Fitness for Dummies

It has been said that dogs are the best brand of exercise equipment on the market. Given my penchant for failure as it relates to fitness, I guess I’m glad I own a dog. However, this leads me to question the wisdom behind a lot of my past purchases. Lately I’ve been wrestling with the notion of parting with my beloved treadmill—the one that has lived in my home for an eternity. And before that, in a shoebox-of-an-apartment I shared with my brother. And before that, in a house I shared with my first husband. Needless to say, the treadmill in question was far more impressive than the aforementioned apartment could’ve ever hoped to be. It also outlasted the abovementioned marriage and, in fact, wooed me enough to demand that it become part of my divorce settlement—so great was its ability to convince me that I couldn’t possibly function without it.

More often than not, said nugget of wonderfulness was situated near a window. A practical move based upon my perfectly undocumented belief that a view of the great outdoors would somehow inspire me to exercise with more fervor and regularity. Never mind that I can’t readily recall when I last used it. Or that my brood masterfully adorned it with a makeshift tightrope, time and again—designating it as a staging area for death defying Barbie trapeze acts, as well as for storing an embarrassment of toys. Maybe that’s why I find it so completely endearing even now. It holds a wealth of memories—albeit ones that remind me of my inundated-with-Legos way of life. Or maybe it’s because I became enamored with the idea that the embodiment of fitness, both attainable and discreet, could be neatly tucked into a corner of my home—affording me at least some semblance of control over my vastly disordered environment and scheduled-to-the-hilt sort of existence.

Proving that I had learned next to nothing about myself as it related to ambition (or the lack thereof), years later I whined for yet another piece of fitness equipment—a recumbent bicycle. My current husband, dutiful and sweet that he is, ordered me one. A fancy-schmancy, mondo-programmable, ergonomically designed, totally unaffordable slice of Schwinn heaven. A bike that promised I would look like a Greek goddess in six minutes or less—all in the comfort and convenience of my home. Or maybe it was six weeks of grueling workouts I’d have to endure in order to achieve such a feat. I can’t be sure.

Shortly before it arrived, however, I remember relishing the thought that it would soon be MINE—to pore over and ogle to the point of delirium, to pedal and program with unbridled enthusiasm, to become hopelessly fixated with its profusion of bells and whistles which, of course, included an adjustable fan, a nifty little pair of transport wheels and comfort-fit handlebars. What’s more, there was a reading rack gizmo and an ideally positioned nook for stowing one’s remote control and/or wine goblet—so thoughtful and intuitive were the makers of my latest and greatest obsession.

As one might expect, we plunked said glorious piece of machinery near a window and angled it to face the television—lest I become bored while peering at the tired lawn and less-than-inspiring shrubbery outside. Sadly, tedium rained down like a scourge and the bike has since joined the ranks of every other hunk of fitness-related hype with which I allowed myself to become shamelessly infatuated (i.e. the legions of dumbbells now gathering dust beneath my couch, the gym membership I failed to use—EVER, the perfectly coiled yoga mats currently housed in a closet, unceremoniously sandwiched between someone’s snow boots and a forgotten bowling ball, the Tae Bo tapes).

Despite all logic and understanding, however, part of me holds out hope that one day I’ll redeem myself by becoming consumed with the notion that the abovementioned items can, indeed, be resurrected. Even by someone who fails spectacularly to will herself to do much of anything—aside from walk the cussed dog.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (probably walking the dog). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom. The content of this article, as it appears here, was previously published in the Khaleej Times.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Home for Wayward Toys, In the Trenches of Parentville, motherhood

New Year, Same Old Resolutions

It’s January—time to make a comprehensive list of all the areas in our daily lives that desperately need improvement, or at the very least, tweaking. For many of us, that means dusting off the list we made LAST year. I for one have taken an inventory of my shortcomings these past few weeks and pledge to keep at least a handful of the New Year’s resolutions I’ve made AGAIN, despite the unlikely nature of lasting success. Here are the highlights.

For starters, I’ll be kinder. More specifically, I’ll stop harboring ill will toward the people who seem to take an eternity to put air in their tires at the gas station. No longer will I wish that a chunk of space debris would fall upon their heads, effectively ending their stint at the pump, making my wait that much shorter. Perhaps instead I’ll use the time to meditate or make a grocery list. Who am I kidding? I’ll play the bazillionth game of solitaire on my smartphone or count the appalling number of Trump for President bumper stickers I see in the vicinity.

Secondly, I’ll stop enabling my kids. Even though it pains me greatly, I’ll refrain from harvesting gobs of toothpaste from their bathroom sink each morning, followed by removing wads of hair from their shower because, quite frankly, this practice has done nothing but teach them how to be unaccountable in life, not to mention, horrible at housekeeping. Instead, I’ll ignore their domestic failings (as intolerable as that might be) and bank on the notion that eventually they’ll become SO GROSSED OUT they can’t help but be inspired to do the job themselves. Probably.

Related: I’ll try to be a better parent. Translation: I vow to stop yelling: “THE YELLING IN THIS HOUSE HAS GOT TO STOP!” Please reference my Twitterfeed or the previous paragraph for insight as to why such behavior might be warranted (i.e. my teens DRIVE me to it and my parenting tools are decidedly defective). Needless to say, the irony here isn’t lost on me and I recognize fully that I won’t be nominated for Mother of the Year anytime soon. However, I’d be thrilled if I could simply spend less time yelling about the yelling I do.

In addition, I resolve to spend less time using my iPhone and more time interacting with humans. More specifically, I’ll curb my penchant for texting and sending Facebook messages to those who happen to be in the same room with me, sometimes within arm’s length. In lieu of that, I’ll engage in actual face-to-face conversations with the people I love, allowing words and phrases to fall from my lips in a cascade of spontaneity. Technology be damned.

What’s more, in the new year I’ll attempt to rid my world of unnecessary stress. No longer will I feel guilty about sleeping in or taking a mental health day on occasion, which, of course, will be defined by watching an embarrassment of HGTV while spooning my dog on the couch. All day, if circumstances warrant. Don’t judge.

Furthermore, I promise to finish at least some of the projects I start, beginning, of course, with hauling our Christmas tree and outdoor lights to the attic. With any luck, that will transpire before Groundhog Day. The most challenging project I’ll likely tackle in the coming year, however, will be indoctrinating my dear husband on the finer points of organization. Pray for me.

And because no one’s list of New Year’s resolutions would be complete without referencing the pathetic nature of a diet and exercise routine gone awry, I pledge to walk more in the new year as well as add more greens to my plate. I won’t give up my peanut M&M fix or my frappés, however.

I haven’t gone COMPLETELY mad.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (welcoming a brand new year, striving to achieve the same wretched resolutions). Join me there, at the corner of Irreverence and Over-Sharing at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under I Pretty Much Suck at Parenting, In the Trenches of Parentville, Welcome to My Disordered World

Season’s Greetings

Sending out Christmas cards is an exercise in futility for me—mostly because I’m a poor tool. When it comes to choosing a family picture to include on one of those trendy postcards created online with favorite snapshots and heartfelt messages, I fall down on the job every time. Never mind that I’m the mom and supposed to have my shit together. Clearly, I don’t. Each year it seems to be a supreme challenge to find a recent photo in which everyone is smiling appropriately, having a good hair day and happens to be facing the camera. And since my husband is notorious for blinking in practically every picture we take, the struggle is undeniably real.

“Open your eyes!” I shout after the eleventy-seventh failed attempt to capture the moment.

“My eyes are open!” my husband invariably defends.

Then, of course, I’m forced to thrust my iPhone beneath his nose in order to prove that his eyes were indeed shut. The four of us then rearrange ourselves to fit within the frame of the camera once more and repeat the insanity until the kids flatly refuse to humor me by posing at all. They’re teenagers, so that goes with the territory, I suppose. But they’re also uniquely gifted in the selfie department. Me, not so much. So when they max out on the exasperation scale and thereby abandon the cause, the opportunity for preserving a treasured Kodak Moment dies yet again.

Thanks to Tish O’Connor and her incredible photographic talents, however, I was able to include some beautiful senior pictures of our daughters on our Christmas card. There were literally hundreds to choose from. I somehow managed to take a decent snapshot of our dog and included that, too. But, of course, I was reminded of my shortcomings, having forgotten to add our cat to the mix. A cardinal sin.

“How could you forget Binx, Mom?! He’s family.”

I honestly have no clue how I could have possibly forgotten the cat, given that he’s constantly underfoot or demanding that I share my Cheetos with him. Go figure.

And because the universe apparently hates me, only half my head shows in the photo I decided to use of our family this year. Confession: I did it last year, too. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to edit the stupid thing to perfectly fit within the constraints of the aforementioned trendy online greeting card company. I had one job—to adjust our photo appropriately so that each individual would be entirely contained within an eight sq. inch rectangle. Needless to say, I was unsuccessful. What’s more, I failed to recognize that envelopes weren’t included in my order. So in a desperate attempt to remedy the situation and make it look as though I knew what I was doing all along, I purchased NINE boxes of holiday cards—ones that will house the photo card in question (with any luck).

No one ever said I was gifted, just crafty.

On the bright side, Elton John is pictured photobombing us. Well, he’s not actually photobombing us. His picture was plastered on the side of a truck that we happened to be standing in front of while attending one of his concerts this past fall. A good time was had by all so I felt it necessary to gather the whole crew together for a family snapshot to commemorate the event.

I’m not sure how Elton would feel about being on our holiday greeting card, but I’m guessing he’d be pleased—especially since I didn’t cut his head off with my pitiful editing skills.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, probably addressing Christmas cards. Visit me there at www.Facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "S" is for Shame, Family Affair, Holiday Hokum, motherhood, Ode to Embarrassment

Drive Thru. No Thanks.

There are great multitudes of things my husband refuses to do based on what I assume are a warped set of principles. To name a few: He won’t put up a Christmas tree on or before Thanksgiving, he won’t arrange the bills in his wallet in any semblance of order and he won’t pull up to a drive-thru window to save himself. I can identify somewhat with the first refusal, since it doesn’t make much sense to celebrate more than one holiday at a time. Although, judging by the profusion of Yuletide merchandise jammed on store shelves shortly after Labor Day, it would seem as though a good portion of society thinks that’s perfectly fine. Not me, however. I just can’t bring myself to haul a wreath or anything Christmas-y out of the attic before I’ve even boxed up the Halloween bats.

As for my husband’s second refusal by contrast, I cannot condone such egregious behavior. Money should be organized according to denomination—and in a perfect world, right side up and all facing the same direction. There are times while we stand together in a checkout line and I roll my eyes as I watch him sift through crumpled wads of cash, dropping some on the floor in the process. Naturally, I have to ask myself who he is and why he acts that way. I can’t even begin to understand what sort of logic goes into decision-making like that. Just knowing that his pockets are filled with completely disordered clumps of money makes my head hurt.

With respect to my husband’s third refusal, I find the man to be a freak of nature—a spectacle that one might be inclined to look upon with both awe and fascination. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s a fast food restaurant, convenience store or bank. His reaction is always the same—a flat rejection of my suggestion that he humor me by using the drive-thru window.

“It’s more convenient,” I offer. “You don’t even have to get out of the car. It’s RAINING for God sakes.”

“I’m not going through any gd drive-thru. I haven’t completely lost my mind,” he’s inclined to reply.

I just don’t get it. So after years of witnessing this anomaly, I demanded to know why it happens. It’s not as if he thinks the aforementioned windows are inferior or demonic by any stretch of the imagination. He simply hates the hassle of yelling into a black box that may or may not result in a screw up of the order/transaction and subsequently pulling ahead to pay for said order where there is always the potential for dropping money beneath the car seat or onto the ground before it gets into the right hands. He has a point, I suppose, however I’m inclined to believe none of that will happen.

I honestly don’t know why it bothers him so. It would seem that he could just reach into his pocket and hand the attendant a fistful of bills. Protocol be damned. (See paragraph two related to his monetary habits). Apparently, he prefers to go inside the establishment and engage with people face to face, which isn’t a bad thing per se. I just don’t understand why he is so adamant about it. Nor can I relate to the anxiety he ostensibly feels whenever he must produce the appropriate amount of cash within a short window of time. All of the attendants I’ve ever encountered have been ridiculously patient and eager to help—even if the money in question is embarrassingly disordered.

So imagine my surprise when, in perhaps a weak moment, my husband obliged my hackneyed request to use the drive-thru at Starbucks. Naturally, I was beyond shocked and felt compelled to whip out my iPhone to capture the momentous event on camera.

“Why are you taking a picture?! That’s absurd,” he chided.

“I want to preserve the moment for posterity.”

I’m no dummy. I knew my kids wouldn’t believe me and that I would need proof.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, probably in the drive-thru lane at Starbucks. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Captain Quirk, Home is Where the Weirdness Lives, Normal is Relative, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

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