Monday, March 31, 2008

A Rock and a Hard Place

Sometimes, without even trying, I find myself between a rock and a hard place. This is one of those times, and it has nothing to do with maple syrup.

Due to reconfiguration, we moved our parish. It was with the understanding that we'd give it a year, and if we were happy -- we'd stay. It's been three. The children are happy. They sing is the choir, they enjoy the Christmas play and revel in the Pumpkin Fair and Parish Picnic, and lick their plates clean at the parish breakfasts. Due to being a shutterbug, I got involved with the Parish Activities. Satisfied all around; we're staying.

Yesterday the rocks shifted. Yesterday I found myself defending my actions, and the actions of others, for no one can pull parish social events off alone. Accusations flew of wanting to push out a longtime parishioner. That her services were no longer being appreciated. Funny thing was, that person had just called me and asked, "Could you call so and so; she's upset?" Caught is a fire storm of she said, she saids, I mentioned that all are invited; anyone can work on these events. That this little band of social rebels had gained three new members in the past month. Three more merry souls that see the usefulness of a cash bar. I got a staunch no, this isn't my parish anymore.

It's so strange, this merry group charged itself with fixing the lost sense of community, and we still seem to be fraying from the sides.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

What was good about today?

Today I delivered 1.5 cups of maple syrup to the friend that dropped off 7 gallons of sap yesterday. I handed the jar to them and said, "This is your syrup. It came from your tree." Sure, we added a few gallons of our own to the boil, but usually it's our 20 to 30 gallons diluting their 6. This time it was their 7 gallons and our 4 or so.

So they have it. Their very own, from their very own tree.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Apple Doesn't Fall Far From the Mom

While we were taking down the buckets today my little farmer noticed a few taps were still running. "Leave them," she said. "We can get more maple syrup."

We did. Those 5 gallons and 7 brought over from a friend and we're boiling in the house, on the stove, two pans, the exhaust fan at half throttle. It must be smelling pretty maply outside.

The end result: 2.5 cups of very dark maple syrup after 9 hours of boiling.


The buckets still hung, the filter still drying, cleaned jars lined up on the counter, the pan in need of the final scrub of the season, sap buckets waiting by the back door: I've been having a tough time saying good bye to this season. My husband asked this morning, "Did you pull your taps?"

Sheepishly I answered, "No."

"Are you through for the season?" was his next question.

"Yes, the LP is gone..."

"You could get them refilled."

Yes I could but, is there really enough sap to justify the expense? So, for my own piece of mind and for all my maple sugarmaking friends, still boiling away -- I checked our buckets today. Six taps are bone dry. The rest have very little production.

Yes, PT -- it's okay to pull the taps, wash the buckets, and pan and pack it all away for another year. This is harder than putting the Christmas decorations away. Maybe after indulging in a short stack soaked in syrup, I'll be fortified to face the tasks at hand.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Can summer be far away?

Now that our sugaring season is coming to a close, can summer be far away? I've started gathering seeds for our garbage garden. I have grapefruit seeds from my father-in-law's tree, butternut squash from Easter dinner, corn from last year's crop, pumpkin from our Halloween jack-o-lantern fest, and some gourd seeds I collected on a walk with a friend. The compost bin is full of goodness, waiting to be returned to the earth. I've already placed a pineapple top outside... I hope it doesn't get too cold.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Last Boil

As the last of our sap boils down, my heart is heavy. Another season has come and will soon be gone. Last November, it seemed so premature to be counting taps and checking buckets, and now it's over. Well almost. One last batch to finish.

Despite the fact, we haven't been getting a lot of sap, and some taps have dried off, I didn't had the heart to remove the buckets from the trees. It's so hard to let go of a good season.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What to do with all this syrup?

I'm an old time scientist. It's in my blood. It's in how I solve everyday problems. It's what I do for fun. So given the current dilemma of too much maple syrup and not enough cabinet space -- I've put together a batch of Maple Mead: a quart of syrup, a pound of honey, some yeast, yeast vitamins, and water up to a gallon. Added an airlock and crossed my fingers...

The first/last batch of Mead we made is a bit potent, and harsh, to say the least. I hope it mellows with age. I hope the bottles don't explode. Time will tell. Time is the universal healer.

No worries it was a waste of syrup. The sap is still running here; clear and cold. I'll be manning the pan soon enough.

The Friday Night Knitting Club

I finished this read last night. Kate Jacobs, in this her debut novel, did a wonderful job knitting together the lives of these women. There is so much wisdom, love and insight passed between the generations. It's been a long time since I wanted to highlight and dog-ear pages of a book. And despite not belonging to a knitting group, reading this book caused me to reflect on my own close knit group of friends. I feel incredibly blessed.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Blessing or A Curse

When I was in school, I developed this nasty habit of needing about 4 hours of sleep a night. This habit still haunts me when I have a task on my mind: drug design, writing, maple sugaring, especially season end maple sugaring.

At the end of the season, the sap runs almost enough for a full boil, but sours oh so quickly. In other words, you got to boil what you have, when you get it, or why collect it. The end of the season is when the dark really maple flavored goodness is made. Kind of like the wealth of fudge at the bottom of a sundae. So with a boil tucked in among today's assignments, my eyes popped open all on their own -- extra early. The pan is on. The coffee is on. The computer is on. I have editing to do, and I might get it and the syrup made before it's time the usher the cherubs to school. This is a short boil -- only 18 gallons plus what is hanging on the trees.

Monday, March 24, 2008

I Wonder

This morning, while in the shower, I thought back to how I woke up my children. The littlest still sleeps with a blanket, Little Blankie. When I woke her up I crawled onto her bed, cozied up her and Little Blankie and said, "Lil Blankie, it's time to wake up. Help this little one get up and get dressed."

Then I woke the next with a little cozy and a quick feel of her head for a fever. She has the sniffles. Normal; I gave her a hug with the same instruction.

I have two daughters that have love objects and one, the middle one, that doesn't. And I got to thinking about this. The little one and the high schooler, both, are very affectionate. The middle one tends to push people away until she is in a state of need. She has this tough exterior with a soft marshmallow center. Does a love object serve as an indicator of one's warmth level, or affection level?

The eldest doesn't sleep with Piggy anymore, but he is still around: on/under the bed, under the pillow, stashed in her stuff. And she doesn't hang on me and kiss me like she did when she was younger, but I do get the pause and cheek before she heads off for school. The scenario is: The clock reads 6:45, she says, "I'm leaving." She picks up her books, looks my way and pauses. I in turn give her my attention and say, "Let me kiss you." Her eyes roll, but she indulges me all the same as she presents her cheek.

"Love you."

"Love you too."

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Easter Boil

Yesterday's warmth ushered another sap run. This late in the season the sap waits for no woman. It will sour after a day in the bin. Some might say sugarmaking is a curse. A Sunday, and Easter at that -- to be out in the shack, in the cold. But the air is relatively warm, and the stars are still out. So how fortunate I am to be out, in the quiet of the morning.

When the alarm went off, I was dreaming I was already outside, the boil on, the shack warm. Imagine what a mental state I would have been in, if it weren't for the alarm. Three hours from now, I would've dreamed I was half way through the sap, all that work -- done in a dream.

My Grandfather used to dream he and my Grandmother were driving around their late model station wagon, collecting used lottery tickets. He would wake exhausted, and need to sleep most of the day to recover. I guess it goes to show that much of exhaustion is mental.

Happy Easter. Religious or not, believer or not, I hope you experience some quiet.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


What I like about writing is it takes me on a journey. I sit down to hammer out a page or two, thinking, just get started, just type, and through all that a twist or a turn develops.

Yesterday, in no more than two paragraphs, I saw the many sides of Jeff Lane: the neglected at the hands of his over scheduled, but affluent parents, the dependent, the true friend, and the troublemaking ring leader. He's an interesting soul. I wonder just what trouble he will bring to Sarah. Or will Charles step in?

I wonder if this next book will be about him? He's a strong character. Maybe that is the lure. Maybe, like Sarah, I'm being sucked in by his boyish charm and attraction to things just a little bit dangerous.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Wind

I was awoken by the wind. There was a howl and then the unmistakable tone of a sap bucket hitting the ground. Eyes wide open; I laid there, toasty warm, wondering if I truly needed to be up. No boil today; there's only a gallon of sap. Then the wind howled again, and I remembered my next book -- the file open on my computer... I threw on some cast off clothes, and padded down the stairs. First to look at the buckets, and bins, then to get back into writing.

The bins were fine... maybe moved around a bit, but still in the same general area of the yard. The collection bucket had indeed been blown to the ground, but it was fine too. Still, it amazed me, like the cough of a child, or a weak half dreaming call from the other room, how the dong of a bucket stops night and starts the day.

I must have the next chapter in me; waiting to become bits and bytes of a computer file. So let's see what's in store for Sarah today.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Slow Go Forward

When I laid my head down last night, the last thought on my mind was to start the boil around 11 AM this morning. That would be after the forecasted rain, when the temperatures would be in the 40s. Despite boiling protected by the sugarshack, the warm temperatures do help the boil, and conserve fuel.

When I woke up this morning at 4:30 AM, I laid there all warm and cozy under the quilt, thinking it would be better to seize the moment; and my day started. The sap is boiling. The girls are still sleeping. Inside and out of the house, all is quiet.

I'm looking through recipe books for lemon tart recipes. With Easter days away, in years past, I would have stocked the house with provisions enough for 100. There will be 6 of us this year. Truth be told, I haven't gone food shopping this week. It's looking like Good Friday, around 11 AM, is the time we'll hit the aisles. The littlest one wants artichokes. Maybe was my answer to her. Asparagus are a must for they signify spring. I was thinking I'd try my whisk at a Hollandaise. Maple syrup on squash is another given. There has to be maple syrup. But will we use the light or the dark?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Icy Rain

While emptying the buckets, these rain drops on one of the rose bushes caught my attention. Someday I hope to be able to photograph just what it is in this scene that is so beautiful. I snapped off a few shots, but none really clinches it. I guess you have to be out in the rain, collecting the sap, to see what I'm talking about.

Where did the time go?

Yesterday flew by... the best part, besides swimming, (personal indulgence, since I truly need to go food shopping), was having the Brownies over. I have never had so many people clambering to empty and carry the sap buckets. So much help; all packed into little first grade bodies. I invited them back to empty sap buckets any time, no worries. I better be careful, or they'll be outside the door at sun up.

At the beginning of the evening, one of the girls said, "I don't like maple syrup." I responded, "Well you've never tried ours. I think you'll be surprised." At the end of the evening, she was licking her fingers; a convert -- be still my heart.

I think they had fun, running about from tree to tree, and they all got to take home some of their very own homemade Maple Granola.

It's interesting to watch them work and to see how much their parents feel they need to help. I'm saying, "Oh, let them measure out the oatmeal and coconut," while the parents are feeling the need to make sure everything is just so, and wanting to do it for them. I learned years ago a big part of Girl Scouts is to have the girls do things for themselves. The pride they have after creating something all on their own is priceless. Besides, can you really mess up granola?

So far, this year's maple sugarmaking education count: 100 very curious minds. It has been a wonderful season.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Conflict of Pan Interest

I have a Le Crueset 34 for finishing the maple syrup. This beauty was a gift from my parents years ago, when I complained that the standard sized dutch ovens weren't really big enough. That I didn't have enough room for making a really huge batch of soup or stew. Christmas comes; the pan of all pans arrives - happiness.

But happiness on more than just a cooking level. This pan is perfect for finishing the maple syrup. The "half syrup" has we call it, is transfered and filtered from the big town-sized lasagna pan into this one for finishing in house on the stove.

But today, the day we celebrate St. Patrick's Day sharing a 34 size steak and kidney pie with friends, there is 44 gallons of sap that require boiling. Since realizing both events, the boil and the eating, would unavoidably fall on the same day, I have tossed and turned on the dilemma. Should I use the pan for the pie, then move it to another container so that I can finish the syrup as usual? Or do I use a different pan for dinner? No, it won't do. And to use the pan for finishing, it will have to be triple scrubbed to make sure that the syrup doesn't pick up any funny after flavor. Should I use another pan for finishing? Probably, I'll have to. But to break the routine... Still, now, the boil on, the steak and kidney pie in the oven, and 6 hours from finishing, I'm still in a quandary.


Winning the Red Sox/Yankees raffle would have been wonderful.
Selling the winning ticket to a dear and wonderful friend is even better!

Congratulations Mrs. D! Love You!


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Sugaring Snow

I woke up this morning to sugaring snow; big fluffy flakes that teeter on the edge of rain. It's been a phenomenal season. Yesterday, after filling the three bins to overflowing, we did a late day boil. The yield was 10 ounces over a half gallon, so 74 ounces with still over 30 gallons left to boil.

The Brownies come over this week to empty buckets, tour the shack, and make Maple Granola. I can't wait.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Science in a Sap Bucket

This is the stuff science texts books are made of.

The outside temperature was 30 degrees Fahrenheit, but the sap in the buckets was a clear liquid until I poured the contents into my collection bucket, that I carry from tap to tap. When I did that, the clear liquid formed ice; totally cool. At first I thought I was seeing things. (I guess I was, being an old school observant scientist.)

This morning I got to see the science of a super cool liquid up close and personal. Hum.... home schooling at its finest. So totally cool, it's icy.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


Crawling the lane
Lost in the breathing
Circling; counting
A half mile; two

Dry docked a year
Would my gills function; fully?
Warmed to the neck
Time slipped away

Recycling Opens My Eyes

In this house we recycling just about everything. Food waste goes into compost, on its way back to the veggie gardens. Cans, paper, cardboard, glass, plastic, head off to the recycling centers and clothes and other household goods to St. Vincent de Paul. Yesterday, I took a mountain the paper and cardboard recycling to our school. A mountain that had been building in our mudroom. And when I moved said mountain to the car for the trek over, I was amazed at the amount of packaging we go through. I tried to remember before recycling, and thinking about when all this stuff used to go into the land fill. It was daunting.

If every family at our school recycled their paper, I don't think we'd need to run bake sales to fund special school events.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


When I first started maple sugarmaking, I'd boiled the syrup until the temperature reached 219 degrees. The resulting sweetness was tasty, but thin. So I invested in a hydrometer, and wouldn't you know it, at 219 the syrup wasn't at the correct density. Who knew. Now I use the thermometer as a guide. When the temperature reaches 219 I start measuring the density every few minutes. Usually, I'm spot on. In the picture above, the syrup is coming in a tad on the thicker side.

Yesterday at 6 PM I did the last gathering of sap for the day. The buckets at least half full, it looks like we are in for another good run.

Today, by scheduling demand, is a non-boil day. Forty-four kindergarteners will be amazed by the magic of maple. They will discover that making their own maple syrup might be as close as the tree right outside their door. I just hope not all our collected sap is frozen. I love bringing in a sample for them to try. I also bring in a few taps, a bucket and lid, and our evaporator pan, so they can see exactly what a two foot by three foot pan looks like. Last year we found out you can put 11 future maple sugarmakers in the pan; carefully standing side by side.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Best Made Plans

Yesterday at this time, there was very little sap in the buckets. I announced at dinner, "I'm not going to boil tomorrow. There's not enough sap." My plans were made. Get the kids off to school. Go to my music lesson, go for a swim, do the food shopping, cook dinner, deliver Girl Scout cookies. These plans lasted until 8:30 AM, when I went to check the line before walking the cherubs to school. Every single bucket was at least three quarters full...

The new plan, walk to school, go to music, come home and boil, while hunting around the house for something that I come miraculously turn into dinner. I guess we could always have pancakes, with maple syrup. Syrup is a vegetable right? After all it comes from a plant.

Three gallons -- already

Either my math skills have left me, or this is turning out to be a banner year for maple syrup production. We have just about three gallons of syrup and the season is far from over. The ten day forecast shows favorable sugarmaking weather for as far as the computer can see. If the season stays true to form we could end up with six gallons of pure maple goodness. (pause) That is a lot of pancakes.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ready Or Not...


I am not ready for this week. Not ready for school to start again. Not ready to hit the ground running; chasing after the schedule. Last night when we went to bed I said, "Just one more day. I could use one more Sunday." But alas, unlike Bill Murphy in Ground Hog Day, the calendar moved forward and there are appointments to keep, classes to attend, children to ferry, raffle tickets to sell, Girl Scout cookies to deliver, and sap to boil. All cannot happen in this next block of 24 big ones.

Thankfully the cold weather is keeping the sap cold. Overnight temperatures in the teens, there should be a nice slab of ice on the sap. Just this year I am believing I can toss this ice out without guilt. I had read that the ice on top to the buckets and bins is water that has separated from the sap; leaving it's sugar behind. Of course I knew this being a Physical Chemist by training, but still I couldn't bring myself to believe it. Instead I grasp the idea that each drop is sacred. This changed at this season's first boil. (See picture above.)

Before that boil, temperatures had been so cold I had 20 gallon ice cubes. Seriously, the sap was frozen, but not to the core. So I broke through the top, creating a hole big enough for a bucket and sure enough the remaining liquid was quite sweet. The boil went quickly. The ice was tossed. (I still have a little guilt.)

Next boil is tomorrow. Already I have over 40 gallons of sap; waiting... And there is 2.5 gallons of syrup in the cupboard. It won't last long, Wednesday and Thursday this week, I share the joy of maple sugarmaking with 80 kindergarteners -- complete with waffles.

Postscript: My interview canceled... I'm free to boil today. It is Sunday again after all.

Sunday, March 09, 2008


The game is April 13th.
The seats are great.
Ticket price is $10.
The drawing is March 15th. You don't need to be present to win.
Proceeds go to our church youth group.

I'm selling tickets...

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Another Maple Sugarmaker Mom

I knew I couldn't possibly be the only mom that enjoyed maple sugaring. Please visit her family's blog The Bosky Dell Farm. Oh a kindred spirit and a mom to boot. The sap is on to boil, and all is right in this corner of my kitchen.

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Banjo

I'm finding that playing the banjo is a lot like life. Or at least it mimics my life in the fact I have trouble with transitions. But with practice, in both areas, I'm learning. At this later stage in my life, I am better at flowing from one situation to the next; better not perfect. And with playing, my fingers are getting there. I figure there is a lot of muscle memory that has to be established; mental and otherwise.

Simultaneously, fingers two and three on my left hand have to rest upon two different strings, while the index, middle and thumb on my right continue their fluid forward roll picking. Rest assured, this song and this motion is child's play in the banjoing world, but I'm willing to start small.

As I've practiced this week, when I get past the challenging measures with just the slightest of hesitations, in my head, I hear that famous moon walk phrase, "one small step for man..." or in this case, a woman, who is learning to transition.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Careful What You Ask For

Maple sugarmaking can be a lot like life. You have to be careful what you ask for. Last Fall if you asked me what would be the best season ever, I would've said, "Full buckets; twice a day." A full bucket holds close to 3 gallons, times 14, and twice that. That's 84 gallons of sap being collected into bins that hold 66 max. Yesterday, during the boil, I visited "the line" repeatedly, trying to stay on top of the sap production. In the end, I have three quarters of a gallon of syrup, and 15 gallons of sap still yet to be boiled.

Like a gerbil on a wheel, I was trying very hard to get somewhere, but going no where. There was just too much pre-gold goodness flowing. My heart rate rising, I was having visions of falling asleep next to the pan. Realizing the state I was getting into, I took a few deep breathes and reminded myself that this is fun; work, but fun just the same.

Still, compounding the issue was the fact I was running out of lp and had to hit my reserve tank on the grill. In the end, I did run out, and had to finish on the stove. It took a little longer, (I did a little spinning and reading at the kitchen table while I watched the pot boil.) but it all worked out; another life lesson from the shack.

As far as the sap flow, the long range forecast calls for good sugarmaking weather for as long as the computers will predict. I just might have to purchase another bin... or two...

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Waiting

Maple sugarmaking is a lot like life. At times, like today with this rain there is waiting. Waiting for the rain to ease, and wondering just how much of the full bucket is sap, or rain water.

There is waiting for the temperatures to get cold, and hoping the buds stay tight. A few days of warm rain could kill a season. While out collecting yesterday I noticed one of the lilac bushes was ready to pop. My only hope is its next tree neighbor Old Maple doesn't take notice.

Yesterday, as I walked from tree to tree, after I would empty the buckets, I waited to hear the ping, ping, ping, of the drips resonating inside the empty bucket; the sign of a great run.

I'm waiting until this afternoon to put on the next boil.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The to do list

I sat down here with the idea of spending some time with my new book. (I am so excited.) What happened was, I answered an email query about an interview, finally sent a recipe off to a friend, packed up Girl Scout cookies to be mailed this AM, after I drop the kiddies off at school, along with the ink cartridges for recycling, and that is after dropping a winning raffle basket off with a friend. Then it's off to the Post Office where it's mail the cookies as well as the latest bundle of Shaw's receipts for the youth group, and then to get the car to the shop... And let's not forget round two of sorting GS cookies sometime before their meeting this evening. I'll have to schedule some breathing in there as well. Maybe after I work on my book...

Monday, March 03, 2008

A Fine Balance

As in life, there is a fine balance in maple sugarmaking. The temperature has to stay cold enough to keep the sap from turning before you can boil it down into syrup. But if the temperatures are too cold the sap freezes. It's slow going, turning a 20 gallon ice cube into syrup.

Our first boil of the season was today. As we stood around the pan, watching the rolling bubbles, we figured this is our fifth season. We've come a long way from hanging milk jugs on the trees and using my largest kitchen pot. But in all that travel, it's nice to know that the underlying joy of sugarmaking is still there.

The kettle is on. The kids are getting up early. Soon they'll be eating oatmeal and drinking hot chocolate, outside in the cold, but ecstatic that the new season is upon us.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

This weather

Was I just in Florida, in short sleeves, shorts and sandals?
This weather reminds me of a twist on an old adage. I'm thinking it's, "Into the freezer from the frying pan." Well, it wasn't that hot in Florida, but I did break a sweat.

I love the snow. Snow this time of year breathes life into the sugaring season. Cold roots mean for a long season. Be still my heart and dig out another bin for storing the sap.