Friday, August 12, 2016

Ike's Last Fair, 14 years in a Flash

It is the night before the fair and all is calm. OK, all is not calm and we are in the final, furious push to tie up the loose ends (i.e. iron shirts, pack clothes, prepare stalls, etc….). One of the last things we have to do is to trim Isaac’s steer this morning. With all of the rush and excitement we have not had time to think about the fact that this is his last county fair as an exhibitor. The past twelve years seem to have passed just as quickly as the last two days.
Isaac actually has been exhibiting at the fair for fourteen years. He started his showing career with a bucket calf at the age of five. When Dad is the county agent and you spend every hour at the fair, it is only natural to start early. My kids have spent every hour of every fair at the fairgrounds and exhibiting a bucket calf at a tender age was the best way to keep them out of Dad’s hair.
Jethro was Isaac’s first bucket calf. He got the name from the Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty Pageant. The cowboys were hanging the cattle rustler Jethro (just a dummy) and for some reason Isaac decided to name his bucket calf after the dummy. I really don’t remember how Jethro did and that probably is a good lesson for all of us going into the fair. The ribbon Jethro earned was not nearly as memorable as the calf and the cute little boy with big ears showing him.
I remember thinking during that fair that we would be 4-H parents forever and it was going to be a long time before we were done with that gig. Now I am on the eve of Isaac’s last fair with the realization that Tatum only has this and two more fairs left, wondering where the time has went. Many times I have told newly minted 4-H parents that they will blink and wonder what has happened to all of the time.
I really don’t remember too many of the trophies and ribbons Isaac has won. I do remember the experiences. I remember Vicious, the heifer, who, in the beginning lived up to her name, and ended up being a really calm, tame heifer. Then there was T-Bone, the steer, and Twinkle Toes, the Suffolk ewe, to name just a few of the many, many show animals that comprised Isaac’s show career.  Isaac has been pretty creative with his animal names over the years but this year’s may be the best. His final steer is named, fittingly, Tuition.
This year Isaac decided to stick with just livestock and has put to rest the tradition of last minute finishes to his other projects. I do not miss putting the decals on a rocket the night before the fair (OK in all fairness that was probably more Grandma Drake than me) or wondering if the paint would dry on the woodworking project. There were many late nights trying to get the exhibiter cards filled out and plans printed. Maybe he learned something about waiting until the last minute to finish projects. Sadly I think he learned he could wait that long and still get it done.
I do miss the conference judging and the wonderful judges we have met over the years. Again, I am not sure if I remember any of the ribbons he received on any of his projects but I do remember the conversations and the friendly tips and encouragement from each judge. Often it was not easy being the Extension Agent’s kid.
This year has been so hectic that I am not sure we have really had much time to realize that we were in the final sprint for the finish line (or more accurately staggering across the finish line of a marathon). I am sure it will sink in at some point this fair or in the days following it. Sure there have been some hard times when it wasn’t much fun, but for the most part, the fair has yielded more great memories and even a few life lessons along the way.
Most importantly, I realized something I have always said is true. Over the past fourteen years Isaac has won a few shows and contests at the Pottawatomie County Fair but I can’t name them or remember which years they were. I can remember the animals, the projects, the friends, leaders, judges and the great stories and they are what is truly most important. Ribbons fade, trophies gather dust and buckles tarnish but the memories and life lessons from the county fair live forever.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Calm Before the Fair

Next week the fair starts and we are in uncharted waters for our family. No, the kids are not taking any new projects; in fact, Isaac has downsized his projects a great deal. No new breeds of livestock or new responsibilities either. No, the uncharted waters we are navigating are the sea of tranquility. It seems as though we are ready for the fair.
The livestock are all at acceptable weights and are ready to show. Sure, we still have the clipping and grooming to do, that can only happen a few days before the fair. Even at that, the lambs have all been sheared at least once and the steers have been in the blocking stand several times. For the most part, the kid’s livestock is ready to make the trip to the fair.
Tatum finished her sewing last week and has all of the labels, paperwork and notebook ready for that project too. She does have her cooking to do but that falls into the same category as grooming the animals. It can only happen right before the fair. She has practiced all three of her recipes multiple times and has them down. On a side note, did I mention how much I like the fair and especially the practice baking for foods judging?
We have even had the annual breakdown before the fair (I probably ought to knock on wood right now). A couple of weeks ago the igniter went out of the oven and we had to wait a week for the new one to come in. That kind of thing usually happens the night before the fair and we scramble to come up with plan B.
I know, I have just doomed our family to some kind of unforeseen calamity, it happens each year. One year the well went dry the day before the fair when we were washing and grooming animals. Another year the rear main seal went out of the good pickup that we use to pull the trailer to the fair. It seems that something happens each year to cause grief and heart ache the day before the fair so maybe I am premature in my excitement.
It does feel strange, we have double checked and re-checked our lists and worried that we are missing something. The show boxes have been packed (something that usually happens the night before the fair) and everything seems to be in order. The clippers have been serviced, blades have been sharpened and we even have a new set of blades waiting and ready.  Water containers, feed pans and buckets have been located and counted. They could be loaded and transported at this very moment.
I know some of you are this organized all the time and you are over achievers. I am not sure what got into us except that the calendar fell differently this year and our fair is later, especially when compared to neighboring fairs. The Riley County Fair is usually our trigger for going into hyper speed in our fair preparations. The fair in Riley County is historically the week before ours, this year there is a whole week between the two counties and that contributed to our premature preparation.
I have to admit that this advanced preparedness is nice and does tend to lower the blood pressure of all involved but it does kind of lead to a weird feeling too. We really feel like we ought to be doing more, worrying more and mixing a little panic in too. I am also quite sure we have over packed because it has given us time to remember stuff that we were always going to bring but never got packed.
I am equally sure that something will happen in the next week that will cause widespread fear, panic and mayhem at my house. It just wouldn’t be fair without a good meltdown. I also assure you that it has done nothing to lessen the fair tension and grouchiness of all involved. There is still a lot of work to be done in a short amount of time.
Of course it could be that we have been doing this fair thing for eleven years now and maybe we are starting to get it figured out. Probably not, more than likely we are experiencing a false sense of security and at any moment (most likely the day before the fair) the rug will be yanked out from under us and we will be scrambling to stay above water.
In any case it will provide for a memorable experience and in the end everything will be just fine. However, right now I will enjoy the moment and the feeling of organization all the while waiting for the other shoe to drop. Call it the calm before the storm.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Peace and County Fairs

The other night I was returning home late from a meeting and I was driving down main street of my home town and I noticed a young person (probably late teens maybe early twenties) walking down the street with his phone held up in front of his face. It seemed like kind of an odd thing to be doing so I quizzed the teenagers in my household about it.
It seems as though there is this game called Pokemon Go where you wander around places watching through the camera on your phone waiting for different characters to pop up. I really do not understand this game, nor do I want to understand it. I guess I have reached “old geezer” status. But it did leave me with a couple of thoughts. First, I guess at least they have to be outside and exercise a little bit. Second, how sad it is that the only way to get some kids (and adults) off of the couch is with some game on their phone.
I also think it is another disturbing sign of how our society has become more and more dependent on our cell phones. I have heard the addiction to your cell phone is somewhere close to addiction to drugs and I would believe it. I am example A for this. Often I find the urge to check my phone overpowering and often I allow it to divert too much of my attention.
Recently, we have seen news stories and incidents where cell phone video has sparked protests and created controversy. We are too quick to judge people and their actions based only on a few seconds of video versus waiting for the entire story to be told. All of this rush to judgment (on either side) has serious repercussions. It adds to our stress and allows us to become bogged down with worry.
I don’t know about you but I really crave a break from the current news cycle and I want a reminder of all that is right in this world because I still believe there is a lot that is good and right. Thank goodness it is county fair time. If you want a snap shot of how the world should be go to your local county fair and look around. Often it reminds me of a time before we had all of this technology at our finger tips and maybe the world was a simpler, less stressful place.
Often I like to just sit in the bleachers or on a bench at the county fair and just watch what is going on around me. You will see neighbors and old friends engaging in conversations and catching up on what has happened since the last county fair. It is a place where kids play and meet new friends, many times the old friends catching up nearby started out as those kids playing at that very same county fair.
It is a place that will renew your faith in the next generation. You can see the hard work and skills they have acquired over the past year on display through the projects that line the barns and exhibit buildings. If you want to know more about what they have learned or how passionate they are about their projects, just ask them and you will be amazed at the answers you get in return. This is where our future community leaders are being trained.
I love the sights, smells and sounds of a county fair. Oh sure, the advances in technology have come to the county fair too. I know our fair and many others tout free wifi for those of us sufficiently addicted to our phones. At first I lamented the addition of an on ramp to the internet, but maybe it isn’t all that bad.
Remember, my earlier lament about all of the negative video on the internet. All of that footage of all of the bad things that happen in our world, coming to us in real time. Maybe we could try to reverse this trend of negativity by sharing some of the good things and wholesomeness of our local, small town county fairs. Show the kids playing, old friends talking and the youth displaying what they have learned. Let’s bombard the internet with good things.
No, on second thought, let’s just enjoy the moment without worrying about our phone or recording every second and truly start living. Make it a point to spend time at your county fair, take it all in and remember just how good life can be, I promise it will soothe your soul. And if you need a game to get you there it is OK, I suppose. Just remember to look away from the screen every once in a while and watch where you step.

Cattle Drive

We rotated cows to a fresh pasture today. Moving cows used to stress me out but I have learned to relax over the years. OK, my family would probably tell you that I still get pretty cranked up about moving them and the worst case scenarios go through my head each time I open the gate and let them out into the road. However, the cows at my place have generally been here for several seasons and they have a better idea of what is going on than I do. In other words, my cattle drives usually work in spite of all my worrying and planning.
Today was no exception. Isaac was on his horse, Dad was riding his atv and I was piloting the good old, loud feed truck with alfalfa on the back. Truth be told, the move could probably be made with just the old, loud feed truck, I am not even certain we need the alfalfa for anything more than to make the old cows bunch up at the gate and wait for the calves. Isaac does a good job of convincing the calves that it is a good idea to keep pace with the cows.
We hold the cows back at the gate because once they hit the road there is no turning back and the calves are often not smart enough to figure out that the gate is open if they don’t see their mama go through it. Today, the cows were relatively close to the gate and soon followed me. I waited patiently while Isaac and his horse pushed the calves down and Dad ran up to a high spot to make sure we didn’t have any stragglers.
Once I saw Isaac I let go of my grip on the bales (experience tells me the cows will drag them off and then you have grid-lock) and started moving. Sure enough once the old cows hit the road they started the mile jog toward fresh pasture. Like a Nascar driver starting at the back of the field I weaved my way up through the herd but only managed to make it half way before the finish line was in sight.
The cows were picking up momentum, I started to worry that they were going to go right on past the gate and began to formulate plan B in my head. However, as they came up even with the gate each cow made a hard right and went into the gate. I made it to the gate ahead of most of the calves and turned them into the pasture. That is when I noticed my two compadres bringing up the rear were not in sight.
Just as I started to worry they popped up over the hill each of them on either side of Lucky, the cow. Lucky was taking her own sweet time, eying the green grass on either side of the road. Lucky is the former 2007 Pottawatomie County Bucket Calf Champion and famous in her own beany little brain.
Her life started out tragically. We found her standing over her dead mother one February morning and she came to live with us. Tatum named her Lucky and she was the kid’s first cow. Lucky was the daughter of a first calf heifer who died giving birth to her so we were not sure if she would be a good mother. There must be a fair amount of instinct involved with mothering because she is an excellent mother and raises a nice calf each year.
Lucky isn’t much to look at, she is pretty narrow and way too thin. Each year we wonder if she is bred and luckily enough (for her) she is and often is one of the first to calve. She walks with a noticeable limp. Two or three different times she has come up lame on the same back foot. The first time she was caught in wire and cut the foot up pretty bad. It was right before calving and we thought for sure she would lose the calf. Nope, in true Lucky fashion she calved, raised a respectable calf and bred back on time all while looking like death warmed over. Each year we debate on culling old Lucky and each year she escapes that long trailer ride by, well, being lucky.
I have come to expect her to be the last one out into the road when we drive the cows. We overlook her bony appearance and we tolerate her slow limping gate. Why? Is it because she is a good old cow who keeps producing each year. Maybe, but I truly suspect it is because she has a name and a story and everyone knows that cows like that never die. They just limp on to greener pastures.

Celebrating the 4th

Once again I am a week off with my column. I guess it all goes along with the day late a dollar short. A day late I will buy but I am way more than a dollar short. In any case, I missed getting this column written before the July 4 holiday, but even as the smoke from the fireworks settles and all of the dogs are just coming out of hiding, I want to share my thoughts on our celebration of Independence Day.
July 4 is one of my favorite holidays for two reasons. First, I am a native of Wamego and we do the 4th in a big way. The parade and fireworks are the highlight of the summer. If you don’t know what I am talking about, you need to come to Wamego for the 4th of July and experience it. Words cannot describe the experience. I also think the 4th is special because it is a standalone holiday. We are a long way from the nearest holiday on either side of the 4th and that makes it special too.
However, we also need to make the 4th special because of what it stands for. It is the day we celebrate our beginning as a nation. From a fledgling colony that rebelled in a wilderness to the greatest nation our world has ever known, what we as a nation have done is quite remarkable. We should be proud of all that we are, all that we have done and (I hope) all that we will do.
A lot of great men and women have sacrificed so much for what we have. We have the highest standard of living, the most freedoms and the greatest rights of any nation at any time on earth. That is something that should not be taken lightly or for granted. We, as citizens of the United States, have more opportunities and possibilities than any other human on earth and we should be so thankful that we were lucky enough to be a citizen of this great nation.
Yes, I know there are many things going on that make us wonder. We see and hear bad news every day and it seems like maybe things are not so good. I do think we are at a cross road in this great nation, a time where we must take a hard look at ourselves. Have we become complacent, have we matured to the point that we have lost our edge and that we take what we have for granted? I hope not.
We are facing one of the most important elections we have ever seen. Yes, I am sure there were other times in our history that we faced hard times, tough decisions just like we are now. We came through those times stronger and tougher and I hope that is the outcome of this election. I am not endorsing any candidate, calling for any change, that is for each of us to decide and vote for what we think is best. What I am saying is that we must each get involved, become informed and make a decision. Recent voter turnout is pitiful, less than half of the citizens of this country exercise the right to vote.
A heavy price has been paid for the rights and freedoms we celebrate each 4th of July and I am quite sure many people take them for granted. We are not a nation of entitlement and handouts, but many of us fall into that trap and the result is not good for our long term health as a nation. Rather, when we are at our best, we are a nation of hard work, innovation and determination. We are leaders of industry and on the cutting edge of technology.
We are not a people ruled by a government but a government ruled by the people. We should not look to our government to guide us through trouble, we should guide our government. Our government was set up to provide protection and infrastructure to allow each one of us the freedom to become successful. Success is not a right, it is something we must earn. That is what we should be celebrating this 4th of July. We should be celebrating a nation where each person decides their own path and is in control of their own success. That is what makes us great.
I cannot wait for the parade and the fireworks. Both serve as a great reminder of just how good we have it here in the United States. We do live in the greatest nation on earth and that is something we should celebrate each day. I believe that we will continue to be the greatest nation on earth as long as we never forget the sacrifices and hard work this nation is built upon and continue to sacrifice and work hard to keep it that way.