Fair Time

 

It is July and it is fair time.  I was always a pretty active participant in the fair, bringing goods and winning ribbons was lots of fun.  That was forty years ago.  The fair has changed considerably in more recent times.

It is still the fair, but it is no long run by the county and therefore not a “county” fair.  It is the Whidbey Island Fair run now by the Island County Port Commission.

During the transition from one system to another some important things were neglected, the major one being the booking of the carnival folks.  We always had the fair around the middle of August when things were hot and dusty.  Now the fair is the middle of July, much too early for an agricultural event.

What happened? When the port realized that they hadn’t booked the carnival, it wasn’t available and there weren’t any others available for the usual time frame, mid August.  What to do?  Well you need a carnival for the fair and the only one available was available way too early for an agricultural event.  They booked it and moved the fair up a month.

What were the repercussions of this sad move?  The carnival activities look ok, though this concessionaire is smaller and doesn’t have the usual Ferris wheel or roller coaster or hammer. The rides aren’t as exciting.

The biggest repercussion is the agriculture events.  How many folks in Western Washington (night temps in the 50s) have corn ready to show at the fair?  Only strawberries have ripened in time.  You should see the examples of garlic, beans, and squash.  Piddily. Most of the produce is just coming on and showing juvenile veggies is not what the fair is about. There were flowers, but they were early summer ones not late summer, a completely different collection than what we use to see.  Folks can’t get inspired to show their wares if they are still immature.

Cattle, pigs, sheep are still somewhat under their usual August weights.  Auctions bring in smaller dollar amounts.  Horses are ready any time as are the chickens, rabbits, dogs, cats, and such.

When I first moved to the island and lived in a Clinton beach community, the local kids and I would go on walkabout and collect shells, sea glass, seed pods, driftwood, and rocks and work on project gluing these to plywood or larger driftwood to enter the kid’s crafts.  It was fun and they treasured the ribbons given to them for their labors. Nowadays the kids are on computers or cell phones and don’t collect detritus from the beach to make beach collages.  Too bad because the exhibit was painfully lacking in interesting material.

Photography seemed to be popular with hundreds of participants, but most were just snapshots without much concentration on creating a piece of art.  The fine arts exhibition was beautiful with a variety of participants, but smaller than in past years.

The usual commercial exhibits didn’t show because the attendance wasn’t high enough—no vegamatic.

We usually go on the first day of the fair in order to see the flowers and vegetables and baked goods at their best, before the wilt and mold set in.  Baking was poorly attended, but there were a goodly number of flowers.  Vegetables were, and have been for all the years the fair  has been in July, small, and severely lacking.  It used to be my favorite department and I would always participate.  Unfortunately, this year, the weather has not cooperated especially, with temps in the 50s at night and 60s during the day and rain to damage much of the goods.

My students produced an educational project that garnered a blue ribbon.  I won two blues and a red.  Many of my students achieved the blue ribbon and some the best of category.  I am proud of them.  The judge was fair and did write critiques for them to read about their work.  It is good to compete as you put your best foot forward and work on painting harder.  The rewards reinforce their attempts. Not everyone goes home happy, but most are happy.  I will crack the whip next year to get them to compete again.

All in all, I enjoyed my work time at the fair (4 hours) as I got to see old friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen in years, many of whom I have know as long as I have lived here (almost fifty years) and one who I have known since high school.  It becomes a reunion time.  Some of the kids from the beach collage are parents and grandparents now.  It is good to see their development.  Some of the folks ask questions and one family had only lived here a week.  They were really enthusiastic about the country fair never having been to a small, old fashioned one.

I had my Fisher Flour Mill scone which I have had at the fair as long as I have lived here.  When I was a little kid we went to the Puyallup Fair, which is officially the Western Washington State Fair and had a scone at the Fisher booth.  My sister and I would collect coupons off the flour sacks all year so we could each have a free scone with strawberry jam using the coupons.  I am told the line is very long now, though I haven’t been to that fair in years, too commercial. We don’t get free ones any more, however.

Without a doubt I enjoyed myself and maybe I should work to make it a better event.  We need to keep these small fairs going, they are dying out in America and they are really what the county or country fair is really about. You should seek them out and visit.  They are truly a part of rural America.

PS:  See my award on my website https://theruralgallery.com

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Crabbing Season is Here!

crab omleteWow! Crabbing season just started and we were gifted wild Dungeness crab yesterday.  My husband, sweet soul that he is, picked it all while I was at work yesterday.  So this morning we are in for a great treat, Dungeness Crab Omelets with garlic herbed chevre cheese.  I even got busy and made quick bread cinnamon rolls to go with it.  Living in the lap of luxury!

Crabbing season generally starts with the first of July or thereabouts.  My sister and her husband go out, and this early in the season, generally limit, which is five crab each.  That is a lot to cook and a lot to pick, so they get out their big turkey fryer kettle and the propane burner and do it in the yard, many crab at a time.  The cooking doesn’t take too long that way, but the cleanup of the boiling process takes some energy and time.

Picking is the time consuming.  Dungeness crab is probably one of the easier kinds of crab to pick, but I can only manage to clean one about every fifteen minutes. If there are several to do, you usually end up with some cuts and abrasions as a result.  The reward is you get to snack on the crab while cleaning.  We usually keep a little dish of mayo handy to dip in.

Once finished, you have this unctuous, sweet, mildly fragrant (with slight umami taste), white meat and legs that are beyond compare to any other crab I have ever tasted. Yes, it is better than king crab, snow crab or any kind we have access to.  Close in taste is the northwest red rock crab which is almost impossible to extract its meat.

Breakfast was all we had hoped it would be.  Needless to say, we ate decadently and are thoroughly sated.  Envious? You can do it too.  All you need is a boat, crab pots, a strong back to pull the pots, a large kettle to cook the crab, lots of time for picking and moments of pure joy eating.  Prep time: very long.  Eating time: minutes of pleasure. The alternative is to pay $35 a pound and worry about freshness.

We are luck to live where this is all possible.

The Race to the Finish

old woman

Remember when you were a kid?  Time seemed to drag on and on.  When you had to wait for Mom, it seemed like she was gone for days instead of hours.

When you are two days old, today is half of your life.  No wonder when you are five and your playmates aren’t around, time really seems to drag.  Remember having to wait at the table until everyone finished eating?  You couldn’t get out of there fast enough, especially if the food wasn’t something you liked.

When we are children, summer days, waiting for family or friends, these things take up a larger percentage of our lives.  By the time we are five, summer vacation takes up about 5% of our life, i.e. 1/20th of our life.  At this point in my live 1/20th would be more than four years.  Yikes.  That would be a long time.  Hopefully it would be filled with fun rather than waiting for friends to come out and play.

Now I am toward the end of my time.  Summer, the time that in the Puget Sound Basin of the Pacific Northwest, is the only time we can expect some reasonable weather.  The sun will generally shine and there are about three months of decent weather.  The remaining year is either dark, wet, snowy, cold or all of the above.

If I were to be generous, I would say three months of tolerable weather, the key word here is tolerable. This seems like such a short time.  If I harken back to the three month summer vacation mentioned earlier, and compare it to the days I have spent living, it is a little less than .3% of my life, not the 5% of my early days. No wonder the good weather seems to last such a brief time, it is just a flash in the pan.

My days, now that I am partially retired, seem like a moment.  I cannot finish anything I set out to do.  I have more time to do chores and projects now that I don’t work full time, but it seems that I have less time to do everything.  I know, you’re thinking, she is older and slower because she is older, that’s the reason she doesn’t get much done.

Not true.  I may move slower, but I do accomplish some chores in record time.  If a project takes a month, it is such a small part of my total life, that can I finish in .1% of my life?  Too little time to accomplish that?  If I were ten years old, that would give me eight times the amount of time to finish it (.8%)!

I think you get my point.  Time flies when you are getting old.  I look back on some event that I think happened six months ago and realize that three years has passed.  Friends sold their home and it seems like it was yesterday, but it was two years ago.  A friend passed away and it has been six months and I still haven’t sent a card to their family, thinking it was only a short time ago.  Shame on me.  I didn’t forget, I just felt I was still in the proper time frame to acknowledge their loss.

When you are racing for the finish, it really seems to fly.  I suppose if I were in poor health, rather than wanting to try new things, go new places and meet new people, it may drag.  I have a friend who has been five years in a full care facility due to lack of mobility and the ability to take care of herself.  She finds time to turn out beautiful paintings with the only limb that moves, her non-dominate left hand. She tries to find things to keep her busy and to stimulate her mind.  I should be so lucky to have that drive if it were to happen to me.

So as I “race to the finish,” may I work hard to find those new things, places and people and enjoy them to the enth degree. I hope as you race to the finish that it is as full and wonderful as mine.

 

 

 

Hobbies

“Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love and something to hope for.” (Joseph Addison)

I am not sure that I have had time for hobbies in my life.  Gardening was always for food, not much of a hobby.  Cooking gourmet meals is just a way of life.  Camping? It is getting very difficult to locate places to stay when I have time available. Reading?  Probably.

What is a hobby? The dictionary says it is an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation, not as a main occupation.  Well cooking and gardening? Too much work and not enough relaxation or pleasure.  Gourmet cooking can take a lot of time and the pleasure of it is consumed in moments.  Gardening, real work with a nice outcome, but not much pleasure in the process and it is back breaking as well.

Camping used to be a pleasure for us.  Now, with so many snowbirds, the parks are crowded and you must plan six months to a year in advance to camp in your favorite place, which also happens to be everyone else’s favorite too.  I don’t buy green bananas, how can I plan THAT far ahead?

Reading.  I guess I would say that by the strictest definition of the word, my hobby would be reading. I spend a goodly amount of time doing it and I enjoy it and it isn’t part of my work, therefore it qualifies as a hobby.  I read about one hundred fifty books a year, sometimes more, reading most evenings for a couple of hours.  Since it interferes with work I should be doing, it really seems more like an addiction than a hobby.

Writing.  Writing is probably a hobby for me too.  My original goal in starting to write  was publishing books about my life, memoir.  I have written and rewritten and belabored the subjects ad infinitum. Am I any closer to my goals….NO! I have enjoyed doing it and it does give me satisfaction.  It does take some of my time though not as much as reading.

Overall, I guess I am such a busy person that hobbies have not really had much place in my life.  A sad thing.  One should have “an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation.” as the definition required.  I still prepare gourmet meals, garden, read and write, but that is about the extent of non-work activities in which I participate.  I guess I need to find a good hobby.

One Winter’s Day

summer palace winter ice

I could say it was a cold, snowy, wintry day, but that would not be accurate as it seldom snows in Beijing.  It was cold and wintry, cold enough to go ice skating on the lake at the Summer Palace.  The ice there was about fourteen inches thick.  It was COLD.

I don’t remember my destination that day, but it entailed taking the bus to the subway. The busses were always a good place to warm up as they were very crowded with lots of folks leaning against one another.  I counted six leaning on me on one such ride.

This day however, I was given a seat, which happened frequently, my being the only foreigner on the bus.  People wanted to talk with me so often they would give me their seat.  I felt very guilty when the person was much, much older than I, but because of my white hair, they thought I was old.

On this particular day, I had an aisle seat just behind the conductor who monitored the door toward the middle of the bus. An older woman with a small granddaughter had picked up the granddaughter and indicated I should take the seat while the girl sat in her lap.

She acknowledged me with a nod of her head and a greeting of nihao which I returned, it being one of the few Chinese words I knew. Almost at once she began chattering with me, thinking I understood what she said.  I explained in sign that I did not speak the language. “Oh, too bad’” she indicated in sign. We smiled a lot at each other and I greeted her granddaughter.

I kept American pennies in my coat pockets so I could give them to children who would speak to me.  A great way to make new friends, bribe them.  I pulled out a penny and asked grandmother if it was OK for the girl to have one.  She replied “Yes.” (in Chinese).  The little girl was delighted and gave me a shy smile, leaning into her grandmother’s coat to peek at me.

Grandmother tried to communicate with me to see who I was.  I kept business cards in my pocket as well. The nice thing about the cards my university gave me to use is they are English on one side and Chinese characters on the other.  Grandmother now knew who I was and why I was in Beijing.

After sitting a few minutes in silence, I hear “Oh!” and grandmother is looking at my feet.  I wear sandals year around.  In Beijing, sandal season is June to September.  Wearing sandals is a great icebreaker for conversations as strangers would come up to me in the street and point at my feet and ask if they were cold, often by using charades. Grandmother must have been perusing my attire when I wasn’t looking.

She grabs the sleeve of the conductor who is standing in his cubical at the door and pulls it for attention.  She is jabbering a mile a minute and pointing out my feet to him. He looked on incredulously.  In pantomime I indicated that my feet were not cold.  Meanwhile they have alerted all the passengers who are nearby.  I hold my foot up in the aisle so everyone can see my turquoise blue sandal.

Meanwhile the bus continues down the street.  I am sitting quietly watching the scene when I think I feel a bug crawling up my pant leg.  It is winter and cold and I am surprised there are bugs out and about.  I reach down to dust it away and bump into grandmother’s hand.  She is trying to raise my pant leg. She looks at me, though somewhat guiltily, and asks me to raise it.  I smile and do so.  She leans way over and looks up my pant leg to see my purple long winter underwear.  She sits back in her seat with a very satisfied smile and gives me the thumbs up.  I passed the test.  I wasn’t as tough as she thought.

An interesting afterward: the next day I received an email, thanking me for my kindness to her mother and daughter.  It seems that the grandmother had a big story to tell when “mom” got home from work.  She produced the card for her daughter who felt she should write and tell me how much our time together had meant to her mother.  Grandmother felt she had not been able to adequate express it to me and since her daughter spoke English would she please write and tell me.

Just one of the wonderful experiences while living in Beijing.

 

Experimental Baking for the Holidays

IMG_4845

Not much left.  Just enough for another meal!

 

We were recently invited to dinner for the holidays.  I was to bring dessert.  What kind of holiday dessert could I make?  I decided on a cake, but a different cake than I had baked before.

I have a basic carrot cake recipe that is usually my go to carrot cake.  It is carrots and pineapple and walnuts.  I didn’t have carrots or pineapple in the kitchen when I was getting ready to bake.  I did have yams and applesauce.  Off on a new recipe experiment.  I knew the neighbors would overlook any weirdness this recipe might create.  How would the yams cook?  Would they be tough or chewy?  Would the applesauce be too moist or not moist enough?

The only way to know was to try.  I peeled and then grated the 2 cups of yams just as though they were carrots.  They even looked like carrots when I finished grating them in the food processor.  The apples I had were canned apple slices, so I processed those into applesauce.  I probably could have left some chunks, but I needed the moisture to give the batter the proper consistency.  Otherwise I made the cake just as it is in the recipe.

I mixed it up and the consistency was the same as the regular carrot cake so I popped it in the oven and it even smelled the same while it was baking. It took about the usual time to bake and I took them out and cooled them on racks just as I always do.

When they were cool enough, I was ready to frost them.  My original recipe calls for a cream cheese frosting.  I find it a little heavy, rich and cloying.  Recently I had discovered a two ingredient white chocolate frosting that is much lighter, just white chocolate and whipping cream. I used that.

When it was frosted, I sprinkled it with red sugar sprinkles, tucked in some winter greenery and I had a holiday cake to take and celebrate with the neighbors.

The resulting taste?  Fantastic.  Ever as good as the carrot version and more “holiday” in the ingredients.  I think the next time I make it I will add dried cranberries (craisins), as well, to make it even more festive.  Not only is it good for the December holidays, but appropriate for Thanksgiving too.

The results just reinforced for me, experiment! You will have a new product that doesn’t require a special trip to the store ( I had all the ingredients on hand) and tastes great.  Try it sometime.

Christmas Magic

“Boy and Dog” public art sculpture by local artist Georgia Gerber

Just this past week, I have had the following piece published in 2018 Whidbey Island Christmas by the Sea, published the Langley Chamber of Commerce. Four local writers have their work featured in this magazine, each featuring either some topic about Langley or about Christmas.  Enjoy

On a cold clear day in December, an old gentleman sits by himself on a bench near a bronze sculpture, “Boy and Dog,” located in a small park on First Street in Langley, Washington. His extended family had decided to take a trip there to see the Christmas decorations and do their Christmas shopping.  Having arrived on a tour boat from Seattle. The time ashore is not long, five and a half hours, but is still tiring for him. Not being fleet of foot, he has chosen this comfortable resting place, sitting on the bench with the boy and his dog in bronze for company.  He can look over Saratoga Passage to view Mount Baker and Camano Island.  If it were the springtime of the year, he might also add a grey whale and her calf to this vista, but, alas it is winter.  Because they were traveling by boat, he had bundled up when he dressed for this foray, his wife having insisted that he wear the heavy red sweater with the snowflakes all over it.  “It is Christmassy.” She had reminded him. He is toasty warm and happy to doze on this bench until his family returns.

His wife, daughter and three granddaughters have agreed to meet him here before having lunch. Their chatter, running, jumping and hanging on Grandpa has worn him down and he is happy to have just a little rest here on the bench.  There are many folks milling about both from the tour boat and those who have traveled here by car, taking the ferry from the mainland.  You see, Langley is on Whidbey Island, a popular destination.

Every year in Langley, the merchants dress the town for Christmas and this is the reason that his family has planned today’s event.  Lots of shops to see, great places to eat and….a place for grandpa to sit and enjoy the winter sun. Many fine artists live here on the island and there is an annual competition to see who can do the grandest display decorating one of the merchant’s doorways.  It is a stiff competition and the displays range from wacky and outrageous to absolutely gorgeous. Prizes are given to the winners.  Last year the Braeburn Restaurant’s façade was decorated like a large della robbia wreath, complete with Braeburn Apples. This is part of the draw to come to Langley for Christmas shopping.

While Grandpa is dozing in the sun, a flock of little girls race into the “Boy and Dog” Park where he is sitting.  They chatter like birds and awaken the old man.  He smiles at them, giving them reassurances that he is benign.  Suddenly one little girl jumps up on the bench and stands next to him. She chatters away at him in her high little girl voice.  He continues to smile and then nods his head.  She races off and talks with her companions.  “He nodded yes!” she said excitedly.  Soon there is a line of little girls, all dressed in their Christmas sweaters, red coats, red hats, fleece boots, and smiles.  They are lined up by the bench where the old man sits.  One by one they get up on the bench and whisper in his ear.  Mostly he cannot tell what they are saying because he has taken his hearing aids out and stuffed them in his jacket pocket.  And besides, little girl whispers are really hard to understand. Still he smiles and nods his head.

Soon they have all talked into his ear, and they are all smiles and twirling pigtails and happiness.  He is happy too.  Their mothers are approaching from a nearby shop where one mother has stood vigilant outside the door to be sure the girls were safe.  The girls gather around their mothers and are all trying to relate their experiences all at once with lots of shrieks and squeals about talking with the old man.

He sits contentedly on his bench enjoying their laughter and joy.  Soon his own granddaughters will be there to take him to lunch.  Hummmm….he IS getting hungry.

The little flock of girls flies off up the street while calling to the old man….GOOD BYE, SANTA!