Family traditions

Summer, for me, is woven with family traditions – traditions that run deep.

I am fortunate to live in a place rich with berries just waiting to be harvested. As well as berries, some harvest mushrooms, hazelnuts, rose hips and even fire weed.

My childhood was filled with berry picking with my mom, grandmother and a few of my aunts. Our pantries and freezers were filled with the fruits of our labor…pun totally intended.

As an adult, I have continued the tradition and make preserves and freeze berries for baking for my own family, and I thoroughly enjoy learning more from the people in my life.

Just recently, I was introduced to a tasty and spectacularly beautiful mushroom called an Indigo Milk Cap.

I have been busy picking berries to freeze and have made jams and syrups to last until next summer. I anxiously wait for the chokecherries to be ready so I can make another batch or 5 of chokecherry syrup. Chokecherry syrup is not only delicious but, it holds sweet memories of breakfasts sitting beside my grandpa, with bread Granny had freshly made, toasted and smothered with peanut butter. We would poke holes in the toast and pour the syrup onto our toast, letting it seep through to saturate the toast from the bottom. My grandpa’s eyes would sparkle with mischief as he asked if I would like long or short syrup. Asking for long syrup always brought forth laughter that echoed through the home as he would jump on his chair or reach as high as he could to give me “long syrup”.

We would gather rose hips along our walks, snacking on them as we built wildflower bouquets for Mom and Grandma.

Picking berries with the adult women always made me feel part of something special and I will forever treasure those moments spent with my grandma picking berries, sometimes even hazelnuts.

Now, it is my turn, and I love creating tasty treats for my family and friends. I also find it a delicious excuse to get outside, enjoy the fresh air and chill out away from the chaos of the city.

Remember who you are

Having been a mom at the tender age of 18, I have been a mom to many for more than half my life. When I was 22 years old, my, now, ex-husband brought four other children into my life. 22 years old and I was a mother to five children, and they are amazing children.

At ages 26 and 29, I had two more of my own biological children. Not even 30 years old and I was responsible for 7 human beings (2 of whom lived with their mom full time and visited us when they could).

I love being a mom. I don’t think there is anything quite so rewarding, exhausting and nerve-wracking as parenthood. It is truly an adventure with many peaks, valleys and plot twists and sometimes we get so busy and so caught up in our parenting role and in what society thinks that should be that we lose sight of who we are.

Here’s what happened along my journey. As a teen mom, my daughter and I had a great routine together. Her father and I were very young and very immature and he simply was not ready for the responsibility of being a parent. He was angry a lot, neglectful and began throwing terrible temper tantrums that caused potentially dangerous scenarios. I chose to remove myself and my daughter from that environment. He chose his own path. I do not begrudge him for his choices. I don’t understand them but that is his burden to bear.

In those years of single parenting, I still had my friends and still had a social life with them (at times some would say too much of one). My ex-husband came into my life, and, as I stated previously, I endured many years of abuse which included being unable to have any contact with my friends and very minimal contact with my family.

Soon I lost who I was…other than being a mom. My identity was allowed to be in a few certain things: the children, his church and a few hand picked people I was allowed to speak with. I had zero idea who I was and, once I found my strength and freedom from that scenario, I began a major rebuild and put myself on the path of rediscovery – using the activities I once loved as my starting point.

I read something very recently “Mother is a verb. It is something you do. Not just who you are”.

This resonated within me.

I have met so many women who lost themselves during the active years of motherhood and were completely beside themselves when their children moved on to their next stage and adventure of life.

Moms, our goal is to work ourselves out of a job not to lose ourselves in the process.

Make time to take time for yourself – whether it’s connecting with a friend/your spouse, going for a walk/yoga class/painting, or locking yourself in the bathroom with a bath bomb, a glass of wine, soft music and candlelight or getting your hands dirty digging in the garden…just do something for you, for you to enjoy… Hell, I’ve even happily gone to a movie on my own if no one was available to go with me.

Don’t lose yourself to your other relationships, friends. Our relationships should be an extension of us not a consumption of us.

Take some time in stillness to meditate and reflect on you and your needs. Motherhood (Fathers this can be directed at you as well) does not equal martyrdom.

Know your role

There are as many opinions on what the role of a step-parent should be doing (or not doing) as there are opinions of what parents should or should not be doing.

What is a step-parent to do?

You know there will be people who will protest your actions and investments as a step-parent no matter what you do. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t and that is perfectly ok. These same people will more than likely overlook you as existing let alone as having a parental role in the children’s lives. Guess what? That’s ok as well.

Are you doing what is right and what is needed within your family dynamic? Are you, your spouse, your children (regardless of prefix) happy with the role you are playing in their lives? Those are the only valid opinions in this convoluted step/parenting web.

Before I even moved in with my husband, we sat down and discussed his expectations of me with his kids and my expectations of him with mine. “If you are part of my life, you are part of theirs, in full capacity of a parental role.” Luckily, we were completely on the same page.

We each agree that the other is not just there to be a buddy to the children, a live-in baby sitter or simply play a supporting role to the “parents ” while hiding in the shadows. We are parents and we shall act accordingly and unified. We have both played step-parenting roles before where the expectations of us were to behave just as we would toward, and for, our biological children. This is the desire we share for our family; there is no division or line drawn in the sand of who can do or say what to which children.

So, as a step-parent, what is your role? You need to ask 3 opinions to find that out and I would suggest having this discussion early enough in your relationship that you can see if you have conflicting opinions.

1. your own

2. your spouse’s

3. the children

Let the opinions of others simply be that. They have no weight nor merit in your life or circumstance. That is simply a weight they need to carry.

Love your life, parents. Enjoy your children. The nights are long but the years are short and soon this time with your children will be a faded memory.

Slow down

I hope your week was as amazing as ours.

We slowed life down this week, stopped and enjoyed the little things and the discovery of said little things.

We walked barefoot (honestly, such a great way to keep yourself grounded; it is rare to see me in shoes once the weather gets nice, unless I have to be).

We played.

We stopped to watch bug activity.

We were simply mindful in each moment.

On self-care and hiding in the pantry

Mamas (and Dads), raising children is hard. Maybe “hard” is the wrong word. It is beautiful and rewarding and, by far, the best thing I have ever done. Maybe “complex” would be a better choice.

Perhaps it isn’t even raising children….perhaps it is simply the act of parenting. For a group of people who are just winging this and sitting at the parenting version of the prom, hiding in the corner because everyone looks better than we do, we sure cast a shit load of judgment on other parents who are just as lost and just as uncertain as we are.

Natural birth. C-section birth. Home birth. Hospital birth. Breast fed. Formula fed. Jarred baby food. Homemade baby food. Cloth diapers. Disposable diapers. Home school. Public school. Private school. Parent. Step parent. Foster parent. Adopted parent…….the list and options are endless.

In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter? All kids, regardless of the choices made in parenting, are going to pick their nose on the playground and become Olympic athletes in eye rolling at your lame jokes.

So, now that I started my thoughts off on a goat trail, let me re-group.

I am a firm believer and proponent of self-care. Honestly, we don’t have time to not make time. Nothing needs to be complicated, costly or timely. Taking even 5 or 10 minutes, on a chaotic day (more when you can) just for you is a necessity. Meditate, walk, yoga, lock yourself in the bathroom or hide in your bedroom closet 🤣. Whatever you do, simply be in that moment and let your thoughts still and your breath energize and heal you.

Can we do that? For real?

Yes, we have to. For our sake. For our family’s sake. Do something for yourself where you are not thinking of next week’s meal plan, tomorrow’s grocery list, when you have to switch over the laundry, whether the dog was walked or the cat fed, if notes are signed or….well, you get the drift.

For me, any time out in nature allows me to re-focus, to still my thoughts and quiet my soul. In a pinch, any “outside” will do but, let’s be real, for myself – a farm girl stuck in the city, being outside of the city is definitely ideal.

I am a toes in the sand, barefoot in the grass, ride the horse bareback through the pasture, smell the soil and the rain on the air, wolf howling in the distance kind of gal.

Growing up, the howls of wolves and coyotes were my lullaby and that howl still has a way of sweetly lulling me into relaxation.

So, get out there! Play in the dirt. Jump in the puddles. Kick off your shoes. Hide in the pantry with the bag of cheetos….whatever! Just go do something for you. You not only deserve it, you need it.

P.S. even if you are not a parent, take care of yourself. If you don’t, who will?

We all make mistakes

I’ve made mistakes. We all have. I would love to see anyone who truly believes they have never made a bad decision, said the wrong thing or lead with reaction over wisdom.

Making mistakes doesn’t make me bad nor does it make me an evil entity; just as you, the reader, making mistakes doesn’t make you bad, evil or dangerous.

As a mom, step-mom, daughter, sister, friend….I’m not perfect and don’t claim to be. I think facades of perfection simply put too much pressure on a person – internally and externally.

The only option, for me, is to pick myself up from the dirt, dust myself off, get back on the horse and try to not get bucked off again.

Be gentle with the people in your life who make mistakes.

1. you don’t know what all they are dealing with.

2. I bet, with most certainty, they have offered you much grace for your mistakes.

3. we are all just doing the best we can on this trail called life…and this hike didn’t come with any navigational equipment. Be gentle when footings slip.

Just as Alexander Pope stated “To err is human, to forgive divine.”

What we want each other to know

No woman grows up dreaming of the day she will be a step-mom or, for that matter, dreaming of the day she gets to share her children with another mother figure. When that does happen, and it happens more and more in today’s world than having a nuclear family, fantasies and idealistic notions are shattered. Understandably, this can be difficult for some to adjust to and accept. At the very least, it takes time.

in my life, I have been able to experience all sides of this shattered notion. I have been, and currently am, a step-mom and I have had not one but a few step-moms in my children’s lives. To add to that experience, I’ve also had/have step-parents; I can safely say I have a wealth of experience in the world of blended families – some good, some great, some difficult, some horrendous and some simply indifferent…..some my experiences, some I have simply observed….

By far the most complex yet most beautiful display of blending a family I have had privilege to experience was that of my grandmother. Allow me a moment to explain the complexities of this dynamic. Gertie is my step-dad’s ex-wife’s mother. My step-dad has no biological children and so, no ties that bind he and Gertie other than a mutual love and respect for each other. We became part of her family the instant she met us. We spent countless winter hours at her cabin on the snowmobiles, bounding across snowdrifts and roasting hotdogs on the campfires as we warmed our bones. She has met and loved my children and now, my grandchildren.

The worst scenario I have experienced and/or observed is…well, there are a few that are on equal playing fields as far as difficulty.

A step-mom my child had is definitely one to be noted. Perhaps this story can give some relief to moms out there that they are very fortunate indeed their children have the step-moms they do because they are actually kind, loving and invested. The step-mom I am referring to, let’s call her Karen, would take a wooden spoon, or other such object, and chase my child up and down the halls of their home, striking the child each time Karen could reach any part of my child’s body and then would lock the child in the bedroom until such time as Karen thought was adequate – regardless of meal times or toilet needs. It wasn’t just my young child who told me this but the stories were confirmed by a paternal aunt.

The second is a situation where nothing done in the biological father’s home was done correctly. Let’s call this woman, Claire. I have been told Claire would text night and day informing dad and step-mom of their inadequacies, hurling insults and name-calling, making outings and events unfavorable and tense. Her behavior seemed erratic to say the least. It seems Claire demands her way and no other way is acceptable; I have overheard conversations that would be considered laughable save for the fact that this is a reality for real people. It is a confusing situation to witness and I can’t fathom the anguish dad and step-mom and kids deal with on a regular basis.

The third,that comes equally to mind, is a former step-mom who blatantly favored her children above all others. For the sake of this piece, we will call her Sarah. There were two separate sets of rules – one set for Sarah’s children and one set for her husband’s. Sarah slowly put a wedge between herself and her husband, her husband and his children and herself and her step-children until the inevitable dissolution of the relationship.

In today’s world, more often than not, we find ourselves tangled in a blended family dynamic in one regard or another. In an ideal world, believe it or not, step-parents wish and dream for a relationship with their children’s biological parents where they can communicate freely over a cozy cup of tea, regaling over the antics of the children they share. (Yes, share. A step-mom may not have birthed the children or have contributed DNA but an involved step-mother has equal time, love, energy, finances and hopes invested into them.)

Here are some tidbits I have learned over the past 30 years of experience with being in and observing blended families.

1. Biological parents and step parents, children want your love, acceptance, respect and support. We do not want your drama, insecurities and manipulation.

We do not want your hostility and negativity. We have plenty of love to give and we are not replacing anyone by loving another.

Please know that we can sense your tensions and your hostilities. It makes us feel sad and makes us feel like we have to choose sides. We don’t want to, nor should we have to. We love you all. Please stop making us feel like we have to choose someone over another.

Also, please treat us fairly. Do not favor your biological children or children you have with your new spouse or even their children over your own.

2. Step-parents, respect our children. Treat them as you would and do your own.

Know that we see how you look at them and they look at you. We see the love; please be patient as we learn to accept the changes in our family dynamic.

We know and understand that the rules at your house are likely different than at ours and we will try to understand that you and our exes have very good reasons for the rules you have very carefully weighed and set in place. We will honor and respect the decisions, rules and boundaries you both set in place. Deep down we know that these rules are made in the best interest of your household and your family.

We will do our best to not let our insecurities get the best of us and we will do our very best to not interfere in the time you and our exes have with the children, in the name of fairness. We will be mindful to not meddle but we ask that you please be patient when we slip up. We may not say sorry, but we are; we may not always say we appreciate all you do for our children, but we do. We will try to be better at telling you.

In fact, deep down, in a secret place where we probably haven’t allowed ourselves to accept or believe or admit it yet, we really wish we would make you our ally. Parenting is hard and we really would appreciate your strength, perspective, experience and resources.

3. Biological parents, we step-parents love and respect your children; we want nothing but the best life has to offer them. Our decisions are never to punish our children. Why on earth would we ever do that? Our decisions aren’t even to punish you – honestly, you are the last person we think of as we strive to forge ahead in our new life and new role.

We have no desire to replace you. We are perfectly content as step-moms and step-dads. We call you “Mom/Dad” when speaking with kids, listen to them with joy as they tell of the fun adventures they share with you, remind them of your upcoming birthday, etc. and help them to make or buy gifts for you.

We would love nothing more than to get along. We may never be great friends but we would love to be copacetic. It would make things so much easier for everyone involved, especially, and most importantly, the children. We need you to know that we feel very guarded as we know you are scrutinizing our every move and dissecting every word for fault and blame. We ask you to be patient as we adjust to a role we didn’t think we would be in.

We want you to know we would move heaven and earth for your babies. We do the same things in our weeks you do in yours: chase away bad dreams, tuck into bed, bandage owies, mend broken hearts, help with homework, take advantage of each and every learning opportunity and celebrate first dates, passed tests and riding bikes with no training wheels….to name a few.

We love your ex. We have, in some cases, watched as you name called, belittled, tormented and emotionally abused them. If we see it, so do the kids. Please stop. At the end of the day, your ex is doing their very best just as you are.

We understand that your marriage broke up for a reason….now it is time to move beyond that on both sides and use that energy to spend with your children when you each have them.

If you have an issue with something we step-parents have done, address it with us directly not our spouse. There’s enough for the two of you to deal with than for you to drag them into issues or concerns you may have with us. If it isn’t important enough to personally address with us, the step-parents, it simply isn’t important enough.

Remember, we love our spouse and chose to love their children as we do (or would) our biological children. That is not something that is required of us to do. Our wish is to work together with you, as a team, for the sake of the children (a team meaning working together to reach necessary agreements not one side being heavy handed and giving silent treatments and attitude until they get their way – I have honestly heard stories of this happening). If we can’t like each other, the least we should be is amicable – the children deserve that much but, man, we would appreciate your insight.

At the end of the day, the old adage of it taking a village to raise a child couldn’t ring more true. I feel, for how commonplace divorce and blended families are now, that we all need to “reimage” what that “village” looks like. (Reimage is a computer term; a reimage is necessary if your operating system becomes damaged or corrupted.) Our thinking is so corrupt by old school definitions and ideals that we corrupt the new family unit before it even gets a chance to flourish.

In today’s world, that village is more than mom and dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, neighbors and teachers. We need to add an entire fleet of step-family in there as well and do so with acceptance, kindness, respect, understanding and freedom.

At the end of the day we all feel the same uncertainties, insecurities, and hope we raise happy, healthy children who aren’t in need of too much therapy. Maybe we could work on strengthening our relationships with each other and let that be step one in our success as parents (regardless of prefix). Just a little food for thought…

Pass on wisdom not wounds

Far too often it is so easy for us to speak to and about people, not from a place of truth, but from a place of interpretation. I observe this every day.

I am a people watcher. I watch reactions and responses. I watch eye rolls and lowered gazes. I watch how a little innocuous comment can actually be a poison dart careful aimed and fired at an obvious target.

Hard taught lessons in my life have shown me how to see red flags – even red flags that come guised as white flags of surrender. I have learned to respond not to react.

Oh, sometimes a knee-jerk reaction happens. I’m human. Sometimes my “dealt with a narcissist ” quota has been exceeded and, oops, reaction….

My advice to all of us (as much to myself as to anyone else who happens to read this): as a parent, or step-parent, we should pass on wisdom to our children not wounds. When we speak of others in their lives, our children sense the heart and tone in our words. Watch not only the what but the how when you say your words. Insecurities, jealousies, angers and hurts are interpreted by your children – loudly and clearly.

Speaking of “made with love”…

These diamond willow candle holders were made by my dad.

They have followed me through the years – they have seen a lot. They have gotten me through a lot.

Seeing them is such a source of comfort and strength.

I’m so fortunate for my dad. He is my teacher, my confidant and one of my best friends. It is so nice to be able to call on him whenever I need him – for sage advice and quiet reflection.

My dad (and his parents, especially my granny) fostered in me a love for nature that has carried me through my life and has kept me grounded through all life has thrown this way – the good, the bad, the terrible and the amazing.

Thanks, Dad!

Made with Love

In our home we prefer homemade. My husband and I love working in our kitchen together and/or with our children making breads and treats and pizzas, and experimenting with new flavors, of pancakes and breads especially. We do this as often as our schedules allow but aim for at least once a week.

Last week, when we had my husband’s kids for our week with them, we took to making our own baked doughnuts and topped them with a delicious cinnamon sugar.

They were an immediate hit and the pleas to make them more often resounded from 4 of 6 children. I’m going to safely presume the other 2 would wholeheartedly agree…once they taste them. 😉

In our home, cooking is an act of love; we pour our heart and love into our recipes as freely as we pour our garlic. Ha ha!This is a huge reason behind our love of canning and freezing foods fresh from our garden, a local community garden, local farmers and from the forest.

In fact, I’m so excited to be able to return to the forest for another harvest this coming season. This is a huge part of my childhood and my upbringing. As a family (three generations of family and now includes a fourth and, once old enough, fifth generation), we would gather and prepare. I recall many, many mosquito-ridden, picnic lunch packed, heat stroke suffering days of gathering berries of all sorts, rosehips and wild horseradish, and harvesting our gardens as a family.

My favorite memories are sitting on the cool cement stairs in front of my granny’s house, tipping and tailing beans, shelling peas and absorbing every word she spoke through her stories and wisdom.

My least favorite, but still as rewarding, butchering days. Necessary, appreciated once on my plate, but not my favorite. Why? After a season or so of caring for those chicks, piglets and calves I grew fond of them; I even broke the cardinal farm rule of never naming any animal other than the dogs, cats, horses and the milk cows, and would bestow names upon one or two or all…butchering days became difficult tasks when a named animal fell to slaughter but such is the hand dealt to a farm kid (especially a farm kid who blatantly disregarded the “no naming animals” rule).

Harvest is not for months yet so why am I thinking about it now?

Now is when we prepare. Plan the garden, prepare the seeds by starting them in the house, plot the garden lay-out….and wait to reap the tasty, tasty rewards.