My fair share

What is a gal to do after surviving five days of sweltering heat at the Nobles County Fair, followed by a day-long project putting together the special fair supplement for the Daily Globe and then writing a handful of stories to round out the week?

Well, go to the fair again, of course!

Four years after our first visit to the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, my mom joined me on a quick trip to the land of corn, soybeans and swine last weekend. We admired more than a hundred quilts, dozens of cross-stitched pieces and a disappointingly small collection of hardanger embroidery.

The butter sculptures are a popular exhibit at the Iowa State Fair. Here is Rich Uncle Pennybags with some of the Monopoly game pieces.

The butter sculptures are a popular exhibit at the Iowa State Fair. Here is Rich Uncle Pennybags with some of the Monopoly game pieces.

We walked passed several pork-chop-on-a-stick stands and visited the Iowa butter cow display (they added a Monopoly board, game pieces and Rich Uncle Pennybags — all created from butter — to the display this year in honor of the game’s 80th anniversary.)

Sampson was the winner in the Iowa State Fair's largest bull competition.

Sampson was the winner in the Iowa State Fair’s largest bull competition.

I took a picture of Iowa’s largest bull contest winner (Sampson, a red Angus raised near Atlantic, Iowa, weighed in at 2,893 pounds) and snapped a photo of a tomato that resembled a chirping bird. (At the Iowa State Fair, they have a category for vegetables that are, well, a bit unique. There was a trio of potatoes shaped like zoo animals and some rather odd-looking carrots among the display.)

This tomato was entered in the unique vegetables display.

This tomato was entered in the unique vegetables display.

You could ask 100 different people what they enjoy most about the fair and you could get 100 different answers. I could give more than a dozen reasons myself. Whether county or state fair, it doesn’t matter.

I love to see the handcrafted items displayed by 4-H and open class exhibitors. Where else can you see a scale model combine built from Popsicle sticks, admire a yard art metal peacock with plumage made from silverware or smile over a colorful quilt featuring hedgehogs?

An Iowa 4-H'er made this yard art bug from parts of a Volkswagon Beetle.

An Iowa 4-H’er made this yard art bug from parts of a Volkswagon Beetle.

The talent and creativity people possess in making something with their own two hands is simply amazing. I am thankful for those who grow the flowers, fruits and vegetables to display at the fair, and I appreciate the young kids willing to lead a 1,000-plus pound beef steer into the show ring. I can’t operate a sewing machine, keep a houseplant alive or get within 10 feet of a large beef animal due to sheer terror, but there are people in this world who can.

This sand sculpture on display at the Iowa State Fair took 100 hours to create and consists of 50 tons of sand.

This sand sculpture on display at the Iowa State Fair took 100 hours to create and consists of 50 tons of sand.

The fair is a symbol of Americana — and at the Iowa State Fair that symbol may just be in the guy wearing striped bib overalls or in the teenage girl flaunting pink hair.

I can hardly wait to see what I might discover at the Minnesota State Fair next week!

So much to see, so little time

After working a three-and-a-half-hour shift in the 4-H Food Stand — and spending another two hours typing up results from the 4-H general exhibit judging — I drug my feet back to the Daily Globe office Thursday afternoon wondering how much longer until it’s Sunday.
I love the fair, but the fair makes me tired.
I can traipse through the exhibit halls and livestock buildings half a dozen times a day and yet it seems like I never really get to “see” anything.
Frankly, when I’m in the livestock barn, I’m watching where I step. (Especially after returning to the office after a fun interview with the John family late Tuesday night, only to discover a chunk of livestock poop came off my shoe in the vicinity of my work desk. Shhh — don’t tell my publisher!)
My trips through the exhibit halls are often with a purpose too — tracking down 4-H’ers to get their pictures or taking a shortcut on the way to the parking lot.
While you may think I’m anxious for Sunday because it’s the last day of the Nobles County Fair, that’s only partly true. For me, Sunday is my day off — my day to “look and see” all of the exhibits on display.
I can admire all of the quilts, the needle arts, woodworking and photography displays and appreciate the talent in kids today, all the way up to our senior citizens. I might even have time to look at the potato and vegetable boxes and stop to smell the roses (or other flowers) on display.
I’ll probably also rest a while with a slice of blueberry pie — my favorite from the 4-H Food Stand.
The Nobles County Fair has the 4-H Food Stand in McCarvel Hall and the FFA Cook Shack, both of which offer up hamburgers, pork burgers, french fries and an assortment of other items. 4-H also serves daily dinner specials, commercials (meat, potato and bread slathered in gravy) and super nachos.
The FFA and 4-H food stands use the money they raise from food sales during the fair to help fund programming, so please stop out and support them. The 4-H Food Stand is open from 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. today and Saturday; and from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday. Meanwhile, the FFA Cook Shack is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. today and Saturday, and from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday.
Of course, there’s also the Nobles County American Dairy Association’s malt stand, which consistently has long lines as people await their favorite chocolate, strawberry or vanilla malt.
I anticipate there will also be some offerings on the Midway. Mini donuts or funnel cake, anyone?
There are lots of things to see and do, taste and appreciate at the fair, so I hope to see you there!

Pick your poison

If you’ve driven along any country roads — or perhaps enjoyed the trail along Crailsheim Drive recently — you must have seen all of the Queen Anne’s Lace blooming along the road and trail. The white flowers are dainty looking as they flow in the breeze. If you have time, I’d encourage you to take an up-close look at them to see the tiny flowers.

It is a delight this time of year, when wildflowers are in bloom and the 4-H prairie garden down on the farm is completely overgrown with towering compass plant and Maximillian’s sunflower. The 8- to 12-foot stems are surrounded by tangling rudbeckia, prairie sage, meadow rose, yellow coneflower, lead plant and five different varieties of prairie grasses.

Yellow coneflower in the 4-H prairie garden.

Yellow coneflower in the 4-H prairie garden.

From the little plugs pushed into the ground by 4-H’ers more than half a dozen years ago, followed by two years of mistaking prairie plants for weeds, I’d say the garden has become a success. For the past few years it has filled numerous lunch-sized bags with seeds, which have been scattered on various lands in Nobles County to create fields of color.

The little garden with its seasonal pops of yellow, purple and white pales in comparison, however, to the recently-dedicated Worthington Wells Wildlife Management Area across the road from my parents’ farm.

This is the site of the monument, which was dedicated during the Minnesota Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener last October.

If you drive out there now, you will find the granite monument surrounded by big bluestem, rudbeckia and dozens of other varieties of grasses and forbs. It is a beautiful sight, and undoubtedly a habitat haven for wildlife.

A quiet evening on the farm brings with it the joys of hearing pheasants cackle in the distance; a walk to the alfalfa field leads to a sighting of wild turkeys and their young poults; and a drive to the back pasture brings delight in finding some native forbs previously undiscovered by me and my inquisitive 9-year-old niece.

Wild Bergamot, also known as Bee Balm, blooming in the back pasture.

Wild Bergamot, also known as Bee Balm, blooming in the back pasture.

It was a week ago that niece Katie and I delighted over the pretty purple Wild Bergamot (Bee Balm) along a hillside in the pasture, and were stumped over another pretty flower in a different area of pasture land. (I’d forgotten to bring along my Minnesota wildflower field guide!)

Well, Katie wanted to pick some to take back to the house for Grandma to enjoy, so she broke off three stems close to the ground and gripped them in her hand.
It wasn’t until I returned home that night and paged through my field guide that I discovered the pretty flowers picked were actually prairie onion. In the author’s notes, it said “Do not pick or dig up this plant.”

Prairie Onion in bloom in the back pasture.

Prairie Onion in bloom in the back pasture.

That was it … no other explanation. Oh dear!

I called Katie and, just to be sure the forb was prairie onion, I had her take a whiff of the flower.

“Does it smell like onion?” I asked.

“Yeah!” she exclaimed, excited to hear the positive ID of the mystery flower.

I still haven’t found an explanation as to why prairie onions shouldn’t be picked or dug up. Neither of us broke out in a rash or had any ill side-effects, and we’re both still alive, so I guess we can go out exploring the prairie another day. I think, however, that we shall not pick any more flowers that we haven’t identified!

This is a new discovery in the back pasture. Based on my "Wildflowers of Minnesota Field Guide", I think it might be the poisonous flower, Water Hemlock.

This is a new discovery in the back pasture. Based on my “Wildflowers of Minnesota Field Guide”, I think it might be the poisonous flower, Water Hemlock.

Wake-up Call

With 20 days to go until the Nobles County Fair, I have 164 wrapped bars with dove’s eyes yet to complete on my latest hardanger embroidered doily. The goal is to have it finished this next weekend. By then, the dust will have built up even more on my furniture and the hardwood floors will be thirsting for some spray-on cleaning solution.

Certain things get neglected when I’m on deadline, and since much of my life revolves around deadlines, it seems there is always something being neglected.

I had good intentions going into last weekend to stitch until the doily was finished. However, there was laundry to do, dishes to wash, walks to fit in, stuff to pack up and naps to enjoy.

Well — try to enjoy, anyway.

The neighbor girl I mentor in 4-H spent half the day at my house on Saturday, hand-sewing on the constructed garment she will model at the 4-H Fashion Review this Friday night. As she sat on the couch sewing on her vest, I was sitting in my recliner, feet propped up and needlework in hand.

This is the Hardanger (Norwegian embroidery) doily I'm hoping to finish to take to the county fair's Open Class competition.

This is the Hardanger (Norwegian embroidery) doily I’m hoping to finish to take to the county fair’s Open Class competition. The wrapping on the upper left and upper right corners needs to be completed yet.

At some point, after little stitching had been accomplished, I must have dozed off.

Then, what sounded like a Viking’s game horn-blowing episode sounded at my ear. (I had changed the tone on my iPhone for incoming text messages earlier in the day. I’m starting to rethink my selection of Sherwood Forest.)

Anyway, I woke up to find a text message from Miss Alyssa — yes, the girl sitting about five feet in front of me.

“Wake up Julie!” she texted.

OK! So, I started stitching again, only to doze off a second time within a half-hour.

“Ba-rooom!” the horn sounded again. Another text message from the girl giggling uncontrollably from the couch!

“I’m tired too!” she texted.

“Leave me alone,” I whined, offering the excuse that I was up late the night before, enjoying the “Fragments of a Dream” pageant at Walnut Grove. I’m old and I need my afternoon nap!

The needlework resting in my lap reminded me there was no time for napping.

Sunday afternoon offered me a second chance to snooze — minus the teenage girl and her texting antics.

This time, I was out at the farm, the needlework within arm’s reach and the cell phone hidden in my purse by the kitchen counter. In other words, out of earshot!

I blissfully napped to the hum of the oscillating fan and distant sounds of, er, polka music. At least it wasn’t the blare of a blowhorn!

I suppose I could change the tone on my phone, but I’ve grown accustomed to hearing the horn now. It actually makes me smile.

Of fish and fairs

Spending four days last week on five different lakes in northern Minnesota had, in theory, sounded like a dream vacation. There were plans for a two-night stay at a rural Alexandria resort, a day and a half of fishing on my aunt and uncle’s pontoon, ample opportunities for fishing off the public piers around Alex and, last but certainly not least, time to relax in nature and listen to the call of the loons.

Lily pads on Lake Victoria in Alexandria, Minn.

Lily pads on Lake Victoria in Alexandria, Minn.

As it turned out, the loons were the saving grace in what was the worst fishing trip I’ve ever had.

Yes, four days on five lakes and all I had to show for it was one quarter-pound sunfish that didn’t even put up a fight; and an allergic reaction to a fly bite that nearly crippled me for the better half of a week.

My mom caught more fish than me. Nephew Zach caught more fish than me. Uncle Orv and Aunt Gayle each caught more fish than me. My reward — I got to clean their catch (with help from Uncle Orv on Day Two).

Needless to say, I’ve packed up all my fishing gear and put it away for a while. My one trip of the summer to catch panfish and I blew it — and I’m not interested in catching any more bullheads or catfish down here on our southern Minnesota watering holes.

First catch of the day by my mom -- a nice bluegill.

First catch of the day by my mom — a nice bluegill.

Besides, there are only 33 days until Open Class entry day at the Nobles County Fair and I have a project that requires my attention. For the next few weeks, I’ll be spending my spare time weaving threads and creating wrapped bars on the hardanger doily I started last Christmas.

Meanwhile, the 4-H’ers I mentor have their own projects to finish. So far, just six photography entries are ready. Alyssa has two outfits to finish sewing, needlework to stitch, arts and crafts to create, a song to rehearse and a poster display to make. Her older brother, as far as I know, hasn’t finished any of his projects; and Francisco, the neighbor boy who lives a little farther down the street from me, has one project left to complete.

It’s quite a change from last year, when they had to get their projects done before I left on my trip to Germany.

lake view

A view of Lake Mary from our cabin near Alexandria, Minn.

Oh well, they are each old enough to take responsibility for their projects, and I shouldn’t need to remind them to work on their fair entries.

While they still have a few weeks to get going, the first county fair in the area starts next week down in Osceola County. A quick glance at the calendar shows a continuous “fair week” pattern for each of the counties in our coverage area through mid-August.

Best wishes to all of our area 4-H’ers for a fun-filled county fair experience!