A “fair-ly” great start to the summer

Summer in Iowa; the start of backyard BBQs, trips to the local beaches, corn that should be “Knee-high by the 4th of July,” and of course, the many, many small-town festivals and carnivals.

Corn dogs, funnel cakes and popcorn; all the good things carnivals are made of!

No summer is complete without the barking of the carnies, the gooey sweetness of cotton candy, the tantalizing aroma of popcorn, the mouth-watering temptation of steak on a stick, or the ever-impressive wonderment of a fried Milky Way.

Not a weekend goes by that there isn’t some kind of celebration going on in Iowa.  While searching for local activities near Cedar Rapids, I came upon a calendar full of fun things.

Art festivals, car shows, 4th of July celebrations, and music festivals are among the choices that Iowans can partake in this summer. From the looks of it, a whole summer of weekends can easily be filled just by traveling around the state and taking in the different celebrations.

(For more information about  what’s going on around Iowa, check the Fairs and Fun website)

Lisbon, which sits next to Mt. Vernon 30 minutes east of Cedar Rapids, will be celebrating its 102nd Sauerkraut Days Aug. 10. Hiawatha, which sits on the edge of Cedar Rapids,  just celebrated its annual festival though the efforts of the local Lions Club, Hog Wild Days. St. Ludmillas in Cedar Rapids, home to delicious and savory homemade kolaches, has been holding their festival since 1930. The Great Jones County Fair, known for their musical talent and attractions, will be held in Monticello July 20-24 and will include shows by Lady Antebellum, Jason Aldean and Seether.

Here in Cedar Rapids, the Freedom Festival is in full swing. The festivities began a week ago with activities at Kirkwood Community College and will continue until the fireworks finale on the Fourth. Between now and then there will be lots of things to do around town, including ski shows at Ellis Park, concerts in the park, a parade through downtown on the 25th, Usher’s Ferry western weekend also on the 25th, and lots more activities downtown on the Fourth of July. (To see more, visit their website)

The Iowa State Fair, a 10-day event, will be held in Des Moines Aug. 10-21. The ultimate Iowa  fair, the fair among fairs, this celebration includes such attractions such as Janet Jackson, the Battle of the Butter and lots and lots of agricultural competitions. (http://www.iowastatefair.org/)

Growing up in Iowa, I couldn’t wait until the now-defunct All Iowa Fair came to town. My mom would give us $10 and we’d take the bus to Hawkeye Downs, then the outskirts of town, and spend the entire day walking around, seeing the attractions, and saving our money for the best rides. The fair would last a week and end with one big night of fireworks. We’d pack into our family station wagon and drive out to watch them, signaling the end of what I considered to be the highlight of my summer.

I’d like to say that I still get that thrill when I step onto the fairgrounds, amidst the crowds and noise, but I don’t. The traffic, the crowds, the incessant heat; these are all things that I try to avoid in my old age. However, I do enjoy it once in a while, if just to relive that magic of my childhood. Once a year is just about right.

I recently attended Hiawatha’s annual celebration and was intigued by their advertisement for fried Oreos, Twinkies, and Milky Ways. Being a huge fan of Milky Ways, I dismissed the gruesome thought of how much grease was used to fry it, and inquired as to how they were made.

“We’re out,” said the attendant, even before I had a chance to ask.

Disappointed, but still curious as to how they’re made, I pushed the issue, noticing the impatience in his voice.

“We make ’em with the funnel cake batter and put a stick through it, and just stick ’em in the grease,” he said.

He said the magic word; funnel cake. And funnel cakes and Milky Way together would just be Heaven on Earth.

I like the idea of fairs. They take me back to what summers really meant when I was a kid; no school, no work, no worries. We didn’t have computers, cable, video games or cell phones; just our imaginination…and fairs.