Posts Tagged With: divorce

The gift of an unconventional Holiday

I knew the day was coming, and tried to keep my voice cheery as I zipped his parka, handed off his Ninja Turtle backpack, and sent my 4-year-old off with his father.  Freshly divorced, and newly navigating the every-other-holiday thing, I kissed my boy good-bye and squeezed his mittened hand one more time.  He took his cues from me, and although bio-Dad was consistently inconsistent with visitation, and I had not yet met  (or even imagined) the man-who-would-be-Hubbs, I needed to keep my act together so my little guy would be OK.

Shutting the door, I stood in the darkened entry and watched them drive away, a wave of sadness fell over me. It felt like the wettest blanket on the coldest night.  It was a rainy, dreary Wednesday afternoon in western Connecticut.  My family was a million miles away in Canada and I’d been too busy surviving working to have made plans.  At least he would only be gone for the weekend, and knowing the other one, probably coming home early.   I looked around our sparse apartment, at my pull-out sofa in the living room, his bunk beds and toys in the bedroom.  My eyes landed on our small table with two chairs, at books and Play-Doh from earlier play.

Calling Mom, we chatted for a while and caught up on the goings on there.  I heard her attempts at a cheerful voice, knowing we were so far away, and that I was by myself tonight.  When she asked what I’d be doing for the Holiday, I sputtered out something about being invited to a friend’s apartment.  “Oh, that’s good, dear.  You should go, there’s no need to be by yourself, and, well, we’d feel better if you did.”  She was right, of course, but there was about a .001% of me that wanted to go out and meet new people.   I promised her I’d think about it.

Later that night my friend Dee called.  Practically begging,  she admitted her parents were coming, too, and “you know how my Dad can be.”  Yes, I’d met them both, they were European, on-again-off-again as a couple, the Mom, quiet and nervous, the Dad, critical and imposing.  I knew she needed a buffer and, quite frankly, I suddenly had a need to get out of that apartment.   We agreed I’d be there mid morning the next day.

Upon arrival, I learned she’d also invited the “strays” ~ anyone in her building who didn’t have a place to be or family to spend the Holiday with.  Wow!

We quickly set to work peeling potatoes, setting a card table & chairs at the end of the kitchen table, scrounging around for Fast Food napkins, extra plates, plastic cutlery, tablecloths and a couple of old candles.  She turned on the radio – with a countdown of sorts, a mixture of Motown and Classic Rock, fun.  The turkey simmered in the oven, and the aroma, unmistakable.

Next she announced we had turnips to prepare ~ her crusty Dad had a thing for buttered  turnips, except she had no clue how to peel the waxy layer off of  it and neither did I.  We managed to get a steak knife stuck embedded in that thing more than once.  Laughing, we developed a rhythm, but we were more like Lucy and Ethel than Fred and Ginger. I peeled carrots and steamed them with peas, poured off the turkey drippings to make gravy, and mashed the potatoes.  She stirred corn and cream and butter together, microwaved Stove-Top Stuffing.  We ran into each other more than once.  Yep, Lucy and Ethel.

Soon guests began arriving ~ old and young, a shy woman with a bright-eyed toddler and no mention of the father, a married couple from Venezuela, she with lovely accent, his hand on the small of her back.  My friend’s son and his girlfriend, her parents and me, and Ivan, the lanky maintenance man with a heavy Russian accent, a shy smile and two bottles of vodka.  Everyone streamed in, offering what they had, ~ buttery Seafood Paela, a cheesecake, Wine, chocolates, sausage, pickles and cheese. We sent her son to 7-11 for more plates and paper products while her Dad took a seat to carve the turkey.  Her Mom, a bit tipsy from the vodka, chatted animatedly with Ivan.  We all found a seat on uneven and mismatched chairs, making small talk, clanking glasses,and savoring the moment.  I was in and out, serving, and bringing more to share.

It was there, grabbing another bowl of something in my friend’s kitchen, when I remembered that I’d forgotten about being sad. About being far from home.  I felt a tug ~ a love of cooking I’d not experienced in years.  See, since the divorce, I’d been getting by on “functional cooking” —  cooking to live, cooking to check the box.  Day-to-day. No joy, no creativity.  This was different.  This effort, stirring the gravy and mashing turnips in a new-to-me kitchen – transported me to my mother’s kitchen.  To Holiday meals and Mom’s and my Grandmother’s tables so lovingly prepared one couldn’t feel anything but gratitude at being included.  To feelings of warmth and happiness and appreciation for everything – the love and the labor, the sweat and the tears, that went into it creating so much magic for all of us.  It was in that moment, on that unorthodox Holiday, when I felt my love of cooking re-ignite. It was there, tasting the turnips, that I gave thanks.

one end of my Grandmother’s Holiday Table, an Emjayandthem (C) picture

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Flash forward to now:  After a visit with our grand-daughter at school yesterday morning, my son and I enjoyed a brief lunch together.   He’s no longer that little tow-headed boy, he towers over me by a foot, and has a family of his own.  He helps them with their mittens and coats.  Full circle.

I told him the story of my unorthodox Thanksgiving holiday so long ago, and how I thought we would all be well served to experience a holiday like that.  I told him that getting through that helped me appreciate where I’m from, and the traditions we enjoy today.

He gently teased me about my “holiday marathons” ~ I pointed out that when I start cooking 2-3 days ahead of the holiday, it’s because I want to.

When I prep multiple appetizers and side dishes, meats and desserts, it’s because I have people to cook for.

And when I decorate the table well before anybody steps foot through the door, I channel all of them: my Mom, My Grandmother, and the other wonderful women of my childhood who did such things for me.

  • Did you ever spend a holiday in an unconventional way? What do you remember from the experience?
  • What traditions are you carrying forward?
Categories: Attitude, Beauty, Determination, Faith, Family, Food, Growth, Holidays, Home, Joy, Life, Life Lessons, Mom, music, News, Opinion, Personal, Recipes, Seasons, Thoughts, Traditions, Wisdom, Women, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The 3 sides of love

Dear You:

When his marriage ended he thought the world did, too.  We moved him and what remained into our basement.  We helped pay his bills and care for his children and tried to assure him that things would be all right.  We didn’t know how and we didn’t know when but we knew that, in time, it would.

It wasn’t long before the walls here at home closed in; he’d had enough of us and we of him.  And, as adults go, he was ready and that was fine.  He moved to a place he could hardly afford, sleeping on air mattresses and living on leftovers and cheap groceries. I worried and barely slept, because that’s just how I roll. He found a job working outside in the driving snow but he held on to the hope that one day – some day – things would be all right.

He dated a little, but there was always a part of him that he held back.  That part that didn’t trust any more. Still, we talked regularly, and with an armful of groceries, he’d hear us say again and again … that things would be all right.

Over time he and the kids settled into a routine and, when the next summer came ’round, he started to live again .. but at an inch at a time.  He grilled out and had friends over.   But it was those nights when the wee ones weren’t there with him that were the hardest.  He told me how he couldn’t sleep so he’d go for walks late at night.  He talked longingly of other families through living room windows.  He told me in a whisper how hard he prayed for one of his own.

Believing that if you dream it you can be it I asked him to tell me what he wanted.  Clearly he replied: “I want someone who gets me, who laughs, who listens, who is kind, who doesn’t yell at me when I forget something or mess up. I want someone who wants to be in a relationship not just talk about it. I want a partner. I want what you have.”

Years passed, time pressed on and he and the littles grew.  We could see what he couldn’t  –  progress.

But still, there was always something missing … and that’s where you come in.

Last Christmas, he mentioned how he’d met a girl by chance (no such thing!) and how different she was. Sweet, kind, giggly, adorable, smart, funny, and easy-going.  His list of adjectives to describe her  you went on and on.

Now that I know what I know, I know this: it might have been your brown eyes and beautiful smile that drew him in but it was your kind and accepting heart that held him there.

Did you know that he loves how you’re always cold?  I’ve never known him to buy anyone a blanket; he would have mocked anyone who did.  He bought you a red fuzzy one and talks about how cute you are under it.  Uh-huh.

He marvels that you think to pick up items he’s low on like toilet paper and milk and snacks that kids might enjoy on a field trip.

He was happiest that you were perfectly happy hopping into his truck and riding along with him on an evening work errand.

He’s different now. He smiles more. He’s also fiercely protective of you. He’s not come around as much, he doesn’t call as often, and growth is happening again.

Then there’s the littlest ones – they love you too, did you know that? The boy saved his money to bring you a present from the school carnival. The girl draws pictures … with you in them.  Even his ex-wife drops them off to you when needed.  That says so much right there.

Couple Love concept

So thank you. Thank you for seeing in my boy what I’d hoped you would:  a capable man with a goofy sense of humor, a strong work ethic, and a big heart still willing to love.   You see someone who’d help a neighbor but is just as likely to stop for a stranger, too.  A fellow who’s waited and prayed and hoped for a girl who understands, accepts and appreciates him – his strengths, his faults, his wins, his losses.  You do this – just this – and that man will swim through shark-infested waters to bring you the best glass of lemonade you’ve ever had.

My role is changing again.  He’ll always be my little boy but, more importantly, he’s your man now.  I’d like to share this quote I found some time ago ~ it’s helped me and maybe it will you, too.

“Love is made up of three unconditional properties in equal measure:

1. Acceptance
2. Understanding
3. Appreciation

Remove any one of the three and the triangle falls apart.

Which, by the way, is something highly inadvisable. Think about it — do you really want to live in a world of only two dimensions?

So, for the love of a triangle, please keep love whole.”

-Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration


*dedicated to oldest boy and his girl on their engagement this past weekend.






Categories: Beauty, Faith, Family, Growth, Home, Joy, Life, Love, Personal, Relationships, Romance, Thoughts | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

Christmas memories ~ Butter Crunch Toffee

Thumbing through recipes last week, I found a tried-and-true candy recipe I’ve carried with me for at least 25 years.  Shared by my first CT neighbor, Debbie, this is one of those candies that tastes like it came from a gourmet shop.  Except it’s not.

Image from

Image from

I met Debbie when I moved us to our teeny apartment on the second floor of a family home in an older, established neighborhood.  It was just my boy and me so we didn’t need much – in fact – we shared a bedroom.  A few doors down was their house – Debbie and Rick’s.  At the time, they had two large dogs in place of the kids that never arrived.  Rick looked like Santa Claus and could fix anything except their relationship.  Debbie, short and stocky, was a good friend and an avid reader — we shared books and she talked regularly of their struggles with infertility. Sometimes she cried about it, especially when holding my curly-haired giggling son.    Sadly, their marriage didn’t last and one day the house was sold – both moved on and we lost track of each other.  So when I read through my notes on how to make this candy, what comes to mind is kindness, big dogs, and unfulfilled dreams.

** Debbie’s Butter Crunch Toffee **

  • 1 1/2 cups slivered almonds
  • 1/4 cup crushed almonds for topping
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup butter, no exceptions
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 1/4 lb melted semi-sweet chocolate
  • Candy Thermometer
  • ** Makes 2 lbs


  1. In a heavy saucepan cook the butter, sugar and water on medium-high heat.
  2. Cooking rapidly and stirring constantly this will gradually become thicker and caramel in color ~ cook steadily for about 10 minutes or until the mixture reaches the “hard crack” candy stage (300F).
  3. Stir slivered almonds into the caramel and pour onto the cookie sheet.
  4. Melt chocolate and spread over caramel.
  5. Note – (I usually melt the chocolate in double boiler – a small sauce pan sitting inside another saucepan of water set to medium hot — it will melt but not burn that way.  You can also microwave it).
  6. Before the chocolate topping hardens dust the entire mixture with finely crushed almonds.
  7. Let cool then break into pieces.
  8. Store in a covered container. Freezes well.


I live in the Great Lakes State and it is often too humid to make this — so don’t even attempt it on a humid day b/c you will have a dickens of a time getting the toffee to “set.”  I will make this when the temps drop again and it’s frigid and windy outside.    It’s also a perfect make-at-the-last-minute-bring-to-a-party-treat.   Thanks, Debbie.

What favorite recipe came to you in an unconventional way? Who comes to mind when you make it?



Categories: Animals, Friendship, Holidays, Joy, Personal, Recipes, Relationships, Thoughts | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments


Growing up,  Uncle Mac, my Mom’s brother, used the word “Luvee” with us.  It was most definitely a term of endearment and we stood taller and felt prettier whenever he said it.  Uncle Mac, smart and handsome, was an airline captain, flying trans-pacifically most of his career.  Younger than Mom, he and Auntie Janet would visit the farm with their girls some summers.  Striking and fashionable, they made a glamorous pair; their girls were fun and engaging, my age and younger, and those visits are remembered now with great affection.

Present day: I work full-time. My son and his ex work full-time. The grand-children go to school and day care .. full-time. And sometimes it feels like our time together is parceled, coming in bits and pieces.

But Wednesday night they were over for supper and a bit of a visit after that.  When big brother A got his homework out at the table with his Dad and Uncle, little one asked me to play.

And of course I said yes.

The dishes sat and the leftovers waited.

Taking her hand up the stairs, I called to her as I often do, “C’mon Luvee.”

And she replied as she often does, using my words, “C’mon Luvee” in her chirpy sing-songy little voice.

We played. We dressed in costumes.

We made up silly songs on the piano.

We talked and we cuddled and we dragged toys out of the closet.

And later, after all of us gathered once more, and after the hugs and the kisses and the groceries and the promises to get together again soon, she ran back to me and said, “Neena, you’re MY Luvee.”

And she’s right. That I am.

my Luvee.

my Luvee.

Do you have a familial “term of endearment” that’s made it through generations?

Categories: Faith, Family, Home, Joy, Life, Love, Thoughts, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Swept up in their joy

The grandchildren spent the night Sunday, the night before Christmas Eve.  As has been our tradition, Christmas Eve is spent here, Christmas Day is spent there, with her family. We were happy to maintain a semblance of normal, given that their parents have separated.   No reason the children should be.

It was a busy, bustling, giggly sort of night.  I could not have imagined two kids more excited to … go to bed!   Tumbling and laughing, down they went. And the next morning? Oh my … were they ever revved up.  We heard both older boys laughing at the sheer joy these little ones had just coming up the stairs, eager to get the day started.  Even Frankie had a prance in his paws.

As I look back over the past few days, I am happy the parents tried to be civil, that the littlest ones were thrilled and cozy and loved and we, that we couldn’t help but be swept up in their joy.

joyous grand-children; an emjayandthem photo

joyous grand-children; an emjayandthem photo

“We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today.” ~Stacia Tauscher

I hope your holiday festivities were joyous; the emjayandthem household has battled the flu bug (ugh!) but we are steadily and slowly recovering.

Have a great week my friends!

Categories: Family, Home, Life, Opinion, Personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Called to peace

It was with great sadness that we learned our boy and his wife are considering divorce.  I know there have been highs and lows and everything in-betweens, and that sometimes, sometimes relationships don’t work and the only solution is to step away.

As a woman and a mother who survived divorce, it is with the heaviest of hearts that I think about how things will move along.  I know about the stress, the uncertainty, and the loneliness.

There are children, two little ones, in the middle.  Yes, little guy is technically hers but still, it was our son who stepped in and fathered for the past four years.

He’s the one who taught him how to tie his shoes and build forts, to ride his bike without the training wheels and to not be afraid of thunder. And then there’s the wee one, baby MJ who came from this union. In her world, there has always been Mommy and Daddy and brother A.  I cannot tell you how much my heart breaks when I think about those two innocent bystanders watching wide-eyed as their world shifts.

These are the lessons I learned when I traversed the ugly world of divorce and these are the ones I hope to share with both him and her:

1. Kids always think that your divorce is their fault. If only they were tidier, went to bed on time, didn’t talk so much, you name it, kids will think they caused this.  What can you do?  Make sure they know how much they’re loved and that there’s nothing they could ever do to change how you feel about them.  You can’t do this by buying them stuff or just  showing up on occasion, you do this one way and one way only: spending T-I-M-E with them, listening, cuddling, laughing, playing, loving.

2. They will feel unsteady.  It’s important to keep their world small and constant – day care, friends, bed-time, snacks, routine, structure should stay the same as much as possible.  And they will need boundaries now more than ever. Why?  Because boundaries let them know someone cares enough to reel them in.

Hubbs was a child of divorce and one of the saddest stories he ever told me was the longing he felt as neighborhood kids were called in at suppertime .. because no one was home at his house, and no one called for him. The look on his face when he told that story, 30 some years later, haunts me.

Don’t fool yourself that you can just buy kids stuff they don’t need, cause they’ll see right through that:  they don’t want “quality time,” they want ALL of your time.

3. They will look to you for guidance.  Even when you’re scared, lonely or frustrated, (and you will be) you still must do what’s best for them.  Show them that you can get through this. When they see you getting through, they will, too. Let them know what to expect ahead of time and then do it: when you say you’re coming to get them at 6:00 be there early and not a minute later.   I missed one school party – one – as a single parent when my oldest boy was 5.   He doesn’t remember it but I’ve never forgotten it.

4.  Let them be kids.  They are not your counselors or your dates, they are kids and their shoulders are too little to carry your burdens. If you need support, and you will, join a support group and find other like-minded adults you can lean on.

5.  Never criticize or undermine the other parent.  Your children are half of you, but they are half of that other parent, too. Remember: when you attack the parent, you attack the child. Even though my ex gave me plenty to be frustrated over (no child support, frequently unemployed, never showed up for birthdays, holidays or most visitations), I had to bite my tongue and reassure my boy that he was loved and that we were going to have fun anyways.  When you call the other parent names, your children will take this to mean that part of them isn’t good, either.  What a terrible thing to do to a child!   As hard as someone makes it on you, you did love them enough once to create these little people: love the littlest ones enough to keep the snarkiness to yourself.

6. Two homes not a broken one.    Decide that your child is not coming from a broken home but instead, two homes.  Being sad and clingy when children leave for visitation does nothing but instill anxiety in them.  It is not their job to worry about you, it’s yours.  Grit your teeth, smile, hug them hard and let them go. And, on the flip side, make your new home as “homey” as you can. It doesn’t have to big, grand or luxurious. It just has to be home: familiar routine, toys and some space with you in it. Trust me on this.

7.  Both sides are right.  When I hear “You are wrong and I am right,” I know that somewhere in the middle lives the truth.

Maybe it’s better to separate; maybe then the bickering and the keeping-track will stop.

Maybe there will be peace.

“But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.” 1 Corinthians 7:15

Have you lived through a child’s divorce?  How did you cope with the heartache?

Categories: Faith, Family, Grief, Relationships, Thoughts | Tags: , , , , , | 45 Comments

I felt it

I had the southwestern salad; yumm-o!

I went out with some girlfriends for lunch today. It felt wonderful to get out of the house; the sun was shining and birds were chirping. 

As much as I enjoyed being out, at times, the conversation was painful because one is newly divorced after many years of marriage.  She’s out there – in the big, bad dating world. I don’t envy her.  This is someone who went from her parents home to her husband’s and who has never been on her own. Never.    There’s no rulebook for this.

Coming home, I couldn’t help but think of this old clip about blind dates, and be thankful that I’m not traversing those waters.  After all our reassurances that this is the “new normal,” I hope she sees this and I hope she laughs.  There’s not been enough laughter of late.

People say life’s too short.

The reality is life is too damn long if you’re miserable.  

I’m glad she’s happier now… and finding her new “normal.”  It’s not easy.. but it is possible.

And sometimes, it’s funny, too.

Categories: Attitude, Confidence at any age, Forgiveness, Friendship, Gratitude, Humor, Joy, Life, Opinion, Personal, Relationships, Seasons, Self Discovery, Thoughts, Uncategorized, Wisdom, Women | Tags: , , | 10 Comments

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