Friday, October 13, 2017

A Tradition of Pumpkin Pics

Every October when my children were little, I took pictures of them with pumpkins. Sometimes I asked them to climb into the pumpkin display outside of our local grocery store, and occasionally, I took their pictures at the pumpkin patch, but every year they could count on a photo session with pumpkins. 

Now that the kids are grown, and all of them are living on their own, it's much harder for me to get these pictures. Sometimes it involves some cajoling, a little bribery, and this year, I'm trying something new. A public reminder on my blog. A-hem.

A few years ago when I went back to Denver to visit Sierra, I had to beg her to let me take her picture at Whole Foods. She was so worried she was going to get in trouble. I teased her that there were no pumpkin police, and she wasn't going to hurt anything to take a quick picture.
This was about five years ago. Not sure if I've been forgive for this picture yet.

A few years ago, the boys recreated one of my very favorite pictures of them. 

Just last year, the boys and I posed in front of Harmon's grocery store, and I also managed to get Sierra and Bridger to the Abraham's pumpkin patch in Elsinore. 

When I went to visit the kids last month, I had high hopes of carrying on our little tradition, but it was still early in the pumpkin season. Few stores in Utah had them in stock, and none of them in Saint George had pumpkins on display in front of the store. 

A couple of weeks later I was surprised to get a text from my daughter-in-law. She apologized for their puppy Elle's expression, but she wanted me to know she got a picture of our "kids" with the pumpkins.

Expecting the others to step up, I sent a group text telling Bridger and Sierra that Dylan had sent his pumpkin picture; where were theirs? Here we are, a couple weeks later; and still no additional pics. I reminded them Dylan had sent his; he must love me very much.

Dylan texted back "#favoritechild #notadopted." Gotta love the sibling rivalry that is alive and well in our family.

I'm still waiting for the younger ones to follow the example of their big brother. 


Whilst I wait, I will enjoy sharing some of my favorite pumpkin pictures with you. We only have a few more weeks to enjoy these orange beauties. I plan to hit a couple of pumpkin patches soon; in Illinois with Chuck, and in Florida with Chris, Amy, and CJ.

I can't wait to see this little punkin this weekend in Florida!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Hurry Up and Relax!

My nerves are shot. This week will be my undoing, if I'm not careful.

This morning I stood under the umbrella in the middle of our front yard with an uncooperative Bristol at my side, and I watched the rain come down in buckets, as it flooded the growing pond in front of our house. So. Much. Rain. And I have a dog that refuses to potty in the rain. Eventually, I gave up, and we went back inside. I just hoped he would hold it until the rain subsided. 

I'm still in the thick of trapping season here. Two days ago started out with the discovery of mouse evidence in three drawers and a large double cabinet. Ugh. Mice are cute. Mouse poop is not. I emptied the contents of our kitchen storage onto the countertops, sanitizing each item, one by one. Everything is still sitting on top of the counters, two days later, waiting for the last mouse to be caught, or at least for the evidence to stop appearing in the kitchen. Wonder how much longer I'll be waiting.

As I was resetting a trap this morning, it went off in my hands four times, and then snapped shut inside the drawer while I was emptying the dishwasher. That sound rattles me every time I hear it. To say I'm a little on edge would be an understatement.

Yesterday was my day with Elise, my darling two-year old neighbor who calls me Gramma Nece. Every week we get to spend a few hours together until one of her biological grandmas arrives. I love my time with that precious little girl. You would think I would remember to go since I like being with her, but no, yesterday I received a text from her mom a half hour after I should have been there.

"Is everything okay? Are you still coming?"

Panic set in when I saw her text. I had been sitting on the couch, chatting with Chuck.  I spat a hurried goodbye at my sweet husband, and tore around the house trying to get the wild-eyed puppies into their crates. I sprinted down the sidewalk in my bare feet with my shoes in my hands. 

How embarrassing. Why did I think I needed to be there at 7:45? I've been going at 6:45 for two months. My heart was racing by the time I opened their door and let myself in. We had a wonderful time together, and I have to admit, being with Elise was much more relaxing than cleaning up mouse poop, setting traps, and dealing with rambunctious puppies.

Last night the rain began. As I mentioned, I have a dog who hates going out in the rain. Yesterday after dinner, he peed on the porch to avoid going out in the yard. Then before bed, Chuck discovered Bristol had peed on the mat rather than bothering to ring the bell. Why would he ring the bell? He didn't want to go outside. He just wanted to pee. Ugh. That dog's nickname of BLISTER is going to replace his real name before he knows it.

Chuck pointed out this was my third wild morning in a row. Yes. Yes, it is. Any type of normalcy would be most welcome tomorrow, or even later today would be nice.  

I get to play with Elise in a few minutes. I set myself two reminders on my phone, and I have the timer set on my oven. I'm not going to be late today!

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go practice some deep breathing and listen to some soothing music. I need to hurry up and relax. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Mondayest Monday

May I rant? Of course, I can. This is my blog; I can do what I want. Feel free to leave now; you deserve to read better, but I need to vent.

Let me set the scene. This is the Monday before our vacation; there is much to be done this week. The house needs to be ready for company before Saturday because we have lovely friends who have agreed to house-sit and dog-sit for us. 

Before we leave, there are the standard tasks: laundry, shopping, vacuuming, mopping, sanitizing doggy linens and toys, and there is the UNusual stuff: prepping guest rooms and packing the car. I don't need extra work to do, but "life is what happens when you're making plans."

The morning started going downhill at four o'clock when I was in the basement doing laundry, and heard the smoke alarm going off upstairs. I ran up the two flights of stairs and ran into my very disoriented husband, who asked me, "Honey, are you OKAY?" and seeing that I was, indeed okay, and slightly amused, he asked, "Have you been cooking?" My amusement left immediately, and I replied, "It's four in the morning; I haven't been cooking. I've been doing laundry. We probably just need to replace the alarm's battery."

Chuck turned on the house fan, and the infernal beeping stopped, and I went on with my morning while he headed back to bed. I grabbed a cup of coffee, only to discover my half and half had soured. Ugh. I'd have to settle for skim milk in my coffee, and in case you don't know; that is one very poor substitute for the creamy stuff.

Let me speed this up. Discovered mouse droppings. Emptied cupboards, sanitized the cupboards, and started the first dishwasher load of dishes from the cupboards. Let the puppies outside. Hear Chuck yell at Bristol for peeing on the deck. AGAIN. Rinsed off the deck. 

Let puppies back inside. Monday is trash day, so while I gathered trash upstairs, the puppies started frolicking on the bed. That's when I noticed the MUD on the carpet. I grabbed the blankets from the bed to do ANOTHER load of laundry, and shooed the puppies back downstairs to clean their feet. No problem; their feet had been thoroughly cleaned off on the carpet apparently. 

While talking to Chuck before he arrived at work, I discovered the fly swatter had been chewed up, and only a pile of blue plastic bits and a bent wire handle were left on the living room floor. These are the times when Bristol's nickname BLISTER surfaces.

Add to my list of things to do today: buy old-fashioned mouse traps; the new-fangled ones are still set, with most of the bait missing. Throw away all outdated food (this is not a bad thing). Vacuum puppy mud from upstairs. Wash two more loads of dishes from the cupboards. Check the rest of the cupboards for rodent evidence. Empty, clean, and set traps, if necessary. 

It's only 7:00 in the morning, and I'm ready to call it a day. I had hoped to take the puppies for walks, get groceries, and get a couple of loads of laundry done. This may be the Mondayest of Mondays I've had in a while; I may need to set my sights a little lower, and just take the day as it comes, moment by moment.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

What's All the Fuss About?

Credit to Sarah K. Henry of Inkytiger Art

Is today your birthday? There sure are a lot of people I love who have a birthday today, so if it's your birthday, too, let me wish you a very happy birthday!

My BFFs share a birthday; today, October 7. They aren't twins, having been born a couple years apart, but they are two of my most favorite people on this planet. 

Freshman year of college, 1979

I started celebrating October 7 many years ago, almost FORTY years ago, to be approximate, with my college roommate Cindy on her special day. She helped me remember the date by associating it with James Bond. Double O-7. 10-07. It helped!

Then nearly forty years later, I met the most wonderful man of my life, and he chose me to be his wife, and HIS birthday is October seventh, too. It was a sign; a very good sign. 

Chuck and Cindy are alike in many ways. Those two can recall commercials, cartoons, TV shows, and movies like nobody's business. Quotes roll off their tongues without a hitch. They both have a head for numbers, which makes me feel jealous. Cindy and Chuck are voracious readers and they love words. You know what I like most about these two humans? They both love me, unconditionally. 

I just wanted to take a moment to wish these two the happiest of birthdays. They are the best kind of people; smart, funny, witty, kind, and compassionate. I love you both.

Happy Birthday, Sue!

Not only is it a special day for Cindy and Chuck, but other birthdays we celebrate today are our sister-in-law Sue's and our friend Susy's. 

Happy Birthday, friends. I hope you feel as special as each of you are. You deserve the very best of blessings!

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Rhythms of Life

The leaves were approaching their peak as we traveled through Michigan.

A year after meeting in October of 2014, Chuck took me on a weeklong vacation touring the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, first staying on Mackinac Island, and coming home along Lake Michigan through Wisconsin. It was a bucket list getaway for us that took place during my most favorite season of all, and yet. I am learning to dislike those events that follow "and yet."

Early morning on Mackinac Island, the streets wet with rain.

Our vacation just happened to coincide with one of those weeks when I watched life events unfold around me that left me shaking my head in disbelief, and feeling very, very sad. It just seemed that trials kept happening to people I cared about, and there was nothing I could have done to change the events that left people hurting.

Tahquamenon Falls, Michigan

The backdrop for all of this sadness was such a sharp contrast to how I felt because my husband and I were enjoying the fall leaves, and celebrating Chuck's 56th birthday that week. I was surrounded by such stunning scenery, and spending time with my sweetheart. I felt such guilt as I fought to keep tears from brimming my eyes, and struggled to keep my composure as we drove from one scenic spot to the next.

Near Munising, Michigan

What could be so troubling, you may wonder, and why was it affecting me so deeply? What was happening around me? Life, plain and simple. Ordinary things that happen every single day  to people I don't know were now affecting people close to me: death, loss, illness, canceled plans, unrealized dreams. 

A loved one went to bed one night, and didn't wake up the next morning; a young life ended way too early. A friend's father died who was one of the most beloved bus drivers at my elementary school. My oldest called to say that somehow the settings on his camera had been changed, and the thousand shots he took this month had all been shot at the lowest resolution. (If you are a photographer, you know this is a big deal.) We had to cancel my husband's birthday celebration planned with his boys and parents so no one else caught whatever the terrible virus he was battling at the end of our journey. A road trip with my younger son to celebrate his 18th birthday looked like it was not going to happen. My daughter's life was in limbo, as she was deciding to leave California, and head back home to Utah. And I couldn't deny that lethargy seemed to be taking me over, and there was an annoying tickle in my throat that made me nervous about flying to Utah the day after our vacation ended. 

One evening in Munising, we stopped at a local market to buy a chocolate birthday cake and food for a few meals, and while Chuck was paying for our groceries, I perused the greeting cards, something I love to do. I was so emotional, that reading a sweet sentiment struck a chord. A mist started to form on the inside of my sunglasses, and I put the card back, thankful for the dark glasses that hid my tears from Chuck and the other shoppers. I didn't want to ruin his birthday with my melancholy mood. I realized I missed my kids so much.

Falls near Munising, Michigan

There was a rising sense of panic that I needed to gather my children around me, to know they were safe and sound, that they knew how deeply I loved them, and that I wanted to make sure I took every opportunity to tell them "I love you." Chuck suggested I call them, and tell them. I was worried I would burst into tears, so I sent frequent texts while we were gone, checking on them, and reminding them of my love.

It seemed that everywhere I turned, all I could say to friends and family was "I'm so sorry. I feel your pain. I have been where you are." And I had to trust that everything would work out the way it was supposed to. Sometimes there is just nothing that can fix what has happened. What's done is done, and all we can do is help our friends pick up the pieces, and start over.

Tahquamenon Falls

When I relinquish the ridiculous notion that I can control any of the variables that affect the lives of my loved ones, it doesn't change much of anything, except my reaction, which in all honesty, is the only thing I get to control anyway. When I am at peace with uncertainty, I feel more calm. When I learn to let go of those things I can't change, I become unstuck, and I can start living again. When I take stock of the situation, I realize that everyone deals with loss, pain, and suffering. Nothing lasts forever. That is very reassuring when we are going through trials of our own, and reminds us to enjoy the fleeting moments of joy that come our way while they're here.

We were surrounded by water as we traveled along Lake Michigan, and then went to Mackinac Island which is surrounded by Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. There were waterfalls galore near Munising, Michigan, which borders Lake Superior. We spent a lot of time watching the lakes. It gave me time to think.

The waves pounding the shore of Lake Superior

As I took in the scenery, I realized how life is fluid, like water. It ebbs and flows. There are births and deaths; highs and lows; torrential downpours and drought. Both water and our lives can be turbulent one moment, and peaceful the next.Watching the waves of Lake Superior crash on the shore, reminded me of the terrifying power water has when it unleashes its fury. When we watched a small rowboat cross a lake that was smooth as glass, feelings of peace and calm washed over me. 

The still waters above the falls of Tahquamenon, Michigan.

Just like life events, water will not be controlled by the efforts of a lone individual. Consequences are set in motion by choices and actions of those we love. Hearts soften, they sometimes break, and sometimes, hearts simply stop beating. We need to appreciate the power and the beauty of nature, and respect the forces at work around us. 

The harbor on Mackinac Island

In our wedding vows, Chuck and I promised to be each other's safe harbor, to be a soft spot to land when the world seems harsh. 

During that challenging week, I finally opened up to Chuck about my sadness. I cried, and he held me, and loved me through it. He didn't fix it. The problems didn't go away, but I felt strengthened by his love, and knew he would sit with me as I wrestled with my troubling thoughts. 

Each morning, we welcomed the sunrise on the docks of Mackinac, and each evening, bid the sun goodnight as it set over the water, beyond the bridge. There is something so reassuring in the rhythms of life. Even as the sun was setting at the close of day, I knew that it would rise again the next.

We know there will be endings; we also know there will be new beginnings. We get another chance with each new day. There is some comfort to be found in knowing the sun will rise with its warmth and light after a long night of darkness. 

Watching the waves of Lake Superior.
What can we do when it seems we have no control over the events around us, and the waves of life are crashing down around the ones we love? We can observe. We can sit in companionable silence with our loved ones as they mourn, and appreciate what has been, and look forward to good things to come. We can live in the moment, and try not to force things we cannot control. We can cherish what we had, and be grateful for what we still have. We can let go of our pain, and accept the peace that comes from letting go. While we can't always fix everything, and make everything better, we can offer our love, and our support to others until the storm subsides, and the seas become calm again. 

The storm will subside, you know, as hard as that is to believe in the thick of it; the seas will calm. We can take comfort in knowing that whatever is troubling us won't last forever. We need to be patient.

The sun will rise on a brand new day, and until it does, we need to hang on until the morning. The darkness won't last much longer, and when it is over, we will discover strength we didn't know we had, and tender mercies we may have overlooked. 

The lessons I learned at the lakes reminded me of the comfort we can find in the rhythms and cycles of life. It may take awhile, but the solace we're seeking is there, just waiting until we are ready to let go, and just be.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Though She Be But Little

Into each life some rain must fall. 

Remember that dreamy, romantic date Chuck and I had at our favorite Italian restaurant a couple weeks ago? Lest you get the idea that our oh, so perfect life belongs between the covers of some glossy suburban lifestyle magazine, let me tell you how that night ended.

As we were walking hand in hand around Geneva, I got a phone call from my oldest son. I knew right away he had bad news. He had just taken his puppy Elle, a 4-month-old French bulldog to the emergency veterinarian. She was going to require surgery to repair a broken elbow. Our biggest concern was that a heart defect would prevent her from surviving surgery. When Elle was born, a cardiologist in Las Vegas determined she had a stage four (out of six) heart murmur. Our own hearts were breaking. Very tough decisions needed to be made.

Oh, so many tears were shed over that little pup. We were so far away, and I felt so helpless. While the kids consulted with veterinarians in Nevada and Utah, all I could think to do was to ask friends to pray. At the time, out of respect to my son's family, I did a little "Vague-booking," asking friends to pray for people I love who were hurting. And then I personally asked family and friends of ours who are dog lovers to please keep Elle in their thoughts and prayers as she went into surgery.

I am so happy to report that not only did Elle survive the surgery, she is now thriving as a three-legged Frenchie. What a little trouper. She still jumps up on the couch to look out the window, and she chases her ball, and loves to drag big sticks around the yard. 

Thank you all for your words of support and encouragement that emotional week, and especially on the day of her surgery. We are so happy that Elle is adjusting to her new circumstances, and that she is so strong. 

Though she be but little, she is fierce. That's our Elle. 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

A Child of the Universe

Standing on our deck in my bare feet, I watched as my steamy breath rose in front of my face. The sun wouldn't be up for another hour, but I love this time of day. We finally have cool autumn mornings again; 45 degrees today. I knew the puppies would be outside a little longer, so I went inside to pour myself a cup of coffee, and put on my tennis shoes and a sweatshirt.

After I turned off the motion-sensor light, I stepped out into the early morning darkness. I found my way to the railing, and cradled my coffee cup in my palms, my hands enjoying the heat. The sky wasn't as dark as I would have liked, but the hour of sunrise was approaching. I was still able to make out the brightest stars, and certain constellations whose names have have always escaped me.

My eyes adjusted to the darkness, and I surveyed the landscape. The tall maple tree is still full of foliage. I saw our little shed, and the fluffy cedar, and the two big pine trees. Outside our chain link fence is the Rotary Park, which I like to pretend is an extension of our yard. I took a big sip, and let the creamy coffee fill my mouth before I swallowed. 

Then I looked up. I haven't done that much here; the beauty of the night sky is usually compromised by the competing street lights and city glow in nearly any town near Chicago, but today I just wanted to remember the feelings; the conflicted feelings of being so small, and yet feeling so blessed.

A quote I have loved since I was in high school came to mind, this one by Max Ehrmann. 

"You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should."

Looking up into the stars, I feel connected to the earth, to loved ones near and far; here and beyond. There is also a reminder of how insignificant I am in the big scheme of things; that little dose of humility never hurts. But I also feel so blessed to have the privilege of living right now. The beauty of the earth reminds me that God saw to all of these amazing details when he created this incredible universe, and he allows mere mortals like me to enjoy these miracles on a daily basis. So while I realize I play a very tiny role here, I am also reminded of the blessing I have of just being alive; that I am a miracle, too.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Just Say Yes

Chianti's is a little Italian restaurant in downtown Geneva we consider our place. There are little twinkly lights strung around the trees outside, and inside, the tables are covered with white linen tablecloths, and Frank Sinatra is crooning his tunes through the sound system. We like the atmosphere as much as the food.

Sunset over Geneva, Illinois

Knowing we had a crazy-full weekend ahead of us, Chuck surprised me by offering a week night date night at Chianti's. That's a big deal, folks. #Teambennorth heads to bed very early on "school nights;" we're talking 7:30 or 8:00. So going out on a night other than Friday or Saturday was pretty monumental. It was easy to say yes to his proposal.

After we paid our bill at Chianti's, we headed down Third Street, holding hands and talking, strolling past the quaint boutiques and restaurants. As we neared Graham's Fine Chocolates and Ice Cream, Chuck asked if I wanted dessert. 

"Nah. I'm good," I said.

My husband stopped in his tracks. "Who are you, and what did you do with my wife?" he asked. 

It was a valid question. In the three years we've been together, I can't remember a time I turned down ice cream. As I considered my answer, I realized he loves Graham's for their mint chocolate chip ice cream as much as I just love ice cream, in general. I couldn't come up with a reason I was refusing it, but I determined I didn't want to be the wife who was the wet blanket. 

"I changed my mind; let's stop at Graham's." 

Chuck should be getting used to not being surprised about my changing my mind; at least, he doesn't get perturbed with me. 

By the time we got home, I was starting to get congested. The next morning, I wasn't feeling too great, and by Sunday I was SICK, but the generic versions of DayQuil and NyQuil kept my fever down, and my symptoms at bay. My cold ended up lasting less than a week, and now I'm up and at 'em, doing all the stuff I didn't do at all last week. 

Next time I refuse ice cream, we'll have to check my temperature. I'm probably just getting sick. 

I've always tried to say YES to the good stuff life sends my way. I'm glad I came to my senses in time to remember to say YES to ice cream. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Like a Good Neighbor...

All was quiet in our neighborhood Saturday morning. We live in the middle house at the end of our cul de sac. Chuck and I bring up the average age of our neighbors considerably, but they have included us in their social circle, and we love it. None of us could know what that day held for us. Sometimes it's best not to know.

We had an afternoon family photo shoot in Wisconsin on our Saturday lineup, but our morning was wide open, which was a pretty exciting prospect for a girl who enjoys a loose schedule. I love having a little wiggle room to futz and putter. Maybe we would even all go for a walk! 

As it turned out, the day turned hot early, and our day went from wide open to really packed, really fast. Chuck looked up from his editing program on his computer, and asked if I still wanted to walk the puppies. 

"It's just too hot," I told him, as I rearranged the throw pillows so I could stretch out on the couch. Well, with Bristol, I never get to really stretch out because he is usually tucked behind me or on one end of the couch, but I felt a nap coming on. 

Chuck took that as having the "all clear" for a nap of his own, and left to lie down on his "headache couch" to let his Excedrin migraine start to work.  Yes, my poor husband has headaches so often that his preferred couch for recuperation is lovingly called the headache couch around here. We had about an hour before we had to leave for Wisconsin, and we were choosing to spend the time resting, and then getting ready.

"What is that smell?" I asked myself, looking first at Bristol, and then Sam. Hm. No, the smell was awful, but it wasn't them. Was it the pillow beneath my head? The dogs have been known to take naps on it occasionally; maybe I was smelling a little "eau de canine." Inhaling deeply, I determined that no, the pillow wasn't the source of the foul smell. 

One thing about me is I have a pretty good sense of smell. I may be deaf in one ear, and may have deteriorating vision, but my sniffer knows when the air is sweet or foul. I wasn't going to be able to sleep with that fragrance wafting through the house, so as much as I hated to disturb my great grey puppy, I got up in search of the smell.

The odor seemed stronger by the window, and I knelt down near the air vent. Ugh. The smell was coming through the vent with the cooled air. Uh-oh. I headed off to the basement. Halfway down the stairs, I saw water covering half of the floor in the main room, and I immediately knew from where the smell was coming. 

"CHUCK! The basement is flooded!" Dang. There would be no naps for us, and no headache relief for my sweet Chuck.

Chuck and I spent the next hour routing out the drainage pipe. No Roto-Rooter for us; my handyman husband had his own equipment to get the job done. I was so nervous we were going to be late for the photo shoot, but as it turned out, the water started draining, and Chuck even had time for a quick shower before we left for Wisconsin. 

It wouldn't be until later that I realized I wasn't slogging through water downstairs. The house smelled awful because our sewer pipe had  spewed sewage over most of our basement floor. Oh, My-lan-ta. Talk about gross.

In checking with our neighbors, we realized that the sewer had backed up into five of our homes. Nothing brings neighbors together like a shared calamity. Through our private Facebook page, we updated each other on information from the city, cleaning tips, and some good-natured joking and teasing. 

We received an invitation to a bon fire with our neighbors next weekend. I laughed when I saw the Facebook post: "Poo Flood Relief, event for Tha Hood." 

You know you have good neighbors when you can laugh about cleaning sewage out of the basement, and you know you have the best neighbors when you not only laugh, but you celebrate it!

Our neighbors are here for us, and we hope they know we are here for them. State Farm's got nothing on these guys.