Friday, September 29, 2017

Just Say Yes

Chianti's is a little Italian restaurant in downtown Geneva we consider our place. There are little twinkly lights strung around the trees outside, and inside, the tables are covered with white linen tablecloths, and Frank Sinatra is crooning his tunes through the sound system. We like the atmosphere as much as the food.

Sunset over Geneva, Illinois

Knowing we had a crazy-full weekend ahead of us, Chuck surprised me by offering a week night date night at Chianti's. That's a big deal, folks. #Teambennorth heads to bed very early on "school nights;" we're talking 7:30 or 8:00. So going out on a night other than Friday or Saturday was pretty monumental. It was easy to say yes to his proposal.

After we paid our bill at Chianti's, we headed down Third Street, holding hands and talking, strolling past the quaint boutiques and restaurants. As we neared Graham's Fine Chocolates and Ice Cream, Chuck asked if I wanted dessert. 

"Nah. I'm good," I said.

My husband stopped in his tracks. "Who are you, and what did you do with my wife?" he asked. 

It was a valid question. In the three years we've been together, I can't remember a time I turned down ice cream. As I considered my answer, I realized he loves Graham's for their mint chocolate chip ice cream as much as I just love ice cream, in general. I couldn't come up with a reason I was refusing it, but I determined I didn't want to be the wife who was the wet blanket. 

"I changed my mind; let's stop at Graham's." 

Chuck should be getting used to not being surprised about my changing my mind; at least, he doesn't get perturbed with me. 

By the time we got home, I was starting to get congested. The next morning, I wasn't feeling too great, and by Sunday I was SICK, but the generic versions of DayQuil and NyQuil kept my fever down, and my symptoms at bay. My cold ended up lasting less than a week, and now I'm up and at 'em, doing all the stuff I didn't do at all last week. 

Next time I refuse ice cream, we'll have to check my temperature. I'm probably just getting sick. 

I've always tried to say YES to the good stuff life sends my way. I'm glad I came to my senses in time to remember to say YES to ice cream. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Like a Good Neighbor...

All was quiet in our neighborhood Saturday morning. We live in the middle house at the end of our cul de sac. Chuck and I bring up the average age of our neighbors considerably, but they have included us in their social circle, and we love it. None of us could know what that day held for us. Sometimes it's best not to know.

We had an afternoon family photo shoot in Wisconsin on our Saturday lineup, but our morning was wide open, which was a pretty exciting prospect for a girl who enjoys a loose schedule. I love having a little wiggle room to futz and putter. Maybe we would even all go for a walk! 

As it turned out, the day turned hot early, and our day went from wide open to really packed, really fast. Chuck looked up from his editing program on his computer, and asked if I still wanted to walk the puppies. 

"It's just too hot," I told him, as I rearranged the throw pillows so I could stretch out on the couch. Well, with Bristol, I never get to really stretch out because he is usually tucked behind me or on one end of the couch, but I felt a nap coming on. 

Chuck took that as having the "all clear" for a nap of his own, and left to lie down on his "headache couch" to let his Excedrin migraine start to work.  Yes, my poor husband has headaches so often that his preferred couch for recuperation is lovingly called the headache couch around here. We had about an hour before we had to leave for Wisconsin, and we were choosing to spend the time resting, and then getting ready.

"What is that smell?" I asked myself, looking first at Bristol, and then Sam. Hm. No, the smell was awful, but it wasn't them. Was it the pillow beneath my head? The dogs have been known to take naps on it occasionally; maybe I was smelling a little "eau de canine." Inhaling deeply, I determined that no, the pillow wasn't the source of the foul smell. 

One thing about me is I have a pretty good sense of smell. I may be deaf in one ear, and may have deteriorating vision, but my sniffer knows when the air is sweet or foul. I wasn't going to be able to sleep with that fragrance wafting through the house, so as much as I hated to disturb my great grey puppy, I got up in search of the smell.

The odor seemed stronger by the window, and I knelt down near the air vent. Ugh. The smell was coming through the vent with the cooled air. Uh-oh. I headed off to the basement. Halfway down the stairs, I saw water covering half of the floor in the main room, and I immediately knew from where the smell was coming. 

"CHUCK! The basement is flooded!" Dang. There would be no naps for us, and no headache relief for my sweet Chuck.

Chuck and I spent the next hour routing out the drainage pipe. No Roto-Rooter for us; my handyman husband had his own equipment to get the job done. I was so nervous we were going to be late for the photo shoot, but as it turned out, the water started draining, and Chuck even had time for a quick shower before we left for Wisconsin. 

It wouldn't be until later that I realized I wasn't slogging through water downstairs. The house smelled awful because our sewer pipe had  spewed sewage over most of our basement floor. Oh, My-lan-ta. Talk about gross.

In checking with our neighbors, we realized that the sewer had backed up into five of our homes. Nothing brings neighbors together like a shared calamity. Through our private Facebook page, we updated each other on information from the city, cleaning tips, and some good-natured joking and teasing. 

We received an invitation to a bon fire with our neighbors next weekend. I laughed when I saw the Facebook post: "Poo Flood Relief, event for Tha Hood." 

You know you have good neighbors when you can laugh about cleaning sewage out of the basement, and you know you have the best neighbors when you not only laugh, but you celebrate it!

Our neighbors are here for us, and we hope they know we are here for them. State Farm's got nothing on these guys. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Fear of Failure

All of my life, I have been afraid of failing. Luckily, I was a good student, and things came easily for me in school, or my story would be very different. When it comes to athletics or creativity, any talent I have, I struggled to achieve. 

What is under that leaf you might wonder. Hang on. I'll show you.

Basically, if I don't succeed at something with my initial exposure, I tend to walk away, and I don't look back. I do better with things that are incremental, like when I used to lift weights. It was easy to start light, and progress to heavier weights. And when I began taking pictures as a little girl, I was happy if pictures were in focus, and I didn't cut off any heads, or have my finger in the picture. It wasn't until later in life that I took my photography seriously, and now I love it.

In high school and college, I took art classes. I had some fun with drawing, but painting intimidated me. I remember I did a painting with acrylics of some pine trees shrouded by fog. I loved the original work I copied; mine, not so much. It was missing something, but I had no idea what. 

My stepmom and my aunt are artists, and both of them are good at painting. I have friends who are crazy-talented with a paintbrush. One day I would love to paint a picture that does not embarrass me. 

Chuck has encouraged me to return to my art. He would love for me to start sketching and painting. I have thought it might be fun, but then I wonder, what if I'm bad at it? I haven't done much drawing in years, unless you count drawing Peppa the Pig for Miss V. 
So, I mustered up some courage, and I signed up for a painting class. "Fall birch trees" sounded lovely. The siren song of all things autumn sang to me, and on an impulse, I registered for the free painting workshop at our Saint Charles library. 

Oh, lordy, what had I done?

When I arrived, the room was full of old women and one man. No offense to the folks, but let's face it, any class offered at one in the afternoon isn't going to be full of college students, stay-at-home moms, or people who are gainfully employed. We were all retirees. 

Each work station was outfitted with a sheet of watercolor paper, watercolor pencils, markers and pencils. There was a beautiful print of fall birch trees for us to copy. I began to feel very nervous. 

I wanted to capture the richness in the sample, with dark shadows and jewel-toned colors.

Paint brushes put fear in my heart. They seem to have a will of their own. This class by Christine Thornton appealed to me because we were going to use water color PENCILS, and then apply a bit of water with paintbrushes to activate the paint. It seemed safer than a full-on painting class with palettes and tubes of paint. 

As I painstakingly tried to copy the teacher, I realized I was taking most of the fun out of it for me. My fear of failure reared its ugly head. 

When Christine stood in front of me, and picked up my painting, I could barely breathe. She said something that had an encouraging tone, but I was so anxious, I had no idea what words she said. All I knew was my painting did not match the original beside my own, and I was disappointed. 

Good grief! Doesn't the red blob look like a humongous cardinal hugging the tree?

Teachers can encourage and cajole all they want, but it is up to the student to be teachable. We were reminded time and time again that our work would be our own, and would not be identical to the sample. I didn't care. I wanted mine to look that good. Never mind that I haven't taken an art class in over three decades.

As soon as she concluded class, I cleaned up my supplies, and headed home. I didn't even stay for the librarian's photo of our group. 

At my kitchen table, I studied my painting. There were things I liked; the birch trees' markings, the shadows on the trunks, and the way the colors blended between the trees. There were things I hated; the too-bright colors, the blob of red leaves on the left that looked like a humongous cardinal hugging the birch tree. 

As I looked at my painting, I had ideas of how I could improve it. I decided I wanted a mulligan. Maybe if I practiced, I would get better. (I know; some of us are pretty dense.)

Amazon will be delivering my Derwent watercolor pencils and my cold press watercolor paper today. I might not get my painting to look just like the professional's, but I bet I can make improvement on my own. That seems a goal worthy of a beginner. And I have to remember that is exactly what I am, a beginner.

Here's to being willing to fail without being afraid. Seeing fear fade into the distance of my rear-view mirror will be a welcome sight. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Waiting for the Fog to Lift

The fog has blanketed the city of Saint Charles these last two mornings. Yesterday, it felt like a dark, grey fog had settled in my soul. The puppies seemed to sense my sadness, and they took several naps with me. 

When I feel like this, I tend to return to old habits which include grazing my way through the day. I have eaten too many cookies, and too much ice cream these last couple of weeks. Rather than address what's bothering me, I eat until I feel numb. Then I sleep. 

This morning Chuck was at the breakfast table, reading from his iPad while he ate. The steam from the crumbled sausage rose to my cheeks, mingling with my hot tears. I wiped my eyes, and tried to focus on the sweet, maple-scented sausage. I was afraid if I spoke, the dam would break, and I wouldn't be able to stop crying.

Today I will fly "back home;" only I won't even see my house. All of the kids have places of their own, and we are congregating in Saint George for my long weekend in Utah. I've always felt like I was "going home," whether I was flying to Utah or Illinois, but this time, there will be no time at home; not mine, anyway.

I looked up from the sausage, glancing at Chuck. Would he understand my attachment to a building? Would I burden him with my inevitable tears? 

"Honey, I think the thing that bothers me about going home this time is I am not actually going home. I won't see the house at all." That's when the tears really began to fall. Chuck pushed his chair back, and wrapped me in his arms. He knows he can't make everything better, but he can listen to me, and hold me. 

You see, the little house that got me through two divorces, and welcomed Chuck into its coziness when we met in the fall of 2014, is standing vacant right now. I am 1,400 miles away from my home of healing. I love The Cozy Cottage for everything that it was, and what I hoped it would be, our retirement home. What it is right now is empty. Very, very empty.

There are no loaves of home-baked bread cooling on the counter. There are no silly conversations taking place at the kitchen table. There are no suitcases and duffle bags in the bedrooms. There are no dogs or cats on the couch. It is just the shell of the home it once was.

When my daughter needed a place to live, Chuck and I offered the cottage to her. It proved to be a place of refuge for her, too, until she was ready to spread her wings and fly again.

After Chuck left for work this morning, he called to let me know the fog was offering beautiful photo opportunities this morning. He reminded me all of my little chores could wait. I didn't have to be told twice. For one thing, I was glad to postpone dealing with all of these feelings ricocheting around in my heart. I left as soon as I was dressed.

My photography session went from walking around the city by myself, to driving out to a bird sanctuary with my friend Susan. I'm lucky that Chuck and Susan are both good listeners, and they both let me cry when I need to do that. Taking pictures, especially while outdoors, calms my spirit.

By the time I got home, I was calmer. My oldest son called me, and I told him how I was feeling. He offered to take me to my house this weekend; it would be a quick round trip so we could be with everyone in Saint George. I realized how silly I sounded, and thanked him sincerely for his offer. Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and we will go home for our Thanksmas. And that will be just fine. I'm going to be okay.

When I got home, I took the last of the ice cream, and filled the carton full of water and emptied it into the sink. I ate an apple while I edited my pictures. Letting the tears fall and my words find a voice has soothed my soul. I feel so much better, even though nothing has changed. The fog is finally lifting. 

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Git 'Er Done

Click-bait. Sorry. This post isn't really about Bristol at all.

After a couple of weeks of laziness and procrastination, things got real yesterday, and I decided I better get busy. It was time to "git 'er done," as Larry the Cable Guy would say. I checked things off my list right and left, and didn't even stop for a nap. What??? I know; I shocked myself.

Post-bath nap. Bristol was shivering; hence, the blanky.

The vacuuming I've been avoiding? Done. The puppy baths I didn't want to do? Check. Contending with the drawer in which a mouse wreaked havoc? Sanitized! The dust bunnies that have been multiplying like rabbits? Removed! The two extra dog crates that have been hanging around in the living room for a couple of weeks? Put away! That mowing I've been putting off? Done and done; sorta. (Confession: I only did the front yard. HAH! But hey, at least we have a little curb appeal again, and our neighbors don't have to look at our overgrown yard any more.)

This is what they look like when you follow THE RECIPE

Not only did I get laundry and dishes done, I baked a double batch of my fail-proof BEST EVER chocolate chip cookies. Except I managed to botch the batches yesterday. 

But Denise, they're fail-proof. I know what you're thinking. They are fail-proof when we follow the directions. I was in a hurry, and forgot one little detail. The recipe doesn't call for three cups of flour; it calls for three and a HALF. Oh, well. The cookies are still delicious; they just aren't perfect. (Recipe right HERE. Trust me. You want this recipe. Just remember to read the ingredient list carefully. It DOES make a difference.)

Made me laugh. Wouldn't hiring a maid service be awesome?
But then I think of what I'd have to do before they came. Nah...

My stepmom called me mid-frenzy and I told her what I was getting done. She teased, saying she only does that when company's coming. That's the thing, y'all. Company is coming! 

Last night we had our oldest son and his wife over for Giordano's pizza and Lord of the Rings, and Sunday we have friends coming to dinner. We plan to be gone all day today, so my only chance to whip the house into shape was yesterday. 

Did I learn any important lessons about procrastination? No. It's too late, you guys. I have always been a "wait until the last minute" kind of gal. I'm retired now. There are no schedules, no deadlines, no pressure. Life is sweet. I like to linger in the sweetness as long as possible, and then I dive in and get things done when they have to be done. I've been this way all my life. We're not changing this horse's colors this late in the race.

My husband is realizing that our house goes through an amazing transformation whenever we have friends and family coming over. I guess the one lesson I've learned about myself is having folks over is very motivating to me. Maybe we should have people visit on a regular basis. I'd "git 'er done" much more often.

Gratuitous picture of our pretty girl Sami.

Thursday, September 7, 2017


The very first time Chuck took me to the Bristol Renaissance Faire, I was so excited. While we were waiting for the gates of Bristol to "open wide," there was a cheer offered by one of the noble ladies of court.

"Hip! Hip!" she began expectantly.

My lone voice said, "Hooray!" and the crowd drowned me out with, "HUZZAH!"

Huzzah, huh? Well, I learned something new. Huzzah is an exclamation used to express approval or delight. It's just not a word I ever hear outside the gates of Bristol.

Did you know HUZZAH can be a verb? Huzzahing is to cry huzzah.

I huzzah.
You huzzah.
She huzzahs.

We huzzah.You huzzah.They huzzah.

There's a whole lot of huzzahing going on at the faire.

"Tip! Tip! Huz-ZAH for the tip-per!" the vendors yell, and they ring a bell any time a patron leaves them a tip.

"Hip! Hip! Huzzah!" for the Queen.

"Hip! Hip! Huzzah!" during the parade.

Sometimes huzzahs are exuberant and hearty.

And sometimes huzzahs are less than enthusiastic and a little half-hearted. 

Huzzahs can be upside down and right side up. 

Huzzah is just a very fun way to say HURRAH or HOORAY! I'm going to see if I can start to work it into my every day conversations. Want to join me? 

Get Your Chores Done!

"Get your chores done!"

Could someone tell me to get my chores done? It's not working for me to make a to-do list. I just keep making new lists each week, and add the chores to the list that I didn't do last week.

I'm 56 years old, and I am still not keen on this adulting thing. One day, I hope I will be mature enough to say to myself, "This is a chore you need to get done," and then I will get said chore done. But that day is not today, and yesterday was not that day either.

I guess I still need my mom to remind me that Thursday is chore day, so I can play guilt-free all weekend. Maybe I need a chore chart and an incentive dangling like a carrot in front of my nose so I will get things done. As it is, I procrastinate things like vacuuming, dusting, and lawn mowing until the house or yard becomes an embarrassment. (Sorry, Chuck. Sorry, neighbors.)

Yesterday I avoided mowing the lawn by doing some serious research with Nutella. The teacher in me loves doing experiments. I had a hypothesis, and it was this: Nutella could make nearly all of my favorite snack foods taste better. 

Now, I had never bought Nutella before yesterday, so I couldn't be certain this was true, so I set out to see if it were. It turns out, that Nutella does, in fact, make many of my favorite snack foods taste better. Notice the qualifier, "favorite snack" foods. I don't think Nutella would make potato chips or watermelon taste better, but it made a noticeable improvement in the foods I tried. 

Do you know what does taste better with Nutella? Strawberries. Oh, my gosh, those were amazing. Bananas are great with Nutella, too. Pretzel sticks are yumbo with Nutella. This will be an ongoing experiment. 

Today I had to take a break from sugar, as I overdid things yesterday, but I am looking forward to resuming my research soon. I would think waffles, pancakes, cookies, and ice cream could all benefit from a little dollop of Nutella.

So yesterday scientific research distracted me from my mowing task. Today I am hiding behind a headache to avoid cutting the grass. Thank goodness the weather has turned cooler; our lawn's grass growth has slowed considerably, and I am using that to my advantage.

I finally was able to capture a cardinal in a photograph. This is my favorite shot.

While today was not a good day for me to mow, it was a great day for Coffee and Cameras with Susan. A little headache wasn't going to keep me home; I'd have to be pretty sick to miss one of those days.  It was a good day for listening to country music. It was a good day for a long nap with the puppies, too. It has been a wonderful day for burning candles with delicious-sounding names like Pecan Pumpkin Cake and Pumpkin Frosting. 

Maybe tomorrow will be a good day for mowing, but today is for easing this headache with self-indulgence and lots of liquids. I think I'll look into chore charts for adults. Does anyone know where I can buy some gold foil stars? 

* * * 
Some shots from today's Coffee and Cameras Day at Willowbrook Wildlife Center.