Real world Valentines, or, “There’s something weird on the toilet”

My husband always remembers to buy me flowers.

I lead with this fact because I’m well aware that not all spouses are as:

  1. generous with their displays of affection, and
  2. organized with their time

as my not-quite-perfect-yet-perfect-for-me husband. In a world where partner-bashing could be a professional sport, I like to clear a space to express my inter-personal gratitude and all the ways that our relationship makes my life better.

Here’s hoping I’m half as well appreciated by him! I’m also quite definitely imperfect, after all.

But this isn’t going to be a post about my “perfect” husband’s grand romantic gestures for Valentine’s Day. Instead, I’m moved to write about the imperfect intersection of family life, daily reality, and romance. Odd bedfellows, indeed!

I’ve told my husband about a million times that he doesn’t have to battle the crowds of beleaguered husbands to buy day-of flowers for me on Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, or any other Day When Good Men Buy Gifts. I do emphatically! enjoy being acknowledged, but I’m quite happy to let dates slip by a day or two in order to avoid crowds and gross inconvenience for my partner or myself.

I’d rather eat in on a holiday to avoid dining elbow-to-elbow in a packed room at the “correct” time for celebration. Along the same lines, I’m happy to receive my flowers on another day.

And yet, DH—being a gentleman with old-fashioned manners—showed up last Friday with a large bouquet of red roses for me. Yes: his mother is suitably proud.

I was having a rough day as far as my ongoing health issues go, so I decided to forego a heavy crystal vase in favor of anything I could lift.

Dozen red roses in yellow ceramic pitcher on windowsillMy favorite vessel for cut flowers is actually a little dijon yellow ceramic pitcher. I thought the red roses looked quite fetching in it, and the arrangement matched my outfit, too.

DH’s largess, however, meant I still had quite an array of blooms left for which homes wanted finding. It crossed my mind that a bud vase next to my desk would be a nice reminder of how much I’m loved while I work on the bane of every first quarter of the new year, our income tax returns.

3 red roses in a short, tulip-shaped bus vase of purple glass

A slim glass vase held only a few more stems, though, so I wasn’t done re-homing flora.

In keeping with the lower-center-of-gravity-means-less-knocking-over-by-arthritic-hands philosophy of the day, I remembered my tiniest crystal vase. It’s good and heavy for its size, but also quite stable. I was having that kind of day. Arthritis makes me a klutz.

Half a dozen red roses in a small crystal vase

I placed the final half dozen or so roses and went about my business.

Valentine’s Day fell on a school day this year, and, eventually, my younger son arrived home. Upon entering the powder room after dropping his lunch box in the kitchen, he yelled,

Hey, there’s something weird on the toilet!”

Yes, dear readers, I’d placed the final little vase in one of the few uncluttered spaces in my maximalist home: atop the toilet tank lid in the guest bath.

I suppose “something weird on the toilet” is better than “something rotten in the state of Denmark,” at least as far as home decoration goes.

Small crystal vase of red roses atop white ceramic toilet tank

Here’s what Instagram stories rarely feature: we all live imperfect lives. Many families have messy homes. We certainly do. Yes, even on holidays.

Maybe especially on holidays!

Loving partnerships thrive in cluttered suburban McMansions, Korean banjiha, dilapidated farmhouses, and also I’d expect in zen-like modern interiors kept up by teams of professional cleaners as seen on tv.

Here’s the long view of my other vessels full of horticultural affection.

The kitchen sink is full of dirty dishes, but our hearts are full of love!

I fussed for about five seconds trying to take a “pretty” picture of my Valentine flowers, but if I’d had the energy to get the dishes done and work on the taxes, it already would have happened.

It’s easy for me to get caught up in foolish self-inflicted punishments.

  • I can’t buy that bouquet today because they will look dumb on my cluttered dining table.
  • There’s no point replacing my tattered towels when the kids keep staining the good ones.

Lipstick on a pig!

You can follow that path to all sorts of dreadful places, like not buying flattering clothing that fits for want of losing weight. It’s silly, it’s harmful, and I try not to live like that.

My Valentine flowers are a loving gesture from a person who actually strives to make me happy every single day. That’s well worth celebrating in and of itself! Seen in that light, it would be downright shameful of me not to share my imperfect photos with the world with the celebration and joy that selfless love deserves.

On Valentine’s Day, I didn’t feel in wonderful health and my house was a mess, but I had the good fortune to spend the day with people I love and who love me back. It’s lovely; it’s enough. I wish everyone felt free to bask in such glorious imperfection.

And a skeptic as to my sincerity when I protest obligatory flowers, even 20+ years into our relationship!

Happy Hanukkah 5779 ~ Nights 1 & 2

Looking ahead and making note of the fact that Hanukkah falls early this year, on December 3, 2018–i.e., the evening of the December 2nd when converting from our Jewish to the secular calendar–didn’t prevent it from sneaking right up on my busy family and resulting in a Night 1 scramble.

We nearly missed observing Night 1 altogether. There was a late remembrance of the date. Thankfully, we had birthday candles in a cupboard and made a very quick observance of first evening of Hanukkah. We did better with Night 2, even with it falling on a school night.

Like most modern Americans, we positively swim in stuff. This year, my plan for eight nights of Hanukkah festivity is to alternate a shared gift one evening with a night of family activity the next.

Relaxed play time together is more precious than even Lego sets!

Don’t worry, though. The material gifts planned for Hanukkah 5779 are all Lego related, so new bricks will abound. We’re adding on to Bricklyn, our family display/play space located smack dab in our living room.

Yeah, my “design scheme” for our home is decidedly eccentric eclectic.

Lego Ninjago City set 70620 Hanukkah box buildLego Ninjago City set 70620 Hanukkah book manualGift number 1 and 2 was the hefty Lego Ninjago City (set 70620). As of Day 2, which follows Night 2, remember!, the 4867 piece set is not even halfway built, but that’s okay. Why rush a pleasure?

Happy Hanukkah, dear readers! May your family bask in a warm, bright glow this holiday season.

Note: Originally posted photos were all from previous years’ celebrations. I haven’t gotten a single current picture off of my phone yet, and none of them are particularly pretty. I’ve been too busy playing with the new Legos like a sensible person. Added Lego toy photos in update.

New England’s glory is autumn: musings on a Hallowed Eve

At some point if you’re lucky you realize you’re old enough that half your life has happened after college. For me, that also marks the division between growing up “at Home” in the American Pacific NW, and then living for almost two decades in the Northeast, first in Central* New York, then still further eastward until I ran out of land and stopped just short of the Atlantic Ocean.

While Home is still where my heart resides, autumn is the season when I most appreciate living in New England. I find that my otherwise least favorite chore—driving on the region’s rarely planned, oft overcrowded roads—becomes a source of radiant joy on crisp, clear fall mornings.

garden view of bench on frosty autumn morningI am the sort of person whose heart really does feel swollen to bursting in the face of beauty. I get moved to tears easily and often, especially by evidence of the enormous capacity of human beings for goodness and generosity. I literally jump for joy when I get excited. I’m not what you might call “hard to stir” at any time. And yet…

Simply passing along our suburban lane these past few days has been a wonderland of well-framed vistas, with all credit due to Mother Nature. I may hate the new McMansions thrown up around the corner, but even they look fantastic bedecked with pots of purple mums and overhung by turning leaves in yellow, orange, and blazing red, mirrored by their fallen comrades drifting the street below and browning into dust.

With the ground heavily frosted this morning, I stole a moment I couldn’t spare in the yard to snap a photo of rimed flowers, drooping toward death, yet somehow more magnificent than ever in their regal fading.

Frost rimed flower and fallen autumn leavesThe best photos, I’ll never capture. It is the empty road embraced by fiery foliage that stirs me, moves me, but can’t be caught. I’ve always loved the promise of whirring along en route to the pleasures of a destination, and it is this combination of robust kinetic energy within the season of winding down and wrapping up that makes these moments so momentous for me.

I hope someday to return Home to stay, resuming the mantle of grey days and soft, cool mist that is my birthright. I miss the sight of constant, snow-capped mountains swathed in evergreens, and even the ubiquitous rain. But, if I do depart, I will always miss New England’s blazing autumns. These daily miracles will remain forever etched on my soul.

Happy Halloween, dear readers!

*Not “Upstate” New York, which means somewhere else in the large state that also happens to house that glory hog, New York City. This is a distinction quite dear to those who live near my alma mater. I went to college in a rural part of the state, where cows outnumbered even students. Our little village didn’t even host a gas station.

Here’s where I can’t help but make a terrible and rather inappropriate joke, so I’ll keep it below the fold. Stop here, children. Continue reading

Pacing yourself: good advice for chronic illness, and everyone else, too!

It’s been so long since my last post, subscribers and regular readers may have wondered if I fell off the face of the Earth. Fret no more! I’m alive, but I have hosted a major holiday party and traversed a healthy arc around our little blue planet.

Between the trip–which I’ll write about soon–and the annual marathon that is serving Thanksgiving dinner to 19 people, I have been running right at the edge of my available pool of energy.

I have been writing, but I haven’t finished anythin…*

If you can believe it, I have over 50 draft posts in various stages of completion. What I haven’t had is any stamina left at the end of these busy days to polish up a given post for presentation to my readers.

I think I’ve mentioned it before: I’m not a real-time writer. Or, at least, I’m not even attempting to keep up with the pace of life since this blog is a hobby for me. I’m writing about Really Wonderful Things because I enjoy it. I’m trying to keep it that way.

I feel bad when I fail to post regularly. I cherish the sharing aspect of my own blog and those I follow. Slacking off on my posting schedule of a mere two pieces per week leaves me feeling guilty, and even a little anxious.

What if I lose a lot of followers? What if I lose a favorite frequent commenter?

And this is where I have to remind myself of the reality of my situation. I’ve written about accepting my limitations in the context of travel, and I think I give myself plenty of permission to do so when away from home.

What’s much harder is to take my expectations down a notch at home. Real life is a marathon, not a sprint, but there are so few obvious places to let things slide when it comes to parenthood and caring for your family.

The thoughts sound like this:

“If I don’t make this one birthday count, it is gone forever. My child won’t have good memories of turning X years old.”

Or this:

“Extended family and a dozen friends are coming for Thanksgiving. If I don’t make it a good one, I’ve ruined a holiday for 20 people.”

There’s a kernel of truth here, but most of it is anxiety talking. I don’t invite over the kind of “friend” who would blame me for a Thanksgiving catastrophe. If I had family members who actively tried to lay down that kind of guilt trip, I would consciously reject it as nonsense.

Beneath my conscious mind, however, is the deeply ingrained message I’ve been internalizing since infancy that 1) opening my messy house to people as is tells them I don’t care that they’ve come, and 2) any failings in our family’s hospitality belong to me, the wife and mother.

I’ve put a lot of effort into inviting people over “in spite of” the usual state of our home. Life can be so hectic, and it is hard to find a time that works to see good friends; an unwashed load of towels or a project-in-progress in front of the TV can’t be allowed to block a chance to socialize with companionable souls. Those moments are too precious.

And all of that was before an autoimmune condition reduced my available store of energy from less-than-average to downright-low. At this point in my life, there are days where I choose between cleaning up the kitchen at the end of the day or eating dinner; some days, I fail to do either because I’m too tired to accomplish even one “trivial” task.

So when it comes to hosting Thanksgiving, for example, I had to choose between planning the menu and buying ingredients for the dinner (the main point of the event), or preparing a more comfortable guest room for out of town visitors. And did I mention that I was leaving town for an international trip 48 hours after Thanksgiving dinner?

Tidying the great room where we hold the party was such a distant last on my list of priorities, it was hard to even see it at the horizon.

Without a doubt, I get some flak about these failings from people who truly don’t understand how I can be taking a break on the couch when people are coming over within hours and my house “looks like this.” I know that I need that break or I won’t be able to stand on my bad foot to prepare a meal; not everyone can or will understand that point.

Honestly, I hope they never come to a point of realizing how hard simple things can be for someone with chronic illness. It really stinks. I wouldn’t wish is on my worst enemy.

Add to my list of “the hard work” of hosting a large party the effort to reject others’ unrealistic expectations for me. It may be the hardest thing I deal with at some events!

We welcome others into our homes to share time, experiences, and the very real products of our hearts. We cook for each other and care for each other because we can, and because we want to.

When I take whatever energy I have and translate that into action in real terms, it is a gift to those I love. I choose to believe it will be received that way, whether I make a fancy shape of it or hand it over in a messy bundle.

This holiday season, I hope we can all focus on why we invite others to share with us. Spend a little less effort on worrying about how you measure up! If you find yourself leaning toward the latter, back up a step and take a breath.

It’s a privilege to be free to celebrate as we see fit.

It’s an honor to host friends and loved ones in our homes, and to have more than we need to share.

Try not to go down the rabbit hole of should have and could be; be grateful to enjoy what is, here and now, and those who’ve graced you with their presence.

And, if someone makes you feel less than great for what you have to offer, leave them to their negativity and add it to your list of blessings. At least you are glad for what you have, and who you are!

I will try to do a little better about piping up twice a week and staying in touch with my followers. I sincerely wish for a season of peace, abundance, and joy to everyone reading, and everyone else besides.

Cheers!

*Quoting a cute, hand-drawn postcard I had pinned outside my college dorm room. I wonder where that card has gone…

Windows, culture & great comforts: how do we learn to share what we take for granted?

The world has gotten so much more interconnected. My tiny blog has been viewed by readers from all over the world. Yet, still, we miss opportunities to share our best ideas about life’s most basic conveniences.

My thoughts today are prompted by windows. Specifically, what I’ve thought of as “German windows” since my first visit to that country in the late 1990’s. A recent internet search tells me they are referred to as “Tilt and Turn” or simply “Tilt Turn” windows in English-speaking markets.

Do Germans even have a special name for this type of window, or is it just “a window” because the technology is expected?

The details of why I love these windows are a little off topic for this post, but they are uniquely functional fenestrations. I was reminded of that fact during a recent stay in a “passive house” (i.e., energy saving construction built using European “green” concepts.) Tilt & Turn windows might solve a challenge in my home, so I went looking for sources in the USA.

My specific home improvement aside, I was left with a renewed frustration about the difficulty of implementing well-tested, obviously useful technology that’s ubiquitous in another country here in my home.

Having traveled, I have some idea of the scope of great ideas for making comfortable homes that have developed around the globe. I’d love to bring some of these innovations back with me. Talk about the ultimate souvenir! But, to do so is almost impossible on a middle class budget.

I learned that this problem exists years ago as a first time homeowner with old steam radiators. An 80 year old unit needed to be replaced, ideally with something much narrower and taller. The existing unit stuck out ten inches past an adjacent doorjamb and into the hall! The plumber swore no such radiator existed for sale in the USA. I wasn’t knowledgeable enough then to realize how limited the repertoire of a standard contractor was (and is.)

I now have a plumber who enjoys learning about cutting edge technologies in his field. He’s taught me a lot about what can be had, domestically, and at what (high!) price. Thanks to him, at least I have options to evaluate for myself.

Scottish castle - 1

Scottish castle that had some fine modern radiators

Way back in 2002, I could have purchased the tall, slim, wall-mounted radiator I’d seen in Scotland, contrary to the old plumber’s thoughts. I couldn’t have afforded the system upgrades necessary to use it in my old house, however.

Our tradespeople frequently learn through mentoring relationships and apprenticeships—a tried and true method, undoubtedly—but it appears that the process precludes much exposure to innovation.

Couldn’t a better job be done in sharing building products and processes, at least between regions with similar climates?

Conservative behavior does make sense when we are talking about a home. For so many, it represents the bulk of his financial resources; the ultimate “investment.” No one wants to spend foolishly when it comes to her nest egg.

The flip side to this, however, is a failure to adopt even simple improvements that save resources over the mid- to long-term. The eventual costs end up staggeringly large. Also, right now, we enjoy less comfort at home.

Until you’ve traveled away from home and experienced life as another culture lives it, it is hard to even identify your own most mundane expectations and prejudices as such. Wearing shoes indoors or not? Various household appliances as luxuries vs. necessities? Local swimming pool, recreation center, or library as nice perk, or indispensable locus of community life?

Because I’ve traveled—and indulged a personal hobby of reading and occasionally obsessing about foreign cultures—I enjoy my daily life more.

I use a Japanese deep soaking tub for arthritis relief. I can’t imagine life anymore without an electric kettle (a habit I picked up in the UK) for preparing my tea. My husband and I share sleep more soundly with bed linens arranged in the German tradition—two separate twin duvets of wildly different warmth/weight on our king sized bed.

Most of these are inexpensive objects easily blended into a typical American home. My tub, for example, is a portable model that fits in my shower stall, something like an overgrown version of child’s wading pool, but it provides more comfort than any Western bath I’ve tried. I’d love to remodel my outdated bathroom someday and include a beautiful, high quality, built-in tub of this type, but that may never be economically feasible.

Also, the most intriguing aspect of the Japanese tub—an integrated heater that keeps a bath at a ready temperature—is not allowed in the USA. I think it is the cultural disconnect between people who wash before they get in to soak (Japanese) vs. the idea that the tub is the bath in which you soap and scrub. Only chemically disinfected hot tubs can be kept hot in America.

All of the previous paragraph is assuming I’ve got a handle on the actual code issues with these heaters, which I may well be misunderstanding. I have no background in the building trades, nor am I a particularly handy homeowner. Here’s more about using an ofuro in the Japanese tradition.

There are real technical reasons these are the hard innovations to incorporate. Building codes are different. Electrical requirements are different. Standards are different.

But, if we don’t know the technology exists to improve our lives, how can we ask for it?Boy Harnessed the Wind book cover photo

Another influence on these thoughts. A book I’m reading about how a boy growing up in Malawi experienced, and learned to work with, technology.

How do we, as interconnected citizens of the world, in constant contact with each other, share the best, most comforting aspects of our lives?

Can we do a better job of getting the word out?

Can we share our greatest comforts?