Trader Joe’s, I love you.

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There’s nothing quite like going to Trader Joe’s. There is so much to love. The smell is delicious. You’re greeted by bouquets of flowers, pots of herbs. It’s a small market style store. The prices are unbeatable (or at the very least, matchable). You can send your older kids off to find different items on the list and they won’t get lost. Hidden stuffed animals for kids to look for while shopping keep them semi-distracted from the hell that is shopping with kids right before dinner because they get an organic sucker from the treasure chest if they find them all. The friendly, happy to be at work staff make you want to work there. But, best of all, THE WINE SHOP. Because I’ve been there in the actual market and seen the moms with the many children and the babies and looking around hoping no one notices her kids squealing to get out of the cart or asking to buy whatever random thing they found. I give them a look of solidarity, knowing the thoughts they are thinking. 

“what was I thinking coming here for dinner food, right before dinner?” “I should have made a list.” “I don’t even care if the bananas are organic, can we just get some damn bananas already?” 

Also, you can get a little flatbread pizza thing with brie, tomatoes and basil for like, $4.

Then, we all stand there while the lovely enthusiastic, friendly people check us out with our re-usable bags. The kids think they are almost free. While I make small talk, they sweetly ask me if they can get chocolate and I look at it and say yes, because who in their right mind will deny a 6 year old girl with giant blue eyes, organic dark chocolate?! It’s GOOD for them AND they know that because of course, I taught them.

But then, the beeline of people to the WINE STORE. I mean, we all go. Mostly. There is always at least ONE child saying, “Mom, we ALWAYS have to go to the wine store.” (insert major groan of disdain and annoyance). It’s like the happiest place on earth in there. Who is ever unhappy buying wine? I used to think that all the time when I was working at a liquor store part time. EVERYONE came in happy. Today I overheard a man say he had no preference of the wine as long as it was drinkable. I laughed at him and he said, “I mean, really it just has to have alcohol.” Another mom behind me told her child to throw the sucker stick away in the trash can under the “Rum of the Gods” sign behind the cashier. I looked at her, too, and she said to me, “great parenting, right?” Absolutely. No worries, mama. We all understand. No mom-guilt allowed.

People always make friends in the wine store at Trader Joe’s. Or maybe it’s just me. I don’t know, but my kids are better behaved in there than the actual store. Can I also give a little shout out to the store for putting a cute little dragon fly on the organic wine labels? Nothing like making that easier for those of us who want the organic to avoid getting all stuffy from the sulfites in regular wine. All of us moms with the multiple children can finally acknowledge that we made it through the actual shopping and just as the kids get their sucker, we get that bottle of $3.99 Pinot Noir that obviously pairs perfectly with whatever is for dinner that night.

the chicken soup recipe to end all recipes

I have a confession.

The soup, like most food I make, has no recipe. I’m sorry if this doesn’t work for you. It’s all made up as I go. And it’s soup. You seriously cannot go wrong. There is nothing like a homemade soup on a freezing cold Minnesota day.

I had a rotisserie chicken left from dinner one night and there was a ton of chicken left. Normally I do boil the bones to make bone broth, but I wasn’t feeling that today. I knew what I was working with and where my motivation level was and I just did it. That being said, I saved the bones and the chicken and will make bone broth another day (FRUGAL).

I know you’re wondering just HOW I made this beautiful soup. Here you go.

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11 ways I stay sane as a single mom

Almost daily, I have at least one person stop what they are saying mid-sentence, stare at me with wide eyes and ask me, “how do you DO it?” I know i make this single parenting biz look seamless (yes, that’s sarcasm), but really, i have no idea how I do it. I’ve been thinking about this, however, because so many people ask me with such disbelief. Parents with one child. Adults with cats (and no kids). Married people with one child or maybe two. One of my favorite parenting mottos is to have only a few rules, but I make sure the rules are clear so there is little room for misinterpretation and negotiation, like “food stays in the kitchen;” instead of any other combination of “don’t eat the food in the ____ room.” Clear and concise. Beyond that, this is how I do it… (cue Montell Jordan). I was going to do 10, but felt compelled to add one.

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the problem with our society is not single mothers

The other day I came across this article,”The problem with single mothers,” via the HuffPost Divorce page. Naturally, I wanted to find out for myself what this author’s purpose was with writing this article because the title itself pretty much disgusted me.

My initial response to this article’s title alone was exactly my reason for starting this blog of mine. Is there a problem with single mothers or is the problem actually society’s response TO single mothers? There are so many stereotypes and negative responses to us when we say we are single moms. I say we because most single moms I know personally have similar experiences as I do. After further reading, the author does explore the current trend in our society in terms of the numbers and research polls. The overwhelming result is that society has a problem with single moms who do not actively choose to single parent by themselves, however, single parents by choice receive a different response. First of all, I believe this article is wrongly titled. There is no support that there is something wrong with single mothers. The problem is bigger than that.

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the question of my life

the question of my life lately is “well, what do you WANT to do?” (insert eye roll because by 35, don’t most people have this figured out?!)

such a funny question. i have two answers. one is the one i tell people. the other is a secret that isn’t going to be a secret for much longer, once i write it out on this post. both are true, just one is more desirable to me.

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it’s kind of a funny story…

i’m in this super ironic place in life. my *new* job has me doing self-sufficiency work with families, particularly women and children. many families have so much on their plates and in my role, i help them get on this path where they can proudly be self-sufficient. so much irony. i, myself, am working on self-sufficiency. i left a relationship where there was abuse- a few physical incidents, but i can safely say a lot of emotional abuse, financial abuse and there were times where he pressured me or made me feel bad for saying no to him for sex. last spring the harassment got to a point that i was able to secure a protection/no contact order against him. i didn’t even feel safer, necessarily, i just really felt like i had something in place should he continue to harass me when i had repeatedly asked him to stop and told him i would take action if he did not stop. it was hands down, the BEST THING EVER, even though i go through life very cautiously, afraid of what repercussions might take place. the good news is, so far, he has respected the order.

so, back to self-sufficiency. as a single mom with four kids, being self-sufficient is vital, but quite difficult, especially when you just can’t rely on the child support to help take care of the kids. i get really tired of these memes i see talking about moms shouldn’t get child support, but i’m here to say that just because you’re no longer together, one parent doesn’t just get to walk away, living life free as a bird. the children deserve to have a good life where their needs are met regardless of the parents’ relationship. i took the job i have because it felt like it would be a good fit and it offered flexibility that i feel is necessary to be a mom as well. i felt like i could really relate and know what it takes to build relationships with people who would appreciate a positive voice coming from their child’s school. the reality is, i am no where near self-sufficiency. i ask myself, who am i to advise these people on self-sufficiency?! i live paycheck to paycheck. i have a very tight budget. i do a really good job of making food from scratch that is healthy and money saving. we are a minimalist family and so my kids have what they need, and now and then, i can get something they want, but for the most part, i’m trying really hard to teach them that our relationships in our family and with others are far more important than any toy i could buy.

often times, i get really afraid i won’t be able to maintain a household on my own. my anxiety is OFF THE CHARTS lately. it feels impossible when i think about how i will get through this time. i doubt myself. i lose momentum in my plans and goals. since i’ve started working, i am physically sick to my stomach most days at work. it is so stressful knowing i am working so hard and am not even really making it. the good thing is i have reliable child care that is working with me so i can maintain a job. i have strong children who understand that i am working so hard for all of us and they are really doing an amazing job of stepping up and doing their part. my family and friends are AMAZING and really have been by my side since forever. i have a boyfriend who is sweet and kind and caring. he also supports me as best as he can, but sometimes my anxiety gets the best of me and i shut down. thankfully he is learning i might ‘go away’ a little bit, but i always come back.

there are really just so many ups and downs when you are a single mom. there are so many hard days that i seriously just take it moment by moment. sometimes i am able to tell myself to just get through today or the next few days. sure, i had ups and downs as a mom when i was married, too. the difference is knowing he was coming home and would be able to help out with the kids somewhat. now, it’s all on my shoulders, ALL THE TIME. no matter how someone became a single parent, that doesn’t change the reality of the situation.

my dream is to have a business that can support us. something that excites me and i believe in. i want to be able to give my kids a better life. i’m not saying so i can buy them everything under the sun. i’m saying i want to be able to pay for my kids’ lunches at school. i want to be able to buy the quality of food i desire. i want to be able to save money to make improvements on my house. this house is good for us and so it’s not even about wanting a bigger, fancier house. (okay…maybe just an updated/expanded kitchen with new appliances?!) what it comes down to for me is making a life where we don’t have to rely on the child support (that doesn’t seem to ever come). a life where i am making enough to give us all we need and maybe a vacation together now and then. a life where i am available to them and support them in their goals. i’m working on it, though, and i won’t be satisfied until i get where i want to be. it scares the shit out of me, but i’m ready.

co-parenting fail

So much of being a single mom is about having control, planning, knowing what is for dinner days in advance, having the white board calendar filled out perfectly so i can at least pretend the kids will use it to know what’s going on.

When we got divorced, we decided we would share joint physical and legal custody. My ex traveled A LOT for work and truly was not in a position to share more of the physical time. It’s now been a year since he was traveling and also a year since he has really paid any child support (i think with the exception of one month). Trying to take care of my kids, my house, maintain a job, make it to appointments, shit, even SHOWER strategically, has gotten pretty stressful! Today…a car maintenance appointment at 7 am, otherwise, it wouldnt’ have gotten done. So i showered at 5:50 am, dressed, snuck out of the house to get the car in. I got back and everyone was in their pj’s and acting like there was no school today. What is that, anyway?! It’s as if they have never gone to school and as if we didn’t talk about it last night when we laid clothes out.

Anyway, the ex is over $10,000 behind in child support and well,  nothing is happening. The enforcement is a joke. Now, after months of struggling, I emailed him. I always include my mom and his mom as well because I want the message to come through as it is, not as it is interpreted. I offered 50/50 physical custody, Friday to Friday. We currently share joint legal and physical custody and since he traveled before and it was not possible, I didn’t go for that before. Now though, it’s been months of no support and I simply cannot maintain like this. I sent it with complete hesitation and then waited.

I didn’t get the best feedback from some people. They thought I was bailing him out. They thought he should deal with the consequences of not paying. What they don’t know is that the consequences are still something he will have to deal with. He could still face certain consequences, however, it just won’t continue to add up beyond the current $10,000. To me, bailing him out is not holding him accountable. I want them to see him, to have a relationship with him. He wasn’t good for me, but I do not want to be, and I cannot be, the one who will keep them from him. He doesn’t do things the way I would, but isn’t parenting one of those things that most couples struggle to agree on how to do some things anyway? How is this any different? I WANT my kids to know their dad. I want them to know they can love me, him, both our families, their siblings and whoever else they feel love for. I will never interfere with that.

 So how do we get through the ugliness of separation, divorce or just not being together, yet still be their parents with the best interests of the kids in mind? My point of view is we don’t get to do things as if we weren’t together (for the most part). Would you trust your ex partner to take care of the kids if something happened and you had to go away? Probably, right? Would it be perfect? No. Would they be okay? Most likely, yes. I know there are exceptions, but I strongly believe USUALLY the other parent should have fair access to the kids. That being said, when we got divorced, their dad traveled A LOT for work. For that reason we set parenting time based on that, as he simply could not be in town more. That made sense at the time. Things have not always been how I would like, but they have gotten better. He is more consistent, quite reliable and still probably a great dad for the kids. I have never doubted he loved them. I do believe lawyers put a lot of things into play that create dissonance and discord. We don’t have to fall to that though. At the time, it made sense to do an every other Friday- Monday, plus one extra night type of schedule. Unfortunately, child support has not been paid and I am struggling, like for real.

To try to fix this problem, i wrote an email. I don’t want my kids’ dad to be in jail or to lose his license because that would take him from them as well as his chance to earn money. what good is he then? For that reason, I proposed a 50/50 time arrangement, instead of every other weekend and an additional night. I sent it thinking he would not even agree. The next morning, i got an email from his mother, saying he was considering it and it seemed fair.

Here’s the deal. I’m not perfect. He’s not perfect. We are FAR from good together, but none of that takes from them loving him and him loving them, or me loving them and them loving me. We are different and both capable of providing for them. It makes me sad to think I would not see them for a week, but I feel good knowing they love him and he loves them. I feel good that they will have time with both of us as parents and i know they will adjust. Hopefully he will agree to this. My goal is to really be decent co-parents for them. I know this may take some time, but in the end, that is what I hope for. I hope we can feel happiness for each other’s successes, support each other (from afar) through tough times and schedule changes, and most importantly, be there for our children.

Co-parenting is not easy and may be one of the more difficult things parents are asked to do. Even while married or in a relationship, co-parenting is necessary. You have to learn to compromise, decide what is worth fighting over, determine how you will support one another and how you will work as a team. Transitioning to co-parenting while apart is challenging, but in the end, I hope that we can put ourselves aside and really figure this out for the benefit of the kids. to do this, we have to let go of the control we may feel we want/need and just TRUST. LET GO. My hope is that we can choose to figure out how to best co-parent the children we were given to raise and care for.

**Update: The ex wanted to do 50/50 but only if we switched weekends. What that meant for me was that me and all of the kids would have never been together, because my daughter currently goes with her dad the same weekend as the other kids go. That means planning for events for my kids and extended family would have been impossible. It meant I couldn’t have worked extra to earn more money. So I said no, take the offer as it was or leave it as is. He never responded, so I’m still the primary caregiver.

3 (main) Ingredient Chili

One of our favorite winter meals is a simple chili that I prepare quickly and can be thrown in the crock pot for the day or if I have enough time, I can throw it together and let it simmer for a bit before serving. It’s a nice easy take on chili and in my opinion, much more child-friendly, but hardy enough to fill my sixteen year old, 6’2″165 pound son up completely

What you’ll need:

1 lb ground turkey (I’ve found this works best for flavor, but I’m sure any ground meat would work)

1-28oz can of diced tomatoes

2-cans of chickpeas/garbanzo beans

chopped onion (you can put as much or as little as you want)

chopped garlic (again, to your liking!)

a little olive oil

chili seasoning (I use Penzy’s Chili 3000. It’s not too spicy for the younger kids and has good flavor)

Okay, let’s get started! I’m wishing I had pictures right about now, but really this one is so simple, you don’t even need to see it.

First, chop up your onion and garlic and toss into a large pot with some olive oil. Sautee for a few minutes and then add the ground turkey. Brown the turkey.

Now add your diced tomatoes and chickpeas/garbanzos. Add a can of water. Season to taste with chili seasoning (2 Tbs, maybe? I tend to just shake it in. I mean, who has time to measure when you’re already strapped for time!)

Let simmer for a bit. This sometimes means thirty minutes or maybe an hour on a lower flame, or all day in the crock pot on low. Whatever you do, it’s delish and there’s something for everyone! I serve with some warmed rosemary olive oil bread from Target’s bakery. Super good. Just tear off a chunk for each of you, toss some cheese on the chili if you like that, and you’re on your way!

So, now that you’ve decided to make this, let’s look at the price for this meal.

$1.29 x 2 for garbanzos.

$5.99ish for ground turkey

$2.00 for the big can of diced tomatoes.

You’ve probably already got onions and garlic on hand, and if you don’t, that’s okay. A pack of 3 garlic is probably about $1.30 and it can be used later so it won’t go to waste. You can get a bag of onion for cheap, but if you just want one because funds are low, that’s cool too. So, for about $10, you can feed your family a nutritious, filling, yummy meal. For my family of me and four kids (oldest is man-sized), I often double the recipe for ease and freeze a few jars to pull out later, leave some in the refrigerator for quick meals throughout the week and that still leaves us enough for dinner!! Enjoy!

**Did you know…fresh garlic has strong antibiotic and antiviral properties? I always load up my meals in the winter with it to help boost my kids’ immune systems against colds and all the germs at school!