Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Pace

The household pace hasn't really lessened. And from what I can see, it won't until Monday. But that's okay. Projects litter the house again. Sewing, knitting, banjo in the living room. Sewing, flute and more sewing in the dining room and kitchen. I like working with the girls. We work together and we all learn something.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The More I Do...

The Less It Shows...

This morning my eldest showed me a comic strip with that tagline. She prefaced it with, "Look Mom, this is you."

I am exhausted. Over the past two days I have:
-- washed and put away all the winter gear
-- washed the maple sap bins (in order to pack up the winter clothes)
-- washed the kitchen floor after cutting the husband's hair
-- attended a First Communion retreat
-- cooked
-- tutored math and chemistry
-- took my eldest shopping for running shoes and a prom dress (We were successful.)
-- worked on a fifth grade MLA project
-- typed up the rough draft of said project
-- took the eldest driving
-- went to church
-- laundry
-- walked 5.5 miles
-- practiced banjo
-- cut out a dress pattern

I am exhausted and the house is a pig sty.
This much mommy job security is too much security for me.

Friday, March 27, 2009

I'm not a Chemistry teacher...

... but I played one on TV. Actually, I spent the better part of my 20s teaching Chemistry 101 to the masses in the Midwest. In the end, probably 100 students later and one Chemistry TA wiser, I knew, lived, breathed, worshiped Chemistry. That was my life 30 years, three jobs, and 3,000 diapers ago. And now, at night, after the English and Math are done, I'm called upon to TA Chem again.

My only criteria: Leave the book and the page numbers I need to review for the next session. For I haven't revisited the magic for years. Last night was Hess's Law and all that related to Enthalpy. I read, breathed, lived again the stuff that makes my heart light. Worked a few problems, took bulleted notes, and then waited to be called to up from the Chemistry on deck circle. Then we sat together, worked problems, changed problems to find different concepts and talked. Me trying to layout the balance and beauty of the building blocks of all around us, living and nonliving, and her trying to suck it all in for the quiz.

"See the dance, see how it all fits together; the relationships between products and reactants."

And she does, for there is that spark in her eye that Ah-Ha in her voice.

My own eyes widen as I remember that night, sitting alone at different kitchen table, when I was able to move seamlessly from Enthalpy, Entropy and Free Energy. That night I knew there was a God.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Another quart and then some

Yesterday ended all around with warmth and sunshine. Thank God.

The sap fairy delivered three gallons to our stoop. (In other words, our friends dropped off their contribution to get boiled.) our trees were flowing, the pan had a good boil most of the day, and we have a healthy quart and cup to show for it.

Today it is chair caning, and then roller skating with the scouts. In the evening: a secret meeting of the fifth grade moms with regard to the upcoming Variety Show. I've always wanted to be a rock star... I just hope the embarrassment gene isn't turned on too high that night.

So with yesterday's take, I'd say we are up over five gallons now. It's been a good season.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

My Day in Court

My stomach is gray and overcast, like this morning's sky. Today is the day I go to court. It started when I thought I would be a writer, and I got a monthly writing gig for a local rag; all glossy and fancy. And that local rag, though publishing my work, didn't pay me. So from August till November I sent emails and posted letters wondering what happened; and heard nothing. Nothing until I filed a small claim and then lo and behold I heard something. But still I have to go to court.

For some going into a courtroom might be the same as putting pants on at the start of the day. But for me, it's high anxiety.

Forecast calls for sunny and warmer today. I only hope I feel the same by mid afternoon.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Another Quart

Today is the last day the outside temperatures will be correct for the sap to flow. That being 40s during the day and 20s at night. After today the forecast shows the daytime temps soar to the 50s and the nights don't cool below freezing. It will be interesting to see if the sap just stops, or will it turn the typical yellow indicating the end is here.

Regardless, it's been a great season. Short but sweet... maybe there is one more boil. It would be nice.

Monday, March 23, 2009

One more time...

with feeling.

The sap has been running for the past two days. Not enough to do a daily boil, but after two days we have 18 gallons from 12 taps. And the cold night time temperatures are helping to keep the sap from spoiling. So today we are boiling once again. And today, I'll be working on my book -- as well as laundry, taking the car to the shop, playing taxi driver and science and reading tutor to my stars.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Again with the book...

I woke up with Sarah Cahill on my mind. Can there be a better feeling, (for a writer with a long over due story)?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Felted Trivet

At our parish the Crafters For Christ are having a sale in April. So in between watching the pan and knitting socks and hats, I've been knitting for the sale. Finally, after buying wool three years ago I have attempted a felting project. Just a square trivet -- using two different skeins of yarn. On size 15 needles, I knit a square about 14 by 14, then felted it in the kitchen sink, as opposed to tossing it in the washing machine.

I've also knit up a dishcloth and next will be a pair of baby socks. I think that will do it for my time. This morning I woke up, after sleeping through the night, with plans of finishing my book. With sugaring season waning, I will have the time. I will make the time. Maybe I'll be a real writer when I grow up in seven years...

And thanks to Laura and Donna for sending me their stuff to read over and edit. It has really put me back in the writing frame of mind again. I owe you.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The colors of spring

This morning the taps were dry, the buckets empty. The season is slowly coming to a close. We lined up the harvest, minus the half gallon we have already lovingly handed off to friends and family. Estimated yield is four and a half gallons. The girls want pancakes for breakfast.

The light cup in front is from the first batch. The middle was gathered during a warming trend. The dark cup on the left is from yesterday's stash of two cups. Sugaring is jam packed full of science.

New Hat

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Come to the water

It's sure sign the temperatures are warming, when the ants and other insects visit the taps. As unappealing as some would find this, it puts a smile on my face to watch them.

We didn't gather much sap yesterday, (and no, the ants didn't drink it all). From the 12 taps the volume was about 16 gallons. Which I boiled down into six cups of dark syrup -- very tasty. I'm thinking our season has about tens days left. After which, the sap harvest will lessen, not providing enough for a boil, and the temperatures won't be cool enough to keep the sap from spoiling.

At the beginning of the seasons our collection bins are buried in snow on the shady side of the sugar shack. Now, with warmer temperatures and no snow the sap sours if not boiled daily. So far we've made four gallons. Another gallon would be nice, but I think with the current forecast, it will be a stretch.

postscript: Only gathered 6 gallons this morning. And all the taps were dry. The end is in sight.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Do you have a seven year plan?

Over lunch the other day, a friend asked me that very question, "What do you want to be doing in seven years?" The first thought that came to my mind was, "Not everybody's laundry."

"No, really, what do you want to be doing?"

Honestly I didn't know. My life runs day to day, with drop off and pick up schedules, homework, laundry, housework, cooking. And week to week at best with the planning and keeping of doctor's appointments, playdates, Girl Scout meetings, dance, music lessons, food shopping, and religious ed.

A year ago I was climbing my ladder of journalistic success; but then the rungs ran out. Had my book copy edited with visions of finishing it; but it sits untouched filed away on a hard drive. Don't I want to finish it? Yes, but instead I wallow in the excuse I need blocks of time to think, and not six minutes here, 10 minutes there. And I wonder why; for it was written with a minute here, and three over there. I would awaken early and shuffle off to bed late, living and breathing, standing along side Sarah Cahill. Now she is a distant cousin I would love to reconnect with. Someday.

I used to be in the schools taking pictures, when I wasn't playing the role as Jane the Journalist, or Wilma the writer. Now I go when they ask if I can photograph an event. And I do, and it's fun.

But where do I see myself in seven years?

I truly envy those people, men and women alike, who have a plan and execute to it. Like the archeologist who is first and foremost at 70, who only started studying at 50. What do I want to do?

I wasn't always so unsure, so undirected. When I was young I was going to be a world class drug designer. With me on the hunt, concocting the latest and greatest suicide substrate, Cancer was going to be a blip in the past. And before that I glimpsed how the coupling factor complex choreographed proton flow. Hours of sitting in a little dark room, running experiment after experiment, all for filling in one fantastic graph. It was beautiful and a gift to have seen it for myself.

Life takes people down many roads, bridging options and crossing lanes of wonder and surprise. And I wonder where I am heading, but right now it's time to make the lunches and wake the angels who will be eating them.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Culinary Gridlock

It just dawned on me: The pan I use for finishing the maple syrup is the same pan I use for our traditional St. Patrick's Day Steak and Kidney pie.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Medicine Man

Remember that movie, starring Sean Connery, where the Medicine Man discovers the cure for cancer in the rain forest vegetation? Of course the logging companies want to cut down all the trees and destroy the ecosystem. A fight ensues, and as it turns out the cure is in the ants, not in the plants.

So... why does the maple syrup turn dark as the season progresses? Is it due to chemical changes in the sap -- from the maple tree? Or is it from all the insects that are attracted to the sap, and get filtered out in the syrup making process?

Something to think about.

The Run

The boil yesterday resulted in almost three quarts of syrup. And this morning when we checked the buckets we had another 22 gallons of sap, so the burner is on. The forecast shows for good sugaring weather for the next ten days. It's never happened before: I running out of jars for holding the syrup. We went to three stores looking for canning jars and none were to be found.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

When I'm not sugaring...

and when I am sugaring these are some of the projects I've been working on: hats and socks for the babies of friends and those in the hospital, and my little one's First Communion quilt. The quilt is a wall hanging that holds her collection of religious medals.

Now back to watching the pan.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Busy Busy Busy

If it's Friday we're at the Oral Surgeons...
Thursday was day surgery at the local hospital...

Nothing like a busy schedule to slow life down. All the extras were tossed off this week: Knitting group, Friday folders, exercise... Instead we went from must and major to-do to the next must and major to-do. Today, while playing nurse maid to my middle one, I finished crocheting a baby hat for our Crafters for Christ group. No running around. Just asking, "Do you need anything else? Do you have a drink? Are you comfortable?" All the answers were an annoyed, "Yes." (Did you hear the whining.) After all the TV was on and the eyes were affixed. TV is the world's greatest low level pain killer. I discovered this as we don't usually have TV during the week. But I made an exception for the patient. And when the TV is on the moaning and groaning stop. So, for whom do I put the TV on for?

Little does she know after dinner she will be going over her math exam... after wards TV will resume as before.

Life is a balance.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Unlike a kettle,

a watched pan does boil.

One of the best times about sugaring is just before the filtering and transfer into the finishing step. The pan depth is no greater than a centimeter; less in spots. I take the wooden spoon and move the liquid along the bottom of the pan; insuring it doesn't stick and burn. A rhythm sets in over me. It's always the same sway, the same beat. (The picture above is not of this time. It is earlier in the day when I am still adding sap to the pan.)

I am reminded of my daughter's and a friend's humming. Something they do when they are traveling life's calm waters. Maybe sugaring is that way for me.

Someone asked me if I would still sugar if I knew of the expense. I answered, "Yes."

We started, 6 years ago, with 7 plastic milk jugs hanging from our trees, boiling outside in my biggest pan on a turkey fryer burner. From that first season I was sold.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Today's Boil

Comparing the dark syrup from this past Monday to the lighter syrup from today.

Last year, and the years before I would start boiling sap at 4 AM. Excitement for the day's events would wake me, so I'd get to work, or as I see it, play.

This year, I have been waiting until the sun comes up and the air warms a bit. My thinking is with a higher ambient air temperature, maybe I will use less gas. Of course the energy required to go from 20 to 221 versus from 40 to 221 is probably negligible.

So I started at 9 AM and finished 12 hours later. The yield was a tad over three quarts. And the coloration reverted back to yellow, as shown in the photo above. Probably due to harvesting the sap in colder weather. Today's (on the right) is cloudy due to the precipitate. Tomorrow it will be clearer. Oh, how I wish I had a bigger operation so I could filter and spin out the maple sand.

I lost track of how much sap I processed as I was emptying the buckets on the trees as the day progressed. I do know I started with something in the ball park of 24 gallons.

We interupt this practice for a...

photo shoot.

Sometimes the amount of individual activity in this house is staggering, at least to me. Last night Science and Math homework were spread out in the dining room. The kitchen table held a fiction story web that was slowly being worked upon. Someone else was away from all this watching the tube. And in the living room there were two simultaneous practice sessions of banjo and flute -- playing different pieces. I glanced up at the flutist and had to grab a photo, more like twenty. There was something about her flair, the glasses, just whatever.

"Look here. Hold you head there. No, don't look at me, let me turn towards you. Hold still."

I wasn't able to capture the spirit that intrigued me to stop traipsing over the triplets. This shot only leans in that direction. Maybe she will let me try again today. A mom with a camera is painful at times.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Colors of the Syrup

I boiled inside today. Having two pans going on the stove for most of the day, we processed about 12 gallons of sap. The jar on the right is the result of these two watched pots. It's much darker than either of the first two boils. But that was expected as the sap was collected during the warm spell. Now to see if the colder weather will result in lighter syrup again. It happens.

Also note the precipitate. The left hand jar is the oldest; more settled. The middle was produced this past weekend, and as mentioned before the right hand jar is from today. When this picture was taken the precipitate was just starting to fall out of solution.

From the mouths of children...

Comment: Too bad her words fell on so many empty chairs.

Sugaring Snow

Today's weather: Sugaring Snow. Wet large flakes. The ten day forecast is great for maple sugaring; 40s during the day and cold nights.

I walked the bucket line this morning. The sum total from our 12 taps was less than 2 gallons, and yellowing. I can't wait to boil down the syrup. The warmer weather produces darker syrup. It will be interesting to do a comparison with what we produced so far this season. And then with the cooler weather product this coming week.

Too warm for sugaring

Yesterday was too warm for sugaring. Seems strange doesn't it, but it's true. When the night time temperature stays above freezing and the daytime temps soar to the 60s, sap flow is a dribble and a drop. The afternoon gathering resulted in about 4 gallons, based upon the girl's estimations. Where a good harvest is pushing close to 24 gallons.

Also the warm weather is not good for sap storage. Sap is like milk, it can go bad if left warm for too long. We will have a short boil today; just to use up what the trees have provided. I hate to see it go to waste.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Science in Sugaring

You can learn so much science when you're a sugarmaker. For example: the effect temperature has on solubility. To eliminate the naturally occurring salts (maple sand) that fall out of solution when sap is concentrated down to syrup, I filter the product when I transfer it from the big pan to the finishing pan. And when I package the syrup in quart canning jars, it is clear. But as it cools to room temperature more maple sand falls out of solution.

Every time I cook down a batch of maple syrup I am amazed to see high school chemistry in action. One of those concepts actually coming to life.

During this last boil I also investigated whether the boil time effects the color, ie am I burning the syrup while boiling some of the sugars for 10 hours? I did this by keeping the product from the three gallon boil separate from the outside larger 40 plus gallon run. The answer was, for this syrup making session, no. The color was the same. I was a bit surprised by this, sure that some darkening would occur with the longer heating time. In the image below it almost looks like the smaller batch is darker, but I believe that is an artifact of being photographed in front of the other jars.

What I did notice is a shift in syrup coloration -- as usual with the progression of the season.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Today's Progress - And Yours?

I started the boil at 9:30 AM and now at 5 PM I have 3 gallons of sap not boiling. I tried to get it all in today, I even have 2 gallons going in house on the stove, but it's not going to happen. We are running out of fuel.

The back story: Yesterday morning I had 20 gallons of sap. Then the warm weather hit and we collected another 20 by night fall. And as I have lost count with the girls' and my trips along the bucket line, we probably pulled another ten as this day marched on.

It is my hope to complete the finishing by 9 PM.

I know other backyard maple sugarmakers check in on this blog, so I ask -- how did it go for you today? I hope all went well.

Maple, maple, maple

Maple syrup, maple sugar, maple extract, maple trees, maple gene

Yesterday I was talking to a friend who's father-in-law is a real maple sugarmaker in Vermont. The friend was telling me his relation has over 12,000 taps, a million miles of tubing, all resulting in 250 fifty-five gallon drums of syrup. WOW!

"My father-in-law sets up for the season in October and November, then waits."

...and I count my taps, inspect the buckets, check the pan, burner, and fuel in October...

Maybe I do have the maple gene. After all, I thought it was a bit weird being concerned about a season that was 4 or 5 months away. But maybe not... let the boil begin, maple gene, maple me.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Beware the big head syndrome

Instead of getting the forecast off the internet this morning, I switched on the tube. It had been a longtime since I had watched the weather and didn't, at first, recognize the meteorologists that were in house. Then I said to myself, since I was home alone at the time, "Is that (name withheld)?" And it was. And my next thought was: Boy does she have a big head.

Now how does someone's head appear larger than before? Of course, we can put weight on in our faces and neck, but for the sake of argument and this quick blog entry, our adult head size stays pretty much the same.

So what makes a head look bigger or smaller? This is actually a sort of optical illusion because the orb size is judged in relation to the body it is sitting upon. This weather woman has reduced herself to being a twig, (an she is obviously pregnant), with a big head. And TV is suppose to make you look ten pounds heavier. Good thing or she would be dead.

Now her male counterpart did not appear to suffer from the same affliction. For his head seemed to be in perfect proportion to his body. Obviously he remembered, and has implemented what they taught him in his Human Proportion Art classes.

So I ask, is this beauty? And why would anyone want to appear to be all head? Ladies, believe me, this is not beauty. If your head is big and prominent, then so is your mouth.
Stop asking if you look fat.
Start asking; does my head look big? Not good.

Blew the tap

I really hate it when I blow a tap, i.e. crack the wood around the tap so that more sap runs down the tree rather than dripping into the bucket. ARG! It happened once before when we used the wider bore taps. I ended up pulling the tap and plugging the hole with a wine cork that I shaved down to fit. Amazingly -- it worked.

Now we use the thinner more tree friendly plumbing. I don't have anything laying around that will plug the hole... maybe silicone or wood putty. I'll have to think about it. Then once I can stop the tree bleeding out for one port I can drill another for gathering.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Someone better tell the trees

By all the books, Maple sap does not run unless the daytime temperature reaches 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the nights dip to 20. Well, after a blizzard followed by two days of sub 40s weather, I went around to check the buckets -- a warming trend is predicted to happen starting tomorrow. And what did I find: sap.

Albeit frozen, but it was there, about a bucket and a half; almost two.

It's My Project...

and I'll cry if I want to, cry if I want to.
You would cry to, if this MLA were you.

The MLA, a fifth grade mulit month long project that reduces both students and parents to tears. This post is my MLA. I can't quite get my thoughts around exactly what I want to say, but I know there is a point here somewhere. Perhaps if I keep typing the words and phrases will all work out my fingertips. (Advice I offered in regard to recording 100 facts: just read and write, and they will come.)

As a mother daughter team we are researching the Declaration of Independence. I know this is suppose to be the fifth graders project. My husband keeps reminding me, it's her grade not yours. But the daughter partner came home from school yesterday and stated, "I'm using my homework pass on my Math because my MLA 100 facts are due tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?" I panicked. When did this deadline get passed down? According to my partner -- Tuesday. We hadn't been to the library yet. I suggested we look to the web. And indeed we found some wonderful fonts of information: National Archives, US Government, Ask sombody... homework question answer guru. The bookmarks were placed, I rested easy -- the resources were literally at her fingertips. But instead of reading and writing, the wailing commenced. "I can't read this. It doesn't tell me what I need to know. This isn't right."

I agreed that reading off a screen is not like reading out of a book, but offered the advice to take it a paragraph at a time, and look for your facts. Tears flowed. The partner retreated to under the kitchen table. This was going to be a long night; a long project. I was envisioning monthes and monthes of tears.

"Are you sure this is due Friday?" It truly seemed like a lot of research to be done in two days.

Through the waterfall, the answer, "Yes," came.

So I sat and read outloud the websites, paragraph by paragraph, after which I asked, "What fact can you get from that passage?" The facts spilled out, almost one hundred of them. And with each fact my blood pressure measured towards the moon. Despite learning quite a lot about the Declaration of Independence, the bottom line truth remained: This is not my project.

I sought out the eldest, with whom we had done this marathon 5 years previous. "What was it like?"


Okay, the second in line was same as the first, but still why have a project that creates this discord, child after child?

I posed a second question, "Was it fun at all?"

"I got to take my dolls into school dressed like Indians of the Southwest."

I didn't think we had dolls or doll clothes suitable for the Committee of Five: Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Livingston and Sherman. Did you know that Livingston never signed the Declaration? Did you know that when Jefferson wrote the Declaration he stayed at the Graff House on the corner of 7th and Market, which back then was surrounded by pastures. Seventh and Market is now downtown Philly. Talk about urban spread.

For me, the hardest 20 facts to find relate to: What has the Declaration done for us today? I believe this question can be answered with one fact: We have our independence. Now to think of 19 other ways to state this same.

We are going to the library today. We will get out a tower of books. They will be her bedtime stack.

By the way, long after the MLA was put away for the evening and the flute was taken out for some practicing, I noticed the MLA time line on the refrigerator. And on said time line was the due date for the 100 facts: NEXT Friday, not this, not tomorrow. I mentioned this, and without missing a note my partner offered, "Oh, well... I got most of it done."

Yes, we did.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Rise and Shine

Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays the girls have before school activities. We are up and out of the house long before my mind has fully switched the lights on. All good things: community service, a little band, some knitting, and reading.

But still, I'm not quite out of vacation mode. And would love to let them sleep until they have had their fill. Come to think of it, so would I. But it's time.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

In for a pound

In for a penny
Paying the piper

That is how I feel this morning. Yesterday was a snowy, restful, lazy, crocheting a baby hat, extra reading with mom, out for dinner day. Today we'll play make up. Food shopping, laundry, banjo, chair caning -- are scheduled for the same two hour block. It's not going to happen.

I'll be making a list, checking it twice, and taking one moment at a time. Nevermind today, the next month, even without the added joy of maple sugarmaking is a very busy one.

Monday, March 02, 2009


No raving against the pull of the warm bed covers.
No racing to assemble lunches.
No rants about brushing hair and teeth.
No reminders about packing up homework, school and library books.
No rivers of tears over lost boots, and missing gloves.
No resentment over the last Honey Nut Cheerio.
No running for the bus.
No rage, period.

Just snow and quiet.

Sunday, March 01, 2009


A hydrometer takes all the guess work out of bringing the maple syrup to the correct density. The rule of thumb is to boil the syrup to seven degrees above that of water; so from 212 to 219 degrees Fahrenheit. After we got the hydrometer the correct density was achieved at the final temperature of 221.

Those few degrees make the world of difference. Before the syrup was thin; now it is, of course, thicker -- more acceptable. Ironically, both our thermometers are broken. In the photo, at this rip roaring boil one was reporting a T of 187 and the other 257. Both are heading for the trash. So for this batch we watched for the bubbling to erupt and then checked the finished product with the hydrometer.


Due to tapping all our maple trees, sugar and otherwise, we generally get a gallon of syrup for every 55 - 60 gallons of sap. Yesterday's boil consumed 40 gallons, and when we transferred the "half sap" from the big pan to the finishing pan the color was quite light. I was nervous. (Nervous and anxious should be my new middle names.) We had had a lot of rain. Yes the buckets are covered, but still I wondered, "Am I looking at sugary rain water?

No, I wasn't. The yield is a cup over three quarts. And it is straw yellow. The flavor is light and out of this world.

"There is gold in them there trees!"