Sunday, August 8, 2021

4-Hour Fair

It only lasted 4 hours but they were the best, most therapeutic 4 hours I had had in a long time.  Last night, from about 5:30pm to 9:30pm, I got to escape to my Beloved Fair.  Or the best approximation offered during the roller coastery waves of a global pandemic.

Amen and hallelujah!

My Fair should have started last Friday.  I mean, it rained for the first time in 51 days and everything.  It almost always at least sprinkles on Opening Day, as if the Fair wants there to be no mistaking that it is decidedly Pacific Northwestern.

But, depressingly, once again my Fair was cancelled this year.  Stupid, unrelenting virus.

Gloriously, the Fine Fair Folks found a way to still offer a tiny slice of Summer’s Best Party by bringing in a few nightly events and the carnival.  THANK YOU, FINE FAIR FOLKS!!  So last night – for one night only – Rob and I got to go Fairing and pretend for a spell that the past 17 months never happened.

The event was the rodeo.  Or, more specifically, “Hell on Hooves.”  Bucking the trend of wearing a flirty skirt and cowgirl boots, I gleefully dug out my favorite lime green Clark County Fair t-shirt, bright pink Clark County Fair sweatshirt, and super durable Clark County Fair cinch sack backpack.  I was so out of practice, I totally forgot to include my Clark County Fair baseball hat and one of my 11 adorable pairs of fair-themed novelty earrings.   BOO!

Wanting to make sure we got Our Favorite Seats, we arrived a touch early.  Like 90 minutes.  We parked in a lot we’ve never started our Fairing from before and got all sorts of confused as we wandered through the carnival towards the Grandstands. 

I never appreciated before how my Fair sets the carnival up the same way every year, allowing Rob and me efficient and familiar passage to more adulty entertainment like the demolition derby and humming llamas.

Last night, all our landmarks were shuffled around or gone altogether.  The kiddie rides were in the wrong place, there was a second Ferris Wheel inexplicably plunked in the middle of the action, and I never did see the ping-pong-ball-fish-game or the unnaturally-bouncy-basketball-hoops-game that always lead to the west exit of the carnival.

With new rides on site and old rides in new spots and chain link fences in places God never intended, we added an extra half-mile to the pedometer trying to crack the code on finding the entrance to the Grandstands.

We had heard the food options were limited.  I thought perhaps only a booth or two would be open in the Food Court.  Instead, because the theme of Covid-19 is “Don’t Plan Too Much,” the food options were simple tents and tables and even simpler menus.  Our choices were:  cheeseburger, hot dog, kettle corn, chips, bottled soft drink, snow cone, and pizza.  I was grateful I had thought to bring some candy from home.  Clearly I was too focused on food to remember earrings.

The receptionist at an assisted living
facility where a friend lives turned 
me on to this fun little snack item. 
It's basically Nerd Rope in ball form!
Chewy and tangy and crunchy and
sugar-high-inducing.  Recommended!


My flavor choice for kettle corn is
always white cheddar, because I
like salty much more than sweet.
But they didn't have white cheddar
so I reluctantly got regular ol'
kettle corn.  OMG!  I had never
had the original stuff before.  SO GOOD!
Salty AND lightly sweet and 
terribly addictive.  I'm truly
stunned I got any sleep last night
given all the sugar I consumed.


Hot dogs, kettle corn, and a Sparkling Fresca in hand, we got settled into Our Favorite Seats which were now oddly numbered.  Apparently we like Sections 107-108.  And apparently the average Clark County booty is thought to be 18 inches wide.  That might be accurate when you factor tiny kiddos into the math, but I’m here to tell you, 4 moderately sized adults unapologetically and quite comfortably occupied Seats 1-5 in Row N for the duration of the rodeo.

Not sure why the numbers were necessary since
our tickets were General Admission.  Also very 
impressed how precisely those 4 slender folks
positioned themselves between the stickers.

I wasn’t quite sure how many fans would show up last night, especially since the tickets only got you the rodeo and not the entire Fair Experience like normal years.  When we arrived at 5:30, lots of back-friendly seats at the top of the lower section were open.  A half-hour later, I was glad we arrived when we did.  By 7:00 – show time – the grandstands were packed and I was trying really hard not to be all twitchy about being in a such a big group of people for the first time in two years. 

His arms are covering it, but the guy on the
right end was wearing a shirt that said, "I am
done peopling." His position in the Country Boy
Lineup is clearly not by accident.  I will also
be adding that shirt to my Introvert Shirt Collection.
However, unlike the Country Boy, I don't wear my 
Introvert Shirts in public because then people would
notice me and take pictures of me and put me in their blog --
all things anathema to an introvert. Sorry, dude. Sorta.

As things got underway, I soaked in the moment. It was so familiar and so desperately missed.

I was wearing my Fair Swag, eating junk food, sitting on my inflatable camp cushion in Our Favorite Seats in the Grandstands with Rob and friends, gazing ahead as the sun lit up the carnival in front of the clearing Pacific Northwest rain clouds.

I had removed my hat for the National Anthem and was surrounded by rural and city folk sharing the experience of arm-dancing to “YMCA.”  The Fair Court had ridden out on their horses – FINALLY having something to do since being crowned in August 2019 – and the same old-guy announcer with the twangy voice had once again made everyone uncomfortable when he described Mutton Bustin’ as “the only legalized form of child abuse.”  Once upon a time that got a sincere laugh. 

I absolutely loved being back home. And I might have wiped away a couple tears of gratitude when nobody was looking.

At 21, these two Fair Court Women are the
oldest I have ever heard announced. They 
are also the only Court to have served two
years in a row.


This view is one of the reasons I
love Our Favorite Seats.


Sheep dragging a toddler around
the dirt arena.  Such fun!

But things were also so different, too.

The smell wasn’t right.  There was a whole mess of sheep and horses and cows and bulls within sight.  Yet somehow, they weren’t enough to infuse the air with that distinct, heady mix of hay and poop and mammal sweat that just screams FAIR.

The numbered seats were odd, as if trying to bring some unnecessary order to a gathering process that already happens perfectly in its organicness.

The security was mystifyingly wimpy.  We were astounded as we watched a local mom pop out of the section next to us and trot down the metal steps to the dirt arena.  Once there, she hopped over the cement barrier and sauntered over to the metal gates comprising the boundary of the rodeo ring.  Without asking permission or forgiveness, Mom climbed up on a gate, whipped out her cell phone, and proceeded to video her bronco-bucking son take an 8-second ride on a feisty horse.  Without a word or a stern look from anyone in authority, she scampered back to her seat and her beer, toasting her boldness with the rest of the proud family. 

Soon after, with nothing other than common sense to suggest otherwise, more parents started relocating to the arena’s fence barrier.  Toddlers, kids in strollers, grade schoolers – all joined their parents around the ring of the rodeo with only 6 horizontal pipes of metal separating them from really big, really mad livestock.  Eventually things like hospital bills and lawyers occurred to someone in charge.  Security folks magically appeared to wrangle folks back to their seats without the use of lassos.

Crowd gathered on the left, guy in green shirt
fearlessly smoking next to the No Smoking sign,
security nowhere to be seen.
Anarchy at the rodeo!

Other than the two friends we arranged beforehand to sit with, Rob and I did not see anyone we know last night.  So much of what I love about Fairing at my Fair is running into friends.  It reminds me I still live in a small community and am part of something bigger than myself.  With few places to wander…and still a little wigged out about being in big crowds even outdoors…there was not much opportunity to happen upon familiar faces last night.  Distinctly not Fair.

We ended the night with one of our favorite Fair traditions, albeit without the precursor elephant ear.  Gratefully, the one carnival ride that Rob and I go on was there, in its rightful spot at the north edge of the midway.  The sun having set, Rob and I enjoyed a nighttime ride on the big Ferris Wheel, happily snuggling against the breeze, enjoying the bright lights of the other rides below us and the Portland metro beyond.  But even that view was different, as the rest of the Fairgrounds was painfully dark and quiet.  No animal sounds, no line for milkshakes, no lights from barns or tents, no screams from the slingshot ride.  I was both gleefully happy and profoundly sad.

Despite the confusing mix of emotions, I am so grateful I got to Fair just a little bit last night.  In the midst of the differences and the “not quite rights” and the reminders and awareness of still being in the throes of a global pandemic, there was still a desperately needed familiarity that fed my spirit.  

As we took our last lap on the Ferris Wheel, I stared down at the Grandstands and the big American Flag and the lights of the carnival.  I wondered what life will be like the next time I have that view.  While I don’t dare presume an answer (insert Covid-19 theme here), I do know that life will be changed, I will be different, and that view will once again soothe my soul.






Wednesday, July 21, 2021

The Halls of Fame

Back in March, when Rob and I had end-dates for Fully Vaccinated Status, we got busy planning all sorts of ways to leave Woodhaven for a spell.  Don’t get me wrong – I love our home and the land it sits on.  But after nearly a year and a half staring at our backyard, we were desperate for new scenery and no house-yard-and-life obligations tugging at our psyches.

We’ve taken some short trips to visit family over the past few months, but a couple of weeks ago we finally embarked on a Bona Fide Vacation.  A ten-day, desperately needed escape that we named The Halls of Fame Trip.

The plan was hatched when Rob and I were daydreaming in the rainy, quarantined dead of winter about places in the Good Ol’ U.S. of A. that we wanted to visit.  Because cruising seemed iffy and international travel seemed unwise.  With the Seahawks’ 2020 season coming to an end, I wistfully told Rob that I would love to see the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  You know, in Ohio.

Rob added that he wouldn’t mind seeing the National Baseball Hall of Fame in New York.  I mused that it would be cool to see Niagara Falls.  A map, a calendar, some more musing, and many confirmation numbers later, we had our itinerary.  Fly to Cleveland and drive to Boston.  Along the way we would check out the Rock and Roll, Pro Football, and National Baseball Halls of Fame.  We would also get drenched at Niagara Falls and end our trip in Boston visiting some very dear friends.

It was a fantastic trip.

We drove almost 1,200 miles in an enormous black boat officially called “A Ford Expedition.” It’s not what we reserved, but it’s what the overworked Cleveland Hertz people offered.  It came with an automatic step that helpfully slid out every time the doors opened, USB ports galore, and the ability to socially distance within its cabin.  When asked what it was like to drive it (I remained Over There in the passenger seat the entire 1,200 miles), Rob replied, “It depends which way the wind is blowing.”  Shockingly, it got better gas mileage than the 2006 Infiniti sedan we replaced a few months ago.  And aside from a wonky knee from using the step to catapult in, the black boat was actually a pretty comfortable ride.  And exceptionally easy to find in parking lots…although not so easy to park.

At one point, Rob tossed his baseball hat to the
back seat but he overthrew and it landed in the
cavernous and highly-inaccessible-by-grownups 
3rd row.  Retrieving it might also have 
contributed to the wonky knee.

When we planned the trip, I was most anticipating the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  Rob was most excited about the baseball one.  Color us surprised to discover that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was the clear favorite for both of us.

 

ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAME

We spent about 4 hours in the Rock and Roll HOF on a stormy, humid Ohio day.  The museum was a combination of history, social movements, celebration, and nostalgia.  It had interactive displays, one of which prompted whole new level of respect for people who can play a guitar (so many strings, so many places to put your fingers, so many combinations of things each hand can do, and yikes my nails!). 

I was so tickled that my strumming
made a noise!  And not at all surprised 
that the noise did not approximate music.


The museum had videos of key moments of every induction ceremony.  It traced the music contributions of key geographies like Memphis and Kansas City and San Francisco and London.  It wove together the foundations of country and jazz and bluegrass and gospel music to explain rock’s origins.  It had large rooms dedicated to Elvis and The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.  It had iconic artifacts like Michael Jackson’s single sequined glove.  It had the original lyrics of so many classic songs scribbled on napkins and notebook paper and wedding invitations.

The Hall of Fame was extensive and comprehensive and so much fun!

It rotated and was particularly sparkly.

The biggest surprise was an exhibit dedicated to the history of Super Bowl Halftime Shows.  They explained the exhaustive planning behind the musical performances, the intricate and down-to-the-second timing, and the slow evolution of the event becoming Bruce Springsteen-worthy.  On display were some costumes worn by various performers over the years.  And then…tucked in a corner, with unmistakable nubbly, sky-blue felt celebrating The Best Moment in Modern Day Halftime Shows was…

LEFT SHARK!!!!  OMG!!!!

For those unaware, Left Shark was one
of Katy Perry's backup dancers in the 
Super Bowl XLIX Halftime Show.
Right Shark followed the choreography but
Left Shark danced like nobody (not
even 119 million people) was watching.
He was like a spirited 5-year-old in a dance
recital and all magnitudes of fun and
individuality.  May we all embody
some of Left Shark.

I was already having a blast at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  But seeing Left Shark in the felt-flesh was UNREAL!  It alone was seriously worth the price of admission, if not the plane ticket.  I WAS GIDDY! I kept taking photos and selfies and lost my hat and kept trying to understand why other people were not FREAKING OUT with me and then wished I had worn my Left Shark Fashion Scarf (yes, you read that right) for an even more epic photo-op.  OMG! 

Seriously, one of the biggest highlights of the trip and 2021 so far.  LEFT SHARK!!!

The one selfie with Left Shark in
which I don't look entirely maniacal. 

 

PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME

Canton, Ohio is a very easy, comfy, green-trees-and-flip-flops Midwestern town.  The people were friendly and the traffic was light. Quite a nice place to visit.

Our self-guided tour of the Pro Football HOF was another 4 hours, with an additional 30 minutes spent moping around the gift shop trying desperately to find something…anything…souveniry and worth the NFL Licensing price. (I ended up with a couple of gifts and a boys-sized t-shirt.  Buying lower-priced L or XL youth-sized sports swag is my newest Life Hack.)

Ready to rumble and not thinking 
about how many other people already
wore the helmet that day.

Very serious about reviewing instant
replays to make the right call.

A pair of Old Guy Football Fan docents greeted us when we arrived at the Hall of Fame.  We later tried to avoid making eye contact with another one who was available on a portable computer monitor via some sort of live feed.  It was odd and a little creepy having him expectantly sitting there on a podium in the hallway.  Serving me right, I was bummed to discover he had been wheeled away when I had a question a few hours later.

My question – that was much better answered by Google than the gal in the ticket booth – was how players are elected to the Football Hall of Fame.  A pretty fundamental question…and one you would have thought would be addressed in an introductory display.  But apparently that information is assumed to be widely known…or widely inconsequential.

Why indeed?  At least some basic questions were answered.

The HOF did a great job highlighting the most successful pro football teams and players over the years.  I was grateful to have been a 49er Faithful throughout the ‘80s, as that provided lots of history and memorabilia for me to appreciate.  As a current 12th Man Fan of the Seattle Seahawks, I had to meticulously hunt down Seahawks tidbits like a nice dress in Ross Dress for Less.  Thank goodness for Steve Largent.  And eventually, Russell Wilson (in the Notable Players of Today area – along with Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes).  I also had no idea Jerry Rice played for the Seahawks for a brief minute (clearly during my several-year hiatus from caring about pro football).

Watching the Niners and cheering on
Joe Montana with my fan-girl mom
was one of my favorite parts of the '80s. 

What I appreciated most about the Pro Football Hall of Fame was gaining a better understanding of the rivalry and eventual merging of the NFL and the AFL and why the Super Bowl is so young given football’s long history.  While I sorta kinda knew some of that, the displays and stories at the museum made it finally stick.

I also loved seeing the hall of bronze busts of the various inductees.  They were beautifully displayed with just the right touch of class and lighting to impart the proper sense of the honor, appreciation, and accomplishment of each man.

The collection of Super Bowl rings, on the other hand.  Oh good Lord.  What started out as fancy versions of college class rings have morphed into ostentatious, gaudy, diamond-smothered show pieces that could double as a child’s bracelet.  Modern-day trophy rings are enormous and I can’t imagine anybody actually wears them.  I suspect most are kept in home safes and brought out for show-and-tell when company comes over.

The photo doesn't adequately reflect
the size of these rings.  Rest assured,
they are over my cranky back's weight-limit.

 

NATIONAL BASEBALL HALL OF FAME

We spent about 6 hours in the National Baseball HOF in Cooperstown, New York.  The town was adorable and all-things baseball.  The Hall of Fame was a relatively small brick building, but since baseballs aren’t very big they were able to cram a lot of stuff in there.

SO fun seeing all the brick buildings back east!
Brick is sort of silly in earthquake country.

We arrived early for our 10:30am tickets (many museums are currently doing timed tickets in order to help manage lines, although that doesn’t keep the place from getting more and more crowded as the day goes on).  All the staff were college kids.  Young, energetic, likely excited to have “National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown” on their resumes.  It was a noticeable difference from the Old Guys Docents at the Football HOF. And much more lively.

The Baseball HOF covered a lot of territory regarding both the game and the players.  There were some side exhibits about women, the Negro League, and the influence of Latin players in the modern game, as well as a room dedicated to baseball cards.  But for the most part, the museum was comprehensive history. 

I learned about Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and an old timey guy named Christy Mathewson.  I especially enjoyed learning about Hank Aaron, having never realized what a solid human being he was on and off the field.  I was so fascinated by the stories of some of these great men of America’s Pastime that I asked Amazon to send me a book compiling the biographies of baseball’s most notable players.  Ok, fine, the book’s intended audience is kids ages 8-12, but no never mind that.  I just want to know the basics and the heart of the greats.  It shall be my patio reading very soon.

A Hank Aaron quote that I am still pondering to
help me focus on the real stuff: 
"The pitcher has got only a ball.  I've got a 
bat.  So the percentage in weapons is in 
my favor and I let the fellow with the ball
do the fretting."

One of my favorite exhibits was a small one about the music played in baseball stadiums.  It started with a history of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” (actually a love song!?) and then talked about how different teams have different anthems.  “Sweet Caroline” for the Boston Red Sox or “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” for the Baltimore Orioles, for instance. The exhibit started me thinking about the use of music in pro sporting events – how snippets of songs are played at different times to get the energy level up or get the crowd involved.  Again I went to Amazon in search of a book about the history and use of music in sports arenas and found…nothing.  Apparently I’m the only person who thinks this would make a great read.  Boo!  I really appreciated, though, that the baseball HOF was making me think.  I was thinking about more than just the game.  I was thinking about the full experience of the game, its place in society, its impact and reflection of societal and racial movements, the bonding, the memories.

A perfect representation of what I loved 
about visiting the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

The very best and most memorable part about visiting the National Baseball Hall of Fame was watching the other museum goers.  My cranky back had me warming benches throughout the Hall, giving me a great opportunity to watch awed baseball fans soak in every drop of their Mecca. 

I lost track of how many Little League teams I saw in the HOF, wearing their matching uniforms and excitedly bouncing from one exhibit to another, having the Very Best Day of Their Lives.  Pumped by the environment and being 12 years old and dreaming of being a Great Baseball Hero someday, I spied at least a dozen boys throw air pitches of imaginary balls while wandering past display cases.  I overheard grown men sharing stories of games they had played and ones they had attended.  Fathers squatted and pointed at displays, giving their children context and perspective.  One young boy, probably about 10, had a camera and a delighted grandma.  The boy knew every stat of every game of every player.  He took photos of everything, the flash bouncing off the glass and occasionally blinding other visitors.  He expertly told his patient grandma why each artifact was critically important.  The look on her face spoke my own thoughts:  we weren’t as interested in baseball as we were immersed in the pure joy of its truest and most passionate fans.  I began to appreciate baseball so far beyond the mechanics of the game.  The players, the teamwork, the history, the great moments, the shared experience – all provide fertile opportunity for bonding and connection in a way that no other sport seems to do.  As sappy as it may be, I was truly on the verge of tears any number of times as I witnessed the sweetness of the magic of baseball.

The conversations were at times loud and enthusiastic
and at times hushed and reverent.  But there was 
much to talk about.

On our way back to our car – parked in an entrepreneurial guy’s grassy field for two bucks less than the town wanted to charge for pavement – we stopped at nearby Doubleday Field.  A Pony League game was underway.  There were two teams and at least four uniforms, so it wasn’t too serious.  But capping our visit to the National Baseball Hall of Fame with a couple innings of junior-high baseball was about as organically perfect as it could be. The only thing missing was a box of Cracker Jacks. 



NIAGARA FALLS

Between Canton (Football) and Cooperstown (Baseball), we took a little museum breather to visit some really big waterfalls.  As we approached Niagara, we were astounded that we could see the mist from the falls.  Like from 10 miles away.  We have seen some big waterfalls – Yosemite, Yellowstone, Shoshone – but I don’t ever recall seeing the mist rise above the landscape, especially from so far away.  I was super excited to discover our much more proximate hotel room had a similarly misty view.

That little smudge of grey just above 
the trees in the center of the photo
is mist from Niagara Falls.

We arrived mid-afternoon on a warm, sunny, humid day and decided to jump right into sightseeing.  I’m so glad we did because the next day was rainy and grey and drippy; getting drenched on the Maid of the Mist boat ride would not have been nearly as refreshing or rainbow-laden.

The American Falls.

We waited in line for an hour.  Right before getting on the boat that would take us super close to the falls, we were given branded, bright blue garbage sacks with hoods.  Much like Disneyland and mouse ears, the blue plastic “raincoats” were the preferred and encouraged accessory of the park.  They did come in handy.  Well, except for the hoods because…wind.

Before visiting Niagara Falls in person, I had no idea there are actually two sets of waterfalls (three if you want to be technical but I don’t, so let’s agree it’s two).  There are the American Falls which are on the American side of the canyon and are mostly horizontal.  And then there are the Horseshoe Falls which both the US and Canada can claim portions of.  Horseshoe Falls (shaped coincidentally like a horseshoe) are the “famous” ones – the ones that I have seen in so many photos and movies.  The Horseshoe Falls are also the source of all the mist.

American Falls on the left, Horseshoe Falls behind
the plume of mist in the back, Canada to the right.
Maid of the Mist boat on the right between
the falls for size reference.

As we started our 20-minute boat ride, I had a camera, my phone, a baseball hat, and Piglet to keep track of.  No problem!  I took photos and videos and was super jazzed to see not just a rainbow but the entire rainbow circle in the American Falls and river (rainbows are actually circles but the bottom half is typically absorbed into the ground so they look like arcs).  So cool!
I wasn't able to get a good photo of the rest of the
rainbow circle in the water -- but you can see part
of it on the right.  It was so pretty!

As we got closer to Horseshoe Falls, things started to get a little bumpy.  The power of the falls created quite a few waves and it suddenly felt like we were in a big, rainy windstorm.  My glasses were immediately covered in water and the hood of my garbage bag was useless.  I tried to take a video with my phone but gave up after 7 seconds, electing instead to savor the experience and the handrail. 

Fellow riders whooped and laughed as we rode the waves, got wet heads, and shared an experience (something I hadn’t realized I had missed during COVID).  When it was all over and we were motoring back to the dock, I was ready to buy another ticket and wait in line and do it all over again.  It was exhilarating to see and feel and hear the power of so much water crashing 167 feet so close to me.  If the Maid of the Mist boat ride had been the full extent of our visit to Niagara Falls, I would have been satisfied.

So wet!  And so happy about it!

But wait!  There’s more!

We walked all around the park (designed by the same landscape architect as New York’s Central Park, so it is very serene and meandery and picturesque).  We took the town trolley in the rain.  We walked on sturdy bridges to a set of small islands near the top of the falls.  We watched as colored lights illuminated the falls as night fell.  

We didn't stay long enough to find out for sure,
but rumors were that the colors change over the
course of the 3 hours the falls are lit at night.

We ate ice cream at 10:00 at night.  We looked longingly at Canada across the river, desperately wishing the border and bridges were open since the Canadians have an even better view of both sets of falls and looked like they were having a blast over there (gondolas, zip lines, restaurants…).  We ate at a quintessential New York family-run Italian restaurant and had the most epic and hands-down best lasagna of my life. 

Rob ate his calzone for two additional meals.
I finished my lasagna and incredible sauce
the next day for lunch.
O.M.G.  It's probably a good thing
I don't live anywhere near Michael's Restaurant.

It was relaxing and magical and I totally understand why people choose Niagara Falls as a honeymoon destination. I would love to go back someday, especially once Canada is accepting American visitors again.
Still honeymooning 30 years later!

OFF ROADING

As much as I love a plan, I am also learning to love letting go of them sometimes to let life happen.

Sometimes the accidental selfies are my favorites.


While we were in Canton, the hotel had a brochure about the First Ladies National Historic Site.  The website mentioned something about an exhibit about the first 100 Days of being a First Lady.  It sounded interesting and worth a slight detour.   We ended up spending about 45 minutes in a beautiful old house in downtown Canton, learning about the evolving role of America’s First Lady and seeing replicas of various inaugural gowns.  Downstairs in a lovely old theater with velvet chairs, they were showing a Smithsonian documentary that I really wanted to watch all 3 hours of but, well, Niagara beckoned.  So Amazon sent me the DVD to enjoy here at Woodhaven. 

50% off on Amazon!


When Rob’s dad heard our itinerary, he recommended we adjust our route to include the town of Corning in New York.  You know, where CorningWare comes from?  Back in 1962, Dad stopped by the Corning Museum of Glass and still remembers it as “very small but worth it.”  Nearly 60 years later, the museum is definitely not small but definitely still worth it.  We spent 4.5 hours looking at art expressed though glass, learning how glass is made and how its manufacturing has changed over centuries, understanding how glass – particularly teeny tiny bits of it – are critical to today’s technology and medical advances, and looking at room upon room upon room of glass vases and plates and cups from all over the world from so many centuries.   I overheard many other visitors voice my exact thoughts: “This is so interesting but there is JUST SO MUCH of it.”

Graffiti in glass.


Still not sure why these are called
"Portland Vases" but they were pretty
dang intricate.

Facing a rainy day in Niagara, we decided to take a little drive in our boat and go check out some Upstate New York wineries.  We found three and enjoyed tasting some very odd wines -- some not too bad, some very bad, none worth trying to get safely home in our suitcase.  It was fun to experience a different approach to wine tasting.  Instead of highly informed pourers who can tell you the tiniest detail to encourage your purchase, we were amused by the very laid back, “meh” approach of “pour and sip, pour and sip, I really don’t care if you buy anything.”  Two places touted wine slushies, one place was making nachos with deep fried jalapeños which made all their wines smell like…deep fried peppers, and one invited us to sip our wines from plastic cups while sitting on their porch across from a corn field.  It was relaxing, lowkey, novel, and a great way to spend a warm rainy day in Upstate New York.

No volatizing the esters with these 
plastic shot glasses! 
(In other words, swirling the wine 
to make its smells come out would
have made a big ol' mess.)

Cornfield stage left!  And very
handy use of a green Sharpie.

 

JIM AND SHARON

The biggest highlight of our Halls of Fame trip was at the very end, in an iconic Irish restaurant outside of Boston, famous for its Guinness Pie and a murder in its women’s restroom (I checked it out.  Except for a questionable choice in blood-red art décor, it was crime-scene-free).

Sharon and I have been friends for over a decade.  We met on Facebook in a support group for people who have had spinal fusion surgeries.  It was a big group that got all sorts of dramatic, so a very small group of us splintered off and formed our own group of cranky back warriors.  Over the years, the eight of us have safely and honestly shared our fears, our pain, our frustration, our despair, our triumphs, our optimism, our joy, our hearts.  

Through typed words and shared photos, Sharon and I have become very close.  Our husbands eventually joined in the friendship and they, too, share a special bond.  Rob and I love Sharon and Jim dearly and deeply.  And finally, last Thursday, we got to meet our dear friends in person for the very first time.

Piglet was tickled pink to finally meet two of 
his fans!
We all agreed later that despite having never before breathed the same air together, we all felt like we had been friends for years.  Because we have.  We talked easily and energetically and authentically.  We shared stories and listened intently.  We stared at each other, in awe of being to hear each other’s voices and see facial expressions.  And we hugged.  A lot.

Although Sharon and I met because of a shared medical issue, it has been Jim who has faced medical challenges recently.  Over the course of 2020-2021, Jim has had a leg amputated, a bladder cancer diagnosis, two rounds of chemo (on June 30 he found out the chemo worked!), and most recently a stroke resulting in the loss of the peripheral vision in his left eye.  Needless to say, it’s been a long and challenging haul for Jim and Sharon.  So many times over the past year and a half, I have desperately wanted to hug them and just be with them.  What an amazing gift to do exactly that for a couple of hours.  We were grateful and honored that Jim, still recuperating from a stroke, expended enormous energy and determination to meet for lunch.  As Sharon said so perfectly, they were best friends we had never met.  We are eagerly anticipating another visit in one of our time zones once Jim has recuperated from far too much medical excitement.

Definitely framing this.

WHAT A TRIP

Two years ago, my travel dreams were mostly across oceans.  I longed to travel to foreign countries, experience different cultures, have world history come alive, eat exotic food.  And I still want to do all that.  But being quarantined to my tiny slice of the planet for so many months…and then having borders restricted if not closed…opened my eyes and mind to wondering what fascinating places lie closer to home.

The woman checking us in at our hotel in Canton asked about our travels.  I told her our basic itinerary and she remarked, “That’s a very American vacation!”  And indeed it was.  We celebrated music, sports, Niagara Falls, and friendship.  And we saw it by car.  We took some highways but also side roads and state routes.  I discovered the bucolic beauty of both Upstate New York and not-Boston Massachusetts.  Both had rolling hills, farmland, silos, churches, small towns, and so many trees.  Upstate New York was rife with corn fields, wild daylilies, and sumac trees. It was beautiful and unexpected.  Somehow, I ridiculously thought all of New York was New York City and all of Massachusetts was Boston.  An official apology to both states.

Outside of Cooperstown but very representative
of much of our driving scenery.

It was also healing and revealing to leave our Covid-fraught routine and frolic with groups of strangers for a while.  Strangers who were often without masks and closer than six feet away.  Sure, there was still an awareness of the need for safety, but it was in the background instead of the constant high-pitched scream of 2020.  Getting lost in the history of rock music, football, baseball, first ladies, and glass helped me forget the history I have endured the past 18 months.  The desperately needed respite felt like a reset of what “normal” might be now.   A new normal that is more appreciative, a bit slower, less emotionally exhausted, less acutely aware of masks, more willing to get a little closer, and a whole lot more relaxed.

Amen.

We had just finished dinner on a lakeside patio 
in Cooperstown.  I was warm, relaxed, well-fed, and
very happy.  I stopped Rob to take a photo so I could
remember the moment and the feeling and the
recognition that time away feeds my spirit in 
vital and meaningful ways.  
I need to buy one more frame.


Wednesday, June 9, 2021

A Flood of Firsts

I’ve been fully vaccinated for about a month now.  And ooooh doggies, what a month of freedom and firsts!  Things that were once so mundane, just tiny threads in the fabric of life, are now monumental and worthy of taking a moment to soak in the sweetness.  I cry much more easily from gratitude than despair.  I’ve been a bit of a blubbering mess lately.

Rob and I celebrated our vaccinated status with a quick overnight trip to a riverside hotel nearby.  We ate in their attached restaurant.  Inside.  A restaurant.  Pre-Covid, Rob and I were in restaurants several times per week.  We don’t like to cook.  We didn’t know how to cook.  We lost weight during Covid because despite how unhealthy tortilla chips might be, if they are all you are eating, you start to see your jawline again.  Restaurants were a huge part of our pre-Covid life and we missed them terribly.

Sitting at a table, in a booth, with a server checking on us was a bit heady.  Service!  Someone asked me what I wanted to eat, made it for me, brought it to me, and cleaned up after me.  It’s like I was royalty!

Mid-meal and mid-sentence, I asked Rob to give me a moment.  We sat in silence as I listened to the sounds of a restaurant:  conversational chatter of strangers; metal silverware clunking against porcelain plates; wine and water glasses tinkling together; kitchen door swinging back and forth; adult beverages being shaken and stirred.  Sounds I never noticed before, until I spent a year not hearing them.

I have SO missed salads.  "Salad" at
Woodhaven is spinach, feta, and dressing.
SO missed eating ingredients!

We’ve had other restaurant firsts.  Sitting inside a favorite pizza place and a favorite fast-food joint, marveling at the spaciousness of a laminated table spread out before us instead of our lap trays bumped up against the steering wheel and dashboard.  Being able to throw away our trash right away instead of carting it home.  Not worrying about crumbs and greasy fingerprints decorating our car.  Spectacular!

Still in a cardboard box and on paper plates, but 
TABLE! 
(Note:  Woodhaven is too far from this restaurant
to get the pizza home hot.  So tired of car dining...)

After more than a year of toenails cut sideways and polish jobs that were “good enough” and much better viewed without my glasses on, I finally got a pedicure.  My back was so much happier.  Not to mention my feet.  And my spirit.  Ahhh….

She was kind enough not to ask what the
heck had happened to my feet and nails.

I have been venturing into stores with my mask in my hand instead of on my face.  Every store has different rules, so for the first time in months, I am actually stopping to read the signs on glass doors establishing rules of engagement. 

It’s been many years since I blindly followed a crowd, but I am nevertheless letting popular opinion guide my mask wearing in places where they are optional.  If most people are wearing masks, I put mine on.  If most people are baring their smiles to the world, I stuff my mask in my pocket.  

Instead of peer pressure, I am operating under the “love my neighbor” philosophy.  If you are wearing a mask, I will wear one, too.  If you are wild and free, I will join you.  So many of us have spirits weary from hiding in fear-dripped caves for a year.  I am trying hard to come out of my cave while reaching both in front of me and behind me, to help those behind me emerge with more confidence and allow myself to be helped by those who are a few steps ahead. 

Maskless in Costco!

I tried on clothes in a dressing room last week.  In a store instead of my bedroom!  Without need for return receipts and original packaging!  I was so dang excited, I actually bought a pair of pants because apparently skinny jeans aren’t a thing anymore?  I’m sure my high-waisted flared-legged ankle jeans will be out of style by next summer, but I don’t care.  It was so fun to try them on before buying them!

The last time I tried on something at
Target, I ended up with an epic 
prairie dress.

I have been hugging people.  Friends, cousins, parents.  Parents!!  After 20 months of texts, phone calls, and the occasional FaceTime, I finally got to hug my parents and breathe the same air as them!! It was spectacular.  I had never gone that long without seeing Mom and Dad.   Even when I was 2 years old and Dad was in Vietnam, he got to come home on R&R. 

I was barely inside their front door before I collapsed into their arms in tears.  We spent four days talking, laughing, watching TV, eating.  We had Thanksgiving dinner, twice.  The first Thanksgiving was traditional turkey and gravy and stuffing.  The second Thanksgiving was family-traditional tacos and tortilla chips and salsa. We drove home with my heart and stomach full.  Our visit was even better than I had hoped and even more needed than I had realized.

Mom even decorated for November!

Visiting my parents was a bit mind-blowing.  Not just from the overwhelming emotion of seeing them, but also experiencing the wild freedom of Idaho.  Despite signage, the only people at our hotel wearing masks were me, Rob, and the hotel staff.  The fully-booked hotel of high school track and tennis players…and their associated entourages…roamed and frolicked about maskless and in close proximity like it was 2019.  It was a bit jarring.

Our first night there, arriving after a long drive from another time zone, we decided to go out to dinner at a favorite pub grill.  We had experienced dinner inside a restaurant the week before, so I thought I was prepared. I was not.

We opened Jakers’ door to find a completely full, noisy, unmasked crowd of Boise-area eaters.  Three bare-faced hostesses, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, greeted us and asked if we wanted to add our name to the 30 minute waiting list.  Rob assessed the panic in my eyes and said, “It’s up to you.” 

“I can’t do this yet,” I whispered between stilted breaths.  We quickly left, returned to the car, and I broke down in tears in the passenger seat.

I was overwhelmed by the normality.  I was caught off guard by the sensory overload.  I was shocked being amongst more people in one room than I had been in in over a year.  I was terrified out of habit by not seeing a single masked face.

We eventually found a smaller restaurant with an area set aside to wait for takeout orders.  We took our dinner back to our hotel room where I finally calmed down while realizing I wasn’t quite ready to jump into the deep end of freedom yet. 

However, as jolting and anxiety-ridden as that moment in Jakers was, I am grateful it happened.  I returned to Woodhaven much more ready to swim mid-pool, no longer hesitant to put my toe in the water, no longer thinking I need to ease my way slowly out of the fear-driven habits I have spent over a year honing. 

I’m still washing my hands when I get home and using hand sanitizer when I get into the car after each errand.  I think those might be healthy habits worth keeping.  But suddenly (or not), I am ready to rip off the fear of the past year and embrace all the big and small firsts of post-Covid life with new appreciation and lots of gratitude.  And probably a wad of Kleenex.     

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

A Couple Shots in the Arm

It finally happened at 5:05pm in a little office next to the condoms and Tampax.

My appointment was scheduled for 4:45pm, so I spent 20 minutes lingering nervously in the “Feminine Hygiene and Family Planning” section of Costco’s pharmacy.  I was convinced that somehow the pharmacy staff was not finding me “In the System” (which does not actually exist) and was moments away from telling me that so sorry, I wouldn’t be getting my first COVID vaccine today after all.

Gateway to Freedom

In reality, they were short-staffed and running behind.  When the pharmacist finally arrived, toting a little plastic basket of paperwork, alcohol wipes, and a syringe of hope, I nearly fell into the Shot Chair from relief.

I listened as best I could as she reviewed the paperwork and explained the side effects they would be watching for as I settled in a freshly sanitized plastic chair for 15 more minutes.  It was a little hard to concentrate on her words with the incredulous “IT’S REALLY HAPPENING!!!!” screaming in my head.

The shot itself was nothing extraordinary.  I might say it was even easier than a flu shot.  Of course, I might have been numbed by adrenaline.  And of course, it was in fact all kinds of extraordinary.

With a sticky note confirming my second shot 4 weeks later, my paperwork and I plopped down in a specially designated “Under Observation” chair with a prime view of facial masks, face shields, and rubbing alcohol.  Just a reminder of the real reason I had a new Band-Aid on my left arm.  As if a reminder of the past more-than-a-year was necessary.

My eyes were a little watery

I mentally scanned my body.  The vaccine site felt a little warm and itchy, but only for a couple of minutes.  My knee and back hurt, so that was normal.  I also felt a little dizzy.  The dizziness psychosomatically increased as I read it on the list of “You might be having an allergic reaction” side effects. 

My head spinning, I realized I was on the verge of tears, desperately trying not to cry while Under Observation.  I was relieved, I was grateful, I was numb.  I was not elated, I was not celebratory, I was not smiling under my mask.  I actually think I was in a bit of shock.

Kayla came by a few times to ask how I was doing.  Through watery eyes, I told her I was ok.  When my 15 minutes were up, Kayla returned.

“Should I set you free now?”

Oh, she had no idea.

I told her I was feeling emotional, that I was a bit dizzy but I knew it was from being overwhelmed by what had just happened.

“I felt that exact way after my second shot.  I had a hard time describing the feeling.  It’s a very emotional thing.”

I put the paperwork and the coveted Vaccination Card with my name on it in my purse.  I pulled my jacket on to cover my Band-Aid.  Strangely, the fact that I had just been vaccinated against death from a global pandemic felt like very private information.  I felt somehow reborn, but I didn’t want anyone to know yet.

I tried to stay focused as I located the AA batteries and paper plates…because, you know, I like to trip link.  As I walked through Costco and stood in line, I realized that although I was still taking all the highly practiced distancing precautions, my urgency to do so was subsiding.  Of course, I knew that 20 minutes of antibody construction was not providing any protection whatsoever.  Nevertheless, I noticed that the emotional tightness I had been carrying for over a year was slowing releasing.

I drove home listening to Spa music to help soothe the fast flicker of thoughts and reorganizing my brain was doing.  I was holding it all together quite admirably until I got into my town’s city limits and saw the Walmart parking lot.

Looking at the Walmart, I saw flashes of being terrified to go inside.  I saw employees spraying down shopping carts with disinfectants. I saw empty shelves where toilet paper and Clorox wipes and hand sanitizer used to be.  I saw myself waiting for a curbside delivery and popping my trunk and talking to an employee through a mostly closed car window.  I saw Rob and me sitting in our car in the parking lot, eating so many fast food meals on our laps, watching people in the parking lot simply for something else to see and to be reminded what other people look like.  I saw the past year and I burst into tears.

I cried most of the rest of the way home.  I cried on Rob’s shoulder soon after I arrived.

The tears were mostly of release.  Until that moment, I didn’t realize how tightly I had been holding onto things the past year.  Tightly holding onto staying safe, tightly holding onto following the rules, tightly holding onto anxiety, tightly holding onto fear, tightly holding onto rolling with so much uncertainty, tightly holding onto sanity.

The next day my arm was sore, and I accompanied Rob to his first shot at a medical clinic.

For the next week, I found myself lapsing a little on my highly-attended COVID protocols.  Twice I came home from errands and absentmindedly walked right past the kitchen sink without washing my hands to the ABC song.  I allowed myself a masked hugged with a fully vaccinated friend.  I left the house without a mask and had to dig into my Emergency Mask Stash in the car’s console.  By the second week, though, I was back on task, vigilantly washing and sanitizing my world.  But it was with a distinct reduction in sustained terror.

Eighteen days after Shot #1, we had reservations for seven trips from near to far, from driving to airplanes to boats, from summer to winter to 2022.  My spirit instantly filled with light and sunshine and optimism with new plans…ANY plans…to look forward to.  Our calendar was blessedly peppered with confirmation numbers of hope and freedom and normalcy.

As the date of Shot #2 approached, I found myself fantasizing about the reported possible side effect of hoooouuurrrs of sleep while my body’s immune system kicked into high gear.  A full night’s sleep is a distant memory (hello, menopause), so a fever induced semi-coma sounded quite lovely.


The Second Shot

I woke up the morning of Shot #2 feeling excited and a little nervous.  I was concerned that I hadn’t been inundated with confirmation emails like with the first shot.  I had just one confirmation email for Shot #2, which felt like Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket.  I was also a little nervous about what my side effects might be.

Receiving the second dose was even faster and more overwhelming than the first. 

It's easier to take a selfie when
you aren't crying.

I didn’t start crying until I was in the car…but the tears continued until after I collapsed in Rob’s arms back at Woodhaven a half hour later. 

Amongst the sobs, I realized I had been holding my breath for over a year.  The trauma of the past year (with full understanding many people have suffered much worse) finally became more clear in its sudden release.  I know life will never return to exactly how it was in January 2020…but Lord willing, it will never be like April 2020 again either.

I spent the next 20 hours waiting to feel something other than a sore, heavy arm.  I cleaned out a drawer, I tidied up the kitchen, I did some light yard work, I lounged in the sun.  Waited, waited, waited.

Finally around the 21st hour, I started feeling a bit off.  I had a headache and I had goosebumps on my arms despite being happily in shorts in the warm sunshine. 

By the time I went to bed at 9:30pm (not a typical bedtime for my night-owl self), I had pretty constant chills, my body felt like one big bruise, a variety of joints hurt (knees, fingers, elbows…ELBOWS?), and my energy level allowed for two episodes of “Young Sheldon” before I fumbled for the remote control and lamp switch. 

I slept for 10 glorious hours.  Not only that, I was wearing long pants and long sleeves – a first in a several hot flashing years.  Having the chills was sort of nice.  It was so novel to be cold!  I kinda liked it!

The next morning, I was only left with a slightly sore arm. All other symptoms were gone.  And my long sleeves felt a little constricting.

Three days later, a new side effect popped up.  The area around the injection site was suddenly red, warm, and itchy.  It was about the size of a dainty tea saucer.  I had heard of “COVID arm” so I wasn’t concerned as much as curious.  

I slathered on some cortisone cream throughout the day.  The next day the rash was much smaller (about the size of a half-dollar…a reference for those of a Certain Age), no longer hot, less red, but so much more itchy.  I kept reapplying the cortisone cream but THE ITCH.  Goodness, it just wouldn’t go away.  Consulting Dr. Google, I redirected from cortisone to a topical Benedryl cream and magic!  So much better the next morning!

After four more days, the rash and itch were gone and I had nothing to report on the V-Safe app.  All that was left was to endure the rest of The Countdown.

I was in my car driving to the post office when freedom rang.  It was 4:40pm, two weeks to the minute that I got Shot #2.  As the minute flashed on my dashboard, it felt like midnight on New Year’s Eve.  I smiled and lingered at a stop sign.  

Just like that, in an instant, a new chapter started.  New beginnings, fresh hope, resolutions to do things differently, a deep breath with a full exhale.