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, Welcome to My Disordered World

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 Twitter feed 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 with 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 artificial 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).

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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

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, Gratitude, Me Time, motherhood, Unplugged

Words Matter

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day…

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 Love and Loss

Picture This

Grocery lists aren’t what they used to be. Or perhaps I should say they’re inherently different than they were before the advent of the smart phone. People no longer simply jot down a comprehensive list of the sorts of things they need with regard to food, toiletries and paper goods. Instead they “tell” their phones what they need or type those necessities into the notes app as a reminder—or at least I do. Then I can conveniently add items on the go, not once having to deal with finding a fresh scrap of paper or a pen that actually writes.

Even still, our family uses a notepad that is housed within a tiny cabinet in our kitchen, a place that is practical if nothing else. It goes without saying, however, that half the battle is getting certain inhabitants to REMEMBER to add things to that list. I am no exception as I often forget to jot stuff down when we run out of it. I, of course, convince myself that I’ll easily recall the fact that I’m almost out of dental floss, but somehow it doesn’t wind up on the almighty grocery list, which means I’ll have to forego the joy of removing food particles from my teeth until one of us gets to the blasted store.

I can’t even imagine trying to explain what a struggle this is to my great-grandmother who lived in a very different time and place. She and my great-grandfather owned a grocery store in the early 1900s—a store that stocked hundreds of items that were available for order and delivery. I still have a framed original of the order form, one that has since yellowed but hangs in my kitchen in all its glory.

Yes, Ovaltine made the list of must-haves at Mrs. Ray Rose’s Store back then, as did Wheaties and Vicks VapoRub. Aprons and dresses, too.

Cheetos…not so much.

I guess it comes as no surprise that grocery delivery is still a relatively popular service these days, just not in my house. We prefer to traipse around in a store ourselves, plucking items from the shelves in hopes that we purchase the exact variety of shampoo/conditioner our teens requested. It’s no wonder we screw up from time to time though, as there are roughly 17 adjectives that describe said shampoo/conditioner—all of which must be present on the bottle we end up throwing in the cart. Heaven forbid we bring home the wrong kind. There’s always a fair amount of hell to pay, aside from dealing with a shopping cart with a rogue wheel and a parking lot full of idiots.

One way we’ve found to alleviate such incidents, however, is to turn to our dear cell phones, once again—this time employing the camera function to great benefit. Whenever someone in our family requests a grocery item with RIDICULOUS SPECIFICITY, he or she simply takes a picture of the packaging TO INCLUDE ALL NECESSARY DESCRIPTORS and then texts it to the individual planning to visit the grocery store next, which is usually my husband. For some unknown reason, he seems to draw the short straw when it comes to running errands. In that way (at least in theory), there can be no misinterpretation or confusion about what to buy.

Thus far, this system has served us well, except when it doesn’t. Perhaps more frustrating than having to search the aisles for an elusive product is discovering that its manufacturer recently decided to change the packaging, making the mission to find said product almost impossible. The only way to circumvent choosing the wrong item is to physically bring all interested parties to the store, which is often met with audible groans of disapproval. At least they can then be responsible for picking out the wrong product themselves and refrain from blaming someone else.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, probably texting my husband in the grocery store—ad nauseam. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom. Now available in bookstores: On Motherhood: Fireflies to First Dates: A Collection of Planet Mom Essays.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Normal is Relative, Techno Tripe