Thursday, January 29, 2015

An Exercise in Self-Control

Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever
Let's play a game, "Two Lies and a Truth." I'll go first.

I want a cookie. 
I deserve a cookie. 
I need a cookie. 

Can you spot the truth? There are two glaring lies I tell myself all the time about what I need and what I deserve.

The real truth is I deserve to be healthy and strong, and what I need is some self-control. I can want a cookie all day long, for all the good that will do me.

Why do I bake these little temptresses, you may wonder. Well, I am married to a wonderful man who exercises extreme self-restraint when it comes to desserts, and really, any carbohydrate. He is the one who DESERVES the Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Ever.

When we go to a restaurant for breakfast, he orders a meat skillet, biscuits and sausage gravy, and the smallest number of pancakes allowable on the menu. He eats all of the meat, a half of the biscuit, most of his skillet, and then, to finish his meal, he spreads the dollop of creamy butter on one little portion of one single pancake, drizzles a bit of syrup on it, and eats a bite or two, and then pushes back the plates, and declares his breakfast perfect.

When I bake these delightful chocolate chip cookies, he takes two or three to work each week, and nibbles at them to make them last all five work days. There is always a baggie with a chocolate chip cookie waiting for him on the counter. After dinner each night, he breaks a cookie in two, and joyously eats his half a cookie to finish off his meal with a sweet.

A half a cookie? I know, right? Who DOES that? Chuck does that. It happens all the time. 

Then there's me. Once I start to eat a sweet, I eat it until it's gone. I can eat desserts; let me tell you. I know there are recommended serving sizes on packages. I'm with those who believe Oreo cookies are consumed by the sleeve.

So today, I sent Chuck a picture on his phone of the cookies that had just come out of the oven for him.


Our texting went like this:

"I still haven't had a cookie. I'm thinking there should be some sort of prize for that. Do you think Her Royal Highness would knight me?

And if the Queen won't knight me, will you at least pretend to bow down to my exquisite self-control today?

A little ooh-ing and ah-ing would be much appreciated."

"I will bow down for my queen, and her splendid self-control," he responded.

I continued, "I never know how long these moments will last. I'm trying so hard to follow your lead, but I don't think you know what it's like for your mouth to crave sweet, crunchy, chewy things all day long."

He suggested I have ONE, then lock the rest in a time-release cookie jar, a cute little gadget we'd recently seen on Facebook.
Time-Released Cookie Jar


"If only...the battle is hard for me."

"Be strong, Stuart." (His new mouse name for me.) "Even in Little Mouse there is much strength."


So, here I am, waiting the last hour before my sweet husband will begin his long commute home to me. I still haven't had a cookie. I'm still wanting one. But knowing he thinks I'm strong made me feel as though I were today. 

The cookies will be there later...in the freezer...for when I really think I'm ready to eat JUST one. Until then, I just better wait. This Little Mouse has much to learn about self-control.






Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Denise and Chuck's Eggs-ellent Adventure: PART 1

I feel like Sam-I-Am from Dr. Seuss's book, Green Eggs and Ham when it comes to getting my husband to try different foods. I don't want him saying, "That Sam-I-Am! That Sam-I-Am! I do not like that Sam-I-Am."

But seriously, how can he hate eggs? Not only am I trying to get him to try eggs (at least they're not GREEN), I want to find ways for him to enjoy fruits and vegetables. 

"Do you like fried eggs and ham? 
I do not like them, Sam-I-Am.
Would you like them here or there? 
I would not like them ANYWHERE. 
Would you like them boiled or fried? 
I would not like them; I have tried."
Want to see Chuck's serious side? Just mention eggs.

Chuck hates eggs. Let me rephrase that. Chuck is very picky about his eggs.

When I first met Chuck, we often discussed our favorites: books, movies, foods. I was surprised at how limited he was in the foods he liked. When I asked him how he liked his eggs, he replied, "Preferably, in a cake." 

It wasn't long after that little joke was made that I stumbled upon this little gem on Pinterest:

How do you like YOUR eggs?

I like them just about any way they come. I will eat them scrambled, fried, boiled, and although I don't recall ever having them poached, I bet I'd like them that way, too. Eggs are great in quiches, frittatas, and breakfast casseroles. Yeah, I'll eat them here or there. I will eat them anywhere. 

There's not a bad time to eat eggs. While they are a perfect breakfast food, eggs are wonderful at lunch and supper, too. A boiled egg is a handy snack that packs a powerful protein punch. I will eat them hot or cold. I will eat them when I'm old.

My husband is the unreformed version of the egg-hating character in Green Eggs and Ham, I'm afraid. Not only does Chuck not like "green eggs and ham," he doesn't like regular eggs, either. Actually, the ham, he likes. Just don't be trying to put any eggs with it, green or otherwise.


THE END.

Not really. You and I both know there is going to be more to this story. Tune in NEXT WEEK for the ongoing saga of...

Denise and Chuck's Eggs-ellent Adventure!










Tuesday, January 27, 2015

My Brave Little Toaster

Compromise is the name of the game when it comes to relationships. A little give; a little take. While Chuck and I are alike in so many ways, it is uncanny; there are some ways we are different. Our pace; I'm distractedly frantic, and he is deliberately calm. Our taste in music; he loves all things classical, and music that never has had words (so grocery store muzak does not count), and I love instrumentals (guitar and piano), but not necessarily classical, and an eclectic collection of music ranging from indie to country to folk to pop. 

He looks so innocent; my 55-year-old with the
eating habits of a four-year-old.
Our taste in tastes; oh, yes, the way we approach food is worlds apart. Chuck is cautious; I am adventurous. Chuck has never met a fruit he liked; I love them all. He hates eggs; I will eat them any way they are served, although the harder the yolk, the better. He is suspicious of most vegetables; I will eat them all, but I would prefer not to partake of broccoli, if other options are available.

As a child, I detested watermelon, but have tried it every year, in case my tastes changed, and whaddayaknow? Two years ago, I had watermelon salad, and loved it!

When I told Chuck about my watermelon experience, I think he thought I was quite brave, but mostly nuts. He sticks with what he knows he likes. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" seems to translate into "If I know I don't like it, there's no sense in trying it again" for him. 

He adores carbs; carbs with heaping amounts of butter. Chuck is a carnivore, a carbivore, and a VERY selective herbivore (that "herb" list includes peas, green beans, and, occasionally, carrots. That's it. Don't bother asking.) I am an omnivore; I'll eat anything once, and I'll overeat anything I love, given the chance, and I tend to eschew fats.

Enter diabetes into Chuck's equation, and I have my hands full with meal-planning for us. Limiting carb intake without introducing veggies into a meal makes this harder. I love having variety in our menus. I use Chuck's favorite veggies, corn and peas more as a garnish since they're higher in carbs.  Consequently, we buy the only other veggie he will eat, canned green beans, in bulk.

Cooking for finicky eaters is not new to me. I'm a mom, after all, but my previous picky diners were toddlers, not grown men. I am "cooking for a 55 year old with the dietary habits of a four-year-old." Chuck's phrase, not mine. That is my challenge, according to my husband. 

"I will try to be a brave little toaster" he said, when we discussed recipes I wanted to make for him. I admire his courage. Many middle-aged men are set in their ways. Chuck realizes he is picky, and is willing to overcome some of his aversions to certain foods.
During our honeymoon, while dining at the Calamari Café, a fine Italian restaurant, Chuck took a very tiny spinach leaf off my plate, and with raised eyebrows, and a very silly grin, said, "Look at me. Look at me." Yes, he managed to eat one leaf. I was sort of amazed. 

Encouraged by his attempt at trying a food he previously detested, I wondered what else I might try to introduce more vegetables into his meals. 

My first attempt was a Shepherd's Pie dish which substituted mashed cauliflower for the mashed potatoes. Being a brave little toaster, Chuck agreed to try it, and guess what? He LIKED it! We both prefer the dish with a blend of potatoes and cauliflower, so that's how I prepared it the next time, but hey! He's eating something besides green beans!

Last night I made a lasagna-like dish, and needed more sauce. What to do; what to do? I thought I might sneak in some diced tomatoes. If I turned the lights off, and lit some candles, he might be none the wiser. 

Ha! After he was done, and had proclaimed more than once that dinner was delicious, I admitted my sneakiness. He still liked it, but when he went back for seconds, he picked out a couple of the more obvious offenders, and with a good natured grin, put the diced tomatoes on my plate.

"I was a brave little toaster to eat tomatoes. They were barely noticeable. I ate them, and I didn't complain."

This morning, I made him a chocolate protein shake with spinach "hidden" in it, if one can actually hide a vegetable that turns a chocolate drink a ghastly shade of greenish brown. Again, with dimmed lights, and glowing candles, I presented my fussy eater with another opportunity for courageous dining. Again, he offered raised eyebrows and nervous laughter. 

"If you drink this protein drink, I will reward you with the leftover breakfast skillet from Sunday." He LOVES breakfast skillets, as long as no eggs are present.

He took two sips of the spinach concoction, and said, "I was a brave little toaster again. I tried it." Two sips, and he was done, but I have to admit, for a self-professed four-year-old when it comes to food, he has already tried much more than I thought he would. No whining. No tantrums. He has been pretty brave for such a cautious eater. 

Now, how am I going to sneak eggs into his diet? (Insert maniacal laugh here.) We'll see just how brave my little toaster is one of these days. 

Be brave, little toaster. Who knows? You might even like them!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Dondé Esta el Amor?

Amor Latino has been playing on Spotify all morning. I just couldn't have a repeat of another day like yesterday. Yesterday was a day of slothfulness. I feel I am quite competent to JUDGE the lack of accomplishments, but I have yet to master the art of doing nothing. I think that will require being able to do nothing with grace, and without judgment. 

When I saw myself on the Skype screen while chatting with Chuck during his lunch break, I raked my fingers through my hair. I'd waited too long to use the hair dryer, so my baby fine hair was flat and uncooperative when I finally got around to trying to fix it. "My hair looks like a really bad wig today," I complained. 

This morning, I decided to revisit the genre of Latin music as part of my DISCOVERY. My sister-in-law Cristina says when she puts on her favorite Latin music, she can get her housework done while she dances. I figured it was worth a chance. 

I haven't done any dancing, but I have accomplished more in a couple of hours than I did all day yesterday! The music got me thinking of the few Spanish words I know, and I wondered if I could write a poem with my limited Spanish. I've never been good at knowing where the accent marks go, so I used Google's translator to help me write this little poem, with credit to Pablo Alboran, who has a song by the same title, although after running Pablo's song through the translator, I think something may get "lost in the translation." What is a beautiful love song in Spanish becomes a somewhat comical use of poorly worded phrases with the "help" of the translator. 

So, at the risk of presenting a comical poem of my own, here is my poem in Spanish, dedicated to Chuck. My husband speaks more Spanish than I do, so I hope he can read between the lines to find the love there for him.

¿Dónde Está el Amor?

¿Dónde está el amor?
Aquí; aquí lo tienes,
El amor está aquí, 
en nuestras palabras,
y en nuestros corazónes,
y donde quiera que vayamos.

Abrázame.
Bésame.
Abrázame.
Dime que me amas, también.

El amor está aquí, 
en nuestras palabras ,
y en nuestros corazónes,
y donde quiera que vayamos.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

I Am Home, at Last

Finally, our house is mine, too. Is that an odd thing to mention? What's the hold up, you may wonder? It has nothing to do with legal matters like titles or deeds. It's simply this: our house now smells like home to me. I have pretty sensitive olfactory nerves, perhaps to make up for my deficit in the hearing department, and when I first arrived, my nose was shocked at how different Chuck's house in Illinois smelled than mine in Utah. 

In my blog, I have explored the topic of THE SCENTS OF HOME before. My children and I all enjoy life's sensory pleasures; Sierra and I drool over extremely soft fabrics, and my sons and I love the delicious smells of home cooking and fresh laundry. We all enjoy good music, although our definitions vary somewhat, and we all love the scenery that nature affords our eyes when we're hiking.

For nearly two decades, Chuck has only shared his home with his three boys, and I'm sure the occasional presence of the females in his life. So there were scents, just nothing my nose picked up as familiar. Our homes are stocked differently, with different cleansers, hand soaps, and laundry detergent. 

Don't misunderstand; his house is extremely tidy; he is fastidious about his routines, and he had recently completed his own version of BECOMING A MINIMALIST in anticipation of my arrival. He had mopped and dusted, but the contrast of his clean house smell versus mine was stark.

One odd thing about me is I don't just want things to not stink, I want them to smell GOOD. My goal has never been to achieve a neutral smell. I love my Marc Jacobs perfume, my Bath and Body Works candles and soaps and lotions, my Tide and Downy, and the seasonings I use in my cooking: cinnamon, cumin, garlic, onion, and basil. When I bake bread and cookies, my nose delights in the warm yeasty and sweet smells that emanate from the oven. When I walk outside in the early morning, I love to smell the warm scent of dryer sheets coming from the vents of my neighbors' homes intermingling with the camping smells of wood stoves and fireplaces.  

Chuck kept asking me if anything has surprised me since arriving in Saint Charles, and I kept telling him no, because frankly, I didn't know how to bring up the fact that I am weird about fragrances. We are very different in this sense because Chuck's sense of smell is so weak. He doesn't notice pleasant OR unpleasant scents. My nose has always been keenly aware of odors, which can be a good thing, or a very unpleasant thing, depending on the situation.

Good fragrances, obviously, are sweet and savory spices, nice cologne, freshly mown grass, suntanning oil, the earth after rain, garlic and onion simmering in butter, and new baby smell. Bad odors? Oh, dear. Well, damp basements, body odor, poopy or urine-soaked diapers, wet ash trays, cat poop, sheep's wool, house fires (not to be confused with the smoke of a cozy fire in the fireplace), and smoke damage after house fires extinguished with water come to mind.

When I became a mother, I noticed how territorial I was about my little ones. My babies rarely had to sit long in a wet or dirty diaper; the smell seemed so strong to me. Doing laundry has always been a pleasant experience to me, and washing all of the tiny baby clothes in Dreft detergent and drying them with Downy dryer sheets was euphoric for me. I would have been devastated if they'd been allergic to my choice of laundry products. My children always laughed with delight when I emptied the laundry basket of warm clothes fresh from the dryer over them.

I can remember nuzzling my sweet little Sierra when I picked her up at the babysitter's, and how shocked I was to breathe in the very different odors that had been gathering in the fabric of her clothes while she was away from me. She smelled of Italian marinara, a faint cigarette smell, and other scents that made me wrinkle my nose. I couldn't wait to get her home, and bathe her and slather her skin with Johnson's Baby lotion, and then dress her in the clothes that smelled like our family, and smell the sweet baby fragrance I associated with my little ones.

So when I arrived at Chuck's house, I knew it would take some time to "mark my territory," metaphorically speaking. One of the first things I did after our first trip to the grocery store on Christmas Eve was make a potpourri of oranges, cinnamon, apples, and pumpkin pie spice, and simmer the fruity, spicy concoction on the stove. Unfortunately, the pot boiled itself dry, and a thick, black smoldering crust was stuck to the bottom of the pan by the time the smoke reached my nose. One step forward; two steps back. 

Photo Credit: Chuck Bennorth
Chuck helped me rid the house of the smokey smell as quickly as possible by turning on the large ceiling vent upstairs, and we opened windows and doors. I moved the offensive smelling pot out to the garage, and began again to establish some yummy smelling fragrances in the house, lighting the candles we had just bought, and baking some peanut butter cookies. 

Days went by, and each time we returned home, I would take in a tentative breath, and realize the house still had a fragrance not familiar to my nose and me. 

And then one day, one wonderful day last week, after going out to lunch with Chuck's folks, I threw open the door to the house, and my nose was pleasantly surprised to smell the scents of home, OUR home. All of the scents of Colgate toothpaste, our deodorants and colognes had mingled with the smells of home-baked cookies, scented candles, citrus hand soap, Old English furniture polish. Everything had combined into one warm fragrance that to me represents all of the comforts and delights of home.

I am home, at last. It smells so good to be home.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

He Calls Me Little Mouse

There is nearly always a story behind a nickname. There are several behind one of mine. Chuck calls me "Little Mouse," which will probably horrify my mother who detests most rodents, but particularly, the lowly house mouse.

My earliest memories of mice involve my mother standing on a chair, or leaping to the safety of the kitchen counter, with her mouth and eyes wide open in terror, screaming. When I was little, I had inherited her fear of mice, based on nothing more than an association of mice with my screaming mom. Over the years, I did my fair share of leaping out of harm's way and screaming, and eventually, I softened to a mild disgust at discovering a mouse's presence in my own home.


As Chuck and I were getting to know each other, I was delighted that he not only recognized my reference to Bridger's favorite book of The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear (Don and Audrey Wood), but he, too, had it memorized, almost in its entirety. I loved him even more knowing he read a story so often to his own little boys that he could retell it from memory, nearly two decades after he was no longer reading bedtime stories. 

"Hello, little mouse," the story begins. "What are you doing? Oh, I see. Are you going to pick that red, ripe strawberry? But little mouse, haven't you heard about the big, hungry bear? How that bear loves red, ripe strawberries."

My heart melted as I recalled my little boy Bridger, who had barely started talking, but who could remember the words of his favorite book. He would sit on my bed, turning the pages, and "read" the words on each page with emotion and inflection, imitating the way he had heard it read to him.
Chuck didn't hesitate when I asked him to read to my second graders at school. He is so comfortable with people of any age. It tickled me to watch him interact with my little students. 

Chuck had also read "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie," by Laura
Joffe Numeroff. I love that not only does he juggle several books at any given time, listening to a novel a week during his commute, and reading a couple of books at home (Civil War, music appreciation, and works of fiction), he has also read a wide variety of children's literature. This man was made for me, I tell you! 

In the mouse and cookie story, an easily distracted mouse goes from one activity to another all day long. I am that mouse. I live that mouse's life EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. My mind thinks this way. My day flows this way. (You can probably detect some of this distracted mouse syndrome in my writing.)

As night falls each evening, I am always surprised by what I was able to accomplish, and what I was not. My intentions are so good, but as a multi-tasker extraordinaire, I dabble at several tasks at once, and barely finish one or two. Every day I have a goal to write, to read, to rest; Chuck says they are the three Rs of retirement. I also have many mini-goals to make our house more homey, to keep in touch with our kids, to study, to do photography...well, you see, there's just so much to do. Focusing is such a challenge for me. 

We all know the story of the Country Mouse and the City Mouse. Since moving from a rural Utah town with a population of less than 400 to a suburban city with a headcount of closer to 30,000, the name Country Mouse fits me to a tee. 

The other day, I told Chuck that I thought one day I might just become a city mouse. 

He just grinned, and said, "I doubt it." 

"Oh? You can take the mouse out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the mouse; is that it?" I suspected the reasoning behind his doubts.

"Exactly."

Throughout the day, I get texts while Chuck is at work, "What is my little mouse doing?" 

Or: "What has caught the eye of my little mouse today?"

My husband is getting used to my way of doing things. He just laughs when we enter a store, having just heard me say what we're shopping for, but then he gets pulled in a completely different direction when something else catches my eye. He, being an IT analyst by profession, and a male by birth, is quite focused on whatever the task is at hand, and sees it through to completion. I, on the other hand, have more than a touch of attention deficit-disorder, and I take a buckshot approach to my day, and let the chips fall where they may.

My vocabulary is expanding the more I am exposed to Chuck's way of speaking and writing, and the other day, I was once more forced to ask him to define his terms. "Non sequitur" is the label he slapped on one of my comments this weekend as we were talking at breakfast. 

APPARENTLY, one should find a natural segue into the next topic of conversation, rather than just jumping blindly into it, but in my mind, it made perfect sense to see the murky water in the vase of flowers on our kitchen table, and then think of the murky water of my old betta fish Elvis's fish bowl, and suggest we get a Vietnamese betta fish. Granted, we weren't talking about pets or fish, but my mind wanders around the visual stimuli in my environment. He should thank me. We rarely have a lull in our conversations. (Hmm...that's a good thing, right?)

So, Chuck calls me his little mouse, and his country mouse, and we call the way I do things "mousing." There's rarely a dull moment, even though sometimes I'm a little hard to follow. 

If this blog post seems a little more disjointed than usual, I'm blaming the muscle relaxers I've been taking to help me with an old injury that has resurfaced. Having just re-read this post myself, I think we can all safely assume that the disjointedness may just be my natural self coming through, a little more loudly and clearly than usual, as my filters are in a slightly weakened state today. 

This little country mouse has had quite a day, and is grateful to have finally gotten her writing done, with about ten minutes to spare, before her city mouse gets home from work. 













Thursday, January 15, 2015

Country Mouse, City Mouse

There were lights as far as I could see, stretching out into the blackness of the night below me as the flight attendants prepared the plane for arrival at Chicago O'Hare airport. I stretched and yawned. It was right around midnight just before the day of Christmas Eve. The three hour flight from Salt Lake City had been uneventful once we finally got all of the delayed take-offs out of the way. Now here I was, the proverbial country mouse, gathering my belongings, getting ready to start a new life in the big city.

The picture of the city lights I posted to my Facebook timeline with these words: "City lights that stretch forever. The girl from Chicago is home."                                                                                                                                                  
Who does this? I thought. Who flies to destinations unknown at Christmas? Who leaves the only life she's ever known to make a new one without having ever been in the new place? Who strikes up a conversation with a stranger that leads to serious plans for meeting across the country just days after introducing herself? Who, for that matter, agrees to marry that man after only being with him for less than a week?  
                                                                                                         
Um, that would be me. (I know, Ms. Ponton. That should read, "That would be I." Who TALKS like that anyway? Not I.) I'm the woman responsible for this seemingly wild, unpredictable behavior. I'm the one who is living in the moment, following her heart (and her brain and her spirit) to points unknown to live the life of which she's only dreamed with the man who has captured her heart.

During an earlier conversation, this man we now know as Chuck, mentioned he lived in a small town. It had already been established he lived near Chicago, so I asked him to "define small."

"Oh, I don't know, the population of Saint Charles is right around 30,000," he guessed. He's pretty good with numbers. (33,264, according to the last census. ) "What about where you live? How many people live in Joseph?"

"You're from a SMALL town?" I laughed incredulously. "There are about 300 people in my town. JOSEPH is a small town." (344 in 2013, 346 if you count us, my son and me, adding two to the population in 2014. And on a further note, according to my research, Joseph is 0% urban, 100% rural. You don't say...)

Joseph is so small, there isn't a church or school in town. We don't even have our own post office. We DO have the Flying U convenience market, which is great when a girl just has to have a Diet Dr. Pepper or a few pieces of penny candy. Let's be clear; I am from a small town. Chuck is from a thriving metropolis.

From the first time I saw the glow of Chicago, I felt much like Dorothy must have felt when she landed in Oz. I have said to myself on more than one occasion, "Toto, we're not in Utah any more." It is so different here, which isn't a bad thing, in my book. I guess I was ready for different.




Yes, this country mouse was moving to the big city to begin a new life with her city mouse. I was trading the desert and mountains of rural Utah for the western suburbs of Chicago.

When my seventeen-year-old toured Chicago with us during the holidays, his head was perpetually craned upward, taking in all of the skyscrapers and the cityscape around us. He called the city streets lined with tall buildings "urban canyons." I love the way he thinks.

One of our first introductions to local cuisine was Giordano's deep dish Chicago-style pizza. It was everything pizza is supposed to be: hot, cheesy, gooey deliciousness.

When Chuck handed me the box, he said, "Check this out. Feel how heavy it is." My arms were not ready for the weight of that cardboard box that held pounds of cheese and pizza toppings. Utah isn't exactly known for its pizza; Chicago is. Not long after that, I tried my first Chicago-style hotdog. Not bad. The food here is pretty tempting.

My older son Dylan, who lives in Saint George, Utah, had heard the tales of Giordano's pizza, and had been so enamored by the idea of this Chicago-style iconic perfection, he nearly gave in to the temptation of ordering a frozen pizza from them to be delivered on dry ice via overnight delivery. The $80 price tag had brought him back to reality. When we sent him pictures via text, he told us he had "just chipped [his] tooth...trying to eat [his] phone." Yeah, it's that good.


Giordano's. Is your mouth watering yet?
In rural Utah, every time we need to "go to town," it takes at least 15 minutes, not because of traffic, but because we live about 13 miles from the nearest town with a Walmart, Richfield. If I want a gourmet coffee or soda, I go to Richfield. If I want to go shopping in the big city, it's a two hour drive to Provo and about three hours to Salt Lake City. The bookmobile brings books to our small town, but I could never remember the schedule, and it wasn't convenient to my work schedule.

Here in Saint Charles, anything I need is within 5-10 minutes of home, and I can walk right into downtown, a mere eight blocks away, and go shopping at darling boutiques, grab a hot drink at Starbucks, check out a book at the library, and walk around the city parks.

In Utah, neighbors are anyone in a five mile vicinity. Here, there are thousands of people in each square mile. There, my photography focused on mountains and canyons, wild turkeys and birds of prey, mule deer and farm implements. Here in Illinois, I can shoot urban landscapes, sculptures, and farmland. We do have wildlife in our backyard: squirrels and raccoons, chickadees and cardinals.

Cardinals? Oh, my heck. (A colloquial saying from Utah only, apparently.) My heart strings are pulled at the sight of those regal red birds. They are the state bird of Illinois, my birthplace, and Virginia, where I grew up. My mom loves cardinals, and she passed that on to me. My first sighting of a cardinal was in the park behind our house. The first time I had my camera available when I saw them, I was able to capture two males having a standoff in our backyard.

Today, I'm meeting a fellow writing friend I met through our Facebook writing group. This will be our first face to face meeting, and I find that very exciting. We're going to Town House Books in Saint Charles. The internet has made this world a much smaller world, and I'm so grateful for these experiences that are mine.

Life here in the city is very exciting to this girl from the country. Every day is an adventure, if I want it to be. This is my year of discovery, and I am discovering that I live in a very charming corner of the world. This country mouse may just become a city mouse yet!




Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Bachelor Takes a Wife

Home Sweet Home

When we became engaged, my fiançé opened his heart and home to me. I worry sometimes, now that we are married, that his head spins with the changes that are taking place, but mostly, he seems to take things in stride. 

Before we went to the grocery store for our first shopping trip together, I did an inventory of his kitchen. The cupboards weren't exactly BARE, like Mother Hubbard's, there just wasn't much in the way of FOOD in them. What kitchen would be complete without an electric wok, or TWO electric frying pans, or TWELVE coffee cups with saucers? The man doesn't even drink coffee. I stifled a chuckle as I filled box after box with the things we wouldn't be needing any time soon in the foreseeable future. Goodwill was going to be getting a very generous donation of kitchenwares from us!

There were plenty of containers for leftovers, but not tops for the bottoms. There were a couple of shelves for snacks; chips and one very stale package of Chips Ahoy cookies. The silverware drawer could have handled a crowd of fifty. Chuck lovingly divided his cutlery into "the matching set," which was kept in a drawer organizer, and the "Island of Misfit Silverware," which covered every square inch that the drawer organizer did not.

"WOW! Your stovetop is so CLEAN," I said.

He just laughed. "Well, it's never been used."

"The oven, too. I'm so impressed."

"We only use it to make pizza. It's pretty easy to keep clean."

There were two cabinets dedicated to housing candles. What a romantic. This may also explain why he is so fit and trim; he has more candles than treats. 

The fridge door was FILLED with Powerade Zero bottles. There wasn't much in the fridge;  a partially full gallon of milk, and opened packages of cheese and ham. That was about it. On top of the fridge, there were not less than five boxes of bran cereal. I looked at him with raised eyebrows.

"You'd be surprised at how fast cereal disappears around here," he said somewhat sheepishly. 

The only other cabinet that housed food had a couple of cans of soup and some green beans. I asked if he had any flour. 

"You're kidding, right?"

"So, I assume that means you probably don't have baking soda..." His head began slowly shaking back and forth... "Baking powder?" He continued shaking his head, as a smile was spreading across his face, and he looked down at the floor. "Sugar?" Still with the shaking head. "Pam?" His eyes lit up.

"I have baking spray!" Eureka! There was something I actually needed in his kitchen! It was the first thing I asked for that DIDN'T go on our list.

So, we set off for the store with a rather lengthy grocery list. The next day was Christmas, and we were having two of his sons for dinner. 

We plowed through the crowds at Walmart on Christmas Eve (THERE'S a tradition I hope we won't keep), in hopes of making our cupboards less Mother Hubbard-like, and he smiled the whole time as I dropped items into the cart; flour, sugar, spices, turkey, potatoes, chicken broth...

"We're going to have real food in the house," Chuck grinned. 

One of Chuck's earlier holiday meals made almost
exclusively in the microwave.
Lucky for me, the bar was set pretty low. This year I was getting away with Stove Top Stuffing, a pre-cooked turkey breast, canned cranberry relish, homemade mashed potatoes and gravy, frozen dinner rolls, and a simple icebox cake for dessert. For good measure, I'd be baking some homemade peanut butter cookies, too. I'd been there less than a day; his boys would understand. Chuck assured me anything would be better than his microwaved feasts of years gone by.

Chuck's iPhone pic of our fridge of real food.
Note that there are still plenty of Powerades!
Later on Christmas Eve afternoon, I busied myself with Chuck's favorite peanut butter cookie recipe. As I was mixing the dough with the vintage, avocado-green hand mixer, the handle snapped. Did I mention it was AVOCADO GREEN? Did I mention it was vintage?  I think that dates it back to the late seventies at the latest. It was an ANTIQUE. Perhaps I should have treated it with more care.  Of course, I am the THE BAKER WHO BURNED UP A KITCHENAID, so I shouldn't be so surprised. I added "hand mixer" to our ever-growing shopping list. 

After mixing the rest of the dough by hand,  I was ready to drop spoons of dough on the cookie sheets, and I searched the kitchen for the promised baking spray. I found it. The expiration date on the can was 2006. No problem. I'd seen some vegetable oil. 2009 on that one. Dang. Might as well check the olive oil while I was at it. 2010. So, I greased the sheets with butter, and called it good. Old school!

It seemed those first two weeks we were together, nearly every day we ventured out into the cold to go to Target or Walmart for ingredients or kitchen appliances. We are slowly turning the kitchen into a well-stocked one. Chuck loves that the fridge is full of real food, and the freezer is stocked with leftovers that he can take to work for lunch. 

My husband is a creature of habit, and has eaten the same meals and snacks for a very long time. It has been fun to introduce him to some of my favorite recipes. Christmas morning we got up very early, and Chuck was happy to help make the sausage gravy while I made biscuits. 

Every once in awhile, I do reality checks with my patient husband. "Are you doing okay?" He assures me he is. "Am I doing too much too soon?" No, he says he loves watching our house become a home. "You'd tell me if you didn't like something, right?" He promises he has liked every single thing I've cooked, so far. 

The honeymoon is not over. The toilet seats are still down. (A friend of mine proclaimed him a keeper when he mentioned that he made sure all of the toilet seats were down before I arrived from Salt Lake City.) This honeymoon is still going strong. We plan to ride this wave on out to the end. What a great ride it has been so far. 



Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Day for Discovery (An Abecedarian Poem)

Encouraged by my friend Susan Trestrail's blog post about ABECEDARIAN poetry yesterday, I decided to give this form a try. In an abecedarian poem, one uses all of the letters of the alphabet to begin each line of the poem.
If you click on the link to Susan's blog, you will see several poems of some very gifted writers there. You might want to try this yourself. It has been a fun form to try.

DISCOVERY
Almost always
before the sun 
comes up, I have a sense of wonder, of
discovery,
eager to see what the 
future of this day holds for me. I
gently disturb the quiet of the
house with candlelight and music,
inviting
joy and contentment into my heart.
Keeping steady my promise of
living fully each moment, and giving gratitude for 
my gifts. I find myself
nestled in 
opulent
pleasures as I keep my
quiet traditions of whispered prayers and written words,
rituals of the morning that
set the 
tone for my day.
Unbelievable blessings encourage me to keep my 
vow of discovery, staying busy as I 
wait for
you, Sweet Man to return to me, as the sun sets on this glorious day.

Monday, January 12, 2015

"Well Done, You"

"Well done, you," came the text from my husband. No, I hadn't broken some  world record or anything. I'd simply found my way to downtown Saint Charles, Illinois from our house on my first solo walk this morning. I was pretty proud myself. My goal was to be able to find Town House Books because I'm meeting a local writing friend there Thursday, weather permitting, and I wanted to make sure I could get there.
I love the line: "ILLINOIS. MILE AFTER MAGNIFICENT MILE."

My eyes had all but glazed over every time Chuck explained the "lay of the land," as my dad would say, whenever we ventured out in our car. He had told me something about a route number such and such, and another numbered road, and he told me all of the roads on the east side of town are called roads and all of the ones on the west side are named avenues (or was it the other way around?). He even drew me a simplified map on a legal pad to show all of the main roads I would need to get around the area. My brain can only hold so much data, and until I absolutely needed to know these things, I planned to postpone trying to store any new info for as long as possible. 

I know he worried I would never find my way around if I didn't pay attention, but as long as I had him as a chauffeur, I knew I could just enjoy the ride, and blissfully tune out all of his chatter about directions. Whenever he started trying to orient me to where we were, I honestly felt like I was listening to Charlie Brown's teacher.
"Wa-wa-wa. Wa-wa-wa-wa-wa."

"Yes, ma'am?" I mean, SIR!

I was finally ready to venture out on my own today, without my constant companion, who is kind of busy earning a living.
My first two weeks here we were like Siamese twins, never doing anything without the other during the week of the wedding and the honeymoon. The sub-zero temperatures last week kept us walking at the mall when Chuck finally arrived home from work after his long commute, or we simply stayed indoors, avoiding the weather altogether, so I didn't have to worry about finding my way around anywhere but our house. I was doing well to remember that the glasses are in the cabinet to the LEFT of the sink, and the plates to the RIGHT, for now.

About an hour after Chuck left for work this morning, I began the process of bundling up in layers of clothing to brave the 16 degree day. I headed out the door, and across the rotary park, lumbering through the ankle-deep snow.

Overhead, Canadian geese were flying across the rotary park behind our home. There were cardinals flitting about in the thicket of bare limbs. I'm going to need a better camera than my cellphone to capture any good shots of them. They don't sit still long, and didn't appreciate my presence as I tried to get closer for a better picture. I love knowing they are so close to home, and will venture out later with my camera and a long lens.

Peering inside shop windows, and taking pictures along the way kept me entertained. After awhile, my nose began to run, and I wished I'd thought to bring Kleenex. And my lip balm. And easier gloves to take on and off. And thicker socks. And one more layer of clothing. I was making mental notes right and left, not sure I'd recall anything by the time I returned home.

As it turns out, I was glad Chuck had taken me on several walks, reviewing with me names of streets, and making me tell him which way we needed to go as we walked. It made it much easier today to find my way into town, and when I recognized the library, I was hopeful they would be open so I could run in to blow my nose. No such luck; when I walked up to the doors to read the hours of business right around 8 o'clock, I discovered they would be opening at 9. Sniffling along, I continued downtown.

When I found the book store, I let Chuck know by sending him a text. "Well done, you," was my reward. It made me smile. He is so glad I'm adventurous, and willing to get outside of my comfort zone.


I am adventurous. Three and a half months ago, I had never heard of Saint Charles or Chuck Bennorth. I was teaching second grade in rural Utah, entertaining thoughts of retiring in Saint GEORGE, Utah one day where it's sunny and warm nearly all of the time, not Saint CHARLES, Illinois, where it's humid and cold. Ah, but one thing we can count on is change. 

After exchanging a few comments with each other on Facebook, Chuck and I struck up an immediate friendship, and now here we are, married, and I'm the newest resident of Saint Charles, where I find myself retired, and adjusting to my new town. 

On my way back home, I exchanged greetings with the school crossing guard. She commented that I had gotten my morning walk in early. 

"I'm new here; I'm busy exploring the town," I told her. 

"Well, welcome. I hope you like it here."

I already do. 

I didn't set any records for time; I was gone a little more than an hour and walked less that two miles, but I learned that trudging through snow-covered parks, and over unshoveled sidewalks provides a good workout; it was like walking on a sandy beach. Well, except for the elements of cold and snow.

It was with a mini-sigh of relief that I saw the snow-covered sign to the rotary park that let me know I was almost home. I sent Chuck another pic to let him know I'd found my way back to our neighborhood. 

"Well done, you, again," was my reward. He's proud of his country mouse for adjusting to life with her city mouse. Yep, well done, me. I'm proud, too. And just really, really happy.




Friday, January 9, 2015

Nothing Like a Snow Day

It was another cold winter's day, but the snow that was swirling outside our bedroom window when we went to bed had stopped sometime in the night. The snowplow had already circled our cul de sac, and we began our morning routine, both of us downstairs by 5:15 so we could enjoy the peace and quiet together before my husband left for work at 5:55. After breakfast and some conversation on the couch, Chuck headed out into the bitter cold weather for another day at work.

While I was talking to my stepmom on the phone, call waiting alerted me that Chuck was on the other line. I switched over to him, explaining quickly I was talking to Jackie, and that I would call him right back. I could hear the smile in his voice as he said okay, and I went back to chatting happily on the phone. As soon as we hung up, I tried calling my husband. 

"Hel-lo," I heard his cheery voice, but it didn't sound right. His voice wasn't on my phone, it was right there in the house! His phone recorded my squeals of delight on his voice mail as I welcomed him home with hugs and kisses. FINALLY. I was going to get to have a snow day with Chuck! I'd only been wishing for this day ever since he went back to work after the holidays every day this week. 

People have thought me foolish for wishing for winter weather in Illinois, but I have been hoping for a snow day ever since I found out that Chuck can work from home when "the weather outside is frightful." Chicagoland can get some serious winter weather conditions. This week windchill has seen to it that the temps are less than twenty below zero (Fahrenheit).  But if you were a newlywed with a super terrific husband who can work at home when the conditions are right, wouldn't you wish for snow days, too?

My SPECIFIC wish was for Chuck to be able to work from home on a snow day. I hadn't counted on his having to drive through the ice and slush each day anyway, sometimes spending two and a half hours in the car during his commute home because of the road conditions. 

This morning he turned around, and came back home when it looked like another dreadful ride to work on icy roads. I am one ecstatic wife! YAY! He's home! He's home! My wish came true.

Some of my favorite childhood memories started on days the eight of us kids gathered around the breakfast bar, listening to the radio for the much-awaited announcement of school closings whenever it snowed. In Virginia, the slightest skiff in the valleys can mean a heavy snowfall in the mountains. 

Later when I had moved to Utah, Daddy loved telling me stories about my little sister who is a kindergarten teacher back home, and who loves school days even more now that she is a teacher. "God bless the mountain children," Daddy would always say. It makes me smile to recall hearing his voice say that with so much reverence, and a twinkle in his eye. 


In all of my 30 1/2 years as a school teacher in the state of Utah, I only had ONE LOUSY SNOW DAY. School was always in session, whether there were three inches or twelve inches of the white stuff on the ground, except for one day. 

That was the day that the snow was coming down dangerously fast, and our superintendent called for a snow day, that afternoon, for the next day. We drove home that afternoon in white-out conditions, but as I recall, the snow stopped that night.

The next morning, rain began to fall that melted the snow, and by the time anyone could have gotten out to make a snowman or go sledding, the snow was all but gone. It was the most disappointing snow day of my entire life.

So now, once again, I find myself hoping against hope for snow days in Illinois. I watch the winter sky, eagerly hoping for flakes that will turn into a snowfall that will keep my husband home from work. I need to be careful what I wish for though because I don't want him to have to drive in it, I just want him to be able to work from home.

Be careful what you wish for, indeed, but sometimes, like today, wishes come true, and I couldn't be happier. There's just nothing like a snow day.