Thursday, December 31, 2015

Choosing ONE Word Is Harder than It Sounds

Happy New Year's Eve, friends!

It finally feels like winter here in Chicagoland. There is a pot of New Year's black-eyed peas simmering on the stove. I'm watching the lace curtains ripple against the windows as the furnace blows warm air from the vents below the windows. It felt great to need my ski jacket when I went out this morning to run errands. Wearing shirt sleeves on Christmas day only added insult to the injury of not having a White Christmas. So, finally, as New Year's Day approaches, it is starting to feel like winter.


These last few nights when insomnia has nudged me awake, I've mulled over so many thoughts about the coming new year. Will I make resolutions? Set goals? Choose ONE WORD to inspire me for the year? 

There's always room for improvement in my life, it seems. As much as I try to tell myself I am enough, just as I am, I am very aware that there are things that could use some tweaking. I could eat better. I could do with a morning routine. My haphazard approach to life has fewer negative effects now that I'm retired, but I crave having some rituals in place upon wakening and accomplishing more with the free time available to me. There are more than a few things around the house that could do with a deep cleaning and some serious organizing. There are so many things I want to try: making homemade tortillas, making a slouchy hat from an old sweater, learning how to lay down a thin bead of caulk to do simple maintenance in our bathroom, and finding yummy protein smoothie recipes and batters to whip up in my new Ninja blender...those are just a FEW of the things I want to learn. What to do? What to do?

Resolutions are typically something I have set in place on New Year's Day, and by the middle of the month, I've let them all fall by the wayside. I do like setting goals that I can check off, though.

1. Read the New Testament.
2. Lose 10 pounds.
3. Call my moms once a week.

And so on...but unfortunately, I either do or don't do those things, and if I don't, the anticipated guilt arrives. 

So, the idea of a personal word of the year really appeals to me. I think my biggest regret from 2015 is not making more of each day, which means there were some lackluster weeks which led to some less-than-stellar months. 

In 2014, my word was BRAVE. That was a rough year for me, as my Dad had passed away just before Christmas, and by February, I found myself divorced and alone most of the time. It took bravery to get comfortable with being on my own. It took bravery to evaluate myself, and determine things I needed to improve before I considered meeting new people. It took bravery to put myself out into the dating world again. 

And I'm so glad I did. My husband was the best gift ever that year, and was a wonderful blessing of my bravery. It took courage to meet this wonderful stranger in the Smokies, to trust my instincts about a future with him, and to move 1400 miles away from Utah to start our life together as husband and wife...all within three months from first hello to "I do."

The word that attracted me the most for 2015 was DISCOVERY. There was so much to discover as a new wife in a new state. I enjoyed this last year immensely, but think I may have missed some great opportunities by not being more pro-active.

All things considered, I think I've decided on my word for 2016.


I think if I live each day with intention, I will try more things, accomplish more, and get more out of each day. My INTENTION is to be open to learning new things, to say YES to opportunities to be of service to others and to God, and to focus on my marriage and family relationships.

Living a life of intention appeals to my heart and spirit. I feel so much calmer just knowing that INTENTIONAL is my word for the year. I INTEND to make 2016 the best year yet.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Laughing All the Way

Photo Credit: Dylan Waters
“I love people who make me laugh. I honestly think it's the thing I like most, to laugh. It cures a multitude of ills. It's probably the most important thing in a person.” ― Audrey Hepburn

My husband and I have been married almost a year now. There are just a handful of days left on the calendar, and as I review these last twelve months, I realize that I have spent a lot of time laughing as the bride of Chuck Bennorth. There is a certain level of intelligence, and an understated wit in his humor. His boys tease that "Dad Jokes" are synonymous with "Bad Jokes," but all I know is that he makes all of us laugh. 
Before I met Chuck, I became AWARE of him in our common Facebook group. He had commented on a post I made, and I was intrigued by the depth of his questions, and so, of course, I went and stalked checked out his profile. What I noticed was lots of friendly, supportive banter between him and his family and friends. Then I stopped.

On September 25, 2014, just a week before I had noticed him, Chuck posted this:
"This electronic cigarette is a waste of money. It melts every time I light it."


This, folks, is the joke that almost ended things before they started with Mr. Chuck Bennorth. I couldn't know that he wasn't a smoker, and that this type of joke is typical for him. I thought only a smoker would make a joke about his e-cigarette. Glad I made a point to ask, and didn't assume anything. His jokes got better, and I came to appreciate his subtle sense of humor.

What follows is a compilation of some of my favorite moments with Chuck, gleaned from our Facebook pages and memories of our first year together as husband and wife. 

December 25, 2014

Chuck: My fridge that usually holds some milk, cheese, chicken and a number of Powerades is now home to real food with many options, thanks to Denise. But, it is cool 😉. (See what I did with that? Fridge, cool? 

Never mind. I am eating better than I have in years 😃)

December 31, 2014

Chuck: Most people would be introduced to Chicago dining via a trip to one of the fine pizza establishments, such as Giordanos, or Portilos, maybe a Chicago steakhouse. But that would be to common place for us, so Denise and I took Bridger to Burrito Beach, not exactly ON, the Magnificent Mile, but within a few blocks of it, for his first Chicago adventure. We three, the two other diners and the Chicago policewoman that came in just as we were leaving all thought it was good enough. None of that waiting for nearly an hour and a half like at the above named pizza location for us. And the single digit temp walk along Michigan Ave is really under rated. After just a few minutes you could not even feel the cold parts of your body anymore. Bridger is quite the trooper though, not a complaint from him the whole time.

So, we will be introducing him to the world famous St. Charles-style pizza today at the local Giordanos. (Sorry Dylan, we will think about you while we are eating it.)

Red Light, Green Light Escalator
December 31, 2014
Denise: Chuck is teaching Bridger how to play the Red Light, Green Light Escalator game at the old mall that is all but a ghost town, Zack. After we take a driving tour of downtown St. Charles, we're heading home for Million Dollar Spaghetti and some Dr. Who on Netflix. Happy New Year's Eve!

Feeding my obsession; nice and tidy, labels out.

February 8, 2015

Denise: I made the mistake of telling Chuck that "I have a thing" about the cereal boxes on top of the fridge. I like them to look tidy, with all the labels facing out. Now WE apparently have a's how the next several morning played out, thanks to Chuck.

"You're just messing with me now, aren't you, Chuck?"

"But you SAID you want all the labels facing out. The labels are all facing OUT," he grinned. (You may notice we have an ABUNDANCE of bran flakes. Someone else has an obsession with that cereal. We never want to run the risk of running out of said cereal.)

February 15
Chuck says if a little plaid is good, a lot of plaid is better.

March 8, 2015 husband is chuckling away as he writes his blog post. Chuck has been wandering through the house snapping photos, and now he is quietly laughing to himself as he writes. I wonder if I need to be nervous about this particular entry.

You can see for yourself here in his blog post: JUST.

March 26, 2016
After I posted this Bitmoji cartoon on Facebook, Chuck responded:
I think you must be confused. My hair is a mixture of old blond and brown (isn't it?)

So, later...I edited Chuck's Bitmoji, and shared THIS comic. Note the "old blonde and brown hair" color this time. His response? "I look much better."

It's all part of our service here at Happy Acres. LOL.

May 9, 2015
If there were a classical music version of NAME THAT TUNE, Chuck would be a top contender, being able to cite the composer, as well as the title of the piece. He doesn't do quite as well with popular music featuring vocals. Take this morning, for instance...

Me: You would like Ebba Forsberg from Sweden. She reminds me of Carol King.
Chuck: Why, because she is old and dead?
Me: Carol King DIED?
Chuck: Didn't she sing HELLO, DOLLY?
Me: You mean Carol CHANNING?
Chuck: Oh. Yeah. Her.
Me: So Carol King is still alive, right?

See what I mean?
Whew. I was so sad for a moment...

May 25, 2015

Chuck: My favorite sign from the weekend was on a AAA truck Denise and I saw in the parking lot in St Louis.
"AAA Batteries 
Delivered and Installed"
And I am thinking, those little AAA batteries, delivered and installed, for the emergency situations when the batteries in the remote die?

June 14, 2015
Chuck and his youngest, Zack, introduced me to Dr. Who last summer. I was a little overwhelmed, to say the least.
Chuck is represented on on the left;
I'd be the one on the right.
Denise: Chuck, here ya go. I'm willing to give it another go. Maybe we can find an episode where people aren't getting blown to bits, and creepy mannequins aren't trying to take over the world. Yikes.
I love Downton Abbey. I love Monty Python. I love Are You Being Served. I love Mr. Bean. The BBC did NOT properly prepare me for the likes of Dr. Who. LOL.

On our way into Deerfield one morning, I spied a darling wing-backed chair at a yard sale. After a quick deliberation, it was determined we MUST have this chair. I gladly paid the lady $25, and she helped me tie it down in our trunk with some string. I hadn't counted on the "trunk ajar alarm" going off ALL. THE. WAY. HOME.

This popped up on Facebook...

Chuck: The bidding for our new chair starts at $300.

Denise:  Uh-oh. Is this a good time to keep my mouth shut, Honey?

Denise:Listening to the incessant dinging of the TRUNK AJAR chime for the next hour and a half won't bother you, will it, Chuck? 
Who'll start the bidding???  LOL.

Denise: Husband of the Year material right here. We have been listening to the dinging alarm for about 45 minutes, and Chuck is still smiling and laughing. What a guy! Almost halfway home...

June 27, 2015
Downton Abbey is rubbing off on Chuck.
He feels compelled to dress for special occasions.
Like biscuits and sausage gravy for breakfast. 

July 2, 2015
The Wheaton Municipal Band entertained the crowd last night with a patriotic concert. As I was looking over the program, I told Chuck the names in Illinois are so exotic and unfamiliar to me, I wouldn't begin to know how to pronounce many of them.
"Like what?"
I pointed to the program. "Like this."

He enunciated slowly, "FLUTE."

Thanks, Honey. Thanks a lot.

July 3, 2015

Chuck: So, here I am holding a rope that is tied to a Humpty Dumpty hot air balloon. Well, let me start at the beginning.

"Honey, I am not sure that I have the energy for this, but there is a hot air balloon festival in Lisle tonight." 
Thinking she would say, "Let's see how the day goes and how we are feeling," but instead getting "Really?? Wonderful, I am so excited!!!" We found a place in the grass to sit near the fence. Some guy comes by and asks "Is anyone interested in volunteering to be on a balloon crew?" One of us says "Oh, honey, let's do it!!" So that is how my beautiful bride Denise and I ended up on the balloon crew and how I ended up at the end of the rope helping keep Humpty Dumpty where he belongs. I can confidently say that his tumble from the wall did not happen on my watch.

July 4, 2015

Denise: "Mmmm...tastes like summer," I said after biting into my fresh tomato sandwich.

"I'm curious as to what summer tastes like, but there's no way I'll ever try that," Chuck said.

July 9, 2015

Typical morning. Chuck was leaving for work. It was 10 before 6, and we both noticed the free paper in the driveway. We started racing for it, trying to be the first to get there. I started laughing as he playfully held me back, and told me I'm lucky I'm not Zack (his youngest), or he would have hip-checked me into the front yard. Never a dull moment around here.

July 13, 2015

Chuck: I was going through the cupboards today looking for some food and I came across a couple of cans of mushrooms. I knew they must have been something Denise picked up accidentally, cause I know no one would never put them in a recipe intentionally. So, being the kind man that I am, I got rid of them for here before she ever even had to see them. I am sure my husband of the year award will be here soon.

September 5, 2015

Denise: Merry Christmas to ME! (And Happy Birthday...and Happy Anniversary...) I am now the proud owner of my very own BIG DOG lens! (70-200 mm) Chuck teased me that he would put it under the tree for me, and I panicked. I thought I would have to wait until Christmas to open it. NOT TO WORRY. 
I came home to this at midnight last night. 

Thanks, Babe! I am so stoked to use this at the Bristol Renaissance Faire ALL WEEKEND LONG!!!

September 14, 2015

Chuck: The irony of it all. Just earlier today I was telling my beautiful bride Denise to get whatever we need for the house, that she has very good taste. Then, when I get home, I find this little guy that just today replaced our timer that had trouble counting all the way back to zero.

October 4, 2015

Chuck: Seeing a few people taking 'selfies' around us, I asked Denise when was the last time we did a selfie. She responded "One we did ourselves?" It feels so good to laugh that hard every once in a while.

Yeah, I'm here for comic relief.

October 31, 2015
Chuck posted the picture of our odometer with this: Denise and I are going for a 5 mile car ride. 

October 29, 2015

Denise: Nothing ruins a Friday like realizing it's only THURSDAY.
I hurried home from Walmart so Chuck and I could chat during his commute home from work. On Fridays, he leaves at 3. I love having an early start to the weekend. I called him as soon as I got home.
I could barely hear his voice. "Are you already driving?" I asked.
"No, I'm still at work," he whispered. It was 3:10.
"But you get off at THREE on Fridays!" I protested.
"Well, they decided to have Friday TOMORROW," my husband informed me.
Chuck tells me I'm so adorkable, but honestly, how does he put up with me on days like this?

November 7, 2015
Chuck, after the elections: I kept hearing that if I did not vote, that I could not complain. Well, I voted, so now I have the right to complain. First off, I hate it when people cut me off in traffic. I don't like it when the sandwich restaurant insists on putting a pickle in with my cheeseburger, when I tell them I want it plain. And I really don't enjoy the blah late fall and winter days when there is no snow and beauty.

Well, I feel better. Thank you

November 25, 2015
Chuck: Personally, I think Denise could have been a bit quieter while I was laying down. Granted, I was laying on the floor, having collapsed from the sit-ups, push-ups, wall sits, chair steps while she was pushing through with the running in place, but really, I could have fallen asleep there on the floor if she had been quieter. (Great job my beautiful bride in the 7 minute work-out. Your husband is a bit out of shape.)

November 29, 2015
Before Chuck began the job of replacing our garbage disposer, I asked Chuck if I could get him anything.
"A plumber would be nice."
Thank you for being my handy man, Honey!

November 25, 2015
Handsome Husband Work from Home Day.
Need I say more?

December 7, 2015

"Well, hel-loooo!"

Chuck is entertaining Sierra and me with iPhone puppet shows featuring Mrs. Doubtfire at the SLC airport. I am laughing so hard. Love this man so much.

December 8, 2015

I had sushi with Sisi at the French Market beneath the Ogilvie train depot. We sent Chuck a pic of our lunch, and he responded "I'm so sorry you couldn't find something good to eat." 

And just last weekend, while we were wandering through Goodwill, I saw Chuck stop to take a photo. Before long, he had this posted on Facebook: 

That's right, hands up. Hand over the gold.
What is that other stuff? Myrrh?
Frankincense? Nah, never heard of it.
You can keep that.

Laughter, and lots of it, is sprinkled throughout my days. I'm so grateful. There's no one else I'd rather laugh with for the rest of my life. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Taking My Tiger for a Walk

Am I the only one who has wondered which is harder: to stop eating your favorite foods once you start, or to just avoid them altogether? For me, it seems much easier to totally abstain from certain foods than it is to control myself around temptations. Yes, I have always had an all or none mentality when it comes to eating.

On October 18 of this year, we celebrated my younger son's 18th birthday with the tallest, richest German chocolate layer cake I have ever had. The coconut frosting was piled high, and the chocolate buttercream frosting between the layers of chocolate cake was so rich. As I was scraping the last of the chocolate off of my dessert plate, I remember feeling just slightly sick, and I realized I probably should've stopped eating three bites ago. But it had been so good, I just couldn't stop.

That night, I made a hasty decision to avoid any of my trigger foods for the next 30 days. My 55th birthday was one month away on November 18, and it was my hope that in forgoing cookies, ice cream, sugar, and processed foods, I would give myself the gift of a ten pound weight loss. I wanted so much to lose the ten pounds I had gained after Chuck and I got married.

During the month before Bridger's birthday, I had noticed my jeans were tighter. My wedding ring no longer slipped around my finger, and I was having frequent issues with an itchy rash under the wedding band and engagement ring. My last doctor's appointment revealed my weight was up, and so was my blood pressure. Something had to change.

Giving up my trigger foods made sense to me. And it was pretty easy. I was able to bake cookies for Chuck, without sampling any of them. I simply said "no, thanks" to sweets and goodies when they were offered. Whenever temptation reared its ugly head, I looked the other way, distracting myself with frozen grapes, or a small tangerine. Yeah, I ate a lot of fruit that month.

Saying no was easy. Would I ever be able to just eat a normal size portion of a food I loved, and then stop? What would that even feel like? Most of my life I have struggled with my relationship with food and exercise.

I have overeaten, and undereaten. I have WEIGHED TOO MUCH, and I have weighed too little. I have ignored the scales, and I have weighed obsessively eight times a day. I have been a couch potato, and I have run four miles every single morning for months on end, trying to beat my weight into submission. 

Have you read this quote?

"With addiction, you figure out how to lock the tiger in its cage and keep it there. With an eating disorder, you have to figure out how to take the tiger out and walk it three times a day." (Tennie McCarty, eating disorder expert)

Do you think with time, the tiger gets easier to walk? Do you think the tiger ever gets any smaller; any less scary? Could the ravenous beast I have been fearing be reduced to the size of a purring kitten? 

It is an uncomfortable feeling to not trust yourself to stop eating at one cookie. Or to doubt that you have the willpower to put the rest of the brownies away after eating one of them. Or to be afraid that if you have a scoop of ice cream, the rest of the carton will not be long for this world. 

One day last week, I decided to take the tiger out of the cage, and keep it on a short leash. I cut a small slice off of a piece of chocolate cake that Sierra and Chuck brought home to share from Portillo's. I poured myself a small glass of milk, made myself sit at the table, and forced myself to be aware of my surroundings while I enjoyed this little indulgence. 

I took very small bites, and savored the flavor of fudgy chocolate, and the cool, moist texture of the refrigerated dessert. After each bite, I set my fork down. I smelled the cake. I chewed the cake. I smiled. So this is what intentional eating felt like.

The wind had been building all day, and looking through the dining room's lace panel curtains, I watched the branches of the pine tree beyond the deck sway back and forth. After I swallowed the last bite, I realized I was glad I had not taken a larger piece. It wasn't as wonderful as I had imagined it would be, although I did enjoy eating something sweet. In contrast to the brewing storm outside, I felt remarkably calm. As I put my dishes in the dishwasher, I no longer felt like I had been tempting fate.

During the rest of the week, I practiced my intentional eating with a single chocolate chip cookie, and another time, I had a sample of chocolate covered peanuts at a confectionary shop on our date night. Each time feels a little easier, and a little less anxiety-ridden. 

I am doing it, slowly but surely. I am taking my tiger for a walk, and finally, the tiger is not in control of me; I'm in control of the tiger. And that feels pretty darn good.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

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

There is so much to look forward to in December. My mind is racing with all of the fun possibilities before us. We will celebrate Thanksmas, finally, this weekend with our Utah kids and my Mom and Richard. My daughter is flying back to Illinois to spend a few days with Chuck and me. We will have a full house in Illinois for Christmas dinner, with all the kids, Chuck's folks, and our little grandson. Bridger is coming to spend a week of Christmas break with us. 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.

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 gift of Christmas.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Our Round Tuit

It's the simple things that make me happy, like being able to use BOTH of my kitchen sinks!

Looking out the kitchen window, I could see the day was going to be another grey one on this last day of November. A smile of satisfaction settled on my face, though, as I plunged my hands into the hot, soapy dishwater. You see, for the first time in eleven months, I was able to wash the dishes in one sink, and rinse them in the other. We have not been able to use our left-side kitchen sink since I've been here. The garbage disposer was broken, and the plumbing on that side leaked, so we just made do with the right side. It didn't take too long before I got used to things being that way, and we adapted our dishwashing routines to accommodate having only one useable sink. 

But not any more! We found our "round tuit" this weekend. We've been promising ourselves that we would upgrade furniture and appliances, fix the sink, and fix up the house when we got around to it. ("A round tuit;" get it? Stale joke; I know.) 

Not only did Chuck fix the sink so it drained, he also took on the monumental task of replacing the garbage disposer. I know he dreaded it all day long while we were at church, and while we were eating lunch, and before we took a nap. He doesn't claim to be a handyman, but he is a devoted husband who tries to do things to make life easier, and more fun, for me. 

He made me laugh as he put a pillow on the edge of the kitchen sink cabinet in preparation for the disposer replacement. I asked him if I could get him anything before he started.

"A plumber would be really nice," he smiled. 

It was a big task, and he managed to remove the old disposer, and install the new one, but when it came to the electrical connections, he called on his friend Marve for a consultation. True to form, Marve offered to come over, and he praised Chuck for doing so much of the hard work before he got there.

"I remember the days when you didn't even have a hammer," Marve teased him. "Now you have a toolbox, and even a hammer to whack things with. Look how far you've come." Chuck takes the teasing in stride, grateful for his friend's advice and help whenever it comes to working on the house.

Not only did Chuck get our sink and kitchen disposer in good working order, but he also checked several other items off of our long to-do list. Our home will never be featured in Better Homes and Gardens, but it's getting better all the time. 
Bu-bye, old white couch!

Saturday Chuck surprised me by going to our favorite consignment shop while we were running errands, and the store was having a 35% off sale of upholstered furniture. BONUS! We bought a sofa and a love seat for our family room to replace the old, white sofa that was given to him many moons ago. I can't wait until they deliver our furniture Wednesday morning! And not only that...

(I feel like the Ginsu kitchen knife salesman on TV... "But wait! There's more!")

We went to Sears this weekend, and ordered a dishwasher. A dishwasher! For me? I feel pretty spoiled. When Chuck gets around to checking things off, he goes big, I tell ya.

The stockings were hung over the microwave with care...

While Marve was working under the sink last night, he offered to help us install the new microwave we bought several months ago that has been sitting on our hearth since we brought it home. We look forward to having Marve and his wife over for dinner the night the microwave gets installed. 

Aaand...we just ordered the rest of the black and white canvas prints of our kids so all six of them are on display in the family room. Of course, being photographers, we have pictures of all of them everywhere, but we wanted to have six of the same size and style to display them formally. 
I love this man so much.

As our first year anniversary is less than a month away, we are going to be able to say we accomplished a lot during our first year. We may have waited until the "eleventh hour," or the eleventh month, as the case may be, to do some of it, but we're doing it! When we finally get around to it, we really get a ROUND TUIT. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

TMI? You Be the Judge

Today, I am paying homage to a previous blog written by my husband Chuck, on his 55th birthday: A Double Nickel's Worth of Facts about Chuck. He asked me to follow up with a list of my own. If you have the curiosity, and the stamina, you are welcome to peruse these yourself, but mostly, this is for Chuck.

1. Born in Chicago, Illinois, I spent all of my childhood in Virginia, and all of my adulthood in Utah, until my life came full circle, and I found myself living in Illinois last December 24, when I flew to Chicago to marry Charles Bruce Bennorth. I just love A Good Circle Story

Tahquamenon Falls, Upper Peninsula, Michigan

2. Fall is the most wonderful season of all. A year ago, Chuck and I met in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee, and this fall, Chuck took me to Upper Peninsula Michigan to enjoy Mackinac Island and the fall colors of Michigan and Wisconsin.

During a three-week run of no-school snow days during Virginia's icy winter in 1978, I believe.
3. There is nothing quite as exciting as a snow day. When I was a kid, we gathered around the kitchen table in Shipman, Virginia, listening to the radio during breakfast during any sign of snow, praying for a snow day. In my 31 years of teaching in Utah, I only had ONE day off from school for a declared snow day, and the snow all melted, and we didn't even get to play in it. Now that I am retired, I can't help but wish for snow days because Chuck gets to work from home. Yahoo!

4. I am deaf in my left ear. "Huh?" was probably the word I uttered most as a child. I miss the punchlines of most jokes, and important information on TV, unless the closed-captioning is on. I tend to sit on Chuck's left side so I can hear him better, and I rely on reading lips to fill in the gaps.

5. Speaking of TV, I don't own one in Utah, and the television Chuck and I have has only been on in my presence about four times this year. We watch Dr. Who with Zack, and that's about it. When the Nielson Ratings TV company came to my house in Joseph to sign me up for their program, they weren't quite sure what to do with me. There is only a TV at the house when Bridger wants to play video games. They left me with contact information, in case I ever want to be a normal person with a TV.

6. Downton Abbey is a different story. I have watched every single episode of Downton Abbey on my laptop.

7. My favorite drink is water, followed by coffee. I take my first cup of coffee with half and half, and the second one also has a scant spoon of stevia added to it. My favorite soda has changed nearly every year, but this year, I have essentially given up my Diet Dr. Pepper in an effort to eat and drink healthier. I miss it, but not as much as I thought I would.

8. This year I made it 23 days into the Whole 30 program, and had to stop when I was sick for a week. I was amazed that I could give up white sugar and flour, dairy, and processed foods for that long, but my results were impressive, for only three weeks. I couldn't believe that I could eat fats (avocado, coconut oil, and nuts) at every meal, and still lose fat.

9. The longest I have gone without any of my trigger foods is 30 days. I went from October 19 - November 18, 2015 without any white sugar, cookies, ice cream, brownies or cake. On my birthday, Chuck and I split a small piece of birthday cake, and I sent the rest of the cake to work with him to share with coworkers. (My birthday gift to myself was losing the 10 pounds I gained after Chuck and I got married.)

10. I'm not much of a jewelry wearer.  I wear earrings if we're going out. My favorite pieces are my diamond ring and wedding ring, and my white agate necklace Chuck chose for my wedding gift, and an Italian charm bracelet my oldest gave me.
Our Smokey Mountain Vacation 2014

11. I met my husband on Facebook, and then met him in person three weeks later in the Smokey Mountains. We were engaged by the end of that week, and married two months later. Best decision I ever made.

12. I always try to say yes, especially if it might involve some fun, and if it isn't illegal, immoral, or deadly.

13. My biggest fear is outliving any of our children.

14. If I have a little spending money, I most likely will spend it in thrift stores. Most of my wardrobe in the last year was purchased at Goodwill Industries and a second hand consignment shop in Geneva, Illinois. Illinois has AMAZING thrift shopping. My closet finally contains some of my favorite clothing labels: L.L. Bean, Chico's, J. Crew, and Lands' End. I bought a lavender cashmere sweater for six bucks! Oh, happy day!

15. Minimalism is something I aspire to. I am not attached to things, unless those things are part of a loved one: cards, letters, poems, or photographs. I have no problem parting with furniture, books I've read, extraneous kitchen wares, or clothing.

16. If I had to choose which of my belongings is my favorite, I'd have to say my MacBook Pro. I love to write and read, and stay in touch with family and friends. It is my window to the world.

17. Chocolate is no longer my favorite flavor, unless it encases one of my current favorite flavors: peanut butter or caramel. I would rather just have peanut butter or caramel. I also love coffee-flavored, and lemon-flavored sweets. Caramel apples and caramel corn are some of my favorite goodies.

18. I would rather eat dessert than any other food. Ice cream. Cookies. Brownies. Cake, not so much, unless nothing else is available.

19. Number 17 is the cause of number 18: I have struggled with my weight most of my adult life. I hit an all-time high of 224 when my youngest was three. ("Mom, you have boobs on your back, too," said the then-three-year-old.) That's when I started lifting weights, running, and eating more protein and vegetables, and limiting myself to indulgences on my free days. It took me three years, but I lost 80 pounds. Yep. I got down to 144, and a size 4. That lasted about a week, and then I was able to maintain a size 6-8 for the next ten years or so. When I hit 50, I relaxed on my efforts, and my weight slowly increased. These days I'm thrilled when the size 10s, and an occasional 8, slip on effortlessly.

20. I detest broccoli; to my knowledge it is the only veggie I don't like. I love salad. When I eat salad, I dip the tines of my fork in the dressing, and probably use about a teaspoon of dressing that way.

21. The beach is my favorite place for vacations. This year I went to Fort Walton Beach in Florida with Chuck to meet our grandson, and spend time with Chris and Amy, and Bridger and I went to La Jolla, California to spend a weekend with Sierra. I added nine sand dollars to my collection while we were in Florida!  I look forward to introducing Chuck to my favorite beach in South Carolina: Myrtle Beach.

22. Hiking is my exercise of choice. The ground is kind of flat in Illinois, so I enjoy walking around St. Charles, and look forward to riding my bike.

23. I'm not a fan of chocolate fudge, but while we were on Mackinac Island, I discovered I love caramel apple-flavored fudge, but I only had a taste.

24. Every morning starts early (I rarely sleep past 4) with a big drink of water, and a half a pot of coffee. I love my coffee light and sweet, so I add half and half and stevia. "I Have a Bean," from Wheaton, is my favorite roaster, and I feel absolutely spoiled when there is a bag of it in my cupboard.

25. I was the first-born of three, and gave birth to three children of my own. Dylan, Sierra, and Bridger are amazing adults, and I can't believe my good fortune in being their mother. They are smart, funny, independent, and resourceful. I am so proud of them.

26. After marrying Chuck, I became a stepmom to three sons, and they have been so good to me. I appreciate so much their texts, messages, and Skype calls. The boys have their dad's wit, and they have all been blessed with intelligent brains and good hearts. We are lucky parents, indeed. A sweet bonus is getting to be a step-grandma to the cutest little baby boy, C.J. He just started crawling!

27. I put my Christmas tree up on Halloween this year, with Chuck's support and help. The passing of fall always makes me feel a little melancholy, and adding the glow of Christmas lights to our house lifts my spirits.

28. My "guilty pleasure," if that's even a fair assessment, is country music. Our house is filled with instrumentals and classical music most of the time, but when I'm alone, at home or in my car, I almost always listen to country.

29. My phobias include claustrophobia, falling from heights, and being startled. I am NOT afraid of spiders or snakes. My fear of mice has been fading over the years...

30. Chuck has many nicknames for me: Beautiful Bride, Mrs. B., Beautiful, Country Mouse...but my favorite is Stuart, another mouse reference. If you've ever read If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, you might understand how this distracted woman could get named after a mouse.

31. My hobbies are photography, writing, and reading. Marrying Chuck, a wonderful photographer and my mentor, has helped me make great improvements in my photos.

32. I love to bake, but because I'm married to a diabetic, and I am trying not to lead myself into temptation, I'm trying to become a better cook, and less of a baker.

33.  As a child, (okay, yes, and even as an adult) I was sneaky when it came to Christmas presents.

Up until about six years ago, I have to admit that I had been known to open presents before the holiday, and rewrap them. These days, I wait. Do I have any regrets about shaking, poking, and peeking? Yes. Being caught. ;-)

34. In 1978, when I was a junior in high school, I went to Chicago as Virginia's representative at the National 4H Convention as the state's citizenship winner. Since then, I have not been very involved in government, and am not affiliated with any political party. I tire of the presidential debates, and seeing political rants on Facebook.

35. My house almost always looked like a disaster zone when my children were little. If you are a young mom, don't despair that it will never get better. It will. Eventually, the kids will move out, and actually end up doing a darn good job keeping up their own homes. Mine did, anyway.

36. I love weather, all weather: sun, rain, snow. I even like watching hail accumulate, and lightning storms are amazing!

37.  The cardinal is the state bird of Virginia and Illinois. One day I hope to photograph a cardinal in the snow. I have a picture in my mind of what I want; meanwhile, I keep trying. Here are two cardinals having a standoff in our backyard in St. Charles; my first cardinal sighting in many years was about a year ago.

38. Even though I grew up in Virginia, I've never had much of a southern drawl. (In college, I had someone guess I was from Arizona. What kind of an accent do they have in Arizona?) Being raised by Yankee parents had its effects on my speech, I suppose.

39. On April Fools' Day several years ago, I wrecked my new Sonata in a three car pile up during rush hour traffic near downtown Salt Lake City. Driving in big cities now gives me great anxiety. 

40. I never met a recipe I couldn't tweak. I love trying to boost the nutritional values in foods; adding fiber, protein, or replacing artery-clogging fats with heart-healthy ones. 

41. When it comes to food, I am pretty adventurous. I've tried sushi, raw fish, and even Rocky Mountain Oysters. I love buying exotic fruits and vegetables I've never seen before to give them a try. So far, I have enjoyed nearly every cuisine I've experienced, and Indian is my current favorite. 

42. I love a good joke. My dad and brothers are great comedians. I did not inherit those genes. For the life of me, TELLING a good joke is not something I can master. Why can't I remember punch lines? (Mom, I blame you. Ha ha.)

43. As a child, I went through boxes of Bandaids like crazy. I'm a little accident-prone. More than once during hospital preps for surgery as an adult, I've had nurses ask if I needed to report any domestic violence. Um, no, never, but I run into open dishwashers, car doors, and cabinets ALL. THE. TIME.

44. Since Thanksgiving is approaching, Black Friday is on my mind. Only once did I arrive at a store at some hideously early hour to take advantage of some ridiculously low-priced item. I will never fight the crazy crowds again to buy a gift. Most of my shopping is done online, and that suits me just fine. 

45. My ancestors all came from Germany. I am 100% German-American. Hearing Grandpa sing O, Tannenbaum at Christmas was a fun tradition I miss.

46. My husband and I stand out in a couple ways at our church. We attend a church with a predominantly Asian-American congregation.  We are both taller and quite a bit older than most of our friends there. They love us, and make us feel so welcome. They tease that they understand that we are still learning their names since they all look alike. (We were told we Anglo people all look alike to them, too, except for hair color.)

47. I wish I could play the drums. I know about four chords on the guitar, and I reluctantly took piano lessons for two years in elementary school. The percussion instruments look like the most fun to play.

48. English is my native language. I minored in French in college when it was evident that I was never going to successfully become fluent enough to teach high school French. I only took one semester of Spanish, and could kick myself for not having studied that more. I could have used it so many times as a teacher and traveler. 

49. Whenever we go shopping, I have to touch everything. I'm always hoping to find textures that are smooth, soft, cushiony, and thick. I love soft socks, blankets, throws, sweaters, sheets, and towels.

50. Speaking of socks, "I love socks." Silly ones, cushy ones, no-shows, anklets, bobby socks, knee socks, slipper ones, holiday socks.

51. I have a weakness for coffee mugs. I know I only need one, but I just love them. And if there is an inspirational or significant saying on them, even better!

52. My hair is fine and flat, by nature. I have to have it processed (highlighted, colored, permed) to make it do anything besides stick to my skull. The baby picture at the top is me at the age of 3. Yeah, the perming began that early.

53. Reading is an enjoyable way to pass the time for me. Currently, I am re-reading the New Testament, Women of the Word, and we just finished reading Wired for Love. I lean toward non-fiction, but I did enjoy Lisa Wingate's book, The Prayer Box last month.

54. If I have the opportunity to hike a slot canyon, I hate to pass it by. It is so nice to hike through a stream, or in the shade during the heat of the summer. Little Wild Horse Canyon is my favorite slot canyon, so far. 

55. For the last couple of years, I have selected a word of the year for my focus. Brave was my word for 2014, and discovery was the word for 2015. It has been a year of discovery for me...a new marriage, living in Illinois, photographing Renaissance Faires, weddings, and the Great Lakes states. I'm learning so much about photography and marriage and life with my husband. It has been a great focus for a year full of opportunities.

Addendum for 2016: My word this year has been INTENTIONAL.

***There you go, Chuck. Mayhap more than you even cared to know, but I promised. I love you.