Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

New Year's Eve. That time of year when we shed all the bad of the past year and look forward to the good to come in the following year. We make resolutions and keep them for about five seconds. We make plans to be reborn into some amazing, fabulous, formerly skinny person we once knew and loved. But you know what? The new year is just that - a new year. It's the same you! And while it's nice to have a milestone with which to measure your progress or success on a past promise you made to yourself, nothing magical is going to happen this year just because you made a statement on Jan. 1.

For one thing, most people spend the last day of the year staying up until the wee hours drinking too much. Maybe you'll start there. Maybe this year you won't even stay up until midnight, and who cares? What, you're going to miss the ball dropping in Times Square or the fireworks in your city? YouTube it later. Maybe this is your chance to get some sleep. Or perhaps you'll choose not to drink to excess or drink at all. So what? Wine, beer, sparkling can be just as "festive" with a Pepsi.  Maybe tomorrow you'll resolve to get on the treadmill or cut out carbs, or give up your morning latte. Good for you! It's always great to strive toward being healthier, but you can do that any and every day of the year. If you're spending the evening with friends and family, kudos to you. Nothing is more important in life than our relationships with those we love and care about. Oh, and please don't drink and drive! Please!

Instead of a neatly compiled list of things you think you'll do this year (and probably won't), instead of setting yourself up for failure and feeling horrible on Dec. 31 next year because you didn't lose 50 lbs or stop smoking or start a new business or get better grades, maybe you could resolve to not resolve. I am not a fan of New Year's resolutions, because I think you can make changes any old time you want to. And they don't always have to be big goals. Sure, training for a marathon might be someone's cup of tea (me, I'd rather have the cup of tea), but a "new you" in the new year can start with the smallest of intentions and actions.

- once a day, at least, say out loud to someone that you love them
- if you see something that needs to be picked up, cleaned up or put away, just do it
- make your bed. It looks nice and makes the rest of your life seem more organized than it really is.
- use the pretty soap and scented candles. Don't "save them" for something special. Today is special.
- get some exercise. If you hate exercise, just go for a walk. Even ten minutes outside can make you feel a million times better.
- have dessert sometimes
- take a nap whenever you can and don't feel the least bit guilty about it
- if you can afford it, give generously. If you can't, give your time.
- spend some time with a kid and don't rush through it. Really enjoy it without thinking of all the things you need to get done.
- take the time to make your food pretty and eat it off a nice plate. Why rush through eating? Eating is awesome!
- make time to see friends, new and old. Even just an hour over coffee to catch up is a connection.
- entertain at your home. Who cares if it's old or if the carpets need cleaned or your lawn is weedy? Inviting people over makes them feel great. Your friends want to see YOU, not your house.
- pay your bills on time
- don't overspend. Paying off for months what was fun for a few hours, days or week, is never worth it.
- do what you love. Take time to make or do the things you enjoy.
- every day, when you wake up, look at your bedroom ceiling and be grateful for how lucky you are that you have a bed, a home, food, water, friends, a job, school, children, whatever it is you have that feeds your soul.
- if you're hurting, reach out. Ask for help. We're all flawed. Not everyone will judge you. Most people will be happy to share their shortcomings and help you work through yours.
- know that you're amazing. Bask in it. There's only one you and how lucky for everyone who gets to know you!


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Something to clean.......

This morning I thanked my husband profusely (there might have been tears) for cleaning our bathroom. It was long overdue and just yesterday morning I looked at it and thought "disgusting". If I were to use this bathroom in someone else's home, I'd be appalled. Yet, in my own home, I let it slide. Why? Anyway, great minds think alike (and apparently some of them actually put those thoughts into action) and my wonderful husband cleaned our bathroom last night (yes, he ruined another shirt with bleach but let's put petty things aside...). I was thrilled and wanted to express my gratitude so I gave him a big hug and a "thank you". He then replied "give me something to clean every day - if I do one thing each day, you know, leave it better than when I found it, then things will shape up around here." And, of course, my first thought was WTF? Am I not doing a good enough job keeping this house clean? (No!). But then I got over myself and suggested some things that desperately need a thorough cleaning. Among them, all three (yes, three!) refrigerators need a deep cleaning, the hardwood floors may contain deadly bacteria, and the pantry is stuffed full with various half-eaten packages of food products and an embarrassing amount of dog hair (the kids don't seem to remember the pantry floor when vacuuming). My husband just looked at me with a grimace and said, "yeah, that's not really what I was thinking" then proceeded to tell me he liked to "transform" things so they were obviously changed! Like cleaning our room. He went to town one day recently and "cleaned" our room, which really just meant rearranging and stowing my various crafts and hundreds of photos into other places. I will never find them now, which is probably just as well, because we all know I'm never going to scrapbook seventeen years' worth of my kids' photos.

His favorite "cleaning" project is the garage. Now, I have never understood men in that regard. My ex-husband used to busy himself cleaning the garage when we were planning for a party. Why? No one goes in the garage when you're hosting a party! Who wants to see your twenty Rubbermaid boxes of Christmas decorations? But for some reason, this is how he found himself "useful" and so I'd have a clean garage and be inside frantically wrestling children and trying to keep the dogs off the freshly mopped hardwoods. Go figure. Jeff enjoys cleaning the garage combined with a weight workout. He will do a rep of weights, then go around reorganizing our junk, then do another rep of weights. Never mind that there's a Pepsi can in the dog kennel amongst the many blankets they've chewed holes in and have now claimed as their own. That's been sitting in there for months, but the dozen or so softballs no one ever plays with are neatly tucked into their own little cubby.

I can't complain, though. Ninety percent of the time, he's the one cleaning up the really disgusting things like dog barf and poop. Just last night, he and the carpet cleaner became reacquainted at 4 a.m. when Shade decided to deposit the remnants of the last three days' worth of Christmas candy he's consumed (wrappers and all!) on our bedroom carpet. But we all had to pitch in with the pet indiscretion yesterday. For some reason, yesterday the pets decided the world was their toilet. I returned from yoga to find barf in the garage and office and poop in the family room and upstairs hallway. Everyone excpet Hannah ended up cleaning a portion of that. But she got hers - in the evening Georgette decided to drop a turd on the kitchen floor in the middle of a movie party. Nice. Hannah got that one.

Cleaning around here is never-ending and often feels like a futile effort. The only way things stay clean is when the kids are not here and lately there's ALWAYS a kid here. This week, for example, my kids were supposed to be with their dad all week. Arlie is in Spokane, so I was looking forward to a nice long week of a clean house, time to do projects, read my book, shop in peace, etc. But no. They've been here every day, having parties and creating a mess in their wake, not unlike Pig Pen's cloud of dust. And so we clean. And they mess it up. And they sometimes clean it up (although not without an eye roll or extended sigh), and the cycle continues.

So, while Jeff's "clean one thing a day" sounds like an ideal plan, it will never surmount the growing monster of clutter, trash and grime that follows a family of six. It's inescapable, and oftentimes feels like a preview for an episode of "Hoarders". But we keep cleaning and staying a half a step ahead of the chaos. And, by golly, my bathroom is clean right now so I'm going to thoroughly bask in the sparkling porcelain while I can because it might be weeks before I see the elusive gleam again.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Thank God for......

It's Christmas eve and I'm up early. Of course, I've remembered a few things I still need to do/get before tomorrow and am planning my trip to the store as I write this. And reading people's Facebook posts about cleaning and wrapping and frantically getting ready for big family celebrations made me wistful for a big family celebration. But this year it's just us - the six of us - alone on Christmas. I used to think that would be the WORST feeling, to not have any family around to celebrate on Christmas or Thanksgiving or any other holiday. But then I learned the worst feeling is not having your kids around. Thank God I get them back for Christmas eve and day. I've lived in fear of the "kid-free" Christmas since my divorce and so far, it hasn't happened. Lucky for me, their dad and I are always able to work something out. And the kids WANT to be here on Christmas. But reading about how others are celebrating with big, extended family celebrations always makes me a little sad. Sure, I don't have to clean as thoroughly or cook for hours or wrap extra presents, but I'd still rather have a big, crazy, chaotic family celebration with my extended family.

It's easy to focus on what we DON'T have at Christmas - enough money, family to celebrate with, time to shop, wrap, cook, bake - and I'm just as guilty at the next person of focusing too much on the "stuff" of Christmas rather than the spirit of Christmas. I spend HOURS shopping and choosing the presents for my kids that both fit my budget and their desire. I always go over my budget and end up with a stress stomachache about it. I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about fitting everything in - the requisite cookie baking and decorating, the drive to see holiday lights, the parties, ordering the Christmas jammies, etc. More than anything I worry about the TIME I spend with my kids now that I have to share them.

I do believe Christmas is about the birth of Jesus and all that, but hey, even he got gifts, so there's that. But more than the Christmas story about Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus, for me, Christmas embodies a time spent with the people you love the most and being grateful for what you DO have. We've had a rough year financially, even to the point of nearly losing our house, and I've felt an enormous amount of guilt for not being able to give my kids the experiences of their peers. But it's so trivial compared to knowing what we DO have. A loving family, time to spend with them, good times and a lot of laughter. That gets us through every single day and I'd rather laugh a hundred times a day than have a hundred dollars every day.

I love hearing about people's Christmas traditions. Groups of women getting together to bake a certain cookie or make a certain traditional treat. Women-only shopping trips that include a special Christmas show or event. Ugly sweater parties. Seeing The Nutcracker. Visiting Santa. We have some traditions of our own, that have evolved through the years and through the blessing of our blended family. For one, building a "fort" in Harrison's room is standard. We even have the material for the "tent" part of it - and ironically, it's a giant tablecloth from my first wedding (we got ink on it and had to buy it from the rental company! I never thought we'd find a use for it!). We MUST buy chocolate Advent calendars before Dec. 1. And fill our adorable Advent house that Mimi bought us with chocolate treats for every day in December leading up to the 25th. Everyone gets new Christmas jammies and they have to arrive early in the month so we can bask in the adorableness of them all month long. We decorate the same $12 tree each year that I bought on sale 90% off early one January. We hang artwork the kids created in kindergarten. We get a new ornament each, sometimes going on a special trip to pick them out, sometimes being surprised by mommy. We drive around to look at lights. We decorate sugar cookies - sure, this year I ran out of time and bought those ridiculous pre-cut ones, but STILL. We count down the days till Christmas (the kids with anticipation, me with "how many shopping days" mentality). And Christmas day comes........we film the kids coming downstairs to see what Santa brought, we unwrap the gifts under the tree, then we empty stockings. Later, we sit around amongst paper, candy wrappers, and way too much commercial packaging with that slightly stunned "that's it?" look on our faces because it's all over so early, and the anticipation always beats the actual event by a long shot. But still..........

We all get that blessed day where the main focus is on those you love. And we're truly blessed that we're healthy, have a beautiful home, lots of friends, a good life. Merry Christmas to all!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wrap it up!

I hate, nay, HATE wrapping gifts. I mean, I love shopping for and GIVING gifts. Just not wrapping them. For one thing, it's pretty stupid. Here, I'm going to buy you a gift, then I'm going to trap it in some outrageously expensive paper and use lots of tape so it will take you some time to open it, during which time you will rip said expensive paper and toss it on the ground. Huh?

Of course, most of the time, wrapping is confined to a smattering of birthdays scattered throughout the year so it's not a big deal. By the time another birthday rolls around, you've pretty much forgotten that you spent $15 on a birthday gift and $10 on paper goods to wrap it in, and you're ready to do it all over again. But Christmas is another story.

Millions of dollars are made each year on Christmas goods and wrapping paper, bags, tissue, tape and ribbon are a good portion of that. Because we need a crap ton of it! All those presents we've been buying since September? Someone's gotta wrap them. By someone I mean, ME. So, why do I put it off till the last minute EVERY SINGLE YEAR? Because, frankly, I do not enjoy it. Oh, sure the first few gifts are fun. I especially enjoy the nice, symmetrical boxes that can be wrapped with sharp corners and pleasing precision, then tied up with a decorative bow (store bought stick on bows? Hell no! My mother taught me better than that!). I might even include a decorative ornament or sprig of greenery on the first gift or two. But then the novelty wears off. Pretty soon, the corners aren't so neat, the stick-on bows come out (sorry, Mom!), and eventually I resort to gift bags - the holy grail of all gift wrapping haters everywhere. Stuff it in a bag! Throw some tissue on top! So much for peeking.

Last year I tried to make the wrapping day (also known as Christmas Eve, but who's keeping track?) more festive by moving the wrapping supplies into my bedroom so I could shut the door and keep it all under wraps (haha, I'm punny!). I popped in a movie, got myself a drink and some snacks and set up for what was sure to be an epically fun day of wrapping up my lovingly chosen gifts for my family. Or not. For one thing, have you ever tried to watch a movie while wrapping gifts? You can't do both! You must actually LOOK at the package you're wrapping, thereby NOT looking at the movie. It was very distracting. Also, besides the fact that I tried to set up my wrapping station comfortably, by about hour three I was cramped and uncomfortable and my back was killing me. I was sick to death of making loopy bows and picking out just the right gift tag to match the paper.

And today is December 21 and I have not wrapped a single gift. Not one. I'm sure our tree screams "no presents this year, kids!" when visitors stop by. But if I wrap and put them all out, where's the magic on Christmas morning when the barren tree becomes a virtual wonderland of Santa-covered paper and hastily tied bows? Who cares if it looks like aisle 14 at Wal Mart with all those gift bags lined up like so many groceries? It's AMAZING - gifts spilling out as far as the eye can see.

I always wondered why my mom was so tired on Christmas morning. She'd sit, bleary-eyed through the opening of gifts then pretty soon she would disappear to take a nap. Sheesh, I'd think, mom sure doesn't like Christmas as much as we do! Well, duh! Mom spent the entire night up wrapping our gifts (ok, and having a little drinkie poo or seven), and by morning she had a full-on gift wrapping hangover.

I always vow this year it will be different. I'll shop, come home, and wrap my purchases right away. HA! That has never happened, and probably never will. And besides, I've still got four days to wrap it up.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bad Santa

The other day while I was at Border's, waiting in line to purchase a few items (and use my amazing coupons), I became one of the suckers who makes an impulse purchase from the many, many enticing displays they put in the "waiting in line" area so you'll spend another $10 or $137 on more books/games/plastic bracelets. My purchase was a book called "Sketchy Santas". Of course I bought it, because a. I'm always up for a sarcastic book and b. it had the word "sketchy" in it. Basically this is a book about bad mall santas and contains numerous photographs of sketchy-looking Santas with highly distressed children. And while it's hilarious, I can't help but think - WHY?

Why do we take our kids to these horrible, fake-beard mall Santas and wait in line for hours to get a picture of them looking at best uncomfortable and at worst holy-shit-get-me-out-of-here-and-I-swear-I'll-never-wake-you-up-at-6-am terrified? Because I don't know about you, but I really don't want my lasting Christmas memories to include a series of photos of my child at different ages crying on the lap of a stranger. Sure, some kids actually LIKE these mall Santas and will willingly pose with a big smile, while they brush Santa's fake, plastic beard hair out of their faces. But most of the younger set will have spent hours in line, crying, whining and distressed, only to be placed on the lap of a stranger who smells like "beef and cheese" (apologies to Will Ferrell), only to realize, with terror, that their beloved parents, their absolute safety net, have abandoned them to a minute or two of sheer terror upon the lap of a strange man.

Don't we spend agonizing amounts of time and effort teaching our children to be wary of strangers? Would we let our children sit upon the lap of a homeless man downtown if he offered her a candy cane? I think not. So, why do we force this Santa "tradition" on our kids year after year (therapy, anyone?). We go through an agonizing day of "going to see Santa" which probably involves an expensive dress for the child, a bribe or two, lunch at an expensive mall venue, then the inevitable dragging of said child to the car to get home so she can nap, for the love of GOD!

Lucky for me, I never had to force this Santa "tradition" on my kids. I have but a small handful of fake Santa photos where the kids willingly posed with the jolly old elf, but for the most part, we saved Santa photos for the REAL DEAL. And we all know who that is.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Tis the season.......and nothing changes......

So, here it is, Christmas almost and I haven't blogged for a month. What the heck? I mean, yeah, I'm busy. Everyone's busy. But sometimes "busy" is a relative term. Borderline insane comes to mind. I'm waking up before 5 a.m. with my mind spinning - things to do, stuff to buy, money to worry about, memories to make. And I even got to take a pass on some holiday rituals. Decorating, for example - Arlie and Harrison did it ALL including the tree. I was amused (and a tiny bit smug) with their placement of certain items (exactly like I do it), and pleased with their own spin on things. I didn't go around "fixing" things because nothing needed fixed. They did such a great job, and it made me a little bit sad to know they are so independent already. Then, Hayley wrote the Christmas letter so that job was off for me. Which was also nice! However, I am definitely the main shopper, decider, wrapper, etc. and that job is HUGE. I honestly do not know how I would have done everything I've done up to this point if I were working full time. Thank God for the internet, I guess. I've even ventured to the mall on a couple of occasions, which I HATE. But most of the shopping is done, I've been busy in the kitchen making sweet treats and I've shipped off all the packages (to the tune of WAY to many dollars!). We have a slew of Christmas movies I've yet to watch with the kids, in our holiday jammies, eating treats. That's on "the list". I've yet to make sugar cookies for an evening of messy decorating (also on the list). I'm really craving my annual holiday homemade Bailey's but have yet to venture to a liquor store for the ingredients (also on the list). Every year I feel like I missed doing a ton of stuff I've wanted to do and I'm in a race to cram it all in before the kids go off to their other parents' homes for their half of the winter vacation. The kids themselves are crazy busy with rehearsals, homework, concerts so that we are hardly all home at the same time. Tomorrow is the last day of school before the break. It's also my birthday. I'm really looking forward to having time to just hang out with my family, and be DONE - done with shopping, baking, shipping, packaging, cleaning, food preparing and wrapping. Which reminds me - I have not wrapped a single present. AAUUGGHH!!!