Gift Wrapping for Dummies

I’m not especially fond of gift-wrapping—mostly because I stink at it and I find it to be one of the most laborious tasks known to man. It’s no wonder I put it off until the LAST POSSIBLE MOMENT each and every Christmas. That said, I don’t remember signing on as the designated wrapper in this household, but somehow I ended up being saddled with such a commission. Woe is me.

While it’s true that I possess a pair of opposable thumbs, sharp scissors and half a brain, that in no way qualifies me as remotely capable of wrapping gifts at least as well as my dog could. Lord knows the furry little beast has tried to assist me by gnawing on the curling ribbon and spreading his entire body across seven varieties of paper splayed out on the floor—mocking me all the while by suggesting how beautiful the gifts would look if I broke down and hired someone to wrap them. Needless to say, my dog’s antics are less-than-amusing, even the antics that are imaginary.

But I digress.

Admittedly, when it comes to making packages look pretty, or at least presentable, I’m a poor tool. No matter how many times I measure, I can never seem to figure out how much paper to cut. Nor can I manage to fold the ends so the corners wind up looking crisp—not torn—or lumpy—or wrinkled. What’s more, I misplace the tape as well as the scissors roughly six times an hour even though I never leave the nine-square foot space I inhabit for the duration. Further, bows that won’t stick and presents I forget to label, collectively, are the bane of my existence—as are the impossible-to-wrap items, like tubas and Jell-O. Thankfully, neither of those things made anyone’s wish list. A set of Hula Hoops and the aforementioned dog provided enough of a challenge.

Confession: I sometimes shop for gifts based on the ease with which they could be wrapped—or, better still, I shop in stores that offer to do it for me. Thank you, Otto’s Bookstore, ever so much!

In any event, I end up doing much of it myself. To lessen the pain while I wrap, I usually plant myself in front of a television so I can watch Elf on a continuous loop, or sometimes, for a little variety, I add Christmas music, hoping like crazy it’ll inspire me to continue into the wee hours. Strangely enough, positioning myself near a window when it’s lightly snowing outside is especially motivating. So much for that.

Every so often, in a moment of great weakness, I’ll surrender to the little voice in my head that tells me to buy gift bags INSTEAD of wrapping paper, much to my husband’s chagrin. Heaven forbid I present him with any sort of gift that is not entirely enshrouded in paper of some sort, since he loathes the idea of receiving a gift bag—even the ones that include pictures of patently adorable snowmen or penguins. “Where’s the fun in that?” he’ll ask me, referring to the process of removing the pretty tissue paper and opening said bag.

It’s possible he’s still channeling his inner child.

At any rate, I’m hoping that all who receive a personally wrapped gift from me this year, including my dear husband, recognize the supreme sacrifices I’ve made and the embarrassment of limitations I clearly possess. I’m also hoping they won’t judge me too harshly if and when they discover tufts of dog fur beneath the tape.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (toying with the idea of starting my Christmas wrapping). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2015 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Holiday Hokum, In the Trenches of Parentville, Ode to Embarrassment

November’s Sweet Indulgence

I’m not particularly fond of November—that dreary block of time wedged between the fullness of fall and the magic of winter. As calendars go, it is the Dead Zone for me. Except for evergreens, the landscape will soon grow barren and its naked forests and fields will be nearly devoid of life. The arrival of spring seems all but impossible in the doom and gloom of November.

Not surprisingly, as the skies gray, the chill of winter looms large and wayward leaves of oak and maple gather en masse outside my doorstep, I find myself drawn to the warmth of a good book. Simply put, if it’s a solidly written work of nonfiction and a topic worthy of my time, I’m smitten from word one till the bitter end. Think: USA Today’s columnist, Craig Wilson (It’s the Little Things) and Betsy Lerner (The Forest for the Trees). A novel, however—especially one that is palpable, plausible and profoundly irresistible—is a different animal altogether, tending to woo me for a host of reasons. Think: Jennifer Weiner (All Fall Down) and Katherine Center (The Bright Side of Disaster).

Maybe I’m charmed to death by a particular narrative’s cast of characters, intrigued by its wealth of unpredictability or awed by the author’s sheer brilliance as it relates to the telling of tales. Perhaps the language itself sings to me or more often than not, its message hits me squarely where I live.

Or maybe, just maybe, my passion for all-things-bookish stems plainly from this: for a few delicious and utterly decadent moments, solitude is mine. The harried pace and unrelenting hustle and bustle of my child-filled world fades to black as I sink deeper and deeper into the pages of a literary gem. There, in the glorious window of stillness just before the house begins to stir, and in the quiet of night when day is done, I refuel and recondition, sipping the honeyed words of giants like Anna Quindlen, Mitch Albom and Anne Lamott. Indulgence like that is sinfully satisfying—yet in a good-for-me sort of way. After devouring as little as a passage or a page (never mind something as grand as an entire chapter) I often feel a tinge of guilt—as if I’ve stolen a nap or a head-clearing walk amidst the falling leaves and crisp air, thick with the scent of autumn—a walk completely devoid of meandering tricycles, tangled dog leashes and less-than-attentive-to-traffic children.

Better still, books transport me beyond the realm of bickering matches and breakfast cereal dishes. Upon my return I’m refreshed, restored and genuinely grateful for having been granted a slice of time to collect my thoughts, to reflect on someone else’s or to simply dissolve into the woodwork of life. I’d like to think I emerge as a better parent, or at least as one who is less likely to go ballistic upon discovering yet another unflushed toilet or yogurt surprise.

Admittedly, I savor the chunks of time spent in lounges and waiting rooms, even those littered with chintzy toys, wailing children and a hodgepodge of germ-ridden magazines. But only if I’ve remembered my own scrumptious reading material—such as Furiously Happy (Jenny Lawson) or Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls (David Sedaris). Likewise, I’m happy to be huddled (half frozen) on a playground bench or stuffed behind my steering wheel at a soggy soccer field if armed with one of many delectable titles I have yet to complete (twenty-three and counting). Confession: I fantasize about being holed up in a forgotten corner of a bookstore, swallowed by a cozy chair and forced to read 200 pages of literary goodness in one sitting. Not surprisingly, I’ve lingered more than once in the aforementioned venues, yielding to the power of a page-turner. That being said, the notion of consuming a memoir like Dry (Augusten Burroughs), curled up like a cat on my couch is unthinkable. Okay, intoxicating.

In sum, books are my refuge from the torrents of parenthood, an intimate retreat from my inundated-with-Legos sort of existence and a source of pure salvation not unlike becoming one with my iPod, bathing in the sweet silence of prayer and journeying to the far shores of slumber—where the din cannot follow, the day’s tensions are erased and the unruly beasts within are stilled…during my less-than-favorite month of November, or anytime.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (where both books and Halloween candy beckon). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Bookish Stuff, In the Trenches of Parentville, Me Time, motherhood, The Write Stuff, Unplugged

A Curious Harvest of Thanks

Thanksgiving is nearly upon us—that grand and glorious season of thankfulness. I’d like to think I appreciate the people and circumstances that give me pause year round, but like so many others, I get caught up in life’s hectic pace, losing sight of the tide of goodness that surrounds me each day—even the goodness defined as bizarre. So as this storied November holiday approaches, it makes sense to revisit all for which I am grateful—even the absurd blessings, that are blessings nonetheless.

For starters, I’m grateful that my kids haven’t staged an ugly protest yet—the one I fully expected to witness since I decided to serve lasagna for Thanksgiving, and not turkey. Maybe it’s because they know I’ll eventually cave after the holiday, slaving over a hot stove for an eternity making their favorite turkey pot pie and potato filling. Or maybe it’s because they know the lasagna is store-bought, and they’re comforted by the knowledge that I can’t possibly screw up dinner.

Additionally, I’m incredibly thankful that my daughters’ high school hasn’t banned me from the premises yet, despite the fact that I once tried to deliver a fake butcher knife for a skit—or that I’ve dropped off a certain someone’s iPad, sneakers and/or clarinet roughly 47 times since early September. Surely, the middle school warned you I’d be coming.

What’s more, no one in my immediate family feels compelled to pile in the car at an ungodly hour to go Christmas shopping on Black Friday, nor does anyone think it makes sense to make a wish list in July or to hit the stores on Thanksgiving Day—which makes my tribe all the more endearing to me. For the record, I’ll be shopping local…and probably not until December, unless you count the holiday cards I fantasized about buying because they were on sale. However, since that took place BEFORE HALLOWEEN, I couldn’t bear to put them in my cart. Call me crazy.

I’m appreciative of neighbors, too, who have tolerated the hideous mass of autumn leaves that filled our lawn seemingly forever. Thanks to Eric and Crew at Slingerland’s Lawn and Landscaping Service, I won’t have to rake another cussed leaf until next fall. By contrast, I do not give thanks for oak trees. The ones in my yard, more specifically. Other oak trees are fine. Sort of.

Also, I can’t begin to express enough gratitude for our wonderful contractor-carpenter-Mr.-Fix-It-Guy-Extraordinaire, Ed Gair, who has come to the rescue more times than I can accurately recount. He has fixed leaky toilets and replaced a number of archaic faucets, removed the 80’s-inspired pink wallpaper that I loathed with all my being, painted ceilings, walls and woodwork when my brush flatly refused to be lifted, installed to perfection some of the most beautiful cabinetry known to man, planted a 1,200-pound, 34 square foot island in my kitchen (guaranteeing that it would NEVER fall to the basement below), hung lighting fixtures and rewired with ease, ensuring that no one would be electrocuted in the process. Not even my husband, who helped. Lo and behold, the man befriended my neurotic little dog, too, keeping the barking to a minimum while he worked. For that alone, I cannot thank him enough.

Further, I’m especially grateful that my iPhone still works and that no one died of amoebic dysentery after I dropped it in a toilet at a public restroom at Hersheypark Stadium. Of course, I almost perished from the sheer anxiety I suffered following the event, completely convinced that the photographs I had yet to download would be history. No, I haven’t downloaded them yet. I’ll get to it. Eventually.

In addition, I’d like to thank the universe for protecting my purse the bazillions of times I’ve left it somewhere unattended. Not once has someone rifled through it, although one time I thought that it might have been tidied up a bit.

Thank you also to the great multitudes of people who have transported my children hither and yon, to include Mr. Saville-Iksic (i.e. the time I locked my keys in my car at McDonald’s and left my kids to fend for themselves at school). Thanks also to the people who covered for my husband at work so he could fetch my stupid keys. I suppose he deserves some praise, too, since he only mentions the incident once or twice a day. So that’s something.

It’s all about the small victories, people, and being thankful—at Thanksgiving, and always.

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

Copyright 2015 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Gratitude, Holiday Hokum, I Pretty Much Suck at Parenting

Refrigerator Art: The Sequel

Well the inevitable has happened. I’ve gone to the dark side of home décor once more and I can’t begin to express my deep regret over my failings. In sum, I’ve sullied the surface of my newish refrigerator with more pictures than I can reliably count and made it a veritable shrine to my favorite people and pets in the world. Granted, it’s taken me five long years to amass such an assortment and I’ve only added said pictures to one side of the fridge, but some would estimate that because of my actions, I am roughly six magnets short of reversing the polarity of the earth.

Truth be told, I can’t help myself. The urge to display inspiring quotes and adorable photos (especially of my new granddaughter) upon the aforementioned surface is simply too powerful. It’s more of a compulsion actually, a sickness for which there is no remedy—except maybe to add more pictures and magnets to the spaces where there are none.

I’m sure my family thought I was fairly deranged when I promised to remove every solitary photo as well as my kids’ fledgling artwork from our old fridge and put them into permanent storage as soon as we remodeled our kitchen and replaced that fridge with a sexier, stainless steel model—one that resists scratches and hides fingerprints. They knew how I loved what could only be described as a glorious 28 cubic foot canvas—a 3-D masterpiece that was undeniably the focal point of our kitchen for years. I remember when visitors stood in front of it in awe, marveling at our artistic flair—or maybe they were perfectly horrified. I can’t be sure.

At any rate, it was a sight to behold and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t proud of what I had created, one memorable image at a time. Each time I walked into our kitchen, I was reminded of favorite vacations, beloved pets and people—ordinary moments frozen in time. Of course, there was also a giant calendar, photo booth zaniness, a handful of words that my kids had spelled with magnetic letters when they were preschoolers and pictures that depicted important milestones, tangibly marking the passage of time. In every sense of the phrase, it was a snapshot of our journey as a family.

Somehow I wanted to hold onto the special moments, if only until the images faded and curled at the edges. I liked looking back at my children cruising around the house in nothing but diapers, the early days of kindergarten, making snowballs with Grandma in the backyard, carving pumpkins on the deck, sitting on a swing with their big sister. In that way, I suppose I could relive history. Almost.

Not surprisingly, before I removed everything, I took several pictures of the old fridge in all its glory to preserve the memory for posterity’s sake. I then prominently displayed one of those photos on the new fridge, perhaps in an effort to tether the old to the new, bridging the gap between what was then and what is now. Some might say I have issues with letting go. When it comes to pictures, I suppose that’s true. I‘ve got a garage full of family photos to prove it—generations worth.

Maybe we should invest in more refrigerators so I have someplace to put them.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, probably admiring my fridge. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "S" is for Shame, Normal is Relative, Refrigerator Art, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

Voices in My Head

I’m a writer, which implies that I spend a sizeable chunk of my day staring off into space or glowering at my laptop, stabbing at its keys in hopes of crafting coherent sentences on occasion. For me, the process of putting words on the page, virtual or otherwise, is never easy—which, of course, fills me with dread much of the time and leads me to believe that the universe hates me. What’s more, the allure of social media shows no mercy, consuming me like the ruthless beast that it is. And despite the fact that I know it to be a ruthless beast, I find it impossible to resist its wily charms.

Out of sheer necessity, I’ve devised a handful of strategies to help me be more productive—to concentrate more and dawdle less. Further, I’ve learned to silence the rumblings of doubt, if only for one sentence at a time—which, I remind myself daily, is all it really takes to move forward.

Needless to say, the tedium of parking myself in a wooden chair for hours on end is enough to kill anyone’s muse. As a result, I find that a little fresh air and exercise help me generate new ideas and make connections that I might not otherwise make. Further, I try to limit my time on the Internet, often using it as a reward for progress. Translation: I am a kindergartener, only less disciplined, and I rely on positive reinforcement in order to accomplish anything noteworthy. Instead of receiving glittery stickers, I get to generate irreverent tweets and post pictures of my dogs on Facebook.

Also, I ensure that my environment isn’t too quiet. For whatever reason, listening to Neil Young helps me churn out more words, as does the early music of Candlebox, Collective Soul and the Black Crowes—at a barely perceptible decibel level, I might add. I’m guessing it’s because their lyrics melt seamlessly into instrumental riffs, failing to compete or interfere with the jumbled mass of words inside my head—the ones that struggle to escape in some semblance of order and clarity.

Oddly enough, I often don’t know how I feel about a topic until I actually sit down and type the words. So to invite other words inside my brain AT THE SAME TIME almost always ends poorly. Case in point: The yammering that emanates from a television set drives me fairly insane, as it’s somehow funneled to my ears no matter how many walls separate us. If it happens to be tuned to Fox News during an election year, it’s patently debilitating.

Likewise, being within earshot of my husband spells disaster for my writing, too. This, of course, is because the man has no filter and he talks incessantly—to me, to himself, to people on the phone, to our idiotic dogs and even to the houseplants, I assume. More specifically, he has an irksome habit of reading aloud Facebook posts, select emails, newspaper headlines as well as outrageous excerpts from letters to the editor. While it’s true, I am often entertained by the aforementioned, it seems reasonable to request that it could wait.

Similarly, if, in the course of his crazy-busy day, he happened to have stumbled into 17 people he knows, I can count on receiving a synopsis regarding each of the chance encounters the instant he walks in the door. If he is about to change the cat box, has trimmed his toenails recently or has walked to the street to retrieve the mail, I’ll assuredly receive a report. What’s more, if he has taxied our brood anywhere throughout the day, I’ll get a detailed accounting of the logistical nightmare involved, along with a verbal transcript of the teen-inspired diatribe to which he was undoubtedly subjected.

In all fairness, I’m quite sure he has no idea HOW BERSERK this makes me as I hunt-and-peck at the keyboard, attempting to string sentences together. Naturally, I stew in silence until I can’t stand it anymore—at which point I shout STOP PUTTING WORDS IN MY HEAD. It’s as if he has crawled inside my cranium with a megaphone in order to more effectively deliver the soundtrack of my life—which would be fine if I weren’t wrestling with my own warped commentary. It’s crowded enough in there without his ramblings.

Then again, the man endures my ramblings, so I guess it balances out in the end.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, trying (and often failing) to silence the voices in my head. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Bookish Stuff, Captain Quirk, Rantings & Ravings, The Write Stuff

All Hallows Eve…The End is Near

I’ve been informed it’s over—my brood’s love of trick-or-treating, that is. I knew it would happen eventually. I just wasn’t expecting it now, seemingly minutes before Halloween. It’s possible I’ll need weeks of therapy to cope with such tragic news. Please send candy.

I guess I was kidding myself to think my kids’ enthusiasm for harvesting gobs of chocolate and fistfuls of candy corn would last forever. I probably missed some important signs last October when they disguised themselves to the hilt, but dragged their feet when it came to traipsing over the neighborhood, treat bags in hand. Admittedly, I pushed it out of my mind.

Denial, as it were.

As the stages of grief are classically defined, I haven’t progressed much. I still reject the idea that the fun is over, defending that “…even adults like to dress up in ridiculous outfits and solicit candy. Who wouldn’t?”

Needless to say, I was enlightened as to how “done with that” they were.

“We just want to stay home, answer the door and scare little kids to death.”

Egads. I wasn’t prepared for that response. I just want to hold on to the past a little longer. I liked it when my twin daughters were babies—mostly. They were pumpkins their first Halloween, kittens their second, and burly lumberjacks their third year. I remember dotting their cheeks with dark eyeliner, giving their faces the suggestion of stubble. Good times.

For the first several years, my husband and I lugged them around the neighborhood in their red wagon, using blankets to prop them up and cushion the bumpy ride. Hats and mittens were a must, cleverly incorporated into the ensemble. At each house we visited, friends would crowd around to see how adorable our children looked, each year’s costume topping the last.

As they grew older they were able to walk with us, tightly gripping our hands and clutching their coveted treat bag. Each year we journeyed further, eventually canvassing the entire neighborhood in one night—which was no small feat.

More recently, they’ve met up with friends on All Hallows Eve, eager to wander the streets of our close-knit community, a herd of mask-toting teens and tweens in the dark of night, some carrying flashlights, some entirely too cool to carry a flashlight, their raucous laughter filling the autumn air. By evening’s end, they return home, sweaty and spent, usually hauling their costumes—either because they were too hot or they broke along the way. Treat bags bursting with candy. Smiles all around.

This year will be different. No more ambling from house to house. No more bags of loot to dump on the floor. No more little red wagon or mittens. At least they’ll still wear costumes, however. So there’s that. I guess I’ll have to embrace a new and different Halloween tradition—scary as that might be.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, lamenting the end of All Hallows Eve. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2015 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Growing Pains, motherhood

20 Things I Never Imagined I’d Say to My Dog

  1. It’s really cold outside and it’s not time for a walk yet. I just want to spoon you and watch Netflix. All day.
  2. I know the FedEx truck looks tasty, but YOU CAN’T EAT IT. Stop barking as if you’re possessed. Please try to act like a normal dog.
  3. Must you INHALE your food? CHEW already, you maniacal little beast.
  4. Yes, the doorbell is ringing. On television. That doesn’t mean you need to freak out or work your stupid self into a barking frenzy.
  5. Stop licking yourself…your 7 million plush toys…the stuff I spilled on the floor…the strange dog you just met…the leather couch…the carpet…the dishwasher…my feet…the road kill you love more than life itself… JUST. STOP. LICKING.
  6. Why do you feel compelled to eviscerate your stuffed animal toys? Isn’t it enough to pluck out their eyes and dismember them 15 minutes after I present you with a new one? FYI, the squeaky thing inside IS NOT the devil.
  7. Stop dragging dirty socks and underwear into the living room like a frat boy on a panty raid. You disgust me. Also, please note that the foul matter in the trash can IS NOT FOOD. Please stop gnawing on it and strewing it all over the house.
  8. DO NOT pee on your brother’s head. No, it’s not at all like marking territory. He’s another dog. Just a shorter version. And by the way, marking territory INSIDE the house is a VERY, VERY BAD thing to do. I will stop loving you if you do it again. No I won’t. I love you unconditionally, against all logic and understanding.
  9. Why did you eat AN ENTIRE LOAF OF BREAD (and/or leftover pizza, Halloween candy, et al.) while we were gone? You glutton.
  10. The crows and defenseless squirrels we see on our walks are not secretly mocking you; therefore, you needn’t chase or lunge at them like some sort of savage, effectively dislocating my shoulder in the process.
  11. Must you torment the cat? I realize that he is mocking you every minute of every day, but is it necessary to hunt him down like a dog? I understand that you are, in fact, a dog. It’s a rhetorical question.
  12. You don’t own the couch. Please share the space in this house with the humans who live here—as much as it pains you.
  1. For the love of God, STOP EATING POO, or anything that resembles poo. Deer droppings are not Skittles. Neither is bear dung or rabbit pellets. Have we not taught you anything?
  2. If you walk directly in front of me or trail me closer than my shadow, we WILL collide. It’s basic physics. Two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. Google it.
  3. Please refrain from doing your business in the neighbor’s beautifully manicured lawn if you can help it. If you could circle back and instead utilize the vast expanse of woods and weeds we just passed I’d be eternally grateful, you never-ending poop factory.
  4. Back up, please, so I can actually open the door for you. I know you’re beyond excited to go for a walk, but it won’t be possible unless and until you back up.
  5. You most certainly CANNOT EAT THE JOGGER, the kid on the scooter, the woman pushing the stroller, or the adorable toddler inside the stroller who desperately wants to pet you because you look like a cute little dog, only deranged. Oh, and here’s a newsflash: YOU’RE MAKING YOURSELF HACK AND CHOKE by pulling on the leash. Not me.
  6. Did you seriously startle yourself with your own fart? You crack me up, you weird little dog.
  7. What’s with the poop ritual—the one where you practically screw yourself into the ground before you actually go? Should I hire an excrement coach?
  8. Must you shame me into giving you food during dinner? Don’t give me those eyes. I simply can’t handle it.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, uttering the most ridiculous things to my dogs. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2015 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Doggie Diamonds, Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, Normal is Relative, Rantings & Ravings