Life as a single Mother-Empty nest, Dating, Ex-husband, Best Friends, Full-time Employment, Unemployment, night school...How do these all relate to one another? Come with me:

Monday, February 15, 2010

Ever wonder what to do with cube steak?

You know that cut of meat that looks as if it has been pressed into a waffle iron? Meat that if not cooked in the correct manner can be as tough as a spare tire? Read on:

Ever since I was a little girl I watched my mother cook wonderful dinners. I helped my mother prepare tasty meals. I learned from my mother how to cook yummy hearty meals. And now thanks to my mother, I love to cook.
Since the years of my youth spent in the kitchen with my mother I have adapted a few of her old cooking-without-a-recipe dinners. And by adapted, I really mean remember what I can and make up the rest.

One recipe I used to turn my nose up at as a child, one that included canned tomatoes, was Swiss Steak. I have since outgrown my distaste of mushy canned tomatoes and learned to love this hearty, comfort food dish.

It is as easy to prepare as any dish can be. Dump. dump. stir. eat.

The reason that cube steak has such a beat up appearance is because it has been beaten, pounded with a mallet, or pierced with rods in order to break up the fibers in the tough cuts of meat making them easier to chew. It can still be a tough cut and may need a slow braising or stewing in order to make it palatable.

Winter is when our house is usually filled with the aroma of comfort foods. Stews, soups, hearty meals. The past two months i have been really cutting back, eating extra healthy and preparing my body for the bikini and the beach. Tonight we ate good. Here is what was on the menu.

Swiss Steak

Heat a skillet on medium heat with a sprinkle of olive oil in the bottom. Slice a medium onion, and add to the oil.

While the onions caramelize in the pan, season the cube steaks with some salt. pepper and onion powder.

When the onions are golden brown and almost tender, remove them from the pan and set aside.

In a shallow bowl, combine a cup of flour, 1/4 c cornstarch ( adds a crispness to the coating) and seasonings of your choice. You cant go wrong with some Basil, thyme, parsley and a little more salt and pepper.

I have found that seasoning the meat a little before dredging flavors the meat better than just adding the seasoning to the flour

Fluff the seasonings into the flour and cornstarch with a fork and begin dredging. Cut the steaks into individual portions approximately 3 in square.

Dip each piece of meat into the flour and coat each side well.

Place the meat into the pan the onions came from.
Add a little more oil if needed. Continue with all of the meat pieces.

About the time you get the last piece of meat into the pan, you will notice the first pieces will look as though the flour coating has disappeared.

This is a sign it is near done on the first side. When the meat has a nice crisp shell on the underside, turn the meat and cook the second side the same.

When the meat has a crispness on both sides, add the onions back on top.

Pour two cans of diced tomatoes on top of it all. Add one can of water.

Bring to a boil.

Turn heat down a little. Cover. And let it stew for about 20 minutes.

In about the time it took to steam some vegetables, and mash some garlic potatoes, it was done.

Easy. And tender enough to cut with a fork.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

We hit the sunny beaches where we occupy ourselves keeping the sun off our skin, the saltwater off our bodies, and the sand out of our belongings. ~Erma Bombeck

Single mothers are often faced with the dilemma making the paychecks or the support stretch enough to cover the monthly bills, put food on the table and keep the kids clothed and warm. To do anything extra, anything out of the norm, can really be too expensive to even think about doing. Birthday parties, Christmas and other holidays could be financially draining.

Then trying to explain to young kids why it is possible for other families to take week long vacations to Disneyland, Six Flags or even more elaborate places such as Europe or Mexico.

We have taken many road trips, droven to local and semi-local parks and sites. It was an inexpensive way to get out of town, see things we can't see at home, and spend some real quality time together. Many good times and a lot of great memories have been made.

Most every year I would receive a decent tax refund; enough that we could plan small trips. And most every one of those years, something unexpected. would come up. We were glad to have the money, when repairs were needed. But we vacations always seemed to get postponed or forgotten. Would have been fun to see some of the places the kids were learning about in school.

During the past thirteen years we were able to take a few great trips.

The year of my divorce, my parents had worked out a trip to Disneyland for my sister, and I and our families. It was a great reprieve from the stresses for us all. And I was so grateful to my parents.

A few years after that trip, my children took a really long road trip with my ex's parents. They drove through the Yukon and up to Alaska to see their dad for a week. I hope they were old enough that they will remember that time forever.

Five years ago, we were lucky enough to save up enough money for the four of us to take a longer road trip to Las Vegas. It was perfect timing when Vegas was running marketing towards children and families and creating a real family atmosphere.

We rode amusement park rides, toured museums (including Madame Tussauds ),  we toured the casinos and ate some great food. Thanks to and some pre-planning, we were able to see and do a lot on a small budget.
We even ran into a free art show of some 3D art in Caesar's Palace mall. The internet is a great source of information from other frugal parents and their tips. We got a suite  off the main strip cheaper than the big hotels and were able to cook some of our own meals in our room also saving money.

The last trip we have taken, also a road trip was nearly across the entire country. Three years ago, my son graduated from Basic training for the army the summer between his junior and senior years of high school. He called and said that we were invited to his graduation, or he could just fly home.

I decided right then, we would find a way to get there to pick him up and watch him march on this very important day. And we did.
The girls and I were able to drive through eleven states, see some of the most famous sights of this country, we stayed one night with a friend and many inexpensive hotels.

We watched his ceremony and he saw much of the country with us on the way home from Kentucky. It is a trip we will never forget.

 And now, in less than a week, we will be embarking on our first trip to the islands. My parents are celebrating their landmark 45th wedding anniversary and once again, my parents are making it possible for my sister, I and all of our children to take a cruise to some really beautiful places to help them celebrate. My son won't be able to come as he is still serving our country across the globe. And we will miss having him there. But we are so excited to spend some time together in some really gorgeous scenery.

It seems that things are appreciated more when they are well earned and infrequent. I will miss them so much when they are grown and on their own, and I cherish all of these moments with my children, my parents and my sister. Life is short.

I don't want a moment to pass by without all of my family knowing how I feel, the beach will make it even better!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

High school drama

My baby has been in many plays over the past few years. She hopes to own her own theater some day. Her personality fits the part, since she was very young she has been known to live life large. She has had some dramatic moments. When we disagree or when she gets into trouble she can get quite loud and over the top.

Friends of hers also have BIG personalities. Sometimes it is a bit much when we have them all in one room.

But nothing is worse than a disagreement between drama queens. Recently events caused my daughter and her best friend to distance themselves from each other. As often happens between teenagers, they had a fight and are now no longer friends. But it is different with drama students. Some drama students.

Thing is, the other girl just cant let it be at that. She is a bit of a spoiled girl. If she wants it, she gets it. If she 'doesn't feel like going in to school', she doesn't. She has a group of kids who follow her.

They will do anything she says or does. She is popular. Thing is- she is popular because she emits so much self love. There is something to be said for self confidence. In the teen years you either have it in abundance, or you lack the very essence of it. I was of the latter.

I have worked very hard to make sure that my girls had the self confidence that I lacked in my teen years. While following the fine line that they were not conceded. The thought that people somehow think that they are worthy of princess treatment merely because they are, because they exist, no matter how they treat others is a real pet peeve with me. This particular girl would walk on the back of anyone who would lie over a puddle for her passing.

I was a bit relieved at the thought of my daughter wising up to her behavior and moving on to some better friendships. Until I discovered the catty ways she has been acting. My daughter is a smart girl, and ignored the childish games. Stealing friends to HER side. Moving in on the lunch table my daughter frequented just to say there was no room... spreading rumors about mutual friends and claiming my daughter said them. Silly girl stuff. Immature stuff. But it is beginning to get under my daughters skin. She is losing sleep over it all.

 This post may come across as an overprotective mother, at the very least. Of course I want to protect my daughter, but I am not. She is handling the drama the best she can and I am so proud of her. But enough is enough.

I know exactly how she feels and looking back, I can tell her that it all changes after school. That popular kids have those years to reflect on but for some, those are the best days they will see. There wouldn't be films like Carrie or all those Lindsay Lohan teen movies if there was no such thing as teen girl cattiness. But when it is one of your own... it hurts.

I want to run to this girl, to her parents, to the school administrators and shake them all and tell them that this has to stop. But I know better. I want to give my daughter the best advice and hugs and bake cookies together and love it away. I know I cannot do that either.

This too shall pass but sometimes the hardest part of being a mother is to just take a step back and let things run their course.

I know the pain she is feeling and I want to take that away.

For now, I can just love her and support her. And we could both use a vacation!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Super Sunday

When my children were young, and money was very tight we found many ways to spend quality time together without spending a lot of money. Sometimes holidays most people don't really celebrate, or holidays that get no more than a glance on the calender can turn into a fun family time theme.

I don't usually watch any televised sporting events. I love to attend events in person when possible but watching on the small screen holds no interest for me.

But once a year, for the past ten years or so, the Super bowl has become a real event with my kids and I and many great memories have been made.

Because the kids were pretty young when we first began with our tradition, one of the ways to both make it fun and to help them follow and learn a little about the game was a game we called Super Bowl bingo.
I would create bingo cards using football terms and sponsor ad terms. As the commercials have become as big as the game itself.
For example: If there was a yellow flag penalty, a bean ( and later m&m's) was placed onto the square that said yellow flag, and similarly with touchdowns, interceptions, and replays. Sponsor terms may be such things as a dog in a commercial, or a horse (as Budweiser is often the sponsor).
I would usually fill a paper bag with some fun things. I would not usually spend more than ten or twenty dollars. It was fun to find inexpensive things that the kids loved but would usually never get. Silly putty, bouncy balls, chocolate bars or silly string.
Each time a bingo was called, a prize was pulled blindly from the surprise bag.
We would eat a good dinner and then really pig out on all the real bad chips, dips and candy.
It was always so much fun, the kids would tell all of their friends the next day. Sometimes a friend or two would come to the party and leave thanking for the invite.
Sometimes the most simple things are the most enjoyed, spoken about and remembered.

Now that my kids are grown, they still ask what we are doing for the super bowl, THEY create bingo cards and they help me create great food a little more healthy and creative.
This year, the girls invited boys over.
It was a lot of laughs and a lot of great food.

I did a lot of cooking...
Buffalo chicken sandwiches
Roasted roma tomatoes with Ricotta
Sausage stuffed mushrooms
Cream cheese stuffed bacon wrapped jalapenos
Orange chicken wings

And the boys got some girly prizes

But I had a lot of help with the clean up.

I am so glad the kids still love time together. I am happy to have made great memories and traditions that they hope to continue.

What a great Sunny-Day

Thursday, February 4, 2010

In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on. Robert Frost

This has been one trying week.
Since starting my job last April, I have never really felt comfortable in this position. It is not because of the people, I work with some of the greatest people. It is not the work itself, I feel as though I am intelligent and experienced enough for the job.
Thing is, I have not once, since my first day, felt as though I knew my place. I didnt know what was expected of me. I did what I already knew to do.. like a numb mesmerizing trance from my past jobs. I have not felt as though I was giving what I could but I didnt know what I should be accomplishing.

I am an engineer. We create medical products, catheters to be exact. I had not been given any clear cut projects yet, supporting the other engineers. And I did it well but I felt lost.

Even in my interview we discussed a lot of my experience and my expertise. The management nodding and uh huh-ing and seemed impressed.
But just as I was uncertain after leaving the interview.... just where I stood, here I was ten months in and still seemed touch and go.

And then, my boss called me in. Who likes to have one of those meetings... I felt like the naughty child sent to the principals office. I was a bit apprehensive walking in to his office. There was a tension in the air.

And then the bomb dropped. He was very dissatisfied with my performance. He was not upset or irritated, rather he seemed a bit sympathetic. But I felt so misunderstood and a little let down.
He asked if the job was overwhelming, if it was too much.

Not at all.

But I must back up a little. Without giving too much personal information here for the blogosphere..
Thing is, this company is as unorganized and uncommunicative as any small company can be. With not more than 15 people in the main office, the place is absolutely a mess.

When hired, I remember they were impressed with my background in organization and efficiency. However, the menial tasks on my plate very day were enough to keep me more than busy.

The pace of the company is also on overdrive. It shouldnt be. Like firemen rushing to put fires out at every turn. I have seen many areas to change, organize, and create efficiency but not only were my hands tied up with busywork, I never felt as though I was given the go ahead to take any such measures.

My boss is busy, has way too much information stored in his noggin that no one else knows. Which can only mean that he is the go-to man. He never has a moments peace to get his own work finished because he is answering so many questions of others. And on top of that he is running back and forth between our sister company and ours.

So- back to our meeting. I was to have a report on his desk by the end of the next week, this week-
I was to create a proposal in order to organize, restructure and create more efficiencies in the company.

He seemed a bit shocked I had not already created a plan before now.

Thing is, not only have they kept me so busy with my own engineering and design duties, but it was never communicated to me that I should be creating such a proposal. In the interview they showed interest. But nowhere in my job description or in any communication was it ever apparent that it was expected.

I left the meeting feeling a little strange. Perplexed. Was it my own misunderstanding? Have I somehow misread their expectations? I was uncertain.

I finished my report today sent it to the boss. I now await his critique. It is a simple plan, but can effective in creating a more efficient and organized company structure.

It was a bit refreshing actually when the meeting ended as I had a chance to speak up about such inefficiencies in the work flow of the company. I am once again busy - busting my ass actually.

Only time will tell if this is the right direction, if my report and my plan is what he sees as a good direction. I am convinced, that if I hear back from him and he is less than impressed, if he thinks that I am not a good fit for this company, then maybe the company is not a good fit for me. I have done my best and I hate to second guess myself. I know that the expectations are not clear to any of my coworkers either.

I only hope that my boss can see the changes I have proposed could potentially free his schedule alone, enough to keep both companies running like smooth silk and getting him home in time for dinner with his wife and kids which is a rare treat for him these days.

It will create time they dont know they have. And the money! Paying the amount of overtime, I dont know how we make enough to stay in business.

Also since starting in this position I have yet to take a day of vacation. The stress of the job, the inefficiencies and overtime put in, the late nights spent awake watching reel of the movie of the job playing out behind my closed eyelids. (Where do you think all of the ideas in my report came from?)
This can go one of two ways,

He likes my proposal: I get my chance to make some changes that will make the entire company more efficient, and less stressed. Making it possible for many coworkers to make it home before the sun goes down and the possibility of more satisfied customers and more work. Which will be welcome in a new more efficient atmosphere.


He doesn't like my proposal: And I find myself my own freedom and efficiency in another company.

I honestly hope that he is satisfied. It is the waiting game that is the hardest. I dont want to change jobs again, but I am not enjoying being in such a stress filled and disorganized environment. I would welcome the opportunity to stay and make it better for a lot of people.

What I need is a stress buster.

I dont know what direction this will take in the next couple weeks, however, there is relief in sight.

If you happen to notice the beautiful scenery at the top of my blog.. just below the beautiful 'local' scenery.. I am about to embark on my very first cruise. In my forty years on this earth I have never crossed the US borders. (well there was one trip to Tijuana but that doesnt count does it?)

My wonderful parents are celebrating their 45th anniversary and are durn crazy enough to want to spend it with their two daughters and all of our offspring. I only wish my son was home and able to come.

Save me a spot and a margarita on a sandy white beach in the sun far far from here.

I have the best parents in the world.

Sure cant wait to get my toes in the sand, out of the stress, the weather and the sickness surrounding me right now.