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Dear Departed Summer

Seems like only yesterday…

I am a poster child for parenting ineptitude. And at no time does it become more painfully apparent than during the first few weeks of school—when I look back over the vast expanse of summer and realize that I’ve mismanaged a good deal of it. Despite having the best of intentions in mid-June—with a host of events cleverly sandwiched between swim lessons, haircuts and camps galore—by the tail end of July I found myself desperately trying to cram every ounce of family fun and spontaneity into what was left of summer. The fun I promised we’d have before sliding headlong into September.

Inexcusably, it is the epitome of who I am and what I do when it comes down to the wire—when a finite number of squares remain on the calendar during which anything and everything deemed truly memorable and drool-worthy to a nine-year-old can, ostensibly, be orchestrated. In a perfect world, that is. So like a madwoman I schedule sleepovers and movie nights, plan picnics and pencil in parades, visit ball parks and theme parks and stumble over myself to accept gracious invitations to friends’ homes and pools and lakeside cottages oozing with wonderfulness.

Conversely, I’ve tolerated a tent in my back yard for 23 days running—one that promises to leave a hideous, yellow square where a lovely patch of green grass used to grow. A smallish tent in which I spent an interminable night embracing all that roughing it entails, from mosquito bites and cramped quarters to a lumpy earthen mattress and a less-than-endearing quality of dankness I feared would cling to me forevermore. Eau de Musty Tent.

But it was better than disappointing my progenies. And not even related to the insufferable conditions that my husband (aka: Father of the Year) endured while attempting to sleep on an impossibly narrow and horribly unyielding lounge chair parked squarely in front of the zippered door. Sadly, I failed to photograph him in all his glory—mouth agape, flashlight in hand, his body entombed within a sleeping bag, his head, poking out the top, completely enshrouded within a camouflage mask I had never before seen, arms entirely enveloped by a giant mesh sack he apparently dragged from the bowels of the garage in a moment of great inspiration (aka: makeshift mosquito netting).

That said, I think it’s safe to say that as parents we at least showed up for our kids this summer. Some of the time anyway. We took them places and did things together. We tolerated their abiding love of toads, their penchant for trading Pokémon cards and their inexplicable fascination with roadkill. Furthermore, we tried not to trouble our silly heads over the health and well-being of our lawn as well as the health and well-being of those who spent much of August snowboarding down our grassy front terrace. Nor did we dwell on the wanton fearlessness with which they careened hither and yon on their scooters. Barefooted, no less. So we can feel slightly good, I guess—having directly or indirectly contributed to the wellspring of memories gathered over the fleeting, albeit delicious, chunk of summer.

Looking back I now see why it was likely a success—not because of the fancy-schmanciness of this or that celebrated event, but because the extraordinary lives deep within the ordinary. That said, fiery sunsets and Big Dipper sightings are more mesmerizing than a summertime box office smash. A symphony of crickets, the pungent aroma of the earth and the endless chatter of children most memorably fill a tent. A hammock is very nearly medicinal, as is the buttery succulence of sweet corn, the shade of an oak tree and the canopy of fog at sunrise as it hangs in the valley—silent and still.

Dear Departed Summer, it’s likely I’ll miss your fireflies most—and the barefoot children who give chase, drinking in the moment, alive with pleasure, racing across your cool, slick grasses without end.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (lamenting the finite quality of summer and desperately searching for the rewind button). 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 A Tree is Nice, Endless Summer, Gratitude

Oh, Shuttlecock!

My husband and I have a badminton net in our backyard currently, which is terrific, except that it required two master’s degrees, a fair amount of duct tape and an afternoon of misery to set it up. Confession: We probably could have used a marriage counselor or two, but none were available at the time. Truth be told, the net that is now up is a new one we purchased because we gave up on the possibility of ever successfully assembling the old one—last year’s model, dredged from the depths of our pitifully disordered garage.

Naturally, we didn’t accept defeat immediately upon learning that things weren’t going well. No one ever said we were gifted. Instead, we soldiered on, struggling in the heat for what seemed like an eternity, wrestling with a tangled mass of string and a net that was evidently too heavy for our flimsy poles. Never mind our pathetic arsenal of metal stakes—the ones that warped irreparably as we attempted to hammer them into the impenetrable ground. But because the gods were smiling ever so slightly, no one smashed a finger. I suppose I should be grateful for small mercies.

After a time, it became apparent that we would fail in our quest to set up the wretched net. I’m not sure if it was our collective realization that the plastic poles would continue to bow and eventually snap no matter how hard we tried to prevent that from happening or if it was the way the net kept sliding to the ground despite our best efforts to tie the aforementioned string into knots at the top of each post. Hence, our ill-conceived need for duct tape. Note to self: It’s always a bad sign when, in desperation, one resorts to using duct tape. When all was said and done, perhaps we acknowledged that our labors would ultimately fail when we discovered the ends of the segmented poles were damaged beyond repair after having hit them several dozen times with a 5-pound mallet. Again, I can’t emphasize the degree of idiocy that was on display that day. In a word, it was epic.

As our hope began to fade and our bodies literally baked in the sun on that fateful afternoon, I began to wonder just how many neighbors were witnessing our exercise in futility as it unfolded there in the lawn in all its glory. It had to be comical to watch, much like a circus governed by Murphy’s Law—only there was a lot less skill and far more cursing. I’m quite sure a number of people chuckled at our profound stupidity as we darted back and forth between the poles like fools, eventually throwing the mangled stakes and jumble of string to the ground in disgust.

I never remember my dad having such issues, although it’s likely he did given that he wasn’t especially mechanical and often relied on a hammer to fix just about everything. As a kid I suppose I didn’t worry much about how the badminton net would be set up—only that it would be set up. Magically, it seemed, the net would appear in the lawn each summer. And it didn’t matter to me that it might have been crooked or drooping in the middle, although I can’t reliably recall that bit of detail. I only remember being immersed in the game for hours on end, whacking at shuttlecocks with my brother as night fell, fireflies blinking all around us, the cool grass beneath our bare feet. It was our summertime ritual.

Every kid needs a summertime ritual like that—even if it requires parents to lose their collective minds in the process. Looking back, I can fully appreciate the sacrifice my parents must have made, as well as my husband’s since he not only toiled in the yard, but also spent an entire afternoon in search of a reasonably priced replacement for our misfit-of-a-badminton-set. Seventeen phone calls, four stores and one meltdown later, he succeeded.

But it was so worth it.

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

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, Endless Summer, Ode to Embarrassment, Rantings & Ravings, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

A Tree is Nice

We have a half-dead tree in our yard. Make that FIVE half-dead trees. A pine, an ash and three fruit-bearing ones, although they haven’t produced much of anything in a very long while. Hence, the time has come to take them down, which by almost anyone’s standards makes perfect sense. It’ll be safer, since the risk of toppling over during a windstorm will be reduced to zero. We’ll also likely get some ample firewood out of the deal and we’ll free up a sizeable portion of the lawn for Frisbee in the process.

Everything about the felling of said trees is good. Except that it isn’t. The sad part of it is that there are memories attached to the trees in question—especially the peach tree, whose blossoms burst forth each spring in a glorious explosion of pink. Likewise, in winter its snow-covered boughs make me want to fetch the camera to freeze the moment in time. I just know I’ll look out my window weeks from now and lament that we ever made the decision to cut it down and dig up its roots, erasing from my mind the notion that it ever existed.

For more than 20 years we’ve been harvesting peaches from that tree. My husband was the designated proper-upper of craggy branches, assigned with the task of placing boards beneath its heavy limbs, laden with bushels of ripened fruit. Together we picked them, sampled them and then hauled bucket after bucket into the garage—a staging area for figuring out what to do with them next. Fruit flies be damned.

I wish I could claim that I baked an impressive number of pies with what we reaped over the years, but that would be a lie. Many of my neighbors, however, probably did, as we were inclined to give away scads of the fuzzy fruit each September, knowing we’d never consume all that we had gathered.

Likewise, I’m sure I’ll recollect a time when I watched my twin toddlers from the very same window, perched upon their dad’s lap as he circled the peach, the apple and the pear tree with the riding lawn mower. Round and round they would go, ducking beneath the limbs, smiling in the sun. One year they even built a teepee of sorts by leaning leafy branches we had trimmed from other trees against it. For days on end that summer, it was the most wonderful fortress in all the land, providing a haven of shade and camouflage for all who were so fortunate to crawl inside.

The aforementioned peach tree was one of their first climbing trees, too, its mossy branches low to the ground, inviting gangly children to develop and hone their scaling skills. I remember hoisting them up, assuring them it was perfectly safe and that it would be worth the effort because of the view it afforded them. After they had mastered the peach tree, it was on to taller and more daring venues, like the maple in the back yard, and the massive oak out front.

It’s possible I’ll miss the dear trees we plan to chop down, as well as any others we might lose in the years to come, because they remind me so much of my childhood—a time during which I practically lived in the woods behind my house, building a plethora of forts and climbing to the tops of trees all summer long, carving my initials there as a way of marking territory and perhaps time. I often wonder if my carvings remain, or even if the trees are still standing straight and tall. Far above the ground, swaying in the breeze was one of my favorite places to be, enveloped by a canopy of verdant leaves, summer after delicious summer. From my lofty perch, time was suspended, after all, and all was right with the world.

I can only hope that my progenies have had enough time in their special trees to make memories that will last.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, lamenting the fact that our peach tree will soon be history. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under A Tree is Nice, Endless Summer, Growing Pains, Mushy Stuff

Big Brother

I have a confession to make. I stalk my children. I stalk my husband, too. I don’t know why I do it, actually. It’s a sickness, I guess—an unhealthy obsession with knowing exactly where my loved ones are at practically every moment of every day. Thanks to the fine people at Apple and my friend, Drew, some time ago I downloaded the Find My Friends app on my iPhone and immediately began tracking the whereabouts of the aforementioned people.

The trouble is, they’re not particularly fond of it. Translation: They despise it.

“Mom, quit stalking us. It’s creepy.”

Creepy or not, however, apparently I get some peace of mind out of knowing what my kids are up to 24/7. Otherwise, I wouldn’t do it. The same goes for my husband, except that it’s more about convenience to know where he is at a given time. That way, for instance, I can “see” that he’s in the grocery store and know that it makes perfect sense to call him and tell him that we’re out of Cheetos. I don’t like to be out of Cheetos, ergo I feel compelled to inform him of such a dire situation.

The conversation goes something like this:

Me: “What aisle are you in? We need Cheetos.”

My husband: “What? How’d you know I’m in a store? Oh, that’s right; you have that blasted thing on your phone and you’re watching me like Big Brother. Remind me to SHUT IT OFF so you can’t monitor my every move.”

Me: “Wait. What? No. I like being able to see where you are, then I can call and give you helpful information that you might need—like the fact that WE’RE OUT OF CHEETOS. How would you know otherwise? You’re welcome.”

The conversations we have while he’s in the liquor store are strikingly similar except that they usually involve a dwindling supply of wine.

At any rate, I find the app to be remarkable in that I can even tell in which part of a particular building my kids happen to be situated at any given moment. Rest assured, if they’re supposed to be in chemistry class and they’re in chemistry class, my heart is happy.

Me: “So I noticed you went to Denny’s during the break between finals today. Was it fun? What did you order?”

Child: “Mom, that absolutely weirds me out. Why do you do that? It’s just not normal.”

Me: “I don’t know. I guess I like to see what you’re doing throughout your day and it gives me more stuff to talk about with you.”

Child: “Why not just ask me where I went and I’ll tell you?”

Me: “Yeah, but isn’t it more impressive that I already know where you went and we can skip ahead to other parts of the discussion?”

Child: “No. Not really. It’s just creepy and you should stop doing it.”

Unfortunately, I can’t stop doing it. At this late stage in the game, I have become hopelessly addicted to tracking my people and there is no turning back. There is something strangely comforting about looking at that tiny screen and seeing those familiar icons pop up, reassuring me that the people I care about are where they’re supposed to be—even if they’re worlds away for weeks at a time.

In an instant, I can gather a wealth of information—like which door to pick up someone at school and whether or not my progenies are still on the marching band bus, coming home from a late night competition or football game. Almost instantaneously, I can verify that all is right in my little corner of the world.

Strangely enough, looking at the map and those smiling faces within the teensy, tiny circles on my phone warms my heart—no matter how far apart they happen to be. It’s like holding my family in real time in the palm of my hand.

Of course, they would likely beg to differ, suggesting that they’re all under my thumb. Literally.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, probably poring over my Find My Friends app. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2018 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Family Affair, Love and Other Drugs, Techno Tripe, We Put the Fun in Dysfunction

Rules of Engagement for Thanksgiving Dinner–Post-Election

img_0055_editedNo matter one’s political affiliation, I trust we can all agree that the presidential election of 2016 was epic in terms of its awfulness. It has forced us to acknowledge the deep rifts that exist within our society, exposing the shameful underbelly of America in the process. In light of that, I think it’s prudent to establish some ground rules as we gather together on Thanksgiving Day to feast with our family and friends—and hopefully not stab each other with Grandma’s finest cutlery. With that in mind, here are some guidelines for how to act:

  • Banish politics from your dinner table conversation, including but not limited to: contentious discussions of Access Hollywood bus tapes, the Clinton Foundation, Chief Jackwagon appointee, Steve Bannon, WikiLeaks, taco trucks, the KKK, Vladimir Putin, Hillary Clinton’s damn emails, and, for the love of God, don’t quote Donald Trump’s Twitter feed. Ever.
  • Refrain from wearing apparel festooned with the phrase, “Nasty Woman” or “Drain the Swamp.” Likewise, don’t wear a pantsuit or that godawful MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN hat. It’s tacky and it makes you look like a buffoon.
  • As much as it pains you, fight the urge to chant: “Lock her up!” or “Build a wall!” By the same token, don’t define for the innocent children sitting at the kiddie table the words: bigot, fraud, misogynist, homophobe, xenophobe, narcissist, erratic, hostile, deranged or delusional. When they get curious enough, they’ll find a dictionary.
  • At all costs, avoid disputes over which Saturday Night Live actor, Alec Baldwin or Kate McKinnon, did a better job of portraying Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, respectively. Simply agree that they brought much needed levity to what many describe as a fucking train wreck. Good thing.
  • No matter how delicious (or not) the meal is, don’t rate it on a scale of one to ten. Better still, don’t rate anything on a scale of one to ten—least of all the turkey breast or legs. Just don’t.
  • Likewise, don’t refer to the dinner rolls as a “basket of deplorables” or to the pumpkin pie as a “Trumpish” shade of orange. Trust me, it won’t go well.
  • As tempting as it might be, stay far, far away from topics like climate change, women’s reproductive rights, health care reform and gun control, if you value the relationship you share with your relatives. Be forewarned; it could get ugly.
  • Refrain from calling anyone a Nazi, a fascist or a socialist—no matter how fitting such descriptors might be. Also, fight the urge to invent Broadway musical titles that you think Mike Pence would enjoy such as: “The Lyin’ King” or “Guys and Guys.”
  • As suitable as it might be, don’t use the word “jackassery” to describe Donald Trump’s cabinet picks or engage in a shouting match to defend your position. Everyone knows that “jackassery” isn’t a real word and if you use it, you’ll just be showing off because it follows the rules of grammar and it’s fun to say besides.
  • In a moment of great weakness, if someone at the table goes on a tirade, railing against either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, resist the urge to whip out your cell phone to fact-check the data and/or post a video on Facebook. The world will thank you.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live, preparing to feast, and hopefully not feud. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlantMom.

Copyright 2016 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Family Affair, Holiday Hokum, Political Poop

Beautiful Mess

dandelion_canvas_gallery_wrap_canvas-r4f47808710544c519e1462fbeb5dbfdc_z3geq_8byvr_324Sometimes the stuff we need to hear from our children is muddled or falls to the floor, 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

A Curious Harvest of Thanks

photoThanksgiving 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 0a23c19c729511e391da0ea7b73f6c45_8Christmas 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, In the Trenches of Parentville