Friday, August 20, 2010

Marcus: One Year Gone

August 19, 2010. The sun was shining, the humidity high, the heat penetrated the growing corn as I laid in bed in Des Moines, Iowa. I woke up at 8:03 and with my head still on the pillow I watched the digital clock as the numbers ticked by until they reached 8:36, which is 6:36 Pacific Time, which is the time that -- one year ago now -- was stamped on Marcus' autopsy report on the line that read "Pronounced Dead." I hate knowing the exact time down to the minute. I hate holding onto the 19th of every month knowing that number will always remind me of losing Marcus. And most of all I hate that Marcus is gone. But sometimes life doesn't give you a choice.I did choose, however, to spend this dark anniversary in a light place. I drove 1,700 miles to Iowa -- where I was born and raised -- to judge pie at the Iowa State Fair, to be surrounded by old friends and familiar scenery, to be soothed by the pastoral landscape and its wide open horizons, to be -- in a word -- home.

My two weeks in Iowa have kept me so busy I barely remember my life in Portland, my grief, my tears, my landmarks (like our house, our favorite French bakery, the hospital...) that constantly made me think of Marcus. My one-year "grace period" of grief is over, which is why I intentionally removed myself, physically, from that place of sadness.One Year. Reaching the one-year mark of Marcus' passing is not like crossing the finish line of a marathon, where all that hard work and strenuous effort is magically, instantly, behind you and you're given a shiny medal and a victory shot of yourself with the time clock in the background. There is no finish line for grief. It's a life-long marathon, the training never ends, and you just continually build up really, really strong muscles over time.

That said, I watched the clock as the numbers clicked toward 9:00 a.m. and knew that even without a medal or a photo I had still accomplished something really big, a kind of race I didn't know I could ever finish, one that at times I wanted to quit. Really quit. (And if you've been reading this blog for the past year, you know what I mean.)

I got out of bed and did something I almost never do -- set foot in a Catholic church. (Remember, I almost got kicked out of Catholic high school. As a compromise they let me graduate a semester early.) But Catholics like candles and seeing as I didn't have room for Marcus' Buddha shrine in my Mini Cooper, I had to go somewhere where I could symbolize my lost love with burning light. The church St. Ambrose Cathedral -- did not disappoint (in this case).I chose the statue of Mary as the shrine because she was holding her baby, which represents the circle of life. People are born, people live, people die, new people are born. We all fit into this cycle. It's just that some, like Marcus, die sooner than we could ever dream. I can only be grateful I had the time with him I did, even if it was cut short. I still miss Marcus, still love him, still grieve him, but have made the choice to keep living, to thrive, and...to eat pie.

Marcus would want me to keep going. And I'm know he would like having candles lit in his honor. Let the light - his light, my light, everyone's light --shine.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Happiness is...the Iowa State Fair

(Photo: Pork Chop On a Stick, an Iowa favorite. Mine too!)

You may have noticed I haven't updated my blog in a week. That's because since the moment I arrived in Iowa last week I've been very busy...eating, at the Iowa State Fair. My days as a pie judge here have been so full I can barely keep track of what happened when. Then I realized I can differentiate my days based on what food I've eaten.

Day One: Corn Dog... and pie
Day Two: Pork Chop on a Stick... and pie
Day Three: Pork Tenderloin... and pie
Day Four: Pie, pie, pie.... and pie

I promise I'll fill you in on the pie judging, but first I want to give you the lay of the land. There is a lot to do at the state fair, besides eat pie and pork products, such as:

See sows nurse their newborn piglets (er, future pork products) at the Animal Learning Center.
Watch chicks hatching from their eggs. They even have little umbilical cords, which was news to me. Yes, this shows my ignorance. And, no, even though I grew up in Iowa I did not live on a farm. Though I would have liked to. Buy a combine. Or, if you're not in the market for a new $250,000 tractor, you can at least learn about what these giant things do from a local farmer. Below is Tim, from Dubuque, Iowa. Go down the Giant Slide. This a state fair institution. For $2.50 you can climb 100 stairs, sit on a burlap sack, and cruise down the slide for a 10-second ride. Make sure you scream loud as the microphones placed at the mid-point project the sounds to the crowds below.Meet a cow. You could be innocently wandering around the fair grounds and run into cow traffic jam. The cows have to move from their barns to the show pavilion for their competitions. (Pie is not the only competitor here!) Accidentally step in some manure? Well, this is Iowa. Get used to it. Ogle over the largest boar. This one below, named Tiny, is actually the second largest, weighing in at 1,166 pounds. I couldn't get good pictures of his neighbor, Big D, who weighs 1,210 pounds. That's a lot of bacon!Pull up a stool at an old fashioned soda fountain. I didn't actually eat ice cream (was saving room for pie), but I had to stop here to meet the man greeting people at the door. He could have been a character from the old Andy Griffith TV series. Besides his friendliness, huge smile and twinkling eyes, I loved that he was wearing dress shoes with his shorts.Have your picture taken with the Iowa Pork Queen. This beauty was keeping watch over the pigs in the Animal Learning Center at the fair.
Stand in line to view the Butter Cow. This is another famous fair tradition. The nearly life-size sculpture uses over 600-pounds of butter. You could make a lot of pie dough from this cow. I'm happy to report they do use the butter afterward. We Iowans are practical people and don't waste much.
Eat something healthy! Yes, you can actually find something that is not fried at the fair! In between the booths for deep fried Twinkies, deep fried Oreos, deep fried Snickers bars (you get the idea), you will find some Iowa-grown melon at Beattie's Melon Patch. Where you will also find deep fried pork tenderloin and French fries on the menu.

I promise I will give a full pie report. But you can also expect to get a wide range of state fair flavor. I love the Iowa State Fair!