Resources during Coronavirus isolation

The Coronavirus is going to be with us for a while and since we’re practicing social distancing for all the right reasons, here are some resources for eating, staying entertained and some ways to hang on to some zen. Everything listed is a free resource unless specifically listed otherwise.

Well that grew more quickly than I anticipated. Everything has moved to topical pages for ease of use now:

Moving Day Episode I: Keys

Key day. That glorious day when we’d finally get the keys to our shiny new house. We had a grand plan for key day. It was a good plan. A well thought out plan. The universe and its perverted sense of humor of course had a different plan for us.

THE PLAN: The keys to the new house were going to be locked in the garage and we’d get a text with the garage door code when the house was ready for us. Kris would pack up the barbeque, our bed and the dogs and meet me at the house when I got off work. He’d grill us some steaks to be eaten over the sink, and we’d have dessert I picked up from Papa Haydens on my lunch break. We’d get one quiet night in our fabulous new house before we started the actual move. It was supposed to be a brief, romantic evening.

THE REALITY: Just before heading to the new house with the packed up car & trailer, Kris called the cats inside. Coming inside when called has been a daily ritual for these cats since they discovered the magical sunny land of Outside. Nac decided, for no reason we’ve ever figured out, he didn’t want to go inside. Sure, sure, he’s a cat, so of course he picked the worst time to be randomly inconvenient. I think Murphy might have been giggling nearby and enticing Nac into teasing runs with tasty metaphysical treats. Kris spent an hour trying to bring him inside for the night instead of driving to our shiny new house when the text came in.

On the other side of town, I left my desk right at 5 super excited to head over to our house. I got in my car at the top of the parking garage and quickly discovered that the employee gate was broken. Everyone (employees and guests) had to go through the single pay-gate. This caused a fantastic 20 minute parking-jam which I have never seen before or since and left me quite literally trapped in the parking garage. 10 minutes in I stopped being angry and just started laughing while I beat my forehead against the steering wheel.

I somehow arrived at the house first and it felt like Christmas morning. I opened the garage, retrieved the key, unlocked the door, and found the cleaning crew manager was still there. The previous owners had very kindly hired a crew to clean the house from top to bottom so everything would be spotless when we took possession. They didn’t have to, it was just a really thoughtful gesture. It went a little… wrong though. Somehow, the crew had shattered a ceiling light fixture in the living room. I like to imagine they were having a lightsaber fight using their brooms and someone jumped to avoid a low cut by a mop and accidentally speared the light fixture on the upswing. In an attempt to repair it, they’d run to home depot, bought a replacement and installed it before I arrived…but it really didn’t match the other fixture. They were both glass, attached to the ceiling and had brown as part of the color scheme, but that’s really all they had in common. Accidents, happen, they’d done what they could. I was trying to hold on to the Christmas feeling when she showed me the refrigerator.

The fridge had no main shelf. When they removed the shelf for washing, it had slipped out of her hands and shattered on the kitchen floor. Of course no one in town had a replacement, so they’d already ordered it and it should arrive soon. Sometime in the next week soon. Did I mention that Smart guys family was going to stay with us for the week of the move to help? So 6 adults, 1 toddler and 6 dogs with an only partially usable refrigerator during a heat wave was … problematic.

Looking into the future 24 hours: We discovered they’d cleaned up the small glass pieces with rags that they’d rinsed in the kitchen sink. Filling the drain with hundreds of tiny bits of tempered glass just the right size to cause the garbage disposal to seize. My mother in law and I spent 2 or 3 hours over the next couple of days slowly pulling out shards, moving the manual bar, grinding glass, pulling out more shards, over and over and over until it finally worked.

The cleaning crew manager was so distressed by what had happened that she insisted on cleaning the window sills of the entire house to make up for the inconvenience. No, that doesn’t particularly make sense, but she really felt she needed to make it up to us. While she cleaned, we unloaded the first batch of stuff from our cars. When we finished, she was only half done and we were so hungry that waiting for the bbq to heat up was no longer a safe option.

Instead, some very patient friends took us out to have dinner at a neighborhood place: I remember that the food was tasty, but couldn’t tell you what I ordered. I remember a margarita glass the size of my head, but I don’t think it was mine. There was salsa, so there were probably chips…. For all I know our whole group was abducted by aliens and flown to Costa Rica for and intergalactic dinner on the beach. Dinner was tasty, our friends were very kind. Probably no aliens were involved.

When we arrived back home at our shiny new house the manager was gone and the window sills were in fact very clean. We rambled around the house opening things, flipping switches, poking buttons and closing things for an hour or two. We were so tired that I was half convinced that someone was changing the location of the light switches right after I left each room. That’s not true. I was completely convinced something was changing the location of the light switches right after I left each room. Those switches didn’t stop moving around until we’d been in the house for a couple of months.

We fell into an exhausted heap on the futon and laying there, in the dark, queued the inevitable ridiculous panic attacks that punctuated the night. “This house is huge and weird and not our home and.. and.. and…” zzzzzzzzzzz “Oh my god, where are the water shut offs, what if a pipe spontaneously detonates tonight. We won’t know where to turn it off! The house will fill up with water and we’ll drown!” zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz “Was that sound someone breaking in? Did I lock the door? Doors? How many doors to the outside are there? Do the locks on them work? Did we actually try the keys in all the locks? What if the neighbors still have keys to this house? We’re going to be murdered in our sleep by the serial killer next door!” zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz “Did I just hear a squeak? Was that a mouse? Rats? Have racoons figured out how to open the basement window? Do raccoons carry rabies or hantavirus? I don’t think they carry bubonic plague. Please don’t let that squeak be an opossum. They’re cute until they smile, then they look like Satan’s favorite pet. How do I find a pest control company at 3am?” zzzzzzzzzz “It’s going to be 102 tomorrow while we’re moving. Do we have an air conditioner? Is it electric or gas? What if the family moving out broke a gas line and didn’t realize it? Are there smoke alarms? Do they have batteries? Wait, gas is CO, do the alarms in this house even check that? My inlaws are going to find us dead and cherry red in the basement tomorrow… huh, wouldn’t have to go to work tomorrow if that happened.” zzzzzzz

Like it always does, dawn eventually happened, light came streaming through the strange new windows and most of the worries drifted away. Well, they drifted away after I checked every dark corner by cell phone light for critters and water.

Stay tuned for Episode 2: The weird stuff is past us! Moving in is going to be easy! Hahahahahahahahaha #Facepalm

I have a Tricorder

I love having a tricorder.  I grew up with Star Trek and everytime I pick up my smart phone I hear the Star Trek pinging noises that accompanied every gadget they used.  I adore having a smart phone.  its unceasingly amazing to me that anytime, day or night, I want to look up anything at all, I can.   The name of that guy in that movie with the character who said that line.  I can find that out.  What kind of flower is that? I’ve never seen it before. I’ll look it up.  What time does the store close on Sundays before Christmas?  I can look that up while I’m in the parking lot of the place that didn’t have what I was looking for.   Instant access to information when ever I want.  So when my phone started slowing down until I started checking for spilled molasses, I was a little bereft.  I can live without a smart phone, but I don’t really want to.  I mentally braced myself for the ordeal and headed for the phone store.

When I walked into the store, there were two employees standing in front of the doors.  Together, they paused, looked directly at me then back down to their oh so precious tablets.  Clearly they weren’t doing customer service, they were curing cancer on their break in the middle of the store.  I walked past them to the very back of the store and spoke to the guy behind a counter.  He refused to help me because the two rocket scientists at the front hadn’t checked me in.  Let’s pause here: Its not a hotel.  Its a phone store.  And newsflash – it’s not an Apple store with built in cult followers willing to filet their neighbor for access to their gods newest, most precious (until next year) offspring.   As I looked around the store, I could feel my stomach sinking with an unfortunate realization: Verizon is selling Apple products and their store now looks an awful lot like the Apple store.  My eye started to twitch a little.  I just want a working phone. I don’t want to join a cult so I can talk to my friends and family… But…for round the clock access to the growing sum of human knowledge and point-to-point audio navigation I’d consider joining a cult…so fine…I’ll wait.

Now, I would assume that a modern phone store that forces people to “check in” would have a reason that benefits the store and the customer.  Check me in, tell me how long I have until its my turn and if I have a working phone, text me 5 minutes before I’m up.  If I don’t have a working phone, hand me one of the cheap-ass pagers that every Outback Steakhouse on the planet uses and let me do something useful with my day.

Nope, they can’t do that.  Really. I asked.  I got a deep sigh, and eye roll and ‘it just doesn’t work’.  Gotta sit in their store and just wait while being bombarded by the most teeth rotting sugar-pop music from the eighties.  Really? TLCs ‘Don’t want no scrubs’ is the best you can do?  You could at least pipe in soothing classical music on your oh so fantastic wireless speakers.  Instead of doing any of the thousand things I wanted to accomplish, I just sat there, on a chair too uncomfortable for Ikea to sell.  Waiting.  While my eye starts twitching in time with the beat.

I know they wanted me to wander aimlessly around their shrine looking at shiny things in the hopes that I’ll spend more money than I planned to.  I could even see their helpful christmas display with convenient categories above each section: “$20 and under”, “$50 and under”, “$99 and under”, and lastly, I kid you not: “For special people”.  Because if you don’t spend at least $100 on someone, you don’t really believe they’re a special person.  I thought I was grumpy before reading the display.

That display is why I hate going to stores between Halloween and New Years.  Christmas in my mad mind is for spending time with people you like and being joyously grateful for the good things in your life.  It’s a time to bake cookies so the air is filled with delicious smells and the house is warmed by the oven.   Then bundling up in warm clothes and taking still warm cookies to you neighbors – because my life is so good, that I can make cookies that I don’t need, dress in warm clothing that I already have, and share something I’ve made with others with no need or expectation of anything in return.  It’s for going to zoo lights and having a cozy stroll through the freezing cold with my true love while watching millions of tiny colored lights create a second ephemeral zoo on top of the daylight structures.  For being filled with wonder at all the human ingenuity that makes even the smallest part of that spectacle possible.  It’s going to Christmas Revels and singing and dancing with hundreds of strangers all joyous at a shared moment.  It’s having friends and family over for hot chocolate and playing boardgames or watching a movie.  It is not about buying things or feeling obligated to do anything at all.  Its especially not about buying cheap crap from China that will be discarded in less than a year because it doesn’t work anymore.  And thats all there was in that wretched display on the wall across from me.

As I watched the smiling hipster in his regulation black glasses cross the floor with tablet in hand to greet me, my eye twitched again.  I looked at the noxious wall display behind him as he approached.

The rest of the lunacy and silliness in that store, I will share some other day.  For now, let this suffice:  I think I ended up in that store with enforced time to kill so I could sit still long enough to think about what it is I like about Christmas and it’s not ‘stuff’.  It’s time.  I have a home, good food to eat, warm clothes to wear and people who love me.  Tomorrow is time enough to go on a new adventure, learn something new, strive to make my tiny corner of the world a little better.  Today, I’m going to drink hot chocolate, hug the people I love, and enjoy this moment.  Maybe I’ll play with my tricorder for a little while too.

The Migraine Fairy

Did you know the tooth fairy has a sadistic cousin called the migraine fairy?   Her wings are scaly instead of glittery and she wears spiked combat boots instead of slippers.  The tooth fairy visits everyone in their youth so we’re all familiar with her.  The migraine fairy is more selective in her clientele, and no one really knows why she picks her victims.  For the good of fairy investigations everywhere, here below is a letter describing one person’s encounters with the migraine fairy.  Additionally, it may also serve to explain to those who do not have migraines what the experience is like.  

There’s this sensation at first that something is vaguely wrong.  Almost like the creepy feeling of someone watching you: hairs standing up on the back of your neck, a prickling between your shoulder blades, a vague sense of unease.  As strange as the sensation is, I’m actually grateful for it: I like to imagine it as a friendly ghost, hovering just above and behind my shoulder telling me that a timer has been set and I have until it goes off to get somewhere safe before a lightning storm starts in my brain.  The scientific name for this stage is ‘Prodrome’ which sounds to me more like a futuristic military weapon than the first stage of a migraine.  Although, on second thought, maybe that’s accurate too:  “Prodrome launched!  Prepare for impact!  Battle stations! Battle stations!”   

<<Editors Note:  It is likely that the ‘ghost sensation’ is caused by the proximity of the migraine fairy.  She can be tricksy and is known to cloak herself with illusion, making her incredibly hard to spot>>

Depending on the sensation, I know I’ve got between 1 and 3 hours to stop the migraine or get home.  If the ghost is sort of vague and wispy, I’ve got 3 hours and a possibility that I can stop the migraine.  If the ghost is more solid and sort of urgent, I’ve got an hour and I’m not going to prevent the migraine, I’m just going to manage the pain.

The ghost analogy may sound a little odd if it’s a sensation you’ve never experienced, so I’ll tell you that science isn’t entirely sure what’s going on in the brain during migraines.  Since your brain is how you interpret all the world, when something interferes with it even a little, you get, well… bad data.  And you try and use it, because it’s all you’ve got.  Think of it like being on a runaway train just outside your home town.  You can control how fast you’re going by adding or removing fuel, but you’re on rails, so you can’t control where you’re going.  You’ve been on the route a thousand times before, so you watch the shapes whizzing by outside the window to get a sense of where you are.  Maybe the green blur that you just passed was a water tower, or a group of trees, but either way, you know you’re about 5 miles from town.  The ghost sensation is a just like that: a sensation you’ve experienced enough times to be able to guess how far from the migraine you are.

When I was a kid, my prodromes came with auras.  They appeared before there was any pain and made everything glow in a fantastic surreal fashion.  I could watch a person move and they’d leave a colorful wake of colors behind them.  It made the world look magical for a little while before the pain set in.  No, I couldn’t tell anything about a person from their aura: The colors were all related to what people wore.  The brighter the color they wore, the bigger the aura around them was.   And knowing that didn’t interfere at all with childhood fantasies of being psychic, or a sorceress or anything else while I briefly saw magical colors.  Sometime in my 20s, the auras faded away and were replaced by the ghost sensation.

The friendly ghost over my shoulder is sometimes the second warning I get.  Every once in a while, the night before a migraine, I’ll find myself compulsively cleaning the house.  I feel great, nothing in the world is wrong, it’s just really, really important that all the dishes and laundry are done and none of the detritus of a busy life is on the floor.  Don’t get me wrong, I like a tidy house, but I’m no Martha Stewart and I always have better things to do than the dishes and laundry.  Shoes get scattered on the floor, books are left in piles and the laundry basket sometimes overflows while we try to get the most out of any day.  Half way through one of these compulsive cleaning jags I’ll realize what’s going on and do what I can to prevent a migraine.  I don’t have any science for why this almost OCD episode happens, just a guess.  Something, somewhere in my brain knows that a migraine has been triggered and that I’ll be visited by the migraine fairy’s combat boots before I wake up in the morning.  So, I’d better do what I can to make my future sick room safe and comfortable while I still can.  For me, that means nothing in the house is out of place and in particular, there’s nothing unnecessarily on the floor to trip on.

Why is tripping a concern you ask?  Excellent question.  Just about everyone knows that migraines come with a pounding pain around your brain.  What most people don’t realize is that the pain is only one jagged piece of the whole messed up migraine puzzle.  There’s a whole bizarre raft of symptoms that can come with migraines: blood shot eyes, shaking limbs, difficulty breathing, nausea, photophobia, it’s a long and terrifyingly varied list.  And to make it really adventurous, every person gets their own special set of effects. No two people react exactly the same to migraines.  So we all get to learn our particular set of circumstances and no one can tell us what they’re going to be ahead of time.

Photophobia is one of my migraine gifts: it literally means fear of light, but it’s less fear and more agonizing pain.  Even small amounts of light feel like knives being jabbed into your eyeballs.  Fun, right?  So to avoid that, I walk around the house with all the curtains drawn, the lights turned off, sunglasses and a ball cap on.  To complete my outfit, I’m in whatever felt soft and warm when I was getting dressed: sweat pants, pajamas, my husband’s’ sweatshirts, mismatched socks.  You get the idea: colors and shapes are totally irrelevant.  As an added bonus, I’m white as a sheet for the duration of any migraine.  It’s really sexy if you’re into vampire zombies.  I’ve answered the door that way and scared the bejeezus out of petition canvassers.  Tragically, the LDS guys in their crisp suits and earnest smiles have never come by when I’m dressed in this fabulous style.  Occasionally, to amuse myself, I’ll moan ‘Braaaaaains’ and attempt to bite my husbands head.  Because humor is really important when you have a migraine, but actually laughing could make your head explode.

Another fantabulous symptom is a general shakiness and weakness.  A typical spoon goes from a negligible weight to at least 5 pounds during a migraine.  Everything feels like it weighs far more than it actually does and the effort to move anything is almost overwhelming.  Just walking up a flight of stairs at home leaves me panting for breath and physically exhausted.  The day before, I might have run down 6 flights of stairs at work humming the Mission: Impossible theme without changing my heart rate.

With my adapted vampire light control kit on and extra special shakiness, you can see why it’s so easy to trip.  I move very slowly around the house more or less by Braille.  If anything is out of place, I’ll find it with my toes and take a head first tumble into the kingdom of Everythingsucksmorenowvania.   

        The base layer of the migraine cake is the pain.  Not just the stabbing sensation that feels like knives going through your brain.  Any kind of pressure anywhere on my body hurts – being hugged no matter how gently is incredibly painful.  Which is crap, because when you’re sick, you want hugs and people concerned about you want to hug you.  And it’s awful.

The filling in the migraine cake is a layer of nausea that makes everything except crackers and cheese sound revolting and impossibly hard to eat.  Since crackers and cheese are both migraine triggers for me, that circumstance led to an unfortunate several months of triggering a new migraine before the previous one had even ended.   Now I choke down a piece of lunch meat while my brain perversely screams that I’m going to immediately throw it up.   10 minutes later, not only have I not thrown up, the nausea is pretty much gone for a few hours: If it comes back, I repeat the experience.  I’d love to know what the chemistry is for this ludicrous effect, but I haven’t found any explanations for it yet.

During the very worst migraines, I get a layer of icing on the cake that my husband finds particularly disturbing to watch: I get dumb as a brick.  If I wasn’t dumb as brick during the episodes, I’d be disturbed too.  I lose the ability to think through something simple like: “I’m hungry, there’s food in the kitchen, I’ll get some food”.  I know all of those things, I am capable of walking, but it doesn’t occur to me to get up.  And it applies to everything while it’s happening.  Anything more complicated than a yes/no question is just baffling.  And really, sometimes that’s too complicated.  To be clear, this is not the same as pain making it hard to concentrate and answer a question.  This is more like someone walked up to a section of my brain, closed the doors and hung up an ‘Out to Lunch’ sign before walking away.  For me, ‘Flowers for Algernon’ isn’t an academic exercise from High School.  It’s a terror in the back of my head every time I start a migraine.

Now that the cake is assembled, we’re at the hideous waiting part of the migraine and sleep is only sort of on the menu as an option.  I set up the adult version of the sick nest we all had as kids, because once I lay down and the pain ebbs, a burglary couldn’t convince me to move and start the pain up again.   Take whatever you want, just don’t make me move and close the door on your way out.  The necessary supplies are a bottle of water, a plate of bite size snacks, a giant pile of pillows and some blankets.  The pillows are really a placebo, I always feel like if I can adjust the pillows into the perfect position and get comfortable enough, then the pain will stop.  It doesn’t work, and I know that, but it makes me feel like there’s something under my control in the moment.  Now, it’s time for distractions.  No one understands me like my iPod about now.  It makes noises I can control, doesn’t make light, tells me funny things or sings me to sleep and it never gets tired of distracting me. Even the best husband in the world will eventually have to stop reading out loud to you so he can do trivial things like eat or sleep.

Every hour or two, I’ll slowly sit up and look suspiciously around for the migraine fairy.  If she’s still around, she’ll sneak behind me and kick me in the head with her giant combat boot when I get too close to standing up.  If I’ve out waited her, she’ll have gone to do terrible things to someone else and left me alone.  So I’ll stumble up and see how much she roughed me up before she left.  On a mild one, I’ll be a little tired for a couple of hours.  After a bad one, I’ll spend an entire day feeling like I just got over the flu – tired, achy and wanting real sleep.

The day after I recover fully, I will try to do everything, all at once: because I am so deeply grateful for simple things like being able to take a step without pain or count past 3.  Really.  The lack of pain is like a miracle that first day afterwards:  It borders on euphoria and everything is beautiful.  


<<Editors Note:  Considerations for future investigation: Is it possible that the migraine fairy’s’ job is to ensure that moments without pain are valued?  Does her intervention cause pain free times to be valued more highly after her presence has been removed?  Experiments to prove or disprove this hypothesis may be problematic>>

Into the Gloaming

I love the word ‘gloaming’ – it sounds like what it is.  A moment caught between between gloomy, glowing and dreaming.  In the early fall there are these moments in the gloaming when I get in the car and start driving with the windows down.  The usually black roads take on a surreal purple glow as the white paint dashes fly by.  Outside of the glow, it’s hard to focus on the distance – somehow it’s at too bright and too dark at once to convince my eyes to adjust to the available light.  Only the road and the things on it stay in focus as the warm wind whistles by outside the window and the smell of the city recedes into warm grass and swaying trees.  It feels like another world must be over the horizon, just over the this hill, right after that curve.  Some magical place there’s no other way to reach.  All the stress and tiredness from the day drifts away on the breeze and I feel like I could drive forever into that twilight road.

I wonder sometimes what will happen if I just keep driving.  If I win my sunset race with the gloaming will I turn that last corner and find Avalon or Shambhala?  Or is it the road opening up in front of me the magic instead of the destination.  Having lived in brick for a long hot summer, is it time to find somewhere new to be for the winter?  Am I racing the turning of the season instead of the turning of the day into night.  I can hear it whispering to me through my open window: “This is the way to the next adventure.  There’s something wondrous a heartbeat further down the road.”  In a few more seconds I’ll be able to see it.  
Some fall night, I’m going to follow the glow on the road and see where it takes me.  Don’t fret, if I find the road to somewhere new, I’ll come back and show you the path.  If I don’t find anything, well, I’ll just have to try again another fall evening.  I’m sure there’s something making that intoxicating smell and mesmerizing glow.

Set the Table!

Stepford wives, hair shellac and gingham, oh my!

I talked my best friend into entering photography at the state fair with me.  In a fit of inspiration and ambition, she went online the day registration opened and saw all the many, many other competitions at the fair.  One category said it had limited space, first come first serve and only 8 entries would be accepted. She grabbed a spot for us in the ‘Fanciful, Adult’ category.   For table setting.  Ok, why not?  I’m in.

I grew up going to county and state fairs, and I have vague memories of beautiful tables covered with vibrant table cloths, stacks of dishes, rows of sparkling crystal and elaborate centerpieces of dried flowers.  I remember the tables being the brightest, shiniest things in the enormous hall that all competitions are displayed in.  Every memory has the the top of the tables right at eye level for me, so I must have been 6 or 7 years old the last time I looked at those entries.  Based on my fuzzy memories, I thought we’d be setting a pretty table for 4-6 people and that it was a whimsical fun sort of thing to do.  The experience was so much stranger than we expected.  Putting fancy dresses and bowler hats on your pet lizard and thinking it’s serious business kind of strange.

First there are the rules to the table setting. You must supply a table no more than 3ft square and the table must be set for 2-4 people.  That’s a tiny table to put 2 people at much less 4.  But fine, we measured all the tables in both our houses and found one that qualified.  Next, you must construct a detailed menu for the meal.  Mind you, you won’t ever have to make any of the food or drinks on that menu.  Absolutely no food is allowed on any of the table settings.  So we decided on a princess’ tea theme and BF came up with a mouth watering menu complete with wine pairings supplied by Google.  Thankfully there’s no oral portion to the competition, because we still don’t know how to pronounce on of the wines.  It comes from Spain, and I think they export it to get rid of all the X’s in their language in one shipment.

The imaginary menu has to be displayed as part of the setting and it must be legible to the public from several feet away.  So we picked a fancy swirly font that was still easy to read, put a tiara on top and printed it out on irridescent gold paper.  It looked swanky and whimsical all in one go, so I thought we’d done pretty well.

Next came the settings. All the dishes that would be necessary for the menu you created need to be on the table.  I’d been at an estate sale a few weeks before and found a box of pink rose dishes for $5.  If we sort of shuggled things around, we could use those as the dishes, complete with tea cups and saucers.  We spent an evening trying out loads of combinations, and settled on something so over the top girly, I was sure we couldn’t have been the ones who made it.  Looking through the rules for what order wine glasses get set in, we found a layout of proper table setting for the formal category and decided we were quite happy not being in it.  There is (no kidding) an international standard for plate, silverware and glass placement that the formal entries are judged by.  We can’t agree across national borders on anything important, but we totally have international agreement on which fork goes where on a well set table.  When everything looked good, we took some pictures so we could do it again, and packed it all up into boxes for transporting.

A week before the fair, there are two 4 hour spots available for entrants to set up their tables in Salem.  Since I was camping that weekend, I raced off site at 8am, met BF and her husband at a parking lot halfway and we all raced down to the fairgrounds.

We walked into the cavernous hall and up to the volunteers doing sign in.  They checked BF in, but because their online form didn’t allow multiple names, they didn’t have my name.   They directed us to where our table would be and we headed back out to the car to get the boxes and table.  With all three of us laden with stuff, the volunteer led us over to our spot and gave us the admonition that only BF could set up.  Her husband and I could only supervise.  A little startled, we explained to her that we’d done it as a 2 person team which the posted rules allowed.  She tried to assure us that only one person could enter, but arguing rules with BF, BFs husband and me is maybe the most futile thing anyone on the planet could do.  BF had a copy of the rules in the box with all our gear that we handed over to the volunteer.  She reviewed the rules, checked in with someone else, then came back and told us we were right, we could have 2 people on the team, but the third person absolutely could not touch anything.  So BFs husband stood about 15 feet away watching us with some bemusement.  I have to give the volunteer credit, she was cheerful and working hard at being helpful the whole time.  Faced with the three of us early on a Saturday morning, that’s noteworthy.

We set up our pretty table next to the others that were taking shape.  I felt pretty good about it right up until a woman and her daughter came over to lend us their ruler.  They were setting up the little girl’s entry when they (I think it was the little girl) noticed that we’d forgotten our ruler and were very generously offering to lend theirs to us.  Because without a ruler, the plates and silverware can’t be exactly an inch from the edge of the table.  I had one of those grown up moments where I smiled at the kid and said “thank you” when what I wanted to say was: “What the hell kind of competition is this?! I didn’t forget a ruler!  Why would I need a ruler to set a table!  Who makes rules like that?”  

The kid and mom were awesome for noticing we’d “Forgotten” something and offering to help. But the feminist in my head keeps squinting through the aether at the mom and wondering whose idea it was to teach a little girl crazy formal table setting rules.  Why isn’t she in a science club on a Saturday morning?  And the rational part of my brain responds: “Kids are weird and maybe it really is what makes her happy.  God knows I did weirder things as a kid and none of those got me shiny ribbons”.  We finished adjusting the table, gave the ruler back and headed out through the smoke haze covering the Willamette Valley.

A week later, we came back to the fairgrounds to see how we’d done.   The rain and wind were so strong tents were being blown over, which made the population of the fair deliciously low.  We headed straight for the table settings and were disappointed there were no shiny ribbons on our pretty table.  I was irritated that someone had propped the menu up and knocked over the salt & pepper in the process, then I noticed our judging card and my eye started to twitch.

Every other competition at the fair has a plain, tiny white card next to the entries with the entrants name, the category and maybe the name of their entry.  Any feedback the judges choose to give the entrants is concealed behind the item.  Most of the time, there isn’t any feedback, but after talking with a friend of mine who’s a judge at a different fair, they’re careful to make the feedback encouraging and supportive because they genuinely want people to enter next year.

Table setting is whole different beast.  It’s so different, it may be a three headed marsupial from another planet.  In front of every table was a museum style display podium with an 8½ x 11” sheet in it.  Generally when I see podiums like these, they’re displaying a page that says something like “Leather coat worn by Flight Commander Yevgeniya Zhigulenko.   On loan from the Hermitage Museum”.  This time, however,  it had BFs name in bold pink script at the top, followed by a bulleted list of errors we’d made.  Honestly, I could hear the woman who made sheet saying ‘Bless your heart’ after every statement.  It was somehow worse that she’d taken hours to beautify the judging cards.  Every single corner of paper had a butterfly hand punched out and another butterfly glued somewhere on the center page as an accent.    


I came back a few minutes later and looked at the entries that had won.  Which left me conflicted – were they actually as ugly as I thought or was I just mad I hadn’t won?  First place, well, it was weird and unappealing, but ok, I can see that everything was very precise and with a really simple menu, there’s fewer pieces to put on the table.  Second place just baffled and irritated me though.  For highlights: There was a hand stitched quilt as the tablecloth, the menu was mostly stew and the centerpiece was a cast resin pheasant.  The kind of statue people put in their west hills garden to make it look rustic.  After a little more forensics at the other tables, I’ve come to a few conclusions about the judge

  1. Disapproves of purple.  It’s a bad color.  Maybe a naughty color depending on how you read the comments.
  2. Approves of dusty blues and thin line plaids.  
  3. Approves of anything that looks like it would fit into a swanky forest lodge that’s been decorated to be “rustic”.  I’m pretty sure their version of rustic comes from Perry Mason reruns.
  4. Took the time to put category signs with more butterfly cutouts over every single table.  In addition to the judging sheets.
  5. Wears starched blue gingham dresses and high heels at 5pm every night while sipping a martini garnished with olives on chilled silver toothpicks.   On further thought, I think this is true regardless of the judges gender.  
  6. Loves table settings in a way that may require an intervention from friends and family.  Step away from the Martha Stewart books.
  7. Probably throws epic dinner parties when it’s not fair season.

We’re entering again next year of course.  It was just too weird to not do it again.  And I’ll take table setting over quilting any day – those people are crazy!


County Fair Oddities

Entering into county fair competitions can lead to some very strange places. On a whim I checked out the website for our county fair on a Thursday morning.  I thought it might be fun to go that weekend, so I clicked around to see what was interesting.   After the usual pictures of rides, midway games and farm animals, there was a list of competitions with links to their entry books.  I clicked a few of them out of idle curiosity.  

There at the top of each category booklet was the date the entries for all the competitions had to be turned in  and it was that same day by 7pm at the county fairgrounds.  For Multnomah county, that means Oaks Amusement Park, 8 minutes from my house.   Naturally, I spent my lunch break that day at the local MegaMart printing out my favorite photographs and buying card-stock to mount them on.   I spent 20 minutes in the hot midday sun using the back of my car as a craft table picking out flattering colors of card-stock and taping pictures on them to ‘mount’ my pictures. It looked… weird and amateurish, but it met the criteria in the Official Officious Fair Photography Booklet.  I made it back to my desk after my lunch break with 2 minutes to spare.  The second I finished work at 5pm I jetted across town to pick up a beach bag as my second entry.

You may be wondering why I had a beach bag waiting at home to enter in a county fair.  It’s because I wanted something completely insane again and making it was the least infuriating option.  Last fall I went to Hawaii for a week and I wanted a beach bag.   Nothing elaborate, just something cheery that would do what *I* thought a beach bag should do: hold my swimsuit, towel, wallet, sunblock, iPod, book and a water bottle in a reasonable manner.  You know where this is going right?   I want my wet swimsuit and towel to go in the bag without ruining my book.  I want my phone, wallet and iPod to be easily accessible instead of sliding inevitably  under every other damn thing.  I don’t enjoy looking like a harebrained idiot fishing for gold in the bottom of my bag when I try to pay for something.  Also, if I get my bottle of water out of my bag, I don’t want it to catch on the leg of my spare underwear and slingshot it across the tour bus to land on the tour guides ex-Army-Ranger head.  What?! It’s hot and muggy in Hawaii, sweat happens and I am not putting sweaty underwear back on after I go swimming.  

Anyway, you absolutely can buy a bag that does all the ridiculously unreasonable things I wanted, but they cost between $400 and $1,000.  If I had that much money laying around, I’d be spending a second week in Hawaii.  So I designed a bag that did what I wanted and got all the fabric from garage sales and goodwill bins.  It was a fun quest to find materials that were both pretty and not so icky I couldn’t bear to touch them.  No, I’m not being squeamish, the Goodwill bins can be a biological adventure requiring gloves.  I spent about $15 on supplies and even scored a batch of heavy duty zippers from goodwill.  The bag worked great on my trip, but that’s another story.

Off I rushed to the fairgrounds through the remains of rush hour with my pictures and beach bag.  I pulled into the creepy empty parking lot and considered driving directly back home.  There’s nothing quite like sitting in the only car in a vast lot and looking into an empty, silent amusement park at twilight.  Well, there’s nothing quite like it outside of the opening minutes of a horror movie.  I kept hearing Sam’s’ voice from Supernatural saying “And Clowns can Kill!” as I wandered around the empty amusement park.  Eventually, I saw a folding wooden sign with “Entries” blazoned on it and an arrow pointing to the main hall.   Hoping it was, in fact, the county fair competition entries instead of the lure to the gory first death scene in the movie writing itself in my head, I went up the stairs into the hall. Inside was stiflingly hot.  It felt like hitting a heat wall going through the front door – there was no air conditioning, or event fans.  the only air movement was from people walking around.  Perfectly normal, alive, not-zombie people were doing frantic setting-up things all over the place.  I stood there sweating and reading the 2 dozen signs posted, hung or draped around the building trying to figure out where I was supposed to be.

All around the giant hall, there were volunteers sitting at paper covered tables surrounded by oddly organized piles of handmade goods.  Each volunteer looked like some kind of feudal lord surveying their crafted competition fief – complete with a cardboard sign hanging vaguely overhead showing the name of their particular estate: “Preserved Foods”, “Quilts”, “Textiles”, “Unknown organic items that took 80+ hours of work to do something unrecognizable as art”, etc.  With every second, it looked less like a killer clown movie and more like Green Acres.  Queue new mental soundtrack.

I approached the lady of the Textiles domain and after hearing my petition to enter my beach bag, she told me my entry would go better with sewing.  I rambled around the hall until I found a trio of women surrounded by piles of cheerful, but unidentifiable, fabric items.  They sounded like they were having a fabulous golden girls reunion and asked what I was entering.  When I described it, they popped open their newspaper print fair manual and huddled around as the shortest one ran her finger down the columns until they found the categories my bag was closest to; hand sewn bags or a reclaimed fabric category.  There was also a reclaimed yarn category…which i didn’t know was a thing and I’m intrigued by.  The merry trio decided I should enter the reclaimed fabric section and filled out the paperwork for me.   

When they were done, the golden girls sent me to the photography table in the center of the hall.  Four big tables with one frantic volunteer in a green 4-H shirt in the center muttering and trying to figure out where her predecessor had put all the paper work.  I told her I had photographs to enter and without ever looking up from the piles of papers she was shuffling, she handed me a form with a big 4-H symbol on the top.  I asked if she had any not-4-H forms and her voice got even more vague and confused.  We had a strange circular conversation about whether I’d filled out paperwork which started and ended with me saying ‘If you tell me where the form is, I’ll fill it out’.   She finally looked directly at me and in an annoyed voice said ‘are you a member of 4-H?’  Since I’m closer to 40 than 14,  I told her no.  After a thoughtful pause I told her the women at the sewing area had sent me directly to her.

With that flash of irritation that happens at every volunteer run event anywhere in the world she rolled her eyes and pointed to where the grown ups are supposed to enter their photographs.  Remember the vaguely hung signs?  For photography it was behind a constructed backdrop where no one could ever see it.  Because photographers are supposed to be psychic – I didn’t know until that moment, but I’ll do my best to fake it.

Inside the hidden photography section was a volunteer sitting quietly at a table looking tolerant.  It’s the look people get when they’re embarrassed by their family, but saying anything at all would just make the situation so much worse.  There were 3 women trying to put entry labels on their photographs.  One woman was sitting just a smidge too close to the volunteer – shared arm-hair-space too close.  Two giant tables, lots of chairs and she needed to sit that close.  He was frozen in place with his arms locked to the paper tablecloth while carefully answering all her questions about the photo tags.  The photo tags, mind you, get your name in the space labeled bafflingly ‘name’, a 3-5 word description of the photo on another line and a standard code for the category you’re entering.  Then you fold it in half and use that modern marvel cellophane tape to attach it to your photograph.  They’re just not complicated and she was working soooo hard at asking him questions.

The other two women were at a different table and trying very hard to be brave: terrified of trying something new and babbling in fear sort of brave.  Neither of them had ever entered a photography contest and were egging each other on to get all the tags filled out correctly.  They tried to get me to help, but their fright at getting something wrong started infecting me and I resorted to telling them to ask the volunteer.  I’d never bloody entered a picture before either and I wasn’t nervous about being judged until I listened to the two of them.  I’d have felt bad about redirecting them, but I figure the two frantic women were probably still better company than the too-close woman.

I got my entries tagged and turned in and escaped to the much cooler breeze outside.   Back through the empty amusement park to my lone car in it’s giant parking lot.  Either everyone else in that building rode their bike, or there’s a parking lot on the other side of that park that I never did find.  Or I did walk in and out of a horror movie and no one in the building was real.  Probably not though.

We came back that weekend to play at the fair and I felt like a little kid hunting for my entries all over the main hall to see how I’d done.  Past the dozen handmade aprons, after the biggest zucchini competition and opposite the chocolate cake display I found my beach bag and it had a big blue ribbon it!  There might have been a little dancing around while my husband laughed.  Then I wound around the temporary wall maze covered with all the photography entries looking for my pictures.  There they were among all those other lovely pictures with a red ribbon on one and a white ribbon on another!  It’s amazing how those little ribbons can make an adult giggle and dance like a 4 year that’s just been handed a giant lollipop.  We spent several hours playing around the fair afterwards, riding rides, eating terrible food and maybe once, sneaking back in to admire my ribbons when no one was looking.  

There’s a 4 hour window on Sunday right after the fair closes when all the entries have to be picked up.  I raced away from a lovely BBQ with friends to pick up my entries before they shut down for the night.  The volunteers were trying to be polite, but they needed a sign at the door that just said: “We’re exhausted, we don’t care anymore, please take your crap and go so we can get home and sleep”.  When I collected my photos after it was all over, that same tolerant volunteer guy was there.  He made sure to let me know that my pictures probably would have done better if I’d matted them properly.  I explained about the cardboard and the rule book and he sighed that volunteer sigh and said he knew.  He’d already fixed the rule book for next year.  I wondered how long he’d had to be polite to too-close lady on entry day, but I couldn’t think of any way to ask that would have him laughing instead of tiredly flinching.  

Off I headed home with my $10 prize money, 3 ribbons and an odd mini cross stitch kit.  I’m hooked on using fairs as deadlines to get craft projects done now.  I get shiny ribbons for doing things I already want to do.  Why didn’t anyone tell my inner magpie about this before?  I think I’ll try the State fair while I wait for them to mail me next years competitors handbook for the county fair.