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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Do We Have to Leave?!

Second day of contest...another new adventure for us.  Normally we are already back home and telling the world about our feats!  However, this contest is so intense and time-consuming it has to be broken up into two days.  So, we were back at Sul Ross for a second day, and we were faced with the dreaded oral defense right from the start.

Sean and Katy jumped at the chance to be one of the first to go into the judges room.  They both came out excited and talking about how easy it was to talk to the judges about their habitat plans.  Henry, on the other hand, was terrified.  Even Mr. Hysmith came out to tell me that Henry was nervous.  When Henry came to us after his presentation, he was visibly upset and told me he had really messed up.  So, I sat him down and asked what he did when he talked to the judges.  He told me what he said and how he was well poised looking the judges in the eye.  All sounded good to me so I asked him what went wrong.  He said in a very low, almost inaudible voice, "I spoke to them like this."  Oh!  I felt so bad for him!  I told him that I was proud of his courage to talk to the judges in spite of his fear.  Not only that, he had moved up to the senior division in order for us to have a senior team!  If he had been in his correct division, it would have been more about the actual drawing and sharing exactly what was on the chart.  In the senior division, the 4Her must try to expand on the questions the judges ask related to the property drawing.  Needless to say, I am proud of him for just taking on this extra duty for his age.  It will make him stronger for the next time!

After oral defense, the 4Hers would have a general knowledge quiz and animal identification quiz.  The coaches were also allowed the opportunity to see these portions of the contest.  While we waited in the next room, Mr. Hysmith asked Edward if he was going to participate.  He really encouraged him to go through the contest.  It was nice to see him want the younger ones around.

Before taking our lunch break, Ms. Warnock rejoined us for a workshop on general college information, as well as life at Sul Ross University.  The boys really enjoyed listening to her welcome them all to attend the various choices provided at the university.  Edward and Brendan were a little overwhelmed with the talk so we sent out to the waiting area.  Mr. Hysmith grabbed up Edward and some other young siblings to help move chairs around in the building.  He told me it was good to keep little hands busy and this was productive.

We had a short lunch break and then returned to hear the final results.  Mr. Hysmith started out by congratulating all the teams and allowing them to stand to represent their counties.  Then he invited all the coaches to the front of the room to present a gift (Bird Song Bible) for all their hard work with the youth.  Throughout these presentations, there was a slide show of pictures that Mrs. Hysmith had taken during the contest.  It was starting to be a real celebration of all we had done in the last two days.

The awards for individuals and teams were given for Junior, Intermediate, and Senior divisions.  We were not called forward but enjoyed seeing those who worked hard win the awards.  It was like having your cousin win in the same competition...because by this time we were one big happy family.  We also learned throughout the weekend that most of these teams had been working together for several years.  Many told us that they remembered their first time and how much they had learned from those first years.  In other words, the other teams were encouraging us to continue with the contest in the future.  We were also given ideas on how to improve.  I cannot emphasize how different this contest was compared to any other.

I love 4H and sing its praises often but THIS contest is the epitome of all that 4H stands for in its motto and pledge.  It was hard to say good-bye to all the new friends we had met.  And, when Mr. Hysmith heard we were leaving he was very concerned about our long drive and told us to be safe.

Katy and Lynda were able to stay until the next day, so they went on a tour of the university with Ms. Warnock.  I hope to hear about it when we return home.  Maybe I can add those details later.

An amazing trip that we will not forget.  We also have been invited to help with the National contest next month.  I am not sure if we will be able to help but will try to make our way to Kingsville to give a helping hand and learn even more about the contest.  It is hard to resist the opportunity when it was such a great experience!

The Contest Begins

On the first day of WHEP contest we arrived at Sul Ross University just after 7am.  Yes, we were early but we were excited to start the contest.  We met our host for the event, Ms. Warnock, and she was so helpful.

Soon after others trailed into the building and we began our orientation.  The atmosphere for this contest was so different from others that we have been involved.  The 4Hers quickly began to meet each other and talk about their past experiences, while coaches registered for the day.  Mr. Hysmith also had a large supply of pencils and rulers (and even clipboards) in case these supplies were needed.  Orientation went quickly and we were formed into a caravan for the hour drive to the contest location in the Davis Mountains Nature Preserve.

The teams began the contest with a hike into an open area below the mountains.  They were given the basic scenario which included the objectives of the land owner, focal species (black-tailed prairie dogs and pronghorn), and conditions of the property.  The team was asked to form their habitat management plan.

While the team was off on their adventure, Lynda and I took the younger boys down the mountain so we could purchase lunch supplies.  We took several pictures along the way also as it was such a beautiful drive.  We arrived back just as the teams were coming back.  It was so nice to see smiles on their faces as they walked back to us!  A big change from the bewildered looks we had at the last contest.

We had a nice picnic lunch and then the 4Hers went back out for the second part of the evaluation.  In this part of the contest the 4Hers were given a second scenario in a different part of the property.  They would determine the appropriate techniques needed for seven focal species.  When we study for this we are given a chart with all the techniques for each of the 17 animals for the region.  It appears that you should just memorize the chart and all will go well.  However, the 4Hers must combine their knowledge about all of the techniques available and the scenario to determine the techniques needed.  It is not a matter of checking all of the boxes because the boxes marked incorrectly are counted against you in the end.  Although you cannot have a negative score, you can have a score of zero. Once the 4Hers returned the coaches were allowed a chance to review this portion of the contest.

Then we headed back down the mountain to the university.  We were given the opportunity to participate in a workshop about telemetry.  There were several college students available to demonstrate the devices used to track various wildlife species.  Then the 4Hers were allowed to use the equipment to find hidden collars that were surrounding the area.  Katy, Sean and Edward were the first in their group to search and Henry would be the second in his group.  Sean found his right as we were ready to leave.  He had found a quail collar hidden in a grape vine.  Katy found her quail collar in a bush also.  Edward never found his collar.  Henry had almost found his but had to give up the hunt so we could leave...he found out later that his collar had been buried right where he had searched!

We had dinner at a place called Penny's Diner, a classic old-time diner in a chrome style building.  The boys begged to sit at the counter but I would only let them sit there to watch the cooks prepare our meal.  We enjoyed our meal and headed back to the university for our dessert.  We were going to have S'mores with the WHEP crew!  It was so much fun and we continued to be surprised by the family atmosphere of this contest!

We ended another day exhausted after preparing the team for their oral defense of their plans.  We have never had this part of the contest so I think the group was a little nervous that night before.  We would find out how nervous in the morning!

I do have to say I am already proud of our little group of newbies.  After our first contest, I asked what they had done and they could not answer.  Today, they came back and could not talk enough.  They even had written down notes of their plan for their defense.  I can already see a vast improvement and look forward to hearing the results tomorrow.  Whether we are first or last, I look at our team as a group of winners as they persevered and have improved a hundredfold.  They have shown that 'make the best better' motto sometimes is really about making yourself better.

Leaving Lubbock and on to Alpine!

We got back from our State WHEP contest on Sunday evening but it has taken me this long to get over the drive around Texas.  I slept most of Monday and part of Tuesday.  That driving can really wear a person down!  So, I am a little late getting this blog post up.

There is so much to tell so I will divide this up into three posts (as if I had done this along the way...I did not have internet access or I might have been able to do this as it happened).

We actually got to sleep in for the first time all week!  We packed up and left the hotel thanking the staff for all their accommodations throughout the week.  We started out the trip with 18 4Hers and family members but left with 13 as the others left early. 

On the way into Lubbock, we all had to pass through Post, Texas.  Our family really wanted to stop and go the museum created to tell the history of the town because our ancestors were some of the first settlers of the town.  Unfortunately, the museum was closed that day, so we were determined to stop on the way out of Lubbock.  It really was not on our path to Alpine, but it was not a big detour.  How was I to know that I would also have this opportunity to share a little of our family history with our 4H friends!  This was a proud moment of the week.  One thing 4H encourages is good citizenship, and this includes knowing about our own history as well as history at all levels. 

Post, Texas was set up by C. W. Post in 1906.  He advertised back in Michigan about an opportunity to share in a new kind of town in which community was the center of the planning.  Four sections of 160 acres of quality land would a shared well would be at the center.  On each section a house and outbuildings would be built because the Mr. Post was adamant that each farmer would own his own house.  He promised (and fulfilled until his dying day) to be at the center of all community events.  All residents would share in the building up of the town.

This advertisement appealed to many families who read about this new endeavor.  Peter and Mary Agnes Watkins (my great-grandparents) were among these early settlers, along with their six children.  They answered the call to head west and make a new start due to a recent agricultural disaster (lost crop due to freeze in orchards).  They would make their way to Post, Texas to become one of the founding families.  They would be among the families who would raise cotton on the wide open fields.  Peter became the manager of the cotton gin and would remain in this position until his retirement.  Many other families came to this area as well and the town grew.  Mr. Post kept his promise and remained active in this thriving community until his death in 1914.  He was considered a friend and they knew that he wanted every man in his community to succeed.

Going through the museum, I could not help but feel like I was going back in time seeing my family as they were coming into Post over hundred years ago.  I spoke with the curator of the museum who asked that I come back with more details so she could add these family stories to the town historical archives.  I was able to share with my children and our friends, and left Post feeling like I had won the prize of the day!

Our trip had hardly begun as we still had a 6 hour drive ahead of us as we traveled south to Alpine.  The trip had little consequence or mishap so we arrived in Alpine around 5pm.  We were able to get our bags into the hotel just as a gully washer came pouring our of the sky!  We were able to spend the evening practicing for the contest that would take place in the morning.  We were thankfully surprised to learn the hotel had a complimentary dinner of fish tacos and salad, so we did not have to go out in the storm.  However, because of the storm we lost internet connection.  It was probably for the best because we were all worn out and fell into bed and fell asleep with little effort.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Storm

So, we started out our last day of Round Up at 6am.  We ate breakfast and THOUGHT we had everything we needed loaded into the cars to set up for our Share the Fun Poetry contest.  The 4Hers started setting out our props and changing into costumes.  We realized quickly that we had forgot the hat for our 'disabled veteran' (Heather) and a white shirt for George Washington (Sean).  Eddie agreed to go back to the hotel rooms to pick up the hat and we decided George would go without the shirt.  When we realized Eddie was NOT going to make it back in time (Lubbock is a difficult city to navigate and we have been lost several times!), we started to brainstorm ideas for the disabled veteran.  We decided a bandage on the head would help.

Then we worked with the stage manager to determine how we would set up and deal with mikes.  The final decision was to NOT use mikes as they would take up too much room and confusion.  We also found out that adults would be allowed to help with set up.  We were the only group with a massive backdrop and props for the recitation of the poem.

As the 4Hers (and parents) waited for the performance to begin, it felt as if we were in a storm.  There was a constant rush of emotions as we worked out the issues that arose.  We were so thankful to get the performance underway!  I have always said that the contests are harder on the parents as we attempt to stay calm and help the 4Hers, we also want them to do their best.

However, today we were able to see the best performance of our group!  They performed well and showed honor to our flag and country.  I was so proud of them all!  They nailed every line and could be heard clearly from the back of the room.  We also decided we should recognize the importance of the poem, as it was presented on Flag Day.  Caleb added, "In honor of Flag Day, please stand for the Pledge of Allegiance."

We decided to leave right after their performance to enjoy our final day away from the contests.  We would return to find out the results at 4pm.  The group split and our group ended up at the Trade Show, which included an Ag Product ID walk up contest.  We thought the contest was a little too easy but I guess they are trying to build interest.

We then chose to go off campus and find a sit down restaurant to have lunch.  We found a Chili's and had a nice leisurely lunch enjoying each others company.  Then headed back to the room where the awards would be given.  It was pretty early but also nice to talk and relax without rushing to another event.

The results were in by 5pm and we were not told how we places as only the top ten were announced.  I know the team was disappointed (as were we) but we should be proud of being a part of the best of the best at the state level.  The storm shown through for a little while as the 4Hers had different ways of dealing with the disappointment, but they bounced back and know that they accomplished a lot in the last year due to this competition.  We also had the opportunity to share the experience with a wide range of audiences and will continue to do this throughout the fall.  I did find out that Stephen (the son of a good friend from College Station) placed second in his contest, playing The Storm.  I wish we could have heard him playing!

After returning to the hotel for a short reprieve, we headed to Fuddruckers for dinner.  Again, it was nice to have the company of others as our 3yo decided to spill his drink twice and we waited an hour (wait only 45 minutes as the man at the grill informed me)  We enjoyed the meal delivered along with several free coupons making up for our delayed dinner.

We left the building to see a brown sky.  It looked so odd to us and assumed a storm was coming.  Little did we know that we would be driving through a DUST STORM!!!!  None of us had been through anything like this before and Henry took lots of pictures of the event.  We arrived back at the hotel as the storm was passing but the dust was still out of control.  We later had a magnificent thunder storm with a beautifu lightning show.  In spite of all of that the 4Hers still headed to the indoor pool for the last time together.  Although a few headed off to a Aaron Watson concert on campus.

So tomorrow we pack up and set out on a slow trip down south of here (Alpine) for a WHEP contest.  I cannot wait to tell you all about that experience as it unfolds so stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Bugs in the Kitchen!

Well, not really...but I thought that would grab your attention!  LOL!  Today we went our separate ways and enjoyed an entomology contest for Sean.  We also sent the senior Food Challenge team to their contest.  What better combination than bugs and food, right?

Sean arrived at the Ag Building by 8:30am.  After some basic instructions, his fun began.  Brendan and I were sending entomology answers to him through telepathy...we had the flashcards we had made Sean and read through all of them as we waited!  It made us feel like we were a part of the contest as his personal fan club.  It also helped pass the time...he was done in no time and we were back at the hotel by 10:30am feeling good about how Sean had competed.  We would find out the results at 1:30pm.  He placed well with his score.  We are were glad to have this opportunity to compete and see others with the same interests.  We are not sure where he placed as only the first three places were named.  However, we do know that he scored up with some of the top in the contest.  He looks forward to trying again next year.

We raced over in time for the Food Challenge results.  It looked like the team had made the 'correct' recipe of corn cakes with brown rice and cornmeal.  There were some great teams so we were already so proud of the teams efforts in the contest.  This contest had a nice sponsor who gave all participants a whisk for competing.  We found out that the team did not place so would not go on to the final challenge.  Although disappointed the team held their heads high and raced to the orientation for tomorrow's contest...Share the Fun-Poetry.

I decided to take the younger ones to the Trade Show that was taking place in the arena.  We went around to all the booths (mainly college and interest groups) gathering little treasures like pens, pencils and candy!  We also checked out the results for the quilts and photos.  We did not find out the results for the quilt but it was fun to see all the unique designs made with the same material.  We also found out that Sean won  a blue ribbon for his train photo!  YAY!!!!  We now have the great memory of seeing the 'polar express' train but also his prize in photography.

We also met with the State 4H director. Mr. Bowman, who told Justin (connecting him with the Food Challenge) he loved the costumes and had the team's picture on his Facebook page!  Another way our seniors can be proud regardless of results.  They made an impression...a powerful mark of their character!

Then we saw a demonstration of the robotics and this made the boys that much more interested in this project!  Matt (in charge of this new project at the state level) encouraged me to look for grants and sponsorship.  So, I guess I have some work cut out for me when I get home!  I really did appreciate his interest in get this project up and running.  I look forward to working with him in the future.

We came back to the hotel to a nice home (well hotel) cooked slow cooker meal with the most of the group.  Then we ran through out lines and talked about the orientation information, minus Katy who was so exhausted fell asleep by 7pm!  Lynda filled in to say her lines.  We also added an extra line to the ending of the poem (more on that tomorrow!).  We must have been tired because we spent more time laughing at ourselves then practicing!  These are the memories we hope to remember!

As you can see the practice was quite casual with many coming from the swimming pool to recite their lines!  However, we did have a serious moment when Myra gave a motivational story about a woman she met at the State Convention last weekend to encourage the 4Hers to honor the flag.  The woman was from Columbia and was so honored to be able to vote and participate in the voting process.  She could not understand why more were not as excited.  She was encouraging those present to love the system we so easily take for granted.  Also, I cannot end the blog without sharing our other stand in (quite literally) for our flag pole, Eddie!  We could not help but look around for a flag to pledge as we usually have our prop flag.  Low and behold, Eddie was there wearing a flag shirt!  He, being a tall man, played the part well!

Katy was not the only one tired (just smart enough to admit it!), so now we are off to an early lights out as we will need to be at the campus by 7:30am to prepare for the contest.

Good night!

PS...Lynda just told me about some birds that have been roosting at the hotel.  A maintenance man confirmed they were white winged dove (on the WHEP contest this weekend).  The best part was these birds are not usually in this area.  The birds had flown in the day before we arrived by the flocks and only a few had remained!  I am convinced they were there for us to study for our contest!

The Influence of Others

I wish I could have blogged about this last night but had some computer issues.  I will post this and then a separate post from today's events.

Yesterday we did not have any competitions but we did enjoy a 4H day around Lubbock.  We were off to a late start getting everyone together, but made a trip to the Buddy Holly Center in the afternoon.  Why would I talk about Buffy Holly on a 4H blog?  Well, as I watched a short video about him and walked around his museum, I realized the importance of influencing others in our lives.  This is much like what we hope to accomplish in 4H.  As adults and youth come together, we inspire each other to "make the best better."  Buddy Holly influenced so many artists in his short time (18 months) as a famed musician.  We are given a short amount of time to influence the youth in 4H as well.  We never know what will help inspire greatness in these youth or how long we will have them in our care.

I was then given the opportunity to go to a Robotics training.  My boys were green with envy (instead of 4H pride) when they found out I got to help build a robot!  I enjoyed watching the youth presentations about the inventions contest and the team challenge as well.  Then we learned about the new 4H robotics project that will begin...well...NOW!!!  The first contest will take place in less than two months in Midland.  I am not sure if we will be able to make this happen, but the boys (and others) sure hope we can try.

I also was able to meet up with one of my good friends from my college days at the robotics workshop.  It was nice to see her and talk about our plans for the week.  I watched more than made the robot with one of her older 4Hers.  It was a lot of fun to see the minds of the youth working to correct the errors in their programming.  I can already see that this creative contest will make for an interesting project.

I met up with the rest of the crew in time to go to Prairie Dog Town.'s just what it sounds like...we went to visit a colony of black-tailed prairie dogs found in a city park in Lubbock.  Again, I see the influence of these little creatures for our environment.  K.N. Clapp must have realized their significance almost 100 years ago.  He saw that the extermination of the prairie dogs would cause a great disturbance in the environment and set up this park with two pairs and these pairs have now grown into a colony of hundreds!  Why are these little creatures considered a keystone species?  Because they are the diet of many other species in this region.  I am not sure I would appreciate being placed on the list of keystone species for this reason, but I guess someone needs to be the prey in every habitat.

I must say it was fascinating to see these animals in action.  They have a system of warning the colony of danger with different pitches.  We were able to get up close and personal with them as they had their dinner and lounged for a evening rest.  Oh, also wanted to say that this was a great learning experience for the 4Hers heading to our WHEP contest this weekend.  This species will possibly be one of the focal species for  our contest!

We also learned a little about the burrowing owl.  I thought it was interesting that these two species can be neighbors BUT they don't like each other.  Talk about an influence on the habitat!  It sounds a lot like any neighborhood...there is always that neighbor that is hard to get along with in life.  In this case, the owl must love to grab a few of those nice morsels for dinner or should I say 'morning' snack (since they are nocturnal!).  And, to add to our bird list, we spotted some black-throated sparrows which are also on our contest list!

We split up at this point in the evening...we herded our guys into the hotel room for a good night's rest.  The senior Food Challenge team had a late night practice.  So, all in all a full day and preparing for the full day of contests tomorrow.

Monday, June 11, 2012

And Off We Go!!!

After a loooong drive to Lubbock, we have settled into our hotel for the week.  We even got here early enough to pick up our registration packets.  Then we came back and had a fun dinner of tacos with our friends and headed to the pool.

Most of our county group has arrived, so we can mark that off our things to do.  We arrived with all our necessities for contests and our sanity intact.

We also had time to finish up the last bit of hand quilting on the 4H quilt.  Good thin since it needs to be turned in tomorrow!  Nothing like waiting until the last second.

So now the 4Hers are nestled into their hotel beds.  More tomorrow will bring a leisurely day at Round Up before the big push of contests begins.

Pictures will need to wait until we return from the trip.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Standing in Front of Wal-mart

With the success of our 4Hers, we find ourselves looking for ways to make the trip out to Lubbock for State Round Up a little less expensive.  So, we stood out in front Wal-mart (thank you for being so gracious) to raise funds.

I look at fundraising as a two-fold event.  We are trying to convince our community to help support our youth's efforts, however, it is also a way for us to get out into the community to promote the organization.  It is a good thing to let the community know that there are still good youth who are trying to learn and succeed.  Therefore, when we take the 4Hers out to events like this, they are providing a way for the community to have hope in our youth.

We decided a good old-fashioned bake sale and bucket raffle was the best option.  We also had the 4Hers at each door asking for donations. The community was generous, giving monetary donations (often without expecting anything in return) and buying our cakes and cookies.  The bucket sales were a little disappointing for some but all worked out well.  We learned a lot about spontaneous fundraisers.

Our little guys were a big help also.

So, we are not a week out until our trip west.  I will need the week to pack so no new posts for the next week most likely.  Once we are started with the Round Up week, I will try to keep you posted each night.

Friday, June 1, 2012

One More Time...from the Top!

We were able to go to the VA Clinic and serve sandwiches again.  The 4Hers made tuna and chicken salad sandwiches, with apples.  We had a big group of 4Hers, so I spent most of my time outside with the two younger ones who were full of energy.  The men really like that combination because they told me several times throughout the morning as they were leaving.  In fact, they often had more sandwiches in hand as they left the building.  We were happy to please these Veterans with such a simple offering.

Then we had a little bite of lunch ourselves before heading over to practice the poem skit one more time.  Well, actually the 4Hers practiced SEVERAL more times.  We had never practiced in front of microphones before, encouraging voice projection instead.  However, the State contest will be in a larger room and microphones will be provided.

My first thought was that they would try to walk up to the microphone to speak or lean in from a distance.  After all, who can resist a microphone?!  I have seen even the shyest of individuals love the mike! Sure enough that is exactly what happened as soon as they set their eyes on them!  However, we spoke to them about the importance of staying within the original bounds of their character and they adjusted quickly.

Our next task of the day was to remind them that they only had two minutes to set up the background and props.  We have not done this since our district contest.  We also needed to work on the fact that we would be on a raised stage (We have always had a flat surface until now.), so all props would need to be lifted onto the stage.

With the stage design and the 4Hers setting up alone, we had to go through the process many times.  However, they eventually got it done within the right amount of time.  We worked on a few issues with lines and placement on stage for individuals before we were done for the day.  We even had time for some vocal exercises...with Peter Piper picking peppers the group had the opportunity to enunciation their syllables...and with feeling!  This was our last opportunity to perform so we wanted to work out any last minute issues now.

I think the day went well.  I even had the opportunity to finally come home to work on the quilt again.  I am glad I had the help of little hands as we sewed the binding around the edges.  We now have a bound quilt with a couple of hours of hand quilting left.  We only have nine days to complete it so no snags (literally!) allowed.