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Susquehanna Life

Episode 6: Spring 2021 - “Renewal and Rejuvenation”

Show Notes

After a particularly cold, snowy, and difficult winter, it is time for renewal and rejuvenation. The Spring 2021 issue of Susquehanna Life Magazine provides multiple stories and features that will motivate you to get outdoors into the woods and the garden. This episode expands on some of the stories in our magazine. You will also from an experienced educator sharing insider tips for educating children outdoors. A master gardener will tell you everything you need to know to grow your own herbs for teas and herbal infusions.

The Lewisburg Pod School

After seeing their children struggle with remote learning at the start of the Coronavirus Global Pandemic, five families decided to pool their resources and started modern day one-room school house. They call it The Lewisburg Pod School. 

The students range in ages from 6 to 14 years old. With the help of a very creative teacher, they created a safe learning community during this very long Coronavirus pandemic. Every Wednesday the students and the teacher head into the woods for a full day of learning and play. Through fall, winter, and now in the spring, you will find them exploring the forest. In this episode we hear from Jenn Boyunegmez, the teacher,  Elizabeth Durden, a parent, and Gabriel, a six-year old student in the Pod School. 

Planting an Herb Garden and Infusing Your Own Infusions and Teas

Erica Jo Shaffer has a storehouse of knowledge to share with those with experience and little to know experience planting and tending a garden. In a recent conversation about her Garden Shed article, Erica answers my many questions about growing herbs and using them to make homemade herbal infusions and tea.  Host, Peterson Toscano, peppers Erica with questions about seeds versus seedlings, pots versus growing in the ground, and what to do with friends who claim they simply do not have a green thumb. Erica also reveals the wonders of dandelions and stinging nettles. 

Behind the Scenes Look at Susquehanna Life Magazine’s Design

When perusing a magazine listening to a podcast, we can become immersed in a world, but most of us are usually unaware of all the techniques and design elements that make it work. In this episode we pull back the curtain for you and introduce you to one of the people who make the magic happen at Susquehanna Life Magazine—Simone Tieber. Growing up in East Germany, Simone turned to art to comfort her during a turbulent childhood. Later in university the only way she could continue her art career though was to be an active member in the Communist party. She refused and forged her own path. 

Now as a graphic designer splitting her time between the USA and Germany, she has been responsible for designing the magazine that accompanies the Grammy Awards and the American Country Music Awards along with many travel, food, and university publications. Still working on each issue of Susquehanna Life Magazine is some of Simone’s favorite design work. 


Host Peterson Toscano chats with Susquehanna Life publisher, Erica Shames about the Spring 2021 issue. Peterson also shares highlights including strategies for coping with the Coronavirus Pandemic, comfort foods, and more. 

Susquehanna Life Out Loud is the companion podcast to Susquehanna Life Magazine. You will find a full transcript of this episode and listings of previous episodes on our show notes page. You can hear our podcast on Podbean, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, and Stitcher Radio. All the music we use on the show is licensed. In this episode you heard Dreamers of the Shore by Volcan Peaks and featuring Cody Francis. You can it and the other music at Epidemic Sound. Let us know where you hear podcasts, and we will submit our show to that platform.
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Peterson Toscano (00:00):

Hey, Erica, how are you? 

Erica Shames (00:02)

I'm doing well. How are you?

Peterson Toscano (00:04):

Doing really well. I'm excited about spring, spring coming. Yeah.

Erica Shames (00:10):

It's actually one of my favorite seasons.

Peterson Toscano (00:12):

Yeah. And I think this spring feels like it's needed more than most Springs.

Erica Shames (00:16):

Yeah. Even more of a rebirth and renewal than it usually is.

Peterson Toscano (00:21):

You know, the pandemic clearly is exhausting and being inside is really hard. Right. You can't get together with people in the same way. So I think, yeah, it's nice that spring is coming and soon we'll be able to be outside and doing all sorts of fun stuff.

Erica Shames (00:34):

Yes. Although I really have strive to get outside in the winter. It's certainly not as much fun and not as enjoyable as a little warmer

Peterson Toscano (00:43):

Although, as we're going to hear in the story about the Lewisburg pod school, those kids are out every Wednesday out the whole day in the woods. So there they're like doing it all season long.

Erica Shames (00:54):

Yeah. As they should be, in my opinion.

Peterson Toscano (00:57):

So tell me, what are you excited about? What are you thinking about with this particular issue?

Erica Shames (01:02):

I feel really strongly about that idea of rejuvenation, renewal. We’re all ready to start feeling better physically and mentally. For some of us that's coming in the form of vaccines. Frankly, I can't wait to get mine, but it’s going to be a while. But also carrying forward that idea of kindness that we kind of laid out in our winter issue. Definitely a lot of our articles focus on being kind to yourself, being kind to others, being kind just in the way you go about your daily life. That really is the focus of the spring issue. 

Peterson Toscano (01:36):

And definitely, as always, there's opportunities for people to learn about the outdoors. I love the article about herbs and I had a great conversation with Erica and she's going to share for our listeners tips for gardeners who have never done any gardening at all. She just like, she like makes it so easy and accessible for folks.

Erica Shames (01:57):

There’s so much depth to her that her garden articles don't even touch upon. I think that's one of the values of the podcast is, is allowing you to delve even deeper with our writers and the topics that we cover. It's always even a surprise and exciting to me to hear what you uncover with your interviews.

Peterson Toscano (02:16):

I'm also really excited about sharing how Simone pulls back the curtain for us. And I learned so much about the design of the magazine that I don't even notice at first, but now that she said it, I see it. The work that she does and that you do with her is just so amazing.

Erica Shames (02:32):

There is a real skill to designing a magazine that goes way beyond any other type of graphic design. You know, we've been working together, I think around a decade by now. From the very start of when she started working with us, she really took the magazine’s look and feel in a direction in which I really wanted to go. I wanted the magazine to look sophisticated and you know, there's little nuanced things that a graphic designer well versed in magazine design knows how to do. Like I knew what I wanted, but I didn't know how to get there. And she is such an artist, you know, beyond obviously her magazine design. She's a joy to work with beyond being talented. She's just a wonderful person.

Peterson Toscano (03:17):

Anything else you want to say about this spring issue or about spring or how you're entering the spring season.

Erica Shames (03:22):

Just again, looking forward to that feeling and that, that sensation of when you feel winter turning into spring. You know, more birds are singing. The temperature slightly rises. You know, it's all very incremental. I'm looking forward to seeing my first robin. All  these little things that I think we normally take for granted. I think we're, at least I am really savoring and looking forward to as part of this renewal and this rejuvenation of, of seasons.

Peterson Toscano (03:52):

I think people are going to very much enjoy spring 2021 issue. And I'm so excited that we can expand on the stories today, here on Susquehanna Life Out Loud.

Erica Shames (04:01):

I feel the same. And thank you for the wonderful job that you do.

Peterson Toscano (04:08):

It doesn't matter who you are or where you live. This Corona virus pandemic has likely hurled a bunch of problems at you. For working parents with young children, though, the challenges have been like an extreme sport.

Elizabeth Durden (04:24):

It was hell it was hell. And I say that, knowing that my husband and I are two of the most fortunate, lucky people on earth, right? We did not lose our jobs. We are both academics. So we actually had a lot more flexibility than a lot of people, right? I wasn't trying to run a bank or be a lawyer or whatever people do at Goldman Sachs. Like I didn't have to do all that. There wasn't a, there's no 40, 50, 60 hour clock that I have to keep. Flexibility is the best thing about academia. 

Peterson Toscano (04:50)

That's Elizabeth Durden. 

Elizabeth Durden (04:51)

I am a professor. I'm an eater, I'm a cook. I love to eat and cook. I am mother to a little girl named Porter. I'm a reader, I'm a friend, I’m a spouse.

Peterson Toscano (05:02):

The Corona virus, with the various lockdown restrictions, radically altered life for Elizabeth and her family. 

Elizabeth Durden (05:09):

Our world was turned upside down and it was for Porter as well. So when she left her school, the school did a great job of immediately setting up online lessons for her, which I was really indebted, right? The teacher, she saw her teacher every day. She saw some of her friends every day, but online learning is not for a 9-year-old. It's not for my 9-year-old. I don't think it's really for almost anyone. And I noticed that Porter over time started becoming really disengaged, not only with her schoolwork, but also with the world. And she became mentally and emotionally depressed. She withdrew from the world. You know, like most kids she's happy, she's vibrant, she's engaged, but she was really retreating into herself. And it was very much due to the lack of socialization and the lack of being with other children. Porter’s an only child. And so there was no one for her to play with, right? As we were just sort of stuck there.

Peterson Toscano (06:01):

Seeing her child Porter struggle led Elizabeth to seek solutions. She connected with her friend, Vanessa Massaro, whose 6-year-old son Gabriel also struggled to adapt to the new normal of distance learning.

Elizabeth Durden (06:14):

We realized how harmful the pandemic was being to our children emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, that we formed what we laughingly called camp COVID. We hired somebody who was actually able to work with our children over the summer, sort of be their summer camp counselor. We all adhere to certain health and social behaviors that we thought really sort of mitigated the chances of us getting COVID. We took some risk to actually bring some life into our children's lives.

Peterson Toscano  (06:40):

The summer experiment went so well they began to brainstorm ideas for the school year. Out of these talks, they envisioned the Lewisburg pod school.

Elizabeth Durden (06:49):

Working really closely with the brilliant and vivacious Vanessa, we were able to do this. You know, it's not something I did alone. It's not something we did alone. We worked as a team and we feel really, really excited by what we pulled off.

Peterson Toscano  (07:00):

Their vision for a face-to-face learning experience for their children became a reality when they called on Jenn Boyunegmez, a skilled and experienced teacher.

Jenn Boyunegmez (07:10):

I'm very passionate about early education. I think that children have spectacular potential that often goes unnoticed and uncelebrated.  I see it as vitally important to, uh, try and partner with them to pull out their best selves. And in turn, then it helps me pull out my best self, which is an extra bonus.

Peterson Toscano (07:30):

And for the Lewisburg pod school, Jenn pulled out all the stops and created a vibrant, safe, and successful learning environment that has been running since September, 2020.

Jenn Boyunegmez (07:39):

So the pod is a group of five families who have come together to educate their children in the most consistent and, I’ll  loosely say normal way as possible during these times. We have a kindergartner, a first grader and two third graders who are receiving curriculum that I am providing. And then my biological children are also in the pod. They are two sixth graders and a seventh grader. They received their curriculum from Milville School District. So they're asynchronous online through Millville Virtual Academy. And so they do their work on a computer with us. So they'll jump in and support learning. Maybe they help the kindergarten student with reading goals or the third grade students with math goals, things like that. It's very familial and there's love and support and bickering and all of it. It's, it's pretty cool. We're in session, quote unquote “in session,” for four days a week, Monday through Thursday. We rotate homes. So every two weeks we're in a different family's home. And so the four Lewisburg/Milton families host pod each week for a two-week time. Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, we're in those students' homes. And on Wednesday we are outside in the woods for a full day.

Peterson Toscano (08:52):

Uh, did you catch that? Autumn, winter and now spring Jenn and the students spend every Wednesday outdoors in the woods.

Jenn Boyunegmez (09:00):

There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. And so we definitely do our best to layer up and make sure we're waterproofed and things like that. We've had a couple of days where we've had to start late or cut short. We also have some flexibility in looking ahead. In fact, just this week, rather than be outside on Wednesday, Thursday’s weather looks much better so we just did a switcheroo--cold weather doesn't stop us at all.

Peterson Toscano (09:24):

In my entire educational experience, I cannot remember a single class period, let alone a whole day, outside in nature. But what do they do out there in the wild?

Jenn Boyunegmez (09:35):

I follow them through the day and then find out what they're interested in. I, you know, try to be really in tune with things that they're interested in, and I can then bring invitations for expanding their learning in the subsequent week. The intention really is unstructured play, social opportunities in nature. In education, we focus a lot on literacy development and cognitive development, mathematical thinking, scientific thinking, all those things. What's not in the forefront is a spiritual development and kids need that. Right? And so having time in nature really brings a balance to that area. It's lovely. So much learning can happen through play. Right? For instance, we did a unit of study on indigenous people, end of October through November. What I was able to observe as a sort of a processing of learning through play in, in the November weeks was the, the two third graders have this whole entire Native American village set up under this huge, enormous pine tree that they go to week after week.

And they've made their bed from pine needles and they're making food on this makeshift tripod stove— things that were directly taught through this indigenous study unit were then executed and more fully developed through play. It's very, very cool. We also had done a science unit on space. We were able to observe during the day. The moon phases were a big part of this study. Also some planet location and stars in the galaxy and things like that. And we ended up having a pod sleepover and then took this amazing night hike out and into this wooded area at the campsite. I think we saw Mars and Jupiter and Saturn. We found the Big Dipper. We found the Little Dipper. We were looking at other constellations that we'd seen. We could see the edge of the Milky Way. So again, things that are coming through to the kids in paper and book instruction that we're reading about and talking about writing about, we then had this real life experience to really solidify that learning.

Peterson Toscano (11:34):

As a parent Elizabeth Durden embraces the outdoor education model.

Elizabeth Durden (11:43) 

We don't need a pandemic for the outdoors and nature to be important for children's development and our own development. Right? The teacher that we have is incredibly skilled at using nature as way to engage children in issues of science, conservation, the social world, religiosity, myths, caretaking for each other and the animals and the earth. These are lessons that are important. My child is a go outside, get dirty kind of kid. And quite frankly, I think most kids are. She's happiest outdoors. We've always sought out educational spaces that feed Porter's love of nature. Her, her love of being outside. So pod school is able to continue that. But I will also say in a pandemic, it makes the most sense, right? So even if we're in a pod and that we are now all adhering to very strict health and social behaviors that we all have to follow, it's quite strict. You know, we all know being outside the best place to be when you've got airborne transmission of COVID. So we're feeling really good about that.

Peterson Toscano (12:38):

A little later in the program, teacher Jenn and parent Elizabeth will tell us exactly how they keep the children and the adults safe during the pandemic. It's a lot more complicated than you might imagine, especially when you're dealing with five different families. It raises questions about risk, communication, and trust. We will also hear more from student Gabriel about his experiences in the pod school. 

But since we're hearing about the wonders of being outdoors, you may begin to feel the itch to get out there yourself. After a particularly cold and snowy winter as the ground loosens up, the weather warms, and the first shoots appear, my friends and neighbors begin talking about their gardens and what they're going to grow. I find myself perusing the seed racks with visions of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme.

Erica Jo Shaffer (13:27):

A lot of people buy seed packs, especially in the spring when spring fever starts to kick in. And I think a lot of seed packs go unstarted, you know, where they just sit on the counter? Like, yeah, maybe I'll get to those. Yeah.

Peterson Toscano (13:38):

That's Erica Jo Shaffer. She knows a lot about the habits of aspiring gardeners. And she has a storehouse of knowledge to share with those of us with experience and little to no experience planting and tending a garden. In Erica's Garden Shed article she writes out growing herbs for us to use in our own home brewed teas and herbal infusions. Erica answers my many questions about growing herbs. This includes if I should buy packets of seeds or small pots with seedlings already growing.

Erica Jo Shaffer (14:07):

The advantage of seed starting obviously is they cost less and you get a whole bunch of seeds. If you're super successful, then you've got a whole bunch of seedlings that you need to figure out who you're going to give them to. Because now they're your babies. You know, that you've nurtured and brought along into the world. I am not much of a seed starter. Some things, nasturtiums are an herb, not necessarily a tea herb, and they're like super easy to start. I prefer, myself, to buy the little four-inch pots. Luckily in our area, we've got really great garden centers with extensive herb collections. It's easier for me, it's more time friendly for me to let somebody else do all that beginning work and then go to a quality nursery and get the starts.

Peterson Toscano  (14:48):

Erica has her green thumb in all sorts of projects these days.

Erica Jo Shaffer (14:53):

I, I do landscape designs, consults. I blog, I do garden speeches. And then in my other otherness, I also am a Reiki master and do some Reiki sessions and things like that. 

Peterson Toscano (15:07):

For plants and the natural world, along with the deep desire to nurture plants and humans, came from a childhood filled with rich experiences.

Erica Jo Shaffer (15:16):

We were in a small ranch house in the woods with a huge vegetable garden. And there was a very large pond across the road from us. So I grew up in nature and I grew up—not to date myself—I grew up in a time where it was okay for me, as a 7 or 8-year-old child to be out in the woods by myself. I would hear the horn beep, you know the car horn beep, and it was time to come in for dinner. I had a very deep infusion of nature as a child. Also, my mother was always the one, if you didn't feel good, like if she had a friend who didn't feel good or a neighbor who didn't feel good-- that she was the one who was checking in on them or going to have tea with them or taking them some dinner or something so they wouldn't have to cook. So she had this very caring, nurturing energy about her that I must've witnessed deeply as a child that now comes into my own, like earth-loving plus nurturing.

Peterson Toscano (16:06):

When friends visit, I always give them sprigs of herbs to taste, smell, and take home. So often a friend will say, I wish I could grow herbs too, but I just don't have a green thumb.

Erica Jo Shaffer (16:18):

The people who think they can't grow anything, it's a lack of information. So if a plant dies, it's not the end of the world. It's information for you to gather. One of the things that I've through the years tried to guide my new gardeners into is first of all, decide if you're an under-waterer or an over-waterer, because that's going to put you in a certain class of plants or it's going to guide you that you're forgetting to water or you're swamping your plant. Having a general awareness to start with—is this area you want to plant in sunny or shady? Does the soil drain well? Or is it baking like, uh, you know, hot afternoon sun is on it. And just become aware, before you even choose a plant, what the conditions are around, where you plan to plant. And then we move forward from there.

Peterson Toscano (17:04):

Erica is so wonderfully nonjudgmental when it comes to growing herbs. I asked her about soil, planting in the ground versus in pots, fertilizers, harvesting, and more.

Erica Jo Shaffer (17:19):

As far as putting them in the ground or in pots, if you're going to use pots, a lot of people will really pack what they'll call their herb pot, you know, and you start with some 12-inch pot and you've got 12 different herbs in it. Sometimes I think people forget that if they're successful, they're going to grow. Before you know it, it's July and you're having to water the pot twice a day, because now all the roots are fighting for water and nutrients. So if you're going to do containers, first of all, make sure you have a drainage hole. Most herbs, 95 percent of the herbs are hating wet roots. So if you don't put a drainage hole or buy a pot that has a drainage hole, you're going to swamp your herbs and they're going to die. Then you're going to think you don't have a green thumb when really it was another awareness that you didn't notice. Use good potting soil. If you use cheap potting soil, you're going to get cheap results. Most of the cheap potting soils are going to be super mucky whenever you over-water them. And if you forget, they're going to dry out so much, they won't hardly accept the water. Plastic pots don't dry out as fast. Terracotta pots dry out super-fast. Creeping Thymes like drier soil. So maybe a terracotta pot, or if you know, you're an over-water, the terracotta pots will actually fight against that trait that you have. I prefer in the ground. Again, we're back to mother nature and the nutrients that are already in the ground. I have found time and time again, that most of my herbs are going to grow better when they don't have me watering or wondering if I watered or overwatered or my potting soil and all the extra things you have to consider.

Erica Jo Shaffer (18:54):

I prefer myself to use organic fertilizers for my vegetables and herbs, which would be things like fish emulsion or liquid seaweed. The other thing is when you're harvesting your herbs, you know, use your sharp scissors. Only take what you need to take so that you don't take so much from the plant that it can't sustain itself. The foliage is what drinks in the sun energy that feeds the root. So when you remove foliage, you have knocked back part of the ability of the plant to survive. Maybe only make enough to make a cup of tea, or if you have a friend coming over, just snip as you go along and then do your major harvesting in autumn before the frost hits, if you're going to dry herbs to bring through the winter, to make teas.

Peterson Toscano (19:37):

Okay, now that we have the basics of how to grow and care for herbs, Erica has many tips on using these herbs to make fragrant and healthy hot beverages.

Erica Jo Shaffer (19:46):

Simply snipping it and putting it into water that's nearly boiling. We use boiling water for the Camilia sinensis types teas, like black tea and green tea. When you come into the herbs, especially the fresh herbs, when you put the boiling water on it, you can really destroy a lot of the oils that are within the plant. So we want to use almost-boiling or let it go to boil and then wait 10 minutes. As far as ratios and how you would decide how much to put in, then that becomes in the taste of the beholder. Even with my own experiments, which I'm always doing, I tried a whole handful of camomile flowers in a cup of hot water. It was so bitter. I could not even drink it. And so I backed it off and backed it off and found that four or five fresh camomile flowers is all that you need to make a flavorful cup of tea. Any more than that, it's so bitter you can't even drink it. And that's on my tongue; that might not be on somebody else's tongue. So when you're choosing what you're going to mix, do these little tiny micro batches and keep track of what you're doing.

Peterson Toscano (20:48):

In her article, Erica lists specific herbs that grow well in our region and are excellent for herbal infusions. These include holy basil, lemon thyme, peppermint, lavender, and even roses.

Erica Jo Shaffer (20:58):

I don't know how I've managed it. I have a third of an acre garden. It's pretty packed. There's not much lawn left. Somehow. I have 18 roses in my garden now, and fresh rose petals are such a delight for color. Everyone knows rose's mean love. So I think about the infusion of love into the teas, even if you're only putting a few rose petals into a tea, because it looks prettier, because it causes you delight. The flavor, unless it's a very fragrant rose, the flavor's not going to come up too much into it. Peppermint tea is lovely. Peppermint, with a few rose petals in it, is over the top lovely.

Peterson Toscano (21:33):

You can mix and match herbs. I already began dreaming of a tea with mint and lavender

Erica Jo Shaffer (21:38):

And lavender is another one that's got a really strong musky flavor to it. So when you make your tea, when you start to like devise your own recipes, gosh, you could do, in one cup, a quarter of a teaspoon of lavender and find that that's enough flavor. Yeah, so you can be more generous on the peppermint, which also can get very strong flavored and just a little tiny bit of lavender. You'll be surprised at how much that comes forward, or it goes past where it's like, gosh, this doesn't even taste good. Would be better for you to start with a smaller quantity of herbs instead of packing your cup up and thinking that that's going to make it better.

Peterson Toscano (22:12):

And beyond the herbs in our gardens, Erica invites us to consider plants that some people think of as a nuisance. In our conversations, she extolled the wonders of both the dandelions and stinging nettles.

Erica Jo Shaffer (22:24):

Oh yes. Two of my favorite favorite. I am a dandelion advocate. There's so many people that just hate dandelions. That's like, why do? You've been manipulated by the Scotts of the world? You know, the weed killer people and all that. Dandelions are so incredibly healthy. Dandelions—you can use the fresh flowers. In that instance, you need to be aware that there are so many pollinators using the fresh flowers. I will cut a few flowers and then leave them sit outside on my potting bench for a couple hours to let the pollinators actually escape. Sometimes there's tiny little ants in there and just different animals that are using it that are foraging from it. And then you would just put the flowers right straight in your cup. Again, almost-boiling water over top. Let it steep for a little bit and then drink with honey. Super-nutritious. Or dandelion root tea.

Erica Jo Shaffer (23:12):

I have harvested my own dandelion roots is really a challenge to get all the dirt off the roots. So you can buy straight up already dried and processed dandelion roots—makes a magnificent tea. And if you roast it, which I do roast my own, then it comes close to the taste of coffee. From there, you can add things like cinnamon or nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, and make your own roasted dandelion root chai tea, which is amazing. You can use even the greens of a dandelion if you're not using it for salad, that is another way you can get a really strong herbal, nutritious drink. All parts of the dandelion are good.

Erica Jo Shaffer (23:54):

Stinging nettles are heinous when you run across them in a field or something like that. They're prickly on your skin. And in the meantime, they're one of the most nutritious teas you can drink and you wouldn't want them necessarily in your garden. So maybe foraging would have been something I would have added, if the article could have been longer. Uh, identifying them, you just need to brush your hand against them  and you're going to know why it's called stinging nettles. They have hollow tubes on their stems that actually prick into your skin and cause this really intense tingling that’s on the edge of painful, too painful. Normally are found in more moist areas around rivers, on the riverbanks and things like that. Sometimes you can't even get down to like the best fishing holes because you can't get through the nettles to get to them. Harvesting-wise, when I'm harvesting them I use a pair of scissors and use the scissors as kind of prongs to lift them into a box so I don't have to touch them. And then there are other herbalists who actually commune with them more—that will touch their skin with the nettles on purpose, to commune with them before they harvest them. So a little more crazy. And I don't do that.

Peterson Toscano (25:05):

Yeah. I'm going to skip the experience of nestling with nettles, but I am curious about making nettle tea. In fact, I'm planning on trying some new herbs in my garden, after chatting with Erica and reading her article on creating your own herbal garden. You can read the entire article in the spring 2021 issue of Susquehanna Life magazine. And if you want to show us how your garden grows and tell us how you're doing with your herbs, email us at That's

Coming up next, the story of a woman from East Germany who had to fight hard to embrace life as a visual artist. You will hear about her journey and about the hidden world of graphic design that makes magazines so appealing. Then you will hear just how the Lewisburg pod school keeps five families safe while having sleepovers, adult gatherings and ongoing in-person learning.

Peterson Toscano (26:02):

Oh, and you will hear from 6-year-old Gabe who gives his honest assessment about how the pod school is working for him. Stay tuned.

When perusing a magazine or listening to a podcast, you can become immersed in a world without being aware of all the techniques and design elements that make it work. Take audio production, for instance. I begin with the raw audio. I first go through the audio and remove the background noise. Yeah, that's better. I also remove the breath sounds that come before and after phrases. I also need to level the sound so it's uniform volume.

Peterson Toscano (26:44):

Once I clean up the audio, I consider adding other elements like music. From the recording to the final touches I can spend 10 minutes on one minute of audio. On today's show, I want to pull back the curtain for you and introduce you to one of the people who makes the magic happen at Susquehanna Life magazine. Yes, our magazine is filled with excellent content—stories, events, pages, our restaurant guide, and more. We also have beautiful and arresting images. What's harder to notice though, is that our pages look so good because of intentional creative graphic design. The person behind all this design is Simone Tieber.

Simone Tieber (27:27):

Well, I grew up in Germany, and East Germany actually, and now I live in St. Petersburg (FL). And I'm in the process of moving back to Germany and work in the U S and Germany at the same time. Yeah. I lived in East Berlin just before the wall came down. So I did grow up in a countryside, uh, near Dresden in Bautzen, where I was born. And then I ended up in Berlin in ‘85 to ‘89. And, um, yeah, it was a very troubling time. And I was lucky that I got out before the wall came down. And then I lived in Vienna and London before I made my way to the United States.

Peterson Toscano (28:03):

At an early age, Simone turned to art to express her creativity and in response to troubles in her life.

Simone Tieber (28:09):

Well, I always wanted to draw and paint. I had a pretty turbulent upbringing. My home life was less from perfect. So I think that drawing and painting for me was always a way to escape and create a different reality and organize my thoughts and dreams in a different, yeah, really in a different dimension, so to speak. And it stayed with me and I never wanted to do anything else than something with the arts.

Peterson Toscano (28:37):

She decided to study art in college and soon realized that in order to have a career in East Germany, she needed to be an active part of the communist party.

Simone Tieber (28:46):

So I started, uh, studying in textile design and it was East Germany. So it was really hard because everybody had to be in a communist party and I just couldn't do it any longer. And I quit. And I also got kicked out of art school as a result. And, uh, then I did the thing with, you know, waitressing and taking photos and art always stayed with me. So no matter where I was, I was always creating my artwork. I think in my heart, I am an illustrator. I like to see my surroundings and make sense out of them. And so in a way my design graphic design kind of falls in there too, because I take things that I get like text or photos and organize them in a way. I know that's not considered fine art, but it has the same principle in the background. When I sit and watch the rain, I do think more about creating my own art, uh, paintings or drawings, not so much designing something, but then that all stays still with me. And when I do a logo, then emotionally, I still have the background of grading something. So I don't think you can really make a hard line between all the different ways to express yourself. 

Peterson Toscano (29:59):

Simone’s skills as an artist and graphic designer bring magazines to life.

Simone Tieber (30:06):

I have done work for very good client of mine. It's called Joy of Kosher magazine. It's a cooking magazine that's in the tri-state area for Jewish readers. And it's a wonderful, really fun cooking magazine. We really, really enjoyed working on that. It's a monthly. We also have done Food and Travel. That's been on all the newstands and Barnes and Nobles and everywhere. We have done the Grammy Award program that can be purchased online from the Grammys. We also have done the Country Music Awards. Graphic design—it's really not just pasting and copying pictures of photos together. I know some people see it that way. But I think that this, you know, it is an art form to get the reader's interest, to get the eye movement on the page.

Peterson Toscano (30:56):

I asked Simone to explain her process in designing magazines, and in particular, what goes into designing each issue of Susquehanna Life magazine. 

Simone Tieber (31:06):

I think we always have to think about the reader as a visitor. So for me, creating a magazine is creating a welcoming place for somebody to visit. And just as you come into somebody's house, you walk to the fourier, the entranceway, and you notice already the mood of the house. So when I create a magazine, I try to have that sense of a welcoming a reader into the magazine. It's the entire structure of a magazine—it’s the words, the colors, the photos. So I don't not really think that one is dominating the other. It has to be all together to work. You can have the most beautiful photos, but the text is really disappointing, unless somebody doesn't read. And there are many magazines, fashion magazines started to be designed that way—that you could use the same copy month after month and people may not even notice. They just look at the pictures.

Simone Tieber (31:56):

That's why I like Susquehanna [Life magazine] because it is about the text. It is about the content. It is about the whole package of how we want to invite the reader and make the experience for them that take them out of their, wherever they're sitting—in a doctor's office or at home or—but invite them in and give them a sense of, wow, here is a great hiking article. I wish I could be there, or maybe I can do it with my family later on this year. Or there's a really touching story about somebody's experience. So it's really about expanding people's view of life, I believe. The best built house—somebody would not necessarily come in if the foundation isn't right. If you feel as wobbly or the walls aren't built strongly. So that's where the cred of a magazine comes in—the column structure. This is things people don't see, but if they're not there, they would notice that something is off, just like in a house.

Simone Tieber (32:50):

Erica [Shames] and I have a fantastic work relationship. It's rare to find an editor who is so open to the creative process that makes it such a joy to work with her on Susquehanna [Life] magazine. We start each issue with Erica having a proposed content. To me, it's basically a TOC, a list of all the stories and articles that are going to go in the magazine. And then she is sending me the photos for each story. We have a set page budget. Again, you can kind of picture it as a house. If you have all the furniture and everything coming, and you don't know where to put it, and you want to make sure everything fits comfortably, you don't want to overstuff the rooms. So I go through the table of contents and see what photos go with what stories, what photos are really need to be bigger? A lot of designers make the mistake and just cram everything in. It needs to breathe. You need to have photos that speak to us. Susquehanna [Life magazine] has a special place in my heart. I am with Erica now, it's been almost 10 years, I believe. I really believe in her vision for the magazine. It promotes kindness. It promotes community spirit. It promotes the outdoors, healthy living. There is a connection to nature. We are stewards of the land. All those wonderful stories that go into the magazine and I just find it wonderful to be part of that. And I'm very thankful to it.

Peterson Toscano (34:13):

Learn more about Simone Tieber at her website. There you will see images from some of the magazines she's designed along with original artwork, visit That's

Earlier in the program you heard Elizabeth Durden tell the story about how she and her friend Vanessa dreamed up the Lewisburg pod school. She describes an idyllic learning environment facilitated by a full-time paid teacher. Four days a week, teacher Jenn Boyunegmez oversees the instruction of a group of students ages 6 to 14. She explains what the parents had to do to ensure safety for all.

Jenn Boyunegmez (34:52):

I came in strictly with the responsibility to provide education. And Elizabeth and Vanessa were, I mean, paramount in the organization, the enrollment, all of the health and safety management. They actually drew up a contract for each family to sign. There were expectations that families are just as locked down as they can be. We're not taking any unnecessary risks that could bring potential virus exposure into the pod. Everybody signed it. And it has been really good. For the adults, if you can work from home, that's the expectation. We're not having indoor play dates with families who aren’t in the pod. And just that we're all really hyper-aware of bringing any extra unnecessary risks to us. Because the students and the families alike were unmasked and undistanced.

Jenn Boyunegmez (35:38):

The level of trust is pretty impressive, to be honest. Yeah, just the commitment to making this whole thing work so that the students are having the most normal uninterrupted educational experience for this year has been incredibly impressive. And I think another piece too, is the transparency. The communication between these families. You know, if somebody says, I have to take the dog to the vet or I'm going to the dentist or things like that, all those things are talked about and worked through as a group. And we all sort of reach an agreement and hear each other's suggestions as to how best that can be safest. It's been pretty impressive how the adults have been able to sort of come together, communicate, be transparent and manage these extra nonpod activities, just to protect the safety of the pod.

Peterson Toscano (36:23):

For Elizabeth and the other parents daily communication has been vital.

Elizabeth Durden (36:27):

But we do have friendships. We have close friendships. We all are on a WhatsApp group. And so we chat daily, almost. The friendships of the group. We aren't all lifelong friends, right? There are a couple of families that I don't know as well as I know one other family. Um, the conversation happens over WhatsApp. We also do, um, I would say monthly happy hours or after schools on Thursday, all the parents get together to talk about issues. We've done quite a few Zoom talks and saying, okay, how do we feel about this? We've had a couple of COVID scares in the pod. And there really was this great openness of, okay, what are we going to do? You know, the family that you know was supposedly bringing, could possibly be bringing, COVID into the pod.  We were able to talk very frankly about them without them being in the room and making a decision. I do believe that there really is real respect among all of us that if the whole group makes a decision, the other family has to go along with that. And, and, and that respect and openness really has, I think, allowed us to not kill each other six months into this thing.

Peterson Toscano (37:22):

More than once in our conversation, Elizabeth pointed out that she and the other parents are in an ideal situation to create and maintain the pod school.

Elizabeth Durden (37:30):

But I do think that there's some awe that we've been able to pull this off, right. That, that we've been actually able to not only do a pod school, but hire an educator to do the pod school. Right. And so I think that there's some real awe that we've been able to do that. I want to also acknowledge our own privilege and being able to do that. We've got some excess money that we're able to, you know, throw money at a situation. Not everybody can do that. So I really do want to acknowledge privilege on this one. But I think there's awe and I think that there's relief, especially for the grandparents of the pod of the students, right? That their kids are not only learning. They're not losing an academic year. Like I swear to God, the majority of Americans are. I mean, we're, we're, we're losing an entire academic year for these students. Our kids aren't doing that. They're outside. But I think also more than that, I mean, academics are important to me. They're important to most parents. Going back to that little girl who in March and April and by May was just a shell of herself. They're having parties. They're having sleepovers, they're doing trick or treat situations that we've set up in our backyard. They're being able to swim with one another. So the social and emotional support and engagement that they're able to have is making everybody really happy.

Peterson Toscano (38:35):

Not only has her child Porter benefited from the pod school, through the experience Elizabeth has learned an essential lesson.

Elizabeth Durden (38:42):

You really can't do a lot of this on your own. I could not have successfully given Porter a somewhat decent pandemic year without a group, without a pod, without a village. Americans are really good about turning inward and focusing on the individual and thinking that it's all about the individual who can make something happen. This experience has really taught me that while I am a capable individual and I'm capable of a lot of things, my child does better and I do better as a parent when we are relying on receiving and in a reciprocal relationship with others.

Peterson Toscano (39:14):

Even if you cannot create an entire pod school of your own, there is plenty you can do with your children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews, and younger siblings to give them a meaningful experience outdoors. Teacher Jenn explains

Jenn Boyunegmez (39:28):

Honestly, the way to start is just do it and you can't do it wrongly. Like it just can't be wrong. If you're outside in nature. That's the first step. That's the actual fundamental goal of the experience—creating a relationship with our mother earth, recognizing its beauty, everything that it gives us feeling some gratitude for that. Really the first step is just do it. From there, adults often have to sort of regress in a sense back to childhood tendencies, right? Remember what it's like to play and explore. Think about your own favorite memories of being a child. It very well maybe creek stomping and climbing trees. There's so much fear as adults that we carry. We have the knowledge of what might go wrong. This may be too dangerous or you know, anything could happen, but we're bringing that from a place of fear of what could be. When, in reality, if you really assess the risk, risk-taking is so fundamental in the development of a whole child. The ability to climb a tree as high as you can.

Jenn Boyunegmez (40:36):

I always say to the kids, I will never help anybody into a tree. If they can get up, they can get down— fight and pull and push to like get onto that first branch so that you can then step to the next. That feeling of accomplishment leads to those next steps of risk-taking. For adults, come back to your own childhood. Trust that all of this nature really was what children have always had to play with. And it's what all toys are sort of inspired from. Trust your kid. Trust your kid to know what's best for them. Again, a lot of societal pressure on parents to make sure that, you know, you've got the piano and the soccer and the, this and the, that, and you're doing the best job as a parent. The kids will tell you what they need, and you'll be surprised sometimes at how easy it is and how much thought you don't have to put into it. Just follow them and see where it leads you. It's a great adventure. The experience is very reciprocal. The kids are seeing the trust that their adult caretaker has in them. And that's so empowering. And then the parents then also see how capable, how truly, truly, truly capable their child is. Even at age 3, then it's beautiful.

Peterson Toscano (41:41):

Now it's all fine and good to hear the adults talk about the challenges and the successes, but what about the end users, the students? To give a brief, yet thorough assessment of his learning experience in the pod school I interviewed student Gabriel. Hey Gabriel. So you sound super mature when I talked to you, are you one of the older students in the pod school? 

Gabriel (42:02)

No, I’m 6!

Peterson Toscano.

All right. Okay. And how's it going with fellow students as old as 14?

Gabriel (42:10):

Well, the big kids help us. Uh, Porter and Kelly, like, do their own thing. I'm going to say they don't need any help. And me and Campbell. Uh, the big kids normally help us. 

Peterson Toscano (42:26):

What subjects are you good at? And what do you like about the pod school?

Gabriel (42:31):

I'm really good at learning science and math. Oh, I like that I can play outside a lot. We sometimes go exploring. We found this like pond thing. There was ice on top. Porter found a turtle shell with no turtle in it. And it was a very naked turtle.

Peterson Toscano (42:55):

But wasn't it super cold this winter, going out on Wednesdays.

Gabriel (42:59):

Well, we’re not really in the cold. Well, we gear up. And on Christmas, we in the woods, we put fruit on a tree, on my tree, and like animals came and ate it.

Peterson Toscano (43:17):

Besides the normal subjects, math, science reading. What else do you learn in pod school? 

Gabriel (43:28):

Basically, all of us know how to sew. 

Peterson Toscano (43:29)

Gabriel (43:30)

Oh, I've sewed the masks and other stuff like that. I sewed the fabric on the sewing machine.

Peterson Toscano (43:35):

And what about the gym class?

Gabriel (43:37):

There's always a field nearby for PE. So we go down to the field at everybody's house. And big kids are in charge of PE. So like, we play like a game down in that field. Yeah, like chaos tag or cops and robbers.

Peterson Toscano (43:55):

But with all those kids together, different ages, I bet you don't always get along.

Gabriel (44:00):

Yeas, sometimes people don't get along. And, like, we just give them space.

Peterson Toscano (44:07):

Okay. So from being in this pod school, what have you learned about yourself? 

Gabriel (44:14)

I learned I can be very confident.

Peterson Toscano (44:16)

You have been in the Lewisburg pod school for six months. So honestly, how is it?

Gabriel (44:20):

I'm just going to say it's a really fun place.

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