Friday, January 20, 2023

How my book is doing

It seems odd that just about 7 months ago, I announced the publication and availability of my first-ever book. As with many things, it seems like that lay-it-all-out-there announcement was both just a few days ago and sometime in the 20-teens.

My biggest cheerleaders have been incredibly kind to periodically ask, “How’s your book doing??” For the longest time – and still to some degree – my best, most honest answer has been, “I have no idea.”

The truth is, I haven’t been sure how to measure success in putting my heart and life in book form and releasing it to the world.

Sure, there are metrics. So many metrics. Like over 300 copies are currently circulating about, over 95% of which have been in paper form (I guess e-books aren’t as big a thing as I thought?). I can legitimately claim to be an international author due to one smashing sale in the UK in November. At one point in early December, my book was the 5th “Best Selling Book in Chronic Pain” on Amazon (today it is #67 - easy come, easy go). I ordered a second batch of business cards in October. An adorable local bookstore is carrying my book on its shelves. And 14 very kind folks have taken the time to leave supportive reviews of “I’m FINE.” on Amazon.

Yes, a cruel irony that a book about
chronic pain is on the bottom shelf.
The owner said she would be 
reorganizing the display.

But, having never published a book before, I have no idea what these numbers really mean. In the scheme of a New York Times Bestseller (not my goal), I know I have a loooooonnnngggg way to go, baby. But in the scheme of my actual goal of trying to get my book in the hands of people it might help, those numbers feel encouraging for just 7 months. Especially since I’m pretty much a lone ranger in trying to market it.

Ah, yes. Marketing. I have some experience with marketing concepts from eons ago, and I have access to a retired marketing guru (albeit for ketchup and pudding). I contacted two local newspapers when my book first came out. Both were incredibly kind to write feature stories about me and my mission to help others navigating chronic pain.

Super excited to be in the local paper!
And super amused (eventually) to have my
last name totally mangled.  Toni Willard?!?

Several months later, I aborted a foray into the surprisingly murky waters of Amazon Ads when it became clear three weeks later – after digging into the cleverly buried sales data – that I was losing money on every ad-generated sale. But that’s about it in terms of my Traditional Marketing Efforts. Every time I think about trying to promote my book – and myself – it feels fake. Cheesy. Spot-lighty. And totally not me.

Instead, Rob helped me immensely several months ago when he suggested I consider my marketing plan to be Opportunistic. Instead of cold-calling offices and sending out press releases and cultivating vaguely relevant daily content for my book’s Facebook and Instagram accounts, Rob wisely suggested I instead just keep my eyes open for opportunities to share my book with people. Organic, natural, authentic, heart-led opportunities, not ones constructed and forced. That feels much more like me.

I will admit, being a data-loving numbers person, I got a bit sidelined by all the metrics that are supposed to measure my book’s success and impact. I found my mood rising and falling on book sales and rankings and reviews.

But then…THEN…I would get an email or a phone call or a second-hand comment that would reel me back in. Back to the real point of writing my book, the real purpose of determinedly surviving the aching vulnerability, the real point of, well, everything: helping people.

My heart sings and my spirit bursts with joy every single time someone tells me my book helped them. Whether it’s a new perspective, a new habit, a new way of describing their life with chronic pain, more confidently navigating a surgery, or truly realizing they aren’t alone – each “thank you” from people who have read my book has meant the world to me.

And the people I have met!  I have had coffee and phone chats and email conversations with new friends who were so brave to use the email address I offer at the end of my book. Sure, including that email has produced some interesting offers of business partnerships, but I am so thankful I gulped and included that email despite my fears of making myself so very available.  But that, after all, was the whole point.

So, when I focus on what really, truly matters, I am thrilled to report that my book is doing AMAZING!

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Big Box Surprise

Last week – in the midst of a really bad pain flare-up that had me mostly adhered to my heating pad and attending important meetings with my pillow so I could lay down – I got an email announcing that a Christmas gift I ordered for Rob had arrived at a Big Box Store and was ready for my requested Curbside Pick-Up.

Knowing time was of the essence to retrieve the Super Heavy Gift, wrap it in the trunk of my car, and enlist the help of the best neighbors EVER to carry it into Woodhaven for me, I poured my super sore self into my SUV and skedaddled to the store while Rob was out running errands.

For a variety of reasons, my back-saving Curbside arrangement did not flow smoothly. I ended up trudging inside to the Customer Service desk with a confirmation code and determination not to cry from the pain and frustration.

The Guy In Charge tapped away at his computer, confirming my item was “in the back.” He dispatched young, lanky, subordinate Liam to retrieve it.

Liam returned several minutes later with an empty cart, assuring both me and TGIC that Rob’s gift was nowhere to be found. Proving why he’s In Charge, TGIC ever-so-slightly rolled his eyes and told me and Liam he would be back shortly with the heavy box.

Fully prepared to continue my scrolling through Social Media in search of more cat videos, I was surprised when Liam stared at me and said, “Well, we have a few minutes. Shall we play a game?”

Paralyzed by introverted horror, I hadn’t yet mustered an appropriate guffaw when Liam posed a second panic-inducing query.

“What’s the name of the game where you act out words?”

“Charades?” I offered quietly, desperately longing for the safety and solitude of Curbside Assistance.

“Yes! Let’s play. I’ll go first.”

I stood and stared at Liam, wondering if “Entertain the Customer” was part of his Big Box Store employee training, or if he was going rogue. I suspected rebellion.

Putting his hand on his chin, the other on his hip, Liam narrowed his eyes and was deep in thought.

“Wondering,” I offered as my first guess.

“Oh, we’re not playing yet. I’m trying to remember how this works.” I offered no help.

In a burst of recollection, Liam held up two fingers, then one finger, and then started motioning his hands and arms like one of those guys on a tarmac using orange sticks to direct airplanes around. A few guesses later, he excitedly confirmed “GO!” was the correct answer.

Liam then tugged on his ear like Carol Burnett, with a 99% probability he has never heard of her. He was off and running on the second word, using his long, thin arms to scoop up the air around the Customer Service kiosk.


Liam was very excited. He stared at me eagerly, like a dog wanting to play ball, waiting for me to put “GO” and “Sounds like CATCH” together for the win.

Tired of trying to telepathically conjure the return of The Guy In Charge, I finally stated, “GO FETCH.” Liam was elated.

“OK, now it’s your turn!” Liam exclaimed, returning to his “wondering” pose with expectation.

My defiant eyes bore into him. “Nope, this was YOUR idea. This is all you. My back is spasming right now. I’m not acting out anything.”

When I’m in pain, my social graces get a little tenuous.

Undeterred and exhaustingly extroverted, Liam rebounded like a champ and was suddenly rotating his fist next to his ear while the other clenched hand lingered under his chin. Although I understood he was acting out the “MOVIE” clue, I silently wondered if his early-20s self had any idea why that motion indicates “MOVIE.” Similarly, does Gen Z know why lifting an extended thumb and pinky to your ear means “CALL ME”? I really wanted to spend my wait time pondering these generational questions, but Liam was tugging on his ear again.

“Sounds like,” I said, almost hiding my resignation.

With great flourish, Liam pointed to a nearby shelving unit stocked with online orders that weren’t so very far away in the back of the store.


So much excited, expectant nodding.


Much celebration.

“You know, it would have been more fun if you had acted out being an elf,” I coached Liam, hoping this would end the game and change the topic of conversation.

Instead, inspired by the challenge, Liam was soon on his knees, scooting around the cement floor.

“No, you look more like a dwarf,” I explained with pain-induced social grace.

Liam started pantomiming a pointy hat and ears and hammering on an imaginary toy.

“Much better!” I said to both Liam and The Guy In Charge who had blessedly returned with Rob’s Heavy Gift on a cart.

Several minutes later, as I gratefully watched the surprisingly strong Liam lift Rob’s present into the back of my car, I asked Liam if he had taken Drama classes in school. He demurred and explained they never fit into his schedule.

“You know, you actually have a talent for this. I was able to figure out your clues pretty quickly. You should really look into acting.”

For a brief second, Liam looked like he might cry.

I asked him if he had heard of a local community playhouse, one that does about four plays per year and hires people of all ages. When Liam said he hadn’t heard of it but would think about it, I uncharacteristically demanded, “Get out your phone.”

With a surprised, “YES, MA’AM!” speed, Liam had his phone in his hand and was typing the search words as I dictated them.  As he scrolled through the theater’s website, I closed the trunk and approached the driver’s side door.

“Good luck with your acting career!” I called out as I drove away. 

Although I smiled with relief to have survived Liam's impromptu game of Charades, I smiled bigger at the hope that he will soon find a bigger stage than the Customer Service Desk at a Big Box Store.

I wrapped this in a parking lot without attracting
too much attention. The bottom is not wrapped;
rotating it was enough work. It only took Rob
about 36 hours to notice it near the Christmas tree.
Thank you again for the neighborly heavy lifting,
Karin and Makayla!

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Of all things to go semi-viral...

Technology is so weird.

Being an elder Gen Xer, I distinctly remember Life Before. Life that included typewriters and White Out. Phones that attached to the wall. Damp copies of school handouts that were printed in purple ink and smelled funky. Friendships that were pretty much only made in person.

These days I am doing my best to embrace Life Now. A contraption that is smaller and lighter than the raddest Sony Walkman allows me to talk to people, send immediate notes to people, take photos, listen to music, and answer just about any oddball question that meanders through my brain (recent Google searches include “llama in car“ and “words of love that start with j”).  

This Handheld Magical Wonder allows me to see my front door and talk to delivery people from the comfort of, well, anywhere. It connects me to my entryway lamp and my cooling mattress pad and a fancy cooking implement and my car. Thanks to its mystical powers, I have friends I have never met and strangers who follow my musings from across oceans.

I’ve done a pretty good job learning and accepting and trying to keep up, albeit through the bottom portion of my progressive lenses.

But this. This I just don’t get.

Follow @its_the_fair for all
your Fairing needs!

I have an Instagram account that is public, viewable by anyone who wants to see photos 4-H animals, stage hypnotists, grade school art masterpieces, and me eating ridiculous quantities of calorie-laden Fair Food. A little less than 150 people follow my Fair-dedicated account, which is pretty small (baked, loaded) potatoes for anyone seriously trying to have a social media presence (spoiler alert: I am not).

Back in September, I posted an innocent little video of a team of draft horses expertly parking their wooden carriage in a dirt arena at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup. It’s all of 23 seconds long and ends with somewhat thunderous applause if you have your volume at its highest level.

Click this link to view The Almost-Viral Draft Horse Video

For reasons I can only amuse myself to conjure, this short video is apparently all the rage in India. Every day, more draft horse fanatics “Like” my “Reel” – mostly men and mostly in India based on their names and the randomly selected profiles I occasionally stalk.  As of this writing, this innocuous video of 6 horsies parking a cart has been “Liked” by 734 people. And in the 3 hours since posting the video on my "It’s The Fair" YouTube channel in preparation for this ramble, another 3,600+ people have viewed it.

What the heck?!

I wish I understood why some videos pick up momentum while others fall flat.  I mean, my channel also has the most adorable 6 seconds of a fluffy bunny twitching its nose, enjoyed by a rock solid 5 fuzzy-bunny-lovers. The world demands drafting horses over twitching bunnies? 

Maybe a Millennial can explain it to me.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Victory Cruise

What feels like eight years ago – in April of 2020 – we were to cruise the Pacific for a much-anticipated loungey time with some dear friends. We were heading to Hawaii and had all sorts of excursions booked and aloha wear set aside and books stacked for so many days at sea.

That cruise was our first of so many cancelled plans over the next endless months of No Fun.

With cruise credits to use or lose, Rob and I kept booking cruises to keep our credits and our hopes alive. We didn’t go to Alaska next. About a year later, we didn’t go to Mexico. I fully expected we wouldn’t cruise the California coast either.  So when October 1, 2022 rolled around and I found myself on a massive has-that-new-ship-smell cruise ship in the Port of Los Angeles, I was rather stunned we weren’t not cruising yet again.

Having no idea what cruising might be like in Covid Times, Rob and I decided to sail to familiar places. The cruise itself – and trying to keep aloofly distant from over 3,000 fellow passengers – was going to be enough of an adventure.

Our first night onboard was very hectic.
A "Corporate Event" was being held and
delayed our departure by 6 hours.
Sections of the ship were blocked off
and lots of waitstaff were redirected
to the event instead of the passengers.
Turns out it was the Hollywood Premier of a
really cheesy reality TV show filmed on
a different ship. We found out later that
people like Charo and Peter Brady had been
on the ship with us. DANG IT!

Line to get into the dining room on the
first night. This was for people with
reservations. I had reservations, believe me!
Thankfully there were no long, unmasked
lines like this the rest of the cruise.

Our itinerary was a 7-day California Coastal Cruise. It was round trip out of Los Angeles. We sailed up to San Francisco and then made additional stops in Santa Barbara, San Diego, and Ensenada (Mexico). We booked wine tasting excursions in every port except San Francisco, thus deeming our high seas foray “The Wine Cruise.”

If you are a friend or relative who lives near one of our ports and are miffed this is the first you knew we were in your neighborhood, please don’t take our secrecy personally. We had no idea if we were actually going to take the cruise, not to mention our ability to be sociable while on high alert not to bring home Covid as a souvenir.

Considering the trip much more an exploration and much less a vacation, our expectations were pretty modest. We packed a sense of adventure and wariness – and a big dose of patience, as traveling these days is not nearly as predictable and reliable as the golden olden days of 2019.

Indeed, getting to and from the cruise ship was a bit bumpy. Our good-Lord-it’s-early flight down to LAX was delayed too long to make our connection in San Jose due to there not being a pilot. Agreeing a pilot was a critical feature of our itinerary, we rerouted to an airport just barely close enough to the cruise terminal to be confident we could find a Lyft driver willing to take our fare. However, Lyft inexplicably decided it hated all of my credit cards.  Cursing technology, we eventually bargained with an overpriced taxi driver who hadn’t been to San Pedro in years.  We were delighted to get to the port earlier than originally anticipated, thanks to Juan’s Prius doubling as an asphalt hover craft. LA freeways are not for amateurs.

Our trip home post-cruise was going pretty smoothly, even with the overwhelming cacophony of LAX’s Terminal 6 for 3 hours and its dearth of power outlets. Our flight was ahead of schedule, so the pilot did a full loop around Crater Lake just for fun. That was odd…and photogenic.

Arriving in the Red Lot at the Portland airport, we were proud of ourselves for finding our car despite having parked it at 4 Freaking 30 AM seven days prior. Rob aimed his key fob to unlock the trunk and…silence. A little more investigation revealed our Honda had partied hard while we were gone and had fully depleted its battery.

Pro Tip for Portland area travelers:
PDX offers free jump starts!
  Just trot
over to a parking lot shuttle shelter, push the INFO
button, chat with a friendly Airport Services
dispatcher, and you will be recharged and on your way
 in less than 45 minutes. They also will reinflate tires
and help you find your car! For free!
PDX is seriously the best airport on the planet.

Aside from the travel bumps to and fro, the cruise itself was pretty fun if not a bit weird. Suspicious of virusy microbes, we did not see any shows, we did not dine with other passengers (although the tables for two in the dining room were still a little too close for complete comfort), and we kept our distance in the Take Five Lounge for our nightly dose of a cool international trio of jazz musicians (hailing from Germany, Argentina, and the highly exotic and very cheesy Milwaukee).

I am now sort of stalking James on social media

We staked out deck chairs in places so remote, the ship’s fancy wearable technology tracker could not find us to deliver cold beverages. We only rode the elevator once – when I was getting used to wearing heels on a ship – and instead climbed dozens of empty staircases every day to work off the nightly desserts. We were the lone rangers of mask wearing on the tour buses in port.  We did not meet any new people enough to learn their names. We kept to ourselves and had a lovely time.

Bundled on Deck 18!

Relaxing reading of non-school stuff

This was my first cruise with "Elite"
status. One of the perks was free canapes
on formal nights. We weren't sure what
that meant. Turns out it meant little pieces
of bread with weird creams on them.

We quickly decided we would procure
our own free canapes from the buffet.
Salami, cheese, olives, focaccia are 
much more our speed.

Formal night! And the one night we
took the elevator.

Our first port stop was quite a surprise. Having lived in the San Francisco area for several decades – and being familiar with Napa wine tasting – we decided to forgo any planned excursions and instead wing it for the day. Wary of reports from friends and news media, we were not sure how safe and interested we would feel roaming the streets of San Francisco. What we found was a reignited appreciation for The City.

We walked over 8 miles, had breakfast in the Ferry Terminal, had lunch in Chinatown, took a self-guided walking tour of all the offices I used to work in, reminisced about our first date and wedding lunch in a long-gone restaurant, and thoroughly embraced our tourist status by parking ourselves at the top of a double-decker bus that drove us all over the east portions of San Francisco and culminated in an exhilaratingly breezy drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. I have ridden and driven over that iconic bridge probably 1,000 times…but never in a convertible.  It was a BLAST!

Site of the best job of my career
8th floor of 575 Market Street

Site of the last job of my career
50 Osgood Place
I still occasionally have work
nightmares about that job

Lunch in Chinatown
Yes, just plates of pot stickers.
18 years and we still haven't found
good ones in the Portland metro.

Super windy and super fun!
Being a tourist in SF ROCKS!

Much to our surprise and delight, the San Francisco we found was quiet, clean, a little sleepy, and perfectly safe in the places that were always safe before. We saw some homeless folks but not nearly as many as inhabit Portland these days. And the community we saw near City Hall looked much more organized and intentional than the haphazard tent cities that hopscotch around the Portland metro.

As we walked through Fisherman’s Wharf, gnawed on some sourdough bread, got some Mrs. Field’s cookies at Pier 39, and dodged runners along the Embarcadero, Rob and I both found ourselves cuddling up to San Francisco in a way we haven’t in many years.

Our ship left the Port of San Francisco at about 10:30pm. Rob and I were among the ridiculously few people taking in the twinkly lights of The City from the Sun Deck. As we slowly passed under the Golden Gate Bridge and into a fog bank, the ship erupted in applause and cheers. It was pretty magical.

The remaining port stops were each enjoyable and tasty.  We fell in love with Santa Barbara, having only driven through it on Highway 101 in the past. I loved the beachy, relaxed, communal feel of the town. It sort of reminded me of a confident middle-aged woman happy with who she is and with no need to prove anything to anyone anymore. We had a blast at a boutique winery in Santa Ynez Valley and discussions are underway for a future road trip to discover and stock up on wines from this part of California’s wine county we have never explored. The winery paired – with moderate success – its wines with fancy homemade cupcakes. Quite fun, but not as much fun as the t-shirt I bought in their tasting room.

It was pretty early in the day to be 
eating cupcakes and drinking wine,
but we are dedicated to our craft

Such a beautiful setting!

It has long sleeves so I haven't been able to
wear it yet -- freaky record heat at Woodhaven

In San Diego, we rode a bus about 90 minutes into Temecula Valley and visited two wineries. The first winery was a name familiar to Rob from their olden days selling Christmas Trees near Disneyland. In fact, they bragged a number of times that the family sold land to Walt Disney who very persistently knocked at their front door until they conceded. The fact they still highlight this tidbit nearly 70 years later might tell you something about their wine. The second winery was much more fun and less name-droppy and made me wish we could linger longer.

I very much appreciated that the tour
was outside.

The weather could not have been better
the entire trip.

The two wineries we visited in Ensenada were about as different from each other as they could be. The first was really more of a farm stand party plaza that sold some wine on the side. We were given four plastic cups of wines to sample. When we asked what they were and if anyone was going to talk about them, we were informed that only snobby wineries do that. Newsflash: I am a big fan of snobby wineries.

Line for wine and pizza and jelly. 

The setting was very relaxing. They 
even had some cats wandering around.

The second Mexican winery was owned by an Italian family with lots of money and lots of tanks and lots of information. We got a full tour and all sorts of details about each wine we sampled. They were so snobby! We liked a few of the wines and were stunned to find out not only can we find them at home, we will also pay less than $10 per bottle. Total Wine will be seeing us soon. Ole!

Biggest winery (size and production)
in Mexico. Surprisingly good and 
inexpensive wines!

In our natural habitat, sort of.

We have been home and Covid-symptom-free for a week now. I am therefore officially declaring our cruise a victory!

Although we still took masky and hand-washy precautions, and I had that persistent hyper-awareness of personal space, that’s not really any different than what I define as my normal life at home these days. I had quite a bit of fun and I eventually started to relax by the fourth day. I actually was rather disappointed to have the cruise end so quickly. That was unexpected! I truly thought I was going to feel trapped being in such a big crowd of people for so many days.

No truer sign of our cruise’s success is last night’s activity: we confidently booked a cruise for next May. A cruise that knocks three bucket list items off in one long chug across an ocean. We chose excursions, we found hotels, we booked flights, we made onboard dinner reservations. Seven whole months in advance! It’s like I think we’re actually going!

It has been over two years since I let myself get excited about travel more than a week before we leave. A big part of what I love about travel is the anticipation and day dreaming leading up to it. Today I am excited and optimistic. Today I do not assume the plans I have made will be broken. Today my hope is revived and the world seems bigger and available again. A victory indeed.




Wednesday, September 14, 2022

The Winds of September

When we decided to ditch California for the Pacific Northwest, my biggest weather concern was trading in copious sunshine for way too much rain. And indeed, all the moss and rain gear and vitamin D supplements were quite an adjustment. So it was quite surprising to discover – after several blustery winters – that my absolute least favorite weather impact of moving to Washington is the wind.

Unbeknownst to us, Woodhaven is situated in rather aggressive microclimate prone to enough wind that we regularly ponder if it makes sense to install a turbine in our yard to harness the power of Mother Nature. Our little valley can have fir branches flying around and power outages and the persistent noise of a leafy freight train while just 3 miles away, it is silent and calm.

And so it was last Friday night.

We had seen the forecasts that some areas might get moderate winds, all warm and coming from the east. Fire danger arrows notched to the right, and rural burning and charcoal campfires were banned. Clearly not grasping the magnitude of what was about to happen, our preparations began and ended with cinching the cover around our new fire pit.

Putting on a baseball hat to keep my hair out of my eyes – and tugging it tighter to keep it on – I walked the 300ish yards to our mailbox at about 5:00pm. I was amused to discover a rouge innertube had wafted over from a somewhat-distant neighbor’s pool.

The blowing was pretty constant through dinner. Sometime around sunset, I braved the gusts to retrieve a decorative patio pillow from our yard. I confidently secured three other pillows by effectively smooshing them between dining chairs and our outside table. “Yep, that oughta do it.”

As I tried to go to sleep several hours later, I reassured myself that all the banging and clanking and creaking was just our basic windstorm. Nothing to worry about. Woodhaven has endured worse than the 35mph sustained wind our weather station was reporting. Nevertheless, I elected not to put in earplugs just in case something happened during the night that required my attention.

Our power finally went out for good at about 3:00am, as confirmed by the beeping alarms of back-up batteries scattered around the house. Reaching for my cellphone, I appeared to be one of the first to report the outage on our power company’s app. We would eventually learn that a tree limb had fallen on a power line about a mile away and utility crews were reluctant to do anything about it in the 65mph winds. Power was finally restored about 13 hours later.

Snagging the flashlight from my nightstand drawer, I wandered out to the exceptionally dark living room and shined the light beam into our backyard. It looked like a burglar had ransacked our patio in search of treasures. Pillows, cushions, chairs, doormats, and firepits were scattered everywhere. 

Much to Rob’s bewilderment and frustration, I opened the patio door – which the wind then flung wider with gusto – and set about gathering up our décor. I dropped an armful of pillows and leaves inside near the kitchen and went searching for at least two more missing pillows. Conceding that everything else was too heavy for my back to manage, I came back inside fully awake and exfoliated by the wee-hours scavenger hunt.

Photo taken the next day after a little cleaning

As Rob and I stood in our dark living room, discussing whether the upended firepit might be broken, I noticed an orange glow about a mile south of us, down the hill. It was in the location of the bright white light and “POP!” I had noticed while fetching pillows.

The orange light flickered and its intensity changed as hundreds of tree limbs danced wildly between us. The orange glow then underlit smoke that was blowing in a straight line dead west. Straight towards so many trees and houses, at about 60 miles per hour.

“I see flames,” Rob reported as I remembered our cordless phone is useless in a power outage and located my cell phone.

“9-1-1. What is the address of your emergency?”

A simple, critical question for which I only had a vague answer.   

Our best guess of the coordinates ended up being nearly spot-on. I continue to be amazed by my husband’s sense of direction.

The nearest fire station was less than 2 miles away from the orange, glowing, smoking trees. We waited to hear sirens but they never sounded. Instead, we saw the orange light suddenly, gratefully disappear in an instant.

The fire was fortunately right next to the road
which I'm sure made it much easier to locate and put out

We didn’t sleep much the rest of the night. Nor did most of our neighbors, as we compared notes hours later when the power and neighborhood Facebook page surged back to life. At about 4:45am, another fire even closer had been reported. It was at the site of the tree limb on the powerline. Fortunately, crews were nearby, as our little microclimate was pretty much the only source of outages in the county. 

In the light of day and slooooowwwly decreasing winds, Rob recovered all of our pillows and cushions, some having made quite a valiant effort to escape our 5 acres and go on holiday. We discovered a storage bin and two chairs toppled in our front yard. Three plum trees along our driveway broke and will be replaced. Another pool floaty arrived, as did a large (empty) cardboard box. The grapevines in our front-yard vineyard now list westward, and some trellising repairs are imminent. And several trees fell, blocking a gravel road critical to garbage trucks. Not too bad all things considered; it could have been so much worse (see 9-1-1 call above).

We were enormously grateful to determine that despite some major brain farts, the only casualty to our pretty, new wine barrel firepit was a little rubber footpad for the glass wind shield. We realized that prior to the windstorm, we hadn’t put the propane tank back inside the barrel after refilling it, resulting in a rather top-heavy firepit. We also neglected to lock all 5 casters on the bottom, clearly underestimating the speed of wind that was heading our way. So without the extra weight of a propane tank and the protection of all 5 wheels locked in place, the wind attempted to roll out our barrel. We got super-duper lucky.

All put back together!

We spent most of Sunday afternoon cleaning up all the leaves and dirt and bark dust that were in unsanctioned locations. We had fun putting our leaf blower, tractor, and chain saw to use. While taking a break from repopulating the back patio, I smiled big as I watched neighbor menfolk gather on the gravel road in the front to clear the trees blocking it. There were five men, four chainsaws, and two large tractors on the job. At times they worked in concert, other times stood and problem-solved and bonded. The youngest man was a recently promoted firefighter who knowledgeably redirected the chainsaw cuts to fall a tree away from our fence. Thank you, Max!

I loved listening to the neighbors work together, even if it resulted in Rob declaring later that he now has Chainsaw Envy. I was reminded of the beauty of community, the benefit of knowing your neighbors, and the power of nature to bring people together in times of need.




Thursday, August 25, 2022

Holy Hedgehog

I was doing a little online shopping last week, having decided the well-worn brown paper napkins from Wendy’s had outlived their secondary purpose of being coasters in my car’s cupholders.

Determined to find something fun and decorative and not simply functional, I eventually found my way to a manufacturer based in Ohio. The family-run and employee-owned company offered close to a bazillion car coaster designs to choose from. Like a LOT. Like how did we ever manage to shop without the internet way back in the 1900s?

I scrolled and re-scrolled, I added coasters to my cart and then deleted them, I used their Search function to determine that the NFL had not awarded them licensing rights.

Along the way, I kept seeing this adorable little wooden hedgehog. Billed as a “Rear-View Mirror Car Charm,” it seemed a bit too large and dangly for my rearview mirror. But my eyes were repeatedly drawn to its soothing green color and adorable pink flowers tucked behind an ear.

Inscribed on the hedgehog’s body was a Bible verse – Psalm 139:14 which says “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” I am familiar with the verse and have heard it quoted often, but it’s not one that particularly resonates with me. Instead, I tend to camp out on Romans 5: 3-4 which says “…but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Not only is that verse comforting and centering, it also correctly uses semicolons which is simply divine in and of itself. But sadly, it's probably too long for a hedgehog.

I eventually added the wooden spiny mammal to my cart so as not to be distracted by it anymore, fully intending to delete it before checkout. Which I did. And then, for reasons I could not understand, I added it back in. It was perplexingly clear to me that I needed to buy this hedgehog. I mean, it WAS cute and it WAS my favorite color. But it did not seem nearly as essential and life-giving as the sand dollar car coasters I was purchasing along with it. With a shrug of my shoulders, I clicked “Purchase” and awaited my package from Ohio.

Two days ago, the sand dollars and hedgehog arrived at Woodhaven. I immediately pressed the coasters into service, but I stared at the cute little hedgehog on a short silver chain with bewilderment. I knew I was supposed to have it but I had no idea what I was supposed to do with it. Deciding it was to be some sort of daily motivation, I set the hedgehog near my bathroom mirror even though it weirdly felt very temporary.

Last night a friend called. She has been in a hurricane of life events, with so much emotion and exhaustion and confusion and heartache. I listened intently and asked questions and tried to provide perspective or insight where I could.

As her emotions settled and her voice steadied, my friend said, “You know, I keep having to remind myself of one of my favorite Bible verses I learned as a little kid. The one that says ‘I am fearfully and wonderfully made.’ That always helps if I can stay focused on it.” At least that’s what I think she said after she quoted my hedgehog. I was too busy having my heart sing and my mind blown.

A couple of hours later, without a lot of warning, I knocked on my friend’s door. I told her I had purchased something with absolutely no clue why…until she told me. I then reached in my pocket, pulled out the hedgehog, and told her, “You are supposed to have this. Right now.”

Confusion became a smile which became tears as she read the inscription and said, “I have goosebumps.”

I have long had “my little voice.” A quiet but confident voice that enters my thoughts with intention and direction. At times I have called it intuition, other times “My Spirit Guide.” These days I call it the Holy Spirit. Whatever its moniker, it has never steered me wrong. It always has purpose and it is always good. The trick is to hear it and obey it, even when I have no explanation for the actions I am taking. Even – and especially – when it involves a hedgehog.


Photo from my friend this morning, with the
Holy Hedgehog exactly where it is supposed to be



Monday, August 15, 2022

We Faired Well!

WOW! What a blast of a week and a half! The Fair’s theme this year was “Worth the Wait!” and I kinda think it was!

I would have much preferred not to have had to wait at all. Stupid virus. But despite a two-year hiatus and a whole mess of unpredictability since 2019's edition, My Beloved Fair came back and came back strong. Hallelujah, amen, and THANK YOU, Fine Fair Folks!

The final day at the Fair was so much better than the crazy whackadoodle day before. Lots of stories were being told around the Fairgrounds about traffic that had backed up on the highway, hours-long waits to get into the Fair, parking lots being pressed into service in places never used before (behind the Amphitheater?!), attendance being over twice what is typical for one of the busiest days of the Fair, supplies running out, records being broken, etc. etc. Everyone I talked to agreed that Saturday was by far the busiest, most crowded day they had ever seen at the Clark County Fair. And many shared it was kind of scary. Thank God nothing serious happened, because things can get really weird really fast when you get too people smushed together. Yay for not being really weird, Clark County!

Rob and I had a great last day. The pace was slow, the conversations long, the crowd just the right size. We were ecstatic to run into a super favorite trio of sisters and loved catching up a bit in the shaded breeze of our favorite grove of fir trees. We attended both hypnosis shows, we caught two kids’ shows, we watched a few parts of the day-long tryouts for next year’s Fair Court, we finally went into the Horse Barns, and we ate our final fat-sugar-and-grease laden treats before returning to Real Food today. It was perfect.

MUCH better crowd size!

Final Fair Food Feast Collage:

1. Ribs from the BBQ place next to the milkshakes.
They tasted good but 1 of the 3 ribs was gristle and
inedible. SUPER annoyed. Not going back next year.

2. Elote (Mexican corn) from the Roasted Corn stand.
It tasted fine but I decided I really don't like mayonnaise
on corn. Plus it's cheaper if I just get regular corn and
sprinkle the free Parmesan cheese and Tajin on it myself.

3. Orange Refresher from Smashers! They were completely
out of stock of everything by 6:00pm. Grateful I got there early!

4. Salt and Vinegar potato chips. My favorite! Superbowl
Sunday is a long ways away so I dug in while I could.

5. Chocolate chip cookie from the Grab n Go booth. Just
the light snack I wanted. The kid at the booth wisely suggested
I take a cookie that had been warming in the sun --
ooey gooey wonderfulness! 

6. My Final Milkshake -- Raspberry Peach blend.
Tangy and sweet with chunks of real fruit.
A perfect milkshake finale.

7. Spree! I love tart and tangy candy but don't
allow myself the splurge very often. I ate enough
Sprees to make my tongue raw.  YAY!

8. Footlong hand-dipped corn dog from the
hand-dipped booth. It was a little more than I 
wanted to eat, but the batter was great and the
dog was a Nathan's hot dog (actually a dog-and-
a-half, which eventually explained why squishing
the corn dog from the bottom wasn't moving it up
my stick). Really tasty! But I'm glad I had it with 3
hours left of Fairing to give it time to settle.

We stayed at the Fairgrounds way past closing, in order to pick up 4-H entries for friends who are in the midst of transferring their first child to college. We ended up chatting with a few more friends while listening to the sounds of the Exhibit Hall being broken down. One of the oddest was the sound of big rolls of plastic wrap being unrolled around display cases to keep them intact and clean until next year.

As we left the Fairgrounds for the final time, past disassembled booths and forklifts and “How’d your Fair go?” conversations, I felt emotions welling. The ten days of My Beloved Fair sort of feel like a really compacted 4 years of high school. All the activities, all the drama, all the fun, all the unpredictability, all the familiarity, all the shared experiences, all the friendships. And then the last day, you graduate. All the good-byes, all the packing, all the endings, all the memories. Everyone scatters and moves on to their next chapter, with hopes of reunions to come.

To my surprise, I did not cry. I always burst into tears on the last night of My Fair, somewhere between the Llama Greenway and our garage. The tears are always a blend of sadness and relief. I am always deeply mopey that the ridiculous amount of fun has come to an end, and always utterly exhausted and ready to resume Real Life with Real Food and bedtimes that happen before the sprinklers turn on.

But this year was different. I Faired slower, saner, wiser, and with more sleep. I didn’t blow through every ounce of reserved energy day after day. I didn’t drag myself into our increasingly dusty car each day with a peptalk of “you’ll be fine once you get some food.” And so while I was very sad and wistful last night – and the farewell absolutely felt deeply bittersweet – I was at peace.

Almost-full moon between the 
Slingshot poles.

Thank you, Fine Fair Folks!

I was a little worried the couple of weeks and days before my Fair started. There seemed to be a late and great need for employees, vendors, competition entries, and volunteers. I wasn’t sure how much of my Fair survived the two-year hiatus. I was scared it wasn’t going to be the Fair I love so deeply.

Never mind! I gratefully got my Fair. 

It had everything I wanted. It had animals, it had food, it had 4-H entries, it had concerts, it had dirt arena entertainment, it had Dock Dogs, it had milkshakes and homemade pie and Smashers, it had friends.

Yes, it was a little different. 

There were not nearly as many 4-H participants as in prior years. The consensus seems that many kids were not convinced there was going to be a Fair and understandably did not want to put so much work into an animal or other heartfelt, intensive project only to have no place to share it. Can't say I blame them.

There were also not as many canning, art, or photography entries. I asked some prolific canning friends why they didn’t enter anything this year. “Laziness,” they both shrugged. I get it. The past two years have been exhausting.

Definitely a lot fewer entries...but at least 5
times as many as I saw at the Orange County Fair,
So I am not ready to declare canning a dead art!

There were some bumps along the way…all through the Fair. SO many new people in new positions of responsibility. I lost count how many times I heard someone with a microphone explain by way of apology that this was their first year doing the job they were doing. So not everything ran smoothly, but what has the past two and half years? Like so much in life, the pandemic seemed to offer my beloved Fair a chance to push the reset button on a few things. Some things worked, some things didn’t. Lots of learning, though!


Some Changes I Loved:

Adam the Great as an emcee – It was wonderful having a pro introduce concerts and kick off events around the Fairgrounds. He had energy and knew how to speak confidently to a large crowd. Gold star to Adam!

The Beacock Music Jazz Band – As far as I can tell, this local band only played on the Columbian Stage once but WOW!  They need to be a regular feature at the Fair!  They were mostly white-haired musicians who played Big Band music as well as popular songs from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. They were fantastic and they were having a blast, which made it even more fun. I am now following them on Facebook with hopes to see other performances throughout the year.

Hummus and Grab n Go stands – It was great having some healthier, un-fried options and quick snacks to grab. Yes, I know I seem to be all about the Fried Fair Food, but my tummy needed a break now and then. I am now a huge fan of Amilkar Hummus! Talking with some friends, a booth offering gluten-free and/or vegan options would also be appreciated since those poor folks have no idea what to eat at the Fair and typically bring their own provisions. That doesn't sound fun at all.

Cilantro Jalapeno hummus.  MMMMM!
I have a tub of it (and two other flavors)
in our fridge right now.

Strolling entertainment – Although there is always someone entertaining wandering around the Fairgrounds, this year there were more of them and more often. Erik Haines One-Man-Band was fantastic – lots of smiles as he went by. Paul Issak the Juggler was a hoot with how he interacted with the fairgoers he passed. Rob and I spent about a half-hour one day just watching Paul juggle up and down the Midway telling people they were doing a great job or confirming that they should keep walking the direction they were heading. The added strollers brought more energy and excitement and a sense of unpredictability to the Fair. Sort of like when Costco has lots of free samples scattered around.

Sasquatch – The new Grandstands sponsor brought a mascot and he was a surprisingly great addition!  I never really thought much about mascots, but it turns out they add fun and photo ops. I felt really bad for the person inside the suit on the really hot days, though. Sweaty Squatchy.

Hawaiian shave ice truck – I was panicked that my two snow cone huts disappeared. As I am sure were the bees that loved to swarm them. In their place was a new Hawaiian Shave Ice food truck that had some great flavors (although Lime would be a wonderful addition…), friendly people, fluffy ice, and no bees. I would love for them to come back!

Spiffed up tables and benches – Yay for fresh paint! And on the first day, a touch too fresh but Rob was going to use those shorts for yardwork anyway. But the tables looked new and pretty and like someone cared.

Fans in the Horse Arena – Oh, bless you, Fine Fair Folks! Those big fans made a HUGE difference! No more sweltering in the Horse Arena!

Numbered sections in the Grandstands – Such a simple addition but such a big improvement. It was tons easier to tell friends where to find us. However, did anyone measure the width of the average Southwest Washington fairgoer? Those seat numbers are a bit too close…

LOVE section 109!

More stuff happening on the west end – The Parrot Pirate, the Butterflies, and the new Hawaiian Poke Truck all did a good job bringing more people to the west end of the Fair. It was still quieter than other parts of the Fairgrounds, but that was a relief at times.

Volunteering in the Gazebo – OMG! SO FUN!! Rob and I had such a blast talking to kids and parents, explaining the Passport to Fun game, and being the unofficial Information Booth. The only questions we couldn’t answer were the 3-4 that we got about the American Red Cross. We desperately hope we get asked to volunteer again and again and again! If we do, I will have a better breakfast plan in place.


SO Grateful These Didn’t Change

Harbor Patrol Jazz Band – This old-timey Dixieland band is made up of some pretty senior guys. Truth be told, I was rather concerned some of them might not have survived the past two years. SO relieved and grateful they were all back and playing without missing a beat.

Jerry Harris – Not only do I love his hypnosis shows, Jerry also gave me the confidence to seek out hypnotherapy to address my chronic back pain and some anxiety issues. I will forever be grateful for that. Plus I never get tired of average Fairgoers dancing around the stage thinking they are Taylor Swift or Miley Cyrus. Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!

Clark PUD water – They are THE booth to go to for the tastiest, coldest, free-est water on the Fairgrounds. We often refill our bottles at the water fountains in the Big Air Conditioned building, but the water this year tasted highly chlorinated so we braved the crowds in front of the PUD booth instead. Their water was worth the wait.

Teenagers to keep things clean – Despite the pleas for applicants, there appeared to be enough orange-shirted kids to keep the tables, grounds, and bathrooms clean. They did a great job. Thank you, hardworking teenagers!

Marilyn with her crazy hats – She’s a Fair employee charged with moving things around and keeping things maintained. She always has a smile and a crazy hat. Except that one really misguided year when she was told she was not allowed to wear her fun hats. Frowns all around. Please never let that happen again, Fine Fair People!

Opening Day Parade – A quaint, short, old-timey tradition that started just a year or two before Covid hit. I can’t remember why they started it but I’m so relieved the Fine Fair Folks have continued it!  I usually have more fun being in parades than watching them, but my Fair's Opening Day Parade is one of my most favorite to watch!


So Bummed These Were Missing

Boiled corn – Yes, roasted corn is fun with the floppy husk and all, but sometimes a boiled ear on a stick that requires less maintenance and less commitment is just better. I like options!

More commercial vendors – Very happy I was still able to get my sticky ring cleaned on the last day, but I missed having more vendors to say “No, thanks!” to. I suspect there will be more to wave off next year, as we all figure out that life really is coming back.

Not as many benches in the shade – Shade is gold on a hot day at the Fair. I wonder if the bench-puter-outers think about where the afternoon shade is when they place benches around the Fairgrounds? I’m thinking not. There were some really nice benches that went unused for hours each day because they were basically metal grills.

Schedules for 4-H events – I missed knowing when various 4-H competitions were happening. Past years had a printed schedule for 4-H fun. But those schedules were seemingly only suggestions, as we often arrived for an event that had either happened early or was being rescheduled.  So I understand that a reliable 4-H schedule would be tricky to produce…unless keeping to one was made a priority. Hint hint hint.

Baby animals – SO sad there were no piglets this year! Or newborn calves or bunnies. Probably not entirely under the control of the Fair. Very happy I got to see some baby animals at the Orange County Fair a few weeks ago.

Still no swag – No t-shirts, no pins, no stickers, no hats. No fun. I mean, if you didn’t put the year on the swag, you could roll any leftover inventory to the next year.  Pleeeeease??  I’ll even help sell them in the Gazebo next year!

Still missing my favorite Pad Thai – Since I’m whining, I’ll put in a plug for my long-gone favorite Pad Thai vendor that used to be just outside the Food Court. I was reminiscing about them when I wore my self-made fair-food-stain t-shirt last week which featured a Pad Thai sauce stain. Pad Thai and Demolition Derby is a Fair Combo of international proportions.

So now the recovery and detox begin.

I have already resumed my daily fruit smoothie (side note: one day in the Gazebo I wore my strawberry milkshake earrings. In order to get a passport stamp, the kids had to tell me what my earrings were. An intentionally easy question. Except there are apparently a number of health-conscious households in Clark County because I lost track of how many little people confidently informed me my milkshakes were actually smoothies. Gotta admit, I did not see that coming!).

I am looking forward to real dinners with a glass of wine and some Yacht Rock. I am looking forward to giving myself a manicure while celebrating the one fingernail that didn’t break. I am looking forward to wearing light colors and sandals. I am looking forward to remembering what color our car is. I am looking forward to catching up on a lot of reading while making sure my patio lounge chair feels appreciated. I am looking forward to finding our kitchen table again.

I am looking forward to all of that because I faired exceptionally well the past 10 days. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I repeatedly got more than 4 hours of sleep. I wrote when I wanted to, not when I felt obligated to. I ate what sounded good even if it was a lot of healthy hummus. I attended my Fair instead of attacking it with every drop of energy. I was a part of my Fair by volunteering and doing what I could to help families have a great time with happy memories. I am tired but I am not depleted.

As the sun was setting last night, I asked Rob to stop with me on a small hill near the Grandstands. I stood there and listened to My Fair. 

I listened to the hum of distant conversations. I listened to laughter. I listened to sugar-infused kids excitedly proclaiming what they wanted to do next. I listened to a nearby popcorn machine spitting out more snacks. I listened to cows mooing. I listened to a Monster Truck giving people loud-enginey rides on the dirt track in the Grandstands. I listened to a 4-H leader give instructions about filling out some end-of-Fair paperwork.

As I listened, I remembered coming to the Fairgrounds in August 2020. They were weedy and empty and heartbreakingly quiet. I remembered wondering when I would get to attend my Fair again. I remembered wondering if it would ever be the same again.

Standing on that small hill last night, listening to My Fair, my heart and spirit full, I realized it was absolutely worth the wait.