Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Invasion of the Cute Little Dinosaurs

For the past ten years I have counted horny toads for Texas Parks and Wildlife. Okay, so they they really aren't toads, nor frogs (sorry, TCU people); they are lizards. I know that. But I grew up calling them horny toads, as I suspect, nearly everyone else in Texas did. So even though I am an official tracker for the Texas Horned Lizard Watch, they will always be horny toads to me. What a tracker does is pick a site, visit it at least three times from April to September, and report on the number of horny toads seen at the time. Parks and Wildlife then compiles the information to learn what they can about the current poopulation numbers, where horny toads still live, what they eat, and causes for the decrease in their numbers.

Why the decrease in population? Well, there are several reasons. Horned lizards eat red carpenter ants. Imported fire ants drive away the carpenter ants, and the lizards won't eat the imported fire ants. So that hurts them. But just plain old civilization has caused a loss of habitat for the little critters as well. And then of course, trying to keep them as pets and doing mean things to them doesn't help either.

Don't move a horny toad to a new location, thinking you are making him safer. Research has shown that they are territorial and memorize, if you will, the location of the ant beds in their area, and if a well-meaning person moves one out of its area, it will most likely starve to death before it finds another ant bed.

The coolest thing the big guys do to study horny toads is to outfit them with the cutest, tiniest little backpacks loaded with a tracking device and then map their movements. This technique led to the discovery that horny toads will actually climb up low branches or trunks of trees to get out of the summer heat on dry, hard, sandy ground in South Texas. Really. Of course, that was not what the researchers set out to discover, but it was a neat surprise nonetheless. What the tracking does tell them is information about movement and territory of the lizards. And other stuff that I don't remember all the details about.

This year I saw a bumper crop of four newborn horny toads, which may not sound like a big deal to you, but it is. Most years I don't see any little ones, so this is major. And they are soooo cute! And tiny. Which may be why I don't see many-they are so bloomin' hard to see. Counting them all, I saw eleven lizards this year, a record number for me, as I recall. I went out more than the required three times, but I didn't see one every time I went looking. But eleven is a good number.

So if you would like to look for horny toads,  contact Lee Ann LInam at Texas Parks and Wildlife, 512-847-9480; leeann.linam@tpwd.state.tx.us , and you, too, can amaze your friends and impress your enemies when they learn that you are an official horned lizard tracker.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Mules Do It Again

Tonight the Mules increased their winning streak to 20 by beating Borger 52-26. A little cold front hit about five minutes before kick-off and frustration set in for Borger after kick-off when they fumbled, we recovered, and  it was downhill from there. To Borger's credit, they didn't quit, but couldn't buy a break, and by the end of the third quarter I overheard the comment that if they had been shooting toes, they wouldn't have any left. Because that's about all they did- shoot themselves in the foot - and the Mules made the most of it each time. Which is not to say we didn't make some mistakes as well, but most of our mistakes the coaches adjusted during half time, leading to the Mules scoring 21 points in five minutes during the third quarter. And that's when the frustration really set in for Borger. On one play Borger was assessed a 30-yard penalty for a face mask violation and holding; it was that kind of night. The Mules dropped to their knees the last play of the game and let the clock run out, the victory play, I believe it is called, and the rest, of course, is history.

Next week the Mules are open before starting district play against Floydada on October 9th in Floydada.
Go Mules!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Georgia O'Keeffe: The Movie - My Review

Not that  my mentioning it would have been the reason anyone watched the Lifetime TV movie about Georgia O'Keeffe, but since I did mention it, I feel like I should at least make a comment or two.

It is an interesting movie, especially the scenes at the Ghost Ranch and her paintings as realistic props in some scenes, but I found it sad and wished for more about her art and less about her love life. My friend Hellen, who knows more than I do about O'Keeffe, found some discrepancies in some of the information, like the fact that Georgia knew how to drive when she moved to New Mexico, not after, and Hellen had never heard or read anything about a nervous breakdown. The business about the normal school in Texas seemed off, as she did not part from the school on good terms, nor exactly as mentioned  in the movie. And I could blather on but it would just be our word against the screenwriters, and they are supposed to have had access to letters exchanged by O'Keeffe and Stieglitz, so what do we know?

Well, we know that Georgia O'Keeffe was an independent, strong, totally focused, artistically committed, complex woman who was comfortable in her own skin and willing to sacrifice for her art, which completely overshadowed Stieglitz's work. In the beginning of their relationship, Stieglitz was the expert; in the end, he was riding her coattails. which is brought out in the movie. And if he really was like he was protrayed in the movie, I think he was a major league cad. How dare he have a tirade about her behavior as a married woman cavorting in New Mexico while he was carrying on with other women! Husband, indeed.

Enjoy the movie as a movie; it is worth watching, even with the inconsistencies mentioned.  But if Georgia O'Keeffe is of interest to you, her life and body of work deserve more study.

So that's my review. I don't think Ebert and Roeper need to worry about their jobs, but I'd be willing to give it a try.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Mules March On

Last night we drove to neutral site Denver City to watch the Mules earn another notch on the ol' jock strap by beating Crane 21-7, which also means that the perfect season continues: 19-0. This Crane team was good, probably the best the Mules have played so far this year. On paper we were more evenly matched size-wise, but when the teams took the field, we were still smaller. So what else is new? The Mules were smaller all season last year, but that didn't seem to stop them. So far that has been the case this year, so I might as well quit bringing it up. The boys don't seem to notice; they just rise to the occasion and win anyway. The defense won this game. They are sometimes slightly overlooked because the offense always scores big. They made a few mistakes but came through with the big plays time and again and held the Golden Cranes to the lone score. The offense  had a little trouble early on slipping on Denver City's artifical turf (oil money buys lots of stuff), but managed to overcome that and move on. The game was intense; Coach Wood even earned the team a five yard penalty for a little sideline interference...

Next week Borger comes to our house. I'll let you know how that plays out.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Georgia O'Keeffe Road Trip

Muleshoe is a 3 ½ - 4 hour trip from Santa Fe, New Mexico, depending on speed driven and stops made, so it is a doable destination when the need to get out of Dodge hits. Friends and I go there quite often. This trip was with Hellen Adrian and was to visit the latest exhibit at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Jimson Weed Returns from the White House, and Georgia O’Keeffe: Beyond Our Shores.

Visiting the museum with Hellen is cool because it is like having my own private docent. She is a former art teacher, an artist in her own right, and a fan of O’Keeffe’s work and spirit, so she fills me in on what was going on in O’Keeffe’s life at the time of the paintings and points out details in the design that I, and probably most people, would miss. Art appreciation at its finest.

Then, of course, is the all –important question of “Where do we eat?" And we are really well-versed on that issue! As we drive down Cerrillos Road and can point out that we ate there, and there-and there, and then go down to the Plaza and do the same thing, the case might be made that we spend too much time in Santa Fe. Au contraire! We have merely learned the lay of the land and can now navigate the streets more confidently and can suggest where a visitor might want to eat. I wouldn’t begin to try to name all the places we have tried, most good, some exceptionally good, so I will just tell you that this trip we tried the Guadalupe Café, Gabriel’s, O’Keeffe Café, and Tomasita’s.

Other locations we like to shop and visit are Jackalope, Santa Fe Greenhouses, Manitou Gallery, and the myriad shops on and around the Plaza. We also hit a wonderful photography gallery/shop on the corner down from the O’Keeffe Museum that I can’t remember the name of, but would recommend you visit. And then, of course, there is Canyon Road, which is nothing but gallery after gallery along about a mile of narrow old street, which is also worth your time.

We parked and walked down Canyon Road. Cars were present but slow as they meandered around pedestrians and parked cars. The temperature was pleasant and had its own mountain air quality about it. The colors in the abundant flowers seemed more vibrant than at home, and the foliage was all lush and green. The four-hundred year history of the place becomes apparent in the old adobe structures and Spanish colonial architecture that Santa Feans guard with a vengeance and proudly display. This is the reason to come to Santa Fe-to be enveloped in another world, far from the hassle and noise and worry of our everyday world.

We had to come back home to some of that hassle and noise and worry, but the respite made it seem not so bad any more.

P.S.-For those of you who are Georgia O'Keeffe admirers, a movie about her filmed entirely in New Mexico will be on  this Saturday, September 19, on Lifetime at 8 pm Central,  but check your local listings to be sure.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Perfect Season Continues

Last night the Mules beat Lubbock Cooper 27-7. That extends the winning streak to 18. I asked my favorite armchair quarterback, my husband, for his impression of the game. He said, "It was David and Golaith. David took out his little football, slung it at Goliath, and killed him." Muleshoe, of course, being David. Here is a school district with approximately 4,000 students enrolled- that's almost as much as our entire's town's population! Muleshoe has about 1,400 students, which means that when you start looking for football prospects, they have just a tad more boys than we do from which to choose. And then there's plain old size of the football player. The roster listed 13 Cooper Pirates at 200+ pounds and one at 305. We had a grand total of five 200-pounders and one at 305. Twenty of their players measure 6 feet and over; we have exactly half as many, but our tallest beats their tallest-6'5" vs. 6'4". I do know that football coaches have been known to perhaps stretch the truth a bit when listing height and weight in an effort to pysch out their opponent, but even if either side did that, there was no doubt we were outsized when both teams walked out on the field to warm up. And we could go on here and dwell on size comparison, but the bottom line is who does the most with what they have to work with.

I believe we did...

Next Friday Mule Mania will travel to neutral site Denver City to play Crane in another non-district game.

Go Mules!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Where Does Your Team Play?

The names of football stadiums always have a story. Well, most of them do. I know two of them.

The Muleshoe Mules play in Benny Douglas Stadium. Benny Douglas would have been a senior the next school year, 1950-51. He and two friends were coming home from Clovis, New Mexico, on Highway 84. In those days, it was called Killer 84 and had lots of curves on its narrow two lanes. There was a terrible wreck; three kids, all fellow students, were critically hurt. Benny was killed. He was on the varsity football team, a popular student, his parents were prominent in the community, and he was the first student from the school to be lost in such a tragic accident. So it seemed a fitting tribute to name the stadium after him. The sign is gone now, but everyone still calls it Benny Douglas Stadium. Legend has it that Benny’s ghost lurks about the old locker room and the football field, leaving cool chills on the backs of people as he passes.

The Texas A&M Aggies-yep, I’m an Aggie-don’t play in a stadium. They play at Kyle Field. It seems back in 1904 athletic contests were held on a drill field. Edwin J. Kyle, a young ag instructor, had been given a larger portion of college land for horticultural experiments than he needed. Realizing that future athletic events needed a place of their own, Mr. Kyle bought lumber and fencing materials “on account” and constructed two bleachers that would seat about 500 people. Games were then played on that extra land and fans sat in those bleachers. In 1906, the Corps of Cadets met in the chapel to thank him. So Aggies ever since then have played on Mr. Kyle’s Field. Never mind that TV game commentators call it Kyle Stadium from time to time…apparently they don’t do all their homework. A&M’s board of directors officially named it Kyle Field in 1956. And Kyle Field it will always be. *

*Chapman, David L. “The Kyle Field Chronicle: In the Beginning, Part 1.” Texas A&M Cushing Memorial Library and

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Perfect Season

Out of 1, 339 UIL member high schools in the state of Texas, only eleven football teams finish the season with state championship bragging rights. This is the story of one of those teams.

Muleshoe is a town of around 4,500 intrepid souls in West Texas. Occasionally the wind blows the sand and tumbleweeds in classic dust bowl fashion but can boast spectacular sunrises and sunsets on more days than the wind blows. When a beautiful Chamber of Commerce day occurs, everyone talks about hoping visitors don’t figure out what a good deal we have here. Local myth has it that the only time it is necessary to lock the car is in the summer to keep people from sneaking surplus squash, tomatoes, and okra in the back seat. The agriculturally based economy is primarily cotton and corn farmers with a recent growth in area dairies. The school district fluctuates from time to time between 3A to 2A classification and for the last few years has dropped down to the large end of district 2-2A.

Muleshoe historically has not made headlines on the football field. After an undefeated season in 1938, the record book was pretty empty until the Mules were able to win the district title in 1962. Things picked up for a few years with winning seasons under the leadership of Don Cumpton in 1977, followed by Mike Wartes from 1978-80 and then Windy Williams in 1981-83.

But it takes a few more consecutive successful years than that to establish a winning tradition, and that building process began when David Wood made the decision to take his first head coaching job in Muleshoe in 1996. I talked with Coach Wood about his 2008 state championship team the week after these young men received their state medals and rings. The rock stars-I mean, Mules-gleefully and patiently autographed whatever objects the fans put in front of them and Coach Wood shared a play-by-play of the winning game. But today as we talked he took congratulatory phone calls and supplied his fingers as safe havens for two kids’ shiny new state champ rings while they worked in the weight room.

David and Jody Wood and their four children moved to Muleshoe from Canyon, Texas, to be the head coach. David had interviewed for the head position in Wellington, in the eastern part of the Texas Panhandle, as well as Muleshoe. His dad, Jim Wood, had coached the Calgary Stampeders in Canada and scouted for the New York Giants before moving to Quanah, Texas, where he coached his son as a senior during a twenty year span there as head coach. Jim Wood encouraged his son to take the Muleshoe position when it was offered, but David was to later learn that his dad had reservations about the move since Muleshoe did not have a winning tradition in football. And winning traditions have a subtle but important effect on the fate of future teams, as I was to hear more than once as we visited.

Winning is a mindset change, according to Wood. “You can go anywhere and change it-you went to Quanah and changed it,” Wood remembers telling his dad, when he learned of his father’s concerns. Because of the absence of the winning tradition, his dad feared that David would find himself on a dead-end road. And that could have happened. After they arrived in Muleshoe, David remembers reading a comment in the local newspaper stating that historically Muleshoe head coaches stayed for 2.4 years, so Coach Wood might be two years away from the unemployment line. The lack of respect for Muleshoe football also became apparent to the new coach when he began scheduling games and saw that everyone counted on Muleshoe as an easy win. “We were just a doormat. Everyone wanted us for their homecoming opponent. One year I think we played in five homecoming games.”

That mindset was about to be changed.

Coach Wood believes that kids growing up in a school with a winning tradition will go to the games and experience winning, knowing nothing but success and will come to believe that they, too, can be a part of that experience. It must be true. Senior receiver Victor Vasquez, interviewed after the state-winning victory, put it this way: “We’ve been dreaming about this since we were little kids, and you know, dreams really do come true.”

The winning mindset and expectations start with the coaches and trickle down to the leaders of the team and eventually to all the players, and before long, the fans believe it as well. The seed is planted, and then it gradually makes it way to the younger kids in the community. By the time the 2000 season started, Coach Wood had been changing that mindset by having winning seasons. Most of the boys on this 2008 state championship team grew up with that winning tradition, many of them as far back as kindergarten, while they participated on the same Little League teams, Little Dribblers, the same junior high teams, all the while attending the high school games and being inspired. Coach Wood smiled, “They seemed to have something special, this bunch, and would always say, if we can just grow a little bit we’ll do better, but they never did [grow much] and they still played the same way, which was always good.”

In 2000 the Mules, under Coach Wood, had a 14-1 season, losing the semi-final game to Forney at Texas Stadium in Dallas. “The Year We Made History,” said the T-shirts we all wore to the game. As the first team to make it that far in the playoffs, they had made history. Things had begun to pick up with Wood’s tenure. His first year’s record was an unimpressive but predictable 1-9 season-they had been picked to go 0-10. The second season showed improvement to 5-5. By the third season the Mules were 10-2 which secured the district title. Being scheduled as a homecoming game opponent suddenly began to change. After that the Mules made the playoffs every year but one. Dedicated coaches, hard-working kids, winning mindset. Yes, the winning tradition was in place.

In 2004, the Mules had run out of linemen and found themselves with two good quarterbacks who also had other skills, so in order to utilize the most talent most of the time, a change was needed. Texas Tech’s Mike Leach had been running a successful spread offense which seemed suited to Muleshoe’s talents. Keeping up with the times and latest innovations, Coach Wood made a trip to Lubbock to learn more about this high scoring offense and found it to be a good game plan for his personnel.

“We found it was a simple plan with not very many plays, and we could run it with big or small linemen. For it to work, though, we had to have a good trigger man-a quarterback with a quick pass. The second thing for it to work falls directly on the coaches, who have to be willing to change their philosophy. It’s fun on Saturday to have a [mental] chess match and play with the next opponent, try to figure out the team’s next move. With the spread, once we installed the offense, that was it. Our prep time was cut way down. We don’t know what the [opposing] defense will do and don’t worry about how they will line up. We change plays 30% of the time from what we call on the sidelines. That’s part of our prep time. The third thing is to allow the quarterback to make those changes. You need a smart quarterback you can trust, and he has to be able to do it. We needed at least three good receivers for the spread and the defense can’t key on them that way."

So now after three years, the coaches have embraced the spread philosophy, the trigger man is in place, three receivers are ready to go, and they are all supported by a team with an understanding of what they needed to do, and full of the right mix of confidence and a certain cockiness toward those bigger, stronger teams who were supposed to run over them. They simply weren’t going to be denied. “This bunch had no problems with bigger teams. They actually wanted big teams because they thought they would be slower. So psychologically size was not an issue.” As to taking hard hits, if a hit didn’t ring their bell, it didn’t faze them. If they suffered a bad play, they’d say that’s okay, we’ll make up for it. And then they would.

There was always talk about “mo.” This team always seemed to have the momentum on their side. They never knew what play would trigger the momentum for or against them, but it was always there this championship season. Fans knew when the momentum changed because it was palpable, even to those of us in the stands. These boys made momentum work for them all year, but the Crane game established the real momentum that carried them to the state finals. Scheduling Crane and meeting them halfway in Denver City for the game was a sure sign that Muleshoe had earned a winning reputation. Now Coach Wood was having a hard time filling the non-district slots. That kind of problem is a good thing. “That game gave us a sense of urgency because a team really gets motivated when they play a formidable opponent.” Crane, traditionally a state powerhouse, was ranked number 2 at the time and was blessed with big boys who had lots of speed. Muleshoe was not picked to win, but when the dust settled and the score was Mules 63, Golden Cranes 41, these kids truly believed they would make it all the way.

And make it they did. The final game was played December 13 against the Kirbyville Wildcats at Grand Prairie’s Gopher Bow Stadium. Playing in a bowl stadium was important to Coach Wood so wind would not be a negative factor to the Mules’ passing game. This Kirbyville team was also big and fast. This team also lost, just like the other 14 teams Muleshoe defeated while making it look seemingly easy, and oh, so much fun. Final score: 48-26.

Coach Wood compliments this team for being a cohesive group without a chicken fry in the bunch.

Chicken fry?

“A chicken fry doesn’t get into the game. They are just there for the steak after the game. If they want a free ride, I can deal with that, but I tell them up front that they won’t play much. In crucial situations I won’t ever play one, but they can go along for the ride. But this team didn’t have any chicken fries. They all contributed. All 24 of them.”

The state champs were also a self-motivated team with good leaders. Seniors were known to stop a shaky practice and get things back on track. The team never complained about hard work or doing things over, and it has rubbed off on the off-season crew. Coach says it is usually harder to keep the off-season kids motivated, but it is unbelievable the positive effect the championship year has had. Which, of course, will help with motivation this football season.

Coach Wood credits his off season program for the team being season-ending injury-free for the last three years. The off-season program focuses on knee strength, and the fact that the spread has less contact than other offenses, provides less chance for injury in the first place.

A small town’s football team is many times the heart and soul of the community, especially in Texas, and that winning tradition that is so important to motivate players rubs off on the fans. It certainly rubbed off on the Muleshoe fans, who lined the main highway through town and the elementary and middle school children who lined the playgrounds to see them off as the chartered buses headed to Grand Prairie. Bailey County Electric Company hoisted a banner between two bucket trucks that read “Bailey County Electric says Electrify the Wildcats!” Any vehicle leaving town for the game had to pass the sign erected by fan Nick Bamert which read “Last One Out… Turn out the Lights!” Based on official estimates and tickets sales, about 5500 people attended the game, and at least half of them were for the Mules. Residents, former residents, people who knew residents, people who graduated from or attended Muleshoe High School, people who may have just driven through town decided to come to this game. It was like a family reunion and class reunion rolled into one big happy party, especially when the scoreboard showed no time left. Then of course, the requisite championship-boasting T-shirts were designed and printed by a company in town and 2100 were sold. That's almost half the population, remember. Orders came in from all over Texas and all over the nation, from California to Tennessee. Mule Mania had definitely taken hold and has not let go even now. Cars sported the white shoe polished windows proclaiming “Go Mules,” “Mules State Champs!” “Mules No.1," for months after the game.

Coach Wood has 13 returning lettermen and the shoulder pads of 11 seniors to fill this  season. But he is not worried. In 2006 the Mules averaged 327 yards a game; in 2007, 402 per game; 2008 saw the number jump to 471. “As a coaching staff, we are learning more and more about this offense and are very comfortable with it. If we add 70-75 yards per game to the average this year,” he laughs, “ who knows what the future holds.”

Who knows, indeed. The 2009 season is well under way, and the Mules have extended their undefeated record to 17-0, beating Levelland 27-14, and  Portales, NM  55-14. Mule Mania knows the future looks, well, pretty darn good. Lubbock Cooper is this Friday's challenge. Stay tuned.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The bright lights of Muleshoe are shining like diamonds, like ten thousand jewels in a line

Greetings from Muleshoe, the garden spot of West Texas… that’s a joke, for those of you not familiar with West Texas terrain. But since I have a stroll-through cactus garden in my front yard, I feel like I can lay claim to the garden spot of West Texas part.

Since my husband pulled me kicking and screaming into the 21st century with the gift of a wonderful digital camera in 2007 for my trip to Mount Kilimanjaro, I thought I should press on, undaunted, with my walk into the world of technology by starting a blog. So here goes.

Why “The Bright Lights of Muleshoe,” you may ask? Does a town with a name like Muleshoe even have electricity? Well, let me tell you…

We moved from Edna, Texas, to Muleshoe, Texas, in 1980 when Bill, my generous aforementioned husband, took over the CEO position of the Federal Land Bank Association, having been the assistant CEO in the Edna office. I had been teaching and coaching at Edna Junior High and had just finished earning my Master of Education degree from University of Houston, Victoria. My carpool to that campus consisted of the athletic director/head coach, two other high school coaches and an assistant principal, and when one of the coaches drove, the music of choice on the radio was country. Willie Nelson and Wayland Jennings were the order of the day, having made a name for themselves as outlaws of the genre at the time, so I came to enjoy their music as well. And so it was that I was exposed to Willie’s “Red-Headed Stranger” album on those trips.

So on moving day, by the time my family made it to Muleshoe it was no longer day. Night had fallen and as we drove we were encircled with lights in the distance, Portales, NM, to the southwest, Friona to the north, and Muleshoe right in front of us. And then it hit me. The bright lights of Denver were shining like diamonds, like ten thousand jewels in the sky.* I know. It wasn’t Denver and the lights weren’t in the sky, but it fit.

We’ve been here now 29 years and the lights still sparkle all around us every time we come in on Highway 84, just like that first night. Much of Bailey County and Muleshoe are located in Blackwater Valley, which of course, is what allows that line of lights to be so prominently displayed on the horizon. And people think it is just flat up here! Now there are even more lights in a line, mostly from the many dairies that have moved into the area, but the lyrics still fit and the sight is still intriguing.

So if you are interested, dear readers that might stumble onto this blog, I would like to share with you what those bright lights of Muleshoe are all about. Stay with me-football is next. The Mules are the defending state 2A champs, ya’ know.

*”Denver,” from The Red-Headed Stranger; by Willie Nelson. Columbia Records/ CBS, Inc.; 51 W. 52 Street, New York. 1975.