Friday, September 4, 2009

"Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. " from DOL website
Our family tradition for Labor Day has historically included 2 things. First is attending the annual Rib Cook Off held in our city. It is basically mandatory. We love, love, love ribs and this is like a paradise. Our favorite has been Butch's, I even go so far as order cases of the sauce ordered from his website. Booth after booth of every flavor of ribs and sauce you can imagine. Yummmm.
The second is making homemade ice cream. From scratch. In my old family hand crank ice cream freezer. Around here, if you don't crank, you don't eat. Simple as that.
Whatever your plans for the long weekend, make it safe and relaxing! I am sooo looking forward to a few days off to have some fun!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Strange development

Prince Charming and I attended our local state fair last weekend. We have attended every year as a fun diversion to our rather mundane life. As a child I grew up in the Midwest, where State Fairs are the premier event of the year. As a Midwest "city girl" I was always fascinated by the endless array of livestock, produce, creative living displays, and exhibits. Of course, as a child I was most drawn to the obligatory carnival and junk food, but still I enjoyed the whole ball of wax.

The first year I attended the fair here, I must admit I was rather stunned at the lack of size and variety compared to other fairs I had seen. Each progressive year has only served to be even more notable for diminishing size and variety of the exhibits. Each time we leave wondering why on earth they don't do more to promote entries and attendance for such a unique event. Every week I stumble across craft shows, farmer's markets, etc that make our fair look like a sorry excuse for an elementary school science project. My children were always fascinated by seeing the livestock and array of other exhibits at the fair since they too are "city kids".

This year really took the cake. The livestock barns were not even half full, no "scientific exhibits" (for lack of a better term) like have been included in past fairs such as the giant bubble wands, puzzle stations, agricultural learning centers etc. Two years ago we had a blast at a station centered around all sizes and shapes of kaleidoscopes. Each one was a different size and shape with corresponding learning stations to explain the how and why each worked. There was one that was over 4 feet long and was magnificent to look through. Not this year. The only "learning activity" per say for kids was one tiny station where children could plant a seed and learn about how to do it properly. I say tiny because it amounted to a plastic tub of dirt no larger than 2 feet in diameter, and you could use a plastic drinking cup for digging. Kids weren't allowed to actually "water" the seed the planted as the only dirt for the whole fair was that one tub. So you could lift the empty watering can, and the lady would tell you what it should look like if you water it in. Seriously?

I headed expectantly to the creative living barn figuring it had to get better. didn't. The youth section was drastically smaller, less exhibited items in every category. I always love to see what the children do for entries, and especially the baked goods. This year there were like 4 cakes, maybe 7 plates of cookies. That's it. The photography section could have been outdone by any elementary class room bulletin board in our town. Maybe 40 photos, drawings, paintings. Some of the photos, I kid you not, there is NO WAY ON EARTH they were taken by a qualifying youth. Now I'm all for helping your kid look good, but come on. Kids can't take candid perfect lighting, perfect angle photos. These were better than some I have seen on professional web sites. I think there were 5 displays for the scientific areas like how to raise a cow, grow corn, harness wind energy kind of deals. Half of those were covered in blankets and couldn't be viewed.

OK, depressed, I moved on the adult section. I honestly wanted to cry or stomp my feet but couldn't decide which. The single largest division with entries was the jelly/jam table. Fine, I love that one, and they were stellar. Maybe 20 jars. The produce section floored me. Three plates of tiny tomatoes (yeah our weather sucks and mine haven't grown either), 3 zucchini, 2 crook neck squash, and one lousy sunflower head. This must be a joke, right? I head to the baked goods. A couple loafs of banana and zucchini bread, and maybe 4 plates of cookies. That's all folks.

My shoulders slumped further as I turned and went to the table of floral displays. One of my BIGGEST passions. I was appalled, disgusted, and ready to head to the car. Tops there were 10 arrangements total on a table for the entire floral section. The grand prize, top dog ribbon was pinned on a curious item. I moved closer. A glass bottle (looked to be a used cologne or such) shaped like a cowboy boot. Maybe 3 inches tall. Stuck in said bottle were 3 stems of dried grass with seed heads. I MEAN grass, like the kind you see if you don't mow your yard and it goes to seed and dries out, grass. Same bottle stuck on some wacky poster board ripped to a bizarre abstract shape with some sand and twigs on it. Two ribbons next to it. The blue first prize ribbon which was dwarfed by the best of division red/white/blue ribbon. The center medallion of these ribbons was larger than the entire floral display! This must be some sordid joke and someone moved the ribbons I think to myself. My eyes wandered to the other displays, only to realize this was no mistake. The others were seriously pathetic. Even Prince Charming said repeatedly he could do a better job at arranging flowers than these. Now I get that not everyone is perfect. Congratulations to whomever entered these to at least do better than myself and get off their butts and enter. But seriously? I have thrown away old moldy fresh flowers in vases that looked better than these entries did.

Each subsequent section just got worse. Three tablescapes, 1 stained glass, and amazingly 3 scrapbooks and two layout pages. Folks, we have AT LEAST 4 huge scrapbook stores in town not including the million aisles at the local Walmart and Michael's and Joannes. The three scrapbooks were nicely done, but the originality scale would put them in the negative number column. You know the kits you can by where everything is matchy/matchy, pages prelaid out for you, basically you slap on the photos, write in the box and your done? Yeah, all three just like that. The quilt section had dramatically decreased to less than 40 quilts. The adult photography, maybe 100 shots tops. Less than 20 paintings, drawings etc.

I left the fair sad, mad, and just plain upset. First off, I was mad. At myself. See, how can I complain about the lack of size and variety of entries when I was too darn lazy to put stuff in myself. I applaud every entry, for at least they did something. I didn't. I suck and I admit it. Then I was mad at the event promoters. Why don't they get the word out when they are ready to accept entries, tell people what can be entered, tell people where and how to do it? Would it be so difficult to post some fliers in the local craft stores, feed stores, garden centers to let people know what or how to do it? Now I know the 4-H people live for the fair, but the rest of us "city folks" haven't got a clue and need a bit of help. They want to increase attendance, so why don't they do something about increasing the entries for people to see when they get there?

Then I was sad. Sad that our state places such a low importance in an event such as our fair. To me, the fair is one of those out of the box learning opportunities for our children. A place for them to learn that milk doesn't come from the grocery store case neatly wrapped in a plastic jug. It comes from a cow. Or corn doesn't come from a plant neatly sealed in a metal can. Or eggs don't just come pre-made in a neat little carton to protect them. Our kids take far too much for granted, and we let them. They don't realize the blood, sweat, and tears involved in livestock or agriculture. Someone, somewhere has to work hard to help them along to supply our food chain day after day. Bread isn't a magic package pre-sliced in a plastic wrapper to keep it fresh. Someone has to grow the grain, produce the variety of ingredients. The baker has to use math and physical skills to combine the right amounts of the right ingredients, exercise the patience to allow it to rise properly, knead it, form it, and bake it at the right temperature, or you get what we like to refer to as disaster bread. Or to create something, by hand, separate bits of nothing really to formulate a item you can be proud of. Selecting materials, knowing how to use a variety of tools, seeing something through from start to finish that you can call your own. Even if no one else in the world likes it, you made it. Our children are missing out on enormous life lessons that do apply to every area of their lives. Respect for themselves, others, animals, and the earth. Our education system is failing our children by robbing them of precious classes such as art and music, citing budget shortfalls, not "necessary" instruction blah, blah, blah. Our children think the world revolves around video games, cell phones, and prepackaged convenience food.

So, I have to ask. Is it just our state? Anyone been to their fair lately? Anyone brave enough to enter an item for the competitions? I don't know how or why this strange development in our state has occurred, but it got to me. Really got to me. Congratulation to everyone who was motivated and brave enough to enter our state fair. You all deserve a blue ribbon in my book for having the drive to at least do it. I didn't and know I have know right to critique or judge those who did. I just hope I can have less apathy next year and get some entries of my own in the fair. Not for praise or hopes of winning the coveted ribbons, just for the sake of doing it. Wanna join me?