Monday, April 27, 2015

Nature that can freakin’ kill you!

Lately, there’s been a lot of coverage about “free-range parenting” in my neck of the woods.  I honestly have no opinion on the topic, but it got me thinking about adventures out in nature.  Here’s a repost of a 2012 essay about the rewards of taking some chances and being a little uncomfortable out in nature – enjoy!

Last weekend, our family took a terrific guided hike through the Harper’s Ferry, WV area led by Larry Broadwell from the Maryland Sierra Club.   We bushwhacked through brambles and up hills to find old Civil War forts that are now covered with weeds and trees.  This was not an easy hike.  The kids were covered with scratches from tangles of vines, burns from spring-growing nettles, bruises from falling down hills, and smiles from the fun they were having!  We imagined ourselves as civil war soldiers, climbing up hills to surprise the soldiers in the forts.  We really got a great sense of how difficult it must have been to be a soldier, wearing a wool uniform in summer, carrying a heavy rifle, and probably fighting on one meal a day.
This hike reminded me of a friend I had many years ago.  We were at a party and people were talking about all sorts of interesting strolls they had on various nature trails in the area.  My friend, who worked in organic agriculture and lived for many years in a house-trailer in Kansas responded, “Nature! These people don’t know anything about nature, nature that can freakin’ kill you!”  Now, I don’t advocate doing fool-hardy stunts or ignoring dangerous weather conditions, but my friend did have a  point that’s applicable to my life (he also gave my family a great catch-phrase).  I’ve often found that although my kids always like getting outside, they really love experiences that involve some challenge and they really respect Mother Nature more when they feel her power.  Like IMG_0612bushwhacking up a hill to find a long-forgotten fort or climbing through the rock scramble to get to the top of Old Rag.  Like getting wet in a cold stream while hunting for salamanders and crayfish (and then getting pinched by those same crayfish).  Or hiking in the snow.  I still remember camping as a kid and waking up to snow all around our tents – and that was back in the days of cotton sleeping bags, brrr!  (Full disclosure:  I do prefer “glamping” these days and just bought some very comfy cots for this summer’s outings).


On our trip a few years ago to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (the most visited park in the U.S.), one of our most enjoyable hikes was one we took in a rainstorm (no lightning or thunder – again, I’m not stupid).  Because the weather was lousy, the crowds were fewer (a big plus in the Smokies), and the waterfalls were spectacular in the rain.  The kids loved telling their friends about that particular hike!  And my kids aren’t the only ones who love a challenge.  Just last week, I photographed a small group of girl scouts planting trees for Earth Day at a local state park – it was 50 degrees, raining, and they were laughing the whole time!  My in-laws in Portland OR, never let a little snow or rain get in their way – they’re always off snowshoeing or hiking in the mist!  And those of us who live in warmer climates can grab the sunscreen and water and head into the summer swelter for a few adventures.

The bottom line is, we don’t have to wait for 70 degrees and sunny to venture out with the kids.  Some of their most memorable experiences will be when nature wasn’t at its easiest!

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Friday, April 24, 2015

Breakfast for dinner–part 2!

Who doesn’t like breakfast for dinner every once in a while?  Here’s a meat-free Friday recipe that’s tasty like breakfast, but has enough heft to keep away the hunger until morning!

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CameraAwesomePhoto (16)

Egg and Green Chile Casserole (source unknown)


  • 18 eggs
  • 1/4 cup skim milk
  • 16 oz. of non-fat cottage cheese, drained
  • 1 can (4 oz.) diced green chiles (hot is best)
  • 1 can (16 oz.) sliced black olives
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup sliced green onions
  • 2 cups grated cheddar or taco-mix cheese
  • dash of nutmeg
  • dash of lemon zest
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. Grease a 13x 9 casserole dish.  Spread the cottage cheese, grated cheese, green onion, and green chiles in the bottom of the casserole dish.
  3. Beat the eggs with the milk, nutmeg, lemon zest, and slat and pepper.  Pour over the cheese mixture.
  4. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, until casserole is a little puffy and the top is slightly browned.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Earth Day Menu

Happy Earth Day!  I was lucky enough to grow up in the 60s, 70s, and 80s when the environmental movement was really getting rolling.  It wasn’t my generation that started this movement; it was the generation that came before me, because they cared about the planet I would inherit.  I guess my mom would tell me I owe them a thank you note. 
I’ve celebrated many Earth Days, through essays at school (in the “my hero” essay, I chose Jacques Cousteau), cleanups in local parks, and protests on the U.S. capitol lawn. I’ve dressed up as a clean water droplet (I worked for EPA) for an Earth Day celebration on the Washington mall, and I’ve dressed up as Woodsy Owl (“give a hoot, don’t pollute") for another DC Earth Day celebration.
So what’s on the menu for this year – more of the same!  More celebrating, more teaching, more activism, more enjoying this beautiful planet on which we live.  Need some ideas for Earth Day activities?  Here’s your Earth Day menu.  Choose one from column A and one from column B and get started!
Column A
Column B
Choose a climate change Earth Day activity Choose one environmental action that takes a little extra work.  Commit yourself to that action over the next year.
Go for a hike
Clean up a local park or waterway – wear gloves!
Write a letter to your elected officials about an environmental issue
If you live in Vienna VA, attend the Green Expo!
Put your reuseable shopping bags in the back of your car and use them!
Plant native plants in your yard
Check out the list of Low Hanging Fruit on this blog for more ideas!

Monday, April 20, 2015

What’s going on in those boxes?

Nesting season is underway!  Here’s a repost of an article from last summer – in case you’ve been wondering what’s going on in those boxes!

Last week, I posted about what’s happening in those squirrel nests this time of year – this week, let’s look at bluebird boxes.  This is the time of year when life for cavity nesting birds gets exciting!  I recently had the pleasure of spending a morning with a local expert on bluebirds – my fellow Sky Meadows State Park volunteer, Margaret.  She showed me who’s living in those bluebird boxes we often see on the sides of fields and explained the various survival strategies of these fascinating birds.  You’ll often see bluebird boxes that folks have set up along the edges of fields and forests.  bluebird1  Bluebirds use these boxes for nesting in the spring and summer (they can raise several clutches of young each year), but they also use the boxes in the winter to group together with other adults to keep warm.  Bluebird nests are tidy and feather-free bluebird24, and the adults create a little cup in the nest to hold the eggs bluebird25.  Bluebird diets are also fascinating – they’re omnivorous, but the ratio of meat to veggies changes by the season.  During the winter, bluebirds survive on vegetation (berries, etc) with a lesser proportion of insects.  During the spring and summer, when the young need lots of protein, the proportions flip-flop – the bluebirds chow on LOTS of insects (at least 70% of their diet).

When you look at rows of bluebird boxes, you might notice that the boxes are grouped in pairs with substantial space between the pairs.  That’s because bluebirds are territorial; they won’t tolerate having another breeding pair close to their box.  But they will tolerate tree swallows as next door neighbors – thus the pairing of the boxes.  Tree swallows, a migratory species, also like to use these nesting boxes in spring and summer.  bluebird27  Tree swallows raise only one clutch each season.  It’s easy to tell tree swallow nests from bluebird nests, because tree swallows place feathers in their nests.  bluebird21

When these little guys first hatch, they’re helpless and blind.    bluebird16After care from the parents, they mature until they’re ready to fledge!  bluebird6

Margaret also taught me that sometimes the nest boxes receive unwanted visitors – house sparrows, which are an invasive non-native species.  Their nests are distinctly different from bluebirds and tree swallows – note the height and use of grasses with seed heads.  bluebird10  The eggs also look a little different  bluebird12  So what do the bluebird enthusiasts do when sparrows invade?  They simply remove the eggs and replace them with fake eggs – that way, the sparrows just keep putting their energy into raising the “eggs” and don’t bother any other bluebird boxes.  A creative solution!

So much going on in those nest boxes you see as you’re driving down the road!  For more information, be sure to check out the North American Bluebird Society or the Audobon Society.

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Friday, April 17, 2015

Spicy Tomato Soup


I really like this week’s recipe, because of the Italian spices – a nice little twist on regular tomato soup!  CameraAwesomePhoto (15)


  • 2 tblsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped (I used red onion, which worked out well)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced (I used 2 tblsp of the jar garlic)
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tsp Italian seasoning (I upped the spices a little and used 1 tblsp dried basil and 1 tblsp dried oregano)
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1 (28 oz) can fire-roasted tomatoes (I used diced, but you can use whole)
  • 3 cups vegetable broth (I think I used 4 cups)
  • 1 cup canned coconut milk (I used regular skim milk)
  • 2 tblsp brown sugar


  1. Heat oil in a large pot and saute onion until soft
  2. Add in garlic, salt, Italian seasoning, and red pepper.  Cook briefly, maybe a minute or two.
  3. Add tomatoes and broth, and bring to a boil.
  4. Use a blender or a blender stick (my choice) to puree the soup.
  5. Add milk and brown sugar and reheat.

Enjoy!  This recipe is adapted from one I found in a fun new vegan cookbook called Chloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen, by Chloe Coscarelli. 

Chloe's Vegan Italian Kitchen: 150 Pizzas, Pastas, Pestos, Risottos, & Lots of Creamy Italian Classics

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Monday, April 13, 2015

What’s in your backyard?

One of my biggest complaints about environmental science classes is the focus on faraway ecosystems.  Sure, tropical rainforests and African savannas are exciting places, but we need to understand what’s going on in our own backyards. 

Squirrels are a common and fascinating creature in most folks’ backyards.  I’ve written about what’s happening up in their nests, and John Kelly is currently running his annual weeklong series in the Washington Post.  Now there’s an exciting video that’s gone viral from National Geographic, Hawk vs. Squirrel – you’ve got to check it out:

So much excitement in your own backyard!  Take a little time to enjoy.

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Friday, April 10, 2015

Meat-free Friday–Pasta sauce!

Most greenmomsters probably already have a tomato sauce recipe that they’re using, but just in case you’re still using sauce from a jar, here’s an easy recipe that I make and freeze until I need it.
3 large cans diced or whole tomatoes, undrained
3 small cans of tomato paste
1 cup of water
about 1 tsp salt
about 2 tsp pepper
about 1/2 cup sugar (yup, I use it!)
about 2 tblsp dry oregano
about 2 tblsp dry basil
Mix together ingredients and simmer for about 2 hours.  If you like thinner sauce, add another cup of water.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

So you slept through science class–What’s “habitat fragmentation”?

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What do you think is the greatest threat to wildlife biodiversity?

  • pollution?
  • overhunting/overharvesting?
  • wildlife poaching?
  • habitat destruction?

If you guessed habitat destruction, you were right!  Often, when we think of habitat destruction, we think of clearcutting of forests or mountaintop removal for coal mines, but there’s a much more common type of habitat destruction.  It’s called “habitat fragmentation” or breaking large tracts of habitat into smaller chunks.  Examples include when we divide forest habitat into 5 acre lots for housing development, or when we build roads through wild areas.

Many species can coexist with humans without too much disruption – think of squirrels, crows, robins, hawks, even coyotes. Some species, such as deer, thrive on “edge habitat” – the area where forests meet fields.  But there are many other creatures that need large tracts of undisturbed habitat (often woodlands, but not always) in order to successfully feed and breed.  We often think of large animals, such as bears or wolves, when we think of this type of creature, but many birds only thrive deep in forested areas.

Although setting aside small chunks of habitat is helpful for some creatures, others need much, much more space.  There’s an exciting effort going on right now called Y2Y or Yellowstone to Yukon.  Their vision: “An interconnected system of wild lands and waters stretching from Yellowstone to Yukon, harmonizing the needs of people with those of nature.”  (photo from the Y2Y website).  Although this effort is a huge one, you can do the same where you live – be aware of fragmentation of habitat and encourage preservation of wildlife corridors and large areas of habitat.

Yahk to Yaak

Friday, April 3, 2015

Esther’s Eggplant Panini

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From the kitchen of professional chef, Matt C!  Getting ready for those tastyNoah Thompson summertime eggplants!

Make 4 sandwiches

Roasted Eggplant Slices:

  • 2 pounds eggplant, skin partially trimmed, sliced into rounds
  • 1 tablespoon cumin, ground
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup tomato chutney, prepared
  • 1 cup feta, crumbled
  • 4 herb flatbreads

Tahini Sauce

  • 1 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup (or more) hot water

Spoon the tahini into medium bowl. Add lemon juice and whisk until smooth. Add 1/2 cup hot water and whisk until well blended, adding more hot water if mixture is very thick. Season to taste with salt.

Preheat a barbecue grill or chargrill on medium.

Slice the eggplant flesh diagonally into ½” think slabs.

Brush the eggplant with the oil and rub the garlic into it. Sprinkle with the cumin, salt and pepper. Cook for 3 minutes each side or until lightly charred and tender. Set aside until ready to use.

Assemble and Serve: Spread the tomato chutney on 2 pieces of flatbread, top with eggplant, then feta and a drizzle of the tahini dressing. Top with the remaining flatbread. Grill the sandwich on both sides with a small amount of olive oil on either a Panini press or a medium-high griddle. Cut and serve immediately.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Leapin’ lizards! Remember to choose wisely.


165 critically endangered geckos seized at Heathrow

Photo from

I’ve written about the world of illegal wildlife smuggling in past posts.  And here’s proof that we can’t assume the problem is solved – during a recent seizure of illegally traded wildlife at Heathrow airport, over 165 critically endangered geckos were found!

Many of us enjoy owning reptiles as pets, but remember to always ask about the source of these animals.  Never buy animals that were wild-caught.

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