Thursday, November 1, 2012

11th New Thing ~ Sheep Whisperer

From: Tami
Sent: Tuesday
To: Barbie
Subject: 50 Things

Here’s a thought. Have you ever shown an animal at a fair? My brother and nephew will be in town the 19-23 and may need a handler for one of their sheep. It is a bottle fed little guy so he is pretty gentle. Interested for one of the 50 things?



From: Barbie
Sent: Tuesday
To: Tami
Subject: RE 50 Things

Wow, this is one of the most original New Thing ideas I’ve received. Is it a full time thing? Or are people handling the sheep in shifts? More info, please please.


From: Tami
Sent: Tuesday
To: Barbie
Subject: RE: 50 Things

When the sheep are judged you have to stand there with them while the judges look them over. It involves about an hour of your time on Saturday (I think). You can spend more time with them if you want and learn what it takes to get an animal ready, I know my brother Dean loves to teach/talk about his animals.


From: Barbie
Sent: Tuesday
To: Tami
Subject: RE 50 Things

Okay, but if I do a terrible job ‘handling,’ does it affect the judging of the poor sheep?
PS: I'll send you my schedule.


From: Tami
Sent: Tuesday
To: Barbie
Subject: RE: 50 Things

Ok, here’s the scoop.
When my nephew shows, he is in 4H so his partner will have to be a child. BUT, Dean would love to have you help him out in Open Class. He will give you a run down about how to show them and what to expect. You have to wear a white shirt and black pants and closed toed shoes, although he did suggest that the judges would like a low cut top and a short skirt. My brother is odd. As far as I have heard and he knows, the judging is on Saturday. We can coordinate more as I know more and we get closer to the 22nd.

I have done this in the past and it’s actually rather fun! Plus you get to be a part of the fair and get poop on your shoes. Good times.



From: Barbie
Sent: Tuesday
To: Tami
Subject: RE 50 Things

Okay, I need to go shop for black pants. I only have the short skirts, you know. :)
Keep me informed.

~ B


For those who know me at all, you’ll agree that it’s a little ironic, the joke about wearing a skirt.

So….Sheep Handling. Who didn’t see this New Thing coming? Me, that’s who!
It’s amazing the unexpected intersections in our lives. And this one came out of the blue.

The date for the 11th New Thing was Saturday morning, the last weekend of the Puyallup Fair. But to get an idea what to expect, I needed to be there the morning before.

Tami and I meet at the fairgrounds, early Friday. Before the gates opened for the public. She introduces me to various members of her immediate and extended family.

“Dad, this is Barbie. She’s going to help Dean show his sheep tomorrow.”

“You’re not wearing that, are you?” he asks me.

Not exactly what I hope to hear just before I walk, head first, into a New Thing.
Well, honestly, it’s not what I hope to hear, pretty much….. ever. You?

The very nature of New Things, is that they are new. By definition: strange, foreign, unfamiliar.

I’m already a bit off center, each and every time I step into an unknown experience. As I’m standing at the starting gate of something I’ve never done before, I really don’t want to be second-guessing my choice of attire, outfit, uniform or Kevlar vest.

“You’re not wearing that, are you?” Straight to the point. I do appreciate knowing where I stand with someone.

I look down at the clothes I happen to be wearing for the Pre-New Thing:
Black tank top, black & white eyelet skirt and red Keds.

“I don’t know,” I look up at him and shrug my shoulders. “I might.”

I’m trying not to wonder, “What have I gotten myself into?”

I wear skirts the same way most women wear blue jeans. Pretty much every day. This has not gone unnoticed for some of the 50 Things:
· “A skirt on a Harley?”
· Coveralls offered for the oil change.
· “I’ve never seen you in anything but a skirt,” at Auto Cross.
· Dancing at The Tempest ….was I the only one in a skirt? Oh wait, that wasn’t an official New Thing.

Tami’s early email had said: “white shirt, black pants and closed-toe shoes.”
“Closed-toe shoes for safety?” I asked Tami, sometime the week before.
“Probably more because you’ll be stepping in poop,” she said.
Say no more. Closed-toe, it is.

White shirt and black slacks is self-explanatory. It’s a classic and crisp look. Creating a striking, uniform and professional appearance. Before I even meet him Friday morning, this standard tells me something about Dean.

I like what it tells me about him.
What I don’t like, however….is pants.

After I met Dean, his son Juston and the rest of the family, I meet the sheep.
America and Ivan, a ewe and a ram, are sweet, young sheep for Juston’s 4-H project. Quite docile and happy. I think Tami used the term “bottle fed.” I wonder if there is such a thing as house sheep. You know, like house cat. I think America would make a great House Sheep.

America and Ivan are not, however, the sheep I’ll be assisting with. ‘My’ sheep all have names that were also numbers. #204, 205, 209 or something close.. I think this type of name makes it easier to invite them to dinner at a later date. As the entree. (Ask Tami which number is in her freezer right now.)

After Dean goes over the plan for the next day, my next New Thing, it is time for Juston’s 4-H presentation. “Do you want to watch?” I do. I follow the family to the Pavilion.

Juston’s presentation is on the ukulele. He introduces us to the different constructions and sizes. The one he holds is a tenor, I believe. He points out its various parts. Tells us the origin and history of the instrument.

The presentation was quite impressive. Public speaking is one of the most common fears in our culture. Right up there with fear of height and even death. Juston stands on the platform before the judge’s scrutiny, in front of his family, other 4-H presenters and the public. Countless fair-goers, leisurely looking through the Pavilion exhibits: talking, texting, wrangling small children, navigating SUV-sized strollers. Juston is impervious.

Then, in addition to his remarkable speech, Juston plays the instrument. In the midst of a pavilion full of people, he plays the ukulele and he sings, Somewhere Over the Rainbow. The Israel Iz Kamakawiwo'ole version. I love this song. It makes my eyes water, watching Juston’s confidence, his courage. I don’t think I could have done it at any age, must less at his.

Afterward, Juston’s calm is unwavering as the judge walks him through, not only, what he did well but (and this would be the deal breaker for most people) also what he needs to do better. She is tough but fair. I watched, we all watched, as he patiently took in the judge's comments and suggestions.

When was the last time you were scrutinized publicly? Most of us are so soft, this way. Constructive criticism is more than most adults can handle in private, let alone in front of family, friends and a building crowded with strangers.

Watching Juston stand there, unnerved and without discernible fear, is a huge boost to me as I look to the New Thing just ahead. *I can do this. I can do this.*  Honestly, this pre-teen is more inspiring than many adults I know.

Whatever happens tomorrow I'm going to be okay. And in those inevitable moments when I feel TERRIFIED, I’ll just start humming Somewhere Over the Rainbow, quietly to myself. Feels good to have a plan.

I arrived early the next day. Dean may have thought this was the character trait of a reliable and efficient person. In reality, it was nerves.

*Humming….Some where over the….*

My attire? I wore closed-toe shoes, well, boots actually. But I did not wear pants. Of course, I wanted to do a good job for Dean. And for the sheep. But I also wanted to honor the person that I am in this adventure.

So I walked into the early morning fair grounds wearing new black boots, a white top with cardigan and my favorite black skirt. Maybe my slightly unorthodox livestock-showing attire would confuse those sheep into hypnotic cooperation?

We had a bit of extra time before the showing, so Dean gave me some introduction to grooming sheep. This was seriously intimidating to try just before they were to be judged. Grooming sheep with sharp shears in my hand is a skill I think would have been best practiced when the pressure was off.

You’ve seen those perfectly curved, immaculately prepared wool of fair sheep. You want to touch them to see if they’re real. And Dean let me hold the clippers. Yikes. Pretty scary.

People started to arrive. Suddenly, it was time. As I furiously hummed ‘birds fly over the rainbow…’ I wondered if there was still time to find the nearest exit. Next thing I know Dean, Juston and I were walking with the first few sheep from the barn to the judging area. We put the sheep in a hold pin, then into line, single file with the others being shown. Judged.

Was this hard? You have no idea.

I would never have guessed that sheep could be so uncooperative. Sheep, right? Aren’t they supposed to be easily led? I really cannot describe how difficult it is to get a sheep to move one direction when she doesn’t want to.

The process of showing was quite serious and quiet. When one of ‘our’ sheep won a ribbon, of whatever color, I wanted to cheer but sensed that would have been inappropriate. Too bad. I believe in cheering.

And on the subject of cheering, I can tell you that I felt like cheering when it was all done. Not because I didn’t enjoy it, I did. It was an incredible experience. I went into it pretty much blind to what was ahead. At the mercy of Dean, the judges, but mostly those sheep. But I felt a lot of pressure to do a good job for the sheep sake. For Dean’s sake. This was a single New Thing for me but I could see quite clearly how much Dean enjoys his work. When you love what you do for a living, it doesn’t feels like work. Instead it feels like an daily opportunity to do it well. To get better and better. To do it for real and from the heart.

I would tell you the details of the classes being judged, the criteria of the judging, how Dean's ewes and rams did in the competition. Color commentary. But it was all kind of a blur to me. Mostly I was hanging onto the sheep as tightly as I could. It was very moment to moment. Plus I don't tend to keep score for things I just enjoy doing.

Dean told me later that we got positive comments on our appearance. The professional black and white. I’m glad and I agree; we were the best looking group out there.

It’s been a few weeks since Sheep Handling Day. When I look at the pictures now, I see that I may have made the mistake of using the harness like a leash. Like I was walking a dog.

At the time it felt like sheep wrestling. Dean is probably more of a Sheep Whisperer. Knowing their nature. Not having to hum any show tunes to get himself through it.

I met my first sheep, up close. And my first Flock Master and son.

Post Script:
I stayed after the Open Class, in which I participated, to watch Juston show his ewe, America, for his 4 H project. It was nerve racking as an observer. He did a great job. This kid has amazing composure; All the 4 H and FFA kids did. Our culture seems saturated with saggy pants, unruly kids, shuffling through their teenage years, disrespectful and unappreciative of their parents, their education, their community.... thinking they’re the center of the universe...that adolescent arrogance and entitlement that many kids carry right into adulthood. Watching Juston and the dozen other young people restored a bit of my faith. I’m so grateful. 

My 11th New Thing ~ Sheep Handler

Leading the first pair to the arena.

Digging in our feet for tug-of-war.

Poor Dean. Handling his own charge and having to supervise me, as well.

I'm not sure if the sheep are smiling as much as we are.

Juston helping me stay in step.

Showing the herd. 

L to R: Tami, Andy, Dean, me and Juston.
Andy was a member of another group showing but he saw that we had five animals in the hands of four people so he stepped in and helped. I love when someone doesn't wait to be asked.

This is the expression on a sheep's face when a beginner is coming at her with sharp clippers.

Look at me. Who would have guessed?

Juston's ewe, America. 
Isn't she so pretty? Smiling.

Dean watching his son.

Juston & America in the center. Both smiling.

A happy bonus of helping behind the scenes at the fair, you don't have to wait in the long Ladies' Restroom lines. Sign me up for next year!!

There is so much about the sheep themselves that I'm leaving out. 
Details about Border and Miniature Cheviot Sheep. 
The lambs, the wool, the breeding stock. 

1 comment:

  1. You are honestly one of the coolest people I know. It brings tears to my eyes to see you in these pictures, jumping out of your comfort zone, Barbie Style, and giving it your all.

    Seriously Red!