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Florida. Family. Firsts.

Bridget Connelly

The first trip I went on. The first concert I went to. The first road trip with my cousins. The first time at the Lake. All of these firsts have had a profound impact on my life and the direction of it. Of course I will admit some of these firsts I do not remember, but as I grew up, these first time experiences thankfully became regular experiences and are forever engrained into the person I am today.

My mom is the one who I really get my travel bug from, always on the hunt for the next getaway. She has such a zest for life and living it to the fullest. She is the definition of a fun time and is the ultimate party planner/host/cook. Being that I am the only girl in my family, I became my mom’s traveling sidekick growing up. Needless to say, I am very fortunate to have had this inspiration in my life, for the love she has always shown me, the support she has always given me and the opportunities she has let me experience. (Shouts to my pops too!)

My mom and dad both come from large Irish Catholic families in Chicago. Those large families have translated into a million and one relatives. Cousins for days, aunts, uncles, grandparents and so on. They are closer to me than anyone in the world and I'm so thankful for them all. Being able to grow up with them, travel with them, sing, dance, play, drink (it’s the Irish in us) and adventure with them are the best memories I could've asked for.

Places that will forever be in my heart and in my life are Wisconsin and Florida - particularly Lake Geneva, Lily Lake and Longboat Key.  Lily Lake is a teeny-tiny lake in Wisconsin where we spent most summers of our childhood. My mom and her seven siblings spent their summers there as kids, and when they grew up and had kids of their own, they naturally brought us all there to have the same wonderful experiences they had. It was the first time us kids really felt independent and could adventure "on our own." My mom and dad could watch us hooligans walk around the entire lake from our porch!  We were ALWAYS off doing something. Some of my fondest memories at the Lake are the quality times I was able to spend with my brothers and cousins.  Highlights include the Spice Girls Concert (!!!),  playing “Hotel” at Grandma’s, the Public Beach,  Drive-In Movies, The Lounge for juke box tunes and as much candy we could hold in our little hands, dress-ups on the porch, the 4th of July Parade (where we inexplicably dressed in outlandish, non-patriotic costumes every year!) and choreographing sweet dance parties. We played from the time we woke up until the time we passed out. Hot sticky summers, exhausted from playing in and around the lake, dancing our hearts out and laughing until we had stomachaches (and probably too much candy) are the treasures I always carry with me. Plus, I still have my sweet dance moves! Heyaa!

4th of July Hippies, Naturally

Lake Geneva became another important place in my life as I got older. Our summers here were filled with sunburned days, babysitting, relaxing and making lifelong friendships. Lake Geneva was a place that really guided the paths for my future, as well as my brothers’. My older brothers even met both of their current wives there working at Gordy's. Lucky guys! It’s where I began to grow into the person I am now. During the summers we lived there, I really started to become more independent. I started my first job, formed new relationships, went away to school, finished school - there was a lot going on! There were plenty of ups and downs, especially being in the growth from your teens to your twenties, but Lake Geneva has always been such a wonderful place to have fun, make mistakes, grow up, and live life and with the best people I could have asked for. The people I met and experiences I had even eventually led me out West!

LG Loving

Longboat Key is my happy place. My grandparents and parents have been going there since they were kids and that tradition has carried over with our younger generation. Here too were some of the first times we were really able to go off and do things on our own. Walking the small peninsula, riding the trolley, getting ice cream cones daily, buying souvenirs for a buck or two at the Green Turtle, eventually even having my first beer! Ha! I remember counting down the days until Easter and Summer on my calendar so I could be in the sunshine with my favorite people. It was so exciting to know that each day we were getting closer. Our parents would sometimes (by sometimes, I mean always) pull us out of school a little earlier than most for Spring Breaks and other trips. They of course wanted us to do well, but also really valued that we had the experience of travel and family.

Family road trips of caravanning car loads of people across the country were just the BEST. At least for the cousins and siblings in the back of the car. I can't speak for the adults! We would watch countless movies, eat way too many snacks, probably annoy the hell out of each other once or twice, play rag tag between the cars and have many sing-alongs. So I may have missed a week or two or maybe three more weeks of school than most during the year, but I think I did just fine and will forever be grateful for the experiences that have shaped me. The excitement I feel now for when anyone mentions a trip, especially a road trip (and being in charge of the tunes!), is really the same. To this day, road trips always take me back to those times as kids riding for days together. I live for when I am going on the next adventure – it could be somewhere new, somewhere familiar, a day trip or a weekend getaway; I still get butterflies for what fun lies ahead.

It’s so hard now to get all of us "kids" on a trip together even for just a weekend. I cherish those memories so much. The bonds I have with my cousins, brothers and lake friends are so special and they continue to be every step of the way in my life. They have challenged me, encouraged me, called me out when I was being a princess (who me?) and have always been up for an adventure :)

What I Was Listening to Then-- Songs that stir up Memories, Emotions, Good Times

Lily Lake -- Ace of Base "I saw the sign"; Spice Girls "Wannabe"; Proclaimers "500 miles"

Lake Geneva -- Natasha Bedingfield "Unwritten"; Donavan Frankenreiter "What'cha Know Bout"; Dave Matthews Band "So Damn Lucky"

Longboat Key -- Jewel, "You were meant for me"; Jimmy Buffet, "Cheeseburger in Paradise," John Denver- "Country Roads"

Cousin Time in LBK