Saturday, December 16, 2017

Unflattering Will Get You Nowhere

Being married to a photographer, I am Chuck's unsuspecting subject many more times than I know. Thankfully, he tries very hard to show my best side, in the best light. There are moments, though, no matter how hard Chuck tries, I just don't give him much to work with. To his credit, there are many shots of me that have stayed on his computer, never having seen the light of day. 

I debated about giving photographers credit for the photos here, but the pics are what they are; evidence of me in all my glory, or the lack thereof. All blame for my derp-y expressions lies with me, not the person behind the camera.

I found this gem buried in Chuck's archives. To his credit, he would never share this photo.
Apparently, I have no shame.

It has become painfully apparent that I am a challenge to many photographers, especially at the Bristol Renaissance Faire. We have become friends with so many of the camera-toting cadre, and every once in awhile, their pictures of me pop up on Facebook. 

Sometimes they capture my (a-hem) resting [something-or-other] face, and I think, "Wow, I need to work on that." I am learning not to take myself so seriously, and I have to say, my guard is quickly dropping in the vanity department. When I'm at the faire, I am about as happy as I can be, but sometimes that heat and humidity takes its toll on me, and it shows in my expression. Yeah, that's it. Let's blame my less-than-flattering facial expressions on the weather, shall we?

Photo credit: Frank Falesch

What else can I do, but laugh about it? 

My oldest said this is the perfect face for when meeting a real-life giant.
Photo credit: John Karpinsky

The last three summers at the faire have shown me that some people have a knack for always being "on," and there is rarely an unflattering picture of them. Those cast members are consummate actors, though; I am just a photographer, and I am not blessed with their abilities.

Enlarged for your viewing pleasure.

Chuck is learning if he wants to capture a pleasant image of me, he has to get my attention first, then I can flash him my mega-watt smile. I can smile, and thanks to a couple embarrassing years of wearing braces, I have a pretty nice one. I just don't think about smiling when I'm lost in thought, or unaware of cameras. 

Why can't I put a little more effort in my facial expressions when I am lost in thought, like I do when I'm hamming it up?

While I may not always smile when I'm in front of a camera, do you know when I smile the most? When I'm behind the camera. 

That dimple is evidence of my smile behind the camera. Thanks for this shot, John Karpinsky!

It's so weird, but when I'm waiting to capture the perfect candid moment, my face breaks into a huge smile while my finger is poised over the trigger. It's like I'm trying to use ESP to get my subject to smile for me. At the end of an eight hour day at the ren faire, my cheeks seriously hurt. 

There's that tell-tale dimple again.
Photo credit: Brian Schultz

The jury is still out, but I don't think we can blame our photographer friends for my deadpan, unflattering look. Having a pleasant expression on my face is one thing I'm going to work on, but as you can see, I've got my work cut out for me.

Photo credit: Trisha Wagner. Commentary by me.

Unflattering is getting me nowhere. 

Photo credit: Stephen Lundeen

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Stop and Smell the Poinsettias

Okay, I admit it; I don't think poinsettias have much of a fragrance, but 'tis the season, and I thought "Stop and smell the poinsettias" was apropros this month. And if we can't smell them, the least we can do is appreciate their beauty.

Do you ever get pulled into a chaotic week where you are checking things off your list right and left, but you feel drained, even though you are being productive? The holidays seem to pull is in so many directions; the parties, the community events, the family gatherings. I have been powering through each day, doing the things asked of me, and doing the things I think I need to do, but my heart has felt out of touch with my head. It's almost like having an out-of-body experience at times. 

Ever since my father-in-law passed away last week, I have been caught up in a whirlwind of things that need to be done. Our day-to-day life keeps us hopping anyway, and Chuck's mom needs love and encouragement more than ever right now. There are papers to gather, documents to sign, an apartment to be emptied, and many, many explanations to repeat to a broken-hearted wife who is confused by all of the changes in her life. My own heart hurts for hers. 

We're in between holidays, and I am very aware that keeping up with the housework is going to make things much easier on me when we entertain friends and family these next few weeks. There are appointments at the dentist, at the vet, at Toyota, and at the bank. Headlights and brake lights had to be replaced, and the car needed to be serviced. 

We have weekends that seem to be packed with photo shoots. We head out to the children's theater a couple nights a week, and we also shot pictures for another non-profit last Friday and Saturday. There have been so many pictures to edit that photography feels more like a job than a hobby lately. The equilibrium of the house is beginning to spin out of control again, and I am barely staying on top of the muddy paw prints with the rain and light snowfalls we've had.

Waaa-waaa-waaa. I know; my life is not so bad. Every once in awhile, things just seem off balance. I'm so afraid I'm going to forget something important that needs to be done because I am not thinking clearly. 

Last night I told Chuck, "Tomorrow is wide open. I have nothing to do; nowhere to go. I am so relieved."

Then, in the middle of the night, I remembered that it was THURSDAY. Thursdays are Cameras and Coffee days with Susan. As much as I love not having plans occasionally, I was just as happy to realize I'd have time with Susan in the morning. 

Sometimes when you feel a little nuts, when it feels like your life is not even your own, it's important to carve out some time to extricate yourself from the crazy. When I look back at my week, I realize one reason I have any sanity left at all is because I've managed to take advantage of little moments when I could. 

Insomnia has some perks. I definitely get some "me time" in those early morning hours. I've managed to read the Bible and do some recreational reading, too. I usually have my workout done before Chuck comes down for breakfast. 

Throughout the day, in between errands and running to the next town over to spend time with my mother-in-law, I've stolen quiet moments to read my book, savor a cup of gingerbread spice tea, watch a favorite Christmas video, or even try to squeeze in 40 winks. Those are my "stop to smell the poinsettias" times.

With my open day today, I practically wallowed in our Coffee and Cameras time. We sat at the Luau Coffee shop for over an hour, and then while we were shooting poinsettias at Shady Hill Gardens, we lost all track of time, and stayed longer than either of us had planned. 

It felt good to spend time with a friend. Chatting over coffee was a welcome break. Being outside in the cold air, and then watching the sunlight filter into the greenhouse over a sea of poinsettias was just what the doctor ordered. I feel like my energy levels have been reset. Whatever comes my way will seem more manageable.

We might not be able to control all of the variables in our lives, but when we can take a little time for ourselves, it feels like such a gift. Dwelling completely in that moment allows us to recharge our batteries, and to not give in to the overwhelming feeling that life is out of control. 

As some of us are in the thick of Hanukkah and others of us have Christmas swiftly approaching, we need to remember to slow down every once in awhile. Rarely is anything we think we just HAVE to do so critical that we can't take a moment to breathe, to relax, and to think. I recommend stepping out of the fray every once in awhile; your peace of mind will thank you. 

Happy Holidays, friends. I hope you get a chance to stop and smell the poinsettias; you'll be glad you did.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Joie de Hygge

Bristol is sleeping at my feet at the end of the couch. Between the Christmas tree lights, candles, and the Himalayan salt rock lamps, the room is filled with a warm glow. There is a steaming cup of creamy coffee beside the Susan Branch book I am currently reading. I'm wearing my coziest, fleece-y leggings and the thickest, softest socks I own, with a an over-sized, long-sleeved t-shirt. 

Dulce de Leche coffee and Susan Branch's Martha's Vineyard: Isle of Dreams.

A steaming cup of coffee, a good book, and a big, snoring dog; what more could I want this morning? Besides a little more sleep, pretty much nothing. Once again, insomnia and I are stretched out on the couch, enjoying this early morning hour.

The French have their joie de vivre; the Danes have their hygge, pronounced HUE-gah. I think I have my own little joie de hygge going on here.

Last year, I first became aware of the Danish word, which is a concept that embraces coziness, comfort, and intimacy. All of my life I have been drawn to that concept; I just never had a word for it. To me I am living the good life when I am surrounded by things that smell good, taste good, and feel good. A sweet soundtrack in the background makes the hygge complete.

To each of us, there may be slight differences in what hygge feels like, but I know that for me it is less about looking good, and more about feeling good. We can probably all agree that we like the things that bring us comfort; clothes that don't constrict, warm blankets that are super soft, our favorite foods, and the scents that make our house a home. 

According to Anna Altman, there is even a word for my favorite hygge leggings: "hyggebukser,
otherwise known as that shlubby pair of pants you would never wear in public but secretly treasure."

While I would not want my picture taken this morning, I can tell you I could not be more comfortable. Nothing coordinates with anything else, but every fabric that is touching my skin is as soft as it can be. 

What brings you comfort? What elements of hygge do you already embrace? Maybe it's hot cocoa and marshmallows in front of a crackling fire. You might prefer some hot tea, a good book, and a pile of blankets. Or maybe you would enjoy bundling up for a walk in the falling snow. I'm hoping we get to do just that this morning after the sun comes up; we're being blessed by a light snowfall, even as I write. 

Whatever it is that brings you comfort and joy as winter settles in for the season, I hope you make time to enjoy your own version of hygge.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Just Hide the Mess

A long, long time ago, when my folks were newlyweds living in Chicago, my Grammy called them to say she was coming over for a visit. They both worked full-time, and it had been awhile since they'd done much housework. Panic set in. My dad told my mom he'd take care of the kitchen, so she could tackle the living room. Mom was surprised, but grateful.

Before long, Daddy announced he was done. Mom couldn't believe it. How had he gotten all of those dishes done that fast? 

"Oh, I didn't wash them. I just gathered up everything in the kitchen, and put it all in the bathtub. Mother will never look behind the shower curtain." 

Every time I think of that story, I smile. My housekeeping hasn't progressed much beyond the "hide the mess" stage of my young parents. 

Just this week, for instance, I walked into the kitchen to survey the damage. Mail had been stacking up for days. There were piles of paperwork from Chuck's mom's assisted living center. An assortment of things I'd brought from the Utah house still needed to be put away. A tower of clean dishes loomed over the dish rack.

From the kitchen, I squinted at our office. (Squinting is what aged people do who don't think they need real glasses.) Oy vey. Piles and piles and piles of paperwork were stacked in and among photography paraphernalia; batteries, chargers, flashes. 

Waiting in the parking lot at the vet's office.

The stress of the week had taken a toll on us. Sunday, my father-in-law passed away on his birthday. Bristol had an ear infection. It snowed, which normally thrills me, but do you know how much mud two dogs track in on a rainy or snowy day? I had a toothache; I needed to find a local dentist. I lost my diamond from my engagement ring. Insomnia was my nightly friend, and saw to it that I was up by three most days. There seemed to be so many things vying for my attention, I even forgot Bristol's appointment at the vet, and they had to squeeze us in later. Life seemed to be a whirlwind. To say my house was looking neglected would be an understatement. 

What do you do when your house is a wreck? This may seem counterintuitive, but I decided to invite family to dinner. Chuck's brothers had been here all week taking care of Mom, and they had had their fill of eating out. I knew it would take a little effort, but I figured it would be worth it to have us all together, and for the house to look tidy again. 

Chuck double-checked with me to make sure I was up to the task. I think he thought I'd bitten off more than I could chew. As long as I could squeeze in a little nap in the afternoon, I figured I could make the house presentable, and I would make a simple supper; chili and cornbread.

A simple lidded basket I had bought at the thrift store was my saving grace as I tossed things in it to take to other parts of the house. Once I'd sorted out where everything should go that was cluttering the counters, I put the basket to good use. I filled it up with all of the extraneous stuff that covered the horizontal surfaces in the office, and put the lid on the top. VOILA. Chuck's family would never guess how far we'd let things go. Unless they read my blog. (Now you know the truth, Linda and Tom!)

Bonus tip: keep the room dimly lit, and your guests might not notice you didn't have time to mop or vacuum.

The best motivator ever for me to tidy up is inviting guests to our house. It is a win-win situation. We get to enjoy the house after company leaves, and the memories of our visit bring us smiles for days to come. None of our friends or family are coming to inspect our homes anyway. They are there to visit us. 

The cleanest our counters have been in a LONG time.

So, the next time you're overwhelmed by your house's state of affairs, take a page from my book, and JUST HIDE THE MESS!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Headstart on the Holidays

Now you and I both know that when Autumn Calabrese of 21 Day Fix fame tells me during her 30 minute workout video, "Give me 21 days, and I'll give you the body you've always wanted," we both know she is talking to the folks who are trying to get rid of those last few pesky pounds, not people like me who spent three years binge-eating their way through ice cream and cookies every time life gave me an unexpected surprise. 

But, I'm an eternal optimist, so I remind myself that if I give her THIS 21 days, and the NEXT 21 days, followed by more sets of 21 days, consecutively, I will be much healthier than I am now. 

So I've made it through the first 21 days. And by the end of this week, I will have completed my second 21 days. It may sound strange, but I find myself in a very uncomfortable place because I've been here before.

This week, I made it to my first "10 pounds lost" goal. How many times have I lost these infernal ten pounds? I would weigh a negative number by this time, if I were to add them all together. I know me. The ten pound benchmark is where I usually relax, thinking, "I've got this. Look at me go. I should celebrate."

The difference is that I have had mini celebrations all along the way, and have still managed to keep the scales going in the right direction. Since October 30, there have been a few holidays and special days: Halloween, a week long vacation and two hard-core road trips to and from Utah, my birthday, Thanksgiving, my mom's birthday, and my father-in-law's birthday. Christmas is coming, and for once, I'm not in panic mode about gaining more weight.

Headstart on the Holidays came at the perfect time for me. I joined an accountability group at the end of October, and I am so glad I did. Not only have I had the tools to successfully navigate holiday meals, but I've also found tremendous support in taking care of myself through some stressful events, the most recent being the death of my father-in-law.

We all have different ways of dealing with stress, and my go-to coping mechanism in the past was to binge-eat my way through situations until I felt numb to the bad feelings. Perhaps that in and of itself isn't the worst thing to do, but stress isn't the only thing that triggers my eating. I eat when I'm happy or sad, or when I'm with friends or feeling lonely, or when I'm driving my car or sitting on the couch. You can see why my weight has been on an upward trend.

Personal development is one component of our Headstart group. For the last five weeks, I have enjoyed inspirational podcasts and videos, read good books, listened to soothing music, reached out to friends and family, written to process my feelings, and worked out five or six days each week. When Chuck asks how I'm feeling, I'm trying very hard to refrain from using the word FINE, when what I'm feeling is less than fine.

As far as eating goes, I'm learning that if I eat the nutritious food on my plan, there isn't much room for crazy amounts of indulgent treats. I've eaten more veggies in these last few weeks than I ever realized I could. I'm learning to take care of myself; making sure I'm doing the things that are important to me, and letting go of things that are not a priority.

Maybe you don't necessarily want to lose weight during the holidays, but you'd like to not lose control. The 21 Day Fix portion plan has been an a good reminder for me that I can eat anything I want; I just need to watch my portions.

For my birthday, I didn't want a cake, but I knew I definitely wanted ice cream. So my kids bought me some yummy Halo Top ice cream that is fairly nutritious, and very delicious. I had two small scoops so I could try two different flavors of ice cream, and I enjoyed every single bite of it. 

At Thanksgiving, I offered to bring a pan of roasted vegetables, and to keep things balanced, I also made my kids' favorite Ooey Gooey Pumpkin cake by Paula Deen. I loaded my plate with the veggies, and took a small spoon of all of the other things I love: turkey, sausage dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, and cranberry sauce. And after dinner, you can bet I ate a small piece of Ms. Deen's cake. 

Christmas is coming. I just plan to keep working out 5-6 days a week, and keep measuring out my food. We have family dinners to share with loved ones, and gatherings with friends. I will happily go, and enjoy myself; I just have to remember not to overdo it. 

Will I be eating Christmas cookies this month? Yes, I will. Will I partake in a holiday dinner with all the trimmings? Of course. Will I sample goodies at holiday parties? Yep. I just plan to eat as healthy as I can before and after any celebration. If I fill up on nutritious food beforehand, and have a plan to resume my eating plan afterwards, I am more likely to continue these healthy habits. 

Thank you for all of your support and encouragement. I am hoping this public accountability will help me stay the course. You know me; I'll let you know how it goes. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Hello, December!

Now that we've officially said goodbye to November, it is with open arms I welcome December. I know, I know; just a few short weeks ago, I was in despair over the passing of autumn. I'm nothing if not unpredictable. My unpredictability is probably the most predictable thing about me. Just ask my poor husband.

All good things must come to an end, so that more good things can begin. Autumn is my most favorite season, and it leads into ANOTHER favorite season, the season of Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All. And let's not forget, winter is the season of SNOW!

Photo Credit: Chuck Bennorth

There is so much to look forward to in December. My mind is racing with all of the fun possibilities before us. Some of my favorite memories involve snow; skiing, both cross-country and downhill, sledding, building snowmen, making snow ice cream, school closures for snow days, and lately, walking in the snow with my handsome husband. 

Photo Credit: Dylan Waters

Our tree is finally decorated. I dragged my feet on that task this year, dreading how the puppies would react to a Christmas tree. Besides having to say, "Leave it" a few times, they are just happy to be able to sprawl out on the couches in the family room when we are in the "Christmas room." This weekend Chuck and I are going to see the movie about Charles Dickens, The Man Who Invented Christmas. I'm hoping seeing Dan Stevens in a movie will satisfy my longing for Downton Abbey.

The Fine Line Christmas sale is this weekend, and we will join Kate and Jim there, and have dinner together later. Next weekend we will take our cameras to Christmas at Kline Creek Farm. We have some fun photo shoots this month, too; a Girl Scouts event, a maternity shoot, and another family shoot. 

Staying busy will help us while we wait for our big family gathering with the Bennorth boys at their mom's. It is so nice that we all get along, and consider each other extended family. They have included us in their celebrations, along with Chuck's folks, for the last couple of years. We'll have all of them over for a brunch or supper during the holiday, too. It will be so fun to have all three boys, our daughters-in-law, and grandson all in the same place!

Snow much fun! (2015)

Soon the snow will fly.  I'm looking forward to the occasional snow day for my husband that will allow him to work from home. He doesn't seem to appreciate snow days as much as I do, but it may have to do with who ends up shoveling the most snow. Hmmm...

Farewell, November. You've left me so full of gratitude for family, friends, and relative good health. 

Welcome, December, so full of hope and promise. I love the magic of Christmas, and we'll look for opportunities to be of service. That's the best part of the magic, in my book. Our hearts tend to be softer, our touch more tender, our words more kind, as we contemplate the true meanings behind the special holidays we celebrate this month.