By the time we left Chicago on Friday evening it was nearly 6:00pm and the accidents and construction on the way to Grand Rapids quickly turned a 3 hour drive into a 4-5 hour drive. We checked into the hotel room at close to midnight (you lose an hour), turned off the lights, and went to sleep.
Saturday morning we grabbed some free breakfast at the hotel...self-serve waffle-making stations are neither quick nor without social etiquette we won't go into here...then got on the road to the fairgrounds. Of course, what should have been a 45 min drive ended up taking longer because I missed a turn and we had to double back an extra 20 miles.
My impression of Michigan, having never been there, is that it's more hilly than I imagined. The county fairgrounds where the festival is held sits back off the main road in a residential area on a series of bluffs next to the Kalamazoo River. Very bizarre. The parking lots are on multiple terraces with the actual events area on the large middle level. There's an historical village. The animal "barn" is actually a permanent roof shelter with open sides. A few of the typical fair buildings for vendors. A smallish middle section with food. Antique tractors. And a lovely shaded area with probably the nicest public restroom you've ever seen for a rural county fairgrounds. It smelled amazing! Clean! Large! It was nice enough to comment about it while we were there, let's put it that way.
We had a few minutes to kill before the herding dog demonstration--though the border collies were out playing in the fenced yard--so we checked out the large tent where the goats were located. Across from that was a vendor tent where we ended up stopping to have a wonderful chat with the owners of The Ross Farm. I've since learned from their website that their southwest PA farm is on the National Register of Historic Places. They have 8 different breeds of sheep on 120 acres though we didn't get a chance to talk shepherding too much because the kids were getting antsy...and The Mama was busy peppering her new friend with questions about the travel spinning wheel she was using.
The Mama stayed behind to chat some more (and buy fiber) while the kids and I went to get a seat to watch the border collies work. The gentleman doing the demo does not go to stockdog trials with his animals and gave us the warning that his dogs are strictly on-farm working dogs. So it's a "whatever works" mentality rather than "by the book." He showed us an example of both a younger and older dog for the experience vs. inexperience factor. Some great stuff about how to correct behavior, how the sheep treat the dog, how the dog treats the sheep, presence, when to retire a dog (when the dog starts heading back to the house in the middle of the day!) and what we saw was just a snippet of the 3/4 of a mile that he sometimes sends his pups across to bring the flock in.
The kids were really, really well-behaved the entire weekend, but weren't paying too much attention to the herding presentation (I thought they'd love it). I was doing a pretty decent job of keeping them quiet...outdoors, at a family venue. But the presenter had no sound system. And there was an older woman in front of us who had the nerve to turn around and shush us at one point. She's lucky I gave her the probably-hard-of-hearing benefit of the doubt because you don't try to correct other people's kids. You're just as likely to get a "mind your own business" right back. At the very least, I maybe would have been a bit less pissed off if she'd come to me with a polite, "I'm old and can't hear well, sorry. Would you mind being extra quiet so I can hear?" You win more flies with honey...maybe it's a generational thing? Anyway, the kids managed to sit through a nice dinner later...wine glasses, white table cloth, waiter, etc..
The Mama had been shopping while all this was going on so I decided to just text that we were ready to see some sheep. Let's be real, that's the reason I'd come. And the sheep did not disappoint. It was the Bluefaced Leicester Union of North America's National Show. So there were a number of BFL producers. But an amazing variety of other breeds...Cotswold, Scottish Blackface, Shetland, Icelandic. I was especially impressed at the number of producers from my home state (Ohio) who were represented. It's a shame we're not yet able to buy because there were some beautiful sheep on display. I have to say seeing a few of the breeds in person gave me a new appreciation for why they are so admired. Had a lovely conversation with a young elementary-aged little girl about the two breeds her family keeps and which she likes better (Cotswold is probably my favorite, too). Watched a few ewes being groomed, washed, or taken out of pens for judging. Watched an interesting judge's speech about testicles in buck goats...guess you had to be there. Chased an escaped goat. It was a good time all the way around.
The kids were losing steam real fast and wanted to go back to the hotel to swim. So I managed to get a few more minutes of shopping time for Mama while we visited the historical buildings...they weren't quite yet open for the day. But we managed to look in the window of an old caboose which was pretty cool. There were a few costumed characters roaming around. We would have stayed longer if we could.
After a brief nap in the car on the way back to the hotel, it was pool time. Super over-chlorinated indoor pool that burned eyes and noses--ours, not the kids, luckily. They mostly wanted us to fly them around in the water and the hotel had a ball and inflatable net to play with. Both the kids were pretty cautious in the water and scared at first...but warmed up eventually. Not bad considering it was just a set of stairs...they'll do better with a zero-edge entry, I think.
Changed clothes, went across the street for dinner, then took a pleasant drive down a river road with HUGE houses, lots of boat docks, a lake, dam, and a few cute shops. We grabbed our ice cream at a cute little ice cream window type of place serving Hudsonville Ice Cream...which I'd never heard of until then. But it comes in amazing flavors that taste like Cracker Jack or vanilla ice cream with ribbons of salted caramels inside. Ranks very high on my all-time list.
Unfortunately, we couldn't go to the arboretum Sunday morning because of rain so we just headed back home...again with the heavy traffic. Definitely would love to return to the festival next year though.