Monday, July 16, 2018

How We Fared at the Orange County Fair

The day after the PA Farm Show closed this year, Blue began asking when we could go back. And it's been like that, off and on, for 6 months. I finally had to break the obvious, yet still devastating, news that we don't live in Pennsylvania anymore. The Farm Show will have to wait. But until then...we have the Orange County Fair!
I started seeing billboards around town for the OC Fair about a week after we moved here and my first mistake was thinking it would be like any other county fair. I mean, we aren't judging. Many a wonderful night has been spent riding the tilt-a-whirl and eating funnel cakes at my hometown fair (which has, in years past, awarded the 3rd winner up in the beauty pageant a burrito from Qdoba and the winner a $25 gift certificate to Merle I guess I'm saying the bar hasn't been set unfathomably high for this KY girl). is Orange County, California. Just as everything is bigger in Texas, everything is a production in California.

When you put the address, 88 Fair Drive, into Waze, it brings you right to the Yellow Gate, which also happens to be the farm animal area. This was unplanned perfection as the only thing Blue expressed any interest in seeing was the livestock. But first...

the FFA/4H turkey judging competition.
This kid ended up winning and maybe it's the California rubbing off on me, but he reminds me of a Disney character. Like Aladdin or Hector from Coco. I can't put my finger on it, but someone...
Those poor turkeys hung suspended for at least 5 minutes while the judge made her way down the line, inspecting...well...whatever it is they look for when judging a turkey. And this is no small feat because, apparently, they are heavy as heck. I wouldn't challenge any turkey farmer to a push-up contest. If all this makes you hungry, they'll be auctioned off next Saturday, the 21st. Getcha some!

From there, we grabbed some turkey leg tacos ( could we not?) and headed over to watch the pig races.
The next time Neal wants to smoke a pork butt, this image will be the first one in my head. Sorry, piggies.

The rest of the livestock is in this area, as well. Cattle, goats, sheep, pigs, rabbits, lambs and chickens are all in various stages of preparing to be judged. From bathing the goats and babysitting the herd...

to feeding the pigs and walking the turkeys,
everyone was getting ready for their close-up, Mr. DeMille.

Especially this lady...
and these two.
When we had had all we could take of pigs smiling in their sleep,
we ventured over to the Main Mall area for the arts and crafts competition, as well as an Irish band giving a free concert in "The Hangar".

While Blue makes a bee line for the farm animals every year, my first stop is the cake competition. And it never fails to amaze and inspire. Although I am still waiting for Nailed It to call about the blueberry murder scene I tried to pass off as snowman pancakes last Christmas, I can't help but look for a way to recreate these beauties.
I could...
Oh forget it. Where is the wine tasting?

Some of my other favorites from the arts & crafts competitions (and events I've never seen at a fair before, such as the table decorating contest, which judges the participant based on accuracy of the theme and correctly placed utensils on the table. How very Downton Abby of them.).
This one got my vote. Up is one of my favorite movies and this table won an award for accuracy.

But there was more amazingness to be found in the Promenade building.

And then there was the wedding of James Irvine (of Irvine, California...yes, that Irvine family) and Susan Jeske (the first Ms. America and current CEO of the Ms. America Pageant) last month. As you can imagine, it was quite the storybook affair. So much so, as it turns out, that the wedding dress, shoes, cake, champagne glasses and the brooch bouquet were on display at the fair. Sort of unusual as far as fair exhibits go, but they are the darlings of Orange County.

And for my next DIY project, I will be bedazzling our champagne flutes from 2006 and submitting them to the fair back home.

Don't miss an opportunity to "Free Your Inner Farmer" by Instagramming your kitchen gadget angel wings
or snapping a pic of that one time your son was being a brat but it actually worked out perfectly, much to his chagrin...

After all that, we needed ice cream. Blue settled on a boring blended cone, but I had to have the cow patty.
It's simple to make but I couldn't resist dining on something named after a steaming pile of cow poo. Happy cows poop sprinkles.

We skipped the carnival rides and games and headed to "Centennial Farm", where the milking demonstration was held and we missed our chance to walk right up and order a Pink's hotdog.
Seriously. Not a single person in line. This makes me weep a little for the 40 minutes we stood in line in L.A. a few weeks ago.

I also nearly had a 5-year old fit when the tween working the register at Pignotti's told me they hadn't started making the spaghetti doughnuts yet. I mean, how do you advertise a spaghetti doughnut and then not deliver on the second day of the fair? I think I've figured out how to make them at home, but if someone goes and has one, please Skype me before you dig in.

We finally wandered over to the "Family Fairway" after watching the cows being milked, just in time for the Russell Brothers Circus show. After buying the $2 (6-page) coloring book they were hawking (Neal pointed out it was the cheapest way to buy a souvenir from the fair, especially since we had nixed the stuffed pig Blue was begging for after the pig races), we settled in for a fun demonstration of magic and human talent. Neal seems to think this is a 3-generation affair, with the father being the magician...
(he won a fan for life when he turned a dove into a house cat)
the son performing feats of human strength and balance

and the grandson juggling oranges and plastic bats.
Whatever the relationship of the cast, it was a cute show and I'm glad it was free.

After the disappointment of the spaghetti doughnut, I was further convinced that I needed to try the peanut butter & jelly & sriracha funnel cake being offered just outside the big top. Neal tried to pretend like he wasn't going to have any, but I grabbed 3 forks because I'm not an idiot. It was sweet, spicy and just a little nutty. It was perfection on a plate.
Also, nothing says SoCal fair like a churro, some cotton candy in a party hat, an ice cream cone, an orange and a corn cob posing for pictures with the guests...
I just keep thinking of that line in Hope Floats when they are driving back to Texas and the daughter says, "Is this where you were Cream of Corn?" and Sandra Bullock says, "QUEEN of Corn, honey."
Three years runnin'...

There is also a petting zoo in this area. Nothing too exotic. Well, except for these guys.
and sleeping baby pigs
and freshly hatched baby chicks.
When the cute-o-meter maxed out, we headed over to the Heroes Hall to color postcards for Servicemembers in the VA hospital in Long Beach.

By this point, we had been at the fair for about 7 1/2 hours. The sun was starting to set and people were arriving by the hundreds, with a line forming at the ticket stands and traffic backing up onto the freeway from the off-ramp. It was time for us to go. Thank you, Orange County Fair. It was the real deal.
                                                    Y'all come back now, ya here? 

If you go:
1. Parking is $10/vehicle, cash.
2. There are bathrooms EVERYWHERE. If there is a line, don't even stand there. You'll find another one in about 50 feet.
3. Most food vendors accept credit cards, some do not.
4. Active duty Servicemembers get in free, they can buy 1/2 price tickets for their family members. I don't think the family members get this rate if the Servicemember isn't with them.
5. There is a gigantic stand of daily maps/schedules when you enter the gate. They are free. Grab one. Use it.
6. Some events are scheduled at certain times, such as the Peking Acrobats (which I highly recommend seeing - we caught the very end but it looked like a great show), the pig racing and the animal judging.
7. There are annoying vendors trying to sell time shares in exotic locales like Hawaii. Ignore them like the folks trying to sell phones at the entrance of Costco and you'll be fine.
8. If you want to pay $2/person to go into a trailer to see a live alligator in the livestock area, go for it. But we skipped it and I think that's OK, too.
9. If something looks interesting, go check it out. As we were meandering around the ice cream truck, we stumbled upon the Irish band and while on our way to the petting zoo, we came across a brass band. You literally never know what will be around the next corner.
10. The earlier the better to beat the crowds. I thought coming in when the doors opened at 11 would be a challenge, but as it turns out, most people don't start really showing up until 7 hours later. I'm sure the fair is magical like Disneyland at night, but just know you won't be the only one with that idea.

Also...the orange trees aren't real.
Unless they've started dangling by wires.

Monday, July 9, 2018

What It's Really Like to Live in L.A.

I've often seen the piece of advice on Pinterest: Writers write. If you're a writer, write. As the summer got busier with guests, sightseeing and keeping a 5 year old entertained, I have forgotten this advice...again. But my friend, Karen, who writes And Then We Laughed, keeps up with 2 littles, the stresses of this Army life and her blog. Even while she and her family are having high tea in the Cotswalds right now, she's making sure her blog is covered. And today is my turn! Pop over to read my guest post about my impressions after living in L.A. for 6 weeks - the myths I'm busting and the ones that just won't die. Find me HERE!

Monday, June 4, 2018

The Year of Living More With Less: Worldly Possessions

I decided it was high time for a TYLMWL update. Also, ironically, I can't post a trip review of our boat tour along the Channel Islands yesterday because I'm still sorting through 855 pictures. And that doesn't count the ones on my phone. Clearly, I have some work to do in that department before we ring in 2019.

But I can talk about what it was like to complete the Konmari Challenge in PA and what it has been like to unpack what remained in CA.

First of all, if the moving company's weight coming from Kansas to Pennsylvania was correct (and who really knows because our moving company was so shady), then I sold/donated 13,000 pounds of stuff. As the garbage bags of donations started flying out the door right after Ash Wednesday, I would say it certainly felt like 13,000 pounds, even in the first week. But as the days turned to weeks, progress slowed and eventually ground to a halt while I searched for housing options in CA. With the exception of Neal's belongings, I did eventually finish holding every item we own in my hands and asking myself if it sparked joy. I didn't do Neal's things because I'm not Neal and only he knows if they spark joy or not. And he's not one to ask that question as he is more focused on whether it serves a purpose.

Which is why we have not 1, not 2, not 3, but FOUR containers of cords. My husband is a cord hoarder and he makes no apologies for it. However, I must admit that there has never been a time when I needed a cord and he didn't have it.

Although I was still finishing Konmari'ing the house as I pre-bagged items, I did finish and I learned some things about myself:

1. I have an art/photo/frame addiction. The more hyperlocal the art is to a place where we've been stationed, the better chance I have of owning it. It took 23 boxes to pack all of my art, canvas prints, framed photos and posters. That's a little bit embarrassing because we will never have enough walls to display everything I kept. But sometimes we have more wall space than other times so I'm going to keep it because it all sparked joy.

2. I seem to have a bit of a "soft gray t-shirt with some kind of design" addiction. They fade, they pill, they are all a bit too big...but I keep buying them. Gray tshirt and black yoga pants - that's my uniform these days.

 3. If the small kitchen appliances ever decide to gang up and wage war on us, we don't have a fighting chance. Because...there are a lot of them. We can: make sushi, make cheese, make beer, pop popcorn, make paninis, dehydrate stuff, grind coffee, make margaritas, slow cook things, slice, dice, peel an apple, make ice cream, juice a beet and make soup. And that's just what I can see from the couch. The problem is, I love that I can decide at 2 PM on a Tuesday afternoon that we are going to make beef jerky that day or spend an hour making ice cream on a Thursday night. So, they all have to find a place to live because they are all staying. I just hope they don't decide to unionize.

 4. Books and throw pillows. I don't think I need to say anything more because I believe most of you know and are nodding your heads in absolute agreement.

So, I know that I had an amazing crew of packers, but I also think the reason they were able to get it done in one day has something to do with my efforts to declutter and organize the house. Here's what no one has said yet, though. When you move as often as we do and you complete the Konmari Method, now everything that sparks joy is on that moving truck. For the last 5 moves, if something sparked joy and I would be devastated to lose it, I hand carried it in the car/truck/RV to the next duty station. But now I would have to hand carry everything. That resulted in a lot more anxiety around the packing and moving process than I had anticipated. When I voiced my concerns to some fellow Army wives, although they were understanding and appreciated the dilemma, they also answered with, "it's just stuff and it's all replaceable. And what's irreplaceable, you hand carry." And I did. I had 6 plastic bins full of Blue's original art, gifts from faraway places and handwritten letters/cards from war. But what can't be ignored is the fact that everything that went on the truck was still stuff I held in my hands and felt joy. It is just stuff but it's joyful stuff. And I had a hard time letting it go with someone else. Even the ice cream maker and the lap desk and the IKEA throw pillows. I struggled with all of it and tried not to think about it getting lost or destroyed along the way.

I think that's what needs to be said about what happens when a military spouse uses the Konmari Method. Every few years, some people who just want to get a job done and get paid will come into your house and throw everything that sparks joy into boxes and then attempt to move it some distance. And that will be stressful because now it's not just stuff.

It also needs to be said that even though Marie Kondo says you will only need to go through this process once, I disagree. Tastes change (I joyfully sold my heavy-as-lead Pier One drinking glasses at the yard sale because they were gorgeous to me in 2006 but cumbersome and outdated in 2018) and kids grow out of things. They grow out of sippy cups and Thomas the Train and blue jeans. We mature and evolve so just as our taste buds change every 7 years, I think that's a reasonable time frame for another pass through the worldly possessions.

I also decided to do a home inventory for this move, meaning that I grouped like items together (as many as I could squeeze into a photo) and documented their existence and condition before the move. This took longer than I thought originally but went quickly once I established a process. Although it didn't help with knowing what was in each box, if a box (or like PA, multiple boxes) went missing, I could deduce what had been lost. Every single item made it on this move. I wish I had done this before the PA crew lost half of my grandmother's fine china.

As for unpacking (and perhaps it was the care and attention paid during packing), it went remarkably smoothly. Boxes were mostly labeled and, once the furniture was in place, I could unpack and put away one room per day. We have been here for 20 days and every box is unpacked. The house is set up with pictures on the walls and floors cleared of packing material - which is unprecedented considering we didn't have Mom and Anna (a dynamite duo with a work ethic that we vastly underestimated) to help this time. And, most importantly, I have one paper bag, which is half-full, of items that I decided to get rid of after unpacking the house. That has never happened. I usually have another large purge after the house is unpacked. This one paper bag tells me that the Konmari Method was especially effective.

So, I can only say good things about taking the time to look at what you own, ask yourself why you own it and if it is something you love/sparks joy/can't live without. Although the question may be different for you, whatever it is, ask it and decide whether your worldly possessions are lifting you up or dragging you down. Because we can't take them with us when we die and most likely, our kids will drop it all off at Goodwill on the way out of town. Love it or leave it behind.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Fort Mac Firsts

California has been a bit of a culture shock, although probably more for me than anyone else in the family. Blue is just excited that we can run down to the beach for an hour if the mood arises and Neal has been working nearly every waking hour since our first Monday here. But I've had to make some...adjustments.

1. Traffic is terrible here.
I can't even imagine what it's like as you get closer to Los Angeles. Although we technically live in LA county, it isn't like you're sitting at a dead stop on the 405. But you should double (and sometimes triple) how long it would normally take you to get somewhere. My new rule of thumb for appointments: number of miles x 3 = bring a book and the phone number of the place where you're going because you may need to kill time or call and tell them you're en route.

2. Port of LA is breathtaking every. single. time.

These pictures don't even do it justice. Neal had tried to warn me before I got here. "To go south, you have to cross 2 huge bridges that go way up into the sky." After watching a documentary about that bridge in Arkansas that broke apart and half of it fell into the river, I've been a bit of a gephyrophobe ever since. So driving into the clouds on a bridge loaded with truckers coming from the docks sounded awesome. After a week, I've grown fairly numb to it. I just drive in the right lane with my Pennsylvania tags and know that I will get where I'm going, eventually. But the view...there is no way to accurately describe what it's like to see thousands of containers, stacked on top of each other, for miles along the waterfront. This country has a serious shopping addiction. One day, as we drove across the Vincent Bridge, I was trying to explain to Blue that many of those containers hold Amazon orders (look at me, driving across an enormous bridge in the sky AND talking to a 5 year old). Kind of like knowing where your produce comes from, it's equally as important to know where your Legos come from. 
3. Free range peacocks have the right-of-way. 
We first noticed these fellas as we walked to Blue's new school (right on the freaking Pacific Ocean, I might add. The dog park is right next door. The pups and kids have the best view around here). They chat to each other from roof tops and, occasionally, cross the road. (Why did the peacock cross the road? He thought he could do it better than the chicken.) Yesterday, I had to stop my car and wait for a peacock to decide if he was going to go left, right, or down the middle. They respond somewhat to honking but, like chickens, generally seem to stroll whichever way the wind carries them. Maybe I'll get tired of seeing a peacock, feathers fanned and strutting around someone's front yard, but the shiny hasn't worn off yet.

4. You know what they say about assumptions. 
It's no shock that homelessness is a bit of a problem in LA. I mean, if I was homeless, I would probably want to be in LA too. The temperature hasn't varied more than 3 degrees since we got here. And this is why, when I was at Smart & Final (which is a chain of fairly nice, reasonably priced grocery stores that I ignored the first week we were here because I thought it was like salvaged food) last week, I naturally assumed they were scanning my cart before it left the store to make sure it didn't go missing. I finally Googled it and saw on a Mystery Shoppers' website that they do that to make sure there's nothing left on the bottom of the cart. What a pain in the butt for the cashier, but I'm sure it saves the company a boatload in unpaid items every year. 

5. They are serious about infestations. 
When we crossed from Arizona into California, we were stopped by border patrol. They asked us if we were carrying any produce or plants. All I had was fruit gummies and a banana. He waved us through. But I called Neal because he was carrying a plumeria, a rose bush, one stalk of bamboo and a cache of fruit I had picked up before trekking into the Grand Canyon. They ended up waving him through, too, but we were stopped because they are trying to prevent a re-infestation of the medflies (Mediterranean Fruit Fly). California has also been attacked by Poinsettia White Flies in the Imperial Valley and Oriental Fruit Flies in Laguna Beach, among many other pests. We were contacted about 20 minutes after we moved in about receiving a Gypsy Moth Inspection since our outdoor patio furniture was moving in from out of state. And when Neal was at work yesterday, he learned more than he probably ever wanted to know about the Medflies. Controlling them is a 24-7 job and I feel there is a lot of stuff like that going on in California - we have no idea it's happening and just how complex it is. 

6. This town has about 3 stoplights but 73625282937464 stop signs. Some of the intersections have 4-way, some 2-way. It's almost impossible to talk and drive at the same time. It's a miracle more people don't get t-boned around here. 

7. June Gloom
I've met 736229373 moms (well, like 7 but it felt like at least 20 billion last week) and they were all chatting about "June Gloom" and how it seems to have descended upon us a bit early this year. Apparently, June Gloom is when the sun doesn't come out for basically the entire month of June and is the closest SoCal gets to "winter". I will say, we have been freezing since we got here (and by freezing I mean I had to unpack a couple pairs of jeans and some hoodies on day one) and in the past 4 days, we've only seen the sun from 3-8 PM. Yes, it seems June Gloom is upon us, which is unfortunate for everyone who was antsy pants about visiting us and booked their flights for next month. I hear July is a return to the sunny SoCal we've all expected.

I will say...I have yet to see a horse and buggy. I kind of miss them. And Utz Dill Pickle potato chips. SoCal just doesn't have the corner on the snack market the way PA does. But I do know where you can pick up octopus for dinner, so there's that.