Sunday, August 24, 2008

Returning to New York, Part 2

Saturday- I slept in and took my time getting around. No one called to hang out, and my leg felt funny. As such, I didn’t want to walk all over, so I hopped the subway to TKTS in Times Square and bought discount tickets to Gypsy. I’ve had a long-standing wish to see Patti LuPone perform. After getting tickets, I had just enough time for a burrito at La Paloma (my favorite restaurant in the theater district).

Then it was time for the show. I love Broadway theater. I sat in the dark, listening to the overture. It was an old-fashioned score, with no synthesizers, hooray! Before I knew it, “Sing out Louise!” Patti Lupone was there, a stone’s throw away, walking down the aisle and up onto the stage.

It’s a long show, 3 hours, but I loved every minute. Patti, the actress who played Gypsy and the actor who played Herbie all brought home Tonys for the show. I’ve now seen three versions of the show, and this versioun had the feistiest Herbie and the most nuanced Louise/Gypsy. Her transformation was the most gradual, with steely strength glittering throughout.

LuPone’s “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” was a show-stopper. What’s the cliché? A tour de force. That’s the best way to put it. As amazing as everyone was, though, I didn’t cry. I almost always cry at Broadway shows. Huh.

After the show, on my way home I ran into a Free Tibet rally. New York never lacks surprises. That night, my leg was still giving me trouble, so had some muscle relaxers with my supper. As a result, when Riza called me to go out with her I couldn’t sufficiently rouse myself.

Sunday- It was my last chance to hang out with the girls. I ate a picnic breakfast in Central Park while reading poetry by Symborska. After checking out of the hotel, I strapped on my bags, the big pack in back and the small bag in front—a look I call the pregnant camel. By the time I got to the train, a twinge was forming in my back. After getting off the train, I accidentally walked four blocks in the wrong direction. When I realized my mistake and began trudging toward Putanesca for brunch, the twinge in my back became an unbearable ache. I flagged down a taxi…which took me the whole remaining three blocks to the restaurant.

We settled down to gorgeous brunch food (I went for Eggs Benedict) and mimosas. It was Carolina, Laura, Riza, Madrid, Laura’s friend (who I’ve just met, but about whom I’ve heard enough that I should know her name by now) and me.

Our conversation was quite lively. Laura revealed that a good friend of hers had cancelled her wedding. The young woman’s fiancé had absconded with her car. She had known him for years, and upon his departure discovered his secret past.

“So,” Carolina quipped, “I’m staying single forever. Good plan?” Although it made us all uneasy about trust in relationships, it made Carolina and Riza feel better about recent relationships or potential relationships gone awry. Oh, they are not the only ones to choose a man and discover he’s the wrong one.

At one point, Laura asked if I was taking the bus to Virginia, and I confirmed that I was.
“Just don’t get beheaded.”

She explained that she takes Greyhound a lot, and it made her mother nervous, because a psycho had stabbed, decapitated a young man on a Greyhound bus. He even ate part of the corpse. Ew.

“I don’t think we’re dealing with a murderous cannibal with brand loyalty!” I replied. The gang all laughed, but Laura filled us in on the sobering details.

The other passengers couldn’t stop the murder, but they managed to get off the bus and lock the murderer onboard. When the police got there, he had and ear and a finger in his pocket. He was in jail now, but the passengers all noted how normal he’d seemed before the attack. Don’t they all?

Madrid later told of us a “perfectly normal” guy in a grocery store who, unprovoked, informed her, “Your tits are gorgeous.”

“Perfectly normal, hmm?” Someone replied.

“Is that an ear in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?”

Eventually, we’d had enough dark comedy and moved on to other things, including Paula Dean. I did my impression of her Southern drawl everyone, focusing on her obviously-faked surprise when her sons “unexpectedly” visit: “Well boys, I didn’t know you were comin’! You wanna help yer Mama in the kitchen?” It’s all done as if the boys have no idea that their mother is filming a cooking show. Heh. That’s my pet peeve, but Laura’s is that everything Paula Deen makes seems to contain a pound of butter.

All to soon, we had to go our separate ways. We all hugged and Carolina gave me a ride to my subway station. Only after she left did I discover the station was closed for repairs. I had to trek several blocks with my way-too-heavy bags and take one train to catch another. Then I went to the wrong bus station (there are two in one block) and barely made it to the right one on time. Then, they didn’t want to let me on the bus, because my ticket was so old. (I won it in a silent auction at Christmas, but no one told me there was an expiration date.)

There was a lot of arguing in Chinese, which led me to panic a bit. I could have calmed down, but I find that being too calm is sometimes the wrong tack. Generally, if you want help you, there are a few choices. You can be direct and calm. This is the best, most dignified choice. I tried that three times with the ticket-takers to no avail. I’m not at all scary looking, so intimidation was out. I went with a combo of offering the money in my wallet ($20) and genuine emotion—I was on the verge of tears.

I would never fake crying, because I think it’s sick and wrong, but if you’re genuinely upset, you have a good chance of getting help, because some people have a desire to be helpful, and others want to get you out of their hair. One of the guys told me to get on, and I rushed to do so before the argument could start up again. I even got to keep my $20.

Late that night I finally made it to Norfolk. Todd took me home where, thankfully, unlike at Christmas, the apartment was unscathed. Also: Moxie lives! She's scraggly, but she's alive. Hooray!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Returning to New York

Thursday was rough. I’ve already mentioned that Mom and I were in a rush to get out of the house. Then, at the airport, my laptop DIED. I think it’s dead for good. NOOOOO! I guess I should have gotten a summer job after all, because I’ll need a new laptop, and that is going to make a HUGE dent in my savings. My flights went just fine, with no delays for once, and the Detroit airport had a cool tunnel (see photos at left.

It took a while for my shuttle to arrive. When I checked on line, they estimated that the shuttle would take an hour and a half to get from Newark into the city. Instead it took HOURS! A Costa Rican man took a shine to me, and insisted on asking me questions about poetry, as I was reading a book on the craft of poetry. It was good to practice my Spanish. Then I arrived at my hostel. I booked it in part because of the cheap shuttle bus and in part because of the elevator. The elevator was so slow that after the first ride up to my floor, I never took it again.

I’d left messages with all my friends saying I was back, but no one was calling me back. I decided to grab a shower, since it was an off-hour. In hostels, where the whole floor shares a handful of showers, it is essential to shower off-hours to avoid long waits and cold water. At the last second, I remembered to throw on some flip-flops as shower shoes. (Phew. I once got a foot fungus from a hostel shower years ago, and once is enough to sufficiently learn that lesson.)

My hostel wasn’t too far from where I used to live in Harlem, although it was farther west, and a few blocks south (technically the Upper West Side). I strolled about looking for a nice place for supper and found a great Thai place. The decor is really the biggest difference between most independent restaurants in Iowa and those is in New York. Back at the hostel, there was a movie showing in the lounge, so I watched a Spiderman movie. Meanwhile, Tom texted me, suggesting I call him the next morning.

Friday- I called Tom at 8, as agreed, and suggested we have brunch at Amy Ruth’s, a soul-food restaurant (specializing in chicken and waffles) he’d particularly enjoyed back when we were dating. Tom eats like he’s got a hollow leg, and Amy Ruth’s was one of the few restaurants we ate at where he left feeling full. Anyway, I knew it would be a few hours until the trains would deliver him with Brooklyn. I breakfasted on leftover Thai, then went for a walk in Riverside Park. Then I trekked all the way over to Central Park. I started out in the North Woods section, where I found all the waterfalls. Then I hiked to the North Meadow, accidentally found myself in the East Meadow, and ended up at the Conservatory Gardens.

I met up with Tom on Central Park North, and we walked to the restaurant, where I had OJ, fabulous hash browns and a giant waffle topped with fresh banana slices, pecans and copious cinnamon. YUM! Tom had chicken and waffles smothered in gravy. Usually we would walk off such a meal, but Tom was tired, so we only walked as far as my hostel. Since I’d been walking for hours already, I was fine with that. We say in the lounge catching up until a loud movie drove us back out into the city. We found a café and sat outside, chatting. I complained about my roommates.

In a hostel, the idiosyncrasies of one’s many roomies come with the territory, but it is common courtesy not to turn on the light in the middle of the night. Seriously! If it’s after midnight, don’t turn on the light. Travel with a flashlight. Sigh. Also, I would maintain that enough light was coming through the window from outside that not even a flashlight was necessary. Was it inconsiderateness, or obliviousness on their part? Who knows.

Anyway, we talked for a while, but then Tom had to get going. It felt different than last time we met...more distant. Post-breakup, on the phone and during visits, we got along really well. Sometimes it didn't feel any different than the conversations and dinners while we were dating. This time the breakup felt real. I wasn't sitting across from a date or from a friend. I was sitting across from an ex. I don't know if it will keep feeling that way, but for now it does.

I should probably stop seeing or talking to him for a while. Maybe it will be better. I do want to be friends with him, but I think I need more time and distance before we can really be friends.

Friday night, I went out with the girls. I met up with Madrid, Laura and Carolina in the village for Italian food. The food was indeed scrumptious, and we had a lovely time. By mere coincidence, we all showed up wearing black and white with a red accent. Hee! I don’t think that’s ever happened to us before.

After dinner, we went for drinks. We ended up in a Moroccan-themed lounge. It looked a little like the inside of Genie’s bottle. Laura did her "Blue Steel" imitation for us. At one point, Madrid got bored and decided to toss coins into my cleavage. Eventually, we were all doing it, aiming money down each others’ necklines. Hee. There's nothing like time spent with your best girlfriends.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Visiting Grandparents, Nadine and Unkie and Helen

The last of my days in Iowa were quickly flying away. I wanted to see my Kiley grandparents, my former professor Nadine and Unkie and Helen. I wanted to spend more time with my cousins, too, if possible. Monday, I was supposed to visit Grandma and Grandpa, but I was running late. I was trying to pack my bags before my road trip (as I’d be cutting it close by returning the night before my flight), but airlines are so strict now about the weight of bags, and I’d acquired more things during my three months at home. Also, I was tired of hauling huge suitcases across New York City, bruising my legs and nearly throwing out my back as I lugged them up and down too many flights of stairs. I wanted to use my big backpack instead, but it holds about 20 lbs. less stuff. Somehow I managed it, but I ended up arriving at my grandparents’ house later than I anticipated. Sigh.

I drove for hours, but I finally made it. We went out to dinner and had Mexican food. It was quite yummy. I showed Grandpa Russ and Grandma Lenora my award-winning picture and a few others they might like. Grandma Norie and I talked about some redecorating options. Grandpa and I watched a documentary on TV. It was nice to see them, talk to them and hold their hands. The next morning, we had some lovely oatmeal. Then Grandpa was off to help a friend, Grandma Norie was off to work and I was off to Nadine’s house.

At Nadine’s, I was amazed to learn that her boyfriend (manfriend?) of more than a year has moved in. Surprise! Well, he seems like a great guy, and seems to make her happy. Nadine made me a gorgeous shrimp supper. It was unbelievably good. I shared some of my new poems with her, and Nadine showed me what she’s working on.

We both set some writing goals for the new year. Neither of us submits for publication enough, because we’re afraid of rejection. We decided to have a rejection slip contest. Whoever gets the most rejection slips in a year wins. Even if we lose (by getting selected for publication) we win.

The next morning, I went to see Nadine’s mom, Sarah, in the nursing home. She is an amazing nonagenarian. I had fun talking to her, but had to get going. Soon I was on the road. On the way home, I stopped at Unkie and Helen’s house. Unkie was out mowing, so I talked with Helen for a while. Eventually, I went out to flag Unkie down. He didn’t see me until I got right next to him, and he laughed that I’d snuck up on him.

We went back to the house to chat. When Karen got home with Hannah, they came over, too. It was good to just sit and talk with them and give them hugs. I miss them. All too soon, I had to go…before Connor could even get home from football practice. I still had packing left to do. In fact, I ended up packing until the wee hours of the morning. It was hard to drag myself our of bed at the alarm the next morning.

Mom and I ended up basically running out the door in order to get me to the airport without making her late for work. I gave all the pets a last pat, and threw Hooligan a hand-made baggie of catnip I’d bought at Prairieland Herbs, our neighbors’ store. (I would later learn that Hooligan liked my gift so much that he ate a hole in it while Mom was at work. Oops.)

After a brief visit with my friends in New York, I would be back in Norfolk…back to school and to work. I knew it would be great to get back to teaching and writing, but it would also be hard to leave my family behind. Goodbye again, Iowa. I’ll miss you. I’ll miss all of you in Iowa until I make it back again.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Emily’s Wedding!

The day of Emily’s wedding started strangely for me. I was trying to wrap her present, over and over, but my hands kept shaking, messing it up. That happens to me sometimes when my blood sugar is low, or I’m having asthma issues. All I know is it was making everything take too long. Wrapping the present took so long I couldn’t wash my hair when I showered. Doing my hair took too long, so I was late starting my makeup. Doing my makeup took too long (nothing says fun like putting on eyeliner when your hand is shaking), so we were running late…which made my parents and I crabby.

We all cooled off on the drive over, and when we got to the park I took up my duties manning the present table and guest sign-in. Instead of a guest book, Emily and Jonathan made the brilliant choice of a picture frame to sign. Most guest books are never seen again, but with a picture frame, you put in a wedding picture and hang it on your wall to look at every day.

It was a gorgeous outdoor wedding. The setting was so beautiful that decorations weren’t really needed. Waiters handed out champagne with strawberries. Lauren was snapping pictures with an amazing camera, and I was clicking away with my little old Kodak EasyShare. (Sometimes I envy cool cameras like hers, but I’m not sure I’d like carrying a camera that big all the time, especially since I don’t have a car.) A bagpiper played.

Soon, we all took our seats, and the wedding party came out. They looked so beautiful, and Emily was beaming. She looked absolutely gorgeous, and her dress was exactly what I’d pictured in my head...exactly. Weird. As the vows were given, a butterfly flitted over Emily’s head. At different moments we all laughed and cried. At one point, we waited for people to speak as the spirit moved them, and people shared favorite bible verses and prayers for the couple’s good fortune.

After the big kiss and hugs from the bride and groom, we all moved inside for the reception. It was a brunch, complete with mimosas. It was some of the best wedding food I’ve ever had. Still, where was my brother? He had missed the wedding! I was about to call him and leave a single word on his voicemail: “BOOOO!” But just before I did, J.B., Erika and my adorable nieces walked in. Yea!

The lights dimmed, and a slide show of pictures of the bride and groom began to play. Brooke was sitting on my lap, and kept me from weeping (especially when looking at pictures of Craig and the girls) by asking a series of questions. For example, there was an elk head on one wall, and a bison head on the other, and some mounted geese and such. It’s a nature center, and they use taxidermied animals as teaching tools. They were high enough on the massive walls to be subtle, but the four-year-old was riveted. How did it get up there? Where was the rest of it? It was at about this point that one strap of my dress broke. Luckily, the straps were detachable, so I converted the dress to strapless…and felt a little bit nervous about it. I haven’t worn a strapless dress…ever? That doesn’t sound right, but I don’t remember wearing one. There’s just too much opportunity for embarrassing mishaps.

After the slide show, Brooke needed to run around. We went outside to play. First, we played “slow tag,” a game in which you play tag in slow motion. Another little boy from the wedding joined in. Then Brooke suggested we play “Enchanted,” but the little boy’s presence made her shy.

We moved on to playing Olympics. Courtney, Brooke and one or two little boys would crouch like they were in starting blocks. I would call out, “Ready? Set? GO!” They would run down the sidewalk and back, where I would declare “Gold! Silver! Bronze! Fourth Place!” They were excited regardless of how they placed. Sometimes they insisted I join in the running (in high heels and a strapless dress) and sometimes my mom joined in. I had a ball. Then, after getting sweaty from all the running, it was time for some pictures.

Lauren got some adorable pictures of Emily, Thea and Me (although one shows my bra. Darn strapless dress!), and pictures of my whole family with the bride. We’ve never gotten a picture with all of us before, so Mom jokes they’ll be our Christmas card pictures. Mom also snapped an awesome picture of me with Thea. Soon, it was time to pack up to go. The sheep families all volunteered to help clean up. We all wanted to be part of Emily’s special day, because she’s so special to us.

It went about as perfectly as it could. I hugged the Emily and Thea, hoping it wouldn’t be too long until we’re together again and, even more, hoping that Emily’s marriage goes as well as her wedding. If it goes even half as smoothly, her marriage will be a great one. I have faith that it will.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Sheep show time! Part 2. Also, 10 years?

Today was a busy day. I got up early to get ready for the fair. I showered, did my hair and got dressed in an outfit that would work for both a sheep show and my 10-year reunion. I wanted to look nice, of course, but not overdressed for either event.

I threw my purse into the old Blue Buick, which features some cosmetic tornado damage and air-conditioning that comes and goes. Once I got to the fair, I found my dad and we ran into Deb VanA. Her daughter (and my life-long friend) Thea arrived soon after with her big, cuddly boyfriend. We watched the show for a while, and then found Thea’s sister (and also my life-long friend), Emily. Emily was with her fiancé, Jonathan, and his entire family, and Debbie’s new husband, Bob. They all sat in the bleachers watching class after class of the sheep show. They even made a game of trying to predict the winner of each class. I was impressed, because watching a sheep show can be boring even if you know exactly what’s going on.

Eventually, it was time for Deb, Emily and Thea to present a trophy. When Craig VanA. died, they donated it in his name. Each year, the winner is inscribed on the trophy. The next year it is handed off to a new winner. It was a nice moment to remember him. Soon after, everyone went their separate ways. I tried to get the girls to agree to a trip down the Big Slide, but they wanted to catch up with people they hadn’t seen yet (it was their first day at the fair). I understood, and besides, it was time to hit the road.

I tried to follow my Mapquest instructions on how to get to Big Creek for the reunion, but a detour left me with nothing to follow but my instincts. Usually, that’s fine, but when I’m driving? Disaster. Well, not this time. I made it to the nearest town, bought some hot dogs, buns and cherries and got directions.

I made it to the reunion. It was nice to see everyone. The person who greeted me most warmly, perhaps, was my childhood nemesis. Isn’t that the way? Actually, I think it’s great. It means that we grew up and gave up petty childhood meaness. At least, I hope she’s given it up. She can at least suspend it for special occasions. Eh, she’s got kids now, and she’s great with them, so I bet she actually is nicer.

Everyone got along and hung out. Everyone looked great, too. There were no cliques. We chatted and caught up. Then I realized Dawn, one of my best friends from high school, still wasn’t there. She told me she was coming from Massachusetts with her fiancé.

“Oh, it was all a big joke,” I mused. “Dawn claimed she was coming to lure me here, and now she’s not going to show.” People laughed. Then I realized I should check my phone. Poor Dawn! She had left a message saying she couldn’t find the place. She’d mixed up Saylorville and Big Creek. (My cousins had had the same mix up, if I recall, for our family reunion.) Anyway, I called her and straightened things out.

Before Dawn arrived, Molly did. Dawn and Molly and I were cheerleaders together, and we always had so much fun. Molly wasn’t in our class, but she married a classmate, Keith. She hadn’t changed a bit. Most people hadn’t changed much and were easy to recognize. Only a dozen people from our class came (we were only a class of 50, anyway). With their spouses and kids, though, there were plenty of peole running around at the picnic.

We sat around reminiscing. I was appalled to learn just how lax our town cop had been regarding drunk driving. Once Dawn arrived, I gave her a big hug and caught up with her and her adorable fiancé, Chris. They’re getting married in October. I think Dawn is one of the people whose appearance has changed the most, but she told me she was shopping in Des Moines the day before and was recognized by a neighbor from when she was ten. Hee. I guess I’ve changed more, because tons of people I know well in Woodward (my hometown) give me I-know-you-but-don’t-know-how looks.

Anyway, she looked great, and happy, and if there’s one person who deserves it, it’s Dawn. We were the last ones to linger at the reunion, and Dawn’s dad came to see her. I knew their time to see each other was limited, so I left them too it, and went home. I was a little jealous, though. Dawn was such a big part of my youth, from middle school (when we were frenemies—friend/enemies) to the end of high school when we were actual friends, and quite close. I’d hoped to spend more time with her.

Wasn’t that just the theme of the day? You can’t get back exactly what you had. You can’t always have what you planned. But you can make the best of what you do have, and take the best lessons and memories of your past with you.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Sheep show time! Part one.

Yesterday I returned to the State Fair with my parents. This time was different, because this weekend was the Suffolk sheep show. (Note: the lambs at left are Dorsets. More on them later.) It’s like a family reunion. Certain “sheep families,” as we call them, have bonded over the years. We come to each other’s weddings and funerals. Some families, like mine and the Van Arkels, have gotten so close that we spend minor holidays together and help with events like graduation parties.

Some of us grew up together at the State Fair and various sheep shows. Now we’ve moved to different states, and few of us have taken up the family business. Some of us have vowed to make it back to the fair, though, no matter what. Each year, we reunite there.

Friday my parents and I went to the fair to see the other sheep families. Friday is the prep day for most of our friends, so they have a little more time to chat than on show day, when things can get frantic. There’s plenty of time for bystanders to stand around and chat while the owners fit their sheep (a process in which they wash, blow-dry, and rough-cut the wool with clippers, comb it out with a special brush called a card, and then sculpt into perfect shape with hand trimmers).

I got to chat with lots of people I hadn’t seen for a while. With each year, though, there seem to be fewer and fewer of the sheep people I knew as a child. People have retired and passed away and like I said, few of us have taken up the family business. It’s kind of sad. On the plus side, for a while now there had been few kids in the barn. Now, there’s a new generation of sheep kids running around. They’re very cute. (Almost as cute as the kid sleeping in its food dish below.)

Mom, Dad and I had lunch at the Beef Tent (which may have been an actual tent once, but now is a large, vaguely tent-shaped metal building). I talked Dad into the Prime Rib dinner. Usually, I argue for moderation; in this case, however, I argued that—although it was pricy for fair food—he would never find a giant, perfectly-prepared piece of prime rib for a better price. Once he tasted the prime rib, Dad didn’t regret it in the least. Mom and I got gorgeous steak sandwiches. They were so good. Why had I never ordered it before?

After we had made a few rounds of the sheep barn, Mom and I went for a walk to see things we hadn’t seen yet. We visited the buckskinner’s market, which we’d never visited in all our years at the fair. The market sold rain sticks and boxes carved out of shells, pop guns, coonskin caps and such. Some people were dressed like 19th century frontiersmen and women. It was interesting, indeed.

We also explored the animal learning center. The building has pens full of mother animals, either pregnant or with their babies. The animals were all bred (inseminated, actually) to give birth during the fair. Visitors can watch births that take place during the day. Those that take place over night are filmed and shown on television screens hung over the pens. The building also featured a sterile surgical facility with a glass wall so people could watch various veterinary procedures (for example, the spaying of a dog). That didn’t exactly lure Mom and I. We were enthralled by the piglets, lambs, calves, kids, ducklings and chicks; but the threat of public surgery sent us fleeing.

After that, we’d been at the fair for about 9 hours, so Mom and I headed for home, planning to return on Saturday and Sunday. When we got home, Mom told me one of the sheep people we'd chatted with told her I get prettier every time he sees me (Aw!) and and he doesn't understand why no young man is currently following me around. (Double Aw, and WORD!) Why isn't one? I should probably go back to dating, but as far as I know, all the guys in the MFA program at ODU are married. ALL OF THEM! Well, maybe the new year will bring new single guys. I'm not going to ODU for an "Mrs. degree" (just writing that made my inner feminist cringe), but an occasional date would be nice.

Note: I just realized the adorable piglet above looks like his back leg is messed up. He was fine! That's actually the front leg of another piggy who I cropped out of the picture. The animals in the learning center were well-cared-for.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Saving Daisy Zara/ Repairing doll hair

When the tornado hit, my family managed to save more of my childhood mementos than I would have thought possibly. Because they were in the toy box in the hall, my homemade Cabbage Patch, baby; Siamese Kitty and Angry Kitty were in good condition and easily cleaned and moved into the house. My other favorite toys were in my bedroom, and took on a lot more debris. Mom alerted me that I needed to either clean them up or let them go. I was on the fence until Grandma Staker (usually the throw-them-out type) cleaned up Grandma B’s doll.

I went online at and looked up the proper procedure, but grandma charged along and did it her own way. Grandma and I are both over achievers, but her lack of perfectionism is how she manages to get so much more done.

Anyway, I decided to clean up a few favorite toys (Cabbage Patch doll Daisy Zara, Pound Puppy Alice and Reese’s Bear) using the suggestions I found. First I took Dad’s sheep blowdryer and used it to blow the worst of the debris off the toys. Then I used the shop vac to suck debris out of the toys. I used a damp rag to surface-wash all the toys. (Note: none of this is guaranteed to remove all glass or fiberglass, so I can’t let kids snuggle with them. It’s just nice to have the toys.)

Next, I took q-tips dipped in water and used it to remove dirt from Daisy’s face. I used rubbing alcohol in especially tough spots, but rubbed very carefully, because alcohol can remove some pigments. Then it was time for the tough part: Cleaning Daisy’s hair.

Some sights recommended Windex or Fantastic. One suggested shampoo for color treated hair (not regular shampoo, as it will make the hair too frizzy). I had the color-safe shampoo, so I used it. I inverted the doll while washing to prevent getting excess water in the doll head. I worked the shampoo in gently, not scrubbing as I would with my own hair. (It would have worsened tangles.)

After rinsing thoroughly, but without getting too much water in the roots, I put in a ton of conditioner (fabric softener is also recommended) and began to comb the hair. The most important thing is to use a pet brush, because metal tines better penetrate the hair, and human hair brushes will carry the oil from our hair to the doll, attracting dirt.

I combed carefully, supporting any matted areas with my fingers to prevent stretching or uprooting the hair. It took quite a while, but once I was done, I carefully rinsed out the conditioner and set her hair on rollers. The hardest part of setting the hair was arranging the rollers so the curls would hide all root-lines.

Some experts recommend quickly dipping the hair in nearly-boiling water, but that sounded too risky and dangerous for me (please Google the details if you decide to try it). I just waited a few days for the curls to dry and took out the rollers. Ta-da! Daisy looks amazingly better, if I do say so myself.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Back to the Fair!

For years, Jenny has been inviting me to go to the fair with her on Wells Fargo Day. Her company gives her free tickets to the fair and a concert at the grandstand, as well as some food tickets and bottled water. Jenny was one of my suite-mates at BVU. In the past, her sister worked for Wells Fargo, too. She would come and bring our suitemate, Kelly. That was fun, but this year Jenny and I were on our own, though I did get to see Jessy at the apartment before we left for the fairgrounds. Hi, Jessy!

We toured the sights, including several I hadn’t gotten to last time. We visited the varied industries building, which also houses the textile exhibits—quilts, tatting, crocheting, knitting and needlework. We got tons of food samples of chocolate, jam, popcorn, dips, salsa and nitro ice cream (incredibly smooth and creamy). For once it wasn’t too hot at the fair, so I had a fried Snickers bar. It was so wrong it was right! We returned to the Avenue of Breeds so Jenny could see her favorites, the llamas.

Jenny and I took our time in the Arts and Culture center. I showed Jenny my pictures. In the paiting and sculpture salon, we saw the most amazing piece. I’d actually seen it before. When Mom, Sandy and I were visiting, we heard the sound of something breaking (a piece of ceramic, perhaps). When we turned, it looked like a man had driven his head through a wall! It took us a while to realize that we were looking at a sculpture. The sound had been a (frightfully convincing) coincidence.

We almost forgot about the concert, but when we realized how late it was, we tromped down the hill. Wynona Judd was performing. She was a lot of fun. You could tell how much she loves her work. People were posing in front of the stage, and she would stand above them, posing, too. Often her poses imitated the fans’ poses. She hauled little kids on stage. She chatted with the fans. She almost encouraged them too much, because they got bolder and bolder. Eventually, she had to stop singing: “You guys are so distracting you made me forget the words!”

Later she was singing “I want to know what love is” when a fan handed her a slip of paper. She opened it and read it right then.

“Are you sure you could handle me?” He laughed, shaking his head and explaining himself.

“Well, you better get her up here, then.”

The next thing we knew, he and his girlfriend were on stage, and he asked her to marry him! “I wasn’t planning to do this now. I don’t even have a ring, but it just felt perfect. Will you marry me?” She said yes and kissed him, wrapping her legs around his waist.

Wynonna hosed them down a tad with her water bottle. “Y’all are in public, now!” She asked them to drop her a line to update her on their wedding plans and marriage. Too cute!

Wynona was the first person I saw in concert by myself. I took my friend Emily to see her perform with Clint Black in that very grandstand back in 1993 or so. Back then, she was still establishing her solo career, so she wouldn’t sing any Judds songs. Now she does, saying things like, “That’s my favorite ‘Mama’ song,” or “Mama and I used to sing that twenty years ago. Can you believe that?” Hee.

All too soon, the day had ended, but Jenny and I definitely had a nice day at the fair.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Aunt Erin!

Babysitting, yay!

Yesterday I got to go hang out with J.B., Erika and my adorable nieces! I came over early because I wanted to spend a little time with my brother and sister-in-law before they went to the movies and because I’d never watched the girls on my own before. I wanted them to get used to having me around before their parents left.

When Mom, Sandy and I were at the fair, I saw cute magic wands like I had as a kid, and Mom bought one for each girl. We played Peter Pan for a while (this time using our magic wands to cast spells on Captain Hook), and took turns hiding a stuffed animal for the other to find. We built towers with blocks. Then we all had dinner together. After dinner, J.B. and Erika went to see Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. Meanwhile, I took out a present I’d bought for the girls: a copy of Enchanted. I thought Brooke (and her parents) would enjoy the movie, and it would be a fun change of pace from Peter Pan. I’d been worried that Courtney wouldn’t have the attention span for the movie.

The girl grabbed my hand during exciting parts. Courtney was actually interested the whole time.

“What’s gonna happen?” she asked over and over.

When the movie was done, Brooke asked, “Can we watch it again?”

“Just the cartoon section,” I replied. Heh.

Then it was time for changing into pajamas, washing up and brushing teeth. Brooke played quietly while I read to Courtney. Courtney wanted me to stay with her, but I promised to come back after I was done reading to Brooke.

While I was reading to Brooke, Courtney wandered into Brooke’s room. I promised I would check on her when I was done with Brooke. She barely made it back into bed before she fell asleep! Her little tush was practically hanging off the mattress! So cute.

Brooke didn’t want to go to sleep. In fact, she wouldn’t do so until I pretended to be asleep on the couch. I chatted with J.B. and Erika when they got home. I think they had a good time. In the middle of the night, I woke up to Brooke curling up with me on the couch. She loves to snuggle.

The next morning we washed up, had a little breakfast and watched a little bit of the Olympics. Brooke begged to watch Enchanted again, and we watched a portion of it. The movie made J.B. laugh a bit. He imitated the ogre’s deep voice, singing “True love’s kiss!” The girls imitated J.B.’s voice singing the line. Adorable!

I just hope Brooke doesn’t drive her parents nuts watching it over and over (though goodness knows I was that way at her age! To this day, I think my brother is sick of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Grease, The Sound of Music and Annie).

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Iowa State Fair and the Corndog Chomp

Our state fair is a great state fair! Don’t miss it. Don’t even be late! (From Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical State Fair)

Oh, it’s that time again…Iowa State Fair time! Hooray! I’ve been giving sales pitches for the fair to just about everyone I meet for years. I keep trying to convince my non-Iowan friends to come, but they never do. Sigh. Rose tried to come, but tickets to Des Moines are VERY expensive. (Don’t I know it!)

Well, Aunt Sandy did make it back. She, Mom and I decided to all go together to the first day, when it would be free if we got there early enough. We would also get to take part in “The Great Corn Dog Chomp,” during which we would attempt to set a world record for most people simultaneously eating corn dogs.

Well, that part of the day was a fiasco. We got into the fairground on time. We managed to get into the Grandstand in time for the opening ceremonies, and were given numbers for the corndog chomp. Our numbers were in the 10,000 range. After an hour and a half, as we got closer and closer to the chomp, some of us began to sense that we would not receive the free corndogs we had been promised. You see, they planned for 8,000 corndogs, gave 10,500 people numbers, let in 12,000 people…and had five thousand cranky people who didn’t make it in the Grandstand. The organizers managed to scrounge up an extra 400 corndogs, but that still left 3,600 cranky people (8,600 if you count the people outside).

I was cranky, indeed, but after I bought myself a corn dog, I felt better. In fact, although my corndog was not free, it was fresh and piping hot with condiments, unlike the free corndogs in the grandstand. Our next stop was the Agriculture Building to see…The Butter Cow! Hooray!

This year, the butter sculptor included a butter Shawn Johnson, Iowa’s very own pint-sized Olympic gymnast. The new sculptor does a great job with the cow, but she isn’t as good with people as Duffy Lyon (the former butter sculptor). Then we got free eggs-on-a-stick. Food-on-a-stick is very popular at the fair. Each year a new gimmicky food-on-a-stick premiers, including bananas, ice cream, cheese, pickles, pork chops, lamb, and pork chops on a stick. This year the newbies were shrimp on a stick and salad on a stick. Heh.

After the Agriculture building, we decided to go to the top of the hill to the Arts & Culture Building to show Sandy my award-winning photo. She got the picture of me below. Like Dad, she asked whether I had considered professional photography. I was flattered by her question, as Sandy is very into photography.

We worked our way down the hill, even stopping in the museum-ish village area. Thought as a child I spent about seven days per year at the fair, that’s an area we didn’t visit (for whatever reason), so I don’t even know what it’s called! In the telegraph/telephone museum, Sandy and Mom talked about what the phone system in Woodward had been like when they were kids. There was a party line, and whenever anyone on the line was called, it rang in everyone’s house! You would listen for your own distinctive ring (e.g. two long rings and a short ring). Then you would tell all your snooping neighbors to hang up.

A woman in town lived in the telephone office. She had to use a switchboard to connect your calls, especially long distance calls. I asked what happened when she went out of town. Mom and Sandy looked baffled by the very idea, leading me to believe that small-town-telephone-operators didn’t have much fun in their lives…except, perhaps, eavesdropping. Poor woman!

We walked around collecting freebies, snapping pictures and seeing the sights. We explored the Avenue of Breeds, toured the 4-H building, were massaged in the Grandstand market, got some lunch with my uncle Jay, saw a few seconds of the tractor square dancing (which is being discontinued this year—the practice required to “dance” using eight tractors in a tight space is extensive) and took the Skyglider over the fairgrounds. I had some ice cream while Sandy had a pork chop on a stick.

Then it was time to go. I’d been applying sun screen like a mad woman, but the harsh Iowa sun was broiling me, none-the-less. That said, I can’t wait to get back to the fair!