Black bear eating from my apple tree, August night, 2012

Friday, December 23, 2011

"Gopher" A New Experience: Underground Hotels

Here's a quick share/post for Christmas Eve Eve. I love reading about unusual inns, hotels, and bed & Breakfasts. Ones reported to have ghosts, for example, or those located in strange or remote places. Well, here's an article from Gadling (Huffington Post blog) about 10 underground hotels. They look pretty cozy to me. Here's an example from the piece:

Woodlyn Park
Waitomo, New Zealand

Lord of the Rings fans will love this hobbit-inspired accommodation. Woodlyn Park includes 4 types of motels, including a plane motel, train motel, boat motel, and the underground hobbit motels that have circular windows poking up out of the ground. The rooms include a kitchen, bathroom, furnishings, and decor. While this is by no means a luxury hotel, it is a fun and unique accommodation option.

While I don't plan on visiting many of the countries listed in the article anytime soon, it's fun to think these quirky accommodations are out there.

Happy holidays to all, no matter what you celebrate--off to make pie crusts for the upcoming weekend of eating. Cheers.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Springerle Cookies--A Huge Success

Last month I blogged about the arduous task of making holiday springerle--ornate tea biscuits that date back to the 15th century. You may (or may not) recall that the recipe suggest keeping the baked cookies (which hold detailed relief designs from a special wooden mold) in a tin for at least three weeks so that the cookies can "cure." I promised I'd write after that time had passed to let people know how they turned out. Well, they are fabulous. Crunchy yet weirdly chewy, with that subtle lemon and anise flavor. Perfect with Earl Grey tea, and they're gorgeous. Some pics of the finished product:





Blogspot has been giving me some problems posting, but I think I have the bugs worked out now, so hopefully I'll be able to post the springerle recipe I used (I invented a recipe by combining 3 different ones) on food.com soon, and share the link to it here.

Happy holiday baking to everyone. I think I just surpassed the 300th cookie baked in our house last week.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Black Friday Shopping Alternatives

Every year, merchandisers ring in the holiday shopping season with "Black Friday" (day after Thanksgiving) deals and early morning shopping hours. Well, this year, they've already started with the "special" deals, and stores will open as early as Thanksgiving morning for the annual mad rush to the malls.

I have to admit, I avoid this yearly stampede. That doesn't mean I don't appreciate getting discounts and deals on holiday gifts. And of course, I share a lot of my art around the holidays! Even if you do enjoy the Black Friday experience, perhaps you'd like other ideas to fill out your gift list. Just a few--
  • Consider shopping online. Many retailers with etail storefronts will be offering deals the Monday after Thanksgiving: "Cyber Monday." What could be more relaxing than surfing and shopping from home? Your gifts will be delivered right to your door, often with free shipping. Try the website http://www.naughtycodes.com/ to find discount codes for almost every store before you shop.
  • Dover Books is a great idea for those who are on a tight budget but still want to give a meaningful gift. The high-quality books from this publisher include thrift editions of classics for under 5 dollars, great activity books for kids, and new, lavishly illustrated hard-cover collector's editions. Plus, you can search their extensive library (over 9,000 titles) online, from the comfort of your couch. Here's a wonderful coupon code, but it's good only until November 29: $20.00 off an order of 40.00 or more. Enter code: NOVE. (There's free shipping with any order of $50.00 or more.) Be sure to check out their holiday collection featuring Christmas classics from Dickens, coloring and sticker books for kids, and vintage wrapping papers.
  • Shop local and shop small on Saturday, November 26--it's the official "Shop Small Business Day." In this tight economy, small shop owners are really feeling the pinch. Join the effort by making just one purchase from a small, independent business owner, whether online or in a brick-and-mortar store.
  • Consider hand-crafted gifts this year. Everyone loves to add a new, handmade ornament to their collection (google "salt dough ornaments" and gather the kids around), and who doesn't love cookies at this time of year? Don't feel intimidated by fancy cut-out gingerbread men and ornately decorated sugar cookies; people like those simple-to-make chocolate chip cookies just as much.
  • Give your time! Someone you know might be able to use a little help, such as dog-walking, babysitting, or house-sitting. Older friends could often use a hand with lawn mowing and debris removal. Younger people could benefit from your skills as a tutor. Writing your offer in a festive holiday card and affixing a bow to the envelope completes this gift.
  • If you exchange gifts with family, co-workers, or a friendly group, remember that half the fun of presents is the unwrapping and the surprise. Most people we know have just about everything they need, so the the gift of the fun and unexpected is more important than the item. How about agreeing that all gifts in the exchange come from thrift stores or rummage sales? You'll be repurposing and recycling and the treasure hunt for truly unique presents will be more fun for you. And everyone will spend a fraction of what they would buying new. In many cases, thrift store operations benefit charities, like the Salvation Army and Goodwill, so your purchases will help these organizations as well.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Whether you venture out with the masses this weekend or not, enjoy your friends, family, good food, and a little bit of relaxation. Keep in mind those you know who may be lonely this time of year. The gift of hospitality, of sharing your holiday with someone else, is the most precious gift of all. Is there someone you know who needs a last minute invitation to your dinner tomorrow?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Give the Gift of Art and Help Kids

I'm running a special promotion to raise money to help a local charity. With everyone getting so hyped up about shopping this week, I thought I'd offer an alternative. Buy some art, for yourself, or as a gift, and help someone else out too.
HELP CHILDREN HEALING FROM SEXUAL ABUSE. My Black Friday promo: all profits from sales of my art from 11/21-11/28 will go to provide much-needed supplies to run our local child advocacy center. The more art I sell, the more items I can buy. The center's requests are modest--things like board games, DVDs, toiletries, books, cat litter, juice boxes, Kleenex, etc. In the wake of the recent Penn State scandal, I think many of us would like to do something positive for victims of childhood sexual abuse. Please consider the gift of art.
If interested, please shop at my ecrater store:
(I am offering an ecrater discount coupon code running from now until 12/31--$5.00 off $15.00 or more. You must use Google check-out and enter the code ART5. Feel free to share this code and use it as often as you like.) 

If you can't afford to buy anything at this time (and even if you can), please forward this post to anyone you know who appreciates art, wildlife, nature, and helping others.
Let me stress that ALL profit (price paid, minus small packaging costs and shipping) will go towards purchases made for the advocacy center. I will be donating these items in mid-December.
BTW--I am able to send any artwork as a gift directly to anyone, and I can hold off from shipping until we get closer to the holidays. (You don't have to gift wrap or pay to mail!) Just email me and we'll work out the details. (zinniasandsun@aol.com) International shipping can be arranged.
Thanks to all of you for your support over the past 5 years. It has been such an experience to start painting again after so many years away from the craft. Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Buttercup Squash

A few weeks back I wrote about another winter squash, the always popular butternut. Well, this summer, we grew what turned out to be a slew of a different variety--buttercup squash. Here's a pic of just a portion of our bounty. The buttercups are the round ones, mixed in with a few lovely acorn squash as well.


Having never prepared or eaten a buttercup squash, I enlisted advice from friends on facebook for recipes and got some good ideas. Essentially, I was told, you roast this squash like pumpkin or butternut. With that information, I decided to look up recipes for these squash in my 1961 New York Times cookbook, a great resource for "old-time" recipes. This is how I ended up preparing my buttercup squash, and it was delicious! I'm passing it on here--it is mostly 100% NYTimes, except for my addition of balsamic:


Roasted Buttercup Squash Glaze

1/4 cup brown sugar
3 Tbsp. fresh grated ginger (I used paste in a squeeze tube)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
Splashes of balsamic vinegar to taste

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Cut the buttercup in half and sccop out the seeds and strands, and then cut again into even fourths.

Line a roasting dish or glass dish (with sides) with foil and coat with butter or Pam.

Melt the butter and ginger on stove. Add the sugar and keep stirring until it is dissolved. Taste the mixture and splash some vinegar in as needed (or don't) to cut down a bit on the sweetness and add a little tang.

Arrange the squash on the foil, flesh sides up, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, and glaze with the mixture.

Bake for 45 minutes or until tender.

This squash is delightful, sort of a cross between a heartier pumpkin and a more delicate butternut. And for whatever reason, our homegrowns are especially sweet (you could eat them plain and enjoy doing it). If someone offers you a buttercup from her garden, accept! Keep in mind, this recipe is also an easy way to prepare any winter squash as a side dish that goes well with everything, from pork roast to a vegetarian medley. And Thanksgiving is upcoming. Popping some glazed squash in your oven with the turkey is a simple way to provide that much-needed orange color to the dinner plate. Bon apetit.


Friday, November 11, 2011

11.11.11 Veterans Day: Vets Helping Heroes

In honor of Veteran's Day, I thought I'd pass on the link to a worthy, non-profit organization, Vets Helping Heroes. From their website:

Vets Helping Heroes is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization created to solicit and provide funds for qualified training facilities so that they may provide assistance dogs and training to veterans and active-duty military personnel who have been wounded in the global war on terrorism.

Our Mission is to provide a professionally trained assistance dog prepared by a qualified instructor to every veteran and active-duty military personnel wounded in the global war on terrorism enabling them to return to their lives with dignity and self-reliance whether they are visually impaired or have other special needs.

Assistance dogs provide independence and service to a veteran 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. In addition, they are a source of much needed enjoyment as beloved "family members" - running with children, providing comfort for spouses, and the security of knowing that they can even provide such services as predicting an oncoming seizure.


There are several organizations who pair up veterans with dogs--this is one of many. In addition to providing assistance with physical tasks, these animals also help to ease the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As a dog-lover, I know how much joy a canine companion can bring into your life, and I am thrilled to know that always-eager-to-please dogs are being trained to serve as companions for these vets. Hats off to all of you.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Springerle Cookies--Playing the Waiting Game

Have you ever found something at a yard or rummage sale and wondered what it was and what it was used for? A few years back I found a cool wooden rolling pin at a garage sale.

After a little research, I found out that what I had puchased for a dollar was a springerle rolling pin. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, here's the lowdown from wikipedia:

Springerle is a type of German biscuit with an embossed design made by pressing a mold onto rolled dough and allowing the impression to dry before baking. This preserves the detail of the surface pattern. They are most commonly seen during the Christmas season.

The name springerle means "little jumper" or "little knight". Their origin can be traced back to at least the 14th century in southeastern Germany and surrounding areas.

As someone who loves cooking gadgets, and an artist who enjoys looking at the detail in things, I was very excited at the prospect of baking some of these biscuits, especially since I'm a history buff too, and it looked like the tradition of springerle is an old one. The rolling pin, although cute, features designs that are handcarved, but sort of crude. From my research into springerle, I discovered that hand carved wooden molds with more intricate detail are commonly used. I even found some modern-day artisans (mostly in Pennsylvania Dutch country) selling these molds online. (Here's one such vendor: http://www.cookiemold.com/CookieMoldsSPRINGERLEmultiples.html)

Well, a few months ago, I stumbled upon a 4" x 6," four-panel springerle mold at a rummage sale. It cost me 25-cents and I was thrilled with its detail. Here's a photo:


Now that I own a detailed mold, I decided to bake some springerle cookies for the holidays this year.  I always give a new recipe a trial run, before I actually rely on it. Because I'd read all about what an arduous process springerle making is, I decided to try the recipe out way before Christmas. As in yesterday. Undaunted, I scoured my cookbooks for a recipe and found one that seemed reasonable.

Here's the thing about springerle--there's a lot of waiting involved in making these biscuits. You don't wake up in the morning and say, "Hey, I'm in the mood for springerle--I think I'll bake some today." Oh no. There's a reason these cookies look like works of art when they're done. They take time. Lots and lots and lots of time.

Without getting into too many recipe specifics, suffice it to say, right off the bat, the time you spend beating eggs and sugar at the beginning of the process seems excessive. One recipe said to beat at high speed for 30 minutes! I know my electric mixer would have overheated if I'd attempted such a thing. I opted for a recipe that required about 13 minutes, and that seemed like a long time to wait.

Once the dough is done, you must let it chill in the refrigerator overnight. More waiting.

Next day, you carefully roll out the dough and impress it with your molds, then cut the cookies out along their frame lines. I was dumbfounded this morning when I attempted my first impression and it came out perfectly! I would have bet a million bucks that there was no way I'd capture the detail of the mold in the cookie dough, but it worked. Here's a pic of my unbaked cookies on the sheet (the other little things on the sheet are anise seeds, a common springerle flavorant).



Anyway, there's even more waiting involved before these cookies are finished. In order to preserve the impressions, the cookies have to dry out by sitting at room temperature for a day. Mine are doing just that now, under napkins, of course. Tomorrow I get to bake them. And then, there's more waiting. You can't eat springerle until they have cured by sitting in a cookie tin for three weeks. For real. Have you ever heard of working so hard for a biscuit?

If you've never eaten springerle (I have), they are something of an acquired taste. They are quite hard, subtly flavored (my recipe has lemon peel and anise seed in it), and bland. But I happen to love the flavor of licorice ad enjoy hard biscuits to dunk in tea, so I like these cookies.

Tomorrow, my pretties go into the oven, and then into a tin for safekeeping for the next 21 days. I will update the blog with the results of my springerle baking on November 29. And if they actually work out, I'll post the recipe I used. So far, so good.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Pleasant Valley Report

What a week in Laporte! Nine inches of snow, then it all melted, while we in the neighborhood had to spend days gathering dead tree branches and (in my case) fix split rail fences that were crushed, due to fallen limbs.

And now, it's been balmy. Everything is melting.

Today is Halloween. For those of you who don't know, "Halloween" is a contraction of "All Hallow's Eve"--like Christmas Eve, except, Santa doesn't show up. It's the night before "All Saint's Day," when we remember the saints. And then, the next day, Nov. 2, is the "Day of the Dead"--"All Soul's Day." When we remember those who have passed on.

I think it interesting that in this day and age, many of us still observe these old holidays.

Anyway, my true idea of Halloween is to dress up in a costume and play-act for a night. We decorate our house with luminarias and pumpkins and answer the door in spooky outfits. Just to give the kids a thrill.

Enjoy your Halloween, whether you dole out chocolate, sit down with a bowl of popcorn with a scary movie, or just read an old Edgar Allen Poe novel.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Pleasant Valley Report

Could it get any nicer, weather-wise, than it's been the past few days here in Northern Colorado? The only thing I can complain about is a Northern Flicker who's been walking around the outside of my cedar shingled house every morning at 4 AM. I can hear its toenails scraping, which wakes up the dogs, and then mayhem ensues. I took a flashlight out this morning and caught it in the act.

Also, I think that the bear that's been eating/sleeping under our apple trees might be tipsy. On Sunday morning I went out at 0650 hrs to make sure it was safe to let the dogs out to pee. I saw a dark shape lumber off, only to hear it (I think) hit the ground with a thud and then scramble off. The groundfall apples are fermenting. Hmmm....

Halloween is fast approaching! Decorate your yard and buy top-notch chocolate for the trick-or-treaters. Remember how much fun it used to be to canvas the neighborhood, among scarecrows and ghosts? Now it's the adults' turn to pay back the favor. Be sure your house is fun and inviting--and make certain your doorbell works!

Friday, October 21, 2011

8 Things To Pack When You Travel

Yes, the traditional summer vacation season is ending, but many of us are making plans for holiday visits and winter get-aways to ski slopes and tropical islands, so I thought that passing along this "Budget Travel" article would be useful.
http://www.budgettravel.com/slideshow/8-items-you-never-packbut-should,7820/?wpisrc=newsletter

The author shares eight items that we may not think about packing for a trip but should. I won't spoil it for you--hit the link above to read the piece, and be sure to scroll down to the comments for more tips from readers.

If you're like me, you always forget something, like a spare contact lens or earplugs. And it's when you forget the item that you actually need it! These items are not typical, so I thought people might be interested in adding them to their suitcases.

(On a personal note, I always pack extra Ziploc bags with me. They're great for wet bathing suits, seashells you've collected, dirty underwear and socks, etc. I secure them, rolled, with an elastic ponytail-holder, which is also nice to have on hand. They're better than a rubber band--quite useful!)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Butternut Squash

It's the time of year when home gardens are yielding wonderful winter squashes. If you're wondering what to do with butternut squash, I have a few simple ideas.

Butternut squash make great pies. They tend to have a more delicate flavor and less stringy texture than pumpkin, and are delicious in pies sliced ice cold with fresh whipped cream. To get squash for a pie filling, I roast butternut halves, cut side down, on foil in the oven, at about 375 degrees for 45 minutes. Butter the foil and the squash flesh first, and put a little water in the baking dish, too. I save the seeds and toast them for use on top of soups.

Speaking of soups, instead of using roast butternut for pie filling for dessert, try a butternut soup for dinner. I puree roasted squash with milk, butter, spices, and a splash of orange juice for a great soup. You can make your soup sweeter by adding maple syrup, or more savory with the addition of onions and a touch of sage.

Finally, my very favorite way to eat butternut squash is in chili. Dice butternut into 1/2 inch cubes (raw, but peeled) and add it to your slow-cooking chili. I use a crockpot and always put the butternut cubes at the bottom. I find that the squash thickens the chili sauce, and it adds a nice burst of color (and vitamins, too). When you haven't got a butternut around, use a yam or sweet potato. My chili looks naked now without something orange in it. Try it next time you cook up some chili and see if you don't agree.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Red Mountain Open Space

I know I've said it here before, but it bears repeating. There's a wonderful hidden trasure in Larimer County--the Red Mountain Open Space (adjacent to Soapstone Prairie Natural Area). This morning I needed a rejuvenating hike, so I headed up that way. I took a pleasant drive on empty country roads, smiling at snow-capped peaks and pastures of bison as I approached the Open Space from the West via Hwy. 287. From Laporte to the trailhead took me exactly 1-3/4 hours, due mostly to the speed limit on the dirt roads. Great drive, stunning scenery!

Once you're there, be sure to hike the easy Bent Rock Trail (1.9 miles). You'll meander through red rock canyons full of cliff swallow nests, observe golden eagles and cottontail, and be treated to some of the most secluded, expansive space in Northern Colorado. We were the only car there all day. I'd packed a lunch, which we ate on site. Red Mountain Open Space has a handful of picnic tables and a restroom. I don't recall any potable water. There's no charge to access this space, or nearby Soapstone Prairie.

By the way, it's a good idea to check trail conditions for both Red Mountain and Soapstone (from their websites) before you leave home. Larimer County recently updated information on their website and has printed new, comprehensive maps. All information can be found here:
www.larimer.org/naturalresources
Dress in layers, bring plenty of water, wear a hat, and don't forget your camera and binoculars! These awe-inspiring FREE park lands are open to the public until December (closed Dec-Feb), so get out and enjoy. But plan to be isolated, with few others around, and a spotty (if any) cell phone signal. Let a friend or family member know where you're headed before you go visiting alone.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Winner of this quarter's prize

Congrats to Nancy H. of Colorado. You win this quarter's prize--notecards. They'll be coming your way soon, perfect for holiday "thank-yous" or birthday sentiments.

Want to be in for next quarter's art contest? Sign up, follow by email, etc. and you're in. Not sure what I'll be giving away--maybe your choice of any art print?

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Pleasant Valley Report

Well, it's sort of a let-down when you come home from a road trip. However, I have to remind myself, "This is why you moved 900 miles west--you're already at the start of another road trip,"

(Wish I had the cash to wander. Omigosh--I love to wander!)

Anyway, here in Laporte, all is golden. The aspen trees are changing colors, and we've been picking pumpkins.

Unfortunately, southern Colorado is now known for "Listeria", a bacteria that can show up in meat, which is now present in CANTALOUPE? Hello? How does this happen? (All that's going through my head right now is Def Leppard's "Hysteria" with, obviously, the words changed.)

Friday, September 30, 2011

October Jaunts to Haunted Hotels

With October right around the corner, many of us are planning short trips out in the country to view the fall foliage or pick apples and pumpkins. Some of you, evidently, are also going to visit a haunted hotel and attempt to spend a night in a haunted room. In the "spirit" of Halloween, I think this sounds fun. Whether or not you believe in ghosts, an old, historic hotel would have charm to spare and probably be full of all kinds of neat antiques. And if you chatted up the locals, you'd no doubt get some interesting stories as well.

Take this poll (not mine--from about.com) and let the guys at Paranormal know if you'd be willing  and brave enough to spend the night in a haunted hotel: http://paranormal.about.com/b/2011/09/28/poll-are-you-brave-enough-to-sleep-in-a-haunted-hotel.htm?nl=1

At the bottom of the poll page, there are many comments from readers. Some share their own experiences in so-called haunted hotel rooms. Scroll down--makes for fun reading. Happy October, everyone.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Ludlow Massacre

I am embarassed to admit that until today, I had never heard of the Ludlow Massacre. I did some sightseeing this morning on scenic Highway 12--the Highway of Legends--here in southern Colorado. Driving north on Interstate 25 from Trinidad to Walsenburg, I saw a sign for the Ludlow Massacre Memorial and exited to view it, not knowing what it was.

Here's what the United Mine Workers website has to say about this tragic event:

After they burned the tent colonyThe date April 20, 1914 will forever be a day of infamy for American workers. On that day, 18 innocent men, women and children were killed in the Ludlow Massacre. The coal miners in Colorado and other western states had been trying to join the UMWA for many years. They were bitterly opposed by the coal operators, led by the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company.
Upon striking, the miners and their families had been evicted from their company-owned houses and had set up a tent colony on public property. The massacre occurred in a carefully planned attack on the tent colony by Colorado militiamen, coal company guards, and thugs hired as private detectives and strike breakers. They shot and burned to death 20 people, including a dozen women and small children. Later investigations revealed that kerosine had intentionally been poured on the tents to set them ablaze. The miners had dug foxholes in the tents so the women and children could avoid the bullets that randomly were shot through the tent colony by company thugs. The women and children were found huddled together at the bottoms of their tents.

The Baldwin Felts Detective Agency had been brought in to suppress the Colorado miners. They brought with them an armored car mounted with a machine gun—the Death Special— that roamed the area spraying bullets. The day of the massacre, the miners were celebrating Greek Easter. At 10:00 AM the militia ringed the camp and began firing into the tents upon a signal from the commander, Lt. Karl E. Lindenfelter. Not one of the perpetrators of the slaughter were ever punished, but scores of miners and their leaders were arrested and black-balled from the coal industry.

A monument erected by the UMWA stands today in Ludlow, Colorado in remembrance of the brave and innocent souls who died for freedom and human dignity.

In December, 2008, the U.S. Department of the Interior designated the Ludlow site as a National Historic Landmark. "This is the culmination of years of work by UMWA members, retirees and staff, as well as many hundreds of ordinary citizens who have fought to preserve the memory of this brutal attack on workers and their families," UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said.

"The tragic lessons from Ludlow still echo throughout our nation, and they must never be forgotten by Americans who truly care about workplace fairness and equality," Roberts said. "With this designation, the story of what happened at Ludlow will remain part of our nation's history. That is as it should be."

The dedication ceremony was held at Ludlow on June 28, 2009.

Here are a few snapshots I took today at the Memorial Site. It was a beautiful, peaceful place and am pleased to have discovered it.




Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Spanish Peaks International Celtic Music Festival

From today through Sunday, my husband will have to hold down the fort alone, as I will be enjoying the Spanish Peaks Celtic Fest  in Walsenburg and La Veta, Colorado. My friend Betsy has taken up the harp and will be participating in four days' worth of harp workshops at the festival. I, on the other hand, have no plans, other than driving her down for a roadtrip.

After looking over the festival schedule, there are a number of free events I might try. I can learn to play the dulcimer or whistle (?) in La Veta, or try beginners' harp back in Walsenburg. (I can also attempt to play the bodhran, which I found out is an Irish goatskin drum.) Several musical sessions/concerts are also free of charge, including a session at La Veta Inn Pub led by members of the traditional Scottish music group the Old Blind Dogs on Saturday afternoon. I can picture myself right now with a pint of Guinness, surrounded by musicians playing up a storm in an historic town.

The Spanish Peaks area of Colorado is absolutely gorgeous, so if I skip out on some of the festival, there's lots else to do. From the linked website (great info--check it out) at sangres.com:

The Spanish Peaks of south central Colorado have been among the most important landmarks of the southwestern United States, guiding Native American tribes, Spanish and French trappers, gold seekers, hunters, and American settlers. The Ute, Comanche, Apache, and other, earlier Indian tribes held the Peaks in religious awe and named the mountains Wahatoya, meaning "Breasts of the Earth." Even the ancient Aztecs believed the Peaks were a source of hidden treasure. Later travellers named them the Twin Peaks, Dos Hermanos (Two Brothers) and Mexican Mountains.

Walsenburg, by the way, is a former coal-mining town. Read more about its history, and that of La Veta Pass (gateway to Great Sand Dunes National Park), here: http://www.spanishpeakscountry.com/Walsenburg.aspx
Anyway, looking forward to a great time down in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains with a good friend. Enjoy the week and weekend, everybody. I'm sure I will.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Hot Pepper Peach Spread

During the last month, our kitchen counters have been overflowing with juicy, luscious Colorado peaches, and coincidentally, tomatoes, onions, and hot peppers have been ripening in the garden. I have always loved hot/sweet combos, so I came up with this recipe for a zippy spread. It works well as a sweet preserve or really kicks it on grilled fish, pork, or chicken. Try it in stir-fry of any kind, too. Makes a great dipping sauce for Asian food and tempuras--just heat it up a bit to make it liquid.



Anyway, the recipe link has been giving me trouble. It's easy to find, however, on http://www.food.com/ if you search for it (Hot Pepper Peach Spread) under my member name: PainterCook. (I'll try to update this link if it gets fixed.)

Keep in mind that everyone has a different threshold for "heat" when it comes to hot peppers. I like my spicy dishes medium-hot with regard to chilies. This recipe can be adjusted to what kinds of peppers you have on hand--I didn't specify anything other than "fresh hot peppers." Because the spread is sweet, I added extra zip from red pepper flakes and cayenne, just to make sure it was fiery enough.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Most Ridiculous Cookbook Ever (with apologies to Peter Callahan)

Okay, perhaps I am not one of the people that Mr. Callahan was trying to reach with his new book, "bite by bite" (small caps as in the title). I was simply trying to find a new cookbook with suggestions for party food. Ever since the economy tanked, it seems that people are getting together for parties "pot luck" style, so I really have to come up with something other than devilled eggs to take to gatherings. I grabbed this book at the library after reading its subtitle: "100 stylish little plates you can make for any party."

Well, the modifier "stylish" should have tipped me off. Oh, and the fact that shortly into the intro, Mr. Callahan states that all the "It" gals in the Hamptons request these catered dishes. Whatever. The bottom line is that this book is not a cookbook. It is a book that tells you how to spend extreme lengths of time fussing over cutesy little, miniature versions of "comfort" food so your hoity-toity guests can gush and say, "how clever." Seriously. He asks you to make Fudgsicles for dessert, molded into teeny-tiny pans with teeny-tiny sticks, assembled just so. Or miniature mac n' cheese, scooped into teeny-tiny shells. Or teeny-tiny hot dogs, stuffed into teeny-tiny buns (that you have to make yourself!) and squirted with the perfect zigzag of mustard.

And instead of serving cocktails out of a pitcher, which makes a bunch of sense if you have a crowd of 30 or more, you're supposed to somehow procure 30 shot glasses and pour a swig of the cocktail into each. Forget about buying a keg! Beer (but only a mouthful) must be paired with a precious tiny hamburger in Hobbit-sized glass steins you bought in mass quantities for the occasion.

Oy-vey! There are good reasons to take this Martha Stewart approach to entertaining. OCD, anyone? Perhaps it's therapy. Focus on this silly task and see the fruits of your labor, or, instead of providing really yummy food out of a casserole dish, your insecurities tell you it's better to package each sampling as if it were going before the judges at "The Food Network." I will give Callahan credit for being honest--these are, indeed, just "bites"--they are just simply one mouthful.  None of this food requires a plate, which I guess is good if you have waitstaff offering trays to the guests at your MOMA fundraiser. But for the rest of us, this seems a bit nutty. In my book, a decent-sized, sloppy-looking shoo-fly pie wedge is always better than a tiny tart of the same ilk. Check the book out though if you appreciate the thought that goes into reinventing the wheel so that rich people with more money than they can spend will clamor to your "new" product. I'm sorry, but in the throes of an economic recession, a cookbook like this seems really ill-timed.

Here's the link to this book. Would make a great gag gift for those who can barely reheat a can of soup.
http://www.randomhouse.com/book/203200/bite-by-bite-by-peter-callahan-and-raquel-pelzel

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tongue Recipes, Anyone?

Yes, you read that right. I'm trying to find good recipes for beef tongue. When we bought part of a butchered, grass-fed cow last year, I asked for the organ meats as well. I've been making dog biscuits with most parts, but the tongue has me mystified and, I'll admit, a little grossed out. However, people have told me that tongue is delicious, so I am willing to attempt to cook it. If anyone has a tried-and-true recipe, please email it to me.

At the Farmer's Market on Saturday, I bought some grass-fed beef from the friendly folks at Sunrise Ranch. These guys are so nice, and they hand out free recipes for every type cut they sell. They gave me a recipe for "Tacos de Lengua"--beef tongue tacos. Someone there told me it's delicious and tastes like pulled pork. I'm not too keen on some of the directions: "scrub tongue well" and "peel off and discard skin." Eww. Peeling off cow tastebuds is not an attractive proposition, but I never back down from a challenge.

(BTW--Last day of the 2011 Farmer's Market season is October 15.)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Monday: The Pleasant Valley Report

Who would've guessed we'd have two perfect weekends in a row? After a spectacular Labor Day, we were treated to yet another perfect Saturday and Sunday this September 10 and 11th. Skies were blue, temps were comfy, and people were out enjoying themselves.

On Saturday, the Farmers' Market was bustling with activity. Got some delicious home-baked bread and grass-fed beef at local vendors. There was also a classic car show in the streets of Old Town. It was fun to wander around looking at restored vehicles from days gone by, although I will admit, it took me aback somewhat when I realized these "oldies" cars were ones from my youth. Here in Laporte, people exhibited their own classic cars at the Overland Foods/Laporte Hardware parking lot. Antique cars and trucks, as well as farm machinery and engines, from days gone by were featured.

Although it hasn't offically become "autumn" yet, it sure seems like it's fall. Sunday morning we experienced a low of 40 degrees. The pumpkins in our front yard pumpkin patch are ripening nicely, the days are getting shorter (the chickens go to bed earlier and earlier), and the way the sun moves around the homestead is changing. It's good to think of these gorgeous days later in the year, when the cold sets in, daylight is limited, and trees and grass go brown. "To everything, there is a season." If there was no winter, would we appreciate late summer days like these?

This Saturday, considering attending this event, right up the street from our place:
Wild Shots Exhibit 2011 - Photographs of Local Wildlife - 11 a.m. to 4 p.m, Sept. 17, Bellvue Bean Coffee Shop in LaPorte, CO (Poster)(News Release)
This exhibit comes to us compliments of the Rocky Mountain Cat Conservancy. Think big cats--mountain lions! The photos on display were taken by heat and motion-detector cameras in wild areas and feature mountain lions,bears,coyote and foxes. There'll be interactive booths and wildlife experts on hand to answer questions. The Bean serves great coffee, homemade pie, and delicious ice cream, as well as sandwiches. I suggest driving your bikes to Lions Park on Overland Trail in Laporte and then biking the few miles to the Bean via the Pleasant Valley Bike Trail.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Book Babble: "A Decade of Hope"

With the tenth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center just a few days away, I was genuinely surprised to be notified by my library that a book I'd requested some time ago was ready for me to pick up. Perfect timing--"A Decade of Hope" by Dennis Smith turns out to be the kind of narratives collection that I appreciate. Many books and articles dealing with the tragedy have seemed too sentimental, or too fake-patriotic for my taste. I prefer unembellished, brutal honesty, without propaganda attached. These 25 stories "of grief and endurance from 9/11 family and friends" ring true to me, particularly because the author has captured and retained the storyteller's own "voice" in each one.

We've all read the recollections of New York City police and firefighters and 9/11 widows. There are stories from more of those here, but more interestingly, also stories from people you wouldn't expect, stories that enlighten about the events of that day from different perspectives. My favorite narrative is the one by a woman who lost her sister in the attacks. Ada Rosario Dolch was a principal of a high school a mere two blocks from the Towers, where her sister Wendy worked. On 9/11, she was responsible for evacuating 600 students, some with disabilities, from her 14-story, inner-city school building, amid the crashing of the towers and the mayhem that ensued. Her story is gripping and the lessons she's learned are powerful. Each of these storytellers end their narratives sharing with us what they have learned and what they take with them to this day.

I try not to dwell on 9/11, but it's hard this time of year not to remember back to when I once ate lunch high up in "Windows on the World" back as a teenager, or think of the skyline of lower Manhattan as it was when I last visited Brooklyn, on New Year's Eve 1999. Rather than relive the horrible events that took place, I want to hear from people who were there. What have they learned from the experience? How did they survive, both physically and emotionally? It gives me hope, too, to hear of the bravery of those who gave of themselves so selflessly that day.

There are tons of 9/11 books on the market right now. Earlier this summer, I elected to ask for just one from the library--this one-- based on good reviews for the author's previous work, "Report from Ground Zero," from The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Miami Herald, The Denver Post, and The Baltimore Sun, among others. If you have the time and inclination to revisit 9/11 through reading, I recommend this book. Because there are 25 stories in it, you can go at your own pace and read just one story at a time and pause between each for as long as you need.

My new calendar calls September 11, 2011 "Patriot Day." I prefer what others have proposed--that September 11 be considered a day of service to others. However you commemorate it, please stop and reflect this Sunday on the incredible events ten years ago.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Let The Harvest Begin

Wow. I just experienced the best Labor Day Weekend of my life, weatherwise. We here in the Pleasant Valley were treated to 70-degree temps and sunny skies for three straight days. It even got down into the thirties on two nights, making for glorious sleeping weather. No humidity, gentle breezes. Absolutely perfect.

And right on schedule, it's time to start processing the goodies we get from the garden. We've been collecting groundfall apples from our two trees for weeks now, and making applesauce. Since we use no chemicals on our trees, we eat the skins, so processing the fruit is simple: cut apples into chunks off the core, drop in a crockpot with a bit of water, secure the lid, turn on "high," and come back in a few hours. When the apples are bubbly, we shut the crockpot off and remove the crockery insert to cool. Once cooled, we use an immersion "stick" blender to puree the fruits and then freeze the applesauce as is--no sugar or spices--for future use. It's quite delicious. Way more flavor than store-bought applesauce, and way better for you.


While we've been collecting apples for some time now, the grapes near the garden shed have just ripened. Every year our yield is different and this year we will break a record. Maybe it was all the rain we had this season, but we've got grapes everywhere. In years past I've caught young black bears snacking on the grapes in broad daylight. So far we've picked 11 pounds, with many more clusters still on vines. What do we do with the grapes? They aren't the "table" variety, so they are sour, but boy are they tasty. When life gives you grapes--make grape juice! Here's what I do.

I pick enough grapes to fill my stockpot--between four and seven pounds. After plucking the grapes from their stems, I add a little water and mash them down with a potato masher and set them to boil. Once boiling, I lower the heat, cover, and let simmer 15 minutes. Later, when the mushy grape mixture is cooled, I pour it all into my antique cone food mill and using a wooden pestal, extract all the juice and pulpy goodness while leaving the seeds and skins behind. Then I skim the bitter foam from the pot of juice and freeze the concentrate in square freezer containers. The concentrate can be sweetened and diluted 1:1 for the best-tasting grape juice you've ever had.





Next time I'll tell you about this wonderful peach/hot pepper marmalade recipe I came up with. I'd like to get it up on food.com so I can easily share the recipe.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Photographer Scott Raffe Dies at Age 47

Today's post deviates from my format of writing about offbeat things on Friday. I recently found out that reknowned photographer Scott Raffe died of pancreatic cancer on the Fourth of July. He was just 47.

Scott's work is recognized around the world for its sensitivity and depth. His best professional relationship was with the European-style Circus Flora, for whom he shot portraits of performers that were true art.

You can read more about Scott here:
http://www.tulsaworld.com/ourlives/article.aspx?subjectid=58&articleid=20110709_11_A19_CUTLIN595716

Scott and I were married for ten years, and although I'd lost touch with my ex, I never discounted the value of his work and his value on this planet as a very decent human being. He will be greatly missed.

This man taught me alot about storytelling through pictures and to this day, when I paint portraits of wildlife, I do so keeping in mind how he would get up close and personal with his subjects. He had an uncanny knack for bringing personality out of people. I try to pull personality out of my animal subjects too.

Death always teaches us lessons, none more important than the simple, basic truth: Life is short. We never know when our time comes to pass on. Please, be kind to your friends and family. Do good deeds every day for those you love and those you don't even know. And live every day as if it's your last.

Rest in peace Scott. Say hi to Maurie and Billy for me.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Poudre Art Auction

Quick post today. Hope everyone affected is drying out from Hurricane Irene.

For locals in the Fort Collins area, a reminder that the the Poudre Art Auction happens this Friday, September 2, 6-9 PM at the Masonic Temple. Over 40 artists are contributing work, and proceeds benefit the Impala Fund, which provides support for Poudre High School. The modest five dollar admission charge includes a drink. This being the first Friday of the month, it's also a First Friday gallery walk night in Old Town, so why not combine a gallery stroll, dinner, and the auction into a nice way to kick off Labor Day weekend?

Speaking of art and Labor Day, consider attending the Rist Canyon Mountain Festival on September 4, from 10-4. Proceeds from this event support the volunteer fire department, and parking/admission is free. Check out this website to see who will be performing, who will have booths, and for a list of events.
http://rcvfd-richard-schmid-art-auction.com/Mountain%20Festival.html

Friday, August 26, 2011

Offbeat: Peat Bog Man

When I was a wee lass in 9th grade, we had a social studies lesson on a newly discovered, mummified body found in a Scottish peat bog. (This was in 1978 or 79--yes, I am showing my age.) So I am familiar with the topic. Peat bog bodies have shown up every once in a while, so well preserved that in a few cases, local authorities actually thought they were dealing with a recent homicide.

For those of you unfamiliar with this subject, perhaps it's best to start at the beginning. What is a peat bog? We all know that you can purchase peat at a plant nursery, and that it helps fertilize your garden. From wikipedia, here's the definition of peat (yawn):

Peat forms when plant material, usually in marshy areas, is inhibited from decaying fully by acidic and anaerobic conditions. It is composed mainly of marshland vegetation: trees, grasses, fungi, as well as other types of organic remains, such as insects, and animal remains. Under certain conditions, the decomposition of the latter (in the absence of oxygen) is inhibited, and archaeologists often take advantage of this.

Peat layer growth and the degree of decomposition (or humification, transformation to humus) depends principally on its composition and on the degree of waterlogging. Peat formed in very wet conditions accumulates considerably faster, and is less decomposed, than that in drier places. This allows climatologists to use peat as an indicator of climatic change. The composition of peat can also be used to reconstruct ancient ecologies by examining the types and quantities of its organic constituents.

Under the proper conditions, peat is the earliest stage in the formation of coal.

Most modern peat bogs formed in high latitudes after the retreat of the glaciers at the end of the last ice age some 9,000 years ago. They usually grow slowly, at the rate of about a millimetre per year.
The peat in the world's peatlands has been forming for 360 million years and contains 550 Gt of carbon.

And here's where peat is found in huge quantities and is utilized as a resource, often burned as fuel (once again, from wiki):

Peat deposits are found in many places around the world, notably in Ireland, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Scotland, Northern England (Particularly in the Pennines), Wales, Poland, northern Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, New Zealand and in North America, principally in Canada, Michigan, Minnesota, the Florida Everglades, and California's Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The amount of peat is smaller in the southern hemisphere, partly because there is less land, but peat can be found in New Zealand, Kerguelen, Southern Patagonia/Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands, Indonesia (Kalimantan (Sungai Putri, Danau Siawan, Sungai Tolak, Rasau Jaya (West Kalimantan), and Sumatra). Indonesia has more tropical peat land and mangrove forests than any other nation on earth, but Indonesia is losing wetlands by 100,000 hectares per year.[2]

Approximately 60% of the world's wetlands are peat. About 7% of total peatlands have been exploited for agriculture and forestry.[citation needed] Under proper conditions, peat will turn into lignite coal over geologic periods of time.

So, two weeks ago, a prehistoric human body was discovered in an Irish peat bog. If you haven't figured it out by now, peat has the uncanny ability to preserve tissue because of the lack of oxygen in its make-up. Finding these bodies allows scientists to study their compostion and discover what it was like to live back when the person was alive. Here's the story about the newly found peat bog body out of Ireland:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-14505730

The most famous peat bog body is that of  the "Tollund Man." He was mummified in almost-perfect condition. Check him out at the wiki link below. Read on! I guarantee you'll be the source of lively conversation this weekend at a barbecue, picnic, or cocktail party.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tollund_Man

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

When Life Gives You Lemons, Part 2

So many people emailed me this past week in response to last Tuesday's blog post on lemons. It seems that the humble lemon is indeed a favorite for many, and I learned a few new things about this delightful citrus fruit. For example, I didn't know that lemons and limes can be frozen and used, thawed, as needed. And half a lemon, dipped in coarse salt, makes a great scrubber to clean cutting boards. I also didn't realize how many people enjoy making lemonade and "Arnold Palmers" (half lemonade, half iced-tea) or using lemon juice in place of salad dressing. Thanks to everyone who shared lemon lore with me.

In that vein, I'd like to share an Etsy treasury I compiled recently. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, Etsy is an online marketplace that specializes in selling handmade and vintage items. (Yours truly has an etsy store at http://www.canyonwrensnest.etsy.com/.) A Treasury is simply a themed collection that an Etsy member "curates" by spotlighting 16 related items. It's really fun to create treasuries because it's like window shopping. I always run across the most unusual things. I've taken to creating treasuries while watching TV, during the commercials (yeah, I don't Tivo). Anyway, here's my latest treasury that honors the lovely lemon.
http://www.etsy.com/treasury/NTY2NjQ3M3w2MTI5MDAyODk/when-life-gives-you-lemons

I encourage anyone who has never been to Etsy to give it a look. You'll be amazed at all the high-quality, original items for sale there, and every seller is just fantastic. I've never been disappointed with any Etsy purchase. Check them out at http://www.etsy.com/

Monday, August 22, 2011

Monday: The Pleasant Valley Report

Hummingbirds are everywhere in the backyard today, as are swallowtail butterflies, and to my chickens; delight, grasshoppers. We've been sweep-netting the grasshoppers and emptying the contents out for the "girls," who gobble them up as fast as they can. A few escape, but not many! Otherwise, things are quiet here, except for a few mule deer (I think) that are eating groundfall apples at night.

I am happy to report that the Colorado Rockies won their home game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday night. The game went on for 13 innings and ended up being really exciting. Although temps were scorching in the sun, we had excellent seats in the shade, and as the game went on, we were treated to a beautiful sunset. Final score was 7-6, and Rocky Todd Helton hit a homer (on his 38th birthday).

And I want to give a shout-out to a Colorado State Trooper who helped our Youth Group last Thursday. We had a bit of carsickness on the way down to Elitch Gardens amusement park and had to pull over on the side of interstate. Trooper Moses helped us out by offering a blanket to put down on the just-washed, wet seat, his car air freshener, and a protein bar. It's nice to know that someone will assist you when they see a situation like that, and it really made us all smile. Thanks again Trooper Moses.

Off to pick fresh raspberries.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

When Life Gives You Lemons

Someone (who makes his living as a sous chef) once told me that there are 5 food ingredients you can't live without-- onions, garlic, salt, olive oil, and lemons. (He happens to be Greek, so that may have something to do with his choices!) I tend to agree, and I try to keep all five at hand in the kitchen. About a year ago, lemons were quite expensive, so I started to buy lemon juice in a bottle to cut costs.

Now that the price of lemons has gone down (they're usually three for a buck around here), I am purchasing them fresh, but it doesn't hurt to have bottled lemon juice in your fridge. It's great to have an acid like this for marinating meats, putting some zip in salads, and just splashing in a glass of ice water for extra vitamin C.(Did you know that in many cultures, hot lemonade is considered a medicine? In 18th century America, people used to drink beer instead of water, because water sources were often polluted. They used to give alcoholic beverages to everyone in the family, even the kids, because of the risk of disease. And hot lemon water was one of the drugs-of-choice dispensed by midwives in the 1700s to cure all kinds of health problems.)

One of my favorite splurges, gastronomically speaking, is buying lemon curd. It comes in a jar, and is sort of a very tart lemon pudding that packs a wallop.Yes, you can make it yourself, but that involves cooking over a double boiler, something I simply have not found the patience to do. Lemon curd is so versatile! The next time you want to impress someone at a potluck, bring some lemon curd tarts with you. Here's how. Buy a pre-made pie crust (think Pillsbury Doughboy) and bake the pastry in small tart tins. (You can find these mini pie tins at garage sales or local flea markets.) When the pastry is done, dollop some lemon curd in each one and garnish with either a mint leaf or a fresh raspberry. Delicious, and good-looking too. You'll gain points for flavor AND presentation, but don't be surprised if people gobble them up so fast you're not sure you even brought them to begin with.

I could go on all day about lemons. Lemonade is the ultimate "Vitamin Water." As someone who once studied chemistry (organic), I can tell you, I read all food labels. The only difference between regular lemonade and a so-called "Vitamin Water" is a dose of Magnesium as an electrolyte. (Take a multi-vitamin with Mag and make lemonade and spend way less. Plus, there's no waste from the plastic bottle if you avoid these pre-packaged beverages.) When I go to the gym I always tote lemon water. Someone once asked me why my water looked so cloudy, and I told her that I put a teaspoon of lemon juice in each container (about 20 oz.). Now, everybody is doing it.

With lemons, even if you are ailing and hungry and don't feel like cooking, don't call for a pizza! Using a bit of lemon zest (scraping the peel), you can make a gourmet meal in about 15 minutes by cooking fresh pasta (linguine is my favorite) and then sauteing it with garlic and olive oil, sprinkling on some parmesan cheese, and topping it with the lemon zest and some basil.

Lemon is super in iced tea, works wonderfully to tenderize chicken before a stir-fry, and adds a much-needed bite to creamy desserts like ice cream and cheesecake. Please reconsider our friend the lemon the next time you're pushing a cart in the grocery store.





Monday, August 15, 2011

Monday: The Pleasant Valley Report

It was a glorious week here in Laporte. Temps were slightly cooler, although yesterday humidity was around 50%, high for our region, so it was a bit steamy, until the breezes started and a bit of rain fell.

In bird news, drove past the osprey nest near the Chapelle animal hospital and there were no birds evident (previously, two hardy looking chicks and the parents). However, at the nest at Willox and Shields, one chick seen on the nest and an adult nearby on a telephone pole. Hummingbirds are everywhere in our yard, eating at both feeders and flowers. And the most blue jays ever were polishing off my chicken's food yesterday--10 gobbling up all the leftover rice I put out. Also, we don't normally see turkey vultures out back, but one has been circling overhead, so I am wondering if there's not a carcass somewhere.

For those of you who live in Colorado, I don't have to remind you that it's Palisade Peach season. Colorado Peaches are the best, hands-down. If you're in the market for a large box of grade A peaches (picked the day before you head out to Gardens at Spring Creek to get them on the 27th), the Rotary Club is selling them to benefit Poudre School district. Proceeds go to buy dictionaries for 3rd graders. A wonderful cause. Sign up by August 20th by hitting their website:
http://www.rotarypeachsale.com/
(By the way, if you have space in your freezer, peaches freeze well and are delicious in the winter months, in ice cream, cobblers, and smoothies. Stock up now. Why not make a fresh peach pie while you're at it?)

On a sadder note, my neighbor's automobile was stolen from his driveway last week, while, I was told, he was actually home. They caught the perps as they had begun to repaint the car. A reminder that no matter how unusually safe our region appears to be, make sure you take precautions. Lock your doors, close up the garage, and pay attention to your neighborhood. Thinking of starting a neighborhood watch, and have a call into a county official to find out how. (This is good advice for anyone, no matter where you live. Unfortunately, times are tough and otherwise reasonable people may be resorting to crime to pay the bills.)

And here's a little personal tidbit. I went to see the newly released movie "The Help" this weekend. If you've read the book, you won't be disappointed, even though they changed a few things in the screenplay. Do not go see this film if a) you haven''t brought a few Kleenex, or b) you're embarrassed to cry in public. Very cathartic though, and the actress who plays Minnie steals the show.

Hope all is well for everyone. Want to blog more often, but the glitches are cramping my style here on blogspot. Maybe every other day? (sigh) Wishing y'all a great week.


Friday, August 12, 2011

Roadside America

It may seem that vacation season is winding down, but there's still plenty of time left for a road trip. I am a big fan of taking the path less travelled while roadtripping and have been known to drive miles out of my way to gawk at a tourist attraction. From the Big Duck on Long Island, to the Spam Museum in Minnesota, to Meteor Crater in Arizona, I've seen my share of them--the tackier the better. So it's with great pleasure that I shamelessly plug one of my favorite websites, "Roadside America--Your Online Guide to Offbeat Tourist Attractions."

"Roadside America" is a great source that'll make your next boring drive a little more interesting. If you're planning any kind of road trip--for business or pleasure--be sure to check your route against information on the site. You may discover there's an attraction on the way, one you didn't know existed. Goofy things you'll remember (perhaps) from your youth, like Mystery Houses, colorfully lit caverns, and wacky museums housing everything from funeral regalia to Elvis souvenirs.

My favorite Roadside America topic is that of the Muffler Men. We've all seen them--giant dudes (large sculptures) often dressed as cowboys or lumberjacks outside of buildings advertising all kinds of things ( in this case, mufflers). Turns out there's even a Muffler Man documentary in the works. From the website:

Clean White Lines, a trio of San Francisco area filmmakers, are making a feature-length film about Muffler Men, a species of roadside giants that Roadside America has tracked and cataloged for over twenty years. Clean White lines is asking for help to get on the road and do a proper exploration of the phenomenon. If you make a donation via their Kickstarter Project, you will receive special Muffler Men rewards.
Kickstarter Project.
Hurry! The project pledge period ends on Sept. 1, 2011. The Kickstarter project only goes forward if fully funded.

Check out this fun website next time you're off to visit grandma or Uncle Louie, and be sure to use the feature that lets you save the sights you've seen. With the "My Sights" feature, you can map and plan your next adventure, too. Happy Trails!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sustainable Living Fair

If you're like me, there are so many things happening in the Fort Collins area each summer that you have to plan ahead to be sure you don't miss the ones you really want to attend. That's why I am taking this opportunity to remind my readers of the upcoming 12th Annual Sustainable Living Fair, Saturday and Sunday, September 17 and 18, at Legacy Park. This is an event that has something for everyone, whether interested in sustainable living or not--great food and beer, workshops, activities for the kiddos, live music, and lots of exhibits and information. From their website:

"The Sustainable Living Fair offers a weekend of solution-based, interactive, family-oriented events designed to educate people of all ages and backgrounds: renewable energy, alternative transportation, sustainable agriculture, green building, natural health, environmental & social responsibility, local economies and more.


The Fair features 10,000+ attendees, acclaimed Keynote Speakers, 250 exhibitors, 75 workshops, hands-on experiences, Family Planet with a Natural Parenting Nook, Natural Health and Healing Zone, live music and entertainment, our Real Food Market and Local Libations – featuring world class beer, wine, and mead.


The scenic Cache La Poudre River, Rocky Mountain Front, and the vibrant Arts and Culture, and local agriculture and economies of Fort Collins, Colorado offer a superb setting for the Fair.


The Sustainable Living Fair is an energetic, solutions based approach to building and enhancing community and our connections to a vibrant, healthy future."

With regard to the workshops, some are considered "extended" and require advance registration. (One example--learning to build a wind turbine.) Others will be open to anyone during the fair (our good friend Greg from the Laporte Old Feed Store will be talking backyard chickens, for example, on Saturday afternoon). Check out the workshop list here and sign up if interested in any of the extended ones:
http://www.sustainablelivingassociation.org/sustainable-living-fair/workshops/

The food at the fair is always delicious, and is provided by vendors who buy locally from organic farmers. Old-school favorites will be there this year, like Walrus Ice Cream and Pickle Barrel Deli, as well as other restaurants serving coffee, dessert, and ethnic food. Bring your own plate, cup and utensils to the fair to cut down on waste. It's encouraged and expected.
In another effort to cut down on trash, the beer tent will be serving its beverages in reusable pint glasses. I'm happy to report local favorites New Belgium and Odell breweries will be represented, as well as Redstone Meadery (honeywine--be careful--this stuff is STRONG!) from Boulder. Quaffs will cost four bucks each and you get to keep the glass. Here's the page that lists the food and drink vendors:
There's much more to see on the Fair website, so check it out soon to plan ahead for the events you're most interested in. Daily admission is only 8 dollars, and kids under 12 are free. Here are the directions to Legacy Park, from the website. See you there!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Monday: The Pleasant Valley Report

SO ANNOYED! I had this post scheduled for yesterday, Monday, the 8th, and it never appeared. And, the images I embedded in the post have disappeared! I apologize to my blog readers, and am in contact with blogspot folks to find out why, only recently, my posting has been haywire. Will repost the photos soon.

Things have gotten quieter here in Laporte. The last violet-green swallow chick fledged and most of the noisy bluejay and robin fledglings have moved on.While backyard bird activity has gone down quite a bit I'm happy to report that we've seen a large increase in the number of himmingbirds in our neighborhood. This is typically the time of year when they pass through en masse, but it seemed as if there were way fewer birds earlier this year, so I was worried. In addition to the feeders hanging from tree branches, we've got red and pink flowers to attract and feed them. The red bee balm and pink hyssop are most popular, not only with hummers, but with swallowtail butterflies as well.

During my "staycation" the last few weeks I was able to take a great hike (Loch Vale Trail) in Rocky Mountain National Park (see my Wednesday post from last week). Anyway, since it's a hot morning and the summit of that hike--at an alpine lake--was so refreshing, I'm posting some pics from that day. Enjoy.




Tuesday, August 2, 2011

New Post

So I said I wouldn't be back til next week. I'm back and am posting tomorrow's post now, because I feel so strongly about it. The average person has no idea how hard a death in a National Park affects the employees there.

Wednesday: National Parks Are Wild

Recently I had the good fortune to take a marvelous hike in nearby Rocky Mountain National Park: the Loch Vale trail. It's a bit steep, but only 2.7 miles each way, so even if you are a bit out of shape, if you start out in the cool of the morning, you'll be rewarded with an enjoyable climb past gorgeous waterfalls and a chilly summit that features a glacial alpine lake--the perfect place to eat the picnic lunch you've carried up in your backpack. On my latest trip to the Loch, it was already 90-plus degrees at the trailhead parking lot (take the park shuttle to Glacier Gorge) and by the time I reached the top, I was so grateful to find the snowfield I had to cross. I scooped handfuls of snow and shoved them down the back of my shirt to cool off. Once sitting beside the pristine lake, it was cold enough that I had to take my windbreaker from my pack. No better way to escape summer heat! (BTW--on the drive home, my car thermostat registered 100 degrees. And to think just 3 hours prior, I needed a jacket to eat lunch.)

Because I had just had such an invigorating and yet serene experience in a National Park, it was with great dismay that I'd heard of the deaths of three hikers in Yosemite. While my heart goes out to their families and friends, the story of what led to their demise is all too familiar: ignoring warnings posted by the Park Service. One of the three decided to step beyond park barriers to stand in river water for an interesting photo. Unfortunately, the river he stood in ended up spilling over a 317-foot cliff. This is called a waterfall! And it's a famous one, too: Vernal Falls. Evidently, when he lost his footing and began to be carried downstream, his two pals jumped in to save him. At the time I write this, no bodies have been found, and all are assumed to have died from injuries from going over the falls.

This story is not new. People have been dying from fool-hardy behavior in National Parks since their inception. Two great books on the subject deal with accidents in two of the most famous Parks: "Death in Yellowstone" and "Death in Grand Canyon." (Don't have the URLs for these books right now, but an Amazon search should lead you to them.) It is amazing to me that visitors to our National Parks ignore warning signs and pamphlets they receive when they enter. The NPS annals are rife with accounts of people going over guard rails, standing in rushing water, descending into a 130-degree canyon with no water, etc. The National Parks are not Theme Parks. They are not Disneyland or Six Flags. The animals are wild. The terrain is often dangerous if you are not wearing the right footwear, carrying enough water, or obeying posted signs, you may get yourself into trouble.

I have had the privelege of working in public areas that are owned by taxpayers: National Wildlife Refuges. And while I can say there were never that many life-threatening situations where I was stationed, people continued to ignore posted signs. The signs are there for a reason. Either for your safety, or for the safety of an endangered species. Or, your ambling through a certain place may upset a balance that researchers are trying to preserve. Whether it's your own personal safety, or that of endangered species, obey the signs. Go into a park prepared. And don't put your life on the line for a You-Tube video where you stand in a river that ends at a 300-foot drop. Horrible way to spend the last hours of your vacation. (But I assume, in this rubber-necking, gruesome society of ours, if your death is recorded somewhere, it'll make it to the internet, and you'll end up getting a bunch of hits).

Inscribe that on your tombstone. "Was famous for 15 minutes because we went over Vernal Falls."

It's a sick joke, but why did he stand there in the first place? The signs are just there for "other people"? If someone associated with the river and the terrain is warning you, why do you not heed the warnings? It makes no sense. Why do people ignore good advice?

Just a question I'm putting out there.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Blog Vacation

"Noise from the Nest" is taking a two-week vacation. Talk to you again on August 8th.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday: Offbeat--Last Year's Weird Top Ten

AOL News does a wrap-up each year of the weirdest news stories from the past 12 months. Luckily, we're only 5 months away from the 2011 Top Ten! In the meantime, reflect on some of 2010's crazy news. Always good for a chuckle, Weird News on AOL is a very popular feature, and this Top Ten listing is a fun way to be introduced to its take on the bizarre and unusual.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Thursday Book Babble: "A Wounded Thing Must Hide"

The book that I'm posting about today is not new (copyright 2002), but I recently re-read it and was delighted by it for a second time. "A Wounded Thing Must Hide: The Search for Libbie Custer" is a great book for anyone interested in the Wild West and American territorial history. Author Jeremy Poolman has woven a truly unusual and beguiling story of the wife of General George Armstrong Custer, of Last Stand infamy. From the book jacket:

"Haunted by the death of his own wife, the author follows Libbie Custer through her extraordinary life in search of he knows not what. He vividly recreates key scenes in Libby's life--meeting the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, Tsar Alexander III, and Henry James--and details the glorious, wayward career of the general himself, culminating at the slaughter at Little Bighorn."

For those of you unfamiliar with the famous couple known as the Custers, Libbie was absolutely devoted to her husband. After he was killed in the Last Stand, his reputation was damaged and she did her best for the rest of her lonely life to repair and protect it.

I've visited Little Bighorn Battlefield in Montana several times, and I am always awestruck by the eeriness of this large piece of grassland where so many died. Numerous books have been written about Custer and what went wrong that fateful day in the summer of 1876, but none that I've read have been written from Libbie's perspective. This book has it all--romance, history, adventure--and leaves a lasting impression.