Juice Blend

My students are thoughtful, sweet, and love to share everything with me… including their germs.

I’m home sick today with a killer sinus bug. I’ve had a terrible sinus headache for two days, ran a low fever two nights ago, and I’ve been so congested that my head feels like it weighs 50 pounds. (Ironically, we watched a Korean drama with my mother-in-law on Saturday night where a serial killer used a kettle ball to club his victims in the head – I’m not so sure whose headache is worse at the moment…)

Last summer, my husband and I got a juice kick – we bought a $150 juicer and started researching new recipes and new ways to get extra vitamins and supplements in our diets. Evan likes to quote something he read that says our carrots are nothing like our grandpa’s carrots in terms of nutrition – our soil is less healthy, plant varieties and species are limited, and we ship our products across the globe (the longer the food goes unpreserved – frozen, canned, you name it – the more nutrients it loses). Today I was reminded that the juicer is a great way to help give me a boost of extra vitamins and nutrients that can help my body when it’s not at its fighting best.

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Nothing like the blood of my enemies to cure a cold. (Thank you, beets, for your ability to turn all juices into a ‘True Blood’-themed drink.)
My juice had the following ingredients, pictured below, plus a carrot: 2 oranges, two stalks of celery, an extra large carrot, an apple, a beet, and around an inch of ginger. It made about 16 ounces of juice, not counting the extra foam. Beets have a tendency to take any juice and turn it instantly dark red – and it sometimes shows up in your own waste later, so don’t be alarmed!
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Also, did you know that you can cut an ‘X’ into an orange and it helps the peeling process immensely? No more getting clumps of rind stuck under your nails or pulling off little bits at a time – it helps get your peel started a little more smoothly.

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Some argue that juicing adds a lot of sugar to your system – that is true, but I am willing to bet my system can handle natural sugars from plants ten times more easily than processed sugar and other added-sugar treats. Plus, let’s be honest – if I wanted some fruits and vegetables to snack on, I would have sliced up maybe two stalks of celery and added peanut butter, eaten maybe one whole orange (definitely not the two above), and maybe half an apple, also with peanut butter. I wouldn’t have gnawed down on a piece of raw ginger or an entire beet. But juicing let me bypass all the extra peanut butter I would’ve added and allowed me to bulk up on addition servings of vitamins and minerals.

Another argument against juicing – “You’ll just pee out most of those vitamins!” Yep, not all that I throw at my immune system will stick, but it’ll do much better than the organic bean burrito I was eyeing in the freezer. (Beans, cheese, and tortillas sure are delicious and filling – and add some good protein and carbs – but I seriously doubt that supports my immune system the way this cup o’ deliciousness did.

Juicing is also a great way to help get rid of those produce odds and ends – you can throw almost any of your veggies or fruits through your juicer (after cutting off the pieces you wouldn’t eat, like stems or rinds) and add an orange or apple or two to sweeten things and end up in good hands. I’ve juiced the end of a box of spinach that’s about to turn, parsley, stray carrots, a squishy pear, overripe strawberries, floppy celery – you name it! Do be cautious with garlic, onions, or ginger – these get potent FAST, so I’d generally suggest just sautéing your garlic and onions separately and maybe adding a tad of ginger at a time to your juice. Then, don’t forget to add the juicing remains to your compost – all that chopped up & processed fiber will break down quickly and does wonders for our garden and soil health.

Cheers!

Round 1 of Ukuleles

My secretary greeted me this week with a big box – our first five ukuleles have arrived! Using a mini-grant and most of my music budget, I placed an order for 5 ukuleles to start our ukulele stash for my music room – and the kids are THRILLED. We pulled them out to take a peek and try them out and I didn’t think I was going to get them back!

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I am looking forward to using the ukuleles for a big project in 5th grade studying chords and harmony (our QuaverMusic subscription has a devoted project to interactive lessons on the ukulele), but I am especially looking forward to putting these into every one of my children’s hands throughout their musical career with me.

As I do my research and exploration, I think ukuleles will fit into my Kodaly-inspired classroom so much more than I ever thought; I believe they will add an incredible depth to our music literacy together. As we start putting notes on the staff to sing, we can extend our lessons and make deeper connections by learning how to play the very same songs on ukulele. Once we learn how to read sol & mi on the staff, we can start piecing together lines & spaces and letter names and make the translation to ukulele. If sol is on the second line, G, then where is a G on my ukulele? How about mi? What if half of the class sang “Star Light, Star Bright” while the other played the sol & mi on their ukuleles? Better yet, we can learn the C chord and add chordal harmonies plus the pitches with the help of a handful of small stickers to mark frets. Suddenly, we’re reading ‘real music’ for singing AND instruments – as young as six years old. (And Kindergarten, it can be a whole new way to keep the steady beat, even if just using open strings – it might be slightly dissonant to strum all open, but I can picture their giant smiles now.)

Ukuleles aren’t just for chords and Hawaiian music – soprano ukuleles are tuned in a child’s voice range. Pitch-matching is so much easier for them on a ukulele than a guitar or other lower instrument, and the instruments FIT in their arms! We’re going to do a short guitar unit with my 5th graders, but I am already wincing thinking about how large the instruments will be on them and how painful those steel strings will be on their fingers. I’m committed to giving them some kind of instrumental skill that they can take with them into real life (unless you’re a music teacher or musicologist, who can honestly answer that they’ve pulled out their recorder since 5th grade?) and my 5th graders are excited to learn guitar, but I know ukulele will be a much better fit for my students.

Now, on to writing grants for more ukuleles… (and for kicking this nasty sinus virus – yuck!)

T-Shirt Quilt Preview

My husband and I met in marching band – our first few months as friends were spent on the KU football field and in the stands, entertaining ourselves with jokes and trying to stay cool in the late Kansas heat at the games. By the time our winter games and the cold, 6am game day rehearsals in the dark rolled around, we had swapped cell phone numbers and had a hard time saying goodbye after our evening practices. Evan was a senior at the time and I a freshman (scandalous, I know!), and now the Epperson household has 7 years of KU Band gear accumulated.

KU’s School of Music was very lucky to receive swag from our sports teams that was personalized for the marching band – every year we left one of our early rehearsals with piles of t-shirts, sweatshirts, ball caps, gloves – you name it. All of our sweatshirts and t-shirts have spent years squished in a box under the bed or rumpled up in a drawer, and sorting through them this winter inspired me to turn them into something far more useful.

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I’m grateful for the sewing skills and knitting skills I’m slowly acquiring, but I’m determined to only make useful items for our home. Our goal is not only to cut down on our carbon footprint but to also cut down on our homestead footprint – do I really need 7 potholders sorted by holiday, 16 scarves, 4 quilts for every season, and throw pillows so plentiful I can’t find my couch? It doesn’t make it easy for storage, moving, cleaning, or even remembering that those items exist. I don’t mind knitting or sewing items as gifts for family and friends, but utility and usefulness are a big part of my craft investments.

So here I was with two armloads of old t-shirts that we haven’t worn or looked at in 5 years that have just been taking up space and plastic storage containers under our bed, and I decided that a simple t-shirt quilt will be just the right thing to give them a new life. I picked out 12 shirts for a 3 x 4 quilt pattern and researched some ideas on Pinterest (both helpful and unhelpful all at once), and I’ve settled on a simple throw pattern with sashing to border the t-shirt squares and outside edge. It’ll be smaller than a twin-size quilt, but I can easily hang it or use it as a throw for my KU-themed guest bedroom. I’ll detail the full project in a future post, but here is a sneak-peek of an early step in the process:

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Kicking the Plastic Habit

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The more time we spend cooking, cleaning, and gardening, the more we’re realizing that plastic is just not for us. Now, on a teacher’s salary, we can’t afford much, so the easy and inexpensive choice has been the plastic hose connector, plastic water bottle, plastic and metal bird feeder, non-stick pan with plastic handles, you name it. We can more easily afford the plastic plates over the ceramic and the plasticware and freezer baggies to store soups and chopped vegetables in the freezer.

This was all fine and dandy for about a year, and then everything started breaking. And when it rains, it pours.

Within a month, the $20 hose sprayer split and leaked, the hose connector outside cracked and sprayed water everywhere, and the squirrels knocked down my bird feeder one too many times and it finally splintered to pieces. Then next month, the non-stick pan coating started scratching off and I dropped my plastic water bottle in the parking lot and scuffed it badly. Then the tupperware (non-freezer safe, so this is my fault) that we keep garlic & butter ice cubes in had its corner busted off.

So is it really worth it to buy the cheap stuff?

Obviously, the answer is ‘no.’ The difficult part is making the choice to change how you view your spending. We teachers don’t often have extra money just lying around to invest in the expensive, celebrity-labeled cookware. What changed for us was realizing that while it was cheaper today to buy a $5 item instead of a $10 item, we were replacing the cheap item several times over in the time it would take for the item of quality to finally give in. This Christmas, we asked for more cast iron pans to get rid of the scratching nonstick, we invested in a new brass hose nozzle from the hardware store for the garden, and my new favorite bird feeder is glass with metal edges.

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$25 bird feeder from Ace Hardware, much like the one we have hanging outside our window now

We’re slowly shifting our house supplies from plastics to glassware and donating the old stuff to Goodwill as much as we can – and it sure feels wonderful to be rid of the petroleum products and know that we’re investing in higher quality products as we go, even if it does mean a few more dollars up front.

Off the Cart, Back in a Classroom

At my second school, we’ve had quite the rollercoaster – while they are renovating our building, we’re housed at a different, smaller school with portables. Long, miserable story, short, the portables had mold, students were moved out of the portables to occupy the music and art rooms, music, art, and library were put on a cart for half a semester, and at the beginning of January the specials team were finally and happily moved to a new portable classrooms of our own. I had quite the adventure working off a cart and trying to prep music programs, all while on a temporary basis with no timeline (we didn’t know if we’d have a classroom back in two days, two weeks, or two months time – it turned out to be closer to three months).

Being on a cart and at the mercy of outside, completely-uncontrollable circumstances reminded me to be grateful for what I do have – unbelievably supportive colleagues, students who love me and love my lessons, a flexible curriculum, and so much more. Being back in a room, however small, makes us all very grateful for the space to spread out and grow together. I have to share two pictures from this week to celebrate the new space and all we should be thankful for:

(student faces are blurred for their privacy and protection)

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1st graders with our parachute – we’re practicing sol-mi and preparing la with “Snail, Snail”, and we took turns sitting in the middle of the ‘snail shell’ while the parachute went ’round and ’round!
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We finally have room for our xylophones again – so we used the Mallet Madness lesson on “Pease Porridge Hot” to practice ta rest, even adding finger cymbals to the rests in our song!

Fire & Fuel

We’re one day in to the latest icepocalypse – Winter Storm Jupiter hit the Midwest yesterday (Friday) and we’re all battening down the hatches. Fortunately, we’ve only seen a couple hours of freezing drizzle in the past twenty-four hours and it’s just made the driveways and sidewalks a tad slick, but they say we’re in for it tonight and tomorrow.

The predictions about this storm were getting worse and worse on Wednesday and Thursday, and most of northeast Kansas schools closed to brace for impact on Friday. My school district didn’t close, and the past couple days have made me really worried for our preparedness, despite a cache of disaster and readiness supplies and food in our basement. Our rental has electric heat and we have no backup generator, like the other 99.9% of Americans (or so it feels). The news stations said we should be preparing for days without power – we’re forecasted to get around a half inch of ice (which apparently adds 280 pounds of weight to power lines). I’m not concerned about the first several hours or even day without power, but what if this does stretch to days? Kansas in January is miserably cold – my birthday is never without layers of coats and scarves and hats – so the worry really started kicking in on Thursday and Friday.

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A view from our front room before Christmas – Kansas swings from subzero temperatures in winter to over 100 degrees in the summer.

Beginning around two years ago, my now-husband and I started collecting preparedness and prepping supplies. Evan’s approach has been one inspired by the idea that someday we might have to start over as a species, and my approach has been more natural disaster-centered. (Believe it or not, I won an award as a 6-year-old for my county’s emergency preparedness contest – 1st place for my crayon drawing of my basement during a tornado.) Together, those ideas have created quite the stash of emergency blankets, seed starter kits, compasses, toilet paper, an ax, batteries, tools, matches, water purification tablets, you name it. We’re by no means ready, but we have plenty of materials to keep us relatively safe, full-bellied, and able to piece together life in a tent.

…except for if that emergency is in a Kansas winter.

I have blankets, two emergency blankets (which you can apparently tape up on your walls to reflect your heat throughout the room if you lose power), a sleeping bag, and a few assorted candles and flashlights. If we lose power for days at a time, we have no heat besides sitting in our cars – no fireplace, no propane heat (not safe for indoors anyway), no wood stove.

Three years ago, at our old rental house, a terrible thunderstorm split a tree and ripped down our electricity line to the house. We were without power for close to 72 hours in middle of a sweltering July – the house stayed at 85 degrees at night. We kept the wood from that accursed tree for use in our firepit. So now, faced with the prospect of no power for a couple of days, the only way we can generate our own heat, cook food, or heat water would be to start a fire with the wood from that darn tree – outside on the firepit, unfortunately.

Being the brilliant people we are, we realized that this was our only option at 7pm on Thursday before the storm was supposed to arrive at noon the next day. So here we went to the backyard, bundled up with long underwear and boots and coats, to chop firewood in the dark, 25-degree night. (I told you that we are brilliant.) While Evan chopped, I started a fire and worked on grating some soap for our laundry soap, and it was surprisingly warm!

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Two hours later, we (Evan) had chopped up a trashcan’s worth of kindling and logs, happily drank down two coffees and two beers, grated a full bar of soap, and experienced how warm a fire can keep you even in the dead of winter.

Now, that being said, we’ve definitely put a fireplace (or space to have a wood stove installed) on our house shopping list, because if something does happen in the future I don’t want to be caught without heat or a fuel source of some kind. Prepping and being ready for an emergency or natural disaster only goes so far when you can’t keep your house warm – and if being warm and safe isn’t essential to survival and a good homestead, then what is?

 

DIY Christmas

There can be too much of a good thing…

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This is only a tiny glimpse into our pantry of canned goods after this past summer. Even come December, we were still overflowing with jars of pickles, jalapeños, strawberry & blackberry jam, sauerkraut, and hot sauce. We used Christmas as a way to spread the wealth – we brought a crate of canned goods and let our families pick their favorites. They were delighted – and we are delighted that our hard work is being utilized, appreciated, and eaten.