“To make the best better” is the well-known motto of the 4-H program.  The motto encourages members to contemplate how to improve exhibits, presentations and themselves. 

           For the 4-H program that evaluation of how to improve includes judging 4-H projects.  Recently, I had the opportunity to interact with several 4-H members while judging at an area fair.

          Dozens upon dozens of 4-H members and their completed projects of ceramics, aerospace rockets, breads, posters, drawings, animal exhibits and more arrived in waves throughout the afternoon and evening.

          As a judge I have the privilege of asking, “How did you make/construct/create this exhibit?”  It usually takes only one question and the 4-H member is off and running with a lengthy narrative of each and every step involved in their exhibit. Their enthusiasm is bubbling up and over every word. 

          Over the years, a few of their descriptions have been especially memorable.  One young cookie baker was asked how she succeeded in creating an entry of four cookies that were obviously homemade but still so precisely alike.  Her reply was that she had mixed a batch 4 times the regular recipe, baked all the cookies, lined them up on every available space in the kitchen and dining room and then matched them.  She stated the biggest difficulty with that method was keeping her younger siblings away from the cookies.

          Another exhibitor was so clueless about their exhibit that I began to question their involvement in its creation.  Finally, with a sigh of exasperation, the exhibitor shared, “I made it a looooooog time ago and I forget”. Points for honesty were given.

        An older exhibitor, who I had judged in previous years, was unusually short and silent in his replies but quite restless in their chair.  When I offered taking a break and returning later, he nodded and ran off.  A club leader appeared shortly and inquired as to the policy for judging the exhibits without the 4-H member present as a bad case of the stomach flu had overtaken him.

       Most memorable of all though was a turn of events which lead me to judging the pet show.  The designated judge was suddenly unavailable so I was pressed into service to judge the already lined up and waiting exhibitors and their cats, dogs, hamsters, rabbits and turtles.  Questions on care, feeding, housing and needed vaccinations seemed to be covering all the bases and me, the “almost more nervous than the kids” judge, was relaxing a little when I came to an exhibitor with a cage and a LARGE iguana who stalked about his small space like a miniature dragon.  A very irritated, cranky dragon.  As the exhibitor lifted the cage in anticipation of me wanting a closer look, the cage actually shook from his movements.  As handling and management of the pet was one of the judging standards, the exhibitor began to reach into the cage and excitedly announced, “What until you see him flare!”   I think I said we were running short of time and needed to move on.  I think I said he was the most unusual pet for that day.  I do know I moved on and the dragon received a blue ribbon – without any flaring.

         May your best always be better.