Lighthouse Bucket List Adventure: An Interview with Cheryl Lynn Cain

CherylLynnCainI have always admired Cheryl Lynn Cain for being a mom with a passion for making a difference. From hosting refugee families, to organizing a fair trade bazaar, to directing the compassion ministry at her church, Cheryl Lynn is a woman of compassion in action. The same is certainly true for her family bucket list – she steps out to engage in adventures that will make a difference in her children’s approach to the world around them. So I’m thrilled to share with you an interview with Cheryl Lynn about a recent family bucket list adventure she undertook: being a lighthouse keeper.

Tell us a little about your bucket list.

I know some bucket lists tend to be very specific but mine has really one over-arching principle: to experience drastically different lifestyles in order to raise children who have tools for greater compassion, understanding and perspective.  (I know, a little heavy!  LOL.)  I think I got there because living in the suburbs, I noticed how easily my kids can be convinced that everyone lives similar lives.  So whenever I find an opportunity to step into a whole other world, well, I try to take it!    

What made you want to stay in a lighthouse?

Lighthouses have had a certain allure for me.  I find the fact that people gave their whole lives, many times living in isolation, in order to hold out a beacon of hope for weary travelers.  And the job was not sexy at all; a lot of day in and day out chores, a lot of watching and waiting for that one day where it would make all the difference.

How long has this been a dream of yours? 

The idea started when I was researching places to stay in California and discovered that many of their lighthouses were actually hostels that even accommodated families.  So after staying overnight at a lighthouse on the coast of northern California, I thought, there has to be something like that in Michigan.  I think many people don’t realize that Michigan actually has more lighthouses than any other state because of their upper and lower peninsula.  So after a little googling I discovered that many Michigan lighthouses are run by volunteer associations that are always looking for keepers for a variety of stays.  The trick of course was that most require long stays or adults only.  However, Crisp Point Lighthouse, on the shores of Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula allows families to volunteer.  So it was an easy choice.  However, as if serving as a keeper wasn’t enough of a departure, this lighthouse happened to be 18 miles from a paved road or electricity.  So of course this fit even more perfectly to my bucket list, we have never lived off the grid.

What did your duties as lighthouse keepers entail?

Now lighthouses aren’t quite what they used to be with solar lenses and all, so our duties mainly consisted of keeping in order the visitor center and bathrooms, locking and unlocking the lighthouse and becoming familiar enough with the history to answer questions.  However, the duties did not become nearly as challenging as co-habitating with the dense mosquito community of the north woods.  For all the things I planned for: the headlamps, the propane, bringing our own water and food, even planning for bears, I completely underestimated the bugs of the deep woods.  This definitely turned our service opportunity to a survival exercise.  (Our motto became: the more horrible: the more memorable!)  However, what we discovered is that we actually are survivors.  And honestly, with all the conveniences and ease of our everyday life, it was good to know that with a little help of supplies from the gas station 30 miles away, we can brave the elements and come out stronger for it.  But I would be remiss if I didn’t also emphasize that our civil war with the bugs paled in comparison to the beauty of the U.P., the Taquahemnon Falls, the beauty of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the time travel of Mackinac Island and the serenity and dignity of Crisp Point Light.

What is next on your bucket list?

Our next stop on the bucket list will be the western prairie.  We’ll be heading out to South Dakota in the next few weeks staying in a covered wagon at the Little House on the Prairie homestead in DeSmet, SD and then staying at a working cattle ranch near Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park.  We will soon find out if cattle are kinder than mosquitoes and hopefully learn a greater respect for pioneers.

Cheryl Lynn blogs at

July Bucket List Life Dare: Be Wildly Free

Recently I was talking with a group of moms when the topic of dancing in the rain came up.

“I have always wished I could do that,” one mom said. “But I just can’t seem to bring myself to go ahead.”

July 2015 Bucket List Life Dare: Be Wildly FreeEveryone agreed. We all yearned to be so carefree. But we all had to admit that we had never indulged in such a whimsical romp.

I would bet if you stopped to think for a moment, you have at least one bucket list dream of your own that relates to shedding your inhibitions or otherwise breaking free of rules, expectations or constraints.

Now is your chance! This month’s Bucket List Life Dare is to “Be Wildly Free.” If you choose to take this month’s dare, find something on your bucket list that allows you to drop conventions or somehow express your freedom in a way you haven’t before:

– Dance in the rain.

– Eat cake for breakfast or ice cream sundaes for dinner (I have done both!).

– Go up the down escalator.

– Compliment a stranger.

I remember as a young newlywed hearing a pastor’s wife I admired share a story of one summer afternoon when she invited her elementary-school-aged son to join her in having an ice cream treat while sitting out on their garage roof. A neighbor boy came by, spotted them and asked if he could have a treat with them. So she sent him home to ask permission and then allowed him to climb out her window to have ice cream alongside her and her son.

I loved this idea! It was so impetuous and rebellious and such a great memory-making activity. I swore I would one day do it with my kids. But I still haven’t. Now, thanks to this dare (plus a freezer full of popsicles, Klondike bars and ice cream sandwiches), I have no excuse. Think my kids will join me?

If you take this month’s dare and choose to blog about it, link your post back here. Or comment below that you’ll be taking the dare and report back about what you did when you check off your goal. We want to hear about your July dare adventures.


Our Eataly Experience: The June Bucket List Life Dare

Bucket List Life Dare AccomplishedThis month’s bucket list life dare was to be a tourist in your own region. When you live somewhere like Chicagoland, finding new places to explore doesn’t take much. In our case, the destination was Eataly, Mario Batali’s Italian marketplace concept store (locations in Rome, New York & Chicago). It seemed appropriate in light of my big dream bucket list goal to visit Tuscany. And I figured my cheese- and pasta-loving family would be game.

We set off for our mostly-indoor adventure on Saturday morning, since rain was in the forecast… until it wasn’t. No matter, traffic was light and the sidewalks were humming with shoppers when we arrived in the city. We could have parked on the street (plenty of spots were open), but the two-hour limit made us unsure. How big was Eataly? And if we ate lunch there, how long would we be? We opted for the parking garage across the street, not realizing Eataly offers valet parking for around the same cost.

Turns out, we could have parked on the street for how long we spent there. Not that we didn’t enjoy it, but my biggest takeaway from this bucket list outing was that some experiences are destinations unto themselves and others are not. This one was not. Unless you are planning a special Italian dinner and want to get exactly the right ingredients. Because that, my friends, is what Eataly is all about: authentic Italian cooking. Which, of course, you could learn simply by reading their tag line: “We cook what we sell, and we sell what we cook.”LaPastaSign

Eataly is a cross between food court and grocery store. Here are some highlights from our experience:

  • Cooking gadgets: on the first floor they sell cookware and gadgets. We spent some time browsing the displays. They carry fun and innovative products, many (all?) Italian made. The gadgets are stocked in small bins with a labeled display above them telling you what is what. I admired the pasta cutters with Katherine, my fourteen-year-old, whose goal this summer is to make homemade pasta
  • Chocolates, biscotti, coffees. Eataly carries a terrific variety – this is probably what tempted me most. But, as I came discover with the rest of the store, I was too overwhelmed by the options to decide. I made a note to myself that once I’ve been to Italy to try some of them, I’ll know where to stock up back home. Unfortunately, contrary to what I had heard about Eataly, we only came across one sample in the store (near guest services). Maybe we were there too early.IMG_1784
  • Big wheels of cheese. Cheese, cheese, and more cheese. Most of them molto caro (very expensive). $55/lb? Not even my cheese aficionado husband could stomach that. It was fun to browse the cheese cases though, and maybe if we had a particular use for a certain cheese we would have gotten some.
  • Fresh focaccia. We stopped to watch bread dough being kneaded in the on-site bakery. Briefly. The bakers seemed to be self-conscious about being watched, which is a little odd for someone working behind a glass wall that invites shoppers to take a peek. Whatever. They had a variety of sweet and savory fresh focaccias available. This intrigued me because I had only ever tasted focaccia made for dipping in oil. Katherine, Evelyn & I bought a blueberry sweet focaccia and Mike picked up a prosciutto and mozzarella piece. We stood at a bar-height table nearby to munch them. A layer of sugar topped the sweet focaccia and piles of blueberries filled in the dents. The bread itself balanced out the sweetness perfectly. And the mozzarella focaccia had the right blend of flavors too. On another visit I’ll gladly try the other varieties of focaccia. We could have lunched on focaccia, but we all preferred it as a “snack.”
  • NutellaBarGelato! Eataly offers an array of dining options: a casual pasta place, a fine Italian restaurant, a sandwich spot, and more. Whether it was from being overwhelmed by all the options or simply turned off by the cost, none of us felt like dining there. I decided it would suit me more to go there with a bunch of girlfriends. But just because we hadn’t eaten lunch yet didn’t mean we had to pass up dessert. My girls turned down buying crepes at the Nutella bar, reasoning that we could make our own at home. True. Instead we split a two-scoop gelato. Wow! If I had known how amazing Eataly’s gelato is, I would have gotten my own. The salted caramel gelato tasted like fresh caramel. And the chocolate – if you closed your eyes you would think you were enjoying a fine piece of European chocolate. No artificial flavors about this gelato.

After about 90 minutes we had our fill of Eataly. Check that one off the bucket list! But we were still hungry for lunch. So at Mike’s suggestion, we trekked a bit farther north in the city to enjoy a barbecue lunch out on the patio of Smoque.

What can I say? We’re suckers for the familiar. And now I know the next time I’m in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood I should bring my grocery list for a side trip to Eataly. I just might get my own scoop of gelato while I’m at it!Smoque1

Did you take the dare to be a tourist in your own region? If so, what were the results? If not, don’t worry. Another dare is coming in July.




What We Can Learn About Bucket Lists from the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup Win

If you don’t follow hockey, then you might not know that a big win happened here in Chicago this week. For the third time in six years and the first time in over 70 years on home ice, the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup championship trophy.

HawksWinOf course winning your sport’s highest honor is on every athlete’s bucket list. But for one Blackhawk in particular, Monday’s win was especially sweet and how his teammates recognized and honored his dream is something that should inspire us all.

40-year-old Kimmo Timonen is ending his 17-year career after this season due to struggles with blood clots in his lungs and legs. Even though he only joined the Blackhawks a few months ago, he is so well respected by his teammates and his dream of hoisting the Stanley Cup (finally, after so many years in the NHL) so appreciated, that he was the first one team captain Jonathan Toews handed the cup to after receiving it. And after Timonen’s lap around the ice with it, his teammates urged him to hold it a little longer.

There is something powerful about watching another person realize a life goal. Imagine the satisfaction you can gain from helping them achieve it. I believe the Stanley Cup win was made more meaningful for the entire team because of Timonen’s dream and his chance to see it come true before he skates off the ice as a pro for the last time.

What we can learn from this when it comes to bucket list living is to ask ourselves, who needs my help to reach their life longings? How can I be a part of making dreams come true for someone else? If you are looking for a way to express your love or admiration for someone, consider how supporting them like the Blackhawks supported Timonen could communicate your devotion.

Rumor has it that Toews wanted to eschew the tradition that dictates the team captain is to hoist the trophy first, and instead send Timonen out for it. Would you be willing to sacrifice your privileges to make someone’s bucket list experience even better?

Family Bucket List Wall

Over the past year I’ve been working on my family’s bucket list wall – a pictorial commemoration of the goals we’ve reached and the fun we’ve had living out our bucket list dreams. Here’s the result:

Whole Wall

I collected these collage frames over time. I knew I wanted to be able to highlight the different types of bucket list adventures we have had – things we’ve done, places we’ve seen, people we’ve met, and the people we’ve become/roles we’ve fulfilled.

Aspire FrameSo my first collage contains pursuits that family members have aspired to: such as breaking the school track record for the 100-meter dash (Bethany), and learning archery (Evelyn).

Explore FrameNaturally our bucket list contains destinations that we want to explore. I’m hoping one day to expand this to its own wall, along with a pinned map showing places we have gone.

The more altruistic pursuits I gathered into a frame that I labeled “become.” It showcases volunteer experiences, and roles we have worked (or are working) to attain, such as my husband’s position as a leader in the disc golf community in our state and my daughter Katherine’s desire to become a pilot and the various flights she’s taken on that journey.IMG_5928

Meet FrameAs an avid reader (and writer) I keep a separate journal/scrapbook containing photos of me with the authors I have the privilege of meeting, but I’m not the only one in our family to rub elbows with people I admiral, so those shots go in their own frame.

And the wall just had to have another frame to balance things out. Plus I could tell we would fill up all the slots pretty quickly with only four collections. So I added a fifth frame of dreams fulfilled.Dreams Frame

You’ll notice that I didn’t hurry to fill the frames. I added scrapbook paper to empty openings, but ultimately the goal is to add in new photos as we check off different experiences. Not every bucket list experience of ours ends up on the wall. Our first time kayaking I didn’t dare take a camera on the water, so we don’t have a record of that. Other times we are all absorbed enjoying the experience and forget to take a picture (or don’t want to break the spell by snapping a shot).

Adventures SignFinally, I felt like I wanted to express the overall theme of our collections in words. Wood and metal signs saying “Family” are everywhere. But “Adventures”? Not so much. I ended up creating my own sign to finish the wall off.

I’m pleased with how it turned out. It’s an attractive reminder of the adventures we have shared. I love that behind each picture is a story – of perseverance, beauty, compassion, and dreams come true. And I look forward to filling them up with more memories.

How do you document the adventures your family takes? Do you keep a journal? Blog your thoughts? Create photo books? I would love to hear your favorite method for commemorating your family’s bucket list pursuits.