Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Best Day of My Life

What was the best day of your life? Go ahead. Take a moment to think about it. 

Can you choose just one? 

When I think of some of the best days of my life, memories wash over me. Landing my first teaching job. The day I found out I was going to be a mom. The days I met my babies for the first time. Receiving my master's degree. Meeting Chuck. That morning just after sunrise in the Smoky Mountains when Chuck proposed to me. Marrying Chuck. The first time I went to the Bristol Renaissance Faire. Adopting our puppies, Bristol and Sami. So many days from which to choose.

Last week, my youngest married his sweetheart. Bridger and Joscelyne had so many amazing days in a whirlwind of a week. They had a bridal portrait session with us on Saturday, got married on Tuesday, celebrated their marriage at an outdoor reception the following Saturday, and left for their honeymoon in the Grand Tetons on Sunday. 

One of the gifts I bought them was a set of matching t-shirts that said BEST DAY OF MY LIFE. I made a point of not giving the shirts to them on their wedding day. My reasoning was this; if, at some future point in time, they look back on their life together and think their wedding day was the best day of their lives, how sad would that be? What about all of those other days?

The handsome prince was so glad the shoe fit his sweet Cinderella.

They received their shirts on a regular old Wednesday, the day after their wedding, and I challenged them to make every day the best day, and not to settle for having their wedding be the best day of their lives. (I'm not talking about achieving perfection on a daily basis, or anything crazy like that; just encouraging them to wake up with a mindset that each day has the potential to be one of the best days so far. 

As it turned out, the day of their wedding reception was a hot, unusually muggy one in Utah. The kids were dreading being in their formal wedding wear, and decided to forgo tradition, and just dress comfortably, wearing their new t-shirts. 

Some days are harder to love than others. They may be too hot, too muggy, too long, or too rainy. Maybe we are sick or in pain or far away from those we love. Many circumstances are out of our control, but what if we tried to make those less-than-perfect days one of our best days?

When I ordered the shirts for Joscelyne and Bridger, I bought one for myself. I thought it would remind me to try to control what I can. Even on a day when everything seems to be going wrong, it's going to be a better day with an attitude that makes the best of things. 

Here's to having the best day we can have, whatever that means to each of us. For me, if I spend time with Chuck, get outside, hear from our kids, spend time with my dogs, read, write, and work with photos, it's a darn good day; maybe even one of the best ones. I hope you have one of the best days today.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Royal Treatment

From the moment we were swept inside the gates of the Bristol Renaissance Faire, our college-aged son Bridger, was wide-eyed with amazement. The sights and sounds and aromas affected him like they do Chuck and me. Once bitten by the ren faire bug, you can hardly wait to go again.

Bridger and a didgeridoo. Of course, the shop that sells musical instruments attracted him.

The first person Bridger met was Moonie, entertainer extraordinaire, whose comment seemed to be a harbinger of things to come, "The first ten minutes of my show are pretty tame, but anything can happen after that." Bridger had a feeling he would be seeing more of Moonie later. He would not be disappointed.


As we ventured further into the faire, Bridger made the acquaintance of Miss Chastity Trollop. The actresses and vendors enjoyed making him blush, but Bridge seemed to enjoy the attention.

Chastity Trollop

We spent some time at Shakespeare's Corner, listening to Bristol cast members recite monologues and perform scenes from the bard's plays. Later, Bridger had the privilege of speaking to Shakespeare. Old William may have caused Bridger's cheeks to flush, too. Everyone seemed to have fun teasing the young newcomer.

Shakespeare himself visited Shakespeare's Corner.

We stopped at the maypole to watch the Bristol Buskin Frolic perform, enjoying their beautiful harmonies and energetic dancing.

The leader of the troupe spied Bridger in the crowd, and gasped, "DRACO MALFOY!" We were to hear several times throughout the day that others noticed our son's resemblance to the actor Tom Felton who plays the part of Draco in the Harry Potter movies. One gentleman even asked Bridger to pose for a picture with him to show his son, who also looks like Tom Felton. The man couldn't believe how much our son resembled his own. 
Our friend has a thing for Harry Potter, apparently, and took a shine to Draco Malfoy's doppelganger.
When she said, "That's a tall Draco Malfoy," some of her cast thought she said, "That's a tall drink of Malfoy."

One show we didn't want Bridger to miss was Moonie the Magnif'Cent. His act includes juggling, tightrope walking, and plenty of comedy. From our bench, we watched Moonie scan the crowd, and his eyes lit up when they landed on Bridger. He scurried toward us, and selected Boo to be his assistant on stage. The two of them entertained the crowd together for several minutes, as Bridger tried to follow all of Moonie's directions perfectly, and hammed it up for the audience. At the end of the performance, Moonie tells each guest as they leave, "You're the best." His parting words to Boo were more specific: "You're the best hugger."

You may have heard of  The Moonie and Broon Show, but today the crowd was entertained by Moonie and Boo.

There is so much to see and do at the Bristol Renaissance Faire that it is hard to get to everything in one day. We were there from the welcome from the Lord Mayor and his sister in the morning, until the drum jam that night. We asked Bridger at the end of the day if he enjoyed it enough to come back the next day. He could hardly wait.

Just following Moonie's directions...
Photo credit: Chuck Bennort
On our drive home, we pressed him for his favorite parts of the day. He said the thing he liked most was meeting the people. There is plenty to entertain a person at the faire, but the people we have come to call our friends are truly what make the faire spectacular, and they make us want to come back every chance we get.

Two blacksmiths talking shop at the Guild of St. Michael. This was definitely a highlight for our boy.

If you haven't been to a renaissance faire, you might want to add it to your bucket list. The community of Bristol knows how to make their guests feel welcome; Bridger wasn't an exception. He was treated like a king. We know you'll receive the royal treatment, too.

These are some of my favorite moments during Bridger's weekend, and must-see attractions at the Bristol Renaissance Faire.

The pewter seller certainly liked showing off these owls.

The Fantastikals fascinate young and old alike.

We love meeting old friends who go to the faire as often as we do.
Barely Balanced is an act you don't want to miss!
The Witches of Bristol

Our dear cousin (nearly everyone is our cousin here) was nanny to the Lord Mayor and his twin sister when they were wee.
Chuck requested his favorite song about the Assassin's Prayer from one of our favorite performers.
We received a royal welcome at the Guild of Saint Michael's where the militia band teaches classes about weapons and warfare. A favorite lesson you might enjoy is "How Not to Die."
The surgeon wields a sword as well as he handles a scalpel, if you need surgery, or a razor, if you need a shave.
I finally sampled a turkey leg, thanks to Boo, just one of many sumptuous offerings on the menu at Bristol.

No faire would be complete without a joust.
We cheered for Sir Mauldron on this day.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Lucky Thirteen

What a lucky break I had today. Chuck called me on his early morning commute, saying, "You don't want to miss the sun and fog this morning." Right away, I started gathering my essentials; cameras, water, protein drink, soda. While he gave me some general directions to where he was seeing the fog, I loaded the Highlander. I didn't have time to change out of my capris and Birkenstocks. I needed to hurry before the sun burned off the fog.

Unfortunately, I only had a vague idea of where I was heading, and I do not have established spots for early morning sunrise shots. I drove to two different entrances to Pratts Wayne Woods County Forest Preserve, only to find them chained with NO PARKING signs. Apparently, forest preserves don't open early just because conditions are perfect for photography.

When I pulled the Highlander off the highway, I realized the lane was a private drive. I flipped a U, and that's when this incredible sight came into view. I checked the rearview mirror; I was the only one on the road at the moment. I threw the car in park, and pointed my Canon out the driver's side window. 

There were streams of sunlight cutting through the limbs and shadows of a big, old tree. There was fog. There was a starburst of sun. When I checked the rearview again, a car in the distance was headed my way. It was time for me to go; I avoid confrontation like the plague.

There were no public parking spots available along the highway until I spotted a little gravel turnout in front of a bike trail. I left my car there, and headed down the trail. I could barely see through the thick foliage that was between the bike trail and the open forest preserve. When I saw a rarely used path into the woods, I took two steps into the thick brush, and I heard a deep voice behind me say, "Better be careful of the poison ivy there." I froze in my tracks, surveying the greenery around my bare feet in sandals and backed myself slowly out of the weeds. I thanked the passing walker, and went in search of more photos along the established trail.

Sigh. It was so hot and humid, and my bangs were sticking to my forehead. The mosquitoes had been feasting on my exposed arms and legs, and I really wished I'd taken the time to go to the bathroom before I left home. I was beginning to feel uncomfortable on several levels. Was it asking too much to want to capture more sunbeams coming through the trees and fog? I kept walking down the bike trail, snapping pictures of berries and flowers, and trying to capture the gorgeous way the sun was cutting through the trees.

I realized I'd already been given an exceptional gift in the shot of the tree, and any other incidental pictures I took might be fun, but would not compare to the beauty I had captured earlier. 

Later, Susan and I got together for our weekly Coffee and Cameras day, and explored the Dupage Forest Preserve, which was open by 9:00. 

Out of the dozens of shots I took today, I had thirteen pictures that made me pretty happy; a baker's dozen of photographs from a beautiful morning spent outdoors, chasing sunbeams and fog. Thirteen was my lucky number today.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

My Steel Magnolia

Everyone needs a steel magnolia friend. You may need to watch the movie Steel Magnolias to understand the depth of that sentiment, but maybe after I introduce you to my best friend since junior high, you might realize you have a steel magnolia of your own.

Lynn made me this piggy bank when we were in high school.

Lynn and I met in seventh grade. We did the typical teen girl things; passed notes in class, had sleepovers, spent time with each other's families, gossiped, and listened to music. We also did the typical rural kid things; attended 4-H meetings, rode horses in the creek and sledded in the hollow (which is pronounced /hol*ler/, by the way), and Lynn had a big sow named Priscilla that started our lifelong fascination with pigs. 

When we grew up, we became elementary school teachers, wives, and mothers. Unfortunately, we were separated by the thousands of miles between Virginia and Utah, but whenever we called each other or got together, we didn't skip a beat, and just picked up our conversation where we left off.

Lynn was my matron of honor at my first wedding. She and I had our first two children in 1987 and 1989. Throughout the years, our friendship has been a steady source of support. 

Our Red Hat Society day with high school friends. Lynn had a hat, too; she just hates hats, as a rule.

Back when we were in 10th grade, Lynn had such a crush on a cute boy in our class named Bennett. It made sense to me that the nicest girl I knew should be with the nicest boy I knew. 

Bennett had been one of my best friends since we were in fifth grade. He was always kind to me, and since it took me a long time to fit in with the girls in our class, it was comforting to see a friendly face in fifth grade. It was easy to see Lynn and Bennett would be perfect for each other, so I played matchmaker.

Bennett and Lynn. Photo taken in June 2018

When we were at the high school Valentine Dance, I let Bennett know that Lynn liked him. And the rest, as they say, is history. They dated all the way through high school and college, and eventually married and had four children.

When I started my blog, there were only about 12 people who read Randomocity regularly, and Lynn was my very first official "follower." That meant so much to me. 

Fresh faces pink from the cold; sans makeup after cycling. December 2013

My daddy died just before Christmas in 2013, and I flew back to Virginia to be with my family. Lynn invited me to go bike riding with her and her daughter a couple of days before his funeral. She knew I needed a break, and spending time outdoors with my best friend was just what I needed. It was 18 degrees the morning we cycled nine miles along the Piney River, but my heart was warmed by her thoughtfulness during that cold December day. 

Priest Mountain overlooks the peach orchard.

When Lynn found out I was going home to Virginia this summer, she made sure Chuck and I would be able to spend time with Bennett and her at their farm. Lynn and Bennett are family; Chuck had to meet them, too.

The smell of fresh peaches always takes me back to Virginia, and working for Saunders Brothers.

The four of us piled into Bennett's pickup, and went for a ride through the peach orchards, and reminisced about the days when Lynn and I used to work for the Saunders Brothers in high school, thinning peaches, driving the tractor, and planting boxwood and azalea slips. As luck would have it, Bennett's folks were riding around the hills at the same time, so Chuck and I were able to say hello to them. 

We showed Chuck the packing shed where I used to sell peaches for Bennett's dad back in the seventies. The four of us enjoyed lunch in their spacious kitchen. Chuck is still talking about the Virginia ham Lynn served. Luckily, I was able to find it here in Illinois when we returned. 

At Daddy's funeral, with some of the amazing women who helped me through that time.

Lynn is the epitome of southern hospitality, welcoming any and all into her cozy home. She is smart, strong, and funny. Lynn wants to help others when she can, and always seems to manage to do more than is expected for others. She was an amazing teacher with a soft spot in her heart for the little ones in her classroom. Lynn has weathered the storms of life, experiencing trials and loss with a tempered optimism. Throughout the years, she has not let difficult experiences harden her. If anything, her compassion has deepened, and her love has grown. 

2018. Photo credit: Chuck Bennorth; ignore the watermark. My bad!

Robert Harding, the author of Steel Magnolias, needed a title for his play when he finished writing it. Harding had this to say about that:
"When I was young, often sent to pluck a few magnolia blossoms for my mama’s floral needs, I learned that, while gorgeous, they are fragile and bruise easily—qualities often attributed to Southern women. My extraordinary life experiences with my sister and mother showed me that the women I’ve known are indeed gorgeous, but their lives can be fragile. But if you look underneath, you realize they possess a tensile strength stronger than anything I could ever muster. I wrote of their strength, joy, and laughter that rang out no matter what life threw at them. After my sister’s death, the only way I could deal with it was to celebrate them. When the play was finished, I needed a title. In my head, I heard that grand dame’s voice and the way she pronounced “steel magnolya.” It seemed right. My mother, my sister, my aunts, the neighbor ladies—I still hear their glorious voices all the time. I hope I always will."

Thank you, Lynn, for being my steel magnolia. 

More photos from our day with Lynn and Bennett:

Bennett created this peach out of colored slate, and inserted it into their walkway.