Thursday, June 30, 2016

Ups and Downs; Highs and Lows

If you've been reading Randomocity any length of time, you're aware of my emotional struggles with food. My weight is currently in an upward trend, which is terribly upsetting, but not at all surprising. I've discovered the joys of frozen custard this year. I bake cookies every week. We've had a lot of meals on the road. And every once in awhile, life throws the occasional curve balls my way that send me scurrying to the kitchen for comfort. 

Several months ago, I stopped weighing myself. You may think that is inadvisable for someone who is not maintaining a healthy weight, but obsessing about numbers has gotten me exactly nowhere. Our scale is now stored in a vertical position between the cabinet and the toilet, so we can quit tripping over the blasted thing. 

How do I know I'm gaining weight if I don't have a scale to confirm this suspicion? Well, my pants are stretched to capacity. I don't think they can hold one more ounce of me. I've seen the pictures. They don't lie. 

Sigh. And my husband loves me anyway.

Have you ever had that dreadful moment of realization that you  just struggled to zip your roomiest pair of pants, and they look most unflattering, accentuating every pudgy roll? What will you wear now? You can't run out, and buy a whole new wardrobe, so what can you do?

Once you're done hyperventilating, and having your tantrum, you could start to berate yourself. You could hate your body, and your lack of willpower. You could start that latest restrictive fad diet that promises to have you drop four dress sizes in six weeks. You could make yourself run until you feel like you will throw up. 

We could do those things, but let's just not, okay? No more negative self-talk. No more restrictive diets, or punishing ourselves with brutal exercise. No more treating ourselves like the enemy.

What can you do in the meantime? You don't have any pants that fit, and society requires clothing in public. I will tell you what I did.

I took some deep breaths. (Breathing seriously helps.) Then I peeled my pants off, and hung them in the closet. I went in search of my comfy dress; maybe you have one, too. Mine's soft and flowy, and I feel like less of a cow when I wear it. I did my hair and makeup. And then I told myself that finishing off Chuck's cookies in the freezer wasn't the answer. (For more tips to avoid a binge, look HERE. I am not an expert, and I look to them for advice.) And I began the difficult task of working through some deep emotional stuff.

Here are some questions I have had to ask myself:

1. What am I really hungry for? (It's not food. I could eat a whole package of Oreos and a pint of ice cream, and still feel "hungry." What is the non-food thing that I am really craving? It might be connecting with loved ones, pampering myself, soothing music, walking outdoors in nature, talking things out with a trusted friend, or any number of things that would make me feel comforted. I have to remember that food will never feed the emotional hunger.)

2. What triggers make me want to eat? (For me, boredom is a big one. So are anxiety and sadness, and dealing with confrontation.)

3. How can I practice self-care in a way that will nourish my spirit, and feed my heart? (When I start each day with my morning routine, I always have a better day. I try to listen to beautiful instrumentals when I'm reading and writing, and upbeat songs with lyrics while I'm doing housework and relaxing. Making connections with others helps me stay grounded. When I take time to be outdoors, my spirits are lifted. Spending quality time with my husband is something my heart needs. For other ideas of things to do instead of feeding emotions with food, read HERE.)

When I zipped up my favorite denim capris a couple weeks ago, I promised myself that "TODAY is the tightest they will ever feel. From here on out, they're going to be getting looser." That's a pretty bold promise, which I will admit I had to re-state the day the came out of the laundry. "THIS today is the tightest they will ever feel." Nothing as tight as freshly washed jeans after a weight gain. It's such an unending process.

Ever since our wedding, my husband  has encouraged me to enjoy my retirement, to live fully and completely. I have only recently realized just how small I've been living my life. I told Chuck I finally decided that sitting on the couch, mowing the lawn, and keeping the house clean are no longer enough for me. He just smiled. Some of us are slow learners, and he is happy to see me catching the vision of what my life could be.

I'm happy to say that for the last couple weeks, I've been on an emotional high as I've been exploring the forests near us each morning. I made a goal to get out, and be a better friend. I enjoyed coffee and conversation with a new friend yesterday, and spent a wonderful morning photographing flowers with a friend I met a year ago. We have extended invitations to friends for a cookout. I'm trying.

Yesterday, I called Chuck. "I have some moderately good news. But first, do you know what a muffin top is?" He loves blueberry muffins, and I didn't want him to get confused.

"You mean the muffin top that involves jeans?" I didn't think he'd know; he's so tall and lean.

"Well, my muffin top is getting a little smaller. I don't know how much I weigh, but I know my capris fit much better this week!"

"That's great, Honey!"

He celebrated my little success with me, and I know he'll be there to bolster me up on days that are not as full of good news. 

This will not be an easy road; it never has been, but I'm encouraged by the new things I'm learning, and the friends I've met, and the new things I'm trying. Life will always have its ups and downs. Chuck smiles with me through the highs, and bolsters me up through the lows. With him by my side, I will figure this out. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"Hiking" at Hickory Knolls

Hickory Knolls Discovery Center is less than fifteen minutes from our home in Saint Charles. There is so much going on there: a learning center, community gardens, bee hives, a dog park, and several trails. I chose the longest trail for my photo safari, and went as far as I could, until I ran into trouble.

This is the second "hiking trail" I've been on in Illinois. Is it really hiking if there are no mountains or rocks or dirt paths? Hiking at an elevation of 735 feet has been an easy adjustment for this former Utahn, but I don't think I will ever get used to hiking on mown trails. The path was a green carpet of clover; there were no rocks on the path. It's  very lush and beautiful; just so foreign to me.

There were rolling hills of wildflowers. The trail I had chosen was supposed to be 2.2 miles, which would have been perfect for a morning trek through the woods.

EXCEPT. Except that as soon as I came upon a puddle of standing water in the wheel ruts on the trail, the mosquitoes swarmed around me, and began attacking with a vengeance. 

My text to Chuck: Wishing for bug spray right about now.

Chuck: I thought you bought bug spray.

(Well, I did, but buying it, and remembering to use it, are two different things.) Those pesky critters were biting my neck and arms, through my shirt on my back, and several screamed inside my ears. I told myself they were probably just concentrated near the water, and to keep pushing on. The little bloodsuckers seemed to fade away for a brief period of time, and then there seemed to be a resurgence. I was swatting them in a frenzy. At that point, I turned around and ran back through the woods.

Text to Chuck while running: Forgot (You can tell I was distracted; I did not have time to type a period.)

And later, when I paused to catch my breath: Apparently, bug spray's effectiveness is lessened if it stays at home on the counter. 

Chuck suggested that if I'd brought the can, it might work if I threw the can at the bugs. He has seen me throw. We both know that would never happen.

Why did I run? I was hoping that the land speed of a determined middle-aged woman would be faster than the airspeed of a demonic insect. HOPING. The frequency of bites seemed to lessen as I ran back down the trail, so indulge me in that little fantasy, please.

I would like it duly noted that I had begged Illinois for a break in the heat and humidity, and today, she delivered. It was cool in the mid-sixties (Fahrenheit), and relatively un-humid. (I can't bring myself to use the word arid. I just don't think it ever applies to weather in the midwest.) The skies were overcast, and the soft breezes made the air seem most pleasant.

There was a group of schoolchildren taking a nature class I passed on the trail soon after I started walking. A couple of the kids noticed my big lens, and stepped back to let me pass. As I came back down the hill, one of the little boys asked, "So, how did your pictures go?"

"Great," I said. He made me smile. I don't get to interact with children near enough these days.  

Whether it's considered hiking, or simply strolling along lush trails of clover, Illinois has beautiful landscapes of her own, and I am determined to see them. It was a perfect summer day in Illinois, and I'm so glad I took the time to get out and enjoy it. I learned an important lesson; pack the bug spray in my backpack before my next adventure.

Gaining Confidence

Not long ago, I had a nightmare. In my dream, I had cut my hair shockingly short, and bleached it platinum blonde. (SHORT HAIR NIGHTMARE) The thing that surprised me was how much I loved my hair so short. It was a nightmare because I knew Chuck and I had not talked about getting my hair cut at all, let alone nearly chopping it off, and I didn't want to catch him off guard.

With my asymmetrical cut, I've been flirting with shorter hair by having one side cut much shorter than the other, but I have lacked the commitment to cut the other side to match. 

Since my nightmare, Chuck and I have talked about hair quite a bit. He knows I've dreamed of having it short (literally and figuratively), and he wants me to live the life I've dreamed of in every way; to feel fulfilled; to have purpose; to surround myself with supportive, creative, and happy people; to explore our world of Chicagoland; to write and read and create; to follow my heart. He has been nothing but supportive of everything I've wanted to try and do. If short hair would make me happy, it will make him happy, too.

My hair is really fine, but luckily, I have a lot of it. It is also limp, but with the right products, I can usually get it to do what I want it to do, unless I'm caught in a rainstorm, or the humidity levels are high, or I'm sweating; the results are the same. My hair is frightfully flat when it is damp. Bad hair days are a regular occurrence here in the midwest. I have a sneaking suspicion that shorter hair will be easier to manage.

For a long time, I have been collecting pictures of short hairstyles on Pinterest I wish I had the courage to try. Our daughters-in-law both wear their hair short and sassy, and Amy even has a Pinterest board called "Short Hair-Don't Care." I just love that. I have wanted to adopt that attitude to go with the hair.

Our summer is about to get really busy. In two weeks, the Bristol Renaissance Faire will start its nine-week season every Saturday and Sunday. Our youngest is planning a road trip to come see us for a week. We have a wedding to shoot and a wedding to attend, a birthday party at the race track, and local festivals and holiday celebrations. In gearing up for our busy schedule, we purposely left our weekend open this week. Our Saturday and Sunday were filled with options, and we picked and chose things we wanted to do in between our down time at home. 

After we'd been to the French Market in Wheaton, and wandered through Geneva during the Swedish Days Festival, we had nothing planned for the afternoon. 

Chuck asked me how brave I was feeling about getting my hair cut. GULP. He offered to take me right then and there, if it was something I really wanted to do.

How many husbands secretly wish their wives would keep their hair long? I have a sneaking suspicion most hold fantasies of their wives having long, flowing tresses. Chuck would never admit to that dream because more than anything, he wants to honor who I am, what I think, and what I really want. If I want my hair short-short-short, that's what he wants. Sometimes I can't even fathom the depth of his love for me. 

So, WAS I feeling brave? I felt like I was being given such a gift; to be given the freedom to be the woman I want to be, without any reservations or misgivings. The only thing stopping me was me; I finally realized that. He makes me feel braver than I am, at times. With a grin that perhaps belied my actual level of confidence, I told him I was ready to cut my hair.

I did it. I really did it. When I walked away from the hairstylist's station, Chuck rose from the chair in the waiting area with the biggest smile, as he said, "You look GREAT... I bet you'll get lots of compliments on your hair at church."

"Not many of our friends at church have short hair," I reminded him.

"I can think of lots of people with short hair there," he said. "Brian, Melvin, Ken, Mike..." Sigh. (I may have done a slight eye roll at this point.) 

To me, my hair is a metaphor for living my life my way. It's one of the last pieces of the puzzle of the woman I want to be that is falling into place. I no longer have to envy women who are wearing their hair short. I am doing what I think is best for me these days. I am feeling more confident about myself and my choices than ever before. Short hair; don't care, indeed! 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Flickering Fireflies

Twinkling lights 
flit and flutter through the woods, 
just begging to be 
chased and caught.

Flickering fireflies
scatter here and there through the fading twilight,
decorating the darkness 
of an Illinois summer's night.

Catching lightning bugs
brings back memories of southern summer nights,
when we darted across damp grass,
tightly clutching our gleaming mason jars.

It feels like 
Christmas in the middle of June,
and the heart of
my childhood
beats happily
in my chest.

Friday, June 24, 2016

A Visit to Chicago Botanic Garden

Friday's solo adventure took me to Chicago's Botanic Garden, fifteen minutes away from Chuck's work. Can you see why I just love these Take Your Wife to Work days? I get to have adventures in the morning, lunch with Chuck, and then we get all of that extra time together during our commute to work and back home. 

Here are my treasures from this photo safari. I only managed to walk a couple of miles around the gardens, and I was there for over a couple hours, but I took a bunch of pictures, listened to the frogs in the pond, watched the ducks sunning on the rocks, enjoyed a snack, and had time to observe a baby bunny who was nibbling on a piece of grass. No hurries; no worries. It's just the sort of adventure I needed today.

Mistaken Identity

Chuck and I each have a Toyota Camry; his is silver, mine is grey. In Utah, my car is a silver Hyundai, a sedan very similar to the Camry, to my undiscerning eye. I cannot tell you how many times I've walked up to some random silver car, thinking it's one that belongs to us, and hearing Chuck say, "I think we'll take this one over here, since it's ours, if it's all the same to you." A silver car is a silver car in my world. And occasionally, a grey car is a silver car, too, if I can't remember if I'm driving the car in Utah or Illinois.

So last week when I approached a silver sedan, and pressed the remote unlock button on the key fob, I wasn't too shocked that nothing happened. I looked around the nearly vacant parking lot to locate my car, only to discover that this was the only choice available to me that was silver sedan. It had to be mine. Yep, there was the gold aspen leaf hanging from the rearview mirror I gave Chuck when we first met in the Smokey Mountains, and there was Chuck's tan windbreaker in the back seat. It was definitely Chuck's Camry. I tried it again. Nothing.

Luckily, there is a traditional key at the end of the fob, and I inserted it easily enough into the door's keyhole. It wouldn't turn. More than a little frustrated, I texted Chuck about the non-working key. Since his office was only a couple blocks away, he said he was coming. Meanwhile, I alternated between trying the remote, and inserting the key a few more times. A local policemen was patrolling the parking lot, and noticed me. He slowed to a stop in front of Chuck's car.

"You okay?" he asked.

"Well, I think my remote key battery has died. I can't get in my car."

The officer got out of his cruiser, and offered to give it a try. He didn't have any luck with the key either, and offered to use his "slim jim" tool to unlock the door. In a matter of moments, the car door was open and I was back in the driver's seat. I texted Chuck, "Never mind. A policeman unlocked the car!" When I inserted the key in the ignition, though, it wouldn't turn. "I need you!" was my followup text.

The policeman seemed puzzled that the key wouldn't start the car, and I told him my husband would be there in just a minute with his spare key. He wished me luck, and as he was pulling away, he stopped, and asked, "Is there a chance your other car is a Camry, too, and you're using the wrong set of keys?"

Well, DUH. There was SUCH a good chance. I retrieved CHUCK'S set of keys from my purse, and what do you know? The car started up like a champ. Guess who had the embarrassing task of explaining the whole situation to her very understanding husband when he arrived moments later? Ugh. I tell you; any day now my family is going to have that Dear Old Mom meeting to figure out which facility will meet my needs. It's not like our key chains are identical. I was trying to use the set with MOM inscribed on the heart to open Chuck's car.

Apparently, not only can I not tell our cars apart, I have trouble identifying our key chains, too. It was another embarrassing case of mistaken identity.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Return to the Woods

If I thought I was hot and sweaty after traipsing around the pond at Delnor Woods in the fog this morning, I had no idea that I would find a way to get exponentially hotter and sweatier later: mow the lawn. 

At the moment, I am sitting in front of a fan, on the floor because I am too wet to sit on any furniture. Droplets of sweat are falling off strands of hair onto my shirt, arms, and laptop. I just checked, it's only 71 degrees outside at 9:30, but the humidity is at 95%. Give me a break, Illinois. 

When I left Delnor this morning, I heard the tail end of a weather report on the radio. Some poor town in Illinois has a heat index of 105 degrees today. That would like being boiled alive, wouldn't it? (Yes, Chuck, if we ignore the fact that water boils at 220 degrees Fahrenheit, it would be just like that, but I'm pretty sure my personal boiling point is 100.) It's hard to know who seems sweatier, Mother Nature or I, at times like these. 

Before I took on the mowing of the grass, I wanted to take some time to walk in the woods this morning. These mornings that I have spent in nature have made me feel so much calmer, and at peace with myself. The rest of the day can get a little crazy, and I can handle it. The biggest benefit is that I haven't felt the need to comfort myself with food. (I'm still trying to figure out other things I can do that will feed the hungers I have that have nothing to do with eating, but spending time in nature has made a good difference in my attitude.) 

Saint Charles was shrouded in fog this morning after the recent rains. I love seeing the world through a foggy lens, as long as the fog is OUTSIDE the lens, that is. I wanted so much to go back to the pond from yesterday because I was feeling much braver, knowing what the strange sound was coming from the water. I'm pretty certain it was the sound of bullfrogs. I managed to record the sound, so you can hear it, too, if you'd like.  The video is short, and you can hear the bullfrog at :08 in the video. If you listen carefully, you can also hear the water droplets falling onto the lower leaves, and the sound of birdsong in the distance. So peaceful there.

As I stepped into a small clearing, there was a whitetail deer having her breakfast. She didn't seem to mind my presence, and kept eating. While I made an adjustment to my camera, she disappeared into the woods without a sound, leaving behind a patch of weeds swaying in her absence. 

My khaki capris gathered water from the lush foliage as I walked along the path; the water soaked through the fabric, cooling my legs. The droplets glistened on the leaves like crystal clear jewels. 

I walked just under two miles today, enjoying the park and the surrounding neighborhoods. Before I put my camera in the car, a beautiful spider web caught my eye. So many photo opportunities felt like gifts today; special gifts for taking the time to enjoy nature's beauty. 

It was an inspirational, even though very wet, morning. I'm glad I took the time to immerse myself in the woods before I went home to tame our grass into submission. Delnor is turning out to be one of my favorite parks in Saint Charles. A return to the woods is a must.
Orange is still my favorite color.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Mo' Mochi, Please!

Have you ever heard of mochi ice cream bonbons? What an interesting fusion dessert of delicious ice cream inside an outer layer of pounded sticky rice! These frozen desserts have been in the United States for over ten years, and I just heard about them the last time I was visiting my daughter in Utah.

Mochi looks like a sphere wrapped in fondant, and has a dusting of potato flour or cornstarch to keep it from sticking. 

There are a variety of flavors available, including common ones like chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, and there are also green tea, Kona coffee, and plum wine. I've only sampled the strawberry mochi, and I think they're very good.

Sierra loves mochi. Her boyfriend hides them deep in the freezer so his girls don't find them; Sisi is pretty serious about her ice cream. They're not cheap; each little bonbon is about 50 cents, so I'd be hiding mine, too. She bought some for us to try, and I think Chuck might have considered it, if we could have found it in mint chocolate chip flavor, that is, but he asked just what mochi was. Sierra began to explain, and Jared cut right to the chase.

"It's like someone stuffed ice cream into a squid."

Chuck would have nothing to do with it after that. I will admit the texture is unusual. The outer layer is chewy, a little powdery, and not very sweet, but I certainly don't mind eating through that to get to the ice cream, which is of a high quality. Of course, I'd eat through a layer of just about anything to get to some ice cream. 

If you're curious, and want to expand your culinary horizons, you might enjoy some mochi yourself. We've found them at Whole Foods and Harmons in Utah. 

*(And no, I am not being paid a dime to promote this product, as has always been the case.)

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Lost in Thought in Delnor Woods (Illinois)

So today, I didn't know where I was. Temporarily. I wasn't exactly LOST; I could still hear the park district mowers at Delnor Woods Park, where I'd taken off on a trail through the trees. I had my camera with me, and was studying the way the sunlight and shadows were playing against the fallen logs, trees, and rich, green foliage that surrounded the pond.

The well-worn path made me take comfort that many others had been this way, so I confidently strode deeper into the woods. At some point, the "well-worn" part abruptly ended, and new grass had filled in along the path. No one had hiked here for a very long time. 

Some movement on the path caught my eye, and I noticed a young bird who was having obvious problems. 

He fell a few times, and hopped along the path, flying short distances to get past the obstacles in his way. He always stayed directly ahead of me, and I knew I was upsetting him as I certainly gave the appearance of giving chase, but we both just happened to be going in the same direction. Eventually, I scurried past him while he was taking a rest, and apologized for having troubled him.

While crossing a footbridge, I heard the most unusual sound, and it startled me at first. It sounded like a very large rubber band being plucked, reverberating a loud twanging sound. 

(In asking friends later if they could suggest what kind of bird it might be based on my vague description, they weren't sure, but Chuck had this to say, "If it was a dueling banjo kind of twang, then I would suggest running." That Chuck.) 

It was very unsettling in that the sound seemed to be way across the pond, and then very near the bridge under my feet. I left quickly. I'm going to assume it was a bird or frog, and leave it at that.

I trudged on, climbing over great fallen logs, making my way over and under limbs across the path. It almost looked like someone had placed barriers along the old path to stop hikers from continuing. And that may have been the case. 

Eventually, I ended up in someone's expansive, well-manicured lawn. I could just imagine the family sitting down to breakfast, only to see some strange woman, obviously lost with her camera around her neck, and her cell phone in her hand, wandering around their beautiful backyard, uninvited. 

I really don't like to make bad first impressions, so I scurried along the border of the yard, and ducked under some low limbs along the perimeter of their property, and headed out to what I thought was a road, but alas, it was a nice seating area under the trees in front of another beautiful home's asphalt driveway. I had to get out of there somehow, so I strode across the footbridge between the two properties, and walked briskly to the top of the driveway that had stately rock columns at its entrance with a sign that said PRIVATE DRIVE.

My apologies to the homeowners. Your grounds are lovely, and your property well-maintained. Excuse me for getting lost in the woods beyond your house. I mean, temporarily, lost in thought. I may have wandered beyond where I should have, but I eventually found my way back to where I began my adventure.  

The plants' reflection in the water is almost more clear than the actual plants.

Getting lost in the woods in thought is an invigorating way to start the day. I'm hoping to revisit there tomorrow. I'm kind of curious about the sound I heard in the pond by the footbridge. Until then, you might want to GET LOST yourself! It's kind of fun.