Why We Should All Buy Art

By Anna Von Reitz

People sometimes approach me, and more often, my husband, and they are curious about the role of art in our lives and why we would devote such a considerable and fond portion of our time on Earth to art? To many people, art seems extraneous, useless, just “pretty pictures” on the wall— something that might be nice to have, but serving no actual purpose.
People have lost their “eyes to see”, and are like dead people in fact as well as on paper, not because they lack the essential organs and capacities to relate to art, but because they have been stymied, atrophied, and discouraged to the point wherein they can’t perceive art naturally anymore, and can’t interpret it, either.
It’s like a foreign language hanging on the wall, someone speaking in Dutch or Japanese or another foreign language — pleasant enough, for the most part, but unintelligible.
In frustration, many modern artists have attempted to bonk audiences on the head, to demand attention, and force people to look at things like soup cans and dead bodies and manikins and dog feces and all sorts of ugly, or mundane, or downright offensive presentations. They don’t know what else to do. Their art becomes the equivalent of a fire alarm or S.O.S. signal.
Other modern artists have attempted to become art. They tattoo their bodies and pierce their noses and weave odd colors and bones and ribbons in their hair. They dress up in costumes or wear things that aren’t identifiable as clothes, or they tear off every stitch in desperation — all because they feel that they can’t get through to the numbed-down and dumbed-down audience they are playing to.
So if you want to avoid the penalties of bad art, become a better seer and a better listener. Tune up your inner organs of perception — your inner eye, your unseen ears of the soul.
Art helps us do that and to make that leap in perception that can carry us all the way back to the “lost” Universal Language of Photo-Feelings and instant knowing. This is why we love art and collect art and spend time with art. That’s why we enjoy it. We speak the Universal Tongue.
Most people in America are like little children just learning to read when it comes to art, and they tragically stay that way all their lives. They spend their whole lives meeting externally mandated and arbitrary needs, content that they can tell the difference between red and green. And as a result they can neither “read” art, nor can they communicate with art — their own or anyone else’s.
They pass by, they glance, but they can’t take in the content.
All brave souls begin the journey with simple art that pleases them, because that’s their reading level, and that’s wonderful. I encourage them every step of the way and discourage no one. Remember when you were a child just discovering books? It’s the same way with art.
Most of us start out with simple sounds and simple words and simple art, and that’s just fine. Whatever pleases you, whatever speaks to you, is fine. Never feel embarrassed or defensive or pretend to like things because “art snobs” like them. Like what you like and let your responses be honest. Let your responses to art thrive. Exercise your perceptions like you exercise muscles.
As time goes on, your appreciation will increase, become more mature, and your art “vocabulary” will expand. Maybe you will be like me, and always retain a place for simple art and friendly mutts. Maybe you will be strongly drawn to one kind of art or one medium. Over time, most of us develop multiple interests in multiple mediums and genres.
Paintings, prints, sculpture—- will all stimulate your inner eyes and inner ears. They will all teach you to speak the Universal Tongue that existed before Babylon.
And they will all empower you beyond your wildest dreams.
That’s why we should all buy art. Art still retains the power to transport us into realms where we are at home, restored, and safe from the parasites that would suck us dry of every living impulse, and squelch every creative thought until we are reduced to living in a box provided by their constant propaganda.
And that, again, is why we should seek art, love art, and buy art for our homes and offices and anywhere that we spend time. Our art becomes our castle keep, our mental retreat, our reminder of better things. Even the memory of art allows us to dwell in a different world, using different sensors to attain new perceptions and stir our emotions.
Art keeps our souls alive and develops our ability to see with our inner eyes. It allows us to silently communicate vast amounts of feeling and meaning, just as two lovers can say everything with a single soul-piercing glance.
What use does art have, but to discover and to express and to expand your own soul and your own ability to see, to feel, and to know? To empower you to speak the Universal Tongue. To know who you are. To know what you most truly value. To express your heart. To find others who have felt what you have felt, to find silent mentors whose vision expands your own.
Art is infinitely more important than any news you will ever hear on the television or radio, yet we are encouraged, almost forced, to pay attention to the Talking Heads and the politicians, to believe that they are important when all they offer is a constant diet of discouragement, embarrassment, fear, and hot air of a kind that won’t even heat your home.
A decent painting of a warm fireside on a cold winter night is a far, far better investment than a television set. Why? Because it warms your heart, makes you feel secure, maybe even grateful. It stirs good memories and associations and gives you hope. It tells you that you are safe. It tells you what matters.
The pictures flickering over a television screen go by too fast for your contemplation, and no matter what their content, much of which is bad, they slip by so fast that there is no opportunity for us to learn how to extract meaning from these pictures. Our feeble yet-to-be-developed inner organs of perception are flooded, dulled, overwhelmed, unable to get a foothold on all that content — but a painting or illustrations in a book, that’s a different story.
So we should buy hard copy art — art for our walls, illustrated books, you name it. If it is a picture that we can pause over and actually look at and see before it morphs into something else, it will teach us the skills and sensitivities we desperately need to be and to feel alive.
Buy art, for the sake of those whose mission it is to save our lives and awaken our souls. Buy art, for your own sake to comfort you and inspire you and enliven your vision and your soul. Buy art and cherish it and keep it for your lonely days and quiet moments, for when you need to cling to something beyond yourself. Buy art and spend time with it, as it is the only way to learn the Universal Tongue.


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6 homegrown teas to experiment with this summer

Summertime is the perfect occasion for iced tea, but while store-bought tea may be a staple in most homes, you can also grow a variety of plants perfect for making your own tea.

Six easy to grow varieties are traditional tea plant (Camellia sinensis), mint, lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemongrass and anise hyssop. The leaves from most of these plants can be used either fresh or dried, hot or cold, with or without a natural sweetener.

Camellia sinensis tea

Camellia tends to be a slow grower, but given full sun to part shade, acidic soil, a good balance of nutrients and lots of water, it will usually grow into a productive bush. According to the American Camellia Society,1 Camellia can be cultivated in most moderate zones in the U.S., but will fare best in Zones 7, 8 and 9.

White tea, green tea and black tea all originate from Camellia. The differences between them have to do with when the leaves are picked and the level of oxidation that occurs during the processing of the leaves.2

White tea is made from young buds; it’s the least processed and has the lowest caffeine and highest antioxidant content. Green and black teas are made from the larger, more mature leaves. Green tea processing involves steaming the leaves before drying them, while black tea requires a lengthier process involving fermenting and drying to maximize oxidation.

For home use, simply snipping off a batch of leaves and leaving them to dry will produce a tasty “white” tea. Alternatively, use them fresh. Simply grind them lightly between your fingers, or rip them before steeping to release a bit more flavor. For a bigger flavor boost, steam the leaves for three minutes first, then dry them before using.

Mint tea

There are over two dozen species of mint, including spearmint and peppermint. Modern Farmer3 suggests “experimenting with different flavored varieties, such as grapefruit mint and chocolate mint,” to find your favorite brew.

The telltale aroma and taste of mint comes from the menthol oil found in resinous dots on the leaves and stems of the plant. Peppermint tea is said to help relieve stress and promote sleep.4 Mint leaves are packed with antioxidants and easily grown in an enclosed garden, containers or even indoors, providing you with fresh, organically grown leaves whenever you need them.

For growing instructions, see “How to Grow Mint at Home.” To make tea, you have the option of using fresh or dried leaves. A simple iced mint tea recipe from The Spruce Eats5 calls for 2 cups of water and 15 fresh mint leaves.

Optional ingredients include honey for sweetness, and lemon slices and/or lemon juice for garnish and added flavor. Simply steep the leaves in boiled water for three to five minutes. Add sweetener if desired, then chill before serving.

Lemon balm tea

Native to Europe, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is now widely available and can be grown in home gardens, too. Lemon balm, which is part of the mint family, is said to have a flavor resembling green tea with lemon.6

Lemon balm tea has anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting, antibacterial and antiseptic properties that can make it useful for conditions such as arthritis, headaches, infections and the common cold. It also contains compounds with nerve-soothing effects, and can be helpful for alleviating stress, anxiety and depression.

A simple lemon balm tea recipe from Organic Facts7 calls for adding 2 teaspoons of fresh lemon balm leaves to 2 cups boiling water. Infuse for up to 10 minutes, then chill for a refreshing summer beverage.

You can also use dried lemon balm leaves, although the drying process may cause the leaves to lose some of their flavor. When drying lemon balm leaves, you’ll want to avoid light and heat.

Mother Earth Living8 suggests cutting around two-thirds of the way down the plant’s stem, then hanging the bunched cuttings upside down in a dark, dry place with good air circulation. The leaves will dry and turn black in about two days.9 To make the collection effort easier, you can tie a paper bag around the bunched cuttings.

Make sure the bag has holes punched on the sides as poor air circulation could cause mold growth. Use a rubber band to close the top of the bag and hang it in an area where there’s enough air circulation. Once the leaves are dry, they’ll fall to the bottom of the bag.

Lemon verbena tea

Another lemony favorite is lemon verbena. If you’re in Zones 9 and 10, it’s grown as a perennial shrub, but you can still cultivate it as an annual in more northern climates. To get the most leaves from your plant, give it regular prunings, as this will make it bushier and prevent it from getting too leggy.10

Its flavor is similar to lemon balm, but sweeter. According to the Mexican Food Journal, Mexicans drink lemon verbena tea “as a sleep aid and to help reduce indigestion.”11 To prepare it, all you need is three to six leaves to 4 cups of water.

A stronger tea is typically recommended if you’re serving it iced. While most teas call for adding the leaves after the water has boiled and you’ve removed it from heat, the Mexican Food Journal suggests placing the leaves in the water from the start, and allowing them to boil for about 15 minutes. Honey, agave nectar or stevia can be added for extra sweetness.

Lemongrass tea

Lemongrass is easy to grow, requiring minimal attention, and can be used fresh in either hot or cold water for a refreshing summer beverage with anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety and pain-blocking12 benefits.13 Many will simply take a long blade of rinsed lemongrass and place it whole into a large glass beverage dispenser filled with cold water. Cucumber or lemon slices can also be added.

To make tea, cut the stalk as close to the ground as possible (the lower white part of the stalk is the sweetest). Rinse to remove debris, then cut the stalk into 2-inch pieces.

Bring water to a boil. Remove from heat and add the lemongrass stalks. Allow to steep for at least five minutes. Drain out the stalks before drinking. As with all other teas, it can be consumed hot or cold. Sweetener is typically not needed.

Anise hyssop tea

As its name implies, anise hyssop has a sweet licorice flavor. It’s part of the mint family, and is also known as licorice mint.14 If licorice isn’t high on your list of favorite flavors, you can still add it in small amounts to other teas. Modern Farmer15 suggests blending it with mint or one of the lemon-flavored herbal teas described above.

Anise hyssop has a long tradition of use among Native Americans, who claim it can “relieve a dispirited heart.” Mixed with elk mint, it’s also been used as a traditional remedy for chest pain associated with coughing and the common cold.”16,17 It also has sedative properties.18

For a full-strength anise hyssop tea, Taste magazine suggests adding five to eight fresh stems with leaves and/or flowers to 8 cups of boiling water, using a French press:19

“Gently rinse the plant parts with cool water to remove dirt and debris. Fill a large French press halfway with the anise hyssop (leaves, stems, and flowers). Add the boiling water and let steep for 15 to 20 minutes. Carefully press down the plunger. Pour the tea over ice into a pitcher or glass. Garnish with anise hyssop leaves and flowers to serve.”

How to grow vanilla beans at home

Orchids are one of the largest families of flowering plants, and vanilla is the only orchid plant that produces an edible fruit.1 In 2005, a provisional checklist of the size of the orchid family suggested there are more than 24,500 known species.2

According to the American Orchid Society3 there are over 50 species of the orchid Vanilla planifolia. The vanilla orchid is in a group of the most primitive orchids. Although the flowers are short-lived, they’re often produced in succession so the plant may be in bloom for several weeks.

Other than plants used in the cut flower trade, not many orchids are propagated for commercial use, save the vanilla orchid.4 As well as having great commercial value, the vanilla plant may also prove to be foundational to an understanding of the evolution of orchid plants.

Since the seeds have a hard coating, it is thought that animals help with dispersing their seeds. There have been reports the seeds are eaten by bats, also important in scattering seeds in the environment.5

The vanilla orchid is found near the Equator, especially in Brazil, the West Indies and southern Africa.6 While the plant does best in the tropics, there are ways to grow vanilla beans in your own home and enjoy the rich flavor and health benefits.

History of vanilla and how it can be used

Vanilla thrives when it is grown close to the equator, in the most humid regions.7 The first people to cultivate the plant were the Totonacs of Mexico’s east coast. When the Aztecs conquered the Totonacs living in east central Mexico8 in the 15th century, they began using vanilla.9

When the Spaniards conquered the Aztecs, the vanilla plant made its way to Europe.10 The Aztecs used the vanilla bean in their chocolate drink, and it was thought of nothing more than a flavoring for chocolate until Queen Elizabeth I tasted an all-vanilla flavored sweet meat.11

She popularized the flavor as being enjoyable in more than just a chocolate drink. In 1780, when Thomas Jefferson lived in Paris, he copied a recipe for vanilla ice cream that is now protected in the Library of Congress.12

It requires more manual labor to produce vanilla than any other crop in the world, which explains the cost.13 It can take at least three years from planting a 3-foot vine until it produces pods to be sold. It requires from 5 to 7 pounds of green vanilla beans to produce 1 pound of processed vanilla, another reason for the high cost.

There are an estimated 18,000 products sold flavored with vanilla, most of which is synthetic since the cost of natural vanilla is nearly $300 per pound.14 Synthetic vanilla is approximately 20 times cheaper than real vanilla.15

Once the beans are cured, vanilla may be used in its natural form when the seeds are scraped directly from the pod and added to your baked dishes.16 The beans may be used to produce an extract used in baking or oil infusions for aromatherapy. The oil infusions can also be used for massages to help relieve sore muscles and joints due to vanilla’s antinociceptive (blocks pain sensation) properties.17

This vining orchid grows well in containers

The vanilla bean plant grows as a vine. In subtropical and tropical areas, it may be grown outdoors in the ground, but in the remainder of the world it will do better in a container in a protected environment. This orchid is epiphytic,18 meaning the vines have roots beneath each leaf that are able to absorb water from the air.19

Orchids are started from a cutting that do best in a combination of half bark and half potting soil20 in a pot design for orchids with adequate drainage holes.21 While this mixture is a little denser than most soil for orchids, the initial plant will need the special formulation to provide nutrients while it grows.22

Once the epiphytic roots develop, the plant no longer depends on the roots in the potting mix. At this point, you may want to transplant the orchid into a pot with fir bark and an orchid mixture.23

As a vine, you’ll want to provide the plant with something to climb on. In the tropics, a vanilla orchid can grow up to 300 feet, usually in the trees. However, growing in your greenhouse or home, you’ll want to keep the vine to 20 or 30 feet so it’s more manageable.24 By training the vine to grow laterally, you may harvest more in a smaller space.

Use a slab of hardwood that does not easily rot, such a cedar or cypress as the vertical support.25 The best way to raise a vanilla orchid at home is in a greenhouse, or a room in your home where you can carefully control the light, heat and humidity.26 It grows best in temperatures from 70 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. In cooler temperatures the growth slows.27

Light and humidity important to your vanilla orchid

The plant also requires enough light to produce flowers. Low light will encourage lush green growth, but no flowers. Watch your plant for the color of the foliage. Grown with sufficient light, the leaves will be a green-yellow color with strong vertical growth.28

After the plant has established epiphytic roots, the soil should have exceptional drainage and hold sufficient moisture but also allow for air movement.29 When grown at home, orchids may enjoy an overhead paddle fan on the lowest setting to encourage air movement throughout the area without directly blowing on the plant.

Your vanilla orchid will thrive in high humid conditions when the humidity is kept at 80%30 so the epiphytic roots can gather water from the atmosphere. When the humidity is lower, you will want to mist your plant every day, making sure to provide enough water to keep the soil damp, but not over watered and not allowed to dry out.31

When you water, use enough that it runs from the drainage holes as this soaks the soil but also flushes the collection of waste products. If you live in a humid climate, clay pots work well. In a drier climate or without as much humidity, a plastic pot may hold moisture longer.32

When orchids receive these requirements, they may grow well without fertilizer. However, you’ll get better results when the plant is routinely fed33 every two weeks during the spring and summer.34

Experienced orchid growers believe observation is the key to keeping your plants healthy. Examine them on a regular basis so you can correct any issues before they develop serious problems.35 The moist and humid environment leaves the plants open to root rot, so take care to examine the roots and repot them annually.36

Hand pollination is a learned skill

The insects responsible for pollinating vanilla orchids are not found in the northern hemisphere. If you’re growing your vanilla plant to harvest beans, you’ll need to learn the skill of hand pollination. In 1841, a young slave named Edmond Albius developed an effective means of hand pollinating vanilla during his time on an island in the Indian Ocean.37

The technique for hand pollinating eventually spread to Europe, enabling the plant to be grown in areas where the bees responsible for pollinating did not live.38 The technique requires a little skill and a lot of patience. The plants flower in the morning and live for one day.

Once the vine reaches a height of 3 to 5 feet, it may begin to flower. Gardeners believe it may be the end of the winter months as well as growth overflowing the support that help stimulates flowering.39

The plant blooms in succession, and the flowers appear opposite a leaf node over a period of several weeks. The flowers need to be pollinated in the morning hours. When pollination is successful, you’ll see the area below the flower begin to swell in the coming days. Continue to care for your plant as you do normally, as it requires nearly nine months for the pods to mature to harvest.40

Create a greenhouse effect for best results

Growing your vanilla orchid in a greenhouse or hothouse provides the best condition for the plant. It needs the extra humidity and air circulation. However, don’t despair if you live in an apartment or don’t have the space for a greenhouse in your backyard: Your bathroom is also a good place for high humidity and heat.

Add a ceiling fan for air circulation and a growing light to optimize the environment. Another option is to build your own greenhouse for display in a living area.

Recycled windows built on a table may help you create a self-contained humid environment where you may show off your plants. The heat from the sun, or an additional growing lamp if you don’t have access to good sunlight, plus misting the plants in an enclosed environment produces the same type of tropical temperatures the vanilla orchid enjoys.

Harvest and prepare your vanilla beans

Vanilla beans are picked by hand as they begin to turn yellow. From successful pollination to maturity, this takes eight to nine months. Take the pod between two fingers and snap it from the vine or use a pair of sharp, recently cleaned scissors to remove the pod.41

Pods do best when they’re scalded the same day they’re harvested.42 Heat a pot of water to 190 degrees Fahrenheit and submerge the beans for 20 seconds. This stops the growth and releases enzymes which are important to the vanilla flavor.43

Remove the pods and wrap them in a wool towel, then place them in a dark, airtight container, called sweating the pods. This continues the process of developing the complex components that give vanilla its unique aroma.44 When the beans are cured in the field, they are left tightly wrapped for two weeks, alternating between being laid in the sun and being returned to containers at night and when rain is on the way.45

On the following day, transfer the beans to a 120-degree Fahrenheit oven. Let them roast for two hours and then return them to the box. Repeat this process of oven drying and sweating for seven days. Once this is completed, place them outside daily to air-dry until the beans are completely cured, which may take up to three months.46

Next, place the beans in a box lined with wax paper and keep them there for a month. This enhances the flavor and aroma. Once the box is opened, the beans will look black and slick with a light coat of oil. If moisture has been allowed in, however, you may find your crop has molded and the beans cannot be used.47

Make your own vanilla bean products

Once you’ve harvested and cured your vanilla beans, it’s time to make your own products. You may scrape out the beans and use them directly in your baking. However, you may want to make your own vanilla extract, which has a longer shelf life than the vanilla bean.48

Gather an 8-ounce glass bottle, seven organically grown vanilla beans and a bottle of 70 proof vodka. If you choose, you may substitute bourbon, rum or brandy for the vodka. Slice the bean length-wise and place the entire thing in the bottle. If it fits more easily when sliced into smaller pieces, that works too.49

Poor in a cup of the alcohol of your choice and make sure the beans are completely submerged. Shake the bottle twice a week, letting the alcohol and beans marinate for eight weeks. Remove the beans and enjoy. Store the bottle at room temperature and out of direct sunlight.50

Pure vanilla essential oil does not exist, but vanilla scented infused oil can be made at home. Gather two cups of jojoba or sesame oil, six organic vanilla beans, a large glass jar or double boiler, a bit of time and a lot of patience.51 Slice the beans lengthwise, scrape out the seeds and place them in a sterilized jar or pot. Next, cut the beans into smaller pieces and place those with the seeds.

You may choose a cold or hot infusion. A cold infusion is made simply by pouring the oil into the jar with the seeds and the beans, capping it and setting it in a sunny window for four to six weeks.52

If you choose a hot infusion, set up your double boiler and place the vanilla and oil into the pot on top. Set the temperature to low and put a lid on the pot. You may keep this running throughout the day for two to three days while you’re at home and awake, ensuring the water at the bottom of a double boiler does not evaporate.

After this time the oil is ready to be strained through cheesecloth to remove the seeds and beans. You might find that some of the seeds strain through the cheesecloth. This oil may be used as a body oil, facial oil, lip balm or to massage sore joints and muscles.53

Relax in a tub of vanilla bean bath salts

Unwinding at the end of a long day in a relaxing bath is one of life’s joys. Consider using your own products to control the quality, scent and enjoy health benefits as well. A jar of colored bath salts makes a thoughtful and healthy gift. Making your own bath salts at home is a simple process.

Gather Epsom salt, vanilla infused oil, baking soda and food coloring if you’d like to add color. The Epsom salt helps your body’s natural detoxification system,54 while baking soda helps soothe irritated skin55 and vanilla adds a soothing aroma.

Mix the salt and soda together. Add food coloring if you like, and mix it really well. Add vanilla infused oil, again mixing thoroughly. Store it in an airtight container.

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A Man Died Just 48 Hours After Contracting a Flesh-eating Bacteria from Waters in Florida

Each summer, as the waters along the U.S coastline, heat up, cases of flesh-eating bacteria become prevalent. These parasites can act quickly and may be deadly. While there are many different types of flesh-eating bacteria, in many cases Vibrio vulnificus is at fault.

This bacteria can be contracted by exposing a wound with contaminated water or handling raw shellfish. Vibrio vulnificus is one of over 20 species of Vibrio which cause vibriosis, which is responsible for an estimated 80,000 illnesses and 100 deaths in the United States each year.

Most infections occur between May and October. (1) Those with a compromised immune system or liver disease are more likely to get an infection and severe complications. (2)

Recently, a man from Tennessee died just 48 hours after contracting a flesh-eating bacteria from waters in Florida, the family had spent several days in the water, at a beach in Destin, and Boggy Bayou.

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