Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Cottage Weekend

Everyone knows the cottage is my happy place. Grant's grandfather built it with his own hands and the hands of his daughters and their husbands in the 1970's. By the time I started making the drive to the Allegheny River nirvana, Grant already had a lifetime of memories there. At the cottage, internet is so sketchy it's just better to leave your computer and phone turned off, there is a clock on the kitchen wall over the stove but last summer it ran out of batteries and I don't think anyone noticed. Time is measured by the empty feeling in your gut after you have hiked to the waterfall and swam in the natural pool for hours and are finally noticing you haven't eaten since breakfast. Night runs into early morning while we sit by the campfire and talk politics and music and grass fed beef until the bar 5 miles up the road is having last call.

Before we had kids, the cottage meant sleeping until 10 and drinking too much whiskey, getting lost on trail runs because it didn't matter what time I came back. Grant would still be sitting by the fire with a book or napping on the sofa. The cottage is the first place I remember seeing him completely relax.

Now with Knox and Purslane, the cottage is about waking up with the sun and watching the fog hang out over the surface of the river. It means triple checking to make sure our food supplies include coffee and graham crackers. (did we really forget beer??) It means constant activity, or at least constant vigilance. Conversation around the fire includes pulling up photos on my phone of burn victims to supplement my warnings about not respecting the ring of stones that form a border between my impulsive son and a firey disaster. It means loading the bikes off and on the back of the Jeep because since they discovered the Rails to Trails across the river, it must be part of the agenda.

It means breakfast sandwiches at sunrise in their underpants (because as far as Knox is concerned, being out of the city means clothing optional) and exploring the overgrown hill behind the cottage with flashlights and plastic bags for nature treasures. Instead of stretching out lazily in front of us, a day is barely enough time for throwing stones in the river, a bike ride on the trail, creek hiking and talking ourselves into trying out a rope we found tied to a tree branch over a river pool (it was awesome), a canoe trip that answered the age old question of what would happen when you have a 4 year old and a 6 year old in the middle of the river and they discover an enormous spider is in the canoe with them, swimming in the river reeds, steaks over an open fire, and juice boxes all day long.

We have been going to the cottage for 13 years, and over those years have taken many friends up with us. One of my favorite weekends of my entire life happened in 2009 over Memorial Day weekend with 6-7 other couples, a handmade wooden lawn game called Viking Cube, and all the time in the world for eating, drinking, talking, laughing, sleeping, playing. It was the season of life for most of us pre-kids, at least one person in each couple in grad school, and that weekend still holds some of my favorite memories.

As the years pass, babies are born, folks come and go, and our trips to the cottage take the family train. So the activities have changed, but the magic has just increased as we introduce our children to our favorite place. The nights by the fire when all the babes have been put to bed and we sit and drink High Life takes on a communal feeling of well deserved relaxation that we just didn't know before our days were dictated by busy little people. And they are sweeter. The deep conversations we miss having when our kids want our attention at parties and after church and during dinner happens at the cabin after dark. The kids are hopefully so exhausted that they fall asleep when their heads hit the pillow (except for H.S. who gave an award worthy performance as a toddler deprived of fire and beer and sentenced to watch out the window of his bedroom).

This time I thought about weekends when our friends have joined us. That time Kirsten went for a trail run and fell into the creek pool. Sitting on the back porch with Allie drinking coffee and pretending we couldn't hear the kids looking for us. Playing Clue until midnight with Matt and Sara, inventing new gin drinks and new motives for offing Professor Plum. The first time we took Pursy to the cottage and passed her around our group of friends who were just starting or just thinking about having kids of their own. Sweet, sweet memories.

Grant and I did find time to read on this trip. While the babes explored the back hill, Grant and I sat  by the fire and tried to hold hands and hold books, a cozy idea that never really works out. For 36 hours at the cottage with all the activities the babes wanted to do, we of course packed a small library. Our mixed marriage involves fiction, theology, biography, and economics. Somehow we make it work. And as Grant fell asleep on my shoulder because I had to find out what happens to the Jewish orphans in Paris during the German occupation, I felt so lucky. Lucky that Grant and I find the same place to be one of the greatest places in the world. Grateful that our children aren't afraid of getting dirty and wet and tired and cold. Thankful that before my arm behind his head fell completely asleep that I had thought to grab a cold High Life...

Friday, September 2, 2016

Need a Friend

I have been finding it harder of late to be inspired by...anything, really.

My dayplanner (2016 Moleskine Week to a Page with Red cover) is full. Particularly the week in August that reminds me I need to keep my thinline rainbow Sharpies out of reach of my daughter. She drew me a "design" across the entire week, leaving no room for my black pen appointments, meetings, work schedule, family plans, etc. Days that are planned out with good things, just a LOT of good things. And when I looked at it, even though it is swirls and hearts and patterns, it reflects more accurately how I feel about my schedule. It's beautiful, but a mess. And she made it a piece of artwork. Days connected by rainbow dashes and circles, stick figures with really big heads and tiny hands all in a row, and off in the upper right corner, what looks like a bunny riding a unicorn. Possibly eating a hot dog.

This morning while Knox and I were driving home from the grocery store where we grabbed foodstuffs for a spontaneous overnite at the cottage, we were listening to El Vy. With one hand steadying the bag of groceries in the passenger seat and one ear listening to Knox explain how scratch and sniff stickers work, the lyrics to the song Need a Friend made a straight shot to a dusty room in my gut that had been needing light to shine in.

I just need a friend to guard the door
I just need a couple minutes on the floor
I just need to talk to you for a second
I just need a break from the sound, cause it's killing me.

Maybe the way was paved by a simple text from my friend earlier this week asking if I kept a journal. She was sharing a new medium she found to chase down her thoughts daily and preserve them. And I remembered the feeling of putting pen to paper and letting my thoughts go. I have stacks of journals from my years in Colorado filled with nothing more then daily inspiration. Runs in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Vegan carrot pancakes at Sunrise Café. Beers and pool tables with a guy I knew could never love me. Kids with cancer who were stronger then I will ever be. Finding a purple flower. A quote from a random Bulgarian activist.

Just about the time my journals started to thin out is when my inspiration was coming from time spent with a guy who was asking me to hang out more. I kept writing about our early years together, but was letting days and eventually weeks go by without writing it down. Too busy living, I guess. At least that is what I wrote down in my journal.

Too often I tell myself that the girl who found inspiration so easily has been buried alive by daily life. That my life tumbling over itself from the moment I open my eyes (earlier then I want) and doesn't grow quiet until I put the last person to bed (takes longer then I hoped) is what prevents me from looking around for the random beauty. That if I just had large spaces of being alone I could find that appreciation for life which is no less amazing to me, just seems out of reach. My lack of time to myself is surely what keeps me from having my mind blown.

But that's not the truth, right? The loudest space can be peaceful when the people who are meant to be there are making the ruckus. I don't need to escape, I need to look around. I already invited the best person to come in and create a life with me. And we invited a shit ton of other folks in as well.

And when I tell myself that I can't breathe until I am alone again, I miss the inspiration that happens when my life and the people who share it ask a million things of me.How much of myself is up for grabs. All I need, every once in a while, is the door to close on the sound and my friend to sit on the floor with me for a minute. I need him to guard the door and let the wildness stay outside. To remind me that it started with us, this bizarre life that never made it the pages of a journal. Because it all changed when he invited me out for a beer.

(babe, I am inspired by YOU)