can you ever go home again?

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6040277693_ca406211f9_z“Red” and I were lucky enough to have had the opportunity to travel a little this summer; and when we were invited to attend my cousin’s retirement dinner – we jumped at the chance to see family I hadn’t seen since my childhood. Not to mention I so wanted for “Red” to be able to see my childhood hometown.

I recall the local library where I first discovered my love of books; the public parktumblr_lwy69jtE9X1qbghaeo1_500 down the street that had those great swings with the metal chains that squeaked under the weight of myself and my friends; I recall some of the best single slice NY style pizza and discovering cream soda for the first time. Not to mention, the local produce stand where the “Apple Man” always handed out apples to the kids in the neighborhood.

The closer we got to that day in June, the more excitement I had about our trip. I had visions that I would be bold enough to go up to the folks now living in my childhood home and ask permission to see if some piece of my childhood still remained.

76916239685d797fbfdb77b0c0c6a0bbThe one thing in particular that I wanted to look for occurred when my dad had renovated the front of our garage at one point when I was just a toddler. My mom decided that I (or at least my footprints) would be immortalized in the new concrete that he had to pour during the construction. I still recall seeing those prints years later along with my birth date inscribed in my mothers handwriting. I remember comparing my shoe size to the barefoot imprints to see how much I had grown. I thought for sure that whoever lived there now – wouldn’t mind if I looked to see if they were still there. I felt compelled to either get a rubbing or photograph of this small piece of my immortality.

As we drew nearer to my childhood home that first night in town, I was suddenly struck by how much everything had changed while I was away. Sure, there were still a few familiar land marks – but this was no longer the town I remembered.

Uniondale

my childhood home – circa 2014

As the sun was beginning to set, we approached the house. I was able to show “Red” my former bedroom window, the front yard that I spent many hours playing in and the neighborhood that I rode my bike through on many a lazy summer night. When he asked if we were stopping – I simply said “no”.

When we got to the hotel that night he asked why I had changed my mind. I told him that I wanted to remember the house and everything about it as it was so many years ago. I was afraid that if the people who lived there now would have agreed to let us in and look for my footprints, the changes I would have found inside might have caused my childhood memories to evaporate. I felt that I owed it to my parents (and myself) to remember things the way they were then, not as they are now. Now – they are someone else’s “childhood memories” – and I’m okay with that.

-J.B.

for vege’s sake – can something

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prune_84245300When I was a kid, my mom was always an avid “canner” of vegetables and preserver of fruit. She would put up plum preserves that we would feast on throughout the winter. Just place some of that dark-colored, sugary concoction on some warm toast or homemade bread ..and I’m one happy camper. Along with the plum preserves, she also put up vast amounts of green beans, tomatoes, and her special brand of pickles. My dad’s primary task on his “canning honey-do” list was being the gardener in the family and every year he planted a good-sized garden that took up the majority of our backyard. With this task came another responsibility –  being the “watcher” over what amounted to his pride n’ joy. He would spend quiet evenings sitting on our back patio – just watching the garden. My younger self never understood how someone could just sit still ..and now I envy that he was able to relax in a way that I have yet to be able to do. On some of those quiet evenings there would also inevitably be a “fight” with the local squirrels on who was going to eat our corn first – but in the end, dad usually prevailed.

I have vivid memories of that garden and I recall grabbing a salt shaker on more than one occasion and picking cucumbers right from the vine to eat. I also recall getting yelled at because mom wanted those for the pickles. However, at the end of the season – there always seemed to be far more fresh produce then we could eat …hence mom canned annually.

tomatoesSeveral of her lady friends also canned and we always wound up with some unusual items – pickle eggs, pickled beets, canned mushrooms and the like. One story I recall mom telling me was about the year that one of her friends – who was a novice at canning – decided she’d try to can spaghetti sauce. Needless to say, something didn’t go quite right and the poor woman spent the winter cleaning sauce off of her kitchen ceiling.

Those early days in fall were spent watching my mom in the kitchen while the windows steamed over from her changing out caning jars in the process of moving the next batch to the water bath on the stove. I have to admit, I was never really involved in this particular “cooking” process because between all the fresh vegetables, pots, spices and other canning supplies; there wasn’t really any room left in our small kitchen in N.Y. for anyone but my mom. However, what I do remember is her annual fall labor of love that would feed my dad, herself and I well into March or April. After the chaos calmed down, I remember walking into our dinning room /canning operation sweatshop and feasting my eyes on all of the goodies. It also always amazed me that those same beautiful jars would lose some of their “luster” by the end of March when I had more than my share of tomatoes, green beans and mom’s garlicky pickles and personally never wanted them again – that is until the following year when the whole process repeated itself.

market2I think that’s why to this day, when the air starts to get a chill – I crave green beans, tomatoes and pickles. I also think that’s why for the first time ever, I plan to “attempt” to can some vegetables this fall. Not really sure what vegetables will wind up in a jar – but I think I may find something other than the “usual”. Perhaps a weekend visit to the local farmer’s market is in order.

-J.B.

if books could talk

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vintage booksI don’t think that most young people nowadays have an appreciation for a used book. They have at their disposal the convenience of reading things ‘online’ and have little interest in experiencing the pleasure of cracking open a book or the sheer joy of going into their library. Does anyone even have a library card anymore? I remember going down to my local library and checking out a ton of books each summer during my elementary school years. When the local library was no longer an option to walk to, my mom introduced me to the bookstore. Thanks, Mom – I think I personally keep B&N from going out of business.

My love affair with books was not unknown to my extended family and friends. They would feed my book obsession which would result in late-night reading marathons. This behavior never really subsided over the years (on my part or theirs), since I can recall a midnight reading session as recent as last week. While I have come to embrace the modern era (sort of) and do read some books online; I’ve recently (re)discovered the simple pleasures of vintage, antique (old) books. I love the fact that many were given as gifts to folks long ago. It feels like the culmination of a treasure hunt to open a book and discover a heart-felt message: “To Anna, love Dad” or some similar sentiment. Just thinking about how many people have held and read the book previous to me, can leave me spellbound.

shabby chic booksI recently purchased a book of children’s poetry at a local antique store. I was attracted not only to the title and poems, but fascinated by the fact that this book was published in 1892. When I opened the book further, I was captivated by the sentiment that was on the page. Written from a papa to his daughter in 1897. A understatement (in my mind) that this book has managed to survive 117+ years …in fairly good condition. During that time, it bounced around from one family to another as each decided to follow suit and mark when the book was received and/or read. The most recent notation was from 1968. Just think about all the history that this book has ‘seen’ and the children that have been entertained by its prose.

*UPDATE*: MaryJanesFarm has become my ‘go-to’ magazine to read lately. She has a wholesome approach to writing, beautiful photography and I feel like I step back in time with each issue. Between the covers you’ll find wonderful projects, recipes and tips/tricks/ideas for just about everything to do with “everyday life”. I’m adding a link to a PDF on a piece she titled: Turning the Page Solutions: Seven Things You Might Not Know About Books. I hope you enjoy these little factoids.

-J.B.

Dear Santa…

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335_Crying-Kid-Santas-LapSo, why is it that as we age we lose our ability to believe in Santa? I can remember as a child being terrified of Santa. Not sure when that exactly happened, but I do recall making my mom stand in line at the local department store waiting patiently for my turn to sit in Santa’s lap. When I was finally at the front of the line, I also recall being so terrified to sit in his lap – that I cried and had to be taken back to my mom.

When I turned 17 – I rewarded my mom with her very first (and only) picture of me sitting on Santa’s lap – although let it be known I did not wait in line with the under ten crowd at the local mall. The Santa in question was my high school history teacher and we were raising money for our spring history trip by selling “pictures with Santa”. On a whim, I had mine taken and gave it to my mom that year for Christmas.

feature_love_life_largeMy impulsiveness at the age of 17 in getting my picture finally taken with Santa only proves to me that I finally chose to let that fear go – although a little too late for my mom and dad to enjoy that particular Christmas time tradition.  I think as we age we not only lose some of our childhood inhibitions and fears, but we also lose our ability to dream big. As children, we have little reserve about dreaming big – in fact we are encouraged. Why else would we respond to the question about what we would like to be when we grow up with a resounding answer of – “a fireman, policeman, doctor or president”. Where does that exuberance go when we reach adulthood? Why is it that we replace our childhood fears of Santa with those adult fears we have about of never amounting to more in life. I say – dream big regardless of your age and live a little! It’s never too late in life to live your dream.

It took me until the age of 41 to find the perfect man …and I’m glad I waited. He nurtures my creativity, protects my heart and alleviates my fears. I guess, at times, he is exactly what was on the top of my Christmas list to Santa – someone to watch over me and love me for who I am.

letter_santaWith it being a couple of days before Christmas, I want to return to the tradition of writing Santa “a letter” of what I would like for Christmas. It won’t list any tangible items – but it will list those things that I would hope for in the coming year.

 
 
 
 
 
Dear Santa,
This year my list is short, but my hopes are big! I would like for my creativity to soar to new heights and take me places I’ve not been. I would like to have more patience and understanding when it comes to dealing with those that have neither and above all, health and happiness for everyone I know and love.
 

Merry Christmas and Happy New year!

-J.B.

the evolution of my creativity

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watercolorsI can recall one of the first craft projects I made completely on my own. My favorite class in elementary school was Art. In that class, I didn’t need to worry about getting things “right” or “wrong”. It was also fine by my teacher when after she gave the class the assignment – that it was then up to each of us as to how to go about getting the end result. Don’t get me wrong – we weren’t a bunch of third graders running amok. She had a purpose to her lack of direction, it allowed each child to develop their own set of “rules” to get the results they desired – and I thank her for it tremendously. It was at that point in my life that I believe my “creative gene” was – well, unleashed. I started small, with my very own paper mache hand puppet. I recall learning how to sew a modified “mitten” which would serve as the body for my character. Since I decided on a clown, I had little to worry about and I would only have to concern myself with painting the face white and add the classic features from there – or so I thought. As a child, I always “over thought” things and would ask the teacher for approval – what I got, was more along the lines of my first taste at artistic freedom to just create. When I asked her should I make red or purple hair, her answer was – yes. Perplexed by the lack of direction, I recall asking about red lips and being told why not yellow lips. OK, now I was really confused because up to this point in my life I had been taught the basics – sky = blue, grass = green …but now I was being given permission encouraged outright to go against the norm – and I loved it!

ppp_dressThat first dip in the creative pool …was followed up by a number of years of Christmas list requests for art supplies to encourage my painting and drawing addiction – and mom and dad never said no. Then, at the age of 16, I received my first sewing machine. While others my age were getting cars – I loved my sewing machine because it meant “freedom” in a different way. Now I could wear my  “creations”. It took a while for me to realize that patterns were made for a reason, but once that notion took hold – there was no holding me back. During my college years and for a number of years after – I would make most of my clothes – think Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink. If I saw something in a store and knew I couldn’t afford it, I would try to make it instead. I then moved away from clothes and into making hand sewn scarves and handbags. That included a few years of “off-shoot crafting” in the world of knitting – but I learned that it took patience to knit. I still dabble in it occasionally, but only when I have time. Working at making most, if not all, of my accessories set the stage for my real passion … jewelry making. With sewing and knitting, it can take hours (days, weeks – get my drift) to complete a project. With my jewelry – it’s almost instant gratification.

enamelsMy passion for jewelry making went from working with beads (size 11 seed beads can make you go blind – I think I see a post or book title in that), learning to work with Chinese Knotting Cord and a Kumihimo disk, to now – playing with fire. A torch, some copper blanks and enamel powder can be a girls best friend! I love that most of the techniques I’ve learned over the years can cross-over and be combined with newer techniques. For instance, I incorporate some basic beading and jewelry making techniques with my current enamel work to create one-of-a-kind (OOAK) pieces. And currently – I’ve even found a way to use my love for “Junkin” and the color turquoise to personalize my creations further.

All this leads to my reason for this post – I feel that one of the legacies I would like to leave behind, is the process of how I create some of my jewelry creations. I will pass along (in future posts) tips, tricks, general techniques, tutorials and the like.  I also encourage anyone reading this to share things you’ve learned with the next generation – and remember there is no right or wrong way to be creative!

– J.B.

we’re talking t-shirts here…

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t-shirtsOne of the things that I noticed about “Red” when we first met, was that this man had one heck of a t-shirt collection. I’m not talking about a few – I’m talking closer to a few hundred or so. Seems that everything that he’s done or likes – has him winding up with a “hanging memory” of the event or item. Most, as expected, are Ohio State in nature – but he does have a few others.

Recently, he decided (with some minor persuasion on my part – yes, guilty as charged) to give up some of the collection. I guess he decided that our walk-in closet was starting to get a bit cramped and maybe, just maybe, he needed to downsize a bit. While he was deciding which t-shirts to sacrifice, I remembered a sewing project idea I had come across some time ago. A mom, whose oldest child was heading off to college, took all of her sons previous sports jerseys and made a large quilted blanket. Mom was happy because she freed up valuable closet and drawer space and her son, was ecstatic that he had a memory blanket.

OSUquiltLuckily, “Red” was up for the idea when I mentioned it …and good for me that his t-shirts have had a pampered life – hanging in the dark, moth-free closet. My goal is to provide him with some sense of “relief” that his t-shirts may be gone, but they are not forgotten.  When I have his memory blanket complete – I’ll post photos. Until then, enjoy a picture I found on the web of one way beyond my skill level – in other words gorgeous – and a t-shirt memory quilt tutorial by blogger Lil Blue Boo as well.

I’m also thinking that a cute little bag like this (tutorial here), is in my future!Ohio State

– J.B.

fallin’ for comfort food

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kitchen-decorThere’s something about this time of year that lends itself to being in the kitchen. I love the process of making, and thoroughly enjoy the smell and taste of comfort foods. But, never more than during the fall season. With it finally starting to cool down this past weekend, I’ve begun the process of trying to decide which new recipes to try out on “Red”. He’s a really good sport about everything and has proven on more than one occasion that he’s willing to try just about any dish I put in front of him. While there are a few things I have to avoid – like elbow macaroni – I think that he’s been able to honestly say that he’s enjoyed a few of the new things that I’ve cooked for him. It should also be said that for the record he does cook, and I don’t mean that he just grills food outside either. On our second date, he tackled a pork roast, sauerkraut and homemade German potato salad – all because he heard me mention that I grew up in a German household around home cooked meals.

chickendumplingsSome of my favorite fall foods are some of the easiest (I think) to make. I LOVE one pot meals and fresh bread. Crock pot and cast iron dutch oven recipes top my list. Anything that takes minimal prep and that can sit and cook for a few hours – is something that will wind up in my personal book of “go-to” recipes. I also love using my bread machine on the dough cycle to prep my homemade breads and rolls. As I get older, kneading the dough for the recommended time – gets tougher – but the bread machine takes away that grueling task.

mirepoixAs soon as I could reach the stove, my mom ensured that I knew how to cook. I believe that’s where I first heard about the Mirepoix or as some refer to it the Holy Trinity of cooking. Carrots, onions and celery are the basis to most (if not all) of my soups and stews. I will, and have literally gone out in the worst weather – in order to purchase one of the three that I was missing. From my Chicken n’ Dumplings, Chicken Stew and good ol’ Chicken Soup to my Beef Barley Soup and Peppered Beef Stew – the Holy Trinity is always in the mix.

My plans are to post the new recipes I try and to let you know how they turned out …and if they met my “comfort food” expectations or if I made substitutions to make them more “comfortable”. The first one on the list will be a White Bean and Spinach Soup with fresh Rosemary Olive Oil bread. The recipes for both are below.

– J.B.

soup

White Bean and Spinach Soup

What’s in it:
3 14-ounce cans vegetable broth
1 15-ounce can tomato puree
1 15-ounce can small white beans or Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup uncooked brown rice
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 garlic cloves, chopped
8 cups coarsely chopped fresh spinach or kale leaves
Finely shredded Parmesan cheese
 
Directions 
In a 3-1/2- or 4-quart slow cooker, combine vegetable broth, tomato puree, beans, rice, onion, basil, salt, pepper, and garlic. Cover; cook on low-heat setting 5 to 7 hours or on high-heat setting 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours. Just before serving, stir in spinach or kale and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
 

rosemarybread

Rosemary Olive Oil Bread (using bread machine dough cycle)

What’s in it:
1 cup water
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 Tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 1/2 Tablespoons rosemary
1 Tablespoon yeast
additional rosemary to garnish
Directions
1. Place ingredients, according to manufacturer’s directions into your bread machine.
2. (some call for all liquids, or all dry ingredients first, so know your machine) Set machine to “dough cycle” and wait. (This takes most machines about an hour and a half for a full cycle).
3. Remove from machine when cycle is complete and place on a lightly greased baking sheet.
4. Shape dough by hand, into a rectangular mound, spreading kind of thin, maybe an inch or two of thickness.
5. Cover and let rise in a warm place for about an hour or until doubled in size. (This is a good time to go ahead and turn the oven on to preheat and help warm the kitchen).
6. Brush with a little olive oil, sprinkle with rosemary and salt if desired.
7. Bake at 375°F for 20-25 minutes until crust is golden and crispy. Bread is meant to be a flatter shape and not a high rising bread.
8. Have everyone tear their pieces of bread with their hands and serve with olive oil flavored with fresh ground pepper.

the apple of my eye

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apple-spice-cakeFall always brings about fond memories of my visits to the local apple orchard not far from my college in the North Carolina mountains. There was one – about 20 miles or so from the dorms and I discovered it right before Halloween my freshman year. I guess I was looking for something that reminded me of home…what I found was some of the best local apples and one of the best tasting apple spice cakes I have ever come across. I wish that I would have asked for their recipe – but I suppose that it was probably a well-guarded secret..especially since it’s still their best seller. “Red” and I have made a few return trips and plan to make one again this fall. I am determined to bring at least one home …I wonder how well apple cake freezes?

I’ve included a recipe below that’s pretty close to the original that I fell in love with…

– J.B.

“Momma’s Apple Spice Cake”
 
What’s in it:
Cake –
2 cups sifted flour
2 cups sugar
1 cup soft butter
4 whole eggs
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts
6 apples-peeled, cored and medium diced (I like to mix tart and sweet)
½ cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
 
Caramel Glaze –
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup evaporated milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
 
How to make it:
Cake –
Combine the ½ cup sugar and 2 tsp cinnamon-set aside. Cream together butter and remaining sugar. Add eggs and mix well. Add dry ingredients and mix until blended-do not over mix. Add walnuts and apples by hand. Pour batter into greased 13 x 9 pan (or bundt pan). Sprinkle sugar-cinnamon mixture over top of cake. Bake 350-degrees for 45 minutes or until toothpick in center comes out clean.
 
Caramel Glaze –
Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened to desired consistency. Pour over cake immediately

i live in a para “normal” world

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old-staircaseGrowing up, I was always afraid of our finished basement in New York. It wasn’t that it was creepy – okay, maybe a little when it was dark – but it just had a vibe about it that made sure I was never down there alone for very long.

In all fairness, it was a great place to play when the weather wouldn’t give mom a break and allow me to go outside. Picture this …the layout consisted of my dad’s workshop – which also housed our deep freeze and pantry, a huge finished area that had a wet bar (it was the 70’s after all), two couches and a great low coffee table used for putting together puzzles with neighborhood friends. This open area could also accommodate a large table complete with racetrack and alpine village that my dad and mom painstakingly put up each year at Thanksgiving. This allowed me and my cousins to stay out of everybody’s hair while dinner was prepped upstairs. This main room also had numerous bookcases full of Reader’s Digest condensed books, an extraordinary collection of vinyl records, a fair amount of National Geographic magazines and tons of natural light from some high windows. That same natural light was great for my mom, because she also had her sewing machine set up on a beautiful antique desk. The basement’s remaining area contained the boiler room. It was a smaller space off the main room and aside from our source of heat, it contained the washing machine, inside clothesline (it snows in N.Y. ya know) along with a great laundry chute that my dad had put in to keep from having to lug dirty clothes down the stairs. That laundry chute also saw a lot of action from my Barbie’s who seemed to love repelling from the bathroom upstairs to the sink below it in the basement – all my dolls were risk takers. However, for me the scariest “thing” in the basement as a kid was the boiler itself. Huge and black, it was the thing that made horror movies come to life …because when it kicked on – it sounded like someone was running after you in heavy boots (insert Psycho theme music here).

vrSmHWac64eTVDDmo0R9PfVMJGDI remember (not so fondly) when my mom would send me down to the basement to get something from the pantry or freezer and the boiler would come on – I would nearly break my neck trying to race back up the stairs. I guess you can blame my vivid imagination or maybe it was one too many scary books or movies as a kid. For the record, most of my early scary movies consisted of the famous comedy team of Abbott and Costello – tame by today’s standards, but still pretty scary stuff for someone under the age of 10.

bookI guess all those early “close encounters” with the strange and unknown in books and movies – not to mention that boiler room – basically set the stage for my fascination with the paranormal as I aged. Over the years, I’ve experienced my share of unexplained phenomenon. Noises I’ve heard or things I’ve seen that never quite made sense to my brain. I also firmly believe that I became more sensitive to these things after my dad passed. Sometimes, I feel that he’s still with me, guiding me when things get tough.

A little shadow play here or unexplained noise there – and no more running up the stairs for me – now I’m all over it. I’ve trained myself not to run from these things – but to instead question its source and try to figure it out. Too many times earlier in my life, I would just turn-tail and run and it sometimes makes me wonder if someone was trying to guide me back then as well. Now, I look forward to the experiences and it’s also probably why I love Halloween so much. It’s the one time of year, where nearly everyone is on the lookout to make sense of the strange, odd and unexplained.

So, do I believe in ghosts? spirits? and things that go bump in the night?

You decide.

– J.B.

can anyone say “base ball”?

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I knew from the moment that I met my husband “Red” that we had a lot in common. Creative mind? check. Animal lover? check. Lover of anything antique? check. Weird sense of humor? check & double-check. College football fan? 1/2 check for being a Ohio State fan. Vintage Base Ball fan? Huh?!

IMG_3938When “Red” first introduced me to the notion that he played vintage base ball – all kinds of weird things crossed my mind. The first and foremost thought was – does he reenact old games – BORING. I grew up a Yankees and Islanders fan …although not many folks in the South can appreciated a good game of hockey – but that’s a discussion for another time. While I love a good game of modern baseball, I wasn’t so sure about this vintage base ball thing. I prefer the idea of playing for “real”, not reenacting some old game where we already know the outcome.

Fortunately, what I envisioned and the reality – were two entirely different things. Turns out there are a large number of vintage teams across the country that actually play games by the OLD rules. No gloves, no catcher’s masks and an assortment of other rules that pretty much make modern players look like a bunch of spoiled kids with their aluminum bats, gloves, and other protective gear. And, just so you don’t think that vintage base ball (and yes, it was originally two words) is a sexist sport – there are also a number of women’s teams out there that play in the full garb of the 1800’s – personally I don’t know how they can run in those long skirts – I’m not that coordinated.

IMG_3948Since my first introduction to the “gentleman’s game of base ball”, I’ve been to no less than five vintage base ball tournaments and have LOVED every minute. The friends that “Red” first introduced me to while we were dating – have now become more like family to me. They are a brotherhood and sisterhood resembling a close-knit community …and they always welcome new comers and love to talk about how the game was meant to be played.

– J.B.