Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Monthly Journal for Tweens and Teens

This month for the journal page that Sophia and Olivia are keeping, I found a pin that led to a cute "My To Do List" page on Adventures in Guided Journaling.

The page is designed for youth and it focuses on two important things that need to be done on a particular day. In Sophia's case her important things were playing the harp and taking care of the horses.

The page also focuses on what the girls like about the town and road they live on. Sophia said she likes the privacy versus living in the city. Olivia said she likes that our town is big and small.

As for the particular road we live on, Sophia likes that there aren't a lot of cars and Olivia likes that it is quiet.

Olivia's journal page for April. 
(She actually completed it in May...the month went by so quickly for her.)

On the "lightening round" section of the page, the girls had to choose what best described them between two opposite or different words.

Sophia's completed journal page for April.

The last section I like because it asks about a child's strength, something she needs assistance with, and something she can help someone else do.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

File Purging

Since March 5th, I've been working on the 40 Bags in 40 Days challenge. Although the challenge finished last week right before Easter, I'm continuing with a new challenge: 35 Bags in 35 Days which will take me to Memorial Day.

The main focus for this round is working on my files (personal and homeschooling), the outside buildings (e.g., hobby shed, barn, shed that holds the mower), and Olivia's room.

So, for the first part of the decluttering, I'm focusing on the file purging. I have 14 file drawers that are in my home office. My goal is to clear out at least half the contents of each drawer so that more space is created.

I'm using a pin on Pinterest that I found that linked to an image on Storables that has tips for purging papers.

Of course, there are a lot more items that don't fit into these categories that I'm having to make decisions about, but certainly the above list is helpful in knowing what to keep (and for how long) and what to shred.

Before and after cleaning one file drawer. 
This one had homeschooling resources so it went a lot quicker than 
the file drawers with personal/legal documents.

I have been happy with my progress so far even though it is taking a lot longer than anticipated.

I had quite a bit to haul to the recycling and trash bins
after going through my files. 
The couch cushions and cover (pictured in the photograph on the right)
also were thrown in the trash since they were damaged by water from an ice dam. 
We're finally getting rid of the couch which frees up even more space.

As I go through the homeschooling files, I realize that there are so many great ideas for activities and lessons that we could be learning about new things for years.

Sophia, Olivia, and I talked about going through the files alphabetically next year - file by file - and reading and doing the activities in each one. When we are done with each file, it is recycled and we move onto the next one. In that way, we are learning but also cleaning and letting go of things we no longer need. Eventually, fewer file drawers and file cabinets will be needed creating yet more space.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

An Interrupted Life - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 18

This week I read  An Interrupted Life - The Diaries of Etty Hillesum 1941-43 for the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge.

Esther "Etty" Hillesum was a Jewish woman whose diaries and letters, kept between 1941 and 1943, describe life in Amsterdam during the German occupation. In 1981, they were published posthumously.

For the majority of the book, Etty reflects on her relationships with others, especially intimate relationships with several men. One in particular, Julius Spier (who was a psycho-chirologist who she met on February 3, 1941) became the central focus of this time period.

She met Spier when she was a "model" for him. Chirology or palmistry is the claim of characterization and foretelling the future through the study of the palm. It is also known as palm reading or chiromancy.

At any rate, Spier had a psycho-chirology practice and taught courses. The students at those courses and their friends invited "models," whose hands Spier analyzed by way of example.

Etty was impressed by Spier's personality and decided to go into therapy with him. On March 9, 1941 she began her diary which was most likely part of her therapy. Etty also liked keeping a diary because she hoped that it would provide material for a novel - the ultimate literary ambition she had.

Spier had a very great influence on Etty's spiritual development; and he taught her how to deal with her egocentric and depressive tendencies. He introduced her to the Bible and St. Augustine. Since the 1930s, Etty also had been reading other authors, such as Rilke and Dostoevsky, but under Spier's influence their work also took on deeper meaning for her.

In the course of time and in the diaries, the relationship with Spier assumed a less central position in Etty's life. When Spier died on September 15, 1942, Etty was able to accept his death with greater ease because she realized what his fate would have been since he was a Jew.

In contrast to the diary of Anne Frank which reflected her life in hiding, the diary of Etty Hillesum clearly detailed the increasingly anti-Jewish measures that affected her life. Yet, despite these challenges and restrictions, Etty's determination to continue her spiritual and intellectual development strengthened.

This precious gift, this one free day, is something I must use well. 
Not by chattering or bothering those around me, 
but by sustaining my spirit.
~~ Etty Hillesum ~~

When she was expecting a summons to report to Camp Westerbork, she applied for a position with the Jewish Council. She began working for the Jewish Council and performing administrative duties, but didn't care for the work. However, she found more meaningful work when she was with the "Social Welfare for People in Transit" at Westerbork, where she was transferred at her own request on July 30, 1942.

Her first stay at Westerbork did not last long; it was only 15 days before she was back in Amsterdam. She briefly visited her parents and then returned to Westerbork for about 3 1/2 months before she became ill and returned home.

Those two months behind barbed wire have been the
 two richest and most intense months of my life, 
in which my highest values were so deeply confirmed.
~~ Etty Hillesum ~~

Six months later, on June 5, 1943, she recovered and was allowed to return to Westerbork. Interestingly, she was not reluctant to go. Rather, she wanted to return and resume her work so as to provide a bit of support for the people as they were preparing themselves for transport to the concentration camps. It was for this reason that Etty Hillesum consistently turned down offers to go into hiding. She said that she wished to "share her people's fate."

She did not want to escape the fate of the Jewish people. 
She believed that she could do justice to life only if 
she did not abandon those in danger, and 
if she used her strength to bring light into the life of others. 
Survivors from the camp have confirmed that 
Etty was a "luminous" personality to the last.
~~ Page xv, The Interrupted Life ~~

One month later, on July 5, 1943, an end was put to the special status granted to personnel at the Westerbork section of the Jewish Council. Half of the personnel were directed to return to Amsterdam, while the other half became camp internees. Etty joined the latter group because she wanted to remain with her father, mother, and brother Mischa, who had meanwhile been brought to Westerbork.

Mischa had a lot of musical talent, and his parents had hoped that he would receive special dispensation. Several people wrote letters of recommendation. However, instead of going to a special camp at Barneveld, he received special privileges during his stay at Westerbork.

When his mother wrote a letter to H.A. Rauter in which she asked for a few privileges as well. (Rauter was the highest representative of the SS, and primarily responsible for the persecution and oppression of the Dutch resistance and partly responsible for the deportation of Dutch Jews.)

Rauter was enraged and on September 6, 1943, ordered the entire family to be immediately sent on transport. The camp commander at Westerbork interpreted this as an order to send Etty on the next day's transport as well, despite the attempts by her contacts in the camp to protect her from this. On September 7, 1943, the Hillesum family were deported from Westerbork to Auschwitz.

Etty's father and mother either died during transport to Auschwitz or were gassed immediately upon arrival. The date of death provided was September 10, 1943. According to the Red Cross, Etty died at Auschwitz on November 30, 1943.

Before her final departure for Westerbork, Etty gave her Amsterdam diaries to Maria Tuinzing. Etty asked her to pass them along to the writer Klaas Smelik with the request that they be published if she did not return.

In 1946 or 1947, Maria Tuinzig turned over the exercise books and a bundle of letters to Klaas Smelik. His daughter Johanna (Jopie) Smelik then typed out sections of the diaries, but Klaas Smelik's attempts to have the diaries published in the 1950s were not successful. There were two letters that Etty had written, in December 1942 and on August 24, 1943, concerning the conditions in Westerbork that did get published.

In late 1979, Klaas A.D. Smelik, now director of the Etty Hillesum Research Centre, approached J. G. Gaarlandt with a request to publish the diaries left to him by his father, Klaas Smelik. This resulted in the publication in 1981 of Het verstoorde leven (An Interrupted Life) and in 1986 of all Hillesum's known writings in Dutch, later translated into English. An Interrupted Life was republished in 1999.

As a side note, Anne Frank stayed at Westerbork from August until early-September 1944, when she was taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau. She and her family were put on the first of the three final trains on September 3, 1944 for Auschwitz, arriving there three days later.

Etty Hillesum was interned at Westerbork from July 30, 1942 until September 7, 1943, when she and her family were put on a train to Auschwitz.

What I found most interesting about An Interrupted Life was the evolution of Etty's spiritual and personal growth. The first part of the book (pages 1-164) which has a more egocentric and outward-focused nature is not as engaging as the latter part of the book (pages 165-277). Perhaps that is why it took me a while to read this book: I had difficulty connecting with and, frankly, caring about her personal relationships.

It feels as if great changes are taking place in me and 
I believe it is more than a passing mood.
~~ Etty Hillesum ~~

Some things that Etty wrote that resonated with me were:

=> I life here-and-now, this minute, this day, to the full, and life is worth living. And if I knew that I was going to die tomorrow, then I would say: it's a great shame, but it's been good while it lasted.
=> As long as you're so full of vanities and fantasies you have not made much progress in the art of forgetting yourself.
=> I must learn to feel genuinely indifferent to my appearance, not to care in the least how I look. I must lead a much more inward life.
=> Life itself must be our fountainhead, never something or someone else. Many people, especially women, draw their strength from others, instead of directly from life. A man is their source, instead of life. That attitude is as distorted and unnatural as it possible can be.
=> On those days when you are at odds with your neighbors you are really at odds with yourself.
=> Always [strive] for more simplicity. yes, to become simple and live simply, not only within yourself but also in your everyday dealings. Don't make ripples all around you, don't try so hard to be interesting, keep your distance, be honest....Instead, reach for true simplicity in your inner life and in your surroundings, and also work.
=> I am not really frightened of anything, I feel so strong; it matters little whether you have to sleep on a hard floor, or whether you are only allowed to walk through certain specified streets, and son on - these are all minor vexations, so insignificant compared with the infinite riches and possibilities we carry within us. We must guard these and remain true to them and keep faith with them.
=> You never expect anything and that's why you never go away empty-handed.
=> True peace will come only when every individual finds peace within himself; when we have all vanquished and transformed our hatred for our fellow human beings of whatever race - even into love one day.
=> We have to accept death as part of life....It sounds paradoxical: by excluding death from our life we cannot live a full life, and by admitting death into our life we enlarge and enrich it.
=> The main thing is that even as we die a terrible death we are able to feel right up to the very last moment that life has meaning and beauty, that we have realized our potential and lived a good life.
=> Once you begin to lower your demands and your expectations, you can let go of everything....Every day I shall put my papers in order and every day I shall say farewell. And the real farewell, when it comes, will only be a small outward confirmation of what has been accomplished within me from day to day.
=> Each moment I free myself more from dependence on eternal props and draw closer inwardly to those from whom I cannot be separated however far apart we happen to be.
=> The only strength comes, not from others,but from within.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Local Bite Challenge - Week 2 Check-In

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 first two weeks of the challenge are now complete, and starting tomorrow we are going into Week 3. As we were last week, we are not eating 100% locally yet. Instead, we have been eating more local food at each meal - such as cheese and milk from a local organic dairy farm, and pears, peaches, and applesauce that I canned last summer.

During the second week of this challenge, I've learned the following things:

1. The novelty of changing the way we eat wore off for some family members after the first week. We are using up what we have on hand - canned goods, frozen food, and items from the pantry. As the items are used, I am either replacing them with healthier, local versions or not at all (e.g., chips, sweets).

The latter situation - where items aren't being replaced - was a tough pill to swallow when it came to potato chips and pickles. These are some favorite foods of my daughters, so to encourage them to eat crackers or another vegetable didn't sit as well this week as it may have the first week.

2. Local food is very difficult to find in Minnesota in April.  I went to a meat market earlier in the week with the expectation that there would be a variety of meat available. What I found out surprised me: the majority of the meat that was available was not from Minnesota or Wisconsin - it came from about 550 miles away or over 9 hours to the southeast in Nebraska or about 266 miles and 4 hours to the south in Iowa.

The only meat available at the meat market was from a buffalo farm that is 12 miles northeast of our farm. So, the meat market was simply re-selling the meat, not processing it on site there.

The other place I went hoping to find some locally-grown produce was the co-op that's about 17 miles away. I was pleasantly to see that the produce department had signs that noted where each item was from.

However I was disappointed that there were only two items that were available that had been grown in Minnesota: microgreens and alfalfa sprouts. I had hoped that there would be some farms that had greenhouses or hydroponic systems set up so that fresh produce from Minnesota would be available to consumers. No such luck.

3. Local food is very expensive compared to conventional food. When I looked at meat at the co-op, the prices were way more than what I can afford to pay per pound. Seeing $11+ per pound for meat...even $7+ per pound for ground beef makes the reality of purchasing organic and/or grass-fed animals not possible for our family.

The way that the cost can be greatly reduced for meat is by purchasing a quarter side or half side of an animal (e.g., cow, pig). In that way, the butcher works with a local farmer in Minnesota, and the price per pound of the meat is substantially less than purchasing small packages at the co-op.

4. Having a meal plan is helpful.  I did a meal plan for the week on Sunday and followed it for the most part. This helped make decisions when I was at the grocery store and the co-op because I knew exactly what ingredients I needed for making meals.

Mini-Challenge - Sow Some Seeds

The mini-challenge for the week was to sow some seeds. On Monday, I purchased some roots and sets: rhubarb, asparagus, onions (two types), and garlic. In addition, I purchased some mesclun (which will go into the garden once the threat of snow is gone), tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers.

Also, I bought a miniature greenhouse with individual peat pots.

Peat pots without water.

The first step is to use warm water to fill the base.

Sophia pouring warm water into the holder.

Gradually, the peat absorbs the water and the little pots grow taller.

The pots are increasing in size.

Once they are full size, we opened the top of the wrapping and fluffed the peat a bit.

The planter tops opened a bit and peat fluffed.

Next we looked at the seeds that needed to be germinated indoors in Minnesota. For this climate, cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers should be started indoors so that there is enough time for the plants to grow and produce.

Each seed packet had two columns of planters 
into which the seeds could go.

The girls each took 2-3 seeds and put them into the each planter.

Olivia and Sophia placing seeds in each pot.

 Once the seeds were in the planters, I placed some peat on top of each one.

Seed packets by the columns of planters 
where the seeds were planted.

After labeling the plastic top, the miniature greenhouse was placed on the counter where it is warm and out of direct sunlight.

Labels on the outside of the miniature greenhouse.

Our 72 pots of cucumber, hot peppers, sweet peppers, and three varieties of tomatoes are steaming up the greenhouse. Because we used warm water, the heat is trapped in the container. Hopefully this helps germinate the seeds quicker and our plants will be ready sooner than anticipated.

Local Ingredients Purchased This Week

I went to Autumnwood Farm again on Monday and purchased organic skim milk, organic chocolate milk, cheese curds, two pounds of butter, and a small bottle of cream. The bill came to about $26.

My older daughter wanted to make homemade butter which she did on Friday evening. We enjoyed the butter on crackers on Friday and bread on Saturday.

Local Ingredients on Hand (Preserved During Summer 2013):

We continued to use several items that I canned last summer and fall: applesauce, pears, and peaches.

Looking Forward to Week 3

My goals this week are to:

1. Call the customer service numbers of local food companies and ask where the products are grown and manufactured. Hopefully by doing this I will find more products that are readily available throughout the year. I didn't have a chance to do this during the second week of the challenge, so I'm hoping to have some time to dedicate to this goal during the upcoming week.

2. Find a list of farmers markets and determine a schedule for visiting them. Look for either the Minnesota Grown farm directory and/or online to create a weekly schedule for visiting different farms for food preservation as well as our regular meals.

3. Create another meal plan. Using what we have on hand, I want to create menus that will limit what we purchase. In this way, the food in the freezer, refrigerator, and cupboards will continue to dwindle. This will better prepare us for transitioning to eating locally-grown and produced food.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Peace Blend with 3 Essential Oils

One of the things I enjoy doing is mixing different essential oils to create blends. When I came across directions to make something called "peace blend" on Pinterest I thought the scents together would smell nice together.

Natural Remedies Now included three essential oils in the mixture: patchouli, cypress, and bergamot. When I looked to see what I had on hand, I took out four different essential oils: patchouli, bergamot, and two substitutions for cypress - cedarwood and fir.

It ended up that there was no more cedarwood essential oil in the bottle, so I used the remaining three oils and followed the recipe:

3 drops patchouli
2 drops cypress (I used fir instead)
2 drops bergamot

It is suggested that the oils be placed with about 78-80 ml of water in a diffuser. However, I chose to put them in a small container of jojoba oil.

Initially the oils didn't seem strong enough, so I doubled each one. The scent is a bit stronger, but certainly not overpowering. I do like how the trio of essential oils smell together. I may add another round or two of the oils to make the scented jojoba oil smell stronger.

Sleep - P52 and 52 Week Photo Challenge 2014 - Week 17

The theme for this week's challenge is "sleep."  It seems like the cats are the only ones who rest during the day and that I can capture sound asleep.

The cats have favorite places throughout the house to sleep - especially when the sun is shining like it is today. Eenie and Meenie like to sleep on the ledge behind the bed that is below a south-facing window.

Lucy and Shadow often sleep on Olivia's bed on an incredibly soft blanket.

Maggie sleeps downstairs - typically on the top of a sofa or on a big floor pillow by the bookshelf.

All of the cats - with the exception of Maggie - seem to enjoy finding spots to rest right next to where I'm working.

Shadow curled up today while I was working on the computer. He slept contentedly on the blanket and my calendar with his tail curled onto the computer. Every so often he would open his eyes to check on me, and then fall back to sleep. 

Cats are rather delicate creatures and they are subject to a good many ailments, but 
I never heard of one who suffered from insomnia.
 ~Joseph Wood Krutch

Posted on: 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

DIY Pore Strips

Out of curiosity, I saw a pin on Pinterest that led to Petit Elefant about how to make your own pore strips. There were only two ingredients:

1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin (this is about 1 packet in the 4-packet box of unflavored gelatin)
1 1/2- 2 tablespoons milk (any kind)

The directions seemed easy enough:

Measure 1 tablespoon of unflavored gelatin into a disposable container. (I'm not sure why she recommended a disposable container. I used a small glass bowl and the mixture washed away easily enough.)

Add 1-2 tablespoons of milk into the gelatin. Mix it quickly until you get a chunky consistency. Add more milk if you want the mixture smoother.

Microwave the gelatin for about 10-15 seconds. It will get creamier in the microwave. Stir that around and start applying it immediately to your face.

The warm mixture easily spreads on your face. There is more than enough mixture. In fact, I thought, "Why not add another layer now that this first layer is hardening?" Despite two layers of the mixture on my face, I still ended up throwing away about half of it because there was too much.

Let it dry on your face for about 15 or so minutes. Basically it is ready to be removed when you are unable to talk.

Peel off whatever you are able to get off your face. Do this until all the hardened mixture is removed from your face.

Maybe it's just me but this process felt like it was ripping off the top layer of my skin and any small hairs or whatever was connected to that mixture. I remember watching a movie with someone who was being waxed for the first time and the person screamed as the hardened wax was ripped off the person's skin. Yep...that's how it felt.

After that painful process that left my skin a lovely hue of bright red, I washed it with very cold water which felt good. About as good as the warmed mixture felt going on and before I knew how painful the removal of the hardened mixture would be.

At any rate, if your skin is like mine, it will feel soft and clean. I guess when you remove your epidermis the next layer feels pretty fresh and soft.

After trying this, I'm not sure I would do this again. The plus side is that the mixture is easy to make and apply; and it takes less than 30 minutes from start to finish. The negative side is that it rather painful to remove from your face...or maybe I just have a very low pain tolerance threshold. Very, very low.

Shadow - P52 and 52 Week Photo Challenge 2014 - Week 16

The theme of this week's photo challenge is "shadow." It seemed like every time I thought about the challenge it was either in the morning or evening when it was dark; or the day was overcast and no shadows were being cast.

I wasn't even thinking about shadows that one can see indoors. So, when I went to the library I passed the front door and took a look at the metalwork. Entwined in the metal bars were letters. With the overhead lights shining at an angle, it created shadows of the letters onto the wall. 

It's something that I've passed by countless times, but never noticed the shadows. It kind of makes me wonder how many other things I see but don't notice. 

There's so much to appreciate about my life every single day, and 
I make a big point of taking time to smell the roses and noticing how lucky I am. 
I never want to take that for granted.
~~ Josie Maran ~~

Posted on: 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Local Bite Challenge - Week 1 Check-In

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 first week of the challenge is now complete, and starting today we are going into Week 2. Although we are not eating 100% locally yet, we have been eating more local food at each meal - even if that means milk from a local organic dairy farm or pears that I canned last summer.

After seven days, I've learned the following things:

1. Introducing local food slowly works for my family. I was happy to see that by today (one week after I went to the dairy farm) that both the skim and chocolate milk are almost gone. We have limited the amount of milk everyone drinks otherwise both would have been gone much quicker.

Choosing the elk sausage was the result of the mini-challenge during Week 1. No one in the family had ever tried it, and we were all pleasantly surprised. I was so happy to hear my youngest daughter say when asked, "What type of meat do you want for lunch?" and hear her reply, "Elk sausage." That's exactly what I had hoped for: a decision on each person's part to eat locally.

The elk sausage that my daughter likes a lot is 
on the lower right-hand corner of the plate.

2. We have a lot of food on hand that we need to use up before we could eat 100% locally-grown and/or locally-produced food. One of the things I had a habit of doing was purchasing food whether or not we needed it. I would create menu plans and try new recipes - all without looking at what was already in my freezer, refrigerator, and/or cupboards. Needless to say, we had full cupboards, freezers, and a refrigerator.

So, last month on March 5th I began another challenge called 40 Bags in 40 Days in which I worked on the kitchen - each cupboard, the freezer, and refrigerator. My goal was to purchase only the essential things we needed, with the ultimate goal of using what we had on hand so we could start fresh by the summer.

We are in the process of using up canned foods, dry goods, and frozen items. When we need essential items (e.g., milk, butter, cheese, bread) we are now buying locally-produced and/or locally-grown food.

3. Winter and early spring are very challenging times to try to find locally-grown and/or locally-produced food in Minnesota. I am looking forward to planting a garden again this year as well as visiting various farmers markets. The farmers market season begins in less than a month to wait before fresh vegetables and fruits are ready!

4. Eating locally in winter is possible if one has planned and prepared well during the summer and early fall months. Regularly visiting the farmers markets in the area and buying locally-grown produce in the summer and preserving it (e.g., canning, freezing, drying) is essential to being able to eat locally year-round.

We do have a variety of fruit (e.g., peaches, pears, strawberries, blueberries) and vegetables (e.g., tomatoes, green beans, yellow beans) that we still have on hand that I canned, froze, and dried from Summer 2013, but it is not nearly enough in terms of quantity and variety to sustain us throughout the off-season.

I'm planning on doing a better job this growing season in terms of preserving food so we can use it throughout the rest of the year.

Local Ingredients Purchased This Week

I went to Autumnwood Farm on Monday and purchased organic skim milk, organic chocolate milk, smoked colby cheese, cheese curds, and elk sausage.

The bill came to about $33 which included a $4 milk bottle deposit. (I don't believe I have to pay the $4 charge the next time I come back with the two bottles from Monday's purchase.)

Local Ingredients on Hand (Preserved During Summer 2013):

We used several items that I canned last summer and fall: applesauce, tomatoes, pears, and peaches.

Looking Forward to Week 2

Because I live in a rural area, the number of stores and co-ops is more limited than if I lived in the city. My goals this week are to:

1. Find more locally-grown and/or locally-produced items available in nearby stores, meat markets, and co-ops. When I went to the grocery store last week I was pleasantly surprised to see that the dairy section had some cheese that was produced within 100 miles of our home.

I have not visited the co-op yet, but will be doing so later this week. I'm looking forward to seeing what locally-made options are available there.

Last, I'm going to call three different meat markets that are within 15 miles of my home and ask where the meat is purchased from (locally, sources within the state, and/or national sources). This should better help us make decisions about where we spend our food money.

2. Call the customer service numbers of local food companies and ask where the products are grown and manufactured. Hopefully by doing this I will find more products that are readily available throughout the year.

3. Create a meal plan. I did not have a meal plan this past week. Rather, we used what was on hand and ate leftovers as a way to ensure that we were not wasting food that would simply sit in the refrigerator.

I'd like to more carefully look at what meals I am able to prepare with food that I have in the cupboards, freezers, and refrigerator. Whatever meals need to be supplemented and/or are missing ingredients, I would like to purchase local ingredients to complete them.

The Importance of Being Earnest - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 17

This week I read  The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde for the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge. This three-act play, written in the late 1800s and set in 1890,was a refreshing change from the books (fiction and non-fiction) that I recently have been reading.

The Importance of Being Earnest is a satirical social comedy that focuses on a young gentleman named John Worthing who invented a fictitious brother he called “Ernest.” Ernest's wicked ways provide John with an excuse to leave his country home from time to time and journey to London. While he is in London, John stays with his close friend, Algernon Moncrieff.

Algernon has a cousin, Gwendolen Fairfax, with whom John is deeply in love. During his stays in London, John, under the name Ernest, has won Gwendolen’s love, for she strongly desires to marry someone with the confidence-inspiring name of Ernest. However, when he asks for Gwendolen’s hand in marriage from Lady Bracknell, John must reveal that he is an orphan who was left in a handbag at Victoria Station.

This information is very disturbing to Lady Bracknell who insists that he produce at least one parent before she consents to the marriage.

So, John returned to the country home where he lives with his ward Cecily Cardew and her governess Miss Prism to find that Algernon also arrived under the identity of the non-existent brother Ernest. Algernon falls madly in love with the beautiful Cecily, who has long been enamored of the fascinating and mysterious brother Ernest.

With the arrival of Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen, chaos erupts. It is discovered that Miss Prism is the absent-minded nurse who 20 years ago misplaced the baby of Lady Bracknell’s brother in Victoria Station. Thus John, whose name is indeed Ernest, is Algernon’s elder brother, and the play ends with the two couples in a happy embrace.

The play initially begins slowly and is a bit confusing. However, by the middle of the second act the story picks up and becomes much more engaging. At that point, I didn't want to put the book down.

Because the play was published in the late 1800s, the vocabulary is, at times, different than what is commonly heard today. Although dated, it was delightful to be challenged to read and comprehend words that aren't used in everyday language.

I enjoyed seeing how the name of the play tied into the story. In addition to being a pun on the chosen name of Jack's alter ego, "earnest" means "characterized by a firm, humorless belief in one's opinions" (which describes Jack as he explains the reason for his two names), "devout, heartfelt" (which describes Jack's feelings for Gwendolen), and "not distracted by anything unrelated to the goal" (which can describe Jack's decisions about being christened).

The Importance of Being Earnest is a play that would be interesting to both read and watch. There are two readily-available movie versions of the play: one done in 1952 and the other in 2002. I would like to watch both of them and see the difference in how the play was interpreted.

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.

Posted on: 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The House at the End of Hope Street - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 16

This week I read The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna van Praag for the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge. It is the first of two books that I will read that begin with the letter "H" (not including words like "the").

Initially I had trouble finding a book that began with "H," and ended up searching on the library's computer system for key words. One of the words was "hope" and this is the book that showed up in the search results.

This book is about an enchanted house that offers refuge to women in their time of need. For decades, this house has had some kind of magical abilities and heals the women who show up on the door step. Each woman is given the opportunity to stay no more or less than 100 days. Many successful women such as Agatha Christie, Florence Nightingale, and Virginia Wolfe have been guests there and they talk from the pictures of themselves on the walls.

Alba, one of the residents and the main character of the story, has left her academic career and now is need of something that is missing in her life. As she walks through Cambridge, England, she finds herself in front of a house that she's never seen before (11 Hope Street).

She approaches the house and an older woman named Peggy greets her and invites her to stay, on the house’s usual conditions: she has 99 nights to turn her life around. With nothing left to lose, Alba takes a chance and moves in.

Eventually, Alba discovers that the house is highly unusual. Some of the notable past guests - including Beatrix Potter - continue to live at the home, except they are talking portraits on the wall. Others are ghosts and appear to those who need them the most. The walls, lighting system, stairs, and floor all seem to "come alive" in response to individual guests and milestones in their lives.

The longer that Alba lives in the home, the longer she is able to continue on a journey that is both healing and life-saving.

Despite enjoying this book, the plot developed rather slowly, and I found sections of it confusing. There were constant changes in the points of view and between characters. It became increasingly difficult to keep track of the many characters.

I found the inclusion of and focus on positive female role models and leaders to be inspiring and interesting. Most of the women featured in the book were ones I had studied in college, while other ones were new to me. All of them led full lives that have made a positive impact on women throughout history.

I would recommend this book, especially to women who are going through challenging times in their lives and who need a book filled with hope and inspiration.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Composer Study - Mark O'Connor

Mark O'Connor is an American classical, jazz, country, and bluegrass composer, fiddler, violinist, and music teacher. Born on August 5, 1961 in Seattle, Washington, O'Connor's music has been wide-ranging and critically-acclaimed. He has received many awards for his playing and composition.

As a teenager he won national string instrument championships for his virtuoso playing of the fiddle, guitar, and mandolin.

O'Connor composes, arranges, and records American music across genres including folk, classical, and jazz. His works include concertos, and compositions for string trios, string quartets, string orchestra, choral music, and solo unaccompanied pieces.

He has won two Grammy awards; one for his New Nashville Cats album (1992) and another for Appalachian Journey album (2001) with Yo-Yo Ma and Edgar Meyer. He was named Musician of the Year by the Country Music Association six years in a row (from 1991 to 1996).

Sophia and Olivia listened to six of O'Connor's compositions on different CDs:

Appalachia Waltz (4.25) on Yo-Yo Ma Solo 

Sophia thought: It sounds sad - like something you'd hear at a funeral. It sounds like it could be a tribute to someone's life. It's pretty, but it could be a little more upbeat.

Olivia thought: It sounds like something you'd hear on a sad, gloomy day at church. If his songs are supposed to be upbeat, then this one too sad.


Anniversary (11:16) on Mark O'Connor's Hot Swing Trio - Live in New York

Sophia thought: It's all over the place. It goes high and low. It's definitely country. I wouldn't have listened to this if you didn't say I had to. I don't like the was slow and I don't like slow endings.

Olivia thought: This definitely sounds like a country song. It's not my favorite. This is not something I'd pick to listen to. I didn't like this song - it was sad and not upbeat at all.


M&W Rag (5:11) on Mark O'Connor's Hot Swing Trio - Live in New York

Sophia thought: This is definitely rag. It's something that they'd play during a Tom & Jerry cartoon - like when people are background music at a party. I like the bass and piano.

Olivia thought: This would be something you'd hear at an old party like out in the west. I like this song!


Fiddler Going Home (4:24) on Mark O'Connor's Hot Swing Trio - Live in New York

Sophia thought: I like this one because it's quiet and gentle; and it's good for someone trying to fall asleep. It was a little long for me, but I liked it.

Olivia thought: It's not very jazzy. It sounds kind of sad because it's very quiet and slow.


In Full Swing (3:55) on Mark O'Connor's Hot Swing Trio - In Full Swing

Sophia thought: I don't like this one. It's too choppy. There's a lot of dynamic changes.

Olivia thought: It sounds like someone is being chased. It's fast. I like this one because it's very quick.


Stephane and Django (5:50) on Mark O'Connor's Hot Swing Trio - In Full Swing

Sophia thought: It's okay. I just don't really care for the sound of it.

Olivia thought: I think it's something you'd hear on Tom & Jerry when they're at a party and Jerry left to go to New York City. He hitched a ride on someone's dress and went over a grate and went bump-bump-bump. This part that I just listened to sounded like that.


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.