Ex, family, holidays

Mother’s Day isn’t always easy, is it?

Special thanks to my friend, Marguerite, for sharing today’s featured photo.

I didn’t post any fresh content on this blog yesterday. It was mostly because I spent a good portion of the morning writing new posts for my travel blog. Our trip to Italy was pretty intense. I took a lot of photos that needed to be uploaded, and I had stories that I wanted to share before I forget them. Adding photos on my WordPress travel blog is harder than it was on Blogger. Once I add pictures to a post, for some reason, it gets a lot harder and slower to add written content. It’s like the photos slow down the server, which they probably do. I’m definitely not a tech guru, though; so I can’t explain it.

My travel blog is a true labor of love. It currently gets very little traffic, even though there was a time when it was somewhat popular. But then I moved the blog to a new address and stopped promoting it so much. Then the pandemic happened, and we quit going places. A day after I spent all morning adding three posts, I see that I only have one or two hits– seriously– on my new posts. It’s a little depressing. Sometimes I wonder why I bother.

I remind myself, though, that above all else, the travel blog is for Bill and me. There will likely come a day when travel will become much harder or even impossible. We’ll either lack the money to go places, or our health will make it difficult… or, more likely, both situations will occur simultaneously. Maybe the blog will someday even be a source of pain for that reason. But, for now, I like to share the stories from our trips and preserve the memories. If other people like to read it, that’s a bonus. That blog might be the only worthwhile thing I do with my life. 😉

Maybe Bill’s younger daughter will want to read the travel blog sometime. She often asks Bill questions about our travels. Unfortunately, her upbringing left her somewhat culturally stunted, so she doesn’t know as much as she could about places outside of the United States. The other day, she asked Bill about which side of the road people drive on in Europe. Bill got visibly upset, and expressed sadness that she was never taught about life beyond the US. If she had grown up with Bill, he would have taught her. She would have seen Europe for herself. Ex doesn’t have the excuse of not knowing about Europe herself. She lived in Germany with her first ex husband, and with Bill. Her eldest child was born in Germany.

But, in spite of Ex’s platitudes about loving Scotland and humanity in general, the reality is, her kids were very sheltered. They were denied a lot of normal experiences that most kids in America experience. At the same time, they were often expected to deal with things that children should not have to deal with at all. It’s a real pity… but, on the bright side, at least younger daughter can talk to Bill whenever she wants to now. And he can now teach her some things she should have learned about years ago.

I think younger daughter would probably enjoy reading my travel blog more than this blog, anyway. It seems that I’m always trashing her mom. I do realize that while younger daughter may totally agree with a lot of my points, it’s still her mom that I regularly trash. I know that reading some of my passages might be painful for her. Or, maybe she might feel vindicated. She’s about to have her third baby. Bill said that his new grandson will be born sometime this month. I wonder how she feels about Mother’s Day, now that she’s a mom herself.

When Bill finally went to see younger daughter in March of 2020, they talked for two days straight. It had been 15 years since they were last in each other’s presence, and there was so much to discuss. There still is. Younger daughter has proven to be very astute in her observations. She is very clearly Bill’s child on many levels.

During the course of that visit, younger daughter observed that Bill voluntarily helped her in the kitchen. While they were washing dishes, she said, “Let me guess. When you and my mom were married, you did most of the work, didn’t you?”

Bill answered in the affirmative.

“When my mom comes here to visit, she just sits on the couch with her phone and complains. She never helps in the kitchen.” younger daughter continued. For some reason, she never calls her mother “mom”. She refers to her as “my mother” or “my mom”. She has also said that she doesn’t call her “mom” in front of her children. Instead, she calls her by her first name, and tries not to mention her.

She later told Bill that when she was growing up, she and older daughter were expected to do all of the housework, while Ex sat on her can. Ex’s daughter with her third husband apparently rarely helped them, either. One time, Bill’s daughters did the laundry and brought it into Ex’s bedroom. Ex said, “This is all well and good, but you should be putting the laundry away for me, too.” When she turned 18, younger daughter decided she had to get away from her mother. So, with help from some good people in the LDS church, she made her escape.

To younger daughter’s immense credit, I have observed the way she interacts with her own children. She’s a wonderful mom. The other day, she sent Bill a video from a park where the kids were playing. Her son, who will be five this year, could be heard off camera saying, “I had an accident.”

A lot of moms might have been annoyed by the interruption. I’m pretty sure my own mom would have been put out at having to clean up an “accident” at a park. But Bill said his daughter said, in a gentle tone of voice, “That’s okay. Let’s go find a bathroom and take care of that. No, don’t take your pants off here!” (giggle) And then she ended the video, so she could take care of her son.

Meanwhile, her little daughter was mugging for the camera, showing off her toy cell phones, and literally “shooing” away another kid who was bothering her. It’s just so obvious to me that Bill’s daughter is a wonderful, caring, involved mom. She’s made a point out of not being like her own mother, who would tell anyone who would listen how involved and devoted she is, telling her children to “follow their dreams”. The trouble is, Ex makes it impossible for her children to follow their dreams, and she tries to deny them access to people who can help them achieve their own desires for their lives. She expects them to stay close, and help her achieve HER wants and needs.

I know Mother’s Day isn’t easy for a lot of people. My own mom was never much into the role of motherhood. She would be the first to admit it, which is one thing I admire about her. You can say what you want about my mom, but she’s brutally honest and pragmatic, even with herself. I called her yesterday, and we had a brief chat, because she had promised her friend that she would have brunch with her. As we were about to ring off, my mom said, “Well, I wish we were closer, but we’re not… so…”

I think she meant “physically closer”, since I live on another continent, and we haven’t seen each other in person in almost seven years. But I think it could also mean “emotionally closer”. I saw a lot of people posting beautiful tributes to their mothers yesterday. I posted a few for my mom, too, because she is genuinely worthy of a mention. My mom is very, very creative, smart, and talented. She was a church organist for over fifty years, and she makes incredible and intricate creations with needles and threads. She ran a successful business for twenty-five years, without benefit of a bachelor’s degree. She spent 56 years married to my father, who was not an easy man to live with. And she raised four daughters who have basically turned out fine. Through it all, she managed to stay beautiful and youthful, and basically healthy and functional.

When I was growing up, she could be harsh and aloof, and I was expected to take care of myself. She was not a mom who would spoon feed me medicine when I was sick, double check my homework, or comfort me when I was sad. She was not maternal like that. However, she would be the first to admit that she wasn’t very gifted at motherhood. She used to tell me that my sisters and I grew up okay “in spite of” her. Wow. Talk about self-reflection.

This picture pretty much sums up our family…

When my father died in 2014, I watched my mom turn into a different person. I think she’s a lot happier. She’s definitely a lot easier to talk to now. I know she loved my dad, but like I said, he wasn’t easy to live with. She didn’t always have all of the choices she might have had if she had married someone else. Now that she’s a single person, she can do as she likes. She only has to worry about herself. That’s very freeing, and I’ve noticed that her disposition is much nicer these days. We have had a lot of nice conversations on Skype… which, weirdly, makes me feel closer to her now, than I felt when I saw her on a daily basis.

One of the things I love most about my mom is that she’s happy to let me live my life. She doesn’t expect me to live my life on her terms. She isn’t emotionally manipulative to me. I don’t get guilty emails or phone calls from her, shaming me for living so far away. For a long time, I thought she didn’t care much about me. But now I think she is just content to live independently, and is happy to let me do the same. As I’ve gotten older, my appreciation and respect for my mom has grown a lot. She’s a remarkable person, even if she’s not the most maternal woman in the world. I’ve learned a lot from her. I’m grateful that my feelings about my mom have improved as I’ve gotten older. She’s very honest about who she is, and that’s a good thing. I much prefer my very honest and painfully pragmatic mom, to Ex’s bullshit facade that she puts on for everyone who shouldn’t be important in her life. Above all, my mom is, deep down, a good person. She’s not a great mother, but she’s a very good person. Now that I’m a middle aged person myself, I appreciate that about my mom.

This is a weird post. I know it might not go over very well. I’ve never been very good at presenting the best image. Maybe I just inherited my mom’s pragmatism and bluntness.

Anyway, I hope those of you who celebrated Mother’s Day had a great day. And if Mother’s Day is painful for you, for ANY reason, I wish you peace and comfort. Mother’s Day isn’t always easy.

Time to end this post and move on to my travel blog. I still have several more days to write about…

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Ex, holidays, LDS, lessons learned, mental health

When the only flags you see are red…

I apologize in advance for going a bit off the rails in this post… I’m still kind of triggered by how all of this turned out, although I would say we mostly have had a happy ending of sorts.

This morning, I watched a YouTube video by Exmo Lex. I’ve written about her a couple of times in the past year. She’s an ex Mormon whose husband’s family disowned her and her husband because they don’t want to be LDS anymore. Although the video below is about Mormonism, I was a little triggered by it for other reasons, which I will explain in the following paragraphs.

This is a theme I’ve been a little triggered by lately…

Some regular readers may know that my husband, Bill, and I have been through a similar situation. Bill’s kids disowned him when they were still minors. One of the children, now an adult, and ironically an active member of the LDS church, has resumed a relationship with Bill. The other adult child remains estranged, although she and her mother have no problem continuing to glom on to Bill’s father’s family. Personally, I think it’s very sad, because one would think after so many years, these people would catch on to the fact that Ex is only interested in relationships that benefit her. It’s happened over and over again… that all too familiar cycle of abuse. And the one thing that really punctuates it is the complete lack of respect and regard for other people’s boundaries that Ex demonstrates time and again.

I KNOW that eventually, Ex will discard the people she’s reconnected with; although she never totally severs any connections– probably due to a fear of abandonment and constant need for narcissistic supply– she also never stays close. There is always some kind of eventual falling out that leads to her victims’ eventual discard. But the discards, unfortunately, are never permanent. She always comes back like a bad case of herpes. And she comes back, not because she loves, or even likes, her targets. She comes back because she needs something. Usually, it’s money, or someone else to do her dirty work.

This post wasn’t supposed to be just about Ex, though. It’s about red flags, and signs that indicate that a relationship is “toxic” and needs to be ended. A few days ago, the person who runs the Reddit Ridiculousness Facebook page shared a recent entry from Reddit’s popular AITA (am I the asshole) page. It was about a woman whose husband’s family regularly excluded her from family dinners, while they welcomed her husband’s brothers’ girlfriends. The poster got angry because, once again, she was being dissed. So she decided to go to the same restaurant where her husband was dining with his family and have a steak. Naturally, this upset her husband and his family, who no doubt realized that this was a rather pointed indication that the OP was tired of the disrespect. Still, the husband had the NERVE to get pissed off at his wife for having a steak in the same restaurant where he was dining with his parents and brothers and their girlfriends. Here’s a link to the original post on Reddit.

When I read this the other day, before the update about her leaving her husband was posted, I was reminded of the time Ex “invited” Bill and me to his father’s house in Tennessee for Christmas, and how totally disrespectful it was. Back in 2004, Ex had decided that this was the best way for Bill to enjoy “visitation” with his kids. She and #3 and their baby would be in attendance and there would be stuff going on, making it impossible for Bill to bond with his children and/or influence them in any way. When this happened, Bill and I had only been married for two years, and Bill still hoped he would be able to stay in his daughters’ lives. He knew that if he didn’t attend the holiday gathering, his ex wife would punish him.

For several weeks, I debated as to what I should do. After all, I am Bill’s wife, not Ex. And since I am Bill’s wife, those were now my in-laws, not hers. Yet, here she was, inviting Bill to his own father’s house. It really infuriated me, not just because of her fucking gall, but also because Christmas 2003 was spent with my family, and it had not gone well. I knew that if I went to the Christmas gathering at FIL’s house, and had to spend several days with Ex, yet another holiday would be ruined. I also knew that Bill’s kids weren’t interested in getting to know me, and would never have the chance to get to know me during that trip, which we also couldn’t afford, due to the enormous amount of child support Bill was paying. So, I finally decided that I would not attend. We didn’t tell the in-laws or Ex, because we didn’t want her to cancel the trip. Bill wanted to see his daughters. We knew that part of the reason she had cooked up this little scheme was because she wanted to get a look at me and an idea of what she could get away with.

So I stayed home, and Bill went to Tennessee alone to see his kids. It turned out to be the LAST time he would see them until March 2020, when Bill was finally able to visit his younger daughter in Utah. During that visit at Christmas 2004, younger daughter refused to speak to Bill. #3 was a perfect asshole to Bill, treating him with disdain in his own father’s home. And Ex bent SMIL’s ear about how I had “snubbed” the family by refusing to come. By the time she was finished, Ex had SMIL blaming ME for that fiasco. I had nothing to do with it. I didn’t plan it, nor did anyone even ask me what I thought about it. I was just expected to show up and smile, no matter what.

Many people told me I should have gone to that Christmas gathering and tried to be friendly with Ex. I remember on RfM, a poster took me to task when I wrote about this situation in 2011. She claimed I had “made up” the story, and it was my fault that everything fell apart. This was what the poster got from my anecdote:

You are making this up – you did not cooperate and you will never know what kind of effect it would have had. You thinking it would have had no positive effect is your way of justifying what you did. Right or wrong – you will never know. When it comes to my ex having a relationship with his kids, I will never get in the way, but I am not like a lot of ex’s I have heard of.

You may have had a positive influence, but you will never know. I am a bit inclined to agree that ‘no good would have come of it’ it is pretty clear that was your intention all along – based on results.

I am also certain you would not have had a good time – you had no intention of doing so. You can only control you and making shit up to justify your behavior is only that – making it up.

Then, when I pointed out to the poster that she doesn’t know me or the other people involved, she insisted that I was in the wrong… and was making up this story. She reiterated that it was MY FAULT that Christmas 2004 was a disaster, because I didn’t cooperate with Ex, turn the other cheek, and let her treat me with disrespect. The person did eventually come around after hours of arguing with me and other RfM posters, but it took some real doing to convince her. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people are programmed this way. They think that giving in to controlling manipulators, who are abusive and mistreat other people, is the best way to attain peace and positive results. I eventually told her to fuck off, and this was her response.

No attitude at all, I am just saying that she was so sure it would be bad that she got to be right. Sheesh – tell me to fuck off if that makes you feel better. IMO this is a case of an unwillingness to be accountable. The outcome may have been much more positive had she set boundaries while still going. One will never know and speculation is all that is going on here. IMO pridefulness got in the way of everything. The end result is that her DH has no relationship with his children and IMO that is a tragedy.

Feel free to blast me, but get accountable here and stop acting like the victim.

As I mentioned before, I wasn’t the one who had come up with this plan. No one asked me for my opinion about it. I was just ordered to show up for it, even though it was incredibly disrespectful and inconsiderate on many levels. And the reason I was being expected to show up was supposedly for the kids’ sakes. But honestly, how many kids really want to see their stepparents on the biggest holiday of the year that badly, especially if they don’t have a relationship with them? It would have been one thing if they knew me and were eager to see me. But at that point– and still today– I had only met them in person once. My not being there wasn’t going to make any difference to them. It would only matter to the adults– FIL, SMIL, and Ex, and Ex only wanted me there because she wanted me to be in a controlled environment where, she expected, I would rein myself in and not cause a scene. The in-laws just wanted permission to invite Ex so they could keep seeing the grandchildren. My feelings didn’t matter, because in their minds, I was the interloper– even though I had NOTHING to do with the divorce. It was as if because I came second, I should simply tolerate blatant disrespect as a matter of course. Well, that’s simply not in my DNA anymore.

And actually, I don’t think I was “acting like a victim”. In fact, I avoided being a victim, because I could see through Ex’s scheme and didn’t show up like a lamb to slaughter, setting myself up for yet another shitty Christmas. There is no way Ex and I would have gotten along, because Ex isn’t a normal person, and she wasn’t willing to cooperate with Bill on any level. What kind of person invites herself to someone else’s home, demands to be allowed to stay there, even though it’s her ex husband’s family’s home, and then demands that her ex husband and his new wife show up to observe the biggest holiday of the year? It’s absolute lunacy! And it took incredible nerve and entitlement– as well as willing flying monkeys– to pull it off. In the years that followed, Ex tried to get Bill to sign papers that would have allowed #3 to legally adopt the girls. Of course, I doubt Ex would have filed the papers, because that would have meant no more of Bill’s generous child support. As it was, she got the girls to legally change their last names. BUT… SMIL has forgotten all about that, and has allowed that bitch into her house again. She has apparently believed Ex’s lies about her own stepson.

When another RfM commenter wrote that she wasn’t sure if I did the right thing, I responded with this:

I am not asking anyone to “agree” with what I did. The fact is, a lot of people didn’t agree with what I did. I second guessed my decision myself for awhile, until it became very clear that the Christmas gathering was a trap set by a narcissist who sought to control me and my husband.

Here are the facts. My husband’s ex has a long history of putting people in awkward situations and exploiting them. A year before my husband and I met, the Ex served my husband divorce papers at his father’s house over Easter. The children were there for “that” little spectacle, too.

I did not plan that Christmas gathering. I was just expected to attend, whether I wanted to be there or not. Visitation of the kids was an issue that was between my husband and his ex wife. I had nothing to do with it. I am not their parent and THAT was made abundantly clear from the very beginning.

I would have liked to have had a relationship with them, but I wasn’t about to have one on my husband’s ex wife’s terms. That would have set us up for years of her violating boundaries.

It seems to me that if the Ex wanted me to “bond” with her and her husband, along with the kids, she would have picked a holiday with fewer expectations, less religious significance, less pressure, and less stress– say, Memorial Day or July 4th. She would have chosen a neutral location. She would have asked ALL of the adults who were involved if they agreed with the arrangements, instead of just expecting everyone to comply with her demands without question. She would have approached this situation with a lot more respect for EVERYONE, not just me.

When someone advised me to ignore the woman who kept telling me how “wrong” I was to skip the Christmas gathering, she wrote:

That’s not what I’m saying, what I am saying is that her attitude and attendance could or could not have made a difference. His children have been told to demonize her and she did not show her face to present anything different. Had she gone and chosen to act like an adult, they would have seen she is not the horrible person their mother has told them she is. They did not get that chance because she refused to attend. I am just not one to say that pouting, stomping your feet, and saying I will not set aside my own pride for the sake of my husbands children is a good thing. You all can say that all you want, I just don’t agree.

ETA – Many divorced couples are setting aside their differences and attending events together in order to create a win/win. My ex and I do this, my daughter and her ex and her new bf’s ex do this. It’s a healthy thing IMO – it shows that adults can set aside their differences and create something better.

Mmm’kay… so “acting like an adult” means that I should simply tolerate abusive bullshit from my husband’s ex wife? That means that we give up precious vacation and family time to put up with her schemes, no matter how completely horrible and sick they are? My mental health doesn’t matter? Wow… unbelievable. I might have agreed with the poster if Ex was a normal person. She’s not a normal person, and this wasn’t a friendly invitation. It amazes me that this person is so sure that, not knowing any of the people involved in this scenario, we could all just come together in harmony, and that the whole thing hinged on me. What was really important is that Bill was able to see his kids. I didn’t need to be there for that. And I don’t think I was a victim. I think Ex is an enormous asshole who uses her children and other people to feed her need for control. She should have sent the kids on a plane, but she refused to do that. She had to be in the middle of it, controlling everything. Sorry, but as an adult, I don’t have to sign up to be under her control. Fuck that, and fuck the poster who apparently thinks that having a “golden uterus” entitles Ex to call the shots.

Someone finally spelled it out to the clueless poster who blamed me for the Christmas disaster. She wrote:

“My husband was trying really hard to nail down visitation with his daughters. He truly loved his kids and wanted to see them, but his ex kept shooting down all his proposed visitations. “

His ex was making it difficult for him to see his kids.

You’re projecting your situation on hers, and then condemning her for not being able to do what you were able to do, bigred. THE OP was working with a deck stacked against her. There was never going to be a positive way out of this one – the ex was clearly not interested in keeping things civil and wanted to be in control of everything (right down to dictating how she’d be staying in OP’s DH’s family home!)

She was right to back out of the situation to keep herself out of the equation. Remember – they’re not her kids, and he doesn’t have primary custody, so the term “stepmother” would be so incredibly loose as best that she had no right to get in the middle there.

There was a history of problems, and she rightly stepped back out of them.

The ex poisoned her kids against the husband, and used the OP as fodder for more negativity. The OP couldn’t have done a single thing here, other than make things worse if she stepped into it.

There was a lot more to that post. I’m still kind of triggered by it, even though I wrote it eleven years ago, and it was about an incident that happened in 2004. It’s not easy being a second wife and stepmother. It was especially hard for me in the early days, because so many people assume that second wives are abusive homewreckers. Bio moms and first wives are often automatically assumed to be victims, when that isn’t always the case. Ex uses that “First Wives Club” idea to promote her own agenda. One person wrote this– again assuming that I caused this shit, and projecting their thoughts onto our situation. I promise you, I didn’t cause this.

Whenever I hear the term ‘alienation’ I see it used as a way to trivialize any legitimate feelings the children have and lump them all on the ‘offending’ parent.

If my dad left my home, moved halfway across the country, and started a whole new life with some stranger, spending more time with her than me (as a daughter myself, I have no doubt that these girls saw this as ‘dad loves her more than us’ thing) I think I would be hurt and angry too.

I doubt the ‘evil ex’ had to do much, if anything, to ‘get’ those girls to write off their dad. I also have to wonder how much of the craziness/anger with the ex has to do with her being upset that her children are so upset.

I know this shit usually takes two, I just always have to wonder what the other side of the story is and why this dad had, according to the story, spent so little time with his kids in the last 2 years. He got married and had not one, but two kids with this woman. Did she just turn crazy after the divorce? I’m sure he played no part in it, he was just an Innocent bystander, right?

Sorry to say this, knotheadusc, but as far as those kids are concerned, you ARE an interloper. You got involved with a man who was already in a committed relationship, a father/minor daughter relationship. The kids haven’t been ‘alienated’ by a wicked ex, they are human, and for all intent and purpose, you stole their daddy. At least that’s how it feels to them.

So, the above person hasn’t heard of people in the military, who usually have to move at least every three years? Ex also moved after the divorce. She went the opposite direction, and lived in a state where there are very few military installations. She demanded so much child support that we couldn’t afford to visit. The courts weren’t involved in their divorce, other than to approve the filing, and we didn’t have the time or money to use them to force her to allow visitation. And after a divorce, Mom can get remarried, but Dad can’t? And somehow, this is all MY fault? Ex demanded the divorce, and I didn’t even know Bill in person when it happened. Later, we learned from younger daughter that Ex had pretty much forced her and her sister to be alienated. They weren’t naturally inclined to be that way.

Finally, Bill decided to explain, and that was when the thread blessedly ended… the woman who took me to task eventually apologized in another thread.

knotheadusc’s husband here.

While I appreciate that it’s human nature to “armchair general” other people’s actions, knot and I are the only folks here who where there and know the entire story. It is not so cut and dried.

I reentered the Army toward the end of my ninth year of marriage to the ex. Even though our marriage had almost deteriorated past the point of no return and I was living in a toxic environment, I was still willing to save it (for the sake of the children, no less). I was offered (really ordered) to an assignment in a neighboring state, and I asked (really begged) her to pack everything up, get rid of the money-pit house that was falling down around us and go with me. She refused.

We were geographically separated for five months before she served me divorce papers. In that time, she succeeded in packing up and sending out all my things, removing pictures of me and my mother from the house and from photo albums, telling the kid’s teachers and other Ward members and Bishopric that I had just “left”. She tried to convince my family that I was a sick and abusive misogynist, and some of them bought it. I began to see that she was shaping an environment whereby I’d be isolated from family and friends, and the only way to break that isolation would be to comply with her demands, reenter the toxic environment, and “shut up and color”.

Read Orwell much?

Two months after serving me papers she packed up the kids, abandoned the house (oh yeah, I was paying the mortgage too) and moved to AZ. Why? Don’t know–neither of us have any family there. However, her move created a complex problem set to visitation. First, I just started a new job and people aren’t successful in their jobs if they are never there. Then there was distance–I couldn’t have my kids over every other weekend or go see them for that matter, just “on a whim”. Economics. Knot did mention that after paying the mortgage, alimony and child support I had about $600 left over, right? Still, I was able to see them five times during those first two years.

The I moved to VA and got married. 9/11 became an excuse for her to deny my requests to fly the kids to the East Coast. If I wanted to see them, then I had to come out there. She was the mom and “knew better”. Frankly, I didn’t have the money or the time to take her to court. And losing my job over it briefs well as a Lifetime Movie script, but it really would have been irresponsible.

So the Christmas idea was all hers, brought up while we were negotiating visitation. She played it off as a “win-win”–they’d get to see their parents, and knot and I could be there too (she never said that the kids wanted to see me or their stepmother). I didn’t want to do it at first. I’d known the ex at that time for over 18 years and understood what she intended to do. She was shaping my parent’s house as a “killing ground” of sorts. She was bringing her husband and the kids she had with him. So, if knot and I showed up, the ex would monopolize all my parent’s time, bring up the past (remember when we…), and do all she could to probe knot while pushing her to the periphery. Her husband was there to enforce loyalty binds and he did so, working his best to take my kids’ attention from me. Christmas was miserable, and later I told my parents that I would never do that again. But it was the only way to see my children.

This has all been a bunch of TL;DR, but life is about making choices and dealing with the risks involved. I made choices and accepted risk that other folks may disagree with.

But they weren’t there.

Incidentally, Bill recently sent his younger daughter– the one who wouldn’t speak to him during that Christmas visit– a box full of goodies. This morning, we got to see a video with her and her two kids. When we were in France last month, I found a block of gingerbread flavored chocolate, which came with a little wooden hammer that can be used to break the chocolate into pieces. The kids love it! And they were so adorable, saying hi, smiling, and waving. Bill is going to tell his daughter how to make a kugelhopf, since we sent her a form. She thought it was for making juice! You see? Sometimes, these stories have happy endings.

I really didn’t mean to write about this again today… but Exmo Lex’s video about red flags and the Reddit Ridiculous post really brought it all back to me. Conventional wisdom often turns out to be wrong in some situations. I know I was right not to give in to Ex’s manipulation tactics. I was right not to let her control me, or really, to allow her anywhere in my presence. She’s toxic; the red flags are there, and as I wrote in that post, someone has to stay out of the vortex… or on the side of the quick sand pit. I just wish we hadn’t been put in that situation in the first place. Sometimes, being “nice” and cooperative only leads to heartbreak. You often have to use your head to avoid hurting your heart. That’s my motto, and the moral of the story… and with that, I will close today’s post. If you made it to the end, thank you very much for reading.

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holidays

The last day of 2021… (cross post)

This post also appears on the travel blog, since I have different readers there. The featured photo is of cookies the landlord brought us.

I’m getting a late post up today. I was actually thinking of taking off the last day of 2021. I didn’t have anything earth shattering on my mind that I felt compelled to write about. Bill had the day off, and we were both kind of tired. Bill was especially tired, since he never gets a full night’s sleep. So I worked on reading my book, and he took a nap. Later, he’ll fire up the fondue/raclette grill set I got him for Christmas, and we’ll try it out. He’s already used the new hot tea pot I got him. He’s drinking tea as I write this.

Bill and Arran, preparing for tonight…

Arran took a nap with us, while Noyzi tried to steal my brand new fuzzy slippers. I think he thinks they’re small animals. I might let him take them, but he’s already eaten a couple of toys. The emergency vet is the last place we want to go tonight.

I managed to accomplish a couple of other chores, too. After I worked on trying to rid the toilet of lime scale and calcium stains, I went on Amazon.de and bought some citric acid, as well as cleaning soda and salt. Today, I tried the acid on a really terrible hard water stain in the shower that I’ve never been able to get rid of. I poured the acid on the stain and, wouldn’t you know it? That stain was gone in minutes! There’s no trace of it. I think it’s a wonder drug. It’s hard to believe it’s taken seven years to figure this out. Vinegar is good, but citric acid is the bomb! And it’s cheap, too!

I also climbed up on a stepladder in the shower and knocked the calcium off the shower head jets, so the nice rainfall spray won’t squirt all over the place anymore. Now, the new shower head is as nice as it was in September, when it was installed.

I heard that fireworks weren’t supposed to be sold in German stores again this year. Like last year, the government wants to discourage people from setting off fireworks, because they don’t want people getting hurt and needing to go to the hospital, thanks to COVID. I suspect there will be fireworks, anyway… Germans are law abiding people, but they love fireworks on New Year’s Eve. I think that’s pretty much the only day they are allowed to be set off, at least by the regular rank and file folks. I seem to remember that there were fireworks last year, despite the ban on them.

Our New Year’s celebrations are usually pretty boring affairs. We spend them much the same way we spend any night at home… listening to music, drinking wine, and talking.

I’m hoping 2022 will be a better year for everyone… although 2021 wasn’t, for me, a particularly bad year. I’ve had worse. But this COVID-19 shit needs to be fixed. Hopefully, 2022 will bring us some breakthroughs.

In any case… I want to offer sincere thanks to everyone who’s been reading my blogs. This site, in particular, has really taken off this year! In the past month or so, I’ve had an explosion in traffic. That really does my heart good, and makes writing this blog worth the time and effort.

The travel blog has been somewhat less trafficked this year, but I can understand why. I haven’t been traveling as much… nor have many other people! I’m sure the traveling we have done may even be a downer for some folks. I know some people suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out), and it can be depressing to look at other people’s travel posts when travel is so potentially risky and definitely stressful. I am very grateful, though, that we finally managed to go to Croatia. I hope we can visit again. There are more places I want to see. And with any luck and maybe God’s grace, if you’re into God, that is– maybe COVID-19 will be more under control by this time next year.

I’m still making music, too… Been getting better with my guitar skills and can even play some songs. There are some times when I find myself playing things completely spontaneously. I still have plenty of learning to do, which is a good thing. And I’ve also found someone to collaborate with on YouTube, too, which is very rewarding. Maybe I’ll put up a new song or two, now that I have new gear. Maybe I’ll try to learn bass guitar and banjo, too… if the virus continues to spread, I might have to do something else to pass the time.

Well… I don’t have much else to say, except…

I wish everyone a happy and healthy New Year’s Eve, and a very fortuitous New Year’s Day… and 2022!

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family, holidays, mental health

I refuse to let anyone mess up my holidays, and it’s a good policy to have!

I hope everyone reading my blog post enjoyed their holiday yesterday… those who celebrated, anyway. I know not everyone enjoys Christmas. There was a time in my past when it wasn’t such a fun holiday for me. I would say that for most of my 20s, I wasn’t a Christmas fan. I found it to be more of a burden than anything else. In those years, I was still single, and Christmas meant spending money I didn’t have on gifts for people I didn’t know that well anymore, and without fail, at least one dramatic or traumatic altercation with someone from my family of origin.

Christmas got dramatically better for me from about the year 2005. That was the first year after I resolutely decided that I would never again let someone else fuck up my holidays. I have stubbornly stuck to that resolution, and it works really well. It helps that we live in another country now, so no one expects us to take part in Christmas gatherings anymore. Our Christmases are just Bill and me and the dogs, with lots of wine, beer, music, and good food… and presents that don’t have any weird messages or symbols attached to them. There aren’t any arguments. There aren’t any manipulative ploys for attention. There’s nothing but us, enjoying each other and our very compatible and comfortable marriage. It’s peaceful and freeing, just the way I love it. We don’t even bother with church.

I know we’re beyond blessed. I’ve read more than a few angsty posts from people who find Christmas unbearably overwhelming and annoying. I’ve seen a few newspaper articles about how to handle Christmas with obnoxious relatives, which is even trickier this year, since vaccinations against COVID-19 are available and not everybody agrees with taking them. Christmas shouldn’t be something to endure… but for some people, it really is.

Unfortunately, COVID vaccines are just one more issue that divides people, which causes stress in family units. My own family of origin isn’t immune to it. My mom said that one of my sisters invited her to spend Christmas with her family, but this sister isn’t vaccinated and refuses to consider getting the shots. My mom is in her 80s and lives in an assisted living apartment. She doesn’t want to be around unvaccinated people, because she doesn’t want to get sick. My sister also lives in another state, and mom doesn’t want to drive there. So she decided to stay home… which is fine for her, since she’s a very independent person. I’ll probably call her later today to see how it went for her.

Bill talked to his daughter on Skype on Christmas Eve. They had a great chat. Younger daughter said she was very happy with the gifts that Bill and his mom sent to her. She said she was pleased with the gifts, because they were just gifts. There was no weird hidden meaning or guilt message attached. Bill sent toys for her kids, some German candy that isn’t available in the USA, a gift card for a restaurant so she and her husband can have a date night, and a big box of Lebkuchen, German gingerbread. Younger daughter said the Lebkuchen was a huge hit, since she’s pregnant, and the ginger is soothing to her stomach. She said that her mom would buy it in the past, but it was always stale. The box Bill sent was fresh, and much to our surprise, got to her very quickly.

She said that her mother also sent gifts… and then she asked Bill if he ever got gifts from Ex that had “hidden meanings”. Bill chuckled knowingly, because he remembered quite a few occasions when his ex wife sent gifts that weren’t bringing tidings of joy.

He told me about how, back when they first separated in 1999, Ex was letting #3 stay at the home that Bill was still paying the mortgage on. She told Bill not to come home. Instead, they would meet at my father-in-law’s house, and have Christmas there. Under the tree were presents for Bill from the kids… But they were items that Bill already owned. When he left their house to go back into the Army, he left a lot of his stuff there. And instead of sending the items to him, Ex simply wrapped them up and had the kids put their names on the packages. Then she put them under the tree, disguised as gifts. There he sat on Christmas morning 1999, unwrapping the Star Wars VCR tapes that he’d already owned and had watched with ex stepson.

At the time, Bill just blew it off. He figured she was just being a petty bitch. But then he realized that Ex was also doing all she could to eliminate his presence in the family. She threw out photos of him and even stole the one that younger daughter used to sleep with. She cut his image out of pictures. Older daughter once remarked that she had forgotten what he looked like, because Ex was doing her best to erase him… even as she demanded $2550 a month from him in child support, which she received on time, every month, in full, and with no complaint.

For years, I was so disgusted by the cruel things she did. But now, I know that this is the kind of treatment everyone eventually gets from her. She does the same thing to her own children. I don’t know what she sent younger daughter, but I can imagine that whatever it was, it was intended to make her feel shitty. Or, at least, GUILTY.

I have mentioned before that Ex has a habit of ruining treasured childhood relics, like storybooks and music. Bill used to read a book to his children when they were small. It was a book about forgiveness. Just before Bill went to Iraq, Ex sent him the book, with a really cryptic shitty message. She wouldn’t encourage the kids to speak to him. Instead, she had them write him letters disowning him, then she sent him a book to remind him of them… and just before he went to a place where he could have been killed. For weeks, I had to look at that book in our home. I finally told Bill to do something with it so I didn’t have to see it, or I would be throwing it out. He ended up sending it back to her with a note that read, “You need this more than I do.” BRAVO! That was the last time she ever sent him a poisonous package.

Unfortunately, it sounds like she’s still up to her old tricks. I feel sad for Bill’s daughters, and the three other kids Ex has had, but was apparently never satisfied with and just wants to torment. I don’t know what drives her to be the way she is. Some of it, I’m sure, is mental illness… but some of it is just plain mean and cruel. How sad it is that one of the things Bill can bond with his daughter over is the mental fuckery perpetrated by Ex.

Lest anyone think this is going to be another one of my Ex trashing posts… I will now move on to an anecdote about my own family. I’ve written the story many times about what happened in my own family, back in 2003. That was the year I swore off gatherings with my family of origin.

One of my sisters had asked for a ride to Gloucester with us. We obliged, but I told her that if there was a fight, we’d be leaving. Sure enough, hours after we arrived, there was a fight.

Besides the fight, which made the tension in the house unbearable, Bill and I were relegated to the very uncomfortable sleeper sofa in the freezing cold room which had once been a garage. It had been rebuilt into an office, but had poor insulation. I had started my period , and that room wasn’t near a bathroom. I just wanted to be in my own house.

Bill and I resolved to leave the next day. The sister who came with us didn’t want to go home early, and tried to manipulate us into staying. She wanted us to take her shopping. I refused, so she threw a huge tantrum… I mean HUGE! There was screaming, swearing, melting down, and it was like something I would have expected from a toddler.

However, instead of giving in, as I had in the past, I turned to Bill and said, “Come on, let’s just go.” And we did. We left her at my parents’ house. She had to find another way home, which I understand involved taking a bus. She was a woman in her 40s at the time. She and I have talked about that incident just once since it happened. In her version of the story, I was blaming her for our other sister’s fight with me.

I saw our spat from an entirely different perspective. I had told her ahead of time that I was not willing to stay at the house if there was any fighting. My sister had agreed to those conditions. Then, when there predictably was a fight, she tried to change the terms to ones that suited her, even though we had done her a favor by driving her down there, and she had agreed to our conditions.

When I refused to acquiesce to her demands, she had two choices– she could either come with us, or she could find her own way home. When she threw a tantrum, we determined that she’d rather stay in Gloucester… and I sure as hell didn’t need her in my car for hours, complaining non-stop as we drove back to northern Virginia. At the time, that was a very traumatic event, but it was a good thing it happened. Christmas 2003 was what gave me the courage to deal with Ex during Christmas of 2004, when she tried to ruin our holiday.

In 2004, Ex tried to manipulate me into attending Christmas at Bill’s dad’s house. She told us to get a hotel room, since she and the kids and #3 would be staying at the house. She refused to listen to Bill when he said it was a terrible idea. She expected me to show up, even though she never even asked me what I thought of it. It occurred to me that I LOVE my immediate family, but I didn’t even want to do Christmas with them again. I sure as hell didn’t want to do it with Ex, her husband, the kids, and my in-laws. I realized that if I went, it would be yet another disastrous holiday season.

I told Bill I would not be attending the gathering, but he should go and see his daughters. He went… and it was pretty dreadful, although not as dreadful as it would have been if I had gone, too. Bonus– we saved a lot of money because I stayed home with the dogs. I finally learned that obligatory, “forced family time is not always the best idea”…

What am I trying to say here? It’s that the holidays belong to everyone. You have the right to enjoy your holiday, just as much as anyone else does. And if family gatherings cause stress, strife, or cause you to go into unwanted debt, you have the right to opt out… to protect your own sanity. Christmas is optional.

I remember how, back in the days when I felt like I had to spend Christmas at home, it would always take some time to recover. Sometimes it took a few days. Sometimes, it was weeks. The year that we left my sister at my parents’ house, it was a year before she spoke to me again. But, she probably doesn’t realize that I rather enjoyed the silence. Nowadays, she mostly treats me with more respect, which is really all I ever could have hoped for in the first place.

But she did send me a private message with a little drama in it this year… she told me about how, a few years ago, our mom called her up and yelled at her, and brought my name into it. She said that mom was upset about how my sister refused to cooperate with the annual family tradition. My sister insinuated that it was because our brother-in-law had abused her cat when they came the year prior. Brother-in-law doesn’t think animals belong inside. He also enjoys watching us fight.

Anyway, I wasn’t there to see what happened, so I don’t know his side of the story. The bottom line is, because of what had happened during a previous holiday, she decided to stay home, and she claimed that our mom called her up and bitched. She was supposedly “shocked” that sister hadn’t wanted to celebrate, “Especially since Jenny…” then she stopped herself.

My comment was, “Because Jenny what? Because I don’t spend holidays at home anymore? I have DONE my time.” As the youngest, I went to all the graduations, while my graduations usually weren’t attended by my sisters. I used to be the one sister everyone could count on to be there. But that last Christmas in 2003 was the last straw. I refuse to let anyone mess up my holidays.

I stay in my house, sleep in my own comfortable bed, eat what I want, drink what I want, wear what I want, and listen to whatever music I want to… and there is NO fighting… and no stupid manipulative bullshit or guilt tripping or mean remarks about how I need to go on a diet, put on makeup, or fix my hair. There are no intrusive questions about how I can afford my lifestyle or critical, judgmental remarks about things I say, or the way I laugh, or anything else. I can simply be myself, and be appreciated for the person I am… and the person I am is really not so bad.

I am all for holidays without stress, guilt, tension, fighting, manipulation, crying jags, physical blows, temper tantrums, or lies. Ever since I decided that I’m an adult and I deserve these things, life has been better. Ever since we decided that the holidays are for us to enjoy, too, Bill and I have found Christmas to be a lot better… and much more fun! And I haven’t felt the need to read or write to an advice column, asking for help on how to deal with my relatives since…

Last night, the most stressful event was at the end of the evening, as Bill struggled to keep his eyes open. He just looked like a pissed off teddy bear, and it was absolutely ADORABLE. That’s the kind of thing I like to see on Christmas. Here’s hoping that’s how it will be from now on. Any friends or family members who are game for that kind of celebration are welcome. The rest can make drama among themselves and leave us out of it.

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complaints, family, holidays

That “damned ham”, and our crappy Thanksgiving… Things are looking better today, though.

Our Thanksgiving dinner was not much better than Charlie Brown’s… This post is probably going to be depressing, so I offer fair warning.

I hope everyone who celebrated Thanksgiving had a good day yesterday. Our Thanksgiving, quite frankly, kind of sucked. It’s partly my fault, I guess. Bill and I just never got around to making any concrete plans for what we were going to make for the holiday. He bought a two pound raw ham, because it’s just us, and we don’t have tons of refrigerator space. Then, as the afternoon got later, I reminded Bill that it was Thanksgiving, and he said he’d bought the ham. This was “special”, because we almost never have ham that wasn’t sliced for sandwiches at the deli. Other than that, we had our usual mashed potatoes and peas, and no rolls, gravy, special dessert or anything.

That “damned ham” wasn’t that great. It had kind of a gray look to it, which gave me the willies. I’m used to ham that is pink. But it turned out the ham wasn’t spoiled or anything. I’m just not used to having one that isn’t cured. It was a bit dry and tasteless. I would have preferred roasted duck or chicken, I guess. Oh well.

Last year, we ordered our Thanksgiving dinner from a local restaurant that caters to Americans. This year, we didn’t see their ad for the dinner until it was too late to order. I also remember that last year, we had leftovers forever. Even half a turkey is too much for us to finish on our own, and it came with a bunch of sides. The food was delicious, but way more than enough for us.

I used to really enjoy cooking and was good at it, but Bill kind of took over that task some years ago. And he’s been working a lot and, I guess, was kind of tired and didn’t think to do anything particularly special yesterday. Neither of us really thought about what we should do for the holiday. He looked so tired last night that I suggested ordering sushi or something, but he said he wanted to cook the ham. So he did… At least the wine was good. We had an Amarone from Tuscany.

And we later had a talk that was kind of like this… Bill will probably never live down that “damned ham”, which wasn’t salty at all…

Thanksgiving used to be my favorite holiday. I used to love visiting my extended family in Virginia, hanging out with my aunts, uncles, cousins, and beloved Granny. Now, a number of aunts and uncles and my Granny are dead, and we have a pandemic going on that’s gotten worse. A number of Christmas markets were set to start and had even gotten their kiosks set up, only to be canceled at the last minute thanks to COVID-19… and then our Thanksgiving meal was like any other meal on any other night.

It’s not even so much the lack of special food that was disappointing… I guess what disappointed me was that it was like any other day. I miss seeing people and doing fun things, like going out to eat in restaurants. Things had been slightly more normal in the warmer months, but now that winter is approaching, the weather is grey, damp, and depressing; it’s cold; and everywhere in Europe is locking down again.

We thought about going to lunch, but we were waiting for a package to get here, and German delivery drivers don’t often just leave packages like they do in the States. Then, Bill was supposed to have a session with his therapist, but the therapist canceled because he was sick. So we just hung out at home, like we would on any other Thursday. All my friends were posting pictures of their family gatherings and food on Facebook. And there we were with that “damned ham”.

Here in Germany, authorities are starting to implement a new system that requires even vaccinated people to get tested before they can go anywhere. It seems like too much of a pain in the ass to me, so we just skip it and stay home. And well… it just kind of sucks. The 2G+ system isn’t required everywhere– yet… but we’re also getting to the end of our vaccination efficacy, and some of Bill’s co-workers are getting boosters. I guess we’ll be getting ours soon, too.

To look on the bright side, at least we didn’t eat too much, didn’t get indigestion, don’t have tons of leftovers, and had a minimal mess to clean up. We won’t be gaining any weight. It was also nice to be with Bill yesterday, as it always is. He’s my favorite person. I was just kind of disappointed, I guess. Thanksgiving really is just another day in Germany. I think I’m missing home a little bit, too, even though holidays with my family can turn into an emotional minefield.

In 2014, I went to Virginia for what has, so far, been my last Thanksgiving at home. We went because my dad died that year, and we had a memorial for him. While we were there, I talked to my Uncle Carl, who sadly passed away about six weeks later. He had leukemia. But during that visit, he was still alive and we talked about a tenant who was living in a spare apartment he owned. He was talking about how he was trying to help him. As we were talking, my Uncle Bill approached and said to Carl, “That guy who is living in your apartment is a P.O.W.”

I looked up at Uncle Bill in confusion and he said, “Piece of work.” Apparently, the tenant who was living in my uncle’s spare apartment was not paying rent. However, he kept the apartment spotless. Carl wanted to help him because the tenant had a girlfriend who was pregnant. She was getting welfare assistance, so they couldn’t live together. Carl’s wife, Betty, couldn’t stand the tenant and was barely civil to him. Betty, also, has sadly passed on, as she was suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease at the time. Carl had been taking care of her until he got cancer. I’m so glad I was able to go home that year. Carl spoke at my dad’s memorial service. But it wasn’t much longer before Carl had a memorial service of his own, which of course I couldn’t attend.

I remember thinking, the last time I was “home” for Thanksgiving, that that would be the last time I saw some of the people who attended that year. I was right about that. In 2015 alone, I lost three uncles. By 2019, I’d lost an aunt and another uncle. Last year, I lost a cousin and my father-in-law. And in 2020, there was no Thanksgiving shindig, thanks to COVID-19, which continues to fuck things up in 2021, even though we have vaccines and new medications.

Even as I feel this “ennui”– which is pretty normal for me, because I often get a little depressed and nutty during the holiday season– I realize that I probably shouldn’t feel this way, since we are actually pretty fortunate. We did, after all, just have a fabulous trip to Austria, Croatia, and Slovenia, and we managed to do it before everything started shutting down again. But then I remind myself that feelings are just feelings. They usually pass. It’s not helpful to feel guilty for being sad.

We went to bed at our usual time last night. I had a vivid dream that involved an online friend of mine and occasional blog reader and commenter named Andrew. I dreamt that Bill and I took over a mini amusement park Andrew and his wife started. It was built into the side of a mountain, and there were train tracks around it. They had also lived in the park, which was all indoors. I remember that as Bill and I took it over, I had resolved to start slowly, building one attraction at a time, so we wouldn’t get overwhelmed. We had just built the carousel when I woke up.

Then, this morning, Bill gave me some news about his daughter. A couple of months ago, he remarked that she was “glowing” during their Skype session. I made an offhand comment that she was probably pregnant. Well… last night, they made the announcement. It’s funny, since I have only met her in person once, and didn’t actually see her on that Skype session where she was “glowing”. I usually don’t hang around when they chat. But when Bill mentioned the glowing look in September, I had a feeling she was about to expand her family. Guess my instincts were dead on again. Then, Bill gave me a cup of coffee and a Berliner that he got from the local bakery. That was better than that damned ham…

Anyway… enough of my whinging. Bill is working from home today. I am washing all the bedding, which is always a treat at bedtime. I love having fresh, clean sheets on a bed. And we do have much to be grateful for, like the fact that we have each other, plenty of food, and the means to put fresh sheets on the bed. At least we’re not in prison, right? There’s fresh hope for 2022, as Bill looks forward to becoming a grandfather again. And we can always have a special meal. Maybe we’ll go out for one this weekend, or even make one at home. Bill likes cooking with me… but I don’t like cooking with him. I’m not much of a team player. 😉

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