Monday, July 11, 2011

Weekend Shots

(Click to enlarge)

Still standing strong

Hunting fish

Evening calm

The night is just getting started

Moving before it gets pitch dark

Grilling bonus: I changed it up a bit with the mushrooms and peppers over the weekend. I cut the tops off the peppers and cleaned out the insides. Then I dropped the Baby Bella mushrooms in the peppers and added olive oil, butter, and seasoning. Everything was wrapped in foil and left on the grill for 45-50 minutes (top rack). When I opened them up, the mushrooms were sizzling in their own little pepper pots and you talk about good eats! Wow!

Baby Bella mushrooms in Bell peppers

Friday, July 8, 2011

Guest Post: Living In Bloggerville

(This isn't a guest post in the sense that it was written specifically for my blog. TexWisGirl wrote this for her blog back in March. It contains such useful information that I asked her if I could re-post it here for my readers (several of whom also read her blog). There are good points here you may or may not have thought about previously. Thanks, T, for allowing me to use your post!)

Living In Bloggerville

Well, I'm coming up on my 1 year blogiversary next month, so thought I'd do a post about some of the things I've learned in this here virtual town we live in.  When other bloggers have posted tips on being a better blog host or visitor, I've really appreciated their knowledge sharing so figured I'd share a few things that ring true for me.

1. LEAVE COMMENTS:  When you visit a blog, whether it is regularly or just a one-time thing, leave a comment to let the blogger know you were there.  Sometimes we can see in our traffic sources (available under Stats) or some other widget (like BlogFrog or FeedJit's Live Traffic Feed) that you were there, but a comment is so much nicer.  When I drop in on a blog I've not seen before, I try to leave a comment - showing appreciation for their blog or post.  After all, they put forth the effort to do a post.  I made the effort to view it.  Even if I'm not compelled to follow them, I want to at least say hello and wish them well. 

2. FOLLOW PUBLICLY:  If you use Google Friend Connect to follow blogs, if you have a blog of your own, by all means follow publicly so folks can see you and find your blog in return.  In connection with that:

3. INCLUDE YOUR LINK IN YOUR BLOGGER PROFILE:  So many followers don't show their own blog address as a link in their profile.  When someone follows me, I try to go back and visit their blog too, but if they don't provide a link, I can't find their blog when I click on their little follower photo.  It's only if they leave a comment that I can click on their name and "follow them home" that way.  Include your blog in your profile under Dashboard-Edit Profile-Show My Blogs.

4. MAKE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS PUBLIC:  I have comments delivered to my email inbox and usually read them there.  If you leave a comment on my blog that asks a question, I will often try to respond via email rather than reply with another comment on my post (I don't think many folks return to a blog to see if you've answered their question - who has the time?!)  Anyway, if you have your email address marked private, I can't respond directly.  You can change this to allow email replies to your comments by adjusting your profile settings under Dashboard-Edit Profile-Show My Email Address (make sure you've got the email address identified in the Identity section where you want your emails to go to).

I thought I had this setting in place, but I didn't for a long time.  It took some comments left by followers before I realized they were getting the dreaded message when they tried to email me.  I credit Beth at be yourself...everyone else is taken as the first blogger that I read to explain how to correct this problem. 

5. CONSIDER REMOVING WORD VERIFICATION - Especially if you moderate/approve all comments before they are posted:  It's incredibly time consuming for us blog-addicted readers to comment on each blog we read (my list currently tops 200).  However, I try to stick to my #1 point above as much as possible.  Word verification (where you type in those dreadful code letters and numbers in order to leave a comment) makes the process take almost twice as long.  And then it's very frustrating to be presented with the message "your comment will be visible after approval."  (What?  I deciphered and typed that miserable code for nothing?!)  Now, I understand security concerns.  I'm just saying two deadbolts might not be necessary on your blog's door.  And, yes, I had word verification set on my blog for a long time for fear of spammers etc., but I removed it after some other bloggers suggested it.  I've not had any issues since (knock on wood, that friendly comment world will continue.)  You can adjust features for comments on your blog under Dashboard-Settings-Comments. 

5a. On a related note, I use Open ID so non-Google account holders can comment using other ID types but I've never allowed Anonymous comments (yes, I'm afraid of haters...)

6. SET YOUR COMMENT BOX AS A POP-UP WINDOW:  For forever, I had my comments set up to embed below my post - I thought that setting was needed to display them there.  Duh!  Nancy at A Rural Journal recently posted a suggestion to set your comments as a separate pop-up window since she was having difficulty posting comments in Bloggerville and had read that the embed setting might be an issue.  I switched mine immediately to a pop-up.  I can't tell you how constipated my keyboard must be with all the word verification letters and numbers that never "took" to the screen because of blog page reloads occurring as I was typing them in.  You know how that works - our blog page of photos, blog reading rolls, links, buttons, gadgets, widgets, etc. resets when someone has disturbed the initial load by sweetly attempting to leave a comment and having to wait for the whole flippin' page to work through its issues before it allows it.  Kind of like ripples on a pond - you have to wait for them to stop before you can see (type) clearly again.  Folks, I apologize for all my blog ripples you may have encountered in the past.  I hope my pop-up comment box makes your life more pleasant.

I am not a well-heeled blogger.  I don't use Facebook or Twitter or upload posts from iPhones and the like.  I DO use the reading list under my Dashboard's "Blogs I Follow" to get the feed from your new posts so I hopefully don't miss any.  Oh, that reminds me, if you use this same feature, when a blogger changes their blog's domain address, your "Blogs I Follow" will recognize a name change has taken place but it will no longer pick up the feed of new posts.  I learned the hard way that I had to unfollow and refollow the new address in order for it to truly recognize the new site's feed.  If you DO change your blog's name and/or address, it's best to tell your followers/readers in a post that you're doing so so they can find you.

I hope at least one of these tips is something you find helpful, agree with, will try or will at least see what settings you've had in place on your blog that you never knew about (so you'll have more "Aha" moments than "Duh" moments).  I'm sure I've missed other good tips that some of you might want to share.  But that's enough from this Bloggerville resident.  My apologies to WordPress users or anyone I've bored to death just now...

As always, I appreciate you stopping by!  Refer to #1 above!  :)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Ok. I Finally Did It.

After resisting for almost a year, I finally created a "fan" page for my blog on Facebook. The only reason I did so was because many of my friends on FB are not the outdoorsy type. I felt a little bad filling their feed with all of my outdoor information via my personal account. Now I have a place to post that stuff and people have to willingly choose to "like" the blog fan page. (I won't bother going into how I hate the way FB uses certain terms like "fan page".)

Over on the right hand column of my blog, there is a Facebook box that lets you "Like" my blog. Doing that allows you to follow the blog-related updates on FB. Of course, you must have a FB account for that to work. Duh.

Below the FB box is a smaller rectangular FB button. That links to my personal FB account. If you'd like to hit that and send me a friend request, you are more than welcome to do so. You can do both, either one, or none of the above. I know some of you use FB, some use Twitter, some use both, and some don't use either one. The blog fan page is just my way of giving you FB-only folks an option for getting the same info I put on Twitter. The blog fan page is here: HeyBJK.

Stats Help
Now I have a question, of sorts, and was wondering if anyone else is seeing this. Up until about three weeks ago, my blog's referring URL's and sites were all the "normal" stuff. Most of my blog's traffic was coming from Google, Twitter, Facebook, the OBN, and several of your blogs. My stats now show something completely different. The majority of those referring sites are foreign and most look spammy. Even though the vast majority of my traffic comes from the U.S., most of the referrals are foreign.

Before you ask, I have already swept my house for bugs and malicious code. My blog gets a green light as far as being free of spam and unwanted intruders. Is anybody else seeing these kinds of sites and URL's in their stats? Anybody have an explanation?

I'm just curious because it bothers me. Something doesn't seem right, but I'm not sure what it is. Apparently, I have a lot of blog fans in Russia. Not exactly what I was shooting for...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Blog of the Week: Sole Adventure

It's been a while since I posted a blog of the week. To get that feature rolling again, I want to share a blog called Sole Adventure by Mark in Missouri. Mark and his brother grew up spending weekends with their grandparents in the country which started his passion for the outdoors. 

Mark describes the name and essence of his blog this way: 
A sole adventure is about being outdoors, exploring on foot.  It is about discovering nature and wilderness.  It is about finding new places and experiencing open spaces.  A sole adventure is also about leaving the comforts of my daily life and pushing myself to do something on my own.  Finally, a sole (soul) adventure is where I rediscover who I am, and why I am here. 

He spends his time hunting, fishing, backpacking, camping, and hiking - when he's not spending time with his wife and daughter. Mark writes about a variety of outdoor topics with an emphasis on hunting. His blog includes tips, techniques, gear reviews, and some humor. 

You guys are in for a treat this week because you are sorta getting a two-for-one special. Not only does Mark have his Sole Adventure blog, he also has a photo blog entitled Life By The Lens. It turns out Mark is quite the skilled photographer and he has some really beautiful and amazing shots on his photo blog! For those of you (and I can think of several) who are more into the photography and not so much the hunting, you will enjoy perusing Life By The Lens

Take a few minutes and visit both of Mark's blogs. You can access his photo blog directly from his outdoor blog. Mark is a great writer and talented photographer! He can be found on Twitter at @SoleAdventure.

Friday, July 1, 2011

How To Strop Your Steel

For years I've sharpened my knives on various stones and different kinds of sharpeners and when I was done, that was it. I never gave it another thought. I assumed my blades were as sharp as I could get them. Last year, my good friend, Marc, told me about a strop he bought and had been using on his knives. He was impressed at how the strop put a razor sharp edge on the steel. I didn't think much about it until I actually saw it for myself. We were visiting one day and I had a knife with me that I asked him to strop. It was already sharp, but when he got done, it was extremely sharp! I was an instant believer!

In all the years I'd spent outdoors (practically my entire life) using knives for various tasks, I had never once used a strop. I know now what I was missing. And this may not be new to anyone else, but it was something I had never done. 

Basically, a strop is a piece (or pieces) of leather usually attached to a board. If you've ever watched old western movies, you may recall seeing barbers running their straight razors up and down a long piece of leather to sharpen it. The only difference is the board.

There are essentially two instances when a strop is necessary. First, after you have completed your normal sharpening routine on a stone or some other sharpener. Using a strop removes the fine burrs on the edge of the blade and really hones it to razor sharpness. The second instance is if you don't need to put a knife through the whole sharpening process and just want to touch it up. A strop is not intended for really dull or damaged blades. You need to put those on a stone first.

The strop I bought is a light piece of wood with a handle on one end (like a paddle) and a piece of leather attached to both sides. It's not necessary to buy a strop if you have the leather or want to buy the materials and make your own. I didn't have the leather and didn't want to buy the components so I just bought a commercial one from The Knife Connection. For that matter, you could accomplish the same thing with a leather belt. The strop came with two tubes of compound - one course (black) and one fine (green). It is essentially jeweler's compound.

Green compound: fine. Black compound: course.

Using a strop is very simple, particularly after you've done it a few times. First, you apply compound to the leather. My strop is designed so you can use one side with the course compound and the other side with the fine compound. Simply rub the stick of compound on the leather until it's covered. I have rarely used the course compound simply because my knives are sharp and the fine compound does the job.

Strop with compound applied

Once the compound is on, you want to lay the knife blade on the strop and then raise the spine so you have the right angle on the blade edge. You need to lead with the spine and let the edge trail behind. It's the opposite of regular sharpening. You pull the edge along the strop, you don't push it. Some people make several passes on the strop with the same side of the knife and then switch. Other people like to alternate sides with every pass. It really doesn't matter which way you do it.

Lead with the spine, not the edge

The most important thing to remember when using a strop is to apply light pressure on the knife. Let the weight of the blade do the work. If you push down on the knife too hard, you can roll the edge of the blade. Just hold the knife in your hand and let the weight provide the pressure. It doesn't take much.

Hold the knife at an angle, not completely flat

This isn't a long process, either. Make a few passes with each side of the knife and check it. A properly sharpened knife that has been stropped will pop the hairs off your arm with barely any effort! I have a Columbia River Knife & Tool (CRKT) Kilbuck and that sucker is scary sharp! I thought it was sharp before, but after putting it on the strop, it became insanely sharp. After I got my strop, I used it on all of my knives (I have a lot) and every one of them became much sharper.

You can clean a strop by using those non-abrasive pads made for smooth top stoves. The pads will remove any left over compound. After you have removed the old compound, you can periodically rub some olive oil on the leather to keep it supple. Allow the strop to sit for a few hours after applying the oil.

Here is a nice 54 second video that puts it all together so you can see the knife in motion on the strop. (This is not my video.)

If you want to see an big improvement in the edge of your blades, buy a strop and give it a try. They're inexpensive and work very well. I can't believe I went all those years and never used one. Thanks to Marc, my blades are sharper than ever before.