Living the Dream: The Shannon Court story

This last week has been a struggle. So many exciting things have happened… and yet one sudden and tragic event has overshone them all. It’s been tough, trying to figure out how to process it all and trying to figure out how to talk about it. The words haven’t come easy. But there’s a small, dim, flickering light at the end of this unspeakably long and dark tunnel, and it’s from there that I feel the need to tell the Shannon Court story. Hold on to your seats – though well worth it, this will be a long one.

I grew up in the house my parents built just after they got married, in a nice neighborhood in a nice town. We’ve always had neighbors that were close, but not necessarily neighbors we were close to. Late in elementary school was the last time I remember being somewhat close to my neighbors: one of my best friends lived two houses down, some of the moms had a book club and got together on a regular basis, and we all danced the night away at a wedding in which I was a “junior bridesmaid”. As I am in my family, I was one of only a handful of younger children in the group, only older than my best friend. It was fun, until her and her family moved away, and slowly but surely all the families I knew had long left.

We had a number of questionable characters wander in and out of nearby houses throughout the next few years, but above all, they were families that kept to themselves, mostly due to a lack of younger children. But then, one fateful day nearly 10 years ago, a family moved in with 4 kids younger than me. Then, another family with 4 kids younger than me moved in next to them. Soon, more families, all with at least one or two younger children, moved into our court and the surrounding area. Kids started to play with each other. Parents got to know each other. We started to get together one day a week, which soon turned into two, which soon turned into gathering for holidays and birthdays as well. Traditions were born, and invariably, come rain or shine, weekend evenings extending early spring through well into fall were spent at one house or another, each family bringing a dish, a drink, at least one kid, perhaps some friends, but always a smile and joy to share. Before we knew it, 16 parents and 18 kids (and 5 dogs and 2 cats!) became like family.

For the first time in my life I found myself the oldest, and I was thrust into a “big sister” role for so many kids who looked up to me; slowly but surely, I started to find my place between playing with them and sitting back and talking with the adults. And my mom and dad? They’d all but forgotten the days when their house was new and their only child was young. Suddenly the ‘matron’ parents of the court, Dr. Luke attended to cuts and bruises and flus while my mom lived vicariously through parents confounded by growing and aging and changing children.

Still, inseparable and incomparable bonds formed between children and parents alike. Lot lines faded as we moved seamlessly from house to house each night, treating each other’s homes as if they were our own. While the kids were off playing night games, pretending to be in the army, or amusing themselves with other shenanigans, the dads found common interests in all things manly: “lumberjacking,” planting the biggest communal garden our neighborhood had ever seen, and grilling (and competing for best backyard bbq pit), all while imbibing the finest lagers and brandy. Meanwhile, the Ladies of the Court bonded over wine, fondue, pottery painting, and simply enjoying watching our families become so close. Each family came from a different walk of life with a different story to tell; each was unique in its own way and varying in size, yet made up equal parts of our newfound Neighbor Family. Though no blood lines connected us, the support system we’d built was unbreakable, and the deep connections between us were undeniable. We all knew we had something special; our Family of 34 was as real as any other, and nothing could break us.

Emotions were tried as two families with the youngest kids moved away last summer. A mild winter somehow felt colder than it should, and gatherings became a little smaller. Our once rowdy bunch had begun to dwindle and the kids found themselves a bit calmer as they aged ever so slightly. Things seemed to be settling down as the newness of it all faded away, though we never lost touch.

As fate would have it, soon after one family visited this summer, we found out they’d be moving back within the month – and that the other family was soon to follow! We couldn’t believe our luck. We were all so ecstatic to have the old gang back together.

Just as the families had started getting situated back home – in different houses, but home nonetheless – our world came to a screeching halt on Monday, September 3. The husband of one of the first two families to move in, Vladimir Novak, passed away after being stung by a bee and suffering anaphylaxis, even though he’d been stung several times before with no reaction. To say it was unexpected is potentially the grossest understatement there ever was. To say he will be missed is an even greater one.

Let me tell you something about Vladimir Novak. He was a big Russian man, not even 50, and he smoked. If you had asked any of us last month what we thought he’d someday die of, I guarantee you a bee sting is the absolute last thing any of us would have said. He would listen to us nag about his chain smoking, then sweetly smile and light another. He had a zest for life that was unmatchable, and his smoking was the least of his concerns. His pride and joy were first and foremost his wife and children, followed by the rest of his family and friends. Currently ranging from the ages of 14 to 22, his children were lucky they had a chance to truly know and remember him – but never well enough.

No matter the circumstances, weather, or latest drama to be circulating amongst us, the one man you could count on to have a smile on his face and a bear hug waiting for you when you arrived was Vlad. He had an answer to everything that made the world seem more peaceful, more palatable. He traveled a lot, and it was bittersweet because it was clear he’d rather be at home with his family. But inevitably, he chose to see life in the best light possible, and if you’d ask him how things were going, nine times out of ten you’d get the same honest answer with the most genuine cheery smile: “I’m just living the dream.”

Our Neighbor Family, but even more so the Novak family, are still dumbfounded and reeling in shock that he’s just not coming home. It still seems surreal; there’s a part of me that just expects he’s off on business, not gone for good. The outpouring of support for this man and his family is absolutely monumental. And if you ask any of the hundreds of people that paid their respects to him, I’m positive each and every one of them will tell you the same thing about him: that he was one of the best men they’d ever known.

From here, we will try to rebuild and move on, and I know I speak on behalf of my entire Neighbor Family when I say that as it’s always been, so it shall be: the Novaks are part of this Family, and we will do everything in our power to keep them safe and afloat. While no person can ever replace who and what Vlad was to that family – and to this world – we hope to bridge the gap at least a little, to share in the grief, and keep him alive in memory, in stories, in pictures, and at our many inevitable bbqs to come. If anything we’re stronger now, more aware of how much we have to lose, and thankful of each other even more. And I know we’ll continue to reassure each other that even despite this enormous lingering hole in our hearts… we ALL have a dream to be lived.

Photo taken by Doug Kobs. Vlad is in the center.


When it rains, it pours… in the best way possible :)

In the last week – heck, in the last 24 hours – I have gone from a recent college graduate (but not official as I hadn’t received my diploma yet) with a possible apartment and roomies in Madison and no job prospects… to an official college grad with an official diploma, official roomies and apartments with a signed lease, and an official job offer. How crazy is that?!

So, my lease in Madison starts the 15th of August, and my Media Coordinator Internship position at Rayovac (sounds like a lot of social media, press releases and proofreading, YAY) starts July 18th. Where I’m living during that free¬†month has yet to be determined, but I am beyond stoked that all of my wildest dreams (thusfar) upon graduating have been fulfilled. Keep dreaming, o discouraged people. Miracles do happen.

Reason #5236 why I will miss Winona

Now that I have officially graduated college, I’ve moved home for the summer to work my part-time job. I’ve started unpacking, and the reality of it all is beginning to set in. Already, my friends who go to school or live around here are anxious to catch up and get together. Of course, I can’t wait to see them either, but lately I’ve been less than excited to actually get up and drive to see them, and the reasons behind my apathy have never made complete sense until today. Let me explain.

I’ve lived in Mequon my entire life. My parents built the house we live in a few years before I was born; it was all I knew before I packed up my life and moved to small-town Minnesota four years ago. My friends that I have here I made in high school; I got used to driving to school, to restaurants, to the mall, to their houses. That’s just the way things were. But studying abroad in Europe where I didn’t have a car and HAD to walk everywhere, combined with living in Winona, has really changed my perspective on that. More

My religion: Astronomy

I think astronomy is the closest thing to a religious epiphany I’ve had in my lifetime.

I don’t remember when it started; I wasn’t always interested in space and stars. But somewhere in middle school, something just clicked with me, and I started to realize and understand how freakin’ huge this universe is. And how freakin’ awesome it is. Also beautiful. But that’s a sidenote.

I’ve never really jumped on the whole “life on other planets” bandwagon. Everyone seems to be so obsessed with martians and aliens and life in other galaxies. I think it’d be pretty cool to know that we’re not alone in this universe, but it’s never captivated me as much as simply looking at everything in the sky for the beautiful things they are and understanding the concepts behind them. Very un-scientist-like of me, I know, but I’ve always been more of an observer than a question-asker. Let me put things into perspective for you, how I’ve learned it and the way I see it. Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. More


Me in Madison this weekend

Had you told me 10 years ago that in 10 years I’d be out protesting something, I might have believed you.
Had you told me 10 years ago that in 10 years I’d be out protesting something because I was interested in politics, understood what was happening and was truly passionate about the issue, I may have found that harder to believe.

I’ve never been Nancy Politics. I’ve never been genuinely interested in social studies or history or government or economics or unions; I learned it because I had to, and that’s that. But when I read that Walker was planning on taking away collective bargaining rights from unions and wanted the bill passed in a week, something struck a chord inside me, and I was¬†pissed. I did my research, made sure to read up on both sides. Posted on facebook, had debates with neighbors. The more news stories I read, the more interested I became. The more debates I had, the more fascinated I became. And it all culminated with me taking a trip to the capitol this weekend – to do a news story for senior sem, yes – but more importantly, to give Walker a piece of my mind. And it was fantastic.

I’ve never been involved in a protest before. Closest thing to it was the gay pride parade I attended in DC, which was also wonderful. But this was something different. This was democracy in action; this was what it means to be American. There was so much anger yet so much respect for one another. It was unity in its purest form. It made me proud to be an American and even prouder to be a Wisconsinite. This is MY state and I’m not going to let some idiot eff it up.

There were firefighters marching down the streets with bagpipes, showing their support for unions; there were doctors writing notes for teachers; I EVEN SAW MY SIXTH GRADE TEACHER AND GOT TO SAY HI TO HIM. I knew I always loved him :) Anyway, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was history unfolding in front of my eyes.

It was invigorating. It was enlightening. And I can totally see myself becoming one of those politically-obsessed people I used to hate. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but if I ever cross a line with any of you, please let me know. This is all new to me, and I still have so much to learn. But I couldn’t be more excited.

(picture is of me on State Street today in front of the Madison, Wis. capitol building :])

A quick post…

…to let you know that I am OFFICIALLY going to be vice president for THREE different clubs next semester: National Broadcasting Society (and I’m still going to be treasurer, too), Astronomy Club and Sigma Delta Pi. I’m pretty pumped, but I hope it won’t be too much for me! I’ll let you know how everything goes, of course :)

In other news, you should read my latest post (about the ridiculous travel crisis in Europe right now) and let me know what you think. C’mon guys, I got a WordPress blog for a reason – I’m addicted to the STATS! I know you’re reading, and I want to know what YOU think. Don’t be afraid to speak up!! :)

Also, coming soon, I hope to touch upon everyone’s favorite subject: aging. I’m young for my grade, and it seems like I can’t turn 21 soon enough. I’ll talk about why I’m so excited, and it won’t just be because I want to go out to the bars with my friends. Stay tuned and take care! :)

Time and Birthdays

It’s so funny how views on birthdays change over the years. Remember when you were little, and you had a birthday and got SUPER excited? And then when your parents’ birthdays came around, you got really excited for them, but they never did? I never really understood that until these past few years. I mean, I did, but I’m reaching that point where it truly makes sense.

I am, of course, excited for my 21st birthday for obvious reasons (and, sidenote, this is relevant because ANOTHER one of my college friends turned 21 today, another one turns 21 on Monday and another, the Monday after that). Yes, I’m excited to be able to legally drink (and after being able to legally drink in Spain, I find the age limit here more absurd every day). I’m excited to go out with my friends to the bars if I want. To have a glass of wine with dinner at a restaurant. To be able to make myself a few drinks with liquor I purchased myself and not worry about paying someone back, or getting caught. Yes, that will be nice. But the other half of the reason I’m so excited is because from here on out, I’ll be the one who gets to gloat.

See, for the last, I don’t know, 20 years or so, I’ve been playing catch-up with my friends from my grade. I’m not turning 21 until my SENIOR year of college… I didn’t get my driver’s license until my junior year of high school and didn’t turn 18 until I got to college. So, yes, I am young for my grade. My birthday always falls at the beginning of the school year, and it’s a nice way to start off the year. New school year, new age…. but then it’s overshadowed by the fact that everyone else who had a birthday after me was a year older. I was FINALLY turning 16 when everyone else was turning 17. And when I FINALLY turned 17… well guess what, all my friends were about to turn 18. no big deal. And like, I never got teased about it. But I’m younger than all my friends in my grade, and yeah, I feel like I’ve been playing catch-up my whole life.

This year, the tables turn.

I’m starting to see that 21 is the last birthday everyone looks forward to. And it makes sense. Some of my friends complain, “ugh, 22? I’m so OLD!” After you turn 21, you’re an adult. And not only do you get the liquor, but everything else that comes along with turning said age: the responsibility, the job, the underlying expectation that you know what you’re going to do with your life. You actually have to face the *real* world. And yeah, it sucks. I’m not looking forward to it, and I’m not necessarily excited to turn older in subsequent years.

Except for the fact that instead of playing catch-up, and instead of being the envious one… for the rest of my life, *I’m* going to be the envied one. My friends might have beamed proudly when they got to turn 10, 13, 16, 18, before me. But guess what? That also means they get to turn 30, 40, and 50 before me. 21 years of watching my friends reap the benefits of growing up…. and from now on, I’ll be the one to lay back and calmly watch everyone panic as they turn a decade older, knowing that I have at least 9 months before I have to worry about it.

Yes, revenge is sweet my friends, and I firmly believe karma will always even everything out. 21 years of “haha, I’m 16 and you’re 15!” or, “haha, I’m 21 and you’re 20!” (even though it never went *exactly* like that :p) will soon turn into, “haha, I’m 29 and you’re 30!” or, “haha, I’m 39 and you’re 40!” yep, I am definitely looking forward to this. You never realize it until now, but being younger definitely has its benefits. :)

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