Thursday, December 22, 2016

All I want for Christmas... Part 2: BTHR Surgery

It seems that there is an acronym for everything, and so there is for my December 13th bilateral total hip replacement (BTHR) surgery using the anterior approach. The anterior approach is important, because other methods damage a lot more muscle and other surrounding tissue, which makes recovery tougher than it is with the anterior (front) approach. I will stop short of telling you about the materials and machines involved, because it can make my head spin, so probably does not interest others much (except maybe engineer types like my hubby).

After a lot of preparation, I was about to head to the hospital at 5am on Tuesday, December 13th to make the picture on the left look like the one on the right, only I got a bonus prosthetic hip by doing both at once.











Now, make no mistake that this is a major surgery. It is something that many people put off for years, even decades, if they can. But I was ready to get back to a normal life, even if it meant weeks or even months of recovery after a major surgery like this.

My biggest worry before surgery was that they might find a reason to delay. I was told in advance that any kind of infection or fever of 101 or greater would mean that they could not proceed, and I really couldn't comprehend how I could wait longer or go through an additional week without NSAIDs (ibuprofen-type medication) in preparation. For three days leading up to surgery, I had to shower with a special antiseptic wash and use a fresh towel and wash cloth and wear freshly laundered clothes and pajamas each day. So, with a 5:30 a.m. arrival time on Tuesday, December 13th, I was up just after 4am for that one last shower before surgery.

We arrived at the hospital in advance of the first real snowfall of the year, and they called me back for prep at about 6am. Darrell was soon able to come back to join me. I was a nervous wreck, but I typically hide that well, so I suspect I looked calm until they took my blood pressure (reading high). Then, my temperature reading was 100.5 at first, and then the dreaded 101. The nurse was asking me how I felt, and I answered honestly that I didn't feel sick at all, just nervous and worried that they would send me home. At about this time, I even started developing a rash on my stomach and back. I'm convinced it was because of the overwhelming worry that they would delay my surgery, and I knew I would likely have had to wait until at least January if that were the case. The nurse was looking worried, too, but suggested we try an under-tongue thermometer instead of the forehead one. Thankfully, it registered 98.8. Whew!

Since they were operating on both hips, I got IVs in both arms, always a joy since my right arm usually causes more issues when giving blood or inserting IVs. I had to swab the inside of my nostrils with huge Qtip like things with nasty smelling antiseptic on them, also a (not) fun surprise. I was told I would get something in the IV to calm me, have a spinal block for pain, and then something to put me out since most folks don't seem to like being aware of the sound of bones being sawed during the operation. Who couldn't agree with that? I was wheeled off to surgery a little after 7am.

In the surgical room, a few folks were already prepped in what looked like space suits. I'm told joint replacement is one of the most sterile surgeries they ever perform, hence the strange looking outfits. A few nurses and the anesthesiologist looked normal at this point though, and they prepped me quickly for the spinal block. Much like an epidural, which I'd had with the birth of each of my two kids, you sit up and hunch over so they can insert the needle in your spine. The bonus here is there weren't contractions to deal with as there had been with my epidurals, so it was relatively easy. At about the same time, they said they were pushing something into my IV, and the last thing I remember is being helped back down onto the bed.

While I'm sure the surgeon, anesthesiologist, and others in the operating room were quite busy, it seemed to me like I just took a deep 3-hour nap. Sometime soon after 10am, a nurse was talking to me as I was blinking awake. I was told it went well, and then I was in and out of sleep for a while. I honestly can't remember if Darrell met me in the recovery room or up at my hospital room where they took me just a bit later. I think he arrived just after they wheeled me into the hospital room. Through early afternoon, I just remember a jumble of medications and fluids going into my IV, nurses checking my vitals regularly, and Darrell looking still a little worried about me.

Within 4-5 hours after surgery, the physical therapist came by for the first time with the objective of getting me out of bed, into a chair, and if things went well, to the bathroom. Since I felt the urge to go by this point but didn't want a bed pan or who knows what other option, this was kind of a relief and I was determined to make it to the bathroom. I'm happy to report that it wall went well. The nurse was checking my vitals at each step of the way, with the only problem being that just before I got back into bed, my blood pressure dropped pretty low and I felt kind of woozy. However, every time getting back up after this point went well. One good thing about me is that I don't seem to get sick ever on anesthesia. I can't imagine adding that to the mix of recovery just after surgery, so I'm grateful for a strong stomach.

I was at some point told that a few unexpected things came up during surgery. One was that my blood pressure and heart rate dropped enough at some point that they had to give me medication for that, but apparently that sometimes happens in longer intense surgeries like this, so the doctor didn't seem too concerned about this. Another is sort of a good and bad situation. I apparently have very strong, healthy bones. The same running that sped up my hip joint deterioration gave me strong bones that shouldn't break easily. However, that actually makes it tougher to insert the prosthesis into the leg bone. On my right side, the surgeon had to use two screws to help anchor due to this. Again though, he said this shouldn't cause me any added problems down the road. Also, my hemoglobin levels had fallen kind of low during surgery, and were going to have to be checked the next morning to see if I'd need a blood transfusion. And lest I or anyone else think this surgery wasn't yet necessary, my doctor assured us that there was no cartilage left in either hip joint, the balls were completely misshapen, and the hip bones on top were starting to collapse. I'm hoping to see some of this in my X-rays at some point, as I know they took a few just before surgery.

I tend to be a determined, goal oriented person and I hate hospitals. I could go on about how difficult it is to sleep in hospitals and tell you about the lady who decided 5am was a great time to clean up in my room. But if you've ever spent the night in a hospital yourself, you probably already know all of this. If you tell me I might be able to go home the day after surgery, that is exactly what I will be expecting and working toward. The physical therapist came in the morning after surgery, and I did well enough with him to get the green light to get out of bed and go to the bathroom all by myself (before that, including all through the night, I'd had to call one of the nurses and couldn't even let Darrell help me get just over to the bathroom). Occupational therapy came in soon after to see how I managed getting dressed, to make sure I was all set with a walker to take home, and to see if I needed anything else.

The doctor came in with the blood work results, and while my hemoglobin had dropped a bit more, that wasn't unexpected and it wasn't quite low enough to require a blood transfusion. So, I would just be sent home with instructions to take iron in addition to several prescriptions and other post-operative care instructions. My doctor also agreed that I would get to go home after one more visit from the physical therapist.

Finally, the physical therapist came back. This time, the goal was to walk the halls for a while with the walker and to learn to get up and downstairs. I passed with flying colors. My physical therapist said I was the best bilateral hip replacement patient he'd ever had. If, like me, you assume that I was also probably the youngest, he assured me that wasn't the case as he'd had several in their 30s and even younger.

And then, the answer to my prayers - I was going home! Plus I knew that soon after getting home, Hunter would arrive home from college with my best friend Shara and her daughter Amelia. It was wonderful to know that the rest of my recovery would be at home, and to know I'd have plenty of help once there.

And, since this is already quite long, I think you'll get a Part 3 soon to describe my recovery, which is going quite well so far.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

All I want for Christmas... Part 1

I received an early Christmas gift on December 13, 2016. This gift is something that I will never actually see, but it replaces something that wore out much too quickly. I am 45 years old. I am not overweight. Until 2015, the only chronic condition I had ever experienced was mild asthma. But due to rapidly destructive osteoarthritis, by July, 2016, it was evident that I would need two new hips. By August, my surgery for BTHR (bilateral total hip replacement) using the anterior approach was scheduled.

I am a runner. I ran track and cross country as a teenager, but only ran sporadically throughout my 20s and early 30s. In my late 30s, I wanted something to get me back into shape, something just for me now that my kids were a little more self-sufficient. And in the back of my mind, I had a goal to run a full marathon someday, even though I'd never run more than about 6-8 miles at a time even as a teenager. So, I did all that. I built up mileage slowly and only had one minor injury in about 6 years of running. I didn't take more than a week off running whether work was insane, I was traveling, sick, or anything else. I would run on vacations, I learned to run in sub-freezing temps. I ran 2 full marathons, about 10 half marathons, and countless 10ks and 5ks. I convinced my son to train for and run several 5ks with me. We got a dog soon after I really got into running, and she was my constant running partner, willing to go up to 10 miles with me. For one of my marathons, I trained with Team in Training to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. That was especially fitting because my husband Darrell had recovered from Hodgkin's Lymphoma early in our marriage.

I guess all this makes it easy to assume the running caused my hip osteoarthritis. But when I first began seeing my orthopedic doctor in July, 2015, his first words to me were, "Bad genetics, huh?" followed soon after by the then shocking news that I would need hip replacement surgery by age 50. If I really think back now, there were some subtle signs that my left hip was causing me problems now and then years before. I like to think I have a high pain tolerance, as long distance runners typically do. Running did not cause my osteoarthritis. Running gave me 6+ years of better health, stamina, and a sense of accomplishment than I'd really ever had before. But yes, running did accelerate the damage to my hip joints, especially when I kept running (with the doctor's ok) even after diagnosis.

In 2015, my running was already starting to suffer. I had gone from 9-10 minute mile half marathons previously to being lucky to run 11-12 minute miles. But what does a runner do when she is told her running days are likely numbered? She of course schedules a bucket list running item, which in my case was the Disney Coast to Coast challenge where you run a half marathon in the same calendar year in both Disneyland and Disney World. In February 2016, I completed the Disney Princess challenge (adding a 10k the day before the half marathon) with my non-runner but Disney loving, senior in high school daughter and with my running and best local friend who I had done one leg of the coast to coast with a few years before. Then on Labor Day weekend, I completed the Dumbo Double Dare (again adding a 10k the day before the half marathon) with the same friend and our teen/preteen sons. By that weekend, I was really just able to walk, typically with a limp, and even then, the last mile of that last half marathon was really tough to complete. But I did it. To round out the year, I even somehow managed to convince Darrell to walk a half marathon with me, the Indy 500 mini-marathon in May, 2016. If it came down to giving up running, I at least went out in style and by completing events with each of my kids and hubby.

I'm a firm believer that God only gives us the challenges we can bear, even if things seem nearly impossible at the time. So, when things get tough, I tend to just try harder and pray (although admittedly I sometimes get the order wrong, because I think sometimes God is trying to tell me I need to go to him rather than toughing it out on my own). The saner thing to do would likely have been to get surgery scheduled for early fall. But, I had plans to see my daughter, now a college freshman in West Virginia University's color guard section of the marching band, perform at both a football game in October and then march in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in November. Plus, I had also had steroid injections in August, and my surgeon stressed that he could not perform surgery within three months of those injections. I also planned to work right up until the day before surgery and only take two weeks off completely. All this while limping worse and worse... and worse, and experiencing more and more pain.



Somehow, someway, and with a lot of support from Darrell and prayers from family and friends, I made it through to the day of surgery...

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Sweet Sixteen

Do other mothers wonder about the ways they might not have their child?

If I hadn't met your daddy or we didn't fall in love...
If your daddy had been sick just a little longer before they figured out what was wrong, or if they'd used a different drug combination to treat him...
If we hadn't moved from Michigan to North Carolina right when we did, giving me the excuse to finally try to get pregnant...
If something had gone wrong while I was pregnant with you...
If you hadn't finally come out after 22 hours of labor (the doctor was close to ordering a c-section, and you came out so blue that your daddy was very worried for a few minutes and I was wondering why they didn't immediately let me hold you)...
If you had been born with something genetically wrong that could take you from me too soon...
If you had been hit by a car one of the many times you tried, and one time successfully managed, to run out into the street...
If you had been seriously injured when you crawled under our closing garage door...

I am not a worrier in general. But I do worry about my children. What mother doesn't?

I spent too much time anticipating when you were little.

Watching for your first smile... your first step... your first word...
Preparing you for your first day of preschool... regular school... the world...
Being so happy/relieved/proud when you decided to be baptized...
Watching you finally find something to put your heart into with color guard...
Watching the way you gracefully handled moving away from friends and making new ones...
Seeing the hard work you put behind your "book smarts" in school...
Seeing your independence only grow, even when you started out so independent already...

I don't exactly want to go back. I just want more time with you. It just doesn't seem possible that you could be turning 16. I'd swear I just turned around to make dinner and straighten up the house, or some such things, with you looking much more like this:


I know I've messed up, and a lot, at this parenting thing. I'm sure I've given you plenty to complain about and swear you'll do differently when you are a mom someday. But know these things:

I love you, always.
You are my baby girl, forever.
I want the best for you, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
I am your biggest fan, but I also will not lie to you.
You are beautiful, inside and out.

Happy sweet sixteen, dear daughter.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Perspectives


Am I the only one who imagines life stories for others? I've also always liked the saying above, and try to live by it before I become judgmental of others (although I admit I sometimes jump to conclusions that I shouldn't and sometimes assume the worst about people). Sometimes, when running, I'll peak at the front window of someone's house and invent stories for the people I have never met who might live there. When I check out at the grocery store, I'll from time to time invent a story for the cashier based on just the few words he or she and I exchanged. I wrote this a few weeks ago when I was in that frame of mind...

The alarm blared early from the six-inch smartphone on the nightstand. As she opened her eyes and a dream faded from her mind, it took a few minutes to realize where she was - waking up beside her snoring husband in the vaulted ceiling bedroom of her still new-feeling home. Ouch. Why did her arm ache? These mystery pains since passing up age 40 were no fun at all. She pulled workout clothes from her drawer, and heard her teenage daughter's first alarm sound a few minutes later. She got ready quickly, the day's events ticking through her head. A full day of meetings and research tasks awaited her after an hour-long commute to the office. Kids to marching band and soccer practice this evening. Trying to carve out some time to read a chapter of her textbook for her online class. What did she have handy to cook for dinner? Did the car need gas on the way in? What did she need to remind her teenage daughter and husband about today? She missed having lots of friends and other moms close by. She wished her husband would do and remember more on his own. She wondered if there was a way to get her teenager to believe she actually knew something about how to get through high school... She checked on her teenager quickly to be sure she was waking up, put the garage door up, and headed off to the rec center to meet a friend for their workout.

As she checked in, he said, "Good morning."...

He sat there thinking about what he could do after work today. Should he meet up with a few friends, maybe grab dinner and a beer out somewhere? Or should he instead spend some time at his computer searching job listings yet again? Really, how long would he have to work here as a college graduate? He'd started working at the rec center as a teenager to pay for gas and fun with his friends each weekend. He certainly never expected to still be working here six years later, after earning a bachelor's degree. But he couldn't seem to get a job anywhere else. The few interviews he'd had didn't lead to job offers. He wondered how much longer he could even afford to rent out his tiny apartment with his roommate. Maybe it was time to consider moving away to a different city where there might be more opportunities with his degree. Or maybe this degree was as worthless as his dad had said and he should go back to school.

"Lunch" time came early since he started work at 5am. He just had to get out of this building, so he headed to his apartment to make a sandwich. Crap. They were paving the other half of the parking lot today. He passed two men in hard hats.

He pulled off his hard hat, wiping the streaming sweat from his face with the back of his gloved hand. He wasn't sure how he'd get through another ninety-plus degree, high humidity day. For a moment, an image of his recently-passed mother flashed in his mind. Why hadn't he listened to her when she begged him to go to college? Instead, he was stuck in this job. Sure, sometimes it felt good to look back and see exactly what you'd accomplished each day. A road, once full of pot holes, could be smooth and black in a single day's work with his crew. But, every afternoon, he came home sore from work, and then put on a smiling face while his small daughter crawled all over him and his preschool son asked him to wrestle. On the way home, he stopped by the grocery store to pick up milk for his young wife. As tired as he was, he knew she'd be tired, too, after working this morning and spending the afternoon with the kids. The cashier didn't look very happy, and he hoped she was doing ok. Isn't that the same lady who the manager seemed to be scolding a few days ago?

She moved his milk across the scanner quickly, but didn't say a word to him. She barely felt like she was there at all. Why couldn't the manager understand that she tried her best to get here on time for her shift? Her son's dad didn't show up to watch him AGAIN, and she'd had to call her neighbor and beg the older lady to watch him through her five hour shift. This store was hardly giving her enough hours to get by the way it was. If she lost this job, then what? Her parents were not going to help out again, and how could she even bring herself to ask? And all these people coming through her register aisle just looked down on her. They didn't know she'd graduated near the top of her high school class. They didn't know about her short stint in college, ruined by the so-called father of her son. Next in line was a lady who appeared to be in her 40s. What was she doing checking out in sunglasses? The nerve of some people to come through her aisle with just a few things when they could easily go through self checkout! This lady obviously had everything she could ever want, and here she was out shopping without kids right after a cushy job, probably taking her time to get home to the nanny who watched her kids and her sparkly house cleaned by someone else.

She kept the sunglasses on as she checked out. Her mind was a million miles from the task at hand. She'd been crying all afternoon. How much longer could she pretend everything was ok? Her husband was drinking again. She wasn't even sure what time her teenage son got home last night, but at least he was home when she left this morning. When she tried to pay bills yesterday, there was only enough to pay the mortgage for now. Her family hadn't been to church in months. Her life was absolutely out of control. But without a job to support herself, how could she even begin to make things better? She walked out to her car, loaded the necessities she'd just purchased, and started to drive home. On the way, she passed a street corner where a man was holding up a sign, but she tried to avoid his gaze and didn't even read the sign.

He had been walking across town all day. The packaged pastry a kind lady had given him this morning was just a memory now, as his stomach rumbled. Last month, he'd hit rock bottom. Lost yet another job. Stopped going to counseling again. Couldn't face the few family members who were still willing to speak to him. Just up and left, filling a backpack and hitchhiking south. And here he was, with no plan for what came next. Maybe he should just kill himself and get it over with? No one would care anyway.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Where are we from?

We recently went on our first family cruise.  It was the first time my kids have been in another country.  It was probably the only vacation we'll get to take together like that while our teenage daughter still lives at home.  It was, in every way I can imagine, an awesome trip.

As we met people from many different US states and many different countries, a question was asked of us frequently, and the question was clearly intended to be for our family and assumed to have one simple answer:  Where are you from?

This Pew research survey is a little dated, but I continue to see similar statistics that indicate people in the US are just not very mobile, in general.  Most people have lived in the same state, many of those even in the same town, their entire lives.  Darrell and I, however, fall into the 15% who have lived in four states or more, and I'd be willing to bet we're in an even more select group than that 15% would indicate.  We've lived in six states and at least 10 different towns/cities.  We've owned seven different homes.  Our children were born in two different states.  We were born in two different states, and unlike most couples, we didn't end up choosing either of those states to "settle down" in.


So, what is a quick and simple question for most families requires a lengthy explanation from us.  Something like this (if I'm the one answering):  Well, I'm from West Virginia and Darrell is from New Jersey.  We met in college in West Virginia.  We moved to New Jersey right out of college thinking we'd find good jobs there, but found work in Michigan instead.  We left Michigan for the warmer climate of North Carolina, where our daughter was born, moved around there but ended up back in Michigan.  We left Michigan for good in hopes that we could settle back in West Virginia, where our son was born.  We left West Virginia for better work in Kentucky, where we really thought we'd finish raising our kids, but instead moved to Indiana seven years later.  I've stopped saying we won't move again, but I hope we can stay put until both kids are through high school now (at which point the teenager usually pipes in that she doesn't believe that).

Sometimes when we just mention that we've lived so many places, we get knowing looks and questions about whether we are military or if we were relocated for Darrell's job.  But we've actually never been relocated within the same company from one city to another, and the only one who has ever considered a military career in our family is possibly our daughter.  Every move seemed to have a good reason at the time, but it was also a choice.  There were times that it seemed a layoff was imminent, and we just didn't wait around for that.  While most people confine their job searches to the specific town where they actually currently live, we just give a general geographic area spanning multiple states.

Despite all of this, I never have a problem answering where I'm from.  I am from West Virginia, and proud to be.  I fell in love with a Jersey boy.  While many people say they'd follow their love anywhere, I like to think I've proven it.  I've given my children a bigger perspective on life by moving with them.  They've learned by necessity how to make new friends and work hard.  I really don't know what they'll say when they are grown and asked where they are from.  But I do think they will always know they are loved and have a home.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Thoughts of greener pastures and moving over the (cube) wall...

I don't write a lot about my job, in part because I'm not sure many folks would find it interesting, but mostly because I don't want to somehow jeopardize it by doing so.  But a lot has been weighing on my mind the past several months in relation to my job, so it's come to the point that I just have to write some of it down.

While nothing particularly bad has happened at work over the past year, I had come to think recently that I was not very appreciated there anymore.  Part of this was due to a few things that I was told would happen that didn't come to pass, part was due to recent hires seemingly being treated better than I in ways, and the rest was really just that intuition-y feeling that I sometimes get but can't describe. (I should say though that my intuition, which over the last several years I've come to believe is really God prodding at me, usually proves to be right).

I was fed up enough that I applied for a few job listings. Out of three online applications, two of them contacted me.  I had phone interviews with both, and even went for an in-person interview with one of the companies.  In the end, I was that company's second choice, and their first choice accepted the job offer.  I learned this even before the company followed up with me by looking up the position on LinkedIn.  Through that, I learned that their top choice had been out of work for a few months already due to her prior employer going bankrupt and that she had a very similar professional background compared to me.  She was of course able to start right away.  I have no idea of the salary offered, or if her ability to quickly start when I said in the interview I'd need about one month due to giving notice and scheduled vacation time had anything to do with it, but everything I learned certainly made me not resent her getting the job over me.

The other company asked to schedule an in-person interview, but over the course of the phone conversation, I learned that it was even farther away than my current job's commute, without the opportunity to work from home with any regularity. I already rush out of the office sometimes just in time to grab one kid or the other and get to their activities, and I work from home on their most activity-filled days whenever possible. I knew I could not do all that AND manage an even longer commute and potentially more stress-filled job. But, I also felt a real connection with the hiring manager, who did the phone interview with me herself (rather than the first company that screened me through their recruiting department).  She asked to connect with me on LinkedIn even though I declined the in-person interview.  She suggested a local women's business group that I should join, and perhaps even become part of their market research committee.  Since one of my hopes and goals this year has been for networking opportunities and even the opportunity to make additional friends and put down roots in Indy, it almost seemed like this was quite possibly the main reason I'd felt compelled to apply for other jobs, especially that job in particular.

Meanwhile, things have also turned around somewhat for my current job.  I recently moved back over the (cube) wall to marketing, which seems like a better all-around fit for me, just like I thought it was.  My now fourth manager since starting this job is not only someone I respect, but also someone I believe understands the value and complexity of the work I do AND will "have my back" so to speak at work, which is most of what I need a manager for anyway at this point in my career.  It isn't that I've disliked my other managers there, but just that this seems the best fit for me, and I really hope it is.  Also, after a few months of frustration at not being allowed to spend any money on projects and being idle enough that I felt like I had to search for and create work for myself, I'm busy at work again lately.  I even received a small award at work.  Not that it was anything big, but it's amazing how much knowing that folks appreciate you (and getting a $25 Starbucks gift card) does to renew enthusiasm.

I don't expect that where I currently work will be the company I retire from, but it has some great benefits that I've decided I'm not in a hurry to give up.  I've changed my primary "career improvement focus" to networking and also finding a way to get more training.  And that decision feels right right now, which is all I can really hope for anyway.

Is there something better for me out there either now or down the road?  Maybe.  Maybe even probably.  But being satisfied right now feels very good.  And that's good enough for me (at least for now).

Full disclosure:  There's also a slight chance I feel more content lately due to seeing sights like this for a week straight...


Thursday, June 12, 2014

My Shortest Home

Of the many places I have lived, south Jersey was the shortest stint.  Two newly minted college grads packed up their dear pet cat, Callie, and their little bit of belongings back in the summer of '93 and headed east.  The plan was that we'd more easily find jobs in New Jersey than in West Virginia.  I took a job as a bank teller and Darrell worked in his dad's office while we both mailed out resume after resume.  I interviewed for a math teaching position at a nearby private school.  We both received lots of rejection letters.

But it didn't take much to support our household back then.  My parents had given me my college savings, and Darrell had a bit of his left as well.  We rented a mobile home in Darrell's friend's mother's park.  A weekend's worth of dining out, going to movies, and just hanging with friends could typically be covered by about $50.  We fixed up the tiny mobile home.  I cross-stitched a Monopoly board, while the streets on which it was based where less than an hour down the road from us in Atlantic City.

We'd only been married nine months.  Our biggest fears had nothing to do with health issues, children, or anything else big that I can recall.  We did fear not finding good jobs, but mostly, life seemed simple then, generally much less stressful than it's been since.  We could drive 20 minutes down the road and take the boat out or just float and swim at Darrell's parent's house on the Mullica river.

It was the first place I lived outside of WV, but it didn't seem entirely unfamiliar either.  I'd already visited a handful of times, the first one over spring break of my freshman year of college.  I still remember traveling here the very first time with my fairly new boyfriend at the time, Darrell singing along to Outfield songs and telling me all about the place he'd grown up all the way there.

His parents remember me first as the girl Darrell talked about the prior fall, when he'd met the woman he was going to marry.  He was right, even though I wouldn't have agreed then.

We didn't live here long.  Less than three months later, Darrell was offered a job with Ford Motor Company in Michigan, and we were quickly heading off to our third state of residence together.  But I'll always have memories of that summer.  Driving south Jersey roads is a little easier just because I drove them so much that summer.  We visit here more than any other place besides my parent's home in WV.

I may not quite be a Jersey girl, but my Jersey boy has been my other half for most of my life now.  It's a place I always feel at home.  And if there ever is a time we don't visit, I will miss it deeply.