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

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tuesday: The Cornucopia: Old-Time Food Hints

This week, I am going to share things I found in a great new book put out by Yankee Magazine: 1001 Old-Time Household Hints. I'm a huge fan of tried-and-true tricks for everyday living, and this book is wonderful in this regard. Not only does it offer food tips, but other oddities (check out this blog on Friday!) and incidentals.

My first share deals with deep-frying popular snacks: chicken tenders, cheese-stuffed jalapenos, etc. Some old-fashioned advice to get the best results--the Woman's Institute Library of Cooking (1928) says that you should dip the food to be fried into a liquid that contains some kind of protein, like egg or an egg/milk mixture, before dropping it into a deep fryer. According to this book, "Protein coagulates quickly in hot fat, forming a barrier that will prevent the fat from soaking into the food. Your treats will taste better and be better for you."

As a former wanna-be organic chemist, I appreciate this next tip. "To make savory homemade meat dishes, remember the age-old chemistry of H2O--a lot hinges on water temperature when you make roasts or soups", claims the Presbyterian Cook Book (1873). "When you pour water over the top of a roast before cooking, be sure the liquid is boiling. But for soups, the reverse is true. Cold water draws juices from the meat into the stock. So start stock in icy water."

I'll have more old-time tips next Tuesday. Check out or buy this book if you are at all interested in nostalgia and techniques that have been lost, over time.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Monday: The Pleasant Valley Report--Floods?

Many western states are seeing record rainfall and snow this spring, and Colorado is no exception. Some ski areas, such as Aspen, reopened this weekend due to snowfall. All that snow is going to melt very soon, however, starting with the next ninety-degree day. And where does the snowmelt go? Down river, towards our domicile, among others.

With that in mind, local officials here in Larimer County have issued flood preparedness warnings. We live nearby a river and an irrigation ditch and are prime candidates for flooding. Right now all is okay, but we'll know more after a meeting with officals this Wednesday night. Cross your fingers that our neighborhood is spared the worst!

On a happier note, a pair of Violet-green Swallows has taken up nest-building in one of our nest boxes. For the last 4 years, we've regularly had at least one pair do so, but this year, they were late. Will post a photo of them soon.

Red Fox are all over town! In the last week, I saw three walking down the streets in broad daylight, looking like stray dogs. Luckily, we don't see many out here (or I wouldn't have any chickens left!).

Yesterday, Laporte saw hundreds of bikers come to town. Local saloons (we have two) were grilling outdoor lunches and I got to see a myriad of motorcycle styles. Totally unexpected, but a fun way to end a morning out at church and the gym. (I assume that this ride was part of some kind of Memorial Day tribute).

Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday: Offbeat--Clumsy Crooks

It doesn't take much detective work or police department resources to nab some criminals; they're so dumb their clumsy attempts at crime all but guarantee their capture. The next time you're bored online, check out the Clumsy Crooks website. Here you can read about a Minneapolis guy who went into a drugstore and asked for a $50 phone card, a pack of smokes and a candy bar, and paid for them with a fake $1 million bill. Or the Florida bank robber whose heist was foiled when he forgot to bring a bag along for the stolen loot. You get the idea.The most interesting post I read was the one regarding an LA gang member. According to Clumsy Crooks (via the LA Times), "Inked on the chest of a Pico Rivera gang member was the detailed scene of a liquor store slaying that had stumped an L.A. County sheriff's investigator for more than four years." Can you imagine? He actually had someone tattoo what he did--basically, a graphic confession-- directly on himself.

I hope everyone has a pleasant Memorial Day Weekend without any drama from crooks--clumsy or otherwise. (And let's take some time to remember our departed loved ones this Monday.)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Thursday Book Babble: Wesley the Owl

Today's babble is about a book that my cousin sent to me after she finished reading it, with a note saying how much she loved it: "Wesley the Owl--The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and his Girl" by Stacey O'Brien. Ms. O'Brien is a biologist who adopts Wesley, a rescued baby Barn Owl, on Valentine's Day in 1985. In addition to introducing us to Wesley and his amazing story, Stacey also gives us a glimpse into the Caltech research community, described on the book jacket as, "a kind of scientific Hogwarts where resident owls sometimes flew freely from office to office and eccentric, brilliant scientists were extraordinarily committed to studying and helping animals."

I really enjoyed this book, and although it's a relatively fast read, it's chock-full of interesting owl information and includes some wonderful photographs. If you're an animal lover, this is a heartwarming story you'll appreciate.

Click on the Barn Owl to view it in my etsy shop

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wednesday: Lazarus Species

Those of us who grew up with some sort of Christian teaching may remember the character Lazarus in the New Testament. Lazarus was a man who was resurrected from the dead by Jesus. "Lazarus Species" is the term used to describe flora and fauna once thought to be extinct that has been rediscovered alive.

The Mother Nature Network has a good piece highlighting 13 examples of Lazarus Species. Photos are included, and I found reading some of the viewers' comments very entertaining, as many deal with arguments over the validity of Darwin's theory of evolution.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tuesday: The Cornucopia: Cheesecake

Although I am not a huge chocolate fan, I absolutely love cheesecake, and I especially love citrus flavors in a dessert like this (Key Lime pie, for example). Well, this weekend, I cashed in a chit for a homemade, custom-baked cheesecake that I won in a silent auction and took it to my book club meeting to share. My friend Jim was the baker, and he went above and beyond the call of duty in preparing this fabulous cheesecake. Here's a photo of it before we dug in:

(By the way, Jim is available for hire as your personal baker the next time you need a homemade dessert for a party, potluck, or whatever. Contact me if you live in the Fort Collins area and I'll hook you up.)

The cheesecake tasted as good as it looked. The main "filling" was flavored lightly with lemon, there was what I considered a lemon curd-type topping on that, and the crust was ginger snap cookie crumbs. If you haven't tried lemon and ginger as a flavor combination before, you must! I have all kinds of ideas for how I can re-vamp some old lemon recipes with the addition of some ginger.

On that note, to close, here's a really easy idea the next time you are asked to bring something to a potluck. Buy some candied ginger pieces and dip them (half-way) in melted semi-sweet chocolate chips. Arrange on a plate with some mint sprigs. You're done! A tiny bit of ginger packs a powerful punch, so this plate should not be overflowing. (BTW--this is also an easy  culinary gift--vs. the time and effort of baking cookies--at holiday time.)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Monday: The Pleasant Valley Report

What a great weekend!  After days of rain, clouds, and wind, the sun came out in earnest just in time for lunch on Saturday. Some friends joined us for backyard birdwatching and general tomfoolery. It was so nice to take layers of clothing off instead of putting them on. Sunday was absolutely delightful and almost hot. Our church was packed (people wanting to get out of the house?) so it was nice to talk to many people I haven't seen in weeks. And on Sunday afternoon I had book club, where I was treated to fabulous food and discussion, and I was able to find homes for a dozen heirloom tomato plants.

Just an interesting anecdote. On Saturday AM as I was driving to the gym, I saw a bunch of cars and gawkers on the side of the road. Knowing we'd had mountain lion sightings recently, I pulled over to see what people were looking at. Out in a horse pasture, a handful of turkey vultures were each perched on a post along the horse fence. Their wings were outstretched and they were facing directly into a strong sunbeam to dry them. Turkey vultures do this after a rainy couple of days, and I've seen them on this stretch of road before, but this incident was especially striking. The sunlight was breaking through dramatic clouds, a mist was rising in the warming grass, and the birds' wings seemed surrounded by a golden aura. One of the men who had pulled over to look spoke broken English, but was referring to the fact that the birds looked like crucifixes. This of course, on "Rapture Day." I wish I'd had my camera.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Friday: The World's Oldest Person

Check this out--don't have time to blog, but this woman was born in 1896!

Thursday: So You Bought An E-Reader. Now What Do You Do?

The weather here in Colorado tonight (Wednesday the 18th)is nasty. Cold, rainy--I swear we had a total eclipse of the sun today. (When exactly did I move to Seattle?)
Here's today's Book Buzz from my pal Betsy (aka Knitting Knut).
This week I’m back to digital books. Many public libraries have a digital book collection just waiting to be checked out and downloaded.  You'll need to contact your local library for information on what software you need (it’s free), as well as the number of items you can check out at one time, and the length of time you will have access to the books.  You will also need a valid library card.  My local library (Fort Collins, Colorado, and neighboring communities) at uses OverDrive Media Console with Adobe Digital Editions for e-books, audiobooks, music, and videos.  My computer, an Internet connection, and my library card allow me to browse, check out, and download books.  To transfer e-books to my e-reader I use Adobe Digital Editions to drag and drop the title to my selected device.  If I’m moving audiobooks or music I use the OverDrive Media Console to launch the Transfer Wizard and follow the onscreen prompts.
To find a list of compatible devices visit

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wednesday: Guerilla Gardening

This week’s “It’s Not ALL Bad” blog post is a bit of a take-off on last week’s entry regarding Permaculture. It seems the Brits are also on the forefront of the “Guerilla Gardening” movement. Here’s a great UK website devoted to the practice:
Guerilla Gardening is a term used to describe the taking over of neglected public spaces as new gardening areas for the community.
Guerilla Gardening Day was May 1 of this year (the day that Osama was killed) and I completely missed any US articles relating to this celebration/movement. But in this month’s issue of Ode Magazine, there’s an article entitled “A New Food Manifesto,” and in it, there’s a sidebar and photo about Guerilla Gardening in Los Angeles, California. Here’s what Ode says about LA’s GG movement:
“They’re as young as 10 and as old as 80. Instead of guns, they carry shovels. They descend on urban spaces and, within hours, leave beautiful green oases behind. They’re the Los Angeles Guerilla Gardeners, and though they plant without approval, most folks don’t seem to mind. In a struggling economy, these playful radicals improve the urban landscape in ways that city budgets too often cannot.”
In the printed magazine (page 48) there's a photo of a sidewalk median that has recently been planted with what looks like flowers and herbs. A silk-screened sign stuck in this garden reads “Guerilla Gardening—Please Water Me.”
I love the idea that perfectly usable, barren earth is being put to good use by ordinary citizens, and that the public is asked to participate in the on-going beautification process. If anyone has any other examples of Guerilla Gardening in their city, I’d love to know more—please e-mail me. Photos are great, too, if you have them.
(BTW--Ode Magazine is devoted to a shared sense of community and the desire to make the world a better place. Please check out their website in the link above if this interests you, and become a member of this community.)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tuesday: The Cornucopia: Pesto Please

It's time for home vegetable gardeners to decide what plants to devote themselves to this year. At our house, we have more room than some people do for vegetable rows, but it's still a toss-up which veggies we want to plant the most of. This year I am putting in lots more sweet basil than I have in seasons past. The reason? Pesto.

I love pesto sauce. It's simple--pretty much just basil, pine nuts, parmesan, garlic and olive oil. It's so easy to make at home (and tastes better) that I never buy the pre-made stuff.

I limit myself to one pasta meal a week, so when I have it, it's a treat. Pesto on rotini is delicious hot, but I also like to dress pasta with pesto and some extra rice vinegar for a cold pasta salad. Pesto is also delicious with great northern white beans on spaghetti. Be sure to always have fresh basil leaves on hand for garnish.

Here's a brief history of pesto from the Iheartpesto blog.

Pesto is a sauce that originates in the city of Genoa northern Italy. The name is the contracted past participle of pestâ ("to pound, to crush", from the Latin root pestle), in reference to the crushed herbs and garlic in the sauce.

The ancient
Romans ate a cheese spread called moretum which may sometimes have been made with basil. The herb likely first came from North Africa.
Historically, pesto was (and is sometimes still)
prepared in a marble mortar with wooden pestle.

Pesto is delicious prepared the original way, with basil for the leafy herb and pine nuts for the nuts, but you can substitute. Try arugula in placeof some of the basil for a zingy, peppery flavor. Walnuts can be used in place of the pine nuts if that's what you've got on hand, and they tend to be less expensive. I use parmesan or romano cheese, depending on which is in the house. Here's a classic, basic pesto recipe. Once you get good at making it, troll the web for variations.

Be sure to plant lots of basil this year if you have the space. Another herb that you might consider is mint. What better to serve with an al fresco pesto pasta meal than a pitcher of fresh mojitos or iced tea with fresh mint?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Monday: The Pleasant Valley Report

Friday the 13th was a perfect spring day here in Laporte, Colorado. There wasn't a cloud in the cerulean blue sky, and a gentle breeze blew. It wasn't too cold in the shade or too hot in the sun. We got quite a bit of vegetable gardening done, along with some accompanying sunburn.

Saturday was rainy, cloudy, and cold. Sunday less wet, but still cold enough that we built a fire in the wood stove yesterday afternoon. The weather changes on a dime around here this time of year.

I posted this on Facebook last week, but here it is for those who don't follow that venue. There was a mountain lion seen in town (Fort Collins) last week. Although everyone knows these big cats are prowling the cliffs in many of our natural areas, you don't often see one inside city limits. Here's the latest story from the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

Closer to home, in the backyard, some new bird species have been spotted: Black-headed and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Bullock's and Baltimore Orioles, and Cassin's Finches. For a 10-day period every May we see many beautiful blue Lazuli Buntings on our sawhorse feeder, and this year is no exception. There are about a dozen or so of these birds on the feeder at any one time.

Sawhorse feeder with Lazuli Bunting males
And finally, two fuzzy chicks are visible in the Red-tailed Hawk nest in the trees beyond the fence.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday the 13th: Crazy News Photos

Happy Friday the 13th! For some reason (spooky?) blogger went down late last night and they've just now gotten it up and running.

Today's offbeat offering is a list of links to some wild photos from the website "Crazy News." Enjoy.

Check out the world's smallest monkey (they don't give the species name.)... well as a giant rabbit!

A United States flag composed entirely of flowers

A very cool set-up for an office

and finally, a really slick auto paint job

Have a great day. Watch out for black cats, broken mirrors, walking under ladders, and open umbrellas in your house. Oh, and don't leave any hats on the bed! (What superstitions have I left out?)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Thursday: Book Babble & Buzz

For some reason I have been on a roll lately. Every book I've picked up at the library has turned out to be a winner. Thought I'd pass along two titles that I just finished and thoroughly enjoyed. (I'm in a "memoir" phase right now.)

Blood, Bones & Butter (The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef) by Gabrielle Hamilton
Ms. Hamilton is the chef/owner of "Prune," a tiny (and extremely popular) restaurant in New York's East Village. In this wonderfully written memoir, Gabrielle recounts the twenty tough years she spent as an abandoned adolescent, thief, drug user, vagabond, dishwasher, cook, and grad student (creative writing), all the while struggling to find purpose and meaning in her life. This is unlike any other "foodie" memoir I have ever read. (In fact, Gabrielle detests chefs as celebrities, pretentious diners, and snooty restaurants.) Her descriptions of food in this book had me drooling on the pages (and it was a library book). How I wish I lived in NYC! I'd be happily scarfing down rustic fare at "Prune" weekly! Anyone who loves to eat, likes to travel, and enjoys a hard-scrabble story will find this book a refreshing change from typical celebrity memoirs.

Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated by Alison Arngrim
Who in my generation didn't love to hate Nellie Oleson on "Little House on the Prairie?" She was a bitch, always belittling Laura and Mary and walking around with her puggish nose in the air. Well actress Alison Angrim was anything but a bitch, but played one really, really well. This memoir is hilarious, in part due to the fact that since her late teens, Alison has been performing stand-up comedy. This memoir is full of tid-bits that will surprise and amuse. Alison's Mom was the voice for many animated characters, including Casper the Friendly Ghost and Gumby! Alison's dad was gay and everyone knew it but didn't care. Regarding "Little House," Nellie's blond curls were actually a very painfully fitting wig. Michael Landon wore no underwear and drank four fingers of Wild Turkey on set. She and Melissa Gilbert were best friends, but Melissa Sue Anderson liked no one and was an ice-queen. The stream of surprising behind-the-scenes information keeps you devouring this book.

It isn't all pleasant, however. Alison was sexually abused as a child, beaten up by fans who hated the Nellie character, and saw friends die of AIDs in the early 80's. But Alison's taken all these lemons and made a pitcher of very entertaining and enlightening lemonade. In addition to this book, she's got a popular one-woman show of the same name. If it comes to my town, I'll be first in line for tickets.

(BTW--"Little House" happens to be one of the most popular television shows worldwide, and continues to be seen across the globe on a daily basis. Who knew?)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Wednesday: Permaculture

Have you ever heard the term “permaculture?” Until a few weeks ago, I had not. It’s a word used across the ponds, in England and Australia (and up north in Canada), for sustainable farming. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say (note British spellings for certain words):
Permaculture is sustainable land use design. This is based on ecological and biological principles, often using patterns that occur in nature to maximise effect and minimise work. Permaculture aims to create stable, productive systems that provide for human needs, harmoniously integrating the land with its inhabitants.”
Today’s post shares the story of a family in the UK who are living the permaculture lifestyle on their farm known as "Karuna." I’ve cut and pasted a few paragraphs about Karuna below, from the web site, but for more information, you can click on the link at the end. (BTW—before I die, I want to live in a town called Picklescott!)  
 A permaculture project in South Shropshire is attempting to promote ways of living that are more caring towards all life. Run by a dedicated family crafting a sustainable existence, Karuna – meaning ‘compassion’ in Sanskrit – weaves together 18 acres of mixed woodland, forest gardens, fruit tree nurseries, an arboretum, water areas, low impact dwellings and horticultural activity.

Janta and Merva Wheelhouse and their children have planted over 7,500 trees on the site near Picklescott and for the past 5 years have been taking active responsibility for meeting their needs through growing food, generating all their energy from onsite renewables, as well as recycling rainwater and waste to build the land’s fertility. They also hope to grow enough fruit and vegetables to sell to their local community in the near future.

As part of the Permaculture Association’s LAND learning centres network, Karuna welcomes groups and visitors. “This helps permaculture get more recognition as an accepted way of farming and a way of life,” explains Janta. There are also opportunities for volunteers, with one describing their experience as “truly humbling” in the “peace and tranquility” they had found.
More Information:
This sounds a bit like the Earthship communities in Taos, New Mexico (and most recently, Europe). No, they’re not farming in Taos in the desert, but water from rain is cached on rooftops, heat is provided through solar energy, and homes are kept cool in the blazing summers because these "adobe" homes (built using straw bales, old tires, and mud) are bermed into dirt on one side.
BTW—It looks like the Poudre River Library system (Fort Collins) has a new book in their collection dealing with permaculture: Bioshelter market garden : a permaculture farm by Darrell Frey. Here’s the URL to take you directly to the library info for this title and request a hold if you’re a library cardholder:

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Special Post: Bird Walk at Capitol Reef National Park

If you're in the neighborhood (Fruita, Utah) this Saturday, be sure to join the Migratory Bird Day Walk at Capitol Reef National Park. Here's the poster from the Park's facebook page.

Tuesday: The Cornucopia: Grains of Paradise

A few years ago, I was introduced to an alternative to black or white peppercorns--grains of paradise. To me, these peppercorns have a decidedly cinnamon-like flavor; others have told me they taste "flowery." From the Encyclopedia Brittanica website:

"grains of paradise, also called guinea grains, or melegueta pepper, pungent seeds of Aframomum melegueta, a reedlike plant of the family Zingiberaceae. Grains of paradise have long been used as a spice and traditionally as a medicine. The wine known as hippocras was flavoured with them and with ginger and cinnamon. The plant is native to tropical western Africa and to São Tomé and Príncipe islands in the Gulf of Guinea; it is cultivated in other tropical countries. Grains of paradise are exported from Ghana.
The seeds are contained in the acid pulp of the fruit and have a glossy, dark brown husk, with a conical, light-coloured membranous caruncle at the base and a white kernel-like structure called an aril. They contain a neutral essential oil and a viscid, brown resin."

I use grains of paradise as a replacement for black pepper in dishes that are spicy or "hot." Curries, stir-fries, and zesty soups seem to benefit from this addition. For my use, I buy the peppercorn grains whole and use a mortar and pestle to grind what I need when needed.

If you live in the Fort Collins area, a great place to buy grains of paradise is the Old Town Spice Shop on Linden Street. This is a new store that sells spices, herbs, salts, teas, and flavorings. You can sample any product before you buy, and the staff will happily grind whatever quantities you need, to order, on-site. (If you don't live nearby, you can order from the Old Spice Shop web site.)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Monday: A Great Weekend Outdoors

After what seemed like eons of cold and cloudy days, spring sprang in the Fort Collins area on Saturday. I was lucky enough to be invited on an Audubon bird watching walk at Fort Collins's Running Deer Natural Area, a hikers-only spot near the Environmental Learning Center. The walk was led by Nancy from the Colorado Division of Wildlife, and we had perfect weather--sunny and not too hot or cold. One pond was particularly productive, and there we saw many White Pelicans, Double-crested Cormorants, and Great Blue Herons. Had a spotting scope on both a Great Horned Owl and a Black-crowned Night-Heron in two separate trees at this water body. In another pond, three pair of Canada Geese swam, their broods of goslings in tow. Perhaps then, it is not surprising that we also saw a mink furtively scampering along the water's edge.

Other cool things seen on the walk: three bull snakes sunning on rocks and logs; my first "Krider's" form Red-tailed Hawk (we think); and a very noisy area of singing chorus frogs. All in all, a great morning. Saturday afternoon we did yard work, taking breaks to look at the nearby Red-tailed Hawk nest through the spotting scope on our deck. Saw one chick's head, all fuzzy orange, so I know at least one egg was successful. Mom and Dad have not been sitting on the nest anymore, but rather are perched on top of it, often feeding stringy looking pieces of meat to the young ones.

By 7 AM on Sunday morning, it was already quite hot in the backyard. Since my husband and I had planned a nice long bike ride, we set out early, due to the heat. Did the daunting ride up Bingham Hill, which gave me the chance to stop at the historic Bingham Hill Cemetery. If you're in the Laporte area, it's a wonderful place to while away a half hour. (The cemetery is no longer used  for burials but is open to the public.) Many of the area's first settlers were buried on this serene hillside, and it's the perfect place for quiet reflection. Make it a relaxing stop next time you take a bike ride along the Pleasant Valley Trail. From the bike trail lot at Lions Open Space (also spelled "Lyons"), simply take Overland Trail road to Bingham Hill Road (look for sign with the arrow pointing to Lory State Park). You'll see a mailbox and cemetery sign on the right a short distance up the hill. Chain your bike outside the gate and wander in. In a week or so, gorgeous heirloom iris patches will be blooming in the cemetery. I'll take a photo when they're at their peak.

Click on the Great Blue Heron to see it in my etsy store

Friday, May 6, 2011

Friday: Offbeat--"I Love Your Shoes!"

Today's offbeat offering comes from the May 6, 2011 issue of "TheWeek." It seems that a male penguin in a German zoo has fallen in love with a zookeeper's black-and-white rubber boots. "The penguin, known as Bonaparte, has been obsessed with keeper Dennis Kubler's boots since the start of mating season, evidently mistaking them for a female, and would nuzzle them passionately," says the magazine. Kubler's taken to wearing blue boots until Bonaparte finds an actual "flesh-and-blood" mate.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Thursday: Craft Babble

Happy Cinco de Mayo, to all my pals who celebrate. You do know that Hispanics and Latinos are the biggest growing segment of the US population, no? (Minority-wise.) Thank you for being here. You make our very strong and resilient country that much more wonderful.

So, back to "Book Babble." I find it interesting that I asked my friend Betsy to interject on Thursdays regarding ebooks, since, although I do read quite a bit, my books are usually of the old-fashioned, printed variety. But it turns out that although Bestsy does download most of her reading material--fiction, non-fiction, best-sellers, etc.--much of it is also technical info dealing with the home-spun crafts that so many of us are into now. Knitting, tatting, candle-dipping, blacksmithing. (Okay, that last one's a bit of a stretch. When was the last time you forged a shoe for your horse?)

As an artist and crafts-person myself, I can attest to the value of tried-and-true methods for getting something done. Betsy's teaching me a bunch about what's out there in the public domain, available to anyone with an internet connection, or even a library card (the librarians are nice--they'll print anything you want out for you). Here's today's post courtesy my Knitting Knut friend Betsy:

I have many books in my personal library and quite a few of them include patterns and techniques for the crafts that I enjoy. Knitting and spinning are my favorites, so the majority of my craft books deal in those areas. Sometimes I get the urge to try something new, and I’ve found that the internet is a great resource for tips and techniques, as well as patterns. You can find information on just about any craft out there, and usually plenty of freebies in single patterns or small collections.

I create my own pattern books with downloaded patterns using binders with page protectors. This way, I don’t have to punch holes in my patterns (I tend to put holes through important directions) and I can remove a pattern for a single project.  When I try a craft and find I want to get more involved with it, I allocate a binder for it, and depending on how often I think I will return to it, purchase books on that subject. If I discover I don’t really care for a particular craft, I just leave the patterns in a computer file (I have lots of space on my hard drive).


A broad search for free patterns comes into play when I feel like trying something new, but am not sure what I want to do.  I use “free craft patterns” as the search criteria and follow the leads. One such search led me to, which has things as diverse as candle making, knitting and woodworking.  It is a site I have bookmarked and return to often.  There are other websites that also feature a variety of crafts to choose from, and the hunt can lead you to interesting crafts you might not have thought about.

Have fun searching! Next week I’ll delve into ebooks from the library.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Wednesday: Yard Birds

Yesterday was a great day for bird watching in our backyard. In an eight-hour period, 40 different species either came into the yard (feeders, trees, shrubs, lawn, birdbath, etc.) or were seen flying overhead. Here's the rundown:
Bird species viewed in our backyard (or soaring overhead) May 3, 2011 (in order of appearance.)
White-throated Swift, Red-tailed Hawk, White Pelican, Mallard, Northern Flicker, Downy Woodpecker, Belted Kingfisher, Common Grackle, Black-capped Chickadee, American Crow, Common Raven, Turkey Vulture, White-crowned Sparrow, Lazuli Bunting, Hermit Thrush, House Finch, House Sparrow, Eurasian Collared Dove, Mourning Dove, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Blue Jay, Osprey, Cooper’s Hawk, Junco, Orange-crowned Warbler, American Goldfinch, American Kestrel, House Wren, Barn Swallow, Violet-green Swallow, Chipping Sparrow, Wood Duck, Great Blue Heron, Black-billed Magpie, Eurasian Starling, Canada Goose, Franklin’s Gull, a white-headed gull (species undetermined),White-breasted Nuthatch, and an American Robin.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tuesday: The Cornucopia: Soup's On

Walking through our local Whole Foods the other day, I noticed how popular their soups are. Maybe because it's been a bit chilly, or maybe because it is a comfort food, the folks at the market couldn't keep the kettles filled fast enough.

Which made me think, I used to be a big fan of pre-made, canned soups, until I figured out how easy it is (and cheaper, and healthier) to make your own soup at home.

Soup is very forgiving. Yes, you can start with a recipe, but substitutions are not only acceptable, but encouraged. If you're at all afraid of making soup from scratch, I heartily endorse an attempt.

At our house, we have at least two big stock pots of soup each week. For us, it's a great lunch, and if you keep it on "low" in a crock-pot, you can dip in any time you like, regardless of personal schedules.

Something I learned early on is that no matter what kind of soup you'll be making, a good first step is to saute some aromatic vegetables. Cut up onion, carrot, and celery (about a cup each after chopping), add this to a fry pan with some butter and salt, and cook until just tender. Then, throw them into the recipe, regardless of what the recipe says. The pre-cooking makes them much tastier and able to really impart their flavors into the soup. (Just a note: some cookbooks will say "don't put the veggies in the soup until the end of the cooking process, or they'll be mushy." This has never been an issue for me, since soup ends up getting cooked and reheated so often, mushiness is a given. The flavors of aromatics pre-cooked in butter more than make up for any loss of structure. But if this could bother you, you've been warned.)

Here's a soup recipe of mine that I developed one year when we had a fantastic apple crop and I had just discovered the spicy root vegetable known as the parsnip:
Apple Parsnip Soup on

Monday, May 2, 2011

Monday: The Pleasant Valley Report

I am at a loss for words right now, after seeing three days-worth of footage of total devastation in the American South. As someone who lived in "tornado alley" for many years, I know full well how downright frightening it is to see the sky turn green, hear the landscape go strangely quiet, and then detect the moaning of the nearest tornado siren. You grab your pets, your radio and phone, and rush down to the basement (or if you live in a trailer, as I did one time when a twister passed thru, you sit in the bath tub).

My heart goes out to everyone affected by the latest storms. Unfortunately, tornado season has just begun, and with global climate change throwing new weather system stuff into the mix, I'm afraid we have more destruction to come.

The weekend in Laporte was very windy, which scares me, because in many cases, what happens out here in the west accelerates as it heads onto the plains. Had a bit of snow on Saturday morning, but other than the sky looking bleak, completely tolerable.

Saturday morning, I got in from the gym to see a very large, very dark bird on my back fence post. With binoculars I determined it was a Turkey Vulture. Lived here since 2002 and this is the first one I have ever seen that landed in my yard. Although I investigated, found no dead animal anywhere, and my compost heap wasn't overly odiferous. Who knows why this bird landed, but it was sort of a treat, to see one so close.

Sunday I was lucky enough to sit out on the deck for the only two hours of sunshine we had all day. Saw a few new species (first of the season), including an Orange-crowned Warbler, and a large flock of White Pelicans. Then the day got dark and cold again. It was nice that I'd made a pot of chicken vegetable soup the day before.

But it's Monday now and the sun is shining to the east, with large storm clouds to the west, and all anyone can talk about is how we got Osama bin Laden. After I conduct some business today, I am going for a long walk outside in nature (weather permitting). Need to think about something other than catastrophic storms and catastrophic wars.