Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Coach Character

While we're on the subject of the county fair...

I think we need to discuss something. 
Just you and I. 
(In between your fifth load of laundry and calling the extension office to confirm:  does the actual show start at 2:00 or does showmanship start at 2:00? Anxious grandparents must know.)

Anyway, back to you and I. 
And our chat. 
Go refill your coffee. 
I'll wait. 

I witnessed something this week. 

Within an hour of arriving to the county fair I saw an adult completely humiliate a child showing livestock. 

Their tactic:
Stand ringside, verbally (and loudly) critique the showmanship of the child and wrap up the disgusting  charade  by visually displaying disappointment in the kid. 

I wanted to throw up. But I had just eaten a $6.50 Kemo sub and I couldn't waste that kind of money. Then I saw something I'd never seen before: a broken heart with a buzz cut, pig whip in his hand and tears on his cheeks. Unbearable. 

Let's chat. 

Showing livestock is about building character. 

It's about learning responsibility and working hard towards a goal and also understanding what makes sheep bloat. 
Which is, apparently, everything. 
Showing livestock is not about the adults' financial investment, the adults' prideful reputation or the adults living vicariously through someone a quarter of their size. Showing livestock is not about last names. 

Showing livestock is about building character. 

This isn't the National Western Stock Show, it's the county fair. 
And even if it was Denver, scolding - rather than coaching -  your child in front of a national crowd isn't going to help in any way. This is where your child will meet the friend that they'll go on Spring Break 2023 with. You'll approve the trip because they're "in 4-H together". This is local. This is your back forty.  These people - the ones gauging how you react to winning or rejection - are their village. 
**By the way: One of the young men your daughter is showing against will probably take her to prom in five years. Brace yourself. 

Showing livestock is about building character. 

Your kid isn't going to make a living precisely parading livestock, keeping the flawless stock between himself and the judge. 
Your kid may go on to make a living breeding and selling sought genetics, building relationships far and wide, developing a brand and cultivating a passion which generations to come will benefit from. But perfect showmanship tactics? They come and go. The county fair is the place to cultivate those interests and polish those talents. No one becomes famous here. Calm down.

Showing livestock is about building character. 

It's also about displaying character. 
They're watching.
And when you scold them in public? You're breaking their confidence
And when you throw a fit? You're giving them permission to do the same. 
And when you return to the stalls or the show box and bad mouth the judge? You're teaching them how to discount anyone who ever offers them constructive criticism.

In a world where kids get trophies 
for showing up to three practices, 
constructive criticism is crucial!

Little Eyes Upon You

There are little eyes upon you
and they're watching night and day.
There are little ears that quickly
take in every word you say.

There are little hands all eager
to do anything you do;
And a little girl who's dreaming
of the day she'll be like you.

You're the little angel's idol,
you're the wisest of the wise.
In her little mind about you
no suspicions ever rise.

She believes in you devoutly,
holds all you say and do;
She will say and do, in your way
when she's grown up just like you.

There's a wide-eyed little girl
who believes you're always right;
and her eyes are always opened,
and she watches day and night.

You are setting an example
every day in all you do;
For the little girl who's waiting
to grow up to be like you.

Kimberly Sedlacek

Showing livestock is about building character. 

Trust me. No one comes to the county fair and expects to lose. No one puts their family through the familiar hell that is the week before the county fair for the heck of it. You've worked hard to coordinate. The kids are tired. The stock is ready. You're fixin' to hide in a closet and shut off your phone. I get it. But everyone - everyone - comes to compete and do their best. Their very best. Your kid included. 

Showing livestock is about building character. 

At the end of the day - or the auction - showing livestock teaches kids how to win graciously and lose gracefully. 
Appreciate the blue ribbons. 
Accept the rejection letter. 
Balance a check book. 
Read a feed sack label. 
Find confidence in a flood of embarrassment. 
Fail the interview but dominate the closure handshake. 
Sincerely thank the judge that buried the best steer that will ever come off of the farm. 
Because - who knows - that very judge may hire her right out of grad school, a decade later. 

I'll let you get back to your coffee. And laundry. 
(If you don't want to have to iron your underwear, now might be a great time to get the clothes out of the dryer, by the way.)

Remember: This week is similar to vacation for your kids: 
A week of sunshine, sno-cones, 
their favorite stock, 
long lost friends and 
way-past-bedtime nights. 

If you must coach from the sidelines, 
coach character. 

Oh, and I absolutely think the same can be said for sports. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Week Before The County Fair

It's the week before the county fair in our tiny part of the world.
The wonderful, beloved, long-awaited, anticipated, (right-about-Tuesday-overrated) county fair. 

What does that look like?
Well, per usual, not this Rockwell painting:

I reflect back to the week before the county fair when we were in 4-H and think that possibly the greatest display of sincere love and patience Momma ever showed was not killing us - or herself - the week before the county fair. 
Looking back, I don't know how she did it. 

It's the week before the county fair. 
Show boxes are being pulled out, scrubbed out and rinsed out. Old ribbons are being straightened out then carried to the house. Do you keep yellow ribbons? That is an internal debate. Show halters are being scrubbed then conditioned. Kids are realizing that their parents may have known what they were talking about when they said, "Clean it out now. In a year you'll be glad you did."
Kids are wishing that they had

It's the week before the county fair. 
Women are feverishly leafing through Southern Cooking and Taste of Home cookbooks, searching for the perfect four-layer-chocolate-truffle-cake-sure-to-beat-'Ol-Always-Wins-Whats-Her-Name.
For as much sugar as she puts in her cake, you'd think 'Ol-Always-Wins-Whats-Her-Name would be just a little bit sweeter...

It's the week before the county fair. 
4-Hers are rummaging through the trash trying to find the ingredient tag off of any feed sack. Project books are being completed - because of everything short of a gun held to the head - at the stroke of midnight, then being hand delivered to 4-H leaders' homes at the crack of dawn for the final signature. 

It's the week before the county fair. 
A crowd sits in the rural school auditorium, watching shy girls transform into confident young women in chiffon during the beloved queen contest. That same crowd shares coordinated seat shifts when a contestant question is answered without thought. That same crowd beams with pride when the most deserving young lady is crowned. 

Julie Moyer Arnold

It's the week before the county fair. 
Mothers are stuffing their growing children into the white jeans she bought too sizes too big last summer, sure they'd fit perfectly this year. She is also wondering why said children chose the dairy project again. They don't even regularly finish the leftover milk from their cereal. 

It's the week before the county fair. 
Open class exhibitors are watering, plucking, scouting, pruning, picking, poking and poaching the perfect produce. They're also trying to remember what time the old Master Gardener around the block usually goes for his Saturday morning coffee? Before open class check-in ends at 10:00, they hope. 

It's the week before the county fair. 
Muffins are burning, cakes are collapsing, little brothers are taste-testing things they shouldn't and young gals are calling their grandmothers to decipher cursive writing on a recipe card, From the Kitchen of: Mary Lou, 1978.

It's the week before the county fair. 
Show numbers, registration papers and health papers are held in higher regard than the third child's birth certificate. Perhaps even the third child, entirely

It's the week before the county fair. 
Showmen are shaking aerosol cans, checking volumes, to determine just how much money they'll pay Mr. Sullivan next week. 

It's the week before the county fair. 
This is right about the time that the $200 in creative spending you've invested in at Hobby Lobby should kick in, but doesn't. 

It's the week before the county fair. 
Grandparents are gathering their one dollar bills, sure that half of their life savings will be spent on fair food and the livestock auction in the next 10 days.  As long as the grandkids are happy...and hydrated. 

It's the week before the county fair. 
Young, inexperienced mothers are laying out clothes: Shirts you're allowed to eat a snow cone in, shirts you cannot. In two weeks they'll pre-treat, wash, dry, fold and put in a trash bag for cousins. "Barn Clothes" she'll label them. Some may become dust rags with a story. 

It's the week before the county fair. 
Thirty-somethings are looking at their open class projects, glue still drying the morning that it's due for judging, thinking: I thought I'd have it more together by now. 

It's the week before the county fair. 
Teens are wondering if their fair crush will remember them. 
Two things I want you to note here:
1. Of course he/she will; there are 16 teens your age in 4-H in the county. Your crush is related to 8 of them. Your odds are fantastic. 
2. You're the complete package, you just haven't come to realize it yet. 

It's the week before the county fair. 
Campers are being pulled out of the barn. Fathers are making to-clean lists, mothers are still wondering why they bought the dirty old thing and kids are trying to convince both that they'd rather sleep in a tent. "Memory Maker" dad called it; I won't type what Momma called it. Young people read this blog. 

It's the week before the county fair. 
The Worst of the Worst sibling fights are sure to take place this week. Things will be said, done, sworn and physically carried out. None of those things are true or good or right. In fact, those things won't be said, done, sworn and/or physically carried again out until the Summer Type Conference in Springfield next week. Or the week before Junior Nationals. Or Louisville. Maybe (probably)  all of them. 

It's the week before the county fair. 
Mothers say things such as:
You are never - ever - doing this project again.
When I was in 4-H I had my projects done in April.
I swear if I find out you talked to your brother that way in public...
You kids are lucky this only lasts ten years. I would have killed you in the eleventh.
Get your hair out of your face and tuck your shirt in. 

It's the week before the county fair.

Survive it, embrace it, love it, and remember:

The next ten days will go so quickly. 

But seriously -  next year? 
Start earlier. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Hummingbird

It was an overdue simple and quiet Saturday morning. 
Even the highway in front of our home seemed to have fewer semis, boats, campers or livestock trailers climbing the hill. 
The sun was bright and the air was perfectly cool.
Last Saturday was the first morning in so many that I simply sat outside and enjoyed it. 
I read through two issues of Cowboys & Indians
Had three cups of coffee; and as a result got the severe jitters.
Half-heartedly watched heat across different lots; if they went behind the grain bin I was slow to move my chair. 
Thought of how I asked for a new day to start again; and I got it. 
Thought of all of those I know who are lost or hurting. 

For a reason I don't know, there are so many people in my life who feel lost or are hurting. 
For all of those who are lost or hurting. 
Who are waiting for answers.
Who are living with shattered hearts. 
Who have fears and concerns that they don't know how to address. 
Who are lonely, feeling forgotten. 
Who are mourning a loss. 
Who are living a lie.
Who are barely getting by.
Who are tired of trying. 
Who are broken. 

My mind drifted between those hurting and back into the pages of the magazine. 
What can I do for my hurting friends? My story could always be worse. Who designs these ranch houses? They are not from Economy, Indiana. These people did not lower their living room ceiling so the wood panelling would fit. When will I travel west again? 
My heart was on fire for those broken, uncomfortably near and far, and it had nothing to do with the Friday night pizza. 

Over and over I replayed this Eliza Tabor quote in my head:

“Disappointment to a noble soul is what cold water is to burning metal; it strengthens, tempers, intensifies, but never destroys it.”

Suddenly, I heard a loud buzzing. 
A helicopter-over-your-head buzzing. 
A stinging insect-in-your-face buzzing.
A super-fast-relentless buzzing. 
I quickly looked around. It was right in front of me. Feet from my face. Floating on the air. 

A hummingbird. 

Before I truly realized what it was, I jerked in my seat. The tiny bird hung there for seconds, but I had obviously startled it in the same way it had I. The hummingbird was on another flight in no time. 

It flew away and landed in a small group of branches in a tree. But not for long. It was gone again in seconds. Just around enough to make its presence known. Just long enough for me to forget the heart pain.

I looked back to the magazine but thought maybe I shouldn't. A view like that can't be followed up with pages from a book. 

I grabbed my phone and simply searched "hummingbird lesson". I needed more from that little bird than just a brief encounter.

And below is what I found. 
For all of those who are lost or hurting. 
Who are waiting for answers.
Who are living with shattered hearts. 
Who have fears and concerns that they don't know how to address. 
Who are lonely, feeling forgotten. 
Who are mourning a loss. 
Who are living a lie.
Who are barely getting by.
Who are tired of trying. 
Who are broken. 

Once upon a time, a huge forest was being consumed by a terrible fire. Frightened, all the animals fled their homes and ran out of the forest. As they came to the edge of a stream they stopped to watch the raging wild fire, feeling discouraged and powerless. 

They were all bemoaning the destruction of their homes. Every one of them thought that there was nothing they could do about the fire, except for one little hummingbird.

This particular hummingbird decided he would do something. He swooped into the stream, picked up a few drops of water and went into the forest and put them on the fire. Then he went back to the stream to do it again and again and again. All the other animals watched him in disbelief; some tried to discourage the hummingbird: 

“Don’t bother, it is too much, you are too little, your wings will burn, your beak is too tiny, it’s only a drop, you can’t put out this fire.” 

And as the animals stand around disparaging the little bird’s efforts, the bird noticed how hopeless and forlorn they looked.

Then one of the animals shouted out and challenged the hummingbird in a mocking voice, “What do you think you are doing?”

And the hummingbird, without wasting time or losing a beat, looked back and said, “I am doing the best I can.”

So there is the message for you
If you need it. 
Or perhaps I should say: when you need it. 

Remember the Hummingbird. 

Later that morning we loaded cow/calf pairs to move miles away to graze. I told Cody about the hummingbird and we concluded that neither of us had ever seen one on our farm previously in two years. It was the sign. It was needed. I was grateful.

Sunday after church we we went to Orscheln's (it's becoming a habit, after Mexi) and spent 10 minutes reviewing hummingbird feeders for our yard. How do you pick the perfect feeder to attract your new friend when they all look so....bright and plastic? 

It hangs now it our yard. East of the milk house, by the blooms. Away from the rocking chairs but close to the swing. I can see it from our kitchen window. 

Though you may feel so small in these trying times, remember this - 
You're doing the best you can. 

None of today's photos were taken by me, with the exception of our milkhouse.