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Monday, December 15, 2014

Caroling with the 4-Hers

A big thank you to Ben for setting up a visit to the nursing home to sing carols!  We enjoyed a nice visit with the residents of the nursing home.  The group sang for almost an hour...traditional carols and more "peppy" tunes as well.  We also had a great violinist (Ben) to accompany the singing.  Then two guitarists (adults, one from Spain) joined in.

Another member of our group brought his puppy to share with the residents.  I think the puppy spent most of his time with one or two people as he was so cuddly.

The best part of the afternoon...when a man decided to have a solo as he sang a verse of Jingle Bells no one had ever heard.  I tried to find the verse when we got home but even after a thorough search of the internet we had no luck.  Maybe it was a verse he made up on his own!  It ended with..."and if my horse could talk he would probably say to not hitch him up to the one horse open sleigh!"  If you know this verse please let me know!

After singing we walked around to great the residents.  We spoke to a woman who moved here from Minnesota after her husband died in February.  Her daughter lives in San Antonio so she wanted to be closer to her.  She was so happy to have us come visit as she needed a reason to celebrate as she was sad during this first holiday season without her husband.

We just love having events at the nursing homes!  A great way "to make the best better" is spending the day with those full of wisdom and experience.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

No Fear Here

To follow up from our falconry post last month, I thought I would say that my children do not have any fears of these birds.  Well, Edward did say that he only wanted to hold the one with the hood AND Brendan decided watching through the glass door was his method of viewing the project...BUT the rest of the children were enjoying the experience...even our little tag-along Zaira wanted a chance to hold the bird!

We arrived at our second workshop for this project last night eager to learn.  The boys actually got us there thirty minutes early.  The man with Fury (the red-tailed hawk) had already arrived so they had a chance to talk to him before others arrived.

The training this month was a general overview of the types of birds used in falconry and the different aspects of the birds.

There are four main types of birds used:

Edward with Fury

Hawks are of the family Accipitridae and the genus Buteo. They are often called "broad wings."

  • Red-Shouldered Hawk
  • Red-Tailed Hawk
  • Ferruginous Hawk 

These are masters at soaring and can hang motionless on the merest threads of wind. These birds use their powerful feet and strong talons to bind to their prey constricting it in their grasp and puncturing vitals.


Accipiters are in the family Accipitridae and the genus Accipiter. T
hey are often called "true hawks" and "short wings" and sometimes the "yellow-eyed hawks".

  • Cooper's Hawk
  • Goshawk 

These birds are marked by their broad, round wings that are shorter than Buteos, short neck, and long tails. Juvenile eyes are yellow turning to red in adulthood. These are quick birds off their perch and will easily overtake their prey. Their typical flight pattern is a flap-flap-flap followed by a glide.


Eagles are in the family Accipitridae and the genus Aquila.

  • Golden Eagle 

These birds have long, broad wings and a medium tail. Bald eagles are not used for falconry, but have an interesting iris in that it starts as brown and matures to be yellow.


Falcons are in the family Falconidae and the genus Falco. They are often called "long wings" and sometimes the "dark-eyed hawks" or "pointy wings".

  • American Kestrel
  • Peregrine Falcon

These birds have a much different body form than the others listed here. They have long, pointed wings due to the long second primary and third primary feathers, and a long tail. The short, hooked beak has a unique notch specifically for snapping the neck of prey. The notch is sometimes referred to as a tooth, but more completely called the tomial tooth. Their toes are long and thin with knobby nodules to help hold on to small birds when they grab them. They have less substantial talons than hawks or eagles.

Other Birds

Sean with Xena
The Harris' Hawk (Parabuteo) has been one of the most successful recently used raptors. It makes a great beginner bird for many reasons and is one of the more leisurely birds to fly.

Owls (Strigiformes) have been used with various amounts of success.  Great Horned Owls have been used to catch game. These birds are quiet as they soar across the sky due to the formation of eyelash type feathers on the upper part of their upper wings.

We also learned about the parts of the birds...the types of feet (including talons), wings, beaks and feathers.  It was very interesting; however, the real excitement came when the participants were offered the opportunity to pt on a glove and hold one of the birds!

All of the boys held the red-tailed hawk, Fury.  When all the youth had the opportunity, the adults were asked if they wanted a chance also.  I was the second in line to take my turn.  It was an awesome feeling to hold such a powerful bird on my fist.  The keys was to always hold the bird above your elbow.  They did not tell us why this was important but I think it must be a signal to take flight if the hand is lowered or maybe the bird likes a high perch.  I am sure we will learn more as we continue the classes.
Henry with Oliver
Oliver trying to take flight

Sean and Henry also took time to hold Oliver (the Great Horned Owl) and Sean held Xena (the Harris' Hawk).

We look forward to learning more from Mr. Vance and his friends.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

NASA Contest Winner

Last month we found out about a contest sponsored by NASA.  It was a few short questions about the ORION space exploration project.  Selected participants would get to take a special tour of the Johnson Space Center near Houston, Texas.  We were very excited to get an email saying that Sean had won!  Here is his guest blog post to tell about his experience:

The tour was the morning after our 4-H meeting.  So, immediately after the meeting, we loaded everyone into the van and headed off for Houston to a hotel for a brief sleep.  My mom and I woke up to see the "Blood Moon" of the lunar eclipse and then it was off to NASA.

We met at a conference center in Nassau Bay, TX.  There, we learned about a group called "Rockets to the Rescue".  This group plans to use rockets to deliver emergency supplies to victims of natural disasters.   We broke up into groups of group called ourselves "The Skittles."  We then had to calculate a launch angle to see how that affected the distance a rocket would travel.  We tested our calculations using rockets made of paper launched by blowing into a straw.  Did you know that a 45° angle gives you the most distance?

Then we went to the Space Center.  We rode on a tram to the Mission Control building, where they used to direct all NASA spaceflights, especially the APOLLO missions to the moon.  It was about the size of our living room, this is a pretty small room for so much history.

We were going to see where the astronauts trained, but they had a fire drill.  However, this gave us an opportunity to see the simulator instead.  We got to see the mid-deck of a shuttle, and it was really cool!  The cockpit was closed off, so we did not get to try flying the shuttle.

On the grounds, they have static displays of some of the rockets used by the early NASA missions, including a Mercury-Redstone and a Saturn V.

Then it was back to the Space Center building to make more paper rockets, launched from soda bottles.  These rockets carried a payload of four raisins, and we had to land our rocket in a specific location.  I got to shoot our rocket...dubbed the "strawberry"...later in the day and I got pretty close to the target location!  Awesome!

Then we had lunch (just sandwiches, no exciting astronaut food).

After lunch, we went to fly the tourist shuttle simulator.  We got to take off and deploy the Hubble Space Telescope!  Then we had to bring the shuttle back down for a safe landing.  It was a lot of fun!

Then we got to see a presentation about the ORION project.  NASA wants to use this to take people to Mars.  ORION tests this December, and launches in 2021.

After the ORION presentation, we learned about the food that astronauts eat!  Did you know that their favorite food is shrimp cocktail?  This is because food tastes very bland, but the horseradish in the cocktail sauce contains horseradish, and can still be tasted.

We then got to see some model rockets being launched by the local model rocket club.  This was pretty cool.  Even more cool was meeting Bill McArthur, a former Army officer and astronaut.  He is now the Director of Safety and Mission Assurance at the Johnson Space Center.

Then we were each given a goodie bag with lots of stuff, especially a personally autographed astronaut picture and a poster of Mars.  We were presented with a certificate and t-shirt for us to remember this day.

There was also a TV News reporter at the event and even though I was not interviewed, I was seen in several shots from the day!  This will be watched around the country for others to see what we did on National 4H Science Day!

This was a really awesome day!  My favorite part was seeing the astronaut food!  I would love to be able to go space and eat some of this food!  Now that I have been to NASA, I think they need a few entomologists in space.  Maybe I will get a chance to become an astronaut on a mission to Mars to study micro-organisms one day!  I am so thankful to 4H for helping me see how I can "make the best better!"

Kids Are Teaching

We attended our first 4H meeting in our new location.  I think the boys did a great job of becoming a part of the group.  Sometimes it is hard to be the newbie, especially after being the ones who were the leaders for so long.  It was hard for me also...but it was also nice to just sit back and not have the worries of project reports and getting children out the door.

Michael was able to stay how with the younger ones, and Sean, Henry, Edward and I set off for the meeting Tuesday night.  The meetings for this club take place in the club manager's home.  It made for a cozy meeting with a laid back sense of direction.  It was very different from our CEO chairs and tables...and wondering if the speaker would be heard...we were all within a few feet of each other gathered around the coffee table.  Very nice!

Of course, this also meant it was a smaller club....I did not take a count but guessing about 20 members and parents were in attendance.  Most of the members are older but there were a few juniors and intermediates as well.  The president is the club manager's daughter and she will be a good leader for the group.  In fact, she announced that she would be representing Texas 4H at the National 4H Council meeting next month.  I think she mentioned something about being one of the leaders for the meetings as well.  We look forward to hearing about her experience when she returns.

The best part of this new club is the general idea noticed in the club title...the kids are teaching the group.  At every meeting there is time for presentations related to the members' interest.  At our meeting, we had a presentation about entomology (way to jump right in, Sean!), wildlife camp (yep...that was Henry!), public speaking, and general business information.  Next month it could be about other topics of interest.

Sean spoke about his love for insects.  He shared photos (taken by our family) from several of the orders of insects that can be found in the Entomology project.  The following orders were represented:

  • Coleoptera
  • Lepidoptera
  • Hymenoptera
  • Hemiptera
  • Orthoptera
  • Araneae
  • Mantodae
  • Phasmotodea

He also talked about his experience in the project (going back 10 years!), which included his time in East Texas with Mr. Joe and Mr. Kevin, contests, Ms. Molly, and State Round Up.  I think he did a great job of giving an overall view of the project.  He even took questions after his presentation.

Then, we had Henry talk about his experience at the Wildlife Conservation Camp.  He was very nervous and I worried that he would not complete the presentation.  However, he was able to get past the shaking (for the most part) and talk about the first two days of camp (to be continued next month!)  He had asked me to video his talk so he could decide what he needed to work on...but I was so nervous for him that I forgot!

He talked to the group about:

  • General Camp Set Up and Teams
  • Plant Identification
  • Soil 
  • Sherman traps and scent stations
  • Birds and birdhouses
  • Tracks and mammals
  • Livestock as a tool for habitat management
  • Reptiles and amphibians
  • Necropsy
  • Radio telemetry
  • Bird Calls and Owls

The first two day of camp were so full of activities and I think as I he spoke it was easier for him.  I think I will talk to him about putting up more pictures and less writing on his slides because I think following the words on the slides made him more nervous. He wanted to say everything word for word and if he misspoke it frustrated him.  He would be better off just telling a story with his pictures cuing the memories.  However, overall he did a great job in front of a group of people he did not know.

We were also given an opportunity to briefly talk about the wildlife project and WHEP.  We are still hoping to get a group together in our new county.

We were not able to stay after the meeting...we still had a four-hour drive ahead of us, so we could get to another 4H opportunity at NASA.  But, I will let Sean tell you about that experience, in a guest blog post coming soon!

OH...and I would have had pictures but we left the meeting with an empty camera bag so I will update with pictures next week!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Who Puts the Fear in 4H?

OK...not really fear, but maybe a little scary!  The boys are now participating in the Falconry project!
I am excited for them but also glad that this is just a exploratory project to introduce them to the idea and not a full fledged project!

Of course, the boys now want to go out and find their own baby falcon to train!  But, I will let them tell you about their adventure.  A guest post from Sean and Henry:

Falconry is training birds-of-prey to help people hunt.  This is hunting for sport (but the bird gets to eat the prey).  People have been training raptors to hunt for thousands of years.

We did not realize that falconry was legal and practiced in Texas, so we were surprised and excited to find out that there was a 4-H project in Falconry!

We arrived to see a stuffed falcon on a post (or so we thought!)  That was a cool idea, to bring a statue of a falcon in hood and jesses to show the kids.  Imagine our surprise when this statue started moving!  This 'statue' was a live red-tailed hawk, named Fury.

 Zaira wanted to get a closer look, but she was wary of the sharp, sharp talons.  Fury's owner took her in hand and showed off her wings and plumage to everyone.

We also got to see a very different kind of raptor.  Oliver, the great-horned owl.  He took a great interest in watching Zaira, I think he might have been just a bit peckish.  We also learned how owls can fly so quietly.  The leading edge of their wings have little projections that look like eyelashes.

To be a falconer in Texas, you have to apprentice with a licensed falconer.  This takes at least two years to complete, and you must pass an extensive exam to get your own license.

We are excited to go to more falconry meetings and learn more about this sport and its beautiful birds.

Buddy Pictures

About four weeks ago, the new 4H year was beginning and I had not found out details about our new club...Kids Are Teaching.   So, I began making phone calls.  Unfortunately, I called a day late in order to attend the first meeting of the year!  However, I did talk to the club manager, and made sure I knew the date for the next one.

In the process, I also found out about a community service project for the photography group.  They would be taking photos at the local Buddy Walk (an awareness walk for Down Syndrome).  This would take place before the next meeting and we were encouraged to participate as photographers and walkers.

So, last Saturday Henry and I woke up at 5am and headed out to take pictures of the set up and as participants arrived at the site.  Michael and the other children arrived a couple of hours later to join the walk in honor of two of our good friends with Down Syndrome...Andrew and baby Ruth!

We had so much fun taking pictures...I do not think we could have had better weather for photo taking...a slight over cast...but it did not rain until we were leaving.  Henry and I enjoyed taking pictures of all the happy smiling people!  They made me smile all day with their enthusiasm for life!

Michael and the other children enjoyed the games and other entertainment throughout the morning as well.  They even walked with the celebrity supporter of the day...Bruce Bowen.  I do not think they spoke to him but we have photos with them together!

I am so thankful for the opportunity to serve the community again...we really have missed this over the last year.

Here are a few photos of our favorite participants...I wish we could show them all but we took over 2000 pictures and there were 4000 participants!...