Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Parsons Mounted Cavalry (and other things)

Hi all.

There are just so many things going on around here that quite honestly I don't know where to start. I won't try to play catch-up, because BORING, but here are a few tid-bits.

Last week I had the chance to visit Fiddler's Green, the home of Texas A&M's Parsons Mounted Cavalry.

The Parsons Mounted Cavalry- or the Cav, or PMC, as most Ags call it- is the mounted military organization within the Corps of Cadets. They are the men and women on horseback and the chosen crew to fire the cannon (Spirit of '02) after each Aggie score at Kyle Field. The mounted outfit represents tradition, heritage, and hard work.

As noted on the their Facebook page, the PMC is actually a "dynamic, hands-on leadership laboratory. The interactions of horses and riders, travel and public appearances, horse husbandry and facilities and equipment maintenance provide cadets with important life experiences and lessons in responsibility."

On the afternoon of our visit, the cadets were preparing to ride in the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo parade the following morning. 

It was incredibly busy on The Green!

Nothing is left to chance. Each rider practiced loading their horse onto the trailer (this one happens to hold 28 horses!)
There is much thought given to which trailer will transport which horses and mules. Some of them don't necessarily play well with others in confined spaces.
Kind of like kids on a school bus.

Everyone was getting groomed and looking stellar.

All of the cadets in white t-shirts are hopefuls for next year's PMC. They go through a rigorous training and try-out process.

The Spirit of '02 was primed and ready! Each cadet is trained to eloquently explain their specific job in PMC. It's really incredible how much knowledge they have and history they know!

It was a beautiful afternoon!

Other than that, there has been work and the farm and my awesome Book Club Group (For the Love!)

Oh and of course,

I was supervising some wood chopping. As you would likely suspect, I had been doing most of it myself, but JT wanted a turn...

I must say, I think I taught him well.


Monday, February 15, 2016

Trapped. Like a Rat.

Another weekend has come and gone and the excitement that you've rightfully come to expect here at Mudpuddle continues.

Our typical weekends begin with a trip to the farm on Friday evening, but because I had a work commitment on Saturday morning, we didn't make the farm trip until Saturday afternoon.

Aggieland Saturday, an annual event, allows prospective students and their families to visit the A&M campus. The university offers all manner of tours and events, demonstrations and activities, and the Corps is the backbone of the entire campus-wide program each year.

Representing Academics, I had the chance to meet lots of prospective students and their families. Most of the visiting students are current seniors or juniors in HS, and it was fun finding out from some of them that they had received their official acceptance to A&M via email just that very morning!

Whoop and Gig-em!

After Aggieland Saturday, JT and I headed to the farm.

We arrived to find everything looking pretty normal except for the fact that we didn't spot Donkey hanging out with the cows. 

Then we saw this:

Yes. Donkey had somehow pulled off a tricky self-capture and deftly caught himself in the hog trap.


Other than a pretty worn trail around the inside of the pen where he had obviously been pacing, and a very large quantity of well, "evidence" on the ground, we have no idea how long he had been in there.

We never actually set the trap unless we are there, and when we're not, we securely wire the door of the trap open to avoid just such a non-hog capture (typically it would be some of the small calves tempted by their insatiable curiosity).

But somehow Donkey managed to get in the pen (doing the forward limbo evidently) and then amazingly close the hinged saloon-type doors behind him. The odd thing is they were wired open with a length of twisted baling wire.

Wire that takes a human (JT in this case) about a minute or so to untwist.

Donkey is smart. But not that smart.

Clearly he had help.

An accomplice if you will.

There are so many possibilities.

Have a great Monday everyone!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Meet All The Players

Happy Friday Everyone!

Almost every Friday means a trip to the farm for us, and I thought I'd introduce you (some of you for the second time) to a few of the characters that are always eagerly awaiting our arrival.

And food.

First up: Jarvis. The Big Daddy of the farm. The Main Man. 
Jarvis thinks he's the ultimate Ladies Man and that's fine because what Jarvis doesn't realize is that he's really just big and not too smart. And slow.
The important thing is that Jarvis takes his job seriously. Very Seriously y'all. And he seems to be excellent at it. And that's pretty much all I'm gonna say about that.

Ah, Mean Cow. I'm pretty sure she thinks she's JT's lap dog. She LOVES him. Just can't get enough of him and those feed sacks. She's also Mean which is a problem.

As a result of her mottled coloring (and perhaps as a manifestation of her temper) Mean Cow has a history of producing some of the funkiest looking calves around. The latest one is no exception. We're thinking of calling it Detritus.

Why do Mean Cow's horns look so weird you ask? Well, Mean Cow's daddy was a (now departed) longhorn bull and something went wacky genetically because she got the super long horns but the problem was they grew down instead of up and out. They actually begin to grow into the sides of her face. I know. Ouch. To remedy this, my brother-in-law, JT, and a couple of other cowboys went to the trouble of cutting them off. Let's just say she wasn't too fond of the whole process and practically killed herself along with most of the men involved. So no one was too terribly concerned that her horns turned out unfashionably lopsided. 
I think it fits her.

One of two sister White Cows on the farm, this is the lady in charge. She and her sister pretty much determine how things go down around here. She's smart, quick and sure of herself.
Do not get between her horns and and a bale of hay.

Cripple(d) cow is a dear. She's a HUGE girl and I suppose all that bulk has finally worn out her joints. At certain times of the year she has a lot of trouble with her front legs and becomes really slow. 
She produces absolutely beautiful and sturdy calves.

Oh Poor Cow! You're my favorite! 

Poor Cow is getting up in years. 

His favorite, my Daddy gave her the name because every winter she got very poor and skinny. He would often pen her up in a field by herself and hand feed her cubes almost everyday. She became smitten with attention and quite honestly, spoiled. 

Poor Cow is by far the smartest, most intuitive, and most tuned-in cow on the place. I think of my Daddy every time I see her and when we finally lose her I'll be heartbroken.

Also quite old, the Red Sister Cow's sister died just a few months ago. So sad. We probably need to give her a new name, but I'm afraid she may not be around much longer and I'm trying not to get too attached.

The most famous (and infamous) farm resident, Donkey is both a loner and a thinker. Donkey is always just on the fringe of the cattle herd, but I'm pretty sure he holds some kind of honorary mayoral position. Or at least he assumes he does. 

Donkey loves rolling in the dirt, biting the cow's heads, and sun. He hates cold, rainy weather and icicles on his ears.

One thing is for sure: Donkey needs a girlfriend.

Dumb Cow. 

How do I begin? I'm sorry if her name offends anyone, clearly it's on the verge of being politically incorrect. 
But honestly, we actually wonder if she has a brain. Bless her.

Dumb cow just kind of stands and stares. It's her default status. She's most often away from the herd, but if she's with them she's facing a different direction. If the entire herd is excited and moving toward a certain pasture in anticipation of feeding, Dumb Cow might be right in the thick of things at the beginning but by the time they reach the feeding area DC has made a wrong turn and fenced herself up in the pasture just to the north or south of the feed zone.

In testament though, to the fact that EVERYONE has a gift, Dumb Cow is by far the finest mother on the farm. I can't describe how carefully and tenderly she cares for her calves. And it doesn't go unnoticed! The other cows frequently leave their calves under DC's care for the day. I call it the kindergarten.

DC is my spirit animal.

Hope you've enjoyed meeting just a few of our favorites! Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler

The King Cake is a traditional treat served throughout the Mardi Gras season. Although you'll find many versions, (depending upon geographic area) most are yeast type cakes braided and formed into a ring. They may or may not contain a filling of some sort, but almost all are topped with a sweet icing and decorated with colored sugar in the very traditional purple, green and gold colors of the season.

The gaudier the better.

The cake is named for the biblical Three Kings and commemorates the visit of the Magi to the Christ child. Many versions of the cake contain a small plastic Christ child figurine or other bauble (such as a dried bean) and the person who gets the piece containing it is either given a designation of "King" or "Queen" of the day or the obligation to provide the next King Cake.

It just stresses me to no end that someone might bite into the Christ child (spare me) , though, so I just stick with a bean.

I decided to explore making my own King Cake because, honestly, I've had some really bad ones over the years. Not any disappointing ones from true Acadian bakeries mind you, but many other bakeries, to meet demand, just kind of throw together something that, while certainly gaudy enough, is often tough, flat, and just plain old bland.

This one, mais cher, is anything but blah...

All of the ingredients are probably in your pantry and trust me,this cake is something you need in your life.

King Cake

4 ¾ c. flour (divided)
¼ c. sugar (plus additional for topping)
1 ½ tsp. salt
2 pkg. dry yeast
¾ c. milk
½ c. water
1 ½ sticks butter
2 eggs

Powdered sugar, milk and vanilla for glaze
Green, gold, and purple sanding sugars

1. In a large bowl, combine 1 1/2 c. flour, 1/4 c. sugar, 1 1/2 tsp. salt, and 2 packages yeast.
2. Heat 3/4 c. milk, 1/2 c. water and 1 1/2 sticks butter until very warm, about 120 to 130 degrees
3. Add to dry ingredients and beat for 2 minutes at medium speed with an electric mixer.
4. Add eggs and 1/2 c. flour. Beat on high speed for 2 minutes. Stir in remaining flour (2 3/4 c.) to make a stiff batter.
5. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours. (Or if you forget about it, 4 hours like me...)

6. Remove dough from fridge and punch down.
7.  Move dough to a lightly floured surface and divide into 3 equal portions for one large King Cake, or into 6 portions for two smaller ones. Each small cake feeds about 10 -12!

8. Roll each portion out flat (if making one cake each portion will roll out to about 28x4 inches, and for two small cakes about 12x4).
Melt one stick of butter in microwave.

Have 1 cup sugar ready (and about 1 T. cinnamon). I decided not to use cinnamon this time...

9. Beginning at long end, roll each up tightly as for a jellyroll.
Brush each portion with melted butter, sprinkle evenly with sugar, and cinnamon (if you're using it)

10. Pinch the seams to form long ropes. 

Braid, then form into an oval (or circle) Pinch the ends together to seal. Place on a greased baking sheet.

I brushed on the remaining butter, sprinkled on the rest of the sugar, cover and let rise for another hour (it was closer to 2 because I forgot to preheat the oven until the last minute...)

Bake at 375 for 25 to 30 minutes until lightly golden. Let cool on wire racks and then glaze with 2 cups powdered sugar mixed with 2-3 T. milk, 1/8 tsp vanilla, and a pinch of salt...

Then sprinkle with purple, green and gold sanding sugars and make it as gaudy as possible!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Hot Potato

A pesky side effect of doing a Bible study of any kind is that it can get ALL UP IN YOUR BUSINESS. And last night the Beth Moore study of James that I'm working through did just that. 

Drat. It. All.

I was moving along just zippity fine until I got to this:

"My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger." (James 1:19)


Of course, to soothe my immediate unpleasant feelings of conviction,  I did a little self pep talk concerning that last  part:

"At least", I assured myself, "I don't have a problem with anger." "No sir-ee that is not at all an issue for me, thank God!"

Really. I know.

And to be perfectly honest, it's not. In my list of failings, anger is significantly far down the list... which of course, beautifully points out the fact that there are a heck of a lot of failings in line before it. 


So although feelings of anger rarely plague me, that's not to say that I might not need to take a better look at (and maybe a magnifying glass to)  those other two hot coals that Brother James had the audacity throw in there with the anger thing.

Quick to hear and slow to speak. They go hand in hand. Do I really listen to someone and think about what they've shared before responding? 

Could it be, as Beth Moore points out, that what  appears at times to be intent listening on my part, is actually just me being politely quiet as you talk while, sadly, I'm actually rehearsing in my mind what I'm going to say as soon as you PLEASE STOP WITH ALL THE YAMMERING?

Um, maybe.

And also could it be that even if I listen to your story/problem/worry without interrupting and then tell a similar story/problem/worry of my own in order to HELP YOU that I am, in fact, just hoping that my story/problem/worry will be more interesting/entertaining than yours?

Um, also maybe.

And might it also be true that this terrible habit reeks of narcissism and needs some definite work.

Yes, yes, it does.

Like I said, drat. And guilty as charged.

And although I think mine most often manifests itself in person-to person conversations, don't we also see this in social media contexts? It's not at all unusual for us to seem overly eager to pounce on and correct other's facts or grammar,  or to sometimes hijack a person's post or comment to divert the attention away from the post and onto ourselves. 

And while it's always easy to try to "hang this message around someone else's neck", I know without a doubt that it's first and sharpest arrow targeted my very own heart. 



Keeping in mind then how we are made and loved by God himself who gave us these mouths and thoughts, we should remember that the point clearly is not always to remain silent, but perhaps to "measure our speech with a yardstick, not a 50 foot industrial tape measure."

So, my memorization verse for this week? 

"A man of knowledge uses words with restraint and a man of understanding is even-tempered. Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent and discerning if he holds his tongue."
(Proverbs 17:27-28)

Forever a work in progress...

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Here an Expert, There an Expert

On a campus as large and diverse as Texas A&M there is a boatload of experts.

Really. Think about it. There are world famous physicists and mathematicians, trend-setting medical professors, authors of all kinds, historians, psychologists and  award-winning educators. There are more PhD's than you can shake a stick at, and enough brain power to fuel multiple think tanks. Top athletes and coaches walk side-by-side with aerospace engineers and some of our country's most highly respected researchers. The campus is a veritable breeding ground for new ideas.

I try to impress upon my students how fortunate they are for these four (or five?)(maybe 6!!) years to have access to so many potential mentors and teachers. I encourage them to observe and identify one or two faculty or staff members each semester that impress them for one reason or another. Whether it be for their knowledge of a certain subject area or perhaps they have a passionate instructor with an uncannily positive way with their students. I challenge them then to ask those people for a few minutes of their time just to "pick their brain".

It can turn into a regular mentoring relationship or just be a pleasant 30 minute conversation allowing the student to glean all manner of knowledge or life lessons while the mentor is encouraged and validated just by being asked.

It's a win-win.

So why does this process have to be limited to young college students at big universities? Aren't we all open to learning a few new or better things? Do you know of someone in your church, school, office, or neighborhood who does something especially well?

Young or old, there's no age limit for a mentor or mentee(?)

Instead of looking on-line or buying another self -help book, let's utilize the experts we already know.

Have you noticed or admired someone for:

-how they parent their children?
-how they handle their finances?
-love their spouse?
-decorate their home?
-plan a party and entertain effortlessly?
-handle themselves with grace under pressure?
-dress fabulously on a budget?
-care for their elderly parents?
-treat everyone with respect?
-know the right thing to say in difficult situations?
-or just generally seem to live a happy and satisfied life?

They don't need to have authored any publications or carry a fancy title. They don't need to be older or more educated than you. They don't need an office, a secretary, or a website.

Just the fact that they stand out to you as exceptional is enough.

And I can guarantee that if you ask for just a minute of their time, it will very likely just make their day!

Consider yourself challenged!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Not My Type

At the end of the semester my students filled out a survey-type form with their answers to questions such as:

What was your favorite class activity this semester?
What changes/suggestions/modifications would you suggest to the syllabus?
Would you recommend this course to another student?

The responses were fun and informative to read,  and certain trends became evident immediately.

With the exception of a handful of responses like this one:

"My favorite class activity was when you would stand up in front of class and talk and then you would get off subject and end up talking about your sons or food or Corgis and then you'd realize you were way off the subject and somehow tie it all together with the weirdest philosophical sounding statement that seemed in the strangest way to make sense."

Perfect. The line forms here for the Stellar Teaching Awards

But let's go on. With the exception of a few other responses that may or may not also have included the words "weird" and "strange" (Really? I have absolutely no recollection of telling a story about a rabbit) the overwhelmingly favorite activity of my students was the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) .

The MBTI is a self-assessment designed to help you better understand your (and others) natural preferences and personality characteristics. It is not a test. I strongly believe that personality cannot be tested. Just the word connotes right and wrong, good and bad, and I think it's perfectly clear to EVERYONE ON THE PLANET that simply telling a story about a rabbit without even knowing it does not make you a bad person.

Or even necessarily wrong.

First, I tell my students that they are all unique and can never be categorized or fit into a perfect descriptive box that represents a particular personality type. 

The benefits of taking the inventory are two-fold:

In order to understand yourself better, it's critical to know where your personality tendencies fall in the wide and varied range of types, and even more importantly, to understand others better, it's necessary to recognize that although people may be vastly different from you it doesn't mean they are wrong, or bad or ahem... weird.

Although the MBTI categorizes personalities into a neat 16 types, I make it clear to the students that although their individual analysis may fall squarely into one particular "box" they can also possess traits or tendencies of any the other types. We are nothing if not all gloriously different.

Kind of like back in the 80's when the whole "color analysis" thing was all the rage. You remember how some trained color analysis person (also known as anyone...) told you what colors would look best on you and you were categorized as either a Spring, Summer, Fall or Winter? Personally I really wanted to be a Summer and wear fun! and bright! colors (and be blonde and tall and tan) (because all the Summers on the little pamphlet were tall and blonde and tan) but I was a Fall (these people were definitely not tan), and supposedly I looked best in dull moss green and muted shades of orange? Didn't they know I was an Aggie?

And while some of this was indeed accurate, I was also assured that I might not look absolutely hideous in other colors that did not appear on my Fall Color Chart. 
So really, even if you turned out to be a non-Summer like me, with kind of blah-brown hair and you were short and very un-tan, it was still theoretically possible for you to wear shades of aqua on occasion without offending passersby. 

This was good to know.

The students love it. (The MBTI, not the color thing.) It helps them recognize their strengths.  And what college-age student doesn't need to have their strengths confirmed and celebrated as often as possible? It helps them navigate how best to deal with professors, roommates, classmates and even family members. And that's a very good thing.

Honestly, I encourage everyone to take the assessment. College student or not. Who doesn't occasionally wonder why everyone doesn't see things exactly the same way we do? Who doesn't get frustrated with a spouse or child and would like some insight into how they think or feel? Who doesn't sometimes believe they must be the only strange one in the bunch?

For goodness sake, we all need to know that there are perfectly normal people out there who occasionally tell entertaining stories of little woodland creatures to large numbers of students in lecture halls without being aware they are doing it. And they're not weird at all.

So please. Take it for me.

Have a great day!