There’s No Place Like It

When I was growing up, our summers and winters revolved around skiing, boating, putt-putt and hanging out with cousins at our condo. Our parents relaxed by keeping one eye on the kids and visiting with our aunts and uncles. Their main priority, however, was us kids. Fast forward to now…at the age of 35, I am at the point where family trips become about the enjoyment of two groups: my niece and nephews and my parents. There is one place that makes my Mom’s shoulders relax and where my Dad constantly has a smile on his face. This place is Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

Most people who are not from the Chicago area have never heard of Lake Geneva. This is just fine with our family because frankly, having a lot of people know about it is a double-edged sword. On one hand, we want to share what this town has to offer and why it is so special. But on the other hand, we want to wrap out arms around it and keep it a secret too. My sisters and I laughed during a recent visit, wondering what all “these people” were doing in our town.
We recently came back from about a 5-day getaway to our favorite vacation spot. My sisters, my parents and I all had July 17th circled on our calendars for about a year. After a hectic year at work, I was really looking forward to this time away. The day finally came where I was to fly out of Oklahoma City into Milwaukee to meet up with my older sister, a family friend’s daughter and my parents. Courtesy of the best airline out there, Southwest Airlines, I arrived in Milwaukee about an hour before the rest of the crew.


For the sake of convenience, we rented two cars-one that could easily accommodate my Dad and another for the rest of us. The drive from Milwaukee to Lake Geneva is a fairly simple one and allows you to see part of the farm areas. I drove my Mom and we couldn’t help but smile as we came upon the exit for Highway 50 with a sign that said Lake Geneva. We immediately started making comments about changes or reminisced about some event from years ago. As we made the curve onto Lake Shore Drive, I looked over at my Mom and immediately saw her relax and knew she was in total vacation mode.


Later that evening, my Mom and I had an early dinner at one of the Lake Geneva’s staples, Lake Aire restaurant. My middle sister, the one with 5 kids and the one you would think would want to sleep in, texted me the day after we arrived at 6:50 a.m. and asked if I wanted to meet up with her for a walk. This should clearly tell you how much we love this town the fact that we want to get up early and enjoy every day.

lake shore dr

The next few days became a whirlwind of visits from various cousins, aunts and friends of my parents. Some days it was mass chaos but looking back, we wouldn’t have had it any other way. Saturday, my older sister rented a boat so my cousins and nephews could take part in some skiing, rafting and fun on the lake. Some made it up on the skis (albeit only for mere seconds) but they had fun and that was all that mattered.

One of my favorite moments was when my sister’s suite (which we deemed our “headquarters” since it was the biggest), was full of family members. The phone rang and I answered it. My Mom was on the other end, trying to talk while stifling a laugh.  She took a breath and said, “Well guess what, the Ryans are now coming.” I laughed and said, “Awesome…oh Mom, that’s great…the more, the merrier.” About 30 minutes later, I hugged MaryAnne and Pete Ryan (whom we have called Uncle Pete since we were little). He has been a really close friend of my Dad for close to 70 years. He is 86 years old and has the energy of a child-such a fun guy to be around.  They were accompanied by one of their sons, Tim. My sister and I made sure to grab her camera to capture their visit. Even if no one else visited the rest of our stay, my sisters and I were delighted that our parents’ friends made it up to see them.

The day before we left, I was finally able to get my Mom on her beloved Mailboat ride. I won’t go into great detail on this here but would encourage everyone to watch this video. The weather was perfect and I absolutely loved looking across the aisle at my Mom with a big smile on her face, seeing her enjoy every moment. One of the reasons she enjoys going on the boat ride year after year is to see her buddy Captain Neil Frame (who has been the captain for over 50 years)…and to make sure the young mail jumpers don’t leave out any details on the lake homes. I, however, enjoy going because I love boats and the water but also because of the beautiful homes that you see on the ride. They belong to or have at one time belong to millionaires like the Wrigley family, the Maytag family and a multitude of other wealthy Chicago families.

lake house 2 And this is their “summer home”…..

neil frame

Good ‘ole Captain Neil Frame

Our final day came all too soon. Since we didn’t leave until the evening, we decided to have lunch at The Abbey.


I could get used to having this as a backdrop while having lunch…

abbey2Mom and Dad after lunch

After that, we made a stop at The Cheese Box (we were in the cheese state, after all). At that point, we were just right on time but made sure we headed to the airport shortly afterwards. Despite missing our exit, we made it to the airport after gassing up the rental cars and proceeded to start the departure process. We shared one flight but then I went my separate way in St. Louis. My sister, her friend’s daughter and I waited for my parents after we departed the plane.  When i asked what time their flight was, Jean said, “Um, I’m not sure” but after looking at her boarding pass and then to her watch, she goes, “Oh yikes, we’re boarding now.”  After getting the okay to go back down the jet way, I kissed my parents goodbye before heading to my gate.

As I write this, one week has gone by since we were all together. Having friends who have lost their fathers too soon, I know I am beyond blessed to have had this trip with not only one parent, but both….especially my 84 year-old father (side note: he turned 84 while on this trip which was even more special). God willing, in two more years, we will all reconvene again in our favorite vacation spot. As the motto goes, “There’s no place like it.”

Cool new find in Oklahoma: The Blue Bean Coffee Company

A few weeks ago a friend and I met for coffee.  He (John) had me choose and I wanted to find some place different, as in not a Starbucks.  Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against them….just wanted something different.  Moving on, so I went to my trusty friend (aka Google) and searched for coffee places in the area.  One result was The Blue Bean Coffee Company located technically in Oklahoma City, though to me it is in Moore.  I’m splitting hairs.  Anyway, I had read a little about it online and it looked like a place we would like.  As soon as we walked in, I was greeted by a warm, friendly face (whom I later learned was one of the owners).  There was a group of people sitting down at some tables that looked like they were regulars.  My friend and I walked up to the counter to order.  While we were both deciding on what to get, I looked around and smiled when I noticed the various Chicago memorabilia and decor.  I knew I had made the right choice in coffee shops (and I hadn’t even gotten my drink yet).  We got our drinks and picked a table nearby.  On the wall opposite us, I saw various photographs that I assumed were from local artists or friends of the owners.  I mentioned to John that one day I’d like to have my pictures displayed in a shop someday.

Later that same day, I wrote the owner an e-mail and being my mother’s daughter (both my parents are from Chicago), I asked the owner if she was from Chicago after seeing the decor in shop).  She replied that lived there 25 years.  One week later, John and I met at Blue Bean again and this gave the owner and I a chance to visit about where my parents grew up.  I couldn’t help but laugh knowing my Mom would be so proud when I told her about the conversation later.  Like last time, John and I chose a table where we could sit and enjoy our coffee (which is great by the way).   Danae, the owner, was nice enough to offer me the opportunity to hang some of my pictures in the shop. I will be delivering the pictures soon.  I have no idea what kind of price I’ll put on them, if any.  I’ll be flattered if anyone shows any interest.  It is just cool to have this opportunity.  So my point in all of this is to encourage you to come and try out Blue Bean Coffee.  Not only will you get friendly service, good coffee but you’ll get to see my pictures….so you there yet?  Also, go “like” it on Facebook as they give away drinks to those who become fans.

Urban Spoon is also a great place for reviews.

Blue Bean Fan (and amateur photographer) in Norman

The Town I Love So Well

Ever since I was a little girl, there is a town that has been closely associated with my family.  This town means so much to not only my parents, sisters and myself but also my cousins and extended family.  Sometime earlier this year, my Dad (who is 82) announced that he was up for going to Lake Geneva once again.  The designated travel agent in the family, my middle sister and mother of 5, asked if he was serious.  When he continued to bring up the idea, she decided that was a yes.  Planning a trip that includes Dad is a big deal.  He’s got multiple health issues so getting clearance from his doctor to fly was a must before moving forward. Once he gave the okay, we booked our flights.   Months passed by, dates were chosen and we began to make plans.  Fast forward to July 15th.  11 people arrived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at various times.  I arrived a few hours after everyone else.  I was thrilled that I’d be able to look forward to take in the drive, enjoy the scenery of farms and all that comes with the Midwest.  The drive only took about 45 minutes.  When the town of Lake Geneva began to come into view, I couldn’t help but smile.  “Finally” I thought.  I pulled up to the hotel, grabbed my bag and waited for my sister to meet me so I could get into one of the side entrances.  I wasn’t there 5 minutes when I heard a voice call my name and I turned around to see my cousin wheeling a luggage cart toward the door.  He was just one of about 20 cousins I saw in the mere 4 days we were there.  I made my way to my sister’s room where there was already a crowd…and that was just the 11 of us from Oklahoma and Texas.  I sat down to eat but before I could take my first bite, in walked about 7 more cousins.  I laughed and thought, “Here we go…” The list of cousins and family members on my Dad’s side is long.  I knew we’d be seeing them during our stay…just didn’t expect to see the bulk of them on the first night.  As hungry as I was, I loved being surrounded by the chaos that comes with our family. 

For whatever reason, we only booked our stay from Sunday-Friday.  Instead of dwelling on why we didn’t reserve our rooms for longer, we simply made the most of the stay.  We ate, shopped, and just relaxed.  As we tend to do each time, we took a boat ride around the lake.  This year, we took The Mailboat.  This is the vehicle to which residents who own homes on the lake receive their mail, hence the marine delivery.  I urge you to check it out:

My sisters and I enjoy seeing my Mom grin from ear to ear every time she takes the boat ride.  She has taken it so many times now that she’ll get this funny look on her face if she thinks the commentator has forgotten some pertinent fact.  Along this boat ride, you will see homes that belong to some of the wealthiest families from Chicago and across the country including the Wrigley’s (who own the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley gum) as well as the Maytag family.  Check out some of the digs:

What, doesn’t everyone have a private dock?

Yea, but where will the guests stay?

On a whim during dinner one night, my sister called a photographer that has taken pictures of our family a few times before in Lake Geneva.  She left her a message asking if she was by any chance free to take a group photo once again.  Fortunately Carol was available and two days later, we were all gathered around The Riviera. When she got there, she was greeted by about 25 of us.  She even got tears in her eyes upon seeing how much my nephews and niece had grown.  It was pretty sweet.  The background of boats and water was perfect and created such lasting memories for the whole gang of us. 

My middle sister and I are rarely seen without our cameras, especially with family around and on vacation.  So when my nephews, niece, brother-in-law and cousins rented Sea Doos, we were there to greet them, armed with our cameras to capture the moment of absolute giddiness.  My brother-in-law looked like he was a kid, I loved seeing that. 

Jay on the Sea Doo


Friday came all too quickly and it was time to pack up and head back home.  I left the earliest out of the group and oh man was it hard to leave Lake Geneva.  Just like Phil Coulter reflects on his hometown of Derry in Northern Ireland in The Town I Loved So Well, the town means that much to us.  Many years ago, we used to own a condo in Lake Geneva.  As soon as school was out in the summer, we would pack up the suburban and head north.  We stayed there all summer, returning to Texas only a few days before school started again.  In the winter, we flew up to Chicago, visited family and then made the 2 hour drive north.  Because of this, we got to see and experience snow at a young age and became quite close with our cousins.  We love the small town feel, the ice cream parlors, the way it relaxes all of us and simply put…the memories.  During this last visit, my middle sister Kathy got that look in her eye when we passed real estate listings.  I could tell what she was thinking because it’s the same thing we’re all wondering.  She said, “Gosh, I wonder what it would take to own a condo or suite like the one we are staying in now…” I couldn’t help but laugh because we tend to get that itch every time we visit.  This is truly the one place all of us would move in a heartbeat.  Lake Geneva is definitely the town we will always love so well. I urge everyone to visit.  As is the motto, “It’s always been the place…”