the birthdays come & go, though, I think of their mother. She knows they are out there. She may not always be cognizant of their exact ages or birth dates, but she loves them & knows that she is missing out on their lives. I know that causes her pain. I've seen it on her face & heard it in her voice. The fact that she wasn't able to provide them a safe home, doesn't mean she didn't love them. So, my heart hurts for her, especially this time of year. For those people that do so, please say a prayer for her.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Time to study

My Bar review materials were just delivered.

The class doesn't start until January 2, but there's a lot of pre-class reading & studying to do. Then, it's 6 weeks of cramming in preparation for the exam.

Since I can't afford to be off work for two months, my schedule is going to look like this:

6:00 am: get up & get everyone ready for school

7:20 am: start the school/day care drop off routine, then fight traffic to get to class

9:00 am - noon: Barbri

1 pm - 4-ish pm: work (let's face it, it'll be closer to 5, since I'll be trying to cram a full day of work into a few hours

Then it's fighting traffic to get home & pick up all the babies so we can do our evening routine & get to bed at a reasonable time. Then start it all over the next day.

It'll be an exhausting two months. Here's hoping it pays off & I pass this time around.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Snow Day

Today was a snow day! 

I've heard a lot of people complain about their snow days, but mine actually turned out great. Miracle of miracles, I actually got to sleep in by a full hour! When I did get woke up, it was by my sweet toddler saying "Momma" & giving me a kiss, before running off to wake the rest of the house.

We don't get a whole lot of snow here. Normally we get more sleet & ice than snow. This time, we got mostly fluffy snow. So, the kids had a great time playing in it.

They tried to build a snowman. But, it wasn't going very well, as they have basically no experience in how to actually construct one. quickly turned into a snowball fight.

After they got done playing in the snow, they came in to have hot chocolate while I built a fire.

We spent the rest of the day leisurely playing & cleaning the house. I had originally made ambitious plans to catch up on various tasks that need to be done. In the end, I was enjoying my time with the kids so much that I decided to put them off until tomorrow.

I was sad at what spring thunderstorms did to my poor tree, but I am grateful to have the wood for my fireplace.
One of these things, of course, is starting Bar prep again. As most of you have figured out, I did not pass the Bar. I wasn't trying to be rude by not answering the questions that I did get about it, but I thought I was pretty clear when I posted, "When I get the results, I will let you all know if I pass. If I don't, I won't say anything because I won't want to talk about it."

I wasn't trying to be hateful, but I simply couldn't talk about it. I knew I would be devastated if I didn't pass. It turned out to be even worse than I had anticipated.

Money has been difficult over the past few years. I am indebted to loved ones so much that I can never possibly repay them. I have six figures in student loan debt. My income barely covers regular bills, extras are not generally an option. So, I was hoping so much to pass the Bar so that my income would go up & I could have some breathing room. I know they say that money can't buy happiness, but it sure as hell can alleviate some forms of stress & misery.

My kids' lives have been turned upside down for me to go the law school. Yes, I did this to make a better life for them, but that doesn't change the fact that they had to give up a lot for us to make this journey as a family. So, when I didn't I got the official "you suck" letter, I felt like I had failed them in so many ways, not just financially.

Add to that the fact that I have never failed at anything, except for Calculus 2, but that doesn't count.

That feeling was made even worse when I received the "kick you while your down letter", stating that my limited license to practice law had been revoked because I didn't pass the Bar on the first try.
I didn't know what I was going to do & I certainly couldn't talk about it because I didn't have answers to the inevitable questions. Granted, those questions usually come out of love & concern, but that additional stress was not helpful & I couldn't deal with it. I needed to focus on formulating a plan.

My boss has amazing faith in me & values my work very much. So, he agreed to let me stay on as a paid intern. This has allowed me to be able to make ends meet & continue getting experience while I prepare for the next Exam. Like I said, my income still barely covers the bills...but it does cover the bills. Those of you that have followed from the beginning know how big of deal that is. The baby's dad does pay child support. The state did finally start getting me a foster care stipend & clothing allowances to help out with Lil Sis. The Bigs' Dad still isn't paying his support, but there's no surprise there. I do occasionally still sell some of the jewelry that I was making or have an occasional online auction, but it's no longer a business. I'm not having to sell my clothes & shoes to make rent, like I did at one point last year. I haven't had to look around for anything of value to sell in a while, which is good since it's already all been sold. So, things aren't great, but I've been managing to tread water. It does make it feel like there's even more pressure on the next Exam.

And, if I may take a moment to vent, it is incredibly frustrating that my entire life hangs in the balance because of this test. The exam doesn't really show who can or cannot do the job. I see attorneys who are incompetent that get to practice because they made the magic number on the exam. I know some brilliant legal minds who, like me, are having to re-test. Experienced attorneys sometimes call me to confer with me about particular legal matters because they know I understand it or will help them examine it from another angle. I do the work of an attorney, as an intern, under the supervision of my boss. I have the degree, the knowledge & the skill set...but I can't be sworn in as a member of the Bar until I pass their test, even though it has no practical application in the real world. But, that's just reality, I suppose.

So, the next order of business is to pass the damn test! LOL

It was a strain to come up with an extra $600 last month, but I managed to get it together so that I am registered to take the Bar again & February, as well as being enrolled in a Bar prep course that starts January 2. This time it is a classroom based course, which I'm sure will be more effective than trying to work through an online program with a toddler screaming for attention (his old daycare had closed with almost no notice & it took a couple months to find a new one). In any event, I'm trying to approach it with an upbeat attitude & going to put everything I have into preparing for this. As I can't afford to go 6 weeks without income, I will be working, as well. So, January & February will be insanely stressful. With any luck, though, I will pass this time around & this will all be behind me. Please send prayers, positive thoughts, vision boards, chi, good vibes, or whatever it is that you do to get right with the universe, for me.