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Last Friday, the final day of our stay in Colorado, Tom and I decided to do a bit more sightseeing up in the mountains. Specifically, we wanted to go back into Rocky Mountain National Park and hike around the Alluvial Fan. Just briefly, for those who might not be familiar with it, the Alluvial Fan was formed in the early 80s when the dam of a lake sitting high up in the mountains failed. The rupture sent more than 29 million gallons of water, slit, rocks, trees, and SUV-size boulders cascading down the mountainside and onto the floor of the valley below. The devastation to the surrounding landscape was mind-boggling. Even worse, three people in its path were killed. Tom, the kids, and I visited the site a few years after the disaster when the area still looked raw and broken. It was a sobering experience.

Now, nearly 30 years later, neither the mountainside nor the valley floor looks like a war zone. The entire area is covered with trees, bushes, and other vegetation, and little ground squirrels scamper everywhere. If the gigantic boulders weren’t scattered around like old cars in a junkyard, you might not even give that section of the park special notice. We were amazed–and heartened–by Mother Nature’s power to reclaim her own.

Looking back up the mountains where the water came down through
Looking back up the mountains where the water came down
Looking out across the scattered boulders toward the valley floor

Looking out across the scattered boulders toward the valley floor

We had also decided that day that it would be fun to stop at The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park for breakfast before going up to hike the Fan. This created a conundrum. Should we dress in appropriate hiking attire–a.k.a. t-shirts, jeans, and tennis shoes–or should we kick it up a notch to avoid looking like a couple of rubes schlepping through The Stanley? What a silly question. We were on vacation. We schlepped.

The Stanley Hotel - Boulder, CO

The Stanley Hotel - Boulder, CO

The Stanley Hotel is really quite lovely, sitting on the mountainside overlooking Estes Park. The entryway leading to the main building makes a sweeping arc around the expansive lawn, leads you past a field of grazing elk, and deposits you next to a little white guard house from which Barney Fife pops out to extract a parking fee from you. The interesting thing–in hindsight–about Barney and the parking fee was we realized there were no signs posted mentioning anything about parking fees. Sharp tack that he was, ol’ Barney saw us coming. Heck fire, we were from out of state. We were driving a late model car. Surely we were good for a little extra pocket change…which is exactly where he put the money I idiotically gave him…into his pocket. No receipt to display in our window. No cash register in his little guard house in which to deposit the bills. No “Thank ya, ma’am.” No “Kiss my arse.” The money went straight into his pocket with a smile. Forehead smack. I bet he got that cheap-ass badge he was wearing off the internet!

Once we got parked and had finished debating the legitimacy of Barney and his fee collection, we headed into the hotel. Whereas I had earlier dismissed our casual clothing with the excuse that we were on vacation, my tune did a 180 when we entered the lobby…which was elegant…and full of business professionals at some sort of a business conference…in business attire. Groan. We wandered around–as inconspicuously as possible–for several minutes, looking for the restaurant without luck before I finally resorted to asking for help at the front desk. It was a beautiful day, and the hotel staff had all the doors and windows wide open to let the fabulous mountain breeze to blow through. As I stood speaking to the desk clerk, I could feel the breeze, but I could also feel something else. Something strange. Something that felt like a sail waving back and forth on the top of my head. I patted the top of my head and continued speaking with the clerk until I had the information I needed, and then I turned to Tom and bleated, “Do I have a sticky-out pointy-thing on my head?”

“Well, yes,” he said hesitantly. “Your hair is kinda sticking up.”

Here, I must backtrack. When we got ready that morning, the only water coming out of the showerhead in our cottage was scalding hot, so grooming had been a bit dicey. I’ve got my own hormonal heat source going full blast right now, so the hot shower gave me no alternative but to retreat from the steamy bathroom as quickly as possible. Before leaving, however, I did attempt (admittedly a half-hearted attempt) to blow dry my hair. I didn’t even consider putting on makeup. I figured I’d sit in the other room to read and cool off while Tom showered, and then I’d go back in and do my makeup. Brilliant. Well…fast-forward back to the hotel.

“What do you mean my hair is ‘kinda sticking up’?” I hissed, and then I noticed Tom’s hair. He’d taken his ball cap off and his bangs (do men have bangs?) were standing straight up like…well, like…you remember in Something About Mary when Cameron Diaz uses “gel” to fix her bangs? Yeah, his bangs looked like that, so off we went to the bathrooms.

My attempts to get my hair under control were futile, and, in the process, I saw that I have forgotten to return to the bathroom at the cottage to apply makeup. I was a pointy-haired, mottled-skinned, lip-less, eye-less, brow-less freak. Tom came out of the bathroom with his hair all slicked down looking like a grease monkey.

“Shall we?”

“Yes, let’s.” And we headed upstairs to the restaurant.

When we arrived at the entrance to the restaurant, we discovered that we were 20 minutes too late for breakfast and 10 minutes too early for lunch, as were several other guests who had congregated around the door. Not wanting to waste any more time looking for another restaurant, we decided to see the thing through and stood trying to blend into our surroundings. As we waited, Tom began fumbling around with his hat which sent his sunglasses clattering to the hardwood floor. He stepped back in an attempt to avoid stepping on them, but instead…CRACK…and a lense went skittering across the floor. “Man,” he muttered. “That was close.”

I stared at him in disbelief. “No,” I thought. “You got those sons-o’-bitches dead on” and then burst into laughter…uncontrollable laughter…laughter that sent me staggering around where I stood. I’m guessing at that point we were no longer inconspicuous.

I was still snickering 10 minutes later when the hostess seated us and even later still when our waiter, “Guido,” finally came over to look down his nose, give us the squonk eye, and take our order. Fair enough.

But just so you, my faithful readers, know…the food at The Stanley is NOT worth the effort…or the parking fee.

At the moment, Tom and I are sitting at the sidewalk tables in front of the BookEnd Café in Boulder, Colorado, soaking up the atmosphere and a large glass of iced black tea. Okay, okay. I also nibbled on a cookie, but I’m on vacation, so it doesn’t count. Anyway, it’s a beautiful day here in Boulder, and it was a beautiful morning at our cottage up in St. Vrain Canyon just outside of Lyons, Colorado.

We arrived at the cottage early yesterday afternoon after spending Sunday night with some good friends in Denver. We had a wonderful time in Denver, and hope—with any luck—to spend another evening with our friends before heading back home, maybe a dinner here in Boulder with them. I’ll let you know.

Meantime, we’re doing as much NOTHING as possible. This morning, doing nothing meant hanging out in the cottage. Yes, the cottage of Shelly’s Cottages fame, the same cottage I wrote about earlier. If you read my post on P.S., it will not surprise you at all that being a guest at Shelly’s involves RULES. Even more rules than we were given when we first made the reservation, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

We headed up to the cottage from Denver mid-morning yesterday. According to the official-looking letter we received from Shelly’s prior to our departure from home, check-in time at the cottages is 3 p.m. Considering the no-nonsense tone of the phone conversation with Kim, the owner, when I initially made the reservation and the equally strident tone of the letter, we were a bit nervous about arriving any earlier than we were “allowed,” so we pit-stopped in Boulder to eat a late breakfast and to kill some time. There aren’t many places on the planet more entertaining to hang out and watch the world go by than the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder—which partially explains why we came back this afternoon—but after leisurely morning meal and a slow stroll up and down the mall yesterday, we were tired and ready to get unpacked and settled. We took a deep breath and called Kim to inquire about an early check-in.

Kim was perfectly pleasant. Our cottage wasn’t ready just yet, but if we could wait an hour, she’d finish cleaning it and have it waiting for us. Sweet! An hour was just enough time to grab a few groceries and drive the 20-or-so miles up there. We headed back to the car, found a Whole Foods a few blocks away (imagine finding a Whole Foods in Boulder), and grabbed a grocery cart. The cottage has a full kitchen, so we figured it would be a good idea to bring in breakfast- and lunch-type goodies, making it easier to sloth around until such time we feel compelled to tidy up and leave the cottage this week. As an aside–and in our defense–our lives have been pretty nutty lately, so—at this point—our idea of the perfect vacation is one that involves no dress clothes, no early mornings, and no schedule of any kind. Sweats and flannel pants are required.

Anyway, Whole Foods was packed, so shopping took longer than we expected. Since we were ready to crash for the day, we decided to grab salads at the salad bar at the grocery store to eliminate the need for another stop on our way to the cottage or the need to go scavenging for lunch after getting settled. Elbows out, we navigated our way down each side of the salad bar, filling our re-cycled, totally organic, flimsy-ass paper salad containers, and headed to the front of the store to check out. Thank goodness, I’d had the presence of mind to grab my re-usable grocery bags from the car before entering the store. I would not want to be the lone schmuck standing in line at the Whole Foods in Boulder, CO, the birthplace of all things green and the home of the largest contingent of Green Peace volunteers I’ve ever been accosted by, having to ask to have my groceries sacked in paper or plastic.

After a long wait at the checkout, the two of us and our re-usable grocery bags full of healthy, over-priced chow were headed for the car. Because we hadn’t been to the cottages yet, the trunk was still full of luggage, so we loaded the groceries in the backseat of my car and took off for Lyons (In the wrong direction, but that’s another post. Stupid googlemaps.). Within minutes of leaving the grocery store, I could smell the balsamic vinaigrette on Tom’s salad. “That’s strange,” I thought to myself, but because I was driving, I had to concentrate on going the wrong way out of Boulder. We’d have to deal with the smell later.

Once we were out of the circus that is Boulder traffic, I said aloud, “Man, I can really smell the dressing on your salad.” Apparently, Tom had been thinking the same thing. Without a word, he whirled around in his seat and lifted the offending bag. “Shit,” he mumbled.

Salad dressing was everywhere, including on the leather seat of the car, so we pulled over in a little town outside of Boulder (Niwot for those of you who know the area) to assess the damage and attempt a clean-up with the only thing I had in the glovebox: Windex wipes. Dried-out, nappy Windex wipes. Ugh. Needless to say, it was a feeble clean-up attempt.

So, still going the wrong way (actually, it wasn’t necessarily the wrong way, it was just the loooooong way—I repeat, stupid googlemaps), we got back out on the road, more desperate than ever to reach our destination. As we drove, Tom clung to the dripping salad container (around which the helpful checkout clerk had placed a large, worthless rubber band), grumbling and cursing, periodically threatening to throw the whole mess out the window. After 5 miles or so, we couldn’t take the smell any longer and rolled the windows down. It was about then I got the giggles, then the guffaws. Then we hit road construction.

Thirty long minutes later, we pulled into the driveway of Shelly’s Cottages and leapt from the car, gasping for fresh air. Before we could do anything meaningful about the salad dressing mess, we had to get checked in, so we headed to the office where we were met by a smiling, cheerful Kim who robotically ran through all of the additional rules for staying at Shelly’s that had not already been posted for our viewing pleasure on the website. She concluded her spiel by saying, “ Also, you need to know there are black bears in the area.  In fact, there are often black bears on the property, so NEVER leave any food outside and be sure to place all your trash in the receptacles behind the cottage. Oh! And don’t leave any food in your car.”

“Are you kidding,” I shrieked in my head. “My leather seats are currently marinating in balsamic vinaigrette. My car’s an Italian-panini-sandwich-lover’s dream! Total bear food!” Groan.

Luckily, I was exhausted when we went to bed last night, so I didn’t lie there worrying about a bear eating my car, but I sure as heck checked on it when I finally crawled out of bed about 9:30 this morning.

We drove to Boulder with the car windows down this afternoon, so, with any luck, my car won’t smell like an Italian deli when we get back in it.

The Meandering Matriarch recently posted a lament about the proliferation of black in the working woman’s wardrobe. As one of those “penguins”–or at least a former penguin (you can hardly call what I’ve been doing lately “work”)–I feel compelled to respond.

I wore black because it made getting dressed in the morning sooooo easy. No brain cells required. On any typical morning, before I could get myself out the door, I had to get my husband and children up and on their way, take care of the animals, throw a load of laundry in, think about what I was going to serve for dinner and maybe even start dinner, check my email one last time before leaving the house, gather up my own crap, and get myself ready. And that was a typical morning. Heaven forbid, I’d have to get one of the animals to the vet’s or run by the post office before going into work. If I wore black, I reduced my stress load tremendously.

A basic black wardrobe requires a few pairs of black pants, a black skirt or two, a black purse, a pair of black pumps, a pair of black flats, a couple of black jackets, and a few colorful tops with coordinating jewelry. If you live in a cold climate, you have a short black coat, a long, black wool coat with a brightly colored scarf and gloves, and black dress boots. Simple. It all coordinates, so you can’t screw any of it up. If your gray matter is scrambled with everything else you have to think about while you’re getting ready, wearing black dramatically reduces your chances of winding up at work with two different color shoes or a hideously mismatched ensemble. Brainless. Totally brainless.

Plus, black is the hands-down champion at hiding–or at least camouflaging–figure flaws.

I worked with a woman once who, years ago when she entered the work force, repainted her fingernails every night to match the outfit she’d laid out to wear the next day. I have no idea HOW or WHY she did it–and she laughs about it now–but I can tell you one thing for certain, based on the women I know, those days are long gone. Most working women are stretched to the limit. I can’t speak for them all, but I can tell you that there were days when I was just grateful I’d managed to make it to work with my teeth brushed, my bra on, and shoes on my feet. Who cares what color my clothes were. I suspect there are others who feel the same way.

My dad sent me an email note last week telling me he’d been selected for jury duty. For a moment, I was jealous. I’ve been called for jury duty three times and selected once. The one trial I was selected for was nearly twenty years ago, but it was so entertaining, I’ve looked forward to doing it again ever since. Dad wasn’t so lucky. His services were required for a civil trial between a flatwork contractor and a wealthy homeowner in the Tucson foothills who didn’t want to pay for the 2,700 square feet of concrete the contractor had poured…probably because the homeowner had over-extended himself building a multi-million dollar shrine to himself…but that’s just a guess. In any case, the jury deliberated less than five minutes before ordering the homeowner to pay up. Borrrring.

The civil trial that I served as a juror for involved a car full of lawyers from a prominent Midwestern law firm, a moon-less night, a hilly two-lane county road in the middle of the Flint Hills (cattle country, for those of y’all who ain’t from these parts), and a lone black bull standing smack in the middle of that dark, deserted road.

In all honesty, I don’t recall the specifics of why the big-city lawyers were out in the middle of the Flint Hills in the dead of night, but it’s ultimately unimportant. The fact was that they were…and so was the bull. All the lawyers in the car–as I recall, there were four–claimed the driver was going the speed limit when they crested a hill that night and found an enormous black bull staring back at them in their headlights, a claim that would be debated hotly during the trial. Anyway, the driver swerved to miss the huge animal, careened through a ditch, and came to rest against a fence.

Fortunately, the bull escaped unscathed, but the lawyers weren’t so lucky. Three of them had minor injuries requiring a visit to the local emergency room, but one guy was hurt badly enough that he had to be brought back to Kansas City in an ambulance. Please note, this is the one part of the story that I do not think is funny. But he recovered, so…

Because the injured were lawyers, it would naturally follow that there would be a lawsuit. And there was. Specifically a lawsuit against the rancher who owned the bull. The lawyers claimed the rancher was negligent for “allowing” the bull out onto the road, so they were suing for the pain and suffering, blah, blah, blah caused by the accident resulting from said bull in the road. Sigh.

For one whole day and part of the next, we listened to repetitive testimony from local law enforcement officials, the rancher, and even experts hired by the prosecution to prove the rancher’s negligence, none of whom ever managed to find any breaks or weak spots in the fence surrounding the pen where the bull was kept. Moreover, none of them could provide a rational explanation as to why the other six or seven bulls kept in the same pen were still there at the time of the accident. Points to the defense.

For another day and a half, we listened to expert testimony about the particulars of the accident itself. First from a former highway patrolman who, at the time of the trial, was making his living by recreating accidents and providing details for whomever needed the information. In this case, the information was incredibly interesting. The facts, in a nutshell, presented via nifty charts, pictures, and drawings: one, the car left the road and traveled sideways (called yawing, I learned) for nearly 200 yards through an unmown ditch before slamming into the fence; two, the ditch was full of tall weeds, sizable seedlings, large rocks, and ruts.

The highway patrolman’s conclusion: the car was traveling between 85 and 90 mph when it left the road. Ooooo. Well over the posted speed limit and way beyond what any reasonable driver with gray matter between his ears would attempt under similar conditions.

But hold on. The prosecution had an expert witness, a rumpled college physics professor, who was supposed to take the stand and refute the facts and the patrolman’s conclusion.  Not too surprisingly, the poor guy was smart enough not to attempt refuting the facts, but he gamely and vehemently argued against the conclusion. He didn’t present any evidence to support his argument, but he argued nonetheless. It was all very dramatic, very Perry Mason-ish. But very lame. Again, points to the defense.

Now, the best part of the trial, the part that made it worth sitting through nearly four days of testimony about fences, bovine behavior, tire tracks, yawing, and culpability…oh, this is sooo good…after a long break on the afternoon of the fourth day, the judge turned to the jury, removed his glasses, wiped his forehead, and informed us wearily that a new wrinkle had been added to the case. Apparently, the wife of the lawyer who was brought back to the city by ambulance–the lawyer I will now refer to as Tiny Johnson because I don’t remember his real name–wanted to add one more claim to the suit. She wanted to sue the rancher for a quarter of  million dollars for loss of conjugal relations for the eighteen months since the accident. I suppressed an audible snort. There was noooooo way ol’ Tiny was worth that kind of loot, and everyone in the courtroom knew it. It took every ounce of self-control to suppress the laughter that was struggling to erupt. But I managed it, and I mentally patted myself on the back for being such a grown up.

Well apparently, I congratulated myself too soon. After we came back with a verdict of “not guilty” (for any of it) and the judge had thanked and then dismissed us, the court reporter came up to me and asked, “Do you play poker?”

Startled, I mumbled, “Ummm, no.”

“Good. You’d be a lousy poker player,” she smiled. “Your face gave away everything you were thinking. Thanks for making this trial so much fun.” And she walked away before I could say anything else.

“Good to know,” I thought to myself, but, “Ye, gods, how embarrassing.” Then I thought about Tiny, his cronies, and the Mrs. Now that’s embarrassing.

Before I get too far, several of you have inquired about the state of Brian’s digestive tract after the ostrich episode. Suffice it to say even after swigging half a bottle of Pepto Bismol within hours of wrestling the thing down, he didn’t feel normal again until early the next afternoon. Ostrich-on-a-Stick? You might want to think twice. I’m just saying…

Now back to our regularly scheduled posting. Sadly, this will be my last post about the food-on-a-stick available at the Minnesota State Fair. Brian got called back to Kansas City to work on another project earlier than he’d originally expected, leaving more than three dozen skewered possibilities un-sampled. He got home last night in time for dinner, extremely tired and–amazingly enough–hungry. The smart-aleck part of me wanted to fix a meal of fried-everything, but my mom side won out. Stupid mom side. So, instead, he was served lots of fresh fruit and raw veggies. Tom, however, did try to skewer Brian’s serving of meatloaf before carrying it to the table.

Even though he didn’t get to sample everything before leaving, Brian did find several more things to share with us. You’ll never believe a couple of them.

First on the line-up: Cheese-Curd-on-a-Stick. He had already sampled this particularly nasty sounding option–and had sworn he would never eat it again–but, at my request, he did find someone else who was eating it and managed to get a picture. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but, sadly, Cheese-Curd-on-a-Stick looks just like every other stabbed, battered, and fried grub-on-a-stick offering we’ve already seen. Sigh.



The same is true for Mac-and-Cheese-on-a-Stick. Phooey. I really had high expectations for this one, as well as for Spaghetti-on-a-Stick (which Brian never managed to find, but which I found a picture of on the Minnesota State Fair website). Unfortunately, neither is the culinary marvel I imagined. In both instances, it appears the pasta is scooped into a tight ball, dipped in the ever-ubiquitous batter, and deep fried. Are you sensing a pattern here? Even worse, the mac and cheese wasn’t even of the homemade variety. Brian said it tasted just like it came out of a blue box. It’s an OUTRAGE! I have no choice but to assume the spaghetti comes out of a Chef Boyardee can? Honestly!



Next up: Nacho-Mama-Dog-on-a-Stick. Pause and say that out loud before continuing. This particular offering isn’t exactly what the name suggests, in as much as there is no traditional hot dog involved. Yes, the “dog” looks like a corndog, and it is, in fact, breaded in cornmeal and deep fried. But where you’d expect to find a frankfurter, you actually find taco meat pressed into the shape of a hot dog…SURPRISE! The faux dog is then piled high with traditional nacho fixin’s, including melted processed cheese food. I was ready to give this entry a few points for its catchy name until I saw the melted cheese food. Velveeta IS NOT CHEESE, people! Geeez!



And what’s a meal-on-a-stick without a dessert-on-a-stick to go with it? In my book, not much. Luckily for fair-goers, there are plenty of speared sweets to pick from. Brian’s choice: Key-Lime-Pie-on-a-Stick, which is strange because Brian doesn’t even like key lime pie. He didn’t like this version either which could mean it actually tastes like the real thing. It could also mean it was just plain awful. Strangely, it appears to be covered in chocolate. I love chocolate, but on key lime pie? What are they thinking?



Unfortunately for us, Brian did not sample the Pig Licker, aka Chocolate-Covered-Bacon-on-a-Stick, which several of you asked about, so no picture. Worse luck. The poor boy had actually tried chocolate covered bacon a couple of weeks ago at the Indiana State Fair and just couldn’t make himself go near the stuff again. Understandable. He did, however, man up and give the Foot-Long-Pepperoni-Pizza-on-a-Stick a go which he says tasted like “a Hot Pocket on a stick.” Overall,very disappointing. He was especially put out when he discovered that the stick in the Foot-Long-Pepperoni-Pizza-on-a-Stick wasn’t even a proper stick. The pizza folks were spearing their pepperoni-stuffed blob of dough with flimsy-ass disposable chopsticks. Very un-Italian.



He had no complaints about the Chocolate-Covered-Frozen-Banana-on-a-Stick. In fact, he tweeted, “Chocolate + Frozen Banana = One Happy Kid.”  He does look pretty happy, doesn’t he. I’m guessing he was relieved to be eating something that wasn’t breaded or dipped in batter.



And Brian had absolutely nothing but praise for his next on-a-stick experience. I believe the picture tells you all you need to know.



Clever, is it not? Those crafty folks up in Minnesota have this whole stick business down…really take it all quite seriously…then again…

Brian came home with one more item on a stick, and you’ll never believe what it was. I just hope the folks who were passing these little gems out didn’t put holes in them when they were putting them on the sticks. That could get rather…ummm…sticky.



Kudos to you, son! You survived. Thanks for taking us along on your adventure! I promise to feed you nothing but healthy food the entire weekend…but not on a stick.

According to fair organizers, if it weren’t for the fact that the Texas State Fair runs twice as long as the Minnesota State Fair, the latter would be considered the biggest state fair–attendance-wise–in the country. Based on our conversation last night, I don’t think Brian would argue that claim. He estimates he’s met at least half the people who live in Minnesota plus a number of others who have arrived from neighboring states for the festivities.

Brian, who has attended a number of state fairs in recent years, seems genuinely amazed at how many people are packing the fairgrounds in St. Paul from early in the morning until late in the evening. He is, without a doubt, having fun yakking it up with the fair-goers, but the large crowds do make it difficult for him to slip away from his work to pursue his quest to sample every food-on-a-stick offering at the fair.

Never fear. He’s a Woltkamp and not easily deterred from the task at hand (except, maybe, by pretty girls). He’s a man on a mission, a 23-year-old bottomless pit with an appetite for something more exotic than mere burgers and fries. He’s busy, but, this weekend, he kept his digestive system even busier. So, with a nod to his tenacity and his iron gut, I share with you his findings in the order they were eaten. I hope you yourself are not eating right now.

First up, Meatballs-on-a-stick, a hearty offering of meatballs rolled in garlic bread crumbs, skewered on a stick, and deep fried. Brian declared them “not bad,” but said little else. Obviously, not a terribly memorable option. He made no mention of dipping sauce, but I think, if you’re going to eat one, a bit of marinara on the side might make the thing more palatable. Maybe.



Next, Scotch-Egg-on-a-Stick. This one is definitely novel. According to Brian, a hard-boiled egg is impaled on a stick, encased in sausage, hand-dipped in a batter tasting strongly of nutmeg, and finally deep fried to a golden brown. His assessment: “intense.” He seemed particularly put off by the nutmeg. If you ask me, that’s the least of this dish’s problems.



On to the next offering: a Butterscotch-Twinkie-on-a-Stick. Amazingly enough, this one is not fried. It’s served cold and is exactly what the name and the picture suggest. A Twinkie, punctured by a Popsicle stick, covered in butterscotch. Brian wasn’t impressed. Specifically, he called it “gross.” Wouldn’t you think that at some point the folks as Hostess would get tired of having their snack cakes defiled?



After the sugar rush from the Butterscotch-Twinkie-on-a-Stick, Brian opted for a truly unique–and savory–offering found only at the Minnesota State Fair: Hot-Meal-on-a-Stick. And here, I must give the good folks of Minnesota their due. Just when you think there cannot possibly be any other way to combine meat, tater tots, and a can of cream-of-fill-in-the-blank soup into another casserole or repast of any kind, the clever cooks up there devise Hot-Meal-on-a Stick, the extremely popular offering in which meatballs and tater tots are lined up alternately on a stick, dipped in batter, and…wait for it…wait for it…deep fried. Lest the cream-of-whatever soup feel left out, they serve that on the side. Brian said he wasn’t sure what the soup was cream of, but it looked like “snot.” Brian has a way with words, doesn’t he?



Brian declared the next speared entree on his agenda, “Delicious!” and “a nice break from fried food.” The Wahoo-Steak-Dinner-on-a-Stick is essentially what the name implies–chunks of steak, potato, onion, and bell pepper skewered on a stick and grilled–a steak dinner on a stick. Nice. Except for the pasty white dinner roll smooshed onto the end of the stick. Couldn’t they just leave well enough alone? Still, Brian gave it two thumbs up.



Next stop? A Texas-Tater-Dog-on-a-Stick. I have to say, I’m fascinated by this one. Considering the folks in any food booth on the fairgrounds are feeding hundreds, if not thousands, of people in a short amount of time, how in the world do they manage to find the time to get the potato to spiral down the length of the hot dog so evenly? That must take forever. How many volunteers does it take to prep all those Texas Tater Dogs? And how many different ways–you may be thinking to yourself–can a Texas-Tater-Dog-on-a-Stick be seasoned? Well, I’ll tell you. Four: Parmesan garlic, lemon pepper, seasoned salt, and TNT. If you know my son, you know he ordered TNT. Apparently not many folks choose that option. Brian said the woman who took his order raised her eyebrows at him and asked if he was sure. Was he sure. YeeHaw! Stand clear, Robin.


Before he stopped for the night, Brian went international. The Chinese-Chicken-Dumpling-on-a-Stick and the General-Tso-Chicken-on-a-Stick both received a “tasted-like-it-came-0ff-a-crappy-Chinese-buffet” rating, but the vegetable Eggroll-on-a-Stick got rave reviews.






Brian ended the weekend with Ostrich-on-a-Stick, which he called a “karate kick to the innards.” When I talked to him late last night–a three full hours after the encounter–he claimed to be still feeling the effects and planned to stop by the tent where volunteers were passing out Pepto Bismol. In fairness to the ostrich, it could have been the Twinkie.


See, I told you you’d be better off not eating while reading this.
As for you, son, twelve down. Forty-seven to go.

Now that Teddy has been living here for more than two months, I believe we have a clearer understanding of one another. At least I feel safe saying I understand him better. It’s not that hard. He’s a pretty straightforward little guy. No pretenses. No wavering. He let’s you know how he feels about something and then has no more to say on the subject. After all, that’s the way it is. End of story.

Teddy’s Tenets:

  • Salmon and rice will not be tolerated in any form–canned or kibble–under any circumstances. Amen. Pass the lamb.
  • Bodily functions can never be performed in the presence of any of the following: damp grass, wet cement or flagstone, drizzle, rain, thunder, lightning, or lightning bugs. Ever.
  • And while we’re on that topic, privacy is preferred during any and all nature calls. Decorous human beings will avert their gaze while bodily functions are being executed.
  • No tree, bush, flower, tomato plant, asparagus fern, strawberry patch, fence, or wood pile is sacred. Have a  pooper scooper and a plastic bag on your person at all times.
  • Glorious daytime weather must be savored with long periods of rolling in the grass, sneezing, and sleeping in the shade. Any attempt to force other behaviors during such times will be considered sacrilegious and ignored accordingly.
  • During thunderstorms–or any time lightning is within a 20-mile radius–a human being’s presence is required. Preferably mom’s. Snuggling welcome.
  • Snoring and farting are part of the package. Deal with it.
  • Belly-rubs, ear-scratches, and hugs are actively encouraged and always accepted.
  • Attempts at playing chase, catch, or Gotcha! will be met with a blank stare. A good brushing is preferred.
  • Walkers and bicyclists passing on the street out front must be acknowledged with a half-hearted woof. People in the backyard must submit to a full-blown bark or barks. All other vocal emanations are discretionary and meted out accordingly.
  • Ear cleaning and trips to the groomer will be tolerated only if extravagant displays of affection are provided afterwards.
  • Goofy neckerchiefs will be grudgingly tolerated for short periods of time.
  • Failure to extend invitations for all car and/or truck outings will result in The Very-Sad-Dog-Eyes Treatment and other guilt-inducing behaviors, as required. Consider yourself warned.
  • All humans, dogs, and cats must be welcomed as friends. Or ignored.

Like I said, straightforward. He’s a pip.




Actually, if you count the egg-sandwich-on-a-stick Tom fixed for Brian before he left for Minnesota Wednesday morning, this posting would be about Day Two, but I’ll not confuse the issue.

Brian and Kyle arrived at the fairgrounds early yesterday morning, the first official day of the fair, to a “whirlwind of delicious fried smells.” I’m guessing Brian’s use of the word “delicious” in his Tweet was tinged with a bit of sarcasm, but I forgot to have him clarify that when I talked to him a bit earlier. What I did learn was professional obligations kept the two of them from exploring their surroundings yesterday as they had planned, but they did manage to try two novel food-on-a-stick offerings before heading back to the hotel late last night.

The first was gator-on-a-stick which, according to Brian, “wasn’t bad.” When pressed to elaborate, he said it “tasted like pork sausage.” Actually, had the sign not announced that the offering was, in fact, alligator, it sounds like–from Brian’s subsequent description–no one would have known the difference. Phooey. I was hoping for something a bit more exciting. A bit more exotic. Swampy, even. At least, I suppose, we can take solace in the fact that he didn’t say it tasted like chicken.



The second food-on-a-stick they tried was a Cheese-Curd-on-a-Stick. Yes, you read that right. Curd. Not curds. A single gigantic cottage-cheese-like curd impaled on a stick. Served hot. “Death,” he said when asked, “It tasted like death.” Yummm! Apparently, he was able to stomach only one bite before throwing the whole business–curd, stick, and all–in the trash. He didn’t even hang on to it long enough to take a picture. Rats. Maybe he can stalk a curd-lover or two between now and the end of the fair and get a picture. I want to see Cheese-Curd-on-a-Stick. Not eat it, mind you. Just see it.

When I talked to him, they haven’t had a chance to go a-tasting yet today, but he promised they would. Stay tuned!

As I type, Brian is heading north to the Twin Cities for the Minnesota State Fair. While his primary responsibility is to execute the assignment Department Zero and Toyota sent him up there to do, his–and his traveling companion, Kyle’s–primary off-duty objective is to sample every one of the 59–yes, that’s right, 59–fair food offerings on a stick, supposedly the largest food-on-a-stick menu at any state fair in this great nation. Cue the anthem.

For the next seven to ten days, these two brave souls will selflessly sacrifice their waistlines and arteries to bring us the details of such novel offerings as spaghetti-on-a-stick, fried-alligator-on-a-stick, hotdish-on-a-stick, deep-fried-candy-bars-on-a-stick, and Pig Lickers (chocolate-covered-bacon-on-a-stick), along with the more traditional corn dogs,  cotton candy, and frozen confections that, as it happens, also come on a stick. I’m so proud. My job is to chronicle the entire gastric extravaganza for you in all its crunchy, gooey, burbly, acidic detail (Brian has promised pictures).

So, if you have the stomach, please join us for the fun. Tom, who never fails to put his snappy-ass spin on any new adventure, got into the spirit of the thing by serving Brian an egg sandwich on a stick this morning before his o’dark thirty departure.



Grab your Tums. It promises to be quite the ride.

Given the choice, I prefer to travel on anything but an interstate highway. I find interstate highways mind-numbing, with mile after mile of the same hideous fast food offerings and dirty gas station bathrooms, but sometimes I have no choice. Time and distance require that I get on the interstate and drive balls-to-the-wall to get to my destination. Such was the case on my recent trip to Texas, which began with a one-day, twelve-hour interstate dash from my house in Kansas City to my sister’s near Austin and ended with the same one-day, twelve-hour push to get back home.

To keep my sanity on such drives, I listen to audiobooks. For that reason–with the exception of the half hour or so it took me to drive through the glorious Flint Hills in Kansas, which would be absolutely impossible to ignore–I couldn’t tell you much of what I saw along the way. On the drive to Texas, I hung out in present-day Los Angeles the with characters in Jill Smolinski’s novel, The Next Thing on My List, and, on the drive back, I bounced back and forth between post-World War II London and the Channel Island of Guernsey while listening to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. With regards to the latter, if you have not read it yet, do NOT pass Go! do NOT collect $200! until you read it. Seriously. I’ve listened to it twice now, and I guarantee you I’ll read and/or listen to it again. Something I rarely, rarely do. It’s that good. I repeat. It’s that good.

Anyway, as you can well imagine, I was pretty wiped out after both days of driving–good books notwithstanding–and looked forward to a good night’s sleep. My sister had a bed all set up for me when I arrived at her house, and I wasted little time getting into it. About 3 a.m., I awoke groggily in need of a wee and immediately became alarmed. I couldn’t move. Where in the hell was I? The room was pitch black–seriously, not a single speck of light–and I was lying ramrod straight, completely surrounded…encased, really…by what? Where am I? Why can’t I move?

As the fog lifted, I remembered I was at Amy’s, and then I realized why I couldn’t move. I was sleeping on one of those double-decker inflatable mattress thingies, and the goofy damn thing had lost just enough air to turn me into a wiener on a bun. If I hadn’t had to pee so badly, it would have been funny, but I was stuck. Really stuck. You know how they tell you to remain calm in the face of adversity. Well, that thought never crossed my mind. After rocking back and forth a bit, I finally got my arms un-wedged from my sides enough to begin thrashing around like…well, like I don’t know what, but I guarantee you it wasn’t pretty. After a good deal of commotion and a few bad words, I managed to free myself and make it to the bathroom.

Problem solved, right? Wrong. It was only 3:30 a.m. I was still desperate for sleep, and my bed looked like it had given up the will to live. The electric air pump was sitting right there, but I’d never used it and had no energy or brain cells left to try and figure out how to get it attached, started, or stopped. Besides, if the mattress had a hole in it, it would just go flat again anyway, so I laid back down on the bed with my arms and legs spread wide. You know, like your childhood swim instructor told you to do when she was teaching you to back float, to increase your surface area on top of the water and all that…yeah, just like that.

The next morning, my sister popped her head in at o’dark thirty to wake me up–as if she really needed to–and said sweetly, “I think the mattress may have lost some air.”

You think?

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