Monday Author: Susanne Skinner
Family is anyone who loves you unconditionally
Families extend beyond their nuclear definition to include the people we lean on for support. They shore us up through the hard and hurtful parts of life. At some point all of us need this, and I have sister cousins to love and encourage me through my ups and downs.
We are celebrating our annual Wisconsin Retreat, a sojourn to my cousin’s lakeside family cabin, adjacent to 200 acres of rolling farmland. Our time together focuses on restoring our equilibrium; honoring our friendship and love for each other.
Living With Nature
The cabin lies deep in the Wisconsin woods, surrounded by nothing but nature. Our water neighbors are a pair of trumpet swans and their baby, wood ducks and some very industrious beavers.
A bald eagle does frequent flyovers so a nest is probably nearby. Frogs, loons, chipmunks and the occasional woodpecker offer evening serenades. Deer sightings are frequent, because after all, this is their home too. The nearest town is twelve miles away and access roads are usually hard-packed dirt.
Getting around out here is challenging so local outings often happen in the Kubota, an all-around utility vehicle designed for rough terrain and bad-ass women.
It’s one fabulous vacation, two weeks of relaxation and three chicks in a Kubota.
During our time together we continue working on the family cookbook, a project started two years ago. We’re in the home stretch, testing and formatting, aiming for a Christmas release. One of my cousins is a watercolor artist, and her original art graces the book’s cover and interior dividers.
Our relative connection comes through our mothers. This project channels their collective influence on the way we cook, embracing recipes unique to our family heritage. We try to follow the original ingredients and make a pie crust recipe using lard. Judge me if you must, but it’s the best dang pie crust I’ve ever eaten!
We refer to our mothers as our ‘divine inspiration’ when cooking, sharing memories with their handwritten recipe cards, incorporating tweaks for modern day substitutions. These subtle changes create versions of each recipe that are easy to understand and execute.
The spirits are strong here; we feel the ancestral history binding us to this place and these memories. Our mannerisms, viewpoints and styles are genetically recognizable in one another, and the source of much laughter and introspection.
Wisconsin reminds me of who I am and where I come from.
The Cousins’ Blackberry Cobbler
Blackberry brambles line the side of the road on the way to the farm and we are just in time for picking. The season is short; three weeks or less, and in these fields, timing is everything. Our competition is fierce; birds, bears, deer, racoons, skunks, and foxes love blackberries and live in the nearby woods. This year’s crop is nothing short of a feast so we arm ourselves with hats, bug spray, and buckets and jump in the Kubota.
We return to the cabin with a bumper crop and the inspiration to make a blackberry dessert for our cookbook. Although this project focuses on dishes handed down through the maternal side of the family we agree to collaborate on an original recipe.
Using our blackberry harvest, we create a unique fruit cobbler that pulls flavors and techniques from published recipes. We make three of them before we land on a winner. We name it the Cousins’ Blackberry Cobbler and pair the final version with fresh peaches, lemon zest, cinnamon, and a sugared shortbread topping. High fives all around!
Making Memories with the Kubota
Our time together is always special. We enjoy each other’s companionship, celebrate our similarities and learn from our differences. One of my cousins is an architect and together with my artistic cousin they pool their creative talents for an afternoon tie-dye party. They customize colors and designs in a tablecloth, shirts, scarves and face masks. I go along for the ride and create a respectable tee-shirt.
We visit a favorite local pottery studio and each of us purchases a hand-thrown mug to remind us of our time together this summer. Although we call them our cabin mugs, they will travel home with us when we leave, connecting us across the miles and anchoring us in Wisconsin memories.
We return to the shop over the weekend to continue the fun, enjoying their wood-fired pizza, a birthday (mine) and a fabulous outdoor concert featuring live bluegrass music. This is one of my happy places. I look forward to visiting for the memory making as well as rebalancing my inner well-being.
A Time for Reflection
Time suspends itself in this Wisconsin paradise. A new day gifts me with another opportunity to appreciate the quiet beauty surrounding me as I ponder this thing called life.
Early morning finds me by the lake with my coffee, spending time in reflection—and this is not something that comes easily to me. It’s uncomfortable for me to do nothing and sitting still is simply not in my nature. Here in this magical place, it is easier to connect to the solitude; feeling the peace that comes from stillness.
My birthday happens while I am here, and it’s fair to say I am in the second half of my life. This, more than anything else, compels me to look within for validation and confirmation of a meaningful journey. If I left this earth today, would it be with a life well lived?
Although my answer is yes, there is always room for improvement. My retreat offers opportunities to identify what is incomplete or unfulfilled. There is no time like the present to reflect on your dreams and purposefully live into them.
All in the Family
We are preparing for our return trip home. As I am packing up clothes and new memories, I feel gratitude for these amazing women. I treasure our family connections and feel the blessing of walking beside one another as our journey continues.