Monday, August 23, 2010

Head, Heart, Hands and Health

If you from the great state of Minnesota, as I am, you are most likely aware that the most wonderful time of the year is soon upon us. I am referring, of course, to the Minnesota State Fair. Essentially, the Fair represents the culmination of all that is good and awesome about summer in the state of MN. We have food, rides, barns, food, exhibits, booths, food, political candidates, concerts and did I mention food?

Personally, my #1 favorite State Fair food treat is the Pronto Pup. It resembles a corn dog but is exponentially better. Some other top contenders: cheese curds, French fries, chocolate shakes, cookies, roasted corn and mini donuts. There is definitely a “fried” theme taking place, which is why I have to pace myself and choose carefully.

After the food, my favorite thing to see is the 4-H Building. I never ceased to be amazed at the talent of teenagers. My amazement is often expressed vocally, much to the annoyance of my fellow fair attendees I am sure, but seriously, they do things with sewing machines that I never dreamt were possible.

Perhaps you are assuming that my love of 4-H projects comes from being a former 4-H kid myself. I am not quite sure how to address this assumption. Let me explain.

Sometime in the past (probably around 1990), my dad asked me if I would have interest in joining something called 4-H. Never having been known as much of a “joiner,” I was skeptical at first. Apparently, it was a club that was outside of school where you could do “projects” that could be judged for prizes. There was a whole book full of ideas and categories for the “projects.”

Given my limited knowledge and interest in the notion, I believe I gave the book a cursory glance before alighting on something that looked exotic. There were a lot of animal-based projects that were obviously out of the question for me as we were not (at that time) a family with many pets, nor did we live on or near a farm where I could store any pigs/cows/horses/chickens/etc.

There were also a number of options in the food preparation category. I sensed that this would also not be much to my liking as my culinary expertise at the time was limited to the operation of a microwave and toaster. This led me to the great wide world of needlecrafts. Actually, I had a little bit of a leg up in this category as I had been shown how to cross-stitch already and had a rudimentary idea of how a sewing machine worked, thanks to my mother and grandmother.

Logic would have dictated that I choose the needlecraft of cross-stitch as it would have required the least amount of additional instruction. Unfortunately, I was enticed away by the sexy lure of crochet. Specifically, I had always noticed the doilies strewn about my grandparents’ houses and thought that they were wonderfully dainty and beautiful. I guess that was the girly-girl in me shining through in my love of delicate and lacy objects.

When I relayed my choice to my parents, I expected them to be happy and impressed. Strangely, they did not seem enthusiastic and even tried to dissuade me from this option. They tried to tell me that it would be really hard work, and that it would take me a long time to actually learn the technique before I could actually produce anything worth entering into competition.

It should hardly be surprising that none of their arguments had any effect on me. I am a very stubborn person when it comes to holding onto my ridiculous and insanely stupid ideas. So it came to be that my 4-H project was crochet. In my own head, the outcome played out like this:

Apparently, my father was not the only person to make an attempt to interest their child in 4-H that year. My good friend Craig and his father were going to join in on the fun. Craig was lucky in that he lived out in a farm-like setting and actually owned horses and dogs. I’m not completely sure, but I believe his stated intention was to create a project that utilized one of these two types of creatures.

One fine evening, we all hopped in the car and drove to rural Kandiyohi, MN to a meeting of the “Kandi Countrysiders” 4-H club. I don’t know what I imagined this sort of gathering to resemble, but it turned out to be beyond what I could have even imagined. We all sat in rows of chairs and listened to our first official-type meeting, complete with calls to order, motions, seconds, carries, minutes, gavels, and heaven knows what else. I was completely lost in the business-like manner of the meeting and was starting to have severe doubts over my participation.

When it was all over, we all stood up feeling slightly dazed. My dad led me over to some veteran member and I attempted to articulate my choice and idea for a project. It likely made no sense whatsoever, but the person was nice and attempted to be encouraging.

We left the meeting feeling slightly deflated. It was becoming clear to me that this whole 4-H thing was going to be a lot of extra work in addition to school and my buzzing social life. Also, I didn’t actually know anyone who could teach me to crochet, so it was going to be a bit difficult to even start. The whole thing was starting to look less appealing by the minute.

If I remember correctly, we perhaps attended one more meeting before both Craig and I came to the common conclusion that we were simply not cut out for this type of lifestyle. The kids who did it had to be some type of superhuman or even possibly cyborgs. We quit before we even started.

I’m not sure if my dad was disappointed in my choice, or secretly relieved that he wouldn’t have to drive me to all the meetings way out in Kandiyohi. I do know for a fact that neither of my brothers ever attended a meeting nor were they ever encouraged to join. Perhaps my dad felt that he owed it to his own 4-H roots to make one initial attempt to bring one of his children into the fold. Maybe he had visions of 4-H glory for me as well, full of blue ribbons and trips to the State Fair. In the end, I think we all have agreed that it is far easier to attend the Fair as a spectator and admirer of 4-H work than to actually work all year to produce championship doilies.

So if you’re from MN and are attending the State Fair in the next couple weeks, make sure to stop in and admire the hard work of the 4-H kids (including the barn animals). It is no small feat to have an entry in the State Fair. Take it from me, the big quitter, not just anyone can do this stuff.

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