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Country Moon

The Drawer

Country MoonEveryone has one. We don’t like to talk about it. It is nasty, distasteful, and, if we ignore it, we fool ourselves into thinking that it will go away. But it doesn’t. It makes us feel like less of a person because we have one, but no one really knows what to do about it. We are all plagued by ... THE DRAWER.

You all know what I am talking about. I asked Ron the other day where a paper clip was. He looked at me like I was crazy and merely said, “The drawer.” It’s that drawer, closet or inconspicuous corner that everyone has, into which everything that doesn’t fit anywhere else eventually finds its way.

I have one.  Every time that I open it, something odd magically appears. Last time I opened it I was looking for a AA battery. I found, among other things, a mask for mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, an old shopping list, staples (no stapler), needles (no thread), a hex screwdriver, and a small bottle of mouthwash. I did not find a AA battery, however I found three D batteries, none of which worked.

Clutter. The most organized person still has a couple places that just seem to catch everything. The hutch in the kitchen used to be our place. Everything that Jim had in his pockets — screws, money, phone, sticky notes — would end up on top of the hutch. It looked awful and was the point of contention between us when company was coming over — "Please clean the hutch — again!"

Don’t think that this applies to just the household. You guys have it, too — in your garages, barns, and shops. You know, all those places that are off limits to one or the other person in the house. ("How dare you think of cleaning the garage; you might put something away and I would never find it." On the other hand, we would welcome you to pick up things in the house.) Don’t think that I am pointing fingers at anyone, for I am just as guilty. On most days, one look at my desk and you would ask if there were even a desk under there.

This is the perfect time of year to de-clutter. I know what you are thinking: You did that last year at this time, and the year before. Somehow clutter has a way of returning, but there are ways of keeping it to a minimum. Most of us would like to live a simplified life with a little less clutter and usually have just a couple trouble spots, but then there are those who have reached or almost reached the status of "hoarder." Either way, there are creative ways to declutter that do not have to be painful.

I know this all too well. A year ago at this time, we started to go through the whole house and basement, shelf by shelf and room by room, and then proceeded to the garage and barn. Jim was a collector and saved everything. We found paper towels stuffed inside of Wal-Mart bags stuffed inside of boxes. Needless to say, we had a few royal burnings. By August everything was gone, through. Even so, this year I still have a few trouble spots (you know — THE DRAWER).

I make light of this situation, but it can be a serious problem for some, and for others it is just a nagging sense of being overwhelmed and defeated. There are actually professionals who can help us deal with clutter. Here are some of their suggestions to help take on the mess:

1. Whatever you do, do not try to tackle it all at once, it will be overwhelming. Instead, focus on one area — a room, a closet, or even so small as a drawer. It helps to make a list of areas and check them off as you go.

2. Work only as long as you are making progress. When you start to feel defeated, look back and see how far you have come and remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day.

3. The two above methods work well for some. As for me, I am more the “dig in and do it” type. However, for each area you can try the 12-12-12 method. Choose 12 items to throw away, 12 to donate, and 12 to keep and put away where they go. There is also the 4-box method where, again for each area, you have 4 boxes, one each for trash, give away, keep, and relocate.

4. When it comes to clothes, especially for us gals, it is hard to get rid of anything, because even if we haven’t worn it recently, each item holds a special memory or we will wear it when we are that size again. I know, I have some of those pieces. Oprah Winfrey gave notoriety to the “closet hanger experiment.” Hang all clothes in the reverse direction. After wearing an item, hang it right, and after a certain amount of time you know which ones you actually wear. This fits in with the “project 333” method: choose the 33 items that you wear in 3 months (or whatever numbers work for you).

There are also some tips of what not to do when decluttering:

1. Don’t buy storage pieces like totes until you have sorted through the house and know where they will eventually go — organize first and buy second. Nothing is more frustrating than having things packed nicely in totes only to find out that they won’t fit on shelves or under the bed or wherever they were intended live. Don’t forget that good old cardboard boxes work just as well for some items, and the price is right.

2. Don’t set time limits. If you allow yourself only so much time to get through the clutter (a day, a week), you will be disappointed and feel defeated. This is not an easy task, and you don’t know until you dig in exactly what time frame you are looking at. Remember, it didn’t accumulate in one day, why should it go away in one?

3. Good enough is good enough. No one has closets or drawers or basements that look like those in home decorating magazines. This is your space; as long as you are content with it, then it is good enough.

The number one reason that clutter happens in the first place is that we don’t know what to do with some things. Not everything fits nicely in one category. Mine is the mail. Now when I get the mail every piece is either thrown away, filed, or dealt with the same day (if a phone call needs to be made, bank statements dealt with, etc.).

As for THE DRAWER, I have rationalized that it is not a product of clutter, but rather a tool of decluttering for all those items that just don’t fit anywhere else. As a matter of fact, I am headed back to THE DRAWER. I still haven’t found that paper clip!

Photo by Fotolia/Pixsooz

Recipes Tie Families Together

Country MoonIt is pretty amazing when we stop to think about how much our lives revolve around food. Usually, food is the simple theme when there is a social gathering; whether it be a home cooked meal, grilling out, or cooking over an open fire, food brings it all together.

Of all the various ways of incorporating food into our lives, old family recipes evoke the fondest memories. Many times, these are passed down from generation to generation solely by word of mouth. Everyone remembers a favorite recipe that their grandmother, aunt, or mom used to make, but all too often they don’t know exactly what ingredients or how much of each were used. Sadly, many family favorites have been lost through time this way.

That is why I was thrilled when my bonus daughter, Kim (we like this term better than "stepdaughter"), suggested we do a family cookbook. This brilliant idea became my next project. However, there are no simple projects in my life. This was such a great idea that not only would I do the Hoffman/Jim's family, but also the Brueck/my mom's family, the Frye/my dad’s family, and the Scruggs/Ron’s family. Instead of doing four separate small cookbooks, I would combine all the recipes into one large book and also include recipes from friends, for they become our families, too. After all, the more the merrier, they say!

I soon learned that, although putting together a family cookbook is a lot of work, it is also very rewarding as long as a few simple rules are followed. Naturally, first on the agenda was collecting the recipes. There are many sub-categories that can take a recipe in different directions, like grilled meats, slow cooker meals, gluten free, etc. I decided that I preferred family heirloom favorites as opposed to just each family’s favorites. So I specified this in the initial contact letter to each person.

As far as number of recipes, I chose not to specify. I knew that some would have trouble coming up with even one while others would send me an endless number.

Many of my family recipes are scribbled on little scraps of paper and stuck in my recipe box. One of my projects for the winter is to get them all organized and put on a DVD, so they will be in some type of order and also be preserved. The cookbook project will do double duty to help accomplish this task, too. However, looking through the scraps of paper, I realized that even though I knew the shortcuts to each recipe, others would not. For that reason, each recipe would have to be very specific and adhere to certain guidelines such as:

Ingredient List: All ingredients need to be listed in the order of use. Any special instructions pertaining to each item needs to be specified, such as if it needs to be chopped, minced, melted, etc. Does the liquid need to be drained from canned goods?

No Dangling Ingredients: Many recipes will call for an ingredient and ask that the measurement be separated, with a portion of it reserved for a later use. Often, no more mention is ever made of it. This has happened to me repeatedly, and you end up with food you don’t know what to do with.

Preparation of Items: Be sure and specify what parts of items should be used, especially when fruits and vegetables are involved. Are they to be peeled, or is the peel included? Also, with boxed pudding and Jell-O, do you prepare it like the instructions say on the box, or use it dry?

Baking Times and Temperatures: Be specific on baking and cooktop temperatures. Does something just need to come to a boil or boil for so many minutes? Is a baked item done when it is browned on top, or do you need to insert a toothpick to check for doneness? Do you need to cover it?

Sizes: Cookie sheets come in various sizes. Is an 8-inch pan round or square? A box of cornbread mix can be family or individual sized. Specify ounces or pounds for purchased items; it all makes a difference.

Servings: Give approximate number of servings and indicate if leftovers can be frozen, or if the entire recipe can be prepared ahead and frozen for future use.

If you attempt a project like this, then the recipes start pouring in you will need an organization method. There are many different ways to do this, although the general rule of thumb for cookbooks is by categories such as meats, soups, desserts, etc. They can also be separated by nutritional classes such as regular, sugar-free, gluten free, etc.

In my case, I have the option of separating them by families with subcategories of foo types, or by listing each family name and grouping all submitted recipes by individuals.

Even though it may be putting the cart before the horse, it is wise to decide which printing house you will use to print your cookbooks. There are many out there, and the norm is to charge by number of copies ordered and number of recipes per book. The more copies ordered, the cheaper each individual book, but the more recipes, the more expensive for each copy. Usually each printer has different options for the layout of the book, but it helps to know the guidelines of the one you intend to use so that you can arrange the material accordingly. Since mine will be a family cookbook, I want to include little tidbits of pertinent information to personalize each recipe. Some printers include this feature for free in their layout, and some do not.

Cost is a big consideration. Many organizations such as churches put together a cookbook as a fundraiser. Although the main purpose of mine is to preserve family recipes, there is no reason that it cannot also be a fundraiser. I plan on displaying these cookbooks with some local merchants. Selling more will help bring the price down for family members, and I will send the extra proceeds to Dr. Michael House in Indianapolis for his research to detect pancreatic cancer early, in honor of my husband, Jim, who succumbed to the disease and my cousin, Vicky, who beat it.

The last important consideration for this project is the time frame. I have set a date that I need all recipes by, and after that I can start categorizing. The more work I do — such as typing the recipes in the correct format and editing — will keep the cost down, so I am planning on a few months to format.

Any family or organization can put together a cookbook, making it as simple as a few typed pages or as elaborate as a whole book. I know this project for me will be a passion of patience. However, in the end, I know it will be so much more than that. Between the covers of each book will be the flavors and unique stories that make a family, a family.

Cookbook and ingredients
Photo by Fotolia/vetre

Rip's: Where Bar-B-Q Is King

Country Moon


A few weeks ago we checked out Rip’s, a Bar-B-Q eatery in Connersville, Indiana that friends Byron and Linda Kinsinger introduced us to. Needless to say, I was skeptical. Everyone knows that Bar-B-Q is an American original with its roots in the south, not in Indiana.

I had to eat my words, literally, because Tom Ripherger, owner of Rip’s, made a believer out of me. Although Rip’s may be small with only eight tables, the taste is big.

It all started a little over two years ago when Tom wanted to go for his dream. He was a software analyst in Memphis, Tennessee, and when he moved to Forrest City, Arkansas, he was introduced firsthand to real Bar-B-Q.

“I got hooked on the flavor,” he remembers. “When we moved back to Connorsville, we couldn’t find any Bar-B-Q that came close to the flavor that we had grown to love. Ironically, I got a promotion at work which took me off the floor and put me in a tiny cubicle all day. I didn’t like it, so I decided to follow my dream and open my own place. I have always liked to cook and grill, so this was a natural progression.”

So Rip’s was “born,” and Tom did both jobs for about a month until he decided that he could either put 20 percent of his time into his new venture, or 100 percent. Luckily, he chose the latter.

“Everything just fell into place,” he recalls. “Actually my folks, Sue and Tom Sr., were looking for a place to open an ice cream parlor when we saw a “For Sale” sign on this place, and we decided to make it a Bar-B-Q with ice cream on the side. It just fit.”

So what makes Rip’s so different? One of the biggest influences was when Tom tried Bar-B-Q in Memphis that was touted to be some of the best and he didn’t care for it. He is a firm believer in “meat should be good by itself and the sauce should only enhance the flavor.” Thus, Rip’s does Bar-B-Q not southern-style, not Memphis-style, but rather Rip’s-style.

Their meat is moist and full of flavor, even without the sauce, thanks to the special rub that he had already perfected to the family’s liking. Beyond that, customers have a choice from seven different Rip’s signature sauces, all named based on his take of each region. All seven are Tom’s originals, and each adds a distinct flavor. Memphis is a sweet sauce, while Texas sauce is spicy, and he also has a blend of the two, which are his most popular. Alabama sauce is mayonnaise-based, Carolina has a mustard base, and peach habanero is for those who just can’t get it hot enough.

Just keeping up with having enough sauce and rub is a job in itself. In a typical week, Rip’s uses 5 gallons of mild sauce, 3 to 5 gallons of each of the others, and 20 gallons of rub. That’s a lot of sauce and spice!

“Accompanying” his sauces and rub are 750 pounds of beef, pork, and chicken bought fresh each day and smoked to perfection in two smokers that are filled with hickory, apple, and other fruit woods. Tom explains, “We load the pork and brisket in the large smoker at night and it slow cooks for 12 hours, and then each morning we put the ribs and chicken in the smaller cooker and leave it for 3-1/2 hours.”

However, man does not live by Bar-B-Q alone. All of the side dishes are homemade from family recipes, too. His mother Sue is in charge of these. “We feature a different soup each day, and that works out pretty well. We also offer any leftover soup from the previous day along with the special, and this saves waste and offers our customers a couple of choices.”

She makes 2 gallons of soup each day and mixes her baked beans in a 5-gallon bucket so they are already seasoned and she can bake only what she needs at a time. Her beans definitely have a secret ingredient that sets them apart. “You’ll just have to stop by and taste them for yourself to see if you can figure out what it is,” she says with a grin.

Sue and her husband, Tom Sr., have been stanch supporters of the business since Day One. Even though they have adopted six kids in addition to their own — with four of the adopted ones still at home with them — Sue cooks most of the sides while her husband does maintenance and is basically jack of all trades. Tom Jr.’s sisters, Tiffany, Tammy, Jaimee and Hannah, fill in wherever needed as does his daughter, Katelyn. Audrey, who has been there since they opened, is just like family, as are brothers Devon and Darren who round out the team.

It is obvious that they are a close- knit family, and that atmosphere is conveyed to the customers. Tom likes working with less staff and having the family atmosphere. “Everyone has a purpose and a place, and we are all working toward the same goals.”

As if Bar-B-Q and homemade sides weren’t enough, you can also round out your meal with homemade desserts (if you have room!). These include cheesecake, fruit cobblers (peach, apple, cherry, and blackberry), banana pudding, and 14 flavors of ice cream. Now, that’s my kind of meal!.

“All of us have special duties but we all know every job, so we can fill in wherever needed,” Tom says. That’s a good thing since they also do event catering, which includes either just delivering the food or setting up and serving it, too, depending on the wishes of the customer. Sometimes it gets a little hectic when they get a call in the morning for an event that the customer wants catered that same afternoon. “My motto is that if the customer wants it, I have to figure out how to get it. It’s not always easy,” Tom sighs.

Just recently, Rip’s also started serving breakfast. Sue laughs. “For the present it’s only French toast, biscuits and gravy, and other simple items. We have to be here at 6 A.M. anyway, so we figured we may as well serve breakfast, too.”

It’s nice to see a small, family-owned business enjoy such success. recently sent people to sample Bar-B-Q in all 50 states, and Rip’s was their choice for the best in Indiana. “That was quite an honor, and all we are doing is what we love to do,” Tom proudly explains.

I could see the twinkle in his eye and knew he had even bigger plans for the future. Eventually, he would like to have five more Rip’s in the surrounding area. However, he cautions, “People like what we are doing here, so I would like to have all the food made here and trucked to the other establishments. That way we could maintain quality.”

But that is a little wats down the road. For the immediate future, Tom has purchased the house behind Rip’s and plans to double the seating capacity. “Along with the extra room, it would give us a little more flexibility. My Dad and I play and sing and I would like to offer live acoustic shows with an open mic and rotating bands.”

Rip’s is the little place that’s big on flavor and hospitality. If you are in the Connersville vicinity, it is well worth it to stop by at 302 W. Fifth St. and sample some Bar-B-Q heaven with a generous helping of hospitality on the side.

Granny Get Your Gun (Or Not)

Country MoonProtecting oneself from violent attacks in the society we live in today has become a necessity, especially for single women who live alone. If the women, like myself, are a few years older than the young crowd but still by no means old, this presents another scenario.

Unlike the rifle-touting Granny of the old television show “The Beverly Hillbillies,” not all of us are real keen on carrying or even owning a gun. This decision boils down to one important question: If presented with a violent situation, could you actually pull the trigger and take a human life in a matter of life or death for you or a loved one? If the answer isn’t a resounding “yes,” then perhaps another form of self-defense may be more suitable to you. Even though they may not be quite as cut and dry, there are other effective forms of self-defense .

Pepper spray should be given the credit it is due. It is a non-lethal OC agent that is supposed to shut down an attacker’s vision. The pain is intense and the loss of vision makes the attack almost impossible to carry out, plus pepper spray rarely requires a permit to carry. It does require a defensive mindset, but not much training — just be sure to get a good one. UDAP makes one designed to stop a Grizzly bear and any other mammal smaller than 1000 pounds. The main thing to remember is to keep it accessible; having it at the bottom of your purse renders it useless.

Kimber makes two highly effective models of pepper blasters, both of which fire a stream over 13 feet at 90 mph. They are approximately the size of smartphones, have a trigger in the middle, and have a barrel of spray located both above and below the trigger. The Pepper Blaster 2 is shaped like a gun, but is bright red so as not to be confused with a handgun. It also has sights that help make aiming easier. There are premium pepper sprays that are capable of getting the spray behind glasses and even behind masks. They generally cost less than $50 and each contain two blasts of potent spray.

Stun guns and tasers are easily confused. With a stun gun, you have to be either in direct contact with or very close proximity to an attacker, whereas tasers let you have some distance but are generally a one-time-use weapon. Stun guns are easy to use in a wide range of categories and work by emitting a steady jolt of high electricity to the opponent that only ceases when the user releases the trigger. They are capable of instantly stopping the threat and creating immense pain.

Often overlooked as a weapon, a baton can also incapacitate an attacker. These are long rods that extend from 16 inches to 26 inches, and some even double as flashlights. Although the various sizes must be tailored to the individual, sometimes the shorter ones are easier to use as encounters are often in tight quarters. Batons have found their way into the duty belts of a vast majority of police officers. The United States Marine Corps trains troops to use these effectively for non-lethal crowd control.

Even though all of these means of self-defense are non-lethal, some places still prohibit their use, even pepper sprays. Though more vulgar, there are other weapons to fit the bill. Mag lights are nothing more than giant flashlights filled with D batteries, but they pack a huge punch. Smith and Wesson produce pocket-sized self-defense pens that are flashlights and also glass breakers.

The Ninja Spike keychain is a weapon where just the name would be enough to stop me. It comes with an attachment for a keychain and fits perfectly between the fingers when you make a fist. The spikes will do massive damage to an attacker and is very intimidating. The Honeycomb Hairbrush made by Cold Steel is a hairbrush with a twist: The brush pulls off to reveal a 3-1/2 inch dagger. The Paracord Monkey Ball looks like a cute keychain but has steel balls embedded in the paracord that are designed to inflict serious damage to an attacker.

Perhaps the best self-defense requires no special equipment. Taking a self-defense course can empower anyone by learning to use their own body as a weapon. This takes physical strength and dedication, but it is well worth it.

Of course, we all prefer not to have to resort to any kind of self-defense, and as they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Every woman alone, whether out in public or in the privacy of her own home, can take precautions to protect herself before something happens.

• Choose a safe place to live. Yes, this may mean moving if you have suddenly found yourself alone, and it may not be the place you have always called home. Some people feel safer in the city with people around them all the time. I prefer the country, it is where I grew up.

• No matter where you reside, have a plan of escape, not only from intruders, but also for natural disasters. If doors are blocked, from what windows can you escape? Have flashlights and cell phones close (and charged at all times). Get to know your neighbors. There were times when we all knew our neighbors, but not so much anymore in our fast-paced world. This can be beneficial for all involved as you look out for each other.

• A home security system can create a safety zone. Many times this will be enough to stop an attacker, and a system will provide a greater sense of security when coming home and entering an empty house. I am impressed with SimpliSafe as it is wireless and you can install it in a matter of minutes. It is affordable and reliable.

• Most of all, use common sense. Be sure to lock doors, even when you are in the house but cannot see or hear someone come in. Follow the old rule of never letting strangers into your home. Install mobile apps on your phone that can send alerts when you are in danger.

A woman is 30 to 40 percent more likely to be attacked rather than a man. Over 22 million women in the United States have been raped, and every 90 seconds someone is sexually assaulted. A gun is the most effective self-defense tool one can carry, but only if you feel comfortable enough to use it. You do have other choices, and any choice is better than nothing.

Photo by Fotolia/yellomello

What's In The Cards?

Country Moonplaying-cards1

Playing card games are some of the most popular pastimes around the world. I dare say there is not one person who has not played at least one kind of card game. We all take cards for granted; not too many of us know how the specific cards originated or how they so uniquely relate to our life.

It is estimated that there are close to 10,000 card games in existence, even though no one knows for sure since new ones are invented by individuals every day. A deck of cards is most commonly known as pieces of specially prepared heavy paper, thin cardboard, or plastic coated paper marked with distinguishing motifs usually used for playing card games.

Although card games are the most popular use for cards, there are others. Cardistry combines cards and artistry. This skill uses a person’s hands to create cuts, displays, fans, patterns, and sequences. The intent is to create a captivating motion and beautiful display. It resembles juggling, mime, or similar entertaining activities. The effects are only limited by the types of cards used and the imagination and degree of manual dexterity of the performer.

Cartomancy is a fancy name for fortune telling using a deck of cards. Who hasn’t wandered into the fortune teller’s tent at a local carnival to have her display the deck of cards out in front of you to tell you the rest of your life’s story? This use of cards appeared after playing cards themselves were introduced in Europe in the 14th century.

Building card structures is another use of playing cards, where they are balanced on top of each other to form structures. Contests are held to see who can construct the largest.

Memory sport is another card use where participants attempt to memorize and recall different forms of information under certain guidelines using cards. One type of memorization is where the order of random cards is memorized. National and international championships are held in this category.

Unless it is a specialty deck, a deck of cards has 52 cards, four suits (hearts, spades, diamonds and clubs), and 13 cards in every suit. The suits date back to the 14th and 15th centuries and were introduced by the French. It is thought by some scholars that each suit represents a different social class of the time: hearts represented the church or clergy; spades represents swords for nobility; diamonds represent coins or money associated with the merchant class; and clubs represented the batons of the peasant class.

The numbers in a deck of cards are in truth symbolic representations of our calendar, used for centuries by priests in temples to work with the planetary motions and the earth’s cycles. Numeric values in a deck of cards match the calendar perfectly; the common deck is not so common after all. Here are some of the common denominators:

• There are 52 cards in a deck and 52 weeks in a year.

• The 4 suits match the four seasons.

• The 12 court cards — all the Jacks, Queens and Kings — correspond to the 12 months of the Gregorian calendar or 12 zodiac signs in each year. The average value of all the court cards is twelve. There are 12 hours in each day and each night. There are 12 animals in the cycles of the Chinese calendar.

• There are 13 cards in each suit. In a lunar year, the moon goes around earth 13 times. There are 13 weeks in each season.

• Start with a full deck of cards without Jokers. Deal them all one by one into two piles, and then put the second pile on the first pile and start over. Do this a total of 24 times, and the entire deck will be in the same order as it was before you started dealing. There are 24 hours in a day.

• The two colors on the faces, red and black, symbolize day and night.

• Consider Ace as 1, Jack as 11, Queen as 11, and King as 13. The middle number between one (Ace) and thirteen (King) is 7, the number of days in a week. If you add up all 52 cards in the deck you’ll get 364 ... plus one for a Joker is 365, the number of days in a year. Here is another way to get there: 4 = the number of suits (or seasons); 7 = the average value of a card (or days in a week); 13 = the number of cards in each suit (or months in the lunar calendar year); 4 x 7 x 13 = 364, plus one for a joker = 365 — the number of days in a year.

Pretty cool, isn’t it? If you want to go a little further, there are some theories as to what the different face cards symbolize. The King of Spades is said to resemble David, the king of the Hebrews. His sword is modeled on the weapon he took from Goliath upon slaying the giant with a slingshot, which was shown lower down on the card. The Club King is depicted as a stylized Charlemagne, the King of Diamonds as Julius Caesar, and the King of Hearts as Alexander the Great. The four kings represented the Jewish world, the Holy Roman Empire, and pre-Christian Rome and Greece — the four main wellsprings of western civilization.

The queens and jacks did not align so well. The Queen of Spades was based on Pallas Athena, the goddess whose warlike spirit called to mind Jeanne d’Arc. The Queen of Diamonds was modeled on Rachel, the beauty whom Jacob had to wait fourteen years to marry. The Queen of Hearts inspired by Judith, the Jewish heroine who got the Assyrian general Holofernes drunk on false pretenses and then cut of his head, saving Israel in the process and rating the widow her own book in the Old Testament. The Club Queen paid homage to "Argine” — from regina, the Latin word for queen.

The four jacks are featured, full-length depictions of famous knights whose names were printed next to their pictures: Lancelot, Ogrier, Roland, and Valery. Each of these long-haired, beardless, young warriors sported a battle axe, except for Valery, who was attended by a hound.

Who knew our playing cards had such a colorful past? Steeped in tradition and history, today they also play an important part in bringing people together for hours of fellowship and merriment.

A Stitch In Time

Country MoonGrowing up here in southwest Michigan, we had to find creative ways to pass the long winter evenings. It was a given to see my grandmother, my mom, and my aunts doing some kind of needle art every night. It was also a given that my generation would grow up learning the basics of this art form.

"Needle art" is an umbrella term that covers various crafts including crochet, knitting, hand embroidery, tatting, counted cross stitch, and more. Long considered an older generation’s craft, times are changing, and younger folks are discovering the joy and benefits of this art. Besides the normal hats, mittens, scarves, sweaters, and table runners, new patterns are springing up all the time for a bounty of new items.

I learned to crochet at an early age, as it was my mother’s favorite type of needle art. I was given a ball of yarn, a crochet hook, and was taught the basic chain stitch. I was told to practice until all the stitches were uniform. Needless to say, I think my chain could have made it into the Guinness Book of World Records!

Apparently more and more Americans are discovering the attributes of needle arts, because approximately 31.5 million adults participated in needle arts in 2012 — an increase of 2 million people from 2008. Many of these arts are similar, but each has its own characteristics. It is usually a matter of personal and individual taste which to choose.

Crocheting and knitting are sister crafts, as both use yarn or other fiber, both use patterns, and the finished product is basically a series of loops. However, there are distinct differences:

Crochet is a process of creating fabric by interlocking loops of yarn, thread, or strands of other materials using a crochet hook. It dates back to the 18th century, and is a French term meaning “small hook.” The hooks used are made of metal, plastic, and wood. The crochet stitch is made by pulling yarn — or whatever material is being used — through an active loop, and each stitch is completed before proceeding to the next one, just opposite of knitting, where a large number of stitches are open at the same time. Usually yarn, thread, or wool is used to create the fabric. However, rope, grass, wire, dental floss, and even human hair have been used.

In Europe during the 1800s, crochet was known as “shepherd’s knitting.” It was invented as a method of producing a cheap substitute for traditional lace, thus it was known as an inferior craft. Queen Victoria changed its reputation by buying crocheted lace from Irish women who were struggling after the potato famine in Ireland. Subsequently, she learned to crochet, and it soon became a popular craft. Crochet was ranked number 3 in Google’s most popular how-to search in 2014.

Closely related to crochet, knitting is a technique of producing fabric from strands of yarn or wool using two or more needles to loop the yarn into a series of inter-connected loops in order to create a finished fabric.

It evolved from nalbindning which is an ancient Scandinavian technique that produced woolen clothing from lengths of yarn with a single short needle. Evidence of the earliest knitting using two needles came from 11th century Egypt, where knitted socks were found. The needles were made from ivory, bone, and even tortoise shells.

Cotton and silk were more popular for knitting than wool was for the first 400-500 years of the craft. Soon, wool became the material of choice, and sheep were bred mainly for their wool. The Merino sheep were a popular breed because they produced yarn that was soft, strong, and sustainable.

Knitting — once considered a male-only occupation — came to be considered a national duty during the first and second world wars. Women were expected to knit warm clothes for soldiers who were stationed in cold war zones. Recent studies have deemed knitting a healthy hobby, since it has been known to reduce high blood pressure, decrease heart rate, and spur relaxation responses.

Sadly, tatting is a needle art that is becoming a lost. It is an ancient form of lace-making that was popular during Victorian times and also during the 1950s and 1960s. It is a technique for handcrafting a particularly durable piece of lace from a series of knots and loops. Intricate doilies, collars, earrings, and necklaces have been fashioned by tatting.

Essentially, thread is wrapped around one or two shuttles, which are used to guide the thread into a pattern of knots to create rings and chains in delicate designs. The shuttle passes in, out, and around the hand to tie a simple set of knots. The knots are then arranged in marvelous ways with picots, loops, and chains. There are hardly any straight lines, as the rows consist of curved stitches, picots, and little loops that make the final product lacy and frilly. Depending on the design, the finished lace can be plain or intricate.

It is said that the art is in the design and the rest is skill, but an eye for beauty transforms a useful skill into an art. Thus, it comes full circle. Ironically, children and handmaidens were taught to tat edging that was quickly snatched up.

Tatting and crochet are often confused because they look a lot alike, even though there is a distinct difference in the technique. Tatting is looped, wound, and knotted to form the lace, whereas crochet is only looped.

Hand embroidery and counted cross stitch, although similar, are two more distinct crafts in the needle arts. Hand embroidery is a technique for sewing designs by hand onto a piece of cloth using five basic stitches. Embroidery uses different stitches to achieve the texture of the finished piece; counted cross stitch uses only one stitch and relies on color and shading for texture. The counted cross stitch is worked from a graph where the printed designs are rendered as a series of X's, and the artist stitches the design accordingly.

Thankfully, needle crafts are making a comeback as people realize that working with one’s hands helps relieve anxiety and stress. Even younger generations are realizing the peaceful and calming effects. Local yarn and textile shops are enjoying a surge in revenue as folks want to see and feel the materials in person, thus the local brick and mortar shops are edging out online textile retailers.

Sophie Schneider, a 23-year-old med student at the University of Nebraska Medical Center turned needlepoint into a successful business venture with her own Etsy shop, SeeSophieSew. Perhaps she said it best: “There’s so much technology, I think our generation is starting to feel pulled to go back to simpler things, kind of maybe to balance all of the crazy, modern, hectic things.”

I think Sophie speaks for us all.

knitting supplies
Photo by Fotolia/tata_cos

Resolving To Keep The Resolution

Country MoonEvery year at this time, we all make resolutions. Just about the end of January, we break them. The cycle is the same over and over. It’s not that we don’t have good intentions, but rather that we are human and change is hard.

This year, like so many others, I resolve to make the New Year better. I am going to lose weight, exercise every day, live my life at a slower pace, and try to keep the joy of Christmas all through the year. Yeah, yeah, yeah, they are all nice thoughts, but I know that next year at this time I will probably be writing the same things.

However, there is one resolution that I do plan to keep, if for no other reason than my own sanity:

I am going to try to make friends with technology. Ugh. We all live in this modern world where technology changes, not year to year or even month to month, but day to day. A new phone is almost obsolete even before it hits the market. The younger generation has the advantage here because they have grown up with iPads, iPods, tablets, MP3 players, and all of the other new technology that we think we cannot live without. Why is it so hard for my generation to understand this new concept?

Take my printer, for example. My old one and I got along just fine — after all, it was just a printer. I pushed the print button on the computer, and it printed. If I wanted to scan something, it scanned. When it broke, as with most tech gadgets, it was cheaper to replace it than to fix it. Of course, replacing it with the exact same model was impossible because they have upgraded that model and made it “better.”

Now when I push the print button, it wants to know which tray I want to print from and what size I would like it to print. I just want it to print what is on my screen the same way it printed the last piece! Is that too much to ask? Apparently so, because it keeps telling me that I am out of paper even though there is plenty of paper in the paper tray. It spits out the first sheet because it doesn’t like it. To me, that sheet looks like the other 259 sheets in there. I also have to go to the setup menu every single time, because it wants to know if I have chosen the correct size, layout, number of pages, and print options. Why doesn’t a printer know it is just supposed to print?

Even my cell phone makes me live life the hard way. When I bought it new, I had Wyatt set it up for me so that I would not have any ridiculous problems. All I wanted to do was to make calls and text. Instead I had to choose from at least 20 different ring tones, just as many different kinds of fonts, and set up voice mail. On top of that, Wyatt informed me that I could get on the Internet, listen to music, read whole books, use it as a secretary to keep track of my appointments, edit photos, and on and on. I know a tear slipped out of my eye when I pleaded, “All I want to do is to make a phone call. Why can’t a phone just make a call?”

Plus, my GPS and I have problems. A couple years ago, before we went to Maine, we got our first one. I was careful to download all the new maps so that we would have all the current information. Any other GPS device that I had used was pretty simple, even for me: You put in your current location and the destination that you wanted, and it took you there. Our new one took us to Maine and then, when we were in the middle of nowhere, gave us directions to the Cayman Islands. Needless to say, when we returned home we parted company with that GPS.

I am not the smartest person in the world, but neither am I mentally challenged. Why is it so hard for me to understand how these technical gadgets work? I figured that the more I worked with the technology, the more familiar I would become with it. Even my PC and I are on a limited, friendly basis. My friend, Steph, still does all the updates and housekeeping to keep it running smoothly. Even so, there are a few things that I have to do along the way. So, guess what, I have a cheat sheet that guides me step by step.

I have tried to rationalize and wonder if it is this whole right brain/left brain theory. I would like to think so, because at least that gives me an excuse as to why this whole concept is so hard for me to grasp.

This year for Christmas, I had a particularly hard decision. I had heard that the Bose Radio was one of the best, if not the best. I wanted to order one, but could just imagine how hard the installation would be. However, the salesman reassured me repeatedly that the model I was looking at only needed to be plugged into an outlet. Come on, even I was not that gullible! In this day and age, there is not one piece of electronic equipment that does not need to be set up or synced to some other piece to make it work.

“I promise you, all you need to do is connect it to an outlet.” The salesman sounded like a broken record as he tried to convince me.

“I do not need to sync it with the radio stations in the area?”


“It does not need to be located in a certain area in the home?”


“I won’t have wires strung all over the house?”


With a sigh, I ordered it and prayed I had not made the wrong decision. When the box came, we opened it, took the packing off, and connected the plug to an outlet. There was music. We waited. There was still music.

One piece of electronics has been made simple enough that even I can use it! My confidence is restored. Perhaps the industry is reconsidering engineering with my generation in mind. Life is good, and there is hope. Now if I could only get my voice messages off my phone!

Technology 1
Photo by Fotolia/neirfy