Sunday, July 18, 2010


Do you have a treasured childhood memory? One that embodies all that was good about your childhood? What would you give to relive it?

The first seven years of my life were spent on a hog farm in rural Alabama. The farm was my dad's full-time job, and I was lucky enough to spend lots of time with him. There was nothing I loved more than going with Daddy. It didn't matter where we went or what we did; it was all the same to me as long as I was with him.

I have many wonderful memories from those first 7 years. Gathering eggs, mucking stalls, playing in the corn silo, riding on the tractor, going to livestock get the idea. I do have a few dim memories involving my mom and my older sister, Monica, but the technicolor, 3-D memories all involve my dad.

One of my daughter's favorite stories is of the time I went along on a tractor ride with Daddy. It was a little green John Deere tractor, no cab for the driver, open-air all the way. My "seat" was the wheel cover, my handhold Daddy's overall straps. We bounced along the dirt road, around the bend past barn #1 (the "everything else" barn), down the hill past barn #2 (the main pig barn), and up the hill to barn #3 (the other pig barn).

Daddy instructed me to stay on the tractor for a little while, and I only half noticed that he was moving pigs around to different stalls. I was busy pretending to drive the tractor; playing with the stick shift, yanking the steering wheel left and right, making my best tractor engine noise. Of course, Daddy was none too pleased to look up and see the trenches I was digging with the wheels, so he called me to come over and get into one of the now-empty stalls with him.

I was just about to climb over the fence when he realized I'd ruin my shoes. So off those came, and over the fence and into the muck I went with my bare feet.

Have you ever played barefoot in the mud? It feels wonderful. It's slippery and slidey and it squishes just so between your toes.

My 6-year-old logic told me that since pigs love playing in the mud, mud was what was covering the stall floor. I had a blast squishing and sliding and falling down in it. I was really annoyed when Daddy finished cleaning it all away. But all fun must come to an end. Oblivious, I climbed back onto the tractor to head back to the house.

My dad called for my mother to come to the back door. Imagine my surprise when the first thing out of Daddy's mouth was, "You should've seen Marci playing in the pig poop". I was immediately stripped, hosed off, and rushed inside for a scrubbing in the bathtub.

When I was 7 (or 8?) years old, they sold the farm and we moved 30 minutes away. My dad stopped being a farmer and founded a (very successful!) concrete construction company. I never got over it.

After many years, he began acquiring as much of the land surrounding the "new" house as he possibly could, and, several more years later, began rebuilding his farm. Not just pigs this time. He got horses and cows and pigs and chickens and even donkeys and goats for a while. But still, most of his attention was on the construction company. He hired someone to take care of the animals.

Daddy retired last year. He sold his construction company. He takes care of the farm alone now.

I haven't been home for a casual visit in years. I've made quick trips for weddings and funerals, but no "just because" visit. I finally found my excuse this summer. I was laid off on June 30th, and had a job waiting for me on July 1st, but decided to take a 2-week break between jobs. It was the best thing I've done in a long time.

I got up at 4:30 or 5 every morning, had coffee on the deck with my parents and watched the sun rise. My days were full of work - household chores, garden chores, farm chores - and I loved every single moment. I spent a little time with Mother, but I was 7 years old again, trailing after Daddy, pretending to help on the farm. Daddy and I spent hours together picking blueberries, "working" cows, taking a daily 2-mile walk, riding around the farm feeding the animals or just sightseeing.

I have regrets. I wish I didn't live 13 hours away. I wish I'd been able to spend more time with my dad in the last 30 years. But this visit was cathartic. I remember what it is I love so much about Daddy. I released years of resentment, and replaced them with a new treasured memory.

This farm is now on the market. It went up while I was there visiting. If all goes as planned, I will never be able to visit them there again. I'll visit them at a great new farm / ranch in Montana. I'm sad to be saying goodbye to another beloved place, but Daddy will be in Montana, and that's where home will be.

Friday, June 11, 2010

That's Bad! That's Good!

Less than one month after starting my fabulous new job, I realized that I would likely be laid off on June 30th (two months into the job). It's a long, boring, political story that has absolutely nothing to do with my job performance, and so I won't go into it. Suffice it to say that though I wasn't surprised, I was terribly disappointed.

A couple of weeks went by and I started thinking about what it would mean to be laid off in the summer. My husband's a teacher, so he's on vacation. My daughter is, of course, on vacation. This could be really fun! We might not have as much money as we'd like, but we could still do fun stuff together. I signed my daughter up for free bowling and paid the ultra-low price of $24 to add me and my husband to the summer-long plan. We would have lots of time to go bike riding and take picnics at the beach.

Oh! I know! Let's all go spend some time on my parent's farm in Alabama! By this time, I'm getting really excited. I've been wanting to go "home" for a long visit for years now...a visit that wasn't necessitated by a life event like a wedding or a funeral. Just a casual, remember-my-childhood, introduce-my-daughter-to-her-roots visit. (Side note: my husband discovered Pandora, an internet radio station, and I've been basking in the Bluegrass station...Ahhh, home!)

Then reality resurfaced. I really need a job. I love my current job and want to stay there for a nice long time. I kept hearing from my boss that we should hold out hope. That nothing is a done deal, and lots could change in a few weeks. And it was true. The more time that went by, the more it started to seem as if that lay-off date could be postponed.

I was relieved. I was sad. I was (am!) full of mixed emotions. Sigh! I want to keep my job and go visit my folks. But since I haven't been there very long, I couldn't leave for vacation...especially not in the middle of Summer Reading Program.

Not going to Alabama. Can't go. But my Mom called this past weekend to say that we should still send Khalan. That they will use some of their hoard of SkyMiles to fly her there and back. So after some negotiation with K's dad, it was decided she would go for two weeks. Oh, how excited I am! I tell her about all the fun stuff she'll do on the farm: ride the horses, milk the cows, gather the eggs, pick blueberries and blackberries, ride the tractor...the list goes on. I'm ashamed of how jealous I am.

Yesterday I finally talked to my boss's boss. Looks like that June 30th lay-off is going to happen after all.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Something's Different

It's been almost three months. I'm still reluctant to share my secret.

OK, as long as you promise not to judge me, I'll let you in on it. I had Gastric Bypass surgery in January '10. My finger hovers over the backspace key. If everyone knows, they might disdain me for taking the "easy route". If everyone knows and I fail at this weight loss attempt too, the shame will be unbearable. If everyone knows, they might scrutinize my weight even more; they might wonder why I'm not thin yet. After all, it's been three months already.

My dilemma began about 2 years ago. No, that's not true. My first attempt at weight loss began at the tender age of 8. Since then, I have been systematically destroying my body's natural ability to lose weight with my yo-yo dieting. (Aging doesn't really help either, but I don't know that I'm ready to admit that yet.) You know how that is, right? Unless you happen to be one of the...lucky? disciplined? genetically superior?...15% of Americans with "normal" weight.

Anyway, 2 years ago, after suffering through a year of infertility I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, or PCOS. The doc told me that losing weight would improve the condition, but that women with PCOS find it almost impossible to lose weight. (Ha! How's that for advice?) I decided to just try to eat healthy; you know, reduce consumption of processed foods, cut out most meats, drink more water, eat more fruits and veggies, yadda yadda. Surprise! It didn't work.

Then my fertility clinic gave me the fatal blow. They told me they could keep injecting me with hormones indefinitely, but that what would really improve my chances of conception was weight loss. By this time, I was frustrated, ashamed, depressed, angry. I gave up on fertility treatments. My weight kept climbing until I was back to the all-time high I had reached during the all-time low point of my life. The weight I had sworn to myself I would never, ever see again.

Desperate for a solution, I attended an informational seminar on Bariatric Surgery. I think that was an emotional low point for me. It felt like admitting defeat. Like admitting to weakness of character. But I kept remembering my grandmother's eulogy, where the presiding minister mentioned her "obvious love of food". I might be able to avoid that if I get help now.

It's been 11.5 weeks since my surgery. I have a stomach pouch that holds 4 fluid oz. of food at a time, and a shortened small intestine that hinders absorption. I also ended up with an ulcer that severely limits protein intake. If I indulge in my drug of choice, sugar, I become violently ill. I'm still struggling emotionally with the realization that I can't eat "normally". At least once a week I experience intense regret that I made this decision. Easy way out? Not by a long shot.

To date, I've lost 60 of the 100 pounds I needed to lose before surgery. Some people are just starting to notice that something is different about me. I get asked if I did something different with my hair. Sure! I put it on a thinner face.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Book to Make Me Feel Dumb

I was at the library the other day looking for some good reads. The three series I'm reading had to be requested, so I browsed with nothing particular in mind.

What do you look for when you browse books? I think the first thing I look for is a good cover. Horrible, right? "Never judge a book by its cover" and all that jazz. But that's my instinct, so I follow it.

A great thick tome catches my eye. The cover is a dolphin jumping over the eye in the pyramid symbol. OK, good cover, check. Ah, it's a trilogy all bound together: The Illuminatus! Trilogy. I love series! I glance at the review on the cover - "The ultimate conspiracy book...hilariously raunchy...the biggest sci-fi cult novel to come along since Dune." I liked Dune. Well, I liked the TV mini-series, anyway...never read the book(s). I'm not too big on conspiracy, but I like humor and I like raunch (in moderation, who doesn't?). This is it. This is the one.

I got it home and cracked it open with anticipation. It was like jumping into a lunatic's stream of consciousness. I turned back to the front of the book to read more reviews. One said it took 300 pages to begin to enjoy it, another said the reader wouldn't be able to put it down, and even Booklist said it has "all the ingredients". OK, so this was going to be a book to wade through until my powerful intellect could catch up to its smart, important message.

I trudged miserably through 80 pages - 1/10 of the book. I put it down and walked away. My ego made me go back. Surely I could make it through to at least page 301 because that's when it would start to make sense.

I ranted to my husband about the disjointedness of the book. I can't keep characters straight when one sentence is in the "present" and the next is in 1960! And what does the talking dolphin have to do with anything? Anarchists are really right-wing extremists? "Satan" is just one of the masks a being from another dimension wears? Argh!

John is intrigued. But, then again, he is much smarter than I am.

At page 150, I admit defeat. I'm just not smart enough to get a book that "oscillates between a schizoid nightmare and a psychedelic dream"(Booklist). I close the book and stack it with the others to be returned to the library.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The good old ways

I've had lots of quiet time to think since I was laid off 5 weeks ago. I'm bored, my sleep patterns are starting to change, and I watch TV when I should be sleeping. Why even last night, I was awake during the 10 o'clock news! (Yes, I've always preferred mornings.)

A couple of nights ago, after my hubby succumbed to the Sand Man, I lay scrolling through the listing guide trying to find something to watch. It was too late for a movie, and I wanted something that had the potential to lull me, so I quickly passed up all the CSI reruns and movie star bios. John had been watching Monster Quest, so I was distractedly watching the search for Sasquatch as I surfed.

And then I saw it: The Grand Ole Opry sings Gospel. Intrigued, I clicked over and found myself completely enraptured. There was some country music star that I should know but don't, introducing Give Me Jesus. It was the most beautiful rendition of that old country gospel song, without the hated steel guitar or nasal twang. The man simply stood before the microphone and sang to an accompanying master pianist accomplished at emotion-wringing 7th chords. I can't stop hearing it.

I am now quite removed from my childhood religion. I spent many bitter years extracting that dogma from my psyche. But strangely enough, now that I am removed from the religious atmosphere enough to see through it, I miss it. That is, I miss what surrounds that culture. Fellowship, the shared experience of religious ecstasy, the music that convinces the masses to feel the fervor. In other words, it isn't the religiosity that I miss; what I miss is the feeling of community.

Perhaps I feel this way because I live over 700 miles from my childhood home. Perhaps it is my loneliness speaking, this yearning for the familiar. Certainly the weeks of unemployed idleness isn't helping matters, but I am shocked at the longing I felt at hearing that one song. I'm trying to reconcile the years of disdain with this newfound craving. What I wouldn't give to hear a congregation of enthusiastic worshipers singing I'll Fly Away in an emotional frenzy (whether the emotion comes from the words, or merely the beat I won't venture to guess). I think I need more music in my life.