My Life Parenting

Summers, Past and Present

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I keep thinking about our recent trip to Wisconsin. Looking through the photos (there are hundreds!) makes me smile. I think about the memories we’re creating too. Do you know the German word, Sehnsucht? I’ve been feeling that way. Wistful. Nostalgic for a past I never actually experienced.

I’ve shared photos of our trip, but I didn’t write about the meaning of the place. Brandon’s family has been returning to the same spot in the north woods of Wisconsin year after year, decade after decade. I met Brandon shortly after his dad passed away, but there’s a picture of them together, taken in those woods when Brandon was the same age as August.

His family used to rent a place when they went up there, and they eventually bought a little cabin on the lake in 1987. Five years ago, Brandon’s mom and step-dad completely remodeled it, but the spirit of the place is the same.

There’s magic in returning with your family to the same places you frequented as a child. Someday, hopefully, our kids will know the feeling.

That was the place Eleanor had her first s’more. The place where our dog had free roam and a dip in the lake. The place where August could run and run and run. The place where the kids first went fishing, where it took a 30 minute drive to get into town, and where they watched their dad shoot off Roman candles, thinking they were the most amazing fireworks in the world. I didn’t have the same experience as a child, but it sure is nice as a mom.

Did you go to the same place each summer when you were growing up? A little cabin in the woods? A beach you returned to year after year? Summer camp? My family didn’t travel much or take vacations often, but I hope to be able to create those memories now.

It’s a six-hour drive and a tank of gas away.

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48 Comments

  • Reply
    Sue
    June 21, 2012 at 10:35 am

    We did and do have that experience. My nan and pop built a beach house in the fifties about an hour or two from their farm. It’s where my Dad and his brothers spent their weekends and summers growing up. That same beachhouse (shack, really, it’s had very little done to it since) remains in the family, shared by the nine sons/my uncles. Whilst it was quite remote, a small town now surrounds it and several of my uncles (and my Dad) have since bought beach houses there. I don’t get there very often now I don’t know live in Australia but I love that place more than anywhere in the world, especially in the summer when all us adult cousins reunite and hang out at the beach as the family has been doing for 60years. August and Eleanor are lucky to enjoy the experiences of the lake cabin.

  • Reply
    Beth
    June 21, 2012 at 10:39 am

    It’s a 16 hour drive for me – to the last road north at the edge of Voyageur’s National Park in Minnesota. We try to get back every other year, but that doesn’t always happen. It is the place where my soul is most at peace. I love it there. Childhood memories, adult dreams. So glad you get to share that with your kids. The cabin culture of the midwest is like no other.

  • Reply
    StagerLinda
    June 21, 2012 at 10:42 am

    I love that you are making memories with your kids. Your pictures are beautiful. I could really feel the emotion behind your experience. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    Jules
    June 21, 2012 at 10:43 am

    My parents have a place in Lake Tahoe, and we go every year in the summer for our family vacation. Mainly it’s for budget reasons. We take my husband’s company car for the 8 hour drive and stay in my parents’ place. Aside from food and entertainment, it’s a free trip for us. Sometimes I get bitter about it–I would love to go Europe, for example–but the boys love it so much, and I take a lot of comfort in the familiar, too.

  • Reply
    Jillian@TheHumbleGourmet
    June 21, 2012 at 10:50 am

    That is just beautiful. What a wonderful experience for your kids, something they will truly treasure as they grow. We used to go every summer to a friend’s cabin on Lake Barryessa in California. Such great fun, every year! They had to shut down the cabin a few years ago as they flooded that area of the lake; even though we hadn’t been in years, it was very bittersweet to think that place where we had all these great childhood summer memories is now at the bottom of a lake.

  • Reply
    Rebekah Wolf
    June 21, 2012 at 11:02 am

    Thanks for sharing this story.

    I spent every summer of childhood at my grandma’s beach house in Galveston, TX. Those are my favorite memories – playing in the sand with my cousins, everyone sitting around the coffee table telling stories, waking to the sounds of waves and seagulls. And I was hopeful to one day share that place with my own children until Hurricane Ike took it all away. I was devastated when that happened, but now I realize that I still have the most important part, and I can help create new favorite memories for my kids some day somewhere else.

  • Reply
    kelly
    June 21, 2012 at 11:02 am

    Love the north woods. My boyfriend’s family has the same story – they have been going up to Minocqua for years (and now have a place on bear lake). I hope to carry on the tradition at some point (because I, like you, didn’t have a tradition like that in my own family). Cheers to summer and lovely memories.

  • Reply
    Rachel
    June 21, 2012 at 11:06 am

    My grandfather had a condo on the beach and I first went when I was 6 months old. I’ve been returning every year. While other things in life change (cities, relationship statuses, careers, etc) this is the one constant in my life. I am so thankful to have a (free!) place to vacation and create memories with my husband and maybe future children.

  • Reply
    Janae @ Bring-Joy
    June 21, 2012 at 11:24 am

    We’d go up to the mountains. I live in Washington state, & we have some pretty freakin’ amazing mountains, lakes, & rivers here. We have a *really* rustic cabin up near Mt. Rainer National forest that have many fond memories of, & look forward to taking my kids there. I think I’ll always think the best vacation is a nearly free one, nestled up in the mountains, surrounded by nothing but trees & forest.

  • Reply
    Elizabeth
    June 21, 2012 at 11:25 am

    That looks like such a magical place! That was always a dream of mine, to own a cabin or a summer home by a lake. You are so lucky that your kids will have those wonderful summer memories!

  • Reply
    spark
    June 21, 2012 at 11:32 am

    This post is just so beautiful and your photos are just wonderful. I have this feeling about an area about 250 kms south of Perth, Western Australia. We simply call it “down south”. There are hundreds of kilometers of white beaches where the bush meets the sea, lots of red earth, eucalyptus trees and kangaroos to watch at dusk. Our little kiddo is growing up experiencing the same stuff and it is nice to see that “down south” will be the same special place for her too.

  • Reply
    Catherine
    June 21, 2012 at 11:47 am

    Gosh, this is such a lovely post. Your children will be so blessed by all of the memories you’re making. My dad grew up on a farm and I spent a lot of time there as a girl. My boys are getting old enough to explore now, and I love taking them on walks and hayrides on the farm, just like when I was growing up. I think part of having children is getting to experience your childhood all over again. :)

  • Reply
    Cheltz
    June 21, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    My family spent every summer when I was very young in a small valley, that my husband I actually moved to two years ago. It reminds me a lot of your Wisconsin woods, well mostly just the lake. Our spot is not nearly as remote, but after living in the big city for six years, we just craved that peace and beauty around us all the time. We hope our children enjoy it :).

  • Reply
    Mercedes
    June 21, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    I love the pictures from that place you went to. It is really magical. Your kids are lucky to have a place like that where they can go every summer and live new adventures.

  • Reply
    Kathryn Humphreys
    June 21, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    This was lovely. We never get to take vacations and I’d really like for that to change.

  • Reply
    Jen @ RamblingRenovators
    June 21, 2012 at 2:07 pm

    My husband has a family cottage that his parents built. Though I loathe the work that comes with a cottage (its in definite need of a remodel), I love how it brings that sense of familiarity. Cooking meals together, taking long walks in the woods, lying on the dock… wonderful things to experience with your children. Hope your annual pilgrimage to the woods is a tradition you keep :)

  • Reply
    Jimmy
    June 21, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    I also married into a place like that – ours is in western Minnesota. My wife’s family has had a place on a lake there since the 60’s. Originally, the family would spend the whole summer, with aunts, uncles and cousins coming and going. Today, the extended family reconvenes about once a year, usually around the Fourth of July. It is by far my favorite place on earth, and I’ve only been a part of it for the last 14 years.

    My wife and I are slowly recreating our own local-version of this getaway. Ours is in West Virginia, about two hours from our home in DC. It’s not on a lake, but it’s the place we go to when we’re feeling nostalgic for a life we never knew. And we really hope our grandkids will grow as fond of it as we have my wife’s grandparent’s place in MN.

    • Reply
      erin
      June 23, 2012 at 9:14 am

      almost heaven!

  • Reply
    Lindsay@domicile{blog}
    June 21, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    Our family spent time every summer in Balsam Lake, WI. It’s the town my mother grew up in and grandparents lived in all their lives. It was so small it was never on a map–population around 500 in the 1980’s. I loved going there as a kid, had a group of friends I always played with at the lake and park, drank green river fountain sodas at Anderson’s market. Summers spent there was like traveling back in time. I loved it and cherish the memories.

    Great post today.

  • Reply
    Kerry
    June 21, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    This post actually brought tears to my eyes. My kiddos are the same age as yours and I long to create these kinds of memories for them as well as our whole family. We bought a travel trailer this year and have set out on many trips already. While we love visiting new places, I do hope to find one spot that we can frequent every year and the kids will grow to love and look forward to.

  • Reply
    christine w.
    June 21, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    i married into a place as well. it was purchased by my husband’s family on the speculation of, “wouldn’t it be great if…”. its like that sense of place was forced upon us, we didn’t sort of grow into it organically or something. well, did spend many many great times there when the land was brandnew and it was more rustic and the whole experience was sort of new, but once the home was built (no cozy cabin either, its too huge, too poorly designed, too much of a dumping ground for all the junk that people don’t want in their own homes, too many people there all the time and don’t pick up after themselves, yadda yadda…), i tend to get very very negative about it. its like i don’t find a sense of peace there! its not “ours” and the history/nostaligia factor is not there (its only about 12 years in). but i so very much want to get the feeling you describe about *somewhere*. i want to find that sense of peace and place like is captured in these photos. And I sure as heck don’t want my bad attitude about it all to rub off on my kids….must adjust attitude, i guess….

  • Reply
    eskimo*rose
    June 21, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    This is such a touching post Nicole … we were lucky and got to travel around when we were young, in Europe you can visit other countries so easily … but we never had that feeling of going back to the same place, something that we have settled into doing with our own kids and its wonderful to hear them already making memories and impatiently waiting for the next summer break … our kids just love the security of repetition, but at the same time my hubby and I want to explore, so we go on a long camping hol each summer, usually meandering through France and then ending up at the same site where we meet my mum and my sister, its so relaxing the kids feel so safe and they meet the same friends and the other wonderful thing is that they can have a little more freedom wondering within the boundaries of this small campsite … writing this has made me feel wistful, I’m so looking forward to our break now :o)

  • Reply
    Jody
    June 21, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    great POST….yes – Westerly RI is the place. I love the vintage photo.

  • Reply
    Lisa
    June 21, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    This was such a great post. My family has a cabin on a small lake in northern california and it is hands down my favorite spot in the world. My father bought it in the early 70’s and we spent every summer there from Memorial day to Labor day. I feel like so much of my soul is wrapped up in the surrounding trees, streams, lake, sounds and smells. The smell alone is like coming home. I have such great memories and I can’t wait to share those with my future family. There is just something about being up at the lake that takes me back to a simplier time. I’m so excited you and your kids will get to experience the same thing.

  • Reply
    Alisha
    June 21, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    Great post, Nicole! My parents bought a cabin in northern Wisconsin a couple of years ago, and it has been so fun for our family. I agree that cabin culture is pretty special, and it’s been really cool to see my parents become a part of it. Swimming in the lake is the best!

  • Reply
    Stef
    June 21, 2012 at 6:08 pm

    My family has a cabin in Northern Michigan. We go for the holidays, especially during the winter for snowmobiling. We often refer to it as “International Waters”, a place where the regular rules of life don’t apply. Leading up to a trip we often talk about how we can’t wait to not wear real pants (PJ/yoga pants are fine!) and eat amazing food. We cook together in the kitchen, watch movies, play board games, nap randomly and frequently, haul firewood with ATVs, everyone brings their dogs (6 total! gah!) and we just generally have an amazing time. This past Christmas we added a crab boil tradition – a huge pot, crab legs, spicy sausages, corn on the cob, baby potatoes, and when it’s done we throw it in the middle of the table for an awesomely fun family feast.

  • Reply
    Sarah W
    June 21, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    My family had two places we went every summer: Eastern Canada, where my grandparents had a cottage, and Upstate NY, where most of my Dad’s family lived. Now my little family lives in Oregon, (soon to be moving to Seattle), so I doubt we’ll be able to keep that tradition going which makes me sad. My husband grew up in Seattle though so hopefully we can do some of the same summer things he did when he was a kid.

  • Reply
    Amanda
    June 21, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    Wow! Sounds (and looks) like such a magical place. Thanks for sharing such a special piece of your family’s life with us all. Would be neat to see more of the cabin and environs.

    The idea of a summer/second home really intrigues me. I grew up with a family who loved to travel but didn’t necessarily have a big budget. Even so we went ALL OVER the place on massive road trips every chance we got. It was magical to see so much of North America as a kid. The result of course is a fascination with second homes though as a) I’ve never experienced it and b) my fiance’s family have second homes/cabins they visit for holidays. Your own story of adopting your husband’s family’s tradition of traveling to the cabin definitely makes me more hopeful and excited about the possibilities of my fiance’s family travel traditions too…

  • Reply
    elz
    June 21, 2012 at 10:53 pm

    We bought a piece of property about a year ago to make these memories for our girls. It’s a great family investment-investing in making memories.

  • Reply
    Lettie
    June 22, 2012 at 1:11 am

    My family used to own property in a beautiful wooded area near Seattle. We used to go up there in the summer with grandparents and the rest of our extended family to stay in a cabin. We had the grandest time up there – playing games and just being together. I will never forget those days!

  • Reply
    MRIBARO
    June 22, 2012 at 2:36 am

    I’ve been spending all of my summers in my grampa’s house on the Adriatic coast ever since my earliest childhood (the house was built one year after I was born, and I am 42 this summer). Ofcourse, I used to travel a lot to other places too, but that house was my base. I am very attached to it and very fond of it – this house has so many of my childhood memories and memories of my dear grandparents. Nowadays I love to keep it nice, invest in renovating it and do lots of DIY (money being not abundant), but I am not moving away from the original looks, I want to keep it as much as it was while I was little. Like that it’s perfect to me :) Architecturally it’s 70’s modern, and the furniture inside is a mix of 30’s waterfall bedroom sets and kitchen credenzas, 60’s living room set, and some other 80’s furniture with simple lines. The place has a huuuuuge living room/dining room/kitchen space with wall-to-wall windows and a balcony, all white with some earthy colors. My grampa was a captain of an overseas liner and used to spend months and months in a tight cabin – when he retired and was building that house, he wanted SPACE! :) And blue color is strongly avoided in the decor too :)

    The Winsconsin woods on your photos remind me a lot on the woods I used to frequent as a teenager, near my parents’ house – the feeling is most serene, and that was a place I used to go to “wash away” any problems I had and re-energize :)

  • Reply
    Lori
    June 22, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    Brandon’s experience is much like my husbands. His grandparents built a house on Lake Tomahawk and he would spend every summer with them there in Minocqua as a kid. I was lucky enough to go there a few times while Grandpa was still alive. His Dad sold the house when his Dad died since we all live on the east coast it was too far too use very often. We are trying to create those kinds of memories with our kids now but it is at the Atlantic Ocean. Every once in a while we plan to make a trip to a real lake vacation like my husband and his Dad grew up with. Lovely post!

  • Reply
    Lyn
    June 22, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    Looks like a beautiful place to make memories! My mom, dad & brother drove from Iowa to Wyoming every summer from the time I was 3 mo old til I was 15. Now my husband & I are taking our kids (1 & 3) for road trips each summer. We started last year when my daughter was 3 mo old & spent 5 weeks on the road in our camper out west! We won’t be going as long this summer, but we’re going!! Great traveling traditions!!

  • Reply
    Tessa
    June 22, 2012 at 4:28 pm

    We, too, spend time in Minocqua in the summers. With the birth of my son, he is now the 4th generation to build summer memories on Lake Minocqua and Mercer Lake (fortunate to have in-laws and aunt/uncle with lovely lake homes). It is so very special.

  • Reply
    katie
    June 23, 2012 at 12:38 am

    Gotta ask where in northern WI? I think all lakes up in the northwoods might look alike! This looks exactly like Lac CourteOreilles outside of Hayward, WI where my family vacationed. Sooo beautiful!

  • Reply
    Mara
    June 23, 2012 at 7:50 am

    thanks for the props to wisconsin, it is a beautiful state. before moving to wisconsin (from california no less) my family took summer trips to visit my grandparents here. they lived in a quaint yellow bungalow. i was smitten with it’s porch and chasing squirrels. good times. love your blog!
    mara

  • Reply
    Staci @ My Friend Staci
    June 23, 2012 at 11:26 am

    This is lovely. We didn’t go to my grandma’s house in Illinois too frequently, maybe just a handful of times, but I do remember my curiosity about the upstairs room we weren’t allowed to go into (it was full of storage, but I thought it was full of secrets) and catching fireflies (which we didn’t have in Colorado or California).

  • Reply
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  • Reply
    Greenie
    June 23, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    the pictures are so lovely. The love that your husband has with your kids is evident.

  • Reply
    Carla S.
    June 23, 2012 at 10:10 pm

    Both my husband and my family have cabins up in Mercer, WI- which is 30 minutes North of Minoqua. These pictures really look so much like that. Given that you have to drive as long as we do, it’s probably near there. So many great memories for me as a kid and I’m giving them to my kids too. We go up in August and I can not wait to get there. Makes me want to live up there. Except the winters…I’d turn into Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining :)

  • Reply
    Whitney Ferrall
    June 24, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    Although we took family vacations each summer, our travels were less romantic than my that of my husband’s clan. They drove from Florida to Wisconsin, where a dozen relatives would pack into a 1/1 cabin that his grandfather built. They spent the season sailing, fishing, picking wild berries, making jam and staring at stars. I have said before that the north woods are largely responsible for shaping him into the man I love. We take our kids there now, and it is such a gift. Thanks for sharing your story — such lovely comments, too.

  • Reply
    Andrea
    June 25, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    Saying, “Hello!” from BYW. 6 hours and a tank of gas seem like nothing when you are making memories that will last a lifetime. That’s so awesome! We didn’t really travel much as a family either. We did however, make short trips to Portland. Vans full of aunts, uncles and cousins. We still remember those trips! I hope to help my own family and children make memories like that. Looks like you and your husband are well on your way to that, so awesome!

  • Reply
    kate
    June 25, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    Beautiful post and wonderful photos!

  • Reply
    Jennifer
    June 26, 2012 at 11:58 am

    My great grandfather owned some land that became lakefront property when the power company dammed a nearby river in the late 60s. My grandparents own it now, and built a cabin on it when my mom was 12. She grew up riding her horse in lake and skiing with her brothers and friends. I learned to ski on the same boat and spent nearly every 4th of July there as a child. We just recently (and by we I mean my generous uncle) replaced that old boat and now I get to take rides with my 18-month-old daughter. So many precious memories there! You hit the nail on the head in saying it is magical to visit a place you loved as a child.

  • Reply
    andrea @ my kinda perfect
    June 26, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    I love this post because yes, I did have a little cottage a few towns over from my own in New Hampshire that my parents and I spent our summers at. (10 years ago they also renovated – it’s gorgeous, definitely not a camp anymore!) It was an awesome way to spend summers growing up…swimming, boating, building sand castles….I also love this post because while it made me sad that you didn’t get to experience the adventure that is going to ‘the lake’ as a kid, you got to experience it through your children. And that’s definitely magical. Even the term ‘the lake’ makes me feel reminiscent of my childhood summers. If you haven’t seen it, check out the Adam Sandler movie “Grown Ups”. It’s a nice, nostalgic movie about going to the lake. The movie itself isn’t award winning, but the feeling you get it just what going to the lake is about. Glad you and your family had a great adventure in the woods (and lake!) of Wisconsin! =)

  • Reply
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  • Reply
    lizzy
    August 14, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    My son is the 6th generation in our family to enjoy our cabin in Northern WI. Not only is it a magical place filled with beauty and relaxation beyond compare, but it has bonded our family so wonderfully and tighly for generations. We often wonder if our great great grandfather had an inkling of what would become the best place on earth for so many of us. Soak up those moments with your kids and hopefully they’ll be able to create the same memories with their kids.

  • Reply
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