Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sworn to Secrecy

Dylan, my firstborn, has the heart of an adventurer, and it is because of him that I have seen some of the most amazing spots in southern Utah. With Dylan, I have hiked through waist-deep streams, forded creeks of icy-cold spring run-off, walked barefoot across red sand deserts, seen amazing slot canyons, and slid down long rock faces. 

Recently, as we bumped along a rough side road in southern Utah, Dylan told us about a hidden slot canyon.

"You have to find it; I LOVE slot canyons," I reminded him. "Take us there!"

"On one condition...you can't tell anyone about it." His eyes fixed on mine in his rear view mirror.

My face fell. My boy knows how much I love posting pics and stories on my blog and Facebook page. 

We came to an agreement, of sorts. I could only post pictures with his approval. No identifying landmarks could be in the photos, and I could only write about our experiences, not the location. Dylan is very protective of his favorite places. I was sworn to secrecy.

If you've been reading my blog lately, you probably realize that even if I could remember the name of this place, I wouldn't be able to tell you how to get to it if my life depended on it. So, his secret is safe with me, if you know what I mean.

Considering Randomocity has a pretty small fan base, I am touched by Dylan's concern about secrecy. I'm pretty sure my regular readers aren't going to try to storm the place, but we can never be too certain. Not that Yuriko in Japan, or Dawn in Belize, is going to tell all their friends, and the place would be overrun by foreign tourists, but you just never know. Even if all twelve of my American followers showed up on the same day, I doubt it would affect Dylan or his cave.

We continued on the road surrounded by red rock mountains out in the middle of nowhere. (How am I doing, Dyl? Vague enough for ya?) Suffice it to say that we were on the fringes of civilization, and I was most grateful for the occasional outhouse located at various trail heads.

Dylan had heard about a very narrow crevice that opens up into a large cave with an amazing skylight that allows the sun to warm the rock surfaces within it. 

After Dylan spotted the landmark he was looking for, we parked the truck, and did a little hiking. It was a glorious blue sky day on the desert, and there were big, puffy clouds overhead. The temperatures were comfortable as we shuffled through the sand.

I just barely fit.
Dylan and Bridger tried a couple of narrow slots in the rock mountain that were dead ends. And then...we found it. I was worried I wouldn't be able to fit through the opening, not being quite as trim as my boys and husband, but by holding my camera above my head, I was able to shimmy through the slot.

After we slipped between the rock walls, we walked out into a cavernous room. I was in awe of this hidden cave that was full of light from the opening overhead. It was easy to imagine Native Americans long ago seeking shelter here, and being so pleased to discover this natural sanctuary sheltering them from the elements.

The boys scrambled up and down the steep floor of the cave while Chuck and I took pictures. They squeezed into narrow slots that led nowhere, and explored the nooks and crannies inside this gorgeous hideaway.

"How am I going to get down from here?" Dylan asked.

"Jump! I'll catch you," said the little brother.

Exploring the secret cave was the highlight of another outdoor adventure with some of my favorite folks. It won't do to ask me for directions. I seriously have no clue how we got here, and even if I knew, if I told you where this is, Dylan probably wouldn't take me on any more adventures, and that just wouldn't do at all.

It was hard to believe that narrow slot opened up into this large room.

Flashlights cast a creepy glow on my usually handsome son.

Thinking of this face reminds me how serious he can be
about "his" spots. Your secret is safe with me, Dyls.

Monday, April 27, 2015

A First Date that Lasts Forever

Twenty-five years is a long time to do anything, especially when that thing involves being married.  Just look around. Statistically, not many of us are making it to that silver wedding anniversary. 

Eric and Cristina did it. My brother and sister-in-law not only celebrated their first 25 years together this month, but they have made it look so easy. 

Eric laughed about my "make it look so easy" comment.

"Take today, for example," he told those of us in attendance at their anniversary dinner. "When Cristina saw what I was wearing, a button-up shirt and jeans, she asked if I were going to change into slacks before our open house. I told her I was going to wear what I had on. She just looked at me, and I said, 'Oh, wait! That wasn't a question. Yes, I will be wearing slacks.' See? That's why it looks so easy."

Eric missed his calling as a stand-up comedian, and seems energized whenever he gets a chance to speak to a crowd. All eyes were on him, and we listened to every word as he talked to us after the dinner for the family.

"Cristina and her family planned every little detail for this party, and I showed up, just like our wedding 25 years ago. It's very easy that way." 

"I have a surprise for Cristina, and she doesn't know anything about this. Come up here, mi amor." Cristina's eyes went wide, and a smile spread across her face, as Eric unwrapped a white shadowbox. 

Inside the box, he explained were mementos to commemorate things he couldn't have done without Cristina: nine years in the National Guard and his degree from the University of Utah. There were pictures of their children, a large souvenir button from Disneyland, and pictures from beach vacations. And the bottom was filled with debris; broken tiles from a demolition site. He had some explaining to do.

Cristina had found the pile of terracotta shards months before their anniversary and told Eric he needed to throw them out. "No, I'm saving that for something I'm making," he told her. 
Tonight she would understand why he had saved a bunch of broken tiles. 

For their first date two and a half decades ago, Eric had invited Cristina out to dinner at Pizza Hut. Twenty-three years later, when he found out the Pizza Hut was going to be torn down, he stopped at the job site, and gathered up some of the broken bits of tile from the demolition site. A plan was forming in his mind, and he wanted to incorporate the historic debris from Pizza Hut into a gift for his wife.

To the back of the shadow box, he pinned photographs of their wedding day and their children, his Guard pin, a Ute emblem, and Disneyland mementos. And scattered in the bottom of the frame were fragments of the building where they first met. He came up with a slogan, and he said if it goes viral, he would appreciate the credit and any royalties for his original quote that he had etched into the glass: "ETERNITY: A first date that lasts forever."

There were not many dry eyes as he told Cristina he looked forward to the next twenty-five years. If anyone can do it, it is these two. They do everything with a good sense of humor, plenty of patience, and a whole lot of love. Anyone who is married knows it takes a lot of work and commitment to make things work, but these two really do make it look easy.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Do All Roads Lead Home? Let's Test That!

"It will be your most amazing day ever!" 

So said my husband's early morning text. I was pretty sure that wasn't going to happen if I remained on the couch, lost in the time suck that is Facebook. 

What to do? What to do?

I knew I was going to have to get dressed, and get moving for this amazingness to take place. By eight o'clock, I was not only dressed, but had even managed to paint my nails. I laced up my tangerine walking shoes, and filled my backpack with the necessities I thought I'd need. I was determined to have an adventure: an OUTOOR experience on this fine, spring day.

Into my backpack I added my water bottle, camera, journal, iPad, and just in case, my wallet. I set off for the river, which is only a mile and a half from home. I figured I'd walk into Saint Charles and do a little exploring. By the time I returned home, I hoped I'd have a three mile walk under my belt. 
Fox River, Saint Charles
I was entertained by the sign at the river bridge. Who knew Mother Goose's feathers get ruffled this time of year?

After a quick pit stop at the municipal building, I was drawn to the Arcedium Coffeehouse. I ordered a large cup of coffee, and was happy to discover that since I would be staying, I would be given a large mug for the price of a medium, with free refills. Once I obtained WiFi access for my iPad, I was set for my two favorite guilty pleasures: hot coffee and Facebook. 

The time there passed quickly, texting and playing Words with Friends with Chuck, and "eavesdropping" on the conversation behind me. Is it eavesdropping if the speaker has a loud, booming voice that could be heard by everyone on our side of the coffeeshop? I was irritated by the older man's big voice, until I noticed his storytelling rhythm was similar to Daddy's, then I settled in, and let his words have their way with my ears.                                                                                                                           
"Denise, I want to tell you something," I heard my father say, as the gentleman told his friend, "I've got a story to tell you." Yes, as soon as I recognized his conversational resemblance to Daddy, the obnoxiously loud man was promoted to a "gentleman." 

As he talked, there were long, pregnant pauses, as he let his points sink in to his associate, and I could imagine him batting his eyes open and closed, quickly, several times in a row, just as Daddy would do while he was making sure he had his listener's full, undivided attention.

When I went back to the counter for my free refill, the loud gentleman ended up behind me in line. 

"Dirty Chai?" I heard him say to no one in particular. "What in the HELL is a Dirty Chai?" I knew, but I wasn't in the mood to engage in conversation. 

When it was his turn, he asked the barista about the drink. He ordered his own refill, and joined me in front of the cream and sweeteners. "It's the espresso that makes it a Dirty Chai; go figure!" he said, again quite loudly. I smiled politely and nodded, and headed back to my leather chair. 

What would I do next? Since I would have about three miles in by returning home, I decided to wind up my adventure by heading that way now. 

Not so long ago, when I was Saint Charles' newest resident, I remember my eyes glazing over as my husband Chuck tried to explain THE LAY OF THE LAND to me. Today I would come to wish I had paid better attention to some of the things he had tried to teach me.

I walked down Main Street, and was feeling quite confident when I saw the sign for 9th Street. Yay! That was familiar. Or so I thought. I strode past, thinking I'd just take 12th Street and head over to Adams Avenue. 

Okay, boys and girls. Can you tell me the difference between a street and an avenue? This is the little detail that I had ignored before when Chuck's voice sounded like Charlie Brown's teacher to me. "Wa-wa-wa. Wa-wa-wa-wa-wa." I didn't think too much about it, until I came to a peculiar little overpass through which I would be passing to enter a very industrial-looking area.

To be honest, I still don't know the difference between a street and an avenue, but I do know this. I live on a road with AVENUE in its name. Apparently, on the east side of the river, in "our neck of the woods," all of the roads are named AVENUES, so my first clue that something was wrong SHOULD have been when I saw 9th STREET. I was on the WEST side of the river. (A-hem. Sorry for not paying attention to my geography lesson, Honey.)

I went merrily on my way, still in my "adventure" state-of-mind, oblivious to the fact that I was walking farther and farther from home, and deeper and deeper into the industrial district of Saint Charles. 

By the way, if you have need of a new deck on your house, I can tell you where Mike's Decks is. Or perhaps you have a child interested in gymnastics? There is a very large building that houses the Saint Charles Gymnastics Academy, alongside many other warehouse types of structures along the Foundry Road. 

Eventually common sense kicked in, and even though my phone was losing its battery charge quickly, I decided I'd better turn on my GPS, and get some assistance. Hmm...how about that? Somehow I was now over three miles from home. How did THAT happen? And I was being told to retrace the last couple of miles I'd just walked. Ugh. 

Oh, well, it was an adventure I wanted; it's an adventure I received. Chuck called during his lunch hour during my walkabout. 

"Where ARE you? That picture you sent of the bridge is nothing I've ever seen in the decades I've lived in Saint Charles." I explained my predicament, and apologized for not paying better attention when he had tried to explain the set up of the city. We had a good laugh as I headed back into town. 

I told Chuck I have a bit of my mother in me, apparently. Mom has a heck of a time with directions, but unlike Mom, it doesn't really faze me to not know where I am. I figure all roads lead home, eventually, right? 

Lucky for me, I discovered that Forever Yogurt was proudly displaying its NOW OPEN banner. LUNCH! My wallet came in handy for that little stop. There were so many yummy choices to choose from that I had to go with my top three flavors: Red Velvet, Coconut, and Peanut Butter Cup. The adventure has taken a sweet turn, thankfully. I headed up the hill to the library, where I took a well-deserved break from walking for a few minutes, before trudging the last mile home. 

What started out as a three-mile goal turned into a 6.2 mile adventure. Before too long, I could see our house in the distance, and I was very thankful to see it. Apparently, you CAN get here from there, even if I was beginning to have my doubts. Yes, all roads lead home, but it's a lot quicker trip when you're headed in the right direction from the start.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Celebrate National Library Week, April 12-17 2015

Nearly every week, my husband goes to the library and brings home an armful of books, CDs, and DVDs. No wonder we're never at a shortage for topics of conversation. The man reads everything he can get his hands on. We have books all over the house. There are books on his iPad, magazines and his Bible on the sofa table. He loves reading articles on the internet. He even has a toothbrushing book. Some people hum the Happy Birthday song while they brush; Chuck reads books. 
The toothbrushing tome.

While in the process of getting my name changed, I have been using Chuck's library card. Now that I have jumped through the toughest hoop, getting an Illinois driver's license (that is its own story), I figured I was ready to get a library card of my own. How serendipitous that the day I obtained my card was during the kickoff of National Library Week!

How are YOU celebrating National Library Week? 

Since I was going to the library anyway, I offered to return Chuck's various media. He had a couple of photography books on portraits, a colossal collection of poetry, a creating poetry book, several books on audio CDs, and some music CDs. By the time I loaded up my backpack, I suspected my back was going to be in trouble.

I texted Chuck:

"You're going to have to start using my junior high book criteria: nothing over a half-inch thick...lol...if I'm going to have to tote them back to the library for you."

"I can renew it from here. you don't have to carry it anywhere."

"Oh? Wonderful! That backpack weighs a ton. Well, okay, not QUITE..."

"You ALWAYS exaggerate."

Once I removed the colossal collection of poetry, I think the backpack weighed in at just under 2,000 pounds, but it was close; I swear. With great effort, I hoisted the pack over my shoulder, and headed to the library. This girl loves having a car now!

As soon as I procured a library card of my own, I skedaddled over to the reference desk, and asked for instructions to download books to my iPad. A wonderfully patient librarian walked me through the entire process. Not one too secure in my newfound knowledge, I stationed myself in a comfy chair within sight of the reference desk, and kept at my task until I had successfully downloaded my very first ebook! 

Nearly every Friday, I spend the afternoon at the public library in Deerfield, when I accompany Chuck on his commute to and from work. Libraries are not what they used to be. There are cell phone use areas, quiet rooms (Just don't try to take a nap in one. Librarians can get pretty snippy with nappers.), vending machines, laptop areas, oodles of movies, computers, and now, so many titles are available online. 

If you haven't been to the library lately, check one out! 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Hike with Me; I'll Haiku with You

My haiku poets and hiking partners, Bridger and Chuck

During spring break, my husband introduced my youngest and me to the Grand Canyon.

"Grand Canyon, Denise and Bridger. Denise and Bridger, Grand Canyon."

"How do you do?" Yes, it went much like that, but before we got there, Chuck suggested we play our Haiku game with Bridger. Now, it's not exactly a game, per se, as much as it is a poetry challenge when we are in the car. 

The Haiku game began last October, when Chuck and I first met, and were passing the time during our vacation to the Great Smoky Mountains. We are both word nerds, and love to play with words. 

At the end of our first week together, Chuck asked me to marry him, using the haiku's elements of three lines; five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third. (I wrote about that in I Fell in Love with His Words.)

Generally, we assign a topic, and each person works on their three lines, and then we share. There is a lot of whispering and tapping of fingers as we count our syllables while we figure out our submissions. The driver is at a definite disadvantage, so I usually have him dictate his poem to me, and I type it into my phone. There are no prizes or winners, just mutual admiration and "oohs" and "ahs" from the other participants. 

We left our home in south-central Utah early, and Chuck and I stopped in Piute County to snap some pictures of the frosty art created by the irrigation wheel lines in a pasture. The sight had inspired us, and we worked on some haiku while Bridger slept.
Photo courtesy of Chuck Bennorth (Thank you, Sweetheart.)

Cold desert morning,
diamonds made of frozen spray;
jewels in the sun. 

Sparkling in the sun,
icy barbed wire in the field;
farmland's dazzling gems.

When he woke up, we shared our haikus with him, and asked if he'd be game to try some with us. Lucky for us, Bridger is into words, too, so he was a natural at the haiku format.

Our first group assignment was to write about the small fissures in the northern desert of Arizona as we approached Grand Canyon National Park. They were like miniature versions of the Grand, harbingers of the greatness to come. Here are some of our attempts at haiku.

Flat, barren landscape
devoid to the unkeen eye.
Treasures lie in wait.

Crevices open;
its destination unknown.
Pathways in the hills.

Winds and rains erode
revealing small, raw canyons,
like the Grand began.

Photo Courtesy of Random Tourist Using Denise's Camera

Of course, we had to take a stab at writing haiku odes to the Granddaddy of the Canyons...

Cloudless skies above.
Warm winds uproot tumbleweeds.
The Grand lies beyond.

Photo Courtesy of Chuck Bennorth

Scars; deep, jagged, rough.
A reminder of the past.
'Tis the Grand Canyon.

Awesome chasm hidden,
appearing at your feet.
Quiet, breath-taking splendor.

Photo Courtesy of Chuck Bennorth

Our road trip was full of pleasant conversation, endless snacking, and easy laughter. Bridger and Chuck kept us laughing with their witty banter. This last haiku offered by Bridger sums up the feeling of fun that surrounded us during our spring break at the Grand Canyon:

Haikus are 5-7-5
most of the time.
This one is not.

I love road tripping with you guys!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Photographers Make a Deal

As our car sped along highway 89A in northern Arizona, I couldn't help but notice the cheerful orange flowers along the edge of the road. My husband had gotten me an 18-250mm lens for my camera, and I had been having a blast trying it out. 

The bright orange Desert Globemallow had caught my eye on our way to the Grand Canyon, and now that we were heading back to Utah, and were in no particular hurry, I asked Bridger to pull over so I could take a picture. My husband and son waited in the car while I walked along the asphalt to find the perfect vantage point. 
Desert Globemallow, Arizona desert, Highway 89A
There was a gorgeous red rock mountain in the distance that made a nice backdrop for the orange blossoms, and I sat down on the deserted desert highway and lay back to take a couple of pictures.

"Honey!" I don't hear very well, but I could tell my husband was talking to me, and his voice was coming closer.

"Honey! Get. Out. Of. The. Road." Uh-oh. I recognized the tone. This was his "You can't be serious" voice. Or was it his "Don't be ridiculous" voice? He would tell you it was his "I love you more than life itself; don't die a foolish death" voice.

I looked up at his quickly approaching silhouette, and snapped one more shot before pushing myself up. By then, he was offering his hand to me, and a very disappointed look. 

I didn't see any harm in lying close to the edge of the road, when there was so little traffic. At the moment that we were all settled back in the safety of my Sonata, a car blew past us, jostling the frame of our car, punctuating our conversation with an exclamation point.

"See what I mean?" The voice came from the front seat, as my husband turned to look at me, his eyes wide, pleading with me to be reasonable. My reassurances that I would have heard approaching traffic fell on deaf ears, given my own shortcomings in the hearing department.
Totally worth it, don't you think?

Later that night, after a wonderful dinner out with Dylan and Jamie, our married kids in Saint George, Jamie and I were up for some yogurt. The guys all professed to be too full since we'd just eaten, but Jamie and I agree that there is always room for frozen yogurt; it's like Jello pudding! 

I began to tease Chuck about trying something new. "You liked blueberry yogurt in your cottage cheese," I reminded him. 

"My quota for trying new things for this year has been met," he said. "I might have an opening for something new in February of next year."

After some cajoling, he seemed to soften, and then the lights went on. "I tell you what," he said, "I'll try frozen yogurt, if you agree to no more photography from the middle of highways."

"But I've gotten some great shots from the road!" I began to protest. I decided to be reasonable, so we made a deal. I would agree to only take pictures on roadways if he is there to stand guard, and he, MY FINICKY EATER, would try frozen yogurt. DEAL.

True to his word, he gave the creamy dessert a whirl. He tried a couple of flavors, and selected vanilla fro-yo with sprinkles, which may seem like a very tame attempt, but I assure you, this was a huge leap of faith on his part.

"Hey, if you like that, you should try this cheese cake flavor!" I said, as we walked out of Menchies with our cups of yogurt. His eyes went into squint mode, and he said, "Don't push it," so I didn't. I'll save that for another day when he wants to make a deal. We're getting pretty good at this give-and-take thing, and I might need something to barter in the future.