But here I sit. I reflected a lot last week, the week of Thanksgiving, on what matters most to me. Family wasn't at the forefront of my mind. Not because they aren't important to me - quite the contrary. They are the most important to me. Never a day goes by when I don't think about how blessed I am to have loving parents, a kind and sassy mother-in-law who teaches me so much by just being herself, amazing brothers- and sisters-in law who love me not because they have to, but because they choose to. My sweet neice and nephew, who I miss and love in oscillating, equal amounts. My brother. Who I don't have to talk to on a weekly basis to know when I need him, he is there.
And my own people - my heart and soul. Mr. Musky. Our kids. I thank God every night for them, their good health, their kind hearts, and their unconditional love.
Family, both immediate and extended, is constantly at the center of my mind. Because of that, my thoughts drift this time of year to the next important ring of people in my life.
Several groups of friends influence me, and the beauty is that we needn't talk on a regular basis to synch back together. I've blathered on and on about the importance of girlfriends in my life, and you can read about all girls weekend adventures by selecting any number of posts in the menu bar.
In September a small group joined me at the cabin again for some fall antics. I've delayed over and over recapping our exploits, because they left me with little to post. On night one, it was a bawl fest for multiple reasons, but it seemed the appropriate time for us all to air the bad stuff in our lives. So by the glow of wood burning in the fireplace and candles flickering in the family room, we took turns, talking about the weights of the world on our shoulders.
The next day dawned grey and rainy, but weather would not deter us from a memorable outing.
Watersmeet Trout Hatchery in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I met the owner, Dino, at the Eagle River Farmer's Market over the summer. He, his wife Roberta and sweet daughter Amanda are some of the kindest people you'll ever meet. And don't even get me started on his adorable pup.
and also found herself a little kitty to love on.
...but Dino took it all in stride. We proved our adeptness at the multitask...
...and Dino quickly figured out which of the four wondered prior to his arrival: "Will the guide be shirtless?"
Believe it or not, everyone in the group caught fish.
Even the self proclaimed anti-angler caught her share.
Tradition, at least that of a youth group who makes an annual visit to the hatchery, states that everyone must bite the head off a live fish.
Don't worry. I couldn't muster the courage. But this?
Later that night we returned to the cabin. It took awhile to recharge ourselves, but when we did?
One of my good friends moved to Germany after our winter weekend last year to realize a lifelong dream - to see all the amazing sights she learned about in college as an Art History major. She is teaching her daughters what it means to sacrifice to chase a life dream. At work she leads a group of people while scary stuff goes down nearby, and Paris exists just a train ride away, shrinking the world that much more and bringing disturbing events ever closer to home. She tries new food, embarks upon an adventure every weekend, posts magnificent pictures of her escapades and appears to be living the life of Riley.
You know what she said to me recently? That she longs for a six hour car ride, heading north, with our other friend. She wants to feel safe, to talk until she can't say another word, to get things off her chest and to land in a cozy cabin in the woods to recharge her batteries. Despite how things appear for even the most impressive people, in the end we're all just that. People. With the need to connect, alleviate loneliness, to feel loved and connected.
We all need friends with whom we can rip lose. Pretend we're kids again. Drink until we puke. Drive in a car over a frozen lake. Escalate an argument to rolling around on the ground, getting dirt and pinecones in our underwear. Try something new. Party with a gorilla. Discuss the things that hurt the most. Feed a bird out of our bare hand in the middle of the woods. Fish for trout. Tell our life stories, even the bad parts. Flash some duck hunters. Dance naked. Spill wine on a girlfriend, unintentionally. Spill wine on a girlfriend, intentionally. Chat up motorcycle gangs. Learn how to pee, standing up, outside. Say inappropriate, even untrue things about one another.
Then forgive each other minutes later, loving deeper than we ever imagined.
This Christmas, as I cocoon into thoughtful reflection, I am grateful for my friends, near and far. I hope to see many of you over the coming months. You all know who you are.