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An Outskirts Upbringing

I grew up in the outskirts of the suburbs of Chicago. My neighborhood was not surrounded by the shiny skyscrapers of the city, or the tree-lined streets of some of the more popular “burbs” - we were truly on the edges of the Chicago metropolitan area.

When I think of the Wise Grasshopper blog category “Magical Stories”, this is where my heart goes. Particularly in times like these, I revel in the nostalgia of my childhood, the experiences that I had that no one else ever truly will, the memories that I hold in my soul. And the laughs! Living away from the hustle and bustle of a white picket fence life came with its own hilarious twists and turns.

For example: we raised sheep. We were in that sweet spot between suburb and farmland where absolutely no one had sheep, and here we were with our own little flock. It was basically the 4H project that never left! One season, we even had a “runt” lamb that we kept in a playpen in our family room. We named him Yoda.

I still won’t eat lamb or veal.

Looking back, my childhood was a snippet in time, but growing up in the outskirts had an incredible impact on me. I learned about social causes and the environment from my dad at an early age. He was president of Citizens for Conservation, and was a key player in working to protect wetlands and reducing suburban sprawl in the 70s and 80s. He was protecting the environment, but also the life that we were living. That idyllic in-between.

Our home was set on five acres with a pond that backed up to 100s of  acres of wetland. I spent my teenage years hosting ice skating parties and sledding out onto the lake, watching the geese land in the fall on their way south for the winter. We had a pair of geese named Georgette and Pierre who nested every year - but that’s a story for another time. Still to this day, the sound of red wing black birds are the sound of my childhood. Now, in Madison, we stand at the edge of the Arboretum and hear the same familiar sounds. It warms my heart. It was an idyllic way to grow up, appreciating the world around me.

In the end, the land behind our home was eventually developed, and our home torn down. It was a hard lesson for all of us. My folks later moved to an area that was protected. My dad was at peace and most himself in nature.

There’s something to be said for experiencing the ebbs and flows of life where natural life is occurring, where the days aren’t dictated by a time clock, but rather the rising and setting of the sun. Seasons become more significant, animals go to sleep in the winter and new life is brought into the world in the spring. 

My family was familiar with the circle of life. As I mentioned, we raised lambs, but we also were lucky enough to raise two large litters of golden retriever puppies. These small fluffy pups were a source of endless joy for my family as we watched them grow and change, their personalities becoming clearer each day. Unfortunately, in one litter, we lost the mother dog due to an infection. We spent that summer bottle feeding all 12 of those puppies, getting an unparalleled education in the intricacies and nuances of life.

I am so grateful for my “outskirts upbringing”. There are so many magical stories that I could share from my childhood outside of Chicago - and I plan to here on Wise Grasshopper. What would you like to hear more about? Consider me an open book.

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