Country Moon


SWEPT AWAY BY BROOM MAKING

Country MoonSometimes, even though it is easier and cheaper to buy something, the satisfaction of making something yourself trumps ease. One such instance is making your own brooms. No farmhouse, or any place for that matter, would be the same without a broom hanging in the kitchen.

How many times do you really think about that house staple that sets or hangs in the corner but is used probably every day…probably never and then subtract a bit more! So it is with brooms and other common household items. Given the puritanical legacy of this country and our early ancestors’ obsession with cleanliness, it is not surprising that America’s contribution to world handicrafts would be an enhanced means to collect dust from corners!

Many of our modern broom designs descend from an early broom designer, Levi Dickinson, a Massachusetts farmer who crafted a broom for his wife using tassels from a variety of sorghum. It was such a hit that that sorghum variety is now referred to as broom corn. Stalks grow like sweet corn and looks the same except it has no cobs, it only has the tassels on top which are used for the brooms.

These brooms were mainly round in shape until after the Shakers adopted the corn broom in the 1800’s. They clamped the wayward bristles in a vise and stitched them flat.

Even though most household brooms of today are mass-produced in Mexico, broom making is not a lost art. A small number of people in North America, many in Appalachia, still make their own and hold broom making classes. Brea College in Kentucky has the longest running broom workshop.

Chris Robbins is the current workshop supervisor. At the age of 14, he pestered a broom maker at a craft show to give him two hours of instruction. Now, at 32, he still enjoys making something with his hands that others want to buy. By instructing others in this craft, he is making sure that the legacy continues.Students spend two hours a day in the class. Robbins likes how a repetitive motion syncs one’s mind and body in a liberating way. Even though he knows that all of his students will go on to other careers, for now they are learning to make things with their hands and carrying on a nearly extinct regional tradition. They are also learning that you don’t always have to buy everything that you use.

Materials can usually be gathered from a garden or woods. There are three main kinds of homemade brooms, those made from straw, birch branches or broom corn. Although the general procedure is the same for all three varieties, there are slight differences.

For a straw broom, all that is needed is straw, a stick for the handle, twine or wire for binding and a knife and scissors. Handles can be ordered if you are going for a commercial look, but if rustic is your décor, branches work just fine. All you need to do is strip the bark and let them dry for a few months so they don’t crack or split.

Next, clean the straw by shaking it to get rid of debris. Do not add any water or try to wash it for fear of it molding. Then, divide the straw into 10 separate bundles. Gather one bundle together, making sure that the ends on one side are even. Hold it all together and wrap it with twine, the tighter the better. Do the other nine bundles the same.

Next, tie all the bundles together, using either wire or twine. If you want a flat broom for floors, place the bundles side by side. If you want a round broom like a whisk broom, connect the bundles in a circular design.

Sharpen the end of the handle so that you can push it in the center of the straw bundles. Secure it tightly because brooms tend to lose their “heads” when used vigorously. This is where the term “flying off the handle” originated.

Birch brooms are fashioned slightly differently, and they have a more botanical-inspired look. You will need the same materials, except switch out the straw for birch branches. Soak the branches overnight so they are pliable. Place your handle on a bench or flat surface, surrounding it with branches on both sides, making sure that the bottoms of the branches are pointed toward the top of the handle. Tie the branches securely around the broom handle.

After the branches are secured, fold them down over the twine so that the tops are pointed downward. Secure them with additional twine, wrapping the branches either once or twice near the top of the handle. Let the brooms dry a few days before using.

For corn brooms, you will need broom corn tassels in place of the birch branches. Shake the dust and debris out of the tassels and then divide them into 10 separate bunches, layering the stalks until they are about an inch thick in each bundle. Use longer stalks for a large, full-length broom and reserve the smaller ones for whisk brooms or small hearth brooms. Secure each bundle with twine.

Next, tie together two gathered bunches of broom corn using either wire or twine and then add the next bundle, placing it flat against the first two bundles for a broom to use on floors. Use a circular design for smaller ones to be used as whisk brooms or on a hearth. Continue attaching bundles one by one until all broom corn is attached securely.

Again, sharpen your handle, secure it in the bundle and then cut the ends of the broom so that the base is even and as smooth as possible.

With all your finished brooms, you can drill a hole in the top of the handles so they can be hung in a convenient place. Cast iron hooks fashioned by blacksmiths round out the rustic look of your handmade broom. I remember my grandmother having a broom closet so everything was tidy and out of sight. This would be a disgrace for a handmade broom; why miss a chance to add charm to your kitchen with something you made!

On the light side, there is folklore that is associated with brooms and sweeping. It is said that you will sweep out the money made during the coming year if you sweep on New Year’s Day. Sweep the dirt out the back door rather than the front or you will sweep away your best friend. Always pick up a broom laying on the ground for good luck. It is also unlucky to sweep on Monday or Friday. Now, I am sure that if I dig a little further, I can find that it is also unlucky to sweep on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday too!

There is just something heartwarming about knowing that you made something with your own hands from materials from nature. Broom making offers us a way to get back to basics and is a project that anyone can do. Besides the few basic materials, the only other thing needed is a little bit of patience.

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Photo by Getty Images.

BY GUESS AND BY GOLLY

Country MoonWeather has always fascinated me so, at different times through my life, I have fancied the idea of being a meteorologist. After all, it is true what they say, that there is no other career where you could be wrong so often and still have a job!

I remember my days working at the radio station where it was my job to write the commercial spots and log them into the play schedule. The DJ’s would give the weather forecast at least every hour but their notes would not be updated as often.  They would be in their sound-proof booths with no windows to the outside reading the forecast when it was doing completely the opposite outside. So many times we had to run in the newsroom, arms flailing, and motion to cut the forecast because as they were predicting sunny weather, it was pouring rain at that moment!

So, how exactly do meteorologists predict the weather, or rather, try to predict it? They use satellites to observe cloud patterns around the world and radar to measure precipitation. They also have other tools to measure air pressure, temperature, wind speed, wind direction and other factors. They take into consideration atmospheric conditions of the past and present. Then all of this data is plugged into super computers so that they can make educated guesses about future weather conditions.

Aha…educated guesses are the two keywords. It is not an exact science. With this said, how can the OLD FARMERS ALMANAC be 80% accurate when predicting the weather over the years? They use a unique age-old formula that was devised by the almanac’s founder, Robert E. Thomas, in 1792. He believed the weather on earth was influenced by sunspots which are magnetic storms on the surface of the sun.

Notes about his formula are locked in a black box in the OLD FARMERS ALMANC offices in Dublin, NH. Although over the years, scientists have refined and enhanced his formula with state-of-the-art technology and modern scientific calculations, the basic formula remains the same. Last year the almanac’s overall accuracy rate in forecasting the direction of temperature range from normal was 83%...not too shabby!

All of this said, farmers, ranchers, and other outdoorsmen throughout history have done a pretty accurate job of weather predicting by just observing nature, animals in particular. If there wasn’t some validity behind them, these sayings would not have stood the test of time. Here are a few choice ones:

  1. Expect rain when dogs eat grass, cats purr and wash, sheep turn out to the wind, oxen sniff the air, and swine are restless
  2. If bulls lead cows to pasture, expect rain (or maybe a little ruminant romance!); if cows precede the bulls, weather is uncertain
  3. When cats sneeze, it is an indicator of rain
  4. Cattle lying in the pasture is a sign of early rain
  5. Rain is eminent when horses and cattle stretch their necks and sniff the air
  6. Woolly bear caterpillars are said to be able to predict how harsh the winter will be. The browner they are as compared to black, the milder the winter will be
  7. Most famous predictor of winter is the groundhog. If he sees his shadow on February 2, there will be six more weeks of winter. For us northerners, there usually is 6 more weeks of winter after February 2 anyway, regardless of his seeing his shadow
  8. Watch your moles, the farther down they dig their holes, the worse the winter. If they dig down 2 1/2 feet, it will be a hard winter, only 2 feet deep means a milder one, and a foot deep predicts a mild winter. My question is, how are we going to know how deep they dig!
  9. Fat rabbits in October and November means a long, cold winter
  10. If sheep go up in the hills and scatter, it means clear weather
  11. If you see bats fly in late evening, it signals fair weather
  12. Wolves howl more before a storm
  13. Clear moon, frost soon. Now this has some scientific backing, since a cloud cover tends to insulate the land and keep temperatures higher
  14. When leaves show undersides, rain is coming in
  15. You can tell the temperature by a cricket’s chirps. Count how many chirps are in a 14-second span and add 40 and it will give you the temperature in Fahrenheit at the cricket’s location, give or take a few degrees
  16. Rain foretold, it will be long lasting, and with short notice, it will soon pan out
  17. Dew on the grass, rain will never come to pass; grass dry at morning light, look for rain before the night
  18. Sound travels far and wide, stormy day will betide
  19. If birds fly low, expect rain
  20. Cows laying down, different weather on the way
  21. Red sky in the morning; sailors take warning, red sky at night, sailors’ delight
  22. If March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb, and vice versa
  23. Halo around sun or moon, rain or snow soon
  24. Count the seconds between lightning and thunder to tell how far away a storm is since light travels faster than sound. For every 5 seconds, lighting is 1 mile away

Some of these can be chalked up to folklore and old wives’ tales, but some do have validity behind them. Some folks can “feel” when rain is coming, or if there is a general change in weather on the way. Many folks suffering with arthritis know when rain or snow is coming because their joints begin to hurt from the increase in moisture in the air. There have been many times that I have been in the fields and could “smell” the change in the air as rain was on the way.

Farmers, ranchers, and generally anyone who spends a great deal of time outside learns to pay attention to nature’s signs, for there are subtle indicators when storms are brewing. Paying attention can mean the difference between getting dowsed or not. One time last spring when planting, Ron decided to make one more round even though his senses told him not to. Consequently, he and the equipment got soaked and the planter had to be cleaned before returning to the field. It pays to pay attention!

You may be skeptical of some of these predictions but, when you think about it, some of them may be as accurate as the meteorologists’ forecasts. It’s all a game of “by guess and by golly.”

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Photo by Pexels.

ME AND TUCKER

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Country MoonFor anyone who knows me, it is just a given that during any free time that I have I can usually be found doing something that involves writing, photography or painting. These are my passions, save for gardening. When I can combine two or more of these…well, it just doesn’t get much better than that!

Through these three outlets, I have been fortunate enough to have been involved in some pretty creative projects. For over twenty years, I did senior and family pictures which allowed me to meet some terrific folks. Two years ago, I compiled and designed a four-family cookbook that actually got some heritage family recipes down on paper. I have done many memorable feature stories for various magazines that let me meet some interesting people and non-humans, including: camels, reindeer and some pesky un-invited critters like skunks, raccoons and bats.

Writing and painting are the two outlets that have seen me through some pretty tough times. Within a span of six years I lost five people who were very dear to me; my parents, husband and an aunt and uncle, all of whom greatly impacted my life. I used my journal exactly as it was intended to be used; words of love, hate, joy, sadness, loss, gratitude, loneliness and fulfillment fill the pages in true, un-obliterated words that convey my true feelings; pages that allowed me to get the feelings out, but pages that are only meant for me.

Writing got me through these tough times and, given my age and stage in life, I know more loss will come. It is just a fact of life. Writing will get me through those times to come too.

Writing affords me an emotional outlet and painting allows me to leave reality and be taken to a world that only holds beauty with no pain or sorrow. I actually feel that I am transported into the painting that I am working on at the time; if it is a forest, I walk its serene paths, if it is an ocean, I am lulled by the waves, and if it is a still life, I am engulfed by the beauty that surrounds us each day that sometimes we forget to actually see.

All you left-brainers out there, please forgive me, you may not understand how us right-brainers perceive every little thing of beauty and we want to capture and share it all. It brings us peace, a peace that we just feel we need to share with the whole world.

Though I cannot imagine my world without my writing or being able to harness all the colors of the spectrum in my painting, it is photography that has taken me to the greatest heights and triumphs. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words -- no argument there.

Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to capture all the unique and wondrous moments that my eyes witnessed. I started out with my Mom’s vintage “Brownie” camera that I could use on special occasions like Christmas and birthday parties. Later, I dragged the old Instamatic 126 and 110 cameras everywhere I went and couldn’t wait to get the film processed. There was no greater joy than when the first Polaroid came out that developed the photos instantly…it offered not so much in quality but instead there was instant gratification.

I have fond memories of my Uncle Don lining each family up year after year on the same sofa at Grandma and Grandpa Brueck’s house at Christmas for family photos. I still have all those old photos which have turned into cherished memories. I wanted to be just like him.

Then, as a young adult, I set my sights on a SLR (single lens reflex) camera that would open up whole new worlds by permitting me to interchange lenses and to be even more creative. I had all the filters and attachments and bells and whistles. I was set. Then digital rocked my world, I could have instant gratification AND quality -- total ecstasy!

So, what do I photograph? Ask anyone around me who is always looking at me through the opposite end of a lens of a camera and they will tell you that the question should be, “what doesn’t she photograph?” I love landscapes because they transport a person into different worlds. Still life shots capture rare and delicate beauty that is sometimes passed over in our rushed world. And people, what can I say, even candid shots here and there preserve a second in a person’s life forever. You may lose the person but you will never lose the moment.

I have been in more than half of the states that make up this great nation of ours and captured some amazing scenes in all of them. I have spent countless hours in my own backyard in every season of the year. I have captured people in so many different situations: good, bad, funny, embarrassing, happy and sad. And, I have never done any of these alone.

Like John Steinbeck’s 1960’s travelogue “Travels With Charley” where he recounts his road trip with his trusted poodle, Me and my friend Tucker have traveled together and recorded all these snippets of life. Always my forever sidekick, Tucker has taken on different forms through the years. Currently, he is a Canon Rebel XS; we are never very far apart, so much so that I feel almost naked without him on a strap encircling my neck.

We pretty much go everywhere together and I don’t “baby” him. He has been covered with dust riding on a fender of a tractor, dowsed with rain at a corn husking contest, frozen on a sleigh ride, scorched in the desert, banged, almost dropped and rough-housed by the small hands of young ones. Together we have endured. I wouldn’t have it any other way, there is no other way to experience life.

Think it is weird that a grown woman personifies an inanimate object? Through the years, many have done the same to possessions that are so closely tied to that person that they become part of their personality. Remember the old Roy Rogers westerns where Pat Brady tooled around the sagebrush in his faithful Jeep “Nellybelle”? How many farmers name their tractors? My Dad had a Farmall M and Farmall H, known affectionately as Big Boy and Little Boy, respectively. Car enthusiasts name their cars.

It is no different for me and Tucker, we have a kinship. It just seemed right to make Tucker a “he.” I feel protected. Once on Mackinac Island, my bicycle started to go over a cliff where there was no guardrail. Had it not been for a kind soul behind me that grabbed my back wheel, I would have gone over. Those I was with still ask me why I didn’t jump off. It's simple: Tucker was in the basket. We are tight.

Yes, just like there were many Lassies over the years in the old television series, there have been several Tuckers. He wears out, he gets upgraded. Just like with all of us, it is not the human bodies that count as much as our souls. The same goes for Tucker, his bodies may have evolved over the years, but the concept of what he is to me is constant.

So, the whole point of this article? Ron always tells me that I take 50,000 words to go the long way around a subject. Well, I always feel the need to explain how things and circumstances evolve. It is a new year and new projects are on the horizon. I am planning on writing a book, a book of some of my experiences and how they have, hopefully, impacted others’ lives for the better. The eternal optimist, I always believe that things happen for a reason and always, even down deep, there is a positive. Even in tragedy, if there is no positive, then everything is in vain.

I can’t do this alone, as it always is, it is a joint effort between me and Tucker. Between the two of us we can tell the story, the whole story, with pictures and words. The easy part is done, deciding on a title. This was a no-brainer. How could it be anything but “Me and Tucker.” Now, we have work to do.

 

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Photos courtesy of Getty Images

NIGHT LIGHTS

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A Leonid meteor shower

Country MoonI have always been fascinated by the night sky. Maybe it is the vastness, the oneness or just the sheer beauty of wondering what is out there.

Ever since I was in junior high school and we had a class assignment to find and chart all the constellations, I have been hooked. At the time I wasn’t so thrilled since it was in the middle of January’s freezing cold. Naturally, you have to wait until it is completely dark and there is no cold like a Michigan night when all is clear. However, once I was out there and saw all the beauty that the night sky has to offer, let’s just say that every season finds me looking up after dark.

Although I love seeing comets, meteors and the planets, finding the constellations still gives me the biggest thrill. They are groups of stars that form an imaginary outline or pattern on a celestial sphere. They represent animals, mythological persons or creatures and inanimate objects. They are totally imaginary things that people, poets, farmers and astrologers made up over 6,000 years ago that help people orient themselves using the night sky.

Small patterns of stars within a constellation are called asterisms. The Big and Little Dippers are asterisms within the constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.

All told, there are 88 official constellations. Some are only visible in the northern hemisphere and some in the southern. Of those that can be seen in both hemispheres, some may appear upside down, depending on your location. Some can be viewed all year long but most are seasonal and only appear at certain times.

Distant galaxies and nebulae, which are clouds of gas and dust in outer space, also form part of constellations. Our sun is the only known star in our galaxy which is not part of one.

To identify the constellations, you will need a star chart which is a map of what the night sky will look like at a certain time and location. These can seem confusing because east and west seem to be switched until the map is held over your head which is the way it is supposed to be read. The outer edge of the map represents the horizon, so the further the stars on the map are from the edge, the higher in the sky they will be.

The center of the star chart represents stars and constellations that are directly overhead. To get your bearings, first locate Polaris or the North Star. This is easy to do. Find the Big Dipper which is  visible all year in the northern hemisphere and is part of Ursa Major. Draw an imaginary line between the outer two stars in the “bowl” of the dipper. Look up five lengths of this line and you will see the North Star which is the brightest star and the first star in the handle of the Little Dipper in the constellation of Ursa Minor.

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The constellation of Ursa Major

In the southern hemisphere, find the constellation Southern Cross which always points south. This time draw a line between Alpha and Beta Centauri and you will find the South Star. Wherever you are, knowing your stars will always help you find your direction. The North Star and South Star is a place in the sky where the Earth’s north and south poles point. Thus, it will not always be the same stars that have this designation.

Stars do not stay fixed in the night sky. As Earth rotates, they change position so the night sky will look differently at midnight than it did a few hours before or after. Most constellations are also seasonal, so ones that are visible in winter may not be in summer and vice versa.

Planets are different from the stars as their position in the sky changes slightly from one night to the next. Thus, they are so named because the word planet means “wondering star.” Stars are so far away that they appear to twinkle because of turbulence in the earth’s atmosphere. So-called the naked eye planets because they can be seen without a telescope, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are close enough to earth to form a sizable disk in the night sky. When well above the horizon, these planets shine with a steadier light than stars.

Mercury, Venus and Mars are often visible at dawn and dusk, earning them the nicknames of morning and evening stars. In addition to helping locate the constellations, star charts will also aid in finding the eight planets. Whoa, you must be thinking I made an error since there are nine planets. Not any more since astronomers decided in 2006 to move Pluto’s status to dwarf planet. I am not sure how this is going to work out since I learned to keep the planets in order from the sun by reciting, “My very educated mother just served us nine pickles.” It doesn’t make much sense since we have lost our pickle!

Finding the constellations is satisfaction in itself, however nights that offer a meteor shower have a special attraction. Technically, meteors are bits of interplanetary debris that slam into earth’s upper atmosphere. Even the tiniest specks can produce huge streaks of light. During certain meteor showers, upwards of 50 per hour may be seen and most of them are 50 to 75 miles above the ground.

Meteor showers are best viewed on moonless nights from midnight until the first glimmer of dawn. They flash across the sky at unexpected times. Fireballs are meteors that are brighter than any of the stars or planets.  These “falling or shooting stars” have always had a little magic attached to them since wishes made while one was “falling” were said to come true. Who knows??

Comets are another phenomenon of the night sky. They are small celestial bodies that orbit the sun. Their bodies are made mostly of ices mixed with smaller amounts of dust and rock. When a comet’s orbit brings it close to the sun, it heats up and spews dust and gases from a giant head that is larger than most planets. The tail that we see is millions of miles long. Material streams from comets and populates their orbits. If Earth or other planets happen to move through that stream, those particles fall to Earth as meteor showers. This is how the occurrence of meteor showers can be predicted.

I was reminded just how spectacular the night sky can be this summer on our trip to Utah. When suburbs sprawl into the country, they bring their light pollution with them. The earth is seeing less and less of truly dark skies. In Utah, far from any cities, we sat outside at night and watched the show, the “night show” from which so many parts of the world are deprived. The best part about the shows that the night skies offer is that they are free for the taking.


Photos courtesy of Getty Images

COOL ART...LITERALLY

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Country MoonAmidst the gray skies and gloom that winter days sometimes bring, there is always a bright spot in Shipshewana, IN in late December. Ice chips fly as carvers from all over come to create masterpieces out of frozen water.

This year’s contest, due to weather conditions, was held on December 28 and 29. This time is always a highlight in this quaint rural Hoosier town where visitors come from all over to shop specialty stores that feature handmade items and Amish country cooking. The town also does Christmas right with their holiday lighting all over the small community. Viewing the ice sculptures at night under the lights is even more festive.

Actually, ice sculpting is pretty common in various locations around the country where temperatures permit. The granddaddy of all the ice contests is held in Alaska…go figure! Since 1989, Alaska has hosted the World Ice Art Championship where nearly 100 sculptors come from all over the world to sculpt large blocks of pristine natural ice during the last week of February and the first week of March. The event draws an average of 45,000 spectators and the creations are sometimes referred to as “Arctic Diamonds.”

There are two categories: the single block and multi block and two sub-categories of realistic and abstract. In single block, teams of up to two people work on 3 x 5 x 8-foot blocks of ice weighing around 7800 pounds each. In multi, there can be up to four people on a team and each team gets ten blocks of ice measuring 6 x 4 x 3 feet and weighing 4400 pounds each. Power tools and scaffolding may be used when sculpting. These masterpieces require not only artistic vision, but also knowledge of ice sculpting techniques, strength, endurance and engineering skills. There is even a kids’ section that has ice sleds and ice twirly tops.

This art form takes my breath away. I know from doing my painting, photography and writing that creativity sometimes has its own time frame. However, with ice sculpting, time is of the essence because of the volatility of the ice. Besides that, I would be at a loss as to where to start. Just how do you know how to begin an ice sculpture?

This art is traditionally taught in culinary schools and other small schools that teach ice carving. Initially, sculptors would carve ice blocks “cold turkey” by using chain saws, grinders and chisels. Through the years, the designs have become more intricate and many carvers today use templates and are aided by CNC machines and molding systems.

Besides ice sculpting competitions, more people are probably familiar with smaller versions that are used to enhance the presentation of foods, traditionally seafoods and sorbets. Cruise ships and larger hotel buffets make use of carved ice as do many wedding receptions. Hearts, doves and swans are popular subjects for these smaller sculptures. Swans are supposed to represent monogamy which is why they are popular for wedding carvings. Chef Augustine Escoffier used an ice swan to present the creation of the dish Peach Melba.

Sometimes entire bars are made of ice as are ice houses and ice walls. When making these larger structures, special measures have to be taken so they do not melt so fast. One method is by placing and keeping vertical rods in the ice sculpture along with a type of ice pellets. These pellets are made by combining one part water, three parts ice cubes or crushed ice and one part tiny floating dry ice pellets and churning all of these in a cement mixer. The ice pellets super cools the ice water so that the water acts as a glue to cement or freeze the crushed ice together. Within seconds, after the mixture has stopped moving, it will become solid ice, to be carved into a wall, bar or other structure.

Although some carvers use natural ice blocks from rivers or ponds, many prefer clear ice that has been made mechanically by controlling the freezing process and the circulation of the water in the freezing chamber. Certain machines and processes allow for slow freezing which results in clean ice.

Characteristics of ice change according to its temperature and the surrounding air temperature. Most sculptors want that pure transparency that only comes from ice that has been made from pure and clean water that is free from impurities. If ice is clouded it is because it has finely trapped air molecules that have binded to impurities during the freezing process. In more intricate ice patterns, some sculptors actually want the clouded ice, a combination of cloudy and clear or blocks of ice colored by dyes to achieve the final art form.

There is nothing like watching a sculptor start chipping a form out of a block of ice once he has drawn the pattern on it. It takes multiple cuts to make curves and after a design has been carved, many use a flamer to smooth imperfections and give it a finished look. How amazing to see a 3-D effect of an image come to life from a simple block of ice!

How long these sculptures last depend solely on the temperature. If it is below freezing or if in a controlled environment, they can last for days. However, the life for many is but a few hours. Unlike other art forms, part of the beauty of ice sculptures is that something so perishable is sculpted into a work of art only to be viewed once. Perhaps this is what makes us appreciate this art form.

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Photos Courtesy of Getty Images

WHERE'S THE REAL FOOD?

Country MoonBread that doesn’t mold after weeks on the shelf, milk that can set in the refrigerator for weeks without spoiling, ice cream that doesn’t melt and the list goes on. A hundred years ago, milk came from cows, meat came from animals and meals came from the kitchen stove and not from a box. Sadly, today much of our food appears on the grocer’s shelves in pre-packaged containers ready to eat or heat. Where has our real food gone?

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Have we really traded wholesome food that is good for us for convenience and opportunities for the producers to make an extra dollar? It seems so.

I had nearly a half-gallon of milk left in the fridge when I went on vacation and forgot to dispose of it. Guess what? Nearly two and a half weeks later it was still good. I have had a loaf of bread in the cabinet for over two weeks with no sign of mold. Now, when I was a kid, both the milk and the bread would have been spoiled.

There is a video that has gone viral that depicts a dish of Breyer’s ice cream, one of the brands that is touted as being made from all-natural ingredients, that sets on the counter for hours and does not melt. Now, I am not saying that this is 100% correct, but Breyer’s does not taste the same as it used to.

If you check the list of ingredients on a Breyer’s box, instead of the five or six it used to list, now it lists ingredients that I know I can’t pronounce. On many of their boxes, it does not say “ice cream” anymore, but rather, it reads “frozen dairy dessert.” The company says they changed their recipe because of commodity prices, competition and marketing trends and that most of the people polled actually preferred the new blend. Really? How can something unnatural taste better than all-natural? It is pretty sad that the population’s taste buds are so used to packaged foods with preservatives that many prefer that taste over real food.

I experienced this fact first-hand a few years ago when my grandson Wade stayed over and we were going to have waffles and sausage for breakfast. I got my mixing bowl out to make the waffles from scratch and Wade earnestly told me that was not how you do waffles, but rather you get them out of the package in the freezer and pop them in the toaster. If this is how our generation of kids is growing up, how will they ever learn to cook for themselves or will it become a lost art among the general population?

Our breads and grains have sadly gone downhill also. An American company says it has developed a technique that will make bread stay mold-free for 60 days. Can you imagine a loaf of bread being good on the counter for two months!

Apparently, what they are proposing is zapping bread in a huge microwave that will kill all mold spores. The technique was originally developed to kill bacteria such as MRSA and salmonella and is now being used with a wider range of foods such as fresh turkeys and many fruits and vegetables. The trouble with this method is that it not only kills the bacteria, but it also kills everything of nutritional value. Aren’t there safer ways to preserve our food than to radiate it?

Bread and other products have also gotten a bad rap lately because of the gluten in them. Even if you are not gluten-intolerant, sometimes eating grains these days leaves us feeling bloated and with some other unpleasant symptoms. America grew up eating grains, so why are they all of a sudden the bad guys?

Wheat crops, like other plant and animal products have been through some serious genetic manipulation which makes them more profitable for the food industry and less healthy for us consumers. Thus, the grain itself is harder for our bodies to process which leads to our digestive problems stemming from the gluten in grains.

I have actually been going back to a heritage wheat called red fife and using flour made from that strain for breads and other baked goods. It is not gluten-free, but those with gluten intolerances, do tolerate it much better than other grains. It has exceptional flavor and baking properties while remaining un-altered by modern genetic modifications. It is a heritage grain that our grandparents ate, when grains were still some of the good guys.

Well, all the blame does not fall squarely on the shoulders of the grains either. Producers of commercially available grain-based products chock them full of unhealthy ingredients like azodicarbonamide (the same chemical that is found in yoga mats and rubber) and added sugar, colorings and GMO’s.

In addition, flour can be treated with any of 60 different chemicals approved by the FDA, including bleach, before it ends up on grocers’ shelves. It makes you wonder why a loaf of bread needs all these unidentifiable ingredients when it takes only flour, yeast, water and salt to make bread. No, I really don’t want my bread to be good for two months.

When we look at our food supply, it is apparent that we have sacrificed our health for the sake of convenience. Everyone gets in a pinch once in a while and needs to get a meal on the table in a hurry. However, there is no excuse for making this the norm. Neisa, a friend of mine who is a mother of two co-owns a business with her husband, finds the time to cook for her family from scratch as well as making her own dog food. “It’s just better for us and our overall health,” she says. “It may take a little time, but isn’t our health and longevity worth it?”

As with anything else, change is hard but if you start by making even a few small changes, you will notice a significant difference. Eat minimally processed foods, buy and bake with unrefined grains, incorporate more unprocessed meats and foods into your diet and buy hormone-free dairy and meat. Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables is one of the easiest ways to get back to basics. Eat lean protein and complex carbohydrates and two to three servings of healthy fats every day. Warning though, one of the side effects of this new eating plan is possible weight loss!

Buying from local producers is also a big plus. It is hard to ship milk across the globe and not have it spoil without preservatives. However, locally grown and produced requires less additives to retain freshness.

In the name of convenience and in our rushed society we have traded value and healthy for quick and easy. Our food chain is spoiling faster than our actual food. Maybe it’s time to get back to basics, especially in what we eat.


Photos Courtesy of Getty Images

THE BEST GIFT

Country MoonJust like most kids, when I was young, I couldn’t wait for Christmas and all the gifts. I knew that on Christmas morning there would be many under the tree from “Santa” and then we would head to my grandparents and there would be more and there was always the exchange at school.

Then, like most kids, I grew up and figured out that the real gifts were the ones that couldn’t be wrapped in pretty paper. The gift of time with loved ones became far more special. I was reminded of that fact even more profoundly this year as I struggled with my shopping list. It’s not about the money, but rather it’s about the frivolousness of it all. Kids get so much stuff that they rip open one package and throw it aside to move on to the next one without even seeing what they get. Enough.

There had to be a better way of giving--truly giving gifts from the heart. Keeping with the spirit of the season, I was reminded three times that the best gifts do not come with ribbons and bows.

The first lesson was when I started my Christmas cards this year. I love to get cards, and I really do like to send them. There is nothing like curling up with a mug of hot cocoa in front of the fire and writing them out. It just always seems like there are so many and then people move and you need to get new addresses. The whole idea of the cards is to reach out to those that are far away and those that you don’t see. Somehow, this seems backwards to me. If we haven’t seen someone in a year, why do we reach out to them year after year only on Christmas?

I decided to go through my Rolodex and that was the first shocker. A couple of years ago, there were 135 people on my list. Given, each year there are a few names that come off, but this year I was down to 86. Wow, that is an eye opener. How could so many people just not be part of my life anymore?

There were three people that, for one reason or another, I just had not had any contact with in years. I set those cards out and vowed to call each one that day. One was a former painting instructor from whom I had taken painting lessons for nearly four years. I had no idea whether he was still painting or not.

As it turns out, he was not only still painting, but had recently finished one and made it into a limited-edition print that was going to be perfect for someone on my list. Not only did we re-connect, but we talked about some future projects. How do we just let some people slip out of our lives? Thus, the second lesson was to vow to stay connected to people who are important to us. It involves a little extra effort, but then, anything worthwhile does.

The third lesson was bittersweet. In this joyous and happy time of year, it is so easy to forget that it is not always that way for everyone. Some people are really struggling, whether it be financially or physically. Four families who are dear to me have serious issues that they are wrestling with this holiday season. One is dealing with loss and the other three are dealing with health conditions.

It is hard to be happy during this joyous season when you know that others are denied that gift. I also know from past experience that even small acts of kindness are so appreciated and can bring immeasurable joy to someone. So, I decided that, instead of joining the shopping spree and buying a bunch of gifts that find their way to the wayside once the holidays are past, I would do something to bring joy to others in need, a joy that would, hopefully, last.

I found that, whether it was a plate of cookies, inviting them over for a meal or simply just a visit with a gift of time, it meant so much to them. Funny though, I also received the best gift of knowing that I gave from the heart and of myself.

Every year I say that I want to keep the Christmas spirit all through the year, but we all know how that goes. This year I am not going to reach so high, but rather just try to stay in touch with those that really mean so much to me. Every time I catch myself saying that I am too busy to share a soft drink with a friend or to make a phone call or to take time out for a visit with someone in my life, I hope I am reminded of this Christmas. I don’t want to miss the best gift of all, the one that lasts way past the Christmas season.

Best Gift1







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