Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Vow for Always - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 43

For the 43rd week in the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge, I read A Vow for Always by Wanda Brunstetter. Earlier in the year, I read A Revelation in Autumn – the fifth book in a six-book series called The Discovery – A Lancaster Count Saga.

The fifth book left the reader wondering if Meredith – a young widow (or so we think) – will marry Jonah, a young Amish man who has been courting her after Meredith’s husband passed away unexpectedly.

Since I did not read books 1-4 in the series, I found out that Luke was presumed dead after the bus he was supposed to be on crashed and the passengers were burned beyond recognition.

In reality, what happened was the Luke was severely attacked at the bus station and another man stole his wallet, identification, and clothing. He was found and was recovering in hospital, and then taken to further recover at one of the nurse’s homes.

Gradually his memory came back to him after he suffered from amnesia. He remembered his name (which up until the end of book 5 was “Eddie” since he was found without any identification on him.

The challenge was that while Luke was slowly regaining his memory, Meredith and Jonah were making wedding plans. Up until almost the end of the book, the reader is left wondering if Luke will be able to find his way home to Meredith before she meets Jonah. And, if it gets to that point, what will happen? What will be Meredith’s reaction…not to mention his family’s reaction?

Like the fifth book in the series, this one was equally as easy to read. It was suspenseful and one that I didn’t want to put down until I reached the conclusion of the book.

I have ordered other books by this writer now since I like her style of writing and that it gives a glimpse into the world of the Amish.

Hildegard von Bingen - Composer Study

The first composer that we focused on for the 2014-15 homeschool year was Hildegard von Bingen who was also known as Saint Hildegard. She was a German writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath.

A polymath is a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas; and draws on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems. The term is often used to describe great thinkers of the Renaissance and Enlightenment, each of whom excelled at several fields in science and the arts, including: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Galileo Galilei, Benjamin Franklin, Nicolaus Copernicus, Francis Bacon, and Michael Servetus.

Hildegard wrote theological, botanical and medicinal texts, as well as letters, liturgical songs, and poems. She also created and supervised miniature illuminations and mandalas.

Cultivating the Cosmic Tree

At a time when few women wrote, Hildegard produced major works of visionary and theology writings. When few women were respected, she was consulted by and advised bishops, popes, and kings.

Hildegard used the curative powers of natural objects for healing; and wrote treatises about natural history and the medicinal uses of plants, animals, trees, and stones. She founded a convent where her musical plays were performed.

Hildegard was the tenth child born to a noble family. As was customary with the tenth child, which the family could not count on feeding, and who could be considered a tithe, she was dedicated at birth to the Church. As a young girl, she started to have visions of luminous objects at the age of three. She realized that she was unique in this ability and hid this gift for many years.

At age eight her family sent Hildegard to an anchoress (a woman who chooses to withdraw from the world to live a solitary life of prayer) named Jutta to receive a religious education. Hildegard’s education was very rudimentary, and she never escaped feelings of inadequacy over her lack of schooling.

During the years with Jutta, Hildegard confided of her visions only to Jutta and a monk named Volmar, who was to become her lifelong secretary.

Through her music, she gave certain instruments a special function and meaning:
- Tambourine – inspires discipline. The skin of the tambourine is spread tightly over the frame, like that of a fasting body.
Flute – with its intimate sound, it reminded her of the breath of the Spirit.
Trumpet – clear, strong, wakeful, like the voice of the prophets.
Strings – correspond to the earthly condition of the soul as it struggles back to the light. The sounds of the strings stir up the emotions of one's heart and lead listeners to repentance.
Harp – instrument of heavenly blessedness. It brings back thoughts of one's holy origins and helps listeners remember who they are and who they are called to be.
Psaltery – a plucked instrument with strings stretched over a soundboard and played by one or two plectra. It represented the unity of heaven and earth since it was played both on the top and bottom strings.
Organ – as an instrument capable of playing harmonies, it helps create community.

After a prolific composing and writing life, Hildegard died on September 17, 1179, at the age of 81.

Das Weltall.
Manuscript illumination from Scivias (Know the Ways).

Below are the pieces that Sophia and Olivia listened to and what their thoughts were as they listened to each one.

Voice of the Living Light (1:16:57 - though we didn't listen to the entire piece)

Sophia thought: Is this opera? (No.) There are parts that I really like,  but then it goes quiet and I don't like that as much. It reminds me of the Titanic - it has kind of a lilting tone to it. You would hear it in a church.

Olivia thought: It sounds like something I've heard on a movie that Sophia was watching yesterday (Lord of the Rings). It's not bad. It makes me feel sad, thoughtful.

Spiritus Sanctus - (7:56)

Sophia thought: This sounds the same as the other one. The mood seemed slightly happier and not as longing.

Olivia thought: It sounds the same as the other one, except slightly louder. It seems like happier music than the first one (Voice of the Living Light). The mood for the song was mellow. I wouldn't mind listening to the song again.

From the CD entitled Illumination: Hildegard von Bingen: The Fire of the Spirit. 

Kyrie (3:59)

This piece was done with keyboards, synthesizers, low whistles, cello, and vocals.

Sophia thought: They sing this at church sometimes. I like this song. I would like to listen to this while doing homework. Could you put this on my iPod?

Olivia thought: I like this one. I could listen to this while doing something to...not something I need to focus on, though.

The Fire of the Spirit (4:44)

This piece is done with keyboards, synthesizers, cello, low whistles, acoustic drums, djembe, and Native American tree, and vocals.

Sophia thought: It reminds me of a little bit of a Native American song. Or a song from Narnia - like the song that Tumnus was going to kidnap Lucy.

Olivia thought: It sounds like a song that you'd hear around a fire. Also, it sounds like music from Narnia - from different parts of the movie - like when Lucy was at Tumnus' house and he was playing his instruments.

Tree of Wonders (5:05)

This song also has keyboards, synthesizers, low whistles, and vocals. It also has breath effects.

Sophia thought: The beginning - like 5 seconds - sounded like it was from the "12 Dancing Princesses." The middle section sounds like music from "The Titanic."

Olivia thought: The middle part sounded like "The Secret Garden" - when Mary Lennox was still in India.

Beata Nobis Gaudia (2:47)

As we scrolled through the songs on the CD The Origin of Fire - Music and Visions of Hildegard Von Bingen, both Sophia and Olivia commented that the songs sounded the same.  All the songs ae sung by four women who are part of the group Anonymous 4. 

We listened to the 17th track on the CD and they laughed when it started. "It sounds like how the other ones started."

Sophia thought: It's kind of the same as the other ones that are on this CD. It's something I would listen to; but if I listened to this entire CD it wouldn't be a song I could pick out from the other ones.

Olivia thought: It sounds like the same thing for the entire song. I like it, but it's not as good as the ones on the other CD (Illumination).

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Unit - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 42

During the 42nd week of the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge, I realized that I enjoy reading dystopian stories. This past week I went to the library and looked on the shelves in the fiction area. After realizing that there aren't a lot of books that begin with "U" (I don't count words like "a", "an", and "the"), I was happy to find The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist.

The Unit, originally written in Swedish in 2006, was supported by a grant from the Swedish Arts Council. It is a thought-provoking book about extreme social engineering that is not all that far-fetched from reality. Perhaps that is why it is such an unsettling premise - that it bears a familiarity to some attitudes and practices that are common in contemporary society.

The story revolves around Dorrit Weger who, upon reaching 50 years old and without children, is checked into the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material. Although she has know that because she does not have children and isn't employed in a progressive industry that she is "dispensable" (along with men who are over 60 years old and without children and non-progressive jobs) and must transition to the unit, it doesn't make the change any easier.

It reminded me of people who go into assisted living or a nursing home - leaving behind a home, pets, much of their belongings, and a connection to the "real world" - whether it be with their spouse/family and/or connection with others via computers. 

As Dorrit explained, "I didn't want to be alone...I didn't want to [think] about the fact that I would never again experience the feeling that flooded through me that morning in March each year when I opened my door and saw the first crocus of the year in bloom on my lawn. Or the first scilla or the first hepatica or the first scented violet. Or when I saw the cranes, trumpeting as they flew over in wide skeins on their way north to Lake Hornborga.

"Above all I didn't want to think about Jock (her dog), about the fact that we would never again run together in the forest or by the sea. Or take our walk along the tractor route to Ellstrom's farm to buy fresh eggs and vegetables for me a pig's heart for him."

Interestingly, Dorrit doesn't so much miss her friends and colleagues (both which were limited), but rather her dog who provided the love and companionship that she enjoyed. It  bothers her that she couldn't fully explain to her dog what was happening. 

As she said, "Nils (her casual romantic partner) could at least explain to me why he couldn't be with me properly and make me a needed person, and I could understand that. But how will Jock...ever be able to understand why I drove away without him that day? How will he ever be able to understand why I never came back?"

She said that people who don't have animals don't understand that you can miss them so much it can hurt. Dorrit said, "The relationship with an animal is so much more physical than a relationship with another person. You don't get to know a dog by asking how he's feeling or what he's thinking, but by observing him and getting to know his body language. And all the important things you want to say to him you have to show through actions, attitude, gestures, and sound."

So, once people leave behind their lives and enter the Unit, they are sequestered for their final years. They are expected to participate in psychological and drug testings, donate parts of their bodies that their lives are not totally dependent upon (e.g., kidney, lung), and then ultimately make their "final donation" (donate their body so that various parts can help those in "the community" who have children and jobs in progressive industries be healthy and functional. What body parts aren't used are stored until they are needed.

Despite the ruthlessness of the practices of the Unit, the residents are connected with and support one another. There is a level of compassion and love that many have never felt in their day-to-day lives in the Community because they felt isolated and different based on their life choices.

The Unit has many attractive features to it: state-of-the-art recreation facilities including a swimming pool, indoor track, and sauna; movie theater; live theater for plays and concerts; fine dining options (that are free for all residents); fine clothing (also free for residents); and indoors gardens (since there are no windows and views of the outside world).

The gardens - a Winter Garden and one inspired by Monet's paintings - are impeccably tended so that flowers are always in bloom, the fragrance is pleasing (a mixture of cypress, rose, jasmine, lavender, and eucalyptus), and looking at them is enjoyable and relaxing. 

The entire facility is designed to provide comfort to the residents (despite the surgeries and experiments) while they are there. Invariably, deep friendships and relationships form. 

Dorrit falls in love with Johannes who has been a resident at the Unit for over three years. Dorrit ends up pregnant, which she believes may be the ticket for her and Johannes to leave the Unit and begin a life in the Community as a couple. She dreams - even before she finds out she is pregnant - of a home with a fenced-in yard, her dog, and walking on the beach together with Johannes.

Ultimately, this doesn't happen for a variety of reasons - all of which I found to be particularly sad. Even Dorrit's final choice - when presented with freedom - came as a surprise. Yet, in some respects, perhaps it was a wise choice when it came to the needs of the child she ultimately birthed.

At the Unit, none of the residents are there for the long-term. In fact, about four years is about the length of time that a resident would stay in the Unit.  At that time (or before, if requested), they are provided a form that they complete that indicates when they want to make their final donation. In essence, it's physical-assisted suicide of a healthy person whose body is harvested to help others.

Interestingly, despite the closeness that these residents feel towards one another, the one thing they don't share is the date of their final destination. Other residents often find out about a friend or partner's final destination unexpectedly: a visit to a room only to find staff throwing out the person's possessions in trash bags or being told that the person to whom they developed a loving relationship with was in the process of making their final donation. There's no chance to say goodbye. The person simply gone. For me, this was particularly disturbing. 

The Unit is a well-written and translated book; and is one that I finished in less than two days. Once I started reading, I didn't want to put it down. It was an engaging story and one that I would highly recommend. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Until I Say Good-Bye - My Year of Living With Joy - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 41

For the 41st week of the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge, I read Until I Say Good-Bye - My Year of Living with Joy by Susan Spencer-Wendel. This is the second book about ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) that I'm so thankful that I've read. (The other was Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom.)

In Until I Say Good-Bye, Susan documents her last year of life after being diagnosed with ALS in June 2011. She was 44 years old when she was diagnosed, and had a husband and three young children. She was an journalist, who ended up taking a leave of absence and then quitting her job so she could focus her energy on spending her remaining time with her family and friends.

She was passionate about traveling, and made that the central part of her last year. She selected family members and friends to go on various trips around the world - some destinations were of personal significance to Susan while others were choices of the traveling companions.

What was especially amazing about this book is that Susan wrote it by typing letter by letter on her iPhone using only her right thumb, her last finger still working. It reminded me of a book that I read earlier this year, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, about a man in his 40s who had a stroke which ultimately resulted in locked-in syndrome. He was completely paralyzed with the exception of his left eye. He wrote his book by blinking to select special letters one by one.

At any rate, Until I Say Good-Bye is such an inspiring story of how to live one's life fully, with grace, and intention. Although it is difficult to read the impact that ALS had on Susan, she faces each progressive decline with fortitude and a positive attitude. Her focus was more on living well than focusing on what she is losing.

As she said, for example, when she realized she could no longer swim: "It's gone...[There is] nothing I can do [about it].  Slipped away like a charm off a necklace. So how shall I handle it? Pine away for something I can no longer do? Something I adored? No. For that is the path to the loony bin. To want something you can never have. I am the master of my mind. I have a choice about how to feel."

She shared later in the book a quote from Lao Tzu: "Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you."

She said her intention for writing the book was to write "...not about illness and despair, but [to be] a record of my final wonderful year. A gift to my children so they would understand who I was and learn the way to live after tragedy. With joy. And without fear."

What I liked about Susan's attitude is that she was focused on creating a garden of memories for each child. She wrote about her youngest son, who has Asperger's, what he remembered about the trip they took together. When he was able to recall memories from the trip, she said, "Mission accomplished....Wesley's garden is already growing."

Some of her reflections are about issues she has with her parents who adopted her as a baby. Her adoptive mother's treatment and expectations of her were, at times, painful to read. Even her adoptive father's lack of acknowledgment of ALS and her journey were surprising. Yet, her father was supportive of her in many other ways - especially in helping modify her home to make it more visually appealing to her as well as functional to meet her needs as the disease progressed.

She said of her father: "I know he hurts, I have heard him say, when he thought I couldn't hear, 'I don't cry, because if I start, I will never stop.' I thought Dad couldn't say those words to me. But how his actions speak volumes. How all our actions speak more than we can know."

On their holiday card for 2011, Susan and her husband, John, included a quote from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran:

Then a woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.
And he answered:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.

When I looked up this quote, there is actually a bit more to the passage that seems fitting when I think of loss and grieving. It is something that resonated with me as I thought of the loss of my dad in January 2012:

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

It was interesting to read about how each of the children reacted to Susan's diagnosis. She seemed surprised at times that they didn't talk with her about ALS. Yet, as a psychologist advised her and John, it was best to not talk about the disease with their children. "Children ask, he told us, when they are ready."

That being said, what seemed to be more important to her was not conversations about ALS with her children, but her strength of attitude. As Susan said, "The stronger I am, the stronger my children will be."

One of the parts of the book that was particularly difficult to read were the chapters about the trip that Susan took with her oldest daughter to New York. Among the many things they did, they went to see Wicked on Broadway. One of the songs in the show is called "For Good." The witches sing good-bye to one another, accompanied by harp and horn.

Of course, when I read this, I immediately thought of Sophia as my oldest daughter who plays the harp. The book notes some of the lyrics that were powerful for me to read. So, I found the entire song lyrics online and thought that the parts below were the ones that I wanted to remember as they relate to both Sophia and Olivia:

I've heard it said,
That people come into our lives
For a reason
Bringing something we must learn.

And we are lead to those
Who help us most to grow if we let them.
And we help them in return.

Well, I don't know if I believe that's true
But I know I'm who I am today
Because I knew you.

It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime.

So, let me say before we part:
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you.

You'll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart.

And now whatever way our stories end
I know you'll have rewritten mine
By being my [daughter].

Because I knew you
I have been changed...
For good.

Near the conclusion of the book, Susan writes about how the past year unfolded. She said that "events rarely happen as anticipated." None of things she planned turned out as she envisioned they would. "But [they] were perfect memories, nonetheless. Because I did not have expectations....Accept the life that comes. Work and strive, but accept. Don't force the world to be the one you dream. The reality is better."

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Pineapple Salsa

This year Sophia competed at the Minnesota State Fair in food preservation for her 4-H project on dehydrating fruit. During her team judging, one of the boys canned pineapple salsa. We both thought it would be something we'd like to try.

So, I found a recipe on Canning Homemade! for Pineapple Salsa. There are no tomatoes in this salsa; rather, the pineapple takes the place of them.

One of the jars of pineapple salsa that I made.

I used some hot peppers that I bought at the Minneapolis Farmers Market...and, let me tell you, I have no idea what kind they were, but they were very hot! This salsa is a combination of so many wonderful flavors - both sweet and spicy. For a less spicy salsa, a more milder pepper could be used.

he flavor is a medium heat salsa but you can substitute habaneros for jalapenos or any of the other hotter peppers. Remember you can change them out but don't add more in volume than the original recipe or you will throw off the pH which keeps it shelf safe.

Pineapple Salsa

6 cups diced pineapple (you can use canned and/or frozen but, if you use the latter, make sure to thaw it)
1 1/4 cups red onion
4 jalapenos peppers, finely diced (or, for a spicier salsa, use seranos or habernos)
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
1/2 cup loosely packed, finely-chopped cilantro
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
2 cloves minced garlic
1 teaspoon cumin (optional)
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I did not use this)


Prepare 6 half pint jars or 3 pints in hot water. Using knife cut pineapple and cut into small dice. Also prepare red onion, jalapenos, and bell pepper so that all of the vegetables and fruit are ready to go into the pot.

In a stainless steel pot, combine pineapple and the rest of the ingredients and cook on medium till the salsa comes to a simmer for 10 to 15 minutes or until the ingredients are well incorporated and heated through. Remove from heat.

Ladle salsa into hot, sterilized half pint canning jars, leaving 1/2" headspace. Remove air bubbles and refill if necessary. Wipe rims, and add hot lids and rings.

Place the jars in the water bath making sure that the water covers each of the jars by 1 to 2 inches. Add hot water to the canner if it doesn't measure up. Cover the pot and turn up the heat under the canner and wait for the water to start boiling. Once the water has come to a boil start your timer for 15 minutes.

When the processing time is done, turn off the heat and remove the cover and let the jars sit for another few minutes. Remove the jars and place them back on the dishtowel in a place that they will sit overnight to cool. Do not touch or move them till the next morning.

The batch of salsa I made using this recipe made 7 half-pint jars.

Listen for a "pinging" or "popping" noise. That is the glass cooling and the reaction of the lids being sucked into the jar for proper sealing. Some jars may take overnight to seal. Check your lids and reprocess any jars that did not seal or simply put the cans in the refrigerator and use within a week or so (if it lasts that long!).

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Black Bean Tacos with Avocado Cilantro Sauce

I've been wanting to make this recipe for some time after seeing the pin on Pinterest for it. The pin led to The Garden Grazer which featured this vegan, gluten-free recipe back in May.

Although the recipe says that it makes enough for about 8 tacos, we found that we were able to make many more than 8 tacos and/or nachos from the filling and sauce. This was an easy recipe to make and very tasty! It is one that we will definitely be enjoying again.

To make Black Bean Tacos with Avocado Cilantro Sauce, you'll need:

2 (15 oz.) cans black beans
1 c. salsa (purchased or homemade)
1 tsp. cumin
Corn tortillas
Toppings of your choice: lettuce, tomato, onion, roasted red peppers, corn, avocado, cilantro, etc.

For the sauce, you'll need:

1/2 ripe avocado
3/4 cup cilantro, stems removed
Juice from 1 lime
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. agave/honey
1/8 tsp. salt

To make the tacos, start with the avocado sauce: In a food processor or blender, add all sauce ingredients and blend. Add some water to thin (if necessary) and modify seasonings to taste. Set the sauce aside, or refrigerate if making ahead of time.

Now for the filling: In a pan over medium heat, add black beans (rinsed and drained), salsa, and cumin. Heat for about 5 minutes stirring occasionally, until heated through. (Optional: mash beans after heating for a creamier filling. I didn't do this.)

While the beans are heating, chop and prepare your toppings. Warm the tortillas if desired.

To assemble the tacos: Spoon the black bean mixture in the center of the tortillas, drizzle a small amount of avocado sauce over the top, and add the toppings.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Strawberry Watermelon Mint Infused Water

Earlier this month I made Strawberry Watermelon Mint Infused Water. The idea came from a pin on Pinterest that led to Positive Med.

The recipe is simple - it only needs five items:

10 large strawberries
½ cup of sliced watermelon
¼ cup of mint leaves
6 cups of water

The directions for making the infused water are even easier:

Fill the bottom of a pitcher with the ice cubes and top it with strawberries, watermelon and mint leaves. Fill the rest of the way with filtered water and let it cool.

Apparently the idea for the recipe came from a recipe on Recipes Remembered for Strawberry Mint Infused Water

Basically you start with four ingredients:

8-10 large strawberries
1/4 cup mint leaves
2 cups ice
6 cups filtered water

To make the Strawberry Mint Infused Water, simply clean and hull the strawberries, and cut into halves or quarters (depending on personal preference and the size of the strawberries).

Fill the bottom of a pitcher with the ice cubes. Top with strawberries and mint leaves. Fill the rest of the way with the filtered water.

Place the pitcher in the refrigerator for at least an hour for the flavors to infuse.

Note: as you drink the infused water, you keep adding more filtered water. The ice water makes the fruit last for a few days. Beyond that, the fruit gets rather soggy and is not pleasantly edible. This is particularly true with the watermelon which tasted water-logged and flavorless. The water, on the other hand, was nicely flavored.

Timothy of the Cay - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 40

When I was in sixth grade I remember reading The Cay by Theodore Taylor. The book captivated me at the time and it was one that stood out from all the books I read.

The Cay is a short, but powerful, book. It was written in 1969, and dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It shows the reality of racism and how - especially prior to and in the early part of the 20th century - not all people were treated with respect and valued for who they were.

In that book, a youth's blindness (due to an accident after the boat he was on was torpedoed) symbolically represented how Taylor would like us to see all people. It was Taylor’s intention to show through Timothy (the older African-American gentleman) that the value of a person is not found in the color of their skin, but who they are as a human being. Eventually Philip (the youth) does overcome the prejudice his mother had instilled in him.

So, for the 40th week of the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge, I was interested in reading Timothy of the Cay which is a prequel-sequel to The Cay. The 27-chapter book alternates (for the most part) between Timothy's life prior to arriving on The Cay and Philip's life after being rescued from The Cay. The theme of this story is making dreams a reality.

Timothy's life revolved around his life in "Back O' All," the poorest section of the squatter's village Charlotte Amalie, on the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Thomas. He was abandoned as a baby and raised by Hannah Gumbs, a former coal carrier turned washer-woman.

As a boy, he dreamed of being a captain of his own schooner, which he meant to name after the woman he called "Tante Hannah." Even though she was not Timothy's biological aunt, Timothy still referred to her as this.

Hanna Gumbs died during Timothy's first four years at sea.Timothy worked long and hard enough to be able to afford a schooner. He gained much knowledge of the sea to be able, in his last months, to help Phillip Enright, Jr. survive on a cay in El Boca de Diablo, "the Devil's Mouth."

After the captain of the Hettie Redd died, Timothy was asked to bring his body back for burial. As the temporary captain of the ship, he reluctantly agreed, suspecting that a violent storm might strike. One did, and sank the Hettie Redd all all its crew and passengers - except him. He felt guilty for the rest of his life, and often wished he too had drowned in the storm.

When he was 70 years of age, Timothy signed aboard the S.S. Hato, the Dutch-registered freighter that, according to The Cay, was sunk in April 1942, as an A.B., an able-bodied seaman, in response to a call for volunteers placed early in 1942.

When the S.S. Hato picked up Phillip Enright and his mother in Curaçao, of what were then the Netherlands Antilles, they were fleeing to their native Virginia. Instead the S.S. Hato was torpedoed. As it sank, Phillip was struck on the back of the head by a piece of loose timber just as he was being thrown aboard a raft, which blinded him two days later.

In Timothy of the Cay, the focus of Philip's story centers on life after being rescued from The Cay in El Boca de Diablo. Phillip was reunited with his parents and they explored the possibility of having a high-risk surgery to restore his vision.

His mother was very concerned about the surgery since there was a risk of death, paralysis, and/or no change in vision. The success rate had been mixed. Philip's father, however, felt that Philip should be given the opportunity to make his own decision about whether to undergo the surgery. He had, after all, survived on the island both with Timothy and then on his own.

Philip decided to move forward with the surgery, and the operation was a success, restoring most of Phillip's vision, though he would need glasses from that day forward.

He and his father made plans to visit The Cay where he and Timothy had survived for just over three months, until Timothy had been killed in a hurricane that had struck The Cay when flying debris had severely lacerated him. Timothy had given his life to protect Phillip's, using his body to shield Phillip from the debris. Phillip had survived alone for almost two months afterwards, thanks to Timothy's having prepared him for just that.

The end of the book focuses on the voyage that Philip and his father took to The Cay. It looked at the closure Philip needed after the experience as well as to see the place that he and Timothy shared. In that trip, he realized how wise Timothy was - far beyond what he had even known when Timothy was alive.

Although I preferred The Cay to Timothy of the Cay, the latter book was worthwhile to read to better understand who Timothy was and what happened to Philip after being rescued. It would be interesting to go back now and read The Cay over again with this information and background in mind.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Crescent Bacon Breakfast Ring

One of the recipes that came across my Facebook page a while back was for a Crescent Bacon Breakfast Ring. All of the ingredients were ones that Sophia, Olivia, and I enjoy, and it looked easy enough to make.

After making this once, we knew we would have to make it again. Indeed, a month later we were enjoying another Crescent Bacon Breakfast Ring. This recipe is definitely a keeper!

1 can Pillsbury Crescents (8 in a can)
8 slices of cooked bacon
½ red bell pepper, chopped
½ green bell pepper, chopped
5 eggs
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
salt and pepper to taste
1 egg for egg wash (optional)


Preheat oven to 375 F degrees.

In a bowl beat the eggs and add then add chopped peppers. Stir. Season with salt and pepper. Next, cook the eggs in a skillet so that they're scrambled.

Lay out the crescent dough on parchment pepper so that it looks like a star.

On each crescent lay a piece of bacon. Add half of the cheese around the ring followed by the scrambled eggs. Top with the remainder of the cheese.

Fold the crescents over. To give the pastry a golden color, brush the dough with an egg wash.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the crescents are cooked and golden brown.

Milkweed and Monarch Butterflies - Outdoor Hour Challenge

We have been interested in and studying monarch butterflies now for many years. Since the time that Sophia and Olivia were very young girls we have been raising and releasing monarchs as well as spreading milkweed seeds around our farm each fall.

Floating Milkweed
Sophia spreading milkweed seeds on September 29, 2007

Olivia Tossing Milkweed Seeds
Olivia spreading milkweed seeds on September 28, 2007

That being said, we have noticed a overall decline in the number of monarchs in Minnesota over the years. One year, in fact, we literally spotted none all summer. That was highly unusual.

As we have spread more milkweed seeds annually, there does seem to be more monarchs that stay around our backyard - particularly a garden/overgrown area that has quite a bit of milkweed.

In the summer, the milkweed has such pretty and fragrant pink flowers. It's one of my favorite scents of the summer. Bees love to visit the flowers as do the monarch butterflies.

This year I found two caterpillars - one was the smallest one I've ever found and the other was about 1 5/8" long (almost a fully-grown caterpillar [they caterpillars grow to be about two inches long]). Both were found on the milkweed plants that we have in the backyard.

Something new we learned this year is that there are over 100 different types of milkweed plants in North America.

After we fed the caterpillars milkweed leaves daily, they eventually crawled to the top of the container and turned into chrysalises. The process goes very quickly - about ten minutes.

Chrysalis in progress
The caterpillar is almost done making the chrysalis.
September 1, 2007.

We are always amazed at the delicacy and beauty - with the little ring of gold "beads" around the top and bottom of the chrysalises.

The gold was more vivid in real life than in the picture.
September 1, 2014.
The gold beads are clearly visible throughout the entire chrysalis stage.

Almost Ready to Hatch!
The gold beads can be more clearly seen here.
The butterfly is almost ready to hatch.
September 17, 2007.

Monarch in Chrysallis
The chrysalis is in the process of opening.
Some of the gold beads are still visible.
August 22, 2008.
While the caterpillars were transforming themselves into butterflies, the milkweed outdoors was going through a transformation process as well.
When we went out on a nature walk on September 5th, the milkweed pods were still rather hard and the seeds tightly packed. They were not ready to burst out and separate from one another as they found a new location to begin growing.
Sophia holding a milkweed pod on September 5, 2014.

The pods were green and hard. If you squeeze them, a sticky milk substance would come out. That's the indicator - at least to us - that the milkweed isn't ready to release its seeds.

We found out in the Handbook of Nature Study that the white juice "is a kind of rubber." The book suggests letting some of it dry on the back of your hand to see that it is "quite elastic and possessed of all the qualities of crude rubber."

The milk comes from the dark green ring encircling the stem cavity. It is not something that animals will consume for it has a rather bitter taste. The juice actually has a useful purpose, though, according to the Handbook of Nature Study: it helps heal the stem if it is somehow broken or gashed.

Some other facts we found out about milkweed include:

=> Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed plants; hence monarch biology is tied closely to milkweed biology. They utilize most of the over 100 North American species in the milkweed family, the only group of plants that provide food for developing larvae.

Monarch Egg - Maybe
Monarch egg - found on June 10, 2011.

=> Monarchs complete almost all of their growth during the larval stage. These insect “eating machines” take few breaks from eating milkweed leaves even to rest.

=> How many eggs each female butterfly lays during her life on milkweed leaves is hard tell. In the wild it is probably 300 to 400. Captive butterflies average about 700 eggs per female over 2-5 weeks of egg laying.

=> Monarch eggs and larvae have a slim chance of reaching adulthood; several previous studies document mortality rates of over 90% during the egg and larval stages. So, even though the milkweed leaves "hide" the egg and larvae, it doesn't guarantee reaching adulthood.

=> Abiotic (nonliving) factors that affect the survival of monarchs include environmental conditions such as adverse weather and pesticides. Biotic (living) factors that affect the survival of monarchs include natural enemies, and interactions with their milkweed hosts. Many monarchs in natural populations are killed by invertebrate predators that eat the monarchs themselves, or by parasitoids whose larvae developing and eventually kill the monarch larvae.

=> Monarchs have an effective chemical defense against many predators. They sequester cardenolides (also called cardiac glycosides) present in the milkweed. These compounds are poisonous to most vertebrates; hence monarchs face limited predation from fogs, lizards, mice, birds, and other animals with backbones.

Wood Frog the Girls Captured
Wood frog in our backyard.
=> Humans often change the environment in ways that may kill monarchs. The most important source of human-caused mortality is loss of habitat, especially the destruction of milkweed and nectar sources. Some people consider milkweed a noxious weed and often destroy it. In addition, herbicides used to kill plants in agricultural fields, near roadsides, and in gardens may harm milkweed and nectar sources and may also kill monarchs directly.

There are a few milkweed plants in the ditches around our farm.
This lack of milkweed makes it difficult for monarchs.
September 25, 2014.

=> The local abundance and distribution of milkweed influence potential reproduction. When milkweed is rare and scattered, few plants are found by searching females, and full egg potential may not be realized.

=> The average birth to death distance of a non-migrating female is about 6.84 to 9.94 miles, depending on behavior between milkweed patches on inter-patch space. This is the average spatial scale at which environmental processes may influence the abundance of monarchs.

=> As milkweed becomes less abundant and more widely scattered, we would expect monarch abundance to decline.

September 5, 2014.
So, back to our direct experience with the caterpillars and butterflies now:
Five days after we were out exploring the milkweed, we were thrilled to see that the first caterpillar had fully transformed itself into a butterfly. She hatched in the morning and we let her dry out her wings and get stronger throughout the day before releasing her.
That afternoon (September 10, 2014) we released the first monarch of the summer. This was the larger caterpillar that we found in August.
Sophia took the container outside and got the butterfly to walk onto her finger.

The butterfly seemed quite content to rest on Sophia's finger while the girls observed her.

They looked at the butterfly from different angles to get a better look at the markings on her wings and her body. According to the Handbook of Nature Study:

=> There are white dots set, two pairs in two rows, between each two veins in the black margin of the wings; and the fringe at the edge of the wings shows corresponding white markings.

=> The monarch is an insect because it has six legs; but in this butterfly the front legs are so small that they scarcely look like legs.

=> The antennae are about two-thirds as long as the body and each ends in a long knob.

=> The male monarch has a black spot upon one of the veins of the hind wing. This is a perfume pocket and is filled with what are called scent scales. The lady monarch is attracted by this odor.

=> The viceroy looks like the monarch, but there is a black band on the wings which differentiates it from the monarch.

It was as if she could have stayed there all day. She was in no hurry to leave.

Finally, the girls transferred the butterfly to my finger and I walked with her to the garden.

Olivia and I found a spot to place her. I put her onto Olivia's sleeve-covered hand. She doesn't like the feel of the butterfly's feet walking on her skin.

No matter how much we moved, the butterfly just didn't want to go.

Finally, Olivia found a milkweed plant to do the transfer.

The butterfly seemed to look up at us and wonder why we were putting her outside. (It was a bit colder outside than inside that day.)

She opened her wings a few times.

And then found a nice place to settle herself. She seemed to prefer being on the underside of a milkweed leaf.

Five days later - on September 15th - the second butterfly emerged from her chrysalis. She clung to it for quite some time.

In the afternoon - after her wings dried out and were much stronger - we brought the container outside. This time Olivia wanted to put her on a purple flower we have growing in the backyard.

Before doing that, she put the butterfly on her sleeve-covered hand.

Then she carefully showed it the flower and transferred it to the plant.

The butterfly seemed to enjoy the flower.

She explored different ones and seemed very happy with her new (temporary) home.

On the 25th of September, we went outside to take a look at how the milkweed is doing. We have milkweed growing all over the farm since we've spread the seeds each fall.

Interestingly, the milkweed that was growing on the north part of the property in the shady areas still seemed a bit underdeveloped. There was the sticky white "milk" that came out of the pod at the end and on the sides in various spots.

The seeds - although not as tightly packed as a few weeks ago (on September 5th) - still were not quite ready to spread on their own or even with some assistance.

So, we went back to the east pasture where there are many milkweed plants and it's more sunny. These plants were further along in their development. Some of the pods had already burst open and seeds were scattered on the ground.

Others plants still had unopened pods, but when the girls opened them the seeds easily separated and floated into the air to new destinations.

Bailey seemed to enjoy watching the girls spread milkweed seeds.

Bailey was more interested than Hoss. Hoss preferred to eat. He would look up periodically, though, to make sure he wasn't far from us.

There's something magical about watching the seeds float into the air and wonder where they will land and begin their new life.

Sometimes it's pretty easy to see where a pod opened and the seeds fell to the ground. Some will stay here and others - very likely - will be carried off by the wind.

Olivia twirled around in circles as she spread the milkweed seeds.

She even found a very tall milkweed plant - taller than she is! - in the pasture. The pods are where her elbow and upper-arm are (high on the plant).

As we headed back, there were milkweed pods that had opened with some of the seeds still sitting nestled among the two sides of the pods.

The white, silky part that the brown, round seed is attached to is very soft...almost like an angora.

After we spent time outside, the girls finished up their nature journal entries.

They each included a milkweed seed on their page so they can remember the side and color of it.

Monarchs and milkweed will continue to be a major focus of our nature study in coming years. With each release, there's a sense of awe at having been a part of such a fascinating and beautiful journey.

Girls in Awe as Monarch Flies Away
The girls watching a butterfly they raised fly right in front of them.
August 23, 2008,

Even today - as I walked the dogs on a grassy-path between a neighbor's farm fields of corn and soybeans, I was inspired - and in awe - of seeing 23 migrating monarchs flying in the air and/or resting on the vivid-purple clover.

Monarch on Goldenrod
A monarch on goldenrod in the pasture.
August 27, 2010.

As long as we stay committed to developing and improving the habitat for monarchs, I'm hoping that we will continue to see them. I can't imagine our lives without them!

Links that we watched and/or will be referring to as we further study monarchs this year:
=> Monarch Migration (Journey North and Monarch Watch): Part 1 and Part 2.
=> Your Backyard The Life and Journey of the Amazing Monarch Butterfly.
=> Migration and Tagging
=> Do You Know a Monarch When You See One?
=> The Annual Cycle of the Monarch Butterfly
=> When, Where, and How to Watch the Fall Migration
=> Butterfly Wings

Note: We looked at the Butterfly challengeMonarch Butterflies, and Milkweed pages on the Outdoor Hour Challenge for inspiration.