Once again, my local New England-style agricultural fair is happening, and once again, my daughter and I entered various categories. I've seen this, in some ways, as part of my duty as a father -- encouraging her to test herself, live through a judging by others, and vow to do better next time.
Of course, writing it that way makes it sound like she doesn't do very well. That's not at all true -- she has won first place blue ribbons for her cupcake baking. cake decorating, clay sculpture, and jewelry making.
And I've done pretty well myself -- blue ribbons for two kinds of tomatoes and two kinds of muffins (plus some second and third place ribbons for other vegetable and for cupcakes). Not too bad.
But mostly, it's become a kind of barometer for my daughter -- a way to see where her head is. The first year we did this, she was 11, and she didn't take it very seriously. The second year, she spent all summer and did some really great stuff. The third year, she was a little busier, but still put in a great effort on a few entries, and did really well. This year? Well......
Before we get to that, we need to discuss MY results. I'm the cancer patient, after all, and it's my blog, so I'm really the most important thing. Skip to the next section if you want the sentimental stuff about my daughter.
First, vegetables, especially tomatoes -- nothing. Not only no ribbons, but I didn't even enter anything. I couldn't even find five decent tomatoes to enter. Or any other vegetable. The garden wasn't horrible this year, but it all really slowed down about three weeks ago. No more cucumbers or eggplant at all. Tomatoes are kind of all over the place -- a few ripe, lots of green ones in various stages of growth. But I need five of each variety, and I couldn't even find five that were in good shape, the same size, the same color. The fair is a week later than usual, and that had something to do with it, as did the last month and a half being especially dry. I thought about entering some swiss chard, but even that had lots of bug holes in it. I'll eat it anyway, but it wasn't pretty enough for the fair, so I didn't bother. That's the price I pay for not using lymphoma-causing pesticides, I guess...
I also entered some bread & butter pickles, nice sweet and sour slices. Last year, the pickle judges were pretty harsh -- only two entries, and no one got a first place, the other entry got a second, no one got a third, and I got nothing. This year, two entries again, with no first or second place. But I got a third. (And the other entry got nothing. Those judges are really had to please.)
Baking -- my chocolate cupcakes got nothing. They were once again under-appreciated. By my fudge won a second place ribbon, probably because I added some bourbon to it. Next time I'll add a little more and hope for better.
My big success, though? My jam. My strawberry got nothing, and I'm not surprised, since there are usually lots of entries. But my big success for the night? A blue ribbon for my blackberry jam. Woo hoo!
This jam is kind of special. I have a shade garden in the back of my yard, and for the last few years, some thorny sprouts have been coming up, and I've been pulling them. Last year, after i had shoulder surgery, I couldn't do any yard work, and those thorny sprouts just kept growing. And then flowering. And then bearing fruit. Turned out they were blackberries, probably left there by birds or squirrels a few years ago. This year, knowing that we had blackberries, I just let them grow -- no extra water or fertilizer, just whatever happened. And we got a ton of blackberries, enough for cereal in the mornings and dessert in the evenings for a few weeks, plus a big batch of blackberry jam. And that jam won a blue ribbon. Very satisfying.
And as for my daughter?
She certainly didn't put in the effort she has in years past. She still likes to sketch, but now it's portraits of her favorite bands. And she still likes to sculpt, but it's mostly sculptures of the members of her favorite bands. She entered a drawing she had done a while ago and got a second place ribbon for it. And she entered a small sculpture she had done a while ago, and got a third place. Not a lot of effort, to be honest, and it showed.
The place she did put some effort was in her decorated cake. But, to be honest, even that wasn't a huge effort. But it came out great. The cake decorating theme was "super heroes," and she made a Super Grover cake (he's the alter ego of Grover from Sesame Street; he's a well-meaning but not very effective super hero). I knew she was going to do well when she dropped off the cake and everyone working at the fair squeeled with happiness.
Not only did she win a blue ribbon for decorated cakes, but she also won "Best in Class" for all baked items:
That's pretty dang good.
So what does all of this say about my girl?
Well, I think it says this:
I think she's ready to move on from this stuff. She didn't do anything extra for the sketch and the sculpture, and really, as great as that Super Grover cake is, she didn't have to work too hard to do it. That's not meant to be a brag (though as a father, I'm certainly capable of that).
But she's not the girl she was three or four years ago, when she spent all summer planning and creating all the things she'd enter in the fair.
And of course, I wouldn't want her to be the same girl. I wish she'd maybe take the ear buds out and come out of her room a little more often than she does, but she's in a place where I'm glad she is at -- pretty self-confident for a 14 year old girl, aware of what she can do (and, with this cake, do pretty easily), but also willing to take on some challenges. She started high school a few weeks ago, and that's a whole new world, too.
Will she enter the fair again next year? Hard to say. It will be her last year in the "junior" division, so she may try one more decorated cake or pair of earrings. But if not, that's OK. I'm proud of how far she's come in the last few years.
It might be time for both of us to move her out of the "junior" division.