Ventura County Fair

by Rachel on August 14, 2011

Proud 4H Kids

The Ventura County Fair 2011

We had a variety of goals in mind when we set out for the Ventura County Fair.  My childhood friend Helen and her nephew were visiting and Helen is the doyenne of homemade jams and jellies having won many prizes at the New Mexico State Fair.  She and I wanted to check out the competition should we decide to enter the Fair next year with our kitchen creations (I’ll keep you posted on how we do).  My sons were with us as well and after two summers living in London paying visits to the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh, Scotland – they were eager to see American farm animals (complete with birth certificates, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that every single one of them was eligible to run for President).  And last but not least, no one attends a fair in the United States of America with three pre-teen boys without spending at least two hours on the Midway watching the children shriek as they are flung through the air on various frightful looking metal torture devices masquerading as carnival rides.

A mid-week visit to the Ventura Fair is totally manageable when it comes to crowds.  It’s busy, but not overwhelming and to the Fair organizer’s credit, making one’s way through the ticket booths and ticket takers is a snap.  Last summer in England we spent a dreadful 90 minutes getting into the Farnborough Air Show and I was dreading massive lines combined with slowpoke ticket takers, but found nothing but smooth sailing.  We Americans do excel at logistics and crowd management, unlike many of our European brethren, and I am thankful for it.  The rest of you should be too.  If you aren’t, read a few of my travel blog posts about getting in an out of say, Versailles, or the Hermitage, or the Museum of Natural History in London.

Hungry Sheep

Listen, there's something I need to speak to you about...

A boy and his pig

Once in the gates, we decided that animals, food (not to eat, to look at) and then RIDES were our three priorities, in that order.  While the animals at the Scottish Royal Highland Show are owned and raised by adults, and shown by grown-ups in jackets and ties, the animals at the Ventura County Fair are raised and paraded about by proud teens in 4-H uniforms.  No Highland Goats owned by the Queen but rather sheep and pigs owned by kids from Fillmore.  The vast majority of the rabbits, chickens and cavis were absolutely adorable and there were a handful of pigs that were damn cute as well.  Once we’d had our fill of fab farm animals we made our way to the Home Arts Pavilion.  Competitive jam making is completely absent in British Fairs.  This appears to be a purely American pursuit – perhaps because we are obsessed with competition of any kind.  We just want to be first at everything even if it is simply first at making cinnamon bread.  What disappointed me about the food competition area is that other than having a ribbon pinned to it – one can learn absolutely nothing about any of the submitted foods.  There is no indication of what’s in any particular item, the recipe, or anything else.  This seems an obvious piece of the puzzle that has been left out.  Don’t we all want our chance to make the prize winning banana bread in our own kitchen, or to head right home inspired to make first place jam, or third place pickled corn?  But you can’t, you see.  No recipes are provided.  No little flyers are handed out with a link to a website where one could gaze at one’s leisure at the winners and their recipes.  This seems so obviously overlooked, so clearly necessary, that I wonder why no one has demanded it in the past.

All lined up and ready to party

Pick me, no, pick ME!

First prize!

The other gaping hole in the Ventura County Fair experience also relates to food.  You see, although one whole half of the Fair celebrates homemade baked goods, jams, and jellies, handmade quilts and tea cozies and locally raised pigs, goats, sheep and chickens – locally raised fruits and vegetables are completely absent – and even more disappointing, one cannot buy a single locally produced food item to eat there or take home.  Not a one.  There isn’t a local orange to peel and savor, or a bushel of apricots to take home and can.  No local baker is hawking his or her savory pies, tarts and cookies.  No local beekeeper is selling honey.  No local olive grower is selling olive oil.  Why highlight the local school kids raising a pig and completely leave out all of the hard working farmers in the area raising strawberries, avocados, corn, citrus, etc…?  Ventura County is FULL of farms supplying all sorts of fruits, vegetables and herbs to the California and US market basket.  They certainly deserve their place in the sun (or in this case in the incessant, unrelenting August fog).  Hey – Ventura County Fair organizers, next year let’s see a farmer’s market and a bunch of slots in the mid-section of the fair where local vendors can sell food and drink.  And how about a prize-winning zucchini to go along with that prize-winning pig?  Though many fair attendees want nothing more than to sample Deep Fried Kool Aid, greasy ribs and tepid Budweiser, there are surely some who would prefer a local microbrew (of which there are several), a locally made sandwich with recognizable ingredients and a peach.  I count myself among them.

Fried Zucchini

The always appealing, Fried Cheese Curds

The final stop on our full-day County Fair adventure was The Midway.  Only slightly less rusty looking than the horrid carnival rides we found last summer in Paris (where I believe the locals’ likelihood to sue is slightly lower), the amusement park section of the Ventura County Fair is a body spinning, gut wrenching, brain matter spattering Tour-de-Force just as you’d expect.  The only thing that has changed on these rides in the last 40 years is the quintuple increase in warning signage that peppers the front of each one.  Don’t ride this ride if you’re pregnant, or afraid of heights, or have heart disease or are of sane mind.  Really people, only ride this ride if you’re ten.  Everyone else should run screaming back to the pigs.  Our three lads sampled a large number of the ghastly metal beasts, leaving me wishing I’d brought a Valium or an Ambien or at least an impossible to remove blindfold, since the stress of watching them swing violently this way and that was clearly equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day for a year.  I’m certain it took 12 months off my life.  The kids saved the most atrociously awful looking ride for last, and thank goodness for that, since my latter born looked a whiter shade of pale when he disembarked and didn’t regain his color for nearly an hour.  Everyone has a limit.  He discovered his at the Ventura County Fair.

This is all news to me

So, should you go to the Ventura County Fair?  Absolutely.  But take an iron stomach both for the rides and for the meal offerings!

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Hampton Court Flower Show

by Rachel on September 30, 2010

Hampton Court Flower Show

One of the things I admire most about the Brits is their love and support for public and private gardens.  Their parks are outstanding and ubiquitous.  Big British cities like London bear no resemblance to our American urban centers for lots of reasons.  The age of the architecture matters, but one of the other things that is starkly different is the prevalence of public green space.  A walk through London inevitably and invariably takes the walker through one public garden or another.  Gorgeous formal plantings provide resplendent swaths of color.  Wide-open spaces with walkways and waterways make room for children and adults of every age to walk, run, bike or scooter with reckless abandon.  It’s a glorious thing.

Lovely, so lovely.

We have flower shows in the US but putting them in the same category as British flower shows is a bit like serving Velveeta on a platter with Gruyere.  Michael Pollan and I think the former would best be employed as floor tile.  I’m certain that the two products have similar chemical compositions, and I’m not much for eating floor tile, at least not if there are other options available.

Beauties, All.

In 2009 we missed the Hampton Court Flower Show by a single day.  I was not going to make the same mistake twice.  On opening day 2010 my nephew, my flower loving children and I made our way to King’s Cross to take the train from London to Hampton Court.  Not an expert on Hampton Court nor on British trains, I noted that our car was a tad crowded, but didn’t think too much about it.  The train was bustling at the first stop, but by the time we pulled into Hampton Court Station it was mobbed.  We exited the train along with half the population of southern England and made our way with the horde to the gates of the Flower Show.  In the US you only see such crowds for Presidential Inaugurations or clearance sales at Walmart – certainly not to gaze wistfully at daffodils.  Passing through the gates to get in took nearly an hour, with a brief detour to negotiate with a splendid British Steward who was convinced I would lose my children inside the grounds (I didn’t – never have – but perhaps the other American tourists he’s encountered have a propensity to discard their offspring like so much unwanted litter).  He put wristbands on the boys with my British mobile number emblazoned in purple Sharpie.  This was not a bad plan since none of us had managed to memorize the 47-digit prime number that was necessary to successfully dial my “mobile.”  I continue to find it mysterious that they need that many digits.  The whole country has the population of Rhode Island or Delaware, or one of the other smallish states whose license plates never seem to roll by when we’re on a road trip playing the license plate game in the US.  In any case, with a good random number generator you’d think that the whole thing could be handled with 7 or 8 digits, not the 36 that they seem to need.

More Beauties.

I want these in my yard.

Armed with excellent wristbands and a massive map we entered flower wonderland.  The wait was worth it.  The Hampton Court Flower show is massive.  Giant white tents dot the landscape – each one filled with plants more beautiful and awesome than the last.  The open-air areas include all sorts of “outdoor rooms” built by large corporations ranging from banks to tractor companies.  Proper Brits by the thousands walked quietly past the outdoor rooms admiring the amazing plantings, products and handiwork.  Everything you’d ever want for your garden and lots of things you never imagined existed were for sale, from water fountains to seeds, to tools, to landscape design services.  The kids and I could easily have stayed a week, or comfortably moved in. We did see a number of discarded American children, but I keep mine safely by my side knowing that trashing them was out of the question. They finally had my phone number.

One of the outdoor rooms.

Fun with succulents.

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The London Borough Market

July 28, 2010

I remain completely besotted with the London Borough Market.  Situated under a glass roof just up river from the Globe Theater and the Millennium Bridge, the Borough Market is a bustling street market filled with baked goods, candies, meats, savory pies, and mobs of hungry tourists, including my fine family members.  The photographic possibilities are [...]

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Henley on Thames

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Summer Travel Adventures: 2010

July 22, 2010

We have had the good fortune to spend two summers in a row based in London.  My husband has been posted in the London office of his California-based company while I have run an exclusive five-star camp for two lucky attendees, my offspring.  I allow visiting relatives and friends to attend “Camp Stern” free of [...]

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London for Smart Kids

March 3, 2010

Smart Travel 4 Smart Kids: London
London is a world-class smart kid destination.  We spent nearly 11 weeks prowling the environs without running out of novel things to do.  The following list could keep you busy for two days, a full week or two.  I’ve listed the sights in the order I would approach them, and [...]

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Santa Barbara: Casual, Affordable Eats

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Affordable Eats in Santa Barbara:
Even we obsessed cooks take a break from the kitchen occasionally.  Affordable eats in Santa Barbara that will satisfy fussy home chefs and hungry families include Jane on State Street downtown, Los Arroyos on Coast Village Road in Montecito, Brophy Brothers at the Harbour, Tupelo Junction for breakfast/lunch and if you [...]

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Santa Barbara: Smart Travel 4 Smart Kids

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Smart kids pose unique challenges at home and on the road.  I have traversed much of the globe with two outspoken smart kids in tow.  The guidebook industry is generally pitched at childless travelers and the few kid-focused guidebooks out there are at worst focused on getting you from Legoland to Disneyland and back and [...]

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Kid’s daypack essentials for a day of international exploring

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Now that you’ve packed your kid’s carry-on let’s move on to what they should have with them for a day of international exploring.  First, let me be clear, I think that any child who no longer needs diapers can wear a small backpack and help out with the schlepping.  I also think they can help [...]

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What to pack in a carry-on for kids traveling internationally:

February 5, 2010

In general I’m in favor of children learning responsibility at an early age and I believe they should have to live with the consequences of their actions, or in this case, the consequences of their packing oversights.  However, it is one thing to go to Santa Barbara for a summer weekend without your flip-flops and [...]

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