Thursday, November 2, 2017

Ziggy's Big Adventure

Let me begin by introducing myself. I'm Ziggy.
For several years now, I've called Der Tiergarten my home. That's "animal garden" in German, in case you wondered, and it's where my humans put their feet up on my back when they sit in that old chair in the corner all the dad gummed time. I don't mind - it's a nice little back massage.

A few weekends ago I met Clover, Petal, Princess Areola (yeah, that's right), Blaze, Coriander, Raven, and Douchwa Gina (long i - for real). They arrived in batches, three at a time. Thursday night they all gathered 'round by candlelight and ate some crazy good smelling food and drank wine. One of those nutty gals kept kicking her leg in the air hollering, "I'm Fifty. AND I CAN KICK!" while the others giggled and drank more wine. They played funny videos on TV, concluded that modern-day Mark Whalberg is better than the Marky Mark version, and decided that Justin Timberlake really is all that. All the while they massaged my back. Heavenly doesn't begin to describe it.

Then next day they lounged for quite awhile - far longer than when those boys are around and out the door to go fishing right after breakfast. Nope - the ladies have coffee on the deck, then more coffee, then breakfast, then more coffee. They finally leave mid-day, to go do cool things like see a cranberry harvest.
So many berries!
Oh - and the girls giggled a bit about this one when they returned. Something about a shirtless man? Zoom in, people. Zoom in.
Meet Harold.
They tell me that he's 94 and guides the tours over there at Lake Nokomis all season. I wanna look like that when I'm 94, but just with a little more hair and oomph around the middle.

That crazy Douchwa Gina practiced her kick with a Coriander assist...
...then they continued their tour and and came back late in the afternoon. Batch #2 finally arrived, and I could tell the party was on!

For awhile on Friday evening they left me alone in the cabin, but popped in one or two at a time to refill their glasses, chat, or grab a bite to eat before heading back outside. From my vantage point I spied a campfire outside, heard lots of hoots and hollers, then a gargantuan BANG from the neighbor's house that almost tipped me right over on my side, followed by more squeals and shouts by the campfire.

Yep - our crazy neighbors were at it again. They shot their cannon once for that nutty group of flower children invading my cabin, and another for the other neighbor boy home from basic training in the Navy.

Much too early, all the ladies came rushing inside. The ringleader, my human mama named Petal, told everyone to grab a coat. She held a couple of blankets, and they all started shouting at once. "Do we need IDs? Wallets? Cash? WHERE ARE WE GOING?"

"It's a surprise," mama insisted. They wanted to know all day long what the surprise entailed, but she was not giving it up. "We will be outside and there is no campfire at our destination, so put a hat and gloves on if you think you'll be chilly." With that, she turned on her heel and walked out the door.

SIGH. I always get left behind around here. I usually figure out what happened with the storytelling when they return, but for once I'd like to get outta here too, you know? Suddenly Douchwa Gina picked me up and swung me around. "THE BEAR IS GOING WITH US!"
"Yes yes!" they all agreed. "He'll protect us!" And my heart leapt into my throat with excitement and anticipation. I haven't been out of this cabin for a good ten years. I couldn't wait to see where the surprise destination took us!

Princess Areola drove, as she only had one glass of wine for the evening. Mama Petal sat up front with her to provide directions, and I gotta admit - fear started bubbling up when we turned into the mystery driveway and all the other flower powers started protesting. "No way. Nope - I ain't doin' it. No sir. I AM NOT GETTING OUT OF THIS CAR!"
But Mama wasn't having it. "Get out!" she demanded. "We're stargazing, and this cemetery is the best place to see all the sky. There's some lush grass over here and the car blocks all the headstones in the distance. Trust me."

Reluctantly we all piled out, and Douchwa Gina clutched me even closer to her chest. Petal told us to all be quiet so we didn't disturb the neighbors nearby. As she squatted down to the blanket and laid her head back, Clover shared her true feelings, "Petal, I have never been more out of my comfort zone than I am right now." Later Mama told me it was the best thing she heard all weekend, because she believes that some of the best and most memorable moments come from doing what's uncomfortable.

Who knew you could have a party among the dead? It was great fun. After an hour or so we ventured back home and everyone settled in for the night. Blaze took FOREVER with her beauty regimen, and all the other flowers made fun of her. Before long all were asleep, and I sat in front of my chair with a giant grin on my face, having ended the best day of my life.

Saturday morning arrived with yet another promise of a great day, and the girls sipped coffee and mimosas on the deck. Just before they all geared up to leave, Douchwa Gina carried me to a back bedroom and connived with Princess Areola. She came out to show the others what they were up to.
We joined back to back! I love their silly. It's so much fun. But the even greater thing happened next - THEY TOOK ME WITH THEM AGAIN!
We drove a lot longer this time, but I didn't care because my head couldn't swivel fast enough to take it all in. We finally arrived to the hiking trail in the woods. Being back in my home element felt groovy and so comforting.

Everyone took turns carrying me. Douchwa Gina started off, but she quickly tired. She may be fifty and can kick but she needs a new back. Princess Areola hoisted me high.
 
And Blaze strapped me up.
Clover performed my favorite move - she bear crawled up a hill with me!
Raven so cute in her pink held her walking stick and that mystery cup that accompanied her everywhere all weekend while she gave me the ultimate back massage.
Mama planked with me.
Princess Areola climbed a tree with me - another favorite pastime I haven't played in so long!
Coriander snuggled me and told me it'd be ok after I encountered the wet nose of a Golden Retriever.
His owner calls her "Golden Keeper" because she always keeps the stick.
My favorite part of the hike? WINE STOP by the lake. I love seeing the girls totally loose without a care in the world, being 100% in the moment.
We all laughed and smiled, sipped some wine and wondered at the ravens squawking above while we nibbled on some snacks and played with deer poop.
The things these ladies say...they'll either make you shudder or bust a gut. It all depends on your frame of mind, and your willingness to tolerate utter nonsense.
Uh...I think I had too much wine and a few too many cheetos. 
And what's that pink brassiere doing on me? Those silly girls.
They done gone wild.

After our hike we did some more crawling, which is my favorite. But this time we crawled to a few local drinking establishments. First stop - Northern Waters Distillery. Mama Petal loves Peter and Lisa who run the joint, but they were out having their own fun. The sweet young man they left behind poured us some samples, enjoyed our antics, and even took a picture for us, dutifully noting they have a very small (ahem) bench in the store.
By now Princess Areola donned a mask. Don't worry - things got even stranger as the evening progressed.
Next stop for the beer lovers in the group - Rocky Reef Brewery. This cool place makes beers like Musky Bite and Staycation and my favorite - The Outhouse. Der Tiergarten could use one of those on a weekend when those girls descend. Phewwie! Our resident beer connoisseur, the very own Blaze herself, donned the princess mask for her favorite bevvies.
Our next destination took us back to the island of Minocqua and The Vine - one of Mama Petal's favorite spots. Clover took over on mask duty, and she snuggled me up right away on the chaise lounge.
The girls ripped loose with a few bottles of wine. Douchwa Gina channeled her inner Jackie O just like she always does.
Mama Petal broke up the party and told us all to meet her outside. She ran next door and got a couple of pizzas to go, but man do flower children take a long time in the bathroom! She snarfed down pizza out on the sidewalk with Douchwa Gina and Raven while they waited, and waited, and waited...

Finally Douchwa and Raven went inside to corral the buffoons. Everyone piled back into the car and we wound around a dark, tree-lined road to our final destination of the evening - the Little Brown Jug! Everyone in the bar hurrahed when we entered. I made immediate friends with random dudes.
Blaze and I bonded over another beer.
And Mama Petal finally wore the mask. Look at her go - turns out I love belly massages just as much as I do back massages!
We met another group of flowers on their own girls weekend and joined forces for a while. They rocked! Mama Petal dropped her phone and shattered her glass while chatting them up. She is forever grateful to the girl who gave her the protective cover off her own phone to protect Mama's fingers from glass razors. Now that is a woman who's got another's back.

Clover found herself a new man.
And Coriander donned the mask with a sweet smile.
Oh, and that board? I guess you could call it a vision board, of sorts. It has all kinds of visions that bring back giggles and hysterical memories on every one of these trips. Even if the girls didn't join in on the fun, they look at quotes from years past and listen to the stories. Then they run out and create their own. Problem is that sometimes they forget the quotes, so bringing the board along eliminated that issue, and every funny antic made it to the board this year.

For the worry warts out there - you can all breathe easy. Mama Petal designated herself as chauffeur for the day, and she drank very little so everyone else could get raucous. All the flowers remained safe and arrived back to the cabin in one piece after belting out a little "Just a small town girl!" on the way home. They continued to snuggle and love on me and pass me around until we safely arrived back in our cozy cabin.

And that, my friends, is a wrap. I can assure you that everyone left rejuvenated, constantly smiling and laughing from all the silliness and good clean fun. Acting like a kid again is so exhilarating. So next time you stop at a gas station and a great song comes on just as you're pulling in?

Jump out and jam for a minute. Invite the gas station attendant to join you. Bring your stuffed woobie along. Let him salute his spirit brother.
And have a party in the USA, man.

XOXO,
Ziggy


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Thoughts by Candlelight

Earlier today with euphoria coursing through my veins I traveled north on Route 17, on my final leg of a 5.5 hour ride North to the cabin. I rolled the windows down and blasted Bono singing about God's Country despite the fact he's actually crooning about the desert. I unabashedly inserted "Northwoods" at the top of my lungs with my hair swirling while the tingles hit hard in my upper thighs. I looked to my right at a crystal blue lake winking in the sun and actually pinched my cheek while tears sprung to my eyes.

Is this really my home? Yes, it is. Because according to the GPS in my Jeep, I entered "home" in the "where to" navigation system, and I was ten minutes away.

Officially a mid-lifer, not much gives me goosebumps anymore. I'm way past the early relationship butterflies, thanks to a rock solid sexyman who turns me on just by reading about cosmic events over coffee. OK, maybe stars colliding don't really get me going, but my morning spooner with perfect facial stubble sure does. That and the fact that he still tries to scare the wits out of me with fake snakes.

Arrival day (used to be night) at the cabin is idyllic. It's the beginning of a stretch of days ahead that offer promise and adventure. Upon walking into the cabin today, I spied a smidge of Dalmore scotch sitting on the counter and immediately knew who left it: Mr. Boy Scout. The boys just enjoyed another fishing trip, and look who lived up to his namesake.



Yep. Mr. Musky snagged a nice one.

Something special will happen in the next four days. I'll experience something I've never seen, heard, smelled, felt, or tasted before. Friends will descend - friends from different avenues of my life - and yet another social experiment will unfold. I have a little wisdom in the bank these days, and I know they'll all walk away friends.

It's time for me to let the proverbial cat out of the bag. We're selling our Plainfield home. Mr. Musky and I are moving North for good, together forever. Well, as long as our abled bodies will hold out, that is. I've been negligent here and on Apéritif Friday as I purge, sell, and donate like a madwoman. Why do we collect and hold onto shit? That's seriously what it is. It's all shit. We don't need it. We just need people in our lives to create meaningful moments.  The "things" that adorn our walls and collect dust on our end tables mean nothing. It's the memories and experiences with people that matter.

That's why I made the same dinner I always do on arrival night. You can ask my mom or Michelle - if you're with me on the night we unlock the magical door to this happy place that dictates relaxation, we eat sweet potato hash with sockeye salmon. All cooked on my crappy induction stovetop, which I actually love.

I bought myself a $35 bottle of wine to enjoy tonight. An indulgence, to be sure, to drink solo. But I'm savoring every last drop. A few tears accompany my journey down memory lane.

As I sit here in the candlelight after eating my stupid simple dinner, I put my phone down and listen to spotify "relax and unwind" (damn you kids for turning me onto the best music app ever - your dad and his Apple obsession are dead wrong on this one).
I look around, and memories blast me in the face like a fire hydrant. I drown in images of Jake as a five-year-old, screaming "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE!" as he leaps off the end of the dock. I see our beautiful girl dressed in a red, white, and blue gingham dress as she flings herself into the water versus letting the neighbor boy throw her in. I listen to those little rugrats in the loft, thinking we're fast asleep, as they talk about things that matter most to 9 and 11 year olds. I watch my Mom and Dad glide on the Adirondack swing watching their grandchildren play in the water as the sun sets. My mother-in-law and father-in-law toast chardonnay as we putt putt around the lake on a sunset cruise. Thirteen girlfriends, some of whom I'd never even met before (when you tell your friends to invite their friends, it just works) live harmoniously together for a weekend. Three of my best friends come back. Sheer ridiculousness and buffoonery ensue in later years. Quiet family moments prevail throughout. Mr. Musky's sister gets kicked out of a local bar, the little rebel. Winter Girl's Weekend kicks off when yet another group of women start a new revolution of girls gone wild.

This little home holds so many freaking memories. There's no dishwasher here, which kinda sucks. The stove is shit. The oven doesn't work. There's no central air, no conventional heating, our water's not ideal, and we even had to eliminate a bat once, old school style. We've hosted international camp counselors, extended family members, family and friends who've passed on, business associates, babies, geriatrics, random strangers kayaking by, and 13 people in the dead of winter (and I quote, as I declared to my best friend: "Never. Fucking. Again.").

I cannot stop the tears. I adore this place. I cherish our memories and the love these walls hold.

I'm blathering on because one of our very possible scenarios involves tearing this place down and rebuilding anew. Until that day comes, I will savor every single memory and moment here. I feel to the kneecaps, and at some point it'll travel to the toes. I laugh aloud, even when I'm alone. I cry, smile, and remember. This cabin holds the best memories of my life, with all the people I love most.

There'll be more melancholy to come, to be sure. But up next?

Six women. It's 3-on-3 this time. Each group of three knows one another, but the two groups have never met.

Will they get along? Will we have fun? Will it be awkward?

Yeah, yeah, and yeah. But the best part?

Our abs will hurt by the end of the weekend. So will our heads, our livers, and our souls. We will bare it all (literally? figuratively?) and we will come away recharged, optimistic, reflective, and more deeply entrenched in our friendships.

I know this to be true - I'll be closer to every single one of them as a result of carving time out for ourselves. I predict more laughs, more memories, and more new friends. Those women will all connect on social media by the end of the weekend. And my life will be richer for sharing this piece of my soul with all of them.

XOXO,
Jen



Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Adventures with Zoë

Last August 1st with much consternation, foreboding, and flat out fear, Mr. Musky's sister birthed a beautiful baby girl. When I finally met Zoë Louise two weeks later, I immediately spiraled into a deep pool of love.
Always vocal in my willingness to watch her so Mom and Dad can travel, they took me up on the offer in May. For six glorious days, I spent every waking moment with this adorable little nugget.
She's an adult play toy. She mesmerized us all with her sweet face, her chubby little hands exploring the world around her, and her army crawl on our family room floor.
At first, she clearly showed signs of questioning wonderment at her new digs, and the crazy Aunt in her face all day.
But before long, she felt right at home and yakked up a storm with us while performing her main duties: eat, play, sleep. Eat, play, sleep. Eat, play, poop, sleep. Eat, play, sleep. Eat, play, sleep all night. 

Kept on schedule, Miss Zoë is quite possibly the best baby I've ever been around, and that includes my own children. She lays down for naps happy, and wakes up even happier. But as I quickly learned, the schedule is the dictator. If a doctor appointment runs long and she doesn't nap at the proper time, I might sneak a little golden moment of this...
...followed by Defcon 1. We're talking cocked pistol, nuclear war is imminent, crouch under your desk with your math book over your head. Luckily that only happened once, we plowed through to the next day, and all was right with the world again, despite her cousins asking twenty times each if she was ok.
Mr. Musky killed me with his feigned protests leading up to her stay.

"No!"
"She can't come!"
"We have no business watching a baby for a week!"
"I'm not changing her diaper."
"I'm retired from baby duty!"
"What if she cries?"
"How long is she staying?"

"Two weeks," I lied.

"ARE YOU KIDDING ME? SERIOUSLY? TWO WEEKS?"

"Yeah. I told Jen that if she wanted to scoot up to Oregon and Washington State for more wine tasting after hitting Russian River Valley that she might as well go. So she booked another week."

The wild panic in his eyes matched his soaring heart rate. He freaked out on a whole new level, considering his life would revolve around a baby for two weeks versus one. "Why didn't you talk to me about this first?"

"Oh relax. It's just two weeks. We'll be fine. Besides, I'm doing most of the work."

"But two weeks? TWO WEEKS?"

Finally I gave in. "Just kidding. It's Sunday through Friday."

Relief flooded his face. His breathing returned to normal. The redness creeping up his neckline and into his cheeks subsided. To say that he's not the world's largest baby fan is an understatement.
However, look at Mr. I-Don't-Care-For-Babies Musky. He couldn't stand it when we let her play independently one night, and he simply had to get down on the floor to keep her company.
And look again - he may have griped when I put her into his arms, but he willingly fed her plenty of bottles.
And huh. Trying to influence his baby niece with some Fox News. Her democrat parentals weren't too thrilled about that, I'm sure.
He later switched to a throwback that our kids loved. Teletubbies! The theme song still makes my skin crawl.
Sweet little Zoë commandeered an audience everywhere we went. On night one after Mom and Dad left, Kahley's boyfriend Nick came to the rescue for the initial calm down with baby massages. She loved it.
We all gathered around from morning one for breakfast, and every meal thereafter. 
She's likely viral on the internet as the kids took hundreds of pictures of her, many of which made their way to social media.
Picture proof that I have zero control in my own home. How'd that coffee cup get into my house? And how'd this sweet baby end up next to it?
Zoë went everywhere with me that week. She accompanied Kahley and me to doctor appointments, to the grocery store,
to buy some wine (apparently she's a big fan of the Cabernet aisle),
for walks to the park,
and to my daily workouts. A day earlier, I sidelined Tim the Trainer, asking him: "Hey, how do you feel about babies? Good babies?"

"I like babies."

"Awesome. What would you say to wearing a baby?"

"Wearing a baby?" dumfounded, he cocked an eyebrow at me. Apparently he's never heard of this phenomenon, so I enlightened.

"Yes. I'll provide the good baby and the wearing mechanism. All you have to do is wear her around while you call out our next movement. No yelling with Baby Zoë strapped to your chest. Deal?"

As you know, he's not a yeller.

"Um, sure. Deal," he agreed.
If he didn't think I was a nutcase prior to the day of baby wearing, he sure did then. The next day I brought Zoë in and strapped her onto him. And I kid you not, word spread like wildfire within MINUTES that Tim the Gym Teacher/Trainer was carrying a baby. No less than twenty people came running into the gym taking pictures, asking whose baby she was while making googly eyes and baby talk at sweet Little Miss. She chilled out the entire hour (despite bad Auntie Jen messing up her schedule that day) and decided she loves Kettlebell Class.
Tim patted her head and held her hand and stroked her hair while he quietly called out our next torture element. They were peas in a pod, those two.

Other days, Jake refused to let me take her to work out. He wanted to chill with her, on the couch, watching Friends together.
Melt me now.
Mid week, he observed the amount of work that goes into caring for a baby. "Mom, if I've learned one thing this week, it's that I'm NOT ready to be a father." 

I agree, my dear. Wait for several years until you're ready to alter your life around the one you bring into this world. It'll be the most rewarding and challenging lifelong commitment you ever make.
Upon his arrival home, Patrick (Zoë's dad) asked Jake: "So. Do you appreciate what your Mom's done for you all these years?"

What a thoughtful question - one I probably would never ask. Without missing a beat, Jake smiled at me and nodded with the sweetest, most heartfelt answer possible. "You know what? I do. I really do."

Kahley snuggled with her while watching the Bachelorette and drinking wine. Some habits must be taught early. Zoë told Rachel to just go with Peter - he is from Madison, after all.
She proved complete hands-on in caring for Little Miss. She fed her breakfast, gave her bottles, changed her diaper, dressed her for the day, and coughed repeatedly while doing it all. I mentioned doctor appointments earlier - they were for Kahley, so we could figure out the cause of an underlying, nagging cough. By night three, every time Kahley coughed, Zoë looked over at her and fake-coughed twice. We found it ridiculously funny, but of course when trying to video her response, she failed to perform. By the end of the week, Kahley walked into the house after running errands, and Miss Zoë greeted her with the following:

"Ah-heh, Ah-heh."

"Really, Zoë?" Kahley shouted. "I didn't even cough! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?"

I laughed so hard I nearly cried. "She thinks it's your name!" Yuk Yuk Yuk.

Watching them with their cousin, I see glimpses of my own kids as parents someday. I can't get my head around how truly full circle and amazing that's going to be. I wait patiently but with anticipation for the day I become a Grandma.

I had my kids quite young - at 25 and 27 - and I must say that being around a baby in my 40's is a completely different experience. I'm way more relaxed, for sure. I didn't freak out when I messed up her schedule and she screamed when I put her down for bed. Mr. Musky wondered if I should go get her, but I calmly reassured him that she was fine even though it sounded like red fire ants were chewing her skin off. (For the record - I did go in and rescue her, but in the end she really was just fine). 
Being an Aunt is one of life's greatest pleasures. My nephew, Jay, is the perfect blend of my brother and sister-in-law. The moments I share with him are few and very far between, but I remember them well. His sly, slow smile and quick wit. His introspection about everything. And his love of a good pizza roll. Homeboy can shovel back those little nuggets by the dozens.

Then came sweet little Chloe. My mom and I flew out to meet her when she was a baby, and we were both smitten. It was the first time I ever cried leaving my brother's house. Now Chloe's a beautiful teenager, and girlfriend can fire off an appropriate amount of sarcasm when necessary. She's artistic, creative, and to this day I carry around a little plastic rock in my makeup case that she gave to me when she was about six years old and we swiped blush on one another's cheeks.

I miss them both so much, it hurts.

So now that I've got another niece to love on, I'm going to cherish every second I get with her. She stole a little piece of my heart the day she was born, and she latches onto it harder and more deeply every time I snuggle and kiss her fuzzy, soft head. 
I know that soon distance will separate me from this little ray of sunshine, so I'm making the most of our geographic advantage while I can. 
It doesn't matter if you're near or far...being someone's niece or nephew is a blessing in life. I think of all my Aunts and Uncles and they're all wonderful and interesting human beings. Every one of them offered me a solid perspective on life in their own unique way. I think of each one with love, and consider myself lucky to have been influenced by them all, good or bad.
And that's my hope for this sweet pea. That someday, she thinks of Auntie Jen, and smiles. 

XOXO,
Jen