Monday, December 31, 2012

My Favorite Days

It's 10:00 in the morning on one of my favorite days of the year - New Year's Eve. I love spending this day outside with friends romping around in the snow, then being hauled around on a sleigh pulled by some horses in the woods with plenty of  time to return to our cozy cabin in the early evening, start a blazing fire while we cook a final, decadent meal to close out the year.

As an adult, I have a true love/hate relationship with November 15th through December 31st. Not one to focus on the negative, here's a few things I love:

Thanksgiving at my Mom's. Everyone participated in the cooking this year.

And I love me some Aunt Doll.

My AT&T Friends. I miss them, just not the nonsense that accompanied the job. Our annual Christmas lunch is truly one of my favorite days of the year. We select special gifts for one another, and they more often than not include alcohol in some form. This year, being the only unemployed one of the bunch, I opted for homemade gifts. Hot buttered rum mixture and homemade infused vodka.

The vodka making was so much fun I ended up making about 10 different flavors to gift family members on Christmas Eve. I see a lead role in the series "Moonshiners" opening up for me next season. Look out Tickle and Jim Tom. There's a new 'shiner in town!

Better than the gifts though, are my friends. We park our butts at a restaurant in OakBrook around 12:30 and start in on the manhattans and martinis without reservation, talking incessantly about life, family, each other, work, vacations and just about every inappropriate topic you can muster. Including the no-nos - religion, politics and sex.

We invariably turn our attention to Tim, and start pandering him about finding a cool chick worthy of his affections. We do it out of true admiration, of course. We love our Tim. And feel somewhat possessive of him in a big sisterly kind of way.

He tolerates us, then suggests we move our antics to another venue. Because we might just be getting the stink eye from the servers who feel we've overstayed our welcome as the first seatings for dinner fill the dining room.

In and amongst the Christmas preparation, we celebrate two birthdays in our house in December. Mr. Musky received an old school turntable and several Boss albums. Doesn't he look so excited?

And I have another teenager in my midst. It was an angst-filled week, that turning of thirteen. I'll spare him of sharing the details with the world, even though he said I could because it makes for a good story. Let's just say that it involved a grounding and a self-inflicted broken bone, and the parentals were none too happy about it.

But how can I not love that nasty cupcake-filled face?

I owe a big, huge thank-you to all who helped me out on another homemade gift this year. I made my mom a "Jar of Love," asking her family and facebook friends to send me a note or two on why they love her, a special memory they share, or just a sentence to brighten her day. It was a blast making this gift. I laughed, cried, and smiled reading what you all had to share:

And it was a big hit with Mama Kahling!

Christmas Eve. I'm kicking myself for leaving the camera at home, but I truly love how that day brings my family together. My parents come to our house, and join us at Mr. Musky's family gathering after church. I am so grateful and blessed to be able to share that holiday with so many wonderful family members, and am forever grateful to the extended Liss family for accepting my parents as part of their own. It makes for great memories for all of us.

Fun friends at the cabin.

Who just so happen to have kids that are friends with our little rugrats.

Makes for a great way to ring in the new year, not to mention playing games where kids keep beating the parents. Not fair!

And...we got to celebrate yet another December birthday!

That brings us to today, and my other favorite day of the year. I gotta run. Sub-freezing temperatures, a wild sledding hill and antsy horsies await me.

Happy New Year.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Doggie Blues

When we dated and were first married, I declared to Mr. Musky that I wanted three kids. I'm not really sure why, other than I came from a family of two and perhaps I thought it would be nice to have a baby brother or sister to go knock around with when my older brother ignored me (daily). Regardless of my inane reasoning, my devoted and adoring husband agreed that yes, three children sounded like the perfect number.

Fast forward. Our daughter threw us into parenthood a bit earlier than we expected in our twenties. We were fully aware of how these things happen, but let's just say that while we definitely wanted children, we thought it would happen a bit later in life for us. Then delightful unplanned pregnancy number two came along, and a very temperamental baby boy launched us headfirst into "the dark years."

The Dark Years were wonderful. Our healthy children grew and flourished, but we can't remember a thing we did during that time. BK, or Before Kids, Mr. Musky could tell you the score of all major sporting events, how we celebrated any given holiday, or what we did for vacation every year. And I looked rested every morning and bounded out the door, ready to conquer the telecom world. But those trivial talents vanished in the air with the arrival of our son, until he turned about five years old.

That's when we bought the cabin in the woods, and that third child came about.

On a beautiful fall weekend seven years ago, Mr. Musky unexpectedly announced to me that a dog might be fun to have Up North - someone who would go fishing with him and faithfully follow him around while chopping wood, then lounge by the fire at night while he sipped a hard earned cocktail. Realizing that my window was but a mere sliver, I made some calls the next day. When my darling husband came home that night, I informed him that a woman from the country...Amboy, Illinois, to be exact...was on her way to our home with thirteen labrador puppies.

He stared at me, dumbfounded.

They tumbled in the front door, and five of them immediately identified our brand new entry-way rug as a chew toy. Three others dropped a dump in the living room, two peed in the dining room and the three remaining beasts took off to see what they could snarf down in the kitchen. We all stood around, slightly panicked, looking at one another wondering what in the heck we were supposed to do.

"Grab a pup, and bring them all downstairs to the basement!" Determination ruled that I save my house.

So Kahley, Tony, the farmer's wife and her daughter all scooped up furry balls of fluff and headed downstairs. Jake held the door open for us, his eyes the size of golf balls. He realized that his position as baby in the family ended when fifty-two hairy legs bounded into our entryway.

In the basement, the puppies wandered everywhere and climbed all over us. Regretting his suggestion to expand our family, a feverish Mr. Musky asked the farmer's wife which one was the calmest. She considered the one in her lap: "This one seems pretty content."

Only because he barked like a lunatic for the two hour car ride and she slipped him a quaalude before entering our house. Regardless, we wrote her a check for $300 and she ran off with her child and the other twelve puppies faster than a man free-falling to earth from outer space, never to be seen or heard of again.

Mill Mill, to put it mildly, was not a calm puppy. Sure, he was cute and all, but we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

He came to us with worms. Gross.

He ate things. Like canvas bean bags and tube socks. Together at the same time. Wolfed them down, resulting in an expensive little sleepover at the animal hospital. After his first surgery, he relegated himself to kid socks, and faithfully puked them up in the car ride home from the cabin. Or on my friend Carrie. Or in the corner of any carpeted room. Because vomiting on the hardwood floor would certainly splash back up into his snout and be an all together unpleasant experience.

Grandma said that she could train him. She'd whip him right into shape. No problem.
Grandma's training camp. Determined puppies don't stay still, no matter how tough (NOT!) the trainer.
Two years later, she said he was more difficult to babysit than my two young children. This revelation arrived after he ate her doughnuts off the cabin table and ran away down the lake, causing her to chase after him in the car and apologize to the neighbors when he ruined their outdoor soiree.

Five years later, and she still has not gained control of my ever loving canine. He dominates her.

That fishing partner? The one that Mr. Musky envisioned? It worked once.

Another time I called him to see if he and Miller were catching anything. "Nope - I'm too busy scooping up puke. That blasted dog just yacked up carrots and corn all over my fishing boat, and it's magic hour! I didn't even make carrots and corn! Where does he get this crap?"

"The neighbor's garbage," I meekly shared.

Our needy little boy gets jealous. If I'm gone for a few days and talk to my son for five minutes without acknowledging the animal, he pokes me with his nose, whines, sniffs my crotch and eventually just starts barking at me for ignoring his affections.

But we love him. Mr. Musky plays hide-and-seek with him every night. Since he was a puppy. He hides, Miller seeks. And he loves this game. So does a certain middle-aged man.

I walk him. I say, "Wanna go for a..." and it's all over. Crazy batshit things happen if I don't put his leash on and head out the door in the next sixty seconds after uttering those first few words. But we like what happens after the walk best. Wine and relaxation, baby.

He's got our six. When our beloved beach is crowded at the lake, he walks up to the shallow area, starts to heave, and spews the contents of his gut all over the water's edge. Mothers scream, gathering up their toddlers to save them from doggie bacteria. Teenagers race for the shore and hop into their boats to dry off, utterly disgusted. Fathers yank up anchors, shove off, and motor out of there glaring at us for ruining their afternoon.

Then we have the beach to ourselves. It's only awkward for a few minutes. Once they're all gone, we just pretend we don't see the floating kibble in the water.

With all his flaws, he really is a good boy. He's my third baby - just not the kind I originally envisioned back in my twenty-something years. But he works.

I love him, his loyalty, and the companionship he shares during the day when it's just us two around here. Even if he spends most of our time together napping. I could do without his flatulence though. It's hair-raising. And room clearing.

I'm a little sad today. He's not here with me, and it's really lonely. That Grandma? Who he sincerely cannot get enough of? She found a lump the size of an acorn squash on his ribcage this weekend and he's at the animal hospital getting it removed. I'm hopeful that it's something silly, just like his antics.

Feeling a bit lonely...


Friday, November 2, 2012

The Pull of the Water

Water attracts me. To an unhealthy extreme. As in, if a body of water glistens in my field of vision, I immediately fall victim to its spell, its magnetic field inexplicably pulling me toward its edge.

This phenomenon got me into a little trouble on my girl-less Girls Weekend.

Realizing my folly in traipsing through an unmarked hunter trail on the first outing, I relegated myself to a marked hiking path for the second adventure, something that would provide a healthy walk with some beautiful freshwater scenery to entrance me. I scoured the maps at home, and determined that if I was venturing out on a sissified marked trail, then it would be a new one. One that I've never hiked before with my girlfriends or with Mr. Musky. So Madeline Lake Trail won out.

My plan was simple. Hike for a few hours, then head over to the local wine bar and be all aloof and mysterious and independent as I sip my wine, nibble on a cheese plate and keep the locals guessing at the identity of the dame dressed in black with a pink hat at the bar. Alone. Because only really cool women drink alone at a bar in all black, engrossed in their own little world (aka the book I was reading), Right?

Right. And idiotic hikers who don't learn their lesson on outing one.

As I pulled into the parking lot at the Trail Head, I smirked to myself. There were about six or seven cars, which meant that I was going to see way too many people for my comfort. As I started out, I passed two groups heading back, which was good - that meant that with the passing of two or three more groups, I'd be alone on the trail.

Time of hiking departure:  2:30 p.m.
Length of Red Trail: 5.5 miles
Average time to hike a mile (assuming stops to soak in nature's beauty and to take some photos): 20 minutes per mile
Estimated time to complete hike: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Estimated arrival to Wine Bar: 5:15 p.m.

I smugly harumphed at the first of the many trail signs. Color coding for remedial hikers.

Although the eerie silence on the hunter hiking trail two days earlier left me restless for hours, I enjoyed the adrenaline it coursed through my veins. This marked trail nonsense resembled kindergarten hiking class. I expected Mary Poppins to appear around the corner with milk and cookies and a blankie for nap time.

"Lake View." I snarked at the sign. Really? They need to spell out that the blue wetness below is a lake? And here's the so-called "lake view" from the elevated bench:

Total crap.

The hill was quite steep to get to the water's edge, so I debated for about, oh, five seconds before descending. It was worth it. The up-close view lifted my mood and made me feel all survivorwoman for conquering the steep descent to get a better picture.

The trek back up to the trail proved a pleasant, conquerable challenge.

Further along, I encountered some women contemplating their options with the colored squares and corresponding trails on a map. I overheard them say that they were taking the green trail, so I huffed off along the red trail. They warned me that the red trail was the longest. "I know. I'm good." Pfft. Like I needed them to tell me what was up. Pulease. Besides, the red trail bordered bigger, and surely more beautiful lakes.
In reality, they were very nice women, but I missed my girlfriends. They would have loved this trail. Just not the guide.
Fortunately, only one other hiker and her adorable pooch passed me. I dawdled, taking pictures of mossy ravines and interesting downed logs. The quiet on the trail definitely relaxed me, and it was actually quite pleasant. It didn't raise my blood pressure like the hunter hiking trail; it was an all together lovely, albeit sophomoric experience.

I scoffed at every sign I happened upon, even the ones that told me how much further I had to go. Isn't it much more exciting to guess how far you've come and how much longer you have to hike in order to get to the car?

And look - how cute! A little shack in case you want to spend the night. In reality, this looks like it would provide awesome fun while cross country skiing in the wintertime. I tucked this scene into my memory bank for more fun over Christmas break.

With a little less than two miles to the trail head (thanks to yet another sign indicating as such) I noticed a very large body of water off to my left. It was some distance away from the trail, but like a siren, it called me to get a better look. I hesitated, based on my self inflicted bargain that there would be no drama for me on the Madeline trail. I considered that I left the GPS in the car - I neglected to change the batteries, knowing that I'd stay on the trail and the well trodden path would faithfully lead me home. But the water was so close...crying to me: "I'm just a short walk away. Just meander toward me and then head back the way you came." I debated the temptation for five minutes while munching my trial mix. Then decided to go for it.

And it was SO worth it. I ended up not cutting directly through the woods, but following the water's edge for awhile before descending to the bank. I found myself a beautiful little spot and drank it all in.

I relished the beautiful scenery and basked in the late afternoon sunshine for about half an hour to forty-five minutes. The picturesque landscape promised a stunning sunset, tempting my idealist side to remain until the sun dipped below the treeline on the horizon. But my rational inner twin emerged, and scolded me for being so cavalier. She insisted that I move my butt back to the trail before darkness covered the woods, despite the fact that a three year-old could find its way to the parking lot on that very well marked trail just feet behind me.

Reluctantly, I listened to Little Miss Rational and trudged back.

The trail.

Where was the godforsaken trail?

It never appeared. I looked and looked, wandered and wandered, searched and searched, but the trail never showed itself.

If images of invisible witches and American werewolves and lurking strangers raced though my brain last time, it was nothing but sheer panic and horrification of spending the night alone in the darkened woods this time. I shuddered at visions of myself, huddled around a tree trunk - frozen, exhausted, starving - begging for morning to arrive so I could continue searching for the trail. At one point, I sprinted ahead into the thick brush. Still no trail. Anywhere.

So I stopped, and called upon Little Miss Rational, commanding free spirited, Little Miss Dumbass-Idealist to think. I remembered that I took a picture of the trail map for mocking fun, not intending to save my butt. I pulled it up on my camera and tried to figure out where I went off the trail. Drawing heavily upon the sense of direction that my father passed to me genetically, I surmised that I needed to head east, directly away from the sunset, in order to make it back to the trail.

Clearly, my sense of judgment was diminishing exponentially based on the panic surging through my veins. The parking lot was to the west. THE WEST, MORON! What ever possessed me to walk east? Little Miss Dumbass triumphed over her Gemini twin.

Finally I happened upon some kind of clearing that made sense to follow, until it forked into two other directions. I went with my gut and followed it away from the sun.


Eventually, the pseudo trail ended and I was lost again in dense forest, running full speed at times. WHY? To get lost faster? Little Miss Idealist definitely panics when she doesn't share the grey matter between my ears with Little Miss Rational. I stopped, amid mini trees bearing down on me on all sides, and considered my situation.

Since I couldn't find the real trail, I opted to head back to the pseudo trail, figuring it would eventually lead me to a boat landing or a road or the actual trail. I was scared. To death. When I wandered off trail two days earlier, I still had a solid idea of directionally where I needed to go to get back to my car. But I had absolutely no idea now. I walked and walked and walked, constantly checking the height of the sun. It seemed to be just a few feet above the tree line, and I considered for the fiftieth time what it would be like to sleep on the woodsy floor. I started making bargains. While I couldn't promise that I'd never hike alone again, I swore that I would never, ever call any hike remedial and would always welcome warm cookies and milk from a smiling British nanny.

FINALLY! Up ahead, a GLORIOUS red trail sign! The pseudo trail dumped into the real trail and I was back on my way home! Saved to live another day! Rescued from the creepy sleepover in the woods! Saved to tell all my good friends about my crackbrained adventure!

This time, I literally kissed the trail sign.

And the trail itself.

And hugged the "Trail Head, 2 Miles" sign, grateful for it's tidbit of information, despite the fact that I'd already passed that sign after fatefully altering my lovely afternoon stroll.

I slowed my pace, willed my heart to return to a normal rate, and gratefully made my way back to the car. I no longer smirked at signage, but instead at my idiot self and the carnage of my nightmare evident on my favorite fall cabin hiking pants.

While considering my adventure on my way back to the car, Little Miss Realist made some promises:

1. To never again make fun of anyone who appears "over-prepared" for a simple hike. There is no such thing.
2. To never again hike off trail without a GPS device. Little Miss Idealist knows that I'll wander off, but Little Miss Realist will bitch-slap her into submission if she tries it without a map to get us back to safety.
3. To be the biggest, loudest cheerleader ever for trail signs.
4. To remind the precocious LMI that marked trails almost always have a trail down to the lake, as evidenced by the sign that sardonically tortured me a mile away from the trail head.

If I had just remained on the trail, a well-groomed, leaf lined path would have led me to the water's edge, drama free.

Instead, I missed an exquisite sunset and slumped through the woods in this, finally arriving to my car at 6:30.

And the wine? It morphed into a desperate stop at our local resort bar so I was closer to home. When the bartender asked what he could get for me, I croaked: "Drink! Food!" like a barbarian. Not speaking for over four hours and my traumatic experience rendered me a social buffoon. 

But the locals at the bar took pity on me, guffawed at my story, and even bought me a drink out of compassion and sympathy. 

Or were they simply mocking me? I didn't care. I was warm and safe, there was food in front of me, and a giant manhattan warmed my belly. Wine was for sissies, that day.