Friday, December 15, 2023

We Three Kings of Orient Are Tried to Light a Rubber Cigar

It was loaded, and exploded...


Or ran into a Kahi. It's anybody's guess, really.

But my manger scene is down to two wise men.

It's bad, but I'm hoping to superglue him back into some semblance of normalcy.

This set is extra special to me because my mom made it some 40-odd years ago for her mother, and it got passed down to me.

Kittens are no respecters of antiques, I guess.

Sigh.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

I Have a Problem

 I've been doing holiday baking this weekend, because this is when I can get it done, and I just hope it lasts.

I suppose that's problem #1.

Today, I made a staple around here, but tried it this time with gluten-free flour, something I've never had to do before. This is my first Christmas season being gluten free, and I wasn't sure all my favorites would hack it.

Yesterday's peppermint meltaways handled the gluten free measure-for-measure flour I use just fine. But they're delicate to begin with and don't travel well, so I don't think I'll be taking them in for the office cookie exchange, despite my plans. And yesterday's buckeyes were naturally gluten free (small favors), and so was the fudge (of course).

Today I tackled a box mix for lemon bars (new to me and I still haven't tried them; they need to chill awhile longer before I can cut them) and the perennial favorite around here: Peppermint Snowy Bars.

They'd finally cooled completely and I was able to dust them with powdered sugar a little bit ago. They're a bar cookie, so I cut both pans and then proceeded to taste-test both (an important step). I was thrilled when they tasted just like the real thing, and even the texture was right! (This is not always the case in GF baking.)

I was putting the cookies away when I realized I had a problem.

I'd bought six new goodie storage bins when I was at Walmart earlier, but as usually happens, they're even smaller than the ones I bought last year. A single batch of fudge won't fit in one of these bad boys, as I discovered. There was no way one was going to hold an entire 9x13 pan of bar cookies.

Well, first step: get rid of cookies. I took three upstairs to offer to the girls.

Youngest actually moaned over how good the cookie was. Medium echoed the sentiment around a mouthful of confection.

"These are awesome, Mom."

"Gluten free," I said to Medium.

"Really?"

"That's the good news," I said. "The bad news is we have a cookie storage problem."

"No, we have my stomach," Middle fired back.

This kid.

I don't think her stomach can hold an entire pan of cookies, but I shouldn't ask.

She might try.

In the end, I used up all but one of my remaining goodie bins for the Peppermint Snowy Bars.

I honestly don't know what I'll do with the next rounds of fudge (I need to make at least two more vanilla mint) or the lemon bars chilling in the fridge.

Get more bins, I guess.

It's sure not fair for Middle's stomach to hold all the cookies.

Saturday, December 9, 2023

New Words

Me, coming back into the kitchen: Put 'em back in for a little longer?

Youngest is taking Christmas pinwheel cookies out of the oven for the second time.

Youngest: Yeah, they didn't look right.

I'd had a similar experience the other night with my first attempt at peppermint meltaways.

Me: Maybe there's something wrong with the oven.

Middle, who has been spectating and taste-testing but not actually baking: Yeah, I had to ovenate something the other day, and . . .

I just looked at her.

My word kid.

Ovenate.

Middle: Ovenate. I'm just making up words now.

Me: You mean cook. Bake.

Middle: Yeah. Ovenate. I'm telling you, I'm losing it.

Maybe, maybe not.

She's given me two blog posts in one day.

Tis The Season...

...for Christmas goodies.

I spent most of last night working on a double batch of buckeyes (a big favorite that didn't get made last year), doing all the prep work so that I didn't have to do anything but dip today.

I'm standing in the kitchen this afternoon, trying to keep Kahi from eating toothpicks and naked buckeyes and generally being a nuisance, as well as dipping said buckeyes, when Middle walked in.

She took one look at what I was doing and asked, "Are those buckeyes?"


Ask a silly question...

"No," I said with a straight face.

"Oh. What are they?"

I grinned. "Buckeyes."

Middle gave me a sly smile. "Do they need taste testing?"

I grabbed one that had fully set up and handed it to her. "I've already taste-tested a couple, and they were pretty good, but..."

"They're delishish," she said around a mouthful of chocolate and peanut butter confection.

I'm surprised she stopped at one.

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Changes, Part 7

 Auntie Jlwrites, I can hear you saying to me, why are you telling us all of this stuff? It can't be just catharsis.

Well, there's that for sure.

And this is a family blog, which chronicles the events of my family. These have been some pretty big events, if I don't mind saying so myself. They've forever altered what our family looks like. Someday my kids may want to know what happened in a fuller way than our conversations have said, and they'll have this record to look at. 

It also shows that even what looks like perfection on the outside can turn ugly when sin sinks its claws into it.

This kind of stuff is everywhere, and it needs to be talked about. It hid in my home, behind a man wearing the mask of a Christian. The more it gets talked about--that it happens, that it's real, that pornography is a threat and an addiction that claims lives in an altering way and rips families apart--the more light comes in and kills it.

This happened to us.

I think, in some ways, we are stronger for having lived through it.

He's sentenced. His projected release date is more than eight years out, with credit for time served and time knocked off for good behavior.

I am, however, still fighting for my total release from this nightmare. It's not quite over.

September 2022

Hubby and I had been chatting (sort of) via the texting app that he has access to while incarcerated in BigTown County Jail. We don't need lawyers, he'd written. He cited that we've been together twenty-six years and ought to be able to figure out a way to amicably split the marital property ourselves, without any attorneys in the mix (to muck it up).

So we hammered out an agreement. He'd wanted to boot me out of the house after the last kid had flown the coop, sell it then, and split the profits. That was his first offer that he'd sent my attorney. He asked now what my plans were for the house. I said I planned to live in it. The house was the biggest thing in contention. He was willing to agree to everything else and said he'd only asked for 10% ownership of my writing (which, I'll point out here, predated my relationship with him) because he desperately felt he needed it as a bargaining tool. I had no problem with most of what he'd asked for in return, and in the end, we'd messaged back and forth until we'd hammered out an agreement that was agreeable to both of us.

Or so I thought.

I forwarded the screenshots of our conversations to my attorney so she could draw up the Marital Settlement Agreement from those. She sent it off to Hubby for review, with the instructions to let her know as soon as possible if there were changes he wanted to make.

And we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Mid-December 2022

And waited.

Prison mail is slow, but this is ridiculous. I messaged him about something else entirely, but tacked on a post-script: "Are you going to do anything about the settlement paperwork, or do I have to make other plans?"

When I heard back from him via the app a few days later, he responded angrily about the first thing I'd mentioned, and then said he was going to do something about the settlement paperwork "soon."

Right. I'd seen his "soon." The last time he'd said he would do something soon, it took him 8 weeks to do it.

March 2023

It was finally "soon." Hubby wrote to my attorney, saying he was going back to his original counteroffer (the one in which he wanted 10% ownership of my writing) to settle the marital assets and debts.

And one more thing. 

He wanted my wedding and engagement rings returned to him, as part of his personal property, as they were "contingent upon a continued marriage."

I almost came unglued at work when I read that. I messaged SnarkyDad, who did some fast research for me, and determined that my state's law already has precedent for that: the rings belong to me from the moment of marriage. They are legally mine and I do not have to give them back to him. Whew.

I told my attorney I was not willing to accept his (ridiculous) proposal, and said I was not willing to attempt negotiating with him again, when he can take as much time as he wants to respond. I want this divorce over. Let's go to trial. 

Scary words.

She prepared the necessary filings and I sent in the money--$350--for the filing fees for a Divorce Master to be appointed.

Hubby, meanwhile, had written to the Court without copying my attorney, something she had asked him not to do. He complained that I am controlling all the marital assets and not releasing any marital funds to him (what marital funds? any money that was ours was long gone, in taking care of us before I found a job; also I had no way of releasing money to him anyway, but that's beside the point). He had no way of getting legal representation, he said; his calls to the PA Bar Association are disconnected before he had a chance to talk to someone. His criminal attorney had told him he would not likely get free representation because we have real estate involved (hey, I didn't qualify for Legal Aid, either). He wrote that I refused to communicate with him (not entirely true; I just wouldn't speak on the phone with him). He begged the judge for help.

Twenty days later, as she went to file the next round of paperwork, she discovered that the certified mail return postcard didn't have the date of receipt written on it. The clerk at the prison had neglected to put that on. Further investigation showed that even the tracking number had been improperly scanned, so we couldn't even prove delivery that way. With no proof of service, we couldn't do the next filing. We had to start all over. Argh.

June 2023

We received word that Hubby has an attorney now. No idea who is funding her, and I'm not asking. My lawyer thinks this is a good thing. We may be able to avoid a costly trial and settle now that he has an attorney.

Hahahahahahanotsomuch.

July 2023

Maybe it's August now? I don't remember. We'll call it late July. All I really remember at this point is that my attorney wanted to hear from his attorney by June 30, and his attorney wanted mortgage statements on June 28 while the girls and I were in Virginia Beach (sorry about your luck) and so she didn't get them until July 5 after we got back, and it was at least another month before we heard his attorney's proposal. So...

August 2023

We got Hubby's attorney's proposal.

Oh, he agreed to everything else on the list (including me waiving child/spousal support and alimony), but he wanted me to buy him out of the house to the tune of $65,000...or sell the house now, and give him half the profits. I admit I was also a little surprised when his lawyer indicated that "It is my understanding the parties have come to an agreement" about personal property, because last I knew, he still wanted my rings, and I wasn't budging on that.

The whole point of me waiving support was so that I would get the full value of the house, and he wouldn't have more debt hanging over his head when he got out of jail. I'm nice like that.

Plus, there was the matter of the lien on the property. You know, the one on his half of the equity. To secure potential payment for his restitution for his crimes.

The proposal was preposterous.

I told my attorney, after some thought, some discussion with my mother and SnarkyDad, and some prayer, that we needed to move forward with trial. Mom and I had done some rough calculations and figured out that, should Hubby actually be paying child support and alimony pende lite and alimony, he'd be looking at owing me nearly $90,000 for everything. That far exceeded what he wanted from me for the house. I paid yet another $350 for Divorce Master fees (the first sat in an account and slowly been whittled away at). 

My attorney wrote a brilliant letter to his, declining the offer, stating that the lien on the property because of his crimes thus forfeited Hubby's rights to the equity in his name. And, of course, further that what he would owe in various supports exceeded his equity, and that we would proceed with a filing for a Divorce Master. 

And the paperwork finally got filed for a Divorce Master.

October 2023

The Court has appointed a Divorce Master. Next up is the Pre-Trial Conference, which is just for the attorneys and the Divorce Master, where they present evidence, go over things, and learn when the trial will be. My attorney has advised that this will likely not be until after the first of the year.

Present

The Pre-Trial Conference is now set for December 11. My lawyer has told me not to expect a trial date until spring. I would love to simply have this settled and move on, but Hubby is not of that mind. He wants his half of the house and his cake too.

My lawyer is good, but she is not cheap.

I have a good job, but it covers our regular expenses. It doesn't cover...this

SnarkyDad set up a GoFundMe for me, because he's a gem like that. It is, however, running low since I took that last $350 out of it to pay for Divorce Master fees. I am blessed to have so many people--friends, family, outright strangers--who have contributed to the cause of helping me manage to pay for thousands of dollars of legal fees I could not otherwise afford, all to get me out of a marriage I cannot, in good conscience, stay in for the sake of my kids.

Ahhhh, here you are, Auntie Jlwrites. You're shilling for cash.

Consider it an investment.

An opportunity.

A way to change the world for that one starfish you throw back into the sea so it doesn't suffocate.

My kids and I need out of this. We're suffocating.

So if our story has moved you at all, I'd consider it a huge blessing if you'd hit that link up there and donate. 

Thanks for listening in. May the season bring you joy.

I Strongly Suspect...

 ...that Youngest's dinner tonight was nothing more than a big bowl of chocolate pudding and half a dozen or so of those Pillsbury Reindeer cookies.

You know, the presliced ones?


My kids love those. I bought a couple boxes of those and a couple boxes of the Christmas trees. Came home from work today to find Youngest had just taken a bunch of reindeer cookies out of the oven.

Do I care that she had pudding and cookies for dinner?

I suppose I should.

But tonight I don't.

Sometimes, you've just got to live and let live.

Changes, Part 6

 April 26, 2023

The Federal Courthouse at BigTown is an imposing building, but then, it's supposed to be. After circling the block where it was located in downtown BigTown several times, I found a place to park (what a racket courthouse parking was, let me tell you), grateful I'd arrived early. It wasn't yet 9, when I was to meet with Pastor Stick, my mother's pastor, who had agreed to accompany me. Not that my own pastor wouldn't, but when you're part of a flock that's more than 2000 strong...well, I preferred the company of Pastor Stick for this. He'd preached my father's memorial service. I was comfortable with him being present for this...event.

I passed through security without a blip; there were no lines. Just me and four security guards, who directed me to the Clerk of Court's office, so I could find out where to go in the massive building. Even PACER last night still reflected "courtroom TBD." It was an interminable five-minute wait to finally hear where I needed to go: Courtroom 2, seventh floor.

The courthouse was named for the judge presiding over Hubby's case, so I stopped to read a bit about her on my way back towards the elevators. Judge Stallone--her name amused me--had been appointed by President Carter, so she's been doing this a long time, and she had a decorated career. 

I was coming out of the ladies' room (I had the time) when I saw Pastor Stick clearing through security, and was that SIL? Yep, and there was also Bro, at the security station. 

I hadn't known they were coming.

We took the elevator to the seventh floor and ended up meeting up with Agent Fist, the one who'd led the investigation and subsequent raid on my home. He was a nice, humble man, and I liked him well enough, but it still gave me the jitters to see his name pop up on my phone. We exchanged pleasantries, and then the Assistant US Attorney arrived.

Now there was a man who did not match my mental picture of him. His name made him sound very Clark Kent, tall and strong and very much the picture of American justice. The AUSA was short, rotund, and balding. If I hadn't felt so overwhelmed by other emotions, I would have laughed. Agent Fist and AUSA Kent entered Courtroom 2, and the rest of us stood out there and chatted until it was almost 9:30, and then we entered the courtroom.

I was immediately proverbially smacked in the face with the sight of my in-laws; I had only been half-expecting them: my mother-in-law (whom I still adore), my husband's brother, and his wife. They sat on what had to be the defense's side of the room with a pretty strawberry blonde, who was probably some kind of coordinator for families of the defendant. I mentally shook myself. It's all wrong, I thought. Nothing is like Law & Order's courtrooms. My in-laws didn't greet me; I didn't say anything to them. I couldn't blame any of us.

"Let's sit over here," I said, gesturing to the second wooden pew on the prosecution's side. I filed in, and everyone followed me--Bro, SIL, and Pastor Stick.

I had never felt so alone in my life.

I sat and stared at the Great Seal of the United States on the wall behind the judge's bench, and wondered how on earth my life had come to this.

9:30 came and went, and I overheard the marshals asking for "a twenty on Stallone's 9:30." Thanks, Dukes of Hazzard, for teaching me the terminology to know that they were wondering where Hubby was. They must have gotten a satisfactory answer, because the court clerk nodded and went back to the judge's chambers.

Then Hubby came in, shackles on his hands and feet. He didn't acknowledge me at all, but smiled at his family.

Judge Stallone entered, and the bailiff called, "All rise."

The case was called, and Hubby's attorney spoke first. She said she did not wish to disrespect the terms of the plea deal, but she did want to call Her Honor's attention to the fact that Hubby's family was here to support him today when they had previously been unable to do so at the Change of Plea hearing. That being said, Defense requested that the Defendant be placed at the FCI Caribou, that he might be closer to his family. Then Hubby's attorney sat.

AUSA Kent stood up to speak next. He spent several minutes detailing observations from the report submitted by the psychiatrist who'd evaluated Hubby, having spent a total of 90 minutes with him: that Hubby had "accidentally fallen into" child pornography; that he was "unlikely to reoffend"; that he had suffered from a pornography addiction for a long time, due to periods of depression which could be traced back to several things. I frowned as Kent listed those things; I had expected Hubby to try to blame me, and he had, right there. Sigh. And now everyone in open court had heard him use me as an excuse. He'd had this problem for longer than he'd even known me! Kent went on to say that he disagreed with the psychiatrist's report (I stopped myself from shouting, "Thank you!"), based on the fact that Hubby had shared 2,411 images and 20-some videos. 2,411! I almost fell off my seat. That's way more than 600! This was not, Kent concluded, the actions of a man who "fell into" finding child pornography. It was clear, Kent stated, with Hubby's history of distribution, that he was a dangerous man. I was glad somebody besides me recognized it.

The judge nodded--not so much in agreement as in consideration. Then she asked if Hubby had anything he wished to say to the Court.

I have no idea if it was scripted and rehearsed, or if he spoke off the cuff. What I did do was pay very close attention to everything he said. He said he'd learned a lot about the things he'd done and how hurtful they can be. He said he'd embarrassed and shamed his family--his mother, his brother, his sisters. (That's it. No mention of his wife--which I understood--but no mention of the shame, embarrassment, and pain he's brought to his children.) He went on to talk about the hurt he caused the children he victimized, and added that he'd lost his relationship with his own children. It was more of a poor-me statement than it was an "I'm so sorry I've caused this." He finished up by saying he was sorry, but not what for, and he never once said "I was wrong."

I watched the judge more than I did Hubby during the sentencing, so I have no idea if he looked shell-shocked or not. I knew from earlier in the hearing that the sentence range recommendation was 151 months to 188 months (12.6 years to 15.5 years; I did the math right there in the courtroom). The judge imposed a sentence of 151 months. She announced there would be no fine, as the Court had found the defendant had no ability to pay; there was, however, a $100 assessment that was due immediately (a standard fee). She also imposed 10 years supervised release and everything that goes with it; registration as a sex offender and everything that goes with that (including that he was not to have communication with his own minor children); and he was ordered to pay $33,000 in reparations to 11 named victims--whose names she then read into the record. The judge finished by saying she would recommend FCI Caribou, but where Hubby would ultimately end up was the determination of the Bureau of Prisons.

The judge departed, we all stood, and it was all over.

Afterwards, he was led out, and I watched him mouth "I love you" to his mom, brother, and sister-in-law before he left.

"I don't know if I should believe anything he said," I commented quietly after my in-laws had left the courtroom without a backward glance.

"Oh, I wouldn't believe a word of it," Pastor Stick said.

SIL was angry. "He wasn't sorry at all."

Well, no, he wasn't. I pointed out that he hadn't mentioned us at all, and he'd never once looked over at me.

SIL shook her head. "He looked at you once."

I hadn't seen him even glance my way.

The victim relations specialist I had been in email conversation with came over to meet me in person when the hearing was over. She answered my many questions, but the ugly reality remained: he was sentenced, and we were not yet divorced. He had fought any settlement opportunity and had reneged on the deal we had come to back in September of '22. This meant, the specialist explained, that the government could put a lien on my home to secure his debt. But she was not the person to ask for sure, and she gave me a name and a number to call. 

Pastor Stick departed for some other business in BigTown, and I now had the whole day ahead of me to do...whatever I wanted.

Bro, SIL, and I ended up going to a nearby Burger King and having a very early lunch. We sat and talked for several hours.

It would be six weeks before a random check online showed that Hubby had left the BigTown County Prison and was now in BOP custody at FCI Caribou.

Part 7