Monday, October 28, 2013

Meet the Alpacas

by FabricGreetings

Have you ever noticed that when you are on vacation, you often go to things that you would not think of doing at home? I find that happens with us a lot. And that is how we found the alpacas.

I noticed an ad in the local newspaper that the the Maine State Alpaca Farmers were sponsoring an Open House one weekend we were away. It was a beautiful day and we had some time to idle away before meeting friends and decided it might be fun to go. Well, it was more than fun!

The Open House we attended was at The Evergreen Ridge Alpaca Farm in Warren, Maine. When we arrived there were a few cars and people wandering about. 

We were greeted by these two happy people and were told we could sit and take a picture. I am not a picture person, so I passed on that opportunity. 

But my husband was happy to become an alpaca and have his picture taken.

This particular farm has 32 alpacas. The boys are kept separate from the girls so there is no hanky panky going on. The owner of the farm told us that he likes to know the lineage of each alpaca. What we were able to pet and get up close to in the farm yard were the girls. The boys were off pronking (running and bouncing) in a nearby field. Each of the animals had a collar and a name tag. And they knew their names when called.

One of the interesting things I learned about alpacas is that they are related to a camel. And if you really look at their faces, you can see a slight family resemblance. I am not sure about camels, but alpacas have 3 stomachs.

These are Huacaya (wa-ki-ya) alpacas. Evergreen Ridge have show quality Huacaya Alpacas which produce an exceptionally desired-finely crimped fleece. There are 25 natural colors of alpaca fleece. And alpaca hair is the #1 fire retardant. These animals were sheared in March.

Alpacas do spit, but they do not bite. They only have bottom teeth. While we were there, many of them were enjoying a snack of green grass hay that the owner brings in from the Lancaster, PA area.
They also only have two toes on each foot.

A female alpaca is a dam and the male is a sire. An alpaca pregnancy lasts 11.5 months. The baby alpaca is called a cria. They can live to be 25 years old. Alpacas can not be imported or exported. Makes you wonder how they got here.

In the end, I am glad that we took 
the opportunity to learn a little more about the alpacas. 

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Monday, October 21, 2013

A Place to Feel Like a Kid Again

We are lucky enough to live close to Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA, and have always enjoyed our walks through their wonderful gardens. But a few years ago we discovered another garden on our vacation that just makes me feel like a kid. Once again this year, we spent a day there and enjoyed all it had to offer – well almost all.

The Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is located in Boothbay, Maine on the Back River. It started from very humble beginnings. In 1992 some gardeners from the mid coast of Maine founded the gardens. It wasn't until 1996 that they acquired 128 acres of land along the Back River.

The gardens were planned to include many paths and trails as well as garden destinations. Careful adherence to the original planning has resulted in this wonderful garden.

In 2005 they were gifted with an additional 120 acres of land. Their waterfront is now nearly a mile in length. The grand opening took place in 2007 after 15 years of planning, planting and building.

In 2009 the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses – a wonder to walk through and smell and touch. At one point in the garden walk, there are many small river rocks to make the path more tactile.

In my mind, the crown jewel in this garden is the Bibby and Harold Alfond Children's Garden. It opened in 2010 and is a delight for young and old. The entrance way to the garden features three rocks that look like sea creatures. They even spray a fine mist of water every few minutes. What child wouldn't enjoy getting sprayed by a whale!

The children's garden features a small pond with a dedicated bog area. There are poly wogs, frogs and fish in the pond. And then there is the leaning garden shed and the house and the barn. All of these are places that offer activities for children. Rocking chairs and books are readily available. A vegetable garden is growing and shelters are made from the beans growing over branch structure forms. My favorite part of the entire garden is the picket fence. How cool is that!

There are places to sit in the entire garden that offer views of all kinds. On the great lawn outside the visitor's center is a sculpture that moves with the wind. Even a gentle breeze makes it move. 

Each Summer new art appears in the gardens. This bench is a wonderful piece of outdoor furniture. My husband was captivated by the wooden loons scattered about.

The garden also has the “greenest” building in Maine. It is the Bosarge Family Education Center and opened in 2011. Wonder what will be next?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Science for Kindergarteners (and the rest of us): Colors

by RobinsFlight

Last week I did a series of science experiments with my son's kindergarten class.  After all, I used to be a real scientist who did cancer research until I decided that raising my family was a more important job than even that.  My son's teacher was more than happy to let me find some interesting things to do, based on that month's topic of discussion: colors.

In class they had already discussed how the primary colors of red, blue and yellow can be mixed to create orange, green and violet.  They have some nifty experiments of their own.  They had mixed colors of playdoh to create new ones.  They split a stalk of celery into two at the base and put each side onto different colored water to see what happened as the colors rose up the stalk.  And they mixed their own paints- the most fun being shaving cream paint.

I arrived hoping to expand their concepts a bit.  And we did have fun.  The experiments were did were spinning colored plates, playing with prisms to create rainbows, and marker chromatography.

The plate spinning was first.  I use small paper plates, though you could use circles of cardstock of paper glued to cardboard.  I colored half of each of 3 plates with the primary colors: red/blue, red/yellow and blue/yellow.  I also made a colorwheel on a fourth plate, with sixth of each of the primary and secondary colors.

I borrowed my daughter's snap circuits spinner for this one, though it could be done by threading string through two holes punched in the center of the plates and spinning that way also.  I did try making a top out of the plates with either a toothpick or a pen, but it was hard to get them spinning fast enough to see the colors blend.  I taped the propeller to the bottom of each plate, started the spinner, and we saw the primary colors blend to create their secondary color.  Interestingly, the camera really didn't catch this nearly as seamlessly as our eyes did.

I also let the kids color their own plates with designs and colors they of their choosing.  It was fun to see their designs turn to circles of color when the plates were spun. 

With the colorwheel plate, the results are interesting.  The colors blend to create a brownish shade, as you would expect if you were mixing paints.  Yet if you looked at the edges where the plate was curving away from you, or if you slowed the motion somewhat, the colors paled, approximating white!  The lesson?  Combining all the colors makes white!

This led to our second experiment: playing with prisms.  Most people have seen or even toyed around with a standard triangular prism.  If not, imagine the iconic Pink Floyd symbol of the white light breaking into the rainbow as it shines through the prism.  But more fun was trying out the multi-faceted prisms my husband happens to have.  Rainbows galore!  So we talked about how a rainbow in the sky is created by the sun shining through the rain, which breaks the white light into its colors.

Along with same line, do you know why the sky looks blue?  If we look at the prism, we see that the blue and violet wavelengths (which are shorter) are bent more than the red and orange wavelengths (which are longer).  The molecules of our atmosphere, the nitrogen and oxygen, scatter the light in the same way but to a much greater degree.  Therefore, the blue parts of the sunlight are scattered significantly more- think of them bouncing around more and in many directions- than the red parts, which are virtually unchanged in terms of the direction they travel.  So as we look at the sky, we see the blue light that has been scattered in every direction by the molecules in the atmosphere.  As we look towards the horizon, the blue color gets paler because more of the blue light has been scattered elsewhere and we see more of just the complete white light.  The violet wavelengths are also scattered.  However, not only is there less violet in the light we see, since much of it is absorbed by the upper atmosphere (as are some of the ultraviolet rays that cause sunburn), but our eyes also don't detect the violet as well, and we interpret the combination of blue/violet and the complete white light as the light blue of the sky.  At sunset, the light looks more yellow to red because you are seeing more of the unscattered light as it flows through the edge of the atmosphere.  Clear air tends to have a yellow shade at sunset, while more particulates in the air cause a more reddish hue.

Markers, clockwise from top: green, pink, black, brown, orange
In the class, once we talked about rainbows, we transitioned to pigments- the colors that make up paint and, for our experiment, the ink in markers: marker chromatography.  While it sounds impressive, it's basically separating pigments in the marker using water on filter paper- in this case, coffee filters.  FYI, this experiment seems to work best with inexpensive markers.  We flattened coffee filters on paper plates, and drew lines of different colors on the filters.  Then with eye droppers, we put a drop or two of water near the lines and watched as the colors spread and separated as the water bled through the filters.  Not only is it interesting to see what colors separate out of different markers, but this makes for a fun art project also!  It does work best using only thin lines, not blocks of color, and only a few drops of water, as too much water just makes the marker bleed out of the filter and onto the plate below.

Did the kids learn a lot about colors?  I don't know.  Sometimes they absorb more than you think they do.  But they definitely had fun playing with colors.  And the teacher wants me to come back again when they move to a different topic: sound!

One child's marker filter before water
Marker filter after water separation of marker pigments

Monday, October 7, 2013

Moroccan Design

Part 1

Architecture and Décor - an exotic mix

My house is in Hay el Fath which means the opening or beginning- the beginning of the city and the beginning is always a good place to start.

Moroccan décor is a mix of functional and decorative – there are gates-in Arabic  babs -I love that word! -shuttered windows, openings  and secluded spots. Recurring  shapes, colour and texture all form part of the exotic mix.

 It is always useful to learn the names of the babs as they are meeting points, easy places  to ask the taxi driver to drop you off so that is how I learned the names of many of the babs in Rabat and along the way discovered how interesting they are.  Some are plain and functional ,  just an opening in the wall of the old city – their shape emphasized  by the Moroccan red or sienna wash to the wall and others are ornate and decorative with carving or mosaic tile work. Many have a distinctive unusual shape which appears over and over in other architectural features and furnishings. Babs are awe-inspiring by their size or magnificence or simplicity Sometimes babs have doors but not always.

                                Bab in Fes

Doors are another feature of Moroccan architecture- outer doors  may  have interesting  metalwork- brass door knobs perhaps in the shape of the  hand of Fatima- a symbol of protection- sometimes elaborate hinges  and decoration too. !  Sadly poor people in the Medina sometimes sell their ancient wooden doors which end up being shipped to a loft apartment in New York, a house in LA or some other far flung place in the world

                                                           Hand of Fatima door knocker

Conversely doors may be nothing more than a very plain metal which disguises what lies beyond- a building may appear quite basic – even run down- but behind the plain metal door are beautiful carved plaster ceilings and mosaic and tiled walls- more like a palace than an ordinary home!  I cannot count the number of times I have been taken by complete surprise. In the Medina you can enter through a very  nondescript door to a wonderful old riad with central open air courtyard with columns and antique coloured glass. This is a world rarely seen by tourists.

                                            A riad in Fes beautifully restored and now converted 
                                            to a small hotel -traditional stained glass door- 
                                            stunning with the sun shining through
Some fabulous colourful doors.


Traditional paint work

Lock up shops are everywhere in Morocco and usually have plain metal doors and locks but the Moroccan desire for decoration often gives way to swirls and twirls to the metal struts that strengthen the doors- the same with security grills for windows – put in place to stop your children falling out of an open window and thieves from coming in- they can be quite basic but more often they are elaborate decorative creations which are custom made by metal smiths. They look stunning with a simple curtain billowing in the breeze.

typical swirl designs on window security grills

 carved stonework and elaborate security grill
                                                                                    Marjelle Gardens, Marrakech 
                                                                      bab shaped windows

Colour may be splashed on the door or intricately painted . Here is a beautiful old painted door in the Oudaya gardens in Rabat- I have used this to create my etsy shop banner! 

Ancient painted door in the Oudaya Gardens , Rabat

Here is the same type of traditional paintwork on a small handmade octagonal side table I have – handmade entirely and hand painted by local artisans- note the arches at the bottom- a bit like the babs!

                                              arches like the babs!

Mosaic tiled entrances may add colour or carved stonework with geometric and arabesque designs texture.  Artisans busy customizing homes-no two are ever alike and even if they are built that way their owners  are quick to ensure they become unique.

                                                         carved stonework and mosaic tiles

Because of the artisan  and bespoke nature of most Moroccan interior design it is rare for outsiders to truly experience Moroccan décor. Often the garish colours and tourist products – many designed purely for tourists!-overwhelm the visitor and they do not see the beautiful detail behind closed doors in everyday homes. Carved plaster ceilings and intricate mosaic tile work are for instance fairly common place and not just reserved for palaces and fancy hotels.

Arches appear everywhere- in houses and gardens to form private secluded seating areas and to give a glimpse of what lies beyond. Their shapes are interesting too. Even  I have arches in my house!

                                                             Arches with carved plaster work

                                             an elaborate shaped  plasterwork arch makes an 
                                             interesting focal point

The hint of something beautiful beyond is a recurring theme in Morocco whether it is the beautiful exotic gardens such as the Jardin de Marjelle in Marrekech which has some of the most clever and beautifully thought out vistas and stunning use of colour as a backdrop for the exotic plants.

     Building in the Marjelle Gardens

In textiles- which is my great love- you may see a beautifully embroidered edging to a cuff of a djellaba – a traditional coat- with maybe reveal a hint of the even more ornate dress sleeve underneath but in a flash and a movement of the arm it is gone. In the wonderful Moroccan cuisine you experience it with the crisp flaky pastry of the Bastilla which encases the surprising sweet chicken and almond nut mix inside

Moroccan décor is both exotic, subtle and mesmerizing - you rarely experience it all on one viewing but have to return again and again to see and experience everything.