25 May 2012

Wheelie Kewl, Wasp Wars, and Guides to Insect Porn

For the past year and a half, Carly and I retreat to the mountains surrounding Center Hill Lake approximately every semester for what we often refer to as our "retreat from life." The idea is this. We will escape from the confines of our everyday lives. This has taken numerous forms over the past four visits, ranging from a complete technology-free zone to a structured work schedule to a time to reflect on our work and lives. Generally, we spend the entire time working on various tasks, taking breaks to have meals, sit in the hot tub, or take walks in the woods. During these breaks,we reflect. Sometimes we talk about how we are feeling about our personal lives, but mostly, we talk about sociology. We discuss questions that we are grappling with. And then, at night, after all the work is done, we drink wine, watch movies, and discuss whatever might be on our minds. Overall, the retreats are always restorative and productive, regardless of the task at hand. I treasure these moments I get to spend with Carly. This last trip, while also productive in a scholarly sense, was also about a mental health retreat. With everything I've been going through in the last few months with my grandmama, I needed some quiet time away in the mountains with a spectacular friend. And, it was just that.

We always spend our last night, drinking wine (wait, really?) and commemorating the event. We make playlists, we download our photos, and we try to capture the essence of the trip with a top 20 best-of moments from the trip. So, I present you with the best moments (mostly in order of when they happened), a link to our photos, and a link to our spotify playlist. Enjoy folks.

Top 20-something moments from the Summer of 2012 retreat:

1. Once we obtain the keys to our cabin/chalet, there are always a few items we need to purchase at the local grocery store. In Smithville, this means the Super Walmart. There are generally two times a year I enter the doors of a Walmart...and it is always on these trips. This time, we only had to purchase a few items, like eggs and beer. As we proceeded to pay for said items, the lovely cashier asks for Carly's ID and upon seeing that she is from California, he says, "Cal-I-forn-I-A." Just like that. I'm still trying to figure out if he was making a joke or not. Then, after carding her for the beer, he informs us. "Oops. We can't sell beer on Sunday." Now, just try to imagine the look on my face upon hearing this information. We were so stunned that he even showed us on the computer where it read "No Beer Sales on Sunday." We then proceeded to ask him about the closest liquor store, so we could buy wine later in the week. He didn't know. He asked several other people. They didn't know. I remarked under my breath, "Is there ANYONE over the age of 21 that can tell us?" This would become even more hilarious by Monday afternoon.

2. One of our first discoveries at the cabin was an insect attempting to enter. At first we thought it was a grasshopper. However, luckily, there was a set of Audubon guides on the nearby shelf. So, I started flipping through them to figure out exactly what sort of insect it was that was trying to make friends with us. I discovered that it was a katydid. Thinking that this might be symbolic, I asked Carly to look up the symbolic meaning of the katydid on the interwebs. Here is what she found: "These animals teach us how to blend and shift our energies, to change how we have been approaching things. We may during this time try doing things a different way. These animals often show up in the beginning of a new endeavor when individuals are initiating new lines of work and creative activities." So, we decided the katydid would be a nice spirit animal for the trip. And pictured above is our wonderful katydid. In other news, in flipping through the guide, I realized that insect porn is kind of hot. Yes, I said that out loud to Carly. "Hey, insect porn is kind of hot, I think."

3. While still exploring the cabin, Carly informed me there was a bug zapper on the porch. I informed her it was a bird feeder. Because I adore watching birds, we filled up the bird feeder with seed that was inside the cabin. Then, we waited. It wasn't until the next morning that we began to see birds feeding. Some adorable little small birds, a woodpecker who was too big to get into the feeder, a cardinal. But perhaps, our favorite of all was the squirrel. By Day Two, this one squirrel spent most of the day trying to get bird seed out. Sally, the squirrel, would jump up and down on the feeder to shake about the feeder and get feed to fall into the platter below. Sally would also hang upside down in a death-defying attempt to get to the food. I swear there were some mornings, we stared at that squirrel for hours, captivated by the persistence. Perhaps there was a lesson there? More than anything, it was incredibly entertaining.

4. So, I'm sort of obsessed with science. I got pretty excited about the annular eclipse on Sunday. Since we were in a wooded area, we weren't going to be able to see any part of the eclipse, so I decided to watch online. Carly and I both loaded the website up and proceeded to watch. Holy shit, that moon is a slow mover. We finally got to see some of the eclipse, but then, well, we started making dinner, totally forgot about it, and completely missed the ring of fire. So after listening to the science geeks anticipate the eclipse for about two hours, we missed the main event. There might also be a lesson there.

5. Moths. There were moths all around. There were moths in the house. Moths at every door. Although moths don't bother me, I discovered very quickly how Carly is terrified of moths. I tried to explain that they are mostly like nocturnal butterflies. She didn't quite buy it. However, the first night a white moth slept in Carly's bedroom. And in a moment, when I got broody one night, at the height of the brood, a white moth crawled on my leg....and we erupted into laughter, reminding me that there is always lightness at the end of the broods.

6. I'm not going to get completely into this one...but there were a series of sayings that we used to talk about getting rest and how it'll be useful for being more productive. I suppose the real saying is "sharpening the saw." But I kept calling it "swimming with the sharks" or "sharpening the skill." On that last night when we reflected on this, Carly said to me, "You called it a number of things." (By the way, that was far more hilarious that last night than it is tonight.)

7. On Monday afternoon, I phoned the office of the cabins to inquire about where we might purchase wine. The response, "Well, Dekalb County is a dry county. So there are no liquor stores in the whole county." Enough said.

8. Pictures of food. There will always be pictures of food to prove we were there. Because we really don't like to take pictures of ourselves in our pajamas all day long.

9. Given the lack of beer on Sunday and the lack of liquor stores in the county, Carly and I were forced to make a trip back to the Walmart for frosty beverages to get us through the next three days. On our way back, we decided to make a video of a bridge that we liked. You will likely never see this video. But we decided it should be paired with Prince's song Kiss. Unfortunately, we couldn't remember exactly where the bridge was...thus, we started the song over several times. Then, only then, we made the most boring and weird video of a bridge...and a nausea-inducing video.

10. On our second night at the cabin and once the hot tub had been repaired, Carly and I were about to start a movie. But instead, she said, "Should we get in the hot tub?" And we did. It was glorious. However, the hot tub would be responsible for what I refer to as the "Wasp Wars of the Summer of 2012." On our third day, we decided to do some mid-afternoon hot-tub'ing. However, once inside the hot tub, a wasp started circling around us. I figured it would stay away. I was wrong. As it zoomed in towards us, I freaked out and started throwing water at it. This resulted in the drowning of the wasp in the hot tub. This resulted in a bunch of screaming, jumping around in and out of the hot tub while we tried to figure out where in the world the wasp went. And when we thought all was safe, two more wasps arrived. I suppose to attend the wasp funeral? And from that moment on, we could only have nocturnal hot tub visits, when the wasps were sleeping or something. The following day, the wasps forced an all-out attack on me while I was reading on the porch. I think they knew that I was the responsible party.

11. After breakfast one morning, Carly needed to check out whether or not she could use the iChat feature on her computer. So, we both signed on. We discovered it worked. But, we also discovered that there are effects that we could put on our faces while we chatted. Yes, at the same table. I don't think I've laughed that hard in quite some time.

12. For a break one day, we decided to go on what we called our nature walk. We knew before we left that we'd end up with 1,000 pictures of animals, flowers, and roads. And after previewing our photos, that's exactly what we have. But we did meet some really nice goats, horses, and a dog. There was also some confusion about a bike versus tractor.

13. One night for dinner. We ate literally (and yes, I do mean literally) a mountain of spaghetti. We spent the rest of the evening questioning our own decision making.

14. "We just need the eggs." Woody Allen.

15. Every retreat, we often discover weird sounds in the house. This time, we had an ice maker that sounded like a ping pong ball bouncing on the floor. You can imagine our concern the first time we heard it.

16. "You know how we do our last night?" "Get naked and weird?"

17. Emotional roller-coasters. Textual novelas aka soap opera relationships via text. From start to finish, we experienced our fair share of them.

18. But when faced with emotional roller-coasters, you sometimes have to just throw off the broods with a 90's dance party across the table. We sat at opposing ends of the table, with our headphones on, danced and sang until we felt better. Oddly enough, I got some of my best intellectual heavy-lifting done that afternoon. I think adversity must suit me.

19. "It's your going-away party, dummy."

20. Taking our last night off to plan Carly's going away "Prince-themed" party.

21. On our last night (and since we were relegated to enjoying the hot tub only in the evening due to the wasp wars), we accidentally turned the hot tub up to 105 degrees. The funny thing is how long we made ourselves sit in an overly hot hot tub. But the more hilarious thing that night was the slippin' and slidin' that took place inside the hot tub.

22. Packing and leaving sweet Heavenly Rest and saying goodbye to everything along the way. Goodbye goats! Goodbye horses! Goodbye Rocky Top road. Ahhhh! Goodbye scary new scarecrow. Only to get a few miles down the road before realizing we left a whole bunch of stuff in the refrigerator. So, of course, we said goodbye to all of them again on our second attempt at leaving.

23. Taking Carly to the Waffle House for lunch. Her apprehension. My excitement. And the looks on the faces of everyone in there when I dared to play some of the Waffle House tunes on the jukebox.

So, there you have it. Now, we proceed to share with you our pictures. See as follows. After several attempts at re-ordering these, I gave up. So, enjoy the chaos that is the retreat in no particular order....

Wheelie Cool Retreat Photos

And lastly, we always make a mix from each retreat. We use to make these on 8tracks (hence the limitation of four songs each), but this time I decided to do a spotify mix. Here is the link the mix, alongside the track listing and rationale for selection.

Wheelie Cool Spotify Mix

Track Listing: 

My Selections

1. On The Radio- Regina Spektor

I fell in love with Regina Spektor during this retreat. I couldn't get this one out of my head. Plus, I do love the song November Rain.

"A million ancient bees began to sting our knees. While we were on our knees, praying that disease would leave the ones we love and never come again....No this is how it works. You peer inside yourself. You take the things you like and try to love the things you took and then you take that love you made and stick it to someone else's heart, pumping someone else's blood. And walking arm in arm, you hope it don't get harmed. But even if it does, you'll just do it all again."

2. Won't Be Long- Ferraby Lionheart

"It's your aching smile that won't let me get away. But it won't be long, no, it won't be long, 'til I let you go."

3. With Arms Outstretched- Rilo Kiley

I'm always a sucker for a sing-along, but this one reminds me of all those grand gestures I always seem to crave and how I felt one afternoon, looking out into the mountains. "And some days they last longer than others. But this day by the lake went too fast. And if you want me, you better speak up, I won't wait. So you better move fast..."

4. Runaway- The National

I was once told about my academic work that when things get murky, I tend to run. I realized this is not only true in my career, but also in my personal life...and for one of the first times in my life, I've decided, I'm not going to run. I'm just going to throw my arms in the air. "I'll go braving everything with you swallowing the shine of the summer. I'll go braving everything through the shine of the sun. But I won't be no runaway cause I won't run. No I won't be no runaway...We got another thing coming undone and its taking us over...Go ahead, go ahead, throw your arms in the air tonight..."

Carly's Selections

5. Gray or Blue- JayMay
Rollercoaster, ticket for 1, please.

6. Speakerbox feat. Osmo Ikonen- Signmark
This fling with my dissertation research is quickly turning into a full blown love affair.

7. Wide Open Spaces-Dixie Chicks
"She needs wide open spaces, Room to make her big mistakes, She needs new faces, She knows the high stakes." Nuff said.

8. Lie to Me-  Jonny Lang
The song of the season.

After writing this all up, I've realized a few things: 1) Documenting life is exhausting, particularly a la Carly and Katherine retreat weekend style; 2) These retreats are one of my favorite things in all of the world; and 3) I'm really going to miss having Carly in Nashville this summer. Enjoy folks. See you at the Prince party.

13 May 2012

I Have Never Loved Someone...

For over two months now, my grandmother has been in the hospital. It goes something like this...throat cancer, stage four, tumor, surgery, removal of tumor, voice box, vocal cords, teeth, lymph nodes, a jugular vein, and then....the long recovery. The last time I visited with her at the beginning of April, she was in the process of recovery. When I was scheduled to return home again was at the beginning of May for my mother's birthday. My mother's birthday coincided with the day we were scheduled to move my grandmother to a rehab nursing home, where she would continue to improve until we could start her on radiation. Sadly, her time in the nursing home only lasted three days before we had to rush her to the emergency room one evening when her oxygen intake had declined significantly. I don't intend to go into the details of my grandmother's trials for this blog, but rather I wanted to focus on what I have watched my mother do over the course of the last two and a half months.

Some afternoons, my mom would call me. She would be exhausted. She'd spend 30 minutes telling me all sorts of details about insurance, nursing homes, medical equipment....things I really didn't understand. And I'll admit, sometimes I was so exhausted from finishing out the semester that I had a difficult time concentrating. And before we realized it,we didn't have the chance to even ask one another how we were both doing in life at the moment before we had to get off the phone. It wasn't until I came home for the last 12 days that I've been fully able to realize just how intense this has all been for my mother...and how much admiration I have for her.

For the 12 days I've been here, I've been exhausted. Some days I can barely keep my eyes open. I've spent countless hours crying. I've spent conversations sitting around dinner asking questions about power of attorney and whether or not to revive my grandmother if her heart stops. While I have lost a number of people I've really cared about in my life, I've never really witnessed the loss of someone slowly...and someone that is as close as my grandmother. And while I've only been doing this for 12 days, my mother has been doing this for over two months now...and she does so much more than I have done.  I honestly have no idea how she is still able to function normally, nor how she kicked my ass in skee-ball when we took a lunch break last week.

That's just it, my mother will always pull through, no matter what. No matter how tired, when I tell her at 10pm at night, "Oh, you should really watch 'I Love You Phillip Morris,' I think you'd love it." She'll sit there holding her eyes open with toothpicks because she wants to share that time with me outside of our visits to the hospital. Despite the fact she spends a majority of her day at the hospital, she still makes sure everyone else is taken care of. And it is astounding. Crazy astounding.

There isn't really a narrative to this blog, but rather, I wanted to acknowledge my mother. How hard it is to be going through this with her own mother. How she amazingly keeps it all together and manages to laugh every time they refer to a particular piece of equipment they use with my grandmother. How when I tell her some petty story about my own life, she always knows exactly the right thing to say.

During my first semester of graduate school, one of my mentor's told me that I handled my first semester with grace, with apparently is rare. I now realize where I learned this skill. Despite all the hell my mom and I have been through in all our years together, this woman has exercised incredible determination and grace the entire time. She is quite simply amazing.

When I thought about songs that reminded me of her....there were dozens. Hell, we've made a lot of memories as you might imagine. But these three seemed to really resonate, although they are written from the perspective of the parent to the child. But sometimes, as we grow older, we share those roles together.

Every time I look down at the tattoo on my hand, I'll always hear my mother say to me, "I love you more than there are birds in the sky."

Three Babies by Sinead O' Connor

Hundreds of Sparrows by Sparklehorse

But perhaps most importantly, this song will forever remind me of my mother, because I have never loved someone....like this...and it kills me every time.

I Have Never Loved Someone by My Brightest Diamond