Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Local Bite Challenge

Over on Ever Growing Farm there's a 100-day Local Bite Challenge. It’s an experiment to see how much local food a person can live on within certain parameters (e.g., distance, budget).

The creator of the challenge (Melissa) is doing the Local Bite Challenge for 100 days. Her goal is to purchase items within 100 miles of her home and spend no more than $100 per week. She acknowledges that there can and will be exceptions to the challenge - things that people are unable to source locally and/or don't feel that they want to give up.

Also, anything that is already in one's pantry can be used. The goal isn't to create food waste by tossing what's in one's cupboards and refrigerator into the garbage.

After reading about the Local Bite Challenge, I thought it would be something worthwhile to undertake. It comes on the heels of the 40 Bags in 40 Days challenge that I've been doing since March 5th. In that challenge, I have let go of possessions that I no longer need or want.

Much in that same spirit, the Local Bite Challenge is letting go of unhealthy eating habits and beginning some new ways to view and prepare local food.

Organic milk from Autumnwood Farm.

 So, for our family, I've decided that our goals for the Local Bite Challenge are to:
=> Do the challenge for at least 100 days. (Hopefully by that time it will become a new way of eating and living, and we will continue on indefinitely.)
=> Replace items that I'm using up with those that are grown or produced within 100 miles of our home. (Since we live almost on the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin, the mileage is more applicable than saying that we want to use food only grown in Minnesota.)
=> Spend no more than $75 a week while I'm replacing food; and $100 a week during the growing season (May through September).
=> Learn to use and prepare at least 80% of the 40 items on the produce available from May-November list.
=> Plant a garden with some of our family's most regularly-used and enjoyed items (e.g., tomatoes, peppers, onions, beans, carrots, herbs).

Exceptions for our family include:
=> Food that is already in the home.
=> Staples (e.g., spices, salt, pepper, sugar, oils, vinegars).
=> Miracle Whip (not the healthiest...but I haven't yet parted ways with this product).
=> Hot chocolate with marshmallows.

In addition to the overall challenge, there are mini-challenges that are announced each Monday. This week's challenge is to pick one new-to-you, locally grown item from the local co-op, farmers market, road-side stand, or u-pick farm and enjoy it however you see fit.

Breakfast with locally-produced items: eggs with cheese, cheese curds, 
elk sausage, and chocolate milk.

The new item my family and I are trying this week is elk sausage (also available at the organic dairy farm). It's from a place that also is about 50 minutes from my home to the southwest. The package says the meat is "All natural, gluten free, no MSG, no hormones, steroids, or chemicals."

One of the things that I've enjoyed about the Local Bite Challenge is that I've been reading some interesting links that have been shared on the Facebook page.

For example, there was one that listed the 10 best and worst states to eat local. The link led back to Strolling of the Heifers which has a chart that details each state's ranking.

Minnesota ranks #13. Its rating has improved over the past couple of years. Last year it was #16, and the year before that it was #17. So, it's headed in the right direction.

The list was based on four factors per state:

• Number of farmers markets.

• Number of CSAs.

• Number of food hubs (e.g., “facilities that handle the aggregation, distribution and marketing of foods from a group of farms and food producers in a region”).

• Percentage of school districts with farm-to-school programs.

Strolling of the Heifers also listed its top ten reasons why it is good to eat locally. Out of their ten reasons, there are five that resonate with me and motivate me to eat locally.

Eating locally:

Supports local farms: Buying food locally keeps local farms healthy and creates jobs at these farms as well as in the local food processing and distribution systems.

Less travel: Local food travels significantly less distance to consumers than processed or fresh grocery store foods, therefore using less fuel and generating fewer greenhouse gases.

More freshness: Local food is fresher, tastes better, and is healthier since it spends less time in transit from farm to consumer. Therefore, fewer nutrients are lost and there is less spoilage.

New and better flavors: By purchasing local food, consumers discover new vegetables and fruits; new ways to prepare food; and promotes a greater  appreciation of the pleasure of each season’s foods.

Preserves open space: Buying local food helps local farms thrive and survive; and keeps land from being developed into suburban sprawl.

So what have I done so far? The first step was cleaning out seven cupboards in the kitchen. After cleaning and organizing the remaining items, I know what I have on hand and what needs to be purchased.

I believe that the food we have on hand will last us until the farmers markets open for the season (the middle of May) and have limited produce. Until then, the options are limited for both the challenge and mini-challenge. Being that there's still snow on the ground in some areas in Minnesota, and more is forecasted for three days later this week, there are significantly fewer places to purchase local food than there will be in a month.

However, yesterday I went to Autumnwood Farm in Forest Lake, Minnesota. There is a small store on the farm that sells milk from their pastured cows. The all-natural, low-temperature pasteurized milk is from cows who have benefited from rotational grazing and carefully-managed nutrition. The cows never receive growth hormone (rBST); and every measure is taken to ensure that Autumnwood milk is free of any antibiotics.

This dairy farm purchases cheese products from another dairy cooperative that's about 50 minutes northeast from my home. So, I also bought cheese curds and smoked colby cheese.

Items from Autumnwood Farm's shop: eggs, cheese curds, 
cheddar cheese, and elk sausage.
The shop has a variety of locally-grown/produced items from
other farms within 50 minutes of the farm.

Between the organic skim milk and chocolate milk in glass bottles; cheese curds; smoked colby cheese; and elk sausage - I like the changes that are taking place in the refrigerator. I am so happy I'm doing this challenge, and am excited to see the changes that we will make together as a family during the next 100 days.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

3:00 - P52 and 52 Week Photo Challenge 2014 - Week 15

For most of the day I cleaned seven cupboards in the kitchen. At 3:00 p.m., the alarm on my phone went off as a reminder to take a photograph of something that was happening at that time. 

So, Cooper and I went outside and Bailey (the pony) was standing near the gate. As she saw us approaching, the came closer to the gate. Before long, Cooper and Bailey were visiting one another. 

Both Cooper and Bailey enjoy seeing one another at this shared fence. Sometimes, with encouragement from Cooper, Bailey and Hoss will put on a "show" for him - galloping around the pasture, kicking their legs high up in the air, and acting like day-old lambs who frolic in the field and turn in circles in the air.

Today, however, Bailey just wanted to walk alongside the fence with Cooper and me. Initially she was afraid of the camera, but before long it was almost as if she was posing, turning her head in different directions and making sure her ears were forward or upright.

It was a nice break for us all. Perhaps this is something worth doing: setting my alarm at a random time during the day in order to take a walk outdoors. There's something refreshing about taking a break from work and heading outside...even if it is for a short period of time.

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Monday, April 7, 2014

DIY Maple Breakfast Sausage without MSG or Nitrates

Many months ago, there was a recipe on The Prairie Homestead for maple breakfast sausage without MSG or nitrates. It was adapted from the book Home Sausage Making by Charles Reavis.

The recipe was very easy to make. The sausages were delicious; and something I will definitely be making again.

To make the sausages, you will need:

3 pounds of ground pork
1 small onion, minced very finely (I think I could have minced the onion a bit more than what I did)
1 tablespoon sea salt
2 teaspoons dry, ground sage
1 teaspoon dry, ground mustard
3/4 teaspoons black pepper
1/4 cup real maple syrup

Then, simply mix all of the ingredients together in a large bowl. Although I make sausage patties right away with the mixture, you can place the meat in the refrigerator for a couple of hours so the flavors develop.

Some additional ways to use the seasoned pork include:

1. Cook it as you would ground beef and use it in soups, skillet meals, pizza, or casseroles.

2. Make breakfast burritos or sandwiches using scrambled eggs, crumbled sausage, and cheese. Place in a tortilla or biscuit for a delicious and hearty meal.

3. Shape it into a log, and then wrap it tightly in plastic wrap for storing it in the refrigerator for up to a week. If it will be a longer time period, place it in the freezer.

4. Shape into individual patties to freeze or fry.

5. Make homemade sausage gravy and put over biscuits for a "biscuits and gravy" breakfast.

DIY Cough Syrup with Essential Oils

On my continuing journey to make healthier versions of medicines and home products, I wanted to try making a natural cough syrup with essential oils. I saw the idea on Pinterest which led to Baby Steps to Essential Oils.

The recipe is very easy and can be pre-made and stored in a small container. A dab of this all-natural cough syrup is enough to last a person through the night or day.

The essential oils and honey needed to make cough syrup.

First, gather the ingredients to make the cough: 

1 drop frankincense oil
1 drop lemon oil
1 drop orange oil
1 drop peppermint oil
1 teaspoon honey

Next, put the honey in a container. Add the essential oils to the honey and mix with a spoon.

Adding essential oil to the honey.

When needed, put some of the honey mixture on a spoon and swallow.

For larger quantities, simple multiply each of the ingredients (e.g., 5 drops of each essential oil mixed with 5 teaspoons of honey).

The finished cough syrup. 
It still looks like honey, so it is best to label the container.

The smell of the cough syrup is wonderful! The blend of the essential oils is both invigorating and comforting at the same time. Each of the four essential oils helps with coughing.

The taste of this all-natural cough syrup, compared to plain honey, is a little bitter. The essential oils do alter the taste of the honey slightly. Yet, it's the smell of the cough syrup that makes it so pleasantly different from other commercially-prepared syrups.

In addition to the essential oils, honey has long been used as a cough suppressant and sore-throat reliever. According to the Mayo Clinic,"Honey appeared to be as effective as a common cough suppressant ingredient, dextromethorphan, in typical over-the-counter doses. Since honey is low-cost and widely available, it might be worth a try.

"However, due to the risk of infant botulism, a rare but serious form of food poisoning, never give honey to a child younger than age 1."

I'm happy to have some of this natural cough syrup in the medicine cabinet now; and am prepared for testing it out on the first person who gets a cough.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Crazy Quilt Journal Project (CQJP 2014) - March Quilt Square

Each month this year, I am making a 12 inch by 12 inch crazy quilt square for the Crazy Quilt Journal Project. The purpose of the project is to promote the art of crazy quilting and expand each participant’s individual artistic creativity and technical knowledge.

My goal this year is to simply learn how to do the actual sewing of a crazy quilt block. The first month the pieces seemed to come together in a satisfactory way. During February, no matter how hard I tried, there were pieces that did not come together well.

This month, I thought I would try something different. I cut a variety of fabrics into different size rectangles and sewed them together. Then, from one corner to the opposite one (e.g., upper left to lower right), I cut the sewn piece in half. I did this for a few different pieces and then managed to stitch them together in a way that they laid flat.

I used a variety of different pieces of lace, embroidery floss, buttons, sequins, and beads to embellish the block.

Although I've seen other beautifully embroidered squares done by other participants, for the first few months I have not dedicated enough time to taking my embroidery to that level. And, in all honesty, I don't think I have the creative or embroidery skills to do that.

So, if I'm able to sew squares that lay flat, I'm happy. I've learned a new skill and will have something functional (a quilt) at the end of the year.

What I'm also pleased with is that I am able to finally use the pieces of trim, buttons, sequins, and beads that I've had on my craft shelves for a while now. During the past month I've been working on the 40 Bags in 40 Days Challenge and am getting rid of items that no longer serve any purpose or that I do not plan to use anytime soon.

The CQJP has been a great way to use up what I have on hand without having to purchase new items from the craft store. I like that I'll have a tactile quilt at the completion of this challenge.

All-Natural Disinfecting Counter Spray

In an effort to continue to remove toxins from our home, I've been making some natural products using essential oils, vinegar, lemon juice, and other non-chemically-altered products

In this process, I came across an interesting pin on Pinterest that led to Natural Living Mamma about how the average American uses about 25 gallons of hazardous, toxic chemical products per year in one's home.  The majority of these can be found in household cleaning products. (”Prosperity Without Pollution,” by Joel S. Hirschorn and Kirsten V. Oldenburg, 1991)

In 1985, the Environmental Protection Agency reported that "toxic chemicals in household cleaners are three times more likely to cause cancer than air pollution."

One of the most surprising facts came from REACH (Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization of Chemicals, a European Union program) that noted: "In the past 50 years more than 75,000 chemicals have been introduced into the environment. Today 300 synthetic chemicals are found in the bodies of humans. Even newborn babies have synthetic chemicals passed on from their mothers."

Given these facts, I am happy that some of the cleaning products that I use are already are healthier than others out there. We use products from Watkins, Mrs. Meyers, and Element.

I was curious, though, about going a step further by making my own natural cleaning products. So, I started with counter spray.

Natural Living Mamma stated that, "Most natural cleaning recipes out there use white vinegar as a base for everything, but this recipe has an extra special punch that leaves the surface squeaky clean, microbe free, and does not leave a streaky finish like most vinegar cleaners. What is the secret? Alcohol. Alcohol is a great disinfectant and evaporates quickly to leave a streak free shine."

To make the counter spray, you'll need:

A spray bottle
½ part white vinegar (I used 1 cup)
½ part lemon juice (I used 1 cup of the bottled kind)
½ part vodka or rubbing alcohol (I used 1 cup of rubbing alcohol)
1 part water (I used 2 cups of water)
15-20 drops essential oils, optional (I used 15 drops each of cinnamon and orange essential oils)

Note: I chose cinnamon since Natural Living Mamma said that it has the ability to kill salmonella, MRSA, and other potent strains of bacteria. 

Once the ingredients are gathered, measure each one and pour into a spray bottle.

To use, simply spray on the counter and wipe it dry. I also used this spray on a tile floor in the bathroom and walls. It worked equally well on all surfaces.

Although the spray has a rather strong rubbing alcohol-vinegar smell initially, it does fade quite quickly. I was surprised that both those scents didn't linger. The lasting smell is a clean, cinnamon-orange scent with is pleasant and refreshing.

I'm excited about moving closer to having a healthier home and greater wellness for us all.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Easy Bathroom Drawer Organization

During March and April I'm doing the 40 Bags in 40 Days challenge. Throughout the challenge, I'm also trying to create more orderly and efficient spaces within the home.

Two areas that pose an on-going challenge is the dental drawer and make-up drawer. As I was looking at Pinterest, I came across a pin that led to My Home Look Book that suggested using silverware dividers to separate each person's toothbrushes and paste.

The drawers in the bathroom are not wide enough to do that, so I put toothbrushes in one divider; and floss, toothpaste, mouthwash, and dental tools in the other divider. In the back are some extra mouthwashes and dental floss picks for children.

Before and after pictures of the dental drawer.
One suggestion I was given on the 40 Bags in 40 Days Facebook page 
was to cap each of the toothbrushes to prevent the spread of germs and infections.

The other drawer that needed organizing was the make-up drawer. I first went through the drawer and tossed any items that were outdated; and any items that could go into the medicine cabinet (e.g., unopened toothbrushes).

Then I sorted the items based on what I use each day and what I use periodically. The items I use daily are in the left container and the ones used less frequently are in the right container. Now, when I get ready in the morning, I just need to pull out the left bin and all the items I need are right there.

Before and after pictures of the make-up drawer. 
Items that I use daily are in the left-hand bin; and 
items used less frequently are in the right-hand bin.

Why I never did this before today is beyond me. This was such a quick and easy way to organize two drawers.

Something Beginning with L - P52 and 52 Week Photo Challenge 2014 - Week 14

This week the photography theme was "Something Beginning with L." As I looked back on photos I had taken, I came across quite a few from the Macy's Flower Show in Minneapolis. This year's theme was "The Secret Garden."

As we did last year, Sophia, Olivia, and I took my mom to see the show. There are so many landscaping ideas as one looks at the wide variety of flowers, shrubs, trees, topiaries, and hardscapes. For my mom, who is in a wheelchair and blind at this point in her life, the smell of the flowers along with a verbal description is what made the show so delightful for her. 

One of the many landscapes at the flower show.
This one was the "English Cottage" display.

I particularly liked the English cottage garden where there was a wooden wheelbarrow, hat, gloves, and hoe among the planted flowers. It looked like someone was taking a break from planting the yellow tulips, and would be returning soon.

The horse head topiary was another feature that we all liked. It would be interesting to see if we could create garden sculptures like that at our farm.  

One of many bright, colorful flowers at the flower show.

The variety of flowers within each themed garden was delightful. The overwhelming smell of spring was invigorating and mood-lifting. After such a long, difficult winter with over 135 days below zero, smelling the scent of spring - especially the hyacinths - was needed and enjoyed. 

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DIY Hand Sanitizer

In an effort to gradually move away from products that have lots of chemicals in them, I found instructions about how to make your own hand sanitizer.

One of the reasons I don't use hand sanitizer is that it reeks of alcohol and chemicals. I wanted to find something that would be easy to use - rather than soap and water - yet would be natural and safe to use.

Ingredients to make homemade hand sanitizer...
without all the chemicals. 

On Pinterest, there was a pin that led to Baby Step to Essential Oils where there was a recipe for Homemade Thieves Hand Sanitizer.


5 tablespoons aloe vera gel
4 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon vitamin E oil
8-10 drops Thieves oil. (I used the homemade version of Thieves oil which is a combination of 5 essential oils. If using the homemade version, simply blend the essential oils and do not add a carrier oil. I placed the homemade Thieves oil in an empty essential oil bottle so that I could use the dropper)
Small Squeeze Container (I used a small pump container)


In a bowl combine aloe vera gel and vitamin E oil. Add 8-10 drops of Thieves oil to the aloe vera mixture.

Add water and mix well to combine. Add more or less water depending on the consistency you want.

Pour or scoop the mixture into the container. Put your homemade hand sanitizer in your bathroom, kitchen, office, bag, or car for an effective, alcohol-free hand sanitizer.

The finished hand sanitizer.

Benefits to Using Natural Hand Sanitizer

According to Conscious Life News, there are three main ingredients in commercially-purchased hand sanitizer that people should avoid:

=> Parabens - these chemicals are used to prevent microbe growth in products. Linked to cancer, immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity, reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption, and skin irritation, parabens should be avoided.

=> Triclosan - has been foundby the FDA to be a pointless chemical with no health benefits. Even though it kills bacteria, it may contribute to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics. In other words, it helps create super bacteria.

=> Fragrances - have been associated with respiratory distress, allergies, dermatitis, and potential effects on the reproductive system. As with parabens and triclosan, chemical fragrances should be avoided.


This mixture is a thick liquid/gel. It absorbs quickly into one's skin and leaves it feeling soft and moisturized. The scent is much more pleasant than commercially-purchased hand sanitizers that are filled with alcohol. I will definitely make this again.

The ingredients are a more expensive than what a store-bought hand sanitizer cost. Yet, I would rather use something natural and safe - and that smells good - than use something that has the chemicals mentioned above.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 15

This week I read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams for the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge. The 216-page book was one of least engaging pieces of "literature" that I have read this year. I stuck with reading this book because I kept hoping that the next page...the next chapter...any part of it would have some redeeming quality. It just wasn't apparent to me.

Basically the book begins by focusing on a man named Arthur Dent who is having a bad day. He learns that his friend is an alien with advanced knowledge of Earth's impending destruction. Seconds before Earth explodes to make room for a new hyperspace motorway, Arthur is transported off Earth.

Together, Arthur and his friend begin a journey through space meeting other travelers along the way. The names of characters - as are many descriptions and names of planets and other items Arthur encounters - are a lot of nonsensical words:

=>  Zaphod Beeblebrox a two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie and absent-minded president of the galaxy;

=> Trillian, Zaphod's girlfriend (formally Tricia McMillan), whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party on Earth; and

=> Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student who is obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he bought over the years.

Towards the end of the book, Arthur is able to see the creation of Earth II and understand that humans were not the most intelligent animals on Earth when it existed.

Some people absolutely love this book and have read it multiple times, finding it quite humorous. The humor was clearly lost on me. I simply didn't get it or find it funny. I was happy to see the book come to an end.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Homemade Natural Facial Cleanser

I've been wanting to try this homemade facial cleanser for awhile now after seeing a pin for it that led to Green Boot Living.

Ingredients for making homemade facial cleanser
along with a pump bottle from the co-op.

It's a simple recipe that uses only a few ingredients:

1/2 cup liquid castile soap
1/2 cup rose water
1 1/2 tsp of apricot kernel oil, sweet almond oil, or olive oil
7-10 drops of essential oil

The original recipe used 7-10 drops of rose hip seed oil. I chose to do a blend of essential oils:

2 drops rose essential oil
2 drops jasmine essential oil
6 drops ylang ylang essential oil

To make the cleanser, simply mix the ingredients together, and pour the cleanser into a small pump bottle.

Adding the castile soap to the dispenser.

Although the cleanser is a bit more watery than what I'm used to, it does not require a lot to wash one's face. There are some suds from the castile soap, but not an excessive amount.

The finished soap before I put it on my face.

The scent is very mild. Even with the rose water and 10 drops of essential oils, there isn't a strong scent. I may double the drops of essential oils if it I can't smell the scent as much as I would like to tomorrow morning.

This was an easy cleanser to make and my face does feel very clean after using it. It will be nice to have a natural, homemade cleanser that's gentle on my skin.

Shower Organization

Over the past couple of days I've been trying to organize areas in the home that seem to be challenging to keep in order.

After looking on Pinterest, I found a pin that showed how to organize a bath/shower area. In that case, the purpose was to organize bath toys.

I wanted something that would separate bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and bath gels. The solution: place a shower curtain rod against the back wall and hang three baskets to keep the products separated.

I used natural color yarn to hang the baskets from the sides to the rod so that half the basket is behind the rod and half is in front. This provides a sense of balance so the baskets don't tip and drop all the items.

The Pinterest picture shows wire baskets flat against the wall which may prevent the baskets from moving which I'll try today. Perhaps that would give more stability to the baskets.

One thing to do with these type of baskets that have the solid base is to drill small holes in them so that water can drain out. If using wire baskets, this step would not have to be taken.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Good Life of Helen K. Nearing - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 14

This week I read The Good Life of Helen K. Nearing by Margaret O. Killinger for the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge. I was hoping to read more about Helen's life (as well as her husband, Scott's life) that focused on organic gardening, vegetarianism, pacifism, and hard work as primary components of their 'good life.'

The book ended up revealing more than what I truly needed to know about Helen and Scott's personal life; and some of their decisions that had a negative impact on one another. There were several sections in the book that honestly are not that essential to what I want to know about how they conducted their lives in terms of simple living, organic gardening, and a healthy diet.

Granted, they are part of Helen's life, yet Killinger's inclusion in the book made it awkward - at times - for me to read the information. It was too much information...and not the kind that I wanted to read.

At any rate, there were many things mentioned about how they chose to live their lives which is what did - and still - that I find interesting. Below are some of the points that stood out for me:

=> "They proposed an ethic of simple living based upon production rather than consumption, allowing nature rather than the market economy to set the terms for their choices."

=> Their primary vegan diet, often eaten with wooden chopsticks and out of wooden bowls, became central to their life together.

=> They "touted their organic diet, deeming processed foods such as bleached flour ,white sugar, and polished rice 'poisons' and eschewing 'habit-forming drugs' such as caffeine, cola nut extract, nicotine, and alcohol."

=> Sometimes they followed a mono-diet where they would only eat one item such as apples throughout the day. They also fasted regularly or drank a liquid, fruit juice diet in order to rest their digestive systems.

=> What I liked was reading the description of a typical meal when Helen traveled: "Oranges for breakfast. For lunch ripe olives, nut cheese, whole wheat bread, honey, and apples. Tonight I shall have some oranges and dates."

=> They practiced "wellness" based upon this vegetarian diet in combination with physical fitness and productive professional work.

=> "Nature and this rural aesthetic offered spiritual renewal, as well as home-based moral and social reform. The city was the antithesis of this idyllic world; nature was sacred...around which daily life could be ordered."

=> They avoided debt, bartered when they could, and sought cooperative ventures.

=> They had clearly-defined work schedules - four hours a day devoted to bread labor or basic work, four hours to professional interests, and four hours to responsibilities as citizens.

=> They used simple, second-hand tools, which Nearing meticulously maintained, and they avoided the use of domesticated animals.

=> They were extraordinarily austere and frugal. I liked their philosophy of believing that "a rural lie of voluntary simplicity promised not only self-sufficiency and a reduction of one's economic needs through a spiritual commitment to 'enoughness,' but also a way of life that would be environmentally sensitive and sustainable.

=> Helen kept her mind and spirit active by reading about a range of topics - from world politics to vegetarianism to UFOs.

=> She expressed her spiritual connection to the natural world through yoga, astrology, meditation, Ouija board sessions, and contemplation in their wooden yurts.

=> She believed that heart-shaped rocks had mystical powers. She enjoyed giving children wishing stones.

=> One of the things that I liked was that she published a book called Wise Words on the Good Life: An Anthology of Quotations in 1980. She compiled hundreds of quotations that she had collected. She organized them into chapters on country life, labor, gardening, simple living, solitude, health, building, and old age.

=> Her husband, Scott, said: "Do the thing you believe in. DO it with all your might. And keep at it no matter what. The life we have been living is so far away from the really worthwhile goals of life that we've got to stop fooling around and move toward a new way of living."

As I finished reading the book, I was left with a feeling of wanting to know more about their life in Maine as was briefly described in the book: "...cellar shelves teeming with jarred goods, an outdoor table for shared meals, hand plows, a lush herb garden, meticulous wood piles, and a sun-filled greenhouse."

As a friend of both Helen and Scott, Nancy Berkowitz said in an interview, "There's a whole thing about Helen and Scott. And there is a myth, there's a mythical Helen and Scott, and there's who they really were. And I think people have to figure that out themselves, what part of the myth they're going to take on and what they can read between the lies and see how it really was."

Ultimately it comes down to what Helen wanted she and Scott to be remembered as: "That they tried their best in the circumstances in which they were. They weren't perfect, but they tried to do their best." Do the best that you can [in the place where you are], and be kind."

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Composer Study - Stephen Foster

Stephen Collins Foster (July 4, 1826 – January 13, 1864), known as the "father of American music," was an American songwriter primarily known for his minstrel and parlor music.

Foster wrote over 200 songs; among his best-known are "Camptown Races," "Oh! Susanna," "Old Folks at Home,"  "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair," "My Old Kentucky Home," and "Beautiful Dreamer." Many of his songs remain popular more than 150 years after he wrote them.

Sophia and Olivia listened to six of Foster's songs by listening to two CDs from the library:
- Beautiful Days - The Songs of Stephen Foster. 
- American Dreamers - Songs of Stephen Foster. Thomas Hampson was the vocalist on this CD.

We also found a version of Oh! Susanna on YouTube since the one featured on Beautiful Days was too slow of a rendition of it. It didn't sound like the version we had heard before, so we found one that was more high-spirited and fun to listen to for that song.


Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair (4:17)

According to Wikipedia, "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair is a parlor song that was published by Firth, Pond & Co. of New York in 1854. Foster wrote the song with his wife Jane McDowell in mind.

According to Wikipedia, "Jeanie was a notorious beneficiary of the ASCAP boycott of 1941. During this period, most modern music could not be played by the major radio broadcasters due to a dispute over licensing fees. The broadcasters used public-domain songs during this period, and according to a 1941 article in Time magazine, "So often had BMI's Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair been played that she was widely reported to have turned grey."

Sophia thought - It seems like it would be a song that you would hear in an opera...or maybe something you'd hear at a fancy dinner. I probably wouldn't listen to this on a daily basis. It's too old-fashioned. I liked the music, but not the singing.

Olivia thought - It sounds kind of sad. [Someone starts singing:] That was startling and different. I kind of understood what he understood at some points. I liked the music...I just didn't like the singing.

Dancing on the River (4:25)

Sophia thought: I like this one because it's something you'd hear at a party that Laura Ingalls Wilder might have gone to. It sounds like something they would have danced to in Laura's time. [A new percussion instrument is playing:] Are those castanets? 

Olivia - I like this one. It sounds like something you'd hear at a very lively party out west. [A new percussion instrument is playing:] It sounds like a horse clopping around on a hard surface - like bricks - or a person is tap dancing.

Beautiful Dreamer (3:53)

This is a parlor song by Stephen Foster (1826–1864). It was published after Foster's death in March 1864 by Wm. A. Pond & Co. of New York. The first edition states on its title page that it is "the last song ever written by Stephen C. Foster. Composed but a few days prior to his death."

Sophia thought: It sounds like something you'd heard on a mid-summer nights dream. [A guy starts singing:] I don't like it!! I take what I said back. I think it's a good song but I could have done without the singing of that particular guy. I liked the lyrics about the "beautiful dreamer" part.

Olivia thought: The beginning of it before the man starting singing of relaxing music that a person would be playing while sitting on the deck or porch. I think I like it too, but without the singing. It was a relaxing song. 

Campton Races (2:40)

"Gwine to Run All Night, or De Camptown Races" (popularly known as "Camptown Races") is a minstrel song that was published by F. D. Benteen of Baltimore, Maryland, in February 1850.

In one of the most widely-familiar uses of "Camptown Races" in popular culture, the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoon character Foghorn J. Leghorn sings the "Dooh Dah" refrain repeatedly in most of the 26 cartoons the character appears in between 1946 and 1963. But while the character sings other parts of the song's melody, he does not sing any other lyrics.

Sophia thought:I like that one. It was better than the other ones that I've heard so far. It had a nice rhythm and I liked the singer's voice. 

Olivia thought: I like this song because it's something you'd hear on the radio. I liked the singer's voice and the instruments that they used.

Note: The girls liked this song so much they listened to it again. I think they also needed a "pick me up" song after listening to Swanee River.

Old Folks at Home (Swanee River) (3:38)

This is a minstrel song written by Stephen Foster in 1851. It is the official state song of Florida.

Sophia thought:I don't really like this song. It's slow. It just seems quiet and sluggish.

Olivia thought: I think Tia has sang this song before. I liked the music - it would be music that you'd listen to calm yourself down. It sounded like they used the piano a lot in this song.

Oh! Susanna (3:56)

"Oh! Susanna" is a minstrel song that was first published in 1848. It is among the most popular American songs ever written.

In 1846, Foster moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, and became a bookkeeper with his brother's steamship company. While in Cincinnati, Foster wrote "Oh! Susanna,"possibly for his men's social club.

The song blends a variety of musical traditions. The opening line mentions "a banjo on my knee," which refers to a musical instrument with African origins. The song takes its beat from the polka, which had just reached America from Europe.

The lyrics are basically nonsense, as characterized by lines such as "It rain'd all night the day I left, The weather it was dry, The sun so hot I froze to death..." and "I shut my eyes to hold my breath..." (second verse).

Sophia thought: [First version we listened to on CD:] They murdered this song. I don't like it.~~~[New version:] It was certainly interesting because he jumped up on a telegraph pole and might have been electrocuted in the version we listened to. I liked the bango - it was definitely country. 

Olivia thought: [First version we listened to on CD:] It's different. It's slow. I don't like this version of it. ~~~ [New version:] I like this version better. It's more lively. It's quicker. It had some strange lyrics. I liked the banjo music.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Sara Teasdale - Poetry/Poet Study

Sara Teasdale, who was born on August 8, 1884, in St. Louis, Missouri, had such poor health during her childhood that it was only at age 14 that she was well enough to begin school. She started at Mary Institute in 1898, but switched to Hosmer Hall in 1899, graduating in 1903.

Teasdale's first poem was published in a local newspaper, Reedy's Mirror, in 1907. Her first collection of poems, Sonnets to Duse and Other Poems, was published that same year.

Teasdale's second collection, Helen of Troy and Other Poems, was published in 1911.  Critics praised this collection of poems noting their romantic subject matter and lyrical mastery.

From 1911 to 1914, Teasdale was courted by several men, including the poet Vachel Lindsay who was truly in love with her but did not feel that he could provide enough money or stability to keep her satisfied. She chose to marry Ernst Filsinger, a longtime admirer of her poetry, on December 19, 1914.

Teasdale's third poetry collection, Rivers to the Sea, was published in 1915. In 1916 she and Filsinger moved to New York City, where they lived in an Upper West Side apartment on Central Park West.

In 1918 she won a Pulitzer Prize for her 1917 poetry collection Love Songs.

Teasdale died on January 29, 1933, when she was 48 years old.

Below are six poems that Sophia and Olivia listened to and shared what they thought about them.

Wishes (from Sonnets to Duse, 1907)

I wish for such a lot of things
That never will come true -
And yet I want them all so much
I think they might, don't you?

I want a little kitty-cat
That's soft and tame and sweet,
And every day I watch and hope
I'll find one in the street.

But nursie says, "Come, walk along,
"Don't stand and stare like that" -
I'm only looking hard and hard
To try to find my cat.

And then I want a blue balloon
That tries to fly away,
I thought if I wished hard enough
That it would come some day.

One time when I was in the park
I knew that it would be
Beside the big old clock at home
A-waiting there for me -

And soon as we got home again,
I hurried thro' the hall,
And looked beside the big old clock -
It wasn't there at all.

I think I'll never wish again -
But then, what shall I do?
The wishes are a lot of fun
Altho' they don't come true.

Sophia thought: It's a certainly interesting and strange. It seems like not a lot of the little girl's wishes are going to come true. I think she feels disappointed and sad, but she'll keep wishing because it's so much fun. The part that stands out for me the most was when she was looking for a kitty cat.

Olivia thought: It was okay. I think I liked the kitty part the most because it was kind of cute. I thought it was cute because she might end up getting a cat. She felt sad that the balloon wasn't by the big clock.


Snow Song (from Helen of Troy And Other Poems, 1911)

Fairy snow, fairy snow,
Blowing, blowing everywhere,
Would that I
Too, could fly
Lightly, lightly through the air.

Sophia thought:I liked this one a lot because of the way she starts it. It sounds like something like a child would say. When you're reading this I could imagine snowflakes against a dark blue sky with fairies sitting on them.

Olivia thought: I liked this one because it is kind of like when we have small blizzards here. The snowflakes are sometimes really big, and that reminds me of fairies.


Twilight (from Helen of Troy And Other Poems, 1911)

Dreamily over the roofs
The cold spring rain is falling,
Out in the lonely tree
A bird is calling, calling.

Slowly over the earth
The wings of night are falling;
My heart like the bird in the tree
Is calling, calling, calling.

Sophia thought:It sounded kind of melancholy because it had that kind of sadness to it...I don't know how to describe it. I liked the first half of the poem better than the second half because it sounds a bit more cheerful. 

Olivia thought: It reminds me of a really sad movie or if someone was killed really painfully. I liked the beginning - the first two lines - because it sounded like it was going okay. 


Grandfather's Love (from Helen of Troy And Other Poems, 1911)

They said he sent his love to me,
They wouldn't put it in my hand,
And when I asked them where it was
They said I couldn't understand.

I thought they must have hidden it,
I hunted for it all the day,
And when I told them so at night
They smiled and turned their heads away.

They say that love is something kind,
That I can never see or touch.
I wish he'd sent me something else,
I like his cough-drops twice as much.

Sophia thought: That's a funny one, especially the part about the cough drops. It seems like this girl needs a bit more encouragement about finding the gift that her grandfather sent. I think it could have been a little bit longer because I would have liked to know if she found the love or gift...or understood it.

Olivia thought: I think it's a good poem. I think it's my favorite one because it's funny. I don't think the person really understands about love or what's going on. I know that because she is looking for love, but she doesn't know that she already has it. 


April (from Rivers to the Sea, 1915)

The roofs are shining from the rain,
The sparrows twitter as they fly,
And with a windy April grace
The little clouds go by.

Yet the back yards are bare and brown
With only one unchanging tree-
I could not be so sure of Spring
Save that it sings in me.

Sophia thought: I liked the first line or two because it's cheerful. But, I don't really see how it sounds like April. It sounds like it's more like March. I think I would have liked it if it were a paragraph or two longer. It seemed a little short for what she wanted to say. 

Olivia thought: It sounds like the poem is set in August or September because it sounds really dreary - the clouds going by and the rain. The unchanging tree sounds like a pine tree. I didn't picture anything when I heard the poem.


May Night (from Rivers to the Sea, 1915)

The spring is fresh and fearless
And every leaf is new,
The world is brimmed with moonlight,
The lilac brimmed with dew.

Here in the moving shadows
I catch my breath and sing
My heart is fresh and fearless
And over-brimmed with spring.

Sophia thought: I like how this poem rhymes and how the grass is new. Although this year I'm hoping that all the snow is gone. Look outside: it's cold and there's a lot of snow still on the ground. I felt like spring should be here...which it is not. 

Olivia thought: It kind of made me think of a really grassy place and nothing would change. Everything would stay the same. I like this one because it reminds me of one of the Easters that we had here, and there wasn't snow. I think the moonlight part was nice.