Sunday, July 31, 2016

100,000? Amazeballs.

Big time bloggers may not have even blinked as their blog statistics showed their numbers growing, and their number of followers increasing. Maybe they were on a trajectory that was skyrocketing them toward fame and fortune that few ever realize, and it just wasn't important to them. Maybe numbers aren't a big deal. 

And yet. This small time blogger can't help but feel excited that so many of you have taken the time to read Randomocity, and let me know through your comments on my blog, or by liking or commenting on Facebook, that something I wrote resonated with you. 

When Chuck and I went to a writers' group meeting here in Saint Charles, the writers took turns reporting their progress on current projects. I recall hearing one of the women tell us that her blog had just had its 100,000th hit. I was amazed, and very happy for her. That seemed like a far-off fantasy for me, and I wondered how I could make that happen. 

Well, here we are, a year and a half since I started dreaming about having 100,000 hits of my own. My dream is finally coming true. 

Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for caring enough about me, and what I have to say, to stop by for a read from time to time. Meeting some of you in person, or reading your comments, and learning that something I said made a difference to you, or made you smile, means so much to me. I couldn't do this without you. Well, I suppose I could, but it just wouldn't make me feel this happy. 

There are a few people without whom this blog would not be nearly as interesting. My husband and our kids give me so much great material. Without their antics and quotes, and the supporting photographs of them, Randomocity would not be as fun to write or read. And without their permission, I would not be able to publish the stories. They are my best proofreaders, too. Thanks, you guys for supporting me, and allowing me to share our lives here.  Our extended family has been so supportive, and I thank you all, too.

And if you are reading this, a big THANK YOU to you! You have helped my dream come true. I guess it's time for me to start thinking of a bigger dream!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Mulled Cider in July?

Thunder was rattling the windows while a storm raged outside. I went upstairs to draw a bath. The bathroom was dark, and I decided rather than flip the switch, I would light a candle. 

In my bedroom, I have a variety of candles, and at first, I grabbed the largest, but then I spied the squatty orange one. Mulled Cider? At the end of July? Why not? What's stopping me?

As I took my bath, the small room filled with the heady aroma of autumn; sweet cinnamon and crisp apples. It was heavenly. 

I blame Susy. She and I had chatted back and forth today about the splendors of autumn. Susie celebrates her birthday in the fall, and her new granddaughter will be born then, and she apparently has a thing for candy corn. We have lots of birthdays in the fall, too; Chuck's, two of the kids, and mine, just in our nuclear family. I could go on and on about the joys of fall. 

The cooler weather means sweaters and hoodies. No longer do we have to talk about getting in better shape for summer. We can put that all behind us as we pull nice thick soft shirts over our heads, and just feel good about enjoying ourselves in layers of clothes. There's fall leaves, and caramel apples, and pumpkin patches. School supplies go on sale in preparation for this wondrous season. What's not to love?

Is it too early? Not at our house. Just today Chuck heard one of my playlists on Spotify playing Christmas music. He asked if I'd like to put the tree up soon since we do it so early anyway. I think I'll wait on Christmas just a while longer. We'll enjoy this summer warming up to the idea of autumn with some yummy smelling candles. That's all for now. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Unknotting My Knickers

So someone took offense yesterday at my calling myself a rennie, and my defining a rennie as someone who loves to go to Renaissance faires. My blog wasn't intended to be controversial, and if you know me at all, I avoid confrontation, almost to the extreme. And I've stewed and thought, and thought and stewed about the comment ever since. I must admit I was beginning to get my knickers in a knot.

First of all, I apologize if any of you found my terminology or definition offensive. My main point was to thank the wonderful shopkeeper and owner for their personalized service, and to show my friends my new ren faire garb. I was celebrating, and having fun. That's all.

In this day and age, when people self-identify with the gender of their choice, and can use whichever bathroom in which they feel most comfortable, I figure I am within my rights to identify myself however I want, even to go so far as to use the term rennie; no offense.

Most people didn't give it a second thought, and if they did, they didn't take the time to take me to task in public. I wasn't looking for anyone's approval or permission; I was simply recounting the events of my day, and having fun with my blog, counting myself among our friends at Bristol.

Perhaps I have a habit of calling myself things I'm trying to grow into. I call myself a photographer. My husband has been shooting for 15 years; I've been actively shooting for about five. For some reason, he is okay with my being a self-proclaimed photographer. I say that I'm a drummer, too, and we all know that's a stretch, but there are few who would call me out on it, or tell me I have not earned the right to call myself one. 

I'm so done with labels, and people telling others who they can or can't be, what they can or can't do, and what they can or can't say. I allowed others to do my thinking for me for far too long when I was younger. I put up with others dictating my mood and feelings longer than I should. I've paid my dues as a human, and I get to say what I want, write what I want, and do what I want, as long as I'm not hurting anyone else.

People are entitled to label themselves, if they like, but please don't tell me how I have to label myself. As far as I know, we're not competing for who is rennie-er than whom, or who has been taking pictures the longest, or who drums best.  I love doing what I do, and I just have fun writing about those experiences. 

I can be anything I want to be. My mama said so. If I want to call myself a rennie, I can do that. And if I want to be offended by someone's comments, I can do that, too, but you know what? I've decided I need to let it go. I'm going to unknot my knickers. In some elite circles, apparently, rennie is a name only granted when one has paid one's dues. I will respect that; that's admirable. 

In my own circle, we, who some might deem unfit to be called rennies, can call ourselves whatever we want, so, rennie it is.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Wouldn't You Like to Be a Rennie, Too?

Are you a rennie? A rennie is a person who loves Renaissance Festivals, and goes to ren faires. As often as possible. In costume or not. Paying patron or paid employee. Re-enactor or performer. My own definition is someone who loves being in the world inside the renaissance faire, and suffers withdrawals when the season ends, or on days missed during the season.

Season Passes!

Last summer, Chuck had season tickets, and I went every weekend I wasn't in Utah with my kids. THIS year, we both bought season passes. We really like going to the Bristol Renaissance Faire. And we both kind of pout when we have other obligations that prevent us from attending.

A couple of weekends into my second season at Bristol this summer, someone made a comment about rennies. "Can photographers be rennies?" I asked out loud.

Photo Credit: Brian Schultz

"Oh, yes. You're a rennie," one of my favorite re-enactors assured me. 

If that's the case, Chuck has been a rennie for nearly ever. He even went when his boys were small. I am fairly new to all of this, and went to my first faire in Saint Louis. I've gone to the one in Utah, and Chuck has taken me to the faire in Michigan, and the one closest to us in Illinois, which is in Bristol, Wisconsin. 

Yesterday, I took a very big step. Chuck took me shopping at Alter Egos, a clothing store at the Bristol Ren Faire where the beautiful costumes are made by the shop owner Susan Blanchard. 
Susan Blanchard of Alter Egos

From the moment we walked in, we were taken care of by Susan's assistant Michelle, who answered our questions regarding fabrics and breathability, which are important factors to know about on these hot, humid summer days in the midwest. Michelle helped me find what I was looking for, and I love my new costume.

There's no question about it; if I wasn't already a rennie, I'm on my way to becoming one. 


If you know anything about Chuck and me, we always wear matching shirts when we go to Bristol. So we all know what that means, right? We'll be shopping for an outfit for my husband any day now. Get ready, Alter Egos. We'll be back.

And now, your ear worm for the day. You may ignore the following, if you prefer your brain to be free of an endless loop of a silly ditty set to music. You've been warned.


My ren faire version of Be a Pepper.

(Sung to the tune of the Dr. Pepper commercial)

I go to the ren faire and I'm proud.
I used to be alone in a crowd,
but now you look around these days,
and it seems there's a ren faire craze.

I'm a rennie, he's a rennie, she's a rennie, we're a rennie.
Wouldn't you like to be a rennie, too?

I'm a rennie, he's a rennie, she's a rennie, we're a rennie.
If you go to ren faires, you're a rennie, too.

Us rennies are an interesting breed.
The Bristol Ren Faire's what we need.
Ask any rennie, and they'll say, "Bristol Ren Faire is the place."

I'm a rennie, he's a rennie, she's a rennie, we're a rennie.
Wouldn't you like to be a rennie, too?

Be a rennie; go to the ren faire. (Repeat ad nauseum.)

Friday, July 22, 2016

Feeling Beautiful Is More Important than Being Beautful

Photo Credit: Chuck Bennorth

is more important 
than being beautiful. 

It's not how you see me; 
it's how I feel
about who I am. 

It's not about good hair days 
and flawless makeup. 

It's not about an elusive number
on the scale or skinny jeans.

Photo Credit: Chuck Bennorth

Feeling beautiful 
goes deeper than that. 

Photo Credit: Chuck Bennorth

It's believing in myself. 
It's facing my fears, 
and acting brave,
even when I'm afraid. 

Photo Credit: Chuck Bennorth

It's working up a sweat, 
and feeling stronger every day.

Photo Credit: One of my kids
It's living my life wholeheartedly. 
It's being loved, and giving love.

I have never known so much joy, and so much love, as I have since meeting Chuck.
Photo Credit: Dylan Waters

I may not always LOOK beautiful, 
but at this time in my life, 
I finally feel beautiful. 

Even better.

These are my gifts from God. Being a mother isn't a glamorous job, but it is a labor of love that brings so much joy to life.
Photo Credit: Chuck Bennorth

Take a listen. I hope this makes you feel beautiful.
This is the song my last class of fifth graders
sang to me on the phone, and whenever
I visited them at the middle school.

Thank you for making me feel beautiful.

P.S. This started out as a silly Facebook challenge. If someone challenges you to find five pictures that make you feel beautiful, even if you don't do the challenge, I hope you'll think about what it is that makes you feel that way. 

When I finally did the challenge, I was surprised at the pictures I chose. They weren't the ones with perfect hair and makeup, or when I was at my goal weight. They were the ones when I was relaxed, working up a sweat, laughing out loud, with my husband or our kids, doing things I love: photography and hiking. The times I feel the most beautiful are when I am happy. So if it makes you feel more comfortable to find pictures of yourself when you feel HAPPY, instead of BEAUTIFUL, use those. My guess is your happy pictures are your most beautiful ones, too. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Big Finish

I don't ALWAYS dress like this to drum. Let's face it, a hoody is too hot for serious drumming.

"You're a drummer? You?" I know what you're thinking. Women my age don't start playing the drums at my age. Well, that's what people said when I took downhill skiing lessons at 47, too. What can I say? I'm a late bloomer.

Chuck and I both secretly shared a dream of playing the drums, but didn't realize we were both serious about it until we came across an inexpensive kit at a yard sale. We were like two little kids. Chuck was surprised I didn't want him to move the drums to the basement after we'd had them a week or two. 

"MOVE THEM? Why would we move them? I don't want to play in the basement, do you?" Yeah, that's how I feel about our drums.

My Mother's Day card from Dylan and Jamie made me so happy. My kids have been surprised at our interest in drumming, but surprisingly supportive.

Do the drums get played? Well, yes, they do.

April 26, 2016. The day of the yard sale purchase. Chuck gives CJ a chance to play.

Chuck and I often take turns after dinner. Chuck plays much more naturally than I. I don't want to mess up; he just has fun. We introduced our little grandson to them, and I let Violet use them when she comes to play. And Bridger showed us a few things when he came to visit.

"Tuning your drums certainly couldn't hurt," I think was how Bridger put it, after he played them. My drums and I can use all the help we can get, so we went in search of a drum key at the local music stores.

After Chuck's initial $15 purchase of the drums, and my buying a drum key for $7, we have now invested $22 in my current pastime. Not bad, as far as hobby expenses go. Much cheaper than photography, for sure, but a lot louder. 


When we got home, Bridger set to work at moving the drum kit to a more prominent place in the family room, and then he tuned the drums. 

Perhaps I should mention this is a First Act kit. It is a great set for a beginner like me, but it's something that might make real drummers chuckle. That's okay. I'm having fun, and that was the point. Besides, I didn't buy the silliest drum kit in the world...

Another thing worth mentioning is Bridger is not a drummer. He is a musician, though, who has played brass instruments, stringed instruments, and dabbled with his band's drums. He has a knack for anything to do with music, and he was willing to try to tune my drums and teach me what he knows.

He called me in to admire his work, handed me the sticks, and said, "I didn't tune your drums for nothing. Let's see what you've got."

I showed him the two rhythms I can still remember. It's weird. I can hold two patterns in my head. I've probably learned five, but as soon as I learned number three, number one left the premises of my brain. And when I learned number four, number two left, as well. Do you see the pattern here? This is why you should learn the instrument of your choice early. Don't wait until you're fifty-something to start checking off your bucket list. Memory is a tricky thing after middle age. 

We looked up a new rhythm on YouTube, and then Bridger broke it down for me.

"Kick. Kick. Snare. 1-2-3-4-5. BOOM-and." Well, when he says it like that, it makes sense. Sort of. It took me awhile, but I started to get it. 

Bridger is a natural music teacher. I was impressed with his patience, and his encouragement. He took the sum experience, and broke it down into manageable parts for me.

"You probably think this is pretty funny, that I want to play the drums," I said.

"Oh, it's HILARIOUS, but it's also really cool. I'm impressed," he told me.

I recorded Bridge's drumming nice and slow, so I can remember it when I start to forget. The forgetting is inevitable, I'm afraid. 

The highlight of my very short drumming career experience was when Bridger picked up his guitar and told me to start drumming. "But I don't know how to match what you'll play!" I complained.

"Just start drumming," he told me. "I'll match you." So I did. And what do you know? My boy started playing a song along with the rhythm, and we actually jammed together. I couldn't help but smile. I'd never had accompaniment before. It was amazing! (DISCLAIMER: My drumming wasn't amazing. The experience of playing with another human being was the amazing part.)

I told him I don't talk about my drumming much. I've only mentioned it in passing here, as something I kind of like to do. "Well, I think you should blog about it," Bridge said. So here you go, B!

This last video clip of Bridge gives me hope. He keeps reminding me the first rule of drumming is "There are no mistakes." (He might have made that up for me.) Here, you will see, the show goes on, even leading up to Chuck's rule, which is "Always end a set with a big finish." (Chuck might have made that up for himself; he just loves a big finish.)

Big Finish!

It may be peculiar for me to play the drums, but I'm thinking it's all part of my life's "big finish." I want to experience everything I've ever wanted to do, while I still can. Drumming has been part of my dream for so many years, and thanks to Chuck, I am living the dream. I'm glad I have him with me for my big finish.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Happy Trails, Sweet Boy

Now that I've dried my tears, and admitted to Chuck that I suppose I am a little less than fine, and a tiny bit sad, and more than a little nostalgic, I am ready to sort through my thoughts about saying, "Safe travels" to our youngest as he sets out for a three day road trip, solo this time.

Bridger and I drove 25 hours last week from Utah to Chicago. We had a whirlwind week together, attending the Bristol Renaissance Faire, doing a walking tour of Chicago, and drumming and jamming at home. 

Chuck treated us to all of our favorite restaurants, letting Bridger enjoy Chicago dogs from Portillo's, deep dish pizza at Giordano's, brats at Navy Pier, and enchiladas at our favorite Mexican restaurant, El Zarape in Wheaton. We have eaten well. We have played hard. We have slept not as much as we would have liked. And oh, have we laughed.

And just like that, he's gone. 

I sent this picture to Chuck at 8:00 this morning.

Chuck asked, "How's my beautiful bride doing?" He knew. He always knows, sometimes even better than I do, as you will see in my response:

"Fine. I get to see him in less than four weeks. And my husband will be with me every day until then. At this moment in time, life is very, very good. Thank you for this week with B."

As I sat on the couch, I asked myself how I was really feeling. I realized it wasn't exactly true to say I'm fine. I was a little less than okay, and actually, quite sad. I began to cry. Not thirty minutes after telling my husband I was fine, I decided to honor my feelings, and 'fess up to Chuck.

"Okay, I am a little sad B is gone. I will be fine, but I keep finding my eyes feeling a little watery, and my throat a little tight. I am so grateful we were able to spend this week with him."

Chuck said, "I was thinking there might be some missing going on."

I admitted that I was on an emotional roller coaster with how I felt. Chuck understood; thank goodness. I let him know I appreciated that, and said, "I'm trying to honor my feelings with acknowledgement instead of denying them. Mayhap by doing that I will avoid plowing through a carton of ice cream later. I can see that in the past I would have just told you I was fine, and cried alone. And eaten everything in my path later."

We emotional eaters will always have temptations to overcome. Today is a good day for me, in a bittersweet way. Although I am sad, I am dealing with sadness by "talking" (texting, really) and writing, and yes, crying. And I have eaten, but only my normal breakfast and a snack of a banana. Go, me. 

I'm looking forward to sharing with you some of our highlights of Bridger's visit: THE ROYAL TREATMENT he received at the Bristol Renaissance Faire, touring downtown Chicago, and learning new tricks with my sticks with drum lessons from B. It has been a wonderful, whirlwind of a week. 

THIS JUST IN: Bridge has been driving since 8:00 this morning, and just before 11, I received this text from him: 

"Hello from Wisconsin! I don't know where I am tho. Some rest stop. Love ya."

Sigh. I'll just let these tears fall, and smile through them all because we have an amazing kid in this boy, and he loves his mama. That is enough for today. 

Happy trails, sweet boy. Your mama loves you, too.

Photo credit: Chuck Bennorth

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Roadtrippasaurus Rides Again!

What do you do when you own a car in one state, and one of your kids wants to buy your other car you are currently driving in another state? We decided we could combine a visit from our youngest with the car switcheroo. Bridge was planning to visit us in Chicagoland during July, and he jumped at the chance to drive one car to us, and return home with the other.

When it was looking like Bridger was going to have to make the trip solo, Chuck suggested I fly back to Utah to travel with him to Illinois. It has been more than three decades since my college days of driving 2,300 miles from Virginia to Utah, and this would only be 1,400 miles. I could do it! At least, I hoped I could.

Wednesday morning, Chuck and I had to be at O'Hare by five to make my 6:45 flight. I was so excited that I woke up at 1:50. My body can find all sorts of reasons not to sleep too long. I flew to SLC, and Bridger met me at the airport at 10:00. I was surprised to see his roadtrippasaurus on the dashboard of my Hyundai Sonata. 

"You brought him!" I said. Bridger flashed me his big grin.

A couple summers ago, the two of us took an 18 hour road trip to Mendocino, California to visit some writer friends of mine, Tonia and Ros. During a stop in Ely on the loneliest highway in America, Highway 50, Bridger found this plastic dinosaur on the ground, and proclaimed him to be a ROADTRIPPASAURUS. I hadn't seen the little guy for awhile, and had all but forgotten about him.

Bridger left the roadtrippasaurus, who shall be known as RT from this point, on the dashboard to guard the car, while we went to IHOP for breakfast, where I dined on Red Velvet pancakes, and he had a Belgian waffle. In case you are wondering, yes, red velvet pancakes are as yummy as they sound. 

Arriving early that day allowed us some time to get ready for our road trip; buying snacks, loading up Bridger's camping gear for his return trip, and also provided one more opportunity to spend some time with my girl. Sisi took off work early to be with us. We enjoyed the afternoon with Jared's girls, and while the little ladies were at gymnastics, the four adults enjoyed some Indian cuisine at Saffron Valley.

Thursday, I got up at 4 to have a cup of coffee, and a last-minute visit with Sierra. The noise I made in the kitchen when I dumped the ice into our little cooler woke one of the little girls, and she came downstairs with her blanky for cuddles before I left.

Just after five we were on the road. Bridger slept soundly until around 10:00, sometime after we crossed the Utah border into Colorado. 

My copilot.
I only had R.T. for company, and sheepishly admit to taking photos of Bridger and him while driving through the eastern desert of Utah, where I could see sagebrush for miles and miles, but very few cars. Yes, I'm justifying.

RT and I were getting hungry for breakfast, and hoped B would wake soon.

Bridger and I have done a few road trips to Colorado to visit Sisi when she used to live there, and we were looking forward to our drive through the Rockies. The vineyards east of Grand Junction, Vail, Breckinridge...gorgeous vistas around every bend.

And then we continued beyond Denver, and the beauty lessened considerably. Where were the mountains? 

Have you ever driven through Nebraska or Iowa? Well, if you have ever seen a cornfield, then you know what they look like, for miles and miles and miles. We knew we wouldn't miss much scenery if we drove all night, so we decided to keep going.

Long story short, we decided to drive straight through. Yes, we started from SLC at 5:00 a.m., Thursday morning to Saint Charles, Illinois at 7:00 a.m., Friday morning. 

Bridger is better at sleeping in the car than I am. (See picture above.) I only managed a 20 minute nap during our 25 hour road trip. To say we were tired when we pulled into the driveway would be a gross understatement. Even though I was hungry, sleep overtook me before I took the time to have breakfast, and slept for a good two hours.

R.T. will be heading home with Bridger in the Toyota Camry tomorrow. I look forward to updates about their adventures to Wyoming and finally to Utah. I love my roadtrippin' boy!

Bridger and his trusty traveling companion, RT

Friday, July 15, 2016

Open Wide the Gates! (A Peek at What's Inside at the Bristol Renaissance Faire)

We're a peculiar lot, we people outside the gates of Bristol. There are nobles, peasants, gypsies, pirates, and barbarians among us. There are folks dressed as Star Wars characters and Dr. Who, and others are decked out in their finest steampunk attire, standing alongside people like us who almost seem out of place, in everyday street clothes. We are pressing toward the entrance, eager to leave the 21st century behind us as soon as we can enter the gates of Queen Elizabeth's kingdom. 

The crowd is anticipating the magical words, 


Where is such a magical place? The quaint port village of Bristol, England can be found in Bristol, Wisconsin, on summer weekends and Labor Day at the Bristol Renaissance Faire. 

Once inside, we are swept along with the pulsing throng to 1574 in England where it is easy to believe we have truly traveled back in time. The dusty streets are alive with jugglers, musicians, and entertainers. 

Quaint shops offer goods that range from useful to fanciful: boots, toys, instruments, and scented oils and candles to fairy wings, elfin ears, and floral garlands to wear on our heads.

The Bristol Buskin Frolic is gathered around the maypole where musicians play popular tunes from the period as the youthful dancers invite visitors to join them. They entertain us with their harmonious voices as they weave the colorful ribbons in beautiful patterns.

The heady aroma of cinnamon roasted nuts drifts through the village, mixing with the fragrance of cooked sausages and roasted turkey legs. There are shepherd's pies, pastries, crèpes, dried meats, and fruit-flavored ices. There are icy lemonades and sassafras sodas to slake our thirst, and plenty of ale.


There is something for everyone seeking entertainment: magic, music, acrobatics, and comedy. Performers can be found on the streets and on the stage. Shakespeare's corner is where the actors take turns performing some of the (then) young playwright's work to the delight of the crowds who gather there. 

There is a shady glen that is visited frequently by the Fantastikals, woodland creatures who only interact with children and Her Royal Highness herself. 

It is as though adults do not exist in the world of the fae folk. The fairies delight in gifts from little ones; leaves, twigs, and special rocks. A great spider web is strung among the trees by a beautiful fairy with silver hair. She invites children to add trinkets from nature to her wondrous web. 

There is great fanfare when Queen Elizabeth parades through the village with her entourage. She is protected by her guards, the beefeaters, and her own militia. Ladies in waiting escort her as she parades through town. Peasants and townspeople show their respect with curtsies and bows as the nobles pass through the town. 

After crossing the wooden footbridge, the military presence is obvious before entering the Queen's court. There are guards and soldiers milling about while the nobles are presented to Her Royal Highness. 

The local surgeon and the militia give demonstrations, teaching about medieval medical procedures and how weapons work.

Throughout the day, loud cheers go up from the nearby crowd attending the joust. The brave knights battle for their honor in front of the Queen and her subjects. The sound of splintering wood hitting armor splits the air. The crowd roars with approval.

As the sun hangs low in the sky, a rhythmic drumming invites all to the closing ceremony at the drum circle. Dancers of all ages and abilities twist and move to the rhythms. 

There are belly dancers, mothers with babes in arms, lovers-young and old, and others of us who cannot resist the hypnotic pulse of the percussion beat.

When at last it is time to go home, our bellies are full, our shoes dusty, and our hearts happy. Bristol is a place full of smiles and laughter, and once we leave, we want to come back as soon as we can.