On Living

While my husband Aaron and I are no Fred and Ginger, we are adding more joy to the time we have left together by learning how to dance.

While my husband Aaron and I are no Fred and Ginger, we are adding more joy to the time we have left together by learning how to dance.

If you were down to the last weeks and months of your life, what kinds of stories would you tell? Perhaps you would have regrets, or the need to release a secret held too long. Maybe you would find the strength to make amends, or the will to finally grant compassion to others, or yourself. Kerry Egan is a hospice chaplain and the author of a beautiful and thoughtful book on this topic, called “On Living.” Recently recommended to me by a friend, I sat down after dinner last night to quickly skim through the 200 pages and found myself coming up for air four hours later deeply moved and in need of a tissue or two. This book was not sad. I found it to be an inspiring and sometimes humorous set of stories on how we as humans can find more meaning in our lives now, before we reach the end of our days.

By sharing many of the insights from her work counseling hospice patients, the author reveals what she has learned by listening and simply being present. I loved her chapter on “living in the gray” which dealt with judgement and the importance of kindness (which is not the same as niceness). Another section of the book that was meaningful to me detailed the contrast between toughness and strength, which are often thought of as being the same thing, but in fact are opposites. A favorite quote: “You have to be tough because you’re not strong. Being tough makes you mean. In most of life, you can be weak inside and get through by putting on a tough outer shell. But if you work in hospice, you have to stay soft on the outside. So in order to stand up straight, you have to have a spine of steel. Two ways to go through the world, two ways to deal with the loss that is an inevitable experience in life–with a hard shell or with a rock-solid backbone.”

My favorite chapter is entitled, “if I had only known, I would have danced more.” The author describes how many dying patients express regret that they had spent time hating their bodies for various reasons and wished that they had appreciated them more in the course of their lives. Egan writes, “They talk about their favorite memories of their bodies. And dancing. So many stories about dancing. I can’t count the hundreds of times people–more men than women–have closed their eyes and said, “If I had only known, I would have danced more.”

I am personally taking this last lesson to heart. I have always regretted not knowing how to dance. Six months ago, my husband Aaron and I started taking ballroom dancing lessons at the new Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Long Grove, and we have added one more joyful thing to our lives because of it. As a result of reading “On Living” I am also inspired to bring more peace into my life right now by working harder on forgiveness and compassion. My hope is to die with few regrets and I wish the same for you.

Award Winning Excellence

Left to Right: Citizen of the Year John Kopecky celebrates with fellow award winners Jenny and Rich Wierzchon of Primrose School of Long Grove, Best New Business.

Left to Right: Citizen of the Year John Kopecky celebrates with fellow award winners Jenny and Rich Wierzchon of Primrose School of Long Grove, Best New Business.

Don’t you just love it on those rare occasions when the stars align and good things happen to truly deserving people? Long Grove was shining bright last night at the Lake Zurich Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual Evening of Excellence event. What a thrill it was to celebrate John Kopecky as he was presented with the Citizen of the Year Award, and to cheer the success of Jenny and Rich Wierzchon¬†of Primrose School as they were recognized as the Best New Business. In addition to awards, the night was filled with friends, good food, dancing, and pride in our community.

It is a generally held opinion in town that John Kopecky is an amazing volunteer who helps out anyone and anywhere he sees a need. It is impossible to list all the wonderful ways in which John has helped our village over the many years he has owned his downtown business, The Country House, and even prior to that growing up in the Long Grove area. Need a dozen or so creative mini golf holes for the Lions putt-putt fundraiser? John will design and build them. Clever marketing ideas and a giant teddy bear to promote the downtown festivals? Done. How about acquiring a historic tractor (or two) and wagon, then tirelessly driving loads upon loads of visitors throughout the historic downtown for Vintage Days, on your birthday? His pleasure. Emergency repairs to brewery equipment? Just call him MacGuyver. Another truck has hit and damaged the covered bridge? John is getting out the ladder and paint bucket as we speak. Need someone to portray “crazy” Jake Eisler or Mrs. Bigfoot in the annual Ghostwalk? Say no more. I could go on and on but I think you get the picture of just how indispensable John is to the fiber of our village. And beloved. Several of us from the community were moved to nominated John for this award and it is so richly deserved. Congratulations!

Jenny and Rich Wierzchon have parlayed their passion for early childhood education into the creation and establishment of the Primrose School of Long Grove. I was there for the ground breaking in October of 2015, and have been delighted to watch this new business grow into a real asset for our community. See my earlier post here about the Primrose Promise. Here’s to many more years of success!

While it is exciting to be recognized with an award, the real prize for our community is having John, Jenny and Rich giving every day in their own winning ways to make Long Grove such a great place to live. We salute you! Check out a short clip of the awards presentations below:

 

Attendees at the Evening of Excellence (L to R): Angie Underwood, John Kopecky, Aaron Underwood, Amy Gayton, and Vicki Kopecky.

Attendees at the Evening of Excellence (L to R): Angie Underwood, John Kopecky, Aaron Underwood, Amy Gayton, and Vicki Kopecky.

Covered Bridge Creamery

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The namesake mural at the new Covered Bridge Creamery provided the perfect backdrop for our Historical Society committee meeting this week.

After spending the first several weeks of 2018 in a warmer climate, it was a pleasant surprise for me to return to Long Grove and find two new businesses in our historic downtown. I’m very excited to be able to feature one of them today, Covered Bridge Creamery.

Located in the former location of Beans & Leaves (on Old McHenry Road next to the Chatterbox), this new shop offers a variety of premium ice cream flavors as well as coffee, tea and assorted pastries. New counters and seating complement the classic wood paneling with the addition of a giant mural showcasing our beloved and iconic covered bridge. It provided the perfect spot and perfect inspiration for our recent Covered Bridge Preservation Committee meeting. Our group enjoyed the ambiance and the delicious lattes while also getting some advocacy work underway. Business owner Eric Wallor was gracious enough to sit with us and tell us a bit about his new venture.

Manager Nicholas Modlin and crew member Rachel Temple are two of several friendly faces  waiting to greet you at Covered Bridge Creamery.

Manager Nicholas Modlin and crew member Rachel Temple are two of several employees waiting to make your experience great at Covered Bridge Creamery.

Eric, along with his sister, brother in law and another partner first came to Long Grove this past summer to open Signature Popcorn, which is located next door to the new Creamery. Signature Popcorn started as an online business three years ago, and when the opportunity for a storefront in Long Grove became available they jumped at the chance to add a brick and mortar store to the expanding business. They were very attracted to the history and potential Long Grove provided, so much so that they now own two businesses and are very optimistic about the future of our town. Excited to, “bring our passion for ice cream, coffee and tea and our concept for Covered Bridge Creamery,” to Long Grove, Eric is definitely filling a need. One request that I repeatedly heard from residents during my term as Village President was to bring back a spot to get ice cream treats in our downtown. Thanks to Eric and his team, your wish is now reality. While I can vouch for the tasty hot beverages, I will be returning soon to sample the sweet stuff.

Covered Bridge Creamery is open currently, M-F 6:30 am to 4:30 pm, Saturdays 8:00 am to 4:30 pm and Sundays 9:00 am to 4:30 pm. As the days get longer and the weather gets warmer, they will eventually be open later into the evening hours. Stop by and check it out!

Let it Snow!

The elves at the Long Grove Historical Society decorated this downtown holiday tree at the farmhouse.

The elves at the Long Grove Historical Society decorated this downtown holiday tree outside the farmhouse.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you already know a number of things that I love about Long Grove. Add to that list, the positive odds of experiencing a white Christmas. When I peered out the window this morning, my heart skipped a beat. To those of us enjoying the holiday in Long Grove this year, we are in luck!

With a snowfall, our open spaces and wooded preserves such as Reed-Turner suddenly transform into a winter wonderland. The beautiful holiday lights and decorations at the historical crossroads look so much more magical with a dusting of snow, as do the 80 outdoor fresh Christmas trees decorated in festive splendor by our merchants and business owners. I missed the tractor rides yesterday due to a family gathering, but I’ve spent the past week finishing up the gift list by shopping in some of my favorite stores. One Long Grove shop owner mentioned that sales are up 10 percent for the year and 25 percent for the holiday season. Two more indicated that things are going so well this year, they are close to running out of Christmas themed merchandise. Not to worry…orders have already been placed for additional new and exciting inventory in the year ahead! Being warmly greeted by smiling faces in our downtown shops and restaurants has truly helped make my holiday season extra merry and bright. There is just something so special about a small-town at Christmastime.

And even though the fluffy white flakes that lift my spirits can dampen the joy for those who have to travel, for all of us celebrating the holiday in Long Grove…let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Women United

Attending the Power of the Purse event on Nov. 5, 2017 (L to R) standing: Heidi Locker-Scheer, Maria Rodriguez, Vicki Juster, Jenny Sen-Gupta, Angie Underwood. Seated: Melissa Dickstein, Nandia Black, and Diane Trickey.

Attending the Power of the Purse event on Nov. 5, 2017 (L to R) standing: Heidi Locker-Scheer, Maria Rodriguez, Vicki Juster, Jenny Sen-Gupta, Angie Underwood. Seated: Melissa Dickstein, Nandia Black, and Diane Trickey.

Retiring from the Village Board six months ago has allowed me to reset my priorities on how I spend my volunteer hours. One group that I have chosen to focus on is the Women’s Leadership Council of the United Way of Lake County (soon to be called “Women United”), where I serve on the Steering Committee. This wonderful group of 90+ female leaders is committed to improving early childhood literacy in Lake County through philanthropy and volunteerism. Our network of women has been able to grant $100,000 this year alone to programs that serve children in areas of most need, helping them to be prepared for kindergarten and ready to succeed in school. Some of the communities most impacted by our work include Waukegan, Zion, North Chicago and Round Lake.

But it was Long Grove that played a central role in the story of WLC yesterday, as our major fundraiser for the year, Power of the Purse, was held at Royal Melbourne Country Club. I was honored to sponsor a table of local “women of influence” (many of whom are pictured above) including a former Village Clerk, two former Village Presidents, and a current Mayor. In between enjoying mimosas and brunch we were able to bid on purses and silent auction baskets, have fun playing games and winning prizes, and donate books and educational toys to children served in the “Little Kids, Big Futures” funded programs. It was an altogether lovely day but what made me smile the most was the sea of hands that went up when asked to sponsor one child for a week of Kindergarten Countdown Camp. When passionate, powerful, and committed women come together in the spirit of philanthropy, it’s a beautiful thing to behold.

Nov. 15, 2017 Update: A total of $49,500 in net donations was raised at the Power of the Purse event this year. Nice job, ladies!!

Wonder Woman is the inspirational "mascot" of Women United. Three members of the Steering Committee had fun channeling her power at the recent Leadership Summit in Cincinnati last month.

Wonder Woman is the inspirational “mascot” of Women United. Three members of the Steering Committee had fun channeling her power at the 2017 Leadership Summit in Cincinnati last month.

Long Grove Leaders of Tomorrow

On October 3, 2017 I was honored to help Girl Scout Troop #40436 with their bridging ceremony. Just look at these joyful smiles!

On October 3, 2017 I was honored to help Girl Scout Troop #40436 with their bridging ceremony. Just look at these joyful smiles!

Earlier this month I was asked to host a Brownie Troop from Country Meadows School at our Historical Society farmhouse. They wanted my help in learning about Long Grove history as part of a merit badge, and also were interested to hear about my experience in serving as Village President. As a former Girl Scout myself, I am always thrilled to help another generation of girls prepare to take the lead themselves one day. It was a joy for me to be invited to participate in their bridging ceremony as they advanced from Brownie Scouts to Junior Girl Scouts, by crossing over our historic covered bridge. Congratulations Troop #40436!

These girls are our future politicians, scientists, teachers, military officers, doctors, entrepreneurs, moms, community volunteers, and so much more. Right now though, they are hopeful and eager to learn, full of energy and high spirits for the adventures life holds for them. Over the last century, Girl Scouting has provided premier opportunities for our girls to develop confidence in themselves and their abilities. Valuable leadership skills are gained from female role models. In the U.S., 90 percent of female astronauts, 80 percent of female tech leaders, and 75 percent of current female senators are Girl Scout alumnae.

In the news this week was the announcement that the Boy Scouts of America will begin to admit girls as members of their organization. I think it is great that more and more opportunities are opening up to encourage girls to grow up to be leaders. The need for broader female leadership is clear. Girl Scouts excell in empowering girls with the tools to make this happen, and I am proud to continue to support the best girl leadership experts in the world.

Getting ready to tour our Long Grove Historical Society farmhouse.

Getting ready to tour our Long Grove Historical Society farmhouse.

Neighbors & Newcomers

Members of the Long Grove-Kildeer Neighbors and Newcomers Club (L to R): Sandi

Some of the Long Grove-Kildeer Neighbors and Newcomers Club members (L to R) at the September 12th Brunch: Sandy Yogendran, Renee Clark, Katie Hodge, Susan Fasano, Lana Pollard, and Angie Underwood.

Today I’d like to highlight one community group that is near and dear to my heart and continues to be a force for good in our village. Founded in 1957, shortly after the Village of Long Grove was incorporated, the Neighbors and Newcomers Club of Long Grove and Kildeer has been welcoming new residents and sustaining friendships for 50 years. This vibrant group has helped countless residents get acclimated into their new communities and fostered social connections that have lasted in some cases, decades. I was introduced to this group 20 years ago when we first moved to the area, and quickly met other newcomers like myself who shared similar interests and had children the same ages as my own. Some of the ladies pictured above I have known since I joined, others are more recent friends. I have had the pleasure of serving as President of this wonderful group three separate times over the ensuing years.

Earlier this month was the fall “kick-off” event, a brunch at our current President’s home in which we welcomed three new members and had fun catching up on summer happenings with long-time friends. Everyone who attended brought donations of toiletry bags filled with essentials (shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, lotion, etc…) to be donated to WINGS, a local Safe House for women and children fleeing desperate situations. Each year the club sponsors one specific collection for a local charity. In past years the donations have ranged from food for the local food pantry, children’s pajamas for a shelter, toys for a holiday gift drive, and the adopt-a-family program through Vernon Township.

One way to really get to know your neighbors is through a shared interest. Here is where this group really excels, by offering eight different interest groups in which you can participate in, as little or much as you choose. My personal favorite is the Grove Trotters walking group, which meets at Heron Creek Forest Preserve or other neighborhood walking trails for fellowship and fitness in our beautiful Long Grove & Kildeer open spaces. You can participate in an evening book club, Bunco/Game Night, couples Wine Tasting or Gourmet dining, Out to Lunch with the ladies or take in a Chick Flicks show at a local theater. If social opportunities are what you are interested in, look no further than this friendly club. For more information please visit the Facebook page here.

As I mentioned earlier, I have a great amount of affection for this group. I liken it to the song I learned back in Girl Scouts, “Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.” The friends I have made over the last twenty years in Neighbors & Newcomers are truly golden.

More Chocolate to Love

Cathie Olson is shown helping me satisfy another chocolate craving at the new Morkes Chocolates shop  in Long Grove.

Cathie Olson is shown helping me satisfy another chocolate craving at the new Morkes Chocolates shop in Long Grove.

My relationship with chocolate is simple–resistance is futile. As a child, I always tried to give it up for Lent and almost never made it the 40 days. As an adult, I try to cut back from time to time when I need to lose a few pounds. But in my opinion, it’s not really a perfect day if it doesn’t include a little chocolate somewhere. Imagine my delight to discover that we have one more shop in town to satisfy my sweet tooth, Morkes Chocolates!

This week Long Grove welcomed our newest candy store with a celebratory ribbon cutting. Open since August 1st, Morkes is located in the red schoolhouse building on Fountain Square that formerly housed the Long Grove Confectionery. The Morkes family originated in France and started in the candy-making business back in 1920. Further generations continued the family tradition and opened the original Morkes Chocolates in Palatine, Illinois in 1967. Today, the Palatine location also serves as headquarters and production for the company, with additional stores in Huntley and now Long Grove. Current owner Rhonda Dehn is the 3rd generation of the Morkes family to craft delicious chocolate treats here in the northwest suburbs. I have personally sampled many of the mouth-watering choices available (I know, it was a tough job, but doing this blog requires painstaking research!) and my favorites so far are the lemon creams and signature white chocolate pecan “puppets”. ¬†Later this fall Morkes plans to offer classes and private parties in the upper floor of their building. I am intrigued by the prospect of learning how to temper chocolate, dip & decorate, and I really need to know what ingredients are involved with “extreme” fondue!

Morkes joins our two other village candy shops, Ma & Pa’s Candy and the Long Grove Confectionery. The Confectionery has moved to another location in our historic downtown and after a summer of renovations is slated to reopen in October. Is this potentially too much of a good thing? I view having additional chocolate stores the same way as being blessed with another child– more to love!

“I Wanna Put On my, my, my, my, my Boogie Shoes”

Putting on our "Boogie Shoes" for a dance lesson at the new Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Long Grove.

Putting on our “Boogie Shoes” for a ballroom dancing lesson at the new Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Long Grove.

I have to admit that I’ve been having a lot of fun this summer. One of the main reasons that I stepped away from the demands of being Village President was that I wanted to have more time to spend with my loved ones, doing things that I enjoyed and that were important to me. The last few months have been filled with travel, hiking, camping, downtime in the pool, and some very satisfying community service. I have also recently discovered something new that allows me to spend time together with my husband, have some fun, and contributes to our goal of staying healthy–ballroom dancing!

Yes, we have started taking lessons at the new Fred Astaire Dance Studio in downtown Long Grove. Located at the former Red Oaks property, owner (and former “Dancing with the Stars” pro) Jesse DeSoto has transformed a barn into a grand ballroom. Both Aaron and I have gotten to know Jesse over the past year as he has been renovating and getting the new property up to speed. So when we recently received invitations to our niece’s Quinceanera and a neighbor’s wedding, I knew just who to call to get us ready for the dance floor. I usually have to drag Aaron out when the music starts at special events, but he agreed to give our new dance studio a whirl. We have found both the staff and our fellow students to be extremely friendly and very welcoming. Our instructor, Brianna, is patient and encouraging and we have learned the basics of the rumba, fox trot, waltz, and push-pull. So far, we are having a blast!

Not sure that we will ever strike as lovely a pose as our dance instructors Vlad and Brianna Nalyvaychuk, but we are having fun trying!

Not sure that we will ever strike as lovely a pose as our dance instructors Vlad and Brianna Nalyvaychuk, but we are having fun trying!

What to Keep

One of our wilder neighbors, caught hunting in our backyard conservancy area, in April of this year.

One of our wilder neighbors, caught hunting in our backyard conservancy area in April of this year.

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of simplifying. It all started this spring, when I retired from the Village Board and found myself cleaning out six years worth of job related clutter–physical, mental, and the electronic variety. I’ve moved on now to closets, and in a five-bedroom house we have more than a few. With three children now grown and living on their own, I’m pretty sure we can live without the Middle School fashion statements and treasures hauled home from numerous college apartments. Fat clothes? If I haven’t worn them in five years, why in God’s name am I hanging on to them? Yes, the charity pickup trucks have been welcome at my doorstep this summer.

All this purging has gotten me thinking about scaling back my life in other ways. I am volunteering a little bit less these days, while still focusing my leadership efforts on causes and groups that I’m most passionate about. As empty nesters, my husband and I regularly discuss the pros and cons of downsizing our properties now that it’s just the two of us at the dinner table. But as we talk about what to get rid of, it always leads us back to what we want to keep.

We do have an affection for our house where we have raised our family, but the happy memories from the last nineteen years are what we will cherish. Houses come and go. Yet, it is the intangible part of Long Grove that has gotten hold of our hearts and keeps us rooted to this land and this community. Our neighbors have been a blessing, and although I know they too are having similar downsizing thoughts, collectively we love and have been loved by too many individuals in this community to be able to give that up anytime soon. Even though it is part of a larger suburban area, Long Grove has the soul of a small town, and my husband and I feel a very part of that fiber.

Besides our human ties, the other tether holding us to this particular spot on the globe is the beautiful nature that we are fortunate to be a part of on a daily basis. We are the lucky recipients and stewards of the majestic open spaces strewn throughout our Village, set aside by prior neighbors so that native flora and fauna could co-exist with us for years to come. Sightings of coyotes, fawns, monarchs and prairie orchid bring peacefulness and serenity, when we really take the time to notice it. As our future days unfold, this is the richness that we want to remain.

The opportunity to be up close with nature, coupled with small town charm and neighborly kindness is what drew us to Long Grove in the first place. It’s what we choose to keep.

Open space in Long Grove this time of year features many wildflowers and native prairie plants.

Our backyard view in Long Grove this time of year features many wildflowers and native prairie plants.