My family is big on, well, family. Mom and Dad grew up in the same small town in Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Dad’s sister and Mom’s sister were best friends. When the Hollingers and Hills merged, joining with other branches, a robust family tree took root.

I grew up spending summers with my cousins whose parents sent them to our house in Florida where 10 of us would share one bathroom, pick a pizza partner for ordering lunch, and spend hours jumping cannonballs at the neighborhood pool. Every Christmas, I watched as both my Grandmas spent hours sending hundreds of holiday cards to countless relatives along with people they’d met on cruise ships or former classmates. Connection is a value my family holds in the highest esteem; we learned at a young age that it would one day be our turn to carry on the tradition of gathering.

Last summer, at our family reunion at the Nelson farm in Wisconsin, over 90 people came. They came from California, North Carolina, Arizona, Maryland, Florida, South Carolina, New York, New Jersey, California, and Seattle. They came in wheelchairs and in baby bjorns. They spoke with thick Midwestern accents and Southern ones and New York ones. They came from Jewish and Christian faiths, as veterans and as teachers, as Caucasian, Bi-racial, African American and African, as single parents, newly dating couples, as gay and straight, as vegetarians and as brat-lovers (and this being Wisconsin, there were lots of brats).

It’s what we call family. And on a daily basis, I forget how remarkable it is, but when we all get together, it is one hell of a party.

Generations of HillsRiding the gator with New Glarus farmhouse in back

Cousins at the Chalet Landhaus


Dad driving the gator and New Glarus farmhouse