Janine's Journal: Work Hard, Play Hard. N’est-ce Pas?

Sometimes we all need a brief vacation to refresh our minds. Here are a few suggestions for how you might spend a random day away from the office grind.

There’s been a lot of talk, lately, about Americans who don’t take their vacation days, even when their employers provide paid ones. How dumb is that? Analysts chalk this up to a fear of falling behind in work or being perceived, by supervisors, as uncommitted to the job.
I say, “Take those vacation days!” There’s life beyond work, and an employer worth your loyalty won’t begrudge you taking earned vacation time.
To the swaggering character in the Cadillac “Poolside” commercial, who bashes other countries for taking long vacations and praises Americans for being “crazy, driven, hard-working believers” who amass fine possessions, I say this: Better rethink your life before the stress kills you.
I got a kick out of Ford’s response to the Cadillac ad, a parallel ad which depicts a woman who’s all about making the world a better place. It’s named “Upside: Anything is Possible.” It’s fun to watch these ads back-to-back on YouTube; they both end with the French expression n’est-ce pas? meaning “right?”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about a strong work ethic. But every cover of our magazine states: “Work Hard, Play Hard,” not “Work Hard, Then Harder.”
To that end, I’d like to suggest that you take off a day or two or three from work and explore your own backyard, and possibly the people in your own family. Life is short. Make memories. You might even discover inner passions you didn’t know you have. Here are 10 ideas.
1. Get Out on the Water. You don’t have to own a boat to enjoy our rivers and lakes. Take one of the boat tours offered at Geneva Lake, glide down the Rock River on the Forest City Queen, canoe or kayak on the Sugar River, ride a big paddleboat down the Mississippi River or a small pedal boat on Pierce Lake in Rock Cut State Park. You can rent boats at many parks.
2. Stroll a Garden. A few of my favorites: Sinnissippi Rose Garden in Rockford, with its formal Victorian structure, white pergolas, working floral clock and spectacular variety of roses; Rotary Gardens in Janesville, which flower-lovers must experience to believe; Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, a bastion of tranquility; and for long, quiet strolls with a verdant backdrop, Klehm Arboretum. I also love learning about our ancestors through the heirloom gardens at Midway Village Museum.
3. Attend an Outdoor Concert. We have so many good ones! My husband and I like the informality of Sinnissippi Music Shell, where our golden retriever, Baxter, can tag along to protect the ground from fallen popcorn. We also enjoy Tuesday concerts at Anderson Japanese Gardens. Thursday nights mean live music on the docks behind Prairie Street Brewhouse; seating fills up fast, so bring your boat, if you have one. Fridays see live music downtown at Rockford City Market. We live in Rockford, but Freeport, Beloit, Janesville and many other cities have weekly outdoor concerts, too.
4. Hike, Bike, Paddle, Golf, Camp. My hubby and his boys make good use of our many local golf courses. I’m a fan of walking wooded trails in Rock Cut State Park or one of the 42 Winnebago County forest preserves. There’s just no excuse for hiding indoors this summer. Not even hot weather.
5. Go Back in Time. Have you been to the Old World Wisconsin living history “museum” in Eagle? It’s fantastic! It sprawls across 500 acres, so give yourself at least a day to explore (don’t worry, you can catch shuttles from one historic village to another). I’m equally enamored with Midway Village Museum in Rockford, which provides a glimpse of Rockford circa 1890-1910, the city’s heyday. Especially now, as we work to transform Rockford into a better version of itself, understanding where we came from is invaluable. Upcoming special events include Old World Wedding, Autumn on the Farms and Vintage Baseball, but there’s plenty to see on any day you go. The World War II Days re-enactment there is Sept. 20 & 21, one of the biggest events of its kind in the U.S.
Of course there are lots of other historic sites and homes worthy of exploration throughout our region, too. Read about some of Rockford’s in our feature by Gail Ravitts on p. 124.
6. Visit a Farmers Market. These just keep getting better as the local food movement grows. We go to downtown Beloit on Saturday mornings, where breakfast at Bagels & More is part of our ritual. Some favorite discoveries: Marai sweet corn from Twin Garden Farms; heirloom tomatoes from the Hutchins Family Farm; and red strawberry popcorn from Jack’s Popcorn, which tastes so good, you don’t need butter. Leashed dogs are welcome.
7. Attend a Fair or Festival. It’ll make you feel like a kid again. Better yet, take a kid or two along. Check our calendars to learn what’s happening when.
8. Take a Day (or two) Trip. Why not head for the beautiful Galena area? The tour of Gen. U.S. Grant’s home is still great. Take in Jim Post’s popular “Mark Twain & the Laughing River” downtown. Tour the Galena Cellars vineyard. Cross the Mississippi River to visit Dubuque and the National Mississippi River Museum, or, if you must, a gambling boat. Next time I head west, I’ll be stopping in Elizabeth to check out the new antique store (See p. 41) and picturesque Massbach Ridge Winery.
Other day-or-two trips we enjoy include Mineral Point, Wis. – with its lovely art shops, Cornish mining history, English pub and European-style brewery – and Green County, Wis. We like to stop at “Swisstown” New Glarus (fondue, anyone?) and Monroe, for a 5-year cheddar cheese sandwich at Baumgartner’s on the square. (Be sure to ask your server to pin a dollar on the ceiling.) Green County Cheese Days are coming up soon; learn more on p. 219.
Other favorite directions in which to point the car? Walworth County, Wis.; and Route 2 in Ogle and Lee counties. Have you been to the John Deere home in Grand Detour? It tells quite a story. Dixon has done a great job of improving its riverfront. And I always enjoy stopping into The Next Picture Show art gallery in downtown Dixon, too.
9. Do the Unusual. The older I get, the more I realize that we can go a lifetime without discovering all of our inborn passions. The only way to find them is to expose ourselves to many things. You can’t do that if you’re working every single day of your life.
Example: My husband didn’t know he loved all things equine until I gave him riding lessons at Lockwood Park, as a Father’s Day gift, one year. By that summer’s end, he owned two horses, which he’s been riding almost daily for nine years now. He loves it. Who knew? Not him, until he was 50-something years old.
Expose yourself to something totally outside your normal routine and see where it leads. Take a class in master gardening, sculpting, cooking, jewelry-making, woodworking. Learn a new language.
If a class isn’t your thing, try bird banding at Sand Bluff Forest Preserve; visit an alpaca farm; build a model airplane; plan a foreign trip; can some vegetables; go fishing; learn ballroom dancing. Anything that sparks your curiosity.
10. Volunteer. College kids often spend their breaks doing something good for others, like building houses for the poor in Appalachia. Why should they have all the fun? Why not set aside some time to further a cause you believe in?
Nearly every local nonprofit group depends upon volunteers, and helping others is good for the soul. But why am I telling you this? Our readers are the kind of folks who keep worthy local organizations going, through thick and thin.
Life is what we make it, so schedule those vacation days! You’ve earned them. N’est-ce pas?