Advice from F. Scott Fitzgerald

After making a grocery store run the other day, I’d just finished wiping the packaging down and my husband was starting to put things away when he made an interesting observation. “There’s an awful lot of exclamation points on the packages. Just about everything has one.”

We started looking at the packaging of prepared foods and snacks, and it was readily apparent how right he was. I took some pictures and here are a few examples:

FE8E402D-2D1A-4CB8-B7CF-692686C04DEF_1_201_a70F54D99-A1EF-45B5-BF86-DA0F9CA53BBA_1_201_aF313ACEE-316C-4DC3-86E5-0A7284EC3334

Even Ree Drummond’s jar of marinara sauce had to get in on the act. 4C658059-7069-4587-844C-79C866130BB2

On the back label, where it describes the sauce, the end of the paragraph reads “…it’s a cheese lover’s dream!”

Apparently the exclamation point has been around since the 1500s, and was a derivation from “io” which was an expression of joy. Eventually it morphed into being written with the I over the O to shorten up space. Who knew? (It should also not be confused with the catchy chant from down under that is heard at sporting events, “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” immediately followed by “Oi, oi, oi!” But that’s spelled differently and as far as I can tell, doesn’t mean anything other than a general “we love you, support you and are tipping a pint in your honor, mate!”

Since then, marketing ‘geniuses’ everywhere have co-opted the exclamation point and want us to THINK it means something akin to joy, when it really just means “I want you to think you can’t live without me.”617DC9B1-6357-4EF3-9FCD-95F0535C6FA9 Obviously it’s working, otherwise they wouldn’t continue doing it. Even on healthy choices, they’re using it to make you feel good about what you just picked up. “You made this choice, it healthy, how smart of you.” Or maybe the message is “Well aren’t you the good planner. F531EBBB-E2DF-48FE-B547-E614D30500F1Your gathering will be special because you have enough crackers. It’s a family size box and you won’t run out, no one will be hungry or feel slighted. But what would happen if it weren’t there? Would you still buy the product? Of course you would. The bigger question is, are you driven to buy one brand over the other because of the exclamation point? I’m going to guess probably not, unless you’re either a) trying a completely new product or b) that exclamation point is part of something else in the packaging that caught your eye, such as telling you that it has “30% more!” in the package. Seriously, would you buy it if the label just said “!”? Of course not, it’s the “30%” that gets your attention.

It isn’t limited to foods, either. The cover of a clothing catalog had this at the bottom:

“10% off! Details on Back Cover ⎮ 100+ NEW GIFT IDEAS INSIDE!”

And this isn’t some new phenomenon either. I’ve been working on selling some HO scale trains on eBay, that had belonged to my father, and included in them are some of the catalogs he’d ordered from including a Tyco 1972-73 and several Fleischmanns. On the back page of the Tyco the description accompanying the photo for the Super Road and Rail ( a combination slot car and train set up) “Two complete sets in one!”.  The inside cover of the Fleischmann catalog from 1973 has this:C8559C02-A54A-48AF-A613-B5A9C471B353_1_201_a

For the curious, if my Google Translate is doing it’s thing correctly, here is the translation (for my Canadian and French-speaking friends, please correct any mistakes!).

Hey! Friends! Embark and take a seat on a dream trip through the Hobby Kingdom. This is what is Extraordinary at FLEISCHMANN! You realize every moment that all fabrications are the result of a fundamental principle of precision, a constant study of quality and a continual tendency towards perfection. Everything matches and everything adapts, which is why the name “FLEISCHMANN” is the best guarantee for your confidence in a quality article. FLEISCHMANN is your protector against boredom! Whether you only have a few minutes or several hours! With FLEISCHMANN you have a permanent passport for permanent fun, which is why we wish you “Bon Voyage”. Sale to the consumer is only through retail stores. We will be happy to give you the addresses of our dealers. and rights reserved. By the publication of this catalog, all previous catalogs and current prices are canceled. – All modifications Printed in Germany INN 8.73 Ho Any advice will be gladly given to you by your retailer.”

Next time you’re at the store, or even shopping online, look at the labels of things and see if you notice it. Once we started looking, it was goofy how many we found in a single grocery trip.

By now you’re probably starting to wonder, what in the world does F. Scott Fitzgerald, that great literary genius of “The Great Gatsby” fame, have to do with exclamation points and grocery stores? The answer is quite a bit, actually. He once said this, and it’s rather apt:

“Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”

I have to admit, I wholeheartedly agree.

You Want More of This…?

As we move closer to election day, we continue to hear more alarming things come out of Trump’s mouth on an almost daily basis. He’s setting the stage for a coup, to enable himself to become the dictator of the Trumpian States of America. Amazingly, there are people who believe this is a fine idea, because why not? These last four years have been a grand ride, why not do this all the time?

Folks, you really aren’t seeing the long view, are you? Once one piece of our Constitution is broken, it all can go. We are guaranteed to have free and fair elections, and a peaceful transfer of power. If Trump removes that and declares himself the winner either by having the senators determine the electoral vote, or simply by not leaving, then what is to stop him from telling us the rest of the Constitution is null and void as well?  You know all the screaming you’ve done about having your 2nd Amendment rights violated, and that a candidate from the Democratic party is infringing on that? Or how awful you think ‘Obamacare’ or the ACA is? Or what about the fact that you’ve been able to speak up at all? If you haven’t thought about that, well, now is the time.

All you need do is look around you at life under other dictators, and it’s pretty easy to see that what you think of as being a pleasure cruise, will become just another nightmare. Gun rights? Gone. That freedom to speak your mind, travel where you want to and stand in front of a government building, throwing fire bombs, smoke bombs or just f-bombs? Gone. (Not that those were good ideas in the first place.) Want to work where you want to, or do what you want to? Gone. Don’t think the rules of the ACA are right, or that it should even exist at all? Then I imagine you’ll love government run Trumpcare, which will determine what benefits you have, and how much money is allocated for those benefits. If they don’t put enough money toward it because this year Trump doesn’t want to, then either you pony up out of pocket, or you just don’t get that medicine because you aren’t allowed to. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because you’re on the side of anarchy now, doesn’t mean you get any kind of a pass later. No, you’ll just be Citizen No. 12657390. Just as likely – perhaps more so – to get tossed in jail for activities against the state. Think not? Check these out…

Gun laws in Dictatorships

Russia: According to the Library of Congress, “Individuals are not allowed to carry guns acquired for self-defense; a license only serves as a carrying permit for hunting and sport firearms when these guns need to be transported. Russian citizens may not own guns that shoot in bursts or have magazines with more than a ten-cartridge capacity.”

In North Korea, the right to private gun ownership is not guaranteed by law.

In China, Civilian ownership of firearms is largely restricted to non-individual entities such as sporting organizations, hunting reserves, and wildlife protection, management and research organizations. The chief exception to the general ban for individual gun ownership is for the purpose of hunting.

Cuba: In Cuba, the right to private gun ownership is not guaranteed by law, and civilians are not allowed to possess pen guns, cane rifles, rifles with a calibre greater than 5.6 millimeters, machine and sub-machine guns of any kind, home-made firearms, shortened shotguns, firearms that have been modified with devices to make them more efficient, and certain types of ammunition. Private possession of fully automatic weapons is prohibited, and handguns (pistols and revolvers) are permitted under license. Civilian possession of rifles and shotguns is regulated by law.

Healthcare

Russia does guarantee free health care, 48% of expenditures comes from government sources which primarily come from medical insurance deductions from salaries. While there appears to be private insurance there, the state insurance improved during the 90’s and 2000’s to be very competitive, then it’s quality significantly declined. Due to the Russian financial crisis since 2014, major cuts in health spending have resulted in a decline in the quality of service of the state healthcare system. About 40% of basic medical facilities have fewer staff than they are supposed to have, with others being closed down. Waiting periods for treatment have increased, and patients have been forced to pay for more services that were previously free.

In China, about 95% of the population has at least basic health insurance coverage. Despite this, public health insurance generally only covers about half of medical costs, with the proportion lower for serious or chronic illnesses. In urban areas, insurance isn’t free either. And in rural areas where it is, the quality of care varies widely.

North Korea claims to provide universal health care with a national medical service and health insurance system. North Korea claims that health services are offered for free. However, this claim has been contrasted by North Korean defectors, who claim that patients must in fact pay for health services, that the upper classes have access to a higher standard of healthcare than ordinary ones do, and that “how much money a patient has determines whether they live or die”.

Cuba’s national health system is made up of multiple tiers: 1) the community containing individuals and families, 2) family doctor-and-nurse teams, 3) basic work teams, 4) community polyclinics, 5) hospitals, and 6) medical institutes. The Family Physician and Nurse program is made up of physician and nurse teams that serve individuals, families, and their communities. Polyclinics are community-based clinics that house primary care specialists, and exist in every Cuban community. While preventive medical care, diagnostic tests and medication for hospitalized patients are free, some aspects of healthcare are paid for by the patient

Freedom of Speech

Cuba: The Cuban constitution recognizes the freedom of the press, and prohibits private ownership of the media. “Only 25 percent of Cubans use the internet, while only five percent of homes are connected”, making it one of the Americas’ least-connected countries. The Internet is censored; a number of websites are blocked, and access to information is scarce.North Korea: Human rights groups such as Amnesty International and nations such as the United States have asserted that, in practice, there is no right to free speech, and the only media providers that are deemed legal are those operated by the government.

China: The only people in China who can publish criticisms of, or opinions contrary to those of, the Communist Party, are senior members of the Communist Party. Academics and editors of China’s state-controlled publications are afforded somewhat less leeway than Party officials, but still more than the average person.

Russia: In 2019 Russia introduced new regulation commonly called “fake news law” which criminalizes publications containing “unreliable” information as well as opinions that show “disrespect for society, government, state symbols, the constitution and government institutions”. The law was criticized for vague wording allowing selective application e.g. against political opposition. Since 2009, the practice of the law enforcement agencies (most notably FSB) was to abuse newly introduced anti-extremism laws to suppress freedom of speech, including corruption investigations. On 31 March 2013, The New York Times reported that Russia was beginning ‘Selectively Blocking [the] Internet’.

That’s a glimpse of life under Trump as ‘president’ for life here. So, all those ‘rights’ you keep harping on, well, don’t worry, you won’t have them because we won’t have a Constitution. No Constitution, no rights. And if you think it can’t happen here, think again. He’s already trying to set the stage, with declaring the media “enemies of the government”, and “fake news” (hmm, look familiar?), telling us what he wants us to know around COVID-19, hiding his tax returns, installing his family and flunkies in positions of authority, and making us all question each other. It’s not too late to keep it from happening.

Vote on November 3.

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Why Dan Patrick (and the GOP) Are Wrong

I heard Texas Lt Governor Dan Patrick say something a while back on a news bite that made me stop in my tracks.

“There is no reason — capital N, capital O — no reason that anyone under 65 should be able to say I am afraid to go vote,” Patrick, a Republican, said in an interview with Fox News. “Have they been to a grocery store? Have they been to Walmart? Have they been to Lowe’s? Have they been to Home Depot? Have they been anywhere? Have they been afraid to go out of their house? This is a scam by the Democrats to steal the election.”

What? Is he serious? Unfortunately, he was. And he’s dead wrong too.Screen Shot 2020-06-06 at 6.49.13 AM

There are many reasons why people under the age of 65 are afraid to go and vote with a pandemic. Anyone with a compromised or suppressed immune system is at very high risk of catching – and dying from – coronavirus. Their immune systems are just not able to fight off infections, either because the disease they have has made their body not able to fight off infections or because they are taking some kind of medication that has chemically suppressed their immune system. This could include people with different types of cancers either because of the disease, or because they are receiving chemotherapy, anyone who has HIV or AIDS, and anyone that has received an organ transplant. It could also include some people with psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis, because some of the medication they take suppress the immune system as well. Heart disease? Check. Lung diseases like cystic fibrosis? Check. Crohn’s disease, having your spleen removed, bone marrow ablation, genetic immunodeficiency, diabetes and chronic kidney disease are also on the list. Guess what Mr. Patrick? All of those affect individuals of all ages.

Add to the group above everyone in their households, because if a spouse, significant other, child or parent brings home the virus, then the immunocompromised person could get it from them, and if they do, they will probably die because their immune system is unable to fight off infections. For some of them even a common cold means the risk of pneumonia, and getting a flu shot each year is critical. So, when coronavirus became a “thing”, and the CDC said “wash your hands”, they did. When the CDC said “wear a mask”, they did that too. And when their medical providers said “it’s not safe for you to work and be around so many people”, they either quit or took a leave of absence and thanked God for unemployment (if they had a state that wasn’t a complete cluster about it) and the stimulus.

How do I know this?  My husband was blessed 29 years ago with a kidney transplant, making our household one that is immunocompromised, thus we take many precautions to keep him safe. We wash our hands – a lot. We wear masks if we go out, and use hand sanitizer. I wipe down the groceries before they come in the house, and as a rule, I don’t go shopping for them in the store. I order them online, then go through the drive though that my grocery store offers and have the loaded in my vehicle. I order everything I possibly can online, trying to respect the delivery folks as much as possible by bundling my orders up and having a single delivery day. Neither of us has had a professional haircut in months (I’ve learned to cut my husband’s hair, and it actually doesn’t look too bad!), unlike you Mr. Patrick, who is freshly shorn by a stylist. I no longer enjoy luxuries I used to indulge in because they aren’t safe, like manicures or dining out. I wipe down surfaces in our home with bleach, as well as my car on the few occasions I do go out. I’ve seen my mother four times since March, and made her wear a mask each time. We do still attend church, but online. I will admit having gone to Home Depot but I don’t wander the aisles. I order what I need ahead of time when I can and have it waiting for me at customer service so I can get in and get out or have a plan so I am in and out quickly.

Now, maybe they don’t have these problems down in Texas, with folks getting sick or needing dialysis and transplants, or maybe Mr. Patrick, like so many members of the GOP is just so out of touch with real people and real problems that he’s just clueless to the realities of life. Of course, we’re now learning there is a third option, which is the public message they say on camera or through their Twitter feed, and the private message when they think few are listening. I suspect he knows the truth even if he won’t admit it publicly, and there isn’t one single thing he – or anyone else – can say to me to convince me to take risks that would endanger my husband’s life.

We’re under the age of 65 in this household, and have plenty of reason to NOT vote in person, Mr. Patrick. (And if you live in the Washington, DC area, as we learned this week you might have some new reasons for not voting in person, as POTUS and FLOTUS mutual COVID -19 diagnoses are the gift that keeps on giving.) Fortunately for us, we live in a progressive state that allows absentee voting without an excuse, and we are exercising that right. Neither you, your ignorance not your great desire to align with a man who believes that  herd mentality will save us, are going to put that at risk. And contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence of any kind that mailing in your ballot promotes voter fraud.

Note: Your vote counts. To find out if you can vote absentee in your state, and what the rule are, go to  Vote.org. If you are concerned, like many of us are, about Louis DeJoy and the efforts he has undertaken to undermine the ability of the USPS to deliver your vote on time, please look to see if there is a location near you in your county with a drop box for your ballot. In ours, there are a number of them where ballots can be dropped beginning weeks before the election, so we don’t need to rely on the post office. If you live in Texas, you won’t be so lucky as the governor there has restricted drop offs to one location per county.

Vote. It could be your last chance.

 

 

Thank You For Your Service

For the past 18 months, I’ve had the incredible honor of working in a role that supports members of the military and their families. Like many of you, I know that when you serve in the military, you might be stationed overseas, your spouse might be deployed not once or twice but multiple times and that while challenging, the benefits in serving are great. In spite of having family members who have served in the military as well as a number of friends and even a neighbor or two (thank you for your service, Uncle Denny, Uncle Al, Tim, Mark, Mary, Dave “Superstar!”, Stephanie, Bob and many others) and having a great uncle who was MIA in WWII and never came home, I never really appreciated what that meant before this job.

These people – the active duty members of the military and their families – sacrifice more than any of us can imagine. They miss birthdays, holidays, first steps, first communions, last days of school and last days of life. If stationed stateside and working in support roles, they might be fortunate enough to see their families every day, and are home for dinner. If they’re stationed what is referred to as OCONUS (Outside of the CONtinental US) then consider that the family packed up what they had and moved, perhaps for the umpteenth time, to a country where they may not speak the language and settle into a house that is probably not new, with appliances, fixtures and carpeting that have perhaps seen better days and no option to replace them because they’re living in military housing. They have to find an English language school for their kids, doctors, places to shop and then just about the time they get it all figured out, they have to pack up and do it again. For those that are deployed, family stays behind while the soldier is serving somewhere around the world, perhaps in a place that the family can’t even know about. When they can call home, they might be limited on the number of minutes allowed for the call and have to call at odd times of the day depending on where they are at, just to make up the time difference to call at normal times for their families. They do this without complaining and with amazing grace and dignity.

They are in service to our country. Think about what that means for a moment. They do what they do, so we can walk freely, speak freely, love freely. They keep us and our democracy safe. It’s selfless, the stress is unbelievable, and when they are serving in places like Afghanistan, Iraq or Kandahar, they don’t know if they’ll come home and hug their spouse or kids, their kids, in a coffin, or at all. I heard retired Major General Paul Eaton speak on TV two nights ago, and he said “our solders are taught to trust their commanders, to go where they are told and to fight for their country without question, because they trust that no matter what, their country will bring them home.” His voice was so full of passion and emotion, it was almost overwhelming to hear. Click here and watch his message on Twitter, and to see his interview with Rachel Maddow, click here. (The link goes to YouTube, the first part is an equally powerful interview with a Gold Star mother, and well worth watching. Eaton’s interview begins around the 12:50 mark.)

We are lucky here in the US. When we have an emergency, we can call 9-1-1 from any phone and help will come. If you call from a landline, they’ll even know your location without being told (unfortunately, that technology doesn’t exist with cell phones, so make sure to provide a location when calling from a cell phone.) When the military and their families are overseas, and an emergency arises, if they need an ambulance they may not be able to simply call 9-1-1 because not all countries have that. Some countries have other emergency codes, some have none at all. Imagine being in a country where you don’t speak the language, and have no way to pick up the phone and call to get an ambulance when you need one. How would you handle it?

I have no frame of reference what it would be like in combat, but would imagine it’s terrifying, regardless of how much training you’ve received, never knowing if the next step results in stepping on a hidden trigger device, or if you’re in the crosshairs of a gun and all the while having the sound of constant bombardment everywhere, day and night. How long would you last? Are you willing to put on battle fatigues, learn to follow orders without question, pick up a gun, and do what you’re told in cold, ice, snow, rain, sand, and desert heat, combined with unrelenting noise all the time, constant shelling and bombs everywhere?

My respect for the military  and their families is beyond what I can put into words, and it is my greatest honor to be in a role where I can continue working with nurses who support and help them every day. We try to make life just a little less difficult for them and from the comments I see and hear I know we are successful in doing that. This week, hearing Donald Trump call those in our military who were wounded, or didn’t come home “suckers” and “losers” makes me sick to my stomach and angry. Our military and their families do NOT deserve to be disrespected and invalidated like that.  A commander-in-chief who, according to a report in Vanity Fair

In one account, the president told senior advisers that he didn’t understand why the U.S. government placed such value on finding soldiers missing in action because they had performed poorly and gotten caught and deserved what they got, according to a person familiar with the discussion.

His disdain for our military is such that he and first wife Ivana said if their kids joined the military they would be “disowned in a second.” Let that sink in for a moment. Their message wasn’t “we don’t want you to do this because we’re afraid something will happen to you”, it was “we think so little of the military that we will kick you out of this family and it’s money if you become a part of it”. This is who you want leading your troops?

My grandmother watched every day at her kitchen window for years, hoping that would be the day she would see her baby brother come home from WWII. It wasn’t until many years later that she learned he had died in France, and how. We’ve never recovered his remains, and in the last year my mom started working with an agency that matches DNA to unidentified remains still there, in hopes we may still be able to bring him home. Mr. Trump, my Uncle Ches was NOT a sucker or a loser. He was a young man who unlike you, believed in serving his country and defending her against ALL enemies, foreign and domestic. He did so with honor, and yes, he, along with all the others who remain missing, deserve to come home and be buried on US soil.

One of our greatest gifts as a democracy is belonging to any political party we want to and then exercising our right to vote for our candidate of choice and to do so in private. That means you never need tell anyone who you voted for. (This is HUGE!)  However part of being a responsible voter is to evaluate what a candidate stands for, regardless of their party and vote for them based on their platform. What is their record? What have they done, not just what do they say? It’s not only OK to belong to one party and vote another, it’s acceptable, even responsible. You’ve already heard the phrase “Country over party” many times these last 4 years, and it means more now than ever. Please, regardless of the party you are affiliated with as a registered voter, vote for someone who respects and supports our military troops. If you aren’t a registered voter, please get registered. If you’re worried about voting with COVID, go to Vote.org and find out how you can vote absentee in your state. (Whatever you do, don’t try to vote absentee and then in person. It’s probably a felony in your state. )

It’s that important.

The Great Minnesota Stay Apart

 

Well kids, it’s that time of year again in Minnesota,  time to be thinking about putting away the white shoes (can’t wear ’em after Labor Day, you know!), stocking up on pens, pencils and getting the kiddos back to school and most of all, the Minnesota State Fair – except for this year. 

Here in Minnesota, our state fair is almost a state holiday, and today would have been opening day. It’s so iconic that all we have to do is refer to it as “The Great Minnesota Get Together” and everyone knows what we’re talking about. The people watching! The shows! The food! The dairy barn! The midway! It’s all there, no matter who you are and what you enjoy for interests and hobbies. Unless you are genuinely afraid of crowds, the fair is one of the biggest parties of the year. While Texas is technically the largest state fair in the country with 2.25 million visitors each year, I would argue that Minnesota is the clear winner. Consider this: Sure, Texas has more visitors, but it takes them 24 days to get all those folks. We hit 2 million in 10 days last year. And Fair Park, where the Texas State Fair is held is ONLY 277 acres, compared to our 322 acres. So by both physical size and daily attendance, we are the largest. 

I think most Minnesotans (and nearby Wisconsinites and Iowans) are in mourning with the cancellation of the fair this year. There is an an event coming up where folks had a chance to get tickets for a “State Fair Food Parade” and get some of the fair food like donuts, cheese curds, french fries and lots of other wonderful fair foods. Tickets were $20, and the plan is that you drive in to a proscribed route and purchase what you want. Apparently the site to buy the tickets crashed, it was so popular, and the event was completely sold out in something like 30 minutes. I’m about ready to go out and buy a deep fryer, just to make my own cheese curds and mini donuts. My husband and I go to the fair every year, and yep, each of us have our usual food favorites including spaghetti on a stick (mine), cheese curds (his) and Sweet Martha’s Cookies (ours).

What? You say you’ve never had Sweet Martha’s Cookies? Gosh, I don’t know what to tell you except they are kind of an out of this world experience. Imagine feeling tired and weary, having been on your feet all day.

 

Now get a plastic bucket about 8″ across and 6″ deep heaping with fresh, still-warm-from-the-oven soft chocolate chip cookies and a glass of cold milk. There isn’t anything better. (And when I say heaping, I’m SO not kidding. The workers pile the cookies in the bucket while you watch, and keep piling them until no more can be added without the next cookie falling off. Only then do they quit, giving you the lid to your bucket on the side. So of course you must eat some before you can put the lid on to head home!

We also love our people watching. We’ve seen just about every combination of attire, hair and makeup that you can imagine. I’m talking about guys in women’s clothes (but more like they just came from dress rehearsal for a really weird play) or women in guys outfits or someone dug in their mom’s closet and pulled out an outfit from 1967 and thought “hey, this will get attention” and put it on! Then there is the blue, purple and green hair, sometimes all three on the same person! It is so much fun to get a glass of cold lemonade and some finger food, find a bench to sit on near the grandstand and just watch people. Then there is the music, which is all day long at the fair, much of it free. With several different stages located throughout the park, and a variety of musical acts booked, virtually all tastes can be satisfied. Polka, rock, country, kids, Christian…it’s all there. About 10 years ago we were walking around one evening after dark and hear this woman singing on one of the free stages. Her voice was beautiful, absolutely haunting. We sat down on the grass and listened to her, and she was wonderful. She talked about how she really loved to visit here because her grandparents were from here so she had really good memories of Minnesota. Her songs were fantastic and we knew we were hearing someone that was on the edge of a career really getting started. We bought her CD – The Story – and  I doubt you’ll find Brandi Carlisle giving free concerts now ANYWHERE, but it sure was great being at that one.

I’m sad we can’t be at the fair this year. I understand it, and am completely in agreement with the decision to not have one this year, but like most of our state, it just doesn’t seem like the end of summer without the fair. I look forward to our traditions like going to the DNR building to watch the fish pond, or climbing the fire tower to look out over the fairgrounds. If I’m really lucky, I’m there the same day as either my niece or nephew and can meet up with them in the beer gardens. Last year my nephew’s girlfriend was there and spent a little time with us, which was wonderful. We even ran into my niece unexpectedly outside the food court – 200,000 of your closest friends roaming around 300 acres, and she spots me from a few yards off! What a lovely and unexpected surprise.

I hope by this time next year we’re all returning to our traditions, they’re so special, and maybe I’ll get to surprise my niece, her husband and their new baby next time.