Monthly Archives: August 2011

What I Wore Wednesday, 8/31/11

Welcome back to What I Wore Wednesday. I thought this challenge (to use thrift store items) would be a breeze – I love thrift store shopping. But it turns out that I haven’t actually BOUGHT anything from a thrift store in a while.

 pleated poppy

I did dig out this Ann Taylor skirt, which I bought at Goodwill a few years ago. It’s a very simple charcoal wrap skirt (sorry about the wrinkles). 

Skirt: Goodwill (Ann Taylor)
Tank: Ann Taylor Loft (clearance rack)
Cardigan: Target
Flats: Shoe Station (they have tiny silver polka dots on them)
Necklace: Theresa Rose @ Etsy

Hm. Now I’m thinking I should head over to Goodwill this weekend and see if I can find some men’s vintage plaid button-downs for fall….

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Learn from My Mistakes: Buttons, especially the “Reply” one

Every time you send an e-mail to your ex, EVERY TIME, you need to ask yourself one question:

“How would this sound if it was read out loud in court?”

E-mail has become the weapon of choice in battling with one’s ex. On the upside, it’s easy, free, and allows almost-instantaneous communication. On the downside, it’s easy (to take cheap shots), free (to send hundreds of ’em) and allows for almost-instantaneous (regret after pushing “send”) communication. Plus, it can leave a paper trail that makes you look… well, less than pleasant.

It’s so easy to dash off an exultant e-mail pointing out your ex’s shortcomings. “You didn’t sign Timmy’s permission slip.” “You shouldn’t let them eat McDonald’s for dinner.”

Even easier is responding in kind when your ex sends you a snippy little e-mail pointing out your (alleged) shortcomings. “Well, if you hadn’t left me, I would have more time to cook.”

Fact: Your ex knows you. He or she knows you better than anyone – at one point, this idea was probably comforting. But he/she also knows where every single one of your buttons is, and which ones to push to exact maximum damage.  Worst of all, your ex probably knows your deepest insecurities, and how to imply that they’re all actually true. Oh my God, those pants DID make me look fat.

So we have to re-think our communications strategies. And through lots of trial and error, I think I have a few rules to share.

1. Know Thy Stuff

Read your marital settlement agreement. Then read it again. Keep a copy in your desk at work, and another under your pillow. This is the document which provides the framework for any and all interaction you have with your ex, especially if it involves the children. If you have not yet crafted an agreement, DO SO CAREFULLY. If a dispute ever arises, the court will go back to the agreement – not necessarily to what you have been doing in the meantime. Don’t leave it up to your attorney. Read before signing. Likewise, read the laws on divorce and custody for your state (here in Florida, it’s Chapter 61, Fla. Stat.). That way, when your ex tries to tell you “the agreement says X,” or “the law says Y,” you can respond confidently and without panicking.

2. Step Away from the Keyboard

When you get an e-mail from your ex, do not respond immediately (unless it’s an emergency). Take a deep breath, count to ten, and sit on your hands.

3. Evaluate

What does he/she want? If the ex is seeking information, is it information he/she is entitled to? Read the e-mail carefully to avoid snap judgments about tone and content. For the first few years, ANY e-mail from your ex will probably be accompanied by a sickening, sinking feeling. Wait for that to pass. I recommend a snack at this point.

If the e-mail or message is solely sent to annoy you or push your buttons, move it out of your inbox.  Do not engage. ABORT.  

4. Craft a response…..

The “save draft” button is your friend. Write a response, and then go back and strip out any emotion. Delete that sentence about “that underage whore you’re dating.” Take out the reference to “that car you loved more than me.” Remove the line about “funding your shoe budget with the child support.” Do not take a defensive tone. Be polite, even if it is through gritted teeth. Say “please” and “thank you.” Avoid lengthy explanations or defenses. Remember – anything you send to your ex may one day be Exhibit A to court filing.

5. …. and THEN send it.

Your ex is not your emotional punching bag, and (as un-fun as it is) you no longer have the right to lash out at him/her every time you get annoyed.

Most importantly, it does not matter if your ex follows these rules or not. I know it’s hard, but you need to communicate clearly and cleanly for your own sake.  I wish I could say that if you play fair, your ex will to – but that would be a dirty, dirty lie.

This is my motto:

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What I Wore Wednesday

I’m throwing my hat in the ring. The accountability ring, that is.

pleated poppy

Lindsey Cheney, the creative mastermind behind The Pleated Poppy, has been successfully getting herself out of the yoga-pants-and-t-shirts rut. I was going to wait until I looked as cute as Lindsey every day, but I may as well wait until I am as thin and pretty as she is, too.

You know?

Anyway, here’s my contribution for this Wednesday:

(Maybe you noticed, but the only full-length mirror in the rental house is a bit short.)

Pants: Target
Top: Ann Taylor Loft (dark chocolate brown)
Necklace: bought in San Antonio, Texas, in 2008. Yee-haw!  

Next week, maybe I’ll get Jason to snap the picture so I don’t look like I’m impersonating the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

I found this shirt lurking at the bottom of a drawer this morning. I’ve owned it for two years, but haven’t worn it since last summer. However, paired with these pants and my awesome necklace, it feels fresh. For free!

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DivorceCare, or, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, co-facilitate.”

I have volunteered to co-facilitate a DivorceCare class that is being held at my church this fall.

STOP LAUGHING.

I know, I know. I barely have my own act together. I know, I know. I still struggle with divorce issues. I know, I know.

And yet.

There are so many people who are in a much worse place. There are people who need help, advice, resources, referrals. There are so many people who have suddenly found their life profoundly changed, who might like a friendly face and a snack.

This is not a therapy group. No one will be forced to share their sob stories. There will be no drum circle, no kum-bah-yah, and a minimum of Kleenex. The class comprises a series of videos with concrete strategies for dealing with many of the situations and emotions that arise during and after a divorce. Maybe you’ve never balanced your own checkbook, or bought your own car insurance, or you’re wondering if and when you should handle dating. Maybe you struggle with deep anger, or crippling loneliness. Maybe you have been abandoned by your “old” friends, your family, or even your church. Maybe you want to find a counselor for your children, but don’t want to make them feel like freaks.

Speaking of which, there is also DC4K, the class for children, which runs at the same time as the adult class.

If you’re separated-but-not-divorced, you should come. If you’ve just finished up your divorce, you should come. If you’ve been divorced for years but still feel you haven’t quite made it past the first hurdles, you should come.

And if you know someone who could use a little bit of help, you should make them come.

You don’t have to wear a black “D” on your chest. You can arrive in sunglasses and a hat. You don’t even have to sign up beforehand.  The door will be open. The class is free.

Plus, like I said, there will be snacks.

The adult class, as well as the children’s class, is being held every Wednesday for 12 weeks, starting August 31 at Faith Presbyterian Church, 2200 North Meridian Rd., Tallahassee, FL 32303. The phone number is (850) 385-6151. Church dinner is at 5:00, and the class starts at 6:00.

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Learn From My Mistakes: Real Estate Edition

In December, 2007, before the ink was dry on my divorce, I bought a house.

I was an IDIOT.

It’s easy to understand the impulse: I wanted a clean start, a permanent home, a good investment, a yard for my son and my dogs, and, more selfishly, something that was mine.

I had read all the advice that tells you not to make a giant life purchase immediately after getting divorced. But I thought I was soooo smart – I had 20% to put down and a degree from a prestigious liberal arts college! What could possibly go wrong?

See: Paragraph 2.

So I bought a modest 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom, 1195-square-foot home in a neighborhood with good schools. I paid extra money to my mortgage every month. And then I watched the bottom fall out of the market.  

In the interim, Jason moved in and we got married. While the house was perfectly sized for two humans and two canines, it was way too small for the five of us and our 4 pets.

We watched houses in our neighborhood sit on the market for years. We saw foreclosures sell for under $100,000. We watched our equity vaporize. And by the time we started seriously considering moving to a bigger house, we realized we would have to start from scratch. We put our house on the market, but it wouldn’t sell.

Now, I will say this: Because I put down 20% and made extra payments, we are nowhere near underwater on that house. We could have sold it for far less than the original purchase price and broken even. But what was the point? Instead, we found renters who want to buy the house in a few years, and entered a lease-purchase agreement. This way, we’ll at least get some equity out of the house. But I kick myself on an almost-daily basis for caving to the idea that I “needed” to buy a house at that point in my life.

Meanwhile, Jason was “awarded” his house in his divorce, which was kind of like being awarded an albatross. Or an anvil. He owes too much on it to sell it (Next week: Learn from Jason’s Mistakes: Home Equity Loan Edition) but did find a long-term renter fairly quickly.

So we had Jason’s house, and we had my house. And we hoarded money for two years so we could put down 20% on the house we bought in May. You may have heard of it. We call it the Toasted Marshmallow.

These are the lessons I learned from my Real Estate Debacle. AKA, Calm Down, Take a Deep Breath, and Rent for a Little While:

1. You don’t know who you are.

As discussed earlier, divorce is a profound life-shift for everyone. Whether or not you wanted it, it changes you. You need time to figure out what you’re really willing to do on your own. I thought I wanted a big yard. Turns out mowing it is not so  fun.

Additionally, you need time to really evaluate your budget. You’ll be re-arranging all your bills – separating phone plans and car insurance, evaluating the worth of gym memberships and weekly pedicures, buying groceries for fewer mouths. You may be paying or receiving child support, or alimony, or both. You may have legal bills to pay. It’s almost impossible to accurately gauge how much house you can afford. And don’t let the bank tell you – they’re trying to sell you the biggest mortgage they can.  

2. You don’t know who you will be.

Some people emerge from a divorce relatively unchanged. They keep the same friends, the same hobbies, the same routine. For others, it’s an opportunity to make new friends, try new things, and grow as a person. One friend of mine started exercising after her divorce, and now competes in triathalons and works out *for fun* (this still baffles me). So it became important to her that her housing be near bike trails and running routes and a gym – something that was not a consideration immediately after her divorce. You may find a new job across town, or get a job for the first time.

Think of your housing as a life raft. Under normal conditions, it bobs along on top of the swells. But what happens if you anchor it to the bottom of the sea? You lose the flexibility to ride the waves, and can be swamped by them.

How long should you wait before buying a house after a divorce? I don’t know that there is a “right” answer, but I think if I were advising a friend, I would recommend a year. One full year to get your bills in order, pay your taxes, watch the real estate market, evaluate your relationship with your ex, and decide what you want your life to look like.

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Red Beans and Ricely

Last week we took a family vacation to New Orleans, Louisiana. I realize that “New Orleans” and “family vacation” are not normally associated, but I assure you that 1) New Orleans has TONS of family-friendly activities, especially if your kids are in elementary school or older, and 2) this post is NOT sponsored by their tourism board. Additionally, the Junior Olympics were being held while we were there, so there were even more children than usual.

The cast of characters:

Tyler, me, my mom

Jensen, Jason, and Hollyn

And the Pumpkin, our rented chariot:

I can honestly say that this vacation would not have been possible two years ago, and maybe even last year. It has taken that long to hammer decent manners into their little heads. We warned them ahead of time that it would be hot, that we were going to do a lot of walking, and that they’d be trying a lot of new foods.

To the childrens’ credit, I did not hear a single whine about the heat or the walking. They were absolute troopers – we probably covered 3 or more miles per day in 90 degree temperatures. We didn’t use the car once from the time we arrived on Saturday until we left on Friday. 

Two-thirds of the children made excellent food choices, but one put up a fight at almost every meal. At first, she would glance over the menu and declare, “There is nothing here that I will eat.” Then she tried to bargain. “Can they make it without seasoning/sauce/flavor?”  The other two ate raw oysters, alligator tail, and duck gumbo. 

Tyler had his eighth birthday while we were in New Orleans, and we started the day off right:

After that breakfast of champions, we went to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. Later, we celebrated his birthday dinner at Galatoire’s:

My mom wanted to buy him a birthday present from New Orleans, and we saved that shopping trip for the last day. After a few hours of fruitless searching, I let him peek his head in Rev. Zombie’s House of Voodoo. Game, set, match. He was in heaven.   

Later in the week, we went to the Audubon Zoo, where we met this Ladder Bear, who apparently was hot. Or sad. Or emo:

Buck up, Ladder Bear. This way lies inner peace:

 I’m not going to lie, it was not a relaxing week. Traveling with three generations is a bit of a balancing act – but my mom didn’t complain about the heat or the walking, either. (But that’s because she’s tougher than you are. She played field hockey.) We made sure to keep everyone hydrated, and scheduled a nice block of down time every afternoon for the kids to relax at the hotel pool before dinner.

New Orleans is my favorite city in the United States. My family used to go every other year or so when I was growing up.  It’s a Greek tragedy of a city, full of beauty and suffering. It’s a city I loved when I was a kid, and I love the same city now – for entirely different reasons.

It was hard to come back; partly because I can never do enough there, and partly because we didn’t have a home to come back to. Friday morning I woke up thinking, “Tonight I’ll sleep in my own…. oh. Never mind.” We joked with friends that it was pointless to go on vacation since we were already living out of suitcases.

But come back we did, all six of us in the Pumpkin. And life rolls on like the Mississippi.

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Seriously?

I’m working on a long post about our trip to New Orleans last week, which is the second vacation we’ve taken with all the kids. But first, a short story.

I have talked at length about WHY being a blended family can be hard (different rules, different expectations, etc.), but not as much as HOW it can be hard. And hoo, boy, sometimes it’s just so laughably juvenile and mind-bogglingly petty that it doesn’t seem worth the pixels to write about it.

On the other hand, I don’t want to mislead anyone that my attitude is awesome because things are easy. I have a good attitude because otherwise I would go insane. And this quick story is the perfect illustration of why:   

On Friday, we dropped the girls off with their mother, after driving all day from Louisiana. The exchange occurred in a church parking lot. As we were leaving, we came to a T-intersection in the parking lot at the same time the girls’ mother did. I waved for her to go ahead. She pulled up perpendicular to my car and stopped. She proceeded to roll down her window, shoot me her nastiest glare, roll her window back up, and drive on.

“Are you SERIOUS?” my mother asked from the passenger seat. “Did that just happen?”   

Sadly, she does this all. the. time. Every time I’ve been in the same space as her, she acts this nasty – staring and glaring and sulking. She puts an incredible amount of time and effort into trying to intimidate me, into hating me. And it’s such a waste.    

I think the clinical diagnosis is “failure to thrive as an adult.”

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