Monday, May 22, 2017

Dreaming about Drumming

"Pictures or it didn't happen," my kids are always telling me. Well, today I'll go one better. I've even got VIDEO. 

Not every mom would appreciate a Mother's Day gift of new drum sticks, but my old set is so chewed up, I thought it was a pretty special gift from my youngest, the musician in the family.  That would have been enough of a gift, but Bridger had a surprise planned I wouldn't learn about until later in the week. 

Bridger asked me if I would like to drop by his jam shack to see the recent improvements. Of course, I would. How about 2:00 Thursday? Well, that seemed a pretty specific time for my laid-back son to suggest, but my week was wide open, so I agreed to it. I asked if I would get to hear his band play that day. Probably so, he said.

As we were driving to Monroe, Bridger wanted me to let him know when we arrived. When we pulled up in front of the old cabin that has been converted into his jam shack, complete with heat and electricity, he came out to greet us, grinning from ear to ear.

The shack looked great. There was a cozy couch for guests, amps and speakers, and a brand-new, shiny green drum kit. "You bought it?" I asked. He had. He handed me another new set of sticks, and told me I was going to get to play them. 

We spent some time reviewing some familiar rhythms, and then he said, "You know, I've been listening to a lot of my music lately, and nearly all of it uses the rhythm you already know. So today I'm going to teach you about fills."

When Bridger pulled out his electric guitar, he told me to start playing my basic rhythm, and then he jumped in with his guitar. It was so fun! If you are curious how that went, I humbly offer this little video clip:

After awhile, one of the guitarists from Grizzly Bear Whiplash walked through the door, and started setting up his guitar and amp. Zach said Bronson would be coming in just a bit. The high school must have just let out. I played the drums while Bridger and Zach jammed. I kept wondering when their drummer was going to show up. 

When Bronson walked in, I asked about their missing band member. "He's not coming. You're playing the drums for us today," Bridger said. I couldn't help it; I just laughed. My boy flashed his trademark grin. 

Every once in awhile, Bridger would mouth these words to me, "Are you having fun?" I nodded excitedly to let him know how happy I was. I was having the time of my life. Bridger had been planning this for weeks, and even kept his new drum set a secret from me. I couldn't believe he convinced his band members to let me play with them.

Photo credit: Chuck Bennorth

Practicing in my dark basement on my little beginner First Act drum set in no way prepared me for the thrill of playing on a full drum kit with a rock 'n' roll band. I didn't do anything all that amazing, but I couldn't wipe the grin off my face. Playing the drums has been something I've wanted to do nearly all my life, but playing the drums with a band is an item I never dreamed I would check off my bucket list.

I've had a lot of help making my dreams come true these last few years. I have my kids and Chuck to thank for most of them. 

Bridger, you outdid yourself this Mother's Day. That was an afternoon I will never forget.

An Exciting Day on the Desert

Little Creek Mesa.

Several years ago, the tradition of the annual Mother and Sons' Hike began when my boys asked me what I wanted for Mother's Day. I just wanted to spend the day with them hiking in southern Utah. My daughter was living in Denver at the time, or she would have joined us, too. I enjoyed our Mother and Sons' hikes each year, and this year, our tradition included Chuck and Sierra, and some friends. What a wonderful way to celebrate being a mom; hiking with my husband and children.

My handsome sons Bridger and Dylan.

This year, Dylan took us to explore the slickrock area 18 miles east of Hurricane, Utah, known as Little Creek Mesa. We didn't actually hike on a trail, but we walked up and down, and across the open rock surface. The desert was dotted with colorful blossoms; the wildflowers and cacti certainly caught our attention. 

It was so odd to be in the Utah desert, and come upon a small marsh that attracted beautiful dragonflies and butterflies. We saw lizards, hummingbirds, and petroglyphs, too.  

While Chuck and I were bringing up the rear, we heard a very loud scream. I chalked it up to Dylan's scaring Sisi or Bridger; one of his favorite things to do. As we came over the hill, we saw Dylan and Bridger laughing. 

Apparently, Dylan had jumped off of a higher rock, and as he landed, he noticed a rattlesnake right in front of his foot. He screamed, which got Bridger's attention, and then the snake slipped down into a foliage-filled ravine. 

The boys were trying to see where the snake had gone, and while they were focused on that, Sierra started throwing rocks into the ravine. 

Have you ever heard a rattler? It is much louder than I thought it would be.  Each time a rock hit the limbs below, Dylan would jump, and the snake would rattle, and everyone else would laugh. The tables were finally turned. It's usually Dylan scaring everyone else. Bridger said it was one of the best days of his life.

These are some of my favorite images from our day on the desert.

Photo credit: Sierra Waters

Thursday, May 11, 2017

From Saint to Saint

Necklaces featuring Saint Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, were worn around many a neck when I was growing up. Most of my friends weren't Catholic; to my knowledge, none of them were, but it was a cool thing in the seventies to wear a Saint Christopher medallion. I think I even asked for a Saint Christopher necklace for Christmas one year. My folks did not indulge me; to this day, I've never had a Saint Christopher to protect me on my way. 

Our Utah family, a couple of years ago.

Saint Christopher has been on my mind lately because of our upcoming road trip to see my kids in Utah, with our puppies, Bristol and Sami. This is the biggest travel agenda we've ever undertaken together, being responsible for anything more than ourselves. The patron saint of travel; if we ever needed travelers' blessings, now would be the time.

We'll be traveling so very far, and I hope we will be okay without Saint Christopher hanging around our necks, as we travel from one city named for a saint to another. Chuck and I will drive 1600 miles from Saint Charles, Illinois to Saint George, Utah, and we plan to do it straight through. As soon as Chuck shuts down his computer today, this little Midwestern crew is piling into our SUV, and riding off into the sunset; literally. 

People have been surprised by some of our plans. One, that we're not stopping at hotels along the way, thereby breaking up our trip into smaller segments. Two, that we're not going to board Bristol and Sam at a kennel; we're taking them with us. Three, that we're driving straight through, except to gas up, and give the puppies stretch and potty breaks.

Chuck's vacation days are so precious to us. Each year, we divide our time between two trips to Florida, and two trips to Utah to visit our faraway kids. The number of days he has for sick days and vacation are all bundled together, and he only takes sick days when absolutely necessary so we have more time with our family. We want to spend as much of our time with the kids as possible, and as little time traveling to see them. We figured if we drive straight through, we'll save time traveling and money on accommodations.

Can't wait to see another beautiful sunset in Saint George, Utah tomorrow night, if all goes well!

We usually fly to Utah, but now that we have the puppies, we would either have to pay to have the puppies fly in the cargo hold because they're not exactly lap dogs, or we would have to leave them behind at a local kennel. We didn't even consider flying them, and when we found out it would cost over $350 a week for the two of them to be boarded, we figured it would be much cheaper to take them with us. By driving out, we also save ourselves the cost of airfare and a rental car.

One of my friends asked me why we were bringing an air mattress. While one of us sleeps in the back, the other can keep driving. It may sound grueling, but Chuck and I have loved our road trips, and are glad we have the space to lie down and rest. 

We had a practice trip last weekend.

A big consideration in buying a new car this year was it needed to have enough space for one of us to sleep in the back so we could do our long-distance trips more comfortably. In January, when we bought the Highlander, we didn't know there were two puppies on our horizon. Sharing the back of the car with a large dog crate cuts down the amount of space for us to stretch out, but it's doable. 

While we travel from Saint Charles to Saint George, may we be blessed with safety, sanity, and smooth driving. We could use all the blessings we can get. 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

A Dry Run

"You make me so very happy. I'm so glad you came into my life." Blood, Sweat and Tears was playing on the stereo system of our Highlander, and I was singing along to the music, air band motions and all. I love making Chuck laugh, and I was able to get a smile out of him.

We were heading up the highway to Wisconsin on the sunniest of spring days to visit Lake Geneva, our honeymoon spot, with Bristol and Sami in the back of the car. My heart felt light, and I couldn't help but smile. 

Our car was packed to the gills, considering we were only driving an hour and a half away from home. We had a huge cooler that contained a few drinks and a small lunch. There was an air mattress, pillows and blankets in the back. We had three camera bags tucked under and around the seats. The puppies' travel bag was loaded with treats, harnesses, wipes, water and a bowl. And last but not least, the puppies were in their crate, which took up more than half of the back of the car. 

Call us crazy, but we're preparing for a 1,600 mile (one way) road trip to Utah from Illinois, with two puppies who are less than six months old. We might be slightly wacky, and I have been a little nervous ever since we hatched this idea a couple of months ago. There are so many vacation variables that are beyond our control; we would just have to plan for the worst, and hope for the best. 

Photo credit: Chuck Bennorth

We woke up to a clear, blue sky day. The sun was warm, and there was a slight breeze. An idea began to take shape, and I only hoped Chuck would think it sounded as fun as I did. 

I wanted to make a dry run; a short day trip, packing our car the way we plan to when we travel to Utah, and taking the puppies for a car ride that was longer than 30 minutes. Chuck was in his pajamas, practicing simple commands with the puppies when I brought it up. 

"Would you like to do a mini road trip with the puppies today? We could pack up the car, and head to a forest preserve, or drive south through the Illinois farm land, or go to Lake Geneva in Wisconsin. I want to practice a little before our big trip, and see how it goes."

Chuck may think I'm crazy sometimes, but he never lets me know that. He seemed a little hesitant, but to be fair, I'd been up for hours, and he was still waking up. I started talking fast, pointing out the perfect weather, the lazy day sprawling before us, the opportunity to work out any kinks in our travel plan, and a spontaneous adventure for us all to enjoy. 

Can I just tell you how much I adore the man I married? He is a sensitive, worrying sort, who likes to plan everything waaay in advance. When I spring these things on him, I know if I give him enough time to warm up to the idea, he will be the trouperiest trouper. And so he was. 

Photo credit: Chuck Bennorth

We had a wonderful day, planning our upcoming trip during our drive, and spending the morning at the lake. The puppies settled down for a nice nap once we got out of the stop-and-go traffic of Kane County. They had plenty of room to sleep, and chew on their toys in their crate. Chuck started out in the back, resting on the air mattress beside the dog crate. Unable to sleep, he took over the driving once we were on Highway 47 to Wisconsin. 

When we arrived at Lake Geneva, we took the puppies for a leisurely walk on the lake path. Even with my bum knee and healing heel, I managed to walk more than a mile along the lake before asking to head back to the car. 

The puppies were popular with the other tourists, and both of them behaved more calmly when meeting people. Bristol and Sam practiced sitting to allow walkers to pass by us on the narrow path. Sami did so much better walking with a loose leash. When people stopped to pet them, the dogs didn't knock anyone over. Bonus! 

2.6 miles after my injury? I'm pretty proud.

We ate our lunch by the car in the shade before heading home. The puppies fell asleep quickly. They had walked a mile farther than they ever had before, and they were worn out. I was feeling pretty dozey myself, and ended up sleeping soundly for about 45 minutes on the way back to Saint Charles.  All in all, we had a great time, and it was a very good dry run. 

Just a few more days, and it will be Utah or bust!

Saturday, May 6, 2017


The sun is shining, and I am working on things for our upcoming vacation. Have you heard? Chuck and I are going to Utah for a week! To see my kids! Plus Mother's Day, y'all! Oh, how I have missed those kids. Every picture of the Rocky Mountains has made me a little homesick, and a little teary.

In the past, we have always flown to Utah. Our lives have been turned upside-down, in a good way, since Bristol and Sami came to join us, and we didn't want to leave them in a kennel, if we could help it. Enter the crazy idea of taking them with us in a car.

My husband and I have done some serious road-tripping in our day. We've done trips alone, with our kids, and with each other. One thing we've never done is travel with a puppy; and never-ever with two puppies. Just when it was feeling like Chuck would never get a break from work, he found a week-long window he could take, and we jumped at the chance. 

Now we find ourselves gearing up for a 1,600 mile car trip from Illinois to Utah, with Sami and Bristol. Yikes. We haven't had time to prepare them for anything like this. I don't know if there could ever be enough time to prepare ourselves.

"Have WE got a surprise for YOU!" Chuck informed the puppies a couple days ago. I laughed nervously. I really hope they don't have any surprises for us. 

We took them for a ride to Walmart and then to Pizza Hut a couple nights ago. I'm not sure 30 minutes in the car did much in the way of acclimating them to the marathon we have planned. 

I've been scouring the internet for travel tips for dog owners. There are lists of pet-friendly hotel chains. Lists of things with which to stuff Kong toys. Packing lists. More suggestions for pet paraphernalia to buy.

We just can't seem to find anyone recommending driving 23 hours straight, plus time for gas station and rest area stops. Whew. We will do what we have to do. Chuck and I plan to take turns driving and sleeping, with plenty of puppy stretch/potty breaks. I wonder how much longer the trip will take with all of those thrown in. The learning curve will be steep on this trip, I'm thinking.

This week we ordered yet another crate; one with two doors for ease of access to the dogs in the car, and also for easier loading and unloading. We'll take two crates, and leave one for future use in Utah. Luckily, the puppies still fit in one large crate together, or we wouldn't have room for us to stretch out for sleeping. We also ordered some new items for chewing; bully sticks and Holee Roller balls. 

If you're interested, I bought these HERE.

If you've never heard of bully sticks, you can look them up online. I could do a whole blog post about those by themselves, but just suffice it to say, a bully stick is a beef product, and it is digestible. The product packaging says, "So good, your dog won't want to share." 

Boy, was that true! I had no sooner given each puppy a stick, and they each took off in opposite directions, and contentedly chewed on them for over an hour. Bristol finished his early, and thought Sami would want to share hers with him. He was wrong, and she let him know about it. 

My little arts and crafts project today was stuffing a Holee Roller ball with strips of old t-shirts. You know how dogs love to pull the stuffing out of toys? Well, this allows them to pull the strips of fabric through the holes in the ball. Treats can be tucked into the strips of fabric so they get little rewards during their playtime. I thought two shirts would be enough to fill the two balls, but they only filled one ball. One more to go.

We are very glad we bought the Highlander this year. It will be absolutely full with a crate for the puppies, camera gear, a cooler, clothing for a couple of days, dog food, snacks for humans and canines, an air mattress, blankets, and pillows. The puppies have a long list of their own: vet records, water, bowls, leashes, harnesses, bedding, paper towels, wipes, medicines...what am I forgetting?

If you're an experienced road traveler with pets, and have any suggestions we need to know about, tell me here in the comments, or on my Facebook page.  We only have a few more days to prepare for this adventure! 

Thank you!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Is It Time to Say Sayonara?

Can't wait to be with our Utah crew in Saint George, Utah. (Picture taken 2015)

With Mothers' Day approaching, I have been counting down the days until my annual Mother/Sons hike, especially knowing that this year's hike would include my husband, daughter, and daughter-in-law. We'll all be in Utah together in a couple of weeks; that just doesn't happen often enough.

Dylan and Bridger, Gunlock Canyon, 2015

My boys have lived in Utah all of their lives, and have treated me to a special day of hiking with one or both of them during the spring for the last few years. This year, Chuck, Sisi and Jamie are planning to join us. It had been looking like Chuck and I weren't going to make it to Utah until summer, so I was very excited to find out we were going to see all of my kids Mothers' Day weekend.

The last time we were all together was January 2017, hiking through the urban canyons of Chicago.

Just a week ago, I was reminded of an exchange between my mother and myself about my love of hiking. Basically, she told me to enjoy my outdoor activities as much as I can because we just never know when our bodies won't allow us to be full participants in the things we love to do. I nodded at the memory, thinking, "Yeah, yeah. At least I don't have to worry about that yet." I couldn't imagine saying goodbye to hiking; not this young.

Even though lately, my bum knee has been bummier than usual, I had high hopes it wouldn't prevent me from hiking. I tore the MCL during a downhill skiing accident a few years ago, and during my medical examination, the surgeon informed me I have arthritis, and would probably need to have knee replacement surgery within the next few years. I was flabbergasted. 

Happy New Year! 2013. BEFORE I took my first tumble. 
What was he talking about? My knees didn't even hurt. Well, except when I hyper extended my knee cartwheeling into a snow bank, and then did the same thing the next year to the other one when I tumbled down the slopes. Other than that, I had had no knee pain. I figured I just needed a second opinion.

In an attempt to put my fears to rest, I went to a rheumatologist. Dr . Mathews was just what I needed. After extensive testing, he informed me I did indeed have arthritis, an auto-immune disease called Sjogren's syndrome. We did not discuss surgery. He has helped me manage my symptoms with a prescription for a daily low-dose anti-inflammatory, and a series of knee injections to build up some cushioning. I honestly haven't seen him for about four years, and haven't had any problems. Until a couple months ago.

Since it had been several years, and my knee had started to hurt, I made an appointment with a rheumatologist in Illinois. She must be a pretty good doctor; she was booked four months out. In the meantime, I bought myself a knee brace, and I have hobbled around with periodic pops and little jolts of pain, but for the most part, it has been very manageable. I'll be glad when July gets here to see how the doctor can help me.

While I have been dealing with my knee, my heel decided to go wonky on me. Luckily, I have a high threshold for pain, and as long as I wear shoes, and walk carefully, my heel seems to be doing well enough. Chuck jokes that I have a hitch in my get-along these days. 

Last night, right before Chuck got home, I was doing my mad dash to tidy up the house. When I heard the garage door open, I thought I would be able to toss a box into the recycling bin in the garage, run back into the house, and make up the bed before Chuck walked in the door. 

My bad. I was barefoot, and as I leapt inside the door onto the ball of my foot, I felt a searing pain in my heel that sent me crashing into the couch. Taking slow, deep breaths, I stood up, keeping my weight off my right foot. I was doing a horrible job making the bed when Chuck walked in. Defeated, and in more pain than I wanted to admit, I hobbled over to him to welcome him home, and just have him hold me. 

Look at me now; knee brace on my left leg and Ace bandage and ice on my right foot. Of course, I've been trying to self-diagnose my condition with the help of Google. I know I'm not the only one of us who does that.

Mother's Day Hike 2016

Anyhoo, I'm trying to do whatever I can to make sure I get to go on my hike. While I'm waiting the suggested 72 hours to determine if I need to go to the doctor, I've narrowed it down to two things. My heel is either bruised, or has plantar fasciitis. Since more than one of my Google sources recommended the P.R.I.C.E. therapy for both conditions, I'm trying that: Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. 

Chuck took care of the puppies during the night so I wouldn't have to take them outside, and he is working from home today to take care of Bristol, Sam, and me. I can get from Point A to Point B on my own, it just takes me longer, and it hurts like a son of a gun. Luckily, I made a big pot of chili yesterday, and we were already planning on pizza tomorrow night, so Chuck won't have to be bothered with making suppers. 

I hope I'm pouring sand out of my shoes in a couple of weeks.

Wish me luck. I have less than two weeks to heal before hiking. My mom was right; she usually is. I really hope I get to keep doing the things I love a lot longer. I'm not ready to say sayonara to hiking just yet!

Snow Canyon, 2013.