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Five Delicious Flavors For Summer

It is widely known that I am a stress-cooker. Not a stress-eater per se, but a stress-cooker. It is highly relaxing for me to turn up music in the kitchen and just create.

Our custody schedule switches to week on/week off in the summer, so it seems that every summer I struggle terribly the first week or two that the kids are away.  Add to that the fact that we were without my stepkids for two weeks straight too and you can understand why I have been cooking like a mad woman!  For some reason, this summer has been harder on me than normal. I have struggled emotionally with schedule changes that have kept me away from my children much more than normal.

The kids are getting to an age where they want to do fun things with friends and go to camps, but if those fun things are to take place, then I have to give up my custodial time for them to happen. I hate to give up my time, but I want them to be able to have summers they will always remember while doing fun things with their friends.

So I have been cooking… a lot.

I wanted to share five of my favorite recipes that are perfect for summer. We keep these in the fridge all summer long and they provide many meals for our family. The two things that almost made the cut were pimento cheese (if you have never tried it, please make the Magnolia’s Pimento Cheese… trust me) and chicken salad (I don’t use a recipe, but my family adores it!).

IMG_15801) Barefoot Contessa’s Orzo with Roasted Vegetables – This is summery and light. I made it this past time with fat free feta cheese and it tasted just as good. The pine nuts and basil make the dish! If you do Weight Watchers, then each serving is probably about 4 points per half a cup. It’s great with a grilled chicken caesar wrap or a turkey sandwich.

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2) Blackbean & Corn Salad with Chipotle-Honey Vinaigrette – O.M.G. There are no words to describe this.  I saw the recipe on Pinterest and thought it was worth a try.  I had no idea how I would crave this… It is THAT good.  The only thing I do that is not described in the instructions is I scraped the seeds out of the chipotle peppers first because I didn’t want the heat to be too intense for our kids. It is perfect!

3) Sassy Salsa – This is a recipe I got out of the Raleigh Junior League cookbook years ago and I use it religiously. It’s better than any salsa you can buy in the grocery store and is great on southwestern salads, blended with ranch for a tasty dressing, or as an added flavor for your scrambled eggs. It’s a simple recipe and the only thing I do differently is I use the entire small can of V-8 because I like the salsa to be more red than pink!

IMG_15794) Grilled Chicken Pasta Salad – I have shared this recipe numerous times before, but it is one of our absolute favorites!  My children would eat this every meal if I would let them. Sure there is a lot of oil and cheese, but at least it’s olive oil! I try to stay positive. I keep this in the refrigerator as often as possible because it makes an easy and quick dinner or a simple after-school snack. I have been making this recipe for so many years that I am not even sure where it originated.

5) Frozen Peach Pie – I am not sure where this recipe originally came from either but it is HEAVENLY. I remember my mom making it when I was in high school so I asked her for her recipe and made it a few weeks ago. PERFECTION. It’s perfect to make a few when it’s peach season and then whenever someone you know has a death in the family or a new baby or something, you can pull one out and WOW them!! Thoughtful and yummy.

I hope you all enjoy my favorite summer recipes. I would love to hear what your favorites are for the summer!

“YOU Are My Priority!” – Words Every Child Deserves To Hear

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We live in Raleigh, but two kids go to school in Wake Forest. One goes to school in Raleigh. One goes to school in Wendell.  I work in downtown Raleigh and Joe works in Cary. Whew….

I ordered my first Mom Agenda yesterday and I am now anxiously wishing away July so I can start using it daily.  With four kids, I have exhausted all ideas on how to keep my calendar organized.  I have used first initials and I have color codes.  I have tried online calendars and paper calendars.  I have found that I do much better with a paper calendar where I can see everything laid out at once.  I still use my shared Google calendar so that my ex, his wife, Joe and I can all be on the same page, but I am hoping this Mom Agenda will dramatically change my life!  It has been tough enough with four kids in general, but this school year is bringing about massive change for our party of six.

Two kids are in year-round schools, so they started back this week.  One is in high school and one is in middle school.   The other two are on a traditional calendar, so they will go back at the end of August.  Our life will be rocked at that time… because all four kids will be at different schools.

Yes, you read that right… four kids at four different schools.  Schools located in three different cities/towns.  I’m wondering how Joe and I will be able to keep our jobs and still get kids to and from school every day.  Not to mention all of the activities that two high schoolers and two middle schoolers have. (Why have I chosen at this time to quit drinking?)

People ask me on a regular basis how in the world we do it with four kids and different custody schedules.  I usually can answer them easily because we have just made it work.  I have got NO WORDS right now.

Until the school years are both in full swing, I am completely unsure how we will get everything done.  Hiring help is usually easy, but not when you live in Raleigh and you are asking them to drive out to Wake Forest and Zebulon.  That’s not an appealing job prospect for a college girl.  Our last sitter leased her car, so that extra mileage was a big deal.

This should be an interesting year and I am honestly tired just thinking about it, but THIS IS IT!  THIS IS LIFE!!!  Our boys only have four years left before they head out of our nest for college.  The girls will be following shortly behind them.

I want to remember every second of this.  We know we are blessed beyond measure to have found each other after all of these years and even more so because our children all love each other so much.  Not everyone gets the chance that we have to spend the rest of our lives with the true love of our life.  So until that day, when the last child hugs us goodbye and walks to her packed car, our focus is on loving our kids and making them our #1 priority in life.

I said that to Crawford while we were on our family vacation to Disney World.  She was feeling sick and so we went to sit down while the rest of the kids rode rides with Joe.  She said, “I’m sorry you are missing the ride because of me” and I replied, “Honey, you are my priority.”  The look on her face said it all.  THAT is what our kids need to hear.  They need to know that THEY are our priority.

Joe will be driving forty minutes to Wake Forest to get the kids to two different schools three days a week and then driving another forty minutes to get to work.  I will be driving thirty minutes out to Johnston County to take one child to school and then driving back in to Raleigh to take the other child to school before driving to work.  Not to mention Warren’s basketball and workouts, Will’s cross country and basketball, Hattie’s soccer and horseback riding, and Crawford’s track, piano, and basketball.

Joe and I will be driving all over Wake/Johnston counties for the next four years, but we will be doing it with a heart full of love and a smile on our faces.  The next four plus years our babies are our PRIORITY.   Does anything else really matter?  No.

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Summer Vacation in a Blended Family

Summer is upon us!! In a blended family, summer presents an assortment of planning issues and hurt feelings. It’s tough enough in a divorced family to deal with scheduling issues, but throw another family in the mix and you feel like burning your calendar in the backyard fire pit rather than trying to work them out.

As we were working out custody schedules this summer, it turned out that we would not have my step kids with us on our planned family vacation to Myrtle Beach. The vacation had to be a specific week because we were planning it to coincide with a basketball tournament we would already be participating in. Of course I was not too happy to learn that two of our kids would not be on our family vacation! So I swung into action…

I found out we would have my step kids the week after school got out for my kids, so I started planning. I wanted to do something not too crazy, but fun…. something where we could really have family time… but everyone would enjoy it. I wanted to go somewhere we could drive… Yeah, we went to Disney World.

Thankfully my ex-husband gave up his first week with the kids after school got out so that we could throw all six of us in the Suburban and head south. For weeks before the trip I was convinced I had lost my mind. As I booked dinner reservations and Fast Pass reservations I started to second guess myself.

Disney World in JUNE? It may be hot as the devil! Making an 8+ hour drive with four complaining kids? Not even frequent stops to Cracker Barrel would help the misery! Not to mention to save money I booked a two bedroom condo, so I was fearful the kids would fight incessantly the entire trip.

A week before we left I received a call to confirm my reservations and they had us booked in a two bedroom condo with one master bedroom and one bedroom with a queen bed. I had a meltdown. I tearfully explained to her that I have four kids and that I couldn’t possibly survive the week under that duress. I didn’t think there was enough wine in the state of Florida to get me through!!! She was very kind and upgraded us at no extra cost to a three bedroom condo for our stay. I knew at that moment that everything would be just fine.

And it was PERFECT.

The drive to Orlando was uneventful. We left at 5am, so everyone except Joe slept until we were almost halfway through the trip. Once we got there we were excited to find a gorgeous condo and we went straight for the pool.

Since my step-kids had never been to Disney World before, I wanted them to get a taste of it before we went to the Magic Kingdom the next day, so I booked dinner at the Polynesian resort for the night we arrived in Orlando. I am SO GLAD I did… We had a great dinner and then we rode the boat ferry to the Magic Kingdom and back (while watching the electric water parade). The fireworks started as soon as we docked back at the Polynesian, so we watched them from the dock. After the fireworks were over, we settled into a beach chair on the beach and watched my favorite Disney movie, Tangled, on the big screen on the beach.

I think the excitement and joy of that first night set the tone for the entire trip. It didn’t hurt that we had awesome Fast Pass reservations, plus kids who all like the same rides, and did I mention the weather was actually 15 degrees lower in Orlando that week than it was back home in Raleigh? My step-son even got to celebrate his 15th birthday at the Magic Kingdom. He was wished “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” by pretty much every Disney employee on that day! (I will post more about his birthday dinner soon… it was a HOOT!)

Blended families often face difficulties in scheduling. The key is to not let the bumps in the road cause you to give up. You have to deal with the disappointment and roll with it. In this case, we rolled with it and ended up having the trip of a lifetime with our family. Flexibility is key when in our situation. Since my children’s father gave up his time for us to take the kids to Disney World, I am giving him back that time at the end of the summer so that HE can take them to Disney World.

It’s all about give and take… flexibility… and communication. Who is the winner in this situation? THE KIDS. And that’s all that matters. (Plus I still get to take the kids to Myrtle Beach for the week for the basketball tournament… so I guess I win too. :) )

7 Deadly Sins of Co-Parenting

Published today by The Huffington Post……..

Co-parenting with someone who you admittedly would rather not deal with can be challenging and exhausting. Avoid these seven deadly sins of co-parenting so that you can work through the conflict to successfully raise your children – together.

Wrath – This is a common feeling for one going through a divorce. Wrath is an uncontrolled feeling of hatred and anger that cannot be quenched. Because of wrath, many of the other deadly sins of co-parenting are committed. While most people going through it feel they are justified in their wrath, the only ones who really suffer are the kids. If you feel that you have uncontrolled anger, then seek help. It won’t just benefit you… it will benefit your children.

Greed – This is a sin of excess where you have the desire to possess more than you need. In co-parenting, this takes the form of trying to “win.” You may find yourself in court trying to get more custody or more child support, while putting your children through the contentious battle without thinking about what is best for them. As a co-parent, you must be willing to share the children and encourage their relationship with the other parent. If you try to keep the children from the other parent, then the kids will remember it as they mature and the plan will ultimately backfire on you.

Sloth – This rears its ugly head in the form of laziness or failure to do what one should. In co-parenting, this is most likely seen in the inability to follow the Court Order. There may be some things in the Order that you don’t really see as important, but as long as there are little things to argue about with your ex, then you can never be the best co-parents that you can be. You must understand that you will be held accountable, do what you agreed to do, and things can slowly improve.

Gluttony – This is a sin of selfishness. If you choose to put your needs above the needs of your children, then you are being gluttonous. A glutton in co-parenting would be a parent who continues to fight. He/she can’t get enough of the drama and attention, so the fighting continues long after the conflict should have passed. These are the people who want to keep the divorce high conflict even when they are fully capable of working things out.

Envy – It’s easy to feel envy after divorce. You may envy your ex being in a new relationship or you may envy the fun trips your ex takes with your kids. Envy is being discontent with what you have while wanting what someone else has. Dante defined envy in Purgatorio as “a desire to deprive men of theirs.” Envy is difficult because it can cause you to make irrational decisions and can lead to depression through dissatisfaction. You have to focus on being happy with what you have.

Pride – This is the deadliest sin of all because it is the source of all the others. If you believe that you are better than others and you fail to recognize what benefit others may bring to the situation, then you are being proud. Ideally, when you are married, you discuss things with your spouse and make decisions jointly. After a divorce, you must attempt to continue to make decisions jointly, but the dynamics of the relationship are much different now. Don’t let pride get in the way. It is in the best interests of your children for you to swallow your pride and admit that your ex may handle a situation better than you. If it will benefit your child, then admit your weakness in that role and let your ex take care of it.

Lust – You may think of lust in a sexual way, but for the purposes of co-parenting I am referring to an intense desire for anything – power, money, time, control. Lust for control can ruin a co-parenting relationship. Co-parenting requires that you become business partners in an effort to raise your children. Just like in a business relationship, you cannot have a successful partnership if you are both fighting for control. A successful co-parenting relationship will require compromise and communication.

Facebook Fatigue Syndrome

“Keeping up with the Joneses” used to be a simple idiom. People would use the phrase to refer to the desire to accumulate material possessions. Social status was measured by how much one had or collected. Inability to “Keep up with the Joneses” would cause major dissatisfaction in the lives of those striving to have more and be more than their neighbors and friends.

It was simple back in those days because we didn’t have the internet or social media. We could only see a limited amount of friends daily, so our desire to “keep up” would be based on who we encountered regularly.

My how times have changed…

We now have Facebook where people can post pictures of their gorgeous beach homes with their perfect view of the sunset from the front porch overlooking the ocean. New status updates pop up every minute with friends sharing how happy they are in their job, with their marriage, or with their best friends. Profile pictures show gloriously happy, beautiful people enjoying life.

And you aren’t……

Their kids are more successful than yours. Their Mother’s Day present was more thoughtful than yours. Their husband loves them more than yours loves you. Their clothes fit better on their perfectly sculpted (“I work out more than you”) bodies. They spend more time on vacations than you and they do AMAZING things like go cave diving and drink fruity cocktails with sweat perfectly beaded up on the glass (while you are stuck in your office with no windows).

Our focus becomes on how much better their lives are than ours, which is just another complicated example of “Keeping up with the Joneses.” Depression sets in as you wonder what you are doing wrong and why you can’t have all the wonderful things that they have. I have actually been told by a friend that she had to take a break from Facebook because it was making her feel too bad about her own life.  She was suffering from what so many people suffer these days – Facebook Fatigue Syndrome.

“Keeping up with the Joneses” isn’t the same as it was many years ago… I think that now it is not a desire to have the material possessions of others as much as it is to have the same happiness that it APPEARS they have while looking through the lens of Facebook or Instagram.  Add into that Etsy & Pinterest and the envy is to possess the creativity of others.

People fail to realize that Facebook is just a simple way for someone to paint the picture of their life that they want others to see. It’s not necessarily reality. A lot of times it is obvious to me when a friend is trying too hard to stress to others how great his/her life is. Other times I may see a friend who posts an anniversary picture with her husband telling how lucky she is (when everyone knows he has been having an affair with a co-worker for the past two years and she has been fighting for her marriage). Sure, we see the big 51′ Jarrett Bay they just bought, but do we see the massive debt they accumulated just to get it or that the purchase of the boat has caused the couple to discuss divorce?  We see a friend our age who looks so amazingly beautiful in her pictures, but we don’t think about the amount of money she has spent at her plastic surgeon or what filters she used when she edited the photos.

Try to remember that you can’t take every post and picture on Facebook at face value. This realization that people view Facebook as some sort of “Stepford Wives” look at our friends has made me want to talk to my daughters about the importance of viewing themselves as individuals without comparing themselves to others. We want our children to grow up with a healthy self-esteem, but then we turn around and continually compare ourselves to others and focus on our own inadequacies.

If you have found that you suffer from Facebook Fatigue Syndrome, try to remember that someone may appear to live a life of perfection on the outside, but you don’t know anything about their internal struggles. As I have heard my entire life, if we take all of my problems and your problems and put them in a pile, I will quickly take my own back… Be thankful for what you have and focus on being the best that YOU can be.

This is my tough love for Tuesday… a little bit of positive thinking (albeit a tad harsh) to get your focus in the right place.

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Perspective…

It always seems that God speaks to me pretty harshly when I am having a tough time emotionally.  He’s truly the father who basically says, “Seriously?  You have it so good.  You need to GET OVER YOURSELF!”

Last week in a nearby community a man approached a 14 year old boy on the greenway and then forced the boy into the woods and sexually assaulted him.  Our two boys are 14, so this hit very close to home.  It also forced some incredibly uncomfortable (but necessary) conversations with the boys.

And I give my boys a hard time for turning all the lights on in the house when they are home alone?

Yesterday, I learned about an old neighbor of mine whose 6 year old daughter was diagnosed with Leukemia two days ago.  She was admitted in the hospital yesterday and had a spinal tap (which thankfully had no Leukemia present) and had a port put into place today.  Her mother has been posting for the past three days on Caring Bridge and I am in awe over her calm grace.  I envision myself in the same situation like someone being ejected from a bar – screaming inaudibly while they carry me out kicking and scratching and clawing at the doorway.

Yet her child has cancer.

And I’m struggling with the annoying fact that my boys hit every beam and ceiling in my house with their dirty, nasty fingers.

CANCER.

Tonight I have also been inundated with prayer requests for a friend of a friend on Facebook whose fifteen year old son fell off a boat earlier today with friends and has not been found.  It’s dark.  The search is still on.  His parents have no answers.

And I’m upset that my son lost his library book?

MISSING.

Everything in life is about perspective.   I have always heard that if we get everyone to throw all of our problems into a pile, then we would want to grab our own problems back.  And that’s true!  We may THINK that we have it so bad, but then we realize that comparatively speaking, we don’t have it so bad after all….

I am praying for numerous people who are in need of prayers tonight… and it has made me realize more than every that I am so incredibly blessed.  It’s all about perspective.

My Mid-Years Resolutions

I’ve had an emotionally exhausting and extremely frustrating week.  I can’t help but think that I should have better control over my emotions.  While I’ve always had a little bit of “firecracker” in me, I have really become devastated this week about things that maybe I should have handled better.

As a result, these “spells” I have suffered from have made me want to do things to improve myself.  My hope is that if I know that I am doing the best that I can, then I won’t let other people’s feelings and actions affect me quite like I have been affected this week.

IF I AM THE BEST ME THAT I CAN BE, THEN THAT’S THE BEST I CAN DO.

Although most people make New Years’ resolutions, I have decided to make some Mid-Years’ resolutions.  Starting today, June 1st, I am going to work harder than ever to be the best Valerie that I can be.

1) I will be a better friend.

I have over 1300 friends on Facebook, but I can count on two hands the people who are my TRUE friends.  The rest seem to be “surface” friends.  I am going to decide which relationships I need to truly nurture and I am going to do everything in my power to be the best friend I can be to those people.  While I don’t really know what that will entail, I know that I will no longer waste time on people who don’t spend time on me and I will honor and value and spend time on those who are my true friends.

2) I will be a better daughter.

Again, not sure exactly how to do this, but I will do everything in my power to honor and respect both of my parents and my mother-in-laws.  I want them to know that I value their opinions and I will work hard to make sure they never feel that I am dismissing them in any way.

3) I will exercise regularly.

I don’t only want to be the best me I can be in my relationships, but I want to be in the best physical shape I can be.  As I approach 40 in a few short months, I want to be able to be confident that I am taking care of myself.  I want to be around to share as many years as possible with my handsome husband, so my goal is to exercise a little bit every day.  I even started the 30 day Ab Challenge!  Lord help me!

4) I will watch what I put in my stomach.

There is so much talk about how wheat/gluten is a poison in your body.  I have decided that I want to try to go gluten/wheat free for a couple of weeks and see how it feels.  It is worth a try! When you look at ingredients in processed foods, you can’t help but question what in the hell you are eating anyway.

5) I will be a better mother.

I have been yelling a lot lately.  A lot.  About stupid things.  I have always been a yeller, but lately it just feels like I fly off the handle about everything.  My goal for the rest of 2014 is to savor every moment.  It’s to recognize that they are kids and to LET THEM BE KIDS.  I won’t get mad if they are pushing me to get something they want, because that’s their job.  I won’t take it personally when they complain about our rules, because it would be unnatural for them NOT to complain about them.  I will hug them more, love them more, and enjoy them more… every single day.

6) I will be a better writer.

I LOVE to write.  It makes me a better person to get my thoughts on paper and to share those thoughts with others.  My writing is not only a ministry to other people going through similar things, but it is therapy for my own soul as I work through my thoughts and feelings.  My husband is very aware of this and whenever I am in a particularly difficult mood he will say, “Honey, let me take care of this… you need to go write.”  My goal is to make a topic calendar and to stick to it.  I will have a specific topic chosen for each day and when that day rolls around, then I will sit down and write.  I know how important schedules are in my life, so it would only make sense that I would plan out my writing like I plan out everything else.

7) I will be the best wife I can be.

Finally, and most importantly, I will be the best wife I can be.  Everyone who is close to me recognizes how blessed I am to have finally found the man who loves me more than his own life.  Because of that awareness, they are all quick to tell me that I need to do everything in my power to keep him!  Even last night my brother said, “You need to make sure Joe is good.  You have to keep him happy before anyone else.”  And that’s true.  My focus needs to be on making sure that he knows each and every day how much I love and respect him.  I need to allow him to be the spiritual leader in our home so that we can be the best US that we can be.  As I heard at a wedding this weekend, a successful relationship is not about loving each other more than ourselves… it’s about loving US more than anything else.

And I do love US.

Hope the second half of 2014 is wildly successful for you.  Remember… you don’t have to wait until New Years to make resolutions for change.  We can change ourselves anytime we choose.  Tomorrow is a new day.

Please Vote – Top Step-Parent Blogs

ournewpartyofsix:

I’m an overachiever, so of course I would like to be #1. You don’t have to register to vote and can vote once from each IP address. It will take a couple of seconds and I would greatly appreciate it…

Scroll down to Life in a Blender and click on the heart. DONE!!!!!

Thanks friends!!! xoxoxox Val

Originally posted on Life in a Blender...:

I received an email today that my website has been chosen as one of the Top 50 Step-Parent Blogs for 2014.   I can’t even begin to describe how flattered I am!!

Recognition on a job well done means so much when I work so hard to write about topics and situations that so many of us experience.  Being a stepmom has been more gratifying that I could have ever imagined because I now have two more kids who I love as if they were my own.

There are more laughs, there is more love, and there is so much more happiness.

I am thankful for my family and I am thankful that you all enjoy reading about our adventures in our blended family.

Val

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Newlyweds in a Blended Family

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Newlyweds in a Blended Family

Check out my newest blog published in my monthly feature on Carolina Parent Magazine.  These tips are good for any marriage with children, but it can be a challenge for a second marriage because you don’t have the foundation of the relationship without children in it.  Every marriage takes a lot of work, but it’s possible to be (and remain) blissfully happy!

Enjoy!  Val

It’s Like Summer Camp, But NOT….

ournewpartyofsix:

I posted this a year ago following our wedding… While some things have changed, I feel today EXACTLY as I felt then. I am blessed indeed.

Originally posted on Life in a Blender...:

I certainly do not profess to be an expert at blending families, nor do I claim to even be semi-pro; however, I believe there is comfort when you are going through a new experience in knowing that someone else has walked that road before.  It’s comforting to know that you are not alone… someone else has done it and has come out at the end of the tunnel (relatively) unscathed.

I DO feel like a professional in single motherhood.  After being a single mother of two amazingly strong children for almost nine years, I had gotten the routine down to a science.  I went through all of the stages that single moms go through – the highs and lows, the strength in independence and the depression in loneliness, the happiness my ex moved on and the disbelief he had done so, the joy in knowing my kids had a stepmom…

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