Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Letter of Advice to my College Freshman

Kahley -

Today's the day.

We are in Madison, WI with the contents of your entire life packed into the back of the Denali, dropping you off at college. We planned for, prepared for, and saved for this moment since the day you were born. And now it's here.

Leading up to this, I experienced little emotional distress. Maybe it's because you're SO ready to move onto the next phase of your life. Maybe it's because Dad and I know first-hand the fun and excitement that await you. Maybe it's because you attended overnight camp ten years in a row, and we adapted to not seeing you for weeks on end every summer so we know what to expect.

I suspect it's a combination of all of the above, in addition to a great deal of confidence that we've raised a responsible, well adjusted, mature adult.

As you know, I get emotional when you're hurting, or when you're struggling, and currently you're thrilled. So I am too. But you know what I've thought of constantly over the past few nights? Your hair.

I know. It's weird.

I keep wanting to just hold onto your hair, brush it, braid it. That's why last night I suggested we watch Bachelor in Paradise. Not for the guilty pleasure of watching desperate single people drink too much and hook up while we rip them unmercifully, but so I could hold your hair in my hands one last time. And you unknowingly melted my heart when you asked me to braid it this morning.

Naturally, I can't send you off without a few pearls of wisdom. Some of these I wish I had known when I was a college freshman, some are common sense, and some are just good ol' reminders about living life. These aren't necessarily hilarious - for the funny, go to your Tip Jar advice.

Believe in yourself, Kahley Ann. You'll do great things.

1. Go to church, early on in the semester. The sooner you go, the more likely you'll return.

2. Smile. Everyday, to everyone. It makes you feel better, and the people around you happier.

3. Plan ahead, but realize this: all good plans are flexible. Be OK with changing the plan, or bagging it all together. Sometimes the greatest joys in life happen spontaneously, when you stop trying to control every step in your plan. Read Proverbs 16:9.

4. Be confident. Yes - for the first time in your life you're surrounded by smart individuals. Remember that you're smart, too, and you belong here. You worked hard for it, and you earned it.

5. When things seem impossible, ask yourself: "Is anybody going to die as a result of this situation?" Then reassure yourself it's not as bad as you think.

6. Try something new, at least once per week. Try a new food. Visit an art gallery. See a play. Meet someone new. This will be easy at first, but you might have to practice it as time marches on.

7. Be humble in all you do.

8. Jealousy is a weed that will grow uncontrollably and cloud out kindness. Pluck it out.

9. When in doubt, overdress. You'll look far sillier wearing yoga pants in a room filled with suits than you would in a dress.

10. Practice a positive attitude, even in situations that suck. Humor helps.

11. Listen to and process criticism and negative feedback. Realize that the person dishing it out is not attacking your character; rather, they're addressing your behavior. Learn from it. Get better as a result.

12. Surround yourself with like-minded individuals, but conscientiously seek out and befriend those who oppose your belief system. You'll either see things in a different light, or you'll deepen your own convictions. Maybe both.

13. Take calculated risks.

14. Everyday, take 15 minutes (minimum!) to do something you love.

15. Always ask for help when you don't have the answer after trying to figure something out. Don't waste time for the sake of your pride.

16. If something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't.

17. You don't have to be best friends with everyone. Find a few good ones who will:
  • Make you laugh
  • Listen
  • Thoughtfully advise
  • Challenge you intellectually
  • Dance with you
  • Look up to you
  • Like to party
  • Prefer to stay in and watch movies
  • Shop with you
  • Be brutally honest
18. Exercise a minimum of three times per week for 30 minutes, even when huge tests loom. 

19. Be kind to everyone. You never know who will be in your next group project. 

20. Guys make great friends. Find a few good ones. You'll always appreciate the honest male perspective.

21. Resist the urge to achieve perfection. You won't. When something is 90% complete, it's done. 

22. Over the next four years, you will fail multiple times. It's not the end - it's a bump. Learn from it.

23. Drink water. Eat vegetables. Brush twice a day. Floss. Never go to bed with makeup on. Moisturize. Your 30 year old self will thank you.

24. Think: Would my Mother approve? If not, neither would your future employer. So don't do it.

25. Have fun. Seek it out even when you're in the midst of something crappy. Fun is always around the corner. 

And finally, call your mother at least once per week. No text or snapchat can substitute the sound of your sweet voice.

Despite being bored out of your skull with all of your friends already settled in at their prospective schools, I'm selfishly happy we had you all to you ourselves this past week. I enjoyed spending time with you every day. My favorite moment happened yesterday when we walked out of Panera and I said, "Watch out!" as a car came barreling through the parking lot. You grabbed my hand, like a kindergartner, as we crossed in front of the impatient driver. You immediately recognized the irony. "Mom, I leave for college tomorrow. Why did I just hold your hand to cross the street?"

We both giggled. But sweetheart, you can hold my hand for the rest of your life. I will always be here with mine outstretched, ready to take yours into it, to cross whatever road lies ahead. 

Come home anytime. I love you.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

End of Summer Melancholy

I ride my bike one last time down the road. This time though, I'm keenly aware of everything. I feel the warm, late-summer wind against my bare skin and through my hair, flying behind me. My legs burn as I pedal uphill, then rest easy as I coast along and spy the chestnut mare out in the field, lazily grazing, happy that black fly season is over. In the distance I hear the familiar sound of a chainsaw hard at work, but not before freshly cut pine meets my nose as I deeply inhale. The pine mixes with warm woodsy earth and fresh air to envelop me in my surroundings. A deer darts out in front of me, and after both our heart rates accelerate we slow to inspect one another. She remains in the brush, curiously staring me down, before nodding and continuing to munch on her midday meal. I pedal on. Back toward the lake a loon calls out eerily, its minor tune matching the one in my heart.
That was last week. It's now August 17th, which means I'm in the throes of a melancholy that will last through the end of the month. It happens every August, and the feelings of sadness multiply year over year. It used to be that I anxiously awaited the advent of fall and winter, and while I still do, I now mourn the end of summer. So for now I memory-bank. I do all I can to identify every moment for what it was - a miraculous moment in God's daily art show - so I can uncork it in the dead of winter when 4:00 sunsets dictate we move things indoors.

June is our favorite, when on the cusp of summer all things promise warmth, lazy days, and good times ahead.
In a weak moment, I agreed to host a small tribe of sixteen year old boys at the cabin for a day.
I jest - they were perfect gentlemen - and actually required less effort than girls of their age. Except when it comes to food. I'm afraid I didn't do so well in feeding such a small army, so I kept pushing watermelon at them.
They also tolerate negative pictures, and could care less about their hair or posing in small groups for photos. One and done, man. I kind of love it.
They didn't come back. Next time I promise to up the food game, boys, and cook seventeen chickens to feed you all.

Mr. Musky's assessment? He wandered downstairs to say hello, then came back up with a profound revelation.

"They stink."


Then like a whirlwind, July madness descended upon us. We hosted guests for eighteen days straight, starting with this gem who I met my senior year of high school.
Hollie, her two little kids, and sweet husband Sam came for a visit. We aren't used to littles - Summer is 10, and Peyton is 7. Mr. Musky channelled his inner freak and scared the poop out of those poor kids. He regaled them with stories about our basement below the basement through a scary door next to the bathroom and donned the Chuckie mask while playing bear snorts and wolf howls on the speaker. His efforts resulted in this...
...a Mama Bear who threatened to dismember anyone who scared her kids further.

In the end, he made peace with them, and Summer even cozied up to him, despite her constant reply of "Really?" to every statement he made. The skepticism runs deep in that one.
The Schmidts enjoyed our northerly paradise, happy to escape the oppressive heat of South Florida in the summertime.
We enjoyed having them, despite a little mishap toward the end of their stay.
We may not have hurricane strength winds in the Great White North, but we can certainly give those southerners a run for the money when it comes to downed trees. In the middle of the night a storm ran through, and at one point I grabbed Mr. Musky's hand and held on tight as the entire cabin shook. Unable to sleep, I awoke in the early morning to a minor disaster.

TREE DOWN! Lady Luck swirled around with that storm though. The downed tree rotted from the center out, something we would have never realized. As it fell during the storm, a pine tree diverted its path, saving our dock and boats from disaster. The power was out, so we all channelled our inner pioneer and humped water from the lake in order to flush toilets.

Despite the severity of the storm, we were able to call in the professionals. They arrived the next day and cleaned up the rubble in no time. I have a newfound appreciation for arborists.
And their tree hugging, daredevil ways.


Things calmed down a bit after that, with the arrival of Mama and Papa Kahling. They had but one item on their agenda: Relax.
They're overachievers, that pair.
I helped get Dad off the boat and into the water one day, and he summed it up Jack Style with one word.
"Perfect. This is Perfect."
And his bride concurred.

Next up - our dear friends, Rob and Kara, who also took the art of relaxation very seriously.
I had some other "stuff" going on during their stay - icky stuff - that I'm not going to get into here. It was multifaceted and upsetting, leaving me an uncharacteristic wreck. Every good couple out there needs another couple who lifts you up when you're at your worst. Rob and Kara did just that, even if their dog ran off into a bog and they traipsed after him, swearing a bit, vowing to never bring him back.
Poor Murphy. Lucky for me, he has good humans who love me when I'm at my worst, so I know they forgive him for snarking around in a spongy bog.


And that about covers it, with the exception of two quick day trips to Ontonagon, Michigan. With a population less than 1500, don't blink or you'll miss this sleepy little town at the top of the Upper Peninsula. We love it for escaping the heat in the Northwoods (which happens maybe twice per summer) and for the pristine beaches on the shores of Lake Superior. If this Great Lake ever beckons you, go.
 The sound of the waves meeting the shoreline mesmerizes me into a near catatonic state.
The impeccable coastline reminds us how a true natural state should appear,
despite its eerily empty ways.
We always leave this spot re-energized, but our selfie game?
It's most certainly off point.

If I were melancholy when I started this post, now I'm depressed. In two weeks we ship our oldest off to college, and while I am mentally ready for that, I still don't want to call it quits on our summertime paradise. But like many things in life, I have no choice.