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

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.

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:

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.

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 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.

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

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:
(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:

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.