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

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.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wednesday: Practicing Compassion

Regular readers to this blog know that I'm a big fan of "Ode" Magazine, which bills itself (and its related web pages) as the "community for intelligent optimists." The latest issue (July/August) is especially full of great content. On Tuesday next week I'll blog a bit about their article on sustainable beef, but today here's a quick share I think's worth considering. It's from the article "The Compassion Instinct" on page 20. In a nutshell, the piece explains how "research shows that a compassionate attitude toward others improves mental and physical health."

The article is thought-provoking and confirms what many of us already suspected--that when we share kindness, we are actually kind to ourselves. Here's a bit from the article by Larry Gallagher--some bullet-points to help you practice compassion everyday:

"Practicing compassion is possible in any place where people come together: at airports, on beaches and in stores. Try practicing these five steps with strangers and friends alike. Do it discreetly and focus your attention on the same person at every step. Tell yourself:
  1. "Just like me, this person is looking for happiness in his or her life."
  2. "Just like me, this person tries to avoid suffering in his or her life."
  3. "Just like me, this person experiences sorrow, loneliness and despair."
  4. "Just like me, this person is trying to satisfy his or her own needs."
  5. "Just like me, this person is learning about life."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tuesday: Wasted Food

Did you know that we Americans throw away nearly half our food? It's true, and if you read Jonathan Bloom's new book, "American Wasteland," you'll be surprised by the many reasons for such senseless loss. For example, as many as 25% of lettuce grown in this country is left to rot in farmers' fields simply because farm workers are afraid it's not up to the standards of grocery chains. Another situation--many school children in the US throw out more than half their lunch because they're not hungry. Why? Schools have started serving lunch to many students as early as 10:30 AM, when kids are still full from breakfast.

I loved this book because it was a real eye-opener and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the topic and wants to learn more about what they can do about the problem. It got me thinking about the ways we combat waste. One of our favorite strategies is buying from our local grocery store's "bargain bin" of items that are nearing their "sell-by" dates. Many food items are perfectly acceptable to eat (Bloom agrees) at or past their sell-by dates.  There's also a produce "bargain bin" --veggies and fruits that may have gotten bruised or a tad withered that are sold at a fraction of their cost. I'm really glad our store manager offers these items on sale, vs. throwing them in the trash.

Another way we avoid waste is by cooking smaller meals. Sometimes leftovers "hide" in the refrigerator, only to be discovered after they've spoiled. Eating everything at one sitting alleviates this problem. And when we do have leftovers, we try to incorporate them the next day in another dish, so we're sure to eat what we've paid for.

Finally, anything that does go bad, or the inedible parts of produce, ends up in our compost heap. We've got some very happy worms out in that heap, and the compost makes fabulous fertilizer for the vegetable garden.

In my opinion, wasting food when so many people in the world are hungry is a sin. I'm astonished at how much we throw away and hope that people like Jonathan Bloom get the word out that things need to change.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Monday: The Pleasant Valley Report

Well, blogspot is giving me headaches today. I just lost a long post full of embedded links and photos. Suffice it to say, I am not rewriting it all over again!

Thus, here's a short post, in case I lose my work. The violet-green swallow nestbox is a hoot to watch. Mom and Dad continue to feed on and off every few minutes and when they approach the nest, the chicks go wild with squeaky chirping. Until this morning I'd only seen one chick head peeping out of the hole to get food, but now there are two little beggars vying for a space at the table.

It's hot and humid here, but nothing like Oklahoma City, where a friend emailed me she's on her 27th straight day of temps above 100. (We don't have AC in the house, so that would kill me!) Today is actually the perfect kind of day to head to the pool. I might just do that if I keep running into internet glitches.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday: Offbeat: Frozen Treats Courtesy of Granny

I couldn't resist sharing this video clip of a Bronx (New York City, of course) woman (aged 81) who sells homemade icy treats from her second story apartment window. Here's the link, courtesy AOL/Huffington Post news:

Wish she lived in my neighborhood!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thursday Book Babble: Cash4Books

If you're like me, you have more books than you need. (Granted, we don't always need books, but we like to have them surrounding us in the home.) But sometimes, we need to get rid of a few old books to make shelf space for new library additions, or, we bought the books (like texts) for a specific reason and really can't use them any more. That's where the group Cash4Books comes in.

Cash4Books will pay you for your used books. Check out their website for all the details. They've got some easy ways to tell them what you have to sell, including apps for SmartPhones that save you the hassle of entering information. A few years ago, I made a tidy sum selling Cash4Books some extra volumes I no longer needed. See if they can help you out, too. Pass their URL along to students. Students are always looking for ways to sell textbooks and make a little extra money.

Cash4Books actually sent me a five dollar check once, because I referred someone to their site and that person ended up being a seller. Go to the site to find out what their current offers and programs are. Good luck making space for new stuff, and saying goodbye to the old books, knowing that you'll be paid for your books and they'll find a new home.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wednesday: Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica

It just so happens that I'll be visiting La Fortuna, Costa Rica next winter (early 2012), and coincidentally, in a recent issue of "The Week" magazine on page 34, there was a small write-up about the famous volcano there. Thought I'd share, since it seems many Americans have discovered what a great destination Costa Rica is for adventure travel.

(This piece was used by "The Week"  from the Philadelphia Inquirer, and written by William Ecenbarger):

"Eleven hours after eating breakfast in Hershey, PA., I am sitting in a Costa Rican rain forest watching ash spew from Arenal volcano." Lava and "freshly baked boulders" slip down the slopes of one of the 10 most active volcanoes in the world. It took just five hours to fly to this "vibrant land of beaches and jungles," where, for less than $200 a night, "my wife and I were staying in a luxury resort."

Mr. Ecenbarger goes on to say that, at night they were lulled to sleep by the "warbles, pops, rubbings, squeaks, and chirps" of the jungle.

Can't wait to go and experience Arenal myself. In addition to this awesome volcano, La Fortuna offers ancient ruins, waterfalls, and hot pools to explore.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tuesday: Smoothies

Smoothies are so common in our culture today that it's hard to remember when we all first started drinking them. According to Wikipedia's entry for "Smoothie":

"Health food stores on the West Coast of the United States began selling pureed fruit drinks in the 1930s, based on recipes that originated in Brazil. The 1940s-era Waring "Blendor" cookbooks published recipes for a "banana smoothie" and a "pineapple smoothee."

The name "smoothee" or "smoothie" was used by books, magazines, and newspapers for a product made in blenders. Dan Titus, the director of The Juice and Smoothie Association, states in his book, Smoothies, The Original Smoothie Book, that "smoothies became popular in the middle 1960s, when there was a resurgence in the United States in macrobiotic vegetarianism." The first trademark for a fruit slush was in the mid-1970s with the name "California Smoothie", which was marketed by the California Smoothie Company from Paramus, New Jersey.

Smoothies from the 1960s and early 1970s were "basically fruit, fruit juice, and ice"; in some cases in the early 1970s, ice milk was also blended in to create the "fruit shake". These shakes were served at local health-food restaurants and at health-food stores alongside tofu, fruits, carob, and other health-oriented foods. The copyright for the recipe of the banana and strawberry smoothie, which included horseradish, was issued April 3, 1972."

Horseradish?! Yikes.

Anyway, I kind of remember my first fruit smoothie experience as occuring in the mid-90's. A friend mixed some orange juice, yogurt, ice cubes and a banana in a blender and we had this "shake" for lunch. It reminded me of a frozen cocktail, like a daquiri or margarita, without the booze.

I never would have anticipated the popularity or diversity of product to come from such a simple idea. Today, I tend to whip up a smoothie when I am pressed for time and need a meal; I can make a smoothie with my immersion blender and matching cup in about 3 minutes and take the drink with me in my car (or in a bottle on my bike) as substitute for a sit-down lunch. Smoothies are also great energy-boosters in the afternoon when I'm feeling kind of tired and want a sweet treat.

Here's my favorite, easy smoothie "recipe"--I don't measure anything, just mix it all up and adjust as needed. Ingredients--a handful of blueberries, about a cup of plain, unsweetened almond milk, a splash of vanilla, a bit of stevia sweetener, a handful of ice cubes, and a big blob of full-fat Greek yogurt. High in protein, delicious, and full of good fiber. (You can substitute any fruit for the blueberries. Peaches are great. Raspberries are good too, but you'll need more sweetener.)

Here's some advice if you're watching your weight and enjoy smoothies. Making them with actual fruit, vs. calorie-laden fruit juice, is not only healthier (for the fiber in the pulped fruit) but lower in calories. Using stevia vs. sugar or honey also greatly reduces calories. Almond milk is really nutritious and has fewer carbohydrates than juice ( by a ratio of 20 to 1!) so it's a nice base for any "diet" smoothie as well.

While I love experimenting with fruit, I am not a fan of "green" or vegetable smoothies. I like V-8 veggie juice and the occasional small beet in a fruit smoothie, but I just don't find veggie drinks appealing. Maybe I haven't found the right recipe yet!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Monday: The Pleasant Valley Report

The weather has been very un-Coloradolike lately--rains every afternoon, humidity, and clouds. The mornings have been sunnyish, but almost like clockwork we've been getting some real downpours (including hail) around lunch time.

That said, the wildlife is active in our backyard. We've had a Mule Deer doe munching leaves in the middle of the day a couple of times a week. The Violet-Green Swallow pair have been feeding young in the nest box on the outside of our house. They're making about 140 trips to and from the nest per adult each day. And a Little Brown Bat has been roosting in my closed patio umbrella.

The two Osprey nests (Hwy. 287 by-pass and Willox/Shields) were productive. It appears to me that each nest has two chicks, and I've seen both adults near each nest at least once this week. We have no idea of the fate of the chick in the Red-tailed Hawk nest behind our backyard. Once the tree foliage filled in, our view with the spotting scope was obscured.

All the rain has given us a very wild vegetable garden. Every night we have a big green salad, with fresh lettuce (five varieties), spinach, snap peas, and herbs. Just a few tiny tomato fruits are popping up, and a few small hot peppers as well. Our strawberries were few and far between, and what fruits did appear were eaten almost immediately by the birds (which is fine by me--a few Blue Jays and Robins are feeding young fledglings). Our two apple trees appear to have a nice amount of small fruit and the raspberry patch looks great. We're hoping to have another 45 lb. harvest in late August and early September.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Friday: Offbeat: Arizona Dust Cloud

A friend at my gym told me that her parent's neighborhood in Arizona was blanketed by an enormous dust cloud Tuesday night. Here's a link to the story. Wow! The cloud "turned day into night."

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Thursday Book Babble: Dover Publications

Reading classic literature--be it science fiction, romance, poetry, or plays--should be on everyone's summer to-do list. Whether you're lazing in a hammock, sitting in the woods near your campsite, or lounging on the sofa with a glass of lemonade, the long days of July and August are perfect for delving into a good book, especially a book that's stood the test of time.

Of course classics are available at your local library, but because they are classics after all, it pays to invest in a few for your own library. By far, the best, most economical way to buy classic fiction, non-fiction, and art books is through Dover Publications. The prices are low, the quality is excellent, and their catalog is extensive. You can find almost anything at Dover, from plays by Shakespeare to the writings of physicist Nikolai Tesla, to collections of illustrations by famous artists and books featuring piano concertos. Dover's popular "Thrift Editions" are only $2.00 apiece for fiction titles like "Moby Dick," "Ivanhoe," and "The War of the Worlds." Good stuff!

Dover specializes in books and art in the public domain, works that are copyright free and are published at prices everyone can afford. Dover also produces a wide selection of fun items, such as paper dolls of famous people, stickers and coloring books, books of art giftwrap and postcards, puzzle compilations, and more. Many of their books are geared as activity sets for children and make simple but appreciated gifts for families. I especially like the art instruction books Dover publishes, while my husband has a complete collection of Dover bird accounts by species.

Pop on over to the Dover site and sign up for a free catalog, as well as free clip-art delivered to your e-mail box weekly (great for decorating posters, newsletters, etc.), and free samples of other products.  In addition to a general catalog, note that depending on your area of interest, there's a special catalog devoted to that subject as well, so be sure to explore the site for additional free offers. And the next time you want to send an e-mail greeting for a birthday or thank-you, send a free e-card from Dover's extensive array of topics and styles. I especially like the Tiffany stained glass and Audubon e-card collections.

A final note: If you sign up for e-mails from Dover, you'll get news of sales throughout the year. They have especially nice promotions near the holidays, offering free shipping or a percentage off a minimum order.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Wednesday: Dollar Stretcher Tips

This week's "good news" is something we can all use--some tips on saving MONEY! I happen to subscribe to the e-newsletter "Dollar Stretcher Tips," and I love getting these hints in my e-mail box every week. Not only do I often learn some new use for something I'd ordinarily throw away, but I also find out secrets to saving $$ from people all over the country. A few of my own personal tips have been published, and if you sign up, yours can be too. (And when you submit a tip, you're entered in a drawing to win $100.00.)

I'm sure many people out there have a tip or two to share. Check out their site. In addition to the "tips," the bloggers at Dollar Stretcher have a wealth of info for you about all kinds of money-saving strategies. It's worth an hour of your time exploring the site if you end up "making" money (by saving!) in the process.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Tuesday: Cool Salads for a Hot Day

We don't have air-conditioning in our house, and most summer days, that's okay. In our Colorado locale, we normally don't experience that much humidity, so by 8 PM, everything cools down nicely and we turn on our attic fan to bring the outdoor air in. Lately though, we've had lots of rain, so it has been a bit "sticky" from the mugginess. This is the perfect time to prepare cold salads to keep in your fridge for the nights that are too hot to cook supper.

One of my new favorite salads includes quinoa. For those unfamiliar with this ancient grain, it is considered a "superfood," due to its high protein content (in addition to the usual carbohydrate content) vs. other grains. Quinoa cooks up fast and absorbs salad dressing very well. Boil a few cups (see directions below), let it cool a bit, and then mix with a vinegar-based dressing and some add-ins, like cucumber pieces, sliced roasted red peppers, yellow squash slices, diced red onion, and some fresh herbs. Let this salad sit overnight for the best flavor. If you want to add even more protein and fiber, dump in a can of black beans before you mix it all together. You may need to re-season the next day, once all the flavors have mingled. (I often add more salt or a splash of soy sauce.)

Of course, there are other cold salads that make a great, no-fuss meal. If you prepare them early in the day--before you head out to work--they're happily waiting for you when you arrive home in the evening. Some suggestions: tuna salad with celery, golden raisins, and pecan bits (in a mayonnaise dressing); canned black-eyed peas with cucumber, mint, and couscous in a lime/honey glaze; and hard-boiled eggs at the ready, to slice up in a big bowl of spinach, bacon crumbles, blue cheese, and Caesar dressing. (Croutons optional.)

It always helps to have some good bread or crunchy crackers to eat with your salad. Don't forget about fruit! A side dish of sliced peaches and a few pieces of a semi-soft cheese, like Havarti with dill, makes a great European dessert.

Here's how I cook quinoa:
  • Use 2 cups water for every 1 cup quinoa
  • Bring the water to a boil. Add quinoa, lower the temperature and let lightly simmer, covered, for 12-15 minutes.
  • When you open the pot and see that the germ has separated from the seed (you'll see tiny "C's" floating around) it's ready to remove the pot from the heat.
  • Let the covered pot sit at least 3 minutes to get fluffy.
  • Once coolish, add to your dressing and other salad ingredients in a tightly covered dish (like a Rubbermaid or Tupperware container), shake a few times to distribute the salad, and refrigerate at least 4 hours (or overnight.)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Monday: Contest Results

Congratulations to Marvin V. He's the winner of this quarter's contest and will receive a set of my big cat fine art note cards.

Next quarter's contest prize will be a set of North American wildlife notecards. Anyone who is already signed up or registered on this blog, or is following it by e-mail or mobile device, is automatically entered to win

Friday, July 1, 2011

Friday: Offbeat: Animal Artists

No, not people painting pictures of animals, but rather, animals that are artists. Check them out here:

(Happy Independence Day weekend everyone. Just a reminder--be sure to register on this blog or subscribe to be entered in my quarterly drawing to win art notecards. Monday I'll be announcing this quarter's winner. You can also enter simply by hitting the "contact me" button and letting me know you'd like to be included and supplying your email address. Deadline is Sunday, July 3.)