Country Moon


EASTER TRADITIONS

Country MoonEven though Easter is the oldest Christian holiday, we are generally more familiar with the customs and traditions of Christmas than we are of this “floating” spring holiday.

Easter falls on a different day every year, either in March or April. It is actually designated to be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon which occurs on or after the vernal equinox or, as we all look forward to, the first day of spring.

The date on which Easter falls also determines when Lent is observed each year. Lent is the 40-day period preceding Easter that is devoted to fasting, abstinence and penitence which commemorates Christ’s fasting in the wilderness. The period runs from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday.

In medieval times, the fast of Lent included meat, milk and eggs. Eggs was the one of the three that did not spoil without refrigeration. Thus, the Lentin tradition led to a surplus of eggs which meant they were cheaper to buy and give as gifts which is why they are still a key part of our Easter celebrations. In recent years Lent has become more a period of giving up one specific indulgent. The word indulgent is key here, which means for me it cannot be brussels sprouts which to this day I still despise!

Easter is named for the Anglo Saxon goddess Eostre, the goddess known for springtime celebrations and fertility. One of Eostre’s symbols of fertility was a bunny because of rabbits’ prolific reproductive cycles. German immigrants are given the credit of bringing the Easter bunny tradition to the United States.

The giving of eggs has been a symbol of rebirth in many cultures and the tradition dates back even before Easter. The actual act of painting eggs, called pysanka, originated in the Ukraine using wax and dyes. Some believe that Eostre also had a connection to dyeing eggs. There was no PAAS back then so eggs were dyed using natural items like onion peels, tree bark, flower petals and other esters occurring naturally, hence esters are linked to Eostre.

Speaking of PAAS, what kid has not watched those magical tablets turn water and vinegar into something magical? The word originates from the Dutch word Passen, their term for Easter. Each year PAAS sells around 10 million egg coloring kits.

Some folks take their dyeing for Easter one step further and dye baby chicks. Sure, they are cute, but really? Half of our states ban this practice even though proponents argue that the dyes used are not harmful and that the dye only lasts until the chicks shed their down and grow feathers. Florida has overturned their ruling and now permits the dyeing of any animal. By the way, Florida also has the largest Easter egg hunt where 9753 children search for 501,000 eggs. Coloring that many eggs shouldn’t leave time for coloring any animals!

The first Easter bunny who hopped along bearing eggs and candy was in Germany in the middle ages and the first written account of an Easter bunny hiding eggs in a garden was published in 1680. In the United States, more than 90 million chocolate bunnies are produced each year.

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I still remember the disappointment as a kid biting into that chocolate bunny which I just knew was solid chocolate, only to find it hollow inside. I later learned there are two reasons for this. First of all, less is more and each indulgent bite is savored more than if one was inundated with so much chocolate that it would make you sick. The second reason is for safety, especially with the larger bunnies. Biting into a solid block of hard chocolate would certainly send many kids to the dentist with broken teeth.

By the way, the manner in which a chocolate bunny is eaten is a ritual in itself. According to the stats, 76% of people eat the ears first, 5% dive into the feet and 4% go for the tail. I guess that the remaining 15% just eat the bunny in no particular fashion.

Incidentally, the largest chocolate bunny stood 14.8 feet tall and weighed 9359.7 pounds and was fashioned in Brazil in 2017. By contrast, the world’s largest Easter egg was over 34 feet high and measured 64 feet in circumference. It was molded in Italy in 2011 and weighed 15,873 pounds. It’s hard to imagine that much chocolate!

Candy has always been associated with Easter and, after Halloween, Easter is the second largest candy consuming holiday. Americans consume more than 16 million jelly beans during each Easter season. This is enough to circle the globe three times! Marshmallow peeps are the most popular non-chocolate Easter candy and Americans buy more than 700 million of them.

Peeps have an interesting story all their own. It used to take 30 hours to produce one batch of these sweet little critters. Representatives for the company Just Born, the manufacturer who acquired Peeps in 1953, watched a woman with pastry tubes making Peeps by hand. Due to the cooling process, it took 27 hours then to make each batch. Just Born got it down to 6 minutes.

Another seasonal delicacy,Cadbury cream eggs, were born in Birmingham, England. John Cadbury sold chocolate drinks in his shop and had a chocolate and cocoa factory. Joseph Fry, a competitor, started experimenting with making moldable chocolate bars. They merged their efforts in 1919 and in 1923 the first cream filled chocolate Cadbury egg was “hatched.” This sweet version that mimics a real egg with white and yellow cream fondant inside a milk chocolate shell.

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Of course, this holiday has its own flower too. The white lily is the official flower of Easter because it represents grace and purity. Often referred to as “Easter lilies,” many homes and churches are adorned with these throughout the Easter season.

This year marks the 138th Easter Egg Roll in our nation’s capital. This tradition was started in 1867 and was on the grounds of the Capitol building in Washington, D. C. However, it annoyed Rep. William Steele Holman of Indiana, chairman of the Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds. So, in 1876 Holman was instrumental in the passing of the “Turf Act” which made it illegal to use any portion of the Capitol grounds or terraces for play. It was in the interest of protecting the grass.

In 1878, a group of kids approached President Rutherford B. Hayes while he was out for his walk and asked him if the egg roll could be held at the White House. Thus, it is still held today on the south lawn of the White House the Monday after Easter Sunday. The event is open to kids who are 13 years old or younger and their parents and this year some 35,000 people will attend. People sign up and are chosen through a lottery.

It is estimated that Americans spend  $14.7 billion on Easter with an average household pitching in $131 on candy, décor and dinner. Sadly, it is a Christian holiday turned into a commercial powerhouse. Only 12 of the 50 states still recognize Good Friday as a holiday.

The true essence of Easter should be joy, celebration and new life but too often it is turned into only a celebration of egg hunts and chocolate bunnies. Personally, I think we ought to keep it all.

Images courtesy of Getty Images

A BREAD AFFAIR, THE BETTER BRED BREAD

Not all breads are created equal. There has been a lot of buzz lately about artisan breads. Is this just a fancy name for regular bread that folks spend high dollars on or is there something special about this “new” bread?

Actually, artisan bread is not “new” at all. As a matter of fact, it is basically returning to how our grandmothers baked bread with wholesome ingredients and none of the bad stuff. However, not all artisan breads are created equal either. Each artisan bread is as individual as the person who created it. Just because a loaf carries this label, doesn’t mean it really is, so check your ingredients. Real artisan bread contains only the four basic ingredients of flour, water, salt and yeast and maybe some mix-ins such as dried fruits for flavoring.

Bread is all about the fermentation process and when it comes to this, faster isn’t always better. Most commercial bakeries use high speed mixers and chemicals to speed up the fermentation process and the result is pretty unremarkable bread. Artisan bread, on the other hand, is fermented over a longer time, sometimes up to 24 hours, which allows the natural enzymes to react with the flour in their own time for a more robust flavor and texture. Artisan breads are also easier to digest because the enzymes have had time to start breaking down the gluten in the flour during fermentation.

True artisan bread is made in smaller batches using traditional methods which is why they are usually found in smaller bakeries. Although the ingredients are simple, each baker often creates his own combination of flavors, resulting in signature breads that are their own creations. The bakers use source ingredients from a particular provider which ensures consistent quality.

Because of this, different artisan breads have different flavors although the basic characteristics of a full aroma, deep golden brown crust with soft interiors with large and irregular holes and deeper wheat flavor are present in most loaves. These breads come in different shapes and forms and flavors that are as varied as the bakers who create them. 

They are referred to as artisan because artisan bread is truly an art form. A baker’s choices of ingredients, fermentation times, water temperature and even the ovens they choose to bake the bread in make each loaf unique and no less a masterful creation than a work of art.

The type of flour makes a big impact. Flour is produced y milling wheat and during this process wheat bran and germ are separated and the white interior of the grain is ground into flour. The quality of flour depends on the class of wheat used, climate conditions during its growth and harvest, the variety in the class, milling practices and the handling and condition after milling. Bakers make adjustments to the dough’s mixing time, the percentage of water added, fermentation and handling based on the flour’s condition.

A flour is further rated on its mixing tolerance, the measure of protein quality it contains. A good quality protein contains sufficient gluten which allows the bread to hold its shape. If the flour quality is poor, the resulting loaf will have a lack of volume poor texture, lack of symmetry, lack of keeping quality and will be off color. With a lower protein count, bread will have a flatter shape and will be brittle whereas a higher protein count will result in bread that is more rounded and chewy.

Bread quality is also affected by its water content. Bakers state the amount of water used in a recipe as a percent of flour used. Known as “bakers’ percent,” a good starting point is 60%, then individual bakers adjust it from there.

Water temperature also plays an important part in the final outcome. It affects the fermentation time and dough handling. The more water and the higher temperature, the faster the fermentation and the stickier the dough. Even the hardness of the water affects the outcome. Soft water also increases the stickiness whereas hard water will result in a more “holey” bread. For this reason, the same type of bread at franchises like Subway tastes different from location to location.

Salt is almost always added at 2% of the flour rate. Particle size of the salt crystals determines how quickly the salt dissolves and its purity can retard the yeast fermentation if some metals are present.

Finally, yeast is probably the most important ingredient of bread. This single-celled fungi converts its food (sugar and starch) into carbon dioxide which makes the bread rise. The quality and quantity of these four ingredients control the final outcome of the artisan bread and allow each baker to tweak his recipe by adjusting these.

The last control a baker has is the oven it is baked in. Most use steam to add crispness and shine to the crust. Some use wood-fired ovens which lend their unique flavor to the breads.

Artisan bread is bread that is better for us. It uses simple ingredients and the longer fermentation process automatically makes it easier to digest. When you add a flour like Red Fife, a heirloom flour that has a lower gluten content than many modern day flours, you get a double whammy of lowered gluten content and a more digestible product.

So, artisan bread is nothing new. As a matter of fact, it is relatively old, going back to the way our grandmothers used to make bread. There’s something comforting in that.

homemade bread
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

BASIC ARTISAN NO-KNEAD BREAD RECIPE

Ingredients:

• 3 1/2 cups flour
• 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
• 1/2 teaspoon dry yeast
• 1 1/2 cups warm water

Instructions

1. Whisk flour, salt and yeast together, then add in water to make a ball. Transfer to large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until dough is covered with tiny bubbles, anywhere from 12 to 18 hours.

2. Place Dutch oven or ceramic liner of a Crockpot in a 450 degree F oven. Transfer dough to a floured surface, fold corners under dough until a ball forms. Put on a piece of parchment paper, dust with flour and let rest 15 minutes.

3. Score an “X” in the center and spritz with water. Place in the Dutch oven, cover and bake 30 minutes. Remove the lid and continue baking until top is golden brown. Remove from oven and let rest 30 minutes before slicing.

Spring Cleaning My Gadgets

Country MoonIt’s that time of year to think about spring cleaning again. This year the task will be a little more intense as I tackle something that has gotten clear out of hand. Most of us have a “stuff” drawer in the kitchen for things like tape, scissors, a screw driver, needle and thread, and whatever else doesn’t fit anywhere else. Then, most of us have a drawer for gadgets, you know, the cheese slicer, pizza cutter, ice cream scoop, etc.

Today I attempted to open the gadget drawer for my rolling pin, and it wouldn’t budge. After some pushing and prying and a few choice words, I eventually won and the drawer lost this battle. That is when I decided “no more.”

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Photo by Getty Images/lucentius.

The problem is those TV ads that promise the latest gadget is the latest, greatest invention and that there is no way we can survive in our kitchens any longer unless we own one of whatever it is. Sorry to say, I have been suckered in like so many others. But wait, if I acted in the next few minutes (which I usually did), I would get two for the price of one and only pay the additional shipping. How could I resist!

Of course, I would always order the two because I could always give one to my best friend and she would be forever grateful. Uhh, probably not! However, after I used my greatest and latest, I discovered just how much I didn’t need it, and so the extra one, along with the one I just tried, ended up in the gadget drawer. Multiply this example by ten or so, and I had so many gadgets that they outgrew my gadget drawer. So, I would stick one in with the pots and pans, another one in the lid drawer, etc.

This is how I got to where I am today. Something has to give. I am spending more time looking for the gadgets in the drawer than actually using them to perform the task for which they were intended. Not only that, most of them are harder to clean up than if I would have just done the task the old-fashioned way. Case in point, the eggstractor egg peeler. By the time I got it out, put the egg in and cleaned it up, I could have not only peeled a dozen eggs, but also had the deviled eggs made.

Did I really need my pepper prepper? It takes the top off the pepper and pulls out the ball of seeds inside. A knife does the trick in less time. Those commercials convinced me that I needed a pickle picker too, you know because you can never grab a dill or a gherkin out of the jar. This has tongs on the end that clasp down over the pickle and pull it out. It reminds me of those easy grabbers or pick sticks that folks use to pick up trash. A fork works just great.

Perhaps the best way that the ad people convince us that we need a new kitchen gadget is to apply electronics to it. You know those chocolate fountains where you can dip strawberries and banana slices in at many wedding receptions? Well, they have home models that run anywhere from $20 to over $100. Even worse than spending money on this gadget, is the fact that most of them get clogged up, don’t work and after the few times that they do work, they become your worst cleaning nightmare.

How about that electric meat tumbler? You put your seasonings and meat in the tumbler and it will marinate your meat for you. Here again, after you haul it out, get it ready to use and clean up afterwards, you will find that a Ziploc bag does the same thing for a lot less money, a lot less prep time, and whole lot less clean up.

Just as bad are the concept gadgets which are tools for specific purposes. They generally get used once before they are ditched in the back of the drawer to collect dust and use space. In this class are the no-point knives (so you don’t poke yourself), the miniature hand-held circular saw for cutting pizza, the banana slicer (so each slice is evenly cut), and the list goes on.

The really ironic one is the customizable drawer organizer so you can find the gadgets that you will never use again. Well,at least they will be organized. Probably not in my case though, because I am always in a hurry and would probably just throw the gadgets back in the drawer on top of the organizer.

In a recent survey, it was estimated that people spend $1000 a year on stuff that they will hardly ever use, and things that will end up just taking up space. However, to be fair, I have to admit that once in a while, once in a great while, there is a gadget or two that comes along that really does make life easier.

The adjustable rolling pin is one such item. You adjust it for whatever thickness is desired and it ensures that the dough is all uniform. I don’t use this so much for pie crusts, but it is great when making cookies that need rolled out. So, this is one gadget that got saved from the gadget graveyard because it does have usefulness for something else.

I think this whole revolving mess gets started because the infomercials convince us that each new gadget will help simplify our lives. In this complicated world, we all want a little simplicity, and so we are caught up in the sales pitch.

I think I have found a way to keep from being tempted when I see another gadget advertised that I just cannot live without. After going through my kitchen and de-gadgeting, I am keeping the pickle picker and placing it beside my credit card with a note on it that reads, “Really??”

Perhaps I do need to make one more purchase though. I have such a pile of gadgets that I need a gadget tote to carry all the gadgets to the recycling!

How Does Your Garden Grow

Country MoonHydroponics is the new kid on the block when it comes to gardening. The name literally means “working water,” and the whole concept is that plants can be grown in a nutrient-rich solution without soil. This whole idea is actually not new at all but was born in the 17th century. Modern hydroponics didn’t come into its own until the last 100 years.

Root systems are supported in an inert medium such as perlite, rockwool, clay pellets, peat moss, or vermiculite. The basic concept is that the plant roots come into direct contact with the nutrient solution while also having access to oxygen so they don’t drown. The nutrient solution, which is basically a type of fertilizer, is determined by individual growers and can be either organic or non-organic.

Like most things, there are advantages and disadvantages to using hydroponics. The main argument for investing in this type of system is that plants have an increased rate of growth with increased yield. Plants mature 25% faster and produce 30% more crops than if they were grown in soil. Plants don’t have to work as hard to obtain nutrients so even small root systems will provide the plant what it needs. Thus, plants can put more emphasis on growing than on expanding its root systems.

All of this occurs because the nutrients and pH balance are critically monitored and controlled. Because systems are enclosed, less water is needed, which makes these systems ideal for areas where water is not plentiful.

With all of these advantages, the downside is that these systems are usually more costly than their soil counterparts, and they take longer to set up. Managing hydroponics requires a lot of time since nutrient levels and pH balances must be monitored daily.

Perhaps the greatest risk is a pump failure which can kill plants within hours of the malfunction, depending on the size of the system. Growing mediums can’t store water like soil can, so plants depend on a continuous fresh supply of water.

The term hydroponics encompasses several systems, with each one having its advantages and disadvantages. The bottom line with any of them is the method by which they supply water to plants.

hydroponic-lettuce

Photo by Getty Images/Kapook2981.

The easiest type to manage is the deepwater culture, also known as the reservoir method. Roots are suspended directly in the nutrient solution and an aquarium air pump oxygenates the solution. Light must be monitored because too much will let algae grow. The benefit to this system is there are no spray emitters to clog, especially if using an organic solution, since that is more prone to clogging.

The nutrient film technique involves a continuous flow of the nutrient solution over the plant roots. This system is powered by gravity with the plant bed being on a slight tilt. With this method, only the plant roots come into contact with the solution, enabling the plants to get more oxygen, which means a faster rate of growth.

With aeroponics, the roots are misted with the nutrient solution while they are suspended in air. This is achieved by using either a fine spray nozzle for misting or a pond fogger. The AeroGarden is a commercialized aeroponics system which is an excellent entry point to aeroponics. It is a turn-key system that requires little setup and features great support and supplies to start.

Wicking is one of the easiest and lowest cost methods of hydroponics. The concept here is to have a material such as cotton that is surrounded by the medium with one end of the wick material placed in the nutrient solution which is wicked to the roots of the plants. This method can be simplified further by removing the wicking material altogether and using a growing medium that can wick the nutrients directly to the roots.

Ebb and flow is yet another method, also known as flood and drain. The idea here is to flood the growing area with the solution at specific intervals and then let the solution drain back to a reservoir. A pump hooked to a timer ensures that the process repeats regularly. This system is ideal for plants that flourish when they go through a slight dry spell because it encourages the root system to grow larger in search of moisture. As they do this, the plants grow faster because they absorb more nutrients.

The drip system is rather simple. It involves a slow feed of solution to the plant medium. In these cases, the medium must be slow-draining such as rockwool or peat moss. Faster draining ones may be used, but a faster dripping emitter must then also be used. The downside to this technique is that the drippers clog frequently.

No matter which method you choose, there are some tips for success that are relative to all. First, change the nutrient solution every two to three weeks and keep the water temperature between 65  and 75 degrees F. Using an air pump can increase the circulation and keep the nutrient solution oxygenated. Remember too, that plants still need 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.

Flush, clean, and sterilize the system after each growing cycle. Drain the reservoir and flush with a mixture of 1/8 cup non-chlorine bleach to one gallon of water. Run this for a day and follow-up with clean water. At any time during a growing cycle, if the plants do not look healthy, check the pH balance, and if it is off, then flush the system at that point also.

Hydroponics is an excellent growing choice for all types of plants because growers can meticulously control the variables that effect how plants will grow. A fine-tuned hydroponic system can easily surpass a soil-based one when it comes to plant quality and amount of yield.

On the flip side, taste is often a casualty of the hydroponic system. Though all the nutrients that plants receive can be controlled, there is just something about growing them in soil. Every soil is different, and each type can add its own “flavor” to produce. Hydroponic growers can regulate plants’ sugar, sodium and acidic flavor by what is added to the growing solution.

So, should you ditch your regular garden in favor of hydroponics? It's just my personal opinion, but there is nothing that will replace good old dirt. Hydroponics does offer a way of growing more food for feeding all of us, but it is offered at a price, which is taste. It would be fun to experiment with these systems, but I’m not ready to give up my dirt just yet.

Picking Up the Pieces

Country MoonHere in the Midwest, winters are harsh. This year has been especially tough as we have had it all, rain, freezing rain, snow, fog, arctic blasts, and sometimes all of them in the same day. I am not complaining; we all know what we are up against if we choose to live here.

It’s just that after harvest is in the bag and after the holidays, those of us that stay in the frozen north instead of heading south look forward to a couple months of "ahhhh" time. A time to sleep in, catch up on some reading, start (or finish) some projects and generally just do whatever we want that we don’t have time for the rest of the year.

This time of year, January through March, also seems to be harsh in other ways too. It seems to me that every year at this time, we lose more people from our lives than at any other time of the year. We have had three funerals within a span of three weeks. That is a bit much.

travel-journal

Photo by Adobe Stock/MarekPhotoDesign.com.

I don’t know if it is just coincidence or if the sunless days and the nasty conditions forcing us to stay inside more have anything to do with it. Maybe it is just easier for those that are sick or hurting to give up during these dreary days. Anyone that really knows me, knows that my cup is usually half full instead of half empty; that is just the optimist in me.

So, in spite of the added loss at this time of year, there is a positive (if there is a positive at all)  in losing someone during the winter. Especially if it is a close relative or friend, the time after loss is spent going through the personal belongings of the deceased. As much as this hurts, it is part of the healing process. And, once in a while, we find some little tidbit that gives us a little more connection to our loss.

A friend of ours recently experienced this “tiny glimmer in a sea of sorrow” as he and his siblings were going through his Dad’s belongings after his passing. They found a little notebook that he had kept by his chair in which he had written “stuff.” There was nothing major or really important by legal or monetary standards. His Dad had recorded things like what the weather was for a certain day, grocery lists, what his blood pressure was, maybe a thought he had and a number of other seemingly unimportant tidbits.

That little book, filled with seemingly nothings, has become a little gold mine which gives the kids insight into their father’s life and provides little pieces of it for them to hold onto. It’s always nice to pass dishes, pieces of jewelry and other material things down through the generations because of sentimental value because memories are attached to different objects. However, finding a little notebook like that is priceless. It’s the real treasure.

Perhaps, as I write this, I am a bit melancholy, because today would have been my Dad’s birthday. Never mind that he would have been 102 and that he has been gone 11 years. It still seems like yesterday, and he is still missed every day.

But there is more to it. I also miss what I don’t know about his life. We are all guilty of this because, while we are growing up, our lives are so full and busy that we don’t give much thought to the day when those we hold dear will no longer be with us. They tell stories and mention facts about their lives growing up, but usually we are too busy to really listen or to write things down. Even if we do catch bits and pieces of family history, we always think that we will remember them. Not.

I knew that my Dad spent the first few years of his life on a riverboat because his father worked on one dredging the St. Joseph River in Michigan around the Three Rivers area, and his mother served as the cook on that boat. I also know that his grandparents were Amish, and he spent summers on their farm in Indiana.

How I wish I had written down where the farm was, had listened to more of the stories of what he did on the farm and generally what his life was like growing up. I didn’t, I was busy.

I also remember my great-aunts visiting from time to time when I was younger. They were always dressed in black and were always reserved and spoke very little. Dad always said it was because they had had such a hard life growing up. What were those hard times, what had they seen and felt? I’ll bet they had some fantastic stories to tell, if only someone had asked.

Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from this. Anyone who has grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, and even friends, ask them what it was like growing up and really listen to their stories. Sometimes a little less talking and a lot more listening reaps the most benefits.

It also works from the other end of the spectrum. When I think of things from my past, I will be writing them down so that my grandkids will know a little bit more about my life than what they ask me now. Like I was growing up, they are too busy now to realize the impact of this information. Of all the things I could leave them, perhaps this will be the greatest gift of all.

The hardest thing of all is to lose someone we love, even though it is just part of life. In the aftermath, during the long days and nights when we feel the loss the most, it is then that we grasp for the pieces, anything that will give us another connection to that lost one. Pictures, little scraps of paper, recipes and notebooks filled with everyday “stuff” all help us to pick up the pieces.

The next time I see Aunt Sharlene I will be doing a lot less talking and a lot more listening. The stories, the recollections, the funny “oops” are all pieces of our lives. I want them all.

Barn Quilts Blanket America

Country MoonDriving through the countryside in rural Indiana the other day, a brightly painted barn quilt caught my eye, a trend that is literally blanketing America. This simple piece of art adds a little bit of Americana to a homestead without distracting from the natural beauty of the barn itself.

These barn quilts aren’t really quilts at all, but rather quilted patterns painted on squares of plywood which are then framed and hung on barns or other out buildings. Some can be found randomly throughout the countryside and others are part of “quilt trails” which are organized by communities or counties and provide visitors an opportunity to view several in a certain area.

The concept of barn quilts began with Donna Sue Groves who wished to honor her mother Maxine and her Appalachian heritage by having a painted quilt hung on her barn in Adams County, Ohio. However, her work with the Ohio Arts Council and other community organizations inspired her to alter her plan.

Rather than have a personal tribute, she suggested a “sampler” of 20 quilt squares could be created along a driving trail that would invite visitors to the countryside. A committee of volunteers worked together to both plan the trail and to form guidelines for how the project would be managed. Several barn owners signed up.

So, ironically, the first quilt on the American Quilt Trail does not hang at the Groves’ farm. The “Ohio Star” quilt pattern was painted by local artists and installed on a building on a greenhouse near the Groves’ farm in 2001. This site was chosen because it allowed for a public celebration of the inauguration of the trail. A “Snail’s Trail” quilt square was later painted and mounted on the barn where Donna Sue and Maxine reside.

This new art form quickly caught on, and Donna Sue helped to promote it. A group of quilters from nearby Brown County started their own project. For years, she worked with organizations in Ohio and Tennessee to create new quilt trails. She also advised dozens of individuals who either created painted quilts of their own or who were organizing quilt trails in their communities.

Donna traveled to Iowa to introduce the concept and then to Kentucky. Today the Bluegrass state has about 800 quilt squares across its countryside. Quilt guilds, local civic groups, local arts councils, 4-H clubs, school groups, and many other local groups have come together across the country to create quilt trails. Four such trails exist in Michigan to date, with the Vicksburg Quilt Trail in southern Kalamazoo county in Michigan being the closest trail to me. It consists of 24 locations and takes a leisurely 2 hours to drive and see them all.

This relatively new concept spread like wildfire to the lower 48 states and Canada. Over 7000 barn quilts are now part of organized trails, with dozens more individual ones scattered throughout the countryside. Groves’ simple idea has become the largest grassroots public arts movement in our history.

Contrary to what many believe, this movement is not part of the Amish quilting heritage. No one has been able to document a location of a painted quilt square that existed prior to the Ohio Star that was painted in Adams County.

Patterns are as wide open as regular quilting patterns themselves. Some are personal. One such pattern consists of bright dark and light blue pieces and is named “Drunkard’s Path.” It replicates a quilt from a barn owner’s great-grandmother who lived during the Temperance Movement. One, located near Vicksburg on 24th Street, is made of vibrant colors of green, maroon and brown and is appropriately named “Corn and Beans on 24th Street” as it represents the farm’s 3000 acres of corn and beans.

This is the best attribute of a barn quilt, it can be personalized and still be part of something greater. They are quite easy to construct, perhaps the hardest part being deciding on a design! The biggest thing to remember when choosing a pattern is that someone will likely want to actually piece it into a quilt at a later date, so choose a pattern that is simple and bright. Also, consider where it will be located on your barn or other out building and choose colors that will either coordinate or contrast with your building.

Bluebird-Barn-seven-islands

Photo by Wikimedia Commons/Brian Stansberry.

As far as the wood, most are made out of plywood or beadboard, or sometimes people use their own barn wood and mount planks on sheets of plywood. The squares can be any size you choose, but 4 x 4 foot or 8 x 8 foot are common sizes. Where it is mounted and how high will help in your decision of size. You want to make sure that it is visible from the road. Facing one side with boards and one side with plywood makes it sturdier. However, remember also, the thicker the plywood, the sturdier it will be, but also the heavier it will be.

Apply several coats of primer to the square, remembering to do both the front and back so it doesn’t warp. After each coat has dried thoroughly, draw your pattern on. Choose the part of the pattern that will be the lightest in color and tape off the rest of the pattern adjacent to it. Then apply three or four coats of paint to that part of the pattern, making sure each coat is thoroughly dry before applying another. Then proceed to the next darkest color and repeat the process until all pieces have been painted. Yes, this does require patience!

After all the paint is dry, and you are satisfied with your piece, build a frame around it using stock that is 3/4 of an inch thick by however thick your piece is. Fill the nail holes and paint the frame with the color of your choice. When it is all finished, apply a polyurethane sealer to protect it. A polyurethane automotive clear with built-in sunscreen will help it to keep from peeling in the elements. Voila, it is ready to hang!

Our friends, Dan and Kim Tebo, took it one step further. They wanted a barn quilt square to place over their mantle. Instead of painting the squares, they actually cut pieces of wood in the shape of the pattern and stained each piece accordingly, then mounted them onto the frame. The result was a very early-Americana authentic barnwood quilt square that gives “pop” to their living room. They proved that you can “think outside the box” and take an idea to the next level from what it was initially intended.

Such a simple idea such as a barn quilt square can make a huge impact. Groves’ ingenuity continues to inspire folks across the country. Barn quilts add a colorful pop of charm to rustic barns or, as in Kim and Dan’s case, a touch of authentic Americana to a home.

Kim1a

Photo by Kim Tebo.

 

              

               

               

 

 

NICE ICE

Country MoonEvery season brings its own blessings, and trials, and winter is no different. Here in Michigan and other parts of the frozen Midwest, being on the ice offers its own share of pleasures…and dangers. So many folks partake in ice fishing, ice skating, etc. without really understanding the basics of being on the ice.

It has been a while since I have played on the ice but, when I was a kid, every winter I was out there with my Dad. He loved to ice fish, and I liked to ice skate…a win-win situation. He liked to go to different lakes so he never bothered with a shanty. If the weather was really bad, we just didn’t go.

All lakes and ponds have a routine, so to speak, on how they freeze. A body of water takes longer to cool down and longer to heat up than land. When an entire lake reaches 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the surface water cools further, dropping below that temperature. This water is less dense than the surrounding water, which stays on top and continues to cool. Once the surface water reaches 32 degrees Fahrenheit, it freezes, and this process keeps spreading downward, thus making the ice thicker and thicker.

So, why doesn’t a whole lake freeze? As ice crystals freeze, they float to the surface and as they become thicker, they act as insulators, preventing the cold air coming above the water from removing heat from the unfrozen water below. Because of this process, a lake never freezes solid from top to bottom. Water is shallower at the lake’s perimeter, thus it freezes faster on the outer edges, and the whole lake freezes from the shore to the center.

Rivers and streams are a whole other story. The energy in flowing water is constantly being converted to heat energy that resists freezing on the molecular level. For this reason, it has to be exceptionally cold for rivers and streams to freeze. Glaciers are prime examples of frozen rivers.

So, what is considered a safe thickness of ice to be on the lake? That depends on how much weight you are planning to take on the ice. The Old Farmer's Almanac recommends 3 inches of ice for a person on foot, 4 inches for a group walking in single file, 7.5 inches for a passenger car with a 2-ton gross and 8 inches for a light truck with a 2 1/2 ton gross. The almanac also stresses that slush ice is only half the strength of regular blue ice, and the strength of river ice is 15% less than lake ice. Also, the thickness of a lake’s ice is different at different points on the lake, so it is recommended that you check it every 150 feet.

How long it takes a lake to make the varying degrees of ice thickness depends on what is known as “freezing degree days.” The formula for this is quite simple. First, take the average temperature over the last 24 hours and subtract that number from the freezing point of 32 degrees. Ice will increase at a rate of 1 inch/15 freezing degree days. For example, if the average temperature over the last 24 hours was 25 degrees, subtract that from 32 degrees which will give you 7. Put 7 over 15 like a fraction, 7/15 equals about a 1/2 inch of ice over a 24-hour period.

Keep in mind that these are only guidelines. This formula is based on having a slight to moderate wind speed, no snow on the ground, and clear skies. These all help to pull heat out of the water and accelerate the growth of ice. Just because the thermometer says 32 degrees, does not always mean that water will freeze. The University of Utah chemistry department shows that water can get to -55 degrees before it must freeze.

Frozen lakes and ponds have some phenomena that they claim for their own when they are frozen over. Perhaps the most frightening for anyone who spends any time on the ice is the cracking noise. My Dad always told me, “It’s just making more ice when you hear that noise.” It never made me feel any better, but it was essentially true. Ice expands or contracts when the temperature changes, thus causing cracks to form in the ice.

This same action of expansion and contraction causes lines on the frozen lake’s surface. We were recently down to our friends who live on Union Lake in Michigan and noticed these lines leading out into the lake, with no particular pattern or reason. They are referred to as pressure ridges. Even when a lake is completely frozen, it is not stagnant; it still expands and contracts as it warms and cools. When it warms during the day, it expands, causing a collision between both sides of a crack and causing the ice to buckle up at that pressure point.

Ice heaves and ridges are caused by the pushing action of a lake’s ice sheet against the shore. When lake ice cracks, water rises into the cracks and freezes, gradually expanding the heave.

Frozen lakes offer opportunities to enjoy our water resources in the winter as well as summer. However, it offers its own set of risks. Besides the thickness of the ice, always be aware of those that have been out before you. Specifically, I am talking about holes that ice fishermen have drilled and abandoned. You can easily step into one of these and trip…and a fall on the ice is a lot harder than on land! These holes also pose risks for ice skaters. I found out the hard way what happens when a skate catches an open hole.

As careful as one can be, ice is unpredictable, and there is always that chance that if you play on a frozen lake, you can find yourself plunged into its icy perils. If the dreaded does happen and you do fall through thin ice, the first thing to remember (and this is easier said than done!) is not to panic. It is true that the physiological response to cold water shock and hypothermia is pretty quick, but, by keeping a level head and knowing what to do, you can save yourself.

Immediately put your arms and legs out to slow your descent. The first reaction is to try to claw your way out but, by doing this, your body weight and wet clothing may pull you back down. Many folks also say they cannot get a deep breath, only because when they panic, they forget to exhale first.

Use your behind to lift your lower body and then bring your legs up and extend behind you. If you have skates, snowshoes, and even in some cases, boots, kick them off to dispose of added weight and anything that might “catch” on the ice when trying to pull yourself out.

Kick your legs softly to launch yourself forward on the ice, then kick hard to propel yourself horizontally out of the water on your stomach. Do not stand, but rather, use your arms to pull yourself across the ice to where it is thick enough to support your weight, then get on all fours and crawl towards shore.

Hopefully, you will never find yourself in this scenario, but it is always good to know what to do, just in case. Lakes in winter offer a beauty and solitude that are not present in the other seasons. You are truly missing out if you don’t grab yourself some “nice ice” time on our lakes and ponds.

ice-fishing
Photo by Getty Images/SteveMcsweeny.







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