I have a fun task for today. I get to sit down with my girls and fill out the entries for our local agricultural fair. The kids are entering several things from baked and canned goods to their show bunny to vegetables. For the first time this year they are also doing some flower arranging. Bruce usually enters in the photography class. He is really looking forward to next year when he can enter Barefoot Farm Honey.

Doing the whole fair thing is a lot of work. The set up takes quite a while as does the pick-up and all of the baking and preparing comes right in the midst of the busiest garden season but I think it is one of the most valuable things I do with my kids. Showing in the fair is a foil against the otherwise toxic life of an American teenager.

I have really good kids. I don’t don’t have any of the problems with drugs and alcohol and boys that so many parents struggle with. Living in a tiny town has many advantages and one of them is that my girls can’t go anyplace that I don’t take them. They can’t buy anything except from one local store where everybody knows them. When Karen showed up there one day on the back of a motorcycle my phone was ringing before she made it inside. It was fine. She was with an adult friend of ours but I was pleased to know that so many eyes were on her. Even so, I know that much of what passes for normal in the life of many teens is anything but. The fair is an opportunity to highlight a life beyond fashion and music. It is about real pride in worthwhile accomplishments. On of Karen’s prized possessions is the first place plaque her 4-H club won for the best in show booth and her rabbit’s three 1st place ribbons.

If you have an opportunity to participate in an agricultural fair, take advantage of it. It requires putting in an application a week or two ahead of time and reading the rules of presentation very carefully. I believe in the coming hard times, we will see a resurgence in the popularity of these local events. It does take some discipline with children. Most fairs have an attached carnival area, an expensive sidebar and the one that kids are attracted to. We let our kids go to the carnival part on bracelet night; all the rides are free with the purchase of a $10.00 bracelet. We also set a limit of one treat, either cotton candy or fried dough, and 3 games of chance. Beyond that, if they want anything else, they have to pay for it. It is amazing how little that cheap trinket is worth when you have to plunk down your own hard-earned cash for it.

Next year, Phoebe will be old enough for Cloverbuds, the little kid part of 4-H. I want to run a cooking club, a sewing club and maybe a food preservation club. (Did I mention the importance of volunteering?) I will also enroll her in an existing sheep club. Honestly. I can’t wait.

One other note on family. I was reading a Ladies Home Journal article this month on families who have moved in together to save money and provide support. Older adults get help with the heavy lifting as they age. In return, they provide some needed respite for overworked parents and companionship for the grandkids. It seems like a win-win to me. I hope that one of my kids will want to return home someday. In a perfect world, they would provide the labor so we could heat entirely with wood ( a huge savings for us as we have the wood lot) and take over some of the other chores like lawn mowing. We would keep the house clean, make the meals, keep up the gardening and be there for sick kids and to provide after school care. We could swap babysitting as I still have younger kids at home. Sharing expenses would mean that we could all afford some luxuries. It would give our kids a lovely home with no mortgage and us a way to stay in our home until we leave, feet first. Our home is designed with essentially separate living quarters and we would spend the money to update those to suit whichever kid wanted to join us in a communal living arrangement. I would be so happy to know that this house and the land would stay in the family. I think the kids know this is an option. I am waiting for one of them to suggest it. If that doesn’t happen I suppose we could look outside the immediate family as we have dozens of nieces and nephews. One of them might be interested. It would not be perfect but it could still work.

I think we will see a lot more communal living. As I have said many times. Living in an era of declining energy and contracting economies with be different but different does not necessarily mean worse. Stronger families and less pressure can only be positives for children and parents. When I see young families struggling with child care and escalating expenses I can only hope that we will reinvent ourselves socially as well as technologically and make life easier for all of us.

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