Monday, August 10, 2009

4-H at fair time...

I must admit...I am not a fan of fairs. County, state--you name it. It is far too crowded for me. I hate the overwhelming sense of insignificance, the fear that my children will get lost, and the twenty pounds you can gain by just smelling the fried food on a stick as you hurt your back and feet walking everywhere. The Minnesota State Fair, also known as "The Great Minnesota Get Together," takes place the last two weeks of August through Labor Day. Our county does it near the middle of August--and this week is it.

We have never exhibited at the fair through 4-H or Open Class. I never did it as a kid, though I was a 4-H member and it was my favorite building to go to. I have tried finding a group for my kids a couple of times--it wasn't until this year that we all really clicked with one. I knew the kids were going to want to show, so we set the goal pretty low this year. Each did three projects--photography, space models and scrapbooking. I was fairly confident we could accomplish all that. Last weekend I was disappointed to be working on things so late--but they all got turned in today. Each person gets interviewed by a judge for each project. How daunting that must be to little ones! Great practice for grown up life. I learned this afternoon that we are not the only ones--apparently 4-H parents are all familiar with this.

After a member determines to do a project, they must register right after the hog roast in the spring. They really just sign up for everything they think they MIGHT even want to do just a little. There is no penalty for not doing it--but if a member signs up too late--they are not allowed to win a state fair trip with that project. Can you imagine what a bummer that would be? So we got ours in, even if at the very last moment.

My two older children got two blue ribbons and one red each. My youngest brought home three blues. I am really proud of them. We have to wait until tomorrow to see who brought home the grand and reserve champion ribbons of the county. We will also have to submit our things for open class. My daughter, husband and I are all submitting exhibits. We are really excited!! Who would have ever known? I am still not a fan of crowds or the wafting smells of fried foods, but maybe it will have a new perspective for us.

It was funny, when we got home the kids were already chattering and I explained that if they wanted to do vegetables or baking we could actually do it if we weren't stressed about getting other projects done that could be done at another time. Maybe it would be more fun for them too. I think that showing at the fair is more than just ribbons. Oh, I don't kid myself into thinking that it isn't a motivator for them. I just think that the payoff is encouraging them to do the work in the first place.

Even my husband got into the spirit this weekend by helping make 4-H symbols for the GPS hunt that is new at the fair. I think the spirit may become contagious. My youngest asked why we never showed stuff when my husband and I were kids. I guess I never even thought about it--I think I knew it would never happen. The thought of showing never crossed my mind--not once. My husband grew up in the cities near the fairgrounds and he went every year, but showing wasn't one of the things kids around him did. I think open class is kind of our chance to join in the fun. My children have asked repeatedly to go to the state fair and I have never relented; perhaps it would be a chance to be inspired for next year's projects.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Summer in the cold

July had some unseasonably cool temperatures.We saw summer arrive late in the month of June with some temps in the mid-90's (Fahrenheit). Those temps have disappeared.

When my boys started the morning with their last day of swimming lessons for the year, it was nippy! It felt more like Halloween time than it did time for taking a dip into the water.

We had lunch and decided to go for a hike at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. It was chilly, but we were okay. We tried to do the GPS geocaching-really the childhood game of searching for pirate's treasure gone high tech. We have enjoyed doing it, but we also find it frustrating. The ranger suggested trying to use the unit with a traditional compass. I think we will do that next time. We did find some blackberries and raspberries in the park and stopped periodically to pick some for a great snack. It was great ! When we were driving home, I noticed that the car told me it was 59 degrees at 3:00 in the afternoon.

The boys had a softball game with their 4-H group at 7:00 in the evening. I am happy the boys have been able to play with 4-H. We aren't sports fans around here. I have to tolerate a football game every now and then in the fall, but that is pretty much it. It was a nice pace for the boys--the parents don't get silly with their obsessive behavior. If more sports were like this, I might be more inclined to do them. They are really looking forward to next year!

There were blankets, jackets and a baby even had a stocking cap on. After sitting on the ground an hour, we were ready to get home. We actually turned the heat on it the car...can you believe it? JULY and we turned the heat on? Minnesota is considerably warmer in the bottom half of the state. The warmest recorded temperature was in Moorhead (on the border with Fargo, North Dakota) on July 6, 1932, with 114 degrees. I learned that and thought of my grandmother, pregnant with my father--she would have to wait two more weeks before delivering in that heat wave. UFF DA!!!

The coldest temperature in Minnesota was recorded in Embarass, Minnesota (far north) on February 6, 1996 with a low of -60 (Fahrenheit). This was actual temperature and did not include windchills. For a few years, I lived in Fargo and remember it getting -40 below and speaking to a person from California and she was utterly amazed. I remember her asking how we lived like that. In northern Minnesota engine block warmers for the car are essential. However, the record colds set this month aren't that dire.

June brought highs in the mid-90's in Southern Minnesota (usually warmer) to the low of 23 degrees in Tower. Tower and Embarrass are close to each other and are routinely the coldest place in America and frequently have colder temps than many parts of Alaska even. Northern Minnesota has a lot of mining. Can you imagine working in winter temperatures like that? My husband is a mechanic for agricultural equipment, that can double for snow removal in winter, and I know how cold he gets. Today he went to work on a piece outside and had to return to the shop for a jacket. For all the people who have been shocked by the temperatures, there has been an upside to all of this. Last night was only the second time I have killed a mosquito this entire season. Minnesota, like so many other places, like to think of the pest as a state bird of sorts. Such a strange year. I think I should fix my back door so it is more energy efficient--I thought it was going to be a bad winter a while ago. I am getting concerned over heating costs this year--never know, maybe it will surprise us and be a nice mild winter to match the mild summer.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Across the Mississippi...

Last year I took my mom and the kids up to Big Bog State Recreation Area--a beautiful park, minus the spring bugs. This year my mother wanted to go again and we went to Maplewood State Park. We waited too long to get reservations in the camper cabins so we were happy to see the one here open. It was an older cabin and lacked electricity, but in the summer time that isn't too much of an issue.

We got to enjoy a couple fires and roast some marshmallows. The second night we ran in a little before planned because the raccoon that had been at our site the night before was back. He made it clear he wanted us out of there. We decided to comply and hit the sack since it was getting late anyway.

Maplewood is a beautiful park, great for hiking. However, my mom really isn't up to a lot of steep climbs anymore. Her balance never has been too great, but it has gotten worse over the years. Itasca State Park was a couple hours away, but it was worth the drive. There is an incredible amount to do there. We saw an old sawmill, we crossed the Mississippi at its headwaters, visited the old and new visitor centers, replica of the original store there when the area was being settled and an old sled used to haul logs during the timbering days. It is a beautiful park and we really enjoyed going back there.

Mom just stayed by the river. It is about a quarter of a mile hike each way and we were sure to take pictures. The headwaters marker they are standing by has been there for a while--visitors have been taking pictures here for decades. It is a great place to feel connected to the past.

We also climbed the fire tower--well my oldest son and I did. Mom stayed down with my other two kids. It is an intimidating experience--but what I am willing to do for a picture!! We returned to Maplewood. Getting back there was almost as much of an experience. We returned the way we came to avoid the we thought. The road crew had moved further down the road, closing the entrance to the park from the direction we had come without detour signs. All the roads at the closure were dead ends because of the lakes in the area and we had to call the sheriff to get help. Thank you Otter Tail County Sheriff's Department!! On the way we also had to call back because there were cows out of their pasture. We did find the poor woman who was house sitting and let her know too. Never know what excitement camping in the backwoods will find!

We only spent two nights up there. I don't think my mom could handle much more than that anyway. We did stop at Glendalough State Park and look the lodge there. It is used as a conference center now, but it once was the summer retreat for the Minneapolis Star Tribune owner. Both Nixon and Eisenhower hunted there. The area across the lake had now defunct resorts. Since the lake has never been developed it is restricted to historical fishing and camping activities. I have considered camping there before, but always thought it wouldn't be worth the hike in--as it is not a traditional campground. Even after visiting it last time, I wasn't sure. We had to find a fire ring for a picnic and the rangers allowed us to use the first site for an hour to have lunch because the picnic grounds were reserved for an art group. Both the art and the campgounds were beautiful--I am sooo ready to camp there now...Can't wait!

We also stopped by Cuyuna State Recreation Area right before bringing Mom home. It wasn't too far from her house and she had never been to the mine. The old mines have been allowed to fill with the water that naturally seeps out. It is truly beautiful. The water is so deep that there are scuba divers that go down there. The lakes have also been stocked with fish. A rustic campground has been developed, but I am unsure if they are going to do more or not. Still a great view and worth the effort to get there!