NEXT YEAR

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'Tonight I'm going to spy on Santa', she texted me this evening. I was glad to hear from my oldest but sad not to have the children spend Christmas with me. I told her good luck and let her know that Santa was not coming to my place this year.

'I have no tree either' I let her know so that she and her siblings are aware of this before they come to see me on Wednesday. I did not want them to be disappointed as I am but such is the case this year. 'Next year' I promised her.

'At least you have us' she tried to make me feel better but I told her it's not Christmas without them. 'Next year with Mario' she continued. At that point I told her that next year all five of us will have a real Christmas. Celebrating together as we should be doing this year. Next year will be a better year.

BELATED ATTEMPT

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Rain greeted me this morning as I left the gym. And again tonight as I stood in the kitchen making my first cookies of the season. It was my belated attempt at the holiday season but nonetheless I gave it a try.

I realised it has been a long while that I have made any kind of cookies and especially Christmas ones. Instead of looking for my notebook of recipes I had kept years ago, I turned to the Internet and found a good recipe for Austrian Vanilla Crescents. Otherwise known as Vanillekipferl.

Earlier in the week I had a list of cookies I wanted to bake. So yesterday after work I switched to customer mode and bought fresh new spices for my baking endeavours. Vanilla sugar was the only thing I used out of my bag of spices and the vanilla cookies were the only cookies I managed to bake tonight.

With one more day until Christmas day I reasoned I still have time to bake more cookies. And I will have more time off from work when the children arrive next week.

This year we will celebrate our holidays after the season is over and into the new year. My belated attempt at baking was a start. Sometimes later is better than never. So is the case this year.

BE POSITIVE

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'Be positive' he said during our first call of the day. My husband can sense when I'm feeling down and knows what to say to keep me from going to that place. We were discussing our being alone for Christmas. I mentioned that at least he has his roommate to keep him company at which point he encouraged me to look on the bright side.

He promised me this would be our last Christmas apart. He said he would even swim across the ocean in order to make it here. I wondered if I should mention sharks, then thought otherwise as that was not being positive. But I got the point. I decided to make some kind of effort to make Christmas special even if it is just for me this year.

A day off from work meant a day of running around to get things done that otherwise cannot be accomplished in the hours before and after work. I drove to the Turkish shop to get my Croatian coffee. I was glad to have made it there in time to get a parking spot as there are about ten available spots for that location. In all of my years going to that shop and being rung up for the same product year after year, I do not recall seeing the owner smile or acknowledge my return to his shop.

When I mentioned that he run up some chocolate I bought the children for more than the price tag on the display, he simply said 'Oh, they must have raised the price'. There was no customer service. No offer to refund me the difference. As I walked out of the shop I considered going back to ordering my coffee online. Before I discovered that shop. But I decided to 'be positive' and not say anything.

Central Market and Whole Foods were next on my list of stops. Going food shopping this time of year is bound to bring delays and lack of parking spaces. But I remained positive as I drove around for close to ten minutes looking for an open spot. The shops were pleasantly crowded. I decided to plan a simple dinner for myself just as my husband was planning on doing on the other side of the world.

Once home we talked on Skype. I remembered him telling me this morning that we could talk for hours on Skype on Christmas day. And we certainly can talk quite a lot about everything and nothing in particular.

Reminising about our challenges of a long-distance relationship and how we survived a most difficult time. And then planning for our future. One filled with hope and adventure. Certainly that is something to be positive about, I thought as I continued my research of the Christmas cookies I wished to make this holiday season.

WINTER HAS ARRIVED

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The calendar tells us winter has arrived today. Walking outside without a winter coat tells me otherwise. A high of 20 degrees Celsius was a stark contrast to the minus five degrees Celsius of two days ago. Yet somehow the temperature inside our apartment seems to always be cold to me.

The day seemed to drag on. After this morning's boot camp class at the gym, I was exhausted. I made it through the day but barely as I rushed home so my husband and I could talk on Skype. He was already waiting for me and had a long tired day as well. Next year will be different.

This year has held many challenges for me. For us. With each passing day and with each passing season we continue to figure out the next steps. Spring will be here soon enough. But winter has arrived and we will enjoy it the best we can.

THOSE DAYS

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There are days where you think everything will be fine. You will make it somehow. Everything will work out. But then there are days where you feel quite the opposite. When you are unsure how you will make ends meet. Today was one of those days.

On my way home tonight I was calculating how much I might be making on a weekly basis after taxes have been deducted. To my surprise, I realised it was as much as my husband makes in Ireland. But his expenses are low and he is able to pay for rent with half his weekly wages. I, on the other hand, cannot even cover rent on an entire month's wages. How would we make it here, I wondered.

But somehow we have to figure out how to make things work here in the States as I am unfortunately not able to move to Ireland with my children. If we could move there to be with my husband then we would not have to worry about such money issues. We would be able to live in a house and still have money left over to save. And we would be able to travel. To show the children the world. But that is not our reality.

It is this reality which was the cause of today's mood. Of it being one of 'those' days where you question everything and have answers for nothing. I would gladly move to Ireland where my husband now lives. But I will not do so without my children. And it is precisely this reason that my husband has decided to move here. To be with me. To be with us. A great sacrifice for him.

There are days when you think everything is hopeless. You do not know how you will make it. Nothing will work out. But then there are those days when you reflect on what and who you have and realise you already have enough to make things work. Those are the days you realise you have exactly as much as you need.

MINUS FIVE

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Though I would have preferred to stay in my somewhat warm bed, I decided to get dressed and drive to the gym. It was 05:30 when I left. The temperature was minus five degrees Celsius with clear skies. Once home I had time to prepare oatmeal for breakfast and a sandwich to take to work with me.

During my lunch break I talked for one or two minutes with my husband. It is the busy season at work for us both but more so for him. Everyone around us talks about being with family during Christmas. Once again we will not be together on this day nor will I have the children until three days after Christmas.

The best I can hope for is to at least get a text message from the children on Sunday. If they are 'allowed' the time to do so. And I will talk with my husband though being together would be preferable to us both.

Then I wonder what is the point of my getting a tree this year. Christmas will be over by the time the children arrive and then they return to their father's house four days later. By the time this month comes to a close,  I will have seen the girls a total of three and a half days and my son a total of ten days.

Somewhere there is an upside to all of the hardships of this year. There are lessons to learn. Ones of patience. Of waiting for our time where things will turn around for us. Not every day will feel like minus five. Cold, bleak, and dismal. Where all we wish to do is stay in bed until the sun comes out. Tomorrow is the gift of another day. Another chance to do better. One day closer to the end of our time apart.

MORE THAN CHILLY

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It was cold. Not gelid but more than chilly at -4 degrees Celsius. As the sun had not yet made its appearance by the time I awoke this Sunday morning, I was unsure whether or not the white I saw across the road at the high school parking lot was snow. To my disappointment, it was not.

The heater was on all day yet somehow it never felt as warm as I would have liked it to feel. More than likely due to the heat escaping through the large windows. But I like the windows and being able to look outside, even if it is on a parking lot.

My Sunday turned out not to be as I had hoped. Without a sense of urgency, the furniture set up is delayed as is everything else in our apartment aside from the immediate kitchen needs. But I did get to read at least a few pages from my new book. On the mattress in our bedroom. The book about living in Denmark for a year.

I wished to bake cookies today but then thought what was the point in baking for myself. The house is empty and will remain so for the next ten days until the children return. At that point it will make sense to bake cookies as there will be someone other than myself to eat them. In the past I have waited to bake cookies on Christmas day. After all of the presents have been opened.

If I accomplish more on my to-do list by the end of the week, I will see to getting a tree and perhaps baking some cookies on Christmas day. A tree would be a nice addition to this place. As would the smell of spiced cookies and cakes. And maybe, just maybe we will get a white Christmas though I suspect it will be simply wishful thinking on my part.

ONLY THE BEGINNING

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The day started out warm but ended on a cold note. It is currently two degrees Celsius. Tomorrow is forecast to be even colder with a freeze warning. How I wish I would have installed the iron curtain rods by now. Those velvet curtains would be perfect for keeping out the cold air. But that is another project I have to put on hold for a while longer.

Before my shift at work today, I rushed off to the store to buy Christmas presents for the girls and for our family as a whole. All in anticipation of doing things differently in the new year. All for the sake of going forward and making next year better than this one. 

But the end of this year has already turned for the better as I married my love, moved into our new place where we will settle for at least the next two years, and started a new job with interesting people. It has taken a while to get to where we are now. But we need to be a little more patient for other great things to follow.

The belief that things will get better is a self-fulfilling prophecy in itself. Hard work and a positive attitude along with a happy home is what we need to move forward towards success. We all need someone who believes in us and encourages us to change for the better. Someone in addition to ourselves.

All of these changes are only the beginning of finally finding contentment and a much needed stability in life. Our lives need change in order for us to grow. But we also wish for the security of a happy home with strength and support, but most important - love.

THIRD WHEEL

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It was the last day of school for the children for the year 2016. The day for holiday parties. And the day I would see my children. Though my son stayed with me last week, I had not seen my daughters since the day they left for Florida close to two weeks ago. 

They were delighted to see me and I them. I noticed how all three children looked as if they lost weight, particularly my oldest who has always been thin and small for her age. Whenever I look for her in a crowd of her peers, I simply look for the smallest person in the group.

'You're wearing black like me' exclaimed Saffron with delight. I looked at her feet and she was wearing sandals. I was wearing boots. She handed me a beautiful string art Christmas tree she made for me and told me she spent the past two weeks making it. I took it to my car where it would be safe and returned within minutes.

Her party was the last one of the day and the one which seemed was the most fun for the children. There was a dance-off, photo booth, dessert bar, a popcorn machine, and children kicking around beach balls. My daughter stayed by my side eating a cookie and talking but that did not last for too long.

Less than 20 minutes into the party, her father showed up with his wife. I was glad to have had the time with my oldest as she was soon whisked away by her stepmother who did not even bother to acknowledge my existence as the mother of my daughter. She simply claimed her as her own as she walked around and talked to the other mothers.

I tried to stay as close to my daughter as I could but felt strange about the incident though I should not have. She is my daughter and I had not seen her for the past two weeks. I sensed my daughter felt caught in the middle of the situation as well.

'I feel like the third wheel' I texted my husband. I wished he was here to be by my side. He told me to ignore her, which I did. They decided to leave before the party was over at which point my daughter was 'allowed' to go hug me and let me know they were leaving since there was nothing to do. I hugged her and said goodbye.

As I walked away, I tried getting a last glimpse of my daughter. I would not see her and her siblings again until after Christmas.

In twelve days.

A DREAM FOR SUNDAY

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First day off after having worked the past three days. My goal for today was attained as I completed most of the items on my to-do list. The most important being a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles to change my name on my driver's license.

The lady at window 1 convinced me to renew my license as well instead of returning next year and paying an additional fee. Two birds. One stone. 

Before the name change, however, I stopped by the car parts shop to buy new windshield wiper blades. The old ones were simply old and worn out as the rubber squeaked against the glass as it left streaks of water across the center. The guy at the counter was helpful in finding the replacement and changing the blades as well.

After a few more stops I returned home. It was still before noon but I had more to do on my days off. I did the best I could and vowed to continue tomorrow until I get the living room cleared of all of the mattresses.

Tomorrow I will have more time to clean but only after going to the children's school for their holiday parties. All three of them. Afterwards, I return home and continue with my to-do list in order to get ready for the last weekend before Christmas. Work on Saturday and a dream for Sunday of sitting on the daybed in the living room and reading my new books.

WAITING FOR WINTER

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With weather so warm these past two days, it feels anything like winter. I took my winter coat to work with me this morning. The one I bought for my first trip to Scotland and Ireland three years ago. I ended up leaving it in the car as the temperature climbed to 23 degrees Celsius by the time I walked outside during my lunch break.

Lunch was minimal. The half almond butter with honey sandwich I did not eat yesterday plus a protein bar. I wished for soup or anything else more substantial but did not get around to making anything at home as things are not yet set up. They will most likely not be set up tomorrow as well but I look forward to my first day off on Thursday to work on our new place.

I wonder how to organise everything but realise the little things, the micro organising of things, will have to wait until the furniture is all in place and assembled. Perhaps when the living room is set up the weather will turn colder and I will be able to spend the last Sunday before Christmas sitting on the daybed couch reading one of my new books. Until then I will be waiting for winter to arrive this year.

FOGGY DECEMBER SUNDAY

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The fog rolled in this morning. Everything was white. So white I thought for a moment it had snowed. But it had not as the temperature was still the same as yesterday. Snow would be nice. Especially for the children.

I was alone on this foggy December Sunday doing nothing but cleaning the drawers of my girls' dresser. At one point I noticed a crack on one of the front legs but there is nothing I can do about that. All of these moves are bound to damage furniture one way or another. It is the price to pay for moving so much.

On such a day I would have liked to be baking cookies and reading. But there is too much to do in order to set up this place. I need to make more progress in the coming week as Christmas is exactly two weeks away and I plan on getting a tree by week's end. And I hope to be baking cookies and reading by this time next week. Simply relaxing and enjoying the moment. And hoping for a snowy December Sunday next week.

COOKIES FOR KYLE

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'You're not busy now, are you' the maintenance guy shot a glance at the leasing agent as I stood in front of them. I had intended on getting the key to the back door of my garage until the maintenance guy informed me it would need to be rekeyed due to my having moved apartments. 

I then mentioned it was not possible to get to the back door due to all of the boxes I had just piled up in front of the garage during yesterday's move from the storage unit. But if someone could help me move a large heavy box containing a table, then I could reach the back of the garage.

I had expected a 'no, we are unable to do this' answer but what I got was exactly the opposite. The leasing agent got his keys, locked the door to the main office, and got in his car to drive to my garage and put the 100-pound box into my minivan. I was unable to close the minivan door due to the box being put in lengthwise but I drove carefully around the corner to the bottom of the stairs of the apartment.

I had also not expected the leasing agent to do the move alone. I looked around for the maintenance guy but he was gone. Though I tried to help, my energy waned from yesterday's move. Kyle suggested flipping the box end-on-end which worked. He then pushed the large box in front of my door and I pushed it into the apartment after he left. I promised to make him cookies for his help.

Now we have a table. The one I had bought this time last year when I considered staying at the house with the yard. The one which I had not yet opened and assembled for the reason that I decided not to stay at the house with the yard. But now we need counter-height chairs or stools. But at least we have the table and the last of the heavy items is out of the garage.

Today's weather was noticeably more pleasant that yesterday's. 11 degrees Celsius in contrast to yesterday's 4 degrres Celsius when my fingers felt as if they would fall off. It made for running around town much easier as I had many places to go in order to cross off the items on my list. New pants for work I had hoped to find but my size was unavailable.

Driving the distance to another Gap proved just as disappointing until I walked into Central Market and found that the hazelnut meal bin had been restocked. I filled two bags full of the needed ingredient for cookies and went on my way. After a few more stops, I went home and texted my husband. We saw each other on Skype for a while and I explained to him how I now was going to make cookies for Kyle. I look forward to making cookies and cakes and healthy food for my husband in the new year.

REASONS TO CELEBRATE

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At the gym this morning I realised the significance of this date. At that point I texted my husband to wish him a happy one-month anniversary. One month. I pondered on that thought for a moment and wished we were together to celebrate this step in our future together. Next year will come soon enough.

It was nice to return to the gym after an almost month-long absence. I missed the class and found out after today's class that I will have to switch to the earlier class. For a good reason as I start work on Monday.

The call came after gym class as I was sitting at the parking lot of HEB ready to go buy a few needed items. A few weeks ago I mentioned to this lady I had known for a few years that I needed a job in order to sponsor my husband's stay in the States. She asked if I would be interested in working for her and I said I would.

After my call I continued with my morning. Once home I emptied the car from my first trip from the storage unit and returned for the rest of the items throughout the day. Though I planned the trips to take no longer than three hours, the entire process took until the time I had to drive my son to his father's house at 18:00.

My girls ran to my car when they saw me approaching with their brother. They were happy to see me after their trip to Florida for their cheer competition. I was happy to see them too but knew it would be a long while until I see them at our place. Next Christmas will be different.

The next two weeks before Christmas will be productive as I set up our new place. The furniture will make its way to where it needs to be and the boxes will be emptied and put away as our new life begins.

Next year will be a better year than this one but today I had a few good reasons to celebrate and look forward to more reasons in the new year.

GAME NIGHT

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The parcel arrived yesterday though not at my door. Due to last night's cold weather I decided to wait until I picked up my son at the bus stop to get the parcel from the mail locker. The game I ordered to start our collection of games was here as were two books for me to read during these cold winter nights.

The weather app showed me it was colder here in Austin than in Ireland where my husband lives. We have had a reversal of temperatures as he enjoyed 12 degree Celsius weather whilst I bundled up in my winter jacket to battle the 3 degrees Celsius we were experiencing. As such, I have the heater turned on day and night.

As soon as we got home and Sage changed clothes, he tore into the package as he was excited for us to play. We sat on the bed and balanced our cases on pillows. Somehow I remember a sturdier version from my childhood. This version is not as robust since the slightest bump sends the pegs and ships off the grid. The plastic case used to be stronger and the pegs were larger. But we continued to play.

At one point we were both one ship away from winning. I just happened to guess his last ship placement before he had a chance to guess the location on mine. As a result, I won this time but I am sure he will beat me in the future.

I do not recall a specific night designated as game night when I was growing up in Oregon but I remember playing games and putting together puzzles as we sat around our dining room table. As I continue to search for games to add to our family collection I hope the children will fondly remember the times we sat together as a family for game night.

A REASONABLE PACE

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The rain stayed away today but it did not stop the clouds from making their presence known. I stayed indoors today chipping away at the list of tasks needed to be completed before the end of the year. The deadline is self-imposed.

I wish to have the furniture in place before my three children arrive during the second half of their winter break. All of the furniture is virtually set up. I know along which wall each piece of furniture will reside. The reality will occur next week after I have had sufficient rest from this move.

The colder winter days are before us. I can already imagine myself on the daybed couch with pillows to lean against and a warm down comforter with which to wrap myself up as I read one of my many books on a nearby bookshelf. Until then I will continue to make my way through each item on my to-do list at a reasonable pace.

A MAKESHIFT CHRISTMAS

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The realisation came to me this morning that Christmas will be here sooner than I had anticipated. For some reason I thought I had one more week with all three children before they go to their father's house for Christmas break.

But there is no extra week which means no baking before the holiday and no other traditions which we had last year at the house with the yard. I do look forward to seeing the children on the 28th when they are scheduled to come spend the rest of their winter break with me.

By then, I hope to have both the apartment and the tree set up in addition to the kitchen so we can bake a few cookies. Christmas will simply have to be late this year as we extend our celebrations into the new year.

The sun made an appearance this morning as I readied myself for my appointment in town centre with our immigration attourney. The process of getting my husband to come to the States will be a long one. My hope is that this time next year we can spend Christmas together instead of our being apart as we are this year.

The coming weeks will be filled with much work and anticipation as I simply wait for all things to fall into place. Somehow it will all work out with a makeshift Christmas and a hopeful beginning in the new year.

GIRL PANTS

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'[She] said my pants looked like girl pants', my son revealed to me this evening as we came home after his haircut. Why, I wondered. Is it just because the back pockets had flaps. Why would anyone do this. But this wasn't just anyone, though you would think it would be some mean kids at school. No, it was his father's wife.

My address is listed at school as the secondary address. As such, I need to call into school each Monday morning on my week to let them know to put my children on my bus. Otherwise they end up going to their father's house. That is exactly what happened as I waited for Sage at the entrance to the apartment complex.

I called the school but they closed at 15,30h. I drove to his father's house and parked outside as I called the apartment complex to see if my son had taken another bus as sometimes happens. Yes, they saw a boy with a gold jacket, they assured me. So, I drove the ten minutes back to the apartments only to find out it was not my son they saw. It was another boy.

In the meantime, I texted his father who is in Florida with my daughters. He told me to call his wife. That was the last thing I wanted to do. I texted him back asking why his address had to be listed as the permanent address. No response. I am guessing the answer would be the same as before. That he has a 'real' house and I simply live in an apartment which he does not consider a real house.

As I drove back to the ex's house, I saw her car driving in the opposite direction. I turned around but did not see where she went. So, I had to call. She let me know she had to go to a neighbour's house and that she would be back. I wondered why she did not tell me my son was at their house instead of letting me drive around for over half an hour. I was relieved when my son was in my car and we were on our way to his haircut appointment.

'Your pants might be your sister's' I told my son. 'Do you care', I asked him. He did not. Sage simply said he did not respond to his stepmother. He said not one word. But this was not the first time he has been ridiculed and bullied by her. I remember him telling me she called a sweater I bought him 'a grandpa sweater'.

This incident reminded me of the time my son's father told me of a classmate they used to make fun of due to his dirty corduroy pants. The boy ended up committing suicide. Perhaps there were other reasons for his action but some children and adults do not deal well with bullies. Sometimes you simply cannot ignore them and you let them get under your skin.

I wish to teach my children that bullies are to be ignored no matter the age. And to avoid being cruel to other people for the sake of making yourself feel better. So far my son seems to be developing a thick skin. Last December his father told him he looked like 'a cancer patient' after seeing him on Skype after I cut my son's hair.  He no longer cares that his father will not like his haircut. My son likes it and that is all that matters.

Girl pants or not, there is no reason to be cruel to a child. At least my son was warm and we were not spending money on clothes we could reuse. I do my best to provide for my three children. Sometimes I wish I could do more.