Friday, April 24, 2015

Won’t you take me to Chocolatetown?

I was in grade school when I learned that there exists a real town called Hershey and it is indeed all about chocolate. Being all about chocolate myself, I have wanted to visit Hershey, Pennsylvania for ever and ever. And now, thanks to great friends, an accommodating husband, and sufficient frequent flyer miles, my bucket list is one item shorter.

The impetus for the trip to Chocolatetown is another blog for another time (soon). Suffice it to say, Rob and I got to spend a long weekend being toured around town by locals who know their chocolate history. Totally VIP all the way. It was awesome.

I didn’t really have any preconceived notions about Hershey, other than it would hopefully be somewhat chocolate-centric. In that way…and in all did not disappoint. Mmmm!!

For one thing, the place smells like chocolate!! Truly, the whole town! Although the locals said they couldn’t really smell it, I gotta tell you, it was salivatingly obvious to our out-of-towner noses.

The main chocolate manufacturing plant (focusing on Kisses and syrup) and a much smaller Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups plant are located next to each other on the outskirts of Hershey. Their intoxicating odors waft through town, especially down the main street – aptly name Chocolate Avenue. It was delicious and so much more dangerous than the smell of Juicy Fruit that used to fill the still night air in my college town when the Wrigley’s plant was in full operation.

Chocolate Avenue was also great fun because all the street lights are shaped like Hershey Kisses. They alternated between wrapped and unwrapped. Our first night, I eagerly awaited sunset with anticipation that the lights would glow in chocolate and silver but was sadly disappointed that at night, they were simply boring street lights. Boo!

Although, to make up for it, there were some novel lights in the street’s median that did cast a chocolate kissed glow at night. Still, glowing kisses hovering overhead would have been amazing. Hershey Chamber of Commerce, please take note.

I guess I should mention, the town of Hershey technically only exists at the post office. The rest of the town is actually called Derry Township. However, Mr. Hershey and his trustees are very smart marketers, so that little technicality is only briefly mentioned if you get the right tour guide. Nevertheless, the town…whatever its name…has done a commendable job of providing lots of ways to learn about, experience, and eat chocolate. We did our best to paint the town...and our faces...brown.

We spent a few hours at a museum learning The Hershey Story. We learned things like Milton and his wife had no kids so they started a school (still going strong) for orphans. We learned that Milton was sort of the Henry Ford of chocolate by automating the manufacturing process and making chocolate affordable to more than just the fancy people. We learned that Milton and his wife had tickets to sail on the Titanic but ended up taking an early ship across the ocean due to some sort of chocolate emergency (I have those with some frequency). We learned that the Hershey Company used to make butter and currently makes Twizzlers. And, most importantly, we learned that chocolate is more sustaining than meat. I knew it!!

I now own a t-shirt with this reminder

Sadly, public access to the chocolate factory is a thing of the past, much like Bar None and Swoops. Instead, you can take a free ride in Chocolate World through a simulated factory narrated by singing cows. Think Willie Wonka meets It’s a Small World a la Country Cow Jamboree. It was honestly such a frenzy of lights and music and cows, I didn’t quite retain all the manufacturing and production info it was trying to impart. If we had had more time, I would have lobbied to go through at least two or three more times…especially since they were handing out free full-sized Kit Kat bars at the end.

"It's the Milk Chocolate, yeah yeah yeah!"

Oh yeah, then there’s that part. Chocolate is EVERYWHERE! Chocolate World had the largest collection of Hershey chocolate products in one place I have ever seen. It was so overwhelming, we returned a second day just to make sure I had exhausted my shopping list.

But beyond the chocolate you could buy, there was all the free chocolate people were handing out on tours. And the lab where we got to design our own chocolate masterpieces AND lick the bowls and spoons when we were done.

I don't know what it is, but it was delicious.

And the Chocolate Tasting Bar where we got to sample warm liquid chocolate from around the world (and by warm liquid chocolate, I don’t mean hot chocolate. I mean chocolate chips that had been melted and then blended with just a little bit of milk to keep them from solidifying. OMG!! By the way, chocolate from Java tastes like caramel.) I truly ate more chocolate in three days than I have in three years combined. And that includes the Fair. It is by the grace of God and apparently some freaky metabolism that I didn’t have to buy an additional seat on the flight home.

And then, of course, there was the Chocolate Spa. Oh, yes, you read that right. And oh yes, you better believe I did!

I am soooo not a spa person. Before The Spa at the Hotel Hershey, I had done “the spa thing” just two times in my life. Both were awkward and weird and a little creepy. Something about being pampered by strangers. Especially when the strangers are wearing more clothes than I am.

ANYway… back to the chocolate.

With an afternoon to kill and a need to relax and rejuvenate before our journey home, I managed to snag an appointment for a Chocolate Immersion… a “signature chocolate-theme body treatment featuring a Chocolate Bean Polish followed by the Chocolate Fondue Wrap.” OH YEAH!!

The tantalizing description included words like “exfoliation of cocoa bean husks” “cocoa body moisturizer” “essence of cocoa” and my favorite: “the fondue application.”

Although none of the products were actually chocolate, it really didn’t matter because it all smelled like chocolate and looked like chocolate. I am proud to say I resisted the urge to find out if it tasted like chocolate; my success due mostly to the fact that I was already quite chocolated by all the free Hershey Kisses I had munched in the Aromatherapy Room and the decadent free hot chocolate I had sipped in the Quiet Room prior to my treatment.

When I opened my eyes during the Chocolate Bean Polish, I looked like I had been sprinkled with cocoa nibs. When I surveyed my limbs after the fondue application, I looked like I had been dipped in chocolate. I believe I have never looked more beautiful.

As Liz was wrapping my chocolate dipped self in a blanket to complete the Fondue Wrap, I giggled that the outside of the warming blanket was a shiny silver. All I needed was a little paper flag on my head and I would have been a human Hershey Kiss. So fun!

When I met up with Rob a few hours post-immersion (he had spent the day doing manly things like touring a coal mine), he took a whiff and said I smelled like a Chocolate Peep. He wasn't complaining.

We capped off the evening with a lovely dinner at the hotel where I indulged in my first-ever Chocolate Martini. I mean, how could I not have a martini with a Hershey Kiss in the bottom?? And yes, it was quite tasty. So tasty, I fear no other version will ever come close.

So much for only being a wine drinker

So with that and lots of chocolate treats to bring home, we brought our trip to Chocolatetown to a close. (Fun Fact: It takes seven teenagers less than 50 minutes to consume 30 full-sized packages of Hershey goodness. I’m sure the Youth Group parents love us. Oops.).

I now firmly believe that every lover of chocolate (read: woman) needs to visit Hershey, PA at least once in her life. And be sure to pack the stretchy pants.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Pee Town

It’s rare that I write book reviews because, well, it’s rare that I read books. I’ve covered that territory in past blogs. I am still mostly comfy with my identity of being more of a writer than a reader.

Nevertheless, I just finished a book that demands sharing. And no, it’s not the autobiography by Anson William of “Happy Days” fame. That one you can just have. Seriously. Anyone want my copy? Free to a good home!

No, the book YOU MUST KNOW ABOUT is something I picked up in a curious little store in Portland (is there any other kind?) while killing time until our appointment at the cat lounge. I saw the title and giggled. Then I flipped to a few entries and giggled a little more. Spontaneously (for me -- it took about 7 minutes), I decided the literary tour would be a fantastic addition to our guest room’s reading basket. Assuming I would giggle yet a bit more, I decided I should read the missive before inviting my future guests to do so.

And that is how I came to discover, purchase, read, and now recommend my favorite current book: The Best Places to Pee in Portland by Kelly Melillo. Subtitled “A Guide to the Funky & Fabulous Bathrooms of Portland.” BPTPIP is currently available on Amazon for just $995.95...or $10.82, your choice.   It has been reviewed by all of 9 readers; I’m suspecting a number of which are Friends of Kelly. And now I bring you #10 (obviously, I am quite jealous of the person who got to post #1 given, you know, the nature of the book).

When I bought The Pee Book, the quirky store owner (quirky modifying both the store and the owner) excitedly shared that the photographed feet on the cover rocking the pine green heels belong to the author herself. I also learned excessive details of the store owner’s accounting woes, technology phobia, and plans to bribe her brilliant but unmotivated slacker son to rescue her from both. It was quite a tale almost resulting in my regretting attempting to purchase the book. However I am now quite relieved I persevered. What an educational hoot!

Kelly (I consider her a pee pal so we're on a first name basis) reviews 51 potties throughout Portland. Most are in restaurants or bars, although also included are a tattoo parlor, a barber shop, a hotel, and an exceptionally orange and curvy public bathroom that apparently has been reviewed on Yelp and can be found on Flickr (I shall be visiting soon).

Each review provides a little history of the business and visionary insights from the current owners. Kelly also provides menu highlights, ghost sightings, and footnotes illuminating such tidbits as Gloria Gaynor’s hit “I Will Survive” was actually the B-Side of a song called “Substitute,” and “chin chin” is naughty-talk in Japanese. And then, as promised, each entry features a description and photograph of the noteworthy toity. So much porcelain! So many urinals! But all tastefully done such that I didn’t feel like I needed to hide the book in an in-flight magazine while recently reading it in seat 14B.

While I thought I would laugh at the obvious joke of this book, I was quite surprised to find it a rather interesting way to learn yet more about the enchanting oddness of Portland. Yes, there did seem to be an unusually high number of references to pinball machines and handcrafted cocktails. And more than a few bathrooms showcased patron-provided graffiti and chalkboard art. And a number of unisex loos. Big yawn.

But there were also totally unexpected discoveries like a video arcade's bathroom whose tile floor has been painstakingly designed to mimic a screen shot from Pac Man (OMG!). And the sake house inspired by Ewoks. And the beat-poetry-like venue whose owner describes the décor as “Grandma who wears Hot Topic clothes.”

Perhaps my favorite for the ingenuity and ability to create a community is the bathroom that has a drawing of a woman on the wall. The drawing is wearing a fabric skirt. If a bathroom visitor lifts the skirt, they only see a blank wall. However, when the newly relieved but somewhat disappointed customer exits the bathroom, they are met with cheers or applause or teasing because a light outside the bathroom goes on anytime someone inside decides to take what they thought was a secret peek.

Ok, yes, it’s a community built on laughing at someone, but still, it’s pretty creative, no? And yes, I am very relieved I am in the know about this whole skirt thing because I totally would have peeked and then I would have been so embarrassed I would probably have needed to return to the little room. Now that I am in on the joke, I am tempted to go and lift the skirt up and down a number of times just to make the light blink like a strobe light.

Not only does The Best Places to Pee in Portland tell you exactly that, it is also quite a comprehensive road map to some the hippest, coolest, “au courant” local hang out spots in town. I thought I had something of a pulse on that. I mean, I DO read Portland Monthly and watch Portlandia with insider smugness. But of the 51 locations featured in the book, I have only been to 5 of them. And had only heard of 7 others. That means there are at least 39 totally Portland adventures I need to drag Rob to!

Drink up, honey! We have some peeing to do!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Shade Worshiper

When I was 16, I was absolutely convinced that the secret to Teenage Bliss was long fingernails and a tan. If I just had those two things, I would lose my adolescent awkwardness and be awarded a boyfriend. I was certain of it.

And so the summer between my sophomore and junior years, I set to work. I drank an orange-flavored Jell-O-like drink every day (it was Knox Gelatin) in pursuit of the lovely long fingernails portrayed on the front of the box. I also had a daily appointment in a yellow lounge chair on the small deck in back of my parents’ condo. I baked out there from noon to at least 3:00pm every day (depending on my work schedule slinging pizzas at night), with SPF 4 to be, you know, responsible.

By the end of that summer, I had fabulously long fingernails that I painted in pinks and corals to showcase my even more fabulous tan. I also had an impressive collection of newspaper clippings handed to me from numerous sources of an Ann Landers column about a woman who was dying at a young age from skin cancer because she worshiped the sun a bit too religiously. Melanoma, shmelanoma. I had long fingernails, a tan, and a boyfriend! Whoo hoo!! My confidence blossomed and my awkwardness started to shy away. Even my biology teacher noticed it when school started up again. “You really grew up over the summer!” I remember him saying. Fingernails + a tan = I loved being right!

My pursuit of brownish skin continued through college. It helped that I went to school in a beach town. I still have text books with sand in the binding. I always eagerly awaited that one week of freakishly nice weather every February so I could get a nice base layer started for the summer. Occasionally I would go without any sunscreen so I could get a nice starter burn. Oy.

Somewhere in my late 20s, though, my determination to have that California Tan shifted. It probably had a lot to do with having found the Ultimate Boyfriend and also having, you know, a job. I would try to get tan on vacations and occasionally succumbed to faux-tans-in-a-bottle, but otherwise I mostly accepted my more naturally fair skin and stocked up on suntan-colored pantyhose.

Now having lived in the Pacific Northwest for over ten years and being closer to 50 than any other round number, my perspective on coloring my skin has changed once again. I now actively try to avoid it.

There are now hope-its-not-too-late thoughts of melanoma and age spots and pre-mature wrinkles. There are too many memories of the painful stickiness of a hot burn slathered in aloe. In my middle-age wisdom, my SPF is now 30 and I wear hats and sunglasses. And helpfully, my pale legs hardly stand out in the Pacific Northwest where legs are either ghostly or tanning-bed-orange.

They do, however, stand out in Hawaii. We spent a week in Kauai recently and boy, did I feel like a Washingtonian! Compared to most everyone else, you could use my legs as beacons on a night walk. Truly, who needs reflective gear when you have Washington Winter White lighting the way?

Finally being comfortable with my alabaster skin, I really thought I would be spending all of my vacation time in the deliciously warm shade. Indeed, Rob discovered a fantastic beach we now call Roboni Beach. It was hugely unpopular because of all of the delightful trees blocking the sun. We spent about 4 hours there one day, basking in the shade, until I got cold and dragged my beach chair around in the shifting sun, leaving a track much like a sea turtle. But thanks to my dedicated SPFing, the only color I had to show for it were slightly burned feet. Apparently burying your feet in the sand doesn’t serve as sun protection??

Roboni Beach.  Note the tantalizing shade.

We went snorkeling a number of times but the only lasting marks were the alluring suction lines on my face from the mask. As a side note, wow, nobody told me your skin doesn’t bounce back nearly as fast from stuff like that as you get older. Between snorkel masks and pillow case creases, who needs the sun for the appearance of pre-mature wrinkles? Fantastic!

And I did spend a day hanging out under a tree at the pool. Nothing to show for that either, other than bragging rights for having finished a not-so-riveting autobiography about Potsie from "Happy Days." As another side note, Bette Davis was a pain in the tush. Gavin McLeod concurs. (Yes, HEAVY reading took place on this vacation.)

I did, however, manage to add some redness to my neck, chest, and arms at the end of our trip. I think it happened while I was relaxing on the beach while Rob did some solo snorkeling. Although it was morning and wasn’t for more than 15 or 20 minutes, I think my SPF was with the fishes and it was just enough time for my skin to freak out at the once-familiar but long-forgotten feeling of being exposed to the sun unadorned.

And you know what? That 16 year old girl in me gave a little cheer when I discovered my last souvenir. A tiny part of me was oddly excited that I have some lingering proof that I actually did spend a week in a warm, sunny paradise. Not sure why I needed proof, though. The abundant photos and the stamps on the ice cream stand’s frequent shopper card are more than sufficient. Even more so, the already slower, more Zen approach to life, activity, and decisions. Hopefully though, unlike my tan, those won’t soon fade.

18 and sad to be leaving a Hawaiian airport after spending a week chasing the sun.

47 and sad to be leaving a Hawaiian airport after spending a week chasing the shade.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Booby Prize

I have never really been all that interested in fame. Honestly, the idea of it scares the Justin Biebers out of me.

The fact that this blog is public is alarming enough, despite my never saying my full name or hometown. Of course, I could play with the privacy settings and make this blog a by-invitation-only adventure. And believe me, I have considered it a number of times. But, well, I like to think that there are only about 20 of you reading this and we’ve met and chatted and have taken selfies together showcasing our food. We’re all friends here, right?

So then it’s really no big deal to tell the couple dozen of you some very exciting yet terrifying news.

I am in the April issue of Oprah’s magazine!!! You know, O – the one with Oprah on the cover? Every. Single. Month. This month she is pretty in purple and a ponytail with skinny jeans and a paintbrush. It’s this one:

Why am I in the magazine?? Llamas. Of course.

It’s been quite a ride with Rojo the Therapy Llama recently. I have long said Rojo is a rock star. I love being proven right.

Over the past year or so, Rojo and his buddies have gone viral a couple of times with a news story by a Portland TV station and then a video produced by a senior center in our rotation. Rojo is a chapter in a book that came out last fall (Unlikely Heroes). He is also in a National Geographic TV show airing this weekend (Nat Geo Wild's "Unlikely Animal Friends"), and he is one of the llamas featured in an upcoming documentary called Llama Nation (LLOVE their t-shirt – softest one I have ever owned). So yeah, he's a busy llama in amongst his main purpose of bringing llove and carrot kisses to the Portland masses. And now Ms. Winfrey has taken notice. As well she should.

The magazine interview with Lori and Shannon took place over the phone. The Llama Queens provided lots of info and photos. The end result was this, on page 26.  Never mind that the white fuzzy guy there is ALPACA.  Details, details.

How super cool is that?!?

What, don’t you see me? Look closer.

Here. Here’s a bigger version of the photo.

Still don’t recognize me? Look, there next to Smokey. See that black shirt? That’s me! Well, more accurately, the smallest hint of my left breast. Whoo hoo!!! My left breast is famous!!

Wait, that doesn’t sound right.

In all honesty, I am quite relieved. When Lori told me the magazine was going to use this picture

Photo taken by Nathaniel Young for Portland Monthly magazine.  PM deemed it unworthy for publication, yet it later showed up on Huffington Post and then...slighted edited...Oprah thought it was sort of cool.  To their credit, Portland Monthly chose an awesome photo of Smokey in a pirate hat instead because, well, Portland.

I was much more nervous than excited. I love being behind the scenes and behind the camelids. I love seeking out the quiet people and engaging them with all things llama. I love taking pictures and handing out carrots and helping the shy folks work up the courage to pet the soft fluff. But the idea of being front and center and all eyes on me makes me so nauseous as to never want to eat again. Can you imagine?! Me, not eating? Yeah, that’s how much I don’t want the spot light. UGH with a capital Uh.

So when I discovered that Oprah’s operators had cropped me out of fame, I let out a big ol' laugh of relief. Given the brief article, I would have ditched me, too. The story is rightfully about Lori and Shannon. One more face in the photo would have only raised questions. Much better to just hint at a breast and call it a day. Nevertheless, Rob is quite proud. As any husband would be.

I will say, though, that I am quite disappointed that Oprah’s people did not choose to use this photo instead. No sense of humor, I tell you.  (Those hats are usually worn by the llamas for their black-tie events.  Yes, plural.  It's a crazy ride!)

The O article itself is light and fun. Much like the rest of the magazine, as it turns out (this is the first issue I have ever purchased). If you want more llama llore straight from Rojo’s fuzzy lips, check out this fantastic interview he did on after those two llamas went adventuring in Arizona a few weeks ago. He's quite funny, that Rojo. Unlike Oprah's peeps.

Rock star, I’m telling you! (Rojo, not my left breast. Just so we’re clear. Good.)

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sleeping cats and fast cars

Like so many odd yet ridiculously intriguing ideas, this one was birthed in Taiwan. Then came Oakland. And then, naturally, Portland.

So, in the name of Living a Bloggable Life, I HAD to go check out Purrington’s Cat Lounge – Portland’s version of the I’m-not-convinced-it’s-a-trend smush of a coffee shop and a cat adoption center.

Yes, Purrington’s is a place where you can grab a cup of Meow Mocha or a mouse-shaped cookie and then go enjoy your treats in a room strewn with cats. Real, live, people-friendly, mostly-napping, totally petable, entirely adoptable cats.

I went with two other cat-loving friends. Lisa, Barb, and I each have two cats at home. But all six of them are close to or well ensconce in their Senior Kitty years. So hanging out with some energetic kittens sounded like a yarn ball of fun.

Studying Purrington’s web site, it seemed clear we would need reservations for our 1 hour of cat therapy. We opted for a 2:00pm slot on a Wednesday, to allow for lunch before and hopefully not too much traffic after.

As we approached the café, one cat was already on a cushion in the window meowing a welcoming.

His name is Owen.

Once inside, the café was pretty sparsely appointed. It was mostly a long bar with a register and a retro-hip cashier. As we paid our $8 entry fee to hang out with the kitties, the cat-eyed lady tried to interest us “small sips or nibbles” – hipster lingo meaning snacks – but we were entirely focused on the cats visible through the medium set of windows. It was only on our way out an hour later that we noticed there were bakery goods and some commemorative t-shirts and coffee mugs for sale.

While properly dousing ourselves with the requisite hand sanitizer, we dutifully read the rules. We were all a little disappointed about the “no picking up the cats” rule. My cats don’t let me pick them up either. It’s a conspiracy! Boo! I also spent some time amusedly pondering exactly what circumstance prompted the “no intoxication” rule and its priority placement at #3 on the list. Oh, Portland.

Lisa, Barb, and I entered the cat room and found seats. The room was long and narrow with windows at the far end opposite where we entered. There were already 13 of the maximum 15 people allowed in the room, including a tattooed cat lovin’ employee proudly sporting a “SHOW ME YOUR KITTIES” t-shirt and a somewhat awkward, young, gushing reporter from a verylocal Portland newspaper who went around asking questions with a notebook and pencil in hand.  ("Best assignment EVER!  I am totally blissed out right now!")

We looked around for the cats. We were told there were 10 of them but they were a bit hard to spot. Most of them were asleep in various cubbies and boxes. The few that were awake and moderately active were already being entertained, iPadded, and cooed to. One lively black kitty named Mystery decided Lisa was interesting and let Lisa entertain her with balls and feathers on a stick. Lucky Lisa!

Slowly people cleared out, including the lone male and his friend who was wearing a cat-themed sweatshirt covered in cat hair I’m pretty sure she arrived in. The extra space allowed us to finally move closer to the window and to the mostly awake cats. But, well, they had had a long morning and really just wanted to nap. So we primarily spent our hour petting sleeping kitties and comparing cat notes with the other women in the room.

Curly Sue was kind enough to let us pet her through her napping

Debriefing in the car on the way home, Lisa, Barb and I agreed that we had had a fun time and were glad we had visited Purrington’s…but we weren’t sure we would do it again unless we knew someone who wanted to check it out for the first time.

Although the cats were younger than ours our home, they were all at least 1 year old (lounge rule) so they weren’t the crazy high jumping whirls of activity we were expecting from younger kittens. Also, we decided that the lounge was very well appointed for cats but not so much for the humans.

The rectangular shape of the room made it difficult to roam around and interact with the cats. Also, with so few tables to set things on, we were all relieved we hadn’t opted for any nibbles that we would have had to keep on our laps or the floor. The ratio of 15 people to 10 marginally accessible cats also seemed a little high.

Nevertheless, we agreed the concept is a great one for the cats. They get to live in a home-like setting, get TONS of human interaction and love, and eventually…hopefully…find their forever homes thru adoption from visitors. And for that we were very pleased to have donated $8 to the paws cause. That and I found it a rather calming, Zen-like experience to simply hang out in a room of cats and the people who admire them.

Prepare for a detour:

In completely unrelated but equally notable news…this happened before we headed out to Purrington’s.

Note the breakneck speed of 13mph

Lisa has a Tesla. I had only seen pictures of them. Even though Barbara drove us to Purrington’s in her car, Lisa offered to take me for a spin in her shmancy ride to start the day. I was absolutely dumbfounded when she offered to let me drive it!

Ummm…. WOW!! That thing flies! It goes from 0 to NASCAR in barely two blinks. It handles with a ton of stability and the braking is as easy as simply taking your foot off the accelerator. It was by far the most fun I have ever had driving a car. I didn’t bother to hold back my gleeful giggling because, well, there was truly no way to stifle it.

The interior was leather and suede…SUEDE! And the controls were all on a touch-screen. In fact, the navigation system/controls were essentially a large iPad with continuous access to the internet. Unlike most (all?) other car navigation systems, everything is always available and accessible. No waiting until you get to a stop light to try to punch in an address really fast. While very convenient, I wondered about the safety of actually being able to check Facebook or emails or watch cat videos on YouTube all while supposedly driving your car. But with the planned self-driving feature anticipated for later this year, I suppose that concern will soon be moot. As are any passing thoughts I might have to ever have a Tesla of my very own. Yowsa!  Thank you so much for the test drive, Lisa!!!

A much more commendable speed of 82mph...and you can see the in-dash iPad

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Ova Achiever

I have been a bit MIA for a while. You may…or may not…have noticed. Aside from one lonely post in January and a binge of two posts in one particularly productive week in February, there just hasn’t been much writing going on here at Woodhaven. It’s not that there wasn’t anything to write about. Indeed, there has been quite a bit about which I could have rambled and mused. But I wasn’t ready to share yet. I think I finally am. We’ll see how it goes.

On January 27th, I had a surgery. It had been pondered for at least 6 months, discussed quietly for at least 4 months, and decided and scheduled for a month and a half prior to The Big Day. Only Rob…and then my doctor…knew about it for most of that time.

I found myself really not wanting to talk about it, as I seemed to be uncharacteristically nervous and talking about it just made the new-to-me anxiety tons worse. I also didn’t really want to explain all the particulars because, well, it was one of those sorta private girly surgeries. And who wants to talk about that?

OK, enough beating around the bush. I had a hysterectomy. Weeeee!

The reason for the surgery wasn’t anything particularly alarming. I had just had quite enough of the increasingly annoying and odd side effects of a certain permanent birth control device that Erin Brockovich is all excited about. I can essure you, the device is not all it was promised to be. I’m blaming the nickel. And perhaps a long undetected allergy to it.

The only way to remove the intruder my body was slowly rebelling against was to take some body parts with it. Since I had abandoned the intended use of those body parts with the decision to get the device in the first place, having the parts gone for good was really no big deal. And honestly, six weeks of lounging around in yoga pants while sipping tea and watching past episodes of “Sister Wives” sounded rather heavenly.

But, well, things haven’t gone quite as swimmingly as expected.

The surgery itself went just fine. No complications other than the on-the-spot decision to remove one ovary. I saw the laparoscopic photo of the poor little thing covered in cysts. Its removal was a very good idea. Besides which, I have been assured my one remaining ovary is sufficient for providing the needed hormones to keep things going until nature decides it’s time for A Change. We'll see about that.

You see, the challenge with this hysterectomy thing has not been the physical part. Honestly, with two spinal fusions as my benchmark for what a surgery entails, this has been a tea party. I haven’t really been in much pain (well, that my brain recognizes – yay for whacked out pain tolerance!), and I haven’t had to live with any severe restrictions for very long. Lucky for me, the warnings not to lift things or bend too much or drive too far are all things I already live with on a daily basis with my back issues. And I don’t swim very often and I prefer showers over baths. So a week or so of needing Rob’s help to get dressed was really the biggest imposition to my daily life. And that wasn’t really much of an imposition. Ahem.

People keep telling me that a hysterectomy is a Major Surgery but I still can’t really wrap my head around that. So I had some organs removed. Big deal. It’s not like I have another long scar on my spine or have added any titanium to my internal collection. I didn’t even get sent home with a walker or a custom-made brace. Surgery shmurgery.

Well, the joke’s on me. Because it turns out that the real challenge with this hysterectomy deal is the dancing hormones. That wasn’t part of my back surgeries so naturally it shouldn’t be a part of this one, right? Nobody really prepared me for this little emotion-packed adventure. But honestly, I wasn’t asking either. With the plan to keep both ovaries, it never occurred to me that my body might need some time to hormonally figure out a new normal.

I have since learned that even with both ovaries left in place, the body’s hormone system can go all haywire for several…months?!?…after a hysterectomy. Awesome! Lucky me! Lucky Rob!

So this is why I haven’t felt like writing much lately. I wasn’t sure what would come out of the keyboard, plus I have been so much in my head it’s been hard to see a way out. However, I am cheered that I now seem to be having more good days than weird ones. And I am definitely getting better at just riding the waves of ridiculousness instead of fixating on them. Victory (and rejoicing) at Woodhaven!

God and estrogen willing, I will be a bit more chatty in the coming weeks. I have missed writing. Or, more honestly, the desire to write. But I am encouraged that I wanted to write today and that no tears or adrenaline rushes were involved. Thank God!

My new uterus enjoying a beautiful spring day
(pillow courtesy of Rob and his mad Googling skillz)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

With apologies to the east coast

I’m gonna be honest. I feel a little guilty writing about this.

It’s February 17. This time last year, we were digging out from a bountiful (by our standards; maybe 6 inches) snow storm, with a homemade sock monkey to show for my day spent on the couch while the world turned white outside.

A year later, here I am on our patio sipping a banana-pineapple-strawberry smoothie and debating whether or not I really need to be wearing my In-n-Out hoodie (I’d wear one from Burgerville but, oh right, they misguidedly don’t do swag). Meanwhile, Rob is out golfing for the first time since last summer.

I drove around town today with my sunroof open and my car’s automatic climate control spewing cooled air through the vents. I saw lots of cars with their windows down and a few convertibles going topless far earlier than should be legal.

Our crocus flowers are always the first sign of imminent spring, usually popping up in mid March. This year, they are already long popped and munched by the deer. Our daffodils are already up and the plum trees on our driveway are adding daily blossoms by the dozens. This is all at least one month ahead of schedule. I have already purchased my annual pair of garden gloves and I am eyeing our BBQ in hopes of convincing Rob to grill me dinner tonight. I usually don’t get such notions until well into April.

I should still be wearing my fleece-lined shirts and my heavy coat. My walks should still involve earmuffs. Instead, we are all partying here like it’s May 19…and none of us is breathing a word of it. Because this:

I have several very good friends in the Boston area. The pictures they have been posting on Facebook are ridiculous. They are getting pounded by snow storm after snow storm while we are breaking records for heat and number of days without rain. It’s so bad (good?), I actually shaved my legs the other day in anticipation of maybe wearing… shorts!?

Normally, I would own the unseasonably nice weather and share photos of it with friends around the country. But this year, well, that just seems like unsportsmanlike conduct. Instead, I am quietly letting the weather sharing go one direction and yowza, the things I am learning!

For instance, my Boston friends have introduced me to the profession called “Roof Shoveler.” This is a person you hire to shovel snow off your roof. You do this because you fear a phenomenon called an “ice dam.” This is what happens when snow freezes in your gutters and builds a little dam that prevents any melted snow from leaving your roof. If you aren’t careful, the water eventually makes a break for it via your living room ceiling.

A roof freshly shoveled.  Thanks for the pic, Marsha!

This is just silly.

When they aren’t trying to save their houses, these snow-weary friends are busy moving snow out of the way to make room for more. They speak of spending hours and hours digging out parking spaces for their cars. This confuses me. They are DRIVING in the insanity of feet and yards and practically miles of snow?!? Two inches of flakes here and we all take the day off, hunker down, break out the emergency supplies, and wonder how we will ever survive.

But no, these New England snow veterans are hearty people. And probably much like rain here, they know if they waited until it stopped snowing to go anywhere, they would be housebound until July 5th. So they must drive. And therefore they must provide parking. And protect it.

Yes, another thing I have recently learned is that once you spend 4 hours creating a little asphalt haven for your car, there exists the possibility of some lazybutt shmoe coming along and stealing it. So, naturally, you stake your claim. Using chairs. Naturally. Why chairs, I have no idea. But apparently lawn chairs, folding chairs, rocking chairs, dining room chairs, even recliners are all suitably universal signs of “DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT, BUDDY.”

And so as the sun warmly sets on my shmancy zero-gravity lawn chair on my little cement haven on our tulip-budded patio, I am blissfully ignoring the long-range weather models that are calling for cold air to arrive towards the beginning of March. They speak of an idea of “False Spring” defined as “a period in February around here when we think winter is done and spring is here. Often it’s followed by a return to cold and rainy weather soon after.” So yet another reason to keep our current spring paradise a secret. Shhhh.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

12th Man Faithful

I have never been a very sportsy person. I never played a sport in school, I loathed PE, and I was actually pleased in 5th grade when I broke my wrist because my cast meant I got to do my homework during recess. Score!

The closest I ever got to being on a team was when my 7th grade boyfriend let me wear his Little League hat as a sign of coupledom. Then later in high school, my best friend and I were the "chain gang" for the football team. We worked the sidelines and moved the 10 yard markers around. We only did it for the community service credits required for the honor society. The fact we were surrounded by hunky football guys was an unexpected and delightful...if not slightly stinky...bonus.

Despite my lack of interest in playing sports, I did learn to appreciate watching them. My dad did a great job trying to explain rules of football and basketball and baseball. We lived in the San Francisco area and I have many happy memories of eating hot dogs and chocolate malteds while my dad explained why Willie McCovey was doing this or Vida Blue was doing that.

During the 1980s, the San Francisco 49ers became a family favorite. My mom developed something of a crush on Joe Montana and I owned a red jersey or two. We all enjoyed watching the team dominate year after year. Later, when I got a job at a Very Large Oil Company, I was thrilled to be able to have a perfect view of the Super Bowl victory parades (yes, plural) from an office down the hall.

1994.  The 49ers fifth -- FIFTH -- Super Bowl win.  As it should be.

So we were a 49er Family and I was proudly among the Faithful.

But things slowly changed.

I married a sports nut of sorts, but as he became more interested in fantasy football than the real stuff, my dedication to watching games trailed off. And then we moved to the Pacific Northwest, where the 49ers were shockingly rarely in Portland's news and none of my new friends seemed interested in them. I was, however, surrounded by crazy Seattle Seahawks people. Crazy, passionate, and exceptionally welcoming. Yes, I believe I was being groomed. And it worked.

Just a few days before the 49ers played the Seahawks for the division championship in 2013, I decided to make a break for it. I had done some research and I found I was really impressed by the Seahawks quarterback and what he stood for both on and off the field. I didn't get those same warm fuzzies about the 49er QB.

I also saw the 49ers and their fans so adeptly reflecting the cosmopolitan, high-tech, somewhat affluent culture of my past life in California...while the Seahawks and their fans felt more scrappy and authentic and communal like I have found my new life at Woodhaven to be.

Much like when we decided to leave California, I realized that I didn't belong with the 49ers anymore. They were no longer my people. Rooting for them felt like I was clinging to the past. I decided it was time to fully embrace my new life in the soggy mossiness of Washington. So I switched loyalties, trading the red and gold for the blue and green. And for the record, I look much better in blue and green. See?

My mom is on Facebook. She has two friends -- me and Rob. She never comments or likes anything; she is just there to lurk behind the scenes to keep up with us. In fact, only once in the six years she has been on Facebook has Mom posted a status:

"No No No!! Tell me it ain't so!!! (posted by your mom -- a forever 49er fan)."

Subsequent emails lamented along the lines of "Where did I go wrong in raising you?!?" and "You were the perfect child...until this." So, yeah, it's been a bit of rocky 16 months of representin' the 12th Man as my mom waves her red and gold arms all around in exasperation and disappointment.

Rocky and very odd, actually.

When I started rooting for the Seahawks, I was not surprised at all that they ended up going to the Super Bowl...and winning it. Because that's what I grew up with. My team was always in the playoffs, often in the Super Bowl, and frequently came home with that silver football trophy. That's just how it worked.

When the victory parade was being announced in Seattle after the Super Bowl win, I was sort of surprised by all the hysteria even 150 miles away. People were going nuts! I had friends who drove 3 hours to stand smushed up against fellow fans to yell and scream congratulations. It was as if the Seahawks had never had a Super Bowl parade before! Oh, wait. Right. They hadn't. My bad.

I had a passing thought of going up to the parade, too, but actually said out loud, "That's OK -- I can go next year." Because that's how rooting for a NFL team is -- you root for them and they win Super Bowls back-to-back. Right?

My certainty in Seattle's continued dominance amused Rob. "You have no idea how spoiled you were being a 49ers fan back then." True enough.

So it was with some incredulity that I watched My Team struggle the first half of this past season. I dutifully had their game schedule in my calendar and wore team colors to church on game days. I slowly accumulated all sorts of Seahawks paraphernalia including shirts, sweatshirts, drinking glasses, sneakers, nail polish, jerseys, hats, and gnomes. I was shocked when they traded Percy Harvin, and I enthusiastically started following Richard Sherman on Facebook. I mean, I was ON IT. I was fully supporting my team so they should be winning. Duh. Why did they not understand this?

My Seahawks support was predestined.  Nevermind that this
photo was taken 8 years before the team even existed.

And then, in the true Second-Half Team fashion that is becoming their legacy, the Seahawks turned it around in the second half of the season and earned a revisit to the Super Bowl in The Most Exciting Football Game I have ever watched. YAY! The comeback against the Packers was breathtaking. I actually high-fived Rob as we went to overtime. I have never high-fived anyone in my life for anything sportsy. THAT'S what sort of fan I am now.

I lost count how many times I watched a highlights video of that championship game. At the end of each viewing, I always felt a little bad for the Packers fans. I mean, they all but had the game won and then it just slipped away without any warning. Their dreams dashed. I could only imagine how they might have felt. Poor Cheeseheads. Only imagine, mind you, because my Seahawks had dominated and were going to the Super Bowl AGAIN and were going to win AGAIN. Because that's how it works when you support a football team, right?

It's been nearly two weeks now and I still don't really want to talk about it. I know explanations have been offered why they decided to throw a pass on that last play instead of running it with Mr. Skittles. But I really can't bear to relive it.

I honestly wanted to cry as that Patriot swooped in for an interception. And I remained in a dejected funk for several days afterwards. I didn't want to see, read, or hear anything having to do with That Play.

But I continued to sport my blue and green manicure and my array of Seahawks t-shirts. Partly because I really couldn't believe my team had lost, but mostly because I realized I was charting new territory with my fandom. I needed to prove to myself that I really am not just a fair-weather fan despite always having sunny skies any time I've cheered for a professional football team.

And so now I have a little better idea what it truly means to be a fan. It's not just about the tchotchkes and team gear...although those ARE critical. And it's not about always winning, because that's apparently sort of unusual. Being a true fan is about still clapping when things go sideways. It's about staying at the game until the end. It's about cheering your losing team when they get off the plane because you still respect who they are and how they play. It's about having every hope that they'll win another Super Bowl without feeling personally affronted if they don't.

See how much that one play in that one game has taught me? I'm a much wiser, more mature fan now, right? I'm just grateful I didn't decide to become a Detroit Lions fan. Although their blue and silver team colors are quite lovely, I don't think I could bear to learn all that being their fan would teach me. Oy.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Ramblings from a Washingtonian

A funny thing happened when we were trying to find lunch last month (December) in Las Vegas.

It was a beautiful, sunny, mid-70s day on The Strip and we decided to finally eat at an outdoor cafe at The Paris Hotel we had spied on a prior trip. It looked rather crowded, except for a collection of tables tucked around a corner in the shade.

We approached the hostess and requested a table outside. Just as she was starting to tell us it might be a bit of a wait for one in the sun, we corrected her and said, "No, we would love one we saw in the shade." She looked very confused so I clarified.

"We're from Washington state. All of this sun is overwhelming."

With a polite laugh that screamed "You people are all kinds of crazy!" she sat us at a table I'm sure she assumed would remain undesirable and unoccupied until the sun shifted.

Two minutes later, our waiter was laughing that same polite laugh as we asked if he might be able to turn off the portable heater that was making me sweat in my coveted, unpopulated shade.

Did I really spend nearly 30 years living in the sunshiny warm glow of the Golden State?? Good grief! Next thing you know, I'll be referring to my old stomping grounds as Frisco. I guess I really am much more Washingtonian, much less native Californian now. Go figure!

My unexpected shade seeking made me realize that a lot has changed in the ten years since we moved here. Well, more accurately, I have changed.

I started this blog mostly because I had some amusing fish-out-of-water stories about Rob and me trying to adapt to rural living amongst trees and septic systems.

My Bay Area friends shared my confusion and suspicion when I told stories of strangers in grocery stores here striking up conversations with me with apparently no agenda other than to be friendly like. And of course, my foray into canning and discovering...far too late...the existence and benefits of wide-mouthed canning jars resulted in my Death Peaches story and the suggestion I might find a forum for such missives.

And so I started blogging. Blogging about all the little ways life was so different here, how people and values and activities and weather and food and shopping and clothing were so NOT San Francisco. How odd it was not to have fences and to know my neighbors and to discover I needed to wear a bright orange vest on my walks
during this thing called "hunting season" just to be safe.

But somewhere along the line, I stopped noticing the differences. I stopped comparing everything to My Life Before. I stopped being from California.

Somewhere along the line, I started enjoying the rain. I started making chit chat with strangers. I started looking forwards instead of backwards. I started being from here.

Compared to ten years ago...

Instead of being energized by the excitement and motion of big cities, nowadays I get overwhelmed by all the noise and activity and sensory input. After just a few days...or even a few hours...I long to return to the quiet solitude of Woodhaven. Quiet used to bore me.

I am no longer up-to-date on the latest technology. Because I lived where a lot of stuff was invented and beta tested, I used to be very in-the-know if not actively consuming all the latest hi tech gadgetry and services. These days, I still have a flip phone, a landline, satellite TV, no tablet, no apps. And the 80-year-old woman in me sees no reason to change any of that because it is all working just fine and does everything I need to do, thankyouverymuch. Now get off my lawn.

I no longer get anxious when I hear gun shots or see smoke in the distance. Those used to mean gang activity and devastating wildfires. Now they mean hunters and burn piles.

We used to have a lawn mower powered by one long extension cord. We now have a tractor with a bagging attachment and a cup holder.

Our garden tools used to be limited to some clippers and a weed puller. Now we have machetes and orchard ladders and power washers and torches and weed whackers and safety goggles and wheelbarrows.

We used to be annoyed by the raccoons that visited our little suburban fish pond to wash their paws. Now we are delighted to see deer and coyotes and rabbits in our yard every day...delighted as long as they aren't eating our roses, grapes, or garden produce.

We used to have to go to national parks or zoos to see bears or cougars or bobcats. Now we see these visitors...or at least their droppings...on our property enough that it makes sense to be prepared just in case.

Guns used to scare me. Now many of my friends carry and I have acquainted myself with pistols and rifles. And, much to my surprise, I have discovered I am a pretty good shot. Not that I ever really want to put those skillz to use, but it's oddly comforting to know I have them if ever needed.

It used to be something of a big deal to go to The City (San Francisco) for a fun outing. Sadly, the traffic, the bridge tolls, the parking, and the psychological gymnastics of experiencing the homeless population were all barriers to more frequently embracing such a beautiful city. Now we go to Portland on a whim for dessert or food carts or any time we don't want to pay sales tax. No bridge tolls, plenty of cheap parking, predictable traffic, and a homeless population that isn't always distinguishable from the housed population.

I used to drive about 8,000 miles per year since most of my travel was done on a commuter train. Now I drive about 16,000 miles per year since I live down yonder from the nearest place to buy anything.

I used to have my choice of pizza joints that would deliver to my doorstep. Now we own a pizza delivery bag (purchased at a restaurant supply store) so our retrieved pizza will still be warm when we finally get it home. Similarly, I always keep a cooler in my trunk so I can keep frozen things cold if I am doing a "big shop" at my favorite grocery store a half-hour away.

I used to have tons of stores to buy clothes from. Now I can see a local woman wearing a shirt and have a good shot at telling you which of four stores she got it from...often because I am wearing the same thing.

I used to be stunned if I ever saw someone I knew while I was out running errands. Indeed, the familiar people I most often saw were people I recognized but didn't know from the train platform in the mornings. Here, I am stunned if I don't see someone I know when I am out running errands. In fact, I often have to build in extra time to allow for chit chat amongst the first-class mailing supplies or bananas.

Change is good. It means we are alive and living. So I am happy that what this blog started out to be has shifted over the eight years I have been writing it. I still ramble about my life in the rural hinterlands outside Portland, but it is more about observations and experiences and less about comparisons and adaptations. This is a good thing.

Now I am off to take a refreshing walk in the rain. Because I have rain gear, waterproof walking shoes, and if I wait for the rain to go away first, I'll be waiting until July.

Oh, and GO SEAHAWKS!!!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Very Nuna Christmas

Rob's grandma was a fun, feisty, determined woman who kept an impeccable house and said things like "Well, I declare!" with a delicious Southern accent. She loooooved the Atlanta Braves and good barbeque and, eventually and reluctantly, her daughter's cat.

Nuna was also very crafty. She was a fiend with crochet hooks. It is one of my big regrets that I never thought to ask her to teach me some yarn skills during one of our visits.

Not long after Rob and I got married, Nuna gave us a homemade afghan. It seriously classed up our Early Married decor of hand-me-down chairs and lamps from the 1970s and bookshelves made from plyboard and cinderblocks.

Years later, Nuna offered to make us a larger afghan. We sent her the yarn in colors that matched our 15-Years-Married-With-Better-Jobs living room scheme. We figured the new blanket would arrive a couple of seasons later. Instead, it landed on our doorstep just about a month later, with characteristic apologies for taking so long. Nuna explained that she had started crocheting at a very impressive pace. However, the bigger the afghan got, the faster her naps snuck up on her and significantly delayed her crafting progress. It wasn't long until I understood exactly what she meant; the warm, cozy handmade blanket is better than Unisom.

Christmas gifts from Nuna were often homemade, too. We have a number of crocheted snowflakes and doilies and pot holders and slippers, all similar to what one might find at a church bazaar but all much more treasured since I know the artist.

My favorite Christmas gift from Nuna was a set of refrigerator magnets. Ditching the yarn and hooks this time, she instead carefully cut out letters from red felt, complemented them with holly leaves, and glued magnets on the back. Granted, it wasn't a highly technical set of letters but they were nonetheless adorable.

When she packed them up in the gift box, she stacked them in the order of the word they were intended to spell. So the N went in first, followed by the O then the E then the L. Cute!

However, when we opened the box, we were confused. We took out the L then the E then the O then the N.

"LEON?? Who is Leon and why do we have felt letters for his name??"

I can still hear Nuna's high-pitched giggle and lots of declaring on the phone as we explained our confusion and told her we proudly had LEON displayed on our fridge. We even sent her a picture.

So on this 24th day of December, I would like to wish you all a Very Merry Leon, as Nuna smirks and giggles from above.

Behind the Blog: So it had been a couple of years since we displayed LEON and it took a bit of time this morning to find him. I knew exactly what I was looking for -- a little hexagonal holiday gift box -- but it wasn't in any of the 5 totes Rob had already rescued from our attic. Hoping there might be a few boxes still up there, I stopped right here before thinking better of looking for myself.

I knew it wasn't a great idea for me to go climbing around on steep ladders with Therapeutic Crocs and back spasms. And so, displaying what Rob called "the impatience of a saint," I mostly stared at him while he futzed around on his computer over there in his chair. Finally venturing into the garage, he started going through all the totes I had already explored.

"You know when I was out here earlier for a long time? That was when I was repacking and retaping all of those ornament boxes," I explained with some saintly exasperation while all but tapping my Crocs. For some reason, this was met with hysterical laughter and a demand for a hug.

Finally. FINALLY. Rob creaked up the ladder and within just a few minutes discovered the treasure box tucked in the center of a wreath we decided not to display this year. Leon and his storage box will henceforth be stored with our advent calendar so he can be one of the first Christmas decorations up each year.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

It's the Fair!!! In December!!

I have the most amazing set of business cards sitting on my keyboard at the moment. Cards from a magician, a hypnotist, a walking tree, a human fortune telling machine, a stilt walker, an extreme pogo sticker, a comedic Cajun cook, and some fish exhibitors from Colorado. I also have a rubber chicken thumb drive, a squishy toilet, a pen advertising Feets Of Fire, and a hockey puck. Any guesses what I did last week??

Thanks to some insider info from that cool guy John "Mr. Oregon's Mt. Hood Territory" that we met at The Fair last August, Rob and I spent a super fun day wandering the ballroom in the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas as official attendees of the IAFE Annual Convention and Trade Show!!!! Can you believe it?!?

Wait, you don't seem nearly as excited as you should be.

Maybe this will help: IAFE = International Association of Fairs and Expositions. It is a group of people with THE BEST JOBS in the world! They all work for county and state fairs! And they meet every December to talk about how lucky they are! Or, at least that's what I assume they talk about since I wasn't allowed into any of their breakout sessions. Pesky membership rules, credentials, blah blah blah.

But I WAS allowed into was the trade show! A trade show of all things FAIR! I had no idea what to expect but I knew I had to go. And I managed to persuade Rob into going with me to take pictures and carry my know, just like the Fair. Weeee!!!!

Ok, so are we on the same coming-out-of-our-skin-with-excitement page now?

I knew the experience was going to be memorable when it started before we even got there. We were waiting at Gate 14 for our flight to Vegas and Rob noticed a guy sporting a Seahawks sweatshirt and a jaunty hat. It was the hat that made me curious because, well, everyone should be a Seahawks fan. (Hi, Mom!)

"Is that the magician from the Fair??"

"Wow, maybe, but I'm not really sure. I'd know for sure if he was trying to cut off your hand."

Being the pair of introverts that we are, Rob and I kept staring and discussing. Rob told me to go ask the guy. I told Rob to go ask the guy. We did this through the pre-boarding announcements. Finally, I decided to be a grown up and approached the hatted man.

"Excuse me. Is your name Adam? Adam the Great? From the Clark County Fair?"

IT WAS! My first celebrity sighting at PDX!

We chatted for a bit and confirmed that Adam was going to the same convention we were. This was my first hint of what might greet me a few days later in the vendor booths in the Paris ballroom. (Insert foreshadowing music here.)

The morning of the trade show, I was up, ready, fed, and lurking around the ballroom entrance only 20 minutes early. I was proudly wearing my red convention badge and was giddy that I had listed my organization as "It's the FAIR!" -- a nod to the name of my blog for the local newspaper. It was the only legitimate Fair connection I could think of. Somehow "Insane Fair Fanatic and Milkshake Barn Groupie" didn't seem professional enough. Plus it was too long to fit on the badge.

The time finally arrived. We walked into the ballroom and were immediately greeted by a Coke fountain drink booth offering free samples. Free samples! Of Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Sprite, and Minute Maid Lemonade! Just like the free samples of water that Clark Public Utilities offers at their booth at our Fair...but sweeter and bubblier and more artificial! It was going to be a great day!!!

Sipping our aspartame, we headed to the far corner of the ballroom to systematically work our way through the 450 booths that awaited us. Three hours later, we were catching our breath on a really uncomfortable bench outside, watching the Fair People go by. Just like at our Fair!!

There are so many highlights, so much to say, so many brochures we brought home, so many photos. In no particular order, here's what the Fair Trade Show Experience was like (and yes, it was totally sustainable):

  • It was by far the most sales-pitchy show I had ever been to. Pretty much everyone working their booths was eager to sell themselves and not the least bit shy about it. They were also all masters at reading the badges. Within seconds of passing near them, they greeted me by name and told me how much they liked Seattle (because if you live in Washington, what other cities are there?).
  • The vendors were heavy on the entertainment that is booked at fairs. Think of all the shows that are at fairs (singers, magicians, hypnotists), along with the people who roam around and interact with guests, and that's who had rented little curtained booths in the ballroom. It was sort of like a menu of how to be entertained. The live owl on the woman's arm is scaring you? Ok, how about the next booth with a girl slathered in copper paint who stands as a statue? Not your thing? You like balloon animals? Cuz Steven is whipping them up in the next booth. How about celebrity impersonators? Danny DeVito and Robert De Niro are down the next aisle on the left. It was awesomely bizarre!

  • It was a blast walking around the ballroom as all the entertainers were doing their thing. People were walking around on stilts, there was a huge zebra and robot and a guy dressed as a tree. There were acrobats and card tricks. People were eating popcorn and Dippin' Dots and drinking beer. And, if you listened closely enough to the casino outside the ballroom, there were even faint cheers and bells like on a midway. All that was missing was a demo derby and an elephant ear!
  • After breaking a few hearts early in our rounds, Rob and I quickly learned to say, "Sorry, we don't book talent" early in any conversation. Personally, I was thrilled and complimented that I looked like someone who might have that power. But sadly, as soon as we made it clear that I was merely a blogger at best, I suddenly wasn't nearly as enthralling.
  • Indeed, we would have wandered around the trade show a lot more if it weren't for the salivating nature of the booth folk. We both felt a lot like this:
    This is from a GEICO ad in 2012.  Free elephant ear to anyone who can find me an image of the Roadrunner instead of the lizard.
  • It was hard to really take it all in because we were constantly being noticed and approached and sold. In an analogy you'll only find here on Woodhaven Ramblings, walking around all the booths at the IAFE Convention was a lot like visiting the pyramids in Egypt with all of those incessant vendors insisting I buy a camel ride. As with the ancient wonders, I wasn't really able to fully take in the experience in the moment, what with being eyed as a walking stack of money.
  • It turns out the guy with the snake show hates snakes...but he loves what people are willing to pay to have snakes at their fair.
  • Rob owned up to my being a blogger long before I did. I really thought I would just wander around inconspicuously. But, with the feeding frenzy, it became clear that wasn't going to happen. By the end of the day, I was A Blogger and was touched by the few vendor folks who thought it was cool. I was also impressed by the small handful who realized that a writer could still be useful even if she couldn't book talent. (Shout out to you faerie people and pirates!)
  • The faerie people were very cool. They were one of those acts that walks around a fair to entertain and engage people. I noticed them right away because a mermaid turtle was giving a little girl a ride around the ballroom. (Awesome convention, right?) In chatting with the fine faerie folk, they also have a puppet stage that attaches to the turtle so they can do a roaming puppet show. How cool is that? You can check them out here.
  • The pirates were very piratey. They were professional pirates...from Hollywood. I lost track of all of the credentials, but various crew members had been in all sorts of movies and such. What I liked most about them was they said they stay in costume and character for the duration of any fair they are hired for. So if they need to go to the grocery store or gas station, they do it as pirates so they can draw attention and tell people about the fair. I suggested to them that they not count on that working in Portland. So many pirates (and zombies) already randomly out for their errands because, well, Portland. (Check out the pirates here.)
  • Aside from the entertainers, there were unexpected booths for the periphery of Putting on a Fair. Things like wheelchairs and strollers, barricades and fences, insurance, ribbons, tickets, payments systems.
  • Rob noted that he had never seen so many ATMs at a convention before. We have no idea if any of them worked, but in Vegas perhaps having one every 100 feet isn't a bad business model.
  • Trips and falls are the two biggest insurance claims for a fair. Golf carts are also a big hazard, as vendors don't always have the required experience to successfully zip around crowds of people to get more supplies. The carts are also often not well supervised; insurance claims for joy riding gone wrong are more common that you would think. And insuring the carnival rides? That's a whole other policy altogether. See how much we learned?!?
  • Did I mention there was FREE BEER?? Brilliant! I had never heard of the brand (Leinenkugel from Wisconsin) but their Vanilla Porter was quite good. Word from some magicians was that at the end of each day, vendors are encouraged to come grab whatever beer is left over for the day. I could see that figuring into requested booth location for next year's trade show.
  • There was also some live music. There was this quartet of guys from Georgia that sang acapella. They were fantastic. Their manager saw me trying to stealthily take a photo of them (I tell you, there was NO STEALTHINESS to be had at this convention!). So she came over and invited me to an afterparty meet-and-greet with them later that night in a suite at Bally's. I would be lying if I didn't say that made me feel like the coolest hip chick in the ballroom. And, naturally, I didn't go because, well, I don't book talent. Sigh.
  • I got to shoot a rubber chicken through a cannon.
  • It costs about $400,000 to buy one of those big food booths. That doesn't count the side areas for open-air BBQing of chicken and turkey legs and corn and such. No quote was provided...despite pleas for such...for setting up a booth in a backyard for a day.
  • Once it was clear that I don't book talent, some folks relaxed and allowed themselves to chat more freely. For example, I learned that scheduling is one of the biggest challenges and priorities for any act. Trying to find events for the right dates in the right general geography is a huge headache. I also learned that some jugglers do science shows for schools during the off-fair season. And I learned that walking bent over on stilts as a zebra is a great core and ab work-out.
  • I spotted a woman wearing the most adorable balloon bracelet so I asked her where she got it. I eventually found Steven and he made me a ladybug bracelet as Rob and I chatted with his mom...who is a hypnotist. We learned that Steven is in his early 30s and is finally coming to terms with the fact that his life's work should involve balloons. We were both very impressed with Steven...and the Ferris Wheel he made for a Ferris Wheel booth (missed that one!). Apparently it was the first wheel he had ever made.

    Meanwhile, I managed to get the ladybug all the way home so I could take this picture:
  • True to any exhibition hall at a fair, in addition to the card games, stilt walkers, balloon animals, pirates, and robots there were...Tempurpedic mattresses.

    No amazing brooms or bathroom scum cleaner, though. And I never did find anyone who would clean my rings for me. Although, Steven's mom did use one of my rings to demonstrate how she uses mentalism in her hypnosis show. She put my ring under a cup, had me move it and a bunch of empty cups around, and she then used the energy she sensed from my ring to figure out which cup it was under. Cool! I never had that happen at the Advertising Research Foundation convention I used to go to way back when...

So wow, five pages later perhaps it is clear that the IAFE convention was unlike any convention I have ever attended. It was like a mini-fair, a little dose of Fair Fun to tide us fair lovers over to the summer. I am so thrilled I got to go! I'm not sure we will ever go again, though; going as fair groupie without an expense account is probably a one-time gig. But wow, what a hoot! And totally the most fun I have ever had in Las Vegas. And that's saying something!

Only 238 days 'til Fair!!