Thursday, March 31, 2016

Renaissance Festival 2016

Mary with her favorite Drabbit at the Arizona Renaissance Festival.
March 26, 2016

Last weekend was the final weekend of the annual Arizona Renaissance Festival, which runs from the first weekend of February to the last weekend of March. On Saturday, our whole family (except Jacob and Danielle, of course, since they are in Utah) was able to spend the day enjoying the shops and shows for which the festival is renowned. 

Mary always gets her hair braided at the festival ($25) so she can stay cool.
The desert temperature was in the low-80s during our visit.

We arrived just after 9:00 that morning, which put us near the front of the line, which grows to be quite long by the time the gates open at 10:00. If you're at the back of the line, it can take nearly 30 minutes to get inside, and I hate to lose that much of my festival play-time. It's also better to be near the gates because you can hear the humorous banter between members of the royal family and other Renaissance folk during the last half-hour before the gates open.

Because of my hair's length, I always get the braided "crown."

Once the gates opened, I made a beeline for the braiding tent to have my hair french-braided before a line could form. I've learned that it gets uncomfortably hot by mid-afternoon if my hair is on my neck. Usually I wear my pearl-wrapped, soft blue roundlet and its attached black veil over the braid, but I was aghast to realized I'd left it at home this time. The Renaissance Festival is, of course, pretty much my only opportunity to wear a roundlet. Many people at the festival dress up to the hilt in Renaissance costumes, so I felt kind of bare without it!

Dang! For the first time ever, I forgot to bring my royal roundlet and veil!
So I just had to buy this beautiful blue-jeweled circlet instead!

Luckily, I soon discovered a shop selling the most amazing array of delicate jewel-and-chain circlets, and I quickly found the perfect one with pale blue stones to match my roundlet. Next year I can wear them both together! (That's if I don't forget them both!)

We spent a few minutes watching this glass-blower's amazing handiwork.

Once my braid was done, we spent the next hour and a half exploring the festival's more than two-hundred shops and artisans. I always wish I had a thousand dollars to spend on the whimsically creative goods on display. On this trip I did, in fact, have three hundred dollars that I'd been setting aside for several months so I could purchase a few items I'd had my eye on for years. The circlet was NOT on my list, but it was my only splurge for the day. Everything else was a planned purchase.

An area featuring the medieval lifestyle, from outdoor cooking to spinning cloth.

Besides the hundreds of shops, there are also dozens of shows on thirteen stages throughout the festival grounds, as well as medieval (man-powered) amusement park-type rides (for an extra fee). There are also a petting zoo and elephant rides and, for the kids, llama rides. If you're not faint-of-heart, there is a dark and claustrophobic display of medieval torture devices, as well. I've gone through it twice over the years and decided to forego that particular pleasure this time around.

A new show this year was the Sea Fairies (mermaids).

Personally, I've always been more about the shops than the shows, although I do have a few that are favorites. We always attend the jousts (three times daily) and I love to listen to the bagpipes of Tartanic. We caught a few new ones this year, including the brand new Sea Fairies.

A mermaids pops out of the water to greet her visitors...

...then she slipped back into the tank to swim about for the cameras.

When swashbuckling Captain Francis Drake stepped up,
Chris was quick to ask for a selfie with him.
In his British accent, the captain quipped, "What's a selfie?"

After Chris snapped the first shot, Capt. Drake said,
"Oh, I've heard of these! Wait, I know the face one is supposed to do."
So Chris got a great pic of himself and the captain's perfectly pouty lips!

Sarah and Chris pose with a second, fish-out-of-water mermaid.

I missed the first two jousting events. Three days before this trip, I'd woken up with a nasty chest cold. It hit hard and fast, and I was still pretty miserable on our day at the Renaissance Festival. I was wheezing and coughing and clammy all over, with sinus pressure behind my eyes and ears, but I still managed to have a great time. The real problem was that my energy was easily depleted.

The elusive Green Man appeared from between two buildings
while I was resting, so I snapped some pictures of him.

The Renaissance festival has grown to be a very large village, probably much larger than many actual villages were back in medieval times, and the jousting arena is at the opposite end of the festival grounds from the entrance. By the time we headed back toward the arena for the joust, I'd already been on my feet for more than two hours, and halfway there I knew I was never going to make it. So I sat at a picnic table and told Sarah, Chris, and Mark to go ahead without me. It was good to just sit and watch the world around me for about twenty minutes.

I'd always wanted to see the Living Fountain show at Pan's Oasis, 
but we'd never found time. This time I caught the very end of the show
as I walked by on my way to meet the others after the joust.

Once I'd recovered some energy, I slowly continued on toward the arena and met them as they were leaving after the event. They had joined Dylan and Jake at the joust, who had gone off on their own earlier with their friends Destiny and Chris, but they'd split off from Sarah's group again when the joust was over. I had thought we'd all have lunch together, but it turned out they had eaten earlier in the day (by now it was about 12:30).

What I saw of the Living Fountain was pretty awesome.
Next year I'll see the entire show for sure!

However, we all ran into each other again sooner than expected at one of my favorite shops. I had been telling Jake about this shop that sold the coolest wands and most amazing wizardly staffs, and how I was going to buy myself one of each this year, so I guess I shouldn't have been surprised to find him and Dylan there.

Jake, Mary, and Dylan show off their new wands.

I started out looking at the bigger. earthier, costlier wands ($25) on the top shelf, but I was disappointed that none of them really seemed to fit my style. The cheaper wands ($15) on the lower shelves hadn't interested me because they'd seemed almost mundane, even cookie-cutter-ish. But then Jake pulled one out that was pretty unique and showed it to me, so I took a closer look at the selection. And there it was: a delicate swirl of  silvery-blue wood with a slender vein of violet twined around it. I knew that one was mine. After all, "the wand chooses the wizard."

Jake, who is a huge fan of Dr. Who, found a wand that was topped with TARDIS (the blue "police box" in which Dr. Who travels through time and space) and he knew it was the one for him. Dylan found another TARDIS wand, but when I saw him holding it I said, "You don't even like Dr. Who! Keep looking. If your wand is in there, you'll know it when you see it." A few minutes later he came over and excitedly showed me The One. It was red-gold (red is his favorite color) and had a cool dragon burned into the wood of the handle. "This is it, Mom," he said. "I knew it as soon as I saw the dragon." The wand chooses the wizard...

Mary with her new staff. (Not too fond of this photo;
it definitely highlights the swollen glands in my neck!)

The shop also has a large collection of lovely staffs. I was looking for one with a glass ball in a filigreed-type silver setting, hopefully in blue and/or purple, with a staff made from a light-colored natural wood, but the shopkeeper said they'd only had a few blue-colored staffs, which had sold out during the first few weeks of the festival. So I had to settle, although I do love the purple orb and the flame-like, red-gold metal fixing it to the top of the staff, as well as the beautiful wood grain in the staff itself. The green leather wrap seems to clash with the color scheme--a rich, deep violet would have been perfect--but otherwise I'm pleased with my new staff.

After lunch we spotted Dylan and Jake on this bridge nearby.

After making our purchases, we went our separate ways again. Sarah, Chris, Mark, and I went to get some lunch. There aren't many low-card options at the festival (I don't care for turkey legs, though Mark and Dylan love them), but I did pretty well by ordering roasted chicken with a small side of mashed potatoes (no gravy). The potatoes were delicious, and I figured they were at least healthier carbs that ordering something containing white flour.

Sometime after lunch we stopped into another favorite old shop.
Chris actually bought this little blue Drabbit, which I think he named "Blue."
It perches on your shoulder and moves its head all around and up and down.
Kinda freakish, but we love them.

We stopped to enjoy harpist Sarah Mullen.

Mark wanted to see the fire show.

Geoff Marsh juggled fire, among other things.

His bit using children to balance spinning plates was hilarious.

This artisan does some creepy things with stretched leather!
Someday I will have a bookshelf in my house that looks like this!

I've decided that when I finally finish my book, sell it, and get rich, I'm going to buy myself a slightly larger home with a nice den, and that den will become my "Magic Room." In this room I will have artifacts from the books I love. My wand will be displayed on a rack, and my staff will rest in a corner. On a side table will be a Hogwarts chess set, and the Marauder's Map will be framed on the wall. The One Ring will reside in a place of honor, under a glass dome. You get the idea. And it simply must have a row of books with wrinkled covers and glowing eyes!

This man puts one-of-a-kind faces on everything!

I finally made it to the final joust of the day, at 5:00.

Luscious desserts for the end of the day at The Chocolate Shop,
but nothing sugar-free to be had. After consulting with the proprietors,
we determined that the "Lusty Wench" was the best choice with the least sugar.
It was my planned cheat for the day!

I left the joust a few minutes early so I could get good seats for Tartanic.
I love the sound of bagpipes (I even bought their CD this time)
and, besides, rugged men in kilts are just plain sexy!

The Queen and her royal party made a surprise visit and danced to the
sound of Tartanic's bagpipes.

It was a lovely, fun-filled day, and I managed to survive despite being so sick. The Renaissance Festival ends at 6:00, but it's always after 6:30 by the time we make our way to the gates and out to our vehicles. Then a three-hour drive took us home, and with us we took home another year's worth of happy memories. See you next year, Renaissance Festival!

A brief clip of the show by Tartanic (aka "Men Without Pants")
at the Arizona Renaissance Festival on March 26, 2016.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Concert Night

David Archuleta (age 25) on stage in Queen Creek.
March 25, 2016

Last Friday, we all left the mountain around 10:30 in the morning and drove down to the Valley...again. This time it was all for fun. On Saturday we would be spending the day at the Renaissance Festival near Apache Junction, but on Friday night we attended a long-awaited concert by a favorite of our family, David Archuleta. David was a finalist (with rocker David Cook) on the seventh season of American Idol in May 2008. We were wild about him and sure he would take first place, but he was runner-up with 44% of more than 97 million votes. Not too shabby.

Since then, we have enjoyed his albums and continued to follow him, even when he took a two-year break from his burgeoning musical career to serve a mission to Chile for our church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka Mormons). When Sarah learned he would be in Queen Creek, Arizona, for two concerts this month, she was quick to get online and order tickets for our family.

Ordering dinner at Olive Garden, left to right: Dylan's friends Destiny and Chris;
Brianna and Bryce; Sarah and Chris; Cami and Jeremy; and the brim of Mark's hat!
March 25, 2016

We arrived at our hotel in Phoenix ( really let me down this time--I was trying for a hotel on the other side of the Valley, like in east Mesa or Gilbert, nearer to the concert venue) at 2:00 and got checked in. After we rested up for an hour, we headed all the way back to Queen Creek (about 30 minutes from our hotel) to meet some fellow concert-goers for an early dinner before the show.

Dylan, Jake, Destiny, and Chris strike a pose in Olive Garden.

Probably the biggest David Archuleta fans in our family are my daughter, Sarah, and my niece Brianna. We didn't know until after we had our tickets that Brianna, her husband Bryce, my nephew Jeremy (Brianna's older brother), and his wife Cami had also bought tickets for the same performance. In fact, they had the exact same seats we had, except seven rows behind us.

Mark and I were there at dinner, too!

Our early dinner turned out to be not-so-early when we found out we'd have to wait an hour to seat our party of twelve at Oregano's, our first dinner stop. So we all crossed the street and landed at Olive Garden. We still ended up waiting more than 30 minutes, since the previous party at our intended tables lingered an extra-long time to chit-chat after their meal.

Sarah (who insisted on the aisle seat in order to be closer to David),
Mary, Mark, Dylan, and Chris await the start of the concert.

Despite the wait, dinner was delicious. Afterward, we dropped Jake, Destiny, and Chris at a nearby theater so they could see a movie while we attended the concert, and then we headed over to the Queen Creek Performing Arts Center for the show. The theater was packed with more than 700 fans of all ages; in fact, they'd added the second performance because the first show sold out so quickly.

Bryce, Brianna, Jeremy, and Cami in their seats a few rows back.
It's blurry because I used my camera and snapped the shot too quickly.
I was worried someone might confiscate my camera if I used it openly!

The opening act was a trio of redheaded sisters called Firefly.
They've recorded albums in Nashville but grew up in Queen Creek.

As it turned out, it was quite all right to take as many pictures as you wanted, so I did. The opening act by Firefly featured country music by a cute group of redheaded sisters, with help by their younger, red-haired brother. They were adorable and their music was fun. Firefly's portion of the show lasted about thirty minutes.

David Archuleta takes the stage! We were seated pretty close.

For most of us, of course, the concert didn't truly begin until David himself took the stage. He performed for more than an hour and a half, including two encores at the end, with his beautiful rendition of "Glorious" as his final song. (See brief clip below.) 

From the beginning, when we first became acquainted with him via American Idol in 2007, when he was a boy of just sixteen years, I've admired the faith and humility of David Archuleta as much as I've loved the simple and pure tone of his voice, and each of those attributes was manifested in his performance. Throughout the concert, listening to the quality of his voice, I just kept thinking, "Flawless."

David Archuleta at the piano.

I only had two issues with the concert. First, despite the fact that the tickets went on sale while Sarah was at work (as we all were that day), she managed to arrange it so she could be online right after they went on sale to purchase front row seats. We paid for the most expensive seats available, expressly because Sarah wanted to be able to see David up-close and personal.

However, when we took our seats we discovered that they had placed two rows of folding chairs between our row and the stage. This might not have been so annoying except that we were at the bottom of the sloped floor where it's flat, so our theater seats--which were considerably shorter than the folding chairs--were not elevated by the usual tiered system. Thus, the people in the folding chairs blocked quite a lot of our view of both the stage and the performers. 

Behind us, a sea of teeny-boppers wave the flashlight apps 
on their cell phones during one of David Archuleta's songs.

Nonetheless, I tried to stay positive. I told myself they just wanted to allow more fans to enjoy the concert (although I noticed they didn't put any extra seats at the back of the hall), so it was all good. I even maintained my good attitude when I realized that most of the group seated in those folding chairs, with their knees right against the stage, were a bunch of teeny-boppers who screamed and jumped up and waved their arms in the air every time David walked anywhere near their edge of the stage. 

After all, I was in their shoes once upon a time, when my best friend Peggi and I used to stalk the Osmond Brothers, dreaming of one day becoming Mrs. Alan Osmond (me) and Mrs. Merrill Osmond (Peggi). We even sat with our knees against the stage for two Osmond performances at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas when we were both just 18, in 1973. I remember the excitement and adrenaline of being so close to our crushes.

David Archuleta in concert.

And so I held on to my patience, right up until...granny-bopper. While the youthful fans jumped up and down throughout the concert, granny-bopper would leap to her feet and remain standing throughout almost the entire songs. It wasn't that she was having difficulty seeing, because she was one of those sitting knees-to-stage on the folding chairs, with a completely unimpeded view of everything. No, she was a wannabe teeny-bopper.

I'm not exaggerating. She was a tiny thing and at first I thought she was one of the thirteen-year-olds. I barely noticed her until she began to stay on her feet for extended periods of time. Naturally, she was seated directly between me and the microphone, so when David was center-stage, I literally could not see him past her dark little silhouette with its tall hair. Once she'd drawn my attention, I quickly noticed the turkey-skin of her thin arms and the brittle, bleached blondish hair that was ratted into a modest beehive 'do. Then, when she turned and showed me her profile, it was clear that this woman was pushing seventy. I thought, "What the heck!"

David Archuleta in concert. He's only about 5'6" tall,
but after the concert we girls all noted that we'd been mesmerized 
by the size of his hands! Long fingers and strong hands of a pianist.

I won't say she ruined the concert for me, but granny-bopper was a thorn in my side for most of the performance. I became a contortionist just so I could get pictures of David without her blocking the shots. That's her bleached head you see in the foreground in many of these pictures. Meanwhile, she continued to leap from her chair and throw her arms in the air and swoon over David Archuleta while ignoring the fact that there were other paying attendees seated behind her. She even attempted to grab David's hand every time he came too close to her. He seemed to avoid her somehow, although there were some near-misses. Even Cami and Brianna noticed her antics from their seats.

At least the real teeny-boppers had the good grace to sit back down after their outbursts of passionate fandom. Granny-bopper, you need to get a clue! 

Of course, there was that one teeny-bopper who jumped on the stage to grab David Archuleta's water bottle, which he'd left on the stage by the microphone stand (he'd commented on how much water and Chapstick he'd needed since coming to Arizona, which is a fact). At least granny-bopper didn't embarrass herself by doing that. Although it did cross my mind that she might wrestle that little girl to the ground trying to take the water bottle from her...

Sarah with a table laden with David Archuleta posters, shirts, and CDs.
The lady on the right was showing me the sale price for the poster.

We were hoping that, after the concert, David Archuleta would come out to sign autographs and CDs and pose for pictures, like Taylor Hicks did when Sarah and I attended his show in Las Vegas in 2013. Sarah had even brought one of David's latest CDs to be autographed. But, alas, we were to be disappointed. So we settled for taking pictures with David Archuleta posters and tee-shirts.

My niece Brianna takes a turn with the David Archuleta memorabilia.
She wanted people to know she was really there!

We'd planned to end the night by going out together for ice cream, but by the time we left the performing arts center it was 10:30 and everything was closed except drive-throughs. So we headed back to our hotel to get as much sleep as we could, because we'd have to  be up bright and early the next morning for the Renaissance Festival!

Jeremy and Cami were really there, too!

If you're a David Archuleta fan, please enjoy these following short clips from the concert.

The tail-end of the final song of David Archuleta's concert, "Glorious"

David did a medley of songs from the film Tarzan, and this is my favorite: "You'll Be in My Heart"

Here's a little taste of the rest of the Tarzan medley.

And finally, here's the first song of David Archuleta's encore at the end of his concert.
He just seemed to come alive while he sang in the language of his forefathers and his Chilean mission.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Valley Business

March 1, 2016: Mary is reunited with her new car!

Nine days after our trip to Mesa for my sister Karla's wedding, the same weekend in which the power steering in my "new" 2009 Chevy Traverse pooped out on me and left us stranded, we returned to the Valley to handle some family business. And that first order of business was, of course, to pick up my car from Chapman Chevrolet in Tempe, where the tow truck had left it on February 21st.

I was pretty sure I was headed for a fight with the dealership that sold me the car. It's not that I believed they purposely sold me a bad car; I just figured that their mechanic had overlooked the problem and thus they should take responsibility for a vehicle that had started exhibiting serious problems less than two weeks after I purchased it from them. And, I admit, trusting in auto dealerships to be reasonable isn't high on my trust-o-meter.

The day after we'd gotten home from Mesa, leaving my car behind, I'd stopped at my mechanic's garage after school and spoken to him about the situation. He said he would be glad to provide a statement that he'd seen my Traverse and had told me that the power steering needed attention on the 15th day after I'd bought it. This was important because in Arizona the "Lemon Law" requires dealerships to fix any problems that occur in the first fifteen days after a used car is purchased, with no more than a $25 cost to the car's new owner. However, my mechanic said it shouldn't be an issue because it had always been a policy of the dealerships in our area (where he'd used to work for several years) to repair any issues that arose in the first thirty days after an auto purchase.

That had made me feel a little better, but I was still loaded for bear when I'd gone straight from my mechanic to the dealership. You see, the mechanic from Chapman Chevrolet, Raul, had already called me that morning to report on his findings, and I'd become rather stressed over the money involved. 

First, Raul told me that a crack in my power steering fluid reservoir had widened, spilling out all the fluid onto the engine and hot belts and exhaust system. Thus, the acrid burning smell and copious smoke billowing out of my car on the night it had become undrivable. Unfortunately, the "Cadillac of warranties" that my dealership had convinced me to purchase for an additional $3,000 had already informed Raul that the reservoir was not a covered part. So to replace it was going to cost me about $350, and it had to be replaced before Raul could check the rest of the power steering system.

I asked Raul not to do anymore work on my car until I could speak to my dealership. He agreed, but told me that I already had a bill of $147 for what he had done so far. Now maybe you can imagine my frame of mind when I descended in wrath upon my dealership on that Monday after school.

Luckily for the dealers, I kept my wrath inside and managed to stay calm while I described what was going on. They brought in their mechanic, who admitted he might have missed the crack. He said he would call Chapman's mechanic to find out why the cost was so high and then decide whether it would be cheaper to tow the car here and fix it themselves or leave it in Tempe for Chapman to repair. The manager of the dealership was sympathetically horrified by our ordeal and, when I mentioned the Lemon Law, he put up a hand and said that wasn't a concern, they would take care of it.

After our visit with the dealership, Mark kept reassuring me that when the manager said, "We'll take care of it," he'd meant they would cover the costs. But I didn't rest easy until three days later, when Raul called me on Thursday to tell me that my car was ready for its long drive back home. I said, "Please tell me my balance is zero." He laughed and said, "Your balance is zero."

It turned out that, once the reservoir was replaced, they also found a slow leak in the rack and pinion (whatever that is), which was covered by my warranty. All the costs beyond that were covered by my dealership, and I express my gratitude to Horne Motor Company for their honesty and support during that very stressful time.

And so we picked up my car and drove it all over the Valley for two days before driving it the 175 miles and 7,000 feet uphill to get back home, and everything went great. It was a smooth drive and a huge relief! (I should explain that my darling daughter Sarah had loaned us her Jeep Liberty to get us to the Valley, and we'd left her with my old, rattly Pontiac Vibe).

Extended Stay America in Tempe

Thankfully, our hotel this time was much nicer than our last one. It was clean and quiet and smelled nice. It even had a kitchenette, although we didn't really stay long enough to use more than the refrigerator. Mark enjoyed their free continental breakfast, but I stayed in the room and feasted on my usual deviled eggs, plus some strawberries and some sugar-free hot cocoa.

Our hotel room for one night

Alyssum in the flowerbed outside the hotel office.

It definitely felt like spring in the Valley. Not only was it a balmy 80 degrees, but the scent of blossoms filled the air everywhere we went. My all-time favorite floral scent is the scent of alyssum, that tiny white flower that's found in gardens everywhere, but I also love the heady scent of orange blossoms, which you can smell no matter where you go in the Valley at this time of year. Unfortunately, I'm also mildly allergic to orange blossoms, so my sinuses were pretty stuffy by the time we started for home.

Orange blossoms were blooming everywhere.

Dylan and Jake wait for their dinners at Chili's in Payson.

We returned home the next day, Wednesday, after meeting with the lawyer who's handling some family business for Mark. We took a different route home than usual this time, due to the blasting going on between the cities of Superior and Globe-Miami to widen the highway that winds through the rocky foothills. So, instead of taking the Superstition Highway east to Globe-Miami and northeast to our home in the White Mountains, we took the Beeline Highway north to Payson and from there highway 260 east toward home.

That meant finding somewhere for dinner in Payson, since we arrived there just after 6:30. We used to travel through Payson often to reach Mesa when our children were small, but over the years we came to prefer the Globe-Miami route and rarely go through Payson anymore. Thus we weren't sure what restaurants we would find there. However, we passed a Chili's and Dylan suggested we stop there for dinner, so we did.

Mark and Mary at Chili's in Payson.

It was almost 8:00 when we finally left Chili's, and then we arrived safely at home by 9:45. However, our Valley trips aren't done yet. In just 12 days we leave again, this time to attend a concert in Gilbert and then to enjoy a day at the Renaissance Festival east of Apache Junction. More on those to come!