Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Life in the Woods

Why in the world would you live there? What are you thinking?
We get that a lot. And truth be told, I asked myself the same thing ten years ago, when living in the Northwoods was but a mere pipe dream. It happened one night at a supper club, while I sipped on a Brandy Old Fashioned, and looked around at people clad in Packers gear noshing on traditional supper club fare: roast chicken. Grilled steaks. Thick cut pork chops. Lamb shanks.

I sat there and really contemplated the future, a bit of panic creeping into my psyche. I looked across the table and shared my concern. "Babe, how are we going to do it? How will we live here?"
"What do you mean?" he barely looked up from his plate.
"Look at us. We're eating comfort food atop a mound of mashed potatoes in the dog days of summer. How will we survive without sushi? And fish?"
"They have fish here," he argued back. "Friday night fish fry, Babe."
"I mean FRESH fish - from the ocean - that isn't fried in a vat of peanut oil that hasn't been changed since God knows when."
"Well you're just going to have to get your fill when we visit the big cities, like Madison or Milwaukee."

His words did little to dissuade me - I was perturbed. It really bothered me for awhile - giving up all the big city amenities in order to live Up North. However, over the ensuing ten years, my outlook changed dramatically. Now I dine out far less for the food and more for the overall experience of someone else preparing my dinner and serving it to me. I so appreciate the people who grew that food, and the ones who transformed it into a hearty, satisfying, and (hopefully) eye appealing meal, not to mention the fantastic beverages we sip before ordering. And allow me to permanently enter this for the record: no dishwasher = eat out at least twice per week.

But the move here is about so much more than food. Every day I look forward to what I'm going to do outside. At the beginning of summer, a simple walk to the dock is distracting, thanks to the moth outside the door,
the frog lounging on the tiniest of windowsills,
and the gorgeous widlflowers that lazily wave their heads around in June breezes. I ask Mr. Musky to spare them when he cuts the grass.
When I finally do arrive to the dock, I throw out a line at dusk, ambivalent about actually catching a fish. Sometimes I bring a book along and become so absorbed I forget my original intent, jerking back to reality as a large mouth bass tugs furiously on the end of my line.
The first things I search for by both sight and sound are our Echo Lake loons. My head swivels madly like a rubberneck on that inaugural boat ride of the season, anxiously searching for their nest. I spy it in the channel.
And thrill in the prospect of two chicks joining the adults - something we haven't seen for a few years now.
But sadly, flooding rains destroy the nest and dash my dreams of watching babies grow up this summer, leaving our dock underwater for nearly a week.
On picture perfect days, I move my office outside and listen to the squirrels chatter in the trees and play chase all over the yard.
And in the evenings, if it's cool enough, we build a campfire and roast ribeyes and potatoes over the flames, then serve them atop a bed of lettuce with goat cheese and a honey lemon drizzle. It's my most favorite meal in the entire world.

Guests breathe new life into us when they arrive, seeking solace, relaxation, and adventure. We enjoy time with friends and family, and those moments are always golden highlights on our reels of summer. We horse around and act half our age,
 treat my parents to some fun and relaxation, grateful for all they've done to help me live this life,
and BASK in time spent with our own brood. First with Kahley and Nick and naturally, a random horse alongside the road,
and then at Jake's 10 year camp celebration.
Gratefully, the kids were here to help us break in a new toy.
We're still tossing names around for this beaut.
Front runners include Get Rhythm, Sweet Escape, The Remedy, Valkyrie, and How Sweet It Is. Let me know what you think! I'm taking any and all suggestions and/or opinions on our choices.

Probably the saddest moments for me all summer came in the form of goodbyes to lifelong friends - people who showed up on our patio with less than 24 hours notice to have a final apéritif with us before we moved North for good.
And saying goodbye to my tribe, half of whom are extremely uncomfortable with hugs and kisses. Once I got that memo, it was far too late to modify my behavior.
It's rare to cultivate a group of friends who you trust and struggle alongside every single day and can sense from one look whether you're in a great mood or if you're bothered by something. My workout friends are some of the best people I've ever met.
But we move on, and I have done just that with my fitness journey (drink). I found a new home, which I call the Stairway to Hell.
I kid (sort of). More to come on my ongoing adventures in training. I'm still working on connecting with a new tribe in this place. For now I'll just leave it as my dork flag is flying high, but thank God there are no candlesticks here.

That brings us to now. The air is crisper today, the leaves change daily to deeper hues of orange, yellow, and blaze red, and they're already beginning to fall. Squirrel and chipmunk behavior escalates in urgency as they pack away nuts and seeds for the winter months. Boats no longer lazily amble by, and we only occasionally see the dedicated musky fishermen trolling along. But one thing remains constant. Everyday he asks me:

"Are you having fun?"
And my response remains the same, every single time.

"I am. I love it here."

XOXO,
Jen


Thursday, July 26, 2018

Moving On

I walk through my home in Plainfield, the one where we raised our kids into adults and shared laughter, memories, tears, sadness, elation, and plenty of bad dancing.
Not to mention ball busting...
...and where we gathered every weekend as a family of four.
Today I don't even recognize where we sat around the island and enjoyed Apéritif Fridays for years. All of our remaining belongings - every last one of them in that home - are on display in stacks with pieces of cheap masking tape and an arbitrary price tag attached. We are selling it all - every last belonging here - in order to move on in life.

I liken my feelings about this week to when we dropped our firstborn off at college. Reflective? Sure. Emotional? Yes. But not in the way most would think.

We planned this move for years. In fact, I became a Wisconsin resident in 2014, and Mr. Musky finally followed me last December. We talked for years about moving to our version of paradise on earth, and even considered moving the kids eight years ago. But we waited until Jake finished high school, and now our dreams and plans are finally coming to fruition. On Monday Mr. Musky and I will take one final walk through the house, turn off the lights, and close the door behind us forever.

Our kids are sad - really sad. And I get that. But I also know that a house does not make a home - it's the people who do. Having lived in fifteen homes previously, I have at least four more in me. Current cabin. Rental home upon demolition of the cabin. New home where cabin once stood.

Nursing home. I'm not naive.

Each move brought challenges, of course. But they also brought memories. Would I trade the memories from the crappy rental home in Lockport where we lived for four months before our Plainfield home was complete?
Never in a million years. That home had a laundry chute, and Mr. Musky spied something hanging in there. After several minutes of struggling to reach the item with a broomstick, he pulled out the most magical pair of giant, stained granny panties. The sheer horror on his face followed by a girlie squeal of disgust as he dropped them to the floor is forever etched into my mind. So are the sweet faces on my little toddlers when we played tea party and construction gang every afternoon in the dusty family room.
Or when we snuggled together in the room they shared while I read Harry Potter to them before bedtime. Or when I bathed them in the pink bathtub because the house didn't have a shower.

My kids will come to recall their Plainfield home with fondness and memories of a great childhood, just like I did with the thirteen homes before that scuzzy rental house. From age 16 to 21 alone, I lived in eight different residences. Every single one of them provided memories to last a lifetime, and you know what? I mainly remember the good stuff, because it trumps the bad. I wouldn't trade a single one of those homes for stability during those years. Through it all the constant remained - my mom and dad - and they are always part of my "home."

So while I understand my kids' sadness, I'm grateful we were able to provide them with consistency over the years, and I also know they will build on those happy memories with every new place they lay down roots. Whether in Madison or France or New York City or California, they will approach every transition with reflection, excitement, and yes - perhaps a bit of melancholy, too.

It's all good. Really good. And over time, I know they'll come to understand that and have perspective, just like their Dad and I do.

In the meantime, if you're local to Plainfield, come join us on our patio for an apéritif on Friday night from 7:00 - 10:00. But please leave by ten, because we're old, we have to be out of the house by 8:00 am the next day, and mama can't hold her liquor like she once could.

Big love to everyone who supported us through this. Please keep loving on my kids when you see them, and let us know when you're in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. We love visitors!

XOXO,
Jen



Monday, July 2, 2018

Is Fred in the Refrigerator? A Book Review

For quite some time I've toyed with the idea of writing book reviews on Genuinely Speaking. I finally decided there's no better time than the present, especially when a college friend comes out with her second book.
If you've ever read a blog post of mine and enjoyed it, you will love Is Fred in the Refrigerator? Taming OCD and Reclaiming My Life by Shala Nicely. Shala genuinely speaks in her memoir, baring her soul in an effort to advocate for others who struggle with mental illness.

In this book Shala exposes her self - not just her feelings and emotions - but her true essence, and all the demons and rogues she battles throughout her life. While her story seems hopeless at times, a steady, confident undercurrent of triumphant hope prevails. Shala takes us on a personal journey of desperation from her childhood through adulthood when she finally receives a diagnosis only to continue battling a disorder that robs her life. It's a twisty-turny freak show ride of unfair circumstances from the very first chapter, and it'll keep you on the edge of your seat wondering what happens next. I read this book in two days, unable to put it down to find out how she truly did reclaim her life.

I met Shala at the University of Illinois when we joined the same sorority.
I remember Shala and her slight southern drawl, intrigued that someone outside the Land of Lincoln chose to become a Fighting Illini. The topmost image that comes to my mind when I think of her is overachieving success: accomplished student, actively involved with other clubs on campus, holding down a part time job, scoring a coveted internship at Disney, landing a great marketing job out of college, and always, always with a bright smile on her shy face.  

While everyone in our sorority surely admired her for her sunny disposition and unwavering commitment to academic excellence, a demonic voice tortured her, casting long, gloomy shadows on her beloved happy place. In the book she juxtaposes her experience on campus with my time at U of I as recounted in my post Ring Ching Ching where I talk about finding my home of the coolest, laid back group of friends to make a large university feel a little smaller. Shala's time there proved much different as her evil "salesman" tormented her constantly, hijacking her authentic college experience. 

I put my friend's book down and sobbed after reading the chapter "Sun and Shadows" and lay awake that night in disbelief at her reality. How did I not know? While Shala and I weren't best friends in college, she was definitely more than just an acquaintance to me. How did I miss the fact that she struggled so hard? 

It was because Shala mastered the art of deception. Even her senior year roommate and fellow sorority sister didn't know the torture she endured on a daily basis, because as a young child Shala perfectly followed the rule her monster created in her mind: that she could never tell anyone about her darkest thoughts, or all the horrifying images her creative oppressor placed in her mind would come true, her family and friends would be destroyed, and it would be all her fault. 

So instead she overachieved with a constant drive for perfection and became a wildly successful adult. 

Or did she?

Read this book to find out. Chances are you or someone you know struggles with mental health. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder stars as the villain in this book, along with its cousin Body Dismorphic Disorder and a sprinkling of Depression. The stories in the book and the medical information so intricately woven throughout provide hope not just for the author, but for everyone. 

It's universal in its ultimate message, because we all struggle mentally at some point in time. I kept google open and learned something new with every chapter, not to mention a few authors I intend to check out for my own self-improvement. A consummate professional, Shala quickly answered my own questions regarding mental health. As I shared before, Kahley struggles with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Shala's insight proved most helpful for some questions I had regarding her ongoing treatment. 

Without giving everything away, I'll tell you this: I am going to reunite with this girl. We are going to hug it out so hard, have ourselves a good cry, and then I'm going to take her by the hand to the nearest couch with a TV in front of it. We're going to eat buttered popcorn while we watch throwback "Must See TV" and movies from the early '90s as we discuss life, dreams, goals, and how to be our best selves.

It's a reunion I am so looking forward to.

XOXO,
Jen


Is Fred in the Refrigerator? Taming OCD and Reclaiming My Life by Shala Nicely is available for sale on Amazon in print or in downloadable format here.





















































Friday, May 25, 2018

Rebirth

It's that time of year again.
All around us, High School seniors are graduating. Many of the mothers of these children find themselves a ball of hormonal emotions, insides all tangled up as they pour over slideshows capturing their children set to the soundtrack of their lives, rendering them useless as they collapse in the fetal position. Or snarf a bag of potato chips. Or down a bottle of wine. Or all three at the same time.
It's not sadness, not exactly. I liken it to more of a melancholic nostalgia, or a yearning of all the years leading up to this milestone in life, and a desire to hit pause on certain moments in time. It's a teeter totter ride topping at pure euphoria from the moment they were born with a quick descent into the here and now that we've all grown used to, but will never look the same again. With many of our kids leaving home soon, we realize that our daily landscape is about to change dramatically. No longer will they couch potato-it when we walk in the door after work or errands. They won't bound in with endless energy after school to tell us about their day. We won't know with a single glance whether they're feeling good or bad, need a cup of coffee or a nap, have something thrilling to tell us or just got the wind knocked out of them. Life as we know it is ending. And we don't know what the future will hold for these creatures we helped grow, nurture and love, so it's a little bit scary. How do we cope?
We look back, and we reflect. We think of times to which we'd like to return, if only for a minute, to recapture some of that nostalgia. Perhaps we've an urge to hit rewind and sniff our baby's head, just one more time.
Or snatch up their freshly bathed budda belly for one more bedtime snuggle...
...or spend a day lost in imaginative play encouraging their very best version of weird.
We think back to the first of many lessons in rejections, when they learned the meaning of the word "NO."
And to the countless days of drudgery that we might have overlooked as ordinary, but in reality they were filled with beautiful glimpses of the extraordinary.

We also remember with gratitude the seemingly unimportant encounters...
...and pause to realize just how lucky we are for so many overlooked, unseen opportunities we've had to share these little people with others who continue to shape their lives.
We recall those first days of separation and how for some of us, our hearts ripped wide open because they left for a greater portion of the day for preschool or kindergarten.  
It made us sad to close one chapter - the one where we spent every waking moment with them - but let's be real, people.
Did you wish for a break during those endless days when you were lucky to get your ass out of yoga pants? Be honest. You were happy for a few hours to yourself, to take a crap with nobody watching, and to sit on that couch with an extra cup of coffee while you heard yourself actually breathe for the first time in years.

Their entrance to real school gave us an opportunity - time. Time to rededicate ourselves to something we took joy in before every ounce of our free time and energy was devoted to raising tiny humans.
But our dreams of writing novels and starting new hobbies were quickly dashed as we sat with them nightly to help with homework, agonizing over how simple multiplication tables morphed into a vortex of abstract theory since our own days of roaming the elementary school halls.

As they grew so did their problems, and we helped them navigate through them, handing over more and more responsibility for them to take care of their own issues along the way.
We drove them to practices, and maybe had a moment when we dropped them off for the last time. We worked hard to shape and form ideal childhoods, hopefully with some hard knocks mixed in so they aren't leaving us as entitled snowflakes.

I speak from a bit of experience, having already gone through this with my firstborn. And I'm here to tell you that there's no right or wrong way to traverse this transition. You might have bawled through your kid's entire senior year, and that's OK. Maybe Pomp and Circumstance isn't forever ruined for you, so you well up during the ceremony with images of preschool graduation swimming in your mind - totally cool. Maybe seeing your baby dressed up like a real grown up for prom did it for you.
Photo by Capture the Canvas Photography, Minooka, IL
Photo by Capture the Canvas Photography, Minooka, IL

Also fine. It's all fine.

But if you're like me and none of those things get you, then take a listen (skip the ad after a few seconds).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77GB_IUhRCw

Go ahead. Torture yourself. Click that link.

Maybe you'll hear this song in the car at the Trader Joe's parking lot ten weeks after you drop your kid off at college while the world crashes down on you like a ton of bricks in a hail storm, and you'll miss him so hard your heart physically hurts.

So there's the proof that I don't feel - I feel plenty. I just know that my perspective is different. I focus on the next - perhaps too much - versus the here and now. Or maybe in this case my here and now level of melancholic nostalgia is mixed with so much gratitude and pride and relief and hopefulness for the future that my sadness meter is out of whack.

I am excited to see what the future holds. I know it's going to be fun and bumpy to see what he does.

It's also exciting to see what I will do.

Parents, we are embarking upon a period of rebirth. Obviously our graduating seniors move forward after this weekend - it's all we've been thinking about for the past year, and it's what we've worked toward for the past eighteen. Our kids will set forth upon a new course, one that follows nothing like the only schedule they've ever known. New choices, new opportunities, new adventures and new experiences await them.

The exact same lies in store for us. What kinds of new choices will you make now that you're an empty nester, or minimally that one of your kids is out of the house? What new opportunities will you tackle now that you have a dollop of time returned to your life? What new adventures and experiences will you make a priority?

It's not just about the kids. It's entirely about us as well, and how we will move forward. Just like when we brought them home from the hospital, scared that the "What to Expect" book might have missed a step in responsibly raising another human into a respectable creature, we now are terrified all over again. Did we do it right? Will they remember to use their manners? Will they eat vegetables and brush their teeth? Will they be respectful, and kind, and do great things?

Yes. They will do it all. And they'll make mistakes, and so will we. We'll worry too much, call too much, not call enough, nag too much, and generally continue screwing up this parenting thing.
But they'll come home grateful for us, with a deeper appreciation for what we've done and continue to do for them. Our relationships with them will evolve into a maturity that quite possibly is just as beautiful and emotionally gratifying as holding their infant body in our arms as we sniffed their baby heads.

Hang on, compadres. Change is coming, and it'll all work out. Think about how you too now enter a phase of rebirth, and consider how you'll transform into the middle aged adult you want to be.

XOXO,
Jen







Thursday, April 12, 2018

California Dreamin'


On New Years Day, I discussed with close friends how Spring Break 2018 is likely the last time our family of four will vacation together. Kahley is studying abroad next spring, and when she's a senior I highly doubt she's going to want to spend her break with those who require a 10:15 pm bedtime.

I seriously considered a cruise. It would be good for the kids to see other countries and explore the edges of their comfort zones a bit, not to mention the fixed cost. But based on our quick honeymoon nearly 25 years ago, I'm not a fan of the herding and lineup components. "MANDATORY safety talk! Pick your dinner time! Wait in this line to board! Wait over here to disembark! Stand there to come back aboard!"

Ick. Not to mention hundreds of people in close quarters. Hello, norovirus.

I'm always and forever a fan of Southern California, but I've traveled to Orange County at least six times. Would another trip to the golden state prove ho-hum? The kids really wanted a beach vacation in warmer weather, and they chose California over Florida. So with Florida out and the cruise option losing steam, our friend Rick highly recommended San Diego. "Hollie, the girls and I went there several years ago. Hands down, it was our favorite vacation ever. With your kids at the age they are, you're going to love it."

San Diego won, and I'm so glad it did. Our stay proved the perfect balance of relaxation with mild adventuring, and toasty afternoons in bathing suits followed by sweaters and jackets in the evenings.

Memories from this trip that make me smile -

Playing volleyball with Jake on the ocean beach. I'm not so spry anymore, and I might have mentioned to the family that I once played on the varsity volleyball team in high school. I might have repeated it 23 times just to be sure everyone got it.

While we played, a drama unfolded nearby leaving Tony and Kahley wondering if they should call homeland security. A family with three or four boys lounged nearby, and the boys buried one of their brothers in the sand, complete with just enough water to cement him firmly into the beach. The littlest hooligan dumped sand all over his face, while another waterboarded him with buckets of ocean water. The kid was positively hysterical - I would have been looking for murder! At least when the CIA tortures prisoners they use fresh water. Oh and the parents? Sitting nearby, drinks in hand, 100% unconcerned.

Walking. Biking. Running. If you want a healthy lifestyle, move to San Diego. We enjoyed walking along the Sail Bay boardwalk every morning, then strolling back on the ocean boardwalk while we sipped hot coffee and nibbled on decadent pastries (hi, vacation). I clocked at least 7 miles every day; sometimes even more. We hopped aboard the bikes that came with our house, and explored even further than our immediate surroundings. A bike is key in San Diego, and the good news is that they're a dime a dozen.

Touring the USS Midway.
Fairly high up on Mr. Musky's vacation bucket list, I think we're all glad we climbed aboard the ship, walked through the entire exhibit, and learned a little something new.
We certainly have a newfound appreciation for our midshipmen and the tight quarters they live and work in on a daily basis.
San Diego is definitely a military flight town, so guess what movie we watched one night? Hell yeah, Great Balls of Fire. Top Gun is just a little bit better when you're watching it in town, sipping on a glass wine, with the windows open and the salty air wafting through gauzy sheers over the windows.
And that volleyball scene? We enjoyed watching our own personal version of twenty-something males play on the bay beach a couple of days. #sixpacksarenice

We visited San Diego's world famous zoo, toured the city on the Old Town Trolley, and ubered to La Jolla to check out low tide. Guess which was my favorite? The one that cost us zilcho!
I could have spent the entire day on the coast of La Jolla, but our guys aren't super into that.
I'll be back someday to sit there, meditate, journal, peer into a few more tide pools, soak in that gorgeous Cali sun, and hang out with these fellas.
I love a sandy beach, but the rocky ones offer so much exploring and intrigue.
I'm not done with La Jolla quite yet.
Nor is my girl. I could tell.
Perhaps my best memories of this trip will be the quiet ones as a family, watching the sunset, along with just a smattering of others enjoying the view.
Can you spy the yogis? And the passed out dude?
From the first night we arrived we were on the beach minutes after unpacking, and we walked back several nights after dinner to unwind as the the sun sank into the horizon.
Mr. Musky entertained us as he attempted to master the waves.
Did I mention that San Diego can be chilly in March? He was freezing. If you want blazing hot sun then go to Florida or the desert. But if 65-70 mild degrees and making your kids bust a gut is your jam, then San Diego's it.
The bayside beach might be the most underrated locale in the Mission Beach area. Our rental home sat all of 30 steps from this beach, and since the buildings blocked the chilly breezes it warmed up quite nicely. We walked out there with a beach chair and a beverage in hand, and easily went back to the house to reload or grab a book.
Turns out there's an equal amount of kiddie torture going on over there too - we watched a gaggle of brats whipping sand in one another's faces while hurling insults back and forth. My kids would have been drug by the ear to their rooms if that were the case back in the day. Today's vacationing parents must be way more chill than me!

In the end, San Diego proved the perfect vacation destination for this time in our lives. Given that another 15 inches of snow is on its way to the Northwoods this weekend, we will be back, and maybe these rugrats will even be able to leave their demanding jobs and lives to join us for a few days. I sure hope so.
Until then, I'm California Dreamin'.

XOXO,
Jen