Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Calm and Laid-Back Christmas :)

I didn't do anything special for Christmas this year, which actually is something special at our house.  There was no Christmas project like I've done in years past, no pressure, no stress-inducing obligations.  Since health issues have impacted my life and my daughter's life this year, and since my son has been in the habit of reminding me lately that this would be my last Christmas with him (my youngest) being a "kid" (he will be 18 in April), I decided this year's holiday should be low-key and just... nice.  Relaxed.  Just us and our close friends.  I absolutely refused to let anything bother me.  And it's a good thing I kept that attitude, because there were a couple of - ummm - bumps in the proverbial road.  But nothing we can't all just laugh about later.  See how much better it feels when you look at it all that way?

Christmas Eve went well.  I'd wanted to get all of my decorations unpacked and out on display, but that didn't happen and I didn't let it bum me out.  So far, so good!  I'd also wanted my house to be cleaner than it was, but I did what I could and then said, "Aw, heck - these are our friends, they've all been here before, and they don't care if there's a stain on the carpet or some dust bunnies under the sofa."  I wiped the lipstick off the milk jug (just kidding - I don't wear lipstick - hahaha) and just let things be.  Got myself into the kitchen and started cooking, because that's what really matters.  Goodies.  ;)

If you follow my Facebook page, you may have seen the recipe for Chocolate & Peanut Butter Pretzel Cookies that I shared recently.  Well, I made those; here they are, ready for the oven:

See all that salt on the tops of them?  Yeah, that's too much.  Just letting you all know.  If you try these, go lighter on the salt than I did.  This was my fault; instead of sprinkling it on like you're supposed to, I put the salt in the palm of my hand and pressed the cookie dough lightly into it.  I did that because I couldn't get the salt to stick at all when I sprinkled it, but it any case, it was just too much.

Here they are, all done and pretty:

You can really see the over-salting in this pic, I think.  But all we had to do was brush off the excess and then they were super yummy.  I highly recommend giving these a try!

Also a little idea that I saw (and shared) on my Facebook page, really just a simple but clever thing, was to put veggie dips into hollowed-out peppers instead of bowls.  I'm terrible about having the camera ready and taking pictures when I should, so I didn't get a shot of my little veggie platter while it was still pretty and no one had dug into it yet, but here it is mid-foodfest:

Since I am, as I said, pretty bad about having the camera ready, I don't have a lot of photos of me and the kids being our festive selves.  But here's a pic of my son being goofy.  It's a horrible picture of me, but I'm willing to humiliate myself and show it for the sake of showing you all how charming and fun my little Jeff is.  :)

Gawd, I have so many chins in that pic.  But hey, a tree on your head makes up for everything, I say.

Here's my good friend Kathy and her son Justin, just hanging out and having some laughs with us:

Yes, the tree hat-thing made its way around.  :)

And that was that.  A few friends, a few drinks (Kahlua comes in gingerbread flavor!) and some good food (I made cranberry-chili meatballs, jalapeno poppers, spinach dip, and my super-famous chicken-enchilada dip).  Christmas Eve, done.  And without a single stressful moment.  Ahhh...

So, I thought things were going pretty smoothly, and I anticipated an easy Christmas morning.  No last-minute stuff I forgot to do, no high-pressure or fancy-schmancy plans.  Coffee ready to go the night before, requiring only that I flip the switch to "on" when I woke up, and a blissfully easy morning was ahead of me.

I did head straight for that coffee pot when I casually rolled out of bed at 10 a.m., feeling cool as a proverbial cucumber.  Then, just as I passed by and saw it go down out of the corner of my still-sleepy eye, this happened:

I heard the glassy "thud" just as my head turned instinctively toward the suspicious movement I'd caught in a glance.  And down it went.  See that innocent-looking puppy dog there?  Well, truth be told, she really was innocent.  It was our beagle who did the deed.  So, do you know what I did?  Nothing.  I just smiled and kept walking toward that coffee maker.  I turned it on and then headed toward my office, just to check the news online while I calmly waited for the percolating to finish and for the aroma of pumpkin-spice coffee to waft through the house.

That's when I encountered this:

I've cropped the photo to spare you the gore, but those are feathers (and the occasional beak piece or bird-toe) all over the floor.  It seems our sweet little kitty cat, Tiny, had gone all Kill Bill during the night and had a fight-to-the-death with not one but two birds in my office.  I had left the back door open the night before (this is Arizona - it's not that cold), and apparently she took this as an invitation to show off her ninja skills.  Being less than entirely graceful in her massacre, she knocked absolutely everything off of my desk and every other available surface in the room.  Then she proceeded, as far as I could tell, to spread her own kitty-cat version of holiday cheer (i.e. bird bits) from wall to wall and ceiling to floor.  Meowy Christmas to me!

And once again, I did nothing.  I looked over the crime scene, smiled to myself, left the room and determined to clean it up later (those birds weren't getting any deader).  The evil forces of the universe were conspiring to stress me out, but I was having none of it!  They would not win!

A couple of the neighborhood boys who frequently hang out at our house helped me straighten the tree back up, by the way.  And only one ornament was broken.  One!  And it was one I'd never really liked, anyway.  Take that, forces of the universe!

I got the kids up, my parents came over, and the gift-opening frenzy began.  I didn't get any pictures of the frenzy itself (I told you I was bad about that), but here's the aftermath:

I think that shot sufficiently shows that we had a generally good time.  And I don't know why my daughter is staring at the door there in the corner, but she reminds me of that guy at the end of The Blair Witch Project.  Nevermind.  Lol.

Next we were off to the movies.  We'd never done that before - gone to the movies on Christmas.  I know some people do it, but we always had some big, stressful plans to keep up with.  Not this year.  We all went together to see Les Miserables (awesome) and chow down on popcorn in-between sobs.  (Yeah, it's a tear-jerker, but if you know Les Miz, you know that already.)

Anne Hathaway is amazing, by the way.

Then we headed back to the house to quickly warm up our respective dishes (my daughter made her potato casserole, and I made my almost-as-famous-as-the-chicken-enchilada-dip pineapple-cranberry upside-down cake), and we were off to my parents' house for dinner.

We had prime rib, which was a first for our family's Christmas dinners.  And asparagus with Hollandaise sauce.  And some kind of high-falutin' mushrooms that my dad said took him nine hours to cook (I don't know what they were called, but they were worth the time).  And my parents were nice to me, which is unusual (that's a whole 'nother blog post, which I'll probably never do).  Everyone was in a good mood, nothing went wrong, and if anything did, I ignored it.  The evil, stress-inducing forces of the universe were foiled again.

After that I have no idea what everyone else did, because I crashed on the sofa.  Hard.

And that, my friends, was that.  Christmas as it should be, I believe.

And to all a good night.  ;)

Thursday, December 6, 2012


There are a lot of reasons why I don't post here to my blog as often as I'd like.  I get tied up with working and taking care of the kids and the pets...  There's all that, but there are really two primary issues that tend to keep me "quiet" much of the time - issues that, when I first started blogging, I didn't realize were going to be such problems.  The first one is the matter of discretion with regard to the kids in my life, deciding what I should or should not say or talk about.  The second issue is really just not wanting to sound like a "Debbie Downer" too much of the time.  Sometimes, and often for long stretches of time, things in my world can be so difficult that if I blogged about what was going on every day it would come across as depressing.  And sometimes it is depressing.  While I try to keep a positive outlook and "keep my chin up" as much as possible, the truth is that sometimes the crises are so intense and come at me so fast...  And sometimes the happy stories I could post here are so few and far between...  Well, sometimes it's just that way, and I don't know how open I should be here.

Anyway, this post is going to reach just a little bit into both of those areas:  Talking about a young girl that I've never mentioned here (I was protecting her privacy while she lived with us, and I will still do that now) and talking about some rather ugly issues.  I suppose the reason I feel like "talking" about her is to point out something I've come to realize, and that might surprise many people.  Or maybe it won't - perhaps it is I who was more taken aback by this fact than others would be.  I'm talking about the fact that there are some young people who truly don't want their lives to be better, who are so drawn to the harshness and suffering of life on the street that they would actually rather be homeless than be comfortable and cared for.

I'm not talking about kids who, in the immaturity of their youth, simply see the "street life" as glamorous, only looking at the perceived "benefits" (freedom to do as they please, living with no rules or constrictions, taking drugs and partying) and not yet having experienced the negative consequences that go along with such a lifestyle.  I'm talking about a young girl - and she is surely not the first nor the last - who has experienced all the pain and difficulty of living on the streets, and yet she gravitates toward such a life in spite of any attempts to help her.

This girl - I will call her "Willow" here instead of using her real name - was sixteen years old when she lived in our home for a few months late last year and earlier this year.  I had known her for a while before that, as she traveled in the same social circles as some of the other kids who spend a lot of time here.  I remember it was Thanksgiving night when the kids and I came home from a family get-together and I found Willow sitting alone on our back patio (kids often come and go from my home via the back yard gate) with puffy red eyes, a few bruises, and wearing a hospital bracelet.  There had been a fight at her family's Thanksgiving dinner and she'd ended up in the emergency room.  Then she'd run away and parked herself on our back patio.  We weren't home, so she waited.

I fed her.  I made sure her mother knew where she was (although her mother wasn't concerned enough to even ask for an address, and my over-the-phone introduction as "Jeff's mom" was sufficient for her to trust me with her daughter).  I made up the spare room bed with clean sheets.  I took her to Walgreen's and got her a contact lens kit since she didn't have hers.  I got a new toothbrush out of the stash I keep.

For the next several months she stayed at our house, and I did everything I could to help her and to get through to her.  But she would lie.  And lie, and lie, and lie.  Even when it was totally unnecessary.  Even when I totally knew she was lying, and I'd give her every opportunity to come clean and she knew I wouldn't judge her.  The lying I could deal with, though.  I'd seen kids like that before.  But then came the times when I caught her using my son's computer to post ads on Craigslist and exchange messages with men on adult sites.  Offering herself in trade for things she didn't need, because I would provide them.  And she would start fights with the other kids around the house, fights that were so unnecessary but she just insisted on having an environment that was chaotic.  As if she couldn't stand it any other way.  Then she'd cry and cry and cry that no one liked her.  And I would try to talk to her, and she'd lie some more.  Anything I offered - advice, suggestions - anything that would make her life easier and actually solve the problems she was constantly lamenting, she resisted.  She didn't want them solved.  I don't mean that in a snide or sarcastic way; it was clear that she truly didn't want anything to be better.  I know there are teenage girls who thrive on drama, but I'd never seen anything this severe.

Some of the neighborhood boys came to me one afternoon and told me that Willow had just been arrested at a nearby convenience store for panhandling.  Begging people to buy her food.  But she had food, readily available at our house, as much as she wanted.  I was baffled, and I said to the boys, "I don't understand.  Why would she beg for food?  There's food here!"  They just shrugged.  

The police released her to her mother that night, or perhaps it was the next morning, and she was right back at our house within a day.  I tried to talk to her, tried to make sense of her actions or gain some insight, but she just denied she'd been panhandling at all.  The police, the store clerks, everyone just falsely accused her, she said.  Of course.  I wouldn't have believed her story anyway (for all her practice, she was not a good liar), but the boys had witnessed her approaching people and begging, and they told me so.

I know it happens, but personally I'd never seen a kid so desperate for attention and love as this girl, and yet so unwilling to accept it when it was offered.  It was as if she only wanted the attention if it was gained by negative behavior.  All I could do was shake my head.

Then she stole $250 in cash from my son's drawer, and I had to draw the line.  I had to make her leave.  Interestingly, she didn't even ask me why when I told her to go.  I simply said, "Willow, you've got to go."  And she gathered her things in her arms and left.

She went to her boyfriend's house, which was in our neighborhood.  I made sure her mother knew, not that it mattered to Mother-Of-The-Year.  It was just one of those times in life where I had to accept that I can't help everyone, I certainly can't put my own family at risk for everyone, and even though I knew her mom wouldn't really live up to her responsibility, this girl was, in fact, her responsibility and not mine.

And that was that.  I haven't heard from her since.

But then a couple of days ago my attention was brought to some videos that were... let's say "circulating".  Videos of Willow, looking ragged and with dead eyes, with men clearly much older than her and smart enough not to let their faces be recorded.  And then yesterday one of the boys told me that he'd seen her walking the streets downtown, in a very bad neighborhood nowhere near ours, "looking like she was working it".  

I wish I was shocked.  Instead I'm just disturbed, troubled, saddened.  I'm no psychologist and I really have no insight as to why the Willows of the world are the way they are.  I just know they are.  And I wish it weren't so.