Captain Daniel Wright Woods – A Little Bit of Hygge in Chicagoland

A few years ago when hygge became the design concept du jour, I jumped on board with enthusiasm and a multi-purpose lighter in my hand. What isn’t there to love about the feeling of cozy contentment while enjoying simple pleasures? Cozy blankets, layered warmth, and happiness – yes, please! The Danish concept of hygge is more than a design philosophy, it is a way of life for a population that consistently is considered one of the ‘happiest’ countries despite the notoriously harsh winters. I recently came across the book There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom’s Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids (from Friluftsliv to Hygge) by Linda Keson McGurk. While I didn’t find the book without it’s faults (e.g., I believe some rules are necessary and should be followed), I thoroughly believe in the importance of fresh air and the restorative power of nature – regardless of the weather.

Captain Daniel Woods Forest Preserve

We spent yesterday afternoon hiking in Captain Daniel Wright Woods, which is about a 20 minute drive from Fort Sheridan. This part of Chicagoland is filled with little pockets of preserved nature in between the typical suburban shopping centers and tree-lined neighborhoods. The Lake County Forest Preserves protects nearly 31,000 acres and is the second-largest preserve system in the state. Named after one of Lake County’s first settlers, Captain Daniel Wright Woods has 4 miles of trails within the preserve and also connects to both the Half Day Forest Preserve and the Des Plains River Trail, which opens up miles and miles of opportunity to explore.

Captain Daniel Woods Forest Preserve

We actually spent very little time on the main gravel trails in the preserve, instead choosing to go deeper into the woods using the more rustic trails, which is much more our speed. We managed to hike a little over 5 miles and while it wasn’t challenging by any means (we miss the scrambling we’d do in Virginia!), we thoroughly enjoyed hearing the leaves crunch underfoot and having the cool and crisp air rosy our cheeks.

This year more than ever I find myself reflecting on what I truly want out of life – I know I am not alone with my desire to gather my little family, pack up whatever we can carry on our backs, and escape to a land far, far, away. The military lifestyle slightly scratches that itch because we get the opportunity to start fresh every 1-3 years but at the end of the day, we live a pretty basic life. I am incredibly thankful that I have a partner who values curiosity, adventure, and understanding – the older we get, the less we care about our tangible displays of wealth and success and the more we appreciate the experiences that have taught us, nourished us, and challenged us. Perhaps that is why we enjoy walking in the woods so much – it strips down our existence to simply us and the world that we can and can’t see.

The Lake County Forest Preserve ensures that you never go too far in the Chicagoland region without the opportunity to get (sort of) lost in the woods. Should you find yourself stationed here or simply passing through, it’s worth a visit.

Captain Daniel Wright Woods, 24830 St. Mary’s Road, Mettawa, IL 60045

A Walk Around Fort Sheridan

It’s been over a month since I’ve published a post. I’d like to say it’s because I’ve been gallivanting around the world to places with limited internet capabilities and soaking up life lessons while appreciating the small and seemingly insignificant moments that collectively define a life. But that’s not the case. Nonetheless, we’re doing okay – busy with work, extra-curricular activities, and knee-deep in the adventure of hybrid learning. But the effects of the pandemic are noticeable and life is far from normal. In hopes to gain some clarity and fresh air, I carved out some time in my work schedule and spent about a little over an hour walking around Fort Sheridan this morning. And while marveling at the vibrant colors, I couldn’t help but think that Oscar Wilde was right – all at once, summer somehow collapsed into fall.

Openlands Lakeshore Preserve

Not many in the Army are familiar with Fort Sheridan and we were met with many blank stares when people asked where we were PCSing. The main post closed in 1993 and the majority of the land was sold to commercial land developers, with the government only keeping 90 acres – which is now home to the Sheridan Reserve Center and a collection of military housing maintained by Naval Station Great Lakes. It does feel like one of the Army’s best kept secrets – the ability to live on Lake Michigan surrounded by a walkable community with fantastic restaurants and bars? Heck yes!

Fort Sheridan military housing

My walk started at our house – I was standing on the walkway to our front door when I snapped this picture. Having trail access and the ability to hike/walk without needing to drive is very important to us so we were thrilled to discover that miles of both walking and biking trails are accessible from Fort Sheridan. The pandemic has only solidified the idea that having such access is imperative to our quality of life. As you can see, our house is not on the water but pretty darn close. Again – this Army family will take what we can get in regards to living on water!

openlands lakeshore preserve

About a half-mile walk from our house is access to the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve. Committed to connecting people to nature where they live, Openlands acquired the unprotected acres of ravines, bluffs, and lakeshore on the south end of post in the years following the closure of Fort Sheridan, eventually opening the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve in 2011.

openlands lakeshore preserve

There are multiple ways to get to the Town of Fort Sheridan (yup – the Army sold one of their most beautiful installations to commercial developers, who turned it into an award wining gorgeous neighborhood that maintains and celebrates its history – more on that later) but the path through the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve is by far the prettiest.

openlands lakeshore preserve

Fort Sheridan is about 8 miles south of Naval Station Great Lakes, which means this stretch of Lake Michigan has a rich military history. The Navy chose Lake Michigan as an aircraft training site during World War II because the inland lake was protected from an Axis attack. In fact, more than 100 fighter plans crashed and sank to the bottom of Lake Michigan between 1942 and 1944. And today, Naval Station Great Lakes is home to the Navy’s boot camp and is the largest training installation in the Navy.

town of Fort Sheridan

But back to Fort Sheridan. Established in 1887 as Camp Highwood a result of the Haymarket Riot – Fort Sheridan has questionable beginnings. Renamed Fort Sheridan in 1888 after General of the Army Philip H. Sheridan upon his death, the post allowed the US Army to act as regional police race to subdue worker uprisings in Chicago, such as when President Grover Cleveland ordered troops from Fort Sheridan to ‘restore peace and order’ in Chicago’s Union Stock Yards.

General Sheridan statue

During the Spanish American War, Fort Sheridan became known as a cavalry post but in the years leading up to World War I, General Leonard Wood increased levels of reserve training and Fort Sheridan served as the United States’ first Reserve Officers Training Center (ROTC). During World War II, Fort Sheridan was one of four Recruit Reception Centers in the United States and headquarters for prisoner of war camps in Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin, with many incarcerated on post.

Fort Sheridan

During the Korean War and the Vietnam War, Fort Sheridan was a reception and processing center for the military. It also served as the logistical support for Nike-Hercules missile sites throughout the United States. Fort Sheridan was among the first Army posts to be closed during the initial round of military base closures in 1990 but served as a training site during Desert Shield and Desert Storm until the official closure in 1993.

Fort Sheridan

Upon Fort Sheridan’s closing, the majority of the installation was sold to commercial land developers, who thankfully refurbished the original residences and resold them. As a result, Fort Sheridan is home to some of the most beautiful houses in the area. The actual neighborhood is a mix of refurbished military housing and new(er) homes built after the military sold the land. When walking around Fort Sheridan, Clay and I lament how we’d be living in one original military homes situated in the area designated as a National Historic Landmark if only the Army hadn’t let it go. Typical Army, right? Our new housing is fine but we’re suckers for historic homes.

Sheridan Water Tower

Designed after St. Mark’s Campanile in Venice, Italy, the Fort Sheridan water tower is part of the original barracks complex that have since been converted into townhomes. It was one of the tallest buildings in Illinois upon its completion in 1891 and is considered the most well-known landmark of Fort Sheridan.

Fort Sheridan main gate

This iron gate served as the main entrance to Fort Sheridan from the 1930s to the 1990s.

openlands lakeshore preserve

The Openlands Lakeshore Preserve has multiple entrance points throughout Fort Sheridan. Openlands believes that art helps connect people to nature and as a result, there are murals and sculptures throughout the landscape.

openlands lakeshore preserve

One of my favorites.

openlands lakeshore preserve

It is a little over a mile walk back to our house from the famed Fort Sheridan water tower. Lucky for us, the majority of the walk is along the sparkling turquoise water of Lake Michigan. I walked a little over 5 miles this morning. I was able to experience the solitude I craved and allow myself to bathe in crisp air. The following Henry David Thoreau quote came to me throughout my walk in the explosion of colors:

As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.

Everything is going to be okay.

Why Is This So Hard? {That’s What She Said}

Can you tell that I’ve binge-watched The Office for the 34th time this week? It’s Friday evening and I don’t know about you but this week kicked my ass. And to have such a heavy day fall at the end of a long week made the last few steps feel as if I were wading through concrete toward the finish line. There is so much turmoil everywhere that remembering 9/11 seemed almost too much. Almost.

In the WTC Cortlandt Street subway station is a giant marble mosaic designed by Ann Hamilton. Of all the post-9/11 memorials and tributes, I think it is my favorite. I snapped this picture on our last trip to New York City (also known as The Huffman’s Get Norovirus in NYC, Part 2). The station, destroyed in the attack, reopened in 2018 and features the installation titled Chorus and has the text from both the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Never forget.

I am sipping a martini as I write this post in celebration of the weekend – not that it was a bad week. It actually started off great – we woke up on Sunday morning to a thunderstorm and an ever-changing forecast that required us to adjust our plans for the day. So instead of being outdoors hiking, biking, and on the water, we decreed our Sunday to be a cozy stay-at-home day. Clay and I both suffer from we must do all the things syndrome so it is very rare that we have a day that doesn’t involve leaving the house. And it was glorious.

We then spent Monday exploring downtown Chicago and took full advantage of the near-empty streets while wearing masks and continuously rubbing our hands with hand sanitizer. We went on the water, we saw Cloud Gate, we popped into Eataly for coffee and chocolate, and we ate a delicious late lunch/early dinner at Doc B’s Restaurant + Bar (I totally didn’t realize it was a chain until I linked it – oh well). Is anyone else a fan of eating a meal around 3pm? It’s actually our favorite way to eat when exploring new cities because we avoid peak hours and it leaves the evenings free to wander around and snack on a variety of foods.

We were brought back to reality on Tuesday morning with school, work, and the discovery of no hot water, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t a big deal at all but I am a wimp when it comes to cold water. Medicine-free birth? Sure! Cold shower? Hell no. Housing maintenance actually resolved that issue rather quickly but it did seem to set the tone for the week. I tried my best to balance my work responsibilities and support the kids with their school assignments, Zoom meetings, and all the other tasks that involve being the parent who is home during the day but it seemed like the week was a lesson titled Why Karen Is Unable to Do It All. And I don’t know about you, but I really don’t like to fail.

Okay. So fail is too strong of a word but man, this past week was a humbling experience as we learned to navigate our new normal. I am not one to engage in the pain Olympics – I know I have it pretty good. And I wonder if that is why it bothers me so much when I don’t live up to my own expectations. I have a graduate degree in e-learning, I only work part-time, I have a supportive husband who does what he can with his limited schedule, and my kids are in a hybrid program at school. So why is it so hard?

I remember feeling absolutely helpless as I watched the awful events unfolded 19 years ago today from my dorm room. And to be honest, I can’t help but feel a little helpless as I digest the news with each passing day. Is it going to get better? The days following 9/11 were filled with grit, love, and determination – those unified moments seem so far away as we as a nation navigate our way through 2020. So tonight I am raising a glass. Here’s to those who perished that awful day 19 years ago today. And here’s to us. We the people. We can get through this. We will get through this.

Currently: The September Edition

I read something the other day that referred to September as the month to refocus our energies. Now that we’re stationed in a place where September really does bring cooler weather and longer sleeves, the changing of the calendar felt more significant this year and not just because we survived another month of social isoloation and confining ourselves to a 50-mile radius. I’ve been giving some thought as to how I can refocus my anxieties surrounding outcomes I can’t control into positive and productive energy so when I read Missy’s post about her contribution for a monthly feature, I thought it’d be a good exercise for me and the chance for my reflections to exist outside of my paper journal. So without further ado, here’s what I’m currently appreciating, anticipating, collecting, starting, and finishing.

biking on Lake Michigan

Appreciating. Living in a walkable community on Lake Michigan has done wonders for our mental health this summer. While we were lucky to have many trails accessible from our house in Northern Virginia, we were limited to tributaries of the Potomac when we wanted to hike to a water source. The ability to bike and walk to restaurants, stores, and parks has been a dream for our active family and has made the travel ban a little bit easier to digest.

Anticipating. We’re anxious while waiting for the opportunity to travel again! We budget a fair amount for travel each year and with the exception of our trip to Walt Disney World in January, our travel plans for 2020 were sidelined. In cruel irony, we have hundreds of thousands of points to redeem on our travel credit cards and the inability to travel internationally.  We’re more than happy to do our part to support the travel industry when the time comes and have been daydreaming about Italy, Croatia, Indonesia, Australia, and remote Canada as potential first post-pandemic trips.

Lake Michigan beach glass

Collecting. Our sea beach glass collection grows with each walk to the water. About 30 seconds ago, I learned that technically, our collection consists of beach glass, not sea glass, because it comes from a freshwater source and not the ocean. So there you go – you can’t say you didn’t learn something from reading this post unless you already knew about the distinction, in which case – congratulations (said like Renée Elise Goldsberry in the cut Hamilton track Congratulations).

first day of school in a pandemic

Starting. The kids started hybrid-school yesterday. They’re in the classroom every morning with a handful of other {masked} students and then participate in virtual learning activities in the afternoon, in addition to asynchronous work throughout the week. They’re happy to be back in school and have done a great job rolling with the punches – no complaints about wearing a mask or adhering to other CDC guidelines.

Finishing. I really feel like I am finishing up a season of my life that was plagued with self-doubt, apprehension, and caring too much about the opinions of others. I suppose the downhill slide to 40 has that effect on women – I am more self-assured, confident, and take me as I am than I’ve ever been in my life. You don’t like me? Not my problem.

So cheers to September and the refocusing of our energies. I’m not sure what that exactly means but it sounds catchy. I’ll take it.