Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Snow, Please.

Let's see what's been going on around here for the last week...

Carl is in the midst of soldering the big Wisteria shade.  There it is finally, all on the form and ready to go.  Yes, it did take us a year to get to this point, but hey, it's a lotta lamp.  And of course, we don't do any glass work during gardening season, so there's that time delay, too.

Large Wisteria, almost 2000 pieces--and look, there's a seed catalog on the table.  Time to order??

 Last winter we finished the mini Wisteria shade which was a lot less work, but just about as putzy.   This could be called a 'Sunset Wisteria' since I worked orange and yellow background into the design and also added the touches of pink shading at the tips of the clusters.  

Mini Wisteria, 880 pieces

 The large wisteria is done a bit differently, though I did use some pink highlights throughout the shade, but not as predominately.  (At least I think that's what I did.  It's been a year since I selected the glass.)

The very first Tiffany Wisteria reproduction lamp I'd ever seen was at an exhibit in 1979.  Both Carl and I were spellbound and we marveled at how it was built.  

Carl said, "We should learn how to make one like that someday."

I thought he was kidding, but he proved me wrong.  It took us awhile, ok, 35 years,  to get around to making the Wisteria, but we're getting closer.

 I was informed tonight that I will be taking up the soldering chore during the day while Carl is at work.  I'm actually kind of surprised he'd trust me with the job since he's a perfectionist.  I often fall short of the mark and as a consequence, I get discouraged.

He gets all crabby when I say stuff like that. 

"I never said you don't do a good enough job." 

But nonetheless, I worry.  I'll take on the responsibility because I want to help out and because I want to see the lamp done.  You never know how a color layout looks until the shade is finished.  We're running out of winter once again, and it would be awful to have to wait until next winter for the unveiling.

Now, on to the weather.  Last week's skiing misadventure left me with a ruined ski boot.  Because my foot slid sideways in the binding in the sticky snow, the stress caused the sole of the boot to separate from the binding.  I was sad.  Carl thought he might be able to fix the situation but after looking at it, he decided it wasn't worth the bother.  The boot might hold up a little bit longer, but any long trips might find me stranded.  And I don't want to crawl home again.

So, last week Tuesday evening we headed to a local sporting goods store in Green Bay and in twenty minutes we were on our way home with new skis and boots for me.  

There they are, all shiny and pretty.  I wished I could have only replaced my boots, but the bindings have changed over the last fourteen years (imagine that?) and I had to upgrade to new skis, too.  
 The boots are really different.  My old pair had the binding sticking out the front.  The binding on these is just under the toes.  Putting the skis on and taking them off is a breeze, though.  I really like the new system better, simply step in to lock the skis in and push the button on the top of the binding to release. 

Ski pole with carbide tip and snow boot attachment compared to the walking boot for dry pavement

One thing we didn't have to buy was new ski poles.  I use the same ones I bought last year for Nordic walking, my Exerstrider poles.  We have three pairs of these poles now, one for me, one for Carl and one we were going to give away for Christmas until I realized I wanted a spare pair around just in case.  Those poles are the best Christmas present I almost gave away ever.

 The pink pair on the left have a button that pops in place in the shaft of the pole for height adjustment.  The blue pair on the right has a twist and lock mechanism.  For skiing, I've found the button-type is superior as it doesn't retract when I lose my balance and jam all my weight on the pole. 

  I was so excited to try my new skis out last Tuesday night.  By the time we had finished the supper dishes, it was nearly 9PM and though he was reluctant, Carl went with me.  Our friends had driven their snowmobiles around the farm and made some wonderful trails in the deep powder earlier in the day, so we were all set.  After 45 minutes of skiing on the snowmobile trails, we came in around 10:15 PM.  I propped the new skis up in the dining room and looked forward to the next day.

Well, last week Wednesday was a whole different story.  We had a short-lived bout of warmer weather which brought in sleet, small hail and of all things, a series of thunderstorms and rain.   

Joel was home for a visit late in the afternoon and said, "Did you see that flash? Was that lightning?"

I had my head down near the floor while I was tying my ski boots, so I hadn't seen any lightning.  I told the guys I was going to go out for a quick trip around the farm and I'd be back shortly. 

Little did I know how short my trip was going to be; I was even with the Quarry when suddenly the sky was illuminated by a large zigzag bolt of lightning followed by a crash of thunder.  And there I am, standing on snow with aluminum poles in my hands.  Oh, my, that got the adrenaline flowing.  

I skied back to the house as fast as I could and was just in time.  As I stepped out of the bindings, the sky opened up and it started to rain and sleet.  The winds increased and Willie the Willow was throwing small branches everywhere.  Lightning, thunder, hail, sleet, rain, high winds...well.....

So much for skiing. 

The rest of the night was stormy, and then the temperatures dropped.  Luckily, the rain turned to sleet before the trees were weighed down with ice so we were spared any power outages.  Road conditions were dicey, but we're used to that.

 Ever since last week Wednesday we've had constant wind in the 20mph range with windchills to -25 degrees Fahrenheit.  Tonight the temps are supposed to dip down to -6 and the winds are supposed to increase to 29 mph.  

I've gone skiing every day, but my trails are a total disaster now.  The snowmobile tracks are glazed over with a half-inch thick coating of ice and they are treacherous and bumpy.  Any downhill grade becomes a hair-raising attempt to remain upright because I can't pizza or french-fry to slow down on the narrow snowmobile track. 

 I have had to make new trails again which come with their own set of problems.  Though the deep snow did settle a little during the short spell of warmer weather, it didn't settle much.  Once I break through the ice crust, I still find myself knee deep in powdery snow, but with the added issue of the icy crust rubbing on the sides of my feet and legs.  The ski poles break through the crust as I plunge them into the snow, but then as I move forward, I often find one pole or the other is stuck in the snowbank, which brings me to a sudden halt.

I know, are we having fun yet? 

Mom's yard earlier this winter
Yes, I am.  I skied up to Mom's yesterday to bring her mail in.  Her driveway and ours have both melted and refroze into ice skating rinks.  Carl had saved out a five gallon pail of gravel last fall, and we've put it down on the ice to help prevent a fall.  I am notorious for falling....remember what I did to my poor pedometer one year ago?

I fell on my right side in our driveway last January and destroyed my faithful walking companion who took the brunt of the impact.  I even bent the battery.  Years before, in late April, I slipped and fell on the last remaining patch of ice in our garden and broke my wrist. When I fall, I don't mess around.  

And I surely don't want Mom to imitate me.  She wears her ice-cleats and carries a broom with her whenever she goes outside, but ice is sneaky and waits for you to drop your guard.  When you least expect it, Boom, you're down.  I've tried to learn to go with the flow and not stick an arm out to catch myself.  That's why my pedometer was squished to death, but at least I didn't break any more bones.  Yet.

I think the weather man said we've had 45 days below zero so far this winter.  If we keep this up, we'll break or at least match a record.  Our normal high for late February is nearing 30 degrees, but today we only hit a high of 9.  

Skiing into the 20 mph west wind today was brutal; I had to stop several times on the way to Mom's and turn out of the wind for awhile.  My fingers were getting cold, but my face was starting to ache worse than anything else.  Though the temperatures are very low, the sun is much stronger now and quite warm, so in sheltered areas, this weather isn't bad at all.  Spring isn't far off, but it sure feels that way.

We're supposed to get some snow overnight and a little more possibly on Friday.  Our temperatures are going to stay frigid though, but if we do get the snowfall, I'll be happy, especially if there is enough to cover up the ice.  

 This is the latest the snowmobile trails have been open in this area in years.  Normally by now we would have had a few thaws and the trails would be closed due to poor conditions.

With any luck we'll get the fresh snow and my fun will continue.
I've gotta enjoy the time I have left.  

Though I'm probably the only person left in the state of Wisconsin to feel this way, I have one request. 

Snow, please.

Sunday, February 23, 2014


Right now the back yard is covered in drifts of snow. 

 In September, the yard was covered in drifts of another kind.  Supertunia Vista Bubblegum abounded.

  It's high time I start thinking of what I'm planting for this summer.  I haven't ordered any seeds yet.  The glossy seed catalogs are sitting in the bathroom drawer (oh my, there I go again, telling our secrets) but I'm still debating.  I do page through them on a daily basis while I'm tending to, er, business.

 Last spring I started around 2000 seeds of various types.  2013 was the first year I decided to plant the Bubblegum petunias as bedding plants.  I wasn't sure how they would perform, so I planted a staggered row of salvia 'Victoria' down the middle along with a secondary row of 'Inca' marigolds.

All of the flower pictures were taken September 14, 2013, which is fairly late in the season, and yet the petunias look fresh as ever. 

 I learned a lesson here.  The Bubblegum petunias are more than capable of filling up any garden space with abundant bloom.  The other annuals were swallowed up.  If I go with the Vista series again this year, it will save me from having to plant so many other varieties of annuals, since one plant covers a lot of ground beautifully.

 By mid-September our days are growing shorter, we have more rain and the nighttime temperatures drop off considerably.  The petunias looked great right up until hard frost.

I suppose I overuse them, but it is very hard to resist such an easy care, rewarding plant.

I had them in the planters out by the road.

Mixed in with Profusion Zinnias in the front bed.

Ok, so I got carried away.

I haven't seen them in person, but I have heard there are other colors in the Vista series; Fuschia, Bordeaux, and Silverberry, to name a few.  I'm going to check with my friend and nursery owner, Brenda, to see which ones she recommends.

I look forward to drifts of another color in the next few months.

These are getting old.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Fat Talk:The End, I Hope

Dad and me on our way out to green chop 1973

 Most of you know the Rest of the Story.  I grew up, got married to Carl, and we built a house here on the farm.
First new car, 1976
Dig those plaid seats, our wedding day, 1978

 Why did I go off on this tangent about fat?  Because of my latest doctor's visit a week ago and the lunch date with my skinny girlfriends. 

Being the biggest girl in the crowd isn't pleasant, even though my friends don't say mean things to my face.  It bothered me a lot when I was in high school, though I think much of my weight obsession then had to do with the taunting I'd had at home.  Like an anorexic, I saw myself as an immensely obese person even though in reality, I was average. I never developed an eating disorder, though.  I didn't have enough willpower to become anorexic. 
Me sitting on the power box in my early 20's..   Willie the Willow is just a twig over my shoulder.

As the years went by, my weight increased slowly but surely.  I hit 200 for the first time when I was pregnant with Joel in 1986.  My weight bounced around from 200, give or take twenty pounds depending on the season, for years.

In my early 40's
 I had my battles with severe depression and fatigue which were found to be caused by my hypothyroidism, finally diagnosed when I was 32. 

2004 almost 50.
I was put on a lot of antidepressants back in those days, and sadly, my thyroid condition was mismanaged until this past summer.  High blood pressure meds, beta blockers, and, for a very short time, a statin, were prescribed.  I dropped the statin after the first month, the muscle pain was too much.  And of course, menopause arrived and along with the sluggish thyroid, so did the weight.  I dropped the antidepressants, too.   Some of them upped my weight substantially.

2011, 52 years old.  And tired.
There I was in 2011 at 240-something pounds, my highest weight ever.  Though I've since lost 40 of those something-pounds, I haven't had a posed picture taken since.  This one almost did me in.  (It has taken me forever to find the pictures for this post, like my mother,  I am horribly camera-shy.)
Summer 2013, 55 years old, playing with my new Stihl weed whacker.
I found the weed whacker picture above (Joel must have taken this out his car window) and yes, this is after losing 40 pounds.  I know, it's sad.   I do wear some really appealing outfits to garden in, don't I?  Gotta love the knee pads and the pants tucked into my socks. 

I did take a 'selfie' awhile back, who'd think I'd be silly enough to take one of those?  But since I joined the weight loss forums two years ago, I was told taking progress pics was very important to use for motivation.  As of yet, I haven't felt very motivated...
Almost 56, still 202 pounds, give or take.  I'll give them if someone wants them.

After I realized I had a major problem on New Year's Eve 2011, I began trolling the web for all things fitness-y.     I still sit down at night and type in my search terms and before I know it, an hour or four has passed while I've been totally engrossed in fascinating, often contradicting results of the health, diet and exercise worlds.   Which, ironically, is bad for my health, since I'm supposed to be sleeping.

Needless to say, many of those late-night searches have netted me some wildly varying advice.  For anyone needing to lose weight (me) just looking for advice on what to do and how to start can be mind-boggling.  For instance, a mere two years ago, I never knew there were so many ways to eat. There's clean, low-carb,no-carb, high protein, raw, Atkins, Ornish, Pollan, Paleo, gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, fat-free, no HFCS/MSG, whole foods; have I missed anything? 

 Of course I have. There's more diets out there than I can shake a stick at.  (And by the way, searching for the origin of the aforementioned term, 'shake a stick at' also yields confusing results.  No one seems to know why a stick is involved and why shaking is necessary or effective for weight loss.)

For every diet guru out there telling you their way is best, there are two more extolling the virtues of their plan and condemning the rest.  Here, in no particular order, is the gist of what I've been reading for the last few years:

Always eat breakfast.  No need to eat breakfast if you're not hungry.  Eat six small meals a day.  Never eat after 6PM.  Eat anytime, it doesn't matter. Never eat bananas.  Eat bananas.  Take vitamin supplements.  Don't take vitamin supplements.  Eat low-fat.  Eat full fat.  Eat eggs.  Eat egg whites, throw out the yolks.  Sugar is evil.  Sugar isn't all bad.  Fat is evil.  Fat is necessary.  Wheat is evil.  Wheat is great. Eat like a caveman.  Eat like a cow.  Don't eat cows. 

And that's just a partial list of the contradictory mishmash of diet information I'm sure you've all heard at one time or another.  I lost the first forty pounds by mid-2012, but ever since then, I've plateaued.  I take comfort in the fact I haven't regained anything, anyway.

Do I eat perfectly?  No.  I do weigh, measure and count all of my calories, though.  Yeah, I'm one of Those People, great fun to be around.   I haven't committed to one diet or another, it's still everything in moderation for the most part.  In January I joined a new calorie-counting website, Eat More To Weigh Less, and was surprised to see I may well be under eating quite a bit.  I set my activity level to 'sedentary' and once my exercise calories were accounted for I found I haven't been eating enough to be netting my base metabolic rate.  I don't believe I'm in 'starvation mode' because I still have a lot of weight to lose, but since I've raised my calories and probably more importantly, kept an eye on my macronutrients, the scale has started to lean to the left again.  Not much, and could be water weight, but it is promising.  I'm going to give this approach a month or three and see what happens. 

As for exercise, well, Leslie or some of my other video exercise gurus and I walk around for an hour a day, and then there's the skiing at least an hour or more, and weight lifting two to three times a week.  I have no problem with exercise, in fact, if weight loss were all about exercise, I'd be Twiggy by now.    I still wear my pedometer and do my best to walk around 11,000 to 12,000+ steps a day. 

So, that's the gist of it.  There's another fifty to go to get to 150, though the doctor said 165-170 wouldn't be too bad, either.  As far as the exercises go, strength training is, I believe, key to me getting leaner.  For almost ten months I have had to cut way back on the heavy lifting.  When my thyroid medication was messed up, I couldn't recover from the DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) for days.  My entire body was extremely sore, even my hair hurt.  I started back on the weights slowly as of the first of February, and so far, so good.  I went way down in the weight in all the exercises because I'm going to have to build back up to the heavier lifts. 

Why didn't I ever join gym, you may ask?   I have several friends who did, and one friend who lost an amazing amount of weight, going down to a Size 4/6 with the aid of a personal trainer and an exercise regimen of 4 1/2 hours a day while working a full-time job.  That's dedication.  

I don't have that much dedication.  Or money. 

Back in 2004, the movie 'Dodgeball' came out.  If you aren't familiar with the film, I'm not surprised. It was very silly.  The storyline was about the rivalry between two gym owners, White Goodman of Globo Gym and Peter LaFleur, owner of Average Joe's. 

White Goodman's Globo Gym was very prestigious and White was despicable, a character you love to hate.

Here's a few lines from the movie that never fail to amuse me and pretty much summed up my feelings as pertains to gyms in general:

"Here at Globo Gym, we're better than you. And we know it."

"At Globo Gym we understand that "ugliness" and "fatness" are genetic disorders, much like baldness or necrophilia, and it's only your fault if you don't hate yourself enough to do something about it."

That last line gets me every time, 'It's only your fault if you don't hate yourself enough to do something about it.'   

There you have it, blame, shame and guilt.  The top three reasons I've felt like a loser all my life.

  This is the part of the post where I'm supposed to crow, "But I'm not a Loser any more, no sirree!  I am not going to quit until I hit Size-Onderland!"

Ah, no, that's not me.  I'm not a cheerleader-y type. 

 I do admire people who have lost weight and changed their lives for the better, but I have one request for a few of them. 

Stop rubbing my face in it.  Yes, you did it, and I know, if you did it, anyone can do it.  I heard you the first time.  And the thirtieth. 

"Obsessed is just a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated."

I read the above quote on an exercise forum when I first started this weight loss journey. (I'm not sure why it is referred to as a journey, since there really is no end to this lifestyle change.  Ack.  Lifestyle change; that sounds scary, too.)  

My first thought was, "Well, now, that's kinda harsh."  I don't think I'd label folks who aren't crazy about excessive exercise as 'lazy'.  If fitness is our goal, why the hate?

I have never watched the Biggest Loser (bad name, in my opinion) because I don't believe in the ridiculous diet and exercise regimens.  I can't stand to see people hollered at and made to work out until they are physically ill.  I know it's TV, but it's painful for me to watch.

How is watching people be tortured into weight loss supposed to be 'inspiring'?  I guess it hits too close to my childhood, I don't believe shame should be part of the equation.  I've looked at the 'Where are they now?' sites for some of the past winners and many of them haven't kept it off.  Maintaining a massive weight loss is very difficult. 

Anyway, to get back to the reason for these posts on fat talk; when I went to see my doctor last week, I started to ask him about my recent discovery of possibly undereating my metabolism and whether he had any opinion on whether too low of calorie intake may have slowed down my weight loss progress.  (I should add, this doctor hasn't been harping on me about my weight and he has every intention of getting my thyroid running optimally.  I've had another slight raise in dose again, and we'll see if that helps any.) 

But before I could finish my question on not enough calories and metabolism, he said, "You could go on the HCG diet.  It consists of injections of HCG (human chorionic gonadatropin, derived from the placenta of pregnant women) for forty days, during which you only consume 500 calories.  The hormone tricks your body into burning fat and not muscle and also curbs your appetite, so you don't suffer hunger pangs. Most patients lose one half to one pound a day.  In 40 days, you could be 40 pounds lighter.  You can repeat the cycles up to four times if you don't have good results at first." 

I sat there on the couch with Carl next to me, and stared at him.  To be fair to the doctor, he wasn't insisting I go on the diet, but he was offering me the option.  Let's see, if I went four rounds with this diet, I would lose 160 pounds....hmmmmm....202 - 160 = 42.  Wow. I'd be thin then.  

I told him my reason for wanting to lose weight wasn't entirely due to vanity, though, yeah, it plays a part.  

"Certainly, I understand.  It's your health.  Being fifty pounds overweight is like carrying two twenty-five pound dumbbells on the end of your arms all day long.  It is very hard on your joints.  The HCG diet would give you the boost you need to succeed.  You don't have to make any decisions on that today, but just think about it, ok?  It's an option."

You all know what I did, I went back to the internet, researching HCG.  Before I even did any research though, I knew it wasn't for me.  I'm disturbed by the thought of injecting myself with hormones and going down to 500 calories a day.  Some reports stated that control groups given either HCG or saltwater injections and put on the restricted calorie diet lost the same amount of weight.  Placebo effect?  I have no idea.  

But 500 calories a day is far below my BMR of 1600, so I guess he answered my question in a roundabout way.  Increasing my calories shouldn't work in this scenario, but time will tell.   

I had a good time with my friends at lunch the other day, but I'm still the Big Girl.  In my heart, I know I'm healthier, stronger and better now than I've been in years, but my Size 14/16 self-esteem falters when I'm surrounded by Size 2/4's.  Especially when it's time to order lunch.  They all know I've been working on this weight loss thing, which doesn't make it easier on me.  I have to order the 'right' thing so I won't look gluttonous. 

 Going out to eat since I've become calorie-conscious is always a challenge; we don't do it very often because restaurant food can be tricky.  I ordered a cup of soup and a small barbecue beef sandwich that I guesstimated to be within my calorie goals.  At home I usually have a large vegetable salad and a piece of fruit along with whatever I choose for a meal, but there wasn't an option at the restaurant.    I ate my sandwich and soup far too quickly and was slightly hungry when I was done eating.   One of the girls asked for a carton to take her uneaten stir-fry home. 

The talk was mostly about weight loss and exercise for awhile, and I felt silly chiming in.  Yes, I had skied over to Gloria's that morning and tossed weights around, but looking at me compared to them, well, it doesn't show much.  I'm not even close to my goal weight which if I ever reach it,  is still at least thirty pounds heavier than my friends.  

But I have to remember something: 

Comparison is the Thief of Joy.

I have no business comparing myself to them, just as they have no business comparing themselves to me.  

I dislike hearing rude comments about people who are overweight.  Ironically, some of the worst 'fat haters' I know personally are people who have lost the most weight.  Sort of like how some folks who quit smoking sometimes become the biggest critics of those still addicted, it's a strange, sad turn of events.  

I can't understand how newly thin people can be so disparaging and nasty.  Where is their compassion?  After all, they know the struggle to 'get skinny'.  I suspect the vitriol comes from a deep-seated fear that one day they might slip and regain the weight, or maybe it's simply because they are starving themselves and their blood sugar is low.  

I will admit, I enjoyed life a lot more two years ago.  I know it wasn't healthy, but being able to eat what I wanted was freeing.  Chocolate chip cookies?  Sure, pass me a half dozen.  Damn, they were good.  

  Fat discrimination is still flourishing and obese people are easily stereotyped as lazy losers who don't care about their health.  And I'm to blame, too, since I Fat Talk about myself all the time.  I don't need to put myself down, there's plenty of folks waiting in line for the chance.  Time for a change. 

Years ago, I came across this video from 2008.  I think it's fantastic.

I overheard a conversation the other day in the grocery store.  Two skinny women were dissing a 'fat lady' while they waited in line. The poor 'fat lady' was being character-assassinated right in front of me. 

 "She's sooooo lazy, we call her Thunderbutt behind her back.  You should SEE the clothes she wears to work!  She has a plumber's crack showing all the time.  It's disgusting.  She says she's dieting, yeah, right, I saw her eat a candy bar the other day.  And her kids are fat, too.  Her idea of exercise is shoveling the food with her hand to her mouth."

 Did I say anything to stop this tirade?  No, because technically, I shouldn't have been listening.  And because I am a coward.  But I felt so bad for the 'fat lady', whoever she was.  Who knows, maybe they were talking about me, stranger things have happened.

I can't change other people, Heaven knows that's the truth.  I'm having a hard time changing myself.  Rebuilding self-esteem is the hardest thing I've had to face and I fail at it miserably many times.

My poor father, this series of posts did not honor his memory.  I am ashamed, he did the best he could with the tools he'd been given.  I remember him telling me his father had literally nailed his pet dog  to the barn door alive because somehow the dog had made him angry.  This happened over 90 years ago, and it still tears at my heart.  His childhood never existed, he was born into a house of horrors.  

Compared to what he endured and survived, my experience was a walk in the park.  I forgave Dad years ago, long before he passed away in 2001.  

But the effects of mental abuse still linger, and probably always will. 

There is an article written by Andrew Vachss: You Carry the Cure In Your Own Heart which was originally printed in Parade magazine in 1994.  I still have the yellowed, dog-eared copy in my hope chest.  (Yes, I still have hopes.)

Here is the excerpt that I cherish:
 " Adult survivors of emotional child abuse have only two life-choices: learn to self-reference or remain a victim. When your self-concept has been shredded, when you have been deeply injured and made to feel the injury was all your fault, when you look for approval to those who can not or will not provide it—you play the role assigned to you by your abusers. 

It's time to stop playing that role, time to write your own script. Victims of emotional abuse carry the cure in their own hearts and souls. Salvation means learning self-respect, earning the respect of others and making that respect the absolutely irreducible minimum requirement for all intimate relationships. For the emotionally abused child, healing does come down to "forgiveness"—forgiveness of yourself.

How you forgive yourself is as individual as you are. But knowing you deserve to be loved and respected and empowering yourself with a commitment to try is more than half the battle. Much more.
And it is never too soon—or too late—to start."

I wish my father would have had the opportunity.  

May he Rest in Peace.


Friday, February 21, 2014

Fat Talk: Part 2

 I realize this is a long-winded diatribe, and again, I'm not blaming anyone for my present circumstances.  I am an adult and if I point a finger, there are four pointed right back at me.  Why I feel the need to write about all of this long-ago, far-away stuff,  I'm not sure, but by the time this series is over, I think it will make more sense.  Especially to me.  Hindsight is always 20/20.

I don't know what set him off.  Something. It was always something, and it didn't have to be a big something either.  He was grousing about the government, the powers that be, the weather, or some other thing which was not in his power to change.   He had just finished whacking a cow with his stool for daring to take a leak while he was trying to put a milker on her.  I thought his rage was spent on that activity, but I was wrong.  Right back to the grousing about the unchangeable, unfixable stuff in his life.

And then it happened.

I sighed.

" I BOTHERING you??!" came the dangerously quiet question.

"N...n...n..o...o...o," I stammered.  I was emptying a milk pail for him at the time into the tote bucket we had parked in the alley on a cart.

"Well, if you are 'bothered' by something I said, why don't you just get the hell out of my sight?  You heard me, GET OUT."  This was delivered in a distinctly menacing tone, enough to make the hair stand up on the back of my neck.  I knew what he was capable of.

I held the milk pail aloft to hand it back to him but he ignored my gesture completely.  He shut down immediately, I was dead to him.  Oh, how I hated this.  He was officially not speaking to me now, and this would go on for days, indeed, even weeks, before he would thaw.

All because I sighed.

Why did I do it?  I berated myself, oh, how stupid could I be?  Didn't I know any better than this?  What was I thinking?  It was simply the innocent reaction to holding my breath for so long while he was beating the poor cow coupled with the hope he would now be over his anger that did me in.  I sighed because I thought it was over, but it was only just beginning.

Tears welled up in my eyes, traitorous things.  Nothing would set him off more than tears.  I tried to blink them away and stood there, looking down at the barn alley, willing myself to stop crying.

"Are you hard of hearing, too, or just plain dumb?  I said Get OUT!"

I blindly set the pail I was holding down on the cart and left then;  my feet barely touching the limed alley as I made my exit from the barn and his presence. My mother was milking a cow of her own on the other side of the alley and made no comment.  I knew there would be no word from her, she was as powerless as I was.  She knew it wouldn't pay to get in the middle of it.  There was no winning with him.  He was raging on about my disrespectful attitude now; well, at least I had given him something closer to home to holler about.  And there was definitely something he could do about me, so now he had a mission.

I pushed open the door of the feed room and found myself out in the November night gasping for air as the sobs I had fought finally found release.  I found I'd been holding my breath as well as my tears for fear I'd say something else that would make it even worse.  I made sure to distance myself from the barn in case he'd catch me crying, but then thought the better of it.  He'd never look for me now so it didn't matter. There would be no more conversation between us for at least a week or two.  He had the Silent Treatment down to a science.  And I was his unwitting victim.

Not that we really ever had any conversations.  Mostly it was one-sided dialogues just like the one that had gotten me in so much trouble had been.  Him ranting about some perceived injustice, real or imagined, and me nodding in all the right places, strenuously agreeing, even when I didn't.  I often thought I was the model for those bobble-headed statues you sometimes see; my head was always either nodding up and down or to and fro, depending on the topic and his mood.

He loved to rag on my mother.  I don't know why.  Talk about setting a kid up to be two-faced.  He was always talking behind her back, she was lazy, she was slow, she was this, she was that.  She was such a big disappointment to him.  And so was my brother, thirteen years older than me who had left home when I was seven to enlist in the Viet Nam War.    We all let him down over and over again.  More than once he had grumbled, "All I have is two G-d women to work with."  Yes, all the neighbors had sons and more sons to help them farm, but all Dad had was Mom and me since my brother had left.    Two G-D women.  Yup, that was all.

Feeling ever more sorry for myself, I started to walk slowly down the frozen gravel driveway toward the house.  But then I stopped.  He had told me to get out.  Did that mean I was no longer welcome in the house, either?  I wasn't sure what to do.  My parents were still out in the barn and would be for another hour at least, but they would be coming in when chores were done.  And if I was in the house, would he order me out of there, too?   Somehow, I just couldn't bear the thought; so I headed off to the peace and relative serenity of the farm fields.

I walked along the frozen mud lane, finding immediate comfort in the darkness.  I was a failure in so many ways, apparently fatally flawed for life.  We had a rock pile up along our fence line about a quarter mile from home, the same one we still have today, and I went up there and sat down with a yet another big sigh.  I wasn't crying any more, but I was forlorn.  I could see the barn lights from my perch, and I knew Mom's work load would be doubled due to my insurrection.  She would have to take on my work, too, and she'd already put in a long, hard day.

I had a pile of homework to do yet.  Back in the day I was a fairly good student, but in fact, I could have done much better had I tried harder.  I made the honor roll most of the time, even high honors, but found myself being disliked by other kids when my grades were too good, so I dumbed things down considerably. Better to be average and liked then too smart and annoying.  Just like at home, my goal in life was to please people and blend into the woodwork.

I sat on the rock pile for a few hours until I could no longer feel my feet or hands.  It was a very cold night.  Every now and then something would rustle in the nearby woods.  Though I wasn't afraid of much of anything in the dark, unless it was on two legs, I was seriously starting to wonder where my living arrangements were going to be from now on.  I hadn't run away from home, I'd been banished.

Sigh.  There, I did it again.....why did I sigh all the time?

Finally I gave up and walked back home.  I stood outside the house for some time, observing my parents through the window.  My father was seated at the kitchen table, reading the newspaper and smoking his evening cigarette.  Mom was washing the supper dishes.  Dad spent a lot of time at the local bars which I didn't see as a problem, since it made him easier to live with.  I was hoping he would have left that night to go out, but of course, he didn't.  He was parked at the table and somehow or other, I had to get by him.

Mom and I often milked cows alone at night, and even though it was a hard work, we both preferred it that way.  We worked well together and life was much more pleasant.  I'd turn on the radio to my favorite rock station which Mom tolerated, and we would chat as we did the chores.  I could talk about my day at school and how I felt about things without being called a 'Chatty Kathy'.

Dad didn't want to hear any talk that didn't interest him.  When I was in the sixth grade, we were in a bus accident on the way home from school.  The brakes on our bus went out; I had noticed as we were leaving the parking lot that the driver seemed to be having problems slowing down and was pumping the brakes frantically and talking to himself.  This was his first day on the route, and he was very nervous.  I noticed a person's demeanor much more than most kids my age because being aware of my surroundings at all times was imperative for survival.

While the other kids on the bus were goofing around and talking, I realized we were in big trouble.   We were headed down the highway at about 35 mph when the bus in front of us put his red flashers on to make a stop.  Our rookie bus driver went for the brake pedal, but there was nothing there.  He pumped it once, twice, three times.  Still nothing, his foot went right to the floor.  I saw him go for the clutch and braced myself for the abrupt downshift to first gear.  He yelled, "Hang on!" as kids flew forward from the loss of momentum.

The bus in front of us was stopped on the highway, letting kids off.  The children in the backseat were staring backward at our bus, flipping us off and cutting up, acting tough.  All of a sudden their expressions of taunting changed to terror as they realized we weren't stopping.  We plowed right into them going approximately 25 mph.

It was a nightmare and yes, it all happened so fast.  Kids went flying past me, some hit their heads on the metal bars on the back of the seats and bit through their lips, some were rolling on the floor in pain, it was a mess.  Since I had braced myself, I wasn't hurt too badly, but my left leg had been jammed under the steel seat with considerable force.  It wasn't broken, but it was swelling.  Luckily no one was killed.  The kids in the back seat of the bus in front of us had some broken bones.  An ambulance was dispatched and a cop showed up.  Eventually two more buses were brought out about an hour later to haul the not-so-terribly injured and I finally arrived home at 6PM, limping up the driveway.

Dad happened to be home that day.  They were seated at the supper table when I came in.  I thought it might be ok to share my adventure with Mom and Dad since this wasn't some stupid story about playing kickball at recess.  I mean, heck, I was involved in an accident!  This should be something I could tell him about, right?


"That's why you're home so late?  Why did the driver keep going if he knew the brakes were out?  Sounds pretty stupid to me.  I've heard enough, I don't have time to sit and listen to you complain all day.   It's time to do chores."

He left for the barn.  End of  discussion.  Of course, I talked to Mom about it when he left the house, and she looked at my swollen leg with concern.  I changed my clothes and went out to the barn.  So much for my exciting experience.

Life went on like this for years, living with alternating sarcasm, silence, violence, and at times, praise.  Sometimes he seemed genuinely proud of me, and those times I cherished.  I was never sure what foot I was on, it was all so confusing.

 Until one night, when something changed in me.

  I had always helped my father chop hay for the cows at night with a machine called a green chopper.  My job would be to open the cow yard gate for him; a big, wooden structure and quite heavy, while he drove the tractor through to pick up the bunk feeder.  As the tractor went through, I would shut the long gate again to keep the cows from escaping and then run to the wagon to lift up the tongue and put the pin in place securing the wagon to the tractor.  Then I would run to the gate one more time, open it, wait for the tractor and wagon to pass by, and shut the gate one more time.  In this way, I saved my father having to climb off the tractor a half dozen times.  Usually he'd wait for me to hop on the tractor with him and we would proceed to the field where I would pull the pin releasing the wagon from the tractor for him.  Then he would back the tractor up to the green chopper and I would once again put another pin in to join the two together.  He stayed on the tractor while I hooked up the PTO shaft and lowered the jack that held the chopper up when it wasn't attached to the tractor.  After I had the chopper hooked up, he would back up to the wagon and I would once again hold the tongue and put the pin in place.  Now we were ready to chop hay.

As soon as the load was full, all of the above steps were reversed one more time and we came back home with the load of hay in tow.  I didn't mind this routine; in fact I enjoyed all field work of any kind, anything to do with a tractor was a delight for me.  As long as Dad was happy, I was happy.

What I hated about this job was when he waited to chop hay until after dark, after he got home from the tavern.  He didn't want the neighbors to know we were working late at night, so we couldn't use any headlights.  After the dew falls, the hay would be wet and as you may know, mowing your lawn doesn't work too well when it's damp, and neither does chopping hay.  The blower would get plugged up and he'd keep going until the drive belts were smoking before he'd shut down the power.  Then it would take us an hour or more to pull the wet and sloppy chopped hay out of the machine.  Sometimes he'd command me to stick my hand in the blower while the machine was running to clear the chute.  It's amazing I have both my hands yet.  I can still feel the breeze from the steel paddles rushing by.  Just a tad lower and I wouldn't have a hand to worry about.  I was lucky.

As I got older I started to see things in a clearer light.  I knew this routine was ridiculous.  One night he came home from the bar three sheets to the wind and though he wasn't talking to me again, I dutifully went out to help him like I always did, opened the gate, shut the gate, and went to the wagon to hold up the pole.  Instead of backing up slowly as he usually did, he came back at a high rate of speed, and just like those kids on the bus, I realized he wasn't going to stop.  I aimed the wagon pole for the back tire of the tractor and when the two collided, I went flying backward with the wagon, sliding for a good ten feet through cow manure and mud.  Even though it was dark out, I heard him laughing hysterically as I got back on my feet.

I was covered in crap.

And he was laughing.

Something snapped in me.  I walked to the gate, crawled over the fence and kept going.

This was the last time I was going to put myself in danger to help him.  He was on his own that night.

I felt justified being disobedient.  Some time before this, Mom and I had made plans to go to a movie in our little town on a Sunday night.  The movie theater was tiny and it was only showing old films by that time, but there was a 'nature film' Mom wanted to see and she decided we were going to go for a treat.  We milked cows that night as fast as we could, starting early so we'd be on time for the curtain rising.   Mom asked Dad if he wanted to come along, and at first he entertained the thought, but as the days went by he was against it.  Why would we want to see a dumb movie?  But it was in color, and we only had a black and white TV.  How I looked forward to this day.  As chores drew to a close, Dad wasn't speaking to either of us.

Nevertheless. we raced to the house, cleaned up, got in the Buick and headed for town.  The movie was really good, I don't remember much about it, but it was in color and I was with Mom.  The seats were red velvet and so were the curtains.  Everything was was so exotic.    Afterward we stopped at a restaurant for a chocolate malt.  Gosh, that was fun.

Until we got home.

Upon our arrival back at the farm at around 10PM, the house was dark.  And the doors were locked. We only had one house key in those days, in Dad's possession.  His truck was home, so he must be, too.  Now what?  Mom tried knocking on the door, and when that didn't work, she pounded on the kitchen window and then the bedroom window.  No response.  We stood there, looking at each other.  We were being punished for having fun.

Not to be outsmarted, Mom pried open a side window and since 'fat' eleven year old me wasn't all that fat, I squeezed through the tiny opening and opened the door from inside the house.  There.  We'd made it in.  Dad was sitting in the living room in the dark in creepy silence.  I quickly changed into my pajamas and ran upstairs to bed.  I felt guilty, but I didn't know why.

Knocking me down in the cow yard was the last straw.  I finally came to realize my safety, heck, my life and well-being was now in my hands.  I'd grown up enough to know my father wasn't well.  And what was I going to do about it?   I took on the hay chopping and any other chores I could handle by myself.  I was thirteen years old and Mom was terrified.

"I don't know if a girl should be doing this alone," she said from her perch on the tractor fender the first day of my emancipation.  "What if something goes wrong?  I don't want you to get hurt."

"Don't worry, Mom, I'm safer doing this alone than I am working with him," I replied.

Mom went along with me the first time out of parental concern, but she relaxed when she realized I knew what I was doing.

When Dad came home from the bar that night, he told me it was time to chop the hay.

I was washing the udder of a cow when I answered, "It's already done."

"What do you mean, 'it's already done'?  Who did it?"

"I did."

"What did you chop?  Was it hay?  Or did you run into the oats?"

"It was hay."

"I can't wait to see what the field looks like in the morning.  I bet you were all over the place," he taunted.

I said nothing.  The next morning dawned and he didn't say a word about my performance.
I handled the evening green chopping by myself for the next seven years.

But the night he kicked me out of the barn had come long before my Emancipation Proclamation.  I was much younger then, and had no choice but to slink into the house as quietly as possible and see what would happen.  When I got to the top of the kitchen stairs I took a deep breath and quietly walked in.  The newspaper he was sitting behind never moved.  I changed my clothes in the bathroom and went past him up to bed.  I would usually kiss him goodnight on his forehead, but I wasn't going to tempt fate.

Climbing into my bed, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

There I go, again.  Sighing.