Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Fairing in LA LA Land

The Summer of 2020 was going to be one heck of a Fairing Season!  After thoroughly enjoying ourselves at our local County Fair, Rob and I had plans to hop a plane and go to two of the biggest state fairs in the whole U. S. of A: Minnesota and Texas.  We had the dates and general plans in mind but hadn’t accumulated any confirmation numbers yet when mid-March rolled around and Covid stopped the world.

Although I have been anxious to get back to Fairing, I have been even more anxious about being in large, undistanced crowds. I also saw a number of fairs do a not-quite-the-same-but-we’re-trying version of their annual fun last year.  If I’m making the effort to skip multiple time zones to experience an Epic Fair, I do not want it to be a year with an asterisk indicating it was almost normal. So I will wait.

Summer 2022 is looking like it might be the closest approximation yet to the good old days of the 20-teens. But I’m still not ready to commit to jet lag and proximate crowds.  So, Rob and I decided that our 2022 Fairing season will be more of the county fair variety.  A smaller step back into my favorite summer activity. Our County Fair is slated to start its 10-day run on August 5. In the meantime, Rob and I decided 2022 is the year to check out some Big Time County Fairs on the West Coast.  First up:  Los Angeles County Fair!

Typically held in September, the LA County Fair folks decided they wanted to be the first out of the gate for the 2022 Southern California Fair Season. So they changed their Fair month to May and confused the heck out of every Southern Californian I mentioned it to. Rob and I trekked down to Pomona, CA a couple weeks ago kick off our re-entry into Covid-Schmovid Fairing. WHOO HOO!! 

We faired for two days – a Thursday and a Friday – and left both days just as the sun was setting. It worked out perfectly, as there were not many fellow fairgoers mid-day on weekdays. The crowd definitely grew after about 5:00pm, which was just about the time we were getting our last meal and deciding to give our feet and backs a rest at the hotel.

Planning online at Woodhaven, I was frustrated that I couldn’t find info about 4-H animals or arena shows like monster trucks or bull riding. There was a long list of up-and-coming indie bands that were slated to play as part of a fair-long music festival. And there was mention of a lowrider car exhibit. Otherwise, the typical county fair offerings seemed pretty sparse.

And they were. Except for the shopping.  Wow, so much shopping. Of the same stuff (lotions, candles, jewelry, mops). Over and over and over.

There were a couple of barns tucked in the back that had chickens and rabbits.  Never did see cows or pigs or sheep or goats. We never actually even saw a 4-H kid or the iconic green 4-leaf clover in the two days we toured the fairgrounds. It was weird and sad.

We did happen upon a pair of llamas in pens that were off-limits to the public.  And then later we watched a llama conformation competition (how high-grade the llama is in body shape, fur, weight, etc.). But that was it. There was a large, covered barn that was a petting zoo.  It looked like it had some standard fair animals. And an entrance fee. And waaaay too many people smushed in the hay-strewn aisles. So perhaps I could have gotten my Fair Animal fix if I had been willing to shell out some cash and cozy up to a bunch of highly distracted strangers. But I was not. So my animal-petting was severely limited.

Off-llimits llamas

The only llamas I got to pet

Oh, we did see the Budweiser Clydesdales clomp by!  That was pretty cool.

Although Security was just out of
camera range, I was still shocked
by how close we could get to the horses

As for arena shows, there were none.  There wasn’t even an arena big enough to offer them, aside from a large stadium that was dedicated to concerts at night. We elected not to stay for the concert featuring Rose Royce.  Because you know it was going to be 10:45pm before they finally played “Car Wash.”

I quite enjoyed the Lowrider exhibit.  About 30 tricked out cars and trucks were parked in an alcove between two commercial buildings. They were all decorated and gleaming and, sadly, static.  I was really hoping to see the cars bounce around on hydraulics.  Maybe they saved that for the night folks? But it was very cool to get pretty close to the art-on-wheels and admire how painstakingly each car was restored and loved.

Even more impressive was the exhibit of similarly accessorized bicycles.  I can’t imagine any of them are actually used for transportation.  But they seemed like an ingenious gateway vehicle to get younger folks hooked on the lowrider way of life.

The bikes were very blingy

The home-economics area (what is it called in this century? Home Arts? Still Exhibits? You know – quilts and canning and macrame) was small but intriguing. There were not many quilts or canned veggies, though; the weather in SoCal is far too glorious to waste time inside sewing tiny stitches or artfully arranging green beans in hot jars. I thoroughly enjoyed the photography exhibit – it was cool to see what people in Los Angeles like to take photos of.  Answer: Hawaii.

I also really enjoyed the themed table settings. Some folks went all out – maybe a little too far – on their themes, making their tables largely unusable for a meal. My favorite display was this one. The exhibitor embraced the times and provided a perfect pseudo-diorama of the last two years.

One of my most favorite parts of the LA County Fair (aside from reminiscing about Woody the Owl) was their Wine Garden.  Cheers to that!  SO much better than the wine competition at our county fair.

In LA County, the folks who enter their wine for judgement aren’t hobbyists who are learning as they go and/or creatively fermenting any plant life they can get their hands on (the peach/bell pepper blend from our Fair a decade ago remains the gold standard for such ingenuity/desperation). Nope, in LA, professionals enter their wine for assessment and feedback.  Professional winemakers with harvest schedules and production lines and marketing departments.  It’s a pretty big deal to be awarded a medal in the LA County Fair Wine Competition.  Just ask Barefoot.  So lots of big and want-to-be-big vintners enter their wines in the Fair’s competition to be judged by people who are equally as professional. As opposed to our Fair whose volunteer judges are really just patio sippers angling for free passes to a day at the Fair. But hey, I work hard for those passes! Did I mention the peach/bell pepper blend?

SO many choices!  We shared a flight of 6.

Seeing all the wine entries was pretty exciting, but not nearly as exciting as having the opportunity to sample them! At our Fair, the only way you get to taste any of the wine is to be a judge.  At the LA County Fair, most of a commercial building was set up as a wine tasting room, with two bars pouring the same selection of over 150 wines. Entries came from all over the world, so we were excited to try some stuff from Florida and Turkey.  Our tastebuds were not really excited by either, but our hearts were super excited to try them!

The Sharpie numbers on the plastic
cups was a pretty smart way to 
keep track of what we had selected.
The LA wine folks are clever!

Which brings us to food.  Because you know I am ALL ABOUT FAIR FOOD!

Some pre-Fair research got me pretty excited about trying some weird stuff.  Flaming Hot Cheetos featured prominently in the advertised food offerings. The first meal we had involved a large corn dog dipped in nacho cheese sauce and then smothered in crushed Flaming Hot Cheetos.  I was ready for a taste sensation and a stomachache.  Sadly, I got neither. The corn dog was so boring, I didn’t finish it. Which was heartbreaking because it was astronomically priced.

I later tried a Dole Whip Watermelon Taco with Tajin seasoning. Also much more exotic in words than in mouth. The Tajin honestly made it worthwhile.  Otherwise, it was just Dole Whip and watermelon, which don’t really do much to enhance each other.

Tajin is a Mexican spice made from chili peppers,
lime, and salt. It's really good on citrusy stuff.

The Kool-Aid Chicken sandwich was pretty good, although super sticky. The Kool-Aid was Cherry flavored. At first I thought the sandwich tasted like sweet-and-sour chicken. But then the Kool-Aid flavor became much more prominent. It tasted pretty good, but not remarkable enough to search out at another fair.

That pickle was very squirty and very

Not the most appetizing photo but
at least you can see the Kool-Aid

The roasted corn on the cob was delicious – especially with a rainbow of seasonings (I can’t remember everything I sprinkled on the cob, but I know parmesan cheese and chili powder were included). The Elote (Mexican Street Corn) in a cup was also pretty tasty, even though I asked for it without the mayonnaise because I was too hot and the idea of mayonnaise-covered corn made my stomach curdle.

The chicken parmesan fry bread was utterly forgettable (thank goodness for photos). The most notable thing about it was we were likely the stand’s last customers before a water main broke right in front of the stand, causing the asphalt to rise up and ooze like a zit. Work crews and security hovered in the cordoned-off area the rest of the day.

It tasted as bland as it looks.

The marine layer never cleared. We got 
some drizzle during the day which also
kept the crowd small. Score!
Although really bummed to be in 
California on a grey day.

So overall, the fair food was just sort of meh at the LA County Fair.  I expected so much more! There was one discovery, though, that totally redeemed the food scene. It was so amazing, we went back a second time. And then pleaded with the crew to inform the owners that they MUST open a store in Portland. Because while we have foofy-pants ice cream here in Portland, we do not have the Milky Bun.

Offered by an ice cream chain called Afters, the Milky Bun is basically an ice cream sandwich where the bun is a raised donut.  A delicious raised donut with just enough sweetness to complement the ice cream without making your teeth ache.  We tried a few flavors of ice cream and I fell in love with the Salted Oreo.  It was just your basic “cookies ‘n cream” ice cream, but not. Afters took that basic ice cream and added a saltiness to it that was sort of like the magic of salted caramel but creamier and lighter. And then snuggled it in a donut. OMG. I trotted back to the stand after we finished our first Milky Bun and proclaimed to the crew that the treat was worth the flight from Portland. I stopped short of hugging them when they informed me Afters is a local (to them) chain and I can enjoy a Milky Bun on all future visits to Southern California.  And I shall.  Paired with an In-n-Out cheeseburger “Animal Style, ketchup and mustard instead, extra pickles” might be the most perfect of SoCal meals.

The ice cream was Strawberry Cookie
Crunch where the cookies were
Famous Amos Chocolate Chip.

Overall, I would say the LA County Fair was good but not great. I missed seeing animals and shows, and the food was sort of disappointing. But the wine garden was great, and it was fascinating to see what inspires creativity in Los Angeles. I also loved a part of the fairgrounds that wandered up a hill with lots of shade trees and park benches.

For some reason, not a popular spot.
We practically had it all to ourselves!

There was also a portion of the hillscape that was dedicated to ecology and environmental stewardship.  That’s where I was gleefully reunited with Woodsy. 

The best part of the LA County Fair, though, was that it was a FAIR. It had food and rides and animals and quilts and mops and fantastic people-watching. It had two 5-mile walking days, and a fun logo that looks like Porky Pig. It had history, it had tradition, it had a Ferris Wheel ride at sunset. It was perfect.   



Monday, May 16, 2022

My Pandemic Project Revealed

You might have noticed – or not – that I haven’t been writing here much. But believe you me, I HAVE been writing. A lot. Like 119 pages’ worth of musings, reflections, admissions, encouragements, warnings, lessons, insights, regrets. I’m finally far enough along in my Pandemic Project to proclaim it publicly. With excitement and a huge gulp.

I am writing a book!

It’s a project I have been pondering for about 5-8 years.  And then a surgery in the midst of The Pandemic kicked me from dangling my feet in the authorship pool to finally jumping in head first. Because, you know, I had time.

Interesting thing about writing a book during a global pandemic:  I had a ton of time and very little motivation. I started then stopped then sputtered along. I spent quite a few weeks (well, ok, months) feeling guilty for not being more productive with my copious couch time. Well, other than not getting Covid.  Eventually, after about a year of deftly avoiding both the virus and my book, I finally faced my fears and plunged in. To the book I mean.  When I finally join the infected ranks and plunge into Covid remains to be seen.

My book is non-fiction and what I wish I had over 20 years ago when my life took a huge detour after I coughed and messed up my back. My book is titled I’m FINE. – A Practical Guide to Life with Chronic Pain. It covers a lot of ground – the emotions, the impacts, the gadgets, surgeries, disability insurance, alternative therapies, how and where to find hope.  All the stuff that defines your life when you hurt pretty much all the time.

Writing my book has been exciting, agonizing, cathartic, scary, and exhilarating. I have been mostly having an absolute blast, but about 15-20% of it has been all kinds of hard and heavy lifting. The toughest part was knowing I needed to write about things I didn’t want to think about anymore, stuff I’ve put behind me, stuff I didn’t want to revisit. But it’s all part of the story – and actually pretty critical stuff – so with the help of a wise and encouraging mentor, I finally started making real progress about 10 months ago.

I am self-publishing I’m FINE. which turns out is a REALLY BIG PROCESS. Lordy, there’s a lot to learn. I have been overwhelmed and panicked and hyperventilatey so very many times while scouring YouTubes and blog posts and How-To’s about how one can bypass years of rejection by ignoring fancypants publishers and doing the book thing as a DIY adventure. The deeper I get into this Let's Make a Book endeavor, the more I realize that writing the 119 pages was the easy part.

So far I have learned about:

  • ISBN numbers and why you want to buy 10 of them

  • Why having your own publishing company is wise and incredibly easy

  • The importance of fonts and their sizes

  • Why and how to find an editor, an alpha reader, and some beta readers

  • Not feeling awkward while posing in a popular park for an author photo

  • Graphic designers and their world of vectors and rasters

  • Citations and licensing and documenting written permissions to reprint stuff created by other people

  • Author landing pages, bios, and book descriptions and how to write all salesy and extroverted

  • Trim sizes and bleeds and safe zones and gutters – publishing sounds rather dangerous, doesn’t it?

I am currently in the Beta Reader phase of this undertaking – I have asked a few people to read Draft 6 as average readers to see how it hits them and alert me to any huge stumbling blocks in my quest to encourage other folks who do life with chronic pain.  Once I get my betas’ feedback, I then get to take a deep breath, adjust my glasses, ply myself with chamomile tea, and figure out how to format my manuscript to Amazon’s screens-upon-screens of exacting standards. I am fantasizing about being ready to click “PRINT” sometime before July.

Stay tuned! 

In addition to a cover design, a very talented woman named
Lynn created a logo for me.  I HAVE A LOGO!!

Sunday, April 24, 2022

This is 54.

Today was a gorgeous day. Sunny skies, puffy clouds, lots of spring flowers, warm enough to have bare legs. With anticipation, I even shaved mine this morning. First time in 2022 I have worn shorts outside! It was glorious!

Looking for something relaxing to do in the warm sunshine, I decided it was time to repaint some rocks we have on our patio steps. There’s a whole lotta concrete out there and several years ago, I decided our aging eyes with aging depth perception needed a visual indicator of the steps.  I placed some colorful rocks at each step's corner to keep us from visiting Urgent Care. So far so good!

Frolicking in shorts and a T-shirt, I got all my supplies set up: a table, a chair, my tote of craft paints, my phone for music, a cup of water to rinse my brush, a roll of paper towels because I know me. With all the glare of the sun bouncing off my white plastic table, I realized I needed some sunglasses.

Sunglasses in the Pacific Northwest are a funny thing. You need them readily available for about three months each year. The rest of the time, they gather dust in whatever long-forgotten place you tossed them in September. Lots of residents of the PNW have many many pairs of sunglasses…because they are easier to replace than to locate come July.

Forgetting I invested in prescription sunglasses a few years ago, I searched our garage for a pair of cheapy shades that would fit over my regular, non-tinted, progressive glasses that help me see all the things at all the distances. I found the perfect pair of huge sunglasses, purchased who knows when, stashed next to a flashlight and a box cutter. I carefully wiped off several years of garage grime, and then got distracted by…something.

Finally ready to start my rock painting, I could not find my sunglasses. Yes, I’m used to misplacing sunglasses for months, but not for minutes. I spent at least 10 minutes searching for them. The garage, the kitchen, the patio, the bathroom, back to the garage. Nothing. They had disappeared.

Mystified, I scrounged up a second pair of plastic sunglasses, these sporting the logo of a local casino. I'm betting I got them at my beloved county fair in 2019 by spinning a wheel at a promotions booth. The blue glasses were smaller but still fit well enough over my prescription glasses. I shook my paint bottles and got to work.

About 20 minutes and 5 rocks later, Rob motored by on the lawn mower. He paused and pointed to my head with a questioning look. I felt the top of my head and discovered the first pair of sunglasses.

I’ll add that to my list of places to search in July.

All the cool kids wear 3 pairs of glasses at the same time

Monday, February 28, 2022

Instagram stories of war

A couple of days ago, I came across a YouTube video that condensed the 1983 made-for-TV movie “The Day After” down to about 8 minutes.  I remember being assigned the homework of watching the “what if?” nuclear war drama back in high school.  I didn’t remember much about it, other than lots of fiery orange explosions and being suitably terrified by the whole concept of nuclear war and the USSR.

I started watching the 8-minute Cliff Notey video and made it just over 4 minutes before I hit pause, closed the tab, put my face in my hands and said to Rob, “No wonder I’ve been so edgy the past few days.”

I had no idea how deeply seated and traumatizing the images from that television show were for me.  But it helped explain my somewhat intense engagement in news over the past week of Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

I’m not a terribly political person, especially not publicly.  I definitely have opinions and ache at injustice and hypocrisy.  I just don’t enjoy debating philosophies and values and world views.  Discussing them, absolutely.  But debating, nope.  And these days, discussions about political things seem to descend with warp speed into debates.  So I deftly avoid those conversations with even more artistry than my ninja-stepping around Covid for the past 2 years.

I remember watching the Gulf War on TV in the early 1990s.  Wolf Blitzer, General Schwarzkopf, and CNN all became TV icons overnight. The constant access to news – some of it even verified before airing – and the maddeningly distracting scroll of yet more news at the bottom of the screen provided a new way for civilians to experience war.  Instead of war feeling distant, we got to watch war as if it were a Hollywood video from the comforts of home.  Having the green lights of missiles flash in my bedroom via satellite was fascinating and vivid and terrifying.

And now here we are, 30 years later.  A war is underway on the other side of the world, but instead of watching it on TV, there is social media.  Instead of my news being packaged for me, it is raw and nearly instantaneous.  Instead of professional journalists, I am consuming images and content from average citizens with cell phones and Instagram accounts.  I have seen highly disturbing yet incredibly important images that have helped me understand this is not just a horror flick on my screen; it is real and it is war.  I have heard Ukrainian voices full of determination and defiance.  I have ached at their terror and cheered at their cursing.

Until a few days ago, the bulk of what I follow on Instagram was friends and family and favorite food sources (Tillamook Cheese, Slurpee, Moonstruck Chocolate, C’est La Via Café’s daily temptations…).  Now, in one of the strangest developments in my personal social media consumption, I am also following a Ukrainian professional ballroom dancer (Maksim Chmerkovskiy) and the Ukrainian President (Volodymyr Zelensky).  Thank goodness for that translation button. And for the occasional interruption by images of grilled cheese sandwiches.

"I need ammunition, not a ride." ~ President Zelensky
as he becomes the best living example of a leader
in my lifetime (Photo from

The use of social media in modern war is mind blowing.  In just the last 3 days, I have seen it used to mobilize Uber-like transportation of refugees at the Polish border, collect monetary donations from a global population desperate to help, convince a multibillionaire to provide internet service within 10 hours of the request, and unify nearly a world of people around a single cause.

I suspect one of the biggest, most important weapons in war is information.  And now, with a world armed with billions of personal news platforms and tiny computers and cameras to instantly broadcast information across borders and time zones and cultures, war has changed forever.


Friday, February 25, 2022

I've got (ancient) mail!

A couple days ago I was in a store talking with three employees in their 20s.  My email was needed.  After I provided it, one sort of snickered and repeated, "Hotmail."  

I looked at him with "Game on, sonny boy" eyes and said, "I have one that's even older."  

"AOL?" he asked knowingly, as he prepared to accuse me of being a Boomer.  

Full of Gen X quiet confidence I replied, ""

Eyes widened.  "Whoa, I've never heard of that one."

"Yeah, I lived in Silicon Valley when emails first became a thing.  It's one of the first ones out there and has been sold tons of times. But it still works."

I decided not to pick up the mic I dropped since doing so would have hurt my back. 

Being 54 is fun!!

Tuesday, January 18, 2022


There’s a commercial in the Portland Metro that has been running for a few weeks (yes, we still watch live TV – mostly football).  It features a young teacher in a classroom talking about things we can all do to help keep kids in school this winter.  She’s wearing a mask and talking about distancing and hand washing and face coverings.  All the regular stuff.

But what caught my attention was how the commercial starts.  She commiserates that we are all tired and gives our collective exhaustion its name:  Pandemic Fatigue. 

Then this morning’s news included an interview with a local psychologist giving tips about how to stay sane-ish as we get ready to enter Year 3 of this Covid nonsense.  She suggested things like going slower, not trying to control things, going easy on yourself, and finding ways to safely socialize (like chatting with a friend on the phone while you both take walks in separate locations).

Apparently, we are at that point in Covidom where it’s deemed helpful to be told that it is totally normal and possibly universal to be utterly, completely depleted. And raw.  And fried.

I admit, it does help.

I haven’t gotten Covid yet.  I feel like it’s only a matter of time, though, with Omicron so ridiculously contagious.  I have once again lost count of how many people I know who currently are or have recently been sick.  Gratefully, none have died or needed hospital attention this time around.  But even super careful friends, vigilant mask wearers, and those with three entries on their vaccination cards have gotten Covid in the last month.  Unless I barricade myself inside Woodhaven like it’s March 2020…which brings its own set of concerns…chances seem likely I will be initiated eventually.

But having made it this long without a positive test has come at a price.  I have been ninja-stepping through life for two years, and I am exhausted.  Nothing seems particularly predictable – how much sleep I will get each night, how hungry I might be, how exposed my emotions are, if I will be motivated to finally clean that closet, if I will be optimistic about the future or just sort of meh.  Fatigue indeed.

I recently realized that I have been tightly holding onto as many things as I can figuratively grab because I want to control something…anything…since Covid is so uncontrollable.  That tight grip is draining, both physically and mentally.  The stress and anxiety of trying to control the uncontrollable have been gradually mounting and taking a toll on me.  This awareness alone has brought some much needed relief as I am slowly releasing and letting things be.

And then a couple days ago, I had a Divine conversation in which I was given the word “endure.”   According to Google, endure means “to suffer (something painful or difficult) patiently.”  Endure acknowledges this stuff is HARD.  It also suggests that I can not control it. And there’s an implication of waiting, connoting that this challenging season is not permanent.  Thank God.

And so, instead of playing Hot Lava around the floor of life, trying to deflect invisible microbes like Wonder Woman, I am loosening my grip.  I am slowing down.  I am letting things be.  I am giving myself permission not to thrive every day.  I am waiting.  I am enduring.


Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Oh Christmas Tree

Just a couple weeks after Rob and I got married, I went to the mall to buy Christmas tree decorations.  Neither of us brought anything of the sort to the marriage.  At 22 and 24, we were thrilled just to have mismatched furniture, bricks-and-boards shelving, and the young knees and backs to make a mattress and box spring sitting on the floor seem cool.

Each year I added more ornaments, including pilfering a few childhood favorites from my parents’ collection.  Vacations usually resulted in at least one souvenir ornament.  Slowly our annual tree became a personalized commemoration of our life and times together.

Somewhere around the 5th or 6th year, I had impressively amassed quite a collection.  SO many boxes and tissue paper and paper towels protecting each ornament in a soft cocoon.  Decorating the tree felt like Christmas morning as I unwrapped each ornament to reveal a memory.  The setting had all the makings of a Hallmark Christmas Movie:  the tree, the memories, Rob and I wearing matching holiday sweaters as we sipped coffee out of Santa mugs, decorating the tree together, Mannheim Steamroller playing in the background.

Except, Rob doesn’t wear sweaters, neither of us drinks coffee, and decorating the Christmas tree somehow became my job to do alone.  We do, however, dig the Steamroller.

In all honesty, I started to dread decorating the Christmas tree.  Unwrapping all the ornaments took foreeeever.  Managing the task by myself felt lonely.  Reversing the process in January was dreary and depressing.  I enjoyed having the tree; I was just over it being such an ordeal.

Christmas 2000 rescued me.

I had a Really Big Back Surgery scheduled for December 18.  I would be in the hospital for a week and off work for 6-9 months.  I had LOTS to prepare and plan for and take care of, none of which involved the holidays.

In the frenzy of Pre-Op Prep, I gave myself an early Christmas gift.  I gave myself permission to streamline the Christmas tree decoration process.  Inspired by the ribboned and balled trees at Macy’s – lacking anything personal and instead just being pretty – I raided my local crafts store and brought home a bunch of ribbon and generic ornaments and fake foliage I could stick between tree branches. Our naked tree was dressed and ready to party in less than an hour.  It was amazing.  And an enormous relief.

Iridescently fresh from the hospital
(I went blonde to distract myself).
Macy's-inspired tree in the background.

I really thought that would be the only year I would do a Department Store Christmas Tree.  It really felt like cheating.  But the next Christmas, I was in the midst of realizing I needed a second Really Big Back Surgery.  Out came the ribbons and gold and red balls again.  And again.  And again.  And again.

I still have all the boxes of the nostalgic, personal, lovingly collected ornaments from the first 10 years of our marriage.  I’m not sentimental enough to bring them out of the attic, but I am sentimental enough to keep them there instead of downsizing them away.

I still decorate the tree mostly by myself, although Rob now assembles it, replaces burned lights, and then watches supportively from the couch, cheering me on and making sure I have tea.  I have slowly added enough variety of ribbons and shiny balls that I can mix and match to create a slightly different look each year.  It usually takes me less than 2 hours to decorate our tree, and I get to feel creative and interior designery as I decide on the year’s color scheme.

Even though our Department Store Christmas Tree lacks highly personal ornaments, it does not feel generic.  It is topped with the stuffed Santa who has been with us for over 30 years, goofily cross-eyed from being rubber-banded to the top bough.  And underneath, our tree is skirted with the latch hook rug I made while living in our first apartment, its yarn hugged by the soft black fur of three beloved cats, each convinced the tree was set up just for them. 

And in between the topper and the skirt, there is acceptance of limits, expressions of creativity, memories of grace, and years of tradition.

This year's tree.  Black cat
well-hidden under right boughs.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Pandemic in Paradise

I am sure all of us have had various carrots dangling at the end of the longer-than-fathomable Covid Stick over the past 20 months.  You know, those plans that have kept us motivated and sane and mostly suitable for polite company while stuck in quarantine and conducting life behind Zoom screens and face masks. 

For Christmas last year, Rob gave me a gift certificate to my favorite hot dog stand on the planet.  While it altruistically furthered our commitment to support small local businesses during a global pandemic, the basic white piece of paper printed from an email also – and, selfishly, more importantly – gave me tangible hope.  Its pixelated letters read, “Because we will eat again!  In Kauai!”

Kauai is one of those places Rob and I visit repeatedly.  Our first trip was back in the mid-‘90s.  We’ve frolicked on the Garden Island a dozen times, give or take.  Enough so that seeing the familiar green rock face of my favorite mountain range near the airport instantly infuses me with a sense of Home. We have a favorite condo place and even a specific unit we prefer if it’s available.  We know where to shop, we know where the eat, we know where to snorkel, we know which roads to take.  Short of having a dentist and a hair cutter person, Kauai feels more like a second home every time we arrive. The familiarity of it all eliminates a lot of the stress and uncertainty that comes with travel, so camping out in Koloa for a spell is one of our surefire ways to relax.

I decided I should know the name of this mountain
instead of just calling it "My Favorite Mountain in Kauai"
The interwebs tell me it is called Mount Haupu.

Last May, after we had both recovered from the promised side effects of our second vaccine doses, Rob and I got to work planning our “The Pandemic Is OVER” celebration trip to Kauai.  The first of many travel plans we defeatedly cancelled in 2020 was a much-anticipated cruise to Hawaii with some dear friends.  Although we weren’t quite ready to cruise again (still aren't...), a victory lap around Kauai sounded like a perfect way to celebrate the return to normality.  We didn’t want to go in the heat of summer, so we settled on November.  Certainly Covid would be a past-tense trauma by then.  Would we even remember what we were celebrating??

Twenty months into this adventure and I still amuse myself with my hopeful optimism. I’m adorable!

So here it is, November 2021.  I don’t know how things are where you live, but in my county Covid is still very present tense and deadly, with case rates about the same as they were in January. At one point less than a month ago, Rob and I lost track of how many people we knew – and had recently seen – who were sick.  We even got tested due to a very likely exposure.  Covid became even more real really fast.  Suffice it to say, we – and especially me – have been a touch edgy for the past few weeks.  What was originally planned as a celebration trip to Kauai quickly morphed into an escape from the closing rings of viral sickness.

And so, here we are.  In Kauai.  Celebrating not being at home.  It’s warm and lovely but also kinda odd. It still feels familiar yet so much is different. 

One of my favorite things to do here is walk walk walk.
I'm averaging about 5 miles per day so far!


There are fewer tourists than we are used to, but restaurants are super crowded and luaus are reportedly sold out for months.  Hotels are at capacity and day-passes to resorty pools with waterfalls are sold out until January.  You can make reservations at restaurants, but it’s best to do that at least a month in advance…assuming they answer the phone. Otherwise, waitlists are 45-90 minutes long.  Like everywhere, it appears challenging to find people who want to fill jobs here.  So the hotels and the restaurants and the entertainment are as full as the limited staffing allows.

After arriving at our mostly well-appointed condo, I nonetheless had a short list of needed items…like ice cube trays and laundry detergent and an inflatable pool floaty to serve as a lounge chair cushion. Excited by the recent addition of a Target in Kauai’s largest town, I left Rob to his homework (he’s in grad school and is studying as I type) and made what I assumed would be a quick and successful shopping trip.  What I found at Target – or, more appropriately, what I didn’t find – was shocking.

Remember back in Spring 2020 when store shelves were bare of toilet paper and Clorox Wipes and flour and bottled water and rice and canned green beans? Well, the biggest thing in stock at the Lihue Target is bare shelves.  It all looks good when you first walk in – clothes and shampoo and Christmas decorations (SO weird to see while wearing shorts and sandals).  But as I searched the inner aisles, there was so much white metal, so few employees, and so much bewildered wandering.  The housewares section was so empty, I wasn’t even sure what department I was in. 

I eventually ended up at Walmart, which was in much better but still compromised shape.  It occurred to me that being in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is not a very big – or critical – link in the supply chain.  These poor islands are clearly lucky to get what they can.  We chatted up a young employee at our favorite ice cream shop who confirmed as much.  On our first of mostly nightly visits, we were sad to see only one case of delicious island-inspired flavors instead of the typical two.  Mopey that our beloved Banana Fudge Ice Cream was not offered, I asked the scoop jockey if the flavors in the lonely case were the only flavors they are currently making. 

“No, when a tub runs out we just replace it with whatever has been sent to us by the [local] factory.”

“So you might get Banana Fudge within the next 10 days??”  SO MUCH HOPE!

“Oh, we haven’t had that flavor in months.  Bananas are really hard to get right now.”

Hope dashed.  Last night’s Chocolate Macadamia Nut ice cream almost made up for it.

One big weirdness that I am quite enjoying is the pervasiveness of face masks. I have been pretty dang compliant with all the masking requirements and suggestions since March 2020.  I’m happy to ditch them when The Powers That Be deem it safe to do so, but I also get really twitchy when I am among naked-faced rebels. 

For the first time ever, I lost a mask!
I'm not entirely unhappy to have an
excuse to get a festive local one.

The Kauaians take their masking SERIOUSLY.  I have yet to encounter a maskless face indoors nor one worn defiantly below a nose.  Locals seem so accustomed to this accessory, it is not uncommon to see folks wearing masks alone in their car or outside.  There’s no hassle, there’s no argument, there’s no picketing, there’s no tension.  Instead, this community seems to be of one aloha spirit to try to keep Covid at bay until they can kick it off the island completely. It’s rather refreshing, although I strangely feel like a slacker when I walk around outside with my mask in my hand instead of on my face.

I have yet to see someone at the pool wearing a 
mask, but folks do seem to be aware of keeping
some distance.

To be granted access to The Islands, all visitors have to jump through quite a number of hoops.  The hoops weren’t difficult, they just required attention to detail – which is one of my specialties.  Rob and I each had to create an account on a State of Hawaii website, enter all our travel arrangements including flight numbers and which specific condo unit we had reserved, and upload photos of our vaccination cards.  This allowed us to request exemption from a 10-day quarantine or providing proof of a negative test result within 72 hours of arrival. 

24 hours prior to our flight, we each had to log in again to fill out a health questionnaire.  This resulted in a QR code indicating we were screened.  When we arrived in Seattle for our flight to Kauai the next day, we stood in line for an Alaska Airline rep to check our codes and photos and IDs.  Our prize for successfully jumping through that hoop was a snazzy turquoise wrist band that allowed us to bypass the Hawaiian airport folks 6 hours later and waltz directly to Baggage Claim and the start of our vacation. Somewhere in there, our condo complex was supposedly contacted to confirm we were registered guests…and while waiting for our bags, I texted them the requested updated QR code that proclaimed us Screened AND Exempt and therefore allowed to stay on their property. Goodness!

The whole process was sort of like filling out a Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes entry.  Just the right stamp had to be placed in just the right box, another box needed to be checked, etc. And honestly, once we were in our freshly sanitized white Impala motoring away from LIH, I did rather feel like we had won a Grand Prize.

When we stopped at the grocery store
on our way to our condo, I spied another
shopper with the same wrist band.  What used
to be fresh leis are now wristbands proclaiming
your very recent arrival in Hawaii!

All that rigmarole just to set flip flop on the island has given me confidence that I am surrounded by healthy people.  Although there are Covid cases here, most are among the community.  The only community I am interacting with are masked restaurant servers and store merchants.  We are also outside almost all of the time.  The only time I have been inside a public space for more than 15 minutes was Target, Walmart, and the grocery store -- places my mask and I visit at home frequently.   I have found myself finally breathing deeply here, with comfort and security for the first time since July.  I finally feel safe again, which is a blessed and desperately needed vacation in and of itself.

We’re pretty sure the people staying in Unit 38 – our preferred condo – are the owners.  We keep shooting them dirty looks while they are lounging on their lanai.  They’ve yet to notice.  But I can’t say I blame them for hunkering down here to ride out the wild waves of Covid.  I would if I could!  I am already dreading flying back to reality in a few days.  But the blissful escape from it could not have come at a better time.  And that’s worth celebrating.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Pandemic fatigue

Is it just me, or is this pandemic thing endlessly exhausting?

Back in July -- when Delta was just an airline -- I dared to exhale with relief that Covid was in the rearview mirror.  I started having lunch dates with friends.  I mapped out in my head all sorts of travel and fun getaways.  I bought new lipstick.  I even started using the term “post-Covid.”  

I was so adorably naïve.

Within a few short weeks, I was once again wearing a mask and avoiding hugs and saying no to indoor dining at restaurants.  I was once again holding plans very loosely and declining invitations.  I was once again making the heartbreaking and gut-wrenching categorization of people and circumstances as “safe” or “not safe.”

I hate it.  And I am so very weary.

It’s harder this time around.  Covid’s sphere of influence is creeping closer.  At one point several weeks ago, Rob and I had 13 members of our extended family in four states sick with Covid.  Last week, one of them died.  Twice we have received the dreaded “I need to let you know I was exposed to Covid and am getting tested” phone calls from people we interacted with.  Earlier today, I earnestly prayed for a young friend as we anxiously await test results from what is unfolding to be an outbreak at her job.

All this while I am also surrounded by people who are understandably over it.  Completely, utterly, exhaustingly DONE.  They are done making compromises and saying no to things and cancelling plans and postponing events and being alone.  They want to live life, virus be damned.  They are willing to take the risk of getting sick because the costs of staying safe have proven too great.  I get it.  I’m just not there yet.

And so here I am again.  Batting away fear as I try to cling to the bigger picture.  Cautiously hoping I get to attend a wedding and a baby shower and go on a beachy vacation.  Wondering if I will get to hug my parents for the second time since 2019 before it’s 2022.  Sighing with resignation that I must wait a bit longer before presuming to say “post-Covid” once again.

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.