11

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: Weekend in the Northwoods

A trip wouldn’t be complete without a trip log, so now that I’m back in one piece, here it is. Well, I’ve been back for a few hours now, but just spent the bulk of the time bonding with my bed after all of the brotherly bonding of the weekend.

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 7: Weekend in the Northwoods!

Thanks for a very generous APO brother whose family has had this beautiful cabin for 5 generations, 15 people, including myself, set off from Madison for a weekend at said cabin, in Eagle River, a tiny town (pop. 1400) in Vilas County, in what is known as the “northwoods” of Wisconsin, not too far from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. And it is far, far north.

Day 1: We (me, Rachel G., Rachel P., and Becky) set off from Madison for Eagle River. I don’t know whether it was the adrenaline, the good company, or the huge Starbucks I drank, but the trip took just under 4 hours, and we got there just at nightfall. It didn’t seem so bad, until I turned off the highway and had to drive on curvy dirt roads through the, dark, dark woods where there are deer and BEARS (according to Rachel G., who grew up in north central Wisconsin). Once we got to the cabin, we met up with the first group to arrive, and had just enough time to put our bags in our rooms before we went back to town for dinner. I’m terrified of other people driving my car, but I’m even more terrified of driving on windy country roads in the pitch dark so I let Rachel G. take the wheel and rode in the passenger seat of my own car for only the second or third time in my life. We made it out of the woods and to a bar in Eagle River called Lumpy’s, where the eight of us had fried lake perch because it was Friday in Wisconsin. And it was delicious.

After going grocery shopping with the others, we drove back to meet the remaining two cars, one of whom we just barely beat. We made sleeping arrangements and then spent some time playing games before bed. I ended up sleeping in my own (very nice) bedroom at the bottom of the stairs, across from which was a large TV room, a room with six bunk beds, and a door leading out to a fire pit (which we tried using to make s’mores before giving up and using the stove), and the lake. Up on the main floor was a huge kitchen/dining/living area, with 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, and upstairs was a loft with a huge bed and a futon. Even though the downstairs was kind of chilly, I just wrapped up in some blankets and snoozed the night away.

Day 2:

Woke up at about 9 AM for a delicious home-cooked breakfast, made by the brothers, followed by a trip into town to buy toys and things for our service project, which was creating gift bags for the children’s hospital. I got in a lot of good reading and actually finished a book by lunch, which was burgers and brats. We spent a few hours making packages and drawing cards, and spent most of the day just relaxing. There wasn’t really a trail or anything within walking distance, so people just played catch in the backyard, walked out onto the frozen lake, or hung out inside. I took a quick break to zip to town, get gas, find some geocaches, and call the folks, and came back in time for a delicious burrito dinner and a night of crazy card games, laughter, and a raucous game of hide and seek. Even though I was the oldest there by far, I outlasted some of the brothers who went to bed at 10:30. I turned in around midnight, and slept soundly until morning.

Day 3 (Today!):

How wonderful to wake up at 10 AM on a Sunday, only to realize that it’s 11 AM. At least we all had fun attempting to finish the massive amount of food we bought, cleaning up, and driving our cars through the mud. The trip back was about four and a half hours, thanks to a wrong turn I made, plus a stop in Rhinelander for Dunkin’ Donuts and a stretch-washroom-and-get-Jacob-some-caffeine break in Mosinee. It rained for the last two hours, which was great as it kept me awake and cleaned off my car.

That was probably some of the most boring travel writing ever, but at least the trip went off safely, my first APO trip as an advisor. The best part of it all was being without wi-fi and making fun of all the people who acted like the world was ending; at least we had electricity, running water, and indoor plumbing. It was quite peaceful, with books, games, and other people as company, rather than computers and phones. Other than wanting to update my blog, I didn’t really feel the need to check my email when I was in the cabin; on trips into town, I was on my phone, but not that much. Maybe I’m more of a wilderness person than I thought.

But now I just realized that I have to, like, teach tomorrow. Gross.

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1

How Time Flies When You Fox-Trot Until 10 PM

I just needed a title, but mostly to say:

I’ve had a lot on my mind lately, but hopefully things will straighten themselves out this weekend. Tomorrow, ready or not, I’m driving up to Eagle River, WI (a four-hour trek!) for an APO retreat. I am going to be the designated advisor. I hopefully won’t have to deal with any emergency situations, and will be bonding with my books, some work, and some junk food. Wish me luck.

6

Things I Suck At: Two Truths and a Lie

So at tonight’s APO meeting, the chapter broke the ice with a few group games of Two Truths and a Lie. Tonight was also when I realized that I’m terrible at this game.

First off, I’m bad at lying. My parents always said I was so dramatic and a good actor, but I’ve never been good at actually lying. Maybe that’s why my acting career took off like the Challenger. Anyway, second, anybody who’s known me for awhile (and most of these people have known me for at least a year) know enough about me that they can tell what’s actually happened to me just based on things I’ve posted on Facebook, or stories I’ve told, or whatever. My truths included being a citizen of two countries, having won a ribbon for ballroom dancing, having a cactus named Emily, and having gone through my dean’s underwear.

My lies?

I was a champion ice skater. People saw right through that one, too similar to ballroom.

I’ve been to all fifty states. I don’t know why this was such a tell. I guess since people know I enjoy traveling, or maybe because it’s too mundane.

I met my first girlfriend at a Starbucks. It was actually a bagel shop. Maybe I should have said something a little more ridiculous, like “when I accidentally walked into the womens’ restroom at Barnes & Noble.” That might actually fool someone.

I’m allergic to coconut oil. Because…who’s allergic to coconut oil?

I was born on a ship. Yeah, I’m not old enough for anyone to fall for that.

The one lie people fell for?

I was arrested for public intoxication. I used that one along with the Emily truth and the underwear truth when talking with Kyle, Emily, and Amanda after meeting, and that was their last choice. I mean, it works pretty well. It’s plausible. It can happen for many reasons to many people, even those who don’t drink that much. It’s also one of those things that most people don’t are not proud of and don’t really want to go into too much detail about, so leaving out more details is perfectly legit. I have been drunk before, and probably disorderly, and have gotten citations (for other things), but I’ve never been drunk and disorderly in public, and I have never been arrested, for any reason.

So not too interesting, but it’s something to kill some time because I don’t want to grade or do homework right now.

I haven’t had any recent visitors from South America, but today happened to be a 5-continent, so here’s my usual list of hellos: what up North America (Canada and USA), Europe (UK and France), Asia (India, Hong Kong, and Singapore), Africa (South Africa) and Oceania (Australia and Papua New Guinea).

Oh, and I sent the first 2 of my 16 blog-friend-snail-mails. Hope you get them soon!

3

Hey, Minnesota

Well hello there, and greetings from Northfield, Minnesota, home of St. Olaf College and, more importantly, the APO Region IX Conference. Rather than stay home this weekend and grade papers or compete in ballroom, or go to ASTR in Portland, I am here with a fun bunch of brothers and pledges from around the region. They are all staying at a hotel, while I am snuggled up in a lovely, soft bed at a local AirBnb, which I am trying for the first time.

This morning I managed to get a little done. I probably have to redo at least half the PechaKucha, though. But other than that, I thought about grading, packed for the trip, and did some desperately-needed apartment cleaning, so that I could leave a clean apartment by 1 PM when I was set to head out to Northfield with Melissa and Joni from the chapter in tow. We managed to leave only about 5 minutes after 1, which is amazing for APO time, and other than stopping for Dunkin Donuts in Wisconsin Dells and me almost hitting a deer (but ultimately avoiding it…the key word there is “almost”) it was a pretty uneventful four and a half hours. It did take just about a whole tank of gas, so sometime tomorrow, I will need to fill up for the trip back on Sunday. We arrived at St. Olaf at 6 PM, and then…pretty much just waited for everyone else…the next group showed up at 8, with the others trickling in after. Around 9:30, all the brothers had arrived, so I said goodbye to the other advisors and drove Melissa and Joni to their hotel with the other brothers and made sure nobody was left behind or anything, and then I headed back to this place, and got here about an hour ago. Tomorrow, wake-up is 7 AM, so I can help shuttle brothers over from their hotel to the conference site.

So, how am I feeling right now? Honestly…still stressed. Very. I should be more tired, especially after driving for four and a half hours, but after learning that I probably have to redo half of my PechaKucha in addition to getting started on my lesson plans for this week’s classes and working on the mini-reports, it’s just looming over me like a monster hiding in the little closet in the corner of this bedroom, or a deer waiting in the dark only to jump in front of my car. I told myself I would get stuff done, and have a happy, fun time here, but I feel like I should probably sneak away from at least some of the conference tomorrow and get some kind of work done hiding in a corner somewhere. Probably not grading, but maybe doing a redo of some of the PechaKucha or research for lesson plans or something.

Okay, I just yawned twice, so that’s probably some kind of cue to get to sleep.

1

And Lingo Was His Name-O

I like lingo.

Not just the ridiculously easy 1990s game show, but the actual process of lingo.

Allow me to explain.

Last night was the APO Q & A for the new semester’s incoming potentials, and I was there. The lingo was flying all over the place; buzzwords that you just have to know, to know. You know, like nationals, fellowships, toast song, all those things. There’s something about using lingo that makes me feel like an insider, like I know stuff, like I belonged.

This afternoon, I was talking with Syl on Facebook, and I was all ATHE lingo: AAP, pre-con, all those things that bring me good memories but mystify outsiders.

Ya dig?

I dig.

4

Oh Say, Can You NVC?

Just realized that it has been five days since I’ve posted anything, and I’m already halfway through Leg 2 of my Summer Odyssey…well, completely through with the first part of this leg, but I guess I was just too busy having fun.

Anyway.

I’m posting this from my parents’ kitchen in Baltimore, Maryland, also the location of APO NVC 2015 (Baltimore, not my parents’ kitchen – we’d have to move the potted plants around a bit) facing two days of mostly sweet nothing before heading out to Montreal for ATHE.

But first…

Day 4 (July 22): Last full day in Utah (which seems like ages ago already even though it was only Wednesday). We all slept in and enjoyed a pajama breakfast/brunch and a day of general relaxation after two days of strenuous hiking and traveling. I got in some geocaching with Julie and Iris, and then went out for more geocaching, some Starbucks, and some food-shopping with Julie, who prepared a lovely dinner of tuna steaks. It was sad to say goodbye to everyone, but hopefully Julie will rally the troops together to get to next year’s ATHE, which will be in Chicago, a much more feasible road/plane trip. I arrived at the Salt Lake City Airport in plenty of time for my 11:55 PM flight to Philadelphia on US Airways. The last thing I experienced in the Beehive State was one of the loudest cheers I’d ever heard in my entire life for four Mormon missionaries returning from overseas. And…back to the East Coast I go!

Day 5 (July 23), or the 22 hours I had of it since I crossed two time zones, began with a flight to Philadelphia which was actually not as bad as I thought it would be. Probably the worst part was being in a middle seat between a grumpy-looking but silent Hispanic girl and a chatty Mormon guy. The guy was actually pretty nice, and thanks to him, I got to watch the second half of Little Miss Sunshine with my own iPhone as soundtrack; thankfully, I’d seen it before. He also tried to give me his self-recorded album, to which I politely said no thank you, because for some reason it’s a gut reaction when a Mormon offers me a gift. I’m still not entirely convinced it wasn’t actually a Book of Mormon on a CD in a case with his likeness on the cover wearing angel wings. We arrived in Philly about 30 minutes early, making it only about 3 and a half hours of actual flying time, which was much more palatable than last summer’s Phoenix-Charlotte slog.

Even though we got in early, I still hustled over to my next gate. I had to take a bus to the next terminal for that one, which kind of sucked because it took forever to find a place to get coffee and food. Oh, did I mention that they didn’t even give us water on that CROSS-COUNTRY flight? Anyway, next up was my second and final flight of the day, a whopping 20 minute flight to Baltimore. The plane was about the size of my apartment, and I ended up in seat 1C, so I got plenty of legroom but had to gate-check everything. I actually managed to close my eyes for a few moments. This flight seemed longer than the previous one, maybe because I was just so ready to be home.

And then…Baltimore, at 8:30 AM local time, 6:30 AM body clock time. Dad picked me up and took me home, where I laundered what I’d worn since leaving Madison (remember that place?), took an inadvertent several hour nap, and wound up at the hotel just in time to pick up my registration information for APO NVC, aka Alpha Phi Omega National Volunteer Conference, the reason why I came back to Baltimore in the first place.

To get you in the know, APO NVC is an every-other-year summer opportunity for alumni, advisors, and staffers of the fraternity to get together for some brotherly bonding, workshops, seminars, and listening to the national board members make jokes about each other in speeches. Even though I’ve been in the fraternity for 9 years and attended 2 national conventions, this was my first NVC, and hopefully not my last. It’s like a microcosm of Nationals; basically, around 200 people, all college graduates, with interests in helping others and sharing stories of doing so, without any of the drama of college students. I can’t even begin to tell you how many people I had happy reunions with, some of whom I haven’t gotten the chance to catch up with in person since Nationals in Boston in 2008! But that first night, at least, I went to dinner with Kate and my fellow Region IX-ers whom I got to know very well, our region director Ding from Minnesota, and section chair Eden, also from Minnesota. After, I went up for the night to room 732, where I was surprised to have no roommate, and just as I was about to celebrate this fact at 11 PM by taking off my clothes and going to bed, the door clicks and in walks my roommate for the conference: David, all the way from Quincy, Illinois. He had actually come from New York City on the Megabus, though, after visiting friends, so he’d been traveling almost as long as I had. Though initially we were just going to go right to sleep, of course we stayed up talking and getting to know each other until 2 in the morning. We both set alarms but agreed to let the other sleep if the occasion merited it.

Day 6 (July 24): Up and at ’em at about 8 AM. David stayed in the room, but I went downstairs and liberally doused myself in coffee and pastries from the buffet, sitting alongside, Kate, Eden, and Ding. After a fun speed-dating activity, it was time for the first slate of workshops. I am glad that I took tons of notes in my little yellow notebook, because at the moment I’m blanking on details of most of time, but suffice it to say, they were informative. (Side note: I skipped the morning lecture to meet and catch up with a few other people, and had a fantastic lunch with members of Region I). There were five concurrent sessions offered at each time slot, and I’m proud to say that out of the 7 slots, 4 on this day and 3 on the next day, I managed to make it to 6, only skipping one on the 24th because I was engaged in conversation with a fantastic brother from Pennsylvania called Jessica. My three sessions of this day were Essentials of Advising, National Policies and Paperwork (an EXTREMELY informative session led by Ping and mrn, aka Region 1 and Region 10 directors), and after a break, Developing Leaders and Mentoring, a new session led by the conference’s chair.

After that, we were on our own for dinner. I spent a little while catching up with Fulori, who was probably the only person there who I knew from Texas, then went back up to the room. While reorganizing my bag, I decided to call my dad, who suggested that I could come home for dinner via train.

And you know what?

I did.

Once I got down to the lobby, I found out that the airport shuttle at the hotel was free and ran every five minutes, and once at BWI, I could just hop on the Light Rail and be home in under an hour. As I never like to travel alone at APO events, I managed to convince a group of six brothers who were indecisive about where to go to dinner to take the train into Baltimore with me, so we did. It turned out that out of those six, 3 were from Maryland schools (2 from College Park and 1 from Towson) and 1 was a New Yorker working in Baltimore for the summer. The other two came from Virginia and New York; not too far, but they hadn’t been to Baltimore before. I probably made way too many suggestions about what they should do (they wanted to see the Inner Harbor), but I set them loose at University of Baltimore/Mount Royal station, telling them to walk down to Mount Vernon for dinner at XS and hoping they’d make it back to the hotel okay. After a seeming eternity, I got off at Mount Washington station where Dad was waiting for me. We had a quick dinner and then Mom drove me back to the hotel.

Day 7 (July 25 – Wow, this post is getting really long. Halfway done, I promise): Decided to sleep in, since I brought some breakfast from home and I’d had a big day the day before, and it didn’t seem like there was much going on in the morning. In the obverse of yesterday, David got up really early for breakfast. At about 11:30 AM, I got myself together for lunch just as David was returning to the room with a large bag from CVS; poor guy had an ear infection. I headed down to lunch, which was a delicious buffet.

Three afternoon workshops were in store for me: Working Directly with Chapters/What Would You Do? (basically, a worst-case-scenario thing), Recruitment and Retention of Volunteers (something I probably could have skipped in favor of another session), and finally, Dealing with Difficult People (which was led by this incredible, kick-ass, take-no-prisoners presenter who really told it like it was).

In the meantime, I had caught up with Adrienne and David, two of the six brothers whom I’d sent off to Baltimore the night before and had thankfully gotten back. It turns out they didn’t end up taking the newbies to the Harbor, which was probably filled with tourists anyway, they ate at XS and stayed there for two hours, walked back around Mount Vernon to the Light Rail, and went back to the hotel. Their only complaint was that I didn’t join them (aw, shucks) but at least I made great new friends and they had a good time. Oh, and I’m also in debt to Adrienne for saving me by looking up my phone number on Facebook and calling me after I left my credit card at the crappy coffee kiosk in the lobby, so thank you Adrienne!

The final event of the evening was the big dinner banquet, at which I said my goodbyes to everyone until next time. Even though the conference didn’t end until the next day, after having dinner on Friday with my parents, I realized that if I stayed until the next day (the events were only until 11 AM), I’d only have about two and a half days with my family and three short nights in my own bed. It’s always that weird thing, do you leave early on a high note with a lot of goodbyes in a short amount of time, or stay longer, and say an entire cascade of goodbyes over the course of the afternoon? This time I chose the former (and it’s getting super late as I type this, so I’ll be brief) but it was probably one of my favorite APO banquets ever. First, I got mentioned in the speech; the program director picked a person from each of the 11 regions to highlight, and Region IX was me, so that was pretty sweet, and I ended up sitting with Jessica from Pennsylvania on one side, and on the other side, Arturo and Crystal from Puerto Rico who got mentioned for their region’s highlight, so it was definitely a cool kids’ table. And then, wouldn’t you know it but the 2015 Region Cup, having something to do with chapters in good standing, went to…Region IX! I was so proud when Ding went up to accept the trophy. The rest of the evening was a blur of pictures (both Blondie AND Lillian from Region I made sure I was pulled into the giant Region I picture despite not having been in Region I since 2009) and probably the funniest and most poignant Maggie Katz soapbox talk ever. It made me wish I could stay and sing the toast song, but I guess that will have to wait until the next Nationals, which will be in Pittsburgh, PA in December 2016. Mom came and picked me up around 11:00 PM and it was just nice to have a little bit of an extended stay in my own bed.

Day 8 (July 26, finally, as the clock on my computer rolls around to July 27): HOME! I forgot what it was like to be in “home mode,” as I call it; sleeping in and generally being lazy, with my parents close at hand to hug or bug, whichever the case may be. We had brunch at the club, after which Mom swam while I was going to exercise at the gym but took a nap on a comfortable chaise instead, followed by watching a movie and having dinner back at the house. Tomorrow: NOTHING, except for a few errands, and hopefully becoming at peace with my ATHE presentation, and maybe writing a few posts to make up for my near-week of non-posting.

And that brings me to an hour later, still in the kitchen when I could be in bed. Good night everyone!

13

I Won’t Back Down

Sometimes, you have moments where life just stops you in your tracks, and I had one today.

Recently, I’ve been worrying and fretting and just being a fearful, nervous wreck about so much – school, the show, dancing, my self-image – that I just lost sight of reality, the here-and-now. This morning, I got out of bed at 11 AM, finding every excuse I could to not do anything but stay in my warm cocoon of blankets.

When I did get up, I went over to my computer, logged on Facebook, to be met with some unfortunate news; the death of my friend and fraternity brother, Brendan Conway.

I normally don’t give out real first and last names of people in my life here on That’s So Jacob, but I feel like I must salute this friend and gentleman. A strong Irishman from Dorchester, Massachusetts who could drink you under the table, he had beaten cancer once, and we all thought he’d beat it again. I knew he was in trouble, however, when he posted on Facebook a few weeks ago that he was back in the hospital, at Beth Israel Medical Center in Boston, and the doctors were saying “we’re trying to make you as comfortable as possible.” That is never a good sign. And then late last night, it happened; his 32 years on this Earth came to an end. I only hope it was truly peaceful, as peaceful as is humanly possible for an individual with debilitating cancer.

My first instinct was to call Dan. Dan, my grandbig, was Brendan’s big when he pledged APO, and I knew that the two of them were close. After a rapid fire texting session while I was on my way to Modern Indian Theatre class, I told him to call anytime to talk, and he said he would later on tonight. When he called I was in dance class, but as soon as class let out I grabbed my sweatshirt and phone, and we talked for over an hour, mostly about Brendan and all the good times we had with him. It’s always sad when something like this is what makes people crawl out of the woodwork and reconnect with one another, but at least we had plenty of happy memories to laugh about, which made the fact that he is no longer with us seem more palatable, and in a way, almost made it seem like he still was with us. Someone who was as boisterous and opinionated and upfront as Brendan never really dies, I suppose; his body and soul are no longer with us, but his spirit certainly is. He told it like it was, but for a big guy, he had a big heart, a servant’s heart, one that was loyal and true and really cared deeply about his friends, more than he cared about himself.

I talked about one aspect of my undergrad APO experience awhile back, one that was not the most positive memory, but talking with Dan made me realize something about Brendan, about friendship, and about people in general. A lot of the people who gave me a hard time also gave Brendan a hard time, and some of the more “Popular Patty” types in the chapter were less than kind to him because was unique and he did things or said things that were very honest and not always the best choices, and they didn’t even attempt to get close to him or even give him the time of day. For those of us who got to know him – we loved the guy. Honestly. Once you got to know him and understand his sense of humor, he was the perfect big brother/frat bro/drinking buddy who was always up for a party and a beer but was very compassionate, reverent, and gentle in private. For those in the chapter who didn’t get to experience those sides of Brendan, they missed out. And I’m talking about a big time missed opportunity, an opportunity to really get to experience a different kind of friendship. A Brendan Conway doesn’t come along every day. I wouldn’t say that I feel sorry for them, because I don’t, that was their choice. But if anyone asks, they just really missed out, and now his true friends and brothers, like me and Dan, get to laugh and revel in the happy and fond memories while they…well, they don’t.

So they’re really the losers here.

I like that.

But back to Brendan. One of the things I liked about him the most (and I took advantage of the most) was his game face. Being 100% Irish Catholic, he never backed down from a dare. It’s like it was coded in his DNA or something; just a complete inability to say no, no matter how ridiculous. Whenever a bunch of us from the chapter would go out to eat, I would find the grossest sounding item on the menu and dare Brendan to order it. And to my surprise, he always, always did. One time, at Panda East in Amherst, I found “sushi nachos” on the menu. I said the magic words, “I dare you,” and he actually followed through. When the waitress brought over a roll of mushy fish slathered with orange cheese, I couldn’t do anything but laugh and feel sorry for making Brendan order this failed fusion that barely qualified as food. He didn’t have to take the dare, but he’s Brendan, so no harm, no foul, all in good fun. He never backed down from any dare or any challenge in life, and I can say with confidence that he went down fighting with all he had.

This song’s for you, Brendan Conway (6/22/1982 – 3/23/2015).

Miss ya like a brotha.