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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Catching Up on the 4H News

Wow!  I cannot believe I have not posted this week about our 4H events!  I guess it has been a little busy this week.  We also left to go out of town as we need to take Michael to the airport on Sunday and decided to take a little family trip out of town before he left.

So, the short 4H week was really only Tuesday from 4-8pm.  We managed to enjoy a Wildlife project meeting and a Food workshop.

We learned about the wild turkey from Taylor.  If you have never learned about wild turkeys, you should take some time to learn.  They are such intelligent creatures!  Here are some of the things Taylor told us:

Wild turkeys live in woods in parts of North America and are the largest game birds found in this part of the world.  They spend their days foraging for food like acorns, seeds, small insects and wild berries.  They spend their nights in low branches of trees.

You can usually tell the difference between an adult male (a tom) and a juvenile male (a jake) turkey by looking at a turkey's tail. All tail feathers of adult males are the same length. The feathers forming the center of a jake's tail are usually longer than the rest of the feathers in the tail.

Each spring male turkeys try to befriend as many females as possible.  Male turkeys puff up their bodies and spread their tail feathers (just like a peacock).

After the presentation, we learned about aging deer by looking at their teeth.  This is often on our contest and a very interesting science.  This was just one of the techniques that we reviewed as the contest will be in mid-October.  We also talked about hunting laws from our hunting guide.  I strongly encouraged the group to check out the hunter safety course online.  It is a bog help for that portion of the contest.

After this time in the wild, we were happy to go inside for a little bit of food talk.  Little did we know we were going to learn so much!  The 4Hers (taught by other 4Hers) were taught about types of noodles, how to make ricotta cheese, and MyPlate.  They also were shown a demonstration of the newest contest, Ag Product ID.  

They were first asked to identify the different noodles positioned on the table.  Once the 4Hers made their choices, they were given the correct answers.  Our boys really enjoyed this activity and want to learn new recipes to go with all the various pastas!

The ricotta making station was interesting.  They could not actually make ricotta in the short time of the workshop, but the 4Hers were shown the steps.  I do not know about the other moms, but my boys were begging to try the recipe sent home with them!

The station for the MyPlate was mainly an information table with pamphlets.  I was surprised to see a neat plate designed like the MyPlate.  I found out the plate was available locally so I will be obtaining one of these in the near nice for portion sizes!

The Ag Product ID station was set up like the contest and the 4Hers were given the opportunity to test their knowledge.  This is a fun contest to learn about what food products are available in Texas.  We have a lot to learn about in the next few months...contest is in February!

So glad we have these opportunities in 4H.  Looking forward to learning along with the boys as we continue to focus on these awesome projects!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Festival Experience!

I am not much of a festival person.  And, I was not so sure about how Zaira would do for the four days we had committed to with the forestry museum section.  However, I decided the best thing to do was take one day at a time.  Our family always enjoys the festival and it really is a relaxing time as I can sit at the 4H booth even after our 4H crew gets bored sitting.  I feel very safe while the children go around to all of the entertainment under the pavilion where we are located because I can see them easily from our location.  This year that included a kid game show, nature art classes, lumberjack activities, wood turners, Caddo Mounds exhibit, and so much more!  Also, Michael was able to take them to several shows when other families from our club worked our booth.  We had several other families from our club scheduled throughout the 'weekend' so it would work out as well as could be expected.

I must say from the start that the forestry museum has given our club (and the county) a great opportunity to promote 4H over the last four years.  Having a 4H booth at this state festival is a great chance to show the importance of 4H for our youth.  I am always amazed at how many people we are able to speak to in the four days at the festival.  There are so many people who have never heard of 4H or see it as a club associated with livestock.  Our club goes to a lot of effort to ensure 4H in general is represented.

This year the forestry museum took this one step further by asking us if we would like to have a contest during the festival.  I jumped at the opportunity because I immediately saw this as a chance to represent the outdoor activities we enjoy in 4H.  This idea was first brought to my attention last fall after the last festival.  The director asked if it was something we would like to do and I said yes.  Not much more thought was given to the idea but he brought it up again about six months ago.  I again told him that I had some ideas that might work and it was pushed from my thoughts again.  Then three months ago, I started seriously considering the idea and what the contest might look like in reality.  That is when I heard about an outdoor challenge presented at the 4H state round up.  It sounded a lot like what I had in mind for our contest.

To no surprise, I found Larry (our good friend from WHEP) was in charge of this contest. I asked him if he would be willing to share his ideas with me.  After talking with him, it was confirmed that this was the best way to represent all of our favorite outdoor projects in a short amount of time.  Larry was thrilled to help us make it a reality; however, he had several events throughout the summer and I should get back in touch with him in August.

As you all know from reading my blog, I had a busy month in August with the birth of our newest little one.  However, I managed to talk with Larry again at the beginning of September.  At that time Larry not only volunteered some supplies but his own services to assist in the festival contest. One thing I had wanted for the contest was a way to have shooting sports represented.  Larry just happened to have a portable shooting range that he was willing to bring to the festival!

So, the first couple of days at the festival we had a small booth with an observation hive.  I was so thankful for Robert (our beekeeping project leader) who set up this hive.  The first night we had Robin, Zach, Taylor, Sherry and Joanna helping at our booth.  We spoke to about 60+ individuals by showing them our hive and then discussing the other possibilities 4H had to offer.  The second night we had about the same number of festival-goers learn about 4H with the help of Wanda and Joseph.

Then Larry showed up with the shooting range on Friday.  We decided to get the range set up the night before in order to guarantee it would be ready for the contest the next day.  It would also be a way for us to further demonstrate 4H and its various projects.  This turned out to be a great way to advertise our walk up contest as well.  It definitely helped to have a large trailer with 4H natural resources across the front right next to our booth!  That night we spoke to almost 150 people!  We had Kevin, Carolyn, Dwayne, Brenda, Treyton and Brianna helping us that night.  It was good to have so many of us that night because we were divided between our observation hive and the shooting range (which quickly became a popular activity!).

Michael and I stayed up late Friday night to confirm that we had all of our supplies ready for our "4H Challenge."  Then up again early Saturday to arrive in time to set up before the festival began at 9am.  The idea was to have a walk up contest for all ages to participate.  We divided the participants into three categories (8-13years old, 14-18 years old and adult) in order to award top prizes at the end of the day.  We were even fortunate enough to have participant prizes donated by our friends from 'Friends of the Forest."  Then a man from the JAKES Day event last weekend volunteered to share some gun locks for the bags.  Larry added to these give away bags when he arrived so we had 4H goodies as well.

The contest had four stations for the participants to answer various questions related to:

  • Wildlife/WHEP
  • Wildlife/Forestry plant identification
  • Entomology
  • Hunting Safety/Gaming laws

After completing these stations, the participants were given an opportunity to shoot at targets of various sizes.  The high score was 50 points over all the categories.

At first we had a slow start, but once we got things going at the stations, others showed interest.  By the end of the day, we had 50 registered participants.  However, most of these registered in the contest had observers who only wanted to watch.  I believe we had over 200 people who learned that 4H is not just about livestock!  Throughout the day we had several club members help at the booth.  It was great to have Sherri, Timothy, Kayleigh, Brenda, Brianna, Treyton, Jamie, Lisa, Coty, Kristen, Christi, Rebecca, Jaron, Tracey, Sarah, Steven, Laura and Matthew at our booth. Along with Larry and a kind college student we know (Alex) who happened to be wandering through the festival at the right time, we had a successful and busy day showcasing 4H projects.

I was especially thankful for the families who worked the 4H Challenge contest.  It all ran very smoothly as we all worked to get the participants around to the various stations with a small group of volunteers.  The younger participants often needed assistance with reading and our 4Hers were right there through it all.

I can not go with out also giving a special thank you to those who worked the last hour of the contest, so our family could prepare for the hushpuppy contest that began at 2pm....the same time our 4H challenge was to end!  Michael, Sean and Henry rushed into costume and made it to the arena, along with Brianna, in time to make their hushpuppy recipe.  Remember they were dressed up as Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, and Betsy Ross!  They made an awesome hushppuppy filled with chicken, artichokes, mozarella and jalepenos.

They did a great job and many who tasted their creation enjoyed it.  However, as we all know, the judges' tastebuds are who they need to appease.  This year that was not what the judges were looking for in a hushpuppy.  Ultimately, the winning hushpuppy was a cream cheese jalepeno jelly creation.

The prize for showmanship (which is determined by costume. decorations and audience participation) would slip through their hands as well.  The winning team for this award got the audience to answer duck calls while they made their hushpuppies!

We learned a lot about hushpuppies and showmanship strategies for next year.  The group of us (contestestants and moms) will think about these things for next year.  We do not give up easily and are already thinking about what to do for next year!

While we waited for the results of the hushpuppy contest, I raced back to the 4H booth to thank Larry before he headed back home.  I also grabbed the contest score sheets to grade.  This worked out well as Michael and I were able to grade these in time to give out the results at 6pm.  The top winners were given $10 gift cards for Wal-mart.

This announcement completed our time at the festival.  We had a great time and were glad to show how 4H likes to 'make the best better.'

Oh!...and before I can end our talk of the festival, I need to tell about an awesome experience we had with our observation hive!  Each time I spoke to the festival-goers about the beehive, I would talk about the formation of a new honeybee.  I would also told them about the first job a bee has when it emerges from its larva cleans its room!  This is always a funny thing to talk about and gets the children and their moms something to laugh about the bees.  So...there we were on the last day (almost to ready to put it all away!) and a group came up to see the hive.  I gave my little talk about the bees and when I told them about the first job of a worker bee I pointed to a cell that had a larva.  The exciting part came when there happened to be a cell where a new bee was EMERGING from its cell!  I was so excited to show this happening...we also called the other 4Hers around to view and we watched for several minutes.  In fact, the bee did clean its cell and moved around the hive near it.  Within five minutes the cell was so clean it could have a new egg laid in it! It was so awesome!  I was so glad that my little talk about bees was really made my little talk that much more real to those who saw it.  I love having the observation hive for several days...I learn so much every time!

In the middle of all of this festival fun, we also managed to make our monthly trip to the VA Clinic to serve our veterans sandwiches and donuts.  It was great to have the help of Katy and Lynda as well.  We served over 40 sandwiches and several dozen donuts and countless cups of coffee.  It was fun showing off little Zaira to he regulars who had not met her yet!  Just as we were preparing to shut down early so we could return to the festival preparations, Theresa and her children arrived to serve.  That was a great relief as I hated to leave before the clinic closed for the afternoon.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Time Flies...

It is amazing how quickly time goes by when you are having fun or have a lot to cover in a short amount of time.  Today we came to Wildlife with several tasks that needed to be met.  We wanted to talk about the following:

  • Waterfowl
  • Habitat Management Techniques
  • Review of plants
  • Wildlife Techniques

We did manage to make all of this happen and even go outside to discover these plant species in nature, but we were working fast and furious to make it happen.  It helped that we were in the same location as Robotics so we did not need to worry about travel time in between today.

We jumped ahead in our plan and reviewed the plant leaves collected over the last few weeks.  This gave time for some technical issues to be worked out.  The group did a great job of identifying the leaves.  I was so glad to hear them calling out the answers.  We do need a little more work on the animal preferences.  I think we will play a game next week.  A little competition is always a good way to get the group motivated.

Sean gave his talk on waterfowl.  He did a great job telling about the different types of puddle ducks, diving ducks, whistling ducks and geese.  I was very glad to hear that he remembered all that we learned over the last week as we prepared for this presentation, especially since we did this a week before planned to help out our 4H friends.  Here is a website we found about waterfowl identification:

The habitat scenario questions were discussed.  I need to work on improving these questions for the next time.  It is so hard to create these scenarios to match the techniques.  I would really like to have some real case scenarios.

We then had some review of wildlife techniques that may be on the contest.  It is always so hard to determine what the judges might pick for this category.  I just take from past years of contests and hope for the best.  There is just too much diversity in the range of information.  Next week will specifically discuss the deer techniques that help with aging.  I am hoping we can find some animal parts to really have a hands on approach to this part of our practice.

We finished in time hunt around the back of the building for specimens. There were quite a few varieties that we had not discussed earlier in our review.  Great job finding me a Vaseygrass specimen and Croton, along with many others.

We finished just in time to clear our mess aside for the Robotics project to begin.  Tonight they talked about coordinate grids for X, Y, and Z.  This will later help when they begin programming their robots.

They were given a game that turned out to be a lot like Connect Four.  The object was to spin a game wheel that had different coordinates.  These coordinates allowed the team to place a token on the coordinate associated to the tic-tac-toe board.  The team with four in a row won the game!

The group also learned about various types of arms.  They were given a challenge to make an arm that would move in a direct path associated with the coordinate grid.  Then the arm needed to be able to pick up a weighted object.  Tonight is was about designing the arm, knowing the different supplies we have on hand.  The groups got very intense when it came to designing the arm.  I think they like this project!  We will see what they come up with in the four groups.

We ended the night with a buzz!  We met with Robert to obtain our observation bee hive.  We will be taking this to the local festival throughout the weekend.  Looking forward to the opportunity to 'make the best better!'

Monday, September 17, 2012

Promoting 4H

Today we promoted 4H by sending thank you goodie baskets to the various media outlets around town.  We also had a county wide expo night to show off all the projects offered.

We brought some brownie bites to add to the many treats from the 4H around the county.  We had all of the radio stations, newspapers, and other media outlets to provide these tasty treats.  Our family took several dozen cookies to the local newspaper.  It was a good opportunity to thank the newspaper for providing many news articles throughout the year.  The boys were shy (that was a surprise!) as they entered the large building.  They found a news reporter to deliver and she was very thankful.

As we were walking out, I thought about our next photography class.  I quickly turned around and asked if she knew any journalists who would be willing to talk to the youth about photojournalists.  She took our information and the days we meet for classes.  Hopefully, we will hear from someone before our next meeting.

We made it back to the extension office in time to have a quick dinner and set up for the Project Expo Night.  We had two booths, Wildlife and Robotics.  Our club also had Entomology, Food Challenge, and Rabbits booths.  I hope I remembered everyone, we really spent all of our time at our booth as 150 visitors made it through the building in about an hour.  We had a lot of interest at the robotics booth.

I did have time to go talk to the leader for the Shooting Sports project.  I think I finally have an understanding of how the selection (for this limited project) works.  Henry is hoping he can break through and get involved with this project this year.

We stayed and cleaned up a little before heading home.  A great day for our county 4H as we strive to 'make the best better.'

Saturday, September 15, 2012

JAKES Day and Tree ID

One would think after going to this event for over five years, we would be tired of it!  However, every year the boys jump out of bed early in the morning to make their way to JAKES Day.  JAKES Field Day events introduce young people to the joy of the outdoors. We were able to experience the outdoors through supervised, hands-on activities from various organizations, including our county 4H.

We had to arrive early to help set up the booth.  Normally, we have two booths set up next to each other but we were separated by about a half a mile today.  Sean helped work at the first booth with the long bows and recurved bows.  We blew up balloons upon arriving and then pinned them to a large board several feet out for target practice.  Sean was the one to give out the arrows and the designated arrow collector.  He did a great job, along with Ryan and the other Senior 4Hers from the county.  Ryan really impressed us with his ability to explain the different bows and how to shoot the box.  We are so thankful for his ability to work well with the youth.

The other is a bb-gun station, which was moved next to a skeet shooting activity.  This allowed the younger children, unable to shoot the larger gun, an opportunity to enjoy an activity at the same time.  Smart move for those family with a wide age range of children (That would be me!)  The skeet shooting was a new activity this year.  The boys loved it, and Henry even hit a skeet!  Having the skeet booth set up at the same station did not give us time to visit with our county Shooting Sports leader, Robert, since we did not shoot the bb-guns.  However, we have the information about this much desired project.

The following booths were also set up during the event:

Fishing Booth-set up by Academy for the youth to try their hand at casting.  They were expected to cast a pole that had a weight on the end of the line.  The idea was to cast the weight into a hula hoop several feet from the casting line.  At the end of the day, all equipment used in the booth is quietly given out to the youth...nothing goes back to the store.  They are very generous each year!

Turkey Information-The man who manned this booth was a one-man show not easily forgotten!  He did a great job introducing the life of a turkey, taking on the role of the turkey himself.  He kindly let me film his impromptu performance to share...yet another video that I cannot put on the blog.  I will be showing it to my 4Hers next week.  He also shows several turkey calls used in hunting.  I would love to have him talk to the 4Hers some time.  He also agreed to save some turkey parts on his next hunt for our Wildlife techniques!

Friends of the Forest-Our amigo, Alex, talked to the youth about the population and habitat needs of turkey in Texas.  He did an awesome job of explaining the environment needed to increase the turkey population.  He used every day examples pertinent to the youth to show that turkeys had some of the same needs.

Telemetry- The youth tracked 'animals' using sonar devices.  These devices are placed on animals to record needs and seasonal routes and behaviors.  This is very helpful in the habitat management of turkeys and other wildlife.  We have done this station many times and usually only one or two are given the opportunity to try the equipment.  Today, every youth had the opportunity to find the receiving device that was hidden.

Pellet Gun Booth-As we approached this booth, I thought it was strange to have a bouncy house at the event.  This had never happened before but stranger things have happened at JAKES Day.  I really thought they were going to ask us to take off our shoes as we entered the tunnel.  The joke was on me when we were told to put on ear protection and take the gun for a shot at a turkey poster!  The boys really enjoyed this and had several opportunities to make a good shot at the turkey.  Even little Edward had a turn with Michael's help and he was the first to get a good shot on the head!

Shotgun Booth:  The youth were given the opportunity to shoot 410 and 20 gauge shotguns.  Henry loves this part of the event.  Edward (my loud child) hates the sound of a gun!  He likes the idea of shooting but not the actual funny!  In the past, he has just avoided the booth.  This year he took a chance and tried to take a shot at the turkey.  He missed completely because the 'kick' to the gun was so strong it almost took his shoulder out, even with the helper holding him in place!  They felt so bad that they offered to let him try again..he said no thanks and headed out.  We figured he was done for this year, but...the next stop was the skeet shooting mentioned above.  The helper their gave him a different position to adjust to the movement of the skeet, and he shot his gun with a smooth movement and no kick.  I am so proud of him for trying again!

Rifle Booth-We missed this booth as we stayed at the skeet booth through two sessions.

We ended the day with a hot dog lunch and an invite to go look at trees at the Native Plant Center. As we were heading out, we noticed the skeet booth was still in use!  Sean was so excited because he did not get a chance to try this activity (as he was working the other 4H booth).  Jaron joined him and they both gave it their best effort.  The way I look at it they have now had an experience with the skeet and will be better for next time.

We (our family along with Christi, Rebecca, and Jaron) had a great afternoon finding trees throughout the native center trails.  We found so many on our Wildlife contest list.  It was fun introducing the actual trees to someone new along with our tricks for identification.  I must admit, I was wrong sometimes and Henry had to correct me, but they were similar trees and I am getting better.  Henry is a natural (pun intended!) at this, and I am glad he is able to teach in his quiet, gentle way (instead of telling me how silly I am for not knowing these things yet!).

Also, I met a SFA professor willing to come talk to our Wildlife group.  Then met a trapper who is going to let us borrow some hides from his supply for animal identification.  I love finding great contacts like this at these events.  AND...Christi and I were able to find some great examples of Lespedeza and Partridge Pea...get ready Wildlife group...we will have a lot of information for you at our next meeting.

A great day out in nature!  Taking some time to 'make the best better' as we learn a little more.

Friday, September 14, 2012

More Hushpuppies and Our First Donation

We had the great joy of receiving the phone call yesterday morning from the local VFW.  They decided to donate $200 to help us fund our Robotics project!  The boys were so excited, especially when they were told to come right away to have a picture taken with the VFW Commander.  This will hopefully be one of many local organizations who will help us with the project.  We will use this money to purchase the NXT Robotics kit.  We will need at least four of these kits with the group of 4Hers that we have now.  If all works out, we will be able to start this in January.

Today we gathered our small team to make hushpuppies again.  This time the team divided the job of making the hushpuppies into individual tasks.  Each one has to complete their portion of the recipe to make the "winning" hushpuppy.  They all did a great job!  In fact, they were so efficient that they made almost FIVE DOZEN!

With only eight of us to eat the results, we were getting quite full.  Thankfully, we had some CEO agents willing to help us out!  We found our new judges!  We were given rave reviews and they never refused a hushpuppy we made.  Really hoping that means we do well next weekend.

We will probably meet one more time to check out costumes and make sure we have all our supplies.  I think we are ready for some fun and our patriotic theme just adds to the excitement.  Michael is already gearing up to give his famous speech.  They are hoping it is an acceptance speech for the top award, so we can make our club proud!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Adding a Little More to Our 4H Tuesday

We had our regular 4H project meetings this afternoon.  We began with Wildlife and finished up with Robotics as this has become our regular routine.  However, today we had to throw in a County Council meeting just for fun!  Here is how we made it all happen:

We began the Wildlife meeting with an activity designed by the copier machine!  LOL...I had created a chart with all of the plant preferences to give to the group.  When I asked to have it copied, the light gray squares on the chart (representing the plant preference for each animal) did not copy.  Michael said instead of wasting the charts we should have the 4Hers fill it out on their own.  It was a great way to review and keep the group occupied as they were entering the classroom.

Then we discussed the final five Habitat Management Practices:

  • Thin Timber—(not just pines) control density of the forestry canopy; trees receive more sunlight, moisture and nutrients (applies to grasses, forbs, vines and shrubs as well); also provides room for crown growth and development of producing trees 
  • Retain Hardwood—(during pine harvesting) choosing to keep valuable hardwoods instead of harvesting for their market value; retain 10-20% of hardwoods; most do not produce well until older than 25 years 
  • Clear Patches in Timber—(timber stands over 5 years old) create openings to provide the sunlight needed to grow desired vegetation; enhance habitat diversity, create seasonal habitat and increase quality and quantity of vegetative growth and fruiting; openings allow best growth of grasses, forbs and legumes, as well as browse production; locate in area with two or more habitat edges; openings should be irregular (to create more edge), width 1.5 times the height of trees, and 1-5 acres; openings for every 50-100 acres of forest
  • Deaden Hardwood—(removal by chemical or mechanical means) removal of unwanted, low value hardwoods; controls some plants to favor others; results in more sunlight penetrating the forest stand and increase growth of low growing plants; creates small openings in forest stand; direct toward vines, shrubs, and low value trees (not oaks unless poor quality); similar to thinning-look at the market value-low market value or need
  • Leave Unmowed Strips—(field borders) beneficial travel corridors and feeding areas; this may include pasture set aside, idle areas, old homesteads, and fence rows; located 200 feet from tree or brush cover; often disking takes place along with this practice; strips should have breaks every 150-200 feet to allow for easy escapes
  • Construct Firebreaks/Access Roads—(prevents or controls spread of fire) purposes for these practices are different but can be interchangeable; provide wildlife food plants and expose bare ground for dusting and feeding; may provide travel routes for wildlife; should be planned to protect different land uses; usually 6 feet or wider; erosion control should be first step in planning and annual inspections are necessary

We will take a quiz over these habitat practices next week.  My plan is to have different case scenarios that will need to have a change in habitat for a focal species.

I had my final Plant ID/Preference presentation with 20 Grasses & Forbs.  Thankfully, this difficult group of plants changed a lot in the new curriculum.  I was able to explain MOST of the plants on the list and how to tell them apart (in theory).  After this part of the meeting, Jaron was set to present on the Fox Squirrel.  We were running out of time before the museum closed but it was not a long program so we thought we would be OK.  Unfortunately, when the curator started shutting down the remaining lights in the building it shut down our power source as well!  So, Jaron was a trooper and finished his presentation out behind the building!  All's well that ends well!

Homework for the group is to review the Habitat Management Techniques discussed (found in Wildlife book pages 150-172) and Fox Squirrel biological facts (pages 71-75).  Also, to practice identifying plant preferences for all the species for our quiz.

Half way through this meeting, Sean and Katy needed to be at the County Council meeting.  We were so glad Lynda offered to take them to this meeting so it did not disturb Wildlife.  The meeting was well attended by the various clubs in the county.  They discussed Gold Star banquet and other events that are coming up.  They also voted on the county spirit award and 4H Friend award.  These awards will be announced at the Gold Star banquet.

After the Wildlife meeting, I shuttled Michael, Henry, and Edward to the Robotics meeting.  Then I dropped Matt off with Lynda and picked up Sean so we could get back to the meeting.  A lot of racing around but it all worked thanks to 4H team work!

We had a smaller group at Robotics tonight.  We had three teams making a balance from the miscellaneous parts in our 'junk drawer.'  The idea was to create a balance that would easily balance weights (washers) on each side.  Once this was completed, the teams had to move the fulcrum off center and show how the weights would balance.  They learned that the number of washers multiplied by the distance from center (torque) was equal on each side of the balance.  It was a great lesson of mechanics.  I think the groups all enjoyed trying to make their balance 'work.'

Monday, September 10, 2012

On Location for our Photography Project

We headed to a local park for our first photography project meeting of the year!

I decided to try a little different approach this year for our meetings.  I hope to have a professional from different careers come to our meetings (or we go to them as the case may be) to show their skills in their various fields.

Today that allowed us the opportunity to learn from a professional photographer who specializes in on-location photo sessions.  I thought it was a perfect opportunity to kill to bird with one stone.  We wanted to have Zaira's one month pictures taken and we needed a speaker for the meeting.  It was a great way to use our 4H project to help our family...I love it!

Our friend, Natalie, graciously offered to combine Zaira's photo session with a lesson for our group.  She did such a great job with our small group of photographers.  We had seven 4Hers and six adults (as well as a few tag-alongs) walking through the park looking for the perfect spot.  Natalie really showed us how much thought needs to go into this key part of an outdoor photo session.

Natalie started out showing us the importance of having even lighting...preferably in the shade.  She demonstrated how uneven lighting causes a subject to have an uneven exposure which could ruin a good photo.  She also talked about how it is good to look how the light shines on the subjects eyes. The most desired photos will have 'light catchers' that bring out the sparkle in a person's eyes.

Then the hunt for that photo spot began!  We carried around a basket, blankets and baby in search of a nice shady spot surrounded by trees.  Natalie explained that it is always important to ask the client what they are expecting in a session.  For our family, who loves being in the outdoors, we wanted to include this in Zaira's first month pictures.  We also brought a special blanket to have her lay on for the photos.  It is nice to have personal items in the pictures when appropriate.

Once the spot was found, Natalie explained that the background for the photo is the next area of importance.  If you have an unsightly garbage can in the background it ruins all that hard work put into finding the location.  Also, pay attention to details when setting up the photo.  For our pictures that meant looking at how the blanket was draped in the basket and smoothing out the dress.  Then we made sure Zaira's arms and legs were positioned nicely.

Natalie was so patient, allowing all the photographers to try out different angles for each location.  She explained the shots she was taking and how to position her own body to find different angles.  She showed how to zoom into the subject and focusing beyond that point for an interesting effect.  The background blurs while focusing on the main subject.  She also showed how to take the baby feet photo that I have never figured out.

Once we had moved from one spot to another, moving with the sun to find more shade, we switched to the family shots.  What skill (and patience) was needed to get us all together looking at the camera and smiling!  We learned that the most important part of a group shot was to not have space between the subjects.  This proved to be a tricky feat for our family of energetic (and sometimes uncooperative) boys!  Natalie talked about this with the group and gave pointers on how to make it work.

By the way, Zaira slept through the entire session!  The 4Hers began to depart and we even had our boys in the car. We thought we were done but Natalie noticed a second outfit I had brought along with us.  She eagerly waited as we got Zaira changed.  She found another location and as I placed her in the right position for these shots, she opened her eyes and joyfully smiled and cooed for the camera.  It was a perfect end to the photo session.  I wish the others could have seen this part of the session but I suppose Zaira would have been a little overwhelmed if they had stayed.

I cannot wait to see all the photos from Natalie and our 4H photographers!  I hope they enjoyed the experience as much as we did!  Hoping they will take what we learned and follow up with their homework to discover their own subject and on-location site.  As always, I look forward to seeing their creativity!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Food...Meeting...More Food!

How can you go wrong with food talk to begin an end an evening?

We started out with an interesting display of kitchen utensils at our first Food & Nutrition meeting of the new year.  Christi brought a large bag of gadgets that can be used in the kitchen.  The 4Hers were shown everything but the kitchen sink...from tortilla press to potato ricer to spiral cutter...and everything in between!  I think the group enjoyed trying to figure out the more obscure tools before Christi told them the real use.  The most interesting gadget was the meat tenderizer that looked like it would be used as a torture device in my house of boys!  We were even shown how to use the spiral cutter to make sweet potato spirals.  And, Christi also showed us how the ricer worked with boiled sweet potatoes.  I am sure my boys got a few ideas at the class tonight.

Katy, then, got our monthly club meeting off to a great start.  After the opening prayer and pledges, she gave a recitation of a poem written by Mother Theresa entitled "Do It Anyway."  I encourage you to read the entire poem on the link but the last lines are:

"Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway."

I don't think Mother Theresa ever heard the 4H pledge, but it seems she would understand and agree with our motto..."To make the best better."  I think this poem meant even more to our family as we had just spoke of Mother Theresa as today was the anniversary of her death (15 years ago).  Maybe she was looking down on our little 4H club with a smile tonight.

The meeting continued with our regular officer reports, committee reports and project information.  The new business for the night was about a booth to promote 4H at a local festival.  We will need more families to sign up to make this work, so I will need to send out more information by email.

The guest speaker this month was an exterminator, David, who spoke about pest removal.  The main focus was about mice and rats, but he was kind enough to take questions about any pest concerns.  He even showed us some of his traps and bait.  I had never heard of a sticky paper that smells like peanut butter.  Very interesting!

The meeting was adjourned to the enjoyment of the youth to play a game called Spinach.  The objectof the game being to make the person in the middle of a circle laugh.  How do you do this?  Ask them a question that can only be answered with the word 'spinach.'  For instance, "What did you comb your hair with today?"  The youth spent quite a bit of time with this game.  They even changed the answer to "Sasquatch."  Refreshments were delicious as well.  Yummy layered dip and Oreo cheesecakes!

After the main group left for the night, we had a small group stay behind to try out our hushpuppy recipe.  Read my 'other blog' to find out about our first attempt.  We had a new recipe that combined one of our family favorites with cornmeal...artichoke chicken!  The best part of these hushpuppies was the crisp exterior and moist interior.  Our recipe needed some more cheese and some heat (jalapenos did the trick!), but was a winner as far as we were concerned.  And, we had some great judges stay behind to help us make this determination.  A big thank you to Zach, Taylor, Robin, Katy, Lynda, and Matt.  Of course, we did some tasting ourselves...Brenda, Jamie, and I came some tips along the way to tweak the recipe.  Michael, Sean, Henry, and Brianna took some of these and made the recipe work.  

Now we need to decide how to dress the team up like patriots.  Michael will be Abraham Lincoln, Sean as Washington, Brianna as Betsy Ross and Henry as ??  (not sure!).  We only have a couple of weeks to decide...I am sure we will figure it out!   We will probably be tired of cornmeal by that time also...but definitely worth the effort!  

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Week Two and Still Having Fun!

We almost did not make it to Wildlife today!  I had worked so hard to get all our lessons ready for the group and then my computer started acting crazy!  Thankfully, Michael had a warranty added to the cost of the laptop when we bought it last year.  We called Dell Support and they arranged for someone to come to our house today to fix it.  The man was supposed to arrive before noon...but showed around 1:30pm...that was going to cut it close...and it did!

But it was cool that the boys got to see inside our kind of went along with the computer project we would have later in the evening, right?

They got to see it all, as he exchanged the motherboard, the LCD screen, and heat sink.  That really did not take very long but when he ran the diagnostic on the computer after these fixes, it registered a problem with the CD ROM.  This took over an hour to resolve and had us leaving out the door at the absolute latest time to make it to Wildlife.  We were glad to see that everyone was running late today!

Unfortunately, this had me frazzled and rushed to get through the presentations before we had to leave the building at 5pm.  I know I will need to review a lot of this information next week.  This is what we covered today:

Henry gave a Gray Squirrel presentation which was mainly about biological facts.  He did a great job!  Proud of his courage to get up and speak in front of the group, as I know he does not like to do this.  This is one of the reasons I am thankful for the leadership opportunities in 4H.

Then we were able to go over the Habitat Management Practices.  Here is the new techniques we learned this week:

  • Prescribed Burning—(deer, turkey, quail, dove) used to maintain or improve habitat; for plant diversity; control undesired woody plants; remove grass; improve browse, usually done in 3-5 year intervals
  • Provide & Manage Water—(small ponds, dams or streams) provide water for target species
  • Disking—(disk, plow or harrow) increases food:  croton, partridge pea, ragweed, and crabgrass; helps dormant seeds by bringing to the surface top soil; done in long strips with minimal fertilization
  • Overseeding Legumes—(high protein) green vegetation and hard seed (resist weathering and breakdown) produced; excellent conditions for insects; few choices for summer seeding; must plant for soil types; inoculate seeds prior to planting because they are susceptible to disease; pastures should be grazed down or clipped then disked before seeding  
  • Streamside Management Zones—(mast and forage produced in this zone) 50 foot strips of timber left along stream channels; provides protection; prevents sediment disruption; allows shrubs and forbs to remain for grazing 

Then we had a speed talk through the 20 Shrubs/Vines that we needed to learn this week.  I hated that we were so rushed.  In fact, we did not even have time to discuss the animal preferences.  I guess that means we have extra homework this week!

We were able to review that plants outside behind the museum.  I think the group knows these plants pretty well, as most have been in this contest previously.

The Homework:
Review Habitat Management Techniques discussed (found in Wildlife book pages 138-157) and Gray Squirrel biological facts (pages 71-75)

We then had time to make our way to the Robotics meeting.  We were both thankful for Robin who helped got the building set up for the project.  Also, Paul and Robin led the first part of the meeting, so we had time to breathe a little before Michael had to teach.  This is what they did tonight:

Our 4Hers tested the strengths of different shapes (e.g. squares, triangles, etc.).  Then, building upon that knowledge and the skills that they learned last week, they sat down and began designing their marshmallow catapults.

After spending about 30 minutes drawing out their ideas, they set to work building.  They were supposed to use a trebuchet-style catapult that uses a drop weight for momentum and a sling to hold the projectile, in this case a large marshmallow.  It was interesting to see the different ideas that they came up with, and then to see how they modified them each time they attempted to launch their marshmallow the requisite six feet.

Unfortunately, we ran out of time before anyone mastered the catapult, but much fun was had by all!

I almost forgot to mention that Zaira was given another gift from one of our 4H friends!  Thank you so much Rebecca for the cute knitted hat with the butterfly!  You know our family well...the hat matched Zaira's butterfly outfit even had the same color scheme!