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.

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!

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.

 

A “Mayberry” Moment

Longtime resident Barbara Turner, pictured in December of 2014.

Longtime resident Barbara Turner, pictured in December of 2014.

When you are a genuinely good person and live to be 98 years old, that in itself is a blessing. An additional result of having endeared yourself to so many people over the years is that you acquire many, many friends. A whole community of them, actually. And in a time of need, those friends can come together in the best sort of way. Recently, Long Grove experienced one such moment, in which citizens randomly pitched in to help longtime resident Barbara Turner enjoy her beloved Woodland again.

Barbara and her family are best known in Long Grove for the donation of the Reed-Turner Woodland, a 36 acre nature preserve just north of our historic downtown on Old McHenry Road. In the last year Barbara’s health has not allowed her to get outside and enjoy the beautiful open spaces right outside her home; even the porch has not been accessible due to a large step down. All that has been recently remedied, when a crew of local businessmen and resident volunteers showed up to build Barbara a ramp out to her screened-in area. Today, she is once again enjoying the bird songs and wildflowers. And despite the current heat & humidity–who doesn’t just crave a little fresh air now and then?

All this came about when several of Barbara’s friends tried coming up with ideas to get her back outside. The porch presented a challenge regarding the ramp design, which was finally solved by a local builder and contractor. Past and current elected officials helped design and organize the project, and waived the building fees. The local Lions Club helped out with building materials and labor, with assistance from a few handy members of the Historical Downtown Merchants Association and Historical Society. All of this could not have been done without the cooperation of the Long Grove Park District, which owns and maintains Barbara’s home as well as the entire Woodland preserve.

In our fast -paced modern world, it is easy to get caught up in the negative headlines and news feeds. It can seem discouraging that we live in a time and place where civility and human kindness take a back seat to being right and being in control. Witnessing everyone collaborate to help a beloved neighbor is an important reminder that by working jointly with others, great things can happen. Small town spirit is still alive in Long Grove! When we labor together, it’s a “win” for all of us.

Ramp construction underway!

Ramp construction underway!

Happy Flag Day!

Posing with Long Grove artist Marie Roth and the patriotic gift that she created for me.

Posing with Long Grove artist Marie Roth and the awesome patriotic gift that she created for me.

June 14th is flag day, but only one state–Pennsylvania–observes the occasion as a legal holiday. Another interesting bit of trivia that I recently ran across stated that Betsy Ross didn’t receive credit during her lifetime for sewing the first American flag in 1776. So to honor Old Glory and the talented women who create her (past and present), I am highlighting the story of a fantastic gift I recently received.

To thank me for my service as Village President, Long Grove artist and friend Marie Roth presented me with the beautiful painted wooden flag pictured above. Marie has been creating wooden renditions of the red, white and blue for many years now, and has quite a following. She was even recently featured in a national magazine! Marie’s flags are usually made out of reclaimed barn wood, and she is often on the lookout for old farm sites and other possible sources of wood with an interesting history. When she completes a flag Marie always includes a write-up about where the barn wood was found, and any stories she knows about the former owners.

What makes my flag so special is that it did not come from reclaimed barn wood, but instead, from wood that was once part of our Long Grove covered bridge! During my term of elected office the covered bridge has been hit and damaged many times (too many times!) by trucks and distracted drivers. During one of the many repairs, a pile of discarded and damaged boards was left by the side of the road and after several days Marie was alerted to the find. I have often coveted Marie’s flags, and even purchased a couple for gifts over the years. Now I am delighted to have a piece of Marie’s art and a piece of the covered bridge hanging in my home to remind me of the years spent representing our Village.

Speaking of the covered bridge, we are getting ever closer to having our local landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. I will be attending a meeting in Springfield later this month of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, who will be reviewing our application and (hopefully) making a recommendation to the National Park Service for the official designation. Keep your fingers crossed!

Many Beautiful Rainbows

 

UPDATE: This photo was taken during our hike in Peru on April 30, 2017, five days after this blog post was originally published. Mother Nature provided the perfect illustration!

UPDATE: This photo was taken during our hike in Peru on April 30, 2017, five days after this blog post was originally published. Mother Nature provided the perfect illustration!

The following article appeared in the April edition of our Village of Long Grove newsletter, The Bridge. Tonight marks my last Village Board meeting. I will be taking a few weeks off from the blog to rest and recharge, but will resume later in May bringing you more stories of Life in Long Grove.

From the Village President, Angie Underwood, 2013-2017

It is with a deep sense of gratitude that I write to you this last time as your Village President. Representing Long Grove and serving each of you has been an honor. When your work is truly your passion, as mine has been these last six years volunteering for the Village Board, it feels more like a privilege than a job. Thank you for the valuable learning experiences, unique opportunities, and abundant good memories that I have to carry forward.

A sentiment that I love from poet and author Maya Angelou reminds us to always try to “be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.” My term as Village President was mainly sunny but did feature the occasional clouds, a few of which were quite stormy. I have been blessed with many beautiful rainbows to support me through the rough weather. Our staff who never failed to welcome me with a smile at village hall, current and former elected officials who gave me advice and mentoring, friends and neighbors who listened and took me out for lunches and drinks to vent, downtown merchants who are now mutually respected colleagues, blog readers who reply with such positive feedback, and residents who have randomly emailed encouraging shout outs just when I needed it most–rainbows each and every one! The pot of gold at rainbow’s end is my family, who will now get more of my time and energy, and my husband Aaron, who is joining me soon on an adventure to take the high road in Peru.

I am proud of what our Village Board has accomplished these last four years as I have held the gavel, and I am confident that the new Trustees and President will continue to work hard in the years ahead for the best interests of our residents. Recently a friend asked me if I felt that holding elected office had been “worth it.” Helping the community that you live in, in big or little ways, is always worth it.

Love and Leadership

Former Village Clerk Heidi Locker-Scheer (with help from staff & trustees) created this thoughtful keepsake to honor my years of service to the Village.

Former Village Clerk Heidi Locker-Scheer (with help from staff & trustees) created this thoughtful keepsake to honor my years of service to the Village. Over the past four years I have received many thank-you notes and letters, which I keep in what I call my “folder of love.” When I’m having a bad day, I often look to these messages for inspiration. One of my favorites is from a 3rd Grader who attended a presentation I did for her class at Village Hall: “President Underwood, you sparkle!”

In honor of Valentine’s Day today, I would like to reflect on love and leadership. The thoughts below are taken from an article by Scott C. Paine, which appeared in the Illinois Municipal Review magazine in June of 2014:

As A Leader, Should You Inspire Fear–or Love?

Niccolo Machiavelli, in his advice to rulers, famously wrote that “it is better to be feared than loved.” His reasoning was simple: a leader cannot make others love him or her. Fear, however, can be induced. Consequently, for a leader who wants to be in control, fear is the more powerful tool. Fear, however, has a fundamental flaw. It relies on irrationality. It counts on subjects to respond emotionally, unthinkingly, to bullying and the threat of violence and pain. If one submits to another out of fear, that other is in control. But sooner or later, fear yields to reason and reason seeks an opportunity to turn the tables. That’s why tyrants so rarely die peacefully in their beds.

Still, a leader who seeks to be loved is not much better off than one who seeks to be feared, nor are the people that leader governs. Certainly the people suffer less from the direct actions of a leader who seeks love than one who seeks to be feared. But a leader who seeks to be loved will find, time and again, that concern for the feelings of constituent groups will lead to a series of compromises and concessions that may satisfy their short-term desires but do not serve their long-term interests. That’s the funny thing about our long-term interests. Rarely do we love everything about what is required to pursue them. Often, we must pay a price in the short run to achieve the long-term good. Not exactly a formula for being loved in the immediate moment, is it?

There is a third path. It is one that exists only for those who believe that, in the long run, most people most of the time will come to recognize good choices…and bad ones. Experience is a pretty good, though somewhat flawed, teacher. Most of us, because our life circumstances matter to us, are pretty good students. At least that’s what I believe. I also believe a leader can earn authentic love.

It’s an odd concept, I suppose, because love is normally associated with emotion and not an earned reward. But I don’t think that is the heart and soul of love. The heart and soul of love is knowing someone for who he or she really is, and recognizing that reality as a gift. Recognizing that gift, a gift to us, we love that person. We put up with failings and overlook limitations not foolishly or passionately, but deeply rationally and emotionally. Because there is a good reason for us to love someone who is, in fact, a gift to us.

Leaders who strive mightily to discover what is best for their people, then strive equally mightily to bring it to fruition, may earn our anger and resentment for a time. We may not like their actions and may resent their message. But over time, as what is truly good becomes clearer to us, we come to appreciate them more and more. We come to see their leadership as a gift to us. And we come to love them.

hearts

 

 

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy!

Coming home from our workout today in the city, Waze navigation unexpectedly took us past Wrigley Field, where I snapped this shot of the crowds still rejoicing in the recent Cubs win!

Coming home from our workout today in the city, Waze navigation unexpectedly took us past Wrigley Field, where I snapped this shot of the crowds still rejoicing in the recent Cubs win!

Life in Long Grove has been happily dominated by a historic event this week–the clinching of the World Series by the Chicago Cubs! The collective joy this victory has spread among residents has made the past several days especially memorable. And while I know that not everyone in the Village is a Cubs fan, I do know that a significant number of Long Grovians were part of the estimated 5 million cheering fans lining the streets of Chicago yesterday for the victory parade. I had several appointments to keep so I chose to stick around town, but I did enjoy the uncharacteristic lack of traffic on the local roads as a result!

Where were you when you watched the Cubs break the 108 year “curse”? We were at the Village Tavern, at least for most of the game. The Chatterbox was another local gathering spot for cheering and knuckle-biting. However, most residents that I’ve talked to were glued to TVs at home, celebrating with family and friends and even in a few cases, post-game fireworks. This past week has certainly been one for the record books and a shared memory for all of us in Chicagoland. Cheers to letting happiness and joy dominate our lives, for a few days at least!

Like a Pig on a Spit

Adam Ullrich of the Village Tavern helped prepare for the annual Veteran's Pig Roast on July 24, 2016.

Adam Ullrich of the Village Tavern helped prepare for the annual Veterans Pig Roast held on Sunday, July 24, 2016.

As an elected official, there are times when I feel like a pig on a spit–slowly raked over the coals primarily for the enjoyment of others; because they can, because they’re bored, because it boosts their ego. Hey, I get the dynamic–why else would I read the celebrity gossip in People magazine? But in local politics this type of harassment, while entertaining, comes with a cumulative downside. The flaming controversy over a raffle held at the Village Tavern’s Veterans Pig Roast this past weekend is a perfect example.

Chip and Mary Ann Ullrich, owners of the Tavern, have generously hosted this event every summer for the past seven years as a way to publicly honor and thank our military veterans. Chip himself is a veteran from the Vietnam era. Widely promoted and well attended, this celebration is seen as a positive reflection on our community. The pig roast and entertainment are free for our veterans, and the festivities also feature a raffle with the proceeds to benefit local VFW Post 5151 and Midwest Veterans Closet charity organization. This raffle required an application for permission of the Village Board, which was unanimously granted. The Village is supportive of the intentions behind this event, as are the many residents who volunteer annually to make it a success. A win-win for all concerned.

However, a local woman has caused a stink this past week in her attempts to get the raffle invalidated on the grounds that it is illegal gambling. She has made numerous calls to village hall, resulting in a FOIA request for staff to comply with, as well as time from our village attorney, village employees, the Ullrichs and myself. All of this to get notoriety for herself and publicity for her cause. Long Grove seems to be an attractive place for those who like to seek attention by agitating over an emotional issue.

In today’s turbulent times we have no shortage of serious issues to become worked up about. But a raffle to benefit legitimate local veterans organizations is not one of them. This week, staff time (taxpayer funded) and volunteer time (a precious resource) has been used once again to satisfy the demands of community activists looking for recognition in the name of their cause. In my term as Village President I have seen this dynamic over and again with various local issues. When the dust settles, little is ever accomplished aside from the fact that the battle serves to chip away at our limited finances and morale just a tiny bit more. Why is this tolerated? Is it serving the greater good and righting injustice? Maybe not…..but perhaps somebody, somewhere, is enjoying the entertainment?