30 December 2011

My New Year Wish

Everything is great
Everything is grand
I've got the whole wide world in the palm of my hand

Everything is perfect
It's falling into place
I can't seem to wipe this smile off my face

Life's a happy song
When there's someone by my side to sing along

When you're alone, life can be a little low
It makes you feel like you're three foot tall
When it's just you, well times can be tough
When there's no one there to catch your fall
Everything is perfect
It's falling into place
I can't seem to wipe this smile off my face
Life smells like a rose
With someone to paint
And someone to pose
Life's a piece of cake
With someone to pedal
And someone to brake

Life is full of glee
With someone to saw
And someone to see

Life's a happy song
When there's someone by my side to sing along
I've got everything that I need--right in front of me
Nothing's stopping me
Nothing that I can't be
With you right here next to me

Life's a piece of cake
With someone to give
And someone to take
Life's a piece of pie
With someone to wash
And someone to dry
Life's an easy road
With someone beside you to share the load

Life is full of highs
With someone to stir
And someone to fry
Life's a leg of lamb
With someone there to lend a hand
Life's a bunch of flowers
With someone to while away the hours

Life's a fillet of fish, eh?
...Yes, it is!
Life's a happy song
When there's someone by your side to sing along...
You've got everything that you need--right in front of you
Nothing's stopping you
Nothing that you can't do
That the world can throw at you
Life's a happy song
When there's someone by your side to sing

Life's a happy song
When there's someone by your side to sing
Life's a happy song
When there's someone by you side to sing along!

Bret McKenzie wrote this for "The Muppets."
My wish for 2012 is that we all have someone by our side to sing along.

25 December 2011

Merry Christmas

May the road rise to meet you,

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

The rains fall soft upon your fields,

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

Blessings to you all, now and always.



20 December 2011

The Halls, They Be Decked

I enjoy the trappings of Christmas. The twinkly lights, the greens, the shiny ornaments--it all makes me happy. I like to start decorating Thanksgiving weekend, so I can bask in the glow pre-holiday. I'm not a lingerer. When the new year arrives, I'm done. Everything gets boxed up, and we start fresh.

This year, the decorating was done at a more leisurely pace. It took me a few weeks, because furniture has shifted and new pieces have arrived, thanks to MomMom and Pappou. I also spent an inordinate amount of time trying to hang an old ladder across my living room windows as a valance. It didn't work out, but what I arranged instead makes me reconsider my timeline. I may keep it up for a bit.

MomMom won't be here for Christmas, so she asked me to send pictures of the adorned rooms. The Captain thought it might be nice to share our home with all of you, so here is Casa de Penii, all dressed up.

 I like old things, especially hand-hewn junky antiques. I've never met a piece of furniture and thought it would look better with a fresh coat of paint. So even though the kids would like me to sand and seal these chairs, it's not going to happen. I moved them and our little fire pit to the front yard for Thanksgiving, and then I artfully filled it with greens and pinecones. Three thought I was setting up a new fire. Clearly, I need to school him in the principles of design.

I just painted my front door black, which is supposed to be good feng shui, according to Erin. In the spring I may tackle the storm door.

My brother and I went to our local auction last year and bought tons of old skis and poles. I kept one pair for outside...

...to complement these in the living room! I got them a few years ago at the same auction, because the undersides are red! I love red.

In a previous life I must have been a farmer, because I like to collect farm equipment. Most of it is stuck in gardens around the house, but this special plow got a bell wreath.

Not to be outdone, the goat halter demanded a ribbon and a place on the bench. I measured, and I'm pretty sure those collars will fit some kids. Just joking!  I meant baby goats, not my boys. I would never...

I'm a fan of vertical decorating. This sled belonged to my great-grandfather when he was a boy. I don't know who made this cabinet, but ...

...this one was built for us by my Uncle Bob , husband to my mother's dear friend B.J, who was our realtor when the Captain and I bought our first house. It was a housewarming gift, and is dearly loved, especially because Bob is no longer with us. The cradle on top belonged to my mother, and the giant pine cones were gathered in King's Canyon, California, when I was ten years old. 
The cradle lives atop the armoire all year, but I gave it a plaid blanket for the holiday, because I love plaid!

I've co-opted almost all the blankets from my mother-in-law. Each one has a story.
This year, the holiday cards are in my wooden grinder. Last year, I filled it with small round ornaments. I bought it because I loved the shape, but it was field-tested by my niece, who proved that it still works. At least to grind small round ornaments.
Over the years, I stopped buying real garland and switched to artificial for most of my decorating. It pained me to do so, because the irrational, crazed decorator in me considered it a violation of my "Country Living" aesthetic. But those greens are pricey! And, you know, no one is actually coming to my house to feature it in a magazine. But we still get a live tree, which is wrapped, of course, in a plaid blanket that my M.I.L. got when she was fifteen. Five helped hang the ornaments this year.
We had to move the all-season tree to the deck to accommodate the Thanksgiving crowd. It's sporting white lights and appropriate outdoorsy ornaments, and is now safely tethered, having been knocked over once during a very windy night. It makes me smile to see it through my windows.

The table awaits. Well, we've actually been using it for our Sunday dinners. What's the point of putting pretty things out, if you can't enjoy them? The glass jars are full of antique ornaments, most of which I found at a retirement home yard sale.

As I was writing all my descriptions, I realized our house is full of history, from many families.

Here's another antique sled, in my living room window, beneath my alternate pinecone and garland valance. You already know I love stars, as do some of my pentacle-people friends!

Everyone is waiting for Santa!
Leo volunteered  to sit in his chair  and watch out the front window.

Thanks for taking the tour--I wish we could have done it in person.
I hope you are enjoying the beauty of the season!

16 December 2011

Fears: Rational and Otherwise

Four and Five sat down for a snack last night.

"Five, what's your greatest fear?" Four asked.

"The world ending."

"Really? Mine is a tarantula farm."

"What's a tarantula farm? That doesn't even exist."

"In the future it will," Four explained. "And imagine me, jumping out of a plane at 10,000 feet, and landing right in a tarantula farm! I would hate that!"

"Mom, do tarantula farms exist?"


"See, Four? I have a friend who told me the world is going to end in 2012. You should worry more about that."

"Mom, is the world going to end next year?" Four asked.


"Well, it will when the sun burns out," Four clarified.

"When's the sun going to burn out?!" Five asked.

"Not anytime soon," I reassured him.

"How will we know when it does?"

"We won't, because we'll already be dead," Four replied.

"Uuuggghhh," Five moaned.

Hopefully not from tarantulas run amok, I thought.

I hope your fears are never realized, and your life is full of small treasures. Like these, from the school store.

Five purchased a guitar pencil sharpener (it's already broken, from overuse), two  rainbow pencils (he gave one to Four), and four little monster figurines, none of which are emblazoned with the school logo. The total cost was three dollars. When he broke the sharpener, he said, "Well, that was a waste of seventy-five cents."

14 December 2011

Winning Wednesday

I did not fail Five today. Okay, it's only the morning, and he won't be back home for eight hours, but so far...winning! I am so proud, I decided to share.

The elementary school has a "school store," where one can purchase inexpensive spirit items, like pencils and erasers. Items that would normally be shunned or discarded are transformed, through the simple application of a "Rockets!" logo, into coveted trinkets to be hoarded and loved.

Five is a practiced consumer, easily distracted by The Shiny, and swayed by pint-sized television pitchmen, or in this case, PTA ladies. He wants what everyone else wants, and is frequently-nay, almost always- thwarted in his attempt to acquire said objects. For, as we all know, I fail him.

In my defense, the school store is only open one day every month. Apparently, the same people who thought up the six-day cycle also set the store calendar. But this year, I actually saved the print-out detailing the hours of operation, and entered them into my datebook. This week, I transferred that information to my giant "This Week on the Farm" whiteboards, and this morning I packed his money in his lunchbox. Yes, his money. I was willing to give him three dollars-how many pencils does he need? But he wanted to bring seven, because that's what he had in his wallet. I agreed, because you know that if he went with three dollars, there would have been something worth four that he desperately wanted and couldn't buy.

And that would have been my fault.

By popular demand, this is a picture of the last thing I made Five purchase with his own cash.

And here is what I am willing to buy.

It made me laugh to line them up, because the shortest ones are mine. I've already bought new ones for Three because he got taller, dammit.

Have a merry, comfy day!

13 December 2011

Half-Days and Birthdays: the Past, the Present, the Internet

Today is a minimum day for four of five pack members. Four goes to a private school and his calendar never syncs with the public school, so he's screwed. Well, we're both screwed, because I don't have time for a half-day. Seriously, they're sending my children home early in the middle of my Christmas shopping?!

The automated recording from the superintendent said today was a "teacher in-service day," but I think they let them all leave early to go catch the Macy's One Day Sale preview. I'm not even sure if there's a sale this week, but I'd bet even money. (Captain? Can you confirm or deny?) I would know this fact if I was a regular shopper at the company that feeds us and pays our bills, but I am not, except for shoes and lingerie. (The Captain just awoke at the mention of lingerie. I meant bras, honey.)

For someone who wears sneakers all day, I sure do like shoes. I'm no Imelda, or even my mother, who has fully embraced her Floridian lifestyle by purchasing a matching pair of sandals for almost every one of her outfits. I usually buy shoes for events. I selected four pairs for the conferences I attended this year, then put them away in the closet next to the ones previously purchased for graduation, first communion, and last year's forty-fifth birthday.

For this year's forty-fifth birthday, I would like motorcycle boots. I do not now, nor will I ever, own a motorcycle. I just like the boots. I have a subversive, anti-authority streak that, at my advanced, fixed age of forty-five, can only be given expression through expensive leather goods, or black toenail polish. Which, truthfully, is about as crazy as I ever got.

I was much more radical in my mind than I ever was in practice. I am a white girl who grew up in a homogeneous, middle-class suburban neighborhood. My father was a police officer, and my mother was a nurse. I wasn't even exposed to dramatically different views until I got to college. Back then, I altered my appearance frequently, dyeing my hair or shaving it off, and I wore lots of thrift store clothes and rosary beads. I owned Doc Martens and a black leather jacket, which shows you how little the counter-culture has changed in twenty-five years.

The Captain used to laugh about how my friends and I were so determined to be "different," but we all dressed the same. Physical appearance was a way of aligning with a group, which is why I find the interwebs so fascinating. The people who read my blog identify with something I'm saying, and I feel a kinship with the writers I follow. We are friends, in the most pure form. There is no judgement made based on appearance, because most of us will never meet. Our community is based on shared ideas or feelings, and the rest is allowed to blow away like useless chaff.

I know there are people who abuse the anonymity of the web. But I, a subversive, liberal optimist, choose to believe it can be the great equalizer, a modern realization of ancient teachings of love, that encourages us to identify with our fellow man. It allows us to walk a mile in someone else's shoes, whether they're motorcycle boots or ballet flats. It's a precious gift, suitable for this forty-fifth birthday and all those to come. I thank you for it.

Now I'm off to use the Internet for it's next-best purpose: shopping. Half-day be damned!

07 December 2011

Sin-free Five

Last Saturday, Five participated in the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the first time. This used to be called Confession. Now, no one, not even the Director of Religious Education at our church, believes second-graders have "sins" to confess. But sometime in the recent past, the celebration of Reconciliation and First Holy Communion got lumped together in the same year. I don't really know who makes these decisions, because I'm not Catholic. I was raised as a Presbyterian, but we baptised all the boys in the Captain's faith.

I don't regret that decision. We had moved back to the Captain's childhood home when we started having the boys, and we attended his church because his father is a deacon. It's been special to have all the boys baptised by their grandfather, and it sometimes makes it easier to get them to Mass if Grandpa is on the alter. It's a little weird for me, because even after all these years, the service is still not familiar, but I'm sure I could rectify that through simple memorization. Which, for some reason, I keep resisting.

I think it's one of my "identity" triggers. There are some things I've never wanted to change, because I feel like they make me, you know-ME. When I got married, I didn't change my name. That didn't matter after I had children--I simply became Mrs. D. But every time an adult calls me that, I feel like I'm acting a role. The same goes for church. I wouldn't even say I was a practicing Protestant, but I was confirmed in that church, and I guess I don't want to renounce that part of myself.

I took Four up for communion once, and after he received the Eucharist, the priest offered it to me. I declined, asking only for a blessing. It was the first time Father realized I wasn't Catholic. After Mass, he came up to me and said, "We have to make you one of us!" and I felt like I was being chased by the Borg. I don't want to be assimilated!  But I did seriously consider it once, after Two stood up for Communion and asked, "Why can't you join us?" It's a valid question, perhaps for both the church and me.

I'm an aide in the sixth grade CCD class at our parish. My mother and I were talking about one of the lessons, and I said I didn't necessarily believe in Heaven. She wondered why I was raising the boys in a faith that I questioned. I told her it was because I believe Jesus was the son of God, and we should live according to his teachings. But I don't think we should do that to get an eternal reward, because our lives are happening now. The reward is now. This life is a gift. The people we love are a gift. We should honor that by doing good works today. I'll find out if I'm right, eventually.

This post was supposed to be about Five's day, but I guess I'm still thinking deep thoughts. Unlike Five, who struggled to find anything to share with the priest. We asked him questions, in an effort to help:

"Are you always nice to your brother?"
"Nicer than he is to me!"

"Are you sometimes sassy to your parents?"

"Do you always try your best in school, and listen to your teacher?"
"Yes. Except for that time when I got in trouble at lunch."

"Do you blame Mom for things?"
"Only when it's her fault."

Five met with the priest, and we watched from a distance as he talked and talked. We didn't ask what he shared, but we were pretty confident he left with a clear conscience. The same one he walked in with, apparently. God bless him.

05 December 2011

Oh, Give Me a Home Where the Buffalo Roam

I want to live in Montana. I will probably die in New Jersey. I am trying to reconcile these two facts.

I long for wide, open spaces. I want to be in the middle of a plain, with the mountains in the distance and no neighbors in view. You don't need a doctorate to decipher my motivation. I live in a house with eight other people in the most crowded state in the union. And on the surface, this dime-store diagnosis makes sense. But I've been trying to look below the shimmer, into the muck of my soul, to understand this yearning.

When I was ten years old, my family rented a Winnebago and traveled across the country. We took a northerly route, and stopped at all the big national parks. I've seen the Gateway Arch, Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Yellowstone, Sequoia National Park, Yosemite, and more than I can remember.* It was a life-changing trip for me, but not in a way that can be quantified. It's more of a feeling, an imprint, that lingers within me. And sometimes it makes me restless.

I am not going to leave my family and head west. I may be twitchy, but I'm not Thelma or Louise. I love my  men; I would be lost without them. My relocation fantasy includes the whole pack, which has given me a clue to  its symbolic meaning.

Montana represents simplicity.

My life is hectic and often overwhelming. Each day I wake up full of optimism and energy, and almost every night I go to bed feeling like I didn't accomplish anything beyond the bare necessities. I argue every day about homework and housework. I am in a constant battle against electronics and social media. I may repaint my van yellow and black, so I can begin charging for my taxi services. There are not enough hours in my day.

But in Montana, the Montana of my dreams, there are no electronics. Except for my laptop, because I am a writer. The children play outside, and wander through nature. I even let them have ATVs, because we own hundreds of acres of flat land. At night we eat dinner together, everyone does their homework, and we play board games. I kiss them all goodnight, they go to bed without arguing, and then the Captain and I sit in front of the fire. It's idyllic.

I know that this will not happen. We are not going to move. The Captain works in Manhattan. His parents live with us, and all of his family plus half of mine is here in New Jersey. We're not going to leave them. I could significantly alter the fantasy and make Montana the retirement destination. But after a lifetime of working, the Captain will be looking for a place he can golf for more than three months out of the year.

So I am tasked with trying to find the peace and simplicity I think exists in Big Sky country. That seems nearly impossible, which means my only alternative is acceptance. Last week, the blogosphere kept sending me messages: things are perfect; the world is exactly as it should be; everything happens for a reason. And you know, after a while I gave in and agreed, because it's tiring and nonconstructive to be restless.  I am trying to focus on what I can control, and what makes me happy in my real world.

When I start to daydream, I remember when the Captain took me to Montana two years ago. We were at the rodeo, really immersed in the experience, and I looked over at the group of riders waiting to compete. Most of them were teenagers, looking spiffy in their fancy shirts and hats, high up in their saddles...texting.

There truly is no escape.

*"The Corn Palace, the Grand Canyon, the Mississippi River!" she remembered when she awoke, disturbed that her brain was apparently so old it did not recall staring at a giant hole in the ground.