Thursday, October 30, 2014

Pop goes the fragile

Over the years, I have noticed I have several "early warning systems" to tell me I am overdoing it and need to stoprightnow.

The first is achy pains that go down the backs of my legs. Not sciatica, just tender, crampy muscles. It sort of feels like working out at the gym too aggressively but is different enough that it's clearly not a "good hurt." This pain is what I felt as my first spinal fusion was starting to fail, so it definitely gets my attention even 14 years later.

Charging ahead at full speed for too long can also result in ridiculously frequent back spasms. Knots of jabby pain with bonus shocks of tingly nerves dancing all over my lower back. It is actually hot to the touch and I've often wondered if it is visible, sort of like a baby kicking inside the womb but totally not like that at all.

The dancing spasms is the pain that has literally brought me to my knees, made me burst into tears, and caused me to gasp and grab whatever is nearby for fear of losing my balance from the surprise of it all. Thankfully, it is typically pretty rare and doesn't terrify the crap out of me like it used to.

And then there is the emotional fragility. When I have been ignoring and stuffing my pain for too long, it starts to build up to an explosion of frustration and exhaustion. I've recently come to describe this condition as living with a "Jack-in-the-Box Brain." And by this I mean the toy, not the fast food joint with an advertising target I am quickly aging out of.

Somewhere along this pain path, I realized I have a very impressive ability to compartmentalize things...especially and most frequently back pain things. I can put my pain in a box in my brain with plans to deal with it later. Much like Dory in "Finding Nemo" my motto is often "just keep stuffing, just keep stuffing" while I go about the many fun and spirit-feeding things my life has to offer.

I realized the stark reality of this not long ago when a friend who also has many-years-of-back-pain commented that pain makes it so hard to enjoy even the simple things in life. While that seems like it should be Truth, the comment actually made me stop in my tracks because it makes no sense to me.

When I am fully engaged in a conversation, a dinner, a walk, weeding, exploring, adventuring, pain goes right into my Jack-in-the-Box Brain. I thoroughly enjoy whatever I am doing and any little stabs or jabs or aches or cramps get flicked like gnats into the box to be dealt with later. I see them, I feel them, I know they are there...but I refuse to let them be anything more than a momentary annoyance so I can get back to the business of living life.

But the thing with a jack-in-the-box is that it is designed to build up pressure and then explode in happy, scary, clowny fun. And except for the whimsical hair, make-up, and wardrobe, that's where I find myself at the moment.

I am emotionally raw. I am exhausted. The pressure is almost at its max. I have been frantically stuffing for three months and it is about to explode all over my couch and bed and heating pad and Kleenex box. I know it is coming; perhaps I should just invite it in. Because I have people to see and places to go and much stuffing ahead that must be done. Maybe just one more crank of the handle so my Jack-in-the-Box Brain can release its contents to make room for more.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Reunion table for two, please

By all reports, Rob and I had rather different high school experiences.  Although, as you'll see in the photos, we had remarkably similar hair.  Some might even call it amazing.  (Inside joke shout out to Grandma, RIP.)

I went to a large public co-ed high school in northern California. I didn't play sports and I did just enough extracurricular stuff to satisfy that part of the honor society requirements. I had a small but mighty group of friends, most of whom I am still in touch with nearly 30 years later. We tackled homework together, played Trivial Pursuit together, solved murder-mysteries-in-a-box together, went to dances together. From the standpoint of finding a group I fit in with, I liked high school much better than college.

Class of 1986
Rob went to a small private all-boys high school in southern California. He played soccer and was in the honor society. He had a couple of friends that he sort of did stuff with but he mostly went to school and played sports. He's not in touch with any old classmates these days. He went to one dance -- a Sadie Hawkins one at one of the sister schools -- and can't remember the name of the girl who asked him. From the standpoint of finding a group he fit in with, Rob liked college much much much better than high school.

Class of 1984

Therefore I was a bit surprised several months ago when Rob didn't immediately toss the announcement for his 30th high school reunion. I seized on his moment of curiosity and repression and proclaimed, "We should go!"

Because, well, I dragged him to my 20th reunion and he had more fun than I did. Apparently it is quite entertaining to watch a group of 38 year olds morph back into teenagers with all the cliques and drama and insecurity that entails. I desperately wanted Rob to return the favor.

Using my 20th reunion as a guide, I envisioned what last Saturday night would be.

It would be a large, dimly lit ballroom filled with a bunch of 48-year-old men wearing Those Nametags screaming Hair of 1984 (see above). The guys would all stand around punching each other's shoulders while the wives-in-tow would chit chat lightly about the weather and kids and purses. I would wear heels, red lipstick, and a fabulous cocktail dress in an attempt to be the best Arm Candy I could muster. We would eat dinner around a table with people squinting at Those Nametags.  We would listen to the DJ play hits by Prince and Phil Collins and Van Halen and Bruce Springsteen. I would know better than to ask Rob to dance so instead I would just enjoy the flood of memories from the year I got my driver's license. I would take lots of pictures of Rob and his newly rediscovered friends.  On the way back to the hotel, if it wasn't too late, we might stop for dessert or a glass of wine to dish on the evening. The end.

Yeah, ummm, not quite.

When we arrived at the tennis club fashionably late (about 15 minutes was all we could handle; we aren't very fashionable), there were about a dozen nametags left on the table undistributed. We were directed inside to the venue -- a very warm, stuffy, dimly lit, small room surrounding the bar overlooking some tennis courts.

Rob said hello to one of the Fathers (he went to a Catholic high school) who is a friend on Facebook. Apparently Facebook answers all questions because Father Michael said no more than five words to us before heading off to greet another alum. He never spoke to us again.

Two more steps into the room, Rob glanced around and whispered, "I'm taking off my coat."

"Do you want me to take it back to the car for you?" I asked, thinking that would give him time to find some folks without worrying what to do with me.

"No, I don't want to stand here by myself. I'll take it out."

"I don't want to stand here by myself either. Let's go together."

Introverts unite!

As we momentarily escaped the awkwardness, I thanked Rob for talking me out of wearing the fancy cocktail dress. Yes, it was too dressy after all. Instead I was wearing a fun but far more casual dress that was sooooo much longer than what I glimpsed on the females inside. And my heels were far too low, too, as far as all their outfits suggested.  Myself, I was happy with my ensemble until the blister developed on my left baby toe.  Oh, that's right...I rarely wear heels.

I also apologized for thinking Rob needed to wear a tie. He wisely didn't even pack one. It turned out that the mere fact that his shirt was tucked in made him raise the dress code bar. It was like Vegas all over again.

Back inside, I surveyed the group. Rob's graduating class was about 200. There were two sister all-girl schools that combined in with their reunions. Between all three schools and accompanying spouses, there were maybe 90 people at the reunion.  With so few people and so little space, I couldn't even take stealthy pictures.  My camera never left Rob's pocket.  Dang it!

As we stood there munching on toothpicked meatballs, I smiled at the realization that all the guys were talking together on one side of the room and all the women were together on the other side. Just like a junior high dance, there was very little mingling. One of the organizers slurred hello. The party had started for him well before we got there.  A few women came over to see who I was but upon discovering I was merely a wife, they somewhat politely moved on in search of Those Nametags.

I was flabbergasted and disappointed to discover there were very few spouses. There were lots and lots at my reunion. Although the RSVP list indicated about 15 "guests" I didn't see any other obvious spouse. I started looking for wedding rings. Not a lot of those, either. Huh. Is atttending a 30th high school reunion actually a mid-life dating tactic??

At one point, we were standing near an older man. Turns out he was the long-retired principal. He was chatting with a woman who whispered to me as she excused herself from the conversation, "He left the priesthood and is really interesting now!"  She obviously hadn't noticed I wasn't wearing a nametag.

Interesting indeed!

"Father" Charles was a funny, charming, authentic man with a great story about falling in love with a woman who was confessing her sins to him. A cuddly softy married for 22 years, he covertly shared how he first accidentally earned and then craftily maintained a scary reputation among a school of teenage boys.

"They called me 'The Boxer,'" he revealed with a proud twinkle in his eye.

I asked if he attended a lot of the reunions.

"All of them.  I like to haunt them."  More twinkling.

About this time, one of the other organizers -- the lone woman of the threesome -- came teetering over with the requisite yearbook in hand.

"He hasn't changed a bit!" she flirted as she held Charles's yearbook photo up next to his face.

Since I was in the presence of what was once a Man of the Cloth...and since he didn't know my humor...and since I didn't want to add yet more awkwardness to the evening...I commendably caught myself before exclaiming, "WOW! You were a hottie!!"

I'm thinking it was a good thing he wasn't the principal at one of the girls' schools.
His office would have been very crowded.

Still searching for someone familiar, Rob and I positioned ourselves just on the fringe of the conversations happening at the bar. While observeing the shoulder punching (I was right about that part), Rob explained that as small as his class was, there were many students he really didn't know.

About 60 of his classmates were with him in the "Accelerated" group.  They took advanced classes together throughout the four years and didn't have much classroom interaction with the rest of the students. Rob couldn't remember the name of that group until we overheard one of the guys say to an alum who looked decidedly lawyerish, "Ooooh! Here's one from the ACCELERATED group!"  And yes, there was something of a taunting, mocking tone to it.  Ugh.

Far as we could tell, it was only that lawyer guy and Rob representing the fast movers. Was that why nobody other than the principal and the organizers were talking to us?

Desperately staring at the clock, we agreed that 90 minutes was good enough and decided a nice dinner just the two of us sounded like a much better way to spend the evening.

I told Rob we should at least take the long route to the exit, just in case someone new and familiar had arrived. Showing football skillz I had never before seen in action, Rob cut his way around the dance floor, the tables, and the waiters and was almost in the end zone when we were tackled by the third and final organizer, Joe.

Joe artfully blocked the exit and explained how he enjoyed organizing reunions because it forced him to talk to people and not just be a homebody and hey, where do you live and what was your name again and hey, great reunion, huh?

Once safely in our rental car, Rob and I decided to escape to a fancy wine bar for some tapas and fresh air.  It was a lovely evening after all.

As I reflected later on Rob's reunion, I was finally able to name the emotion I was feeling while we were standing there largely ignored while clumps of laughter surrounded us.

Protective. That's what I felt.

I was incredulous and then annoyed that these people didn't recognize the opportunity they had right in front of them. The opportunity to re-meet and re-discover the kindhearted, intelligent, witty, reflective man standing next to me. The opportunity to hear a pretty darn interesting and inspiring story of a 30-year path of life. The opportunity to drop adolescent assumptions and experience life and people as an adult.

Sigh.  High school reunions.  I think we might be done.

My hottie and my red lipstick

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Gnome more, really, I'm sure of it

When Rob and I bought our first house, I was characteristically giddy with thoughts of nesting and decorating and making the house Ours.

As we discussed various ideas of how to make our expansive yard (compared to our apartment's deck; I mean, it had grass and everything!) feel cozy and inviting, Rob jokingly suggested garden gnomes.

Horrified, I replied, "NO GNOMES!"

I reminded him of this proclamation every time we wandered through Orchard Supply Hardware in search of things like hoses and lawnmowers and trash cans.

When Moving Day finally arrived (we rented back to our sellers for a few months), I bought a little housewarming gift for Rob and outfitted it with a sign. It greeted Rob when he opened the door on our first day of Home Ownership. Given my decree, I knew he wouldn't expect it. I thought it perfect for one-time humor purposes only.

Vintage 1994 with a fuzzy sign that reads "We're Gnomeowners!"
The sign is in a scrapbook and the gnome is currently on a bookshelf
between a photo album and a book about New Zealand.
It's a place of honor, really.

I promised and vowed it would be our only garden gnome.

About 12ish years later happily ensconced in Woodhaven, we were loyal fans of TV's "Amazing Race." It remains the one show we agree on and during which no book, internet, magazine, or newspaper reading takes place by either one of us. That's a big deal in our TV watching world.

One of the show's primary sponsors is the travel website Its mascot is a garden gnome with a British accent. The gnome is prominently and entertainingly featured in all commercials. A replica of the gnome is often incorporated into at least one leg of The Race each season. Contestants usually carrying him with care through a foreign country, perhaps taking him kayaking or rappelling down a waterfall. It is one of the most brilliant examples of product placement ever.

Rob is tricky to buy gifts for. Although he keeps a Wish List of books and CDs populated, I always like to go off-roading a bit and surprise him. So one year I decided he needed an "Amazing Race" Travelocity Roaming Gnome, conveniently for sale on the show's website. We quickly named him Phil, in honor of the TV game show's host.

At first Phil lived outside in our flower beds -- a true garden gnome -- and randomly changed locations to peer into different windows. Rob and I amused each other quite a bit with that little hobby. Then the "Amazing Race" season finale aired and we (ok, I) thought Phil would want to come inside and watch it with us. He has been in our living room ever since.

Phil making sure the speaker doesn't blow over

So that's how we got to own two gnomes despite my assurances. Both for humor purposes only, mind you. But that was it. No more. I promised.

Then a few years ago, one of our neighbors posted a picture on Facebook of her new garden's adorable guardian. I loved loved loved it and immediately asked where she got it. I zipped down to the local store only to find she had purchased the very last one. I looked online and in other stores without success. Two more gardening seasons passed and I still couldn't find it. I'm sure you can imagine my despair.

I mentioned my fruitless search to Rob at the beginning of this summer, and in that mystical way that he has exhibited over the years, he found one. I Google my heart out for months or years without success and with merely a mention, voila -- Rob finds the elusive bounty. Be it a Snoopy Rain Slicker or a Martha Davis CD or...a garden gnome riding a tractor. It is witchcraft, I tell ya.

A winter project will be determining if I can John Deere-ize his tractor a bit more

In my defense...sort of...Rob was the one who brought Tractor Gnome into the family. Apparently my glee at such things is irresistible. He is now guarding the dryer vent. The gnome I mean, not Rob.

So three gnomes. But gnome more, honest.

But then...

Just a few months later, in a frightening development, a friend directed me to a news story about a gnome being stolen from a garden in Seattle and taken on quite an adventure. It was returned a year later with an accompanying photo album documenting his travels. My friend no doubt thought of our Travels with Piglet when alerting me to the story.

However, the focal point of the story for me was not so much the traveling gnome as that there exists such a thing as a Seattle Seahawks Gnome! SCORE!

Having jumped on the Seahawks bandwagon just in the nick of time before last season's playoff game against my once-beloved 49ers, I naturally got right to Googling.

After quite an ordeal involving two vendors, refunds, apologetic gift cards, and phone calls at 8:00am on a Sunday morning, today this guy finally joined the It's Not A Collection gnome collection:

Currently in possession of the football and the satellite radio antenna

Please let it be known that I am NOT collecting garden gnomes! Did you read that Mom and Dad? Really, I'm not. It's just, well, each one of these called out to me in that very quiet but mischievous way that gnomes do. But I am certain there will be no more gnomes at Woodhaven.

NO (more) GNOMES!!

You have my word.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

I could have purchased a lot of minutes for the same price, but where's the fun in that?!

"A one day cruise? I've never heard of such a thing. Who takes a one day cruise??"

Well, that would be us. Us and about 2,598 other madcappers who thought it made sense to travel the 120 miles from Seattle, WA to Vancouver, British Columbia via a mighty cruise ship instead of, oh say, a car or train or bus.

It's true. Just this past weekend, we boarded the Golden Princess at about 2:45pm on Saturday and said farewell at about 8:30am the next day. Minus the approximate 8 hours of sleep, we lived the cruising lifestyle for an entire 10 hours. It was barely enough time to figure out where the Lido Deck was in relation to our windowless interior room. But it was plenty of time for the Princess Photography Department to take two different photos of us (one boarding and one at dinner) that could have been ours for only $19.99...each.

Why bother to pack up a suitcase, dig out passports, arrange for port transfers, and load up on hand sanitizer just for one night on a cruise ship? Well, this:

In person, it looks silver.  They claim it is Platinum.  I think it is plastic.

I know it just looks like a silly little silver lapel pin. And that is exactly what it is. However, what it means is that as of our arrival in Vancouver, BC, I have completed the proper number of cruises with Julie and Doc and Isaac to advance to Platinum in Princess Cruise's loyalty program.

Big whoop and la de da, right?

Well, with this new fancypants status, I get some nice freebies. Most notably, free Wi-Fi.

Did you hear me? I now get free* Wi-Fi on all Princess cruises! WHOO HOO!!

(*Technically, I only get a certain number of minutes of free Wi-Fi depending on the length of the cruise. But with my proven average usage of 12 minutes per day, the Platinum allotment is plenty and therefore, in my head, totally free. YAY FREE!)

Ok, yes, the next level up (Elite) offers free laundry service. And while the idea of never again having to spend an At Sea Day camped out in an overcrowded, overheated, underequipped onboard laundry room is rather appealing, as a blogger type person, this free Wi-Fi thing is pure gold. Or, platinum, as the case may be.

So that was pretty much the entire motivation for taking a one day cruise. Well, that and it was an excuse to spend some time exploring the second Vancouver (the first one is in Washington not far from Woodhaven). And I was incredibly curious what a happens on a one day cruise. It sounded so...bloggable.

Some ways our One Day Adventure was just like any other cruise:

  • We had the lifejacket drill
  • There were dance shows and magicians and comedians and night clubs and piano bars and outdoor movies going all through the night
  • Food was available any time we wanted it. And Carolyn, I had the Princess Love Boat Dream for dessert with you in mind.
  • Our room steward introduced himself to us and called us by name any time he saw us
  • Boutiques selling souvenirs, jewelry, clothing, and perfume were open and ready for bu$ine$$
  • We got chocolates on our pillows
  • The pools and hot tubs were crowded from the get-go

Some ways it was entirely different:

  • When we checked in, we were also handed our instructions for checking out (Welcome and Good-bye!)
  • There was no TV channel with a map showing us our location, route, and miles traveled.  We felt lost the entire time.  So many islands between Seattle and Vancouver.
  • There was no onboard morning show telling us about our next port and available activities for the day because, well, there were none.
  • Everyone was responsible for walking their luggage off the ship; no crowded hallways the night before (ok, the only night) filled with bags waiting to be picked up and organized
  • The average age of the passengers was much younger than typical -- like old enough to drink but young enough to still get carded
  • Even though it was "Smart Casual" dress for dinner, a lot of the young women went all out on their club-ready outfits.  I remained in my travel ensemble and forgot to dress it up with a necklace.

It took awhile to understand why most of the other passengers were joining us on this one-day voyage. Being all in my own head, I assumed most people were there for the same reason I was -- to get a cruise point and move up to the next level.

We did meet an older lady at dinner who is squeezing every bit of life she can out of her new kidney. She went to Alaska three times this past summer and was cruising down to Los Angeles in a few days. She sincerely recommended that Rob and I could accumulate cruise points even faster if we booked separate rooms. While having someone do my laundry is tempting, umm...

Aside from her, the higher status-cruise points-free WiFi motive was clearly unpopular. Instead, as it became increasingly obvious, a one-day cruise is an exceptionally fun and safe way to party with a Capital P. Ah hah!

Due to a luggage snafu with our airline, we boarded the Golden Princess with 15 minutes to spare. We were informed with a smile that The Party had started about 4 hours earlier. It wasn't clear if that was a warning or a reprimand.

We arrived in our room to two voicemails from some giggly women looking for Joan and hoping she hadn't started without them and they were heading to the pool and oops, wow, we hope this is the right room number.

A bit later, so many people ignored/didn't hear/didn't care about the mandatory lifejacket drill that a second one had to be held.

At the pools, the music was rocking and the booze was flowing. There were lines at the bars and people were walking around with buckets of beer. The Drink of the Day was a margarita. While this wasn't what I ordered, it is what I was given. I think I was supposed to share. I also think I was supposed to finish it. I failed miserably on both counts.

It's amazing how many people you meet when you walk around with a drink of this magnitude

The cruise had an undeniable Carnival vibe. Despite my turbo-sized beverage, Rob and I felt like old fogeys inadvertently crashing a wedding reception with an open bar. It was like a floating bachelorette party in Vegas. Not that this was a bad thing; indeed it was quite amusing to watch. It just wasn't what we were expecting.

Fittingly, there were so few people actually awake (read, sober) and ready to get off the ship the next morning at various designated times, the crew threw their schedules overboard and encouraged people to leave whenever they wanted to. Rob and I were happily exploring Vancouver a full 90 minutes earlier than we planned.

Uniquely sober and ready to see Canada's Vancouver

Before we left, Rob chatted with a collection of crew members assigned to help people with wheelchairs disembark. It is typically a very hectic morning for the wheel guys. Instead, the morning after the Party Cruise, they all stood around chatting with nobody elderly or disabled to assist. Perhaps their services were put into action later when bleary-eyed 20-somethings still wearing last night's club clothes needed help getting off the ship?

Once off the ship, we had a great time playing in Vancouver. It was a gloriously sunny and warm day so we got to see quite a few of the locals out and about. We explored the shops and food stands of Granville Island and walked along the Seawall into Stanley Park. We found a grittier part of town on our way to dinner at a joint that did creative things with potatoes and offered a local wine that inspired our new commitment to someday explore the Okanagan Valley. And it could not have been easier to get from our downtown hotel to the airport. Vancouver's mass transit rocks.

I'm not sure I would take a one-day cruise again. It was certainly amusing and novel, but I missed some of the more relaxing aspects of unpacking my suitcase. Since I better know what to expect, I suppose I could see going again for a special occasion, like a birthday or, as my friend Kelsey brilliantly suggested, a bachelorette party. It certainly is cheaper than a night in Vegas. And safer, too. And now complete Wi-Fi!!

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.