A Christmassing We Will Go

See what I did there? I made up a whole new word. Hear me roar, Universe. Rawr!!

Okay,  yeah. I know, I know. It’s lame. But I’m still rollin’ with it.

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Thanksgiving in Virginia was a success. It was a long drive — 12 hours each way — so that was pretty exhausting. I didn’t even have to drive, luckily. I am such a wimp that I was exhausted and sore just from riding in the car. How dumb and goofy is that? My daughter and I passed a good bit of the drive entertaining ourselves with “Carrobics”. It’s a thing that we invented. I’m not sure yet how to spell it. I think I’ll have to keep working on it for the time being.

“Car-robics” (see what I’m doing there? testing out different spellings — ha!) is when  you jam out like a crazy person to the song that’s on the radio at the time. My husband loves to play dance music mixes when we are on the road. These tend to have a beat that gets right down to the bottom of your soul and refuses to let go. No matter how tired you are, it is nearly impossible to sit still when one of these songs is going. We jumped around and sang along, waving our arms and doing all kinds of crazy gestures. I bet we looked insane to every car and trucker that passed us on the highway. Hopefully we entertained them as much as we entertained ourselves!

Thanksgiving and the trip itself were delightful. We ate with friends who are like family to us. We have all missed them dearly. I was able to see another of my very close friends on the trip, too. And our daughter stacked her visits up on a tight schedule. I think she was the most successful of us all in the visiting department. Her friends even hosted a “Friendsgiving” in her honor. I think she had a great time, although she was sad to leave. We all were — a little bit.

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We are still getting used to our new town and our new house. It is our first Christmas here and our first Christmas in this house. I’ve been excited about decorating for all the seasons, but, in particular, for Christmas. I’m a little nervous about it, because I feel like I don’t yet know all the quirks and “ins & outs” of this house. But I am looking forward to getting to know it better as the years go by. It’s also been a while since I was really able to do things up for Christmas. I decorated when we lived in Virginia, but not that much; we were in a townhouse, which meant we didn’t have a lot of space to display or store decorations. This is another source of nerves for me. I mean, can I even remember how to “Christmas”?

Needless to say, I returned from our trip ready to get my jolly Christmas spirit going full force. And I have been working at it since Monday.

You guys … Like everything else with this move, this whole Christmas thing has turned into a process. A frustrating, maddening process. I feel like my holiday jollies are fighting me every step of the way this year.

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It all started out fairly simply. We bought this adorable little wooden village during our trip to Virginia. So I already knew I wanted to put that out. And I knew we had some decorations all ready to go in the basement. Unfortunately, the decorations that were readily available in the basement weren’t the ones we really wanted. In fact, they weren’t even the ones we use every year. I have a surplus of Christmas stuff. I tend to buy it on clearance because I love this holiday so much. And, over the years, people have given me different decorations and Christmas things. And, of course, there are sentimental family decorations in the mix, too. Most of this stuff has been stored away for the entire time we lived in Virginia. And these were the boxes we had in the basement.

It figures, right? You go into a task thinking it will be a breeze, only to find you don’t have what you need or want to accomplish it. And, then, you realize it’s going to take a lot longer than you planned or expected. Family grumbling happens. And then, an argument or two. Before you know it, no one feels like doing anything remotely holiday-related.

That about sums up what happened for me last night. I was all excited to decorate the tree and really get our holiday fun rolling. I was ready for Christmas music or, maybe, a movie, some yummy snacks, and some fun family time. Needless to say, it didn’t happen. My husband and I got into a huge fight because neither of us could remember where the lights were for the tree. Our tree came pre-lit, but it’s old, which means the “pre-lit” part doesn’t work any longer. Every year, I say we should replace it. And then, I look at the prices on new trees and decide we can use ours for at least another year. And, of course, it’s kind of sentimental for us now. I mean, it’s “early marriage”, after all.

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Anyhow, instead of fun family tree trimming, my husband and I ended up going through boxes in the garage. It was not fun. And it was not pretty. We were both mad at life and at each other. It kind of sucked all the fun out of Christmas for me.

Today, I resolved to recapture some of that Christmas fun and happiness for myself. Even though I didn’t want to go through the boxes in the garage last night, it’s a good thing that we did. It needed to be done. So that’s a positive. We found the ornaments and lights that started all the trouble, so we had those ready to go. All of this was a positive. And, no matter how mad we were at each other yesterday, we both apologized and feel better about stuff today.

So, once hubby was off to work and child was off to school, I put on some Christmas music. I started going through the older boxes. It was so much fun to rediscover treasures I had pretty much forgotten. I laughed. And, yes, I cried a little bit, too. There were some good memories in those boxes. I finally have a place where I can pull some of my beloved things out for display. I put up lights and garland. I put up jingle bells and ornaments. I hung the wreath on our front door. Tonight, after everyone got home, we ordered pizza and put the lights and ornaments on the tree.

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And you know what? It was a good day. And it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas over here. I am loving every moment, too!

Moving to Illinois … The Staging

We are coming down to the bitter end of the first part of my relocation saga. I say “first part”, because I haven’t even left Virginia yet! I’m still in our same house, waiting out the end of the school year with my daughter and the very most basic of basics in terms of furniture and clothing. And my computer. Because, you know … I’m not an animal! At this point in my tale, we have gone through the packing and boxing. We have watched our stuff get loaded onto the trucks and carted away. We have done the painting and the flooring. We have fixed the backyard, both the patio and the grass. And I prettied up my deck with my flower container gardening adventure, supervised by my pups — of course!

All the basics were done. It was time for the final little touches that act like the icing on a very pretty cake: the staging. I have never sold a house before. So I have never been through the staging experience. I love decorating and home stuff, in general, so I went into this experience thinking it would be amazing and fun. In my mind, it was like a little reward after all of my hard work coordinating the rest of the background stuff and doing all the cleaning and clearing away.

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The reality of it didn’t match up at all. Isn’t that the way it often seems to go in life? You think something will be incredible, and it turns out to be anything but. It’s not that the stager did a bad job or anything. Her work was nice, and she made the spaces in my house seem large but cozy at the same time. I think she is great at her job. She kept it pretty simple, as you can see from our family room, in the above photo. I like the eclectic mix of furniture she chose. And I like the earthy-toned colors she used. I think they fit nicely with the paint and carpeting colors. You can’t see it in this picture, but we finally — after almost sixteen years! — uncovered our fireplace. It’s nice to see it as part of the room now.

This room is laid out strangely in that the fireplace is on one side and the outlets for the TV and other electronic equipment are on the opposite side. Our family is big on movies. It’s one of our main forms of entertainment, and my husband is mad for his television and stereo equipment. I always wanted to rearrange this room so that we could have the fireplace and the TV at the same time. But I never did it. I never did anything to this house, honestly. I mean, we made some changes. But I never did anything as far as decorating or putting my own style into the space or making it into something more than what it was when we bought it. I’ve been puzzling through why that is, and it will probably be fodder for another post later on.

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I really like the little conversation area the stager created for our second floor sitting room. This space is right across from our dining room. We always put our Christmas tree in front of the window where the palm tree looking plant is now. And we had a sofa, a large armoire, our piano, and some reclining club chairs in this space. I originally had a cowhide rug, but I had to take it up once my cat got old and cranky. Because she decided she had to pee on it. Constantly. Poor cowhide.

You can really see our refinished flooring shine through with the sparse and elegant staging selections. And looking at what the stager did with our spaces makes me realize I never had furniture that was the right size for this house. I was used to bigger spaces and a different flow when we moved in here, and I don’t think I ever adapted. Instead, I continued buying large furniture. I love large furniture. It’s a weakness of mine. But large furniture doesn’t work well for a townhouse. Lesson learned on my part.

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This is our dining room. For the first time since we moved in, it has returned to its original purpose. We never had a formal dining table and chairs in this house. My mother-in-law has promised us a beautiful, Asian-style cherry table and chairs. This was years ago, and we never brought them into the house because they seemed too big, overall. I’m not sure if she will remember her promise or not, but we shall see. On our watch, this room was a playroom for our daughter during her younger years. After that, it was an office space for my husband. In reality, it ended up being a cluttered mess. It looks so much nicer now.

But here’s the thing about the staging process. It makes the house look nicer and more elegant. I can’t deny that! But it is painful. It is a painful and frustrating process. Our stager hated that I have dogs. She wanted me to get rid of them for the duration of the staging. How am I supposed to do that? Where are they supposed to live for a month? Initially, I intended to have them in the house with us, albeit not on or around the stager’s furniture. The stager hated that idea. She told me she could not use her nice furniture because of my dogs. So, basically, I have the crappy second-hand furniture in my house. Which I don’t really care … because, sadly, it probably still looks nicer than my own furniture. In the end, she needn’t have worried. After the new carpeting went in, I realized the dogs would have to live out the rest of our time in this house in the garage. I hate this, but it’s the only way to keep the carpeting nice and dander-free.

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The office was an easy room to stage, since there wasn’t much that needed to happen in here. She basically left the room empty. This is my desk and chair and computer. The stager added some “inspirational” pictures and a fake plant to hide my routers and such. I miss having my bookshelves and “stuff” in here. But I have to admit I enjoy this sparse and clean look.

Once all the staging was in place, I quickly realized how much I disliked our stager. In the beginning, I was just mildly irritated with her and her attitude. But I was willing to overlook it and put most of my annoyance off to me being overly sensitive about my dogs. After all, the woman was just doing her job. And I know a lot of people don’t like dogs. I sometimes find this to be a major character flaw. But what do I know? I am a lover of all things dog. And I am certain some people consider that to be a character flaw on my part.

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This is my daughter’s room. She hates what the stager did in here. My daughter is fifteen, and this room is fit for a six or seven year old kid. One who is super girly, which is not my girl at all. Luckily, my daughter loves the color pink. Otherwise, it would have been torture for her to live with this for a month. It is cute, overall. I like the paintings the stager used on the walls. There are two of them, both city-scapes done in tones of green, blue, and pink. And I like how she used the space on the shelves behind my daughter’s bed. My dad built all of those, as well as the cute little desk beside the bed.

Back to my story about the stager and how mild annoyance grew into active dislike …

I came home to my lovely and elegant-looking house thinking all was well. Until I  needed to wash my hands and discovered there was no soap. None. Anywhere. The stager had taken away all of our soap. And she had put other soap in its place. But here’s the thing: You can’t really use the other soap she added. It’s just for show. Because … staging. I guess I should have known this when the stager told me, several times, that they usually only stage houses that are vacant. But, you see, my house is not vacant. I am still living here. And I need to wash my hands. And shower.

In the end, I found soap. But the stager had hidden it in weird places. So, basically, I had to continue hiding the real soap while the fake soap sat out on our counter. Before the stager came, I had cleaned out my drawers and medicine cabinets, leaving only the very basic things we use for every-day life. Apparently, people who live in the magazine houses don’t use basic things for every-day life. Because the stager took all of that stuff away. In its place, she left seashells and starfish inside our medicine cabinets. Oh. And more fake soap. It’s like she’s mocking me with the fake soap. I have to admit I rebelled a little by putting a bar of bath soap and the non-skid rubber mat back in my daughter’s shower. I hope no one tells the stager, though. I am certain she will come back to take it away.

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This is the master bedroom. That, of course, is not my bedding. Because my bedding was not good enough for the stager. Instead, she had to bring new bedding. She did this in my daughter’s room, too. But she actually liked my daughter’s comforter and left it underneath the staged comforter. My bedding didn’t make the cut at all. She wadded all of it up and stuffed it in the back of my closet. The bed is ours. It’s the queen-size bed that is destined for our guest room, once we eventually make it to Illinois. The bedside tables are mine. And the lamps are mine. The stager didn’t like any of these things, but she was forced to work with them. Poor lady, having to make do with my ugly and substandard furniture.

I used to have Alexa in this room, along with a clock, a phone, and a noise maker. The stager unplugged all of my electronic items. Every single one of them. In this photo, I had snuck my noise maker back onto my nightstand. Shhh! Don’t tell! Shortly after this, I put Alexa back, too. I need her because she is my alarm clock every morning. Also, she can tell me what time it is, since, apparently, people who live in fake magazine world don’t own clocks. Or care about time. They are dirty, smelly people who are perpetually late.

I guess fake magazine world people don’t have phones, either. Because the stager unplugged all of our telephones. And when I say unplugged, I really do mean “unplugged”. She managed to wreck our entire phone system, so I now have no home phone and have to rely on my mobile for everything. I say “everything”, but I do have one landline that still rings in the kitchen. I can never get to it in time to answer, but at least I can check voicemail now and again.

And the final thing fake magazine world people don’t have: trash cans. The stager systematically went through our entire house and removed every single trash can. She stashed some of them away in places where I found them later. There are a few I still haven’t found at all. And I ended up having to put my kitchen trash can into the garage. I am making do with a white trash bag hanging off a drawer knob for now. Because, yeah … that’s so much more elegant and lovely than the stainless steel trash can I originally had.

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In the end, the stager and I will not be friends. And the staging, overall, is difficult to live with. No soap … no trash cans … towels we can’t use or touch … furniture we can’t sit on … and the need to keep everything hidden and picture-perfect all the time. Did she make my house lovely? Yes. She absolutely did.

But she also made me really sad. Because my house is now just a house. It isn’t a home any longer. It isn’t comfortable or inviting for us. It’s just where we live … not where we LIVE. All of the memories are there, but, for now, our house has become a place where my daughter and I are marking time until we can move on to the next step in our journey. I guess this is the first step in saying good-bye. And good-bye is always hard.

 

The Junk Drawer

There is a neighborhood near where I live. I love this neighborhood. I’m not sure exactly what it is about it that attracts me so, but the attraction is undeniable. There is something homey and lovely about this neighborhood. It’s not exactly old, but also not exactly new. It’s a grid of sidewalks and broad streets lined by well-kept houses with beautiful yards. It is full of bird song, and, sometimes, I even see bunnies or deer, if I walk in the back parts of the neighborhood, where it connects with a city park. There is something that’s just so … “Norman Rockwell” about this neighborhood. The houses, for the most part, aren’t big or fancy. Some have been added onto over the years, expanding to settle in and fit on their lots. Some seem to have been unchanged since the day they were first built. It’s not the kind of neighborhood you would drive through to ooh and aah over the houses. It’s just a normal, everyday neighborhood where people go about the business of living their lives. They go to work. They come home. They tend to their yards. Maybe they drink coffee on the patio and watch their kids play. Realistically, I know there is nothing special about this neighborhood. Nothing at all.

And yet, this neighborhood never fails to give me happy feels. This particular little spot on the map calls to me on a soul-deep level. It’s not too much of one thing or another. It’s just a whole lot of “normal”, and I think this is a big part of why I love it so. I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood like this. I’ve always wanted to have a cute, not-too-large and not-too-small, house. I’ve always wanted to have a beautiful yard full of flowers and budding trees and birdsong and the buzzing of happy bees. In my imagination, there would be a porch in front and a patio in the back, both perfect for sitting quietly to enjoy a cup of tea and a book. Maybe, if I were lucky enough, even a nice spot for getting busy with my writing. My kitchen would be warm and welcoming and homey. My closets, table, and hallways would be uncluttered. My floors would be honey-colored pine, and they would always be clean. I would be organized and good about putting things away. In short, I would have all my shit together. And life would be the most perfect kind of beautiful normal I could make it.

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I’ve never lived in a house like that. Or in a neighborhood like that. I grew up in the country, so we didn’t really have neighbors. I mean, neighbors existed, but we never saw them because everyone lived far from each other. We might as well have been all alone. There were no sidewalks. There were no manicured yards or perfect flower beds. Not that I regret the way I grew up. I don’t — at all. I had horses and cats and dogs. I was able to experience fresh air and nature and hard work, all of which are beautiful and wonderful things. At night, I could sit on our front porch and watch the stars come out while listening to the scurrying night sounds of life around me. I loved growing up this way, and a part of me wishes I could live in the country, even now.

But the other part of me, the realistic part, knows that I will never live in the country again. My husband is a city person. He needs activity and things around him. He doesn’t like being alone with his thoughts or with the quiet of nature. He gets bored easily. So, that part of me — the part that knows I am destined to be a city dweller for the rest of my life — has wished for a plain little house with a big yard and beautiful flower beds in a quiet, welcoming neighborhood. Instead, I have a townhouse. It’s in a teeny cul-de-sac neighborhood with six other houses. My house is too tall and full of stairs. The closets are too small, and my family tends to hoard things. Seriously, we never clean out our junk. My house is laid out in a way that is aesthetically pleasing, but it isn’t practical. It lacks storage space. The kitchen looks large and inviting, but, in reality, it is too small for more than one person to be in there at a time. It’s hard to find a place to put the Christmas tree. There isn’t enough space for an office and a guest room. My flowerbeds tend to be overgrown. I’ve found I’m not good at weeding them. They don’t seem to have enough dirt, so planting anything is difficult. All the front lawns have to look the same; it’s an HOA rule. Our backyard is smaller than a postage stamp, which means it is constantly muddy and torn up from our dogs.

But, really, the only thing wrong with my house is that it’s not what I wanted. It’s not the kind of home I ever imagined having. It’s not the kind of house I wanted. I was so excited when I moved here and we started looking for houses. My excitement lasted exactly five and a half minutes, because that was about how long it took for sticker shock to set in where property values were concerned. Even so, I was pregnant when we moved in, and I was ready to nest. I wanted a home I could put my heart and soul into, a place I could LOVE. But we had a long-term houseguest when we first moved in, and I quickly discovered my husband didn’t want to do anything new to the house. And I was too pregnant to do any of it myself. And then, I had a baby and a toddler and a little kid. So, life just kind of zoomed by me. I think I gave up. I gave up on the possibility of loving my house. Instead, this house, in my mind, is the compromise my husband and I made. We never planned to stay here. It was a “temporary thing”. We have now lived here for almost 15 years, partly because the economy unexpectedly tanked and partly because my husband hates change. And I am beginning to believe this is the only house I will ever have.

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This is where that neighborhood I love so much becomes dangerous to me. Even as I enjoy my walk through there, taking in the smells of flowers and the sound of birdsong, I feel this aching longing inside of me. I am proverbially standing on the outside and looking in, just inches away from what my heart wants. But still impossibly cut-off from those hopes and dreams. It makes me sad, sometimes. And, sometimes, I can feel my depression creeping in on me.

And that’s when I have to remind myself about the junk drawer. As I walk these sidewalks and look at these houses, it’s so easy to think about how perfect and beautiful they look on the outside. When I see the swings and the toys in the yards, I think about happy children running and playing and screaming in delight. When I see the flowers blooming all over the neighborhood, I think about quiet cups of tea on a perfect patio. Each house looks kept and loved and beautiful on the outside. It’s easy to think that life on the inside must be perfect, too. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that all these people have everything figured out, that they have managed to do what I seem to have failed at in magnificent fashion. In contrast, my mind thinks about my own unmade bed, my overgrown backyard, my overstuffed closets sorely in need of a good clearing-out.

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But, if I think about it, really hard, I bet every single one of those perfect-looking houses has a junk drawer. I bet they have at least one place where all the flotsam and jetsam of life ends up collecting. One place where they put all the things they can’t manage to toss or all the things that don’t seem to have a place. And, if there is a junk drawer, maybe there is also a cluttered table top. Maybe there are times when the people who live in that house can’t get along. Maybe they sometimes yell at each other, or they are late for dinner, or they forget to put gas in the car. Maybe their kids have problems in school. Or maybe they are sad over the death of a relative.

And then, I feel a little better about my own life. Because, maybe, my life looks perfect from the outside, too. I know my bed isn’t made. I know my kitchen table is cluttered. I know I have an overflowing junk drawer. But no one else knows this.

The point isn’t that I’m happy thinking about the potential unhappiness of strangers. I’m not. I actually hope the lives of all these unknown people are as perfect on the inside as they seem on the outside. The point is this: None of us has a perfect life. We all have to compromise, here and there. We all have to make the best of things. We all have to learn how to be happy with what we have. We all have to learn to count our blessings. But, in spite of not being perfect, life is beautiful. My life is beautiful. I have a husband I love. And he loves me back. I have a daughter who laughs with me and plays Pokemon Go with me. I have two dogs who love to snuggle with me. I laugh, every day. I love, every day. So, yeah, it’s not perfect — not on the inside, and not on the outside, either. But this life is mine.

And, once I learn how to cherish that idea, maybe I can start learning how to fall in love once again — with my beautifully imperfect life and with my unexpected house, too.

Hello, Spring!

Spring is officially here. I don’t know what date WordPress will put on this post, but I am sitting here typing it at 8:55 PM on March 21. Which means it is the second day of Spring. I generally don’t enjoy Spring. I am allergic to dust and trees and grasses and weeds and mold and all kinds of flowers and … Well, probably a lot more things than I can remember to list in here. Basically, I am allergic to every single thing Spring brings. Instead of being able to enjoy the warm breezes and the soft sun on my face, I am forced to double and triple up on my allergy medication and drive around with my car windows closed and the a/c blasting full force. On any normal year, I do not greet Spring with open arms or joy in my heart.

But this has not been a normal year. It has been a year of stress and disappointment and worry and more stress. Winter was supposed to bring us mounds and mounds of fluffy, beautiful snow, according to our seasonal forecasts. Instead, it brought us warmer than average days and rain. Lots and lots of rain. Which, in turn, meant all the things I am allergic to bloomed in the Winter, too. There was no relief for this hacking and sneezing allergy sufferer.

I don’t dislike rain, by the way. I am from a place where it doesn’t rain nearly enough, so rain holds a bit of a special place in my heart. There is something kind of magical and mysterious and fun about a gray and rainy day. But … we have had months of these types of days. If I’m being honest, I have to admit I am more than a little sick of rain. I am also sick of my muddy yard and the dog foot prints that are all over my floors.

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So I was ready for Spring this year. The idea that it was quickly on its way, coupled with the unseasonably warm temperatures we have had for most of the winter, had me thinking of pastel colors, flowers, and buzzing bees. I was ready for the smell of fresh earth and green grass, even if I had to enjoy these things in extremely short bursts. And I thought it was beyond time for some bright colors in a world that seems to have gone all too gray.

Today, Spring looks like a fluffy white, slushy mess outside my window. I got so excited about Spring’s arrival that it seems I forgot about our annual March dumping of snow. And it arrived, right on schedule, today — just in time to celebrate Spring. It’s cold. It’s wet. Everything is frozen. In short, things are unexpectedly unpleasant.

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But … school was canceled. And it will be canceled again for tomorrow. My sweet girl and husband were both home today, and we nested inside our house. We laughed and joked. My daughter and I played a video game together. We had home made tortilla soup. I watched the dogs playing in the snow. We were all warm. And safe. And together. In short, things were unexpectedly awesome. I can’t think of a better way to welcome Spring.

A Day of Checking Out

Sometimes, you make plans. You lay in bed at night, thinking about all the things you need to do and all the things you want to do in the coming day. And you organize and categorize and plan through how you’re going to get all of it done. Or a majority of it done. Or, maybe you know you’ll never get it all done, but you make a mini list of things you feel you can accomplish in the space of the coming day. It feels good to plan. There is something about sitting down (or lying in bed at night) and thinking through a plan, with steps you feel you can easily accomplish. It breaks something huge and uncontrollable down into little bits that feel easier to manage. It makes you feel like you have control over your life, in a way. Maybe, if you can come up with a plan and follow through on all the steps and accomplish this task, you can also grab hold of bigger things in your life, like your insecurities and fears and uncertainties. Maybe you can conquer those, as well.

Perhaps this is just me. I used to be extra-organized. I’m not that person any more. I daydream more. I can’t find things in my house. I’m always losing my keys. Or my phone. Or my glasses. I don’t pay attention to my calendar, even though I know I should. But even I enjoy the feeling of invincibility that comes with knowing I have managed to think up the perfect plan that will allow me to accomplish all the stuff everyone thinks I need to be doing. However fleeting, it is a true “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow” feeling. And it is FABULOUS.

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The funny thing is that we really aren’t in control at all. Maybe we can fool ourselves into thinking we have some say in what happens to us. Or that we have the ability to make things go one way or another in our lives. We can accomplish one task or one set of tasks, but there is going to be something else down the road, just around the next corner. And, sometimes, the universe gets in the way. You might think everything is going to go one way, but the universe likes to step in and say, “Um … No. I don’t think so.”

Today was one of those days. I went to bed last night thinking about which errands I needed to run today. I needed to return some things at a local craft store. I needed to return some things at Target. I needed to purchase some things at Target. I needed to make a run to my local Sally’s for nail polish remover. I wanted to go to a certain place for lunch. I needed to do laundry. I wanted to make this blog post. I wanted to do some pictures for my nail polish blog. I had it all planned out, particularly because my daughter was scheduled to stay after school for a couple of extracurricular activities. I had all this extra time. It was a gift! A gift of “here-I-am-doing-all-the-things”. I was going to be so accomplished. It was going to be incredible, and I was going to roar my amazingness out into the ether like a boss. Rawr!!

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But the universe said no. We had low freezing temperatures last night, along with a wintery mix of snow and ice. We woke up to a day full of cold and dreary rain, all of which seemed to be freezing up on the sidewalks and less-traveled side streets. The main streets around our house seemed okay because they were treated, and because there is a lot of traffic on them throughout the day and night. My daughter’s school was closed today due to the weather. Clearly, it was not a day for going out.

And so, we checked out for the day. My husband worked from home. We cooked breakfast. We played with the dogs. Basically, other than a quick run out for lunch, we cocooned. My daughter and I spent the whole afternoon watching anime. I finally got to introduce her to one of my very favorite shows. We laughed and joked and talked about anything and everything.

Did I get any of my planned tasks done? Nope. And I’m totally okay with that. Because I ended up with extra time that was a gift I didn’t even know I needed.

Fae’s Ribbon

I’ve written in here before about my rescue dog, Fae. I’ve had her since she was nine weeks old. She is a boxer-hound mix of some sort. She is, as they say, “of unknown parentage”. No bloodlines or registration or fancy, long names for this gal! Fae is a mutt, through and through. She has a body that looks like a perfect combination of boxer and hound: long legs, thinned down waist, big torso and chest. She has, in comparison to her body, a teeny, coyote-looking head. She has an incredibly squirrelly personality. I think of her as my mutt-boxer-hound-coyote-squirrel mix dog.

I realize this description may come across as less than flattering. But know that I type these words with love. There are parts of Fae that are beautiful, even if, taken as a whole, she is a little odd in appearance. She is sweet and loving. She is the gentlest dog I have ever owned. She is a little crazy, but in a good way. In short, I love Fae. She is an interesting creature in a world of boring. She is an unknown in a world of “everything has to be the same”. She is a mystery, running around on four very long legs. She is an amazing runner, by the way. I’ve always wished I could take her coursing, just to let her loose and watch her really stretch out and run. But I’m sure it would scare her to death.

Because that’s the thing about Fae. She doesn’t like most things. She doesn’t like rain. Or the dark. Or strange noises. Or cats. Or leaves that blow. Or bugs. Or strangers. Or other dogs, except for Shiner (our Springer, who she has known since his puppyhood). Or car rides. Or walks. Or having her picture taken. Or … Well, the list could go on and on and on. Basically, Fae doesn’t like the world. It is as if she doesn’t know how to interact with it and doesn’t know what to expect from it. In short, the outside world scares her to bits.

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So, imagine my surprise a few days ago when Fae discovered the ribbon. The ribbon came off a package of granola. It is a spring green with darker polka-dots on it, and it was used over the twist tie on the granola package. You know … to give it a homey, pretty look. I opened the granola and put the ribbon on the counter.

Immediately, Fae came over to investigate. Here’s the thing about having a long-legged dog: No counter is safe or sacred. Fae is a professional counter-surfer. She is so good at it that she passed this skill along to Shiner. I know I should have put a stop to this, but the idea that Fae — my sweet, shy, timid, scared-of-it-all Fae — had wisdom she could pass on to someone else warmed my heart. Everyone needs a moment. And, I think this was hers.

Anyhow, the ribbon ended up going from the counter to the floor in short order. Fae sniffed it. She licked it. She carried it around for a very short distance. She looked at it in a way I can only describe as “admiring”. Once I finished putting away the granola, I went looking for the ribbon. I figured she was only interested in it because it smelled like granola. Fae is very food-driven. She is one of those dogs who acts like they are constantly starving.

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As I went to put the ribbon into the trash, Fae followed me. She stood on the other side of the trash can, watching as I opened the lid and prepared to drop the ribbon inside. As my hand lowered the ribbon into the trash, Fae reached out and, ever so gently, grabbed the ribbon’s free end in her mouth, just before it hit the trash. Our eyes met. Her tail began to wag.

“Fae,” I asked, “Is this your ribbon? Do you love it?”

She continued to stand there, staring at me with her beautiful, slightly mournful brown eyes. This surprised me. It really did. Because Fae doesn’t love very many tings. She doesn’t even like very many things. And so, I did the only thing I could do. I tied the ribbon onto her collar. The ribbon isn’t very big. It’s just big enough that I can tie it around her collar and make a small bow with the free ends. It doesn’t really show. You kind of have to know it’s there in order to see it.

But none of that matters. Fae knows it’s there, and it appears that, indeed, she loves it. She stood very still as I tied it. Three days later, it’s still there — a small bit of fancy on an unfancy dog. When it comes untied, I will say, “Oh, Fae. Your ribbon came untied.” And she comes to me and stands very still as I tie the bow once more. After that, she goes on her merry way, tail wagging. Perhaps I was wrong. It seems there’s a bit of fancy in my sweet girl, after all.

Dirt Devil

I feel like I have one of these living in my house. Not the kind that cleans up dirt, but the kind that spins around and creates more and more mess.

I’ve been away from home for about a month. Shortly before I left, my cleaning ladies quit suddenly. I’m not nearly as upset about the cleaning ladies quitting as I thought I would be. There are many positives to our new situation, not the least of which is that they had gotten pretty careless with my things. Each time they came, I would find more and more things broken. They were also rather judgmental about my house at times, so having them come had become stressful for me. I’m such an introvert that having strangers in my house — even strangers I’m used to — is pretty upsetting. I feel relieved knowing they won’t be coming any more. Given how stressful it had become for me to have them in my house, I probably should have let them go quite some time ago. But I felt bad doing it, because I worried that it would take away part of their income. Their sudden and abrupt departure relieved me of that guilt, which was a good thing. Also, it’s really nice to know I can now save back the money I was spending every other week to have them clean the house. So, yeah … Lots of positives, even if it wasn’t a change I instigated.

My house is not the cleanest. There are only three of us, but we are all a bit lazy and lax about putting our things away and doing the regular cleaning chores. Things tend to be dusty and cluttered. For the most part, I’m the only one who cleans, and I often feel overwhelmed with all the clutter, so I avoid the whole thing. I feel frustrated and annoyed that I can’t keep my house clean. The nooks and crannies, in particular, will never be clean. I know I need to learn to accept this, but I can’t seem to manage it. And there are the dogs. I love the dogs. Sometimes, I love them a lot more than I love my husband and child. This might make me a bad person … Or maybe not. I’m not sure, but it is the truth of things. Sometimes, I find the dogs much easier to get along with than a grumpy pre-teen and a grumpy hubby. Plus, the dogs are always happy to see me. Always. I don’t feel I can say the same about the rest of my family. No matter how much I love them, though, I have to admit the dogs are a big source of dirt and dust. They shed like crazy. They go outside … then inside … then outside … then inside … then outside … then inside (you get the picture), which means quite a bit of dirt and dust gets tracked back into the house.

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So, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve been away from home for a month. Before I left, I cleaned the whole house. I probably didn’t clean it as well as the cleaning ladies would have done, but I did do a whole top-to-bottom thing: vacuum, mop, bathrooms, dust, etc … My husband, much as I adore him, is not a cleaner. He’s more of a clutterer. Even so, I had hopes that I could come home to a relatively clean house. After all, all he had to do was run the vacuum over the floors once or twice and, maybe, refresh the bathroom that he was using regularly. He was the only one at home, so I reasoned this fact alone would help. I mean, fewer people making a mess is a good thing, right?

Wrong. I came home to a wreck of a house. Clearly, my personal dirt devil had a field day (or a whole series of field days) while I was absent. Nothing had been done for the whole month that I was gone. No vacuuming, no mopping, no dusting, no … well, you kind of get the picture, right? There was enough dog hair on the downstairs carpet to make a whole new dog! And a fine coating of dust decorated every flat surface. Thankfully, there were only a couple of dishes left in the sink. I had almost expected to come home to a whole pile of those, too. If that had happened, I think I might have cried a little bit. Even so, it was a little demoralizing. I guess, if I want to look for the positives, I could tell myself that this shows how much I’m needed at home. But, somehow, it didn’t feel that way when I stood in my entryway and stared at the mess in front of me. I almost wished I hadn’t come home. It all just felt like too much, and I stood there, staring at it all in dismay and thinking that I needed a good, stiff drink. Or three.

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Today, though, I have wrangled some sort of order out of the chaos. My husband even helped me. We vacuumed and dusted and mopped and dusted some more. I even got down into all the nooks and crannies, sending the dust bunnies scurrying for safety. There’s still a lot of work to do, but at least I feel like the house is livable again for the foreseeable future. And my dirt devil has been tamed — for the moment, anyhow. Take that, dirt devil!

Washer Woman

The day before yesterday was “laundry day” at my house. And so was the day before that. And, actually, a couple of days previous to that one, too. Laundry is a never-ending task. There are only three people in my family, and yet, it seems I do laundry all the time. All. The. Time. I think Dante had it all wrong, with his circles of hell. Surely, at least one of them consists of some poor woman, stooped and worn, who is destined to spend eternity yanking heavy , wet clothes out of a washer and flinging them into a dryer. Like some perpetual rinse cycle … always knowing she will never complete her task. Then again, Dante was a man. He probably didn’t wash his own clothes — especially back in the day when he was kicking around the planet. He was probably too busy “creating” … and stuff.

I blame my family. Not for Dante; even they can’t take responsibility for that guy. But for my own laundry hell. My family has this unholy fascination with wearing clean clothes. Especially underwear and socks. They want clean clothes Every Damn Day. What is up with that? It borders on obsession, really. I am beginning to think it’s all a bit unhealthy — for me, in particular.

Dirty clothes are finicky. You would think they’d be happy just getting clean. Not only that, but they get to have fun doing it. If you think about it, the whole wash/dry experience is like a water park ride and relaxing sauna, all in one. You would think clothes would be grateful. But … no. Some things have to wash on hot, and some only on cold. Some always dry too much, so you have to check all during the dry cycle to make sure they don’t wrinkle or shrink. Certain things can’t be washed with each other. And there is always that one piece of clothing left out at the end of everything. You know the one. It has to go on the gentle cycle and can only wash when birds are singing and there’s a rainbow outside the window. Even if all these factors collide into perfect washing conditions, I’m still left with the inescapable fact that this is a lone piece of clothing. I can’t justify wasting water to wash just one top or pair of pants, no matter how much I try to convince myself otherwise. And so, it goes back into the laundry bin. I give up any hope of ever wearing it again, and it lurks there in the darkness at the bottom of the bin, mocking me with the knowledge that I’ll never, ever, ever manage to get all the laundry Done. I’ll never finish, and I can look forward into time and see washing day after washing day, all lined up and waiting for me. Gives me the shivers, just thinking about it.

(I could, of course, hand wash the darn thing. But … no. Washing machines were invented for a reason. I’m not a heathen.)

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The funny thing is, everyone has opinions on laundry and how it should be done. If I let it pile up and up, my mother scolds me for being lazy and letting it go too long. (Yes, I’m 46, and my mother still scolds me. I’m trying to live with this knowledge, but it isn’t easy.) When I decide to stay on top of this most-hated task, my husband tells me I’m wasting my time with laundry, instead of doing “more important” things. He says I should leave it until I have a whole day’s worth to do at once. A whole, entire day spent doing laundry — wow, what fun! Not. Of course, my husband has never offered to do the laundry for me. I feel this shows a lack of conviction on his part. It’s not that I’m ungrateful for his sage advice. But, if your system really is better, then put your money where your mouth is. Let’s see it in operation, preferably with anyone other than me at the washing machine controls. This never happens.

Socks and underwear are the worst. I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate washing, drying, and folding socks and underwear. Every time I have to do it, my soul dies a little bit. I think socks and underwear breed in the washer. If I listen hard enough, I swear I can hear them giggling in there, and I know naughty things are happening. Socks and underwear don’t deserve a day at the water park followed by a nice, relaxing sauna. They are the renegades of the laundry world, and aren’t worthy of having nice things. I feel they constantly take advantage of my kindness. There always seem to be more of them at the end of the drying process than what I dumped into the washer. (Because of the breeding, I’m sure.) They all stick together, and not in a positive and life-affirming way. And the socks never want to match up. No matter how careful I am when putting them into the wash, no matter how hard I try to pay attention and make sure each sock has a mate, I’m always left with at least one odd-ball, unmatched sock at the end. Always. I think my dryer is a portal to another dimension. A dimension where some unfortunate being sits around wondering why I keep sending him/her all my socks. This is the only explanation.

No … really.

The Ice Cometh …

So, how does that Christmas carol go? Something about, “Gone away is the bluebird … Here to stay is a new bird …”

One of my Well, I can tell you one thing, for sure: If the bluebird had been around yesterday, she would have been coated in ice.

So the snow from my last post faded away into oblivion. Did it, as expected, leave behind mud? Or grungy-gray slush? Oh no! Not this snow. This little snowstorm, apparently, had its “big girl pants” on, because our minuscule bit of snow melted away into ice. Not only that, but it brought along wind and freezing rain in order to put on one glorious show.

faded rose blossom covered in ice. dec 2013Yesterday morning, my hubby told me I should get up early-ish (if left to my own devices, I will choose to sleep in, every time), because there was “some ice out there”. He thought I might enjoy the photo opportunities. I have to admit I was more than a little bit grumbly about having to roust myself out of my warm and snuggly bed at the inhumanely awful time of 8:30 in the AM. (Yes, I am being a bit sarcastic there. This is an early time for me, but I realize it is not for most of the normal people out there in the world.) I thought to myself, “Why the heck am I bothering with this? It’s just a little bit of ice. What’s the big deal?”

icy trees and sidewalk in my neighborhood. dec 2013I was not mentally prepared for what I would see once I stepped outside my house. “Awe” seems so cliche and silly, but it is an apt description. Nearly every surface within view was coated in a thin sheet of ice. The early(ish) morning sunlight, although weak from filtering through heavy cloud cover, hit the high spots and seemed to sparkle and twinkle off the glassy coating. Each tree branch looked as if it had been dipped right into the stuff. They hung low and heavy toward the ground, burdened by the extra weight of their beauty. The last of the fall roses hadn’t escaped. Each one wore a new, shining decoration, as if Mother Nature had decided to  preserve each delicate blossom for us to enjoy through winter months that tend to be filled with brown and gray.

brown leaves in ice. dec 2013There is something eerie and unsettling about an ice-bound landscape. There is no noise. The birds and the squirrels are all hiding away, tucked in safe and warm, so the familiar, lilting songs and the rustle of the leaves are missing. It’s funny how familiar noises seem to make a hole in the world when they are no longer there. I hear the squirrels chasing each other through the leaves pretty much every single day; I get to the point where I almost don’t notice it at all. But then, when it’s not there … Well, the world is no longer complete. There might be a breeze, but the trees don’t bend and sway to its rhythm. They are too heavy and brittle. And so, everything seems still — but not a peaceful kind of stillness. This is more tense, as if the world all around me is waiting for something to happen. As if everything has paused to watch and wait for whatever comes next, and none of us know what that thing might be. It’s only when the breeze kicks up into a genuine wind that the trees move. Then, there is sound: the clicking of ice-bound branches as they strike against each other. It’s a small kind of music.

my mums in ice. dec 2013Today, there was more snow. It settled on the ground in fluffy drifts, softening the glistening, unforgiving brilliance of the ice. As the temperatures rose, it began to melt. Of course, the ice melted, too. Our streets are clear now, and this second round of snow has already turned to slushy mud in my yard and at the corners of the curbs.

All of which, of course, means that I have to return to the real world tomorrow. There will be muddy dog prints in the entry way and muddy boot prints on the carpet. There will be worries over how I will accomplish all the things I must do within the stingy amount of time allotted for them. I will wonder what to make for dinner. I will wish I didn’t have to cook dinner at all. I will go to the grocery store and on a field trip with my daughter. I will have to tackle cleaning out my over-stuffed office, because, apparently, the house-cleaning fairies are on strike this month. I will hate every second of it. I will put gas in my car. Everything will return to the comforting mundanity in which I live on a daily basis — in which we all live on a daily basis.

red berries in ice. dec 2013But, underneath all of that, I will remember that, for one magical moment, I stepped outside my house and walked through an entire world made of glass. When the boring reality of my life eats away at me and I want to scream out of frustration, I can close my eyes and see all of it there, right in my mind. I can remember the clicking of the tree branches and the way all the colors seemed brighter and more real than ever before. And I will know that, if we look hard enough, even “normal” can be something pretty special.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thankfulness Is …

A warm t-shirt on a cold day …

Actually, I don’t know if thankfulness really is that, but it’s the first thing that popped into my head. So I wrote it down. I do that sometimes. I know I shouldn’t, but I still do. Yikes.

turkey for turkey-day!Anyhow, tomorrow is Thanksgiving!! Which, I am certain, you already figured out based on the terrible turkey drawing above. Can’t pull one over on you guys, can I? Alas, I don’t think drawing skill is one of the things for which I should be thankful. I would say I draw like a fifth-grader, but that might just be an insult to fifth-graders the world over.

It is absolutely unbelievable to me that November is already (almost) over … that Advent starts in just a few days … that my parents are coming to visit for Christmas in just three weeks (eeeek!) … or that Christmas is bearing down upon us all, bringing with it the oddly primal need to put up lights and outdoor decorations, the giddy joy of friends and family, and the hectic stress of trying to complete holiday mailing and shopping on time. Whew! I’m exhausted just typing all of that out loud.

I think Thanksgiving tends to get overlooked a bit in our society. We are all about making a buck, so it seems Christmas decorations follow right on the heels of Halloween ones. I suppose there’s not much money to be made from turkey-themed tchotkes. I guess I can understand this. After all, turkeys are not the most attractive or nicest birds in the barnyard.

I’ve always liked Thanksgiving. I like the idea of, just for a moment or two, getting off this crazy merry-go-round thing that is life, taking a breath, and remembering just how very much good fortune has come my way. I like the idea of a whole day that is devoted to family and friends. I’ve spent many happy Thanksgiving days and nights at my parents’ house, in the midst of aunts, uncles, and cousins, all of us laughing and telling crazy stories while we play dominoes and cards. So many memories get passed around each year, taken out and displayed with pride like the true treasures they are. It’s a wonderful time to reconnect with those you love. To remember just where you come from. To think, for a moment or two, about where you’re going and about what you might do once you get there. When I think of Thanksgivings of my past, the memories are warm, with sepia-toned edges, like precious photographs from my family’s albums.

This year, as in most years since we moved to Virginia, we will celebrate without our extended families. Just my hubby, the kiddo, and me. But we are blessed with wonderful friends who, over the years we have known each other, have become a second, surrogate family. And I know we will all sit down to the table together. We will all ooh and aaah over the wonderful bounty placed before us. We will tell stories and jokes, each of us trying to talk or laugh the loudest. We will all feel warm and treasured and loved. There will be old memories, and new ones, too. Because, even though some things change … other things — the important things — stay the same. I think that is the thing for which I am most thankful: today, tomorrow, and always.

Happy, happy Thanksgiving to all of you who celebrate this holiday. I hope tomorrow is everything you expect and nothing you don’t, and that it’s filled with laughter and the most wonderful memories of all. And, to those who don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, a wish from me to you that you will have peace, love, joy, and the warmth of your family and loved ones around you.