Small Changes

When I was young, I liked few things better than going out on a Saturday night with my husband.  It didn’t matter if it was a quiet dinner for just the two of us or we were joining our friends at a party. As long as I was out and about on a Saturday night, I was a happy camper.  The only exceptions were if we invited friends or family over to our house, or if something we couldn’t control (like the flu or icy roads) prevented us from leaving home.  As far as I was concerned, Saturday nights were for celebrating and being with the people I loved best.

Then we had a couple of children and learned that the joys of going out on a Saturday night weren’t always worth the hassle.  We didn’t have much family nearby and reliable babysitters were both expensive and hard to find.  Going out on Saturday night became a rare treat, usually enjoyed only once a month or so.  Not that we minded…we found other ways to enjoy Saturday nights that included the children.  But I’d be lying if I said we didn’t look forward to the nights we managed to slip away for a quiet dinner at a nice restaurant or to catch a good movie.

All too soon, our children grew up and we were once again able to “go out” on a Saturday night without any advance planning involved.  And we did, probably more often that our budget actually allowed.  I guess all those years of having to plan a night out made us feel that we were doing something special when we headed out on a Saturday night, even if we had reached the age when our “big night out” almost always ended before ten.

These days, however, we have a whole new idea of a fun way to spend Saturday night.  These days our ideal Saturday night would be spent in the company of a very little person who just happens to be our grandson.  When we tell our daughter and son-in-law that we would be happy to babysit so they can enjoy a date night, we are only telling a partial truth.  We are happy to babysit for the little guy, period.  That fact that his parents are getting in some couple time is just icing on the cake.

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Last Saturday night, we put on our jeans and sweatshirts and headed over to our daughter’s house.  While she and her husband attended a fund-raising event with his family, we took turns changing diapers, feeding bottles, and walking the floor with a baby snuggled on our shoulders.  Whoever didn’t have the baby took their turn petting the family dog, who seems unfazed by the tiny addition to her family.

I suppose my idea of the ideal Saturday night out hasn’t really changed all that much.  Our evening may not have been romantic or particularly exciting, but that didn’t matter at all.  I still spent Saturday night with the people I love the most, and that is celebration enough for me.

 

Light It Up

IMG_0948As far as I’m concerned, the very second Thanksgiving is over, the Christmas season begins.  Within hours of clearing away the Thanksgiving dinner table and dividing up the left over turkey among my family, I am already planning my Christmas decorations for this year.  Others may spend Black Friday battling the crowds at the malls and big box stores for bargains, but I spend the day after Thanksgiving getting my house ready for Christmas.   I drag out my boxes of Christmas decorations while my husband assembles the tree in our living room in preparation for our annual tree trimming, which is always done while drinking champagne and listening to Nat King Cole.  Before the weekend is over, both my house and the tree are usually fully decorated.

Until this year, that is.  This year, things went terribly wrong.

We couldn’t find the lights for our Christmas tree.  We spent hours searching every box in the basement and every closet in the house before we came to the sad conclusion that we must have thrown them out when we took the tree down last year, because we were worried that they were getting too hot to be safe.  We decorate our tree with antique Christmas ornaments and like to string old-fashioned ceramic bulbs to go with them, but sometimes those bulbs can get very hot and then we worry about them being a fire hazard.  So we headed to the stores in hopes of finding some new ceramic lights that we could safely string on our tree.

But old-fashioned ceramic lights turned out to be very difficult to find.  The store shelves are full of the new LED lights, in an amazing array of colors and shapes.  If I wanted lights that shifted from colored to white and then back to colored again in less than five seconds, they had them.  If I wanted strings of miniature lights, flashing lights, lights that were shaped like Mickey Mouse’s ears, they had them.  They even had strings of somewhat normal shaped bulbs, but they included pink, yellow and purple lights, and Christmas lights were never meant to come in those colors.  That’s just a sin against God and country, as far as I’m concerned.

Finally, I found a string of old-fashioned C-7 sized bulbs in normal Christmas colors, so I bought three packages.  Then I spotted some LED lights, also in normal colors and only slightly larger bulbs than I’m used to, so I bought some of those as well, as a back-up.  But when I got home, I discovered that the old-fashioned lights became hot enough to burn my fingers within minutes of plugging them in, so I decided to suck it up and venture into new territory by stringing the LED lights on the tree.  It took me two hours and five strings, but I finally got them all on.

And my husband and I actually thought they didn’t look too bad, until we made the mistake of turning off the rest of the living room lights to bask in the glow of our Christmas tree lights.  Because there wasn’t any glow to bask in.  LED lights may be bright and look pretty on the tree, but they throw out no light at all.  None.  And what’s the point of having a lighted Christmas tree if you can’t sit in the living room on a cold December night, with nothing on but the tree lights and a fire in the fireplace, and enjoy the soft, cozy glow?

So, tonight we went back to the store, and found some “cool light” C-7 bulbs that look old-fashioned enough to show off our antique ornaments and bathe our living room in a Christmas glow without threatening to burn the house down.  I’m going to put them on the tree tomorrow, and hope that they work out.  Because if they don’t, I’m going to be spending the next few days searching for lights that do work out, and time is not on my side.  But no one ever said the quest for holiday perfection was an easy one.

Wedding Dance

I have long been convinced that the world is divided between people who enjoy being the center of attention and people who hate being the center of attention.  Both my son and I are in the second category, as are most members of my family.  Additionally, neither my son nor I like to dance and we most especially don’t like to dance if other people are watching.  Which means that we have a bit of a dilemma on our hands, since his wedding is just a little over a month away and that means we are going to be expected to do the traditional mother/son dance at the reception.

My son has already informed me he doesn’t want to do the mother/son dance, and I completely understand why he feels that way.  I know that the dances are a way of giving the parents of the couple who are getting married a special time with their son or daughter on this very important day, and I admit that I would like to have that moment with my son.  I just don’t see why the tradition has to be limited to dancing.  There are other options, in my opinion.

0467-2Personally, I like the idea of a mother/son cake eating.  At some point during the reception my son and I could sit down at a table together and enjoy a piece of wedding cake.  It would be that special “mother and son moment,” and I would even have a chance to pass on some valuable marriage advice, such as “the wife is always right.” (That one has served me well, lo these many years.)  I don’t think we’d even mind if others watched while we were enjoying our cake, as both of us are actually good at cake-eating.

Sadly, I doubt very much if I’ll be able to talk anyone into going along with my idea, so that brings me back to the question of whether or not we will be doing the mother/son dance.  For a long time, I agreed with my son and thought that I would really rather not do the dance at all, especially when I wasn’t sure if the bride and her father were going to be doing their traditional dance.  But they are doing the dance, and I know it will be a beautiful memory for both of them.  There’s something very special about the wedding of a son or daughter, and I think the tradition of the dance is meant to acknowledge that.

So while I am not a good dancer and I know I will be nervous with just my son and I out there on the dance floor, I have decided that I would like to do the mother/son dance at my son’s wedding.  I will search for a song that is very, very, easy to dance to and that is also (and more importantly) very, very, short.  I may even ask the DJ to dim the lights so that people sitting a few tables away won’t be able to see us.  But I will do the dance, because I do want to have that moment with my son and to publicly acknowledge how happy I am that he is getting married and that his fiancé is going to be an official part of our family.

Now I just have to figure out a way to break the news to my son……

Pass It On

Recently, I spent a Saturday afternoon at my daughter’s house, helping her paint one of her bedrooms.  I’m one of those rare people who actually likes to paint, so I didn’t mind spending a beautiful weekend afternoon up on a ladder, doing the edging.  Even better, my mother stopped by and offered to pitch in as well by painting some of the trim.  So there we were, three generations of family working together to give a room in my daughter’s house a much-needed sprucing up.  For me, it felt like one of those family bonding moments when the older members of the family get to pass along some of their knowledge and experience to the younger members.  (Which is an increasingly rare thing in theses days of ever-changing technology where the young are usually the ones who teach the old.)

Milentz houseI remember when my husband and I bought our first house and how hard we struggled to turn a very run down “fixer-upper” into a livable home.  We couldn’t have done it without the help of friends and family who loaned us tools (and showed us how to use them), and helped clean up years worth of dirt and grime.  We had a good friend who showed my husband how to build walls, while others helped him assemble our own kitchen cabinets.  I remember clearly how my mother helped me in our overgrown yard, pointing out that the “weeds” I was about to pull were actually just flowers that needed some pruning.  My aunt gave us money to buy kitchen curtains, and my brother-in-law even offered to install a wood-burning stove for us to help with heating costs.  All that support made the process seem so much less overwhelming.

And now that my own son and daughter have bought houses of their own, both of which were fixer-uppers (we never buy anything else in our family), it’s our turn to help.  I paint, do yard work and clean, my husband brings over his tools and shows them how to use them while he’s working on a project, and in the process, we help teach our kids what they need to know to fix up and properly maintain their houses.  Frankly, it feels good to pass along some of the skills, support and knowledge that was given to us.

It’s not that our kids (and their husband and fiancé) couldn’t do it themselves, they most certainly could.  They’re young, hard-working and smart, and what they don’t already know, they’ll figure out.  But I know our help means that they are learning much more quickly, and I believe that they appreciate the support of their family with this important milestone in their lives.  These are the acts that solidify our family bonds, that remind us that we don’t actually have to face every challenge on our own, and that demonstrate the importance of working together to help the people we love.

Sometimes fixing up houses is about so much more than just creating a nice place to live.  Sometimes its also about building memories, strengthening family connections and passing on the best of who we are to the next generation.  It’s amazing what you can accomplish with a paintbrush and a power drill.

And Now It’s Over

Now that Epiphany (January 6) has come, it’s time for me to begin one of my least favorite jobs:  putting away all my Christmas decorations.  Since I put up two big trees, one small ornament tree, and cover almost every horizontal space in my house with Christmas-related knick knacks, packing it all away for next year is no small chore.  It takes me a few days, doing a little bit at a time, carefully wrapping all the breakable ornaments and decorations in tissue paper before placing them in one of the many plastic bins I use to store all my Christmas stuff.

IMG_0934I usually have a hard time getting started, because I really like the way my house looks when it’s decorated for Christmas.  I like the way my upstairs tree casts a warm glow over the living room when I turn on its lights.  I like the way the vintage glass ornaments shimmer on the tree, and the way almost every household decoration holds a special meaning or memory.  I have a lovely nativity set that was a joint effort of my father (he made the stable) and my mother-in-law (she made the ceramic figurines).  Both my father and my mother-in-law have been gone for several years, but every time I look at that nativity set, I’m reminded of them.

And I really, really, like the way the outdoor Christmas lights make the long, dark winter nights bright and beautiful.  If I had my way, we’d all come to an agreement to leave the outdoor lights up through the end of February, and everyone would put up a few extra lights, whether they celebrate Christmas or not.IMG_0950

Eventually, I suck it up and get started taking down the decorations, and it always gets easier as I go along.  With each full bin I carry downstairs and place on a basement shelf, I let go of my Christmas nostalgia just a little bit more, and discover that my house doesn’t really look so plain, even without all the extra holiday decorations.  By the time I’ve packed the last of the decorations away, I realize that I’ve finally let go of this Christmas season, and am ready to plunge into the year ahead, with all the possibilities that a new year brings.

I make my usual vows to live a bit healthier this year, to try to be a little kinder and more tolerant towards others, and to find the courage to chase my dreams a little harder.  I look forward to a few nice snowfalls, and then to the warmth of spring and summer that I know will follow.  And because I’m me, a true Christmas nut, I also know that in a mere eleven months, I’ll get to haul all of my Christmas treasures back out and decorate everything all over again….

Girls’ Weekend

Several years ago, a couple of “old” friends and I decided to meet for the weekend in Kansas City, since it’s approximately halfway between our homes and an easy drive for all of us.  We wanted to get the chance to spend some time together without anyone having to be the hostess, and without any distractions from our families, jobs and everyday responsibilities.  I don’t think we knew we were beginning an annual tradition, as up until that point, we often went a few years without seeing each other and probably just assumed that wouldn’t change.

girls weekendWe stayed at a hotel on the outskirts of the city, and spent the weekend just hanging out, shopping, talking, drinking a little wine and beer, and eating huge amounts of food with very little nutritional value.  In short, we had a wonderful time and couldn’t wait to do it again.  So our girls’ weekend became an annual event, and I can’t begin to tell you how glad I am that it did.

It is such a gift to be able to step out of my everyday life and spend a couple of days with two good friends I have known since sixth grade.  We may not all live near each other, but we have managed to remain connected for almost five decades, even during the crazy hectic years when our children were small and we had to rely on letters (remember them?) and expensive, long-distance phone calls to stay in touch.  And that means that there is very little we don’t know about each other, very little we can’t talk about, and that we can be completely and absolutely ourselves in each other’s company.

We can discuss something as trivial as my need to “do something” with my eyebrows (or so they assure me), and as serious as what our wishes are when we are old and unable to care for ourselves.  We talk about family issues without any sugar-coating because we know there will be no judgement, only support.  We laugh at our silly mistakes, confess things that we wouldn’t dare tell many others and ask questions that are completely inappropriate, knowing that we will get nothing more than a simple and honest answer in response.

I know a weekend spent in a Drury Inn in a suburb of Kansas City, eating at chain restaurants and shopping at the same type of mall that can be found all across the country doesn’t sound like such a big deal.  Most people think of a trip to Kansas City and immediately think of the Crown Center, Country Club Plaza, the terrific clubs and unique restaurants, the first-rate museums, etc.  And I’m sure I’ll get around to visiting all those someday.  But for now, I’d much rather have a weekend with two of my closest friends, the laughter at inside jokes, the support and understanding we give each other, and the realization that I am so very lucky to have this kind of friendship in my life.