Monday, September 29, 2008

Shearing the sheep

It's been a good week. About 10 days ago, I bought my very first sheep: three icelandic girls and a boy to go with them. They have beautiful fleeces and sweet temperaments. They will come close enough to let me pet them, and yet they're not so friendly as to make me nervous. They still get that they're sheep (and that I'm not).

Before Shearing

I wanted to get them sheared as soon as possible so they'd have time to regrow their fleeces before it starts to get cold. A local shearer came this morning to do the job. It was really fun to watch. He tucked a sheep between his legs, turned on his trimmer and then starting with the belly hair--which he said was no good--stripped the sheep of their fleeces in just a few minutes. (The world's record is somewhere under 45 seconds.)

Willow loses her har Honey gets shorn

Laika really wanted to be in on the fun, but could only look on from beyond the barn door:

Laika looks on

We talked a little after he was done. He told us he was going to New Zealand in the winter to learn more about his trade. I was very impressed. I love it when people follow their dreams!

After shearing

As for me, just having sheep of my own has been a dream a long time in the making. Right now I can see them out my studio window, grazing in the new bit of pasture that we fenced in for them the other day. They look utterly content. It makes me happy. (Course, that's my pumpkin/gourd patch in the background.)

Sheep in the field

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ashfield Hardware:
Anything Practical, Practically Anything

I'm proud to announce that my five-minute short that I entered in the Ashfield Film Fest won the "Ashfield Resident" prize. If you didn't get a chance to come to the film fest, here it is. (You can see a higher quality version on YouTube itself as long as you click "watch in high quality" at the right under the movie on YouTube--though I'm still trying to figure out how to get the best quality possible up there. Currently it's nowhere near the original.)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Dying gourds

I tried shoe polish, I tried watercolors, and the results were less than I'd hoped for. Now, I bought myself some specialty "ink dyes" designed specifically for gourds (only in America :), and they are beautiful. I feel like my dream of several years ago of creating beautiful gourd-based containers is finally coming true. Not that they're that great yet, but I'm feeling hopeful. Here are my first experiments:

First gourds

Do you ever find that when you are learning something new, you think it's a small subject, and then you start to scratch a little and you find that it goes on forever and ever and that there is so much to learn. I guess it's what makes life interesting. Anyways, I'm learning about woodworking (since gourds are really not so different from wood), about sanding and drills, about dyes and waxes, and I can see that pretty soon, probably about photographing crafts...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Blogging Flickr photos (part 3)

It seems crazy that I have now spent huge amounts of time explaining how to blog Flickr photos using two methods that I practicallly never use. The first method, using Flickr's Blog This button is great for blogging about a single photo when you don't need to add a lot of extra formatting. The second method, using Blogger's Insert Images button is best if you haven't already uploaded your photos or if you're not interested in linking them back to your Flickr site.

But the truth is, I want people who read my blog to go browse my Flickr images (and I want people who browse my Flickr images to read my blog :). While the first method described above will create a link to my photo's Flickr page, I can't deal with the limited formatting and only being able to include a single photo. So, I'll explain my favorite method of blogging Flickr photos.

First, go to the Flickr page of the first photo that you want to write about. Click the All Sizes button above the photo:

All Sizes button

On the Available Sizes page, choose the size with the width that is closest to the final size that you want to display the photo at. I'm going to display my photos 400 pixels wide, so I choose the Medium size which is 500 pixels wide.

Choose best size

A 500-pixel wide version of your photo will be displayed. Below the image itself, you'll find a chunk of HTML code that displays the image and creates a link to the image's Flickr page.

Copy Flickr code for Blogger

Copy that chunk of code.

Now, switch to Blogger and paste the HTML code into your post. Notice the width and height attributes near the end of the code.

Size of Flickr photo in Blogger

You can now adjust the width to the desired number of pixels (400 in our example). Get rid of the height attribute altogether; the height will be calculated by the browser automatically, depending on what you put in for width.

Change size of Flickr photo in Blogger

Why is there so much code there? The a tag is the link part that will bring visitors to your Flickr page when they click the image. The title attribute within the a tag displays descriptive text when your visitor hovers over the image. The text is generated automatically from the title of your Flickr photo, and then your Flickr name is added. I generally remove "by Liz Castro on Flickr", mostly because it takes up too much room. You can edit it as desired.

The img tag is what displays the image itself. The alt attribute will also display when visitors hover over the image but is overridden by the a tag's title attribute described in the previous paragraph. Why use both? The alt attribute is required for validation and also for Internet Explorer 5.

It seems like rather a lot to get photos into your Blogger post, but I'm pretty sure it's the easiest and best way. Add a comment if you've got a better method.

(Earlier, I described how to use Flickr's Blog This button to add Flickr photos to your Blogger posts. In part 2 of this series, I showed how you could use Blogger's Insert Images button to add Flickr photos to your Blogger posts. The method that I prefer is the one described in the post you're reading now.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Key to a Cow's Heart

Xana eats an apple
We got a Dexter cow in May, just before we left for Barcelona. We walked her every day for a month, trying to get her used to us. She only barely tolerated it, and never seemed any more comfortable with us. There was no taming her.

When we returned after a month in Barcelona, it was like starting from scratch. This time, I tried reading in her paddock so she would get used to me again. She finally got so she wouldn't jump when I looked in her direction, but she never came to see what I was doing, nor would she investigate the can of grain I kept always by my side.

As the summer got busier and the grass in the paddock shorter, we decided to put her in the bigger field with the goats. She was happy out there but immediately lost all interest in coming anywhere near us. Frankly, we were tired of trying. After very few days, it was next to impossible to even get close to her.

Until yesterday. We have an apple tree that is positively falling over (branch by branch) because it is so full of apples. I'm sure we should be doing something that we're not, and I hope it survives. Meanwhile, though, we are inundated with apples. We eat them at all hours of the day--they're crisp and sharp and the big ones aren't too sour--but we're not making a dent. So, I've been collecting the ones that fall to the ground and bringing them to the pigs. They don't go crazy over them, but they do eat them all.

So a few days ago I tried giving a couple to the goats. They declined. But Xana, our cow, looked interested. She wouldn't come near me so I threw her the apple. She sniffed at it, and then ate it. I was a little worried she might choke on it, but she pinned it to the ground so she could take bites from it until it was all gone.

Yesterday morning, I brought a couple of apples directly to her. The goats came right over, and sniffed to see if I had brought anything more interesting. Disappointed again, they left, but not before they had piqued Xana's curiosity. She looked at me, and then at the apple. But this time instead of throwing it, I just kept holding it out. I was on the outside of the fence, and I think that helped. Finally, she got close enough to take it, but I didn't let go. She really wanted it and kept trying to take it. I held on until she took a couple of bites. I reached out with my other hand and touched her head, and she bolted off. But a couple of seconds later she was back, looking for the apple.

In the afternoon, I brought a couple of apples with me into the field. I was amazed to see her get up and come over to me. I handed her the apple and she took a couple of bites from it before she took the whole thing. I held out another apple and as she tried to take it, I started petting her. And she let me. I was sure aliens had invaded our cow! Who was this docile creature? I let the apple go and she still stayed right there and let me brush her all over. Then I started walking off with the last apple and she followed me. Absolutely unprecedented.

I was afraid to Google whether it's ok to feed apples to your cows. With good reason. It turns out that cows can get bloat from eating apples, but mostly if pieces of the apple get stuck in their digestive system. So, I'll be careful to give her small pieces. But there were also many accounts of people happily feeding apples to their bovine friends with no adverse effects--even one story of a cow who protected her apples by chasing a bear away from her apple tree!

As for me, I finally think there might be hope of getting close enough to Xana to milk her someday (hopefully next year when she calves).

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Monarchs are on their way to Mexico

Setting the butterfly free
We've had four Monarchs hatch so far, with two more coming today. Their chrysalises are almost completely see-through now, revealing the black and orange wings within. Strangely, they remind me of uninflated plastic mattresses stuffed inside tiny boxes, just waiting to be blown up.

We learned how to hold a Monarch (gently holding both sets of wings together) so that we could bring them outside and let them go. We set them on some red clover and watch them unroll their long proboscus to take a drink. For a few moments, they seem too familiar with us to need to fly away, but then they take flight and off they go.

Perhaps we should have spoken Spanish to them, since they'll fly all the way to Mexico. 3000 miles, flitting this way and that! Monarchs that hatch in the fall are biologically different from their earlier summer relatives; they won't lay eggs until Spring since they need all their energy for the trip. They often go back to the very same trees that their grandparents came from the year before. Sometimes there are so many butterflies on a single tree that they break the limbs!

And then in the Spring, they'll start heading north--these are the very same monarchs who made the trip down in the fall--and begin to lay eggs. These eggs hatch into caterpillars and then turn into butterflies in a much shorter cycle than in the fall. It can take three or four generations during the summer to make it all the way back up North. How do they know where to go? Nobody knows yet. And I like it that way :)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Blogging Flickr photos (part 2)

The other day, I explained how to use Flickr's Blog This button. But unless I have a single photo to blog, and I don't want to add any links or formatting, I don't usually use Flickr's otherwise helpful "Blog This" button to blog about my photographs (or include photographs in my blog).

Blogger's Insert Images button, which you can find in the top part of the text box where you write your post is an easy way to add images to your blog.

Blogger's Insert Image button

To get started, click the Insert Images button. Your first task is to choose which image you want to insert. You can choose one from your computer by clicking on the Browse button or you can copy the URL of a photo out on the Web, for example, from Flickr.

Selecting an image from your computer is a simple way to get an image into your Blogger blog, but it has a couple of disadvantages. First, and foremost for me is that once you upload the image, it is somewhere on Blogger's servers. You can't edit, label, or tag the image, you can only replace it with another. And it's not easy to link to it from somewhere else, unless you upload it again following this same process. Still, if you don't have a Flickr account (or similar) to host your images, this is probably the easiest way to get them in your Blogger posts.

I do have a Flickr account though, so I want to enter the URL of my photo. Where do I find that URL?

First, view the image in Flickr. That URL up in the address bar will not do the trick unfortunately. (See how there's no ".jpg" extension at the end?)

Blog Flickr finding the URL

Next, click the "All Sizes" button, just above the image.

Flickr's All Sizes button

Which size should you use? The answer depends on how big you want the image to be in your blog post. Blogger will let you choose a display size of Small (200 pixels wide), Medium (320 pixels wide), or Large (400 pixels wide) and then will automatically resize your Flickr image accordingly. But since large images take longer to load than small ones (regardless of the size that you display them at), you want to choose the size that is larger than but as close as possible to the final display size. If you choose a Flickr size that is much smaller than the eventual display size, Blogger will increase its size automatically, and though it will load faster, it will end up pixelated and/or blurry.

Once you've chosen the optimum size (I usually choose Medium), scroll down below the image and copy the URL next to option 2:

Blogger Flickr get URL

Then paste the URL in the Upload Images box back in Blogger:
Blogger: Upload Images

Choose whether to flow the text around the image and on what side and choose whether the final display size should be Small (200 pixels wide), Medium (320 pixels wide), or Large (400 pixels wide).

Click Upload Image (which is a misnomer here since Blogger does not upload the image, but rather creates a link to the image that is already uploaded at Flickr).

The image is added to your blog post.

The advantage to using Blogger's Insert Images button is that it helps you size the image and flow the text around it without having to mess with the code.

You can, however, mess with the code if you're so inclined :)

Suppose you want more options than just Small, Medium or Large?

Once you've followed the steps above to add your image, click the Edit Html tab above the post box:

Blogger's Edit HTML tab

You'll see all the code that Blogger created for you in order to display your image at a particular size (and flow text around it). Slog through it until you see the Width information.

Blogger's code for displaying images

You can change that width to any number you like--in pixels.

Blogger change width of images

Remember to choose a display size that matches the Flickr size you chose as closely as possible.

You can find Part 1 of this article, where I talk about Flickr's Blog This button, here. My preferred way to insert Flickr images into Blogger posts is described in part 3 of this article. In part 4, I'll show you how to wrap text around images inserted this way.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Embedding an Already Embedded YouTube Video

What do you do when you see a YouTube video and you want to either send someone a link to it, or embed it in your own page? It's easy if you're viewing the movie right at the YouTube site. You can find the link you need to copy in the address bar:

Link to YouTube

and the code to embed the video in your blog post or Web site is over in the right-hand column:

Embed YouTube

But what do you do if you've found an embedded YouTube video on someone else's blog or Web site? Normally, you'd right-click (or Control-click) to copy the URL, but that won't work in this case, you'll get the menu options for the Flash Player, which won't be helpful.

Control click on YouTube video

What you have to do is hover over the small upward arrow in the lower-right corner of the embedded Video until the Links icon appears:

Link menu in embedded YouTube

Then click the Links icon and the video itself will shrink into the upper-left corner, while the code for Embedding the video and also for linking to it will appear on the right-hand side. Simply copy it to your blog post or Web page and you're all set.

Embedding or linking to an embedded video

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Monarchs in Bloom

My son said yesterday, "Mom, the monarchs are about to bloom!" And they were. In fact, we found one of them already hatched early this morning, but the second was kind enough to wait until we had all gathered around at 10:30 or so. I took lots of pictures.

They are so amazing and so beautiful to watch.

Hatching Monarch 10:29:32 am Hatching Monarch 10:29:48 am Hatching Monarch 10:30:04 am Hatching Monarch 10:31:09 am Hatching Monarch 10:33:23 am Hatching Monarch 10:37:33 am Hatching Monarch 10:37:51 am Hatching Monarch 10:39:27 am Hatching Monarch 10:40:03 am Hatching Monarch 10:47:10 am

Hatching Monarch 10:49:10 am

Monday, September 1, 2008

Chickens Should Eat Grass and Bugs

Colored Range chick 4 weeks old
Our chicks are now 4 weeks old and ready to be outside. Besides making the meat much more healthy, raising chickens on pasture makes the chicks themselves so much happier. You can tell that they love wandering around, pecking at things, finding yummy bugs to eat and fight over. The chickens we bought this year are a mix of Colored Range chicks which are "derived from the American and European old heritage breed of chicken and developed in the early 1960’s to meet the highest standards of the French Label Rouge Free Range program".

Before we could bring them out, I had to fix the chicken tractor. Last year, the chicks we got insisting on roosting on the roof and since the coop is only made out of PVC pipe, welded wire, and a tarp, they made the roof sag in. So, today I added two new supports to the inside of the coop. I cut new pieces of 3/4" pvc tubing, attached elbows to each end, and then made an arc with a larger piece of 1/2" tubing. The tricky part was that I had to crawl inside and assemble the pieces there since the completed arc wouldn't fit through the door. Then I attached the new arcs to the existing frame with some bits of wire. I think it'll hold up to some outdoor roosting now. (If you click on the photo, you'll jump to Flickr where I've added some notes to identify individual parts of the photo.)

Colored range chicks on grass

The chicken tractor is covered head-to-toe with 2" x 4" welded wire, including the bottom. That way, the chickens can peck the grass, but they can't get out unless we open the door for them. They're also more protected from predators.

Colored Range chicks

We also enclose the whole contraption in an electric fence so that when we eventually let them graze outside of the tractor, they'll still be protected from our not-very-ferocious-but-still-very-fond-of-chicken Laika.

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