Cooking up a life together

May 27, 2012 By Emily Etheredge, Staff Writer

Blind couple finds love and unity in the kitchen

Jared Bears has never seen his wife.

But he thinks she is pretty, even beautiful, and amazing.

He gushes over her every move and knows without question that she is one of the best things that has ever happened to him.

Jenni Bears says her husband is her best friend and laughs at his jokes as if she is his biggest fan.

Both Jenni and Jared are legally blind and have never seen one another. They married Aug. 30, 2008.

In their Riverton apartment that is modestly decorated but homey and welcoming, the two bantered with an inspiring admiration and love of one another.

When asked what Jared loves about Jenni, he had a quick answer.

"I love her because she is always around when no one else is."

They share a zest for life as they reside at the Rendezvous Apartments, an apartment complex in Riverton for anyone disabled or 62 years and older.

Jared, 29, and Jenni, 26, met after moving into the same apartment complex and quickly fell in love after meeting one another.

"She lived two apartments down. Once I met her, I thought she was beautiful, and we hit it right off," Jared said.

Jenni has partial vision in one eye and if she holds things directly up to her face, but everything looks blurry. On a cloudy day struggles seeing anything at all.

"Lighting is really important to me," Jenni said. "If it is cloudy outside, I can't read anything. I really can only see some things if the sunlight is a certain way."

The two understand they have limitations, such as not being able to travel everywhere they would like to or easily watch a movie together, but they do not let blindness hinder them.

They watch movies together, with Jenni looking at the television screen from close up and describing what she can see to Jared.

"If the movie has a lot of audio I don't have to describe a whole lot to him," Jenni said. "Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of movies that are solely audio, so I try to describe everything that is happening as best as I can."

Setting goals

After eating pre-packaged, processed foods when they first got married, Jenni wanted to better the couple's eating habits due to recognizing they had a long life ahead of them.

She wanted to spend as much time as possible with her husband, so she set a goal to learn how to cook. Now the two share an extraordinary bond from learning how to cook with one another everyday.

"Jared cuts up all the onions and peppers for me because he doesn't want me to accidentally get hurt," Jenni said.

One of their favorite meals to cook together is tacos although it is a tossup for Jared on whether he enjoys making beef stew just as well.

The University of Wyoming Extension's Cent$sible Nutrition Program helps families improve nutrition and food safety practices for complete, safe nutrition, plan and shop for adequate food, and increase physical activity for well-being. The program allows the Bears to try different recipes and enjoy spending time together over home-cooked meals.

Cent$ible Nutrition program coordinator Marilu Vaughn helps the the couple in selecting a recipe and preparing the food on a weekly basis. Vaughn helps them learn different methods to creating enjoyable cuisine.

"Part of the Cent$ible Nutrition program is aimed at teaching people about nutrition, and both Jared and Jenni have been so enthusiastic about learning to cook," Vaughn said.

"They have set a goal for themselves and have worked really hard to ensure that they are not only eating healthy but learning something they thought they might never be able to learn."

Kitchen techniques

Jenni relies solely on details of temperature settings and cooking time that must be included in a recipe for her to try.

"I rely a lot on how long something takes to cook and know how to set my timer for a specific amount of time, so that really helps me," Jenni said.

Jenni has mastered scrambled eggs. Knowing the temperature setting for the skillet that has Braille temperature gauge, Jenni knows an egg cooks for three minutes at the right temperature.

"I crack the egg, set my timer for three minutes, walk away from the stove, and know when the timer goes off that the egg is finished," Jenni said.

Many of the utensils in the Bears' kitchen have Braille markings to help with the cooking process.

Jenni orders from a company in New York City, but there is not a lot of kitchen equipment made for the blind.

"I rely a lot on my crock pot, which is wonderful because I know I can set the timer for a certain period of time and it will cook in the crock pot," Jenni said.

When Jenni set the goal to cook, she transcribed many of the Cent$ible Nutrition recipes by typing them into a Braille machine. Although it took her a long time to type out all the recipes, she was determined. Now she approaches a new recipe with confidence. (Cent$ible Nutrition will release a Braille cookbook this summer.)

Although the two enjoy cooking together Jenni says Jared's tastes are particular, making it somewhat harder to find things he will like to eat.

"Yeah, he is a bit picky, so getting him to eat three meals a day is a bit tricky," Jenni said. "He does like meat, though. He is pretty much a big carnivore."

The two are hooked up with a program through a home health that helps them shop for groceries weekly.

"If I had to go to buy my groceries alone, it would take me a long time, because a lot of the stores are not easily accessible for someone who is visually impaired," Jenni said.

Setting goals

Jenni said she enjoys cooking because it gives her more variety in her diet as well as having fresh alternatives to foods that aren't healthy.

"I am the one who occasionally suggests we go eat fast food," Jared added.

The Bears have enjoyed accomplishing a goal they didn't think was possible. They want continue setting goals for themselves.

"I would love to be able to rock climb in South Dakota. but I would have to talk Jared into letting me do that because he would be afraid something bad would happen to me," Jenni said.

Jared and Jenni Bear continue to enjoy life and count every day spent with one a blessing.

"I honestly love spending time with her," Jared said.

Jenni says being blind can be difficult, because a lot of people think if you are blind then you aren't successful.

"We live in a sight-dominated society that caters to people who are able to see," Jenni said. "Just because you have limitations you shouldn't let them stop you. People shouldn't focus on the handicap but the person. I can now do things I never even thought I could do."

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Jared Bears, left, and wife Jenni can't see each other, but they have learned to cook together. Photo by Emily Etheredge.

Jared Bears, left, and wife Jenni can't see each other, but they have learned to cook together. Photo by Emily Etheredge.

Jared Bears, left, and wife Jenni can't see each other, but they have learned to cook together. Photo by Emily Etheredge.

Jared Bears, left, and wife Jenni can't see each other, but they have learned to cook together. Photo by Emily Etheredge.

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