April Awakening

I’ve always loved the springtime—especially the warm embrace of April. Of all the seasons, I’m inclined to say that it is my favorite—partly because baseball is back and the school year is drawing its last breath, but mostly because it is an era awash with newness. Almost indescribably so. Wisps of green now dot the underbrush, as if God had been handed a paintbrush and was then asked to create something slightly magnificent. Likewise, daffodils and forsythia, bathed in brilliant yellows, have been summoned from the places where shades of gray have lived for far too long. Lilac and cherry blossoms, too, are poised to burst with a profusion of muted hues and the sweet scents of spring. Armies of tulips will soon follow, standing straight and tall in the midday sun. Never mind the rain that must fall.

Indeed, the creatures of this season move me, too. The melodies of more songbirds than I can readily name fill the air along with the serenade of crickets—legions of them, welcoming each night as the woods grow thick with darkness and alive with a symphony of sound. Before long, the yellow-green flashes of fireflies will entrance my children, prompting them to give chase, mayonnaise jars in hand—but not yet. This is springtime and the earth feels soft and yielding beneath my feet, rekindling memories of running barefoot as a child, the cool blades of grass and spongy patches of moss mingling intimately with my toes. The same toes, mind you, that have begged to be reacquainted with the deliciousness of leather sandals since mid-February. The calendar assures me that the time is nigh and that the months ahead are certain to bring both warmth and goodness to the land. Springtime, it seems, is pregnant with possibility, which is yet another reason I love it so.

Or maybe it’s because all three of my children were born in the thick of April. Aries babies. Tiny souls destined for equal shares of independence and optimism, despite the vast array of frailties that came with being frighteningly preterm. As one might expect, I worried about umbilical cords, fontanels and cries I had yet to decipher. I think it was there in the hospital, amidst the haze of becoming a mother again and again, where I first recognized how unspeakably euphoric this season of new beginnings made me feel. How I could look outside my window at the verdant landscape below, all the splendor of spring unfolding before me, and then marvel, in the very same breath, at the bundles of neediness I had helped create—the ones with fuzzy, sweet-smelling heads and impossibly tiny toes, the babes I would soon rock in the creaky chair that had been my great grandmother’s.

Somehow, seeing the buds and the birds and the medley of green filled me with a tangible sense of hope and enthusiasm for whatever the future might bring. The sleepless nights and debilitating bouts of self-doubt I would surely encounter seemed almost manageable in the context of Mother Nature’s grand awakening. Deep within, I believed that no matter how ineptly I nursed the smallish beings in question or how spectacularly wrong I swaddled said infants, all would be well. My parenting days, though stunningly imperfect, would fill my cup, bind me inextricably to my brood and leave me wondering how I ever functioned without them. The spring had arrived after all, and the canvas of my world had been painted with broad strokes of vibrant color and punctuated with untold joy.

Of course, it could just be the birthdays we celebrate at this time of year that make the season so special. There are four if you count my husband’s—all within a span of three weeks—and I can’t help but indelibly etch in my mind all the cakes and candles, all the meals at fancy restaurants with friends and family and the countless parties with giddified bunches of little girls crowding around to see what bit of wonderfulness so-and-so happened to have unwrapped. And let us not forget the slumber parties. Lord knows I won’t.

Then again, it might simply be Easter, the mother of grand awakenings, that makes this time so very dear. Egg hunts and wicker baskets. Frilly dresses and shiny shoes. Palm fronds and penitence. Spiritually stirring events that cause me to ponder the true meaning of awakening, rendering me awestruck far beyond the month of April.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (savoring every drop of spring). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under A Tree is Nice, Love and Other Drugs, motherhood, Mushy Stuff, Spring Fling

Beautiful Mess

Sometimes the stuff we need to hear from our children is muddled or falls to the ground, silent as snowflakes. Other times, those gems of communiqué are deafening, delivering messages that are both unfiltered and unapologetic. Still other times, the meat of the message is sandwiched in-between layers of fluff, artfully disguised as something unimportant. As a stunningly imperfect parent, I’ve been on the receiving end of each of these, although the sandwich-y variety is especially popular with my motley crew.

“Mom, please don’t sing in the car. You’re ruining Ed Sheeran for me. And by the way, I had a horrible day at school. Don’t even ask. Now you’re ruining Adele. Please stop.”

Occasionally, I’m thrown off course by such commentary (i.e. harsh critiques of my musical abilities, or the lack thereof) and, consequently, fail to attend to the nugget of truth nestled within the statement: “I had a bad day, ergo I will pummel anything and everything in my path to relieve my pain and angst.”

Thankfully though, messages of that ilk usually snake their way through the tangle of thoughts crowding my mind and I actually address what’s bothering the daughter in question. It’s only taken me 27 years of parenting to figure that out.

If I’ve learned anything at this post, however, it’s that the learning never ends. And that more often than not, the most valuable lessons are the ones taught by the children I’m attempting to raise.

Case in point: Not long ago, at the close of a very long day, I was in the thick of admonishing one of my teenagers for the disgraceful state of her bedroom—which is more like a burrow than anything. Over the past few years, I’ve grown accustomed to keeping her door shut in order to avoid a rage-induced tirade, since it’s a battle I’d rather not have.

That said, her clothes are nearly always strewn like carnage, the dirty ones rarely making it to the hamper, the clean ones arranged in tired heaps on the floor, almost never finding the drawers or closet because that would make entirely too much sense. In all honesty, I can’t remember the last time her bed was made, nor can I accurately recall what the top of her dresser looks like without the hodgepodge of stuff piled on it—an avalanche in the making.

Not surprisingly, I’ve been known to unearth remnants beneath her bed such as discarded bowls, Starbucks cups and the earbuds that had been MIA forever. Admittedly, and on occasion, I break down and mate the socks I stumble across and pair the shoes that I might have hurled into the aforementioned hovel because I simply can’t stand that they aren’t together, let alone in their rightful place in the universe.

So when I discovered her rain soaked hoodie, balled up in the corner of the dining room AGAIN, I began to seethe, marching upstairs to deliver it in person. And since she was standing in the doorway of her lair-turned-shrine-to-epic-disorder I couldn’t resist the urge to chide her about that, too.

“Your room is a DISASTER,” I spat, completely fed up with having to have the same conversation. Again.

“Yes, but I’m not,” she answered as she looked me straight in the eye—then hugged me tight and headed off to bed for the night.

It’s what I needed to hear—a tiny reminder that the really important things in life aren’t disastrous, one of whom was standing squarely before me, growing into a remarkable human being, one who is loving and kind, joyful and generous, hopeful and bright. It was a message both loud and clear that helped me remember that the ultimate goal (mine anyway) is to embrace parenthood and to recognize it as the beautiful mess that it is.

One day, not long from now, she’ll leave that room behind, box up her favorite treasures and cart them someplace new. And I’ll help her pack—sure to salvage a lone sock or something to remind me of the days that were filled with chaos but with joy as well.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, mastering the art of defective parenting. Spectacularly. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2015 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "G" is for Guilt, In the Trenches of Parentville, Love and Other Drugs, motherhood

Valentine’s Day in the Trenches of Parentville

Somewhere in the great continuum of life, my children evolved from toddlers to teens—seemingly overnight. And although I don’t miss the blur of early parenthood, projectile vomiting or the abundance of Legos I trod upon in the dead of night, I do miss delicious experiences like shopping for valentines with my brood. Stop laughing.

Never mind that it was a painstaking process, watching them pace back and forth in store aisles attempting to choose the ultimate Disney-themed design from the hoards that were available. Even more painstaking was the process of helping them fill out dozens for classmates and beloved teachers, since the children in question had yet to master the art of writing their own names. But that was part of the fun—witnessing their determined efforts and the care with which they tackled the task year after year. In the end, it was always worth it.

So it’s sort of sad that the celebrated valentines-exchange-gig is over for my kids. Sadder still is the fact that mass marketers never seemed to have capitalized on consumers like parents—an enormous segment of the population that could potentially benefit from trading sentiments related to being in the trenches together. Just for fun, I came up with a handful of ludicrous valentines that moms and dads might find fitting for the occasion.

1)  You look ravishing, Valentine…especially when you find time to shower and brush your teeth after a harrowing day with the kids.

2)  Can’t wait to be alone with you, Babe…right after we read 47 bedtime stories and wipe the pasta off the dining room walls.

3)  You had me at “I’ll go to the parent/teacher conference this time. You just make yourself comfy on the couch, have a big glass of wine and read a great book.”

4)  There’s nothing that says LOVE like offering to fold our brood’s laundry (the right way) and find all their missing socks.

5)  You’re never sexier than when you’re unplugging the kids’ toilet or helping them with their godawful homework.

6)  Be mine, Valentine! The kids are at a SLEEPOVER!

7)  I’ll be yours always and forever…if you promise to let me nap on the beach while you keep our youngest from drowning and/or pooping in the sand.

8)  You’re my soul mate and I can’t imagine life without you as we tackle sleep deprivation, sibling rivalry and teen angst together.

9) You take my breath away—even when I’m NOT yelling at the kids.

10)  I’ll love you till the end of time, Valentine, or until our children stop asking unanswerable questions.

11)  Nothing sounds more romantic than you, me and grocery shopping WITHOUT the kids.

12)  Dance with me, tiny dancer—even though the floor is littered with Cheerios and naked Barbie dolls.

13)  Kiss me, you fool—never mind that our children are conducting a science experiment in the kitchen—possibly with flour, glue and glitter.

14)  I’ll love you to the moon and back…if you’ll plan the kids’ birthday parties and the next six vacations.

15)  You complete me, my dear, but never more than when you’re taxiing the kids all over the damn place.

16)  Oh, how I adore thee, my hero…especially when you traipse around the house in your underwear because I heard a strange noise at 3 a.m.

17)  Valentine, you make my heart race, even more than when our children play in traffic or ride scooters through the house.

18)  Love means never having to explain why you let the kids eat ice cream for dinner.

19)  I’m hopelessly devoted to you—just like I’m devoted to posting stuff on Facebook that may or may not make our teens cringe.

20)  My love for you is unconditional, much like my love for the bacon and chicken nuggets my kids discard.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live with my special Valentine. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Love and Other Drugs, Normal is Relative, Romance for Dummies

Hurry Up and Wait

My youngest kids are high school seniors, which, by extension, means that my husband and I have been tasked with the thankless job of hauling them hither and yon over the past two years so that they might ultimately find a college campus that “speaks to them.” Needless to say, we’ve spent countless hours on the road and in hotels as well as scheduling auditions, meeting with various professors and arranging shadowing dates ad infinitum. And let us not forget the days spent crawling over hill and dale, tolerating both the rain and snow of fall/winter and the searing heat of summer, in order to better determine the merit and overall appeal of each campus.

While I recognize the gravity of the decisions that face them, I’m sure I’ve muttered, “For the love of God, pick one already,” more than once in what has seemed like an eternal span of time. When all is said and done, I know they’ll make the right choices, but in the meantime my husband and I are losing our collective minds. I honestly don’t remember agonizing over schools the way they do. Who knows? Maybe things were simpler back then and it came down to whether or not the cafeteria food was decent.

I, for one, thought that was relatively important.

At any rate, aside from coordinating virtually every detail of each visit and tolerating a maze of parking garages in the process, we’ve been saddled with the issue of how to kill time while our progenies attend classes, etc. It’s the infamous hurry-up-and-wait syndrome. So far we’ve traipsed through courtyards peppered with trees, explored enormous and impressive facilities, took pictures of various mascots, used Google Maps to find the nearest Starbucks, made multiple trips to the car because we forgot something of vital importance and talked to umpteen college students and staff members about why they chose XYZ University. And because there is never a dull moment in our lives, one afternoon a fire drill went off at one of the aforementioned universities and another time my husband got stuck in a bathroom stall, where he frantically texted me for help. Eventually he got out on his own, but not before I was able to tweet about it to the amusement of many.

But mostly, the waiting involved hanging out in the libraries of each school. And by hanging out I mean we found a couple of comfy chairs and spent upwards of eight hours playing solitaire on our phones, surfing the Internet, snacking, watching students filter in and out, eavesdropping on their conversations, perusing daily newspapers and, of course, napping indiscriminately. Thank God we were smart enough to bring along a favorite book or two. I devoured several patently hilarious titles by David Sedaris and Jim Gaffigan while my husband read about politics and the Vietnam War. We wanted to at least appear productive and engaged.

Quite frankly, I don’t know how I would have survived even one of the ordeals without something substantial to read. Granted, my Facebook and Twitter feeds are entertaining, but I doubt I could spend hours doing that alone. For me, books made the time pass and allowed me to almost forget that I was stuck in a library surrounded by herds of 18 to 20-somethings. In a very real sense, books preserved what was left of my sanity.

Speaking of books, this Friday, February 8th will be my very first bookiversary (book anniversary)! Please order Deliverance: A Survival Guide to Parenting Twins for just $8.99 on Amazon or pick up a signed copy at Otto Bookstore, the oldest independent bookstore in America. Keep in mind, you don’t need to be a parent of twins to appreciate the hilarity packed within every chapter. I promise. As an added bonus, having Deliverance on hand means you’ll never be without reading material if you happen to find yourself stuck somewhere—waiting.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, probably holed up in another college library with my husband. But at least we’ll always have great books to read and we’re no longer enduring the misery of FAFSA forms. Visit me there at www.Facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2019 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Bookish Stuff, Growing Pains, In the Trenches of Parentville, Leaving the Nest

Words Matter

Tomorrow is my brother’s birthday. He would have been 53.

I didn’t even know the woman, but I bristled when she spoke. Of course, her words weren’t even intended for me and I’m sure she had no idea how capably they would seize my joy and take me back in time to a day I’d rather not remember.

I was standing in the card aisle of a local department store of all places, wrestling with indecision famously. As I read and reread each of the selections I was considering (encouragement for a woman battling cancer and a birthday wish for a dear friend who had moved a world away), I weighed the words contained within each heartfelt message carefully, recognizing their power to connect souls in good times and in bad.

“CARDS DON’T MATTER,” I heard her grouse through clenched teeth, chiding her children who were likely picking out a birthday greeting for a friend or a favorite cousin. “We’ve already gotten a gift, now choose a 99-cent card and let’s get out of here,” she spat, indignation spilling from her lips. “He’ll just throw it out anyway,” she reasoned.

Though a towering wall of Hallmark’s finest separated us and I could see exactly none of what had transpired in the adjacent aisle, the exasperation that wafted over the transom was palpable and left little room for misinterpretation. Without question, it had been a long day and patience was nowhere to be found. Clearly the novelty of traipsing around K-Mart with kids in tow had long since worn off.

Granted, I had been there and done that as a parent, patently consumed by a simple yet impossible wish to be somewhere else in this life besides searching for the perfect gift for yet another Hello Kitty-themed birthday party. That said, I have frequented the brink of insanity while shopping with my brood more often than I’d care to admit, shamelessly enraged by something as ridiculous as a rogue wheel on a cart from hell coupled with my children’s irksome demands: “But we have to smell the smelly markers before we buy them, Mom. We have to make sure they smell juuuust right. And then we have to look for a birthday card with a little dog on it. Wearing a pink tutu. Maddy likes little dogs. And tutus.”

Frustration, I understood.

What rankled me to the core was the premise of this woman’s argument. That “cards don’t matter.” Because sometimes they do.

Like most people who learn of things that are unspeakably difficult to handle, I unearthed this little pearl of wisdom mired in grief and plagued by guilt. As if it were yesterday, I remember rummaging around my brother’s house in the days that followed his suicide, searching for answers or perhaps a tiny glimpse into his troubled world. Granted, I didn’t know him nearly as well as I could have…and probably should have. As I sifted through his CDs and thumbed through his books, eager to gain even a modicum of insight, I stumbled upon a drawer with a handful of cards neatly stacked within. Cards he had saved. Cards that likely meant something to him. Cards filled with words that apparently mattered.

It was at this point, I’m quite certain, that I felt a deep sense of regret and shame, for none of my cards were among those he had harvested. Surely, I had sent him a birthday greeting (or twenty), a congratulatory note regarding his beautiful home or his wonderful job, an irreverent get-well card to brighten an otherwise unenjoyable hospital stay, a wish-you-were-here postcard from Myrtle Beach or the Hoover Dam. Hadn’t I?

Incomprehensibly, I couldn’t remember. All I could wrap my mind around were the missed opportunities and the paltry thank-you note I had written that lay on his kitchen counter. Unopened. The one my four-year-old daughters had drawn pictures on as a way of offering thanks for his incredible generosity at Christmastime. The one that mocked my ineptitude and chided me for failing to mail it sooner…so that he might have read it…and felt in some small way more valued than perhaps he had before. The one that reminded me that words left unspoken are indeed the worst sort of words.

I’d like to think he occasionally sat on his couch and sifted through that cache of cards on a lazy afternoon, warmed by the messages scrawled within—a collection of remembrances worthy of holding close. Likewise, I hope he knows of the countless times since his death that I’ve been overcome with emotion in the card aisle of many a store, pausing in the section marked “brother” to read and reflect on what might have been—an odd yet cathartic sort of behavior.

So as one might expect, the horribleness of that day flooded my mind the very instant I heard CARDS DON’T MATTER. But instead of letting it swallow me whole, I turned my thoughts to why I had come—to find the most ideally suited messages for two special people, knowing they would feel special in turn.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "G" is for Guilt, Family Affair, Love and Loss, The Write Stuff

Dumpster Diving

My husband has never heard of Marie Kondo. Nor does he subscribe to her renowned KonMari Method of keeping only the possessions in one’s life that “spark joy.” It’s a wonder I convinced him to park a ginormous dumpster in our driveway for the better part of a month, hoping against hope that we’d somehow find the will to purge our home of the crap we’ve accumulated as a family for over 22 years.

I, for one, found it to be a cathartic experience—especially the part where I got to fling stuff into the air with wild abandon. It’s possible I may have even shouted something in triumph each time I tossed one of my husband’s college textbooks or a tangled mass of badminton netting into the giant metal bin. The only thing more liberating would have been to light it on fire.

But there were times I got a bit misty-eyed when faced with the matter of keeping or chucking an embarrassment of cap guns. They were a hallmark of my childhood after all. Never mind that several were jammed or in another way deemed nonfunctional. Not surprisingly, I had great difficulty parting with my kids’ toy machine guns, too, and felt compelled to squeeze the broken triggers multiple times before hurling them into oblivion.

I’m like a kindergartener, only less disciplined.

Needless to say, my excitement grew as the days passed and the dumpster became filled with more and more junk. There was a glut of the ugly-as-sin carpeting we just tore out of the living room. There were also boxes upon boxes of heavy books and lesson plans, circa 1974, that I hauled down from the attic, risking life and limb on a 17-foot ladder. There was an abundance of college notebooks that were spared from the trash for nearly five decades. For the love of God, who does that? A hoarder, that’s who. There was a gas grill, an office chair, three sets of antiquated golf clubs and a bug collecting kit of undetermined origin. Of course, there were still bugs inside it—dead as ever. Even my dust-covered treadmill found its way there, despite the challenge of dragging it all the way through the house and garage. At least we got some exercise in the process.

Even our neighbors got in on the fun when I gave them the go-ahead to deposit their gargantuan television set inside. I only wish I had witnessed its arrival. Instead I had to hear about several family members pushing and/or “riding” their 72” TV down the street and up our driveway. I can only imagine what it must have been like to then lift the stupid thing into the dumpster. Hopefully, no one got a hernia.

As one might expect, my hoard-happy husband and I had several heated debates while we attempted to clean out our garage—most of which involved dumpster diving (his) and emphatic arguments (mine) over the issue of whether or not something “brought joy” to one’s life.

“What do you mean ‘Does this bring me joy?’” he demanded to know as he held a bucket with no bottom in his hands. “I happen to like this bucket.”

“It has no bottom,” I reminded him.

“I don’t care,” he defended.

In hindsight, maybe I should have requested that a marriage counselor be included with the dumpster rental. Judging by our impassioned exchanges, I’m guessing a lot of couples would be interested in such a convenient arrangement. Better still, a copy of Marie Kondo’s Spark Joy could be presented to help the utterly hopeless.

Although we still have a lot of stuff to purge after filling an entire dumpster to the brim and it took two people with master’s degrees to open it, on the bright side, we found a buyer for my husband’s vintage (old-as-dirt) Schwinn bicycle and classic toy trucks. What’s more, we unearthed some marbles while sorting through a hodgepodge of items.

It’s good to know we still have some.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, anxiously awaiting the arrival of another dumpster for Round II of The Purge. Visit me there at www.Facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2019 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Captain Quirk, Home for Wayward Toys, In the Trenches of Parentville, Ode to Embarrassment, Welcome to My Disordered World

Floored

Against all logic and understanding, I tolerated the most hideous-looking carpet known to man for what seemed like an eternity. It stretched an expanse measuring more than 600 square feet from living room to dining room—a wall-to-wall nightmare that everyone knew was pink. Not salmon. Coupled with the abundance of brass and ugly-as-sin wallpaper we found throughout the house on move-in day 1997, it was as if the eighties had lifted the roof and vomited every bit of horrible décor that had ever been imagined.

And because the universe hates me, it took more than two decades to convince my husband that it was high time for a change. Never mind my incessant reminders that our kids and pets (and Lord knows how many previous owners’ kids and pets) had stained said carpet and that it would never again return to its pristine state.

Who am I kidding? Even its pristine state looked positively awful. Need I remind you it was pink? At any rate, for 21 years my husband wouldn’t budge on the issue. In his mind, it was impossible for a house to have too much carpeting—even terrible carpeting. He was even known to have loved the carpet that used to exist in our kitchen and master bathroom. Yes, KITCHEN and MASTER BATHROOM. I wish I were kidding. Not surprisingly, with regard to accidents, it brought new meaning to the word repulsive. Need I even mention the stench that lingered, even after dousing it with an arsenal of cleaning solutions?

“For the love of God,” I thought, “who puts carpeting in a kitchen or a bathroom?! It’s wrong on so many levels I can’t even begin to understand what went into such flawed design decisions.” Thankfully, I only had to endure that tragic reality for about 16 years, having replaced it with some beautiful pseudo-tile flooring. It’s a joy to walk on with bare feet and as an added bonus, I no longer freak out when I spill orange juice or drop an egg at my feet. Okay, maybe I freak out a little, but it’s a far cry from what used to happen.

As for our new living room/dining room reality, it is defined by warmth and wonderfulness in the form of seven-inch, oak-like planks that resist both stains and water. And to say that the dark walnut color is gorgeous is an understatement. It perfectly ties our kitchen cabinetry and stone island together with the Brookline Beige paint in our living/dining rooms and I’ve watched enough HGTV to say that it adds to the overall flow of the household. Yes, I used the word “flow” when I attempted to persuade my husband that we needed hardwood flooring, because I’m fancy like that.

Needless to say, I eventually succeeded in convincing him to ditch the aforementioned carpeting (at least on the first floor), but I’m sure it pains him greatly to admit that he actually likes the new hardwood floors. Of course, he refuses to use the word “flow,” but that’s okay.

“So what do you think about the new flooring?” I asked after the job was complete.

“It’s not so bad and I like how the color ties into the wood furniture. Even the area rugs are nice,” he conceded one day not so long ago.

I knew he’d see it my way. He just needed a chance to appreciate my vision. Alright, it’s possible I had no vision. Perhaps I just loathed that carpet with every ounce of my being and sought to replace it with just about anything that was remotely viable.

Even cobblestone had potential in my mind. At least it wouldn’t have been pink.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, enjoying my new hardwood flooring thanks to Ed Gair, the master craftsman who tolerated my neurotic little dog as well as an embarrassment of clutter. Visit me at www.Facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2019 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Captain Quirk, home improvement, Rantings & Ravings