Monday, September 15, 2014

A Tale of Two Concerts

I used to go to a lot of concerts when I was a teenager. But as the years have passed and my musical taste has stayed sort of stuck in 1986, my concert attendance has been a bit sparse. So it was rather unprecedented last week to find myself in reserved seats awaiting famous musicians three days.

On Tuesday, we trekked northward to see Chicago. While normally that would be an eastward journey, the band-not-the-city was conveniently playing at a state fair not too terribly far from Woodhaven. It was also a great excuse to get some Waffle Fried Bacon with Maple Syrup (disappointingly better in concept than in execution).

Three days after revisiting some favorite memories of the '70s, '80s, and 1990, we headed to Portland and joined a headache* of screaming tween girls welcoming Katy Perry to the Rose City.

*With four hours of direct, personal experience, I have now deemed a group of two or more girls aged 10-12-years "a headache."

So yes, Chicago and Katy Perry in a matter of days. My head is still spinning and my ears are still ringing. Good grief, 11-year-old girls have high-pitched voices.


When Rob and I started dating in March of 1990, we compared our CD and vinyl collections. I give us both credit for being mature (or infatuated) enough to look past the incompatibility of Supertramp (Rob) and The Mighty Lemon Drops (me). There was only one overlap in our collections: Chicago IX: Chicago's Greatest Hits released in 1975.

While Rob introduced me to Eric Clapton (I still remember the dumbstruck look on Rob's face when I said I had never heard "Layla"), and I shared the intoxicating dance beats of New Order, that undisputed Chicago CD quickly became the anthem of our courtship. Every song on that album still makes me smile with the giddiness of new love.

I didn't know until we were leaving the stadium on Tuesday night, but Rob saw Chicago in concert in their heyday in the late '70s. He left that show disappointed because it was the first concert he had seen where the music didn't sound exactly like his records. Oh, bands who insist on jamming, improv-ing, performing without a recording, and going "off script."

So Rob was a bit hesitant about seeing a much older, likely rustier, possibly past-their-prime version of our first mutually favorite band. With four of the original Chicago members still asking on Tuesday night if anybody really knew what time it was, there was indeed a bit of age and experience on stage. But I gotta tell you, these old guys still have it.

The show wasn't terribly fancy. Just a stage, instruments, and standard stage lights that danced and changed color. The stage's backdrop changed once -- from a more modern band logo to the iconic one of the groovy '70s. Otherwise, the focus was entirely on the music. It was pure and simple, simple and free.

Sure, the vintage voices weren't quite as strong as they used to be. Accordingly, the band has some newer, younger members who did some of the heavier vocals lifting. But since Chicago is so well-known for its instrumentals, the vocals weren't nearly as important. The 65-year-olds could still blow their horns like whipper snappers even if the accompanying dance moves looked a little stiff and imminently in search of heating pads.

The concert's opening band was REO Speedwagon. This was news to us; we had somehow missed that until we reviewed our e-tickets for our seat assignments. I ended up recognizing only three of their songs and those songs made it clear REO's lead singer has lost some of his voice quality, too. I still enjoyed those three songs, though.

The absolute highlight of the concert was the final set. The two bands joined together on stage and all 14 of them played a Top 10 hit for each. REO Speedwagon's "Keep On Loving You" sounded richer, deeper, and more complex with Chicago's horns and Robert Lamm's vocals added in.

I didn't notice anything particularly different with the ensemble rendition of Chicago's "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is" but what I did notice was the pure joy bounding all over that stage. The musicians were having an absolute blast. Their mutual respect and affection were palatable.

As they worked their instruments and communicated across the stage with head nods and appreciative smiles, the evening evolved from being a just another concert to being An Experience. I sensed that every musician on that stage would remember this night, this collaboration, this moment decades into career stories that are still being written but are nonetheless coming to an end. I felt part of something very special.


Katy Perry

As we were driving to a Portland arena on Friday night, Rob asked to be reminded why exactly we were going to a Katy Perry concert. Quite honestly, I couldn't remember the line of thought back in January when we bought the tickets. We might have been a little punchy on one too many snow days. My best answer to Rob was, "Because you said you would??"

I know probably a half-album's worth of Katy Perry songs. There's one involving cherry Chapstick and one about a melting Popsicle and one she sang with the Elmo on Sesame Street. Oh, and she also likes to ROAR!

In preparation for the concert, I bought Katy's current album. One cycle through and it was clear I was going to owe Rob an apology. While I knew I would have fun bopping along to the kiddy pop, Rob does not easily suffer simplistic, highly commercialized music (hi, Rick Astley!). We were in for quite a night.

While Rob and I blended in rather nicely at the Chicago concert, we stood out like middle aged creepers at Katy Perry's party since we didn't have any kids with us. Yes, there were adults at the concert...and many of them around our age...but they were all toting headaches of young girls.

Thousands of young girls. All shrieking with the pubescent fervor that defines Katy Kats (the official term for Katy's fan base). Girls wearing tutus and pink wigs and blue wigs and green wigs and glitter and tights with cats on them. Girls dressed up like Cleopatra. One came dressed as a birthday cake; another as a banana. It was like a Cirque du Soleil cosplay rave thrown for fans of My Little Pony. Not that I have ever heard of such an offering, but I am pretty sure I can see it from here.

There were so many girls, the arena's management wisely converted most of the men's bathrooms to women's rooms. Naturally, there were still lines. Rob had to walk to the other side of the arena to find a room of his own. He almost made it back to our seats before I did.

I checked it out.  It smelled better than expected but there were only four stalls.
And the line wasn't moving very quickly. 

There were two opening bands for Katy. Again, news to us. The first was a mohawked guy from California who was proudly wearing what he described as "an alien onesie." He was eventually followed by two women who looked like twins and energized the crowd with their biggest hit: "Everything Is AWESOME!!!" Yes, the three exclamation points are part of the title, and yes, it is the theme song from The Lego® Movie. Are we sensing a theme?

Nearly two hours after the stated start time of the concert, Ms. Perry finally emerged from below the stage in a mechanized fold-out prism. Her dress was decorated with neon lights, her shoes were rockin' sparkly heels, and her band was non-existent.

She sang along, danced like a professional gymnast, and made full use of a stage with ego ramps that went clear out to the middle of the arena's floor.

There were strobe lights and laser beams and smoke and videos. There were horses and cars and flying tacos and balloon swings. There was a birthday party for Colette and a free pizza given to Owen since he was a lone little boy with a gaggle of females.

We don't know which birthday Colette was celebrating, but she got the full treatment

There was neon and confetti and a Dance Cam and ads for Cover Girl and Claire's Fashion Jewelry and Accessories for Girls (Katy is spokesmodel for both). There were dancers dressed as cats playing on an enormous cat tree. Others were dressed as sunflowers and fish bowls.

I have no idea what is going on here.  The song had something to do with tacos and champagne.

I lost track of how many costume changes and hair colors and styles Katy went through over the two hours.  This is just a smattering.

Eventually a band and two back-up singers appeared. We have no idea where they were the first half of the show. It wasn't until two guitarists were flying through the air shooting off fireworks that I even noticed there were musicians on stage.  Well, at least in the vicinity of the stage.

We're guessing the guitars weren't really playing music, what with all the pyrotechnics

In short, it was QUITE a party. And you know what? It was the most entertaining $46 I have spent in a looong time. Although I felt like I had gorged on every single color of every single candy in an IT'S SUGAR candy store, I truly had a great time. And crashed like a toddler once the sugar rush finally came to an abrupt finale with a literal explosion of fireworks.  Well, after we stopped at Voodoo Donut for a Katycap on the way home since it seemed fitting.

Not the finale...just a neon-infused song about California Gurls

Compare and Contrast...just like in 7th grade

Reflecting on the two concerts, I can't say I liked one better than the other. I loved the feast for the senses that Katy Perry offered. Like a carnival fun house, I never knew what was coming next and laughed with surprise and disbelief any number of times. The colors, the flashing videos, the costumes, the use of the stage and the air, the fireworks. It was like no concert I have ever seen.

But wait, did I mention the music? No I didn't. Because music is not Katy's point. It is merely a vehicle to offer the rest of the experience. The songs, the lyrics, the composition, the intricate interplay of instruments...totally unimportant and in some cases non-existent.

Instead, Katy is a brilliant marketer who knows her audience. She knows how to make young girls look up to her and crave a California lifestyle. She knows how to relate to them with short stories of being insecure and not feeling pretty enough. She knows where they shop and what color t-shirts they will buy. Quite frankly, Katy Perry is one very impressive machine of commercialized pop that probably makes Madonna both proud and envious.  It was worth the price of admission just to see it in action.

And then there is Chicago.  Simplistic lighting, no costume changes, no pyrotechnics, and no guide wires to whisk musicians over the heads of the audience. Instead, all Chicago could offer was sophisticated musical arrangements and instruments played with mastery.  That and decades of sweet memories of listening to their music.

While Katy carefully engineered a party that made us feel like popular kids who got invited, Chicago trusted themselves and their audience to be spontaneous and jam just a little longer. Chicago created the space and opportunity for a unique experience that made us feel like we were witnessing something special and were not just the next stop on an 80 city world tour.

Chicago was a chef-inspired dinner with a long-cellared wine. Katy Perry was an oooey gooey dessert covered in sprinkles and whipped cream and every sauce you can imagine. Together, they made a meal I won't soon forget.

Chicago and REO Speedwagon Finale

Katy Perry Birthday Song.  This wasn't even the finale.
(Operator error prevented that from being filmed, sadly.)
Oh, and that's Katy hanging there from the balloons. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Canning my back out

After a few summers of living here, I came to understand that September hurts.

I won't go into a lot of detail since it is a Big Secret, but summer in the Pacific Northwest is sort of ok, I guess. We get some sunshine and warm weather here and there that are the payoff for the long months of rain and grey skies the rest of the year.

What this means in practice is that I do a lot of stuff during the summer that I shouldn't do. Stuff that helps me feel productive outside in the happy, glowy, sunshine because somehow hanging out in my zero-gravity fancy-pants recliner patio chair with a cold beverage and magazines seems somehow lazy. So there's some weeding and gardening and playing with water that I might do. I love every minute but I pay for it with back pain. Lots of it.

I try to take breaks and space out my outdoor activities and build in lots of walks. Nevertheless, the frequent limit-pushing accumulates and by the time September is here, I am in a mess of hurt.  At least I know it's coming, though, so I don't tail spin in panic like I used to. That's progress, right?

This year has been a little worse, unfortunately, because we have had the best growing season of the ten we've been here. Our garden is exploding with produce. Corn, onions, peppers, lettuce. Wild blackberries keep reappearing on bushes despite all of my picking. Today we actually gave away some tomatoes. In California, we pushed our tomatoes-aplenty on anyone who slowed down long enough to be accosted. At Woodhaven, I have hoarded each year's meager harvest with greed and absolutely no shame.

This garden bounty and my questionable need to feel "productive" have resulted in several rounds of this in the past couple of weeks, oddly coinciding with a back that is just a touch grumpy:

Corn is severely under-represented in this photo.  Oh so much corn in the freezer.
Let it also be noted that Rob has helped A TON in the making of this photo.
Oh, and a food processor. Why it took me 46 years to finally own one is the definition of a "brain fart."

The jars jars and more jars have also resulted in me starting to wonder if I need better pain meds and if my TENS unit is really working and thinking maybe winter isn't such a bad season after all. Mmmmm, fleece.

So yeah, I'm hurting. A lot. I've been trying to ignore it, like I do. As I said to a friend recently, denial is so handy! Until it's not.

I was hanging out in my doctor's office recently -- for a sinus thingy because I was still blissfully ignoring anything notable about my back -- and I spotted a cool little pain chart taped up on a cabinet.

Now, I've been around the block with pain charts. The 10 point pain scale is ubiquitous yet feels largely useless. It typically looks like this:

Don't those goofy faces make you feel better already? Except that last one; he really needs an ice cream cone with lots of sprinkles.

Years ago, after finally deciding my lumbar pain wasn't ever going to go away completely, I sort of recalibrated the Smiley Face Pain Scale. In my head, I typically live life around a 4 but try to make it look like a 2. I've been told I do a pretty damn good job of it, too. Yay me.

But entirely like that metaphorical frog placed in a pot of tepid water and slowly brought to a boil, I have gotten used to my 4 pain. Knowing this, when talking to doctors and other people with clipboards and prescription pads, I have sensed that were I not living in the pot of bubbling water all the time, I am probably hanging out more at a 6. That's been my gut feel with only a sad little face with droopy eyelids to back me up.

Until I saw this.

Click on the photo to see a larger version.

This is the pain chart I stared at while crinkling on the butcher paper in my doctor's office a few weeks ago. It is by far the best pain scale I have ever come across (well, except this one which is hysterical and worthy of a t-shirt). As I read each description, I almost cried with the joy of finally being understood. Even the use of "twinge" is perfect.

And so with this much improved pain scale, I confirmed my gut. Yep, I indeed live at 6 to 6.5. Right now, I'm approaching a 7.5. I have been at a 9 three times in my life. Very vivid, indelible, really sucky moments. Before I saw this scale, I had pegged them as 10s. I am very grateful now I've never gotten a perfect score.

None of this changes my pain level, of course. Only rest and sleep and heat and meds and acupuncture and kittens can do that. But the discovery of a well considered and useful pain scale does give my spirit some peace to know that my gut has been right. And that there is actually a pain scale out there that seems to have been constructed with the help of people in, you know, pain. Imagine that.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Good/Valuable/Worthy Book

We've discussed before that I am not much of a reader. I wish I were. I am surrounded by people who read voraciously.  They all seem...informed.

I have lots of books on my "To Read" list and on my nightstand. But when it comes time for bed -- the time I used to devote to book reading before insomnia became a buddy -- I usually want to shut off my brain, not engage it. And so I am now in the habit of lulling my brain cells to sleep by watching saved episodes of "Say Yes to the Dress." Yes, it's a reality show about women shopping for their wedding dress.

Did I mention mind numbing?  But at least now I know the bridal differences between a drop waist, a fit-and-flare, a princess, and a mermaid.  I can be informed, too.

The list of books I have read to completion is pretty short for a 46 year old. At least in my circle of friends. I do have some favorites, though.

I got enchantingly lost in Memoirs of a Geisha. And was astounded how Kurt Eichenwald made corrupt accounting practices absolutely riveting in Conspiracy of Fools. And, of course, the kid favorites of The Monster at the End of this Book and Harry The Dirty Dog are classics that never get old.

There's another favorite book, though, that completely blew my mind the first time my mom told me about it. It had been sitting on our book shelf all along.  I never picked it out, though. It had a weird name and was big and looked like it was for grown-ups. I was in junior high the first time Mom handed it to me. And now it is one of my most favorite books ever.

Curious? Puzzled? Interested?

I'm talking about a thesaurus.

I was writing some sort of school essay at the time -- on binder paper using a PEN with that new erasable ink that mostly just smudged all over the place and turned the side of your hand blue. I needed a word, a different word, something that wouldn't exactly repeat what I had already said but would still help me get to the one-page minimum. The dictionary was no help. But Mom was.

She grabbed that weird book that sounded like it was named after a pre-historic creature, handed it to me with a short explanation, and left me to my homework. I opened it up and could not believe...COULD NOT BELIEVE...that a book like that existed. It was an entire book of synonyms!!  Whaaaat?!?

I wouldn't have called myself a writer back then, but I probably would have sheepishly admitted...if pressed quietly...that I secretly loved writing papers and essays. So a book of words to help me find just the right nuance, just the right connotation, just the right vehicle to express my thoughts? It was mind-blowing. Truly, it felt like the best Christmas and birthday presents ever just finding out such a resource existed.

Yes, my geekiness goes way back.

So my thesaurus quickly became my most go-to reference book. More so than the dictionary and Strunk & Whites' hints about writing styles and even Linda Goodman's Love Signs (a must-have when evaluating the real potential of new love interests. My copy is very dusty these days but it definitely had an active life in the '80s).

I quickly learned, though, that I have to tread carefully when consulting a thesaurus. Time evaporates and I can go down many more paths than intended, intrigued and enthralled by the subtle yet immense differences between words that mean mostly the same thing. Much like reading an inscription in an old high school yearbook, one entry in a thesaurus leads to another and another and another and then you suddenly realize you meant to go to the grocery store two hours ago and perhaps a shower first would be a good idea.

Or maybe that's just me.

These days, I write on a laptop and use a bookmarked website to find just the right word. is especially dangerous because it gives synonyms for synonyms all just scrolls and clicks away. For example, type in the word "curious" and you get a list of 24 related words. Cool!

But scroll down and you get more lists of synonyms for "abnormal" and "bizarre" and "exotic" and other words sort of but not exactly like "curious." Scroll all the way to the bottom and you'll find there are 5 pages -- 5 PAGES -- of words to explore, to suck you in, to leave your emails unread for hours.  Words, words, words, and yet more glorious, delicious, fantabulous words!

Of course, not all words are quite so fruitful. Ironically, there are hardly any synonyms for "synonym."  Oh, language, how fun you are!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Send in the squirrels

We first heard about Squirrel Fest last year when a small pack of nutty squirrel enthusiasts made their presence known in the audience of a comedy show we were hoping would start soon.

We were waiting for Ryan Stiles of "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" fame to come to the stage. We were in a small theater in a small town between Seattle (near where Ryan lives) and Portland (where he was undoubtedly headed to much larger venues).

When the scurry of squirrel fanatics entered the theater wearing fuzzy hats, t-shirts, and chanting "SQUIRREL FEST!! SQUIRREL FEST!! SQUIRREL FEST!!" I assumed they were part of the opening act. When instead they proved to be part of the audience, I assumed they were drunk.

The Squirrels made themselves known to Ryan and provided a lot of exuberant yet vague information that hinted of the small town really embracing their squirrels. Naturally, I investigated as soon as I had internet access.

Squirrel Fest in Longview, WA made its debut in 2011. It is basically a town festival much like Battle Ground's Harvest Days shin dig that introduced me to geocaching (see July 21 post). But instead of nominally celebrating the harvest of something, Longview claims to celebrate squirrels.

Why squirrels? Ask Amos.

Amos Peters lived in Longview back in the 1960s and apparently had a little burrow in his heart dedicated to squirrels. He loved the rodents so much, he envisioned a special bridge for them to address the Tragic Squirrel Smushings that were plaguing the town...or at least plaguing Amos's fuzzy-hearted sensibilities.

And so in 1963, the world's first ever Squirrel Bridge was unveiled on Olympia Way in Longview, Washington.

No smushed squirrels anywhere to be seen.  GO AMOS!

Called the Nutty Narrows bridge, it is still there, right next to a park with this commemorative statue.

See?  Longview is serious about its squirrels. Squirrel Fest is a natural evolution. 

Billed as a one-day FREE Family-Friendly event, Squirrel Fest has lots of kids' activities (including a Flying Squirrel Zip line), vendors, food, live music, a beer and wine garden, and ends with a booming fireworks display.

OH! And each year during the festival, a new Squirrel Bridge is unveiled! As of Saturday, Longview now has five safe passages for our nutty little friends, one complete with a webcam. I'm not kidding. (I have been eyeing the live stream while writing this blog. A whole lot of nuttin' so far.)

Obviously, Rob and I had to branch out from Woodhaven and go check this out.

A conflict prevented us from attending Squirrel Fest last year, so it was with great anticipation that we set an alarm on Saturday morning and rushed northward to squeeze ourselves in on the parade route by 10:00am. We arrived with about five minutes to spare and settled in among the throng.

Throng.  And port-a-potties for said throng.

I had all sorts of nutty expectations for Squirrel Fest.

I assumed many squirrel costumes, every float and parade entry to celebrate squirreliness, acorns tossed amongst the candy to the kids. I expected booths selling squirrel hats, squirrel headbands, squirrel stuffed animals, squirrel figurines and t-shirts and stained glass masterpieces. I was ready to try Squirrel Jerky and maybe even a Squirrel Burger as long as it was served with lots of condiment and beverage.

Instead, Squirrel Fest was not what it was cracked up to be.

The first hint was as we were waiting for the parade. A father and teen daughter were on the curb next to us. Mom arrived. She sized up the throng and asked, "Is the parade over or is it about to start?" Oops.

Putting my eavesdropping to good use, I decided to set a stopwatch for the parade. Including the approximate 2-minute lag between the vintage car carrying an unidentified candy-tosser and the YMCA contingent...and the moments of confused confirmation that the parade was indeed already over, game time lasted 10:32.96 minutes.

I was prepared to snap lots of photos of people dressed up as squirrels. There were two.

It was pictures like this on their website that convinced me I needed to be a part of the squirrely fun!  I later went in search of mascot Sandy B. McNutt for a selfie, but she was apparently hiding in a tree somewhere.  Or on a bridge.

Salvation Army Squirrel
A couple of parade entries featured people wearing squirrel ears, including a day-care and a County Commissioner supporter. One entry was pirate-themed with squirrels in the ship's crow's nest. And then there was the shark...for no discernible reason and with no squirrels incorporated. That was probably a good thing.

After the parade, we made the rounds. We walked by the kids' area (by far the most fun and well attended). We checked out the food trucks (nothing squirrel oriented and nothing tempting after my 10-day run of Fair Food Feasting). We searched for squirrel-themed items hidden among the booths selling homemade candles and crocheted doll accessories and wind chimes made from dismantled license plates. If the squirrel stash was there, it was indeed well-hidden for the winter.

We walked by the beer and wine garden. It was still being assembled next to the live music stage. Rob mused that the Squirrel Nut Zippers should reunite and headline. Brilliant!!! Sadly, no.

By 11:11am, we were back in our car heading to lunch.

I was hoping for so much more. I had worked very hard this past week at resting up from my Fantastic Fair-ing to have the energy and stomach space for Squirrel Fest. Instead, we got a pizza on the way home, with only a "We're Nuts..." commemorative baseball hat to show for my efforts.

So will we attend Squirrel Fest again? Gnaw, probably nut. Besides which, I'm all out of squirrel puns. To everyone's treemendous relief.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

After the Final Corn Dog

On our way to dinner, Rob asked me what I had eaten today. As I recapped my list, he said, "You need to put up a blog about that."

And so here is what Eating Post-Fair looks like at Woodhaven. I can't do a photographic food parade, largely because it didn't occur to me to take any photos but also because the food is really boring, and I didn't take a shower until the parade was nearly over.

Here is what I ate while goofing around on the computer, lying on a heating pad, zapping my brain pain signals, and reading 12 days' worth of newspapers:

  • One smoothie consisting of 1 Key Lime yogurt, 1 banana, 5 frozen strawberries (approx), 4 frozen pineapple chunks (approx), and 3 glugs of orange juice (exact)
  • Enough baby carrots to be able to put the lid on the container, so probably about a cup's worth...sprinkled with salt
  • About 10 Reduced Fat Wheat Thins
  • An entree salad at a local restaurant featuring spinach, kale, strawberries, grilled chicken, a light vinaigrette, not enough feta, and too many candied pecans (so much so, I asked for a plate to transfer them to) 
  • I am currently sipping on a mug of Sweet Dreams herbal tea

I didn't wear my pedometer today, but I'm guessing I walked about 500 yards, most of which was in a parking lot.

Maybe it's even more obvious now why I love The Fair so?

And strangely enough, this short and pathetic list is not a conscious effort to lose the weight I gained having calories of fun last week. I actually don't have much of an appetite at the moment. I think there's something about the smell of livestock, hay, and fried dough that opens the gate to my hollow leg. It's all closed shut now, which I suppose is a good thing.

Maybe tomorrow I'll go crazy and have a piece of string cheese.

Monday, August 11, 2014

2014 Fair!!! ~ The Final Recap

I have taken two naps so far today. I couldn't finish my lunch of rice and brocolli. And one of our cats has brought me two of her toys -- I guess she's been lonely. So yep, it appears Fair 2014 is over. Boo hoo.

Once again I had a fantastic, exhausting time. It seems like it was years ago that I was learning how to use my gadgety internet hot spot for my newspaper blogging. And yet I also can't believe the Fair is already done; it just whizzed by.

I think this year was my favorite at the Clark County Fair so far.  Of course, there was the expected food and animals and getting raucous in the Grandstands which I always look forward to.

But this year, I felt even more a part of things.  As everyone is all too aware by now, I had the time of my life working in the Dairy Women Milkshake Barn.  To be a part of that tradition, even just for two hours at a time, was truly an honor.

And I am still riding high on shock and elation of Napoleon rocking the Open Class Llama (or alpaca, as the case may be) Obstacles.  Thank you Lori, Shannon, and Rob for letting me take Napoleon on Saturday.  He did all the hard work and made me look a little less clueless for a few minutes.

This year also provided some really unexpected moments of realizing people I don't know are coming along for the ride with me.  When I lie here writing, I am talking to friends.  I know you, we're buds.  So it is a bit scary but also exciting to realize that there are few of you out there that I don't know yet.  A sincere thank you to those of you who have popped your hand up to let me know you're here, too.

This and that, in no particular order
A handful of things happened during the last 10 days that I didn't write about. So I thought I'd capture some of them here to help extend the Fair just one more day.

Yay technology!
Blogging "live" from the Fair worked really well...eventually. The first couple of days were stressful at moments as trial-and-error taught me where reliable Wifi signal strengths were and weren't. I found I had two favorite blogging places: the shady, breezy area behind the Milkshakes, and the Grandstands. Both were often quiet and cool and always had strong signal strength.

I was really surprised that nobody ever asked me what I was doing when I was sitting there typing on a laptop at the Fair. I certainly felt I looked conspicuously unclear as to how one attends a Fair. People did occasionally do a double take but nobody was curious enough to engage in conversation. I must not look very friendly when I am writing.

I'll get the hang of this eventually
Physically, I did so much better this year than in prior years. The different approach to the newspaper blogging helped a ton with allowing an earlier bed time. Aside from two nights (last night was one of them) where I was crawling into bed at about 5:00am, most nights I was in bed by 1:30am. MUCH better than the 3:00am average last year.

Every night while writing, I also hooked myself up to my "zapper" -- a little medical device like a TENS unit that basically scrambles pain signals to my brain using little zappy electrical currents. I typically only use it when the pain is really bad and when we are traveling (sometimes those overlap).

I also incorporated the routine of taking a shower while Fair Food Feast Parade photos were uploading.  Prior years, I would just lie on the couch and stare sleepily at the screen as photos sloooowly loaded one at a time.

Why in the world didn't I think of these helpful hints before?!  They provided a lot of therapy for my back and kept me from reaching for the Big Guns pain meds until Day 6.  Self, take note for next year, please.

Birds are a point
Last year, there was an incredibly annoying toy that was being sold near the Church Ladies Pie Booth.  It was a plastic whistle that made bird calls.  It was high-pitched and chirpy and incessant. It got so bad, I started avoiding that area of the Fairgrounds.  That's not good for the other vendors nearby.

Well, hallelujah, the chirpy birds weren't there this year!!  They were replaced by some magnetic rock things that made a staticky buzzing noise when tossed together. Yeah, they made some noise to get your attention, but it easily faded into whitenoise like all good static does.  Yay!

I never noticed anyone buying them, so I have no idea if they will be back or not

I'm getting old...but not as fast as I thought
Despite the better back care this year, I am completely wiped out. And it's not just my back. My legs hurt, my feet hurt, I think I have a blister on my big toe, and my throat is really sore.

But...BUT...I never once took a Tums or Pepto or any other tummy-problems chalky tablet. My system hung tough all Fair and never rebelled on me. Reviewing my Feast Parades, I don't think I went easy on the food so I am now in even more awe of what my body will sometimes let me do to it.

Nevertheless, I am in Recovery Mode through Friday (truly...I have it on my calendar so I don't schedule things other than rest). If you need me, I'll either be on the couch or in bed, hopefully covered in cats.

Ms. Burgers all summer long!!
So I was chatting with the teen cashier at the Burger Buggy while waiting for my Ms. Burger to be prepared. Somewhere in the conversation, she casually mentioned that the Burger Buggy has a small stand at Battle Ground Lake State Park.  WHAT?!?!

YES!  Open just during the summer, the building sells all sorts of fishing gear, sunscreen, lake fun toys, favorite burger at the Fair!!  What is not to love about a hamburger with a slice of deli ham on it?

The Lake stand has been there for over 40 years.  I have been within convenient-enough driving distance for 10 of them and I never knew.  OMG!!!

That's what I'm talking about!

The Fair is a GREAT place to meet new friends!
Remember that guy John who was working the Oregon Mt. Hood Territory booth? He is the one that loves Fairs, too, and rates them based on their food offerings. Yeah, that guy, my deep fried kindred spirit.

Rob and I stopped by the booth several times during the Fair just to chat with John. He is super nice and friendly, and he knows his state and county fairs. Partly because his job takes him there, but also because he has a degree of some sort in Fair and Event Management. I didn't know such a degree existed! Naturally, I am now considering going back to school, just so I can surround myself with fellow Fair Freaks.

Anyway, I plan to tap into John's fair-ly extensive knowledge as Rob and I seriously start planning a Fair Blogging Road Trip. It will be easy to stay in touch with John since we are now Facebook friends. If you know me, you know I am pretty picky about whom I am friends with on Facebook. But after John suggested taking the photo below, I knew he was my people.

Have a great time in Boise, John!  And thanks for the snack!

Carnage and wreckage beyond the Demo Derby
After ten days of the Fair, I am down 5 long fingernails, a pedicure, a bottle of sunscreen, and a reliable camera shutter and zoom.

Note the shutter shadows in the two opposite corners.  And yes, Rob had to help me up from this position.

The fingernails are working on growing back as we speak. I'll get a pedicure sometime this week and file it under the "Post-Fair Self-Care" category. I'll buy a new bottle of SPF 30 when I feel like being outside again (I hear it is hot right now). And Amazon should be delivering my new exact-model replacement camera by the end of the week.  So the carnage should be pieced back together within a week or so.

Fascinatingly, I didn't acquire any chin zits this year. What's up with that?! I even had my tube of Oxy Maximum Strength Vanishing Spot Treatment waiting on the bathroom vanity. It was there all Fair, lonely and untapped.

'80s regression
As I noted on Day 5, my favorite feature of the ToyTopia exhibit was the small collection of vintage arcade games in the back. I admitted I was spending some time playing Pac-Man and Space Invaders.

What I didn't mention was that over the course of the Fair, I was gleeful every time I acquired a quarter, with plans to spend it pretending I was 14 again.

I actually went to some lengths when buying snacks to force the change to include at least one quarter. Now, there was a change machine next to Pac-Man. But it was like this weird regression to my early teens when I would stash quarters for arcade games. Because somehow spending money doesn't count if it is already in coin form.

Mystery shopping at the Fair
Some years back, I used to be a mystery shopper.  I got paid peanuts (almost literally) to pretend to be a cell phone customer or in need of dog food or really craving a Quarter Pounder.  My job was the evaluate and report on service and product quality.  It was a lot of fun but ended up being too much work and driving for so little revenue.  I did get to write off some depreciation of our cars on our taxes, though, so that was cool.

When Queen Missy asked if I was the Mystery Judge for the Fair Court, I actually had an idea what she was talking about.  Just a few days before, my friend Shannon quietly revealed that she was a Mystery Judge for some dairy cows.

Shannon's job was to casually walk through the cow barns and take mental note of herdsmanship. Naturally, I thought this meant she was going to be watching for the cows to be clustered in a herd or something, perhaps involving a cowboy or cowdog.  Herdsmanship actually refers to how well the animals and their stalls are cared for and presented.  Basically, poop is bad; clean and tidy is good.

It sounds sort of fun and I'd love to volunteer, but I'm guessing judges need some sort of experience with cows other than eating them.

Water spill aside, Shannon took this responsibility very seriously.  And she gave me permission to post this cover-blowing picture.

Just in case you didn't think I was keeping track

Of course I am keeping track.

The Final Results
OK, so here are the numbers.

According to my pedometer -- a few days during which it was having issues -- I walked a total of 36.47 miles over the course of the Fair. Moving the decimal, that is an average of 3.65 miles per day. Freakishly consistent, I walked 35.87 miles during Fair 2013.

Among many other things, I inhaled:

  • 3 Cokes
  • 3 corn dogs
  • 3 buttery cobs of corn
  • 8 Hawaiian Shaved Ices
  • 6 Dairy Women milkshakes
  • 2 Jumbo Deluxe elephant ears

With that...and more...I gained a total of 2.6 pounds. Wanna hear something even more ridiculous? That is exactly how much weight I gained last year. I don't get it either. But I am grateful.

So that's that.  My calendar has already been updated with next year's Fair dates (Aug 7-16), and Rob has returned from the grocery store with fruit and veggies and yogurt.  Yay.

361 days to go!

2014 Fair!! ~ Day 10

As we slowly left the Fairgrounds tonight for the last time, I truly honestly had to hold back tears. The closer we got to the Green Gate, the more emotional I became. I tugged on Rob's shirt right before we exited and pulled him in for a hug and fairwell kiss.

Rob is my unsung partner in this craziness every year. He carries my stuff, hands me money when I run out, takes my picture over and over and over again, stays up with me into the wee hours to keep me company while I'm writing, doesn't let me eat alone, and this year even let me drag him into the Milkshake Barn and the Llama Show Ring. I love Rob with everything that I am but during the Fair especially so.

See, I told you.  Emotional.

Please note the little graffiti heart above my head.  Awww!

We spent our last day well. I made the food rounds and ate the few things still on my list. We stopped and chatted with friends, one of which told us her son had won the very prestigious Round Robin Showmanship event (it's where 4-H kids have to go around the Fairgrounds and get judged showing a variety of animals; our friend's son typically only shows goats). Knowing Kyle well enough, I asked his mom if he finally smiled with the big win. Predictably, the answer was no. Oh, teenage boys.

Here is the 2014 Clark County Fair Grand and Master Grand Showman...still not smiling.
It's OK, Kyle.  I'm smiling big for you!

We also watched Jerry Harris's very last hypnosis show. We helped our friend Shannon get called up on stage (we have gone to enough shows, we know what works). We were all super excited! But unfortunately, Shannon didn't quite get relaxed enough and came back to her seat early. Next year, Shannon! My new camera will be ready!

The rest of the day was dedicated to watching the tryouts for the 2015 Riverview Community Bank Clark County Equestrian Fair Court...henceforth to be referred to simply as "the Fair Court."

We stumbled upon this annual event a few years ago when a contestant happened to sit next to us at lunch. A chit chatty conversation prompted us to watch the speech portion and now, three years later, we are sort of Fair Court stalkers.

2014 Fair Court.  You did a great job ladies! 

The Schedule
The Fair Court tryouts are pretty involved and the young women work really hard, especially on the last day of the Fair. Their day starts at 9:00am with a breakfast with the reigning Queen. Then come personal interviews with the judges. Then a written test about the Fair and Fair Court.

The public finally gets to take a peek in the afternoon as each of the contestants gets on stage for some public speaking and modeling. The competition then finishes up with what is pretty certainly the girls' favorite event -- horsemanship. That means the girls get to wear jeans and get on their horses and ride around fast and carry flags and wave and such. The evening culminates with the crowning of the new Fair Court Queen and two Princesses.

The Contestants
This year there were six young women trying out for the three spots on the Fair Court. Before the speech competition began, Rob and I explored the horse barns and came across a poster with head shots of all six contestants. Studying them closely and searching for subtle clues in the photos, Rob and I each made our Queen prediction. I predicted Missy would win. Rob chose Tessa.

After the speeches were done, Rob and I agreed that we had predicted amazingly well. We know how to judge a book by a cover!

Both Missy and Tessa were stand-outs in the speeches, with Brooke also making a strong impression. The three of them -- Missy, Tessa, and Brooke -- ended up being our three picks for the Court going into the Horsemanship portion. And because we have been Fair Court Groupies/Stalkers for three years now, we know what we are talking about.

Tessa really stood out. She was very poised onstage. She walked gracefully, spoke clearly, and was fun with her answers to some impromptu questions. When asked for the first word to come to mind when hearing the word "Illinois," she said "Lots of l's." When asked about "paparazzi" she answered "attention" and then flipped her hair playfully. I was really impressed by how confident Tessa was onstage. She was the first one out of the gate and was going to be hard to beat.


The first thing I noticed about Missy was that she has fantastic hair. That's not an insignificant quality when you are talking about royalty on horses.

Like Tessa, Missy also had great stage presence and showed enviable confidence and maturity. She inadvertently made me giggle when she spoke about the new ToyTopia exhibit being exclusively for kids. I don't want to tell you how many quarters or minutes I spent in that exhibit playing Space Invaders and Pac-Man.


Brooke was the contestant I wanted to invite to a BBQ. She was just a hoot! She wasn't quite as poised as Tessa and Missy but she had an easy naturalness that made me want to hang out and laugh with her. She gave an hysterical word-association answer. When asked about "Mayflower" she said "Holland." Umm, maybe she was thinking about flowers in May? But tulips bloom more in March, so that can't be it. To her credit, Brooke almost immediately recognized her non sequitur and instead of getting flustered, she just laughed at herself and made me like her even more. So much so that when she totally mangled "Creedence Clearwater Revival/Revisited" because the band was "before her time," I found it endearing instead of a stab in my middle-aged heart.


The other three contestants did a great job, too. I felt sorry for Maddii when she was given the word association of "Watergate." Naturally, my first thought was "Dustin Hoffman." But since Maddii didn't know the national political scandal of her parents' youth...or the Oscar-nominated movie chronicling it...she responded with "fun."

I'm going to guess Maddii thought "watergate" was something attached to a waterslide. I can't really blame her.

Maddii  (I know how to spell it because we went to the Horse Barn)

I liked Karissa because she gave a shout out to the Food Court in one of her answers. Similarly applause-worthy, her word-association answer to "Maryland" was "burritos." I have no idea how those two go together but I am going to guess there is a good story there. Or Karissa was hungry. Either way, she was fun.


The last contestant, McKenzie, was comfy in her cowboy boots. Even though I couldn't see her boots under her long, fancy rodeo skirt, McKenzie had a cowgirl ease and swagger as she walked. She took her time with answers and was direct and to the point. While not quite as bubbly as the other contestants, McKenzie had a quiet, thoughtful strength to her that stood out.


For the speech and modeling contests, the contestants had obviously been given some pointers about moving around the stage and what to do with their hands while speaking to avoid looking totally awkward (I could use some of those pointers). It seemed they had also been shown some modeling moves and tips on striking poses. A few of the girls were much more natural at this girly shmirly stuff than the others. Once we got to the horse arena, though, it was quickly apparent that every one of the girls was more at home on her horse than on a stage.

Finally on the horses
The Horsemanship part of the competition was to simulate what the Fair Court encounters in their royal duties. Contestants had to casually ride their horse past a parade spectator with an umbrella and another one with a set of balloons. They had to run through some figure 8s, make their horse go forwards and backwards on command, carry a flag like in a rodeo, favorite part...ride around the arena really fast while doing that turbo speed hand wavy thing.

Most of the horses seemed to love a parade.

As we watched each Contestant ride through the pattern, I realized I judge Horsemanship the same way I judge Chinese restaurants. If a Chinese restaurant doesn't have good pot stickers, nothing else really matters. Similarly, if that hand wavy thing falls short, that Fair Court contestant gets a shrug from me.

Now, I'm a tough judge because we were sitting at the far end of the bleachers and a number of the girls sort of petered out on the hand-waving by the time they got to us. I tried not to take it personally but I won't lie -- I was a little hurt, especially since I was waving back.

So let me tell you, my Missy had the very best hand wavy thing of all of them. She smiled a ton and kept the warp speed going all the way around the arena. In my vast experience in judging Horsemanship, I can tell you confidently that THAT is why she is our new Queen. Ok, yeah, Missy also looked really confident on her horse, controlled him well, and got some good speed going. Blah blah blah.  But really, it was the hand waving. Trust me.

I'm just trying to help
One thing I would love to suggest to the Fair Court Judge People -- again, because of my extensive years of experience with horsies and stuff -- is I think there should be another simulation test added to the Horsemanship competition.

During the Rodeo and Bull Riding events earlier in the Fair, the 2014 Fair Court energized the crowd by throwing free t-shirts into the Grandstands. However, their throws were sort of pathetic (sorry ladies; but I'm right, no?). A number of the shirts didn't even make it to the first row of seats! Now really, how hard can it be to throw a t-shirt 50 feet while riding a horse one-handed? I mean, it looks really easy in my head. And the horsies make you taller so that should make it even easier, right?

The 2015 Fair Court is....
Finally sometime after 7:00pm...after 31 gifts were handed out (Rob counted as he noted, "There are lots of gifts because they are girls")...the winners were announced.

Eight awards were handed out first, for things like Appearance, Congeniality, Speech, Horsemanship, and being Photogenic. Each award came with a little gift bag...because they are girls. As the bags started to accumulate at the feet of one contestant it became pretty clear who our 2015 Queen would be.

Tessa, Missy, and Brooke!

Yep, it is Missy! My pick from the beginning! See, I told you. I know my fluffy hair, horsies, and hand wavy thing.

Our two Princesses are Tessa and Brooke!! Are Rob and I good or what?

And then this happened
One of the interesting things about hanging in the general vicinity of the Fair Court folks most of a day is you start to feel like you know them. Even though you've never actually met them.

The speeches and word-association and time on stage gave us glimpses into the contestants' personalities. Seeing them on their horses in the arena gave us peeks into their passion. Rob and I both developed favorites and were rooting hard when the winners were announced.

Rob and I cheered and high-fived as if we had something to do with the crowning achievements. I got wistful and sentimental as the 2014 Fair Court said their good-byes. I almost cried when Matt the Marketing Guy started crying while thanking the 2014 ladies.

I was all in.

So after all the flowers and tears and photo-ops had settled down with the new royalty, I decided I wanted to get a picture with them. We saw Queen Missy and Princess Tessa waiting for Princess Brooke so they could head to a meeting (yes, they apparently jump right in hooves first with this gig!). So Rob and I moseyed over to find out if the trio would be on the Fairgrounds until closing so I could get my picture.

Unfortunately, when introducing myself, I'm pretty sure I freaked out the new Queen.

In the midst of telling Missy that we had been watching all day and had been rooting for her and thought she had done a great job, she asked if we were the "mystery judges." Although an intriguing concept, I told her no, we weren't. But then I added, "But even if I were, I probably couldn't tell you, right?" Her wide eyes following my logic, I realized I had gone a little too far.

But wait, it gets worse.
Forgetting that Missy doesn't know me or my all...I made the mistake of joking that I am something of a Fair Court Stalker.

VERY wide eyes again.

I tried to backtrack and explain and redirect, but the damage had been done.

Great, the poor girl is Fair Court Queen for less than 15 minutes and I have already put the fear of restraining orders in her heart. Go me. I may never get that group photo after all.

The End...almost
And so that's that. The Fair is over. 2014 is out and 2015 is just getting started. It all happened so fast.

I will be posting one more recap blog soon. I need some sleep and a heating pad first. I will also be revealing my weight gain. Because you gotta believe I've got something besides more swag and sore feet to show for all this fun. So stay tuned.

Final Stat Report
We did a lot of sitting today so I was pleased I still logged 3.57 miles on my pedometer.

Today's re-entry stamp...which I am currently admiring on my left hand...was a duck.

No Flavor of the Day at the Milkshake Barn, but the line was still at least 30 minutes long at 8:45pm.

Rob shared his Diet Cokes with "Jackie" and "Brandon." I shared my Coke with "JR."

Final Fair Food Feast Parade
I am always blown away how my body seems to know the fun is coming to an end. This happens every year on the last day and I can't explain it. But believe it or not, tonight as I walked past an elephant ear, my first thought was, "Wow, that's way too sweet. Besides, I'm not hungry." Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I am already turning back into my non-Fair self. And it is indeed not fair. Boo!

Not enough sleep calls for caffeine and sugar. And with a great name on the bottle!  Hi, JR!

My Finale Corn.  So buttery!

Another hot dog from Dogville.  It was the Mexican Dog with cheese sauce, salsa, sour cream, and jalapenos.  I got it because I never ever allow myself to eat stuff like that in the off-season.  It was very tasty, but I liked the Chicago and North Carolina Dogs better.

Cinnamon and Pineapple Hawaiian Shaved Ice.  LOVE this combo!  And those are my favorite Syrupers in the background.

For my Good-Bye Milkshake, I tried a new combo:  chocolate shake with strawberries and cookies 'n cream mixed in.  It was very good, but I think I prefer Chocolate Cherry and Strawberry Cookies 'n Cream as separate shakes.  Sometimes less is more, even at the Fair.

Mixed Berry pie from the Church Ladies Pie Booth.  Always a delicious treat.  And worth the wait.

Naughty Nachos from Sweet Al's truck.  No really, that's their name.  I only ate about 80% of it.  Then the Jekyll/Hyde thing started setting in.  They were good -- I especially liked the chicken.  If they are back next year, I think I will skip the Nachos and just get something with their tasty Teriyaki chicken.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

2014 Fair!! ~ Day 9

Oh my goodness, what a day at The Fair!

Today was jam-packed with all sorts of excitement. That's one of the things I love most about the Clark County Fair: even on Day 9, there are still things to do that capture my attention and fandom. As I have often said, our Fair is small but mighty.

We got home just a bit after midnight. Jerry Harris' show ran late (TOTALLY worth it) and we walked out of the Green Gate well after the official 11:00pm closing time. Thankfully The Malt Shoppe was still open on our way out so Rob could get a night cap vanilla milkshake. I don't eat alone.

Some brief highlights before The Big News:

Today was the CosPlay event. They tried it last year and I thought it was such a miserable failure, I couldn't imagine FairCon would ever appear on the Fan Fair Schedule again. Color me wrong.

A teen friend of mine enjoyed the Fair in costume today with a group of friends. They said there were nine CosPlayers for the "Meet and Greet" at 2:00pm. I assumed they meant nine entries of which their group of five was one. Nope, nine people of which their group comprised more than half. Nevertheless, this triples the number of CosPlayers we saw last year. With that rapid growth, I am totally expecting to see FairCon return next year with much huzzah.
Rob has a perfect description for Tuff Trucks. He calls it a great example of "Hold my beer and watch this" guy stupidom. At its most fundamental, Tuff Trucks is really just a bunch of guys driving over mounds of dirt, trying to break and blow up stuff on their trucks. It's fantastic!

We watched the evening show where I quickly determined that Cherokee Jeeps are very bouncy. We didn't attend the afternoon show since we were playing with llamas. As a result, we very sadly missed the wedding that occurred just before the trucks started racing around at 2:00pm. Yep, a Tuff Truck driver got hitched on the "table top" mound of dirt in the middle of the track. Rumor has it the happy couple is submitting a video in hopes of being featured on "My Big Redneck Wedding." Yee haw!

Jerry's 10:00pm hypnosis show was a hoot! His subjects were so deeply asleep, they started falling off of their chairs. At one point, with three of them strewn about the stage, Rob remarked that it was like watching a Shakespearean play. Later, one of the young women was certain that she was Miley Cyrus. However, one of her male back-up dancers stole the show when he leapt onto other dancers at the climax of the hit song "Wrecking Ball."

I was actually shocked the other "dancer" caught him.

We spent some time watching the Junior Livestock Auction, also known as the event where young farmers learn hard life lessons about getting emotionally attached to 4-H animals that they are raising for meals. I waved to a couple of friends holding numbered paddles and was disappointed they barely acknowledged me. I am embarrassed to admit how long it took me to realize they couldn't say hey without signaling they were bidding on a pig. Oops.

So those are the basic highlights.

Oh, and yeah, this happened:


Yes, that is indeed a BLUE FIRST PLACE RIBBON!!! For Open Class Llama Obstacles! Many minds in the Llama Greenway were blown, mine the very most.

Let's be clear: even though I have been volunteering as an assistant handler with Rojo the Therapy Llama for several years, I am pretty clueless when it comes to all the rules and regulations for 4-H-type llama competitions.

There are so many things to remember in the show ring that never ever matter one smidge when hanging out with a camelid in a retirement home or classroom or minivan. Things like holding the lead rope with your thumb pointed down and always staying on the left side of the llama and keeping a llama's neck worth of slack in the lead rope and not touching the llama if you want it to walk backwards or sideways. That's only the stuff I DO know. There's a gazillion more details I know I am missing.

I have been competing in the Open Class Llama Obstacle competition for four years. I consider myself comic relief. Last year I came in 10th place. I joked that it was first place with a bonus zero. The ribbon was even blue! Well, light blue if you want to be technical.

Early flukes and a much more generous judge my first two years garnered 4th and 5th place ribbons. Last year, I convinced Rob to join me (those persuasive wifely wiles again) and he earned a snazzy lime green 7th place ribbon to complement my light blue 10th place.  We were rocking the pastels.

This year, Rob and I decided our goal was to try to fill in some ribbon gaps and aim for 6th, 8th, and 9th places. Early targets of Happy Meal Toy marketing, we want to collect all ten! Well, except for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place ribbons because, well, we weren't going to be silly about it.

We had a choice of three animals to compete with today:

  • Little Charlie Chaplin is a brand new addition to Lori and Dave's barn and he is in training to eventually become a therapy llama. Their daughter, Shannon, recently trained Little Chap to jump in the minivan but that's been about the extent of it so far. This is his first Fair, mostly to expose him to activity and people. Little Chap is young and energetic and unpredictable. We all assumed he would pull and resist too much to be safe for my back. So Shannon showed him, just for Little Chap to get some experience.

  • Andre is a sweet but lively alpaca (alpacas compete with llamas; it's ok -- they are cousins). He's been in training for therapy work for awhile but he can still be a bit uncooperative and therefore dangerous for my high-maintenance back. So Rob showed Andre.

  • That left Napoleon the Alpaca. He is an old pro at going to convalescent homes and schools. He is very well trained, but he is still an alpaca. They are herd animals and don't always like being by themselves. Napoleon occasionally needs some convincing to remember who is in charge, but he was unanimously considered the back-friendliest animal for me to show. So Napoleon was my show ring buddy.

I was ridiculously nervous as it got closer to show time. I laughed at and reprimanded myself. I mean, I wanted 6th, 8th, or 9th place. How hard would that be? I was there for comic relief, for goodness sake. No reason to be nervous.

I made this face for a brief moment, only sort of posing.  My photographer is awesome.

But the truth is, as much as I was saying it didn't matter to me how well I showed Napoleon, it really did. I always care and I always want to do my best. So I was nervous about not really knowing what I was doing while at the same time trying to convince myself that my ignorance would be great fun for the audience.

When Napoleon and I were awaiting our turn to go next, he suddenly got really fidgety. He kept going around me in circles, like a pony ride. All his energy and his seeming desire to bolt back to his pen made me even more nervous and convinced those other pastel ribbons were well in sight.


And then we were off. Through "train tracks" and under "branches" and over "bridges." Napoleon didn't really want to sidestep but I was astounded he was willing to go backwards.

He slalomed the stick-things like a pro but would have absolutely nothing to do with a kiddie pool of water. The rules are that the human handler has to walk through the pool with the animal. Despite three attempt to get Napoleon to join me, his feetsies stayed dry while I squished around the Llama Greenway for awhile.

As I finished the obstacles and left the ring, I didn't hear a sound. It was eerily silent. No polite applause, no laughter, nothing. It was so freaky, I was certain I had messed up terribly. I asked Shannon if I had forgotten something. She just smiled and said, "No, you did good." I just knew she was being nice and was protecting me from some terrible embarrassment that I would come to know about all too soon.

There were six obstacle competitors. So much for gunning for the 8th and 9th place ribbons. However, when Rob's name was called for 6th place, I clapped more than I should have. But hey, the collection was filling in!

I was prepared to hear my name next. Andre had been a handful; he pulled Rob all over the place, didn't really want to do any of the obstacles, and got distracted by some alpaca buddies near the show ring. So Andre placing lower than Napoleon wasn't a surprise. I got ready to collect my 5th place ribbon.

But, my name wasn't called. They kept not calling it.

They finally called Shannon's name for Little Chap's win for 2nd place. We were all ecstatic! Second place the first time ever in a show ring?!? Are you kidding?! But Little Chap had done phenomenonally. He followed Shannon's commands, he completed most of the obstacles, and he got at least one foot in the kiddie pool. We all can't wait to see what he can do as a therapy llama.

So after Shannon's red ribbon, that left one more. My name still hadn't been called. I was certain there had been a mix-up and they had somehow lost my entry. All my nervousness had been for not since for some reason the judges had forgotten me. Just as I was trying to figure out how I was going to blog about that without sounding inconsolably crushed, I heard my name.

Lori, Shannon, Rob, and I all looked at each other in disbelief...immediately followed by a spontaneous group cheer that echoed all around the Greenway. The goofy grin really hasn't left my face since.

1st place, 2nd place, and a not-quite-as-elated 6th place.  But Rob, we needed the 6th place ribbon for our collection!

A little while later, I tried to post something coherent on my Columbian blog, but I just couldn't find the words. So I just posted "OMG!" with a photo.

And now even 12+ hours later, I am still having trouble finding words for all of this. This blog entry has been surprisingly difficult to write. I am excited and thrilled and confused and giddy and still wondering if the judge made a mistake. I keep looking at the pictures to remember that it really happened, and then I try telling myself that all this breathless excitement in my head is silly because this was just one competition among many, during one year at the Fair among many, for one animal among many. I mean, there are 4-H kids all over the Fairgrounds who have been handed blue ribbons numerous times in the past nine days alone.  I really need to get a grip.

See?  And I'm sure this 4-H'er is sleeping right now.  Me, I'm not convinced I am going to sleep for the next 3 days.  And when I finally do, it will certainly be while clutching my ribbon.

And yet, this is the first time I have ever been handed a big blue ribbon with a gold llama head embossed on it. I am well aware that this experience may not repeat itself. So I am trying to breathe it in, marinate in it, and enjoy it while it lasts. But there is a really good chance that I will be purchasing a new picture frame soon.

Wow and wow.

Today's pedometer reading was a very respectable 4.20 miles. Rob commented that at least half of that was due to me dancing wildly all over the Llama Greenway with my ribbon. He might be right.

The milkshake Flavor of the Day was blackberry.

The re-entry hand stamp animal was a dog that looked a lot like a beefy steer. The Yellow Gate attendant clarified that it was supposed to be a collie dog. I'm still not convinced.

Rob shared his Diet Cokes with both "Josh" and "Andrew." I shared my Coke with "Ricardo."

I still have a couple things I need to eat tomorrow, namely a piece of Church Ladies Pie. I was going to have it today but the Deep Friend Cookie Dough was calling my name. All in all, a very tasty Fair Food Feast Parade today!

Sneaking in some healthy cherry tomatoes from our garden.  NOW they're red...

Yummy fries to go with my Ms. Burger from the Burger Buggy

Ms. Burger.  It is a hamburger with a slice of ham on it, too.  AND there was some mayo on there!  I think this is the best burger at the Fair. 

Two sodas in one week??  I'm such a rebel!  Enjoying a Coke with "Ricardo."

Trying to calm my show ring nerves with an old-school chocolate covered ice cream bar. 

Tutti Fruitti and Lime Hawaiian Shaved Ice.  I liked the Tutti Fruitti.  It was sort of a tangy cherry.

Beignets that Rob and I shared.  The vendor was at the Fair last year in a little truck.  Now they are sharing space with that lady at the Yakisoba Noodle place.  Excellent treat, the beignets.  They were covered in powdered sugar, which Rob finished off with his fingers.  Like I said, I do not eat alone.

Still hungry!  This chocolate covered banana from the Smoothies vendor outside of the Grandstands was very good.  They dipped it while I was waiting.

Another fruit drink from the Smashers booth.  This one was Peach Pear.  It was as refreshing and tangy as the strawberry one.  I like this new vendor!

A chicken gyro from the Greek Cusina booth.  It was pretty good, although it could have used more tzatziki sauce.

A little Deep Fried Cookie Dough to end the night.  Mmmmm!