Showing livestock.

I recently mentioned my livestock showing days in a post and several people asked to read more about that.  {I did post about it once – here.}  It was a very big part of my upbringing, so it does seem important to document it in this space.  Both nature and nurture have a love for agriculture in my blood and personal history, and it’s a little surprising to me that I actually prefer to live in the city.  My dad was a cowboy, my mom has always loved and lived a rural life, and my stepdad too.  I appreciate and am very thankful that I grew up on a ranch/farm, even if I don’t feel drawn to living on one as an adult.  I recognize all of the opportunities and experiences I took for granted growing up, and if I had it to do over again, I’d want my childhood and teen years to be in the same setting.

As a bit of background, I was in 4-H from age nine to eighteen, and I was in FFA from around age twelve to eighteen.  Through 4-H I participated in many projects outside of raising animals (baking, leathercraft, range management, crochet, sewing…to name a few) and held many leadership positions on the club, county, and state level (well, only one on the state level – I was a state ambassador one year).  I joined FFA through school in 7th grade and participated in contests like parliamentary procedure, Creed, quiz, judging contests (wool and horticultural produce were probably my favorites), public speaking, etc.  There were 4-H and FFA state wide conferences and contests each year, which were always so much fun because they were an opportunity to compete in these contests and see friends from around the state.

So showing animals.  Most teenagers are expected to get some kind of summer job, I think, and my summer job was always my show animals.  Through the nine years of showing, I showed heifers, pigs, steers, and lambs, never all in the same year and some (lambs) only once.  Pigs were my favorite because they’re cute, smart, and have such great personalities.  Heifers were a pain (very temperamental) and I only showed them two years.  I had some beginners luck (and by luck I mean that I had a very knowledgeable ag teacher who provided guidance every step of the way) with my first lamb, winning my class at state fair, but overall lambs weren’t my thing.  Steers kind of scared me (they usually weigh between 1200 and 1500 pounds and I was just…easily scared, I guess), but they were the biggest money maker because we would show the steers that were born on our ranch, so we didn’t have to buy them from other breeders (one of the biggest – if not THE biggest – expense when it comes to showing animals).  We’d buy the pigs and lambs from breeders around the state and/or country.  The show season began in the spring when we would buy and start working with the animals and it lasted through early fall with State Fair in September.

Since pigs and steers were the main species I showed, that’s what I’ll talk about here.  Our days during the summer were very predictable.  We’d be outside by 5:00 AM to start chores.  First, we’d feed the steers.  While they were eating we’d walk the pigs out in the pasture (maybe a half a mile walk or so?  Not sure.).  When I say we’d walk the pigs, you may imagine it to be like walking a dog.  But the pigs weren’t on leashes; we’d just walk behind them and direct them down a dirt road.

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^ Walking the pigs one evening. ^

Within a few days, they knew the routine.  The pigs knew that when they reached a certain spot they could turn around and run home and their breakfast would be waiting for them.  (My stepdad would put out their food while my mom, sister, and I walked the pigs.)  We had a really nice barn for our animals (my stepdad designed and built it, with my mom, sister, and me serving as his top-notch labor crew) with individual feeding stations in the wash rack for each animal.  The first few times we’d feed there, Dale would direct each pig into the correct station (they all had customized food portions based on how much weight we needed them to gain – my stepdad was very scientific about the whole thing), but within three days they would all know which station to go to automatically.  I’m telling you – pigs are smart!  (We did have one poor Chester – breed of pig that is white in color with floppy ears – named Guess who would always have to be directed into his station.  I think his ears were just unusually big and he couldn’t see clearly to count gates.  He was one of my all time favorite pigs through the years.)  While the pigs ate, Lisa and I would clean up their pens (shovel up the poo and use a rake to even out the dirt because pigs tend use their noses to burrow and create little ruts).  After the pigs ate they’d go back into their pens for the day.  Their pens were probably ten feet wide by fifteen feet long, and we’d usually have two or three pigs in each pen, so they had plenty of room to laze about.  Dale ran water lines to each pen and hooked up little self-watering stations in each pen, so they could drink water by pressing their snouts up against little metal nozzle whenever they needed it through the day.  This was an especially nice system because the water was there automatically and we didn’t have to leave a bucket in the pen, which the pigs would inevitably play in, lay in, and turn into a big bowl of mud.  We’d come out periodically during the day and lightly spray down the top layer of dirt in their pens so that it stayed cool.  The barn was covered, of course, and we had this huge, thick mesh cloth type thing hanging over the open sections at the front gate of each pen to keep the sun from getting into the pen.  This kept it cooler and it protected the pigs from getting sunburnt.

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^ Reading what appears to be a Sweet Valley High book at the county fair.  The pig is obviously enthralled with whatever shenanigans the Wakefield twins are into. ^

So that’s the pigs.  The steers would be done eating by the time we’d put the pigs away in the morning, so we’d put their halters on them and take them over to the wash area and hose them down.  Then we’d comb and brush their hair and blow it dry with big blowers.  The objective with this twice daily routine (we’d do the same thing in the evening) was to both grow the hair and train the hair.  When a calf has good hair, you can utilize that hair when you clip the calf.  It can add inches to their back or butt (a good thing in a show calf) and it makes them look really nice so the judge picks them to win.  Of course that’s not the only thing that matters – the judge would feel along the calf’s rib cage area for “finish” (fat).

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^ Champion Charlais at the State Fair. ^

After their bathing and grooming, we’d put the steers in what we called the cool room.  It was this insulated, dark room that had an air conditioner and a few fans.  The steers would be tied up in the room all day and it would keep them cool (again, to help them grow hair).  They lived the life of luxury alright – just lying there in a nice dark, cool room, chewing their cud and napping.  One of us had to always be home every day to check on the steers, offer them a bucket of water a few times, shovel up the manure, and most importantly, make sure the air conditioner and fans kept running.  Because the room was insulated and it was so hot outside, it would have been detrimental to their well being if a breaker blew and they were left in that room during the heat of the day.

The evening routine was basically the same – walking pigs, grooming steers, feeding each.  We wouldn’t get started until 8:00 or so because that’s when it would finally be cooling down.  Rainy evenings were always a treat because we didn’t have to rinse and blow dry the steers (the rain water was good for their hair so we’d just take their halters off, feed them, and let them run around and play in the rain).

This routine and schedule helped us take care of the animals the best way we knew how and get them ready for the fairs.  The goal was to make the sale at the fair (usually the top two in each class made the sale and lower placings could “pull” in if those people decided not to sell that animal) and get to sell the animal in a premium sale.  The buyers were usually local businesses and groups of individuals (sometimes called buyers clubs) who had pooled their money to buy animals and support the youth.  The money I made was put into a savings account, and I was able to graduate from college debt free because of my earnings.  It was hard work through the summer but fun and pretty awesome as far as summer jobs go!

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^ Sale photo from 1999.  ^

Of course, I didn’t always like raising show animals.  In fact, there were times when I couldn’t wait to graduate and get away from it.  But I am so appreciative of the experience and what I learned (responsibility, recordkeeping, compassion, patience, work ethic, being a good winner and a good loser, etc.).  Most of all, I’m glad that I had that time with my family.  Day in and day out, we were at the barn together, working and caring for other living beings.  That’s a pretty dang good way to grow up.

Is there something from your childhood/younger years that you didn’t love at the time but can appreciate now? 

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Photo Friday Flashback – honeymoonin’.

My mind has been preoccupied.  I have been completely and utterly distracted by my own sighing and reminiscing about the honeymoon adventure that Kevin and I were on a year ago.  But I’m not alone in my preoccupation.  It’s safe to say we’ve both been distracted – comments such as, “Mmm, remember the food we ate at…” and “This time last year we were…” have followed us around like comic strip speech bubbles all week.

And just where were we?  We made a tour of the Pacific Northwest, where I ate my weight in chowder and fish and chips and Kevin lived in his perfect temperature bubble.  The cool, misty rains and the fresh, crisp air – that’s his happy place.

It is in memory and with shameless nostalgia that I now redirect attention to the recap posts from the honeymoon I want to relive.

{Click on the links  to travel back in time.}

We started off with a  day trip to Orcas Island. 

Day 4 - Orcas Pottery Amy & Kevin swings

Then we sailed to seaside Sidney. 

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 On the third day, we moseyed to Victoria.

Day 6 - Victoria arriving at The Empress

Still in Victoria, we had a probably perfectly British day.

Day 7 - Victoria Butchart Gardens pink flowers

 And we concluded honeymoon bliss in Seattle.

Day 8 - Seattle outside original Starbucks

 

Last and, quite frankly, least, in case you were wondering what kind of style I sported on this Pacific Northwest honeymoon….

 

Where do you wish you were right now?  What was your most favorite trip of all time? 

Photo Friday Flashback. – A bus through Baltimore.

I decided to stick with the Tiffany-Whitney-Amy theme that I had going in last week’s Flashback.  This time though, we’ll be on the East coast.  In Baltimore.  On a bus.

Let me back up.

Spring break of 2006, Tiffany, Whitney, and I made the trip to Washington, DC and then to Williamsburg so Tiff could check out the law school at William & Mary.  We toured the monuments, went to the White House, and took a train from DC to Williamsburg.  Then we took a train from Williamsburg to Baltimore, where we’d be flying out from the following day.

We’re staying at a hotel that (I can only guess) was close to the airport.  And far from the Inner Harbor, which is where we wanted to go for dinner. We somehow find out (I don’t think it was at the hotel…maybe a business in the area?) that the bus stop across the street from the hotel would take us right to the Harbor.

So we skip right over to the bus stop and have a stranger take this picture for us.

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The bus arrives and we walk on, settling ourselves into empty seats – Tiff and Whitney sharing a row on one side of the bus and me across the aisle and maybe a row or two back.  We didn’t pay…I guess we thought that the fare would depend on how far we go on the bus.  As the bus makes its way through the city, the scenery gets sketchier and sketchier.  The bus fills up.  There are people standing in the aisles.  At least one of which was packin’ heat.  {How cool do I sound saying that?  But yeah.  There was a gun.}

At one point, I hear Tiff:  Amy?

Me:  I’m here….

I found out later that Whitney started to feel a bit claustrophobic (and scared) and said, “We have to get off this bus.”  Tiffany glanced out the window, witnessed what was probably drugs and money exchange hands in a questionable sidewalk interaction, and murmured in response, “Look outside. We are NOT getting off of this bus.”

Eventually we see a strip of water in the distance and realize that the Harbor is out there.  There’s just one little problem…we don’t know how to get off the bus.  Like, we know it stops every couple of blocks, but how do we know which stop is the closest?  And how do we let the driver know that we want get off at said closest stop?  And how do we pay for this trip through the Baltimore projects?  The three little country girls are stuck on a bus in the big city.

Eventually some kind-hearted older woman showed Tiffany and Whitney the magic cord that hangs on the wall {technical terms} that lets the driver know people need off the bus.  She also told them that the Harbor was three or four stops away.  A few stops down the city streets, Tiff pulled the magic cord and we bolted off that bus.  We still hadn’t paid.  I guess they probably took pity on us and decided the fare wasn’t worth chasing the crazies.

We had a lovely dinner.  And took a cab back to the hotel.

Have you ever felt like a fish out of water? {Or like a country girl on a city bus?}

Photo Friday Flashback. – Biking across the Golden Gate Bridge.

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In July 2008, Tiff, Whitney (her cousin), and I rented bikes in San Francisco and rode across the Golden Gate bridge to Sausalito.

Yeah.  No big deal.  Just biking across the Golden Gate bridge.

First, I debated what kind of helmet fashion statement I wanted to make:

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Then we set out into the mean streets of ‘Frisco.

Once on the open road concrete, we had a few races…just because it seemed like the right thing to do.

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And we stopped in the park to do a little tai chi and somersaulting (don’t ask – I have no explanation).

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Then it was time to tackle the bridge.

I was too busy huffing and puffing against the breeze to stop for pictures.  The traffic was loud, the other bikers were passing me right and left, and the view was spectacular.

Sausalito is a really cute little town.

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We grabbed lunch and a ferry ride home.

There was no way my legs or booty were interested in pedaling back over the bridge.  God bless the ferry.

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A nice Elvis lip look I have going there, eh?

The view was still spectacular.

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It was a lovely adventure with two sweet girls.  I was a tiny bit sore the next day though.  The plane ride home that afternoon didn’t help, I’m sure.

And now I can say things like, “Oh yes, that reminds me of the time I biked across the Golden Gate bridge.”

Do you enjoy bike rides?  Do you bike often in your everyday life, or do you reserve the bike seat for exciting travel moments as I do? 

Photo Friday Flashback. – Ziplining in Costa Rica.

Back in August 2012, Kevin and I made the trek to Costa Rica to celebrate Kelly and Nelson – destination wedding style.

While there, we ziplined.

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There were a grand total of 16 platforms, ranging in distance and height.  The worst part was waiting on the platforms between lines.  We were in a large group, so it took a bit of time for everyone to get down the lines.  Some of those platforms felt dangerously unstable and were loaded down with people.

The brief time spent…zipping was quite nice.  The rush of adrenaline, the breeze whipping, and the beauty of the Costa Rican rainforest.  It was quite an experience.

By the end though, I was ready to come down from the treetops.

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Have you ever ziplined?  If so, did you enjoy?  If not, is it on your list of things-to-do?

Photo Friday Flashback. – Copper.

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This is Copper.  He’s a steer.

During the summer of 1997, he was pretty much my BFF.  Things started out a little rough.  When we bought him from a neighbor in the spring time, he was so wild that he wound up in the nose of the trailer.  He calmed down pretty quickly though, and he and Blazer (who was homegrown on my parent’s ranch), were my all-time favorite set of steers that I showed.

Both went to county fair and I’m pretty sure they were in the same class.  Copper won and Blazer placed second.  Copper then went on to win the Grand Champion trophy.  I sold Blazer at county fair, and took Copper on to state fair.

That’s where this picture was taken.  Copper was the Charolais breed champion, which means we got to go back into the ring for the grand drive.  The judge pulled Copper and two other calves off to the side and spent a significant amount of time examining them from a distance, instructing us to walk them in circles, and coming over to feel their ribs to check their finish.  Ultimately he chose the other two calves as his grand and reserve champions for the show.  But Copper was right there and it was exciting to be that close to the purple banner.

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I sold Copper that week and he and I both made our television debut when we (well, mainly I – he just stood there and looked pretty) did the news report on the junior livestock sale for Action 7 News.  I could probably recite my entire two minute spiel from that report, thanks to the fact that my proud mama would play the VHS tape for anyone who stepped into our house.

Copper was a golden, four-legged sidekick that summer and a testament to the fact that these show animals become friends.  Pigs were usually my favorite (the steers were/are kinda scary) but I can’t even remember which pigs I had during Copper’s year.  Even to strangers, he stood out in the best possible way with his coloring and awesome hair (thanks in part to genetics and in part to a morning rinse, spending the day in the cool room, and an evening rinse, every. single. day. all. summer. long) I remember a couple of ladies walking by him at the fair and one of them said, “Oh would you look at his hair!  Do you think that’s his natural color?”  The thought of dipping a steer to dye his hair had me laughing.

It’s state fair time here in New Mexico this week.  Walking through the barns, I always get a bit nostalgic.  Remembering the various pigs and steers I showed there through the years.  Oh and that one lucky year I tried lambs.  It was a comfortable place to spend at least a week each year from the ages of 9 to 17.  I did a lot of growing during my time at state fair (and it wasn’t just attributable to the fair food…).  The people, the sounds, the smells, and the memories of dorms, shows, street dances, and naps on the show box – they all bring a sense of peace and belonging that I was blessed to experience.

Do you visit the state or county fairs in your area?  What’s your favorite part of the fair?  Any livestock showers out there – share your favorite fair memory!

Photo Friday Flashback. – The Engagement Story.

On Labor Day in 2012, I went to dinner with Tiffany.  The dinner had been planned for a couple of days, and she picked me up in the early evening.  She asked Kevin for some law book, claiming that she needed it for work.

We spent a few hours at dinner as she filled me in on the fun-filled-action-packed weekend she’d spent in Stillwater with some new and old friends.

On the drive home, we were supposed to stop and pick up ice cream to take home to Kevin, so I was surprised when she passed right by the grocery store without stopping.

Me:  Aren’t we going to stop and get ice cream?

Tiff:  Let’s just go to your house first.

Immediately, a thought fluttered across my little brain.  And I instantly dismissed the thought as ridiculous.  Preposterous really.  I mean, at dinner that very evening when Tiff asked when I thought Kevin would propose, I had responded with a confident, “Oh probably next spring.  That’ll be our three year anniversary.  I’m certain it’ll happen in April of next year.”

So it was silly to even entertain the thought for a millisecond that SOMETHING was about to happen.  There was absolutely no point in getting my hopes up, just to be disappointed for no good reason.

As she pulls up in front of the house, I say, “Okay.  WHAT is going on?”

She reaches into her purse and pulls out a soft cover, black book.  “Just read this first.”

As I begin to read, my head is spinning.

“I don’t think one book could possibly hold or capture all of our fun times and good memories, but I thought I could at least try to capture some of the highlights from the last two and a half amazing years we’ve had together.”

Kevin made the book, a compilation of pictures and memories.  Like the night we hit it off at a bar on the Westside.  A Brooks & Dunn concert.  The trips to Denver, New Orleans, Napa, and Costa Rica.  The everyday things like reading together, cooking dinner together, and how he’ll narrate scenes from Breaking Bad as I cover my eyes during the violent parts.

“We have such an amazing life together, and so many more pages to fill with the adventures and memories to come.  Follow the path inside for the start of the next page in our book.”

*Flash*

Tiff:  Don’t mind me.  Just a little flash photography.

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Me:  This is…wow…is this what I think it…YOU KNEW?

Tiff:  You should go inside…oh and I’m waiting.  Don’t forget about me out here!!

So I go inside.  There are candles lining the entry way, flames flickering lightly.  {I remember thinking, “Don’t trip on the candles.  That would be bad.”}  As I follow the path into the living room, white lights and rose petals greet me, framing the dining room.

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And there was Kevin.  He said a lot of wonderful things and as I was listening, I made a conscious effort to commit his words to memory, knowing that I’d want to remember every sweet word verbatim.  And of course that didn’t happen – I think it’s all my brain could do to keep my body from fainting at the sheer excitement of it all.  Then he got down on one knee and asked if I’d marry him.  I barely let him get the words out before responding with a very strong YES.

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And we didn’t forget about Tiffany in the car.  :)

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It was so perfect.  I found out that Kevin had been planning the proposal for months.  Tiffany was the only person he’d told and the ring had been in the back of his car for two days because he didn’t want risk me catching him bringing it inside or suspecting anything.  {He had a nerve wracking dinner in Santa Fe the night before when we met friends for dinner and had to park on a deserted, dark street.}  The book had been tucked into the enormous law textbook and Tiffany had been given instructions to ask to borrow the text.

Needless to say it was the best surprise of my life.  A year ago he became my fiance; now he’s my husband and I’ll forever be thankful for him.

**Edit #1:  It occurred to me that I should also mention that he met my stepdad for coffee to ask permission.  Such a gentleman, my (then) boyfriend / (now) husband.

**Edit #2:  As referenced by Tiff in the comments below, she did drive down the wrong street on the way home.  That’s what caused me to ask her what was going on when we pulled up in front of my house!