Romance at Home

There is nothing that feeds affection and intimacy in a relationship like romance. Everybody knows that it is essential to a woman’s happiness. But I believe it is just as crucial to a man’s. Not only to receive it, but to give it. Even if it doesn’t come quite as naturally, the simple act of being romantic makes a man feel . . . well  . . . manly. The look of sheer pride and accomplishment on my husbands face tonight after a valiant and very successful romantic evening, said it all. He enjoyed seeing me giddy with the anticipation and fulfillment of pampering almost as much as I enjoyed experiencing it. Just before leaving work today, I received this email:

Upon my arrival at home, I was greeted first with smooches, then with the heavenly smell of made-from-scratch chicken Alfredo on the stove, and then by the sound of lovely french music and the sight of candles and wine ready to be poured. I did just as I was told and kicked off my shoes and danced around the kitchen while he finished up. And the best part was the forethought that went into creating the invitation and going to the store to buy ingredients for one of my favorite foods and doing it all himself. I would choose this evening over a 5 star Italian restaurant any day! Even the inclusion of our two-year old was no detraction. I think he could sense the positivity and happiness floating around the house and was a perfect doll all evening. He even got a glass of “wine” (white grape juice in a wine glass) and told his daddy, “I like this supper, Daddy!” Who says you need to pay a baby sitter and spend a fortune on a date to make it special? Further evidence that sometimes it is the thought and effort that accompanies a gift that makes it wonderful. Well done hubby! You’ve just raised the bar. ;)

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Marking Milestones

Lets face it… the holidays are stressful. They were magical when we were kids. Sometimes, we still catch glimpses of that magic through the eyes of our children or a sense of nostalgia. But, as much as I hate to admit it, the older I get, the more the holidays seem to be about to-do lists and finances, expectations and family drama, and just making it through. By the time we hit New Years, I have so little energy or holiday spirit left that I just want to spend my long weekend clearing up all the Christmas crap and catching up on sleep. But, ironically, this is when we are expected, at the final stage of this seasonal marathon, to stay up all night and party like it’s 1999. Sigh.

As I contemplate the merits of going out versus staying in and try to dredge up the last remnants of good cheer and festive spirits that I possess, I find myself meditating (as I continually remind myself and all of you to do) on the small but meaningful milestones that have occurred during this season of chaos – trying to lift the hazy vale of petty stresses that seems to have settled over my eyes as of late. There are so many more important things than money and schedules and weight gain and chores. And if we’re not careful to mark them we may miss them.

  • This month, my hubby and I celebrated our 5th anniversary.  Five years of marriage and six years together really does feel like a lifetime – not because the time dragged, but because I find it increasingly hard to remember and nearly impossible to imagine what life was/would be like without him. He is my life and I am so grateful for this milestone and the achievement it marks, despite it’s relatively small, quiet celebration in the midst of Christmas travel.
  • This week marked the halfway point of my pregnancy.  Just two weeks after discovering that our little bundle is made of frogs and snails and puppy dog tails, he has begun making his presence known to me by kicking and punching actively every day.  And wildly expanding my girth from week to week.  It is so hard to imagine that – “WHOA-OH we’re halfway there!” And even though sometimes I do feel like I’m livin’ on a prayer, I am amazed at how far we’ve come and eager to see the fruits of my labor (pun most definitely intended.)

  • This month also marked my entry into another decade of my life.  And, I must say, the reality has been severely underwhelming.  For all the dread and angst that I invested leading up to that day, it has not dramatically changed my life or outlook.  But the more I considered this milestone, the more I realized that it’s not how many years you possess, but how much those years contained that matters. If they were full and rich, they were a success.  If they were not as full as I would have liked, than I have ten more years to rectify that before the next decade rolls around.  Guess I better get busy!
  • My son amazes me more and more every day. While constantly increasing his capacity to frustrate, he is also expanding his knowledge and understanding and ability. He is beginning to understand the rules of his world and how to live by them but imagine beyond them.  He may know that there is not really a monster in the shower, but why not create a blue dragon with red eyes to walk by his side and protect him as he checks to make sure.  He may know the names and natures of every single animal in his picture book, but he still pronounces some of them like “pokey-spines” and “flaming-glows.” He may scoff at Mama’s constant need for kisses and hugs or barely acknowledge the showers of little compliments we pay him daily, but I know our philosophy of positive parenting is paying off every time my little boy naturally and without any effort or thought compliments me to make me happy. These are the good times and we can’t let the spoiling nature of presents and late bedtimes and Christmas treats rob us of these memories.

  • I am finally surfacing and remembering that there is a life past Christmas feasts and cookies and splurges, and lately it has taken the form simple, uncomplicated, comfortable foods like spaghetti and vegetable soup, bagels and homemade bread, sandwiches and a classic favorite around here – green beans. It is a welcome relief to be back in the kitchen and cooking healthy food for only 3 (and a half) people.

  • Our Christmas presents were small but lovely reminders of thoughtful love. Mine to Jonathan included things that contributed to his manliness and comfort. Some things he’s mentioned wanting and others he didn’t even know he wanted. A chrome safety razor shaving set, a pipe and good tobacco, a handsome watch, and intriguing reading material.  His to me were special tokens of an effort which I know is difficult for him but at which he succeeded because he knows it’s important to me. A black and white diamond heart necklace, a book of love poems, a fantastically retro kitchen timer, two beautiful sweaters, a scarf set, and a prenatal message. Aiden’s toys reflected his current interests and will help to develop his growing imagination. Who knew Weebles would bring so many hours of creative play! And our gifts to family and friends were large mugs filled with homemade peppermint cocoa mix – made with many hours and much painstaking testing by Aiden and myself. And also, for the kids in our lives, homemade play dough sets with cookie cutters. Aiden proudly proclaimed to everyone who received them, “I made it with Mama!” giving me the best gift of all – knowing my son is learning the value of giving from the heart with work from the hands.

If all of these things don’t make up for the stresses of the holidays, than our focus is in the wrong place. We have to remember that it’s not a cushy bank account that we will cherish at the end of our lives but rather the joy of those we spent our time and money on. Things are replaceable.  People, moments, feelings are not. How we chose to remember these times largely colors how we experience them. I chose to remember well.

Out With the Old, In With the New!

In a season marked by the giving and receiving of gifts, I am overcome today by a need to purge and clean as all the new stuff enters my house with no place to live and every closet and cupboard filled to capacity. Which begs the question – if we have to get rid of old stuff to make room for new stuff, how much stuff do we really need? Are we cultivating an attitude of simplicity and gratitude in ourselves and our children? Or one of excess and extravagance? Now, as I have mentioned before in a couple of posts, I don’t thing that gift giving is purely about satisfying needs. If it was, we would all get Hoovers and underwear for Christmas. Instead, giving gifts is a physical demonstration of the thoughtfulness that emanates from love. If our holiday gifts showed such thoughtfulness and were messages of caring and love, than they were a success and a worthy investment. If, however, they were just an accumulation of things because it’s the time of year to accumulate things, than they were a waste.

All that being said, I am grateful for the motivation and incentive to cleanse my house and my cupboards of unnecessary clutter. It has been a long time in the making. My boss once shared with us at a company luncheon that he and his wife make it a habit to go through their things once a year and get rid of anything that they hadn’t used in the previous year. Having lived in the same place for the last 3.5 years and never purged or rearranged, I’ve been drawn to this idea ever since he shared it. I’m sure my fire is fueled by nesting instincts as well, since Baby No. 2 will be making his début in 4.5 months. But regardless of the reason, nesting or staleness or Christmas, the time for “spring” cleaning has arrived and began today in earnest. I only made it through part of one room but already the pile marked for garage sale is substantial. Although I am exhausted and know I have a LONG way to go, this pile of no longer needed/wanted junk (or treasures to garage sale customers) makes me very happy. It is the beginning of greater order, more space, and enhanced simplicity. It is an opportunity to make some money from things we don’t need and benefit those who do. It is a change, no matter how small, that makes our home more livable. We’ll see how far I get in the coming weeks before the fire dies.

Gift Making Magic!

I have mentioned before that I like to make my own Christmas gifts, both for the sake of economy and for the added thoughtfulness infused into such gifts that cannot be attained by picking up something at the store simply because it was time to buy someone a present. But every year I try to brainstorm good ideas that will be appreciated not just for the effort, but for the thing itself. Because, lets face it, no matter how much effort or thought goes into a gift, it’s not quite the same if the receiver doesn’t actually like it. It has to be the right balance. Often times though, this added proviso of likeability leads to a great deal more effort than I anticipated, as I try to wrap my fingers around what my brain has devised. Of course it doesn’t help that I have a VERY large family of consisting of 30 people outside of my immediate circle of 3 (soon to be 4). It can get a bit overwhelming.

This year, however, I had the benefit of a little helper that Santa let me borrow. It is still surprising to me that my little boy is old enough already to actually help me with projects. I do use the word “help” loosely, of course – he is after all only two. But even if his help wasn’t a time or effort saver, it was most definitely a mood saver during the 16 hours I spent this weekend completing everything. And, as is always the case, he was more of a teacher to me through the whole process than I was to him.  I may have taught him to mix ingredients or add just the right touch, but he taught me patience, understanding, a healthy sense of wonder, and an appreciation for licking all things yummy! And he helped me see all the old classic Christmas cartoons though a fresh set of eyes.  So at the risk of spoiling the surprise (if you expect to receive a gift from me, don’t look too closely or analyze too much), here are a few highlights from our weekend of gift making magic. I obviously can’t include the final result of the gifts we made for the adults, but since there are presumably few children who read my blog, I will share those – parents don’t tell!

Finding the Perfect Gifts for Manly Men

Being someone who very much appreciates a thoughtful and personal gift, one that I know the giver bought out of a sense of love and connection, I put a great deal of pressure on myself to find these types of gifts for others. Especially for those I most care about. I want to find something that doesn’t just say, “I had to get you a gift, so here’s something kind of nice,” but rather, “I’ve been thinking and brainstorming for months to come up with something that I thought would be special to you and here’s what I’ve discovered.” This is why, for many of my holiday gifts, I opt for homemade. Because it is as much about the thought, preparation, and time investment as it is about the thing given. But for my Hubby, I ruminate for ages trying to come up with unique ideas that will speak to him –  things he will enjoy and not just end up as one more item gathering dust in a closet. This year I find myself a bit stumped. The trouble with Jonathan is that his most passionate interests are very specialized and VERY expensive. They are things I could not buy for him even if I could afford them because I don’t know enough about them to get the right thing. And yet they are the things he most wants. So half the time I feel like I ought to just give him the money to go buy his own gifts. But everything about that seems wrong to me. Contrary to the idea and purpose of thoughtful gift giving. So I brainstorm and search and ponder. This year’s searching has left me feeling… baffled. If you Google or Amazon search “gift ideas for men,” you get the most incredibly long list of complete crap.  Most of it associated with smoking, drinking, golf, and dirty, fifth-grade humor. Is this how our society views men? As juvenile, lazy partiers? (You can see this sentiment echoed in many popular sitcoms, where the male is the buffoon, the comic relief, the dufus, always in need of the woman to fix his blunders. What a shame. But this is an entirely separate blog post for a later date.)

All of these "gift ideas for men" were in the top 15 when I ran a search by that name in Amazon!

I don’t know about you all, but my man is worth far more than these types of kitschy, generalized assumptions about ignorant men. And I want him to know it when I hand him his gifts. So while trying to find other sources of inspiration, I decided to email the author of a blog that he follows and admires called The Art of Manlinesswhich reminds men that, even in today’s hyper-sensitive, feminist society, it is OK to be strong and manly and virtuous. I told him in my email that my husband was inspired by what he wrote to be a better man and that I, as well as many of his readers, might appreciate some manly suggestions for gifts this holiday season. He responded the same day with some thoughts and ideas as well as links to the gift lists he published for the last three years. It was very helpful and, I am happy to say, I think I have solved my quandary for my man’s presents this year. Since I appreciated his help so much, I decided to send his suggestions on to you. Hopefully you will find them as helpful as I did.

The Art of Manliness 2008 Holiday Gift Guide

The Art of Manliness 2009 Holiday Gift Guide

The Art of Manliness 2010 Holiday Gift Guide