Sunday, February 4, 2018

A January to Remember As A Family

January over the last thirty years was just one of those dreary, dull months.  Honestly the only thing I looked forward to used to be snow.  I'm an outdoor, sunshine kind of person who rarely sits down.  So January, and all the cold and wintry weather, never suited me. Then we started showing our Hereford cattle, our girls got involved in the FFA and January changed dramatically.  January is now one of my favorite months and this last one will be one I will always cherish and remember forever.

Show season at our ranch involves a lot of time spent in the barn and prepping our cattle for the Fort Worth Junior Hereford Show and the National Hereford Show there as well.  For two weekends in a row we make the treck up I-20 to Cowtown and live there almost two weeks out of the month of January.  It's an intensive month full of Scott, Audrey and Steve washing, blowing, walking and packing show supplies up for both shows.  Bethany and I pack and bake sweets!  For the junior show Audrey can only take one heifer to show because there are so many juniors and breeds across the state of Texas showing.  For the second, following weekend of National Hereford Show, breeders from across the US bring both their bulls and heifers to compete in this highly prestigious show.  We try to stay well and not come down with the 'Fort Worth crud' from the constant changes in temperatures and being around so many people.  The flu has hit our nation hard this year and I've tried to keep our family both well and loaded with vitamins in anticipation of these shows.

Audrey's first Fort Worth Stock show and still one of my very favorite photos taken by a friend

Since our oldest daughter Ilissa started showing over 19 years ago, our first large show was the Fort Worth Stock Show. In those days we traveled with our local school's FFA team which numbered over thirty one head of cattle and kids.  Add in two to three family members in there and it was one of the largest groups in the state.  In those days we used to cook meals in the barn to feed our crowd at lunch each day.  Mr. Thomas' stew was always something everyone loved and then there was that one year that everyone made spaghetti...  He blended it all together in large one pot!  That recipe is one that will go down in history for our juniors!  The kids secretly went and bought baked potatoes, hid and ate that year.  They still talk about it to this day! Fun memories!

During those humbling years and the process of building our Hereford herd Ilissa and later our middle daughter Bethany showed with many last places, second to last and mid-class showings with their show heifers.  Each year we'd excitedly come back to Fort Worth ready to show their newest heifer once again or one that was still old enough to show from the previous year.  We were always excited to see old friend and inevitably made new ones.  Just the hard work and perseverance it took and taught our girls still amazes me to this day. Our two older girls learned a lot during those years with both showing on how to lose graciously. Gradually, step by step, our cattle after seven years started to build into a herd that was competitive on the state and national level.  You can buy your cattle all day long and I promise you we did that early on to build our herd. But a home-grown win is the best of them all!

Audrey showing NH North her heifer in the junior show at Fort Worth Stock Show

This past month while at the Fort Worth Junior Hereford Stock Show our Audrey earned an honor that as a family our ranch has never achieved. When the final handshake was given, Audrey and her heifer NH North were awarded Grand Champion heifer of the horned breed!  To say we were thrilled is an understatement and to say we are still reeling from it is even truer.  This win was the result of years and years of Scott's and our girls breeding program on our ranch.  Most special of all was that this win was the product of both the sire (father) and the dam (mother) also being bred on our place.  As a breeder the best feeling of all is when the win is with the lineage of cattle totally off your place.  For Audrey and our entire family that day, this moment was even more special because we shared it as well with our great FFA chapter who had helped haul our girls all over the state and country for many, many years.  I honestly don't think our older two daughters could have been more excited even if it had happened to them.  Both in their own rights have won Grand Champion at The State Fair of Texas (Ilissa) and Houston Livestock Shows (Bethany), but Fort Worth had always been something that had eluded us. We'd hit all around the grand championship with a few division winners and been in the hunt at this show, but never achieved what for us seemed the hardest nut to crack - Fort Worth Grand Champion.

Fort Worth Grand Champion Jr. Hereford NH North with Audrey, family and Ag. Advisors Sue Witt and Kyle Keahey along with Texas Hereford royalty. 

The smile on my husbands face said it all as you'll see in the pictures above and below.  He later mentioned that as he haltered Audry's calf as she left the ring and asked her, "Do you realize what you just won?", she grew a few inches taller and could also not take the smile off her face and was in total shock.  Her sisters later told me that they mentioned to Audrey she could just 'enjoy' coming to Fort Worth after this year - no pressure- because she'd just won the pinnacle in their eyes!

I love the quiet, intensity on her face in this shot

For me as the mom, what meant the most was having our entire family there with all our daughters and Scott to watch as Audrey won.  Along with our Ag advisers Sue Witt and Kyle Keahey there,  and family friend Taylor Shackleford too, was huge to Audrey.  And to our friends and family who texted, messaged and came by to congratulate us, thank you as well. Your support and genuine smiles and words of congratulations meant the world as well to Scott, Audrey and the girls and I.

Kyle Keahey, our Ag Adivisor with our family!  So proud he is in Gilmer and as Scott said,
got to clip the Grand Champion! A rare, full face Scott smile!

Audrey with Gilmer FFA Ag. Advisor Sue Witt and Kyle Keahey

The following weekend we came home, washed some laundry, tried to rest and then Scott and Steve left for Fort Worth again on the following Thursday after arriving home on Monday.  It was time for the National Hereford Show and the Texas Hereford Association weekend of socials, meetings and show on Monday.  My favorite weekend in January was finally here where we could relax a little, visit with friends from across the state and nation and most of all be with all our girls again.

This year was even more special as Scott and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary!  On my Facebook post when I mentioned our anniversary, I told him that I wouldn't have it any other way than celebrating at a cattle show as we had for the last 20 and said here's to the next 30....he then commented, "I sure hope we can still go to a cow show when we are 83!"  It's become a tradition to celebrate our anniversary with a family dinner at least one night while there bringing along friends that have come in to town for to come to the events of the weekend.  This weekend as in many past, we enjoyed having our cousin Jennifer and husband Andy join us at one of our favorite restaurants the Silver Fox.  Thirty years have come and gone by so fast, but I could not imagine being more lucky to have Scott and our girls.  We married young as everyone did in those days. Looking back he's been my rock, best friend, supporter and biggest encourager all wrapped in one rough and tough package. I love you Scott and here's to another 30 or more years!

Anniversary dinner at Silver Fox

Throughout the entire weekend and anticipation of the National Show on Monday, our families thoughts and prayers were gearing up for another big event in our Audrey's life, her district officer election that she would compete in that Monday immediately following the show in Fort Worth.  For a period of eight years as soon as the two oldest girls showed their heifers and bulls in the National Hereford Show, we jumped in the car and headed east to the Daingerfield District FFA Convention  in just enought time for our our girls to run for district officer. Praying all the way, the girls try to take a quick nap, then gear up for their speech and thought quesions on the stage that follow while I just seriously pray that we arrive safely.  I know I make our Ag advisor Sue a nervous wreck!

Audrey with all our Gilmer FFA Ag Advisors.
Selfless, dedicated and love all our in Gilmer like their own!

A huge part of our girls lives are and will always be the FFA and a tradition for them is running for leadership positions in our chapter and then district, area and state levels.  This weekend it was finally our Audrey's turn and we all could not have been more excited for her or anxious.

Candidate #5 Audrey Nolan from Gilmer FFA!

With our first two girls, the practice for their speeches and competitions were always a part of our nightly routine where they'd get up and say them during commercials or with anyone that would hear them.  Audrey is different however and prefers to practice in her own way, quietly and more intensive with a great deal of self reflection.  More like her dad in many, many ways, her style works for her, but makes her mom a little nervous!  However, by the end of the night and a stellar speech performance and question response, Audrey was name our Daingerfield District officer from over 15 neighboring chapter FFA kids!  Our goal was to just be an officer.  When her name was called out last, I've never seen our sweet girl more confident and proud of herself than that night.  

Audrey as Daingerfield District President performing closing ceremonies.

As she closed the convention as the new president, all the years of watching our two older girls came flooding back with a great sense of pride.  Audrey was following in her sister's footsteps, but making on her own place in the world, one step at a time.

All smiles and a huge thumbs up for our Audrey!

As I reflect on the last two weeks, I give credit to God first of all for holding us safe and allowing us to do what we do as a family.  The life we live is fast paced and full of love, laughter and lots of hard work.  Agriculture, our beloved Hereford cattle, their people, associations and the FFA have left indelible marks in our hearts and soul.  Each of these, without a doubt have shaped our daughters in to the young women they are and have become.  We could not feel more blessed and thankful.

For a month that used to be dull, January is anything but but that now.  This past January was one for the record books in our little family's lives and we realize more than anything the events of it were years in the making.

Alise Nolan
The Ranch Kitchen 

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