Saturday, October 9, 2010

Head, Heart, Health, Hands

As we close out National 4-H Week, I've been doing a lot of thinking this week about what 4-H has done for me, and frankly, I don't know where I'd be without this great youth program. I don't think it was ever discussed in my household if I would join; it was just a given, and when I turned 8 years-old by that magical January 1 age, I joined my very first 4-H club, the Sandhill Hillbillies in Hooker County, Nebraska. It seems to me I enrolled in every project under the sun, but my dad's and my main focus was the beef project. I loved my cattle project, and spent every waking moment in the barn and corral with Herfy, my first calf. That was in 1982. I still have the trophy I won with Herfy. It has gone with me EVERYWHERE, and I do mean everywhere. While the others are left to collect dust at my parents' house, that little gold plastic fat cow on a red velvet crown standing a marble base was one of my proudest accomplishments--I mean I was 9, and it was the Hooker County Fair.

I think that little trophy goes with me from college to college and house to house as a reminder. A reminder of what 4-H has done for me. The next year, my family moved to Dawes County, where I joined Southern Valley 4-H Club, and started gaining my event planning skills. Our 4-H club started a spring lamb progress show, and I was a control freak even as a kid, serving on various organizational committees. But, Dawes County 4-H programs really expanded my horizons. I became involved in public speaking, photography, geneaology, and one of my favorite projects, "Teen Shop Smart"--you know for the non-sewers.

My second heifer, Holly, and I far exceeded my expectations that year, as I won the county fair--not only did I have champion Herford Heifer, I also had grand heifer, a feat I accomplished three consecutive years!

But, I also learned that 4-H wasn't about winning. It was about friendships. It was about record keeping. It was about sportsmanship and helping others. It was about community service. It was about parliamentary procedure. And, most of all, it was about memories. I can honestly say that some of my closest friends and deepest memories revolve around the friendships I've made and the time I've spent in 4-H.

4-H teaches responsibility. Yep, I had heifers and steers and lambs to feed, rinse, walk, and care for everyday. And, record books.

How many of you have sat around the kitchen table the night(s) before record books are do screaming and battling it out with your kids or parents? (depending on your age) That was the Stannard household scenario about every year in late September/early October for about a week straight, as we dug for receipts--cattle feed, film processing, or for photos or tried to recall something for that great 4-H story that Don Huls, my Extension Agent, was bound to read. I never really knew who was more relieved that record books were finished in my home--me or my parents.

4-H teaches life skills. I've already touched on this briefly, but if it weren't for 4-H, I doubt if I would be an event planner/activities director for a beef breed association today. I received so many of my "roots" for my professsion in the 4-H programs. I took photography in 4-H; now I take cattle photos nearly every weekend across the country. I wrote and delivered speeches every year in the 4-H speech contest; today I can get on a microphone in front of 1,000 people to talk about Angus programs or do a radio interview about the beef industry. I livestock judged in 4-H; and weekly I attend livestock shows, and I can tell the difference between a good and not so good animal. In 4-H we had community service, ranging from clowning at a nursing home to picking up trash in the road side for miles; today I know the importance of "giving back" and still volunteer time for worthy causes.

So, fast forward to the last two chapters of my 4-H career. I'm a sophomore in high school, and my parents uproot me from Nebraska to Kansas. This was pretty hard on a girl, but you know what I took with me? 4-H. That's right. I got involved in the Lawn Ridge 4-H club in Cheyenne County, and started livestock judging and meeting people all over Northwest Kansas. People that I'd later live with in college and then later in life even call my "best friends."

And now, an adult, 4-H still impacts my life. Each spring, I volunteer to share about my career with young people at the Global 4-H Conference in Kansas City. I attended this event as a 4-H member, and was so glad when I was contacted to be part of the program.

I know I am the person I am today because of this program called 4-H. "I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to better service and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world."

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Fun at the Fairs!

It’s my favorite time of the year! No, it’s not Christmas, or my birthday. It doesn’t come just one day a year, and as a matter of fact, I’m merely taking a break from the season—a “half-time” so to speak. The time of year I’m writing about is STATE FAIR SEASON! And, if you’ve noticed an absence on my blog, it is highly due to the fact that August and part of September was consumed by state fairs from Illinois to Idaho and points in between, and in October, I have two more state fairs and two more national livestock shows to attend. So I wanted to take this break to share with you some of the highlights of my state fair adventures.

I’ve been everywhere. I started August at the All American Breeders’ Futurity in Louisville, Ky.; then off to Illinois State Fair in Springfield; Wisconsin State Fair, Milwaukee (same trip as IL SF); then to Western Idaho Fair, Boise; DuQuoin Fair back in Southern Illinois; Minnesota State Fair, Minneapolis; Tennessee State Fair, Nashville. This month’s itinerary includes Arkansas State Fair, Little Rock, the NILE, Billings, Mont; North Carolina State Fair, Raleigh; and the American Royal in Kansas City.

It’s my job! So before I talk about my adventures, I might as well state the obvious, I don’t go to these fairs just for fried cheese curds and funnel cakes, I go for work. That’s right, I get paid to give up my weekends and look in dirty bovine ears at tattoos and tailing cattle in a show ring and taking the champion photos. So, in between that, I like to take in the fairs! Although, most I go to annually, a few have been new adventures for me this year, and I always like to find one unique feature of each fair; usually it’s food.

I spend an extended amount of time in Illinois due to the fact they show junior cattle on Friday and open on Tuesday, and we go to Wisconsin in between. This year, I actually “saw” more of the fair because Keegan Cassady hung out with me, so we rode a couple rides, including the sky ride, which goes from the middle of the fairgrounds to the edge, and gives riders a “birds-eye-view”. This was HUGE for me, due to my fear of unstable heights, but we did have a great view.

One of my annual stops at IL SF is the butter cow display—she’s right next to the best ice cream! I love the butter cow, and each year she is so unique!

Another cool new discovery this year in IL was the WOW Ball—they are like human hamster balls that go on water. Keegan did this for about 5 minutes, and it was a blast to watch her! Looked like a great workout!

Another first for me at the IL SF was a champion duck party! A junior Angus member, Morgan Kramer, had the supreme champion duck, Donald. Her mom Vickey is always up for a good party, so they busted Donald out of the poultry barn and brought him to the Angus barn for a duck party.

Wisconsin was a quick trip—but I had to take a picture of the cheese stand. Even though I didn’t have any this trip, I did indulge during the World Beef Expo in Sept.

On to the Western Idaho Fair, and when in Idaho—eat potatoes! So, I had a plate of curly fries for lunch, and they offered me “fry sauce”. I accepted it, but only used it as a photo prop—it looked like a mixture of ketchup and mayo, neither of which I’m a fan of.

While eating my fried delicacy, I also watch “Bibby” the clown make balloon animals, flowers, bugs. You name it, she made it, and for free too! I watched this for about 35 minutes until I realized we had a junior show to work!

DuQuoin was a new fair for me—I loved this display of produce!

And, another favorite there, and at most fairs—Salt Water Taffy! Mmmmm!

The Great Minnesota Experience aka MN SF was also a new experience. I was warned that there was going to be a lot of people—but WOW!

I drove by the main entrance at 6:45 a.m. the day of the Angus show, and there were fairgoers going in the main gate on a Saturday! I couldn’t believe it! I did discover the next generation of butter cow carvers.

And, in Minnesota, they combined two of my favorites to make wine ice cream!

The one thing I look forward to each year in Tennessee is the pumpkin and watermelon weigh-off.

This year the giant pumpkin was smaller than the past, but the watermelon set a new record.

I also like exploring diversity of ag commodities from across the country, like tobacco hanging here, at TN SF.

And, so that’s a summary—not real brief, but I hope you enjoyed the pictures, courtesy of my iPhone.

What’s your favorite fair? Favorite fair memory? Let me know! Maybe I’ll have a new experience I need to check out along my adventures!